The Other Wise Man, pt 4

scan_pic0065The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
Originally published in 1895
A condensed version (by Sabina) told in 4 parts

Part 4 – A Pearl of Great Price

Thirty-three 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 smoldering 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 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 filled with strangers. The children of Israel, scattered to far lands all over the world, had returned to the Temple for the great feast.

But on this day there was a singular agitation visible in the multitude. The sky was veiled with a portentous gloom. A secret tide was sweeping them all one way. The clatter of sandals and the sound of thousands of bare feet shuffling over the stones, flowed unceasingly along the streets.

Artaban joined company with a group of people from his own country and inquired of them the cause of the tumult, and where they were going.

“We are going 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 said 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 risen, but he had been denied and cast out. He was about to perish.

Artaban’s heart beat unsteadily … 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, a troop of Macedonian soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl with torn dress and disheveled 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.

“Have pity of me,” she cried “and save me, for the sake of the God of Purity! My father was a merchant, but he is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!”

Artaban trembled.

It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in Babylon and in 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 choice.

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 and he laid it in the hand of the slave. “This is your 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 …

The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were loosened and crashed into the street. The soldiers fled in terror but Artaban and the girl whom he had ransomed crouched helpless beneath the wall.

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 that it had been.

One more tremor 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 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 someone had spoken from a 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:

“Not so, my Lord! For when did I see you hungry and fed you? Or thirsty and gave you a drink? When did I see you a stranger and took you in? Or naked and clothed you? When did I see you sick or in prison and came to you? Thirty-three years I have looked for you; but I have never seen you nor ministered to you, 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:

“I say to you, because you have done it unto one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.”

A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of a 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.

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The Other Wise Man, pt 3

otherwisemanThe 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.

The Other Wise Man, pt 2

df_blog_vandykeThe Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
Originally published in 1895
A condensed version (by Sabina) told in 4 parts

Part 2 – 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 meaning.

Before the birds had full 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, westward.

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.

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 it was three hours’ journey 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.

As she passed into the shadow Vasda slackened her pace, and began to pick he way more carefully.

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. 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.

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. The chill of death was in his lean hand… .

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 an hour … his companions … would go without him. He would lose his quest.

But if he went now, the man would surely die. If he stayed, life might be restored.

“God of truth and purity,” he prayed, “direct me in the holy path, the way of wisdom which only You know.”

Then he turned back to the man… .

Hour after hour he labored as only a skillful healer of disease can do; and, at last, the man’s strength returned; he sat up and looked about him.

“Who are you and why have you sought me here to bring back my life?”

“I am Artaban the Magian, … 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.”

The Jew raided 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. … May the Lord bring you in safety to that place because you have had pity upon the sick.”

It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste and Vasda, restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly … 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 Temple of the Seven Spheres… .

Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the highest terrace, looking out toward the west.

The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the horizon and the border of the desert. …; but there was no sign of the caravan of the wise men, far or near.

At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken bricks, and under them a piece of parchment. “We have waited past the midnight and can delay no longer. We go to find the King. Follow us across the desert.”

He would have to sell his sapphire for a camel and goods in order to cross the desert. One of his tributes to the King would be gone. Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in despair.