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Weary Wanderings






Source: Hebrew Heroes

Hadassah had believed years previously that she had suffered to the
extreme limits of human endurance--that there were no deeper depths of
misery to which she could descend; but the news brought on that fatal
night by Salathiel showed her that she had been mistaken. The idea of
her Zarah, her tender loving Zarah, in the hands of the Syrians,
brought almost intolerable woe. So carefully had the maiden been
nurtured, watched over, shielded from every wrong, like an unfledged
bird that has always been kept under the warm, soft, protecting wing,
that the utter defencelessness of her present position struck Hadassah
with terror.

And how--the widow could not help asking herself--how could one so
timid and sensitive stand the test of persecution from which the
boldest might shrink? Zarah would weep at a tale of suffering, turn
faint at the sight of blood. She was not any means courageous, and her
young cousins, Solomona's sons, had been wont to make mirth of her
terror when a centipede had once been found nestling under a cushion
near her. Could such a soft silken thread bear the strain of a blast
which might snap the strongest cable? Hadassah trembled for her
darling, and would willingly have consented to bear any torture, to
have been able to exchange places with one so little fitted, as she
thought, to endure. Sorely tried was the faith of the Hebrew lady; how
little could she imagine that the prayers of many years were being
answered by means of the very misfortune which was rending the cords of
her heart.

In the misery of her soul, all Hadassah's physical weakness and pain
seemed forgotten. Before morning she had dragged her feeble steps to
the gate of the prison which held her child, with the faithful Anna for
her only attendant. In vain Hadassah implored for admission; in vain
offered to share the captivity of Zarah, if she might be but permitted
to see her. She was driven away by the guards, with insolent taunts,
only to return again and again, like a bird to its plundered nest! But
no complaining word, no murmuring against the decree of Him who had
appointed her sore trial, was heard from Hadassah; only that sublime
expression of unshaken faith, _Though He slay me, yet will I trust in
Him_.

Then the widow thought of Lycidas the Greek. She had a claim upon his
gratitude, and she knew that Zarah had a place in his affections. With
his wealth, his talent, his eloquence, might he not help to save her
child?

"Anna," said Hadassah to her handmaid, "could we but find the Greek
stranger, he might afford us aid and advice in this our sore need. But
I know not where he abides."

"Joab would know," observed the Jewess, "and I know the quarter of the
town in which he dwells with his mother's sister, Hephzibah; for I have
dealt with her for olives and melons. But, lady, you are weary, the
heat of the sun is now great; seek some place of shelter and rest while
I go in search of Joab."

"There is no rest for me till I find my Zarah; and what care I for
shelter when she has but that of a prison!" cried Hadassah.

The two women then proceeded on their quest to a quarter of Jerusalem
inhabited only by the poorest of the people. Simple as were the
garments worn by the widow lady, she carried with her so unmistakably
the stamp of a person of distinction, that her appearance there excited
surprise amongst the half-clad, half-starved children that stared at
her as she passed along. The street was so narrow that the women,
meeting a loaded camel in it, had to stand close to the wall on one
side, to suffer the unwieldy beast to pass on the other. Hungry lean
dogs were growling over well-picked bones cast forth in the way, evil
odours rendered the stifling air more oppressive. But Hadassah went
forward as if insensible of any outward annoyance.

Hephzibah, a miserable-looking old woman, with eyes disfigured and half
blinded by ophthalmia, was standing in her doorway, throwing forth the
refuse of vegetables, in which she dealt. Anna had frequently seen her
before, and no introduction was needed.

"Where is Joab?" asked the handmaid, at the bidding of Hadassah.

The old crone through her bleared eyes peered curiously at the lady, as
she replied to the maid, "Joab has gone forth, as he always goes at
cockcrow, to lade his mule with leeks, and melons, and other vegetables
and fruits. He will not be back till night-fall."

Hadassah pressed her burning brow in thought, and then herself
addressed the old woman.

"Have you heard from Joab where dwells a week--an Athenian--Lycidas is
his name?"

"Lycidas? no; there be none of that name in our quarters," was the
slowly mumbled reply.

"Has Joab never spoken to you of a stranger, very goodly in person and
graceful in mien?" persisted Hadassah, grasping at the hope that the
singular beauty of Lycidas might make it less difficult to trace him.

Hephzibah shook her head, and showed her few remaining teeth in a grin.
"Were he goodly as David, I should hear and care nothing about it,"
said she.

"The stranger has a very open hand, he gives freely," observed Anna.
The words had an instant effect in improving the memory of the old
Jewess.

"Ay, ay," she said, brightening up; "I mind me of a stranger who gave
Joab gold when another would have given him silver. He! he! he! Our
mule is as strong a beast as any in the city, but it never brought us
such a day's hire before."

"When was that?" asked Hadassah.

"Two days since, when Joab had taken the youth to his home."

"Can you tell me where that home is?" inquired Hadassah with eagerness.

"Wait--let me think," mumbled Hephzibah.

Hadassah thrust a coin into the hand of seller of fruit. Hephzibah
turned it round and round, looking at it as if she thought that the
examination of the money would help her in giving her answer. It came
at last, but slowly: "Ay, I mind me that Joab said that he took the
stranger to the large house, with a court, on the left side of the west
gate, which Apollonius" (she muttered a curse) "broke down."

This was clue sufficient; and thankful at having gained one, Hadassah
with her attendant left the stifling precincts of Hephzibah's dwelling
to find out that of the Greek. Terrible were the glare and heat of the
noonday sun, and long appeared the distance to be traversed, yet
Hadassah did not even slacken her steps till she approached the
gymnasium erected by the renegade high-priest Jason. With difficulty
she made her way through crowds of Syrians and others hastening to the
place of amusement.

Hadassah groaned, but it was not from weariness; she turned away her
eyes from the building which had been to so many of her people as the
gate of perdition, and the merry voices of the pleasure-seekers sounded
sadder to her ears than a wail uttered over the dead. Precious souls
had been murdered in that gymnasium; the Hebrew mother thought of her
own lost son!

Almost dropping from fatigue, Hadassah reached at last the place which
Hephzibah had described. It was an inn of the better sort, kept by an
Athenian named Cimon, who had established himself in Jerusalem.
Hadassah had no difficulty in obtaining an interview with the host, who
received her with the courtesy befitting a citizen of one of the most
polished cities then to be found in the world. Cimon offered the lady
a seat under the shadow of the massive gateway leading into his
courtyard.

"Dwells the Lord Lycidas here?" asked Hadassah faintly. She could
hardly speak; her tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of her mouth from
heat, fatigue, and excitement.

"The Lord Lycidas left this place yesterday lady," said the Greek.

"Whither has he gone?" gasped Hadassah.

"I know not--he told me not whither," answered Cimon, surveying his
questioner with compassion and curiosity. "Months have elapsed since
the Athenian lord, after honouring this roof by his sojourn under it,
suddenly disappeared. Search was made for him in vain. I feared that
evil had happened to my guest, and as time rolled on and brought no
tidings, I sent word to his friends in Athens, asking what should be
done with property left under my charge by him who, as I deemed, had
met an untimely end. Ere the answer arrived, the Lord Lycidas himself
appeared at my door, but in evil plight, weak in body and troubled in
mind. He would give no account of the past; he said not where he had
sojourned; and yester-morn, though scarcely strong enough to keep the
saddle, he mounted his horse, and rode off--I know not whither; nor
said he when he would return. If the lady be a friend of the Lord
Lycidas," continued the Athenian, whose curiosity was strongly excited,
"perhaps she may favour me by throwing light upon the mystery which
attends his movements."

But Hadassah had come to gain information, not to impart it. "I cannot
linger here," she said, "but if Lycidas return tell him, I earnestly
charge you, that the child of one who nursed him in sickness is now the
prisoner of the Syrian king!"

Grievously disappointed and disheartened by her failure, Hadassah then
turned away from the dwelling of the Greek.

"Oh, lady, rest, or you will sink from fatigue!" cried Anna, whose own
sturdy frame was suffering from the effect of efforts of half of which,
a day before, she would have dreamed her mistress utterly incapable.

Hadassah made no reply; she sank rather than seated herself under the
narrow strip of shade afforded by a dead wall. The lady covered her
face; Anna knew from the slight movement of her bowed head that
Hadassah was praying.

Presently the Hebrew lady raised her head; she was deadly pale, but
calm.

"I cannot stay here," she murmured. "I must know the fate of my child.
Anna, let us return to the prison." Even with the aid of her handmaid,
the lady was scarcely able to rise.

The twain reached the gate of the prison. A group of Syrian guards
kept watch there. The appearance of the venerable sufferer, bowed down
under such a weight of affliction, moved one of the soldiers to pity.

"You come on a fruitless errand, lady," he said, "the maiden whom you
seek is not here."

"Dead?" faintly gasped forth Hadassah.

"No, no; not dead," answered the Syrian promptly. "I know not all that
has happened, but the young girl was certainly brought before the king."

"Before him who murdered Solomona and her boys--the ruthless fiend!"
was the scathing thought that passed through the brain of Hadassah.
"And what followed?" she asked with her eyes, for her lips could not
frame the question.

"Belikes the king thought it shame to kill such a pretty bird, so kept
it to make music for him in his gardens of joy," said the guard. "All
that I can say is, that the maiden was not sent back to prison, but
remains in the palace."

"The palace!" ejaculated Hadassah; more distressed than reassured by
such information.

"Of course," cried another soldier, with a brutal jest; "the girl was
not going to commit the folly of dying for her superstitions like a
bigoted fanatic old woman, with no more sense than the staff she leans
on! Of course, the maid did what any woman in her senses would
do,--worshipped whatever the king bade her worship, the Muses, the
Graces, or the Furies. Converts are easily made at her age, with all
kinds of torments on the one side, all kinds of delights on the other."

Hadassah turned slowly away from the spot. Could the soldier's words
be true? had Zarah forsworn her faith as her father had done, though
under circumstances so different?

"Oh! God will forgive her--He will forgive my poor lost child, if she
have failed under such an awful trial!" murmured the Hebrew lady,
pressing her hand to her side, as if to keep her heart from bursting.
But Hadassah was by no means sure that Zarah's resolution had indeed
given way. She determined at all events and at any hazard to see the
maiden; and, collecting all her strength, proceded at once to the
palace. The unhappy lady ought have guessed beforehand that it would
be a hopeless attempt to gain admittance into that magnificent abode of
luxury, cruelty, and crime. The guards only mocked at her prayer to be
permitted to see the captive Hebrew maiden.

"Then I must speak to the king himself!" cried Hadassah. "I will watch
till he leave the gate."

"The king goes not forth to-day," said a Syrian noble who was quitting
the palace, and who was struck by the earnestness of the aged widow,
and, the anguish depicted on her noble features. "But Antiochus rides
forth to-morrow, soon after sunrise."

"Then," thought Hadassah, "daybreak shall find me here. I will cling
to the stirrup of Antiochus. I will constrain the tyrant to listen.
God will inspire my lips with eloquence. He will touch the heart of
the king. I may yet persuade the tyrant to accept one life instead of
another. Oh! my Zarah, child of my heart, it were bliss to suffer for
you!"

Clinging to this last forlorn hope, Hadassah allowed herself at last to
be persuaded by Anna to seek the residence of a Hebrew family, with
whom she was slightly acquainted; there to partake of a little food,
lie down and attempt to sleep. Snatches of slumber came at last to the
widow, slumber filled with dreams. Hadassah thought that she saw her
son, her Abner, bright, joyous, and happy as he had been in his youth.
Then the scene changed to own home. Hadassah fancied that Zarah had
unexpectedly returned; in delight she clasped the rescued maid to her
heart, and then, to her astonishment, found that it was not Zarah, but
Zarah's father, whom she clasped in her arms! It was strange that
dreams of joy should come in the midst of so much anguish, so that a
smile should actually play on the grief-worn features of Hadassah. Was
some good spirit whispering in her ear, "While you are sleeping your
son is praying. Your supplications for him are answered at last?"

But Hadassah lost little time in sleep. While the stars yet gleamed in
the sky, the lady aroused Anna, who was slumbering heavily at her feet.
The handmaid arose, and without awakening the household, Hadassah and
her attendant noiselessly quitted the hospitable dwelling which had
afforded them shelter, and turned their steps again in the direction of
the stately palace of Antiochus Epiphanes.

As the two women traversed the silent, narrow, deserted streets, they
suddenly, at the angle formed by a transverse road, came upon a young
man, whose rapid step indicated impatience or fear. He was moving with
such eager speed that he almost struck against Hadassah, before he
could arrest his quick movements.

"Ha! Hadassah!"

"Lycidas! Heaven be praised!" were the exclamations uttered in a
breath by the Greek and the Hebrew.

"Is it--can it be true--Zarah--captive--in peril?" cried the young man,
whom the tidings of the attack on Salathiel's dwelling, and the capture
of a maiden, had casually reached that night at Bethlehem, where he was
sojourning, and whom these tidings had brought in all speed to
Jerusalem. Lycidas had ridden first to the house of Cimon, where the
message left by Hadassah had confirmed his worst fears. Leaving his
horse, which had fallen lame on the rocky road, he had hurried off on
foot to the palace, with no definite plan of action before him, but
resolved at any rate to seek an interview with the king.

"Zarah is prisoner in yon palace," said Hadassah, "you will do all in
your power to save her?"

"I would die for her!" was the reply,

Hadassah in few words made known to the young Athenian her own
intention to await at the palace gate the going forth of Antiochus, and
plead with the Syrian king for the life and freedom of Zarah. The lady
was thankful to accept the eager offer of Lycidas to remain beside her,
and support her petition with the weight of any influence which he
might have with the tyrant, small as he judged that influence to be.
Hadassah, thankful at having found a zealous friend to aid her, leant
on the arm of Lycidas as she might have done on that of a son.
Difference in nation and creed was for awhile forgotten; the two were
united by one great love and one great fear, and the Gentile could,
with the soul's deepest fervour, say "Amen" to the Hebrew's prayer.





Next: Flight

Previous: A Retrospect



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