Being busied with his accounts, he had repaired to the shade of a pomegranate grove near the cliff, the better to escape the heat; while so engaged up the path from the monastery came the good brother. Just abreast of Abul Malek’s point of vantage Joseph paused to listen. A songbird was trilling wondrously and the monk’s face, raised toward the pomegranate trees, became transfigured. He changed as if by magic; his lips parted in a tender smile, his figure grew tense with listening; not until the last note had died away did he move. Then a great breath stirred his lungs, and with shining eyes and rapt countenance he went on into the fields.
Abul Malek rose, his white teeth gleaming through his beard.
“Allah be praised!” he exclaimed. “It is music!” And rolling up his papers, he went into the house.
Early on the following morning another cavalcade filed down past the monastery of San Sebastian; but this procession was in great contrast to the one that had gone by five years before. Instead of gaily caparisoned warriors, it was composed mainly of women and slaves, with a mere handful of guards to lead the way. There were bondmaidens and seamstresses, an ancient nurse and a tutor of languages; while astride of a palfrey at her father’s side rode the youthful lady of the castle. Her veil was wet upon her cheeks, her eyes were filled with shadows; yet she rode proudly, like a princess.
Once more the train moved past the sun-baked walls of the monastery, across the plain to the mountain road that led to the land of bounty and of culture. Late that afternoon Brother Joseph learned from the lips of a herdsman that the beauteous Zahra, flower of all the Moorish race, had gone to Cordova to study music.
Abul Malek once more rode home alone to his castle; but this time as he dismounted at his door he smiled at the monastery below.
Four years crept by, during which the Saracen lord brooded over the valley and the monk Joseph went his simple way, rendering service where he could, preaching, by the example of his daily life and his unselfish devotion, a sermon more powerful than his lips could utter. Through it all the Moor watched him carefully, safeguarding him as a provident farmer fattens a sheep for the slaughter. Once a year the father rode southward to Cordova, bringing news with his return that delighted the countryside, news that penetrated even the walls of San Sebastian and filled the good men therein with gladness. It seemed that the maiden Zahra was becoming a great musician. She pursued her studies in the famous school of Ali-Zeriab, and not even Moussali himself, that most gifted of Arabian singers, could bring more tender notes from the lute than could this fair daughter of Catalonia. Her skill transcended that of Al Farabi, for the harp, the tabor, and the mandolin were wedded to her dancing fingers; and, most marvelous of all, her soul was so filled with poetry that her verses were sung from Valencia to Cadiz. It was said that she could move men to laughter, to tears, to deeds of heroism—that she could even lull them to sleep by the potency of her magic. She had once played before the Caliph under amazing circumstances.