The fire burned low on the altar.
“Sacred symbol, whose beams have no power to warm my chilled heart, I bid you a long farewell! They will say that Yusuf is faithless, a false priest. They will mayhap follow him to slay him. And they will bow again to yon image, and defile thine altars again with infants’ blood, not discerning the true God. Yet he must be approachable. I feel it! I know it! O Great Spirit, reveal Thyself unto Yusuf! Reveal Thyself unto Persia! Great Spirit, guide me!”
For the first time, Yusuf thus addressed a prayer direct to the Deity, and he did so in fear and trembling.
A faint gleam shone feebly amid the ashes of the now blackening altar. It flared up for an instant, then fell, and the sacred fire of the Guebre temple was dead.
“The embers die!” cried the priest. “Yea, mockery of the Divine, die in thine ashes!”
He waited no longer, but strode with swift step down the mountain, and into the shade of the valley. Reaching, at last, a cave in the side of a great rock, he entered, and stripped himself of his priestly garments. Then, drawing from a recess the garb of an ordinary traveler, he dressed himself quickly, rolled his white robes into a ball, and plunged farther into the cave. In the darkness the rush of falling water warned him that an abyss was near. Dropping on his knees, he crept carefully forward until his hand rested on the jagged edge of a ledge of rock. Beside him the water fell into a yawning gulf. Darkness darker than blackest night was about him, and, in its cover, he cast the robes into the abyss below, then retraced his way, and plunged once more into the moonlight, a Persian traveler wearing the customary loose trousers, a kufiyah on his head, and bearing a long staff in his hand.
A bedouin encampment.
that infest the day
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.”
Many months after the departure of Yusuf from Persia a solitary rider on a swift dromedary reached the extreme northern boundary of El Hejaz, the province that stretches over a considerable portion of western Arabia. His face was brown like leather from exposure, and his clothes were worn and travel-stained, yet it scarcely required a second glance to recognize the glittering eyes of the Magian priest.
It seemed as if the excitement of danger and the long days of toil and privation had at last begun to tell upon his iron frame. His eye, accustomed by the fear of robbers to dart its dark glances restlessly, was less keen than usual; his head was drooped downward upon his breast, and his whole attitude betokened bodily fatigue. His camel, too, went less swiftly, and picked its way, with low, plaintive moans, over the rough and precipitous path which led into a wild and weird glen.