A Retrospect

Hadassah had, in the meantime, been enduring the martyrdom of the heart.

When Zarah, under the escort of Abishai, left her home to attend the

celebration of the holy feast, Hadassah sent her soul with her, though

failing health chained back the aged lady's feeble body. In thought,

Hadassah shared the memorial feast; in thought, partook of the

sacrifice and joined in the hymns of praise. Her mind dwelt on the

circumstances attending the celebration of the first Passover, when,

with loins girded and staff in hand, the fathers of Israel had taken

their last meal in Egypt, before starting for the Promised Land.

"Is not this the _Promised Land_ still?" thought Hadassah; "though

those who are as the Canaanites of old now hold it--though unhallowed

worship be offered on Mount Zion, and images be set up within the walls

of Jerusalem. Yea, it is to Israel the Promised Land, till _every_

prophecy be fulfilled; till the King come to Zion, _lowly and riding on

an ass_ (Zech. ix. 9); till--oh, most mysterious word!--the thirty

pieces of silver be weighed out as the price of the Lord and cast to

the potter (Zech. xi. 12, 18); till He shall speak peace to the

heathen, and His dominion be from sea to sea, and from the river to the

ends of the earth (Zech. ix. 10). Faith looks backward on fulfilled

prophecy with gratitude, on yet unfulfilled prophecy with hope. Zion's

brightest days are to come. Her Lord crowned her with glory in the

days of old; but in the days which will rise on her yet, He shall

Himself be to her as a diadem of beauty!" (Isa. xxviii. 5.)

Absorbed in such high contemplations, with hopes intensified by the

victories of Maccabeus--which seemed to her types and pledges of

greater triumphs to come--time did not pass wearily with Hadassah until

the hour arrived for Zarah's expected return. Even the delay of that

return did not at first seriously alarm Hadassah; circumstances might

render it safer for the maiden to linger at Salathiel's house; she

might even be pressed to remain there during the night, should Syrians

be lurking about in the paths amidst the hills. Hadassah had so often

attended meetings in the elder's dwelling, with or without her

grand-daughter, that habit had made her regard such attendance as less

perilous than it was now to be proved to have been.

But Hadassah on this night could not retire to rest. She could not

close her eyes in sleep until they had again looked upon her whom the

Hebrew lady fondly called her "white dove."

Midnight stole on, and Hadassah's heart, notwithstanding her courage

and faith, became burdened with heavy anxiety. She made Anna lie down

and rest; while she herself, notwithstanding her state of

indisposition, kept watch by the door.

Presently her ear caught the sound of footsteps, hurried yet stealthy.

Hadassah heard danger in that sound, and opened the door without

waiting to know who came, or whether the steps would be arrested at her

threshold. The light which the widow held in her hand fell on a

countenance ghastly with fear; she recognized the face of Salathiel,

and knew before he uttered a word that he had come as the messenger of


"The enemy came--we fled over the roofs--Abishai is slain--Zarah in the

hands of the Syrians!"

Such were the tidings which fell like a sentence of death on the ear of

Hadassah! Salathiel could not wait to tell more; he must overtake his

family and with them flee for his life; and he passed away again into

darkness, almost as swiftly as the lightning passes, but, like the

lightning, leaving behind a token of where it has been in the tree

which it has blasted!

Hadassah did not shriek, nor sink, nor swoon, but she felt as one who

has received a death-blow. She stood repeating over and over to

herself the latter part of Salathiel's brief but fearful announcement,

as if it were too terrible to be true. Had Zarah been taken from her

by natural cause, the Hebrew lady would have bowed her head like Job,

and have blessed the name of the Lord in mournful submission; but the

thought of Zarah in the hands of the Syrians caused an agony of grief

more like that of Jacob, when he gazed on the blood-stained garment of

his son and refused to be comforted.

For Hadassah loved the young maiden whom she had reared with the

intensity of which a strong and fervent nature like hers perhaps alone

is capable. Zarah was all that was left to her grandmother in the

world, the sole relic remaining of the treasures which she once had

possessed. It may be permitted to me here, as a digression, to give a

brief account of Hadassah's former life, that the reader may better

understand her position at the point reached in my story.

Few women had appeared to enjoy a brighter lot than Hadassah, when

beautiful, gifted, and beloved, a happy wife, a rejoicing mother, she

had dwelt near Bethsura in Idumea, the possessor of more than

competence, and the dispenser of benefits to many around her. Hadassah

had in her youthful days an ambitious spirit, a somewhat haughty

temper, and a love of command, which had to a certain degree marred the

beauty of a character which was essentially noble.

Grief soon came, however, to humble the spirit and to soften the

temper. Hadassah was early left a widow, and heavily the grief of

bereavement fell upon one whose love had been passionate and deep. Two

children, however--a daughter and son--remained to console her. Around

these, and especially her boy, the affections of Hadassah clung but too

closely. Abner was almost idolized by his mother. If ambition

remained in her heart, it was ambition for him. He was her pride, her

delight, the object of her fondest hopes; Abner's very faults seemed

almost to become graces, viewed through the medium of Hadassah's

intense love.

Many years now flowed on, with little to disturb their even tenor.

Miriam, the only daughter of Hadassah, was married to Abishai; Abner

was united to a fair maiden whom his mother could receive love as a

daughter indeed.

The Hebrew widow lived her early days over again in her children, and

life was sweet to her still.

Then came blow upon blow in fearful succession, each inflicting a deep

wound on the heart of Hadassah. Both the young wives were taken in the

prime of their days, within a few weeks of each other--Miriam dying

childless, Naomi leaving but one little daughter behind. But the

heaviest, most crushing stroke was to come!

When Seleucus, King of Pergamos, with the concurrence of the Romans,

had placed Antiochus on the throne of Syria, the new monarch had

speedily shown himself an active enemy of the faith held by his

subjects in Judaea. Onias, their venerable High Priest, was deposed,

and the traitor Jason raised to hold an office which he disgraced. A

gymnasium was built by him in Jerusalem; reverence for Mosaic rites was

discouraged. Both by his example and his active exertions, Jason, the

unworthy successor of Aaron, sought to obliterate the distinction

between Jew and Gentile, and bring all to one uniformity of worldliness

and irreligion. In the words of the historian:[1] "The example of a

person in his commanding position drew forth and gave full scope to the

more lax dispositions which existed among the people, especially among

the younger class, who were enchanted with the ease and freedom of the

Grecian customs, and weary of the restraints and limitations of their

own. Such as these abandoned themselves with all the frenzy of a new

excitement, from which all restraint had been withdrawn, to the license

which was offered to them. The exercises of the gymnasium seem to have

taken their minds with the force of fascination."

To temptations such as these, a disposition like that of Abner was

peculiarly accessible. His religion had never been the religion of the

heart; his patriotism was cold, he prided himself upon being a citizen

of the world. Unhappily, after the death of his wife, Abner had become

weary of Bethsura, and had gone up to Jerusalem to divert his mind from

painful associations. He there came under the influence of Jason, and

plunged into amusement in a too successful effort to divert his mind

from sorrow.

Ambition soon added its powerful lure to that of pleasure. Abner met

the newly-made king shortly after his accession, and at once attracted

the attention and won the favour of the monarch. There was nothing but

the Hebrew's faith between him and the highest distinctions which a

royal friend could bestow. Abner yielded to the brilliant temptation;

he parted with his religion (more than nominal it never had been),

changed his name to that of Pollux, abandoned all his former friends

and pursuits, and attached himself entirely to the Syrian court, then

usually residing at Antioch.

Abner, or, as we have called him, Pollux, dared not face his mother

after he had turned his back upon all which she had taught him to

revere. The apostate never went near Bethsura again; he kept far away

from the place where he had passed his innocent childhood, the place

where slept the relics of his young Jewish wife. Abner wrote to

Hadassah to inform her of what he termed the change in his opinions;

told her that he had given up an antiquated faith, commended his little

daughter to her care, and asked her to forget that she herself had ever

given birth to a son.

Hadassah, after receiving this epistle, lay for weeks at the point of

death, and fears were at first entertained for her reason. She arose

at last from her sick-bed a changed, almost broken-hearted woman. As

soon as it was possible for her to travel, the widow left Bethsura for

ever. She could not endure the sight of aught to remind her of happier

days; she could not bear to meet any one who might speak to her of her

son. Hadassah's first object was to seek out Abner, and, with all the

persuasions which a mother could use, to try to draw him back from a

course which must end in eternal destruction. But Abner was not to be

found in Jerusalem, nor in any part of the country around it. He had

carefully concealed from his mother his new name--the Hebrew was lost

in the Syrian--Abner was dead indeed to his family and to his

country--and to Hadassah the courtier Pollux was utterly a stranger.

It was long, very long, before Hadassah gave up her search for Abner,

and she never gave up either her love or her hope for her son.

Affection with her was like the vein in the marble, a part of itself,

which nought can wash out or remove. There was scarcely a waking hour

in which the mother did not pray for her wanderer; he was often present

to her mind in dreams. And the character of Hadassah was elevated and

purified by the grief which she silently endured. The dross of

ambition and pride was burned away in the furnace of affliction; the

impetuous high-spirited woman refined into the saint. Exquisitely

beautiful is the remark made by a gifted writer:[2] "Everything of

moment which befalls us in this life, which occasions us some great

sorrow for which in this life we see not the uses, has nevertheless its

definite object.... It may seem but a barren grief in the history of a

life, it may prove a fruitful joy in the history of a soul."

Hadassah's intense, undying affection for her unworthy son, led her to

regard with peculiar affection the child whom he had left to her care.

She loved Zarah both for his sake and her own. Zarah was the one

flower left in the desert over which the simoom had swept; her smile

was to the bereaved mother as the bright smile of hope. Hadassah, as

she watched the opening virtues of Abner's daughter, could not, would

not believe that the parent of Zarah could ever be finally lost. God

would surely hear a mother's prayers, and save Abner from the fate of

an apostate. All that Hadassah asked of Heaven was to see her son once

again in the path of duty, and then she would die happy. The love for

Abner which still lived in the widow's bosom, was like the unseen fires

that glow unseen beneath the surface of the earth, only known by the

warmth of the springs that gush up into light. Even as those springs

was the love of the widow for Abner's daughter.

[1] Dr. Kitto.

[2] Lord Lytton.

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