A Young Mahometan by Mary Lamb
The bedrooms in the old house had tapestry hangings, which
were full of Bible history. The subject of the one which
chiefly attracted my attention was Hagar and her son Ishmael. I
every day admired the beauty of the youth, and pitied the forlorn
state of his mother and himself in the wilderness.
At the end of the gallery into which these tapestry rooms opened
was one door, which, having often in vain attempted to open, I concluded
to be locked. Every day I endeavored to turn the lock.
Whether by constantly trying I loosened it, or whether the door
was not locked, but only fastened tight by time, I know not; but,
to my great joy, as I was one day trying it as usual, it gave way,
and I found myself in this so long-desired room.
It proved to be a very large library. If you never spent whole
mornings alone in a large library, you cannot conceive the pleasure
of taking down books in the constant hope of finding an entertaining
one among them; yet, after many days, meeting with nothing
but disappointment, it becomes less pleasant. All the books within
my reach were folios of the gravest cast. I could understand
very little that I read in them, and the old dark print and the
length of the lines made my eyes ache.
When I had almost resolved to give up the search as fruitless,
I perceived a volume lying in an obscure corner of the room. I
opened it. It was a charming print; the letters were almost as
large as the type of the family Bible. Upon the first page I
looked into I saw the name of my favorite Ishmael, whose face
I knew so well from the tapestry in the antique bedrooms, and
whose history I had often read in the Bible.
I sat myself down to read this book with the greatest eagerness.
I shall be quite ashamed to tell you the strange effect it had on
me. I scarcely ever heard a word addressed to me from morning
till night. If it were not for the old servants saying, "Good
morning to you, Miss Margaret," as they passed me in the long
passages, I should have been the greater part of the day in as perfect
a solitude as Robinson Crusoe.
Many of the leaves in "Mahometanism Explained" were torn
out, but enough remained to make me imagine that Ishmael was
the true son of Abraham. I read here, that the true descendants
of Abraham were known by a light which streamed from the
middle of their foreheads, and that Ishmael's father and mother
first saw this light streaming from his forehead as he was lying
asleep in the cradle.
I was very sorry so many of the leaves were gone, for it was as
entertaining as a fairy tale. I used to read the history of Ishmael,
and then go and look at him in the tapestry, and then return to his
history again. When I had almost learned the history of Ishmael
by heart, I read the rest of the book, and then I came to the history
of Mahomet, who was there said to be the last descendant of
If Ishmael had engaged so much of my thoughts, how much
more so must Mahomet! His history was full of nothing but
wonders from the beginning to the end. The book said that those
who believed all the wonderful stories which were related of Mahomet
were called Mahometans, and True Believers; I concluded
that I must be a Mahometan, for I believed every word I read.
At length I met with something which I also believed, though I
trembled as I read it; this was that, after we are dead, we are to
pass over a narrow bridge, which crosses a bottomless gulf. The
bridge was described to be no wider than a silken thread; and all
who were not Mahometans would slip on one side of this bridge, and
drop into the tremendous gulf that had no bottom. I considered
myself as a Mahometan, yet I was perfectly giddy whenever I
thought of passing over this bridge.
One day, seeing the old lady who lived here totter across the
room, a sudden terror seized me, for I thought how she would ever
be able to get over the bridge. Then, too, it was that I first
recollected that my mother would also be in imminent danger. I
imagined she had never heard the name of Mahomet, because, as
I foolishly conjectured, this book had been locked up for ages in
the library, and was utterly unknown to the rest of the world.
All my desire was now to tell them the discovery I had made;
for I thought, when they knew of the existence of "Mahometanism
Explained," they would read it, and become Mahometans to insure
themselves a safe passage over the silken bridge. But it
wanted more courage than I possessed to break the matter to my
intended converts. I must acknowledge that I had been reading
without leave; and the habit of never speaking, or being spoken
to, considerably increased the difficulty.
My anxiety on this subject threw me into a fever. I was so ill
that my mother thought it necessary to sleep in the same room
with me. In the middle of the night I could not resist the
strong desire I felt to tell her what preyed so much on my mind.
I awoke her out of a sound sleep, and begged she would be so
kind as to be a Mahometan. She was very much alarmed;—she
thought I was delirious, and I believe I was; for I tried to
explain the reason of my request, but it was in such an incoherent
manner that she could not at all comprehend what I was talking
The next day a physician was sent for, and he discovered, by
several questions that he put to me, that I had read myself into a
fever. He gave me medicines, and ordered me to be kept very
quiet, and said he hoped in a few days I should be very well;
but as it was a new case to him, he never having attended a little
Mahometan before, if any lowness continued after he had removed
the fever, he would, with my mother's permission, take me home
with him to study this extraordinary case at leisure. He added,
that he could then hold a consultation with his wife, who was
often very useful to him in prescribing remedies for the maladies
of his younger patients.
In a few days he fetched me away. His wife was in the carriage
with him. Having heard what he said about her prescriptions,
I expected, between the doctor and his lady, to undergo a
severe course of medicine, especially as I heard him very formally
ask her advice as to what was good for a Mahometan fever, the
moment after he had handed me into his carriage.
She studied a little while, and then she said, a ride to Harlow
Fair would not be amiss. He said he was entirely of her opinion,
because it suited him to go there to buy a horse.
During the ride they entered into conversation with me, and in
answer to their questions, I was relating to them the solitary
manner in which I had passed my time, how I found out the
library, and what I had read in that fatal book which had so
heated my imagination,—when we arrived at the fair; and Ishmael,
Mahomet, and the narrow bridge vanished out of my head in an
Before I went home the good lady explained to me very seriously
the error into which I had fallen. I found that, so far from
"Mahometanism Explained" being a book concealed only in this
library, it was well known to every person of the least information.
The Turks, she told me, were Mahometans. And she said that, if
the leaves of my favorite book had not been torn out, I should have
read that the author of it did not mean to give the fabulous
stories here related as true, but only wrote it as giving a history
of what the Turks, who are a very ignorant people, believe concerning
By the good offices of the physician and his lady, I was carried
home, at the end of a month, perfectly cured of the error into
which I had fallen, and very much ashamed of having believed so