A Crisis

: Hebrew Heroes

Lycidas, in the meantime, was chafing in wild impatience under the

trial of Zarah's almost perpetual absence. He could no longer watch

her, no longer listen to her, except when his straining ear caught the

faint sound of her music floating down from an upper apartment. Why

was she away? why should she shun him? she whose presence alone had

rendered not only tolerable but delightful the kind of mild captivity

in which
he was retained, while the state of his wounds rendered the

Greek unable, without assistance, to leave the dwelling of Hadassah.

Lycidas had none of the scruples of Zarah regarding union with one of a

different race and religion. The Greek had resolved on winning the

fair Hebrew maid as his bride; he was conscious of possessing the gift

of attractions such as few young hearts could resist, and asked fortune

only for an opportunity of exerting all his powers to the utmost to

secure the most precious prize for which mortal had ever contended.

Lycidas beguiled many tedious hours by the composition of a poem, of

singular beauty, in honour of Zarah. Most melodious was the flow of

the verse, most delicate the fragrance of the incense of praise. The

realms of nature, the kingdom of art, were ransacked for images of

beauty. But Lycidas felt disgusted with his own work before he had

completed it. He seemed to himself like one decorating with gems and

hanging rich garments on an exquisite statue, in the attempt to do it

honour only marring the perfection of its symmetry, and the grace of

its marble drapery. A few words which the Greek had heard Hadassah

read from her sacred parchment, appeared to him to include more than

all his most laboured descriptions could convoy. Lycidas had thought

of Zarah when he had listened to the expression, _the beauty of


"I will not stay a prisoner here, if I am to be shut out in this

stifling little den not only from the world, but from her who is more

than the world to me," thought the Greek. After months of suffering

and weakness, strength, though but slowly, was returning to the frame

of Lycidas; and when no one was near to watch him, when the door to the

west was closed, and the curtain to the east was drawn, he would

occasionally try how far that strength would enable him to go. He

would raise himself on his feet, though not without a pang from his

wounded side. Then the Greek would take a few steps, from one end of

his prison to the other, leaning for support against the wall. This

was something for a beginning; youth and love would soon enable him to

do more. But Lycidas carefully concealed from Hadassah and Anna that

he could do as much. They never saw him but reclining on the floor.

He feared that measures might be taken to clip the wings of the bird if

it were once guessed how nearly those wings were fledged.

The day before the celebration of the great feast of the Passover,

Hadassah was far from well. Whether her illness arose from the state

of the weather, for the month of Nisan was this year more than usually

hot, or the effect of long fastings and prayer upon a frame enfeebled

by age, or whether from secret grief preying on her health, Zarah knew

not,--perhaps from all these causes combined. The maiden grew uneasy

about her grandmother, and redoubled her tender ministrations to her


On the day mentioned, Anna had gone into Jerusalem to dispose of flax

spun by the Hebrew ladies, and procure a few necessary articles of

food. Hadassah never suffered her beautiful girl to enter to walls of

the city, nor, indeed, ever to quit the precincts of her home, save

when on Sabbath-days and feast-days she went, closely veiled, to the

dwelling of the elder Salathiel, about half a mile distant from that of

Hadassah, to join in social worship. Hadassah with jealous care

shrouded her white dove from the gaze of Syrian eyes.

The aged lady had passed a very restless night. With thrilling

interest Zarah had heard her moaning in her sleep, "Abner! my son! my

poor lost son!" The sealed lips were opened, when the mind had no

longer power to control their utterance. Hadassah awoke in the morning

feverish and ill. She made a vain attempt to rise and pursue her usual

avocations. Zarah entreated her to lie still. For hours the widow lay

stretched on a mat with her eyes half closed, while Zarah watched

beside her, fanning her feverish brow.

"Let me prepare for you a cooling drink, dear mother," said the maiden

at last, rising and going to the water-jar, which stood in a corner of

the apartment. "Alas! it is empty. Anna forgot to replenish it from

the spring ere she set out for the city. I will go and fill it myself."

Zarah lifted up the jar, and poising it on her head, lightly descended

the rough steps of the outer stair, and proceeded to the spring at the

back of the house. The spring was surrounded by oleanders, which at

this time of the year in Palestine are robed in their richest bloom.

But the season had been singularly hot and dry, the latter rains had

not yet fallen, and the spring was beginning to fail. Zarah placed her

jar beneath the opening from which, pure and bright, the water

trickled, but the supply was so scanty that she could almost count the

drops as they fell. It would take a considerable time for the jar to

be filled by these drops.

"Ah! methinks my earthly joys are even as this failing spring!" thought

the maiden, sadly, as she watched the slow drip of the water. "All

will be dried up soon. My loved grandmother's strength is sinking; she

will be unable to-morrow to keep the holy feast in Salathiel's house,

though her heart will be with the worshippers there. How different,

oh! how different is this Passover from that which we celebrated last

year! Then, indeed, there was an idol in the Temple of the Lord, and

holy sacrifice could not be offered in the appointed place, but the

fierce storm of persecution had not arisen in all its terrors. Then

around the table of Salathiel how many gathered whom I never again

shall behold upon earth! Solomona, my kinswoman, and her seven sons

all met in that solemn assembly; the bright-eyed Asahel, the fearless

Mahali, young Joseph, who was my merry playmate when ten years ago we

came from Bethsura hither! I remember that when Hadassah looked on

that cluster of brothers, she said that they were like the

Pleiades--they are more like those star-gems now, for they shine not on

earth but in heaven! And Solomona looked proudly on her boys--her

noble sons, and said that not one of them had ever raised a blush on

the cheek of their mother; and then, methinks, she regretted having

uttered the boast, and I fancied that I heard a stifled sigh from

Hadassah. Was it that the spirit of prophecy came upon her then, that

she foresaw the terrible future, or was it--alas! alas! I dare not

think wherefore she sighed! And old Mattathias, he who now sleeps in

the sepulchre of his fathers, he and his sons kept that Passover feast

with Salathiel, having come up to Jerusalem to worship, according to

the law of Moses. How venerable looked the old man with his long snowy

beard! it seemed to me that so Abraham must have looked, when his

earthly pilgrimage was well-nigh ended. Mattathias laid his hand on my

head and blessed me, and called me daughter. Ah! can it be that he

thought of me then as his daughter indeed! The princely Judas stood

near, and when I raised my head I met the gaze of his eyes, and I

thought--no, I never then fully grasped the meaning expressed in that

gaze, it was to me as the tender glance of a brother. Mattathias is

gone; Solomona and her children are all gone; Judas, with his gallant

band, is like a lion at bay with the hunters closing in an

ever-narrowing circle around him. Apollonius has been vanquished,

Seron defeated by our hero; but now Nicanor and Giorgias, with the

forces of Ptolemy, upwards of forty thousand men, are combining to

crush him by their overwhelming numbers! What can the devotion of our

patriots avail but to swell the band of martyrs who have already laid

down their lives in defence of our faith and our laws! Alas! theirs

will be a stern keeping of the holy feast; other blood will flow

besides that of the Paschal lamb! And a sad keeping of the feast will

be mine; I shall see scarce a familiar face, that of no relative save

Abishai; and I owe him but little affection. And oh! worst of all, I

fear me that I have an unholy leaven in my heart, which I in vain seek

to put entirely away. I am secretly cherishing the forbidden thing,

though not wilfully, not wilfully, as He knows to whom I constantly

pray for strength to give up all that is displeasing in His sight!"

The jar was now full; Zarah turned to raise it as the last thought

passed through her mind, and started as she did so! Lycidas, with all

his soul beaming in his eyes, was close beside her! The maiden uttered

a faint exclamation, and endeavoured to pass him, and return to the


"Stay, Zarah, idol of my soul!" exclaimed the Athenian, seizing her

hand; "you must not fly me, you shall listen to me once--only once!"

and with a passionate gush of eloquence the young Greek laid his hopes,

his fortunes, his heart at her feet.

Zarah turned deadly pale; her frame trembled. "Oh, Lycidas, have mercy

upon me!" she gasped. "It is sin in me even to listen; it were cruelty

to suffer you to hope. Our law forbids a daughter of Abraham to wed a

Gentile; to return your love would be rebellion against my God,

apostasy from the faith of my fathers; better to suffer--better to

die!"--and with an effort releasing her icy-cold hand from the clasp of

the man whom she loved, Zarah sprang hurriedly past him, and with the

speed of a frightened gazelle fled up the staircase, and back into the

chamber in which she had left Hadassah.

Lycidas stood bewildered by the maiden's sudden retreat. He felt as if

the gate of a paradise had been suddenly closed against him.