ALI BANU, Governor of Alexandria, was a highly respected man.
As he passed through the streets every morning on his way to the Mosque, clad in splendid robes and wearing a jewelled girdle worth the value of fifty camels, the bystanders would say: "Is he not a fine, handsome man?
And how rich!"
"Rich, yes, indeed! Has he not a castle on the Harbour of Stamboul?
Has he not flocks, and herds, and slaves?"
"Yes," a third would add; "and see how high he stands in the favour of the Sultan! Surely his steps are blessed.
He is a rich, well-favoured man, but — but — you know —" "I know," another would reply, "that it is only too true that, with all his wealth and power, he has his load of trouble to bear; he is a fortunate man — but — but ———"
Ali Banu had a splendid house in the best position in Alexandria; and on its wide marble terrace, shaded by palm-trees, he would sit in the evenings and smoke his hookah.
Twelve splendidly dressed slaves awaited his commands; one held his betel-nut, another a magnificent gold goblet filled with sherbet, another wielded a large fan of peacocks’ feathers, others were singers and musicians, and one had a long roll of manuscript from which to read if Ali Banu so desired.
But they waited in vain for orders; he wanted neither music nor singing, neither reading nor reciting, neither sherbet nor betel-nut, and even the fan-bearer did not trouble to exert himself, for Ali Banu seemed unaware of the flies.
The passers-by often stopped to admire the fine house, the handsomely costumed slaves, the luxury which was apparent on all sides; but when they saw Ali Banu sitting deep in thought, under the shade of the palms, they shook their heads.
Four young men, as they went along, laughed, and said:
"Truly, this rich man is a poor man.
He who has so much is poorer than those who have nothing.
For the Prophet has not given him the sense to enjoy it."
"Youth is a fine time, and so is age when one is happy," said an old man of very ordinary appearance, who was standing by and had overheard their remarks.
"But let me tell you that the young are often foolish and unthinking, and inclined to judge hastily."
"What do you mean, old man?"
asked one of the young men.
"Do you reprove us?
What does it matter to you if we discuss the Sheikh?"
"The Prophet says, ‘It is our duty to correct ignorance in others," said the old man.
"The Sheikh, it is true, is enormously rich, and has everything heart could desire; but he has good reason to be grave and sad.
Do you think he has always been like this?
Most certainly not! Fifteen years ago he was active as a gazelle, and lived freely and enjoyed life.
For he had a son, the pride of his heart, as handsome as one could desire, and all who knew him congratulated the Sheikh on his boy's gifts of body and mind; and when Kairam was only ten years old he knew as much as many a one at eighteen!"
"And he is dead! Poor Ali Banu!"
cried one of the young men.
"It were better for Ali Banu to know that the boy were safe in the Prophet's arms; for he would be out of all earthly danger.
But I have something sadder than that to tell you.
It happened that at that time the French invaded our land.
They took Alexandria, and then pursued and fought with the Mamelukes.
Ali Banu was a clever man and knew how to make terms with them.
But whether it was that they hankered after his wealth, I know not, but the officers came to him one day and accused him of secretly supplying the Mamelukes with weapons, food, and horses; and although he protested his innocence, it made no difference, for the French were rough, desperate men, and meant to have his gold.
They also took Kairam, his boy, as hostage to their camp.
Ali Banu offered a large sum as ransom, but they would not give the boy up, meaning to obtain still higher terms.
Suddenly they received orders from their commander to embark, and as suddenly they sailed away, taking with them little Kairam, the governor's son, and nothing has ever since been heard as to his fate."
"Oh, poor man! Allah has tried him sorely," said the young men, and looked compassionately towards the Sheikh, who, surrounded with luxury but tormented with grief, still sat beneath the palms.
"Ali Banu's favourite wife," continued the old man, "died of grief for the loss of her son.
Her husband, however, chartered a ship, and having provisioned it, persuaded a French physician who lived near the fountain to go with him to France in search of the boy.
They started off, and after long voyaging reached the land of the Giaours.
But there dreadful things were happening.
There had been a revolution, the King had been deposed and the republican government were chopping men's heads off, and the whole country was in a terrible state.
From town to town they went seeking Kairam, and all with no avail; and at last the French doctor told Ali Banu that they had better leave the country, or perhaps they would also lose their heads.
So they came back to Alexandria, and ever since, Ali Banu has lived simply, mourning for his boy; and who can wonder at it?
When he eats or drinks, he thinks: ‘Perhaps my poor Kairam is hungry and thirsty.’
When he dresses himself in beautiful robes, he wonders if the boy is naked.
And when he is surrounded by his slaves singing, dancing, and reciting, he fancies that far away Kairam may have to sing, and dance, and wait upon his French captors.
But what causes him the greatest grief is the fear that the boy may forget, among such different influences, the faith of his fathers, and that he will never be able to embrace his little Kairam in the Garden of Paradise! This is why he is so kind to his slaves and gives large sums of money to the poor, for he thinks Allah will remember it, and so soften the hearts of the French generals that they will treat his boy well.
And on the anniversary of the day when his son was taken from him, Ali Banu gives so many slaves their freedom.
"Do not listen to the gossip around you," said the old man; "what I have told you is true.
But the evening air is cool.
I must go home.
Salem aleikum, peace be with you, young men; and think more kindly in the future of Ali Banu."
The youths thanked the old man for his information, looked once more at the unhappy father, and went their way, saying to each other, "I am glad I am not Ali Banu."
Not long after the day that the old man had told them the Sheikh's story, it happened that one morning as they were going to the Mosque they passed through the same street.
They remembered the conversation and again pitied Ali Banu, and glanced towards his house.
But how astonished they were to see it beautifully decorated.
From the roof, where gaily clad slaves were pacing to and fro, waved banners and pennons; the hall of the Palace was laid with costly carpets, silken rugs were on the broad marble steps, and even on the path outside was a fine cloth outspread, which many of the passers-by would have liked to use for a kaftan, or even a counterpane.
"What a difference in a few days!"
said one of the young men.
"Is he going to have an entertainment?
Will there be singing and dancing?
Look at these carpets! Have you ever seen any like them in Alexandria?
And this cloth thrown down here.
Really it is a shame!"
"Surely he expects an honoured guest; for these are preparations such as one would only make for the ruler of a great country, or for the representative of a governor who proposed to honour his house with a visit.
Who can be coming to-day?"
"See, there goes the old man! He is certain to know, and will tell us.
Hullo! old man! Will you not join us in our walk?"
Hearing their voices the old man came towards them, for he remembered them as being the youths to whom he had spoken a few days before.
They called his attention to the decoration of the Sheikh's house, and asked if any guest of high rank was expected.
"You think, then," he said, "that Ali Banu is celebrating a festival, or awaiting a visit from some great man?
That is not so; but to-day is the twelfth day of Ramadan, as you know, and on this day his son was taken captive!"
"By the beard of the Prophet! " cried the young man; "all the signs are those of feasting and merriment, and yet it is the anniversary of his great bereavement.
How do you account for that?
Surely the Sheikh is a little out of his mind!"
"Do not judge so hastily, my young friend," said the old man; "your conclusions are not exactly kind or just, and therefore not worth utterance.
Are you not aware that Ali Banu expects his son to-day?"
"Do you mean he is found?"
cried the young man joyfully.
"No, nor likely to be found for a long while; but you must know that eight or ten years ago, when the Sheikh was sadly celebrating this dreadful day by freeing some of his slaves and feeding the sick and hungry, he was told there was a poor Dervish lying outside his house, who needed food and drink.
The Dervish, however, was a worthy man, and skilled in astrology and in prophecy.
After he had partaken of the Sheikh's hospitality, he spoke thus:
" ‘Ali Banu, I know the cause of your grief: is not to-day the twelfth of the month Ramadan, and on this day did you not lose your boy, Kairam?
Be comforted; for this day of mourning will at last be a day of joy; on this date your son will be restored to you.’
"So spake the Dervish.
It would be more than wrong for a Mussulman to doubt the word of such a holy man; and though Ali's grief was not really lessened by this prophecy, still, he hoped every year for the return of his boy, and decorated his Palace, his hall, and his staircase, and waited as patiently as he could."
exclaimed one of the young men.
"But how I should like to see all this splendour for myself and how he sorrows in the midst of so much luxury, and also to hear how the tales his slaves tell him —"
"Nothing easier," said the old man.
"The overseer of the slaves is an old friend of mine, and always keeps a place for me in the hall every year: for in the crowd of Ali Banu's friends and slaves one more or less passes unnoticed.
I will speak to him, and ask permission; there are only four of you.
Be here at nine o’clock, and I will give you his answer."
The young men thanked their old friend and withdrew, waiting with some curiosity to see what would happen.
They returned to the spot at the appointed hour; the old man was there already, and told them the overseer would allow them to go into the Palace.
He led the way, not through the state staircase and passages, but through a side door, which he carefully closed behind them.
Then he took them through more passages, till they came to the great hall.
Here was a large gathering of people; richly clad men, merchants from the city and friends of Ali Banu, who wished to comfort him in his grief, and slaves of all nations.
But they seemed sad too, for they loved their master and sympathised with him.
At the end of the hall, sitting on a splendid divan, the chiefs friends were served by the slaves.
Near them on the floor was the Sheikh, for his grief would not permit him to share the seat of his happier friends.
He leant his head on his hands and seemed to little heed the words of comfort whispered by those around him.
Opposite him sat some old and young men in slave garments.
The old man told his young friends that these were the slaves who would be freed.
Some of the slaves were French by birth, and among them was a youth of such considerable beauty that the old man was much impressed.
The Sheikh had bought him from a slave-dealer in Tunis, only a few days ago, for a large sum, and intended to set him free to-day, thinking the more French youths he sent back to their own country, the sooner would the Great Prophet restore to him his own son.
When every one had feasted, Ali Banu made a sign to the overseer of the slaves, and a deep silence reigned in the hail as they stepped forward, and he thus addressed them:
"Young men, by the goodness and compassion of Sheikh Ali Banu you will to-day receive your freedom, but first, in accordance with the custom of this day, you shall relate some story."
And so three of the slaves related their adventures, and as the recital pleased Ali Banu, they were set at liberty.
While the assembly were attentively listening to these different stories, the superintendent of the slaves drew near to the old man and said:
"My lord, the Sheikh Ali Banu has noticed that you are here, and begs you will come to him and share his seat."
The young men were not a little surprised at the honour bestowed on the old man, whom they had regarded as little more than a beggar, and as he went towards the Sheikh, they detained the superintendent of slaves, and one of them said:
"By the beard of the Prophet, tell us, we pray, who is this old man whom the Sheikh so honours?"
cried the superintendent, "you do not know who he is?"
"No, we do not know who he is," was the answer.
"But I saw you several times with him in the street, and my Lord Ali Banu had also observed it and had said:
‘These must be gallant youths who thus deserve the old man's acquaintance!’
"But tell us who he is!"
cried one of the youths impatiently.
"You are trying to joke with me," said the superintendent.
"To this hall no one comes who is not specially invited, and to-day the old man asked if the Sheikh would allow him as a great favour to bring some young friends with him; and Ali Banu sent a message saying his house was at his service."
"Do not keep us any longer in ignorance," said one of the young men.
"I swear to you, not one of us knows who the old man is: we made his acquaintance quite accidentally."
"Then you can indeed congratulate yourselves; for you have spoken with a most learned and honourable man who is respected by all who know him.
He is no other than Mustapha, the learned Dervish!"
cried the young men, "the great and wise Mustapha, who taught the Sheikh's son: who has written learned treatises; who takes long journeys in all directions?
To think tbat we have been talking to Mustapha, and, alas! without any deference, but as if he were one of ourselves!"
And the young men began to discuss their good fortune.
They felt themselves not a little honoured that such a worthy and distinguished man should have shown them such favour as to walk and talk with them.
Just then Ali Banu stood up and in a loud voice said:
"Let us now listen to the story the last of my slaves who will receive his liberty to-day has to tell."
This young slave, whose good looks and gallant bearing had excited the admiration of all present, stepped forward, and in a clear voice spoke as follows:
"My lord, those who have preceded me have related such wonderful adventures that have befallen them in strange lands, that I feel I have no story of my own worth the telling.
But with your gracious permission I will narrate the strange experiences and extraordinary fate that befell a friend of mine.
"On board that Algerian privateer from which your gracious hand removed me was a young man of my age, one who certainly was not born to wear the dress of a slave.
The other unfortunate men on the ship were either rough and rude, or people whose language I did not understand; and as I did not care to be with them, whenever I had a few spare moments I spent them with this young fellow.
He called himself Almansor, and from his speech appeared to be an Egyptian.
We enjoyed chatting together, and one day agreed to tell each other our histories, and it happened that Almansor's was far more remarkable than mine.
"Almansor's father was a powerful and important man in a town in Egypt he did not name.
His childhood was very happy and surrounded by every possible luxury.
But his education was not neglected, for his father was a wise man, who not only taught him to be true and honourable, but provided for him as tutor a most learned and distinguished man, who taught him all that a youth should know.
Almansor was about ten years old when the French crossed the seas and declared war with his people.
Almansor's father could not have been very favourable to the French, for one morning as he was about to go to the Mosque, they came and demanded his wife as hostage and as pledge of his honourable intentions towards them, and as he would not consent to this they seized his little son and carried him away to their camp."
As the young slave spoke the Sheikh covered his face, and murmurs were heard in the hall.
cried the Sheikh's friends.
"How can this youth be so foolish as to relate a story which only reminds Ali Banu of his bereavement?
How can he so thoughtlessly open wounds which time even can never heal?"
The superintendent of slaves was very angry and told the lad to be silent.
The young slave was, however, very much surprised, and asked Ali Banu if his story had in any way annoyed him.
The Sheikh raised his head and said: "Do not distress yourself, my friends.
How can this youth, who has hardly been under my roof three days, know anything of my unhappy lot?
It is possible that others are as unhappy as myself.
It is possible even that this Almansor — But continue your story, my boy!"
The slave bowed low.
"The boy Almansor," said he, "was carried to the French camp, where he was well treated, for one of the generals took him to his tent, and being amused with his prattle, gave him into the care of one of his men, and saw that he needed neither for food nor clothing.
Almansor, however, missed his father and mother sadly.
He cried for several days, but his tears did not soften the hearts of his captors.
The camp was broken up, and the boy thought he would now be allowed to return home; but it was not to be.
The army went hither and thither; made war with the Mamelukes, and took Almansor wherever it went.
When he begged the generals and officers to let him go home again, they told him he must remain with them as a guarantee of his father's good faith.
So he was for many days on the march.
"But suddenly there was a commotion in the army which even the boy noticed.
There was a general talk of packing up and embarking, and Almansor was beside himself with joy, for now that the French were returning to their own land they would surely let him go home.
"Men, horses, and waggons wended their way towards the coast, and soon they could see the ships lying at anchor.
The soldiers embarked as quickly as possible, and it was night before all were on board.
Almansor had kept awake, thinking every moment they would set him free, but at last he fell sound asleep.
He believed his captors must have mixed some drug with his drinking-water, so that he should not be easily aroused; for when he awoke the daylight was filling the tiny room to which he had been carried while asleep.
He sprang out of bed, but as his feet touched the floor he fell down, the floor went up and down, and it seemed as if all round him was swaying and moving.
He steadied himself, and holding by the wall made his way out of the room.
"A wonderful rushing and roaring bewildered him, he hardly knew if he were sleeping or waking, for he had never heard anything like it before.
At last he reached the narrow stairs; with some trouble he climbed them, and what a shock awaited him! He was on board a ship, and nothing else could be seen but the sky and the sea.
At first he wept piteously.
Then Almansor begged to be taken back; he even tried to jump overboard so as to swim home; but the men held him fast, and one of the officers sent for him, and said that if he were obedient he would soon be sent home; and explained to Almansor that if he had been left behind he would have been in a sorry plight.
"But the French did not keep their word ; for the voyage was a long one, and when at last they landed, it was not on the coast of Egypt, but in France! Almansor while a prisoner in the camp had already picked up a little French, and learnt still more on the voyage ; and this was very useful to him in a land where no one spoke his language.
He travelled for some days through the country, and everywhere folk streamed to see him; for his guards said ‘he was the son of the King of Egypt, who had sent him to France to complete his education.’
But the soldiers only said this to make the people believe they had conquered Egypt.
"After they had journeyed for several days they reached a large city.
There Almansor was given into the charge of a doctor, who took him to his house and instructed him in the habits and customs of France.
"He had to wear French clothes, and they seemed very tight and uncomfortable, and not nearly so handsome as his Egyptian dress.
He was no longer allowed to make his obeisance with his arms crossed on his breast; but was taught to take off with one hand his hideous black felt hat such as every one wore, keep the other hand at his side, and draw his right foot back.
He was not allowed to sit cross-legged, but on a high stool with his feet just touching the ground.
The meals were most tiresome, for he had to use a spoon and fork.
"The doctor was a harsh, bad-tempered man, and ill-treated the boy; and, if for instance, Almansor forgot and said to a visitor ‘Salem aleikum’ instead of ‘ Votre serviteur,’ he got a severe beating.
He might not think, speak, or write in his own language, though he might dream in it; and during this time he might easily have forgotten his mother tongue, had it not been for an old man who lived in the town and showed him great kindness.
"This was an old but most learned professor, who understood very many languages : Arabic, Persian, Coptic, even Chinese, besides many others.
He allowed Almansor to come to his house at least once a week, feasted him with fruit and sweets, and made him thoroughly at home; for he was a kindly soul.
He had a suit of clothes made for the boy just like those worn in Egypt, and kept them in a certain room in his house.
When Almansor came, he sent him there, with a servant, to change his things.
Then he went to another room, called ‘Little Arabia.’
In this room were rare plants, palms, bamboos, and dwarf cedars, and flowers such as grew in his native land.
Persian rugs lay on the floor, round the walls were large cushions, and not even a chair or stool of French make.
"On one of the cushions sat the old professor, but not looking the same as usual; for on his head he had a turban made of a Turkish shawl, and a long, false, grey beard, reaching to his girdle, which looked as though it grew on his chin.
He wore a gown made out of a brocade dressing-gown, and though he was of a most peaceful disposition, a Turkish sword was stuck in his girdle and a dagger set with imitation jewels.
He was smoking a pipe about two yards long, and was waited on by servants who were dressed for the occasion in Persian clothes with their hands and faces darkened.
"At first all this puzzled Almansor very much, but he soon found these hours so pleasantly passed with the old professor were of great help to him.
When he was at the doctor's he was not allowed to speak a single word of Egyptian; here, he was not allowed to speak French.
On his entrance into the room Almansor had to give the Eastern greeting — on this the professor insisted; then he signed to the boy to come and sit by him, and used to speak to him in Persian, Arabic, Coptic, and other languages.
"Near him stood a servant, though on such days they called him a slave, who held a large book, actually a dictionary, and if the professor forgot a word he nodded to the slave, who looked it out, and then he continued what he was saying.
"The slaves served sherbet and such things in Turkish fashion, and nothing pleased the old professor better than to hear Almansor say it was ‘just like home.’
Almansor knew Persian very well, and that was a favourite study of the professor's.
He had many Persian manuscripts, which he gave to the boy to read aloud, then read them himself, and so learnt the correct pronunciation.
"These were happy days for poor Almansor; for the professor never sent him back to the doctor's without a present, and often these were gifts of money, or body-linen, or other necessaries which the doctor did not provide him with.
Almansor thus passed several years in the capital city of France, but his longing to return home never lessened.
When he was about fifteen years old something happened to him which greatly influenced his future.
"The French chose as their King and ruler the general who had so often chatted with Almansor in Egypt Almansor was well aware that something important had been offered to this particular officer and in this city, but he did not believe that the King was the general he had known, for he seemed a so much younger man.
But one day Almansor was crossing one of the bridges which span the river when he noticed in the selfsame uniform a soldier, who leant on the parapet of the bridge and gazed down into the water.
The features of this man were familiar to him, and he felt sure that he had seen him before.
He thought over all that had happened in Egypt, and suddenly remembered that this soldier was that French general who had always been so kind to him, and who had so often spoken to him while they were in camp.
He did not know by what name to address him, but he plucked up his courage and saluted him as he had seen the soldiers salute, and then crossing his arms on his breast said: ‘Salem aleikum, little corporal!’
"The soldier was amazed, but looked sharply at the boy, thought a little while, and then said:
" ‘Good heavens! is it possible?
What! you here, Almansor?
What is your father doing?
What is happening in Alexandria?
Why are you over here?’
"Almansor could not help it.
He broke down and cried bitterly and said to the soldier:
" ‘Then you do not know, little corporal, how badly your people have treated me?
You do not know that I have not seen my native land for many years?’
I hope,’ said the soldier, frowning sternly, ‘that you were not carried away by force?’
It was so,’ answered Almansor.
‘On the day your soldiers embarked I saw my native land for the last time.
They took me away, and a captain who pitied my unhappiness paid a sum of money for my education and board to a learned doctor who beats me and does not give me enough to eat.
But now, little corporal,’ said he more cheerfully, ‘as I have been so lucky as to meet with you, you will help me, I know.’
"The soldier laughed, and asked how he could serve him.
" ‘Listen,’ said Almansor.
‘It is hardly fair to accept help from you; you were always so kind to me, but I know you are poor too; for if you were a general you would not dress so shabbily; you must admit that, only to mention your hat and coat, you are not very well set-up.
But I have found that there is a Sultan living among these French people, and no doubt you know some of those who are about his person, his Janissari-Aga, or his Reis-Effendi, or his Kapudan Pasha?
Do you not?’
" ‘Well,’ answered the soldier, ‘what then?’
" ‘You might put in a good word for me, little corporal, and ask them to get the Emperor of the French to say I may go home; then I should need some money for the journey; but you must promise me you will not say one word about it to the doctor or the professor.’
" ‘Who is this learned professor?’
" ‘Oh! he is a wonderful man; but I will tell you about him another time.
If they both heard of it, I should never dare to go away from France.
But do speak to the Agas for me.
Promise that you will!’
" ‘Come with me,’ said the soldier, ‘perhaps I can help you.’
" ‘Now, at once?’
cried the boy nervously.
‘Not now, indeed I dare not; the doctor would beat me! I must hurry back to the house.’
" ‘What have you in that basket?’
asked the soldier, catching hold of him.
"Almansor blushed, and did not wish to show him; but at last he said:
" ‘Little corporal, I have to work like the meanest of my father's slaves.
The doctor is a greedy man, and sends me out for an hour every day to buy vegetables and fish in the market; and I have to bargain with dirty women, because things are cheaper in one district than in another.
Look at this nasty herring, this handful of salad, and this morsel of butter, for which I have to walk about four miles every day.
Oh, if my father only knew!’
"The soldier was sorry for the boy, and said:
" ‘Come with me, and do not be afraid; the doctor shall not dare to punish you to-day, even if he does have to dine without his herring-salad.
Be a brave boy, and come with me!’
"With these words, he took Almansor by the hand and led him along; and although his heart beat faster when he thought of the doctor, there was something in the manner and words of the soldier which encouraged Almansor to follow him.
So with his basket on his arm, the soldier and he passed through many streets, and the boy noticed with much surprise that all the men they met took off their hats, and that the people stood looking after them.
He asked his friend why this was, but a smile was his only answer.
"At last they reached a splendid palace, into which the soldier went.
" ‘Do you live here, little corporal?’
" ‘This is my house,’ answered the soldier, ‘and I will take you to my wife —’
" ‘But how beautiful it is!’
‘Perhaps the Sultan has given you free lodging!’
" ‘The Emperor gave me this house,’ said his companion, and led the boy in.
"They mounted the broad steps, and Almansor left his basket in the beautiful hall, and went with his soldier-friend into a lovely room, where a lady was sitting on a sofa.
The soldier spoke to her in a foreign language, and they both laughed heartily, and then the lady asked Almansor, in French, to tell her about Egypt.
At last the ‘little corporal’ said to Almansor :
" ‘I think I had better take you at once to the Emperor, and speak to him about you.’
"Almansor was very frightened; but he thought of his unhappiness and his home.
And he said to his kind friends:
" ‘God has compassion on the unhappy in their time of need, and He will not forsake a poor boy.
I will go with you.
But tell me, corporal, must I fall on my knees before him?
must I touch the ground with my forehead?
What must I do?’
"The husband and wife laughed and said that would not be necessary.
" ‘Does the Sultan look very haughty and stern?’
‘Has he a long beard?
Do his eyes flash fire?
Tell me what he is like!’
"His companion laughed again and said:
" ‘I would rather not describe him, Almansor; you shall judge for yourself.
I will only tell you this for a sign; when the Emperor is in the Audience chamber every one takes off his hat; the only one who keeps it on is the Emperor of France himself.’
"So saying he took Almansor by the hand and went with him to the Audience chamber.
The nearer they drew, the faster beat Almansor's heart; and his knees trembled as they reached the door.
A servant opened it, and within stood about thirty men in a half-circle, all splendidly uniformed and glittering with gold lace and jewelled orders; and Almansor thought his friend, so simply dressed, must be lowest of all in rank.
They had all bared their heads, and Almansor looked earnestly at them all to see whose head was still covered, so that he might know which was the Emperor, when suddenly he glanced at his protector and lo — he was still wearing his hat!
"The boy was astonished and bewildered.
He looked again at his soldier-friend and took off his hat and said:
" ‘Salem aleikum, little corporal! So far as I know, I am not the Emperor of the French, so if I take off my hat, you are the only one whose head is covered.
Little corporal, are you indeed the Emperor?’
" ‘You have guessed right,’ replied the soldier; ‘and besides that, I am your friend.
Do not ascribe your ill-luck to me, but to the force of circumstance, and rest assured that you shall be sent back to your father in the first ship that sails.
Now go to my wife and tell her about the Arabian professor and all about yourself.
I will send the herring and the salad to the doctor, but you will remain for the present in my Palace!’
"So spake the Emperor, for it was he; but Almansor fell on his knees before him, kissed his hand, and begged his pardon for not knowing.
He had no idea that his old friend was the new Emperor of France.
" ‘That is all right,’ said the Emperor, laughing.
‘When one has only been Emperor a few days, the fact is not plainly written on his forehead!’
And he nodded to Almansor and again told him to go to the Empress.
"After that day, Almansor had a very happy time.
He once visited the old professor, but never saw the doctor again.
"At last the Emperor sent for him, and told him that a ship was about to sail for Egypt, and that he should go home.
Almansor was quite excited, and full of joy at the prospect of seeing his father once more, and in a few days his preparations were complete; and with a heart almost bursting with gratitude, and loaded with presents and treasures of all sorts, he took leave of the Emperor and went on board the ship.
"But God had further trials for him, and put his courage in adversity again to the test; and not for a long time did Almansor see the coast of his native land.
"The English were now engaged in a naval war with the French.
They captured as many of the French ships as possible, and on the sixth morning of the voyage, the vessel on which Almansor was was also taken by the English sailors, and all on board were put on another and smaller vessel, which sailed far away with the fleet.
And Almansor realised that the sea is no safer than the desert, where bands of robbers attack the caravans, for a privateer from Tunis attacked the little vessel, which had got separated from the rest during a storm, seized it, and all the crew were taken to Algiers and sold as slaves.
"Almansor's lot was easier than that of the Christian slaves, for he was a faithful Mussulman, but he could not help feeling he must now give up all hope of seeing his home again.
He passed five years in a rich man's service, tending the garden and watering his flowers.
Then his master died, and as he had no heirs, his property was divided, his slaves sold, and Almansor fell into the hands of a slave-dealer, who chartered a ship to take his cargo to a better market.
It happened that I was one of the dealer's slaves, and was on board this ship, and so was Almansor.
We gradually became friends, and he told me his extraordinary story.
Then, when we landed, I was witness to the wonderful power of Allah; for it was on Almansor's native shore; it was in the market-place of his native town where we were exposed for sale; and — oh, my lord, that I should say it — he was bought by his own father!"
The Sheikh Ali Banu was much impressed by this narrative, which had agitated him very deeply.
His eyes gleamed, his breath came fast, and he seemed as if he would interrupt the young slave; but the end of the story did not appear to satisfy him.
"You say Almansor was twenty-one years old?"
"My lord, he is my age, between twenty-one and two."
"And which did he say was his native town?
You have not told us."
"If I am not mistaken," answered the young slave, "it was Alexandria!"
exclaimed the Sheikh.
"It is my son! Where is he — where is he staying?
Did you say his name was Kairam?
Had he dark eyes and brown hair?"
"He had, my Lord, and in unhappy hours he called himself Kairam, and not Almansor."
"But, Allah! Allah! Tell me again.
Do you say his father bought him before your eyes?
His own father?
Then he is not my son!"
The slave answered:
"He spoke thus to me:
Allah be praised; for after so much misery I am at last in the market-place of my native city.’
"After a while a distinguished-looking man came towards us, and then Almansor cried:
" ‘Oh, how blessed is the gift of sight! I see my own dear father at last.’
"The great man came to our corner, and examining this one and that, bought those who pleased him best.
Then Almansor praised Allah, and whispered to me:
" ‘Now, I am going back to the home of my childhood It is my father who has bought me.’
"He cannot be my son, my little Kairam," said the Sheikh mournfully.
The young slave could bear it no longer.
Tears of joy streamed from his eyes; and he threw himself before Ali Banu.
"But he is indeed your son Kairam Almansor; for it was you who bought him!"
"Allah is great! Allah is great!"
cried the onlookers, and pressed forward; but the Sheikh stood motionless, and looked at the boy's handsome face.
"Mustapha, my friend!"
said he to the old Dervish, "tears blind me; I cannot see.
My Kairam was the image of his dear mother.
Tell me if this youth resembles her!"
The old man stepped forward, and looked long and earnestly at the slave, then laying his hand on the lad's forehead, said:
"Kairam! Can you repeat the text I taught you the day you were carried away into the French camp?"
"My dear teacher," answered the young man, pressing the old Dervish's hand to his lips, "it was this, ‘He who loves God and has a pure conscience is never alone in the Desert of Misery: for he has two faithful companions ever by his side.’
The old Dervish raised his grateful eyes to heaven, pressed the youth to his breast, and led him to the Sheikh, saying:
As surely as you have mourned for him for ten years, so surely is he your son!"
The Sheikh was too overjoyed for words.
He examined again and again the youth's features, and undoubtedly this was his long-lost son.
And all the bystanders offered their congratulations, for they loved the Sheikh, and each one of them rejoiced in his happiness.
And now music and singing echoed through the hall, as in the old happy days.
More than once Almansor had to tell his story, and every one praised the Arabian professor and the Emperor and all who had been kind to the boy.
Not until evening did the company disperse, and then the Sheikh gave each of his friends costly presents in remembrance of this happy day.
As to the four young men whom the wise Mustapha had introduced to him, Ali Banu requested them to visit his son Kairam as often as they could, as he hoped a mutual friendship might be valuable; and gave them advice as to their future fortunes, telling them how to prosper in their respective professions, the first as a merchant, the second as an artist, the third as a teacher, the fourth as a mariner.
And with handsome gifts he bade them adieu.