IN THE MOUNTAINS
 THE time is evening; the place is a rocky pass between
Bethel and Michmash. At the mouth of a cave which
commands a view of the approach from the westward, are
seated two men, in one of whom we may recognize
the quondam wine-seller of Jerusalem.
"Well, comrade," he is saying to his companion, "this
business is not quite to my liking. It is all very well
when we can relieve a Greek merchant, or, better still,
a Syrian tax-gatherer, of his money-bags; but I hate
robbing our own people. That poor fellow to-day, for
instance, who was taking home his wages—he had
wood-cutting, he said, in Bashan—it really went
to my heart to take the money from him."
The companion whom he addressed was a rough,
savage-looking fellow, who certainly did not look as if
feel very much for Shallum's scruples.
 He had followed, indeed, the robber's trade, it may be
said, from his childhood, as his fathers had followed
before him, almost since the days of the Captivity.
He now broke out into a loud, mocking laugh.
"Ah! my friend Shallum," he said, "you are a great deal
too soft and tender-hearted. But then you are new to
the business; when you have been at it as long as I
have, you won't have these scruples. Now, mark what I
and if we are to be good friends, don't let me hear any
more of this nonsense. You are a stout fellow and a man
of your hands; and as for myself, well, I rather think
that a novice like you could hardly have come across a
better teacher. I don't doubt that we shall do very
well together; and when we have made a little money, I
shan't blame you if you give up the business and become
what they call an honest man. For myself, the 'honest
man' line does not suit me—it is not in my blood,
you know. But, meanwhile, if we are to work together,
agree. Now, all is fish that comes to our net. Of
course, I don't mean the people about here—our
you know. We must not touch them; on the contrary, they
must, have a share of what we make. As long as they are
our friends we are safe. But all strangers are lawful
booty. And mind—for I see that you are a little
about this—mind, it is only dead men who tell no
 Benjamin's words of wisdom—the more experienced
of the two robbers was named Benjamin—were
interrupted by an
exclamation from his companion.
"Hush!" he cried, "I hear a sound of voices from the
The two men listened; Shallum was evidently right. A
party of travellers were approaching from the west.
"We are in luck," said Benjamin; "it is not often that
we do business so late in the day."
As he spoke the leaders of the party emerged into
"Shoot, Shallum!" said Benjamin; "strike one of those
fellows down and we shall have the whole party in
"Nay, Benjamin; I hear the voices of women and
children; and see—God wither my hand if I shoot
at such helpless
people as these."
The rest of the party was now in sight. Two men, one on
either side of the ass, were supporting Ruth, who, worn
out by the fatigues of the day, could with difficulty
keep her seat on the animal. These were her husband and
Azariah. Close behind came Micah, carrying on his
shoulder the little Judith, who was fast asleep. Then
followed Miriam, Judith's elder sister. The poor child
limped sadly along, for her city life had been but a
poor training for that long day's march, and she felt
 a little envious of the good fortune which Judith
enjoyed in being carried.
Shallum recognized the figures of Seraiah and Ruth,
with whom he happened to have had some slight
in Jerusalem, and from whom indeed he had received no
"Benjamin," he said, in a determined voice, "I know
these people, and if I can help it they shall suffer no
"Well, well; have your way," said his companion, who
indeed was not quite as hard of heart as he would make
himself out. "If, as you say, you know them, go down
and make friends."
Shallum at once made his way down into the pass, and,
standing in the path, greeted the travellers with the
customary salutation, "Peace be with you!"
"What, Shallum!" said Seraiah, "is that you? What
brings you here?"
"That were a long story," returned the man, "and this
is not the time to tell it. But can I serve you?"
"Can you find shelter for my poor wife? But it is idle,
I fear, to ask you. There can be no inn near this wild
" 'Tis true, sir, there is no inn; yet if you can put up
with such poor lodging as we can give, the lady will
have at least shelter."
Ruth was lifted from her seat on the ass, and carried
between her husband and Azariah up the
 rocky track that led to the cave, Shallum showing the
way with a lighted torch in his hand, for by this time
the night had fallen.
Benjamin met the little party at the mouth of the cave.
His life of crime had not quenched all kindly feeling
in him. He felt, too, that he was a host; and the sense
of hospitality, which keeps its hold on an Eastern
heart as long as anything good is left to it, bade him
do his best for his guests. And the sweet smile of
thanks with which Ruth greeted him when she was laid on
the couch of cloaks, which the two inmates of the cave
had hastily arranged on a pile of heather, won him
A minute or two afterwards Micah followed with the two
children; Judith, still fast asleep, was put down by
Ruth's side, while Miriam forgot her fatigue in the
delightful excitement of this new adventure. The
had brought with them a slender store of provisions.
These they proceeded to share, declining with thanks
dried flesh and wine which their entertainers offered.
The rest of the party found shelter, under guidance of
the robbers, in some of the many caves with which the
rocks in the neighbourhood were honeycombed.
Next morning the arrangements for housing the little
colony were made. There was an abundance of caves to
shelter to all, and the accommodation though rough, at
least protected them from the
 weather. Their life was simple in the
extreme—simple even to hardness. They sought for
herbs and roots, and
from the neighbouring peasants they bought a few goats,
to browse among the rocks, and a small quantity of
corn, which they bruised between stones and baked. The
mountain springs furnished their drink, a few flasks of
wine being reserved for any cases of sickness. Twice a
day the whole company met for worship. Seraiah read a
portion first from the Law and then from the Prophets,
for they had not forgotten to bring rolls of the Sacred
Books. Then standing erect, with covered heads, their
faces turned towards the Temple, they joined in prayer.
In the words of one who himself in old time had found
himself shut out for a while from the privileges of the
Holy Place and was content to realize them by faith,
the congregation uttered together the petition, "Let my
prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense; and
let the lifting up of my hands be an evening
One of the psalms of penitence followed; for surely
they had all many sins to repent of—sins of which
now suffering the penalty; and, after the psalm, a
prayer for deliverance from the enemy, and for the
up again of the throne of David, and for that without
which neither deliverance nor a restored kingdom could
profit them—purity and righteousness in their own
hearts and souls.
Nothing could be more simple and frugal than
 their daily fare. Wild fruits and herbs were largely
used, and any little plots of fertile ground that could
found were planted with vegetables, some far-seeing
member of the party having brought with him a small
of garden seeds. When a few days after their arrival
Ruth gave birth to a son it was much feared that the
scanty supply of nourishing food might long delay her
restoration to strength. This fear was not realized.
feeling of freedom and deliverance combined with the
fine mountain air to bring her back to her wonted
and she found herself able to go about her daily work
long before she could have hoped to do so in the more
enervating atmosphere of the city.
One day she had gone to gather herbs for the daily
mess, a work in which she was especially useful from
knowledge of plants which she had taken pains to
acquire in her unmarried days. She had taken, of
new-born infant with her, and Miriam, who was delighted
to perform, as far as her strength permitted, the
office of nurse. The little Judith, whose night's rest
had been disturbed by some childish ailment, had been
left at home to make up her allowance of sleep. The
mother found on her return that a strange visitor had
herself at home in the cave. The little one was fast
asleep on a bed of rugs which had been made up for her,
and curled up at her side with one of her fore paws
 round her neck was a jackal. The two companions were
roused together by the arrival of the party, and,
wonderful to relate, neither showed any symptoms of
alarm. The jackal rose from its resting-place,
Ruth, and fawned at her feet, and the child came after
its bedfellow and stroked affectionately its shaggy
When, two or three weeks afterwards, the new comer
gave birth to a litter of cubs, the joy of the children
complete. The little animals soon learnt to play with
the girls, and their dam sat by and watched their
gambols, and sometimes even condescended to join in
The little colony heard of the strange incident with
delight, and saw in it a token of Divine favour. "Man
rages cruelly against us," they said, "but we find
friends among the beasts of the field. Surely it is our
who hath changed the heart of this savage dweller in
the wilderness, and we will trust that He will do yet
greater things than these."
"Mother," said Miriam one day to Ruth, "by what name
shall we call our new friend?"
The question puzzled her, and she referred it to her
"It does not seem fitting," she said, "that we should
give the name of a daughter of the Covenant to the
for though she is of kindly temper yet she is unclean."
Seraiah thought awhile.
 "You say truth, my wife. Let us call her Jael."
"But why Jael?"
"Because the wife of Heber was of the unclean, for was
she not of the house of the Kenite? Yet was she a
of Israel, for she slew Sisera that was captain of the
host of Jabin, King of Canaan."
So thenceforward the creature went by the name of Jael.
It was not long before she justified her name by
showing that she could be fierce on occasion.
A wayfarer, who described himself as a discharged
soldier and a Moabite by birth, asked for shelter and
Scanty as were the means of the fugitives, they did not
grudge the stranger a share of their meal. They gave
him their best, adding to their daily fare the special
luxury of some dried grapes. As he complained of being
footsore, Ruth applied some simple remedies to the
blisters on his feet. Altogether he was treated not
a welcome but even as an honoured guest. On his part he
professed a fervent sympathy with the hopes and plans
of his hosts. The next morning he started as if to
continue his journey. But the cupidity of the wretch
been roused by the sight of the handsome
earrings—almost the sole remaining relic of
former affluence—which he
had spied in his hostess's ears. About an hour before
noon, when he judged that the men would be still busy
about their daily work, he crept back to the cave. Ruth
 by a fire nursing her babe. The jackal lay asleep in a
corner; the girls were playing with the cubs on a sunny
little plot of ground outside.
"Lady," began the fellow, in a beggar's wheedling
voice, "can you spare a little money for a poor fellow
has not so much as a copper coin to buy him a piece of
Ruth was startled at his re-appearance, but concealed
"Friend," she said, "I have no money; but I will give
you half a loaf if you want food, though you had done
better, I should think, to keep on your way, for you
can hardly find any that are poorer than we."
"But you have gold," said the man.
"Gold? Not I," she answered.
"Nay, lady," he went on, with a perceptible tone of
threatening in his voice, "those earrings that you wear
doubtless of true metal. They add, indeed, to your
beauty, and it is a pity that you should lose them; but
there is no one to admire you in this wilderness, and
they would keep a poor fellow like myself in flesh and
wine for a month or more."
"My earrings?" said Ruth, stupefied by the man's
"Yes, your earrings, lady," said the man. "I should
advise you to take them out yourself, for if I have to
it I am afraid that I shall show myself a very rough
The spirit of Ruth, the same that had dwelt of old
 in a Miriam or a Deborah, was roused at the man's
insolent audacity. She seized a half-burnt brand from
fire and stood on her defence. The soldier, thinking
that he had found an easy prey, approached. But he had
reckoned on an ally who was ready to help her in her
need. Jael had been woke by the voices, and watched
glaring eyes the soldier's movements, uttering every
now and then a low growl, which, however, the man was
much occupied to heed. As soon as he came within reach,
she sprang upon him from her lurking-place. The force
with which she threw herself upon him overset him, and
he fell backwards, his head striking on the mill-stone
which formed part of the scanty furniture of the cave.
In a moment her fangs were in his throat. In vain did
Ruth, who saw the man's danger and was unwilling that
he should perish in his sins, call her by her name. All
the savage instinct in her was roused by the taste of
blood. Before two minutes had passed the freebooter was
"We did well to call her Jael," said Seraiah that
evening, as he helped to carry the corpse out of the
"The wretch has received the due reward of his deeds."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics