Chapter 2

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part I

Chapter 2

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 the other side of the hill, and time presses.’

‘If this be our Lord Alschiroch, thou doubtless art his faithfal slave, Mustapha.’

‘I am, indeed, his poor slave. What then, young master?’

‘Deem thyself lucky that the gate is closed. It was but yesterday thou didst insult the sister of a servant of my house. I would not willingly sully my hands with such miserable blood as thine, but away, wretch, away!’

‘Holy Prophet! who is this dog?’ exclaimed the astonished governor.

‘’Tis the young Alroy,’ whispered Mustapha, who had not at first recognised him; ‘he they call their Prince; a most headstrong youth. My lord, we had better proceed.’

‘The young Alroy! I mark him. They must have a prince too! The young Alroy! Well, let us away, and, dog!’ shouted Alschiroch, rising in his stirrups, and shaking his hand with a threatening air, ‘dog! remember thy tribute!’

Alroy rushed to the gate, but the massy lock was slow to open; and ere he could succeed, the fiery steed had borne Alschiroch beyond pursuit.

An expression of baffled rage remained for a moment on his countenance; for a moment he remained with his eager eye fixed on the route of his vanished enemy, and then he walked slowly towards the tomb; but his excited temper was now little in unison with the still reverie in which he had repaired to the sepulchre to indulge. He was restless and disquieted, and at length he wandered into the woods, which rose on the summit of the burial-place.

He found himself upon a brow created with young pine trees, in the midst of which rose a mighty cedar. He threw himself beneath its thick and shadowy branches, and looked upon a valley small and green; in the midst of which was a marble fountain, the richly-carved cupola,4 supported by twisted columns, and banded by a broad inscription in Hebrew characters. The bases of the white pillars were covered with wild flowers, or hidden by beds of variegated gourds. The transparent sunset flung over the whole scene a soft but brilliant light.

The tranquil hour, the beauteous scene, the sweetness and the stillness blending their odour and serenity, the gentle breeze that softly rose, and summoned forth the languid birds to cool their plumage in the twilight air, and wave their radiant wings in skies as bright—Ah! what stern spirit will not yield to the soft genius of subduing Eve?

And Alroy gazed upon the silent loneliness of earth and a tear stole down his haughty cheek.

‘’Tis singular! but when I am thus alone at this still hour, I ever fancy I gaze upon the Land of Promise. And often, in my dreams, some sunny spot, the bright memorial of a roving hour, will rise upon my sight, and, when I wake, I feel as if I had been in Canaan. Why am I not? The caravan that bears my uncle’s goods across the Desert would bear me too. But I rest here, my miserable life running to seed in the dull misery of this wretched city, and do nothing. Why! the old captivity was empire to our inglorious . We have no Esther now to share their thrones, no politic Mordecai, no purple-vested Daniel. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! I do believe one sight of thee would nerve me to the sticking-point. And yet to gaze upon thy fallen state, my uncle tells me that of the Temple not a stone remains. ’Tis horrible. Is there no hope?’

‘THE BRICKS ARE FALLEN, BUT WE WILL REBUILD WITH MARBLE; THE SYCAMORES ARE CUT DOWN, BUT WE WILL REPLACE THEM WITH CEDARS.’*

‘The chorus of our maidens, as they pay their evening visit to the fountain’s side.5 The burden is prophetic.

‘Hark again! How beautifully, upon the soft and flowing air, their sweet and mingled voices blend and float!’

‘YET AGAIN I WILL BUILD THEE, AND THOU SHALT BE BUILT, O VIRGIN OF ISRAEL! YET AGAIN SHALT THOU DECK THYSELF WITH THY TABRETS, AND GO FORTH IN THE DANCE OF THOSE THAT MAKE MERRY. YET AGAIN SHALT THOU PLANT VINEYARDS ON THE MOUNTAINS OF SAMARIA.’*

‘See! their white forms break through the sparkling foliage of the sunny shrubs as they descend, with measured step, that mild declivity. A fair society in bright procession: each one clothed in solemn drapery, veiling her shadowy face with modest hand, and bearing on her graceful head a graceful vase. Their leader is my sister.

‘And now they reach the fountain’s side, and dip their vases in the water, pure and beauteous as themselves. Some repose beneath the marble pillars; some, seated ’mid the flowers, gather sweets, and twine them into garlands; and that wild girl, now that the order is broke, touches with light fingers her moist vase, and showers startling drops of glittering light on her serener sisters. Hark! again they sing.’

‘O VINE OF SIBMAH! UPON THY SUMMER FRUITS, AND UPON THY VINTAGE, A SPOILER HATH FALLEN!’*

A scream, a shriek, a long wild shriek, confusion, flight, despair! Behold! from out the woods a turbaned man rushes, and seizes the leader of the chorus. Her companions fly on all sides, Miriam alone is left in the arms of Alschiroch.

The water column wildly rising from the breast of summer ocean, in some warm tropic clime, when the sudden clouds too well discover that the holiday of heaven is over, and the shrieking sea-birds tell a time of fierce commotion, the column rising from the sea, it was not so wild as he, the young Alroy.

Pallid and mad, he swift upsprang, and he tore up a tree by its lusty roots, and down the declivity, dashing with rapid leaps, panting and wild, he struck the ravisher on the temple with the mighty pine. Alschiroch fell lifeless on the sod, and Miriam fainting into her brother’s arms.

And there he stood, fixed and immovable, gazing upon his sister’s deathly face, and himself exhausted by passion and his exploit, supporting her cherished but senseless body.

One of the fugitive maidens appeared reconnoitring in the distance. When she observed her mistress in the arms of one of her own people, her courage revived, and, desirous of rallying her scattered companions, she raised her voice, and sang:

‘HASTE, DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM; 0! HASTE, FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGED US, AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED.’

And soon the verse was responded to from various quarters of the woods, and soon the virgins re-assembled, singing,

‘WE COME, 0 DAUGHTER OF JERUSALEM! WE COME; FOR THE LORD HAS AVENGED US, AND THE SPOILER IS SPOILED.’

They gathered round their mistress, and one loosened her veil, and another brought water from the fountain, and sprinkled her reviving countenance. And Miriam opened her eyes, and said, My brother!’ And he answered, ‘I am here.’* And she replied in a low voice, ‘Fly, David, fly; for the man you have stricken is a prince among the people.’

‘He will be merciful, my sister; and, doubtless, since he first erred, by this time he has forgotten my offence.’

‘Justice and mercy! Oh, my brother, what can these foul tyrants know of either! Already he has perhaps doomed you to some refined and procrastinated torture, already—Ah! what unutterable woe is mine! fly, my brother, fly!’

‘FLY, FLY, FLY!’

‘There is no fear, my Miriam; would all his accursed race could trouble us as little as their sometime ruler. See, he sleeps soundly. But his carcass shall not defile our fresh fountain, and our fragrant flowers. I’ll stow it in the woods, and stroll here at night to listen to the jackals at their banquet.’

‘You speak wildly, David. What! No! It is impossible! He is not dead! You have not slain him! He sleeps, he is afraid. He mimics death, that we may leave his side, and he may rise again in safety. Girls, look to him. David, you do not answer. Brother, dear brother, surely he has swooned! I thought he had fled. Bear water, maidens, to that terrible man. I dare not look upon him.’

‘Away! I’ll look on him, and I’ll triumph. Dead! Alschiroch dead! Why, but a moment since, this clotted carcass was a prince, my tyrant! So we can rid ourselves of them, eh? If the prince fall, why not the people? Dead, absolutely dead, and I his slayer! Hah! at length I am a man. This, this indeed is life. Let me live slaying!’

‘Woe! woe! our house is fallen! The wildness of his gestures frightens me. David, David, I pray thee cease. He hears me not; my voice, perchance, is thin. I am very faint. Maidens, kneel to your Prince, and soothe the madness of his passion.’

‘SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE IS THE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US.’

‘Why, this is my Goliath!* a pebble or a stick, it is the same. The Lord of Hosts is with us. Rightly am I called David.’

‘DELIVER US FROM OUR ENEMIES, 0 LORD! FROM THOSE WHO RISE UP AGAINST US, AND THOSE WHO LIE IN WAIT FOR US.’

‘Were but this blow multiplied, were but the servants of my uncle’s house to do the same, why we should see again the days of Elah!* The Philistine, the foul, lascivious, damnable Philistine! and he must touch my sister! Oh! that all his tribe were here, all, all! I'd tie such firebrands to their foxes’ tails, the blaze should light to freedom!’

While he spoke, a maiden, who had not yet rejoined the company, came running towards them swiftly with an agitated countenance.

‘Fly,’ she exclaimed, ‘they come, they come!’

Miriam was reclining in an attendant’s arms, feeble and faint, but the moment her quick ear caught these words she sprang up, and seized her brother’s arm.

‘Alroy! David! brother, dear brother! I beseech thee, listen, I am thy sister, thy Miriam; they come, they come, the hard-hearted, wicked men, they come, to kill, perhaps to torture thee, my tender brother. Rouse thyself, David; rouse thyself from this wild, fierce dream: save thyself, fly!’

‘Ah! is it thou, Miriam? Thou seest he sleepeth soundly. I was dreaming of noble purposes and mighty hopes. ’Tis over now. I am myself again. What wouldst thou?’

‘They come, the fierce retainers of this fallen man; they come, to seize thee. Fly, David!’

‘And leave thee?’

‘I and my maidens, we have yet time to escape by the private way we entered, our uncle’s garden. When in his house, we are for a moment safe, as safe as our poor race can ever be. Bostenay is so rich, so wise, so prudent, so learned in man’s ways, and knows so well the character and spirit of these men, all will go right; I fear nothing. But thou, if thou art here, or to be found, thy blood alone will satiate them. If they be persuaded that thou hast escaped, as I yet pray thou mayest, their late master here, whom they could scarcely love, why, give me thy arm an instant, sweet Beruna.* So, that's well. I was saying, if well bribed, and he may have all my jewels, why, very soon, he will be as little in their memories as he is now in life. I can scarcely speak; I feel my words wander, or seem to wander; I could swoon, but will not; nay! do not fear. I will reach home. These maidens are my charge. ’Tis in these crises we should show the worth of royal blood. I’ll see them safe, or die with them.’

‘O! my sister, methinks I never knew I was a brother until this hour. My precious Miriam, what is life? what is revenge, or even fame and freedom without thee? I'll stay.’

‘SWEET IS THE VOICE OF A SISTER IN THE SEASON OF SORROW, AND WISE IS THE COUNSEL OF THOSE WHO LOVE US.’

‘Fly, David, fly!’

‘Fly! whither and how?’

The neigh of a horse sounded from the thicket.

‘Ah! they come!’ exclaimed the distracted Miriam.

‘ALL THIS HAS COME UPON US, O LORD! YET HAVE WE NOT FORGOTTEN THEE, NEITHER HAVE WE DEALT FALSELY IN THY COVENANT.’*

‘Hark! again it neighs! It is a horse that calleth to its rider. I see it. Courage, Miriam! it is no enemy, but a very present friend in time of trouble. It is Alschiroch’s courser. He passed me on it by the tomb ere sunset. I marked it well, a very princely steed.’

‘BEHOLD, BEHOLD, A RAM IS CAUGHT IN THE THICKET BY HIS HORNS.’*

‘Our God hath not forgotten us! Quick, maidens, bring forth the goodly steed. What! do you tremble? I'll be his groom.’

‘Nay! Miriam, beware, beware. It is an untamed beast, wild as the whirlwind. Let me deal with him.’

He ran after her, dashed into the thicket, and brought forth the horse.

Short time I ween that stately steed had parted from his desert home; his haughty crest, his eye of fire, the glory of his snorting nostril, betokened well his conscious pride, and pure nobility of race. His colour was like the sable night shining with a thousand stars, and he pawed the ground with his delicate hoof, like an eagle flapping its wing.

Alroy vaulted on his back, and reined him with a master’s hand.

‘Hah!’ he exclaimed, ‘I feel more like a hero than a fugitive. Farewell, my sister; farewell, ye gentle maidens; fare ye well, and cherish my precious Miriam. One embrace, sweet sister,’ and he bent down and whispered, ‘Tell the good Bostenay not to spare his gold, for I have a deep persuasion that, ere a year shall roll its heavy course, I shall return, and make our masters here pay for this hurried ride and bitter parting. Now for the desert!’

Published @ RC

January 2005

City

Country