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The Martyrs of Worms: A German Tale

(Concluded from issue #6.)

by Celia Moss

Chapter VI

Hallevy was right; day after day passed in fasting, prayer, and lamentation; each one looked upon himself and those dear to him as beings whose days were numbered. One person only spoke of hope,—it was David Hallevy, who yet remained as a stranger under his father’s roof. “A merciful Creator,” he said, “would not suffer so many innocent beings to perish; deliverance would be found for them.”

But Hallevy only answered his attempt to rouse him to something like hope, by saying, “You have neither wife nor children. Oh, that my son may keep from Worms at this fearful time,” said Hallevy, when on the seventeenth day, he returned from the Synagogue; “let this danger pass over and I will at once quit this land of blood, and seek a safer asylum for my family. But it may not be,” he added; “I shall see them led like lambs to the slaughter, and perchance have to look on and see them die.”

<<340>>A great change had taken place in Hallevy since the day of Esther’s bridal. His hair and beard had become white, his form bent, and his eyes hollow; age had come suddenly upon him. When Zillah was about to retire that evening, she found David Hallevy waiting in the passage that led to her chamber. As the light of her lamp fell upon his face, she saw that it was deadly pale, and his hand trembled as he took hers.

“Zillah,” he said, in a voice tremulous from emotion, “I have brought a packet to place in thy charge; the direction will tell thee how to act.”

He relinquished her hand as she took the packet from him, and then fearing to be questioned, abruptly quitted her.

When Zillah entered the chamber, she found a slip of paper in the string that tied it, directing her in event of its not being claimed by the owner at sunset on the morrow to open it. The maiden wept as she placed the packet in as secret drawer, for she thought what terrible scenes that morrow might bring forth. The picture of her own father’s murder came vividly before her. She knew that gold in abundance had been offered for the rescue of her people; but blood alone could satisfy the wolfish passions of the populace; and in fancy she saw them already, falling around her. She sought refuge in prayer from these fearful pictures, and thus the night passed.

At daybreak, Hallevy summoned his household together in the subterranean chamber. David and his cousin were also present. Again and again Hallevy blessed his wife and children, as one who was about to leave them for ever; for his post was in the Synagogue, and he could not desert it. Judith clung to him in frantic agony, entreating him not to leave her and her children; but he was resolute.

“Here thou art comparatively safe,” he said, “and I have promised refuge to many others; but if I were missing, search would be made, and all, peradventure, might perish.”

Then, untwining his wife’s arms, he laid her tenderly on a heap of cushions, and called his children one by one to bless them. Esther’s husband, who was to remain with his wife, shared his blessing, and he was about to depart when David came forward.

“A good man’s blessing is ever to be desired,” he said, his <<341>>voice faltering; “Judah Hallevy, bless me also, for I love thee as a father, and fain would I have thy prayers this day.”

“I would that my blessing might avail thee indeed,” said Hallevy, as he laid his hand on the young man’s head; “thou art welcome to it in any event.”

One parting look at Zillah, one pressure of her hand, and David Hallevy went forth from his father’s house never to return.

The men had assembled once more in the Synagogue. Wailing, weeping, and prayer were heard throughout that building; but two were there who wept not, and yet none prayed more fervently.

Noonday had arrived, and there came a tread of hurrying feet; the gates of the Jewry were forced open, and shouts, curses, fearful oaths, and voices that breathed forth death, were heard advancing  toward the Synagogue. In a moment it was surrounded, and murderous hands stretched forth to seize the victims, when a loud voice cried, “Forbear!” Two men stepped forward; they were very pale, but calm.

“Spare the guiltless,” they said, as they came in front of the eager mob, “we surrender ourselves to your justice; but let us alone suffer.”

A storm of execrations was the reply; and when Hallevy raised his eyes, he saw his late guests borne off by a crowd of demons in human form.

“They are not guilty,” he cried when the outrage was committed, they were under my roof!”

But his voice was unheard amid the confusion. The Christians bore off their victims, and the congregation was saved. All once comprehended the noble self-devotion which had preserved them from destruction; but one pang was saved the father’s heart,—he knew not that his son was perishing for him. All day the Jews remained in the Synagogue, to weep and pray for the innocent sufferers, who died in the midst of fearful tortures, praying for themselves and their people.

Chapter VII.

Hallevy had despatched a messenger early in the afternoon to his family, bearing the blessed tidings of safety; but no word of  <<342>>the fearful sacrifice by which that safety was insured. He returned, sick at heart, to his dwelling at sunset. His wife and children flew to meet him, but he returned not their caresses; for the sight of the room brought back a remembrance of the morning and the blessing his guest had craved so earnestly of him.

Unable to control his feelings, after the terrible excitement he had undergone, Hallevy sobbed aloud.

“What has happened, father?” asked Zillah, a fearful foreboding intruding on her mind; “where are the strangers?” she added, her check growing crimson as she spoke.

“In heaven, I trust,” replied Hallevy, in a voice choked with sobs; “they died to save us from death.”

A wild shriek from Zillah told her interest in the narrative, and at once opened the eyes of the mother to the state of her child’s heart.

“Zillah, my child, speak, oh, speak to me,” she cried, in her distraction, as she marked the stony look and glassy eye of her daughter. “Let me but see thee weep, dearest,” she added, as her own eyes streamed with tears.

But Zillah wept not; she never wept again. She was borne to her sleeping chamber; and there she entreated to be left alone. Hallevy, who knew her strength of mind and genuine piety, judged it better to comply with her request. She fastened the door when in solitude, and took from the secret drawer the parcel given to her by her lover on the preceding evening. Eagerly she tore off the cover, and a golden box, set with jewels, met her eye. It contained a lock of hair and a letter. She sat down, and though her eyeballs burned and her hand shook, she read it steadily. It was as follows:

Beloved Zillah,—

My own, my betrothed! to thee, whom it has been my sweetest hope to claim as bride, I sit down to write an everlasting farewell on earth. Two months have I now dwelt under the same roof with thee, and each day hast thou become dearer to me; for each day has made me better acquainted with thy virtue. Yet I am about to leave thee. Thou knowest how I have longed to hear my father call me his beloved child; yet that hope I must also forego. Danger threatens him and thee and thousands of <<343>>my people. Two lives are required to ransom all. I have thought over this, and spoken of it with my cousin since the first commencement of the danger. Noble, generous, and devoted, the companion of my boyhood has said, “David, I live or die with thee; thinkest thou that thou only hast resolution to die for thy faith and thy people?” I embraced him, for we read each other’s hearts, and from that hour we determined, if it be needed, to deliver ourselves up to the butchers of Worms. If we sin in this, may He who readeth all hearts pardon the crime for the sake of the motive.

For thy sake, my Zillah, we have deferred the execution of our plan until the last moment, for other means may yet arrive; but if they do not ere this meets thine eye, I shall be with the dead. And, oh, that my death alone may suffice, and that he, my more than brother, may be spared. Let not my father know, dearest, that he has to mourn the death of a child; it will but add to the weight of anguish which has already made him prematurely old. My wealth I have divided between him and thee; it will be but a trust in thy hands for our distressed brethren. The lock of hair I have just severed from my head, I thought thou wouldst prize it for the sake of him who loves thee so fondly. It is hard to say Farewell to thee, my Zillah; the thought of what thou wilt suffer is the bitterest drop in my cup of sorrow. But our heavenly Father will give thee strength for the trial.

May He who guardeth Israel watch over thee and bless thee henceforth and for evermore, and may this be thy last earthly sorrow. David Hallevy.

It was more than an hour after the perusal of this letter that Zillah’s mother entered her room. She found her outwardly calm, for, after concealing the precious letter in her bosom, she had passed the interval in prayer; but her feelings were more intense than she had yielded to outward demonstrations of sorrow. From the moment she heard of her lover’s death, no tinge of colour ever rested on her cheeks or lips. She performed her duties steadily and calmly as usual; but it was evident to all that her heart was breaking. Amongst the sick and oppressed of her nation, Zillah was a guardian angel; but the gay and happy never beheld her amongst them.

<<344>>Days, weeks, and months, Hallevy expected the return of his son; but he died without knowing aught of his history, save that he had quitted Jerusalem for Germany.

Zillah was never wedded. She refused many offers, and remained to close the eyes of her parents.

A day before her own death, she burned the letter she had until then carried in her bosom, and her secret was buried with her.

In the Synagogue at Worms, the memorial lights are still burned in memory of the martyred young men; but Hallevy’s memory and Zillah’s sorrows are forgotten.

Note.—Our fair correspondent has woven a pretty wreath of fancied incidents to fill up, though somewhat varied, the meagre outlines of the Two Martyrs, which was given in the first volume of the Occident; pp. 83, 84; of course only the main fact is all Miss Moss has taken from the legend, which, evidenced as it is by two memorial lamps, must be founded on truth; the remainder is all owing to her fruitful imagination. Zillah is a lovely character, one fully qualified to excite the warmest feeling on the part of such a martyr as the unknown victim to blind popular fury and folly must have been; for what but the highest piety and courage could prompt such a self- sacrifice? and to die without his name being known! It exceeds Winkelried’s devotion in making a way for his compatriots through the lances of the Austrians; for he died for a conquering country in the moment of the impulse on the battle-field; his name was recorded in the annals of his Canton, and his family honoured for the self-devotion of the father; but to surrender oneself, a nameless stranger, to the hands of a fanatical mob, to die to save persons to whom the martyr is a stranger,—O this is the height of human devotion. There is no monument to mark the grave of the holy ones at Worms; but the prayer of the faithful, which is yet offered up, is a proof that they are not forgotten.

Though the story of Miss Moss is fiction, still it is a faithful sketch of what we suffered. And shall all the blood that has been shed, have flowed in vain? will Israel, now in prosperity, forget the truth which they preserved when fear was their only companion, and rapine and murder the lot of many? Let our readers answer for themselves, when they have dwelt on David Hallevy’s death, and wept for Zillah’s sorrows.