by John Boyle O'Reilly
IN the old Rabbinical stories,
So old they might well be true,—
The sacred tales of the Talmud,
That David and Solomon knew,—
There is one of the Father Abram,
The greatest of Heber's race,
The mustard-seed of Judea
That filled the holy place.
'Tis said that the fiery heaven
His eye was first to read,
Till planets were gods no longer,
But helps for the human need;
He taught his simple people
The scope of eternal law
That swayed at once the fleecy cloud
And the circling suns they saw.
But the rude Chaldean peasants
Uprose against the seer,
And drave him forth—else never came
This Talmud legend here.
With Sarah his wife, and his servants,
Whom he ruled with potent hand,
The Patriarch planted his vineyards
In the Canaanitish land;
With his wife—the sterile, but lovely,
The fame of whose beauty grew
Till there was no land in Asia
But tales of the treasure knew.
In his lore the sage lived—learning
High thought from the starlit skies;
Bat heedful, too, of the light at home,
And the danger of wistful eyes;
Till the famine fell on his corn-fields,
And sent him forth again,
To seek for a home in Egypt,—
The laud of the amorous men.
Long and rich is the caravan that halts at Egypt's gate,
While duty full the stranger pays on lowing herd and freight.
Full keen the scrutiny of those who note the heavy dues;
From weanling foal to cumbrous wain, no chance of gain they lose.
But fair the search—no wealth concealed; while rich the gifts they take
From Abram's hand, till care has ceased, and formal quest they make.
They pass the droves and laden teams, the weighted slaves are past,
And Abram doubles still the gifts; one wain—his own—is last—
It goes unsearched! Wise Abram smiles, though dearly stemmed the quest;
But haps will come from causes slight,
And hidden things upspring to light:
A breeze flings wide the canvas fold, and deep within the wain, behold
A brass-bound, massive chest!
'Press on!' shouts Abram. 'Hold!' they cry; 'what treasure hide ye here?'
The word is stern—the answer brief: 'Treasure! 'tis household gear;
Plain linen cloth and flaxen thread.' The scribes deceived are wroth;
'Then weigh the chest—its price shall be the dues on linen cloth!'
The face of Abram seemed to grieve, though joy was in his breast,
As carefully his servants took and weighed the mighty chest.
But one hath watched the secret smile; he cries—'This stranger old
Hath used deceit: no cloth is here—this chest is filled with gold!'
''Nay, nay,' wise Abram says, and smiles, though now he hides dismay;
'But time is gold: let pass the chest—on gold the dues I pay!'
But he who read the subtle smile detects the secret fear:
'Detain the chest! nor cloth nor gold, but precious silk is here!'
Grave Father Abram stands like one who knoweth well the sword
When tyros baffle thrust and guard; slow comes the heedful word:
'I seek no lawless gain—behold! my trains are on their way,
Else would these bands my servants break, and show the simple goods I take,
That silk ye call; but, for time's sake, on silk the dues I pay!'
'He pays too much!' the watcher cries; 'this man is full of guile;
From cloth to gold and gold to silk, to save a paltry mile!
This graybeard pay full silken dues on cloth for slave-bred girls!
Some prize is here—he shall not pass until he pay for pearls!'
Stern Abram turned a lurid eye, as he the man would slay;
An instant, rose the self-command; but thin the lip and quick the hand,
As one who makes a last demand: 'On pearls the dues! pay!'
'He cannot pass!' the watcher screamed, as to the chest he clung;
'He shall not pass! Some priceless thing he hideth here.
I seize this treasure for the King!'
Old Abram stood aghast; it seemed the knell of doom had rung.
Red-eyed with greed and wonder,
The crowd excited stand;
The blows are rained like thunder
On brazen bolt and band;
They burst the massive hinges,
They raise the pondrous lid,
And lo! the peerless treasure
That Father Abram hid:
In pearls and silk and jewels rare,
Fit for a Pharaoh's strife;
In flashing eyes and golden hair—
Sat Abram's lovely wife!