A Prison





From her long swoon Zarah awoke with a sensation of indescribable

horror. The cold drops stood on her brow, and there was a painful

tightness at her heart. The poor girl could not at once recall what

had happened, but knew that it was something dreadful. The first image

that rose up in her mind was that of the expiring Abishai: Zarah

shuddered, trembled, raised herself by an effort to a sitting posture,

and wildly gazing around her, exclaimed, "Where am I? what can have

happened?"



The place in which the maiden found herself was almost quite dark, but

as she glanced upwards she could see pale stars gleaming in through a

small and heavily-barred window. She knew that she must be in a Syrian

prison. Pressing both her hands to her forehead, the young captive

recalled the terrible scene of which she had been a witness. "Oh, God

be praised that beloved Hadassah was not there!"



Zarah repeated again and again to herself, as if to strengthen her

grasp on the only consolation which at first offered itself to her

soul. "Abishai's fate is awful--awful!" Zarah shuddered with mingled

compassion and horror. "But oh, it is better, far better for him--my

poor kinsman--that he did not fall into the hands of the enemy alive,

as I have done! That would have been more awful still!"



Zarah was no high-spirited heroine, but a timid, gentle, loving girl,

subject to fears, shrinking from danger, peculiarly sensitive to pain

whether physical or mental. Though related both to Solomona and

Hadassah, Zarah had neither the calm fortitude of the one, nor the

exalted spirituality of the other; she deemed herself alike incapable

of uttering the inspired words of a prophetess, or showing the firm

endurance of a martyr.



And it was a martyr's trial that was now looming before the imprisoned

maiden: she would, like Solomona and her sons, have to renounce either

her faith or her life. To Zarah this was a terrible alternative, for

though, but a few hours previously the poor maiden had longed for death

to come and release her from sorrow, the idea of its approach, heralded

by such tortures as Hebrew captives had had to undergo, was unspeakably

dreadful to the tender spirit of Zarah.



"Oh, I fear that I shall never endure to the end; my courage will give

way; I shall disgrace myself, my country, my race, and draw on myself

the wrath of my God!" exclaimed Zarah, starting up in terror, after

rehearsing to herself the ordeal to which her faith was likely to be

exposed. "Woe is me!--what shall I do--what shall I do--is there no

way of escape?" Those massive stone walls, those thick iron bars were

sufficient answer to the question. Zarah leant against the wall, and

raised her clasped hands towards the glimpse of sky seen between those

dark bars.



"Oh, my God, have mercy upon me!" she cried; "feeble, utterly helpless

in myself, I cast myself upon Thee! Thou hast said, _When thou passest

through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the

fire, thou shalt not be burned_. Carry the weak lamb in Thy bosom; let

me feel beneath the everlasting arms!" The tears were flowing fast

down Zarah's cheeks as she sobbed forth her almost inarticulate prayer:

"I ask not to be saved from death--not even from torture--if it be Thy

will that I should endure it; but oh, save me from falling away from

Thee; save me from denying my faith, and breaking the heart of my

mother!---And I shall surely be saved!" said Zarah more calmly, her

faith gaining strength from the exercise of prayer. "Perhaps the Lord

will make the pain tolerable--He to whom all things are possible can do

so--or He may even send an angel to protect me, as He sent His bright

and holy ones to guard Elisha." The imagination of Zarah pictured a

being with glorious wings flying down to her rescue, with a countenance

resembling that of Lycidas--to her the type of perfect beauty. "Or the

Lord may raise up some earthly friend," continued Zarah. Then fancy

again pictured a Lycidas, but this time wanting the wings. The maiden

stopped her weeping, and dashed the limpid drops from her eyes. A

gleam of brightness seemed to illumine the dark prospect before her.

How eagerly do we listen to the voice of hope, even if it be but the

echo of a wish, an echo thrown back from the cold hard rock which can

only repeat the utterance of our own heart's desires; it comes back to

us like music! Zarah's prison would have been far more dreary to the

maiden, her approaching trial far more dreadful, had she known the fact

that Lycidas had gone to Bethlehem, and had heard nothing of the peril

of her whom he loved.



In the same unconsciousness of Zarah's imminent peril, another, to whom

she was dearer than the sight of the eyes or the breath of life, lay

extended on the ground in sleep, many miles from Jerusalem, with no

pillow but that stalwart arm, around which was still twined a slight

flaxen strand. A monarch might have envied the dream which made the

features of the sleeper relax into an expression of happiness which,

when waking, they seldom indeed wore. Maccabeus, lying on the parched

dry earth, was in thought seated in an Eden of flowers, with Zarah at

his side, her small hand clasped in his own. She was listening with

bashful smile and downcast eyes to words such as the warrior had never

breathed to her, save in his dreams. All was peace within and without,

peace deepening into rapture, even as the sky above appeared almost

dark from the intensity of its blue! Such was the Hebrew's dream of

Zarah! How different the dream from the actual reality! Had Maccabeus

known the actual position of the helpless girl, to guard whom from the

slightest wrong he would so willingly have shed his life's blood, even

that heart which had never yet quelled in the face of peril would have

known for once keenest anguish of fear!





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