Chapter 6

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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part VIII

Chapter 6

‘I MUST see the king!’

‘Holy priest, his highness has retired. It is impossible.’

‘I must see the king. Worthy Pharez, I take all peril on myself.’

‘Indeed his highness’ orders are imperative. You cannot see him.’

‘Knowest thou who I am?’

‘One whom all pious Hebrews reverence.’

‘I say I must see the king.’

‘Indeed, indeed, holy Jabaster, it cannot be.’

‘Shall Israel perish for a menial’s place? Go to; I will see him.’

‘Nay! if you will, I’ll struggle for my duty.’

‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed. Dog, you shall suffer for this!’

So saying, Jabaster threw aside Pharez, and, with the attendant clinging to his robes, rushed into the royal chamber.

‘What is all this?’ exclaimed Alroy, starting from the divan.

‘Jabaster! Pharez, withdraw! How now, is Bagdad in insurrection?’

‘Worse, much worse, Israel soon will be.’

‘Ay!’

‘My fatal brother has told me all, nor would I sleep, until I lifted up my voice to save thee.’

‘Am I in danger?’

‘In the wilderness, when the broad desert quivered beneath thy trembling feet, and the dark heavens poured down their burning torrents, thou wert less so. In that hour of death, One guarded thee, who never forgets His fond and faithful offspring, and now, when He has brought thee out of the house of bondage; now, when thy fortunes, like a noble cedar, swell in the air and shadow all the land; thou, the very leader of His people, His chosen one, for whom He hath worked such marvels, thy heart is turned from thy fathers’ God, and hankers after strange abominations.’

Through the broad arch that led into the gardens of the serail, the moonlight fell upon the tall figure and the upraised arm of the priest; Alroy stood with folded arms at some distance, watching Jabaster as he spoke, with a calm but searching glance. Suddenly he advanced with a quick step, and, placing his hand upon Jabaster’s arm, said, in a low, enquiring tone, ’You are speaking of this marriage?’

‘Of that which ruined Solomon.’

‘Listen to me, Jabaster,’ said Alroy, interrupting him, in a calm but peremptory tone. ‘I cannot forget that I am speaking to my master, as well as to my friend. The Lord, who knoweth all things, hath deemed me worthy of His mission. My fitness for this high and holy office was not admitted without proof. A lineage, which none else could offer, mystic studies shared by few, a mind that dared encounter all things, and a frame that could endure most, these were my claims. But no more of this. I have passed the great ordeal; the Lord of Hosts hath found me not unworthy of His charge; I have established His ancient people; His altars blaze with sacrifices; His priests are honoured, bear witness thou, Jabaster, His omnipotent unity is declared. What wouldst thou more?’

‘All!’

‘Then Moses knew you well. It is a stiff-necked people.’

‘Sire, bear with me. If I speak in heat, I speak in zeal. You ask me what I wish: my answer is, a national existence, which we have not. You ask me what I wish: my answer is, the Land of Promise. You ask me what I wish: my answer is, Jerusalem. You ask me what I wish: my answer is, the Temple, all we have forfeited, all we have yearned after, all for which we have fought, our beauteous country, our holy creed, our simple manners, and our ancient customs.’

‘Manners change with time and circumstances; customs may be observed everywhere. The ephod on thy breast proves our faith; and, for a country, is the Tigris less than Siloah, or the Euphrates inferior to the Jordan?’

‘Alas! alas! there was a glorious prime when Israel stood aloof from other nations, a fair and holy thing that God hath hallowed. We were then a chosen family, a most peculiar people, set apart for God’s entire enjoyment. All about us was solemn, deep, and holy. We shunned the stranger as an unclean thing that must defile our solitary sanctity, and, keeping to ourselves and to our God, our lives flowed on in one great solemn tide of deep religion, making the meanest of our multitude feel greater than the kings of other lands. It was a glorious time: I thought it had returned; but I awake from this, as other dreams.’

‘We must leave off dreaming, good Jabaster, we must act. Were I, by any chance, to fall into one of those reveries, with which I have often lost the golden hours at Hamadan, or in our old cave, I should hear, some fine morning, his sultanship of Roum rattling at my gates.’ Alroy smiled as he spoke; he would willingly have introduced a lighter tone into the dialogue, but the solemn countenance of the priest was not sympathetic with his levity.

‘My heart is full, and yet I cannot speak: the memory of the past overpowers my thought. I had vainly deemed that my voice, inspired by the soul of truth, might yet preserve him; and now I stand here in his presence, silent and trembling, like a guilty thing. O, my prince! my pupil!’ said the priest, advancing, falling on his knee, and seizing the robe of Alroy, ‘by thy sacred lineage; by the sweet memory of thy ardent youth, and our united studies; by all thy zealous thoughts, and solemn musings, and glorious aspirations after fame; by all thy sufferings, and by all thy triumphs, and chiefly by the name of that great God, who hath elected thee his favoured child; by all the marvels of thy mighty mission, I do adjure thee! Arise, Alroy, arise and rouse thyself. The lure that snared thy fathers may trap thee, this Delilah may shear thy mystic locks.* Spirits like thee act not by halves. Once fall out from the straight course before thee, and, though thou deemest ’tis but to saunter mid the summer trees, soon thou wilt find thyself in the dark depths of some infernal forest, where none may rescue thee!’

‘What if I do inherit the eager blood of my great ancestor, at least I hold his sceptre. Shall aught of earthly power prevail against the supernatural sway of Heaven and Hades?’

‘Sire, sire, the legend that came from Sinai is full of high instruction. But shape thy conduct by its oracles, and all were well. It says our people can be established only by him who rules them with the rod of Solomon. Sire, when the Lord offered his pleasure to that mighty king, thou knowest his deep discretion. Riches and length of days, empire and vengeance, these were not the choice of one to whom all accidents were proffered. The legend bears an inward spirit, as well as an outward meaning. The capture of the prize was a wise test of thy imperial fitness. Thou hast his sceptre, but, without his wisdom, ’tis but a staff of cedar.’

‘Hah! Art thou there? I am glad to see Jabaster politic. Hear me, my friend. What my feelings be unto this royal lady, but little matters. Let them pass, and let us view this question by the light wherein you have placed it, the flame of policy and not of passion. I am no traitor to the God of Israel, in whose name I have conquered, and in whose name I shall rule; but thou art a learned doctor, thou canst inform us. I have heard no mandate to yield my glorious empire for my meanest province. I am Lord of Asia, so would I have my long posterity. Our people are but a remnant, a feeble fraction of the teeming millions that own my sway. What I hold I can defend; but my children may not inherit the spirit of their sire. The Moslemin will recognise their rule with readier hearts, when they remember that a daughter of their caliphs gave them life. You see I too am politic, my good Jabaster!’

‘The policy of the son of Kareah67: ’twas fatal. He preferred Egypt to Judah, and he suffered. Sire, the Lord hath blessed Judah: it is His land. He would have it filled by His peculiar people, so that His worship might ever flourish. For this He has, by many curious rites and customs, marked us out from all other nations, so that we cannot, at the same time, mingle with them and yet be true to Him. We must exist alone. To preserve that loneliness, is the great end and essence of our law. What have we to do with Bagdad, or its people, where every instant we must witness some violation of our statutes? Can we pray with them? Can we eat with them? Alike, in the highest duties, and the lowest occupations, of existence, we cannot mingle. From the altar of our God to our domestic boards, we are alike separated from them. Sire, you may be King of Bagdad, but you cannot, at the same time, be a Jew.’

‘I am what I am.* I worship the Lord of Hosts. Perhaps, in His mercy, He will accept the days of Nishabur and the Tigris, as a compensation for some slight relaxation in the ritual of the baker and the bath.’*

‘And mark my words: it was by the ritual of the baker and the bath that Alroy rose, and without it he will fall. The genius of the people, which he shared, raised him; and that genius has been formed by the law of Moses. Based on that law, he might indeed have handed down an empire to his long posterity; and now, though the tree of his fortunes seems springing up by the water-side, fed by a thousand springs, and its branches covered with dew, there is a gangrene in the sap, and to-morrow he may shrink like a shrivelled gourd. Alas! alas! for Israel! We have long fed on mallows; but to lose the vintage in the very day of fruition, ’tis very bitter. Ah! when I raised thy exhausted form in the cavern of Genthesma, and the star of David beamed brightly in the glowing heavens upon thy high fulfilment, who could have dreamed of a night like this? Farewell, sire.’

‘Stop, Jabaster! earliest, dearest friend, pr’ythee, pr’ythee stop!’

The priest slowly turned, the prince hesitated.

‘Part not in anger, good Jabaster.’

‘In sorrow, sire, only in sorrow; but deep and terrible.’

‘Israel is Lord of Asia, my Jabaster. Why should we fear?’

‘Solomon built Tadmor in the wilderness,* and his fleet brought gold from Ophir;* and yet Alroy was born a slave.’

‘But did not die one. The sultans of the world have fallen before me. I have no fear. Nay, do not go. At least you will give some credence to the stars, my learned Cabalist. See, my planet shines as brightly as my fortunes.’ Alroy withdrew the curtain, and with Jabaster stepped out upon the terrace. A beautiful star glittered on high. As they gazed, its colour changed, and a blood-red meteor burst from its circle, and fell into space. The conqueror and the priest looked at each other at the same time. Their countenances were pale, enquiring, and agitated.

‘Sire,’ said Jabaster, ‘march to Judah.’

‘It portends war,’ replied Alroy, endeavouring to recover himself. ‘Perchance some troubles in Persia.’

‘Troubles at home, no other. The danger is nigh. Look to thyself.’

A wild scream was heard in the gardens. It sounded thrice.

‘What is this?’ exclaimed Alroy, really agitated. ‘Rouse the guard, Jabaster, search the gardens.’

‘’Tis useless and may do harm. It was a spirit that shrieked.’

‘What said it?’

‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN!’*

Published @ RC

January 2005

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