Saturday, October 9, 2010

To Jerusalem

THE wooing of kings is commonly successful, and Alexander's courtship was no exception to the rule. It can hardly be said that Barsiné loved him; but then it was not expected that she should. Her first marriage had been, in a great degree, a matter of policy. The most brilliant and able Greek of his day was a husband whom her father had been delighted to secure for her. Even the Great King had exerted himself to further a match which would help to secure so valiant a soldier for the defence of his throne. She had come to love her Memnon indeed; but this was but an instance of the kindly forgiveness which love often extends to those who break his laws. Her new suitor was not one to be resisted. And, however truly he might profess only to sue, circumstances made his suing a command. If she accepted the liberty that he offered her, whither was she to turn, her father and brother dead, and her country manifestly destined to fall into a conqueror's hand. At the same time the generosity of his offer touched her heart. She might know in her own mind that her choice was not free; but it soothed her woman's pride to be told that it was.

Alexander's feelings in the matter was a curious compound of various sentiments. The woman attracted him; he found her more beautiful even than common report had described her, and according to report she, after the Queen of Darius, was the most lovely of Persian women. Then the idea of making the two nations, Greeks and Persians, into one, was really a powerful motive with him, and he thought it might be furthered by this alliance.

But beyond all doubt the master thought in his mind was of a more sentimental kind. As has been said before, it delighted him beyond all things to act Homer. And here was three of the parts ready made to his hand. Memnon was Hector, as long as he lived the chief stay of Persia, Persia being the heir of Troy; Barsiné was Andromaché, and he was Achilles or the son of Achilles. In legend the son of Achilles had taken Andromaché to wife; so would he; only he would play the part in gentler and humaner fashion, as became one who had sat at the feet of the greatest philosopher of the day.

A few days after the marriage had taken place, the king sent for Charidemus to give him some instructions.

"You are to go to Jerusalem," he said. "Manasseh the Jew counsels that Clearista, the queen's niece, should be sent thither. He seems to be in the right. Certainly she cannot go with the army; and I know of no place where she can be more safely bestowed than the city of the Jews. Manasseh, too, has kinsfolk with whom she may sojourn. Of course she must have an escort, and you will take two hundred horsemen with your friend Charondas the Theban as the second in command. Then I have another errand for you. I have a conviction that I shall have trouble with Tyre. The other Phœnician cities, you know, have yielded. The Sidonians actually asked me to choose a king for them, and I did, but I have private information that Tyre means to hold out. If it does, I shall find the Jews very useful. They can send me some soldiers, and their soldiers, I am told, fight very well; but what I shall most want will be provisions. Let them supply my army with these, and they shall not find me ungrateful. This is what I want you to manage. You shall take a letter from me to their High Priest—they have a curious fancy, I understand, for being ruled by priests—which will state what I want. You will have to back it up. Make them understand—and I have been told that they are singularly obstinate— that I shall be better pleased if I can get what I want peaceably, but that I mean to have it somehow."

This commission was, as may be supposed, very much to the young man's taste. Though Jerusalem did not fill as great a space in the mind of a Greek as it does in ours, it was a famous city, and Charidemus was glad to have the chance of seeing it. Then this was his first independent command. And, last not least, there was Clearista, and she was in his charge!

It was accordingly in the highest of spirits that he started. It was reckoned to be about a six days' journey if the traveller followed the easiest and most frequented routes; and six happier days the young man had never spent. The care of Manasseh had provided two companions for Clearista. One was an elderly lady, a kinswoman of his own, Mariamne by name, the other one a girl about two years older than the young lady herself, who was to act as her personal attendant. Mariamne was carried in a litter; the two girls rode on donkeys. Two sumpter mules followed with their baggage and effects. Half the escort rode in front under the command of Charondas; of the other half Charidemus took special command, but did not find his duties prevent him from spending a considerable part of his time in the company of his charge.

At the end of each day's journey the travellers reached a caravanserai. The soldiers bivouacked in the spacious court-yards of these places; the women had the best of such accommodation as the building could furnish; and Mariamne always invited the two officers in command to share their evening meal. These little entertainments seemed to the guests to come to an end too soon; with so light a gaiety did the talk flow on as they sat round the central brasier in the spacious room of the caravanserai. There was still much of the unconsciousness of childhood in Clearista. Her manner to Charidemus was perfectly frank and sisterly, so unreserved, in fact, that it made it much easier for him to keep his own secret. Still she had developed both in body and mind. Face and form were more commanding, and seemed likely to more than fulfil all their early promise of beauty. And a year of close companionship with a cultured and thoughtful woman in Barsiné had taught her much. Nature had given her a keen intelligence, and she had been now learning with good result how to use it. Every day made Charidemus feel more strongly that the happiness of his life was bound up in this young girl. But he was lover enough to know that her heart was yet to be won. Her gay friendliness, charming as it was, showed that she had not so much as caught a glimpse of what was in his mind.

It could hardly, we may suppose, have been displeasing to the young soldier-lover, if he had had some opportunity of showing his prowess before his lady-love's eyes, even, perhaps, of rescuing her from some imminent peril. Nor indeed was the journey without some chances of this kind. The Arabs of the desert, then as now, thought travellers a lawful source of income, who might fairly be plundered, if they did not pay for protection. These were the regular freebooters of the country, and just then it swarmed with irregulars, fragments of the great host which had been broken to pieces at Issus. Again and again, as the travellers pursued their journey, little bands of suspicious looking horsemen might be seen hovering near.

Once, as they were making their way across the fords of Jordan, an attack seemed imminent. A caravan was always most helpless when it was struggling through a ford, and the Arabs knew their opportunity. The vanguard had passed to the western side of the river, and the convoy itself was in mid-stream, while the troopers of the rear-guard were tightening their saddle-girths and generally preparing to enter the water. It was just the moment when, if ever, discipline was relaxed, and the practised eye of the Arab chief who was wont to take toll at that particular spot did not fail to observe it. His horsemen had been lying in ambush in the jungle that skirted the narrow valley of the river. Now they came galloping down, brandishing their spears and uttering wild cries of defiance, till they had come within a bow-shot of the caravan. Had there been the slightest sign of confusion or panic, the feint would have been converted into a real attack. All troops would not have stood firm, for the assailants outnumbered the escort by at least two to one.

But the men who had conquered at the Granicus and at Issus were not to be terrified by a horde of marauders. In a moment every man was in his saddle, as cool and as steady as if he had been passing in review under the eyes of his general on a field day. Clearista showed herself a true soldier's daughter, as Charidemus, while doing his part as a leader, found time to observe. Her animal had just entered the water when the charge was made. Instead of urging him on, she turned his head again to the bank, at the same time signalling to her maid to do the same. Many women would have striven in their panic to get as far as possible from the enemy. A braver instinct bade her keep close to her friends. To cross while fighting was going on would have distracted their attention, even had there been no danger in attempting the ford without help.

As a matter of fact not a blow was struck. The Arabs, then as now, loved booty, but seldom cared to fight for it. They certainly did not think of dashing themselves against the iron fence of the Macedonian pikes. At a signal from the chief they checked themselves in full career, and disappeared as suddenly as they had come.

The rest of the journey was accomplished without further adventure. It was just about sunset on the sixth day when the Macedonians reached the northern gate of the city. At the request of Charidemus, the gate-keeper despatched a messenger with a letter for the High Priest with which Manasseh had furnished him. In a short time an official appeared to whom the Macedonian handed over his charges, taking for them a formal receipt. He and his troopers remained for the night outside the walls in quarters specially provided for the accommodation of foreign troops who might approach the Holy City.

The next day he received an intimation that Jaddus the High Priest would receive him. Jaddus had convened the Sanhedrim, or Hebrew Senate, and the demands of Alexander had been considered. The substance of them, it must be understood, was perfectly well known, though they had not yet been formally made. There had been a long and fierce debate upon the matter, but the Persian party, on whose side the High Priest had thrown all the weight of his influence, had prevailed, and the Senate had resolved by a large majority to reject the Macedonian's demands.

The young envoy was introduced into the council chamber, and requested to read the letter which it was understood he had brought from the king. He read it, and it was translated, sentence by sentence into Hebrew by an interpreter. He was then invited to address the Senate if he had anything to urge upon them or to explain. This invitation he declined, briefly remarking that the deeds of his master spoke more emphatically and convincingly of the justice of his demands than any words of his own could do. The question whether the demands of Alexander, King of Macedonia, should or should not be granted was then put. As it had been really decided before, the Senate had agreed to give an unanimous vote; and the envoy, who was not behind the scenes, was not a little surprised at the promptitude and decision with which a negative answer was given.

After announcing the result of the vote the High Priest addressed to the envoy a short speech in justification, the substance of which he was to convey to the Macedonian king.

"Tell your master," he said, "that the children of Abraham desire to be friends with all men, but allies of none. If Alexander has a quarrel with any, let him pursue it with his own arms. The men of Tyre have given us no offence; nay, rather they have been our friends for many generations. When Solomon, son of David, built a house for the Lord, Hiram, King of Tyre, helped him greatly in his work, sending him cedar-wood from Lebanon and diverse other things, and skilful builders and artificers. And when the Chaldæans burned with fire the house that Solomon had set up, and Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the governor under Artaxerxes the king built another in its place, then the men of Tyre helped us again. Therefore it were unjust should we do aught to their prejudice. There is yet another demand to which answer must be made. Your master says, 'Pay me the tribute that you were wont to pay to Darius.' For the money we care not, but the oath that we have sworn to the king we will not break. So long as he lives, or till he shall himself loose us from it, so long will we be faithful to it."

The envoy received the message in silence, and left the council chamber. A military guard conducted him to the gate, and in the course of a couple of hours he was on his way with his command to join the main army. A week later he was taking part in the investment of Tyre.

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