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United In The Grave






Source: Hebrew Heroes

Lycidas dared not at first break to Zarah the mournful truth that one
blow had bereft her of both her protectors, that she was now indeed an
orphan, and alone in the world. Zarah saw that her father was dead,
but believed that Hadassah had swooned. The subdued wail of Anne over
the corpse of her mistress, first revealed to the bereaved girl the
full extent of her loss. Its greatness, its suddenness, almost stunned
her; it was a paralyzing grief.

But this was no time for lamentation or wail. Lycidas
remembered--though Zarah herself for the moment entirely forgot it--her
imminent personal peril should she be discovered and arrested by the
Syrians. To save her precious life, was now the Greek's most anxious
care. He tried to persuade her to fly; but even his entreaties could
not draw the mourner from the dead bodies of Hadassah and Pollux. It
seemed as if Zarah could understand nothing but the greatness of her
bereavements. A terrible fear arose in the mind of the Greek that all
that the maiden had undergone during the last two days had unsettled
her reason.

"What can be done!" exclaimed Lycidas, almost in despair; "if the
Syrians find her here, she is lost. The city will soon be astir;
already I hear the sound of hoofs!"

A man, leading a large mule with two empty panniers, appeared, trudging
on his solitary way. As he approached the spot, Lycidas to his
inexpressible relief recognized in him Joab, a man whose countenance
was never likely to be forgotten by him--being connected with one of
the most exciting passages in the life of the young Athenian.

"Ha! the lady Hadassah!" exclaimed the muleteer, in a tone of surprise
and regret, as his eye fell on the lifeless body, round which Zarah was
clinging, with her face buried in the folds of its garments.

"I have seen you before; I know you to be a good man and true," said
Lycidas, hurriedly. "You risked your life to bury the martyrs, you
will help us now in this our sore need. Assist us to lift these bodies
on your mule, and take them as secretly and as swiftly as we may to the
house of Hadassah."

"I would risk anything for my old mistress," said Joab; "but as for yon
silken-clad Syrian, I care not to burden my beast with his carcass."
The muleteer looked with stern surprise on the corpse of Pollux. "Who
is he," continued Joab, "and how comes he to be clasped in the arms of
the Lady Hadassah?"

"My father--he is my father!" sobbed Zarah.

"Raise them both," said Lycidas; "we cannot divide them, and there is
not a moment to be lost."

The united efforts of the party hardly sufficed to raise the two bodies
to the back of the mule, which, though a large and powerful animal,
could scarcely carry the double burden. Joab took his large coarse
mantle, and threw it over the corpses to hide them, then taking his
beast by the halter, led it forward in silence.

"Is there no danger from him?" said Anna to Lycidas, pointing to
Lysimachus, who lay senseless and bleeding, his head having come into
violent collision with a stone.

By a brief examination Lycidas satisfied himself that the courtier was
indeed in a state of unconsciousness, and knew nothing of what was
passing around him. The Athenian then went up to Zarah, who, drooping
like a broken lily, was slowly following the corpses of her parent and
his mother. Lycidas offered her what support he could give; Zarah did
not, could not reject it. A deadness seemed coming over her brain and
heart; had not Lycidas upheld the poor girl, she must have dropped by
the wayside.

With what strange emotions did Lycidas through life remember that early
walk in Jerusalem! The being whom he loved best was leaning upon him,
too much exhausted to decline his aid; there was thrilling happiness in
being so near her; but the uppermost feelings in the mind of Lycidas
were agonising fear upon Zarah's account, and intense impatience to
reach some place of safety. Fearfully slow to Lycidas appeared the
progress of the heavily-laden mule, terribly long the way that was
traversed. The muleteer purposely avoided that which would have been
most direct; he dared not go through one of the city gates, but passed
out into the open country at a spot little frequented, where a part of
the wall of Jerusalem still lay in ruins, as it had been left by
Apollonius. Most unwelcome to Lycidas was the brightening day, which
awoke the world to life. Every human form, even that of a child, was
to him an object of alarm. The brave young Greek was full of terrors
for one who in her grief had lost the sense of personal fear.

Partly owing to the skilful selection of paths by Joab, partly owing to
the circumstance of the day being still so young, the party did not
meet many persons on their way, and these few were of poorer class,
early commencing their morning toils. Inquiring glances were cast at
the singular cortege, but at that time of bondage and peril, a common
sense of misery and danger taught caution and repressed curiosity.

Only once was a question asked of the muleteer.

"What have you there, Joab, under yon mantle?" inquired a woman with a
large jar on her head, who stopped to survey the strange burden of the
mule.

"A ripe sheaf of the first-fruits, a wave-offering, Deborah," replied
Joab, with significance.

"There will be more, many more, cut down soon," replied the woman
gloomily; "may desolation overtake the Syrian reapers!"

Joab saw the Athenian's look of apprehension. "Fear not, stranger," he
said; "no Hebrew will betray us; Deborah is true as steel, and knows me
well."

There is little of twilight in Judaea; day leaps almost at a bound upon
his throne. The world was bathed in sunshine long before the
slowly-moving party reached the lonely dwelling amongst the hills. How
thankful was Lycidas for the seclusion of that wild spot, which seemed
as if it had been chosen for purpose of concealment! Hadassah had left
the door fastened when she had quitted the place on the preceding
morning, full of anxious terrors on account of the peril of Zarah; but
Anna had charge of the key. With what thankful joy would the Hebrew
widow have for the last time crossed that threshold in life, could she
have foreseen that her child would so soon return in safety, albeit as
a mourner, following Hadassah's own corpse!

The two bodies were reverentially laid on mats on the floor of the
dwelling. Lycidas then went outside the door with Joab, to make such
arrangements as circumstances permitted for the burial, which,
according to the custom of the land, rendered necessary by the climate,
must take place very soon. Joab undertook to find those who would aid
him in digging a grave close to that of the martyrs, and promised to
come for the bodies an hour after midnight. Lycidas drew forth gold,
but the Hebrew refused to take it.

"To bury the martyred dead is a pious office and acceptable to the Most
High," said the brave muleteer; "but as for yon Syrian, son though he
may be of the Lady Hadassah, I care not to lay his bones amongst those
of martyrs. I trow he was nothing but a traitor."

"He died by the hand of a Syrian, he died saving a Hebrew maiden, he
died in his mother's arms," said Lycidas, with tender regard for the
feelings of Zarah, who would he knew be sensitive in regard to respect
paid to the corpse of her parent. "Deny him not a grave with his
people."

Joab merely shrugged his shoulders in reply, laid his hand on the
halter of his mule, and departed.

On the following night, Lycidas found himself again in that
olive-girdled spot which he had such reason to remember. He stood
under that tree behind the bending trunk of which he had crouched for
concealment on the night when he had first seen Zarah.

The ground was very hard from the long drought. Joab, and two
companions whom he had brought to assist in the perilous service, had
much difficulty in preparing a grave.

"We need the strong arm of Maccabeus here," observed one of the men,
stopping to brush the beaded drops from his brow.

"Maccabeus is employed in making graves for his enemies, not for his
friends," was the muleteer's stern reply.

Thick heavy clouds obscured the starless sky, not a breath of wind was
stirring, the air felt oppressively close and sultry even at the hour
of midnight. A single torch was all the light which the grave-diggers
dared to employ while engaged on their dangerous work. In almost
perfect darkness were the remains of Hadassah and her unhappy son
lowered into the dust. There was no silver moonlight streaming between
the stems of the olives, as on the occasion of the martyrs' burial, nor
was Zarah present to throw flowers into the open grave. With her the
powers of nature had given way under the prolonged strain which they
had had to endure; the poor girl lay in her desolate home, too ill to
be even conscious of the removal from it of the remains over which she
had watched and mourned as long as she had been capable of doing either.

It was strange to Lycidas to be, as it were, only representative of
Hadassah's family at the funeral of herself and her son,--he, who was
not only no relative, but a foreigner in blood, and in religion an
alien; but it was a privilege which he valued very highly, and which he
would not have resigned to have held the chief place in the most
pompous ceremonial upon earth.

As soon as the displaced earth had been thrown back into the grave of
Hadassah and her Abner, the night-clouds burst, and down came the long
longed-for, long-desired latter rains. The parched dry sod seemed to
drink in new life; the shrivelled foliage revived, all nature rejoiced
in the gift from heaven. When the sun rose over the hills, water was
again trickling from the stream behind the dwelling of Hadassah; the
oleanders were not yet dead, they would bloom into beauty again.





Next: The Mourner's Home

Previous: Flight



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