Alroy: The Prince of the CaptivityEarl of Beaconsfield Benjamin Disraeli / History & Fiction
Produced by David Widger
THE PRINCE OF THE CAPTIVITY
By Benjamin Disraeli
Being at Jerusalem in the year 1831, and visiting the traditionarytombs of the Kings of Israel, my thoughts recurred to a personage whosemarvellous career had, even in boyhood, attracted my attention, asone fraught with the richest materials of poetic fiction. And I thencommenced these pages that should commemorate the name of Alroy. In thetwelfth century, when he arose, this was the political condition of theEast:
The Caliphate was in a state of rapid decay. The Seljukian Sultans, whohad been called to the assistance of the Commanders of the Faithful, hadbecome, like the Mayors of the palace in France, the real sovereigns ofthe Empire. Out of the dominions of the successors of the Prophet,they had carved four kingdoms, which conferred titles on four SeljukianPrinces, to wit, the Sultan of Bagdad, the Sultan of Persia, the Sultanof Syria, and the Sultan of Roum, or Asia Minor.
But these warlike princes, in the relaxed discipline and doubtfulconduct of their armies, began themselves to evince the natural effectsof luxury and indulgence. They were no longer the same invincibleand irresistible warriors who had poured forth from the shores of theCaspian over the fairest regions of the East; and although they stillcontrived to preserve order in their dominions, they witnessed withill-concealed apprehension the rising power of the Kings of Karasme,whose conquests daily made their territories more contiguous.
With regard to the Hebrew people, it should be known that, after thedestruction of Jerusalem, the Eastern Jews, while they acknowledgedthe supremacy of their conquerors, gathered themselves together for allpurposes of jurisdiction, under the control of a native ruler, a reputeddescendant of David, whom they dignified with the title of 'The Princeof the Captivity.' If we are to credit the enthusiastic annalists ofthis imaginative people, there were periods of prosperity when thePrinces of the Captivity assumed scarcely less state and enjoyedscarcely less power than the ancient Kings of Judah themselves. Certainit is that their power increased always in an exact proportion to theweakness of the Caliphate, and, without doubt, in some of the mostdistracted periods of the Arabian rule, the Hebrew Princes rose intosome degree of local and temporary importance. Their chief residence wasBagdad, where they remained until the eleventh century, an age fatalin Oriental history, from the disasters of which the Princes of theCaptivity were not exempt. They are heard of even in the twelfthcentury. I have ventured to place one at Hamadan, which was a favouriteresidence of the Hebrews, from being the burial-place of Esther andMordecai.
With regard to the supernatural machinery of this romance, it isCabalistical and correct. From the Spirits of the Tombs to the sceptreof Solomon, authority may be found in the traditions of the Hebrews forthe introduction of all these spiritual agencies.
Grosvenor Gate: July, 1845.
A L R O Y
_A Great Day for Israel._
THE cornets sounded a final flourish as the Prince of the Captivitydismounted from his white mule; his train shouted as if they were oncemore a people; and, had it not been for the contemptuous leer whichplayed upon the countenances of the Moslem bystanders, it might havebeen taken for a day of triumph rather than of tribute.
'The glory has not departed!' exclaimed the venerable Bostenay, as heentered the hall of his mansion. 'It is not as the visit of Sheba untoSolomon; nevertheless the glory has not yet departed. You have donewell, faithful Caleb.' The old man's courage waxed more vigorous, aseach step within his own walls the more assured him against the recentcauses of his fear, the audible curses and the threatened missiles ofthe unbelieving mob.
'It shall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving!' continued the Prince;'and look, my faithful Caleb, that the trumpeters be well served. Thatlast flourish was bravely done. It was not as the blast before Jericho;nevertheless, it told that the Lord of Hosts was for us. How theaccursed Ishmaelites started! Did you mark, Caleb, that tall Turk ingreen upon my left? By the sceptre of Jacob, he turned pale! Oh! itshall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving! And spare not the wine,nor the flesh-pots for the people. Look you to this, my child, for thepeople shouted bravely and with a stout voice. It was not as the greatshout in the camp when the ark returned; nevertheless, it was boldlydone, and showed that the glory had not yet departed. So spare not thewine, my son, and drink to the desolation of Ishmael in the juice whichhe dare not quaff.'
'It has indeed been a great day for Israel!' exclaimed Caleb, echoinghis master's exultation.
'Had the procession been forbidden,' continued Bostenay, 'had it beenreserved for me of all the princes to have dragged the accursed tributeupon foot, without trumpets and without guards, by this sceptre, my goodCaleb, I really think that, sluggishly as this old blood now runs, Iwould---- But it is needless now to talk; the God of our fathers hathbeen our refuge.'
'Verily, my lord, we were as David in the wilderness of Ziph; but now weare as the Lord's anointed in the stronghold of Engedi!'
'The glory truly has not yet utterly departed,' resumed the Prince in amore subdued tone; 'yet if---- I tell you what, Caleb; praise the Lordthat you are young.'
'My Prince too may yet live to see the good day.'
'Nay, my child, you misinterpret me. Your Prince has lived to see theevil day. 'Twas not of the coming that I thought when I bid you praisethe Lord because you were young, the more my sin. I was thinking, Caleb,that if your hair was as mine, if you could recollect, like me, thedays that are gone by, the days when it needed no bride to prove wewere princes,the glorious days when we led captivity captive; I wasthinking, I say, my son, what a gainful heritage it is to be born afterthe joys that have passed away.'
'My father lived at Babylon,' said Caleb. 'Oh! name it not! name itnot!' exclaimed the old chieftain. 'Dark was the day that we lost thatsecond Zion! We were then also slaves to the Egyptian; but verily weruled over the realm of Pharaoh. Why, Caleb, Caleb, you who know all,the days of toil, the nights restless as a love-sick boy's, which it hascost your Prince to gain permission to grace our tribute-day withthe paltry presence of half-a-dozen guards; you who know all mydifficulties, who have witnessed all my mortifications, what would yousay to the purse of dirhems, surrounded by seven thousand scimitars?'
'Seven thousand scimitars!' 'Not one less; my father flourished one.''It was indeed a great day for Israel!' 'Nay, that is nothing. When oldAlroy was prince, old David Alroy, for thirty years, good Caleb, thirtylong years we paid _no_ tribute to the Caliph.'
'No tribute! no tribute for thirty years! What marvel then, my Prince,that the Philistines have of late exacted interest?'
'Nay, that is nothing,' continued old Bostenay, unmindful of hisservant's ejaculations. 'When Moctador was Caliph, he sent to the samePrince David, to know why the dirhems were not brought up, and Davidimmediately called to horse, and, attended by all the chief people, rodeto the palace, and told the Caliph that tribute was an acknowledgmentmade from the weak to the strong to insure protection and support; and,inasmuch as he and his people had garrisoned the city for ten yearsagainst the Seljuks, he held the Caliph in arrear.'
'We shall yet see an ass mount a ladder,' exclaimed Caleb, withuplifted eyes of wonder.
'It is true, though,' continued the Prince; 'often have I heard myfather tell the tale. He was then a child, and his mother held him up tosee the procession return, and all the people shouted The sceptre hasnot gone out of Jacob.'
'It was indeed a great day for Israel.'
'Nay, that is nothing. I could tell you such things! But we prattle; ourbusiness is not yet done. You to the people; the widow and the orphanare waiting. Give freely, good Caleb, give freely; the spoils of theCanaanite are no longer ours, nevertheless the Lord is still our God,and, after all, even this is a great day for Israel. And, Caleb, Caleb,bid my nephew, David Alroy, know that I would speak with him.'
'I will do all promptly, good master! We wondered that our honouredlord, your nephew, went not up with the donation this day.'
'Who bade you wonder? Begone, sir! How long are you to idle here? Away!
'They wonder he went not up with the tribute to-day. Ay! surely, acommon talk. This boy will be our ruin, a prudent hand to wield ourshattered sceptre. I have observed him from his infancy; he should havelived in Babylon. The old Alroy blood flows in his veins, a stiff-neckedrace. When I was a youth, his grandsire was my friend; I had somefancies then myself. Dreams, dreams! we have fallen on evil days, andyet we prosper. I have lived long enough to feel that a rich caravan,laden with the shawls of India and the stuffs of Samarcand, if notexactly like dancing before the ark, is still a goodly sight. And ourhard-hearted rulers, with all their pride, can they subsist without us?Still we wax rich. I have lived to see the haughty Caliph sink into aslave viler far than Israel. And the victorious and voluptuous Seljuks,even now they tremble at the dim mention of the distant name of Arslan.Yet I, Bostenay, and the frail remnant of our scattered tribes, stillwe exist, and still, thanks to our God! we prosper. But the age of powerhas passed; it is by prudence now that we must flourish. The gibe andjest, the curse, perchance the blow, Israel now must bear, and with acalm or even smiling visage. What then? For every gibe and jest, forevery curse, I'll have a dirhem; and for every blow, let him look to itwho is my debtor, or wills to be so. But see, he comes, my nephew! Hisgrandsire was my friend. Methinks I look upon him now: the same Alroythat was the partner of my boyish hours. And yet that fragile form andgirlish face but ill consort with the dark passions and the dangerousfancies, which, I fear, lie hidden in that tender breast. Well, sir?'
'You want me, uncle?'
'What then? Uncles often want what nephews seldom offer.'
'I at least can refuse nothing; for I have naught to give.'
'You have a jewel which I greatly covet.' 'A jewel! See my chaplet! Yougave it me, my uncle; it is yours.'
'I thank you. Many a blazing ruby, many a soft and shadowy pearl, andmany an emerald glowing like a star in the far desert, I behold, mychild. They are choice stones, and yet I miss a jewel far more precious,which, when I gave you this rich chaplet, David, I deemed you didpossess.' 'How do you call it, sir?' 'Obedience.'
'A word of doubtful import; for to obey, when duty is disgrace, is not avirtue.'
'I see you read my thought. In a word, I sent for you to know, whereforeyou joined me not to-day in offering our--our----'
'Be it so: tribute. Why were you absent?' 'Because it was a tribute; Ipay none.' 'But that the dreary course of seventy winters has not erasedthe memory of my boyish follies, David, I should esteem you mad. Thinkyou, because I am old, I am enamoured of disgrace, and love a house ofbondage? If life were a mere question between freedom and slavery, gloryand dishonour, all could decide. Trust me, there needs but little spiritto be a moody patriot in a sullen home, and vent your heroic spleen uponyour fellow-sufferers, whose sufferings you cannot remedy. But of suchstuff your race were ever made. Such deliverers ever abounded in thehouse of Alroy. And what has been the result? I found you and yoursister orphan infants, your sceptre broken, and your tribes dispersed.The tribute, which now at least we pay like princes, was then exactedwith the scourge and offered in chains. I collected our scatteredpeople, I re-established our ancient throne, and this day, which youlook upon as a day of humiliation and of mourning, is rightly consideredby all a day of triumph and of feasting; for, has it not proved in thevery teeth of the Ishmaelites, that the sceptre has not yet departedfrom Jacob?'
'I pray you, uncle, speak not of these things. I would not willinglyforget you are my kinsman, and a kind one. Let there not be strifebetween us. What my feelings are is nothing. They are my own: I cannotchange them. And for my ancestors, if they pondered much, and achievedlittle, why then 'twould seem our pedigree is pure, and I am their trueson. At least one was a hero.'
'Ah! the great Alroy; you may well be proud of such an ancestor.'
'I am ashamed, uncle, ashamed, ashamed.'
'His sceptre still exists. At least, I have not betrayed him. And thisbrings me to the real purport of our interview. That sceptre I wouldreturn.'
'To its right owner, to yourself.'
'Oh! no, no, no; I pray you, I pray you not. I do entreat you, sir,forget that I have a right as utterly as I disclaim it. That sceptreyou have wielded it wisely and well; I beseech you keep it. Indeed, gooduncle, I have no sort of talent for all the busy duties of this post.'
'You sigh for glory, yet you fly from toil.'
'Toil without glory is a menial's lot.'
'You are a boy; you may yet live to learn that the sweetest lot of lifeconsists in tranquil duties and well-earned repose.'
'If my lot be repose, I'll find it in a lair.'
'Ah! David, David, there is a wildness in your temper, boy, that makesme often tremble. You are already too much alone, child. And for this,as well as weightier reasons, I am desirous that you should at lengthassume the office you inherit. What my poor experience can afford to aidyou, as your counsellor, I shall ever proffer; and, for the rest, ourGod will not desert you, an orphan child, and born of royal blood.'
'Pr'ythee, no more, kind uncle. I have but little heart to mount athrone, which only ranks me as the first of slaves.'
'Pooh, pooh, you are young. Live we like slaves? Is this hall a servilechamber? These costly carpets, and these rich divans, in what proudharem shall we find their match? I feel not like a slave. My coffers arefull of dirhems. Is that slavish? The wealthiest company of the caravanis ever Bostenay's. Is that to be a slave? Walk the bazaar of Bagdad,and you will find my name more potent than the Caliph's. Is that a badgeof slavery?'
'Uncle, you toil for others.'
'So do we all, so does the bee, yet he is free and happy.'
'At least he has a sting.'
'Which he can use but once, and when he stings----'
'He dies, and like a hero. Such a death is sweeter than his honey.'
'Well, well, you are young, you are young. I once, too, had fancies.Dreams all, dreams all. I willingly would see you happy, child. Come,let that face brighten; after all, to-day is a great day. If you hadseen what I have seen, David, you too would feel grateful. Come, letus feast. The Ishmaelite, the accursed child of Hagar, he does confessto-day that you are a prince; this day also you complete your eighteenthyear. The custom of our people now requires that you should assume theattributes of manhood. To-day, then, your reign commences; and atour festival I will present the elders to their prince. For a while,farewell, my child. Array that face in smiles. I shall most anxiouslyawait your presence.'
He turned his head and watched his uncle as he departed: the bitterexpression of his countenance gradually melted away as Bostenaydisappeared: dejection succeeded to sarcasm; he sighed, he threw himselfupon a couch and buried his face in his hands.
Suddenly he arose and paced the chamber with an irregular and moodystep. He stopped, and leant against a column. He spoke in a tremulousand smothered voice:
'Oh! my heart is full of care, and my soul is dark with sorrow! Whatam I? What is all this? A cloud hangs heavy o'er my life. God of myfathers, let it burst!
'I know not what I feel, yet what I feel is madness. Thus to be is notto live, if life be what I sometimes dream, and dare to think it mightbe. To breathe, to feed, to sleep, to wake and breathe again, again tofeel existence without hope; if this be life, why then these broodingthoughts that whisper death were better?
'Away! The demon tempts me. But to what? What nameless deed shalldesecrate this hand? It must not be: the royal blood of twice twothousand years, it must not die, die like a dream. Oh! my heart is fullof care, and my soul is dark with sorrow!
'Hark! the trumpets that sound our dishonour. Oh, that they but soundedto battle! Lord of Hosts, let me conquer or die! Let me conquer likeDavid; or die, Lord, like Saul!
'Why do I live? Ah! could the thought that lurks within my secret heartbut answer, not that trumpet's blast could speak as loud or clear.The votary of a false idea, I linger in this shadowy life, and feed onsilent images which no eye but mine can gaze upon, till at length theyare invested with all the terrible circumstance of life, and breathe,and act, and form a stirring world of fate and beauty, time, and death,and glory. And then, from out this dazzling wilderness of deeds, Iwander forth and wake, and find myself in this dull house of bondage,even as I do now. Horrible! horrible!
'God, of my fathers! for indeed I dare not style thee God of theirwretched sons; yet, by the memory of Sinai, let me tell thee that someof the antique blood yet beats within these pulses, and there yet is onewho fain would commune with thee face to face, commune and conquer.
'And if the promise unto which we cling be not a cheat, why, let himcome, come, and come quickly, for thy servant Israel, Lord, is now aslave so infamous, so woe-begone, and so contemned, that even when ourfathers hung their harps by the sad waters of the Babylonian stream,why, it was paradise compared with what we suffer.
'Alas! they do not suffer; they endure and do not feel. Or by this timeour shadowy cherubim would guard again the ark. It is the will that isthe father to the deed, and he who broods over some long idea, howeverwild, will find his dream was but the prophecy of coming fate.
'And even now a vivid flash darts through the darkness of my mind.Methinks, methinks--ah! worst of woes to dream of glory in despair. No,no; I live and die a most ignoble thing; beauty and love, and fame andmighty deeds, the smile of women and the gaze of men, and the ennoblingconsciousness of worth, and all the fiery course of the creativepassions, these are not for me, and I, Alroy, the descendant of sacredkings, and with a soul that pants for empire, I stand here extending myvain arm for my lost sceptre, a most dishonoured slave! And do I stillexist? Exist! ay, merrily. Hark! Festivity holds her fair revel in theselight-hearted walls. We are gay to-day; and yet, ere yon proud sun,whose mighty course was stayed before our swords that now he even doesnot deign to shine upon; ere yon proud sun shall, like a hero from aglorious field, enter the bright pavilion of his rest, there shall adeed be done.
'My fathers, my heroic fathers, if this feeble arm cannot redeem yourheritage; if the foul boar must still wallow in thy sweet vineyard,Israel, at least I will not disgrace you. No! let me perish. The houseof David is no more; no more our sacred seed shall lurk and linger, likea blighted thing, in this degenerate earth. If we cannot flourish, 'why,then, we will die!'
'Oh! say not so, my brother!'
He turns, he gazes on a face beauteous as a starry night; his heart isfull, his voice is low.
'Ah, Miriam! thou queller of dark spirits! is it thou? Why art thouhere?'
'Why am I here? Are you not here? and need I urge a stronger plea? Oh!brother dear, I pray you come, and mingle in our festival. Our walls arehung with flowers you love; I culled them by the fountain's side; theholy lamps are trimmed and set, and you must raise their earliest flame.Without the gate, my maidens wait, to offer you a robe of state. Then,brother dear, I pray you come and mingle in our festival.'
'Why should we feast?'
'Ah! is it not in thy dear name these lamps are lit, these garlandshung? To-day to us a prince is given, to-day----'
'A prince without a kingdom.'
'But not without that which makes kingdoms precious, and which full manya royal heart has sighed for, willing subjects, David.'
'Slaves, Miriam, fellow-slaves.'
'What we are, my brother, our God has willed; and let us bow andtremble.'
'I will not bow, I cannot tremble.'
'Hush, David, hush! It was this haughty spirit that called the vengeanceof the Lord upon us.'
'It was this haughty spirit that conquered Canaan.'
'Oh, my brother, my dear brother! they told me the dark spirit hadfallen on thee, and I came, and hoped that Miriam might have charmed it.What we may have been, Alroy, is a bright dream; and what we may be, atleast as bright a hope; and for what we are, thou art my brother. In thylove I find present felicity, and value more thy chance embraces and thyscanty smiles than all the vanished splendour of our race, our gorgeousgardens, and our glittering halls.'
'Who waits without there?'
'Go tell my uncle that I will presently join the banquet. Leave me amoment, Miriam. Nay, dry those tears.'
'Oh, Alroy! they are not tears of sorrow.'
'God be with thee! Thou art the charm and consolation of my life.Farewell! farewell!
'I do observe the influence of women very potent over me. 'Tis notof such stuff that they make heroes. I know not love, save that pureaffection which doth subsist between me and this girl, an orphan and mysister. We are so alike, that when, last Passover, in mimicry she twinedmy turban round her head, our uncle called her David.
'The daughters of my tribe, they please me not, though they are passingfair. Were our sons as brave as they are beautiful, we still might danceon Sion. Yet have I often thought that, could I pillow this moody browupon some snowy bosom that were my own, and dwell in the wilderness,far from the sight and ken of man, and all the care and toil andwretchedness that groan and sweat and sigh about me, I might haply losethis deep sensation of overwhelming woe that broods upon by being. Nomatter! Life is but a dream, and mine must be a dull one.'
Without the gates of Hamadan, a short distance from the city, wasan enclosed piece of elevated ground, in the centre of which rose anancient sepulchre, the traditionary tomb of Esther and Mordecai. Thissolemn and solitary spot was an accustomed haunt of Alroy, and thither,escaping from the banquet, about an hour before sunset, he this dayrepaired.
As he unlocked the massy gate of the burial-place, he heard behind himthe trampling of a horse; and before he had again secured the entrance,some one shouted to him.
He looked up, and recognised the youthful and voluptuous Alschiroch, thegovernor of the city, and brother of the sultan of the Seljuks. Hewas attended only by a single running footman, an Arab, a detestedfavourite, and notorious minister of his pleasures.
'Dog!' exclaimed the irritated Alschiroch, 'art thou deaf, or obstinate,or both? Are we to call twice to our slaves? Unlock that gate!''Wherefore?' inquired Alroy.
'Wherefore! By the holy Prophet, he bandies questions with us! Unlockthat gate, or thy head shall answer for it!'
'Who art thou,' inquired Alroy, 'whose voice is so loud? Art thou someholiday Turk, who hath transgressed the orders of thy Prophet, anddrunken aught but water? Go to, or I will summon thee before thy Cadi;'and, so saying, he turned towards the tomb.
'By the eyes of my mother, the dog jeers us! But that we are alreadylate, and this horse is like an untamed tiger, I would impale him on thespot. Speak to the dog, Mustapha! manage him!'
'Worthy Hebrew,' said the silky Mustapha, advancing, 'apparently you arenot aware that this is our Lord Alschiroch. His highness would fain walkhis horse through the burial-ground of thy excellent people, as he isobliged to repair, on urgent matters, to a holy Santon, who sojourns onthe other side of the hill, and time presses.'
'If this be our Lord Alschiroch, thou doubtless art his faithful slave,Mustapha.'
'I am, indeed, his poor slave. What then, young master?'
'Deem thyself lucky that the gate is closed. It was but yesterday thoudidst insult the sister of a servant of my house. I would not willinglysully my hands with such miserable blood as thine, out away, wretch,away!'
'Holy Prophet! who is this dog?' exclaimed the astonished governor.
''Tis the young Alroy,' whispered Mustapha, who had not at firstrecognised him; 'he they call their Prince; a most headstrong youth. Mylord, we had better proceed.'
'The young Alroy! I mark him. They must have a prince too! The youngAlroy! Well, let us away, and, dog!' shouted Alschiroch, rising in hisstirrups, and shaking his hand with a threatening air, 'dog! rememberthy tribute!'
Alroy rushed to the gate, but the massy lock was slow to open; and erehe could succeed, the fiery steed had borne Alschiroch beyond pursuit.
An expression of baffled rage remained for a moment on his countenance;for a moment he remained with his eager eye fixed on the route of hisvanished enemy, and then he walked slowly towards the tomb; but hisexcited temper was now little in unison with the still reverie inwhich he had repaired to the sepulchre to indulge. He was restless anddisquieted, and at length he wandered into the woods, which rose on thesummit of the burial-place.
He found himself upon a brow crested with young pine-trees, in the midstof which rose a mighty cedar. He threw himself beneath its thick andshadowy branches, and looked upon a valley small and green; in the midstof which was a marble fountain, the richly-carved cupola, supportedby twisted columns, and banded by a broad inscription in Hebrewcharacters. The bases of the white pillars were covered with wildflowers, or hidden by beds of variegated gourds. The transparent sunsetflung over the whole scene a soft but brilliant light.
The tranquil hour, the beauteous scene, the sweetness and the stillnessblending their odour and serenity, the gentle breeze that softly rose,and summoned forth the languid birds to cool their plumage in thetwilight air, and wave their radiant wings in skies as bright---- Ah!what stern spirit will not yield to the soft genius of subduing eve?
And Alroy gazed upon the silent loneliness of earth, and a tear stoledown his haughty cheek.
''Tis singular! but when I am thus alone at this still hour, I everfancy I gaze upon the Land of Promise. And often, in my dreams, somesunny spot, the bright memorial of a roving hour, will rise upon mysight, and, when I wake, I feel as if I had been in Canaan. Why am Inot? The caravan that bears my uncle's goods across the Desert wouldbear me too. But I rest here, my miserable life running to seed inthe dull misery of this wretched city, and do nothing. Why, the oldcaptivity was empire to our inglorious bondage. We have no Esther nowto share their thrones, no politic Mordecai, no purple-vested Daniel. OJerusalem, Jerusalem! I do believe one sight of thee would nerve meto the sticking-point. And yet to gaze upon thy fallen state, my uncletells me that of the Temple not a stone remains. 'Tis horrible. Is thereno hope?'
'_The bricks are fallen, but we will rebuild with marble; the sycamoresare cut down, but we will replace them with cedars._'
'The chorus of our maidens, as they pay their evening visit to thefountain's side. The burden is prophetic.
'Hark again! How beautifully, upon the soft and flowing air, their sweetand mingled voices blend and float!'
'_YET AGAIN I WILL BUILD THEE, AND THOU SHALT BE BUILT, O VIRGIN OFISRAEL! YET AGAIN SHALT THOU DECK THYSELF WITH THY TABRETS, AND GOFORTH IN THE DANCE OF THOSE THAT MAKE MERRY. YET AGAIN SHALT THOU PLANTVINEYARDS ON THE MOUNTAINS OF SAMARIA._'
'See! their white forms break through the sparkling foliage of the sunnyshrubs as they descend, with measured step, that mild declivity. Afair society in bright procession: each one clothed in solemn drapery,veiling her shadowy face with modest hand, and bearing on her gracefulhead a graceful vase. Their leader is my sister.
'And now they reach the fountain's side, and dip their vases in thewater, pure and beauteous as themselves. Some repose beneath the marblepillars; some, seated 'mid the flowers, gather sweets, and twine theminto garlands; and that wild girl, now that the order is broken, toucheswith light fingers her moist vase, and showers startling drops ofglittering light on her serener sisters. Hark! again they sing.'
'_O VINE OF SIBMAH! UPON THY SUMMER FRUITS, AND UPON THY VINTAGE, ASPOILER HATH FALLEN!_'
A scream, a shriek, a long wild shriek, confusion, flight, despair!Behold! from out the woods a tur-baned man rushes, and seizes the leaderof the chorus. Her companions fly on all sides, Miriam alone is left inthe arms of Alschiroch.
The water column wildly rising from the breast of summer ocean, in somewarm tropic clime, when the sudden clouds too well discover that theholiday of heaven is over, and the shrieking sea-birds tell a time offierce commotion, the column rising from the sea, it was not so wild ashe, the young Alroy.
Pallid and mad, he swift upsprang, and he tore up a tree by its lustyroots, and down the declivity, dashing with rapid leaps, pantingand wild, he struck the ravisher on the temple with the mighty pine.Alschiroch fell lifeless on the sod, and Miriam fainting into herbrother's arms.
And there he stood, fixed and immovable, gazing upon his sister'sdeathly face, and himself exhausted by passion and his exploit,supporting her cherished but senseless body.
One of the fugitive maidens appeared reconnoitring in the distance.When she observed her mistress in the arms of one of her own people, hercourage revived, and, desirous of rallying her scattered companions, sheraised her voice, and sang:
_'HASTE, DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM; O! HASTE, FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGED US,AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED._'
And soon the verse was responded to from various quarters of the woods,and soon the virgins reassembled, singing,
'_WE COME, O DAUGHTER OF JERUSALEM! WE COME; FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGEDUS, AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED_.'
They gathered round their mistress, and one loosened her veil, andanother brought water from the fountain, and sprinkled her revivingcountenance. And Miriam opened her eyes, and said, 'My brother!' And heanswered, 'I am here.' And she replied in a low voice, 'Fly, David, fly;for the man you have stricken is a prince among the people.'
'He will be merciful, my sister; and, doubtless, since he first erred,by this time he has forgotten my offence.'
'Justice and mercy! Oh, my brother, what can these foul tyrants knowof either! Already he has perhaps doomed you to some refined andprocrastinated torture, already---- Ah! what unutterable woe is mine!fly, my brother, fly!'
'Fly, fly, fly!'
'There is no fear, my Miriam; would all his accursed race could troubleus as little as their sometime ruler. See, he sleeps soundly. But hiscarcass shall not defile our fresh fountain and our fragrant flowers.I'll stow it in the woods, and stroll here at night to listen to thejackals at their banquet.'
'You speak wildly, David. What! No! It is impossible! He is not dead!You have not slain him!
He sleeps, he is afraid. He mimics death that we may leave his side,and he may rise again in safety. Girls, look to him. David, you do notanswer. Brother, dear brother, surely he has swooned! I thought he hadfled. Bear water, maidens, to that terrible man. I dare not look uponhim.'
'Away! I'll look on him, and I'll triumph. Dead! Alschiroch dead! Why,but a moment since, this clotted carcass was a prince, my tyrant! So wecan rid ourselves of them, eh? If the prince fall, why not the people?Dead, absolutely dead, and I his slayer! Hah! at length I am a man.This, this indeed is life. Let me live slaying!'
'Woe! woe, our house is fallen! The wildness of his gestures frightensme. David, David, I pray thee cease. He hears me not; my voice,perchance, is thin. I am very faint. Maidens, kneel to your Prince, andsoothe the madness of his passion.'
'_SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE ISTHE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US_.'
'Why, this is my Goliath! a pebble or a stick, it is the same. The Lordof Hosts is with us. Rightly am I called David.'
'_DELIVER US FROM OUR ENEMIES, O LORD! FROM THOSE WHO RISE UP AGAINSTUS, AND THOSE WHO LIE IN WAIT FOR US_.'
'Were but this blow multiplied, were but the servants of my uncle'shouse to do the same, why, we should see again the days of Elah! ThePhilistine, the foul, lascivious, damnable Philistine! and he must touchmy sister! Oh! that all his tribe were here, all, all! I'd tie suchfirebrands to their foxes' tails, the blaze should light to freedom!'
While he spoke, a maiden, who had not yet rejoined the company, camerunning towards them swiftly with an agitated countenance.
'Fly,' she exclaimed, 'they come, they come!'
Miriam was reclining in an attendant's arms, feeble and faint, but themoment her quick ear caught these words she sprang up, and seized herbrother's arm.
'Alroy! David! brother, dear brother! I beseech thee, listen, I am thysister, thy Miriam; they come, they come, the hard-hearted, wicked men,they come, to kill, perhaps to torture thee, my tender brother. Rousethyself, David; rouse thyself from this wild, fierce dream: savethyself, fly!'
'Ah! is it thou, Miriam? Thou seest he sleepeth soundly. I was dreamingof noble purposes and mighty hopes. Tis over now. I am myself again.What wouldst thou?'
'They come, the fierce retainers of this fallen man; they come to seizethee. Fly, David!'
'And leave thee?'
'I and my maidens, we have yet time to escape by the private way weentered, our uncle's garden. When in his house, we are for a momentsafe, as safe as our poor race can ever be. Bostenay is so rich, sowise, so prudent, so learned in man's ways, and knows so well thecharacter and spirit of these men, all will go right; I fear nothing.But thou, if thou art here, or to be found, thy blood alone will satiatethem. If they be persuaded that thou hast escaped, as I yet pray thoumayest, their late master here, whom they could scarcely love, why, giveme thy arm an instant, sweet Beruna. So, that's well. I was saying, ifwell bribed,--and they may have all my jewels,--why, very soon, he willbe as little in their memories as he is now in life. I can scarcelyspeak; I feel my words wander, or seem to wander; I could swoon, butwill not; nay! do not fear. I will reach home. These maidens are mycharge. 'Tis in these crises we should show the worth of royal blood.I'll see them safe, or die with them.'
'O! my sister, methinks I never knew I was a brother until this hour. Myprecious Miriam, what is life? what is revenge, or even fame and freedomwithout thee? I'll stay.'
'_SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE ISTHE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US_.'
'Fly, David, fly!'
'Fly! whither and how?'
The neigh of a horse sounded from the thicket.
'Ah! they come!' exclaimed the distracted Miriam.
'_ALL THIS HAS COME UPON US, O LORD! YET HAVE WE NOT FORGOTTEN THEE,NEITHER HAVE WE DEALT FALSELY IN THY COVENANT_.'
'Hark! again it neighs! It is a horse that calleth to its rider. I seeit. Courage, Miriam! it is no enemy, but a very present friend in timeof trouble. It is Alschiroch's courser. He passed me on it by the tombere sunset. I marked it well, a very princely steed.'
_'BEHOLD, BEHOLD, A RAM IS CAUGHT IN THE THICKET BY HIS HORNS._'
'Our God hath not forgotten us! Quick, maidens, bring forth the goodlysteed. What! do you tremble? I'll be his groom.'
'Nay! Miriam, beware, beware. It is an untamed beast, wild as thewhirlwind. Let me deal with him.'
He ran after her, dashed into the thicket, and brought forth the horse.
Short time I ween that stately steed had parted from his desert home;his haughty crest, his eye of fire, the glory of his snorting nostril,betoken well his conscious pride, and pure nobility of race. His colourwas like the sable night shining with a thousand stars, and he pawed theground with his delicate hoof, like an eagle flapping its wing.
Alroy vaulted on his back, and reined him with a master's hand.
'Hah!' he exclaimed, 'I feel more like a hero than a fugitive. Farewell,my sister; farewell, ye gentle maidens; fare ye well, and cherishmy precious Miriam. One embrace, sweet sister,' and he bent down andwhispered, 'Tell the good Bostenay not to spare his gold, for I have adeep persuasion that, ere a year shall roll its heavy course, I shallreturn and make our masters here pay for this hurried ride and bitterparting. Now for the desert!'