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Hadassah's Guest

Source: Hebrew Heroes

In no place were the tidings of the rising at Modin received with
greater exultation than in the lonely dwelling of Hadassah. The Hebrew
widow could hardly refrain from taking down the timbrel from the wall,
and bursting, like Miriam, into song. "_Sing unto the Lord, for He
hath triumphed gloriously! He hath dashed to pieces the enemy!_"

Constant information of what was occurring, every rumour, true or
false, whether of victory or of failure, was brought to Hadassah by her
son-in-law, Abishai, who little dreamed that every word which he
uttered was overheard by the wounded Athenian, from whom he was divided
but by the partitioning curtain!

In one of his visits to Hadassah, Abishai told how Judas had in the
mountains raised a standard, which bore the inscription, "Who is like
unto Thee among the gods, O Jehovah!"

"It is said," observed Abishai, "that from the initial letters of this
inscription the word MACCABEUS is formed, and that by this new title
Judas is commonly called; it is a name which the Syrians will soon have
cause to dread."

"It is a well-chosen name!" cried Hadassah. "Let the Asmonean be
called _Makke-baiah_ (a conqueror in the Lord), for doubtless the God
whom he serves will give to him the victory!"

The triumphant joy of the patriotic Hadassah received a painful check
when she heard some time afterwards from Abishai of the grievous
sacrifice of the lives of a thousand faithful Hebrews, who had taken
refuge in a cave at no great distance from Jerusalem. Being attacked
there on the Sabbath-day by the Syrians, these Hebrews had actually let
themselves be slaughtered without resistance, rather than incur sin (as
they thought) by breaking the Fourth Commandment! Grieved at this
waste of precious life, it was a relief to Hadassah to learn that such
a sacrifice to a mistaken sense of duty would not be repeated; for when
the tidings had reached Mattathias and his sons, they had bitterly
mourned for their slaughtered countrymen, and had said one to another,
"If we all do as our brethren have done, and fight not for our lives
and laws, against the heathen, they will quickly root us out of the
earth." A decree, therefore, was sent forth from the camp in the
mountains, that to Hebrews attacked on the Sabbath-day, self-defence
was lawful and right.

In the meantime, under the care of Hadassah, the wounds of Lycidas were
gradually healing. Never to any man had confinement and suffering been
more sweetened, for was he not near to Zarah; did he not hear the soft
music of her voice, breathe the same air, even see her light form
gliding past the entrance of his hiding-place, though the maiden never
entered it? The necessity of concealing the presence of Lycidas, above
all from the blood-thirsty Abishai, compelled the closing during the
daytime of the door at the back of the dwelling which opened on the
small piece of ground behind. Peasants or travellers would
occasionally, though rarely, come to fill their pitchers or slake their
thirst at the little fountain gushing from the hill, and had the door
of what Lycidas playfully called his "den" been open, there would have
been nothing to prevent strangers from seeing or entering within. The
whole ventilation of the confined space occupied by the invalid
depended therefore during the day-time on its communication with the
front room, which might be called the only public apartment, and in
which not only food was now prepared and taken, and the occasional
guest received, but in which the Hebrew ladies pursued their daily
avocations. Here Zarah would pursue her homely occupation of spinning,
and Hadassah copy out on rolls of vellum portions from the Law and the
Prophets. This latter occupation was fraught with peril; and had
Hadassah been discovered in the act of transcribing from the sacred
pages, it might have cost her her life. Antiochus had eagerly sought
to destroy all copies of the Scriptures, or to profane them by having
vile pictures painted on the margins. To possess--far more to copy
out--God's Holy Word was now a capital offence. But the faith of
Hadassah seemed to raise her above all personal fear; the peril
connected with her pious labours made her but more earnestly pursue
them. The presence of the young Gentile in her dwelling was a source
of far greater uneasiness to the widow, than any danger which
threatened herself.

Had Hadassah been able to seclude her patient entirely, she would
willingly have discharged the duties of hospitality towards him; but
such seclusion the scanty accommodation of her dwelling would have
rendered impossible, even had Lycidas been willing to submit to perfect
isolation. But this was by no means the case. Not only did he require
the curtain frequently to be drawn back to enable him freely to
breathe; but the Greek, as his strength increased, was eager to be seen
as well as to see, and to speak as well as to listen. No anxious
warnings of danger to be apprehended from the sudden entrance of
Abishai could prevent Lycidas from dragging his languid limbs beyond
the limits which the curtain defined, and joining in social converse.
Lycidas resolutely shut his eyes to the fact that, to his hostess at
least, his presence was unwelcome. He deceived himself into the belief
that he was rather repaying the kindness which he had received, by
lightening the dulness of the secluded lives led by the Hebrew ladies.
The young Athenian drew forth for their amusement all the rich stores
of his cultivated mind. Now he recited wondrous tales of other lands;
now gave vivid descriptions of adventures of his own; poetry flowed
spontaneously from his lips like a stream--now sparkling with fancy,
now deepening into pathos; Lycidas had in Athens been compared to
Apollo, as much for his mental gifts as his singular personal beauty.

To the brilliant conversation of the stranger, so unlike what she ever
had heard before, Zarah listened with innocent pleasure. She was ever
obedient to her aged relative, and often did Hadassah's bidding in the
upper rooms of the dwelling, even when it seemed to the maiden that she
was sent on needless errands; but the light form, in its simple blue
garment, with the long linen veil thrown back from the graceful head,
was always returning to the apartment, to which it was drawn by a new
and powerful attraction. If Hadassah sometimes appeared irritable and
imperious towards the fair young being whom she loved, it was because
her mind was disturbed, her rest broken by anxieties which she could
impart to no one. The aged lady scarcely knew which evil she most
dreaded: the discovery of Lycidas by Abishai--a discovery which would
inevitably stain her threshold with blood--or the long sojourn under
her roof of the dangerous stranger, whom she had unwillingly admitted,
and now more unwillingly retained in her home.

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Previous: The First Struggle

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