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 Abraham.

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 about.

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 instant.

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 Mahomet.

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 many absurdities.