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The house of Elkiah was one of the most stately in Jerusalem, though inferior to the structure which, in more ancient days, rose from the same foundations. Whenever Elkiah told of his ancestral dignities he was apt to show his listeners what were now the cellars and sub-cellars of the house, the great stones of which, by the flat indentations chiselled about the borders, proved that they were as old as the days when Solomon built the Temple, and perhaps wrought by the same Phœnician workmen. The second story, and the battlements which enclosed the roof, were of newer construction, and had evidently been made of the débris of a former and more palatial edifice, for an occasional huge and broidered stone showed upon the street in ancient architectural pride — just as some moderately circumstanced people wear an occasional jewel left them by their richer forebears.
The residence of Elkiah thus maintained a relation to the other and ordinary houses of the city not unlike that which its occupant held to his fellow-citizens. He traced his blood to the days when another Elkiah stood high in the court of Solomon, and thence back to the settlement of the land by the emigrants from Egypt. This could be attested by the official records, and was illustrated by numerous priceless antiques now stored away in secret closets cut into the solid walls, but which in safer times had ornamented the house from battlement to court.
For many years Elkiah had been the Nasi, or President of the Sanhedrin, that combined ecclesiastical and secular court of seventy-two men who legislated for and judged the people. Of late years the Sanhedrin itself had become utterly debauched by the gold of Egyptian Ptolemies and Syrian Antiochuses, in their rivalry for the possession of Palestine. Most of the members of this sacred council had become Hellenized, and adopted Greek philosophies and customs; and now that the Syrian monarch had invaded the city, these renegades saved themselves from being despoiled by becoming despoilers of their brethren. A former High Priest, Joshua, had changed his name to the Greek Jason, as the Greeks scornfully said, for the sake of the "Golden Fleece." The present incumbent of the sacred office, Menelaos, had been circumcised as Onias, and was now the chief of the traitors in the sacrilegious extinction of the national religion.
The crowning grief of the venerable Elkiah was the apostasy of his own first-born son, Benjamin, who had taken the heathen name of Glaucon, and thus shamed the house of his fathers while he protected it from the general pillage.
The late afternoon of the day following that of Dion's rescue of Elkiah from the mob the old man was reclining upon the thick rug and pillows which Deborah — for so was his fair daughter called — had spread upon the roof. Here he loved to lie, sheltered from view by the parapets, while his eyes followed the white clouds which flecked the deep blue of the sky — "Jehovah's banners," he called them — or caught the gleam of the Temple roof when he was disposed to pray.
"Where is Caleb?" he asked.
A lad of some ten years was lying in the upper chamber, the room which, like a little house by itself, occupied half of the roof upon which it opened. Hearing his father's call, the child sprang up, and in an instant was by Elkiah's side.
"Here am I, father!"
With his long black hair clustering upon his white chiton, and his large black eyes, the boy resembled his sister. One would have noted, however, a strange look; the pupils too widely expanded, as when one tries to see in the dark. And this the child had been doing ever since, five years ago, his sight was destroyed by a strange malady which not even the physician Samuel could cure, for all that this learned man was skilled in the potencies of herbs, the baleful and blessed beams of the stars, and even the deeper mysteries of the words of the Rabbis.
Little Caleb was marvellously beautiful in spite of the stare of his blind eyes and the marble pallor of his face. It was a child's face, yet there was in it the placid sweetness of a woman's look, and at times it seemed to glow with the intelligence of riper years — for the boy had thought and felt more than most men had done.
Caleb knelt down by his father's side, and kissed his forehead. The old man's harsher features relaxed at the touch of the young lips, and tears sprang to his eyes as he drew the lad to his breast.
"Blessed be God, who has left me this fair image of my Miriam! Come, Caleb, and look for me. Your blind eyes are better than mine, which my sins have smitten. Can you see the chariots of the Lord?"
"Nay, father, but you have taught me to trust in Him who is Himself like 'the mountains round about Jerusalem.' What need have we for chariots? Can He not save by His word as well as by war?"
"True, child! Yet I myself once saw, when the impious Apollodorus raged through our street, slaughtering all he met, and no one could stand against him, I saw—or do I dream it?—I saw a heavenly warrior, clad from head to foot in solid silver, waving a sword of fire, who stood before the wicked man, and smote him to the ground. But when they lifted the heathen there was not the sign of the stroke upon him, though he breathed no more. Would that the Avenger might come again, and speedily! But until He come — until He come — we must trust the word, only the word. Bring the Roll of the Prophet. It surely tells of the times that are now passing."
The boy felt for his sister's hand. Taking it, he pressed it against his blind eyes — a way he had of checking his own too violent feeling. He whispered, as he felt her comforting touch:
"Sister, the troubles have surely broken our father's mind. He does not remember even yesterday."
Then, raising his voice, "You have forgotten, father, that the soldiers came and searched the house and took the Books away."
Elkiah passed his hands over his forehead as if to smooth the mirror of his memory. Recollection came, but with it a rage that shook his decrepit form until Deborah's kiss allayed his emotion.
"No matter for the Roll, father," said Caleb. "You know that I can repeat what the Books say. Now that I am blind, I keep in memory all that I hear. In that way God lets me have more, perhaps, than if I could see even to white Hermon there in the north."
"Bless the eyes which the Spirit of the Lord has opened!" cried the old man. "Tell me, child, what says the Prophet of this monster who calls himself our King — Epiphanes, the Glorious — for shame!"
"The Prophet says," replied Caleb, quoting the words of Daniel, "that his heart shall be against the Holy Covenant, and they shall pollute the Sanctuary of Strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and shall place the Abomination that maketh desolate."
"Woe! Woe upon Jerusalem!" cried Elkiah. "Why did I not slay the impious Apollonius, that child of Satan, when he rode into our Holy of Holies? Alas! the breath of the Lord has withered the arm of Elkiah that it cannot smite. But the Avenger will come. He will come yet. What says the Prophet further, my son?"
Caleb continued, "And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall be corrupt with flatteries."
"Ah!" groaned the old patriot, his voice gurgling in his throat like the growl of a wild beast. "And my own son, the son of Miriam, corrupted by the flatteries of the Greek! My Benjamin turned into a Glaucon! God forgive me for having begotten a traitor!"
Elkiah sat upright on the rug. With averted palm he swept the air, as if he would banish from his heart its paternal instinct. He then covered his face with his hands and cried: "O my Miriam! I thank Thee, O God, that Thou didst take her ere she knew this. But, Lord, why didst Thou take my Miriam, and leave me that — that — traitor? But read on, child."
Waiting a moment until his father's paroxysm had passed, Caleb completed the prediction: "But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and shall do exploits."
"Do exploits? Be strong? That we shall," shrieked the old man. "Your hand, Deborah! My sword! I will go and smite the Syrian."
"Nay, father, that cannot be," said Deborah, as she laid the exhausted form back upon the pillows. "Let the children fulfil the Prophet's word."
"The children! My children!" muttered the old man. "One of them a heathen, another blind, and the other only a girl. Deborah, oh, that thou wert a man, or could wear a sword like the Deborah of old!"
Deborah summoned Ephraim, an old servant of the house, who with Huldah his wife assisted in bringing Elkiah into the roof chamber; for the air grew cold as the sun dropped behind the citadel by the Joppa gate, and left only his golden glow on the top of Olivet eastward.
Little Caleb stood a while leaning over the parapet, his face showing the tremendous movement of his soul, now expressing some ineffable longing, and now hardening under some heroic purpose. He turned toward the Temple as if he could see the sacred precincts: but suddenly his great blind orbs were directed southward. As his sister returned to the roof he called to her.
"Deborah, there is a strange noise beyond the city gate, over Ophel!"
"Dear child, you are not yet familiar with the cries at the heathen games. The shouts come from the gymnasium."
"Why, sister, I know all sounds. I know by the dog's barking whether he has the fox on the run or at bay, or has lost him in the hole. And men cry just as the brutes do. I don't need to hear words. I sometimes follow the games in the gymnasium off there. Now it is the hum of the crowd before the contests begin; now the cheer for the runners; the laugh when the wrestlers tumble; the rage of the losers; the joy of the crowd when a favorite wins — I hear it all. But, Deborah, somebody has been hurt over there. Can't you hear something sad in the murmur on Ophel? It is as the fir-trees moan when a storm is coming."