THE STORY OF THE OTHER WISE MAN
HENRY VAN DYKE
THE SIGN IN THE SKY
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
FOR THE SAKE OF A LITTLE CHILD
IN THE HIDDEN WAY OF SORROW
A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
"'IT IS THE SIGN,' HE SAID"
"HE CAUGHT IT UP AND READ"
"'THERE IS NONE HERE SAVE ME"'
"HE HEALED THE SICK"
"THE OLD MAN FOLLOWED THE MULTITUDE"
"THE OTHER WISE MAN HAD FOUND THE KING"
THE STORY OF OTHER WISE MAN.
Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.
You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how
they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the
manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story
of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising,
and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his
brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the
great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied,
yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and
the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking,
and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he
sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments
of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of
THE SIGN IN THE SKY
In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and
Herod reigned in Jerusalem, there lived in the city of
Ecbatana, among the mountains of Persia, a certain man named
Artaban, the Median. His house stood close to the outermost
of the seven walls which encircled the royal treasury. From
his roof he could look over the rising battlements of black
and white and crimson and blue and red and silver and gold,
to the hill where the summer palace of the Parthian emperors
glittered like a jewel in a sevenfold crown.
Around the dwelling of Artaban spread a fair garden, a tangle
of flowers and fruit-trees, watered by a score of streams
descending from the slopes of Mount Orontes, and made musical
by innumerable birds. But all colour was lost in the soft and
odorous darkness of the late September night, and all sounds
were hushed in the deep charm of its silence, save the
plashing of the water, like a voice half sobbing and half
laughing under the shadows. High above the trees a dim glow
of light shone through the curtained arches of the upper
chamber, where the master of the house was holding council
with his friends.
He stood by the doorway to greet his guests—a tall,
dark man of about forty years, with brilliant eyes set near
together under his broad brow, and firm lines graven around
his fine, thin lips; the brow of a dreamer and the mouth of a
soldier, a man of sensitive feeling but inflexible
will—one of those who, in whatever age they may live,
are born for inward conflict and a life of quest.
His robe was of pure white wool, thrown over a tunic of silk;
and a white, pointed cap, with long lapels at the sides,
rested on his flowing black hair. It was the dress of the
ancient priesthood of the Magi, called the fire-worshippers.
"Welcome!" he said, in his low, pleasant voice, as one after
another entered the room—"welcome, Abdus; peace be with
you, Rhodaspes and Tigranes, and with you my father, Abgarus.
You are all welcome, and this house grows bright with the joy
of your presence."
There were nine of the men, differing widely in age, but
alike in the richness of their dress of many-coloured silks,
and in the massive golden collars around their necks, marking
them as Parthian nobles, and in the winged circles of gold
resting upon their breasts, the sign of the followers of
They took their places around a small black altar at the end
of the room, where a tiny flame was burning. Artaban,
standing beside it, and waving a barsom of thin tamarisk
branches above the fire, fed it with dry sticks of pine and
fragrant oils. Then he began the ancient chant of the Yasna,
and the voices of his companions joined in the beautiful hymn
We worship the Spirit Divine,
all wisdom and goodness possessing,
Surrounded by Holy Immortals,
the givers of bounty and blessing.
We joy in the works of His hands,
His truth and His power confessing.
We praise all the things that are pure,
for these are His only Creation;
The thoughts that are true, and the words
and deeds that have won approbation;
These are supported by Him,
and for these we make adoration.
Hear us, O Mazda! Thou livest
in truth and in heavenly gladness;
Cleanse us from falsehood, and keep us
from evil and bondage to badness;
Pour out the light and the joy of Thy life
on our darkness and sadness.
Shine on our gardens and fields,
Shine on our working and weaving;
Shine on the whole race of man,
Believing and unbelieving;
Shine on us now through the night,
Shine on us now in Thy might,
The flame of our holy love
and the song of our worship receiving.
The fire rose with the chant, throbbing as if it were made of
musical flame, until it cast a bright illumination through
the whole apartment, revealing its simplicity and splendour.
The floor was laid with tiles of dark blue veined with white;
pilasters of twisted silver stood out against the blue walls;
the clearstory of round-arched windows above them was hung
with azure silk; the vaulted ceiling was a pavement of
sapphires, like the body of heaven in its clearness, sown
with silver stars. From the four corners of the roof hung
four golden magic-wheels, called the tongues of the gods. At
the eastern end, behind the altar, there were two dark-red
pillars of porphyry; above them a lintel of the same stone,
on which was carved the figure of a winged archer, with his
arrow set to the string and his bow drawn.
The doorway between the pillars, which opened upon the
terrace of the roof, was covered with a heavy curtain of the
colour of a ripe pomegranate, embroidered with innumerable
golden rays shooting upward from the floor. In effect the
room was like a quiet, starry night, all azure and silver,
flushed in the East with rosy promise of the dawn. It was, as
the house of a man should be, an expression of the character
and spirit of the master.
He turned to his friends when the song was ended, and invited
them to be seated on the divan at the western end of the
"You have come to-night," said he, looking around the circle,
"at my call, as the faithful scholars of Zoroaster, to renew
your worship and rekindle your faith in the God of Purity,
even as this fire has been rekindled on the altar. We worship
not the fire, but Him of whom it is the chosen symbol,
because it is the purest of all created things. It speaks to
us of one who is Light and Truth. Is it not so, my father?"
"It is well said, my son," answered the venerable Abgarus.
"The enlightened are never idolaters. They lift the veil of
the form and go in to the shrine of the reality, and new
light and truth are coming to them continually through the
old symbols." "Hear me, then, my father and my friends," said
Artaban, very quietly, "while I tell you of the new light and
truth that have come to me through the most ancient of all
signs. We have searched the secrets of nature together, and
studied the healing virtues of water and fire and the plants.
We have read also the books of prophecy in which the future
is dimly foretold in words that are hard to understand. But
the highest of all learning is the knowledge of the stars. To
trace their courses is to untangle the threads of the mystery
of life from the beginning to the end. If we could follow
them perfectly, nothing would be hidden from us. But is not
our knowledge of them still incomplete? Are there not many
stars still beyond our horizon—lights that are known
only to the dwellers in the far south-land, among the
spice-trees of Punt and the gold mines of Ophir?"
There was a murmur of assent among the listeners.
"The stars," said Tigranes, "are the thoughts of the Eternal.
They are numberless. But the thoughts of man can be counted,
like the years of his life. The wisdom of the Magi is the
greatest of all wisdoms on earth, because it knows its own
ignorance. And that is the secret of power. We keep men
always looking and waiting for a new sunrise. But we
ourselves know that the darkness is equal to the light, and
that the conflict between them will never be ended."
"That does not satisfy me," answered Artaban, "for, if the
waiting must be endless, if there could be no fulfilment of
it, then it would not be wisdom to look and wait. We should
become like those new teachers of the Greeks, who say that
there is no truth, and that the only wise men are those who
spend their lives in discovering and exposing the lies that
have been believed in the world. But the new sunrise will
certainly dawn in the appointed time. Do not our own books
tell us that this will come to pass, and that men will see
the brightness of a great light?"
"That is true," said the voice of Abgarus; "every faithful
disciple of Zoroaster knows the prophecy of the Avesta and
carries the word in his heart. 'In that day Sosiosh the
Victorious shall arise out of the number of the prophets in
the east country. Around him shall shine a mighty brightness,
and he shall make life everlasting, incorruptible, and
immortal, and the dead shall rise again.'"
"This is a dark saying," said Tigranes, "and it may be that
we shall never understand it. It is better to consider the
things that are near at hand, and to increase the influence
of the Magi in their own country, rather than to look for one
who may be a stranger, and to whom we must resign our power."
The others seemed to approve these words. There was a silent
feeling of agreement manifest among them; their looks
responded with that indefinable expression which always
follows when a speaker has uttered the thought that has been
slumbering in the hearts of his listeners. But Artaban turned
to Abgarus with a glow on his face, and said:
"My father, I have kept this prophecy in the secret place of
my soul. Religion without a great hope would be like an altar
without a living fire. And now the flame has burned more
brightly, and by the light of it I have read other words
which also have come from the fountain of Truth, and speak
yet more clearly of the rising of the Victorious One in his
He drew from the breast of his tunic two small rolls of fine
linen, with writing upon them, and unfolded them carefully
upon his knee.
"In the years that are lost in the past, long before our
fathers came into the land of Babylon, there were wise men in
Chaldea, from whom the first of the Magi learned the secret
of the heavens. And of these Balaam the son of Beor was one
of the mightiest. Hear the words of his prophecy: 'There
shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out
The lips of Tigranes drew downward with contempt, as he said:
"Judah was a captive by the waters of Babylon, and the sons
of Jacob were in bondage to our kings. The tribes of Israel
are scattered through the mountains like lost sheep, and from
the remnant that dwells in Judea under the yoke of Rome
neither star nor sceptre shall arise."
"And yet," answered Artaban, "it was the Hebrew Daniel, the
mighty searcher of dreams, the counsellor of kings, the wise
Belteshazzar, who was most honored and beloved of our great
King Cyrus. A prophet of sure things and a reader of the
thoughts of God, Daniel proved himself to our people. And
these are the words that he wrote." (Artaban read from the
second roll:) "'Know, therefore, and understand that from the
going forth of the commandment to restore Jerusalem, unto the
Anointed One, the Prince, the time shall be seven and
threescore and two weeks.'"
"But, my son," said Abgarus, doubtfully, "these are mystical
numbers. Who can interpret them, or who can find the key that
shall unlock their meaning?"
Artaban answered: "It has been shown to me and to my three
companions among the Magi—Caspar, Melchior, and
Balthazar. We have searched the ancient tablets of Chaldea
and computed the time. It falls in this year. We have studied
the sky, and in the spring of the year we saw two of the
greatest stars draw near together in the sign of the Fish,
which is the house of the Hebrews. We also saw a new star
there, which shone for one night and then vanished. Now again
the two great planets are meeting. This night is their
conjunction. My three brothers are watching at the ancient
temple of the Seven Spheres, at Borsippa, in Babylonia, and I
am watching here. If the star shines again, they will wait
ten days for me at the temple, and then we will set out
together for Jerusalem, to see and worship the promised one
who shall be born King of Israel. I believe the sign will
come. I have made ready for the journey. I have sold my house
and my possessions, and bought these three jewels—a
sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl—to carry them as tribute
to the King. And I ask you to go with me on the pilgrimage,
that we may have joy together in finding the Prince who is
worthy to be served."
While he was speaking he thrust his hand into the inmost fold
of his girdle and drew out three great gems—one blue as
a fragment of the night sky, one redder than a ray of
sunrise, and one as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at
twilight—and laid them on the outspread linen scrolls
But his friends looked on with strange and alien eyes. A veil
of doubt and mistrust came over their faces, like a fog
creeping up from the marshes to hide the hills. They glanced
at each other with looks of wonder and pity, as those who
have listened to incredible sayings, the story of a wild
vision, or the proposal of an impossible enterprise.
At last Tigranes said: "Artaban, this is a vain dream. It
comes from too much looking upon the stars and the cherishing
of lofty thoughts. It would be wiser to spend the time in
gathering money for the new fire-temple at Chala. No king
will ever rise from the broken race of Israel, and no end
will ever come to the eternal strife of light and darkness.
He who looks for it is a chaser of shadows. Farewell."
And another said: "Artaban, I have no knowledge of these
things, and my office as guardian of the royal treasure binds
me here. The quest is not for me. But if thou must follow it,
fare thee well."
And another said: "In my house there sleeps a new bride, and
I cannot leave her nor take her with me on this strange
journey. This quest is not for me. But may thy steps be
prospered wherever thou goest. So, farewell."
And another said: "I am ill and unfit for hardship, but there
is a man among my servants whom I will send with thee when
thou goest, to bring me word how thou farest."
But Abgarus, the oldest and the one who loved Artaban the
best, lingered after the others had gone, and said, gravely:
"My son, it may be that the light of truth is in this sign
that has appeared in the skies, and then it will surely lead
to the Prince and the mighty brightness. Or it may be that it
is only a shadow of the light, as Tigranes has said, and then
he who follows it will have only a long pilgrimage and an
empty search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of
the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who
would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel
alone. I am too old for this journey, but my heart shall be a
companion of the pilgrimage day and night, and I shall know
the end of thy quest. Go in peace."
So one by one they went out of the azure chamber with its
silver stars, and Artaban was left in solitude.
He gathered up the jewels and replaced them in his girdle.
For a long time he stood and watched the flame that flickered
and sank upon the altar. Then he crossed the hall, lifted the
heavy curtain, and passed out between the dull red pillars of
porphyry to the terrace on the roof.
The shiver that thrills through the earth ere she rouses from
her night sleep had already begun, and the cool wind that
heralds the daybreak was drawing downward from the lofty
snow-traced ravines of Mount Orontes. Birds, half awakened,
crept and chirped among the rustling leaves, and the smell of
ripened grapes came in brief wafts from the arbours.
Far over the eastern plain a white mist stretched like a
lake. But where the distant peak of Zagros serrated the
western horizon the sky was clear. Jupiter and Saturn rolled
together like drops of lambent flame about to blend in one.
As Artaban watched them, behold, an azure spark was born out
of the darkness beneath, rounding itself with purple
splendours to a crimson sphere, and spiring upward through
rays of saffron and orange into a point of white radiance.
Tiny and infinitely remote, yet perfect in every part, it
pulsated in the enormous vault as if the three jewels in the
Magian's breast had mingled and been transformed into a
living heart of light. He bowed his head. He covered his brow
with his hands.
"It is the sign," he said. "The King is coming, and I will go
to meet him."
BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
All night long Vasda, the swiftest of Artaban's horses, had
been waiting, saddled and bridled, in her stall, pawing the
ground impatiently, and shaking her bit as if she shared the
eagerness of her master's purpose, though she knew not its
Before the birds had fully roused to their strong, high,
joyful chant of morning song, before the white mist had begun
to lift lazily from the plain, the other wise man was in the
saddle, riding swiftly along the high-road, which skirted the
base of Mount Orontes, westward.
How close, how intimate is the comradeship between a man and
his favourite horse on a long journey. It is a silent,
comprehensive friendship, an intercourse beyond the need of
words. They drink at the same way-side springs, and sleep
under the same guardian stars. They are conscious together of
the subduing spell of nightfall and the quickening joy of
daybreak. The master shares his evening meal with his hungry
companion, and feels the soft, moist lips caressing the palm
of his hand as they close over the morsel of bread. In the
gray dawn he is roused from his bivouac by the gentle stir of
a warm, sweet breath over his sleeping face, and looks up
into the eyes of his faithful fellow-traveller, ready and
waiting for the toil of the day. Surely, unless he is a pagan
and an unbeliever, by whatever name he calls upon his God, he
will thank Him for this voiceless sympathy, this dumb
affection, and his morning prayer will embrace a double
blessing—God bless us both, and keep our feet from
falling and our souls from death!
And then, through the keen morning air, the swift hoofs beat
their spirited music along the road, keeping time to the
pulsing of two hearts that are moved with the same eager
desire—to conquer space, to devour the distance, to
attain the goal of the journey.
Artaban must indeed ride wisely and well if he would keep the
appointed hour with the other Magi; for the route was a
hundred and fifty parasangs, and fifteen was the utmost that
he could travel in a day. But he knew Vasda's strength, and
pushed forward without anxiety, making the fixed distance
every day, though he must travel late into the night, and in
the morning long before sunrise.
He passed along the brown slopes of Mt. Orontes, furrowed by
the rocky courses of a hundred torrents.
He crossed the level plains of the Nisaeans, where the famous
herds of horses, feeding in the wide pastures, tossed their
heads at Vasda's approach, and galloped away with a thunder
of many hoofs, and flocks of wild birds rose suddenly from
the swampy meadows, wheeling in great circles with a shining
flutter of innumerable wings and shrill cries of surprise.
He traversed the fertile fields of Concabar, where the dust
from the threshing-floors filled the air with a golden mist,
half hiding the huge temple of Astarte with its four hundred
At Baghistan, among the rich gardens watered by fountains
from the rock, he looked up at the mountain thrusting its
immense rugged brow out over the road, and saw the figure of
King Darius trampling upon his fallen foes, and the proud
list of his wars and conquests graven high upon the face of
the eternal cliff.
Over many a cold and desolate pass, crawling painfully across
the wind-swept shoulders of the hills; down many a black
mountain-gorge, where the river roared and raced before him
like a savage guide; across many a smiling vale, with
terraces of yellow limestone full of vines and fruit-trees;
through the oak-groves of Carine and the dark Gates of
Zagros, walled in by precipices; into the ancient city of
Chala, where the people of Samaria had been kept in captivity
long ago; and out again by the mighty portal, riven through
the encircling hills, where he saw the image of the High
Priest of the Magi sculptured on the wall of rock, with hand
uplifted as if to bless the centuries of pilgrims; past the
entrance of the narrow defile, filled from end to end with
orchards of peaches and figs, through which the river Gyndes
foamed down to meet him; over the broad rice-fields, where
the autumnal vapours spread their deathly mists; following
along the course of the river, under tremulous shadows of
poplar and tamarind, among the lower hills; and out upon the
flat plain, where the road ran straight as an arrow through
the stubble-fields and parched meadows; past the city of
Ctesiphon, where the Parthian emperors reigned, and the vast
metropolis of Seleucia which Alexander built; across the
swirling floods of Tigris and the many channels of Euphrates,
flowing yellow through the corn-lands—Artaban pressed
onward until he arrived, at nightfall of the tenth day,
beneath the shattered walls of populous Babylon.
Vasda was almost spent, and he would gladly have turned into
the city to find rest and refreshment for himself and for
her. But he knew that it was three hours' journey yet to the
Temple of the Seven Spheres, and he must reach the place by
midnight if he would find his comrades waiting. So he did not
halt, but rode steadily across the stubble-fields.
A grove of date-palms made an island of gloom in the pale
yellow sea. As she passed into the shadow Vasda slackened her
pace, and began to pick her way more carefully.
Near the farther end of the darkness an access of caution
seemed to fall upon her. She scented some danger or
difficulty; it was not in her heart to fly from it—only
to be prepared for it, and to meet it wisely, as a good horse
should do. The grove was close and silent as the tomb; not a
leaf rustled, not a bird sang.
She felt her steps before her delicately, carrying her head
low, and sighing now and then with apprehension. At last she
gave a quick breath of anxiety and dismay, and stood
stock-still, quivering in every muscle, before a dark object
in the shadow of the last palm-tree.
Artaban dismounted. The dim starlight revealed the form of a
man lying across the road. His humble dress and the outline
of his haggard face showed that he was probably one of the
poor Hebrew exiles who still dwelt in great numbers in the
vicinity. His pallid skin, dry and yellow as parchment, bore
the mark of the deadly fever which ravaged the marsh-lands in
autumn. The chill of death was in his lean hand, and, as
Artaban released it, the arm fell back inertly upon the
He turned away with a thought of pity, consigning the body to
that strange burial which the Magians deem most
fitting—the funeral of the desert, from which the kites
and vultures rise on dark wings, and the beasts of prey slink
furtively away, leaving only a heap of white bones in the
But, as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the
man's lips. The brown, bony fingers closed convulsively on
the hem of the Magian's robe and held him fast.
Artaban's heart leaped to his throat, not with fear, but with
a dumb resentment at the importunity of this blind delay. How
could he stay here in the darkness to minister to a dying
stranger? What claim had this unknown fragment of human life
upon his compassion or his service? If he lingered but for an
hour he could hardly reach Borsippa at the appointed time.
His companions would think he had given up the journey. They
would go without him. He would lose his quest.
But if he went on now, the man would surely die. If he
stayed, life might be restored. His spirit throbbed and
fluttered with the urgency of the crisis. Should he risk the
great reward of his divine faith for the sake of a single
deed of human love? Should he turn aside, if only for a
moment, from the following of the star, to give a cup of cold
water to a poor, perishing Hebrew?
"God of truth and purity," he prayed, "direct me in the holy
path, the way of wisdom which Thou only knowest."
Then he turned back to the sick man. Loosening the grasp of
his hand, he carried him to a little mound at the foot of the
palm-tree. He unbound the thick folds of the turban and
opened the garment above the sunken breast. He brought water
from one of the small canals near by, and moistened the
sufferer's brow and mouth. He mingled a draught of one of
those simple but potent remedies which he carried always in
his girdle—for the Magians were physicians as well as
astrologers—and poured it slowly between the colourless
lips. Hour after hour he labored as only a skilful healer of
disease can do; and, at last, the man's strength returned; he
sat up and looked about him.
"Who art thou?" he said, in the rude dialect of the country,
"and why hast thou sought me here to bring back my life?"
"I am Artaban the Magian, of the city of Ecbatana, and I am
going to Jerusalem in search of one who is to be born King of
the Jews, a great Prince and Deliverer for all men. I dare
not delay any longer upon my journey, for the caravan that
has waited for me may depart without me. But see, here is all
that I have left of bread and wine, and here is a potion of
healing herbs. When thy strength is restored thou can'st find
the dwellings of the Hebrews among the houses of Babylon."
The Jew raised his trembling hands solemnly to heaven.
"Now may the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob bless and
prosper the journey of the merciful, and bring him in peace
to his desired haven. But stay; I have nothing to give thee
in return—only this: that I can tell thee where the
Messiah must be sought. For our prophets have said that he
should be born not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem of Judah.
May the Lord bring thee in safety to that place, because thou
hast had pity upon the sick."
It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste, and
Vasda, restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly through the
silent plain and swam the channels of the river. She put
forth the remnant of her strength, and fled over the ground
like a gazelle.
But the first beam of the sun sent her shadow before her as
she entered upon the final stadium of the journey, and the
eyes of Artaban anxiously scanning the great mound of Nimrod
and the Temple of the Seven Spheres, could discern no trace
of his friends.
The many-coloured terraces of black and orange and red and
yellow and green and blue and white, shattered by the
convulsions of nature, and crumbling under the repeated blows
of human violence, still glittered like a ruined rainbow in
the morning light.
Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and
climbed to the highest terrace, looking out towards the west.
The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the
horizon and the border of the desert. Bitterns stood by the
stagnant pools and jackals skulked through the low bushes;
but there was no sign of the caravan of the wise men, far or
At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken
bricks, and under them a piece of parchment. He caught it up
and read: "We have waited past the midnight, and can delay no
longer. We go to find the King. Follow us across the desert."
Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in
"How can I cross the desert," said he, "with no food and with
a spent horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire,
and buy a train of camels, and provision for the journey. I
may never overtake my friends. Only God the merciful knows
whether I shall not lose the sight of the King because I
tarried to show mercy."
FOR THE SAKE OF A LITTLE CHILD
There was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, where I was
listening to the story of the other wise man. And through
this silence I saw, but very dimly, his figure passing over
the dreary undulations of the desert, high upon the back of
his camel, rocking steadily onward like a ship over the
The land of death spread its cruel net around him. The stony
wastes bore no fruit but briers and thorns. The dark ledges
of rock thrust themselves above the surface here and there,
like the bones of perished monsters. Arid and inhospitable
mountain ranges rose before him, furrowed with dry channels
of ancient torrents, white and ghastly as scars on the face
of nature. Shifting hills of treacherous sand were heaped
like tombs along the horizon. By day, the fierce heat pressed
its intolerable burden on the quivering air; and no living
creature moved, on the dumb, swooning earth, but tiny jerboas
scuttling through the parched bushes, or lizards vanishing in
the clefts of the rock. By night the jackals prowled and
barked in the distance, and the lion made the black ravines
echo with his hollow roaring, while a bitter, blighting chill
followed the fever of the day. Through heat and cold, the
Magian moved steadily onward.
Then I saw the gardens and orchards of Damascus, watered by
the streams of Abana and Pharpar, with their sloping swards
inlaid with bloom, and their thickets of myrrh and roses. I
saw also the long, snowy ridge of Hermon, and the dark groves
of cedars, and the valley of the Jordan, and the blue waters
of the Lake of Galilee, and the fertile plain of Esdraelon,
and the hills of Ephraim, and the highlands of Judah. Through
all these I followed the figure of Artaban moving steadily
onward, until he arrived at Bethlehem. And it was the third
day after the three wise men had come to that place and had
found Mary and Joseph, with the young child, Jesus, and had
laid their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh at his
Then the other wise man drew near, weary, but full of hope,
bearing his ruby and his pearl to offer to the King. "For now
at last," he said, "I shall surely find him, though it be
alone, and later than my brethren. This is the place of which
the Hebrew exile told me that the prophets had spoken, and
here I shall behold the rising of the great light. But I must
inquire about the visit of my brethren, and to what house the
star directed them, and to whom they presented their
The streets of the village seemed to be deserted, and Artaban
wondered whether the men had all gone up to the hill-pastures
to bring down their sheep. From the open door of a low stone
cottage he heard the sound of a woman's voice singing softly.
He entered and found a young mother hushing her baby to rest.
She told him of the strangers from the far East who had
appeared in the village three days ago, and how they said
that a star had guided them to the place where Joseph of
Nazareth was lodging with his wife and her new-born child,
and how they had paid reverence to the child and given him
many rich gifts.
"But the travellers disappeared again," she continued, "as
suddenly as they had come. We were afraid at the strangeness
of their visit. We could not understand it. The man of
Nazareth took the babe and his mother and fled away that same
night secretly, and it was whispered that they were going far
away to Egypt. Ever since, there has been a spell upon the
village; something evil hangs over it. They say that the
Roman soldiers are coming from Jerusalem to force a new tax
from us, and the men have driven the flocks and herds far
back among the hills, and hidden themselves to escape it."
Artaban listened to her gentle, timid speech, and the child
in her arms looked up in his face and smiled, stretching out
its rosy hands to grasp at the winged circle of gold on his
breast. His heart warmed to the touch. It seemed like a
greeting of love and trust to one who had journeyed long in
loneliness and perplexity, fighting with his own doubts and
fears, and following a light that was veiled in clouds.
"Might not this child have been the promised Prince?" he
asked within himself, as he touched its soft cheek. "Kings
have been born ere now in lowlier houses than this, and the
favourite of the stars may rise even from a cottage. But it
has not seemed good to the God of wisdom to reward my search
so soon and so easily. The one whom I seek has gone before
me; and now I must follow the King to Egypt."
The young mother laid the babe in its cradle, and rose to
minister to the wants of the strange guest that fate had
brought into her house. She set food before him, the plain
fare of peasants, but willingly offered, and therefore full
of refreshment for the soul as well as for the body. Artaban
accepted it gratefully; and, as he ate, the child fell into a
happy slumber, and murmured sweetly in its dreams, and a
great peace filled the quiet room.
But suddenly there came the noise of a wild confusion and
uproar in the streets of the village, a shrieking and wailing
of women's voices, a clangor of brazen trumpets and a
clashing of swords, and a desperate cry: "The soldiers! the
soldiers of Herod! They are killing our children."
The young mother's face grew white with terror. She clasped
her child to her bosom, and crouched motionless in the
darkest corner of the room, covering him with the folds of
her robe, lest he should wake and cry.
But Artaban went quickly and stood in the doorway of the
house. His broad shoulders filled the portal from side to
side, and the peak of his white cap all but touched the
The soldiers came hurrying down the street with bloody hands
and dripping swords. At the sight of the stranger in his
imposing dress they hesitated with surprise. The captain of
the band approached the threshold to thrust him aside. But
Artaban did not stir. His face was as calm as though he were
watching the stars, and in his eyes there burned that steady
radiance before which even the half-tamed hunting leopard
shrinks, and the fierce bloodhound pauses in his leap. He
held the soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a
"There is no one in this place but me, and I am waiting to
give this jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in
He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like
a great drop of blood.
The captain was amazed at the splendour of the gem. The
pupils of his eyes expanded with desire, and the hard lines
of greed wrinkled around his lips. He stretched out his hand
and took the ruby.
"March on!" he cried to his men, "there is no child here. The
house is still."
The clamour and the clang of arms passed down the street as
the headlong fury of the chase sweeps by the secret covert
where the trembling deer is hidden. Artaban re-entered the
cottage. He turned his face to the east and prayed:
"God of truth, forgive my sin! I have said the thing that is
not, to save the life of a child. And two of my gifts are
gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God.
Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?"
But the voice of the woman, weeping for joy in the shadow
behind him, said very gently:
"Because thou hast saved the life of my little one, may the
Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to
shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up
His countenance upon thee and give thee peace."
IN THE HIDDEN WAY OF SORROW
Then again there was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, deeper
and more mysterious than the first interval, and I understood
that the years of Artaban were flowing very swiftly under the
stillness of that clinging fog, and I caught only a glimpse,
here and there, of the river of his life shining through the
shadows that concealed its course.
I saw him moving among the throngs of men in populous Egypt,
seeking everywhere for traces of the household that had come
down from Bethlehem, and finding them under the spreading
sycamore-trees of Heliopolis, and beneath the walls of the
Roman fortress of New Babylon beside the Nile—traces so
faint and dim that they vanished before him continually, as
footprints on the hard river-sand glisten for a moment with
moisture and then disappear.
I saw him again at the foot of the pyramids, which lifted
their sharp points into the intense saffron glow of the
sunset sky, changeless monuments of the perishable glory and
the imperishable hope of man. He looked up into the vast
countenance of the crouching Sphinx and vainly tried to read
the meaning of her calm eyes and smiling mouth. Was it,
indeed, the mockery of all effort and all aspiration, as
Tigranes had said—the cruel jest of a riddle that has
no answer, a search that never can succeed? Or was there a
touch of pity and encouragement in that inscrutable
smile—a promise that even the defeated should attain a
victory, and the disappointed should discover a prize, and
the ignorant should be made wise, and the blind should see,
and the wandering should come into the haven at last?
I saw him again in an obscure house of Alexandria, taking
counsel with a Hebrew rabbi. The venerable man, bending over
the rolls of parchment on which the prophecies of Israel were
written, read aloud the pathetic words which foretold the
sufferings of the promised Messiah—the despised and
rejected of men, the man of sorrows and the acquaintance of
"And remember, my son," said he, fixing his deep-set eyes
upon the face of Artaban, "the King whom you are seeking is
not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful.
If the light of the world and the glory of Israel had been
appointed to come with the greatness of earthly splendour, it
must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham will ever
again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of
Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the
lions in Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is
waiting is a new light, the glory that shall rise out of
patient and triumphant suffering. And the kingdom which is to
be established forever is a new kingdom, the royalty of
perfect and unconquerable love. I do not know how this shall
come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of
earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay
homage to him. But this I know. Those who seek Him will do
well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and
So I saw the other wise man again and again, travelling from
place to place, and searching among the people of the
dispersion, with whom the little family from Bethlehem might,
perhaps, have found a refuge. He passed through countries
where famine lay heavy upon the land, and the poor were
crying for bread. He made his dwelling in plague-stricken
cities where the sick were languishing in the bitter
companionship of helpless misery. He visited the oppressed
and the afflicted in the gloom of subterranean prisons, and
the crowded wretchedness of slave-markets, and the weary toil
of galley-ships. In all this populous and intricate world of
anguish, though he found none to worship, he found many to
help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed
the sick, and comforted the captive; and his years went by
more swiftly than the weaver's shuttle that flashes back and
forth through the loom while the web grows and the invisible
pattern is completed.
It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest. But once I
saw him for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at
the gate of a Roman prison. He had taken from a secret
resting-place in his bosom the pearl, the last of his jewels.
As he looked at it, a mellower lustre, a soft and iridescent
light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose, trembled
upon its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection
of the colours of the lost sapphire and ruby. So the
profound, secret purpose of a noble life draws into itself
the memories of past joy and past sorrow. All that has helped
it, all that has hindered it, is transfused by a subtle magic
into its very essence. It becomes more luminous and precious
the longer it is carried close to the warmth of the beating
heart. Then, at last, while I was thinking of this pearl, and
of its meaning, I heard the end of the story of the other
A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
Three-and-thirty years of the life of Artaban had passed
away, and he was still a pilgrim and a seeker after light.
His hair, once darker than the cliffs of Zagros, was now
white as the wintry snow that covered them. His eyes, that
once flashed like flames of fire, were dull as embers
smouldering among the ashes.
Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the
King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. He had
often visited the holy city before, and had searched through
all its lanes and crowded hovels and black prisons without
finding any trace of the family of Nazarenes who had fled
from Bethlehem long ago. But now it seemed as if he must make
one more effort, and something whispered in his heart that,
at last, he might succeed. It was the season of the Passover.
The city was thronged with strangers. The children of Israel,
scattered in far lands all over the world, had returned to
the Temple for the great feast, and there had been a
confusion of tongues in the narrow streets for many days.
But on this day there was a singular agitation visible in the
multitude. The sky was veiled with a portentous gloom, and
currents of excitement seemed to flash through the crowd like
the thrill which shakes the forest on the eve of a storm. A
secret tide was sweeping them all one way. The clatter of
sandals, and the soft, thick sound of thousands of bare feet
shuffling over the stones, flowed unceasingly along the
street that leads to the Damascus gate.
Artaban joined company with a group of people from his own
country, Parthian Jews who had come up to keep the Passover,
and inquired of them the cause of the tumult, and where they
"We are going," they answered, "to the place called Golgotha,
outside the city walls, where there is to be an execution.
Have you not heard what has happened? Two famous robbers are
to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of
Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the
people, so that they love him greatly. But the priests and
elders have said that he must die, because he gave himself
out to be the Son of God. And Pilate has sent him to the
cross because he said that he was the 'King of the Jews.'"
How strangely these familiar words fell upon the tired heart
of Artaban! They had led him for a lifetime over land and
sea. And now they came to him darkly and mysteriously like a
message of despair. The King had arisen, but he had been
denied and cast out. He was about to perish. Perhaps he was
already dying. Could it be the same who had been born in
Bethlehem, thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star
had appeared in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had
Artaban's heart beat unsteadily with that troubled, doubtful
apprehension which is the excitement of old age. But he said
within himself, "The ways of God are stranger than the
thoughts of men, and it may be that I shall find the King, at
last, in the hands of His enemies, and shall come in time to
offer my pearl for His ransom before He dies."
So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful
steps towards the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the
entrance of the guard-house a troop of Macedonian soldiers
came down the street, dragging a young girl with torn dress
and dishevelled hair. As the Magian paused to look at her
with compassion, she broke suddenly from the hands of her
tormentors, and threw herself at his feet, clasping him
around the knees. She had seen his white cap and the winged
circle on his breast.
"Have pity on me," she cried, "and save me, for the sake of
the God of Purity! I also am a daughter of the true religion
which is taught by the Magi. My father was a merchant of
Parthia, but he is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be
sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!"
It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in
the palm-grove of Babylon and in the cottage at
Bethlehem—the conflict between the expectation of faith
and the impulse of love. Twice the gift which he had
consecrated to the worship of religion had been drawn from
his hand to the service of humanity. This was the third
trial, the ultimate probation, the final and irrevocable
Was it his great opportunity, or his last temptation? He
could not tell. One thing only was clear in the darkness of
his mind—it was inevitable. And does not the inevitable
come from God?
One thing only was sure to his divided heart—to rescue
this helpless girl would be a true deed of love. And is not
love the light of the soul?
He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so
luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He
laid it in the hand of the slave.
"This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures
which I kept for the King."
While he spoke the darkness of the sky thickened, and
shuddering tremors ran through the earth, heaving
convulsively like the breast of one who struggles with mighty
The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were
loosened and crashed into the street. Dust clouds filled the
air. The soldiers fled in terror, reeling like drunken men.
But Artaban and the girl whom he had ransomed crouched
helpless beneath the wall of the Praetorium.
What had he to fear? What had he to live for? He had given
away the last remnant of his tribute for the King. He had
parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over,
and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and
embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not
submission. It was something more profound and searching. He
knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he
could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that
had been given to him. He had looked for more. And if he had
not found it, if a failure was all that came out of his life,
doubtless that was the best that was possible. He had not
seen the revelation of "life everlasting, incorruptible and
immortal." But he knew that even if he could live his earthly
life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been.
One more lingering pulsation of the earthquake quivered
through the ground. A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell
and struck the old man on the temple. He lay breathless and
pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl's
shoulder, and the blood trickling from the wound. As she bent
over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice
through the twilight, very small and still, like music
sounding from a distance, in which the notes are clear but
the words are lost. The girl turned to see if some one had
spoken from the window above them, but she saw no one.
Then the old man's lips began to move, as if in answer, and
she heard him say in the Parthian tongue:
"Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee an hungered, and fed
thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a
stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When
saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee?
Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have
never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King."
He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid
heard it, very faintly and far away. But now it seemed as
though she understood the words:
"Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it
unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it
A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of
Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain-peak.
One long, last breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips.
His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other
Wise Man had found the King.