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CHAPTER XV

When Kubla Khan dismissed the assembly, and he took Marco Polo into a sitting-room, and Golden Bells came with them.

"And what did you think, sir, of what I said? And can you not see, sir, the truth that's in me?"

"Well, now, laddie," said the great Khan, "when we come to examine this sermon you quoted to us, what is there in it but the rule of the righteous man? We've had a great thinker and pious man of our own, Confucius. I'm not a reading man," says he, "but I've got an idea," says he, "that there isn't a thing you said but is embraced in the Analects. And if it isn't it'll be in the teachings of the Lord Buddha."

"Ah, but, sir," Marco Polo said, "You'll have to admit that He of Whom I speak was the true God made man."

"Now, laddie, remember I'm an old man, set in my head and my ways, and I've been used to one belief so long it would be hard changing. So don't press me now; don't press me, I ask you."

"Ah, sir," pleaded Marco Polo, "it's terrible to think of, as great a prince as you to be in the black spaces outside of heaven because you wouldn't accept the truth."

"Well, maybe they won't be so hard on one, my dear lad. When my time comes and I rap on the gate of your heaven, maybe they'll say: 'It's only old Kubla, the soldier, is in it. He knows devil and all about religion, but his fights were fair fights, and he never hit a man when he was down. He had a soft heart for wee children and he was easy on horses. Sure, what's the difference? Let him in!' And if they say no, I'll tuck the old nicked claymore under my arm, and be off to where the other old fighters are."

"I see, sir, that there was little success to my message."

"I wouldn't say that," said Kubla Khan. "Wait a little until you perform miracles before the people to prove your truth. You'll know better then."

"Ah, sir," said Marco Polo, "I can perform no miracles. 'Tis only a saint can perform miracles, and I couldn't lace a saint's shoes. I have no miracles."

"Oh, well, now, my dear boy," said Kubla Khan, "I hate to tell you, but there's no use going further. Sure you'd be up against the sorcerers of the world. They'd ask you for a sign, and you'd have no sign, and they'd have signs in abundance. I wouldn't think of letting you go against them. Fair play's a jewel, and you wouldn't have a chance. There's the Red Pope from Tibet and there's the Black Magician from Korea and a hundred minor ones, and the Warlock of the North, from the Islands of Ice, who governs the hail and the snow. Child, I wouldn't let you get into the same ring with them. They'd ruin you."

"But, sir, wasn't it a great miracle of the Lord's, my rescue in the Gobi Desert?"

"A miracle of the Lord's! A miracle of Golden Bells here. It was her magician saw you, and she had the message put on the drums, and the desert patrols went to seek you. It was herself here, wee Golden Bells." And Golden Bells' mouth gave a smile of shame that his thought should be broken in his mind.

"A long way I'm after coming," said Marco Polo, "and when I set out my heart was high."

"Now, don't be taking it too hard," says the khan, kindly. "Sure, there's a power of good you can be doing here. Maybe you can do something with Li Po," says he. "I'd like fine for you to try. The man is worrying the life out of me with his drinking. I never know when he goes out whether he'll come back all right or feet foremost on a door. For he's got the bitter tongue when the drink's in him, and China could ill afford to lose him. And there are some of my captains, and the tune they're always piping is 'War! War! War! And let's show up this Alexander who said he conquered the world.' And I'm past the age when you make war for devilment. So let you be helping me out with them, Marco Polo."

But Marco Polo knew this was only meant in kindness, and his heart was broken.

"Ah, wee lady," -- he turned to Golden Bells, -- "wee lady, wee lady, why didn't you let me die in the desert? Why didn't I die?"

"And why should you die, Marco Polo?" Her low, sweet voice rang in the heart of him. "Didn't you come here to give your message? And to make converts? And didn't I hear your message? And am n't I your convert, Marco Polo?"




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