Weary Wanderings

: Hebrew Heroes

Hadassah had believed years previously that she had suffered to the

extreme limits of human endurance--that there were no deeper depths of

misery to which she could descend; but the news brought on that fatal

night by Salathiel showed her that she had been mistaken. The idea of

her Zarah, her tender loving Zarah, in the hands of the Syrians,

brought almost intolerable woe. So carefully had the maiden been

nurtured, w
tched over, shielded from every wrong, like an unfledged

bird that has always been kept under the warm, soft, protecting wing,

that the utter defencelessness of her present position struck Hadassah

with terror.

And how--the widow could not help asking herself--how could one so

timid and sensitive stand the test of persecution from which the

boldest might shrink? Zarah would weep at a tale of suffering, turn

faint at the sight of blood. She was not any means courageous, and her

young cousins, Solomona's sons, had been wont to make mirth of her

terror when a centipede had once been found nestling under a cushion

near her. Could such a soft silken thread bear the strain of a blast

which might snap the strongest cable? Hadassah trembled for her

darling, and would willingly have consented to bear any torture, to

have been able to exchange places with one so little fitted, as she

thought, to endure. Sorely tried was the faith of the Hebrew lady; how

little could she imagine that the prayers of many years were being

answered by means of the very misfortune which was rending the cords of

her heart.

In the misery of her soul, all Hadassah's physical weakness and pain

seemed forgotten. Before morning she had dragged her feeble steps to

the gate of the prison which held her child, with the faithful Anna for

her only attendant. In vain Hadassah implored for admission; in vain

offered to share the captivity of Zarah, if she might be but permitted

to see her. She was driven away by the guards, with insolent taunts,

only to return again and again, like a bird to its plundered nest! But

no complaining word, no murmuring against the decree of Him who had

appointed her sore trial, was heard from Hadassah; only that sublime

expression of unshaken faith, _Though He slay me, yet will I trust in


Then the widow thought of Lycidas the Greek. She had a claim upon his

gratitude, and she knew that Zarah had a place in his affections. With

his wealth, his talent, his eloquence, might he not help to save her


"Anna," said Hadassah to her handmaid, "could we but find the Greek

stranger, he might afford us aid and advice in this our sore need. But

I know not where he abides."

"Joab would know," observed the Jewess, "and I know the quarter of the

town in which he dwells with his mother's sister, Hephzibah; for I have

dealt with her for olives and melons. But, lady, you are weary, the

heat of the sun is now great; seek some place of shelter and rest while

I go in search of Joab."

"There is no rest for me till I find my Zarah; and what care I for

shelter when she has but that of a prison!" cried Hadassah.

The two women then proceeded on their quest to a quarter of Jerusalem

inhabited only by the poorest of the people. Simple as were the

garments worn by the widow lady, she carried with her so unmistakably

the stamp of a person of distinction, that her appearance there excited

surprise amongst the half-clad, half-starved children that stared at

her as she passed along. The street was so narrow that the women,

meeting a loaded camel in it, had to stand close to the wall on one

side, to suffer the unwieldy beast to pass on the other. Hungry lean

dogs were growling over well-picked bones cast forth in the way, evil

odours rendered the stifling air more oppressive. But Hadassah went

forward as if insensible of any outward annoyance.

Hephzibah, a miserable-looking old woman, with eyes disfigured and half

blinded by ophthalmia, was standing in her doorway, throwing forth the

refuse of vegetables, in which she dealt. Anna had frequently seen her

before, and no introduction was needed.

"Where is Joab?" asked the handmaid, at the bidding of Hadassah.

The old crone through her bleared eyes peered curiously at the lady, as

she replied to the maid, "Joab has gone forth, as he always goes at

cockcrow, to lade his mule with leeks, and melons, and other vegetables

and fruits. He will not be back till night-fall."

Hadassah pressed her burning brow in thought, and then herself

addressed the old woman.

"Have you heard from Joab where dwells a week--an Athenian--Lycidas is

his name?"

"Lycidas? no; there be none of that name in our quarters," was the

slowly mumbled reply.

"Has Joab never spoken to you of a stranger, very goodly in person and

graceful in mien?" persisted Hadassah, grasping at the hope that the

singular beauty of Lycidas might make it less difficult to trace him.

Hephzibah shook her head, and showed her few remaining teeth in a grin.

"Were he goodly as David, I should hear and care nothing about it,"

said she.

"The stranger has a very open hand, he gives freely," observed Anna.

The words had an instant effect in improving the memory of the old


"Ay, ay," she said, brightening up; "I mind me of a stranger who gave

Joab gold when another would have given him silver. He! he! he! Our

mule is as strong a beast as any in the city, but it never brought us

such a day's hire before."

"When was that?" asked Hadassah.

"Two days since, when Joab had taken the youth to his home."

"Can you tell me where that home is?" inquired Hadassah with eagerness.

"Wait--let me think," mumbled Hephzibah.

Hadassah thrust a coin into the hand of seller of fruit. Hephzibah

turned it round and round, looking at it as if she thought that the

examination of the money would help her in giving her answer. It came

at last, but slowly: "Ay, I mind me that Joab said that he took the

stranger to the large house, with a court, on the left side of the west

gate, which Apollonius" (she muttered a curse) "broke down."

This was clue sufficient; and thankful at having gained one, Hadassah

with her attendant left the stifling precincts of Hephzibah's dwelling

to find out that of the Greek. Terrible were the glare and heat of the

noonday sun, and long appeared the distance to be traversed, yet

Hadassah did not even slacken her steps till she approached the

gymnasium erected by the renegade high-priest Jason. With difficulty

she made her way through crowds of Syrians and others hastening to the

place of amusement.

Hadassah groaned, but it was not from weariness; she turned away her

eyes from the building which had been to so many of her people as the

gate of perdition, and the merry voices of the pleasure-seekers sounded

sadder to her ears than a wail uttered over the dead. Precious souls

had been murdered in that gymnasium; the Hebrew mother thought of her

own lost son!

Almost dropping from fatigue, Hadassah reached at last the place which

Hephzibah had described. It was an inn of the better sort, kept by an

Athenian named Cimon, who had established himself in Jerusalem.

Hadassah had no difficulty in obtaining an interview with the host, who

received her with the courtesy befitting a citizen of one of the most

polished cities then to be found in the world. Cimon offered the lady

a seat under the shadow of the massive gateway leading into his


"Dwells the Lord Lycidas here?" asked Hadassah faintly. She could

hardly speak; her tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of her mouth from

heat, fatigue, and excitement.

"The Lord Lycidas left this place yesterday lady," said the Greek.

"Whither has he gone?" gasped Hadassah.

"I know not--he told me not whither," answered Cimon, surveying his

questioner with compassion and curiosity. "Months have elapsed since

the Athenian lord, after honouring this roof by his sojourn under it,

suddenly disappeared. Search was made for him in vain. I feared that

evil had happened to my guest, and as time rolled on and brought no

tidings, I sent word to his friends in Athens, asking what should be

done with property left under my charge by him who, as I deemed, had

met an untimely end. Ere the answer arrived, the Lord Lycidas himself

appeared at my door, but in evil plight, weak in body and troubled in

mind. He would give no account of the past; he said not where he had

sojourned; and yester-morn, though scarcely strong enough to keep the

saddle, he mounted his horse, and rode off--I know not whither; nor

said he when he would return. If the lady be a friend of the Lord

Lycidas," continued the Athenian, whose curiosity was strongly excited,

"perhaps she may favour me by throwing light upon the mystery which

attends his movements."

But Hadassah had come to gain information, not to impart it. "I cannot

linger here," she said, "but if Lycidas return tell him, I earnestly

charge you, that the child of one who nursed him in sickness is now the

prisoner of the Syrian king!"

Grievously disappointed and disheartened by her failure, Hadassah then

turned away from the dwelling of the Greek.

"Oh, lady, rest, or you will sink from fatigue!" cried Anna, whose own

sturdy frame was suffering from the effect of efforts of half of which,

a day before, she would have dreamed her mistress utterly incapable.

Hadassah made no reply; she sank rather than seated herself under the

narrow strip of shade afforded by a dead wall. The lady covered her

face; Anna knew from the slight movement of her bowed head that

Hadassah was praying.

Presently the Hebrew lady raised her head; she was deadly pale, but


"I cannot stay here," she murmured. "I must know the fate of my child.

Anna, let us return to the prison." Even with the aid of her handmaid,

the lady was scarcely able to rise.

The twain reached the gate of the prison. A group of Syrian guards

kept watch there. The appearance of the venerable sufferer, bowed down

under such a weight of affliction, moved one of the soldiers to pity.

"You come on a fruitless errand, lady," he said, "the maiden whom you

seek is not here."

"Dead?" faintly gasped forth Hadassah.

"No, no; not dead," answered the Syrian promptly. "I know not all that

has happened, but the young girl was certainly brought before the king."

"Before him who murdered Solomona and her boys--the ruthless fiend!"

was the scathing thought that passed through the brain of Hadassah.

"And what followed?" she asked with her eyes, for her lips could not

frame the question.

"Belikes the king thought it shame to kill such a pretty bird, so kept

it to make music for him in his gardens of joy," said the guard. "All

that I can say is, that the maiden was not sent back to prison, but

remains in the palace."

"The palace!" ejaculated Hadassah; more distressed than reassured by

such information.

"Of course," cried another soldier, with a brutal jest; "the girl was

not going to commit the folly of dying for her superstitions like a

bigoted fanatic old woman, with no more sense than the staff she leans

on! Of course, the maid did what any woman in her senses would

do,--worshipped whatever the king bade her worship, the Muses, the

Graces, or the Furies. Converts are easily made at her age, with all

kinds of torments on the one side, all kinds of delights on the other."

Hadassah turned slowly away from the spot. Could the soldier's words

be true? had Zarah forsworn her faith as her father had done, though

under circumstances so different?

"Oh! God will forgive her--He will forgive my poor lost child, if she

have failed under such an awful trial!" murmured the Hebrew lady,

pressing her hand to her side, as if to keep her heart from bursting.

But Hadassah was by no means sure that Zarah's resolution had indeed

given way. She determined at all events and at any hazard to see the

maiden; and, collecting all her strength, proceded at once to the

palace. The unhappy lady ought have guessed beforehand that it would

be a hopeless attempt to gain admittance into that magnificent abode of

luxury, cruelty, and crime. The guards only mocked at her prayer to be

permitted to see the captive Hebrew maiden.

"Then I must speak to the king himself!" cried Hadassah. "I will watch

till he leave the gate."

"The king goes not forth to-day," said a Syrian noble who was quitting

the palace, and who was struck by the earnestness of the aged widow,

and, the anguish depicted on her noble features. "But Antiochus rides

forth to-morrow, soon after sunrise."

"Then," thought Hadassah, "daybreak shall find me here. I will cling

to the stirrup of Antiochus. I will constrain the tyrant to listen.

God will inspire my lips with eloquence. He will touch the heart of

the king. I may yet persuade the tyrant to accept one life instead of

another. Oh! my Zarah, child of my heart, it were bliss to suffer for


Clinging to this last forlorn hope, Hadassah allowed herself at last to

be persuaded by Anna to seek the residence of a Hebrew family, with

whom she was slightly acquainted; there to partake of a little food,

lie down and attempt to sleep. Snatches of slumber came at last to the

widow, slumber filled with dreams. Hadassah thought that she saw her

son, her Abner, bright, joyous, and happy as he had been in his youth.

Then the scene changed to own home. Hadassah fancied that Zarah had

unexpectedly returned; in delight she clasped the rescued maid to her

heart, and then, to her astonishment, found that it was not Zarah, but

Zarah's father, whom she clasped in her arms! It was strange that

dreams of joy should come in the midst of so much anguish, so that a

smile should actually play on the grief-worn features of Hadassah. Was

some good spirit whispering in her ear, "While you are sleeping your

son is praying. Your supplications for him are answered at last?"

But Hadassah lost little time in sleep. While the stars yet gleamed in

the sky, the lady aroused Anna, who was slumbering heavily at her feet.

The handmaid arose, and without awakening the household, Hadassah and

her attendant noiselessly quitted the hospitable dwelling which had

afforded them shelter, and turned their steps again in the direction of

the stately palace of Antiochus Epiphanes.

As the two women traversed the silent, narrow, deserted streets, they

suddenly, at the angle formed by a transverse road, came upon a young

man, whose rapid step indicated impatience or fear. He was moving with

such eager speed that he almost struck against Hadassah, before he

could arrest his quick movements.

"Ha! Hadassah!"

"Lycidas! Heaven be praised!" were the exclamations uttered in a

breath by the Greek and the Hebrew.

"Is it--can it be true--Zarah--captive--in peril?" cried the young man,

whom the tidings of the attack on Salathiel's dwelling, and the capture

of a maiden, had casually reached that night at Bethlehem, where he was

sojourning, and whom these tidings had brought in all speed to

Jerusalem. Lycidas had ridden first to the house of Cimon, where the

message left by Hadassah had confirmed his worst fears. Leaving his

horse, which had fallen lame on the rocky road, he had hurried off on

foot to the palace, with no definite plan of action before him, but

resolved at any rate to seek an interview with the king.

"Zarah is prisoner in yon palace," said Hadassah, "you will do all in

your power to save her?"

"I would die for her!" was the reply,

Hadassah in few words made known to the young Athenian her own

intention to await at the palace gate the going forth of Antiochus, and

plead with the Syrian king for the life and freedom of Zarah. The lady

was thankful to accept the eager offer of Lycidas to remain beside her,

and support her petition with the weight of any influence which he

might have with the tyrant, small as he judged that influence to be.

Hadassah, thankful at having found a zealous friend to aid her, leant

on the arm of Lycidas as she might have done on that of a son.

Difference in nation and creed was for awhile forgotten; the two were

united by one great love and one great fear, and the Gentile could,

with the soul's deepest fervour, say "Amen" to the Hebrew's prayer.