Afterwhile the cloud of dust momentarily deepening over in that direction was enlivened by a clash of cymbals and drums, blent with peals of horns, the fine, high music yet cherished by warriors of the Orient. Presently a body of horsemen appeared, their spear points glistening in the sunlight. A glance at them, then his gaze fixed upon a chief in leading.
The sun had been hot all day; the profiles of the low hills were dim with tremulous haze lying scorchingly upon them; the furred hulks of the camels in the enclosure looked as if they were smoking; the sky held nothing living except two kites which sailed the upper air slowly, their broad wings at widest extension; yet the chief persisted in wearing his arms and armor, like the soldiers behind him. Ere long he rode up and halted in front of the Prince, and near by.
His head was covered with a visorless casque, slightly conical, from the edge of which, beginning about the temples, a cape of fine steel rings, buckled under the chin, enveloped the neck and throat, and fell loosely over the neck and shoulders, and part way down the back. A shirt of linked mail, pliable as wool, defended the body and the arms to the elbows; overalls of like material, save that the parts next the saddle were leather, clothed the thighs and legs. As the casque and every other link of the mail were plated with gold, the general effect at a distance was as if the whole suit were gold. A surcoat of light green cloth hung at the back half hiding a small round shield of burnished brass; at the left side there was a cimeter, and in the right hand a lance. The saddle was of the high-seated style yet affected by horsemen of Circassia; at the pommel a bow and well-filled quiver were suspended, and as the stirrups were in fact steel slippers the feet were amply protected by them.
At sight of the martial figure, the Indian, in admiration, arose to a sitting posture. Such, he thought, were the warriors who followed Saladin! And when the stranger, reaching the summit of the eminence, turned out of the road coming apparently to the door of the tent, he involuntarily sprang to his feet ready to do him honor.
The face, then plainly seen, though strong of feature, and thoroughly bronzed, was that of a young man not more than twenty-two or three, dark-eyed, mustached and bearded, and of a serious though pleasant expression. He kept his seat with ease and grace; if he and the broad-chested dark-bay horse were not really one, they were one in spirit; together they wrought the impression which was the origin of majesty, a title for kings.
While the Prince was turning this in his mind, the soldier pulled rein, and stopped long enough to glance at him and at the camp; then, turning the horse, he looked the other way, making it apparent he had taken position on the rise to overlook the plain, and observe the coming and dispersion of the caravans.
Another mounted man ascended the hill, armed and armored like the first one, though not so richly, and bearing a standard of dulled yellow silk hanging from a gilded staff. The ground of the standard was filled with inscriptions in red lettering, leaving the golden crescent and star on the point of the staff to speak of nationality. The bearer of the flag dismounted, and at a sign planted it in the ground.
Seeing his Shaykh, the Prince called him:
"Who is the warrior yonder?—He in the golden armor?"
"The Emir El Hajj, [Footnote: Chief officer of the Pilgrimage. The appointment was considered the highest favor in the Sultan's gift.] O Prince."
"He the Emir El Hajj!—And so young?—Oh! a hero of the Serail. The Kislar Aga extolled him one day."
"Thy remark and common report, O excellent Prince, could not journey together on the same camel," said the Shaykh. "In the Khan at Medina I heard his story. There is a famous enemy of the Turks, Iskander Bey, in strength a Jinn, whose sword two men can scarcely lift. He appeared before the army of the Sultan one day with a challenge. He whom thou seest yonder alone dared go forth to meet him. The fought from morning till noon; then they rested. 'Who art thou?' asked Iskander. 'I am a slave of Amurath, the Commander of the Faithful, who hath commissioned me to take thee to him dead or alive.' Iskander laughed, and said, 'I know by thy tongue now thou art not a Turk; and to see if the Commander of the Faithful, as thou callest him, hath it in soul to make much of thy merit as a warrior, I will leave thee the honors of the combat, and to go thy way.' Whereat they say he lifted his ponderous blade as not heavier than the leaf of a dead palm, and strode from the field."
The Prince listened, and at the end said, like a man in haste:
"Thou knowest Nilo, my black man. Bring him hither."
The Shaykh saluted gravely, and hurried away, leaving his patron with eyes fixed on the Emir, and muttering:
"So young!—and in such favor with the old Amurath! I will know him. If I fail, he may be useful to me. Who knows? Who knows?"
He looked upward as if speaking to some one there.
Meantime the Emir was questioning the ensign.
"This pilgrim," he said, "appears well provided."
And the ensign answered:
"He is the Indian Prince of whom I have been hearing since we left Medina."
"What hast thou heard?"
"That being rich, he is open-handed, making free with his aspers as sowers with their seed."
"He is devout and learned as an Imam. His people call him Malik. Of the prayers he knows everything. As the hours arrive, he lifts the curtains of his litter, and calls them with a voice like Belal's. The students in the mosque would expire of envy could they see him bend his back in the benedictions."
"They say also that in the journey from El Katif to Medina he travelled behind the caravan when he might have been first."
"I see not the virtue in that. The hill-men love best to attack the van."
"Tell me, O Emir, which wouldst thou rather face, a hill-man or the Yellow Air?"
"The hill-man," said the other decidedly.
"And thou knowest when those in front abandon a man struck with the disease?"
"The vultures and the jackals have their rights."
"True, O Emir, but listen. The caravan left El Katif three thousand strong. Three hundred and more were struck with the plague, and left to die; of those, over one hundred were brought in by the Indian. They say it was for this he preferred to march in the rear. He himself teaches a saying of the Hadis, that Allah leaves his choicest blessings to be gathered from amidst the poor and the dying."
"If he thou describest be not a Prince of India as he claims, he is a"—
"A Mashaikh." [Footnote: Holier than a Dervish.]
"Ay, by the Most Merciful! But how did he save the castaways?"
"By a specific known only to kings and lords in his country. Can he but reach the plague-struck before death, a drop on the tongue will work a cure. Thou heardst what he did at Medina?"
"The Masjid El Nabawi [Footnote: Tomb of the Prophet.] as thou knowest, O Emir, hath many poor who somehow live in its holy shade."
"I know it," said the Emir, with a laugh. "I went in the house rich, and come out of it poorer than the poorest of the many who fell upon me at the doors."
"Well," the ensign continued, not heeding the interruption, "he called them in, and fed them; not with rice, and leeks, and bread ten days sour, but with dishes to rejoice a Kaliph; and they went away swearing the soul of the Prophet was returned to the world."
At this juncture a troop of horsemen ascending the hill brought the conversation to a stop. The uniformity of arms and armor, the furniture of the steeds, the order and regularity of the general movement, identified the body as some favorite corps of the Turkish army; while the music, the bristling lances, the many-folded turbans, and the half-petticoated trousers threw about it a glamor of purest orientalism.
In the midst of the troop, a vanguard in front, a rearguard behind them, central objects of care and reverence, moved the sacred camels, tall, powerful brutes, more gigantic in appearance because of their caparisoning and the extraordinary burdens they bore. They too were in full regalia, their faces visored in silk and gold, their heads resplendent with coronets of drooping feathers, their ample neck cloths heavy with tasselled metallic fringing falling to the knees. Each one was covered with a mantle of brocaded silk arranged upon a crinoline form to give the effect somewhat of the curved expansion on the rim of a bell. On the humps rose pavilions of silk in flowing draperies, on some of which the entire Fatihah was superbly embroidered. Over the pavilions arose enormous aigrettes of green and black feathers. Such were the mahmals, containing, among other things of splendor and fabulous value, the Kiswah which the Sultan was forwarding to the Scherif of Mecca to take the place of the worn curtains then draping the Tabernacle or House of God.
The plumed heads of the camels, and the yet more richly plumed pavilions, exalted high above the horsemen, moved like things afloat. One may not tell what calamities to body and soul would overtake the Emir El Hajj did he fail to deliver the mahmals according to consignment.
While the cavalry came up the hill the musicians exerted themselves; at the top, the column turned and formed line left of the Emir, followed by strings of camels loaded with military properties, and a horde of camp-followers known as farrash. Presently another camp was reared upon the eminence, its white roofs shining afar over the plain, and in their midst one of unusual dimensions for the Sultan's gifts.
The caravans in the meantime began to emerge from the dun cloud of their own raising, and spread at large over the land; and when the young Emir was most absorbed in the spectacle the Prince's Shaykh approached him.
"O Emir!" the Arab said, after a salaam.
A wild fanfare of clarions, cymbals, and drums drowning his voice, he drew nearer, almost to the stirrup.
"O Emir!" he said again.
This time he was heard.
"What wouldst thou?"
There was the slightest irritation in the tone, and on the countenance of the speaker as he looked down; but the feeling behind it vanished at sight of a negro whose native blackness was intensified by the spotless white of the Ihram in which he was clad. Perhaps the bright platter of beaten copper the black man bore, and the earthen bottle upon it, flanked by two cups, one of silver, the other of crystal, had something to do with the Emir's change of manner and mind.
"What wouldst thou?" he asked, slightly bending towards them.
The Shaykh answered:
"The most excellent Hadji, my patron, whom thou mayst see reclining at the door of his tent, sends thee greeting such as is lawful from one true believer to another travelling for the good of their souls to the most Holy of Cities; and he prays thou wilt accept from him a draught of this water of pomegranates, which he vouches cooling to the tongue and healthful to the spirit, since he bought it at the door of the House of the Prophet—to whom be prayer and praise forever."
During the speech, the negro, with a not unpractised hand, and conscious doubtless of the persuasion there was in the sound and sparkle of the beverage, especially to one not yet dismounted from a long ride on the desert, filled the cups, and held them up for acceptance.
Stripping the left hand of its steel-backed gauntlet, the Emir lifted the glass, and, with a bow to the pilgrim then arisen and standing by the tent-door, drank it at a draught; whereupon, leaving the ensign to pay like honor to the offered hospitality, he wheeled his horse, and rode to make acknowledgment in person.
"The favor thou hast done me, O Hadji," he said, dismounted, "is in keeping with the acts of mercy to thy fellow-men with which I hear thou hast paved the road from El Katif as with mother-of-pearl."
"Speak not of them, I pray," the Wanderer answered, returning the bow he received. "Who shall refuse obedience to the law?"
"I see plainly thou art a good man," the Emir said, bowing again.
"It would not become me to say so. Turning to something better, this tent in the wilderness is mine, and as the sun is not declined to its evening quarter, perhaps, O gallant Emir, it would be more to thy comfort were we to go within. I, and all I have, are at thy command."
"I am grateful for the offer, most excellent Hadji—if the address be lower than thy true entitlement, thou shouldst bring the Shaykh yonder to account for misleading a stranger—but the sun and I have become unmindful of each other, and duty is always the same in its demands at least. Here, because the valley is the micath, [Footnote: Meeting place.] the caravans are apt to run wild, and need a restraining hand. I plead the circumstance in excuse for presuming to request that thou wilt allow me to amend thy offer of courtesy."
The Emir paused, waiting for the permission.
"So thou dost accept the offer, amend it as thou wilt," and the Prince smiled.
Then the other returned, with evident satisfaction: "When our brethren of the caravans are settled, and the plain is quiet, and I too have taken the required vows, I will return to thee. My quarters are so close to thine it would please me to be allowed to come alone."
"Granted, O Emir, granted—if, on thy side, thou wilt consent to permit me to give thee of the fare I may yet have at disposal. I can promise thou shalt not go away hungry."
"Be it so."
Thereupon the Emir remounted, and went back to his stand overlooking the plain, and the coming of the multitude.
THE PASSING OF THE CARAVANS
From his position the Wanderer could see the advancing caravans; but as the spectacle would consume the afternoon, he called his three attendants, and issued directions for the entertainment of the Emir in the evening; this done, he cast himself upon the rug, and gave rein to his curiosity, thinking, not unreasonably, to find in what would pass before him something bearing on the subject ever present in his mind.
The sky could not be called blue of any tint; it seemed rather to be filled with common dust mixed with powder of crushed brick. The effect was of a semi-transparent ceiling flushed with heat from the direct down-beating action of the sun, itself a disk of flame. Low mountains, purplish black in hue, made a horizon on which the ceiling appeared set, like the crystal in the upper valve of a watch. Thus shut in, but still fair to view east and south of the position the spectator occupied, lay El Zaribah, whither, as the appointed meeting place, so many pilgrims had for days and weeks ever wearier growing been "walking with their eyes." In their thought the Valley was not so much a garden or landscape of beauty as an ante-chamber of the House of Allah. As they neared it now, journeying since the break of day, impatience seized them; so when the cry sped down the irregular column—"It is here! It is here!" they answered with a universal labbayaki, signifying, "Thou hast called us— here we are, here we are!" Then breaking into a rabble, they rushed multitudinously forward. To give the reader an idea of the pageant advancing to possess itself of the Valley, it will be well to refresh his memory with a few details. He should remember, in the first place, that it was not merely the caravan which left El Katif over on the western shore of the Green Sea, but two great caravans merged into one—El Shemi, from Damascus, and Misri, from Cairo. To comprehend these, the region they drained of pilgrims should be next considered. For example, at Cairo there was a concentration from the two Egypts, Upper and Lower, from the mysterious deserts of Africa, and from the cities and countries along the southern shore of the Mediterranean far as Gibraltar; while the whole East, using the term in its most comprehensive sense, emptied contingents of the devout into Damascus. In forwarding the myriads thus poured down upon them the Arabs were common carriers, like the Venetians to the hordes of western Europe in some of the later crusades; so to their thousands of votaries proper, the other thousands of them engaged in the business are also to be computed. El Medina was the great secondary rendezvous. Hardly could he be accounted of the Faithful who in making the pilgrimage would turn his back upon the bones of the Prophet; of such merit was the saying, "One prayer in this thy mosque is of more virtue than a thousand in other places, save only the Masjid El Haram." Once at Medina, how could the pilgrim refuse his presence, if not his tears, at El Kuba, forever sacred to the Mohammedan heart as the first place of public prayer in Islam? Finally, it should not be forgotten that the year we write of belonged to a cycle when readers of the Koran and worshippers at Mecca were more numerous than now, if not more zealous and believing. And it was to witness the passing of this procession, so numerous, so motley, so strangely furnished, so uncontrolled except as it pleased, the Prince of India was seated at the door of his tent upon the hill. Long before the spectacle was sighted in the distance, its approach was announced by an overhanging pillar of cloud, not unlike that which went before the Israelites in their exodus through similar wastes. Shortly after the interview with the Emir, the Prince, looking under the pillar, saw a darkening line appear, not more at first than a thread stretched across a section of the east.
The apparition was without a break; nor might he have said it was in motion or of any depth. A sound came from the direction not unlike that of a sibilant wind. Presently out of the perspective, which reduced the many to one and all sizes to a level, the line developed into unequal divisions, with intervals between them; about the same time the noise became recognizable as the voices fiercely strained and inarticulate of an innumerable host of men. Then the divisions broke into groups, some larger than others; a little later individuals became discernible; finally what had appeared a line resolved itself into a convulsing mass, without front, without wings, but of a depth immeasurable.
The pilgrims did not attempt to keep the road; having converted their march into a race, they spread right and left over the country, each seeking a near way; sometimes the object was attained, sometimes not; the end was a confusion beyond description. The very inequalities of the ground helped the confusion. A group was one moment visible on a height; then it vanished in a hollow. Now there were thousands on a level; then, as if sinking, they went down, down, and presently where they were there was only dust or a single individual.
Afterwhile, so wide was the inrolling tide, the field of vision overflowed, and the eye was driven to ranging from point to point, object to object. Then it was discernible that the mass was mixed of animals and men—here horses, there camels—some with riders, some without—all, the burdened as well as unburdened, straining forward under urgency of shriek and stick—forward for life—forward as if of the two "comforts," Success beckoned them in front, and Despair behind plied them with spears. [Footnote: In the philosophy of the Arabs Success and Despair are treated as comforts.]
At length the eastern boundary of the Valley was reached. There one would suppose the foremost of the racers, the happy victors, would rest or, at their leisure, take of the many sites those they preferred; but no—the penalty attaching to the triumph was the danger of being run down by the thousands behind. In going on there was safety—and on they went.
To this time the spectacle had been a kind of panoramic generality; now the details came to view, and accustomed as he was to marvels of pageantry, the Prince exclaimed: "These are not men, but devils fleeing from the wrath of God!" and involuntarily he went nearer, down to the brink of the height. It seemed the land was being inundated with camels; not the patient brutes we are used to thinking of by that name, with which domestication means ill-treatment and suffering—the slow-going burden-bearers, always appealing to our sympathy because always apparently tired, hungry, sleepy, worn-out—always reeling on as if looking for quiet places in which to slip their loads of whatever kind, and lie down and die; but the camel aroused, enraged, frightened, panic-struck, rebellious, sending forth strange cries, and running with all its might—an army of camels hurling their gigantic hulks along at a rate little less than blind impetus. And they went, singly, and in strings, and yonder a mass. The slower, and those turned to the right or left of the direct course, and all such as had hesitated upon coming to a descent, were speedily distanced or lost to sight; so the ensemble was constantly shifting. And then the rolling and tossing of the cargoes and packages on the backs of the animals, and the streaming out of curtains, scarfs, shawls, and loose draperies of every shape and color, lent touches of drollery and bright contrasts to the scene. One instant the spectator on the hill was disposed to laugh, then to admire, then to shiver at the immensity of a danger; over and over again amidst his quick variation of feeling, he repeated the exclamation: "These are not men, but devils fleeing from the wrath of God!"
Such was the spectacle in what may be called the second act; presently it reached a third; and then the fury of the movement, so inconsistent with the habits and patient nature of the camel, was explained. In the midst of the hurly-burly, governing and directing it, were horsemen, an army of themselves. Some rode in front, and the leading straps on which they pulled with the combined strength of man and horse identified them as drivers; others rode as assistants of the drivers, and they were armed with goads which they used skilfully and without mercy. There were many collisions, upsets, and entanglements; yet the danger did not deter the riders from sharing the excitement, and helping it forward to their utmost. They too used knotted ropes, and stabbed with sharpened sticks; they also contributed to the unearthly tumult of sounds which travelled with the mob, a compound of prayers, imprecations, and senseless screams—the medley that may be occasionally heard from a modern mad-house.
In the height of the rush the Shaykh came up.
"How long," said the Prince—"in the Prophet's name, how long will this endure?"
"Till night, O most excellent Hadji—if the caravans be so long in coming."
"Is it usual?"
"It has been so from the beginning."
Thereupon the curiosity of the Prince took another turn. A band of horsemen galloped into view—free riders, with long lances carried upright, their caftans flying, and altogether noble looking.
"These are Arabs. I know by their horses and their bearing," said he, with admiration; "but possibly thou canst give me the name of their tribe."
The Shaykh answered with pride: "Their horses are gray, and by the sign, O lover of the Prophet, they are the Beni-Yarb. Every other one of them is a poet; in the face of an enemy, they are all warriors."
The camps on the hill, with the yellow flag giving notice of the Emir's station, had effect upon others besides the Yarbis; all who wished to draw out of the melange turned towards them, bringing the spectacle in part to the very feet of the Wanderer; whereas he thought with a quicker beating of the heart, "The followers of the Prophet are coming to show me of what they are this day composed." Then he said to the Shaykh, "Stand thou here, and tell me as I shall ask."
The conversation between them may be thus summarized:
The current which poured past then, its details in perfect view, carried along with it all the conditions and nationalities of the pilgrimage. Natives of the desert on bare-backed camels, clinging to the humps with one hand, while they pounded with the other—natives on beautiful horses, not needing whip or spur—natives on dromedaries so swift, sure-footed, and strong there was no occasion for fear. Men, and often women and children, on ragged saddle-cloths, others in pretentious boxes, and now and then a person whose wealth and rank were published by the magnificence of the litter in which he was borne, swinging luxuriously between long-stepping dromedaries from El Sbark.
"By Allah!" the Prince exclaimed. "Here hath barbarism its limit! Behold!"
They of whom he spoke came up in irregular array mounted on dromedaries without housing. At their head rode one with a white lettered green flag, and beating an immense drum. They were armed with long spears of Indian bamboo, garnished below the slender points with swinging tufts of ostrich feathers. Each carried a woman behind him disdainful of a veil. The feminine screams of exultation rose high above the yells of the men, helping not a little to the recklessness with which the latter bore onward.
Woe to such in their way as were poorly mounted. In a twinkling they were ridden down. Nor did those fare better who were overtaken struggling with a string of camels. The crash of bursting boxes, the sharp report of rending ropes, the warning cry, the maddening cheer; a battle of men, another of beasts—and when the collision had passed, the earth was strewn with its wreck.
"They are Wahabbas, O Hadji," said the Shaykh. "Thou seest the tufts on their spears. Under them they carry Jehannum."
"And these now coming?" asked the Prince. "Their long white hats remind me of Persia."
"Persians they are," replied the Shaykh, his lip curling, his eyes gleaming. "They will tear their clothes, and cut their shaven crowns, and wail, 'Woe's me, O Ali!' then kiss the Kaaba with defilement on their beards. The curse of the Shaykaim is on them—may it stay there!"
Then the Prince knew it was a Sunite speaking of Schiahs.
Yet others of the Cafila of Bagdad passed with the despised sons of Iran; notably Deccanese, Hindoos, Afghans, and people from the Himalayas, and beyond them far as Kathay, and China, and Siam, all better known to the Prince than to his Shaykh, who spoke of them, saying, "Thou shouldst know thine own, O Hadji! Thou art their father!"
Next, in a blending that permitted no choice of associates, along swept the chief constituents of the caravans—Moors and Blackamoors, Egyptians, Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Caucasians, and Arabs of every tribe, each a multitude of themselves, and their passing filled up the afternoon.
Towards sundown the hurry and rush of the movement perceptibly slackened. Over in the west there were signs of a halt; tents were rising, and the smoke of multiplying fires began to deepen the blue of the distance. It actually appeared as if settlement for the night would creep back upon the east, whence the irruption had burst.
At a moment when the Prince's interest in the scene was commencing to flag, and he was thinking of returning to his tent, the rearmost divisions of the pilgrims entered the Valley. They were composed of footmen and donkey-riders, for whom the speed of the advance bodies had been too great. High-capped Persians, and Turks whose turbans were reduced to faded fezes, marched in the van, followed closely by a rabble of Takruris, ragged, moneyless, living upon meat of abandoned animals. Last of all were the sick and dying, who yet persisted in dragging their fainting limbs along as best they could. Might they but reach the Holy City! Then if they died it would be as martyrs for whom the doors of Paradise are always open. With them, expectants of easy prey, like the rakham [Footnote: Vultures.] sailing in slow circles overhead, flocked the beggars, thieves, outcasts and assassins; but night came quickly, and covered them, and all the things they did, for evil and night have been partners from the beginning.
At last the Prince returned to his tent. He had seen the sun set over El Zaribah; he had seen the passing of the caravans. Out there in the Valley they lay. They—to him, and for his purposes, the Mohammedan world unchanged—the same in composition, in practice, in creed—only he felt now a consciousness of understanding them as never before. Mahomet, in his re-introduction of God to man, had imposed himself upon their faith, its master idea, its central figure, the superior in sanctity, the essential condition—the ONE! Knowingly or unknowingly, he left a standard of religious excellence behind him—Himself. And by that standard the thief in the wake of the mighty caravans robbing the dead, the Thug strangling a victim because he was too slow in dying, were worthy Paradise, and would attain it, for they believed in him. Faith in the Prophet of God was more essential than faith in God. Such was the inspiration of Islam. A sinking of spirit fell upon the unhappy man. He felt a twinge of the bitterness always waiting on failure, where the undertaking, whatever it be, has enlisted the whole heart. At such times instinctively we turn here and there for help, and in its absence, for comfort and consolation; what should he do now but advert to Christianity? What would Christians say of his idea? Was God lost in Christ as he was here in Mahomet?
THE PRINCE AND THE EMIR
In the reception room of the Prince's tent the lamps are lighted; one fastened to the stout centre pole, and five others on as many palings planted in the ground, all burning brightly. The illumination is enriched by the admirable blending of colors in the canopy of shawls. Within the space defined by the five lamps, on a tufted rug, the Mystic and the Emir are seated, both in Ihram, and looking cool and comfortable, though the night outside still testifies to the heat of the day.
A wooden trencher, scoured white as ivory, separates the friends, leaving them face to face. In supping they have reached what we call the dessert.
On the trencher are slender baskets containing grapes, figs, and dates, the choicest of the gardens of Medina. A jar of honey, an assortment of dry biscuits, and two jugs, one of water, the other of juice of pomegranates, with drinking cups, complete the board.
At this age, Orientals lingering at table have the cheer of coffee and tobacco; unhappily for the two of whom we are writing, neither of the great narcotics was discovered. Nevertheless it should not be supposed the fruits, the honey, and the waters failed to content them. Behind the host is the negro we already know as Nilo. He is very watchful of his master's every motion.
As guest and host appear now the formalism of acquaintanceship just made has somewhat disappeared, and they are talking easily and with freedom. Occasionally a movement of one or the other brings his head to a favorable angle, whereat the light, dropping on the freshly shaven crown, is sharply glinted back.
The Emir has been speaking of the plague.
"At Medina I was told it had run its course," the host remarked.
"True, O Hadji, but it has returned, and with greater violence. The stragglers were its victims; now it attacks indiscriminately. Yesterday the guard I keep in the rear came to a pilgrim of rank. His litter was deserted, and he was lying in it dead."
"The man may have been murdered."
"Nay," said the Emir, "gold in large amount was found on his person."
"But he had other property doubtless?"
"Of great value."
"What disposition was made of it?"
"It was brought to me, and is now with other stores in my tent; a law of ancient institution vesting it in the Emir El Hajj."
The countenance of the Jew became serious.
"The ownership was not in my thought," he said, waving his hand. "I knew the law; but this scourge of Allah has its laws also, and by one of them we are enjoined to burn or bury whatever is found with the body."
The Emir, seeing the kindly concern of his host, smiled as he answered:
"But there is a higher law, O Hadji."
"I spoke without thinking danger of any kind could disturb thee."
The host drew forward the date basket, and the Emir, fancying he discerned something on his mind besides the fruit, waited his further speech.
"I am reminded of another matter, O brave Emir; but as it also is personal I hesitate. Indeed I will not speak of it except with permission."
"As you will," the other replied, "I will answer—May the Prophet help me!"
"Blessed be the Prophet!" said the Prince, reverently. "Thy confidence doeth me honor, and I thank thee; at the same time I would not presume upon it if thy tongue were less suggestive of a land whose name is music—Italy. It is in my knowledge, O Emir, that the Sultan, thy master—may Allah keep him in countenance!—hath in his service many excellent soldiers by birth of other countries than his own, broad as it is—Christians, who are none the less of the true faith. Wherefore, wilt thou tell me of thyself?"
The question did not embarrass the Emir.
"The answer must be brief," he answered, without hesitation, "because there is little to tell. I do not know my native country. The peculiarity of accent you have mentioned has been observed by others; and as they agreed with you in assigning it to Italy, I am nothing loath to account myself an Italian. The few shreds of circumstance which came to me in course of time confirmed the opinion, and I availed myself of a favorable opportunity to acquire the tongue. In our further speech, O Hadji, you may prefer its use."
"At thy pleasure," the host replied; "though there is no danger of our being overheard. Nilo, the slave behind me, has been a mute from birth."
Then, without the slightest interruption, the Emir changed his speech from Greek to Italian.
"My earliest remembrance is of being borne in a woman's arms out of doors, under a blue sky, along a margin of white sand, an orchard on one hand, the sea on the other. The report of the waves breaking upon the shore lives distinctly in my memory; so does the color of the trees in the orchard which has since become familiar to me as the green of olives. Equally clear is the recollection that, returning in-doors, I was carried into a house of stone so large it must have been a castle. I speak of it, as of the orchard, and the sea, and the roar of the breakers, quite as much by reference to what I have subsequently seen as from trust in my memory."
Here the host interrupted him to remark:
"Though an Eastern, I have been a traveller in the west, and the description reminds me of the eastern shore of Italy in the region of Brindisi."
"My next recollection," the Emir resumed, "is a child's fright, occasioned by furious flames, and thick smoke, and noises familiar now as of battle. There was then a voyage on the sea during which I saw none but bearded men. The period of perfect knowledge so far as my history is concerned began when I found myself an object of the love and care of the wife of a renowned Pacha, governor of the city of Brousa. She called me Mirza. My childhood was spent in a harem, and I passed from it into a school to enter upon my training as a soldier. In good time I became a Janissary. An opportunity presented itself one day, and I distinguished myself. My master, the Sultan, rewarded me by promotion and transfer to the Silihdars, [Footnote: D'Oheson.] the most ancient and favored corps of the Imperial army, it being the body-guard of the Padisha, and garrison of his palace. The yellow flag my ensign carries belongs to that corps. As a further token of his confidence, the Sultan appointed me Emir El Hajj. In these few words, O Hadji, you have my history."
The listener was impressed with the simplicity of the narrative, and the speaker's freedom from regret, sorrow, or passion of any kind.
"It is a sad story, O Emir," he said, sympathetically, "and I cannot think it ended. Knowest thou not more?"
"Nothing of incident," was the reply. "All that remains is inferential. The castle was attacked at night by Turks landed from their galleys."
"And thy father and mother?"
"I never knew them."
"There is another inference," said the Prince, suggestively—"they were Christians."
"Yes, but unbelievers."
The suppression of natural affection betrayed by the remark still more astonished the host.
"But they believed in God," he said.
"They should have believed Mahomet was his Prophet."
"I fear I am giving you pain, O Emir."
"Dismiss the fear, O Hadji."
Again the Jew sought the choicest date in the basket. The indifference of his guest was quick fuel to the misgivings which we have already noticed as taking form about his purpose, and sapping and weakening it. To be arbiter in the religious disputes of men, the unique consummation called for by his scheme, the disputants must concede him room and hearing. Were all Mohammedans, from whom he hoped most, like this one born of Christians, then the two conditions would be sternly refused him. By the testimony of this witness, there was nothing in the heredity of faith; and it went to his soul incisively that, in stimulating the passions which made the crusades a recurrence of the centuries, he himself had contributed to the defeat now threatening his latest ambition. The sting went to his soul; yet, by force of will, always at command in the presence of strangers, he repressed his feeling, and said:
"Everything is as Allah wills. Let us rejoice that he is our keeper. The determination of our fate, in the sense of what shall happen to us, and what we shall be, and when and where the end shall overtake us, is no more to him than deciding the tint of the rose before the bud is formed. O Emir, I congratulate you on the resignation with which you accept his judgment. I congratulate you upon the age in which he has cast your life. He who in a moment of uncertainty would inform himself of his future should not heed his intentions and hopes; by studying his present conditions, he will find himself an oracle unto himself. He should address his best mind to the question, 'I am now in a road; if I keep it, where will I arrive?' And wisdom will answer, 'What are thy desires? For what art thou fitted? What are the opportunities of the time?' Most fortunate, O Emir, if there be correspondence between the desire, the fitness, and the opportunity!"
The Emir did not comprehend, and seeing it, the host added with a directness approaching the abrupt:
"And now to make the reason of my congratulations clear, it is necessary that thou consent to my putting a seal upon your lips. What sayest thou?"
"If I engage my silence, O Hadji, it is because I believe you are a good man."
The dignity of the Emir's answer did not entirely hide the effect of the Prince's manner.
"Know thou then," the latter continued, with a steady, penetrating gaze—"know thou then, there is a Brahman of my acquaintance who is a Magus. I use the word to distinguish him from the necromancers whom the Koran has set in everlasting prohibition. He keeps school in a chapel hid away in the heart of jungles overgrowing a bank of the Bermapootra, not far from the mountain gates of the river. He has many scholars, and his intelligence has compassed all knowledge. He is familiar with the supernatural as with the natural. On my way, I visited him.... Know thou next, O Emir, I too have had occasion to make inquiries of the future. The vulgar would call me an astrologer—not a professional practising for profit, but an adept seeking information because it lifts me so much nearer Allah and his sublimest mysteries. Very lately I found a celestial horoscope announcing a change in the status of the world. The masterful waves, as you may know, have for many ages flowed from the West; but now, the old Roman impetus having at last spent itself, a refluence is to set in, and the East in its turn pour a dominating flood upon the West. The determining stars have slipped their influences. They are in motion. Constantinople is doomed!"
The guest drew a quick breath. Understanding was flooding him with light.
"And now, O Emir, say, if the revelation had stopped there—stopped, I mean, with the overthrow of the Christian capital—wouldst thou have been satisfied with it?"
"No, by Allah, no!"
"Further, Emir. The stars being communicable yet, what wouldst thou have asked them next?"
"I would not have rested until I had from them the name of him who is to be leader in the movement."
The Mystic smiled at the young man's fervor.
"Thou hast saved me telling what I did, and affirmed the logic of our human nature," he said. "Thy imperial master is old, and much worn by wars and cares of government, is he not?"
"Old in greatness," answered the Emir, diplomatically.
"Hath he not a son?"
"A son with all the royal qualities of the father."
"But young—not more than eighteen."
"And the Prophet hath lent him his name?"
The host released the eager face of the Emir from his gaze, while he sought a date in the basket.
"Another horoscope—the second"—he then said, quietly, "revealed everything but the hero's name. He is to be of kingly birth, and a Turk. Though a lad, he is already used to arms and armor."
"Oh! by Allah, Hadji," cried the guest, his face flushed, his words quick, his voice mandatory. "Release me from my pledge of silence. Tell me who thou art, that I may report thee, and the things thou sayest. There was never such news to warm a heroic heart."
The Prince pursued his explanation without apparently noticing the interruption noticing the interruption.
"To verify the confidences of the stars, I sought the Magus in his chapel by the sacred river. Together we consulted them, and made the calculations. He embraced me; but it was agreed between us that absolute verity of the finding could only be had by re-casting the horoscopes at Constantinople. Thou must know, O Emir, there is an astral alphabet which has its origin in the inter-relations of the heavenly bodies, represented by lines impalpable to the common eye; know also that the most favored adept cannot read the mystic letters with the assurance best comporting with verity, except he be at the place of the destined event or revolution. To possess myself of the advantage, I shall ere long visit the ancient capital. More plainly, I am on the way thither now."
Instead of allaying the eagerness of the Emir, the words excited it the more.
"Release me from my pledge," he repeated, entreatingly, "and tell me who thou art. Mahommed is my pupil; he rides, carries shield, lays lance, draws arrow, and strikes with sword and axe as I have taught him. Thou canst not name a quality characteristic of heroes he does not possess. Doth Allah permit me safe return from the Hajj, he will be first to meet me at his father's gate. Think what happiness I should have in saluting him there with the title—Hail Mahommed, Conqueror of Constantinople!"
The Jew answered:
"I would gladly help thee, O Emir, to happiness and promotion; for I see what afterwhile, if not presently, they would follow such a salutation of thy pupil, if coupled with a sufficient explanation; but his interests are paramount; at the same time it becomes me to be allegiant to the divinatory stars. What rivalries the story might awaken! It is not uncommon in history, as thou mayst know, that sons of promise have been cut off by jealous fathers. I am not accusing the great Amurath; nevertheless precautions are always proper."
The speaker then became dramatic.
"Nay, brave Emir, the will to help thee has been already seconded by the deed. I spoke but now of lines of correspondence between the shining lights that are the life of the sky at night. Let me illustrate my meaning. Observe the lamps about us. The five on the uprights. Between them, in the air, two stars of interwoven form are drawn. Take the lamps as determining points, and use thy fancy a moment."
The Emir turned to the lamps; and the host, swift to understand the impulse, gave him time to gratify it; then he resumed:
"So the fields of Heaven between the stars, where the vulgar see only darkness, are filled with traceries infinite in form yet separable as the letters of the alphabet. They are the ciphers in which Allah writes his reasons for every creation, and his will concerning it. There the sands are numbered, and the plants and trees, and their leaves, and the birds, and everything animate; there is thy history, and mine, and all of little and great and good and bad that shall befall us in this life. Death does not blot out the records. Everlastingly writ, they shall be everlastingly read—for the shame of some, for the delight of others."
"Allah is good," said the Emir, bending his head.
"And now," the Mystic continued, "thou hast eaten and drunk with me in the Pentagram of the Magii. Such is the astral drawing between the five lamps. Henceforth in conflicts of interest, fortune against fortune, influences undreamt of will come to thy assistance. So much have I already done for thee."
The Emir bowed lower than before.
"Nor that alone," the Jew continued. "Henceforth our lives will run together on lines never divergent, never crossing. Be not astonished, if, within a week, I furnish, to thy full satisfaction, proof of what I am saying."
The expression could not be viewed except as of more than friendly interest.
"Should it so happen," the Emir said, with warmth, "consider how unfortunate my situation would be, not knowing the name or country of my benefactor."
The host answered simply, though evasively:
"There are reasons of state, O Emir, requiring me to make this pilgrimage unknown to any one."
The Emir apologized.
"It is enough," the host added, "that thou remember me as the Prince of India, whose greatest happiness is to believe in Allah and Mahomet his Prophet; at the same time I concede we should have the means of certainly knowing each other should communication become desirable hereafter."
He made a sign with his right hand which the negro in waiting responded to by passing around in front of him.
"Nilo," the master said in Greek, "bring me the two malachite rings—those with the turquoise eyes."
The slave disappeared.
"Touching the request to be released from the promise of secrecy, pardon me, O Emir, if I decline to grant it. The verification to be made in Constantinople should advise thee that the revolution to which I referred is not ripe for publication to the world. A son might be excused for dishonoring his parents; but the Magus who would subject the divine science to danger of ridicule or contempt by premature disclosure is fallen past hope—he would betray Allah himself."
The Emir bowed, but with evident discontent. At length the slave returned with the rings.
"Observe, O Emir," the Jew said, passing them both to his guest, "they are rare, curious, and exactly alike."
The circlets were of gold, with raised settings of deep green stone, cut so as to leave a drop of pure turquoise on the top of each, suggestive of birds' eyes.
"They are exactly the same, O Prince," said the Emir, tendering them back.
The Jew waved his hand.
"Select one of them," he said, "and I will retain the other. Borne by messengers, they will always identify us each to the other."
The two grew more cordial, and there was much further conversation across the board, interspersed with attentions to the fruit basket and pomegranate water. About midnight the Emir took his departure. When he was gone, the host walked to and fro a long time; once he halted, and said aloud—"I hear his salute, 'Hail Mahommed, Conqueror of Constantinople !' It is always well to have a store of strings for one's bow."
And to himself he laughed heartily.
Next day at dawn the great caravan was afoot, every man, woman, and child clad in Ihram, and whitening the pale green Valley.
AT THE KAABA
The day before the pilgrimage.
A cloud had hung over the valley where Mecca lies like drift in the bed of a winding gorge. About ten o'clock in the morning the cloud disappeared over the summit of Abu Kubays in the east. The promise of rain was followed by a simoom so stifling that it plunged every breathing thing into a struggle for air. The dogs burrowed in the shade of old walls; birds flew about with open beaks; the herbage wilted, and the leaves on the stunted shrubs ruffled, then rolled up, like drying cinnamon. If the denizens of the city found no comfort in their houses of stone and mud, what suffering was there for the multitude not yet fully settled in the blistering plain beyond the bluffs of Arafat?
The zealous pilgrim, obedient to the law, always makes haste to celebrate his arrival at the Holy City by an immediate visit to the Haram. If perchance he is to see the enclosure for the first time, his curiosity, in itself pardonable, derives a tinge of piety from duty. The Prince of India but illustrated the rule. He left his tents pitched close to those of the Emir El Hajj and the Scherif of Mecca, under the Mountain of Mercy, as Arafat was practically translated by the very faithful. Having thus assured the safety of his property, for conveniency and greater personal comfort he took a house with windows looking into the Mosque. By so doing, he maintained the dignity of his character as a Prince of India. The beggars thronging his door furnished lively evidence of the expectations his title and greatness had already excited.
With a guide, his suite, and Nilo shading his head with an umbrella of light green paper, the Prince appeared in front of the chief entrance to the sacred square from the north. [Footnote: The Bab el Vzyadeh.]
The heads of the party were bare; their countenances becomingly solemn; their Ihram fresh and spotlessly white. Passing slowly on, they were conducted under several outside arches, and down a stairway into a hall, where they left the umbrella and their shoes.
The visitor found himself then in a cloister of the Mosque with which the area around the Kaaba is completely enclosed. There was a pavement of undressed flags, and to the right and left a wilderness of tall pillars tied together by arches, which in turn supported domes. Numbers of people, bareheaded and barefooted, to whom the heat outside was insupportable, were in refuge there; some, seated upon the stones, revolved their rosaries; others walked slowly about. None spoke. The silence was a tribute to the ineffable sanctity of the place. The refreshing shade, the solemn hush, the whiteness of the garments were suggestive of sepulchres and their spectral tenantry.
In the square whither the Prince next passed, the first object to challenge his attention was the Kaaba itself. At sight of it he involuntarily stopped.
The cloisters, seen from the square, were open colonnades. Seven minarets, belted in red, blue and yellow, arose in columnar relief against the sky and the mountains in the south. A gravelled plot received from the cloisters; next that, toward the centre, was a narrow pavement of rough stone in transverse extension down a shallow step to another gravelled plot; then another pavement wider than the first, and ending, like it, in a downward step; after which there was a third sanded plot, and then a third pavement defined by gilded posts upholding a continuous row of lamps, ready for lighting at the going down of the sun. The last pavement was of gray granite polished mirror-like by the friction of millions of bare feet; and upon it, like the pedestal of a monument upon a plinth, rested the base of the Holy House, a structure of glassy white marble about two feet in height, with a bench of sharp inclination from the top. At intervals it was studded with massive brass rings. Upon the base the Kaaba rose, an oblong cube forty feet tall, eighteen paces lengthwise, and fourteen in breadth, shrouded all in black silk wholly unrelieved, except by one broad band of the appearance of gold, and inscriptions from the Koran, of a like appearance, wrought in boldest lettering. The freshness of the great gloomy curtain told how quickly the gift of the Sultan had been made available, and that whatever else might betide him, the young Emir was already happily discharged of his trust.
Of the details, the only one the Jew actually coupled with a thought was the Kaaba. A hundred millions of human beings pray five times every day, their faces turned to this funereal object! The idea, though commonplace, called up that other always in waiting with him. In a space too brief for the formulation of words, he felt the Arbitership of his dreams blow away. The work of the founder of Islam was too well done and now too far gone to be disturbed, except with the sanction of God. Had he the sanction? A writhing of the soul, accompanied with a glare, like lightning, and followed, like lightning, by an engulfing darkness, wrung his features, and instinctively he covered them with his hands. The guide saw the action, and misjudged it.
"Let us not be in haste," he said. "Others before you have found the House at first sight blinding. Blessed be Allah!"
The commiseration affected the Prince strangely. The darkness, under pressure of his hands upon the eyeballs, gave place to an atmosphere of roseate light, in the fulness of which he saw the House of God projected by Solomon and rebuilt by Herod. The realism of the apparition was absolute, and comparison unavoidable. That he, familiar with the glory of the conception of the Israelite, should be thought blinded by this Beit Allah of the Arab, so without grace of form or lines, so primitive and expressionless, so palpably uninspired by taste, or genius, or the Deity it was designed to honor, restored him at once: indeed, in the succeeding reaction, he found it difficult to keep down resentment. Dropping his hands, he took another survey of the shrouded pile, and swept all the square under eye.
He beheld a crowd of devotees at the northeast corner of the House, and over their heads two small open structures which, from descriptions often heard, he recognized as praying places. A stream of worshippers was circling around the marble base of the Most Holy, some walking, others trotting; these, arriving at the northeast corner, halted—the Black Stone was there! A babel of voices kept the echoes of the enclosure in unremitting exercise. The view taken, the Jew said, calmly:
"Blessed be Allah! I will go forward."
In his heart he longed to be in Constantinople—Islam, it was clear, would lend him no ear; Christendom might be more amenable.
He was carried next through the Gate of the Sons of the Old Woman; thence to the space in front of the well Zem-Zem; mindful of the prayers and prostrations required at each place, and of the dumb servants who went with him.
The famous well was surrounded by a throng apparently impassable.
"Room for the Royal Hadji—for the Prince of India!" the guide yelled. "There are no poor where he is—make way!"
A thousand eyes sought the noble pilgrim; and as a path opened for him, a score of Zem-Zemis refilled their earthen cups with the bitter water afresh. A Prince of Hind did not come to them every day.
He tasted from a cup—his followers drank—and when the party turned away there were jars paid for to help all the blind in the caravan back to healthful vision.
"There is no God but Allah! Be merciful to him, O Allah," the crowd shouted, in approval of the charity.
The press of pilgrims around the northeastern corner of the Kaaba, to which the guide would have conducted the Prince next, was greater than at the well. Each was waiting his turn to kiss the Black Stone before beginning the seven circuits of the House.
Never had the new-comer seen a concourse so wrought upon by fanaticism; never had he seen a concourse so peculiarly constituted. All complexions, even that of the interior African, were a reddish desert tan. Eyes fiercely bright appeared unnaturally swollen from the colirium with which they were generally stained. The diversities the penitential costume would have masked were effectually exposed whenever mouths opened for utterance. Many sang, regardless of time or melody, the tilbiye they had hideously vocalized in their advance toward the city. For the most part, however, the effort at expression spent itself in a long cry, literally rendered—"Thou hast called me—I am here! I am here!" The deliverance was in the vernacular of the devotee, and low or loud, shrill or hoarse, according to the intensity of the passion possessing him.
To realize the discordancy, the reader must recall the multiplicity of the tribes and nations represented; then will he fancy the agitation of the mass, the swaying of the white-clad bodies, the tossing of bare arms and distended hands, the working of tearful faces turned up to the black-curtained pile regardless of the smiting of the sun—here men on their knees, there men grovelling on the pavement—yonder one beating his breast till it resounds like an empty cask—some comprehension of the living obstruction in front of the Jew can be had.
Then the guide, calling him, tried the throng.
"The Prince of India!" he shouted, at the top of his voice. "Room for the beloved of the Prophet! Stand not in his way—Room, room!"
After much persistence the object was achieved. A pilgrim, the last one in front of the Prince, with arms extended along the two sides of the angle of the wall where the curtain was looped up, seemed struggling to embrace the House; suddenly, as in despair he beat his head frantically against the sharp corner—a second thrust more desperate than the first—then a groan, and he dropped blindly to the pavement. The guide rejoicing made haste to push the Prince into the vacant place.
Without the enthusiasm of a traveller, calmly as a philosopher, the Jew, himself again, looked at the Stone which more nearly than any other material thing commanded idolatrous regard from the Mohammedan world. He had known personally most of the great men of that world—its poets, lawmakers, warriors, ascetics, kings—even the Prophet. And now they came one by one, as one by one they had come in their several days, and kissed the insensate thing; and between the coming and going time was scarcely perceptible. The mind has the faculty of compressing, by one mighty effort, the incidents of a life, even of centuries, into a flash-like reenactment.
As all the way from the first view of the sanctuary to arrival at the gate, and thence to this point, the Jew had promptly followed his guide, especially in recitation of the prescribed prayers, he was about to do so now; already his hands were raised.
"Great God! O my God! I believe in Thee—I Believe in thy Book—I believe in thy Word—I believe in thy Promise," the zealous prompter said, and waited.
For the first time the votary was slow to respond. How could he, at such a juncture, refuse a thought to the Innumerables whose ghosts had been rendered up in vain struggles to obey the law which required them to come and make proof of faith before this Stone! The Innumerables, lost at sea, lost in the desert—lost body and soul, as in their dying they themselves had imagined! Symbolism! An invention of men—a necessity of necromancers! God had his ministers and priests, the living media of his will, but of symbols—nothing!
"Great God! O my God!" the guide began again. A paroxysm of disgust seized the votary. The Phariseeism in which he was born and bred, and which he could no more outlive than he could outlive his body asserted itself.
In the crisis of the effort at self-control, he heard a groan, and, looking down, saw the mad devotee at his feet. In sliding from the shelf of the base, the man had been turned upon his back, so that he was lying face upward. On the forehead there were two cruel wounds; and the blood, yet flowing, had partially filled the hollows of the eyes, making the countenance unrecognizable.
"The wretch is dying," the Prince exclaimed.
"Allah is merciful—let us attend to the prayers," the guide returned, intent on business.
"But he will die, if not helped."
"When we have finished, the porters will come for him."
The sufferer stirred, then raised a hand.
"O Hadji—O Prince of India!" he said faintly, in Italian.
The Wanderer bent down to get a nearer view.
"It is the Yellow Air—save me!"
Though hardly articulate, the words were full of light to the listener.
"The virtues of the Pentagram endure," he said, with absolute self-possession. "The week is not ended, and, lo!—I save him."
Rising to his full stature, he glanced here and there over the throng, as if commanding attention, and proclaimed:
"A mercy of the Most Merciful! It is the Emir El Hajj."
There was a general silence. Every man had seen the martial figure of the young chief in his arms and armor, and on horseback; many of them had spoken to him.
"The Emir El Hajj—dying," passed rapidly from mouth to mouth.
"O Allah!" burst forth in general refrain; after which the ejaculations were all excerpted from prayers.
"'O Allah! This is the place of him who flies to thee from fire!—Shadow him, O Allah, in thy shadow!—Give him drink from the cup of thy Prophet!'"
A Bedouin, tall, almost black, and with a tremendous mouth open until the red lining was exposed between the white teeth down to the larynx, shouted shrilly the inscription on the marble over the breast of the Prophet—"In the name of Allah! Allah have mercy upon him!"—and every man repeated the words, but not one so much as reached a hand in help.
The Prince waited—still the Amins, and prayerful ejaculations. Then his wonder ceased. Not a pilgrim but envied the Emir—that he should die so young was a pity—that he should die at the base of the sanctuary, in the crowning act of the Hajj, was a grace of God. Each felt Paradise stooping low to receive a martyr, and that its beatitude was near. They trembled with ecstasy at hearing the gates opening on their crystal hinges, and seeing light as from the robe of the Prophet glimmering through them. O happy Emir!
The Jew drew within himself. Compromise with such fanaticism was impossible. Then, with crushing distinctness, he saw what had not before occurred to him. In the estimation of the Mohammedan world, the role of Arbiter was already filled; that which he thought of being, Mahomet was. Too late, too late! In bitterness of soul he flung his arms up and shouted:
"The Emir is dying of the plague!"
He would have found satisfaction in seeing the blatant crowd take to its heels, and hie away into the cloisters and the world outside; not one moved!
"By Allah!" he shouted, more vehemently than before. "The Yellow Air hath blown upon the Emir—is blowing upon you—Fly!"
"Amin! Amin!—Peace be with thee, O Prince of Martyrs! O Prince of the Happy! Peace be with thee, O Lion of Allah! O Lion of the Prophet!" Such the answers returned him.
The general voice became a howl. Surely here was something more than fanaticism. Then it entered his understanding. What he beheld was Faith exulting above the horrors of disease, above the fear of death—Faith bidding Death welcome! His arms fell down. The crowd, the sanctuary, the hopes he had built on Islam, were no more to him. He signed to his three attendants, and they advanced and raised the Emir from the pavement.
"To-morrow I will return with thee, and complete my vows;" he said to his guide. "For the present, lead out of the square to my house."
The exit was effected without opposition.
Next day the Emir, under treatment of the Prince, was strong enough to tell his story. The plague had struck him about noon of the day following the interview in the tent at El Zaribah. Determined to deliver the gifts he had in keeping, and discharge his trust to the satisfaction of his sovereign, he struggled resolutely with the disease. After securing the Scherif's receipt he bore up long enough to superintend the pitching his camp. Believing death inevitable, he was carried into his tent, where he issued his final orders and bade his attendants farewell. In the morning, though weak, half-delirious, his faith the strongest surviving impulse, he called for his horse, and being lifted into the saddle, rode to the city, resolved to assure himself of the blessings of Allah by dying in the shadow of the sanctuary.
The Prince, listening to the explanation, was more than ever impressed with the futility of attempting a compromise with people so devoted to their religion. There was nothing for him but to make haste to Constantinople, the centre of Christian sentiment and movement. There he might meet encouragement and ultimate success.
In the ensuing week, having performed the two pilgrimages, and seen the Emir convalescent, he took the road again, and in good time reached Jedda, where he found his ship waiting to convey him across the Red Sea to the African coast. The embarkation was without incident, and he departed, leaving a reputation odorous for sanctity, with numberless witnesses to carry it into every quarter of Islam.
THE ARRIVAL IN CONSTANTINOPLE
Uel, the son of Jahdai, was in the habit of carrying the letter received from the mysterious stranger about with him in a breast pocket. How many times a day he took it out for reexamination would be difficult to say. Observing the appearance of signs of usage, he at length wrapped it in an envelope of yellow silk. If he had thought less of it, he would have resorted to plain linen.
There were certain points in the missive which seemed of greater interest to him than others. For example, the place whence it had been addressed was an ever recurring puzzle; he also dwelt long upon the sentence which referred so delicately to a paternal relationship. The most exigent passages, however, were those relative to the time he might look for the man's coming. As specially directed, he had taken note of the day of the delivery of the letter, and was greatly surprised to find the messenger had arrived the last day of the year permitted him. The punctuality of the servant might be in imitation of a like virtue of the master. If so, at the uttermost, the latter might be expected six months after receipt of the letter. Or he might appear within the six months. The journeys laid out were of vast distances, and through wild and dangerous countries, and by sea as well. Only a good traveller could survive them at all; to execute them in such brief space seemed something superhuman.
So it befell that the son of Jahdai was at first but little concerned. The months—three, four, five—rolled away, and the sixth was close at hand; then every day brought him an increase of interest. In fact, he found himself looking for the arrival each morning, and at noon promising it an event of the evening.
November was the sixth and last month of the time fixed. The first of that month passed without the stranger. Uel became anxious. The fifteenth he turned the keeping of his shop over to a friend; and knowing the passage from Alexandria must be by sea, he betook himself, with Syama, to the port on the Golden Horn known as the Gate of St. Peter, at the time most frequented by Egyptian sailing masters. In waiting there, he saw the sun rise over the heights of Scutari, and it was the morning of the very last day. Syama, meantime, occupied himself in final preparation of the house for the reception. He was not excited, like Uel, because he had no doubt of the arrival within the period set. He was also positively certain of finding his master, when at length he did appear, exactly as when he separated from him in Cipango. He was used to seeing Time waste itself upon the changeless man; he had even caught from him a kind of contempt for what other men shrank from as dangers and difficulties.
The site of the house has been described; it remains to give the reader an idea of its interior. There were four rooms on the ground floor furnished comfortably for servants, of whom the arrangement indicated three besides Syama. The first floor was of three apartments communicable by doorways with portieres of camel's hair. The furniture was Roman, Greek, and Egyptian mixed. Of the three the middle chamber was largest, and as its fittings were in a style of luxury supposed to be peculiar to princes, the conclusion was fair that it was designed for the proprietor's occupancy during his waking hours. A dark blue rug clothed the floor. In the centre, upon a shield of clear copper, arose a silver brazier. The arms and legs of the stools here and there on the rug were carven in grotesque imitation of reptiles and animals of the ultra dragonish mode. The divans against the walls were of striped silk. In each corner stood a tall post of silvered bronze, holding at the end of a graceful crook several lamps of Pompeiian model. A wide window in the east end, filled with plants in bloom, admitted ample light, which, glancing through the flowers, fell on a table dressed in elegant cloth, and bearing a lacquered waiter garnished with cups of metal and glass, and one hand-painted porcelain decanter for drinking water. An enormous tiger-skin, the head intact and finished with extraordinary realism, was spread on the floor in front of the table. The walls were brilliant with fresh Byzantine frescoing. The air of the room was faintly pervaded with a sweet incense of intoxicating effect upon one just admitted to it. Indeed the whole interior partook of this sweetness.
The care of the faithful servant had not been confined to the rooms; he had constructed a summer house upon the roof, knowing that when the weather permitted his master would pass the nights there in preference to the chambers below. This structure looked not unlike a modern belfry, except that the pillars and shallow dome of the top were of Moorish lightness. Thence, to a familiar, the heavens in the absence of the sun would be an unrolled map.
When the last touch of the preparation had been given, and Syama said to himself, "He may come now," one point was especially noticeable—nowhere in the house was there provision for a woman.
The morning of the last day Syama accompanied Uel to the port reluctantly. Feeling sure his master had not arrived in the night, he left his friend on the watch, and returned home early.
The noise and stir of business at the ancient landing were engaging. With a great outcry, a vessel would be drawn up, and made fast, and the unloading begun. A drove of donkeys, or a string of camels, or a mob of porters would issue from the gate, receive the cargo and disappear with it. Now and then a ship rounded the classic Point, its square sail bent and all the oars at work: sweeping past Galata on the north side of the Horn, then past the Fish Market Gate on the south, up it would come gracefully as a flying bird; if there was place for it at the quay, well; if not, after hovering around awhile, it would push out to a berth in the open water. Such incidents were crises to Uel. To this one and to that he would run with the question:
"Where is she from?"
If from the upper sea, he subsided; but if from the Marmora, he kept eager lookout upon her, hoping to recognize in every disembarkee the man he was expecting.
That he had never seen the person was of little consequence. He had thought of him so much awake, and seen him so repeatedly in dreams, he was confident of knowing him at sight. Imagining a stranger's appearance is for the most part a gentle tribute of respect; the mistakes we make are for the most part ludicrous.
No one answering the preconception came. Noon, and still no one; then, cast down and disappointed, Uel went home, ate something, held the usual childish dialogue with his little girl, and about mid afternoon crossed the street to the new residence. Great was his astonishment at finding a pyramid of coals glowing in the silver brazier, and the chill already driven from the sitting-room. Here—there—upstairs, downstairs—the signs were of present occupancy. For a moment he thought the master had slipped by him or landed at some other port of the city.
"Is he here? Has he come?" he asked, excitedly, and Syama answered with a shake of the head.
"Then why the fire?"
Syama, briefly waving his hand as if following the great Marmorean lake, turned the finger ends into the other palm, saying plainly and emphatically:
"He is coming—he will be here directly."
Uel smiled—faith could not be better illustrated—and it was so in contrast with his own incredulity!
He lingered awhile. Restlessness getting the mastery, he returned home, reflecting on the folly of counting so implicitly upon the conclusion to a day of a tour so vast. More likely, he thought, the traveller's bones were somewhere whitening the desert, or the savages of Kash-Cush had eaten him. He had heard of their cannibalism.
Want of faith, however, did not prevent the shopkeeper from going to his friend's house after supper. It was night, and dark, and the chilling moisture of a winter wind blowing steadily from the Black Sea charged the world outside with discomfort. The brazier with its heap of living coals had astonished him before; now the house was all alight! He hastened upstairs. In the sitting-room the lamps were burning, and the illumination was brilliant. Syama was there, calm and smiling as usual.
"What—he is here?" Uel said, looking from door to door.
The servant shook his head, and waved his hand negatively, as to say:
"Not yet—be patient—observe me."
To indulge his wonder, Uel took seat. Later on he tried to get from Syama an explanation of his amazing confidence, but the latter's substitute for speech was too limited and uncertain to be satisfactory.
About ten o'clock Syama went below, and presently returned with food and drink on a large waiter.
"Ah, good Lord!" Uel thought. "He is making a meal ready. What a man! What a master!"
Then he gave attention to the fare, which was of wheaten wafers, cold fowl, preserved fruits, and wine in a stoneware bottle. These Syama set on a circular table not higher than the divan in front of which it was drawn. A white napkin and a bowl for laving the fingers completed the preparation, as Uel supposed. But no. Syama went below again, and reappeared with a metal pot and a small wooden box. The pot he placed on the coals in the brazier, and soon a delicate volume of steam was pouring from the spout; after handling the box daintily as if the contents were vastly precious, he deposited it unopened by the napkin and bowl. Then, with an expression of content upon his face, he too took seat, and surrendered himself to expectancy. The lisping of the steam escaping from the pot on the fire was the only sound in the room.
The assurance of the servant was contagious. Uel began to believe the master would come. He was congratulating himself upon the precaution he had taken in leaving a man at the port to conduct him rightly when he heard a shuffling of feet below stairs. He listened startled. There were several men in the company. Steps shook the floor. Uel and Syama arose.
The latter's countenance flushed with pleasure; giving one triumphal glance at his friend, much as to say, There—did I not tell you so? he walked forward quickly, and reached the head of the steps just as a stranger finished their ascent. In a moment Syama was on his knees, kissing the hand held out to him. Uel needed no prompter—it was the master!
If only on account of the mutuality of affection shown between the two, the meeting was a pleasant sight. That feature, however, was lost to the shopkeeper, who had no thought except of the master's appearance. He had imagined him modelled after the popular conceptions of kings and warriors—tall, majestic, awe-inspiring. He saw instead a figure rather undersized, slightly stoop-shouldered, thin; at least it seemed so then, hid as it was under a dark brown burnoose of the amplitude affected by Arab sheiks. The head was covered by a woollen handkerchief of reddish tint, held by a scarlet cord. The edge of the handkerchief projected over the forehead enough to cast the entire face in shade, leaving to view only a mass of white beard overflowing the breast.
The master ended the reception at the head of the stairs by gently raising Syama to his feet. Then he subjected the room to a swift inspection, and, in proof of satisfaction, he patted the happy retainer on the shoulder. Invited by the fire, and the assurance of comfort in its glow, he advanced to the brazier, and while extending his hands over it, observed Uel. Without surprise or hesitation he walked to him.
"Son of Jahdai!" he said, offering his hand.
The voice was of exceeding kindness. As an overture to peace and goodwill, it was reenforced by very large eyes, the intense blackness of which was softened by a perceptible glow of pleasure. Uel was won on the instant. A recollection of the one supreme singularity of the new acquaintance—his immunity from death—recurred to him, and he could not have escaped its effect had he wished. He was conscious also that the eyes were impressing him. Without distinct thought, certainly without the slightest courtierly design, he obeyed the impulse of the moment, and stooped and touched the extended hand with his lips. And before rising he heard the beginning of further speech:
"I see the truth of my judgment. The family of my ancient friends has trodden the ways of righteousness under the commandments of the Lord until it has become a kind unto itself. I see too my trust has been verified. O Son of Jahdai, you did assist my servant, as I requested, and to your kindness, doubtless, I am indebted for this home full of comforts after a long absence among strangers. I hold you my creditor."
The tendency of the speech was to relieve Uel of embarrassment.
"Do not thank me," he answered. "The business was ordinary, and strictly within Syama's capacity. Indeed, the good man could have finished it without my help."
The master, rich in experience, noticed the deferential manner of the reply, and was agreeably assured on his side.
"Very well. There will be no harm in reserving an opinion," he said. "The good man, as you call him, is making ready a drink with which he has preceded me from his country, and which you must stay and share, as it is something unknown in the West."
"Let me first welcome you here," Uel returned.
"Oh, I saw the welcome in your face. But let us get nearer the fire. The night is chilling. If I were owner of a garden under whatever hill along the Bosphorus, verily I should tremble for my roses."
Thus briefly, and in such simple manner, the wise Mystic put the shopkeeper perfectly at ease.
At the brazier they watched Syama in the operation since become of universal knowledge under title of "drawing tea." The fragrance of the decoction presently filled the room to the suppression of the incense, and they drank, ate, and were sociable. The host outlined his travels. Uel, in return, gave him information of the city. When the latter departed, it was with a light heart, and an elastic step; the white beard and patriarchal manner of the man had laid his fears, and the future was to him like a cloudless sky.
Afterwhile the master signified a wish to retire; whereupon his household came, as was their wont, to bid him good-night. Of these there were two white men. At sight of Syama, they rushed to embrace him as became brethren of old acquaintance long in the same service. A third one remained at the door. Syama looked at him, and then at the master; for the man was a stranger. Then the Jew, with quick intuition of the requirement of the time, went, and took him by the hand, and led him to the others. Addressing Syama, he said gravely:
"This is Nilo, son of the Nilo whom you knew. As you held the father in love, so you shall hold the son."
The man was young, very black, and gigantic in stature. Syama embraced him as he had the others.
In the great city there was not a more united household under roof than that of the shopkeeper's friend.
THE PRINCE AT HOME
A wise man wishing to know another always attends him when he is in narrative. The reader may be familiar with the principle, and a believer in it; for his better satisfaction, therefore, a portion of the Prince's conversation with Uel over the tea-table the night of his arrival in Constantinople shall be reported nearly as possible in his own words. It will be found helpful to the story as well as an expose of character.
"I said in my letter, as thou mayst remember, O son of Jahdai"—the voice of the speaker was low, but earnest, and admirably in harmony with the sentiment, "that I hoped thou wouldst allow me to relate myself to thee as father to son. Thou hast not forgotten it, I am sure."
"I recall it distinctly," Uel answered, respectfully.
"Thou wilt remember not less clearly then that I added the words, 'in all things a help, in nothing a burden.'"
"The addition I thought of great importance," the Prince continued; "for it was very desirable that thou shouldst not imagine me coming to sit down upon thee, and in idleness fatten upon the fruits of thy industry. As something of even greater importance, thou shouldst know now, at this earliest moment of our intercourse, that I am abundantly able from what I have of goods and treasure to keep any condition I may choose to assume. Indeed thou shouldst not be too much astonished did I practise the style and manner of the nobles who are privileged in the palaces of thy Caesar. At home I shall be as thou seest me now, thy friend of simplest habits, because my tastes really incline to them; when I go abroad, the officials of the Church and State whom I chance to encounter shall be challenged to comparison of appearance, and be piqued to inquire about me. Then when the city observes thou art intimate with me, the demand for thy wares will increase; thou mayst even be put to stress to keep apace with it. In speaking thus, I trust thy natural shrewdness, sharpened as it must have become by much dealing as a merchant."
He paused here to give his cup to Syama for replenishment; whereupon Uel said: "I have followed thy discourse with interest, and I hope with understanding; yet I am conscious of a disadvantage. I do not know thy name, nor if thou hast a title."
"Yes, and thou mightest have set down in the table of defaults," the Wanderer began pleasantly in reply, but broke off to receive the cup smoking hot from the servant, and say—"Thanks, Syama. I see thy hand hath not lost its deftness; neither has the green leaf suffered from its long journey over the sea."
Uel noticed with what intentness Syama watched the master's lips while he was speaking, and the gratification that beamed from his face in answer to the compliment; and he thought, "Verily this must be a good man to be so beloved by his dependents."
"I was saying, O son of Jahdai, that thou mightest have set down the other points of information equally necessary to our intercourse—Whence I come? And why? And I will not leave thee in the dark respecting them. Only let me caution thee—It is not required that the public should be taken into our confidence. I have seen a flower good to look upon, but viscous, and with a scent irresistible to insects. That flower represents the world; and what is the folly of its victims but the madness of men who yield themselves with too easy faith to the seductions of the world? Nay, my son—observe thou the term—I use it to begin the relationship I seek—observe also I begin the relationship by confidences which were unwisely given without the injunction that they are intended to be put away in thy inner-conscience. Tell me if I am understood."
The question was emphasized by a look whose magnetism thrilled Uel's every nerve.
"I believe I understand you," he replied.
Then, as if the Prince knew the effect he had wrought, and that it relieved him from danger of betrayal, he returned to his former easy manner.
"And yet, as thou shalt see, my son, the confidences are not crimes—But thy cup is empty, and Syama waiting for it."
"The drink is new to me," Uel replied, yielding to the invitation.
"New? And wilt thou not also say it is better than wine? The world of which we are talking, will one day take up the admission, and be happier of it."
Turning then to serious matter:
"Afterwhile," he said, "thou wilt be importuned by the curious to know who I am, and thou shouldst be able to answer according to the fact—He is a Prince of India. The vulgar will be satisfied with the reply. Others will come demanding more. Refer them to me. As to thyself, O son of Jahdai, call me as I have instructed thee to speak of me—call me Prince. At the same time I would have thee know that on my eighth day I was carried into a temple and registered a son of a son of Jerusalem. The title I give thee for my designation did not ennoble me. The birthright of a circumcised heritor under the covenant with Israel is superior to every purely human dignity whatever its derivation."
"In other words, O Prince, thou art"—Uel hesitated.
"A Jew!" the other answered promptly—"A Jew, as thy father was—as thou art."
The look of pleasure that appeared on the shopkeeper's face was swiftly interpreted by the Prince, who felt he had indeed evoked a tie of blood, and bound the man with it.
"So much is despatched," he said, with evident satisfaction; then, after a draught from the tea-cup, and a re-delivery to Syania for more, he continued: "Possibly thou wilt also remember my letter mentions a necessity for my crossing from India to Mecca on the way to Kash-Cush, and that, despite the stoppage, I hoped to greet thee in person within six months after Syama reported himself. How stands the time?"
"This is the last day of the six months," Uel answered.
"Yes, there was never man"—the Prince paused, as if the thought were attended with a painful recollection—"never a man," he presently resumed, "who kept account of time more exactly than myself."
A copious draught of tea assuaged the passing regret.
"I wrote the letter while in Cipango, an island of the great eastern sea. Thirty years after I set foot upon its shore, theretofore unvisited by a white man, a countryman of ours from this city, the sole survivor of a shipwreck, joined me. From him I heard of thy father's death. He also gave me thy name.... My life on the island was comparatively untroubled. Indeed, for thy perfect comprehension, my son, it is best to make an explanation now; then thou wilt have a key to many things in my conduct to come as well as conduct gone which would otherwise keep thee in doubtful reflection. The study of greatest interest is religion. I have travelled the world over—I mean the inhabited parts—and in its broad extent there is not a people without worship of some kind. Wherefore my assertion, that beyond the arts, above the sciences, above commerce, above any or all other human concernments, religion is the superlative interest. It alone is divine. The study of it is worship. Knowledge of it is knowledge of God. Can as much be said of any other subject?"
Uel did not answer; he was following the speech too intently, and the Prince, seeing it, drank again, and proceeded:
"The divine study took me to Cipango. Fifty years thou mayst say to thyself was a long term in such a country. Not so, my son. I found there two faiths; the one Sin-Siu, which I turned my back upon as mythologic, without the poetry of the Greek and Roman; the other—well, a life given to the laws of Buddha were well spent. To say truth, there is such similitude between them and the teachings of him we are in the habit of calling the carpenter's son that, if I did not know better, it were easy to believe the latter spent the years of his disappearance in some Buddhistic temple.... Leaving explanation to another time, the same study carried me to Mecca. The binding of men, the putting yokes about their necks, trampling them in the dust, are the events supposed most important and therefore most noticeable in history; but they are as nothing in comparison with winning belief in matters indeterminable by familiar tests. The process there is so mysterious, the achievement so miraculous that where the operator is vastly successful one may well look under them for the permission of God. The day was when Islamism did but stir contemptuous laughter; now it is the faith acceptable to more men than any other. Is it not worthy the vigils of a student? And then it happens, my son, that in the depths of their delusion, people sometimes presume to make their own gods, and reform them or cast them out. Deities have been set up or thrown down by their makers in the changes of a moon. I wanted to see if such calamity had befallen the Allah of Mahomet.... My going to Kash-Cush was on what thou wouldst call business, and of it I will also tell thee. At Jedda, whither I betook myself after making the pilgrimages at Mecca, I regained my ship, and descended the Red Sea, landing at a village on the extreme inland shore of the bay of Tajurrah, below the Straits of Bab-el-Mandel. I was then in Kash-Cush. From the village on the coast, I passed into the interior, travelling in a litter on the shoulders of native porters, and, after many days, reached my destination—a collection of bungalows pitched on the bank of a tributary of the Blue Nile called the Dedhesa. The journey would have been difficult and tedious but that one of my attendants—a black man—had been king of the tribe I sought. His name was Nilo, and his tribe paramount throughout the uncivilized parts of Kash-Cush. More than fifty years before,—prior, in fact, to my setting out for Cipango,—I made the same tour, and found the king. He gave me welcome; and so well did he please me that I invited him to share my wanderings. He accepted the proposal upon condition that in his old age he should be returned home, and exchanged for a younger man of his blood. I agreed, provided one younger could be found who, besides the requisite physique and the virtues of intellect and courage, was also deaf and dumb, like himself. A treaty was thus perfected. I call it a treaty as distinct from a purchase, for Nilo was my friend and attendant—my ally, if you please—never my slave. There was a reception for us the like of which for feasting and merriment was without mention in the traditions of the tribe. A grandson filled my friend's throne; but he gave it back to him, and voluntarily took his place with me. Thou shalt see him to-morrow. I call him Nilo, and spend the morning hours teaching him to talk; for while he keeps me reminded of a Greek demi-god—so tall, strong and brave is he—he is yet deaf and dumb, and has to be taught as Syama was. When thou hast to do with him be gentle and courteous. I wish it kept in mind he is my friend and ally, bound to me by treaty as his grandfather was.... The only part of the tour given thee in my letter which I omitted was the descent of the Nile. Having performed it before, my curiosity was sated, and I allowed my impatience to be in thy city here to determine my course. I made way back to the village on the bay of Tajurrah where, in anticipation of such a change, my vessel was held in detention. Thence, up the sea and across the Isthmus, I proceeded to Alexandria, and to-night happily find myself at home, in hope of rest for my body and renewal of my spirit."
With this, the explanation appeared concluded; for the Prince notified Syama that he did not desire more tea, and lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Presently Uel arose, saying: "You must be weary. With permission I will take my leave now. I confess you have given me much to think over, and made me happy by taking me into your confidence. If it be agreeable, I will call at noon to-morrow."
The Prince went with him to the head of the stairs, and there bade him peace and good-night.
THE ROSE OF SPRING
The Prince, as the Jew preferred to be called, kept his house closely quite a month, resting, not hibernating. He took exercise daily on the flat roof; and walking to and fro there, found three objects of attraction: the hill to the southwest with the church upon it, the Palace of Blacherne off further in the west, and the Tower of Galata. The latter, across the Golden Horn in the north, arose boldly, like a light-house on a cliff; yet, for a reason—probably because it had connection with the subject of his incessant meditations—he paused oftenest to gaze at the Palace.
He was in his study one day deeply absorbed. The sun, nearing meridian, poured a stream of white light through the south window, flooding the table at which he sat. That the reader may know something of the paths the Mystic most frequented when in meditation, we will make free with one of the privileges belonging to us as a chronicler.
The volume directly in front of him on the table, done in olive wood strengthened at the corners with silver, was near two feet in length, and one and a half in width; when closed, it would be about one foot thick. Now he had many wonderful rare and rich antiques, but none so the apple of his eye as this; for it was one of the fifty Holy Bibles of Greek transcription ordered by Constantine the Great.
At his right, held flat by weights, were the Sacred Books of China, in form a roll of broad-leafed vellum.
At his left, a roll somewhat similar in form and at the moment open, lay the Rig-Veda of the Aryans in Sanscrit.
The fourth book was the Avesta of Zoroaster—a collection of MSS. stitched together, and exquisitely rendered by Parse devas into the Zend language.
A fifth book was the Koran.
The arrangement of the volumes around the Judean Bible was silently expressive of the student's superior respect; and as from time to time, after reading a paragraph from one of the others, he returned to the great central treasure, it was apparent he was making a close comparison of texts with reference to a particular theme, using the Scriptures as a standard. Most of the time he kept the forefinger of his left hand on what is now known as the fourteenth verse of the third chapter of Exodus—"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." If, as the Prince himself had declared, religion were indeed the study of most interest to the greatest number of men, he was logically consistent in comparing the definitions of God in the Bibles of theistic nations. So had he occupied himself since morning. The shrewd reader will at once discern the theme of his comparative study.
At length he grew weary of bending over the books, and of the persistent fixedness of attention required for the pursuit of fine shades of meaning in many different languages. He threw his arms up in aid of a yawn, and turned partly around, his eyes outrunning the movement of his body. The half-introverted glance brightened with a gleam, and remained fixed, while the arms dropped down. He could only look in wonder at what he saw—eyes black and almost large as his own gazing at him in timid surprise. Beholding nothing but the eyes, he had the awesome feeling which attends imagining a spirit suddenly risen; then he saw a forehead low, round, and white, half shaded by fluffs of dark hair; then a face of cherubic color and regularity, to which the eyes gave an indefinable innocency of expression.
Every one knows the effect of trifles on the memory. A verse or a word, the smell of a flower, a lock of hair, a turn in music, will not merely bring the past back, but invest it with a miraculous recurrency of events. The Prince's gaze endured. He stretched his hand out as if fearful lest what he saw might vanish. The gesture was at once an impulse and an expression. There was a time—tradition says it was the year in which he provoked the curse—when he had wife and child. To one of them, possibly both, the eyes then looking into his might have belonged. The likeness unmanned him. The hand he stretched forth fell lightly upon the head of the intruder.
"What are you?" he said.
The vagueness of the expression will serve excellently as a definition of his condition; at the same time it plunged the child addressed into doubt. Presently she answered:
"I am a little girl."
Accepting the simplicity of the reply as evidence of innocency too extreme for fear, he took the visitor in his arms, and sat her on his knee.
"I did not mean to ask what you are, but who?" he said.
"Uel is my father."
"Uel? Well, he is my friend, and I am his; therefore you and I should be friends. What is your name?"