Irene the Missionary
ALL the rest of that day and all night the holy city held carnival of plunder, lust, and murder.
A host of Damascenes, Bedaween, Koords, Druzes, and Metawileh, followed by many soldiers of the Turkish garrison, poured, howling, into the Christian quarter, and ravaged it without let or hindrance. The timorous, unarmed inhabitants hid as they could in closets, wells, chimneys, and other coverts, only to be dragged forth, insulted, spit upon, beaten, subjected to every degrading violence, and butchered by the thousand. The American vice-consul, a Syrian of high character and great learning, was attacked in his own house, shot at, gashed with blows of hatchets, and saved from death only through the intercession of a Moslem friend, backed by an irruption of Abd el Kader’s magnanimous Algerines. The Dutch vice-consul and the noble Irish missionary Graham were murdered. Islam had broken bonds at last, and was showing its ancient nature.
It was astonishing how little of the uproar of this bloody frenzy penetrated the Payson dwelling. The great, heavywalled building of unburnt brick had not a window upon the street, and the one small gate which gave entrance to its court was of course kept carefully closed. The inmates might almost have remained ignorant of the atrocities without, had it not been for the pallid, bleeding fugitives who occasionally asked and obtained admittance. Not many came, for the mission was as yet but little known, even to the Christian inhabitants. To go forth and search out other sufferers might have been death to the seeker and ruin to all. It need hardly be said that there was no repose during the day and no slumber during the night. Hour after hour the doctor toiled over the wounded among the thirty or forty refugees, while the ladies tore up bandages, or assisted in preparing and distributing food. Payson’s chief office was to watch the gate, to open it guardedly to suppliants, and to see that no Moslem obtained entrance. There was need of caution and judgment and knowledge of the people. Once a gang of unseen ruffians bawled entreaties for shelter through the portal, and, finding their cajoleries useless, ended with yells of “ Death to the infidels! ” and two or three harmless pistol shots. An hour later the roar of a musket bellowed in the narrow street, and a heavy slug of iron penetrated the door and hummed across the court.
Of course much was said in the beleaguered household, and much also was thought and felt, which might be interesting. But how can one relate all the incidents of such a night? By themselves alone they would make a volume. Toward morning Payson was amazed by hearing a voice outside shouting in Euglish, “ Open the door! ”
In great joy he flung the gate wide, and found himself in the arms of DeVries.
“Ah, my friend!” he exclaimed. “Is it indeed you? What brings you here? ”
“Come in!” called the young man eagerly, turning to some shadowy shapes of mounted people behind him. “It’s all right,” he added, addressing Payson. “ This is Mr. Wingate, an American. The others are my Arnaout and my guide.”
In a minute or so the four men, each leading his horse, had entered the gate and closed it behind them.
“ Ah, the lad! ” said Payson, taking DeVries by the arm, and gazing at him with a sort of wondering fondness. “ What have you come to us for? ”
“ To give you a lift,” returned Hubertsen with a smile, meantime pushing on toward the centre of the court-yard. The great space was partially lighted by a fire, where the refugees were boiling coffee, and in the midst of this illumination he could see a pale and weary young lady kneeling upon the pavement and tearing bandages. Gently loosening the missionary’s hold, he advanced swiftly to her and confronted her with outstretched hands.
She looked up, recognized him with a cry of amazement, and then seized both those wicked hands with another cry of joy. Undoubtedly her first thought was,
“ Here is a deliverer! ” It may be that her next was, “He has left Saada to come to me.” But probably, even in that very moment, she could not have told whether she had any thoughts at all.
“ Oh, how came you here? ” she asked, when she had risen to her feet.
“ Did you get hurt ? ”
“ Not yet,” he smiled, very well satisfied because she could be anxious about him. “And I am delighted, — so delighted, my dear friend! —to find you safe. This is Mr. Wingate, my traveling companion. We rode over from Lebanon to get you out of here. The story was general there that Damascus was to rise. I wish we had started earlier, Wingate.”
“It would have ended more to our convenience,” replied Wingate, whom the reader will perhaps remember as a stout, florid, jovial young American, given on occasion to cards and wine. “ I saw you and the Paysons on the steamer imperatore, Miss Grant,” he added, with a composed smile which was curiously friendly and cheering. “ I am sorry I could n’t have made your acquaintance at that time.”
Then Mrs. Payson came up, and greeted DeVries with a cordiality which surprised him, and immediately set about preparing refreshments for his party. It must be understood that she was not merely glad to see him as a person who had come with the kindliest of purposes, and who perhaps brought safety. There was more than that in her womanly heart: she had accepted him as the man of her choice for the girl of her preference; she had put upon him the ephod of love, and felt an almost devout desire to serve him. I do not mean that she was aware of saying all this to herself, but only that there was some such emotion within her, impulsively influencing her behavior.
Meantime Dr. Macklin hardly looked up from his bandaging long enough to say, “ I hope you have no bones broken.”
“ There is n’t much disturbance as yet on the western side of the city,” returned DeVries. “But we must get away to-night, if we can. How soon can you all start? ”
“ I can’t start at all,” declared the physician; “ I have too many patients.”
“ But the city is on fire.”
“ I see it is,” said Macklin, glancing up at a broad glare which reddened the sky. “ It is only on the east side, — the Christian quarter. It won't be allowed to spread much farther.”
“ Miss Grant, you must go,” persisted DeVries. “ And the Paysons. There may be worse business to-morrow. I can get you away to-night. I have an Understanding with the officer on guard at the west gate, who is an Arnaout by nation and an old friend of my fellow. When he goes off duty the chance is lost. It cost some trouble to get it, and it’s a pity to lose it.”
“ The ladies shall go,” decided Payson. “ I must stay and do what I can for the wretched people. But the ladies shall go, if the doctor can spare his horse.”
“ I will buy it,” offered Hubertsen.
“ No, sir,” returned Macklin, almost roughly. “ I give it for Miss Grant’s use.”
The clergyman gently urged his wife and Irene to their rooms, bidding them prepare promptly for the journey, and then hastened to the stable in rear of the court to order the saddling of the household steeds. There were some minutes of anxious, impatient, and nearly silent waiting. All this time the great red glare stained the sky, broadening and growing more lurid every moment. Huge black masses of gloom, the smoke of hundreds of dwellings, occasionally rolled majestically across it, starred here and there by flights of sailing cinders. There was a shrill hum which was the cry of a distant multitude, and a perpetual stern murmur which was the roar of the conflagration. A pattering of far-off musket shots, a sound familiar to the ear for hours back, swelled by moments into a continuous fusillade.
“ This is tremendous,” said the doctor, rising from his work and coming close to De Vries. “ Are you sure of reaching the gate? Are you sure of your savage there? He is a Moslem.”
They both glanced at the Albanian. In his embroidered jacket, long white kilt, and close-fitting scarlet gaiters, his sunburnt hands resting on a girdle full of weapons, and the firelight falling on his bronzed, fierce, stony countenance, he was a picturesque, an elegant, and a formidable figure.
“ He is a.Moslem,” assented DeVries. “But he is an Arnaout. His religion consists in fighting for the man whose salt he eats. I believe he would shoot a mufti if I told him to. Will those ladies never be ready ? ”
Just then Mrs. Payson appeared, walking rapidly by the side of her husband, but looking at him imploringly and sobbing aloud.
“ I will go if you will,” she was saying. “ Oh, dear! How can I leave you here! I can’t.”
“ My dear, I command it,” the husband murmured, meanwhile patting her shoulder. “It is my command. Without you Irene cannot go; and it is best for you also. Fear not for me. The Lord will not forget me, humble as I am.”
“ I do wish you would go,” she continued to plead.
“ I must not abandon my brother worker and my little flock of unfortunates. There, my dear, good wife, do not distress me.”
And so, with much difficulty, Mrs. Payson was prevailed upon to consent to a departure, and to make her final small preparations. Irene also was soon ready, and so were all who were to go. It was necessary to lead the horses outside ere they could be mounted; and before commencing this operation it seemed best to reconnoitre the shadowy street. The Arnaout partially opened the gate, and immediately presented his revolvers, as if he saw an enemy. Dr. Macklin, who was looking over his shoulder, beheld three tall, dark-faced men, mantled in long white burnouses and armed with long guns, scimitars, and pistols. But with them were two persons in Frank costume, an elderly gentleman and a lady of uncertain age, — no other than Miss Biffles and Mr. Wormly, the latter holding two horses by the bridle.
“ Oh, God bless you, doctor!” called Mr. Wormly, in an eager, quavering voice. “ I was just about to knock. Do, for God’s sake, ask these fellows what they want.”
There was a brief conversation in Arabic with the leader of the three burnoused men, a tawny and stern-visaged giant, whose immense chest gave forth a voice like the bellow of a bull.
“ These are Algerines,” explained the doctor. “ They tell me that their Emir — the famous Abd el Kader, you know — is sending forth his people to save the Christians. They saw you wandering about, and were afraid you would be attacked, and thought it best to follow you a bit. They give you their salaams, and say they will now depart.”
“ My dear sir, please salaam them to the best of your ability,” begged Wormly, meantime drawing forth his purse.
The Algerine of the lion voice waved his finger to and fro in refusal of the proffered gift. Then all three, touching their hands to their breasts and foreheads, faced about, and hurried away at a swift, springy trot, as light as panthers.
“ We are trying to get out of this awful city,” Miss Biffles here gasped out, in a tone which indicated extreme terror, as did also her pallid, shaking face. She was truly an object of pity, but the doctor could not help saying, “ You don’t believe in the millennium, I fear.”
Miss Biffles had no reply at hand, or perhaps did not hear his sarcasm. Mr. Wormly raised his visage, now ghastly and wilted and very old, toward the broad, hot glare in the sky, and muttered, “Millennium! It looks more like Tophet. ”
Meantime parting tears were being shed and parting words murmured in the court, and three or four of the refugees were leading the horses through the narrow portal.
“ God favors us with tranquillity,” said Payson. “Mount, all of you, and speed on. Ah, Miss Biffles! are you here? Let me help you up. May the divine mercy guide and speed you!”
The poor woman was too confounded to reply, or to address a word to any one, or even to recognize her bête noir DeVries. Mrs. Payson leaned from her saddle to kiss her husband once more, and Irene wrung his hand, saying, “ Do promise to be careful of yourself.”
“ God will care for us all,” he replied gently. “ Let us not be troubled for one another.”
Then the little cavalcade, eight equestrians in all, moved off at a walk down the narrow, winding street, dimly lighted by the distant glare of the great fire.
For a few hundred yards the fugitives journeyed in perfect quiet, without sight of a human being.
They were in the Mohammedan quarter of Damascus, and their way of escape led through its most aristocratic region. Behind them lay the Christian district, sending up a continuous, wide-spread glow of conflagration, but too far distant to reach them with its surge of human anguish. They were astonished at the tranquillity around them, and marveled at hearing the feet of their own horses. It seemed as if this part of the cruel city had wearied of its bloody debauch, and fallen asleep like the Cyclops after his cannibal banquet.
The truth was that all the unquiet spirits, the men who loved plunder and violence and blood, had betaken themselves long since to the scene of havoc, and were sporting there amid arson and murder. During that night and the following day scores of churches and thousands of houses were burned, and property destroyed to the amount of five millions of dollars. In the conflagration of the Greek Patriarchate six hundred persons perished, while one thousand victims, many of them European monks, strewed the smoking ruins of the Franciscan convent. No wonder that, when Islam found such a carnival of ferocity in the eastern part of Damascus, it should leave the western districts nearly deserted.
The fugitives moved forward in procession. First came the guide; then DeVries and Irene; then Wingate and Mrs. Payson; then Mr. Wormly and Miss Biffles; lastly the Arnaout. The pace was a walk, not because the way was dim, but to avoid rousing the neighborhood. There was plenty of light; for not only did the baleful glimmer of the flames penetrate everywhere, but it was now four o'clock in the morning, and the night had turned to grayness. They could distinctly see on either hand the high, blank walls of the houses, and even recognize the ugly, dirty yellow of the sun - dried bricks which composed them.
Presently they turned into a broader and straighter street, leading directly away from the glare of arson, and toward the western gate-way. Here they first chanced upon fellow-creatures and upon visible peril. Out of the gray obscurity in front came fifteen or twenty men, armed miscellaneously, — some with long muskets, some with scimitars or large daggers, some with merely hatchets. They were, obviously a gang of Metawileh from Anti-Lebanon, who were hastening to share in the plunder and massacre. At sight of the European costumes they halted and closed rapidly in a group, as if with intent of disputing the narrow passage.
The guide called to them to clear the way, and DeVries angrily beckoned to one side, but without effect. The Arnaout came up, his revolver in his right hand, and, leaning forward in his saddle, looked silently from face to face, as if searching out the leader. The wellknown costume and fierce countenance of this man produced an immediate effect. No other human being is so dreaded in Syria, so held in absolute detestation and horror, as the ferociously pugnacious mountaineer of Albania. There was a mutter of “ Arnaout! Arnaout! ” and the Metawileh drew aside, leaving the street open. The kawass faced them until his little caravan had passed, when he sternly signed them to go their ways, and resumed his place as rear-guard.
“ Were you frightened? ” asked DeVries of Irene.
“ Not much,” she replied.
“ That ’s a good girl,” he said, in a petting tone; and she was conscious of being pleased with the compliment. There was of course little thought in her just now of his coquettish misdeeds with other women. They seemed far-away matters, and very insignificant matters, also, in the midst of murdering and blazing Damascus. How could a girl who stood in fear of death, and who was surrounded by a sublime spectacle of rage and destruction, call up a flirtation or two against a man who was imperiling his life to save hers!
Erelong the fugitives had to make a considerable circuit to avoid a large café, in front of which could be seen clusters of turbaned men, all no doubt armed. This detour brought them into a district of narrow alleys and low houses, inhabited by the poorer sort of people. Here doors were open and a few persons were about. A filthy woman, whose skinny face was only partially concealed by a ragged veil, cursed them in shrill screams till they were out of sight. A fat and rosy cherub of perhaps five years, whose fresh cheeks and glorious black eyes made one want to kiss him, surveyed them with a curious mixture of fun and spite, and yelled at the top of his small voice, “ Frangi! Frangi! Giaour!”
Next, a dozen small roughs, looking preposterously old in their turbans and loose garments, made an onset with handfuls of dust and lumps of earth, raising meanwhile an abominable vituperation.
“ I say, DeVries, those chaps are dangerous,” called Wormly, in a quavering voice. “ They ’ll raise the neighborhood. ”
The Arnaout appeared to be of the same opinion. He rode into the group of evil-tongued urchins, and laid about him mercilessly with his long koorbash. There were some keen shrieks of anguish, followed by a swift dispersion. Then the cavalcade broke into a canter, and kept it up until the main street was regained.
“ I like your Irishman,” said Wingate to DeVries. “ He handles his shillalah beautifully.”
“ I only hope he won’t kill anybody and bring a crowd upon us,’’ was the reply. “ He keeps me in constant fear.
I feel like a man who owns a bloodhound.”
“ I wish he would kill this whole city! ” cried Miss Biffles, which was the first speech she had made since leaving the mission house.
Mrs. Payson was so far amused that she looked up from her sad meditations about her husband and smiled at Irene.
Just then they heard a wild falsetto chanting in front of them, and at the next turn they came upon a party of men singing. Their dark, stern faces and short-sleeved frocks of white and black stripes showed that they were Druzes. Stepping forward gayly, and brandishing their long muskets, they shrieked out the war-song which was then current in Lebanon and wherever else a Druze had a chance to shed blood,
“ How sweet, oh, how sweet, to kill the Nazarenes! ”
Nevertheless they passed the travelers civilly, two or three of them indeed saluting with the usual touch of the fingers to the breast and forehead, and saying in their strong, deep tones, “ Peace be with you.” The salutations were returned by all with as much Oriental courtesy as could be mustered.
“ Are those fellows going to help the Christians?” questioned Mr. Wormly, meantime bowing backward to the Druzes, and waving kisses to them.
“ They are going to butcher them,” replied DeVries, who had heard the war-song before, and knew its bloody purport,
“ Good heavens! You don’t say so! Then why did n’t they pitch into us ?”
“Mr. Wormly, hold your tongue!" snapped Miss Biffles. “ What if they should overhear you ! ”
“ They probably take us for Englishmen and friends of their people,” explained De Vries. “ There is an idea current among the Druzes that they and the English are brethren in belief, and that England will some day come to their help.”
Here he stopped speaking to stare at Mr. Wormly’s fellow-traveler. That there were two strangers in the company he. had been aware all along ; but hitherto he had not given them anything more than a cursory glance. Now for the first time he studied Miss Biffles’s countenance, and caught a glimpse of something there which had once been familiar. The lady accorded him a recognition, which, strange to say, had no sort of hatred or scorn in it, but rather a beseeching deference and wheedling. Irene, who saw this expression, was extremely surprised by it, but presently concluded that Miss Biffles was in terror for her life, and felt willing to be saved by anybody. DeVries raised his hat civilly, but with a puzzled expression, and rode on for a minute in silence. Then he leaned toward Miss Grant, and whispered, —
“ What is that lady’s name? ”
“ Biffles,” murmured the girl, glad to see that his recollection was so indistinct, and auguring therefrom that the cemetery scandal might not amount to much.
“Exactly,” he grumbled. “I remember her perfectly. How the dickens came the old goose here! ”
Irene’s hopes fell again. He seemed to be angry against Miss Biffles. It was to be feared that the cemetery scandal amounted to a great deal.
But they could not long think of subjects so far away from blazing and murdering Damascus.
“ This part of the city is quiet enough to suit us,” observed Wingate, who had been saying comfortable things from time to time, and who bad a permanent cheering smile on his rosy, worldly face.
“ I don’t see why we need have left,” complained Mrs. Payson. “ I have the greatest mind to ride back to my husband.”
“ Of course he is perfectly safe,” pronounced Wingate, “ Still, as we set out by his advice, I think we had better go on.”
We are not through with the worst of it,” said DeVries. “ There is a large coffee-house to pass, and we shall find a rabble at the gate.”
The coffee-house proved to be a trying ordeal. It was a long, bazaar-like affair, made up of a series of rude shanties, with wide-spreading, rubbishy awnings in front, which sheltered many low seats ranged along a runnel of water. In the shanties and under the awnings Loitered at least fifty men and boys, most of them in the white turbans and raiment which mark the Moslem Damascene, while a few wore the striped frock of the Druze or the beggarly garments of the Metawileh. Everywhere were arms, — long muskets, huge bludgeons of pistols, curved scimitars, and heavy daggers.
The boys were ragged, filthy younkers, with foul, lean, and fierce faces,— the swarthy and savage hoodlums of Damascus. They were the first to note the Frank attire, and to salute it with bawling insult. Then a haggard, yellow - eyed dervish leaped forward and seized the bridle of Irene’s horse, meanwhile howling unintelligibly. The animal, a spirited and skittish beast, reared violently, and shook him off. DeVries at once rode in between the two, shouldering the fanatic into the runnel.
By this time the crowd was in an uproar, and had surrounded the travelers. Arms clattered on every side, and the devilish boys picked up stones. DeVries and Wingate cocked and presented their revolvers. The Arnaout cantered to the front with drawn scimeter, and, dashing to and fro recklessly, made a little clear space around the group. An old Damascene with a silver beard, standing behind a pillar of one of the booths, took aim at him with his long musket. It seemed as if blood would certainly flow, and the whole party would be massacred. But just at this moment a cavalier in a white burnouse galloped into the midst of the uproar, and addressed the rioters in a stern, deep shout, as startling as the roar of a lion. He was one of the Algerines of Abd el Kader, and apparently a man of known distinction and authority.
The crowd recoiled a few paces, and the fiendish youngsters dropped their stones. The parchment - faced, jaundice-eyed dervish alone stood his ground, and continued to bawl imprecations and menaces. The Algerine struck him furiously with his koorbash, and sent him howling into one of the shanties. Then there was a long parley. The guide was permitted to speak; and a wonderful story he told. Here was a party, O true believers,—here was a party of infidel dogs (may their name and faith be accursed!), whom the Arnaout there, a true son of Islam (may the blessing of Allah be upon his fingers!), had been charged to deliver captive to the officer at the gate.
The rioters may not have believed the tale, but they at least seemed to believe it. There was a general cry of, “ Let them go! Off, ye dogs!—ye infidels! ”
The cavalcade moved on at a rapid amble. The Algerine curveted after it a hundred yards or so, and then turned back to koorbash a boy who liad thrown a pebble.
“I wish we could do something for those burnoused fellows,” said Wingate. " Our government ought to give Abd el Kader a pension.”
“ Were you really going to fire?” asked Irene of DeVries, looking at him wondei’ingly.
“ Not if it could be helped. I would n’t have suffered you to be seized.”
She rode a little closer to him, letting her foot drag against his boot lightly, and found a pleasure as well as a sense of protection in the touch.
“I am on the wrong side of you,” he smiled. “ And yet I have always meant to keep on the right side.”
Mrs. Payson overheard the speech, and, to her own surprise, giggled. Even in those circumstances the feminine soul could note the voice of compliment, and understand it as courtship.
Presently the arched and towered gateway rose before them, gray and grim against the foliage of the gardens beyond. Three or four soldiers and a score or two of citizens and peasants could be seen lounging under the rugged mass of ashcolored stone. The Arnaout hurried to the front now, and requested the travelers to halt while he rode forward to find his countryman, the captain of the guard. In a few minutes he turned toward them, and beckoned them to advance.
The officer was a blonde, sunburnt young man, neatly dressed in the blue Turkish uniform, handsome of figure, except that he was over slender in the waist, but harsh in feature and cruel in expression, as an Arnaout usually is. He saluted DeVries courteously, and signaled him to pass on.
“ Fine-looking fellows, those Epirots,” said the young man to Irene.
“ I think they are horrible,” she replied, glancing quickly at the stony blue eyes of the captain, and then at the coal-black, burning eyes of the kawass. “ They have exactly the expression of panthers and lynxes.”
“That is just what I like, — that fighting look,” said Hubertsen. “ At any rate, we ought to praise the bridge that carries us over. Here we are, outside of this City of Destruction.”
He rejoiced too soon; they were still in peril.
The pale citizens and swarthy peasants who lounged about the gate-way were evidently not pleased to see a party of Giaours going forth from them unmolested.
With the friendly captain there were only three soldiers, — dull and listlesslooking lads; while the fanatical roughs were thirty in number, nearly all well armed for close fighting. There were sullen murmurs among them, and then exclamations of “Infidels! Dogs! Accursed! ”
Of a sudden, a gigantic negro sprang forward after the passing travelers. His eyes were wild, and he had a silly, brutish expression, as if he were half-witted, or possibly downright mad. But in the Orient a lunatic, and even an idiot, is considered inspired, and may often commit outrages, if not crimes, with impunity. Roaring “ Ullah! Ullah! ” this black monster bounded toward DeVries, and aimed a blow at him with a rusty khanjar, or large dagger.
The young man parried with the barrel of his revolver, and narrowly escaped a gash in the thigh. In the next instant the Arnaout was behind the negro, and struck him over the head with his gunstock, fetching it down like a sledgehammer. The bellowing brute dropped in a filthy heap, and lay still amid the feet of the prancing horses. The Arnaout looked at him steadily for an instant, and then glanced up with a smile at his friend the captain. The latter silently returned him the same cruel smile. The crowd, which had already begun to press forward after the negro, receded again; and the travelers, breaking into a gallop, were soon out of sight of the gate-way.
Not until they reached the Kubbet en Nazr, one thousand feet above the plain of Damascus, did they make their first halt, and look back at leisure upon the fiery, the smoke-mantled, the cruel city, stained already with the blood of three thousand Christians, and in arms to butcher as many more. By this time DeVries and his original comrades, barring, perhaps, the iron-nerved fighter of Epirus, were worn out with fatigue and excitement. They had ridden the previous day and nearly the entire night, and on top of that had passed through something like a battle. The ladies, and that venerable knight errant, Mr. Wormly, had seen less of journeying, but quite as much of watching and worry, and were equally exhausted. There was perforce an hour of slumber, or rather of drowsing, in the shadow of the prophet’s vaulted monument. Then, rising with a sense of universally broken bones, they prepared to resume their long flight to Beirut.
“ I feel as though our colored brother had pummeled me from head to foot,” observed Wingate. “ Miss Grant, we Americans do quite right in thrashing negroes. I wish an able South Carolina paddler had our misbelieving friend in hand.”
“ Do you think the Arnaout killed him? ” asked Irene gravely, and with a glance of awe at the Albanian.
“ I hope so,” said DeVries, somewhat to her horror. “ Wingate, I am ever so much obliged to you for coming on this trip,” he added. “ I ought to have told you so before.”
“ Don’t mention it,” smiled Wingate. “ I am indebted to you for a most interesting adventure. Would n’t have missed it for a good deal of money.”
“ How can you like it? ” stared Irene. “ I wish we were in Beirut.”
“ Wish you were in America! ” exhorted Hubertsen. “ Come, Miss Grant, just to please me, wish you were in America.”
“ I ought to do a great deal to please you, I know,” confessed Miss Grant, her voice dropping, and perhaps faltering a little. “Did you really come to Damascus to fetch us? How could you do it! ”
Wingate quietly turned his horse, and joined Mrs. Payson; the conversation, he delicately perceived, was not for him. He was a very sensible, gentlemanly fellow, this wine - bibbing, poker - playing lounger,.— this minion of a wicked world. He need not, however, have stepped aside; there was no possibility of earnest love-making between our young lady and her deliverer; they were both too weary in body and anxious in mind to think much of tendernesses.
Miss Minnie Biffles, too, was frequently on hand, all alive at last to the presence of DeVries, and watching him with undisguisable interest. Irene could not help noting over and over again that she did not look at the young man with eyes of anger, but rather with an anxious, pathetic, almost beseeching expression. In the end Hubertsen came to observe that the young maiden was studying the elder one iudefatigably. He smiled to himself, and still continued to smile, clearly unable to drive away some farcical reminiscence.
“ What are you laughing at? ” Miss Grant finally demanded.
“ I shall have to tell you,” he said, spurring to one side, and beckoning her to follow him. “ I was locked up once in a cemetery with that venerable belle.”
“ With her! ”
Irene looked a great deal more amazed than to Hubertsen seemed natural.
“ Yes, with her,” he repeated. “ I found her, — you must understand that she was an old college belle, and hung on to the students till she was well into the thirties,— I found her putting flowers on the grave of a classmate. Of course I stopped to say a word or two. She was clever in a sort of way, — a little bookish and a little flirtish. — talked pretty fairly, in short. Well, time passed, and when we got to the gate it was shut, and there we were. Actually, the police had to boost us out with a ladder.”
“ O-h! ” said Irene. It was the same story, — only, it was not a young girl; it was an old one.
“ You can imagine what fun the fellows had out of me,” continued Hubertsen. “ I seriously thought of quitting college. I did change my boardinghouse.”
“What do you mean?” stared the young lady, beside herself with curiosity. “ Did she ” —
“Yes, she did,” he laughed. “ She made a great deal out of it. You see, a college widow — that’s what we used to call them — is very persevering. I was the last of a long line of chances, and I was considered very precious. Yes, I had to quit, my boarding-house, and the fellows made life a burden to me.”
“ It is too ridiculous,” said Irene. “I do believe the woman is n’t quite right about the head. She is a millenarian now.”
“ Oh, very likely. It ’s quite common for old belles to turn religionists.”
The student of the Scriptures looked at the student of Balzac with an expression of trouble amounting to pain.
“ What is the matter now? ” he inquired, half amused and half penitent.
“ Oh, well, —it’s of no use. You have n’t my opinions. I don't like to hear you allude lightly to some subjects. But I shan’t argue the point.”
“ You may if you want to. I am quite willing to be brought over to your opinions, whatever they are.”
“I wish I could fully believe you,”said Irene; but really she did not just then care much. She was thinking mainly that Miss Biffles’s story had been near akin to a fib, and that perhaps the tale about Saada was at least a little exaggerated.
This entertaining and cheering revelation turned out to be the only notable incident of the hegira. It was obvious that Miss Minnie Biffles longed for an interview with Hubertsen De Vries; but all in vain she snubbed Mr. Wormly, and rode on in advance, and dropped in the rear; the young man’s artfulness in evasion was too much for her. Notwithstanding some scowling of swarthy Metawilch, and a miragic trembling of Bedaween lances on far-away glares of liill-sides, it was an uneventful flight. “ Nothing has happened,” repined the jovial Wingate, “ but the upsetting of my inkhorn,”—by which he meant his flask of arrack.
On the second day of the sunburned, feverish push the travelers reached Beirut, and separated. The two missionary ladies were received into the house of “ Brother” Pelton. The Biffles-Wormly innocents made a nest for themselves in the crowded hotel, and presently afterward vanished sweetly and softly away, no one knows whither. The young gentlemen bunked in at the consulate; but they did not resume a life of mere Cyprus wine and poker; gone for aye was Mr. Porter Brassey. He had departed, indeed, some weeks previous, and probably not long after the rejection of his second offer of marriage, which occurred, one dimly remembers, by letter. The post was already in the hands of a successor, — a gentleman specially fitted for it by character and linguistic acquirement, whose name will long be treasured by the American mission.
“I am sorry our old wheel-horse of politics has cantered off,” was Wingate’s comment. “ He was four times as entertaining as a gentleman and a scholar. Beirut is a dull hole without him.”
“ A place often palls on a second visit,” said DeVries. “ I have noticed that a dozen times. It’s like reopening a bottle of champagne.”
But the two youngsters called at the Peltons, and there they got involved in a series of philanthropies, discovering therein a joy beyond revelry. They found Irene, Mrs. Payson, Mrs. Pelton, Rufka, and the queenly Mirta distributing rations and clothing to a pitiable host of refugees from the mountains. It was frightful to look upon the wounds, the filth, the rags, the haggardness, and the hunger. The young gentlemen took hold of the problem in such ways as they could; and I have reason to believe that it cost them smartly, both in toil and in piastres.
This huge labor of ameliorating the wretchedness of ten thousand (eventually twenty-seven thousand) cripples, widows, orphans, and beggared men so occupied time and thought that other matters remained for a while as if they had been forgotten. DeVries and Irene saw very little of each other except in the engrossing company of misery.
‘‘Where is Saada?” he once inquired of Rufka.
“ She is gone to Abeih,” replied the shy girl, without looking at him. “ She was not well, and they sent her to the mountain. ”
“Not well?” he asked, with much interest. “ What was the matter with her ? ”
But Rufka would only tell him that Saada was feverish; and so the subject passed away. There were plenty of other sick people to think of, who indeed would hardly let him think of anything else. Meantime he admired Irene beyond measure, and more and more from day to day. He had come to take a kind of ownership in her, and to be glad because she was useful and lovely to others.
“ I think yon are charming,” he at last said to her, as she lay, one sultry afternoon, on a mukaad, worn out with her charitable industry.
“ Oh, don’t say such things,” she smiled. " I don’t deserve them. Besides, it seems as if you were not in earnest.”
He sat still, looking at her tranquilly, and with much pleasure in the survey. He liked to gaze on her now by the five minutes together. She lay silent, her eyes frequently turning to his face, and once or twice she smiled confidingly in response to his steady regard.
What did she think of him? Well, his journey to Damascus on her account, and his courage and management in bringing her out of that frightful city, had produced a strong impression upon her. It seemed to her, to use a vague phrase which is widely expressive, that something had happened which “made a great difference.” They two were not the same to each other that they had been previously. They Were no longer acquaintance, — no longer even mere friends; they were different, if not more. It was of no use to strive to put away this feeling; it was always present, and always drawing her near to him. Beyond this she believed, or hoped, that she had not gone.
After a long, long pause, —but not an embarrassing one to either of them, — the young man added, “But, Irene, I am quite in earnest.”
The speech struck her with great power, mainly because he had called her Irene, and that for the first time. She was so moved that she made no reply, though she continued to look at him fixedly.
“ I am entirely in earnest when I call yon charming,” he resumed, gravely. “I believe, in truth I know, that I like you very much,—better than anybody else in the world.”
Irene was really startled now, thrilled in every nerve and artery, shaken all at once to her very soul. Could it be that he would say anything more? Was she to be called on immediately to decide the great question between duty and feeling? How should she answer him? Oh, if he would wait, would only pause for a minute or two, and give her a chance to think! But he did not tarry; he pushed on like a conqueror; almost, she felt, like a tyrant.
“ I think, Irene, that you ought to love me in return,” he continued. “ What do you think ? ”
It seemed to her in that instant that it was impossible for her to say anything but “Yes.”
But just then there was a noise at the door, and then a masculine step strode across the stone flooring, and then Mr. Payson stood before them. Irene sprang up from the mukaad and flew to greet him, with a cry of gladness. She was never more rejoiced in her life than at that moment. Here was the implicitly trusted adviser who would tell her with almost divine authority whether she might accept or must reject the man whom she held dearest in all the world.
There was a swift gathering of the family; the. Peltons and Mrs. Payson rushed into the hall; it was a very joyous greeting.
Mr. Payson, all dusty and snn-scorched as he was from his long ride through the Syrian summer, briefly and quietly narrated his adventures after he had been left in bloody Damascus. Of his own perils he made but few words, as was his modest custom. Of the scenes of slaughter and ravage in the cruel city he spoke more at length, and with tremulous feeling.
“ I understand that Abd el Kader and his Algerines toiled nobly to check thie massacre,” said Mr. Pelton. “ Is that true? ”
Raising his hands, as if calling Heaven to attest his sincerity, Payson replied solemnly, while a tear rolled down his thin cheek, “ I believe that the true love of God and of man is in the hearts of many Moslems. I believe that many a Christian stands lower before the throne of mercy than does that unbeliever. If ever I, unworthy as I am, should enter the great city of refuge, I shall expect to meet there Abd el Kader, justified by a Redeemer whom he knows not.”
Then Mrs. Payson and Irene led him to his room, where he might wash away the grime of his journey, together with that, sublime Christian tear of admiration for a most noble Moslem.
Mr. Pelton, who had been affected but not convinced, turned to DeVries, and shook his silver-gray head solemnly.
“That’s just like dear Brother Payson,” he murmured. “ Altogether too clement, — altogether too hasty about opening the doors of the kingdom of heaven. Before you offer pardon to the sinner, you must bring him fairly on his knees, — must roll him in the dust, sir! ” Remembering, as we affectionately do, that the young man was anxiously waiting to know whether Irene would love him or not, we can perhaps pardon him for not taking interest enough in the subject to make reply.
Meantime the young lady had not only followed Mr. Payson into his room, but had sent Mrs. Payson out of it.
“ I want to see him,” she whispered, her face crimson with blushes, “ I want to ask him a question.”
The good lady divined the topic of the query, and without a word returned meekly into the hall, holding up both her hands in spirit, and filled with joy unspeakable. Since she had fairly given up her doctor for DeVries, she had longed with all her heart that the latter should be loved, as well as that he should love. The glance of sympathy and of tender well-wishing which she now bent upon him was so fervent that even he noted it, absorbed as he was. Excepting the saints, there was nothing in the world so beautiful to her eyes, so worthy of kindliness and even of reverence, as a fine young man who wanted to marry. She sat down by Hubertsen; she talked with an unwonted facility and charm; she really kept his attention for the one minute that was necessary.
In the mean while Irene was putting her momentous question to her friend and counselor.
“ Mr. DeVries has spoken to me,” she whispered, coming close to him, with a face which had suddenly turned white.
Then there was a short silence, while Payson kindly gazed upon her, and marveled what this thing might be.
“ About what , dear child? ” he asked. But a sudden light fell upon his mind, and he instantly added, with grave tenderness, “Is it, perchance, about marriage?”
There was no gloom on his face: he would deeply regret, no doubt, to lose her from the mission; but he was far too sweet-hearted and sympathetic to dwell upon that now.
“ I think so,” hesitated Irene. “ He has asked me to love him.”
“ And do you? ”
“ Yes, sir,” whispered Irene, putting her handkerchief to her eyes.
“ Why, then, my child—• But something stands in the way. Are you thinking of duty?”
“ I could give up my work here, if that must be,” said Irene, removing her handkerchief, and looking appealingly in his eyes. “ But there is another thought. There is that text, Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. You know that Mr. DeVries is not one of us.”
“ Irene, it would be better if he were one of us,” returned the clergyman, gravely. “ It would be better for you, and inexpressibly better for him. Yet it is not my duty to conceal from you the true meaning of that passage which has tormented so many sincere souls. The unbelievers whom the apostle there mentions were idolaters; the infidels were those who rejected Christianity and worshiped the gods of heathen Corinth. The whole context shows this. I am sure of it.”
“ Then ” —gasped Irene, her whole countenance suddenly alight with joy, and with wonder also that joy should be found possible.
“ Then go to him and answer him as your heart dictates,” he replied. “ Answer him — whatever your decision may bo — in all gratitude and kindliness. He deserves it.”
There was no need of this adjuration. She was in the greatest possible haste to show all the lovingness that was in her heart. It did not occur to her that there was something: child-like and perhaps laughable in the alertness with which she hastened back to the hall.
Mr. and Mrs. Pelton had already vanished, possibly through the power of some spell muttered by Mrs. Payson. That lady also rose, at sight of her young friend, and retired as if before a supernatural being. The two lovers were alone in the broad radiance and languid breath of the comandaloon. Irene came straight to DeVries, put out both her hands, looked imploringly in his face, as if she were begging him to be merciful, and said in a tremulous whisper, “ Did you ask me to love you? I do. I have.”
And then—we need not repeat the old, easily guessed dialogue — they were betrothed man and wife. The story of their Oriental acquaintance and wooings and winnings has been told and is done. It is permissible, however, to say a word about the marriage and the subsequent history of hero and heroine, as well as of the other personages. The wedding took place at the Payson house, after Mrs. Killian DeVries, of Albany, had been duly informed of the engagement, and had replied with an outpouring of gladness and devout gratitude, saying among other things, “ I am rejoiced beyond measure that you have taken a missionary girl; and now, if you will become a missionary yourself, I will go to Syria and live with you.”
But Hubertsen could not do that; he was in the hands of the Philistines. There was further digging, this time at Gath and Ekron, with Irene always at hand, keeping house in a tent and very happy, I believe that nothing of importance was spaded up, and that the History of the Philistines remained unwritten. What finally turned DeVries from his excavations was the continued thunder of that great strife which for nearly four years desolated his native land. He came home, raised a regiment, commanded it wisely and valiantly, and gave his wife reason to glory in his fame and titles. But really this part of his life belongs to the history of his country.
Saada remained on the mountain until she had recovered her strength and bloom and gayety. Among the bridal presents there was a reticule of silk and gold embroidery, which was the work of her small, taper fingers. She never had an interview with DeVries until she had measurably buried all throbbing remembrance of him in the dark eyes of a handsome young doctor, one of the native graduates of the mission seminary. The man who had thrice kissed her sent her a wedding present which made Mr. Pelton fear lest the glory of the things of this world should interfere with her spiritual welfare. It was Mrs. Hubertsen DeVries who selected this extravagant gift, and who added to it one of the sweetest letters of congratulation imaginable. Mr. DeVries not only paid the bill cheerfully, but grumbled a little because it was not more.
Dr. Maeklin went home on sick leave of absence just before the marriage of his heroine. He seemed much broken at the time; but in a year he returned, spliced and mended. Mrs. Payson never dared to mention to Mrs. Maeklin (who was quite a young lady, just out of South Hadley School) that she bore a noticeable resemblance to a former teacher in the mission. But her interior light told her that the doctor had been captivated by a likeness.
It must not be forgotten that among the guests at the DeVries wedding was a large American family, of which the mother made herself memorable by the following remarks : “ We are on the way back to Vermont, you see; and you won’t wonder when you go to Jerusalem yourselves, for it’s out, of the question to lead a spiritual life where there are so many insects of one kind and another, and, as Mr. Brann says, no man can look up to God in a right spirit when he ’s bitten from head to foot.”
Dr. Macklin, the Peltons, the Kirkwoods, and the Paysons remained in Syria. I believe that Mr. Pelton won the fame of being the greatest man, so far as fame can be dispensed by scholars and Oriental societies. But from Payson, all through his modest, holy life, there exhaled an odor of sweetness and love which made him dear to every one who knew him, no matter of what nature or pursuit, no matter of what creed.
Wingate disappeared, as travelers do. I presume that, wherever he went, he showed ability to take care of himself, and copiously enjoyed the gifts of Providence. With Mr. Porter Brassey DeVries chanced to meet during his career in the army.
“ Glad to see you again,” said the ex-consul, shaking hands with the grip of a knight in steel gauntlets. “ We’ve both had something happen to us since the old Syrian times, have n’t we? Here you are a general, and I 'm in Congress.” General DeVries expressed satisfaction in the Honorable Brassey’s success, and there was a brief conversation of a friendly and patriotic nature.
“ Let’s see — you married Miss Grant — did n’t you?” the legislator finally inquired, his eye wandering.
“ Yes,” said DeVries. " My wife remembers you with kindness,” he added, with that compassion which a man who has won a prize feels for a man who lost it.
“ Does she? ” answered Mr. Brassey, coloring with pleasure. ” Tell her that I am very much obliged to her. Give her my very best respects, general — Ah — well! ”
There he stopped; it was more delicate not to say it; even Mr. Brassey could feel that. DeVries understood him all the same, and gave him a kindly pressure of the hand, and so they parted.