: Hebrew Heroes
We will now return to the quiet dwelling-place of Hadassah, where
Lycidas day by day was becoming more hopelessly entangled in the silken
meshes which kept him a willing captive in the Hebrew home. The very
danger of his position served to add to its charms; it was with keen
gratification that the Greek marked the anxiety which Zarah felt on his
account. Whenever Lycidas emerged from his "den," Zarah kept careful
h as she sat at her wheel near the front entrance of the dwelling,
ready to give timely notice of the approach of any intruder. The wave
of the maiden's hand gave sufficient warning to the Greek. The view
from the doorway commanded a long enough tract of road to render it
impossible for any visitor to enter the house so suddenly as to prevent
Lycidas, thus warned, from having time to retreat behind his curtain.
An occasion, however, arose when the gentle sentinel was at last found
off her guard. Resting on his arm, with his form half reclining on the
floor, Lycidas was giving to Hadassah an account of the defence of
Thermopylae, while his eyes were fixed on Zarah, who sat listening with
her whole attention absorbed by the thrilling tale, when Abishai,
breathless with excitement, rushed so suddenly into the house that
Zarah was not aware of his coming in time to give her accustomed
signal. It was Hadassah who heard the sound of rapid footsteps, though
not till they had almost crossed the threshold. With great presence of
mind the widow flung over Lycidas a large striped mantle of goat-hair,
which she was preparing for Judas Maccabeus, should any opportunity
arise of conveying it to the Asmonean leader. Hadassah then shifted
her position, so as to interpose her own form between her guest and the
door. These movements were so rapid as to take less time in the action
than the narration.
"Why, child, you look as much startled and terrified as if the Syrians
were upon you!" exclaimed Abishai to Zarah, catching sight of her look
of terror; his own eyes were flashing with triumph, and his gestures
betrayed his excitement as he continued, "I bring you tidings of
victory--glorious victory--achieved by our hero, Judas Maccabeus!
Apollonius--may the graves of his fathers be polluted!--Apollonius, who
tore down the dwellings near Mount Zion to make fortifications of the
stones--he himself is laid low! The murderer, the oppressor, the
instrument of a tyrant, and almost more hateful than the tyrant
himself, now lies in his gore, and his mighty army has fled before the
warriors of Judah!"
"The Lord of Hosts be praised!" exclaimed Hadassah; "tell us, my son,
of the fight," and she motioned to Abishai to take his seat beside her,
so that his back should be turned towards Lycidas. The Jew seated
himself so near to the Greek that the folds of his upper garment
touched the mantle under which Lycidas lay crouched. If Abishai but
moved his hand a few inches, he must feel that a warm and living form
was concealed under the goats' hair stripes.
"How your cheek changes colour, child!" exclaimed Abishai, surveying
with surprise his young niece, who could not disguise her terror, nor
prevent her knees from trembling beneath her as she stood in the
doorway. "You have no cause to fear; Maccabeus is not even wounded.
Apollonius met him in fight, and fell by his hand. Henceforth Judas,
it is said, declares that he will always use as his own the sword which
he took from the vanquished Syrian. As David said when he grasped that
of Goliath, "There is no weapon like that."
Zarah scarcely heard the words addressed to her. One thought possessed
her mind to the exclusion of every other--the peril of the wounded
Athenian. Should any sound or movement betray his presence to her
fanatic uncle, she knew that the doom of Lycidas would be sealed, for
he was yet by far too weak to defend himself with the faintest chance
of success, and his recumbent position rendered him utterly helpless.
Hadassah anxiously watched the countenance of Zarah, and read the
thoughts passing within. Fearing that the maiden would faint where she
stood, Hadassah motioned to her to come closer to her and take her seat
at her feet. Zarah obeyed, taking care to be near enough to Abishai to
catch him by the knees, and with what little strength she possessed at
least to impede his movements should he discover the presence of the
"Judas has brought great honour to our race," exclaimed Abishai, who
attributed the emotion of his niece to a cause very different from the
real one; "in his acts he is like a lion, and like a lion's whelp
roaring for his prey. He has pursued the wicked, and sought them out;
he has destroyed the ungodly, thrown down their altars, and turned away
wrath from Israel."
"He is a mighty instrument in the hands of the Lord," said Hadassah.
"Is he not something more?" exclaimed Abishai, his manner becoming yet
more excited; "may not the time for the great deliverance be come, and
the great Deliverer be amongst us, of whom it is written, _Mine own arm
brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me. And I will tread
down the people in Mine anger, and make them drunk in My fury, and I
will bring down their strength to the earth_" (Isa. lxiii. 5, 6). Wild
hope gleamed in the Hebrew's fierce eyes as he spoke, and he started
upright on his feet.
"Shame to you, son of Nathan," said Hadassah with dignity, "you speak
like one who knows not the writings of the Prophets. He that shall
come, the Messiah, is to be of the tribe of Judah, not that of Levi
(Isa. xi. 1), shall be born at Bethlehem, not at Modin (Mic. v. 11).
Nor have the prophetical weeks of Daniel yet run out. _Know therefore
and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore
and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven
weeks, and threescore and two weeks_ (Dan. ix. 25). The set time is
The wild animation of Abishai sank under the calm rebuke of one who as
much excelled him in knowledge and intellectual power, as he surpassed
her in physical strength. He looked abashed at being convicted of
ignorance of prophetic writings.
"You know, O Hadassah," said the Hebrew, "that I have been from my
youth a man of the sword rather than of the book. Nor can I now study
if I would. You are aware how Antiochus has sought out our holy
writings to destroy or pollute them. Save the copy of the Scriptures
which I occasionally see at the house of the elder, Salathiel, when we
meet there by stealth to worship God on the Sabbath, my eyes never so
much as look on the roll of the holy Word."
"I have a complete copy of the Psalms and Prophets, and am making from
it another," said Hadassah, intuitively lowering her tone, and glancing
at the door.
"A noble but dangerous work!" cried Abishai.
"Go and look yonder, my son, glance up the path to the right and the
left, see whether any of the heathen be near," said Hadassah, pointing
to the door as she spoke. "If none of the enemy be in sight, I will
show you the sacred treasure which I hold at risk of my life."
Abishai instantly left the dwelling, half closing the door behind him.
"Now Lycidas--oh, haste!" exclaimed Zarah in an eager whisper; she was
terrified lest the opportunity of retreat which Hadassah had given,
should be lost by one moment's delay.
There was no need to repeat the word; Lycidas instantly drew back into
his retreat behind the curtain, and the Hebrew ladies could breathe
more freely again. Zarah gave a bright joyous glance at Hadassah, but
it met no answering smile, the widow's features wore a sad, almost
indignant expression, the sight of which shot a keen pang through the
gentle heart of Zarah. What had she done, what had she said, that her
venerated relative should look on her thus? Had there been aught in
her conduct unseemly? She had called the Gentile by his name, could it
be that which had drawn upon her the unwonted displeasure of Hadassah?
As she asked herself such questions, the cheek of Zarah became suffused
with crimson; she scarcely knew what caused the painful embarrassment
which she felt; she seemed to herself like one detected in doing evil,
and yet her conscience had nothing wherewith to reproach her as
concerned her conduct towards her grandmother's guest. So uneasy was
the maiden, however, that on Abishai's return she did not stay to hear
the conversation which ensued between him and Hadassah, but glided up
the outer stair to the roof of the house, where, seated alone on the
flat roof, with only heaven's blue canopy above her, she could commune
with her own heart, and question it regarding the nature of the
dangerous interest which she felt in the Gentile stranger.