THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MAN
HENRY VAN DYKE
[Illustration: "IT IS THE SIGN" HE SAID]
THE SIGN IN THE SKY
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
FOR THE SAKE OF A LITTLE CHILD
IN THE HIDDEN WAY OF SORROW
A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
"'IT IS THE SIGN,' HE SAID"
"HE CAUGHT IT UP AND READ"
"'THERE IS NONE HERE SAVE ME"'
"HE HEALED THE SICK"
"THE OLD MAN FOLLOWED THE MULTITUDE"
"THE OTHER WISE MAN HAD FOUND THE KING"
_Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are._
You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they
travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in
Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who
also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not
arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of
the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet
accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of
his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his
finding, the One whom he sought--I would tell the tale as I have heard
fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of
THE SIGN IN THE SKY
In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and Herod
reigned in Jerusalem, there lived in the city of Ecbatana, among the
mountains of Persia, a certain man named Artaban, the Median. His house
stood close to the outermost of the seven walls which encircled the
royal treasury. From his roof he could look over the rising battlements
of black and white and crimson and blue and red and silver and gold, to
the hill where the summer palace of the Parthian emperors glittered like
a jewel in a sevenfold crown.
Around the dwelling of Artaban spread a fair garden, a tangle of flowers
and fruit-trees, watered by a score of streams descending from the
slopes of Mount Orontes, and made musical by innumerable birds. But all
colour was lost in the soft and odorous darkness of the late September
night, and all sounds were hushed in the deep charm of its silence, save
the plashing of the water, like a voice half sobbing and half laughing
under the shadows. High above the trees a dim glow of light shone
through the curtained arches of the upper chamber, where the master of
the house was holding council with his friends.
He stood by the doorway to greet his guests--a tall, dark man of about
forty years, with brilliant eyes set near together under his broad brow,
and firm lines graven around his fine, thin lips; the brow of a dreamer
and the mouth of a soldier, a man of sensitive feeling but inflexible
will--one of those who, in whatever age they may live, are born for
inward conflict and a life of quest.
His robe was of pure white wool, thrown over a tunic of silk; and a
white, pointed cap, with long lapels at the sides, rested on his flowing
black hair. It was the dress of the ancient priesthood of the Magi,
called the fire-worshippers.
"Welcome!" he said, in his low, pleasant voice, as one after another
entered the room--"welcome, Abdus; peace be with you, Rhodaspes and
Tigranes, and with you my father, Abgarus. You are all welcome, and this
house grows bright with the joy of your presence."
There were nine of the men, differing widely in age, but alike in the
richness of their dress of many-coloured silks, and in the massive
golden collars around their necks, marking them as Parthian nobles, and
in the winged circles of gold resting upon their breasts, the sign of
the followers of Zoroaster.
They took their places around a small black altar at the end of the
room, where a tiny flame was burning. Artaban, standing beside it, and
waving a barsom of thin tamarisk branches above the fire, fed it with
dry sticks of pine and fragrant oils. Then he began the ancient chant of
the Yasna, and the voices of his companions joined in the beautiful hymn
We worship the Spirit Divine,
all wisdom and goodness possessing,
Surrounded by Holy Immortals,
the givers of bounty and blessing.
We joy in the works of His hands,
His truth and His power confessing.
We praise all the things that are pure,
for these are His only Creation;
The thoughts that are true, and the words
and deeds that have won approbation;
These are supported by Him,
and for these we make adoration.
Hear us, O Mazda! Thou livest
in truth and in heavenly gladness;
Cleanse us from falsehood, and keep us
from evil and bondage to badness;
Pour out the light and the joy of Thy life
on our darkness and sadness.
Shine on our gardens and fields,
Shine on our working and weaving;
Shine on the whole race of man,
Believing and unbelieving;
Shine on us now through the night,
Shine on us now in Thy might,
The flame of our holy love
and the song of our worship receiving.
The fire rose with the chant, throbbing as if it were made of musical
flame, until it cast a bright illumination through the whole apartment,
revealing its simplicity and splendour.
The floor was laid with tiles of dark blue veined with white; pilasters
of twisted silver stood out against the blue walls; the clearstory of
round-arched windows above them was hung with azure silk; the vaulted
ceiling was a pavement of sapphires, like the body of heaven in its
clearness, sown with silver stars. From the four corners of the roof
hung four golden magic-wheels, called the tongues of the gods. At the
eastern end, behind the altar, there were two dark-red pillars of
porphyry; above them a lintel of the same stone, on which was carved the
figure of a winged archer, with his arrow set to the string and his bow
The doorway between the pillars, which opened upon the terrace of the
roof, was covered with a heavy curtain of the colour of a ripe
pomegranate, embroidered with innumerable golden rays shooting upward
from the floor. In effect the room was like a quiet, starry night, all
azure and silver, flushed in the East with rosy promise of the dawn. It
was, as the house of a man should be, an expression of the character and
spirit of the master.
He turned to his friends when the song was ended, and invited them to be
seated on the divan at the western end of the room.
"You have come to-night," said he, looking around the circle, "at my
call, as the faithful scholars of Zoroaster, to renew your worship and
rekindle your faith in the God of Purity, even as this fire has been
rekindled on the altar. We worship not the fire, but Him of whom it is
the chosen symbol, because it is the purest of all created things. It
speaks to us of one who is Light and Truth. Is it not so, my father?"
"It is well said, my son," answered the venerable Abgarus. "The
enlightened are never idolaters. They lift the veil of the form and go
in to the shrine of the reality, and new light and truth are coming to
them continually through the old symbols." "Hear me, then, my father
and my friends," said Artaban, very quietly, "while I tell you of the
new light and truth that have come to me through the most ancient of all
signs. We have searched the secrets of nature together, and studied the
healing virtues of water and fire and the plants. We have read also the
books of prophecy in which the future is dimly foretold in words that
are hard to understand. But the highest of all learning is the knowledge
of the stars. To trace their courses is to untangle the threads of the
mystery of life from the beginning to the end. If we could follow them
perfectly, nothing would be hidden from us. But is not our knowledge of
them still incomplete? Are there not many stars still beyond our
horizon--lights that are known only to the dwellers in the far
south-land, among the spice-trees of Punt and the gold mines of Ophir?"
There was a murmur of assent among the listeners.
"The stars," said Tigranes, "are the thoughts of the Eternal. They are
numberless. But the thoughts of man can be counted, like the years
of his life. The wisdom of the Magi is the greatest of all wisdoms on
earth, because it knows its own ignorance. And that is the secret of
power. We keep men always looking and waiting for a new sunrise. But we
ourselves know that the darkness is equal to the light, and that the
conflict between them will never be ended."
"That does not satisfy me," answered Artaban, "for, if the waiting must
be endless, if there could be no fulfilment of it, then it would not be
wisdom to look and wait. We should become like those new teachers of the
Greeks, who say that there is no truth, and that the only wise men are
those who spend their lives in discovering and exposing the lies that
have been believed in the world. But the new sunrise will certainly dawn
in the appointed time. Do not our own books tell us that this will come
to pass, and that men will see the brightness of a great light?"
"That is true," said the voice of Abgarus; "every faithful disciple of
Zoroaster knows the prophecy of the Avesta and carries the word in his
heart. 'In that day Sosiosh the Victorious shall arise out of the number
of the prophets in the east country. Around him shall shine a mighty
brightness, and he shall make life everlasting, incorruptible, and
immortal, and the dead shall rise again.'"
"This is a dark saying," said Tigranes, "and it may be that we shall
never understand it. It is better to consider the things that are near
at hand, and to increase the influence of the Magi in their own country,
rather than to look for one who may be a stranger, and to whom we must
resign our power."
The others seemed to approve these words. There was a silent feeling of
agreement manifest among them; their looks responded with that
indefinable expression which always follows when a speaker has uttered
the thought that has been slumbering in the hearts of his listeners. But
Artaban turned to Abgarus with a glow on his face, and said:
"My father, I have kept this prophecy in the secret place of my soul.
Religion without a great hope would be like an altar without a living
fire. And now the flame has burned more brightly, and by the light of it
I have read other words which also have come from the fountain of Truth,
and speak yet more clearly of the rising of the Victorious One in his
He drew from the breast of his tunic two small rolls of fine linen, with
writing upon them, and unfolded them carefully upon his knee.
"In the years that are lost in the past, long before our fathers came
into the land of Babylon, there were wise men in Chaldea, from whom the
first of the Magi learned the secret of the heavens. And of these Balaam
the son of Beor was one of the mightiest. Hear the words of his
prophecy: 'There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall
arise out of Israel.'"
The lips of Tigranes drew downward with contempt, as he said:
"Judah was a captive by the waters of Babylon, and the sons of Jacob
were in bondage to our kings. The tribes of Israel are scattered through
the mountains like lost sheep, and from the remnant that dwells in Judea
under the yoke of Rome neither star nor sceptre shall arise."
"And yet," answered Artaban, "it was the Hebrew Daniel, the mighty
searcher of dreams, the counsellor of kings, the wise Belteshazzar, who
was most honored and beloved of our great King Cyrus. A prophet of sure
things and a reader of the thoughts of God, Daniel proved himself to our
people. And these are the words that he wrote." (Artaban read from the
second roll:) "'Know, therefore, and understand that from the going
forth of the commandment to restore Jerusalem, unto the Anointed One,
the Prince, the time shall be seven and threescore and two weeks.'"
"But, my son," said Abgarus, doubtfully, "these are mystical numbers.
Who can interpret them, or who can find the key that shall unlock their
Artaban answered: "It has been shown to me and to my three companions
among the Magi--Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. We have searched the
ancient tablets of Chaldea and computed the time. It falls in this year.
We have studied the sky, and in the spring of the year we saw two of the
greatest stars draw near together in the sign of the Fish, which is the
house of the Hebrews. We also saw a new star there, which shone for one
night and then vanished. Now again the two great planets are meeting.
This night is their conjunction. My three brothers are watching at the
ancient temple of the Seven Spheres, at Borsippa, in Babylonia, and I am
watching here. If the star shines again, they will wait ten days for me
at the temple, and then we will set out together for Jerusalem, to see
and worship the promised one who shall be born King of Israel. I believe
the sign will come. I have made ready for the journey. I have sold my
house and my possessions, and bought these three jewels--a sapphire, a
ruby, and a pearl--to carry them as tribute to the King. And I ask you
to go with me on the pilgrimage, that we may have joy together in
finding the Prince who is worthy to be served."
While he was speaking he thrust his hand into the inmost fold of his
girdle and drew out three great gems--one blue as a fragment of the
night sky, one redder than a ray of sunrise, and one as pure as the peak
of a snow mountain at twilight--and laid them on the outspread linen
scrolls before him.
But his friends looked on with strange and alien eyes. A veil of doubt
and mistrust came over their faces, like a fog creeping up from the
marshes to hide the hills. They glanced at each other with looks of
wonder and pity, as those who have listened to incredible sayings, the
story of a wild vision, or the proposal of an impossible enterprise.
At last Tigranes said: "Artaban, this is a vain dream. It comes from too
much looking upon the stars and the cherishing of lofty thoughts. It
would be wiser to spend the time in gathering money for the new
fire-temple at Chala. No king will ever rise from the broken race of
Israel, and no end will ever come to the eternal strife of light and
darkness. He who looks for it is a chaser of shadows. Farewell."
And another said: "Artaban, I have no knowledge of these things, and my
office as guardian of the royal treasure binds me here. The quest is not
for me. But if thou must follow it, fare thee well."
And another said: "In my house there sleeps a new bride, and I cannot
leave her nor take her with me on this strange journey. This quest is
not for me. But may thy steps be prospered wherever thou goest. So,
And another said: "I am ill and unfit for hardship, but there is a man
among my servants whom I will send with thee when thou goest, to bring
me word how thou farest."
But Abgarus, the oldest and the one who loved Artaban the best, lingered
after the others had gone, and said, gravely: "My son, it may be that
the light of truth is in this sign that has appeared in the skies, and
then it will surely lead to the Prince and the mighty brightness. Or
it may be that it is only a shadow of the light, as Tigranes has said,
and then he who follows it will have only a long pilgrimage and an empty
search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to
remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things
must often be ready to travel alone. I am too old for this journey, but
my heart shall be a companion of the pilgrimage day and night, and I
shall know the end of thy quest. Go in peace."
So one by one they went out of the azure chamber with its silver stars,
and Artaban was left in solitude.
He gathered up the jewels and replaced them in his girdle. For a long
time he stood and watched the flame that flickered and sank upon the
altar. Then he crossed the hall, lifted the heavy curtain, and passed
out between the dull red pillars of porphyry to the terrace on the roof.
The shiver that thrills through the earth ere she rouses from her
night sleep had already begun, and the cool wind that heralds the
daybreak was drawing downward from the lofty snow-traced ravines of
Mount Orontes. Birds, half awakened, crept and chirped among the
rustling leaves, and the smell of ripened grapes came in brief wafts
from the arbours.
Far over the eastern plain a white mist stretched like a lake. But where
the distant peak of Zagros serrated the western horizon the sky was
clear. Jupiter and Saturn rolled together like drops of lambent flame
about to blend in one.
As Artaban watched them, behold, an azure spark was born out of the
darkness beneath, rounding itself with purple splendours to a crimson
sphere, and spiring upward through rays of saffron and orange into a
point of white radiance. Tiny and infinitely remote, yet perfect in
every part, it pulsated in the enormous vault as if the three jewels in
the Magian's breast had mingled and been transformed into a living heart
of light. He bowed his head. He covered his brow with his hands.
"It is the sign," he said. "The King is coming, and I will go to meet
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
All night long Vasda, the swiftest of Artaban's horses, had been
waiting, saddled and bridled, in her stall, pawing the ground
impatiently, and shaking her bit as if she shared the eagerness of her
master's purpose, though she knew not its meaning.
Before the birds had fully roused to their strong, high, joyful chant of
morning song, before the white mist had begun to lift lazily from the
plain, the other wise man was in the saddle, riding swiftly along the
high-road, which skirted the base of Mount Orontes, westward.
How close, how intimate is the comradeship between a man and his
favourite horse on a long journey. It is a silent, comprehensive
friendship, an intercourse beyond the need of words. They drink at the
same way-side springs, and sleep under the same guardian stars. They are
conscious together of the subduing spell of nightfall and the quickening
joy of daybreak. The master shares his evening meal with his hungry
companion, and feels the soft, moist lips caressing the palm of his hand
as they close over the morsel of bread. In the gray dawn he is roused
from his bivouac by the gentle stir of a warm, sweet breath over his
sleeping face, and looks up into the eyes of his faithful
fellow-traveller, ready and waiting for the toil of the day. Surely,
unless he is a pagan and an unbeliever, by whatever name he calls upon
his God, he will thank Him for this voiceless sympathy, this dumb
affection, and his morning prayer will embrace a double blessing--God
bless us both, and keep our feet from falling and our souls from death!
And then, through the keen morning air, the swift hoofs beat their
spirited music along the road, keeping time to the pulsing of two hearts
that are moved with the same eager desire--to conquer space, to devour
the distance, to attain the goal of the journey.
Artaban must indeed ride wisely and well if he would keep the appointed
hour with the other Magi; for the route was a hundred and fifty
parasangs, and fifteen was the utmost that he could travel in a day. But
he knew Vasda's strength, and pushed forward without anxiety, making the
fixed distance every day, though he must travel late into the night, and
in the morning long before sunrise.
He passed along the brown slopes of Mt. Orontes, furrowed by the rocky
courses of a hundred torrents.
He crossed the level plains of the Nisaeans, where the famous herds of
horses, feeding in the wide pastures, tossed their heads at Vasda's
approach, and galloped away with a thunder of many hoofs, and flocks of
wild birds rose suddenly from the swampy meadows, wheeling in great
circles with a shining flutter of innumerable wings and shrill cries of
He traversed the fertile fields of Concabar, where the dust from the
threshing-floors filled the air with a golden mist, half hiding the
huge temple of Astarte with its four hundred pillars.
At Baghistan, among the rich gardens watered by fountains from the rock,
he looked up at the mountain thrusting its immense rugged brow out over
the road, and saw the figure of King Darius trampling upon his fallen
foes, and the proud list of his wars and conquests graven high upon the
face of the eternal cliff.
Over many a cold and desolate pass, crawling painfully across the
wind-swept shoulders of the hills; down many a black mountain-gorge,
where the river roared and raced before him like a savage guide; across
many a smiling vale, with terraces of yellow limestone full of vines and
fruit-trees; through the oak-groves of Carine and the dark Gates of
Zagros, walled in by precipices; into the ancient city of Chala, where
the people of Samaria had been kept in captivity long ago; and out again
by the mighty portal, riven through the encircling hills, where he saw
the image of the High Priest of the Magi sculptured on the wall of
rock, with hand uplifted as if to bless the centuries of pilgrims; past
the entrance of the narrow defile, filled from end to end with orchards
of peaches and figs, through which the river Gyndes foamed down to meet
him; over the broad rice-fields, where the autumnal vapours spread their
deathly mists; following along the course of the river, under tremulous
shadows of poplar and tamarind, among the lower hills; and out upon the
flat plain, where the road ran straight as an arrow through the
stubble-fields and parched meadows; past the city of Ctesiphon, where
the Parthian emperors reigned, and the vast metropolis of Seleucia which
Alexander built; across the swirling floods of Tigris and the many
channels of Euphrates, flowing yellow through the corn-lands--Artaban
pressed onward until he arrived, at nightfall of the tenth day, beneath
the shattered walls of populous Babylon.
Vasda was almost spent, and he would gladly have turned into the city to
find rest and refreshment for himself and for her. But he knew that it
was three hours' journey yet to the Temple of the Seven Spheres, and
he must reach the place by midnight if he would find his comrades
waiting. So he did not halt, but rode steadily across the
A grove of date-palms made an island of gloom in the pale yellow sea. As
she passed into the shadow Vasda slackened her pace, and began to pick
her way more carefully.
Near the farther end of the darkness an access of caution seemed to fall
upon her. She scented some danger or difficulty; it was not in her heart
to fly from it--only to be prepared for it, and to meet it wisely, as a
good horse should do. The grove was close and silent as the tomb; not a
leaf rustled, not a bird sang.
She felt her steps before her delicately, carrying her head low, and
sighing now and then with apprehension. At last she gave a quick breath
of anxiety and dismay, and stood stock-still, quivering in every muscle,
before a dark object in the shadow of the last palm-tree.
Artaban dismounted. The dim starlight revealed the form of a man lying
across the road. His humble dress and the outline of his haggard face
showed that he was probably one of the poor Hebrew exiles who still
dwelt in great numbers in the vicinity. His pallid skin, dry and yellow
as parchment, bore the mark of the deadly fever which ravaged the
marsh-lands in autumn. The chill of death was in his lean hand, and, as
Artaban released it, the arm fell back inertly upon the motionless
He turned away with a thought of pity, consigning the body to that
strange burial which the Magians deem most fitting--the funeral of the
desert, from which the kites and vultures rise on dark wings, and the
beasts of prey slink furtively away, leaving only a heap of white bones
in the sand.
But, as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the man's lips.
The brown, bony fingers closed convulsively on the hem of the Magian's
robe and held him fast.
Artaban's heart leaped to his throat, not with fear, but with a dumb
resentment at the importunity of this blind delay. How could he stay
here in the darkness to minister to a dying stranger? What claim had
this unknown fragment of human life upon his compassion or his service?
If he lingered but for an hour he could hardly reach Borsippa at the
appointed time. His companions would think he had given up the journey.
They would go without him. He would lose his quest.
But if he went on now, the man would surely die. If he stayed, life
might be restored. His spirit throbbed and fluttered with the urgency of
the crisis. Should he risk the great reward of his divine faith for the
sake of a single deed of human love? Should he turn aside, if only for a
moment, from the following of the star, to give a cup of cold water to a
poor, perishing Hebrew?
"God of truth and purity," he prayed, "direct me in the holy path, the
way of wisdom which Thou only knowest."
Then he turned back to the sick man. Loosening the grasp of his hand, he
carried him to a little mound at the foot of the palm-tree. He unbound
the thick folds of the turban and opened the garment above the sunken
breast. He brought water from one of the small canals near by, and
moistened the sufferer's brow and mouth. He mingled a draught of one of
those simple but potent remedies which he carried always in his
girdle--for the Magians were physicians as well as astrologers--and
poured it slowly between the colourless lips. Hour after hour he labored
as only a skilful healer of disease can do; and, at last, the man's
strength returned; he sat up and looked about him.
"Who art thou?" he said, in the rude dialect of the country, "and why
hast thou sought me here to bring back my life?"
"I am Artaban the Magian, of the city of Ecbatana, and I am going to
Jerusalem in search of one who is to be born King of the Jews, a great
Prince and Deliverer for all men. I dare not delay any longer upon my
journey, for the caravan that has waited for me may depart without me.
But see, here is all that I have left of bread and wine, and here is a
potion of healing herbs. When thy strength is restored thou can'st
find the dwellings of the Hebrews among the houses of Babylon."
The Jew raised his trembling hands solemnly to heaven.
"Now may the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob bless and prosper the
journey of the merciful, and bring him in peace to his desired haven.
But stay; I have nothing to give thee in return--only this: that I can
tell thee where the Messiah must be sought. For our prophets have said
that he should be born not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem of Judah. May
the Lord bring thee in safety to that place, because thou hast had pity
upon the sick."
It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste, and Vasda,
restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly through the silent plain and
swam the channels of the river. She put forth the remnant of her
strength, and fled over the ground like a gazelle.
[Illustration: "HE CAUGHT IT UP AND READ"]
But the first beam of the sun sent her shadow before her as she entered
upon the final stadium of the journey, and the eyes of Artaban
anxiously scanning the great mound of Nimrod and the Temple of the Seven
Spheres, could discern no trace of his friends.
The many-coloured terraces of black and orange and red and yellow and
green and blue and white, shattered by the convulsions of nature, and
crumbling under the repeated blows of human violence, still glittered
like a ruined rainbow in the morning light.
Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the
highest terrace, looking out towards the west.
The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the horizon and the
border of the desert. Bitterns stood by the stagnant pools and jackals
skulked through the low bushes; but there was no sign of the caravan of
the wise men, far or near.
At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken bricks, and
under them a piece of parchment. He caught it up and read: "We have
waited past the midnight, and can delay no longer. We go to find the
King. Follow us across the desert." Artaban sat down upon the ground
and covered his head in despair.
"How can I cross the desert," said he, "with no food and with a spent
horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire, and buy a train of
camels, and provision for the journey. I may never overtake my friends.
Only God the merciful knows whether I shall not lose the sight of the
King because I tarried to show mercy."
FOR THE SAKE OF A LITTLE CHILD
There was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, where I was
listening to the story of the other wise man. And through this silence I
saw, but very dimly, his figure passing over the dreary undulations of
the desert, high upon the back of his camel, rocking steadily onward
like a ship over the waves.
The land of death spread its cruel net around him. The stony wastes bore
no fruit but briers and thorns. The dark ledges of rock thrust
themselves above the surface here and there, like the bones of perished
monsters. Arid and inhospitable mountain ranges rose before him,
furrowed with dry channels of ancient torrents, white and ghastly as
scars on the face of nature. Shifting hills of treacherous sand were
heaped like tombs along the horizon. By day, the fierce heat pressed
its intolerable burden on the quivering air; and no living creature
moved, on the dumb, swooning earth, but tiny jerboas scuttling through
the parched bushes, or lizards vanishing in the clefts of the rock. By
night the jackals prowled and barked in the distance, and the lion made
the black ravines echo with his hollow roaring, while a bitter,
blighting chill followed the fever of the day. Through heat and cold,
the Magian moved steadily onward.
Then I saw the gardens and orchards of Damascus, watered by the streams
of Abana and Pharpar, with their sloping swards inlaid with bloom, and
their thickets of myrrh and roses. I saw also the long, snowy ridge of
Hermon, and the dark groves of cedars, and the valley of the Jordan, and
the blue waters of the Lake of Galilee, and the fertile plain of
Esdraelon, and the hills of Ephraim, and the highlands of Judah. Through
all these I followed the figure of Artaban moving steadily onward, until
he arrived at Bethlehem. And it was the third day after the three wise
men had come to that place and had found Mary and Joseph, with the
young child, Jesus, and had laid their gifts of gold and frankincense
and myrrh at his feet.
Then the other wise man drew near, weary, but full of hope, bearing his
ruby and his pearl to offer to the King. "For now at last," he said, "I
shall surely find him, though it be alone, and later than my brethren.
This is the place of which the Hebrew exile told me that the prophets
had spoken, and here I shall behold the rising of the great light. But I
must inquire about the visit of my brethren, and to what house the star
directed them, and to whom they presented their tribute."
The streets of the village seemed to be deserted, and Artaban wondered
whether the men had all gone up to the hill-pastures to bring down their
sheep. From the open door of a low stone cottage he heard the sound of a
woman's voice singing softly. He entered and found a young mother
hushing her baby to rest. She told him of the strangers from the far
East who had appeared in the village three days ago, and how they said
that a star had guided them to the place where Joseph of Nazareth was
lodging with his wife and her new-born child, and how they had paid
reverence to the child and given him many rich gifts.
"But the travellers disappeared again," she continued, "as suddenly as
they had come. We were afraid at the strangeness of their visit. We
could not understand it. The man of Nazareth took the babe and his
mother and fled away that same night secretly, and it was whispered that
they were going far away to Egypt. Ever since, there has been a spell
upon the village; something evil hangs over it. They say that the Roman
soldiers are coming from Jerusalem to force a new tax from us, and the
men have driven the flocks and herds far back among the hills, and
hidden themselves to escape it."
Artaban listened to her gentle, timid speech, and the child in her arms
looked up in his face and smiled, stretching out its rosy hands to grasp
at the winged circle of gold on his breast. His heart warmed to the
touch. It seemed like a greeting of love and trust to one who had
journeyed long in loneliness and perplexity, fighting with his own
doubts and fears, and following a light that was veiled in clouds.
"Might not this child have been the promised Prince?" he asked within
himself, as he touched its soft cheek. "Kings have been born ere now in
lowlier houses than this, and the favourite of the stars may rise even
from a cottage. But it has not seemed good to the God of wisdom to
reward my search so soon and so easily. The one whom I seek has gone
before me; and now I must follow the King to Egypt."
The young mother laid the babe in its cradle, and rose to minister to
the wants of the strange guest that fate had brought into her house. She
set food before him, the plain fare of peasants, but willingly offered,
and therefore full of refreshment for the soul as well as for the body.
Artaban accepted it gratefully; and, as he ate, the child fell into a
happy slumber, and murmured sweetly in its dreams, and a great peace
filled the quiet room.
But suddenly there came the noise of a wild confusion and uproar in the
streets of the village, a shrieking and wailing of women's voices, a
clangor of brazen trumpets and a clashing of swords, and a desperate
cry: "The soldiers! the soldiers of Herod! They are killing our
The young mother's face grew white with terror. She clasped her child to
her bosom, and crouched motionless in the darkest corner of the room,
covering him with the folds of her robe, lest he should wake and cry.
But Artaban went quickly and stood in the doorway of the house. His
broad shoulders filled the portal from side to side, and the peak of his
white cap all but touched the lintel.
[Illustration: "THERE IS NONE HERE SAVE ME"]
The soldiers came hurrying down the street with bloody hands and
dripping swords. At the sight of the stranger in his imposing dress they
hesitated with surprise. The captain of the band approached the
threshold to thrust him aside. But Artaban did not stir. His face was as
calm as though he were watching the stars, and in his eyes there burned
that steady radiance before which even the half-tamed hunting leopard
shrinks, and the fierce bloodhound pauses in his leap. He held the
soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a low voice:
"There is no one in this place but me, and I am waiting to give this
jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in peace."
He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great
drop of blood.
The captain was amazed at the splendour of the gem. The pupils of his
eyes expanded with desire, and the hard lines of greed wrinkled around
his lips. He stretched out his hand and took the ruby.
"March on!" he cried to his men, "there is no child here. The house is
The clamour and the clang of arms passed down the street as the headlong
fury of the chase sweeps by the secret covert where the trembling deer
is hidden. Artaban re-entered the cottage. He turned his face to the
east and prayed:
"God of truth, forgive my sin! I have said the thing that is not, to
save the life of a child. And two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for
man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face
of the King?"
But the voice of the woman, weeping for joy in the shadow behind him,
said very gently:
"Because thou hast saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless
thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be
gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give
IN THE HIDDEN WAY OF SORROW
Then again there was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, deeper and more
mysterious than the first interval, and I understood that the years of
Artaban were flowing very swiftly under the stillness of that clinging
fog, and I caught only a glimpse, here and there, of the river of his
life shining through the shadows that concealed its course.
I saw him moving among the throngs of men in populous Egypt, seeking
everywhere for traces of the household that had come down from
Bethlehem, and finding them under the spreading sycamore-trees of
Heliopolis, and beneath the walls of the Roman fortress of New Babylon
beside the Nile--traces so faint and dim that they vanished before him
continually, as footprints on the hard river-sand glisten for a
moment with moisture and then disappear.
I saw him again at the foot of the pyramids, which lifted their sharp
points into the intense saffron glow of the sunset sky, changeless
monuments of the perishable glory and the imperishable hope of man. He
looked up into the vast countenance of the crouching Sphinx and vainly
tried to read the meaning of her calm eyes and smiling mouth. Was it,
indeed, the mockery of all effort and all aspiration, as Tigranes had
said--the cruel jest of a riddle that has no answer, a search that never
can succeed? Or was there a touch of pity and encouragement in that
inscrutable smile--a promise that even the defeated should attain a
victory, and the disappointed should discover a prize, and the ignorant
should be made wise, and the blind should see, and the wandering should
come into the haven at last?
I saw him again in an obscure house of Alexandria, taking counsel with a
Hebrew rabbi. The venerable man, bending over the rolls of parchment
on which the prophecies of Israel were written, read aloud the pathetic
words which foretold the sufferings of the promised Messiah--the
despised and rejected of men, the man of sorrows and the acquaintance of
"And remember, my son," said he, fixing his deep-set eyes upon the face
of Artaban, "the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a
palace, nor among the rich and powerful. If the light of the world and
the glory of Israel had been appointed to come with the greatness of
earthly splendour, it must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham
will ever again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of
Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the lions in
Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is waiting is a new light,
the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering. And
the kingdom which is to be established forever is a new kingdom, the
royalty of perfect and unconquerable love. I do not know how this
shall come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth
shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to him. But
this I know. Those who seek Him will do well to look among the poor and
the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed."
[Illustration: "HE HEALED THE SICK"]
So I saw the other wise man again and again, travelling from place to
place, and searching among the people of the dispersion, with whom the
little family from Bethlehem might, perhaps, have found a refuge. He
passed through countries where famine lay heavy upon the land, and the
poor were crying for bread. He made his dwelling in plague-stricken
cities where the sick were languishing in the bitter companionship of
helpless misery. He visited the oppressed and the afflicted in the gloom
of subterranean prisons, and the crowded wretchedness of slave-markets,
and the weary toil of galley-ships. In all this populous and intricate
world of anguish, though he found none to worship, he found many to
help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed the sick,
and comforted the captive; and his years went by more swiftly than the
weaver's shuttle that flashes back and forth through the loom while the
web grows and the invisible pattern is completed.
It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. But once I saw him
for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at the gate of a
Roman prison. He had taken from a secret resting-place in his bosom the
pearl, the last of his jewels. As he looked at it, a mellower lustre, a
soft and iridescent light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose,
trembled upon its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection of
the colours of the lost sapphire and ruby. So the profound, secret
purpose of a noble life draws into itself the memories of past joy and
past sorrow. All that has helped it, all that has hindered it, is
transfused by a subtle magic into its very essence. It becomes more
luminous and precious the longer it is carried close to the warmth of
the beating heart. Then, at last, while I was thinking of this pearl,
and of its meaning, I heard the end of the story of the other wise man.
A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
Three-and-thirty years of the life of Artaban had passed away, and he
was still a pilgrim and a seeker after light. His hair, once darker than
the cliffs of Zagros, was now white as the wintry snow that covered
them. His eyes, that once flashed like flames of fire, were dull as
embers smouldering among the ashes.
Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had
come for the last time to Jerusalem. He had often visited the holy city
before, and had searched through all its lanes and crowded hovels and
black prisons without finding any trace of the family of Nazarenes who
had fled from Bethlehem long ago. But now it seemed as if he must make
one more effort, and something whispered in his heart that, at last, he
might succeed. It was the season of the Passover. The city was
thronged with strangers. The children of Israel, scattered in far lands
all over the world, had returned to the Temple for the great feast, and
there had been a confusion of tongues in the narrow streets for many
But on this day there was a singular agitation visible in the multitude.
The sky was veiled with a portentous gloom, and currents of excitement
seemed to flash through the crowd like the thrill which shakes the
forest on the eve of a storm. A secret tide was sweeping them all one
way. The clatter of sandals, and the soft, thick sound of thousands of
bare feet shuffling over the stones, flowed unceasingly along the street
that leads to the Damascus gate.
Artaban joined company with a group of people from his own country,
Parthian Jews who had come up to keep the Passover, and inquired of them
the cause of the tumult, and where they were going.
"We are going," they answered, "to the place called Golgotha, outside
the city walls, where there is to be an execution. Have you not heard
what has happened? Two famous robbers are to be crucified, and with them
another, called Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful
works among the people, so that they love him greatly. But the priests
and elders have said that he must die, because he gave himself out to be
the Son of God. And Pilate has sent him to the cross because he said
that he was the 'King of the Jews.'"
How strangely these familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban!
They had led him for a lifetime over land and sea. And now they came to
him darkly and mysteriously like a message of despair. The King had
arisen, but he had been denied and cast out. He was about to perish.
Perhaps he was already dying. Could it be the same who had been born in
Bethlehem, thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star had appeared
in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had spoken?
Artaban's heart beat unsteadily with that troubled, doubtful
apprehension which is the excitement of old age. But he said within
himself, "The ways of God are stranger than the thoughts of men, and it
may be that I shall find the King, at last, in the hands of His enemies,
and shall come in time to offer my pearl for His ransom before He dies."
So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful steps
towards the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the entrance of the
guard-house a troop of Macedonian soldiers came down the street,
dragging a young girl with torn dress and dishevelled hair. As the
Magian paused to look at her with compassion, she broke suddenly from
the hands of her tormentors, and threw herself at his feet, clasping him
around the knees. She had seen his white cap and the winged circle on
[Illustration: "THE OLD MAN FOLLOWED THE MULTITUDE"]
"Have pity on me," she cried, "and save me, for the sake of the God of
Purity! I also am a daughter of the true religion which is taught by the
Magi. My father was a merchant of Parthia, but he is dead, and I am
seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!"
It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in the
palm-grove of Babylon and in the cottage at Bethlehem--the conflict
between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love. Twice the gift
which he had consecrated to the worship of religion had been drawn from
his hand to the service of humanity. This was the third trial, the
ultimate probation, the final and irrevocable choice.
Was it his great opportunity, or his last temptation? He could not tell.
One thing only was clear in the darkness of his mind--it was inevitable.
And does not the inevitable come from God?
One thing only was sure to his divided heart--to rescue this helpless
girl would be a true deed of love. And is not love the light of the
He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous, so
radiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He laid it in the hand of
"This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I
kept for the King."
While he spoke the darkness of the sky thickened, and shuddering tremors
ran through the earth, heaving convulsively like the breast of one who
struggles with mighty grief.
The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were loosened and
crashed into the street. Dust clouds filled the air. The soldiers fled
in terror, reeling like drunken men. But Artaban and the girl whom he
had ransomed crouched helpless beneath the wall of the Praetorium.
What had he to fear? What had he to live for? He had given away the last
remnant of his tribute for the King. He had parted with the last hope of
finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that
thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation.
It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching.
He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could,
from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to
him. He had looked for more. And if he had not found it, if a failure
was all that came out of his life, doubtless that was the best that was
possible. He had not seen the revelation of "life everlasting,
incorruptible and immortal." But he knew that even if he could live his
earthly life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been.
One more lingering pulsation of the earthquake quivered through the
ground. A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man
on the temple. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on
the young girl's shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As
she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through
the twilight, very small and still, like music sounding from a distance,
in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned to
see if some one had spoken from the window above them, but she saw no
Then the old man's lips began to move, as if in answer, and she heard
him say in the Parthian tongue:
"Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or
thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee
in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and
came unto thee? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I
have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King."
He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it,
very faintly and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood
"_Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the
least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me_."
[Illustration: "THE OTHER WISE MAN HAD FOUND THE KING"]
A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like
the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain-peak. One long, last breath
of relief exhaled gently from his lips.
His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other Wise Man
had found the King.