All that he had of worth sold Artaban,
And with the money bought three costly gems—
A sapphire, and a ruby, and a pearl.
Across the desert these he thought to bear,
As loyal gift and offering to the King.
But as he journeyed to the trysting-place,
To join the others—sages like himself—
A He found a wretched, fever-stricken Jew
A dying in the marshes,—succored him,
And nursed him back to life; thus missed the chance
Of going with his friends to see the King.
Then Artaban returned to Babylon,
Sold there his sapphire, and fresh camels bought.
Alone to holy Bethlehem he came,
Bearing his pearl and ruby for the King.
Alas! the King had gone ; and armed men
Were slaying babes and breaking mothers’ hearts.
The ruby served to ransom one frail life;
The pearl alone remained to Artaban.
The King had gone to Egypt, and the Mage
Followed him thither, but could never find
Him whom he longed to see.—Because he learned
From Hebrew writings that in some strange way
The King must suffer punishment and pain,
He sought Him in the prisons; many there—
Poor, hopeless captives—learned to bless the name
Of gentle Artaban, who fed and clothed,
And comforted and healed, these hopeless ones.
Thus came and went full three-and-thirty years.
Weary and spent, still searching for the King,
Came Artaban into Jerusalem.
The streets were thronged, and through the northern gate
The people pressed—a captive in their midst,
Whom they to death were leading. It was said,
He called Himself a King; and Artaban
Thought to himself: "Mayhap this is my King,
Whom now at last I find among His foes.
My pearl, perchance, as ransom they would take,
To set Him free." So in this hope he went
On with the multitude. But as he passed
The door of Herod’s prison, he met a guard
Of Macedonian soldiers, with a maid
Who cried to him: "Have pity, O my Prince!
For I am of thy race. My father was
A Persian merchant. He is dead, and I,
To pay his debts, am doomed to slavery,
Except thou canst befriend me. Save me, sir,
From worse than death!" Trembling, the wise man placed
His precious pearl within the maiden’s hand.
"Take this," said he, "my daughter; ’tis the last
Of my three treasures which I had designed
To be an offering for my unknown King.”
As thus he spake, a sudden blackness smote
Across the sky, and tremor shook the earth.
The soldiers fled in terror. Artaban
And the young maiden crouched beneath the wall.
Then, as the earthquake passed, a heavy tile
Fell from the roof, and struck the aged man
Upon the forehead.-Gasping, pale, he lay,
Blood trickling from the wound. As o’er him bent
The girl whom he had saved, she heard a voice,
Small but distinct, like music far away,
Of which the notes are heard, but not the words.
She heard no words, but Artaban replied—
Using the old, familiar Persian tongue
"Not so, my Lord! when did I ever see
Thee hungry or a-thirst, and succored Thee?
When saw I Thee a stranger, sick, in prison,
And food and clothes and shelter gave to Thee?
Long time have I been seeking Thee, my King,
But ne’er have seen Thy face, or ministered
On earth to Thee."—Then came again the voice—
Again the maiden could not understand—
But to the dying man the words rang clear;
"My faithful servant! know that inasmuch
As thou hast done it to the least of these
My brethren, thou hast done it unto me. "