Gateway to the Classics: The Hammer by Alfred J. Church
The Hammer by  Alfred J. Church

Hopes and Fears

A few weeks after the conversation recorded in the last chapter, Ruth was hearing her little boy repeat the Commandment when Seraiah came in, carrying in his hand an open letter.

"There is news from Syria," he said.

"And is it good or bad?" asked his wife.

"That I can hardly say," was Seraiah's reply. At the same time he signalled to his wife that she should take the child out of the room. The signal, however, was too late. The quick-witted little fellow had heard what had been said, and immediately jumped to the conclusion that something had been heard about the boy-King. His mind was occupied, it might almost be said, day and night with the thought of the young Eupator. He scarcely knew whether he hated or loved him; but the brilliant figure of the lad had caught his imagination. He lived, as imaginative children often will, a sort of second life in thinking of him.

"Oh! father," he now cried, "I am sure that you have something to tell me about the boy-King. Is he coming here again? I should like to see him, though he did break his promise so shamefully."

"My boy," said his father, "you will never see him again."

"Oh! Why?"

"He is dead. This letter tells me all about him."

The boy burst into a passionate fit of tears, which all his mother's caresses and attempts at consolation were for some time unable to stop. When the violence of his grief had spent itself he said—

"Oh! father, tell me about him. Were they very cruel to him? And how did it happen? I thought that kings killed people, but I did not know that any one could kill them."

"Listen, my child, and I will try to explain it to you. The father of Eupator, the boy who is just dead, was not rightfully King. He came after his elder brother, and this elder brother had a son named Demetrius, who ought to have succeeded his father. But this son had been sent to Rome as a hostage."

"What do you mean by a hostage, father?"

"When you are going to trust some one about whom whom you do not feel quite sure, you take something from him that he values very much, and say, 'You will lose this unless you behave well.' So Demetrius's father gave his son to the Romans to keep, and the Romans were sure that as long as they had the child his father would not do anything that they did not like. Well, as I told you, Demetrius was sent to Rome to be security for his father's good behaviour, and there he lived all the time that Antiochus, whom they called Epiphanes, was King. And when Epiphanes died Demetrius asked the Romans to let him go, that he might claim the kingdom which, he said, belonged to him and which his cousin Eupator was too young to be able to govern. But they would not let him go, and I have been told that Lysias bribed some of the chief men among them, and these persuaded the rest. At last he got tired of waiting for leave, and he ran away from Rome without it, and landed at a place called Tripolis, not very far from Antioch, with only twenty or thirty men with him. But as soon as ever the soldiers at Antioch heard of his coming, they declared that they would have him for their King."

"But why?" put in Daniel.

"Well, if they did not know much that was good about him, they knew nothing that was bad. Anyhow they all rose in his favour; and they seized the young King and Lysias the Governor and brought them to him, and asked him what they should do with them. He would not say, 'Kill them,' for, after all, the little boy was his cousin, and had not done him any harm. And he did not like to say, 'Keep them alive,' for he was afraid that his cousin might some day have his throne; so he only said to the soldiers, 'Take care that they do not see my face.' So the soldiers—they were the young King's own guard—took him and killed him, and Lysias with him."

When he had heard this the child allowed his mother to take him away. He saw that his father, usually so calm, was anxious and troubled, and, wise with a wisdom beyond his years—the fruit of the troubled life which he and his had been leading—would not ask him any more questions. But that night, when his mother came to give him the last kiss before he went to sleep, he had many things to say to her. Poor little fellow! he had seen many terrible sights, which all his parents' care could not keep from his eyes, and had heard of many more, and he could not help asking again, "Did they hurt him very much?" and when she had comforted him as best she could on this score, he showed that there was another trouble in his mind. "Oh! mother," he said, "do you remember that when he ordered the walls of the fortress to be pulled down, I prayed to God that he might be punished for breaking his promise? and only the other day, when Joseph was talking about his coming back, I said—something in me seemed to make me say it almost without my knowing—'He shall fall by the sword in his own land.' And now he is punished, for he has fallen by the sword. Do you think that God listened to me, and did it because I said these things? But, mother, I did not hate him very much; sometimes I used to think I loved him; and oh! it would be dreadful to think that I had anything to do with his being killed!"

"My son," said Ruth, "do you remember what our father Abraham said, 'Shall not the judge of all the earth do right'?"

"Yes, mother, I am sure that He will do right; and the King did deserve to be punished. But perhaps his counsellors told him to do it; and I am sure that if I was told to do something that was wrong by people that I loved, I should be very likely to do it."

When his mother came to see him some hours afterwards she found him asleep, but his pillow was wet with tears, and now and then a little sob showed how deeply the trouble had entered into his little heart.

There was trouble in older and wiser hearts than his. The Jews had hoped much from the boy-King. His bad faith in the matter of the Temple fortress they had willingly put down to evil counsellors, and they could not forget that he had given them terms, good beyond all their hopes, when they were in the last extremity. The death of Lysias was a more serious loss. He was the pacificator; to his influence they ascribed the conciliatory policy of the young Antiochus. And now he was gone. Would his death be the signal of a change? Would Demetrius go back to the ways of the mad Antiochus? or had he learnt prudence, if not mercy, from his sojourn among the Romans and the bitter experience of an exile?

Opinion was divided. Some hoped, some feared; but all were resolved that they would never give way, that they would defend to the last drop of their blood the freedom which they had won. Azariah, whose temper of mind had gathered a certain gloom from the unhappy experiences of his life, took a desponding view of the situation. Micah, on the contrary, was cheerful, and he had some strong arguments to back him up.

"Remember," he said to his brother-in-law one day, when the subject had been discussed at some length between them, "that I have had opportunities for forming a judgment which, happily for you, have not come in your way. I once saw much of these Greeks—I am ashamed to remember the time, but still it would be folly not to make use of what I then learnt—and I am sure that that madman Antiochus did not represent what they really feel. You don't know how they despise all barbarians as they call them; and, despising them, they are disposed to let them alone. They don't want us to worship their gods; they think that we are not good enough. But Antiochus was mad with pride and arrogance, and it is not likely that any one else should be found to follow his steps. We may have trouble; indeed I feel sure that we shall; but depend upon it there will not be another such attempt as the madman made to stamp out our religion."

And the tidings that soon after reached Jerusalem from Antioch seemed to justify this forecast. There seemed to be trouble ahead, but it was not trouble of the sort which had brought desolation upon the Holy City. A deputation from that party among the Jews which affected Greek habits and Greek practices had been admitted to the presence of the new King. They had accused Judas, the son of Mattathias, of having driven them from their land, and of being an enemy to the sovereignty of the Greeks. Demetrius had listened to their representations, and had conferred the office of high priest on Alcimus, the leader of the malcontents, and had promised to send a force which would instal him in his office, and at the same time take vengeance on Judas and the Chasidim. This force was to be under the command of Bacchides, one of the most trusted of his counsellors.

A high priest of the stamp of Menelaüs—for such Alcimus was known to be—would be anything but welcome. Probably it would be necessary to resist him and his proceedings by force. Still things were not as bad as they might have been. That King Demetrius should have appointed a high priest at all showed that he was not bent, as Epiphanes had been, on extirpating the Jewish faith. With such doubtful comfort as this assurance could give they were compelled to be satisfied and to await the development of events.

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