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Title: Ben Hamed: or, The Children of Fate Author: Sylvanus Cobb, Jnr. * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1301281h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2013 Date most recently updated: March 2013 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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CHAPTER I.—THE SYNDIC, AND HIS SLAVE ASSAD.
CHAPTER II.—ASSAD FINDS ALI SHIR—AND SOMETHING MORE.
CHAPTER III.—ASSAD FINDS THE LAMP-MENDER.
CHAPTER IV.—ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE NEW LIFE.
CHAPTER V.—THE FLIGHT.
CHAPTER VI.—THE STORM AND THE MOUNTAIN GORGE!
CHAPTER VII.—THINGS IN BAGDAD.
CHAPTER VIII.—A SHADOW.
CHAPTER IX.—THE MYSTERY DEEPENS.
CHAPTER X.—WHAT MORGIANA DID.
CHAPTER XI.—STARTLING EVENTS.
CHAPTER XII.—THE RETURN OF A FRIEND, BUT THE MAKING THEREBY OF A MOST BITTER ENEMY.
CHAPTER XIII.—THE DOOMED ONE.
CHAPTER XIV.—A DEEP PLOT.
CHAPTER XVI.—THE PLACE OF EXECUTION.
CHAPTER XVII.—ONE BLOW IS AVERTED, BUT ANOTHER IS RECEIVED.
CHAPTER XVIII.—WHAT BEFELL MORGIANA AND GULNARE.
CHAPTER XIX.—A NEW OFFER OF LOVE.
CHAPTER XX.—THE PLACE OF SEPULCHRE, AND WHAT OCCURRED THERE.
CHAPTER XXI.—ANOTHER FLIGHT.
CHAPTER XXII.—REUNION. ANOTHER MYSTERY.
CHAPTER XXIII.—WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PRESENCE OF A KING.
CHAPTER XXIV.—THE MYSTERY SOLVED. CONCLUSION.
ON all hands the arms of the sons of Islam had been victorious, and the close of the eighth century, and the opening of the ninth, saw the Arabian dominion at its zenith of power and splendor. The followers of Mahomet had not only established one of the most mighty governments of earth, but they had drawn wealth and refinement, and other adjuncts of national power from conquered nations. Bagdad was the capital, and there the Caliph, Haroun al Raschid, held his court, as Commander of the Faithful, and God's Apostle on earth.
The day was closing in Bagdad, and the deep shades had already thrown themselves across the inner apartment of the market of the money-changers. At the head of the place, behind a counter more costly than the others, sat Elkader, the Syndic of those who dealt in precious metals, and changed money for percentage. He was a tall, spare man, with gray hair and gray beard, but his eyes were black as two coals. Threescore years had been given him of life, and ever since his very boyhood he had been engaged in getting money. His face was hard and cold, and even the crafty Jews, whose stalls were about him, and who worked hard for money, gazed with wonder upon the strange ingenuity with which the Syndic sometimes emptied the pockets of his spendthrift customers.
The Syndic of the money-changers looked up and saw that the day was departing, and turning to his table, he commenced to gather up the money and ingots that lay there. From a hook by his side he took a large bag made of camel's hide, and began to scrape the money into it. There was money of gold, money of silver, and many bars of pure metal direct from India. When the bag had received all the money, it was of such weight that Elkader could not move it upon the floor; much less could he lift it. In fact, it would seem that no man could raise it up, and that only a cruel man would inflict such a burden upon a mule. When the bag was secured at the mouth the Syndic turned toward the back of the market, he called name of Marouf, and thereupon there came forth a black slave, of such huge proportions, that one who knew him not would have started with fear. He was ten spans high, and as broad as an ox. He bowed before the Syndic, and awaited his pleasure.
"Take this bag and follow me," was Elkader's order.
Marouf swung the bag upon his broad shoulders as though it had been filled with feathers, and then followed his master from the market. Elkader's house was upon the bank of the Tigris, and though it looked dark and gloomy from the street, yet within it was furnished with luxuriant costliness, while the garden in the rear, which extended to the river, was one of the most beautiful in Bagdad. The Syndic entered his house, and having procured a lamp, he descended to the cellar, which was deep and spacious, and in one corner of which was a door so curiously contrived that it could not be distinguished from the rest of the wall. This door opened by a secret spring, but Marouf knew not where it was, for as soon as he had reached the cellar bottom his master set down his lamp and blindfolded him, and then taking him by the arm, he led him several times about the place by devious ways, until he came to the door. Here he touched the secret spring, and the heavy door slowly swung open, revealing a deep vault beyond, into which the Syndic led his slave. There were many sacks standing against the walls, like the one Marouf had just brought in, and all of them seemed well filled. Then on one side stood a large iron chest; it was seven spans long, four spans high, and four spans wide, and it was secured by four stout locks of solid steel.
The slave set down the bag, and then the Syndic led him away, taking care to close the door behind him. But as soon as Marouf had reached the hall above, his master returned to the cellar and opened the vault and went in. He closed the door after him, and then proceeded to unlock the iron chest, and when he had thrown back the heavy lid the rays of the lamp were flashed back from a thousand bright jewels that lay there exposed. Elkader stood a while to feast his eyes upon the immense wealth the chest contained, and then he proceeded to select certain jewels which he had come for. He took out a necklace of pearls and a necklace of rubies, a tiara of diamonds, and several costly rings for the ears and hands, besides bracelets and brooches. These he concealed within the bosom of his vest, and then he relocked the chest and went up to his own private room, where none came unless they were called. Here he placed the jewels upon a table, and then rang a bell; and shortly afterwards the door was opened, and a youth who had not seen more than twenty years of life entered. His name was Assad, and he was Elkader's slave.
Elkader had no especial love for anything on earth save his wealth; yet he valued Assad next, for among all his slaves this youth was the only one whom he could implicitly trust to handle his money and his jewels in his absence. Assad knew the secret of the vault, and he was often sent there to bring gold and precious stones.
"Assad," spoke the Syndic, "you know Ali Shir, the Syndic of the merchants?"
"I know him well, my master," replied the youthful slave.
"And you know his house?"
"Very well. I have carried him money several times."
"So I remember. Now listen, Assad: Ali Shir has a son named Hassan, who is of age in five days from this. He also has a most beautiful slave girl named Morgiana. She is like the full moon in loveliness, and her like is not known elsewhere. Hassan has long been enamored of the handsome slave, and he has demanded her hand in marriage. Ali Shir has meant her for the caliph, but Hassan is headstrong and eager, and his father dares not refuse him, so he has promised him Morgiana's hand. You know the Syndic of the merchants is rich, and he means to bestow upon the wife of his son a portion befitting the station she is to occupy; and for this purpose, he has asked of me some jewels with which to adorn her person. I have selected a quantity here, and you will take them at once to Ali Shir and let him select such as please him. You will observe that the prices are attached to each one, and he will pay you for what he takes ere you come away."
Assad bowed low, in token of obedience, and when the jewels had been carefully tied up in a piece of soft leather, he took them and hid them in his bosom, and then turned away from his master's house. Ali Shir's house was not far from where Elkader lived, but it was on the other side of the river, and Assad had some distance to walk in order to reach the bridge. He had not walked far before he noticed that he was closely followed by some one, but he did not turn, thinking within himself that when he reached the bridge and turned off to cross he should be alone. But he was disappointed in this, for when he had gained the bridge he found his follower still behind him. He turned to see who it was that thus trod upon his own steps, and by the light of the moon, which then shone full and clear, he could see that it was an old man, with flowing white beard, who stooped, from age, but who yet walked nimbly. Assad lagged in his pace, to see if the old man would not pass him, but the old man lagged likewise. Then Assad quickened his pace, and thereupon he that followed did the same. Next Assad stopped, and so did the old man stop.
"Surely," thought Assad, "this man must know that I carry rich jewels, and he hopes to rob me of them." So he resolved to speak with him, but he took the precaution first to place his hand upon the hilt of his sword.
"Do you follow me for any purpose?" he asked, turning full upon the stranger.
"I do follow thee," replied the old man, "but I mean thee no harm." His voice was kind, and Assad was at once assured. "You came from the house of Elkader, the Syndic of money-changers?"
"I did," answered Assad,
"And you live with him?"
"I am his slave."
"Your name is Assad?"
"You have been with Elkader for some years?"
"Ever since I can remember. My father was his slave before me, I have been told, though I never saw him."
As Assad thus spoke, the old man drew nigh to him and gazed up into his face. The youth saw then that he was very old, and that he was clothed in the garb of a common laborer.
"Is thy master kind to thee?" asked the stranger.
"He has never treated me ill."
"Ah—he knows thy pride and thy worth. He fears, were he to wound the one, he might lose the other. You do not love him well."
"By Allah, old man, that cannot matter to you; and moreover I am in haste, for I have business of importance to perform."
"So be it, my son," quickly replied the old man. "But wait while I give into thy hands a packet, which has been entrusted to my keeping for thee." As he spoke he placed his hand in his bosom and drew forth a small packet, which be handed to the youth. "Take it," he continued, "for it is thine."
"But what means this?" asked Assad, not a little surprised at what had happened; "Who art thou?"
"I am called Mokanna, though I am of no kin with the one-eyed rebel who renounced the true God, and raised his accursed hand against the Prince of the Faithful. If you would seek me ever, you will find me near the bazaar of the Balsora merchants, where I have a little shop in which I mend lamps, and other Metallic vessels."
"But what is this?" asked Assad, raising the packet.
"You must find out for yourself."
Thus speaking, the old man turned about, and after watching him until he was out of sight, Assad pursued his way. When he reached Ali Shir's house, he found that the merchant had gone out and would not return until the next day; so he retraced his steps, and when he reached his master's dwelling, he explained the reason of his bringing back all the jewels, and at the same time he offered to return them; but the Syndic said:
"No; keep them till the morrow, and when Ali Shir returns, go you to his house with them, and if he be not there, go to his shop. I remember now that Ali told me he thought some of going to his house in the country. He will be back early."
After this Assad retired and concealed the jewels in his own apartment. It was nothing new for him thus to have immense sums left in his charge, for often, when the Syndic was going away to be gone a few days, he would leave much business in the hands of the trusty stave, and he always found it faithfully attended to. And hence had Assad always received better treatment from Elkader's hands than had the others of the household, for the Syndic was by nature a hard, cruel man, and his power in the city was great; but he seldom, if ever, allowed his temper to injure his own interests. He knew that Assad could not bear an indignity, or suffer wrong a second time from the same hand; so he was careful towards him.
As soon as Assad had secured the jewels, he sat down to the table where he was in the habit of reading and writing—for he kept nearly all of his master's accounts—and having drawn the lamp near him, he proceeded to open the packet he had received. He cut the cord, and, when the leathern case was off, he came to another of blue silk, which was bound on only by a ribbon. This he easily removed, and within he found a book-like case of solid gold, profusely set with precious stones. For a while he gazed upon the rich case with wonder, but he soon noticed a clasp, and having removed this, the case opened, and Assad beheld the picture of the most beautiful female face he had ever seen. For a long while he sat and gazed upon that face ere he could fully realize all its loveliness. The hair was like the deep night, and the face like a radiant sun. Upon every feature beauty sat enthroned, and the whole was a perfect heaven of beauty and purity. The youth continued to gaze until his head and heart both ached, and then he let the case fall upon the table. He closed his eyes, but still the face was present to his vision. He looked upon picture again, and this time he pressed it to his lips, and murmured a few broken sentences of passionate feeling.
The youth now remembered how he had come by the picture, and he began to wonder where the old lamp-mender got it. In short, he wondered about everything connected with the affair, and he prayed that daylight might come quickly, so that he could go and find the old man.
As soon as sun was up Assad was dressed, and having looked once more upon the picture, he started off in search of the lamp-mender. He found the quarter of the merchants of Balsora, and he inquired for Mokanna. He was directed to the old man's stall, but it was closed, and no one knew where the lamp-mender lived. Assad waited an hour, but Mokanna did not come, and, then the youth remembered the business he had to do with Ali Shir, and he turned unwillingly away, to do his duty. He went to his apartments and got the jewels, and then proceeded to the dwelling of the Syndic of the merchants, who had just returned. Assad was at once conducted to the merchant's private apartment, where the jewels were produced.
"By Allah!" cried Ali Shir, as he handled over the valuable trinkets, "these are glorious. Never a queen was adorned with aught more beautiful."
Assad seconded the laudatory remarks of the merchant, and at length the jewels were selected, the Syndic having chosen more than half of all the youth had brought. The price of these was found to be seven thousand pieces of gold, and upon looking in his coffer, Ali Shir found that he had not half of that sum with him.
"It is all at my shop," he said.
"I can wait here while you go and bring it," returned Assad; "for my master bade me bring him the money."
"Certainly. That is just. He who sells is worthy of the price. Remain you here in this room—here are books to beguile the time—while I go to my shop and get the money."
So Ali Shir went away, and Assad was left alone. He drew forth the case from his bosom and opened it, and while he was gazing upon the picture a door was opened which he had not before noticed, and a female entered the apartment. Assad looked up, and with a quick cry he started to his feet. He saw the living counterpart of the picture before him.
But the conduct of the maiden was not less strange, for no sooner did she see Assad's face than she uttered a low cry, and sank down insensible. The youth sprang forward and raised the beautiful girl in his arms and bore her to a seat, and in a moment afterwards she revived. When she opened her eyes she found Assad bending over her, with one arm about her waist.
"Who art thou?" she whispered.
"I am Assad, the slave of the Syndic of the money-changers. Now, who art thou?"
"I am Morgiana, the slave girl of the Syndic of merchants."
"And why did you swoon at the sight of me?" asked Assad.
"Tell me first why you were started upon beholding me," returned Morgiana, gazing up into the youth's face with an expression so tender that his heart was gone from him.
Assad reached forth and took the golden case and shewed it to her.
"Here," he said, "is the cause of my emotion. Do you recognize it?"
The maiden took the golden case, and as she saw her own face pictured therein, she was moved by a powerful emotion. Then she put her hand within her own bosom, and drew therefrom a case exactly like the one she held in her hand, and this she handed to Assad. He took it and opened it, and his emotions may be better imagined than described, when he found his own likeness contained within, and surely executed by the same hand which had painted the other.
"Where did you find this?" he asked, as soon as he could command his speech.
"I have had it four days," she answered. "I was at the shop of a jeweller, with one of my female companions, when an old man entered, asking alms. I gave him a piece of silver, and he asked me to raise my veil, saying at the same time that he could not receive alms from one he could not see. I raised my veil, for I could not refuse so old a man so simple a request. As soon as he saw my face he beckoned for me to step aside, and then he gave me a packet, the covering of which was leather, neatly stitched up, and told me 'twas sent to me by one who knew me well. I asked him many questions, but he would answer me nothing; only he told me his name was Mokanna, and that his shop was near the bazaar of the Balsora merchants. I have sent my trusty girl there, twice, but she could not find him. Why did you send it to me?"
"Me?" uttered Assad. "I did not send it!"
"Then who should?" asked Morgiana, wonderingly.
"There is the mystery. Do you not see that you are in the same plight? Did you send me that?" at the same time pointing to the picture of herself, which she now held in her hand.
"No, no—as God is most merciful, I did not!"
"Then who should?"
"By Allah! I must answer thee as thou answeredst me—there is the mystery."
"And is it not most wonderful?" pursued Assad, gazing tenderly into the maiden's beautiful face.
"It is indeed," replied Morgiana, returning the gaze of the handsome youth.
"And more than this," added Assad, "I know that these pictures were never painted in Bagdad. One hand did them both, and you may see from the curious workmanship of the cases, and from the setting of the stones, that they were never fashioned here. Such devices are unknown in Bagdad; and yet, who out of this city can know me, since I was born in Elkader's house?"
"And I, too was born here," said the maiden; "here in this very house, if Ali Shir speaks truly. So who should know me?"
"I must see the old man," resumed Assad, "and from him I may gain some information."
At this juncture they both bowed their heads, and soon an idea which had escaped Morgiana's mind, came to her; nor is it strange that the thought should have been present with her, since this was the merchant's most private apartment, into which none came but by his command, she having been ordered, on the previous day, to appear here at the present time.
"How gained you access here?" she asked, with much earnestness.
"I came with jewels from which Ali Shir was to select for your bridal equipment. He had not all the money to pay for them, and he left me here while he went to his shop to bring it. You are to be wedded with his son, Hassan."
The youth's voice trembled as he spoke this last sentence, and tears filled his eyes. Morgiana gazed full upon him, and it was with a mighty effort that she kept her emotions from overcoming her.
"Would you keep that picture you hold in your hands?" she asked.
Assad gazed upon it. It was the picture of himself.
"No, no," he answered, "for in my mirror I may see it at any moment. Let me rather have that one which is of right mine, for I cannot live without it."
"Then take it," the maiden said, at the same time handing him the semblance of herself. "But I must have the other, for the old man gave it me, and it is mine."
So Assad gave her the likeness of himself, and she put it away in her bosom, from whence she had first taken it. Then the youth put the likeness of the beautiful girl into his bosom, and a tear fell upon his hand as he did so.
"Will you give your hand to Hassan?" he asked, tremulously.
"And if I should?"
"Then I can only cherish thine image in my heart till the pangs of my deep love take away my life."
"You do love me then?" faintly murmured Morgiana, striving with all her might to seem calm.
"O, as the angels love their God, and as the gentle dove loves its mate. Thy heart shall never know a love more true than mine."
A moment Morgiana gazed into the youth's face, and then her emotions overcame her, and with one low sob of joy, she fell upon his bosom. How long they remained thus, neither of them could tell, but they were aroused by hearing the voice of Ali Shir in the hall, and Morgiana started to her feet in an instant.
"My master cometh," she cried, "and I must hasten away."
"But how shall I see thee again?" eagerly asked Assad. "O, the merchant will make thee marry with his son."
"No, no—he shall not. If you cannot see me before, I will plead indisposition. I will feign some dreadful malady. We can do something. Go to the shop of Mokanna till you find him. Go seek the old man, and in the meantime, peace be with thee, and may God, whose name be adored, smile upon our loves."
Assad pressed the beauteous being once more to his bosom, and having imprinted a warm kiss upon her pure brow, she darted away, and the youth had just composed himself, when the merchant entered.
Ali Shir paid down the money, and Assad gathered up the remaining jewels, and having secured the gold, departed.
ALL the rest of that day Assad was kept busy with his master in counting out money, and making up accounts, and though his brain was in a whirl, yet he made no mistakes. The load of love he carried in his heart was now a joyous burden, though much anxiety and doubt dwelt with it. It was not until the shades of night had fairly settled down over the city, that the youth got his liberty, and then he knew it would be too late to find Mokanna in his shop, so he put off his visit until the following morning. When he retired to his own chamber, he took out the picture and gazed upon it. It seemed as beautiful as ever, but he felt that he had now seen a face more beautiful than this ideal; yet he cherished the picture, and in his soul a new being had sprung up into life; the great fountain had been opened, and there gushed forth those new incentives which changed at once the whole spirit of his existence. He was no longer the slave of the Syndic, in soul, and he had resolved that even the labor of his hands had now a nobler object than such servitude as had heretofore marked his existence. Various were the plans that passed through his mind, and they were as vague as were the dreams that came to him when he slept.
On the next morning Assad was early astir, and without his breakfast he betook himself to the shop of the lamp-mender, and he had the good fortune to find the old man in and engaged in mending an old copper lamp.
"You are at work early, good father," said the youth, as he entered the little shop.
"And you are as early as I," returned Mokanna.
"Ay," resumed Assad, "for I have the utmost reason for it. You gave me a miniature night before last."
"Ah—was it a miniature I gave thee?"
"Didst thou not know it was?"
"How should I know, since the packet was tightly sewed up ere it was placed in my hands?"
"But you also gave the same kind of a packet to Morgiana, the slave girl of Ali Shir."
"I did, my son. And was hers, too, a miniature?"
"Ay, hers was a likeness of myself, though highly flattered, while mine was a likeness of her, as near as such transcendent loveliness can be put upon ivory."
"The painter must be wondrous artful who can impress a noble beauty beyond thine own," said the old man, gazing upon his visitor with a look of admiration.
"Do not flatter me, good father, but tell me whence came those pictures."
"First tell me if you have seen Morgiana."
"Yes, I saw her yesterday morning."
"And have those pictures been of any effect?"
"Ay, most surely, for her heart is wholly mine, and mine is all her own. She loves me, for she has confessed it. O, keep me not in suspense, but tell me whence came those pictures."
"My son, listen to me while I tell you the truth. Who painted those pictures I know not. They were given to me by an old man in this very city, and he obtained from me a promise that I would give the one with the brown leather to Assad, the slave of the Syndic Elkader; and that the one with yellow leather I would give to Morgiana, the slave of the Syndic Ali Shir. I have done his bidding, and can tell you no more."
"But you know more than this. Those cases were never made here, nor were the pictures made here. The devices upon the gold are of Tartar origin, and the setting of the stones looks like the work of some northern craftsman."
"Thou art observing, my son, and may perhaps teach me; but at present seek not to dive into the past. You have enough in the future to occupy your attention."
"But answer me this," urged Assad, with much eagerness and emotion. "Do you not know something of the design of those who caused these cases to be delivered as they have been?"
"I will not deny that, my son."
"Then will you not tell me concerning it?"
Mokanna bowed his head a few moments, and when he again looked up there was an expression of curious import upon his face.
"Surely, my son," he said, "you are too witty not to see that whoever sent those pictures, meant that you and Morgiana should become acquainted with each other; and from such an acquaintance no man would look for anything but love between such as you. Hence you may reasonably infer that 'twas meant that you should love the maiden. Had I come to you and told you of Ali Shir's slave girl, you would never have sought her, for the mere report of beauty is only to the mind, and cannot inspire love; but the presence of the fair girl's face, even though in transcript, appealed at once to the heart, and love was the consequence."
"Ay, most aged father, you speak truly when you say that love was the consequence; but do you realize that the next consequence must be death, if our loves be not consummated in a more perfect union?"
"I understand that," replied Mokanna.
"And yet we are far separated. Morgiana is affianced to the son of the richest merchant in Bagdad, and I am but a simple slave."
"Yet Morgiana is not higher in station than thou. She, too, is a slave, and her master is not so wealthy as thine. But that there is difficulty I will not deny. You have some obstacles to overcome, but firmness and decision may accomplish your purpose."
Assad bowed his head and pondered. He felt assured that the old man knew more than he chose to tell, but he would not question him more. He understood that some strange fate had thrown Morgiana in his way, but whence came this fate he could not conceive, nor did he choose further to pry into the mystery at present. "My life I willingly stake in the enterprise," he said to himself, "and until Morgiana is mine, my life belongs to my fate, and a breath may sweep it away if need be." Thus resolving he turned to Mokanna, and said:
"I know not what may be your friendship for me, but can you help me in my work?"
"I think I can; and if I can, it would hardly be just for me to refuse, since I have been an instrument for bringing you into the work. But ere you call upon me for assistance, you must lay some plan of your own. Have you not made some arrangement for meeting with Morgiana?"
"Partly. We had not time to confer much, for the merchant came back ere we had fairly overcome our first wild emotions. But she will send her young slave girl to me when she has formed some plan for a meeting."
"Then you will meet her without much trouble. So far fortune has favored you, for I had supposed you would find some difficulty in gaining a joint interview with the maiden; but this came unsought. May not the same fortune continue with you? At any rate; you must see Morgiana, and when your plans are formed you may come to me. Only promise me this: that you will not leave the city without my knowledge."
Assad promised as the old man had requested, and after some further conversation of little importance he took his leave. He returned to the house of his master. The Syndic had gone to his place of business, and the youth was preparing to follow, when Marouf appeared and beckoned him one side. The youth obeyed the signal at once.
"Assad," spoke the black, as soon as they had reached a place of safety, "a young slave girl named Gulnare has been waiting here to see you."
"And where is she now?" cried Assad, all excitement.
"She had to go, for she was expected at home, but she said you would meet her in half an hour after the evening prayers at the shop of Khorassan, the jeweller."
"Is that all she told you?"
"Ay, save that she asked of me that I would be secret."
"And thou wilt be secret, Marouf?"
"As death, my loved master."
"God keep thee, my friend, and give thee joy!" uttered Assad. "I know I may trust thee, and even now I tell thee, I may have need of thy assistance in hand, and to show thee how fully I trust thee, I will tell thee my secret. Know, then, that Ali Shir, the Syndic of the merchants, has a slave girl named Morgiana, as beautiful as the evening star, as mild as the full moon, and as radiant as the sun. He means to marry her to his son Hassan, but the girl loves me with her whole soul, and she is as the apple of my eye to me—ay, as the very core of my soul."
"Then, by Allah, O my master, who shall take her from thee? Love is of God, and must be obeyed. I will help thee while my heart beats."
Assad thanked Marouf for his generous friendship, and then went away to the market of the money-changers. His master spoke somewhat severely to him on account of his tardiness, but the youth's mind was filled with thoughts of Morgiana, and he took little heed of the Syndic's severity of manner.
As soon as the evening prayers were finished Assad repaired to the shop of the jeweller, and as soon as Khorassan saw him, he conducted him to an inner apartment, bidding him remain there for the present. The youth asked no questions, but entered a small room directly back of the shop, and there he remained some fifteen minutes alone. At the end of that time the door was carefully opened, and a female, closely veiled, entered. As soon as the door was closed behind her, she raised her veil, and revealed the beautiful features of Morgiana. Assad sprang forward and caught her in his arms, and she wept upon his bosom; but her tears were those of joy, and when they were brushed away, her face was beaming with smiles. There was no coyness now, for they both felt that some power above their own had brought them together, and that fate meant them for each other. Their deep love was the only medium through which they regarded each other, and that was so mighty in its moving power that they forgot that they had ever been strangers. Already were both their souls mingled into one.
"Have you seen Mokanna, yet?" asked Morgiana, as soon as the first transports of meeting had passed.
"Yes, I saw him this morning," returned Assad; and thereupon he went on and related all that had transpired in the old lamp-mender's shop.
"Ah, then let him help us at once," said Morgiana, "for we must leave Bagdad as soon as possible. I dare not trust myself to deceive either Hassan or his father, for I fear me that they would marry me at the appointed time if I were sick with the plague. Hassan knows that I love him not, for I have not the power to carry deception in my face. I cannot smile upon one whom I loathe, nor can I look calmly upon one whom I know to be most wicked. The day after to-morrow is the time set for our nuptials, and before that time we must flee from the city. You will not hesitate, my own heart's love?"
"No, Morgiana, not an instant. I surely owe my master nothing, for he has thus far had all the benefit of my powers of both mind and body; but I will return him my price if ever I am able. And now when can you find the best opportunity for escaping?"
"Let it be to-morrow night. By that time I can have all things arranged. You have some money?"
"A little," answered Assad, "perhaps a hundred pieces of silver; money which I have honestly earned and laid away. But that will carry us to some place of safety, and when once there, I can easily earn enough to support us very handsomely."
"I shall fear not on that account," said Morgiana, "for I can earn money, too. In all Bagdad there is not one who can work embroidery more beautifully than I can, and besides, I have now more than five hundred pieces of gold, besides many fine jewels."
"You mean the jewels I brought," remarked Assad.
"No, no," quickly returned the maiden. "Those are in my possession, but I will not take them, for I cannot look upon them as mine, for they were given to me as a wedding bedeckment, and if I flee from the wedding, then I have no right to the jewels."
"You are right, my own loved one," replied Assad, with a look of pride. "Were I so inclined I could take as much gold as I could carry, and the Syndic should never miss it. But I will only take what is rightfully mine own. And now, can we meet before the appointed time?"
"There will not be much need," returned Morgiana; "and besides, it were safer not, for suspicion is a thing easily started, and we must be wary. You can see the old lamp-mender, and any assistance he has to render us he may then give."
"Right, beloved of my soul, your wit is more keen than mine. It shall be as you say."
"And now," said Morgiana, "where shall we meet?"
Assad thought a few moments, and then he said:
"Something bids me go to the north. In southern Arabia there is but little of health, while at the north, in Koordistan, the air is balmy and more bracing, and the people are bold and generous. To the north, then, we will flee. Mokanna's shop is near the northern quarter, and we may meet there. I will see him in the morning, and inform him of our intent."
"You meet me in your views completely," added Morgiana, with a smile, "for I, too, have had my mind turned to the north. In some of the strong cities there, I know we shall find friends, and where our enemies will never find us."
"Then let the matter rest as it is until to-morrow night, and then we will meet at Mokanna's shop," said Assad. "Any hour will suit me."
"I can be there before midnight," answered the maiden, "but I cannot tell exactly the hour."
At this moment the door opened, and Gulnare looked in.
"Our hour is up, my mistress," she said, "and we must be on our return."
The girl withdrew as soon as she had spoken, and Morgiana arose.
"My hour is up," she said, "and I must now return. Let us leave our love until we have more time for it."
She allowed Assad to embrace her, and having returned his kiss, she turned from the room, and shortly afterwards the youth followed her example.
On the next morning Assad was early at the shop of the lamp-mender, and he had the good fortune to find the old man there. As soon as he was assured that he was alone with the owner of the shop, he told what had been determined upon by Morgiana and himself. Mokanna listened patiently, and then he remained for some time in deep thought. At length raising his head he said:
"Your plan is a good one. Be here at the hour of midnight next coming, and I will be prepared to assist you. Let it not be later than that hour if you can avoid it. What companion will you take?"
"Morgiana will doubtless take her slave girl Gulnare, but I have none to follow me."
"Is there no one who would be willing to be your slave, and whom at the same time you can trust? for be assured that on such a journey as you must take, a faithful attendant would be of incalculable service."
"Then you would have us go at a great distance from here?" said Assad, speaking as though he were ready to follow the old man's directions implicitly. And in truth he was, for there was something in Mokanna's every look and tone which bespoke for him the perfect respect and confidence of those with whom he had dealings.
"Most assuredly, my son, you must go far from here, for of a verity you cannot be safe in a place where the rule of the Caliph Haroun is undisputed. You know that no emir of the faithful has so much influence with Haroun, as do the two syndics. The Syndic of the merchants is the very prince of the commander's wardrobe, and the Syndic of the money-changers is ever ready to accommodate him. In the expedition against the proud Roman, Nicephorus, he drew upon Elkader for fifteen thousand pieces of gold, and they were lent at once, and that, too, without interest, for well did the wily Syndic know that the act would increase ten-fold, as it really did. Of all his slaves, Elkader could spare the half better than you, and he will demand assistance of the caliph as soon as he finds you missing. He may even swear that you have robbed him of his gold. And so, too, would Ali Shir rather lose the half of all the rest of his slaves, than lose Morgiana, and he also will apply to the Commander of the Faithful for assistance. But can you think of the slave of which I spoke?"
"I know of but one, father, and that is Marouf."
"You mean the gigantic black?"
"Yes, he loves me as though I were a part of his own soul."
"Then take him, and when he is gone I will send to the Syndic his price."
"But that will be enormous. Elkader has refused a thousand pieces of gold for him, for in all the country round about there is not another man so strong."
"Then so much the more need why you should have him. Take him with you, and when you are fairly gone, I will send to the Syndic two thousand pieces, so he shall not be robbed."
"But who shall find this money?" asked Assad, with a look of incredulity.
"I can find it, so rest under no apprehensions on that account."
"But why is this?" continued Assad, now moved by astonishment. "Who is it thus cares for me, and pours out money thus, even for a slave to serve me?"
"Let the fact that you have friends assure thee, my son," spoke the old man, somewhat sternly. "In due time you shall know all you could wish, but for the present you must be content with what you see. Be here, as I said, and bring Marouf with you."
"I obey," said Assad; and as he saw that Mokanna was making preparations to go out, he took his leave.
The youth's first movement upon reaching the dwelling of his master, was to seek Marouf and call him to his own apartment.
"Marouf," he said, "I am about to leave this place—to leave this country——"
"No, no!" quickly cried the black. "God forbid! If you go, whom shall I have to love and serve?"
"Hear me out, Marouf. A friend has promised me that if I will take you with me, he will, when we are fairly gone, send to our master two thousand pieces of gold as your price. Now what say you?"
"But that is too enormous," uttered Marouf, in utter astonishment; "twenty pieces of gold will pay for the best black slave in the market."
"That may be," returned Assad, with a smile, "but not the best black slave out of it. Slaves are like jewels. Here—see this diamond upon my finger—it is worth but five hundred half pieces of gold; yet a diamond twice as large, of the same purity, could not be bought for two thousand pieces."
"But why pay this sum at all, my master? I shall most assuredly follow thee, even unto death, yet let me do it upon my own account."
"No, no, Marouf, I will take you, and yet our master shall not lose your price. We leave to-night, and you must be prepared to follow me an hour before midnight."
Marouf was crazy with joy at this proposition, and were it not that his immense weight would have aroused the inmates below, he would have danced.
"To-night," said Assad, "you will bring home your load of gold for the last time, and then you can collect such things as you wish to take with you. We will meet here in this room before we start."
After this Assad went to the market of the money-changers, and a strange thrill went to his soul as he felt that this would be the last day of his service there; yet he betrayed no uncommon emotion to his master. The day passed away, and with a steady hand the youth set down the sums as they went out and came in. At length the duties of the day were closed. Assad put away his heavy parchment books and left the market-place. Marouf swung the heavy bag upon his shoulder. It was heavier than usual, but the slave noticed it not, and his step was as light as though nought but empty air rested upon his shoulders.
Little dreamed the Syndic, as he saw Assad close the book, that the same hands would never open it again. And little dreamed he, as he saw Marouf lightly swing the heavy sack upon his shoulder, that the stout black would carry the burden no more for him. The money-changer gazed around upon his companions, and he knew that they envied him in his possession of two such slaves.
Assad walked the floor of his chamber with quick and nervous steps, and ever and anon he stopped and looked out upon the moon which was rising slowly up in the eastern heavens. His sword was buckled to his side, and his garb was ready for the journey. The golden case was in his hand, and often would he stop by the small lamp that burned upon the table and look upon the sweet face that rested there. He raised it to his lips, and he pressed it to his heart, and anon he prayed to God for the peace and joy of the being he so wildly, fondly loved. The moments lagged as he had never known them to lag before, and it almost seemed that the moon had forgotten her way, and was standing still in her track. But the hours at length were gone. The moon had reached to within a few spans of the minaret of the nearest mosque, and Assad knew that in another hour 'twould be midnight. Just then the door softly opened, and Marouf entered. The two stood still a moment and gazed each other in the face.
Assad turned towards the lamp, and it was just expiring. He had filled it so that its going out should mark the hour in case the moon and stars were clouded.
"Are you ready?" he asked of Marouf.
"All ready, my master."
"Then let us away at once. The key of the river gate is in the lock, and we will depart by that way. Tread lightly, now."
Thus speaking, Assad opened the door and passed out, and with noiseless tread he descended to the court, and from thence he easily made his way to the garden, only having to pass one door. He heard a slave girl singing in the Syndic's apartment, and in unison therewith was the sound of a lute, and he knew from this that Elkader had retired to his couch, for thus was it his custom to make his slaves lull him to repose with soft music. So Assad stepped more boldly and soon the deep foliage of the trees afforded him shelter from any eyes that might be peering forth from the dwelling. In a few moments the bank of the river was reached, and they soon afterwards came to the southern corner of the wall. Here they found the key in the lock of the gate, and quickly passed through into the street which skirted the river towards the south. They had passed on some distance, and were just upon the point of turning up from the river, when a sudden cry from the water, as of some one in distress, fell upon their ears. They stopped, and listened, and it was soon evident that two men had by some means got into the river.
Assad hastened down to the water's edge, and by the light of the moon he could see two human beings straggling in the middle of the wide stream, and not far from them was an overturned boat.
"By Allah, who is all mercy," cried Assad, "we must not leave those two poor men to perish. Off with your coat and vest, Marouf, and drop our gold upon them, and we will save these fellows if we can."
The stout black needed no second bidding, and while Assad threw off his outer clothing he did likewise. They both plunged into the water at the same time, and ere long they reached the drowning men. Assad seized one of them, and Marouf seized the other, and then the black came to his master's assistance, for with his immense power, he was not only able to support his own man with one arm while he swam with the other, but he made Assad rest one hand upon his back. Thus they reached the shore in safety, and after some time spend in chafing the temples and breasts of the rescued men, they revived. They appeared to be two merchants of Balsora, and so thick was their clothing, and so cumbersome, that they must soon have sunk had not this timely aid arrived.
"Who art thou who has thus preserved us?" asked the man whom Assad had brought, as soon as he was able to rise.
"Only an humble craftsman and his slave," answered Assad, not caring to have the truth known.
"And yet you have perilled your lives to save two humble merchants," returned the first speaker. "By Allah, thou art fair of feature, and thy slave is of most exceeding weight of limb."
The moon shone so brightly that 'twas easy to distinguish faces, and Assad saw that he who spoke was white with age, and stooping with infirmity. "Come ye to the shop of the merchant Aboukir on the day after to-morrow, and thou shalt be rewarded," the merchant concluded.
Assad thought that the quickest way to be rid of the men would be to promise, so he did so, and pleading business, he turned away. He had lost some time, and he had gained a wet skin, but he murmured not, for had done a good deed, and in his soul he felt rewarded. Marouf saw that his young master was content, and he, likewise, felt no regret. When they reached the spot where they had thrown off their outer clothing they stopped and put the garments on, and having secured the money and their weapons they hastened on.
Without further trouble they reached the shop of the lamp-mender, and upon knocking at the door they were admitted. In an inner apartment which was but meanly furnished, they found Morgiana and Gulnare, and the two lovers met with new signs of pure affection. The maiden noticed how cold her lover was, and she asked the cause, whereupon Assad related what had happened.
"Never mind," said Mokanna, "I have new clothing for thee, and thy wet garments you may leave for me to dry. Follow me and you shall both have warmer clothing."
The old man led the way to another room, when Assad was presented with the garb of a merchant of Aleppo. It was a costly dress of the richest fabric, and adorned with gold and silver lace. For Marouf the garb of a eunuch was prepared, and as soon as the change had been made the trio returned to where the women were. Assad would have admired his rich dress on any other occasion, but he thought nothing of it now.
"We have nothing more to do here," said Mokanna, "save to change your weapons, for those blades of Bagdad may betray you. I have some Damascus blades that are far better, and which will moreover be more seemly for those who come from Aleppo."
The did man took a lamp and passed into another room, and when he returned he brought with him two swords, one of them an exquisitely finished weapon of the ordinary size, and the other of such a size that he seemed almost to stagger beneath its weight. It was broad and heavy, and of exceeding length, but Marouf took it as though it had been but a dagger, and girded it about his loins with a look of unfeigned pride and pleasure.
"Now," said the old man, "follow me as quickly as possible, for we have no time to spare." And thus speaking he led the way to the street, and took his course towards the gate of Abu Jaafar.
The distance was not far, and at the gate Mokanna easily gained egress. Beyond this was the open country, and ere long the lamp mender stopped at a small cot where an old man made his appearance. Assad recognized the owner of the cot as a poor fisherman who often came into the city to dispose of the proceeds of his nets, and whose name was Mahomed. He and Mokanna conversed apart a few moments, and then the guide turned to our hero, while the fisherman went off towards a small wood which could be seen in the moonlight at no great distance. The travelling party entered the cot at Mokanna's beck, and then the latter said:
"Now, Assad, you are about to leave this place, and you need to remember what I tell you. What has happened to thee thus far, is but the opening of a destiny which you must fulfill. It is not in my power to tell thee all that shall come to pass, for only the one living and true God knows that. Mahomed has now gone to bring the horses, and they are of a breed powerful and strong of endurance. Your road leads to the northward, but be sure that you leave Mosul well to the left hand. Travel to the eastward of it at least ten leagues, for if you are found there you will be in danger."
"How can danger threaten me there?" asked Assad, with astonishment. "I am not known there at all."
"You will be known if you venture into the city," resumed Mokanna, "and you will run the risk of danger if you pass near to it. You will find a good road near the borders of Persia, and when you are sure that you have left Mosul well to the westward, then you may turn your steps in again until you reach the little hamlet of Laban. This is some five-and-seventy miles from Mosul, to the northward, and there you will find a shelter, but be sure that you do not travel further north than that without advice from me, or from the man to whom I shall send you. When you reach Laban you will inquire for the sheik Abdalla, and to him you will give this letter. After that you will look to him for guidance, and you may rest assured that he will befriend you to the utmost of his power."
"But what is all this?" cried the youth, as he took the letter. "Who am I, that this danger should hang about me, and that a Koord sheik should be my friend? I had only hoped to escape from Bagdad that I might claim the pure being I love, but now, I find that dangers are all about me. I must keep clear of Mosul because there is danger there, and I must not go north of Laban because there is danger there also. Now what means all this? Will you not explain it?"
"I cannot, my son. Were I acting for myself; then I might speak more freely. I can only assure you that 'twill be for your highest good to follow my directions to the very letter. But here come the horses. To-night you will keep the polar star directly ahead, and on the morrow you can he guided by the sun. You may travel near two hundred miles in that direction, and then you must turn off to the right to avoid Mosul. Any of the merchants on the Persian borders will direct you to the hamlet of Laban, for that is one of their chief stopping places when among the mountains after game and furs. And, moreover, some years ago, a mine of diamonds was found there, though the supply was quickly exhausted. You understand all now."
Mahomed was now present, and Assad asked no more questions. He went to the door, and there he found four powerful horses, completely caparisoned for a journey.
"In the sack upon your saddle," said Mokanna, turning to Assad, "you will find two thousand pieces of gold. That sum will be sufficient for your journey."
"But we have money enough already," returned the youth.
"Never mind; more may not come amiss. But see, the moon is well up, and ere many hours the sun will follow it. It is well that you should be at some distance from Bagdad ere that time."
As the old man thus spoke he pointed out Morgiana's horse and as soon as Assad had helped her to mount, he leaped into his own saddle. Marouf lifted Gulnare to her seat, and when he saw that all else was ready he also mounted. Mokanna simply waved his hand, and the horses, as though they understood the signal, set off.
"God be with thee!" the old lamp-mender uttered. Assad turned and silently thanked him for the benediction; and then drawing close to the side of Morgiana, he put spurs to his horse and ere long the walls and minarets of Bagdad were lost to view.
As the soft moonlight fell upon Morgiana's features, they seemed almost divine in their transcendent loveliness, and for a long while Assad gazed upon them with new and more potent emotions; for now the maiden was his, to care for and protect and most willingly did he pledge his life for her safety. And the maiden, too, seemed moved by the new position in which she was placed, for ever and anon Assad met her soft, lovely glances, and she made no attempt to conceal the love she had already freely acknowledged.
"By-and-by the path opened into a wide sandy plain, and after Assad had made sure that he was moving in the right direction he turned to his companion.
"Morgiana," he said, "what do you think of this?"
"To what do you allude, beloved of my soul?" turned the maiden, with a beaming look, for the voice of her loved one sent the blood rushing joyfully through her veins.
"I mean all that has happened to us from the pictures unto the present time."
"It is most strange, Assad. I cannot comprehend it. Surely the old lamp-mender is some strange person."
"Ay, beloved, he must be. He is a truthful man I know, and one generous. But do you remember what he said of our destiny?"
"Ay, I heard it all."
"And what think you of it?"
"Indeed, I must answer thee again as I answered before: I know not what to think. Only pardon me when I say that our strange meeting seems to speak of the destiny of united hearts between us."
"By Allah! O my beloved, are not our hearts most firmly united? even so that earth with all its powers shall not sunder the heavenly tie?"
Morgiana leaned towards the youth as she heard these soft words, and tears of joy gushed from her eyes.
"But thou art more witty than I," resumed Assad, "and thou must give me the whole of thy thoughts on this strange thing. Tell me what opinion you have conceived."
"I have had my ponderings," replied Morgiana, "and they have run something after this manner; Mokanna is not a native of Bagdad, for his speech betrays him, though he manages the idiom well. He is not of necessity a lamp-mender, either, for his manner showed a habit far above it. His speech shows him to be a man of sound sense and judgment, and of ready wit, and hence he never would have come to Bagdad and opened that humble shop but for some commensurate purpose. The manner of his giving those two pictures to us, showed that this was a purpose to him, and the fact that both the pictures are exactly alike in all things, save in that one contains your face, and the other mine, shows that the same hand fashioned them both, and that from the beginning they were meant for us. Then, what has since transpired proves that some one has purposed that we should escape from our masters in Bagdad, and the carelessness with which money is expended in the enterprise would seem to indicate that our friends are rich and powerful. And further, we have enemies at Mosul. That would seem to indicate that we are of more importance than we have heretofore been led to consider ourselves. Also, we are by no means to go north of Laban. So we must have enemies there. So much have I pondered, and, as you can see, it only serves to leave me in a mystic darkness as dense as that from whence I started."
"Ay, a thousand times more dense," responded Assad. "By Allah, it is most strange. And yet I put the fullest confidence in Mokanna."
"Most surely we must, for I am sure he is a man of truth," replied Morgiana.
So the two lovers rode on and conversed on the subject of their strange position, and the stranger shades of destiny that fell like shadows before them. Their horses were easy to ride, and their speed was good, and when the sun arose, Marouf, who rode ahead, discovered the walls of a city, and upon reaching the gates they found it to be El Bhan, a place governed by the Emir Mousfa. They found a khan where the merchants were in the habit of stopping, and here Assad assumed to be a merchant of Aleppo travelling towards Persia with his slaves. Morgiana and Gulnare both remained closely veiled until they reached their own private room, and Assad made excuse for retiring to rest at an hour when others were rising, by saying that he had lost his way on the previous evening, and had hence been obliged to travel all night. He and Marouf joined in the morning prayers, and then retired, Assad resting upon the couch, while the stout black lay down by the door with his drawn sword by his side.
Late in the day the party set out once more, and as soon as they were clear of the city they put their horses to a rapid pace, for they knew not but that couriers might arrive from Bagdad; and again they travelled all night. On the next morning, when the sun arose, they had the good fortune to find themselves near a village to the left of which were high mountains. Here they found food and rest, and when evening drew nigh again they once more set out. Assad saw that Morgiana was not at all affected by the labor of the journey, and he felt happy, for on his own account he held no care. He had refrained from asking any direction at the village, for fear of being followed should pursuers from Bagdad come; but at the end of an hour's journey, he saw a fisherman ahead with his net upon his shoulder, and he paused to ask of him the right way.
"Ask the way to Mosul," suggested Morgiana, "and then we shall not only know the direction we must take, but should any pursuer chance to overhaul this fisherman, he could only direct pursuit in the direction we asked for."
Assad thanked his companion for her suggestion, and asked the fisherman accordingly, and after this he pursued his way.
Just at nightfall the party entered a deep wood, but the road was plain, and they had no fear. In an hour longer night had settled darkly down. Assad looked up for the stars, but he could not see them, and he thought the deep wood hid them.
"We may come soon to an opening," he said, "where we can see the heavens; but of course there can be no danger, for we are on the right way, and our horses hesitate not."
"The air is growing cool," said Morgiana.
"Then let me shield thee," cried the youth, eagerly, at the same time drawing his mantle from his saddle-bow.
"No, no," quickly returned the maiden; "I am not cold. I only spoke because I feared the atmosphere was changing. If you will look sharply up, I think you will find that 'tis not the trees that hide the stars."
"Trees?" spoke Marouf, who had been riding ahead, and who now fell back, guided by the voices behind, him. "By Allah, my master, they are trees of mist, and darkly growing in the heavens. Do you not see? They are clouds as black and big as mountains, and such sad clouds must needs weep ere long. By the tomb of the Prophet! we had better remained at the village."
Assad now looked up, and he found that it was in truth as Marouf had spoken. The clouds had piled themselves up darkly overhead, and in the distance the wind could be heard moaning with the voice of the storm-spirit.
"Strange," murmured Assad, "that they should have come up so quickly."
"They have rolled down from the mountains," said Marouf, "for you know the mountains tower up upon our left hand."
"Ay true, Marouf. I forgot—Morgiana?"
"Here, my beloved."
"Ride nearer to me. Give me thy hand, for this darkness shuts thee from my sight—Gulnare?"
"Here, my master," answered the young slave girl.
"Ride close to Marouf's side. By the Prophet's beard, had we been wise we should have procured lanterns, for we were told of this forest."
A while longer the party rode on, but were obliged to trust wholly to their horses, for they could not even see each other, only Assad could hear the tramp of the two animals ahead, and could feel the warm hand of his beloved as it rested within his grasp. Soon the moan of the wind came nearer, and the travellers could hear the rustling of the foliage, and the creaking of the branches overhead as they were swayed to and fro. But this was not all, for ere many moments, great drops of rain came pattering down. Assad called out for Marouf to stop, and taking the broad mantle from his saddle, he threw it over Morgiana's shoulders, and bade her gather it closely about her; and Marouf did the same to Gulnare. The horses still pursued their way, and by-and-by a vivid stream of lightning flashed through the heavens. The whole party were startled by the sudden burst of flame, but they were quickly calm again, for they knew that God, who is ever just, held the flame of heaven in his hand.
This light, too, seemed to show to Assad that they were in the path, and that the way ahead was clear. The horses, though startled at first, seemed to have taken assurance from the momentary view thus afforded them, for they quickened their pace, as though anxious to find shelter from the rain. Thus they went on for nearly half an hour, and at the end of that time Marouf's horse suddenly stopped, and Assad came full upon him.
"What is the matter?" asked the youth.
"I cannot tell yet," was the black's reply. "It may be that we are out of the path. But wait and see what the beast will do, for I would sooner trust him than trust myself in this place."
Marouf's beast snorted as though he were at fault, and he seemed to be snuffing up the air as if thus he could tell what was ahead, and Gulnare's horse did the same. But in a few moments the animals gave a sort of satisfied neigh, and then moved on.
"What could it have been?" asked Morgiana, as soon as they were once more fairly in motion.
"It must have been that the horses got their heads partly turned from the path in the dense darkness, and so had to stop to find it again. The nostrils of our journeying horses are keen, and I have no doubt that they can scent the footsteps of one of their kind."
The rain now fell in torrents, but Morgiana assured her lover that she was not cold, for the strange excitement of the occasion kept her blood in free circulation.
"You are sure we are in the path?" she said, after they had ridden on some distance further.
"We must be," answered Assad, "for not only may we trust the sagacity of our horses, but had we left it we should find ourselves entangled in the wildwood at once."
At this moment another vivid flash of lightning streamed along the heavens. Assad looked, and so did the rest, and they saw that they were in the road, and that the way before them was broad and clear.
"The fisherman told us 'twas a narrow path," suggested Morgiana, as she saw how wide the road had become.
"So it probably is, for most of the way," returned the youth; "but we must remember two things: First, that the road through such a dense piece of woods must necessarily vary in width according to the growth of the trees, for you noticed the way is very rocky here, and probably but few trees grew; and secondly, we must give much scope for the true meaning of the words spoken by an ignorant man; and surely the poor fisherman was not much else. I think from the echo of our horses' hoofs that we must be in some sort of a rocky ravine."
And so they were!
"We will ride by daylight, hereafter," said Morgiana, with more anxiety than she meant to betray.
"We will," returned Assad, "for after this, we shall have gotten so far away that we need not fear pursuit."
"How strangely the echoes fall around us," said the maiden, and her hand trembled in her lover's grasp as she spoke.
"The mountains may be near at hand. But fear not. The storm may soon be over."
And Morgiana spoke no more upon the subject, for she did fear, and she wished not to betray it, since no mistake could be rectified in such utter blackness of bewildering night.
No wonder strange echoes had fallen upon the travellers' ears, for they had passed through the deep gorge in the mountains where ran the road from Bagdad to Mosul! This gorge was a deep, narrow cut through the massive rock, where the solid walls arose on either hand to a distance almost hidden from human sight, and many a traveller on his way to Mosul had missed it during a search for many days in the broad sunlight; but the wayworn fugitives had found it, and passed it in the deep darkness of a stormy midnight, and that, too, when they sought it not, and when all their hopes called them to the opposite way.
EARLY on the morning after Assad and his companions had made their flight, a merchant left one of the khans in Bagdad, and took his way towards the market of the money-changers. He was a dark-featured man, of repulsive aspect, though he yet seemed to be wealthy, and of much assurance. In age he was surely fifty years, but no frost was yet upon his beard. When he reached the place he sought he asked for the Syndic of those who changed money there, and when he was informed that the Syndic had not arrived he sat down to wait for him.
The forenoon had well advanced, and many people were about the shop of Elkader waiting for him. The other money-changers were all in their shops, but the Syndic came not. At length, however, when the first part of the day had half gone, Elkader appeared, and instead of being accompanied by Marouf, he brought with him an ass to bear his sack of money. His brow was darkened, and his face showed signs of much anger.
"My friends," he said, "you must not wonder that I am late when I explain to you the cause. That dog of a slave, Marouf, has remained away somewhere, and I cannot find him; and to fill the cup of my vexation my slave Assad is also tardy. For two mornings now the latter slave has remained away late, and I begin to fear some trick of love has turned his brain."
With this explanation, the Syndic proceeded to open his sack and those who had waited the longest were first attended to, and as soon as he had met the wants of all the others he turned to the strange merchant, and asked his wish.
"You have a slave named Assad?" said the merchant.
"I have such an one," replied Elkader.
"A young man, and fair of face and form?" pursued the stranger.
"I am called Califa, and I am a merchant from Mosul. I have come to see if you would sell the youth to me?"
"Nay, sir, I cannot do that, for he is of more worth to me than he could be to any one else."
"That may not be," said Califa, "for I will readily pay thee a thousand pieces of gold for him."
The Syndic smiled.
"I have already been offered two thousand pieces by the old Jew whom you see standing yonder," he said. "Know thou that the youth Assad is not only quick at figures, but he is also of ready wit and cunning, and every year he surely turns into my coffers more then ten thousand pieces of gold. From this you can see that no price within the scope of reason could purchase him."
The strange merchant seemed nothing daunted, and had offered up as high as ten thousand pieces, of gold, when a black slave entered the market and approached the place where the Syndic sat. He laid upon the table a leathern bag and a letter, and then went away without speaking. The Syndic looked into the bag and found it filled with gold. He then opened the letter and read as follows:
"To ELKADER, THE SYNDIC:—The slave who brings this will also bring you two thousand pieces of gold, which sum is to pay you for your black slave Marouf, who has gone away to accompany Assad. I deemed it fitting that no wrong should be done to you, and hence this sum. As for Assad, his destiny calls him from you, and he may himself at some time repay you something. God, who is most wise and just, and who knoweth all things, knoweth that the youth can no longer remain with thee.
BEN HAMED EL KOORD."
The Syndic leaped to his feet as soon as he had read this letter, and tore his hair and beard with rage.
"Who is Ben Hamed el Koord?" he cried, savagely.
"Ben Hamed!" uttered the strange merchant, turned pale. "What of him?"
"Read this letter," said Elkader, still beside himself with rage and excitement.
Califa took it and read, and when he had finished it, he slapped his own cheeks with fierce wrath and disappointment.
"When did the youth go?" he asked, trying to conceal his vexation.
"Sometime during the night, for he was with me after dark yesterday. But tell me, for you seem to betray some knowledge, who is this Ben Hamed?"
The strange merchant hesitated awhile, and then he said:
"I knew such a man once, but I know him not now. You see he is a Koord, and belongs far away north of us. I thought him dead, and I am sure many others thought him so, too."
"But what could the dog have to do with my slave? What is this mystery?"
If the stranger knew anything he chose not to reveal it, for he professed entire ignorance, though a person unmoved by passion might have seen that he did have much suspicion if not actual knowledge. However, he stopped not to speak further with the Syndic, but with quick strides he left the market and bent his way back towards the khan where he lodged. Here he found a black slave anxiously awaiting his coming; and then turned his steps towards the private apartment which he occupied.
"Now, Ozmud," he said, speaking nervously and thickly, "what news bring you?"
"I hope you have succeeded better than I, my master," returned the black.
"How, dog! don't tell me you have lost her?"
"Hear me, my master, ere you let your tongue loose. I went to the house of the Syndic of the merchants just at midnight, and by the assistance of the slave woman whom you bribed, I gained access to the private apartments of the slave girl Morgiana. The old woman had administered bhang to the attendants, and they slept almost the sleep of death. I reached the inner chamber, but the maiden was not there. I examined the faces of all those who slept, but not one of them compared at all with the picture you gave me. Then I called the old woman, and she came up, and when she had found the maiden's couch vacant she examined the closet, and found the best raiment gone. Next she went to the place where the beautiful girl had kept her jewels, and that was empty. Yet I waited about the house until the sun arose, and it was the time for morning prayers, and then it was discovered that the girl Morgiana had fled, and that she had taken with her the young slave girl which Ali Shir had given to her."
"By Allah, dog of a slave, beware that thou dost not speak falsely. Is all this true?"
"All, my master," answered the black, bowing low.
The merchant started across the apartment in a strange mood, and his hands were firmly fixed in his beard.
"By all the powers of Eblis," he uttered, "this is a fatal mishap. In the very hour of my triumph I am thwarted. The youth Assad has gone, too, and I fear he and the girl have gone off together."
"But how could it have been?" returned Ozmud. "The maiden was affianced to the Syndic's son, and he kept her most close."
"Ah," uttered Califa, grinding his teeth at the thought, "Ben Hamed has been here before us."
"Not el Koord?" said the black, eagerly.
"Yes, the very man."
"But I thought him dead."
"I hoped he was dead, but it seems he was not. The most we have known concerning him is, that he had gone away, and that for many years no tidings have been heard of him. He has turned up now, however, and I know he has helped Assad away, and also am I sure that the maiden went at his will."
"Then we must commence our search again," said Ozmud.
"Ay," added Califa, with a new burst of rage, "commence again! By Allah, I would that my sword were at Ben Hamed's heart! To think that after all this trouble and vexation, I have found the prize only to lose it on the moment of discovery. After three long years of search, and the expense of more than a hundred full purses, thus to be beaten down in the moment of triumph! By Allah, 'tis too bad! But we have no time to lose. See you that our horses are ready, while I make inquiries at the gates to find by which way they passed out, for surely they would leave the city at once."
The slave made no reply save the accustomed silent token of submission, but went at once to perform the required duty, while the merchant went forth to make inquiries at the gates. He found at the gate of Abu Jaafar, that five persons had passed out from the city on the previous night, and from the description he could gain, he was sure that they were those he sought. So he returned at once to his khan and made speedy preparations for his departure.
In the meantime the Syndic of the money-changers went to the palace of the caliph to demand a search for his missing slaves, alleging as a reason for troubling the Commander of the Faithful with so trivial a matter, that there were enemies in the city who were enticing away the true believers of the slaves. Haroun al Raschid had not yet made his appearance in the audience chamber when Elkader arrived, so he was forced to wait. He had not been long there when he saw Ali Shir enter, and the two Syndics were soon in conversation.
"What brings you here?" asked the merchant.
"I have lost two of my best slaves," returned the money-changer.
"And for that reason you have sought the caliph?"
"How curious. I, too, have lost two of my best slaves," said Ali, "and have come hither to demand help from our prince."
"But mine were invaluable," resumed Elkader.
"And so were mine," responded Ali.
"Fifty thousand pieces of gold could not have bought mine."
"An hundred thousand could not have bought mine."
Elkader looked surprised.
"One of them was the beautiful maiden whom my son was to have married this very day, and the other was her own attendant."
"Ha!" uttered the money-lender, as a sudden gleam of light shot across his withered features, "when did they go?"
"Some time during the night last passed. I found my women made insensible with bhang this morning, and those two flown."
"So mine fled last night, and do you think it impossible that they have gone off together?"
"How? were yours females?"
"No. By Allah, do you think women would run off together? By my beard, Ali Shir, thou shouldst know better than that. One of mine was the youth who brought the jewels for thee to select from, and the other was my slave Marouf. Now is it not possible that Assad may have seen your handsome slave girl?"
"Now by the holy temple of the Black Rock, my brother, you have touched my memory. On that very day when the dog came with the jewels he was left in my private room over half an hour, and I know that Morgiana went in unto him. By my beard, he was comely to look upon, for I remember how I marvelled at his exceeding beauty. Ere we see the caliph, let to hasten away to the gates of the city and see if they have gone from the place."
Elkader assented to the proposition, and together the two set out, and when they arrived at the gate of Abu Jaafar, they learned that four persons answering the descriptions given, had passed out on the previous night. Their garbs were changed, but they were two males and two females, and one of the former was black, and huge in stature.
After this the two Syndics went to the cadi who lived in their quarter and demanded of him assistance in pursuing the fugitives, and it was quickly granted, for the officer owed much to the two wealthy men. So each of the Syndics sent one of his most trusty slaves, and with ten soldiers they set out upon the search.
RAIN and storm, but no shelter! Slowly the horses moved on through the dense wood, and at length the daylight came, and the clouds broke away, and the rain ceased falling. Yet the travellers were in the forest, and the heavy drops kept falling from the foliage as the gentle wind moved the branches. Awhile they stopped to let their horses rest and feed from the green herbage, and then they set forth again. They now travelled at a quick pace for over an hour, and at the end of that time Assad began to betray some uneasiness.
"Surely," he said, speaking to Marouf, "this distance through the wood seems long."
"We have not travelled very fast through the night," replied the black.
"I know that; but yet it appears to me that we should have been clear of the wood before daylight. Yet here we are, and I see no signs of the open country."
"Do you think we have lost the right way?" said Morgiana.
"We cannot have lost it, for we have surely kept in the only way that was open to us."
In half an hour more the sun could be seen, and then Assad found that he was travelling a little to the west of north.
"It should be to the east," said the maiden.
"But you must remember," suggested Assad, "that there may be many short turns and circuitous windings in the path."
"I realize all that, my beloved, but still a strange fancy has possessed me that we have been turning our faces to the west nearly half the night. I may be wrong, but so it appears to me. I cannot help thinking that we may have got turned in the darkness and storm."
"But how can that be when the path has been duly followed?"
"May there not have been another path branching off from the other? and may not our horses have taken it?"
"I hope not," was Assad's reply; but before he could speak further, he was aroused by a cry from Marouf, and on looking up he saw the open country ahead. The horses were urged out upon a wild sandy plain, and as soon as they had ridden on far enough to look about them they stopped and gazed around. To their right hand arose a chain of high mountains, while ahead, the eye could but just reach over the plain.
"Are those not the mountains which were on our left hand last night?" asked Morgiana, pointing to those which were now to the eastward of them.
"They cannot be," answered Assad, confidently; "for see—they reach back of us many leagues, and it would have been impossible for us to have crossed them. So you see we are on the right way, after all."
"But I have heard that there is a gorge through those mountains."
"Ay, and so there is, but it is hard to find and difficult of access. No—those must be the mountains we had last evening upon our left," he continued, pointing off to where the dim outlines of mountain tops could be seen to the southwest.
"I may be wrong, my beloved, so I will not dispute thee," returned Morgiana; and after this the party rode on.
The place was not wholly a desert, nor was it fertile, but the travellers saw no signs of water or fruit until near noon. The sand had drank up all the rain of the night before, and even now appeared dry, and in some places parched. But shortly after the sun had reached its meridian height a small oasis was discovered, and here the weary travellers sat down to rest and refresh themselves, and all save Marouf fell asleep, for they had been a long while without such repose. The faithful black kept watch for two hours, and at the end of that time he awoke Assad, and stated to him the hour. So the youth was thankful for the rest that had been afforded him, and having awakened Morgiana and Gulnare, they set out once more, and now travelled rapidly until the day closed, at which time they came to an oasis larger than the other, where they resolved to pass a part of the night.
Assad was now more troubled than he would confess, for this was nothing like the way he had expected to find. He had looked for a mountainous, wooded country, and then he could not rid himself of the conviction that he had, after all, become entangled in confusion with respect to the road. But he spoke not a word to his beloved of his fears. He fashioned her a soft bed of leaves, upon which he spread a silken mantle, and when she had laid down he covered her with the raiment which had been provided for that purpose. As soon as she slept, he took Marouf aside and said to him:
"Marouf, what think you caused our horses to stop last night in the midst of the darkness and storm?"
"Since you have asked me, my master," replied Marouf, "I will reply. Then I thought they only saw something that startled them, but I have since had the conviction come upon me that they had at that time come to a point where the path divided in twain and branched out in opposite directions."
"And which path think you they took?"
"That which was the most travelled, my master, and where they smelled the newest track of their kind. And that must have been the path to Mosul!"
"By Allah, Marouf, I think thou art right. Yet 'twould be madness to retrace our steps, for we might never find the gorge through which our horses must have instinctively led us."
"You are right, my master."
"Then we will keep on, and if danger comes we must be prepared to meet it. But there may be no danger after all. We will not enter the city of Mosul, and surely we can find safe passage if we keep clear of that. Mokanna must have only meant that there were enemies in Mosul, and that we should run some risk in meeting them. But who shall know us? Who in Mosul can know me who have never been out of Bagdad before in my life? Let us go now and sleep, and when we have taken our rest, we will set forward, and leave the city upon our left."
So Assad went and lay down upon his mantle and covered himself with his coat, and as soon as Marouf had attended to the horses he did likewise.
As soon as the first dawn of day appeared in the east on the following morning, the party were on horse and on their way, and Assad kept as much to the right hand as possible, but a dense forest soon drove him to the westward, and he despaired of escaping the vicinity of Mosul. But he showed no fear, for he had made up his mind that there could not be much danger, and his cheerful manner soon restored joy to the bosom of Morgiana. Yet Assad kept close to the edge of the forest and ere night he found himself upon the bank of a wide, deep river, the forest running close to it, so that he had barely room for passage, with the water upon his left hand, and the wood upon his right; but when he had passed this he saw an open country ahead, and a small village near at hand, and in this village he resolved to stop, for he was hungry, and his provisions were exhausted, and, moreover, it lacked but a few hours, of night.
"Beloved of my soul," spoke Morgiana, after they had entered the wide plain, "why think you I am so joyful and devoid of fear?"
Assad was puzzled at the curious question, and only shook his head.
"Did you think that your lightness of manner had re-assured me that all was as we had first wished?" she continued.
"Speak plainly, love," said the youth, still puzzled.
"Then," resumed Morgiana, "you must know that I have read all your looks, and I know that we are not far from Mosul, and that we are also on the road where the merchants travel. I saw that you were cheerful for my sake, and I could do no less than be cheerful with you. Now we about to stop in this village, and there may be men of Mosul here; and as we surely believe Mokanna to be a man of truth, we must heed his words. Let us take some precaution now, before we reach the khan, for we may thereby benefit ourselves."
"Marouf and myself have already taken all the precaution in our power. We can do no more than be prepared to defend ourselves in case of need."
"That is not a precaution, Assad. That would only be the force of resistance which every living thing may use. Let me advise you. Now cause Marouf to remain behind, and let us three go on without him. We are your two slaves, and you are a merchant of Aleppo. Afterwards let Marouf come, but he must not know us unless he hears something said of danger to us, and then his communication must be private. If Marouf enters with us, and we are taken in a trap, he will assuredly be taken with us; but if he be an entire stranger to us, then, should danger befall us, he will be free to apprise us and aid us. What think you of it?"
"Most excellent, sweet one. By Allah, your wit exceeds my belief. It shall be done as you have said."
Thereupon Marouf was called, and the thing was opened to him, and he was pleased with it. He entered into the spirit of the plan at once, as though it had been one of his own forming. It was arranged that he should retire into the wood and wait there until nightfall, and then come to the village khan as though he had just arrived. And furthermore he was to represent himself as a messenger from Bagdad, sent on business to Amadah.
So the slave turned back, and Assad and the girls kept on until they reached the khan of the village, which they found to be well furnished. A private apartment was furnished for Morgiana and Gulnare, and they repaired to it at once, while the youth sat down in the lower room with the keeper. The sun was yet an hour high, and Assad would have walked forth, only he wished not to expose himself, so he took a small book from his pocket and commenced to read. Once he chanced to look up, and he noticed that the keeper of the khan was regarding him earnestly, but the gaze was quickly withdrawn when he met the publican's eye. But Assad's suspicion was aroused, and he determined to watch the man's movements; so he drew his turban down over his eye in such a manner that he could hold his book up and watch the keeper without betraying the fact of so doing. His eye was now fixed upon the man, and he awaited the result. Ere long the publican took something from his bosom and gazed intently upon it for some moments, and then lifted his gaze to his guest. The youth could not see what it was he held in his hand, though a slight view of a single corner had the appearance of parchment.
As the keeper continued to look first upon the thing he held in his hand, and then upon him, the thought flashed through Assad's mind that the fellow had a written description of himself, and was thus comparing notes! If such was the case, then there must be danger at hand, for why should a description of himself be in such hands, but for the purpose of his arrest? These thoughts troubled him a little, but as he yet saw no signs of personal danger, he did not allow himself to entertain much fear.
At length our hero put up his book, and with a quick movement he turned towards his host. The latter individual hastily and clumsily concealed the parchment (for parchment it seemed to be) in his bosom, and shrank away from Assad's gaze like a guilty man. The youth resolved not to put aside his sword, and also to be careful of what transpired about him.
Ere long after this supper was announced, and the youthful traveller conducted to the eating-room where he found only two others besides himself. They were evidently couriers, and made but little conversation.
Just at dusk Marouf came dashing up to the door, his horse all sweat and foam, and himself well covered with dust. Assad just obtained opportunity to speak a few words alone with the stout slave, and having informed him of what had already happened, and bade him watch narrowly all that transpired below, he went to seek Morgiana.
ASSAD found Morgiana and her attendant sitting together in a small closet which overlooked the garden back of the khan, and they were looking out upon the stars, for the sun had gone, and the evening had so far advanced that the lamps of heaven were lit. The youth embraced his beloved, and he noticed that she was troubled, and he asked her the cause.
"You see that window," she replied, at the same time pointing to a small wicket in the wall of the adjoining room which communicated with the hall beyond.
Assad looked, and answered that he saw it, whereupon Morgiana continued:
"While Gulnare and myself sat in that apartment before the day had gone, we saw an old woman peering in upon us, and holding something in her hand which she consulted ever and anon. I arose to go out to her, when she fled. Ere long afterwards, while we were eating of the food which had been sent up to us, we saw her again. Again I arose, and again the woman fled. Now what think you of it?"
Assad bowed his head, and remained a long while in thought, for he was troubled more than he dared confess.
"Keep nothing from me," said the maiden. "Tell me what has befallen you, for I saw by your countenance when you entered, that something had happened."
"In truth, then," replied Assad, "it has happened to me much as it has to you. The keeper of the khan has regarded me suspiciously; and he, too, held something in his hand which he consulted the while. Surely, Morgiana, there is something that savors of danger. But what it is I cannot imagine."
"I do not mean to find cause of complaint, my beloved," the maiden said, "but I cannot help but hold the thought that all this comes of travelling in the dark—of pushing on when we could not know whither our steps were bent. Yet how strange seems our fate. Verily we are in the hands of One whose ways are as the deep midnight, and past finding out, and how shall we do better than to trust to Him?"
Assad was pleased to find his companion so calm, and it had much influence on him for good. They conversed some time upon the strange things that had transpired, and the night was passing on, when they heard a noise at the window, and in a few moments more a dark object appeared above the sill.
"Be not afraid," spoke Marouf—for he it was—"but fasten your door, and then let me come in and acquaint you with I have seen."
Assad fastened the door at once, and then Marouf entered at the window, where he had ascended by means of a stout grapevine which grew against the wall.
"Now what is it?" asked the youth, anxiously.
"Listen, my master: When I arrived at this place, I put up my horse and entered the house, and then met you, as you remember. After you left me and came up here, I took my seat in the apartment where the keeper was, and he asked me whence I had come? I told him from Bagdad. Then he asked me if I had noticed the comely youth who was in that apartment when I came, and I told him I had noticed the youth on the sole account of his marvellous beauty and fitness of form; and then I asked him whence you had come, and his reply was vague, so that I understood him not. Soon the keeper called a boy to him and whispered some words into his ear, and then the boy hastened away. After that an hour passed, and then the boy returned, and with him came four stout men dressed in the garb of eunuchs, and they were of my own color, and with them were four more dressed as mamlouks; and they were all well armed. They came into the apartment where myself and the host were, and the host feared me not, for he spoke plainly before me. And he spoke these words to the leader of the mamlouka:
"They are now in my khan—the youth and the damsel, and I know that I am not mistaken. Therefore take them away, and give me the reward which has been offered for them."
"Then the mamlouk asked how he knew that the youth and the damsel were the ones he sought? and the keeper drew forth from his bosom a piece of parchment upon which I saw your likeness, my master. It was painted in fresh colors, and save that it was a picture, it was so like you that even your own mother would have kissed it and wept over it. The keeper then said that the youth was the exact counterpart of that picture. Then he called for his wife, and when she came, she drew another piece of parchment from her bosom, and my soul swelled with astonishment when I saw that upon it was an exact likeness of Morgiana. And the women said that the damsel who occupied the apartment above was the same as the picture. Then the mamlouks conversed apart, and they made arrangements that you should be taken an hour after midnight. I heard this much, and then hastened to tell you."
"By Allah, this is most wonderful!" uttered Assad, turning pale and trembling. "O, for myself I care not; but thou, O, my beloved, art in danger, and how shall I help thee?"
But Morgiana did not betray much fear. She was calm and thoughtful, and after a while she said:
"We are surely encompassed, and our escape at the present time will be impossible. If we offer resistance to so many men, we shall only make our state more dangerous. These people are of course the slaves of some powerful man, and if we submit we shall be conveyed away. Mosul is the nearest city, and that is two days' journey from here, so if they carry us to Mosul they will have to stop one night by the way. Therefore let Marouf still remain a stranger to us in this place, and if we are taken and carried away, he can then follow us, and thus be enabled perhaps, to help us. If we have to stop the next night by the way, I feel sure we can escape them, for myself and Gulnare came prepared with the weapons we could best use. Marouf can hang upon our way, and when the night comes be assured he can help us."
"Surely, my master," said the stout black, "her reasoning is good. I think I could overcome the four eunuchs, and the four mamlouks, and should there come no other opportunity of escape, I should resort to my sword; but that had better not be attempted here, for in the melee you or the maidens might get more harm. Let it be as the Lady Morgiana has spoken. I will follow close upon your tracks until the next night comes, and then we can easily overcome your captors while part of them sleep; but if it should appear that they will not stop, then I will take some favorable opportunity when they are separated, and attack them openly, and I feel assured that our combined power—yours and mine—will suffice to crush them."
This arrangement pleased the youth, and without a word of objection or alteration he accepted the proposition.
"It does now appear," he said, "that Mokanna knew of our risk when he spoke, and the anxiety which racks my brain and my soul on account of this deep, dark mystery, is more than all fear of death could be. In all this marvellous work I cannot see one grain of reason, and were I not assured by signs which are unmistakeable, I should say that I was surely in a dream all this time. Marouf, what can you make of it?"
"I know not all the circumstances," returned the black. "I only know that thou hast fled from Bagdad, and I supposed 'twas love for this beautiful maiden that caused the movement."
Thereupon, Assad took from his bosom the golden case which Mokanna had given him, and when the black had seen the picture within he was much moved.
"By my poor soul," he uttered, "this is wondrous beautiful, but 'tis no more like this lady here in feature, than was the one the keeper's wife had. Both are alike her exact self in transcript, only this is more excellently finished."
Then Morgiana showed to him her case in which was the picture of Assad, and he made the same remark upon it as he had made upon the other. And after this the youth related all that had happened concerning those two pictures, and when he had concluded he said:
"Now give us thy opinion, Marouf, for thou mayest think unmoved by self, and by all prejudice, and the simple deductions of thy mind may hit nearer the truth than could all the reasoning of accomplished art."
The slave pondered awhile, and when he spoke, it was thus:
"First, my master, Mokanna's truth is evident, and were I in your place I would not call it in question. Second, you were never born in Bagdad—neither you nor your companions—but some wicked person who would profit in worldly matters by your absence, caused you to be stolen away and sold there when you were an infant. You have friends, and you have foes. Those who still receive benefit from your absence wish to kill you, or to remove you far from them, while those who are your friends, and who would receive benefit from your presence, wish your return to the place where you belong. By some strange means, you have both been discovered, probably by some adroit person. These pictures have been copied, and they are now used by your enemies as a means of detection. As for Mokanna, it is evident enough that he is your friend, and that he is a wealthy and powerful man, and mayhap he has been working in Bagdad a long while to find you out. Thus, my master, run my thoughts."
Assad and Morgiana gazed upon each other for some moments, and at length the former spoke:
"Loved one, I must think that Marouf has spoken well."
"He has, most surely," returned the damsel; "and until we can find something of more palpable import, I think he has spoken the truth."
And yet, when the lovers came to reflect upon the matter, they found the mystery as deep as ever, though they had some slight clue to the cause of the danger that beset them. The course which Marouf was to pursue was clearly laid down, and then the slave departed by the same way he had come, and shortly afterwards Assad arose to depart to his own chamber, which was adjoining the one where Morgiana was to rest.
"I will not sleep," he said, "and no one can gain access here but by passing my door, or coming in at the window, which latter thing they will not surely do. I will not wholly close my door, and shall thus know if any one comes."
The youth then strained the fair one to his bosom, and he turned away quickly to hide his tears, for the thought of harm to her affected him more deeply than would the shade of death to himself.
"Alas!" murmured Morgiana, after her lover had gone, as she threw herself upon Gulnare's bosom; "if harm comes to Assad, I shall die. All this he is undergoing for love of me. O, he knows not how fondly, how truly, I love him."
But the slave girl comforted her mistress by reciting soft verses of hope from the Koran, and ere long her tears were wiped away, and she slept.
ASSAD knew that it wanted yet two hours of midnight, when he reached his chamber, and as he felt much fatigued he resolved to lie down, but not to sleep. This resolution he maintained for an hour, but at the expiration of that time drowsiness overcame him, and he fell asleep. When he awoke he knew that some one was laying hold upon his shoulder, and he started up quickly. A bright light flashed into his eyes when he opened them, and he saw four mamlouks about his bed.
"Assad of Bagdad," spoke the leader, "arise and follow us, for we have come for thee."
"And wherefore are ye come?" asked the youth, arising at once.
"For thee," answered the mamlouk.
"But who sent thee?"
"Our master whom we obey in all things, and answer not. So follow us quickly, if you would have it well with thee."
Assad knew that there would be no use in asking questions for the present, so he quietly followed the mamlouks from the apartment, and when he reached the court he found Morgiana and Gulnare there in charge of the eunuchs. His hand instinctively dropped to where his sword-hilt usually rested, but he found it not, and on looking around he saw that one of his captors had it. Then he knew that resistance would be useless, and he remained quiet; but his movement had not been unobserved.
"Listen, Assad," said the leader of the mamlouks: "We know thy desire, and that thou wouldst flee from us quickly couldst thou overcome us. But our master, whom we obey in all things, has commanded us that we slay the damsel on the instant when thou makest opposition. Remember—we answer not, but obey."
Assad made no reply, and though his rage was maddening, yet he contained himself. He saw his beloved mounted upon her own horse, and Gulnare upon hers; and in a moment more the beast he had ridden was brought forth, and he bidden to mount. Then the four eunuchs started on with the females, and the mamlouks followed with Assad.
Our hero's first object was to notice the course which his captors would pursue, and as soon as the path was fairly gained, he found the way lay to the northward, and he supposed he should be carried to Mosul. After he had assured himself respecting the course he should pursue, he next turned towards Morgiana, but he found that he could not be allowed to speak with her. At the end of an hour the moon arose, and by the light thus afforded, the youth saw that they had nearly crossed the sandy plain, and that a deep wood lay not far ahead. Just as the party reached this wood he turned his head back, and away in the distance, he could see a dark object moving upon the plain. In an instant his heart was lighter, for he knew 'twas the faithful Marouf who was following.
When the sun arose they had passed through the wood and come out upon an open country in which were hills and vales, and running brooks, and trees of fruit. By the side of a small brook the party stopped, and Assad could see that his quiet demeanor had wrought favorably upon the mamlouks, so he asked of the leader whence they meant to carry him.
"To Mosul," answered the mamlouk.
"I am at a loss to understand why this thing is done to me," resumed Assad, modestly, "for I have done no wrong in my whole life, save to God, who is all merciful; and as for Mosul, I know no one there. Why is it, then?"
"I know nothing at all of it, young man, save that we were ordered to bring you. We have only to obey and ask no questions. Our master can answer if he pleases, but, we cannot."
Assad asked no more, and as soon as the horses were rested the party set out once more. At noon they stopped again, and when the sun had set, they came to a grove of palm-trees which grew upon the banks of a small stream, and here they prepared to encamp for the night. A fire was built, and by means of a cross stick set upon two others, the leader of the mamlouks suspended a small kettle over the fire which had been filled with water from the brook, and which one of the eunuchs had carried behind him hung to his saddle. Into this pot the mamlouk put a quantity of pounded coffee, and then prepared for supper. Morgiana, as soon as she saw this, complained that her hands were cold, and asked permission to warm them. This was granted at once, and the maiden accordingly went and stood up by the fire. She watched her opportunity narrowly, and as soon as she could do so without being observed by others, she attracted Assad's attention, and then took a paper from her bosom in which was the powder of bhang. She emptied some of this carefully into the pot, and then returned the paper to her bosom. She remained by the fire a short time longer, and then returned to her seat by the side of Gulnare.
During this time three of the mamlouks had been fixing up a small pavilion made from the housings of their horses, and by the time this was done the meal was ready. The coffee was taken off, and the first cup was passed to Morgiana. Assad watched her sharply, and saw her pour the beverage upon the ground; and when the cup was handed to him he did likewise. But Gulnare, when the cup was handed to her, professed to dislike coffee, and it was not urged upon her. The mamlouks and the eunuchs ate a part of the food they had prepared, but ere they had finished, they were all prostrate and insensible. Assad leaped up with joy as soon as he saw this, and started back as fast as he could run to find Marouf, but he had not to run far, for he found the faithful slave close at hand waiting for the darkness to be settled down more completely.
Marouf came back with his master at once, and when he found how much bhang they had taken, he knew that the mamlouks and eunuchs would not revive for many hours. So he refreshed himself with some of the food that was left, and then went to where the horses were fastened. The eight animals which belonged to the sleeper, he secured together by means of the halters, but not so close but that they had ample room for action. Then he took a fire-brand and tied it to the tail of the leader's horse by means of a green withe, and then turning their heads to the northward he let the fire-brand descend upon the heels of the horse to whom it was fastened. The beast gave a wild snort and started, and the others, when they found the case they were in, started also, and soon they were flying away like the wind.
"They will stop when they reach Mosul," said Marouf, as he led the horses of his friends up, "and their owners can trudge along on foot."
Morgiana laughed outright at Marouf's speech, and when Assad saw her joy he was light-hearted and joyful, and not one of them forgot to thank the God who made them. At a short distance off, was found the black's horse, and soon the party had turned their heads to the southward, and when they had ridden an hour, they stopped to consult.
"Now what shall be our course?" asked Assad. "We are free from this present affair if our horses hold out, but there may be more danger in store. How shall we go?"
"I should say, return to the place where we must have passed through the mountain gorge, and make sure that we have the right path. It will put us some days back in our journey, but we had better suffer that than be wholly lost, as we may be, if we continue in this way. This is my thought."
Assad next turned to Marouf.
"The damsel has spoken my mind," replied the slave. "There may be danger on the other road now, for we may be followed from Bagdad. But we had better run the risk of that, than subject ourselves to the dangers of an enmity of which we know not the danger. So runs my thought."
"And mine is the same," rejoined Assad. "So let us hasten on our way."
And accordingly they put their horses to the gallop, for the road was plain, and the country open. They left the village where they had met the mamlouks and the eunuchs, far to the right, and on the night of the third day they came to the spot where they had found themselves on the morning after the storm, and here they stopped for the night in the dense forest. On the following morning they set forward again, and ere long they saw the rugged mountain directly ahead of them, and it seemed like a wall of rock which nothing could pass through. But the road was plain before them, and they kept on, and soon they came to the gorge. They were struck with wonder at the scene, and their hearts trembled as they regarded the stupendous walls which arose on either hand, threatening every moment to fall and crush the human worm who should dare to crawl through. So high were these walls, and so narrow was the space, that at the top they seemed to meet like an arch terminating in the very heavens. Marouf led the way through, and when they had all passed the strange place, they heard the same echoes which had startled them on that dark and stormy night when they had lost their way.
About noon they came to the point where another road branched off to the eastward, and Assad knew that this was the road he should have taken, and he knew, too, that it was here where the horses had stopped and pondered.
"Let us stop here and have our dinner," said the youth, "for I am hungry. We ate but little this morning."
"And what shall we eat, my master?" asked Marouf.
"How? Is our food all gone?"
"Then we must find some. I am sure I saw a she-goat run into the bushes just before we reached this place."
"It was a goat, my master, for I noticed it. So if you will stay and make a fire, I will take my bow and go after the goat. But even should I miss her, I shall find something."
Assad agreed to the plan, and accordingly the stout slave seized his bow, and having secured his horse, he plunged into the wood in the direction he had seen the goat take. After he had gone, Assad gathered together a lot of dry sticks, and having found some grass and leaves which were crisp, he took his steel and flint and set fire to the mass, and ere long he had a brisk fire underway.
"Now we are ready for the meat," he said, with a light laugh.
"Hark!" uttered Morgiana. "He is returning, and of course he must have something, or he would not be coming back so soon."
"By Allah!" cried Assad, leaping to his feet, "that sounds like the tramp of horses, and they are coming down this road which we have not yet travelled, but into which we were about to enter."
For an instant the damsel turned pale, but in a moment more she said:
"If they are coming that way, what have we to fear? That is not the way to come from Bagdad, nor yet from Mosul. They are probably honest travellers, and will do us no harm."
"They are coming from that direction, surely," resumed Assad, who had been listening, and had now made sure that the coming horses were approaching from the direction he was about to pursue towards the Persian frontier. "I wish Marouf were here."
But before the youth could look for his stout slave, the horsemen—half a score of them—had come in sight, and, be they friend or foe, all escape was cut off.
OUR travellers watched the coming of the strangers with much anxiety, and a fearful shudder shook Morgiana's frame, as she noticed that they wore the garb of the mamlouks at Bagdad, and as they drew still nearer, Assad recognized in their leader one of the principal mamlouks of the quarter where he had lived when with the Syndic, and the name of this mamlouk was Danish. The youth would have made his escape if he could, but the horses were fast, and he knew that 'twould be useless to make the attempt.
"Ah! By Allah!" cried Danish, as he came up and saw Assad's face, "how came you here? We have been two days' journey beyond here, and now we have come to find you behind us."
"Do you mean that you seek me?" asked the youth.
"Ay, we seek thee, and the damsel called Morgiana, who fled from the house of Ali Shir, the Syndic of the merchants. So here we find you both, and you will go with us back to Bagdad."
Assad looked to see if Marouf were not returning, for he felt that with the assistance of the gigantic black he would give the mamlouks battle. But Marouf was not to be seen anywhere. Danish seemed to be looking for the same thing, for after he had noticed the fourth horse he turned to Assad, and said:
"There was one more whom we were to take, the black slave, Marouf. Where is he?"
"He has left us," answered Assad, "and I fear me that he will not return."
But the mamlouk did not believe this, so he bade five of his followers to hide themselves in the wood, and there wait until Marouf returned, and then take him and bring him along. Then Danish caused the two girls to be placed in their saddles, and also bade Assad to mount. The youth was enraged, but he was not blinded. He saw that the mamlouks were stout men, eleven in number, and he knew that they were well versed in arms; so to offer them combat would have been but simple madness. He mounted into his saddle, and when he was ready to start, the five mamlouks whom Danish had selected to remain for the capture of Marouf, led their horses out of sight into the wood, and then the rest were ordered to gather around Assad and ride in his company, while Danish himself rode on ahead with Morgiana and Gulnare for it afterward appeared that Hassan, the son of Ali Shir, had offered the mamlouk a large sum of gold, if he would return the damsel safely to him. And in this way the party set out. Morgiana wept bitter tears, and her lover bowed his head in shame and anguish, for he felt that if he had listened to the fears of his beloved on that stormy night when the fatal road was taken, al this would not have happened.
In the meantime, Marouf was in the deep wood, all unconscious-of these things. When he left his young master, he had not gone far before he found the tracks of the she-goat in a spot of sand where a great tree had been overturned, and having noticed the direction the animal had taken, he started off in pursuit. At length he saw the goat at some distance ahead, and he discharged an arrow, but a small twig which he had not noticed in his eagerness turned the shaft aside, and the goat was soon out of sight once more. This mishap only served to make the man more eager, and with swift steps he plunged on. At length he saw the goat again, and this time he took more care, and his arrow pierced her heart. He hastened forward and swung the animal over his shoulder, and then started back towards the place where he had left his companions. At length he reached the road, but the fire had gone down, and his friends were not to be seen anywhere. He threw down the goat, and on the next instant the five mamlouka rushed out from the woods.
"Ho, Marouf!" cried one of them, "thou art our prisoner, so surrender thyself without parley!"
"Where are Assad, and Morgiana, and Gulnare?" the slave asked, looking eagerly around.
"They have gone on ahead," answered the mamlouk.
"And are they prisoners?"
"And you have been left to take me?"
Marouf laughed most scornfully.
"Go," he said, "and follow your master, and be sure that if Assad is carried to Bagdad, I shall go after him. Go, now, and trouble me not, for this thing hath made me mad, and I cannot withstand the evil temptation, if thou provokest me."
"Out, thou black dog! thou son of Eblis! Offer us resistance, and thy head shall roll in the dirt!"
"Touch me not, but go thy way," said Marouf, now made angry almost beyond endurance.
"Vile slave, this instant lay down thy sword and mount and follow us, or we'll carry thy head to Bagdad while thy foul carcass remains here to feed the beasts of the forests! Obey me, thou black son of an unbelieving mother, or——"
Before he could finish the vile words he would have spoken, Marouf had drawn his huge sword, and with one blow laid the head of the mamlouk at his feet. The other four, upon seeing this, instantly drew their weapons, and set upon the black with all their might; but he was prepared for them. Seizing his steel bow in his left hand, and using it as a buckler with which to ward off some of the blows that were aimed at him, he set to the work with vigor. The mamlouks had mistaken their man, for he swept them down as though they had been children, and in less than three minutes from the time when the first man fell, the other four were lying dead upon the earth.
Marouf simply wiped his sword upon the skirt of one of the mamlouk's vests, and then having sheathed it, he mounted his horse and set off towards Bagdad, and by the middle of the afternoon he reached the edge of the forest, and saw his companions and their captors at no great distance ahead on the plain. He kept them in sight until nightfall, and when they encamped he was close to them.
"Here we will rest for the night," said Danish, as he came to a place where a grove of nut trees grew. They had passed the village where Assad had rested on the second day of his journey, and the place was some leagues behind them. "Here we can rest till early morning, and then, if we start betimes, we can take dinner in the city of El Bhan, where the Emir Mousfa rules, and before dark reach Bagdad, the city of our home."
So the horses were stopped, and the females taken off, and then one of the mamlouks proceeded to build a fire. A small pot was suspended over it, and into this some coffee berries were put to parch, and when they were parched and pounded up, the water was poured in. Morgiana saw that the mess would be unsavory and filthy, and she thought a little bhang would not hurt it. So she took out her paper, but in her eagerness she did not notice that one of the mamlouks stood leaning against a tree near at hand, and when she poured in the powder he saw her. He went to the pot and smelled of it, and he detected the bhang in an instant; so he went at once to his master and told him what had happened. Danish started towards the maiden, who stood trembling with affright, for she had seen the mamlouk's movement, and with one blow of his palm upon her cheek, he felled her to the earth. Assad saw it all, and with a loud cry of rage he drew his sword, and before any one could prevent him, he struck the head of Danish clean off; so that it rolled down into the fire. On the next moment he was seized from behind by two of the mamlouks, and securely bound, and but for one who was more thoughtful than his fellows, he would have instantly been put to death.
As soon as the youth was bound, the coffee was poured from the pot, and the five remaining mamlouks proceeded to eat their meal with only water to drink. After this, Morgiana and Gulnare were bound together, and then two of the mamlouks were set to watch while the remaining three slept; the body of Danish having been first covered up and laid by his horse.
Thus passed away some two hours, and at the end of that time one of the mamlouks who was on the watch thought he detected something moving on the plain near to the oasis where they were encamped. He stooped down from sight, and thus watched the object which had attracted his attention, until he was sure it had life. Upon this he called to his companion, and they both regarded the thing for some time.
"It surely moves," said one.
"Ay, for I can see it," returned the other.
"It smells us here. I have heard how these hungry beasts will follow a caravan all day, without showing themselves, and then even wait at night until the guard are set, and the others all asleep. But see—he is making for the horses. He smells them first."
"It cannot be a lion," said the second speaker, "for I have seen a lion on the desert in the night time, and he did not move like that. He crouched lower, and I could hear his tail as it lashed the dry sand behind him."
"It may be a bear," said the other. "It moves more like a bear, and surely is large enough for one."
"Dare you fire upon it?"
"We might both be ready, and then if I missed you could be ready to stand in the gap while I selected a second arrow."
Awhile longer the two mamlouks watched the moving object, and then they agreed to shoot at it. They both prepared their bows at the same time, and as the dark object came nearer still to the horses, one of them whispered to the other:
"He smells the blood of Danish. Ah—that's what's called him here. 'Tis fresh blood."
"So it is," returned the other. "But see—he comes too near. In a short while longer he may spring. Are you ready?"
"Then fire you first."
An arrow was discharged, surely and swiftly, but the object made no motion to indicate that he was wounded. On the next instant another arrow was discharged, and this time the thing leaped up, made a few springs towards the camp, and then sank down. The two mamlouks immediately called their three companions, and quickly lighting a torch by the decaying embers of the fire, they hastened to the spot where the animal had fallen, and when they reached the place they were not a little startled at beholding a black slave of huge stature, with a heavy sword in his hand.
"By Allah!" cried one of the mamlouks, "it is Elkader's escaped slave—'tis Marouf! Put up thy sword, thou black dog, or we'll shoot thee to death with arrows."
Marouf saw that two of the mamlouks had their bows ready, and he knew that they could quickly despatch him, if they chose so to do; so he laid down his sword, and suffered himself to be taken captive. It was then found that both the arrows had hit him—the first having entered the calf of the left leg, which he had pulled through and thrown away. The second had struck him in the side, and in such a manner that the head had passed down to the hip, he having been in a stooping posture when the shaft struck him. This made it utterly impossible for him either to walk or run, and of course he was easily captured, seeing that his sword could have no effect upon those who might stand at a distance and shoot him with arrows.
When Marouf had been brought to the place of encampment he asked that Assad might be allowed to extract the arrow from his side. There was some consultation among the mamlouks, but they remembered that their only reward for the black slave would be in case he was returned alive, and they consented to unbind the youth and let him perform the operation. Assad yet slept, and when he was aroused, and made acquainted with the work he was to do, he wept with new anguish, for he had hoped that his faithful follower might escape. However, when he knew how dangerously Marouf was wounded, he hastened forward. He embraced the slave first, and having spoken a few words of cheer, he proceeded to examine the wound. He had studied medicine some, and had become much acquainted with the structure of the human frame, for the Syndic, his master, had hoped to make money by his skill.
One of the mamlouks held a torch, and Assad saw that the arrow could never be drawn out by the way it had entered, for it had a barbed head, and to cut through that distance would be dangerous. So he caused Marouf to bend his leg up as much as possible, and then with all his strength he drove the arrow down until the head had shown itself through the flesh upon the thigh. Then he broke off the feathered part of the shaft which was yet out from the side, and by means of a strong cord attached to the head the remaining part was pulled out. Assad then washed and dressed the wound as well as he was able, and Marouf laid down to rest. But before the mamlouks left him they asked him concerning their five companions who had been left to capture him. He was smarting under the cruel wound, and in his rage he told how he had killed them all.
Assad shuddered as he heard the story, for he feared that the revenge of the caliph, when he learned of the death of six of his best mamlouks, would fall heavily upon him.
AS soon as the first signs of daylight were visible, the mamlouks were astir, and having learned where Marouf had left his horse, one of them went and brought it, after which the wounded man was assisted to his saddle. The body of Danish was secured upon the horse he had ridden when alive, and shortly afterwards the party set out. They reached the city of El Bhan before noon, and ere sunset they entered Bagdad by the gate of Abu Jaafar, and proceeded at once to the palace of the caliph. Haroun al Raschid had retired from the council chamber, but he admitted one of the mamlouks to his presence, from whom he heard the whole story.
"Now by Allah!" cried the caliph, in a rage, "these slaves shall die the death! Go, deliver the girls at once to Ali Shir, and cast the others into prison."
"But if Elkader should demand his slaves?"
"By the beard of the Prophet, let him do so if he dare! He should not keep such foul dogs in his employ. See that the black dog is cured of his hurts before he dies, for death might be sweet to a suffering body. Send a physician in to him."
"I hear to obey," returned the mamlouk; and then he left the sublime presence of the Prince of the Faithful.
Ere the darkness of night had fallen upon the earth, Assad and Marouf were plunged into a cold, deep prison, and Morgiana and Gulnare were returned to the dwelling of the Syndic, Ali Shir. The merchant had returned to his house, and when the mamlouks came he was there to receive them. He paid them five hundred pieces of gold, as he had promised, and then they took their departure, and when they were gone he turned to Gulnare, and asked:
"Why did you leave my dwelling?"
The girl hung down her head, but ere she could speak, Morgiana replied for her:
"She was not to blame in the least, my master, for she went at my bidding, so let all your reproof fall upon me. It was I who enticed her away, and she went that she might serve me."
Then the merchant bade Gulnare leave the apartment, and when she was gone he turned to the beautiful maiden who remained standing before him.
"Now, wicked woman," he exclaimed, "what caused you to flee from my house? Be sure that you speak the truth, for if falsehood be told to me, you shall suffer much. Tell me—why did you flee?"
"Because I wished not to marry with your son, my master," replied Morgiana, trembling.
"Ay—and why this wish? Speak truly, now. Who was it fled with you?"
"The youth called Assad fled with me."
"And you fled with him from love?"
"I did love him, O, my master, for God, who is all-wise, made love in my heart when first I saw him. He was like the bright morning to my eyes, and like the soft dropping of peace to my soul. My eyes beheld him, and my soul enveloped him as with a garment of pure love."
"And wherefore this vile change in thy heart? Do damsels seek husbands from among slaves, when the noble seek their hand? By Allah, slave, thou hast done a wicked thing, and thou shalt be punished. Hassan had loved thee with his whole soul, and on account of thy beauty he had meant to make you his Wife. But you shall be his slave now—his bond-woman—and he shall possess all thy beauty, and you shall have no husband. Thy children shall not be of his station, but only slaves. Thus will I do to thee, in punishment for the wicked deed thou hast done."
"Hear me, O, my master!" cried the afflicted maiden, falling upon her knees and clasping her hands, "I have done no falsehood, for the youth with whom I fled has not yet made me his wife. I am as I left thee, save that I have gone and returned."
"And that is enough, for thereby thou hast cast disgrace upon my son, and made him mourn. How think you it sounds to my ears, when I hear men say: 'Behold Hassan, the son of the Syndic of all the merchants. She whom he had selected for his wife, hated him, and went away with a slave youth.' This I hear daily, and it hath almost made my son mad. By Allah, thou shalt suffer. Gulnare shall attend thee no more, but one whom I can trust shall attend thee until Hassan goes to his own house, and then he shall take thee with him."
Morgiana wept and groaned in agony, but the hard-hearted merchant sympathized with her not at all.
"Now go to your own apartment," he said, "and in due time your servant shall come. Remember, thou shalt suffer for thy wickedness, for thou hast brought shame upon us by thy course, and our names are in the streets and in the market places, and men say: 'Lo, Hassan! His bride loved him not because of his evil temper, and of his unbecoming aspect.' While thou, evil girl, knowest how pleasing the youth, my son, is, both of speech and of comely aspect."
Morgiana was abashed by this, for she knew that Ali Shir lied, seeing that his son was both ugly in mind and in person. But she dared not speak her true thoughts, for her master was already angered, and she wished not to add to the flame. So without speaking further, she went away to her own apartment, where she found everything as she had left it, when she went away. She threw herself upon a couch, and there gave way to a copious flood of tears.
But she did not weep long, for she knew that tears would be of no avail now; and, moreover, she had wit enough to know that she must study deeply upon the course that would serve her best. She knew not what had become of her lover, and though she feared much for him, yet she could not think that his master would allow a danger to befall him. To be sure he had slain a mamlouk, but then—then——
She was cut short in her reflections by the entrance of the woman who was to wait upon her. She turned, and a shudder crept through her frame as she recognized the slave Elsena.
Elsena was not more than twenty-and-two years of age, and her hair was black as night. She possessed a straight, elegant form, though she was taller than she should have been for symmetry. In feature she had some beauty, but a proud, overbearing spirit, and an evil disposition, had worn away all the soft lines from her face, and she now looked hard and cold. Between her and Morgiana there had never been any love, but only a deep-seated jealousy. Morgiana knew Elsena's secret. Elsena loved Hassan—had loved him a long while, and she hoped to be his wife; and when she found that the object of her affections had bestowed his heart upon the beautiful Morgiana, her rage knew no bounds.
Now when Morgiana had fled, and Hassan thought she would never come hack, he fell to weeping excessively, and Elsena went in into him to comfort him, and so well did she play her part, that he kissed her in gratitude, and swore that she should be his wife if Morgiana came not back. But since that hour, Elsena had discovered that his affection for her was not strong, and she feared that the return of Morgiana would blast all her newly raised hopes. And one thing she feared too: The merchant might never consent to his son's making her his wife, else he would never have made her serve other slaves. Hence it was with a strange mixture of evil feelings that the dark slave girl entered the apartment and kneeled at Morgiana's feet.
"Command me, my mistress," she said.
"Kneel not to me," quickly returned Morgiana. "Rather command thou me, for thou knowest that I am under thy control."
"As thou wilt," said Elsena, arising to her feet. "And since thou art so easy of management, I may simply say that you are not to leave your own apartment without I am in your company. So our master has commanded."
Morgiana was about to make some reply, when the door of the apartment opened, and young Hassan entered. He was, as has already been stated, just of age, and about to go into business for himself. He was short, and unwieldy in person, with red hair and a freckled face. His features were not at all regular, and though his rich dress, and a certain polish of wealth, made him appear respectable, yet few women could have loved him, for his mind was no better than his face. Perhaps Elsena loved him more for the wealth he possessed than for himself as a man.
Hassan entered and bade Elsena leave the apartment. She turned a flashing eye upon Morgiana as she received this order, but she dared not disobey. But a curious thought struck her. Between that apartment and the bed-chamber, was a closet which was only separated by heavy, damask curtains; and into this closet Elsena went. She walked quite heavily until she had reached the extremity of the bed-room, and then removing her shoes, she glided noiselessly back, and took her station behind the curtain where she could see all that passed, by means of a small rent there was in the seam of the fabric.
Hassan's face wore a gloomy aspect when he entered, but upon beholding the features of the beautiful slave the cloud passed away, and all his old love returned. He sat down upon a cushion, and asked Morgiana to sit by his side. He took her hand and kissed it, and then looked tenderly into her face.
"Why did you leave me?" he asked, more in regret than anger.
"It was through the influence of an old sheik who came to me and bid me go," answered the damsel.
"Was it so? O, loved one, deceive me not. Did you not go away with a slave whom you loved?"
"You have asked me plainly, and I will answer thee the same. I did love the youth who went with me. But as God is all-wise, and knows the hearts of all his creatures, it was not the work of that youth which led me from Bagdad."
"By Allah, I am glad of that. And hast thou married?"
"No, my master, I know not man save as the infant knoweth him."
"Then my father shall relent. You will yet be my wife."
Morgiana bowed her head and thought for an instant ere she answered. She knew that a single word would even now change Hassan's feelings in a moment. She knew the evil passions that governed him, and she knew that 'twas only her beauty that held them now in check. Her absence had made him angry, and he had despaired of ever seeing her again; but now that she had come back, his first emotions were those of pleasure, for in truth his whole heart had been enchained. And there was one other thing which the damsel had wit enough to understand. She saw that the simple fact of the father's having peremptorily decided that she should not be his son's wife, had helped to warm him towards her. All this ran through her mind in a moment, and then came the one other thought: If she did not become his wife, she must become his meanest slave, and lose all that could make her beautiful in the sphere of truth and honor. In either case there might be some chance of escape. So she raised her eyes, and while the tears started forth, she simply murmured—"yes."
She did not mean those tears for deception. She could not have helped them if she would. But he thought they were for him—that they were of joy that she had once more gained him to her side; and under the influence of this feeling, he caught her to his bosom, and told his love in passionate verses.
At that moment they heard a noise near them, like some one smothering, and they listened; but as it was not repeated, no more notice was taken of it.
"I am of age," said Hassan, "and may now marry at any moment. Say, then, when the marriage ceremony shall take place?"
"Alas, my master, I am worn and fatigued now. Let the affair be postponed for a while."
"I shall please you, my heart's idol," cried Hassan, now completely enraptured. "Only let it be as soon as possible, for I fear I may lose you again."
"As soon as I become rested and calm once more, my master. But now I am faint and weary, and I must guard against severe sickness, for I have had much to try my nerves, and much to shake my whole system. But the time shall come."
Hassan saw that the damsel was faint, and he remained with her no longer. As he went forth, the slave-girl Elsena glided away from her hiding-place, and her face was the very picture of a demon.
ASSAD was thrown into one of the strongest dungeons of the Khandak prison, and there he remained three days ere he saw a human being, his victuals being given to him through a small hole in the wall, and always brought when it was dark. The place was long and narrow, being not over four feet wide, and perhaps five times as long. The only light which came to the cell was through a small grated aperture at the top, and this let in only enough to enable the youth to see the walls of his prison, and at times to gain a faint view of the loved picture which he still possessed. Assad had not yet suffered much from confinement, for the prison was a new one, and the dungeon was clean and quite well ventilated, though in all probability those who constructed the place had never thought of this thing. But the aperture through which the food was handed in, was near the floor, and admitted fresh air from the long corridor without, while the hole in the top, which was only made for light, served admirably for conducting off the impure air. The prisoner felt much anxiety concerning his own fate, but far more concerning the fate of his beloved. Not that he feared any one would harm her by physical punishment, but he feared she had once more fallen into the hands of the Syndic of the merchants, and that she would be forced to marry with his son Hassan.
On the morning of the fourth day of Assad's confinement, the door of the dungeon was opened, and a black slave entered, whom the youth at once recognized as Mesrour, the chief of the caliph's eunuchs and executioner. He was a stout, fleshy man, significant of good living, and a fair share of humanity in his composition.
"You are named Assad?" said the eunuch, as he stood before the prisoner and surveyed him narrowly.
"Such is my name, O, servant of my most holy and beloved prince."
"I have come to inform you that on the morrow you die," said Mesrour, speaking very calmly and carefully.
"Is it determined that I must suffer death for what I have done?" asked the youth, tremulously.
"What else could you expect?"
"But I was most hotly provoked."
"Ah, young man," returned the executioner, shaking his head dubiously, "could such an excuse suffice you, then not an officer in all Bagdad would be safe. If the Commander of the Faithful were to excuse you on the grounds you can offer, then his rule would be as nought, and murder become a pastime. Our master knows your affair, and he bid me recite it to you to find if you would deny any of it. Thus hath it been represented to him: The mamlouk Danish, with ten others, was sent out by the caliph to search for you—or, mayhap, sent by a cadi—but you know Haroun the just must own his cadi's doings as his own. Danish found you, and with you were two female slaves who had run away from our master's Syndic. Also with you was found a horse belonging to the black slave, Marouf. So Danish took you whom he found, and left five of his mamlouks to bring Marouf. Marouf slew the five mamlouks, and then was wounded while attempting to gain an opportunity to liberate you. In the meantime, you did the deed that has cost you your life. Danish was informed that the damsel Morgiana had put bhang into the beverage which the officers were to drink for supper. He went to the pot and found it so, and thereupon he struck the offender a simple blow upon the face, when he would have been justified in chopping off her head. And no sooner had he done this simple thing than you drew your sword and laid Danish dead at your feet. Now look and see if I have spoken truly?"
"It is all true—every word. I can deny none of it," returned Assad, sadly.
"Now what would be the state of affairs in our city of peace, if others could do with impunity as you have done? No cadi would dare to give judgment—no executioner would dare to do his duty—no mamlouk would dare to arrest an offender—and even the Prince of the Faithful himself would fear to pass judgment upon offenders, for fear some offended friend might feel it his duty to strike the vicegerent dead."
"But yet my case was peculiar," urged Assad. "Suppose the Lady Zobeide were to be struck upon the face with sufficient force to prostrate her—what think you the caliph would do, if he stood by and saw it?"
"By Allah! the wretch would die such a death as never mortal man died yet," hotly answered Mesrour, for he loved the gentle Lady Zobeide, and was her chief servant in all matters of importance.
"And yet," pursued Assad, "the caliph loves Zobeide no better than I love the gentle damsel whom I saw thus brutally struck down. I know Morgiana did what was legally wrong, and yet you cannot say there was much wrong in it, for she meant only a simple plan of escape from her captors. The bhang would only have stupefied them for awhile had they drank of it, and then they would have awakened as well as ever, and only found themselves minus a little wit. But even had the mamlouk bound the damsel I would not have said a word—I could have borne that, for 'twould have been right; but to see her brutally struck down as though she had been a dog, I could not remain calm. Will you not tell the caliph this?"
"'Twould be of no use," returned the eunuch, shaking his head. "The caliph cannot judge of the feelings which prompt these acts; he can only judge of the acts themselves when such a deed transpires. No, no—'twould be of no use, though I will tell him all you say. But now listen to my business: Because you are to die on the morrow, I have come this morning to inform you that you may see any man you wish, so if you have any affairs to arrange he may do it for you. This is a favor I always grant to the true believers. Name any one man whom you would see, and he shall be sent to you if we can find him."
Assad was but a few moments in making up his mind as to the friend he would send for.
"Near the great bazaar of the merchants of Balsora," he said "is the shop of an old lamp-mender, named Mokanna. I would see him. If he cannot be found in his shop, let him be sent for throughout the city. Let the cadi of each quarter send forth a crier, for the old man may have moved."
"Think you he would do better than your old master, the Syndic?" asked Mesrour, candidly.
For a moment Assad was puzzled, but his wits came to him quickly, and he promptly replied:
"Elkader is quick of temper, and unforgiving when loss falls upon him. Then how will he act for me who am thus to be made the instrument of his loss? He will come to me rather with enmity and hatred in his bosom, and I do not wish for that in my last moments."
"You are right, my son; and I will at once order the man of whom you speak to be sent in to you."
"One word more," cried our hero, as Mesrour was about departing. "What of Marouf?"
"No. In the place of execution."
"Upon the river?"
"And am I to be executed thus? as a common felon?"
"It must be so."
"Allah have mercy!" groaned the poor youth, bowing his head and bursting into tears.
When the prisoner looked up again he was alone. He started to walk across the dungeon, and for awhile he felt like cursing the power that had doomed him to death; but when he came to reflect, he remembered that society must be governed by a set of sure laws, and he knew that one of those laws he had broken. He had slain an officer of the caliph, while that officer was simply in discharge of his duty. The mamlouk was rough and unkind to the damsel, but then he had caught her in an act which startled him. In short, the youth was forced to acknowledge that before men his sentence would be looked upon as just. Yet he feared not to enter the presence of his Maker, for though this one deed had darkened his hand, yet he felt that his soul was free from guile.
The day passed slowly on, and towards its close the door of the cell was again opened, and this time Mokanna entered. He was no longer habited as a lamp-mender, but had on the rich garb of an astrologer, quaintly worked with mystic devices. His face wore an expression of deep trouble and anxiety, and his hand trembled as he embraced the prisoner.
"Alas, my son," he said, "I knew not of this until to-day. I had got all prepared to follow you to the mountain Laban, when I heard the crier in the quarter of Khodijah summoning me to visit you in prison. Only this morning I returned from Balsora. What is all this? and how has it happened?"
Assad went on and related the whole story from beginning to end, and when he had finished, the old man said:
"My son, I blame you not for anything you have done, only you should have known better than to—But I wont find fault now."
"Speak on, father. Speak to me what you had begun."
"Well, I was only going to remark that you should not have kept on when your horses had once hesitated, and you knew not where you were going. But God may have had a special wisdom in this, and we will not reflect upon it now. In your striking off the head of the mamlouk, you betrayed only the hot blood of youth, and even though that one deed may have scattered all my hopes to the four winds of heaven, yet I will not blame you."
The youth gazed inquiringly on his visitor, without replying.
"You wonder to see me in this strange dress," resumed Mokanna. "But mark you, this is but one of many I sometimes wear. But let that part of the business pass, for if you escape this pitfall, we shall find plenty of time hereafter to speak of this, and if you do not escape, then you will not need to know."
"But is there no hope?" asked Assad, eagerly.
"I cannot tell," answered Mokanna, trying to conceal some of the pain he experienced. "O, I wish I had known of this when it first happened, for then I might have—have—helped you."
"You mean, saved me?" cried the youth, catching the old man by the arm.
"Yes, yes, Assad—I could have saved you."
"Then why not save me now? O, why not now? God help you! God help you! Save me now!"
"'Tis too late, I fear!" And as the old man thus spoke, he bowed his head and burst into tears. He had struggled with his emotions, but he could keep them back no longer.
Assad approached him and sank down upon his knees.
"Who are you? O, if I am to die, at least let me know who it is that thus weeps for me. I know you have meant well for me—that you planned for me a paradise on earth—and but for my own mishaps I might now have been happy, at least. Tell me, who are you?"
"It can effect you nothing to know. I am the old lamp-mender, Mokanna; and I am the astrologer, El Zebak; and some call me Ben Hamed el Koord. But what matters it to you?"
"Nothing, if you will not tell me," answered Assad, sadly. "I had only hoped to know who——"
"Speak on, my son."
"No, no, I will not urge you further on this point. Only—pardon me the thought—I wondered if in this wide world I owned a kindred bond?"
"You are wrong, Assad. No blood of mine runs in your veins, even of the generations of our people. I know not that you have a relative living."
"So I have felt, my father. And now let it pass. None will mourn me, save one."
"Ah, Assad, many shall mourn thee, even here in Bagdad—many whom thou hast befriended."
"Perhaps they will. But I spoke of one in particular. Can you tell me aught of her?"
"Ay, my child—I can. She is with Ali Shir; and on her account you need not fear, for I can take her from there at any moment. She has not yet become Hassan's wife, nor will she, though he is full sure of possessing her."
Assad thanked God for the safety of his beloved, and, then there followed a silence of some minutes. Both seemed too oppressed, and both seemed to have thoughts they wished not to speak. But the old man broke the silence.
"My child, I must not remain here, for if I am to help you, I must be at work. O, would to God I had known this even this morning, for here in Bagdad I have no friends in power. But let us not lose all hope. I have some ground for hope yet. But see—the night is, already coming, and I have only the night in which to work, for if you die it will be on the hour before the caliph gives audience—at early morning."
"So early?" groaned Assad.
"Yes. But, that matters not, so long as it be ere noonday."
Mokanna arose from the rough couch upon which he had been sitting and turned towards the prisoner. Big tears were upon his cheeks, and his lips trembled with deep emotion. He opened his arms and Assad sank upon his heaving bosom. The old man kissed that fair, white brow, and then put the youth gently back upon the pallet.
"I will be with thee in the morning—to save thee if I can—to—to—pray for thee if thou diest! Farewell. God sees you—hears you—is with you. Forget him not!"
In a moment more the old man was gone, and the prisoner was once more alone with only the Eternal One to see and hear. His eyes rested a moment upon the spot where last he had seen Mokanna stand, and then he fell fainting on the pavement!
ALI SHIR was easily persuaded by his son to give his consent to the marriage with Morgiana, notwithstanding the resolution he had formed since the damsel had run away. The merchant loved his son, for it was his only child, and moreover, he had some pride to see that son have a beautiful wife. Twice had Hassan seen Morgiana since the night of her return, and though the maiden could not appear very happy in his company, yet he did not think how much she disliked him. His own self-love blinded him.
It was on the very morning that Mesrour visited Assad in the prison, and Morgiana and Elsena sat alone in the apartment where we have seen them once before. The attendant had thus far contrived to hide the most bitter feelings that had rankled in her bosom, though she could not disguise the simple fact that she hated the girl whom she had been appointed to serve. But of this Morgiana took but little note. The love of Hassan occupied all her bitter thoughts, so she had none left for her maid. While she had the prospect of marriage with the young merchant before her, she could give room to no other cause of anguish; so the bitterness of Elsena passed her without other effect than the simple pain of feeling that one whom she had never wronged should thus turn coldly from her in the hour when she needed all sympathy. She never dreamed that Elsena held a revengeful feeling towards her.
Thus were the girls sitting, when Hassan entered the apartment. He bade Elsena retire, and she walked off as before, and in the outer chamber she removed her shoes, and then returned noiselessly to the closet, and placed her eye to the rent in the seam of the curtain.
"Beloved of my soul," he said, as soon as he supposed that the attendant was out of the way, "how much longer must I remain thus alone and miserable? By Allah, it must not be. You have had time enough, and surely you are now rested from your fatigue. You show no signs of it now."
Morgiana was troubled, for she knew not what excuse she could offer now.
"Beloved," pursued Hassan, "I have set to-morrow for our nuptials, and the guests have been invited. Your eyes shall be struck with wonder when they rest upon the magnificence I have created for your future home, and your heart shall be made glad when you see the comfort I have provided for you in the home to which you are to repair as queen. Say, light of my soul, does not this please you?"
"I am but your slave," the fair girl replied, "and must do as you say."
"No, no, beloved," Hassan cried, clasping the beautiful damsel to his bosom. "You are my queen, my mistress—and your word shall be obeyed."
"Then let me——"
"Stop," interrupted the youth, seeming to understand what the maiden would say, "you are not my queen until you become my wife; so until then you must obey me. To-morrow must be our wedding day. I am resolved upon that. I know it will not be displeasing to you."
Morgiana pondered for some moments, but she dared not reply in the negative, for she knew full well that with all his love, Hassan could be all revenge in an instant should she provoke him to it. She had asked herself the question a hundred times if there was any possible way of escape, and she had been forced to acknowledge that there was not. So, with a sinking, fainting heart, she said:
"I hear and obey. Command me as you please, for I am your slave."
"Ay," cried Hassan, in raptures, "'tis your love has made you so. O, would that this day had not been, for then the morrow would have had its place, and we should not have been so long separated. But the time will soon come. To-day, and to-night, you must rest alone with only Elsena to bear you company, but beyond that comes the light of our life's bright day."
For a long while Hassan remained and poured out his love in verses, and in explanatory sayings, and finally he arose, to depart. He stood and gazed into the beautiful features before him, and then clasping his hands he exclaimed:
"O, the sun in the clear morning is not so beautiful as my loved."
"She would shame the full moon, and cause the evening star to hide its face."
"As the opening flower smiles beneath the warm sunbeams, and as it gaineth strength in the gently falling dew—
"So warms my heart beneath thy genial smile, and my soul gaineth new life in the dew of thy love."
Morgiana bowed her head, for these verses could not please her. Yet Hassan thought when he saw her movement, that she was deeply moved in love for him.
"Let thy heart rest until the morrow," he said, "and then we shall separate no more. The bridesmaids will call thee early."
Thus speaking the young merchant left the apartment, and shortly afterwards Elsena returned. She wore a dark, revengeful look, but Morgiana noticed it not. The fair girl arose and went into her sleeping-room, and Elsena watched her departing form with a fiendish expression. She was upon the point of following her mistress, when some one called to her in a whisper from the opposite way. She turned and beheld her mother. This latter woman was also one of Ali Shir's slaves, and she was the same one who had let the slave of the merchant of Mosul, Califa, into the house on that evening when he came for Morgiana, but found her not. Eljelis, for such was the name of Elsena's mother—loved Morgiana no better than her daughter did, for she had long hoped that her own child might be the young merchant's wife, and hence she had been ready to prepare the way of Califa when he came to seek the maiden.
The old woman beckoned to her daughter to follow her, and she did so. Eljelis led the way to her own apartment, which was in an extreme part of the building, and having closed the door she turned to Elsena.
"What is there now, my child, between Hassan and Morgiana? for I saw him enter her apartment two hours since, and he has but just left. What is it?"
"The time is set for the ceremony," replied Elsena, angrily.
"By Allah—it shall not be, my child."
"So have I determined it shall not be," repeated the daughter, with a flashing eye and compressed lips. "Hassan has once said I should be his wife, and now he shall not take another."
"But what do you propose to do?" asked Eljelis, eyeing her daughter sharply.
"Let her find a husband in heaven!"
"sh—! There is no need of that, my child. The merchant of Mosul is here again, and he will take the damsel away. I have seen him, and he wants her this very night."
Elsena started up, and her face grew bright.
"And furthermore," continued the old woman, "don't you see that this will be much better for you? Should Morgiana die, the love of Hassan for her might increase, and he would never cease to mourn for her; but if he is made to think that she has again fled from him, then be may feel only hatred for her, and soon forget her, save when wrath calls her up. After this, if you are careful, you may gain his heart."
Elsena saw it all, and she embraced her mother with gratitude.
"By Allah, O my mother," she said, "you are my angel yet. But are you sure the merchant Califa will be here?"
"Yes. He will be here this very night."
"And what does he want of the damsel?"
"I know not, my child. There is something very mysterious about this matter, and though I would give much to know what it is, yet I will not allow my curiosity to overcome my prudence. Califa has sworn upon the Koran that the girl shall never come back again, and I feel sure from what I could understand, that she has got to die ere she has seen many more days of life, after Califa reaches his journey's end."
"This is fortunate—most fortunate, my mother. And now how shall we work? O, Hassan shall not marry her—she shall not take away my love—and all done without having her blood upon our hands. But when will the merchant come?"
"He will be here precisely at midnight. And he must take Gulnare, too, for I fear that she is versed somewhat in our secret. I know she has watched both you and me. So she must not only be out of the way, but if she goes it will have much the appearance of her having fled with her mistress again. If you will attend to Morgiana, I will see to Gulnare."
As the old woman thus spoke, she arose and went to a private closet, from whence she took a little phial of earthen ware and a bottle. When she came out to the light she poured from the bottle a small quantity of brownish colored fluid into the phial, and then handed the latter vessel to her daughter.
"Then," she said, "take that and put it into the drink which your mistress will take last before she goes to bed. That will cause her to sleep so soundly that she cannot be awakened for several hours. I might use the powder of bhang, but I fear she would detect it, for she knows well its pungent taste, having used it so often as a medicine in her doctoring of the slaves. But this liquid you can easily dispose of. Only remember—all may depend upon the giving of it, for should you miss the opportunity, or put it in something which she will not drink, she cannot be taken away to-night—and then to-morrow she may be the wife of Hassan."
"Fear not," returned Elsena, as she hid the phial away in her bosom. "I will make sure of this. Come to our apartment any time after the third hour of the evening, and you shall find Morgiana under all the influence the contents of this phial can impart."
"Good, my daughter—I think you will be wary and sure. By Allah, Hassan shall yet be my son-in-law; and, when he is, you and I will live for what life is worth. O, we will take ample pay then for these long years of servitude we have passed."
Elsena may not have been quite so well pleased with the thought of having her mother to help her keep house, after she should marry with Hassan, as the old lady was pleased with the thought of doing so, for she knew her parent's temper too well to think of having perfect peace where she had a hand in the rule. However, she let this influence her but little now.
"I must return," the girl said, at the same time rising from the mastabah upon which she had been sitting, "or my young mistress may suspect something, for she must know that I like her not."
"So be it," returned the old Woman. "But remember all I have told thee. If I do not see thee again, do you be in the apartment of your mistress at midnight, and also an hour before that time, for the merchant may be here early."
Elsena promised, and then the mother and daughter separated.
In the meantime Hassan and his father had been a second time busy, and invitations were given to all their friends to be present at the wedding feast. New wine was procured, and all the bakers in that quarter of the city were busy in preparing sweetmeats and rich cakes for the occasion.
Away in her chamber sat Morgiana, and she knew what was going on for the feast. She did not, however, know of that other scheme which also had reference to her.
DURING the remainder of the day, Elsena saw but little of her mistress. She stopped within hearing distance, but Morgiana seemed inclined to remain alone, for she did not call upon her attendant once during the day. Towards evening, however, she rang the little bell, which stood beside her, and Elsena answered to the summons. The attendant started when she saw how pale her young mistress looked, and when she heard her voice she started again, for it was so deep and death-like, it seemed not a voice of earth.
"Elsena," spoke the damsel, "I wish you to do a favor for me. You know Abdalla, the seller of drugs?"
"Yes," returned the girl, regarding her mistress narrowly.
"Go to him and get for me four drachms of wakfah. Speak not of this to any one; but I am not well, and I would use it."
"You do not look well, my mistress," said Elsena, with more of sympathy than she had ever before used to the maiden. "But will you not trust me to prescribe for you?"
"No. Your prescription could not cure the disease I suffer. Listen, Elsena: I know you love Hassan, and if I were out of the way he might make you his wife. Would you not like to be his wife?"
The girl started and turned pale. For the instant it appeared to her that Morgiana knew all her thoughts, but she soon recovered herself, and then replied:
"I will not conceal from you my love of Hassan, my mistress, but I surely would not wish you out of the way."
"I understand," resumed Morgiana, with a light, faint smile; "but I shall not live long. I cannot be Hassan's wife!" she added, seeming to forget to whom she spoke, and only pouring out her soul's deepest feelings. "You will not betray me. I have pondered long upon this, and my mind is made up. I cannot live after my soul's love is dead."
"Dead!" repeated Elsena, in surprise.
"Ay—did you not hear the crier when he made proclamation this afternoon? Assad dies to-morrow morning. Go, Elsena, and get me the wakfah, and I will meet my love in heaven, while I leave yours for you here on earth. O, you will not betray me?"
"No," returned Elsena. "I will not. I will go at once."
Morgiana handed the slave-girl a piece of gold, and then the latter hastened away; but instead of going directly out she repaired to her mother's chamber and told her all that had happened.
"Go and purchase bhang, and bring it here to me," said the old woman, when her daughter had finished speaking. "I can fix it with myrrh and spice so that she cannot tell it from wakfah. Go quickly, and then return."
Elsena hastened away, and instead of purchasing what her mistress had directed, she purchased bhang, and then carried it to her mother. The old woman took it, and having put in a little powdered gum of myrrh, a little aloes, and some high spice, she mixed it all thoroughly up, and then put it back into the box which the drug-seller had labelled, "wakfah" at Elsena's particular request.
"Now," said Eljelis, "carry this in to her, but be sure that you watch her narrowly, and if she does not take of this before the third hour from this time, give her what is in the phial. Do not trust to her taking this, for she may not mean to die until morning, and she knows that the poison for which she has sent requires only a few moments for its operation."
So Elsena returned to her mistress and delivered the box. Morgiana saw the label in Abdalla's own hand, and she thought all was right. She put it in her bosom, and then told her attendant she would have some food. Elsena procured the food, and then placed herself where she could watch the damsel's motions. An hour passed, and night had fairly come. Then two hours more passed, and yet Morgiana had not opened the little box. In a few moments afterward she called Elsena to her side.
"Bring me some water to drink," she said, "and infuse it with sweet cinnamon, and after that I will retire for awhile."
Elsena hastened away and procured the water in a golden goblet, and having sweetened it with the syrup of cinnamon, she poured in the contents of her phial. This she carried to the damsel, and she drank it at once. The attendant then set the goblet away, and ere long afterwards Morgiana allowed her head to recline upon the arm of the couch, and in a few moments she was buried in a deep, profound slumber. Elsena hastened away to her mother, and there she found Gulnare also asleep.
"Fear not," said Eljelis, with a meaning smile. "Your step will not awaken her. But how is the mistress?"
"She sleeps soundly."
"Well. Now all we have to do is, to keep a strict watch, and wait for the merchant. He will be here anon. Return to your apartment, so that if any one of the household should call for Morgiana you can tell them she sleeps—that she was weary, and needed repose."
"And mark ye," said the daughter, "I think we have saved the poor thing's life."
"Verily we have, my child. She would surely have killed herself, had it not been for us."
And with this pious reflection the mother and child separated.
Two hours later, and a dark figure moved up from the street, and entered the court of Ali Shir's dwelling, and in a moment more it was followed by a second. Both of these objects met at the door of the house, and after waiting some few moments the door was opened, and they entered with a noiseless tread. As soon as the light which Eljelis carried shone in their faces it revealed the features of Califa and his black slave Ozmud. Gulnare had been brought down to Morgiana's apartments, and thither the old woman led the way.
Califa stood by the couch upon which Morgiana rested, and a look of fiendish triumph rested upon his face as he gazed upon the sleeping beauty.
"By Allah!" he muttered to himself, "were ever two things more alike!"
"What?" said the old woman, "d'ye call those two alike?" pointing to Gulnare, and then to her mistress.
"No, no. Here is what, I mean," answered Califa; and as he spoke, he drew a square case from his pocket and opened it.
Both Eljelis, and Elsena held up their hands in astonishment, for they beheld within the case, which was of tanned leather, the exact picture of Morgiana.
"What does it mean?" asked the old woman. "Whence came that?"
"Ho—I found it," answered the merchant, evasively. "But let us waste no time here. Here is the purse—it is filled with gold, and it is yours. Go you on ahead and open the doors."
The old woman took the purse, and having weighed it in her hand, and looked in just sufficiently to see the color of the money, she placed it in her bosom, and then prepared to lead the way. Gulnare was light, and Califa took her up in his arms, while Ozmud, who was stouter than his master, took Morgiana. Then with slow and careful steps they made their way down into the court—through the garden—to the edge of the river, where a boat was in readiness. The sleeping maidens were placed upon a soft couch near the stern, which had been prepared on purpose, and in a few moments more they were sailing away all unconscious of the night-voyage they were so mysteriously taking.
In the meantime, Elsena and her mother had remained talking together and dividing the gold, and when two hours had elapsed, Eljelis prepared two opiates of bhang, one of which she gave to her daughter, and reserving the other for herself.
"You will take this," she said, "and then we shall be found in the morning insensible, and our master will be assured that Morgiana hath done it all."
It was done as the old woman said, and ere long both mother and daughter were locked in the embrace of sleep.
In the morning, at a fair hour, Hassan repaired to Morgiana's apartment, and in going thither he had to pass through the room where the attendant slept and he was not a little surprised to find Elsena still asleep. But be did not disturb her. He kept on until he reached the apartment where his beloved usually sat, but she was not there. He stood a few moments in doubt, for he liked not to enter her bed-room; but after awhile he thought he would merely look in, and he did so. Morgiana's bed was not only unoccupied, but it had not been touched during the night. He entered the room and looked around, and he passed into the adjoining closet; but the object of his search was not to be found. He hastened back to where he had left Elsena, and seizing her by the shoulder; he shook her severely, but she did not answer him. He then thought that the girl might be frightened if she found him by her bed, and he hastened away, and calling two of the female slaves he bade them go and awaken Elsena as soon as possible. They obeyed him, and ere long they returned and informed him that the girl was awake, though quite sick. Hassan hastened up, and found Elsena vomiting.
"How is this?" he asked, laying his hand on her shoulder.
"Some one has given me bhang, my master," she replied.
"But where is Morgiana?"
"Is she not in her room?"
"No—she is not in any of them."
"Then I cannot inform you where she is," replied Elsena, with much apparent wonderment. "I was with her last evening, and we sat together until very late, for she said she wanted me to keep her company. When I was tired, she fixed some water scented with cinnamon syrup, and gave me to drink. I remember of feeling sleepy after that, and that is all."
At this moment one of the girls came running in to announce to Elsena that her mother was dead. The girl uttered a cry of terror and started off, Hassan followed close behind her. They found old Eljelis upon her bed, but Hassan quickly saw that she only slept, so he bade some of those present to shake her severely. This was done, and after awhile the woman waked up. Her face was pale, and it was some time ere she seemed to comprehend what was passing about her.
"How is this?" Hassan asked, shaking her by the shoulder. "What have you been doing?"
"Ah!" she uttered, feigning to be very angry, "where is that little evil sprite of a Gulnare? She has served me a trick. Last night, my master, we were sitting here, together—for you know your father, bless him, gave the girl in charge to me—when she arose and told me she had some very lovely syrup of roses; and thereupon she prepared some in water, and gave me to drink. I felt sleepy shortly afterwards, and when the drink moved in my stomach I knew I could taste bhang; but before I could make any movement to get rid of it, my senses left me. But where is she? By Allah! I'll punish her for this."
Search was made for Gulnare, but she was not to be found, and after a while Hassan knew that Morgiana had again fled from him. Rage filled his bosom, and he swore he would find her if he had to search to the uttermost parts of the earth. He sought his father, and together they planned for the search.
"By the Book of books—the voice of the Prophet!" cried Hassan, smiting himself upon the breast, "this is too much. But how can she have gone? Let us send out our slaves at once throughout the city—let the criers be paid to proclaim our loss and offer a reward, and let us send off the mamlouks as before."
And upon each road that led from the city a party of mamlouks were soon in pursuit.
WHEN Assad returned to consciousness he found himself lying upon the cold floor of his prison, and all was dark as Erebus about him. He soon remembered where he was, and slowly rising to his feet he groped his way to the low couch which stood at one end of the dungeon. There he lay down, and at length he fell into an uneasy slumber. When he next awoke the light of day was just beginning to shine into the place. He arose and said his prayers, and then he commenced to pace up and down the narrow prison-house. Two long hours dragged slowly, heavily away, each particular minute seeming a lifetime of agony and fear.
At length the door of the dungeon was opened, and two black slaves made their appearance. They approached and bound his arms behind him, but they did not speak. He asked them if they were to take him to the place of execution, but they made him no answer.
"Will you not speak one word?" he cried, alter he had asked them thrice.
They gazed a moment into his face, and then one of them placed his finger upon his dark lips, and then upon his ear, at the same time shaking his head significantly. They were both mutes.
As soon as they had bound his arms behind him, they led him forth from the dungeon and conducted him up a flight of stone steps to a room where he found Marouf in charge of two other blacks.
"Alas, Marouf," said the youth, "we have lived our lives here on earth!"
"Do you think they will kill you, too?" Marouf asked, eagerly.
"Yes, I am soon to die!"
"O, I could not believe they would do it," uttered the faithful slave, while the big tears gathered in his eyes. "Why should they take one so young and so fair?"
"Youth is nothing in the eye of law, Marouf. I am as guilty as thou art, and more so, if anything; for you slew the mamlouks only in self-defence, while I did it in anger and revenge."
"But I slew five of them, while you only slew one. O, they must not kill you."
"Think not of me, my noble friend. Think only of yourself; and let your heart be turned to your God. Pray to him, Marouf, for we have nothing more to hope for on earth."
Thus Assad spoke, but yet there was a faint hope in his bosom that he might see Mokanna, and that he might bear some message of good.
Soon ten mamlouks came, and five of them took Assad, while the other five took Marouf, and thus they marched out into the court of the prison, down to the bank of the river, and then along towards the caliph's palace, where the place of execution was. Assad looked to the right, and left among those who had collected about the way, but he could see nothing of Mokanna. At some distance ahead he saw a sort of leewan built, and he knew this was the place where criminals died. It was directly under a wing of the palace, and actually upon the grounds which belonged to the sublime residence. Then Assad's mind went up to the one man on earth who could speak the word that might save his life. Within that majestic building was Haroun—perhaps at this moment toying with some new slave, or mayhap, quietly eating his breakfast; and yet what was he but a man? What was he in the great book of life, but a man like his subjects, and yet he could slay whom he pleased. No angry passion need dwell in his bosom, for his revenge was ever at hand. He might kill a thousand more from among the people.
"O," thought Assad to himself, while these thoughts dwelt upon his mind, "how easy for that man to speak the simple word that might save me! Who could be harmed by my living? and who shall be benefited by my dying? But my fate is cast, and I must die! Yet, where is Mokanna? He promised to meet me here."
At length the party reached the place of execution, and Assad saw Mesrour standing there with a piece of parchment in his hand, while near him, and in the act of speaking, with him, stood Mokanna. Tears were rolling down the old man's cheeks, and his hands were clasped. Soon he turned and saw the youth, and with a heavy step he approached.
"Assad," he said, extending his hand, "all is lost! I can do no more! God be with you, and conduct you to the company of angels and those made blessed. I have done all I can—and—it is nothing! I shall not long survive this blow. I hope to reach the mountains in the north, whence I came when I started in search of thee. I hope to drag my weary body there—to tell my sad story—and then my all of earth is done. I shall meet you in the home of the souls of our people, and there we shall find no enemies to do us evil. But I can only bid you farewell, for so Mesrour gave me leave. I had once thanked God that I had found thee, but now the thing is turned to a curse; but I am not to blame for this. O, could you know why I sought you, you would never blame me. But I must—must—leave you. See, Mesrour bids me away. I shall hope—pray——"
The old man had struggled thus far with all his might to keep his speech, but he could do so no longer. With one or two mighty throes his tears burst forth, and with deep, rending sobs he bowed his head, clasped his hands over his brow, and turned from the place. Those who saw him thus wondered much at his emotion, and many thought he was the father of the doomed youth. None knew—none could have surmised, had they received all time in which to form their conjecture, the strange bond that bound that heart-broken old man to one who was not of his kindred in any way.
Mesrour now approached and opened the parchment he held in his hand, and, having commanded silence, he read as follows: "In the name of the Most Merciful God, Haroun al Raschid Commander of the Faithful, to his people of the City of Peace. Our laws have been outraged—our officers have been slain while performing the duty received at my hands. Witness ye, therefore, the fate of those who do thus wickedly, and may my people take warning, for I weep at the sins which thus make dark our glad places. As it is written in the law, so must it be. To him who doeth death without a cause death shall be awarded. God make pure the souls of those who suffer. Let the wicked whose hands are red now die!"
Thus read the executioner, and as he folded up the parchment two slaves stepped forward and tied a bandage over each of the prisoners eyes. Then they were led to the edge of the raised platform, and Mesrour bade the attendants stand back.
"Slaves," he said, to the two stout blacks who stood by with drawn swords in their hands, "can you swear that there exists no enmity in your hearts towards those two prisoners?"
"We swear!" they both answered.
"And can you swear that while you strike the fatal blow you will pray for their souls?"
"Then do your duty. Off with their heads! and may the God of mercy take their souls!"
Assad heard the words that were spoken, and so did another hear them. Mokanna still hung near the spot, as though he would wait until the last moment, and almost seeming, by his heaven-turned eyes and clasped hands, to be looking for an angel to come down and avert the blow. But he heard these last fatal words, and with one deep groan of most piercing anguish, he sank down upon the earth wholly unconscious of the dark scenes he had passed.
Now while all this was passing upon the leewan where the prisoners were, another scene was passing in the palace close at hand. As soon as the people began to collect about the place of execution, the caliph called to his vizier, Giafar the Barmecide, and went forth into the closet which overlooked the scene, and there sat down by a window.
"By the beard of the Prophet, O, Giafar," he cried, when he saw the crowd that had collected, "why do people love to see blood so well?"
"I know not, Prince of the Faithful, save it be from mere curiosity."
"I do not like it," pursued Haroun, thoughtfully. "I like to see an arch enemy die, for there is something there to blunt the sensibilities; but where is the pleasure of seeing a poor youth die who has harmed no one but to strike off a single head in passion? By my head, he must die, for it is so set down in the book, but what care these people?"
"The youth had great provocation for his offence, O prince," said Giafar.
"I know. Mesrour has told me all. But 'twas not offence enough for such a crime."
"I did not mean so, my master. No offence, save the unprovoked and unjust attack upon life, could be sufficient for such a deed. But see—here they come. By Allah, the youth has a noble mien.—And he is comely, too. Do you observe, O prince?"
"Ay, Giafar, I do observe. He is truly a most comely person. But do you observe that black dog behind him? He it was who slew the five mamlouks. By my sacred throne, Giafar, I never saw such hugeness of frame before. See—the very earth seems to shake as he walks upon it now."
"You should have an army of such men, my master."
"By the Book, Giafar, a few such dogs would make an army. What a sword he would wield."
For some minutes after this the two sat and watched the procession in silence, and at length the prisoners had reached the stand.
"See that old man," spoke the caliph. "He it was who was here last night praying for the youth. Have you found out anything concerning him yet?"
"I have made such inquiry as the time would permit," returned the vizier, "but I can learn but little. He came to Bagdad some time ago, and opened a shop near the bazaar of Balsora, where he took in old lamps and metal pottery to mend. About a week or ten days ago he closed the shop, and has since been out of the city."
"See how he embraces the youth and weeps," cried the caliph. "By Allah, Mesrour ought not to allow that, for the sympathies of the people will be aroused, and they will forget the crime of which the youth has been guilty. See how he is affected—and yet he swore to me that he was of no blood with the prisoner. Ah—Mesrour has sent him away now.—-I wish the youth would turn his face this way."
"Wait, my master. Mesrour is about to read the proclamation, and when he does so they will both look this way."
"See, Giafar—the old man is going away. See how he clasps his hands to his brow. By Allah, his agony must be deep and of the heart."
"Look, my master—Mesrour is demanding silence. We shall see now."
"Giafar, I have seen that face before. Ay—by Allah, and the huge black's, too."
"So have I, prince. But then you know we see many faces. By my beard, my master, he is a comely youth."
"We Have settled that before, thou dog of a vizier. Now tell me where I have seen that face? Look! See you not the tears that run down his cheeks. By heaven, Giafar, if you do not tell me where I have seen that face, I'll swear thou art losing thy senses. Can you not think?"
"Ho, my master," cried the prime minister, jumping up and clapping his hands, "I do remember now. Do you not remember that night when you and I went out upon the Tigris in the small boat, and got overturned—and when we should have surely perished had it not been for two men who came to our assistance?"
"By Allah, Giafar, I do remember. We were disguised as merchants then. 'Twas that black dog that saved me, and the comely youth was his master that grasped you."
"And where would the Commander of the Faithful have been but for them?" added the vizier.
"By heaven, he'll have been food for the fishes of the Tigris. What, ho! Mesrour! By Allah, the black dog of a eunuch has pronounced the sentence! Ha, and there go the executioners! Cry out, Giafar—What ho, Mesrour! Hold there! Slay that youth, and by the God of my fathers your own head stall hang higher than—Hold! Mesrour!"
"He hears us, my master," uttered the vizier, as he noticed that Mesrour had turned towards the window.
"Then tell him to stay the execution, and send the prisoners up before me. Your lungs are better than mine, and you are more used to brawling."
"Ay, when there's brawling to be done for somebody's good."
"Silence, thou dog of a vizier, and do as I bid thee, for see—those two black wretches still hold their murderous swords ready for the work. Now call with all your might."
ASSAD bowed his head, and with one thought of Morgiana—one thought of his God—he awaited the death-stroke. There was one other thought went quickly, dimly, through his mind, of the mystery which enveloped the old man who had left him but a few moments before, and he wondered if he should see it cleared up in the world of spirits. Thus was he pondering when he heard a distant cry, and in a moment more he heard the voice of Mesrour ordering the executioners to stay their hands. A sudden bursting of wild hope made him almost senseless, yet he could distinguish that same distant voice calling eagerly out, and he was sure he heard Mesrour speak the name of the caliph. In a few moments more some one took him by the arm and raised him to his feet, and when the bandage was removed from his eyes he saw Mesrour standing by him, and he also saw Marouf upon his feet, and the bandage being also taken from his eyes.
"What means all this?" Assad at length made out to ask.
"The caliph has commanded me to bring you before him," answered Mesrour.
"And am I safe?"
"I know no; but yet I should advise you to hope, for the prince is not wont to stay the execution of those to whom he means harm. But follow me now, for the caliph waits for us."
The people wondered much when they saw this movement, and those who stood near the palace, and heard the words of the caliph, now looked upon the youth with feelings of curiosity and sympathy, and they showed by their looks that they were pleased with the turn affairs had taken—save only a few, however, such as are to be found everywhere in great towns, who had come to see blood shed, and were disappointed at the prospect of being obliged to return to their houses without the pleasure of seeing, a head chopped off.
Among those who betrayed the most emotion at this new scene was Mokanna. He at first came nigh fainting from excess of joy, but he quickly recovered himself, and made his way to the youth's side, where he waited for an opportunity to speak with him. He grasped Assad warmly by the hand, and then he whispered in his ear:
"Something has occurred in your favor," he said; "and I know the disposition of the caliph well enough to know that he will immediately wish to hear your story. But beware that you do not speak concerning the pictures I gave you, nor must you make mention of them in any way. He will ask you, too, concerning me, and you must tell him that you know nothing save that I am your friend. Be careful——"
At this moment Mesrour came up and took Assad by the arm, and Mokanna was forced to step aside. The distance to the palace was short, and ere long the youth and Marouf stood in the presence of the Commander of the Faithful.
"Look up, my son," spoke Haroun, "and see if you recognize me?"
Assad obeyed, and a cry of surprise broke from his lips, when he recognized in the august successor of the prophet the very merchant whom Marouf had dragged from the Tigris on the night of his flight from the city. And then he was not long in recognizing Giafar, also, as the one whom he had helped notwithstanding the white beard was gone.
"You know us, then?" spoke the caliph.
"Yes, O, Commander of the Faithful. I recognize you as one whom I met——"
"Never mind where. I see you know me; and that is enough. By Allah, you came nigh losing your head, but God, who is all-wise and most merciful, showed me your face, and my heart yearned towards you. Here, Mesrour, go you forth to the cadi of each quarter, and bid them that they cause proclamation to be made that the execution is stayed, and that they announce that these two men not long since saved the life of the caliph, and also the life of the vizier, Giafar the Barmecide."
Mesrour bowed his head, and then departed, and when he was gone the caliph once more turned to Assad.
"Now tell me thy story," he said, "for there must be something strange in it."
So Assad commenced and related how he had first seen Morgiana, when he went to carry the jewels to her master's house. He told how he loved her, and how she loved him, and how she was very sad and unhappy with the thoughts of marrying the Syndic's son. So he fled with her from the city, and in so doing he sought the assistance of Marouf as a companion. And from this he went on to tell all that had happened to him, save that he spoke not of the eunuchs and mamlouks of nor told anything of that part of his adventures, thus making it appear that his only enemies were those in Bagdad.
"By Allah," cried Haroun, after the youth had concluded, "thy adventures have been most wonderful, and if the Lady Morgiana be not already married she shall be thy wife. What ho! Send hither some mamlouks."
The mamlouks came quickly, and the caliph ordered them to repair at once to the dwelling of Ali Shir, the Syndic of the merchants, and bring him and his slave-girl Morgiana up to the palace.
After this the caliph turned again to Assad, and asked him who the old man was that had wept with him at the place of execution?
"I only know that he has claimed a warm friendship for me," retained the youth: "that his name is Mokanna, and that he was a mender of lamps. I never knew him until a day or two before I met him upon the bridge. It seems to be a curious case of sudden attachment, such as your majesty may have before heard of."
"Very likely," returned the caliph. And then he went on to speak of more general matters, until the mamlouks returned bringing only the Syndic with them.
"How now?" cried Haroun. "Where is the damsel?"
"Commander of the Faithful," uttered Ali Shir, bending upon his knees and bowing his head, "the damsel has fled."
"Fled!" gasped Assad, starting forward.
"Fled?" repeated the caliph, with a look of incredulity. "Beware, Ali Shir, for if you speak falsely now, thy head shall surely pay the penalty!"
"She has fled, O caliph, and I know not whither she has gone. Last night it was arranged that she should marry with my son to-day; but during the night she administered bhang to her attendants, and this morning she was missing. We have made strict search for her, but thus far she has eluded our vigilance."
"Then she fled so that she might escape thy son?" said the caliph. "Is it not so?"
The Syndic hung down his head and made no reply.
"Speak, slave, and answer me: Did she not flee from thy son?"
"She may have done so, Commander of the Faithful."
"Ay—thou knowest she did so. Now haste thee and see that all the forces thou canst command are on this search, and when the maiden is found let her brought hither. Do you hear?"
"Yes, O my master, and I will obey."
"Mark ye, Ali Shir. Let not your son speak with the damsel again until I have seen her."
The merchant bowed and withdrew, and then the caliph turned to Assad.
"Thou hearest what has been said, my son, now what wilt thou do?"
"O, Commander of the Faithful," returned the youth, "if I dared ask of thee my wish, thou shouldst know it quickly."
"By Allah, speak, and it shall be done for thee."
"Then I would ask that Marouf may be given to me for mine and I be set at liberty to go where I please."
"And where shouldst thou go?"
"Instantly to seek my beloved, for she would not flee from me when she saw me, as she would from the mamlouks."
"Perhaps thou knowest where she has hidden herself?"
"No—by the hopes of a true believer, I do not."
"Then go. The freedom of passage anywhere in my dominions I shall be given thee, and money shall be thine, if thou needst it."
Thereupon the caliph bade his vizier give to the youth two full purses of gold; and after these were brought and handed to Assad, Haroun resumed:
"And now I wish to see thee again when thou hast found thy beloved, for of a truth thou hast fastened upon my heart. I cannot forget that but for thee, I should have been a mass of rotten and corrupted fish food; and if thou wilt but give me opportunity, I will prove my gratitude. But haste thee now, for I see plainly that thou art only chafing with impatience here."
With tears in his eyes Assad thanked the caliph for his kindness, and then turned away from the palace, followed by Marouf. As he had expected he found Mokanna near at hand, and as soon as they had reached a convenient place the youth told what had occurred.
"By the powers of heaven," cried the old man, "then the damsel has been carried away again!"
"No," said Assad; "she must have made her escape of her own accord, for her attendants were found this morning stupefied with bhang, and she was missing."
"Listen!" returned Mokanna, while his face showed much anxiety. "When the damsel went away before with you, all the female attendants were found on the next morning in the same situation, and Ali Shir thinks even now that she did it herself, while the truth is—some one went for her after she was gone!"
"How?" uttered Assad, in surprise.
"Why, my son, at the moment when you were planning to escape with Morgiana, the same enemies who caused your capture, and from whose emissaries you escaped, had servants in Bagdad for the purpose of capturing both you and her. And now mark me: yesterday I saw the man who calls himself Califa here in the city, and a black slave was with him. I knew then what his mission was, but I did not think he would make a movement last night. As sure as you are alive, this pretended merchant has carried the damsel off."
"But how could he have gained access to the house? O, my father, may you not be mistaken?"
"No, my son. I know it must be so. There are traitors in the merchant's dwelling—be sure of that. But we can make sure very easily. Let us go to the khan where Califa put up, and if he has gone we may be assured that Morgiana has gone with him."
Mokanna knew well where the man had stopped, and he led the way at once to the palace. There they made inquiries of the keeper, and he informed them that Califa had left the night before.
"Do you know which way he went?" asked Mokanna. "He is known to me, and I had promised to meet him here. He will, I fear, commit a great error if he does not see me."
"Then, you may be the one of whom he spoke," returned the publican.
"I must be," said Mokanna, assuming the eagerness of perfect candor. "What did he say?"
"Why—he simply gave me to understand that he was waiting his departure until some one joined him. Last evening he came in, and I thought him in high spirits, so I supposed his business had prospered. He took his things away and I sent a slave to help him."
"Then he did not come back here?"
"No—not after he left. He remained here until the fourth hour of the evening, and he had his goods carried to a boat which we found near the Mosque of Abu Bekr."
"Then he left in the boat, I suppose?"
"Of course he did."
After hearing this, Mokanna and his attendants left the khan, and as soon as they were alone, the old man said:
"Now, you can see. I am sure the wretch has carried her off. And he has taken her by water, too. We must now mount and away, and this time we have no pursuit from Bagdad to fear. Follow me, and I will conduct you to a place where we can find both help and horses."
Assad had now became so used to obeying the will of the old man, that he followed on without question, and though he still felt as much curiosity as ever, yet he resolved to let the mysterious friend reveal the truth when he got ready, trusting that in time he should know all. Mokanna led the way out through the gate of Abu Jaafar, as on the previous occasion, and when he stopped it was at the same cot where he had stopped before. Mahomed was there, having just returned from the river with a basket of fish, and he and Mokanna went off through the wood beyond the cot, and when they returned, they not only brought three stout horses, but they were accompanied by six stout men like mamlouks.
"You must not think that I have been engaged in the black art, or that I have some afrite at command," said the old man, with a smile, "for I have had these men, and these horses, here for some time for this especial purpose. So ask no questions, but accept our services in your behalf, and pray that God may help us all."
Within the cot Assad and Marouf were again furnished with weapons, and soon afterwards the party set out.
"We are on the right track so far, my son," said Mokanna, as he rode by Assad's side.
"Last night—Mahomed says 'twas about midnight—he saw a boat pass up the river, and was sure there was at least one female in it. This morning he found the boat fastened by the shore some distance above here, and in the sand were tracks of female feet, and also of horses. They went to the northward."
Assad's soul was now in arms, and grasping the rein more firmly in his hand he set forward.
"God help me now!"
WHEN Morgiana came to her senses she found herself upon the water, and a man was stooping over her with a phial in his hand. She experienced a tingling sensation about the throat and nose, and as soon as she could command her reasoning powers she knew that she had taken some powerful opiate, and that now some pungent restorative had been administered. She looked up, and by the light of a small lantern which the man held in his hand, she could see that he was rather beyond the middle age of life, and that he had a dark, forbidding countenance. And more, too: she knew him as one whom she had seen several times in the street in front of her master's where he had seemed to be watching her window.
"Where am I?" she asked, as she raised herself upon her elbow, and finally assumed a sitting posture.
"You are safe, lady—so give yourself no uneasiness," answered Califa, for he it was.
"But safe where?" asked Morgiana, looking around, and seeing that the bows of the boat were fast upon the sand at the edge of the river.
"Safe in the care of one who has been long anxious to possess you, and who has now accomplished his desire."
As the man thus spoke he left Morgiana's side and going to the next seat he raised a shawl which covered it, and the rays of the lantern fell upon the face of Gulnare. At any other time the beautiful maiden would have been sad to see her attendant thus carried away, but now her only emotions were those of thankfulness to think that she was to have the girl's companionship. Califa proceeded to pour a small quantity of liquid upon Gulnare's lips, and some he allowed to run into her nostrils. Ere many moments after this, the girl gave a quick start, and finally she sat up. The first object she saw to recognize was her mistress, and she was not at first frightened. But soon she began to comprehend that something unusual had happened, and she asked Morgiana what it meant.
"We are captives again," Morgiana returned, sadly. And then turning to Califa, she asked:
"What do you mean? Why is this—and what will you do with us?"
"I have told you why it is," the man replied; "and as for what I will do with you, I can tell you that better when we reach our destination."
"And where is that?"
Morgiana's heart sank within her, for she felt sure now that she was in the hands of the same power that had fastened upon her once before.
"Come," spoke the merchant, for so he still professed to be, "we must be moving. Here, Ozmud, you help this girl up the bank, while I assist the mistress."
Morgiana made no resistance, and when she had reached the top of the bank she found four horses there. She was quickly lifted to one of the saddles, and as soon as Gulnare had been lifted up, the master and slave mounted, and then they set off! The damsel soon saw that her horse, as well as Gulnare's was not so swift of foot as those which the men rode, so there was no such thing as escape by flight. Beside, Califa had surely understood this, for he allowed the females to ride along together as they chose, and their horses were sure to start up when the master's did.
"My mistress," said Gulnare, after they had been on the road some time, "what do you make of this?"
"It is simply a new page of the strange fate which has come to me," the maiden replied. "We are surely now in the same power which held us before we made our escape from the eunuchs and mamlouks, and in all probability we are to be carried to the same place where they meant to carry us."
"But there is more mystery," resumed Gulnare. "How were we brought from our homes?"
"Ah, Gulnare, there was treachery there. Elsena and her mother are both great villains. I know that Elsena gave me bhang last night when she gave me drink. She fixed me some water with cinnamon, and I know full well that the opiate was in it."
"Ha, I remember now," cried Gulnare. "The old woman mixed me a drink also—only her's was flavored with roses; and from that time I have no memory until I found myself in the boat. But what could have induced them?"
"Gold, Gulnare—gold! This man must have hired them. And then you know Elsena has another reason. She loves Hassan."
The mention of love carried the poor girl's mind back to the fatal proclamation she had heard in the streets of Bagdad on the day before, and her heart sank down again. She only saw her noble lover a cold, bleeding corse, and for some time she could not have spoken if she would.
The city of El Bhan was reached just as the first tints of day-light were appearing in the east, and they stopped at a khan, where the girls were told they could have two hours in which to rest. Here Gulnare tried once more to find if she could not learn something more of the secret of this strange business from her mistress, but she gained nothing.
"Upon my hopes of heaven, Gulnare," returned Morgiana, "I do not know anything of it. The whole thing is as black and deep to me as the very ages of eternity. Were it not for what has befallen Assad, I might think that my beauty had excited some one to send for me thus; but I am sure that is not it. There is something deeper than that—something that has—O, Gulnare, I cannot tell thee. It is too dark—too deep!"
"But where is Assad now, think you?" asked the slave-girl.
Morgiana uttered a low cry, and sank down upon the couch, and for awhile her reason seemed to leave her.
"What is it, my mistress?" Gulnare asked, bending affectionately over her mistress and chafing her temples. "Has evil befallen him?"
"Alas, Gulnare, he is dead!"
"Dead! no, no!"
"Yes. They have killed him!" And as soon as she was able Morgiana told all she knew concerning the terrible affair. She knew the caliph's character, and she knew he never forgave a criminal except something could occur to make his crime lighter. "Alas!" she groaned, in conclusion, "no power on earth can save him! None! none!"
Once more Califa was on the road, and during a whole week he continued the journey in a direction somewhat to the west of north. During this time, Morgiana had thought much of escape, but not once had she found an opportunity to effect any such work. She had not only been watched most narrowly, but her captor had never allowed her to be near any of his food or drink, and on several occasions he had even cast away drink which had passed through her hands. The place where they finally stopped was at a small village, among the Diarbekir mountains, and in what appeared to be a sort of castle, where there were many soldiers dressed in a strange costume, and where Califa appeared to have much power.
An old man, habited in the garb of a sheik, whose name was Abou Ben Aden, took charge of the girls, and conducted them to a suit of apartments which he informed them they would for the present occupy. Morgiana looked sharply into his face to see if she could not find some signs of kindness there. But she found not what she sought. The lines in that face were hard and cold, and she was sure the old man regarded her with a look of malignant triumph.
Towards evening they reached the place, and at an early hour the girls retired. On the following morning they arose, and when they looked forth from their window they were for a few moments speechless with astonishment and admiration at the scene that burst upon their vision. They were in the midst of a mass of wild, rugged mountains, while directly before them stretched away a long vale, bounded by mountains in the distance, through which wound a small river, the green banks of which were dotted here and there by peasants' cots. Away to the left, upon the slope of one of the mountains, and some four leagues distant, they could see a large walled city, the towers and minarets of which were just catching the first beams of the morning sun.
"O," uttered Morgiana, with clasped hands, "were it not for our misfortune how I could love this scene. What a paradise this would be for the home of those who were happy. Alas! that it should be to us a place of such woe and anguish!"
Gulnare could not speak. She could only throw her arms about the neck of her mistress and burst into tears. Thus they remained for some time, and when Gulnare arose it was from the opening of one of their doors, and upon looking up she beheld an old woman of a coarse and repulsive aspect. She had surely seen over fourscore years, and though her body was bent, her flesh all dried and wrinkled, and her teeth all dropped from her head, yet she was of stout frame, and evidently strong of muscle. She greeted the maidens in a tone which was perhaps meant for a mild one, but it sounded harsh.
"You may call me Noam," she said, as she seated herself, and regarded the girls with interest. "I and my husband, Abou Ben Aden, are to have charge of you for the present, and I suppose you would like to know our names. Our noble emir tells us you are two very well-behaved persons."
Morgiana gave a sudden start at these words, but she bowed her head so as not to expose her emotion to the old woman.
"Then the emir speaks well of us, does he?" she replied, hiding her eagerness.
"Indeed he does, and you may look upon yourself as much favored, too, for he assures me that your beauty has touched him deeply. The emir is a powerful man, and very wealthy."
Morgiana turned pale as she heard this, and she grasped Gulnare's arm till the poor slave girl almost cried out with pain.
"Then the emir has noticed me particularly, has he?" the maiden at length said, gradually overcoming the first emotion.
"How could he help it after travelling so long with you? He tells me he has been seven days on the road with you."
"Ay," returned Morgiana, "and during all that time, he has never told me his name."
"Perhaps he had reasons for keeping it to himself," the old woman said, with a hoarse laugh; "for my master is not much liked by the southern princes. His name is Bahader, and he is ruler over Aden, under the great King Becar, who is monarch over all Aden and Diarbekir. His kingdom extends further than any eye can reach, even from the top of the highest mountain; and he has soldiers, and eunuchs, and slaves, such as no man can number them; and his riches are inexhaustible. The caliph of Bagdad is but a boy in power compared with the great Becar."
"And is not Becar a true believer?" asked Morgiana.
"Ay—he is; and he sent aid to Haroun al Raschid when the Roman dog, Nicephorus, needed conquering; but he pays no tribute, for none dare trouble him among his mountain castles and palaces."
Shortly after this, the old woman arose to go and prepare some refreshment for her prisoners, and as soon as she was gone, Morgiana threw herself upon her companion's bosom. She was upon the point of making some remark, when Noam returned and asked the girls if they had any concealed weapons about them? Morgiana made no reply. She had a small dagger which she had secured on the road, at one of the khans she had stopped, and she wished to keep it, and the more especially now since she had heard of the love of the emir, for she had determined in her soul that no foul touch should be laid upon her, even though death must be the barrier. The old woman noticed her look, and with a keen eye she detected its meaning. She advanced and placed her hand upon the maiden's bosom, and in an instant she felt it. She drew it forth, and as she did so, she said:
"You will have no need of this now, for you are safe here. And I am glad, too, you did not lie to me, for I knew you had the weapon. The emir saw you when you took it, and he bade me take it from you, but I came near forgetting it."
Noam then passed her hand over Gulnare's dress, but she found nothing, and with a lurking, evil smile she again left the apartment, but not, however, until she had once more assured the damsel that she would have no need of weapons in a place so secure as was their suite of apartments.
Again, when the door had closed, did Morgiana throw herself upon her attendant's bosom, and this time she burst into tears, for a terrible fear had come to her soul.
AT length Morgiana raised her head, and while a look of intense anxiety worked over her features, she said:
"Surely, Gulnare, this work grows deeper and darker. Do you realize that a powerful emir has been all the way to Bagdad in disguise for the purpose of capturing me? By my soul, I do not comprehend it."
"Do you think he had heard of your surpassing beauty?" suggested Gulnare.
"If he did, that was not the cause of his coming for me," returned Morgiana, confidently. "Ah, there is something deeper, and would to God I knew what it was. But I do not. I have heard of this Emir Bahader, and also of the King Becar. The king is a cruel man, and a tyrant, and I know that the caliph fears to provoke him, for you know it hath been prophesied that when the throne of Bagdad is shaken down it shall be by the powers of the north."
"Ay, my mistress, I have heard of this, and I think may believe it."
"Surely, Gulnare, all reasoning men must believe it, for only think of the wealth which our caliphs are heaping up; and in time to come this vast wealth shall excite the cupidity of the northern hordes, and they will sweep down after it. But this generation will not see the revolution, and perhaps many generations may pass ere it comes."
After this there was a silence of some moments, and then the conversation turned upon the subject of the strange circumstance of their captivity. Gulnare could not be urged from the opinion that her mistress had been brought away solely for her beauty, while Morgiana was persuaded that some other cause lay at the bottom of it. They were at length interrupted by the entrance of Noam with their breakfast, and their conversation ceased just as Morgiana had shown to her companion that Assad had also been sent for, and that both he and herself had rested under the shadow of the same fate ere he was cast into the fatal prison at Bagdad. This staggered Gulnare some in her opinion, but she did not yet give wholly up.
Several days passed away, and during that time the prisoners were regularly waited upon by the old woman, but they could gain no information from her further than that which they obtained in their first and second interviews with her.
One forenoon, after the old woman had carried away the breakfast things, the girls were not a little startled at beholding the emir enter the apartment. It was the man whom they had known as Califa, and whom they had supposed to be a merchant. But he no longer wore the garb of trade. His raiment was of the most costly kind, flashing with gold and precious stones, and upon his head he wore the emir's turban. He saluted the girls very politely, and then took his seat upon a cushion near Morgiana. She would have shrank from him, but there was something in his eye that withheld her, for as she caught its fierce, keen glance, she knew 'twould not benefit her to anger him.
"Lady," he said, in a very soft, winning tone, "since first I saw thee I have been captivated by thy beauty, but I would not tell thee of it until thou hadst had time for repose. Now, however, I must speak, for I can withstand the power of my love no longer. I have determined that thou shalt be my wife. Does it not please thee?"
Poor Morgiana knew not what to say. She had feared this since the old woman had spoken of his love, but she had hoped that he would not approach her on that subject. She bowed her head and trembled fearfully.
"Have you no answer?" Bahader asked, somewhat sternly, but with an apparent effort at kindness of tone.
"Alas, my master," Morgiana at length returned, gazing up with tears in her eyes, "my heart is all broken and bleeding, and I cannot love again. He to whom my whole of earthly love was given is no longer on earth, and I can never love another. Have mercy on me, and turn thine eyes to some other maiden of thine own people."
"By Allah, lady, my eyes shall be turned upon none but thee, for thou hast engaged the whole of my heart, and I must possess thee. Yet I would have thee love me, for then I should find more joy in thy society, And, moreover," he continued, in a tone, and with a look, which were not to be mistaken for anything but the threat of a vengeful heart, "thine own peace of mind would be greatly enhanced by compliance with my wishes."
"Ah, my master," the maiden returned, speaking upon the impulse, and not waiting to consider, "you would not ask me, I fear, if you knew I should refuse. You have come to command me."
"By the prophet, lady, you've spoken the truth, and I shall not gainsay it. Since first I brought thee into my palace I determined that thou shouldst be my wife, and men who know the Emir Bahader, know that he keeps his vows."
"Yet, O emir, I could pray of thee that thou wouldst spare me. Spare me from this, and God shall bless thee."
"By Allah, my beloved, God holds no blessing for me that can be compared to the possessing of thee. Thou shalt be my wife."
"Thou wilt grant me time," murmured Morgiana, little heeding what she said, but hoping to put the evil hour off.
"Until to-morrow, but no longer. I have already put it off many days simply for thine accommodation. To-morrow thou art mine."
Thus the emir spoke, and then arose and left the apartment, and when he was gone Morgiana bowed her head and wept. Gulnare crept to her side and wound her arms about her neck, and with tender words she sought to soothe the grief of the deeply stricken one.
"Alas!" the maiden sobbed, "what hope have I now? All, all is gone, and what else of life is left is but for misery and pain. What blow heavier than this could have come? He in whom my soul confided with its holiest love is gone from earth, and now I must become——"
She could not speak all she thought, and once more she wept without restraint. Gulnare arose to her feet, and after looking out at the window for some moments, she went again and sat down by the side of her mistress.
"Listen," she said, eagerly and earnestly. "May we not make our escape from this place? From the further closet—that beyond the bath-room—there is a small door that opens to a flight of stairs which descend to some place underneath the palace. I have been part way down, and I could feel the fresh air come pouring in from some place further on. May not this place lead to a place of egress? To-night, after we are left alone I will explore the place, and if we can make our escape, we will trust to the merciful God to provide for us beyond."
Anything like a thought of escape was a relief to Morgiana now, and she embraced her faithful and affectionate companion most fondly when she heard this.
"You would not fear to make the attempt?" Gulnare said.
"Fear?" repeated Morgiana, with startling energy. "Not even death itself, in its most terrible form, could move me with such dread, as does the thought of becoming the—the—slave to that man's base passions!"
"Then rest until the night comes, and we will see what can be done. O, I do not think the God of all mercy will forsake us!"
The day passed away, and when Noam came for the last time in the evening, she bade Morgiana remember that on the following day she must become the wife of the emir. But the maiden made no reply, and the old woman soon took her departure. As soon as the night was well advanced Gulnare took a lamp and prepared for the mission. Morgiana would have accompanied her, but Gulnare knew that it would be safer for her to go alone at first, for in case of accident or detection she could more easily escape, and moreover, detection would not be so liable to occur.
Having prepared a small goblet with which to shade her lamp in case of danger, Gulnare started. She found the stairs as before, and having descended to the bottom of the flight, she found herself in a sort of arched corridor, at one end of which was a window. At the end of this she found two doors, one upon either hand. Both of these were easily opened, and both led downward. Gulnare took the one at her left hand, and when she reached the bottom she found herself in a small closet. But there were two doors here, and the first that she opened led into a corridor, at the extremity of which she saw the star-lit sky. She took this passage and when she reached the end, she found herself in a garden, where were trees and flowers of all descriptions. With a hopeful emotion she set her lamp down, where its rays could not be seen from without, and hastened forth. For a while she wandered around, but no means of egress could she find, meeting only solid, high walls on every hand. At length she came to an open spot in the centre of which was a fountain, and a little further on she was sure she saw a large arbor, with a light shining out from a window on the side next to her, and upon stopping and bending her ear she heard human voices. With slow and cautious steps she approached the place. She recognized the voice of the emir, and she heard the name of her mistress pronounced. She soon made out that the emir was conversing with one of his principal officers, and she crouched nearer the place to listen, for she could hear their words distinctly.
Very soon after this she clasped her hands upon her bosom, but she did not move from her position. Her head was bowed, and ever and anon a shudder would run through her frame. Thus she remained half an hour, and at the end of that time she heard a movement as though the men were about to come out, and she hastened away; but in her return she missed the path by which she had come, and it was some time before she could even obtain a position where she could see the palace walls. She was thus wandering on, when, upon turning an abrupt angle near the building, she found herself face to face with the emir and his companion! She stopped, and would have started back, had not Bahader caught her by the arm.
"Ha!" he cried, "what have we here? One of my birds, by Allah! What are you doing here?"
"Only trying to breathe a little fresh air, my master," returned Gulnare, summoning all her fortitude to her assistance. "I found the way open, and I came out."
"And where is your mistress?"
"In her apartment."
"Art sure of it?"
"I left her there."
The emir seemed much easier when he heard this, although he had at no time been much moved.
"Come with me," he said, "and I will wait upon you back. If you thought to make your escape," he resumed, after they had walked a short distance, "you must be much disappointed, for this garden is within the very palace itself, and you cannot pass from it except through some occupied and guarded place. But then I don't think you could wish to escape—I know you could not; for you are to find a very fine home here."
Gulnare shuddered, but she concealed the terror which lay at her heart. The emir entered by the same way where Gulnare had come out, and when he saw the lamp, which was still burning, he stooped and picked it up and handed it to the girl, for he knew it was hers. Now that there was a light Gulnare turned to look into the face of the emir's companion. He was a middle-aged man, with dark, forbidding features, and waring the look of a cold, hard-hearted person. And again Gulnare shuddered.
At length they reached the bath-room, and here the emir bade his companion stop, and then followed the girl in. He found Morgiana there, but he only saluted her with a passing word, and then withdrew. He closed the door after him, and as soon as his footsteps had died away in the distance, Gulnare clasped her hands upon her bosom and sank down.
"God have mercy on us now!" she ejaculated, as she seemed to give up her last hope.
Morgiana hastened quickly to her side and knelt over her.
"What is it? O, Gulnare, what is it?"
But the girl did not answer, and soon Morgiana discovered that she had fainted. She called out several limes in vain, and at last she hastened to the water jar, and when she had obtained it, she commenced to bathe the brow and temples of her prostrate companion. She dared not call for help yet.
MORGIANA at length succeeded in bringing Gulnare back to consciousness, and as soon as she was able to sit up, she seemed to be as strong as ever. She gazed about for some moments, and when she found that she and her mistress were alone, she threw herself upon the latter's bosom and burst into tears. But these tears lasted only for a few moments, and when the weeping fit was passed the girl started up, and a death-like pallor had overspread her lace.
"Where is he?" she asked, as soon as she seemed fairly to recognize her mistress.
"Who?" returned Morgiana, wonderingly.
"O, my mistress, you did not hear what they said!"
Morgiana gazed into the girl's face, and for a moment she feared her wits were turned. In the meantime, however, Gulnare had raised herself higher up, and after she had pondered a few moments, she said:
"I remember now. O, Morgiana, we are both lost, lost!"
"But what is it? What have you seen? What heard? Speak, Gulnare!"
The girl thought a moment, and then she said:
"When I left you here, I made my way to a beautiful garden, where the trees were very tall, and where the roses grew in profusion. After wandering around for awhile, I came to an arbor, or a garden-house, where I heard voices. One of them was that of the emir, and the other was a dark-faced, ugly-looking officer. I crept close up so that I could hear every word that was spoken. The speech was of us. The emir said he should marry you to-morrow—that he had meant to possess you from the moment he saw you——"
"Alas! thou toldst me, Gulnare, that it was for my beauty I was carried away."
"Stop, my mistress, until you hear all. He also said that he was ordered to put you out of the way, and that if you ever made your appearance again, his head would answer for it. He said he should take you and keep you for his wife awhile, and then kill you! And it was arranged that I should be given to the other, and that when you died I should die too! I sat there and heard them talk it all over—and I heard them laugh at the power they held over us! O, Morgiana, I will not tell you all they said. 'Twould be too dreadful!"
"Are these things so?" whispered Morgiana, faintly and heavily.
"Yes, my mistress."
"And there are no means of escape from this place?"
"None. We are shut in as by a wall of adamant!"
"Tell me once more what the emir said."
Again Gulnare told her story, and this time she told more than she did before. Morgiana shuddered fearfully during the recital, and when it was all told she started up and commenced to pace the floor. At length she stopped, and though her face was very pale, yet there was upon it a look of iron determination.
"Gulnare," she said, "we have one way of escape from this cruel fate."
"Ha!" uttered the girl, starting up. "How mean you?"
Morgiana placed her hand in her bosom and took therefrom the little box which Elsena had procured for her on the evening before she fell into the emir's power.
"What else can we do but this?" she said, as she held the box up. "This simple powder will stop all our woes at once—free us from this terrible ruin—and carry us to join those who have gone before us in the upper world. It has no power of pain—no cruel twinges, but it sets the soul free without a pang. What say you?"
"'Tis our only hope," answered Gulnare, as calmly as the coming of a sleeper's breath. "Beside this there is such ruin as will break the heart in its fall, and even then a cruel death must follow. We will lay us down and sleep—sleep here in our room—and they shall find us fled when they come to search for us."
"Surely," resumed Morgiana, "God cannot hold us guilty of sin in this."
"Never," answered Gulnare. "Rather must he bless us for our martyrdom."
As Gulnare thus spoke she went to the sideboard and took two cups, and into each she put a small quantity of water. Then she returned and handed them to her mistress, and she did so, she said:
"Here are vessels, and O, fear not the result. Another day of life, and we are lost!"
Morgiana replied not, but she took the goblets and placed them upon the floor. Then she opened the box and smelled of the powder, and she dreamed not of the deception which Elsena had practised upon her. She poured out a quantity of the subtle agent into each goblet, and then she handed one to Gulnare, and kept one for herself.
"The deed is blessed—it must be," she said.
"A simple escape from demon power, that we may be with God," answered Gulnare.
"O, I bless thee for those words," cried Morgiana; and as she spoke, she raised the glass to her lips. Her hand trembled some, but her will was firm, and in a moment more she had drank the potion. Gulnare did not hesitate, for she instantly followed the example of her mistress, and then they threw the goblets away, and having locked themselves in each other's arms, they awaited the coming of the grim monarch they had summoned.
"Farewell!" murmured Morgiana, as she felt the weakening influence coming upon her.
"Why say farewell?" returned Gulnare, gently raising herself and kissing her companion upon the cheek. "We are going together."
Morgiana looked up and smiled, and in a moment more her head sank back.
Early in the morning Noam came and opened the door of the prisoners' apartment. She wondered that they were sleeping upon the floor, and she went to arouse them, but she found her work in vain, and in a few moments more she hastened away. Ere long afterwards both Bahader and his lieutenant came. They approached the sleepers and gazed upon them, and the emir pushed the body of Morgiana with his foot.
"Zaman," he said, turning to his companion, "what do you make of this?"
"They were too proud to be our slaves," returned the lieutenant.
"But how could they have known—or how could this younger one have known, what we meant?"
"She must have hearkened at the arbor last night. I was sure I heard a footfall while we were talking. And that explains why she was so pale."
"But how could they have done it?"
"Surely I know not."
"By Allah, I never—Ha! What's this?" As the emir thus spoke, he stooped and picked up the little box.
"Ah—here's the key to the mystery," he continued, as he read the label. "See—'tis wakfah! and they must have had it concealed about them. Ay, and more too: This box must have come from the shop of a drug-seller, named Abdalla, who keeps near the Syndic's dwelling, for I purchased some bhang there, and he gave it to me in just such a box. By heaven, Zaman, we've lost our brides!"
"So we have. But no matter. We should have but lived upon their beauty a few short days, and then put them away, for as soon as Becar's messenger comes, the order for their death will come with him."
"Right, Zaman," said Bahader, as he removed the cover of the box and smelled of its contents—for some of the powder was left. "This is more spicy and pungent than our northern wakfah. Just try it."
"It smells powerful enough," returned the lieutenant, placing the box to his nose, add then returning it to his master, who put it into his pocket.
"By my soul, Zaman, she was beautiful," the emir muttered, is he gazed on Morgiana's face.
"I never saw anything half so beautiful before," added Zaman. "I could have spared her from very love."
"Ay, but duty first. However, they are both beyond our power now, so let's away and send our slaves to take the bodies hence."
"And where will you have them taken?"
"To the vale beyond the outer mosque."
The men withdrew, and shortly afterwards the women were sent in to prepare the bodies. They were simply sewed in coarse sheets of linen stuff, for the word was to be given that two slaves had died. It was near the middle of the forenoon that four black slaves set out bearing the bodies upon their shoulders on two litters, and with them went four more slaves to carry spades, and also to assist in carrying litters if need be. The emir would have gone himself, but he knew that would excite suspicion, and he therefore entrusted the work to trusty slaves.
The course which the party took was to the west of the palace, and thence along by a narrow road leading to the south of the town. A hill was passed over, and soon afterwards they entered a long vale, within which the trees grew tall and stout, and where the common slaves were buried in pits dug in the side of one of the high, steep banks. It was a secluded spot, and wild in its surrounding scenery, for high mountains towered up close at hand. At length the slaves reached a spot where they thought 'twould be well to bury their charge, and they stopped and set their burden down, after which they began to dig. They had been thus occupied some few minutes when they were startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger, from a clump of cedar trees near at hand. He was dressed in the garb of a dervish, and well advanced in years.
"Fear not, my children," he said, as he approached and leaned on his staff. "Has the Emir Bahader returned from the south?"
"He has returned," answered one of them.
"And did he come alone?"
"His eunuch Ozmud came with him."
"And none others?"
"He can tell you better than we."
"He would not object that I should know, my children, so you need not fear to speak."
"We speak only what we know," answered the black, in a tone which plainly indicated that he wished to be questioned no more.
"You have come to bury some of your fellows?" the dervish said, when he found that he could gain nothing more from the slaves upon the subject he had broached.
"Yes, my master—two slaves have died."
The dervish was gazing upon the winding-sheets, and he was sure he saw one of them move. It might have been the wind, he thought, and yet there was no wind blowing. In a moment it moved again, and this time he could see the movement of the limbs.
"By Allah!" he cried, "you would not bury people alive, would you?"
"They are not alive, master," returned the slave, confidently.
"Then let me see if I cannot bring one of them back to life," pursued the old man, feeling sure that there was life there.
As he spoke he advanced and tore open the top of the sheet, and the features of Morgiana were exposed to his gaze. An instant he stood transfixed. She opened her eyes, and the slaves held up their hands in astonishment. She gazed around, and a low moan escaped from her lips. The dervish seized a small case from his bosom and opened it, and within was the picture of that same face which we have so often seen before. A moment he gazed upon it, and then upon the face of the awakened girl, and then he started back and gave a sharp cry, like the hoot of an owl. In a few moments more the cedar copse was alive with armed men, and before the astounded slaves could fairly comprehend a single thing of all that was transpiring about them they were all seized and gagged and bound.
As soon as this was done the dervish turned towards Morgiana and tore the sheet from her body, and by the time this was accomplished she was able to sit up and speak. But ere a question could be asked there was a movement made in the other shroud, and that, too, was torn away, and Gulnare was also soon conscious.
"Now by the King of kings!" cried the old man, as he comprehended all he saw, "what sort of man is he who would thus bury two damsels? Speak, slaves! or by the soul that is in me, I will smite you all! Who did this thing?"
"Bahader ordered it, my master," returned the only slave from whose mouth the gag had been taken; "I am sure he thought them dead."
"Ay—but the deed was of his accursed doing."
At this moment Morgiana arose to a sitting posture. She now comprehended that she was alive, and a few moments' survey of the work about her told her that she had been brought out for sepulchre, and that from some cause the drug she had taken had only produced stupor, and that she was now recovered.
"Who are you, sir?" she asked of the old man, gazing up into his face, and gasping her hands.
"I am to thee a friend, lady, so fear me not. I and these noble men have come hither on purpose to find thee, for we felt assured you had been brought to Aden. But who is this with thee?"
"My faithful, noble friend—my own Gulnare," the maiden returned, warmly.
"Well, we will not stop here to converse, for the foul wretch who rules this place may be upon us, so come with us, and you shall soon be beyond his power. You need not fear to trust me, for I mean you only good."
"But where will you carry me?" asked Morgiana, quickly.
"We can tell that better when we find where we can carry thee, lady. But methinks any place would be preferable to this, so come, and I will answer questions on the road."
The maiden hesitated no longer, for there was something in the countenance of the dervish that inspired her with hope, and she gave him her hand. The slaves were all bound and gagged, so that they might raise no immediate alarm, and then the new-comers turned back towards the wood with the two damsels.
MORGIANA spoke not a word on the way, though she was all wonder. She had hold of the dervish's hand, and also held Gulnare by the hand. Yet with all her anxiety for the present, her mind instinctively went back to the scene in her prison chamber. She remembered all that had there occurred and she knew that the people there had thought her dead and sent her out for burial. Ere long the party reached an opening beyond the wood, and here the damsel saw four-and-twenty horses, and two black slaves.
"Now, lady," said the old man, as they reached a grassy knoll, "if you will sit here a moment, I will prepare for our departure from this place. You have nothing to fear, for we mean you well, and we have taken much pains, and passed through many dangers, for thy sake. We shall set off ere many moments."
As the dervish thus spoke he left the girls by themselves and went to where the horses stood. There were two of them loaded with provisions, and these two were led out and their load distributed among the others. In the meantime Morgiana and Gulnare were conversing upon the subject of the strange course of events which had brought them into their present position.
"But how could we have taken such a quantity of wakfah and still live?" asked Gulnare.
"We have not taken wakfah!" returned Morgiana. "It tasted like wakfah when we took it, and it smelled like wakfah, but the moment I awoke I knew I had taken only bhang."
"Did you deceive me, then? Did you think——"
"Stop, Gulnare. I fully believed we were taking a fatal poison when we took that potion, but I know now I was deceived, and as I consider upon it, I can see plainly the whole mystery. Listen. On that fatal morning when I knew that Assad—God keep him now—was to die, I resolved that I would not survive him, and I determined to send and get some sure poison. I knew that Elsena loved Hassan, and that she wished to be his wife; and I furthermore knew that she wished me out of the way. Hence I concluded I might safely entrust the errand to her, and I did so, bidding her to procure me four drachms of wakfah. She went away, and I saw her when she returned, but it was half an hour after her return before she came to me. The box was labelled to suit the drug I wished, but I know that Elsena's mother took the drug, and with her own hands prepared that which was brought to me."
"But," suggested Gulnare, "if they were anxious to be rid of you, why should they have thus practised an imposition which could only result in saving your life?"
"The reason is plain," returned Morgiana. "They were surely to be paid roundly for delivering me into the hands of the emir, and feared that all would be lost if I poisoned myself. She probably fixed the bhang so that in case I should take any of it in the first part of the evening, they would be saved the trouble of administering the opiate themselves. But I did not take it, and Elsena did the work with her own hands. Thus came we to take an opiate instead of the poison."
"God is great, and wonderful are his ways," uttered Gulnare, with folded hands. "By what a strange combination of events have we escaped the power of those evil men!"
Before Morgiana could reply, the dervish came up and announced that all was ready for departure, and so sure had Morgiana become of the good faith of her present master, that she obeyed with a ready movement, and felt even a passing emotion of joy at the thought of getting away from the vicinity of the scene of her recent imprisonment. She was soon in an easy saddle, and when Gulnare had mounted, the party set off. She found that there were two-and-twenty men in the party, twelve of them being white, and ten black, while the two horses which she and Gulnare now rode had been used for carrying provisions.
Two mamlouks went on ahead as guides, and next rode the dervish, in company with the damsels. Ere long a good road was reached, and then the whole party started into a brisk gallop, and for nearly five hours they rode thus without once stopping, and without hardly speaking. It was shortly after noon when they turned away from what seemed to be the main road, and entered a narrow path that led between two high mountains; and ere long afterwards they reached a verdant spot in the valley where they stopped. An hour was given for the resting of the horses, and a good meal was served.
After the meal was eaten, the dervish went and sat down by Morgiana, and with a smile, he said:
"Well, lady, have you any fear in trusting me now to our journey's end? Do you feel safe in our company?"
"O, my master," returned the maiden quickly, "my previous state made any change agreeable to me, and since I have been fleeing from the power of the Emir Bahader, I have felt grateful. Yet my bosom is racked with anxiety, for I know not what is my destination."
"First, lady," pursued the old man, "wilt thou not give me thy story since thou left Bagdad?"
Morgana hesitated not, for the thought was present with her that if she would gain from her conductor the truth, she must be plain with him; so she commended and told her story from beginning to end. She told of the contract between herself and Hassan—the death of Assad—the sending of Elsena for the poison—the awakening on board the boat—the journey to Aden—the startling things which Gulnare had heard in the pavilion in Bahader's garden; and then she told of the potion she and her companion had taken, and also described the wonderful course of events that had so unexpectedly worked her deliverance.
"By Allah!" uttered the old man, after she had concluded, "do you not here see that God will take care of those that love him! But didst thou ever hear the name of Abdalla?"
Morgiana pondered a moment, and then looking up into her companion's face, she said:
"I know several of that name in Bagdad, but I only have heard of one elsewhere. Mokanna told us of a faithful sheik in Laban, to whom he directed us when we attempted first to escape."
"Then know, fair lady, that you have found him at length. I am Abdalla. And let me tell thee one other thing: He whom thou mournest is not dead!"
"Not dead!" repeated Morgiana, turning pale, for she feared that the first wild hope might be false, and that some other person was meant.
"No, Morgiana. Thy beloved is yet alive and well, and anxiously awaits thy coming."
The maiden gazed for a moment into the old man's face, and then sank back insensible. But she soon revived, and then she clasped her hands and gave thanks to God. Awhile she rested from the effects of the sudden intelligence, and then she said:
"Now tell me how you found me, for if I have not misunderstood thee, thou camest to Aden on purpose for me?"
"I did, lady. Mokanna came to Laban, and with him was Assad, and also a gigantic slave named Marouf. They told me of your absence from Bagdad, and also of the presence there of the supposed merchant Califa. When I heard this merchant described, I knew 'twas none other than the emir of Aden, and with these men I at once set off. I had been watching about the walls of the town two days when I saw you in the manner which Allah had appointed."
"But how did Assad escape the terrible doom which had been pronounced upon him by the caliph?" asked Morgiana.
"Did he not tell you, on the night when you left Bagdad in company, how he and Marouf had saved the lives of two men, by dragging them from the Tigris?"
"Yes, my master."
"Well, those men were none others than Haroun al Raschid and Giafar the Barmecide—the caliph and his grand vizier. Just on the eve of the death-stroke, the Commander of the Faithful, who was looking from a window on the scene, recognized his preservers, and at once stayed the execution, and had Assad brought before him, where the youth told his story. After the caliph had heard it, he sent Mesrour after Ali Shir, commanding him to bring you with him, for Haroun had promised you should become the wife of Assad at once. Ali Shir came, but you were missing, and Assad was allowed to go in search of you. He went, and Mokanna and Marouf went with him."
"Then we will return to Bagdad, since matters stand thus," said Morgiana, when she had heard Abdalla's account.
"Ah, lady, you have other things to hear as well as this, I fear you would not be safe in Bagdad," the sheik replied, shaking his head dubiously. "But wait with patience, and you shall know the circumstances that have placed thee in so wondrous a position."
Having been sufficiently rested, the order was given to start; and so they travelled on through the long winding vale until night, when they camped in a deep cave of the mountain, and Morgiana was told she must travel four days more ere she reached her journey's end.
LABAN was a small town among the Koordistan Mountains, and on the usually travelled route from Persia to Trebizond and other places on the Euxine. It was guarded by a strong high wall, and was once the seat of one of the emirs of the northern king. To this place Assad had been led in safety. Here he had found Abdalla, and that person had immediately gone in quest of Morgiana, as the reader already knows.
One day Assad was in the sumptuously furnished apartment which had been given him for his use, and he was moody and sad. Heavy clouds had been gathering on the mountain tops, for the rainy season of the year was near at hand; and the dark masses had rolled down the declivities into the vales beneath. The youth paced up and down the gaudily bedecked floor, and his steps were slow and unsteady.
"Marouf," he said, turning to his faithful attendant, "how long have we been here?"
"This is the fourteenth day, my master, since we crossed the mountains, and the twelfth day since we entered this place."
"And yet I know not why I am here, nor for what purpose I am thus secured. These glorious mountains invite my steps, but I must not tread them. These glowing valleys smile as though they would bid me welcome to their downy bosoms, and yet I am not allowed to walk forth. Marouf, I like it not. I begin to tire of this confinement, and my suspicions are tired of changing from fear to hope, and from hope to fear again."
"I know, my master, that things move strangely here; and yet I cannot suspect evil yet. He whom we call Mokanna, but whom I have heard addressed by another name, I feel sure loves you, and this morning I noticed that he seemed sad and gloomy."
"You spoke of another name, Marouf. What was it that you heard the old man called?"
"Ben Hamed?" muttered Assad, to himself. "Surely I have heard that name. Ben Hamed el Koord——But no, he cannot be that one, for he was slain during an insurrection many years ago. I have heard the story often. But then there is no wonder in this, for I am well aware that Mokanna has never yet appeared to me in his right character."
"Yet, my master, I do most firmly believe that thou mayest trust him. I know he loves thee well."
"Then why does he not trust me? Why keep me here thus?"
"He says there is danger to you abroad."
"Danger! By my soul, Marouf, I would rather face ten thousand dangers than thus be tied down to inactivity."
"But this may not last much longer. When——Ha! Look there! Some one approaches. By Allah, my master, 'tis Abdalla!"
In an instant Assad was at the window, and a quick cry of joy broke from his lips as he recognized two female forms in the cavalcade which came winding up towards the palace. Breathlessly he watched them, and ere long he could plainly see Morgiana's features. The cloud went from his face, and the burden from his heart, and in his frantic joy he embraced Marouf as though he were a messenger of the tidings just arrived.
The party entered the wide court, but Assad did not leave his apartment, for he felt sure that Mokanna would send the maiden up. He waited, for he wished not to meet his beloved before so many. He paced the floor quickly now, and he was just becoming anxious when he heard footsteps approaching. He approached the door, it was pushed open—and Morgiana was in his presence. He uttered one cry of joy, and caught her in his arms.
"Now the clouds have gone, and the bright day opens upon me once more," murmured Assad, as he still held the lovely being to his bosom. "My heart's made glad, and my fears all have vanished."
"God who is all-merciful, hath done this thing," responded Morgiana. "His goodness alone hath compassed our joy."
And so the lovers talked on, while in another part of the room sat Gulnare telling to Marouf the story of her wonderful adventures. By-and-by, Assad grew calm enough to listen to the story, and when Morgiana had told him all he was lost in amazement.
"O, who now shall say, there is no God!" he uttered, warmly, and with clasped hands. "Who but the Maker of all things could have done these wonderful deeds? Verily, his hand hath wrought it all, and to him be all the praise. Out of the pit of destruction hath he brought us, and up from the way of darkness and death hath he led with a sure hand. In every line his finger is seen, and in much love hath he ministered to our necessities. O, my beloved, while we live we will not forget him, for his arm is over us, and his great mercy saveth us."
Morgiana wept with joy while Assad thus spoke, and when he had finished she bowed her head upon his bosom, and she could only murmur words of praise and love.
When the sun had reached its meridian height, and the beauty and glory of the day was accomplished, the mists rolled up the mountain sides again, and ere long the clouds all passed away. The lovers now calmly conversed, and the thousand questions which naturally arose from the strange things that had transpired, were asked and answered. Two days thus passed away, and during that time the lovers forgot to question the intent of Mokanna in keeping them there. They had wondered much upon the strange fate that seemed to enwrap them, but neither of them could throw any light upon the subject.
It was on the morning of the third day, and ere the light began to glow in the east, Assad heard strange sounds upon the hillside and in the court. It was like the clanging of steel, and the tramp of uneasy steeds. When the sun was up the youth looked forth, and he saw the court filled with armed men. Their look astonished him, for they were not like the soldiers he had been wont to see in his southern home. They were stout, dark men, each one of whom seemed a match for a full guard of the caliph's mamlouks.
At an early hour Morgiana came forth from her apartment, for she had heard the sound, and she had wondered at it much.
"What means it all?" asked the maiden, after she had gazed awhile upon the strange scene.
"I know not," returned Assad.
"But see," added Morgiana, "many of them wear the same garb as those who captured us, and who were our enemies."
"I have noticed that," replied the youth; "and it has puzzled me. What make you of it, Marouf?"
"I am as much in the dark as you, my master," was the slave's reply.
At this juncture both Mokanna and Abdalla entered. They were attired in sumptuous robes, and well-armed, and each wore a vizier's turban. One half their age seemed gone in those warlike robes, and only the silver of the beard remained to tell the tale.
"Hold, Assad—I am Mokanna no more from this time forth, but Ben Hamed el Koord."
"Ben Hamed?—el Koord?" uttered the youth. "Was it not the Koord of whose death I was told in childhood?"
"Ay—my death was currently reported and believed. And so was it said of Abdalla el Zebak, but yet you see him here."
"Abdalla el Zebak?" the youth pronounced in wonder. "Were you the two great northern viziers who ruled awhile as kings, and who gave the great Caliph, Al Mahadi, such signal aid in times of trouble?"
"Ay, Assad, we are the very men. That was long years ago, when we were young and ambitious. But come, we wait for you."
"And wherefore? What is all this parade and show of arms?" asked Assad, waving his hand toward the court, which was now fairly bristling with spears.
"It is for our safe conduct through the country," replied Ben Hamed. "Come—once more place thyself beneath my guidance—once more trust me with thy confidence—and ere long there shall be no more mystery."
"But whither goest thou?"
"Further to the north, and further to the west. We cross the Redwan Mountains, and then follow on awhile upon the banks of the Tigris. Come—thine apparel awaits thee. What ho! slaves attend here!"
Two eunuchs and two female slaves here made their appearance, and at a motion from Ben Hamed Assad followed the former from the place, while the latter took Morgiana and Gulnare in charge.
Assad was conducted to an apartment where huge polished mirrors of silver plate adorned the walls, and here he was presented with a dress the like of which he had never worn before. It was adorned with gold and precious stones, and the flowing vest alone was a treasure in itself. As soon as he was fully dressed, he went forth into the hall, and shortly afterwards he was joined there by Morgiana. He was startled when he beheld her, for she was like the sun at noonday in the dazzling beauty of her face, and in the gorgeousness of her apparel. She, too, was equally moved at sight of him, for she clapped her hands in surprise, and her eyes sparkled till they outshone the diamonds that rested upon her pure white bosom.
"By Allah, O my beloved, will these mysteries never cease? What make you now of this?"
"It passeth my comprehension," replied the maiden. "But I think they mean us no harm."
"No, by Allah, they cannot. The God of all wisdom never put Ben Hamed's face upon a bad man. He must be of a noble and true heart, and so will I trust him!"
"God bless thee, my son!"
Assad turned quickly upon hearing these words, and he beheld Ben Hamed himself, standing by his side with tears in his eyes.
"I spoke not that for thy ears," said the youth, blushing.
"Full well I know it, and hence I prize it," returned the old man, embracing Assad, warmly. "But come. We wait only for you."
Thus speaking, Ben Hamed led the way out into the court, and there Assad saw two horses caparisoned in a style of richness that fairly surpassed all his former ideas of grandeur in that department of trappings. He first assisted Morgiana to the saddle of one, and then he vaulted upon the back of the other. Marouf and Gulnare were next provided, and Ben Hamed gave the order to move.
First rode out the lieutenant in command, and after him rode four hundred soldiers. Next went Ben Hamed and Abdalla, with Assad and Morgiana, and Gulnare and Marouf in company. And then came four hundred more armed men. Assad gazed upon the gorgeous army as it filed out from the wide court, and he wondered what it all meant.
BECAR sat upon the throne of Diarbekir and Aden. He was now an old man, and the frost of many winters was upon his beard. His features were hard and harsh, and his brow was low and dark. His eye was ever restless and uneasy, and his fingers worked nervously amid the folds of his robe.
It was in the early part of the day, and Becar was upon his golden throne with his officers about him. Those officers, who stood nearest to him, were hard and coarse in feature like their master, while those who possessed more humane features were tremulous and uneasy. Within the great audience chamber were collected a few people who had come to demand justice. They, too, were hard-featured men, for the poor and honest people of the city came no longer to the king for relief, having found to their cost that nothing but money would purchase his decisions. A case had just been disposed of, in which the king, for a hundred pieces of gold, had granted to an old merchant the right to tear down the house of a neighbor which cast a shade upon his garden at noon, when the herald announced that the Emir Bahader approached the palace.
"I have asked not for his presence, but still he is welcome," said the king. "Let him be conducted to our presence."
In a few moments more the emir entered and approached the throne. He was pale and trembling, and as he bowed before his king his confusion was manifest.
"How now, Bahader?" asked Becar, as the emir arose. "I have heard of the success of thy mission, and I wished the damsel sent to me that I might see her ere she died. Thou it seems, chose to bring her."
"Alas, sire, I have not," returned the emir, trembling at every joint.
"What! Were not my orders explicit? Wherefore is she not here?"
"She has escaped, sire."
"Escaped! Now, by Allah, dog! thou liest! How could she escape from thy stout castle?"
"It is true, sire—she has escaped."
"By the ascension of the prophet, thou liest!" the king gasped, while he turned pale as death and grasped his sceptre as if for support. "O, thou son of a dog, and grandson of a dog, how tellest thou me she has escaped, when but the week before this last thou didst send to me that she was safe within thy walls?"
"Listen to me, O king of the age, and most mighty among the great ones of earth—listen while I tell thee the wondrous method of her escapement."
"Speak, slave! but by the lives of all the prophets, from Adam to Mahomet, if thou tellest me falsely thy head shall be struck off and hung up for birds to feed upon, and thy carcase thrown out to the dogs!"
"What I shall speak is most true, O king; and moreover, thou knowest that 'twould be madness in me to speak otherwise. The damsel was safe within my palace, and her companion was with her. One morning Noam, the wife of Abou Ben Aden, came to me in affright, and informed me that the girls were both dead. I hastened to the apartment, and there I found them stretched lifeless upon the floor, without breath or motion, and near them I found a small box of most deadly poison. So I made sure they had taken their own lives in sorrow for having been brought away from their home. I had them sewed up in coarse sheets, like common slaves, and then sent out eight of my most trusty slaves to bury them. The hours passed away until near noon, and yet my slaves did not return, so I went out to learn the cause, and I found them all bound, hand and foot, with gags in their mouths. I quickly set them free, and they told me thus:
"They had placed the bodies aside while they dug the graves, and there came out from the wood close at hand an old dervish who asked them concerning my return, and also if I came with company. While they answered him he cried out, and asked them why they thus buried people alive? Then he rushed to the body of the damsel, and having cut open the winding-sheet she sat up and talked, and soon the other sheet was cut, and in like manner did the second damsel. Thereupon the dervish uttered a great cry, and a score of armed men rushed out from the wood, seized the slaves and bound them, and then carried away the maidens. Now whether that dervish was a magician, and restored the dead to life, or whether the damsels took only poison enough to stupefy, but not to kill, and thus revived of their own accord, I cannot say. At once I sent out my slaves and mamlouks in all directions, but the fugitives could not be found. Only that I awaited the return of some whom I had sent to the south, I should have come to you before."
"Is this the truth, Bahader?" asked the king, his first emotions of passion having been overcome by absolute fear.
"As I hope for salvation, it is, my king."
"Then, by Allah, she must be sent for again, and this time she shall be killed the moment she is found. Since the caliph has saved us all trouble concerning the youth, we must——"
"Hold, sire. The caliph has spared Assad."
"How, dog! Spared him? Then by Allah, thou liest to me."
"No, sire. When I wrote to thee, I felt sure the youth was executed, for preparations were all made ere I left Bagdad. But this very morning I met a merchant from Bagdad who informed me that Haroun al Raschid had pardoned the youth, and dismissed him with honor and with favors."
"Was there a cause for this?" the king asked, now white with fear.
"Ay, an excellent cause, so this merchant told me. Thou knowest the caliph's habit of wandering about his city in disguise. He and Giafar were out thus one night, and having ventured into a small boat they were upset into the Tigris, and this youth and his attending slave saved their lives. Haroun recognized them before the executioners had done their work.'
"O, may perdition seize them all!" gasped Becar. "Has death itself turned traitor to me?"
"Sire," spoke the emir, in a lower tone, and moving close up to the throne, "suppose I told thee that Ben Hamed el Koord lived? and that Abdalla el Zebak——"
"Out! thou ranting, lying, foul-mouthed dog! Now thy tongue runs riot in falsehood, and——"
Before the infuriated king could finish the sentence, a messenger, all dust-covered and heated; rushed into the royal presence.
"What now, slave?" the monarch cried, starting with new fear.
"Sire," spoke the messenger, kneeling before the throne, and speaking with difficulty, "a great army is near thy city, the dust of which is like the clouds that go before a storm!"
"An army?" uttered the king, starting to his feet.
"O, sire," quickly spoke the emir, "I told thee truly, when I said that Ben Hamed lived; and Abdalla el Zebak also lives. If they——"
Another messenger here rushed in and prostrated himself before the throne.
"How now, slave?" gasped Becar.
"A great army is even now at our walls, sire," the messenger answered.
"Who leads them?" asked the emir.
"I saw them from the tower at the eastern gate, and in their midst ride two old men clad in the habiliments of viziers, and with them ride a youth and a damsel shining like two suns."
"By Allah, I told thee!" cried the emir.
The king leaped down from his throne and swung the golden sceptre above his head. He forgot his age in the terrible excitement of that moment.
"What ho!" he cried, in tones of startling power. "Where are our centurions and our mamlouks? Sound the alarm from every corner, and in every place! Arouse the soldiers, and arm the slaves! Bahader, if harm do befall me, thy head shall answer for it! Away, and start up my people. Arm! Arm! To horse! to horse! All—all! Now by the living God of all things, these dogs shall die! Out, out! for by the souls of my fathers, the man who lags now becomes carrion food for dogs! To the gates! Shut——"
Here the king became fairly exhausted, and but for the assistance of two of his eunuchs he would have fallen to the floor. When he recovered himself he was alone, with none about him save these two slaves.
"Lead me to my throne," he said, "for there I'll sit. My viziers will return soon."
So the old king regained his throne, still grasping the mighty sceptre in his hand. He had not sat there long before a man came rushing into the audience chamber all covered with dust and blood, his garments torn and soiled, and his face frightfully bruised.
"Who art thou?" the terrified king uttered.
"Dost not know thy faithful emir?" gasped the man.
"Bahader?" queried the king.
"Ay, my master—thus thou beholdest me," groaned Bahader, grasping the edge of the throne for support. "Thy viziers are both slain and I should have been had I not thus made my escape!"
"But where are our men? our soldiers? Where our lieutenants and our mamlouks? Speak, slave!"
"All gone, Sire."
"No, my master. They have all gone over to the enemy—every man of them, and Ben Hamed and Abdalla have the city. There are none left—not one. The people who but one hour ago would have trembled before thee, now curse thee loudly, and demand thine instant death!"
"Not one, O, emir!" groaned the king, sinking back upon his throne. "Are my officers all gone—my mamlouks—my eunuchs? All, all O, emir?"
"All, my master!"
At this moment there came the sound of many voices in the wide court of the palace, and soon the great hall was thundering with heavy feet. In a few moments more two aged men stalked into the audience chamber. They were Ben Hamed el Koord and Abdalla el Zebak. And behind them came their principal officers, while mingling with them in closest amity were the great officers of the kingdom. On they came, hundreds upon hundreds; until the vast room of audience was one sea of swaying turbans. Then the multitude divided to the right and to the left, and Ben Hamed and Abdalla went forth, and when they returned they were followed by ten black slaves who bore upon their shoulders a throne of ivory inlaid with gold, with diamonds, with pearls, and with corals, and rubies, and emeralds, and upon it sat Assad and Morgiana, shining in their beauty; so that all the beholders were moved with wonder and admiration.
The old king had at first started to his feet, and as he saw that more than half of those present were of his own people, he resolved to make one more effort.
"What ho!" he cried, "slaves, know ye not your king? Have ye all turned cowards, and fear the evil invaders? Up, up! and clear our city of the foul pest! By Allah, the man who dares to disobey shall die! What ho, Galnazin and Shahirah—call out your men and strike for your king!"
The two lieutenants thus addressed gazed upon the monarch, but they made him no reply, save by their silence. Becar gazed around upon the vast multitude, and was just upon the point of speaking again, when the slaves bore Assad and Morgiana into his presence. His eye rested upon them a moment, and then, with a deep groan, he sank back upon his throne. But he still clutched the golden sceptre, grasping it with a mighty embrace, as though he were fearful of losing it!
A DEATH-LIKE stillness pervaded the great audience chamber of the northern king. The throne upon which sat Assad and Morgiana had been set down upon the leewan in front of the royal seat, and the people were waiting to see what should follow. Marouf stood by his young master's side, as though he would shield him from any sudden danger that might unexpectedly come. At length Ben Hamed advanced and spoke, and every ear was bent to listen:
"Becar," he said, addressing the old king, "dost thou remember who ruled in Diarbekir and in Aden, and who governed in equity all this northern nation, ere thy polluted foot touched the throne?"
But the old monarch could not answer. He gazed upon those who sat upon the seat of ivory and gold before him, and his limbs shook with fear. He grasped his sceptre, and gazed around with a frightened glance, to see if in all that crowd he had not one friend. But not one moved to help him. So Ben Hamed resumed:
"Know, thou false king, that all thy power has come to nought. Thou steppedst upon this throne over the dead bodies of noble men, with the best blood of the kingdom upon thy hands. But those four whom most thou wishedst to slay escaped thee. From that time to this thy heart hath been hard, and, thy people have been oppressed. Good men have cried out for mercy in vain, and wicked men have triumphed on account of their gold which they gave to thee. But thy course of wickedness is ended, and the line of Shenir and Alcolomb shall once more sway the sceptre of our kingdom. Thou knowest thine efforts to do still more murder in order that thy throne might be secured to thee, and thy people shall know them, too. God, who is all-wise, and to whom be ascribed power, and perfection, and justice, hath favored not thy rule over this people, for from among all thy wives he hath not given thee a child, and hath not given thee a true friend; but he hath reared up the children of those whom thou didst wrong, that they might come to thee and claim justice at thy hands. Even as we entered thy city, and made ourselves known, every man turned from thee in disgust, and the very women and children heaped curses upon thy head. Now, O foul dog——"
Ben Hamed stopped here, for the king had fainted from the power of his deep emotions. A dozen slaves were sent to his assistance, but they could not revive him to understanding. He opened his eyes, but they were wild, and void of reason.
"Take him hence," commanded Ben Hamed. "Let him be conveyed to his own apartment, and there let faithful slaves attend him. His understanding is fled, and he will gain no good here."
As the old man spoke, he turned to some of his own attendants, and motioned for them to accompany the slaves. When those who bore the insensible monarch had gone, Ben Hamed mounted to the now empty throne, and turned towards the people.
"Men of Diarbekir and of Aden, many of you who are now here before me perhaps know not all the story of the wicked man who has just been taken away, for some of you are young, and some of you may have been falsely informed. Then listen while I recount to you the strange things that have transpired."
As he thus spoke, all ears were bent towards him, and all faces were eager with expectation. He waited a few moments, and then went on:
"In former times, when I was young and strong, Diarbekir and Aden were two kingdoms. Shenir was king of Diarbekir, and he was a noble, pious man and abhorred evil. Among all the men of his kingdom he was the fairest and most comely, and those who once saw him could never forget him. At the same time Zedad was king of Aden, but he was a weak-minded man, and his affairs were administered by his wife Alcolomb. Now Alcolomb was more wise and learned than her husband, who was weak and ignorant, and people knew that their great prosperity was the result of her wise administration, and they respected and loved her. And in all the northern kingdom there was not another female so beautiful as Alcolomb. At length her husband died, and she was queen of Aden, and shortly afterwards she gave birth to a female child which rivalled the full moon in beauty, for it took all the features of its mother.
"Now, near at the same time of the birth of the queen's daughter, the wife of Shenir gave birth to a son, and this son was the exact counterpart of his noble father. When the Queen Alcolomb heard of this event she took her daughter and came hither to visit the king, and the two infants were laid both in one cradle, and people came from far-off pieces to view their marvellous beauty. And Alcolomb, when the infants were placed thus together, said to the king these Words: 'O, my brother, the king my husband is taken from me, and his kingdom is left on my hands, and when I shall be called upon to follow him, with whom can I leave my heritage of power save with this child? And when thou art gone, with whom can your's be left save with this other child? Therefore let us plan that both our kingdoms shall be made into one when we are dead, and make our children to rule over them both. They are both of an age—both beautiful, and both of royal heritage. Let us marry them now, and then no sudden stroke henceforth can separate them, nor can they be coveted for their beauty, seeing that they be already married!'
"This pleased the good king so much that he fairly wept with joy, and the viziers of the two kingdoms were consulted. Abdalla was the queen's grand vizier, and I was the king's. We liked the plan much, for we saw in it the means of forever preventing further strife between the two kingdoms. Accordingly the servants of God were sent for and all the great men of both kingdoms, and the children were married, and from that moment the infants became husband and wife; and the king ordered that all within his city should abstain from labor for the space of six days, and that during that time there should be neither buying nor selling, but that all the people should give themselves up to pleasures and rejoicing.
"Now there chanced to be in the city an emir named Becar, and he was governor of the district of Doojikdagh, and had many towns under him, and he was one of those whom the king had sent for. He was an evil man, and ambitious, and he said to the ignorant people—'How, will ye have two infants for rulers over you? If this king and queen die who shall be rulers over you? Verily ye will have none whatever, but the strong will rule the weak, and the rich will trample upon the poor.' Thus he craftily spake to them, and many listened to him. He took advantage of the time of festivity and intoxication, and drew many to him. He had brought with him from his mountain district many armed men, and these he had all ready for his work. Next he commenced with bribery and corruption, promising to this one power, and to that one riches, until he had nearly leaders with him; and he knew that if the leaders were all with him the people would be easily managed. He came neither to Abdalla nor myself, so we knew not of his villainy at the time.
"At length, on the night of the sixth day, he commenced his work. He attacked the palace, and when he made his demand for the throne and the sceptre, we called for our officers, and lo! they were all with him. We saw that inevitable ruin stared us in the face, and we could do nought but seek flight. I hastened to the place where the infants slept, and there I found the king and the queen, and Abdalla, crying out and rending their garments in grief, for the infants were missing. But I saw that there was no time for words, so I quickly said—'Doubtless the nurse hath run with them. Let us escape, and we shall overtake her.' By a secret way we made our escape from the palace, and from the city, and the treacherous emir gained the throne and seized the sceptre, and caused himself to be proclaimed king of Diarbekir and Aden.
"In the meantime we four—the king and queen, and Abdalla and myself, secreted ourselves in a cave of the mountain, and there we remained without food for two whole days. But at the end of that time I ventured out after some fruit, and I saw a slave who had just come from the city. It was one of Shenir's own eunuchs, and I knew we might trust him. He brought us food, and told us of affairs within the walls. He said Becar had become king, that two hundred men had been slain in the conflict, that the people had all sworn submission through fear, and that two bodies had been found, all maimed and disfigured, which had been taken for Abdalla and myself. But he knew nothing of the infants. We remained hid in that cave a whole week, during which time the eunuch made search for the infants, but we found them not, and we made sure they had been slain at first, so that they might be out of the way. We asked the slave what Becar thought had become of the King Shenir and the Queen Alcolomb, and he told us that one of the lieutenants had sworn to him that he had seen the king and queen cast themselves into the mad, hissing waters of the river and Becar believed him. Then we knew that this lieutenant was a friend to us. But we dared not wait around the fatal spot longer, and at night we set off, and we ceased not, save for rest, until we reached the town of Laban, where I had friends, and where I knew we should be safe.
"In one short year from that time both Shenir and Alcolomb were dead. They died of grief. Then I left Abdalla at Laban, for he was weary of the world; and I started forth to travel, having assumed a safe disguise. I went to Egypt, to Persia, and to India, and I was gone fifteen years. One day after I had returned I chanced to be in the market-place at Bagdad, and I saw an old woman whom I knew. I studied her face awhile, and then I remembered her for the nurse of the royal infants. I called her to my own house, which I had hired, and when I revealed myself to her she acknowledged that I was right in my supposition. And her story was this:
"'On that fatal night as she sat by the side of the infants, she heard the first notes of alarm, and at the door of the apartment some one demanded admittance, and she heard the word spoken for instant death to the children. That door was fastened, and she knew that to reach the other door the applicants would have to travel some distance, so she caught up the infants and fled by a secret passage, and made her way safely from the city. Fear of being slain for thwarting the wish of the usurper if she was now taken, led her to flee on, and thus she went, hoping to reach the town of Araboli; but she lost her way, and was finally taken by a party of Persians who were on their way to Bagdad, and in that city both she and the children were sold—she being sold to a cadi, the boy to the Syndic of the money-changers, and the girl to the Syndic of the merchants. She had never told her true story, for she feared that danger might still come to the children, as she knew that the wicked usurper was somewhat feared by the caliph—or, at any rate, that Haroun would not wish to incense him.'
"Shortly after this the old nurse died, for she was full of years, and her life had been long. I saw the children, and I knew them at once. It had been compacted when they were wedded that they should ascend the throne when they were twenty years of age, and I resolved to wait till near that time ere I attempted to restore them to their rights. I hastened away to Laban to tell Abdalla what I had found, and he could hardly contain himself for joy. We had there two miniatures, one of Shenir, and one of Alcolomb, and they were painted upon ivory and set in cases of gold and precious stones. They were given to us by the poor king and queen before they died, and were painted by a cunning Greek, who also painted two larger ones which were left in the palace. I made arrangements with Abdalla to be ready for the youth and maiden at any moment when I might send them, and then I left.
"When I reached Bagdad, and had opportunity to see the young people again, I was astonished at the resemblance they bore to the pictures of their parents. I determined to remain near the prince and princess, and as I frequently saw people from Diarbekir and Aden trading there, I chose to assume a disguise, so I became a mender of lamps.
"At length the time for work drew nigh, and I wrote to Abdalla, informing him that I should send the prince and princess on shortly, and in the letter I sent twelve copies of the pictures of the youth and damsel, so that he might give them to those who would be on the watch for them that they might not be deceived by others. Now this letter fell into the hands of some of Becar's officers, who robbed my messenger (I tell you now some things which I have learned very lately), and it was carried to him. He at once sent forth his emir Bahader, and gave him the pictures which he had found in the letter, and thus he said to him:
"'Assume a disguise, O emir, and hasten at once to Bagdad, and obtain possession of those two children if they are there. But for fear that they may be already on their way north, take ye these pictures, which are exact likenesses of them, and leave them with such of our subjects as are faithful, and who can guard every avenue through which they must pass.' So Bahader took the pictures and set off. In the meantime, I gave the picture of the princess to the prince, and the picture of the prince I gave to the princess, for they knew not each other yet. Immediately afterwards fate brought them together, and they loved. Yet little did they dream that they were already husband and wife—that almost twenty years before they had been justly and solemnly married before God and man.
"As soon as could be after this I sent them off, but I let them know nothing of their true state, for I had sworn solemnly not to breathe it save within this palace. I dated not go with them, for I wished to remain in Bagdad to watch that none pursued them properly. I was thus enabled to put several parties upon the wrong track, and they would then have reached Laban in safety had they not lost their way one dark night. Thus they fell into the midst of enemies, and by means of the pictures they were recognized. But the wit of the princess saved them then, but only on their return to fall into another trap, from which they were taken to Bagdad. Of the death sentence of the prince, there pronounced by the caliph, I cannot speak much, for the memory of the pain I then endured is maddening. I dared not tell Haroun who the prisoner was, for I knew that he would have been given up to Becar. However, God placed his hand to the work, and it prospered speedily. Of the capture of the princess by the emir, you are already aware, and also have you heard of the wonderful means by which her escape was effected.
"And now what more can I say? Only that God is most merciful, for he has delivered us out of the hands of a tyrant, and hath restored to us the rightful heirs of the throne. When I had made sure that the prince was safe, I began to spread the news of his existence among the people, both by messengers and letter, and I was not deceived in my hopes, for every man swore allegiance to him the moment he knew he lived.
"Now, men of Diarbekir and of Aden—ye of the mountain and of the plain, and of the far-off countries of the further Euphrates—behold your king and queen, whom the God of all nations and thrones has most mercifully preserved and restored unto us!"
Ben Hamed ceased speaking, and for a moment a dead silence ensued. Then there came up a low murmur—and anon it swelled and grew, until one glad shout awoke the air, and shook the vast palace to its very corner-stone of foundation.
And Assad and Morgiana, when they knew that they were monarchs over this vast domain, were whelmed with fear and trembling at the responsibility which had thus fallen upon them. But another thought was with them, too. They were already wedded—already were they one in the bands of love and of life. Assad looked upon Morgiana, and he murmured—"My beloved, we are united in law as in love." And the young queen responded—"When we knew it not I was thine, and thou wert mine."
Assad and Morgiana sat upon the throne that Becar had left, and the people listened to hear the voice of their king.
"My people," he said, "spare me much speech now, for these wondrous events have hushed my soul to an awful stillness of deep thought. Yet I ask you to love me. And O, may our God so guide me that I and my queen shall earn your every pulsation of love, deep and abiding. While you love me I know you will obey, and when I cease to merit your love, I shall have ceased to merit your obedience. Help me to deal justly here, and may God be with and help us all."
We have little more to add. Of course Ben Hamed and Abdalla were kept near the throne; and they were restored to the posts they had occupied ere the usurper came. Bahader soon died of his wounds; and Becar did not long survive him. Assad was too noble to take revenge upon the wicked old man, but age had come upon him, and his hard heart broke. Gulnare married Abdalla's only son, and was always with the queen when duty allowed. Marouf was among the most important men of the kingdom, being no less than the king's constant companion and executioner of state affairs.
Assad became the chief prop of the caliph's power in the north, but thereby he lost not one jot of his own, for he was firmly fixed in the love of his people, and whose man loveth he obeyeth promptly.
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