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A. Stewart (Alexander Stewart) Walsh.

Mary: The Queen of the House of David and Mother of Jesus online

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traveled in a sort of sheet of melody? Then it rose and fell from low
hill to high. One blast; seven responses. Nature proclaiming against fate
and chance; the covenant number.”

“I’m not so confident that it’s a miracle; what if it were some Mamelukes
or Druses, planning one of their pious immolations of heretics with us
for the victims?”

“Nay, brother, It’s ‘_Purim_’; that feast is now due, and always begins
at early starlight. I know it. Come, I’ll put it to the proof.”

“Hold; poets are more rash than knights in a charge, but not so skillful
in retreat! Whither wouldst thou?”

“I’ll spy out the trumpeters and report.”

“Not alone. I’ll go, too. This camp will care for itself if they beyond
be friends; if enemies, why then, without consulting us, they will care
for all we have. But this,” said the knight, toying with his sword, “was
blessed by a priest to preach to infidels.”




CHAPTER XI.

THE FEAST OF PURIM.


Stealthily Ichabod, followed by Sir Charleroy, approached the place from
which the trumpet call had sounded. The foliage was dense, the necessary
way somewhat winding, and these circumstances, together with the fact
that it was expedient to move with great caution, made the progress
of the explorers very slow. The last ray of day had faded, sung away
by the evening bird and insect chorusers, whose concert strains, like
the vanishing notes of æolian harps swept by dying breezes, were now
blending, without a line to mark the place of transition, into the lull
of the night. Nature’s lullaby to tired, drowsy life. It was a witching
hour in the woods, and the scene that lay just beyond the pilgrims in an
opening by Jabbock was an enchantment. The river, reflecting the moon
rays and the lights of torches borne by many intermingling feasters,
flowed silently along like a stream of mingled silver and fire, while
tree and shrub along its sides, as green as green could be, bore as
fruits lights of many colors. In the opening, surrounded by beacons,
banners and the lamp-bearing trees, the beauty as well as the center of
all was a magnificent patriarchal tent, made of costly materials. About
the pavilion were mounds of earth, elevated upon high tripods, seven
in all, in symbols of the seven temple candle-sticks. On each mound
there blazed a fire fed by resinous faggots, and the lights of the fires
falling upon the folds of the tent, caught up here and there by bands of
blue and gold, made the whole glisten like jeweled silk.

“Hallelujah,” with suppressed joy, exclaimed Ichabod, “the tabernacle of
God with men!”

“Hush, rash man, and watch!” rebukingly replied Sir Charleroy.

“Watch? Why, my soul is in my eyes. I’m as one famished for years
smelling a feast!”

As they looked on the beautiful scene, they perceived that the front
of the pavilion was lifted up and stretched forward as a canopy over
an altar, richly decorated with twined olive branches and blood-red
blossoms. A little way off, and yet partly encircling the altar, were
little walnut trees, each tree having on its branches glistening lamps,
half hidden by wreaths of hollyhocks and asters.

The moon sank behind the hills; the night darkened, but the fires and
lamps burned still more brightly.

“It’s like fairy-land, Jew,” after little, spake Sir Charleroy.

“More beautiful, knight. Wait and see.”

There was a burst of music, instantly followed by the entrance of youths
and old men; some singing, others vigorously playing ugabs, reed-flutes,
and tambourines. Somewhere near, though unseen by the watchers, were
happy women; they recognized their voices in refrains, choruses, and
merry peals of laughter.

“Well, this is not warlike, but what is it, Jew?” queried Sir Charleroy.

“Wait a little.”

There came a commanding trumpet blast. Its tones died away in the
melody-waves of a score of viols, managed by unperceived musicians. Then
silence; presently the huge blue curtain that hung across the tent, just
back of the outstretching front canopy, parted, and there emerged an aged
man of stately form, wearing an Aaronic mitre and priestly robes; rich as
well as ample. He paused before the altar a moment, as if in prayer, and
then suddenly the air far and wide quivered with a sound like a cyclone
hail. There were also cornet blasts mingling therewith.

“Heavens, Jew, explain!”

“Selah! These the drums and waking clappers; the signal to be given. Now
for ‘Purim’ in earnest.”

The groves about seemed to be alive and moving, for from every direction
toward the center gathered men and boys, bearing palm branches and
torches; these, as they advanced, moved with speeded pace, presently
they were in a perfect maze, the music of every kind growing louder and
louder, then seeming to die away.

“They’re carrying the edicts of Ahasuerus to the Jews to defend
themselves, master.”

“A fine play, Jew!”

Now the blue curtain parted again, and from the pavilion emerged another
stately form, in all except that he lacked priestly robing, the very
counterpart of the aged man first at the altar.

“Glory to Shaddah! again I see the holy brothers, Harrimai,” cried
Ichabod.

The second patriarch motioned silence; all in the assembly bent their
heads in breathless attention and the patriarch spoke: “Brethren of
Israel, hearken and give God all the glory who this hour permits us, His
chosen people, to celebrate in peace, with joy, our glad Purim feast.
This day, Jehovah granted me the most wholesome comfort of hearing from a
pashaw of our scourge that the last of the armies of the Moslem, beaten
by want and internal discord, were melting out of our land like fog
banks before the rising sun. He certified to me for a handful of barley
(for which he had come to stand in need) that those hated cross-bearing
invaders, the knights, were gone, never to return. So God has worked in
our behalf as in the days of Esther, setting our enemies to destroying
one another and then compassing the slinging out of His holy places, the
abominable remnants. So may His thunders, as of old, forever beat on the
heads of all who lift themselves against our Israel!”

There was a murmur of applause; first like the buzz of the noonday
insects of the groves, then like a careering hurricane. The applause
swelled up, drowning all sounds, causing the fires to flicker and flame,
making the pavilion’s sides sway and wave as if all were feeling the joy
present. The musical instruments quickly now caught up the strain of the
cheery voices, and all was in a perfect whirl of excitement with one
thought, ‘praise.’ It was free and fluent, because it came from hearts
practiced in the ultimate swings from joy to sorrow and then from sorrow
to joy. For half an hour nearly, the rhapsody continued, nor did it
temperate until sheer exhaustion fell on the revelers.

Presently, after an interval of comparative quiet, there came a flourish
of cornets and a roar of the rattling clappers. It was a signal followed
by the uplifting of the old priest’s hands as if in benediction. All
heads were bowed; some of the congregation knelt, and then he spoke in
sonorous, yet soothing voice, words of benediction: “Blessed art thou, Oh
Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hath wrought all miracles for our
fathers and also for us, at this time.”

Then the people stood up, and the second patriarch, advancing to the
front of the altar, began reading from the holy _Kethubim_ of the Jews,
the story of the Purim. At each mention of Esther’s name the congregation
murmured “how beautiful is goodness;” at each mention of Haman’s name
all in the congregation stamped their feet, also making gurgling noises
with their throats, to imitate the false prince’s strangling; the whole
being made more hideous by the shriek of discordant cornet notes and the
springing of rattles.

The foregoing scene suddenly changed; a procession of maidens, in
graceful evolutions, emerging from the surrounding groves, presenting a
living picture, really entrancing. They were all richly robed in garments
of graceful flow, caught round their waists by flowered girdles. Some
wore sashes of jassamine, while others were crowned with lilies or asters
or violets. Their arms and ankles were clad only with circlets from which
pendant bells gave forth music at every motion. Seven of the foremost
maidens bore lamps; behind each of these followed one with a harp; behind
each harper two with tambourines and cymbals. Seven times this maiden
train, with a step in time, half march, half dance, waltzed around the
canopied altar. Then were given seven cornet blasts, the procession
leaders waving their lamps with each blast, after which there was
perfect silence. Now the old priest moved forward a little toward the
procession; the congregation meanwhile gathering in a semi-circle, just
outside of all, and he addressed the assembly: “Brethren and children, I
would speak to you a little of the ‘Virtuous Woman.’ Daughters of Israel,
hearts of homes to be, hopes of the nation looking for a Deliverer and
deliverers yet to be born; hear me! Israel knows no queen of all womanly
perfections like unto Esther, the beautiful. Evermore take her for your
meditation by day and your dreams by night. Then shall you all realize to
yourselves, your fathers, brothers, husbands, all that the holy Proverbs
of our _Kethubim_ declares of the true woman. Then the priest taking the
parchment, solemnly and in mellow tones, read the last chapter of the
book, ‘the birth-day chapter,’ a verse prophetic for every day of the
longest month, as the Jews believe.”

When the reader ceased, the encampment was dim, many of the lights having
been quenched. Then the congregation joined in chanting a soft-aired
Jewish hymn.

“The devotions are ended; now for the sports;” so spoke Ichabod; the
first words spoken between him and the knight during their observation
of the last part of the proceedings before the pavilion. He had scarcely
made the announcement when the second patriarch appeared, dressed in
somber black, leading by the hand a maiden of wondrous beauty, wearing
also black, in heavy trails; on her head a golden crown. As they
appeared the applause as at first burst forth, but now blended with
distinguishable cries of “Hail Esther!” “Hail Mordecai!”

“It’s the play, knight. Watch that pair.”

“No fear, Jew, such a wondrous beauty! Had I been Haman and she Esther,
I never could have crossed her. Heavens, Jew, it is well said the people
of promise produce the most beautiful women of earth. That’s why Deity
elected one of them, through whom to be incarnate, I think.”

“I think I heard the knight say, awhile ago, that the revolution of all
religions was to come when men’s admiration for women rose far above
rapture over outward form. Is it not so?”

“Ah, it’s thy remembering and my forgetting that keeps us crossing each
other! But no matter; am I looking at an angel or not?”

“That’s the priest’s only daughter; his idol, ay, the idol of every youth
in all these parts of Israel. No nation can be dead while it produces
such flowers.”

Suddenly the camp blazed with re-illumination, and then began a carnival.
Games and dancers were everywhere. Some, evidently men, were dressed as
women, and others, evidently women, were garbed as men. For one season,
Purim, the command against the interchange of garments between the sexes,
was suspended. Each reveler carried a little box. If he asked a favor
or a question, the reply was a challenge to try lots. Partners were so
chosen, tasks given and predictions made. Laughter was everywhere, and
wine was flowing.

“Ichabod, I haven’t tasted wine since Acre! Why dost thou not introduce
me yonder?”

“Wait; they will all be mellow, soon. They may be, too, for it’s a law
that a Jew is not deemed drunk at ‘_Purim_’ so long as he can discern
between a blessing for Mordecai and a curse for Haman.”

“Heavens! how they do imbibe.”

“It’s natural for doves to twitter after a thunder storm. They remember
the past troubles.”

“Ay; but I fear they will consume all the beverage before we are with
them. We have had plenty of trouble; now take me in to twitter with those
doves.”

Ichabod started, as if to lead the way, and then drew back and moaned,
“no, no; it cannot be. I’m forever anathema here, to them! I could bear
their hate, not their contempt. They may call me renegade, but never
spaniel nor hypocrite! If I appeared among them they would soon know, if
they do not already, that Ichabod is changed. Then they’d sneer and tell
me that I tried to play double, or thinking my people’s faith not good
enough for me, I yet hungered for their feasts. No, no; it must not be!
To-morrow, I hope to pray at my mother’s grave. I’d choke then if I had
to remember I’d done aught that she, living, would have thought mean.”

“Now, I’ll not persuade thee, Jew, but go alone.”

“That’s reckless! thou mayst regret it. They may become riotous, being
half drunk, and beat thee as a Haman. No, stay away.”

“No dissuasion, Jew, but just change garments. It’s the fashion
to-night.” The Jew complied, remarking as he did:

“Will the knight wear this leather thong?”

“Heavens! no, nor the brand on thy neck.”

“Christian knights commanded me to wear one, and burned into my flesh the
other years ago; they deemed it necessary to mark all Jews for hatred.”

“Dear Ichabod, I never counseled branding any man!”

“I believe it. I have forgotten all bitterness about these marks and have
borne them as my cross.

“But, Sir Charleroy, don’t wear thy cross in their sight!”

“For once, I’ll cover it.” So saying he hid the emblem.

The comrades parted, and Sir Charleroy quickly found himself by the
maiden who personated Esther. He approached unnoticed until he pleasantly
said: “Queen of Shushan, a man out there behind a clump of Sharon roses,
played me a game of lots. I lost the game, and he has put it on me to
come to the Queen to fix the forfeit I shall pay.” The maiden turned her
head haughtily and examined the speaker from head to foot with repelling
gaze. It was her way of freezing off the amorous swains who constantly
aimed to pay her court. But when her eyes met those of the self-possessed
stranger, she gave a little start. Perhaps she caught sight, by some
omen, of her fate; perhaps she felt the magnetism of the strong will
which for the first time presented itself. In any event, it was the first
time she had ever been alone, face to face, with such as he; a stalwart
man, all reverential, yet all self-possessed. They were well matched, and
they both felt it, intuitively, instantly.

“Who art thou?”

“A child of God.”

“Of Israel?”

“By faith, most holy of Abraham’s seed,” responded Sir Charleroy.

“Thy speech bewrayeth thee as lacking our shibboleth.”

“I’ve been a life long wanderer. Thou wouldst not reject one whom
involuntary exile had robbed of tokens?”

“But I can not be free with an uncertified stranger. I’m afraid I err in
tarrying here ’till now.”

“Hospitality is the boast of pious Hebrews who obey Him that ‘loveth the
stranger in giving him food and raiment.’ Thou hast the Great Father’s
law: ‘Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land
of Egypt.’ Some have by hospitality unawares entertained angels, thou
knowst.”

“I’d like to entertain an angel; are they ever so human-like as thou?”
she smiled.

“Had I known the Esther of to-night long enough to convince her that my
freedom was sincere, I’d say that she was a fine example of the union of
the angelic in the human.”

The maiden laughed. The incense was agreeable, and the freedom of this
feast-time justified her acceptance of this novel, bold flattery. Your
proud, daring woman is very vulnerable to such assaults. The world
often wonders why such women so often, after all, surrender; but that’s
because the world does not appreciate the dexterity in such jousts of
such skilled men of the world as Sir Charleroy; or how grateful to
self-admiring beauties the admiration of superior intellects is.

“Well, will thou give me thy name?”

“Certainly. For to-night, Ahasuerus?”

“A presumptious jest, sir.”

“No, for I admire and respect Esther, that’s here.”

“And then?”

“I plead for help; gain me admittance to the festivities, and escape from
inquiry further, as to my identity.”

“And afterward, be called by my people brazen by thee, a little fool!”

“Art thou driven from right, the claim of hospitality, by fear of a lie?”

“What if thou wert a Bedouin spy, or a hated cross follower?”

“Thou art a noble hearted maiden.”

“Ah, who told thee so?”

“Thy face.”

“What is that to thee, if true?” she blushed a little.

“Could’st thou drive from thy bosom a fleeing kid, there seeking refuge
from pursuing lions?”

“I do not know ’till tried. Thou art at any rate no kid; there is no
lion. If thou desirest refuge, see the path of departure is the one by
which thou cam’st hither.”

“Well, then, farewell.”

The knight made as if he would go, but he knew he would not. The motion
gave him excuse for looking sad, and he knew that next to a handsome face
a sad one most easily conquers a woman.

“Tarry a moment ’till I think. Can I trust thee?” she was hesitating.

“I’ve trusted thee, and that’s ever the best proof of fidelity.” Women
like to think they are especially trusted.

“Well——but, see, my father comes; there’s no time for argument; let me
speak!”

As the aged priest drew near, Esther saluted him, and said, “Father, let
me take this Galileean stranger to the youths and their games? He claims
our hospitality.”

The priest, wont to be on the alert, was disarmed by the magic word
hospitality; then, too, for a long time before, having been wifeless, he
had been wont to put his daughter forward, according large confidence to
her; hence his reply:

“If thou knowest him, Rizpah.”

“I do.”

“Welcome, brother, what is thy name?” said Harrimai.

Rizpah, his daughter, quickly made reply, “Ahasuerus, and I’ve laughed at
the _coincidence_ until he has been ashamed to repeat it.”

“’Tis strange, surely, and not like a Jewish one. I must examine the
family rolls to-morrow. Peace be unto thee, son,” and the old man turned
toward his pavilion. Esther plucked a lily from her crown and handed it
to Sir Charleroy saying: “Here, king, a token.”

“Of what?”

“Shushan; in our tongue, the name of the flower signifies ‘surrender.’”

“They say, Esther, that Judith wore a crown of lilies when she
assassinated Holophernes. Is there any danger to me impending?”

“Thou hast a lily. It is said to ward off enchantments, too.”

“I am enchanted. I do not want to awaken. In Egypt they call this the
lotus, flower of unrestrained pleasure.”

“For now then, we’ll call it lotus.”

“All gods, even Osiris, bless thee, Esther.”

So the twain were charmed comrades, till watch fires were dim and the
palm shadows were creeping in, like funeral attendants, to carry away
the spirit of the dying revel. Here and there was heard anon the voices
commending this one and that to pleasant slumbers. The stars were
withdrawing behind dawn’s feathery curtains, and over all, at intervals,
was heard the voice of the chanticleer, triumphantly proclaiming the
coming day.

Charleroy and Rizpah were left alone with each other at the end of the
last game.

The maiden gave a coy, furtive glance and tardily drew away from the
knight. The language of the drawing-room of the day, is as old as the
centuries, and that maid of the wilderness used it as finely as a queen,
to say without words, “it’s time we part; please say so first, nor leave
to me, the hostess, the first suggestion of a wish to have thee go——”

Still the knight spake not.

He was delighted and averse to breaking the first pleasure spell of years.

The Jewish maiden, with fine courtesy, renewed the subject: “King,
methinks, thou art anxious to exchange the grove for the palace.”

“I can never think of weariness when restful Esther is nigh.”

“But thy life is precious to thy subjects; care for it, and go with
freshness to to-morrow’s cares of state.”

“Ah, queen, I too keenly realize that with thy departure my kingdom fades
to nothingness.”

“A truce, my liege.”

“Granted, and any thing else, to the half of my kingdom.”

Rizpah startled the birds in the shrubbery to premature morning song,
with a merry laugh. It was a finishing charge, that laugh, by which she
carried her point, for the knight quickly questioned “Why this?”

“I was only thinking how odd thou wouldst appear if thou didst wear away
my pepelum. Thy subjects would think their king mad, if he met them
veiled as a woman.”

“Pardon, queen, I’ve been so absorbed, I forgot myself—” So saying,
he gracefully transferred from his shoulder to hers the shawl she had
permitted him for the night to wear. As the maiden adjusted it, something
fell out of its folds, glittering to her feet.

“Findings keepings;” she laughed, and stooped to pick up the object. As
she arose she turned it slowly toward the setting moon the better to
inspect the find.

The knight was alarmed, but it was too late to prevent her examination
now of his Teutonic cross and chain.

At a glance, Rizpah saw it was an emblem, of all others, hated by her
people, and with a low, startled cry she made a motion as if to hurl
it from her, but she checked herself with a powerful effort; suddenly
turning her black, piercing eyes upon her companion she took a step back.
She stood there the embodiment of an imperative question.

The knight quietly said: “Be calm, dear maid.”

Over her countenance passed a cloud which to the man all too plainly
said: “How darst thou use such terms to me?” and then the face hardened
again to imperative interrogation.

“Thou trustedst me four hours ago, under the lotus, try now my sincerity
by any sterner test.”

Turning her eyes full on his, with a voice without a quaver, but in
deep, measured tones indicative of suppressed emotion, she questioned as
she held out toward him his emblem, “What’s this?”

“Concealment from thee, having trusted me as thou hast, would be futile
not only, but hateful; thou knowst the meaning of the sign.”

“Who art thou then?”

“A Christian knight!”

“An enemy of my people everywhere; a spy here!” she exclaimed.

“No, never a spy! a true Christian knight never was such! Our warfare is
open and equal. I’m degraded by the defense from such an odious charge!”

“Why debate thy methods; ’tis enough for me to know thou art a foe to me
and mine.”

“No enemy of thine, but rather the friend of all humanity, woman.”

“Bloody friends I’ve heard!”

“No! Each one of my order is sworn, by awful vow, to protect the
traveler, the poor, the weak and woman with our last drop of blood! If we
two were all alone here and one of our lives must be forfeited to save
the other’s, mine would joy to go first.”

“Words are cheap, and thou can’st use them finely, knight.”

“Thou knowst, maiden, to what that cross alludes.”

“The Nazarene Imposter!”

“His followers revere Him?”

“Like madmen, they follow their phantom!”

“Didst ever hear of one wearing that sign, being untrue to it?”

“No, it’s their dread black-art.”

“Wouldst thou trust me if I swore by it?”

“I might; but I’d fear that devils would flock out of the airy deep to
witness thy vowing. Spare me that horror!”

“Maiden, thou’lt craze me by thy distrust and wild words. In God’s name
tell me what to do!”

“Swear, but wave back the evil spirits, if thou art wont to have them.”

“That sign is their lasting terror; but the silent palms and the stars
alone shall witness, ay, the God of all, as well. Here, make thou the
words as thou wilt. Now, I kiss the cross I love, and am ready. He suited
the action to the words. The maiden drew near to him, looking down into
his eyes searchingly and seemed assured by their serene frankness.”

“Go on, Rizpah, I’ll bind my soul with any words coined, and, remember



Online LibraryA. Stewart (Alexander Stewart) WalshMary: The Queen of the House of David and Mother of Jesus → online text (page 10 of 40)