Imagens da página

death. And there we must, for the moment, leave him to see what took place in the city.

The day had set in with a sultry and oppressive feeling in the air, which made men imagine that something extraordinary was about to happen. A strange commotion had taken place in the bazaar at the discovery of the displaced sleppingstones, and particularly at the sight of the small iron door and cell within which the key had been deposited. Every sort of surprise was afloat. Some of the oldest citizens shook their heads and said, « something must happen.» A very old man came forward and asserted that he remembered the fixing of these stones, and that much mystery had been observed on the occasion. The half-open state of Azbeaz's stall was temarked, then the suspicious maltock and spade, and, when their owner came to claim them, it was clearly ascertained that Azbeaz was the man who had deranged the stepping-stones. Instantly a search was instituted, the watehmen were questioned, no one could account for his absence, and great curiosity was excited.

The King, as usual at noon, was seated on his throne in his hall of audience, holding the great selam. All the great officers of state vere present ; the King's appointed: flatlerer and public haranguer was on that day in great foree, and had been more than usually happy in the lerms of his adulation. He had expatialed much upon his favourite theme, the omnipotence of Kings, and that day had hit upon a new idea, with which he seemed to be greatly pleased, although the royal countenance, like a blind man who does not know what passes around him, so long accustomed to receive adulation, exhibited no outward expression of pleasure.

The flatterer said, that when a King was born the stars gave each other the wink, and exclaimed as they shook with joy in their orbils, Now let us put our heads together to make his reign fortunate, and should there by chance be an evil-disposed mind in the kingdom, the moment the royal eyebrow which was always under the especial care of the stars) was once shaken, it was seen to produce that powerful awe in the mind, which made it instantly forsake its wickedness.

« Kings," he exclaimed, « thus protected, can have no fear. They are above apprehension ; alle nature works for their wellbeing, and no event ever takes place which does not make them feel their superiority over all other mortals.»

These words had scarcely escaped the flatterer's lips ere the terrific crash of the great gong was beard. Consternation and tremor overtook even the most stout-hearted ; the weakest fell on their faces in dismay, whilst a universal shout of appre. hension was heard to lift itself into the air. The King, who not a minute before had been upheld as independant of all exterior events, was the first to fall from his throne, and be cast down in a swoon. Nothing was ever more pitiable than his state a state which gave the lie in its fullest extent to the flatterer's words, for on this awful occasion he was as much unheeded as the meanest of God's creatures, all being intent on self-preservation, and none having either the power or the inclination to go to his succour, when all seemed doomed to undergo one destiny.

The consternation was not confined to the court ; it was felt instantaneously throughout the city. The vibration caused by the overwhelming sound was felt in every house, throughout the streets, , the bazaars, the market-places; all the inhabitants remained transfixed with awe,',and no one had wit enough, at the moment, to reflect whence came so sudden a convulsion.

At length the vizier, who was a man of nerve, having somewhat recovered his self-possession, arose from his place and proceeded to give help to the prostrate monarch. Raising him up and placing him against the cushions of the throne, he said,

. The hour is at length come when the Zilallah, the shadow of Allah upon earth, must become a substance. Let us arm and be ready, for the great prophecy is about to be accomplished.

« Dog ! » exclaimed the King, having had time to look around him to remark that all was safe, that no man was hurt, and that his power was undiminished ; « dog! what words are these? The King is above all prophecy! Call bither the priests, and

let them inform us what is the meaning of this consternation, and let us arm to be ready for whatever may happen. The Shah is not a man to give up his throne for an old woman's tale ! »

The vizier, who was the depositary of the many traditions relating to the great gong, having heard the King's words, said no more, but went to his seat at the royal gate to give the necessary orders for arming the people. He collected the heads of tens, of hundreds, and of thousands, and ordered them, according to the rules of the kingdom, to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice, for the tradition of old was, that when the gong sounded towards the mountain, armed men should be called to issue from the city.

As soon as the inhabitants had, in some measure, recovered from the shock, they prepared to encounter disaster, but of what kind no one could tell. All was confusion and dismay, but every one agreed that the decrees of fate were imperative, and mankind must be prepared for the event.

In the mean while, the King collected together the priests, the astrologers, and the wise men, and from them he enquired how in their wisdom they interpreted the event that had just occurred. In his inmost heart he felt all that which usurpers are likely to feel when there is a chance of their pretensions to the throne being disputed, and, had he spoken the truth, would have made but a sorry apology for himself; but he was a politic King, although cruel and pusillanimous. The priests, the astrologers, and the wise men having bowed themselves down before the king, the head of the law, an aged and reverend man, took upon himself to answer his royal master's question. Impelled by the urgency of the case, he lifted up his voice with the courage of one who tarries upon the brink of eternity.

«O King,” said he, “ may Allah take you into his holy keeping, for the time is now come when there can be no trust but in his mercy. Tradition and the sayings of wise men, handed down to us from our fathers, inform us that when the great gong on the turret sball sound as it has done today, it announces great and dire disasters.

What they may be is entirely in the hands of fate, but your slave will not conceal from your Majesty that such miseries are specially directed against cruel and unjust governors, and long has it been said that in the fullness of time the throne of this kingdom will return to its proper owner. Such, 0 King ! are the sayings of the ancient wise men. »

« So is it!» exclaimed the King, his eyes flashing fury although he felt a sinking at the heart whieh gave an unsteadiness of purpose to his whole frame. Old man! dog ! is it thus you speak to your sovereign ? After all we are a King. Have we not armies at command ? have we not generals ? is there lack of money in our treasury ? why do you throw unmeaning words into the air.. He sat for some time premeditating a dreadful oath, and plotting in his brain a cruel punishment for the head of the law, the priests, astrologers and wise men, when a herald, his face pale with terror, was seen running headlong through the courts, and allowed to make his way to the King's presence.

His sudden appearance arrested the cruel intentions circulating in the King's mind, and drew his attention into another channel. What is this? » exclaimed his Majesty, as soon as he perceived the herald, catching at the same time the infection of his fear. « Are ye mad ? What want of respect is this ? Speak, oh little man ? »

« By the salt of the Shah," said the herald, «I have seen å strange thing..

What thing have you seen?» said the King, with increasing impatience,

** As I stood on the turret of the gate looking toward the mountains, I first saw a great dust, and then a black speck on the plain; that speck has been increasing, and is spreading itself wider and wider. I cannot say what it is, but, by the soul of the King, I became frightened and ran hither. »

The man is mad!» said the King. «Locusts appear first a mere speck and then spread. Is the fool come to laugh at our beards?. Again he was about to order a cruel punishment, when a superior officer arrived, and exclaimed with increased terror that the peasants were flocking in from the fields in dismay, asserting that an army was approaching, and that no time was to be lost in closing the city gates. Upon this the King became visibly agitated, whilst the wise men might have been seen to'l smile the smile of reproof. Instantly orders were despatched into every quarter of the city to collect the troops, whilst the King betook himself to the high tower in his palace, which commanded a view of the surrounding country ; there he hoped to ascertain, with, bis own eyes, what might be the state of affairs in the plain.

We left Azbeaż in a trance extended before the gate of an immense cavern, He lay there for some time, when, gradually recovering his self-possession, he opened his eyes, and, observing the surrounding objects, felt that he was called upon to do something more than look about him. He proceeded cautiously towards the gate, and straightway entered the mysterious cave, composed of rocks so black and shining, that the whole seemed as if it were of iron ore.

At first, so dark did everything, appear, that his eye could discern nothing but one undefined mass of impenetrable gloom, but, having stood a while, little by little he discovered that the cavern was subdivided into an infinity of minor inlets, seemingly avenues into its deepest recesses, He walked forward to a large prominent sone in the centre, and, having placed his foot upon it, of a sudden he heard a loud ringing noise as if of armour falling, when, to his utmost surprise and apprehension, he beheld at the orifice of each subdivision of the cavernmen clad in complete armour, prostrate on the ground, and arrayed behind them he beheld a succession of grisly faces, apparently the heads of columns of troops prepared for a march.

The bewildered Azbeaz could neither think nor speak from excess of astonishment; he had no nerves for the encounter of magicians or enchanters, and when he saw the servile devotion of the prostrate men before him, he shrunk within himself as one who feels unworthy of unmerited honours.

He had not stood very long, when an immense colossal figure, clad from head to foot in shining steel, advanced from a deep recess, and, placing one knee to the ground, in a

« AnteriorContinuar »