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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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exactness of our people.” Then, patting the boys on their heads with
playful tenderness, she continued: “Run away now up to the synagogue-ruin
on the hill. Don’t forget your duty in play, lads; be true little
Israelites! When ye see the sun go down back of Gilead’s mountains, give
us warning of the Sabbath’s beginning. Now mind, keep your eyes toward
Jerusalem.”

The lads sped away, and Rizpah following them with her eyes prayed in
heart: “God bless them, and though in this place of desolation, make them
little Samuels in faith and service.” A little after her face glowed
with triumphant joy, for there came back to her ears the boys’ voices,
mingling in sacred song. It was the psalm of the “Captives’ Return”
that they sang. The declining sun began to throw its last rays through
the open windows of the huge stone home, flooding the black basalt
walls and pavement with golden tints. Slowly the mother’s eyes wandered
from the scene without to objects within, until they rested on a huge
painting that covered nearly half the opposite wall. One glance and her
whole being seemed transformed. In an instant her reverential and weary
attitude was changed to one of excited attention. She grew pale, her
body swayed with a waving motion, suggestive of the panther creeping
toward a victim. Then her form became rigid like one preparing for some
great muscular effort, or endeavoring to suppress some inner tempest.
Her face, made habitually calm by the schoolings of adversity, became a
theater for expression of the changing emotion within; the mouth-lines
putting on a firmness almost hideous; her eyes glittered like a serpent’s
in the act of charming; contrasting with the forehead that shone like a
silver shield. She was as one under a spell or in a trance; but for a few
moments only. There came a light footfall; then a quick, half frightened,
piteous cry and Miriamne stood beside her.

“Oh, mother, don’t! mother, mother; thou dost terrify me!” The young
woman stopped half way between the open door and her parent. Now she
was passing through a great transition. She had seen all that was
happening, often before; had often run away from the spectacle to hide
it from herself. Now she was trying to nerve herself to penetrate the
mystery in the hope of preventing its painfulness. She was at the turning
point, where a girl changes to the woman within the circle of parental
influences.

But so complete was the absorption of the one gazing upon the spectacle
upon the wall, at first the cry was unheeded. In a sort of sudden,
trembling desperation the young woman quickly bounded between her mother
and the picture. Then, as if realizing the unfilial imprudence of the
act, but still unwilling to recede from efforts to break the spell that
bound her parent, she fell upon her knees before the seeming devotee and
burst into tears. The mother started up a little as one awakening from a
dream; then said, with perfect control of voice and manner; “Marah, what
ails thee? Art ill? Are the Bedouin coming?”

“No, no,” replied the other; “the picture; the picture!”

“What is it child?”

“I do not know. I only know that your strange, wild gaze upon its hideous
group terrifies me! For years I’ve learned to feel a mingled disgust and
fright in the presence of the woman in that presentment. When I came in,
your face looked like hers. You did not seem to be my own tender mother,
but an angry virago. Oh, why do you shadow all our Sabbath eves, by this
mysterious, cruel staring and moaning before this imagery of death?
You’ve made me to dread the approaching Holy Day, promise of all delight
to our people, as the advent of all pain to us.”

“Marah, this is wickedness in thee. Thou shouldst learn to wrap thy soul
about with the joys thou knowest, and leave all this that thou dost not
understand, most likely terrible to thee chiefly because thou dost not
understand it, to go its way.”

“I’ve tried and tried for months to reason thus; but how little comfort
to be saying over and over, ‘it’s all right,’ ‘it’s nothing,’ to a fear
that stops the very beatings of the heart. Oh, that I could fly from this
land of desolations. Its loneliness and shadows keep coming and coming
around me until I dread, lest they enter my very being and become part of
me. I’ve leaned hitherto alone on my mother’s greater strength for rest.
If I come to fear her, I’ll lose my reason!”

“Marah,” said the mother, with enforced calmness, “thou art feverish
to-day; thou hast wrought too much. Now retire and say this pillow Psalm;
‘_He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, abideth under
the shadow of the Almighty._’ Thou’lt be peaceful in the morning; as are
those ever who abide under the shadow of the King.”

But only the more passionately the daughter clung to her mother, and
again she renewed her plaint: “Ah, mother, I haven’t strength to take
these promises! Oh, forgive me, I can not help it; I feel as if something
awful were impending; something coming between us! A curse is on this
land. Is it any way over the De Griffins? Tell me, I beseech you, what
is that painted thing? Sometimes I run out of the room when alone, as
if those men hanging there were still alive, in death’s agony. I’ve
dreamed sometimes that they came down in bodily form charging you and me
with murdering them; and when I go out at evening, I imagine that the
Ismaelitish woman in the foreground is flitting about my path, while in
every thicket I hear the flapping wings of her carrion birds. Oh, mother!
let us tear down that sole defilement of our own little, only home, and
give it to the pilgrim Rabbi, now in Bozrah, that he may burn it with
exorcising rites.”

“Then thou thinkest there’s witchery hereabouts, Marah,” said the mother,
severely.

[Illustration: By George Becker.

RIZPAH DEFENDING THE DEAD BODIES OF HER RELATIONS.]

“I? I do not know what I think, beyond this, that I’m overcome,
terrified, made miserable, and you, under some spell for a time, cease to
be my mother.”

“My daughter profanes her faith by permitting unreined imaginations to
rule her so.”

“Oh, tell me all about this hateful thing! Why it so moves you. You said
long ago you would when I was able to bear it. I am no longer a child.
Mother, you say you read me like an open book, now look into my heart
and see that it is bursting with fright and worry! You say you know
woman’s nature; if so, you know that I can suffer when I understand, but
shall go mad in the suspense of constant fear of some threatening ill
unseen.” Thus speaking and clinging to her mother, with a twining, almost
desperate embrace, such as among women implies unerringly that a supreme
moment and demand has fallen upon the questioner, she burst forth in
tearless sobs. The mother’s face was a study and told of a succession of
weighty thoughts; parental authority brooked; infringed; new surprised
realization that the daughter was no longer a child, but a wise, earnest
woman. Then there was a degree of fearfulness springing from deep love.
The elder woman perceived the crisis, and knew full well that in such
times denials to a woman meant a dead heart, or worse. Then her manner
softened, and drawing her child to her bosom with an embrace passionate
in fervor, she tenderly, soothingly spoke to her:

“My most dearly beloved Marah! dismiss all thy fears at once and forever.
They are needless. Rest, now and always, as thou never canst elsewhere,
in all the world, upon this heart of mine. Rest thou in thy present young
womanhood, as calmly, as trustingly, as thou didst in baby-hood. That
heart guarded thee more tenderly than its own life then, through storms
within and without that nearly broke it. In part thou dost know this;
remembering what it has been in loyalty to God and thyself, canst thou
pain it by one distrusting thought now?”

“Oh, mother, I know, I know; I do not mean to doubt you, and I remember,
with a gratitude beyond all my poor power of speech, your toiling,
patient, constant, loving care for me and my brothers. I never can forget
that you are a Hebrew indeed, proud to emulate the noble mothers of our
nation in its olden, golden days; but after all I must think. I think,
sometimes, with anguish, that that awful picture may some way come
between us!”

“Why, Marah, impossible! thou art my other self; a fairer copy; as I
was at thy age.” Then Rizpah spoke in unusual, confiding tenderness:
“We mothers have our vanities and take a secret pride in wearing our
daughters on our hearts as precious jewels. When nature gratifies that
pride by giving us daughters in form, features and mind, mirrors or
glad reminders of ourselves, as we were in the days of young beauty,
romancings and hopes, we hug these in our souls in a way thou canst never
realise until thou hast been such a mother. Change? I change toward
thee? Ah, girl, not being a mother, thou canst not begin to fathom the
ocean-depth, the heaven-height, the eternity-like unchanging endurance
of a woman’s love, once it has been quickened into the channels of
maternal affection. Thou art a woman to all the world, but not so to
me. I love thee now as I loved thee when thou wert a babe. To me thou
wilt always be a little, lovely, needy creature—an angel touching the
fountains of my inmost nature. All earthly friendships change; lover’s
love, at first fierce, generally dies as the tides of years roll over
it; but, mother-love, in all loving, is the exception. Believe this as
thou dost believe the tenets of our faith and thou’ll find thy troubling
thoughts fleeing away like mists of Hermon, before the conquering
banners of the morning.” There followed a prolonged embrace and a mutual
kiss; impassioned, affectionate; an action expressing volumes to one
skilled in interpreting the signs, all unvoiced and unwritten, yet, by
some constant intuition, known to all womankind as the language of the
finest, sincerest loving. That moment these two women passed onward,
upward together to a higher, lighter, stronger relationship than they had
enjoyed before. They entered the temple where daughter and mother begin
the feast of the new revelation; when to the love of parent and child is
added that of real companionship. That is a sunny, fruity hour, when a
girl is received as a woman by a woman; that woman her mother.

The two sat embracing and happy for a long time; but the old pain
suddenly revived—Miriamne’s eyes chancing to stray to the picture. She
shuddered, then looked pleadingly into her parent’s eyes. The mother,
quickly interpreting the look, tenderly replied: “Sometime.”

“No, oh, no; tell me, mother, all, now! Who, and what are those hanging
forms: the horror-frighted, bludgeon-armed woman; the birds of black,
hovering over the crosses? Oh! my mother, you trust me; now tell me all
or tear that down! You know it’s not lawful for us Jews to have any image
of things in Hades.”

The last words moved the mother more than all else that Miriamne had
hitherto spoken. Heresy, she abominated; and the chief aim of her life
had been to make her children true Israelites by precept and example. To
her thinking, Israel alone was right; all others were heathen, to whom
was reserved perdition. To an apostate, in her belief, there came a final
judgment of misery, beggaring all attempt at description. A little while
she hesitated, and then came to quick resolve to tell her daughter all.
She arose, walked rapidly back and forth over the stone floor of the
abode, and, then stopping before the daughter, said: “Thy wish shall be
granted. In love of thee, for lo, these many years I’ve hidden from thee
one miserable and dark chapter of our family history. I have drank the
bitter waters alone. But too much I love thee to bear the piteous appeal
of thy lips, or the look of doubt that sometimes flits in thy questioning
eyes. Canst thou bear knowledge that is full of bitterness?”

“Yea, mother,” said Miriamne, “there is no bitterness in reality like
that our imaginations conjure up, when fed by mysteries that hang on
pictures of such hideous mien——”

“Thou dost force me to the explanation, but, daughter blame me not, if,
like Saul of old, who fainted at the sight he compelled Endor’s witch to
reveal, thou art given now some knowledge that kills thy sunshine.”

“I’m the daughter of Rizpah and Sir Charleroy. Did they either of them
ever fear?”

“Ah! but I have been the very mother of sorrows, ever since thy birth,
child. God knows it; and it were best to leave it all to Him alone.”

“But, mother, I’d gladly share your sorrows. Sorrow shared is ever
lightened by the sharing. Let us bear the corpse between us, and in this
lonely life we shall be made more than ever companions, through a common
grief.”

“So be it then. Thou shalt know all.”

And Rizpah, going to a seldom-used iron-bound chest, drew therefrom a
parchment roll; handing the same to her daughter, she said: “Read. It’s
part of Father Harrimai’s ‘_Kethubim_.’” The place opened to the story
of the famine in David’s time, which endured three years, because of
wrongs done to the Gibeonites by the children of Israel. As Miriamne read
onward, Rizpah from time to time gave explanations:

“Dost perceive, daughter, that Jehovah, though not revengeful, is a God
of recompenses?”

“He was the friend of the Gibeonites though they were not of his chosen
people; because they had no other friend, I think,” said Miriamne.

“Yes, and He held all Israel responsible for what they were willing to
let their blood-thirsty Saul perform. As he had been, so had been the
people; they were guilty, and God needed to punish them. How just! Oh!
God is sure to press men to a conclusion. Read what David said to the
stranger Gibeonites;” Miriamne continued:

“And he said, what ye shall say, _that_ will I do for you.

“And they answered the king, the man that consumed us, and that devised
against us;

“Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up
unto the Lord in Gibeah.

“And the king said, I will give them.

“But the king spared Mephiboseth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul.

“But the king took the two sons of Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, whom she
bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephiboseth; and the five sons of Michal the
daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel.

“And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged
them in the hill before the Lord: and they fell all seven together, and
were put to death in the beginning of barley harvest.”

Miriamne paused; then addressed her parent:

“Mother, I’d not be an heretic, and yet I can not see the justice of
hanging the sons for the father’s sins?”

“Perhaps they were parties to the murder; perhaps publicly, or in heart,
defended it. At any rate, from the beginning it has been so. Thou and thy
brothers are living here fatherless on account of him that begat you——”

“Shall I stop reading this bloody story?” quoth Miriamne.

“It pains thee. Thou must go on now, though thou shouldst fall fainting,
as Saul at Endor. Read.”

The daughter complied, and with quickly revived interest, for she came to
the name “Rizpah” the second time, but before she had not noticed it in
reading.

“And Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth and spread it for her
upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon
them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on
them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.

“And it was told David what Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, the concubine
of Saul, had done.

“And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan,
his son, from the men of Jabesh-gilead, which had stolen them from the
street of Beth-shan.

“And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of
Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.

“And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country
of Benjamin, in Zelah, in the sepulcher of Kish, his father: and they
performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated
for the land.”

When the last clause was finished, Miriamne cast a glance at the huge
painting on the wall.

“I understand in part; that is Rizpah and her crucified children?”

“It is well, daughter. Behold her; this is motherhood of strongest type!
Humanity is no where perfect, but of all the erring ones of life, I most
believe in those, who, among many perversions of judgment and blemishes
of character, have some one or more of lofty virtues. Methinks a soul
may be drenched by many sins, and yet, if within its very core it carry
sincerely and sacred as its life some noble, dominating passion, like the
holy love of parent for a child, that soul will ever have thereby a gate
open to the Holy Spirit, a handle for the grasp of saving angels, and,
while life lasts, an ever-flying signal lifted toward heaven. Such prayer
unspoken is a beseeching, not vainly for the interceding love of Him that
weighs the spirits.”

“But, mother, you’re not such a tigress? Not like that woman?”

“How proud I’d be to be indeed all she was. The exact interpretation of
‘Rizpah’ is a ‘living coal,’ but her name interpreted by her life is
better called the ‘flaming beacon.’ We mutually lament the dispersion
of our people! Dost thou remember how last Sabbath thou wepst while
thou didst read to me the words of the blessed Isaiah foretelling the
long-delayed but Divinely-promised regathering of all our tribes?”

“Oh! that the hills of Judea would glow with the beacons of that day!”

“Daughter, God’s beacons are chiefly noble spirits, such as Moses of the
Exode, Samson, the giant, David, Nehemiah and Cyrus. The world has not
yet interpreted Rizpah, the ‘burning coal,’ the beacon fire. Once I was
frail, timorous, wavering, but devotion to that character has transformed
me. When the world’s mothers look to her pattern, there will be a new
order of motherhood; then look for heroic men and an heroic age!”

“But was not Rizpah a Hivite, a descendant of Ham, and so of those
forever under God’s curse?”

“My child, ancestry is not always the test of worth. The consequences
of sin may pass down from sire to son, but never so as to bar the way
to hope, nor dam up the stream of ever-pitying mercy of heaven. Rizpah
had some true Jewish blood within her heart, and in the long run God’s
providence doth work to make the better part, of admixed good and ill,
dominate. Besides all this, the lovely Ruth, thou dost emulate so well,
was foreign to our people. So, too, was Rahab; and our Rabbis tell us
she was in the royal line of David, from which at last the Messiah shall
arise. Those women, with Rizpah, were beacons to the world! While mankind
revere true love, constancy, loyalty and faith, those names will be
remembered.”

“But, mother, Rizpah was the concubine of Saul, and as I think of how
you oft denounce the harems of our neighboring Bedawin, my very soul
blushes at hearing you admire this woman so.”

“Ah, daughter, methinks she was more sinned against than sinning. Recall
the unequal struggle: Rizpah, a foreigner, of a nation subdued by kingly
Saul; he a man, strong of mind, a king, hedged with a sort of divinity
that in the minds of the simple ever hedges kings about; making their
words and deeds seem always right and just. If women made the laws and
customs there never would have been known on earth unclean polygamy,
but ever instead thereof the union only, in holy wedlock, of two lives,
mutually consecrated, serviceful and constant. Under wrong teaching and
tyranny, a woman may do that which purer societies condemn, and yet
retain a conscience white and clean before God.

“Within that book of Samuel, which I hold, it is recorded that
Ishbosheth, a son of Saul, who for a time reigned in a rebellious
confederacy, a horseman’s day’s journey from here, at Mahanaim, charged
Rizpah once with an act of impurity.

“The record makes no mention of Rizpah’s reply. Like thousands of women
before and since her time, she was defenseless against slander. Men, the
stronger, may malign without evidence, and often it doth outweigh, to
ears ripe to feast upon the carrion of a scandal, the indignant denial of
outraged purity, accompanied even with evidences which make the thought
of crime upon the part of the one belied, seemingly an impossibility. But
leave all that; I appeal in behalf of my revered Rizpah to her wondrous
loyalty as a mother. Tell me not that this sublimely heroic woman, who
patiently watched the corpses of her sons and other kin from April,
through all the lonely nights and through all those burning days, until
October rains wept them to their burial, ever did an act that could let
loose upon them living or dead the hounds of scandal! They may have
suffered death as malefactors, in God’s sight, but still her mother-love
clung to them. She who kept those long vigils, lest beast or bird of prey
should harm or mar or pollute the bodies precious to her if to no one
else, I am assured, beyond all cavil, never did aught that could have
stung their brows or embittered their hearts! Such motherly devotion as
hers doth fully purify a woman. He who planned society, with its sacred
foundations resting so largely on the integrity of its child-bearers, has
planted in the bosom of woman this all-possessing love of her offspring,
as her safeguard. It’s her wall of fire by day and by night, and verily
more restraining to her than any law of man, command of God, or fear of
hell!”

“And are loving mothers never unchaste?”

“The Jews hated swine and the monster deities of Chaldeans, because both
destroyed their young, and our holy Talmudists declare that Mary of the
Christians, not being as pure as the Nazarene’s followers affirm, is
doomed to bide even in lowest Hades with the bar of hell’s gate through
her ear. No, I, as a Jewish woman, believe that one of my sex being a
mother and impure is neither loving, nor a woman!”

“How I revere the noble sentiments of Rizpah of Bozrah!”

“For all I am, after God, praise that ancient, fervent beacon, Rizpah of
Gibeah!”

“I am in part reconciled to her, but yet I wish, in frightened agony
often, that you would renounce this historic Rizpah; lioness-like in her
devotion to her offspring, but full of murderous fury toward any that
crossed her love. Our holy book must have sweeter, nobler ideals for our
inspiration.”

“I judge this Hebrew heroine mother by her influence upon me, and that
has been for good. The hypocrite or romancer may call the passer-by to
prayer and have no more soul in it than the Moslem trumpet. Only those
who have some God-like saintliness of character, can win effectually,
unceasingly. There is mighty power in the unspoken sermons of such a
life. _I cherish_ Rizpah, whose touch of moral power, coming where and
when I was weak to callowness, girded me with purpose for wavering and
thews of steel for rosy softness. I was once like thee, a fragile flower,
but the example of that patient woman’s heroism, ever before me, has
fitted me to meet my awful trials and worthily inhabit this giant-built
house. Thou dost remember, Miriamne, at last Passover time they wish, as
thou didst read to me of Jacob, that even now a ladder with communicating
angels might be set up from earth to heaven?”

“Ah, that would be a feast; angels in burning bushes, or by fountains as
in Hagar’s time! I often worship in the thicket and pray for heaven’s
messengers from Paradise to fan the flames of our devotion, as Gabriel
did the orisons of Daniel. But I’d be afraid to meet an angel like your
Rizpah.”

“Not so with me, Marah. Indeed, I often think of Rizpah and Jacob
together. Thou rememberest how, not far away, at Mahanaim, Jacob of
old met a host of angels? They came to cheer him in an hour of sad
depression, the saddest kind indeed; for in that hour he remembered
amid his repentings that he was soon to face the brother whom long
years before he had wronged. Well, when Rizpah, by the death of Saul,
was released from that domineering madman-king, she made her home at
Mahanaim, the place near which Jacob counseled with the angels. Methinks
she there also communed with the spirits that do excel in strength.



Online LibraryA. Stewart (Alexander Stewart) WalshMary: The Queen of the House of David and Mother of Jesus → online text (page 16 of 40)