After The Battle





There are joys as well as sorrows into which the stranger cannot enter,

and which baffle the attempt of the pen to describe; such was that of

Lycidas and Zarah when they first met after the battle of Bethsura.

The maiden had her happiness tempered indeed with something of anxiety

and even alarm, for she beheld the young Greek pale with loss of blood,

exhausted by excessive fatigue, and with his left arm in a sling, but

her mind was soon relieved, for Lycidas had sustained no serious or

permanent injury. The young proselyte was rather glad than otherwise

to carry on his person some token of his having fought under Judas

Maccabeus, and been one of the foremost of those who had stormed

Bethsura.



With Zarah and her attendant for his deeply interested listeners,

Lycidas gave a graphic and vivid description of the fight. Zarah held

her breath and trembled when the narrator came to that thrilling part

of his account which described his own position of imminent peril, when

he would have been precipitated from the top of the wall, had not Judas

Maccabeus come to his rescue.



"I deemed that all was over with me," said Lycidas, "when the prince

suddenly flashed on my sight! Had I not long since given to the winds

the idle fables that I heard in my childhood, I should have deemed that

Mars himself, radiant in his celestial panoply, had burst from the

cloud of war. But the hero of Israel needs no borrowed lustre to be

thrown around him by the imagination of a poet, he realizes the noblest

conception of Homer."



"And Maccabeus was the one to save and defend you! generous, noble!"

murmured Zarah.



"Ay, it seems destined that I should be overwhelmed with an

ever-growing debt of obligation," cried Lycidas, playfully throwing a

veil of discontent over the gratitude and admiration which he felt

towards his preserver. "I would that it had been my part to play the

rescuer; that it had been _my_ sword that had shielded his head; and

that Maccabeus were not fated to eclipse me in everything, even in the

power of showing generosity to a rival But I must not grudge him the

harvest of laurels," added the young Athenian, with a joyous glance at

Zarah, "since the garland of happiness has been awarded to me."



On the morning after the battle of Bethsura, Simon and Eleazar, the

Asmoneans, both visited their youthful kinswoman in the goat-herd's

hut, where she and Anna had remained during the night. They regarded

her still as their future sister, and offered her their escort to the

house of Rachel, which was at no great distance from the fortress of

Bethsura. As Zarah desired as soon as possible to place herself under

the protection of a female relative, she gladly accepted the offer.

The horse-litter was brought to the door of the lowly hut; and with the

curtains closely drawn, the maiden and her attendant proceeded to the

dwelling of old Rachel, who joyfully welcomed the child of Hadassah.

Zarah, on that morning, saw nothing of Lycidas, and Judas Maccabeus

avoided approaching her presence. The chief could not trust himself to

look on that sweet face again.



Through the Hebrew camp all was bustle and preparation. Tents were

struck--all was made ready for the coming march to Jerusalem; the tired

warriors forgot their weariness, and the wounded their pain, so eager

were all to gather the rich fruits of their victory within the walls of

Zion.



But amidst all the excitement and confusion, with so many cares

pressing upon him from every side, the mind of the prince dwelt much

upon Zarah. He felt that she was lost to him--he would have scorned to

have claimed her hand when he knew that her heart was another's; but he

resolved at least to act the part of a brother towards the orphan

maiden. Painful to Maccabeus as was the sight of his successful rival,

the chief determined to have an interview with Lycidas, that he might

judge for himself whether the stranger were indeed worthy to win a

Hebrew bride. Lycidas had proved himself to be a brave warrior--he had

won the admiration even of the fanatic Jasher; but would the Greek

stand firm in his newly-adopted faith when fresh laurels were no longer

to be won, or fair prize gained by adhesion to it?



"The most remote hope of winning Zarah," mused Maccabeus, "were enough

to make a man espouse the cause of her people, and renounce all

idolatry--save idolatry of herself. I must question this Athenian

myself. I must examine whether he have embraced the truth

independently of earthly motives, and, as a true believer, can indeed

be trusted with the most priceless of gems. If it be so, let him be

happy, since her happiness is linked with his. Never will I darken the

sunshine of her path with the shadow which will now rest for ever upon

mine."



It was with no small anxiety that Lycidas obeyed the summons of the

prince, and entered his presence alone, in one of the apartments of the

fortress which he had aided to capture. The Greek could not but

conjecture that his fate, as regarded his union with Zarah, might hang

on the result of this interview with his formidable rival.



The interview was not a long one: what occurred in it never transpired.

Not even to Zarah did Lycidas ever repeat the conversation between

himself and the man whose earthly happiness he had wrecked. As the

Greek passed forth from the presence of Maccabeus, he met Simon and

Eleazar, who had just returned from escorting their young kinswoman to

the dwelling of Rachel.



The Asmonean brothers frankly and cordially greeted the stranger whom

they had seen for the first time in the thick of the conflict of the

preceding day. The bandage round his temples, the sling which

supported his left arm, were as credentials which the Athenian carried

with him--a passport to the favour and confidence of his new associates

in the field.



"You have leaped into fame with one bound, fair Greek!" cried Eleazar.

"You had reached the highest round of the ladder ere I could plant my

foot on the lowest. I could fain envy you the honour you have won."



Eleazar, accompanied by Simon, then passed on into the presence of

Maccabeus, while Lycidas pursued his way. The smile with which the

young Hebrew had spoken was still on his lips when he entered the

apartment in which the prince sat alone, but the first glance of

Eleazar at Judas banished every trace of that smile.



"You are ill!" he exclaimed anxiously, as he looked on the almost

ghastly countenance of his brother; "you have received some deadly

hurt!"



The chief replied in the negative by a slight movement of the head.



"The weight of responsibility, the lack of sleep, the exhaustion of

yesterday's conflict, are sapping your strength," observed Simon

gravely. "Judas, you are unfit to encounter the toils of the long

march now before us."



"I was never more ready--never more impatient for a march," said

Maccabeus, rising abruptly, for it seemed to him as if violent physical

exertions alone could render life endurable.



"I marvel," said Eleazar, "if our graceful young proselyte will bear

hardships as bravely as he has proved that he can encounter danger.

Methinks he shows amongst our grim warriors as a marble column from

Solomon's palace amongst the rough oaks that clothe the hill-side. If

Lycidas is to be--"



"He is to be--the husband of Zarah," interrupted Maccabeus. His voice

sounded strange and harsh, and he turned away his face as he spoke.



"The husband of Zarah!" re-echoed Eleazar in amazement; "why"--Simon's

warning pressure on the young man's arm prevented his uttering more.

The brothers exchanged significant glances. That was the last time

that the name of Zarah was ever breathed by either of them in the

hearing of Maccabeus.



Zarah found that her residence in her new home would be but a brief

one, and that she was likely to return to Jerusalem far sooner than she

could have anticipated when she had set out on her night journey so

short a time before. Rachel--a woman who, though well stricken in

years, had lost none of the energy and enthusiasm of youth--was filled

with triumphant joy at the victory of Bethsura, and declared to Zarah

her intention of starting for the city in advance of the army.



"I have a vow upon me--a solemn vow," said the old Jewess to the

maiden. "Long have I mourned over the desolation of Zion; and I have

promised to the Lord that if ever holy sacrifices should again be

offered up in the Temple at Jerusalem, my heifer, my fair white heifer,

should be the first peace-offering. I have vowed also to go up myself

to the holy city, and make there with my own hands wafers anointed with

oil, to eat with the sacrifice of thanksgiving. The time for keeping

my vow has arrived. We will go up together, my daughter, and my

bondsman shall drive the white heifer before us. My soul cannot depart

in peace till I have looked upon the sanctuary in which my ancestors

worshipped, and with a thankful heart have performed this my vow to the

Lord."



Zarah made no opposition to the wishes of her relative, which, indeed,

coincided with her own. Arrangements for the proposed journey were

speedily made. The horse-litter in which Zarah had travelled to

Bethsura would avail for the accommodation of both the ladies on her

return to the city. The faithful Joab would resume his office of

attendant, and Anna join company with the handmaidens of Rachel. It

was under joyful auspices that the travellers would set forth on their

way to the city of David.





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