Story type: Literature
There was once a respectable journeyman-tailor, named Labakan, who had learned his trade of a clever master in Alexandria. It could not be said that Labakan was unhandy with the needle; on the contrary, he was able to do very fine work. Neither would one be justified in calling him lazy; but still every thing was not just as it should be with the workman, as he often sewed away by the hour at such a rate that the needle became red-hot in his hands, and the thread fairly smoked, and would then show a better piece of work than any one else. But, at another time–and, sad to relate, this occurred more frequently–he would sit plunged in deep thought, looking before him with a fixed gaze, and with something so peculiar in his expression and conduct that his master and the other journeymen were wont to say at such times: “Labakan is putting on airs again.”
But on Fridays, when other people were returning from prayers to their work, Labakan came out of the mosque in a beautiful costume, which he had taken great pains to prepare for himself. He walked slowly and with proud steps through the squares and streets of the city, and whenever he was greeted by any of his comrades with, “Peace be with you,” or, “How are you, friend Labakan?” he condescendingly waved his hand in reply, or gave his superior a princely nod. If his master said to him, “Ah, Labakan, what a prince was lost in you!” he, much flattered, would respond, “Have you, too, remarked that?” or, “That has been my opinion for a long time.”
After this manner had the journeyman conducted himself for a long time; but his master indulged his folly, as otherwise he was a good fellow and a clever workman. But one day, Selim, the brother of the sultan, who was then traveling through Alexandria, sent a court costume to the master, to have certain changes made in it; and the master gave it to Labakan to make the alterations, as he did the best work. At night, after the master and his journeymen had gone out to refresh themselves after their day’s work, an irresistible desire impelled Labakan to go back into the shop where the costume of the sultan’s brother hung. He stood before it, lost in admiration over the splendor of the embroidery and the various shades of velvet and silk. He could not refrain from trying it on; and behold, it fitted him as perfectly as though it had been made for him. “Am I not as good a prince as anybody?” said he to himself, while striding up and down the room. “Has not the master said that I was born to be a prince?” With the clothes, the journeyman seemed to have adopted some quite royal sentiments; he could not banish from his mind the fancy that he was the unacknowledged son of a king; and as such, he resolved to travel about the world, leaving a place where the people had been so foolish as not to recognize his true rank under the cover of his present low position. The splendid costume seemed to him sent by a good fairy. He therefore took care not to slight so welcome a present, pocketed what little ready money he possessed, and, favored by the darkness of the night, strolled out of Alexandria’s gate.
Wherever he appeared, the new prince created quite a sensation; as the splendor of his dress and his grave and majestic air were hardly in keeping with his mode of traveling. When he was questioned on this subject, he was accustomed to reply, in a mysterious way, that there were some very good reasons for his traveling afoot. But when he noticed that he was making himself ridiculous by his foot wanderings, he invested a small sum in an old horse, which was very well adapted to his wants, as, by its lack of speed and spirit, he was never forced into the embarrassing position of showing his skill as a rider–a thing quite out of his line.
One day, as he walked Murva (such was the name he had given his horse) along the road, he was overtaken by a horseman who requested permission to travel with him, as the road would seem much shorter if he could enjoy Labakan’s company. The horseman was a merry young man, of pleasing appearance and conversation. He began talking with Labakan, asking where he had come from and where he was going; and it soon appeared that he, too, like the journeyman-tailor, was traveling about the world without any definite plan. He said that his name was Omar; that he was the nephew of Elsi Bey, the unfortunate Pasha of Cairo, and was traveling in order to execute a charge that his uncle had confided to him on his death-bed. Labakan was not so communicative about his own affairs, but gave Omar to understand that he was of high descent, and was traveling for pleasure.
The two young gentlemen were well pleased with each other, and continued their journey together. On the second day of their acquaintance, Labakan inquired of his companion Omar about the trust he had to execute, and learned to his astonishment that Elsi Bey. Pasha of Cairo, had brought up Omar from his earliest childhood, and the boy had never known his parents. Now, when Elsi Bey was attacked by his enemies, and after three unfortunate battles, was forced to fly from the field, mortally wounded, he disclosed to his pupil that he was not his nephew, but the son of a mighty ruler, who, frightened by the prophecies of his astrologist, had had the young prince removed from the palace, with the oath not to see him again until the prince should have reached his twenty-second birthday. Elsi Bey did not give him the name of his father, but had most particularly charged him that he must be present at the famous pillar El Serujah, a four days’ journey east of Alexandria, on the fourth day of the coming month of Ramadan, on which day he would be twenty-two years old. Arriving there, he should hold out a dagger to the men who would be standing on the column, with the words: “Here am I whom you seek;” and if they answered, “Praised be the Prophet, who preserved you,” he should follow them, and they would lead him to his father.
The journeyman-tailor, Labakan, was astonished at this communication. He looked on Prince Omar, from this time forth, with envious eyes; exasperated that fate should have selected his companion, who already passed for the nephew of a powerful pasha, to shower on him the still higher dignity of a prince’s son, while he, Labakan, endowed with all the qualities of a prince, was degraded by a low birth and a common occupation. He made comparisons between himself and the prince, and was forced to confess that the prince was a youth of prepossessing appearance, with fine sparkling eyes, aquiline nose, a gentle and obliging manner–in short, all the external marks of a gentleman. But numerous as were the good traits he noticed in his companion, still, he whispered to himself, a Labakan would be far more welcome to a princely father than the real prince.
These reflections occupied Labakan’s mind the whole day; and they were present in his sleep, at their next lodging-place. And when he woke, and his eye fell on the sleeping Omar at his side–sleeping so quietly, and dreaming, perhaps, of his happy fortune–the idea came into Labakan’s brain to obtain, through stratagem or force, that which unwilling fate had denied him. The dagger, the token by which the home-returning prince was to be recognized, stuck in the sash of the sleeper. He drew it forth lightly, to plunge it into the sleeping breast of its owner. But the pacific soul of the tailor shrunk at the thought of murder. He contented himself with taking possession of the dagger, ordered Omar’s fast horse to be saddled, and before the prince had awaked, his faithless companion had gained a start of several miles.
It was the first day of the sacred month of Ramadan when Labakan robbed the prince; and he had, therefore, four days in which to reach the pillar of El Serujah, the location of which he well knew. Although the distance could be easily covered in two days, yet Labakan fearing to be overtaken by the true prince, made all haste.
At the close of the second day, Labakan saw the column before him. It stood upon a small hill, in a broad plain, and could be observed at a distance of eight miles. Labakan’s heart beat wildly at the sight. Although he had had time enough, in the last two days, to think over the part he was about to play, still his accusing conscience made him uneasy; but the thought that he had been born to be a prince hardened him once more, so that he went forward.
The region about the column El Serujah was uninhabited and desolate, and the new prince would have found himself in sad straights for sustenance, had he not made provision for a journey of several days. He went into camp, with his horse, under some palm trees, and awaited there his fate.
Near the middle of the following day, he saw a large procession of horses and camels coming over the plain, to the column of El Serujah. The train stopped at the foot of the hill on which the column stood; splendid tents were pitched, and the whole had the appearance of a rich pasha’s or sheik’s caravan. Labakan suspected that the many people whom he saw were there on the Prince Omar’s account, and he would willingly have shown them their future ruler then and there; but he controlled his desire to step forth as a prince, as the following morning would certainly see his dearest hopes realized.
The morning sun woke the overjoyed tailor to the most important moment of his life–the moment that should see him lifted from an ignoble position to the side of a royal father. To be sure, the unlawfulness of the steps he was taking, occurred to him, as he saddled his horse to ride to the column; to be sure, he thought of the anguish Prince Omar would suffer, betrayed in his fair hopes; but the die was cast, and he could not undo what had already been done, and his vanity whispered to him that he looked stately enough to be presented to the most powerful king as a son. Encouraged by such thoughts, he swung himself into his saddle, mustered all his courage to stand the ordeal of a gallop, and in less than fifteen minutes he reached the foot of the hill. He dismounted from his horse and tied it to a bush, and then drew out Prince Omar’s dagger and ascended the hill.
At the foot of the column stood six men around an aged man of kingly appearance. A splendid kaftan of cloth of gold, with a white cashmere shawl wound about it, and a white turban ornamented with sparkling jewels, denoted him to be a man of wealth and rank.
Labakan went up to him, made a low obeisance, and offered him the dagger, saying: “Here am I whom you seek.”
“Praised be the Prophet, who preserved you!” replied the old man with tears of joy. “Embrace your old father, my beloved son Omar!” The good tailor was much moved by these solemn words, and with a mixture of joy and shame sank into the arms of the aged prince.
But only for an instant was he permitted to enjoy undisturbed the delight of his new surroundings; for as he arose from the embrace of the elderly prince, he saw a horseman hastening across the plain towards the hill. The rider and his horse presented a singular appearance. The horse, either from stubbornness or exhaustion, could hardly be urged forward, but moved with a stumbling gait that could be called neither a walk nor a trot, while his rider was using both hands and feet to force him to a faster pace. Only too soon Labakan recognized his horse, Murva, and the genuine Prince Omar; but the wicked Father of Lies once more took possession of him, and he determined that, whatever the result might be, he would maintain his pretended rights with a bold face.
The rider’s gestures had been seen while he was still at a distance; but now, in spite of the feeble trot of his horse, he had arrived at the foot of the hill, thrown himself from his horse, and rushed up the hill.
“Stay, there!” cried he, “Stop, whoever you may be, and do not let yourselves be misled by the shameful impostor! My name is Omar, and no mortal may dare to assume my name!”
Deep astonishment was expressed in the faces of the bystanders, at the turn affairs had taken, and the old prince was especially perplexed, as he looked inquiringly from one to the other. But Labakan said, with forced composure: “Most gracious Sire and Father, do not allow this person to mislead you. He is, to my certain knowledge, a crazy tailor from Alexandria, called Labakan, and more deserving of our pity than our anger.”
These words brought the prince to the verge of madness. Foaming with rage he attempted to spring on Labakan, but the bystanders interposed, and held him fast, while the old prince said: “Of a truth, my dear son, the poor fellow is mad; let him be bound and placed on one of our dromedaries; perhaps we may be able to render the unfortunate youth some assistance.”
The anger of the prince was past. He threw himself, weeping, at the feet of his father: “My heart tells me that you are my father; by the memory of my mother, I charge you to listen to me!”
“Eh, God preserve us!” answered the old man. “He is beginning to talk strangely again; how does the fellow come by such stupid notions!”
Thereupon he took Labakan’s arm, and was conducted down the hill by him. They both mounted beautiful, richly-caparisoned horses, and rode at the head of the caravan, over the plain. The hands of the prince were bound, and he was tied fast on one of the dromedaries, while two horsemen rode on each side, and kept a careful watch on all his movements.
The elderly prince was Saaud, Sultan of Wechabiten. He had lived for years without children, until finally a son, whom he had so ardently desired, was born to him. But the astrologer of whom he inquired the destiny of the boy, gave the opinion that “until his twenty-second year the child would be in danger of being supplanted by an enemy,” therefore to be on the safe side, the sultan had given the prince to his tried and true friend, Elsi Bey, to be brought up, and for twenty-two painful years had waited for his home-coming.
All this the sultan told his pretended son, and expressed himself as well pleased with his figure and demeanor.
On arriving in the sultan’s country they were everywhere received by the inhabitants with acclamations, as the report of the prince’s arrival had spread like wildfire to all the cities and villages. Arches covered with flowers and boughs were constructed in all the streets through which they passed, brilliant carpets of all colors adorned the houses, and the people praised God and His Prophets for sending them so beautiful a prince. All this filled the heart of the tailor with delight; but all the more unhappy did the real Omar feel, who, still bound, followed the caravan in silent despair. In the universal joy nobody troubled themselves about him who should have been the recipient of their welcome. Thousands upon thousands shouted the name of Omar, but he who rightly bore this name was noticed not at all. At the most, one and another would ask who it was that was bound so securely; and the reply of his escort, that it was a crazy tailor, echoed horribly in his ears.
The caravan at last reached the capital of the sultan, where a still more brilliant reception was awaiting them. The sultana, an elderly, venerable lady, awaited them with the entire court, in the splendid hall of the palace. The floor of this salon was covered with an immense carpet, the walls were tastefully adorned with a light-blue cloth, hung from great silver hooks with golden tassels and cords.
It was already night when the caravan arrived; therefore numerous round colored lamps were lighted in the salon, making it light as day. But the most lights were placed at the farther end of the salon, where the sultana sat upon a throne. The throne stood upon a dais, and was inlaid with pure gold, and set with large amethysts. Four of the most distinguished emirs held a canopy over the sultana’s head, while the Sheik of Medina fanned her with a fan of peacock’s feathers.
Under these surroundings, the sultana awaited her husband and her son. She had not seen her son since his birth, but the longed-for son had appeared in her dreams, so that she felt sure of knowing him amongst a thousand. Now the noise of the approaching caravan was heard, trumpets and drums mingled with the cheers of the crowd; the hoofs of the horses beat in the court of the palace; nearer and nearer sounded the steps of the expected ones; the doors of the salon flew open, and through the rows of prostrate servants, the sultan hastened to the throne of the sultana, leading his son by the hand.
“Here,” said he, “I bring you the one for whom you have so long yearned.”
But the sultana interrupted him with: “That is not my son! Those are not the features that the Prophet showed me in my dreams!”
Just as the sultan was about to upbraid her for her unbelief, the door of the salon opened, and Prince Omar rushed in, followed by his guards, from whom he had escaped by the exercise of all his strength. He threw himself breathless before the throne with the words:
“Here will I die! Let me be killed, inhuman father, for I can no longer endure this disgrace.”
Everyone was amazed at this speech; they crowded about the unfortunate youth, and the guards, from whom he had escaped, were about to lay hold of him and bind him again, when the sultana, who had looked on all this in speechless surprise, sprang up from the throne.
“Stay, there!” cried she; “this and no other is the real prince; this is he whom my eyes have never beheld, and yet my heart has known!”
The guard had involuntarily released Omar, but the sultan, burning with anger, called to them to bind the crazy fellow. “It is my business to decide here,” said he, in a commanding tone, “and here one does not judge by the dreams of old women, but by certain reliable signs. This youth (pointing to Labakan) is my son, for he brought me the dagger, the true token of my friend Elsi.”
“He stole the dagger!” exclaimed Omar. “He abused my unsuspecting confidence with treachery!” But the sultan, accustomed to have his own way in every thing, would not listen to the voice of his son, and had the unhappy Omar forcibly dragged from the room. Then, accompanied by Labakan, he went to his own room, very angry with the sultana, with whom he had lived in peace for twenty-five years.
The sultana was very unhappy over these events. She was perfectly well satisfied that an impostor had taken possession of the sultan’s heart, as the unfortunate youth who had been dragged away, had often appeared in her dreams as her son.
When she had in a measure quieted her sorrow, she tried to hit upon some method of convincing the sultan of his error. This was no easy task, as he who had usurped their son’s place, had brought the token of recognition, the dagger, and had also, as she discovered, learned so much about Omar’s early life from the prince himself, that he played his role without betraying himself.
She summoned the men who had accompanied the sultan to the pillar of El Serujah, in order to learn all the particulars, and then held a consultation with her most trustworthy slave-women. They chose and then rejected this and that expedient. At last Melechsalah, a wise old woman, said: “If I have heard rightly, honored mistress, the one who brought the dagger, called him whom you recognize as your son, Labakan, a crazy tailor.”
“Yes, that is true,” answered the sultana; “but what can you make out of that?”
“Suppose,” continued the slave, “that this impostor had fastened his own name on your son? And if this supposition is correct, there is a fine way of catching the impostor, that I will tell to you as a secret.”
The sultana bent her head, and the slave whispered in her ear some expedient that seemed to please the sultana, as she prepared to go at once to the sultan.
The sultana was a prudent woman, who knew the weak sides of the sultan and how to make use of them. She therefore appeared willing to submit to his judgment, and to recognize the son he had chosen; asking in return but one condition. The sultan, who was sorry for the anger he had shown his wife, granted her request, and she said: “I should dearly like to receive from both of these claimants a test of their cleverness. Another person might very likely have them ride, fight, or throw spears; but these are things that everybody can do, and I will give them something that will require ingenuity to accomplish. Each one shall make a kaftan, and a pair of trousers, and then we shall see who will make the finest.”
The sultan laughed, and said: “Well, you have devised something extremely wise! The idea that my son should compete with your crazy tailor at coat-making? No, it won’t do.”
The sultana, however, insisted that he was bound by the promise he had made her in advance; and the sultan, who was a man of his word, finally consented, although he swore that let the crazy tailor make his coat ever so fine, he would never admit him to be his son.
The sultan went in person to his son, and requested him to humor the caprice of his mother, who very much wished for a kaftan made by his hands. Labakan was greatly pleased. If that is all that is wanted, thought he to himself, then madame the sultana will soon have cause to be proud of me.
Two rooms were prepared, one for the prince, the other for the tailor, where they were to try their skill; and they were liberally provided with silk cloth, scissors, needles and thread.
The sultan was very curious to see what sort of a thing his son would bring to light for a kaftan; while the sultana was very nervous lest her stratagem should fail. Two days had been given to them in which to accomplish their task. On the morning of the third day, the sultan sent for his wife, and when she had come, he sent into the two rooms for the two kaftans and their makers.
Labakan entered triumphantly, and spread his kaftan before the astonished eyes of the sultan. “Look here, father!” said he, “see, honored mother, whether this is not a master-piece of a kaftan? I would be willing to lay a wager with the cleverest court tailor that he could not produce such an one as that.”
The sultana smiled, and turned to Omar: “And what have you produced, my son?” Impatiently he threw down the silk, cloth and scissors on the floor. “I was brought up to break horses, and to the use of a sword, and my spear will hit the mark at sixty paces; but the science of the needle is strange to me, and would have been an unworthy study for a pupil of Elsi Bey, the ruler of Cairo!”
“O thou true son of my heart!” exclaimed the sultana. “Now, I can embrace thee, and call thee son! Pardon me, my Husband and Lord,” continued she, turning to the sultan, “that I have plotted this stratagem against you. Do you not now see which is the prince, and which the tailor? Truly, the kaftan that your son has made is superb, and I should like to ask him of what master he learned his trade.”
The sultan sat in deep thought, glancing suspiciously now at his wife and now at Labakan, who vainly tried to control his blushes and his discomfiture at having so stupidly betrayed himself.
“Even this proof will not suffice,” said the sultan. “But praised be Allah, I know of a means of finding out whether I have been deceived or not.”
He ordered his fastest horse to be led out, swung himself into the saddle, and rode into a forest near by, where lived, according to an old legend, a kind fairy named Adolzaide, who had often stood by the kings of his race with her counsel in the hour of need.
In the middle of the forest was an open place surrounded by tall cedars. There lived–so the story ran–the fairy, and it was seldom that a mortal ventured there, as a certain aversion to the spot had for ages descended from father to son.
Arriving there, the sultan dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, placed himself in the centre of the opening, and called out in a loud voice: “If it be true that you have given my ancestors good advice in the hour of need, then do not spurn the prayer of their grandson, and give me advice on a point for which human understanding is too frail.”
He had hardly spoken the last word, when one of the cedars opened, and a veiled lady, in long white garments, stepped forth. “I know why you come to me, Sultan Saaud. Your purpose is just; therefore, you shall have my assistance. Take these two little boxes. Let each of the young men who claim to be your son choose between these. I know that the true prince will not fail to pick out the right one.” Thus spake the fairy, at the same time handing him two little ivory boxes richly set with gold and pearls. On the lid, which the sultan vainly tried to open, were inscriptions in diamond letters.
The sultan tried to think as he rode home what these little boxes might contain; but all his efforts to open them failed. Nor did the inscriptions throw any light on the matter, for one read– Honor and Fame ; the other– Fortune and Riches. The sultan thought to himself that he would have great difficulty in making a choice between these two things, that were alike desirable, alike alluring.
On arriving at his palace, he sent for the sultana, and told her of the verdict of the fairy. A strange hope assured the sultana that he to whom her heart drew her would choose the box that should make plain his royal descent.
Two tables were placed before the throne of the sultan, upon which the king placed the boxes with his own hand. He then ascended the throne, and beckoned one of his slaves to open the doors of the salon. A brilliant assembly of pashas and emirs of the realm, whom the sultan had summoned, streamed through the opened doors. They took their places on splendid cushions that were ranged lengthwise along the wall.
When they were all seated, the sultan beckoned a second time, and Labakan was brought forward. With a proud step he walked up the hall, prostrated himself before the throne, and said: “What are the commands of my Lord and Father?”
The sultan rose from his throne, and said: “My son, doubts have been raised as to the justness of your claim to this name; one of those little boxes contains the proof of your real parentage. Choose; I do not doubt that you will select the right one.”
Labakan arose and stepped up to the tables, hesitated for some time as to which he should choose, but finally said: “Honored Father! What can be higher than the fortune to be your son? what nobler than the riches of thy grace? I choose the box with the inscription– Fortune and Riches.”
“We shall presently know whether you have chosen the right one; in the meantime sit down on the cushion by the side of the Pasha of Medina,” said the sultan, and motioned to a slave.
Omar was brought forward. His look was gloomy, his air sad, and his appearance created universal interest among those present. He prostrated himself before the throne, and inquired after the commands of the sultan. The sultan signified to him that he was to choose one of the little boxes. Omar arose and approached the tables.
He read attentively both inscriptions, and then said: “The last few days have taught me how fickle is fortune, how unstable are riches; but they have also learned me that an indestructible gift dwells in the breast of Honor, and that the shining star of Fame does not vanish with fortune. And though I should renounce a crown, the die is cast: Honor and Fame, I choose you!”
He placed his hand on the box he had chosen; but the sultan ordered him to wait a moment, and beckoned Labakan to come forward, and lay his hand on his box also. Then the sultan had a basin of water, of the holy fountain of Zemzem in Mecca, brought, washed his hands for prayer, turned his face to the East, prostrated himself and prayed: “God of my fathers! Thou who for centuries hast preserved our race pure and uncontaminated, do not permit that an unworthy one should bring to shame the name of the Abasside; be near my true son with Thy protection, in this hour of trial!”
The sultan arose, and once more ascended his throne. Universal expectancy held those present in breathless attention; one could have heard a mouse run over the floor, so still were they all. Those farthest away stretched their necks to look over the heads of those in front, that they might see the little boxes. Then the sultan spoke: “Open the boxes!” and although no force could have opened them before, they now flew open of themselves.
In the box chosen by Omar lay, on a velvet cushion, a small golden crown, and a sceptre; in Labakan’s box–a large needle and a little package of thread! The sultan ordered them to bring their boxes to him. He took the miniature crown in his hand, and wonderful was it to see how, as he took it, it began to grow larger and larger until it had attained the size of a genuine crown. He placed the crown on the head of Omar, who knelt before him, kissed him on the forehead, and bade him sit at his right hand. Then turning to Labakan, he said: “There is an old proverb that the shoemaker should stick to his last. It looks as if you should stick to the needle. To be sure, you do not deserve my pardon; but some one has interceded for you, to whom I can refuse nothing to-day; therefore I spare you your miserable life. But, to give you some good advice–you had better make haste to get out of my kingdom.”
Ashamed, ruined as were all his pretensions, the poor journeyman-tailor could not reply. He threw himself at the feet of the prince, in tears. “Can you forgive me, Prince?” said he.
“Loyalty to a friend, magnanimity to a foe, is the boast of the Abasside,” replied the prince, as he raised him up. “Go in peace!”
“Oh, my true son!” cried the aged sultan, with deep emotion, and sank on the breast of Omar. The emirs and pashas, and all the nobility of the kingdom, rose from their seats, and cried: “Hail to the new son of the king!” and amidst the universal joy, Labakan stole out of the room with the little box under his arm.
He went below to the stables of the sultan, saddled his horse, Murva, and rode out of the gate of the city towards Alexandria. His life as a prince appeared to him as a dream, and the splendid little box, set with pearls and diamonds, was the only thing left to remind him that he had not dreamed.
When he at length reached Alexandria, he rode up to the house of his old master, dismounted, tied his horse near the door, and entered the workshop. The master, not knowing him at first, made an obeisance, and asked him what might be his pleasure But on taking a closer look, and recognizing Labakan, he called to his journeymen and apprentices, and they all rushed angrily at the poor Labakan, who was not expecting such a reception, kicked and beat him with their irons and yard sticks, pricked him with needles, and nipped him with sharp shears, until, utterly exhausted, he sank down on a heap of old clothes.
While he lay there, the master gave him a lecture on the clothes he had stolen. In vain did Labakan assure him that he had come back in order to make restitution; all in vain did he offer him three-fold indemnity; the master and his men fell upon him again, beat him black and blue, and threw him out of the door. Torn and bruised, Labakan crawled on his horse and rode to a caravansary. Then he laid his tired and aching head on a pillow, and reflected on the sorrows of earth, on unappreciated merit, and on the vanity and fickleness of riches. He fell asleep with the resolution to forswear all greatness, and become a respectable citizen.
The succeeding day found him still steadfast in his purpose, as the heavy hands of the master and his men seemed to have beaten all his grand notions out of him. He sold his little box to a jeweler for a high price, bought a house with the proceeds, and fitted up a workshop for his trade. When he had every thing arranged, and had also hung out a sign before his window with the inscription, ” Labakan, Tailor,” he sat down, and with the needle and thread he had found in the little box, began to mend his coat that had been so badly torn by his old master. He was called away from his work, and when he returned to take it up again, what a singular sight met his eyes! The needle was sewing busily away without any one to guide it, making such fine, delicate stitches, as even Labakan in his most artistic moments could not have equaled!
Surely even the commonest gift of a kind fairy is useful and of great value. Still another value was possessed by this present, namely: the ball of the thread was never exhausted, let the needle sew as fast as it would.
Labakan obtained many customers, and was soon the most famous tailor in all that region. He would cut out the clothes, and make the first stitch with the needle, and the needle would then instantly go on with the work, never pausing until the garment was done. Master Labakan soon had the whole town for customers, as his work was first-class, and his prices low; and only over one thing did the people of Alexandria shake their heads, namely: that he worked without journeymen, and with locked doors.
Thus did the saying of the little box, promising Fortune and Riches, come to pass. Fortune and riches, even though in moderate measure, attended the steps of the good tailor; and when he heard of the fame of the young sultan, Omar, that was on all lips; when he heard that this brave man was the pride and love of his people, and the terror of his enemies–then the false prince thought to himself: “It is after all better that I remained a tailor, for the quest of honor and fame is rather a dangerous business.”
Thus lived Labakan, contented with his lot, respected by his fellow-citizens; and if the needle in the meanwhile has not lost its virtue, it still sews on with the endless thread of the kind fairy, Adolzaide.
At sunset the caravan started on, and soon reached Birket-el-Had, or Pilgrim’s Fountain; from which it was only a three hours’ journey to Cairo. The caravan was expected about this time, and therefore the merchants soon had the pleasure of seeing their friends coming from Cairo to meet them. They entered the city through the gate Bab-el-Falch, as it is considered a happy omen for those who come from Mecca to pass through this gate, as the Prophet went out of it.
On the market-place the three Turkish merchants took leave of the stranger Selim Baruch, and the Greek merchant Zaleukos, and went home with their friends. But Zaleukos showed the stranger a good caravansary, and invited him to take dinner with him. The stranger accepted the invitation, and promised to come as soon as he had made some changes in his dress.
The Greek made every preparation to entertain his guest, for whom he had acquired a strong liking on the journey; and when the dishes were all arranged in order, he sat down to await the coming of his guest.
At last he heard slow and heavy steps in the hall that led to his room. He arose to go and meet him and welcome him on the threshold; but no sooner had he opened the door, than he stepped back horrified, for that terrible man with the red mantle stepped towards him! He looked at him again; there was no illusion; the same tall, commanding figure, the mask through which the dark eyes shone, the red mantle with the gold embroidery, were only too closely associated with the most terrible hours of his life.
Conflicting emotions surged in Zaleukos’s breast. He had long since become reconciled to this picture of memory, and had forgiven him who had injured him; yet the appearance of the man himself opened all his wounds afresh; all those painful hours when he had suffered almost the pangs of death,–the remorse that had poisoned his young life,–all this swept over his soul in the flight of a moment.
“What do you want, monster?” exclaimed the Greek, as the apparition stood motionless on the threshold. “Vanish quickly, before I curse you!”
“Zaleukos!” spoke a well-known voice, from beneath the mask, “Zaleukos! is it thus you receive your guest?” The speaker removed the mask, and threw the mantle back; it was Selim Baruch, the stranger.
But Zaleukos was not yet quieted. He shuddered at the stranger, for only too plainly had he recognized the unknown man of the Ponte Vecchio. But the old habit of hospitality prevailed; he silently beckoned to the stranger to take a seat at the table.
“I perceive your thoughts,” said the stranger, after they were seated. “Your eyes look inquiringly at me. I could have remained silent, and never more appeared to your vision; but I owe you an explanation, and therefore I ventured to appear to you in my old form, knowing that I run the risk of your cursing me. But you once told me: The religion of my fathers commands me to love him, and then he must be more unhappy than I. Believe that, my friend, and listen to my vindication.
“I must begin far back, in order to make my story quite clear. I was born in Alexandria, of Christian parents. My father was the French consul there, and was the younger son of a famous old French family. From my tenth year up, I was under the care of my uncle, in France, and left my fatherland some years after the breaking out of the Revolution, with my uncle, who no longer felt safe in the land of his ancestors, in order to find a refuge with my parents across the sea. We landed in Alexandria, hopeful of finding in my parents’ home that quiet and peace that no longer obtained in France. The outside storms of this excitable period had not, it is true, extended to this point, but from an unexpected quarter came the blow that crushed our family to the ground. My brother, a young man full of promise, and private secretary to my father, had but recently married the daughter of a Florentine nobleman who lived in my father’s neighborhood. Two days before our arrival, my brother’s bride disappeared; and neither our family, nor yet her father, could discover the slightest trace of her. We finally came to the conclusion that she had ventured too far away for a walk, and had fallen into the hands of brigands. This belief would have been a consolation to my brother, in comparison with the truth that was only too soon made known to us. The faithless woman had eloped with a young Neapolitan, whom she had been in the habit of meeting at her father’s house. My brother, terribly excited by this act, used his utmost endeavors to bring the guilty one to account; but in vain. His attempts in this direction, which had aroused attention in Florence and Naples, only served to bring down misfortune on us all. The Florentine nobleman returned to his country under the pretext of assisting my brother, but with the real design of destroying us all. He put an end to all the investigations instituted by my brother in Florence, and used his influence so effectually that my father and brother fell under the suspicion of their government, were imprisoned in the most outrageous manner, and taken to France, where they were guillotined. My mother went crazy, and only after ten long months did death release her from her terrible condition. But she recovered her sanity a few days before her death. I was thus left all alone in the world, but only one thought occupied my soul, only one thought overshadowed my grief: it was the powerful flame of revenge that my mother kindled in my breast during the last hours of her life.
“As I have said, she recovered her senses towards the last. She called me to her side and spoke quietly of our fate and of her approaching death. Then she sent everybody out of the room, raised herself with a spirited air from her poor couch, and said that I could win her blessing if I would swear to carry out what she should confide to me. Influenced by the dying words of my mother, I bound myself with an oath to do her bidding. She broke out in imprecations against the Florentine and his daughter, and required me, under the penalty of incurring her curse, to revenge our unfortunate family on him. She died in my arms. The thought of revenge had long slumbered in my soul; now it was aroused to action. I collected the balance of my patrimony, and resolved to risk every thing on my revenge.
“I was soon in Florence, where I kept as quiet as possible. The difficulty of executing my plan was much increased by the situation in which I found my enemy. The old Florentine had become Governor, and had the power, should he have the least suspicion of my presence, to destroy me. An incident occurred just then that was of great assistance to me. One evening I saw a man passing along the street, in a familiar livery. His unsteady gait, sullen look, and manner of muttering Santo Sacramento and Maledetto diavolo, assured me that it was Pietro, a servant of the Florentine’s, whom I had known in Alexandria. I had no doubt that it was his master whom he was cursing, and I therefore determined to make use of his present frame of mind for my own benefit. He seemed very much surprised to see me in Florence, and complained to me that since his master had become Governor he could do nothing to suit him; so that my gold, together with his anger, brought him over to my side. The most difficult part of my plan had now been provided for. I had in my pay a man who could open the door of my enemy to me at any hour, and now my revenge seemed near its accomplishment. The life of the old Florentine seemed to me of too little account to offset the destruction of our family: he must lose the idol of his heart, his daughter Bianca. Was it not she who treated my brother so shamefully? Was it not she who was the chief cause of our misfortunes? The news that she was about to be married a second time was very welcome to my revengeful heart. This would but heighten the vengeance of my blow. It was settled in my mind that she must die. But I myself shrank from the deed, and I did not credit Pietro with nerve enough; so we looked about for a man who could accomplish the work. I did not dare approach any of the Florentines, as none of them would have dared to undertake such a thing against the Governor. It was then that the scheme I afterward carried out, occurred to Pietro, who at the same time pitched upon you, a stranger and physician, as being the most suitable person to do the deed. The rest of the story you know. The only danger to the success of my scheme lay in your sagacity and honesty; hence the affair with the mantle.
“Pietro opened the side gate of the Governor’s palace for us, and would have shown us out as secretly, had not he and I fled, horrified by the terrible sight we saw through a crack in the door. Pursued by terror and remorse, I ran some two hundred paces, and sank down on the steps of a church. There I collected my thoughts, and my first one was of you and your fate, should you be found in the house. I stole to the palace, but could find no trace of either you or Pietro. The side gate was open, so I could at least hope that you had taken advantage of the opportunity to flee. But when the day broke, fear of discovery and a sensation of remorse drove me from Florence. I hastened to Rome. But imagine my consternation when, in the course of a few days, this story reached Rome, with the additional report that the murderer, a Greek physician, had been captured! I returned to Florence with sad apprehensions, for, if my revenge had before seemed too strong, I cursed it now, as it would have been purchased too dearly with your life. I arrived in Florence on the day you lost your hand. I will be silent over what I felt as I saw you ascend the scaffold and suffer so heroically. But as your blood streamed out, I made the resolve to see that the rest of your life should be passed in comfort. What happened afterwards, you know. It only remains for me to tell why I made this journey across the desert with you. Like a heavy burden the thought pressed on me that you had not yet forgiven me; therefore I resolved to pass some days, with you, and at last give you an account of the motives that had influenced my action.”
The Greek had listened silently to his guest, and when he had finished, with a gentle expression he offered him his hand. “I knew well that you must be more unhappy than I, for that cruel deed, like a black cloud, will forever darken your life. As for myself, I forgive you from my heart. But permit me one more question: How did you happen to be in the desert in your present character? What did you do after buying me the house in Constantinople?”
“I went back to Alexandria. Hatred of all human kind raged in my breast, but especially hatred of those nations which are called civilized. Believe me, I was better pleased with my Moslems. I had been in Alexandria only a few months, when it was invaded by my countrymen. I saw in them only the executioners of my father and brother; therefore I gathered some young people of my acquaintance, who entertained similar views, and joined the brave Mameluke, who became the terror of the French army. When the campaign was ended, I could not bring myself to return to the arts of peace. With a few friends of similar tendencies, I lived an unsettled fugitive life, devoted to battle and the chase. I live contentedly with these people, who honor me as their prince; for if my Asiatics are not so civilized as your Europeans, yet envy and slander, selfishness and ambition are not their characteristics.”
Zaleukos thanked the stranger for his communication, but he did not hide from him his opinion that it would be far better for one of his rank and culture, were he to live and work in Christian and European countries. He took the stranger’s hand, and invited him to go with him, and to live and die with him.
Zaleukos’s guest was deeply moved. “From this I know,” said he, “that you have entirely forgiven me, that you even love me. Receive my heartfelt thanks.”
He sprang up, and stood in all his majesty before the Greek, who shrank back at the warlike appearance, the dark glistening eyes, the deep mysterious voice of his guest. “Your proposal is good,” continued he; “any other person might be persuaded; I can not accept it! My horse is saddled, my followers await me: farewell, Zaleukos!”
The friends whom destiny had so strangely united, embraced each other before parting.
“And what shall I call you? What is the name of my guest and friend who will live forever in my memory?” asked the Greek.
The stranger gave him a parting look, pressed his hand once more, and replied: “They call me the ruler of the desert; I am the Robber Orbasan.”