Friends Or Foes?
Source: Hebrew Heroes
"Hold! stand! who are ye, and whither go ye?" was the stern challenge,
the sound of which startled Zarah out of a pleasant dream. The motion
of the litter suddenly ceased, a strong hand was on the bridle of the
horse which Lycidas was riding, a weapon was pointed at the breast of
the Greek. There was not yet sufficient light to enable him to
distinguish whether those who thus arrested the further progress of the
party were Syrians or Hebrews.
"We are quiet travellers," said the Athenian; "let us pursue our
journey in peace. If gold be your object, I will give it."
"If we want your gold we can take it," cried the leader of the band
that now surrounded the litter. "Are you a follower of Antiochus
"No," replied Lycidas boldly. To speak the simple truth is ever the
manliest, and in this instance it also proved the safest course to
pursue. The grasp on the Greek's bridle was relaxed, the point of the
weapon was lowered, and in a more courteous tone the leader inquired,
"Are you then a friend of Judas Maccabeus?"
"May he be given the necks of his enemies!" exclaimed Joab, before
Lycidas had time to reply. "It is his kinswoman whom we are taking in
this litter to Bethsura, that we may put her in safety out of reach of
the tyrant who has sworn to slay her because she will not burn incense
to his idol!"
"What, the lady Hadassah?" asked one of the men.
"No, it is more than six months since that Mother in Israel departed to
Abraham's bosom," replied Joab, lowering his tone.
An exclamation of regret burst from more than one of those who
surrounded the litter, and he who had first spoken observed, "These
will be sorry tidings for Maccabeus and his brethren."
Lycidas now addressed a Hebrew who appeared to be of superior condition
to the others. "In this litter," he said, "is the grand-daughter of
the lady Hadassah. She is fleeing from persecution, and seeks an
asylum in the home of an aged relative who dwells near Bethsura."
"Ah! Rachel the widow; we know her well," was the reply.
"Then you can guide this lady to her abode."
"Guide her into the wolf's den!" exclaimed the Hebrew; and one of his
companions added with a laugh, "The only way to reach Rachel's dwelling
from hence is over the corpses of defeated Syrians, as mayhap we shall
do ere to-morrow."
Alarmed at finding that he had conducted Zarah to the scene of an
expected deadly conflict, Lycidas inquired with anxiety, "Where then
can the lady and her attendant find shelter and protection?"
"For protection, she has all that our swords can give--our fate must be
her fate," replied the Hebrew whom the Greek had addressed. "As for
shelter, there is a goatherd's hut hard by. Some of our men have
passed the night there, though our leader slept on the ground."
There was some whispering amongst the Hebrews, and Lycidas caught the
words, uttered in a half-jesting tone, "An awkward matter for Maccabeus
to have this his fair kinswoman coming on the eve of a battle on which
the fate of Judah depends."
"I pray you show us this hut at once," said the Greek, annoyed at
Zarah's being exposed to such observations, and impatient to remove her
as soon as possible to a place of as much retirement as could be found
in the camping-ground of an army. "The lady has travelled all night,
and is weary."
"I will lead her to the hut," said one of the Hebrews; "and do you,
Saul," he continued, addressing a companion, "go at once and announce
to our prince the lady's arrival."
Again the litter of Zarah moved onwards, and the weary horses were
guided to a hut at no great distance. One of the Jewish soldiers ran
on before to give notice, that the dwelling might be vacated of its
warlike occupants, and put into such order for the reception of a lady
as circumstances and haste would permit. The Hebrews who had passed
the frosty night under the roof of the goatherd's dwelling, quitted it
at once to make room for the lady and her handmaid, leaving a portion
of their simple breakfast for the newly-arrived guests.
A homely care occupied the mind of Zarah on her way to the hut.
"Anna," she said to her attendant, "we are much beholden to Joab, and I
have no shekels wherewith to pay for the hire of the litter and horses,
or to requite him for his faithful service. It is not meet that the
Lord Lycidas should be at charges for me. Let Joab speak to me when I
quit the litter, or do you give him this jewel from me."
The jewel was a massive silver bracelet, which had been worn by the
unhappy Pollux. Zarah had selected this from the other ornaments which
had belonged to her parents, on account of the weight of metal which it
contained. There was also something heathenish in the fashion of the
bracelet itself, which made the Hebrew maiden care not to keep it as a
remembrance of her father.
"Joab is not here," said Anna, glancing from between the curtains; "he
has given up the guidance of the horses to one of the Hebrew warriors."
Joab had in fact gone off with Saul, being eager to be the first to
carry to Judas Maccabeus intelligence of what had occurred in Jerusalem
since they had parted beside the martyrs' grave, and especially of the
momentous events which had occurred in the family of Hadassah.
"If I cannot see Joab himself," observed Zarah, "I must ask the Lord
Lycidas to find him and do this my errand, for the muleteer must not go
unrewarded by me."
Accordingly, after the maiden, assisted by Lycidas, had descended from
her litter, and explored with Anna the goatherd's abode, she bashfully
asked her protector to execute for her this little commission, and with
the heavy silver bracelet requite her obligation to Joab. "To
yourself," added Zarah with downcast eyes, "I can proffer but heartfelt
The spirits of Lycidas had risen: with him, as with nature, the gloom
of night was now succeeded by the brilliance of morning. The rebound
of a mind lately weighed down with intense anxiety and the pressure of
heavy responsibility was so great that it seemed as if every care were
flung off for ever. Lycidas had accomplished his dangerous mission; he
had placed his beloved charge under the care of her relatives; and he
felt assured that her heart was his own. The clang of martial
preparation which he now heard around him was as music to the ardent
spirit of the Greek. He was now going to join in a brave struggle
under a heroic commander, to deserve Zarah, and then to win her! The
heart of the gallant young Athenian beat high with hope.
"Nay, Zarah," said Lycidas gaily, in reply to the maiden's words; "I
may one day claim from you something better than thanks. As for the
bracelet, rest assured that I will well requite faithful Joab; he shall
be no loser if I keep the jewel in pledge, and never part with it, save
to my bride." Lycidas clasped the bracelet on his arm, as with a proud
and joyous step he quitted the goatherd's hut.
"Stay, Lycidas," expostulated Zarah, following him over the threshold;
but then arresting her steps, and watching his receding form for a
moment with a smile as radiant as his own. "How could he fear a
rival!" was the thought flitting through Zarah's mind as she gazed.
She then turned to re-enter the hut, and saw before her--Judas