MAR-XABRO PREACHES CHRIST CRUCIFIED.
TRY, gentle reader,--for it will need an effort,--to figure to yourself the ecclesiastical history of the time and place of which I am going to write. Have you ever endeavoured to learn, have you the least conception of, what was the condition of mediæval Christian Asia in the year 1250? For it is of that time that my story is to tell. Imagine, then, a Christian Church,--spreading itself from Asia Minor to Japan, and from the icefields in the sea of Okhotsk to the jungles of Sumatra; reckoning its children by tens of millions, and out-numbering the Eastern (that which we call Eastern) and Western Churches put together. Imagine the head of this vast communion resident in Bagdad, and thence swaying the ecclesiastical affairs of twenty-five metropolitical provinces. Imagine each metropolitan bound to present himself before the Catholicos--so was the Pope of this Church termed--every year, or every two years, or every five years, as the nearness or distance of his throne made the journey possible. Cast a glance over the map of Asia, and think of cities known only to us as the stations of caravans or the capitals of barbarous rulers, such as Khiva, Bokhara, Samarcand, Gondisapor, and the like, then the dwelling-places of learned prelates, the head-quarters of flourishing Churches, the universities of ecclesiastical colleges, where divinity was studied, where ritual was taught, where hymns of wonderful beauty were written. Imagine this Church, one and self-dependent amidst a multitude of conflicting religions, preaching Christ to the Buddhists of China, the worshippers of the Lama in Tatary, to the fire-priests of Persia, to the Mahometan colonies scattered here and there in every Asiatic province, and to the grosser Indian idolatry of Krishnu, Vishnoo, and Ganesa.
It was a glorious Church! So admirably organized; so perfectly constructed; so marvellously, in all its provinces, interdependent! And yet people who pique themselves on being tolerably well acquainted with ecclesiastical history, absolutely ignore this great communion, the greatest Christian communion that ever existed. Truly, it is a grievous thought, that, whereas in the thirteenth century the worshippers of Christ outnumbered, if not all the worshippers of idols in the then known world, at least any one sect or denomination of them, in the nineteenth, after all our missionary efforts, the votaries of Buddhism outnumber all denominations of Christians taken together. And what brought this to pass? Principally the fall of that Nestorian Church of which I am about to tell you something. And that fall was owing to this,--that with all its beauty and majesty, with all its venerable antiquity, that Church was not founded upon the Rock. It was built, not on Christ, but on Nestorius: and therefore, though for a season heresy outnumbered the Catholic faith, yet the time came when that communion fell, and great was the fall of it. But understand: notwithstanding this heresy, it would be wicked to doubt that this Church, during the eight hundred years in which it flourished, sent millions and millions of souls to paradise; that it had its true martyrs and saints; and that, though overthrown on the whole, it was victorious, in myriads of its children over the world, the flesh, and the devil.
You know, or you ought to know, who was the founder of this communion: how Nestorius, a priest of Antioch, and a disciple of St. John Chrysostom, was raised by the Emperor to the patriarchate of Constantinople; how he had not long been in the possession of that dignity, before he began to teach that St. Mary was not to be called the Mother of God; that God could not be said to have been born or died; that our Lord, instead of uniting two natures in one Person, was a Man carrying, or possessed by, the Eternal Word; that as we venerate a temple for the sake of the God there worshipped, as we honour a garment for the sake of the saint whom it clothed, so, and no otherwise, might the Lord's human nature be worshipped; how that to pronounce an opinion on this doctrine, the third cumenical Council, to the number of 250 Bishops, met at Ephesus; how, after much that was unworthy on both sides, the learning and the talents of St. Cyril of Alexandria prevailed; and, in spite of Emperor and court, Nestorius was delivered over to an anathema; how he was hurried into exile, and sent to this place and that place, till, worn out with labour and sorrow, he died in misery; a how there is a tradition that the dews of never fall on the grave of the heresiarch.
Having once for all spoken of the heresy of this communion, I may now proceed with my story: and, therefore,--
Look up, and see the intense blue of the narrow strait that separates us from yonder land: the perfect, awful stillness of a tropical noon, on this waveless sea, on the line of towering mountains beyond,--mountains so lofty, and yet uncrowned with snow,--and on the grove of palmetto trees which clothe the hill-side to the very shore. Not one cloud in the sky; not one breeze to stir the gross, rank foliage amidst which we are standing; not one sound from the wood, except it be the occasional and distant scream of a monkey. To our left,--look!--are six or eight little huts, if huts they may be called as rudely fabricated as are these dwellings; all roof and no sides: places where you may take shelter from a tropical shower or in the dangerous night, but nothing more. And see! on yonder little mound, evidently the work of man's hand, that horrible grinning idol which represents the tutelary god of the village; a stone, rudely carved out into the likeness of a head set on a deformed body, without legs or arms, but having feet and hands springing out of its wretched carcase, and painted with vermilion according to the uncouth skill of the native artist. Would you know where we are? This little island on which we stand is called Kapini; yonder country beyond the blue strait is the great island of Sumatra. Both, lands where nature, or rather the God of nature, has poured forth the richest blessings: spices, such as the whole earth cannot match, are teemed forth by the spice-trees of the forest; the rivers roll down diamonds in their sand; the straits and bays yield great pearls to the diver; there are fruits such as only tropical skies can bring to perfection,--the luscious mango and the delicious custard-apple, and batangos and momelettas, and the sun-fruit that glitters in all the brightness of its husk or shell, and star-cherries, and a thousand other productions which scarcely are known beyond the Spice Islands, and which in their very richness and plenty there fall to the ground and rot. But yet that glorious sky and fruitful earth form the darkest of all the dark kingdoms of Satan. Every foul superstition, every horrible lust, every cruelty which can make earth like hell, every violation of natural laws, there thrive and flourish; and the idols themselves, spotted up and down here and there in the partially cleared glades of the jungle, are such as no modest eye could look on without horror and indignation.
Now as we gaze on this strait, far to the left, where the shore of our own little island seems to blend itself with that of Sumatra, a white sail doubles the cape. In this dead calm it must be of little use to the navigators, whoever they are; but as the little vessel draws nearer, we see that, though it flaps idly against the mast, eight or ten rowers are urging the boat forward, and, as it seems, intend to land in the little cove where we now stand. A few minutes more, and they run it aground close under the palmetto grove. Those sailors, with their one loose cotton garment, are too strong and stalwart men to belong to this relaxing climate. There may be some ten or twelve of them; and they obey, it seems, these three who, vested in a dark cloak which almost points them out to be ecclesiastics, walk slowly onwards towards the mound surmounted by the idol.
"Let this, then," says the eldest of them, a tall, strong man of some five-and-forty years of age, with wiry limbs, well set, and dark in complexion,--"let this, then, be the commencement of our mission. Here, at length, the way seems open to us; our reasons for not settling on the mainland seem to me good and valid; and I think we shall best follow the instructions of Mar-Sebar- Jesus by making such an island as this our head-quarters."
"Well said, Mar-Xabro," said the youngest of the three, an active, quick-speaking youth of two or three and twenty, with a singularly bright eye, and whose every motion shewed that whatever his hand found to do, it would be done with all his might. "Let us begin by knocking over that that hateful Erection that sits and grins at us from the top of the mound."
"Not so, Denha," said Mar-Xabro to the deacon, for such he was; "one thing is to be done first, whenever we take possession of a land in the name of Christ. My men," and he called to those who were drawing up the boat on the beach, "give us the cross. A cross of teal-wood, made in pieces easily to be fitted together, was handed out by the sailors; and after choosing a smooth piece of sand, Denha dug a foundation for the sacred symbol, and three or four of the sailors deposited it in the squared stone which was to serve as the support of the whole. Then the priests put together the superstructure, and for the first time the cross was planted on the shore of the Spice Islands.
By this time the boat was drawn up high and dry on the beach, and the materials of a tent being handed out of it, some of the men employed themselves in pitching it. Mar-Xabro then, speaking to one of his companions,--a man of evidently a different race, much darker, and representing the type of an inhabitant of Siam or Pegu,--said to him, "Now, then, you must try whether you can make yourself understood. Here are some cottages of some kind; let us see if any one is within."
Yes: some three or four savages, apparently the very lowest race of humanity, were sleeping under one of the roofs,--three men and two women. Very dark they were, as they came forth from the wretched hovel, and stared with a stupid gaze on the new-comers; they had no clothing whatever, and Yohannan, for so the interpreter was called, could only understand a word here and there of their dialect. Mar-Xabro desired him to offer some of the trinkets with which they had provided themselves,--beads and gilded tassels, and shining bits of tinsel; and, by degrees, as many as twenty or thirty of the poor inhabitants gathered round them, eager to receive some of the presents, and offering to exchange what seemed to be their only subject of barter, fat pigs for what they could get. The companions of the missionary had by this time erected the tent, and fortified it with such a palisade as unarmed savages could not easily break through; and the inhabitants were willing enough to dispose of their pigs to the greatest advantage, by teaching their visitors the way of baking them in the ground with plantain leaves and aromatic herbs, which gave an excellent flavour to the flesh. While one of these animals was being cooked, and while the savages were still looking on in wonder at every action of their visitors, Mar-Xabro called his companions to vespers. Here I should explain that this chief of the mission was a missionary bishop; his second companion, Mar-Proud, was in priests' orders; and Denha, as I told you before, was a deacon.
While they are at their office,--they recited it in Syriac, and it was concluded with one of the glorious hymns of St. Ephraim,--I will explain to you how they came into such an out-of-the-way part of the world as the island Kapini. Two of the most flourishing provinces of the catholicate of Chaldæa were those of India and China. The see of the former was at that time in the island of Tabrobana, off the coast of Malabar; that of the latter, in the city of Si-ngan-fu, which in modern times has become so famous from the discovery of the Christian monument. But it was represented to Sebar-Jesus, the second of that name, then metropolitan of Bagdad, that further India and the islands connected with it, though possessing here and there a multitude of scattered Christians, might well be the station of another province. Alas! while he was fondly imagining another series of Nestorian metropolitanates, he knew not that his Church had attained the zenith of her glory, and that her downfall was to be so sudden and so entire. The worthy Catholicos entertained the most vague ideas regarding the new territory which he proposed to subject to Christ, and he made choice of one of his ecclesiastics, Xabro by name, as a man both of determined courage and of great learning, to head the mission. "My son," he said, ''I am credibly informed that in the, regions to which I send you, you will see the sun rise as a golden ball out of the sea, and very possibly reach the territories that lie beyond it; unless, indeed, you should first reach the end of the world. Your course is full of dangers; so also is it full of glory. Think then of our predecessors in this apostolic throne, how they in past ages, according to that saying of Isaiah, stretched forth the lines of their tents, and extended the borders of their habitations. Think how blessed John beheld an eagle having a tail of blood, who had the everlasting Gospel to preach." With such exhortations, Xabro and his companions left Persia; and travelling on foot, in process of time reached Meliapor in India, where the metropolitan, Dad-Jesus, was at that time residing. From this prelate they obtained an introduction to the richest Christian merchants in those parts, who despatched them in a vessel, freighted for that purpose, across the sea of Bengal to that which we now call Pegu. Hence, travelling overland, they reached Martaban, where they were kindly entertained by an Armenian bishop, by name Vagathevanch; and though they had a fierce dispute regarding the controverted points of their two sects, yet they were furnished, by the charity of some Armenians there resident, with the little boat in which we have seen them arrive at Kapini. Coasting wearily the long peninsula of further India, they then ventured to cross the Straits of Malacca, and again coasted the island of Sumatra; determining, by the advice of Vagathevanch, to establish the head-quarters of their mission, not on the mainland, but on an island, which might perhaps be christianised, and so become the safe home for future operations. "And may God forgive you, my brethren," said the prelate, "for your heresy, and further your preaching of the Cross.
Is it not sad,--I will not talk about heresy any more after this,--that while two different sects of heretics, the Nestorian who held two Persons in our Lord, and the Armenians who taught that He had but one nature, pushed their missions out into these desolate parts of the world, the Orthodox Church of the East had advanced no further than Persia?
WE will now pass over the space of seven years, during which time the little mission had grown and prospered exceedingly. Of the inhabitants of Kapini, nearly two hundred in number, there was not one who remained unbaptized; while on the opposite coast, and more especially in the deep valleys and wild recesses of Mount Ophir, a plentiful harvest of souls had been gathered into Christ. You must not suppose that all this had been won without much labour and suffering, without many a night of watching and day of danger: but won, nevertheless, it was. And few missions presented a more hopeful appearance, when the seven years had elapsed, than that which had been planted amid such barbarism and such brutal darkness of ignorance. The idol which Denha had been so anxious to overthrow, had long since been broken in pieces, and cast into the sea. The mound on which it had stood was now surmounted by a cross, and a neat church at its foot occupied the place once accursed by the worship of false gods. It was dedicated to St. Ephraim, whose Syriac hymns, translated into the Malay dialect, had been the comfort, not only of the little Church then existing, but of several of its members who had, in the lapse of years, been called to the general assembly and Church of the first-born. I cannot say much for its material; it was built of clay, and thatched with banana leaves: but there it stood, with its three eastern apses, each of them surmounted by the cross, and the broad narthex, or porch, which afforded shade and shelter in the noonday to those worshippers who were unable to return home between the morning and evening services. You are to understand that, according to the usual custom of barbarous countries, this little island, with its tiny population, had been under the nearly absolute rule of a chief, or head man, then named Abi. He, indeed, professed a kind of feudal subjection to the king of the opposite coast, himself a little potentate who ruled over a population of three or four thousand. But intercourse between the two islands was rare enough, and Abi had been a nearly absolute monarch within his own territory. And, to do him justice, his rule had been, on the whole, an upright one; and when he, at the expiration of the first year of the mission, received the Christian faith, there was no great difficulty in persuading those of his subjects who had hitherto hung back to submit themselves in their turn to the new teaching. I am not telling you of what ought to have been, or what I could have wished to see, but of what was; and, therefore, I am forced to confess that our friend Mar-Xabro, a little proud of his success, thought fit to assume a title of some dignity. He now called himself Bishop of St. Ephraim in Kapini, and Exarch of all Sumatra. This, I need scarcely tell the reader, is much as if St. Columba had converted the inhabitants of Iona to the true faith, and a few of the dwellers on its main island, and on the strength of that had called himself by the title of Exarch of all Britain.
When Mar-Xabro had received his commissions Sebar-Jesus, it was on the express condition of returning to Bagdad at the end of seven years, and of reporting his success. That time had now come; and as the Nestorian, in common with the whole Catholic Church, has always laid great stress on the presence of three bishops to perform an episcopal ordination, he determined to take with him Mar-Proud, whom he was desirous to have consecrated a bishop, in order that he might be raised to that dignity, either at Meliapor or in Bagdad. Denha had been for some time raised to the priesthood, and there were two other priests and three deacons, who were labouring on the Sumatra side of the strait, Mar-Barjesus being the chief of that mission. Denha, then, was to be intrusted with the guidance of the infant Church till the return, either of Mar-Xabro or Mar-Proud. For both of them, in taking a journey of such great length, knew perfectly well that they were exposing themselves to the greatest danger. Zenghis-Khan, with his horde of Tatars, had overrun Asia, thirty years before. But it was reported, even in distant Sumatra, that his successor, Mangu-Khan, had prosecuted the victories of the founder of his dynasty, and that he had determined on possessing himself of Bagdad, and thus putting an end to the Abbaside kaliphate. (Those who have read a little story called "The Lily of Tiflis," will remember how that kaliphate, some five hundred years before, had been established.) The overthrow of the dynasty under which the Nestorian Church had been, if not established, at least more than tolerated, could not take place without endangering the well-being, if not the existence, of that communion: and knowing how slowly intelligence travelled from Central Asia, it could not be without great apprehension that Mar-Xabro contemplated his distant journey.
Before he sets off upon it, I must introduce you to a few of the principal personages in the little flock whom he leaves behind: for we shall have to remain with them, and to interest ourselves in their welfare, while he is making his way to India, and thence crossing Beloochistan and Afghanistan, to the goal of his journey.
Abi, as I told you, was the virtual king of Kapini; and he still remained so, only under his baptismal name of Sergius. He was now some sixty years of age,--an earnest Christian after his sort, but not without the faults which a station like his would be apt to foster, a considerable amount of pride, both in his temporal position and from having been one of the earliest converts, and a great unwillingness to be in any way thwarted or to have hit commands disputed. His wife, whose baptismal name was Eudocia, was several years younger than himself: it was to her influence, under God, that his conversion was in the first place owing. They had four children, named respectively Adam, Elias, Cyriac, and Julitta. Of these, Cyriac had been admitted to priests' orders, and was now labouring in Sumatra. Adam, the eldest, to whom the succession would belong, was of a very meek-spirited, gentle disposition, and longed for nothing so much as to be the founder of some monastery, and to pass his days in it. Elias, on the contrary, by his quickness and courage and impetuosity, had won the hearts of his little kingdom; and Mar-Xabro intended, among other schemes which he hoped to carry out at Bagdad, to procure a few religious men, who might establish a monastery in his own far-distant diocese. Besides the royal family, if I may call them so, there were two others, who stood nearly on an equality in rank and possessions; you will hear of their names and members in the course of the story. At present, we must attend to Mar-Xabro's farewell, on the evening which preceded the day of his departure.
It was autumn, so far as any season in that tropical climate can deserve the name. The great leaves fell from, or hung in burning colours on, the deciduous trees j the sun drew to the west some quarter of an hour earlier than in the height of summer; a gentle breeze springing up from the Bengal Ocean just rustled the leaves of the palmetto grove, and rippled the little billows of the narrow strait. To the east, Mount Ophir rose in its unclouded majesty, except that one strong bar of dark cloud hung a third of the way down from the sharp single peal. North and south the coasts of the mainland melted into the blue distance; and almost immediately opposite Kapini, a white dome reflected the evening rays of the sun, and shewed that there, at least, Buddhism reigned, if not unopposed, at least triumphant. The inhabitants of our island were collected by that cove where the missionary ship had at first landed. Parrots screamed; monkeys chattered from the wood; birds of glorious plumage fluttered in and out from the nearer trees; lories and paroquets perched on the teal-trees, and seemed almost to touch them with fire. From the neighbouring pool the great bull-frog droned most unmelodiously into the evening air. The herdsman of Sergius was driving the hogs to the cleared space which served as their fold. All had a calm, pastoral, Christian-like look. The boat lay in the cove, and the inhabitants arrayed themselves in lines in front of the west door of the church. You saw how they were when Mar-Xabro first landed; now they were clothed and in their right mind. Sergius and his family were seated nearest to the church; he was distinguished by an extra garment of scarlet, the admiration of the whole island, over the single--call it vestment, tunic, or shirt, which you will--that formed the apparel of all the others. He was distinguished also by a kind bf umbrella, held over his head by a tall, swarthy servant. By his side was Eudocia, and beyond her the rest of his family, Mar-Cyriac only excepted. Behind, with some pretence of order according to their rank, were the other inhabitants of the little island.
Presently Mar-Xabro, now an elderly man, and much worn with labour,--for in the last three or four years he has travelled over a good part of Sumatra,--comes from the narthex, and delivers his farewell address. He reminds his little audience how every one of them, without exception has received the gift of regeneration, either from his own hands or from those of Mar-Proud; how, also, the Oil of the Spirit; how, also, the Body and Blood of their Lord and God. "And now," he continues, "it may be God's will that we who are about to depart from you may return again no more. You have heard somewhat of the troubles and commotions through which we shall have to pass. These, no doubt, are the wars and rumours of war of which the Lord spoke; but what He said to His disciples while He spoke of them, that say I to you,--Be not ye troubled. Whether it be God's will that we return or not, do ye remain stedfast in that faith which has been preached throughout the whole world; the faith for which the martyrs have died, and which confessors have witnessed with their sufferings. If, by the end of two years from this time, there are no tidings of us, then take some means of sending such among you as may be best esteemed, either to receive the grace of the episcopate himself, or to procure for you one who may be established as bishop over you in the Lord. And to save the time, it would be best to send rather to Meliapor, than to Bagdad. But this I charge you, that although the prelate in hither India be the nearest to us, yet as he preaches another gospel which is not another, I pray ye avoid him, as he that desires food would avoid poison. I trust that, by the grace of God and the favour of His chief pontiff upon earth, Sebar-Jesus of Bagdad, we shall so either return or send to you, that the episcopal succession may be carried on in these islands without the necessity of seeking to distant countries for this grace." And he proceeded to exhort them to pay all due reverence to Mar-Denha, who was over them in the Lord, watching for their souls as he that must give account, and to be mindful of himself and his companions in their long journey. Then he told them that at daylight the next morning the Liturgy would be celebrated in their church; and he invited them all, as it might be for the last time, to join with him in the Holy Communion, and in prayer and intercession for their welfare and his own.
You may imagine that a people so gentle and so easily excitable as are the inhabitants of those islands, were melted into floods of tears, and shewed their reverence and love for their Bishop by casting themselves before him, and embracing and kissing his feet. And on the following morning, while Mount Ophir yet stood a great black mass against the red eastern sky, that last Liturgy was celebrated. Supplication was made for the congregation then present, for "the glorious throne of the Oriental Catholici;" for "the priests of this congregation, that they might be delivered from dangers and devils and very evil men;" for "young men, fair in stature and possessed of strength; for the frail nature of women; virgins also, and the wedded:" and then arose, the beautiful prayer,--"Grant, my Lord, that the ears which have heard the voice of Thy songs, may never hear the words of clamour and dispute; that the eyes which have seen Thy great love, may also behold Thy blessed hope; that the tongues which have sung the Sanctus may also speak the truth; that the feet which have walked in the church, may tread the region of light; that the bodies which have tasted Thy living Body, may be restored in newness of life."
And then, leaving the church, and kneeling down once more oh the beach, the Bishop commended his little flock to the care of God; and so giving them his blessing, and signing them with the sign of the Cross, he entered the little boat that was ready for him; and which shortly after, favoured by a southerly breeze, was flying northward, like a white sea-bird, through the strait.
THE JOURNAL OF MAR-DENHA.
WHEN I was attached to the expedition which opened to Europeans the so-called consular cities of China, it was my fate to be detained at Singapore for about six weeks. While enquiring for objects of interest to while away the time, I heard of a Mahometan of property, resident in the island of Bintang, who was said to possess a choice and curious library. Taking advantage of a Chinese boat which was to cross the strait, and furnished with introductions to the worthy possessor of this library, I made acquaintance with its contents. Very curious they were: principally, indeed, books either of Buddhist or Mahometan theology; but there was one little volume written in Syriac which I soon perceived to be of much greater importance. Having possessed myself of it at a reasonable price, I propose here to give you the greater part of its contents, as they will throw light on the subject of this story, which indeed, but for its assistance, could never have been written. And thus it begins:--
IN THE NAME AND BY THE POWER OF OUR LORD JESU MESSIAH, WE BEGIN TO WRITE T HE ACTS OF THE CHURCH OF KAPINI.
I, Denha, the son of Simeon, the son of Juballaha, being left in charge of this Church and island of Kapini, during the absence of my blessed lord and master, the Bishop Mar-Xabro, on a visit to the oecumenical throne of the most entirely holy pontiff of all the East, Mar-Sebar-Jesus II., think fit to set down such things as shall happen to my flock, in order that when lie shall return again in peace, my said lord may with the more ease acquaint himself with all that shall have occurred. And I begin now at the feast of the Decollation of St. John Baptist, and about six months after his departure, proposing to carry on this my history from time to time, as events may happen.
There are in this little colony about 180 souls, all under the rule of him who was our first convert, Sergius. In this island there is no priest to minister to them in the things of God save myself : on the mainland (as we generally call the great island of Sumatra) there are two priests, labouring night and day to make some fresh inroad into the dominion of Satan. As for us, nothing can be well more monotonous than the manner in which our days pass: take one example as the pattern
We gather together for our matin service, to the number of some five or six, at about three hours after midnight,--just when the trumpeting of the elephants begins to be heard in the woods, and the deep, hoarse bark of the elk sounds out of the glades. By the time these are said, for our little congregation are not over quick in making their responses, it is nearly the fifth hour: and as I leave the church and go back to my cottage, surely never did God create anything in this world so beautiful as are our deep woods about sunrise: when every leaf on the trees, and every blade of the grass, is turned into glory, by the thick, full drops of dew; and the little golden beetles begin to creep across the path; and the cranes, burning in their crimson plumage, go down to the pool; and the orioles sing out of the more unfrequented valleys, and the dial-birds, and waders, and a hundred other kinds whose names I know not, praise God after their own fashion. About the first hour of the day I go down to our school, where most grievously do we miss both the learning and the patience of Mar-Xabro; there we are taken up some three hours, and when we go forth again the deep stillness of mid-day is coming on. Only the dragon-flies then sport over the shallow pool; where the buffaloes, plastered with mud, stand shoulder-deep in the water. At noon we meet the second time for prayer, (for, according to the rite of our Church, we are exact in this, that we never set forth the Lord's death in the breaking of bread save on the Sabbath and on the Sunday). After some needful rest in the very heat of the day, we assemble again for our afternoon school, and after that for vespers. And, the sun now drawing to the west, as the congregation breaks up, marvellous is the beauty which we behold in the evening woods; when the pea-fowl, brilliant in all their glorious colours, begin to shew themselves on the trees, stretching forth their deep blue necks between the branches, or as if in contrast with the rough brown bark; and the elephants repair in troops to their nightly lairs; and the pelicans feed by the deserted pool; and the palm-cat comes stealthily creeping forth to prey on the poor little birds at roost. And then, at our latest hour of prayer, which is the first hour of the night, we are lighted, as it were, by the brilliant fire-flies that flash here and there round our path; and by the paler and more silvery light of the stationary glow-worm. So all these things, after their kind and in their own voice, bless the Lord, praise Him, and magnify Him for ever.
September 4.--This day, as I was reading in my tent during the heat of the noon, and very sultry it was, for the rainy season is now coming on, and this is one of the burning days that precede it, came Elias to me, and said that a message had been received from the mainland speaking of the great depredations committed by tigers round Mount Ophir. It seems there has been, from the failure of the last year's crop, so great a mortality among the animals on whom these ravenous monsters usually feed, that waxing bolder than of common, they have entered into villages, and even into the towns, carrying off, not only children, but grown-up women and men. Finding that he was uneasy about our own condition here, "Surely," I said, "there can be no possible ground of fear that they should cross the sea and attack us? I thought that they shrank from all water, much more from such a strait as this."
"And so," he replied, "they generally do. And I have never known it otherwise in my life-time, nor has my father before me. But we have traditions that in former years such things have occurred. Do you not know that the coast to the north-east of the island goes by the name of the Tigers' Beach?"
"Yes," said I, "but not the reason wherefore." "The reason," said Elias, "was that some sixty years ago, or more than that, a large body of tigers swam over from the continent, and landing there, destroyed well-nigh half our inhabitants here. They say that the others only escaped by taking boat and that the found no further provision in Kapini."
"I hope," said I, "that there is no real ground for alarm now. Tell me exactly what you have heard.
"Nothing more," he answered, "than I have told you already; but I intend to make further enquiries, and we shall see.--How sultry it is to-day!"
"Hotter than I have ever felt it," I said.
"That," he returned, "means, I suppose, that we must expect a tremendous season. Oh, how well I remember the intense terror which the thunder used to cause us, when we heard in it the voice of God's anger, and knew no way of obtaining His forgiveness!"
Thus we talked; but he left me, I confess, anything but easy in my mind. I must consult with Sergius, and with others who have experience in such matters, in what way we may best secure ourselves against the danger, if danger there be. It never would do for the heathen of the mainland to be able to say, 'Because those islanders have changed their religion, therefore the gods have avenged themselves by means of the tigers.' I have not read ecclesiastical history to so little purpose, as not to know, when God has permitted any great affliction to befal a newly converted nation, how terrible has been the shock that it has given to infant Christianity. I remember how Mar-Xabro once read to us certain passages from an African writer, whom they call Augustin, in which he reasons against the idea then prevalent over the whole civilized world, that because Home had forsaken the gods of Romulus and Caesar, therefore they gave her unconquerable legions over to the hordes of the Northern barbarians.
Sep. 6.--Elias was right. The rainy season has set in with a violence that I have never seen equalled before. The very night on which I wrote the last sentence in this book, there came on a thunder-storm so heavy and so protracted that, truly, one might almost have imagined it the end of the world. Surely in some such manner it will be, of a very truth, when the Son of Man shall come. Half the huts of our poor people have been blown down, and those that are thus homeless have been taken in by friends and neighbours, with a most emulous love and Christian zeal. The sea rises so furiously high, although the hurricane has now somewhat abated, that it is quite impossible to have any communication with the mainland. We purpose to send a trusty messenger over thither as soon as the weather shall allow.
In the meantime, and as I am almost perforce confined to my hut, I will here set down a description of our little village, which may, at all events, be useful to those that come after me.
Between the strait that separates us from Sumatra, and the wood and jungle which perplex and entangle the interior of the island, there is a clearing of perhaps 700 paces in breadth. Immediately on the beach, is the mound where the idol once stood, and at the foot of the mound our church. The cross by which that hillock is surmounted is now a landmark, visible far out at sea, insomuch that, as I am told, Kapini is beginning to be known by the name of the Island of the Cross. Then, half a bow-shot from the church, is the little hut that I occupy, of one room only; almost close to it are the mission houses, now filled with those whom the storm has left homeless. These, as my own dwelling, stand apart from others; then begins the narrow village street, running up, as it were, from the sea to the jungle;--there were, till lately, some twenty-four dwellings in it; now not more than fourteen or fifteen have been left. That of Sergius, which is by far the largest, is built at the further end of the street, and perhaps forty paces from the village. It stands on a rising ground, and is sheltered very prettily by four great palms. From it you have a view, first, of the village immediately below you; then, of the west front and narthex of our church, the mound, and the cross; then, of the bright strait; and, furthest of all, of the coastline of Sumatra, with Mount Ophir towering up, the most conspicuous object in the horizon.
Have I caused you, oh any one who shall hereafter read this little book, to understand the position of the village? Behind it come fields of millet, and plantations of bananas, and rye-fields; then, the boundless forest, on which man has, as yet, made so little impression. It is absolutely impossible to cross it, the jungle being so low and intertwining. On the western side of the island there is a settlement, of about six huts, of the labourers who were engaged in tilling the land on that side. We can only get to them by going round the coast, a walk of more than one day, the beach being everywhere so fatiguing, and here and there sharp rocks, almost, rendering the passage impracticable. We generally, however, visit them in a boat, and the voyage, with a calm sea, does not take more than ten hours. Wild elephants, as I have said, there are in the centre of the island, but not many; also a few buffaloes. But of animals of prey we have none, except the palm-cat.
The rain, I perceive, has ceased; I must go forth and hear what Sergius would advise as to defending ourselves against the possible incursion of the tigers. .
Sep. 10.--Accordingly, as I proposed, I walked to our chief s' house. And directly I got a fair view of the strait, I saw a little boat, terribly buffeted by the waves, running over to our side. I had scarcely, begun to speak to Sergius, before there was another arrival: and Cyriac, soaked through and through by the waves that had dashed over his boat, stood in his father's cottage. After their usual salutations,--"And what brings you here, my son?" said the old man.
An old man he is, bluff, hearty, honest, to whom, r think, every stranger's heart would warm at once, as I remember mine did, when I first saw the heathen Abi.
"What brings you here? No bad news, I hope? And the worst we have to tell you, you know already, that Mar-Xabro has left us."
"I wish it were good news," returned Cyriac, "that I have to bring. But, in truth, I have none such. Our villages, for these last months, have quite been depopulated by fever. Our provisions are running short--for you know how reckless are our people in times of prosperity; and I can hardly tell you what ravages wild beasts have wrought in our more distant hamlets. They have here and there crossed a narrow strait boldly, have fallen on a village, as it were in a regular army, and half destroyed its inhabitants before they were driven off again into the desert. It has made me, I confess, not a little anxious about yourselves, and that is the reason why you see me here now. This village ought to be surrounded, as we are surrounding ours, and you ought never to lie down to sleep at night without kindling a large fire, and appointing a watch."
"But, my son," said old Sergius, "we have never in my time had such a visitation as this. I hope that things are not worse now than they have been in other stormy winters; we shall do, I hope, well enough."
"But, indeed, my father," returned Cyriac, "if you had lately been on the mainland--"
"Where I have not been for ten years," interrupted Sergius.
"You could see that they are worse, much worse. Some of our wisest men believe that, besides the general failure of food, both for animals and men, there has been a mortality not to be accounted for among beasts; and thus deprived of their ordinary supplies, the tigers have become bolder, and more desperate than ever. I should be more glad than I can express if I knew that you would take some such precautions as I am advising,"
"There can be no harm," returned his father, "in taking these precautions. I have often thought that we ought to have some defence to our village; and as soon as ever the weather becomes a little more suitable for work, I for one will set a good example in felling trees, and putting them to the best use we can."
"Remember," said Cyriac, "that if what we fear happens at all, it will happen soon after the wild season has left us. Now, for example, the afternoon seems to give a fair promise of being fine: why not set about what you confess ought to be done? why lose an unnecessary moment in such a work?"
"Will you stay with us, then?" enquired our chief.
"With all my heart, if you will set about this work at once. Get the people together; tell them what you want, and why you want it; establish a regular order of watchmen; get materials for your nightly fires; and if you like,--I have had some experience in such matters.--I will draw you out such a plan as I think would be most advisable."
At this period of the conversation Elias came in, and caught up the idea with all his own fiery nature.
"Let us set about it at once," he said; "only give me the order, my father, and I will get the people together in half-an-hour: if you will, I will start to the other side of the island, and you shall have them also the day after tomorrow."
"Call the people together here, if you will," said Sergius, "and I will try to stir them up to this work. You, my son," turning to Cyriac, "must tell them what you have seen and known on the mainland. Unless they think the danger near them, we never shall get them to bestir themselves."
Here I am obliged to leave off: I will our history at the first vacant hour.
THE TRAVELS OF MAR-XABRO.
ONE of the most glorious evenings that Asia ever beheld was settling down over the range of the Himalayas, as Mar-Xabro pursued his unwearied way to the central shrine, of his church. He was accompanied not only by Mar-Proud, but by a retinue of five or six attendants: on account of the great paucity of ecclesiastics, Mar-Proud, though a priest, was the Bishop's syncellus. They had been hospitably entertained, at the commencement of their expedition, by the Armenian prelate Vagathevanch; and findpg a vessel ready to cross the Bay of Bengal, had made their way to the banks of the Ganges, and thence passing the little hamlet that was afterwards to become the vast city of Calcutta,--and Benares, and so keeping the southern side of the Himalayas, they had now attained the highest pass of the Koosh Mountains and were about to descend on Cashmeer. Here, once more turning back, his eye ranged over the whole plateau of Tatary; a vast, unbounded, tree-less, hill-less, waste of poor, stunted grass; a barren ocean of uncultivated soil, dying into the horizon) all round the semicircle of view, without the least elevation, or even swell, rising from the plain. A frightful scene, unless its very vastness gave it sublimity. Here and there, dotted over it, were towns and villages and temples, brown spots amidst the desert; while in this direction and that, a darker line, usually straight as an arrow, marked out the weary caravan routes. Nearly in the centre of the picture were the towers of Leh; then the head-quarters of Buddhism, and the seat of the Lama. A land of darkness and of the shadow of death, indeed. You probably know that there is no religion which, as a frightful caricature, approaches so nearly to Christianity, as Buddhism. And the strange thing is that it is so much older, if the expression may be allowed, than our own faith. You know that it has its temples, divided exactly like our churches; its screens to separate their various parts; its sacraments of baptism, and of a hideous resemblance to the Holy Eucharist; its chants, not so unlike Gregorian; its sacerdotal vestments; and, above all things, its cross which is adored, aye, and was so centuries before the Passion of our Lord,--a cross fylfott, as heralds call it. You know that it also has its dreadful miracles; I do not mean delusions which are made to take the place of true miracles; but real, ghastly, lying wonders, such as may serve to-shew what the power of Satan is, if his chain be but in the least relaxed: the chief among them being that by which, on the death of the old Lama, an infant of a few months old is diabolically inspired to proclaim himself the new potentate, and so receive religious worship till his death,--a death always, without fail, in extreme old age. O most melancholy of all religions, which invites its devotees, as the highest reward of sanctity, to hope for annihilation!
This was the land on which Mar-Xabro then looked down; and from which Zenghis-Khan, some forty years before, had poured forth his swarm of warriors eastward and westward. Yon have heard how they swept over the fruitful provinces of Asia Minor; how Russia would have been annihilated as a nation, had not her Church held her together; how so completely did the Christian faith hide itself among the poorest of her children, that Chrestianeen, to this day, means a peasant; how Hungary was for a time overwhelmed by the torrent; how the newly converted territories of Prussia were hardly defended by the Teutonic knights against the hordes of the invaders; how everywhere through Europe, even in our own country, the commonest suffrage of the Litanies said, "From the fury of the Tatars, good Lord deliver us;" and how a pope, observing that such "infernal swarms could only arise from Tartarus," was the cause that the true name of that ferocious people was changed into that by which we generally know it, Tartars, instead of Tatars.
Mar-Xabro had been met the day before by a deacon, an envoy from Mar-Elias, the Nestorian Bishop of Cashmeer. Nestorian, I say; but in truth there was no prelate of any other communion far or near. The few Jacobites who were scattered over those regions were as sheep without a shepherd; and I very much doubt if, in the whole territory of Persia and Cabool, there was a single Catholic to be found. This deacon, whose name was Athanasius, gave a great deal of information to Mar-Xabro regarding the events of the last ten or fifteen years. He was a deacon, indeed, but upwards of fifty years of age, being one of those, of whom there have always been so many in the Eastern Church, who, while desirous to undertake to a certain extent the peculiar service of God, yet shrank from the greater responsibility of the priesthood.
"I will not say"--so he concluded a long account of the expeditions of Zenghis-Khan--"that our Church did not suffer through his conquests, but surely God preserved it marvellously in and through all. Here and there our metropolitans occasionally tell of a ruined bishopric; but our five-and-twenty provinces remain untouched, and our Catholicos receives his letters of communion and his rent-charges, as in past ages. But I am afraid that we have a worse ordeal to pass through now. My lord Mar-Elias has certain information from the Great Horde that an expedition is intended against Bagdad itself; and that, as the Khan of khans is now too feeble and aged to head it, one of his most ferocious officers, Hola-gou-Khan, is appointed to the task. He gives himself out, I hear, 'The Scourge of God to the Kaliphate;' and the poor Kaliph, whose whole life is little more than a change of couches, thunders out his excommunications against the Horde to no possible effect except that of irritating them. I trust, with all my heart, that our chief pastor will see the wisdom in time, of separating himself from all Mahometan props, as far as he can, that he may not be overwhelmed in the common ruin with the Abbassidae. It is most unfortunate for us that our Catholicos should be so new to his post, if, indeed, there be one at all. We, at all events, have as yet received no intelligence of an election."
"What!" cried Mar-Xabro, "is Mar-Sebar-Jesus gone? It was he that gave me my present mission. I have been hoping to cheer up the old man with the account of my success. God's will be done! Have you heard any talk of his probable successor?"
"Three names are mentioned," said the Deacon; "Mar-Makika of Kisibis, Mar-Denha of Aikila, and Mar-Abd-Jesus of Mosul. Report goes that the latter has the better chance. But, my lord, I would strongly advise you to make the best of your way to Bagdad. By our last report, the Great Horde had not yet moved: when it does, you will hardly be able to cross the country after it,--for the ruin it spreads is as the ruin of locusts; and though even from Holagou-Khan, if you come within his personal influence, you might be tolerably secure of safety, yet, woe to you if you fall in with any of the scattered bands of horse that fly over the country before the main body!"
"I will certainly take your advice," returned the prelate. "How many hours do you reckon it hence to Cashmeer?"
"By great exertion," answered the Deacon, "if you start before daybreak to-morrow, you may reach the city on the following night. My lord I am sure will give you every help for your speedy advance. Indeed, it is not impossible that I may have the honour of accompanying you myself to bear our Bishop's reverend and submission to the new Catholicos.
Accordingly, at the earliest possible hour of the morning, while the peaks of the Himalayas, a hundred and twenty miles to the south-east, were clothed in that most delicate pink which makes a snowy mountain reflecting the morning twilight seem as if it were part of another world, the little party moved downwards through the ravine which formed the caravan-road to Cashmeer. Who can describe the loveliness of those mountain glens of Central Asia? The rocks, of shapes so quaint that they seem troops of monsters petrified by the art of a magician; the glorious rivers, sometimes of almost inky blackness, a blackness which contrasts startlingly with the foam, or rather cream, of their cascades; the primeval woods, clothing the mountain-side to the very furthest limits of vegetation,--pines forming the upper zone, then oaks and beeches, especially league after league of the black beech, spreading such wonderful gloom over the traveller's journey for a whole day; the lower belts of flowering timber-trees, unknown to us even by name, but making a very paradise of beauty in the summer twilight. Even as far north as this, the tiger occasionally wanders; even sometimes in the perpetual snow the prints of his dreadful claws terrify the traveller. All that day they descended, carried in their litters by changes of bearers; and when they pitched their encampment for the night, they were eight thousand feet lower than on the preceding evening, and it seemed as if a late autumn had given place to an early summer.
Notwithstanding all the exertions of the party, twilight had settled down over the hills, here gentler and cultivated, when the domes and towers of Cashmeer rose before the travellers. Word had been despatched by one of the attendants, who hurried on for that purpose; and when they entered the north-eastern gate of the city,--called by the Christians the Gate of the Unmercenary Ones, by the Mahometans that of Omar,--Mar-Elias and a considerable body of his ecclesiastics were in waiting. Gravely saluting his brother prelate with the kiss of peace, but not at that time entering into any conversation with him, the Bishop of Cashmeer allowed the deacons and priests to lead the way, and then followed with his new visitor; the 118th Psalm being, as the custom was, chanted through the streets. As far as I have been able to judge, from documents which refer to cities of similar importance at that period, the entire population of Cashmeer might then have consisted of about 70,000. Of these there might have been, perhaps, 25,000 Cbristians, 35,000 followers of Mahomet; half the remainder being Tatars, and the remaining half Chinese: of the latter moiety, two-fifths being of the sect of Fo, and the remainder followers of Confucius. Something of this kind-- it is a point of history--was the religious division of the, cities of Central Asia in the middle ages.
Here important intelligence was received. Mar-Makika of Nisibis had been elected Catholicos at the commencement of Lent; and on Mid-Lent Sunday he had been consecrated by Mar-Elias of Gondisapor, Mar-Emmanuel of Arzuma, and Mar-John of Maipherukin. Great things were expected from the energy and talents bf the new head of the Nestorian Church. Foreseeing the storm that was about to burst over the whole communion, he addressed letters to Innocent IV. of Rome,--one of the many communications received by the Papal Chair which has given rise to a grand account of the conversion of the whole East to the faith of Italy. But the embassy of Mar-Makika was simply political. He called on the Pope, by their common hopes both for this world and for the next, as Christians, to give him such assistance as the new dynasty, which seemed fated to sweep away the Kaliphate, might render requisite; and he promised, in like manner, to give every possible help to any envoy whom his Holiness might send into Asia,--such missionaries being then by no means uncommon, in the earnest zeal of the new-born orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic.
Leaving Mar-Xabro and his followers in Cashmeer, I return again to their old companions in Kapini, the Island of the Cross; and what is written in the journal of Mar-Denha shall be word for word communicated to the reader.
THE JOURNAL OF MAR-DENHA CONTINUED.
Sep. 10. The year of Alexander, 1569.--As soon as I set forth my fears to our good chief, he entered into them the more earnestly because, he said, he remembered perfectly the account which his grandfather had given of the havoc effected by the tigers when they had swarmed here before. He summoned all his subjects, if I may so call them, together; and a regular system of fortification was at once organized. Eliseus the carpenter, and Elim-Jesus the smith, were our two head workmen: and assisted by Mar-Elias, who had seen similar works carried on by various sultans in Sumatra, they began surrounding the whole village with a tiger palisade. We began on the Wednesday: on the Friday d, which, as it fell out, was our commemoration of that great and holy doctor, Mar-Nestorius, who was persecuted to the death by the wicked and savage Council of Ephesus, it was my duty to preach in the church, and I took for my text that passage in Esaias, where he saith, "No lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon." Then first I shewed that by the word lion we may understand all kinds of evil and savage beasts; whether lions themselves, as in Asia and Africa; or tigers and leopards, as in Sumatra; or palm-cats, as here. All these, said I, shall not be found in that better kingdom whereof the righteous shall be counted worthy.
Whenever there was any break in the weather,--for this rainy season has been more than usually stormy,--we worked on at our task: none more diligently than Sergius himself. The nature of our defence is this: all round the village we have thrown up a steep mound, but more perpendicular on the outside than on the interior; and on the top of this we are setting up a paling, some four feet high, which we intend still further to strengthen by spikes, pointing outwards: the whole forming a leap beyond the ordinary power of a tiger. For, from the level outside to the extremity of the spikes, there cannot be less than thirteen feet. Hard at work are our smiths, in beating out these nails: I fear that we shall have to procure more iron from the mainland, before all can be finished according to our desires. At present, the mound is raised everywhere, though not everywhere to its full height: about a third of this is surmounted by the fence, and about half of that is entirely completed. As I look at the workmen and listen to the grating of the saw and the clang of the hammer, I remember him of old who so exerted himself in surrounding Jerusalem with a wall, and then prayed to be remembered for good according to all that he had done to his people.
Sep. 12.--The weather has been so bad that we have made comparatively little progress since I last wrote anything in this book. But one matter has occasioned me no small trouble. Last Tuesday was a morning of tremendous storm: the thunder roared and bellowed as if it had been about to usher in the end of the world; and such thick and fast lightning I never yet saw. But about noon the clouds parted and the sun came forth, albeit with a very watery gleam. Mar-Cyriac came down to me to talk of the season, for we have now entered on the Fast of Tenth month, and to tell me that he intended in these forty days to make an excursion beyond the blue mountains on the mainland, where as yet the faith of Christ has not been preached. I had asked him before to tarry with us beyond the first Sunday, in order that, as our custom is, he might then more especially preach to our people in the same fashion as it is done throughout the whole Church. But as the weather had cleared up, I besought him to walk with me along the shore, intending to return by vespers: and we did so. The sea still wrought and was tempestuous, churning up foam along our rocks, and here and there, against some more jutting promontory, sending up a shower of spray that was turned into a rainbow by the now slanting rays of the sun. There is to the north of our little village a path between the, beach and the enclosed field, where it is often my-wont to meditate in the afternoon, seeing that £hen the trees give a pleasant shade, and the draught up or down the strait stirs their branches and refreshes the traveller pleasantly. All along here were sad ravages of the storm: branches torn and hurled about, pieces of timber, as from some shipwrecked vessel, cast up on the shore; marvellous star-fish and other wonders of the deep, thrown out of their native abyss, and dying on the coast. But when we came to that which of old time was called Ganesa's Point, but which we have named from St. Marina, while we were yet at a great distance we noticed on the beach an object the nature of which we could not even guess: of a tawny red it was afar off; and when we came; nearer, to my great horror, it was the carcase of a drowned tiger.
This sight terrified us both; as proving that what one animal had attempted to do and almost accomplished, that a whole body of them might, with finer weather, without any great difficulty perform.
We returned again to the village, and the tidings we brought served to quicken the work. Even as I write now, hammers and mallets and chisels, the clamping of iron, and the fixing of nails and tenons, ring out furiously.
Tuesday in the Second Week of the Fast.--For the last three days the weather has very much cleared up, and, in consequence, our work is now all but finished. One or two gaps in the palisades still exist; but nothing that may not be easily filled up with a few hours of fine weather: for today it is as of old time; the Lord has opened the windows of heaven, and the rain seems as if it would sweep all before it.
THE CAVE OF THE ASSASSINS.
How shall I describe to you the next scene which is to display itself in the course of our story?
A huge precipice, the advanced escarpment of a range of tall mountains beetling above an inland sea; the waves actually washing the foot of the precipice, in which five or six caves had been hollowed out,--a kind of rude boat-houses for the inhabitants of that wild region. That sea is the Caspian; that beetling precipice is the abode--palace, if you will--of him whom the Crusaders called the Old Man of the Mountain, the chief of the Assassins. Him his followers owned both as spiritually and temporally supreme. A few thousands might seem their outside number; but, like the Thugs of modern India, each of these men held himself bound, under pain of eternal perdition, to take away any life obnoxious to his chief. Oh, how well the writer remembers, when quite a child, shuddering over the little vignette in some children's story-book, of our Edward I. struggling for his life with an emissary of one of these Assassin princes; and waking up in the middle of the night in terror as the scene came back on his memory in a dream!
The whole face of the precipice was pierced, or tunnelled, with caves worked in to a greater or less depth; caves themselves ramifying into separate branches and cells, and occupied by the Old Man himself, and by his principal followers. From each of these,. managed by projecting timbers and pulleys, a kind of roughly constructed car could be lowered to the surface of the sea, and so pulled up again; and to these impregnable fastnesses the Assassins owed their security in carrying on a warfare against the whole world. The inhabitants of the neighbouring shores yielded them a ready tribute, perfectly aware that to refuse the blackmail they thus collected would be to incur their most certain and speedy vengeance. And there were not wanting frightful stories of refractory merchants pounced upon in the night, in the towns that were so unfortunate as to border on the Elburz mountains, for by that name was the range distinguished; and instead of being sacrificed to sudden revenge, being carried to the Assassins' cliff, and there, at different heights, hung out by iron hooks till they perished of agony and hunger. But Holagou-Khan, whom, as you have heard, Maugou-Khan, the successor of Zenghis, had appointed his lieutenant to reduce Bagdad to his obedience, had sworn by the Kaaba that, in the first place, he would utterly destroy the whole horde of the Assassins; and in order to carry out his vow, he had already commenced the construction of a small flotilla at Karagan, on the Caspian Sea, the same flourishing port where at present the Astrakhan vessels exchange passengers with the Khiva caravans. For Holagou now had fixed his quarters at Khiva; and having exterminated the greater part of the inhabitants, as the ruins of that once famous city still remain to tell, was concentrating his forces more and more uninterruptedly round that place, intending to despatch a sufficiently strong body through the defiles of the Elburz to accomplish the destruction of the Assassins while with the rest of his army he marched directly on Bagdad.
Although none had better reason to acknowledge the truth of the proverb, "Threatened men live long," than the Assassins themselves, whom many a prince and potentate had sworn utterly to annihilate, and who had never yet been placed in actual danger, still the preparations at Karagan, the known character of Holagou, and his declaration everywhere reported, that if it cost him a hundred men to destroy each individual of the Assassins, he should consider the three hundred thousand very well spent,--which, by the way, is only another reading of the saying of that second Holagou, the first Napoleon, that omelettes cannot be made without breaking eggs,--did begin to occasion considerable uneasiness to the robber band. When, therefore, our friend Mar-Xabro, together with the Deacon of Cashmeer, Mar-Proud, and his other attendants, were, on the thirteenth day's journey from that city, taken prisoners by a certain Obeteillah, who haunted the valleys of Khorassan for plunder, Ali, for ,so was the chief of the Assassins called, hearing that the prisoners were men of note, and travelling with a safeguard from the Tatar horde, resolved to use them as his legates; being perfectly aware that to despatch any of his own followers on such a mission would be simply to send them to the speediest conceivable death.
And therefore now the good Bishop, safely guarded, but not exposed to any harsher treatment than was necessary for his security, was rapidly approaching, in one of the light boats of the Assassins, the crag which I have already described as their home. Had he been at leisure to notice the scene around him, certainly it was one than which it was not easy to conceive a grander. It was nearly sunset: the great, bold head of the robbers' peak, slashed and scarred into many a little ravine, by thousands of winter floods that had poured down its sides, stood out nobly against the western sky, glowing as it did with that tint which seems almost peculiar to the evenings of Central Asia, a powdered carmine. The waves of the Caspian rippled gently at the base; the sea stretched boundlessly away to the north; a faint line marked out the eastern coast; and where that shore came closer to the Elburs range, it was thickly clothed with pines. To the north-east, the moon, wanting a little to the full, shewed out like a white cloud; and the snowy latteen sails of four or five little fisher-boats caught the rays of the sun, as they streamed through one of the mountain gorges, and made a path of broken gold on the lake.
Mar-Xabro was too old a Christian soldier to have given very much thought at any time to his own danger. Besides, he had been assured from the first hour of his capture, that no harm beyond that of having to pay a ransom would befal him; and latterly he had been informed that even that would not be exacted from him. But he now cast his eyes up the face of the precipice, where, three hundred feet above him, the ponderous machine--half car, half box, suspended in mid-air by four chains, one from each corner, which, uniting in a massy ring, were dependent from an enormous cable--was gradually, and with a creaking noise that echoed far and wide along the face of the cliffs, lowered towards him. The eagle heard the sound, and started screaming from its nest in the most inaccessible peak of the whole precipice; while thousands of those birds who build in crags, sailing round and round the machine as it descended, gave a fearful idea of the dizzy height which the Bishop and his companions had now to navigate.
A sad colony of captives from various nations were employed in the village, built almost on the beach, where the robbers' cliff sloped away to the east. Although the Assassins themselves had no opportunity of making captives from distant nations, yet, as infesting the Horde, and taking, so to speak, the same toll from the Tatars that they took from the rest of the world, they had quite a colony of various peoples,--mostly children and women. Thus, while Mar-Xabro was waiting till the machine should be lowered, he heard a very sorrowful but sweet voice singing from one of the huts. To him the language was utterly barbarous; to one that could have understood it, it told a sad tale of some distant Lithuanian home harried by the Tatar horse, arid of a prisoner carried hundreds and hundreds of leagues over the Steppes of Russia, the mountains of Armenia, and the richer valleys of Iran, and here in an unknown land fated to wear away her life. You might hear the same song now in many a Lithuanian home; and here it follows in all the coarseness, but (to me at least) the wonderful pathos of the original:--
Poor little baby is wandering about;
Seeking its mother and weeping out.
Jesus Christ met it, and gently said,
"Where art thou hasting to, poor little maid?"
"Go not on, baby; too far wilt thou roam;
Wilt thou not look for thy mother at home?
"Turn and go back to the Cemetery;
There shall thy mother say something to thee."
"Who at my grave is there knocking so wild?"
"Mother, dear mother, 'tis I, thy poor child.
"Take me to thee, take me to thee,
Ill has it fared since thy death with me."
"Get thee home, babe, and thy new mother tell
To wash thy shift and to comb thee well."
"When my shift she washes
She covers it with ashes.
"When she combs my head,
There runs the blood so red.
"When she puts the shift on me,
She looks so grimly and bitterly!"
"Get thee home, babe! the Lord thy tears will dry:"
And the baby went home,--laid her down to cry.
Laid her down to cry;--one day only cried,--
Sickened the second day,--and the third day died.
From His heaven the Lord two angels sent;
They took the poor babe, and back to heaven they went.
From the hell the Lord two devils sent;
They took the bad step-mother,--and back to hell they went.
All this, however, was merely a kind of low, wailing chant in the Bishop's ears; and now the creaking of the machine, and the backing-water of the sailors, gave notice that the prisoners were to make ready for their ascent. The car was calculated to hold fifteen or sixteen without any difficulty; and, accordingly, not only the prelate, but all his companions, to the number of seven, and a sufficient force of guards, were at once taken in. As time was of no great consequence in the working of such a contrivance, the ascent was exceedingly slow; and the quarter of an hour occupied in hanging over the abyss, while the cliff-birds sailed round and round and uttered their wild cries, and the vessels below grew smaller and smaller to the eye, was sufficient to be a rough trial of nerves. But those were, fortunately, days in which nerves were almost unknown; and merely speculating on the strength of the rope which could elevate so ponderous a mass, the Prelate at length was raised to a level with the robbers' den; and being hooked fast to the side of the cliff by a machinery adapted for that purpose, the guards signified to their prisoners that they were forthwith to enter the cavern.
There could scarcely have been a greater contrast in the whole world than that which existed between the reception-rooms of the Abbasside Kaliph of Bagdad, and that of the Old Man of the Mountain in Elburz. In the former, luxury carried to its, very highest pitch, and power that scarcely extended beyond the hareem of the effeminate prince; in the other, the bare rock for carpet and hangings, and strength that could make itself felt m one end of Asia to the other. The chief of the Assassins, a man somewhat past the middle age, wearing the half armour which so many of the Asiatic tribes had adopted from the Crusaders, bare-headed, with grizzled hair and beard, was seated on a rude throne, not much better than a stool, at the upper end of the room into which, after passing through one small ante-chamber, Mar-Xabro was ushered. He wore the badge, as it were, of his race, a small dagger in his belt; but, notwithstanding the terrible reputation which he had from China to England, his address was courteous and even gentle, as he expressed his regret to the Prelate that circumstances over which he himself had no power, had rendered it necessary to request his presence in that spot. He had previously desired Mar-Xabro and his followers, of whom only Mar-Proud and the Deacon had been ushered into the presence, to be seated; three or four of his own attendants stood ion each side, wearing the common robes of peace, only surmounted by the dagger, the symbol of their vocation.
"You have, we are given to understand, letters of protection from him who calls himself Holagou-Khan?"
Mar-Xabro replied in the affirmative. "Are you personally acquainted with him?"
"He is about, so we are given to understand, to commence a war which he threatens shall be one of extermination to himself or to us. Now, although the dagger which Allah has put into our hands we know how to use, yet, if it might be so, we would rather invite him to peace. We know that Allah has made the sceptre of the Assassins as everlasting as the rocks in which they have taken up their abode; but we would rather see the Tatar army dashing in pieces the foul superstition of Islam, and breaking down the effeminacy of the Kaliphs, ruled by their concubines at Bagdad; and therefore we have for some time past sought for a messenger to do bur errand to the Horde, and we trust that we have found him in you."
"But--" began Mar-Xabro.
"We have found him in you," said the Assassin, "unless you desire to make that descent in a moment, up which you have but now been with so much toil drawn up."
"I was about," said the Bishop, "only to observe thus much to your Highness; that though I will willingly engage--safe passage being promised to me and to all my companions---to be the bearer of any message to the Horde, I cannot profess to have any influence there; and can only carry it in such a manner as the poorest and most insignificant messenger, if he were trustworthy, could do."
You speak boldly," said Ali, "and I honour you none the less for it; that is all that I require at your hands: as speedy a journey as you can make, and as true a delivery of my errand as you can perform."
"Both, then," said Mar-Xabro, "I promise."
"Then," returned the Assassin, "the errand is brief. Say to Hofagou-Khan that I bear no ill-will to him or to his hosts, while he works out the task that Allah has given him, and overthrows Kaliphate, and whatever regions, even to the furthest West, may lie beyond. But these mountains--they are barren enough--are ours; Allah has given them to the sons of the Assassins for ever and ever. And if he do but shoot so much as one poor arrow against these cliffs, his hosts shall no more protect him than the sheep can protect the shepherd from the tiger. As surely as I hear that he has taken the northern defile through the mountains, so surely shall one of these daggers"--and he touched his own-- "pierce his breast, and another that of his lord, the Khan Khaan, Maugou-Khan. Will you do that errand?"
"If your Highness requires it of me, it shall be done," replied Mar-Xabro.
"It is well," replied Ali. "Eat and drink with us to-night; and sleep in greater security than the Kaliph at Bagdad, or the Khan in his Horde, can ever do. To-morrow we will send a sufficient guard with you till you are clear of our mountains, and will furnish you with the watchword that shall protect you against any of the sons of the Assassins; after that you must shift for yourselves as Allah shall guide you. But if you fail in your plighted word, Allah himself shall not shield you from" the vengeance of our daggers."
It was but a choice of evils to which our Bishop was committed. To refuse to deliver the message with which he had been entrusted, was certain death; but to charge himself with it was not free from danger. If Holagou-Khan should consider the unwilling emissary of the Assassins one of their accomplices, it was not likely that the ambassador should escape. However, the future was in the hand of God; and Mar-Xabro and his companions, having stipulated for the safe conveyance of the message, were treated as friends rather than as captives, and presently invited to a feast from which they would have given much to be able to excuse themselves. The delicacy of the whole banquet contrasted strangely with the rude barbarism of the banqueters; wines such as the Kaliph himself--than whom no one more openly violated the law Prophet--could scarcely have furnished, were passed round; and the method in which the different viands were served, evinced beyond all doubt that the skill of some captive had been called into requisition. It was not much before midnight when the banquet came to an end, and Mar-Xabro and Mar-Proud were enabled, in the very confined apartment; or rather closet, set apart for their reception, to take counsel together as to their future proceedings, and to commit both themselves and the issue of their expedition into the hand of God.
September 18.--As soon as ever the sea became sufficiently calm, Cyriac was in a hurry to return to the mainland. He pledged his word, in case anything should occur of which we ought to be informed, to send a special messenger to our island; and so committing us, and having been committed by us, to the care of God, he took his departure, I and his brother Adam accompanied him down to the beach; and then, as we bade him farewell, I know not why, our hearts seemed to sink within us, and we were possessed, as it were, by a kind of presentiment that before we met again, if that should ever be, we should have gone through divers trials and dangers, more than, we had as yet experienced; Julitta, too, was with us. Of her, I have said nothing as yet, but that she was the daughter, and the only daughter, of Sergius. Now, thus much may I add, that not only for her riches, which were considerable, but for herself, for she was exceedingly beautiful, she had been sought in marriage, not only by the eldest son of the chief family here, next to that of Sergius, (he had been one of the last to receive the true faith, and, having received it, was one of the most earnest in holding it; his name, so called after that blessed martyr, was Thyrsus,)--but also by others from the mainland, as well Christians as heathen, But, I said not long since, as it was Adam's desire, surrendering his worldly goods, to found an ascetic house for the service of God; so also was it his sister's to give herself up to the same life in the midst of a convent of her own sex, as soon as the way should be opened thereto, by the return of our blessed father, Mar-Xabro. But. save to a very few, these her intentions remained unknown; and Thyrsus, who indeed was well-deserving of the love of any woman, continued to hope on, and in the meanwhile to exert himself to the utmost in carrying out all schemes set on foot both for the good of this island and also of the mainland.
September 24. For these last few days the stormy weather has returned; but the wind abated yesterday morning, and last night was calm and clear, though the sea, stirred up by the preceding tempests, still wrought and was furious. Just as I was about to go forth to our matin service,--which, owing to the evil weather, no one had attended for the last three or four nights, save our own acolytes,--Elias and Thyrsus presented themselves at my door.
"Nothing is the matter, I hope?" said I, as I went forth to them.
"Not here, thank God," returned Elias; "but whether on the mainland is a different question. Have you seen the light?"
"No, truly," answered I; "I have but just, as is my custom, risen; and when I walked in front of the church yester-evening, there was no light to be seen but that of the stars. What is it, I pray you?"
"Come forth," they said, "and look." And so going down to the beach, there was on the mainland a bright blaze, such as no common fire could have kindled. Now it seemed almost confined to a red-hot spot; anon it burst forth into an angry flame, towering up on high; then the fire-wreaths sank down, and it seemed almost extinguished; and then again they would rise more brightly than before. I stood awhile as one amazed, never having before seen any such appearance from the Sumatra side.
"What do you think of it, father?" enquired Thyrsus, after the silence of a minute.
"Nay, I know not what we can imagine to be its cause," answered I. "Have you never, either of you, seen the like before?"
"Never," replied Elias.
"Nor I," said Thyrsus.
"Let us," I said, "ascend the mound to the cross; we shall have a better view." Accordingly so we did; and now the conflagration was so fierce, as here and there to shed a trembling path of brightness on the strait.
"Can you make out at all," said I, "whereabouts this light shines from?"
We reasoned and pondered the matter in our minds, and came to the conclusion that it was certainly to the right of Mount Ophir, and therefore as nearly as possible on the spot where was the little colony that had been founded by Cyriac himself.
"Let us listen," said Elias; "in this profound silence, and at a distance such as that, it ought to be possible that we should hear a shout."
The strait--I know not whether I have said so before--was about 6,000 paces across. There was, indeed, a most profound stillness: only the breaking of the wave on the shore; and in the intervals of its flux and reflux, perfect stillness. Nevertheless, a wetted finger shewed that the wind, such as there was, was from the east, and therefore in favour of our hearing any sound from the land.
Was it fancy or reality? We imagined every now and then that we did hear a shout, as of
those who were engaged in some earnest contest; a shout as of men cheering on others to some attack or defence. Once--twice--thrice--four times we heard it; and after that, even fancy could imagine it no more. We--and by this time a considerable number of our people had ascended the mound--could manifestly perceive that the fire, whatever it might arise from, was kindled up at intervals; that, as regularly as it seemed to burn low, so surely fresh fuel was flung on to it. It was impossible for me to keep watch on the mound, as I had matins to say in the church; but when that service was over, and I went out, a fog had come on, and it was beginning to drizzle. However, I found Elias still on the mound, who told me that, till the mist had about half-an-hour before shut out the view, the flame still continued to shine as brightly as at first.
I felt quite certain that the next day would bring us some explanation of the phenomenon, whatever it might be; and went to bed again, satisfied with the thought. But when I again awoke, I found that the drizzling rain of which I had left the atmosphere full, had again given way to a tempest; not, indeed, of so terrible a character as we have lately had, but more than enough to prevent the possibility of our receiving any intelligence from the mainland. It continued through the whole of yesterday and to-day; but now the weather seems breaking again, and to-morrow we shall, perhaps, receive some explanation. The weather was too misty last night to observe any fire on the mainland, even if it had been kindled.
September 28. At length the mystery has been explained, and that surely in a way to make us anxious for ourselves. I said, not long ago, that Cyriac had told us now the little colony of Christians which he had founded on the opposite side of the coast, and which was called after the name of the chosen city of God, Sion, had been surrounded by a palisade, strong enough and close enough to keep out the threatened attacks of any wild animals. This morning, we have a message from him by one of his converts, Abraham by name. For some days the tigers of the mountains had become more and more bold, advancing even to the very palisade, by ones or by twos; and three days ago, a child, bringing back bananas from the banana-ground beyond the fence, must have been carried off by one of these beasts; for she never returned. No trace of her could be found further than this, that the basket with which she had been sent out, partly filled with bananas, but some of the fruit lying at a little distance from it, was found in the way which she must have taken to come home; as if she had been attacked while carrying her load, and the very pounce of the tiger had dashed out some of the fruit. But as it grew towards dusk that evening, the roarings of the beasts, Abraham said, grew more and more frightful; till at length, in order to terrify them, Cyriac had given directions that the pile of fuel always lying in the middle of their little square, (for Sion is built four-square,) should be set alight. Notwithstanding this, he says, the tigers made a regular attack on the place; sometimes retiring, as if having given up the contest, and then, with all the craft of their nature, returning again to it, on exactly the opposite side of the palisade. There was one among them, well-known to the people before as a man-eating tiger, very large, and of somewhat paler colour than most, and scabby and mangy, as those are that live on human flesh. This beast made most desperate efforts to get through the palisade, taking hold with its fore-paws of one of the poles, and trying to tear it up, or to shake down the whole. Abraham--used all his life to these animals--says that he never saw such a sight; that he could not have imagined them to be either so desperate or so wily. He thinks it is 'quite possible that they may visit us here. I took him round the village, in order that, if he had any advice to offer, we might benefit by it. He tells me that our fence is to the full as strong as, it may be somewhat stronger than, that of Sion: and encouraged us by assuring us that, as they were beaten off before I he did not think it would be possible for them; if properly resisted, to enter here.
Sergius and Elias went round the place in his company. He advised us to lay in a far more abundant stock of fuel; telling us that they must have burnt at least thrice the quantity that we have in store, during that terrible night. We took the Importunity of inspecting our arms, such as they are,--mostly poles shod with iron, and bows and arrows. But arrows are, after all, of very little benefit unless they are poisoned; and in such an attack as that which we have occasion to fear, poisoned arrows would be of very little use. It would be small comfort to us, if the monsters once made their way in, to know that in the course of an hour or two they would pay for their success with their lives.
One thing, as Elias most truly says, we do indeed stand in need of, and that is a better supply of iron. For want of this, many of our poles are only sharpened at the end, and then hardened in the fire,--a poor kind of weapon in such desperate necessity.
We were anxious to detain Abraham, with us, but he was desirous to return at once; and accordingly, the weather in the afternoon being moderate, he took his departure, promising on the part of Cyriac that we should again have intelligence of their proceedings on the mainland ere long.
Oct. 1. This day was the anniversary of the baptism of Sergius; we little thought of what else in future years it was to be the anniversary likewise.
It was his wont to give a banquet to his friends every year in commemoration; and accordingly, notwithstanding the evil weather, I and some eighteen or twenty more were invited to sup with him in the evening. Towards noon, the sun came out again; and the wind shifting to the cold quarter, the south, we doubted not that the weather would improve. Our chief, therefore, caused his banquet to be spread under the palm-trees in front of his dwelling. It happened fortunately this year that the day fell on a Sabbath, so that, to his great joy, the Liturgy could be celebrated. He had earnestly besought in former years that on this anniversary the sacrifice might be offered to God for his own welfare and that of the island; but Mar-Xabro dared not so far to violate the discipline of the Church.
So when the sun was drawing to his setting, we assembled at our chief's board: his own family, the two other chief families of the place, first among them Thyrsus, and all those who held any office in the Church. I have already told you that the dwelling of Sergius stood on high ground, the jungle beginning to rise two bow-shots behind it; in front the land sloping away, so that the eye could uninterruptedly range over the mound, the cross, the church, the strait, and so to the further shore; Mount Ophir having now a white shroud of snow on his highest peaks. On this occasion three fat pigs had been slaughtered, one for the banquet to-night, the other two for a general feast to be made on the next day to all the other inhabitants of the village, and to one or two who might come from the Tigers' Beach. A fourth pig was sent as a present to the little colony beyond the forest, and on the other side of the island.
After I had blessed the feast, we sat down cheerfully; and for awhile the conversation turned on the fearful season through which we had just passed, and we compared it with other the like seasons in former years. Old Jaballaha, the grandfather of Thyrsus, and the oldest man in the island,--they say he is upwards of a hundred, and he is one of the very few that can remember the attack of the tigers,---told us that, from that year to this, he could recollect no such stormy season as the present. He said that at that time, in order to turn away the anger of their god,--the same whom I, some six years ago, made a road with up to the church,--it was seriously proposed to offer a child in sacrifice; but that, because there was no man in the island who knew the proper rites, they resolved to wait till a x |p priest could be procured from Ophir; and by that time, no doubt by God's good providence, the stormy weather had passed. Next we spoke of our Bishop, and wondered what his toils might be, and how far he yet was from Bagdad. We knew that we could not expect to hear of his arrival at Meliapor till the coming in of the vessels which sometimes touched at Sumatra in the early spring. We had heard, though I have not written it down, of his safe arrival and reception by Vagathevanch, and of his departure from that country in a vessel bound direct to one of the seaports of Meliapor.
I know not how, but as we were talking of these matters, a gloom seemed to fall over the face of the earth. It yet wanted more than an hour to sun-setting; but whereas, when we sat down to the banquet, the sky was bright and blue, or rather--such is its beautiful appearance in these lands--purple in its very distance, now a thin film of cloud had overspread the whole. The opposite hills were almost blotted out, though the sun still shone faintly on them; Mount Ophir, instead of shewing his distinct peak and snowy coronet, faded into a white blue on the horizon; the sea seemed without a ripple; the palms above our heads, instead of the sweet music which they give out to the least whisper of the breeze, now were silent in a kind of ghastly quiet. And what we noticed as remarkable was this,--the elephants who haunt the interior of the woods began to trumpet loudly, which they were not wont to do at this time of the day; and by what we could perceive, from the gradual fading away of that sound, the animals themselves were retreating to the further side of the island; the elks also barked hoarsely and continuously. And this also was afterwards remembered. When we first came to these islands, the dog was unknown here: we had brought two, which the people, having no word to describe, persisted in calling hornless goats. The finest of these, a large, white-haired Persian dog, by name Dakka, was given by the Bishop to Sergius, and became a very great favourite. At the beginning of our banquet, Dakka had lain down quietly by his master's side, receiving every now and then a bone as his share of the feast. But now something also seemed to excite him: he prowled round and round the table, scented the air, trotted this way and that, and every now and then barked uneasily.
"I should be loath," said Adam, "to say anything which could cause fear or disquiet to any; but of a truth it seems to me as if the very face of nature foretold some change. God send it be not an earthquake!"
The company seemed disquieted at what he had said; so I reminded them that nothing was more common than such atmospheric changes during the rainy season, and that it was not, as of old time, when all was held to fall out by chance, but that now we knew in Whom we had believed,- and were persuaded that He could and would preserve us through whatever changes and chances He might appoint for us. Elias, too, full as always of vigour and courage, did what he could to inspirit the company. But, nevertheless, the gloom of the sky grew darker and thicker; and so it was with us. When the repast was finished, and we had rendered thanks for it to the Giver of all good things, we walked up and down by the side of the wood, separating ourselves into twos and threes; the wind, which had now risen a little, beginning to murmur sadly among the teal-trees and in the heads of the palms. With me there walked Adam himself, Julitta, and Thyrsus; and we talked for awhile of Cyriac and some other of our friends in Sumatra, the coastline of which we could now hardly distinguish. By this time the hour of vespers had well-nigh come; and summoning the acolytes, I set forth with my more immediate companions, Sergius, Eudocia, Jaballaha, and others following. Generally speaking, even on the Sabbath we had not more than twenty or five-and-twenty worshippers; but this evening the greater part of the village was present, both out of sympathy with Sergius, and because after the service they were to return for his present of the pigs, which being cooked in the earth, would be distributed to every one next day. We were, then, chanting the Psalms of the Saturday evening, and had, as our custom is, come to that, "I will magnify Thee, O God, my King," when, all on a sudden, we were disturbed by frightful shrieks from outside the church, presently repeated in the very interior. We persisted for a few seconds in God's service, and then I heard the deep, clear voice of Sergius enquire, "What is the matter?" and forthwith there came a suppressed cry of, "The tigers! the tigers!" In a moment every one rushed from the church; and laying aside my phelonion, I went forth too. The greater number had fled, or were flying to the village. Three or four were gazing from the top of the mound, Sergius among them. Thither I hastened also; and about three hundred paces from the shore, there was a dark brown mass, irregularly square, rapidly approaching the shore; and even at that distance, and in the waning light, clearly to be made out, a whole squadron of tigers.
So they had come at last.
MAR-XABRO'S EMBASSY TO HOLAGOU-KHAN.
PERHAPS at the very same moment when Kapini was thus threatened, its Bishop was also approaching the crisis of his own peril.
ft is difficult to give you the idea of one of those Tatar encampments. It was rather the migration of a military nation, than the march of an army. An expedition which began at the eastern coasts of Asia, and, after the lapse of-eight or nine years, ended in Germany, almost involved the being accompanied by wife and family. So here: the army, that is, the fighting men of Holagou-Khan, were reckoned at three hundred thousand: the families of these nomadic soldiers amounted to at least five times that number. Fancy, then, an encampment containing two-thirds of the present population of London, thrown down suddenly in the heart of a desert, where no possible preparation was made for its reception. Imagine how completely they must have swept off the produce of the earth from the rightful owners, leaving them and their families to perish from absolute starvation. It is difficult for us to realize what the misery of those hamlets must have been, where, for the space of a hundred square miles, nothing edible was to be found but grass and the leaves of trees; and where, as we know, a kind of bread was made of the bark of certain trees, and on that and grass some kind of sustenance was supported. And even in the Horde, now beginning to be called the Golden Horde, the food was such as others could scarcely have endured. In one quarter of the camp, five thousand mares were tethered; and on the milk of these, and on quass, the spirit produced from that milk, thousands and thousands found their food and their stimulant. Further remember, that the only cookery that these tribes knew,--and of this, the viand was usually horseflesh,--was to lay the meat between the saddle and the horse's back; and the tenderness thus acquired stood to a Tatar mouth instead of the effect of fire. Might not those Western Liturgies well say, "From the fury of the Tatar, good Lord, deliver us?"
Through the herds of mares, through the outlying families attendant on the soldiers, through the outposts of the regular army, through the army itself, Mar-Xabro and his companions were led to the central point, where the Sultan Hola-gou-Khan, as his official nomenclature went, held his court. It was a large square: perhaps each side was two hundred yards of continuous tentage in length. Through each of these sides, there was a central passage, leading to the midmost tent, distinguished by the green banner of the Tatars. Here Holagou himself, and the favourite wife of the hour, were domiciled: the sides of the square were for the reception of the hareem, in which, however, the ideas of the Khan were, according to the usage of the times, moderate. He had not, on the present expedition, above three hundred and fifty wives with him; a moderation which shewed his anxiety to press forward, and economy of his household arrangements.
Holagou's tent itself was scarcely to be distinguished from that of any of his soldiers, except by the rich carpet, and by the chair of massy gold, a present from the Emperor of China, in which he went through his more important receptions. Here is the difficulty of describing to you the scene, such as it then met the eyes of Mar-Xabro and Mar-Proud,--that there was so much at the first glance, utterly and horribly and detestably wicked, that I cannot for one moment paint it for you. There was very little ceremony used in ushering the Bishop into the presence of the Khan; and the conversation between them was carried on by means of an interpreter,--an interpreter, as almost all of that class of men were, who was a renegade Christian.
Mar-Xabro produced his passport, received from the Horde, by favour of the Bishop of Cashmeer; described how he had fallen into the hands of a party of the Assassins; how he had been, much against his will, compelled to visit their chief; threatened with death, unless he would charge himself with the message entrusted to him; and how, finally, in compliance with the promise thus extracted from him, he had visited the Golden Horde, in the hope of obtaining an audience of its Khan.
"You are bound, to Bagdad?" enquired Holagou by the interpreter.
The Bishop answered in the affirmative.
"You shall have every safe conduct that you can desire," continued the Khan; "and till you are within the actual domain of the Kaliph, you shall be accompanied by a troop of our horse. I much respect the worshippers of Jesus Bar Mariam. I pay my devotions to him myself, together with other just men who have in their times been the benefactors of their race, and have suffered unjustly. But with the followers of Mahomet I have no peace. I desire only of you, that having seen our camp at your leisure, which you shall do to-morrow, you should yourself seek this vicegerent, as he calls himself, of the Prophet upon earth; this lazy, indolent chief, eaten up by luxury and self-indulgence, degenerate from the only virtue of his forefathers, which was courage; the very slave of women. Tell him that the appointed period of his rule has come: that I am charged by Allah to sweep his dominion away, as he swept away that of those who went before him. Tell him, further, that if it might be so, I would fain have no effusion of blood. Let him surrender himself to my clemency, and I will swear by the Kaaba,--an oath as inviolable to me as to him,--to preserve him for his life in all his dignity and wealth, restricting his rule to Bagdad alone. As it is, his dominion beyond that city is but nominal. Let him make me his friend, and all that he really enjoys now he shall still enjoy, only with my guarantee for its perpetuity. You understand? And you will charge yourself with my words?"
Mar-Xabro could only say "Yes."
"Then," continued the Khan, "as it is too late this evening to make any survey of our camp, a tent has been prepared for you and another for your attendants, which you will consider for the time your own. Whatever you need you have but to request; and if it lie within the power of the Khan to furnish, you shall have it at once. To-morrow, at whatever time you yourself please to appoint, horses shall be ready for you,--or letters, if you prefer it, to make the circuit of the camp, and the interpreter shall accompany you. And mark this well:--The law of you Christians, as I have been told by those that had studied it, enjoins you, so far as you can, to promote peace among all men. If, then, by holding back any part of the truth regarding our camp, you embolden the Kaliph to persist in war, the blood of all that shall fall in this quarrel be upon you, here and hereafter!"
"I will do your Highness's errand faithfully," replied Mar-Xabro, "And what I shall see of your host, that I will report without any kind of diminution. Further, I will cause your Highness's errand to be done to this Kaliph by one who will have far more influence with him than I myself have, namely, the chief bishop, whom we term the Catholicos, of our Church. His residence is also in Bagdad, and his predecessors, for he himself is but newly appointed, have always possessed great influence at the throne of the kaliphs."
He was about to retire, when the Khan desired him to remain for yet a moment, and bade the presents destined for him to be brought forward. Among the chains of pearls and ornaments of diamond which were then given to him, a cross was also presented, formed of rubies set in gold, which could not but excite the prelate's curiosity, the workmanship being utterly unlike that of the East. He, was told that it was a present from the Bishop of Rome to the Maphrian of the Jacobite communion. It had fallen into the hands of some of the robber bands which infested Iran, and had been taken from a troop of banditti cut to pieces by one of the Tatar outposts. So the gold and rubies which had been admired by more than one cardinal, and had been counted worthy of the express approbation of Pope Innocent himself, became the pectoral cross of the bishops of Kapini, until Satan again overwhelmed that island and the mainland of Sumatra, as it is to this day, in the darkness of Paganism. Go into the great temple of Balembang, near mount Ophir, now; and--what has become of the gold I know not,--but the rubies encircle the forehead of a ginning, filthy, ape-like idol, that is adored with great veneration in those parts; and to which--shame the very name of Christianity that it should be so!--the Dutch factory presents an offering or tribute of gold and spices yearly.
THE JOURNAL OF MAR-DEN HA CONTINUED.
HE little thought, good Bishop Mar-Xabro, as he left the presence of the Khan, in what a struggle for life or death at that very moment his flock was engaged. We will continue the journal of Mar-Denha.
"It is of no use," cried Elias, to "await them here: every man within the palisades!" And accordingly, in a couple of minutes more, we, the few stragglers yet left, had taken refuge in the village, now alive with every single inhabitant of the island on this side the jungle. Sergius was there distributing with the spirit of a young man, and the wisdom acquired by his own age, the various weapons to each of his followers as they might be able to make the best use of them: the iron-shod poles to the most adventurous and strongest of the men; those which had been merely hardened in the fire, to the elders; and bows and arrows to such of the youths as had made this exercise their practice. The women were to have the charge of the fire-pile, and to kindle it when the word should be given. Notwithstanding all the confusion unavoidable from the briefness of the alarm, there seemed excellent discipline everywhere: the position of each man had been previously arranged in case of an attack; and nothing now remained to do, but to make good the palisade where the entrance to the village had hitherto been left open. This, however, was only the work of a few moments, the fence having been already prepared, and nothing further required but its being carried to the exact spot, and stapled on to two very strong posts made ready for its reception.
In a moment the light of the pile blazed up high and clear: the dark wood behind,--the rows of huts,--yes, and even the more distant mound and surmounting cross, shewed out. Elias and Sergius, standing by the depository of arms, gave them out to one strong arm, after another: and this man went this way, and that man went that, as positions and duties had been denned before.
And then there was a strange sound on the sea-coast, as if all hell were loosed together. Howls, yells, roaring,--I had almost said, bellowing,--the wildest cries, the most dreadful and loud wailings. Perhaps two minutes more, and on all sides of our encampment the monstrous beasts were raging,--were ramping,--were endeavouring to clear the palisade by a spring,--were trying to pull it down by the tremendous strength of their fore-arms. Surely such attitudes of wild bestial rage were never seen before. Here, one creature, like a fiend that had taken that shape, would bound to the summit of the earthwork, and hang with all his force on the wooden rails, shaking them, gnawing them, yelling at them,--now throwing his dead weight on the fence, --now retiring for a few paces, and darting at them with the sweep of a whirlwind. Here one, by a leap which seemed almost beyond the power of even such an animal, Actually got his paws on the very top of the palisade,--his leg slipped between two of the timbers of which it was composed, and he was unable to extricate it, hanging in his agony on that one paw. Then how spears, arrows, iron-shod stakes, stakes hardened in the fire,--all, were launched into him; and with what a dreadful yell he surrendered life.
Yes, our men bravely stood to their work; and sometimes it was a question of pure strength between them and the beasts. Elias drove a stake with his full might at the breast of one of the largest tigers,--the animal caught it with his paws, and tried to wrench it from the hands of his assailant.
"Help, help, father!"--to Sergius, who happened to be close by.
Sergius wounds the monster in the right shoulder,--he relaxes his hold;--bounds up again, and is caught on the ever ready pole of Elias. With a frightful snarl he bites at it with those great white teeth,--is driven back,--and coming on the third time, one of the choristers fixes an arrow in his flank. Another desperate effort to surmount the palisade, and a common peasant opens all his side with the rudest of stakes. The pattern of the beautiful hide is blotted out in a gush of blood: the creature rushes on more wildly than before,--out chorister takes better aim,--the arrow enters the eye, and I suppose pierces the brain: down goes the monster, like a mass of lead. That is one attack; you may imagine what the scene must have been when this was one out of five hundred.
The women and the girls were in one of the cottages, praying. There were scarcely weapons enough even for the men, they therefore could be of no use. Oh what an earnest stream of supplication, oh what incense of much prayer, ascended thence to heaven! Eudocia alone and one or two others were at the fire: keeping it up to its full brightness, and kindling brands for such as could not otherwise be armed.
So for two hours the conflict raged. More than thirty tigers were slain: but not the least appearance of any relaxation in the assault. Two or three wounds on our side: none serious but one. Isaac, one of the fishermen, was doing his duty manfully, when an unsound plank gave way, driven in by the monstrous force of an old tiger, and in ,a second the beast dug his claws deep, deep into the poor man's arm.
Thyrsus pushes at the brute with a pole,--but arms at shorter distance are needed now. The tiger has Isaac in both paws, and would pull him through the aperture.
"An axe! an axe!" shouted Thyrsus; still pushing at the tiger.
Elias runs up with one, but too late: the arm is torn off: the poor man falls exhausted: they strive to staunch the blood--in vain.
"My father,--you are wanted."
Isaac is carried into a cottage: his daughter kneels by him and supports the head: the stream of blood cannot be stopped.
I speak to him of the land where there is no ravenous beast,--of the good Shepherd--of the safe fold: I commend him into His hands who is able to save to the uttermost: and presently Marina, a poor orphan, is weeping by her father's corpse.
So went the battle on. But here, and there, and all round the palisade, we notice one especial monster, old and grey, or pale-coloured; very large; the eyes bloodshot and protruding; the body mangy;--it is the man-eating tiger. None shews such craft; none displays such daring; none leaps so desperately; none shakes the palisades so lustily.
A cry,--"They are giving way!"
We fly to the place.
Sure enough, that last common effort of two or three, the man-eating beast among them, has torn up three or four of the palisades. Fire! Fire!
They run up with burning brands,--Thyrsus, Elias, and five or six of the boldest. From the smoke and the blaze the assailants are forced, for the moment; to retire. Elias, under cover of his bold friends, repairs the damage; clamps, rivets, cross-rivets, counter-clamps,--it is safer than before.
Thyrsus still holds the woodman's hatchet he had seized to liberate Isaac. For one moment he comes to the fire and speaks to Julitta.
A cry of horror.
A heavy whirr, and plunge.
The man-eating tiger has, by a desperate effort, leapt the palisade, and lights some <two yards from Julitta.
Now, Thyrsus, if ever!
Almost at the same time that strong right arm cleaves the beast's skull with the hatchet,--which cannot be extricated,--and the monster, in the agonies of death, gripes with his dreadful teeth his assailant's side. Six or eight stakes are driven through the tiger's body,--he yells out his life. "I have saved you, dearest one; and now I can die happily!"
Brave child! though the body of the monster still quivers with the convulsive writhings of an agonizing death, she first of all tries to loose Thyrsus from his gripe. It is beyond her strength. But at length the jaws, firmly fixed as by a vice, are wrenched open,--and he is borne to a cottage.
"Oh Thyrsus! you have died for me!" She supports his head, as others bear him onward. They send for me.
Is it fancy, or does the assault seem less desperately carried on? Be that as it may, my place is with the sufferer.
MAR-XABRO AT BAGDAD.
OH that glorious city, while yet the kaliphs, as the Prophet's vicegerents, thence gave laws to the Mahometan world! How stately rose its five hundred mosques ! how magnificently its crescents flashed against the noon-day sun! how its palms, whispered in the evening breeze to the marble fountains at their feet, where jets of water shed refreshment into the air, and were transfigured into rainbows by the slanting rays of the western sun! Luxury, luxury everywhere: luxury in the marble palace, and in the orange grove. But it is not with the shrine of Islam that I have now to do; it is with Bagdad, as the papal city of the Nestorian Church, as the Rome of Asia; the central altar of many a pure and loving heart, involved, indeed, in heresy, but involved in it unwillingly and ignorantly.
In the Cathedral of St. James the new Catholicos is holding his first synod. His first synod, and the last in which this Oriental Church appeared tin her glory. Miserable Asia! A long, long night of woe and ignorance was about to settle over her; but, for this once more, but, in this glorious church, her metropolitans were gathered together to testify their own union, and the headship of him whose ecclesiastical dominion was from sea to sea, from Siberia to Ceylon.
To all outward appearance, it was an assembly like that of Nicaea or Chalcedon. In the centre, but outside, of the iconostasis, sat Mar-Makika, the new head of the Nestorian Church. And oh, how gorgeous that iconostasis was! The word, you know, signifies the altar-screen; the Eastern Church having but little division betwixt the choir and nave, reserves her chief separation to distinguish choir from sanctuary. And what could be more gorgeous than the screen here? Of ivory it was, but so delicately worked, so curiously carved out, that every little tendril, every anther, every petal, stood out in more than vegetable life. Foliage of exquisite beauty intertwined and interlaced the upright columns; fruit and flower and bud, every production of the fields, every fruit of the trees, was brought out with skill that seemed superhuman. Yet ivory was only the main material of the fabric; chains of pearls interlaced and transfigured every portion; the seeds of fruits, the stamens of the flowers, were glorified with diamonds; here and there great rubies hid themselves coyly in an ivory fret of vine-leaves; the central cross above the holy doors was gorgeous with great sapphires. What marvel that this should so be? The Bishops of Meliapor had sent the hugest pearls of the fishery to witness their zeal for the house of God; the metropolitans of Lahore had chosen from innumerable diamonds the most marvellous treasures of Golconda: the prelates of Siam had sent coral of priceless worth; the Chinese Throne of Si-ngan-fu had contributed gold such as, in other lands, could not be matched.
And there they sat, those reverend men, in their chairs of state, right and left of their Catholicos, in the chancel and nave of the church; their priests and doctors seated on lower benches in front, the deacons standing behind them. Mitre, and phelonion, and pastoral staff, all displayed the outward glory of that Church; never, perhaps, so assembled before, surely never so to meet again.
Why? Because all now knew that Holagou-Khan was in full march on the devoted city; that the feeble Motassim had refused to listen to any terms of accommodation; that Mar-Xabro, though justifying his own credit with that of the most important of his brethren, had spoken in vain; that the advancing Horde breathed slaughter not to the Abbasside dynasty alone, but to the Christians whom it had more than tolerated, whom it had cherished and protected.
It was felt that the visible and tangible connexion of the Church was to be broken up. Wherever the Horde passed, there was utter destruction; how many of the Nestorian churches, ere the conclusion of the year, would thus be swept with the besom of ruin? Oh happy they who had been called home while that Church was in its glory!
Indeed, it was a scene that most nearly resembled that spectacle which, nearly two hundred years later, the walls of St. Sophia were to behold, the obsequies, so to speak, of a Christian Church. Think how many a soul, in the eight hundred years that had elapsed since Chalcedon, had owed its salvation to that communion; think how many an inhabitant of Thibet, of Cochin China, of the shores of the Yellow Sea, of Socotra, of Arabia, of Pegu, we ourselves, if only we are counted worthy, shall hereafter behold at the marriage supper of the Lamb, who owe their salvation to that great missionary Church,--and can you wonder that, spite of its heresy, I desire to interest you in its fall?
You may read, if you like, in other books,--in Asseman, in Herbelot, yes, even in Gibbon,--the account of the sack of Bagdad, and all its unspeakable brutalities: I only wished you to see the calm euthanasy of the Asiatic Church in its last synod within the walls of St. James at Bagdad.
AND now I have little more to say; and that little I will give you in my own words.
Prayer and courage prevailed in Kapini: the tigers were repulsed, and that without further loss than the suffering of which you have read. At daylight, leaving some forty carcasses behind them, the remainder of the monsters re-crossed the strait to Mount Ophir.
Thyrsus, for the time, recovered; but the seeds of death were in him: and never, perhaps, had he been so truly happy as in the year that followed.
Julitta could never be his; but, while he still lingered in this world, she would love and tend him as a sister,--she would cheer him, comfort him, help him to look forward to the better land, give all the assistance she could to him, till his departure should set her free to devote herself entirely to Christ.
He lingered nineteen months.
One glorious evening in April; he was carried, by his own desire, to the sea-shore. The coast of Sumatra shone out, like the outskirts of the celestial country,--so spirit-like, so azure, so faint in the spring haze. He lay on a rude mattress, drinking in each spring sound, or sight, or scent: Julitta was by his side; and, at a little distance, Mar-Denha and Mar-Cyriac, now paying a few days' visit to Kapini, talked of the past and looked forward to the future. The two spoke of that other world to which the poor, weary bark of one was drifting so rapidly. Living or dying, each was the Lord's; each would be the Lord's, now and hereafter; yet not so His as to forget each other; or rather, because His, therefore linked to each other.
A fresher northern breeze caused Julitta to look up. A sail round the point!
The little crowd gathers on the beach.
She stays at her post.
Who, waving the others back, comes hastily towards the two,--while Julitta clasps one hand of the sufferer in her own, and with the other fans the dying brow?
It is Mar-Xabro: Mar-Xabro returned safe after his perils; Mar-Xabro with an increased mission-staff, flying from the fearful scenes enacting over Asia.
But not of the future does he then think. The silver cord is loosening fast: do those eyes recognise him? do those ears hear him?
Julitta always loved to believe that they could.
Two gentle sighs, and all was over; and the Bishop, kneeling, prayed in the form of his own Church:--
"This Thy Servant, who with true faith and confidence, and in the orthodox belief, has been set free from this temporal life, according to the sentence promulgated by Thy equity, and has returned to Thee, O God, as to his first omnipotent cause; spare him by Thy mercy; reckon him among the number of Thine elect; cover him with the bright cloud of Thy saints; set him with the lambs on Thy right hand, and bring him into Thy habitation; cause him to arrive in the blessed dwelling of Thy kingdom; grant that he may be invited to Thy banquet, and bring him into the region of exultation and joy, where place there is none for grief and misery, and passion and sighing is at an end. Examine him not severely, since he beseeches Thee to deal mercifully with him, because of the errors to which this flesh, formed of clay and subject to sin, is liable; but in that terrible hour of judgment, have mercy on him!"
Reader,--I do not call this a story. But as a series of sketches of a Church of which, perhaps, you have scarcely heard, this little book may have its interest. I believe them to be true.