THE cornets sounded a final flourish as the Prince of the Captivity dismounted from his white mule; his train shouted as if they were once more a people; and, had it not been for the contemptuous leer which played upon the countenances of the Moslem bystanders, it might have been taken for a day of triumph rather than of tribute.
‘The glory has not departed!’ exclaimed the venerable Bostenay, as he entered the hall of his mansion. ‘It is not as the visit of Sheba unto Solomon; nevertheless the glory has not yet departed. You have done well, faithful Caleb.’ The old man’s courage waxed more vigorous, as each step within his own walls the more assured him against the recent causes of his fear, the audible curses and the threatened missiles of the unbelieving mob.
‘It shall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving!’ continued the Prince; ‘and look, my faithful Caleb, that the trumpeters be well served. That last flourish was bravely done. It was not as the blast before Jericho; nevertheless, it told that the Lord of Hosts was for us. How the accursed Ishmaelites started! Did you mark, Caleb, that tall Turk in green upon my left? By the sceptre of Jacob, he turned pale! Oh! it shall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving! And spare not the wine, nor the flesh-pots for the people. Look you to this, my child, for the people shouted bravely and with a stout voice. It was not as the great shout in the camp when the ark returned; nevertheless, it was boldly done, and showed that the glory had not yet departed. So spare not the wine, my son, and drink to the desolation of Ishmael in the juice which he dare not quaff.’
‘It has indeed been a great day for Israel!’ exclaimed Caleb, echoing his master’s exultation.
‘Had the procession been forbidden,’ continued Bostenay, ‘had it been reserved for me of all the princes to have dragged the accursed tribute upon foot, without trumpets and without guards, by this sceptre, my good Caleb, I really think that, sluggishly as this old blood now runs, I would —— But it is needless now to talk; the God of our fathers hath been our refuge.’
‘Verily, my lord, we were as David in the wilderness of Ziph; but now we are as the Lord’s anointed in the stronghold of Engedi!’
‘The glory truly has not yet utterly departed,’ resumed the Prince in a more subdued tone; ‘yet if —— I tell you what, Caleb; praise the Lord that you are young.’
‘My Prince too may yet live to see the good day.’
‘Nay, my child, you misinterpret me. Your Prince has lived to see the evil day. ’Twas not of the coming that I thought when I bid you praise the Lord because you were young, the more my sin. I was thinking, Caleb, that if your hair was as mine, if you could recollect, like me, the days that are gone by, the days when it needed no bride to prove we were princes,«the glorious days when we led captivity captive; I was thinking, I say, my son, what a gainful heritage it is to be born after the joys that have passed away.’
‘My father lived at Babylon,’ said Caleb. ‘Oh! name it not! name it not!’ exclaimed the old chieftain. ‘Dark was the day that we lost that second Zion! We were then also slaves to the Egyptian; but verily we ruled over the realm of Pharaoh. Why, Caleb, Caleb, you who know all, the days of toil, the nights restless as a love-sick boy’s, which it has cost your Prince to gain permission to grace our tribute-day with the paltry presence of half-a-dozen guards; you who know all my difficulties, who have witnessed all my mortifications, what would you say to the purse of dirhems, surrounded by seven thousand scimitars?’
‘Seven thousand scimitars!’ ‘Not one less; my father flourished one.’ ‘It was indeed a great day for Israel!’ ‘Nay, that is nothing. When old Alroy was prince, old David Alroy, for thirty years, good Caleb, thirty long years we paid no tribute to the Caliph.’
‘No tribute! no tribute for thirty years! What marvel then, my Prince, that the Philistines have of late exacted interest?’
‘Nay, that is nothing,’ continued old Bostenay, unmindful of his servant’s ejaculations. ‘When Moctador was Caliph, he sent to the same Prince David, to know why the dirhems were not brought up, and David immediately called to horse, and, attended by all the chief people, rode to the palace, and told the Caliph that tribute was an acknowledgment made from the weak to the strong to insure protection and support; and, inasmuch as he and his people had garrisoned the city for ten years against the Seljuks, he held the Caliph in arrear.’
‘We shall yet see an ass mount a ladder,’1 exclaimed Caleb, with uplifted eyes of wonder.
‘It is true, though,’ continued the Prince; ‘often have I heard my father tell the tale. He was then a child, and his mother held him up to see the procession return, and all the people shouted “The sceptre has not gone out of Jacob.”’
‘It was indeed a great day for Israel.’
‘Nay, that is nothing. I could tell you such things! But we prattle; our business is not yet done. You to the people; the widow and the orphan are waiting. Give freely, good Caleb, give freely; the spoils of the Canaanite are no longer ours, nevertheless the Lord is still our God, and, after all, even this is a great day for Israel. And, Caleb, Caleb, bid my nephew, David Alroy, know that I would speak with him.’
‘I will do all promptly, good master! We wondered that our honoured lord, your nephew, went not up with the donation this day.’
‘Who bade you wonder? Begone, sir! How long are you to idle here? Away!
‘They wonder he went not up with the tribute today. Ay! surely, a common talk. This boy will be our ruin, a prudent hand to wield our shattered sceptre. I have observed him from his infancy; he should have lived in Babylon. The old Alroy blood flows in his veins, a stiff-necked race. When I was a youth, his grandsire was my friend; I had some fancies then myself. Dreams, dreams! we have fallen on evil days, and yet we prosper. I have lived long enough to feel that a rich caravan, laden with the shawls of India and the stuffs of Samarcand, if not exactly like dancing before the ark, is still a goodly sight. And our hard-hearted rulers, with all their pride, can they subsist without us? Still we wax rich. I have lived to see the haughty Caliph sink into a slave viler far than Israel. And the victorious and voluptuous Seljuks, even now they tremble at the dim mention of the distant name of Arslan. Yet I, Bostenay, and the frail remnant of our scattered tribes, still we exist, and still, thanks to our God! we prosper. But the age of power has passed; it is by prudence now that we must flourish. The gibe and jest, the curse, perchance the blow, Israel now must bear, and with a calm or even smiling visage. What then? For every gibe and jest, for every curse, I’ll have a dirhem; and for every blow, let him look to it who is my debtor, or wills to be so. But see, he comes, my nephew! His grandsire was my friend. Methinks I look upon him now: the same Alroy that was the partner of my boyish hours. And yet that fragile form and girlish face but ill consort with the dark passions and the dangerous fancies, which, I fear, lie hidden in that tender breast. Well, sir?’
‘You want me, uncle?’
‘What then? Uncles often want what nephews seldom offer.’
‘I at least can refuse nothing; for I have naught to give.’
‘You have a jewel which I greatly covet.’ ‘A jewel! See my chaplet! You gave it me, my uncle; it is yours.’
‘I thank you. Many a blazing ruby, many a soft and shadowy pearl, and many an emerald glowing like a star in the far desert, I behold, my child. They are choice stones, and yet I miss a jewel far more precious, which, when I gave you this rich chaplet, David, I deemed you did possess.’ ‘How do you call it, sir?’ ‘Obedience.’
‘A word of doubtful import; for to obey, when duty is disgrace, is not a virtue.’
‘I see you read my thought. In a word, I sent for you to know, wherefore you joined me not today in offering our — our ——’
‘Be it so: tribute. Why were you absent?’ ‘Because it was a tribute; I pay none.’ ‘But that the dreary course of seventy winters has not erased the memory of my boyish follies, David, I should esteem you mad. Think you, because I am old, I am enamoured of disgrace, and love a house of bondage? If life were a mere question between freedom and slavery, glory and dishonour, all could decide. Trust me, there needs but little spirit to be a moody patriot in a sullen home, and vent your heroic spleen upon your fellow-sufferers, whose sufferings you cannot remedy. But of such stuff your race were ever made. Such deliverers ever abounded in the house of Alroy. And what has been the result? I found you and your sister orphan infants, your sceptre broken, and your tribes dispersed. The tribute, which now at least we pay like princes, was then exacted with the scourge and offered in chains. I collected our scattered people, I reestablished our ancient throne, and this day, which you look upon as a day of humiliation and of mourning, is rightly considered by all a day of triumph and of feasting; for, has it not proved in the very teeth of the Ishmaelites, that the sceptre has not yet departed from Jacob?’
‘I pray you, uncle, speak not of these things. I would not willingly forget you are my kinsman, and a kind one. Let there not be strife between us. What my feelings are is nothing. They are my own: I cannot change them. And for my ancestors, if they pondered much, and achieved little, why then ‘twould seem our pedigree is pure, and I am their true son. At least one was a hero.’
‘Ah! the great Alroy; you may well be proud of such an ancestor.’
‘I am ashamed, uncle, ashamed, ashamed.’
‘His sceptre still exists. At least, I have not betrayed him. And this brings me to the real purport of our interview. That sceptre I would return.’
‘To its right owner, to yourself.’
‘Oh! no, no, no; I pray you, I pray you not. I do entreat you, sir, forget that I have a right as utterly as I disclaim it. That sceptre you have wielded it wisely and well; I beseech you keep it. Indeed, good uncle, I have no sort of talent for all the busy duties of this post.’
‘You sigh for glory, yet you fly from toil.’
‘Toil without glory is a menial’s lot.’
‘You are a boy; you may yet live to learn that the sweetest lot of life consists in tranquil duties and well-earned repose.’
‘If my lot be repose, I’ll find it in a lair.’
‘Ah! David, David, there is a wildness in your temper, boy, that makes me often tremble. You are already too much alone, child. And for this, as well as weightier reasons, I am desirous that you should at length assume the office you inherit. What my poor experience can afford to aid you, as your counsellor, I shall ever proffer; and, for the rest, our God will not desert you, an orphan child, and born of royal blood.’
‘Pr’ythee, no more, kind uncle. I have but little heart to mount a throne, which only ranks me as the first of slaves.’
‘Pooh, pooh, you are young. Live we like slaves? Is this hall a servile chamber? These costly carpets, and these rich divans, in what proud harem shall we find their match? I feel not like a slave. My coffers are full of dirhems. Is that slavish? The wealthiest company of the caravan is ever Bostenay’s. Is that to be a slave? Walk the bazaar of Bagdad, and you will find my name more potent than the Caliph’s. Is that a badge of slavery?’
‘Uncle, you toil for others.’
‘So do we all, so does the bee, yet he is free and happy.’
‘At least he has a sting.’
‘Which he can use but once, and when he stings ——’
‘He dies, and like a hero. Such a death is sweeter than his honey.’
‘Well, well, you are young, you are young. I once, too, had fancies. Dreams all, dreams all. I willingly would see you happy, child. Come, let that face brighten; after all, today is a great day. If you had seen what I have seen, David, you too would feel grateful. Come, let us feast. The Ishmaelite, the accursed child of Hagar, he does confess today that you are a prince; this day also you complete your eighteenth year. The custom of our people now requires that you should assume the attributes of manhood. To-day, then, your reign commences; and at our festival I will present the elders to their prince. For a while, farewell, my child. Array that face in smiles. I shall most anxiously await your presence.’
He turned his head and watched his uncle as he departed: the bitter expression of his countenance gradually melted away as Bostenay disappeared: dejection succeeded to sarcasm; he sighed, he threw himself upon a couch and buried his face in his hands.
Suddenly he arose and paced the chamber with an irregular and moody step. He stopped, and leant against a column. He spoke in a tremulous and smothered voice:
‘Oh! my heart is full of care, and my soul is dark with sorrow! What am I? What is all this? A cloud hangs heavy o’er my life. God of my fathers, let it burst!
‘I know not what I feel, yet what I feel is madness. Thus to be is not to live, if life be what I sometimes dream, and dare to think it might be. To breathe, to feed, to sleep, to wake and breathe again, again to feel existence without hope; if this be life, why then these brooding thoughts that whisper death were better?
‘Away! The demon tempts me. But to what? What nameless deed shall desecrate this hand? It must not be: the royal blood of twice two thousand years, it must not die, die like a dream. Oh! my heart is full of care, and my soul is dark with sorrow!
‘Hark! the trumpets that sound our dishonour. Oh, that they but sounded to battle! Lord of Hosts, let me conquer or die! Let me conquer like David; or die, Lord, like Saul!
‘Why do I live? Ah! could the thought that lurks within my secret heart but answer, not that trumpet’s blast could speak as loud or clear. The votary of a false idea, I linger in this shadowy life, and feed on silent images which no eye but mine can gaze upon, till at length they are invested with all the terrible circumstance of life, and breathe, and act, and form a stirring world of fate and beauty, time, and death, and glory. And then, from out this dazzling wilderness of deeds, I wander forth and wake, and find myself in this dull house of bondage, even as I do now. Horrible! horrible!
‘God, of my fathers! for indeed I dare not style thee God of their wretched sons; yet, by the memory of Sinai, let me tell thee that some of the antique blood yet beats within these pulses, and there yet is one who fain would commune with thee face to face, commune and conquer.
‘And if the promise unto which we cling be not a cheat, why, let him come, come, and come quickly, for thy servant Israel, Lord, is now a slave so infamous, so woe-begone, and so contemned, that even when our fathers hung their harps by the sad waters of the Babylonian stream, why, it was paradise compared with what we suffer.
‘Alas! they do not suffer; they endure and do not feel. Or by this time our shadowy cherubim would guard again the ark. It is the will that is the father to the deed, and he who broods over some long idea, however wild, will find his dream was but the prophecy of coming fate.
‘And even now a vivid flash darts through the darkness of my mind. Methinks, methinks — ah! worst of woes to dream of glory in despair. No, no; I live and die a most ignoble thing; beauty and love, and fame and mighty deeds, the smile of women and the gaze of men, and the ennobling consciousness of worth, and all the fiery course of the creative passions, these are not for me, and I, Alroy, the descendant of sacred kings, and with a soul that pants for empire, I stand here extending my vain arm for my lost sceptre, a most dishonoured slave! And do I still exist? Exist! ay, merrily. Hark! Festivity holds her fair revel in these light-hearted walls. We are gay today; and yet, ere yon proud sun, whose mighty course was stayed before our swords that now he even does not deign to shine upon; ere yon proud sun shall, like a hero from a glorious field, enter the bright pavilion of his rest, there shall a deed be done.
‘My fathers, my heroic fathers, if this feeble arm cannot redeem your heritage; if the foul boar must still wallow in thy sweet vineyard, Israel, at least I will not disgrace you. No! let me perish. The house of David is no more; no more our sacred seed shall lurk and linger, like a blighted thing, in this degenerate earth. If we cannot flourish, ‘why, then, we will die!’
‘Oh! say not so, my brother!’
He turns, he gazes on a face beauteous as a starry night; his heart is full, his voice is low.
‘Ah, Miriam! thou queller of dark spirits! is it thou? Why art thou here?’
‘Why am I here? Are you not here? and need I urge a stronger plea? Oh! brother dear, I pray you come, and mingle in our festival. Our walls are hung with flowers you love;2 I culled them by the fountain’s side; the holy lamps are trimmed and set, and you must raise their earliest flame. Without the gate, my maidens wait, to offer you a robe of state. Then, brother dear, I pray you come and mingle in our festival.’
‘Why should we feast?’
‘Ah! is it not in thy dear name these lamps are lit, these garlands hung? To-day to us a prince is given, today ——’
‘A prince without a kingdom.’
‘But not without that which makes kingdoms precious, and which full many a royal heart has sighed for, willing subjects, David.’
‘Slaves, Miriam, fellow-slaves.’
‘What we are, my brother, our God has willed; and let us bow and tremble.’
‘I will not bow, I cannot tremble.’
‘Hush, David, hush! It was this haughty spirit that called the vengeance of the Lord upon us.’
‘It was this haughty spirit that conquered Canaan.’
‘Oh, my brother, my dear brother! they told me the dark spirit had fallen on thee, and I came, and hoped that Miriam might have charmed it. What we may have been, Alroy, is a bright dream; and what we may be, at least as bright a hope; and for what we are, thou art my brother. In thy love I find present felicity, and value more thy chance embraces and thy scanty smiles than all the vanished splendour of our race, our gorgeous gardens, and our glittering halls.’
‘Who waits without there?’
‘Go tell my uncle that I will presently join the banquet. Leave me a moment, Miriam. Nay, dry those tears.’
‘Oh, Alroy! they are not tears of sorrow.’
‘God be with thee! Thou art the charm and consolation of my life. Farewell! farewell!
‘I do observe the influence of women very potent over me. ’Tis not of such stuff that they make heroes. I know not love, save that pure affection which doth subsist between me and this girl, an orphan and my sister. We are so alike, that when, last Passover, in mimicry she twined my turban round her head, our uncle called her David.
‘The daughters of my tribe, they please me not, though they are passing fair. Were our sons as brave as they are beautiful, we still might dance on Sion. Yet have I often thought that, could I pillow this moody brow upon some snowy bosom that were my own, and dwell in the wilderness, far from the sight and ken of man, and all the care and toil and wretchedness that groan and sweat and sigh about me, I might haply lose this deep sensation of overwhelming woe that broods upon by being. No matter! Life is but a dream, and mine must be a dull one.’
Without the gates of Hamadan, a short distance from the city, was an enclosed piece of elevated ground, in the centre of which rose an ancient sepulchre, the traditionary tomb of Esther and Mordecai.3 This solemn and solitary spot was an accustomed haunt of Alroy, and thither, escaping from the banquet, about an hour before sunset, he this day repaired.
As he unlocked the massy gate of the burial-place, he heard behind him the trampling of a horse; and before he had again secured the entrance, some one shouted to him.
He looked up, and recognised the youthful and voluptuous Alschiroch, the governor of the city, and brother of the sultan of the Seljuks. He was attended only by a single running footman, an Arab, a detested favourite, and notorious minister of his pleasures.
‘Dog!’ exclaimed the irritated Alschiroch, ‘art thou deaf, or obstinate, or both? Are we to call twice to our slaves? Unlock that gate!’ ‘Wherefore?’ inquired Alroy.
‘Wherefore! By the holy Prophet, he bandies questions with us! Unlock that gate, or thy head shall answer for it!’
‘Who art thou,’ inquired Alroy, ‘whose voice is so loud? Art thou some holiday Turk, who hath transgressed the orders of thy Prophet, and drunken aught but water? Go to, or I will summon thee before thy Cadi;’ and, so saying, he turned towards the tomb.
‘By the eyes of my mother, the dog jeers us! But that we are already late, and this horse is like an untamed tiger, I would impale him on the spot. Speak to the dog, Mustapha! manage him!’
‘Worthy Hebrew,’ said the silky Mustapha, advancing, ‘apparently you are not aware that this is our Lord Alschiroch. His highness would fain walk his horse through the burial-ground of thy excellent people, as he is obliged to repair, on urgent matters, to a holy Santon, who sojourns on the other side of the hill, and time presses.’
‘If this be our Lord Alschiroch, thou doubtless art his faithful slave, Mustapha.’
‘I am, indeed, his poor slave. What then, young master?’
‘Deem thyself lucky that the gate is closed. It was but yesterday thou didst insult the sister of a servant of my house. I would not willingly sully my hands with such miserable blood as thine, out away, wretch, away!’
‘Holy Prophet! who is this dog?’ exclaimed the astonished governor.
”Tis the young Alroy,’ whispered Mustapha, who had not at first recognised him; ‘he they call their Prince; a most headstrong youth. My lord, we had better proceed.’
‘The young Alroy! I mark him. They must have a prince too! The young Alroy! Well, let us away, and, dog!’ shouted Alschiroch, rising in his stirrups, and shaking his hand with a threatening air, ‘dog! remember thy tribute!’
Alroy rushed to the gate, but the massy lock was slow to open; and ere he could succeed, the fiery steed had borne Alschiroch beyond pursuit.
An expression of baffled rage remained for a moment on his countenance; for a moment he remained with his eager eye fixed on the route of his vanished enemy, and then he walked slowly towards the tomb; but his excited temper was now little in unison with the still reverie in which he had repaired to the sepulchre to indulge. He was restless and disquieted, and at length he wandered into the woods, which rose on the summit of the burial-place.
He found himself upon a brow crested with young pine-trees, in the midst of which rose a mighty cedar. He threw himself beneath its thick and shadowy branches, and looked upon a valley small and green; in the midst of which was a marble fountain, the richly-carved cupola,4 supported by twisted columns, and banded by a broad inscription in Hebrew characters. The bases of the white pillars were covered with wild flowers, or hidden by beds of variegated gourds. The transparent sunset flung over the whole scene a soft but brilliant light.
The tranquil hour, the beauteous scene, the sweetness and the stillness blending their odour and serenity, the gentle breeze that softly rose, and summoned forth the languid birds to cool their plumage in the twilight air, and wave their radiant wings in skies as bright —— Ah! what stern spirit will not yield to the soft genius of subduing eve?
And Alroy gazed upon the silent loneliness of earth, and a tear stole down his haughty cheek.
”Tis singular! but when I am thus alone at this still hour, I ever fancy I gaze upon the Land of Promise. And often, in my dreams, some sunny spot, the bright memorial of a roving hour, will rise upon my sight, and, when I wake, I feel as if I had been in Canaan. Why am I not? The caravan that bears my uncle’s goods across the Desert would bear me too. But I rest here, my miserable life running to seed in the dull misery of this wretched city, and do nothing. Why, the old captivity was empire to our inglorious bondage. We have no Esther now to share their thrones, no politic Mordecai, no purple-vested Daniel. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! I do believe one sight of thee would nerve me to the sticking-point. And yet to gaze upon thy fallen state, my uncle tells me that of the Temple not a stone remains. ’Tis horrible. Is there no hope?’
‘The bricks are fallen, but we will rebuild with marble; the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.’
‘The chorus of our maidens, as they pay their evening visit to the fountain’s side.5 The burden is prophetic.
‘Hark again! How beautifully, upon the soft and flowing air, their sweet and mingled voices blend and float!’
‘YET AGAIN I WILL BUILD THEE, AND THOU SHALT BE BUILT, O VIRGIN OF ISRAEL! YET AGAIN SHALT THOU DECK THYSELF WITH THY TABRETS, AND GO FORTH IN THE DANCE OF THOSE THAT MAKE MERRY. YET AGAIN SHALT THOU PLANT VINEYARDS ON THE MOUNTAINS OF SAMARIA.’
‘See! their white forms break through the sparkling foliage of the sunny shrubs as they descend, with measured step, that mild declivity. A fair society in bright procession: each one clothed in solemn drapery, veiling her shadowy face with modest hand, and bearing on her graceful head a graceful vase. Their leader is my sister.
‘And now they reach the fountain’s side, and dip their vases in the water, pure and beauteous as themselves. Some repose beneath the marble pillars; some, seated ‘mid the flowers, gather sweets, and twine them into garlands; and that wild girl, now that the order is broken, touches with light fingers her moist vase, and showers startling drops of glittering light on her serener sisters. Hark! again they sing.’
‘O VINE OF SIBMAH! UPON THY SUMMER FRUITS, AND UPON THY VINTAGE, A SPOILER HATH FALLEN!’
A scream, a shriek, a long wild shriek, confusion, flight, despair! Behold! from out the woods a tur-baned man rushes, and seizes the leader of the chorus. Her companions fly on all sides, Miriam alone is left in the arms of Alschiroch.
The water column wildly rising from the breast of summer ocean, in some warm tropic clime, when the sudden clouds too well discover that the holiday of heaven is over, and the shrieking sea-birds tell a time of fierce commotion, the column rising from the sea, it was not so wild as he, the young Alroy.
Pallid and mad, he swift upsprang, and he tore up a tree by its lusty roots, and down the declivity, dashing with rapid leaps, panting and wild, he struck the ravisher on the temple with the mighty pine. Alschiroch fell lifeless on the sod, and Miriam fainting into her brother’s arms.
And there he stood, fixed and immovable, gazing upon his sister’s deathly face, and himself exhausted by passion and his exploit, supporting her cherished but senseless body.
One of the fugitive maidens appeared reconnoitring in the distance. When she observed her mistress in the arms of one of her own people, her courage revived, and, desirous of rallying her scattered companions, she raised her voice, and sang:
’HASTE, DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM; O! HASTE, FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGED US, AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED.’
And soon the verse was responded to from various quarters of the woods, and soon the virgins reassembled, singing,
‘WE COME, O DAUGHTER OF JERUSALEM! WE COME; FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGED US, AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED.’
They gathered round their mistress, and one loosened her veil, and another brought water from the fountain, and sprinkled her reviving countenance. And Miriam opened her eyes, and said, ‘My brother!’ And he answered, ‘I am here.’ And she replied in a low voice, ‘Fly, David, fly; for the man you have stricken is a prince among the people.’
‘He will be merciful, my sister; and, doubtless, since he first erred, by this time he has forgotten my offence.’
‘Justice and mercy! Oh, my brother, what can these foul tyrants know of either! Already he has perhaps doomed you to some refined and procrastinated torture, already —— Ah! what unutterable woe is mine! fly, my brother, fly!’
‘Fly, fly, fly!’
‘There is no fear, my Miriam; would all his accursed race could trouble us as little as their sometime ruler. See, he sleeps soundly. But his carcass shall not defile our fresh fountain and our fragrant flowers. I’ll stow it in the woods, and stroll here at night to listen to the jackals at their banquet.’
‘You speak wildly, David. What! No! It is impossible! He is not dead! You have not slain him!
He sleeps, he is afraid. He mimics death that we may leave his side, and he may rise again in safety. Girls, look to him. David, you do not answer. Brother, dear brother, surely he has swooned! I thought he had fled. Bear water, maidens, to that terrible man. I dare not look upon him.’
‘Away! I’ll look on him, and I’ll triumph. Dead! Alschiroch dead! Why, but a moment since, this clotted carcass was a prince, my tyrant! So we can rid ourselves of them, eh? If the prince fall, why not the people? Dead, absolutely dead, and I his slayer! Hah! at length I am a man. This, this indeed is life. Let me live slaying!’
‘Woe! woe, our house is fallen! The wildness of his gestures frightens me. David, David, I pray thee cease. He hears me not; my voice, perchance, is thin. I am very faint. Maidens, kneel to your Prince, and soothe the madness of his passion.’
‘SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE IS THE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US.’
‘Why, this is my Goliath! a pebble or a stick, it is the same. The Lord of Hosts is with us. Rightly am I called David.’
‘DELIVER US FROM OUR ENEMIES, O LORD! FROM THOSE WHO RISE UP AGAINST US, AND THOSE WHO LIE IN WAIT FOR US.’
‘Were but this blow multiplied, were but the servants of my uncle’s house to do the same, why, we should see again the days of Elah! The Philistine, the foul, lascivious, damnable Philistine! and he must touch my sister! Oh! that all his tribe were here, all, all! I’d tie such firebrands to their foxes’ tails, the blaze should light to freedom!’
While he spoke, a maiden, who had not yet rejoined the company, came running towards them swiftly with an agitated countenance.
‘Fly,’ she exclaimed, ‘they come, they come!’
Miriam was reclining in an attendant’s arms, feeble and faint, but the moment her quick ear caught these words she sprang up, and seized her brother’s arm.
‘Alroy! David! brother, dear brother! I beseech thee, listen, I am thy sister, thy Miriam; they come, they come, the hard-hearted, wicked men, they come, to kill, perhaps to torture thee, my tender brother. Rouse thyself, David; rouse thyself from this wild, fierce dream: save thyself, fly!’
‘Ah! is it thou, Miriam? Thou seest he sleepeth soundly. I was dreaming of noble purposes and mighty hopes. Tis over now. I am myself again. What wouldst thou?’
‘They come, the fierce retainers of this fallen man; they come to seize thee. Fly, David!’
‘And leave thee?’
‘I and my maidens, we have yet time to escape by the private way we entered, our uncle’s garden. When in his house, we are for a moment safe, as safe as our poor race can ever be. Bostenay is so rich, so wise, so prudent, so learned in man’s ways, and knows so well the character and spirit of these men, all will go right; I fear nothing. But thou, if thou art here, or to be found, thy blood alone will satiate them. If they be persuaded that thou hast escaped, as I yet pray thou mayest, their late master here, whom they could scarcely love, why, give me thy arm an instant, sweet Beruna. So, that’s well. I was saying, if well bribed — and they may have all my jewels — why, very soon, he will be as little in their memories as he is now in life. I can scarcely speak; I feel my words wander, or seem to wander; I could swoon, but will not; nay! do not fear. I will reach home. These maidens are my charge. ’Tis in these crises we should show the worth of royal blood. I’ll see them safe, or die with them.’
‘O! my sister, methinks I never knew I was a brother until this hour. My precious Miriam, what is life? what is revenge, or even fame and freedom without thee? I’ll stay.’
‘SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE IS THE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US.’
‘Fly, David, fly!’
‘Fly! whither and how?’
The neigh of a horse sounded from the thicket.
‘Ah! they come!’ exclaimed the distracted Miriam.
‘ALL THIS HAS COME UPON US, O LORD! YET HAVE WE NOT FORGOTTEN THEE, NEITHER HAVE WE DEALT FALSELY IN THY COVENANT.’
‘Hark! again it neighs! It is a horse that calleth to its rider. I see it. Courage, Miriam! it is no enemy, but a very present friend in time of trouble. It is Alschiroch’s courser. He passed me on it by the tomb ere sunset. I marked it well, a very princely steed.’
’BEHOLD, BEHOLD, A RAM IS CAUGHT IN THE THICKET BY HIS HORNS.’
‘Our God hath not forgotten us! Quick, maidens, bring forth the goodly steed. What! do you tremble? I’ll be his groom.’
‘Nay! Miriam, beware, beware. It is an untamed beast, wild as the whirlwind. Let me deal with him.’
He ran after her, dashed into the thicket, and brought forth the horse.
Short time I ween that stately steed had parted from his desert home; his haughty crest, his eye of fire, the glory of his snorting nostril, betoken well his conscious pride, and pure nobility of race. His colour was like the sable night shining with a thousand stars, and he pawed the ground with his delicate hoof, like an eagle flapping its wing.
Alroy vaulted on his back, and reined him with a master’s hand.
‘Hah!’ he exclaimed, ‘I feel more like a hero than a fugitive. Farewell, my sister; farewell, ye gentle maidens; fare ye well, and cherish my precious Miriam. One embrace, sweet sister,’ and he bent down and whispered, ‘Tell the good Bostenay not to spare his gold, for I have a deep persuasion that, ere a year shall roll its heavy course, I shall return and make our masters here pay for this hurried ride and bitter parting. Now for the desert!’
1—We shall yet see an ass mount a ladder. — Hebrew proverb.]
2— Our walls are hung with flowers you love. It is the custom of the Hebrews in many of their festivals, especially in the feast of the Tabernacle, to hang the walls of their chambers with garlands of flowers.]
3—The traditionary tomb of Esther and Mordecai. ‘I accompanied the priest through the town over much ruin and rubbish to an enclosed piece of ground, rather more elevated than any in its immediate vicinity. In the centre was the Jewish tomb-a square building of brick, of a mosque-like form, with a rather elongated dome at the top. The door is in the ancient sepulchral fashion of the country, very small, consisting of a single stone of great thickness, and turning on its own pivots from one side. Its key is always in possession of the eldest of the Jews resident at Hamadan. Within the tomb are two sarcophagi, made of a very dark wood, carved with great intricacy of pattern and richness of twisted ornament, with a line of inscription in Hebrew,’ &c. —Sir R. K. Porter’s Travels in Persia, vol. ii. p. 107.]
4—A marble fountain, the richly-carved cupola supported by twisted columns. The vast magnificence and elaborate fancy of the tombs and fountains is a remarkable feature of Oriental architecture. The Eastern nations devote to these structures the richest and the most durable materials. While the palaces of Asiatic monarchs are in general built only of wood, painted in fresco, the rarest marbles are dedicated to the sepulchre and the spring, which are often richly gilt, and adorned even with precious stones.]
5—The chorus of our maidens. It is still the custom for the women in the East to repair at sunset in company to the fountain for their supply of water. In Egypt, you may observe at twilight the women descending the banks of the Nile in procession from every town and village. Their graceful drapery, their long veils not concealing their flashing eyes, and the classical forms of their vases, render this a most picturesque and agreeable spectacle.]
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07