Part 2 out of 7
THEY GRIND EXCEEDING SMALL
By BEN AMES WILLIAMS
From _Saturday Evening Post_
I telephoned down the hill to Hazen Kinch. "Hazen," I asked, "are you
going to town to-day?"
"Yes, yes," he said abruptly in his quick, harsh fashion. "Of course I'm
going to town."
"I've a matter of business," I suggested.
"Come along," he invited brusquely. "Come along."
There was not another man within forty miles to whom he would have given
"I'll be down in ten minutes," I promised him; and I went to pull on my
Pontiacs and heavy half boots over them and started downhill through the
sandy snow. It was bitterly cold; it had been a cold winter. The bay--I
could see it from my window--was frozen over for a dozen miles east and
west and thirty north and south; and that had not happened in close to a
score of years. Men were freighting across to the islands with heavy
teams. Automobiles had beaten a rough road along the course the steamers
took in summer. A man who had ventured to stock one of the lower islands
with foxes for the sake of their fur, counting on the water to hold them
prisoners, had gone bankrupt when his stock in trade escaped across the
ice. Bitterly cold and steadily cold, and deep snow lay upon the hills,
blue-white in the distance. The evergreens were blue-black blotches on
this whiteness. The birches, almost indistinguishable, were like trees
in camouflage. To me the hills are never so grand as in this winter coat
they wear. It is easy to believe that a brooding God dwells upon them. I
wondered as I ploughed my way down to Hazen Kinch's farm whether God did
indeed dwell among these hills; and I wondered what He thought of Hazen
This was no new matter of thought with me. I had given some thought to
Hazen in the past. I was interested in the man and in that which should
come to him. He was, it seemed to me, a problem in fundamental ethics;
he was, as matters stood, a demonstration of the essential uprightness
of things as they are. The biologist would have called him a sport, a
deviation from type, a violation of all the proper laws of life. That
such a man should live and grow great and prosper was not fitting; in a
well-regulated world it could not be. Yet Hazen Kinch did live; he had
grown--in his small way--great; and by our lights he had prospered.
Therefore I watched him. There was about the man the fascination which
clothes a tight-rope walker above Niagara; an aeronaut in the midst of
the nose dive. The spectator stares with half-caught breath, afraid to
see and afraid to miss seeing the ultimate catastrophe. Sometimes I
wondered whether Hazen Kinch suspected this attitude on my part. It was
not impossible. There was a cynical courage in the man; it might have
amused him. Certainly I was the only man who had in any degree his
I have said there was not another within forty miles whom he would have
given a lift to town; I doubt if there was another man anywhere for whom
he would have done this small favour.
He seemed to find a mocking sort of pleasure in my company.
When I came to his house he was in the barn harnessing his mare to the
sleigh. The mare was a good animal, fast and strong. She feared and she
hated Hazen. I could see her roll her eyes backward at him as he
adjusted the traces. He called to me without turning:
"Shut the door! Shut the door! Damn the cold!"
I slid the door shut behind me. There was within the barn the curious
chill warmth which housed animals generate to protect themselves against
"It will snow," I told Hazen. "I was not sure you would go."
He laughed crookedly, jerking at the trace.
"Snow!" he exclaimed. "A man would think you were the personal manager
of the weather. Why do you say it will snow?"
"The drift of the clouds--and it's warmer," I told him.
"I'll not have it snowing," he said, and looked at me and cackled. He
was a little, thin, old man with meager whiskers and a curious precision
of speech; and I think he got some enjoyment out of watching my
expression at such remarks as this. He elaborated his assumption that
the universe was conducted for his benefit, in order to see my silent
revolt at the suggestion. "I'll not have it snowing." he said. "Open the
He led the mare out and stopped by the kitchen door.
"Come in," he said. "A hot drink."
I went with him into the kitchen. His wife was there, and their child.
The woman was lean and frail; and she was afraid of him. The countryside
said he had taken her in payment of a bad debt. Her father had owed him
money which he could not pay.
"I decided it was time I had a wife," Hazen used to say to me.
The child was on the floor. The woman had a drink of milk and egg and
rum, hot and ready for us. We drank, and Hazen knelt beside the child. A
boy baby, not yet two years old. It is an ugly thing to say, but I hated
this child. There was evil malevolence in his baby eyes. I have
sometimes thought the grey devils must have left just such hate-bred
babes as this in France. Also, he was deformed--a twisted leg. The women
of the neighbourhood sometimes said he would be better dead. But Hazen
Kinch loved him. He lifted him in his arms now with a curious passion in
his movement, and the child stared at him sullenly. When the mother came
near the baby squalled at her, and Hazen said roughly:
"Stand away! Leave him alone!"
She moved back furtively; and Hazen asked me, displaying the child: "A
fine boy, eh?"
I said nothing, and in his cracked old voice he mumbled endearments to
the baby. I had often wondered whether his love for the child redeemed
the man; or merely made him vulnerable. Certainly any harm that might
come to the baby would be a crushing blow to Hazen.
He put the child down on the floor again and he said to the woman
curtly: "Tend him well." She nodded. There was a dumb submission in her
eyes; but through this blank veil I had seen now and then a blaze of
Hazen went out of the door without further word to her, and I followed
him. We got into the sleigh, bundling ourselves into the robes for the
six-mile drive along the drifted road to town. There was a feeling of
storm in the air. I looked at the sky and so did Hazen Kinch. He guessed
what I would have said and he answered me before I could speak.
"I'll not have it snowing," he said, and leered at me.
Nevertheless, I knew the storm would come. The mare turned out of the
barnyard and ploughed through a drift and struck hard-packed road. Her
hoofs beat a swift tattoo; our runners sang beneath us. We dropped to
the little bridge and across and began the mile-long climb to the top of
Rayborn Hill. The road from Hazen's house to town is compounded of such
ups and downs.
At the top of the hill we paused for a moment to breathe the mare;
paused just in front of the big old Rayborn house, that has stood there
for more years than most of us remember. It was closed and shuttered and
deserted; and Hazen dipped his whip toward it and said meanly:
"An ugly, improvident lot, the Rayborns were."
I had known only one of them--the eldest son. A fine man, I had thought
him. Picking apples in his orchard, he fell one October and broke his
neck. His widow tried to make a go of the place, but she borrowed of
Hazen and he had evicted her this three months back. It was one of the
lesser evils he had done. I looked at the house and at him, and he
clucked to the mare and we dipped down into the steep valley below the
The wind had a sweep in that valley and there was a drift of snow across
it and across the road. This drift was well packed by the wind, but when
we drove over its top our left-hand runner broke through the coaming and
we tumbled into the snow, Hazen and I. We were well entangled in the
rugs. The mare gave a frightened start, but Hazen had held the reins and
the whip so that she could not break away. We got up together, he and I,
and we righted the sleigh and set it upon the road again. I remember
that it was becoming bitter cold and the sun was no longer shining.
There was a steel-grey veil drawn across the bay.
When the sleigh was upright Hazen went forward and stood beside the
mare. Some men, blaming the beast without reason, would have beaten her.
They would have cursed, cried out upon her. That was not the cut of
Hazen Kinch. But I could see that he was angry and I was not surprised
when he reached up and gripped the horse's ear. He pulled the mare's
head down and twisted the ear viciously. All in a silence that was
The mare snorted and tried to rear back and Hazen clapped the butt of
his whip across her knees. She stood still, quivering, and he wrenched
at her ear again.
"Now," he said softly, "keep the road."
And he returned and climbed to his place beside me in the sleigh. I said
nothing. I might have interfered, but something had always impelled me
to keep back my hand from Hazen Kinch.
We drove on and the mare was lame. Though Hazen pushed her, we were slow
in coming to town and before we reached Hazen's office the swirling snow
was whirling down--a pressure of driving, swirling flakes like a heavy
I left Hazen at the stair that led to his office and I went about my
business of the day. He said as I turned away:
"Be here at three."
I nodded. But I did not think we should drive home that afternoon. I
had some knowledge of storms.
That which had brought me to town was not engrossing. I found time to go
to the stable and see Hazen's mare. There was an ugly welt across her
knees and some blood had flowed. The stablemen had tended the welt, and
cursed Hazen in my hearing. It was still snowing, and the stable boss,
looking out at the driving flakes, spat upon the ground and said to me:
"Them legs'll go stiff. That mare won't go home to-night."
"I think you are right," I agreed.
"The white-whiskered skunk!" he said, and I knew he spoke of Hazen.
At a quarter of three I took myself to Hazen Kinch's office. It was not
much of an office; not that Hazen could not have afforded a better. But
it was up two flights--an attic room ill lighted. A small air-tight
stove kept the room stifling hot. The room was also air-tight. Hazen had
a table and two chairs, and an iron safe in the corner. He put a
pathetic trust in that safe. I believe I could have opened it with a
screwdriver. I met him as I climbed the stairs. He said harshly:
"I'm going to telephone. They say the road's impassable."
He had no telephone in his office; he used one in the store below. A
small economy fairly typical of Hazen.
"I'll wait in the office," I told him.
"Go ahead," he agreed, halfway down the stairs.
I went up to his office and closed the drafts of the stove--it was
red-hot--and tried to open the one window, but it was nailed fast. Then
Hazen came back up the stairs grumbling.
"Damn the snow!" he said. "The wire is down."
"Where to?" I asked.
"My house, man! To my house!"
"You wanted to telephone home that you--"
"I can't get home to-night. You'll have to go to the hotel."
I nodded good-naturedly.
"All right. You, too, I suppose."
"I'll sleep here," he said.
I looked round. There was no bed, no cot, nothing but the two stiff
chairs. He saw my glance and said angrily: "I've slept on the floor
I was always interested in the man's mental processes.
"You wanted to telephone Mrs. Kinch not to worry?" I suggested.
"Pshaw, let her fret!" said Hazen. "I wanted to ask after my boy." His
eyes expanded, he rubbed his hands a little, cackling. "A fine boy, sir!
A fine boy!"
It was then we heard Doan Marshey coming up the stairs. We heard his
stumbling steps as he began the last flight and Hazen seemed to cock his
ears as he listened. Then he sat still and watched the door. The steps
climbed nearer; they stopped in the dim little hall outside the door and
someone fumbled with the knob. When the door opened we saw who it was. I
knew Marshey. He lived a little beyond Hazen on the same road. Lived in
a two-room cabin--it was little more--with his wife and his five
children; lived meanly and pitiably, grovelling in the soil for daily
bread, sweating life out of the earth--life and no more. A thin man,
racking thin; a forward-thrusting neck and a bony face and a sad and
drooping moustache about his mouth. His eyes were meek and weary.
He stood in the doorway blinking at us; and with his gloved hands--they
were stiff and awkward with the cold--he unwound the ragged muffler that
was about his neck and he brushed weakly at the snow upon his head and
his shoulders. Hazen said angrily:
"Come in! Do you want my stove to heat the town?"
Doan shuffled in and he shut the door behind him. He said: "Howdy, Mr.
Kinch." And he smiled in a humble and placating way.
Hazen said: "What's your business? Your interest is due."
"Yeah. I know, Mr. Kinch. I cain't pay it all."
Kinch exclaimed impatiently: "An old story! How much can you pay?"
"Eleven dollars and fifty cents," said Doan.
"You owe twenty."
"I aim to pay it when the hens begin to lay."
Hazen laughed scornfully.
"You aim to pay! Damn you, Marshey, if your old farm was worth taking
I'd have you out in this snow, you old scamp!"
Doan pleaded dully: "Don't you do that, Mr Kinch! I aim to pay."
Hazen clapped his hands on the table.
"Rats! Come! Give me what you've got! And Marshey, you'll have to get
the rest. I'm sick of waiting on you."
Marshey came shuffling toward the table. Hazen was sitting with the
table between him and the man and I was a little behind Hazen at one
side. Marshey blinked as he came nearer, and his weak nearsighted eyes
turned from Hazen to me. I could see that the man was stiff with the
When he came to the table in front of Hazen he took off his thick
gloves. His hands were blue. He laid the gloves on the table and reached
into an inner pocket of his torn coat and drew out a little cloth pouch
and he fumbled into this and I heard the clink of coins. He drew out two
quarters and laid them on the table before Hazen, and Hazen picked them
up. I saw that Marshey's fingers moved stiffly; I could almost hear them
creak with the cold. Then he reached into the pouch again.
Something dropped out of the mouth of the little cloth bag and fell
soundlessly on the table. It looked to me like a bill, a piece of paper
currency. I was about to speak, but Hazen, without an instant's
hesitation, had dropped his hand on the thing and drawn it
unostentatiously toward him. When he lifted his hand the money--if it
was money--was gone.
Marshey drew out a little roll of worn bills. Hazen took them out of his
hand and counted them swiftly.
"All right." he said. "Eleven-fifty. I'll give you a receipt. But you
mind me, Doan Marshey, you get the rest before the month's out. I've
been too slack with you."
Marshey, his dull eyes watching Hazen write the receipt, was folding
the little pouch and putting it away. Hazen tore off the bit of paper
and gave it to him. Doan took it and he said humbly: "Thank'e, sir."
"Mind now," he exclaimed, and Marshey said: "I'll do my best, Mr.
Then he turned and shuffled across the room and out into the hall and we
heard him descending the stairs.
When he was gone I asked Hazen casually: "What was it that he dropped
upon the table?"
"A dollar," said Hazen promptly. "A dollar bill. The miserable fool!"
Hazen's mental processes were always of interest to me.
"You mean to give it back to him?" I asked.
He stared at me and he laughed. "No! If he can't take care of his own
money--that's why he is what he is."
"Still it is his money."
"He owes me more than that."
"Going to give him credit for it?"
"Am I a fool?" Hazen asked me. "Do I look like so much of a fool?"
"He may charge you with finding it."
"He loses a dollar; I find one. Can he prove ownership? Pshaw!" Hazen
"If there is any spine in him he will lay the thing to you as a theft,"
I suggested. I was not afraid of angering Hazen. He allowed me open
speech; he seemed to find a grim pleasure in my distaste for him and for
his way of life.
"If there were any backbone in the man he would not be paying me eighty
dollars a year on a five-hundred-dollar loan--discounted."
Hazen grinned at me triumphantly.
"I wonder if he will come back," I said.
"Besides," Hazen continued, "he lied to me. He told me the eleven-fifty
was all he had."
"Yes," I agreed. "There is no doubt he lied to you."
Hazen had a letter to write and he bent to it. I sat by the stove and
watched him and considered. He had not yet finished the letter when we
heard Marshey returning. His dragging feet on the stair were
unmistakable. At the sound of his weary feet some tide of indignation
surged up in me.
I was minded to do violence to Hazen Kinch. But--a deeper impulse held
my hand from the man.
Marshey came in and his weary eyes wandered about the room. They
inspected the floor; they inspected me; they inspected Hazen Kinch's
table, and they rose at last humbly to Hazen Kinch.
"Well?" said Hazen.
"I lost a dollar," Marshey told him. "I 'lowed I might have dropped it
"You told me eleven-fifty was all you had."
"This here dollar wa'n't mine."
The money-lender laughed.
"Likely! Who would give you a dollar? You lied to me, or you're lying
now. I don't believe you lost a dollar."
Marshey reiterated weakly: "I lost a dollar."
"Well," said Hazen, "there's no dollar of yours here."
"It was to git medicine," Marshey said. "It wa'n't mine."
Hazen Kinch exclaimed: "By God, I believe you're accusing me!"
Marshey lifted both hands placatingly.
"No, Mr. Kinch. No, sir." His eyes once more wandered about the room.
"Mebbe I dropped it in the snow," he said.
He turned to the door. Even in his slow shuffle there was a hint of
trembling eagerness to escape. He went out and down the stairs. Hazen
looked at me, his old face wrinkling mirthfully.
"You see?" he said.
I left him a little later and went out into the street. On the way to
the hotel I stopped for a cigar at the drug store. Marshey was there,
talking with the druggist.
I heard the druggist say: "No, Marshey, I'm sorry. I've been stung too
Marshey nodded humbly.
"I didn't 'low you'd figure to trust me." he agreed. "It's all right. I
didn't 'low you would."
It was my impulse to give him the dollar he needed, but I did not do it.
An overpowering compulsion bade me keep my hands off in this matter. I
did not know what I expected, but I felt the imminence of the fates.
When I went out into the snow it seemed to me the groan of the gale was
like the slow grind of millstones, one upon the other.
I thought long upon the matter of Hazen Kinch before sleep came that
Toward morning the snow must have stopped; and the wind increased and
carved the drifts till sunrise, then abruptly died. I met Hazen at the
postoffice at ten and he said: "I'm starting home."
I asked: "Can you get through?"
"I will get through," he told me.
"You're in haste."
"I want to see that boy of mine," said Hazen Kinch. "A fine boy, man! A
"I'm ready," I said.
When we took the road the mare was limping. But she seemed to work out
the stiffness in her knees and after a mile or so of the hard going she
was moving smoothly enough. We made good time.
The day, as often happens after a storm, was full of blinding sunlight.
The glare of the sun upon the snow was almost unbearable. I kept my eyes
all but closed but there was so much beauty abroad in the land that I
could not bear to close them altogether. The snow clung to twigs and to
fences and to wires, and a thousand flames glinted from every crystal
when the sun struck down upon the drifts. The pine wood upon the eastern
slope of Rayborn Hill was a checkerboard of rich colour. Green and blue
and black and white, indescribably brilliant. When we crossed the bridge
at the foot of the hill we could hear the brook playing beneath the ice
that sheathed it. On the white pages of the snow wild things had writ
here and there the fine-traced tale of their morning's adventuring. We
saw once where a fox had pinned a big snowshoe rabbit in a drift.
Hazen talked much of that child of his on the homeward way. I said
little. From the top of the Rayborn Hill we sighted his house and he
laid the whip along the mare and we went down that last long descent at
a speed that left me breathless. I shut my eyes and huddled low in the
robes for protection against the bitter wind, and I did not open them
again till we turned into Hazen's barnyard, ploughing through the
When we stopped Hazen laughed.
"Ha!" he said. "Now, come in, man, and warm yourself and see the baby! A
He was ahead of me at the door; I went in upon his heels. We came into
the kitchen together.
Hazen's kitchen was also living-room and bedroom in the cold of winter.
The arrangement saved firewood. There was a bed against the wall
opposite the door. As we came in a woman got up stiffly from this bed
and I saw that this woman was Hazen's wife. But there was a change in
her. She was bleak as cold iron and she was somehow strong.
Hazen rasped at this woman impatiently: "Well, I'm home! Where is the
She looked at him and her lips moved soundlessly. She closed them,
opened them again. This time she was able to speak.
"The boy?" she said to Hazen. "The boy is dead!"
The dim-lit kitchen was very quiet for a little time. I felt myself
breathe deeply, almost with relief. The thing for which I had waited--it
had come. And I looked at Hazen Kinch.
He had always been a little thin man. He was shrunken now and very white
and very still. Only his face twitched. A muscle in one cheek jerked and
jerked and jerked at his mouth. It was as though he controlled a desire
to smile. That jerking, suppressed smile upon his white and tortured
countenance was terrible. I could see the blood drain down from his
forehead, down from his cheeks. He became white as death itself.
After a little he tried to speak. I do not know what he meant to say.
But what he did was to repeat--as though he had not heard her words--the
question which he had flung at her in the beginning. He said huskily:
"Where is the boy?"
She looked toward the bed and Hazen looked that way; and then he went
across to the bed with uncertain little steps. I followed him. I saw the
little twisted body there. The woman had been keeping it warm with her
own body. It must have been in her arms when we came in. The tumbled
coverings, the crushed pillows spoke mutely of a ferocious intensity of
Hazen looked down at the little body. He made no move to touch it, but I
heard him whisper to himself: "Fine boy."
After a while he looked at the woman. She seemed to feel an accusation
in his eyes. She said: "I did all I could."
He asked "What was it?"
I had it in me--though I had reason enough to despise the little man--to
pity Hazen Kinch.
"He coughed," said the woman. "I knew it was croup. You know I asked you
to get the medicine--ipecac. You said no matter--no need--and you had
She looked out of the window.
"I went for help--to Annie Marshey. Her babies had had it. Her husband
was going to town and she said he would get the medicine for me. She did
not tell him it was for me. He would not have done it for you. He did
not know. So I gave her a dollar to give him--to bring it out to me.
"He came home in the snow last night. Baby was bad by that time, so I
was watching for Doan. I stopped him in the road and I asked for the
medicine. When he understood he told me. He had not brought it."
The woman was speaking dully, without emotion.
"It would have been in time, even then," she said. "But after a while,
after that, baby died."
I understood in that moment the working of the mills. And when I looked
at Hazen Kinch I saw that he, too, was beginning to understand. There
is a just mercilessness in an aroused God. Hazen Kinch was driven to
"Why--didn't Marshey fetch it?" he asked.
She said slowly: "They would not trust him--at the store."
His mouth twitched, he raised his hands.
"The money!" he cried. "The money! What did he do with that?"
"He said," the woman answered, "that he lost it--in your office; lost
the money there."
After a little the old money-lender leaned far back like a man wrenched
with agony. His body was contorted, his face was terrible. His dry mouth
* * * * *
Halfway up the hill to my house I stopped to look back and all round.
The vast hills in their snowy garments looked down upon the land, upon
the house of Hazen Kinch. Still and silent and inscrutable.
I knew now that a just and brooding God dwelt among these hills.
BY ALBERT PAYSON TERHUNE
From _The Popular Magazine_
"Furthermore, howadji," ventured Najib, who had not spoken for fully
half an hour, but had been poring over a sheaf of shipment items
scribbled in Arabic, "furthermore, I am yearnful to know who was the
unhappy person the wicked general threatened. Or, of a perhaps, it was
that poor general himself who was bethreatened by his padishah or by
"What on earth are you babbling about, Najib?" absent-mindedly asked
Logan Kirby, as he looked up from a month-old New York paper which had
arrived by muleteer that day and which the expatriated American had been
reading with pathetic interest.
Now, roused from his perusal by Najib's query, Logan saw that the little
Syrian has ceased wrestling with the shipment items and was peering over
his employer's shoulder, his beady eyes fixed in keen curiosity on the
"I enseeched you to tell me, howadji," said Najib, "who has been
threatening that poor general. Or, perchancely, who has been made to
cower himself undertheneath of that fierce general's threatenings. See,
it is there, howadji. There, in the black line at the left top end of
the news. See?"
Following the guidance of Najib's stubby, unwashed finger, Kirby read
the indicated headline:
GENERAL STRIKE THREATENED
"Oh!" he answered, choking back a grin, "I see. There isn't any
'general,' Najib. And he isn't threatened. It means--"
"May the faces of all liars be blackened!" cried Najib in virtuous
indignation. "And may the maker of the becurst newspage lie be doubly
afflictioned! May his camels die and his wives cast dust upon his bared
head! For he has befooled me, by what he has here enprinted. My heart
went out with a sweet sorrowfulness for that poor general or for the
folk he bethreatened. Whichever it might chance itself to be. And now
the news person has made a jest of the truth. But he--"
Kirby's attempt at self-control went to pieces. He guffawed. Najib eyed
him sourly; then said in icy reproof:
"It is known to all, howadji, that Sidi-ben-Hassan, the sheikh, was the
wisest of men. And did not Sidi-ben-Hassan make known, in his book, that
'_Laughter is for women and for hyenas_'? Furthermore--"
"I'm sorry I laughed at you, Najib," returned Kirby, with due penitence,
"I don't wonder you got such an idea, from the headline. You see, I have
read the story that goes under it. That's how I happen to know what it
means. It means that several thousand workmen of several allied trades
threatened to go on strike. That will tie up a lot of business, you see;
along a lot of lines. It will mean a general tie-up--a--"
From Najib's blank face, the American saw his more or less technical
explanation was going wide. Still remorseful at having hurt his
factotum's feelings, Kirby laid the paper aside and undertook to
simplify the matter.
"It's like this," said he. "We'll say a gang of men aren't satisfied
with the pay or the hours they are getting. They asked for more money or
for shorter hours; or for both. If the demand is refused, they stop
working. They won't go back to their jobs till they get the cash and the
hours they want. That is known as 'going on strike.' When a number of
concerns are involved in it, it's sometimes called 'a general strike.'
This paper says a general strike is threatened. That means--"
"I apperceive it, howadji!" exclaimed Najib. "I am onward to it, now. I
might have known the printed page cannot lie. But, oh, my heart berends
itself when I think of the sad fate of those poor folk who do the
stroking! Of an assuredly, Allah hath deprived them of wisdom!
"Not necessarily," argued Kirby, wondering at his henchman's outburst of
sympathy for union labourers so many thousand miles away. "They may win,
you know; or, at least, get a compromise. And their unions will support
them while they are out of work. Of course, they may lose. And then--"
"But when they make refusal to do their work," urged Najib, "will not
the soldiers of the pasha cut them to ribbons with the kourbash and
drive them back to their toil? Or if the pasha of that pashalik is a
brutesome man, will not he cast those poor fellaheen into the prison and
beseize their goods? And I answer, howadji, he will. Wherefore my eyes
are tearing, for the men who have so unlucklessly--"
"Hold on!" exhorted Kirby; albeit despairing of opening the mind of a
man whose forebears for thousands of years had lived in a land where the
_corvee_--forced labour--was a hallowed institution; and where the money
of employers could always enlist the aid of government soldiery to keep
the fellaheen at their tasks. "Hold on! That sort of thing is dead and
done with. Even in the East. Chinese Gordon stamped out the last of it,
in Egypt, years ago. If a man doesn't want to work, he can't be forced
to. All his boss can do is to fire him and try to get some one in his
place. When a whole factory of men strike--especially if there are any
big contract orders to fill in a rush--the employers sometimes find it
cheaper to give them what they want than to call in untrained
strikebreakers. On the other hand, sometimes, the boss can bring the men
to terms. It all depends."
Yielding to the human joy of imparting instruction to so interested a
listener, Kirby launched forth into an elaboration of his theme; trying
to expound something of the capital-and-labour situation to his
follower; and secretly wondering at the keen zest wherewith his words
were listened to.
Seldom was Kirby so successful in making Najib follow so long an
oration. And he was pleased with his own new-found powers of explaining
Occidental customs to an Oriental mind.
Now, Logan Kirby knew the tangled Syrian character and its myriad queer
slants, as well as it can be given to a white man to know it. Kirby's
father had been a missionary, at Nablous. He himself had been born
there, and had spent his boyhood at the mission. That was why--after he
had completed his engineering course at Columbia's school of mines and
had served an apprenticeship in Colorado and Arizona--the Cabell
Smelting Company of New York had sent him out to the Land of Moab, as
manager of its new-acquired little antimony mine.
The mine--a mere prospect shaft--was worked by about thirty
fellaheen--native labourers--supervised by a native guard of twelve
Turkish soldiers. Small as was the plant, it was a rich property and it
was piling up dividends for the Cabells. Antimony, in the East, is used
in a score of ways--from its employment in the form of kohl, for the
darkening of women's eyes, to the chemical by-products, always in demand
by Syrian apothecaries.
This was the only antimony mine between Aden and Germany. Its shipments
were in constant demand. Its revenues were a big item on the credit side
of the Cabell ledger.
Kirby's personal factotum, as well as superintendent of the mine, was
this squat little Syrian, Najib, who had once spent two blissfully
useless years with an All Nations Show, at Coney Island; and who there
had picked up a language which he proudly believed to be English; and
which he spoke exclusively when talking with the manager.
Kirby's rare knowledge of the East had enabled the mine to escape ruin a
score of times where a manager less conversant with Oriental ways must
have blundered into some fatal error in the handling of his men or in
dealing with the local authorities.
Remember, please, that in the East it is the seemingly insignificant
things which bring disaster to the feringhee, or foreigner. For example,
many an American or European has met unavenged death because he did not
realize that he was heaping vile affront upon his Bedouin host by eating
with his left hand. Many a foreign manager of labour has lost instant
and complete control over his fellaheen by deigning to wash his own
shirt in the near-by river or for brushing the dirt from his own
clothes. Thereby he has proved himself a labourer, instead of a master
of men. Many a foreigner has been shot or stabbed for speaking to a
native whom he thought afflicted with a fit and who was really engaged
in prayer. Many more have lost life or authority by laughing at the
wrong time or by glancing--with entire absence of interest, perhaps--at
some passing woman.
Yes, Kirby had been invaluable to his employers by virtue of his inborn
knowledge of Syrian ways. Yet, now, he was not enough of an Oriental to
understand why his lecture on the strike system should thrill his
He did not pause to realize that the idea of strikes was one which
carries a true appeal to the Eastern imagination. It has all the
elements of revenge, of coercion, and of trapping, of wily
give-and-take, and of simple and logical gambling uncertainty, which
characterize the most popular of the Arabian Nights yarns and which have
made those tales remain as Syrian classics for more than ten centuries.
"It is of an assuredly a pleasing and noble plan," applauded Najib when
Kirby finished the divers ramifications of his discourse. "And I do not
misdoubt but what that cruel general betrembled himself inside of his
boots when they threatened to strike. If the stroking ones may not be
lawfully attackled by the pashalik troops, indeed must the general--"
"I told you there wasn't any general!" interrupted Kirby, jarred that
his luminous explanations had still left Najib more or less where it
found him, so far as any lucid idea was concerned. "And I've wasted
enough time trying to ding the notion of the thing into your thick head.
If you've got those shipment items catalogued, go back to the shaft and
check off the inventory. The first load ought to be on the way to the
coast before sunrise to-morrow. Chase!"
As he picked up the duplicate sets of the list and ran over their items
once more, Kirby tried to forget his own silly annoyance at his failure
to make the dull little Syrian comprehend a custom that had never
reached the Land of Moab.
Presently, in his absorption in his work, the American forgot the whole
incident. It was the beginning of a rush period at the mine--the busiest
month in its history was just setting in. The Alexandretta-bound
shipment of the morrow was but the first of twelve big shipments
scheduled for the next twenty-nine days.
The restoration of peace and the shutting out of several Central
European rivals had thrown an unprecedented sheaf of rush orders on the
Cabell mine. It was such a chance as Kirby had longed for; a chance to
show his rivals' customers the quality of the Cabell product and the
speed and efficiency wherewith orders could and would be filled by him.
If he could but fill these new customers' orders in quicker and more
satisfactory fashion than the firms were accustomed to receiving, it
might well mean that the new buyers would stick to the Cabells, after
the other mines should again be in operation.
It was a big chance, as Kirby had explained at some length to Najib,
during the past few weeks. At his behest, the little superintendent had
used every known method to get extra work and extra speed out of the
fellaheen; and, by judicious baksheesh, had even impressed to the toil
several members of the haughty, Turkish guard and certain folk from the
nearest hill village.
As a result, the first shipment was ready for the muleteers to carry
coastward a full week ahead of schedule time. And the contract chanced
to be one for which the eager wholesalers at Alexandretta had agreed to
pay a bonus for early arrival. The men were even now busy getting a
second shipment in shape for transportation by mule train to Tiberias
and thence by railway to Damascus.
The work was progressing finely. Kirby thrilled at the thought. And he
was just a little ashamed of his own recent impatience at Najib, when he
remembered how the superintendent was pushing the relays of consignments
along. After all, he mused, it was no reflection on Najib's intelligence
that the poor little chap could not grasp the whole involved Occidental
strike system in one hasty lecture; and that his simple mind clung to
the delusion that there was some fierce general involved in it. In the
Arabian Nights was there not always a scheming sultan or a baffled
wazir, in every clash with the folk of the land? Was it unnatural that
Najib should have substituted for these the mythical general of whom he
thought he had seen mention in the news headline?
But, soon after dusk, Kirby had reason to know that his words had not
all fallen on barren soil. At close of the working day, Najib had
brought the manager the usual diurnal report from the mine. Now, after
supper, Kirby, glancing over the report again, found a gap of terse yet
complete reports. And occasionally Kirby was obliged to summon his
henchman to correct or amend the day's tally sheet.
Wherefore, the list in his hand, the American strolled down from his own
knoll-top tent toward Najib's quarters. As Najib was superintendent, and
thus technically an official, Kirby could make such domiciliary visits
without loss of prestige, instead of summoning the Syrian to his
presence by handclap of by messenger, as would have been necessary in
dealing with any of the other employees.
Najib's hut lay a hundred yards beyond the hollow where the fellaheen
and soldiers were encamped. For Najib, too, had a dignity to uphold. He
might no more lodge or break bread with his underlings than might Kirby
with him. Yet, at times, preparatory to pattering up the knoll for his
wonted evening chat with the American at the latter's campfire, Najib
would so far unbend as to pause at the fellaheen's camp for a native
discussion of many gestures and much loud talking.
So it was to-night. Just outside the radius of the fellaheen's
firelight, Kirby paused. For he heard Najib's shrill voice uplifted in
speech. And amusedly he halted and prepared to turn back. He had no wish
to break in upon a harangue so interesting as the speaker seemed to find
Najib's voice was pitched far above the tones of normal Eastern
conversation;--louder and more excited even than that of a professional
story-teller. In Syria it is hard to believe that these professionals
are merely telling an oft-heard Arabian Nights narrative; and not
indulging in delirium or apoplexy.
Yet at a stray word of Najib's, Kirby checked involuntarily his own
retreat; and paused again to look back. There stood Najib, in the center
of the firelit circle; hands and head in wild motion. Around him,
spell-bound, squatted the ring of his dark-faced and unwashed hearers.
The superintendent, being with his own people, was orating in pure
Arabic--or, rather, in the colloquial vernacular which is as close to
pure Arabic as one can expect to hear, except among the remoter
"Thus it is!" he was declaiming. "Even as I have sought to show you, oh,
addle-witted offspring of mangy camels and one-eyed mules! In that far
country, when men are dissatisfied with their wage, they take counsel
together and they say, one unto the other: 'Lo, we shall labour no more,
unless our hire be greater and our toil hours less!' Then go they to
their sheikh or whomever he be who hath hired them, and they say to him:
'Oh, favoured of Allah, behold we must have such and such wage and such
and such hours of labour!' Then doth their sheikh cast ashes upon his
beard and rend his garments. For doth he not know his fate is upon him
and that his breath is in his nostrils? Yet will they not listen to his
prayers; but at once they make 'strike.'
"Then doth their sheikh betake himself to the pasha with his grievance;
beseeching the pasha, with many rich gifts, that he will throw those
strike-making labourers into prison and scourge their kinsmen with the
kourbash. But the pasha maketh answer, with tears: 'Lo, I am helpless!
What saith the law? It saith that a man may make strike at will; and
that his employer must pay what is demanded!' Now, this pasha is named
'General.' And his heart is as gall within him that he may not accept
the rich gifts offered by the sheikh; and punish the labourers. Yet the
law restraineth him. Then the sheikh, perchance, still refuseth the
demands of his toilers. And they say to him then: 'If you will not
employ us and on the terms we ordain, then shall ye hire none others,
for we shall overthrow those whom you set in our places. And perchance
we shall destroy your warehouses or barns or shops!' This say they, when
they know he hath greatest need of them. Then boweth their master his
head upon his breast and saith: 'Be it even as ye will, my hirelings!
For I must obey!' And he giveth them, of his substance, whatsoever they
may require. And all are glad. And under the new law, even in this land
of ours, none may imprison or beat those who will not work. And all may
demand and receive what wage they will. And--"
And Kirby waited to hear no more. With a groan of disgust at the
orator's imbecility, he went back, up the hill, to his own tent.
There, he drew forth his rickety sea chair and placed it in front of a
patch of campfire that twinkled in the open space in front of the tent
door. For, up there in the hills, the nights had an edge of chill to
them; be the days ever so hot.
Stretching himself out lazily in his long chair, Kirby exhumed from a
shirt pocket his disreputable brier pipe, and filled and lighted it. The
big white Syrian stars glinted down on him from a black velvet sky.
Along the nearer peaks and hollows of the Moab Mountains, the knots of
prowling jackals kept up a running chorus of yapping--a discordant chant
punctuated now and then by the far-away howl of a hunting wolf; or, by
the choking "laugh" of a hyena in the valley below, who thus gave forth
the news of some especially delicious bit of carrion discovered among
And Kirby was reminded of Najib's quoted dictum that "laughter is for
women and for hyenas." The memory brought back to him his squat
henchman's weird jumbling of the strike system. And he smiled in
The Syrian had been his comrade in many a vicissitude And he knew that
Najib's fondness for him was as sincere as can be that of any Oriental
for a foreigner, an affection based not wholly on self-interest. Kirby
enjoyed his evening powwows with superintendent beside the campfire; and
the little man's amazing faculty for mangling the English tongue.
He rather missed Najib's presence to-night. But he was not to miss it
for long. Just as he was about to knock out his pipe and go to bed, the
native came pattering up the slope on excitedly rapid feet; and squatted
as usual on the ground beside the American's lounging chair. In Najib's
manner there was a scarce-repressed jubilant thrill. His beady eyes
shone wildly. Hardly had he seated himself when he broke the custom of
momentary grave silence by blurting forth:
"Furthermore, howadji, I am the bearer of gladly tidings which will make
you to beshout yourself aloud for joyfulness and leap about and
besclaim: 'Pretty fair!' and other words of a grand rapture. For the
bird will sing gleesome dirges in your heart!"
"Well?" queried Kirby in no especial excitement. "I'm listening. But if
the news is really so wonderful you surely took your time in bringing
it. I've been here all evening, while you've stayed below there, trying
to increase those fellaheens' stock of ignorance. What's the idea?"
"Oh, I prythee you, do not let my awayness beget your goat, howadji!"
pleaded Najib, ever sensitive to any hint of reproof from his master.
"It was that which made the grand tidings. If I had not of been where I
have been this evening--and doing what I have done--there would not be
any tidings at all. I made the tidings myself. Both of them. And I made
them for _you._ Is it that I may now tell them to you, howadji?"
"Go ahead," adjured Kirby, humouring the wistful eagerness of the man.
"What's the news you have for me?"
"It is more than just a 'news,' howadji," corrected Najib with jealous
regard for shades of meaning. "It is a tidings. And it is this: You and
my poor self and the fellaheen and even those hell-selected pashalik
soldiers--we are all to be rich. Most especially _you,_ howadji.
Wealthiness bewaits us all. No longer shall any of us be downward and
outward from povertude. No more shall any of us toil early and
belatedly. We shall all live in easiness of hours and with much payment.
_Inshallah! Alhandulillah!"_ he concluded, his rising excitement for
once bursting the carefully nourished bounds of English and overflowing
into Arabic expletive.
Noting his own lapse into his native language, he looked sheepishly at
Kirby, as though hoping the American had not heard the break. Then, with
mounting eagerness, Najib struck the climax of his narrative.
"To speak with a briefness, howadji," he proclaimed grandiloquently. "We
have all stroked ourselfs!"
"You've all done--what?" asked the puzzled Kirby.
"Not we alone, howadji," amended Najib, "but you also! We would not
berich ourselves and leave you outward in the plan. It is you also who
are to stroke yourself. And--"
"For the love of Heaven!" exclaimed Kirby in sudden loss of patience.
"What are you driving at? What do you mean about 'stroking yourselves'?
Say it in Arabic. Then perhaps I can find what you mean."
"It is not to be said in the Arabic, howadji," returned Najib, wincing
at this slur on his English. "For there is not such a thing in the
Arabic as to make strike. We make strike. Thus I say it we 'stroke
ourselves.' If it is the wrong way for saying it--"
"Strike?" repeated Kirby, perplexed. "What do you mean? Are you still
thinking about what I told you to-day? If you are going--"
"I have bethought of it, howadji, ever since," was the reply. "And it is
because of my much bethoughting that I found my splenderous plan. That
is my tidings. I bethought it all out with tremense clearness and
wiseness. Then I told those others, down yonder. At first they were of a
stupidity. For it was so new. But at last I made them understand. And
they rejoiced of it. So it is all settled most sweetly. You may not fear
that they will not stand by it. As soon as that was made sure I came to
you to tell--"
"Najib!" groaned Kirby, his head awhirl. "_Will_ you stop chewing chunks
of indigestible language, and tell me what you are jabbering about? What
was it you thought over? And what is 'all settled'? What will--"
"The strike, of an assuredly," explained Najib, as if in pity of his
chief's denseness. "To-night we make strike. All of us. That is one
tiding. And you, too, make strike with us. That is the other tiding.
Making two tidings. We make strike. To-morrow we all sleep late. No work
is to be made. And so it shall be, on each dear and nice and happy day,
until Cabell Effendi--be his sons an hundred and his wives true!--shall
pay us the money we ask and make short our hours of toil. Then--"
Kirby sought to speak. But his breath was gone. He only gobbled. Taking
the wordless sound for a token of high approval, Najib hastened on, more
glibly, with his program.
"On the to-morrow's morning, howadji," he said, "we enseech that you
will write a sorrowsome letter to Cabell Effendi, in the Broad Street of
New York; and say to him that all of us have made strike and that we
shall work no more until we have from his hands a writing that our
payment shall be two mejidie for every mejidie we have been capturing
from his company. Also and likewise that we shall work but half time.
And that you, howadji, are to receive even as we; save only that _your_
wage is to be enswollen to three times over than what it is now. And say
to him, howadji, that unless he does our wish in this striking we shall
slay all others whom he may behire in our place and that we shall
dynamitely destroy that nice mine. Remind him, howadji--if perchancely
he does not know of such things--that the law is with us. Say,
moreoverly, that there be many importanceful shipments and contracts
just now. And say he will lose all if he be so bony of head as to refuse
us. Furthermore, howadji, tell him, I prythee you, that we--"
A veritable yell from Kirby broke in on the smug instructions. The
American had recovered enough of his breath to expend a lungful of it in
one profane bellow. In a flash he visualized the whole scene at the
fellaheens' quarters--Najib's crazy explanation of the strike system and
of the supposed immunity from punishment that would follow sabotage and
other violence; the fellaheens' duller brains gradually seizing on the
idea until it had become as much a part of their mucilaginous mentality
as the Koran itself; and Najib's friendly desire that Kirby might share
in the golden benefits of the new scheme.
Yes, the American grasped the whole thing at once; his knowledge of the
East foretelling to him its boundless possibilities for mischief and for
the ruin of the mine's new prosperity. He fairly strangled with the gust
of wrath and impotent amaze which gripped him.
Najib smiled up at him as might a dog that had just performed some
pretty new trick, or a child who has brought to its father a gift. But
the aspect of Kirby's distorted face there in the dying firelight
shocked the Syrian into a grunt of terror. Scrambling to his feet, he
"Tame yourself, howadji, I enseech you! Why are you not rejoiceful? Will
it not mean much money for you; and--"
"You mangy brown rat!" shouted Kirby in fury. "What in blazes have you
done? You know, as well as I do, that such an idea will never get out of
those fellaheens' skulls, once it's really planted there. They'll
believe every word of that wall-eyed rot you've been telling them! And
they'll go on a _genuine_ strike on the strength of it. They'll--"
"Of an assuredly, howadji, they will," assented the bewildered Najib. "I
made me very assured of that. Four times I told it all over to them,
until even poor Imbarak--whose witfulness hath been beblown out from his
brain by the breath of the Most High--until even Imbarak understood. But
why it should enrouse you to a lionsome raging I cannot think. I
bethought you would be pleasured--"
"Listen to me!" ordered Kirby, fighting hard for self-control and
forcing himself to speak with unnatural slowness. "You've done more
damage than if you had dynamited the whole mine and then turned a river
into the shaft. This kind of news spreads. In a week there won't be a
worker east of the Jordan who won't be a strike fan. And these people
here will work the idea a step farther. I know them. They'll decide that
if one strike is good, two strikes are better. And they will strike
every week--loafing between times."
This prospect brought a grin of pure bliss to Najib's swarthy face. He
looked in new admiration upon his farsighted chief. Kirby went on:
"Not that that will concern us. For this present strike will settle the
Cabell mine. It means ruin to our business here, and the loss of all
your jobs, as well as my own. Why, you idiot, can't you see what you've
done? If you don't take that asinine grin off your ugly face, I'll knock
it off!" he burst out, his hard-held patience momentarily fraying.
Then, taking new hold on his self-control, Kirby began again to talk. As
if addressing a defective child, which, as a matter of fact, he was
doing, he expounded the hideous situation.
He explained the disloyalty to the Cabells of such a move as Najib had
planned. He pointed out the pride he and Najib had taken in the new
business they had secured for the home office; and the fact that this
new business had brought an increase of pay to them both as well as to
the fellaheen. He showed how great a triumph for the mine was this vast
increase of business; and the stark necessity of impressing the new
customers by the promptitude and uniform excellence of all shipments. He
pointed out the utter collapse to this and to all the rest of the mine's
connections which a strike would entail. Najib listened unmoved.
Hopeless of hammering American ethics into the brain of an Oriental,
Kirby set off at a new angle. He explained the loss of prestige and
position which he himself would suffer. He would be
discharged--probably by cable--for allowing the mine's bourgeoning
prosperity to go to pieces in such fashion. Another and less lenient and
understanding manager would be sent out to take his place. A manager
whose first official act would probably be the discharging of Najib as
the cause of the whole trouble.
Najib listened to this with a new interest, but with no great
Even Kirby's declaration that the ridiculous strike be a failure, and
that the government would assuredly punish any damage done to the Cabell
property, did not serve to impress him. Najib was a Syrian. An idea once
firm-rooted in his mind, was loathe to let itself be torn thence by mere
words. Kirby waxed desperate.
"You have wrecked this whole thing!" he stormed. "You got an idiotically
wrong slant on what I told you about strikes to-day; and you have ruined
us all. Even if you should go down there to the quarters this minute and
tell the men that you were mistaken and that the strike is off--you know
they wouldn't believe you. And you know they would go straight ahead
with the thing. That's the Oriental of it. They'd refuse to go on
working. And our shipments wouldn't be delivered. None of the ore for
the next shipments would be mined. The men would just hang about,
peacefully waiting for the double pay and the half time that you've
"Of an assuredly, that is true, howadji," conceded Najib. "They would--"
"They _will_!" corrected Kirby with grim hopelessness.
"But soon Cabell Effendi will reply to your letter," went on Najib. "And
then the double paying--"
"To my letter!" mocked the raging Kirby.
Then he paused, a sudden inspiration smiting him.
"Najib," he continued after a minute of concentrated thought, "you have
sense enough to know one thing: You have sense enough to know you people
can't get that extra pay till I write to Mr. Cabell and demand it for
you. There's not another one of you who can write English. There's no
one here but yourself who can speak or understand it or make shift to
spell out a few English words in print And Mr. Cabell doesn't know a
word of Arabic--let alone the Arabic script. And your own two years at
Coney Island must have shown you that no New Yorkers would know how to
read an Arabic letter to him. Now I swear to you, by every Christian and
Moslem oath, that _I_ shan't write such a letter! So how are you going
to get word to him that you people are on strike and that you won't do
another lick of work till you get double pay and half time? How are you
going to do that?"
Najib's solid face went blank. Here at last was an argument that struck
home. He had known Kirby for years, long enough to know that the
American was most emphatically a man of his word. If Kirby swore he
would not act as the men's intermediary with the company, then
decisively Kirby would keep his oath. And Najib realized the futility of
getting any one else to write such a letter in any language which the
Cabell Smelting Company's home office would decipher.
He peered up at Kirby with disconsolate astonishment. Quick to take
advantage of the change, the manager hurried on:
"Now, the men are on strike. That's understood. Well what are you and
they going to do about it? When the draft for the monthly pay roll comes
to the bank, at Jerusalem as usual, I shall refuse to indorse it. I give
you my oath on that, too. I am not going to distribute the company's
cash among a bunch of strikers. Without my signature, the bank won't
cash the draft. You know that. Well, how are you going to live, all of
you, on nothing a month? When the present stock of provisions gives out
I'm not going to order them renewed. And the provision people in
Jerusalem won't honour any one's order for them but mine. This is the
only concern in Syria to-day that pays within forty per cent, of the
wages you chaps are getting. With no pay and no food you're due to find
your strike rather costly. For when the mine shuts down I'm going back
to America. There'll be nothing to keep me here. I'll be ruined, in any
case. You people will find yourself without money or provisions. And if
you go elsewhere for work it will be at a pay that is only a little more
than half what you are getting now. Your lookout isn't cheery, my
He made as though to go into his tent. After a brief pause of horror,
Najib pattered hurriedly and beseechingly in his wake.
"Howadji!" pleaded the Syrian shakily. _"Howadji!_ You would not, in the
untamefulness of your mad, desertion us like that? Not _me_, at anyhow?
Not me, who have loved you as Daoud the Emir loved Jonathan of old! You
would not forsook me, to starve myself! _Aie! Ohe!_"
"Shut up that ungodly racket!" snapped Kirby, entering his tent and
lighting his lamp, as the first piercing notes of the traditional
mourner chant exploded through the unhappy Najib's wide-flung jaws.
"Shut up! You'll start every hyena and jackal in the mountains to
howling! It's bad enough as it is without adding a native concert to the
rest of the mess."
"But, howadji!" pleaded Najib.
_"Taman!"_ growled Kirby, summarily speaking the age-hallowed Arabic
word for the ending of all interviews.
"But I shall be beruinated, howadji!" tearfully insisted Najib.
Covertly the American watched his henchman while pretending to make
ready for bed. If he had fully and permanently scared Najib into a
conviction that the strike would spell ruin for the Syrian himself, then
the little man's brain might possibly be jarred into one of its rare
intervals of uncanny craftiness; and Najib might hit upon some way of
persuading the fellaheen that the strike was off.
This was Kirby's sole hope. And he knew it. Unless the fellaheen could
be so convinced, it meant the strike would continue until it should
break the mine as well as the mine's manager. Kirby knew of no way to
persuade the men. The same arguments which had crushed Najib would mean
nothing to them. All their brains could master at one time, without the
aid of some uprooting shock, was that henceforth they were to get double
pay and half labour.
A calm fatalism of hopelessness, bred perhaps of his long residence in
the homeland of fatalism began to creep over Kirby. In one hour his
golden ambitions for the mine and for himself had been smashed. At best
he saw no hope of getting the obsessed mine crew to work soon enough to
save his present contracts. He would be lucky if, on non-receipt of
their demanded increase, they did not follow Najib's muddled preachments
to the point of sabotage.
The more he thought of it, the less possible did it seem to Kirby that
Najib could undo the damage he had so blithely done. Ordering the
blubbering little fellow out of the tent and refusing to speak or listen
further, Kirby went to bed.
Oddly enough, he slept. There was nothing to worry about. When a man's
job or fortune are imperilled sleep vanishes. But after the catastrophe
what sense is there in lying awake? Depression and nervous fatigue threw
Kirby into a troubled slumber. Only once in the night was he roused.
Perhaps two hours before dawn he started up at sound of a humble
scratching at the open door flap of his tent. On the threshold cowered
"Furthermore, howadji," came the Syrian's woe-begone voice through the
gloom, "could I borrow me a book if I shall use it with much
Too drowsy to heed the absurdity of such a plea at such an hour, Kirby
grumbled a surly assent, and dozed again as he heard Najib rumbling, in
the dark, among the shelves of the packing-box bookcase in a far corner
of the tent. Here were stored nearly a hundred old volumes which had
once been a part of the missionary library belonging to Kirby's father
at Nablous. A few years earlier, at the moving of the mission, the dead
missionary's scanty library had been shipped across country to his son.
Kirby awoke at greyest daylight. Through force of habit he woke at this
hour; in spite of the workless day which he knew confronted him. It was
his custom to get up and take his bath in the rain cistern at this time,
and to finish dressing just as the men piled out for the morning's work.
Yet now the first sounds that smote his ears as he opened his eyes were
the rhythmic creak of the mine windlass and equally rhythmic, if less
tuneful, chant of the men who were working it;
_"All-ah sa-eed!--Ne-bi sa-eed! Ohe! Sa-eed! Sa-eed! Sa-EED!"_
In the distance, dying away, he heard the plodding hoofs of a string of
pack mules. From the direction of the mine came the hoodlum racket which
betokens, in Syria, the efforts of a number of honest labourers to
perform their daily tasks in an efficient and orderly way.
Kirby, in sleepy amaze, looked at his watch in the dim dawn light. He
saw it was still a full half hour before the men were due to begin work.
And by the sounds he judged that the day's labour was evidently well
under way. Yes, and to-day there was to have been no work done!
Kirby jumped out of bed and strode dazedly to his tent door. At the mine
below him his fellaheen were as busy as so many dirty and gaudy bees.
Even the lordly lazy Turkish soldiers were lending a hand at windlass
and crane. Over the nick of the pass, leading toward Jerusalem, the last
animal of a mule train was vanishing. Najib, who had as usual escorted
the departing shipment of ore to the opening in the pass, was trotting
back toward camp.
At sight of Kirby in the tent door the little superintendent veered from
his course toward the mine and increased his pace to a run as he bore
down upon the American. Najib's swart face was aglow. But his eyes were
those of a man who has neglected to sleep. His cheeks still bore flecks
of the dust he had thrown on his head when Kirby had explained the wreck
of his scheme and of his future. There, in all likelihood, the dust
smears would remain until the next rain should wash them off. But,
beyond these tokens of recent mental strife, Najib's visage shone like
a full moon that is streaked by dun dust clouds.
"Furthermore, howadji!" he hailed his chief as soon as he was within
earshot, "the shipment for Alexandretta is on its wayward--over than an
hour earlier than it was due to bestart itself. And those poor
hell-selected fellaheen are betoiling themselfs grand. Have I done well,
"Najib!" stammered Kirby, still dazed.
"And here is that most sweet book of great worthiness and wit, which I
borrowed me of you in the night, howadji," pursued Najib, taking from
the soiled folds of his abieh a large old volume, bound in stout
leather, after the manner of religious or scientific books of a
half-century ago. On the brown back a scratched gold lettering
proclaimed the gruesome title:
"Martyrs of Ancient and Modern Error."
Well did Kirby know the tome. Hundreds of times, as a child, had he sat
on the stone floor of his father's cell-like mission study at Nablous,
and had pored in shuddering fascination over its highly coloured
illustrations. The book was a compilation--chiefly in the form of
multichrome pictures with accompanying borders of text--of all the
grisly scenes of martyrdom which the publishers had been able to scrape
together from such classics as "Fox's Book of Martyrs" and the like.
Twice this past year he had surprised Najib scanning the gruesome pages
in frank delight.
"I betook the book to their campfire, howadji, and I smote upon my
breast and I bewept me and I wailed aloud and I would not make comfort.
Till at last they all awoken and they came out of their huts and they
reviled at me for disturbing them as they slept themselfs so happily.
Then I spake much to them. And all the time I teared with my eyes and
"But," put in Kirby, "I don't see what this--"
"In a presently you shall, howadji. Yesterday I begot your goat. To-day
I shall make you to frisk with peacefulness of heart. Those fellaheen
cannot read. They are not of an education, as I am. And they know my
wiseness in reading. For over than a trillion times I have told them.
And they believe. Pictures also they believe. Just as men of an
education believe the printed word; knowing full well it could not be
printed if it were not Allah's own truth. Well, these folk believe a
picture, if it be in a book. So I showed them pictures. And I read the
law which was beneath the pictures. They heard me read. And they saw the
pictures with their own eyesight. So what could they do but believe? And
they did. Behold, howadji!"
Opening the volume with respectful care, Najib thumbed the yellowing
pages. Presently he paused at a picture which represented in glaring
detail a stricken battlefield strewn with dead and dying Orientals of
vivid costume. In the middle distance a regiment of prisoners was being
slaughtered in a singularly bloodthirsty fashion. The caption, above the
_"Destruction of Sennacherib's Assyrian Hosts, by the People of
"While yet they gazed joyingly on this noble picture," remarked Najib,
"I read to them the words of the law about it. I read aloudly, thus:
'This shall be the way of punishing all folk who make strike hereafter
this date.' Then," continued Najib, "I showed to them another pretty and
splendid picture. See!"
_"Martyrdom of John Rogers, His Wife and Their Nine Children."_
"And," proclaimed Najib, "of this sweet portrait I read thus the law:
'So shall the wifes and the offsprungs of all strike-makers be put to
death; and those wicked strike-makers themselfs along with them.' By the
time I had shown them six or fifteen of such pictures and read them the
law for each of them, those miserable fellaheen and guards were
beweeping themselfs harder and louder and sadder than I had seemed to.
Why, howadji, it was with a difficultness that I kept them from running
away and enhiding themselfs in the mountains, lest the soldiers of the
pasha come upon them at once and punish them for trying to make strike!
But I said I would intercede with you to make you merciful of heart
toward them, to spare them and not to tell the law what they had so
sinsomely planned to do I said I would do this, for mine own sake as
well as for theirs, and that I knew I could wake you to pity. But I said
it would perchancely soften your heart toward them, if all should work
harder to atone themselfs for the sin they had beplotted. Wherefore,
howadji, they would consent to sleep no more; but they ran henceforthly
and at once to the mine. They have been onto the job ever since. And,
howadji, they are jobbing harder than ever I have seen men bejob
themselfs. Am I forgiven, howadji?" he finished timidly.
"Forgiven!" yelled Kirby, when he could speak. "Why, you eternal little
liar, you're a genius! My hat is off to you! This ought to be worth a
fifty-mejidie bonus. And--"
"Instead of the bonus, howadji," ventured Najib, scared at his own
audacity, yet seeking to take full advantage of this moment of
expansiveness, "could I have this pleasing book as a baksheesh gift?"
"Take it!" vouchsafed Kirby. "The thing gives me bad dreams. Take it!"
"May the houris make soft your bed in the Paradise of the Prophet!"
jabbered Najib, in a frenzy of gratitude, as he hugged the treasured
gift to his breast. "And--and, howadji, there be more pictures I did not
show. They will be of a nice convenience, if ever again it be needsome
to make a new law for the mine."
"Oh, happy and pretty decent hour!" chortled the little man, petting his
beloved volume as if it were a loved child and executing a shuffling and
improvised step-dance of unalloyed rapture. "This book has been
donationed to me because I was brave enough to request for it while yet
your heart was warm at me, howadji. It is even as your sainted feringhee
proverb says: 'Never put off till to-morrow the--the--man who may be
THE ELEPHANT REMEMBERS
By EDISON MARSHALL
From _Everybody's Magazine_
An elephant is old on the day he is born, say the natives of Burma, and
no white man is ever quite sure just what they mean. Perhaps they refer
to his pink, old-gentleman's skin and his droll, fumbling, old-man ways
and his squeaking treble voice. And maybe they mean he is born with a
wisdom such as usually belongs only to age. And it is true that if any
animal in the world has had a chance to acquire knowledge it is the
elephant, for his breed are the oldest residents of this old world.
They are so old that they don't seem to belong to the twentieth century
at all. Their long trunks, their huge shapes, all seem part of the
remote past. They are just the remnants of a breed that once was great.
Long and long ago, when the world was very young indeed, when the
mountains were new, and before the descent of the great glaciers taught
the meaning of cold, they were the rulers of the earth, but they have
been conquered in the struggle for existence. Their great cousins, the
mastodon and the mammoth, are completely gone, and their own tribe can
now be numbered by thousands.
But because they have been so long upon the earth, because they have
wealth of experience beyond all other creatures, they seem like
venerable sages in a world of children. They are like the last veterans
of an old war, who can remember scenes and faces that all others have
Far in a remote section of British India, in a strange, wild province
called Burma, Muztagh was born. And although he was born in captivity,
the property of a mahout, in his first hour he heard the far-off call
of the wild elephants in the jungle.
The Burmans, just like the other people of India, always watch the first
hour of a baby's life very closely. They know that always some incident
will occur that will point, as a weather-vane points in the wind, to the
baby's future. Often they have to call a man versed in magic to
interpret, but sometimes the prophecy is quite self-evident. No one
knows whether or not it works the same with baby elephants, but
certainly this wild, far-carrying call, not to be imitated by any living
voice, did seem a token and an omen in the life of Muztagh. And it is a
curious fact that the little baby lifted his ears at the sound and
rocked back and forth on his pillar legs.
Of all the places in the great world, only a few remain wherein a
captive elephant hears the call of his wild brethren at birth. Muztagh's
birthplace lies around the corner of the Bay of Bengal, not far from the
watershed of the Irawadi, almost north of Java. It is strange and wild
and dark beyond the power of words to tell. There are great dark
forests, unknown, slow-moving rivers, and jungles silent and dark and
Little Muztagh weighed a flat two hundred pounds at birth. But this was
not the queerest thing about him. Elephant babies, although usually
weighing not more than one hundred and eighty, often touch two hundred.
The queerest thing was a peculiarity that probably was completely
overlooked by his mother. If she saw it out of her dull eyes, she took
no notice of it. It was not definitely discovered until the mahout came
out of his hut with a lighted fagot for a first inspection.
He had been wakened by the sound of the mother's pain. "_Hai!_" he had
exclaimed to his wife. "Who has ever heard a cow bawl so loud in labour?
The little one that to-morrow you will see beneath her belly must weigh
more than you!"
This was rather a compliment to his plump wife. She was not offended at
all. Burman women love to be well-rounded. But the mahout was not
weighing the effect of his words. He was busy lighting his firebrand,
and his features seemed sharp and intent when the beams came out. Rather
he was already weighing the profits of little Muztagh. He was an
elephant-catcher by trade, in the employ of the great white Dugan Sahib,
and the cow that was at this moment bringing a son into the world was
his own property. If the baby should be of the Kumiria--
The mahout knew elephants from head to tail, and he was very well
acquainted with the three grades that compose the breed. The least
valuable of all are the Mierga--a light, small-headed, thin-skinned,
weak-trunked and unintelligent variety that are often found in the best
elephant herds. They are often born of the most noble parents, and they
are as big a problem to elephant men as razor-backs to hog-breeders.
Then there is a second variety, the Dwasala, that compose the great bulk
of the herd--a good, substantial, strong, intelligent grade of elephant.
But the Kumiria is the best of all; and when one is born in a captive
herd it is a time for rejoicing. He is the perfect elephant--heavy,
symmetrical, trustworthy and fearless--fitted for the pageantry of
He hurried out to the lines, for now he knew that the baby was born. The
mother's cries had ceased. The jungle, dark and savage beyond ever the
power of man to tame, lay just beyond. He could feel its heavy air, its
smells; its silence was an essence. And as he stood, lifting the fagot
high, he heard the wild elephants trumpeting from the hills.
He turned his head in amazement. A Burman, and particularly one who
chases the wild elephants in their jungles, is intensely superstitious,
and for an instant it seemed to him that the wild trumpeting must have
some secret meaning, it was so loud and triumphant and prolonged. It was
greatly like the far-famed elephant salute--ever one of the mysteries of
those most mysterious of animals--that the great creatures utter at
certain occasions and times.
"Are you saluting this little one?" he cried. "He is not a wild tusker
like you. He is not a wild pig of the jungle. He is born in bonds, such
as you will wear too, after the next drive!"
They trumpeted again, as if in scorn of his words. Their great strength
was given them to rule the jungle, not to haul logs and pull chains! The
man turned back to the lines and lifted higher his light.
Yes--the little elephant in the light-glow was of the Kumiria. Never had
there been a more perfect calf. The light of greed sprang again in his
eyes. And as he held the fagot nearer so that the beams played in the
elephant's eyes and on his coat, the mahout sat down and was still, lest
the gods observe his good luck, and, being jealous, turn it into evil.
The coat was not pinky dark, as is usual in baby elephants. It was
distinctly light-coloured--only a few degrees darker than white.
The man understood at once. In the elephants, as well as in all other
breeds, an albino is sometimes born. A perfectly white elephant, up to a
few years ago, had never been seen, but on rare occasions elephants are
born with light-coloured or clouded hides. Such creatures are bought at
fabulous prices by the Malay and Siamese princes, to whom a white
elephant is the greatest treasure that a king can possess.
Muztagh was a long way from being an albino, yet a tendency in that
direction had bleached his hide. And the man knew that on the morrow
Dugan Sahib would pay him a lifetime's earnings for the little wabbly
calf, whose welcome had been the wild cries of the tuskers in the
Little Muztagh (which means White Mountain in an ancient tongue) did not
enjoy his babyhood at all. He was born with the memory of jungle
kingdoms, and the life in the elephant lines almost killed him with
There was never anything to do but nurse of the strong elephant milk and
roam about in the _keddah_ or along the lines. He had been bought the
second day of his life by Dugan Sahib, and the great white heaven-born
saw to it that he underwent none of the risks that are the happy fate
of most baby elephants. His mother was not taken on the elephant drives
into the jungles, so he never got a taste of this exciting sport. Mostly
she was kept chained in the lines, and every day Langur Dass, the
low-caste hillman in Dugan's employ, grubbed grass for her in the
valleys. All night long, except the regular four hours of sleep, he
would hear her grumble and rumble and mutter discontent that her little
son shared with her.
Muztagh's second year was little better. Of course he had reached the
age where he could eat such dainties as grass and young sugar-cane, but
these things could not make up for the fun he was missing in the hills.
He would stand long hours watching their purple tops against the skies,
and his little dark eyes would glow. He would see the storms break and
flash above them, behold the rains lash down through the jungles, and he
was always filled with strange longings and desires that he was too
young to understand or to follow. He would see the white haze steam up
from the labyrinth of wet vines, and he would tingle and scratch for the
feel of its wetness on his skin. And often, when the mysterious Burman
night came down, it seemed to him that he would go mad. He would hear
the wild tuskers trumpeting in the jungles a very long way off, and all
the myriad noises of the mysterious night, and at such times even his
mother looked at him with wonder.
"Oh, little restless one," Langur Dass would say, "thou and that old cow
thy mother and I have one heart between us. We know the burning--we
understand, we three!"
It was true that Langur Dass understood more of the ways of the forest
people than any other hillman in the encampment. But his caste was low,
and he was drunken and careless and lazy beyond words, and the hunters
had mostly only scorn for him. They called him Langur after a
grey-bearded breed of monkeys along the slopes of the Himalayas, rather
suspecting he was cursed with evil spirits, for why should any sane man
have such mad ideas as to the rights of elephants? He never wanted to
join in the drives--which was a strange thing indeed for a man raised in
the hills. Perhaps he was afraid--but yet they could remember a certain
day in the bamboo thickets, when a great, wild buffalo had charged their
camp and Langur Dass acted as if fear were something he had never heard
of and knew nothing whatever about.
One day they asked him about it. "Tell us, Langur Dass," they asked,
mocking the ragged, dejected looking creature, "If thy name speaks
truth, thou art brother to many monkey-folk, and who knows the jungle
better than thou or they? None but the monkey-folk and thou canst talk
with my lord the elephant. _Hai!_ We have seen thee do it, Langur Dass.
How is it that when we go hunting, thou art afraid to come?"
Langur looked at them out of his dull eyes, and evaded their question
just as long as he could. "Have you forgotten the tales you heard on
your mothers' breasts?" he asked at last. "Elephants are of the jungle.
You are of the cooking-pots and thatch! How should such folk as ye are
This was flat heresy from their viewpoint. There is an old legend among
the elephant-catchers to the effect that at one time men were subject to
Yet mostly the elephants that these men knew were patient and contented
in their bonds. Mostly they loved their mahouts, gave their strong backs
willingly to toil, and were always glad and ready to join in the chase
after others of their breed. Only on certain nights of the year, when
the tuskers called from the jungles, and the spirit of the wild was
abroad, would their love of liberty return to them. But to all this
little Muztagh was distinctly an exception. Even though he had been born
in captivity, his desire for liberty was with him just as constantly as
his trunk or his ears.
He had no love for the mahout that rode his mother. He took little
interest in the little brown boys and girls that played before his
stall. He would stand and look over their heads into the wild, dark
heart of the jungle that no man can ever quite understand. And being
only a beast, he did not know anything about the caste and prejudices
of the men he saw, but he did know that one of them, the low-caste
Langur Dass, ragged and dirty and despised, wakened a responsive chord
in his lonely heart.
They would have long talks together, that is, Langur would talk and
Muztagh would mumble. "Little calf, little fat one," the man would say,
"can great rocks stop a tree from growing? Shall iron shackles stop a
prince from being king? Muztagh--jewel among jewels! Thy heart speaks
through those sleepless eyes of thine! Have patience--what thou knowest,
who shall take away from thee?"
But most of the mahouts and catchers noticed the rapidity with which the
little Muztagh acquired weight and strength. He outweighed, at the age
of three, any calf of his season in the encampment by a full two hundred
pounds. And of course three in an elephant is no older than three in a
human child. He was still just a baby, even if he did have the wild
tuskers' love of liberty.
"Shalt thou never lie the day long in the cool mud, little one? Never
see a storm break on the hills? Nor feel a warm rain dripping through
the branches? Or are these matters part of thee that none may steal?"
Langur Dass would ask him, contented to wait a very long time for his
answer. "I think already that thou knowest how the tiger steals away at
thy shrill note; how thickets feel that crash beneath thy hurrying
weight! A little I think thou knowest how the madness comes with the
changing seasons. How knowest thou these things? Not as I know them, who
have seen--nay, but as a king knows conquering; it's in thy blood! Is a
bundle of sugar-cane tribute enough for thee, Kumiria? Shall purple
trappings please thee? Shall some fat rajah of the plains make a beast
of burden of thee? Answer, lord of mighty memories!"
And Muztagh answered in his own way, without sound or emphasis, but
giving his love to Langur Dass, a love as large as the big elephant
heart from which it had sprung. No other man could even win his
friendship. The smell of the jungle was on Langur Dass. The mahouts and
hunters smelt more or less of civilization and were convinced for their
part that the disposition of the little light-coloured elephant was
"He is a born rogue," was their verdict, and they meant by that, a
particular kind of elephant, sometimes a young male, more often an old
and savage tusker alone in the jungle--apart from the herd. Solitariness
doesn't improve their dispositions, and they were generally expelled
from a herd for ill-temper to begin with. "Woe to the fool prince who
buys this one!" said the grey-beard catchers. "There is murder in his
But Langur Dass would only look wise when he heard these remarks. He
knew elephants. The gleam in the dark eyes of Muztagh was not
viciousness, but simply inheritance, a love of the wide wild spaces that
left no room for ordinary friendships.
But calf-love and mother-love bind other animals as well as men, and
possibly he might have perfectly fulfilled the plans Dugan had made for
him but for a mistake the sahib made in the little calf's ninth year.
He sold Muztagh's mother to an elephant-breeder from a distant province.
Little Muztagh saw her march away between two tuskers--down the long
elephant trail into the valley and the shadow.
"Watch the little one closely to-night," Dugan Sahib said to his mahout.
So when they had led him back and forth along the lines, they saw that
the ends of his ropes were pegged down tightly. They were horsehair
ropes, far beyond the strength of any normal nine-year-old elephant to
break. Then they went to the huts and to their women and left him to
shift restlessly from foot to foot, and think.
Probably he would have been satisfied with thinking, for Muztagh did not
know his strength, and thought he was securely tied. The incident that
upset the mahout's plans was simply that the wild elephants trumpeted
again from the hills.
Muztagh heard the sound, long drawn and strange from the silence of the
jungle. He grew motionless. The great ears pricked forward, the whipping
tail stood still. It was a call never to be denied. The blood was
leaping in his great veins.
He suddenly rocked forward with all his strength. The rope spun tight,
hummed, and snapped--very softly indeed. Then he padded in silence out
among the huts, and nobody who had not seen him do it would believe how
silently an elephant can move when he sees fit.
There was no thick jungle here--just soft grass, huts, approaching dark
fringe that was jungle. None of the mahouts was awake to see him. No
voice called him back. The grass gave way to bamboo thickets, the smell
of the huts to the wild, bewitching perfumes of the jungle.
Then, still in silence, because there are decencies to be observed by
animals no less than men, he walked forward with his trunk outstretched
into the primordial jungle and was born again.
Muztagh's reception was cordial from the very first. The great bulls of
the herd stood still and lifted their ears when they heard him grunting
up the hill. But he slipped among them and was forgotten at once. They
had no dealings with the princes of Malay and Siam, and his
light-coloured coat meant nothing whatever to them. If they did any
thinking about him at all, it was just to wonder why a calf with all the
evident marks of a nine-year-old should be so tall and weigh so much.
One can fancy that the great old wrinkled tusker that led the herd
peered at him now and then out of his little red eyes and wondered. A
herd-leader begins to think about future contestants for his place as
soon as he acquires the leadership. But _Hai!_ This little one would not
have his greatest strength for fifteen years.
It was a compact, medium-sized herd--vast males, mothers, old-maid
elephants, long-legged and ungainly, young males just learning their
strength and proud of it beyond words, and many calves. They ranged all
the way in size from the great leader, who stood ten feet and weighed
nearly nine thousand pounds, to little two-hundred-and-fifty-pound
babies that had been born that season. And before long the entire herd
began its cautious advance into the deeper hills.
The first night in the jungle--and Muztagh found it wonderful past all
dreams. The mist on his skin was the same cool joy he had expected.
There were sounds, too, that set his great muscles aquiver. He heard the
sound that the bamboos make--the little click-click of the stems in the
wind--the soft rustle and stir of many leafy tendrils entwining and
touching together, and the whisper of the wind over the jungle grass.
And he knew because it was his heritage, what every single one of these
The herd threaded through the dark jungle, and now they descended into a
cool river. A herd of deer--either the dark sambur or black buck--sprang
from the misty shore-line and leaped away into the bamboos. Farther
down, he could hear the grunt of buffalo.
It was simply a caress--the touch of the soft, cool water on his flanks.
Then they reared out, like great sea-gods rising from the deep, and
grunted and squealed their way up the banks into the jungle again.
But the smells were the book that he read best; he understood them even
better than the sounds of green things growing. Flowers that he could
not see hung like bells from the arching branches. Every fern and every
seeding grass had its own scent that told sweet tales. The very mud that
his four feet sank into emitted scent that told the history of
jungle-life from the world's beginnings. When dawn burst over the
eastern hills, he was weary in every muscle of his young body, but much
too happy to admit it.
This day was just the first of three thousand joyous days. The jungle,
old as the world itself, is ever new. Not even the wisest elephant, who,
after all, is king of the jungle, knows what will turn up at the next
bend in the elephant trail. It may be a native woodcutter, whose long
hair is stirred with fright. It may easily be one of the great breed of
bears, large as the American grizzly, that some naturalists believe are
to be found in the Siamese and Burman jungles. It may be a herd of wild
buffalo, always looking for a fight, or simply some absurd
armadillo-like thing, to make him shake his vast sides with mirth.
The herd was never still. They ranged from one mysterious hill to
another, to the ranges of the Himalayas and back again. There were no
rivers that they did not swim, no jungles that they did not penetrate,
no elephant trails that they did not follow, in the whole northeastern
corner of British India. And all the time Muztagh's strength grew upon
him until it became too vast a thing to measure or control.
Whether or not he kept with the herd was by now a matter of supreme
indifference to him. He no longer needed its protection. Except for the
men who came with the ropes and guns and shoutings, there was nothing in
the jungle for him to fear. He was twenty years old, and he stood nearly
eleven feet to the top of his shoulders. He would have broken any scales
in the Indian Empire that tried to weigh him.
He had had his share of adventures, yet he knew that life in reality had
just begun. The time would come when he would want to fight the great
arrogant bull for the leadership of the herd. He was tired of fighting
the young bulls of his own age. He always won, and to an elephant
constant winning is almost as dull as constant losing. He was a great
deal like a youth of twenty in any breed of any land--light-hearted,
self-confident, enjoying every minute of wakefulness between one
midnight and another. He loved the jungle smells and the jungle sounds,
and he could even tolerate the horrible laughter of the hyenas that
sometimes tore to shreds the silence of the grassy plains below.
But India is too thickly populated by human beings for a wild elephant
to escape observation entirely. Many natives had caught sight of him,
and at last the tales reached a little circle of trackers and hunters in
camp on a distant range of hills. They did not work for Dugan Sahib, for
Dugan Sahib was dead long since. They were a determined little group,
and one night they sat and talked softly over their fire. If Muztagh's
ears had been sharp enough to hear their words across the space of
hills, he wouldn't have gone to his mud-baths with such complacency the
next day. But the space between them was fifty miles of sweating jungle,
and of course he did not hear.
"You will go, Khusru," said the leader, "for there are none here half so
skilful with horsehair rope as you. If you do not come back within
twelve months we shall know you have failed."
Of course all of them knew what he meant. If a man failed in the effort
to capture a wild elephant by the hair-rope method, he very rarely lived
to tell of it.
"In that case," Ahmad Din went on, "there will be a great drive after
the monsoon of next year. Picked men will be chosen. No detail will be
overlooked. It will cost more, but it will be sure. And our purses will
be fat from the selling-price of this king of elephants with a white
There is no need to follow Khusru on his long pursuit through the
elephant trails. He was an able hunter and, after the manner of the
elephant-trackers, the scared little man followed Muztagh through jungle
and river, over hill and into dale, for countless days, and at last, as
Muztagh slept, he crept up within a half-dozen feet of him. He intended
to loop a horsehair rope about his great feet--one of the oldest and
most hazardous methods of elephant-catching. But Muztagh wakened just in
And then a curious thing happened. The native could never entirely
believe it, and it was one of his best stories to the day he died. Any
other wild tusker would have charged in furious wrath, and there would
have been a quick and certain death beneath his great knees. Muztagh
started out as if he had intended to charge. He lifted his trunk out of
the way--the elephant trunk is for a thousand uses, but fighting is not
one of them--and sprang forward. He went just two paces. Then his little
eyes caught sight of the brown figure fleeing through the bamboos. And
at once the elephant set his great feet to brake himself, and drew to a
sliding halt six feet beyond.
He did not know why. He was perfectly aware that this man was an enemy,
jealous of his most-loved liberty. He knew perfectly it was the man's
intention to put him back into his bonds. He did not feel fear,
either--because an elephant's anger is too tremendous an emotion to
leave room for any other impulse such as fear. It seemed to him that
memories came thronging from long ago, so real and insistent that he
could not think of charging.
He remembered his days in the elephant lines. These brown creatures had
been his masters then. They had cut his grass for him in the jungle, and
brought him bundles of sugar-cane. The hill people say that the elephant
memory is the greatest single marvel in the jungle, and it was that
memory that saved Khusru then. It wasn't deliberate gratitude for the
grass-cutting of long ago. It wasn't any particular emotion that he
could reach out his trunk and touch. It was simply an impulse--another
one of the thousand mysteries that envelop, like a cloud, the mental
processes of these largest of forest creatures.
These were the days when he lived apart from the herd. He did it from
choice. He liked the silence, the solitary mud-baths, the constant
watchfulness against danger.
One day a rhino charged him--without warning or reason. This is quite a
common thing for a rhino to do. They have the worst tempers in the
jungle, and they would just as soon charge a mountain if they didn't
like the look of it. Muztagh had awakened the great creature from his
sleep, and he came bearing down like a tank over "no man's land."
Muztagh met him squarely, with the full shock of his tusks, and the
battle ended promptly. Muztagh's tusk, driven by five tons of might
behind it, would have pierced a ship's side, and the rhino limped away
to let his hurt grow well and meditate revenge. Thereafter for a full
year, he looked carefully out of his bleary, drunken eyes and chose a
smaller objective before he charged.
Month after month Muztagh wended alone through the elephant trails, and
now and then rooted up great trees just to try his strength. Sometimes
he went silently, and sometimes like an avalanche. He swam alone in the
deep holes, and sometimes shut his eyes and stood on the bottom, just
keeping the end of his trunk out of the water. One day he was obliged to
kneel on the broad back of an alligator who tried to bite off his foot.
He drove the long body down into the muddy bottom, and no living
creature, except possibly the catfish that burrow in the mud, ever saw
He loved the rains that flashed through the jungles, the swift-climbing
dawns in the east, the strange, tense, breathless nights. And at
midnight he loved to trumpet to the herd on some far-away hill, and
hear, fainter than the death-cry of a beetle, its answer come back to
him. At twenty-five he had reached full maturity; and no more
magnificent specimen of the elephant could be found in all of British
India. At last he had begun to learn his strength.
Of course he had known for years his mastery over the inanimate things
of the world. He knew how easy it was to tear a tree from its roots, to
jerk a great tree-limb from its socket. He knew that under most
conditions he had nothing to fear from the great tigers, although a
fight with a tiger is a painful thing and well to avoid. But he did not
know that he had developed a craft and skill that would avail him in
battle against the greatest of his own kind. He made the discovery one
sunlit day beside the Manipur River.
He was in the mud-bath, grunting and bubbling with content. It was a
bath with just room enough for one. And seeing that he was young, and
perhaps failing to measure his size, obscured as it was in the mud, a
great "rogue" bull came out of the jungles to take the bath for himself.
He was a huge creature--wrinkled and yellow-tusked and scarred from the
wounds of a thousand fights. His little red eyes looked out malignantly,
and he grunted all the insults the elephant tongue can compass to the
youngster that lolled in the bath. He confidently expected that Muztagh
would yield at once, because as a rule young twenty-five-year-olds do
not care to mix in battle with the scarred and crafty veterans of sixty
years. But he did not know Muztagh.
The latter had been enjoying the bath to the limit, and he had no desire
whatever to give it up. Something hot and raging seemed to explode in
his brain and it was as if a red glare, such as sometimes comes in the
sunset, had fallen over all the stretch of river and jungle before his
eyes. He squealed once, reared up with one lunge out of the bath--and
charged. They met with a shock.
Of all the expressions of power in the animal world, the elephant fight
is the most terrible to see. It is as if two mountains rose up from
their roots of strata and went to war. It is terrible to hear, too. The
jungle had been still before. The river glided softly, the wind was
dead, the mid-afternoon silence was over the thickets.
The jungle people were asleep. A thunder-storm would not have broken
more quickly, or could not have created a wilder pandemonium. The jungle
seemed to shiver with the sound.
They squealed and bellowed and trumpeted and grunted and charged. Their
tusks clicked like the noise of a giant's game of billiards. The
thickets cracked and broke beneath their great feet.
It lasted only a moment. It was so easy, after all. In a very few
seconds indeed, the old rogue became aware that he had made a very
dangerous and disagreeable mistake. There were better mud-baths on the
He had not been able to land a single blow. And his wrath gave way to
startled amazement when Muztagh sent home his third. The rogue did not
wait for the fourth.
Muztagh chased him into the thickets. But he was too proud to chase a
beaten elephant for long. He halted, trumpeting, and swung back to his
But he did not enter the mud again. All at once he remembered the herd
and the fights of his calfhood. All at once he knew that his craft and
strength and power were beyond that of any elephant in all the jungle.
Who was the great, arrogant herd-leader to stand against him? What
yellow tusks were to meet his and come away unbroken?
His little eyes grew ever more red as he stood rocking back and forth,
his trunk lifted to catch the sounds and smells of the distant jungle.
Why should he abide alone, when he could be the ruler of the herd and
the jungle king? Then he grunted softly and started away down the river.
Far away, beyond the mountains and rivers and the villages of the
hillfolk, the herd of his youth roamed in joyous freedom. He would find
them and assert his mastery.