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Stories of the Magicians by  Alfred J. Church

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THE DELIVERANCE OF THALABA

[71] MEANWHILE Moath, searching for his daughter, had come to the Sultan's city, and wandering outside the walls found the burial ground. A woman met him and said, "Old man, go not among the tombs. There is a madman there."

"Will he harm me, think you?"

"Not he, poor wretch. But 'tis a most miserable thing to see his grief. All day and all night long he lies upon a grave; he never weeps or groans; never opens his lips even to pray. I have taken him food for charity's sake, but he never thanked me. I say, go not among the tombs, old man."

"But say, why has God so smitten him?"

"He came to this country a stranger, and did some great service to the Sultan, who therefore named him next to himself, and gave [72] him a palace, and dowered his bride with houses and lands. But on his wedding day the Angel of Death came for his bride. He never leaves her grave. When the Sultan heard the tale, he said that doubtless Heaven had smitten him for some secret wickedness, and prayed forgiveness that he had shown him any favour, and so left him to perish."

"Did you say that he was a stranger?"

"Yes, an Arab like you. But I say, go not among the tombs; you will see such a sight as you will never forget."

"Nay, I have never shunned a countryman in distress, and the sound of his native tongue, maybe, will calm him as the voice of a friend."

Then the woman pointed the way to the sepulchre, and Moath, going as she bid him, found Thalaba lying on the grave. His raven black hair was rusted with sun and rain, and his cheeks had fallen. As he lay, his fingers played unwittingly with the grass upon the grave. Moath did not know him, so much changed was he, but drawing near said, "Peace be with you." The sound of his native tongue roused Thalaba, but when he looked up and [73] saw the good old man, he rose and fell upon his neck, and groaned. Then Moath knew him, and a dreadful fear came over him that he was childless. He said nothing, but pointed to the tomb. "Yes," said Thalaba, as if he had spoken—" yes, your search is ended here.

The father's cheeks grew pale, and his lips quivered with grief. Still he could say, "God is good! His will be done!"

It softened Thalaba to see such grief and such resignation. "Ah," said he, "you have a comforter in your trouble. But in me, Moath, you see a wretch whom God has abandoned; "and then, when the old man looked at him incredulous—"nightly," he went on, "Oneiza comes to drive me to despair. You think me mad. But dare you come and see her when the crier proclaims midnight from the minaret-top?"

And now the sun was about to set, and Moath, as he saw the white flag waving on the mosque, said, "Thalaba, do you not pray?"

"I must not pray," said he, with such a groan as went to the old man's heart and made [74] him bow down and in a fervent agony pray to God.

It was a wet and stormy night, and Thalaba led the old man into the chamber of the Tomb to shelter him from the rain. They heard the storm beat on the monument above; and there on Oneiza's grave, the two sat, her father and her husband. The crier proclaimed midnight from the minaret-top.

"Now, now!" cried Thalaba, and as he spoke, there spread a lurid light over the tomb, and Oneiza stood before them, a corpse, and yet with a brightness in her eye more terrible than death.

"What! art thou still living, wretch?" she cried. "Must I leave my couch every night, to tell thee that God has abandoned thee?"

"This is not Oneiza," cried the old man; "it is a fiend, a manifest fiend," and he held his lance to the youth. "Strike her! strike her!"

"What? strike her," said Thalaba, and stood paralysed, gazing on the dreadful form.

"Yes, strike her," cried another voice; and while Thalaba turned round to see whence it came, Moath performed its bidding, and thrust [75] his lance. The fiend fled howling with the wound; and in a moment, clad in a golden light, the true Oneiza stood before them.

"Oh, Thalaba!" she cried, "abandon not thyself—go on, finish thy work, that in Paradise I may not wait for thee long." Then she turned to Moath, "Thy way is short to Paradise, dear father. Return to the Desert. Azrael the Deliverer will soon come for you."

Then the Spirit vanished from their sight, and the darkness closed round them again. Thalaba took his bow and quiver from the ground.

"Thank God," he said, "that in my madness I did not forget these. To-morrow I will brace it afresh in the sun. And I, like the bow, will brace myself for the work that lies before me. And now, dear father, we part, not to meet again till we meet in Paradise."

Moath made no answer, but followed him to the door of the Tomb chamber. The rain had ceased, and the clouds were carried wildly by the wind across the sky; and it chanced that in one of the rifts before them a star shot eastward, leaving a path of light behind it.

[76] "See, my guide," said Thalaba; and the old man blessed him. So they parted, and Thalaba went his way.

That evening a Dervish, sitting in the sun at the door of his cell, invited the youth to stay with him for the night, and spread before him his simple meal, rice and fresh grapes and water from the brook. As they sat and talked, a wedding procession went by with singing and music and dancing. The Dervish gave them his blessing as they went by, but Thalaba hid his face in his hands and groaned. Now the old man had himself known sorrow, and he felt pity for the youth, and Thalaba, comforted by his words, told him all his trouble.

"My son," said he, "it is God that has. chastened you. See this vine. When I found it, it was wasting its strength in luxuriant growth and gave no fruit; but I pruned it, and see what beautiful clusters it has supplied. It is thus Heaven deals with us; but say, whither are you going?"

"I go straight on," said Thalaba, "sure that. destiny will lead my feet aright."

"Thy faith is right," answered the old man, [77] "and I would not shake it for a moment. Still if knowledge may be gained, it would be well for you to seek it. And gained it may be. In Kaf the Simorg, the Bird of Ages, has his abode. There is nothing that he does not know. He has seen the children of men thrice destroyed. The path is long and dangerous, but the Bird could direct your way to a certainty."

Thalaba gave ready heed to his word, and on the morrow pursued his journey.


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