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Zachur with the Sack - from Harper's

 

A stately-looking man, wearing suspended on his left side by a strong strap a simple gray sack, while a well-filled leather purse hung on his right, was one day slowly wandering through the crowded bazar of Bagdad. He remained standing before one of the stalls, and then, after a little reflection, proceeded to purchase the largest and softest carpet there—one of those in which the foot seems gently to sink down, and the sound of each step is completely hushed.

The merchant was greatly surprised to see the richly dressed stranger without retinue, and said, politely, "Sir, as your slaves are not at hand, I will send one of my young men with you to carry the carpet."

"It is not necessary," said the purchaser, as he paid the price in shining gold pieces; "I can manage it myself."

He quickly took up the immense roll of carpet, and pushed it slowly but surely into his sack. Then, without heeding the amazement and shaking of the head of the dealer, he passed on.

His desire of purchasing seemed now to be thoroughly roused. Twelve flasks of otto of roses, from Schiraz, found their way into his sack; ten pounds of the finest Turkish tobacco followed them; then came, quite appropriately, a magnificent nargileh, with a long tube and a yellow amber mouth-piece, on the top of which he carelessly threw a heavy ebony box, inlaid with copper.

Notwithstanding the crowd, he attracted continual notice, and a dignified-looking man had long been following him attentively, without, however, addressing him. But when he had reached the middle of the bazar, where the best and most costly wares are exposed for sale, and when, as though intoxicated by the sight, he seized the most incongruous things, and untiringly pushed them into his sack—pearls from Ormuz and blades from Damascus, tons of Mocha coffee, and bales of silk, fishes and rings, bracelets and dates, watches, saddles, and diamonds—then the Caliph, for it was no less a personage who was following him, could contain himself no longer, and said:

"I have seen many wonders, O stranger, and by the beard of the Prophet, thou art not the least. Have, then, thy purse and thy sack no end? Why does thy sack not burst? How canst thou carry it? How canst thou find but one of the thousand things which thou art unceasingly cramming into it? And tell me, how will those poor tender pearls, which were too dear for me to buy for Zuleika, fare among tons and crates?"

Zachur—such was the name of the stranger—crossed his arms on his breast, and bowed low.

"Ruler of the Faithful," he said—"for it is in vain that thou hidest thy noble figure under a homely dress; thy portrait, painted by a Giaour, and offered to me in Frankestan, is also in my sack, and I recognize thee at once—Allah is great, and His gifts are wonderful. Thou carest for the lovely daughters of the shell? Look here!"

He quickly put his right hand into the sack, and brought forth unhurt, from the very midst of sabres and boxes, the double row of large milk-white pearls, which he respectfully presented to the Caliph.

The Caliph was astonished at Zachur's riches and dexterity, rejoiced at his present, and was curious to learn more concerning him.

"Then we will sit down there, on the broad stone steps at the foot of the murmuring fountain," said Zachur; and in a minute he had spread out his soft carpet, and lighted two nargilehs filled with the costly aromatic herb.

They sat down, with their legs crossed under them, peacefully sent little blue clouds into the air, and the stranger began his tale:

"I am the son of a poor man, O sire, and seemed doomed to poverty. But there stood a good fairy by my cradle, and laid on it this bag and this purse, saying:

"'Grow up, Zachur, and look around thee, in the world. Buy what pleases thee. Pay for it out of this purse, which will not become empty, and preserve it in this sack, which will not become full; but especially pack in all that is valuable—the weight of it will not weary thee.'

"It has held more than she promised. All that I have ever possessed or loved is contained, imperishable, safe forever, and always at hand, in this sack."

"Wonderful, highly singular, and wonderful!" said the Caliph. "But tell me more, friend."

"Details would take too long to relate, but the whole is soon said," answered Zachur. "Thou wast surprised to-day at my rapidity in purchasing—thou shouldst have seen me in my young days! When the world still looked sunny and bright to my childish gaze, when thousands of objects attracted me, my hand was rarely out of my purse and my sack. I took long journeys over sea and desert, through lonely villages and large cities, and whatever pleased me I bought, and joyfully put into my capacious sack. Indeed, it filled itself, without aid from me; shining green birds and brilliant snow-white blossoms flew into it.

"The first impetuous joy was, however, soon stilled. Sometimes a feeling of indifference came over me, and I passed unmoved by the most beautiful things, because I already possessed so much that was lovely. 'Another opportunity will occur,' I thought, 'if I should ever wish for it.' But it never came, just as no moment of time ever returns; and now I mourn over many a neglected chance.

"Then, again, I comfort myself with the thought of how many things I possess, and take old and new out of my sack, according to my inclination—a quilted silk counterpane from Japan in which to envelop myself, or the Egyptian phœnix to lull me to sleep.

"Besides, the world is still large, and Zachur is not old yet. I have still time to buy; and sometimes the old longing is very strong within me. Thus to-day, O sire, when I entered thy city, I gave praise to Allah that He had enabled man to form, out of the dirty wool of the sheep, the brilliant carpet on which we are sitting, and caused the fragile amber now between our lips to rise up from the sand of the sea—that He brought the gold from the bowels of the earth, and the pearls from the depths of the sea! And eagerly I seized the things, O sire, until the eye of thy favor rested on me, and the blessed breath of thy mouth reached me, and gave me what can not be purchased with gold and silver—the honor and delight of thy presence!"

"Well spoken!" said the Caliph, delighted, as he blew a thick cloud before him; "it is easy to see that thou hast travelled, and been in courts too, friend Zachur. But one thing, before I again forget it in my amazement. The Prophet, praised be his name! has forbidden to make a likeness or picture of man, the image of Allah. But as thou possessest mine, done by some unbelieving dog—I can not conceive how he found time and opportunity to do it—"

"They paint rapidly," interrupted Zachur; "and are quick in all evil arts."

"True, very true. I should like to look at the thing. The people need know nothing about it. Couldst thou not take it out for me to have just one glimpse of it?"

"Thy wish is a command to me," answered Zachur, who was already fumbling in the sack, but for some time in vain.

"Well," called the Caliph, getting angry, "art thou sorry that thou hast promised? Or—"

"Here it is, O sire," said Zachur, breathing freely; and the anger of the ruler disappeared as he gazed with curiosity on a small silver medal.

"It is I, and yet it is not," he said, shaking his head. "It is my fez, with the ruby clasp, and the embroidery on my state dress; but I do not really look so stiff. Where are the brown cheeks, the brightness of the eyes, the coloring, friend? And—what do I see?—the thing is broken; look here! there is a crack across it that separates the feet of my horse from his body. Therefore thou canst not keep all thy things unhurt in that sack—thou canst not find them all in a minute: confess thou hast also lost some entirely."

"I am the son of a poor man," answered Zachur, blushing, "but I learned two things when only a boy: to use a sword, and to speak the truth. Yes, I have lost many a thing; and when I was boasting just now that I had everything in my sack, I was guilty of exaggeration, as men of limited capacity are, in the use of the two words everything and nothing. I should have said most things."

At this moment appeared two outriders on swift Arab steeds, and behind them came a gilt carriage, drawn by four Barbary horses. At sight of them Zachur sprang to his feet.

Without for a moment losing sight of the approaching procession seeing the Caliph rise too, he quickly pushed his carpet and nargileh into his sack, and exclaimed, with sparkling eyes, "To whom does this magnificence belong? Though how can I ask? for who but thou, O sire, could call such splendor his own?

"How beautifully the Nubian in his purple contrasts with the gray horse, and the pale Christian slave in the blue silk with the shining black steed! If only thou wert a merchant with this equipage for sale!"

"Princes do not barter," said the Caliph, as he put a little silver whistle to his mouth, and blew a shrill blast, when horses and carriage suddenly stood still by the side of the fountain.

"But thou hast made me a handsome present, friend Zachur, and what is more, given me a pleasant hour. Take what thou praisest so enthusiastically; be my guest to-day, and to-morrow, or when it pleases thee, drive away into the wide world in this carriage—it must be weary work dragging such a sack."

Zachur crossed his arms on his breast, bowed low, and answered: "Thy favor is like dew on a barren land, even for the richest, and if I had not promised a sick friend to be with him this evening, I would willingly enter within the shadow of thy halls. Therefore let me go in peace; but these beautifully kept horses and carriage shall not go through the dust of the suburbs."

Saying this, he quietly pushed the Nubian with his gray steed, the black horse and his rider, the carriage and horses, into the sack, bowed down to the ground again, and then stepped lightly and erect toward the city gate.

The Caliph shook his head as he looked after him, went home full of thought, and hung the double row of pearls round Zuleika's neck.

Then he sent for his private secretary and said:

"Take a swan quill and a sheet of the finest parchment, and write down carefully what I shall dictate: the story of Zachur with the Sack."


Many of our young readers have doubtless long since seen the meaning of this tale shine forth through its thin veil. We should all be surprised at a Zachur, and yet, like him, we have each a faithful capacious sack—memory—into which, from our youth upward, we have crammed what is noble and common, pearls and pebbles, and yet it does not become full, nor our purse—our power of comprehension—empty.