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James Baldwin

Al Borak

A L BORAK — the name is Arabic, and means The Lightning. And this is the story which faithful Moslems tell of the wondrous steed.

It was midnight, thirteen hundred years ago, and Mohammed, the prophet, lay asleep in his house in the ancient city of Mecca. Suddenly he was roused by hearing a loud voice crying: "Up, up, thou sleeper! Arise and make ready for thy journey!"

Mohammed leaped to his feet and looked about him. Before him stood a creature of dazzling radiance whom he took to be an angel. His face was white as the purest marble, his hair was of gold and fell in silk-like waves about his shoulders, his wings reflected all the colors of the rainbow, and his robes of spotless white were embroidered with gold and thickly set with precious gems.

Mohammed was about to speak when he saw that the angel was holding the reins of a steed the most marvelous that any man ever beheld. It appeared to be a horse, and yet it was not like a horse. Its limbs were slender and long, its body was strong-built and finely formed, its coat sleek and glossy, and its mane so long that it almost swept the ground. Its color was white, intermingled with golden-yellow, and there was a golden star in its forehead. Folded over its back were wings like those of an eagle, amid the plumes of which the lightning gleamed and flashed. Its eyes were brighter than coals of fire, its ears were sharp-pointed and restless, its nostrils were wide, blood-red, and steaming. It had the face of a man, although the cheeks of a horse, and it spoke with a human voice in the purest Arabic.

Mohammed had no sooner seen this wonderful steed than he was filled with a desire to mount it. But when he reached forth his hand and made ready to spring upon its back, it reared high in the air, and would have struck at the prophet with its golden hoofs had not the angel restrained it.

"Be still, Borak!" cried the latter. "Do you not know who this is whom you oppose? It is Mohammed, the son of Abdallah, of one of the tribes of Arabia the Happy. He is the prophet of Allah, and it is through his intercession only that any creature can enter paradise."

Al Borak at once became as gentle as a lamb, and her eyes were filled with beseeching tears as she turned to the prophet and said:

"O thou, the most honored of mortals, I pray thee that thou wilt intercede for me!"

"Be assured that I will," answered Mohammed; "for never was steed more worthy of paradise than thou art!"

Then Al Borak allowed the prophet to mount upon her back, and, rising gently from the ground, she soared aloft above the desert sands and mountains of Arabia. The night was dark—the darkest that any man ever knew; and it was so still that all nature seemed sleeping and dead. There was no sound anywhere of stirring wind or of rippling water. No chirp of wakeful insect, no rustle of creeping reptile, no baying of dogs, no howling of wild beasts among the mountains, disturbed the solemn hour. All Arabia was silent as the grave. And Al Borak, with face directed northward, and at a speed which outdistanced thought, sailed noiselessly through the gloom.

Only thrice did the steed alight upon the earth—first upon Mount Sinai, then in the village of Bethlehem, and finally at the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. There Mohammed dismounted, and, fastening the steed to a ring which was attached to one of the stones of the temple, he left her and went in. But I need not speak of what happened to him there, nor of his further journey, nor of whom or what he saw; for those things have naught to do with Al Borak. When, at length, he returned to the gate of the temple, he found the steed in the place where he had tethered her, and, having remounted her, he was carried in an instant back to Mecca and set down at his own door. Then Al Borak, having bowed low in honor of the prophet, unfolded her wings again and soared aloft into the upper air, never again to be seen by mortal man.

The distance from Mecca to Jerusalem is about eight hundred miles as the crow flies, or as Al Borak flew. And yet, although Mohammed had not stopped at Jerusalem, but had gone some millions of miles beyond, the whole affair was accomplished in less time than you can think of it. It is easy to prove that this was so. In the first hurry of setting out, a vase of water had been overturned by the angel's wing; but Mohammed returned in time to catch the falling vessel before its contents could be spilled. Could anything have been quicker? Not even thought or a flash of light could have outsped Al Borak.