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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part V

Chapter 4

‘WHAT is the hour, David?’

‘Near to midnight. I marvel if thy brother may read in the stars our happy meeting.’

‘Men read that which they wish. He is a learned Cabalist.’

‘But what we wish comes from above.’

‘So they say. We make our fortunes, and we call them Fate.’

‘Yet the Voice sounded, the Daughter of the Voice that summoned Samuel.’

‘You have told me strange things; I have heard stranger solved.’

‘My faith is a rock.’

‘On which you may split.’

‘Art thou a Sadducee?’*

‘I am a man who knows men.’

‘You are learned, but different from Jabaster.’

‘We are the same, though different. Day and Night are both portions of Time.’

‘And thy portion is—’

‘Truth.’

‘That is, light.’

‘Yes; so dazzling that it sometimes seems dark.’

‘Like thy meaning.’

‘You are young.’

‘Is youth a defect?’

‘No, the reverse. But we cannot eat the fruit while the tree is in blossom.’

‘What fruit?’

‘Knowledge.’

‘I have studied.’

‘What?’

‘All sacred things.’

‘How know you that they are sacred?’

‘They come from God.’

‘So does everything. Is everything sacred?’

‘They are the deep expression of his will.’

‘According to Jabaster. Ask the man who prays in yonder mosque, and he will tell you that Jabaster’s wrong.’

‘After all, thou art a Moslem?’

‘No.’

‘What then?’

‘I have told you, a man.’

‘But what dost thou worship?’

‘What is worship?’

‘Adoration due from the creature to the Creator.’

‘Which is he?’

‘Our God.’

‘The God of Israel?’

‘Even so.’

‘A frail minority, then, burn incense to him.’

‘We are the chosen people.’

‘Chosen for scoffs, and scorns, and contumelies. Commend me to such choice.’

‘We forgot him, before he chastened us.’

‘Why did we?’

‘Thou knowest the records of our holy race.’

‘Yes, I know them; like all records, annals of blood.’

‘Annals of victory, that will dawn again.’

‘If redemption be but another name for carnage, I envy no Messiah.’

‘Art thou Jabaster's brother?’

‘So our mother was wont to say: a meek and blessed woman.’

‘Lord Honain, thou art rich, and wise, and powerful. Thy fellow-men speak of thee only with praise or fear, and both are cheering. Thou hast quitted our antique ark; why; no matter. We’ll not discuss it. ’Tis something, if a stranger, at least thou art not a renegade. The world goes well with thee, my Lord Honain. But if, instead of bows and blessings, thou, like thy brethren, wert greeted only with the cuff and curse; if thou didst rise each morning only to feel existence to be dishonour, and to find thyself marked out among surrounding men as something foul and fatal; if it were thy lot, like theirs, at best to drag on a mean and dull career, hopeless and aimless, or with no other hope or aim but that which is degrading, and all this too with a keen sense of thy intrinsic worth, and a deep conviction of superior race; why then, perchance, Honain might even discover ’twere worth a struggle to be free and honoured.’

‘I pray your pardon, sir; I thought you were Jabaster’s pupil, a dreaming student. I see you have a deep ambition.’

‘I am a prince; and I fain would be a prince without my fetters.’

‘Listen to me, Alroy,’ said Honain in a low voice, and he placed his arm around him, ‘I am your friend. Our acquaintance is very brief: no matter, I love you; I rescued you in injury, I tended you in sickness, even now your life is in my power, I would protect it with my own. You cannot doubt me. Our affections are not under our own control; and mine are yours. The sympathy between us is entire. You see me, you see what I am; a Hebrew, though unknown; one of that despised, rejected, persecuted people, of whom you are the chief. I too would be free and honoured. Freedom and honour are mine, but I was my own messiah. I quitted in good time our desperate cause, but I gave it a trial. Ask Jabaster how I fought. Youth could be my only excuse for such indiscretion. I left this country; I studied and resided among the Greeks. I returned from Constantinople, with all their learning, some of their craft. No one knew me. I assumed their turban, and I am, the Lord Honain. Take my experience, child, and save yourself much sorrow. Turn your late adventure to good account. No one can recognise you here. I will introduce you amongst the highest as my child by some fair Greek. The world is before you. You may fight, you may love, you may revel. War, and women, and luxury are all at your command. With your person and talents you may be grand vizir.* Clear your head of nonsense. In the present disordered state of the empire, you may even carve yourself out a kingdom, infinitely more delightful than the barren land of milk and honey.* I have seen it, child; a rocky wilderness, where I would not let my courser graze.’

He bent down, and fixed his eyes upon his companion with a scrutinising glance. The moonlight fell upon the resolved visage of the Prince of the Captivity.

‘Honain,’ he replied, pressing his hand, ‘I thank thee. Thou knowest not me, but still I thank thee.’

‘You are resolved, then, on destruction.’

‘On glory, eternal glory.’

‘Is it possible to succeed?’

‘Is it possible to fail?’

‘You are mad.’

‘I am a believer.’

‘Enough. You have yet one chance. My brother has saddled your enterprise with a condition, and an impossible one. Gain the sceptre of Solomon, and I will agree to be your subject. You will waste a year in this frolic. You are young, and can afford it. I trust you will experience nothing worse than a loss of time, which is, however, valuable. My duty will be, after all your sufferings, to send you forth on your adventures in good condition, and to provide you means for a less toilsome pilgrimage than has hitherto been your lot. Trust me you will return to Bagdad to accept my offers. At present, the dews are descending, and we will return to our divan, and take some coffee.’

Published @ RC

January 2005

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