Chapter 2

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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part VI

Chapter 2

A FEW months back, and such a spectacle would have called forth all the latent passion of Alroy; but time and suffering, and sharp experience, had already somewhat curbed the fiery spirit of the Hebrew Prince. He gazed upon Jerusalem, he beheld the City of David garrisoned by the puissant warriors of Christendom, and threatened by the innumerable armies of the Crescent. The two great divisions of the world seemed contending for a prize, which he, a lonely wanderer, had crossed the desert to rescue. If his faith restrained him from doubting the possibility of his enterprise, he was at least deeply conscious that the world was a very different existence from what he had fancied amid the gardens of Hamadan and the rocks of Caucasus, and that if his purpose could be accomplished, it could only be effected by one means. Calm, perhaps somewhat depressed, but full of pious humiliation, and not deserted by holy hope, he descended into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and so, slaking his thirst at Siloah, and mounting the opposite height, David Alroy entered Jerusalem by the gate of Sion.36

He had been instructed that the quarter allotted to his people was near this entrance. He inquired the direction of the sentinel, who did not condescend to answer him. An old man, in shabby robes, who was passing, beckoned to him.

‘What want you, friend?’ inquired Alroy.

‘You were asking for the quarter of our people. You must be a stranger, indeed, in Jerusalem, to suppose that a Frank* would speak to a Jew. You were lucky to get neither kicked nor cursed.’

‘Kicked and cursed! Why, these dogs—’

‘Hush! hush! for the love of God,’ said his new companion, much alarmed. ‘Have you lent money to their captain that you speak thus? In Jerusalem our people speak only in a whisper.’

‘No matter: the cure is not by words. Where is our quarter.’

‘Was the like ever seen! Why he speaks as if he were a Frank. I save him from having his head broken by a gauntlet, and—’

‘My friend, I am tired. Our quarter?’

‘Whom may you want?’

‘The Chief Rabbi.’

‘You bear letters to him?’

‘What is that to you?’

‘Hush! hush! You do not know what Jerusalem is, young man. You must not think of going on in this way. Where do you come from?’

‘Bagdad.’

‘Bagdad! Jerusalem is not Bagdad. A Turk is a brute, but a Christian is a demon.’

‘But our quarter, our quarter?’

‘Hush! you want the Chief Rabbi?’

‘Ay! ay!’

‘Rabbi Zimri?’*

‘It may be so. I neither know nor care.’

‘Neither knows nor cares! This will never do: you must not go on in this way at Jerusalem. You must not think of it.’

‘Fellow, I see thou art a miserable prattler. Show me our quarter, and I will pay thee well, or be off.’

‘Be off! Art then a Hebrew? to say “be off” to any one. You come from Bagdad! I tell you what, go back to Bagdad. You will never do for Jerusalem.’

‘Your grizzled beard protects you. Old fool, I am a pilgrim just arrived, wearied beyond expression, and you keep me here listening to your flat talk!’

‘Flat talk! Why! what would you?’

‘Lead me to the Rabbi Zimri, if that be his name.’

‘If that be his name! Why, every one knows Rabbi Zimri, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, the successor of Aaron. We have our temple yet, say what they like. A very learned doctor is Rabbi Zimri.’

‘Wretched driveller. I am ashamed to lose my patience with such a dotard.’

‘Driveller! dotard! Why, who are you?’

‘One you cannot comprehend. Without another word lead me to your chief.’

‘Chief! you have not far to go. I know no one of the nation who holds his head higher than I do here, and they call me Zimri.’

‘What, the Chief Rabbi, that very learned doctor?’

‘No less; I thought you had heard of him.’

‘Let us forget the past, good Zimri. When great men play the incognito, they must sometimes hear rough phrases. It is the Caliph’s lot as well as yours. I am glad to make the acquaintance of so great a doctor. Though young, and roughly habited, I have seen the world a little, and may offer next Sabbath in the synagogue more dirhems than you would perhaps suppose.* Good and learned Zimri, I would be your guest.’

‘A very worshipful young man! And he speaks low and soft now! But it was lucky I was at hand. Good, what’s your name?’

‘David.’

‘A very honest name, good David. It was lucky I was at hand when you spoke to the sentinel, though. A Jew speak to a Frank, and a sentinel too! Hah! hah! hah! that is good. How Rabbi Maimon* will laugh! Faith it was very lucky, now, was not it?’

‘Indeed, most fortunate.’

‘Well, that is candid! Here! this way. ’Tis not far. We number few, sir, of our brethren here, but a better time will come, a better time will come.’

‘I think so. This is your door?’

‘An humble one. Jerusalem is not Bagdad, but you are welcome.’

Published @ RC

January 2005

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