The Prince, as the Jew preferred to be called, kept his house closely quite a month, resting, not hibernating. He took exercise daily on the flat roof; and walking to and fro there, found three objects of attraction: the hill to the southwest with the church upon it, the Palace of Blacherne off further in the west, and the Tower of Galata. The latter, across the Golden Horn in the north, arose boldly, like a light-house on a cliff; yet, for a reason–probably because it had connection with the subject of his incessant meditations–he paused oftenest to gaze at the Palace.
He was in his study one day deeply absorbed. The sun, nearing meridian, poured a stream of white light through the south window, flooding the table at which he sat. That the reader may know something of the paths the Mystic most frequented when in meditation, we will make free with one of the privileges belonging to us as a chronicler.
The volume directly in front of him on the table, done in olive wood strengthened at the corners with silver, was near two feet in length, and one and a half in width; when closed, it would be about one foot thick. Now he had many wonderful rare and rich antiques, but none so the apple of his eye as this; for it was one of the fifty Holy Bibles of Greek transcription ordered by Constantine the Great.
At his right, held flat by weights, were the Sacred Books of China, in form a roll of broad-leafed vellum.
At his left, a roll somewhat similar in form and at the moment open, lay the Rig-Veda of the Aryans in Sanscrit.
The fourth book was the Avesta of Zoroaster–a collection of MSS. stitched together, and exquisitely rendered by Parse devas into the Zend language.
A fifth book was the Koran.
The arrangement of the volumes around the Judean Bible was silently expressive of the student’s superior respect; and as from time to time, after reading a paragraph from one of the others, he returned to the great central treasure, it was apparent he was making a close comparison of texts with reference to a particular theme, using the Scriptures as a standard. Most of the time he kept the forefinger of his left hand on what is now known as the fourteenth verse of the third chapter of Exodus–"And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." If, as the Prince himself had declared, religion were indeed the study of most interest to the greatest number of men, he was logically consistent in comparing the definitions of God in the Bibles of theistic nations. So had he occupied himself since morning. The shrewd reader will at once discern the theme of his comparative study.
At length he grew weary of bending over the books, and of the persistent fixedness of attention required for the pursuit of fine shades of meaning in many different languages. He threw his arms up in aid of a yawn, and turned partly around, his eyes outrunning the movement of his body. The half-introverted glance brightened with a gleam, and remained fixed, while the arms dropped down. He could only look in wonder at what he saw–eyes black and almost large as his own gazing at him in timid surprise. Beholding nothing but the eyes, he had the awesome feeling which attends imagining a spirit suddenly risen; then he saw a forehead low, round, and white, half shaded by fluffs of dark hair; then a face of cherubic color and regularity, to which the eyes gave an indefinable innocency of expression.
Every one knows the effect of trifles on the memory. A verse or a word, the smell of a flower, a lock of hair, a turn in music, will not merely bring the past back, but invest it with a miraculous recurrency of events. The Prince’s gaze endured. He stretched his hand out as if fearful lest what he saw might vanish. The gesture was at once an impulse and an expression. There was a time–tradition says it was the year in which he provoked the curse–when he had wife and child. To one of them, possibly both, the eyes then looking into his might have belonged. The likeness unmanned him. The hand he stretched forth fell lightly upon the head of the intruder.
"What are you?" he said.
The vagueness of the expression will serve excellently as a definition of his condition; at the same time it plunged the child addressed into doubt. Presently she answered:
"I am a little girl."
Accepting the simplicity of the reply as evidence of innocency too extreme for fear, he took the visitor in his arms, and sat her on his knee.
"I did not mean to ask what you are, but who?" he said.
"Uel is my father."
"Uel? Well, he is my friend, and I am his; therefore you and I should be friends. What is your name?"
"He calls me Gul Bahar."
"Oh! That is Turkish, and means Rose of Spring. How came you by it?"
"My mother was from Iconium."
"Yes–where the Sultans used to live."
"And she could speak Turkish."
"I see! Gul Bahar is an endearment, not a real name."
"My real name is Lael."
The Prince paled from cheek to brow; his lips trembled; the arm encircling her shook; and looking into his eyes, she saw tears dim them. After a long breath, he said, with inexpressible tenderness, and as if speaking to one standing just behind her–"Lael!" Then, the tears full formed, he laid his forehead on her shoulder so his white hair blent freely with her chestnut locks; and sitting passively, but wondering, she heard him sob and sob again and again, like another child. Soon, from pure sympathy, unknowing why, she too began sobbing. Several minutes passed thus; then, raising his face, and observing her responsive sorrow, he felt the need of explanation.
"Forgive me," he said, kissing her, "and do not wonder at me. I am old–very old–older than thy father, and there have been so many things to distress me which other men know nothing of, and never can. I had once"–
He stopped, repeated the long breath, and gazed as at a far object.
"I too had once a little girl."
Pausing, he dropped his eyes to hers.