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Trials Of The Heart






Source: Hebrew Heroes

For the first time in the course of her life, Zarah dreaded a meeting
with Hadassah. Though the season was now so far advanced that the heat
of the sun was great, the maiden lingered on the shadeless housetop,
leaning her brow against the parapet, listlessly gazing towards
Jerusalem, but with her mind scarcely taking in the objects upon which
her eyes were fixed. Was it a foreboding of coming sorrow, or a
feeling of self-reproach, that brooded over the maiden's soul? Zarah
was afraid to analyze her own feelings: she only knew that her heart
was very heavy.

Nearly two hours thus passed. The sun had now approached the horizon,
and the heat was less oppressive. Zarah heard the slow step of
Hadassah ascending the stair, and rose to meet her, but with a
sensation of fear. The remembrance of that look of sad displeasure,
such as had never been turned upon her before, had haunted the mind of
the conscious girl. Was Hadassah angry with her daughter? Would she
come to probe a heart which had never from childhood kept a secret from
one so tenderly loved? Zarah was afraid to raise her eyes to
Hadassah's when they met, lest she should encounter that stern look
again; but never had the aged lady's face worn an expression of greater
tenderness than it did when, on the housetop, she rejoined the child of
her love.

"Have you been here in the heat of the sun, my dove, letting the fierce
rays beat on your unveiled face?" said Hadassah, after printing a kiss
on the maiden's brow. "Nay, I must chide you, my Zarah. Seat yourself
where yon tall palm now throws its shadow, and I will sit beside you.
We will talk of the glorious tidings which Abishai brought to us
to-day."

It was a great relief to Zarah to hear that such was to be the subject
of the coming conversation. She glanced timidly up into the face of
Hadassah; and, quite reassured by what she saw there, took her
favourite place at her grandmother's feet.

"Is it not evident," pursued Hadassah, "that the arm of the Lord is
stretched out to fight for Judah---that His blessing goes with Judas
Maccabeus? Do you not rejoice, Zarah, in the victory which has been
won by our Hebrew heroes?"

"I do rejoice; I thank God for it," replied the maiden. "I hope that a
time is coming when we shall go forth, like the women of Israel in
olden time, who went singing and dancing to meet Saul and David, after
the triumph over the Philistines."

"David, when he slew Goliath and won the hand of a king's daughter,
deserved not more of his country than does Maccabeus," observed
Hadassah. "Are you not proud of your kinsman, my child?"

"All Judaea is proud of her hero," said Zarah.

"Happy the woman whom he shall choose as his bride!" cried Hadassah.

The maiden gave no reply.

"Zarah, why should I longer conceal from you what has so long been in
my thoughts?" said the aged lady, after a pause of some minutes'
duration. "Why should you not know of the high honour awaiting my
daughter? From your early childhood both Mattathias, our revered
kinsman--on whose grave be peace!--and myself have looked forward to
the future espousals of my loved Zarah and Judas."

"Judas! Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Zarah, suddenly withdrawing her
trembling hand from that of her grandmother, in which it had been
clasped. "He is wedded to his country; he will never think of taking a
wife." She spoke rapidly, and with some emotion.

"His toils and triumphs may, and I trust will, lead to future peace,"
said Hadassah. "Then may he enjoy the happiness which he has earned so
well. Will you not give it to him, Zarah--you, whose very name
signifies 'brightness'?"

"I honour Maccabeus as a hero; I could reverence him as my prince; I
would kneel and wash the dust from his feet, or cut off my long hair to
string his bow; but I cannot be his bride," exclaimed Zarah. "I am so
weak, so unworthy! It would be like mating the eagle with the sparrow
that sits on the housetops. Maccabeus is the noblest of men."

"Blessed the wife who can so honour her lord!" said Hadassah.

"I do honour Maccabeus from the depths of my soul; but--but I fear
him," faltered Zarah.

"Were you a Syrian you might say so," observed Hadassah, with a faint
approach to a smile; "but not as a daughter of Judah. Terrible as he
is to his country's foes, to armed oppressors, no maiden had ever cause
to dread Maccabeus. The sharp thorns of the cactus make it an
impenetrable fence which the strongest intruder cannot break through;
yet bears it brilliant flowers and refreshing fruit. The strong
war-horse tramples down the enemy in battle; but in peace the little
child unharmed may play with his mane. The bravest are the most
gentle. Judas is no exception to this rule. Pure-hearted and true, he
is one to make a woman happy."

Zarah sighed, and drooped her head.

"Was it not a proud moment for Achsah, when Othniel, after the conquest
of Kirjathsepher, claimed her hand as the victor's prize?" asked
Hadassah.

"But Achsah was the daughter of a Caleb," said Zarah. Then, raising
her head, she suddenly inquired--"Did my father also destine me to be
the bride of my kinsman?"

Hadassah winced at the question, as if a painful wound had been touched.

"Oh, my child, have pity on me," she faintly murmured, "and speak not
of him!"

Zarah had for long known that there was one subject which she dared
never approach. Her grandmother had, as it were, one locked chamber in
her heart, which no one might venture to open. Whether Zarah's father
were dead or not, the maiden knew not. She faintly remembered a tall,
handsome man, who had played with her tresses and danced her in his
arms when she was a child, in her early home at Bethsura; but since she
had left that home in company with her grandmother, she had never seen
him nor heard his name. The slightest allusion to her father by Zarah
had caused such distress to Hadassah, that the child had soon learned
to be silent, though not to forget. Hadassah often spoke of Miriam,
her only daughter, and of Zarah's own gentle mother--twin-roses, as she
would call them, both early gathered for heaven in the first year of
their wedded lives--but of her son she never would speak. A mystery
hung round the fate of Abner--such was his name--which his daughter
vainly longed to penetrate. Her heart reproached her now for the
unguarded question into which she had been surprised.

"Oh, forgive me, mother," said Zarah, kissing the hand of Hadassah,
which was tremulous and cold; "your word, your will, shall be enough
for me in all things, except--oh, ask me not to wed my kinsman."

"Is it, can it be because another has a nearer place in your heart?"
said Hadassah. The fair countenance of Zarah became suddenly rosy as
the sunlit cloud, then pale as Lebanon snow, at the question.

"Oh, then, my fears are too true!" exclaimed Hadassah, in a tone not of
wrath but of anguish. "Must the sins of the father be visited upon the
innocent child! A Gentile--a heathen--an idolater! Would I had died
ere this day!"

"Be not angry with me, mother," faltered Zarah, wetting Hadassah's hand
with her tears.

"I am not angry, my poor dove," cried the widow. "Woe is me that I
have been, as it were, constrained to expose you to this cruel snare.
But you will break through it," she added, with more animation, "my
bird will rise above earth with her silver wings unsullied and bright!
Various are the temptations which the soul's enemy employs to draw away
God's servants from their allegiance; some he would sway through their
fears; others he would win by the love of the world, its wealth and its
pleasures; others he would chain by their hearts' strong affections.
But the Lord gives strength to his people, to resist and to conquer,
whether the temptation be from fear or from love. You are the worthy
kinsman of Solomona, who gave life itself for the faith."

"Perhaps the sacrifice of life is not the hardest to make," Zarah
dreamily replied.

"Solomona gave her seven sons," said Hadassah.

"Oh, what a mercy-stroke to her was that which let her follow them!"
exclaimed Zarah. "Had she been left to survive all whom she loved,
Solomona had been the most wretched woman on earth!"

"No; not the most wretched," said Hadassah, with deep feeling, "for
they all died in the faith. Better, all, far better to lose seven by
death, than one by--by treason against God!" And in an almost
inaudible voice the aged lady added, closing her eyes, "Must I know
that misery twice?"

"No, mother, mine own dear mother, you shall never know that misery
through me!" exclaimed Zarah with animation. "I will pray, I will
strive, I will try to put away, even from my thoughts, all that would
come between me and the faith of a daughter of Abraham, only guide me,
help me, tell your child what she should do," and the maiden
passionately kissed again and again the hand of Hadassah, and then
pillowed her aching head on her parent's bosom. Hadassah folded her
there in a long and tender embrace.

"I would send you to Bethsura, to my aged cousin, Rachel," said the
widow, "only"--

"Oh, send me not away; let me stay beside you; your health is failing;
I should never know peace afar from you!" sobbed Zarah, in a tone of
entreaty.

"I dare not send my child to Idumea, with no safe escort, and the
Syrians, men of Belial, holding the land," said Hadassah. "Better keep
her here under my wing, in the quiet seclusion of my home. But, oh, my
child, attend to the voice of your mother; you must avoid meeting the
Gentile stranger; you must be little in the lower apartments, Zarah,
and never save when I am there also. Your trial will not last long;
the Athenian's wounds are healing; after the Passover-feast, Abishai
will leave Jerusalem to join the patriot band. When he is once safe
beyond reach of the enemy, I will no longer for one hour harbour
Lycidas under my roof; he has been here far too long already. Your
painful struggle will now last but a short time, my Zarah."

Zarah thought, though she did not say so, that the heart struggle would
last as long as her earthly existence.

"You will obey me, my daughter?" asked the widow; "you will shun the
too attractive society of the stranger?"

The maiden bowed her head in assent, and murmured, "Pray for me,
mother; I am so weak."

"My life shall be one prayer," said Hadassah.

"Mine--one sacrifice," thought the poor maiden. "Oh, may that
sacrifice be accepted!"





Next: Silent Conflict

Previous: Deep Things



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