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The Vizier of the Two-Horned Alexander By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 21484

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"I think thee was in great danger," continued Mrs. Crowder, "in that Samson business. It makes me shudder to think, even now, of what might have happened to thee."

"There was not much danger," said he; "for all I had to do was to withdraw, and there was an end to the matter. I have often and often been in greater danger than that. For instance, I was in the army of Xerxes, compelled to enter it simply because I happened to be in Persia. My sympathies were entirely with the Greeks. My age did not protect me at all. Everybody who in any way could be made useful was dragged into that army. It was known that I had a knowledge of engineering and surveying, and I was taken into the army to help build bridges and lay out camps.

"Here it was that I saw the curious method of counting the soldiers which was adopted by the officers of Xerxes's army. As you may have read, ten thousand men were collected on a plain and made to stand close together in a mass nearly circular in shape. Then a strong fence, with a wide gate to the west and another to the east, was built around them, and I was engaged in the constructing and strengthening of this fence. When the fence was finished, the men were ordered to march out of the inclosure, and other soldiers marched in until it was again entirely filled. This process was repeated until the whole army had been in the inclosure. Thus they got rid of the labor of counting--measuring the army instead of enumerating it. But the results were not accurate. I was greatly interested in the matter, and on three occasions I stood at the exit gate as the soldiers were coming out, and counted them, and the number never amounted to ten thousand. One counting showed less than seven thousand, --the men did not pack themselves together as closely as they were packed the first time,--so I am confident that Xerxes's army was not so large as it was reported to be.

"I became so much interested in the operations and constitution of this great horde of soldiers, attendants, animals, vehicles, and ships, that I went about looking at everything and getting all the information possible. In these days I would have been a war correspondent, and I did act somewhat in that capacity; for I told Herodotus a great many of the facts which he put into his history of this great campaign."

"Thee knew Herodotus?" his wife asked.

"Oh, yes; I worked with him a long time, and gave him information which helped him very much in writing his histories; but it would have been of greater advantage to the world if he had adhered more closely to my statements. I told him what I discovered in regard to the enumeration of the army of Xerxes, but he wanted to make that army as big as he could, and he paid little attention to my remonstrances.

"Herodotus was only four years old when Xerxes invaded Greece, and of course all his knowledge concerning that expedition was second-hand, and by the time he began to write his history of the campaign there were very few people living who knew anything personally about it. If he had not been a man so entirely wrapped up in his own work he would have wondered how any one of my apparent age could give him so much in the way of personal experience; but he seemed to have no suspicions, and, at any rate, asked no questions, and as I had a great desire that this remarkable historical event should be fully recorded, I helped him as much as I could.

"I had been assisting in the construction of the canal behind Mount Athos, which Xerxes made in order to afford a short cut for his vessels, and as I had frequently climbed into the various portions of the mountain in order to make surveys of the country below, I had obtained a pretty good knowledge of the neighborhood; and when disaster after disaster began to hurl themselves upon this unfortunate multitude of invaders, I took measures for my safety. I did not want to go back to Persia, even if I could go there, which looked very doubtful after the battle of Salamis, and as I had come into the country with the Persians, it might have been unsafe to show myself with the Greeks; so, remembering what I had seen of the wild regions of Mount Athos, I made my way there, with the intention of dwelling in its rocky fastnesses until the country should become safe for the ordinary wayfarer. As there was no opportunity of teaching school on that desolate mountain--"

"And marrying one of thy scholars," interpolated Mrs. Crowder.

"--I became a sort of hermit," he continued; "but I did not spend my time after the usual fashion of the conventional hermit, who lives on water-cresses and reads great books with a skull to keep the pages open. I built myself a rude cabin under a great rock, and lived somewhat after the fashion of the other inhabitants of that wild region, mostly robbers and outlaws. As I had nothing which any one would want to steal, I was not afraid of them, and I could occasionally be of a little service to them, especially in the way of rude medical attendance, for which they were willing to pay me by giving me now and then some food.

"I had laid in a stock of writing-materials before I went up on the mountain, and I now went to work with great enthusiasm to set down what I knew of the expedition of Xerxes, and here it was that I made the notes which were afterward so useful to Herodotus.

"When the country became quieter I went down into the plains, looked over the battle-fields, and obtained a great deal of information from the villagers and country people. I stayed here nearly two years, and had a pretty hard time of it; but when I went away I took with me a very valuable collection of notes.

"For many years I made no use of these notes; but being in Halicarnassus, I heard of Herodotus, who was described as a great scholar and traveler, and engaged in writing history. To him I applied without loss of time, and I made a regular engagement, working several hours with him every day. For this he paid me weekly a sum equal to about two dollars and seventy-five cents of our present money; but it was enough to support me, and I was very glad to have the opportunity of sending some of my experiences and observations down into history. It was at this time that the love of literary work began to arise within me, and in the next three or four centuries after the death of Herodotus I wrote a number of books on various subjects and under various names, and some of these, as I mentioned before, were destroyed with the Alexandrian Library.

"It was in this period that I made the acquaintance of an editor--the first editor, in fact, of whom I know anything at all. I was in Rhodes, and there was a learned man there named Andronicus, who was engaged in editing the works of Aristotle. All the manuscripts and books which that great philosopher left behind him had been given to a friend, or trustee, and had passed from this person into the possession of others, so that for about a hundred years the world knew nothing of them. Then they came into the hands of Andronicus, who undertook to edit them and get them into proper shape for publication. I went to Andronicus, and as soon as he found I was a person qualified for such work, he engaged me as his assistant editor. I held this position for several years, and two or three of the books of Aristotle I transcribed entirely with my own hand, properly shaping sentences and paragraphs, and very often making the necessary divisions. From my experience with Andronicus, I am sure that none of the works of Aristotle were given to the world exactly as he wrote them, for we often found his manuscript copies very rough and disjointed so far as literary construction is concerned, but I will also say that we never interfered with his philosophical theories or his scientific statements and deductions."

"In all that time thee never married?" asked Mrs. Crowder.

Crowder and I could not help laughing.

"I did not say so," said he, "but I will say that, with one exception, I do not remember any interesting matrimonial alliances which occurred during the period of my literary labors. I married a young woman of Rhodes, and gave her a very considerable establishment, which I was able to do, for Andronicus paid me much better than Herodotus had done; but she did not prove a very suitable helpmeet, and I believe she married me simply because I was in fairly good circumstances. She soon showed that she preferred a young man to an elderly student, the greater part of whose time was occupied with books and manuscripts, and we had not been married a year when she ran away with a young goldsmith, and disappeared from Rhodes, as I discovered, on a vessel bound for Rome. I resigned myself to my loss, and did not even try to obtain news of her. I was too much engrossed in my work to be interested in a runaway wife.

"It was a little more than half a century after this that I was in Rome and sitting on the steps of one of the public buildings in the Forum. I was waiting to meet some one with whom I had business, and while I sat there an old woman stopped in front of me. She was evidently poor, and wretchedly dressed; her scanty hair was gray, and her face was wrinkled and shrunken. I thought, of course, she was a beggar, and was about to give her something, when she clasped her hands in front of her and exclaimed, 'How like! How like! How like!' 'Like whom?' said I. 'What are you talking about?' 'Like your father,' she said, 'like your father! You are so like him, you resemble him so much in form and feature, in the way you sit, in everything, that you must be his son!' 'I have no doubt I am my father's son,' said I, 'and what do you know about him?' 'I married him,' she said. 'For nearly a year I was his wife, and then I foolishly ran away and left him. What became of him I know not, nor how long he lived, but he was a great deal older than I was, and must have passed away many years ago. But thou art his image. He had the same ruddy face, the same short white hair, the same broad shoulders, the same way of crossing his legs as he sat. He must have married soon after I left him. Tell me, whom did he marry? What was thy mother's name?' I gave her the name of my real mother, and she shook her head. 'I never heard of her,' she said. 'Did thy father ever speak of me, a wife who ran away from him?' 'Yes; he has spoken of you--that is, if you are Zalia, the daughter of an oil-merchant of Rhodes?'

"'I am that woman,' she exclaimed, 'I am that woman! And did he mourn my loss?'

"'Not much, I think, not much.' Then I became a little nervous, for if this old woman talked to me much longer I was afraid, in spite of the fact that I was an elderl

y man when she was a girl, that she would become convinced that I could not be the son of the man who had once been her husband, but must be that man himself. So I hastily excused myself on the plea of business, and after having given her some money I left her."

"And did thee never see her again?" his wife asked, almost with tears in her eyes.

"No, I never saw her again," said Mr. Crowder; "I was careful not to do that: but I did not neglect her; I caused good care to be taken of her until she died."

There was a slight pause here, and then Mrs. Crowder said:

"Thee has known a great deal of poverty; in nearly all thy stories thee is a poor man."

"There is good reason for that," said Mr. Crowder; "poor people frequently have more adventures, at least more interesting ones, than those who are in easy circumstances. Possession of money is apt to make life smoother and more commonplace; so, in selecting the most interesting events of my career to tell you, I naturally describe periods of comparative poverty--and there were some periods in which I was in actual want of the necessaries of life.

"But you must not suppose that I have always been poor. I have had my periods of wealth, but, as I explained to you before, it was very difficult, on account of the frequent necessity of changing my place of residence, as well as my identity, to carry over my property from one set of conditions to another. However, I have often been able to do this, and at one time I was in comfortable circumstances for nearly two hundred years. But generally, when I found myself obliged to leave a place where I had been living, for fear of suspicion concerning my age, I had to leave everything behind me.

"I will tell you a little story about one of my attempts, to provide for the future. It was toward the end of the fifteenth century, about the time that Columbus set out on his first voyage of discovery,--and you would be surprised, considering the important results of his voyage, to know how little sensation it caused in Europe,--that I devised a scheme by which I thought I might establish for myself a permanent fortune. I was then living in Genoa, and was carrying on the same business in which I am now engaged. I was a broker, a dealer in money and commercial paper. I was prosperous and well able to carry out the plan I had formed. This plan was a simple one. I would purchase jewels, things easily carried about or concealed, and which would be valuable in any country or any age; and with this idea in my mind I spent many years in collecting valuable stones and jewels, confining myself generally to rings, for I wished to make the bulk of my treasures very small when compared with their value.

"About the middle of the sixteenth century I went to Rome, and took my jewels with me. They were then a wonderfully fine collection of gems, some of them of great antiquity and value; for, in gradually gathering them together, the enthusiasm of the collector had possessed me, and I often traveled far to possess myself of a valuable jewel of which I had heard. I remained in Rome as long as I dared do so, and then prepared to set out for Egypt, which I had not visited for a long time, and where I expected to find interesting though depressing changes. I concluded, naturally enough, that it would be dangerous for me to take my treasures with me, and I could conceive of no place where it would be better to leave them than in the Eternal City. Rome was central and comparatively easy of access from any part of the world, and, moreover, was less liable to changes than any other place; so I determined to leave my treasures in Rome, and to put them somewhere where they were not likely to be disturbed by the march of improvement, by the desolations of war and conquest, or to become lost to me by the action of nature. I decided to bury them in the catacombs. With these ancient excavations I was familiar, and I believed that in their dark and mysterious recesses I could conceal my jewels, and that I could find them again when I wanted them.

"I procured a small box made of thick bronze, and in this I put all my rings and gems, and with them I inclosed several sheets of parchment, on which I had written, with the fine ink the monks used in engrossing their manuscripts, a detailed description, and frequently a history, of every one of these valuable objects. Having securely fastened up the box, I concealed it in my clothing and then made my way to the catacombs.

"It was a dark and rainy evening, and as the entrances to the catacombs were not guarded in those days, it was not difficult for me to make my way unseen into their interior. I had brought with me a tinder-box and several rushlights, and as soon as I felt secure from observation from the outside I struck a light and began my operations. Then, according to a plan I had previously made, I slowly walked along the solemn passageway which I had entered.

"My plan of procedure was a very simple one, and I had purposely made it so in order that it might be more easily remembered. I was well acquainted with the position of the opening by which I had entered. For several days I had studied carefully its relation to other points in the surrounding country. Starting from this opening, my plan was to proceed inward through the long corridor until I came to a transverse passage; to pass this until I reached another; to pass this also, and to go on until I came to a third; then I would turn to my left and proceed until I had passed two other transverse passages and reached a third; then I would again turn to my left and count the open tombs on my left hand. When I reached the third tomb I would stop. Thus there would be a series of three threes, and it was scarcely possible that I could forget that.

"At this period a great many of the tombs were open, having been despoiled even of the few bones they contained. The opening at which I stopped was quite a large one, and when I put my light inside I found it was entirely empty.

"Lighting another rush-candle, I stuck it in the bottom of the tomb, which was about four feet above the floor of the passage, and drawing my large dagger, I proceeded to dig a hole in the left-hand corner nearest the front. The earth was dry and free from stones, and I soon made a hole two feet deep, at the bottom of which I placed my box. Then I covered it up, pressing the earth firmly down into the hole. When this was entirely filled, I smoothed away the rest of the earth I had taken out, and after I finished my work, the floor of the tomb did not look as if it had been disturbed. Then I went away, reached the passage three tombs from me, turned to the right, went on until I reached the third transverse passage, then went on until I came to the entrance. It was raining heavily, but I was glad to get out into the storm."

"Now, please hurry on," said Mrs. Crowder. "When did thee get them again?"

"A great many things happened in Egypt," said Mr. Crowder, "some pleasant and some unpleasant, and they kept me there a long time. After that I went to Constantinople, and subsequently resided in Greece and in Venice. I lived very comfortably during the greater part of this period, and therefore there was no particular reason why I should go after my jewels. So it happened that, for one cause or another, I did not go back to Rome until early in the nineteenth century, and I need not assure you that almost the first place I visited was the catacombs.

"After three hundred years of absence I found the entrance, but if I had not so well noted its position in relation to certain ruins and natural objects I should not have recognized it. It was not now a wide opening through which a man might walk; it was a little hole scarcely big enough for a fox to crawl through; in fact, I do not believe there would have been any opening there at all if it had not been for the small animals living in the catacombs, which had maintained this opening for the purpose of going in and out. It was broad daylight when I found this entrance. Of course I did not attempt to do anything then, but in the night, when there was no moon, I came with a spade. I enlarged the hole, crawled through, and after a time found myself in a passageway, which was unobstructed."

"Now, hurry on," said Mrs. Crowder.

"I brought no rushlights with me this time," said Mr. Crowder. "I had a good lantern, and I walked steadily on until I came to the third transverse passage; I turned to the left, counted three more passages; I turned to the left, I walked on slowly, I examined the left-hand wall, and apparently there were no open tombs. This startled me, but I soon found that I had been mistaken. I saw some tombs which were not open, but which had been opened and were now nearly filled with the dust of ages. I stopped before the first of these; then I went on and clearly made out the position of another; then I came to the third: that was really open, although the aperture was much smaller than it had been. It did not look as I remembered it, but without hesitation I took a trowel which I had brought with me, and began to dig in the nearest left-hand corner.

"I dug and I dug until I had gone down more than two feet; then I dug on and on until, standing in the passage as I was, I could not reach down any deeper into the hole I had made. So I crawled into the tomb, crouched down on my breast, and dug down and down as far as I could reach.

"Then," said Mr. Crowder, looking at us as he spoke, "I found the box."

A great sigh of relief came from Mrs. Crowder.

"I was so afraid," said she--"I was so afraid it had sunk out of reach."

"No," said he; "its weight had probably made it settle down, and then the dust of ages, as I remarked before, had accumulated over it. That sort of thing is going on in Rome all the time. But I found my box, and, after hours and hours of wandering, I got out of the catacombs."

"How was that?" we both asked.

"I was so excited at the recovery of my treasures after the lapse of three centuries that when I turned into the first passage I forgot to count those which crossed it, and my mind became so thoroughly mixed up in regard to this labyrinth that I don't know when I would have found my way out if I had not heard a little animal--I don't know what it was --scurrying away in front of me. I followed it, and eventually saw a little speck of light. That proved to be the hole through which I had come in."

"What did thee do with the jewels?" asked Mrs. Crowder.

Her husband looked at his watch, and then held it with the face toward her.

She gave a cry of surprise, and we all went up-stairs to bed.

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