Alroy : The Prince of the Captivity, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter iii

The Hope of Israel

IT WAS midnight. Alroy slept upon the couch: his sleep was troubled. Jabaster stood by his side motionless, and gazing intently upon his slumbering guest.

‘The only hope of Israel,’ murmured the Cabalist,’ my pupil and my prince! I have long perceived in his young mind the seed of mighty deeds, and o’er his future life have often mused with a prophetic hope. The blood of David, the sacred offspring of a solemn race. There is a magic in his flowing veins my science cannot reach.

‘When, in my youth, I raised our standard by my native Tigris, and called our nation to restore their ark, why, we were numerous, wealthy, potent; we were a people then, and they flocked to it boldly. Did we lack counsel? Did we need a leader? Who can aver that Jabaster’s brain or arm was ever wanting? And yet the dream dissolved, the glorious vision! Oh! when I struck down Marvan, and the Caliph’s camp flung its blazing shadow over the bloody river, ah! then indeed I lived. Twenty years of vigil may gain a pardon that I then forgot we lacked the chief ingredient in the spell, the blood that sleeps beside me.

‘I recall the glorious rapture of that sacred strife amid the rocks of Caucasus. A fugitive, a proscribed and outlawed wretch, whose life is common sport, and whom the vilest hind may slay without a bidding. I, who would have been Messiah!

‘Burn thy books, Jabaster; break thy brazen tables; forget thy lofty science, Cabalist, and read the stars no longer.11 But last night I stood upon the gulf which girds my dwelling: in one hand, I held my sacred talisman, that bears the name ineffable; in the other, the mystic record of our holy race. I remembered that I had evoked spirits, that I had communed with the great departed, and that the glowing heavens were to me a natural language. I recalled, as consolation to my gloomy soul, that never had my science been exercised but for a sacred or a noble purpose. And I remembered Israel, my brave, my chosen, and my antique race, slaves, wretched slaves. I was strongly tempted to fling me down this perilous abyss, and end my learning and my life together.

‘But, as I gazed upon the star of David, a sudden halo rose around its rays, and ever and anon a meteor shot from out the silver veil. I read that there was trouble in the holy seed; and now comes this boy, who has done a deed which ——’

‘The ark, the ark! I gaze upon the ark!’ ‘The slumberer speaks; the words of sleep are sacred.’ ‘Salvation only from the house of David.’ ‘A mighty truth; my life too well has proved it. ‘He is more calm. It is the holy hour. I’ll steal into the court, and gaze upon the star that sways the fortunes of his royal house.’

The moonbeam fell upon the fountain; the pavement of the court was a flood of light; the rocks rose dark around. Jabaster, seated by the spring, and holding his talisman in his left hand, shaded his sight with the other as he gazed upon the luminous heavens.

A shriek! his name was called. Alroy, wild and panting, rushed into the court with extended arms. The Cabalist started up, seized him, and held him in his careful grasp, foaming and in convulsions.

‘Jabaster, Jabaster!’

‘I am here, my child.’

‘The Lord hath spoken.’

‘The Lord is our refuge. Calm thyself, son of David, and tell me all.’

‘I have been sleeping, master; is it not so?’

‘Even so, my child. Exhausted by his flight and the exciting narrative of his exploit, my Prince lay down upon the couch and slumbered; but I fear that slumber was not repose.’

‘Repose and I have naught in common now. Farewell for ever to that fatal word. I am the Lord’s anointed.’

‘Drink of the fountain, David: it will restore thee.’

‘Restore the covenant, restore the ark, restore the holy city.’

‘The Spirit of the Lord hath fallen upon him. Son of David, I adjure thee tell me all that hath passed. I am a Levite; in my hand I hold the name ineffable.’

‘Take thy trumpet then, summon the people, bid them swiftly raise again our temple. “The bricks have fallen, but we will rebuild with marble.” Didst hear that chorus, sir?’

‘Unto thy chosen ear alone it sounded.’

‘Where am I? This is not our fountain. Yet thou didst say, “the fountain.” Think me not wild. I know thee, I know all. Thou art not Miriam. Thou art jabaster; I am Alroy. But thou didst say, “the fountain,” and it distracted me, and called back my memory to ——

‘God of Israel, lo, I kneel before thee! Here, in the solitude of wildest nature, my only witness here this holy man, I kneel and vow, Lord! I will do thy bidding. I am young, O God! and weak; but thou, Lord, art all-powerful! What God is like to thee? Doubt not my courage, Lord; and fill me with thy spirit! but remember, remember her, O Lord! remember Miriam. It is the only worldly thought I have, and it is pure.’

‘Still of his sister! Calm thyself, my son.’

‘Holy master, thou dost remember when I was thy pupil in this cavern. Thou hast not forgotten those days of tranquil study, those sweet, long wandering nights of sacred science! I was dutiful, and hung upon each accent of thy lore with the devotion that must spring from love.’

‘I cannot weep, Alroy; but were it in my power, I would yield a tear of homage to the memory of those days.’

‘How calmly have we sat on some high brow, and gazed upon the stars!’

”Tis very true, sweet child.’

‘And if thou e’er didst chide me, ’twas half in jest, and only for my silence.’

‘What would he now infer? No matter, he grows calmer. How solemn is his visage in the moonlight! And yet not Solomon, upon his youthful throne, could look more beautiful.’

‘I never told thee an untruth, Jabaster.’

‘My life upon thy faith.’

‘Fear not the pledge, and so believe me, on the mountain brow watching the starry heavens with thyself, I was not calmer than I feel, sir, now.’

‘I do believe thee.’

‘Then, Jabaster, believe as fully I am the Lord’s anointed.’

‘Tell me all, my child.’

‘Know, then, that sleeping on the couch within, my sleep was troubled. Many dreams I had, indefinite and broken. I recall none of their images, except I feel a dim sensation ’twas my lot to live in brighter days than now rise on our race. Suddenly I stood upon a mountain tall and grey, and gazed upon the stars. And, as I gazed, a trumpet sounded. Its note thrilled through my soul. Never have I heard a sound so awful. The thunder, when it broke over the cavern here, and shivered the peak, whose ruins lie around us, was but a feeble worldly sound to this almighty music. My cheek grew pale, I panted even for breath. A flaming light spread over the sky, the stars melted away, and I beheld, advancing from the bursting radiancy, the foremost body of a mighty host.

‘Oh! not when Saul led forth our fighting men against the Philistine, not when Joab numbered the warriors of my great ancestor, did human vision gaze upon a scene of so much martial splendour. Chariots and cavalry, and glittering trains of plumed warriors too robust to need a courser’s solace; streams of shining spears, and banners like a sunset; reverend priests swinging their perfumed censers, and prophets hymning with their golden harps a most triumphant future.

‘“Joy, joy,” they say, “to Israel, for he cometh, he cometh in his splendour and his might, the great Messiah of our ancient hopes.”

‘And, lo! a mighty chariot now appeared, drawn by strange beasts whose forms were half obscured by the bright flames on which they seemed to float. In that glorious car a warrior stood, proud and immovable his form, his countenance. Hold my hand, Jabaster, while I speak; that chieftain was myself!’

‘Proceed, proceed, my son.’

‘I started in my dream, and I awoke. I found myself upsitting on my couch. The pageantry had vanished. Naught was seen but the bright moonlight and the gloomy cave. And, as I sighed to think I e’er had wakened, and mused upon the strangeness of my vision, a still small voice descended from above and called, “Alroy!” I started, but I answered not. Methought it was my fancy. Again my name was called, and now I murmured, “Lord, I am here, what wouldst thou?” Naught responded, and soon great dread came over me, and I rushed out and called to thee, my master.’

‘It was “the Daughter of the Voice”12 that spake. Since the Captivity ’tis the only mode by which the saints are summoned. Oft have I heard of it, but never in these sad degenerate days has its soft aspiration fallen upon us. These are strange times and tidings. The building of the temple is at hand. Son of David, my heart is full. Let us to prayer!’

Day dawned upon Jabaster, still musing in solitude among his rocks. Within the cavern, Alroy remained in prayer.

Often and anxiously the Cabalist shot a glance at his companion, and then again relapsed into reverie.

‘The time is come that I must to this youth reveal the secrets of my early life. Much will he hear of glory, much of shame. Naught must I conceal, and naught gloss over.

‘I must tell how in the plains of Tigris I upraised the sacred standard of our chosen race, and called them from their bondage; how, despairing of his recreant fathers, and inspired by human power alone, I vainly claimed the mighty office for his sacred blood alone reserved. God of my fathers, grant that future service, the humble service of a contrite soul, may in the coming glory that awaits us, atone for past presumption!

‘But for him great trials are impending. Not lightly must that votary be proved, who fain would free a people. The Lord is faithful to his promise, but the Lord will choose his season and his minister. Courage, and faith, and deep humility, and strong endurance, and the watchful soul temptation cannot sully, these are the fruits we lay upon his altar, and meekly watch if some descending flame will vouchsafe to accept and brightly bless them.

‘It is written in the dread volume of our mystic lore, that not alone the Saviour shall spring from out our house of princes, but that none shall rise to free us, until, alone and unassisted, he have gained the sceptre which Solomon of old wielded within his cedar palaces.

‘That sceptre must he gain. This fragile youth, untried and delicate, unknowing in the ways of this strange world, where every step is danger, how much hardship, how much peril, what withering disappointment, what dull care, what long despondency, what never-ending lures, now lie in ambush for this gentle boy! O my countrymen, is this your hope? And I, with all my lore, and all my courage, and all my deep intelligence of man; unhappy Israel, why am I not thy Prince?

‘I check the blasphemous thought. Did not his great ancestor, as young and as untried, a beardless stripling, with but a pebble, a small smoothed stone, level a mailed giant with the ground, and save his people?

‘He is clearly summoned. The Lord is with him. Be he with the Lord, and we shall prosper.’

It was at sunset, on the third day after the arrival of Alroy at the cave of the Cabalist, that the Prince of the Captivity commenced his pilgrimage in quest of the sceptre of Solomon.

Silently the pilgrim and his master took their way to the brink of the ravine, and there they stopped to part, perhaps forever.

‘It is a bitter moment, Alroy. Human feelings are not for beings like us, yet they will have their way. Remember all. Cherish the talisman as thy life: nay! welcome death with it pressing against thy heart, rather than breathe without it. Be firm, be pious. Think of thy ancestors, think of thy God.’

‘Doubt me not, dear master; if I seem not full of that proud spirit, which was perhaps too much my wont, ascribe it not to fear, Jabaster, nor even to the pain of leaving thee, dear friend. But ever since that sweet and solemn voice summoned me so thrillingly, I know not how it is, but a change has come over my temper; yet I am firm, oh! firmer far than when I struck down the Ishmaelite. Indeed, indeed, fear not for me. The Lord, that knoweth all things, knows full well I am prepared even to the death. Thy prayers, Jabaster, and ——’

‘Stop, stop. I do remember me. See this ring: ’tis a choice emerald. Thou mayst have wondered I should wear a bauble. Alroy, I had a brother once: still he may live. When we parted, this was the signal of his love: a love, my child, strong, though we greatly differed. Take it. The hour may come that thou mayst need his aid. It will command it. If he live, he prospers. I know his temper well. He was made for what the worldly deem prosperity. God be with thee, sacred boy: the God of our great fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob!’

They embraced.

‘We linger,’ exclaimed the Cabalist, ‘we linger. Oh! in vain we quell the feelings of our kind. God, God bless and be with thee! Art sure thou hast all? thy dagger and thy wallet? That staff has seen some service. I cut it on the Jordan. Ah! that I could be thy mate! ‘Twould be nothing then. At the worst to die together. Such a fate seems sweeter now than parting. I’ll watch thy star, my child. Thou weepest! And I too. Why! what is this? Am I indeed Jabaster? One more embrace, and so —— we’ll not say farewell, but only think it.’

11Read the stars no longer. ‘The modern Jews,’ says Basnage, ‘have a great idea of the influence of the stars.’ Vol. iv. p. 454. But astrology was most prevalent among the Babylonian Rabbins, of whom Jabaster was one. Living in the ancient land of the Chaldeans, these sacred sages imbibed a taste for the mystic lore of their predecessors. The stars moved, and formed letters and lines, when consulted by any of the highly-initiated of the Cabalists. This they styled the Celestial Alphabet.]

12The Daughter of the Voice. ‘Both the Talmudick and the latter Rabbins,’ says Lightfoot, ‘make frequent mention of Bath Kol, or Filia Vocis, or an echoing voice which served under the Second Temple for their utmost refuge of revelation. For when Urim and Thummim, the oracle, was ceased, and prophecy was decayed and gone, they had, as they say, certain strange and extraordinary voices upon certain extraordinary occasions, which were their warnings and advertisements in some special matters. Infinite instances of this might be adduced, if they might be believed. Now here it may be questioned why they called it Bath Kol, the daughter of a voice, and not a voice itself? If the strictness of the Hebrew word Bath be to be stood upon, which always it is not, it may be answered, that it is called The Daughter of a Voice in relation to the oracles of Urim and Thummim. For whereas that was a voice given from off the mercy-seat, within the vail, and this, upon the decay of that oracle, came as it were in its place, it might not unfitly or improperly be called a daughter, or successor of that voice.’— Lightfoot, vol. i. pp. 485, 486. Consult also the learned Doctor, vol. ii. pp. 128, 129: ‘It was used for a testimony from heaven, but was indeed performed by magic art.’]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53