Part 8, Chapter 1


Chapter 1

THE waving of banners, the flourish of trumpets, the neighing of steeds, and the glitter of spears! On the distant horizon they gleam like the morning, when the gloom of the night shivers bright into day.

Hark! the tramp of the foemen, like the tide of the ocean, flows onward and onward, and conquers the shore. From the brow of the mountain, like the rush of a river, the column defiling melts into the plain.

Warriors of Judah! holy men that battle for the Lord! The land wherein your fathers wept, and touched their plaintive psaltery; the haughty city where your sires bewailed their cold and distant hearth; your steeds are prancing on its plain, and you shall fill its palaces. Warriors of Judah! Holy men that battle for the Lord!

March, onward march, ye valiant tribes, the hour has come, the hour has come! All the promises of ages, all the signs of sacred sages, meet in this ravishing hour. Where is now the oppressor’s chariot, where your tyrant's purple robe? The horse and the rider are both overthrown, the horse and the rider are both overthrown!

Rise, Rachel, from thy wilderness, arise, and weep no more.* No more thy lonely palm-tree’s shade need shroud thy secret sorrowing. The Lord hath heard the widow's sigh, the Lord hath stilled the widow's tear. Be comforted, be comforted, thy children live again!

Yes! yes! upon the bounding plain fleet Asriel glances like a star, and stout Scherirah shakes his spear by stern Jabaster's scimetar. And He is there, the chosen one, hymned by prophetic harps, whose life is like the morning dew on Sion's holy hill: the chosen one, the chosen one, that leads his race to victory; warriors of Judah; holy men that battle for the Lord! They come, they come, they come! The ramparts of the city were crowded with the inhabitants, the river sparkled with ten thousand boats, the bazaars were shut, the streets lined with the populace, and the terrace of every house covered with spectators. In the morning, Ithamar had entered with his division and garrisoned the city. And now the vanguard of the Hebrew army, after having been long distinguished in the distance, approached the walls. A large body of cavalry dashed forward at full speed from the main force. Upon a milk-white charger, and followed by a glittering train of warriors, amid the shouts of the vast multitude, Alroy galloped up to the gates.

He was received by Ithamar and the members of the deputation, but Honain was not there. Accompanied by his staff and a strong detachment of the Sacred Guard, Alroy was conducted through the principal thoroughfares of the city, until he arrived at the chief entrance of the serail, or palace, of the caliph. The vast portal conducted him into a large quadrangular court, where be dismounted, and where he was welcomed by the captain of the eunuch guard. Accompanied by his principal generals and his immediate attendants, Alroy was then ushered through a suite of apartments which reminded him of his visit with Honain, until he arrived at the grand council-chamber of the caliphs.

The conqueror threw himself upon the gorgeous divan of the Commander of the Faithful.

‘An easy seat after a long march,’ said Alroy, as he touched with his lips the coffee, which the chief of the eunuchs presented to him in a cup of transparent pink porcelain, studded with pearls.65 ‘Ithamar, now for your report. What is the temper of the city? Where is his sultanship of Roum?’

‘The city, sire, is calm, and I believe content. The sultan and the caliph are still hovering on the borders of the province.'

‘So I supposed. Scherirah will settle that. Let the troops be encamped without the walls, the garrison, ten thousand strong, must be changed monthly. Ithamar, you are governor of the city: Asriel commands the forces. Worthy Jabaster, draw up a report of the civil affairs of the capital. Your quarters are the College of the Dervishes. Brave Scherirah, I cannot afford you a long rest. In three days you must have crossed the river with your division. It will be quick work. I foresee that they will not fight. Meet me all here in council by to-morrow's noon. Farewell.'

The chieftains retired, the high priest lingered.

‘Were it not an intrusion, sire, I would fain entreat a moment's audience.'

‘My own Jabaster, you have but to speak.'

‘Sire, I would speak of Abidan,* as valiant a warrior as any in the host. It grieves me much, that by some fatality, his services seem ever overlooked.'

‘Abidan! I know him well, a valiant man, but a dreamer, a dreamer.'

‘A dreamer, sire! Believe me, a true son of Israel, and one whose faith is deep.'

‘Good Jabaster, we are all true sons of Israel. Yet let me have men about me who see no visions in a mid-day sun. We must beware of dreamers.'

'Dreams are the oracles of God.'

‘When God sends them. Very true, Jabaster. But this Abidan, and the company with whom he consorts, are filled with high-flown notions, caught from old traditions, which, if acted on, would render government impracticable, in a word, they are dangerous men.'

‘The very flower of Israel! Some one has poisoned your sacred ear against them.'

‘No one, worthy Jabaster. I have no counsellor except yourself. They may be the flower of Israel, but they are not the fruit. Good warriors, bad subjects: excellent means, by which we may accomplish greater ends. I'll have no dreamers in authority. I must have practical men about me, practical men. See how Abner, Asriel, Ithamar, Medad,* see how these conform to what surrounds them, yet invincible captains, invincible captains. But then they are practical men, Jabaster; they have eyes and use them. They know the difference of times and seasons. But this Abidan, he has no other thought but the rebuilding of the temple: a narrow-souled bigot, who would sacrifice the essence to the form. The rising temple soon would fall again with such constructors. Why, sir, what think you, this same Abidan preached in the camp against my entry into what the quaint fanatic chooses to call “Babylon,” because he had seen what he calls a vision.’

‘There was a time your Majesty thought not so ill of visions.’

‘Am I Abidan, sir? Are other men to mould their conduct or their thoughts by me? In this world I stand alone, a being of a different order from yourselves, incomprehensible even to you. Let this matter cease. I'll hear no more, and have heard too much. To-morrow at council.’

The high priest withdrew in silence.

‘He is gone; at length I am alone.* I cannot bear the presence of these men, except in action. Their words, even their looks, disturb the still creation of my brooding thought. I am once more alone, and loneliness hath been the cradle of my empire. Now I do feel inspired. There needs no mummery now to work a marvel.

‘The sceptre of Solomon! It may be so. What then? Here's now the sceptre of Alroy. What’s that without his mind? The legend said that none should free our people but he who bore the sceptre of great Solomon. The legend knew that none could gain that sceptre, but with a mind to whose supreme volition the fortunes of the world would bow like fate. I gained it; I confronted the spectre monarchs in their sepulchre; and the same hand that grasped their shadowy rule hath seized the diadem of the mighty caliphs by the broad rushing of their imperial river.

‘The world is mine: and shall I yield the prize, the universal and heroic prize, to realise the dull tradition of some dreaming priest, and consecrate a legend? He conquered Asia, and he built the temple. Are these my annals? Shall this quick blaze of empire sink to a glimmering and a twilight away over some petty province, the decent patriarch of a pastoral horde? Is the Lord of hosts so slight a God, that we must place a barrier to His sovereignty, and fix the boundaries of Omnipotence between the Jordan and the Lebanon? It is not thus written: and were it so, I'll pit my inspiration against the prescience of my ancestors. I also am a prophet, and Bagdad shall be my Sion. The Daughter of the Voice! Well, I am clearly summoned. I am the Lord’s servant, not Jabaster’s. Let me make His worship universal as His power; and where's the priest shall dare impugn my faith, because His altars smoke on other hills than those of Judah?

‘I must see Honain. That man has a great mind. He alone can comprehend my purpose. Universal empire must not be founded on sectarian prejudices and exclusive rights. Jabaster would massacre the Moslemin like Amalek; the Moslemin, the vast majority, and most valuable portion, of my subjects. He would depopulate my empire, that it might not be said that Ishmael shared the heritage of Israel. Fanatic! I’ll send him to conquer Judah. We must conciliate. Something must be done to bind the conquered to our conquering fortunes. That bold Sultan of Roum: I wish Abner had opposed him. To run off with the harem! I have half a mind to place myself at the head of the pursuing force, and—Passion and policy alike combine: and yet Honain is the man; I might send him on a mission. Could we make terms? I detest treaties. My fancy flies from all other topics. I must see him. Could I but tell him all I think! This door, whither leads it? Hah! methinks I do remember yon glittering gallery! No one in attendance. The discipline of our palace is somewhat lax. My warriors are no courtiers. What an admirable marshal of the palace Honain would make! Silence everywhere. So! ’tis well. These saloons I have clearly passed through before. Could I but reach the private portal by the river side, unseen or undetected! ’Tis not impossible. Here are many dresses. I will disguise myself. Trusty scimetar, thou hast done thy duty, rest awhile. ’Tis lucky I am beardless. I shall make a capital eunuch. So! a handsome robe. One dagger for a pinch, slippers powdered with pearls,66 a caftan of cloth of gold, a Cashmere girdle, and a pelisse of sables. One glance at the mirror. Good! I begin to look like the conqueror of the world!’