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בס"ד

The Martyrs Of Worms.

(Continued from issue 5)

A German Tale

By Celia Moss.

Chapter IV.

Aaron Hallevy returned to his father’s dwelling, but terror and suffering had produced a violent fever. Moses, the elder of the strangers, who were cousins, was a skilful physician, having studied under some of the most distinguished men of the East, and he attended young Hallevy with unwearied care. In this task he was ably assisted by Zillah, who, like most of her countrywomen at that time, possessed some knowledge of medicine, and thus they were thrown much into each other’s society. Esther and her mother were busied in preparations for the nuptials of the former, which were to be celebrated as soon as Aaron was sufficiently recovered to take part in the festival.

Enthusiastic on one subject only, that of religion, Zillah listened with delight to the eloquent discourse of the young physician, on whom, as well as his cousin Joshua, who rarely quitted his side, the very spirit of the Maccabees seemed to have descended. Brought up, as Moses told Zillah, by an aged relative, the grandparent to both, he and his cousin had become inheritors of great wealth, and had thus escaped the contamination of the evil passions aroused in their co-religionists by the incessant demand on them for the produce of their bitter toil. They had not learned to become usurers, to lie and cheat in self-defence, through lending to men who considered themselves bound by neither honour nor honesty to repay them. But they had visited many lands with their departed relative, who ended his life at last in the Holy City, then a scene of conflict between Christian and Mussulmans, and not a foot of which was possessed by the rightful owners, whose claims both laughed to scorn. North, south, east, and west had they wandered; but it everywhere they had seen wrong and oppression the heritage of their people. Thus the minds of the cousins became saddened, while they clung with yet deeper love to the religion for which their people suffered, and of the truth of which they were living witnesses.

The family of Hallevy was one evening assembled together when the conversation turned upon the sufferings of the Israelites. Hallevy had been reading some of the touching records of Israel’s martyrs. “Are men like these yet to be found amongst us?” asked Zillah, when Hallevy, overcome by emotion, laid down the book.

“Ay, beautiful Zillah,” replied Moses, in answer to her inquiry; “and here is one,” he continued, laying his hand on his heart, “who is at any moment ready to lay down his life for his people and his faith.”

“And I also,” said Joshua, catching his cousin’s fire, “am willing to follow thee to death in such a cause.”

“I trust,” said Hallevy, with a sigh, “that ye may both live to bless our people by the example of virtuous lives. I have a son,” he continued, turning to Moses, “of your age. How happy will he make his father if he resemble thee.”

“Is he not with thee?” asked the young man in a voice slightly trembling, as he spoke.

“Alas, no!” replied Hallevy, “he dwells with his grandsire at Jerusalem. As ye say ye have been in the Holy Land of late,” he continued, “perhaps ye may know Joseph David.”

“I knew him,” answered the young man, sorrowfully, “peace to his soul; he departed this life near six months since, leaving his wealth to the orphan grandchildren who dwelt with him, and it was said at Jerusalem that thy son was about to depart for the abode of his father in Germany.”

“It may be so,” said Hallevy, who had offered up a brief prayer on hearing of the death of his aged friend. “I wrote to him on hearing that his grandsire was dying, that in the event of his death he should return to my house, as, since his infancy, I have never beheld my firstborn, and I long to bless him ere I die.”

Overcome by his feelings, Hallevy rose and quitted the room. His wife and children followed in a few moments, and Zillah was left alone with the strangers. Joshua had commenced writing busily, while Moses appeared lost in thought, when Zillah, as if inspired by a sudden resolution, left her seat and came to his side.

“You are acquainted with David Hallevy,” she said, raising her eyes to his face, “you are but lately returned from Jerusalem, and you have been a wanderer in many lands. David also travelled with his grandfather for many years, to gain wisdom and relieve his suffering brethren. His letters breathe the same spirit as your words tell: am I mistaken in giving you the dear name of brother?”

“No; call me not brother, fairest Zillah,” he replied, “from thee I would fain claim a dearer name, for in thee do I behold the embodiment of all I have ever dreamed of Judah’s maids, in happier times. And wilt thou refuse,” he continued, in a faltering voice, seeing she was still silent, “the heart I proffer thee, unworthy as it is of thine?”

“Answer me one question,” she said, blushing as she spoke, “and then, with thy father’s consent, I will be thy wife. Why hast thou practised deception and entered as a stranger a dwelling into which thou wouldst have been joyfully received as a child?”

“Blame me not, dearest Zillah,” replied the young man, eagerly, “thou shalt have my reasons for what I have done, and then, if it be thy wish, I will at once throw myself at my father’s feet, remove the deception, and claim a blessing and thy hand together. My mother, as thou knowest, died in the hour of my birth, and my father, who tenderly loved her, could not bear to look upon the child who had cost him so dear. Buried in grief, he asked not of my welfare, but my grandsire took the deserted babe, and loved it as his own. It was long ere my father could master his resolution sufficiently to see his child, and then the sight of me threw trim into such an agony of grief that his visit was never renewed. My grandfather soon after removed to Jerusalem, and in the course of time my father married again. He then wrote to ask my return home; but my grandfather would not consent that I should leave him. My grandfather with my only parent was carried on by letter. Thus, estranged from my nearest relatives, I grew into manhood. I knew that I had a brother and sister, and, oh, Zillah! how my heart yearned to look upon them. But I would not leave the aged man who loved me so well; but, when at length, his pure spirit departed to a happier world, I converted my portion of his bequest into gold, and determined to return to my father’s house. But how would he receive me? perhaps as a stranger. I remembered too well our first interview not to shudder at the idea of its repetition. My brother and sister, too, they might look upon me, perchance, as an intruder. I took counsel with my cousin, who would not leave me, and at length we agreed to make ourselves acquainted with my family as strangers, and win their affections ere I declared myself, so that my father might bestow his love before he knew that he gave it but as right to one whose claim upon it he had been so long in admitting. Thus, when accident introduced me to my long-estranged relatives, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity thus offered, and fain would I retain my disguise a little longer, that I may bind my father’s heart a little closer to me ere I say, Behold thy firstborn stands before thee, withdraw not thy love from him.”

“As thou wilt,” answered Zillah, as she suffered her lover to seat her by his side, and murmur sweet dreams of the future in her listening ear. What a blessing that a merciful Creator suffers not the present to be saddened by a knowledge of the future. Poor Zillah! the remembrance of that hour was a green spot in her after life.

Chapter V.

It was the morning of Esther’s bridal, and the two sisters with their mother sat together in the room where Esther had passed her infancy and girlhood.

Esther’s life had hitherto been a happy one, shadowed only by one passing cloud, that of her brother’s danger. She had one arm thrown round her sister’s waist, and the other rested on her mother’s shoulder, while her loving eyes were turned alternately to the face of each, and tears of mingled joy and sorrow streamed unheeded down her checks. She was dressed in her bridal attire, and the lace of her cap made her face look yet paler. Before her, on the table, lay the thick black tresses recently severed from her head; but it was not of them she thought. She was weeping for the dear home she was about to leave, the tender parents, the loved companions of her childhood. Their tried affection she was about to exchange for the yet untried love of one who, much as she valued him, might yet give her cause to repent her trusting faith. A summons to the bridal party interrupted the current of these sad reflections, and, after some delay, wrapped in her bridal veil, and led by her mother and sister, the weeping Esther entered the room where the guests were assembled. But no father, no bridegroom advanced to meet the bride. Confusion seemed to reign throughout the room. White cheeks, and white lips. met her gaze wherever she turned her eyes; terror seemed to reign where gladness should have been. The nuptial canopy was erected, and the Rabbi stood by ready to perform the ceremony; but he too looked dismayed and pale. Esther clung half fainting to her mother’s arm, while the Rabbi, pitying her suffering, said, soothingly, “Thy father and bridegroom will soon return; they have been summoned before the Burgomaster on account of some tumult which has just occurred in the street.”

A dead silence fell upon the group after this explanation. Esther was again seated between her mother and sister, the veil hid her face so that no one could read its expression, but the heaving of her chest, and rise and fall of her shoulders told she was weeping. Zillah kept her sister’s hand clasped in hers. Though outwardly calm, she felt inwardly as much alarmed as Esther; for she well knew that whenever the chief Jews were summoned before the Burgomaster, it was a sure indication of fresh oppressions and extortions.

At length came the tread of hurrying feet. Hallevy and his guests had returned, but oh, how different they looked. Instead of a bridal party they appeared like mourners at a funeral. Hallevy spoke in a low voice to the Rabbi. The bride was brought forward, and solemnly and sadly was the ceremony gone through. Esther was a wife; her husband’s kiss was on her lips, he was safe and well; but the alarm and agitation had been too much for her, and she was borne fainting from the room. The magnificent banquet which had been prepared was almost untouched, and it was a relief to the family when the guests departed and they were left alone. Esther and her husband remained by Hallevy’s desire in his house. Care and anxiety were written that day on the brow of Hallevy; and he had cause for alarm. While his daughter was preparing to take upon her the solemn duties of a wife, he and many of his guests were, as we have seen, summoned before the magistrates of Worms. But that the reader may better understand what passed, it will be necessary to recur to the bridal morning. Just after the Rabbi and his attendants had entered Hallevy’s dwelling, the inhabitants of the Jewry were alarmed by furious cries in their neighbourhood. It appeared, on inquiry, that a priest asserted, whether truly or not has never been ascertained, that while carrying the host, in order to administer the sacrament to a sick person, he was attacked by two Jews, who knocked the host out of his hand, and trampled on it. He added that they had succeeded in making their escape before he could give the alarm; but when asked to describe their persons he could give no clue to identify the offenders. This tale was sufficient to arouse the fanatic populace against the Jews, and with loud outcries they demanded that every Hebrew in the city should be given up to their vengeance. The magistrates caused the elders to be summoned, and with difficulty they were saved from being torn to pieces by the mob. When at length they reached the dwelling of the Burgomasters, every kind of abuse was heaped upon them, and many even suffered personal violence. In vain Hallevy, as spokesman, represented that the body of Jews were wholly guiltless of the outrage perpetrated. The command of the Burgomaster was absolute.

“If within eighteen drays,” he said, “the offenders are not delivered to justice, every one in Worms professing the Jewish faith, man, woman, and child, should perish, and their property given to the religious houses in the neighbourhood.”

Remonstrance was vain. Every Jew was forbid to leave the Jewry on any pretence, and the gates were to be kept close. It may be imagined in what frame of mind Hallevy returned to witness his daughter’s marriage.

“Is there no hope that the real offenders will come forward to save the innocent?” said the wife of Hallevy, as with ashy lips and cheeks she listened to the fearful history.

“Alas, no,” was Hallevy’s reply; “for even should this be more than a pretext for our destruction, which I doubt, thinkest thou that men who for their own gratification could thus peril the safety of the innocent will have courage enough to avow the deed? No, no, we must seek help from above, earthly help we have none.”

 (To be continued.)