« PreviousContinue »
ISAAC OF WILEICA, AND REBECCA HIS DAUGHTER.
(Continued from page 118.)
Several weeks elapsed and the French troops entered Moscow, but not the slightest intelligence respecting Lozinsky was received. All news, indeed, as to the movements of the armies, became more and more rare and uncertain; especially as the small town of Wileica was out of the direct line of general communication.
"He is dead!" said Isaac repeatedly; “ the valiant youth is dead! Were he alive, assuredly we should have heard from him, and he would have repaid me my gold. If ever a Nazarene gladly discharged his debt to a poor Jew, he was the man; for the spirit of Jehovah was upon him in judgment and in justice; but he is dead, and the turf is already growing green upon his grave."
"Dead!" thought Rebecca, who stood at the window, looking into the grey autumnal sky. "To me is he not dead? And should I more, were he still alive?"
possess him As Isaac was one day repeating his lamentation respecting Lozinsky, the door suddenly opened, and Mordecai of Wilna entered.
"Nicolajeu," said he, "I bring you the money you advanced to the Nazarene; also a letter from him, addressed to you. An officer belonging to the foreign troops, who returned from Moscow, delivered both to me.'
"Didn't I say so? Didn't I say he would repay me; the valiant youth!" exclaimed Isaac, hastily rising from his chair, and joyfully stretching forth his hand to receive the gold. Still more eagerly had Rebecca possessed herself of the letter, and read and read again, with beaming eyes, the warm assurances of gratitude, and the kind remembrances of herself and her father, which it breathed.
"God's wonder!" exclaimed Isaac suddenly, after having counted the money, "there are a hundred pieces more than I advanced to him!"— Rebecca blushed. "Woe is me!" continued her father, "does he take me for a usurer, an extortioner, who will have cent. per cent. from his dearest friends ?"
"Not so, dear father," said Rebecca, interrupting him, and still blushing; "he supposes he owes you thus much for his abode with us, and for our care of him."
"Fie upon me!" continued Isaac, while his countenance darkened into a frown, "what sort of an Israelite should I be, were I to take recompence from him for any such thing? Did not the Lord send him to me, even as he sent his angel to Lot, to warn and save me, and was it not my duty to lodge him in my house as the messenger of Jehovah, even for his sake?" "Well," said Mordecai, "if the proud Nazarene will not be indebted to you, take what is your due, and send back the rest."
Isaac began to examine the pieces of gold, and his displeasure gradually subsided. "Mordecai! he is a good youth. They are all full weight, their rims uninjured, their sound like that of the cymbals of the Levites on Gibeon, or the harps of the priests on Moriah!"
Rebecca, too, fancied she heard the harmonious sound of harps, as past scenes flashed upon her memory, when, with Lozinsky's letter in her hand, she sat in the arbour, and thought of the time when she used to sit there with him. But the withering leaves, shaken by the autumnal wind, rustled a sad answer to her questions of the present and the future; for the ruthless hand of time had also withered her youthful hopes, while there was no prospect for her, of a returning spring that would restore what had been decayed.— But still more agitating thoughts were soon to embitter whatever there was of happiness in the recollections of the past. Reports, in rapid succession,
reached Rebecca's ear, which filled her with apprehensions for the safety of Lozinsky. The awful visitation, by which the French army, in the course of a single night, had been devoted to utter destruction, by the burning of Moscow, began to be known; and rumor, with her hundred tongues, proclaimed the sufferings that hung upon the wretched victims in their retreat. "Child!" said Isaac one morning to his daughter," they are no longer in the land of the living; the good and the bad have passed away together!— The Lord hath destroyed them by his breath! He hath overwhelmed them with clouds of snow, and covered them with the sharp frost, and with ice. Azriel is hovering over them, slaying both horse and rider,-slaying them by thousands during the night, and by thousands during the day. They drop on the road; they perish in houses; the hostile sword devours them; hunger destroys them; disease is burning in their veins and consuming their vitals."
Isaac absorbed in his own thoughts, as he thus dwelt upon the subject, did not perceive the deathlike paleness that overspread the cheek of Rebecca. "Report exaggerates," was her consoling reflexion, when alone," and over him who fears God, not Azriel, the destroying angel, is hovering, but Elohim, with his buckler of defence."
Meanwhile, days of doubt and anguish passed on. The remains of the Gallic legions approached the Berezina; but a hostile corps d'armée advancing in their rear, prevented their crossing that river, and thus cut off their last hope of escape. The sanguinary conflict which proved so fatal to the French troops, began near Borisow; and the first evening of that memorable engagement was the very Sabbath-evening, on which the citizens of Wileica, with abated fears respecting the result, had returned to their homes, and when Isaac had hastened to the synagogue, to return thanks to heaven for having delivered them from the dreaded approach of a ruthless enemy.
May he beam the light of his countenance upon me, and be merciful to me; for I am solitary and sad!" Such was the ejaculation of Rebecca, when her father left the room, as she sunk upon a chair, giving free vent to tears, which till that moment she had repressed. Soon, however, gentle hopes took possession of her mind. "Who knows," thought she, "how near Lozinsky may be to me, this very moment! his regiment, perhaps, was among those that fought at Borisow; and should his route bring him near to Wileica, assuredly he will not forget us."
In the midst of this pleasing anticipation, Isaac, breathless and dismayed, rushed into the room. His talith was flying from his shoulders; his countenance was pale and distracted; "They are coming!" he exclaimed-"they are here!" "Who, father?" inquired Rebecca, with mingled emotions of joy and fear, for her first thought was of Lozinsky.
"Who else," replied Isaac, "but they, the men of terror and destruction? They are descending the eminence of Gainy, and the foremost are already near the town. D' you hear?" he continued,-" There they are! the clang of their trumpets is at the gates, making the walls tremble, as did those of Jericho and Gibeon."
The trampling of horses was now heard in the streets, and Rebecca looked out from the window. A troop of cavalry was halting in the market-place. The men dismounted, and their Commander demanded from the Magistrates, who had assembled near him, a guide to the next town. Soon after, accompanied by a few of his followers, and by the Judge of the Jews, he approached Isaac's house.
"Woe is me !" cried Isaac, when he heard their steps on his floor, "What may they want of me?" The door now opened, and the strangers boiste
rously entered, followed by the Kahal.
Nicolajeu," said the latter, with an invidious emphasis, (for since Lozinsky's abode there he had become more particularly inimical to Isaac,) Nicolajeu, you must guide these gentlemen to Jary."
"To Jary," exclaimed Isaac,-"What is it that you require of me? Have you forgotten that this is the Sabbath?"
"You must even do it," said the Judge; "the distance is only fifteen wersts; so make no difficulty."
"Only fifteen_wersts !" rejoined Isaac, "a goodly distance to go on a Sabbath-day. Not a single werst will I go, for the Law says: "Every one shall remain with his kindred, and no one shall leave the place of his abode on the seventh day.'"
"Do you mean to resist the authorities?" said the Judge, with an angry voice.
Why do you require of me what is wrong?" rejoined Isaac; "It is written Whoever doth not remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy, he shall be stoned, and he shall die.'"
"What's the fellow chattering about ?" interrupted the leader of the party. "Does the goat's-beard know the way to Jary?"
"How should he not, Sir," said the Judge, "he has travelled it a thousand times, both by night and by day; there is not a stone by the way, but he knows it."
"Forward, then!" said the former, turning to his men,-"take him between your horses, and tie his hands, lest he should attempt to escape."
Isaac cast a fearful glance at the speaker, whose voice recalled the memory of an appalling scene. In the stern features of the stranger he recognized the Sergeant, at the Inn at Craznoe!
"For God's sake!" he cried, "let me go. I will pay a guide who shall conduct you instead of me. I am old and feeble-I shall miss the way in the forest-I shall perish in the snow."
"We'll soon put your legs in motion, though you were as old as the wandering Jew; but if you guide us wrong, woe betide you! I will have you quartered, and hung up as a sign to future travellers.'
The soldiers, meanwhile, tied his hands behind his back, and pushed him into the streets, alike regardless of his entreaties and lamentations. after, the party proceeded on their way to Jary.
Rebecca hung distractedly on Miriam's neck, as her father was dragged forth. The tramp of the horses feet died away, and her grief still defied Miriam's attempts to console her, when the sound of spurs was heard in the passage. Rebecca raised her head and listened. "Miriam !" she cried, "it is Lozinsky-he comes to protect and save us !" Hastening to the door, which opened at the same moment, a horseman, wearing a white cloak, stood on the threshold, and received the terrified Rebecca in his arms.
"Aha!" exclaimed a strange and rough voice, "this is what I call an agreeable reception indeed; such as I have not met with before in this inhospitable country!"
Rebecca extricated herself, with a shriek of terror, and fled to the farthest corner of the room.
The column, which appeared on the eminence of Gainy, had filed towards the right, but a squadron of the rear-guard received orders to halt at Wileica, and occupy Jary with the detachment which had carried Isaac along with it as a guide. His house, in the meantime, had become the head-quarters of the officer commanding the squadron; even the same individual who, with such a stern salutation, had accosted the trembling Rebecca. Serricourt, such was his name, though he might be justly styled a handsome man, did not possess a very prepossessing exterior. His enormous mustachios, by their junction with his bushy whiskers, covered at least one half of his face; while a deep, blood-red scar, which extended from his forehead down his right cheek, gave to his countenance a character of ruthless ferocity. His tall and athletic person appeared still more gigantic and repulsive, from the shaggy wolf's fur which he wore over his uniform, and which was fastened by a broad leathern belt, whence hung a heavy sabre in an iron scabbard, with a huge iron guard.
The disposition and sentiments of Serricourt were pretty much in unison with his exterior. Bred in the camps of revolutionary armies, without principles, and without education, estranged from all gentler impulses, and an early contemner of that sex which would have rendered him susceptible of them, hehad only one rule of action, founded upon what he called his honour. To be foremost where danger was greatest-to be the first to rush into a river, whose raging waters appalled the boldest-to shun no peril, and, without regard to motives, to risk his life in the most worthless cause-constituted his ideas of noble and manly virtue. He could enumerate more than a hundred duels, in which he had been victorious. Only once, during the campaign in the Peninsula, had he been vanquished, by a young Polish officer, whom, on the Prado of Madrid, he had deliberately insulted. Hence the deep scar upon his face, which incessantly reminded him of an unpaid debt of vengeance to his opponent, with whom he had never afterwards chanced to meet. In his regiment, on account of his unshaken intrepidity and courage, Serricourt enjoyed the highest reputation. His men, formed by his example, idolized him, and were ready to obey his commands, let the hazard of the enterprise be what it might. Any complaints brought against them, no matter whether preferred by friend or foe, by citizen or peasant, passed
Such men as Balafré, the sergeant, and Socolsky, therefore, ranked none the lower in his estimation, when any of their atrocities came to his knowledge, provided they did their duty in the day of battle, or if, in their forced marches, or during the night in the worst of bivouacs, they kept up the drooping spirits of the rest, by passing jokes, or well-timed firmness.
Such was Serricourt, and a worse inmate than himself or his men could not have been allotted to poor Isaac and his unprotected daughter. Yet, even he was not altogether devoid of susceptibility. Rebecca's beauty had kindled an emotion unlike any which he had ever felt before.
"You see, my dear," said he to her on the second day, when she thanked him for having checked the boisterous conduct of his licentious troops,"you see, my dear, how I love you. Else, believe me, you could not have prevailed on me, to spoil the sport of my merry fellows. And do I not deserve some recompense for being called by them, as I was this day, a silly amorous coxcomb? Come," he continued, throwing his arm around her,— no more affectation; many a fair one between Moscow and Madrid has acted the prude as you do now, and after all, followed us as tamely as we could wish."
Rebecca, without deigning to reply, gave him a look of supreme contempt, and walked towards the door.
"Intolerable!" he exclaimed, starting from his seat, and thrusting his sabre against the floor with such violence that it shook the glasses on the table. "Intolerable! But you shall be mine, though heaven and hell should interpose."
With these words he left the house, vaulted into his saddle, and spurred his charger toward Jary. "Mount !" was the word of command to the detachment stationed there; at their head he attacked the nearest piquet of the enemy; and with the velocity of lightning the party was dislodged.
"Rebecca," said he, the morning after this exploit, as he entered her room, with an open letter in his hand, which he had received from Jary,— "We are on the point of being attacked. I have roused them: they are turning to bay. Hark'ye, maiden," he continued, "I love you; I cannot part from you."
"You are pleased to jest," said Rebecca. "With all those ladies between Moscow and Madrid you have imagined the same; and yet, you see, it was easy to banish them from your recollection."
"Ah! with them it was quite a different thing!" exclaimed Serricourt.— "I am no soldier, if within these few days you have not deprived me of my wits."