The Four Million HTML version
The Caliph, Cupid And The Clock
Prince Michael, of the Electorate of Valleluna, sat on his favourite bench in the park. The
coolness of the September night quickened the life in him like a rare, tonic wine. The
benches were not filled; for park loungers, with their stagnant blood, are prompt to detect
and fly home from the crispness of early autumn. The moon was just clearing the roofs of
the range of dwellings that bounded the quadrangle on the east. Children laughed and
played about the fine-sprayed fountain. In the shadowed spots fauns and hamadryads
wooed, unconscious of the gaze of mortal eyes. A hand organ—Philomel by the grace of
our stage carpenter, Fancy—fluted and droned in a side street. Around the enchanted
boundaries of the little park street cars spat and mewed and the stilted trains roared like
tigers and lions prowling for a place to enter. And above the trees shone the great, round,
shining face of an illuminated clock in the tower of an antique public building.
Prince Michael's shoes were wrecked far beyond the skill of the carefullest cobbler. The
ragman would have declined any negotiations concerning his clothes. The two weeks'
stubble on his face was grey and brown and red and greenish yellow—as if it had been
made up from individual contributions from the chorus of a musical comedy. No man
existed who had money enough to wear so bad a hat as his.
Prince Michael sat on his favourite bench and smiled. It was a diverting thought to him
that he was wealthy enough to buy every one of those close-ranged, bulky, window-lit
mansions that faced him, if he chose. He could have matched gold, equipages, jewels, art
treasures, estates and acres with any Croesus in this proud city of Manhattan, and
scarcely have entered upon the bulk of his holdings. He could have sat at table with
reigning sovereigns. The social world, the world of art, the fellowship of the elect,
adulation, imitation, the homage of the fairest, honours from the highest, praise from the
wisest, flattery, esteem, credit, pleasure, fame—all the honey of life was waiting in the
comb in the hive of the world for Prince Michael, of the Electorate of Valleluna,
whenever he might choose to take it. But his choice was to sit in rags and dinginess on a
bench in a park. For he had tasted of the fruit of the tree of life, and, finding it bitter in his
mouth, had stepped out of Eden for a time to seek distraction close to the unarmoured,
beating heart of the world.
These thoughts strayed dreamily through the mind of Prince Michael, as he smiled under
the stubble of his polychromatic beard. Lounging thus, clad as the poorest of mendicants
in the parks, he loved to study humanity. He found in altruism more pleasure than his
riches, his station and all the grosser sweets of life had given him. It was his chief solace
and satisfaction to alleviate individual distress, to confer favours upon worthy ones who
had need of succour, to dazzle unfortunates by unexpected and bewildering gifts of truly
royal magnificence, bestowed, however, with wisdom and judiciousness.
And as Prince Michael's eye rested upon the glowing face of the great clock in the tower,
his smile, altruistic as it was, became slightly tinged with contempt. Big thoughts were
the Prince's; and it was always with a shake of his head that he considered the