Benjamin Disraeli.

Alroy: The Prince of the Captivity online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliAlroy: The Prince of the Captivity → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by David Widger





ALROY

OR

THE PRINCE OF THE CAPTIVITY


By Benjamin Disraeli


[Illustration: cover]

[Illustration: alroy-frontis-174]

[Illustration: frontis-label]


AUTHOR'S PREFACE

Being at Jerusalem in the year 1831, and visiting the traditionary
tombs of the Kings of Israel, my thoughts recurred to a personage whose
marvellous career had, even in boyhood, attracted my attention, as
one fraught with the richest materials of poetic fiction. And I then
commenced these pages that should commemorate the name of Alroy. In the
twelfth century, when he arose, this was the political condition of the
East:

The Caliphate was in a state of rapid decay. The Seljukian Sultans, who
had been called to the assistance of the Commanders of the Faithful, had
become, like the Mayors of the palace in France, the real sovereigns of
the Empire. Out of the dominions of the successors of the Prophet,
they had carved four kingdoms, which conferred titles on four Seljukian
Princes, to wit, the Sultan of Bagdad, the Sultan of Persia, the Sultan
of Syria, and the Sultan of Roum, or Asia Minor.

But these warlike princes, in the relaxed discipline and doubtful
conduct of their armies, began themselves to evince the natural effects
of luxury and indulgence. They were no longer the same invincible
and irresistible warriors who had poured forth from the shores of the
Caspian over the fairest regions of the East; and although they still
contrived to preserve order in their dominions, they witnessed with
ill-concealed apprehension the rising power of the Kings of Karasmé,
whose conquests daily made their territories more contiguous.

With regard to the Hebrew people, it should be known that, after the
destruction of Jerusalem, the Eastern Jews, while they acknowledged
the supremacy of their conquerors, gathered themselves together for all
purposes of jurisdiction, under the control of a native ruler, a reputed
descendant of David, whom they dignified with the title of 'The Prince
of the Captivity.' If we are to credit the enthusiastic annalists of
this imaginative people, there were periods of prosperity when the
Princes of the Captivity assumed scarcely less state and enjoyed
scarcely less power than the ancient Kings of Judah themselves. Certain
it is that their power increased always in an exact proportion to the
weakness of the Caliphate, and, without doubt, in some of the most
distracted periods of the Arabian rule, the Hebrew Princes rose into
some degree of local and temporary importance. Their chief residence was
Bagdad, where they remained until the eleventh century, an age fatal
in Oriental history, from the disasters of which the Princes of the
Captivity were not exempt. They are heard of even in the twelfth
century. I have ventured to place one at Hamadan, which was a favourite
residence of the Hebrews, from being the burial-place of Esther and
Mordecai.

With regard to the supernatural machinery of this romance, it is
Cabalistical and correct. From the Spirits of the Tombs to the sceptre
of Solomon, authority may be found in the traditions of the Hebrews for
the introduction of all these spiritual agencies.

Grosvenor Gate: July, 1845.





A L R O Y

[Illustration: page001]


CHAPTER I.

_A Great Day for Israel._

THE cornets sounded a final flourish as the Prince of the Captivity
dismounted from his white mule; his train shouted as if they were once
more a people; and, had it not been for the contemptuous leer which
played upon the countenances of the Moslem bystanders, it might have
been taken for a day of triumph rather than of tribute.

'The glory has not departed!' exclaimed the venerable Bostenay, as he
entered the hall of his mansion. 'It is not as the visit of Sheba unto
Solomon; nevertheless the glory has not yet departed. You have done
well, faithful Caleb.' The old man's courage waxed more vigorous, as
each step within his own walls the more assured him against the recent
causes of his fear, the audible curses and the threatened missiles of
the unbelieving mob.

'It shall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving!' continued the Prince;
'and look, my faithful Caleb, that the trumpeters be well served. That
last flourish was bravely done. It was not as the blast before Jericho;
nevertheless, it told that the Lord of Hosts was for us. How the
accursed Ishmaelites started! Did you mark, Caleb, that tall Turk in
green upon my left? By the sceptre of Jacob, he turned pale! Oh! it
shall be a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving! And spare not the wine,
nor the flesh-pots for the people. Look you to this, my child, for the
people shouted bravely and with a stout voice. It was not as the great
shout in the camp when the ark returned; nevertheless, it was boldly
done, and showed that the glory had not yet departed. So spare not the
wine, my son, and drink to the desolation of Ishmael in the juice which
he dare not quaff.'

'It has indeed been a great day for Israel!' exclaimed Caleb, echoing
his master's exultation.

'Had the procession been forbidden,' continued Bostenay, 'had it been
reserved for me of all the princes to have dragged the accursed tribute
upon foot, without trumpets and without guards, by this sceptre, my good
Caleb, I really think that, sluggishly as this old blood now runs, I
would - - But it is needless now to talk; the God of our fathers hath
been our refuge.'

'Verily, my lord, we were as David in the wilderness of Ziph; but now we
are as the Lord's anointed in the stronghold of Engedi!'

'The glory truly has not yet utterly departed,' resumed the Prince in a
more subdued tone; 'yet if - - I tell you what, Caleb; praise the Lord
that you are young.'

'My Prince too may yet live to see the good day.'

'Nay, my child, you misinterpret me. Your Prince has lived to see the
evil day. 'Twas not of the coming that I thought when I bid you praise
the Lord because you were young, the more my sin. I was thinking, Caleb,
that if your hair was as mine, if you could recollect, like me, the
days that are gone by, the days when it needed no bride to prove we
were princes,«the glorious days when we led captivity captive; I was
thinking, I say, my son, what a gainful heritage it is to be born after
the joys that have passed away.'

'My father lived at Babylon,' said Caleb. 'Oh! name it not! name it
not!' exclaimed the old chieftain. 'Dark was the day that we lost that
second Zion! We were then also slaves to the Egyptian; but verily we
ruled over the realm of Pharaoh. Why, Caleb, Caleb, you who know all,
the days of toil, the nights restless as a love-sick boy's, which it has
cost your Prince to gain permission to grace our tribute-day with
the paltry presence of half-a-dozen guards; you who know all my
difficulties, who have witnessed all my mortifications, what would you
say to the purse of dirhems, surrounded by seven thousand scimitars?'

'Seven thousand scimitars!' 'Not one less; my father flourished one.'
'It was indeed a great day for Israel!' 'Nay, that is nothing. When old
Alroy was prince, old David Alroy, for thirty years, good Caleb, thirty
long years we paid _no_ tribute to the Caliph.'

'No tribute! no tribute for thirty years! What marvel then, my Prince,
that the Philistines have of late exacted interest?'

'Nay, that is nothing,' continued old Bostenay, unmindful of his
servant's ejaculations. 'When Moctador was Caliph, he sent to the same
Prince David, to know why the dirhems were not brought up, and David
immediately called to horse, and, attended by all the chief people, rode
to the palace, and told the Caliph that tribute was an acknowledgment
made from the weak to the strong to insure protection and support; and,
inasmuch as he and his people had garrisoned the city for ten years
against the Seljuks, he held the Caliph in arrear.'

'We shall yet see an ass mount a ladder,'[1] exclaimed Caleb, with
uplifted eyes of wonder.

'It is true, though,' continued the Prince; 'often have I heard my
father tell the tale. He was then a child, and his mother held him up to
see the procession return, and all the people shouted "The sceptre has
not gone out of Jacob."'

'It was indeed a great day for Israel.'

'Nay, that is nothing. I could tell you such things! But we prattle; our
business is not yet done. You to the people; the widow and the orphan
are waiting. Give freely, good Caleb, give freely; the spoils of the
Canaanite are no longer ours, nevertheless the Lord is still our God,
and, after all, even this is a great day for Israel. And, Caleb, Caleb,
bid my nephew, David Alroy, know that I would speak with him.'

'I will do all promptly, good master! We wondered that our honoured
lord, your nephew, went not up with the donation this day.'

'Who bade you wonder? Begone, sir! How long are you to idle here? Away!

'They wonder he went not up with the tribute to-day. Ay! surely, a
common talk. This boy will be our ruin, a prudent hand to wield our
shattered sceptre. I have observed him from his infancy; he should have
lived in Babylon. The old Alroy blood flows in his veins, a stiff-necked
race. When I was a youth, his grandsire was my friend; I had some
fancies then myself. Dreams, dreams! we have fallen on evil days, and
yet we prosper. I have lived long enough to feel that a rich caravan,
laden with the shawls of India and the stuffs of Samarcand, if not
exactly like dancing before the ark, is still a goodly sight. And our
hard-hearted rulers, with all their pride, can they subsist without us?
Still we wax rich. I have lived to see the haughty Caliph sink into a
slave viler far than Israel. And the victorious and voluptuous Seljuks,
even now they tremble at the dim mention of the distant name of Arslan.
Yet I, Bostenay, and the frail remnant of our scattered tribes, still
we exist, and still, thanks to our God! we prosper. But the age of power
has passed; it is by prudence now that we must flourish. The gibe and
jest, the curse, perchance the blow, Israel now must bear, and with a
calm or even smiling visage. What then? For every gibe and jest, for
every curse, I'll have a dirhem; and for every blow, let him look to it
who is my debtor, or wills to be so. But see, he comes, my nephew! His
grandsire was my friend. Methinks I look upon him now: the same Alroy
that was the partner of my boyish hours. And yet that fragile form and
girlish face but ill consort with the dark passions and the dangerous
fancies, which, I fear, lie hidden in that tender breast. Well, sir?'

'You want me, uncle?'

'What then? Uncles often want what nephews seldom offer.'

'I at least can refuse nothing; for I have naught to give.'

'You have a jewel which I greatly covet.' 'A jewel! See my chaplet! You
gave it me, my uncle; it is yours.'

'I thank you. Many a blazing ruby, many a soft and shadowy pearl, and
many an emerald glowing like a star in the far desert, I behold, my
child. They are choice stones, and yet I miss a jewel far more precious,
which, when I gave you this rich chaplet, David, I deemed you did
possess.' 'How do you call it, sir?' 'Obedience.'

'A word of doubtful import; for to obey, when duty is disgrace, is not a
virtue.'

'I see you read my thought. In a word, I sent for you to know, wherefore
you joined me not to-day in offering our - our - - '

'Tribute.'

'Be it so: tribute. Why were you absent?' 'Because it was a tribute; I
pay none.' 'But that the dreary course of seventy winters has not erased
the memory of my boyish follies, David, I should esteem you mad. Think
you, because I am old, I am enamoured of disgrace, and love a house of
bondage? If life were a mere question between freedom and slavery, glory
and dishonour, all could decide. Trust me, there needs but little spirit
to be a moody patriot in a sullen home, and vent your heroic spleen upon
your fellow-sufferers, whose sufferings you cannot remedy. But of such
stuff your race were ever made. Such deliverers ever abounded in the
house of Alroy. And what has been the result? I found you and your
sister orphan infants, your sceptre broken, and your tribes dispersed.
The tribute, which now at least we pay like princes, was then exacted
with the scourge and offered in chains. I collected our scattered
people, I re-established our ancient throne, and this day, which you
look upon as a day of humiliation and of mourning, is rightly considered
by all a day of triumph and of feasting; for, has it not proved in the
very teeth of the Ishmaelites, that the sceptre has not yet departed
from Jacob?'

'I pray you, uncle, speak not of these things. I would not willingly
forget you are my kinsman, and a kind one. Let there not be strife
between us. What my feelings are is nothing. They are my own: I cannot
change them. And for my ancestors, if they pondered much, and achieved
little, why then 'twould seem our pedigree is pure, and I am their true
son. At least one was a hero.'

'Ah! the great Alroy; you may well be proud of such an ancestor.'

'I am ashamed, uncle, ashamed, ashamed.'

'His sceptre still exists. At least, I have not betrayed him. And this
brings me to the real purport of our interview. That sceptre I would
return.'

'To whom?'

'To its right owner, to yourself.'

'Oh! no, no, no; I pray you, I pray you not. I do entreat you, sir,
forget that I have a right as utterly as I disclaim it. That sceptre
you have wielded it wisely and well; I beseech you keep it. Indeed, good
uncle, I have no sort of talent for all the busy duties of this post.'

'You sigh for glory, yet you fly from toil.'

'Toil without glory is a menial's lot.'

'You are a boy; you may yet live to learn that the sweetest lot of life
consists in tranquil duties and well-earned repose.'

'If my lot be repose, I'll find it in a lair.'

'Ah! David, David, there is a wildness in your temper, boy, that makes
me often tremble. You are already too much alone, child. And for this,
as well as weightier reasons, I am desirous that you should at length
assume the office you inherit. What my poor experience can afford to aid
you, as your counsellor, I shall ever proffer; and, for the rest, our
God will not desert you, an orphan child, and born of royal blood.'

'Pr'ythee, no more, kind uncle. I have but little heart to mount a
throne, which only ranks me as the first of slaves.'

'Pooh, pooh, you are young. Live we like slaves? Is this hall a servile
chamber? These costly carpets, and these rich divans, in what proud
harem shall we find their match? I feel not like a slave. My coffers are
full of dirhems. Is that slavish? The wealthiest company of the caravan
is ever Bostenay's. Is that to be a slave? Walk the bazaar of Bagdad,
and you will find my name more potent than the Caliph's. Is that a badge
of slavery?'

'Uncle, you toil for others.'

'So do we all, so does the bee, yet he is free and happy.'

'At least he has a sting.'

'Which he can use but once, and when he stings - - '

'He dies, and like a hero. Such a death is sweeter than his honey.'

'Well, well, you are young, you are young. I once, too, had fancies.
Dreams all, dreams all. I willingly would see you happy, child. Come,
let that face brighten; after all, to-day is a great day. If you had
seen what I have seen, David, you too would feel grateful. Come, let
us feast. The Ishmaelite, the accursed child of Hagar, he does confess
to-day that you are a prince; this day also you complete your eighteenth
year. The custom of our people now requires that you should assume the
attributes of manhood. To-day, then, your reign commences; and at
our festival I will present the elders to their prince. For a while,
farewell, my child. Array that face in smiles. I shall most anxiously
await your presence.'

'Farewell, sir.'

He turned his head and watched his uncle as he departed: the bitter
expression of his countenance gradually melted away as Bostenay
disappeared: dejection succeeded to sarcasm; he sighed, he threw himself
upon a couch and buried his face in his hands.

Suddenly he arose and paced the chamber with an irregular and moody
step. He stopped, and leant against a column. He spoke in a tremulous
and smothered voice:

'Oh! my heart is full of care, and my soul is dark with sorrow! What
am I? What is all this? A cloud hangs heavy o'er my life. God of my
fathers, let it burst!

'I know not what I feel, yet what I feel is madness. Thus to be is not
to live, if life be what I sometimes dream, and dare to think it might
be. To breathe, to feed, to sleep, to wake and breathe again, again to
feel existence without hope; if this be life, why then these brooding
thoughts that whisper death were better?

'Away! The demon tempts me. But to what? What nameless deed shall
desecrate this hand? It must not be: the royal blood of twice two
thousand years, it must not die, die like a dream. Oh! my heart is full
of care, and my soul is dark with sorrow!

'Hark! the trumpets that sound our dishonour. Oh, that they but sounded
to battle! Lord of Hosts, let me conquer or die! Let me conquer like
David; or die, Lord, like Saul!

'Why do I live? Ah! could the thought that lurks within my secret heart
but answer, not that trumpet's blast could speak as loud or clear.
The votary of a false idea, I linger in this shadowy life, and feed on
silent images which no eye but mine can gaze upon, till at length they
are invested with all the terrible circumstance of life, and breathe,
and act, and form a stirring world of fate and beauty, time, and death,
and glory. And then, from out this dazzling wilderness of deeds, I
wander forth and wake, and find myself in this dull house of bondage,
even as I do now. Horrible! horrible!

'God, of my fathers! for indeed I dare not style thee God of their
wretched sons; yet, by the memory of Sinai, let me tell thee that some
of the antique blood yet beats within these pulses, and there yet is one
who fain would commune with thee face to face, commune and conquer.

'And if the promise unto which we cling be not a cheat, why, let him
come, come, and come quickly, for thy servant Israel, Lord, is now a
slave so infamous, so woe-begone, and so contemned, that even when our
fathers hung their harps by the sad waters of the Babylonian stream,
why, it was paradise compared with what we suffer.

'Alas! they do not suffer; they endure and do not feel. Or by this time
our shadowy cherubim would guard again the ark. It is the will that is
the father to the deed, and he who broods over some long idea, however
wild, will find his dream was but the prophecy of coming fate.

'And even now a vivid flash darts through the darkness of my mind.
Methinks, methinks - ah! worst of woes to dream of glory in despair. No,
no; I live and die a most ignoble thing; beauty and love, and fame and
mighty deeds, the smile of women and the gaze of men, and the ennobling
consciousness of worth, and all the fiery course of the creative
passions, these are not for me, and I, Alroy, the descendant of sacred
kings, and with a soul that pants for empire, I stand here extending my
vain arm for my lost sceptre, a most dishonoured slave! And do I still
exist? Exist! ay, merrily. Hark! Festivity holds her fair revel in these
light-hearted walls. We are gay to-day; and yet, ere yon proud sun,
whose mighty course was stayed before our swords that now he even does
not deign to shine upon; ere yon proud sun shall, like a hero from a
glorious field, enter the bright pavilion of his rest, there shall a
deed be done.

'My fathers, my heroic fathers, if this feeble arm cannot redeem your
heritage; if the foul boar must still wallow in thy sweet vineyard,
Israel, at least I will not disgrace you. No! let me perish. The house
of David is no more; no more our sacred seed shall lurk and linger, like
a blighted thing, in this degenerate earth. If we cannot flourish, 'why,
then, we will die!'

'Oh! say not so, my brother!'

He turns, he gazes on a face beauteous as a starry night; his heart is
full, his voice is low.

'Ah, Miriam! thou queller of dark spirits! is it thou? Why art thou
here?'

'Why am I here? Are you not here? and need I urge a stronger plea? Oh!
brother dear, I pray you come, and mingle in our festival. Our walls are
hung with flowers you love;[2] I culled them by the fountain's side; the
holy lamps are trimmed and set, and you must raise their earliest flame.
Without the gate, my maidens wait, to offer you a robe of state. Then,
brother dear, I pray you come and mingle in our festival.'

'Why should we feast?'

'Ah! is it not in thy dear name these lamps are lit, these garlands
hung? To-day to us a prince is given, to-day - - '

'A prince without a kingdom.'

'But not without that which makes kingdoms precious, and which full many
a royal heart has sighed for, willing subjects, David.'

'Slaves, Miriam, fellow-slaves.'

'What we are, my brother, our God has willed; and let us bow and
tremble.'

'I will not bow, I cannot tremble.'

'Hush, David, hush! It was this haughty spirit that called the vengeance
of the Lord upon us.'

'It was this haughty spirit that conquered Canaan.'

'Oh, my brother, my dear brother! they told me the dark spirit had
fallen on thee, and I came, and hoped that Miriam might have charmed it.
What we may have been, Alroy, is a bright dream; and what we may be, at
least as bright a hope; and for what we are, thou art my brother. In thy
love I find present felicity, and value more thy chance embraces and thy
scanty smiles than all the vanished splendour of our race, our gorgeous
gardens, and our glittering halls.'

'Who waits without there?'

'Caleb.'

'Caleb!'

'My lord.'

'Go tell my uncle that I will presently join the banquet. Leave me a
moment, Miriam. Nay, dry those tears.'

'Oh, Alroy! they are not tears of sorrow.'

'God be with thee! Thou art the charm and consolation of my life.
Farewell! farewell!

'I do observe the influence of women very potent over me. 'Tis not
of such stuff that they make heroes. I know not love, save that pure
affection which doth subsist between me and this girl, an orphan and my
sister. We are so alike, that when, last Passover, in mimicry she twined
my turban round her head, our uncle called her David.

'The daughters of my tribe, they please me not, though they are passing
fair. Were our sons as brave as they are beautiful, we still might dance
on Sion. Yet have I often thought that, could I pillow this moody brow
upon some snowy bosom that were my own, and dwell in the wilderness,
far from the sight and ken of man, and all the care and toil and
wretchedness that groan and sweat and sigh about me, I might haply lose
this deep sensation of overwhelming woe that broods upon by being. No
matter! Life is but a dream, and mine must be a dull one.'

Without the gates of Hamadan, a short distance from the city, was
an enclosed piece of elevated ground, in the centre of which rose an
ancient sepulchre, the traditionary tomb of Esther and Mordecai.[3] This
solemn and solitary spot was an accustomed haunt of Alroy, and thither,
escaping from the banquet, about an hour before sunset, he this day
repaired.

As he unlocked the massy gate of the burial-place, he heard behind him
the trampling of a horse; and before he had again secured the entrance,
some one shouted to him.

He looked up, and recognised the youthful and voluptuous Alschiroch, the
governor of the city, and brother of the sultan of the Seljuks. He
was attended only by a single running footman, an Arab, a detested
favourite, and notorious minister of his pleasures.

'Dog!' exclaimed the irritated Alschiroch, 'art thou deaf, or obstinate,
or both? Are we to call twice to our slaves? Unlock that gate!'
'Wherefore?' inquired Alroy.

'Wherefore! By the holy Prophet, he bandies questions with us! Unlock
that gate, or thy head shall answer for it!'

'Who art thou,' inquired Alroy, 'whose voice is so loud? Art thou some
holiday Turk, who hath transgressed the orders of thy Prophet, and
drunken aught but water? Go to, or I will summon thee before thy Cadi;'
and, so saying, he turned towards the tomb.

'By the eyes of my mother, the dog jeers us! But that we are already
late, and this horse is like an untamed tiger, I would impale him on the
spot. Speak to the dog, Mustapha! manage him!'

'Worthy Hebrew,' said the silky Mustapha, advancing, 'apparently you are
not aware that this is our Lord Alschiroch. His highness would fain walk
his horse through the burial-ground of thy excellent people, as he is
obliged to repair, on urgent matters, to a holy Santon, who sojourns on


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryBenjamin DisraeliAlroy: The Prince of the Captivity → online text (page 1 of 20)