"England is in one of those passions so creditable to her moral sense, so
illustrative of her unregulated virtues. We are living in the first excitement
and horror of the news of the massacre of Christians at Damascus. We are full of
righteous and passionate indignation. 'Punish—restore the honour of the
Christian nations' is the proud appeal of prelate, prig, and philanthropist,
because some hundreds of Christians who knew their danger, yet chose to take up
their abode in a fanatical Muslim city of the East, have suffered death."
The meeting had been called in answer to an appeal from Exeter Hall. Lord
Eglington had been asked to speak, and these were among his closing words.
He had seen, as he thought, an opportunity for sensation. Politicians of both
sides, the press on all hands, were thundering denunciations upon the city of
Damascus, sitting insolent and satiated in its exquisite bloom of pear and
nectarine, and the deed itself was fading into that blank past of Eastern life
where there "are no birds in last year's nest." If he voyaged with the crowd,
his pennant would be lost in the clustering sails! So he would move against the
tide, and would startle, even if he did not convince.
"Let us not translate an inflamed religious emotion into a war," he
continued. "To what good? Would it restore one single life in Damascus? Would it
bind one broken heart? Would it give light to one darkened home? Let us have
care lest we be called a nation of hypocrites. I will neither support nor oppose
the resolution presented; I will content myself with pointing the way to a
greater national self-respect."
Mechanically, a few people who had scarcely apprehended the full force of his
remarks began to applaud; but there came cries of "'Sh! 'Sh!" and the clapping
of hands suddenly stopped. For a moment there was absolute silence, in which the
chairman adjusted his glasses and fumbled with the agenda paper in his
confusion, scarcely knowing what to do. The speaker had been expected to second
the resolution, and had not done so. There was an awkward silence. Then, in a
loud whisper, some one said:
"David, David, do thee speak."
It was the voice of Faith Claridge. Perturbed and anxious, she had come to
the meeting with her father. They had not slept for nights, for the last news
they had had of Benn Claridge was from the city of Damascus, and they were full
of painful apprehensions.
It was the eve of the first day of winter, and David's banishment was over.
Faith had seen David often at a distance—how often had she stood in her window
and looked up over the apricot-wall to the chair-maker's hut on the hill!
According to his penalty David had never come to Hamley village, but had lived
alone, speaking to no one, avoided by all, working out his punishment. Only the
day before the meeting he had read of the massacre at Damascus from a newspaper
which had been left on his doorstep overnight. Elder Fairley had so far broken
the covenant of ostracism and boycott, knowing David's love for his Uncle Benn.
All that night David paced the hillside in anxiety and agitation, and saw the
sun rise upon a new world—a world of freedom, of home-returning, yet a world
which, during the past four months, had changed so greatly that it would never
seem the same again.
The sun was scarce two hours high when Faith and her father mounted the hill
to bring him home again. He had, however, gone to Heddington to learn further
news of the massacre. He was thinking of his Uncle Benn-all else could wait. His
anxiety was infinitely greater than that of Luke Claridge, for his mind had been
disturbed by frequent premonitions; and those sudden calls in his sleep-his
uncle's voice—ever seemed to be waking him at night. He had not meant to speak
at the meeting, but the last words of the speaker decided him; he was in a flame
of indignation. He heard the voice of Faith whisper over the heads of the
people. "David, David, do thee speak." Turning, he met her eyes, then rose to
his feet, came steadily to the platform, and raised a finger towards the
A great whispering ran through the audience. Very many recognised him, and
all had heard of him—the history of his late banishment and self-approving
punishment were familiar to them. He climbed the steps of the platform alertly,
and the chairman welcomed him with nervous pleasure. Any word from a Quaker,
friendly to the feeling of national indignation, would give the meeting the new
direction which all desired.
Something in the face of the young man, grown thin and very pale during the
period of long thought and little food in the lonely and meditative life he had
led; something human and mysterious in the strange tale of his one day's mad
doings, fascinated them. They had heard of the liquor he had drunk, of the woman
he had kissed at the cross-roads, of the man he had fought, of his discipline
and sentence. His clean, shapely figure, and the soft austerity of the neat grey
suit he wore, his broad-brimmed hat pushed a little back, showing well a square
white forehead—all conspired to send a wave of feeling through the audience,
which presently broke into cheering.
Beginning with the usual formality, he said: "I am obliged to differ from
nearly every sentiment expressed by the Earl of Eglington, the member for
Levizes, who has just taken his seat."
There was an instant's pause, the audience cheered, and cries of delight came
from all parts of the house. "All good counsel has its sting," he continued,
"but the good counsel of him who has just spoken is a sting in a wound deeper
than the skin. The noble Earl has bidden us to be consistent and reasonable. I
have risen here to speak for that to which mere consistency and reason may do
cruel violence. I am a man of peace, I am the enemy of war—it is my faith and
creed; yet I repudiate the principle put forward by the Earl of Eglington, that
you shall not clinch your hand for the cause which is your heart's cause,
because, if you smite, the smiting must be paid for."
He was interrupted by cheers and laughter, for the late event in his own life
came to them to point his argument.
"The nation that declines war may be refusing to inflict that just punishment
which alone can set the wrong-doers on the better course. It is not the faith of
that Society to which I belong to decline correction lest it may seem like war."
The point went home significantly, and cheering followed. "The high wall of
Tibet, a stark refusal to open the door to the wayfarer, I can understand; but,
friend"—he turned to the young peer—"friend, I cannot understand a defence of
him who opens the door upon terms of mutual hospitality, and then, in the red
blood of him who has so contracted, blots out the just terms upon which they
have agreed. Is that thy faith, friend?"
The repetition of the word friend was almost like a gibe, though it was not
intended as such. There was none present, however, but knew of the defection of
the Earl's father from the Society of Friends, and they chose to interpret the
reference to a direct challenge. It was a difficult moment for the young Earl,
but he only smiled, and cherished anger in his heart.
For some minutes David spoke with force and power, and he ended with
passionate solemnity. His voice rang out: "The smoke of this burning rises to
Heaven, the winds that wail over scattered and homeless dust bear a message of
God to us. In the name of Mahomet, whose teaching condemns treachery and murder,
in the name of the Prince of Peace, who taught that justice which makes for
peace, I say it is England's duty to lay the iron hand of punishment upon this
evil city and on the Government in whose orbit it shines with so deathly a
light. I fear it is that one of my family and of my humble village lies beaten
to death in Damascus. Yet not because of that do I raise my voice here to-day.
These many years Benn Claridge carried his life in his hands, and in a good
cause it was held like the song of a bird, to be blown from his lips in the day
of the Lord. I speak only as an Englishman. I ask you to close your minds
against the words of this brilliant politician, who would have you settle a bill
of costs written in Christian blood, by a promise to pay, got through a mockery
of armed display in those waters on which once looked the eyes of the Captain of
our faith. Humanity has been put in the witness-box of the world; let humanity
Women wept. Men waved their hats and cheered; the whole meeting rose to its
feet and gave vent to its feelings.
For some moments the tumult lasted, Eglington looking on with face unmoved.
As David turned to leave the table, however, he murmured, "Peacemaker!
Peacemaker!" and smiled sarcastically.
As the audience resumed their seats, two people were observed making their
way to the platform. One was Elder Fairley, leading the way to a tall figure in
a black robe covering another coloured robe, and wearing a large white turban.
Not seeing the new-comers, the chairman was about to put the resolution; but a
protesting hand from John Fairley stopped him, and in a strange silence the two
new-comers mounted the platform. David rose and advanced to meet them. There
flashed into his mind that this stranger in Eastern garb was Ebn Ezra Bey, the
old friend of Benn Claridge, of whom his uncle had spoken and written so much.
The same instinct drew Ebn Ezra Bey to him—he saw the uncle's look in the
nephew's face. In a breathless stillness the Oriental said in perfect English,
with a voice monotonously musical:
"I came to thy house and found thee not. I have a message for thee from the
land where thine uncle sojourned with me."
He took from a wallet a piece of paper and passed it to David, adding: "I was
thine uncle's friend. He hath put off his sandals and walketh with bare feet!"
David read eagerly.
"It is time to go, Davy," the paper said. "All that I have is thine. Go to
Egypt, and thee shall find it so. Ebn Ezra Bey will bring thee. Trust him as I
have done. He is a true man, though the Koran be his faith. They took me from
behind, Davy, so that I was spared temptation—I die as I lived, a man of peace.
It is too late to think how it might have gone had we met face to face; but the
will of God worketh not according to our will. I can write no more. Luke, Faith,
and Davy—dear Davy, the night has come, and all's well. Good morrow, Davy. Can
you not hear me call? I have called thee so often of late! Good morrow! Good
morrow!... I doff my hat, Davy—at last—to God!"
David's face whitened. All his visions had been true visions, his dreams true
dreams. Brave Benn Claridge had called to him at his door—"Good morrow! Good
morrow! Good morrow!" Had he not heard the knocking and the voice? Now all was
made clear. His path lay open before him—a far land called him, his quiet past
was infinite leagues away. Already the staff was in his hands and the
cross-roads were sinking into the distance behind. He was dimly conscious of the
wan, shocked face of Faith in the crowd beneath him, which seemed blurred and
swaying, of the bowed head of Luke Claridge, who, standing up, had taken off his
hat in the presence of this news of his brother's death which he saw written in
David's face. David stood for a moment before the great throng, numb and
speechless. "It is a message from Damascus," he said at last, and could say no
Ebn Ezra Bey turned a grave face upon the audience.
"Will you hear me?" he said. "I am an Arab." "Speak—speak!" came from every
"The Turk hath done his evil work in Damascus," he said. "All the Christians
are dead—save one; he hath turned Muslim, and is safe." His voice had a note of
scorn. "It fell sudden and swift like a storm in summer. There were no paths to
safety. Soldiers and those who led them shared in the slaying. As he and I who
had travelled far together these many years sojourned there in the way of
business, I felt the air grow colder, I saw the cloud gathering. I entreated,
but he would not go. If trouble must come, then he would be with the Christians
in their peril. At last he saw with me the truth. He had a plan of escape. There
was a Christian weaver with his wife in a far quarter—against my entreaty he
went to warn them. The storm broke. He was the first to fall, smitten in 'that
street called Straight.' I found him soon after. Thus did he speak to me—even in
these words: 'The blood of women and children shed here to-day shall cry from
the ground. Unprovoked the host has turned wickedly upon his guest. The storm
has been sown, and the whirlwind must be reaped. Out of this evil good shall
come. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' These were his last words
to me then. As his life ebbed out, he wrote a letter which I have brought hither
to one"—he turned to David—"whom he loved. At the last he took off his hat, and
lay with it in his hands, and died.... I am a Muslim, but the God of pity, of
justice, and of right is my God; and in His name be it said that was a crime of
Sheitan the accursed."
In a low voice the chairman put the resolution. The Earl of Eglington voted
in its favour.
Walking the hills homeward with Ebn Ezra Bey, Luke, Faith, and John Fairley,
David kept saying over to himself the words of Benn Claridge: "I have called
thee so often of late. Good morrow! Good morrow! Good morrow! Can you not hear