LEAVING his heart behind him in the steppe, young Arslan rode gloomily southward. It was all one to him whether the wind whipped up great clouds of dust, or whether the air was still and the sun burned hot in a sapphire sky; his mind was filled with Kizil-Koosh. All the way through smiling Bokhara nothing beguiled his eye or tempted him to rest. The broad Amu was no barrier, nor the wastes of shifting sand beyond it. He had chosen his route haphazard and now doggedly maintained the direction. He would, he told himself, put as many day’s journeys between the girl and him as there were beads in her little carnelian necklace. Somewhere, far from the scene of his bitter renunciation, he would find a place and service. A good leader of caravans was always wanted.
One noonday as he rested under the high cool dome that spanned a wayside cistern, a strange-looking dervish glided in by the low doorway and, approaching with the offering of a blade of grass, held out his calabash and murmured the usual benediction.
“Nothing from me,” said Arslan morosely. “I am a beggar myself.”
“Do Kirghiz beggars ride such fine horses as the one I saw outside?” inquired the dervish.
A Kazak does not like the nickname Kirghiz (which means robber); but the praise of his horse outweighed the offense to Arslan. He gave an account of himself.
“ I am a Kasak of the Middle Hundred, , of the children of Naiman,” he explained. “No kin to the Black Kirghiz, who are, as is well known, descended from a dog. My horse is indeed a good one; but he is all that I own, and I have nothing to give you.”
The dervish persistently held out his cup.
“The Kasaks are rich,” he said in a wheedling tone. “They own great flocks upon the steppes, and when they ride into distant countries they carry their belts full of silver. As for you, it is plain that you are at least the son of a Bek.”
“I am,” said Arslan, “but my father was killed in a baranta when I was a child, and our enemies drove off our flocks: I have been caravan-bash to a distant kinsman; but he has been too stingy to pay the bride-price for me, so that I might marry. Do you think he would give me silver for my journey ? I tell you, I am as poor as the wolf on the steppe.”
The dervish, at last convinced there were no alms to be had, withdrew to the opposite side of the cistern, and there sat down. Arslan surveyed him curiously, and with no great favor. The man wore a tall, pointed hat in place of the usual Moslem turban, his hair and beard were long and unkempt, his clothing ragged and dirty. A small leopard-skin hung over one shoulder, a mace of fantastic shape was stuck in his belt. But the queer costume did not disturb Arslan so much as the man’s narrow face, long pointed nose, and thin lips. To the Tatar the Aryan physiognomy is forever unlovely. Moreover, the dervish had very dark, knowing eyes, and fixed them on Arslan.
It was still as death under the lofty vault of brick. The light came in by the round hole at the top; the face of the dervish was shaded and his eyes gleamed steadily.
“What countryman are you ?” Arslan asked to break the silence.
“I come from Persia,” said the dervish.
“A Sheah, then,” said Arslan. He was not much versed in religious matters, but he had heard of the dissenting Persian sect.
“I am a Sheah,” said the other.
“I am a Suni,” remarked Arslan gravely.
“We are both followers of the Prophet,” observed the Persian. “What is the difference between your faith and mine ?”
“The difference, as I understand it,” returned Arslan simply, “is that mine will earn me Paradise, while you will eternally be damned.”
This did not seem to appeal to the Persian as a propitious opening to conversation. He changed the subject.
“You Kirghiz — I mean Kasaks — ride all over the world on your fine horses, Yours, I should say. could easily carry two men.”
“He is strong as a camel,” Arslan assented.
“If you were riding to Merv,” said the Persian, “I would ask you to let me sit up behind you. I have traveled far and am footsore.”
“I am not going to Merv,” said Arslan.
“It is a pity,” said the dervish. “Merv is the oldest city in the world, and has been the richest. It was once part of Persia, and we Persians know it, and the secrets of the ruins that surround it.”
“What kind of secrets ? ” asked Arslan.
“Why, all the old-time splendor is buried in dust,” said the dervish. “But a man who knew just where to dig near Merv, there, could make himself rich in a single night. I know a spot in Giaur Kala, as they call the place, where a few hours’ digging will discover gold enough to buy ten brides, — even if they were fairer than the brides that await us in Paradise.”
“That may be true,” said Arslan, implying by his tone that it might also not be true. “But why do you beg, then? Why have you not made yourself rich ? ”
“The vows of my order forbid it,” returned the dervish. “We are allowed no possessions. But we may richly reward a true believer who will do us a charity. If you, for instance, will carry me to the outskirts of Merv on your fine horse, I will take you to Giaur Kala and recite certain charms I know to drive away the evil spirits that guard the buried treasure. We Persian dervishes have all the secrets of the Magi. The spirits obey us like slaves.”
“Then why don’t you command them to bring you a horse of brass, like the one the Persian king sent Genghiz Khan ? Then you would ride to Merv faster than the wind,” suggested Arslan.
He meant no sarcasm; he was not skeptical. But this particular long-nosed dervish he felt inclined to mistrust.
“My vows forbid it,” was the dervish’s imperturbable answer. “I must walk, barefooted, — except when I am given a lift for charity.”
Arslan felt this to be logical enough, and would have pursued the conversation; but there occurred an interruption. Voices sounded outside. A caravan had halted at the cistern dome. Presently there entered a number of Turkoman women with their children. Seeing strangers, they at first drew forward their head drapery to cover their mouths; but on becoming aware that one was a holy man, and the other but a youth from the steppes, unused to the stricter Mohammedan conventions, they dispensed with the form and proceeded with much chatter and laughter to spread the felts they carried, and settle down in a huddled group on the cistern’s edge to nurse their babies. The Persian remained where he was, but Arslan thought it as well to give the women the place to themselves and went outside. He found the men of the small caravan attending to the horses and camels and going about the preparations for a meal; and the venerable head of the party met him with a courteous invitation to remain and eat. It was not to be resisted. Arslan had gone hungry of late. He took his seat by the pit of fire over which the Turkomans had put a whole sheep to roast. The fragrance roused in him a pitiful craving, and he forgot all about the dervish and his proffered bargain.
The meal was served within the dome, the roast being carried in on a board. The women sat apart, the men tearing off pieces of the meat for them and handing it over. Arslan and the dervish (who was also invited, for the Turkomans’ hospitality will not exclude even a Persian) were treated to the choicest morsels; but there was little talk till the roast was nearly demolished and the feasters began to wipe the fat from their fingers.
Then, to the Turkomans’ surprised delight, the Persian revealed himself as well worth entertaining. He began to tell a story. When he paused he was much applauded and pressed for more. Only Arslan, being filled for the first time in many days, sat in a lethargy and hardly seemed to be listening. His dark eyes were closed to narrow slits, as if he were falling asleep, and the harassed look he had worn was smoothed from his young face. The Persian fixed him now and then with a long look as he spun out his tales; not a word he said was lost on Arslan. Were not the stories one wide web of love adventures, and did not every item of description, every epithet of praise the storyteller applied to his heroines, apply indeed to Kizil-Koosh ? Whether the Persian told of Peris or sultanas, was all one. Arslan saw his girl. Moreover, in every hero he saw himself, for the hero was always young and poor, and a traveler. The circumstances reappeared in every tale, and every tale ended happily: for the poor young hero invariably placed his confidence in the right quarter and so attained to fabulous wealth and the possession of his heart’s delight.
Day declined and in the first hours of coolness the Turkomans broke up to continue their journey. Arslan roused himself and went out to look to his horse. Ready to mount, he paused awhile, considering. Then he went back and peered in at the dervish, who was still sitting cross-legged on the cistern ledge. The afternoon sun shot in through a fissure and illumined the queer embroidery on his tall, conical hat. His eyes were closed as if in weariness.
“ Dervish, — wall you ride ? ” called Arslan. His own voice startled him, ringing in the dome.
“To Merv,” said the dervish quietly.
“ To that place you call Giaur Kala, — to the spot of treasure,” Arslan stipulated.
“Agreed,” said the dervish, rising to his feet. “You take me as near as that to Merv, and I will make you as rich as a sultan.”
As they rode in the amber light of sunset, the dervish up behind Arslan, holding to his belt, the lad’s spirits grew wide awake. He began to sing: —
Has the falcon missed his quarry ?
If I loved, I should be hunting —
But I love no one.
“How is that?” inquired the dervish. “I thought you loved a girl.”
“That was her song,” Arslan explained. “It was I who sat moping in the sun, in her father’s aoul, where I had come on my kinsman’s errand; and she sang it to tease me. All the people in the aoul heard her and laughed. I had only looked at her swiftly, once or twice. For why should a poor caravan-bash look at such a girl as Red Bird — Kizil-Koosh ? But she would not let me alone. She kept dancing past me, rolling felt with the other girls. There were six of them abreast, with their hands on their hips, hopping back and forth, pushing along the big roll of felt with their feet. So when they passed, I looked at her. Then she left the work and went and leaned in the door of her own yurta, and sang that to tease me.”
“What did you do then?” inquired the dervish.
“I answered her, of course; that is expected,” said Arslan. “If I had had no answer, I should have been hooted out of the aoul. I sang back a verse in her own strain, and the laugh was on her. But she sang again. We answered back and forth. I will sing you the whole thing, what she sang and what I answered.” And pitching his voice high to indicate the girl’s parts, Arslan sang: —
Has the falcon missed his quarry ?
If I loved, I should be hunting,
But I love no one.
Let the Red Bird fly too near him —
If I loved the flesh of birds,
Would I fail to strike ?
Should the Red Bird sit and wait ?
If I loved, I’d love pursuit —
But I love no one.
Of the falcon thou shalt flutter.
If I love, thy furthest flight
Cannot save thee from my kiss.
’T is a falcon tries to sing.
Do they catch their prey by screaming ?
I love no one — none shall kiss me.
If I love, I bide my time.
Time for singing ! Time for chase !
Will the Red Bird fly the Green Wolf ?
“I had her there,” continued Arslan, delighted with his memories. “Do you know the game of Green Wolf ? A girl takes a new-slain lamb or kid on the horse before her and rides away, and you ride after. The game is to pass her at full gallop and snatch the lamb away with one hand. If you can do it, you are the Green Wolf, and she has to kiss you; but it is n’t as easy to do as it sounds.”
“So you proposed that game?” said the dervish.
“I dared her,” continued Arslan, who was growing more and more animated and content. “And she stopped singing and disappeared into her yurta. Then everybody said I had won the contest, and laughed at her, and shouted to her to come out and give me a present: for that is the rule. After a while she came out with her nose in the air and flung me a present. It was a little necklace of carnelian beads; though a scarf, or some such thing, would have paid her forfeit. But her brother tried to discourage me and told me that Kizil Koosh would never ride in the Green Wolf chase. And I did n’t think she would, she seemed so proud. So I was very uneasy till the Day of Games. But it was all right. She entered. Her face was sulky when she rode forward out of the girls’ cavalcade, and they tossed the lamb up to her. She never looked towards me, nor called out any challenge, the way girls do. But I saw she was mounted on one of her father’s best stallions, and the other boys saw it too, and one of them said: ‘This is your chase, Arslan.’ Of course it was known my horse was good; my kinsman had to allow me a good horse, or I could not have been his caravan-bash. So then we rode; and we soon left the other boys behind; and out on the black steppe she began to circle, and the game was on. I kept riding past her and missing the lamb, for she laughed in my face, and I looked at her and grabbed the empty air. Then everybody came riding out to watch us, and every time I failed the crowd laughed. At last her brother began to yell: —
“‘Take your whip to him, KizilKoosh! Take your whip and chase the beggar home!’
“She heard him and looked like fire, and raised her whip to threaten me; and I heard him, too. I did n’t look at her at all, after that, but kept my eye on the lamb; and though she rode furiously, I soon had it. How they all shouted and cheered! Then Kizil-Koosh came riding slowly toward me, and she had lost her breath — ”
“ And then she kissed you ? ” asked the dervish when Arslan paused.
“Yes — she had to. That’s the rule,” sighed Arslan.
He lapsed into a dreamy silence, and they rode on while the sunset faded and the stars came out. The dervish attempted talk on other subjects, but the boy made no response. At last he began again, of his own accord, on the matter nearest his heart.
“Her father sent me word they would make the kalym as small as was decent: for it was plain we loved each other, and he would not separate us for the sake of a few camels, more or less. But my kinsman the old skinflint would pay nothing, — and I myself had nothing. With nothing one cannot buy a wife. So I rode away by night. But I rode through her father’s aoul and stopped beside her yurta. I ’ll sing you what we sang to each other. It was the end of everything.”
And once more imitating the girl’s voice with high notes, this time in a wailing melody, and giving the boy’s responses in deeper tones, Arslan sang.
I crouch in my yurta’s firelight.
Who is it comes galloping with the wind,
Draws rein at my yurta’s door to-night ?
It enters thy yurta and fans the light.
The beggar Arslan stops at thy door
Before he departs with the wind to-night.
In the pale steppe behind the aoul.
Shall my Green Wolf join them, leaving me?
I crouch and shake when the night winds howl.
The night-wind’s caravan-bash shall be,
And far will he lead the galloping train
Away from his shame and desire of thee.
KIZIL-KOOSH (wails aloud)
With gifts from Khiva and Samarkand,
And the dust that will rise from their trampling herds
Will hide for hours the distant sand.
Far out on the steppe to mark my grave.
The dust may rise from their trampling herds
But the wind shall roll it to hide my grave.
Since I am too poor to sue for thee.
Better to ride away by night
Than to face the shame of another day.
They traveled in the cool hours of the night; in the heat of the day Arslan would rest his burdened horse. At such times, when they were not sleeping or chatting with some entertainer, the dervish would beguile the time with stories to which Arslan was never tired of listening. He told of ancient times when demon kings ruled Persia, and their empire stretched over the whole earth; how Merv and Samarkand were treasure cities, surrounded by mighty walls, and the marauding robbers from the north rode in futile endeavor against their gates of brass; but how, by vast and complicated enchantments and counter-enchantments, by wars between demons of sky and earth these mighty strongholds fell, and their treasures were buried in dust.
And yet, though Arslan took the stories in perfect faith, every now and then he would feel a return of his first mistrust.
“If you should cheat me, — if there were no treasure at Giaur Kala, — I would kill you on the spot,” he remarked one day. The dervish quickly soothed him with promises. Another time, when the dervish spoke of treasure-digging by night, Arslan decidedly objected to such practice.
“I will dig mine by broad daylight,” he declared. “And you shall sit near me till I have it all.”
Again the dervish promised and acquiesced.
It was indeed in the hot hours of middle day when they approached Giaur Kala. The dervish pointed out the ivorywhite earthwalls from far across the plain, and though it was time to rest, Arslan had grown too eager, and they rode on in the glare of noon. They were passing through a land of ruins now, and Arslan was growing uneasy and oppressed. These lonely, broken towers of crumbling clay, scattered far and wide in the plain; these long, rounded, wind-worn embankments, gray and blank; these lofty pyramidal mounds, like monuments on the horizon; these intersecting dry canals, were all but illustrations to the stories of the grandeur and decay of ancient times with which his mind was filled. It looked as if the world had come to an end, and he and his uncanny dervish, the last inhabitants, were riding along, lost in spirit land. Most ominous of all seemed the steep slopes of the fortress they were approaching, — Giaur Kala. A few ruined watch-towers rose above its level top, towers weathered beyond all recognition of their purpose, looming like grotesque half-obliterate sculpture against the sky; one a lump like a monstrous head, another like some still, squat animal,—giving a look of life more eerie than the utter death of all else the eye could see.
They dismounted in silence at the foot of the escarpment and went up the gullied slope on a zigzag, Arslan leading his horse. The top of the huge wall proved but a ridge. There was a steep slope down again to the interior. The enclosure was like a kettle, but for one high, steep mound, gullied by rains, rising to the level of the surrounding earthwalls.
“That is the ruin of Yamshid’s treasure house,” the dervish whispered, pointing, and Arslan received the information in mute awe.
Down they went again at a zigzag to the kettle bottom, and there Arslan staked out his horse. The dervish motioned him to bring along his saddle-bags, and such reminder of the business on hand set the boy’s heart to beating strangely. He feared no danger; he feared the too sudden realization of his high hopes; it was the eternal dread of a new experience.
The dervish carried a fagot of dry sticks he had collected that morning, and ascending the cone to the flattened top, stooped and made a little fire. Arslan kept close to his side, and there was silence between them. Far on every side the land of ruins stretched to a blue sky, except to the southwest, where the fringe of green trees marked the inhabited land of men. The glaring sun bathed everything in too much light. The fire’s flames were invisible, the smoke rose straight into the air.
“Now listen,” said the dervish impressively. “We are standing over great heaps of gold and precious jewels; but there is a monstrous earthsnake coiled within this mound, and the treasure lies among the folds of its body. If we should waken it, and it should move, the earth would open and we should go down alive into the chasm. So I must find the spot where you can dig between the coils and not touch the body of the snake.”
“How will you find the spot?” inquired Arslan,
“Keep your eye on me, whatever I do,” the dervish commanded, “and whatever I say, obey me.”
He began a curious dance about the fire, muttering an incantation. It made Arslan giddy to watch the gyrations of the peaked hat. Presently, he knew not whether in response to a command or not, he was following the dervish, who was walking slowly backwards, making curious passes through the air with his staff. The smoke from the fire veered, got into his eyes, and blinded them; and when they cleared he was still transfixed by the Persian’s gaze. Now they were going down the slope of the mound, the dervish still edging backwards; and now they stopped on the edge of one of the deeper gullies.
“Here!” said the dervish. “The treasure lies near the surface here. Get down on your knees, and dig.”
So Arslan knelt in the gully, took out his short knife and began to stab the baked earth, so that the dust flew up around him. The dervish crouched close before him and crooned a queer incantation. Arslan quickly loosened the fine, dry earth and began to remove it with his hands. Presently he felt a hard object and held it up.
“Ha!” cried the dervish. “A sapphire ! Blue as the sky! A treasure for a sultan! Drop it in your bag.”
And Arslan looked wonderingly at the shining blue sapphire in his hand, and dropped it in his saddle-bag.
“What now? Upon my word, a little plate of solid gold!” exclaimed the dervish as Arslan took another object from the dust. “How it shines in the sun! Put it in your bag.”
Arslan gazed at the gold, saw it shine in the sun, and obeyed the injunction.
“A ruby, the size of an egg!” the dervish cried over the next find. “It would buy a kingdom. Put it in your bag.”
And Arslan looked at it, was convinced of its value, and dropped it in his bag.
“More gold vessels!” continued the dervish as Arslan dug. “A golden cup! A jeweled dagger, that! And those small things are pearls!”
Arslan sweated, the dust smarted in his eyes, the sun beat mercilessly down upon him. He worked furiously as in a sort of panic. It was not the fear that the next jab of the knife would touch a coil of the earthsnake, — he had forgotten that monster completely. His fear was a curious one, namely, that the dervish might grow tired of enumerating the objects of treasure and turn away his eyes before the saddle-bags were filled.
But the dervish continued to cry out at everything Arslan showed him, and at last the saddle-bags were filled.
“Enough! Rest now, and sleep,” the dervish commanded. “ When night comes you will pack your treasure on your horse and ride away home. You will ride northward by the stars, and you will show your treasure to no one nor look at it yourself, till you show it all to Kizil-Koosh. Till night comes, — sleep.”
And Arslan obediently dropped down in the dust and fell into a deep slumber.
He awoke by night and remembered instantly that he was possessed of vast riches and must hasten home without delay. His horse was whinnying to him from its stake. Arslan went down, lashed the heavy saddle-bags in place, pulled up the pin, fastened it with its coiled rope to the saddle, all with as much peace of mind as if he had been on the open steppe. The high walls, visible by starlight, the lumps of ruined towers against the sky, had lost all ghostliness to him. The dervish, who had given the place its mystery, was gone, and with him all thought of his tales and explanations. Arslan’s considerations were simply practical, — how best to lead his horse up and over the steep earth - walls; where to look for the constellation of the Seven Robbers and so find the pointers to the Iron Stake, the star that should guide him northward; and then, being mounted and on the way, how to cross dry ditches and canals.
Lost in love dreams, he rode northward through all the long hours of the night, till at last all stars paled together in the dawn. By a lonely well beside a hillock, in a flat waste of sand, Arslan halted, watered his horse,and drank. He had not so much as a crust to still the hunger which had begun to torment him sorely.
“Perhaps some one will come along and share his food with me,” Arslan said to himself, and encamped. He took the heavy saddle-bags down to relieve his horse. There was no grass. All about the well the earth was trampled by camels. The horse remained dejectedly beside him. Day dawned.
“ Here I am as rich as Sultan Mahmud, and as hungry as a beggar,” said Arslan, squatting down beside his bags, and beginning to unfasten them. He intended to feast his eyes, at least, by the brightening light of day. “ How many of these jewels I would give for one feeding for my horse and me. There would still remain enough and to spare to marry on.”
It was light now; light enough to see plainly when he thrust his hand into the bag and brought forth the first thing he could grasp. He held it up, wondering. It was an earth-stained potsherd of common ware. Arslan dropped it and reached into his bag again. Another potsherd! Arslan’s heart sank within him. He seized the bags and with a quick motion poured their whole contents upon the ground. Then he sat and looked aghast at the heap of rubbish before him. Broken objects of clay, burnt and unburnt bits of bone, coals, many fragments of pottery; a few rude stone objects of unmeaning shape, — these were all.
He gave one cry, — the morning wind carried the unheard wail across bleak sands. The east grew brighter, the sun’s shining rim appeared above the level horizon. The cheated boy still sat motionless, staring at the dross he had taken for treasure.
At last he began to think, and his passion rose. He saw blood.
“I will find that cursed Persian,” he vowed, “and by God! he shall eat this stuff to the last handful. I will cram it down his lying throat, — he shall swallow it all.”
With furious energy he packed it back into the saddle-bags, and lashed them upon his horse; but he had not measured his strength. Before he could mount, a ghastly sickness conquered him. His horse bent its gentle head above him and nosed his heaving body. There was no help near or far.
The sun had climbed up and begun to heat the sands again before the desire for vengeance could make enough headway against his pain to bring Arslan to his feet once more. He mounted and turned southward. His bloodshot eyes and moving jaws boded ill for the Persian dervish.
Two days later, in the afternoon, in one of the most populous streets of Merv, a Russian officer and his soldiers dispersed an excited crowd at the centre of which two men in frantic struggle lay rolling in the dust. Separated by the soldiers and jerked to their feet, the one was recognizable as a Persian. Blood ran down his beard from his wounded mouth. The other was a raving young Tatar, wildeyed, undaunted by the military, hurling maledictions at the Persian, and, till he was bound, still flourishing his peculiar weapon of assault, — a large, sharp-edged potsherd. The soldiers picked up and brought along to the station-house a tall conical hat, a round fur-trimmed Kirghiz cap, a dervish staff, and a pair of heavy saddle-bags.
In the spacious garden behind the governor’s house there was a mimosa-tree in flower, and over against its low-spread branches the servants set the tea-table so that the light from the tall wind-screened lamps fell on the feathery foliage and purple blooms. They put roses and fruits and many kinds of sweets upon the table, and at one end a shining, steaming samovar. When the governor and his guests came out and took their places in white uniforms with golden sword-hilts, and the cigarette smoke began to curl about, the scene was strangely brilliant and bewildering to the poor son of the steppes. Still bound and guarded by Cossacks, he stood in the darkness of an avenue of Karagatch,close by the tea-table, waiting for he knew not what. He could hear what the Russians said, but understand nothing; he watched their faces all the more keenly.
There was one man without a sword, dressed loosely in white, who wore glasses on his nose. His way of talking was slow and laborious, he often stammered; but whenever he spoke, everybody listened; even the governor turned toward him with respect. He sat between the governor and Arslan’s young officer.
They finished drinking tea; then, to Arslan’s utter amazement, some one brought in his own old saddle-bags and laid them before the governor. They were opened, the stuff was taken out, and spread upon the table. The young officer talked to the man beside him, who seemed greatly pleased and interested, and hurriedly changed his glasses for another pair that hung dangling by a cord on his breast. He pulled a lamp nearer, and gave a minute and eager scrutiny to the stuff on the table. He began to sort it into piles, talking in his stammering way. Water was brought, and the dirty objects washed and wiped on the fine linen. The things were passed to the governor and all the officers in turn, and everybody handled them as if they were something extraordinary, then carefully laid them back on the separate piles. Arslan repeatedly heard the word Giaur-Kala. The governor drew something on the table-cloth for the man with glasses to look at. The young officer was beaming. Indeed, everybody seemed delighted, most of all the man with the glasses.
“Do you see what I have done ? ” came a familiar voice in Arslan’s ear. It was the dervish. He, too, had been brought with his guard, and had managed, in the darkness, to slip close to his fellow-prisoner.
“What have you done?” asked Arslan, stupefied.
“I have blinded them, as I did you, — they think it is treasure, as you did,” the dervish whispered. “This will save us both. When they ask you, tell them we were bringing the treasure to show the governor, and that we quarreled on the way over a religious difference. Don’t tell them I fooled you. They are so pleased with this stuff, they will let us both go. I know what they are saying. I understand Russian.”
“And to-morrow morning, when your spell is spent,” said Arslan,”and they see that it is all rubbish, what then? They would send soldiers after us to kill us.”
“Don’t be a fool, — believe in me,” urged the dervish. “You know my power — I can make my enchantment strong enough to last till we are far away.”
“Save your own skin with your magic,” answered Arslan. “If I am asked, I’ll tell the truth.”
“Fool! Accursed Kirghiz dullard!” hissed the Persian. “If you don’t obey me, you ’ll be shot. The soldiers said you would be shot for assaulting me in the street.”
“I ’ll be shot then, and not have you to thank for my life,” snarled Arslan, “for you have the soul of a fly.”
A moment later he was really called for. His guard pushed him forward into the circle of light. The Russians looked him over rather kindly. Of course! they were thinking he had brought them a great treasure.
The governor, it appeared, could speak Kasak. “You dug these things out of the ground at Giaur Kala, you have said?” he asked.
“I did,” said Arslan.
“ Why did you ? ”
Arslan threw back his head and spoke loudly: “Because I was charmed and cheated by that Persian back there, just as you are being charmed and cheated, son of Russ,” he declared. “To me, also, it looked like red gold and fine jewels; but it is nothing but rubbish, as you will see when that cursed dervish is gone, and your eyes wake up.”
The governor turned with a grave face to the others and translated what Arslan had said; and the whole crowd went off into shouts of laughter. The man with the glasses laughed hardest, he had to take his glasses off and wipe them dry; and then he put on his first pair again, and peered at Arslan with a look of the keenest interest.
“You say all this has no value ?” the governor asked Arslan finally.
“ On the word of a Kasak, it is nothing but clay and bones and stones,” said Arslan earnestly, “Laugh now, — you will not laugh to-morrow. I have experienced it.”
“But why do you undeceive us, Kasak?” asked the governor. “Would I not let you go free with a present, if I thought you had brought me all this treasure ? Even though you deserve to be shot?”
“I am no liar,” said Arslan sullenly. “I’ll take no part in the Persian’s deviltry. I tell you that stuff is not gold, but dust.”
The governor translated. The man of the glasses was still peering at Arslan with a look of huge enjoyment. Now he pointed to him, and made a stammering request of the governor.
“This gentleman wants to hear the whole story of how you came to dig at Giaur Kala,” said the governor to Arslan. “Tell it all, it will be to your advantage.”
So Arslan told it. As he talked, the governor translated and the Russians often laughed, especially over Arslan’s sickness at the well, when he had discovered that his treasure was turned to dross. Only the man with the glasses did not laugh there, but with great effort made something known to the governor; at which the officers laughed again and many nodded and made some exclamation.
“ This gentleman wants me to tell you,’ said the governor to Arslan, “that he, too, has had your experience, and seen things he prized as treasures turn to dust and ashes in his hands. And these gentlemen all say they have had such experiences. That is why they laugh so at it. You see, you are not alone.”
Then the Persian was called for. His examination was short. He tried to speak, but the governor signed to the soldiers and gave a command, and he was led away into the darkness. There followed a long talk between the governor and the man with glasses. At last the former turned once more upon Arslan.
“Now listen,” he said, “and try to understand what I tell you.”
And Arslan gave his wdiole attention; but as for understanding, he could not in the least. It sounded like sheer nonsense. This man with the glasses, the governor said, was of great wealth and power; but what he liked best was just such things as were here spread on the table. He would travel very far to find a spot where such stuff could be dug, and when he had dug it, he would carry it home. He even wrote books about it. It was of great importance to him now that just such pottery as this was found at Giaur Kala. Early the next morning he would ride to see the place, and Arslan should go with him. Moreover, if all was true, and Arslan could show the very hole he had dug, this powerful and wealthy man would consider it a service rendered, and would like to pay for that service. He would give Arslan the kalym, the bride price for the purchase of Kizil-Koosh, so that Arslan might go home and marry; for the governor himself would pardon Arslan’s criminal attack upon the Persian. As soon as he had been to Giaur Kala, he should be free. The governor knew the Kasaks, he had often been a guest in their yurtas. They were brave, honest men, whom the Russians loved. Let Arslan remember, when he came home, to tell his people how he had received kind and generous treatment at the hands of the Russ.
No, Arslan never understood it wholly, though he got an inkling of it as his years increased, and experience rolled behind him, for he would sometimes remark, “The worth of a thing is all in a man’s own eye.”