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Night Travelling






Source: Hebrew Heroes

The enforced hastiness of Zarah's departure rendered it perhaps less
painful than it would otherwise have been. Zarah had little time to
indulge in tender regrets on leaving a spot which memory still peopled
with loved forms, giving a life to lifeless objects, making the table
at which Hadassah had sat so often, the wheel at which she had spun,
the plants that she had nurtured, things too precious to be parted from
without a pang. There was little which Zarah could take with her in a
litter; save the parchments, some articles of dress and her few jewels,
all must be left behind.

Yet at this time of peril, while the wound inflicted by bereavement was
yet unhealed, Zarah felt a spring of happiness which she had believed
could never flow again, rising within her young heart. "Lycidas is an
adopted son of Abraham! Lycidas, one of God's chosen people!" That
thought sufficed to make Zarah's soft eyes bright and her step buoyant,
to flood her spirit with hope and delight. Not that Zarah forgot
Hadassah in her new sense of happiness; on the contrary, the memory of
the sainted dead was linked with each thought of joy, and served to
make it more holy.

"How Hadassah would have praised and blessed God for this!" reflected
Zarah. "Her words were the seeds of truth which fell on the richest of
soils, where the harvest now gladdens her child. It was she who first
saved the precious life of my Lycidas, and then led his yet more
precious soul to the Fount of Salvation! Had Lycidas never listened to
the voice of my mother, he had been an idolater still!"

It was with more of pleasure than of apprehension that Zarah, timid as
was her nature, anticipated the journey before her. Lycidas was to be
her protector, Lycidas would be near her, his presence seemed to bring
with it safety and joy.

"And may it not be thus with all the future journey of life?" whispered
hope to the maiden. "Will Judas Maccabeus make any very strong
opposition to the union of his kinswoman to a proselyte, when he finds
that her happiness is involved in it, and that Lycidas will be a
gallant defender of the faith which he has adopted as his own?" Zarah
felt some anxiety and doubt upon this question, but nothing approaching
to despair. The maiden had little idea of the intensity of the
affection concentrated upon herself by one who was wont to restrain
outward expression of his feelings; she feared that Judas might be
offended and displeased, but never imagined that she had the power of
making him wretched. Was such a mighty hero, such an exalted leader,
likely to care for the heart of a simple girl? Love was a weakness to
which Zarah deemed that so calm and lofty a being as Maccabeus could
scarce condescend. But is the forest oak less strong and majestic
because spring drapes its branches with thousands of blossoms, or are
those blossoms less truly flowers because their hue is too like that of
the foliage to strike a careless beholder? Maccabeus, with his
thoughtful reserved disposition, would as little have talked of his
affection for Zarah as he would of the pulsations of his heart; but
both were a part of his nature, a necessity of his existence.

Joab was punctual to his appointment. An hour after dark the clatter
of horses' hoofs was heard on the lonely hill-path which led to the
house of Hadassah. Anna cautiously unclosed the door, peering forth
anxiously to see whether those who came were friends or foes.

"It is my Lord Lycidas!" she joyfully exclaimed, as the horseman who
rode in front drew his rein at the door.

The Athenian found Zarah and her attendant ready to start, and in a few
minutes the two were seated in the horse-litter conducted by Joab, the
crimson curtains were drawn, and the travellers departed from the
lonely habitation upon their perilous journey.

The weather at this advanced season was cold, almost frosty, at night;
but Lycidas was glad of the cessation of the heavy rains which had, as
usual, heralded the approach of winter. The night was cloudless and
clear, the azure vault was spangled with stars.

After some windings amongst the hills, the party entered the long
valley of Rephaim, rich with corn-fields, vineyards, and orchards. The
corn had long since been garnered, the grapes had been gathered, but
the fig-trees were still laden with fruit. Zarah noticed little of the
scenery around her, though brilliant star-light rendered it faintly
visible. The rough motion of the litter over rocky roads precluded
conversation, even had Zarah been disposed to enter into it with her
attendant. The rocking of the litter rather invited sleep, and after
the maiden had been for about an hour and a half slowly pursuing her
journey, drowsiness was stealing over her, when she was startled by a
sudden shock, which, though not violent, was sufficient somewhat to
alarm, and thoroughly to arouse her.

"Has anything happened?" asked the maiden, partly drawing back one of
the crimson curtains of her litter. Lycidas had dismounted, and was at
her side in a moment.

"It is a trifling matter," he said; "be not alarmed, dear lady. One of
the thongs has given way; Joab will speedily set all to rights; I only
regret the delay."

"Where are we now?" asked Zarah.

"Close to the village of Bethlehem," was the Athenian's reply.

"Ah! I must look upon Bethlehem again!" cried Zarah with emotion,
drawing the curtain further back, so as to obtain a wider view of the
dim landscape of swelling hills and soft pastures. "My loved mother
Hadassah was wont to bring me every year to this place; she called its
stones the Memorial of the Past, and the Cradle of the Future."

"I know that Bethlehem is a place of great historical interest,"
observed Lycidas, glancing around; "it was here that David, the
anointed shepherd, watched his flock, and encountered the lion and the
bear. And it was here that the gentle Ruth gleaned barley amongst the
reapers of Boaz." The young Greek was well pleased to show his
recently-acquired knowledge of sacred story.

"Yes; my mother was wont to point out to me the very spots where events
took place which must ever render them dear to the Hebrews," observed
Zarah. "But Hadassah always said that the chief interest of Bethlehem
lies in the future rather than in the past. It is here," Zarah
reverentially lowered her voice as she went on--"it is here that
Messiah the Prince shall be born, as has been revealed to us by a
prophet."

"One would scarcely deem this village to be a place likely to be so
honoured," observed Lycidas.

"Ah! you remind me of what my dear mother once said in reply to words
of mine, spoken several years ago, when I was very young," said Zarah.
"'It will be a long time before the Prince can come,' I observed, 'for
I have looked on every side, and cannot see so much as the first stone
laid of the palace in which He will be born.'--'Think you, child,' said
Hadassah, 'that a building ten thousand times more splendid than that
raised by Solomon would add a whit to His glory? The presence of the
king makes the palace, though it should be but a cave. Does it
increase the value of the diamond if the earth in which it lies
embedded show a few spangles of gold dust?'--I have never forgotten
that gentle reproof," continued Zarah, "and it makes me look with
something of reverence even on such a building as that mean inn which
we see yonder, for who can say that the Prince of Peace may not be born
even in a place so lowly!"

As Joab was still occupied in repairing the thong, Lycidas, standing
bridle in hand beside Zarah's litter, went on with the conversation.

"The mind of Hadassah," he observed, "seemed especially to dwell upon
humiliation, suffering and sacrifice in connection with the mysterious
Being for whose advent she looked--we all look. If her view be
correct, it may be possible that not only the death, but the earthly
life of the Messiah may be one long sacrifice from the cradle to the
grave."

The conversation then turned to themes less lofty, till Joab had
succeeded in effecting the slight needful repairs. Lycidas then
remounted his horse, and the party resuming their journey, Bethlehem
was soon left behind them.

It is unnecessary to describe that night-journey, or tell how Lycidas
and his companions passed the site of King Solomon's pleasure-grounds,
his "gardens, and orchards and pools of water;" or how the road then
led over the succession of barren hills which extend southward as far
as Hebron. Travelling was slow and tedious, the road rough, and the
horses grew weary. Lycidas was too anxious to place his charge in
safety, to permit of a halt for refreshment and rest on the way. The
Greek's uneasiness on Zarah's account was increased as, towards dawn,
they met parties of peasants fleeing, as they said, from the Syrians,
who, like a vast cloud of locusts, were carrying devastation through
the land. Lycidas felt that danger was on all sides; he knew not
whether to advance or to retreat; responsibility weighed heavily upon
him, and he almost envied the stolid composure with which the hardy
Joab trudged on his weary way. The Athenian would not disturb the
serenity of Zarah's mind by imparting to her the anxious cares which
perplexed his own. Lycidas was touched by the implicit confidence
placed by the gentle girl in his power to protect and guide her; and he
was thankful that while with him eye, ear, brain, were strained to the
utmost to detect the most remote approach of danger, the weary Zarah in
her litter was able to enjoy the refreshment of sleep.





Next: Friends Or Foes?

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