Part 10, Chapter 19

Part X

Chapter 19

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 to-day 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; 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! O! 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!’