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The Mourner's Home

Source: Hebrew Heroes

I shall pass lightly over the events of several succeeding months. The
summer passed away, with its intense heat and its fierce simooms. Then
came heavier dews by night, and temperature gradually decreased by day.
The harvest was ended, but few of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had
ventured to observe Pentecostal solemnities. The time for the Feast of
Tabernacles arrived, but none dared raise leafy booths of palm and
willow--to spend therein the week of rejoicing, according to the custom
of happier years.

Early in the summer Antiochus Epiphanes had quitted Judaea for Persia,
to quell an insurrection which his cupidity had provoked in the latter
country. The absence of the tyrant had somewhat mitigated the
fierceness of the persecution against such Hebrews as sought to obey
the law of Moses; but still no one dared openly to practise Jewish
rites in Jerusalem, and the image of Jupiter Olympus still profaned the
temple on Mount Zion.

Judas Maccabeus, in the meantime, still maintained a bold front in
Southern Judaea and the tract of country called Idumea; the power of
his name was felt from the rich pasture-lands surrounding Hebron as far
as the fair plains of Beersheba on the south-west--or on the south-east
the desolate valley of salt. Wherever the Asmonean's influence
extended, fields were sown or their harvests gathered in peace; the
husbandman followed his team, and the shepherd folded his flocks;
mothers rejoiced over the infants whom they could now present to the
Lord without fear.

But again the portentous war-cloud was rolling up from the direction of
Antioch. Lycias, the regent of the western provinces, by the command
of Antiochus had gathered around him a very large army, a force yet
more formidable than that which had been led by Nicanor, and Syria was
again collecting her hordes to crush by overwhelming numbers Judas and
his patriot band.

And how had the last half-year sped with Zarah? Very slowly and very
heavily, as time usually passes with those who mourn. And deeply did
Zarah mourn for Hadassah--her more than mother, her counsellor, her
guide--the being round whom maiden's affections so closely had twined
that she had felt that she could hardly sustain existence deprived of
Hadassah. And much Zarah wept for her father--though in remembering
him a deep spring of joy mingled with her sorrow. A thousand times did
Zarah repeat to herself his words of blessing--a thousand times
fervently thank God that she and her parent had met. The words of
Lysimachus had lightened her heart of what would otherwise have
painfully pressed upon it. Those words had told her that Pollux was a
doomed man; that apostasy on her part could not have saved his life;
that had he not fallen by the Syrian's dagger, he would have been but
reserved for the headsman's axe. And had Pollux perished thus, there
would have been none of that gleam of hope which, at least in Zarah's
eyes, now rested upon his grave.

Zarah never left the precincts of her secluded dwelling, except to
visit her parents' grave--where she went as often as she dared venture
forth, accompanied by the faithful Anna. No feet but their own ever
crossed the threshold of their home. Zarah's simple wants were always
supplied. Anna disposed in Jerusalem of the flax which her young
mistress spun, as soon as Zarah had regained sufficient strength to
resume her humble labours. During the period of the maiden's severe
illness, Anna had secretly disposed of the precious rolls of Scripture
from which Hadassah had made her copies, and had obtained for them such
a price as enabled her for many weeks to procure every comfort and even
luxury required by the sufferer. The copies themselves, traced by the
dear hand now mouldering into dust, Zarah counted as her most precious
possession; her most soothing occupation was to read them, pray over
them, commit to memory their contents.

During all this long period of time, Zarah never saw Lycidas, but she
had an instinctive persuasion that he was not far away--that, like an
unseen good angel, he was protecting her still. The name of the
Athenian was never forgotten in Zarah's prayers. She felt that she
owed a debt of gratitude to one who had struck down her father's
murderer, who had paid the last honours to his remains and those of
Hadassah, and to whose care she believed that she owed her own freedom
and life. If there was something more than gratitude in the maiden's
feelings towards the Greek, it was a sentiment so refined and purified
by grief that it cast no dimness over the mirror of conscience.

But Zarah knew that her life could not always flow on thus. It was a
most unusual thing in her land for a maiden thus to dwell alone,
without any apparent protection save that of a single handmaid. It was
a violation of all the customs of her people, an unseemly thing which
could only be justified by necessity. The daughter of Abner was also
in constant peril of having her retreat discovered by those who had
searched for herself and her father in vain, but who might at any day
or any hour find and seize her as a condemned criminal, and either put
her to death, or send her as a captive to Antiochus Epiphanes.

Often, very often had Zarah turned over the subject of her peculiar
position in her mind, and considered whether she ought not to leave the
precincts of Jerusalem, and secretly depart for Bethsura. There the
orphan could claim the hospitality of her aged relative Rachel, should
she be living yet, or the protection of the Asmonean brothers, who,
being her next of kin, were, according to Jewish customs, the maiden's
natural guardians. But Zarah shrank from taking this difficult step.
Very formidable to her was the idea of undertaking a journey even of
but twenty miles' length, through a country where she would be liable
to meet enemies at every step of the way. Zarah had no means of
travelling save on foot, unless she disposed of some of the few jewels
which she had inherited from her parents; and this she was not only
unwilling to do, but she feared to do it lest, through the sale of
these gems in Jerusalem, she should be tracked to her place of retreat.
Anna was faithful as a servant, but could never be leaned upon as an
adviser--she would obey, but she could not counsel; and her young
mistress, timid and gentle, with no one to guide and protect her, felt
her strength and courage alike insufficient for an adventurous journey
from Jerusalem to Bethsura.

The possible necessity which might arise of her having to place herself
under the protection of Maccabeus, should Rachel be no longer living at
Bethsura, greatly increased Zarah's reluctance to leave her present
abode. The maiden remembered too well what Hadassah had disclosed of a
proposed union between herself and Judas, not to feel that it would be
peculiarly painful to have to throw herself upon the kindness of her
brave kinsman. Zarah could not, as she thought, tell him why the idea
of such a union was hateful to her soul--why she was averse to
fulfilling the wishes of Mattathias and Hadassah. While Maccabeus
often experienced an almost irrepressible yearning once more to look
upon Zarah, whom he believed to be still with Hadassah, of whose death
he never had heard, Zarah shrank with emotions of fear from meeting the
Hebrew chieftain.

Tender affection also made the orphan girl cling to her parents' grave
and the home of her youth. Dear associations were linked with almost
every object on which her eyes rested. Those to whom the present is a
thorny waste, and the future a prospect darkened by gloomy mists, are
wont to dwell more than others on the green spots which memory yet can
survey in the past. It is natural to youth to look forward. Zarah, as
regarded this world, dared only look back. It was well for her that
she could do so with so little of remorse or regret.

"Not to have known a treasure's worth
Till time hath stolen away the slighted boon,
Is cause of half the misery we feel,
And makes this world the wilderness it is."

When winter was drawing near, when the bursting cotton-pods had been
gathered, and the vintage season was over, when the leaves were
beginning to fall fast, and the cold grew sharp after sunset,
circumstances occurred which compelled a change in Zarah's quiet
routine of existence. She could no longer be left to indulge her
lonely sorrow; the current of life was about to take a sudden turn
which must of necessity bring her amongst new scenes, and expose her to
fresh trials.

Next: Changes

Previous: United In The Grave

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