Part 9, Chapter 4

Part IX

Chapter 4

THE High Priest and his companion entered the house of Abidan. Jabaster addressed the already assembled guests.

‘Brave Scherirah, it joys me to find thee here. In Israel’s cause when was Scherirah wanting? Stout Zalmunna, we have not seen enough of each other: the blame is mine. Gentle prophetess, thy blessing!

‘Good friends, why we meet here is known to all. Little did we dream of such a meeting when we crossed the Tigris. But that is nothing. We come to act, and not to argue. Our great minds, they are resolved: our solemn purpose requires no demonstration. If there be one among us who would have Israel a slave to Ishmael, who would lose all we have prayed for, all we have fought for, all we have won, and all for which we are prepared to die, if there be one among us who would have the ark polluted, and Jehovah’s altar stained with a gentile sacrifice, if there be one among us who does not sigh for Sion, who would not yield his breath to build the Temple and gain the heritage his fathers lost, why, let him go! There is none such among us: then stay, and free your country!’

‘We are prepared, great Jabaster; we are prepared, all, all!’

‘I know it; you are like myself. Necessity hath taught decision. Now for our plans. Speak, Zalmunna.’

‘Noble Jabaster, I see much difficulty. Alroy no longer quits his palace. Our entrance unwatched is, you well know, impossible. What say you, Scherirah?’

‘I doubt not of my men, but war against Alroy is, to say nought of danger, of doubtful issue.’

‘I am prepared to die, but not to fail,’ said Abidan. ‘We must be certain. Open war I fear. The mass of the army will side with their leaders, and they are with the tyrant. Let us do the deed, and they must join us.’

‘Is it impossible to gain his presence to some sacrifice in honour of some by-gone victory; what think ye?’

‘I doubt much, Jabaster. At this moment he little wishes to sanction our national ceremonies with his royal person. The woman assuredly will stay him. And, even if he come, success is difficult, and therefore doubtful.’

‘Noble warriors, list to a woman’s voice,’ exclaimed the prophetess, coming forward. ‘’Tis weak, but with such instruments, even the aspirations of a child, the Lord will commune with his chosen people. There is a secret way by which I can gain the gardens of the palace. To-morrow night, just as the moon is in her midnight bower, behold the accursed pile shall blaze. Let Abidan’s troop be all prepared, and at the moment when the flames first ascend, march to the Seraglio gate as if with aid. The affrighted guard will offer no opposition. While the troops secure the portals, you yourselves, Zalmunna, Abidan, and Jabaster, rush to the royal chamber and do the deed. In the meantime, let brave Scherirah, with his whole division, surround the palace, as if unconscious of the mighty work. Then come you forward, show, if it need, with tears, the fated body to the soldiery, and announce the Theocracy.’

‘It is the Lord who speaks,’ said Abidan, who was doubtless prepared for the proposition. ‘He has delivered them into our hands.’

‘A bold plan,’ said Jabaster, musing, ‘and yet I like it. ’Tis quick, and that is something. I think ’tis sure.’

‘It cannot fail,’ exclaimed Zalmunna, ‘for if the flame ascend not, still we are but where we were.’

‘I am for it,’ said Scherirah.

‘Well, then,’ said Jabaster, ‘so let it be. To-morrow’s eve will see us here again prepared. Good night.’

‘Good night, holy Priest. How seem the stars, Jabaster?’

‘Very troubled; so have they been some days. What they portend I know not.’

‘Health to Israel.’

‘Let us hope so. Good night, sweet friends.’

‘Good night, holy Jabaster. Thou art our corner-stone.’

‘Israel hath no other hope but in Jabaster.’

‘My Lord,’ said Abidan, ‘remain, I pray, one moment.’

‘What is’t? I fain would go.’

‘Alroy must die, my Lord, but dost thou think a single death will seal the covenant?’

‘The woman?’

‘Ay! the woman! I was not thinking of the woman. Asrael, Ithamar, Medad?’

‘Valiant soldiers! doubt not we shall find them useful instruments. I do not fear such loose companions. They follow their leaders, like other things born to obey. Having no head themselves, they must follow us who have.’

‘I think so too. There is no other man who might be dangerous?’

Zalmunna and Scherirah cast their eyes upon the ground. There was a dead silence, broken by the prophetess.

‘A judgment hath gone forth against Honain!’

‘Nay! he is Lord Jabaster’s brother,’ said Abidan. ‘It is enough to save a more inveterate foe to Israel, if such there be.’

‘I have no brother, Sir. The man you speak of I will not slay, since there are others who may do that deed. And so again, good night.’