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Transcriber's Note regarding the illustrations
"The Book of Khalid" contains illustrations drawn by Khalil Gibran, the other early Arab-American writer (author of "The Prophet"), that are well-known and exceptional. There are no captions in the original book, and are very difficult to describe in words. Their locations in the text have been marked with the text ''. The reader is encouraged to view these illustrations in the HTML version of this ebook.
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THE BOOK OF KHALID
THE BOOK OF KHALID
BY AMEEN RIHANI
NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1911
COPYRIGHT, 1911 BY DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
Published, October, 1911
BOOK THE FIRST
IN THE EXCHANGE
CHAPTER PAGE AL-FATIHAH v TO MAN 3 I PROBING THE TRIVIAL 5 II THE CITY OF BAAL 14 III VIA DOLOROSA 25 IV ON THE WHARF OF ENCHANTMENT 34 V THE CELLAR OF THE SOUL 46 VI THE SUMMER AFTERNOON OF A SHAM 58 VII IN THE TWILIGHT OF AN IDEA 70 VIII WITH THE HURIS 83
BOOK THE SECOND
IN THE TEMPLE
TO NATURE 97 I THE DOWRY OF DEMOCRACY 99 II SUBTRANSCENDENTAL 115 III THE FALSE DAWN 125 IV THE LAST STAR 130 V PRIESTO-PARENTAL 143 VI FLOUNCES AND RUFFLES 154 VII THE HOWDAJ OF FALSEHOOD 167 VIII THE KAABA OF SOLITUDE 181 IX SIGNS OF THE HERMIT 192 X THE VINEYARD IN THE KAABA 202
BOOK THE THIRD
TO GOD 217 I THE DISENTANGLEMENT OF THE ME 219 II THE VOICE OF THE DAWN 231 III THE SELF ECSTATIC 239 IV ON THE OPEN HIGHWAY 249 V UNION AND PROGRESS 274 VI REVOLUTIONS WITHIN AND WITHOUT 287 VII A DREAM OF EMPIRE 298 VIII ADUMBRATIONS 311 IX THE STONING AND FLIGHT 325 X THE DESERT 333 AL-KHATIMAH 341
In the Khedivial Library of Cairo, among the Papyri of the Scribe of Amen-Ra and the beautifully illuminated copies of the Koran, the modern Arabic Manuscript which forms the subject of this Book, was found. The present Editor was attracted to it by the dedication and the rough drawings on the cover; which, indeed, are as curious, if not as mystical, as ancient Egyptian symbols. One of these is supposed to represent a New York Skyscraper in the shape of a Pyramid, the other is a dancing group under which is written: "The Stockbrokers and the Dervishes." And around these symbols, in Arabic circlewise, these words:—"And this is my Book, the Book of Khalid, which I dedicate to my Brother Man, my Mother Nature, and my Maker God."
Needless to say we asked at once the Custodian of the Library to give us access to this Book of Khalid, and after examining it, we hired an amanuensis to make a copy for us. Which copy we subsequently used as the warp of our material; the woof we shall speak of in the following chapter. No, there is nothing in this Work which we can call ours, except it be the Loom. But the weaving, we assure the Reader, was a mortal process; for the material is of such a mixture that here and there the raw silk of Syria is often spun with the cotton and wool of America. In other words, the Author dips his antique pen in a modern inkstand, and when the ink runs thick, he mixes it with a slabbering of slang. But we started to write an Introduction, not a Criticism. And lest we end by writing neither, we give here what is more to the point than anything we can say: namely, Al-Fatihah, or the Opening Word of Khalid himself.
With supreme indifference to the classic Arabic proem, he begins by saying that his Book is neither a Memoir nor an Autobiography, neither a Journal nor a Confession.
"Orientals," says he, "seldom adventure into that region of fancy and fabrication so alluring to European and American writers; for, like the eyes of huris, our vanity is soft and demure. This then is a book of travels in an impalpable country, an enchanted country, from which we have all risen, and towards which we are still rising. It is, as it were, the chart and history of one little kingdom of the Soul,—the Soul of a philosopher, poet and criminal. I am all three, I swear, for I have lived both the wild and the social life. And I have thirsted in the desert, and I have thirsted in the city: the springs of the former were dry; the water in the latter was frozen in the pipes. That is why, to save my life, I had to be an incendiary at times, and at others a footpad. And whether on the streets of knowledge, or in the open courts of love, or in the parks of freedom, or in the cellars and garrets of thought and devotion, the only saki that would give me a drink without the asking was he who called himself Patience....
"And so, the Book of Khalid was written. It is the only one I wrote in this world, having made, as I said, a brief sojourn in its civilised parts. I leave it now where I wrote it, and I hope to write other books in other worlds. Now understand, Allah keep and guide thee, I do not leave it here merely as a certificate of birth or death. I do not raise it up as an epitaph, a trade-sign, or any other emblem of vainglory or lucre; but truly as a propylon through which my race and those above and below my race, are invited to pass to that higher Temple of mind and spirit. For we are all tourists, in a certain sense, and this world is the most ancient of monuments. We go through life as those pugreed-solar-hatted-Europeans go through Egypt. We are pestered and plagued with guides and dragomans of every rank and shade;—social and political guides, moral and religious dragomans: a Tolstoy here, an Ibsen there, a Spencer above, a Nietzche below. And there thou art left in perpetual confusion and despair. Where wilt thou go? Whom wilt thou follow?
"Or wilt thou tarry to see the work of redemption accomplished? For Society must be redeemed, and many are the redeemers. The Cross, however, is out of fashion, and so is the Dona Dulcinea motive. Howbeit, what an array of Masters and Knights have we, and what a variety! The work can be done, and speedily, if we could but choose. Wagner can do it with music; Bakunin, with dynamite; Karl Marx, with the levelling rod; Haeckel, with an injection of protoplasmic logic; the Pope, with a pinch of salt and chrism; and the Packer-Kings of America, with pork and beef. What wilt thou have? Whom wilt thou employ? Many are the applicants, many are the guides. But if they are all going the way of Juhannam, the Beef-packer I would choose. For verily, a gobbet of beef on the way were better than canned protoplasmic logic or bottled salt and chrism....
"No; travel not on a Cook's ticket; avoid the guides. Take up thy staff and foot it slowly and leisurely; tarry wherever thy heart would tarry. There is no need of hurrying, O my Brother, whether eternal Juhannam or eternal Jannat await us yonder. Come; if thou hast not a staff, I have two. And what I have in my Scrip I will share with thee. But turn thy back to the guides; for verily we see more of them than of the ruins and monuments. Verily, we get more of the Dragomans than of the Show. Why then continue to move and remove at their command?—Take thy guidebook in hand and I will tell thee what is in it.
"No; the time will come, I tell thee, when every one will be his own guide and dragoman. The time will come when it will not be necessary to write books for others, or to legislate for others, or to make religions for others: the time will come when every one will write his own Book in the Life he lives, and that Book will be his code and his creed;—that Life-Book will be the palace and cathedral of his Soul in all the Worlds."
BOOK THE FIRST
IN THE EXCHANGE
No matter how good thou art, O my Brother, or how bad thou art, no matter how high or how low in the scale of being thou art, I still would believe in thee, and have faith in thee, and love thee. For do I not know what clings to thee, and what beckons to thee? The claws of the one and the wings of the other, have I not felt and seen? Look up, therefore, and behold this World-Temple, which, to us, shall be a resting-place, and not a goal. On the border-line of the Orient and Occident it is built, on the mountain-heights overlooking both. No false gods are worshipped in it,—no philosophic, theologic, or anthropomorphic gods. Yea, and the god of the priests and prophets is buried beneath the Fountain, which is the altar of the Temple, and from which flows the eternal spirit of our Maker—our Maker who blinketh when the Claws are deep in our flesh, and smileth when the Wings spring from our Wounds. Verily, we are the children of the God of Humour, and the Fountain in His Temple is ever flowing. Tarry, and refresh thyself, O my Brother, tarry, and refresh thyself.
PROBING THE TRIVIAL
The most important in the history of nations and individuals was once the most trivial, and vice versa. The plebeian, who is called to-day the man-in-the-street, can never see and understand the significance of the hidden seed of things, which in time must develop or die. A garter dropt in the ballroom of Royalty gives birth to an Order of Knighthood; a movement to reform the spelling of the English language, initiated by one of the presidents of a great Republic, becomes eventually an object of ridicule. Only two instances to illustrate our point, which is applicable also to time-honoured truths and moralities. But no matter how important or trivial these, he who would give utterance to them must do so in cap and bells, if he would be heard nowadays. Indeed, the play is always the thing; the frivolous is the most essential, if only as a disguise.—For look you, are we not too prosperous to consider seriously your ponderous preachment? And when you bring it to us in book form, do you expect us to take it into our homes and take you into our hearts to boot?—Which argument is convincing even to the man in the barn.
But the Author of the Khedivial Library Manuscript can make his Genius dance the dance of the seven veils, if you but knew. It is to be regretted, however, that he has not mastered the most subtle of arts, the art of writing about one's self. He seldom brushes his wings against the dust or lingers among the humble flowers close to the dust: he does not follow the masters in their entertaining trivialities and fatuities. We remember that even Gibbon interrupts the turgid flow of his spirit to tell us in his Autobiography that he really could, and often did, enjoy a game of cards in the evening. And Rousseau, in a suppurative passion, whispers to us in his Confessions that he even kissed the linen of Madame de Warens' bed when he was alone in her room. And Spencer devotes whole pages in his dull and ponderous history of himself to narrate the all-important narration of his constant indisposition,—to assure us that his ill health more than once threatened the mighty task he had in hand. These, to be sure, are most important revelations. But Khalid here misses his cue. Inspiration does not seem to come to him in firefly-fashion.
He would have done well, indeed, had he studied the method of the professional writers of Memoirs, especially those of France. For might he not then have discoursed delectably on The Romance of my Stick Pin, The Tragedy of my Sombrero, The Scandal of my Red Flannel, The Conquest of my Silk Socks, The Adventures of my Tuxedo, and such like? But Khalid is modest only in the things that pertain to the outward self. He wrote of other Romances and other Tragedies. And when his Genius is not dancing the dance of the seven veils, she is either flirting with the monks of the Lebanon hills or setting fire to something in New York. But this is not altogether satisfactory to the present Editor, who, unlike the Author of the Khedivial Library MS., must keep the reader in mind. 'Tis very well to endeavour to unfold a few of the mysteries of one's palingenesis, but why conceal from us his origin? For is it not important, is it not the fashion at least, that one writing his own history should first expatiate on the humble origin of his ancestors and the distant obscure source of his genius? And having done this, should he not then tell us how he behaved in his boyhood; whether or not he made anklets of his mother's dough for his little sister; whether he did not kindle the fire with his father's Koran; whether he did not walk under the rainbow and try to reach the end of it on the hill-top; and whether he did not write verse when he was but five years of age. About these essentialities Khalid is silent. We only know from him that he is a descendant of the brave sea-daring Phoenicians—a title which might be claimed with justice even by the aborigines of Yucatan—and that he was born in the city of Baalbek, in the shadow of the great Heliopolis, a little way from the mountain-road to the Cedars of Lebanon. All else in this direction is obscure.
And the K. L. MS. which we kept under our pillow for thirteen days and nights, was beginning to worry us. After all, might it not be a literary hoax, we thought, and might not this Khalid be a myth. And yet, he does not seem to have sought any material or worldly good from the writing of his Book. Why, then, should he resort to deception? Still, we doubted. And one evening we were detained by the sandomancer, or sand-diviner, who was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk in front of the mosque. "I know your mind," said he, before we had made up our mind to consult him. And mumbling his "abracadabra" over the sand spread on a cloth before him, he took up his bamboo-stick and wrote therein—Khalid! This was amazing. "And I know more," said he. But after scouring the heaven, he shook his head regretfully and wrote in the sand the name of one of the hasheesh-dens of Cairo. "Go thither; and come to see me again to-morrow evening." Saying which, he folded his sand-book of magic, pocketed his fee, and walked away.
In that hasheesh-den,—the reekiest, dingiest of the row in the Red Quarter,—where the etiolated intellectualities of Cairo flock after midnight, the name of Khalid evokes much resounding wit, and sarcasm, and laughter.
"You mean the new Muhdi," said one, offering us his chobok of hasheesh; "smoke to his health and prosperity. Ha, ha, ha."
And the chorus of laughter, which is part and parcel of a hasheesh jag, was tremendous. Every one thereupon had something to say on the subject. The contagion could not be checked. And Khalid was called "the dervish of science" by one; "the rope-dancer of nature" by another.
"Our Prophet lived in a cave in the wilderness of New York for five years," remarked a third.
"And he sold his camel yesterday and bought a bicycle instead."
"The Young Turks can not catch him now."
"Ah, but wait till England gets after our new Muhdi."
"Wait till his new phthisic-stricken wife dies."
"Whom will our Prophet marry, if among all the virgins of Egypt we can not find a consumptive for him?"
"And when he pulls down the pyramids to build American Skyscrapers with their stones, where shall we bury then our Muhdi?"
All of which, although mystifying to us, and depressing, was none the less reassuring. For Khalid, it seems, is not a myth. No; we can even see him, we are told, and touch him, and hear him speak.
"Shakib the poet, his most intimate friend and disciple, will bring you into the sacred presence."
"You can not miss him, for he is the drummer of our new Muhdi, ha, ha, ha!"
And this Shakib was then suspended and stoned. But their humour, like the odor and smoke of gunjah, (hasheesh) was become stifling. So, we lay our chobok down; and, thanking them for the entertainment, we struggle through the rolling reek and fling to the open air.
In the grill-room of the Mena House we meet the poet Shakib, who was then drawing his inspiration from a glass of whiskey and soda. Nay, he was drowning his sorrows therein, for his Master, alas! has mysteriously disappeared.
"I have not seen him for ten days," said the Poet; "and I know not where he is.—If I did? Ah, my friend, you would not then see me here. Indeed, I should be with him, and though he be in the trap of the Young Turks." And some real tears flowed down the cheeks of the Poet, as he spoke.
The Mena House, a charming little Branch of Civilisation at the gate of the desert, stands, like man himself, in the shadow of two terrible immensities, the Sphinx and the Pyramid, the Origin and the End. And in the grill-room, over a glass of whiskey and soda, we presume to solve in few words the eternal mystery. But that is not what we came for. And to avoid the bewildering depths into which we were led, we suggested a stroll on the sands. Here the Poet waxed more eloquent, and shed more tears.
"This is our favourite haunt," said he; "here is where we ramble, here is where we loaf. And Khalid once said to me, 'In loafing here, I work as hard as did the masons and hod-carriers who laboured on these pyramids.' And I believe him. For is not a book greater than a pyramid? Is not a mosque or a palace better than a tomb? An object is great in proportion to its power of resistance to time and the elements. That is why we think the pyramids are great. But see, the desert is greater than the pyramids, and the sea is greater than the desert, and the heavens are greater than the sea. And yet, there is not in all these that immortal intelligence, that living, palpitating soul, which you find in a great book. A man who conceives and writes a great book, my friend, has done more work than all the helots that laboured on these pyramidal futilities. That is why I find no exaggeration in Khalid's words. For when he loafs, he does so in good earnest. Not like the camel-driver there or the camel, but after the manner of the great thinkers and mystics: like Al-Fared and Jelal'ud-Deen Rumy, like Socrates and St. Francis of Assisi, Khalid loafs. For can you escape being reproached for idleness by merely working? Are you going to waste your time and power in useless unproductive labour, carrying dates to Hajar (or coals to Newcastle, which is the English equivalent), that you might not be called an idler, a loafer?"
"Indeed not," we reply; "for the Poet taking in the sea, or the woods, or the starry-night, the poet who might be just sharing the sunshine with the salamander, is as much a labourer as the stoker or the bricklayer."
And with a few more such remarks, we showed our friend that, not being of india-rubber, we could not but expand under the heat of his grandiosity.
We then make our purpose known, and Shakib is overjoyed. He offers to kiss us for the noble thought.
"Yes, Europe should know Khalid better, and only through you and me can this be done. For you can not properly understand him, unless you read the Histoire Intime, which I have just finished. That will give you les dessous de cartes of his character."
"Les dessons"—and the Poet who intersperses his Arabic with fancy French, explains.—"The lining, the ligaments."—"Ah, that is exactly what we want."
And he offers to let us have the use of his Manuscript, if we link his name with that of his illustrious Master in this Book. To which we cheerfully agree. For after all, what's in a name?
On the following day, lugging an enormous bundle under each arm, the Poet came. We were stunned as he stood in the door; we felt as if he had struck us in the head with them.
"This is the Histoire Intime," said he, laying it gently on the table.
And we laid our hand upon it, fetching a deep sigh. Our misgivings, however, were lighted with a happy idea. We will hire a few boys to read it, we thought, and mark out the passages which please them most. That will be just what an editor wants.
"And this," continued the Poet, laying down the other bundle, "is the original manuscript of my forthcoming Book of Poems.—"
Sweet of him, we thought, to present it to us.
"It will be issued next Autumn in Cairo.—"
"And if you will get to work on it at once,—"
"You can get out an English Translation in three month, I am sure—"
We sink in our chair in breathless amazement.
"The Book will then appear simultaneously both in London and Cairo."
We sit up, revived with another happy idea, and assure the Poet that his Work will be translated into a universal language, and that very soon. For which assurance he kisses us again and again, and goes away hugging his Muse.
The idea! A Book of Poems to translate into the English language! As if the English language has not enough of its own troubles! Translate it, O Fire, into your language! Which work the Fire did in two minutes. And the dancing, leaping, singing flames, the white and blue and amber flames, were more beautiful, we thought, than anything the Ms. might contain.
As for the Histoire Intime, we split it into three parts and got our boys working on it. The result was most satisfying. For now we can show, and though he is a native of Asia, the land of the Prophets, and though he conceals from us his origin after the manner of the Prophets, that he was born and bred and fed, and even thwacked, like all his fellows there, this Khalid.
THE CITY OF BAAL
The City of Baal, or Baalbek, is between the desert and the deep sea. It lies at the foot of Anti-Libanus, in the sunny plains of Coele-Syria, a day's march from either Damascus or Beirut. It is a city with a past as romantic as Rome's, as wicked as Babel's; its ruins testify both to its glory and its shame. It is a city with a future as brilliant as any New-World city; the railroad at its gate, the modern agricultural implements in its fields, and the porcelain bath-tubs in its hotels, can testify to this. It is a city that enticed and still entices the mighty of the earth; Roman Emperors in the past came to appease the wrath of its gods, a German Emperor to-day comes to pilfer its temples. For the Acropolis in the poplar grove is a mine of ruins. The porphyry pillars, the statues, the tablets, the exquisite friezes, the palimpsests, the bas-reliefs,—Time and the Turks have spared a few of these. And when the German Emperor came, Abd'ul-Hamid blinked, and the Berlin Museum is now the richer for it.
Of the Temple of Jupiter, however, only six standing columns remain; of the Temple of Bacchus only the god and the Bacchantes are missing. And why was the one destroyed, the other preserved, only the six columns, had they a tongue, could tell. Indeed, how many blustering vandals have they conquered, how many savage attacks have they resisted, what wonders and what orgies have they beheld! These six giants of antiquity, looking over Anti-Lebanon in the East, and down upon the meandering Leontes in the South, and across the Syrian steppes in the North, still hold their own against Time and the Elements. They are the dominating feature of the ruins; they tower above them as the Acropolis towers above the surrounding poplars. And around their base, and through the fissures, flows the perennial grace of the seasons. The sun pays tribute to them in gold; the rain, in mosses and ferns; the Spring, in lupine flowers. And the swallows, nesting in the portico of the Temple of Bacchus, above the curious frieze of egg-decoration,—as curious, too, their art of egg-making,—pour around the colossal columns their silvery notes. Surely, these swallows and ferns and lupine flowers are more ancient than the Acropolis. And the marvels of extinct nations can not hold a candle to the marvels of Nature.
Here, under the decaying beauty of Roman art, lies buried the monumental boldness of the Phoenicians, or of a race of giants whose extinction even Homer deplores, and whose name even the Phoenicians could not decipher. For might they not, too, have stood here wondering, guessing, even as we moderns guess and wonder? Might not the Phoenicians have asked the same questions that we ask to-day: Who were the builders? and with what tools? In one of the walls of the Acropolis are stones which a hundred bricklayers can not raise an inch from the ground; and among the ruins of the Temple of Zeus are porphyry pillars, monoliths, which fifty horses could barely move, and the quarry of which is beyond the Syrian desert. There, now, solve the problem for yourself.
Hidden in the grove of silver-tufted poplars is the little Temple of Venus, doomed to keep company with a Mosque. But it is a joy to stand on the bridge above the stream that flows between them, and listen to the muazzen in the minaret and the bulbuls in the Temple. Mohammad calling to Venus, Venus calling to Mohammad—what a romance! We leave the subject to the poet that wants it. Another Laus Veneris to another Swinburne might suggest itself.
An Arab Prophet with the goddess, this time—but the River flows between the Temple and the Mosque. In the city, life is one such picturesque languid stream. The shop-keepers sit on their rugs in their stalls, counting their beads, smoking their narghilahs, waiting indifferently for Allah's bounties. And the hawkers shuffle along crying their wares in beautiful poetic illusions,—the flower-seller singing, "Reconcile your mother-in-law! Perfume your spirit! Buy a jasmine for your soul!" the seller of loaves, his tray on his head, his arms swinging to a measured step, intoning in pious thankfulness, "O thou Eternal, O thou Bountiful!" The sakka of licorice-juice, clicking his brass cups calls out to the thirsty one, "Come, drink and live! Come, drink and live!" And ere you exclaim, How quaint! How picturesque! a train of laden camels drives you to the wall, rudely shaking your illusion. And the mules and donkeys, tottering under their heavy burdens, upsetting a tray of sweetmeats here, a counter of spices there, must share the narrow street with you and compel you to move along slowly, languidly like themselves. They seem to take Time by the sleeve and say to it, "What's your hurry?" "These donkeys," Shakib writes, quoting Khalid, "can teach the strenuous Europeans and hustling Americans a lesson."
In the City Square, as we issue from the congested windings of the Bazaar, we are greeted by one of those scrub monuments that are found in almost every city of the Ottoman Empire. And in most cases, they are erected to commemorate the benevolence and public zeal of some wali or pasha who must have made a handsome fortune in the promotion of a public enterprise. Be this as it may. It is not our business here to probe the corruption of any particular Government. But we observe that this miserable botch of a monument is to the ruins of the Acropolis, what this modern absolutism, this effete Turkey is to the magnificent tyrannies of yore. Indeed, nothing is duller, more stupid, more prosaic than a modern absolutism as compared with an ancient one. But why concern ourselves with like comparisons? The world is better to-day in spite of its public monuments. These little flights or frights in marble are as snug in their little squares, in front of their little halls, as are the majestic ruins in their poplar groves. In both instances, Nature and Circumstance have harmonised between the subject and the background. Come along. And let the rhymsters chisel on the monument whatever they like about sculptures and the wali. To condemn in this case is to praise.
We issue from the Square into the drive leading to the spring at the foot of the mountain. On the meadows near the stream, is always to be found a group of Baalbekians bibbing arak and swaying languidly to the mellow strains of the lute and the monotonous melancholy of Arabic song. Among such, one occasionally meets with a native who, failing as peddler or merchant in America, returns to his native town, and, utilising the chips of English he picked up in the streets of the New-World cities, becomes a dragoman and guide to English and American tourists.
Now, under this sky, between Anti-Libanus rising near the spring, Rasulain, and the Acropolis towering above the poplars, around these majestic ruins, amidst these fascinating scenes of Nature, Khalid spent the halcyon days of his boyhood. Here he trolled his favourite ditties beating the hoof behind his donkey. For he preferred to be a donkey-boy than to be called a donkey at school. The pedagogue with his drivel and discipline, he could not learn to love. The company of muleteers was much more to his liking. The open air was his school; and everything that riots and rejoices in the open air, he loved. Bulbuls and beetles and butterflies, oxen and donkeys and mules,—these were his playmates and friends. And when he becomes a muleteer, he reaches in his first venture, we are told, the top round of the ladder. This progressive scale in his trading, we observe. Husbanding his resources, he was soon after, by selling his donkey, able to buy a sumpter-mule; a year later he sells his mule and buys a camel; and finally he sells the camel and buys a fine Arab mare, which he gives to a tourist for a hundred pieces of English gold. This is what is called success. And with the tangible symbol of it, the price of his mare, he emigrates to America. But that is to come.
Let us now turn our "stereopticon on the screen of reminiscence," using the pictures furnished by Shakib. But before they can be used to advantage, they must undergo a process of retroussage. Many of the lines need be softened, some of the shades modified, and not a few of the etchings, absolutely worthless, we consign to the flames. Who of us, for instance, was not feruled and bastinadoed by the town pedagogue? Who did not run away from school, whimpering, snivelling, and cursing in his heart and in his sleep the black-board and the horn-book? Nor can we see the significance of the fact that Khalid once smashed the icon of the Holy Virgin for whetting not his wits, for hearing not his prayers. It may be he was learning then the use of the sling, and instead of killing his neighbour's laying-hen, he broke the sacred effigy. No, we are not warranted to draw from these trivialities the grand results which send Shakib in ecstasies about his Master's genius. Nor do we for a moment believe that the waywardness of a genius or a prophet in boyhood is always a significant adumbration. Shakespeare started as a deer-poacher, and Rousseau as a thief. Yet, neither the one nor the other, as far as we know, was a plagiarist. This, however, does not disprove the contrary proposition, that he who begins as a thief or an iconoclast is likely to end as such. But the actuating motive has nothing to do with what we, in our retrospective analysis, are pleased to prove. Not so far forth are we willing to piddle among the knicknacks of Shakib's Histoire Intime of his Master.
Furthermore, how can we interest ourselves in his fiction of history concerning Baalbek? What have we to do with the fact or fable that Seth the Prophet lived in this City; that Noah is buried in its vicinity; that Solomon built the Temple of the Sun for the Queen of Sheba; that this Prince and Poet used to lunch in Baalbek and dine at Istachre in Afghanistan; that the chariot of Nimrod drawn by four phoenixes from the Tower of Babel, lighted on Mt. Hermon to give said Nimrod a chance to rebuild the said Temple of the Sun? How can we bring any of these fascinating fables to bear upon our subject? It is nevertheless significant to remark that the City of Baal, from the Phoenicians and Moabites down to the Arabs and Turks, has ever been noted for its sanctuaries of carnal lust. The higher religion, too, found good soil here; for Baalbek gave the world many a saint and martyr along with its harlots and poets and philosophers. St. Minius, St. Cyril and St. Theodosius, are the foremost among its holy children; Ste. Odicksyia, a Magdalene, is one of its noted daughters. These were as famous in their days as Ashtarout or Jupiter-Ammon. As famous too is Al-Iman ul-Ouzaai the scholar; al-Makrizi the historian; Kallinichus the chemist, who invented the Greek fire; Kosta ibn Luka, a doctor and philosopher, who wrote among much miscellaneous rubbish a treaty entitled, On the Difference Between the Mind and the Soul; and finally the Muazzen of Baalbek to whom "even the beasts would stop to listen." Ay, Shakib relates quoting al-Makrizi, who in his turn relates, quoting one of the octogenarian Drivellers, Muhaddetheen (these men are the chief sources of Arabic History) that he was told by an eye and ear witness that when this celebrated Muazzen was once calling the Faithful to prayer, the camels at the creek craned their necks to listen to the sonorous music of his voice. And such was their delight that they forgot they were thirsty. This, by the way of a specimen of the Muhaddetheen. Now, about these historical worthies of Baalbek, whom we have but named, Shakib writes whole pages, and concludes—and here is the point—that Khalid might be a descendant of any or all of them! For in him, our Scribe seriously believes, are lusty strains of many varied and opposing humours. And although he had not yet seen the sea, he longed when a boy for a long sea voyage, and he would sail little paper boats down the stream to prove the fact. In truth, that is what Shakib would prove. The devil and such logic had a charm for us once, but no more.
Here is another bubble of retrospective analysis to which we apply the needle. It is asserted as a basis for another astounding deduction that Khalid used to sleep in the ruined Temple of Zeus. As if ruined temples had anything to do with the formation or deformation of the brain-cells or the soul-afflatus! The devil and such logic, we repeat, had once a charm for us. But this, in brief, is how it came about. Khalid hated the pedagogue to whom he had to pay a visit of courtesy every day, and loved his cousin Najma whom he was not permitted to see. And when he runs away from the bastinado, breaking in revenge the icon of the Holy Virgin, his father turns him away from home. Complaining not, whimpering not, he goes. And hearing the bulbuls calling in the direction of Najma's house that evening, he repairs thither. But the crabbed, cruel uncle turns him away also, and bolts the door. Whereupon Khalid, who was then in the first of his teens, takes a big scabrous rock and sends it flying against that door. The crabbed uncle rushes out, blustering, cursing; the nephew takes up another of those scabrous missiles and sends it whizzing across his shoulder. The second one brushes his ear. The third sends the blood from his temple. And this, while beating a retreat and cursing his father and his uncle and their ancestors back to fifty generations. He is now safe in the poplar grove, and his uncle gives up the charge. With a broken noddle he returns home, and Khalid with a broken heart wends his way to the Acropolis, the only shelter in sight. In relating this story, Shakib mentions "the horrible old moon, who was wickedly smiling over the town that night." A broken icon, a broken door, a broken pate,—a big price this, the crabbed uncle and the cruel father had to pay for thwarting the will of little Khalid. "But he entered the Acropolis a conqueror," says our Scribe; "he won the battle." And he slept in the temple, in the portico thereof, as sound as a muleteer. And the swallows in the niches above heard him sleep.
In the morning he girds his loins with a firm resolution. No longer will he darken his father's door. He becomes a muleteer and accomplishes the success of which we have spoken. His first beau ideal was to own the best horse in Baalbek; and to be able to ride to the camp of the Arabs and be mistaken for one of them, was his first great ambition. Which he realises sooner than he thought he would. For thrift, grit and perseverance, are a few of the rough grains in his character. But no sooner he is possessed of his ideal than he begins to loosen his hold upon it. He sold his mare to the tourist, and was glad he did not attain the same success in his first love. For he loved his mare, and he could not have loved his cousin Najma more. "The realisation is a terrible thing," writes our Scribe, quoting his Master. But when this fine piece of wisdom was uttered, whether when he was sailing paper boats in Baalbek, or unfurling his sails in New York, we can not say.
And now, warming himself on the fire of his first ideal, Khalid will seek the shore and launch into unknown seas towards unknown lands. From the City of Baal to the City of Demiurgic Dollar is not in fact a far cry. It has been remarked that he always dreamt of adventures, of long journeys across the desert or across the sea. He never was satisfied with the seen horizon, we are told, no matter how vast and beautiful. His soul always yearned for what was beyond, above or below, the visible line. And had not the European tourist alienated from him the love of his mare and corrupted his heart with the love of gold, we might have heard of him in Mecca, in India, or in Dahomey. But Shakib prevails upon him to turn his face toward the West. One day, following some tourists to the Cedars, they behold from Dahr'ul-Qadhib the sun setting in the Mediterranean and make up their minds to follow it too. "For the sundown," writes Shakib, "was more appealing to us than the sunrise, ay, more beautiful. The one was so near, the other so far away. Yes, we beheld the Hesperian light that day, and praised Allah. It was the New World's bonfire of hospitality: the sun called to us, and we obeyed."
In their baggy, lapping trousers and crimson caps, each carrying a bundle and a rug under his arm, Shakib and Khalid are smuggled through the port of Beirut at night, and safely rowed to the steamer. Indeed, we are in a country where one can not travel without a passport, or a password, or a little pass-money. And the boatmen and officials of the Ottoman Empire can better read a gold piece than a passport. So, Shakib and Khalid, not having the latter, slip in a few of the former, and are smuggled through. One more longing, lingering glance behind, and the dusky peaks of the Lebanons, beyond which their native City of Baal is sleeping in peace, recede from view. On the high sea of hope and joy they sail; "under the Favonian wind of enthusiasm, on the friendly billows of boyish dreams," they roll. Ay, and they sing for joy. On and on, to the gold-swept shores of distant lands, to the generous cities and the bounteous fields of the West, to the Paradise of the World—to America.
We need not dwell too much with our Scribe, on the repulsive details of the story of the voyage. We ourselves have known a little of the suffering and misery which emigrants must undergo, before they reach that Western Paradise of the Oriental imagination. How they are huddled like sheep on deck from Beirut to Marseilles; and like cattle transported under hatches across the Atlantic; and bullied and browbeaten by rough disdainful stewards; and made to pay for a leathery gobbet of beef and a slice of black flint-like bread: all this we know. But that New World paradise is well worth these passing privations.
The second day at sea, when the two Baalbekian lads are snug on deck, their rugs spread out not far from the stalls in which Syrian cattle are shipped to Egypt and Arab horses to Europe or America, they rummage in their bags—and behold, a treat! Shakib takes out his favourite poet Al-Mutanabbi, and Khalid, his favourite bottle, the choicest of the Ksarah distillery of the Jesuits. For this whilom donkey-boy will begin by drinking the wine of these good Fathers and then their—blood! His lute is also with him; and he will continue to practise the few lessons which the bulbuls of the poplar groves have taught him. No, he cares not for books. And so, he uncorks the bottle, hands it to Shakib his senior, then takes a nip himself, and, thrumming his lute strings, trolls a few doleful pieces of Arabic song. "In these," he would say to Shakib, pointing to the bottle and the lute, "is real poetry, and not in that book with which you would kill me." And Shakib, in stingless sarcasm, would insist that the music in Al-Mutanabbi's lines is just a little more musical than Khalid's thrumming. They quarrel about this. And in justice to both, we give the following from the Histoire Intime.
"When we left our native land," Shakib writes, "my literary bent was not shared in the least by Khalid. I had gone through the higher studies which, in our hedge-schools and clerical institutions, do not reach a very remarkable height. Enough of French to understand the authors tabooed by our Jesuit professors,—the Voltaires, the Rousseaus, the Diderots; enough of Arabic to enable one to parse and analyse the verse of Al-Mutanabbi; enough of Church History to show us, not how the Church wielded the sword of persecution, but how she was persecuted herself by the pagans and barbarians of the earth;—of these and such like consists the edifying curriculum. Now, of this high phase of education, Khalid was thoroughly immune. But his intuitive sagacity was often remarkable, and his humour, sweet and pathetic. Once when I was reading aloud some of the Homeric effusions of Al-Mutanabbi, he said to me, as he was playing his lute, 'In the heart of this,' pointing to the lute, 'and in the heart of me, there be more poetry than in that book with which you would kill me.' And one day, after wandering clandestinely through the steamer, he comes to me with a gesture of surprise and this: 'Do you know, there are passengers who sleep in bunks below, over and across each other? I saw them, billah! And I was told they pay more than we do for such a low passage—the fools! Think on it. I peeped into a little room, a dingy, smelling box, which had in it six berths placed across and above each other like the shelves of the reed manchons we build for our silk-worms at home. I wouldn't sleep in one of them, billah! even though they bribe me. This bovine fragrance, the sight of these fine horses, the rioting of the wind above us, should make us forget the brutality of the stewards. Indeed, I am as content, as comfortable here, as are their Excellencies in what is called the Salon. Surely, we are above them—at least, in the night. What matters it, then, if ours is called the Fourth Class and theirs the Primo. Wherever one is happy, Shakib, there is the Primo.'"
But this happy humour is assailed at Marseilles. His placidity and stolid indifference are rudely shaken by the sharpers, who differ only from the boatmen of Beirut in that they wear pantaloons and intersperse their Arabic with a jargon of French. These brokers, like rapacious bats, hover around the emigrant and before his purse is opened for the fourth time, the trick is done. And with what ceremony, you shall see. From the steamer the emigrant is led to a dealer in frippery, where he is required to doff his baggy trousers and crimson cap, and put on a suit of linsey-woolsey and a hat of hispid felt: end of First Act; open the purse. From the dealer of frippery, spick and span from top to toe, he is taken to the hostelry, where he is detained a fortnight, sometimes a month, on the pretext of having to wait for the best steamer: end of Second Act; open the purse. From the hostelry at last to the steamship agent, where they secure for him a third-class passage on a fourth-class ship across the Atlantic: end of Third Act; open the purse. And now that the purse is almost empty, the poor emigrant is permitted to leave. They send him to New York with much gratitude in his heart and a little trachoma in his eyes. The result being that a month later they have to look into such eyes again. But the purse of the distressed emigrant now being empty,—empty as his hopes and dreams,—the rapacious bats hover not around him, and the door of the verminous hostelry is shut in his face. He is left to starve on the western shore of the Mediterranean.
Ay, even the droll humour and stolidity of Khalid, are shaken, aroused, by the ghoulish greed, the fell inhumanity of these sharpers. And Shakib from his cage of fancy lets loose upon them his hyenas of satire. In a squib describing the bats and the voyage he says: "The voyage to America is the Via Dolorosa of the emigrant; and the Port of Beirut, the verminous hostelries of Marseilles, the Island of Ellis in New York, are the three stations thereof. And if your hopes are not crucified at the third and last station, you pass into the Paradise of your dreams. If they are crucified, alas! The gates of the said Paradise will be shut against you; the doors of the hostelries will be slammed in your face; and with a consolation and a vengeance you will throw yourself at the feet of the sea in whose bosom some charitable Jonah will carry you to your native strands."
And when the emigrant has a surplus of gold, when his capital is such as can not be dissipated on a suit of shoddy, a fortnight's lodging, and a passage across the Atlantic, the ingenious ones proceed with the Fourth Act of Open Thy Purse. "Instead of starting in New York as a peddler," they say, unfolding before him one of their alluring schemes, "why not do so as a merchant?" And the emigrant opens his purse for the fourth time in the office of some French manufacturer, where he purchases a few boxes of trinketry,—scapulars, prayer-beads, crosses, jewelry, gewgaws, and such like,—all said to be made in the Holy Land. These he brings over with him as his stock in trade.
Now, Khalid and Shakib, after passing a fortnight in Marseilles, and going through the Fourth Act of the Sorry Show, find their dignity as merchants rudely crushed beneath the hatches of the Atlantic steamer. For here, even the pleasure of sleeping on deck is denied them. The Atlantic Ocean would not permit of it. Indeed, everybody has to slide into their stivy bunks to save themselves from its rising wrath. A fortnight of such unutterable misery is quite supportable, however, if one continues to cherish the Paradise already mentioned. But in this dark, dingy smelling hole of the steerage, even the poets cease to dream. The boatmen of Beirut and the sharpers of Marseilles we could forget; but in this grave among a hundred and more of its kind, set over and across each other, neither the lute nor the little that remained in that Ksarah bottle, could bring us any solace.
We are told that Khalid took up his lute but once throughout the voyage. And this when they were permitted one night to sleep on deck. We are also informed that Khalid had a remarkable dream, which, to our Scribe at least, is not meaningless. And who of us, thou silly Scribe, did not in his boyhood tell his dreams to his mother, who would turn them in her interpretation inside out? But Khalid, we are assured, continued to cherish the belief, even in his riper days, that when you dream you are in Jannat, for instance, you must be prepared to go through Juhannam the following day. A method of interpretation as ancient as Joseph, to be sure. But we quote the dream to show that Khalid should not have followed the setting sun. He should have turned his face toward the desert.
They slept on deck that night. They drank the wine of the Jesuits, repeated, to the mellow strains of the lute, the song of the bulbuls, intoned the verses of Al-Mutanabbi, and, wrapping themselves in their rugs, fell asleep. But in the morning they were rudely jostled from their dreams by a spurt from the hose of the sailors washing the deck. Complaining not, they straggle down to their bunks to change their clothes. And Khalid, as he is doing this, implores Shakib not to mention to him any more that New-World paradise. "For I have dreamt last night," he continues, "that, in the multicoloured robes of an Arab amir, on a caparisoned dromedary, at the head of an immense multitude of people, I was riding through the desert. Whereto and wherefrom, I know not. But those who followed me seemed to know; for they cried, 'Long have we waited for thee, now we shall enter in peace.' And at every oasis we passed, the people came to the gate to meet us, and, prostrating themselves before me, kissed the fringe of my garment. Even the women would touch my boots and kiss their hands, exclaiming, 'Allahu akbar!' And the palm trees, billah! I could see bending towards us that we might eat of their fruits, and the springs seemed to flow with us into the desert that we might never thirst. Ay, thus in triumph we marched from one camp to another, from one oasis to the next, until we reached the City on the Hills of the Cedar Groves. Outside the gate, we were met by the most beautiful of its tawny women, and four of these surrounded my camel and took the reins from my hand. I was then escorted through the gates, into the City, up to the citadel, where I was awaited by their Princess. And she, taking a necklace of cowries from a bag that hung on her breast, placed it on my head, saying, 'I crown thee King of—' But I could not hear the rest, which was drowned by the cheering of the multitudes. And the cheering, O Shakib, was drowned by the hose of the sailors. Oh, that hose! Is it not made in the paradise you harp upon, the paradise we are coming to? Never, therefore, mention it to me more."
This is the dream, at once simple and symbolic, which begins to worry Khalid. "For in the evening of the day he related it to me," writes Shakib, "I found him sitting on the edge of his bunk brooding over I know not what. It was the first time he had the blues. Nay, it was the first time he looked pensive and profound. And upon asking him the reason for this, he said, 'I am thinking of the paper-boats which I used to sail down the stream in Baalbek, and that makes me sad.'"
How strange! And yet, this first event recorded by our Scribe, in which Khalid is seen struggling with the mysterious and unknown, is most significant. Another instance, showing a latent phase, hitherto dormant, in his character, we note. Among the steerage passengers is a Syrian girl who much resembles his cousin Najma. She was sea-sick throughout the voyage, and when she comes out to breathe of the fresh air, a few hours before they enter the harbour of New York, Khalid sees her, and Shakib swears that he saw a tear in Khalid's eye as he stood there gazing upon her. Poor Khalid! For though we are approaching the last station of the Via Dolorosa, though we are nearing the enchanted domes of the wonder-working, wealth-worshipping City, he is inexplicably sad.
And Shakib, directly after swearing that he saw a tear in his eye, writes the following: "Up to this time I observed in my friend only the dominating traits of a hard-headed, hard-hearted boy, stubborn, impetuous, intractable. But from the time he related to me his dream, a change in his character was become manifest. In fact a new phase was being gradually unfolded. Three things I must emphasise in this connection: namely, the first dream he dreamt in a foreign land, the first time he looked pensive and profound, and the first tear he shed before we entered New York. These are keys to the secret chamber of one's soul."
And now, that the doors, by virtue of our Scribe's open-sesames, are thrown open, we enter, bismillah.
ON THE WHARF OF ENCHANTMENT
Not in our make-up, to be sure,—not in the pose which is preceded by the tantaras of a trumpet,—do the essential traits in our character first reveal themselves. But truly in the little things the real self is exteriorised. Shakib observes closely the rapid changes in his co-adventurer's humour, the shadowy traits which at that time he little understood. And now, by applying his palm to his front, he illumines those chambers of which he speaks, and also the niches therein. He helps us to understand the insignificant points which mark the rapid undercurrents of the seemingly sluggish soul of Khalid. Not in vain, therefore, does he crystallise for us that first tear he shed in the harbour of Manhattan. But his gush about the recondite beauty of this pearl of melancholy, shall not be intended upon the gustatory nerves of the Reader. This then we note—his description of New York harbour.
"And is this the gate of Paradise," he asks, "or the port of some subterrestrial city guarded by the Jinn? What a marvel of enchantment is everything around us! What manifestations of industrial strength, what monstrosities of wealth and power, are here! These vessels proudly putting to sea; these tenders scurrying to meet the Atlantic greyhound which is majestically moving up the bay; these barges loading and unloading schooners from every strand, distant and near; these huge lighters carrying even railroads over the water; these fire-boats scudding through the harbour shrilling their sirens; these careworn, grim, strenuous multitudes ferried across from one enchanted shore to another; these giant structures tickling heaven's sides; these cable bridges, spanning rivers, uniting cities; and this superterrestrial goddess, torch in hand—wake up, Khalid, and behold these wonders. Salaam, this enchanted City! There is the Brooklyn Bridge, and here is the Statue of Liberty which people speak of, and which are as famous as the Cedars of Lebanon."
But Khalid is as impassive as the bronze goddess herself. He leans over the rail, his hand supporting his cheek, and gazes into the ooze. The stolidity of his expression is appalling. With his mouth open as usual, his lips relaxed, his tongue sticking out through the set teeth,—he looks as if his head were in a noose. But suddenly he braces up, runs down for his lute, and begins to serenade—Greater New York?
"On thee be Allah's grace, Who hath the well-loved face!"
No; not toward this City does his heart flap its wings of song. He is on another sea, in another harbour. Indeed, what are these wonders as compared with those of the City of Love? The Statue of Eros there is more imposing than the Statue of Liberty here. And the bridges are not of iron and concrete, but of rainbows and—moonshine! Indeed, both these lads are now on the wharf of enchantment; the one on the palpable, the sensuous, the other on the impalpable and unseen. But both, alas, are suddenly, but temporarily, disenchanted as they are jostled out of the steamer into the barge which brings them to the Juhannam of Ellis Island. Here, the unhappy children of the steerage are dumped into the Bureau of Emigration as—such stuff! For even in the land of equal rights and freedom, we have a right to expect from others the courtesy and decency which we ourselves do not have to show, or do not know.
These are sturdy and adventurous foreigners whom the grumpy officers jostle and hustle about. For neither poverty, nor oppression, nor both together can drive a man out of his country, unless the soul within him awaken. Indeed, many a misventurous cowering peasant continues to live on bread and olives in his little village, chained in the fear of dying of hunger in a foreign land. Only the brave and daring spirits hearken to the voice of discontent within them. They give themselves up to the higher aspirations of the soul, no matter how limited such aspirations might be, regardless of the dangers and hardship of a long sea voyage, and the precariousness of their plans and hopes. There may be nothing noble in renouncing one's country, in abandoning one's home, in forsaking one's people; but is there not something remarkable in this great move one makes? Whether for better or for worse, does not the emigrant place himself above his country, his people and his Government, when he turns away from them, when he goes forth propelled by that inner self which demands of him a new life?
And might it not be a better, a cleaner, a higher life? What say our Masters of the Island of Ellis? Are not these straggling, smelling, downcast emigrants almost as clean inwardly, and as pure, as the grumpy officers who harass and humiliate them? Is not that spirit of discontent which they cherish, and for which they carry the cross, so to speak, across the sea, deserving of a little consideration, a little civility, a little kindness?
Even louder than this Shakib cries out, while Khalid open-mouthed sucks his tongue. Here at the last station, where the odours of disinfectants are worse than the stench of the steerage, they await behind the bars their turn; stived with Italian and Hungarian fellow sufferers, uttering such whimpers of expectancy, exchanging such gestures of hope. Soon they shall be brought forward to be examined by the doctor and the interpreting officer; the one shall pry their purses, the other their eyes. For in this United States of America we want clear-sighted citizens at least. And no cold-purses, if the matter can be helped. But neither the eyes, alas, nor the purses of our two emigrants are conformable to the Law; the former are filled with granulations of trachoma, the latter have been emptied by the sharpers of Marseilles. Which means that they shall be detained for the present; and if within a fortnight nothing turns up in their favour, they shall certainly be deported.
Trachoma! a little granulation on the inner surface of the eyelids, what additional misery does it bring upon the poor deported emigrant? We are asked to shed a tear for him, to weep with him over his blasted hopes, his strangled aspirations, his estate in the mother country sold or mortgaged,—in either case lost,—and his seed of a new life crushed in its cotyledon by the physician who might be short-sighted himself, or even blind. But the law must be enforced for the sake of the clear-sighted citizens of the Republic. We will have nothing to do with these poor blear-eyed foreigners.
And thus our grievous Scribe would continue, if we did not exercise the prerogative of our Editorial Divan. Rather let us pursue our narration. Khalid is now in the hospital, awaiting further development in his case. But in Shakib's, whose eyes are far gone in trachoma, the decision of the Board of Emigration is final, irrevokable. And so, after being detained a week in the Emigration pen, the unfortunate Syrian must turn his face again toward the East. Not out into the City, but out upon the sea, he shall be turned adrift. The grumpy officer shall grumpishly enforce the decision of the Board by handing our Scribe to the Captain of the first steamer returning to Europe—if our Scribe can be found! For this flyaway son of a Phoenician did not seem to wait for the decision of the polyglot Judges of the Emigration Board.
And that he did escape, we are assured. For one morning he eludes the grumpy officer, and sidles out among his Italian neighbours who were permitted to land. See him genuflecting now, to kiss the curbstone and thank Allah that he is free. But before he can enjoy his freedom, before he can sit down and chuckle over the success of his escapade, he must bethink him of Khalid. He will not leave him to the mercy of the honourable Agents of the Law, if he can help it. Trachoma, he knows, is a hard case to cure. And in ten days, under the care of the doctors, it might become worse. Straightway, therefore, he puts himself to the dark task. A few visits to the Hospital where Khalid is detained—the patients in those days were not held at Ellis Island—and the intrigue is afoot. On the third or fourth visit, we can not make out which, a note in Arabic is slipt into Khalid's pocket, and with a significant Arabic sign, Shakib takes himself off.
The evening of that very day, the trachoma-afflicted Syrian was absent from the ward. He was carried off by Iblis,—the porter and a few Greenbacks assisting. Yes, even Shakib, who knew only a few English monosyllables, could here make himself understood. For money is one of the two universal languages of the world, the other being love. Indeed, money and love are as eloquent in Turkey and Dahomey as they are in Paris or New York.
And here we reach one of those hedges in the Histoire Intime which we must go through in spite of the warning-signs. Between two paragraphs, to be plain, in the one of which we are told how the two Syrians established themselves as merchants in New York, in the other, how and wherefor they shouldered the peddling-box and took to the road, there is a crossed paragraph containing a most significant revelation. It seems that after giving the matter some serious thought, our Scribe came to the conclusion that it is not proper to incriminate his illustrious Master. But here is a confession which a hundred crosses can not efface. And if he did not want to bring the matter to our immediate cognisance, why, we ask, did he not re-write the page? Why did he not cover well that said paragraph with crosses and arabesques? We do suspect him here of chicanery; for by this plausible recantation he would shift the responsibility to the shoulders of the Editor, if the secret is divulged. Be this as it may, no red crosses can conceal from us the astounding confession, which we now give out. For the two young Syrians, who were smuggled out of their country by the boatmen of Beirut, and who smuggled themselves into the city of New York (we beg the critic's pardon; for, being foreigners ourselves, we ought to be permitted to stretch this term, smuggle, to cover an Arabic metaphor, or to smuggle into it a foreign meaning), these two Syrians, we say, became, in their capacity of merchants, smugglers of the most ingenious and most evasive type.
We now note the following, which pertains to their business. We learn that they settled in the Syrian Quarter directly after clearing their merchandise. And before they entered their cellar, we are assured, they washed their hands of all intrigues and were shrived of their sins by the Maronite priest of the Colony. For they were pious in those days, and right Catholics. 'Tis further set down in the Histoire Intime:
"We rented a cellar, as deep and dark and damp as could be found. And our landlord was a Teague, nay, a kind-hearted old Irishman, who helped us put up the shelves, and never called for the rent in the dawn of the first day of the month. In the front part of this cellar we had our shop; in the rear, our home. On the floor we laid our mattresses, on the shelves, our goods. And never did we stop to think who in this case was better off. The safety of our merchandise before our own. But ten days after we had settled down, the water issued forth from the floor and inundated our shop and home. It rose so high that it destroyed half of our capital stock and almost all our furniture. And yet, we continued to live in the cellar, because, perhaps, every one of our compatriot-merchants did so. We were all alike subject to these inundations in the winter season. I remember when the water first rose in our store, Khalid was so hard set and in such a pucker that he ran out capless and in his shirt sleeves to discover in the next street the source of the flood. And one day, when we were pumping out the water he asked me if I thought this was easier than rolling our roofs in Baalbek. For truly, the paving-roller is child's play to this pump. And a leaky roof is better than an inundated cellar."
However, this is not the time for brooding. They have to pump ahead to save what remained of their capital stock. But Khalid, nevertheless, would brood and jabber. And what an inundation of ideas, and what questions!
"Think you," he asks, "that the inhabitants of this New World are better off than those of the Old?—Can you imagine mankind living in a huge cellar of a world and you and I pumping the water out of its bottom?—I can see the palaces on which you waste your rhymes, but mankind live in them only in the flesh. The soul I tell you, still occupies the basement, even the sub-cellar. And an inundated cellar at that. The soul, Shakib, is kept below, although the high places are vacant."
And his partner sputters out his despair; for instead of helping to pump out the water, Khalid stands there gazing into it, as if by some miracle he would draw it out with his eyes or with his breath. And the poor Poet cries out, "Pump! the water is gaining on us, and our shop is going to ruin. Pump!" Whereupon the lazy, absent-minded one resumes pumping, while yearning all the while for the plashing stone-rollers and the purling eaves of his home in Baalbek. And once in a pinch,—they are labouring under a peltering rain,—he stops as is his wont to remind Shakib of the Arabic saying, "From the dripping ceiling to the running gargoyle." He is labouring again under a hurricane of ideas. And again he asks, "Are you sure we are better off here?"
And our poor Scribe, knee-deep in the water below, blusters out curses, which Khalid heeds not. "I am tired of this job," he growls; "the stone-roller never drew so much on my strength, nor did muleteering. Ah, for my dripping ceiling again, for are we not now under the running gargoyle?" And he reverts into a stupor, leaving the world to the poet and the pump.
For five years and more they lead such a life in the cellar. And they do not move out of it, lest they excite the envy of their compatriots. But instead of sleeping on the floor, they stretch themselves on the counters. The rising tide teaches them this little wisdom, which keeps the doctor and Izraeil away. Their merchandise, however,—their crosses, and scapulars and prayer-beads,—are beyond hope of recovery. For what the rising tide spares, the rascally flyaway peddlers carry away. That is why they themselves shoulder the box and take to the road. And the pious old dames of the suburbs, we are told, receive them with such exclamations of joy and wonder, and almost tear their coats to get from them a sacred token. For you must remember, they are from the Holy Land. Unlike their goods, they at least are genuine. And every Saturday night, after beating the hoof in the country and making such fabulous profits on their false Holy-Land gewgaws, they return to their cellar happy and content.
"In three years," writes our Scribe, "Khalid and I acquired what I still consider a handsome fortune. Each of us had a bank account, and a check book which we seldom used.... In spite of which, we continued to shoulder the peddling box and tramp along.... And Khalid would say to me, 'A peddler is superior to a merchant; we travel and earn money; our compatriots the merchants rust in their cellars and lose it.' To be sure, peddling in the good old days was most attractive. For the exercise, the gain, the experience—these are rich acquirements."
And both Shakib and Khalid, we apprehend, have been hitherto most moderate in their habits. The fact that they seldom use their check books, testifies to this. They have now a peddleress, Im-Hanna by name, who occupies their cellar in their absence, and keeps what little they have in order. And when they return every Saturday night from their peddling trip, they find the old woman as ready to serve them as a mother. She cooks mojadderah for them, and sews the bed-linen on the quilts as is done in the mother country.
"The linen," says Shakib, "was always as white as a dove's wing, when Im-Hanna was with us."
And in the Khedivial Library Manuscript we find this curious note upon that popular Syrian dish of lentils and olive oil.
"Mojadderah," writes Khalid, "has a marvellous effect upon my humour and nerves. There are certain dishes, I confess, which give me the blues. Of these, fried eggplants and cabbage boiled with corn-beef on the American system of boiling, that is to say, cooking, I abominate the most. But mojadderah has such a soothing effect on the nerves; it conduces to cheerfulness, especially when the raw onion or the leek is taken with it. After a good round pewter platter of this delicious dish and a dozen leeks, I feel as if I could do the work of all mankind. And I am then in such a beatific state of mind that I would share with all mankind my sack of lentils and my pipkin of olive oil. I wonder not at Esau's extravagance, when he saw a steaming mess of it. For what is a birthright in comparison?"
That Shakib also shared this beatific mood, the following quaint picture of their Saturday nights in the cellar, will show.
"A bank account," he writes, "a good round dish of mojadderah, the lute for Khalid, Al-Mutanabbi for me,—neither of us could forego his hobby,—and Im-Hanna, affectionate, devoted as our mothers,—these were the joys of our Saturday nights in our underground diggings. We were absolutely happy. And we never tried to measure our happiness in those days, or gauge it, or flay it to see if it be dead or alive, false or real. Ah, the blessedness of that supreme unconsciousness which wrapped us as a mother would her babe, warming and caressing our hearts. We did not know then that happiness was a thing to be sought. We only knew that peddling is a pleasure, that a bank account is a supreme joy, that a dish of mojadderah cooked by Im-Hanna is a royal delight, that our dour dark cellar is a palace of its kind, and that happiness, like a bride, issues from all these, and, touching the strings of Khalid's lute, mantles us with song."
THE CELLAR OF THE SOUL
Heretofore, Khalid and Shakib have been inseparable as the Pointers. They always appeared together, went the rounds of their peddling orbit together, and together were subject to the same conditions and restraints. Which restraints are a sort of sacrifice they make on the altar of friendship. One, for instance, would never permit himself an advantage which the other could not enjoy, or a pleasure in which the other could not share. They even slept under the same blanket, we learn, ate from the same plate, puffed at the same narghilah, which Shakib brought with him from Baalbek, and collaborated in writing to one lady-love! A condition of unexampled friendship this, of complete oneness. They had both cut themselves garments from the same cloth, as the Arabic saying goes. And on Sunday afternoon, in garments spick and span, they would take the air in Battery Park, where the one would invoke the Statue of Liberty for a thought, or the gilded domes of Broadway for a metaphor, while the other would be scouring the horizon for the Nothingness, which is called, in the recondite cant of the sophisticated, a vague something.
In the Khedivial Library MS. we find nothing which this Battery Park might have inspired. And yet, we can not believe that Khalid here was only attracted by that vague something which, in his spiritual enceinteship, he seemed to relish. Nothing? Not even the does and kangaroos that adorn the Park distracted or detained him? We doubt it; and Khalid's lute sustains us in our doubt. Ay, and so does our Scribe; for in his Histoire Intime we read the following, which we faithfully transcribe.
"Of the many attractions of Battery Park, the girls and the sea were my favourite. For the girls in a crowd have for me a fascination which only the girls at the bath can surpass. I love to lose myself in a crowd, to buffet, so to speak, its waves, to nestle under their feathery crests. For the rolling waves of life, the tumbling waves of the sea, and the fiery waves of Al-Mutanabbi's poetry have always been my delight. In Battery Park I took especial pleasure in reading aloud my verses to Khalid, or in fact to the sea, for Khalid never would listen.
"Once I composed a few stanzas to the Milkmaid who stood in her wagon near the lawn, rattling out milk-punches to the boys. A winsome lass she was, fresh in her sororiation, with fair blue eyes, a celestial flow of auburn hair, and cheeks that suggested the milk and cherry in the glass she rattled out to me. I was reading aloud the stanzas which she inspired, when Khalid, who was not listening, pointed out to me a woman whose figure and the curves thereof were remarkable. 'Is it not strange,' said he, 'how the women here indraw their stomachs and outdraw their hips? And is not this the opposite of the shape which our women cultivate?'
"Yes, with the Lebanon women, the convex curve beneath the waist is frontward, not hindward. But that is a matter of taste, I thought, and man is partly responsible for either convexity. I have often wondered, however, why the women of my country cultivate that shape. And why do they in America cultivate the reverse of it? Needless to say that both are pruriently titillating,—both distentions are damnably suggestive, quite killing. The American woman, from a fine sense of modesty, I am told, never or seldom ventures abroad, when big with child. But in the kangaroo figure, the burden is slightly shifted and naught is amiss. Ah, such haunches as are here exhibited suggest the aliats of our Asiatic sheep."
And what he says about the pruriently titillating convexities, whether frontward or hindward, suggests a little prudery. For in his rhymes he betrays both his comrade and himself. Battery Park and the attractions thereof prove fatal. Elsewhere, therefore, they must go, and begin to draw on their bank accounts. Which does not mean, however, that they are far from the snare. No; for when a young man begins to suffer from what the doctors call hebephrenia, the farther he draws away from such snares the nearer he gets to them. And these lusty Syrians could not repel the magnetic attraction of the polypiosis of what Shakib likens to the aliat (fattail) of our Asiatic sheep. Surely, there be more devils under such an aliat than under the hat of a Jesuit. And Khalid is the first to discover this. Both have been ensnared, however, and both, when in the snare, have been infernally inspired. What Khalid wrote, when he was under the influence of feminine curves, was preserved by Shakib, who remarks that one evening, after returning from the Park, Khalid said to him, 'I am going to write a poem.' A fortnight later, he hands him the following, which he jealously kept among his papers.
I dreamt I was a donkey-boy again. Out on the sun-swept roads of Baalbek, I tramp behind my burro, trolling my mulayiah. At noon, I pass by a garden redolent of mystic scents and tarry awhile. Under an orange tree, on the soft green grass, I stretch my limbs. The daisies, the anemones, and the cyclamens are round me pressing: The anemone buds hold out to me their precious rubies; the daisies kiss me in the eyes and lips; and the cyclamens shake their powder in my hair. On the wall, the roses are nodding, smiling; above me the orange blossoms surrender themselves to the wooing breeze; and on yonder rock the salamander sits, complacent and serene. I take a daisy, and, boy as boys go, question its petals: Married man or monk, I ask, plucking them off one by one, And the last petal says, Monk. I perfume my fingers with crumpled cyclamens, cover my face with the dark-eyed anemones, and fall asleep. And my burro sleeps beneath the wall, in the shadow of nodding roses. And the black-birds too are dozing, and the bulbuls flitting by whisper with their wings, 'salaam.' Peace and salaam! The bulbul, the black-bird, the salamander, the burro, and the burro-boy, are to each other shades of noon-day sun: Happy, loving, generous, and free;— As happy as each other, and as free. We do what we please in Nature's realm, go where we please; No one's offended, no one ever wronged. No sentinels hath Nature, no police. But lo, a goblin as I sleep comes forth;— A goblin taller than the tallest poplar, who carries me upon his neck to the Park in far New York. Here women, light-heeled, heavy-haunched, pace up and down the flags in graceful gait. My roses these, I cry, and my orange blossoms. But the goblin placed his hand upon my mouth, and I was dumb. The cyclamens, the anemones, the daisies, I saw them, but I could not speak to them. The goblin placed his hand upon my mouth, and I was dumb. O take me back to my own groves, I cried, or let me speak. But he threw me off his shoulders in a huff, among the daisies and the cyclamens. Alone among them, but I could not speak. He had tied my tongue, the goblin, and left me there alone. And in front of me, and towards me, and beside me, Walked Allah's fairest cyclamens and anemones. I smell them, and the tears flow down my cheeks; I can not even like the noon-day bulbul Whisper with my wings, salaam! I sit me on a bench and weep. And in my heart I sing O, let me be a burro-boy again; O, let me sleep among the cyclamens Of my own land.
Shades of Whitman! But Whitman, thou Donkey, never weeps. Whitman, if that goblin tried to silence him, would have wrung his neck, after he had ridden upon it. The above, nevertheless, deserves the space we give it here, as it shadows forth one of the essential elements of Khalid's spiritual make-up. But this slight symptom of that disease we named, this morbidness incident to adolescence, is eventually overcome by a dictionary and a grammar. Ay, Khalid henceforth shall cease to scour the horizon for that vague something of his dreams; he has become far-sighted enough by the process to see the necessity of pursuing in America something more spiritual than peddling crosses and scapulars. Especially in this America, where the alphabet is spread broadcast, and free of charge. And so, he sets himself to the task of self-education. He feels the embryo stir within him, and in the squeamishness of enceinteship, he asks but for a few of the fruits of knowledge. Ah, but he becomes voracious of a sudden, and the little pocket dictionary is devoured entirely in three sittings. Hence his folly of treating his thoughts and fancies, as he was treated by the goblin. For do not words often rob a fancy of its tongue, or a thought of its soul? Many of the pieces Khalid wrote when he was devouring dictionaries were finally disposed of in a most picturesque manner, as we shall relate. And a few were given to Shakib, of which that Dream of Cyclamens was preserved.
And Khalid's motto was, "One book at a time." He would not encumber himself with books any more than he would with shoes. But that the mind might not go barefoot, he always bought a new book before destroying the one in hand. Destroying? Yes; for after reading or studying a book, he warms his hands upon its flames, this Khalid, or makes it serve to cook a pot of mojadderah. In this extraordinary and outrageous manner, barbarously capricious, he would baptise the ideal in the fire of the real. And thus, glowing with health and confidence and conceit, he enters another Park from which he escapes in the end, sad and wan and bankrupt. Of a truth, many attractions and distractions are here; else he could not forget the peddling-box and the light-heeled, heavy-haunched women of Battery Park. Here are swings for the mind; toboggan-chutes for the soul; merry-go-rounds for the fancy; and many devious and alluring paths where one can lose himself for years. A sanitarium this for the hebephreniac. And like all sanitariums, you go into it with one disease and come out of it with ten. Had Shakib been forewarned of Khalid's mind, had he even seen him at the gate before he entered, he would have given him a few hints about the cross-signs and barbed-cordons therein. But should he not have divined that Khalid soon or late was coming? Did he not call enough to him, and aloud? "Get thee behind me on this dromedary," our Scribe, reading his Al-Mutanabbi, would often say to his comrade, "and come from this desert of barren gold, if but for a day,—come out with me to the oasis of poesy."
But Khalid would only ride alone. And so, he begins his course of self-education. But how he shall manage it, in this cart-before-the-horse fashion, the reader shall know. Words before rules, ideas before systems, epigrams before texts,—that is Khalid's fancy. And that seems feasible, though not logical; it will prove effectual, too, if one finally brushed the text and glanced at the rules. For an epigram, when it takes possession of one, goes farther in influencing his thoughts and actions than whole tomes of ethical culture science. You know perhaps how the Arabs conquered the best half of the world with an epigram, a word. And Khalid loves a fine-sounding, easy-flowing word; a word of supple joints, so to speak; a word that you can twist and roll out, flexible as a bamboo switch, resilient as a fine steel rapier. But once Shakib, after reading one of Khalid's first attempts, gets up in the night when his friend is asleep, takes from the bottom drawer of the peddling-box the evil-working dictionary, and places therein a grammar. This touch of delicacy, this fine piece of criticism, brief and neat, without words withal, Khalid this time is not slow to grasp and appreciate. He plunges, therefore, headlong into the grammar, turns a few somersaults in the mazes of Sibawai and Naftawai, and coming out with a broken noddle, writes on the door the following: "What do I care about your theories of nouns and verbs? Whether the one be derived from the other, concerns not me. But this I know, after stumbling once or twice in your labyrinths, one comes out parsing the verb, to run. Indeed, verbs are more essential than nouns and adjectives. A noun can be represented pictorially; but how, pictorially, can you represent a noun in motion,—Khalid, for instance, running out of your labyrinths? Even an abstract state can be represented in a picture, but a transitive state never. The richest language, therefore, is not the one which can boast of a thousand names for the lion or two thousand for the camel, but the one whose verbs have a complete and perfect gamut of moods and tenses."
That is why, although writing in Arabic, Khalid prefers English. For the Arabic verb is confined to three tenses, the primary ones only; and to break through any of these in any degree, requires such crowbars as only auxiliaries and other verbs can furnish. For this and many other reasons Khalid stops short in the mazes of Sibawai, runs out of them exasperated, depressed, and never for a long time after looks in that direction. He is now curious to know if the English language have its Sibawais and Naftawais. And so, he buys him a grammar, and there finds the way somewhat devious, too, but not enough to constitute a maze. The men who wrote these grammars must have had plenty of time to do a little useful work. They do not seem to have walked leisurely in flowing robes disserting a life-long dissertation on the origin and descent of a preposition. One day Shakib is amazed by finding the grammars page by page tacked on the walls of the cellar and Khalid pacing around leisurely lingering a moment before each page, as if he were in an art gallery. That is how he tackled his subject. And that is why he and Shakib begin to quarrel. The idea! That a fledgling should presume to pick flaws. To Shakib, who is textual to a hair, this is intolerable. And that state of oneness between them shall be subject hereafter to "the corrosive action of various unfriendly agents." For Khalid, who has never yet been snaffled, turns restively from the bit which his friend, for his own sake, would put in his mouth. The rupture follows. The two for a while wend their way in opposite directions. Shakib still cherishing and cultivating his bank account, shoulders his peddling-box and jogs along with his inspiring demon, under whose auspices, he tells us, he continues to write verse and gull with his brummagems the pious dames of the suburbs. And Khalid sits on his peddling-box for hours pondering on the necessity of disposing of it somehow. For now he scarcely makes more than a few peddling-trips each month, and when he returns, he does not go to the bank to add to his balance, but to draw from it. That is why the accounts of the two Syrians do not fare alike; Shakib's is gaining in weight, Khalid's is wasting away.
Yes, the strenuous spirit is a long time dead in Khalid. He is gradually reverting to the Oriental instinct. And when he is not loafing in Battery Park, carving his name on the bench, he is burrowing in the shelves of some second-hand book-shop or dreaming in the dome of some Broadway skyscraper. Does not this seem inevitable, however, considering the palingenetic burden within him? And is not loafing a necessary prelude to the travail? Khalid, of course, felt the necessity of this, not knowing the why and wherefor. And from the vast world of paper-bound souls, for he relished but pamphlets at the start—they do not make much smoke in the fire, he would say—from that vast world he could command the greatest of the great to help him support the loafing while. And as by a miracle, he came out of that chaos of contending spirits without a scratch. He enjoyed the belligerency of pamphleteers as an American would enjoy a prize fight. But he sided with no one; he took from every one his best and consigned him to Im-Hanna's kitchen. Torquemada could not have done better; but Khalid, it is hoped, will yet atone for his crimes.
Monsieur Pascal, with whom he quarrels before he burns, had a particular influence upon him. He could not rest after reading his "Thoughts" until he read the Bible. And of the Prophets of the Old Testament he had an especial liking for Jeremiah and Isaiah. And once he bought a cheap print of Jeremiah which he tacked on the wall of his cellar. From the Khedivial Library MS. we give two excerpts relating to Pascal and this Prophet.