SHE comes not yet! her cheerful form, not yet it sparkles in our mournful sky. She comes not yet! the shadowy stars seem sad and lustreless without their Queen. She comes not yet!’
‘WE ARE THE WATCHERS OF THE MOON,78 AND LIVE IN LONELINESS TO HERALD LIGHT.’
‘She comes not yet! her sacred form, not yet it summons to our holy feast. She comes not yet! our brethren far wait mute and motionless the saintly beam. She comes not yet!’
‘WE ARE THE WATCHERS OF THE MOON, AND LIVE IN LONELINESS TO HERALD LIGHT.’
‘She comes, she comes! her beauteous form sails with soft splendour in the glittering air. She comes, she comes! The beacons fire, and tell the nation that the month begins! She comes, she comes!’
‘WE ARE THE WATCHERS OF THE MOON, TO TELL THE NATION THAT THE MONTH BEGINS.’
Instantly the holy watchers fired the beacons on the mountain top, and anon a thousand flames blazed round the land. From Caucasus to Lebanon, on every peak a crown of light.
‘Sire! a Tatar has arrived from Hamadan, who will see none but thyself. I have told him your Highness was engaged, and sent him to the Lord Honain; but all denial is lost upon him. And as I thought perhaps the Lady Miriam ——’
‘From Hamadan? You did well, Pharez. Admit him.’
The Tatar entered.
‘Well, Sir; good news, I hope!’
‘Sire, pardon me, the worst. I come from the Lord Abner, with orders to see the Caliph, and none else.’
‘Well, Sir, you see the Caliph. Your mission? What of the Viceroy?’
‘Sire, he bade me tell thee, that, the moment the beacon that announced the Feast of the New Moon was fired on Caucasus, the dreaded monarch of Karasmé, the great Alp Arslan, entered thy kingdom, and now overruns all Persia.’
‘Hah! and Abner?’
‘Is in the field, and prays for aid.’
‘He shall have it. This is indeed great news! When left you Hamadan?’
‘Night and day I have journeyed upon the swiftest dromedary. The third morn sees me at Bagdad.’
‘You have done your duty. See this faithful courier be well tended, Pharez. Summon the Lord Honain.’
‘Alp Arslan! Hah! a very famous warrior. The moment the beacon was fired. No sudden impulse then, but long matured. I like it not.’
‘Sire,’ said Pharez, reentering, ‘a Tatar has arrived from the frontiers of the province, who will see none but thyself. I have told him your Highness was deeply busied, and as methinks he brings but the same news, I——’
”Tis very likely; yet never think, good Pharez. I’ll see the man.’ The Tatar entered.
‘Well, Sir, how now! from whom?’
‘From Mozul. The Governor bade me see the Caliph and none else, and tell your Highness that the moment the beacon that announced the Feast of the New Moon was fired on the mountains, the fell rebel Abidan raised the standard of Judah in the province, and proclaimed war against your Majesty.’
‘In any force?’
‘The royal power keeps within their walls.’
‘Sufficient answer. Part of the same movement. We shall have some trouble. Hast summoned Honain?’
‘I have, Sire.’
‘Go, see this messenger be duly served, and, Pharez, come hither: let none converse with them. You understand?’
‘Your Highness may assure yourself.’
‘Abidan come to life. He shall not escape so well this time. I must see Scherirah. I much suspect —— what’s this? More news!’
A third Tatar entered.
‘May it please your Highness, this Tatar has arrived from the Syrian frontier.’
‘Mischief in the wind, I doubt not. Speak out, knave!’
‘Sire! pardon me; I bear but sad intelligence.’
‘Out with the worst!’
‘I come from the Lord Medad.’
‘Well! has he rebelled? It seems a catching fever.’
‘Ah! no, dread Sire, Lord Medad has no thought but for thy glory. Alas! alas! he has now to guard it against fearful odds. Lord Medad bade me see the Caliph and none else, and tell your Highness, that the moment the beacon which announced the Feast of the New Moon was fired on Lebanon, the Sultan of Roum and the old Arabian Caliph unfurled the standard of their Prophet, in great array, and are now marching towards Bagdad.’
‘A clear conspiracy! Has Honain arrived? Summon a council of the Vizirs instantly. The world is up against me. Well! I’m sick of peace. They shall not find me napping!’
‘You see, my lords,’ said Alroy, ere the council broke up, ‘we must attack them singly. There can be no doubt of that. If they join, we must combat at great odds. ’Tis in detail that we must route them. I will myself to Persia. Ithamar must throw himself between the Sultan and Abidan, Medad fall back on Ithamar. Scherirah must guard the capital. Honain, you are Regent. And so farewell. I shall set off to-night. Courage, brave companions. ’Tis a storm, but many a cedar survives the thunderbolt.’
The council broke up.
‘My own Scherirah!’ said the Caliph, as they retired, ‘stay awhile. I would speak with you alone. Honain,’ continued Alroy, following the Grand Vizir out of the chamber, and leaving Scherirah alone, ‘Honain, I have not yet interchanged a word with you in private. What think you of all this?’
‘Sire, I am prepared for the worst, but hope the best.’
”Tis wise. If Abner could only keep that Karasmian in check! I am about to speak with Scherirah alone. I do suspect him much.’
‘I’ll answer for his treason.’
‘Hah! I do suspect him. Therefore I give him no command. I would not have him too near his old companion, eh? We will garrison the city with his rebels.’
‘Sire, these are not moments to be nice. Scherirah is a valiant captain, a very valiant captain, but lend me thy signet ring, I pray thee, Sire.’
Alroy turned pale.
‘No, Sir, it has left me once, and never shall again. You have touched upon a string that makes me sad. There is a burden on my conscience, why, or what, I know not. I am innocent, you know I am innocent, Honain!’
‘I’ll answer for your Highness. He who has enough of the milk of human kindness to spare a thing like Scherirah, when he stands in his way, may well be credited for the nobler mercy that spared his better.’
‘Ah me! there’s madness in the thought. Why is he not here? Had I but followed; tush! tush! Go see the Queen, and tell her all that has happened. I’ll to Scherirah.’
The Caliph returned.
‘Thy pardon, brave Scherirah; in these moments my friends will pardon lapse of courtesy.’
‘Your Highness is too considerate.’
‘You see, Scherirah, how the wind blows, brave heart. There’s much to do, no doubt. I am in sad want of some right trusty friend, on whose devoted bosom I can pillow all my necessities. I was thinking of sending you against this Arslan, but perhaps ’tis better that I should go myself. These are moments one should not seem to shrink, and yet we know not how affairs may run; no, we know not. The capital, the surrounding province: one disaster and these false Moslemin may rise against us. I should stay here, but if I leave Scherirah, I leave myself. I feel that deeply; ’tis a consolation. It may be that I must fall back upon the city. Be prepared, Scherirah. Let me fall back upon supporting friends. You have a great trust. Oh! use it wisely! Worthily I am sure you must do.’
‘Your Highness may rest assured I have no other thought but for your weal and glory. Doubt not my devotion, Sire. I am not one of those mealy-mouthed youths, full of their own deeds and lip-worship, Sire, but I have a life devoted to your service, and ready at all times to peril all things.’
‘I know that, Scherirah, I know it; I feel it deeply. What think you of these movements?’
‘They are not ill combined, and yet I doubt not your Majesty will prove your fortunes most triumphant.’
‘Think you the soldiery are in good cue?’ ‘I’ll answer for my own. They are rough fellows, like myself, a little too blunt, perhaps, your Highness. We are not holiday guards, but we know our duty, and we will do it.’
‘That’s well, that’s all I want. I shall review the troops before I go. Let a donative be distributed among them; and, ‘by-the-bye, I have always forgotten it, your legion should be called the Legion of Syria. We owe our fairest province to their arms.’
‘I shall convey to them your Highness’ wish. Were it possible, ‘twould add to their devotion.’
‘I do not wish it. They are my very children. Sup at the Serail to-night, Scherirah. We shall be very private. Yet let us drink together ere we part. We are old friends, you know. Hast not forgotten our ruined city?’
Alroy entered the apartment of Schirene. ‘My soul! thou knowest all?’
She sprang forward and threw her arms around his neck.
‘Fear not, my life, we’ll not disgrace our Queen. ’Twill be quick work. Two-thirds of them have been beaten before, and for the new champion, our laurels must not fade, and his blood shall nourish fresh ones.’
‘Dearest, dearest Alroy, go not thyself, I pray thee. May not Asriel conquer?’
‘I hope so, in my company. For a time we part, a short one. ’Tis our first parting: may it be our last!’
‘Oh! no, no, no: oh! say not we must part.’
‘The troops are under arms; tomorrow’s dawn will hear my trumpet.’
‘I will not quit thee, no! I will not quit thee. What business has Schirene without Alroy? Hast thou not often told me I am thy inspiration? In the hour of danger shall I be wanting? Never! I will not quit thee; no, I will not quit thee.’
‘Thou art ever present in my thoughts, my soul. In the battle I shall think of her for whom alone I conquer.’
‘Nay, nay, I’ll go, indeed I must, Alroy. I’ll be no hindrance, trust me, sweet boy, I will not. I’ll have no train, no, not a single maid. Credit me, I know how a true soldier’s wife should bear herself. I’ll watch thee sleeping, and I’ll tend thee wounded, and when thou goest forth to combat I’ll gird thy sabre round thy martial side, and whisper triumph with victorious kisses.’
‘My own Schirene, there’s victory in thine eyes. We’ll beat them, girl.’
‘Abidan, doubly false Abidan! would he were doubly hanged! Ere she died, the fatal prophetess foretold this time, and gloated on his future treachery.’
‘Think not of him.’
‘And the Karasmian; think you he is very strong?’ ‘Enough, love, for our glory. He is a potent warrior: I trust that Abner will not rob us of our intended victory.’
‘So you triumph, I care not by whose sword. Dost go indeed tomorrow?’
‘At break of dawn. I pray thee stay, my sweet!’ ‘Never! I will not quit thee. I am quite prepared. At break of dawn? ’Tis near on midnight now. I’ll lay me down upon this couch awhile, and travel in my litter. Art sure Alp Arslan is himself in the field?’
‘Quite sure, my sweet.’
‘Confusion on his crown! We’ll conquer. Goes Asriel with us?’ ‘Ay!’
‘That’s well; at break of dawn. I’m somewhat drowsy. Methinks I’ll sleep awhile.’
‘Do, my best heart; I’ll to my cabinet, and at break of dawn I’ll wake thee with a kiss.’
The Caliph repaired to his cabinet, where his secretaries were occupied in writing. As he paced the chamber, he dictated to them the necessary instructions.
‘Who is the officer on guard?’
‘I remember him. He saved me a broken skull upon the Tigris. This is for him. The Queen accompanies us. She is his charge. These papers for the Vizir. Let the troops be under arms by daybreak. This order of the day for the Lord Asriel. Send this instantly to Hamadan. Is the Tatar despatched to Medad? ’Tis well. You have done your duty. Now to rest. Pharez?’
‘I shall not sleep to-night. Give me my drink. Go rest, good boy. I have no wants. Good night.’
‘Good night, my gracious lord!’
‘Let me ponder! I am alone. I am calm, and yet my spirit is not quick. I am not what I was. Four-and-twenty hours ago who would have dreamed of this? All at stake again! Once more in the field, and struggling at once for empire and existence! I do lack the mighty spirit of my former days. I am not what I was. I have little faith. All about me seems changed, and dull, and grown mechanical. Where are those flashing eyes and conquering visages that clustered round me on the battle eve, round me, the Lord’s anointed? I see none such. They are changed, as I am. Why! this Abidan was a host, and now he fights against me. She spoke of the prophetess; I remember that woman was the stirring trumpet of our ranks, and now where is she? The victim of my justice! And where is he, the mightier far, the friend, the counsellor, the constant guide, the master of my boyhood; the firm, the fond, the faithful guardian of all my bright career; whose days and nights were one unbroken study to make me glorious? Alas! I feel more like a doomed and desperate renegade than a young hero on the eve of battle, flushed with the memory of unbroken triumphs!
‘Hah! what awful form art thou that risest from the dusky earth before me? Thou shouldst be one I dare not name, yet will: the likeness of Jabaster. Away! why frownest thou upon me? I did not slay thee. Do I live, or dream, or what? I see him, ay! I see thee. I fear thee not, I fear nothing. I am Alroy.
‘Speak, oh speak! I do conjure thee, mighty spectre, speak. By all the memory of the past, although ’tis madness, I do conjure thee, let me hear again the accents of my boyhood.’
‘Alroy, Alroy, Alroy!’
‘I listen, as to the last trump.’
‘Meet me on the plain of Nehauend.’
”Tis gone! As it spoke it vanished. It was Jabaster! God of my fathers, it was Jabaster! Life is growing too wild. My courage is broken! I could lie down and die. It was Jabaster! The voice sounds in my ear like distant thunder: “Meet me on the plain of Nehauend.” I’ll not fail thee, noble ghost, although I meet my doom. Jabaster! Have I seen Jabaster! Indeed! indeed! Methinks I’m mad. Hah! What’s that?’
An awful clap of thunder broke over the palace, followed by a strange clashing sound that seemed to come from one of the chambers. The walls of the Serail rocked.
‘An earthquake!’ exclaimed Alroy. ‘Would that the earth would open and swallow all! Hah! Pharez, has it roused thee, too? Pharez, we live in strange times.’
‘Your Highness is very pale.’
‘And so art thou, lad! Wouldst have me merry? Pale! we may well be pale, didst thou know all. Hah! that awful sound again! I cannot bear it, Pharez, I cannot bear it. I have borne many things, but this I cannot.’
‘My lord, ’tis in the Armoury.’
‘Run, see. No, I’ll not be alone. Where’s Benaiah? Let him go. Stay with me, Pharez, stay with me. I pray thee stay, my child.’
Pharez led the Caliph to a couch, on which Alroy lay pale and trembling. In a few minutes he inquired whether Benaiah had returned.
‘Even now he comes, Sire.’
‘Well, how is it?’
‘Sire! a most awful incident. As the thunder broke over the palace, the sacred standard fell from its resting-place, and has shivered into a thousand pieces. Strange to say, the sceptre of Solomon can neither be found nor traced.’
‘Say nothing of the past, as ye love me, lads. Let none enter the Armoury. Leave me, Benaiah, leave me, Pharez.’
They retired. Alroy watched their departure with a glance of inexpressible anguish. The moment that they had disappeared, he flew to the couch, and throwing himself upon his knees, and, covering his face with his hands, burst into passionate tears, and exclaimed, ‘O! my God, I have deserted thee, and now thou hast deserted me!’
Sleep crept over the senses of the exhausted and desperate Caliph. He threw himself upon the divan, and was soon buried in profound repose. He might have slept an hour; he awoke suddenly. From the cabinet in which he slept, you entered a vast hall, through a lofty and spacious arch, generally covered with drapery, which was now withdrawn. To the astonishment of Alroy, this presence-chamber appeared at this moment to blaze with light. He rose from his couch, he advanced; he perceived, with feelings of curiosity and fear, that the hall was filled with beings, terrible indeed to behold, but to his sight more terrible than strange. In the colossal and mysterious forms that lined the walls of the mighty chamber, and each of which held in its extended arm a streaming torch, he recognised the awful Afrites. At the end of the hall, upon a sumptuous throne, surrounded by priests and courtiers, there was seated a monarch, on whom Alroy had before gazed, Solomon the Great! Alroy beheld him in state and semblance the same Solomon, whose sceptre the Prince of the Captivity had seized in the royal tombs of Judah.
The strange assembly seemed perfectly unconscious of the presence of the child of Earth, who, with a desperate courage, leant against a column of the arch, and watched, with wonder, their mute and motionless society. Nothing was said, nothing done. No one moved, no one, even by gesture, seemed sensible of the presence of any other apparition save himself.
Suddenly there advanced from the bottom of the hall, near unto Alroy, a procession. Pages and dancing girls, with eyes of fire and voluptuous gestures, warriors with mighty arms, and venerable forms with ample robes and flowing beards. And, as they passed, even with all the activity of their gestures, they made no sound; neither did the musicians, whereof there was a great band playing upon harps and psalteries, and timbrels and cornets, break, in the slightest degree, the almighty silence.
This great crowd poured on in beautiful order, the procession never terminating, yet passing thrice round the hall, bowing to him that was upon the throne, and ranging themselves in ranks before the Afrites.
And there came in twelve forms, bearing a great seal: the stone green, and the engraven characters of living flame, and the characters were those on the talisman of Jabaster, which Alroy still wore next to his heart. And the twelve forms placed the great seal before Solomon, and humbled themselves, and the King bowed. At the same moment Alroy was sensible of a pang next to his heart. He instantly put his hand to the suffering spot, and lo! the talisman crumbled into dust.
The procession ceased; a single form advanced. Recent experience alone prevented Alroy from sinking before the spectre of Jabaster. Such was the single form. It advanced, bearing the sceptre. It advanced, it knelt before the throne, it offered the sceptre to the crowned and solemn vision. And the form of Solomon extended its arm, and took the sceptre, and instantly the mighty assembly vanished!
Alroy advanced immediately into the chamber, but all was dark and silent. A trumpet sounded. He recognised the note of his own soldiery. He groped his way to a curtain, and, pulling it aside, beheld the first streak of dawn.
Once more upon his charger, once more surrounded by his legions, once more his senses dazzled and inflamed by the waving banners and the inspiring trumpets, once more conscious of the power still at his command, and the mighty stake for which he was about to play, Alroy in a great degree recovered his usual spirit and self-possession. His energy returned with his excited pulse, and the vastness of the impending danger seemed only to stimulate the fertility of his genius.
He pushed on by forced marches towards Media, at the head of fifty thousand men. At the end of the second day’s march, fresh couriers arrived from Abner, informing him that, unable to resist the valiant and almost innumerable host of the King of Karasmé, he had entirely evacuated Persia, and had concentrated his forces in Louristan. Alroy, in consequence of this information, despatched orders to Scherirah, to join him with his division instantly, and leave the capital to its fate.
They passed again the mountains of Kerrund, and joined Abner and the army of Media, thirty thousand strong, on the river Abzah. Here Alroy rested one night, to refresh his men, and on the ensuing morn pushed on to the Persian frontier, unexpectedly attacked the advanced posts of Alp Arslan, and beat them back with great loss into the province. But the force of the King of Karasmé was so considerable, that the Caliph did not venture on a general engagement, and therefore he fell back, and formed in battle array upon the neighbouring plain of Nehauend, the theatre of one of his earliest and most brilliant victories, where he awaited the hourly-expected arrival of Scherirah.
The King of Karasmé, who was desirous of bringing affairs to an issue, and felt confident in his superior force, instantly advanced. In two or three days at farthest, it was evident that a battle must be fought that would decide the fate of the East.
On the morn ensuing their arrival at Nehauend, while the Caliph was out hunting, attended only by a few officers, he was suddenly attacked by an ambushed band of Karasmians. Alroy and his companions defended themselves with such desperation that they at length succeeded in beating off their assailants, although triple their number. The leader of the Karasmians, as he retreated, hurled a dart at the Caliph, which must have been fatal, had not a young officer of the guard interposed his own breast, and received the deadly wound. The party, in confusion, returned with all speed to the camp, Alroy himself bearing the expiring victim of desperate loyalty and military enthusiasm.
The bleeding officer was borne to the royal pavilion, and placed upon the imperial couch. The most skilful leech was summoned; he examined the wound, but shook his head. The dying warrior was himself sensible of his desperate condition. His agony could only be alleviated by withdrawing the javelin, which would occasion his immediate decease. He desired to be left alone with his Sovereign.
‘Sire!’ said the officer, ‘I must die; and I die without a pang. To die in your service, I have ever considered the most glorious end. Destiny has awarded it to me;, and if I have not met my fate upon the field of battle, it is some consolation that my death has preserved the most valuable of lives. Sire! I have a sister.’
‘Waste not thy strength, dear friend, in naming her. Rest assured I shall ever deem thy relatives my own.’
‘I doubt it not. Would I had a thousand lives for such a master! I have a burden on my conscience, Sire, nor can I die in peace unless I speak of it.’
‘Speak, speak freely. If thou hast injured any one, and the power or wealth of Alroy can redeem thy oppressed spirit, he will not spare, he will not spare, be assured of that.’
‘Noble, noble master, I must be brief; for, although, while this javelin rests within my body, I yet may live, the agony is great. Sire, the deed of which I speak doth concern thee.’
‘I was on guard the day Jabaster died.’
‘Powers of heaven! I am all ear. Speak on, speak on!’
‘He died self-strangled, so they say?’
‘So they ever told me.’
‘Thou art innocent, thou art innocent! I thank my God, my King is innocent!’
‘Rest assured of that, as there is hope in Israel. Tell me all.’
‘The Queen came with the signet ring. To such authority I yielded way. She entered, and after her, the Lord Honain. I heard high words! I heard Jabaster’s voice. He struggled, yes! he struggled; but his mighty form, wounded and fettered, could not long resist. Foul play, foul play, Sire! What could I do against such adversaries? They left the chamber with a stealthy step. Her eyes met mine. I never could forget that fell and glittering visage.’
‘Thou ne’er hast spoken of this awful end?’
‘To none but thee. And why I speak it now I cannot tell, save that it seems some inspiration urges me; and methinks they who did this may do even feller works, if such there be.’
‘Thou hast robbed me of all peace and hope of peace; and yet I thank thee. Now I know the worth of life. I have never loved to think of that sad day; and yet, though I have sometimes dreamed of villainous work, the worst were innocence to thy dread tale.’
’Tis told; and now I pray thee secure thy secret, by drawing from my agonised frame this javelin.’
‘Trusty heart, ’tis a sad office.’
‘I die with joy if thou performest it.’
‘God save Alroy.’
While Alroy, plunged in thought, stood over the body of the officer, there arose a flourish of triumphant music, and a eunuch, entering the pavilion, announced the arrival of Schirene from Kerrund. Almost immediately afterwards, the Princess descending from her litter, entered the tent; Alroy tore off his robe, and threw it over the corpse.
‘My own,’ exclaimed the Princess, as she ran up to the Caliph. ‘I have heard all. Be not alarmed for me. I dare look upon a corpse. You know I am a soldier’s bride. I am used to blood.’
‘Why so pale? Thou dost not kiss me! Has this unhinged thee so? ’Tis a sad deed; and yet tomorrow’s dawn may light up thousands to as grim a fate. Why? thou tremblest! Alas! kind soul! The single death of this fond, faithful heart hath quite upset my love. Yet art thou used to battle. Why! this is foolishness. Art not glad to see me? What, not one smile! And I have come to fight for thee! I will be kissed!’
She flung herself upon his neck. Alroy faintly returned her embrace, and bore her to a couch. He clapped his hands, and two soldiers entered and bore away the corpse.
‘The pavilion, Schirene, is now fitter for thy presence. Rest thyself; I shall soon return.’ Thus speaking, he quitted her.
He quitted her; but her humbled look of sorrowful mortification pierced to his heart. He thought of all her love and all her loveliness, he called to mind all the marvellous story of their united fortunes. He felt that for her and her alone he cared to live, that without her quick sympathy, even success seemed unendurable. His judgment fluctuated in an eddy of passion and reason. Passion conquered. He dismissed from his intelligence all cognizance of good and evil; he determined, under all circumstances, to cling ever to her; he tore from his mind all memory of the late disclosure. He returned to the pavilion with a countenance beaming with affection; he found her weeping, he folded her in his arms, he kissed her with a thousand kisses, and whispered between each kiss his ardent love.
’Twas midnight. Schirene reposed in the arms of Alroy. The Caliph, who was restless and anxious for the arrival of Scherirah, was scarcely slumbering when the sound of a voice thoroughly aroused him. He looked around; he beheld the spectre of Jabaster. His hair stood on end, his limbs seemed to loosen, a cold dew crept over his frame, as he gazed upon the awful form within a yard of his couch. Unconsciously he disembarrassed his arms of their fair burden, and, rising on the couch, leant forward.
‘Alroy, Alroy, Alroy!’
‘I am here.’
‘To-morrow Israel is avenged!’
‘Who is that?’ exclaimed the Princess, wakening.
In a frenzy of fear, Alroy, quite forgetting the spectre, turned and pressed his hand over her eyes. When he again looked round the apparition was invisible.
‘What wouldst thou, Alroy?’
‘Nothing, sweet! A soldier’s wife must bear strange sights, yet I would save you some. One of my men, forgetful you were here, burst into my tent in such a guise as scarce would suit a female eye. I must away, my child. I’ll call thy slaves. One kiss! Farewell! but for a time.’
‘“To-morrow Israel will be avenged.” What! in Karasmian blood? I have no faith. No matter. All is now beyond my influence. A rushing destiny carries me onward. I cannot stem the course, nor guide the vessel. How now! Who is the officer on guard?’
‘Benomi, Sire, thy servant.’
‘Send to the Viceroy. Bid him meet me here. Who is this?’
‘A courier from the Lord Scherirah, Sire, but just arrived. He passed last night the Kerrund mountains, Sire, and will be with you by the break of day.’
‘Good news. Go fetch Abner. Haste! He’ll find me here anon. I’ll visit the camp awhile. Well, my brave fellows, you have hither come to conquer again with Alroy. You have fought before, I warrant, on the plain of Nehauend. ’Tis a rich soil, and shall be richer with Karasmian gore.’
‘God save your Majesty! Our lives are thine.’
‘Please you, my little ruler,’ said a single soldier, addressing Alroy; ‘pardon my bluntness, but I knew you before you were a Caliph.’
‘Stout heart, I like thy freedom. Pr’ythee say on.’
‘I was a-saying, I hope you will lead us in the charge tomorrow. Some say you will not.’
‘They say falsely.’
‘I thought so. I’ll ever answer for my little ruler, but then the Queen?’
‘Is a true soldier’s wife, and lives in the camp.’
‘That’s brave! There, I told you so, comrades; you would not believe me, but I knew our little ruler before you did. I lived near the gate at Hamadan, please your Highness: old Shelomi’s son.’
‘Give me thy hand; a real friend. What is’t ye eat here, boys? Let me taste your mess. I’faith I would my cook could dress me such a pilau! Tis admirable!’
The soldiers gathered round their chieftain with eyes beaming with adoration. ’Twas a fine picture, the hero in the centre, the various groups around, some conversing with him, some cooking, some making coffee, all offering him by word or deed some testimonial of their devotion, and blending with that devotion the most perfect frankness.
‘We shall beat them, lads!’
‘There is no fear with you, you always conquer.’
‘I do my best, and so do you. A good general without good troops is little worth.’
‘I’faith that’s true. One must have good troops. What think you of Alp Arslan?’
‘I think he may give us as much trouble as all our other enemies together, and that’s not much.’
‘Brave, brave! God save Alroy!’
Benomi approached, and announced that the Viceroy was in attendance.
‘I must quit you, my children,’ said Alroy. ‘We’ll sup once more together when we have conquered.’
‘God save you, Sire; and we will confound your enemies.’
‘Good night, my lads. Ere the dawn break we may have hot work.’
‘We are ready, we are ready. God save Alroy.’
‘They are in good cue, and yet ’twas a different spirit that inspired our early days. That I strongly feel. These are men true to a leader who has never failed them, and confident in a cause that leads to plunder. They are but splendid mercenaries.
No more. Oh! where are now the fighting men of Judah! Where are the men who, when they drew their scimitars, joined in a conquering psalm of holy triumph! Last eve of battle you would have thought the field a mighty synagogue. Priests and altars, flaming sacrifices, and smoking censers, groups of fiery zealots hanging with frenzy on prophetic lips, and sealing with their blood and holiest vows a solemn covenant to conquer Canaan. All is changed, as I am. How now, Abner? You are well muffled!’
‘Is it true Scherirah is at hand?’
‘I doubt not all is right. Would that the dawn would break!’
‘The enemy is advancing. Some of their columns are in sight. My scouts have dodged them. They intend doubtless to form upon the plain.’
‘They are in sight, eh! Then we will attack them at once ere they are formed. Rare, rare! We’ll beat them yet. Courage, dear brother. Scherirah will be here at dawn in good time, very good time: very, very good time.’
‘I like the thought’
‘The men are in good heart. At break of dawn, charge with thirty thousand cavalry upon their forming ranks. I’ll take the right, Asriel the left. It shall be a family affair, dear Abner. How is Miriam?’
‘I heard this morn, quite well. She sends you her love and prayers. The Queen is here?’
‘She came this eve. Quite well.’
‘She must excuse all courtesy.’
‘Say nothing. She is a soldier’s wife. She loves thee well, dear Abner.’
‘I know that. I hope my sword may guard her children’s throne.’
‘Well, give thy orders. Instant battle, eh?’
‘Indeed I think so.’
‘I’ll send couriers to hurry Scherirah. All looks well. Reserve the guard.’
‘Ay, ay! Farewell, dear Sire. When we meet again, I trust your enemies may be your slaves!’
At the first streak of dawn the Hebrew cavalry, with the exception of the Guard, charged the advancing columns of the Karasmians with irresistible force, and cut them in pieces. Alp Arslan rallied his troops, and at length succeeded in forming his main body in good order. Alroy and Asriel led on their divisions, and the battle now became general. It raged for several hours, and was on both sides well maintained. The slaughter of the Karasmians was great, but their stern character and superior numbers counterbalanced for a time all the impetuosity of the Hebrews and all the energy of their leaders. This day Alroy threw into the shade all his former exploits. Twelve times he charged at the head of the Sacred Guard, and more than once penetrated to the very pavilion of Alp Arslan.
In vain he endeavoured singly, and hand to hand, to meet that famous chieftain. Both monarchs fought in the ranks, and yet Fate decided that their scimitars should never cross. Four hours before noon, it was evident to Alroy, that, unless Scherirah arrived, he could not prevail against the vast superiority of numbers. He was obliged early to call his reserve into the field, and although the number of the slain on the side of Arslan exceeded any in the former victories of the Hebrews, still the Karasmians maintained an immense front, which was constantly supplied by fresh troops. Confident in his numbers, and aware of the weakness of his antagonists, Arslan contented himself with acting on the defensive, and wearying his assailants by resisting their terrible and repeated charge.
For a moment, Alroy at the head of the Sacred Guard had withdrawn from the combat. Abner and Asriel still maintained the fight, and the Caliph was at the same time preparing for new efforts, and watching with anxiety for the arrival of Scherirah. In the fifth hour, from an eminence he marked with exultation the advancing banners of his expected succours. Confident now that the day was won, he announced the exhilarating intelligence to his soldiers; and, while they were excited by the animating tidings, led them once more to the charge. It was irresistible; Scherirah seemed to have arrived only for the pursuit, only in time to complete the victory. What then was the horror, the consternation of Alroy, when Benaiah, dashing up to him, informed him that the long-expected succours consisted of the united forces of Scherirah and Abidan, and had attacked him in the rear. Human genius could afford no resource. The exhausted Hebrews, whose energies had been tasked to the utmost, were surrounded. The Karasmians made a general and simultaneous advance. In a few minutes the Hebrew army was thrown into confusion. The stoutest warriors threw away their swords in despair. Every one thought only of self-preservation. Even Abner fled towards Hamadan. Asriel was slain. Alroy, finding it was all over, rushed to his pavilion at the head of about three hundred of the guards, seized the fainting Schirene, threw her before him on his saddle, and cutting his way through all obstacles, dashed into the desert.
For eight-and-forty hours they never stopped. Their band was soon reduced one-third. On the morning of the third day they dismounted and refreshed themselves at a well. Half only regained their saddles. Schirene never spoke. On they rushed again, each hour losing some exhausted comate. At length, on the fifth day, about eighty strong, they arrived at a grove of palm-trees. Here they dismounted. And Alroy took Schirene in his arms, and the shade seemed to revive her. She opened her eyes, and pressed his hand and smiled. He gathered her some dates, and she drank some water.
‘Our toils will soon be over, sweetest,’ he whispered to her; ‘I have lost everything but thee.’
Again they mounted, and, proceeding at a less rapid pace, they arrived towards evening at the ruined city, whither Alroy all this time had been directing his course. Dashing down the great street, they at length entered the old amphitheatre. They dismounted. Alroy made a couch with their united cloaks for Schirene. Some collected fuel, great store of which was found, and kindled large fires. Others, while it was yet light, chased the gazelles, and were sufficiently fortunate to provide their banquet, or fetched water from the well known to their leader. In an hour’s time, clustering round their fires in groups, and sharing their rude fare, you might have deemed them, instead of the discomfited and luxurious guards of a mighty monarch, the accustomed tenants of this wild abode.
‘Come, my lads,’ said Alroy, as he rubbed his hands over the ascending flame, ‘at any rate, this is better than the desert.’
After all his exertions, Alroy fell into profound and dreamless sleep. When he awoke, the sun had been long up. Schirene was still slumbering. He embraced her, and she opened her eyes and smiled.
‘You are now a bandit’s bride,’ he said. ‘How like you our new life?’
‘Well! with thee.’
‘Rest here, my sweetest: I must rouse our men, and see how fortune speeds.’ So saying, and tripping lightly over many a sleeping form, he touched Benaiah.
‘So! my brave captain of the guard, still napping! Come! stir, stir.’
Benaiah jumped up with a cheerful face. ‘I am ever ready, Sire.’
‘I know it; but remember I am no more a king, only a comate. Away with me, and let us form some order.’
The companions quitted the amphitheatre and reconnoitred the adjoining buildings. They found many stores, the remains of old days, mats, tents, and fuel, drinking-bowls, and other homely furniture. They fixed upon a building for their stable, and others for the accommodation of their band. They summoned their companions to the open place, the scene of Hassan Subah’s fate, where Alroy addressed them and explained to them his plans. They were divided into companies; each man had his allotted duty. Some were placed on guard at different parts; some were sent out to the chase, or to collect dates from the Oasis; others led the horses to the contiguous pasture, or remained to attend to their domestic arrangements. The amphitheatre was cleared out. A rude but convenient pavilion was formed for Schirene. They covered its ground with mats, and each emulated the other in his endeavours to study her accommodation. Her kind words and inspiring smiles animated at the same time their zeal and their invention.
They soon became accustomed to their rough but adventurous life. Its novelty pleased them, and the perpetual excitement of urgent necessity left them no time to mourn over their terrible vicissitudes. While Alroy lived, hope indeed never deserted their sanguine bosoms. And such was the influence of his genius, that the most desponding felt that to be discomfited with him, was preferable to conquest with another. They were a faithful and devoted band, and merry faces were not wanting when at night they assembled in the amphitheatre for their common meal.
No sooner had Alroy completed his arrangements than he sent forth spies in all directions to procure intelligence, and especially to communicate, if possible, with Ithamar and Medad, provided that they still survived and maintained themselves in any force.
A fortnight passed away without the approach of any stranger; at the end of which, there arrived four personages at their haunt, not very welcome to their chief, who, however, concealed his chagrin at their appearance. These were Kisloch the Kourd, and Calidas the Indian, and their inseparable companions, the Guebre and the Negro.
‘Noble Captain,’ said Kisloch, ‘we trust that you will permit us to enlist in the band. This is not the first time we have served under your orders in this spot. Old comates, i’faith, who have seen the best and the worst. We suspected where you might be found, although, thanks to the ever felicitous invention of man, it is generally received that you died in battle. I hope your Majesty is well,’ added Kisloch, bowing to Schirene.
‘You are welcome, friends,’ replied Alroy; ‘I know your worth. You have seen, as you say, the best and the worst, and will, I trust, see better. Died in battle, eh! that’s good.’
”Tis so received,’ said Calidas.
‘And what news of our friends?’
‘Not over good, but strange.’
‘Hamadan is taken.’
‘I am prepared; tell me all.’
‘Old Bostenay and the Lady Miriam are borne prisoners to Bagdad.’
‘But so; all will be well with them, I trow. The Lord Honain is in high favour with the conqueror, and will doubtless protect them.’
‘Honain in favour?’
‘Even so. He made terms for the city, and right good ones.’
‘Hah! he was ever dexterous. Well! if he save my sister, I care not for his favour.’
‘There is no doubt. All may yet be well, Sir.’
‘Let us act, not hope. Where’s Abner?’
‘I saw him fall, and fought beside him.’
‘A soldier’s death is all our fortune now. I am glad he was not captured. Where’s Medad, Ithamar?’
‘Fled into Egypt.’
‘We have no force whatever, then?’
‘None but your guards here.’
‘They are strong enough to plunder a caravan. Honain, you say, in favour?’
‘Very high. He’ll make good terms for us.’
‘This is strange news.’
‘Very, but true.’
‘Well! you are welcome! Share our fare; ’tis rough, and somewhat scanty; but we have feasted, and may feast again. Fled into Egypt, eh?’
‘Schirene, shouldst like to see the Nile?’
‘I have heard of crocodiles.’
If the presence of Kisloch and his companions were not very pleasing to Alroy, with the rest of the band they soon became great favourites. Their local knowledge, and their experience of desert life, made them valuable allies, and their boisterous jocularity and unceasing merriment were not unwelcome in the present monotonous existence of the fugitives. As for Alroy himself, he meditated an escape to Egypt. He determined to seize the first opportunity of procuring some camels, and then, dispersing his band, with the exception of Benaiah and a few faithful retainers, he trusted that, disguised as merchants, they might succeed in crossing Syria, and entering Africa by Palestine. With these plans and prospects, he became each day more cheerful and more sanguine as to the future. He had in his possession some valuable jewels, which he calculated upon disposing of at Cairo for a sum sufficient for all his purposes; and having exhausted all the passions of life while yet a youth, he looked forward to the tranquil termination of his existence in some poetic solitude with his beautiful companion.
One evening, as they returned from the Oasis, Alroy guiding the camel that bore Schirene, and ever and anon looking up in her inspiring face, her sanguine spirit would have indulged in a delightful future.
‘Thus shall we pass the desert, sweet,’ said Schirene. ‘Can this be toil?’
‘There is no toil with love,’ replied Alroy.
‘And we were made for love, and not for empire,’ rejoined Schirene.
‘The past is a dream,’ said Alroy. ‘So sages teach us; but, until we act, their wisdom is but wind. I feel it now. Have we ever lived in aught but deserts, and fed on aught but dates? Methinks ’tis very natural. But that I am tempted by the security of distant lands, I could remain here a free and happy outlaw. Time, custom, and necessity form our natures. When I first met Scherirah in these ruins, I shrank with horror from degraded man; and now I sigh to be his heir. We must not think!’
‘No, love, we’ll only hope,’ replied Schirene; and they passed through the gates.
The night was beautiful, the air was still warm and sweet. Schirene gazed upon the luminous heavens. ‘We thought not of these skies when we were at Bagdad,’ she exclaimed; ‘and yet, my life, what was the brightness of our palaces compared to these? All is left to us that man should covet, freedom, beauty, and youth. I do believe, ere long, Alroy, we shall look back upon the wondrous past as on another and a lower world. Would that this were Egypt! Tis my only wish.’
‘And it shall soon be gratified. All will soon be arranged. A few brief days, and then Schirene will mount her camel for a longer ride than just to gather dates. You’ll make a sorry traveller, I fear!’
‘Not I; I’ll tire you all.’
They reached the circus, and seated themselves round the blazing fire. Seldom had Alroy, since his fall, appeared more cheerful. Schirene sang an Arab air to the band, who joined in joyous chorus. It was late ere they sought repose; and they retired to their rest, sanguine and contented.
A few hours afterwards, at the break of dawn, Alroy was roused from his slumbers by a rude pressure on his breast. He started; a ferocious soldier was kneeling over him; he would have spurned him; he found his hand manacled. He would have risen; his feet were bound. He looked round for Schirene, and called her name; he was answered only by a shriek. The amphitheatre was filled with Karasmian troops. His own men were surprised and overpowered. Kisloch and the Guebre had been on guard. He was raised from the ground, and flung upon a camel, which was instantly trotted out of the circus. On every side he beheld a wild scene of disorder and dismay. He was speechless from passion and despair. The camel was dragged into the desert. A body of cavalry instantly surrounded it, and they set off at a rapid pace. The whole seemed the work of an instant.
How many days had passed Alroy knew not. He had taken no account of time. Night and day were to him the same. He was in a stupor. But the sweetness of the air and the greenness of the earth at length partially roused his attention. He was just conscious that they had quitted the desert. Before him was a noble river; he beheld the Euphrates from the very spot he had first viewed it in his pilgrimage. The strong association of ideas called back his memory. A tear stole down his cheek; the bitter drop stole to his parched lips; he asked the nearest horseman for water. The guard gave him a wetted sponge, with which he contrived with difficulty to wipe his lips, and then he let it fall to the ground. The Karasmian struck him.
They arrived at the river. The prisoner was taken from the camel and placed in a covered boat. After some hours they stopped and disembarked at a small village. Alroy was placed upon an ass with his back to its head. His clothes were soiled and tattered. The children pelted him with mud. An old woman, with a fanatic curse, placed a crown of paper on his brow. With difficulty his brutal guards prevented their victim from being torn to pieces. And in such fashion, towards noon of the fourteenth day, David Alroy again entered Bagdad.
The intelligence of the capture of Alroy spread through the agitated city. The Moolahs bustled about as if they had received a fresh demonstration of the authenticity of the prophetic mission. All the Dervishes began begging. The men discussed affairs in the coffee-houses, and the women chatted at the fountains.79
‘They may say what they like, but I wish him well,’ said a fair Arab, as she arranged her veil. ‘He may be an impostor, but he was a very handsome one.’
‘All the women are for him, that’s the truth,’ responded a companion; ‘but then we can do him no good.’
‘We can tear their eyes out,’ said a third.
‘And what do you think of Alp Arslan, truly?’ inquired a fourth.
‘I wish he were a pitcher, and then I could break his neck,’ said a fifth.
‘Only think of the Princess!’ said a sixth.
‘Well! she has had a glorious time of it,’ said a seventh.
‘Nothing was too good for her,’ said an eighth.
‘I like true love,’ said a ninth.
‘Well! I hope he will be too much for them all yet,’ said a tenth.
‘I should not wonder,’ said an eleventh.
‘He can’t,’ said a twelfth, ‘he has lost his sceptre.’
‘You don’t say so?’ said a thirteenth.
‘It is too true,’ said a fourteenth.
‘Do you think he was a wizard?’ said a fifteenth. ‘I vow, if there be not a fellow looking at us behind those trees.’
‘Impudent scoundrel!’ said a sixteenth. ‘I wish it were Alroy. Let us all scream, and put down our veils.’
And the group ran away.
Two stout soldiers were playing chess80 in a coffee-house.
‘May I slay my mother,’ said one, ‘but I cannot make a move. I fought under him at Nehauend; and though I took the amnesty, I have half a mind now to seize my sword and stab the first Turk that enters.’
”Twere but sheer justice,’ said his companion. ‘By my father’s blessing, he was the man for a charge. They may say what they like, but compared with him, Alp Arslan is a white-livered Giaour.’
‘Here is confusion to him and to thy last move. There’s the dirhem, I can play no more. May I slay my mother, though, but I did not think he would let himself be taken.’
‘By the blessing of my father, nor I; but then he was asleep.’
‘That makes a difference. He was betrayed.’
‘All brave men are. They say Kisloch and his set pocket their fifty thousand by the job.’
‘May each dirhem prove a plague-spot!’
‘Amen! Dost remember Abner?’
‘May I slay my mother if I ever forget him. He spoke to his men like so many lambs. What has become of the Lady Miriam?’
‘She is here.’
‘That will cut Alroy.’
‘He was ever fond of her. Dost remember she gained Adoram’s life?’
‘Oh! she could do anything next to the Queen.’
‘Before her, I say, before her. He has refused the Queen, he never refused the Lady Miriam.’
‘Because she asked less.’
‘Dost know it seemed to me that things never went on so well after Jabaster’s death?’
‘So say I. There was a something, eh?’
‘A sort of a peculiar, as it were, kind of something, eh?’
‘You have well described it. Every man felt the same. I have often mentioned it to my comrades. Say what you like, said I, but slay my mother if ever since the old man strangled himself, things did not seem, as it were, in their natural propinquity. ’Twas the phrase I used.’
‘A choice one. Unless there is a natural propinquity, the best-arranged matters will fall out. However, the ass sees farther than his rider, and so it was with Alroy, the best commander I ever served under, all the same.’
‘Let us go forth and see how affairs run.’
‘Ay, do. If we hear any one abuse Alroy, we’ll cleave his skull.’
‘That will we. There are a good many of our stout fellows about; we might do something yet.’
A subterranean dungeon of the citadel of Bagdad held in its gloomy limits the late lord of Asia. The captive did not sigh, or weep, or wail. He did not speak. He did not even think. For several days he remained in a state of stupor. On the morning of the fourth day, he almost unconsciously partook of the wretched provision which his gaolers brought him. Their torches, round which the bats whirled and flapped their wings, and twinkled their small eyes, threw a ghastly glare over the nearer walls of the dungeon, the extremity of which defied the vision of the prisoner; and, when the gaolers retired, Alroy was in complete darkness.
The image of the past came back to him. He tried in vain to penetrate the surrounding gloom. His hands were manacled, his legs also were loaded with chains. The notion that his life might perhaps have been cruelly spared in order that he might linger on in this horrible state of conscious annihilation filled him with frenzy. He would have dashed his fetters against his brow, but the chain restrained him. He flung himself upon the damp and rugged ground. His fall disturbed a thousand obscene things. He heard the quick glide of a serpent, the creeping retreat of the clustering scorpions, and the swift escape of the dashing rats. His mighty calamities seemed slight when compared with these petty miseries. His great soul could not support him under these noisome and degrading incidents. He sprang, in disgust, upon his feet, and stood fearful of moving, lest every step should introduce him to some new abomination. At length, exhausted nature was unable any longer to sustain him. He groped his way to the rude seat, cut in the rocky wall, which was his only accommodation. He put forth his hand. It touched the slimy fur of some wild animal, that instantly sprang away, its fiery eyes sparkling in the dark. Alroy recoiled with a sensation of woe-begone dismay. His shaken nerves could not sustain him under this base danger, and these foul and novel trials. He could not refrain from an exclamation of despair; and, when he remembered that he was now far beyond the reach of all human solace and sympathy, even all human aid, for a moment his mind seemed to desert him; and he wrung his hands in forlorn and almost idiotic woe. An awful thing it is, the failure of the energies of a master-mind. He who places implicit confidence in his genius will find himself some day utterly defeated and deserted. ’Tis bitter! Every paltry hind seems but to breathe to mock you. Slow, indeed, is such a mind to credit that the never-failing resource can at least be wanting. But so it is. Like a dried-up fountain, the perennial flow and bright fertility have ceased, and ceased for ever. Then comes the madness of retrospection.
Draw a curtain! draw a curtain! and fling it over this agonising anatomy.
The days of childhood, his sweet sister’s voice and smiling love, their innocent pastimes, and the kind solicitude of faithful servants, all the soft detail of mild domestic life: these were the sights and memories that flitted in wild play before the burning vision of Alroy, and rose upon his tortured mind. Empire and glory, his sacred nation, his imperial bride; these, these were nothing. Their worth had vanished with the creative soul that called them into action. The pure sympathies of nature alone remained, and all his thought and grief, all his intelligence, all his emotion, were centred in his sister.
It was the seventh morning. A guard entered at an unaccustomed hour, and, sticking a torch into a niche in the wall, announced that a person was without who had permission to speak to the prisoner. They were the first human accents that had met the ear of Alroy during his captivity, which seemed to him an age, a long dark period, that cancelled all things. He shuddered at the harsh tones. He tried to answer, but his unaccustomed lips refused their office. He raised his heavy arms, and endeavoured to signify his consciousness of what had been uttered. Yet, indeed, he had not listened to the message without emotion. He looked forward to the grate with strange curiosity; and, as he looked, he trembled. The visitor entered, muffled in a dark caftan. The guard disappeared; and the caftan falling to the ground, revealed Honain.
‘My beloved Alroy,’ said the brother of Jabaster; and he advanced, and pressed him to his bosom. Had it been Miriam, Alroy might have at once expired; but the presence of this worldly man called back his worldliness. The revulsion of his feelings was wonderful. Pride, perhaps even hope, came to his aid; all the associations seemed to counsel exertion; for a moment he seemed the same Alroy.
‘I rejoice to find at least thee safe, Honain.’
‘I also, if my security may lead to thine.’
‘Still whispering hope!’
‘Despair is the conclusion of fools.’
‘O Honain! ’tis a great trial. I can play my part, and yet methinks ’twere better we had not again met. How is Schirene?’
‘Thinking of thee.’
’Tis something that she can think. My mind has gone. Where’s Miriam?’
‘That’s something. Thou hast done that. Good, good Honain, be kind to that sweet child, if only for my sake. Thou art all she has left.’
‘She hath thee.’
‘Live and be her refuge.’
‘How’s that? These walls! Escape? No, no; it is impossible.’
‘I do not deem it so.’
‘Indeed! I’ll do anything. Speak! Can we bribe? can we cleave their skulls? can we ——’
‘Calm thyself, my friend. There is no need of bribes, no need of bloodshed. We must make terms.’
‘Terms! We might have made them on the plain of Nehauend. Terms! Terms with a captive victim?’
‘Is Arslan then so generous?’
‘He is a beast, more savage than the boar that grinds its tusks within his country’s forests.’
‘Why speakest thou then of hope?’
‘I spoke of certainty. I did not mention hope.’
‘Dear Honain, my brain is weak; but I can bear strange things, or else I should not be here. I feel thy thoughtful friendship; but indeed there need no winding words to tell my fate. Pr’ythee speak out.’
‘In a word, thy life is safe.’
‘If it please thee.’
‘Please me? Life is sweet. I feel its sweetness. I want but little. Freedom and solitude are all I ask. My life spared! I’ll not believe it. Thou hast done this deed, thou mighty man, that masterest all souls. Thou hast not forgotten me; thou hast not forgotten the days gone by, thou hast not forgotten thine own Alroy! Who calls thee worldly is a slanderer. O Honain! thou art too faithful!’
‘I have no thought but for thy service, Prince.’
‘Call me not Prince, call me thine own Alroy. My life spared! ’Tis wonderful! When may I go? Let no one see me. Manage that, Honain. Thou canst manage all things. I am for Egypt. Thou hast been to Egypt, hast thou not, Honain?’
‘A very wondrous land, ’twill please thee much.’
‘When may I go? Tell me when I may go. When may I quit this dark and noisome cell? ’Tis worse than all their tortures, dear Honain. Air and light, and I really think my spirit never would break, but this horrible dungeon —— I scarce can look upon thy face, sweet friend. ’Tis serious.’
‘Wouldst thou have me gay?’
‘Yes! if we are free.’
‘Alroy! thou art a great spirit, the greatest that I e’er knew, have ever read of. I never knew thy like, and never shall.’
‘Tush, tush, sweet friend, I am a broken reed, but still I am free. This is no time for courtly phrases. Let’s go, and go at once.’
‘A moment, dear Alroy. I am no flatterer. What I said came from my heart, and doth concern us much and instantly. I was saying thou hast no common mind, Alroy; indeed thou hast a mind unlike all others. Listen, my Prince. Thou hast read mankind deeply and truly. Few have seen more than thyself, and none have so rare a spring of that intuitive knowledge of thy race, which is a gem to which experience is but a jeweller, and without which no action can befriend us.’
‘A moment’s calmness. Thou hast entered Bagdad in triumph, and thou hast entered the same city with every contumely which the base spirit of our race could cast upon its victim. ’Twas a great lesson.’
‘I feel it so.’
‘And teaches us how vile and valueless is the opinion of our fellow-men.’
‘Alas! ’tis true.’
‘I am glad to see thee in this wholesome temper. ’Tis full of wisdom.’
‘The miserable are often wise.’
‘But to believe is nothing unless we act. Speculation should only sharpen practice. The time hath come to prove thy lusty faith in this philosophy. I told thee we could make terms. I have made them. To-morrow it was doomed Alroy should die — and what a death! A death of infinite torture! Hast ever seen a man impaled?’81
‘To view it is alone a doom.’
‘God of Heaven!’
‘It is so horrible, that ’tis ever marked, that when this direful ceremony occurs, the average deaths in cities greatly increase. ’Tis from the turning of the blood in the spectators, who yet from some ungovernable madness cannot refrain from hurrying to the scene. I speak with some authority. I speak as a physician.’
‘Speak no more, I cannot endure it.’
‘To-morrow this doom awaited thee. As for Schirene ——’
‘Not for her, oh! surely not for her?’
‘No, they were merciful. She is a Caliph’s daughter. ’Tis not forgotten. The axe would close her life. Her fair neck would give slight trouble to the headsman’s art. But for thy sister, but for Miriam, she is a witch, a Jewish witch! They would have burnt her alive!’
‘I’ll not believe it, no, no, I’ll not believe it: damnable, bloody demons! When I had power I spared all, all but —— ah, me! ah, me! why did I live?’
‘Thou dost forget thyself; I speak of that which was to have been, not of that which is to be. I have stepped in and communed with the conqueror. I have made terms.’
‘What are they, what can they be?’
‘Easy. To a philosopher like Alroy an idle ceremony.’
‘Be brief, be brief.’
‘Thou seest thy career is a great scandal to the Moslemin. I mark their weakness, and I have worked upon it. Thy mere defeat or death will not blot out the stain upon their standard and their faith. The public mind is wild with fantasies since Alroy rose. Men’s opinions flit to and fro with that fearful change that bodes no stable settlement of states. None know what to cling to, or where to place their trust. Creeds are doubted, authority disputed. They would gladly account for thy success by other than human means, yet must deny thy mission. There also is the fame of a fair and mighty Princess, a daughter of their Caliphs, which they would gladly clear. I mark all this, observe and work upon it. So, could we devise some means by which thy lingering followers could be for ever silenced, this great scandal fairly erased, and the public frame brought to a sounder and more tranquil pulse, why, they would concede much, much, very much.’
‘Thy meaning, not thy means, are evident.’
‘They are in thy power.’
‘In mine? ’Tis a deep riddle. Pr’ythee solve it.’
‘Thou wilt be summoned at tomorrow’s noon before this Arslan. There in the presence of the assembled people who are now with him as much as they were with thee, thou wilt be accused of magic, and of intercourse with the infernal powers. Plead guilty.’
‘Well! is there more?’
‘Some trifle. They will then examine thee about the Princess. It is not difficult to confess that Alroy won the Caliph’s daughter by an irresistible spell, and now ’tis broken.’
‘So, so. Is that all?’
‘The chief. Thou canst then address some phrases to the Hebrew prisoners, denying thy Divine mission, and so forth, to settle the public mind, observe, upon this point for ever.’
‘Ay, ay, and then ——?’
‘No more, except for form. (Upon the completion of the conditions, mind, you will be conveyed to what land you please, with such amount of treasure as you choose.) There is no more, except, I say, for form, I would, if I were you (’twill be expected), I would just publicly affect to renounce our faith, and bow before their Prophet.’
‘Hah! Art thou there? Is this thy freedom? Get thee behind me, tempter! Never, never, never! Not a jot, not a jot: I’ll not yield a jot. Were my doom one everlasting torture, I’d spurn thy terms! Is this thy high contempt of our poor kind, to outrage my God! to prove myself the vilest of the vile, and baser than the basest? Rare philosophy! O Honain! would we had never met!’
‘Or never parted. True. Had my word been taken, Alroy would ne’er have been betrayed.’
‘No more; I pray thee, sir, no more. Leave me.’
‘Were this a palace, I would. Harsh words are softened by a friendly ear, when spoken in affliction.’
‘Say what they will, I am the Lord’s anointed. As such I should have lived, as such at least I’ll die.’
‘The Lord will not desert her: she ne’er deserted Him.’
‘Schirene! why! for her sake alone I will die a hero. Shall it be said she loved a craven slave, a base impostor, a vile renegade, a villainous dealer in drugs and charms? Oh! no, no, no! if only for her sake, her sweet, sweet sake, my end shall be like my great life. As the sun I rose, like him I set. Still the world is warm with my bright fame, and my last hour shall not disgrace my noon, stormy indeed, but glorious!’
Honain took the torch from the niche, and advanced to the grate. It was not fastened: he drew it gently open, and led forward a veiled and female figure. The veiled and female figure threw herself at the feet of Alroy, who seemed lost to what was passing. A soft lip pressed his hand. He started, his chains clanked.
‘Alroy!’ softly murmured the kneeling female.
‘What voice is that?’ wildly exclaimed the Prince of the Captivity. ‘It falls upon my ear like long-forgotten music. I’ll not believe it. No! I’ll not believe it. Art thou Schirene?’
‘I am that wretched thing they called thy bride.’
‘Oh! this indeed is torture! What impalement can equal this sharp moment? Look not on me, let not our eyes meet! They have met before, like to the confluence of two shining rivers blending in one great stream of rushing light. Bear off that torch, sir. Let impenetrable darkness cover our darker fortunes.’
‘She speaks again. Is she mad, as I am, that thus she plays with agony?’
‘Sire,’ said Honain advancing, and laying his hand gently on the arm of the captive, ‘I pray thee moderate this passion. Thou hast some faithful friends here, who would fain commune in calmness for thy lasting welfare.’
‘Welfare! He mocks me.’
‘I beseech, thee, Sire, be calm. If, indeed, I speak unto that great Alroy whom all men fear and still may fear, I pray remember, ’tis not in palaces or in the battle-field alone that the heroic soul can conquer and command. Scenes like these are the great proof of a superior soul. While we live, our body is a temple where our genius pours forth its godlike inspiration, and while the altar is not overthrown, the deity may still work marvels. Then rouse thyself, great Sire; bethink thee that, a Caliph or a captive, there is no man within this breathing world like to Alroy. Shall such a being fall without a struggle, like some poor felon, who has naught to trust to but the dull shuffling accident of Chance? I, too, am a prophet, and I feel thou still wilt conquer.’
‘Give me my sceptre, then, give me the sceptre! I speak to the wrong brother! It was not thou, it was not thou that gavest it me.’
‘Gain it once more. The Lord deserted David for a time; still he pardoned him, and still he died a king.’
‘A woman worked his fall.’
‘But thee a woman raises. This great Princess, has she not suffered too? Yet her spirit is still unbroken. List to her counsel: it is deep and fond.’
‘So was our love.’
‘And is, my Alroy!’ exclaimed the Princess. ‘Be calm, I pray thee! For my sake be calm; I am calm for thine. Thou hast listened to all Honain has told thee, that wise man, my Alroy, who never erred.
’Tis but a word he counsels, an empty word, a most unmeaning form. But speak it, and thou art free, and Alroy and Schirene may blend again their glorious careers and lives of sweet fruition. Dost thou not remember when, walking in the garden of our joy, and palled with empire, how often hast thou sighed for some sweet isle unknown to man, where thou mightst pass thy days with no companion but my faithful self, and no adventures but our constant loves? O my beloved, that life may still be thine! And dost thou falter? Dost call thyself forlorn with such fidelity, and deem thyself a wretch, when Paradise with all its beauteous gates but woos thy entrance? Oh! no, no, no, no! thou hast forgot Schirene: I fear me much, thy over-fond Schirene, who doats upon thy image in thy chains more than she did when those sweet hands of thine were bound with gems and played with her bright locks!’
‘She speaks of another world. I do remember something. Who has sent this music to a dungeon? My spirit softens with her melting words. My eyes are moist. I weep! ’Tis pleasant. Sorrow is joy compared with my despair. I never thought to shed a tear again. My brain is cooler.’
‘Weep, weep, I pray thee weep; but let me kiss away thy tears, my soul! Didst think thy Schirene had deserted thee? Ah! that was it that made my bird so sad. It shall be free, and fly in a sweet sky, and feed on flowers with its faithful mate. Ah me! I am once more happy with my boy. There was no misery but thy absence, sweet! Methinks this dungeon is our bright kiosk! Is that the sunbeam, or thy smile, my love, that makes the walls so joyful?’
‘Did I smile? I’ll not believe it.’
‘Indeed you did. Ah! see he smiles again. Why this is freedom! There is no such thing as sorrow. Tis a lie to frighten fools!’
‘Why, Honain, what’s this? ‘Twould seem I am really joyful. There’s inspiration in her very breath. I am another being. Nay! waste not kisses on those ugly fetters.’
‘Methinks they are gold.’
They were silent. Schirene drew Alroy to his rough seat, and gently placing herself on his knees, threw her arms round his neck, and buried her face in his breast. After a few minutes she raised her head, and whispered in his ear in irresistible accents of sweet exultation, ‘We shall be free tomorrow!’
‘To-morrow! is the trial so near?’ exclaimed the captive, with an agitated voice and changing countenance. ‘To-morrow!’ He threw Schirene aside somewhat hastily, and sprang from his seat. ‘To-morrow! would it were over! To-morrow! Methinks there is within that single word the fate of ages! Shall it be said tomorrow that Alroy —— Hah! what art thou that risest now before me? Dread, mighty spirit, thou hast come in time to save me from perdition. Take me to thy bosom, ’tis not stabbed. They did not stab thee. Thou seest me here communing with thy murderers. What then? I am innocent. Ask them, dread ghost, and call upon their fiendish souls to say I am pure. They would make me dark as themselves, but shall not.’
‘Honain, Honain!’ exclaimed the Princess in a terrible whisper as she flew to the Physician. ‘He is wild again. Calm him, calm him. Mark! how he stands with his extended arms, and fixed vacant eyes, muttering most awful words! My spirit fails me. It is too fearful.’
The Physician advanced and stood by the side of Alroy, but in vain attempted to catch his attention. He ventured to touch his arm. The Prince started, turned round, and recognising him, exclaimed in a shrieking voice, ‘Off, fratricide!’
Honain recoiled, pale and quivering. Schirene sprang to his arm. ‘What said he, Honain? Thou dost not speak. I never saw thee pale before. Art thou, too, mad?’
‘Would I were!’
‘All men are growing wild. I am sure he said something. I pray thee tell me what was it?’
‘I dare not. Tell me, tell me, Honain!’
‘That I dare not.’
‘Was it a word?’
‘Ay! a word to wake the dead. Let us begone.’
‘Without our end? Coward! I’ll speak to him. My own Alroy,’ sweetly whispered the Princess, as she advanced before him.
‘What, has the fox left the tigress! Is’t so, eh? Are there no judgments? Are the innocent only haunted? I am innocent! I did not strangle thee! He said rightly, “Beware, beware! they who did this may do even feller deeds.” And here they are quick at their damned work. Thy body suffered, great Jabaster, but me they would strangle body and soul!’
The Princess shrieked, and fell into the arms of the advancing Honain, who bore her out of the dungeon.
After the fall of Hamadan, Bostenay and Miriam had been carried prisoners to Bagdad. Through the interference of Honain, their imprisonment had been exempted from the usual hardships, but they were still confined to their chambers in the citadel. Hitherto all the endeavours of Miriam to visit her brother had been fruitless. Honain was the only person to whom she could apply for assistance, and he, in answer to her importunities, only regretted his want of power to aid her. In vain had she attempted, by the offer of some remaining jewels, to secure the cooperation of her guards, with whom her loveliness and the softness of her manners had already ingratiated her. She had not succeeded even in communicating with Alroy. But after the unsuccessful mission of Honain to the dungeon, the late Vizier visited the sister of the captive, and, breaking to her with delicate skill the intelligence of the impending catastrophe, he announced that he had at length succeeded in obtaining for her the desired permission to visit her brother; and, while she shuddered at the proximity of an event for which she had long attempted to prepare herself, Honain, with some modifications, whispered the means by which he flattered himself that it might yet be averted. Miriam listened to him in silence, nor could he, with all his consummate art, succeed in extracting from her the slightest indication of her own opinion as to their expediency. They parted, Honain as sanguine as the wicked ever are.
As Miriam dreaded, both for herself and for Alroy, the shock of an unexpected meeting, she availed herself of the influence of Honain to send Caleb to her brother, to prepare him for her presence, and to consult him as to the desirable moment. Caleb found his late master lying exhausted on the floor of his dungeon. At first he would not speak or even raise his head, nor did he for a long time apparently recognise the faithful retainer of his uncle. But at length he grew milder, and when he fully comprehended who the messenger was, and the object of his mission, he at first seemed altogether disinclined to see his sister, but in the end postponed their meeting for the present, and, pleading great exhaustion, fixed for that sad interview the first hour of dawn.
The venerable Bostenay had scarcely ever spoken since the fall of his nephew; indeed it was but too evident that his faculties, even if they had not entirely deserted him, were at least greatly impaired. He never quitted his couch; he took no notice of what occurred. He evinced no curiosity, scarcely any feeling. If indeed he occasionally did mutter an observation, it was generally of an irritable character, nor truly did he appear satisfied if anyone approached him, save Miriam, from whom alone he would accept the scanty viands which he ever appeared disinclined to touch. But his devoted niece, amid all her harrowing affliction, could ever spare to the protector of her youth a placid countenance, a watchful eye, a gentle voice, and a ready hand. Her religion and her virtue, the strength of her faith, and the inspiration of her innocence, supported this pure and hapless lady amid all her undeserved and unparalleled sorrows.
It was long past midnight; the young widow of Abner reposed upon a couch in a soft slumber. The amiable Beruna and the beautiful Bathsheba, the curtains drawn, watched the progress of the night.
‘Shall I wake her?’ said the beautiful Bathsheba. ‘Methinks the stars are paler! She bade me rouse her long before the dawn.’
‘Her sleep is too benign! Let us not wake her,’ replied the amiable Beruna. ‘We rouse her only to sorrow.’
‘May her dreams at least be happy;’ rejoined the beautiful Bathsheba. ‘She sleeps tranquilly, as a flower.’
‘The veil has fallen from her head,’ said the amiable Beruna. ‘I will replace it lightly on her brow. Is that well, my Bathsheba?’
‘It is well, sweet Beruna. Her face shrouded by the shawl is like a pearl in its shell. See! she moves!’
‘I am here, sweet lady.’
‘Is it near dawn?’
‘Not yet, sweet lady; it is yet night. It is long past the noon of night, sweet lady; methinks I scent the rising breath of morn; but still ’tis night, and the young moon shines like a sickle in the heavenly field, amid the starry harvest.’
‘Beruna, gentle girl, give me thy arm. I’ll rise.’
The maidens advanced, and gently raising their mistress, supported her to the window.
‘Since our calamities,’ said Miriam, ‘I have never enjoyed such tranquil slumber. My dreams were slight, but soothing. I saw him, but he smiled. Have I slept long, sweet girls? Ye are very watchful.’
‘Dear lady, let me bring thy shawl. The air is fresh ——’
‘But sweet; I thank thee, no. My brow is not so cool as to need a covering. ’Tis a fair night!’
Miriam gazed upon the wide prospect of the moonlit capital. The elevated position of the citadel afforded an extensive view of the mighty groups of buildings-each in itself a city, broken only by some vast and hooded cupola, the tall, slender, white minarets of the mosques, or the black and spiral form of some lonely cypress — through which the rushing Tigris, flooded with light, sent forth its broad and brilliant torrent. All was silent; not a single boat floated on the fleet river, not a solitary voice broke the stillness of slumbering millions. She gazed and, as she gazed, she could not refrain from contrasting the present scene, which seemed the sepulchre of all the passions of our race, with the unrivalled excitement of that stirring spectacle which Bagdad exhibited on the celebration of the marriage of Alroy. How different then, too, was her position from her present, and how happy! The only sister of a devoted brother, the lord and conqueror of Asia, the bride of his most victorious captain, one worthy of all her virtues, and whose youthful valour had encircled her brow with a diadem. To Miriam, exalted station had brought neither cares nor crimes. It had, as it were, only rendered her charity universal, and her benevolence omnipotent. She could not accuse herself, this blessed woman — she could not accuse herself, even in this searching hour of self-knowledge — she could not accuse herself, with all her meekness, and modesty, and humility, of having for a moment forgotten her dependence on her God, or her duty to her neighbour.
But when her thoughts recurred to that being from whom they were indeed scarcely ever absent; and when she remembered him, and all his life, and all the thousand incidents of his youth, mysteries to the world, and known only to her, but which were indeed the prescience of his fame, and thought of all his surpassing qualities and all his sweet affection, his unrivalled glory and his impending fate, the tears, in silent agony, forced their way down her pale and pensive cheek. She bowed her head upon Bathsheba’s shoulder, and sweet Beruna pressed her quivering hand.
The moon set, the stars grew white and ghastly, and vanished one by one. Over the distant plain of the Tigris, the scene of the marriage pomp, the dark purple horizon shivered into a rich streak of white and orange. The solemn strain of the Muezzin sounded from the minarets. Some one knocked at the door. It was Caleb.
‘I am ready,’ said Miriam; and for a moment she covered her face with her right hand. ‘Think of me, sweet maidens; pray for me!’
Leaning on Caleb, and lighted by a gaoler, bearing torches, Miriam descended the damp and broken stairs that led to the dungeon. She faltered as she arrived at the grate. She stopped, and leant against the cold and gloomy wall. The gaoler and Caleb preceded her. She heard the voice of Alroy. It was firm and sweet. Its accents reassured her. Caleb came forth with a torch, and held it to her feet; and, as he bent down, he said, ‘My lord bade me beg you to be of good heart, for he is.’
The gaoler, having stuck his torch in the niche, withdrew. Miriam desired Caleb to stay without. Then, summoning up all her energies, she entered the dreadful abode. Alroy was standing to receive her. The light fell full upon his countenance. It smiled. Miriam could no longer restrain herself. She ran forward, and pressed him to her heart.
‘O, my best, my long beloved,’ whispered Alroy; ‘such a meeting indeed leads captivity captive!’
But the sister could not speak. She leant her head upon his shoulder, and closed her eyes, that she might not weep.
‘Courage, dear heart; courage, courage!’ whispered the captive. ‘Indeed I am happy!’
‘My brother, my brother!’
‘Had we met yesterday, you would have found me perhaps a little vexed. But today I am myself again. Since I crossed the Tigris, I know not that I have felt such self-content. I have had sweet dreams, dear Miriam, full of solace. And, more than dreams, the Lord has pardoned me, I truly think.’
‘O, my brother! your words are full of comfort; for, indeed, I too have dreamed, and dreamed of consolation. My spirit, since our fall, has never been more tranquil.’
‘Indeed I am happy.’
‘Say so again, my David; let me hear again these words of solace!’
‘Indeed, ’tis very true, my faithful friend. It is not spoken in kind mockery to make you joyous. For know, last eve, whether the Lord repented of his wrath, or whether some dreadful trials, of which I will not speak, and wish not to remember, had made atonement for my manifold sins, but so it was, that, about the time my angel Miriam sent her soothing message, a feeling of repose came over me, such as I long have coveted. Anon, I fell into a slumber, deep and sweet, and, instead of those wild and whirling images that of late have darted from my brain when it should rest, glimpses of empire and conspiracy, snatches of fierce wars and mocking loves, I stood beside our native fountain’s brink, and gathered flowers with my earliest friend. As I placed the fragrant captives in your flowing locks, there came Jabaster, that great, injured man, no longer stern and awful, but with benignant looks, and full of love. And he said, “David, the Lord hath marked thy faithfulness, in spite of the darkness of thy dungeon.” So he vanished. He spoke, my sister, of some strange temptations by heavenly aid withstood. No more of that. I awoke. And lo! I heard my name still called. Full of my morning dream, I thought it was you, and I answered, “Dear sister, art thou here?” But no one answered; and then, reflecting, my memory recognised those thrilling tones that summoned Alroy in Jabaster’s cave.’ ‘The Daughter of the Voice?’ ‘Even that sacred messenger. I am full of faith. The Lord hath pardoned me. Be sure of that.’
‘I cannot doubt it, David. You have done great things for Israel; no one in these latter days has risen like you. If you have fallen, you were young, and strangely tempted.’
‘Yet Israel, Israel! Did I not feel a worthier leader will yet arise, my heart would crack. I have betrayed my country!’
‘Oh no, no, no! You have shown what we can do and shall do. Your memory alone is inspiration. A great career, although baulked of its end, is still a landmark of human energy. Failure, when sublime, is not without its purpose. Great deeds are great legacies, and work with wondrous usury. By what Man has done, we learn what Man can do; and gauge the power and prospects of our race.’
‘Alas! there is no one to guard my name. ’Twill be reviled; or worse, ’twill be forgotten.’
‘Never! the memory of great actions never dies. The sun of glory, though awhile obscured, will shine at last. And so, sweet brother, perchance some poet, in some distant age, within whose veins our sacred blood may flow, his fancy fired with the national theme, may strike his harp to Alroy’s wild career, and consecrate a name too long forgotten?’
‘May love make thee a prophetess!’ exclaimed Alroy, as he bent down his head and embraced her. ‘Do not tarry,’ he whispered. ”Tis better that we should part in this firm mood.’
She sprang from him, she clasped her hands. ‘We will not part,’ she exclaimed, with energy; ‘I will die with thee.’
‘Blessed girl, be calm! Do not unman me.’
‘I am calm. See! I do not weep. Not a tear, not a tear. They are all in my heart.’
‘Go, go, my Miriam, angel of light. Tarry no longer; I pray thee go. I would not think of the past. Let all my mind be centred in the present. Thy presence calls back our bygone days, and softens me too much. My duty to my uncle. Go, dear one, go!’
‘And leave thee, leave thee to —— Oh! my David, thou hast seen, thou hast heard —— Honain?’
‘No more; let not that accursed name profane those holy lips. Raise not the demon in me.’
‘I am silent. Yet ’tis madness! Oh! my brother, thou hast a fearful trial.’
‘The God of Israel is my refuge. He saved our fathers in the fiery furnace. He will save me.’
‘I am full of faith. I pray thee let me stay.’
‘I would be silent; I would be alone. I cannot speak, Miriam. I ask one favour, the last and dearest, from her who has never had a thought but for my wishes; blessed being, leave me.’
‘I go. O Alroy, farewell! Let me kiss you. Again, once more! Let me kneel and bless you. Brother, beloved brother, great and glorious brother, I am worthy of you: I will not weep. I am prouder in this dread moment of your love than all your foes can be of their hard triumph!’
Beruna and Bathsheba received their mistress when she returned to her chamber. They marked her desolate air. She was silent, pale, and cold. They bore her to her couch, whereon she sat with a most listless and unmeaning look; her quivering lips parted, her eyes fixed upon the ground in vacant abstraction, and her arms languidly folded before her. Beruna stole behind her, and supported her back with pillows, and Bathsheba, unnoticed, wiped the slight foam from her mouth. Thus Miriam remained for several hours, her faithful maidens in vain watching for any indication of her self-consciousness.
Suddenly a trumpet sounded.
‘What is that?’ exclaimed Miriam, in a shrill voice, and looking up with a distracted glance.
Neither of them answered, since they were aware that it betokened the going forth of Alroy to his trial.
Miriam remained in the same posture, and with the same expression of wild inquiry. Another trumpet sounded, and after that a shout of the people. Then she raised up her arms to heaven, and bowed her head, and died.
‘Has the second trumpet sounded?’
‘To be sure: run, run for a good place. Where is Abdallah?’
‘Selling sherbet in the square. We shall find him. Has Alroy come forth?’
‘Yes! he goes the other way. We shall be too late. Only think of Abdallah selling sherbet!’
‘Father, let me go?’
‘You will be in the way; you are too young; you will see nothing. Little boys should stay at home.’
‘No, they should not. I will go. You can put me on your shoulders.’
‘Where is Ibrahim? Where is Ali? We must all keep together. We shall have to fight for it. I wish Abdallah were here. Only think of his selling sherbet!’
‘Keep straight forward. That is right. It is no use going that way. The bazaar is shut. There is Fakreddin, there is Osman Effendi. He has got a new page.’
‘So he has, I declare; and a very pretty boy too.’
‘Father, will they impale Alroy alive?’
‘I am sure I do not know. Never ask questions, my dear. Little boys never should.’
‘Yes, they should. I hope they will impale him alive. I shall be so disappointed if they do not.’
‘Keep to the left. Dash through the Butchers’ bazaar: that is open. All right, all right. Did you push me, sir?’
‘Suppose I did push you, sir, what then, sir?’
‘Come along, don’t quarrel. That is a Karasmian. They think they are to do what they like. We are five to one, to be sure, but still there is nothing like peace and quiet. I wish Abdallah were here with his stout shoulders. Only think of his selling sherbet!’
The Square of the Grand Mosque, the same spot where Jabaster met Abidan by appointment, was the destined scene of the pretended trial of Alroy. Thither by break of day the sight-loving thousands of the capital had repaired. In the centre of the square, a large circle was described by a crimson cord, and guarded by Karasmian soldiers. Around this the swelling multitude pressed like the gathering waves of ocean, but, whenever the tide set in with too great an impulse, the savage Karasmians appeased the ungovernable element by raising their battle-axes, and brutally breaking the crowns and belabouring the shoulders of their nearest victims. As the morning advanced, the terraces of the surrounding houses, covered with awnings, were crowded with spectators. All Bagdad was astir. Since the marriage of Alroy, there had never been such a merry morn as the day of his impalement.
At one end of the circle was erected a magnificent throne. Half way between the throne and the other end of the circle, but further back, stood a company of negro eunuchs, hideous to behold, who, clothed in white, and armed with various instruments of torture, surrounded the enormous stakes, tall, thin, and sharp, that were prepared for the final ceremony.
The flourish of trumpets, the clash of cymbals, and the wild beat of the tambour, announced the arrival of Alp Arslan from the Serail. An avenue to the circle had been preserved through the multitude. The royal procession might be traced as it wound through the populace, by the sparkling and undulating line of plumes of honour, and the dazzling forms of the waving streamers, on which were inscribed the names of Allah and the Prophet. Suddenly, amid the bursts of music, and the shouts of the spectators, many of whom on the terraces humbled themselves on their knees, Alp Arslan mounted the throne, around which ranged themselves his chief captains, and a deputation of the Mullahs, and Imams, and Cadis, and other principal personages of the city.
The King of Karasmé was tall in stature, and somewhat meagre in form. He was fair, or rather sandy-coloured, with a red beard, and blue eyes, and a flat nose. The moment he was seated, a trumpet was heard in the distance from an opposite quarter, and it was soon understood throughout the assembly that the great captive was about to appear.
A band of Karasmian guards first entered the circle, and ranged themselves round the cord, with their backs to the spectators. After them came fifty of the principal Hebrew prisoners, with their hands bound behind them, but evidently more for form than security. To these succeeded a small covered wagon drawn by mules, and surrounded by guards, from which was led forth, his legs relieved from their manacles, but his hands still in heavy chains, David Alroy!
A universal buzz of blended sympathy, and wonder, and fear, and triumph arose, throughout the whole assembly. Each man involuntarily stirred. The vast populace moved to and fro in agitation. His garments soiled and tattered, his head bare, and his long locks drawn off his forehead, pale and thin, but still unsubdued, the late conqueror and Caliph of Bagdad threw around a calm and imperial glance upon those who were but recently his slaves.
The trumpets again sounded, order was called, and a crier announced that his Highness Alp Arslan, the mighty Sovereign of Karasmé, their Lord, Protector, and King, and avenger of Allah and the Prophet, against all rebellious and evil-minded Jews and Giaours, was about to speak. There was a deep and universal silence, and then sounded a voice high as the eagle’s in a storm.
‘David Alroy!’ said his conqueror, ‘you are brought hither this day neither for trial nor for judgment. Captured in arms against your rightful sovereign, you are of course prepared, like other rebels, for your doom. Such a crime alone deserves the most avenging punishments. What then do you merit, who are loaded with a thousand infamies, who have blasphemed Allah and the Prophet, and, by the practice of magic arts and the aid of the infernal powers, have broken the peace of kingdoms, occasioned infinite bloodshed, outraged all law, religion, and decency, misled the minds of your deluded votaries, and especially by a direct compact with Eblis, by horrible spells and infamous incantations, captivated the senses of an illustrious Princess, heretofore famous for the practice of every virtue, and a descendant of the Prophet himself.
‘Behold these stakes of palm-wood, sharper than a lance! The most terrible retribution that human ingenuity has devised for the guilty awaits you. But your crimes baffle all human vengeance. Look forward for your satisfactory reward to those infernal powers by whose dark cooperation you have occasioned such disasters. Your punishment is public, that all men may know that the guilty never escape, and that, if your heart be visited by the slightest degree of compunction for your numerous victims, you may this day, by the frank confession of the irresistible means by which you seduced them, exonerate your victims from the painful and ignominious end with which, through your influence they are now threatened. Mark, O assembled people, the infinite mercy of the Vicegerent of Allah! He allows the wretched man to confess his infamy, and to save by his confession, his unfortunate victims. I have said it. Glory to Allah!’
And the people shouted, ‘He has said it, he has said it! Glory to Allah! He is great, he is great! and Mahomed is his prophet!’
‘Am I to speak?’ enquired Alroy, when the tumult had subsided. The melody of his voice commanded universal attention.
Alp Arslan nodded his head in approbation.
‘King of Karasmé! I stand here accused of many crimes. Now hear my answers. ’Tis said I am a rebel. My answer is, I am a Prince as thou art, of a sacred race, and far more ancient. I owe fealty to no one but to my God, and if I have broken that I am yet to learn that Alp Arslan is the avenger of His power. As for thy God and Prophet, I know not them, though they acknowledge mine. ’Tis well understood in every polity, my people stand apart from other nations, and ever will, in spite of suffering. So much for blasphemy; I am true to a deep faith of ancient days, which even the sacred writings of thy race still reverence. For the arts magical I practised, and the communion with infernal powers ’tis said I held, know, King, I raised the standard of my faith by the direct commandment of my God, the great Creator of the universe. What need of magic, then? What need of paltering with petty fiends, when backed by His omnipotence? My magic was His inspiration. Need I prove why, with such aid, my people crowded round me? The time will come when from out our ancient seed, a worthier chief will rise, not to be quelled even by thee, Sire.
‘For that unhappy Princess of whom something was said (with no great mercy, as it seemed to me), that lady is my wife, my willing wife; the daughter of a Caliph, still my wife, although your stakes may make her soon a widow. I stand not here to account for female fancies. Believe me, Sire, she gave her beauty to my raptured arms with no persuasions but such as became a soldier and a king. It may seem strange to thee upon thy throne that the flower of Asia should be plucked by one so vile as I am. Remember, the accidents of Fortune are most strange. I was not always what I am. We have met before. There was a day, and that too not long since, when, but for the treachery of some knaves I mark here, Fortune seemed half inclined to reverse our fates. Had I conquered, I trust I should have shown more mercy.’
The King of Karasmé was the most passionate of men. He had made a speech according to the advice and instructions of his councillors, who had assured him that the tone he adopted would induce Alroy to confess all that he required, and especially to vindicate the reputation of the Princess Schirene, who had already contrived to persuade Alp Arslan that she was the most injured of her sex. The King of Karasmé stamped thrice on the platform of his throne, and exclaimed with great fire, ‘By my beard, ye have deceived me! The dog has confessed nothing!’
All the councillors and chief captains, and the Mullahs, and the Imams, and the Cadis, and the principal personages of the city were in consternation. They immediately consulted together, and, after much disputation, agreed that, before they proceeded to extremities, it was expedient to prove what the prisoner would not confess. A venerable Sheikh, clothed in flowing robes of green, with a long white beard, and a turban like the tower of Babel, then rose. His sacred reputation procured silence while he himself delivered a long prayer, supplicating Allah and the Prophet to confound all blaspheming Jews and Giaours, and to pour forth words of truth from the mouths of religious men. And then the venerable Sheikh summoned all witnesses against David Alroy. Immediately advanced Kisloch the Kourd, to whom, being placed in an eminent position, the Cadi of Bagdad drawing forth a scroll from his velvet bag, read a deposition, wherein the worthy Kisloch stated that he first became acquainted with the prisoner, David Alroy, in some ruins in the desert, the haunt of banditti, of whom Alroy was the chief; that he, Kisloch, was a reputable merchant, and that his caravan had been plundered by these robbers, and he himself captured; that, on the second night of his imprisonment, Alroy appeared to him in the likeness of a lion, and on the third, of a bull with fiery eyes; that he was in the habit of constantly transforming himself; that he frequently raised spirits; that, at length, on one terrible night, Eblis himself came in great procession, and presented Alroy with the sceptre of Solomon Ben Daoud; and that the next day Alroy raised his standard, and soon after massacred Hassan Subah and his Seljuks, by the visible aid of many terrible demons.
Calidas the Indian, the Guebre, and the Negro, and a few congenial spirits, were not eclipsed in the satisfactory character of their evidence by the luminous testimony of Kisloch the Kourd. The irresistible career of the Hebrew conqueror was undeniably accounted for, and the honour of Moslem arms and the purity of Moslem faith were established in their pristine glory and all their unsullied reputation. David Alroy was proved to be a child of Eblis, a sorcerer, and a dealer in charms and magical poisons. The people listened with horror and with indignation. They would have burst through the guards and torn him in pieces, had not they been afraid of the Karasmian battle-axes. So they consoled themselves with the prospect of his approaching tortures.
The Cadi of Bagdad bowed himself before the King of Karasmé, and whispered at a respectful distance in the royal ear. The trumpets sounded, the criers enjoined silence, and the royal lips again moved.
‘Hear, O ye people, and be wise. The chief Cadi is about to read the deposition of the royal Princess Schirene, chief victim of the sorcerer.’
And the deposition was read, which stated that David Alroy possessed, and wore next to his heart, a talisman, given him by Eblis, the virtue of which was so great that, if once it were pressed to the heart of any woman, she was no longer mistress of her will. Such had been the unhappy fate of the daughter of the Commander of the Faithful.
‘Is it so written?’ enquired the captive.
‘It is so written,’ replied the Cadi, ‘and bears the imperial signature of the Princess.’
‘It is a forgery.’
The King of Karasmé started from his throne, and in his rage nearly descended its steps. His face was like scarlet, his beard was like a flame. A favourite minister ventured gently to restrain the royal robe.
‘Kill the dog on the spot,’ muttered the King of Karasmé.
‘The Princess is herself here,’ said the Cadi, ‘to bear witness to the spells of which she was a victim, but from which, by the power of Allah and the Prophet, she is now released.’
‘Advance, royal Princess,’ said the Cadi, ‘and, if the deposition thou hast heard be indeed true, condescend to hold up the imperial hand that adorned it with thy signature.’
A band of eunuchs near the throne gave way; a female figure veiled to her feet appeared. She held up her hand amid the breathless agitation of the whole assembly; the ranks of the eunuchs again closed; a shriek was heard, and the veiled figure disappeared.
‘I am ready for thy tortures, King,’ said Alroy, in a tone of deep depression. His firmness appeared to have deserted him. His eyes were cast upon the ground. Apparently he was buried in profound thought, or had delivered himself up to despair.
‘Prepare the stakes,’ said Alp Arslan.
An involuntary, but universal, shudder might be distinguished through the whole assembly.
A slave advanced and offered Alroy a scroll. He recognised the Nubian who belonged to Honain. His former minister informed him that he was at hand, that the terms he offered in the dungeon might even yet be granted; that if Alroy would, as he doubted not, as he entreated him, accept them, he was to place the scroll in his bosom, but that if he were still inexorable, still madly determined on a horrible and ignominious end, he was to tear the scroll and throw it in to the arena. Instantly Alroy took the scroll, and with great energy tore it into a thousand pieces. A puff of wind carried the fragments far and wide. The mob fought for these last memorials of David Alroy, and this little incident occasioned a great confusion.
In the meantime the negroes prepared the instruments of torture and of death.
‘The obstinacy of this Jewish dog makes me mad,’ said the King of Karasmé to his courtiers. ‘I will hold some parley with him before he dies.’ The favourite minister entreated his sovereign to be content; but the royal beard grew so red, and the royal eyes flashed forth such terrible sparks of fire, that even the favourite minister at length gave way.
The trumpet sounded, the criers called silence, and the voice of Alp Arslan was again heard.
‘Thou dog, dost see what is preparing for thee? Dost know what awaits thee in the halls of thy master Eblis? Can a Jew be influenced even by false pride? Is not life sweet? Is it not better to be my slipper-bearer than to be impaled?’
‘Magnanimous Alp Arslan,’ replied Alroy in a tone of undisguised contempt; ‘thinkest thou that any torture can be equal to the recollection that I have been conquered by thee?’
‘By my beard, he mocks me!’ exclaimed the Karasmian monarch, ‘he defies me! Touch not my robe. I will parley with him. Ye see no farther than a hooded hawk, ye sons of a blind mother. This is a sorcerer; he hath yet some master spell; he will yet save himself. He will fly into the air, or sink into the earth. He laughs at our tortures.’ The King of Karasmé precipitately descended the steps of his throne, followed by his favourite minister, and his councillors, and chief captains, and the Cadis, and the Mullahs, and the Imams, and the principal personages of the city.
‘Sorcerer!’ exclaimed Alp Arslan, ‘insolent sorcerer! base son of a base mother! dog of dogs! dost thou defy us? Does thy master Eblis whisper hope? Dost thou laugh at our punishments? Wilt thou fly into the air? wilt thou sink into the earth? eh, eh? Is it so, is it so?’ The breathless monarch ceased, from the exhaustion of passion. He tore his beard out by the roots, he stamped with uncontrollable rage.
‘Thou art wiser than thy councillors, royal Arslan; I do defy thee. My master, although not Eblis, has not deserted me. I laugh at thy punishments. Thy tortures I despise. I shall both sink into the earth and mount into the air. Art thou answered?’
‘By my beard,’ exclaimed the enraged Arslan, ‘I am answered. Let Eblis save thee if he can;’ and the King of Karasmé, the most famous master of the sabre in Asia, drew his blade like lightning from its sheath, and took off the head of Alroy at a stroke. It fell, and, as it fell, a smile of triumphant derision seemed to play upon the dying features of the hero, and to ask of his enemies, ‘Where now are all your tortures?’82
78—We are the watchers of the moon. The feast of the New Moon is one of the most important festivals of the Hebrews. ‘Our year,’ says the learned author of the ‘Rites and Ceremonies,’ ‘is divided into twelve lunar months, some of which consist of twenty-nine, others of thirty days, which difference is occasioned by the various appearance of the new moon, in point of time: for if it appeared on the 30th day, the 29th was the last day of the precedent month; but if it did not appear till the 31st day, the 30th was the last day, and the 31st the first of the subsequent month; and that was an intercalary moon, of all which take the following account.
‘Our nation heretofore, not only observing the rules of some fixed calculation, also celebrated the feast of the New Moon, according to the phasis or first appearance of the moon, which was done in compliance with God’s command, as our received traditions inform us.
‘Hence it came to pass that the first appearance was not to be determined only by rules of art, but also by the testimony of such persons as deposed before the Sanhedrim, or Great Senate, that they had seen the New Moon. So a committee of three were appointed from among the said Sanhedrim to receive the deposition of the parties aforesaid, who, after having calculated what time the moon might possibly appear, despatched some persons into high and mountainous places, to observe and give their evidence accordingly, concerning the first appearance of the moon.
‘As soon as the new moon was either consecrated or appointed to be observed, notice was given by the Sanhedrim to the rest of the nation what day had been fixed for the New Moon, or first day of the month, because that was to be the rule and measure according to which they were obliged to keep their feasts and fasts in every month respectively.
‘This notice was given to them in time of peace, by firing of beacons, set up for that purpose, which was looked upon as the readiest way of communication, but, in time of war, when all places were full of enemies, who made use of beacons to amuse our nation with, it was thought fit to discontinue it.’]
79—The women chatted at the fountain. The bath and the fountain are the favourite scenes of feminine conversation.]
80—Playing chess. On the walls of the palace of Amenoph the Second, called Medeenet Abuh, at Egyptian Thebes, the King is represented playing chess with the Queen. This monarch reigned long before the Trojan war.]
81—Impaled. A friend of mine witnessed this horrible punishment in Upper Egypt. The victim was a man who had secretly murdered nine persons. He held an official post, and invited travellers and pilgrims to his house, whom he regularly disposed of and plundered. I regret that I have mislaid his MS. account of the ceremony.]
82— In the Germen Davidis of Gants, translated into Latin by Vorstius, Lug. 1654, is an extract from a Hebrew MS. containing an account of Alroy. I subjoin a translation of a passage respecting his death.
R. Maimonides deposes: That the Sultan asked him whether he were the Messiah, and that he answered him, “I am”; and that then the monarch inquired of him what sign he had. To this he replied that they might cut off his head and that he would return to life. Then the King commanded that his head should be cut off, and he died, having said previously to the monarch that the latter should not lack in his life the most grievous torments.
Seven years before the incident quoted above, the Israelites had serious troubles on account of a son of Belial who called himself the Messiah, so that the tetrarch and the princes were justly incensed against the Jews, to such an extent, indeed, that they sent to the latter to inquire whether they desired the reign of the Messiah. The name of this accursed troubler was David El–David, alias Alroy, who hailed from the city of Omadia, where were gathered about a thousand rich, honest, happy and decently-living families, whose tabernacle was the principal resort of those that dwelt in the neighbourhood of the river Sabbathion; and around them were gathered more than a hundred minor tabernacles.
This city was on the border of the region of Media, and the dialect used there was the Targum. Thence to the region of Golan is a journey of fifty days. It is under the rule of Persia, to which it pays a heavy tribute every fifteen years, and one golden talent in addition. Moreover, this man David El–David was educated under the Prince of the Chaldean captivity, in the care of the eminent Scholiarch, in the city of Bagdad, who was preeminently wise in the Talmud and in all foreign sciences, as well as in all books of divination, magic, and Chaldean lore; This David El–David, out of the boldness and arrogance of his heart, lifted his hand against the ruling powers, and collected those Jews who dwelt in the neighbourhood of Mount Chophtan, seducing them to follow him into battle against all the neighbouring peoples. He showed them signs-of what value they knew not: there were men, indeed, who supported him on account of his magic art and of certain things to be done; others said that his great power came from the hand of God. Those who flocked to him called him the Messiah, lauding and extolling him.
In another epoch of Persian history a certain Jew arose, calling himself the Messiah, and prospered greatly. A large part of the Israelitish population believed in him. But when the King indeed heard of all this pretender’s power, and that he proposed to join battle with him, he sent to the Jews who lived thereabouts and notified them that unless they deserted this man, and came oui; from all association with him, they certainly should be slain, every one of them, with the sword, and afterward the children and the women should perish. Then the whole population of Israel assembled, and argued with this man, and threw themselves down before him on the ground, strongly supplicating him, with clamour and tears, to depart from them. Why, indeed, should he put them and others in danger? Had not the King already sworn that they should perish by the sword, and wherefore should he bring affliction upon all the Jewish inhabitants of Persia? Responding, he said: “I have come to serve you, and ye will not have me. Whom do ye fear? Who dares stand in front of me, and what doth this Persian King that he dare not oppose me and my sword?” The Jews asked him what sign he had that he was the Messiah. He answered: “My mission prospers: the Messiah needs no other sign.” They answered that many had acted likewise, and that none had reached success. Then he drove them forth from his face with superb indignation.]
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