“Praised be the Lord forever!” exclaimed the mother, with the fervour of restored faith and hope.
“Ho, there!” they heard next; and then, “Who are you?”
The voice was strange. What matter? Except from Tirzah, they were the first and only words the mother had heard in eight years. The revulsion was mighty- from death to life- and so instantly! “A woman of Israel, entombed here with her daughter. Help us quickly, or we die.”
“Be of cheer. I will return.”
The women sobbed aloud. They were found; help was coming. From wish to wish hope flew as the twittering swallows fly. They were found; they would be released. And restoration would follow- restoration to all they had lost- home, society, property, son and brother! The scanty light glozed them with the glory of day, and, forgetful of pain, and thirst, and hunger, and of the menace of death, they sank upon the floor and cried, keeping fast hold of each other the while.
And this time they had not long to wait. Gesius, the keeper, told his tale methodically, but finished it at last. The tribune was prompt.
“Within there!” he shouted through the trap.
“Here!” said the mother, rising.
Directly she heard another sound in another place, as of blows on the wall- blows quick, ringing, and delivered with iron tools. She did not speak, nor did Tirzah, but they listened, well knowing the meaning of it all- that a way to liberty was being made for them. So men a long time buried in deep mines hear the coming of rescuers, heralded by thrust of bar and beat of pick, answer gratefully with heart-throbs, their eyes fixed upon the spot whence the sounds proceed; and they cannot look away, lest the work should cease, and they be returned to despair.
The arms outside were strong, the hands skilful, the will good. Each instant the blows sounded more plainly; now and then a piece fell with a crash; and liberty came nearer and nearer. Presently the workmen could be heard speaking. Then- O happiness! through a crevice flashed a red ray of torches. Into the darkness it cut incisive as diamond brilliance, beautiful as if from a spear of the morning.
“It is he, mother, it is he! He has found us at last!” cried Tirzah, with the quickened fancy of youth.
But the mother answered meekly, “God is good!”
A block fell inside, and another- then a great mass, and the door was open. A man grimed with mortar and stone-dust stepped in, and stopped, holding a torch over his head. Two or three others followed with torches, and stood aside for the tribune to enter.
Respect for women is not all a conventionality, for it is the best proof of their proper nature. The tribune stopped, because they fled from him- not with fear, be it said, but shame; nor yet, O reader, from shame alone! From the obscurity of their partial hiding he heard these words, the saddest, most dreadful, most utterly despairing of the human tongue- “Come not near us- unclean, unclean!”