'Abdallah is a faithful slave, may it please your highness, and a Hadgee,' said Ali, his master.
'And what sayest thou, boy?' inquired Honain.
'That this is a false knave, who lies as slaves ever will.'
'Pithy, and perhaps true,' said Honain.
'You call me a slave, you young scoundrel?' exclaimed Abdallah; 'shall I tell you what you are? Why, your highness, do not listen to him a moment. It is a shame to bring such a creature into your presence; for, by the holy stone, and I am a Hadgee, I doubt little he is a Jew.'
Honain grew somewhat pale, and bit his lip. He was perhaps annoyed that he had interfered so publicly in behalf of so unpopular a character as a Hebrew, but he was unwilling to desert one whom a moment before he had resolved to befriend, and he inquired of the youth where he had obtained the ring.
'The ring was given to me by my dearest friend when I first set out upon an arduous pilgrimage not yet completed. There is but one person in the world, except the donor, to whom I would part with it, and with that person I am unacquainted. All this may seem improbable, but all this is true. I have truth alone to support me. I am destitute and friendless; but I am not a beggar, nor will any suffering induce me to become one. Feeling, from various circumstances, utterly exhausted, I entered a coffee-house and lay down, it may have been to die. I could not sleep, although my eyes were shut, and nothing would have roused me from a tremulous trance, which I thought was dying, but this plunderer here, who would not wait until death had permitted him quietly to possess himself of a jewel I value more than life.'
'Show me the jewel.'
The youth held up his hand to Honain, who felt his pulse, and then took off the ring.
'O, my Fatima!' exclaimed Abdallah.
'Silence, sir!' said Honain. 'Page, call a jeweller.'
Honain examined the ring attentively. Whether he were near-sighted, or whether the deceptive light of the covered bazaar prevented him from examining it with ease, he certainly raised his hand to his brow, and for some moments his countenance was invisible.
The jeweller arrived, and, pressing his hand to his heart, bowed before Honain.
'Value this ring,' said Honain, in a low voice.
The jeweller took the ring, viewed it in all directions with a scrutinising glance, held it to the light, pressed it to his tongue, turned it over and over, and finally declared that he could not sell such a ring under a thousand dirhems.
'Whatever be the justice of the case,' said Honain to Abdallah, 'art thou ready to part with this ring for a thousand dirhems?'
'Most certainly,' said Abdallah. 'And thou, lad, if the decision be in thy favour, wilt thou take for the ring double the worth at which the jeweller prizes it?'
'My lord, I have spoken the truth. I cannot part with that ring for the palace of the Caliph.'
'The truth for once is triumphant,' said Honain. 'Boy, the ring is thine; and for thee, thou knave,' turning to Abdallah, 'liar, thief, and slanderer!—for thee the bastinado, which thou destinedst for this innocent youth. Ibrahim, see that he receives five hundred. Young pilgrim, thou art no longer destitute or friendless. Follow me to my palace.'
The arched chamber was of great size and beautiful proportion. The ceiling, encrusted with green fretwork, and studded with silver stars, rested upon clustered columns of white and green marble. In the centre of a variegated pavement of the same material, a fountain rose and fell into a green porphyry basin, and by the side of the fountain, upon a couch of silver, reposed Honain.
He raised his eyes from the illuminated volume on which he had been long intent; he clapped his hands, and a Nubian slave advanced, and, folding his arms upon his breast, bowed in silence before his lord. 'How fares the Hebrew boy, Analschar?'
'Master, the fever has not returned. We gave him the potion; he slumbered for many hours, and has now awakened, weak but well.'
'Let him rise and attend me.'
The Nubian disappeared.
'There is nothing stranger than sympathy,' soliloquised the physician of the Caliph, with a meditative air; 'all resolves itself into this principle, and I confess this learned doctor treats it deeply and well. An erudite spirit truly, and an eloquent pen; yet he refines too much. 'Tis too scholastic. Observation will teach us more than dogma. Meditating upon my passionate youth, I gathered wisdom. I have seen so much that I have ceased to wonder. However we doubt, there is a mystery beyond our penetration. And yet 'tis near our grasp. I sometimes deem a step, a single step, would launch us into light. Here comes my patient. The rose has left his cheek, and his deep brow is wan and melancholy. Yet 'tis a glorious visage, Meditation's throne; and Passion lingers in that languid eye. I know not why, a strong attraction draws me to this lone child.
'Gentle stranger, how fares it with thee?'
'Very well, my lord. I come to thank thee for all thy goodness. My only thanks are words, and those too weak; and yet the orphan's blessing is a treasure.'
'You are an orphan, then'
'I have no parent but my father's God.'
'And that God is——'
'The God of Israel.'
'So I deemed. He is a Deity we all must honour; if he be the great Creator whom we all allow.'
'He is what he is, and we are what we are, a fallen people, but faithful still.'
'Fidelity is strength.'
'Thy words are truth, and strength must triumph.'
'Many a prophet is little honoured, till the future proves his inspiration.'
'You are young and sanguine.'
'So was my ancestor within the vale of Elah. But I speak unto a Moslem, and this is foolishness.'
'I have read something, and can take your drift. As for my faith, I believe in truth, and wish all men to do the same. By-the-bye, might I inquire the name of him who is the inmate of my house?'
'They call me David.'
'David, you have a ring, an emerald cut with curious characters, Hebrew, I believe.'
'A fine stone, and this inscription means——'
'A simple legend, "Parted, but one;" the kind memorial of a brother's love.'
'I never had a brother.'
'I have a silly fancy for this ring: you hesitate. Search my palace, and choose the treasure you deem its match.'
'Noble sir, the gem is little worth; but were it such might deck a Caliph's brow, 'twere a poor recompense for all thy goodness. This ring is a trust rather than a possession, and strange to say, although I cannot offer it to thee who mayst command, as thou hast saved, the life of its unhappy wearer, some stranger may cross my path to-morrow, and almost claim it as his own.'
'And that stranger is——'
'The brother of the donor.'
'The brother of Jabaster?'
'Even so. I am that parted brother.'
'Great is the God of Israel! Take the ring. But what is this? the brother of Jabaster a turbaned chieftain! a Moslem! Say, but say, that thou hast not assumed their base belief; say, but say, that thou hast not become a traitor to our covenant, and I will bless the fortunes of this hour.'
'I am false to no God. Calm thyself, sweet youth. These are higher questions than thy faint strength can master now. Another time we'll talk of this, my boy; at present of my brother and thyself. He lives and prospers?'
'He lives in faith; the pious ever prosper.'
'A glorious dreamer! Though our moods are different, I ever loved him. And thyself? Thou art not what thou seemest. Tell me all. Jabaster's friend can be no common mind. Thy form has heralded thy fame. Trust me.'
'I am Alroy.'
'What! the Prince of our Captivity?'
'The slayer of Alschiroch?'
'My sympathy was prophetic. I loved thee from the first. And what dost thou here? A price is set upon thy head: thou knowest it?'
'For the first time; but I am neither astonished nor alarmed. I am upon the Lord's business.'
'What wouldst thou?'
'Free his people.'
'The pupil of Jabaster: I see it all. Another victim to his reveries. I'll save this boy. David,—for thy name must not be sounded within this city,—the sun is dying. Let us to the terrace, and seek the solace of the twilight breeze.'
'What is the hour, David?'
'Near to midnight. I marvel if thy brother may read in the stars our happy meeting.'
'Men read that which they wish. He is a learned Cabalist.'
'But what we wish comes from above.'
'So they say. We make our fortunes, and we call them Fate.'
'Yet the Voice sounded, the Daughter of the Voice that summoned Samuel.'
'You have told me strange things; I have heard stranger solved.'
'My faith is a rock.'
'On which you may split.'
'Art thou a Sadducee?'
'I am a man who knows men.'
'You are learned, but different from Jabaster.'
'We are the same, though different. Day and Night are both portions of Time.'
'And thy portion is——'
'That is, light.'
'Yes; so dazzling that it sometimes seems dark.'
'Like thy meaning.'
'You are young.'
'Is youth a defect?'
'No, the reverse. But we cannot eat the fruit while the tree is in blossom.'
'I have studied.'
'All sacred things.'
'How know you that they are sacred?'
'They come from God.'
'So does everything. Is everything sacred?'
'They are the deep expression of his will.'
'According to Jabaster. Ask the man who prays in yonder mosque, and he will tell you that Jabaster's wrong.'
'After all, thou art a Moslem?'
'I have told you, a man.'
'But what dost thou worship?'
'What is worship?'
'Adoration due from the creature to the Creator.'
'Which is he?'
'The God of Israel?'
'A frail minority, then, burn incense to him.'
'We are the chosen people.'
'Chosen for scoffs, and scorns, and contumelies. Commend me to such choice.'
'We forgot Him, before He chastened us.'
'Why did we?'
'Thou knowest the records of our holy race.'
'Yes, I know them; like all records, annals of blood.'
'Annals of victory, that will dawn again.'
'If redemption be but another name for carnage, I envy no Messiah.'
'Art thou Jabaster's brother?' 'So our mother was wont to say: a meek and blessed woman.'
'Lord Honain, thou art rich, and wise, and powerful. Thy fellow-men speak of thee only with praise or fear, and both are cheering. Thou hast quitted our antique ark; why, no matter. We'll not discuss it. 'Tis something; if a stranger, at least thou art not a renegade. The world goes well with thee, my Lord Honain. But if, instead of bows and blessings, thou, like thy brethren, wert greeted only with the cuff and curse; if thou didst rise each morning only to feel existence to be dishonour, and to find thyself marked out among surrounding men as something foul and fatal; if it were thy lot, like theirs, at best to drag on a mean and dull career, hopeless and aimless, or with no other hope or aim but that which is degrading, and all this, too, with a keen sense of thy intrinsic worth, and a deep conviction of superior race; why, then, perchance, Honain might even discover 'twere worth a struggle to be free and honoured.' 'I pray your pardon, sir; I thought you were Jabaster's pupil, a dreaming student. I see you have a deep ambition.'
'I am a prince; and I fain would be a prince without my fetters.'
'Listen to me, Alroy,' said Honain in a low voice, and he placed his arm around him, 'I am your friend. Our acquaintance is very brief: no matter, I love you; I rescued you in injury, I tended you in sickness, even now your life is in my power, I would protect it with my own. You cannot doubt me. Our affections are not under our own control; and mine are yours. The sympathy between us is entire. You see me, you see what I am; a Hebrew, though unknown; one of that despised, rejected, persecuted people, of whom you are the chief. I too would be free and honoured. Freedom and honour are mine, but I was my own messiah. I quitted in good time our desperate cause, but I gave it a trial. Ask Jabaster how I fought. Youth could be my only excuse for such indiscretion. I left this country; I studied and resided among the Greeks. I returned from Constantinople, with all their learning, some of their craft. No one knew me. I assumed their turban, and I am the Lord Honain. Take my experience, child, and save yourself much sorrow. Turn your late adventure to good account. No one can recognise you here. I will introduce you amongst the highest as my child by some fair Greek. The world is before you. You may fight, you may love, you may revel. War, and Women, and luxury are all at your command. With your person and talents you may be grand vizir. Clear your head of nonsense. In the present disordered state of the empire, you may even carve yourself out a kingdom, infinitely more delightful than the barren land of milk and honey. I have seen it, child; a rocky wilderness, where I would not let my courser graze.'
He bent down, and fixed his eyes upon his companion with a scrutinising glance. The moonlight fell upon the resolved visage of the Prince of the Captivity.
'Honain,' he replied, pressing his hand, 'I thank thee. Thou knowest not me, but still I thank thee.'
'You are resolved, then, on destruction.'
'On glory, eternal glory.'
'Is it possible to succeed?'
'Is it possible to fail?'
'You are mad.'
'I am a believer.'
'Enough. You have yet one chance. My brother has saddled your enterprise with a condition, and an impossible one. Gain the sceptre of Solomon, and I will agree to be your subject. You will waste a year in this frolic. You are young, and can afford it. I trust you will experience nothing worse than a loss of time, which is, however, valuable. My duty will be, after all your sufferings, to send you forth on your adventures in good condition, and to provide you means for a less toilsome pilgrimage than has hitherto been your lot. Trust me, you will return to Bagdad to accept my offers. At present, the dews are descending, and we will return to our divan, and take some coffee.'
Some few days after this conversation on the terrace, as Alroy was reclining in a bower, in the beautiful garden of his host, meditating on the future, some one touched him on the back. He looked up. It was Honain.
'Follow me,' said the brother of Jabaster.
The Prince rose, and followed him in silence. They entered the house, and, passing through the saloon already described, they proceeded down a long gallery, which terminated in an arched flight of broad steps leading to the river. A boat was fastened to the end of the stairs, floating on the blue line of the Tigris, bright in the sun.
Honain now gave to Alroy a velvet bag, which he requested him to carry, and then they descended the steps and entered the covered boat; and, without any directions to the rower, they were soon skimming over the water. By the sound of passing vessels, and the occasional shouts of the boatmen, Alroy, although he could observe nothing, was conscious that for some time their course lay through a principal thoroughfare of the city; but by degrees the sounds became less frequent, and in time entirely died away, and all that caught his ear was the regular and monotonous stroke of their own oar.
At length, after the lapse of nearly an hour from their entrance, the boat stopped, and was moored against a quay. The curtains were withdrawn, and Honain and his companion debarked.
A low but extensive building, painted in white and gold arabesque, and irregular but picturesque in form, with many small domes, and tall thin towers, rose amid groves of cypress on the bank of the broad and silent river. The rapid stream had carried them far from the city, which was visible but distant. Around was no habitation, no human being. The opposite bank was occupied by enclosed gardens. Not even a boat passed.
Honain, beckoning to Alroy to accompany him, but still silent, advanced to a small portal, and knocked. It was instantly opened by a single Nubian, who bowed reverently as the visitors passed him. They proceeded along a low and gloomy passage, covered with arches of fretwork, until they arrived at a door of tortoise-shell and mother-of-pearl. Here Honain, who was in advance, turned round to Alroy, and said, 'Whatever happen, and whoever may address you, as you value your life and mine, do not speak.'
The door opened, and they found themselves in a vast and gorgeous hall. Pillars of many-coloured marbles rose from a red and blue pavement of the same material, and supported a vaulted, circular, and highly-embossed roof of purple, scarlet, and gold. Around a fountain, which rose fifty feet in height from an immense basin of lapis-lazuli, and reclining on small yellow Barbary mats, was a group of Nubian eunuchs, dressed in rich habits of scarlet and gold, and armed with ivory battle-axes, the white handles worked in precious arabesque finely contrasting with the blue and brilliant blades.
The commander of the eunuch-guard rose on seeing Honain, and pressing his hand to his head, mouth, and heart, saluted him. The physician of the Caliph, motioning Alroy to remain, advanced some paces in front of him, and entered into a whispering conversation with the eunuch. After a few minutes, this officer resumed his seat, and Honain, beckoning to Alroy to rejoin him, crossed the hall.
Passing through an open arch, they entered a quadrangular court of roses, each bed of flowers surrounded by a stream of sparkling water, and floating like an enchanted islet upon a fairy ocean. The sound of the water and the sweetness of the flowers blended together, and produced a lulling sensation, which nothing but his strong and strange curiosity might have enabled Alroy to resist. Proceeding along a cloister of light airy workmanship which connected the hall with the remainder of the buildings, they stood before a lofty and sumptuous portal.
It was a monolith gate, thirty feet in height, formed of one block of green and red jasper, and cut into the fanciful undulating arch of the Saracens. The consummate artist had seized the advantage afforded to him by the ruddy veins of the precious stone, and had formed them in bold relief into two vast and sinuous serpents, which shot forth their crested heads and glittering eyes at Honain and his companion.
The physician of the Caliph, taking his dagger from his girdle, struck the head of one of the serpents thrice. The massy portal opened with a whirl and a roar, and before them stood an Abyssinian giant, holding in his leash a roaring lion.
'Hush, Haroun!' said Honain to the animal, raising at the same time his arm; and the beast crouched in silence. 'Worthy Morgargon, I bring you a remembrance.' The Abyssinian showed his tusks, larger and whiter than the lion's, as he grinningly received the tribute of the courtly Honain; and he uttered a few uncouth sounds, but he could not speak, for he was a mute.
The jasper portal introduced the companions to a long and lofty and arched chamber, lighted by high windows of stained glass, hung with tapestry of silk and silver, covered with prodigious carpets, and surrounded by immense couches. And thus through similar chambers they proceeded, in some of which were signs of recent habitation, until they arrived at another quadrangle nearly filled by a most singular fountain which rose from a basin of gold encrusted with pearls, and which was surrounded by figures of every rare quadruped in the most costly materials. Here a golden tiger, with flaming eyes of ruby and flowing stripes of opal, stole, after some bloody banquet, to the refreshing brink; a camelopard raised its slender neck of silver from the centre of a group of every inhabitant of the forest; and brilliant bands of monkeys, glittering with precious stones, rested, in every variety of fantastic posture, on the margin of the basin.
The fountain itself was a tree of gold and silver spreading into innumerable branches, covered with every variety of curious birds, their plumage appropriately imitated by the corresponding tints of precious stones, which warbled in beautiful melody as they poured forth from their bills the musical and refreshing element.
It was with difficulty that Alroy could refrain from an admiring exclamation, but Honain, ever quick, turned to him, with his finger pressed on his mouth, and quitting the quadrangle, they entered the gardens.
Lofty terraces, dark masses of cypress, winding walks of acacia, in the distance an interminable paradise, and here and there a glittering pavilion and bright kiosk! Its appearance on the river had not prepared Alroy for the extent of the palace itself. It seemed infinite, and it was evident that he had only viewed a small portion of it. While they were moving on, there suddenly rose a sound of trumpets. The sound grew nearer and nearer, louder and louder: soon was heard the tramp of an approaching troop. Honain drew Alroy aside. A procession appeared advancing from a dark grove of cypress. Four hundred men led as many white bloodhounds with collars of gold and rubies. Then came one hundred men, each with a hooded hawk; then six horsemen in rich dresses; after them a single horseman, mounted on a steed, marked on its forehead with a star. The rider was middle-aged, handsome, and dignified. He was plainly dressed, but the staff of his hunting-spear was entirely of diamonds and the blade of gold.
He was followed by a company of Nubian eunuchs, with their scarlet dresses and ivory battle-axes, and the procession closed.
'The Caliph,' whispered Honain, when they had passed, placing at the same time his finger on his lip to prevent any inquiry. This was the first intimation that had reached Alroy of what he had already suspected, that he was a visitor to the palace of the Commander of the Faithful.
The companions turned down a wild and winding walk, which, after some time, brought them to a small and gently sloping lawn, surrounded by cedar-trees of great size. Upon the lawn was a kiosk, a long and many-windowed building, covered with blinds, and further screened by an overhanging roof. The kiosk was built of white and green marble, the ascent to it was by a flight of steps the length of the building, alternately of white and green marble, and nearly covered with rose-trees. Honain went up these steps alone, and entered the kiosk. After a few minutes he looked out from the blinds and beckoned to Alroy. David advanced, but Honain, fearful of some indiscretion, met him, and said to him in a low whisper between his teeth, 'Remember you are deaf, a mute, and a eunuch.' Alroy could scarcely refrain from smiling, and the Prince of the Captivity and the physician of the Caliph entered the kiosk together. Two women, veiled, and two eunuchs of the guard, received them in an antechamber. And then they passed into a room which ran nearly the whole length of the kiosk, opening on one side to the gardens, and on the other supported by an ivory wall, with niches painted in green fresco, and in each niche a rose-tree. Each niche, also, was covered with an almost invisible golden grate, which confined a nightingale, and made him constant to the rose he loved. At the foot of each niche was a fountain, but, instead of water, each basin was replenished with the purest quicksilver. The roof of the kiosk was of mother-of-pearl inlaid with tortoise-shell; the pavement, a mosaic of rare marbles and precious stones, representing the most delicious fruits and the most beautiful flowers. Over this pavement, a Georgian page flung at intervals refreshing perfumes. At the end of this elegant chamber was a divan of light green silk, embroidered with pearls, and covered with cushions of white satin and gold. Upon one of these cushions, in the middle of the divan, sat a lady, her eyes fixed in abstraction upon a volume of Persian poetry lying on her knees, one hand playing with a rosary of pearls and emeralds, and the other holding a long gold chain, which imprisoned a white gazelle.
The lady looked up as Honain and his companion entered. She was very young, as youthful as Alroy. Her long light brown hair, drawn off a high white forehead covered with blue veins, fell braided with pearls over each shoulder. Her eyes were large and deeply blue; her nose small, but high and aquiline. The fairness of her face was dazzling, and, when she looked up and greeted Honain, her lustrous cheeks broke into dimples, the more fascinating from their contrast with the general expression of her countenance, which was haughty and derisive. The lady was dressed in a robe of crimson silk girded round her waist by a green shawl, from which peeped forth the diamond hilt of a small poniard. Her round white arms looked infinitely small, as they occasionally flashed forth from their large loose hanging sleeves. One was covered with jewels, and the right arm was quite bare.
Honain advanced, and, bending, kissed the lady's proffered hand. Alroy fell into the background.
'They told me that the Rose of the World drooped this morning,' said the physician, bending again as he smiled, 'and her slave hastened at her command to tend her.'
'It was a south wind. The wind has changed, and the Rose of the World is better,' replied the lady laughing.
Honain touched her pulse.
'Irregular,' said the physician.
'Like myself,' said the lady. 'Is that a new slave?'
'A recent purchase, and a great bargain. He is good-looking, has the advantage of being deaf and dumb, and is harmless in every respect.'
''Tis a pity,' replied the lady; 'it seems that all good-looking people are born to be useless. I, for instance.'
'Yet rumour whispers the reverse,' remarked the physician.
'How so?' inquired the lady.
'The young King of Karasme.'
'Poh! I have made up my mind to detest him. A barbarian!'
'Have you ever seen him?'
'Is he not a conqueror? All the plunder of the world will be yours.'
'I am tired of magnificence. I built this kiosk to forget it.'
'It is not in the least degree splendid,' said Honain, looking round with a smile.
'No,' answered the lady, with a self-satisfied air: 'here, at least, one can forget one has the misfortune to be a princess.'
'It is certainly a great misfortune,' said the physician.
'And yet it must be the only tolerable lot,' replied the lady.
'Assuredly,' replied Honain.
'For our unhappy sex, at least.'
'If I were only a man!'
'What a hero you would be!'
'I should like to live in endless confusion.'
'I have not the least doubt of it.'
'Have you got me the books?' eagerly inquired the Princess.
'My slave bears them,' replied Honain.
'Let me see them directly.'
Honain took the bag from Alroy, and unfolded its contents; the very volumes of Greek romances which Ali, the merchant, had obtained for him.
'I am tired of poetry,' said the Princess, glancing over the costly volumes, and tossing them away; 'I long to see the world.'
'You would soon be tired of that,' replied the physician.
'I suppose common people are never tired.' said the Princess.
'Except with labour;' said the physician; 'care keeps them alive.'
'What is care?' asked the Princess, with a smile.
'It is a god,' replied the physician, 'invisible, but omnipotent. It steals the bloom from the cheek and lightness from the pulse; it takes away the appetite, and turns the hair grey.'
'It is no true divinity, then,' replied the Princess, 'but an idol we make ourselves. I am a sincere Moslem, and will not worship it. Tell me some news, Honain.'
'The young King of Karasme——'
'Again! the barbarian! You are in his pay. I'll none of him. To leave one prison, and to be shut up in another,—why do you remind me of it? No, my dear Hakim, if I marry at all, I will marry to be free.'
'An impossibility,' said Honain.
'My mother was free till she was a queen and a slave. I intend to end as she began. You know what she was.'
Honain knew well, but he was too politic not to affect ignorance.
'The daughter of a bandit,' continued the Princess, 'who fought by the side of her father. That is existence! I must be a robber. 'Tis in the blood. I want my fate foretold, Honain. You are an astrologer; do it.'
'I have already cast your nativity. Your star is a comet.'
'That augurs well; brilliant confusion and erratic splendour. I wish I were a star,' added the Princess in a deep rich voice, and with a pensive air; 'a star in the clear blue sky, beautiful and free. Honain, Honain, the gazelle has broken her chain, and is eating my roses.'
Alroy rushed forward and seized the graceful truant. Honain shot him an anxious look; the Princess received the chain from the hand of Alroy, and cast at him a scrutinising glance.
'What splendid eyes the poor beast has got!' exclaimed the Princess.
'The gazelle?' inquired the physician.
'No, your slave,' replied the Princess. 'Why, he blushes. Were he not deaf as well as dumb, I could almost believe he understood me.'
'He is modest,' replied Honain, rather alarmed; 'and is frightened at the liberty he has taken.'
'I like modesty,' said the Princess; 'it is interesting. I am modest; you think so?'
'Certainly,' said Honain.
'I detest an interesting person. After all, there is nothing like plain dulness.'
'Nothing,' said Honain.
'The day flows on so serenely in such society.'
'It does,' said Honain.
'No confusion; no scenes.'
'I make it a rule only to have ugly slaves.'
'You are quite right.'
'Honain, will you ever contradict me? You know very well I have the handsomest slaves in the world.'
'Every one knows it.'
'And, do you know, I have taken a great fancy to your new purchase, who, according to your account, is eminently qualified for the post. Why, do you not agree with me?'
'Why, yes; I doubt not your Highness would find him eminently qualified, and certainly few things would give me greater pleasure than offering him for your acceptance; but I got into such disgrace by that late affair of the Circassian, that——'
'Oh! leave it to me,' said the Princess.
'Certainly,' said the physician, turning the conversation; 'and when the young King of Karasme arrives at Bagdad, you can offer him to his majesty as a present.'
'Delightful! and the king is really handsome and young as well as brave; but has he any taste?'
'You have enough for both.'
'If he would but make war against the Greeks!'
'Why so violent against the poor Greeks?'
'You know they are Giaours. Besides, they might beat him, and then I should have the pleasure of being taken prisoner.'
'Charming! to see Constantinople, and marry the Emperor.'
'Marry the Emperor!'
'To be sure. Of course he would fall in love with me.'
'And then, and then, I might conquer Paris!'
'You have been at Paris?'
'The men are shut up there,' said the Princess with a smile, 'are they not? and the women do what they like?'
'You will always do what you like,' said Honain, rising.
'You are going?'
'My visits must not be too long.'
'Farewell, dear Honain!' said the Princess, with a melancholy air. 'You are the only person who has an idea in all Bagdad, and you leave me. A miserable lot is mine, to feel everything, and be nothing. These books and flowers, these sweet birds, and this fair gazelle: ah! poets may feign as they please, but how cheerfully would I resign all these elegant consolations of a captive life for one hour of freedom! I wrote some verses on myself yesterday; take them, and get them blazoned for me by the finest scribe in the city; letters of silver on a violet ground with a fine flowing border; I leave the design to you. Adieu! Come hither, mute.' Alroy advanced to her beckon, and knelt. 'There, take that rosary for thy master's sake, and those dark eyes of thine.'
The companions withdrew, and reached their boat in silence. It was sunset. The musical and sonorous voice of the Muezzin resounded from the innumerable minarets of the splendid city. Honain threw back the curtains of the barque. Bagdad rose before them in huge masses of sumptuous dwellings, seated amid groves and gardens. An infinite population, summoned by the invigorating twilight, poured forth in all directions. The glowing river was covered with sparkling caiques, the glittering terraces with showy groups. Splendour, and power, and luxury, and beauty were arrayed before them in their most captivating forms, and the heart of Alroy responded to their magnificence. 'A glorious vision!' said the Prince of the Captivity.
'Very different from Hamadan,' said the physician of the Caliph.
'To-day I have seen wonders,' said Alroy.
'The world is opening to you,' said Honain.
Alroy did not reply; but after some minutes he said, in a hesitating voice, 'Who was that lady?'
'The Princess Schirene,' replied Honain, 'the favourite daughter of the Caliph. Her mother was a Georgian and a Giaour.'
The moonlight fell upon the figure of Alroy lying on a couch; his face was hidden by his arm. He was motionless, but did not sleep.
He rose and paced the chamber with agitated steps; sometimes he stopped, and gazed on the pavement, fixed in abstraction. He advanced to the window, and cooled his feverish brow in the midnight air.
An hour passed away, and the young Prince of the Captivity remained fixed in the same position. Suddenly he turned to a tripod of porphyry, and, seizing a rosary of jewels, pressed it to his lips.
'The Spirit of my dreams, she comes at last; the form for which I have sighed and wept; the form which rose upon my radiant vision when I shut my eyes against the jarring shadows of this gloomy world.
'Schirene! Schirene! here in this solitude I pour to thee the passion long stored up: the passion of my life, no common life, a life full of deep feeling and creative thought. O beautiful! O more than beautiful! for thou to me art as a dream unbroken: why art thou not mine? why lose a moment in our glorious lives, and balk our destiny of half its bliss?
'Fool, fool, hast thou forgotten? The rapture of a prisoner in his cell, whose wild fancy for a moment belies his fetters! The daughter of the Caliph and a Jew!
'Give me my fathers' sceptre.
'A plague on talismans! Oh! I need no inspiration but her memory, no magic but her name. By heavens! I will enter this glorious city a conqueror, or die.
'Why, what is Life? for meditation mingles ever with my passion: why, what is Life? Throw accidents to the dogs, and tear off the painted mask of false society! Here am I a hero; with a mind that can devise all things, and a heart of superhuman daring, with youth, with vigour, with a glorious lineage, with a form that has made full many a lovely maiden of our tribe droop her fair head by Hamadan's sweet fount, and I am—nothing!
'Out on Society! 'twas not made for me. I'll form my own, and be the deity I sometimes feel.
'We make our fortunes, and we call them Fate. Thou saidst well, Honain. Most subtle Sadducee! The saintly blood flowed in my fathers' veins, and they did nothing; but I have an arm formed to wield a sceptre, and I will win one.
'I cannot doubt my triumph. Triumph is a part of my existence. I am born for glory, as a tree is born to bear its fruit, or to expand its flowers. The deed is done. 'Tis thought of, and 'tis done. I will confront the greatest of my diademed ancestors, and in his tomb. Mighty Solomon! he wedded Pharaoh's daughter. Hah! what a future dawns upon my hope. An omen, a choice omen!
'Heaven and earth are mingling to form my fortunes. My mournful youth, which I have so often cursed, I hail thee: thou wert a glorious preparation; and when feeling no sympathy with the life around me, I deemed myself a fool, I find that I was a most peculiar being. By heavens, I am joyful; for the first time in my life I am joyful. I could laugh, and fight, and drink. I am new-born; I am another being; I am mad!
'O Time, great Time! the world belies thy fame. It calls thee swift. Methinks thou art wondrous slow. Fly on, great Time, and on thy coming wings bear me my sceptre!
'All is to be. It is a lowering thought. My fancy, like a bright and wearied bird, will sometimes flag and fall, and then I am lost. The young King of Karasme, a youthful hero! Would he had been Alschiroch! My heart is sick even at the very name. Alas! my trials have not yet begun. Jabaster warned me: good, sincere Jabaster! His talisman presses on my frantic heart, and seems to warn me. I am in danger. Braggart to stand here, filling the careless air with idle words, while all is unaccomplished. I grow dull. The young King of Karasme! Why, what am I compared to this same prince? Nothing, but in my thoughts. In the full bazaar, they would not deem me worthy even to hold his stirrup or his slipper—— Oh! this contest, this constant, bitter, never-ending contest between my fortune and my fancy! Why do I exist? or, if existing, why am I not recognised as I would be?
'Sweet voice, that in Jabaster's distant cave de-scendedst from thy holy home above, and whispered consolation, breathe again! Again breathe thy still summons to my lonely ear, and chase away the thoughts that hover round me; thoughts dark and doubtful, like fell birds of prey hovering around a hero in expectation of his fall, and gloating on their triumph over the brave. There is something fatal in these crowded cities. Faith flourishes in solitude.'
He threw himself upon the couch, and, leaning down his head, seemed lost in meditation. He started up, and, seizing his tablets, wrote upon them these words:
'Honain, I have been the whole night like David in the wilderness of Ziph; but, by the aid of the Lord, I have conquered. I fly from this dangerous city upon his business, which I have too much neglected. Attempt not to discover me, and accept my gratitude.'
The Learned Rabbi Zimri.
A SCORCHING sun, a blue and burning sky, on every side lofty ranges of black and barren mountains, dark ravines, deep caverns, unfathomable gorges! A solitary being moved in the distance. Faint and toiling, a pilgrim slowly clambered up the steep and stony track.
The sultry hours moved on; the pilgrim at length gained the summit of the mountain, a small and rugged table-land, strewn with huge masses of loose and heated, rock. All around was desolation: no spring, no herbage; the bird and the insect were alike mute. Still it was the summit: no loftier peaks frowned in the distance; the pilgrim stopped, and breathed with more facility, and a faint smile played over his languid and solemn countenance.
He rested a few minutes; he took from his wallet some locusts and wild honey, and a small skin of water. His meal was short as well as simple. An ardent desire to reach his place of destination before nightfall urged him to proceed. He soon passed over the table-land, and commenced the descent of the mountain. A straggling olive-tree occasionally appeared, and then a group, and soon the groups swelled into a grove. His way wound through the grateful and unaccustomed shade. He emerged from the grove, and found that he had proceeded down more than half the side of the mountain. It ended precipitously in a dark and narrow ravine, formed on the other side by an opposite mountain, the lofty steep of which was crested by a city gently rising on a gradual slope.
Nothing could be conceived more barren, wild, and terrible than the surrounding scenery, unillumined by a single trace of culture. The city stood like the last gladiator in an amphitheatre of desolation.
It was surrounded by a lofty turreted wall, of an architecture to which the pilgrim was unaccustomed: gates with drawbridge and portcullis, square towers, and loopholes for the archer. Sentinels, clothed in steel and shining in the sunset, paced, at regular intervals, the cautious wall, and on a lofty tower a standard waved, a snowy standard, with a red, red cross!
The Prince of the Captivity at length beheld the lost capital of his fathers.
A few months back, and such a spectacle would have called forth all the latent passion of Alroy; but time and suffering, and sharp experience, had already somewhat curbed the fiery spirit of the Hebrew Prince. He gazed upon Jerusalem, he beheld the City of David garrisoned by the puissant warriors of Christendom, and threatened by the innumerable armies of the Crescent. The two great divisions of the world seemed contending for a prize, which he, a lonely wanderer, had crossed the desert to rescue.
If his faith restrained him from doubting the possibility of his enterprise, he was at least deeply conscious that the world was a very different existence from what he had fancied amid the gardens of Hamadan and the rocks of Caucasus, and that if his purpose could be accomplished, it could only be effected by one means. Calm, perhaps somewhat depressed, but full of pious humiliation, and not deserted by holy hope, he descended into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and so, slaking his thirst at Siloah, and mounting the opposite height, David Alroy entered Jerusalem by the gate of Zion.
He had been instructed that the quarter allotted to his people was near this entrance. He inquired the direction of the sentinel, who did not condescend to answer him. An old man, in shabby robes, who was passing, beckoned to him.
'What want you, friend?' inquired Alroy.
'You were asking for the quarter of our people. You must be a stranger, indeed, in Jerusalem, to suppose that a Frank would speak to a Jew. You were lucky to get neither kicked nor cursed.'
'Kicked and cursed! Why, these dogs——'
'Hush! hush! for the love of God,' said his new companion, much alarmed. 'Have you lent money to their captain that you speak thus? In Jerusalem our people speak only in a whisper.'
'No matter: the cure is not by words. Where is our quarter?'
'Was the like ever seen! Why, he speaks as if he were a Frank. I save him from having his head broken by a gauntlet, and——'
'My friend, I am tired. Our quarter?'
'Whom may you want?'
'The Chief Rabbi.'
'You bear letters to him?'
'What is that to you?'
'Hush! hush! You do not know what Jerusalem is, young man. You must not think of going on in this way. Where do you come from?'
'Bagdad! Jerusalem is not Bagdad. A Turk is a brute, but a Christian is a demon.'
'But our quarter, our quarter?'
'Hush! you want the Chief Rabbi?'
'It may be so. I neither know nor care.'
'Neither knows nor cares! This will never do; you must not go on in this way at Jerusalem. You must not think of it.'
'Fellow, I see thou art a miserable prattler. Show me our quarter, and I will pay thee well, or be off.'
'Be off! Art thou a Hebrew? to say "be off" to any one. You come from Bagdad! I tell you what, go back to Bagdad. You will never do for Jerusalem.'
'Your grizzled beard protects you. Old fool, I am a pilgrim just arrived, wearied beyond expression, and you keep me here listening to your flat talk!'
'Flat talk! Why! what would you?'
'Lead me to the Rabbi Zimri, if that be his name.'
'If that be his name! Why, every one knows Rabbi Zimri, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the successor of Aaron. We have our temple yet, say what they like. A very learned doctor is Rabbi Zimri.'
'Wretched driveller. I am ashamed to lose my patience with such a dotard.'
'Driveller! dotard! Why, who are you?'
'One you cannot comprehend. Without another word, lead me to your chief.'
'Chief! you have not far to go. I know no one of the nation who holds his head higher than I do here, and they call me Zimri.'
'What, the Chief Rabbi, that very learned doctor?'
'No less; I thought you had heard of him.'
'Let us forget the past, good Zimri. When great men play the incognito, they must sometimes hear rough phrases. It is the Caliph's lot as well as yours. I am glad to make the acquaintance of so great a doctor. Though young, and roughly habited, I have seen the world a little, and may offer next Sabbath in the synagogue more dirhems than you would perhaps suppose. Good and learned Zimri, I would be your guest.'
'A very worshipful young man! And he speaks low and soft now! But it was lucky I was at hand. Good, what's your name?'
'A very honest name, good David. It was lucky I was at hand when you spoke to the sentinel, though. A Jew speak to a Frank, and a sentinel too! Hah! hah! hah! that is good. How Rabbi Maimon will laugh! Faith it was very lucky, now, was not it?'
'Indeed, most fortunate.'
'Well that is candid! Here! this way. 'Tis not far. We number few, sir, of our brethren here, but a better time will come, a better time will come.'
'I think so. This is your door?'
'An humble one. Jerusalem is not Bagdad, but you are welcome.'
'King Pirgandicus entered them,' said Rabbi Maimon, 'but no one since.'
'And when did he live?' inquired Alroy. 'His reign is recorded in the Talmud,' answered Rabbi Zimri, 'but in the Talmud there are no dates.' 'A long while ago?' asked Alroy. 'Since the Captivity,' answered Rabbi Maimon. 'I doubt that,' said Rabbi Zimri, 'or why should he be called king?'
'Was he of the house of David?' said Alroy.
'Without doubt,' said Rabbi Maimon; 'he was one of our greatest kings, and conquered Julius Caesar.'
'His kingdom was in the northernmost parts of Africa,' said Rabbi Zimri, 'and exists to this day, if we could but find it.'
'Ay, truly,' added Rabbi Maimon, 'the sceptre has never departed out of Judah; and he rode always upon a white elephant.'
'Covered with cloth of gold,' added Rabbi Zimri. 'And he visited the Tombs of the Kings?' inquired Alroy.
'Without doubt,' said Rabbi Maimon. 'The whole account is in the Talmud.'
'And no one can now find them?' 'No one,' replied Rabbi Zimri: 'but, according to that learned doctor, Moses Hallevy, they are in a valley in the mountains of Lebanon, which was sealed up by the Archangel Michael.'
'The illustrious Doctor Abarbanel, of Babylon,' said Rabbi Maimon, 'gives one hundred and twenty reasons in his commentary on the Gemara to prove that they sunk under the earth at the taking of the Temple.'
'No one reasons like Abarbanel of Babylon,' said Rabbi Zimri.
'The great Rabbi Akiba, of Pundebita, has answered them all,' said Rabbi Maimon, 'and holds that they were taken up to heaven.'
'And which is right?' inquired Rabbi Zimri.
'Neither,' said Rabbi Maimon.
'One hundred and twenty reasons are strong proof,' said Rabbi Zimri.
'The most learned and illustrious Doctor Aaron Mendola, of Granada,' said Rabbi Maimon, 'has shown that we must look for the Tombs of the Kings in the south of Spain.'
'All that Mendola writes is worth attention,' said Rabbi Zimri.
'Rabbi Hillel, of Samaria, is worth two Mendolas any day,' said Rabbi Maimon.
''Tis a most learned doctor,' said Rabbi Zimri; 'and what thinks he?'
'Hillel proves that there are two Tombs of the Kings,' said Rabbi Maimon, 'and that neither of them are the right ones.'
'What a learned doctor!' exclaimed Rabbi Zimri.
'And very satisfactory,' remarked Alroy.
'These are high subjects,' continued Maimon, his blear eyes twinkling with complacency. 'Your guest, Rabbi Zimri, must read the treatise of the learned Shimei, of Damascus, on "Effecting Impossibilities."'
'That is a work!' exclaimed Zimri.
'I never slept for three nights after reading that work,' said Rabbi Maimon. 'It contains twelve thousand five hundred and thirty-seven quotations from the Pentateuch, and not a single original observation.'
'There were giants in those days,' said Rabbi Zimri; 'we are children now.'
'The first chapter makes equal sense, read backward or forward,' continued Rabbi Maimon. 'Ichabod!' exclaimed Rabbi Zimri. 'And the initial letter of every section is a cabalistical type of a king of Judah.'
'The temple will yet be built,' said Rabbi Zimri. 'Ay, ay! that is learning!' exclaimed Rabbi Maimon; 'but what is the great treatise on "Effecting Impossibilities" to that profound, admirable, and——'
'Holy Rabbi!' said a youthful reader of the synagogue, who now entered, 'the hour is at hand.'
'You don't say so! Learned Miamon, I must to the synagogue. I could sit here all day listening to you. Come, David, the people await us.'
Zimri and Alroy quitted the house, and proceeded along the narrow hilly streets to the chief temple of the Hebrews.
'It grieves the venerable Maimon much that he cannot join us,' said Rabbi Zimri. 'You have doubtless heard of him at Bagdad; a most learned doctor.' Alroy bowed in silence.
'He bears his years well. You would hardly believe that he was my master.'
'I perceive that you inherit much of his erudition.'
'You are kind. If he have breathed one year, Rabbi Maimon will be a hundred and ten next Passover.'
'I doubt it not.'
'When he is gathered to his fathers, a great light will be extinguished in Israel. You wanted to know something about the Tombs of the Kings; I told you he was your man. How full he was! His mind, sir, is an egg.'
'A somewhat ancient one. I fear his guidance will hardly bring me the enviable fortune of King Pirgandicus.'
'Between ourselves, good David, talking of King Pirgandicus, I cannot help fancying that the learned Maimon made a slight mistake. I hold Pirgandicus was only a prince. It was after the Captivity, and I know no authority for any of our rulers since the destruction assuming a higher title. Clearly a prince, eh? But, though I would whisper it to no one but you, I think our worthy friend grows a little old. We should remember his years, sir. A hundred and ten next Passover. 'Tis a great burden.'
'Ay! with his learning added, a very fearful burden indeed!'
'You have been a week in Jerusalem, and have not yet visited our synagogue. It is not of cedar and ivory, but it is still a temple. This way. It is only a week that you have been here? Why, you look another man! I shall never forget our first meeting: you did not know me. That was good, eh? And when I told you I was the chief Rabbi Zimri, how you changed! You have quite regained your appetite. Ah! 'tis pleasant to mix once more with our own people. To the left. So! we must descend a little. We hold our meetings in an ancient cemetery. You have a finer temple, I warrant me, in Bagdad. Jerusalem is not Bagdad. But this has its conveniences. 'Tis safe, and we are not very rich, nor wish to seem so.'
A long passage brought them to a number of small, square, low chambers leading into each other. They were lighted by brass lamps, placed at intervals in vacant niches, that once held corpses, and which were now soiled by the smoky flame. Between two and three hundred individuals were assembled in these chambers, at first scarcely distinguishable by those who descended from the broad daylight; but by degrees the eyesight became accustomed to the dim and vaporous atmosphere, and Al-roy recognised in the final and more illumined chamber a high cedar cabinet, the type of the ark, and which held the sacred vessels and the sanctified copy of the law.
Standing in lines, with their heads mystically covered, the forlorn remnant of Israel, captives in their ancient city, avowed, in spite of all their sufferings, their fidelity to their God, and, notwithstanding all the bitterness of hope delayed, their faith in the fulfilment of his promises. Their simple service was completed, their prayers were read, their responses made, their law exhibited, and their charitable offerings announced by their high priest. After the service, the venerable Zimri, opening a volume of the Talmud, and fortified by the opinions of all those illustrious and learned doctors, the heroes of his erudite conversations with the aged Maimon, expounded the law to the congregation of the people.
'It is written,' said the Rabbi, '"Thou shalt have none other God but me." Now know ye what our father Abraham said when Nimrod ordered him to worship fire? "Why not water," answered Abraham, "which can put out fire? why not clouds, which can pour forth water? why not the winds, which can produce clouds? why not God, which can create winds?"'
A murmur of approbation sounded throughout the congregation.
'Eliezer,' said Zimri, addressing himself to a young Rabbi, 'it is written, that he took a rib from Adam when he was asleep. Is God then a robber?'
The young Rabbi looked puzzled, and cast his eyes on the ground. The congregation was perplexed and a little alarmed.
'Is there no answer?' said Zimri.
'Rabbi,' said a stranger, a tall, swarthy African pilgrim, standing in a corner, and enveloped in a red mantle, over which a lamp threw a flickering light; 'Rabbi, some robbers broke into my house last night, and stole an earthen pipkin, but they left a golden vase in its stead.'
'It is well said; it is well said,' exclaimed the congregation. The applause was loud.
'Learned Zimri,' continued the African, 'it is written in the Gemara, that there was a youth in Jerusalem who fell in love with a beautiful damsel, and she scorned him. And the youth was so stricken with his passion that he could not speak; but when he beheld her, he looked at her imploringly, and she laughed. And one day the youth, not knowing what to do with himself, went out into the desert; and towards night he returned home, but the gates of the city were shut. And he went down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and entered the tomb of Absalom and slept; and he dreamed a dream; and next morning he came into the city smiling. And the maiden met him, and she said, "Is that thou; art thou a laugher?" and he answered, "Behold, yesterday being disconsolate, I went out of the city into the desert, and I returned home, and the gates of the city were shut, and I went down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I entered the tomb of Absalom, and I slept, and I dreamed a dream, and ever since then I have laughed." And the damsel said, "Tell me thy dream." And he answered and said, "I may not tell my dream only to my wife, for it regards her honour." And the maiden grew sad and curious, and said, "I am thy wife, tell me thy dream." And straightway they went and were married and ever after they both laughed. Now, learned Zimri, what means this tale, an idle jest for a master of the law, yet it is written by the greatest doctor of the Captivity?'
'It passeth my comprehension,' said the chief Rabbi.
Rabbi Eliezer was silent; the congregation groaned.
'Now hear the interpretation,' said the African. 'The youth is our people, and the damsel is our lost Sion, and the tomb of Absalom proves that salvation can only come from the house of David. Dost thou hear this, young man?' said the African, coming forward and laying his hand on Alroy. 'I speak to thee, because I have observed a deep attention in thy conduct.'
The Prince of the Captivity started, and shot a glance at the dark visage before him, but the glance read nothing. The upper part of the countenance of the African was half concealed by masses of dark matted hair, and the lower by his uncouth robes. A flashing eye was its only characteristic, which darted forth like lightning out of a black cloud.
'Is my attention the only reason that induces you to address me?' inquired Alroy.
'Whoever gave all his reasons?' replied the African, with a laughing sneer.
'I seek not to learn them. Suffice it, stranger, that how much soever you may mean, as much I can understand.'
''Tis well. Learned Zimri, is this thy pupil? I congratulate thee. I will match him against the hopeful Eliezer.' So saying, the lofty African stalked out of the chamber. The assembly also broke up. Alroy would willingly have immediately followed the African, and held some further and more private conversation with him; but some minutes elapsed, owing to the officious attentions of Zimri, before he could escape; and, when he did, his search after the stranger was vain. He inquired among the congregation, but none knew the African. He was no man's guest and no man's debtor, and apparently had never before been seen.
The trumpet was sounding to close the gates, as Alroy passed the Zion entrance. The temptation was irresistible. He rushed out, and ran for more than one hundred yards without looking back, and when he did, he had the satisfaction of ascertaining that he was fairly shut out for the night. The sun had set, still the Mount of Olives was flushed with the reflection of his dying beams, but Jehoshaphat at its feet was in deep shadow.
He wandered among the mountains for some time, beholding Jerusalem from a hundred different points of view, and watching the single planets and clustering constellations that gradually burst into beauty, or gathered into light. At length, somewhat exhausted, he descended into the vale. The scanty rill of Siloah looked like a thread of silver winding in the moonlight. Some houseless wretches were slumbering under the arch of its fountain. Several isolated tombs of considerable size rose at the base of Olivet, and the largest of these Alroy entered. Proceeding through a narrow passage, he entered a small square chamber. On each side was an empty sarcophagus of granite, one with its lid broken. Between these the Prince of the Captivity laid his robe, and, wearied by his ramble, soon soundly slept.
After some hours he woke. He fancied that he had been wakened by the sound of voices. The chamber was not quite dark. A straggling moonbeam fought its way through an open fretwork pattern in the top of the tomb, and just revealed the dim interior. Suddenly a voice spoke, a strange and singular voice.
'Brother, brother, the sounds of the night begin.'
Another voice answered,
'Brother, brother, I hear them, too.'
'The woman in labour!'
'The thief at his craft!'
'The sentinel's challenge!'
'The murderer's step!'
'Oh! the merry sounds of the night!'
'Brother, brother, let us come forth and wander about the world.'
'We have seen all things. I'll lie here and listen to the baying hound. 'Tis music for a tomb.'
'Choice and rare. You are idle. I like to sport in the starry air. Our hours are few, they should be fair.'
'What shall we see, Heaven or Earth?' 'Hell for me, 'tis more amusing.' 'As for me, I am sick of Hades.' 'Let us visit Solomon!' 'In his unknown metropolis?'
'That will be rare.'
'But where, oh! where?'
'Even a spirit cannot tell. But they say, but they say, I dare not whisper what they say.'
'Who told you?'
'No one. I overheard an Afrite whispering to a female Ghoul he wanted to seduce.'
'Hah! hah! hah! hah! choice pair, choice pair! We are more ethereal.'
'She was a beauty in her way. Her eyes were luminous, though somewhat dank, and her cheek tinged with carnation caught from infant blood.'
'Oh! gay; oh! gay; what said they?'
'He was a deserter without leave from Solomon's body-guard. The trull wriggled the secret out.'
'Tell me, kind brother.'
'I'll show, not tell.'
'I pr'ythee tell me.'
'Well, then, well. In Genthesma's gloomy cave there is a river none has reached, and you must sail, and you must sail—— Brother!'
'Methinks I smell something too earthly.'
'The breath of man.'
'Scent more fatal than the morning air! Away, away!'
In the range of mountains that lead from Olivet to the river Jordan is the great cavern of Genthesma, a mighty excavation formed by the combined and immemorial work of Nature and of Art; for on the high basaltic columns are cut strange characters and unearthly forms, and in many places the natural ornaments have been completed by the hands of the sculptor into symmetrical entablatures and fanciful capitals, the work, they say, of captive Dives and conquered Afrites for the great king.
It was midnight; the cold full moon showered it brilliancy upon this narrow valley, shut in on all sides by black and barren mountains. A single being stood at the entrance of the cave.
It was Alroy. Desperate and determined, after listening to the spirits in the tomb, he resolved to penetrate the mysteries of Genthesma. He took from his girdle a flint and steel, with which he lighted a torch and then he entered.
The cavern narrowed as he cautiously advanced, and soon he found himself at the head of an evidently artificial gallery. A crowd of bats rushed forward and extinguished his torch  He leant down to relight it and in so doing observed that he had trod upon an artificial pavement.
The gallery was of great extent, with a gradual declination  Being in a straight line with the mouth of the cavern, the moonlit scene was long visible, but Alroy, on looking round, now perceived that the exterior was shut out by the eminence that he had left behind him. The sides of the gallery were covered with strange and sculptured forms.
The Prince of the Captivity proceeded along this gallery for nearly two hours. A distant murmur of falling water, which might have been distinguished nearly from the first, increased in sound as he advanced, and now, from the loud roar and dash at hand, he felt that he was on the brink of some cataract. It as very dark. His heart trembled. He felt his footing ere he ventured to advance. The spray suddenly leaped forward and extinguished his torch.
His eminent danger filled him with terror, and he receded some paces, but in vain endeavoured to reillumine his torch, which was soaked with water.
His courage deserted him. Energy and exertion seemed hopeless. He was about to deliver himself up to despair, when and expanding lustre attracted his attention in the opposing gloom.
A small and bright red cloud seemed sailing towards him. It opened, discharged from its bosom as silvery star, and dissolved again into darkness. But the star remained, the silvery star, and threw a long line of tremulous light upon the vast and raging rapid, which now, fleet and foaming, revealed itself on all sides to the eye of Alroy.
The beautiful interposition in his favour re-animated the adventurous pilgrim. A dark shadow in the foreground, breaking the line of light shed by the star upon the waters, attracted his attention. He advanced, regained his former footing, and more nearly examined it. It was a boat, and in the boat, mute and immovable, sat one of those vast, singular, and hidden forms which eh had observed sculptured on the walls of the gallery.
David Alry, committing his fortunes to the God of Israel, leapt into the boat.
And at the same moment the Afrite, for it was one of those dread beings, raised the oars, and the barque moved. The falling waters suddenly parted in the long line of the star's reflection, and the barque glided through their high and severed masses.
In this wise they proceeded for a few minutes, until they entered a beautiful and moonlit lake. In the distance was mountainous country. Alroy examined his companion with a feeling of curiosity not unmixed with terror. It was remarkable that Alroy could never succeed in any way in attracting his notice. The Afrite seemed totally unconscious of the presence of his passenger. At length the boat reached the opposite shore of the lake, and the Prince of the Captivity debarked.
He debarked at the head of an avenue of colossal lions of red granite, extending far as the eye could reach, and ascending the side of the mountain, which was cut into a flight of magnificent steps. The easy ascent was in consequence soon accomplished, and Alroy, proceeding along the avenue of lions, soon gained the summit of the mountain.
To his infinite astonishment he beheld Jerusalem. That strongly-marked locality could not be mistaken: at his feet were Jehoshaphat, Kedron, Siloah; he stood upon Olivet; before him was Zion. But in all other respects, how different was the landscape from the one that he had gazed upon a few days back, for the first time! The surrounding hills sparkled with vineyards, and glowed with summer palaces, and voluptuous pavilions, and glorious gardens of pleasure. The city, extending all over Mount Sion, was encompassed with a wall of white marble, with battlements of gold; a gorgeous mass of gates and pillars, and gardened terraces; lofty piles of rarest materials, cedar, and ivory, and precious stones; and costly columns of the richest workmanship and the most fanciful orders, capitals of the lotus and the palm, and flowing friezes of the olive and the vine.
And in the front a mighty Temple rose, with inspiration in its very form; a Temple so vast, so sumptuous, that there needed no priest to tell us that no human hand planned that sublime magnificence!
'God of my fathers!' said Alroy, 'I am a poor, weak thing, and my life has been a life of dreams and visions, and I have sometimes thought my brain lacked a sufficient master; where am I? Do I sleep or live? Am I a slumberer or a ghost? This trial is too much.' He sank down, and hid his face in his hands: his over-exerted mind appeared to desert him: he wept.
Many minutes elapsed before Alroy grew composed. His wild bursts of weeping sank into sobs, and the sobs died off into sighs. And at length, calm from exhaustion, he again looked up, and lo! the glorious city was no more! Before him was a moon-lit plain, over which the avenue of lions still advanced, and appeared to terminate only in the mountainous distance.
This limit the Prince of the Captivity at length reached, and stood before a stupendous portal, cut out of the solid rock, four hundred feet in height, and supported by clusters of colossal Caryatides. Upon the portal were engraven some Hebrew characters, which upon examination proved to be the same as those upon the talisman of Jabaster. And so, taking from his bosom that all-precious and long-cherished deposit, David Alroy, in obedience to his instructions, pressed the signet against the gigantic portal.
The portal opened with a crash of thunder louder than an earthquake. Pale, panting, and staggering, the Prince of the Captivity entered an illimitable hall, illumined by pendulous balls of glowing metal. On each side of the hall, sitting on golden thrones, was ranged a line of kings, and, as the pilgrim entered, the monarchs rose, and took off their diadems, and waved them thrice, and thrice repeated, in solemn chorus, 'All hail, Alroy! Hail to thee, brother king! Thy crown awaits thee!'
The Prince of the Captivity stood trembling, with his eyes fixed upon the ground, and leaning breathless against a column. And when at length he had a little recovered himself, and dared again to look up, he found that the monarchs were re-seated; and, from their still and vacant visages, apparently unconscious of his presence. And this emboldened him, and so, staring alternately at each side of the hall, but with a firm, perhaps desperate step, Alroy advanced.
And he came to two thrones which were set apart from the others in the middle of the hall. On one was seated a noble figure, far above the common stature, with arms folded and downcast eyes. His feet rested upon a broken sword and a shivered sceptre, which told that he was a monarch, in spite of his discrowned head.
And on the opposite throne was a venerable personage, with a long flowing beard, and dressed in white raiment. His countenance was beautiful, although ancient. Age had stolen on without its imperfections, and time had only invested it with a sweet dignity and solemn grace. The countenance of the king was upraised with a seraphic gaze, and, as he thus looked up on high, with eyes full of love, and thanksgiving, and praise, his consecrated fingers seemed to touch the trembling wires of a golden harp.
And further on, and far above the rest, upon a throne that stretched across the hall, a most imperial presence straightway flashed upon the startled vision of Alroy. Fifty steps of ivory, and each step guarded by golden lions, led to a throne of jasper. A dazzling light blazed forth from the glittering diadem and radiant countenance of him who sat upon the throne, one beautiful as a woman, but with the majesty of a god. And in one hand he held a seal, and in the other a sceptre.
And when Alroy had reached the foot of the throne, he stopped, and his heart misgave him. And he prayed for some minutes in silent devotion, and, without daring to look up, he mounted the first step of the throne, and the second, and the third, and so on, with slow and faltering feet, until he reached the forty-ninth step.
The Prince of the Captivity raised his eyes. He stood before the monarch face to face. In vain Alroy attempted to attract his attention, or to fix his gaze. The large dark eyes, full of supernatural lustre, appeared capable of piercing all things, and illuminating all things, but they flashed on without shedding a ray upon Alroy.
Pale as a spectre, the pilgrim, whose pilgrimage seemed now on the point of completion, stood cold and trembling before the object of all his desires and all his labours. But he thought of his country, his people, and his God; and, while his noiseless lips breathed the name of Jehovah, solemnly he put forth his arm, and with a gentle firmness grasped the unresisting sceptre of his great ancestor.
And, as he seized it, the whole scene vanished from his sight!
Hours or years might have passed away, so far as the sufferer was concerned, when Alroy again returned to self-consciousness. His eyes slowly opened, he cast around a vacant stare, he was lying in the cavern of Genthesma. The moon had set, but the morn had not broken. A single star glittered over the brow of the black mountains. He faintly moved his limbs; he would have raised his hand to his bewildered brain, but found that it grasped a sceptre. The memory of the past returned to him. He tried to rise, and found that he was reposing in the arms of a human being. He turned his head; he met the anxious gaze of Jabaster!
Conquest of the Seljuks
YOUR face is troubled, uncle.' 'So is my mind.' 'All may go well.' 'Miriam, we have seen the best. Prepare yourself for sorrow, gentle girl. I care not for myself, for I am old, and age makes heroes of us all. I have endured, and can endure more. As we approach our limit, it would appear that our minds grow callous. I have seen my wealth, raised with the labours of a thoughtful life, vanish in a morn: my people, a fragile remnant, nevertheless a people, dispersed, or what is worse. I have wept for them, although no tear of selfish grief has tinged this withered cheek. And, were I but alone, ay! there's the pang. The solace of my days is now my sorrow.'
'Weep not for me, dear uncle. Rather let us pray that our God will not forsake us.'
'We know not when we are well. Our hours stole tranquilly along, and then we murmured. Prospering, we murmured, and now we are rightly stricken. The legend of the past is Israel's bane. The past is a dream; and, in the waking present, we should discard the enervating shadow. Why should we be free? We murmured against captivity. This is captivity: this damp, dim cell, where we are brought to die.
'O! youth, rash youth, thy being is destruction. But yesterday a child, it seems but yesterday I nursed him in these arms, a thoughtless child, and now our house has fallen by his deeds. I will not think of it; 'twill make me mad.'
'Uncle, dearest uncle, we have lived together, and we will die together, and both in love; but, I pray you, speak no harsh word of David.'
'Shall I praise him?'
'Say nothing. What he has done, if done in grief, has been done all in honour. Would you that he had spared Alschiroch?'
'Never! I would have struck him myself. Brave boy, he did his duty; and I, I, Miriam, thy uncle, at whom they wink behind his back and call him niggard, was I wanting in that hour of trial? Was my treasure spared to save my people? Did I shrink from all the toil and trouble of that time? A trying time, my Miriam, but compared with this, the building of the Temple——'
'You were then what you have ever been, the best and wisest. And since our fathers' God did not forsake us, even in that wilderness of wildest woe, I offer gratitude in present faith, and pay him for past mercies by my prayers for more.'
'Well, well, life must end. The hour approaches when we must meet our rulers and mock trial; precious justice that begins in threats and ends in torture. You are silent, Miriam.'
'I am speaking to my God.'
'What is that noise? A figure moves behind the dusky grate. Our gaoler. No, no, it is Caleb! Faithful child, I fear you have perilled much.'
'I enter with authority, my lord, and bear good tidings.'
'He smiles! Is't possible? Speak on, speak on!'
'Alroy has captured the harem of our Governor, as they journeyed from Bagdad to this city, guarded by his choicest troops. And he has sent to offer that they shall be exchanged for you and for your household. And Hassan has answered that his women shall owe their freedom to nothing but his sword. But, in the meantime, it is agreed between him and the messenger of your nephew, that both companies of prisoners shall be treated with all becoming courtesy. You, therefore, are remanded to your palace, and the trumpet is now sounding before the great mosque to summon all the host against Alroy, whom Hassan has vowed to bring to Hamadan dead or alive.'
'The harem of the Governor, guarded too by his choicest troops! 'Tis a great deed. He did remember us. Faithful boy! The harem of the Governor! his choicest troops! 'Tis a very great deed. Me-thinks the Lord is with him. He has his great father's heart. Only think of David, a child! I nursed him, often. Caleb! Can this be David, our David, a child, a girl? Yet he struck Alschiroch! Miriam! where is she? Worthy Caleb, look to your mistress; she has fallen. Quite gone! Fetch water. 'Tis not very pure, but we shall be in our palace soon. The harem of the Governor! I can't believe it. Sprinkle, sprinkle. David take them prisoners! Why, when they pass, we are obliged to turn our heads, and dare not look. More water: I'll rub her hand. 'Tis warmer! Her eyes open! Miriam, choice news, my child! The harem of the Governor! I'll not believe it!
'Once more within our walls, Caleb. Life is a miracle. I feel young again. This is home; and yet I am a prisoner. You said the host were assembling; he can have no chance. Think you, Caleb, he has any chance? I hope he will die. I would not have him taken. I fear their tortures. We will die too; we will all die. Now I am out of that dungeon, me-thinks I could even fight. Is it true that he has joined with robbers?'
'I saw the messenger, and learnt that he first repaired to some bandits in the ruins in the desert. He had become acquainted with them in his pilgrimage. They say their leader is one of our people.'
'I am glad of that. He can eat with him. I would not have him eat unclean things with the Ishmaelites.'
'Lord, sir! our people gather to him from all quarters. 'Tis said that Jabaster, the great Cabalist, has joined him from the mountains with ten thousand men.'
'The great Jabaster! then there is some chance. I know Jabaster well. He is too wise to join a desperate cause. Art sure about Jabaster? 'Tis a great name, a very potent spirit. I have heard such things of that Jabaster, sir, would make you stare like Saul before the spirit! Only think of our David, Caleb, making all this noise! I am full of hope. I feel not like a prisoner. He beat the harem guard, and, now he has got Jabaster, he will beat them all.'
'The messenger told me he captured the harem, only to free his uncle and his sister.'
'He ever loved me; I have done my duty to him; I think I have. Jabaster! why, man, the name is a spell I There are men at Bagdad who will get up in the night to join Jabaster. I hope David will follow his counsels in all things. I would I had seen his servant, I could have sent him a message.'
'Lord, sir! the Prince Alroy has no great need of counsellors, I can tell you. 'Tis said he bears the sceptre of great Solomon, which he himself obtained in the unknown tombs of Palestine.'
'The sceptre of Solomon! could I but believe it! 'Tis an age of wonders! Where are we? Call for Miriam, I'll tell her this. Only think of David, a mere child, our David with the sceptre of Solomon! and Jabaster too! I have great faith. The Lord confound his enemies!'
'Gentle Rachel, I fear I trouble you; sweet Beruna, I thank you for your zeal. I am better now; the shock was great. These are strange tidings, maidens.'
'Yes, dear lady! who would have thought of your brother turning out a Captain?'
'I am sure I always thought he was the quietest person in the world,' said Beruna, 'though he did kill Alschiroch.'
'One could never get a word out of him,' said Rachel.
'He was always moping alone,' said Beruna.
'And when one spoke to him he always turned away,' said Leah.
'Or blushed,' added Imra.
'Well, for my part,' said the beautiful Bathsheba, 'I always thought Prince David was a genius. He had such beautiful eyes!'
'I hope he will conquer Hassan,' said Rachel.
'So do I,' said Beruna.
'I wonder what he has done with the harem,' said Leah.
'I don't think he will dare to speak to them,' said Imra.
'You are very much mistaken,' said Bathsheba.
'Hark!' said Miriam.
''Tis Hassan,' said Bathsheba; 'may he never return!'
The wild drum of the Seljuks sounded, then a flourish of their fierce trumpets, and soon the tramp of horse. Behind the blinds of their chamber, Miriam and her maidens beheld the magnificent troop of tur-baned horsemen, who, glittering with splendid armour and bright shawls, and proudly bounding on their fiery steeds, now went forth to crush and conquer the only hope of Israel. Upon an Arab, darker than night, rode the superb Hassan, and, as he passed the dwelling of his late prisoners, whether from the exulting anticipation of coming triumph, or from a soft suspicion that, behind that lattice, bright eyes and brilliant faces were gazing on his state, the haughty but handsome Seljuk flourished his scimitar over his head, as he threw his managed steed into attitudes that displayed the skill of its rider.
'He is handsomer than Alschiroch,' said Rachel.
'What a shawl!' said Beruna.
'His scimitar was like lightning,' said Leah.
'And his steed like thunder,' said Imra.
'The evil eye fall on him!' said Bathsheba.
'Lord,' exclaimed Miriam, 'remember David and all his afflictions!'
The deserted city of the wilderness presented a very different appearance from that which met the astonished gaze of Alroy, when he first beheld its noble turrets, and wandered in its silent streets of palaces.
Without the gates was pitched a numerous camp of those low black tents common among the Kourds and Turkmans; the principal street was full of busy groups engaged in all the preparations of warfare, and all the bustling expedients of an irregular and adventurous life; steeds were stalled in ruined chambers, and tall camels raised their still visages among the clustering columns, or crouched in kneeling tranquillity amid fallen statues and prostrate obelisks.
Two months had scarcely elapsed since Alroy and Jabaster had sought Scherirah in his haunt, and announced to him their sacred mission. The callous heart of him, whose 'mother was a Jewess,' had yielded to their inspired annunciations. He embraced their cause with all the fervour of conversion, and his motley band were not long sceptical of a creed which, while it assuredly offered danger and adventure, held out the prospects of wealth and even empire. From the city of the wilderness the new Messiah sent forth his messengers to the neighbouring cities, to announce his advent to his brethren in captivity. The Hebrews, a proud and stiff-necked race, ever prone to rebellion, received the announcement of their favourite prince with transport. The descendant of David, and the slayer of Alschiroch, had double claims upon their confidence and allegiance, and the flower of the Hebrew youth in the neighbouring cities of the Caliphate repaired in crowds to pay their homage to the recovered sceptre of Solomon.
The affair was at first treated by the government with contempt, and the sultan of the Seljuks contented himself with setting a price upon the head of the murderer of his brother; but, when several cities had been placed under contribution, and more than one Moslem caravan stopped, and plundered in the name of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, orders were despatched from Bagdad to the new governor of Hamadan, Hassan Subah, to suppress the robbers, or the rebels, and to send David Alroy dead or alive to the capital.
The Hebrew malcontents were well apprised by their less adventurous but still sympathising brethren of everything that took place at the head-quarters of the enemy. Spies arrived on the same day at the city of the wilderness, who informed Alroy that his uncle was thrown into a dungeon at Hamadan, and that a body of chosen troops were about to escort a royal harem from Bagdad into Persia.
Alroy attacked the escort in person, utterly discomfited them, and captured their charge. It proved to be the harem of the Governor of Hamadan, and if for a moment the too sanguine fancy of the captor experienced a passing pang of disappointment, the prize at least obtained, as we have seen, the freedom and security of his dear though distant friends. This exploit precipitated the expedition which was preparing at Hamadan for his destruction. The enraged Hassan Subah started from his divan, seized his scimitar, and without waiting for the auxiliaries he had summoned from the neighbouring chieftains, called to horse, and at the head of two thousand of the splendid Seljuk cavalry, hurried to vindicate his love and satiate his revenge.
Within the amphitheatre which he first entered as a prisoner, Alroy sat in council. On his right was Jabaster, Scherirah on his left. A youth, little his senior, but tall as a palm-tree, and strong as a young lion, was the fourth captain. In the distance, some standing, some reclining, were about fifty men completely armed.
'Are the people numbered, Abner?' inquired Alroy of the youth.
'Even so; three hundred effective horsemen, and two thousand footmen; but the footmen lack arms.'
'The Lord will send them in good time,' said Jabaster; 'meanwhile let them continue to make javelins.'
'Trust in the Lord,' murmured Scherirah, bending his head, with his eyes fixed on the ground.
A loud shout was heard throughout the city. Alroy started from his carpet. The messenger had returned. Pale and haggard, covered with sweat and sand, the faithful envoy was borne into the amphitheatre almost upon the shoulders of the people. In vain the guard endeavoured to stem the passage of the multitude. They clambered up the tiers of arches, they filled the void and crumbling seats of the antique circus, they supported themselves upon each other's shoulders, they clung to the capitals of the lofty columns. The whole multitude had assembled to hear the intelligence; the scene recalled the ancient purpose of the building, and Alroy and his fellow-warriors seemed like the gladiators of some old spectacle.
'Speak,' said Alroy, 'speak the worst. No news can be bitter to those whom the Lord will avenge.'
'Ruler of Israel! thus saith Hassan Subah,' answered the messenger: 'My harem shall owe their freedom to nothing but my sword. I treat not with rebels, but I war not with age or woman; and between Bostenay and his household on one side, and the prisoners of thy master on the other, let there be peace. Go, tell Alroy, I will seal it in his best blood. And lo! thy uncle and thy sister are again in their palace.'
Alroy placed his hand for a moment to his eyes, and then instantly resuming his self-possession, he enquired as to the movements of the enemy.
'I have crossed the desert on a swift dromedary lent to me by Shelomi of the Gate, whose heart is with our cause. I have not tarried, neither have I slept. Ere to-morrow's sunset the Philistines will be here, led by Hassan Subah himself. The Lord of Hosts be with us! Since we conquered Canaan, Israel hath not struggled with such a power!'
A murmur ran through the assembly. Men exchanged enquiring glances, and involuntarily pressed each other's arms.
'The trial has come,' said a middle-aged Hebrew, who had fought twenty years ago with Jabaster.
'Let me die for the Ark!' said a young enthusiast of the band of Abner.
'I thought we should get into a scrape,' whispered Kisloch the Kourd to Calidas the Indian. 'What could have ever induced us to give up robbing in a quiet manner?'
'And turn Jews!' said the Guebre, with a sneer.
'Look at Scherirah,' said the Negro, grinning. 'If he is not kissing the sceptre of Solomon!'
'I wish to heaven he had only hung Alroy the first time he met him,' said Calidas.
'Sons of the Covenant!' exclaimed Alroy, 'the Lord hath delivered them into our hands. To-morrow eve we march to Hamadan!'
A cheer followed this exclamation.
'It is written,' said Jabaster, opening a volume, '"Lo! I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake."
'"And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred four score and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold! they were all dead corpses."
'Now, as I was gazing upon the stars this morn, and reading the celestial alphabet known to the true Cabalist, behold! the star of the house of David and seven other stars moved, and met together, and formed into a circle. And the word they formed was a mystery to me; but lo! I have opened the book, and each star is the initial letter of each line of the Targum that I have now read to you. Therefore the fate of Sennacherib is the fate of Hassan Subah!'
'"Trust in him at all times, ye people; pour out your heart before him." god is a refuge for us. Selah!'
At this moment a female form appeared on the very top of the amphitheatre, upon the slight remains of the upper most tier of which a solitary arch alone was left. The chorus instantly died away, every tongue was silent, every eye fixed. Hushed, mute, and immovable, even Kisloch and his companions were appalled as they gazed upon Esther the Prophetess.
Her eminent position, her imposing action, the flashing of her immense eyes, her beautiful but awful countenance, her black hair, that hung almost to her knees, and the white light of the moon, just rising over the opposite side of the amphitheatre, and which threw a silvery flash upon her form, and seemed to invest her with some miraculous emanation, while all beneath her was in deep gloom,-these circumstances combined to render her an object of universal interest and attention, while in a powerful but high voice she thus addressed them:
'They come, they come! But will they go? Lo! hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah! I hear their drum in the desert, and the voice of their trumpets is like the wind of eve, but a decree hath gone forth, and it says, that a mortal shall be more precious than fine gold, yea, a man than the rich ore of Ophir.
'They come, they come! But will they go? I see the flash of their scimitars, I mark the prancing of their cruel steeds; but a decree hath gone forth, and it says, a gleaning shall be left among them, as in the shaking of the olive-tree; two or three berries on the top of the uppermost bough; four or five on the straggling branches.
'They come, they come! But will they go? Lo! a decree hath gone forth, and it says, Hamadan shall be to thee for a spoil, and desolation shall fall upon Babylon. And there shall the wild beasts of the desert lodge, and howling monsters shall fill their houses, and there shall the daughters of the ostrich dwell, and there shall the screech-owl pitch her tent, and there shall the night-raven lay her eggs, and there shall the satyrs hold their revels. And wolves shall howl to one another in their palaces, and dragons in their voluptuous pavilions. Her time is near at hand; her days shall not be prolonged; the reed and the lotus shall wither in her rivers; and the meadows by her canals shall be as the sands of the desert. For, is it a light thing that the Lord should send his servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel? Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth, and break forth into singing, O mountains, for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted!'
She ceased; she descended the precipitous side of the amphitheatre with rapid steps, vaulting from tier to tier, and bounding with wonderful agility from one mass of ruin to another. At length she reached the level; and then, foaming and panting, she rushed to Alroy, threw herself upon the ground, embraced his feet, and wiped off the dust from his sandals with her hair.
The assembly broke into long and loud acclamations of supernatural confidence and sanguine enthusiasm. They beheld their Messiah wave his miraculous sceptre. They thought of Hassan Subah and his Seljuks only as of victims, and of to-morrow only as of a day which was to commence a new era of triumph, freedom, and empire!
Hassan Subah after five days' forced marches pitched his sumptuous pavilion in that beautiful Oasis, which had afforded such delightful refreshment to Alroy when a solitary pilgrim. Around for nearly a mile, were the tents of his warriors, and of the numerous caravan that had accompanied him, laden with water and provisions for his troops. Here, while he reposed, he also sought information as to the position of his enemy.
A party of observation, which he had immediately despatched, returned almost instantly with a small caravan that had been recently plundered by the robbers. The merchant, a venerable and pious Moslem, was ushered into the presence of the Governor of Hamadan.
'From the robbers' haunt?' enquired Hassan.
'Unfortunately so,' answered the merchant.
'Is it far?'
'A day's journey.'
'And you quitted it?'
'What is their force?'
The merchant hesitated.
'Do they not make prisoners?' enquired the Governor, casting a scrutinising glance at his companion.
'Holy Prophet! what a miserable wretch am I!' exclaimed the venerable merchant, bursting into tears. 'A faithful subject of the Caliph, I am obliged to serve rebels, a devout Moslem, I am forced to aid Jews! Order me to be hanged at once, my lord,' continued the unfortunate merchant, wringing his hands. 'Order me to be hanged at once. I have lived long enough.'
'What is all this?' enquired Hassan; 'speak, friend, without fear.'
'I am a faithful subject of the Caliph,' answered the merchant; 'I am a devout Moslem, but I have lost ten thousand dirhems.'
'I am sorry for you, sir; I also have lost something, but my losses are nothing to you, nor yours to me.'
'Accursed be the hour when these dogs tempted me! Tell me, is it sin to break faith with a Jew?'
'On the contrary, I could find you many reverend Mollahs, who will tell you that such a breach is the highest virtue. Come! come, I see how it is: you have received your freedom on condition of not betraying your merciful plunderers. Promises exacted by terror are the bugbears of fools. Speak, man, all you know. Where are they? What is their force? Are we supposed to be at hand?'
'I am a faithful subject of the Caliph, and I am bound to serve him,' replied the merchant; 'I am a devout Moslem, and 'tis my duty to destroy all Giaours, but I am also a man, and I must look after my own interest. Noble Governor, the long and the short is, these scoundrels have robbed me of ten thousand dirhems, as my slaves will tell you: at least, goods to that amount. No one can prove that they be worth less. It is true that I include in that calculation the fifty per cent. I was to make on my shawls at Hamadan, but still to me it is as good as ten thousand dirhems. Ask my slaves if such an assortment of shawls was ever yet beheld.'
'To the point, to the point. The robbers?' 'I am at the point. The shawls is the point. For when I talked of the shawls and the heaviness of my loss, you must know that the captain of the robbers—'
'A fierce young gentleman, I do not know how they call him: said the captain to me, "Merchant, you look gloomy." "Gloomy," I said, "you would look gloomy if you were a prisoner, and had lost ten thousand dirhems." "What, is this trash worth ten thousand dirhems?" said he. "With the fifty per cent. I was to make at Hamadan." "Fifty per cent.," said he; "you are an old knave." "Knave! I should like to hear any one call me knave at Bagdad." "Well, knave or not, you may get out of this scrape." "How?" "Why you are a respectable-looking man," said he, "and are a good Moslem into the bargain, I warrant." "That I am," said I, "although you be a Jew: but how the faith is to serve me here I am sure I don't know, unless the angel Gabriel, as in the fifty-fifth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of the Koran——"'
'Tush, tush!' exclaimed Hassan; 'to the point.'
'I always am at the point, only you put me out. However, to make it as short as possible, the captain knows all about your coming, and is frightened out of his wits, although he did talk big; I could easily see that. And he let me go, you see, with some of my slaves, and gave me an order for five thousand dirhems on one Bostenay, of Hamadan (perhaps you know him; is he a good man?), on condition that I would fall in with you, and, Mohammed forgive me, tell you a lie!'
'Yes, a lie; but these Jewish dogs do not understand what a truly religious man is, and when I began to tell the lie, I was soon put out. Now, noble Hassan, if a promise to a Jew be not binding on a true believer, and you will see me straight with the five thousand dirhems, I will betray everything at once.'
'Be easy about the five thousand dirhems, good man, and tell me all.'
'You will see me paid?'
'My honour upon it.'
''Tis well! Know then, the infamous dogs are very weak, and terrified at the news of your progress: one, whom I think they call Jabaster, has departed with the great majority of the people into the interior of the desert, about seven hundred strong. I heard so; but mind, I do not know it. The young man, whom you call Alroy, being wounded in a recent conflict, could not depart with them, but remains among the ruins with some female prisoners, some treasure, and about a hundred companions hidden in sepulchres. He gave me my freedom on condition that I should fall in with you, and assure you that the dogs, full five thousand strong, had given you the go-by in the night, and marched towards Hamadan. They wanted me to frighten you; it was a lie, and I could not tell it. And now you know the plain truth; and if it be a sin to break faith with an infidel, you are responsible for it, as well as for the five thousand dirhems, which, by-the-bye, ought to have been ten.'
'Where is your order?'
''Tis here,' said the merchant, drawing it from his vest, 'a very business-like document, drawn upon one Bostenay, whom they described as very rich, and who is here enjoined to pay me five thousand dirhems, if, in consequence of my information, Hassan Subah, that is yourself, return forthwith to Hamadan without attacking them.'
'Old Bostenay's head shall answer for this.'
'I am glad of it. But were I you, I would make him pay me first.'
'Merchant,' said Hassan, 'have you any objection to pay another visit to your friend Alroy?'
'In my company?'
'That makes a difference.'
'Be our guide. The dirhems shall be doubled.'
'That will make up for the fifty per cent. I hardly like it; but in your company that makes a difference. Lose no time. If you push on, Alroy must be captured. Now or never! The Jewish dogs, to rifle a true believer!'
'Oglu,' said Hassan to one of his officers. 'To horse! You need not strike the tents. Can we reach the city by sunset, merchant?'
'An hour before, if you be off at once.' 'Sound the drums. To horse! to horse!' The Seljuks halted before the walls of the deserted city. Their commander ordered a detachment to enter and reconnoitre. They returned and reported its apparent desolation. Hassan Subah, then directing that a guard should surround the walls to prevent any of the enemy from escaping, passed with his warriors through the vast portal into the silent street. The still magnificence of the strange and splendid scene influenced the temper even of this ferocious cavalry. They gazed around them with awe and admiration. The fierceness of their visages was softened, the ardour of their impulse stilled. A supernatural feeling of repose stole over their senses. No one brandished his scimitar, the fiery courser seemed as subdued as his lord, and no sound was heard but the melancholy, mechanical tramp of the disciplined march, unrelieved by martial music, inviolate by oath or jest, and unbroken even by the ostentatious caracoling of any showy steed.
It was sunset; the star of eve glittered over the white Ionian fane that rose serene and delicate in the flashing and purple sky.
'This way, my lord!' said the merchant guide, turning round to Hassan Subah, who, surrounded by his officers, led the van. The whole of the great way of the city was filled with the Seljukian warriors. Their ebon steeds, their snowy turbans, adorned with plumes of the black eagle and the red heron, their dazzling shawls, the blaze of their armour in the sunset, and the long undulating perspective of beautiful forms and brilliant colours, this regiment of heroes in a street of palaces. War had seldom afforded a more imposing or more picturesque spectacle.
'This way, my lord!' said the merchant, pointing to the narrow turning that, at the foot of the temple, led through ruined streets to the amphitheatre.
'Halt!' exclaimed a wild shrill voice. Each warrior suddenly arrested his horse.
'Who spoke?' exclaimed Hassan Subah.
'I!' answered a voice. A female form stood in the portico of the temple, with uplifted arms.
'And who art thou?' enquired Hassan Subah, not a little disconcerted.
'Thine evil genius, Seljuk!'
Hassan Subah, pale as his ivory battle-axe, did not answer; every man within hearing shuddered; still the dread woman remained immovable within the porch of the temple.
'Woman, witch, or goddess,' at length exclaimed Hassan Subah, 'what wouldst thou here?'
'Seljuk! behold this star. 'Tis a single drop of light, yet who even of thy wild band can look upon it without awe? And yet thou worse than Sisera, thou comest to combat against those for whom even "the stars in their courses fought."'