[It is scarcely necessary to say that the following fragment is founded upon the beautiful, and well-known tale in the "Arabian Nights," entitled, "The two Sisters who were jealous of their younger Sister;" and the reader need only be reminded that the two brothers of Perizade, Bahman and Perviz, had previously gone in search of the treasures described by the Devotee, and had perished in the attempt,--the fate of the latter having just been intimated to her at the commencement of this episode, by the fixture of the pearls in the magic chaplet, which Perviz had left her for that purpose.]
The days flow'd on, and each day Perizade
At morn and eve told o'er the snowy pearls,
That morn and eve ran swiftly through her hands;
The days flow'd on--one morn the pearls ran not,
And well she knew that Perviz too was lost.
Tears doubled every bead; but, evermore,
Through pain and sorrow, yearn'd her thirsting soul
For that far Golden Water in the East,
Whence one bright drop would fill her fountain full,
With glistening jets still rising in the midst.
She rose up straight, and donning man's attire,
For that the road was hard and difficult,
Took horse, and towards the sunrise swiftly rode,
Saying, "Thus much life lacks of perfectness,
In God's name on to gain it then, or die."
She sped right onward nineteen days in haste,
Morning and noontide turning not aside;
Then, as the next day dawn'd, afar she saw
The aged Dervise 'neath his lonely tree.
No other shape of man or beast in view,
Dull grey the sky, and moaning low the wind.
"O! holy man, now tell me, for God's grace,
Where in the Land the Golden Water flows?"
He, lifting slow his head with locks snow-white,
And rheumy eyes, spake out with feeble voice,
"Good youth! the place I know, yet ask me not;
Bid not these aged lips the secret tell;
That hath wooed on so many to their death.
Thirst for Earth's honours, for her wealth, her joys,
Thirst for the sweetest things beneath the sky,
But O! thirst not for that far Golden Spring,
By many sought, by none ere found till now."
She, softly, with her open hand upraised,
"Nay! Father, from afar I hither come.
And all my heart is set upon the thing,
So that there is no joy 'neath sun and moon,
No rarest charm can move me, lacking it;
Tell me then all the dangers of the quest,
That I may measure well my strength, and know
If mortal man may meet it and o'ercome."
With sad dissenting mien, and solemn voice,
That trembled 'neath its burden, thus spake he,--
"Full many of the good and bold have come
From every land the pilgrim-sun looks on,
All thirsting for this water golden bright;
These darkening eyes have seen them all pass on,
But ne'er a one return; and I am old.
Hear then, poor youth, and turn while yet you may;
A mid-day's journey hence a mountain stands,
Rugged and bare as outcast poverty,
With many a gap and chasm yawning wide,
With many a rock to drive the climber back;
And, far above, the summit hides in clouds,--
There springs the Golden Water through the rock
Brighter than sunlight in a summer noon;
But as the weary seeker toils aloft,
Rude voices rush upon him, loud and shrill,
Now far, now near, but all with anger fraught,
Rough menace, insult, and hoarse mockery;
Whereat the wondering climber, turning back,
In fury, or in fear, to meet the foe
Shouting loud threats e'en in his very ear,
Stands face to face with Death, and sinks transform'd
Into cold stone, 'mongst myriads more that lie,
And all day fright him with their dreary stare.
Ay! he that setteth forth upon this quest,
And looketh ever back for friend or foe,
For cruel laughter, or for mocking jeers,
Turns straight to stone like all beside his path;
But once upon the summit, at his feet
Flows the pure Golden Water, bright and clear."
"This frights me not, O Father; for meseems
He is unworthy who should turn aside
For any mocking voice of man or maid;
Then tell me quick the way, that I may on;
Mine eyes look only forward, and mine ears
Hear only the far flowing of the spring.
Two brothers there lie lock'd in stony sleep,--
I go to wake them on the mountain's side."
The Dervise laid his forehead in the dust,
"Allah go with thee, since it must be so!
Take thou this ebon bowl, and cast it down;
The ball will roll before thee swift and sure,
Until it stop beneath the mountain's side;
There stop thou; and, dismounting, leave thy steed,
And climb the fearful hill; but oh! beware
Thy glance turn never backward on the way!
Above, the golden fountain bubbles clear,
Whose water, sprinkled o'er these dead black stones,
Will wake the sleepers from their chilly sleep."
With lips compress'd she took the ebon bowl,
And cast it on before the startled steed;
Swiftly it roll'd, and swiftly follow'd she;
The road all desolate--no shade of tree,
No living thing about the dreary waste;
No sound but of her courser's clanging hoofs,
His shaking tassels, and his measured breath;
Afar, the mountain black against the sky.
Still onward roll'd the ball, until the sun
Stood midway in the heavens, a fiery red,
Looking through clouds with half his glory quench'd;
And then it stopp'd close at the mountain's base.
Perizade straightway leapt from off her steed,
And threw the bridle on his arching neck
With calm caress, and left him neighing low;
One glance along the mountain, black and bare,
With low mists creeping o'er its rocky sides;
Mysterious exhalations veiling all the peak;
Dead silence--O but for a passing wind
To mimic Life beside her living soul!
Then upward with quick footsteps firm and bold.
Before her myriad dull black stones lay strewn,
Fearful to see, and know that souls of men
Lay prison'd in their cold and heavy frames.--
Sudden behind her sprang a mighty cry,
"Ho! Traitress! turn, or die!" and evermore
Voices leapt out to wound her, like sharp swords,
With words of contumely, and mocking taunts,
Scoffs at her woman's heart 'mid manhood's guise,
Threats, rude defiances on every side.
At first she clomb, nigh stunn'd with wrathful cries,
Now at her side, whilst she would shrink in fear
To feel the sword's point pierce her fluttering heart,
Now from afar, below her and above,
Till she scarce breath'd, awaiting o'erturn'd rocks
To crush her in their fury as she went.
Yet, minding well the Dervise, still she held
Her pale face forward, with eyes ever bent
Towards the misty summit far away.
More slowly soon her heart beat, and she laugh'd,
Like echo, at the scornful taunts and jeers;
"Scoff on!" she cried, "How small a thing it is
That scorn pursue us like a backward shade,
Whilst there is still the broad sun on before."
Weary and steep the path through cloud and mist,
Piercing the darkness on an unknown way;
But still she onward trod, and near'd the top,
Whence voices louder, fiercer ever came,
"Back, fool! intruder! sacrilegious wretch!
Slay the mad climber! crush her to the dust!"
Once stood she half irresolute, her hands
Press'd hotly on her too oppressèd heart;
But still she thirsted for the golden spring,
And with her soul made strength to reach the top,
Sighing, "Thus much Life lacks of perfectness,
In God's name on to gain it then, or die!"
Upon the summit totter'd she at last:
Far, far below the vapours tossing lay,
A great broad sea of heaving cloud and mist;
And upward the clear sky, as soft and blue
As a child's heaven--the sun unveil'd and bright.
No wrathful voices hover'd round her now,
But low sweet music of Aeolian tone,
With all the sadness melted into joy.
Unto the spring she hurried, breathing short,
And there the Golden Water bubbled up,
Like summer morning rising in the East,--
A crystal chalice sparkled on the marge.
She fill'd it from the precious tide in haste,
And raised the clear elixir to her lips;
And then, as at a draught from Lethe's tide,
Her weariness pass'd from her suddenly,
And in her heart great peace and joy arose.
Then from the chalice pour'd she on the stones,
That lay all cold and black upon the path,
And at that mystic baptism, anew
Sprang up the chilly sleepers in amaze,
Their stony hearts back-melted into Life;
Soon follow'd her a train of noble youths,
Gather'd from East, and West, and North, and South,
The rarest and the goodliest of Earth.
Bahman and Perviz, risen with the rest,
Walk'd at her side with wonder-stricken hearts,
Gazing upon her through kind tearful eyes.
Each found his steed beside the mountain base,
And mounted, all that goodly company,
She with her crystal chalice at the head.
Then with her soft voice trembling through the crowd,
"Back let us to the world from whence we came;
And since that Life hath many Golden Springs,
Hath many joys to gain through toil and doubt,
Still let us scale the mountain for the prize,
And close our ears to Folly's wagging tongue."
They spurr'd along until the sun sank low,
And by the way arose the lonely tree,
Mere sat the Dervise, rheumy-eyed and old--
Blood-red the western sky--the clouds back waved,
And one faint star pale glimmering in the height--
There found they still the Dervise 'neath his tree,
Where he had pointed them the Eastern way,
Now sleeping the last sleep with smiling lips.
"The Golden Water found, his task is done,
And now the Watcher calmly takes his rest!"
Then on in silence through the quiet night.