Part 9, Chapter 3

Part IX

Chapter 3

‘THE stars are stealing forth, and so will I. Sorry sight! to view Jabaster, with a stealthy step, skulk like a thing dishonoured! Oh! may the purpose consecrate the deed! the die is cast.’

So saying, the High Priest, muffled up in his robe, emerged from his palace into the busy streets. It is at night that the vitality of Oriental life is most impressive. The narrow winding streets, crowded with a population breathing the now sufferable air, the illuminated coffee-houses, the groups of gay yet sober revellers, the music, and the dancing, and the animated recitals of the poet and the storier, all combine to invest the starry hours with a beguiling and even fascinating character of enjoyment and adventure.

It was the night after the visit of Abidan and the prophetess. Jabaster had agreed to meet Abidan in the square of the great mosque two hours after sunset, and thither he now repaired.

‘I am somewhat before my time,’ he said, as he entered the great square, over which the rising moon threw a full flood of light. A few dark shadows of human beings alone moved in the distance. The world was in the streets and coffee-houses. ‘I am somewhat before my time,’ said Jabaster. ‘Conspirators are watchful. I am anxious for the meeting, and yet I dread it. Since he broke this business, I have never slept. My mind is a chaos. I will not think. If ’tis to be done, let it be done at once. I am more tempted to sheathe this dagger in Jabaster’s breast than in Alroy’s. If life or empire were the paltry stake, I would end a life that now can bring no joy, and yield authority that hath no charm; but Israel, Israel, thou for whom I have endured so much, let me forget Jabaster had a mother!

‘But for this thought that links me with my God, and leads my temper to a higher state, how vain and sad, how wearisome and void, were this said world they think of! But for this thought, I could sit down and die. Yea! my great heart could crack, worn out, worn out; my mighty passions, with their fierce but flickering flame, sink down and die; and the strong brain that ever hath urged my course, and pricked me onward with perpetual thought, desert the rudder it so long hath held, like some baffled pilot in blank discomforture, in the far centre of an unknown sea.

‘Study and toil, anxiety and sorrow, mighty action, perchance Time, and disappointment, which is worse than all, have done their work, and not in vain. I am no longer the same Jabaster that gazed upon the stars of Caucasus. Methinks even they look dimmer than of yore. The glory of my life is fading. My leaves are sear, tinged, but not tainted. I am still the same in one respect; I have not left my God, in deed or thought. Ah! who art thou?’

‘A friend to Israel.’

‘I am glad that Israel hath a friend. Noble Abidan, I have well considered all that hath passed between us. Sooth to say, you touched upon a string I’ve played before, but kept it for my loneliness; a jarring tune, indeed a jarring tune, but so it is, and being so, let me at once unto your friends, Abidan.’

‘Noble Jabaster, thou art what I deemed thee.’

‘Abidan, they say the consciousness of doing justly is the best basis of a happy mind.’

‘Even so.’

‘And thou believest it?’

‘Without doubt.’

‘We are doing very justly?’

‘Tis a weak word for such a holy purpose.’

‘I am most wretched!’