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THE FORTUNES OF AHMED.
[THE Sultan Schahnir, having listened to many a pleasant tale of the tireless Scheherazade, and becoming more and more suspicious that they were all composed by the same person, at length resolved to ask for one by a different hand. "For," said he to himself, even though it should prove inferior to the others, it will afford a change, and perhaps I shall afterwards relish the old style all the better for it. Charming Scheherazade," said he, I right in surmising that the exquisite tales which you have told with so much grace and spirit are the production of one mind?" "Sire, you have guessed with your usual shrewdness," replied the Sultana; "they were composed by my uncle Schirzad for the amusement of his nephews and nieces." "He was a wonderful man, truly," observed the Sultan. "I look upon him as on one who has given me a magnificent feast, in which nothing important was lacking. I have now and then thought I should have relished some parts of it more heartily had they but had the benefit of a sharper contrast with somethingsome foreign spice, perhaps, or even a little dried fruit, provided it came from the other end of the world." "Sire, I understand and appreciate your objection," replied the Sultana, gently; we cannot read one author forever, even though he were the greatest of all. I will now tell you a story that possesses certain points peculiar to itself. It is the work of an honorable mind, and for that reason cannot be wholly destitute of merit." "I shall be charmed to hear it!" said the Sultan. Scheherazade at once took her accustomed place, and began as follows:]
ON the side of a mountain, near Lassa, the capital city of Thibet, lived a poor widow with her only son, Ahmed. Their garden was a small level tract not far from the house; and here, when the weather was favorable-which in that rigorous climate is too rarely the case the widow often came to assist her son in making the most of the sunshine. Ahmed could not refuse her aid, so cheerfully rendered, for their subsistence depended mainly on the sale of their surplus produce in the city.
One summer afternoon Ahmed was resting within the house-if "house" it could be called, that from a distance looked more like a heap of stones-for he had been to the city, and felt more fatigue than was usual after those tedious journeys. "Yes, mother," he said, as though resuming the thread of a previous conversation, "the more I think of this tiresome life, and what improvement a little money would make, the more I incline to the School of Magic,*
In Thibet, besides colleges in which the ordinary branches of scholastic learning are taught, there are others devoted to the study of the science .of Magic.
Son, son," said the mother, severely, "how often have I warned you to be more respectful to the priesthood! I know you are not impious in thought; why, then, should your careless speech do you injustice? Sometimes I fear lest Shigemooni should strike you dumb when you thus insult his representatives."
"Pardon me, dear mother!" exclaimed the impulsive youth; "it was only my modesty that made me turn their good opinions into empty compliments. I won't pretend again that they were not sincere. But, were I ever so certain of my ability, you see that success as a philosopher or physician is, if
The Dalai-lama is the Grand Lama-the greatest of all the lamas who govern Thibet both temporally and spiritually. When he dies, the inferior lamas select some child whom they declare he has appointed his successor. The Dalai-lama represents the highest god (Shigemooni), as the Arabian caliphs do. But he is more divine, and has an eternal existence, which is transmitted to his successor, his spirit being born anew.
anywhere, far in the distance; and, meanwhile, I am very poor. Whereas, once I am master of the glorious secrets of Magic, I have my fortune in my own hands."
"Is that so certain, son?" asked the mother; แ do we not know many magicians who are still poor?"
"Truly," answered Ahmed; "but of these poor magicians some are unskilful, and others do not desire riches. They confine themselves to exorcising evil spirits, or finding out important secrets for those who can pay but a small fee. On the other hand, there are several who are rich and powerful-so great that even the priests fear them." "But these magicians, son, all practise black magic,* do they not?"
"It is so said," Ahmed replied.
"I have always thought their gains unholy," said the mother, seriously. "It is like enjoying stolen fruit. They surely take what was never intended for them. And, moreover, it is degrading to accept gifts from an enemy. And are not the demons our enemies? Still further whether the gift came from an enemy or a friend, the only riches that ennoble one are those that are gained by one's own exertion. The great men are those who make themselves. Riches easily won dwarf the soul, instead of expanding it."
"That is all true, mother," said Ahmed, quietly; "but who has inspired. you ? You surpass the priests both in sense and eloquence!
The mother paused. There was a conflict in her feelings. Her reverence was again shocked; her self-respect was wounded; her son had grieved her. But was this a time to redress these injuries No; for he was willing to listen, and now, if ever, she should forget herself, in the endeavor to do him good. Something had lately stirred him up; that was evident. Never before had poverty so embittered his thoughts.
* Three kinds of magic are known in Thibet: theurgy, or white magic, i. e., that which is wrought by means of heavenly assistance; natural magic, which avails itself of the powers of nature; and black magic, or necromancy, which invokes the aid of demons.
But, whatever the nature of this mystery, the truth must be spoken. "Son Ahmed," she said, very gravely, "a sensible person will only preach when there is need of a sermon. You are aware that your father was a scholar; and perhaps I may have learned something from that pure spirit-which I do not doubt is aiding me this moment. He could have enriched himself in the way you seem so taken with; but he disdained any thing meanly won. He respected himself, and was respected by others. The visit of the priests, who spoke so well of your character, was owing to the repute of your father; for they knew that a good tree is apt to produce good fruit."
These words, so seriously spoken by one so dear to him-for Ahmed really loved and honored his mother-made a deep impression. He rose from the yak-skin * and paced backward and forward several minutes. Then, pausing before his mother, and dropping his voice-for he had observed, through the open door, an old man, a wandering stranger, seated not far distant--he said, "It is best, mother, that I should tell you why I am thus eager, all at once, for riches. I have to-day seen a face that has enchanted me. So much beauty and sweetness were never before seen in a human countenance!"
"A face, son?- in love with a face?" "A face with a soul in it, mother!" said Ahmed, with fervency. "Some souls are so bright they shine through the flesh. If the priests could read my character in my eyes before it was really formed, how much more could they read hers, in those lovely features and that tender and expressive glance!
"Well, son," said the mother, with a sigh, "I grant every perfection of the young lady. She has made a sudden conquest, and must therefore be very charining. What is her name?"
"That I do not know," answered Ahmed, timidly. "I have seen her; I
The skin of the yak (the "yak of Tartary,"
a race of cattle with a hunch on the shoulders, very useful, particularly as a beast of burden) is covered with long, thick, soft hair.
know she exists; that is all. Yet, not all; for I am satisfied I am not indifferent to her."
"What is her condition in life?"
แ "Ah, that is the hard point!" exclaimed Ahmed, with emotion. "She lives in one of the most splendid palaces in Lassa. And I know, from her dress and air, that she is no menial; she can be no other but the daughter and heiress of the house."
The mother of Ahmed remained silent for a while, and then said, "If your impression, that this rich young lady returns the interest you feel in her, is correct
"I only know this," Ahmed began, availing himself of the pause: when I passed her the first time-being not more than a few rods distant-her eyes kindled the moment she saw me, and her whole face lighted up with wonderful quickness. She was then at her window, working embroidery. When I passed the second time, she was still there; and as soon as she observed me she started, as with an agreeable surprise, and the next instant her lovely face was covered with blushes."
"Yes," said the mother, "it is prob able she is pleased with you. And what I was going to say a while since is, that she must have perceived you are poor. This, I admit, speaks well for her modesty. As it is you, then, and not your supposed grandeur and importance, that she fancies, wherefore all this anxiety about riches? Should not your own personal worthiness be your chief concern?" "So far as relates to her, that is true enough," replied Ahmed. "But there are others to be thought of. Probably her family are proud, and look bigh for her. And, even were this not so, a sense of propriety would suggest that I should so appear to her friends and the world that none could sneer, and thus make her suffer for my sake, if not her own. They would justly ask, 'How is this beggar to support his queen?' On that head there must be no room for conjecture."
The couple, in their earnestness, had long forgotten the old man outside. At
length approaching, as though he had intended from the first to enter, he at this juncture appeared in the doorway of the cottage, and saluted its inmates with great courtesy. "Pray enter," said the widow; "all that I have is at your service.”
"I shall do nothing, kind lady," said the stranger, “to make you wish you had been less hospitable. All I at present need is a single draught of water." Ahmed hastened to supply him.
"For hospitality's sake, you will taste a barley-cake?" said the good hostess. "That the blessing of your kindness may fully descend on me," said the guest, "I take and eat it.” His air was gentle and dignified. He seemed to confer a favor, when he so graciously and cordially accepted one.
The good woman seated her guest, and modestly awaited his leisure. After a moment's pause, during which he regarded both mother and son with a benignant glance, he said, “There is no such pleasure in the world as that of doing good. When we can be reasonably certain that what we contemplate will have a favorable result, it is delightful to anticipate and in imagination see the good already accomplished, the happiness already enjoyed. Do you agree with me, kind lady?"
“What you say I know to be quite true," said the mother.
“And you, dear youth?”
"I am equally certain of it," said Ahmed; "though my mother, being older and kinder than I, has had many more proofs of its correctness."
"Well and modestly said," observed the guest. "But, when we would do good, and yet cannot feel certain that what we have projected will be useful
nay, more: when we fear lest the seeming good may turn to evil, then the case is very different; is it not?"
Both his hearers assented to this proposition also, and within themselves were much mystified by these singular observations.
"From the few words I chanced to overhear just now," he resumed, addressing the mother, "I infer that your
son is in dejection on account of his
When the stranger announced his ability to help poor Ahmed, the youth's countenance lighted up, his eyes glistened, and his breath came and went rapidly through his parted lips.
"An hour ago, kind sir," said the mother, "I should have known well what to say to any plan for aiding my son; I should have declined the offer at once. But in his present state of mind -which I am sure he has not exaggerated in the account he has just given me-I fear that the prospect of a life of poverty would fairly ruin his health. He is in love, as you are aware, and all lovers are alike; not one of them is quite sane. If, therefore, you can do any thing for him, in such a way that he will not be dazzled and spoiled by his good fortune, why, I shall be glad indeed; and there is no need to assure you of our gratitude."
that he may not be kept waiting. Besides, I am very impatient-in fact, half wild!"
"I can well believe that," the mother answered. But she saw, in her son's excitement, a mood quite unfavorable to good impressions. At a venture, then, she said, "Be true to yourself, son Ah"med, and I can ask no more. Do not be dazzled too easily. If there is a choice, choose what is plain. Be modest, and all may turn out well. Go, now; and may the spirit of your dear father protect you!"
"How strange," thought Ahmed, as he turned to go, "that, while I am so full of joy, they are both so serious!"
"We will go up the mountain a little way," said the stranger, who stroked his long beard as he walked, and seemed disposed to contemplation. At length he broke silence by asking Ahmed how long he had been in love.
"Since mid-day," replied Ahmed.
"Ah!" said his companion, "I had supposed it to be an affair of years. And what is your age?"
"And the probable age of your charmer is
Sixteen, I should say," returned Ahmed.
"I will do my best to please you," said the old man. "The mode and degree of benefit, however, must depend on him alone. In this matter, from the moment I undertake the service, he is to receive no advice from any quarter; his own instincts, his own sense of what is right and good, must decide. Therefore speak now, if you wish to counsel him. I will await him outside." With a courteous bow the stranger then withdrew. "Oh, he is a magician-I'm sure he fire with?" asked his companion. is!" exclaimed Ahmed, joyfully.
"A serious business, truly!" muttered the old man, striding on. He moved so rapidly that Ahmed had almost to run to keep up with him. "Is he laughing at me?" thought the youth.
"That is my own impression, son Ahmed," said his mother. "But, do you notice, he is not in haste to serve you? And there I honor him. It is a very serious thing, this benefiting another."
"I believe you, though I can't understand it," said Ahmed. "But tell me quickly what you would have me do,
At length they reached a level place, with higher ground all around it, and the heights of the mountain still before them. "How still and dreary!" said Ahmed to himself.
"Can you find any thing to make a
"It is doubtful," said Ahmed, who saw nothing but sand; "but I will look." He presently returned with an armful of small plants, and went in search of more. He observed that the old man stood aside, with head bent and arms folded, apparently taking no interest in these preparations. Presently, when fuel enough had been pro
vided, the stranger aroused himself from his reverie, and directed Ahmed to place certain stones, which he pointed out, in such a position that the fire might be raised from the ground and at the same time protected from the wind. This having been done to his satisfaction, and some stems and stalks of the plants made ready, he kindled a fire by a process unknown to Ahmed; the flame at first being bluish, but growing ruddy by degrees. On the bright coals he threw a powder that sent up a cloud of incense. The cloud grew more and more dense, and quite enveloped the magician, so that Ahmed saw him indistinctly and as though at a great distance. He began to feel a drowsiness coming on, which he attributed to fatigue and excitement. The magician now stretched a small red wand toward Lassa, and his lips moved as though he uttered words. Suddenly, as though a great fan had swept away the smoke on either hand, the air became calm, and he revived. But the magician was gone. Ahmed found himself no longer in the open air, but in a vast apartment, of an order of architecture that was quite new to him. Columns beautifully sculptured supported the almost invisible ceiling; the walls were adorned with the noblest specimens of statuary; through the great windows, made of the clearest crystal, he beheld a garden so lovely that it seemed to him like Paradise. As he advanced wonderingly, he suddenly heard the rustle of a dress. Turning about, he beheld a sight that transported him. At a little distance was a young lady of charming figure and graceful carriage, in whose blushing countenance he at once discerned the features already so dear to him. Drawn to her by an irresistible attraction, he scized her hand and kissed it passionately. "Dearest one," he said, "I cannot believe that a few hours ago I saw you for the first time! Though I do not even know your name, it seems as though I had known you for ages. What happiness to be in this charming place, with you!"
a low, clear voice, very sweet and musical, "that your sentiments give me great pleasure. To be loved by you has seemed to me, since I first saw you, as the summit of earthly felicity. Do you really love me as truly as you say?" As she said this, her ardent gaze rested fully on his face.
"So well and truly," exclaimed Ahmed, with emotion, "that without you I must die!"
"Ah, this is happiness indeed!" she murmured, as Ahmed embraced her tenderly. "To be loved!-to be loved!"
In a kind of rapturous trance the lovers wandered about, one moment talking eagerly, the next feeling a rapture too great for definite expression. At length they sought the open air. The garden, filled with rare flowering plants and shrubbery, and with trees of pleasing shape, where the choicest singingbirds made their nests, gave them great delight. Approaching a fountain, they lost themselves in admiration of its beauties, and its eccentric and shifting character. From a few jets it changed to many, and these crossed each other's course in the most fantastic and graceful manner; the many jets still further multiplied, and grew finer, until, though each was still distinct, the whole together resembled a mist. Through the mist Ahmed thought he perceived the magician walking leisurely in an orangegrove. The mist at length became a cloud, which grew denser and denser, and at the same time extended its limits till it enveloped them both. So surprised were the lovers, that their hands dropped; and, the moment they were quite separate, the cloud dispersed, and Ahmed saw only the magician. Glancing around, he perceived that they were on the very spot where the enchantment had begun. "Where is my beloved?"
"You saw only her apparition," said the magician. "It was necessary that I should see you together, before proceeding. If I have distressed you, it is an injury that I can easily redress."
"Ah, this is cruel!" cried Ahmed.
"I confess, sir," the lady replied, in "May the great and good Shigemooni