The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
Originally published in 1895
A condensed version (by Sabina) told in 4 parts
Part 3 – For the Sake of a Little Child & In the Hidden Way of Sorrow
The other wise man, high upon the back of his camel, rocked steadily onward like a ship over the waves.
The land of death spread its cruel net around him. The stony wastes bore no fruit but briers and thorns. Arid and inhospitable mountain ranges rose before him; 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. By night the jackals prowled while a bitter, blighting chill followed the fever of the day.
Through heat and cold, the Magian moved 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 feet.
Then the other wise man drew near, weary but full of hope, bearing his ruby and his pearl to offer to the King.
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 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 paid reverence to the child and given him many rich gifts.
“But the travelers disappeared again,” she continued, “as suddenly as they had come. … The man of Nazareth took the babe and his mother and fled away the same night secretly, and it was whispered that they were going far away to Egypt.”
Artaban listened to her gentle, timid speech, and the child in her arms looked up in his face and smiled…. 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.
He thought within himself “…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. … Artaban accepted it gratefully; … 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.
But Artaban when 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 lintel.
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 move. His face was as calm as though he were watching the stars, …. he held the soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a low voice:
“I am all alone in this place, and I am waiting to give this jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in peace.”
He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great drop of blood.
The captain was amazed at the splendor of the gem. … 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 clamor and the clang of arms passed down the street…. Artaban reentered 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 you have save the life of my little one, may the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
The years of Artaban flowed swiftly as he moved among the throngs of men in Egypt, seeking everywhere for traces of the household that had come down from Bethlehem…. He took counsel with a Hebrew rabbi in Alexandria who said “the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. … Those who seek him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.”
Artaban traveled from place to place, searching among the people for the little family from Bethlehem. 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 misery. He visited the oppressed and those in prisons, slave-markets and galley-ships. He found none to worship, but 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 that the weaver’s shuttle that flashes back and forth through the loom ….
It seemed almost as if he had forgotten his quest.