- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS
JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS
"Aunt Naomi" (GERTRUDE LANDA)
When Childhood's toys have passed away, May Books become another play. Then may each book a blessing give And bring you pleasure while you live.
New York Bloch Publishing Co., Inc. "The Jewish Book Concern" 1943
Copyright, 1919, Bloch Publishing Company.
The very cordial welcome given to my earlier volume of "Jewish Fairy Tales and Fables" has prompted me to draw further upon Rabbinic lore in the interest, chiefly, of the children. How the wise Rabbis of old took into account the necessities of the little ones, whose minds they understood so perfectly, is obvious from such legends as those dealing with boyish exploits of the great Biblical characters, Abraham, Moses, and David. These I have rewritten from the stories in the Talmud and Midrash in a manner suitable for the children of to-day.
I have ventured also beyond the confines of these two wonderful compilations. There is a wealth of delightful imagination in the legends and folk-lore of the Jews of a later period which is almost entirely unknown to children. I have drawn also on these sources for some of the stories here presented. My desire is to give boys and girls something Jewish which they may be able to regard as companion delights to the treasury of general fairy-lore and childish romance.
AUNT NAOMI. LONDON, March, 1919.
THE PALACE OF THE EAGLES 15
THE GIANT OF THE FLOOD 27
THE FAIRY PRINCESS OF ERGETZ 35
THE HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY PALACE 67
THE RED SLIPPER 77
THE STAR CHILD 87
ABI FRESSAH'S FEAST 99
THE BEGGAR KING 113
THE QUARREL OF THE CAT AND DOG 119
THE WATER-BABE 127
SINBAD OF THE TALMUD 133
THE OUTCAST PRINCE 151
THE STORY OF BOSTANAI 163
FROM SHEPHERD-BOY TO KING 173
THE MAGIC PALACE 179
THE SLEEP OF ONE HUNDRED YEARS 187
KING FOR THREE DAYS 195
THE PALACE IN THE CLOUDS 203
THE POPE'S GAME OF CHESS 213
THE SLAVE'S FORTUNE 225
THE PARADISE IN THE SEA 235
THE RABBI'S BOGEY-MAN 243
THE FAIRY FROG 251
THE PRINCESS OF THE TOWER 259
KING ALEXANDER'S ADVENTURES 277 a. THE VISION OF VICTORY 277 b. THE LAND OF DARKNESS 282 c. THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD 288
"Where is the door?" Frontispiece
Og, riding gaily on the unicorn behind the Ark, was quite happy 26
A strange crowd of demons of all shapes and sizes poured into the synagogue with threatening gestures 36
He could not see what Sarah saw—a figure, a spirit, clutching a big stick 68
"The big fellow here got angry, beat the others and smashed them to bits" 88
He sprang from his stool, spluttering and cursing 100
He found a beautiful youth, clad in a deer skin, lying on the ground 112
With a cry, he put his fingers in his mouth to ease the pain and burned his tongue 126
They saw the land rise up like a huge mountain and a tremendous stream of water gush forth 134
He looked up and beheld the most beautiful woman his eyes had ever seen 150
As the Shah raised his sword an old man stepped from behind the tree 162
Behind him a fierce roar indicated that the lion was in pursuit 172
The gates opened from within and the Arab stood before them 178
The sun was shining on a noble city of pinnacles and minarets 188
He heard a cry of alarm and saw a huge stone fall on the soldier riding behind him 194
The four youths mounted the eagles which flew aloft to the extremity of their cords 202
"Thou canst only be my long lost son Elkanan!" 214
He crouched on his throne and imagined he saw angels and demons and fairies 234
The monster was battering down the door of the synagogue 244
Hanina and his wife followed the giant frog 252
The giant bird did not seem to notice its burden at all 258
Then the door slowly opened and a figure in white stood in the entry 276
JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS
The Palace of the Eagles
East of the Land of the Rising Sun there dwelled a king who spent all his days and half his nights in pleasure. His kingdom was on the edge of the world, according to the knowledge of those times, and almost entirely surrounded by the sea. Nobody seemed to care what lay beyond the barrier of rocks that shut off the land from the rest of the world. For the matter of that, nobody appeared to trouble much about anything in that kingdom.
Most of the people followed the example of the king and led idle, careless lives, giving no thought to the future. The king regarded the task of governing his subjects as a big nuisance; he did not care to be worried with proposals concerning the welfare of the masses, and documents brought to him by his advisors for signature were never read. For aught he knew they may have referred to the school regulations of the moon, instead of the laws of trading and such like public matters.
"Don't bother me," was his usual remark. "You are my advisors and officers of state. Deal with affairs as you think best."
And off he would go to his beloved hunting which was his favorite pastime.
The land was fertile, and nobody had ever entertained an idea that bad weather might some year affect the crops and cause a scarcity of grain. They took no precautions to lay in stocks of wheat, and so when one summer there was a great lack of rain and the fields were parched, the winter that followed was marked by suffering. The kingdom was faced by famine, and the people did not like it. They did not know what to do, and when they appealed to the king, he could not help them. Indeed, he could not understand the difficulty. He passed it off very lightly.
"I am a mighty hunter," he said. "I can always kill enough beasts to provide a sufficiency of food."
But the drought had withered away the grass and the trees, and the shortage of such food had greatly reduced the number of animals. The king found the forests empty of deer and birds. Still he failed to realize the gravity of the situation and what he considered an exceedingly bright idea struck him.
"I will explore the unknown territory beyond the barrier of rocky hills," he said. "Surely there will I find a land of plenty. And, at least" he added, "it will be a pleasant adventure with good hunting."
A great expedition was therefore arranged, and the king and his hunting companions set forth to find a path over the rocks. This was not at all difficult, and on the third day, a pass was discovered among the crags and peaks that formed the summit of the barrier, and the king saw the region beyond.
It seemed a vast and beautiful land, stretching away as far as the eye could see in a forest of huge trees. Carefully, the hunters descended the other side of the rock barrier and entered the unknown land.
It seemed uninhabited. Nor was there any sign of beast or bird of any kind. No sound disturbed the stillness of the forest, no tracks were visible. As well as the hunters could make out, no foot had ever trodden the region before. Even nature seemed at rest. The trees were all old, their trunks gnarled into fantastic shapes, their leaves yellow and sere as if growth had stopped ages ago.
Altogether the march through the forest was rather eerie, and the hunters proceeded in single file, which added to the impressiveness of the strange experience. The novelty, however, made it pleasant to the king, and he kept on his way for four days.
Then the forest ended abruptly, and the explorers came to a vast open plain, a desert, through which a wide river flowed. Far beyond rose a mountain capped by rocks of regular shape. At any rate, they appeared to be rocks, but the distance was too great to enable anyone to speak with certainty.
"Water," said the vizier, "is a sign of life."
So the king decided to continue as far as the mountain. A ford was discovered in the river, and once on the other side it was possible to make out the rocks crowning the mountain. They looked too regular to be mere rocks, and on approaching nearer the king was sure that a huge building must be at the top of the mountain. When they arrived quite close, there was no doubt about it. Either a town, or a palace, stood on the summit, and it was decided to make the ascent next day.
During the night no sound was heard, but to everybody's surprise a distinct path up the mountain was noticed in the morning. It was so overgrown with weeds and moss and straggling creepers that it was obvious it had not been used for a long time. The ascent was accordingly difficult, but half way up the first sign of life, noticed since the expedition began, made itself visible.
It was an eagle. Suddenly it flew down from the mountain top and circled above the hunters, screaming, but making no attempt to attack.
At length the summit was gained. It was a flat plateau of great expanse, almost the whole of which was covered by an enormous building of massive walls and stupendous towers.
"This is the palace of a great monarch," said the king.
But no entrance of any kind could be seen. The rest of the day was spent in wandering round, but nowhere was a door, or window, or opening visible. It was decided to make a more serious effort next morning to gain entry.
However, it seemed a greater puzzle than ever. At length, one of the most venturesome of the party discovered an eagle's nest on one of the smallest towers, and with great difficulty he secured the bird and brought it down to the king. His majesty bade one of his wise men, Muflog, learned in bird languages, to speak to it. He did so.
In a harsh croaking voice, the eagle replied, "I am but a young bird, only seven centuries old. I know naught. On a tower higher than that on which I dwell, is the eyrie of my father. He may be able to give you information."
More he would not say. The only thing to do was to climb the higher tower and question the father eagle. This was done, and the bird answered:
"On a tower still higher dwells my father, and on yet a higher tower my grandfather, who is two thousand years old. He may know something. I know nothing."
After considerable difficulty the topmost tower was reached and the venerable bird discovered. He seemed asleep and was only awakened after much coaxing. Then he surveyed the hunters warily.
"Let me see, let me think," he muttered slowly. "I did hear, when I was a tiny eagle chick, but a few years old—that was long, long ago—that my great-grandfather had said that his great-grandfather had told him he had heard that long, long, long ago—oh, ever so much longer than that—a king lived in this palace; that he died and left it to the eagles; and that in the course of many, many, many thousands of years the door had been covered up by the dust brought by the winds."
"Where is the door?" asked Muflog.
That was a puzzle the ancient bird could not answer readily. He thought and thought and fell asleep and had to be kept being awakened until at last he remembered.
"When the sun shines in the morning," he croaked, "its first ray falls on the door."
Then, worn out with all his thinking and talking, he fell asleep again.
There was no rest for the party that night. They all watched to make certain of seeing the first ray of the rising sun strike the palace. When it did so, the spot was carefully noted. But no door could be seen. Digging was therefore begun and after many hours, an opening was found.
Through this an entrance was effected into the palace. What a wonderful and mysterious place it was, all overgrown with the weeds of centuries! Tangled masses of creepers lay everywhere—over what were once trimly kept pathways, and almost completely hiding the lower buildings. In the crevices of the walls, roots had insinuated themselves, and by their growth had forced the stones apart. It was all a terrible scene of desolation. The king's men had to hack a way laboriously through the wilderness of weeds with their swords to the central building, and when they did so they came to a door on which was an inscription cut deep into the wood. The language was unknown to all but Muflog, who deciphered it as follows:
"We, the Dwellers in this Palace, lived for many years in Comfort and Luxury. Then Hunger came. We had made no preparation. We had amassed jewels in abundance but not Corn. We ground Pearls and Rubies to fine flour, but could make no Bread. Wherefore we die, bequeathing this Palace to the eagles who will devour our bodies and build their eyries on our towers."
A dread silence fell on the whole party when Muflog read these strange words, and the king turned pale. This warning from the dead past was making the adventure far from enjoyable. Some of the party suggested the immediate abandonment of the expedition and the prompt return home. They feared hidden dangers now. But the king remained resolute.
"I must investigate this to the end," he said in a firm voice. "Those who are seized by fear may return. I will go on, if needs be, alone."
Encouraged by these words, the hunters decided to remain with the king. One of them began to batter at the door, but the king was anxious to preserve the inscription, and after more cutting away of weeds, the key was seen to be sticking in the keyhole. Unlocking the door, however, was no light task, for ages of rust had accumulated. When finally this was accomplished the door creaked heavily on its hinges and a musty smell came from the dank corridor that was revealed.
The explorers walked ankle-deep in dust through a maze of rooms until they came to a big central hall of statues. So artistically fashioned were they that they seemed lifelike in their attitudes, and for a moment all held their breath. This hall was dustless, and Muflog pointed out that it was an airtight chamber. Evidently it had been specifically devised to preserve the statues.
"These must be the effigies of kings," said his majesty, and on reading the inscriptions, Muflog said that was so.
At the far end of the hall, on a pedestal higher than the others, was a statue bigger than the rest. In addition to the name there was an inscription on the pedestal. Muflog read it amid an awed stillness:
"I am the last of the kings—yea, the last of men, and with my own hands have completed this work. I ruled over a thousand cities, rode on a thousand horses, and received the homage of a thousand vassal princes; but when Famine came I was powerless. Ye who may read this, take heed of the fate that has overwhelmed this land. Take but one word of counsel from the last of the mortals; prepare thy meal while the daylight lasts * * *"
The words broke off: the rest was undecipherable.
"Enough," cried the king, and his voice was not steady. "This has indeed been good hunting. I have learned, in my folly and pursuit of pleasure, what I had failed to see for myself. Let us return and act upon the counsel of this king who has met the end that will surely be our own should we forget his warning."
Looking out across the plain they had traversed, his majesty seemed to see a vision of prosperous cities and smiling fertile fields. In imagination, he saw caravans laden with merchandise journeying across the intervening spaces. Then, as darker thoughts followed, a cloud appeared to settle over the whole land. The cities crumbled and disappeared, the eagles swooped down and took possession of that which man had failed to appreciate and hold; and after the eagles the dust of the ages settled slowly, piling itself up year by year until everything was covered and only the desert was visible.
Scarcely a word was spoken as the king and his hunters made their way back to the land East of the Rising Sun. In all, they had been away forty days when they re-crossed the barrier of rocks. They were joyously welcomed.
"What have you brought," asked the populace. "In a little while we shall be starving."
"Ye shall not starve," said the king. "I have brought wisdom from the Palace of the Eagles. From the fate and sufferings of others I have learned a lesson—my duty."
At once he set to work to organize the proper distribution of the food supply and the cultivation of the land. He wasted no more time on foolish pleasures, and in due course the land East of the Rising Sun enjoyed happiness and prosperity and even established fruitful colonies in the plain overlooked by the Palace of the Eagles.
The Giant of the Flood
Just before the world was drowned all the animals gathered in front of the Ark and Father Noah carefully inspected them.
"All ye that lie down shall enter and be saved from the deluge that is about to destroy the world," he said. "Ye that stand cannot enter."
Then the various creatures began to march forward into the Ark. Father Noah watched them closely. He seemed troubled.
"I wonder," he said to himself, "how I shall obtain a unicorn, and how I shall get it into the Ark."
"I can bring thee a unicorn, Father Noah," he heard in a voice of thunder, and turning round he saw the giant, Og. "But thou must agree to save me, too, from the flood."
"Begone," cried Noah. "Thou art a demon, not a human being. I can have no dealings with thee."
"Pity me," whined the giant. "See how my figure is shrinking. Once I was so tall that I could drink water from the clouds and toast fish at the sun. I fear not that I shall be drowned, but that all the food will be destroyed and that I shall perish of hunger."
Noah, however, only smiled; but he grew serious again when Og brought a unicorn. It was as big as a mountain, although the giant said it was the smallest he could find. It lay down in front of the Ark and Noah saw by that action that he must save it. For some time he was puzzled what to do, but at last a bright idea struck him. He attached the huge beast to the Ark by a rope fastened to its horn so that it could swim alongside and be fed.
Og seated himself on a mountain near at hand and watched the rain pouring down. Faster and faster it fell in torrents until the rivers overflowed and the waters began to rise rapidly on the land and sweep all things away. Father Noah stood gloomily before the door of the Ark until the water reached his neck. Then it swept him inside. The door closed with a bang, and the Ark rose gallantly on the flood and began to move along. The unicorn swam alongside, and as it passed Og, the giant jumped on to its back.
"See, Father Noah," he cried, with a huge chuckle, "you will have to save me after all. I will snatch all the food you put through the window for the unicorn."
Noah saw that it was useless to argue with Og, who might, indeed, sink the Ark with his tremendous strength.
"I will make a bargain with thee," he shouted from a window. "I will feed thee, but thou must promise to be a servant to my descendants."
Og was very hungry, so he accepted the conditions and devoured his first breakfast.
The rain continued to fall in great big sheets that shut out the light of day. Inside the Ark, however, all was bright and cheerful, for Noah had collected the most precious of the stones of the earth and had used them for the windows. Their radiance illumined the whole of the three stories in the Ark. Some of the animals were troublesome and Noah got no sleep at all. The lion had a bad attack of fever. In a corner a bird slept the whole of the time. This was the phoenix.
"Wake up," said Noah, one day. "It is feeding time."
"Thank you," returned the bird. "I saw thou wert busy, Father Noah, so I would not trouble thee."
"Thou art a good bird," said Noah, much touched, "therefore thou shalt never die."
One day the rain ceased, the clouds rolled away and the sun shone brilliantly again. How strange the world looked! It was like a vast ocean. Nothing but water could be seen anywhere, and only one or two of the highest mountain tops peeped above the flood. All the world was drowned, and Noah gazed on the desolate scene from one of the windows with tears in his eyes. Og, riding gaily on the unicorn behind the Ark, was quite happy.
"Ha, ha!" he laughed gleefully. "I shall be able to eat and drink just as much as I like now and shall never be troubled by those tiny little creatures, the mortals."
"Be not so sure," said Noah. "Those tiny mortals shall be thy masters and shall outlive thee and the whole race of giants and demons."
The giant did not relish this prospect. He knew that whatever Noah prophesied would come true, and he was so sad that he ate no food for two days and began to grow smaller and thinner. He became more and more unhappy as day by day the water subsided and the mountains began to appear. At last the Ark rested on Mount Ararat, and Og's long ride came to an end.
"I will soon leave thee, Father Noah," he said. "I shall wander round the world to see what is left of it."
"Thou canst not go until I permit thee," said Noah. "Hast thou forgotten our compact so soon? Thou must be my servant. I have work for thee."
Giants are not fond of work, and Og, who was the father of all the giants, was particularly lazy. He cared only to eat and sleep, but he knew he was in Noah's power, and he shed bitter tears when he saw the land appear again.
"Stop," commanded Noah. "Dost thou wish to drown the world once more with thy big tears?"
So Og sat on a mountain and rocked from side to side, weeping silently to himself. He watched the animals leave the Ark and had to do all the hard work when Noah's children built houses. Daily he complained that he was shrinking to the size of the mortals, for Noah said there was not too much food.
One day Noah said to him, "Come with me, Og. I am going around the world. I am commanded to plant fruit and flowers to make the earth beautiful. I need thy help."
For many days they wandered all over the earth, and Og was compelled to carry the heavy bag of seeds. The last thing Noah planted was the grape vine.
"What is this—food, or drink?" asked Og.
"Both," replied Noah. "It can be eaten, or its juice made into wine," and as he planted it, he blessed the grape. "Be thou," he said, "a plant pleasing to the eye, bear fruit that will be food for the hungry and a health-giving drink to the thirsty and sick."
"I will offer up sacrifice to this wonderful fruit," he said. "May I not do so now that our labors are over?"
Noah agreed, and the giant brought a sheep, a lion, a pig and a monkey. First, he slaughtered the sheep, then the lion.
"When a man shall taste but a few drops of the wine," he said, "he shall be as harmless as a sheep. When he takes a little more he shall be as strong as a lion."
Then Og began to dance around the plant, and he killed the pig and the monkey. Noah was very much surprised.
"I am giving thy descendants two extra blessings," said Og, chuckling.
He rolled over and over on the ground in great glee and then said:
"When a man shall drink too much of the juice of the wine, then shall he become a beast like the pig, and if then he still continues to drink, he shall behave foolishly like a monkey."
And that is why, unto this day, too much wine makes a man silly.
Og himself often drank too much, and many years afterward, when he was a servant to the patriarch Abraham, the latter scolded him until he became so frightened that he dropped a tooth. Abraham made an ivory chair for himself from this tooth. Afterwards Og became King of Bashan, but he forgot his compact with Noah and instead of helping the Israelites to obtain Canaan he opposed them.
"I will kill them all with one blow," he declared.
Exerting all his enormous strength he uprooted a mountain, and raising it high above his head he prepared to drop it on the camp of the Israelites and crush it.
But a wonderful thing happened. The mountain was full of grasshoppers and ants who had bored millions of tiny holes in it. When King Og raised the great mass it crumbled in his hands and fell over his head and round his neck like a collar. He tried to pull it off, but his teeth became entangled in the mass. As he danced about in rage and pain, Moses, the leader of the Israelites, approached him.
Moses was a tiny man compared with Og. He was only ten ells high, and he carried with him a sword of the same length. With a mighty effort he jumped ten ells into the air, and raising the sword, he managed to strike the giant on the ankle and wound him mortally.
Thus, after many years, did the terrible giant of the flood perish for breaking his word to Father Noah.
The Fairy Princess of Ergetz
In a great and beautiful city that stood by the sea, an old man lay dying. Mar Shalmon was his name, and he was the richest man in the land. Propped up with pillows on a richly decorated bed in a luxurious chamber, he gazed, with tears in his eyes, through the open window at the setting sun. Like a ball of fire it sank lower and lower until it almost seemed to rest on the tranquil waters beyond the harbor. Suddenly, Mar Shalmon roused himself.
"Where is my son, Bar Shalmon?" he asked in a feeble voice, and his hand crept tremblingly along the silken coverlet of the bed as if in search of something.
"I am here, my father," replied his son who was standing by the side of his bed. His eyes were moist with tears, but his voice was steady.
"My son," said the old man, slowly, and with some difficulty, "I am about to leave this world. My soul will take flight from this frail body when the sun has sunk behind the horizon. I have lived long and have amassed great wealth which will soon be thine. Use it well, as I have taught thee, for thou, my son, art a man of learning, as befits our noble Jewish faith. One thing I must ask thee to promise me."
"I will, my father," returned Bar Shalmon, sobbing.
"Nay, weep not, my son," said the old man. "My day is ended; my life has not been ill-spent. I would spare thee the pain that was mine in my early days, when, as a merchant, I garnered my fortune. The sea out there that will soon swallow up the sun is calm now. But beware of it, my son, for it is treacherous. Promise me—nay, swear unto me—that never wilt thou cross it to foreign lands."
Bar Shalmon placed his hands on those of his father.
"Solemnly I swear," he said, in a broken voice, "to do thy wish—never to journey on the sea, but to remain here in this, my native land. 'Tis a vow before thee, my father."
"'Tis an oath before heaven," said the old man. "Guard it, keep it, and heaven will bless thee. Remember! See, the sun is sinking."
Mar Shalmon fell back upon his pillows and spoke no more. Bar Shalmon stood gazing out of the window until the sun had disappeared, and then, silently sobbing, he left the chamber of death.
The whole city wept when the sad news was made known, for Mar Shalmon was a man of great charity, and almost all the inhabitants followed the remains to the grave. Then Bar Shalmon, his son, took his father's place of honor in the city, and in him, too, the poor and needy found a friend whose purse was ever open and whose counsel was ever wisdom.
Thus years passed away.
One day there arrived in the harbor of the city a strange ship from a distant land. Its captain spoke a tongue unknown, and Bar Shalmon, being a man of profound knowledge, was sent for. He alone in the city could understand the language of the captain. To his astonishment, he learned that the cargo of the vessel was for Mar Shalmon, his father.
"I am the son of Mar Shalmon," he said. "My father is dead, and all his possessions he left to me."
"Then, verily, art thou the most fortunate mortal, and the richest, on earth," answered the captain. "My good ship is filled with a vast store of jewels, precious stones and other treasures. And know you, O most favored son of Mar Shalmon, this cargo is but a small portion of the wealth that is thine in a land across the sea."
"'Tis strange," said Bar Shalmon, in surprise; "my father said nought of this to me. I knew that in his younger days he had traded with distant lands, but nothing did he ever say of possessions there. And, moreover, he warned me never to leave this shore."
The captain looked perplexed.
"I understand it not," he said. "I am but performing my father's bidding. He was thy father's servant, and long years did he wait for Mar Shalmon's return to claim his riches. On his death-bed he bade me vow that I would seek his master, or his son, and this have I done."
He produced documents, and there could be no doubt that the vast wealth mentioned in them belonged now to Bar Shalmon.
"Thou art now my master," said the captain, "and must return with me to the land across the sea to claim thine inheritance. In another year it will be too late, for by the laws of the country it will be forfeit."
"I cannot return with thee," said Bar Shalmon. "I have a vow before heaven never to voyage on the sea."
The captain laughed.
"In very truth, I understand thee not, as my father understood not thine," he replied. "My father was wont to say that Mar Shalmon was strange and peradventure not possessed of all his senses to neglect his store of wealth and treasure."
With an angry gesture Bar Shalmon stopped the captain, but he was sorely troubled. He recalled now that his father had often spoken mysteriously of foreign lands, and he wondered, indeed, whether Mar Shalmon could have been in his proper senses not to have breathed a word of his riches abroad. For days he discussed the matter with the captain, who at last persuaded him to make the journey.
"Fear not thy vow," said the captain. "Thy worthy father must, of a truth, have been bereft of reason in failing to tell thee of his full estate, and an oath to a man of mind unsound is not binding. That is the law in our land."
"So it is here," returned Bar Shalmon, and with this remark his last scruple vanished.
He bade a tender farewell to his wife, his child, and his friends, and set sail on the strange ship to the land beyond the sea.
For three days all went well, but on the fourth the ship was becalmed and the sails flapped lazily against the masts. The sailors had nothing to do but lie on deck and wait for a breeze, and Bar Shalmon took advantage of the occasion to treat them to a feast.
Suddenly, in the midst of the feasting, they felt the ship begin to move. There was no wind, but the vessel sped along very swiftly. The captain himself rushed to the helm. To his alarm he found the vessel beyond control.
"The ship is bewitched," he exclaimed. "There is no wind, and no current, and yet we are being borne along as if driven before a storm. We shall be lost."
Panic seized the sailors, and Bar Shalmon was unable to pacify them.
"Someone on board has brought us ill-luck," said the boatswain, looking pointedly at Bar Shalmon; "we shall have to heave him overboard."
His comrades assented and rushed toward Bar Shalmon.
Just at that moment, however, the look-out in the bow cried excitedly, "Land ahead!"
The ship still refused to answer the helm and grounded on a sandbank. She shivered from stem to stern but did not break up. No rocks were visible, only a desolate tract of desert land was to be seen, with here and there a solitary tree.
"We seem to have sustained no damage," said the captain, when he had recovered from his first astonishment, "but how we are going to get afloat again I do not know. This land is quite strange to me."
He could not find it marked on any of his charts or maps, and the sailors stood looking gloomily at the mysterious shore.
"Had we not better explore the land?" said Bar Shalmon.
"No, no," exclaimed the boatswain, excitedly. "See, no breakers strike on the shore. This is not a human land. This is a domain of demons. We are lost unless we cast overboard the one who has brought on us this ill-luck."
Said Bar Shalmon, "I will land, and I will give fifty silver crowns to all who land with me."
Not one of the sailors moved, however, even when he offered fifty golden crowns, and at last Bar Shalmon said he would land alone, although the captain strongly urged him not to do so.
Bar Shalmon sprang lightly to the shore, and as he did so the ship shook violently.
"What did I tell you?" shouted the boatswain. "Bar Shalmon is the one who has brought us this misfortune. Now we shall refloat the ship."
But it still remained firmly fixed on the sand. Bar Shalmon walked towards a tree and climbed it. In a few moments he returned, holding a twig in his hand.
"The land stretches away for miles just as you see it here," he called to the captain. "There is no sign of man or habitation."
He prepared to board the vessel again, but the sailors would not allow him. The boatswain stood in the bow and threatened him with a sword. Bar Shalmon raised the twig to ward off the blow and struck the ship which shivered from stern to stern again.
"Is not this proof that the vessel is bewitched?" cried the sailors, and when the captain sternly bade them remember that Bar Shalmon was their master, they threatened him too.
Bar Shalmon, amused at the fears of the men, again struck the vessel with the twig. Once more it trembled. A third time he raised the twig.
"If the ship is bewitched," he said, "something will happen after the third blow."
"Swish" sounded the branch through the air, and the third blow fell on the vessel's bow. Something did happen. The ship almost leaped from the sand, and before Bar Shalmon could realize what had happened it was speeding swiftly away.
"Come back, come back," he screamed, and he could see the captain struggling with the helm. But the vessel refused to answer, and Bar Shalmon saw it grow smaller and smaller and finally disappear. He was alone on an uninhabited desert land.
"What a wretched plight for the richest man in the world," he said to himself, and the next moment he realized that he was in danger indeed.
A terrible roar made him look around. To his horror he saw a lion making toward him. As quick as a flash Bar Shalmon ran to the tree and hastily scrambled into the branches. The lion dashed itself furiously against the trunk of the tree, but, for the present, Bar Shalmon was safe. Night, however, was coming on, and the lion squatted at the foot of the tree, evidently intending to wait for him. All night the lion remained, roaring at intervals, and Bar Shalmon clung to one of the upper branches afraid to sleep lest he should fall off and be devoured. When morning broke, a new danger threatened him. A huge eagle flew round the tree and darted at him with its cruel beak. Then the great bird settled on the thickest branch, and Bar Shalmon moved stealthily forward with a knife which he drew from his belt. He crept behind the bird, but as he approached it spread its big wings, and Bar Shalmon, to prevent himself being swept from the tree, dropped the knife and clutched at the bird's feathers. Immediately, to his dismay, the bird rose from the tree. Bar Shalmon clung to its back with all his might.
Higher and higher soared the eagle until the trees below looked like mere dots on the land. Swiftly flew the eagle over miles and miles of desert until Bar Shalmon began to feel giddy. He was faint with hunger and feared that he would not be able to retain his hold. All day the bird flew without resting, across island and sea. No houses, no ships, no human beings could be seen. Toward night, however, Bar Shalmon, to his great joy, beheld the lights of a city surrounded by trees, and as the eagle came near, he made a bold dive to the earth. Headlong he plunged downward. He seemed to be hours in falling. At last he struck a tree. The branches broke beneath the weight and force of his falling body, and he continued to plunge downward. The branches tore his clothes to shreds and bruised his body, but they broke his terrible fall, and when at last he reached the ground he was not much hurt.
Bar Shalmon found himself on the outskirts of the city, and cautiously he crept forward. To his intense relief, he saw that the first building was a synagogue. The door, however, was locked. Weary, sore, and weak with long fasting, Bar Shalmon sank down on the steps and sobbed like a child.
Something touched him on the arm. He looked up. By the light of the moon he saw a boy standing before him. Such a queer boy he was, too. He had cloven feet, and his coat, if it was a coat, seemed to be made in the shape of wings.
"Ivri Onochi," said Bar Shalmon, "I am a Hebrew."
"So am I," said the boy. "Follow me."
He walked in front with a strange hobble, and when they reached a house at the back of the synagogue, he leaped from the ground, spreading his coat wings as he did so, to a window about twenty feet from the ground. The next moment a door opened, and Bar Shalmon, to his surprise, saw that the boy had jumped straight through the window down to the door which he had unfastened from the inside. The boy motioned him to enter a room. He did so. An aged man, who he saw was a rabbi, rose to greet him.
"Peace be with you," said the rabbi, and pointed to a seat. He clapped his hand and immediately a table with food appeared before Bar Shalmon. The latter was far too hungry to ask any questions just then, and the rabbi was silent, too, while he ate. When he had finished, the rabbi clapped his hands and the table vanished.
"Now tell me your story," said the rabbi.
Bar Shalmon did so.
"Alas! I am an unhappy man," he concluded. "I have been punished for breaking my vow. Help me to return to my home. I will reward thee well, and will atone for my sin."
"Thy story is indeed sad," said the rabbi, gravely, "but thou knowest not the full extent of thy unfortunate plight. Art thou aware what land it is into which thou hast been cast?"
"No," said Bar Shalmon, becoming afraid again.
"Know then," said the rabbi, "thou art not in a land of human beings. Thou hast fallen into Ergetz, the land of demons, of djinns, and of fairies."
"But art thou not a Jew?" asked Bar Shalmon, in astonishment.
"Truly," replied the rabbi. "Even in this realm we have all manner of religions just as you mortals have."
"What will happen to me?" asked Bar Shalmon, in a whisper.
"I know not," replied the rabbi. "Few mortals come here, and mostly, I fear they are put to death. The demons love them not."
"Woe, woe is me," cried Bar Shalmon, "I am undone."
"Weep not," said the rabbi. "I, as a Jew, love not death by violence and torture, and will endeavor to save thee."
"I thank thee," cried Bar Shalmon.
"Let thy thanks wait," said the rabbi, kindly. "There is human blood in my veins. My great-grandfather was a mortal who fell into this land and was not put to death. Being of mortal descent, I have been made rabbi. Perhaps thou wilt find favor here and be permitted to live and settle in this land."
"But I desire to return home," said Bar Shalmon.
The rabbi shook his head.
"Thou must sleep now," he said.
He passed his hands over Bar Shalmon's eyes and he fell into a profound slumber. When he awoke it was daylight, and the boy stood by his couch. He made a sign to Bar Shalmon to follow, and through an underground passage he conducted him into the synagogue and placed him near the rabbi.
"Thy presence has become known," whispered the rabbi, and even as he spoke a great noise was heard. It was like the wild chattering of many high-pitched voices. Through all the windows and the doors a strange crowd poured into the synagogue. There were demons of all shapes and sizes. Some had big bodies with tiny heads, others huge heads and quaint little bodies. Some had great staring eyes, others had long wide mouths, and many had only one leg each. They surrounded Bar Shalmon with threatening gestures and noises. The rabbi ascended the pulpit.
"Silence!" he commanded, and immediately the noise ceased. "Ye who thirst for mortal blood, desecrate not this holy building wherein I am master. What ye have to say must wait until after the morning service."
Silently and patiently they waited, sitting in all manner of queer places. Some of them perched on the backs of the seats, a few clung like great big flies to the pillars, others sat on the window-sills, and several of the tiniest hung from the rafters in the ceiling. As soon as the service was over, the clamor broke out anew.
"Give to us the perjurer," screamed the demons. "He is not fit to live."
With some difficulty, the rabbi stilled the tumult, and said:
"Listen unto me, ye demons and sprites of the land of Ergetz. This man has fallen into my hands, and I am responsible for him. Our king, Ashmedai, must know of his arrival. We must not condemn a man unheard. Let us petition the king to grant him a fair trial."
After some demur, the demons agreed to this proposal, and they trooped out of the synagogue in the same peculiar manner in which they came. Each was compelled to leave by the same door or window at which he entered.
Bar Shalmon was carried off to the palace of King Ashmedai, preceded and followed by a noisy crowd of demons and fairies. There seemed to be millions of them, all clattering and pointing at him. They hobbled and hopped over the ground, jumped into the air, sprang from housetop to housetop, made sudden appearances from holes in the ground and vanished through solid walls.
The palace was a vast building of white marble that seemed as delicate as lace work. It stood in a magnificent square where many beautiful fountains spouted jets of crystal water. King Ashmedai came forth on the balcony, and at his appearance all the demons and fairies became silent and went down on their knees.
"What will ye with me?" he cried, in a voice of thunder, and the rabbi approached and bowed before his majesty.
"A mortal, a Jew, has fallen into my hands," he said, "and thy subjects crave for his blood. He is a perjurer, they say. Gracious majesty, I would petition for a trial."
"What manner of mortal is he?" asked Ashmedai.
Bar Shalmon stepped forward.
"Jump up here so I may see thee," commanded the king.
"Jump, jump," cried the crowd.
"I cannot," said Bar Shalmon, as he looked up at the balcony thirty feet above the ground.
"Try," said the rabbi.
Bar Shalmon did try, and found, the moment he lifted his feet from the ground, that he was standing on the balcony.
"Neatly done," said the king. "I see thou art quick at learning."
"So my teachers always said," replied Bar Shalmon.
"A proper answer," said the king. "Thou art, then, a scholar."
"In my own land," returned Bar Shalmon, "men said I was great among the learned."
"So," said the king. "And canst thou impart the wisdom of man and of the human world to others?"
"I can," said Bar Shalmon.
"We shall see," said the king. "I have a son with a desire for such knowledge. If thou canst make him acquainted with thy store of learning, thy life shall be spared. The petition for a trial is granted."
The king waved his scepter and two slaves seized Bar Shalmon by the arms. He felt himself lifted from the balcony and carried swiftly through the air. Across the vast square the slaves flew with him, and when over the largest of the fountains they loosened their hold. Bar Shalmon thought he would fall into the fountain, but to his amazement he found himself standing on the roof of a building. By his side was the rabbi.
"Where are we?" asked Bar Shalmon. "I feel bewildered."
"We are at the Court of Justice, one hundred miles from the palace," replied the rabbi.
A door appeared before them. They stepped through, and found themselves in a beautiful hall. Three judges in red robes and purple wigs were seated on a platform, and an immense crowd filled the galleries in the same queer way as in the synagogue. Bar Shalmon was placed on a small platform in front of the judges. A tiny sprite, only about six inches high, stood on another small platform at his right hand and commenced to read from a scroll that seemed to have no ending. He read the whole account of Bar Shalmon's life. Not one little event was missing.
"The charge against Bar Shalmon, the mortal," the sprite concluded, "is that he has violated the solemn oath sworn at his father's death-bed."
Then the rabbi pleaded for him and declared that the oath was not binding because Bar Shalmon's father had not informed him of his treasures abroad and could not therefore have been in his right senses. Further, he added, Bar Shalmon was a scholar and the king desired him to teach his wisdom to the crown prince.
The chief justice rose to pronounce sentence.
"Bar Shalmon," he said, "rightly thou shouldst die for thy broken oath. It is a grievous sin. But there is the doubt that thy father may not have been in his right mind. Therefore, thy life shall be spared."
Bar Shalmon expressed his thanks.
"When may I return to my home?" he asked.
"Never," replied the chief justice.
Bar Shalmon left the court, feeling very downhearted. He was safe now. The demons dared not molest him, but he longed to return to his home.
"How am I to get back to the palace?" he asked the rabbi. "Perhaps after I have imparted my learning to the crown prince, the king will allow me to return to my native land."
"That I cannot say. Come, fly with me," said the rabbi.
"Yes; see thou hast wings."
Bar Shalmon noticed that he was now wearing a garment just like all the demons. When he spread his arms, he found he could fly, and he sailed swiftly through the air to the palace. With these wings, he thought, he would be able to fly home.
"Think not that," said the rabbi, who seemed to be able to read his thoughts, "for thy wings are useless beyond this land."
Bar Shalmon found that it would be best for him to carry out his instructions for the present, and he set himself diligently to teach the crown prince. The prince was an apt pupil, and the two became great friends. King Ashmedai was delighted and made Bar Shalmon one of his favorites.
One day the king said to him: "I am about to leave the city for a while to undertake a campaign against a rebellious tribe of demons thousands of miles away. I must take the crown prince with me. I leave thee in charge of the palace."
The king gave him a huge bunch of keys.
"These," he said, "will admit into all but one of the thousand rooms in the palace. For that one there is no key, and thou must not enter it. Beware."
For several days Bar Shalmon amused himself by examining the hundreds of rooms in the vast palace until one day he came to the door for which he had no key. He forgot the king's warning and his promise to obey.
"Open this door for me," he said to his attendants, but they replied that they could not.
"You must," he said angrily, "burst it open."
"We do not know how to burst open a door," they said. "We are not mortal. If we were permitted to enter the room we should just walk through the walls."
Bar Shalmon could not do this, so he put his shoulder to the door and it yielded quite easily.
A strange sight met his gaze. A beautiful woman, the most beautiful he had ever seen, was seated on a throne of gold, surrounded by fairy attendants who vanished the moment he entered.
"Who art thou?" asked Bar Shalmon, in great astonishment.
"The daughter of the king," replied the princess, "and thy future wife."
"Indeed! How know you that?" he asked.
"Thou hast broken thy promise to my father, the king, not to enter this room," she replied. "Therefore, thou must die, unless—"
"Tell me quickly," interrupted Bar Shalmon, turning pale, "how my life can be saved."
"Thou must ask my father for my hand," replied the princess. "Only by becoming my husband canst thou be saved."
"But I have a wife and child in my native land," said Bar Shalmon, sorely troubled.
"Thou hast now forfeited thy hopes of return," said the princess, slowly. "Once more hast thou broken a promise. It seems to come easy to thee now."
Bar Shalmon had no wish to die, and he waited, in fear and trembling for the king's return. Immediately he heard of King Ashmedai's approach, he hastened to meet him and flung himself on the ground at his majesty's feet.
"O King," he cried, "I have seen thy daughter, the princess, and I desire to make her my wife."
"I cannot refuse," returned the king. "Such is our law—that he who first sees the princess must become her husband, or die. But, have a care, Bar Shalmon. Thou must swear to love and be faithful ever."
"I swear," said Bar Shalmon.
The wedding took place with much ceremony. The princess was attended by a thousand fairy bridesmaids, and the whole city was brilliantly decorated and illuminated until Bar Shalmon was almost blinded by the dazzling spectacle.
The rabbi performed the marriage ceremony, and Bar Shalmon had to swear an oath by word of mouth and in writing that he loved the princess and would never desert her. He was given a beautiful palace full of jewels as a dowry, and the wedding festivities lasted six months. All the fairies and demons invited them in turn; they had to attend banquets and parties and dances in grottoes and caves and in the depths of the fairy fountains in the square. Never before in Ergetz had there been such elaborate rejoicings.
Some years rolled by and still Bar Shalmon thought of his native land. One day the princess found him weeping quietly.
"Why art thou sad, husband mine?" she asked. "Dost thou no longer love me, and am I not beautiful now?"
"No, it is not that," he said, but for a long time he refused to say more. At last he confessed that he had an intense longing to see his home again.
"But thou art bound to me by an oath," said the princess.
"I know," replied Bar Shalmon, "and I shall not break it. Permit me to visit my home for a brief while, and I will return and prove myself more devoted to thee than ever."
On these conditions, the princess agreed that he should take leave for a whole year. A big, black demon flew swiftly with him to his native city.
No sooner had Bar Shalmon placed his feet on the ground than he determined not to return to the land of Ergetz.
"Tell thy royal mistress," he said to the demon, "that I shall never return to her."
He tore his clothes to make himself look poor, but his wife was overjoyed to see him. She had mourned him as dead. He did not tell of his adventures, but merely said he had been ship-wrecked and had worked his way back as a poor sailor. He was delighted to be among human beings again, to hear his own language and to see solid buildings that did not appear and disappear just when they pleased, and as the days passed he began to think his adventures in fairyland were but a dream.
Meanwhile, the princess waited patiently until the year was ended.
Then she sent the big, black demon to bring Bar Shalmon back.
Bar Shalmon met the messenger one night when walking alone in his garden.
"I have come to take thee back," said the demon.
Bar Shalmon was startled. He had forgotten that the year was up. He felt that he was lost, but as the demon did not seize him by force, he saw that there was a possibility of escape.
"Return and tell thy mistress I refuse," he said.
"I will take thee by force," said the demon.
"Thou canst not," Bar Shalmon said, "for I am the son-in-law of the king."
The demon was helpless and returned to Ergetz alone.
King Ashmedai was very angry, but the princess counseled patience.
"I will devise means to bring my husband back," she said. "I will send other messengers."
Thus it was that Bar Shalmon found a troupe of beautiful fairies in the garden the next evening. They tried their utmost to induce him to return with them, but he would not listen. Every day different messengers came—big, ugly demons who threatened, pretty fairies who tried to coax him, and troublesome sprites and goblins who only annoyed him. Bar Shalmon could not move without encountering messengers from the princess in all manner of queer places. Nobody else could see them, and often he was heard talking to invisible people. His friends began to regard him as strange in his behavior.
King Ashmedai grew angrier every day, and he threatened to go for Bar Shalmon himself.
"Nay, I will go," said the princess; "it will be impossible for my husband to resist me."
She selected a large number of attendants, and the swift flight of the princess and her retinue through the air caused a violent storm to rage over the lands they crossed. Like a thick black cloud they swooped down on the land where Bar Shalmon dwelt, and their weird cries seemed like the wild shrieking of a mighty hurricane. Down they swept in a tremendous storm such as the city had never known. Then, as quickly as it came, the storm ceased, and the people who had fled into their houses, ventured forth again.
The little son of Bar Shalmon went out into the garden, but quickly rushed back into the house.
"Father, come forth and see," he cried. "The garden is full of strange creatures brought by the storm. All manner of creeping, crawling things have invaded the garden—lizards, toads, and myriads of insects. The trees, the shrubs, the paths are covered, and some shine in the twilight like tiny lanterns."
Bar Shalmon went out into the garden, but he did not see toads and lizards. What he beheld was a vast array of demons and goblins and sprites, and in a rose-bush the princess, his wife, shining like a star, surrounded by her attendant fairies. She stretched forth her arms to him.
"Husband mine," she pleaded, "I have come to implore thee to return to the land of Ergetz with me. Sadly have I missed thee; long have I waited for thy coming, and difficult has it been to appease my father's anger. Come, husband mine, return with me; a great welcome awaits thee."
"I will not return," said Bar Shalmon.
"Kill him, kill him," shrieked the demons, and they surrounded him, gesticulating fiercely.
"Nay, harm him not," commanded the princess. "Think well, Bar Shalmon, ere you answer again. The sun has set and night is upon us. Think well, until sunrise. Come to me, return, and all shall be well. Refuse, and thou shalt be dealt with as thou hast merited. Think well before the sunrise."
"And what will happen at sunrise, if I refuse?" asked Bar Shalmon.
"Thou shalt see," returned the princess. "Bethink thee well, and remember, I await thee here until the sunrise."
"I have answered; I defy thee," said Bar Shalmon, and he went indoors.
Night passed with strange, mournful music in the garden, and the sun rose in its glory and spread its golden beams over the city. And with the coming of the light, more strange sounds woke the people of the city. A wondrous sight met their gaze in the market place. It was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of the queerest creatures they had ever seen, goblins and brownies, demons and fairies. Dainty little elves ran about the square to the delight of the children, and quaint sprites clambered up the lamposts and squatted on the gables of the council house. On the steps of that building was a glittering array of fairies and attendant genii, and in their midst stood the princess, a dazzling vision, radiant as the dawn.
The mayor of the city knew not what to do. He put on his chain of office and made a long speech of welcome to the princess.
"Thank you for your cordial welcome," said the princess, in reply, "and you the mayor, and ye the good people of this city of mortals, hearken unto me. I am the princess of the Fairyland of Ergetz where my father, Ashmedai, rules as king. There is one among ye who is my husband."
"Who is he?" the crowd asked in astonishment.
"Bar Shalmon is his name," replied the princess, "and to him am I bound by vows that may not be broken."
"'Tis false," cried Bar Shalmon from the crowd.
"'Tis true. Behold our son," answered the princess, and there stepped forward a dainty elfin boy whose face was the image of Bar Shalmon.
"I ask of you mortals of the city," the princess continued, "but one thing, justice—that same justice which we in the land of Ergetz did give unto Bar Shalmon when, after breaking his oath unto his father, he set sail for a foreign land and was delivered into our hands. We spared his life; we granted his petition for a new trial. I but ask that ye should grant me the same petition. Hear me in your Court of Justice."
"Thy request is but reasonable, princess," said the mayor. "It shall not be said that strangers here are refused justice. Bar Shalmon, follow me."
He led the way into the Chamber of Justice, and the magistrates of the city heard all that the princess and her witnesses, among whom was the rabbi, and also all that Bar Shalmon, had to say.
"'Tis plain," said the mayor, delivering judgment, "that her royal highness, the princess of the Fairyland of Ergetz, has spoken that which is true. But Bar Shalmon has in this city wife and child to whom he is bound by ties that may not be broken. Bar Shalmon must divorce the princess and return unto her the dowry received by him on their marriage."
"If such be your law, I am content," said the princess.
"What sayest thou, Bar Shalmon?" asked the mayor.
"Oh! I'm content," he answered gruffly. "I agree to anything that will rid me of the demon princess."
The princess flushed crimson with shame and rage at these cruel words.
"These words I have not deserved," she exclaimed, proudly. "I have loved thee, and have been faithful unto thee, Bar Shalmon. I accept the decree of your laws and shall return to the land of Ergetz a widow. I ask not for your pity. I ask but for that which is my right, one last kiss."
"Very well," said Bar Shalmon, still more gruffly, "anything to have done with thee."
The princess stepped proudly forward to him and kissed him on the lips.
Bar Shalmon turned deadly pale and would have fallen had not his friends caught him.
"Take thy punishment for all thy sins," cried the princess, haughtily, "for thy broken vows and thy false promises—thy perjury to thy God, to thy father, to my father and to me."
As she spoke Bar Shalmon fell dead at her feet. At a sign from the princess, her retinue of fairies and demons flew out of the building and up into the air with their royal mistress in their midst and vanished.
The Higgledy-Piggledy Palace
Sarah, the wife of the patriarch Abraham, and the great mother of the Jewish people, was the most beautiful woman who ever lived. Everybody who saw her marveled at the dazzling radiance of her countenance; they stood spellbound before the glorious light that shone in her eyes and the wondrous clearness of her complexion. This greatly troubled Abraham when he fled from Canaan to Egypt. It was disconcerting to have crowds of travelers gazing at his wife as if she were something more than human. Besides, he feared that the Egyptians would seize Sarah for the king's harem.
So, after much meditation, he concealed his wife in a big box. When he arrived at the Egyptian frontier, the customs officials asked him what it contained.
"Barley," he replied.
"You say that because the duty on barley is the lowest," they said. "The box must surely be packed with wheat."
"I will pay the duty on wheat," said Abraham, who was most anxious they should not open the box.
The officials were surprised, for, as a rule, people endeavored to avoid paying the duties.
"If you are so ready to pay the higher tax," they said, "the box must contain something of greater value. Perhaps it contains spices."
Abraham intimated his readiness to pay the duty on spices.
"Oh, Oh!" laughed the officers. "Here is a strange person ready to pay heavy dues. He must be anxious to conceal something—gold, perchance."
"I will pay the duty on gold," said Abraham, quietly.
The officers were now completely bewildered.
"Our highest duty," said their chief, "is on precious stones, and since you decline to open the box, we must demand the tax on the costliest gems."
"I will pay it," said Abraham, simply.
The officers could not understand this at all, and after consulting among themselves, they decided that the box must be opened.
"It may contain something highly dangerous," they argued.
Abraham protested, but he was arrested by the guards and the box forced open. When Sarah was revealed, the officials stepped back in amazement and admiration.
"Indeed, a rare jewel," said the chief.
It was immediately decided to send Sarah to the king. When Pharaoh beheld her, he was enraptured. She was simply dressed in the garments of a peasant woman, with no adornment and no jewels, and yet the king thought he had never seen a woman so entrancingly beautiful. When he saw Abraham, however, his brow clouded.
"Who is this man?" he demanded of Sarah.
Fearing that he might be imprisoned, or even put to death if she acknowledged him as her husband, Sarah replied that he was her brother.
Pharaoh felt relieved. He smiled on Abraham and greeted him pleasantly.
"Thy sister is exceeding fair to gaze upon," he said, "and comely of form. She hath bewitched me by her matchless charm. She shall become the favorite of my harem. I will recompense thee well for thy loss of her. Thou shalt be loaded with gifts."
Abraham was too wise to betray the anger that surged in his heart.
"Courage, my beloved," he whispered to Sarah. "The good God will not forsake us."
He made pretense of agreeing to Pharaoh's suggestion, and the chief steward of the king gave him an abundant store of gold and silver and jewels, also sheep and oxen and camels. Abraham was conducted to a beautiful palace, where many slaves attended him and bowed before him, for one on whom the monarch had showered favors was a great man in the land of Pharaoh. Left alone, Abraham began to pray most devoutly.
Meanwhile, Sarah was led into a gorgeous apartment where the queen's own attendants were ordered to array her in the richest of the royal garments. Then she was brought before Pharaoh who dismissed all the attendants.
"I desire to be alone with thee," said the king to Sarah. "I have much to say to thee, and I long to feast my eyes on those features of beauty rare."
But Sarah shrank from him. To her, he appeared ugly and loathsome. His smile was a vicious leer, and his voice sounded like a harsh croak.
"Fear not," he said, trying to speak tenderly and kindly. "I will do thee no harm. Nay, I will load thee with honors. I will grant any request that thou makest."
"Then let me go hence," said Sarah, quickly. "I desire naught but that thou shouldst permit me to depart with my brother."
"Thou jestest," said Pharaoh. "That cannot be. I will make thee queen," he cried, passionately and he made a move toward her.
"Stop!" cried Sarah. "If thou approachest one step nearer...."
Pharaoh interrupted with a laugh. To threaten a king was so funny that he could not refrain from a hoarse cackle. But Sarah had become suddenly silent. She was looking not at him, but behind him. Pharaoh turned, but observed nothing. He could not see what Sarah saw—a figure, a spirit, clutching a big stick.
"Come," said the king, "be not foolish. I cannot be angry with a creature so fair as thou art. But it is not meet—nay, it is not wise—to utter threats to one who wears a crown."
Sarah made no reply. She was no longer afraid. She knew that her prayers, and those of Abraham, had been answered, and that no harm would befall her. Pharaoh mistook her silence and advanced toward her. As he did so, however, he felt a tremendous blow on the head. He was stunned for a moment. On recovering himself he looked all round the room, but could see nothing. Sarah continued to stand motionless.
"Strange," muttered Pharaoh. "I—I thought some one had entered the room."
Again he moved toward Sarah, and once more he received a staggering blow—this time on the shoulder. It was only by a great effort of will that he did not cry out in pain. He concluded he must have been seized by some sudden illness, but after a moment he felt better and bravely tried to smile at Sarah.
"I—I just thought of something most important," said he, attempting to offer some explanation for nearly toppling over in an undignified manner. He stood nearer to Sarah and began to raise his hand to touch her.
"If thou layest but a finger on me, it will be at thy peril," exclaimed Sarah, her eyes flashing angrily.
"Pshaw!" he cried, losing patience, and he raised his hand.
This time the cudgel of the spirit invisible to Pharaoh did not strike him: it came down gently and rested lightly on the king's out-stretched arm. And Pharaoh could not move it. He grew pale and trembled.
"Art thou a witch?" he gasped, at last.
Sarah was so angry when she heard this insult that she flashed a signal with her eyes to the spirit, and the latter plied his cudgel lustily about the king's head and shoulders, making the monarch break out in most unkingly howls of pain.
"Thy pardon, thy pardon, I crave," he managed to scream. "I mean not what I said. I am ill—very ill. My body aches. My arm is paralyzed."
The cudgeling ceased and Pharaoh was able to move his arm. He writhed in agony, for he was bruised all over. He rushed hastily away, saying he would return on the morrow. Sarah found herself locked in, but she was not again disturbed.
Pharaoh, however, had further adventures. The spirit was in merry mood and had a night's entertainment at the king's expense. No sooner did the king lie down upon his bed than the spirit tilted it and sent him sprawling on the floor. Whenever Pharaoh tried to lie down the same thing happened. He went from one room to another, but all efforts at rest were unavailing. Every bed rejected him and every chair and couch did the same, although when he commanded others to lie down they did so quite comfortably. He tried lying down with one of his attendants, but while the latter was able to remain undisturbed, Pharaoh found himself bodily lifted, stood upon his head, spun around and then rolled over on the ground.
His physicians could provide no remedy, his magicians—hastily summoned from their own slumbers—could afford no explanation, and Pharaoh spent a terrible night wandering from room to room and up and down the corridors, where the corners seemed to go out of their way to bump against him and the stairs seemed to go down when he wanted to walk up, and vice-versa. Such a higgledy-piggeldy palace was never seen. Worse still, with the first streak of dawn he noticed that he was smitten with leprosy.
Hastily he sent for Abraham and said: "Who and what thou art I know not. Thou and thy sister have brought a plague upon me. I desired to make her my queen, but now I say to you: Rid me of this leprosy and get thee hence with thy sister. I will bestow riches on ye, but get ye gone, and speedily."
With a magic jewel which he wore on his breast, Abraham restored Pharaoh to health, and then departed with Sarah. These final words he said to Pharaoh:
"Sarah is not my sister, but my wife. I give thee this warning. Should thy descendants at any time seek to persecute our descendants, then will our God, He, the One God of the universe, surely punish the king with plague again."
And, many years afterward, as you read in the Bible, the prediction came true.
The Red Slipper
Rosy-red was a sweet little girl, with beautiful blue eyes, soft pink cheeks and glorious ruddy-gold hair of the tinge that artists love to paint. Her mother died the day she was born, but her grandmother looked after her with such tender care that Rosy-red regarded her as her mother. She was very happy, was Rosy-red. All day long she sang, as she tripped gaily about the house or the woods that surrounded it, and so melodious was her voice that the birds gathered on the trees to listen to her and to encourage her to continue, by daintily chirruping whenever she ceased.
Merrily Rosy-red performed all the little duties her grandmother called upon her to do, and on festivals she was allowed to wear a delightful pair of red leather slippers, her father's gift to her on her first birthday. Now, although neither she nor her father knew it, they were magic slippers which grew larger as her feet grew. Rosy-red was only a child and so did not know that slippers don't usually grow. Her grandmother knew the secret of the slippers, but she did not tell, and her father had become too moody and too deeply absorbed in his own thoughts and affairs to notice anything.
One day—Rosy-red remembered it only too sadly—she returned from the woods to find her grandmother gone and three strange women in the house. She stopped suddenly in the midst of her singing and her cheeks turned pale, for she did not like the appearance of the strangers.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I am your new mother," answered the eldest of the three, "and these are my daughters, your two new sisters."
Rosy-red trembled with fear. They were all three so ugly, and she began to cry.
Her new sisters scolded her for that and would have beaten her had not her father appeared. He spoke kindly, telling her he had married again, because he was lonely and that her step-mother and step-sisters would be good to her. But Rosy-red knew different. She hastened away to her own little room and hid her slippers of which she was very proud.
"They have turned my dear granny out of doors; they will take from me my beautiful slippers," she sobbed.
After that, Rosy-red sang no more. She became a somber girl and a drudge. The birds could not understand. They followed her through the woods, but she was silent, as if she had been stricken dumb, and her eyes always seemed eager to be shedding tears. Also, she was too busy to notice her feathered friends.
She had to collect firewood for the home, to draw water from the well and struggle along with the heavy bucket whose weight made her arms and her back ache with pain. Sometimes, too, her white arms were scarred with bruises, for her cruel and selfish step-sisters did not hesitate to beat her. Often they went out to parties, or to dances, and on these occasions she had to act as their maid and help them to dress. Rosy-red did not mind; she was only happy when they were out of the house. Then only did she sing softly to herself, and the birds came to listen.
And thus many unhappy years passed away.
Once, when her father was away from home, her step-sisters went off to a wedding dance. They told her not to forget to draw water from the well, and warned her that if she forgot, as she did the last time, they would beat her without mercy when they returned.
So Rosy-red, tired though she was, went out in the darkness to draw water. She lowered the bucket, but the cord broke and the pail fell to the bottom of the well. She ran back home for a long stick with a hook at the end of it to recover the bucket, and as she put it into the water she sang:
Swing and sweep till all does cling And to the surface safely bring.
Now it so happened that a sleeping jinn dwelt at the bottom of the well. He could only be awakened by a spell, and although Rosy-red did not know it, the words she uttered, which she had once heard her granny use, were the spell.
The jinn awoke, and he was so delighted with the sweet voice that he promptly decided to help the girl whom he saw peering down into the water. He fastened the bucket to the stick and, taking some jewels from a treasure of which he was the guardian, he put them inside.
"Oh, how beautiful," cried Rosy-red when she saw the glittering gems. "They are ever so much nicer than those my sisters put on to go to the ball."
Then she sat thinking for a while and a bright idea came into her head.
"I will give these jewels to my sisters," she said. "Perhaps they will be kinder to me."
She waited impatiently until the sisters returned from the dance and immediately told them. For a moment they were too dazed to speak when they saw the sparkling precious stones. Then they looked meaningly at one another and asked how she came by them. Rosy told them of the words she had sung.
"Ah, we thought so," said the sisters, to her horror. "The jewels are ours. We hid them in the well for safety. You have stolen them."
In vain Rosy-red protested. Her sisters would not listen. They beat her severely, told her to hurry off to bed, and then, snatching the bucket, they hurried off to the well. They lowered the bucket and sang the words that Rosy-red had sung. At least they thought they sang; but their voices were harsh. The sleeping jinn awoke again, but he did not like the croaking sound the sisters made.
"Ha, ha!" he laughed. "I will teach you to disturb my sleep with hideous noises and shall punish such pranks played on me. Here are some more croakers," and he filled the bucket with slimy toads and frogs.
The sisters were so enraged that they ran back home and dragged poor Rosy-red from her bed.
"You cat, you thief," screamed one.
"You cheat," exclaimed the other. "Off you go. Not another day can you remain in this house."
Rosy-red was too much taken by surprise to say anything. It was an outrage to turn her out of her father's house while he was away on a journey, but the thought came to her that she could hardly be less happy living alone in the woods.
She had only time to snatch her pretty red slippers, and as soon as she was out of sight of the house she put them on. It made her feel less miserable. The sun was now rising and when its rays shone on her she began to sing. With her old friends, the birds, twittering all about her, she felt quite happy.
On and on she walked, much farther into the woods than ever before. When she grew tired there was always a pleasant shady nook where she could rest; when she became hungry, there were fruit trees in abundance; and when she was thirsty she always came to a spring of clear, fresh water. The magic slippers guided her. All day long she wandered, and when toward evening she noticed her slippers were muddy she took them off to clean. And then darkness fell. It began to rain and she grew frightened. She crouched under a tree until she noticed a light some short distance away. She got up and walked toward it.
When quite close, she saw that the light came from a cave dwelling. An old woman came out to meet her. It was her grandmother, but so many years had passed that Rosy-red did not recognize her. Granny, however, at once knew her. "Come in, my child, and take shelter from the rain," she said kindly, and Rosy-red was only too glad to accept the invitation.
The inside of the cave was quite cosy, and Rosy-red, who was almost completely exhausted, quickly fell fast asleep. She awoke with a start.
"My pretty red slippers," she cried. "Where are they?"
She put her hand in the pocket of her tattered dress, but could only find one.
"I must have lost the other," she sobbed. "I must go out and look for it."
"No, no," said granny. "You cannot do that. A storm is raging."
Rosy-red peered out through the door of the cave and drew back in fear as she saw the lightning flash and heard the thunder rolling. She sobbed herself to sleep again, and this time was awakened by voices. She feared it might be her sisters who had discovered her hiding place and had come to drag her forcibly back home again. So she crept into a corner of the cave and listened intently.
A man was speaking.
"Know you to whom this red slipper belongs?" he was asking. "I found it in the woods."
Rosy-red was on the point of rushing out to regain her lost slipper when her granny's voice—very loud on purpose that she should hear—restrained her.
"No, no, I know not," she repeated again and again, and at length the man departed.
Granny came back into the cave and said, "I am sorry, Rosy-red, but for aught I knew, he might be a messenger from your cruel sisters; and, of course, I cannot let anyone take you back to them."
Next day, the man called again, this time with several attendants. Again, Rosy-red concealed herself.
"I am a chieftain's son, and wealthy," said the man. "I must find the wearer of this shoe. Only a graceful and beautiful girl can wear such a dainty slipper."
Rosy-red did not know whether to be more frightened or pleased, when her granny told her the man was very handsome and of noble bearing.
Day after day he came, each time with more retainers, and, finally, he arrived mounted on a richly caparisoned camel with a hundred and one followers, all mounted as he was.
"The girl I seek is here," he said. "Deny it no longer. My servants have scoured the woods and the whole neighborhood. One is prepared to swear he heard a young girl singing yesterday."
Rosy-red saw that concealment was no longer possible. She liked the man's voice, and she stepped out bravely, wearing her one slipper.
The stranger, bowing low before her, held out the other, and Rosy-red took it and put it on. It fitted perfectly.
"Many girls have tried to put on that shoe," said the young man, "but all have failed. And I have sworn to make the wearer my bride. I am a chieftain's son, and thou shalt be a princess."
So Rosy-red left the cave with her granny, and mounting a camel was led through the woods to her new home where she knew naught but happiness and the days of her sufferings were quite forgotten. And always she wore her magic red slippers.
When Abraham was born, his father, Terah, who was one of the chief officers of King Nimrod, gave a banquet to a large number of his friends. He entertained them most sumptuously, and the merriest of the guests was the chief of the king's magicians. He was an old man, exceedingly fond of wine, and he drank deeply. The feast lasted throughout the night, and the gray dawn of early morning appeared in the sky before Terah's friends thought of rising from the table.
Suddenly the old magician jumped to his feet.
"See," he cried, excitedly, pointing through the open door to the sky. "See yon bright star in the east. It flashes across the heavens."
The others looked, but said they could see nothing.
"Fools," shouted the old man, "ye may not see, but I do. I, the wisest of the king's magicians and astrologers, tell you it is an omen. See how the brilliant star darts across the sky! It has swallowed a smaller star, and another, even a third, yet a fourth. It is an omen, I say, a portent that bodes ill. And, moreover," he added, growing still more excited, "it is an omen connected with the birth of the little son of Terah."
"Nonsense," cried Terah.
"Talk not to me of nonsense," said the magician, sternly. "I must hasten to inform the king."
Hurriedly he left the house of Terah, followed by the other magicians, some of whom now said they also had seen a star swallow four others. They did not think it wise to contradict their chief, although he had drunk a great deal of wine and could not walk steadily.
King Nimrod was awakened from his sleep, and his magicians appeared before him.
"O King, live for ever," said the chief, by way of salute. "Grave indeed is the news that has led us to disturb thee in thy slumbers. This night a son has been born unto thy officer, Terah, and with the coming of the dawn a warning has appeared to us in the skies. I, the chief of thy magicians, did observe a brilliant star rise in the east and dart across the heavens and swallow four smaller stars."
"We observed it, too," said the other magicians.
"And what means this?" inquired the king.
"It means," said the chief magician, mysteriously, "that this star-child will destroy other children, that his descendants will conquer thine. Take warning. Purchase this child from thy officer, Terah, and slay it so that it may not grow up a danger to thee."
"Thy advice pleases me," said the cruel king.
In vain Terah protested. King Nimrod would not disregard the warning of his magicians, but he consented to give Terah three days in which to deliver up the child. Sad at heart Terah returned home, and on the second day told his wife the terrible news.
"We must not allow our little son, Abraham, to be slain," she said. "If he is to become great he must live. I have a plan. King Nimrod will not be satisfied unless a child is slain. Therefore, take thou the child of a slave to him and tell him it is Abraham. He will not know the difference. And so that the trick shall not be discovered, take our child away and hide it for a time."
Terah thought this an excellent idea, and he carried it out. The sick child of a slave, which was born only a few hours before Abraham, was taken to King Nimrod who killed it with his own hands, and Terah's little boy was secretly carried by his nurse to a cave in a forest. There Abraham was carefully nurtured and brought up.
From time to time Abraham was visited by his father and mother, and not until he was ten years old did they think it safe to bring him from the cave in the forest to their home. Even then they deemed it best to be careful. Their elder son, Haran, was a maker of idols and Abraham became his helper without Haran being told it was his brother.
Abraham, the star-child, was a strange little boy. He did not believe in the idols.
"I worship the sun by day and the moon and the stars by night," he said to Haran.
"There are times when you cannot see the sun by day, nor the moon and stars by night," said Haran, "but you can always have your idol with you."
This troubled little Abraham for a while, but one day he came running to his brother and said, "I have made a discovery. I shall no longer worship the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars. There must be some mighty power behind them that orders them to shine, the sun by day and the moon and stars by night. That great power shall be my God."
Abraham asked all sorts of queer questions of his father. "Who made the sun and the moon and the stars?" he asked.
"I know not," replied Terah.
"I have asked all your idols, your gods, and they answer not," said Abraham.
"They cannot speak," said Terah.
"Then why do you pray to them and worship them?" persisted the boy.
Terah did not answer. Abraham asked his mother, but she could only tell him that the gods who created everything were with them in the house.
"But Haran made those silly things of wood and clay," said Abraham, and at last they refused to answer his awkward questions.
Mostly he stood at the door of the house, gazing at the sky as if trying to read the secrets behind the sun and stars.
"Thou shouldst have been placed with an astrologer," said Haran to him one day. "Thou art a child of the stars."
Terah heard this and was angry with Haran, for he feared that the secret of the child's birth might be betrayed.
"I know not why my father keeps thee here," said Haran afterward to Abraham. "Thou art becoming lazy. I have worked enough this day and will go out to the woods to watch the hunting. Stay thou here. Perchance a purchaser may come. Be heedful and obtain good payment for the idols."
Not long after Haran left, an old man entered the shop and said he wished to buy an idol.
"I dropped my idol on the ground yesterday and it broke," he said. "I must have a stronger one."
"Certainly thou must have a god so strong that naught can break it," answered Abraham. "Tell me, how old art thou?"