Treasures of Aromatic Literature-The Third Room by George Estes


Abdamon and Baana entered another treasure room stocked with perfumes, musks, attars and other sweet odors from all parts of the old world, packed in the most marvelous containers,—beautifully engraved or etched bottles, some inlaid with silver, gold and precious stones, some cunning and grotesque, made of skin to represent tiny animals and birds. Others, for powders and incense, were boxes of the most costly woods and precious metals, most of them beautifully carved, inlaid and graven with jewel designs of the morning glory, hyssop, acacia, and honeysuckle. Among these were alabaster boxes of snow-white, filled with every delightful fragrance, which were thrown in the mausoleum during obsequies over the dead.

There were musks of castor so powerful that they could be used for the most unique and startling purposes. They were of many different odors and bouquets, all of which were replete with hidden meaning to those who understood them, there being a language of perfumes known only to the initiated. By means of this language a communication of thoughts could be carried on between those familiar with it, under the very noses, it might be said, of others without their knowledge. In this manner conferences between monarchs and important persons were often secretly controlled to the advantage of those who understood the musks, which were changed and given out as those using them desired. Assassination of kings and rulers were arranged for and carried through in the very presence of the victim, by this subtle method of communication.

These musks were so powerful that caravans could, by" means of their odors, communicate with following caravans if not more than a day behind, informing them of locations of water-holes, dangerous places and possibilities of attack by Bedouins or desert tribesmen.

There were boxes of ambergris, that strange and excessively rare substance thrown out by whales, and found floating or on the seacoast, the lucky finder of even a small quantity being made richer than if he had located a mine of free gold.

Perfume-makers from the earliest times have paid fabulous prices for this rare substance and it is as valuable today as at any time in the world's history; and yet it is not a perfume at all, but is used as a base necessary in the preparation of perfumes and blending of boquets.

There were jars of attars; essential oils obtained by the distillation of roses and other flowers; citron and orange oils from the great island of Sicily; gum, resins and balsams of benzoin, tolu, storax and myrrh from the far East; perfumed toilet soap made from lupine flower, glasswort and lote leaves; perfumes for the bath and fountain.

Among the choicest perfumes were powders, to be sprinkled in water and poured into bowls of glass, marble or porcelain kept in the sleeping chamber, which would induce sleep; other perfumes in the form of spun threads which looked like silk, and when woven into pillows, spreads or coverlets would make the sleeper's rest deep and profound.

There were perfumes imprisoned in delicate globules which might be thrown upon the hair and clothing of the guests of the household; the globules thus broken would release their contents to the guests' great delight; pots of incense from the far East, so deep and rich in their Oriental perfumes that their odors would cause the occupants of the chambers where they were released to travel in their imaginations through the lands of the Yellow River and the distant Ind, and in deep reveries the dreamer would hear the low, continuous chanting of white-bearded priests, punctuated by the clash of scimitars upon brazen shields, the stolid "chock" of bullock-carts and the jingle of the ropes of bells on the trappings of swaying elephants as they moved in long procession through narrow overhung streets.