And thus, until he reaches the heart of his subject; while the field of daisies and poppies before him gently sways as under a soft morning breeze; nods, as it were, its approbation.
"Truly," he continues, "religion is purely a work of the heart,—the human heart, and the heart of the world as well. For have not the three monotheistic religions been born in this very heart of the world, in Arabia, Syria, and Palestine? And are not our Books of Revelation the truest guides of life hitherto known to man? How then are we to keep this Heart pure, to free it, in other words, from the plagues I have named? And how, on the other hand, are we to strengthen it, to quicken its sluggish blood? In a word, how are we to attain to the pinnacle of health, and religion, and freedom,—of power, and love, and light? By political revolutions, and insurrections, and Dasturs? By blindly adopting the triple political tradition of France, which after many years of terror and bloodshed, only gave Europe a new Yoke, a new Tyranny, a new grinding Machine? No, my Brothers; not by political nomenclature, not by political revolutions alone, shall the nations be emancipated."
Whereupon Ahmed Bey begins to knit his brows; Shakib shakes his head, biting his nether lip; and here and there in the audience is heard a murmur about retrogression and reaction. Khalid proceeds with his allegory of the Muleteer and the Pack-Mule.
"See, the panel of the Mule is changed; the load, too; and a few short-cuts are made in the rocky winding road of statecraft and tyranny. Ah, the stolid, patient, drudging Mule always exults in a new Panel, which, indeed, seems necessary every decade, or so. For the old one, when, from a sense of economy, or from negligence or stupidity, is kept on for a length of time, makes the back sore, and the Mule becomes kickish and resty. Hence, the plasters of conservative homeopathists, the operations suggested by political leeches, the radical cures of social quacks, and such like. But the Mule continues to kick against the pricks; and the wise Muleteer, these days, when he has not the price of a new Panel, or knows not how to make one, sells him to the first bidder. And the new owner thereupon washes the sores and wounds, applies to them a salve of the patent kind, buys his Mule a new Panel, and makes him do the work. That is what I understand by a political revolution.... And are the Ottoman people free to-day? Who in all Syria and Arabia dare openly criticise the new Owner of the Mule?
"Ours in a sense is a theocratic Government. And only by reforming the religion on which it is based, is political reform in any way possible and enduring." And here he argues that the so-called Reformation of Islam, of which Jelal ud-Din el-Afghani and Mohammed Abdu are the protagonists, is false. It is based on theological juggling and traditional sophisms. Their Al-Gazzali, whom they so much prize and quote, is like the St. Augustine of the Christians: each of these theologians finds in his own Book of Revelation a divine criterion for measuring and judging all human knowledge. No; a scientific truth can not be measured by a Koranic epigram: the Koran, a divine guide to life; a work of the heart should not attempt to judge a work of the mind or should be judged by it.
"But I would brush the cobwebs of interpretation and sophism from this Work of the heart," he cries; "every spider's web in the Mosque, I would sweep away. The garments of your religion, I would have you clean, O my Brothers. Ay, even the threadbare adventitious wrappages, I would throw away. From the religiosity and cant of to-day I call you back to the religion pure of the heart...."
But the Field of poppies and daisies begins to sway as under a gale. It is swelling violently, tumultuously.
"I would free al-Islam," he continues, "from its degrading customs, its stupefying traditions, its enslaving superstitions, its imbruting cants."
Here several voices in the audience order the speaker to stop. "Innovation! Infidelity!" they cry.
"The yearly pestiferous consequences of the Haji"—But Khalid no longer can be heard. On all sides zealotry raises and shakes a protesting hand; on all sides it shrieks, objurgating, threatening. Here it asks, "We would like to know if the speaker be a Wahhabi." From another part of the Mosque comes the reply: "Ay, he is a Wahhabi." And the voice of the speaker thundering above the storm: "Only in Wahhabism pure and simple is the reformation of al-Islam possible."... Finis.
Zealotry is set by the ear; the hornet's nest is stirred. Your field of poppies and daisies, O Khalid, is miraculously transformed into a pit of furious grey spectres and howling red spirits. And still you wait in the tribune until the storm subside? Fool, fool! Art now in a civilised assembly? Hast thou no eyes to see, no ears to hear?
"Reactionist! Infidel! Innovator! Wahhabi! Slay him! Kill him!"—Are these likely to subside the while thou wait? By the tomb of St. John there, get thee down, and quickly. Bravo, Shakib!—He rushes to the tribune, drags him down by the jubbah, and, with the help of another friend, hustles him out of the Mosque. But the thirst for blood pursues them. And Khalid receives in the court outside a stiletto-thrust in the back and a slash in the forehead above the brow down to the ear. Which, indeed, we consider a part of his good fortune. Like the muleteer of his Lebanon tour, we attribute his escape with two wounds to the prayers of his good mother. For he is now in the carriage with Shakib, the blood streaming down his back and over his face. With difficulty the driver makes his way through the crowds, issues out of the arcade, and—crack the whip! Quickly to the Hotel.
The multitudes behind us, both inside and outside the Mosque, are violently divided; for the real reactionists of Damascus, those who are hostile to the Constitution and the statochratic Government, are always watching for an opportunity to give the match to the dry sedges of sedition. And so, the liberals, who are also the friends of Khalid, and the fanatical mobs of the ulema, will have it out among themselves. They call each other reactionists, plotters, conspirators; and thereupon the bludgeons and poniards are brandished; the pistols here and there are fired; the Dragoons hasten to the scene of battle—but we are not writing now the History of the Ottoman Revolution. We leave them to have it out among themselves as best they can, and accompany our Khalid to the Hotel.
Here the good Mrs. Gotfry washes the blood from his face, and Shakib, after helping him to bed, hastens to call the surgeon, who, having come straightway, sews and dresses the wounds and assures us that they are not dangerous. In the evening a number of Sheikhs of an enlightened and generous strain, come to inquire about him. They tell us that one of the assailants of Khalid, a noted brigand, and ten of the reactionists, are now in prison. The Society Deputies, however, do not seem much concerned about their wounded friend. Yes, they are concerned, but in another direction and on weightier matters. For the telegraph wires on the following day were kept busy. And in the afternoon of the second day after the event, the man who helped Shakib to save Khalid from the mob, comes to save Khalid's life. The Superintendent of the Telegraph himself is here to inform us that Khalid was accused to the Military Tribunal as a reactionist, and a cablegram, in which he is summoned there, is just received.
"Had I delivered this to the Vali," he continues, "you would have been now in the hands of the police, and to-morrow on your way to Constantinople. But I shall not deliver it until you are safe out of the City. And you must fly or abscond to-day, because I can not delay the message until to-morrow."
Now Khalid and Shakib and Mrs. Gotfry take counsel together. The one train for Baalbek leaves in the morning; the carriage road is ruined from disuse; and only on horseback can we fly. So, Mrs. Gotfry orders her dragoman to hire horses for three,—nay, for four, since we must have an extra guide with us,—and a muleteer for the baggage.
And here Shakib interposes a suggestion: "They must not come to the Hotel. Be with them on the road, near the first bridge, about the first hour of night."
At the office of the Hotel the dragoman leaves word that they are leaving for a friend's house on account of their patient.
And after dinner Mrs. Gotfry and Khalid set forth afoot, accompanied by Shakib. In five minutes they reach the first bridge; the dragoman and the guide, with their horses and lanterns, are there waiting. Shakib helps Khalid to his horse and bids them farewell. He will leave for Baalbek by the first train, and be there ahead of them.
* * * * *
And now, Reader, were we really romancing, we should here dilate of the lovely ride in the lovely moonlight on the lovely road to Baalbek. But truth to tell, the road is damnable, the welkin starless, the night pitch-black, and our poor Dreamer is suffering from his wounds.
THE STONING AND FLIGHT
"And whence the subtle thrill of joy in suffering for the Truth," asks Khalid. "Whence the light that flows from the wounds of martyrs? Whence the rapture that triumphs over their pain? In the thick of night, through the alcoves of the mountains, over their barren peaks, down through the wadi of oblivion, silently they pass. And they dream. They dream of appearance in disappearance; of triumph in surrender; of sunrises in the sunset.
"A mighty tidal wave leaves high upon the beach a mark which later on becomes the general level of the ocean. And so do the great thinkers of the world,—the poets and seers, the wise and strong and self-denying, the proclaimers of the Religion of Man. And I am but a scrub-oak in this forest of giants, my Brothers. A scrub-oak which you might cut down, but not uproot. Lop off my branches; apply the axe to my trunk; make of my timber charcoal for the censers of your temples of worship; but the roots of me are deep, deep in the soil, beyond the reach of mortal hands. They are even spreading under your tottering palaces and temples....
"I dream of the awakening of the East; of puissant Orient nations rising to glorify the Idea, to build temples to the Universal Spirit—to Art, and Love, and Truth, and Faith. What if I am lost in the alcoves of the hills, if I vanish forever in the night? The sun that sets must rise. It is rising and lighting up the dark and distant continents even when setting. Think of that, ye who gloat over the sinking of my mortal self.
"No; an idea is never too early annunciated. The good seed will grow among the rocks, and though the heavens withhold from it the sunshine and rain. It is because I will it, nay, because a higher Will than mine wills it, that the spirit of Khalid shall yet flow among your pilgrim caravans, through the fertile deserts of Arabia, down to the fountain-head of Faith, to Mecca and Medina," et cetera.
This, perhaps the last of the rhapsodies of Khalid's, the Reader considering the circumstances under which it was written, will no doubt condone. Further, however, in the K. L. MS. we can not now proceed. Certainly the Author is not wanting in the sort of courage which is loud-lunged behind the writing table; his sufficiency of spirit is remarkable, unutterable. But we would he knew that the strong do not exult in their strength, nor the wise in their wisdom. For to fly and philosophize were one thing, and to philosophize in prison were another. Khalid this time does not follow closely in the way of the Masters. But he would have done so, if we can believe Shakib in this, had not Mrs. Gotfry persuaded him to the contrary. He would have stood in the Turkish Areopagus at Constantinople, defended himself somewhat Socratic before his judges, and hung out his tung on a rickety gibbet in the neighborhood of St. Sophia. But Mrs. Gotfry spoiled his great chance. She cheated him of the glory of dying for a noble cause.
"The Turks are not worth the sacrifice," Shakib heard her say, when Khalid ejaculated somewhat about martyrdom. And when she offered to accompany him, the flight did not seem shameful in his eyes. Nay, it became necessary; and under the circumstances it was, indeed, cowardice not to fly. For is it not as noble to surrender one's self to Love as to the Turks or any other earthly despotism? Gladly, heroically, he adventures forth, therefore, and philosophizes on the way about the light that flows from the wounds of persecution. But we regret that this celestial stream is not unmixed; it is accompanied by blood and pus; by distention and fever, and other inward and outward sores.
In this grievous state, somewhat like Don Quixote after the Battle of the Mill, our Khalid enters Baalbek. If the reader likes the comparison between the two Knights at this juncture, he must work it out for himself. We can not be so uncharitable as that; especially that our Knight is a compatriot, and is now, after our weary journeyings together, become our friend.—Our poor grievous friend who must submit again to the surgeon's knife.
Mrs. Gotfry would not let him go to his mother, for she herself would nurse him. So, the doctor is called to the Hotel. And after opening, disinfecting, and dressing the wounds, he orders his patient to keep in bed for some days. They will then visit the ruins and resume their journeying to Egypt. Khalid no longer would live in Syria,—in a country forever doomed to be under the Turkish yoke, faring, nay, misfaring alike in the New Era as in the Old.
Now, his mother, tottering with age and sorrow, comes to the Hotel, and begs him in a flood of tears to come home; for his father is now with the Jesuits of Beirut and seldom comes to Baalbek. And his cousin Najma, with a babe on her arm and a tale of woe in her eyes, comes also to invite her cousin Khalid to her house.
She is alone; her father died some months ago; her husband, after the dethronement of Abd'ul-Hamid, being implicated in the reaction-movement, fled the country; and his relatives, to add to her affliction, would deprive her of her child. She is alone; and sick in the lungs. She coughs, too, the same sharp, dry, malignant cough that once plagued Khalid. Ay, the same disease which he buried in the pine forest of Mt. Lebanon, he beholds the ghost of it now, more terrible and heart-rending than anything he has yet seen or experienced. The disease which he conquered is come back in the person of his cousin Najma to conquer him. And who can assure Khalid that it did not steal into her breast along with his kisses? And yet, he is not the only one in Baalbek who returned from America with phthisis. O, but that thought is horrifying. Impossible—he can not believe it.
But whether it be from you or from another, O Khalid, there is the ghost of it beckoning to you. Look at it. Are those the cheeks, those the eyes, this the body which a year ago was a model of rural charm and beauty and health? Is this the compensation of love? Is there anything like it dreamt of in your philosophy? There she is, who once in the ruined Temple of Venus mixed the pomegranate flower of her cheeks with the saffron of thy sickly lips. Wasted and dejected broken in body and spirit, she sits by your bedside nursing her baby and coughing all the while. And that fixed expression of sadness, so habitual among the Arab women who carry their punks and their children on their backs and go a-begging, it seems as if it were an hundred autumns old, this sadness. But right there, only a year ago, the crimson poppies dallied with the laughing breeze; the melting rubies dilated of health and joy.
And now, deploring, imploring, she asks: "Will you not come to me, O Khalid? Will you not let me nurse you? Come; and your mother, too, will live with us. I am so lonesome, so miserable. And at night the boys cast stones at my door. My husband's relatives put them to it because I would not give them the child. And they circulate all kinds of calumnies about me too."
Khalid promises to come, and assures her that she will not long remain alone. "And Allah willing," he adds, "you will recover and be happy again."
She rises to go, when Mrs. Gotfry enters the room. Khalid introduces his cousin as his dead bride. "What do you mean?" she inquires. He promises to explain. Meanwhile, she goes to her room, brings some sweetmeats in a round box inlaid with mother-of-pearl for Khalid's guests. And taking the babe in her arms, she fondles and kisses it, and gives its mother some advice about suckling. "Not whenever the child cries, but only at stated times," she repeats.
So much about Khalid's mother and cousin. A few days after, when he is able to leave his room, he goes to see them. His cousin Najma he would take with him to Cairo. He would not leave her behind, a prey to the cruelty of loneliness and disease. He tells her this. She is overjoyed. She is ready to go whenever he says. To-morrow? Please Allah, yes. But—
Please Allah, ill-luck is following. For on his way back to the Hotel, a knot of boys, lying in wait in one of the side streets, cast stones at him. He looks back, and a missile whizzes above his head, another hits him in the forehead almost undoing the doctor's work. Alas, that wound! Will it ever heal? Khalid takes shelter in one of the shops; a cameleer rates the boys and chases them away. The stoning was repeated the following day, and the cause of it, Shakib tells us, is patent. For when it became known in Baalbek that Khalid, the excommunicated one, is living in the Hotel, and with an American woman! the old prejudices against him were aroused, the old enemies were astirring. The priests held up their hands in horror; the women wagged their long tongues in the puddle of scandal; and the most fanatical shrieked out, execrating, vituperating, threatening even the respectable Shakib, who persists in befriending this muleteer's son. Excommunicated, he now comes with this Americaniyah (American woman) to corrupt the community. Horrible! We will even go farther than this boy's play of stoning. We present petitions to the kaiemkam demanding the expulsion of this Khalid from the Hotel, from the City.
From other quarters, however, come heavier charges against Khalid. The Government of Damascus has not been idle ever since the seditious lack-beard Sheikh disappeared. The telegraph wires, in all the principal cities of Syria, are vibrating with inquiries about him, with orders for his arrest. One such the kaiemkam of Baalbek had just received when the petition of the "Guardians of the Morals of the Community" was presented to him. To this, the kaiemkam, in a perfunctory manner, applies his seal, and assures his petitioners that it will promptly be turned over to the proper official. But Turk as Turks go, he "places it under the cushion," when they leave. Which expression, translated into English means, he quashes it.
Now, by good chance, this is the same kaiemkam who sent Khalid a year ago to prison, maugre the efforts and importunities and other inducements of Shakib. And this time, he will do him and his friend a good turn. He was thinking of the many misfortunes of this Khalid, and nursing a little pity for him, when Shakib entered to offer a written complaint against a few of the more noted instigators of the assailants of his friend. His Excellency puts this in his pocket and withdraws with Shakib into another room. A few minutes after, Shakib was hurrying to the Hotel to confer with his brother Khalid and Mrs. Gotfry.
"I saw the Order with these very eyes," said Shakib, almost poking his two forefingers into them. "The kaiemkam showed it to me."
Hence, the secret preparations inside the Hotel and out of it for a second remove, for a final flight. Shakib packs up; Najma is all ready. And Khalid cuts his hair, doffs his jubbah, and appears again in the ordinary attire of civilised mortals. For how else can he get out of Beirut and the telegraph wires throughout Syria are flowing with orders for his arrest? In a hat and frock-coat, therefore (furnished by Shakib), he enters into the carriage with Mrs. Gotfry about two hours after midnight; and, with their whole retinue, make for Riak, and thence by train for Beirut. Here Shakib obtains passports for himself and Najma, and together with Mrs. Gotfry and her dragoman, they board in the afternoon the Austrian Liner for Port-Said; while, in the evening, walking at the side of one of the boatmen, Khalid, passportless, stealthily passes through the port, and rejoins his friends.
We remember seeing once a lithographic print representing a Christmas legend of the Middle Ages, in which a detachment of the Heavenly Host—big, ugly, wild-looking angels—are pursuing, with sword and pike, a group of terror-stricken little devils. The idea in the picture produced such an impression that one wished to see the helpless, pitiful imps in heaven and the armed winged furies, their pursuers, in the other place. Now, as we go through the many pages of Shakib's, in which he dilates of the mischances, the persecutions, and the flights of Khalid, and of which we have given an abstract, very brief but comprehensive, in the preceding Chapters, we are struck with the similarity in one sense between his Dastur-legend, so to speak, and that of the Middle Ages to which we have alluded. The devils in both pictures are distressing, pitiful; while the winged persecutors are horribly muscular, and withal atrociously armed.
Indeed, this legend of the Turkish angels of Fraternity and Equality, pursuing the Turkish little devils of reaction, so called, is most killing. But we can not see how the descendants of Yakut and Seljuk Khan, whether pursuers or pursued, whether Dastur winged furies they be, or Hamidian devils, are going to hold their own in face of the fell Dragon which soon or late must overtake them. That heavy, slow-going, slow-thinking Monster—and it makes little difference whether he comes from the North or from the West—will wait until the contending parties exhaust their strength and then—but this is not our subject. We would that this pursuing business cease on all sides, and that everybody of all parties concerned pursue rather, and destroy, the big strong devil within them. Thus sayeth the preacher. And thus, for once, we, too. For does not every one of these furious angels of Equality, whether in Constantinople, in Berlin, in Paris, in London, or in New York, sit on his wings and reveal his horns when he rises to power? We are tired of wings that are really nothing but horns, misshaped and misplaced.
Look at our French-swearing, whiskey-drinking Tataric angels of the Dastur! Indeed, we rejoice that our poor little Devil is now beyond the reach of their dripping steel and rickety second-hand gibbets. And yet, not very far; for if the British Government consent or blink, Khalid and many real reactionists whom Cairo harbours, would have to seek an asylum elsewhere. And the third flight might not be as successful as the others. But none such is necessary. On the sands of the Libyan desert, not far from Cairo and within wind of Helwan, they pitch their tents. And Mrs. Gotfry is staying at Al-Hayat, which is a stone's throw from their evening fire. She would have Khalid live there too, but he refuses. He will live with his cousin and Shakib for a while. He is captivated, we are told, by that little cherub of a babe. But this does not prevent him from visiting his friend the Buhaist Priestess every day and dining often with her at the Hotel.
She, too, not infrequently comes to the camp. Indeed, finding the solitude agreeable she has a tent pitched near theirs. And as a relief from the noise and bustle of tourists and the fatiguing formalities of Hotel life, she repairs thither for a few days every week.
Now, in this austere delicacy of the desert, where allwhere is the softness of pure sand, Khalid is perfectly happy. Never did he seem so careless, our Scribe asserts, and so jovial and child-like in his joys. Far from the noise and strife of politics, far from the bewildering tangle of thought, far from the vain hopes and dreams and ambitions of life, he lives each day as if it were the last of the world. Here are joys manifold for a weary and persecuted spirit: the joy of having your dearest friend and comrade with you; the joy of nursing and helping to restore to health and happiness the woman dearest to your heart; the joy of a Love budding in beauty and profusion; and—this, the rarest and sublimest for Khalid—the joy of worshipping at the cradle—of fondling, caressing, and bringing up one of the brightest, sweetest, loveliest of babes.
Najib is his name—it were cruel to neutralise such a prodigy—and he is just learning to walk and lisp. Khalid teaches him the first step and the first monosyllable, receiving in return the first kiss which his infant lips could voice. With what joy Najib makes his first ten steps! With what zest would he practise on the soft sands, laughing as he falls, and rising to try again. And thus, does he quickly, wonderfully develop, unfolding in the little circle of his caressers—in his mother's lap, in Shakib's arms, on Khalid's back, on Mrs. Gotfry's knee—the irresistible charm of his precocious spirit.
In two months of desert life, Najib could run on the sands and sit down when tired to rest; in two months he could imitate in voice and gesture whatever he heard or saw: the donkey's bray, and with a tilt of the head like him; the cry of the cock; the shrill whistle of the train; and the howling of donkey boys. His keen sense of discrimination in sounds is incredible. And one day, seeing a Mohammedan spreading his rug to pray, he begins to kneel and kiss the ground in imitation of him. He even went into the tent and brought Khalid's jubbah to spread it on the sand likewise for that purpose. So sensitive to outside impressions is this child that he quickly responds to the least suggestion and with the least effort. Early in the morning, when the chill of night is still on the sands, he toddles into Khalid's tent cooing and warbling his joy. A walking jasmine flower, a singing ray of sunshine, Khalid calls him. And the mother, on seeing her child thus develop, begins to recuperate. In this little garden of happiness, her hope begins to blossom.
But Khalid would like to know why Najib, on coming into his tent in the morning and seeing him naked, always pointed with his little finger and with questioning smile, to what protruded under the navel. The like questions Khalid puts with the ease and freedom of a child. And writes full pages about them, too, in which he only succeeds in bamboozling himself and us. For how can we account for everything a child does? Even the psychologist with his reflex-action theory does not solve the whole problem. But Khalid would like to know—and perhaps not so innocently does he dwell upon this subject as upon others—he would like to know the significance of Najib's pointed finger and smile. It may be only an accident, Khalid. "But an accident," says he, "occurring again and again in the same manner under stated conditions ceases to be such." And might not the child, who is such an early and keen observer, have previously seen his mother in native buff, and was surprised to see that appendage in you, Khalid?
Even at Al-Hayat Najib is become popular. Khalid often comes here carrying him on his back. And how ready is the child to salaam everybody, and with both hands, as he stands on the veranda steps. "Surely," says Khalid, "there is a deeper understanding between man and child than between man and man. For who but a child dare act so freely among these polyglots of ceremony in this little world of frills and frocks and feathers? Who but a child dare approach without an introduction any one of these solemn-looking tourists? Here then is the divine source of the sweetest and purest joy. Here is that one touch of Nature which makes the whole world kin. For the child, and though he be of the lowest desert tribe, standing on the veranda of a fashionable Hotel, can warm and sweeten with the divine flame that is in him, the hearts of these sour-seeming, stiff-looking tourists who are from all corners of the earth. Is not this a miracle? My professor of psychology will say, 'Nay.' But what makes the heart leap in that grave and portly gentleman, who might be from Finland or Iceland, for all I know, when Najib's hand is raised to him in salutation? What makes that stately and sombre-looking dame open her arms, when Najib plucks a flower and, after smelling it, presents it to her? What makes that reticent, meditative, hard-favoured ancient, who is I believe a psychologist, what makes him so interested in observing Najib when he stands near the piano pointing anxiously to the keyboard? For the child enjoys not every kind of music: play a march or a melody and he will keep time, listing joyously from side to side and waving his hand in an arch like a maestro; play something insipid or chaotic and he will stand there impassive as a statue."
And "the reticent hard-favoured ancient," who turns out to be an American professor of some ology, explains to Khalid why lively music moves children, while soft and subtle tones do not. But Khalid is not open to argument on the subject. He prefers to believe that children, especially when so keenly sensitive as his prodigy, understand as much, if not more, about music as the average operagoer of to-day. But that is not saying much. The professor furthermore, while admitting the extreme precocity of Najib's mind, tries to simplify by scientific analysis what to Khalid and other laymen seemed wonderful, almost miraculous. Here, too, Khalid botches the arguments of the learned gentleman in his effort to give us a summary of them, and tells us in the end that never after, so long as that professor was there, did he ever visit Al-Hayat.
He prefers to frolic and philosophise with his prodigy on the sands. He goes on all four around the tent, carrying Najib on his back; he digs a little ditch in the sand and teaches him how to lie therein. Following the precept of the Greek philosophers, he would show him even so early how to die. And Najib lies in the sand-grave, folds his hands on his breast and closes his eyes. Rising therefrom, Khalid would teach him how to dance like a dervish, and Najib whirls and whirls until he falls again in that grave.
When Mrs. Gotfry came that day, Khalid asked the child to show her how to dance and die, and Najib begins to whirl like a dervish until he falls in the grave; thereupon he folds his arms, closes his eyes, and smiles a pathetic smile. This by far is the masterpiece of all his feats. And one evening, when he was repeating this strange and weird antic, which in Khalid's strange mind might be made to symbolise something stranger than both, he saw, as he lay in the grave, a star in the sky. It was the first time he saw a star; and he jumped out of his sand-grave exulting in the discovery he had made. He runs to his mother and points the star to her....
And thus did Khalid spend his halcyon months in the desert. Here was an arcadia, perfect but brief. For his delight in infant worship, and in the new Love which was budding in beauty and profusion, and in tending his sick cousin who was recovering her health, and in the walks around the ruins in the desert with his dearest comrade and friend,—these, alas, were joys of too pure a nature to endure.
"But I can not see all that you see."
"Then you do not love me."
"Back again to Swedenborg—I told you more than once that he is not my apostle."
"Nor is he mine. But he has expressed a great truth, Jamilah. Now, can you love me in the light of that truth?"
"You are always asking me that same question, Khalid. You do not understand me. I do not believe in marriage. I tried it once; I will not try it again. I am married to Buhaism. And you Khalid—remember my words—you will yet be an apostle—the apostle—of Buhaism. And you will find me with you, whether you be in Arabia, in America, or in Egypt. I feel this—I know it—I am positive about it. Your star and mine are one. We are born under the same star. We are now in the same orbit, approaching the same nadir. We are ruled by our stars. I believe this, and you don't. At least, you say you don't. But you do. You don't know your own mind. The trend of the current of your life is beyond your grasp, beyond your comprehension. I know. And you must listen to me. You must follow my advice. If you can not come with me now to the States, you will await me here. I am called on a pressing business. And within three months, at the most, I shall return and find you waiting for me right here, in this desert."
"I can not understand you."
"You will yet."
"But why not try to understand me? Can you not find in my ideas the very essence of Buhaism? Can you not come up to my height and behold there the star that you have taken for your guide? My Truth, Jamilah, can you not see that? Love and Faith, free from all sectarianism and all earthly authority,—what is Buhaism or Mohammedanism or Christianity beside them? Moreover, I have a mission. And to love me you must believe in me, not in the Buha. You laugh at my dream. But one day it will be realised. A great Arab Empire in the border-land of the Orient and Occident, in this very heart of the world, this Arabia, this Egypt, this Field of the Cloth of Gold, so to speak, where the Male and Female of the Spirit shall give birth to a unifying faith, a unifying art, a unifying truth—"
"Vagaries, chimeras," interrupted Mrs. Gotfry. "Buhaism is established, and it needs a great apostle. It needs you; it will have you. I will have you. Your destiny is interwoven with mine. You can not flee it, do what you may. We are ruled by our stars, Khalid. And if you do not realise this now, you will realise it to-morrow. Here, give me your hand."
"I can not."
"Very well, then. Good-bye—au revoir. In three months you will change your mind. In three months I will return to the East and find you waiting for me, even here in this desert. Think on it, and take care of yourself. Au revoir."
In this strange, mysterious manner, after pacing for hours on the sand in the sheen of the full moon, Mrs. Gotfry says farewell to Khalid.
He sits on a rock near his tent and ponders for hours. He seeks in the stars, as it were, a clue to the love of this woman, which he first thought to be unfathomable. There it is, the stars seem to say. And he looks into the sand-grave near him, where little Najib practises how to die. Yes; a fitting symbol of the life and love called modern, boasting of freedom. They dance their dervish dance, these people, even like Khalid's little Najib, and fall into their sand-graves, and fold their arms and smile: "We are in love—or we are out of it." Which is the same. No: he'll have none of this. A heart as simple as this desert sand, as deep in affection as this heaven, untainted by the uncertainties and doubts and caprices of modern life,—only in such a heart is the love that endures, the love divine and eternal.
He goes into Najma's tent. The mother and her child are sound asleep. He stands between the bed and the cot contemplating the simplicity and innocence and truth, which are more eloquent in Najib's brow than aught of human speech. His little hand raised above his head seems to point to a star which could be seen through an opening in the canvas. Was it his star—the star that he saw in the sand-grave—the star that is calling to him?—
But let us resume our narration.
A fortnight after Mrs. Gotfry's departure Shakib leaves the camp to live in Cairo. He is now become poet-laureate to one of the big pashas.
Khalid is left alone with Najma and Najib.
And one day, when they are playing a game of "donkey,"—Khalid carried Najib on his back, ran on all four around the tent, and Najma was the donkey-driver,—the child of a sudden utters a shriek and falls on the sand. He is in convulsions; and after the relaxation, lo, his right hand is palsied, his mouth awry, and his eyes a-squint. Khalid finds a young doctor at Al-Hayat, and his diagnosis of the case does not disturb the mind. It is infantile paralysis, a disease common with delicate children. And the doctor, who is of a kind and demonstrative humour, discourses at length on the disease, speaks of many worse cases of its kind he cured, and assures the mother that within a month the child will recover. For the present he can but prescribe a purgative and a massage of the arm and spine. On the third visit, he examines the child's faeces and is happy to have discovered the seat and cause of the affection. The liver is not performing its function; and given such weak nerves as the child's, a torpid liver in certain cases will produce paralysis.
But Khalid is not satisfied with this. He places the doctor's prescription in his pocket, and goes down to Cairo for a specialist. He comes, this one, to disturb their peace of mind with his indecision. It is not infantile paralysis, and he can not yet say what it is. Khalid meanwhile is poring over medical books on all the diseases that children are heir to.
On the fifth day the child falls again in convulsions, and the left arm, too, is paralysed. They take him down to Cairo; and Medicine, considering the disease of his mother, guesses a third time—tuberculosis of the spine, it says—and guesses wrong. Again, considering the strabismus, the obliquity of the mouth, the palsy in the arms, and the convulsions, we guess closely, but ominously. Nay, Medicine is positive this time; for a fifth and a sixth Guesser confirm the others. Here we have a case of cerebral meningitis. That is certain; that is fatal.
Najib is placed under treatment. They cut his hair, his beautiful flow of dark hair; rub his scalp with chloroform; keep the hot bottles around his feet, the ice bag on his head; and give him a spoon of physic every hour. "Make no noise around the room, and admit no light into it," further advises the doctor. Thus for two weeks the child languishes in his mother's arms; and resting from the convulsions and the coma, he would fix on Khalid the hollow, icy glance of death. No; the light and intelligence might never revisit those vacant eyes.
Now Shakib comes to suggest a consultation. The great English physician of Cairo, why not call him? It might not be meningitis, after all, and the child might be helped, might be cured.
The great guesswork Celebrity is called. He examines the patient and confirms the opinion of his confreres, rather his disciples.
"But the whole tissue," he continues with glib assurance, "is not affected. The area is local, and to the side of the ear that is sore. The strabismus being to the right, the affection must be to the left. And the pus accumulating behind the ear, under the bone, and pressing on the covering of the brain, produces the inflammation. Yes, pus is the cause of this." And he repeats the Arabic proverb in broken Arabic, "A drop of pus will disable a camel." Further, "Yes, the child's life can be saved by trepanning. It should have been done already, but the time's not passed. Let the surgeon come and make a little opening—no; a child can stand chloroform better than an adult. And when the pus is out he will be well."
In a private consultation the disciples beg to observe that there was no evidence of pus behind the ear. "It is beneath the skullbone," the Master asserts. And so we decide upon the operation. The Eye and Ear specialist is called, and after weighing the probabilities of the case and considering that the great Celebrity had said there was pus, although there be no evidence of it, he convinces Khalid that if the child is not benefited by the operation he cannot suffer from it more than he is suffering now.
The surgeon comes with his assistants. Little Najib is laid on the table; the chloroform towel is applied; the scalpels, the cotton, the basins of hot water, and other accessories, are handed over by one doctor to another. The Cutter begins. Shakib is there watching with the rest; Najma is in an adjacent room weeping; and Khalid is pacing up and down the hall, his brows moistened with the cold sweat of anguish and suspense.
No pus between the scalp and the bone: the little hammer and chisel are handed to the Cutter. One, two, three,—the child utters a faint cry; the chloroform towel is applied again;—four, five, six, and the seventh stroke of the little hammer opens the skull. The Cutter then penetrates with his catheter, searches thoroughly through the brain—here—there—above—below—and finally holds the instrument up to his assistants to show them that there is—no pus! "If there be any," says he, "it is beyond the reach of surgery." The wound, therefore, is quickly washed, sewn up, and dressed, while everybody is wondering how the great Celebrity can be wrong....
Little Najib remains under the influence of anaesthetics for two days—for two days he is in a trance. And on the third, the fever mounts to the danger line and descends again—only after he had stretched his little arm and breathed his last!
And Khalid and Najma and Shakib take him out to the desert and bury him in the sand, near the tent round which he used to play. There, where he stepped his first step, lisped his first syllable, smacked his first kiss, and saw for the first time a star in the heaven, he is laid; he is given to the Night, to the Eternity which Khalid does not fear. And yet, what tears, Shakib tells us, he shed over that little grave.
But about the time the second calamity approaches, when Najma begins to decline and waste away from grief, when the relapse sets in and carries her in a fortnight downward to the grave of her child, Khalid's eyes are as two pieces of flint stone on a sheet of glass. His tears flow inwardly, as it were, through his cracked heart....
Like the poet Saadi, Khalid once sought to fill his lap with celestial flowers for his friends and brothers; and he gathered some; but, alas, the fragrance of them so intoxicated him that the skirt dropt from his hand....
* * * * *
We are again at the Mena House, where we first met Shakib. And the reader will remember that the tears rushed to his eyes when we inquired of him about his Master and Friend. "He has disappeared some ten days ago," he then said, "and I know not whither." Therefore, ask us not, O gentle Reader, what became of him. How can we know? He might have entered a higher spiritual circle or a lower; of a truth, he is not now on the outskirts of the desert: deeper to this side or to that he must have passed. And passing he continues to dream of "appearance in the disappearance; of truth in the surrender; of sunrises in the sunset."
Now, fare thee well in either case, Reader. And whether well or ill spent the time we have journeyed together, let us not quarrel about it. For our part, we repeat the farewell words of Sheikh Taleb of Damascus: "Judge us not severely." And if we did not study to entertain thee as other Scribes do, it is because we consider thee, dear good Reader, above such entertainment as our poor resources can furnish, Wassalmu aleik!
IN . FREIKE . WHICH . IS . IN . MOUNT . LEBANON SYRIA . ON . THE . TWELFTH . DAY . OF JANUARY . 1910 . ANNO . CHRISTI . AND . THE FIRST . DAY . OF . MUHARRAM . 1328 . HEGIRAH THIS . BOOK . OF . KHALID . WAS . FINISHED
Typographical problems have been changed and are listed below. Author's archaic and variable spelling is preserved. Author's punctuation style is preserved. Passages in italics indicated by underscores.
"Les dessons[** Was 'dessous']"—and the Poet who intersperses
under their heavy burdens, upsetting a tray of sweetmeats[** Was 'sweet-meats across lines]
occasionally meets with a native who, failing as peddler[** Was pedler]
nevertheless[** Was 'neverthelesss'] significant to remark that the City of
that makes me sad.'"[** Added closing double-quote]
land. See him genuflecting now, to kiss the curbstone[** Was 'curb-stone' across lines]
his Al-Mutanabby[** As originally printed]. In relating of Khalid's waywardness
Old Arabic books, printed in Bulaq,[** Added comma] generally
""No[** Added extra opening double-quote] more voyages, I trust, O thou Sindbad.' And
more than one vice to demand forgetfulness[** Was 'forgetfuless'].
keep at the Jesuits.'[** Removed closing double-quote]
can not understand them. They are like the sweetmeats[** Was 'sweet-meats' across lines]
each other, 'Ah, Adam, ah, Eve!'[** Added closing single-quote] sighing likewise
we will ..." Khalid makes no reply.[** Changed ',' to '.']
the zeffah (wedding procession)[** Removed extra ')'] of none but she and
hermit."[** Added closing double-quote] (Strange coincidence!) "On your way here
out, so to speak, exposing its boulders, its little windrows[** Was 'wind-rows' across lines]
of the stars, I can tell thee this about them all:[** Original may be ';'] they
Health; in thy temples of worship, to universal Goodwill;[** Was 'Good-will' across lines]
on the gulma (oustraation of animals)[** Added closing ')'], called forth, we
regret and sorrow.[** Changed ',' to '.'] That such a beautiful face should
"I am a Christian, too."[** Added closing double-quote]
Meanwhile, she goes to her room, brings some sweetmeats[** Was 'sweet-meats' across lines]
as a statue."[** Added closing double-quote]