A Duel in a Desert
A LAZY magician, tired of work, left Damascus and went into a sandy desert, seeking quiet and solitude. Finding a lonely place not yet divided into building-lots, he filled his pipe, and, after smoking it out, fell fast asleep.
An indolent wizard, looking for rest, came riding across the desert upon a magic camel, which he had made out of an old rug that morning, and, not seeing the sleeping magician, ran over him. Now, magical creations cannot touch magicians without vanishing. So the wizard's camel vanished, the wizard fell plump down on top of the magician, and the baggage which the camel carried was scattered on the sand.
The wizard was the first to collect his senses, and asked, in a fierce voice: "Where is my camel?"
The magician replied, with some anger: "Don't you think you'd better ask some one who was awake while your camel was getting away?"
"You are the only man I have met in this desert," replied the wizard.
"Perhaps," resumed the magician, "your camel may have climbed one of the trees with which you see the desert is covered; if you think I 've got him, you can search me."
"I made that camel only this morning," said the wizard, complainingly.
"You are then a magician?" asked the other.
"No; I'm only a wizard," replied the first.
"Well, I'm a magician, and I should think you would know better than to drive your camel up against me."
"It was careless, I admit," replied the wizard. "But let that go; I can make another. I hope I did n't hurt you?"
"Oh! not at all; I was lying down there on purpose; that is why I came to the desert, where there are so many passing," remarked the magician, rubbing his side.
"I cannot regret an accident which brings me so agreeable a companion," replied the wizard, with a low bow.
"I'm sorry to have lost my temper," said the magician, more good naturedly; "but, since I came to this desert looking for quiet and solitude, I was not glad to see you."
"I, also, was sorry to meet any one, even yourself, for I was equally anxious to be alone," rejoined the wizard, frankly.
"Well," said the magician, thoughtfully, "since you are a wizard and I a magician, and each of us wishes solitude, the matter is easily remedied. Nothing is easier than to put twenty leagues between us. I have only to wish it."
"Allow me," asked the wizard, politely, "to join you in the wish."
"Certainly," said the magician; "we can save our feelings by making the parting mutual. We will wish together."
"Agreed," said the wizard, eagerly. "Are you ready?"
"Quite!" returned the magician, delighted.
So they raised their wands, shook hands, and said together: "I wish myself twenty leagues away!"
They were powerful enchanters, and the wish was at once accomplished. In an instant they stood together in a place twenty leagues away.
"I am afraid," said the magician, after a moment's silence,—"I am afraid that this cannot be called a success. We have traveled some distance, but solitude seems as far off as ever. Perhaps we forgot to take it with us. We must wish again; his time, each for himself! " The wizard agreed that this was the best plan. So, saying, "Excuse my back," he turned from the magician and wished himself back again where he was at first. Instantly he was there, among his pieces of baggage.
"Ah," said he, smiling, "it was not a bad adventure, but I am glad to be alone again!"
"Ahem!' exclaimed a voice behind him. "I beg pardon, I'm sure; but I fear there has been another mistake. I am sorry to see we both happened to find this spot so attractive!"
The wizard turned and saw the magician standing behind him, looking very foolish.
"So you 're there, are you? Well, it was a natural mistake! We must have no mistake this time. I 'll give the word, and let us each wish ourselves forty leagues away in opposite directions—you to the east, I to the west."
The word was given, the wands waved, and, presto!—nothing at all! Each stood where he was before, for each expected the other to wish himself away.
"It seems to me," said the wizard, after a slight pause, "that it is hardly fair to expect me to leave all my baggage lying around here on the sand!"
"But I was here first," said the magician.
"Yes, to sleep. It strikes me as rather a spacious bedroom!"
"I like a large bedroom," replied the magician. "But we wander from the subject. It is, of course, useless for us to wish again. We have had our three chances, and must now make the best of it. Sit down and have a smoke."
In a moment they were puffing out blue clouds of smoke, sitting cross-legged opposite each other.
"May I ask," said the wizard, presently, "how long you have been practising your profession?"
"Only since Merlin's time—say about a thousand years. I was a pupil of Merlin, and a very good teacher he was."
"Indeed!" said the wizard, with more respect; "that is a long time. I cannot claim more than five centuries. I am but a beginner beside you."
"By hard work you might have learned much in that time."
"I fear I have been lazy," said the wizard, regretfully.
"Perhaps, being, as Shakspere will soon say, 'an older soldier, not a better,' I might be able to give you a useful hint or two. We have still some daylight before us. Suppose we have a lesson?"
"I fear I will only bore you," said the wizard, rather nettled by the patronage of the other.
"I have nothing else to do, and should enjoy teaching so promising a pupil," said the magician, rather pompously.
This was a little too much, for the wizard had graduated with the degree of F. W. (Full Wizard) some three centuries before. He attempted to make excuses, saying: "I am really out of practice; my wand is dusty from disuse."
"Oh, bother your excuses! I can see your true rank at once. Go ahead!" said the magician.
Not seeing how to refuse without being rude, the wizard, after a minute's hesitation, rose and, walking a little apart, drew a circle in the sand. Standing here, he waved his wand slowly in the air and repeated a mystic incantation. The magician, who had only received the degree of P. M. (Passable Magician) when he graduated, looked on very critically.
At the most impressive part of the charm, the wizard suddenly and violently sneezed, in spite of all he could do. Much ashamed, he turned to excuse himself.
"Oh, that's nothing," said the magician, with a condescending smile. "It is a little awkwardness natural to a beginner. No more than I expected! Throwing your arms about creates a draft—makes you chilly; you sneeze, naturally enough. Go on; we won't count this time."
The wizard was much vexed, but kept his temper and resumed the charm. Soon, a mist poured from the tip of his wand, like the smoke from a cigar, and formed a cloud above his head, which slowly revolved and wound itself up into a ball until, as the chant ended, an enormous figure appeared. The wizard turned proudly to the magician, who said nothing. At length the wizard, seeing no sign of movement in his rival, asked confidently: "How's that?"
"Well," said the other, crossing his legs as he filled his pipe, "it is n't bad—not very bad. It is really fair work, of a certain kind. But it is n't the way I was taught. However, I'm afraid of hurting your feelings."
"Not at all," said the wizard. "I am delighted to be criticized. Speak freely, I beg!"
The old magician, with a bland smile and half- shut eyes, went on: "Well, it seems to me too long—much too long. If you were in a hurry,—suppose a rhinoceros was stamping his feet on your door-mat, you would n't have time to do all that. That cloud is no use; it only spoils the effect; it is out of style. And your spirit looks rather stupid and under-bred—an ugly wretch!"
A terrific howl was heard as the spirit dashed down upon the magician, seeking to tear him to pieces. The magician gently raised his wand, and the spirit melted as snow does into the ocean, and the magician went on quietly: "That shows you what a fool he is—no discretion and no stamina."
The wizard was rather cast down, and said sullenly: "Perhaps you will show me how you would do it?"
The magician smiled, and rising, took a handful of dust and threw it over the wizard's head.
"When are you to begin?" asked the wizard.
"Look around," said the magician.
The wizard turned, and saw a little winged figure, looking like a fairy.
"It's too small to be of any use," remarked the wizard, scornfully.
"I think you will find it quite large enough for all practical purposes."
"Why, my spirit," said the wizard, "could roll yours up like a dry leaf and put it in his pocket!"
"Well," said the magician. good-naturedly, "I have no objection to that; let him try."
The wizard pronounced the incantation and summoned his spirit.
"Ahab," cried the wizard, calling the spirit by name, "fetch me that small imp!"
"Master, I obey!" shouted the spirit in a voice of thunder, and then suddenly dashed down upon the little fairy.
If the fairy had remained still it might have been hurt; but, just as Ahab came rushing down, the fairy darted away like a humming-bird, too quick for the eye to see the motion. Ahab made a clutch, but caught nothing but sand. Again he tried, but with no better success. A third and fourth trial so exhausted the huge monster that he sat down upon the sand completely tired out.
The wizard danced around in a perfect rage; and when Ahab gave it up, raising his wand he waved it thrice, and commanded the fairy to stand still. The fairy bowed, and stood quiet.
"Now, Ahab," said the wizard, triumphantly "bring her to me!"
Ahab arose, and walking heavily to the fairy, took her by the arm. The arm came off in his grasp; but Ahab, not noticing this, brought it to the wizard.
"You dunce!" commenced the wizard; but the absurdity of the situation overcame him, and he laughed, saying: "Well, bring me the rest of her!"
On the next trip, Ahab brought the head.
"Very good," said the wizard; "perseverance will bring her. Go on."
In a few more journeys the pieces of the fairy lay at the wizard's feet.
"There!" said the wizard, in triumph; "I think that ends your spirit!"
"Not at all," said the magician, pointing his wand at the heap of arms, wings, body, and head. In an instant the pieces flew together, and the fairy stood before them as well as ever.
"Come now," said the wizard, angrily, "that's not fair!"
"You had to help your spirit, why should n't I help mine?"
"I only kept your spirit still!"
"I only put mine together!"
The wizard had to admit the justice of the magician's claim; but, completely losing his temper, he said angrily: "I don't believe you are any sort of a magician, with all your airs! You may have a friend among the fairies, but I'd like to see what you can do by yourself. Send your spirit away, and we 'll see who is the better man!"
The spirits were dismissed, and the magician, never losing his temper, said, with a smile: "I can't afford to show my magic for nothing! If you will insist on seeing what I can do in the way of real old Egyptian magic, I will show you, on one condition."
"What is that?"
"That he who shows the best magic shall take the wand and power of the other. Do you agree?"
The wizard, although startled, was too angry to be prudent, and replied boldly: "I agree!"
"Let us lose no time, then," said the magician, with a crafty smile. "Are you ready?"
"Quite ready," said the wizard.
"Find that, then!" And, as he spoke, the magician threw his wand high into the air. An immense bird that was flying overhead clutched the wand, and flew off with lightning speed.
"A baby's trick!" said the wizard, laughing. "I learned that with the alphabet. The idea of playing magical hide-and-seek with me!" and breaking his wand into nine short pieces, he stuck them up in the sand, forming a circle around him. Out from each suddenly sprang a wire and stretched itself along above the sand, like a serpent, only a thousand times faster; and down from this wire fell poles and stuck up in the sand. In the middle of the ring of sticks sat the wizard, with a telegraph instrument, ticking away for dear life. In a moment he stopped and listened. An answering tick was soon heard; and the wizard, smiling, said: "We shall have a despatch very soon! Wonderful thing, the telegraph—wonderful!"
A speck was seen in the distance coming quickly toward them. It soon resolved itself into a small boy, running as fast as he could.
"Well, my boy?" said the wizard, rubbing his hands, as the messenger arrived.
"Please, sir, here's a package and a letter for you, sir," replied the boy, puffing a little from his run. "Please sign my receipt."
"Certainly, certainly," said the wizard, scarcely hearing what was said; and handing the package to the magician, he opened his letter. It read as follows:
Borneo, July 12th.
Your message received. Inclosed find wand as requested. Had to shoot bird. Sorry. Will have it stuffed. Yours, Ahab
The magician opened the package, and there was the wand.
"You are a little behind the age," said the wizard. "I should think you would know better than to race with electricity!"
"You really did it very well, very well, indeed," said the magician, a little vexed; "but, as you say, it was a baby's trick; I was foolish to try it."
"Well," said the wizard, "let us not waste any more time. Do your very best this time, and let us get through with it!"
"Please, sir," said the telegraph messenger, "sign my receipt; I'm in a hurry."
"Get out! I can't bother with you now!" said the wizard, impatiently. "The idea," he went on, to the magician, "of stopping me now for such a trifle as signing a receipt!"
The boy laughed softly to himself, but no one noticed him, so he stood and watched what was going on.
Meanwhile, the magician was thinking over his very best tricks. At last he said, solemnly: "This time I 'll show you something worth seeing!"
Then he wiped his wand in the skirt of his robe, and pronounced a long incantation, while the wizard pretended to be very tired of it. As the ncantation proceeded, a crystal ball formed itself out of the air and floated before them.
"What's that for?" asked the boy, apparently much interested. "That's the biggest marble I ever saw!"
"That," said the magician with great impressiveness, not noticing who spoke, "is the magician-tester. Merlin invented it for the express purpose of putting down conceited magicians. Such is its peculiar construction that only the greatest and most powerful magician can get inside of it."
"Get into that marble!" said the boy. "I don't see what for."
"Probably not," said the magician, much amused.
"Now see here, Johnny," said the wizard, impatiently, "don't you think you'd better run home?"
"I must have my receipt signed," said the boy, positively; "besides, it's fun to see this game."
"Never mind him," said the magician. "Now, what I propose is this: You and I stand about twenty paces from the tester; then let the boy count three (for, while you pay for his time, we may as well use him). Whoever first appears in the tester shall be the winner."
"Am I in this?" asked the boy, much delighted.
"Certainly," said the magician, smiling graciously.
"Let's see if I know the game," said the boy, eagerly. "You two fellows stand a little way off, then I count three, and you two cut as fast as you can for the marble; and then whoever of us three gets into it first wins?"
The magician was much amused to see that the boy included himself in the "game," and replied: "Well, yes; that's the game. There can be no harm in your trying."
"What's the use of talking nonsense to the boy?" asked the wizard.
"Oh, it amuses him and does n't hurt us," replied the magician, good-naturedly.
"Get your places!" called the boy, who seemed to enjoy the game very much.
They retired in opposite directions, while the boy also went back some distance.
"All ready?" cried the magician.
"Hold on," said the boy, suddenly; "I'm not half so big as you two—I ought to have a start!"
The wizard was much provoked at the delay, but the magician said, laughing: "All right, my boy; take any start you like, but hurry."
The boy took a few steps, carefully compared the distances, and took a step or two more. He seemed very much excited.
"Is that about right?" he asked.
"Yes, yes; do hurry up!" said the wizard.
"Are you ready?" said the boy.
"Yes!" they replied.
"One—two—three!" shouted the boy, and off he went as fast as his short legs could carry him. The wizard and magician, starting at the same instant, ran with very great speed, and reached the tester on opposite sides at about the same time. Both did their best to get inside; but it was no use. Each turned away, thinking himself defeated. In turning from the tester, they met.
"Hallo!' cried the magician, "I thought you were inside the tester!"
"And I thought you were!" said the wizard, equally surprised.
"Well, what does this mean?" asked the magician.
"I can't tell," replied the wizard; "I did n't make the tester; there must have been some mistake."
"Oh, no; it's all right," said the magician; "we must try again. Where's the boy?"
"BOTH DID THEIR BEST TO GET INSIDE."
"Here I am!" said the boy's voice.
"Where?" they asked, not able to see him.
"In the marble," said the boy. "I 've won!"
There was no mistake. They both could see him, coiled up in the tester and grinning with delight.
"This is too ridiculous!" said the magician. "Come out of that, you little monkey!"
"I sha'n't," said the boy, clapping his hands with glee. "I 've won, and I'm to have the prize!"
"You sha'n't have anything but a good thrashing!" said the wizard, and, catching up his wand, he rushed toward the tester.
But at that moment, a crack was heard. The tester broke like a bubble, and forth from it came the majestic figure of the enchanter Merlin.
The wizard and magician fell upon their knees.
"It is Merlin!" they cried.
"Yes," replied the enchanter, gravely, "it is Merlin. When a wizard and magician spend their mighty powers in juggling tricks fit only to amuse fools, those powers must be taken from them. You have made the agreement, and must abide by it. Drop your wands!"
The wands fell upon the sand.
"Go home, and work!"
They went home and worked, and neither of them married a princess or lived happily ever after.
Merlin laughed softly to himself, and remarking, "There's a couple of dunces!" changed himself back into a messenger-boy, signed his receipt himself, and walked away over the desert. Soon he disappeared over the horizon, and all was still.