Part 7, Chapter 1

Part VII

Chapter 1

‘YOUR pace is troubled, uncle.’

‘So is my mind.’

‘All may go well.’

‘Miriam, we have seen the best. Prepare yourself for sorrow, gentle girl. I care not for myself, for I am old, and age makes heroes of us all. I have endured, and can endure more. As we approach our limit, it would appear that our minds grow callous. I have seen my wealth, raised with the labours of a thoughtful life, vanish in a morn: my people, a fragile remnant, nevertheless a people, dispersed, or what is worse. I have wept for them, although no tear of selfish grief has tinged this withered cheek. And, were I but alone, ay! there's the pang. The solace of my days is now my sorrow.’

‘Weep not for me, dear uncle. Rather let us pray that our God will not forsake us.’

‘We know not when we are well. Our hours stole tranquilly along, and then we murmured. Prospering, we murmured, and now we are rightly stricken. The legend of the past is Israel’s bane. The past is a dream; and, in the waking present, we should discard the enervating shadow. Why should we be free? We murmured against captivity. This is captivity: this damp, dim cell, where we are brought to die.’

‘O! youth, rash youth, thy being is destruction. But yesterday a child, it seems but yesterday I nursed him in these arms, a thoughtless child, and now our house has fallen by his deeds. I will not think of it; ’twill make me mad.’

‘Uncle, dearest uncle, we have lived together, and we will die together, and both in love; but, I pray you, speak no harsh word of David.’

‘Shall I praise him?’

‘Say nothing. What he has done, if done in grief, has been done all in honour. Would you that he had spared Alschiroch?’

‘Never! I would have struck him myself. Brave boy, he did his duty; and I, I, Miriam, thy uncle, at whom they wink behind his back and call niggard, was I wanting in that hour of trial? Was my treasure spared to save my people? Did I shrink from all toil and trouble of that time? A trying time, my Miriam, but compared with this, the building of the Temple—’

‘You were then what you have ever been, the best and wisest. And since our fathers’ God did not forsake us, even in that wilderness of wildest woe, I offer gratitude in present faith, and pay him for past mercies by my prayers for more.’

‘Well, well, life must end. The hour approaches when we must meet our rulers and mock trial; precious justice that begins in threats and ends in torture. You are silent, Miriam.’

‘I am speaking to my God.’

‘What is that noise? A figure moves behind the dusky grate. Our gaoler. No, no, it is Caleb! Faithful child, I fear you have perilled much.’

‘I enter with authority, my lord, and bear good tidings.’

‘He smiles! Is’t possible? Speak on, speak on!’

‘Alroy has captured the harem of our governor, as they journeyed from Bagdad to this city, guarded by his choicest troops. And he has sent to offer that they shall be exchanged for you and for your household. And Hassan* has answered that his women shall owe their freedom to nothing but his sword. But, in the meantime, it is agreed between him and the messenger of your nephew, that both companies of prisoners shall be treated with all becoming courtesy. You, therefore, are remanded to your palace, and the trumpet is now sounding before the great mosque to summon all the host against Alroy, whom Hassan has vowed to bring to Hamadan dead or alive.’

‘The harem of the Governor, guarded too by his choicest troops! ’Tis a great deed. He did remember us. Faithful boy! The harem of the Governor! his choicest troops! ’Tis a very great deed. Methinks the Lord is with him. He has his great father’s heart. Only think of David, a child! I nursed him, often. Caleb! Can this be David, our David, a child, a girl? Yet he struck Alschiroch! Miriam! where is she? Worthy Caleb, look to your mistress; she has fallen. Quite gone! Fetch water. ’Tis not very pure, but we shall be in our palace soon. The harem of the Governor! I can't believe it. Sprinkle, sprinkle. David take them prisoners! Why, when they pass, we are obliged to turn our heads, and dare not look. More water: I'll rub her hand. ’Tis warmer! Her eyes open! Miriam, choice news, my child! The harem of the Governor! I'll not believe it!’