“The Lord forgive me, but- but thy love might not have been vainly given had I kept fast hold of all I had, as I might have done- such power is there in money!”
“It would have been worse for me had you done so, father; for then I had been unworthy a look from him, and without pride in you. Shall I not read now?”
“In a moment,” he said. “Let me, for your sake, my child, show you the worst. Seeing it with me may make it less terrible to you. His love, Esther, is all bestowed.”
“I know it,” she said, calmly.
“The Egyptian has him in her net,” he continued. “She has the cunning of her race, with beauty to help her- much beauty, great cunning; but, like her race again, no heart. The daughter who despises her father will bring her husband to grief.”
“Does she that?”
Simonides went on- “Balthasar is a wise man who has been wonderfully favoured for a Gentile, and his faith becomes him; yet she makes a jest of it. I heard her say, speaking of him yesterday, ‘The follies of youth are excusable; nothing is admirable in the aged except wisdom, and when that goes from them, they should die.’ A cruel speech, fit for a Roman. I applied it to myself, knowing a feebleness like her father’s will come to me also- nay, it is not far off. But you, Esther, will never say of me- no, never- ‘It were better he were dead.’ No, your mother was a daughter of Judah.”
With half-formed tears she kissed him, and said, “I am my mother’s child.”
“Yes, and my daughter- my daughter, who is to me all the Temple was to Solomon.”
After a silence, he laid his hand upon her shoulder, and resumed- “When he has taken the Egyptian to wife, Esther, he will think of you with repentance and much calling of the spirit; for at last he will awake to find himself but the minister of her bad ambition. Rome is the centre of all her dreams. To her he is the son of Arrius the duumvir, not the son of Hur, Prince of Jerusalem.”
Esther made no attempt to conceal the effect of these words.
“Save him, father! It is not too late!” she said, entreatingly.
He answered, with a dubious smile, “A man drowning may be saved; not so a man in love.”
“But you have influence with him. He is alone in the world. Show him his danger. Tell him what a woman she is.”
“That might save him from her. Would it give him to you, Esther? No,” and his brows fell darkly over his eyes. “I am a servant, as my fathers were for generations; yet I could not say to him, ‘Lo, master, my daughter! She is fairer than the Egyptian, and loves thee better.’ I have caught too much from years of liberty and direction. The words would blister my tongue. The stones upon the old hills yonder would turn in their beds for shame when I go out to them. No, by the patriarchs, Esther, I would rather lay us both with your mother to sleep as she sleeps!”