: 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

not come."

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.