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MOONSHEE AND THE ANGEL GABRIEL.
OUR blue chamber overlooked the attap roofs of a long row of houses, badly disfigured by the stains and wear of many a wet season, in which our next neighbor, a Mohammedan of patriarchal aspect and demeanor, stored bags of sugar, waiting for a rise in the market. This worthy paid us the honor of a visit every afternoon, and in the snug little eastern chamber consecrated to the studies and meditations of my Persian teacher propounded solemn problems from the Alkoran.
Under Moonshee's window the tops of houses huddled, presenting forms more or less fantastic according to the purse or caprice of the proprietors. The shrewd old man was not long in finding tenants for all these roofs, and could even tell the social status and the means of each. It tickled his vanity to find himself domiciled in so aristocratic a quarter. Our house — more Oriental than European in its architecture — was comparatively new, having been erected upon the site of the old palace, the débris of which had furnished the materials of which it was constructed. Among the loose slabs of marble and fragments of pottery that turned up with the promiscuous rubbish every day, we sometimes found surfaces of stone bearing Siamese or Cambodian inscriptions; others with grotesque figures in bass-relief, taken from the mythology of the Hindoos. Had these relics a charm for Moonshee, and was he animated by the antiquarian's enthusiasm, that he delved away hour after hour, unearthing, with his spade, bricks and stones and tiles and slabs? I was at a loss to account for this new freak in the old man; but seeing him infatuated with his eccentric pursuit, and Boy enraptured over grubs and snails and bits of broken figures, the resurrections of the nimble spade, I left them to their cheap and harmless bliss.
One evening, as I sat musing in the piazza, with my book unopened on my lap, I heard Boy's clear voice ringing in happy, musical peals of laughter that drew me to him. On the edge of a deep hole, in a corner of the compound, sat Moonshee, an effigy of doleful disappointment, and beside him stood the lad, clapping his little hands and laughing merrily. The old child had taken the young one into his confidence, and by their joint exertions they had dug this hole in search of treasure; and lo! at the bottom lay something that looked like a rusty purse. With a long look and a throbbing heart Moonshee, after several empty hauls, had fished it up; and it was — a toad! a huge, unsightly, yellow toad!
"May the foul fiend fly away with thee!" cried the enthusiast in his rage, as he flung the astonished reptile back into the pit, and sat down to bewail his kismut, while Boy made merry with his groans.
For some days the spade was neglected, though I observed, from the cautious drift of his remarks at the conclusion of our evening lesson, that Moonshee's thoughts still harped on hidden treasure. The fervid imagination of the child had uncovered to his mind's eye mines of wealth, awaiting only the touch of the magic spade to bare their golden veins to the needs of his Mem Sahib and himself. There was no dispelling his golden visions by any shock of hard sense; the more he dreamed the more he believed. But the spot? the right spot? "Only wait."
Another week elapsed, and Boy and I worked harder than ever in our school in the cool pavilion. I had flung off the dead weight of my stubborn repinings, and my heart was light again. There were delightful discoveries of beauty in the artless, childish faces that greeted us every morning; and now the only wonder was that I had been so slow to penetrate the secret of their charm. That eager, radiant elf, the Princess Somdetch Chow Fâ-ying,1 the king's darling (of whom, by and by, I shall have a sadder tale to tell), had become a sprite of sunshine and gladness amid the sombre shadows of those walls. In her deep, dark, lustrous eyes, her simple, trusting ways, there was a springtide of refreshment, a pure, pervading radiance, that brightened the darkest thing it touched. Even the grim hags of the harem felt its influence, and softened in her presence.
As Boy was reciting his tasks one morning before breakfast, Moonshee entered the room with one of his profoundest salaams, and an expression at once so earnest and so comical that I anxiously asked him what was the matter. Panting alike with the eagerness of childhood and the feebleness of age, he stammered, "I have something of the greatest importance to confide to you, Mem Sahib! Now is the time! Now you shall prove the devotion of your faithful Moonshee, who swears by Allah not to touch a grain of gold without your leave, in all those bursting sacks, if Mem Sahib will but lend him ten ticals, only ten ticals, to buy a screw-driver!"
"What in the world can you want with a screw-driver, Moonshee?"
"O Mem, listen to me!" he cried, his face glowing with the very rapture of possession; "I have discovered the exact spot on which the old duke, Somdetch Ong Yai, expired. It is a secret, a wonderful secret, Mem Sahib; not a creature in all Siam knows it."
"Then how came you by it," I inquired, "seeing that you know not one word of the language, which you have bravely scorned as unworthy to be uttered by the Faithful, and of no use on earth but to confound philosophers and Moonshees?"
"Sunnoh, sunnoh!2 Mem Sahib! No human tongue revealed it to me. It was the Angè Gibhrayeel.3 He came to me last night as I slept, and said, 'O son of Jaffur Khan! to your prayers is granted the knowledge that, for all these years, has been denied to Kafirs. Arise I obey and with humility receive the treasures reserved for thee, thou faithful follower of the Prophet!' And so saying he struck the golden palms he bore in his hand; and though I was now awake, Mem Sahib, I was so overpowered by the beauty and effulgence of his person, that I was as one about to die. The radiant glory of his wings, which were of the hue of sapphires, blinded my vision; I could neither speak nor see. But I felt the glow of his presence and heard the rustle of his pinions, as once more he beat the golden palms and cried, Behold, O son of Jaffur Khan! behold the spot where lie the treasures of that haughty Kafir chief!' I arose, and immediately the angel flashed from my sight; and as I gazed there appeared a luminous golden hen with six golden chickens, which pecked at bits of blazing coal that, as they cooled, became nuggets of pure gold. When suddenly I beheld a great light as of rooshnees,4 and it burst upon the spot where the hen had been; and then all was darkness again. Mem Sahib, your servant ran down and placed a stone upon that spot, and kneeling on that stone, with his face to the south, repeated his five Kalemahs."5
I am ashamed to say I laughed; whereat the old man was so mortified that he vowed the next time the angel appeared to him, he would call us all to see. I accepted the condition; and even promised that if I saw the nuggets of pure gold that Gabriel's chickens pecked, I would immediately accommodate him with the ten ticals to invest in a screw-driver. So perfect was his faith in the vision, that he accepted the promise with complete satisfaction.
Not many nights after this extraordinary apparition, we were aroused by Beebe and her husband calling, "Awake, awake!" Thinking the house was on fire, I threw on my dressing-gown and ran into the next room with Boy in my arms. There was indeed a fire, but it was in a distant corner of the yard. The night was dark, a thick mist rose from the river, and the gusty puffs of wind that now and then swept through the compound caused the wood fire to flare up and flicker, casting fitful and fantastic shadows around. Moonshee stared, with fixed eyes, expecting every moment the reappearance of the supernatural poultry; but I, being as yet sceptical, descended the stairs, followed by my trembling household, and approached the spot.
On a remnant of matting, with a stone for a pillow, lay an old Siamese woman asleep. Driven by the heat to the relief of the open air, she had kindled a fire to keep off the mosquitoes.
"Now, Moonshee," said I, "here is your Angel Gabriel. Don't you ever again trouble me for ticals to invest in screw-drivers."
1 "First-Born of the Skies."
2 "Listen, listen!"
3 The Angel Gabriel.