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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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fully in accord with their desires. In this, too, they were very human.
But there were shadows about them; for while at times they drifted
along on prismatic tides of Lethean delights, there were other times
when they remembered that there was to come a day of explanation, with
probable following storms. Both were glad and sorry at once, in view of
each day’s improvement of the knight’s physical condition. Convalescent,
they both realized, meant a great change in their relationship; perhaps
a long separation. Their anxiety was deepened by a change in the
demeanor of Rizpah’s father. His eyes no longer questioningly followed
the young people; but his words, uttered in tones of steelly coldness
and very deliberately, bespoke discovery, conviction, conclusion and
determination. One sentence often addressed to the lovers, was to them
like the rumblings of an approaching, gathering storm. “Our friend is
improving, and I’m very glad that he will be able soon to go to his own
dear people.” The lovers discerned a peculiar emphasis on the words “I’m
glad” and “his own dear people.” The politic priest, having read, as from
an open book, the heart-secret of the young people, was awaiting with
self-confidence an opportunity to confound them utterly. The crisis came
one Sabbath morning, just after the morning meal of the convalescent.
Harrimai had paid his usual visit and uttered his steelly sentences. This
time the words seemed especially cruel to Rizpah, for she was nervous,
indeed ill; the prolonged services and anxieties she had experienced of
late were telling on her strength. As Harrimai departed, she gave way
to a flood of tears. Rizpah was not wont to weep, nor was Sir Charleroy
skilled in comforting; but both he and she were lovers, hence it seemed
very natural to her frankly to pillow her head on the knight’s shoulder,
and very natural to him to seek to comfort with a tenderness all new
to him. Had one asked Rizpah if she were going back to babyishness, or
forward toward heaven, she could not have answered. Had one asked the
knight if he were becoming motherly, or turning priest, he could not have
answered. He felt very tender, and his work of comforting seemed like
an act of high piety. Both were glad of the tears which brought the joy
of comforting and being comforted, then, there and that way. They were
passing into a superb mood when quite unexpectedly to them, but quite
expectedly to himself, Harrimai suddenly re-entered the apartment. He
expected to surprise them and he did so, thoroughly. The scene following
was exciting, dramatic and decisive.

Rizpah, with a slight scream, disengaged herself from Sir Charleroy’s
embrace, and hid her face in her hands. The eyes of the knight and priest
met; neither quailed; both remained for a few moments silent; but their
fixed gaze said plainly enough, each to each, “We must have a settlement
here and now!” Harrimai spoke first, addressing himself to his daughter:
“Young woman, this conduct is immodest and disgraceful! In a Hebrew
maiden, heaven defying! I’ll speak to thee further of this presently.
Now, begone, and leave me to deal with this man!” Harrimai made arrogant
by his profession and the implicit obedience he had been wont to receive
from his followers, expected to fill the young people with dismay by the
suddenness of his assault. But Rizpah, though young, was no tongue-tied
spring, and Sir Charleroy of Gerash was still Sir Charleroy of Acre.

The words “dishonorable,” “immodest,” stung the maiden; sullenly,
defiantly almost, she settled back in her seat and leaned toward the
knight, as if to say, “I cast my lot with this man.” Her eyes plainly,
angrily said to the man whom all her life hitherto she had reverently
obeyed, “Now do thy worst.” It was impious, passionate, love going
headlong from filial duty and religious instruction to the shrine of
Astarte. The parent was chagrined at this unexpected repulse, but with
his usual adroitness pretending not to notice it, he turned to the
knight. “Stranger, this outrage excuses abruptness on my part; who art
thou?”

Sir Charleroy arose from his hammock, the excitement and shock of the
rencounter finishing his recovery, by rousing all the machineries of his
system into normal activities.

“Sir Priest, I’ve nothing to conceal. I love the truth and this maiden
too well to lie—I am a Christian knight.”

“I knew it; but thy confession shortens our parley. Now, ‘Christian
knight,’ tell me why thou didst attempt to allure to thyself the
affections of a mere girl; a Jewish maiden whom thou canst never hope
to wed? Dost thou so pay our hospitality; setting at defiance parental
authority and our Jewish laws? Dost thou under the favors of this house
intrigue to quench all its light?”

“Thou brandst that girl and me with the epithet ‘dishonorable;’ and thou
a priest! Men of thy holy calling should never slander, especially not
their own kin and strangers.” The knight was livid, but not with fear.

“Can an Israelite slander Crusaders? these professors of high religion,
these followers of an impostor, these enemies of my people, these
practicers of intrigues, races, jousts, gluttonies and drunkenness; men
whose sole serious business is murderous war? Tell me?”

The knight’s face flushed a little, but with complete self-control he
replied:

“Some of my comrades have been unworthy men, ’tis true; but some Jews
have fallen to every crime and violence. Have all fallen? Thou hast not,
perhaps! Shall all be maligned for the few? What says Harrimai?”

“Thou art of those, who come to thrust us out of our land and thrust in
here a hated creed!”

“I am of those who live to serve the needy and erring.”

“To the proof; I’ve heard from thy clans only of bloodshed.”

“Our order sprung up four hundred years ago, under the stirring appeals
of religionists as pious and humane as thou; or any of thy kind since
Aaron. We were begotten in a time when grim famine made the well-fed
wondrous kind. Those hours that make men universally akin.”

“Go on; ‘Christian knight,’ I’d like a lesson of that sort.”

“Then remember Noah’s covenant of peace. On our banners often we have our
spirit expressed by a dove flying toward a tempest-tossed ark; in the
messenger’s beak an olive branch; around the whole the bow of promise.”

“Well what of all this?”

“The ark is the world; the rest is plain.”

“Oh, a charming theory,” sarcastically responded Harrimai.

“I wear it next my heart;” so saying the knight threw aside his cloak and
drew from around his body a banner he had hitherto concealed. “See here,
‘_chastity_,’ ‘_temperance_,’ ‘_courtesy_.’ Our mottoes in peace or war!
Women, children and pilgrims, in a word the needy the world around, are
the wards of all true Christian knights!”

“Mottoes! words! Oh, yes, words! But then the Crusaders have used swords!
Their words I’ll meet with words to their confounding, nor while I live
will I forget their cruel weapons.” So saying the priest swept out of the
sick chamber in manifest rage.

He returned in a moment, and with the self-command of wrath, conscious
of power, said: “Thou wouldst make all men _akin_! Thou and thine are
dreamers, the world thinks; to-day it laughs to scorn this bootless
pursuit of a chimera. Leave us forthwith and in the peace that thou
foundst here. When the kinship is reality, thou mayst come to us for
further talk; ’till then remember thou art a Christian, I a Jew!”

“Thou art religious! Heavens! what a tender shepherd.”

Harrimai was very much angered, but he retorted with self-control; “Oh,
yes, and the God of all hath seven garments. In creation, honor and
glory; in providence, majesty; as lawgiver, might and whiteness; of
spotless light when he appears as a Saviour. He is clad with zeal when
he punishes, and with blood red when He revenges. I would be like Him.
By the glory of God! thou follower of Nazereth’s Impostor, sooner than
suffer thy blood to contaminate my family lines, I’d hew thee to pieces
as Agag was hewn! Rizpah, thou knowest me; wed him and thou’lt be
widowed, though carrying the unborn; though widow-hood broke thy heart.
I’d rather a thousand times see thee lying dead by thy true Jewish mother
than——.” The priest, in a tumult of fanatical passion mingled with the
grief of offended pride, lacked for words to express the climax of his
feelings; so covering his tearless eyes, as one weeping, he rushed out
from those he had assailed. He persuaded himself that he had spoken all
for the glory of God; the lovers thought of their solemn betrothal and
their love which they were certain was as fine as any earth ever knew,
and they felt that they were martyrs. Both sides appealed to God and in a
spirit very ungodly, but very human, braced themselves for opposing war.

When the maiden became somewhat calm, Sir Charleroy found words to
question:

“Harrimai cannot find heart to blast his idol’s happiness! He does not
mean all he said?”

“Alas, he does. It’s part of the Patriarch’s religion to hate such as
thou, as he does. He means more, if possible, than he spoke. Our people
unveil the bosom and cover the mouth; thine cover the bosom and unveil
the mouth. Ye talk, we burn.”

“Has pure love like ours no sanctity in his sight?”

“Alas, he can not believe any love pure that is between Gentile and
Israelite. He was sneering at ours a few evenings ago, when he remarked
as we were looking at the stars, ‘Hyperius or Venus of the evening is
mistakenly called the star of love. Lucifer of the morning is the true
emblem of most young love. It rises in maddening brightness, but fades
out of sight very soon.’”

“Grim omen! We took Venus for our betrothal star; they say it is so
bright at times that it casts a shadow. I feel its shadow now,” said the
knight, meditating.

“Yes, shadows and shadows!” exclaimed Rizpah, with a flood of tears,
and she swayed back and forth as she wept. She was driven by tempests
of fear that made her ready to flee, and held by anchors of passionate
loving that made her ready to brave all fears; therefore the swaying and
weeping. At intervals the two communed and debated concerning the one
all-engrossing theme, their future course.

“Rizpah,” comfortingly spoke the knight, “when in the greatest peril of
our lives, we were drawn, by danger, closer to each other.” There was a
glance of entreaty in her eyes as if to say, “Go save thy life and let
the Jewish maiden die alone;” but the knight drew her to his bosom, and
she responded by an embrace of passionate clinging.

“I go from Rizpah only at her command or death’s,” said the knight
solemnly.

The maiden shuddered, and again passionately clung to her lover. He
interpreted her action, and again comfortingly spoke:

“Fear not; earth has somewhere a refuge for us until death call us!”

“Somewhere? What, go away?”

“Yes. It is that or separation.”

She knew that full well. But to flee from home with the knight, the
alternative presented to her mind, startled her. At first thought it
seemed a reckless, perilous, unfilial, God-defying act; then it seemed
attractive because so daring. A tumult of arguments questionings, fears
and yearnings mingled in her mind. She had never learned to arrange
arguments, _pro_ and _con_, judicially. What woman whose feelings were
aroused ever did that?

He pressed on her flight, enforcing each reason presented with an
affectionate embrace; her tongue spoke not, but her embraces replied
to each of his. She had a conscience, and it asserted itself until she
placated it by a half formed resolution to be very prudent and do nothing
rashly. The resolution comforted her at first; then she began to follow
it, mentally, to its sequence. She thought of her father praising her
piety as her purpose was disclosed. Something within, coming like a voice
from her heart, mockingly whispered “Go on.” She pursued the meditations,
and heard, in imagination, her neighbors praising her as a martyr of love
for faith’s sake. Again the mocking inner voice said, “Go on.” Again
her thoughts moved forward until she saw that conscience was driving
her to separation from Sir Charleroy; in a word, making her walk in a
funeral procession, her own dead heart on the bier. The thought made her
shudder and recoil; then the knight’s arms encircled her more closely
than before. Again and again she took the foregoing mental journey, again
and again recoiled, shuddering from the alternative of separation from
her lover, and at each recoil felt his grateful embrace. Each time she
traversed the mental course the journey toward duty by the privation of
love seemed more onerous. Distaste was followed by repugnance; then utter
weariness. At last, utterly wretched, her purposes and perceptions fell
into hopeless confusion, and she exclaimed “Charleroy, Charleroy, save
me!”

The knight was at a loss to divine fully her meaning, yet tenderly he
answered:

“Save Rizpah? She knows I’d do that in death’s teeth!”

“Oh, Charleroy, ’tis not death, but life, that I fear. How shall I live?”

Quickly he ejaculated:

“With me, forever, and safe!”

The maiden remembering many an admonition she had heard concerning the
inconstancy of lovers, yet driven forward by the all-abandoning love of
her woman’s heart, gave voice to all she felt and feared in one vehement
interrogation:

“Oh, Charleroy, if I forsake all for my love of thee shall I ever be
discarded by——?”

The knight interpreted her meaning in advance, and answered by an embrace
that was all-assuring. He was rejoiced beyond words, for he knew full
well that hesitation and questionings like hers were on the rim of full
surrender. Suddenly he became very serious and felt that peculiar glow
that came over him the day of his departure from England when the bishop
blessed him. He appreciated in a measure the responsibility following
such a committal of another’s life to himself as Rizpah was making,
and he embraced her with an anxious reverence, such as a pietist feels
clasping an ideal of his God. It was well for both that the man was thus
impressed by the committal of that maiden of her soul and body to his
pilotage. Pity the woman who reaches the extremity Rizpah had reached if
her conqueror be not white-souled and sincere.

Rizpah an incarnation of passion, a wreath of lotus flowers on a sea
of delight, tossed by the winds, borne by the tides, surrendered all
thoughts that might disturb, that she might enjoy what she had embraced
as her fate to the full.

Sir Charleroy constantly prayed within himself, “My mother’s God help me
to deal as purely with my sacred charge as I would with the Virgin Patron
of my knightly order, were she here now to seek my knightly services.”
The prayer was effectual, for the Knight sincerely sought to make it so.

Decisive action followed this interview between the lovers. That very
night they fled together from Gerash, and with only one trusty servant;
after many vicissitudes they reached Damascus. For a time Rizpah placated
her conscience by asserting that she would not consent to the wedding
ceremonial until it could have her father’s approval, or that of some
Jewish Rabbi. Finding it impossible to obtain these, she irresolutely
suggested the advisability of delaying until some change, quite vaguely
apprehended, might come. But there were two Rizpah’s—one that wanted to
be a faithful Jewess, and one that wanted only and constantly a darling
idol. Sir Charleroy sided with the latter; it was two to one, and the one
surrendered. Ere long a Christian missionary at Damascus sealed the vows.
They confided their story to him, as if to ask his advice as to what
they had best do, but with the impetuosity of lovers they had decided
their course before they asked advice, and did not even ask it until
they had pledged their vows before this priest. But it was a balm to
conscience to ask advice. And the Sacrist answered them briefly: “Venus
and Mercury, fabled deities of love and wisdom. They are much alike
in the firmament, and revolve in orbits in accord with the earth’s.
Methinks it is _wisdom_ to _love_ in the earth. But, children, Venus sets
sooner than Mercury; see to it that you make it your wisdom to love as
long as you go round with the world.” Then they both said “Amen.” For a
moment Sir Charleroy heard within him that impressive sound as of the
beating of mighty, departing wings. He dragged his attention quickly from
the introspection to gaze into the eyes of his bride. He was glad that a
Christian priest had prayed for a blessing upon himself and her, but all
sophistry aside, the truth remained. Astarte’s was the presiding spirit
at that wedding.




CHAPTER XIV.

THE THEATER OF GIANTS.

“Once more we look and all is still as night,
All desolate! Groves, temples, palaces
Swept from the sight and nothing visible,
... Save here and there
An empty tomb, a fragment like a limb
Of some dismembered giant.”

“Og, the King of Bashan, came out against us to battle at
Edrei, and the Lord said unto me, Fear him not: for I will
deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand.
And we took ... three-score cities of the Kingdom of Og, in
Bashan.”—Deut. iii.

“Bashan is the land of sacred romance.” “His mission [Paul’s,
Gal., 1: 15] to Bashan seems to have been eminently successful.
Heathen temples were converted into churches, and new churches
built in every town.” “In the fourth century nearly the whole
of the inhabitants were Christian.” “The Christians are now
nearly all gone.” “Nowhere else is patriarchal life so fully
exemplified.” “Bashan is literally crowded with towns, the
majority of them deserted, but not ruined.” “Many are as
perfect as if finished only yesterday.”—PORTER’S “_Giant
Cities_.”


For a brief period the delightful seasons, the famed rivers, the stately
surrounding mountains, the paradisiacal plains, the antiquities, the
pleasure gardens and palaces of the city of Damascus, whose name by
interpretation is “change,” offered sought-for gratification to the
knight and his bride. Harrimai died suddenly after the elopement of
his child, the only person on earth whom he truly loved, the only
one that had ever successfully defied his mandates. He had purposed
disinheriting her for her act, but before he could execute that purpose,
death disinherited him. Some said that he died of a broken heart; the
physicians said he was taken off by a fit; Sir Charleroy said he died
because his proud will was crossed. Rizpah inherited a fortune that
helped both her and her husband to forget the old priest’s maledictions
by enabling them to enjoy all there was to be enjoyed in Damascus, “the
eye of the East.” They gave up unreservedly to pleasure, and centered
the world more and more in themselves. Sir Charleroy did this easily,
reasoning that, having had so many pains, he was entitled to compensating
pleasures. He heard from England; and the news was to the effect that
there had been changes and changes in his native land. Many of those he
once knew, including his mother, were dead; and he himself was forgotten
as dead. Sententiously, bitterly he summed up his feelings: “They thought
me dead, and, my mother and her fortune being gone, did not care to
find out whether I was dead or not; therefore let them think as they
thought.” Rizpah feared the lashings of conscience, and, having given up
every thing once dear to enter the life she had, courted forgetfulness
of the past, pleasure for the present. The two had within themselves
exuberant youth, a wealth of possibilities of happiness; the elements
that, like the abundance of the volcano, paints the sky gorgeously when
rising heavenward; like it, in the downward course, followed by darkness
and disaster. The two, differing in almost every thing but fervor
of temperament, were in accord in pursuit of change; they persuaded
themselves that they were growing to be like each other, when they were
only exalting the one thing, love of excitement, in which they were alike.

Damascus, naturally, in time, became uninteresting and vapid to them
both. They wore it out; they wanted new scenes. They heard that a caravan
of Mohammedan pilgrims was to pass through their city on the way to
Mecca to procure besim balm and holy chaplets, and promptly determined
to journey with it; but not to Mecca. The caravan was to pass through
Bashan, and the two excitement-seekers desired to visit the latter land
of wonders. They readily garbed themselves as Mohammedans, though once
they would have loathed such garbing as a defilement. They desired
company toward Bashan, and since the time they defied their consciences
in order to be wedded to each other, their consciences had been wont
to be very submissive in the face of their desires. They explained to
themselves the absence of qualms of conscience in the face of a pretense
of being Moslems, as the result of a growth toward liberality on their
part. The explanation made them comfortably complacent, although the fact
was that they had passed far beyond liberalism toward nothingism.

Passing Musmeth and Khubat of the Argob, they tarried after a time at
Edrei, just inside the shore line of that mysterious black, lava sea,
the Lejah. They were in a country where nature, art and desolation had
done their greatest. Following a passing impulse seemed to them to have
brought them thither, but one believing in God’s constant providence will
readily believe that they were led thither as to a school. There were
omen and prophecy confronting them. These fervent souls had gone from
hymen’s altar filled with romancings, under a glow of prismatic auroras,
never pausing to perceive that from each wedding time there winds a troop
of serious years burdened with many a commonplace duty. Their love had
been volcanic, their impulses ecstatic, their aims toward things filled
with commotion. The wine in their cup was to leave dregs; after the
fire there was to be ashes, and it was fitting that they contemplated
a specimen of great desolation and dreariness, the result of great
fires and great storms. So they were within that wonder of the world,
three hundred and fifty square miles of awful plain, filled with ruined
towns and cities. Heaved up here and there by jutting basalt rocks, the
plain seemed filled with black ice-bergs; ridged at intervals the plain
suggested an ocean wave-tossed. Therein is many a cave and cranny place,
fit abode for the wild beast or robber; fit abode for ghosts, if one
seeks to believe there are such. But therein were only a few green spots,
oases, to bid the traveler welcome. Ere long the knight and his consort
wore out the Lejah, and, in so doing, in part, wore out themselves. They
had a fullness of the pleasure of the kind which lacks recreation. As it
was, they stayed there longer than it was well for them to stay.

Rizpah, the passion flower of Gerash, experiencing the supreme exaction
of womanhood now, began to droop. Months spent in pursuit of excitement,
the great change in her manner of life, as well as the oppressive
desolations of her surroundings, had drawn heavily upon her resources
physically. Reaction after exaltation, and nervous discord after nervous
tension are natural results, always.

The knight discerned the change of temper, and as an anxious novice went
about correcting the matter. He knew little concerning woman, except
that love of her intoxicates; delighting in the intoxication he sought
to stimulate Rizpah’s flagging energies by pushing her onward into
the feverish brilliancy that was so delightful to himself. It was an
attempt to cure physical impoverishment by the renewal of its causes.
She was at times complacent, because incompetent to resist; passive,
because enervated. He was most selfish, though not realizing the fact,
when trying to be most tender. In fact, the twain were on the rim of
a test period in their married life and being unskilled in its common
places, unfitted to stand the test. Sir Charleroy had recourse to the
only physician he deemed adequate; one whom on account of his dress he
called “Old Sheepskin.” This was a guide, with a motly group of Druses



Online LibraryA. Stewart (Alexander Stewart) WalshMary: The Queen of the House of David and Mother of Jesus → online text (page 12 of 40)