Hadassah's Guest





In no place were the tidings of the rising at Modin received with

greater exultation than in the lonely dwelling of Hadassah. The Hebrew

widow could hardly refrain from taking down the timbrel from the wall,

and bursting, like Miriam, into song. "_Sing unto the Lord, for He

hath triumphed gloriously! He hath dashed to pieces the enemy!_"



Constant information of what was occurring, every rumour, true or

false, whether of victory or of failure, was brought to Hadassah by her

son-in-law, Abishai, who little dreamed that every word which he

uttered was overheard by the wounded Athenian, from whom he was divided

but by the partitioning curtain!



In one of his visits to Hadassah, Abishai told how Judas had in the

mountains raised a standard, which bore the inscription, "Who is like

unto Thee among the gods, O Jehovah!"



"It is said," observed Abishai, "that from the initial letters of this

inscription the word MACCABEUS is formed, and that by this new title

Judas is commonly called; it is a name which the Syrians will soon have

cause to dread."



"It is a well-chosen name!" cried Hadassah. "Let the Asmonean be

called _Makke-baiah_ (a conqueror in the Lord), for doubtless the God

whom he serves will give to him the victory!"



The triumphant joy of the patriotic Hadassah received a painful check

when she heard some time afterwards from Abishai of the grievous

sacrifice of the lives of a thousand faithful Hebrews, who had taken

refuge in a cave at no great distance from Jerusalem. Being attacked

there on the Sabbath-day by the Syrians, these Hebrews had actually let

themselves be slaughtered without resistance, rather than incur sin (as

they thought) by breaking the Fourth Commandment! Grieved at this

waste of precious life, it was a relief to Hadassah to learn that such

a sacrifice to a mistaken sense of duty would not be repeated; for when

the tidings had reached Mattathias and his sons, they had bitterly

mourned for their slaughtered countrymen, and had said one to another,

"If we all do as our brethren have done, and fight not for our lives

and laws, against the heathen, they will quickly root us out of the

earth." A decree, therefore, was sent forth from the camp in the

mountains, that to Hebrews attacked on the Sabbath-day, self-defence

was lawful and right.



In the meantime, under the care of Hadassah, the wounds of Lycidas were

gradually healing. Never to any man had confinement and suffering been

more sweetened, for was he not near to Zarah; did he not hear the soft

music of her voice, breathe the same air, even see her light form

gliding past the entrance of his hiding-place, though the maiden never

entered it? The necessity of concealing the presence of Lycidas, above

all from the blood-thirsty Abishai, compelled the closing during the

daytime of the door at the back of the dwelling which opened on the

small piece of ground behind. Peasants or travellers would

occasionally, though rarely, come to fill their pitchers or slake their

thirst at the little fountain gushing from the hill, and had the door

of what Lycidas playfully called his "den" been open, there would have

been nothing to prevent strangers from seeing or entering within. The

whole ventilation of the confined space occupied by the invalid

depended therefore during the day-time on its communication with the

front room, which might be called the only public apartment, and in

which not only food was now prepared and taken, and the occasional

guest received, but in which the Hebrew ladies pursued their daily

avocations. Here Zarah would pursue her homely occupation of spinning,

and Hadassah copy out on rolls of vellum portions from the Law and the

Prophets. This latter occupation was fraught with peril; and had

Hadassah been discovered in the act of transcribing from the sacred

pages, it might have cost her her life. Antiochus had eagerly sought

to destroy all copies of the Scriptures, or to profane them by having

vile pictures painted on the margins. To possess--far more to copy

out--God's Holy Word was now a capital offence. But the faith of

Hadassah seemed to raise her above all personal fear; the peril

connected with her pious labours made her but more earnestly pursue

them. The presence of the young Gentile in her dwelling was a source

of far greater uneasiness to the widow, than any danger which

threatened herself.



Had Hadassah been able to seclude her patient entirely, she would

willingly have discharged the duties of hospitality towards him; but

such seclusion the scanty accommodation of her dwelling would have

rendered impossible, even had Lycidas been willing to submit to perfect

isolation. But this was by no means the case. Not only did he require

the curtain frequently to be drawn back to enable him freely to

breathe; but the Greek, as his strength increased, was eager to be seen

as well as to see, and to speak as well as to listen. No anxious

warnings of danger to be apprehended from the sudden entrance of

Abishai could prevent Lycidas from dragging his languid limbs beyond

the limits which the curtain defined, and joining in social converse.

Lycidas resolutely shut his eyes to the fact that, to his hostess at

least, his presence was unwelcome. He deceived himself into the belief

that he was rather repaying the kindness which he had received, by

lightening the dulness of the secluded lives led by the Hebrew ladies.

The young Athenian drew forth for their amusement all the rich stores

of his cultivated mind. Now he recited wondrous tales of other lands;

now gave vivid descriptions of adventures of his own; poetry flowed

spontaneously from his lips like a stream--now sparkling with fancy,

now deepening into pathos; Lycidas had in Athens been compared to

Apollo, as much for his mental gifts as his singular personal beauty.



To the brilliant conversation of the stranger, so unlike what she ever

had heard before, Zarah listened with innocent pleasure. She was ever

obedient to her aged relative, and often did Hadassah's bidding in the

upper rooms of the dwelling, even when it seemed to the maiden that she

was sent on needless errands; but the light form, in its simple blue

garment, with the long linen veil thrown back from the graceful head,

was always returning to the apartment, to which it was drawn by a new

and powerful attraction. If Hadassah sometimes appeared irritable and

imperious towards the fair young being whom she loved, it was because

her mind was disturbed, her rest broken by anxieties which she could

impart to no one. The aged lady scarcely knew which evil she most

dreaded: the discovery of Lycidas by Abishai--a discovery which would

inevitably stain her threshold with blood--or the long sojourn under

her roof of the dangerous stranger, whom she had unwillingly admitted,

and now more unwillingly retained in her home.





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