THE deserted city of the wilderness presented a very different
appearance from that which met the astonished gaze of Alroy, when
he first beheld its noble turrets, and wandered in its silent streets
Without the gates was pitched a numerous camp of those low black
tents common among the Kourds and Turkmans;*
the principal street was full of busy groups engaged in all the
preparations of warfare, and all the bustling expedients of an irregular
and adventurous life; steeds were stalled in ruined chambers, and
tall camels raised their still visages among the clustering columns,
or crouched in kneeling tranquillity amid fallen statues and prostrate
Two months had scarcely elapsed since Alroy and Jabaster had sought
Scherirah in his haunt, and announced to him their sacred mission.
The callous heart of him, whose ‘mother was a Jewess,’ had yielded
to their inspired annunciations. He embraced their cause with all
the fervour of conversion, and his motley band were not long sceptical
of a creed which, while it assuredly offered danger and adventure,
held out the prospects of wealth and even empire. From the city
of the wilderness the new Messiah sent forth his messengers to the
neighbouring cities, to announce his advent to his brethren in captivity.
The Hebrews, a proud and stiff-necked race, ever prone to rebellion,
received the announcement of their favourite prince with transport.
The descendant of David, and the slayer of Alschiroch, had double
claims upon their confidence and allegiance, and the flower of the
Hebrew youth in the neighbouring cities of the Caliphate repaired
in crowds to pay their homage to the recovered sceptre of Solomon.
The affair was at first treated by the government with contempt,
and the sultan of the Seljuks contented himself with setting a price
upon the head of the murderer of his brother; but, when several
cities had been placed under contribution, and more than one Moslem
caravan stopped, and plundered in the name of the God of Abraham,
of Isaac, and of Jacob, orders were despatched from Bagdad to the
new governor of Hamadan, Hassan Subah, to suppress the robbers,
or the rebels, and to send David Alroy dead or alive to the capital.
The Hebrew malcontents were well apprised by their less adventurous
but still sympathising brethren of everything that took place at
the head-quarters of the enemy. Spies arrived on the same day at
the city of the wilderness, who informed Alroy that his uncle was
thrown into a dungeon at Hamadan, and that a body of chosen troops
were about to escort a royal harem from Bagdad into Persia.
Alroy attacked the escort in person, utterly discomfited them,
and captured their charge. It proved to be the harem of the Governor
of Hamadan, and if for a moment the too sanguine fancy of the captor
experienced a passing pang of disappointment, the prize at least
obtained, as we have seen, the freedom and security of his dear
though distant friends. This exploit precipitated the expedition
which was preparing at Hamadan for his destruction. The enraged
Hassan Subah started from his divan, seized his scimetar, and without
waiting for the auxiliaries he had summoned from the neighbouring
chieftains, called to horse, and at the head of two thousand of
the splendid Seljuk cavalry, hurried to vindicate his love and satiate
Within the amphitheatre which he first entered as a prisoner, Alroy
sat in council. On his right was Jabaster, Scherirah on his left.
A youth, little his senior, but tall as a palm-tree, and strong
as a young lion, was the fourth captain. In the distance, some standing,
some reclining, were about fifty men completely armed.
‘Are the people numbered, Abner?’*
inquired Alroy of the youth.
‘Even so; three hundred effective horsemen, and two thousand footmen;
but the footmen lack arms.’
‘The Lord will send them in good time,’ said Jabaster; ‘meanwhile
let them continue to make javelins.’
‘Trust in the Lord,’ murmured Scherirah, bending his head, with
his eyes fixed on the ground.
A loud shout was heard throughout the city. Alroy started from
his carpet. The messenger had returned. Pale and haggard, covered
with sweat and sand, the faithful envoy was borne into the amphitheatre
almost upon the shoulders of the people. In vain the guard endeavoured
to stem the passage of the multitude. They clambered up the tiers
of arches, they filled the void and crumbling seats of the antique
circus, they supported themselves upon each other’s shoulders, they
clung to the capitals of the lofty columns. The whole multitude
had assembled to hear the intelligence; the scene recalled the ancient
purpose of the building, and Alroy and his fellow-warriors seemed
like the gladiators of some old spectacle.
‘Speak,’ said Alroy, ‘speak the worst. No news can be bitter to
those whom the Lord will avenge.’
‘Ruler of Israel! thus saith Hassan Subah,’ answered the messenger:
‘My harem shall owe their freedom to nothing but my sword. I treat
not with rebels, but I war not with age or woman; and between Bostenay
and his household on one side, and the prisoners of thy master on
the other, let there be peace. Go, tell Alroy I will seal it in
his best blood. And lo! thy uncle and thy sister are again in their
Alroy placed his hand for a moment to his eyes, and then instantly
resuming his self-possession, he enquired as to the movements of
‘I have crossed the desert on a swift dromedary54
lent to me by Shelomi*
of the Gate, whose heart is with our cause. I have not tarried,
neither have I slept. Ere to-morrow’s sunset the Philistines*
will be here, led by Hassan Subah himself. The Lord of Hosts be
with us! Since we conquered Canaan,*
Israel hath not struggled with such a power!’
A murmur ran through the assembly. Men exchanged enquiring glances,
and involuntarily pressed each other’s arms.
‘The trial has come,’ said a middle-aged Hebrew, who had fought
twenty years ago with Jabaster.
‘Let me die for the Ark!’ said a young enthusiast of the band of
‘I thought we should get into a scrape,’ whispered Kisloch the
Kourd to Calidas the Indian. ‘What could have ever induced us to
give up robbing in a quiet manner?’
‘And turn Jews!’ said the Guebre, with a sneer.
‘Look at Scherirah,’ said the Negro, grinning. ‘If he is not kissing
the sceptre of Solomon!’
‘I wish to heaven he had only hung Alroy the first time he met
him,’ said Calidas.
‘Sons of the Covenant!’ exclaimed Alroy, ‘the Lord hath delivered
them into our hands. To-morrow eve we march to Hamadan!’
A cheer followed this exclamation.
‘It is written,’ said Jabaster, opening a volume, ‘Lo! I will defend
this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s
‘And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went
out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred four score
and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold!
they were all dead corpses.’
‘Now, as I was gazing upon the stars this morn, and reading the
celestial alphabet known to the true Cabalist,55
behold! the star of the house of David and seven other stars moved,
and met together, and formed into a circle. And the word they formed
was a mystery to me; but lo! I have opened the book, and each star
is the initial letter of each line of the Targum*
that I have now read to you. Therefore the fate of Sennacherib*
is the fate of Hussan Subah!’
‘TRUST IN HIM AT ALL TIMES, YE PEOPLE; POUR OUT YOUR HEART BEFORE
HIM: GOD IS A REFUGE FOR US. SELAH!’
At this moment a female form appeared on the very top of the amphitheatre,
upon the slight remains of the uppermost tier of which a solitary
arch alone was left. The chorus instantly died away, every tongue
was silent, every eye fixed. Hushed, mute, and immovable, even Kisloch
and his companions were appalled as they gazed upon Esther the Prophetess.
Her eminent position, her imposing action, the flashing of her
immense eyes, her beautiful but awful countenance, her black hair,
that hung almost to her knees, and the white light of the moon,
just rising over the opposite side of the amphitheatre, and which
threw a silvery flash upon her form, and seemed to invest her with
some miraculous emanation, while all beneath her was in deep gloom,
these circumstances combined to render her an object of universal
interest and attention, while in a powerful but high voice she thus
‘They come, they come! But will they go? Lo! hear ye this, 0 house
of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth
out of the waters of Judah! I hear their drum in the desert, and
the voice of their trumpets is like the wind of eve, but a decree
hath gone forth, and it says, that a mortal shall be more precious
than fine gold, yea, a man than the rich ore of Ophir.*
‘They come, they come! But will they go? I see the flash of their
scimetars, I mark the prancing of their cruel steeds; but a decree
hath gone forth, and it says, a gleaning shall be left among them,
as in the shaking of the olive-tree; two or three berries on the
top of the uppermost bough; four or five on the straggling branches.
‘They come, they come! But will they go? Lo! a decree hath gone
forth, and it says, Hamadan shall be to thee for a spoil, and desolation
shall fall upon Babylon. And there shall the wild beasts of the
desert lodge, and howling monsters shall fill their houses, and
there shall the daughters of the ostrich dwell, and there shall
the screech-owl pitch her tent, and there shall the night-raven
lay her eggs, and there shall the satyrs hold their revels. And
wolves shall howl to one another in their palaces, and dragons in
their voluptuous pavilions. Her time is near at hand; her days shall
not be prolonged; the reed and the lotus shall wither in her rivers;
and the meadows by her canals shall be as the sands of the desert.
For, is it a light thing that the Lord should send his servant to
raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel?
Sing, 0 heavens, and be joyful, 0 earth, and break forth into singing,
0 mountains, for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have
mercy upon his afflicted!’
She ceased; she descended the precipitous side of the amphitheatre
with rapid steps, vaulting from tier to tier, and bounding with
wonderful agility from one mass of ruin to another. At length she
reached the level; and then foaming and panting, she rushed to Alroy,
threw herself upon the ground, embraced his feet, and wiped off
the dust from his sandals with her hair.
The assembly broke into long and loud acclamations of supernatural
confidence and sanguine enthusiasm. They beheld their Messiah wave
his miraculous sceptre. They thought of Hassan Subah and his Seljuks
only as of victims, and of to-morrow only as of a day which was
to commence a new era of triumph, freedom, and empire!