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CHAPTER V.

MARY. FAR in the north, embowered among the mountains of Galilee, lies an oval valley. A deep and silent basin, it receives and concentrates the fervors of August, which make the blood boil and the brain to reel.

Along the barren slope of the western hillside wind narrow streets, with houses of every degree of wretchedness—abodes of want and squalid degradation. This is that notorious village of Nazareth, whose name has become proverbial throughout the nation as an epithet of infamy.

Threading the crooked streets, we climb to the summit of the hill overlooking all the vale below. Here, sequestered from the world, we find a lowly cottage, diverse from all the rest, and half concealed by the luxuriance of its vines, overhanging pomegranates, and other fruit-bearing plants. Here resides old Heli, through whose veins the blood of David flows. Here his gentle daughter, virgin Mary, blooms, unseen by vulgar eyes, save when, on Sabbath morning, closely veiled, she glides toward the synagogue.

Within her room, methinks I behold her even now leaning among the jessamines which fill the lattice-work of the window, as, with one hand putting aside their redundant shoots, she looks upward through the high, thorny nopal, tree, and watches the white clouds floating in the azure sky, unmoved by a breath of wind.

Very young she seems to me, and very lovely. Not with the voluptuous necromancy of Oriental beauty only, but with those charms resulting from the riches of the soul; riches of thought, of fancy, of emotion, lavishing them. selves unconsciously by means of an exquisite symmetry of physical development. I can not rest in that artistical conception of her, so common, I might almost say so hackneyed, which presents to our view merely the embodiment in female form of a certain ideal of saintly puri

grace. It seems to me more natural to conjecture in my visions, as near as may be, the actual truth of her appearance at the very moment she was thus leaning and gazing out of the window. To portray her with golden ringlets, azure eyes, and blonde complexion, may be more poetical, more angelic, more in keeping with the profound worship multitudes

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offer at her shrine; but it is not so true to me, and hence is not so beautiful. It is not the Queen of Heaven I wish to see, but a simple, artless Jewish girl.

I behold her a daughter of the Hebrews, presenting that peculiar style of features which in all ages marks that sacred, that mysterious race; a beauty, glorious in its glossy raven locks, lustrous hazel eye, full red lip, aquiline nose, finely-arched eyebrow, and the rich, deep complexion of the East; a beauty which the utmost efforts of the warm pencil of the sunny South, disdaining to imitate, have in vain attempted to surpass or even equal.

Yet while she reclines there before me, with well-defined national peculiarities, I discern in her broad forehead, her steady eye, her firm though gentle mouth, the marks of a mind serene, elevated, and able to reflect justly on life's vicissitudes.

Her youth, though it is in the first perfection of outward bloom, yet wears a subdued, almost sorrowful mien, united to an unconscious dignity, the result of habitual communion with the highest themes, the holiest natures of the past. There beams, withal, in that deep-speak. ing gaze, notwithstanding its timidity, a light kindled by the indwelling of that peace which the world can neither give nor take away.

On the present occasion, some important ceremony seems about to be transacted; for the dress of the maiden exhibits evidence of unusu. al preparation. Her tresses flow from under a turban of lemon-colored silk down upon her bosom, which is closely fitted by an embroidered cymar of green, clasped in front with some family jewels, hundreds of years old; for, though poor and greatly reduced, these few relics of an ancient lineage are cherished by old Heli as inviolably sacred. Drawers of pale pink reach to her ankles, which, with the di. minutive feet, are left quite bare. Finally, the graceful folds of her gauzy veil, now partially thrown back, yet capable of enveloping her entire symmetrical figure, fall from her head to her feet.

A secret agitation is at times perceptible in her air, as if she were awaiting some crisis, half in hope, half in dread. Outside the door, we hear the voices of youths and maidens, conversing under the tent-like awning which overshades the court; we hear, also, the grateful plashing of the fountain, moistening the sultry atmosphere; and the soft tread of many feet upon the paved floor.

At length they approach her door, and young maidens of her kindred accompany her forth. A few relatives and family friends are assem. bled to witness her betrothal to the artisan Joseph. He also, accompanied by kinsmen and friends, appears waiting her approach.

A silence is made, and, as the various members of the company range themselves informally about the pair, he approaches the spot where the trembling maiden stands. Respectfully he takes her hand and places within it a small golden coin, saying, “ Accept this, Mary, thou daughter of David, as a pledge that thou shalt become my wife.” And with this simple, beautiful ceremony are they inviolably bound to each other, until such time as circumstances permit the marriage rites to be completed.

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