The Lamp of Liberty
THE panes were grimy even to dead translucence with the dirt of seven years. The sanctum was in keeping, — littered, dusty, empty of energy. For just seven years Salim Shofi had published, daily, Kawkab Elhorriah, — which, translated from the Arabic, is Star of Liberty, — in the old yellow building near South Street. The outer air was balmy enough ; so Khalil Khayat, the editor, seeking the comfort and inspiration of the spring sunshine in its fullness, raised the sash. He had never said: “ I cannot see the sky for the dirt on the panes, Salim. Would the cost of cleaning be very great ? ” He had patiently raised the sash ; for this is the way of the Syrian : day after day to step aside, rather than stoop once to lift the stone off the path.
Khayat turned indecisively from the page on his desk, to steal a little dream from out of the window ; and was distressed until he lost thought of the thieving, for the day was drawing on, and there was still much to be written concerning oppression, for the awakening of the people of Washington Street. To preoccupy him, there was a jagged stretch of blue sky ; laden docks and thin spars tangled of many ships ; a patch of river, scattering sunlight; traffic turbulent in the street; the smoke of the making of things, hanging darkly over the opposite city; cry and creaking, rattle and roar. But the sum of all was confusion ; so the scrawny old tree that pushed up from the barren atmosphere of the curb, and shook its shaggy head under Khayat’s window, easily distracted his thoughts to the lawn and ivy and gray stone of Oxford, and to the glorified days when his name was set in the lecture table of the Department of Oriental Languages, in the manner following : “ K. Khayat (for Professor Marmouth), Arabic for Beginners. Fee £2. Mondays 10-11, Thursdays 10-11, Saturdays 2-3.”
These Oxford days were such as may be lived over again for solace. As it is written, Dream the evil days through! Khayat was a refugee ; he once told me he had shed guilty Mohammedan blood for his sister’s sake. That was a past forgotten, —save on nights of high wind and low, scudding clouds. There was another to dream about: a year’s companionship with scholars. Ecstasy that had indubitably been ! Inalienable experiences ! There was solace in them. Even as it is written, Dream the evil days through! Lost to the stuffy untidiness within and the yellowed city without, Khayat took an experience from his store, and related it to himself, as though to another, for his own delectation, — smiling wistfully the while.
“ Once when I was een Oxford,” he told himself, using the English, as he often did, for practice, “ I was eenvited to tea by a gentleman. Pro-fess-or Highmead eet was, of the Department of Math-e-mat-eeks. Very kin’ gentleman he was. Ah, they are so good — so-o good to foreigners — een England ! They care not for money, — no, nor for dress; but onlee for knowledge. An’ one gentleman he say, ‘ Meester Khayat, what do you theenk of Lord Nelson ? ’ I answer to heem, sayin’ : ‘ He was the greatest admiral of all the world. I would like to have been heem.’ An’ Mees Upworth, a ladee not young, — no, not young, but so-o sweet, — Mees Aleece Upworth she laugh ; an’ the gentleman say, ‘But he had onlee one arm.’ ‘Ah, eet ees true,’ I reply, ‘ he bad onlee one arm ; but I would geeve both arms an’ my two eyes to make such serveece for the state.’ An’ he say, jokin’: ‘ What do you theenk of the Dook of Wellin’ton ? He had onlee one eye.’ ‘ I beg your pardon, Sair Arthur,’ I answer to heem, ‘you mus’ be jokin’. The Dook of Wellin’ton had hees two eyes.’ An’ I laugh. ‘No, no,’ he say, ‘he had but one eye onlee.’ Then he weenk. ‘ So,’ I say,
‘ you are right, Sair Arthur. The Dook of Wellin’ton had but one eye. He was a soldier, not a politeecian.’ Mees Upworth, — ho, she laugh ; an’ the blood eet come queek to Sair Arthur’s face. Oh, eet was ver-ee good, — so-o good ! Ha, ha ! ” Khayat clapped his hands and laughed, like a gleeful child hugged rapturously for a pretty accomplishment.
Then, soberly, he put the retrospect from him, and bent over his desk to continue the writing of a didactic “ leetle ro-mance ” called The Sultan at the Bar of Civilization, that he might serve his master faithfully, and his God, and the people. The story was more to him than the somnolent smell of spring and the dreams it mothered. He thought he had been called of God to foster the patriotism of the people. It was written for them, that they might arise, — they, their children, or their children’s children. And they were reading it in the restaurants, from night to night, with hot blood in their throats : this he observed, to his inspiration, from his corner in the back room of Fiani’s pastry shop, where he drank his coffee every evening. Thanks be to God, the Giver of gifts of mind ! Men said to him : “ Why do you care for the people of Washington Street, — these men from the mountains, these pigs ? Have they minds ? Have they hearts ? Will they profit ? Will they give you any thanks ? Are they not like feathers in the wind ? Is not money more to them than patriotism ? ” These men were wise ; but Khayat, answering, said, “ A field of grain is from the seed of a sheaf.” The story was more to him than any other thing. What else he wrote he dubbed affectionately This or That, in his naive way. The story he dignified ; it was to him a match for the lamp of liberty.
“ I have written of the shedding of the innocent blood,” he thought. “ The people know the crime. Now I must summon the murderer. Abdul Hamid, the time is at hand ! ”
Khayat laughed, and smoothed his grizzled mustache, and snuggled close to the desk. He was obliviously content in the thing he was to do.
“ Now the Sheikh of Civilization,” he wrote, “ standing on the highest peak of the Alps, wrapped in a striped mantle of many jewel-decked folds, sounded a blast on his silver horn. Swift as the echo there came, flying, Enlightenment, with her sisters, Justice and Virtue ; and the sisters said, ‘ Peace be unto you, O Venerable One ! ’ And the Sheikh answered, ‘ Peace be unto you ! ’ Now the Sheikh fell silent; and at last he said: ‘ Hie you, three sisters, to Constantinople, to the court of Abdul Hamid, Sultan of Turkey, to inform him that the people of Armenia have delivered to me a charge against him. Warn him to retain eminent counsel, that he may worthily be defended in my court; for seven days hence shall judgment be delivered in his case.’ Straight did Enlightenment, with her sisters, fly away; and they came to Constantinople, to the palace of the Sultan, to the court of Abdul Hamid, and found him whom they sought, sitting on a throne, in the company of many beautiful young ladies. Now, when Enlightenment, with her sisters, Justice and Virtue, stood before Abdul Hamid, he was ashamed. But Enlightenment said to him, ‘ Peace be unto you, O Excellent King ! ’ And he answered, ‘ Peace be unto you, Beautiful Ones ! ’ Then did Enlightenment repeat to him the message; and Abdul Hamid, rising from his throne, answered proudly : ‘ Who is this Civilization, that he presumes to set himself up as judge over me ? And who ’ ” —
Salim Shofi came in, — stealthily, as of nature. He sat down without a word, — being careful as to the coat tails of his gaudy ready-made coat, — and fixed his greasy eyes on a knothole in the floor. This may be written of Shofi : the children of the Quarter made way for him ; for they had learned that he was mercilessly quick with hand and foot. His was the right to enter stealthily, or any other way he pleased ; for his was Kawkab Elhorriah, and his — old Khayat. He had bought the newspaper because he thought it would be profitable to be a political influence, — to double-deal with the council and the people ; and he had, by chance, entered into possession of the editor on a sultry night when supper and bed were not to be had for nothing in Washington Street. Khayat was hungry and lonely and a stranger then, and at all times he was afraid of the world ; so it had been easy to agree for him at a weekly wage of seven dollars. Now Shofi crept in on kitten’s feet; but Khayat, his servant, was neither dreaming at the window nor lost to the day’s countless little duties in the seductive black book wherein are contained the writings of Abo Elola Elmoarri. It chanced that his eyes were laboring over the page with his pencil point, and he was safely sitting on the big black book. Shofi had to swallow the brusque words that were on his tongue’s tip.
“ May God give you happiness this day, Salim,” Khayat said, turning. He bowed where he sat, asserting the royalty of knowledge; and his smile was such as men wear to win children. “ Happiness,” he added, “ in abundant measure.”
The interruption was distressful. The eyes of Khayat’s imagination were open ; his fingers were tingling for the pencil. The seizure of the Sultan by the messengers of Civilization, his abjection of dread, the utterances of Justice, the conviction and last wail to the All-Compassionate, — all were then known to Khayat; and the day was passing. But when had the old scholar failed in courtesy ? The Quarter cannot answer.
Shofi lowered at his shiny shoes. His servant’s condescension was objectionable ; for in his own estimation Shofi was a power, so constituted by various possessions, — of which, it may be said, learning was not one. At last he responded sourly, “ May He fight for you, tooth and nail.”
“ If it please you, Salim,” said Khayat, with ingenuous indulgence, “the salutation is not well spoken. Tooth and nail of God ! They speak so only in Cairo ; and there they prostitute the dear Arabic to all manner of extravagancies. Merely ‘ And to you ’ is the classic, Salim.”
“ Huh ! ” ejaculated Shofi contemptuously. He looked Khayat over, — with something of the pride of possession in the scrutiny, — and continued : " You ’re my editor. That’s all you get paid for.”
Now Khayat did not observe the sarcastic inflection. His reply came quickly, with a kindly smile and a deprecating gesture of his lean brown hand: “ O Salim, excellent master, thank me for nothing! God favored me with opportunities. Shall I therefore hoard knowledge ? Shall I put a price on so small a teaching, when my stomach is full ? Ah, I would do as much for the enemy of my mother ; for, so doing,” — and here Khayat laughed outright, — “I should serve the language beautiful. No, Salim, friend and master, I am but the son of a poor goldsmith, and ” —
“ I say you ’re not paid for professoring me,” interrupted Shofi. The words came out like the blows of a hammer as the carpenter drives the nail home.
“ Excuse me, Salim, for pointing out that you cannot form the verb from the noun so,” said Khayat, still mistaking the significance of the inflection. There was a touch of tenderness in his earnestness, a broadening sweetness in his smile.
“ Bass baqua! ” screamed Shofi. This is a brutal vulgarity for “ Stop ! ” and hardly to be translated.
Khayat cowered from the words, — even jerked his head to one side; in so far, they had the physical effect of a blow aimed straight from the shoulder. He had mistaken sarcasm for appreciation, — he was humiliated ; his friendly criticism had given pain, — this was the greater regret. He was crushed, like a child impatiently cuffed for mischief done through love. He was a child, gentle old Khayat ! And moreover, since, as I have said, he was afraid of the world, a picture of himself took form in his mind: an old, gaunt man, in tattered brown clothes, pressing timidly against the window of a pastry cook’s shop, looking wistfully at the fresh baklawa and great round cakes of bread, — pressing very close, to get out of the way of the crowd that was rushing from its work to its home and its supper and its bed. He had a great fear of idleness and the streets, had Khayat.
“ Here, —what’s this ? ” asked Shofi. He had picked up the half-written page from the desk and was looking at it, the shadow of impotent curiosity upon his handsome, full-featured face.
Khayat giggled nervously. He looked up confidently enough. He was sure of the story ; sure that it was a good story, and made him valuable to his employer.
“ It is the little story,” he said, “ The Sultan at the Bar of Civilization.” He had an anxious hand waiting for the return of the page. Quick as the reference to it, his eyes had snapped delightedly. Now he had almost forgotten the rebuff. “ The summons for trial is now given, and I am about to ” —
Shofi crumpled the page to a ball, and tossed it out of the window with an ejaculation of contempt. Khayat followed its flight, and saw it caught by the wind and swirled into the topmost branches of the scrawny, shaggy-headed old tree, that still swished its newgrown leaves in the cheerful sunlight, though it had just taken, as to a grave, a little story. The rain would fall on the crumpled ball, he thought, to its unfolding and the obliteration of the written words. Rain and sun and wind would bedraggle and rot it, and the thoughts of a man would pass into nothingness. Shofi was suddenly become another in his servant’s sight, — a power, indeed; an illiterate, old Khayat thought, who could kick a prop from under the crumbling patriotism of a people.
“ Abo-Samara held the — the thing up to scorn in Fiani’s place, last night. Am I to be so shamed by a — a fakir like him ? ” Shofi asked sharply. “ The story is — is stuff.’
Hard masters are up to many tricks ; they distribute praise and sneers discreetly. A worker who is afraid of the world is best kept to heel with a whip. Shofi knew how to deal with his prize possession. Khayat flushed and gripped the desk, and flushed deeper, and turned his head to keep the sight of his agony from Shofi. Abo-Samara’s words were of no weight, as all men knew ; but they had raised a ghost, — a comparison of the little story with the writings of Abo Elola Elmoarri. Now Khayat had been brought to a condition of meet humility, and Shofi was ready to proceed.
“ Write no more of the story,” he said. “ It is no damn good. Now, it is rent day, and I must go about my other business. Stop writing about the Sultan, — leave him alone for a while. Shall we forever speak against this man ? He is not such a bad king. What has he done to me that I should knock him from his throne ? Are not the little lead things mine, to speak as I shall say ? So ho! Kawkab Elhorriah gives me no health,” — Shofi had heard MacNamara of the corner saloon say that he was not in politics for his health, — “ and I must get something. The story has stirred the people. The Minister at Washington has heard. Hadji, the consul’s servant, came to me last night,” — Shofi puffed out his chest, — “ knowing me for a man of influence. It must stop. And now, Khalil Khayat, may God give you health this day, and all the days of many years to come ! ”
What does a timorous man do when he knows, of a sudden, that he must give up his great purpose or his living ? He cries, “ Oh, why ? ” Khayat was blind to intrigue; but these words were luminous. In a little while he understood.
“ Salim,” he asked deliberately, bitterly, “ what price did the consul put upon your honor ?”
“ Sh-h-hh! ” exclaimed Shofi, looking fearfully about, as though an enemy might be concealed under the table or have his ear to the keyhole. “ We are not in the desert. Sh-h-hh, in God’s name! ”
“ How much was it, Salim ? ”
“ Whisper, — whisper, Khalil! Sufficient, — sufficient, it was.”
“ How many dollars ? ”
“ Khalil, you are my friend, not my servant. Let this be a secret between you and me,” Shofi whispered, his mouth close to Khayat’s ear. “ Four — hun-dred — dollars, it was ! ” Shofi drew back to see Khayat stare.
“ The Arabs say,” observed the old man calmly, “ that the devil keeps a price list of men’s souls. It may be so.”
“ And now, peace be with you, Khalil,” said Shofi briskly. “ I must collect my rents.” He buttoned his topcoat, and moved toward the door.
“ Tarry, Salim,” said Khayat. “ The day is long.” There was a certain easy authority in his tone and gesture. He did not observe whether or not Shofi waited, but let his head sink on his breast and closed his eyes. “ I have something to think about,” he added, and smiled.
Let it be said again, Khayat was afraid of men. He knew that the street was about to swallow him. That was now inevitable, and therefore not bothersome. He thought not at all ; or, if he thought, it was in a fleeting way, of the crumpled little story : of the chance of climbing to its rescue, even to the slenderest branch of the old tree; of smoothing it out and neatly folding it, that it might be put away snug in the big black pocketbook upstairs, safe from rotting ; of giving it the fullness of life — some day. It was a story to live, that dear little one! But rain and wind were implacable. It was very sad. The people would be sorry to hear of its death.
In this abstraction Khayat got up and put on his old brown coat, never looking at Shofi ; and pulled his rusty hat firmly to the back of his head with both hands, as always; and tucked the Abo Elola Elmoarri under his arm; and looked about the room with tender regret, — at the littered, dusty desk, the garish couch that stretched its uneven length against the opposite wall, the bookshelves in the corner, with their tattered occupants, —like a man bound from home on a long, long journey. Then he put Elmoarri on the desk, and went to the bookshelves; and touched some books fondly with his finger tip, and dusted some on his sleeve, and read the titles of all, and made the shelves neat. In this he seemed nearly to forget that he was to go. Shofi heard him mutter caressingly over a book here and a book there, and saw him take a little one down and slip it into his pocket, and try vainly to put a larger one in the other pocket, and then return it to its place with a sigh ; and Shofi conjectured that the old man had not the courage to leave them.
Khayat was in no tremor of emotion when he turned to address Shofi. It was a matter of course that he should be leaving. He filled and lit his pipe, and got it going well, before he spoke.
“ You have shown your servant many kindnesses in these years, 0 Shofi,” he said. “ They shall be remembered forever. It is a regret to me that I cannot serve the Sultan with you. You have been very good. I am not worthy of such consideration. Some day — when I have found another place — I shall return for my books. May it please you, Salim, to leave them so. They are not in the way, and my successor may have use for them. Let him use them as he will, being careful of the worn ones. Health be with you by favor of God, Salim, and may prosperity attend ! ”
Khayat tucked Elmoarri under his arm again, and went out, stepping firmly.
Now Shofi had been thinking of profit and loss. It appeared to him that a steadfast policy might, after all, be an asset worth more than the consul’s four hundred dollars. The people’s suspicion was to be reckoned with. And Khayat was no mean asset. Shofi was frightened, and ran to the door to call the editor back.
“ Khalil! Khalil! ” he shouted. “ Come back ! I must think it over ! ”
Khayat was then at the glue agent’s door, — within hearing ; but he was deep in the hopelessness of his case. Though the words of recall rattled on his eardrums, they were not admitted, not interpreted.
“ Khalil! Khalil ! ” Shofi cried. " I must think it over ! ”
Shofi was now ready to permit the continuation of the little story ; but Khayat was out of hearing on the pavement, looking up and down the street, aimless and afraid to venture forth. Shofi went back huffed, and sat down to brood.
I do not know where Khayat went, — he has forgotten ; but there are many places in that neighborhood which are comfortable to men who shrink from militant contact with the world. Doubtless he wandered here and there through them all ; now sitting down to read, now dozing in the sunshine ; in crowded places alert, and puffing his pipe nervously. A man can sit on the docks and watch the ships slip down with the tide, and forget necessity; there is a soothing mystery in the creaking, battered, disordered vessels and their smell of sunny climes—a suggestive whither — that excludes all worry and regret ; a bench in Battery Park is a place to wonder and wish, when the harbor is busy and the wind is not keen. South Street and Whitehall and the Battery must have laughed, as the queer old fellow dodged apologetically along, — the odd figure, in old-fashioned, old clothes, a big black book tight under his arm, a short black pipe in his mouth ; swarthy, villainously unshaven, dreaming.
Does a good man sell himself without a fight ? Then there must have been a fight. Khayat has forgotten what he thought about; but there was a fight at one time or other, that afternoon, — a hard-fought fight. I think the thougnts of Abo Elola Elmoarri must have been his at intervals ; perhaps he turned the dingy sails, and nervous little tugs, and thin haze, and blue and green, and distant cries, into poetry of his own in the language beautiful. I am sure that he had, continuously, an oppressive consciousness of the loss of an influence that made for a great good. His imagination played pranks with him, in crises like this ; there must have been a call to martyrdom in his visions of oppression, — of blood and ravishment. Khayat would not sell himself without a fight. There was a period of agony, — a series of emotions, which he could not control, culminating in a resolution. In the dusk, when the roar of the elevated trains, as they swept, flashing, round the curve to South Ferry, gathered up the street clamor and made it terrible, he was frightened. Then he decided.
Khayat threaded his way through the Quarter to the pastry shop of Nageeb Fiani, and turned in to speak a word with Salim Shofi, whose custom it was to drink coffee at the green baize table in the little back room, at that hour of the evening. He was clammy all over, and pale ; his eyes were as though hiding in the depths of their sockets, and his throat was dry.
Shofi was there, elegantly lolling, and had his narghile bubbling and his coffee steaming hot.
“ Salim,” said Khayat abruptly, “ I have thought of a way whereby this matter may be arranged.”
Now Shofi had already determined to yield. Patriotism, he had concluded, would pay best in the long run. He was even ready to soothe Khayat with a better salary.
“ Peace be un— ” he began affably.
Khayat raised his hand to stop him; and Shofi saw that the palm was bruised and bloody, as though the finger nails had sunk into the flesh.
“ The consul offers you four hundred dollars,” Khayat continued, speaking earnestly, quickly, as though he would not brook interruption. “ Are there not fifty-two weeks in every year ; and, therefore, might not fifty-two dollars be saved each year if a man put away one dollar every week ? In four hundred weeks a man might save four hundred dollars. Let four hundred be divided by fifty-two, and the result is seven and seventy one-hundredths, more or less, — seven years and seventy one-hundredth parts of a year. Now, in seventy onehundredth parts of a year there are thirty-six weeks, and in thirty-six weeks nine months. Is it not so ? Salim, in your generosity, I am permitted to have seven dollars each week for my services. Six are enough for my needs.” Khayat did not pause before the prevarication, nor was he shamefaced as he went on : " It is nothing but a little coffee and a little tobacco less, — perchance a little more than that. Seven years and nine months will I serve you, Salim Shofi, for six dollars each week, if so be that I may write for liberty. What is your answer ? ”
Khayat leaned far over the table and fixed his eyes upon Shofi’s. He seemed to fear a negative answer.
“ Seven years ? ” repeated Shofi. He was staring at Khayat.
“ Seven years, nine months, and some days, which at another time can be numbered. Salim, your answer, — in the sight of God, our God, your answer! ”
Shofi wondered what the fathomable depth of this man’s simplicity might be.
“ I am content,” he said.
“ Then may God bind fast the agreement between us.” Khayat sighed and smiled, and continued impulsively : “ I must now go to the office. I have wasted a day, Salim. I must catch up with my work. I must hurry to it. You will excuse me, Salim, if you please. The paper for to-morrow must be written. I am happy again, — ah, quite happy ; and it is to your generosity I owe it. May you be blessed forever! Salim, may happiness be yours through life ! ”
Khayat rattled on in a nervous, absent way, as he backed to the threshold, — as though bent on shutting off an invitation to drink coffee. The passion for the little story was on him again. He had no time to spare. Shofi let him escape, and then burst out laughing. Khayat tripped his way to the office, radiantly happy, and scattered incoherent good wishes right and left, and so earnestly that the little people of the gutters wondered to see their friend blither than themselves. The little story was forming again,—now sure of life. Khayat stepped with the lightness of a youth in rosy love. The trees of Battery Park heard cracked, quavering snatches of a strange Eastern song, as he went lilting by. And the desk was never cuddled closer, nor the pencil more fondly clutched, than when he sat down to write.
The last words were written when the lamp and the sun were fighting for the grimy window panes, — the one trying to beat the other back ; and these were the words : —
“ And Civilization, rising before the princes of the earth and all the eminent men thereof, said : ' I am not a man, to give the judgment of men. Therefore shall the sentence not be death.’ Now, as soon as he had said this, two angels, the one on the right hand of the Sultan and the other on his left, lifted up a white banner over his head ; and upon the banner was written the sentence in letters of black, that all might read. And Civilization, reading, said : ‘ Abdul Hamid, Sultan of Turkey, this is the sentence: In the fear of the dagger and of the poisoned cup shall you live a long life ; in unrest, by day and by night, shall you spend it; and there shall be no love for you, nor any other happiness.’ And the Sultan prayed rather for death.”
Khayat laid down his pencil, and lifted the window, that the dawn might rest him ; and he looked out over the quiet city to the night’s furthest limit, and was rested.
Long, long before, Salim Sliofi had fallen asleep as he smiled.