Part 7, Chapter 7

Part VII

Chapter 7

HEAVILY the anxious hours crept on in the Jewish quarter of Hamadan. Again and again the venerable Bostenay discussed the chances of success with the sympathising but desponding elders. Miriam was buried in constant prayer. Their most sanguine hopes did not extend beyond the escape of their Prince.

A fortnight had elapsed, and no news had been received of the progress of the expedition, when suddenly, towards sunset, a sentinel on a watch-tower announced the appearance of an armed force in the distance. The walls were instantly lined with the anxious inhabitants, the streets and squares filled with curious crowds. Exultation sat on the triumphant brow of the Moslemin; a cold tremor stole over the fluttering heart of the Hebrew.

‘There is but one God,’ said the captain of the gate.

‘And Mohammed is His prophet,’ responded a sentinel.

‘To-morrow we will cut off the noses of all these Jewish dogs.’

‘The sceptre has departed,’ exclaimed the despairing Bostenay.

‘Lord remember David!’ whispered Miriam, as she threw herself upon the court of the palace, and buried her face in ashes.

The Mollahs in solemn procession advanced to the ramparts, to shed their benediction on the victorious Hassan Subah. The Muezzin ascended the minarets* to watch the setting sun, and proclaim the power of Allah with renewed enthusiasm.

‘I wonder if Alroy be dead or alive,’ said the captain of the gate.

‘If he be alive, he will be impaled,’ responded a sentinel.

‘If dead, the carcass will be given to the dogs,’ rejoined the captain; ‘that is the practice.’

‘Bostenay will be hung,’ said the sentinel.

‘And his niece, too,’ answered the captain.

‘Hem!’ said the sentinel. ‘Hassan Subah loves a black eye.’

‘I hope a true Moslem will not touch a Jewess,’ exclaimed an indignant black eunuch.

‘They approach. What a dust!’ said the captain of the gate.

‘I see Hassan Subah!’ said the sentinel.

‘So do I,’ said the eunuch, ‘I know his black horse.’

‘I wonder how many dirhems old Bostenay is worth,’ said the captain.

‘Immense!’ said the sentinel.

‘No plunder, I suppose?’ said the eunuch.

‘We shall see,’ said the captain; ‘at any rate, I owe a thousand to old Shelomi. We need not pay now, you know.’

‘Certainly not,’ said the black eunuch. ‘The rebels!’

A body of horsemen dashed forward. Their leader in advance reined in his fiery charger beneath the walls.

‘In the name of the Prophet, who is that?’ exclaimed the captain of the gate, a little confused.

‘I never saw him before,’ said the sentinel, ‘although he is in the Seljuk dress. ’Tis some one from Bagdad, I guess.’

A trumpet sounded.

‘Who keeps the gate?’ called out the warrior.

‘I am the captain of the gate,’ answered our friend.

‘Open it, then, to the King of Israel.’

‘To whom?’ enquired the astonished captain.

‘To King David. The Lord hath delivered Hassan Subah and his host into our hands, and of all the proud Seljuks none remaineth. Open thy gates, I say, and lose no time. I am Jabaster, a lieutenant of the Lord; this scimetar is my commission. Open thy gates, and thou and thy people shall have that mercy which they have never shown; but if thou delayest one instant, thus saith the King our master, “I will burst open your portal, and smite, and utterly destroy all that you have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”’

‘Call forth the venerable Lord Bostenay,’ said the captain of the gate, with chattering teeth. ‘He will intercede for us.’

‘And the gentle Lady Miriam,’ said the sentinel. ‘She is ever charitable.’

‘I will head the procession,’ said the black eunuch; ‘I am accustomed to women.’

The procession of Mollahs shuffled back to their college with profane precipitation; the sun set, and the astounded Muezzin stood with their mouths open, and quite forgot to announce the power of their Deity, and the validity of their Prophet. The people all called out for the venerable Lord Bostenay and the gentle Lady Miriam, and ran in crowds to see who could first kiss the hem of their garments.

The principal gate of Hamadan opened into the square of the great mosque. Here the whole population of the city appeared assembled. The gates were thrown open; Jabaster and his companions mounted guard. The short twilight died away, the shades of night descended. The minarets were illumined,57 the houses hung with garlands, the ramparts covered with tapestry and carpets.

A clang of drums, trumpets, and cymbals announced the arrival of the Hebrew army. The people shouted, the troops without responded with a long cheer of triumph. Amid the blaze of torches, a youth waving his scimetar, upon a coal-black steed, bounded into the city, at the head of his guards, the people fell upon their knees, and shouted ‘Long live Alroy!’

A venerable man, leading a beauteous maiden with downcast eyes, advanced. They headed a deputation of the chief inhabitants of the city. They came to solicit mercy and protection. At the sight of them, the youthful warrior leaped from his horse, flung away his scimetar, and clasping the maiden in his arms, exclaimed, ‘Miriam, my sister, this, this indeed is triumph!’