AS IN A GLASS DARKLY
It was very quiet and cool in the Quaker Meeting-house, though outside there
was the rustle of leaves, the low din of the bees, the whistle of a bird, or the
even tread of horses' hoofs as they journeyed on the London road. The place was
full. For a half-hour the worshippers had sat voiceless. They were waiting for
the spirit to move some one to speak. As they waited, a lady entered and glided
into a seat. Few saw, and these gave no indication of surprise, though they were
little used to strangers, and none of the name borne by this lady had entered
the building for many years. It was Hylda.
At last the silence was broken. The wizened Elder, with eyes upon the ceiling
and his long white chin like ivory on his great collar, began to pray, sitting
where he was, his hands upon his knees. He prayed for all who wandered "into by
and forbidden paths." He prayed for one whose work was as that of Joseph, son of
Jacob; whose footsteps were now upon the sea, and now upon the desert; whose way
was set among strange gods and divers heresies—"'For there must also be
heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest among the weak.'" A
moment more, and then he added: "He hath been tried beyond his years; do Thou
uphold his hands. Once with a goad did we urge him on, when in ease and sloth he
was among us, but now he spurreth on his spirit and body in too great haste. O
put Thy hand upon the bridle, Lord, that He ride soberly upon Thy business."
There was a longer silence now, but at last came the voice of Luke Claridge.
"Father of the fatherless," he said, "my days are as the sands in the
hour-glass hastening to their rest; and my place will soon be empty. He goeth
far, and I may not go with him. He fighteth alone, like him that strove with
wild beasts at Ephesus; do Thou uphold him that he may bring a nation captive.
And if a viper fasten on his hand, as chanced to Paul of old, give him grace to
strike it off without hurt. O Lord, he is to me, Thy servant, as the one ewe
lamb; let him be Thine when Thou gatherest for Thy vineyard!"
"And if a viper fasten on his hand—" David passed his hand across his
forehead and closed his eyes. The beasts at Ephesus he had fought, and he would
fight them again—there was fighting enough to do in the land of Egypt. And the
viper would fasten on his hand—it had fastened on his hand, and he had struck it
off; but it would come again, the dark thing against which he had fought in the
Their prayers had unnerved him, had got into that corner of his nature where
youth and its irresponsibility loitered yet. For a moment he was shaken, and
then, looking into the faces of the Elders, said: "Friends, I go again upon
paths that lead into the wilderness. I know not if I ever shall return.
Howsoe'er that may be, I shall walk with firmer step because of all ye do for
He closed his eyes and prayed: "O God, I go into the land of ancient plagues
and present pestilence. If it be Thy will, bring me home to this good land, when
my task is done. If not, by Thy goodness let me be as a stone set by the wayside
for others who come after; and save me from the beast and from the viper. 'Thou
art faithful, who wilt not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; but
wilt with the temptation also make a way of escape, that we may be able to bear
He sat down, and all grew silent again; but suddenly some one sobbed
aloud-sobbed, and strove to stay the sobbing, and could not, and, getting up,
hastened towards the door.
It was Faith. David heard, and came quickly after her. As he took her arm
gently, his eyes met those of Hylda. She rose and came out also.
"Will thee take her home?" he said huskily. "I can bear no more."
Hylda placed her arm round Faith, and led her out under the trees and into
the wood. As they went, Faith looked back.
"Oh, forgive me, forgive me, Davy," she said softly.
Three lights burned in Hamley: one in the Red Mansion, one in the Cloistered
House, and one in Soolsby's hut upon the hill. In the Red Mansion old Luke
Claridge, his face pale with feeling, his white hair tumbling about, his head
thrust forward, his eyes shining, sat listening, as Faith read aloud letters
which Benn Claridge had written from the East many years before. One letter,
written from Bagdad, he made her read twice. The faded sheet had in it the glow
and glamour of the East; it was like a heart beating with life; emotion rose and
fell in it like the waves of the sea. Once the old man interrupted Faith.
"Davy—it is as though Davy spoke. It is like Davy—both Claridge, both
Claridge," he said. "But is it not like Davy? Davy is doing what it was in
Benn's heart to do. Benn showed the way; Benn called, and Davy came."
He laid both hands upon his knees and raised his eyes. "O Lord, I have sought
to do according to Thy will," he whispered. He was thinking of a thing he had
long hidden. Through many years he had no doubt, no qualm; but, since David had
gone to Egypt, some spirit of unquiet had worked in him. He had acted against
the prayer of his own wife, lying in her grave—a quiet-faced woman, who had
never crossed him, who had never shown a note of passion in all her life, save
in one thing concerning David. Upon it, like some prophetess, she had flamed
out. With the insight which only women have where children are concerned, she
had told him that he would live to repent of what he had done. She had died soon
after, and was laid beside the deserted young mother, whose days had budded and
blossomed, and fallen like petals to the ground, while yet it was the spring.
Luke Claridge had understood neither, not his wife when she had said: "Thee
should let the Lord do His own work, Luke," nor his dying daughter Mercy, whose
last words had been: "With love and sorrow I have sowed; he shall reap
rejoicing—my babe. Thee will set him in the garden in the sun, where God may
find him—God will not pass him by. He will take him by the hand and lead him
home." The old man had thought her touched by delirium then, though her words
were but the parable of a mind fed by the poetry of life, by a shy spirit, to
which meditation gave fancy and farseeing. David had come by his idealism
honestly. The half-mystical spirit of his Uncle Benn had flowed on to another
generation through the filter of a woman's sad soul. It had come to David a pure
force, a constructive and practical idealism.
Now, as Faith read, there were ringing in the old man's ears the words which
David's mother had said before she closed her eyes and passed away: "Set him in
the garden in the sun, where God may find him—God will not pass him by." They
seemed to weave themselves into the symbolism of Benn Claridge's letter, written
from the hills of Bagdad.
"But," the letter continued, "the Governor passed by with his suite, the
buckles of the harness of his horses all silver, his carriage shining with inlay
of gold, his turban full of precious stones. When he had passed, I said to a
shepherd standing by, 'If thou hadst all his wealth, shepherd, what wouldst thou
do?' and he answered, 'If I had his wealth, I would sit on the south side of my
house in the sun all day and every day.' To a messenger of the Palace, who must
ever be ready night and day to run at his master's order, I asked the same. He
replied, 'If I had all the Effendina's wealth, I would sleep till I died.' To a
blind beggar, shaking the copper in his cup in the highways, pleading dumbly to
those who passed, I made similar inquisition, and he replied 'If the wealth of
the exalted one were mine, I would sit on the mastaba by the bake-house, and eat
three times a day, save at Ramadan, when I would bless Allah the compassionate
and merciful, and breakfast at sunset with the flesh of a kid and a dish of
dates.' To a woman at the door of a tomb hung with relics of hundreds of poor
souls in misery, who besought the buried saint to intercede for her with Allah,
I made the same catechism, and she answered, 'Oh, effendi, if his wealth were
mine, I would give my son what he has lost.' 'What has he lost, woman?' said I;
and she answered: 'A little house with a garden, and a flock of ten goats, a cow
and a dovecote, his inheritance of which he has been despoiled by one who
carried a false debt 'gainst his dead father.' And I said to her: 'But if thy
wealth were as that of the ruler of the city, thy son would have no need of the
little house and garden and the flock of goats, and a cow and a dovecote.'
Whereupon she turned upon me in bitterness, and said: 'Were they not his own as
the seed of his father? Shall not one cherish that which is his own, which
cometh from seed to seed? Is it not the law?' 'But,' said I, 'if his wealth were
thine, there would be herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, and carpets spread,
and the banquet-tables, and great orchards.' But she stubbornly shook her head.
'Where the eagle built shall not the young eagle nest? How should God meet me in
the way and bless him who stood not by his birth right? The plot of ground was
the lad's, and all that is thereon. I pray thee, mock me not.' God knows I did
not mock her, for her words were wisdom. So did it work upon me that, after many
days, I got for the lad his own again, and there he is happier, and his mother
happier, than the Governor in his palace. Later I did learn some truths from the
shepherd, the messenger, and the beggar, and the woman with the child; but
chiefly from the woman and the child. The material value has no relation to the
value each sets upon that which is his own. Behind this feeling lies the
strength of the world. Here on this hill of Bagdad I am thinking these things.
And, Luke, I would have thee also think on my story of the woman and the child.
There is in it a lesson for thee."
When Luke Claridge first read this letter years before, he had put it from
him sternly. Now he heard it with a soft emotion. He took the letter from Faith
at last and put it in his pocket. With no apparent relevancy, and laying his
hand on Faith's shoulder, he said:
"We have done according to our conscience by Davy—God is our witness, so!"
She leaned her cheek against his hand, but did not speak.
In Soolsby's hut upon the hill David sat talking to the old chair-maker.
Since his return he had visited the place several times, only to find Soolsby
absent. The old man, on awaking from his drunken sleep, had been visited by a
terrible remorse, and, whenever he had seen David coming, had fled into the
woods. This evening, however, David came in the dark, and Soolsby was caught.
When David entered first, the old man broke down. He could not speak, but
leaned upon the back of a chair, and though his lips moved, no sound came forth.
But David took him by the shoulders and set him down, and laughed gently in his
face, and at last Soolsby got voice and said:
"Egyptian! O Egyptian!"
Then his tongue was loosened and his eye glistened, and he poured out
question after question, many pertinent, some whimsical, all frankly answered by
David. But suddenly he stopped short, and his eyes sank before the other, who
had laid a hand upon his knee.
"But don't, Egyptian, don't! Don't have aught to do with me. I'm only a
drunken swine. I kept sober four years, as she knows—as the Angel down yonder in
the Red Mansion knows; but the day you came, going out to meet you, I got
drunk—blind drunk. I had only been pretending all the time. I was being coaxed
along—made believe I was a real man, I suppose. But I wasn't. I was a pillar of
sand. When pressure came I just broke down—broke down, Egyptian. Don't be
surprised if you hear me grunt. It's my natural speech. I'm a hog, a
drink-swilling hog. I wasn't decent enough to stay sober till you had said 'Good
day,' and 'How goes it, Soolsby?' I tried it on; it was no good. I began to live
like a man, but I've slipped back into the ditch. You didn't know that, did
David let him have his say, and then in a low voice said: "Yes, I knew thee
had been drinking, Soolsby." He started. "She told you—Kate Heaver—"
"She did not tell me. I came and found you here with her. You were asleep."
"A drunken sweep!" He spat upon the ground in disgust at himself.
"I ought never have comeback here," he added. "It was no place for me. But it
drew me. I didn't belong; but it drew me."
"Thee belongs to Hamley. Thee is an honour to Hamley, Soolsby."
Soolsby's eyes widened; the blurred look of rage and self-reproach in them
began to fade away.
"Thee has made a fight, Soolsby, to conquer a thing that has had thee by the
throat. There's no fighting like it. It means a watching every hour, every
minute—thee can never take the eye off it. Some days it's easy, some days it's
hard, but it's never so easy that you can say, 'There is no need to watch.' In
sleep it whispers and wakes you; in the morning, when there are no shadows, it
casts a shadow on the path. It comes between you and your work; you see it
looking out of the eyes of a friend. And one day, when you think it has been
conquered, that you have worn it down into oblivion and the dust, and you close
your eyes and say, 'I am master,' up it springs with fury from nowhere you can
see, and catches you by the throat; and the fight begins again. But you sit
stronger, and the fight becomes shorter; and after many battles, and you have
learned never to be off guard, to know by instinct where every ambush is, then
at last the victory is yours. It is hard, it is bitter, and sometimes it seems
hardly worth the struggle. But it is—it is worth the struggle, dear old man."
Soolsby dropped on his knees and caught David by the arms. "How did you
know-how did you know?" he asked hoarsely. "It's been just as you say. You've
watched some one fighting?"
"I have watched some one fighting—fighting," answered David clearly, but his
eyes were moist.
"With drink, the same as me?"
"No, with opium—laudanum."
"Oh, I've heard that's worse, that it makes you mad, the wanting it."
"I have seen it so."
"Did the man break down like me?"
"Only once, but the fight is not yet over with him."
"Was he—an Englishman?"
David inclined his head. "It's a great thing to have a temptation to fight,
Soolsby. Then we can understand others."
"It's not always true, Egyptian, for you have never had temptation to fight.
Yet you know it all."
"God has been good to me," David answered, putting a hand on the old man's
shoulder. "And thee is a credit to Hamley, friend. Thee will never fall again."
"You know that—you say that to me! Then, by Mary the mother of God, I never
will be a swine again," he said, getting to his feet.
"Well, good-bye, Soolsby. I go to-morrow," David said presently.
Soolsby frowned; his lips worked. "When will you come back?" he asked
David smiled. "There is so much to do, they may not let me come—not soon. I
am going into the desert again."
Soolsby was shaking. He spoke huskily. "Here is your place," he said. "You
shall come back—Oh, but you shall come back, here, where you belong."
David shook his head and smiled, and clasped the strong hand again. A moment
later he was gone. From the door of the but Soolsby muttered to himself:
"I will bring you back. If Luke Claridge doesn't, then I will bring you back.
If he dies, I will bring you—no, by the love of God, I will bring you back while
Two thousand miles away, in a Nile village, women sat wailing in dark
doorways, dust on their heads, black mantles covering their faces. By the pond
where all the people drank, performed their ablutions, bathed their bodies and
rinsed their mouths, sat the sheikh-el-beled, the village chief, taking counsel
in sorrow with the barber, the holy man, and others. Now speaking, now rocking
their bodies to and fro, in the evening sunlight, they sat and watched the Nile
in flood covering the wide wastes of the Fayoum, spreading over the land rich
deposits of earth from the mountains of Abyssinia. When that flood subsided
there would be fields to be planted with dourha and onions and sugar-cane; but
they whose strong arms should plough and sow and wield the sickle, the youth,
the upstanding ones, had been carried off in chains to serve in the army of
Egypt, destined for the far Soudan, for hardship, misery, and death, never to
see their kindred any more. Twice during three months had the dread servant of
the Palace come and driven off their best like sheep to the slaughter. The
brave, the stalwart, the bread-winners, were gone; and yet the tax-gatherer
would come and press for every impost—on the onion-field, the date-palm, the
dourha-field, and the clump of sugar-cane, as though the young men, the toilers,
were still there. The old and infirm, the children, the women, must now double
and treble their labour. The old men must go to the corvee, and mend the banks
of the Nile for the Prince and his pashas, providing their own food, their own
tools, their own housing, if housing there would be—if it was more than sleeping
under a bush by the riverside, or crawling into a hole in the ground, their
yeleks their clothes by day, their only covering at night.
They sat like men without hope, yet with the proud, bitter mien of those who
had known good and had lost it, had seen content and now were desolate.
Presently one—a lad—the youngest of them, lifted up his voice and began to
chant a recitative, while another took a small drum and beat it in unison. He
was but just recovered from an illness, or he had gone also in chains to die for
he knew not what, leaving behind without hope all that he loved:
"How has the cloud fallen, and the leaf withered on the tree,
The lemon-tree, that standeth by the door.
The melon and the date have gone bitter to the taste,
The weevil, it has eaten at the core
The core of my heart, the mildew findeth it.
My music, it is but the drip of tears,
The garner empty standeth, the oven hath no fire,
Night filleth me with fears.
O Nile that floweth deeply, hast thou not heard his voice?
His footsteps hast thou covered with thy flood?
He was as one who lifteth up the yoke,
He was as one who taketh off the chain,
As one who sheltereth from the rain,
As one who scattereth bread to the pigeons flying.
His purse was at his side, his mantle was for me,
For any who passeth were his mantle and his purse,
And now like a gourd is he withered from our eyes.
His friendship, it was like a shady wood
Whither has he gone?—Who shall speak for us?
Who shall save us from the kourbash and the stripes?
Who shall proclaim us in the palace?
Who shall contend for us in the gate?
The sakkia turneth no more; the oxen they are gone;
The young go forth in chains, the old waken in the night,
They waken and weep, for the wheel turns backward,
And the dark days are come again upon us—
Will he return no more?
His friendship was like a shady wood,
O Nile that floweth deeply, hast thou not heard his voice?
Hast thou covered up his footsteps with thy flood?
The core of my heart, the mildew findeth it!"
Another-an old man-took up the strain, as the drum kept time to the beat of
the voice with its undulating call and refrain:
"When his footsteps were among us there was peace; War entered not the
village, nor the call of war. Now our homes are as those that have no roofs. As
a nest decayed, as a cave forsaken, As a ship that lieth broken on the beach, Is
the house where we were born. Out in the desert did we bury our gold, We buried
it where no man robbed us, for his arm was strong. Now are the jars empty, gold
did not avail To save our young men, to keep them from the chains. God hath
swallowed his voice, or the sea hath drowned it, Or the Nile hath covered him
with its flood; Else would he come when our voices call. His word was honey in
the prince's ear Will he return no more?"
And now the sheikh-el-beled spoke. "It hath been so since Nahoum Pasha passed
this way four months agone. He hath changed all. War will not avail. David
Pasha, he will come again. His word is as the centre of the world. Ye have no
hope, because ye see the hawks among the starving sheep. But the shepherd will
return from behind the hill, and the hawks will flee away.
"... Behold, once was I in the desert. Listen, for mine are the words of one
who hath travelled far—was I not at Damascus and Palmyra and Bagdad, and at
Medina by the tomb of Mahomet?"
Reverently he touched the green turban on his head, evidence of his journey
to Mahomet's tomb. "Once in the desert I saw afar off an oasis of wood and
water, and flying things, and houses where a man might rest. And I got me down
from my camel, and knelt upon my sheepskin, and gave thanks in the name of
Allah. Thereupon I mounted again and rode on towards that goodly place. But as I
rode it vanished from my sight. Then did I mourn. Yet once again I saw the
trees, and flocks of pigeons and waving fields, and I was hungry and thirsty,
and longed exceedingly. Yet got I down, and, upon my sheep-skin, once more gave
thanks to Allah. And I mounted thereafter in haste and rode on; but once again
was I mocked. Then I cried aloud in my despair. It was in my heart to die upon
the sheep-skin where I had prayed; for I was burned up within, and there seemed
naught to do but say malaish, and go hence. But that goodly sight came again. My
heart rebelled that I should be so mocked. I bent down my head upon my camel
that I might not see, yet once more I loosed the sheep-skin. Lifting up my
heart, I looked again, and again I took hope and rode on. Farther and farther I
rode, and lo! I was no longer mocked; for I came to a goodly place of water and
trees, and was saved. So shall it be with us. We have looked for his coming
again, and our hearts have fallen and been as ashes, for that he has not come.
Yet there be mirages, and one day soon David Pasha will come hither, and our
pains shall be eased."
"Aiwa, aiwa—yes, yes," cried the lad who had sung to them.
"Aiwa, aiwa," rang softly over the pond, where naked children stooped to
The smell of the cooking-pots floated out from the mud-houses near by.
"Malaish," said one after another, "I am hungry. He will come again-perhaps
to-morrow." So they moved towards the houses over the way.
One cursed his woman for wailing in the doorway; one snatched the lid from a
cooking-pot; one drew from an oven cakes of dourha, and gave them to those who
had none; one knelt and bowed his forehead to the ground in prayer; one shouted
the name of him whose coming they desired.
So was David missed in Egypt.