The Sphinx at Dawn: Two Stories

The Sphinx at Dawn: Two Stories

by Madeleine L'Engle

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Overview

The Sphinx at Dawn: Two Stories by Madeleine L'Engle

The bestselling author of A Wrinkle in Time takes a fantastical look at the childhood of Jesus in two allegories set in an Egyptian village.

In “Pakko’s Camel,” Yehoshuah, the poor son of a carpenter, befriends Pakko, the arrogant son of a rich merchant. Yehoshuah cares for of Pakko’s camel and shares with him the knowledge of the precious gifts he received from three wise men. But when Yehoshuah’s treasures are taken, he quickly learns that all gifts have a price.
 
In “The Sphinx at Dawn,” Yehoshuah and his camel journey into the desert, where they come across the monstrous, hungry Sphinx. Intrigued and unafraid, Yehoshuah endeavors to answer the Sphinx’s riddles—and in doing so, he begins the real journey of a man with an incredible destiny.
 
Known for both her literary accomplishments as a winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, and her spiritual outlook, Madeleine L’Engle presents two affecting and inspiring tales for readers of any age.
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049436
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 46
Sales rank: 654,310
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007) was an American author of more than sixty books, including novels for children and adults, poetry, and religious meditations. Her best-known work, A Wrinkle in Time , one of the most beloved young adult books of the twentieth century and a Newbery Medal winner, has sold more than fourteen million copies since its publication in 1962. Her other novels include A Wind in the Door , A Swiftly Tilting Planet , and A Ring of Endless Light. Born in New York City, L’Engle graduated from Smith College and worked in theater, where she met her husband, actor Hugh Franklin. L’Engle documented her marriage and family life in the four-book autobiographical series, the Crosswicks Journals. She also served as librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan for more than thirty years.

Date of Birth:

January 12, 1918

Date of Death:

September 6, 2007

Place of Birth:

New York, NY

Place of Death:

Litchfield, CT

Education:

Smith College, 1941

Read an Excerpt

The Sphinx at Dawn

Two Stories


By Madeleine L'Engle

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1982 Crosswicks, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4154-6


CHAPTER 1

PAKKO'S CAMEL


The treasure was kept in a corner at the back of the house where they were staying in Egypt. The boy's father had made a small cupboard, and then a coffer with a cunningly-devised latch; he showed his wife how to open it, and his son, when the child was old enough to ask.

"But what is it, Father?"

"It is yours, my son."

The child picked up a little of the gold and held it wonderingly in the palm of his hand. "Mine?"

"When you were very small it was given to you."

"But Father, who would give me all this?"

"Three men, three strangers from far away."

"But why, Father? We aren't the kind of people who have gold and precious stones. The three men — do I remember them? I'm not sure. I think —"

"You were only a baby, Yehoshuah. They were —" the father hesitated — "they were passing by the place where we were staying at that time, and they saw you in your mother's lap. They stayed with us for the day, and when they left, they gave you all of the gifts that you see in this box. They told your mother and me that one day you might have need of them."

The child looked at his father; the man's direct brown eyes were not returning the gaze, but were cast down at the coffer; the set of the generous mouth was troubled. The boy let the gold slip from his fingers back into the coffer.

When he was a little older he sometimes opened the door of the cupboard and looked questioningly at the coffer; but he did not open it, and he did not ask either his mother or his father about it again. Something about the box disturbed him, and he felt instinctively that his parents would like it to be out of mind as well as out of sight.

Every month or so his mother opened the cupboard to brush away the cobwebs. Once he came upon her sitting there, a wisp of cobweb against the gloss of her hair, looking at the coffer. She did not notice him until he said, "Mother," and then she jumped as though he had called her back from a long distance. She turned and gave him the same far look with which she had been regarding the coffer.

He met her gaze, and when she turned away, shutting the door of the cupboard, he asked for some bread and cheese.

She prepared it for him, wrapping it in a cool, damp linen cloth. "Where are you going?"

"To play."

"In the village?"

"I thought I would go to the desert."

"The sun is very hot, my son."

"I will cover my head. If Pakko will let me ride his camel, I will go to the oasis."

Pakko, as Pa-Khura was called, was the son of the rich man of the village, a camel breeder. Like many rich men, he was not known for his generosity, even to his own family. Pakko's camel was a beast eminently unsellable. One of his ears had almost been ripped off in a fight with another camel. Pakko's camel had been the loser; as a result, he creaked at the joints, needed large quantities of water daily, was cross-eyed and half deaf. His temper had a low boiling point, and he had to be kept separated from the other beasts. He delighted in letting Pakko ride him into the desert, and then he would start to gallop in a manner extraordinary for one so battered. Pakko would shriek at him to stop, jerking violently at the reins, but the camel's mouth was hard and dark as iron. When he had attained maximum speed he would push his forepaws into the sand, spurting dust, and sending Pakko flying over his head.

Pakko hated his camel, but was forced by his father to feed, water, and exercise it. When he could persuade or bully any of his friends to do the job for him, he pretended that he was bestowing a great favour.

Pakko's father was fat and noisy; Pakko was skinny and short of speech, but had the same tiny eyes, green and sharp as cactus thorns, peering out from under a bulging, bumpy brow. His eyes darted here, there, everywhere: he was the only boy in the village to know about the cupboard and the coffer.

He had come, one day, looking for someone to play with; like the camel, he was quarrelsome, and had fallen out with the boys in the compound. He had come to the small white clay house of the foreigners, pretending to himself that he was bestowing the favour of his presence on Yehoshuah; he did not let himself remember that Yehoshuah was always welcome in the games played by the other boys — "Play with me, Yos; come be on our side, Yos." Shrugging, Pakko slouched into the house, without knocking or announcing his presence, because this was the way he did things, hoping to discover something he could put to use one way or another. And so he happened to see Yehoshuah squatting before the open cupboard.

"What are you doing, Yos?" Pakko asked.

The boy did not jump, but turned around slowly and smiled in greeting.

"What's that?" Pakko pointed.

"A coffer my father made."

"Why?"

"It is his trade." Yos looked at his own hands, strong and calloused from using saw, plane, hammer. He, too, could make a coffer, a table, help build a house.

Pakko squatted beside him. "Can I see?"

With no visible show of reluctance, Yos pulled the coffer out of the cupboard. It had recently been dusted. At the back of the cupboard a small spider was busily spinning a new web. "That's right," Yos said, "spin away. Do you like making new lace every month after my mother has cleaned?"

"How does it open?" Pakko asked.

"With that latch."

Pakko fumbled with it. His fingers, though thin, were short and undexterous. He had trouble fastening the camel straps, adjusting the harness. He got impatient now, with the latch.

"If you're rough with it," Yos said, "you'll just break it. Here. This way."

"Well, leave it open, then! Why did you close it again?"

"I thought you'd like to open it yourself."

Pakko shrugged. "I just want to see what's inside."

Yos looked at him, said slowly, "If I show you, will you let it be a secret, something just between you and me?"

"Why? Haven't the other boys seen it? I'm always the last one to be told anything."

"No one else has seen it."

"Why not?"

"It didn't seem important to show anyone."

Pakko scowled. "It's not important, so Pakko can see it, is that it? If it were something important, you wouldn't let me in on it."

Yos sighed, then pealed with laughter. "You're just like your camel. Come, Pakko, it's a joke, I'm very fond of the camel. Let's not fight, you know I'm stronger than you are. Look, I'll open the box for you."

"I don't care if you do or not." But Pakko wriggled closer as Yos's long fingers manipulated the latch. When the lid was raised, Pakko peered in. A ray of sunlight stretched across the room and glinted against the gold, was refracted from the prisms of a crystal bottle. "What's all that?"

"Gold."

Pakko's hand reached towards it, pulled back. "What would your parents be doing with gold? They were very poor when you first came here. My father told me."

Yos said, "My father is a fine carpenter. He'll never want for work, no matter where we are."

"Taking work away from people who've always lived here." Pakko reached into the box and picked up a piece of gold. "Did he earn this honestly?"

For a moment Yos stiffened. Then he laughed. "No wonder you get so many bloody noses and black eyes. You almost got one from me. But I don't need to defend my father. Everybody knows he's an honourable man. Why did you want to anger me?"

Pakko looked surprised. "I didn't. Things just come out of my mouth. I don't mean them."

Yos laughed again. "Just like your camel." His smile was so friendly that Pakko did not take offence. "The gold is mine," Yos said. "All that is in the box is mine."

"Yours? Ha. How would a little boy like you, a carpenter's son, have things like that? I'm two years older than you are, and my father's the rich man of the village, and I don't have pieces of gold, and oil in crystal bottles, and — what's that? — jewelled boxes of incense — are those things bits of glass?"

"I think," Yos said, "that they are rubies."

Pakko sat back on his heels, the jewelled box in his hand. "We all know you can make up stories. All the little kids are after you to tell them stories. But I'm older than you and I know the difference between stories and what's real. How would you get a box with rubies? And I suppose those things are emeralds?"

"It's likely."

"As though it didn't matter! Where did you get all this — stuff?"

"When I was a baby, three men came to the village where I was born, and left it for me."

"Just happened to pass by and leave it, eh? I suppose they were noble princes from foreign lands leaving gifts for the little lord? That's the kind of fairy tale you're likely to tell."

Yos smiled. "They were very wise men. They could read the stories in the stars, and their camels were white as snow in the moonlight, and their robes were velvet and gold. They saw me in my mother's lap, and they left gifts. Perhaps one day, when I'm grown up, I'll have need of them."

"The gold you can spend, the jewels you can sell, and I suppose you could get a few coins for that crystal bottle."

Yos shivered, although it was very hot in the low-ceilinged room. "Let's go ride the camel to the oasis. Some coconut milk would taste good this afternoon."

Pakko returned the jewelled box reluctantly to the coffer. "None of it's real. I know that. But it's pretty. Can I see it again?"

Yos neither argued nor answered the question. "I'll saddle the camel, if you like."

"I can do it perfectly well myself."

"Of course. But don't you like to have someone do it for you? We can pretend you are a great man —"

"Like my father."

Yos locked the coffer and shut it back in the cupboard; a shadow hid his expression. "You have thousands and thousands of camels, and I'm your servant."

"I'll play that," Pakko said.

Instead of shouting at the camel as Pakko did, Yos talked to him, a murmuring humming, and fondled the torn ear, gently, not to hurt. "Now, Pakko's camel, roll over and let me get the strap under your belly, gentle, there's no need to kick, that's it, that's just right, you're a superb camel, the most intelligent camel I've ever known. That's a beautiful smile, Pakko's camel; no human boy's mouth can possibly stretch that wide. If I pulled my lips back that way I'd make you laugh. Do you like coconut milk? If you don't toss us off your back, I'll give you a whole coconut all for yourself. And here's some water to start out with. You're the thirstiest camel I ever knew. What would you do if you had to travel all the way across the desert? You could do it, if you had to. It's just knowing inside yourself that you can be thirsty for a long time if it's necessary."

Pakko, as time went on, got lazier and lazier about exercising his camel, and began to relax into the role of rich merchant, with Yos his servant. The camel relaxed, too, enjoying his almost daily rides into the desert with Yos, because the boy was always consistent with him, never shouting or kicking even on the days when the camel's bones ached, and when folding his legs under him was so painful that he almost jounced his rider off his back. He learned to spend a whole day in the desert without water or complaint. He also began to balk when anyone else came near him.

There came a day when somebody called him Yos's camel, and Pakko was so furious that he wouldn't allow Yos near him for a week. During that time the camel kicked and bit at anyone who came near, and swore at Pakko with great bubblings and snortings.

Yos sought Pakko out.

Pakko shouted, "That beast of a camel! What did you do to him?"

"Nothing. The wind's been blowing the wrong way for his joints, and when it does that he's cross with everybody. But the wind shifted last night and he'll be better today. Let's pretend you're a great prince from a distant land, and I'm your camel boy. I'll saddle him for you, and you can ride all about the village greeting everybody."

"And giving gifts?"

"If you like."

After Pakko had proved publicly to everybody that he could control the camel — no one need know the trouble Yos had gone to before the camel would allow Pakko to mount him — he again let the younger boy resume his care of the beast. When the children referred to Yos's camel, Pakko pretended not to hear, or loftily told them that he graciously permitted Yos to ride the camel as a special treat, because he was a poor foreigner who would never have an opportunity to ride a camel otherwise.

One late afternoon when Yos returned from the desert, he sensed tension the moment he entered the house. His mother and father were waiting for him, their faces grave and troubled.

"Son, where have you been?" his father asked.

"In the desert with Pakko's camel."

"What do you do there?"

"I sit."

The father sighed. "You do your work. I have no complaints. You do not leave until everything is done. But why do you go so often to the desert?"

"The camel needs exercise. And I like the desert. I talk with the animals and birds and I sit and think."

The boy's mother held up her hand. "Yos's going to the desert doesn't necessarily have anything to do with — you know he's always liked to have time by himself."

"To do with what, Mother?"

The mother went to the cupboard in the corner, opened it, and pulled out the coffer. "I dusted today, my son."

"Yes, mother?"

"I do not always open the coffer, but I opened it today."

He stood, looking at her, questioningly. She gazed at him, searched his eyes, then turned to her husband. "You see, he knows nothing."

"My dear," the father said, "he must know."

Yos stood quietly looking from one to the other.

His mother opened the coffer and held it out to him. It was empty. She looked at him, cried out, "He is as surprised as I was!"

Her husband turned away, sat down, and then held his strong, calloused hands out towards the boy. "Yos, my son."

Yos reached towards the hands. "Yes, father."

"What do you know about this?"

"Nothing."

"You did not take the gifts from the box?"

"No, father."

The older man's grip on the boy's hands was strong. "Yos, I trust you. You knew that all that was in the box was yours. If you took it, I know you well enough to know that it was for a purpose which you considered right and necessary. You do not need to tell me what it was."

"But I took nothing, father."

"Yos, nobody knows about the box besides your mother and you."

Yos's eyes were troubled. "One of the boys from the village knows, father."

"You showed him?"

Yos did not try to explain. "Yes, father."

The mother cried out, "But, Yos —"

Her husband withdrew one hand from the boy's, and held it up to silence his wife. "If Yos wishes to tell us why he showed the coffer to one of his friends, he will do so."

"I wish to tell you, but I can't. At least, not now."

"Can you tell us who it was?"

"No, father."

"My son, you do know what this implies? Someone has taken all that is in the coffer, and if you are not the one who has done so, then it must be your friend."

"Yes."

"There was a great deal of gold in the coffer —"

The mother cried out, "Thirty pieces!"

Again her husband held up a silencing hand. "There were also precious stones, and valuable oil. You see, my son, your mother and I were asked to keep these things for you, and we tried to do so. We want nothing for ourselves. We have all that we need, and for us to have riches would be an embarrassment."

"Then for me, too, father."

"That is not the point. The strangers left the gifts for you."

Yos spoke slowly. "Father, what would you have done if no one had taken the gifts?"

"I don't know, my son, and that is not important. It has always been my experience that when the time comes, then I will know what is to be done. What matters now is that something has happened before that time."

"Father, are you sure?"

"Yos, you are still a child. I understand that you want to protect your friend. But we cannot just shrug off this theft."

For a moment Yos's dark eyes shone with tears. "Oh, no, father, I know that. But — you said that you trust me?"

"I do."

"Let me have some time, first to think what is best to be done, and then to do it."

"Are you old enough to handle such a problem yourself? I think that I must report the loss to the authorities."

"Not yet. Give me — not long; just one day. Till tomorrow night."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Sphinx at Dawn by Madeleine L'Engle. Copyright © 1982 Crosswicks, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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