Fhe Old Corner Book
Boston, - Mass.
Author of "Night Drums,"
"Mating of the Blades," etc.
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
PUBLISHERS : NEW YORK
Copyright 1922 by
THE JAMES A. McCANN COMPANY
All Rights Reserved
PRINTED IN THE U. 3. A.
FEUD .............. 1
REPRISAL ............ 21
/THE HOME-COMING ......... 46
THE DANCE ON THE HILL . ...... 65
THE RIVER OF HATE ......... 76
THE SOUL OF A TURK ......... 97
MORITURI- ............ 114
THE JESTER ............ 125
s/ THE STRENGTH OF THE LITTLE THIN THREAD . . 146
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER ...... 153
THE LOGICAL TALE OF THE FOUR CAMELS . . . 165
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD ....... 172
>/ BLACK POPPIES ........... 199
PERFECT WAY ......... 215
TO-DAY he lives in Bokhara, in the old quarter of
the desert town that the natives call Bokhara-i-Shereef.
He has a store in a bazaar not far from the Samarkand
Gate, where he sells the gold-threaded brocades of
Khiva and the striped Bokhariot belts that the caravan-
men exchange for brick-pressed tea across the border
in Chinese Turkestan, and where, methodically filling;
his pipe with tobacco from the carved pumpkin-shell
at his elbow, he praises the greatness of Russia,
There, at noon every day, his ten-year-old son comes
to him, bringing clean and well-spiced food from the
"Look at him !" he says often, proudly pinching the
supple arms of the lad, and exhibiting him as he would
a pedigreed stallion. "Sinews and muscles and a far-
seeing eye, and no nerves none at all. Because of
which I give thanks to Allah the Wise-judging, the
Opener of the Door of Knowledge with the Key of
His Mercy. For one day my son will wear a plaited,
green coat and a tall chugerma cap of white fur, and
serve Russia. He will learn to shoot straight, very
straight, and then," he adds, with a meaning smile, if
he happens to be speaking to one of the three men
whom he trusts, "then he will desert. But he will
return, perhaps," rapidly snapping his fingers to ward
off misfortunes, "he will return to his regiment, and
he will not be very much punished."
2 ALIEN SOULS
A true Russian man he calls himself, and his name,
too, has a Russian purring and deep ringing to it
"Pavel Alikhanski." Also there is talk in the town
that he is in the pay of that great Bokharan magnate,
the kuskbegi, friend of the Russians, bringing tales to
them about his Highness the Ameer, and receiving
milled gold for the telling.
But ten years ago, when I called him friend, his
name was not Alikhanski. Then he called himself
Wazir Ali-Khan Sulaymani, that last name giving clue
to his nation and race; for "Sulaymani" means "de
scendant of King Solomon," and it is known in half
the world that the Afghans claim this resplendent He
brew potentate as their breed s remote sire.
In those days he lived in a certain gray and tur
bulent city not far from the northeastern foot-hills of
the Himalayas, where three great countries link elbows
and swap lies and intrigues and occasional murders,
and where the Afghan mist falls down like a purple-
gray veil. In those days Russia was not on his lips,
and he called himself an Herati, an Afghan from
Herat, city-bred and city-courteous, but with a strain
of maternal blood that linked him to the mountains
and the sharp, red feuds of the mountains. But city-
bred he was, and as such he lisped Persian, sipped
coffee flavored with musk, and gave soft answer to
He did not keep shop then, and none knew his busi
ness, though we all tried to find out, chiefly I, serving
the Ameer of Afghanistan in that far city, and re
tailing the gossip of the inner bazaars from the border
to the rose gardens of Kabul, where the governor sits
in state and holds durbar.
But money he had, also breeding, also a certain win-
some gentleness of spirit and speech, a soft moving of
high-veined hands, well-kept, and finger-nails darkened
with henna in an effeminate manner.
He spent many a day in the Khwadja Hills, called
poetically Hill A 12, 5, K-K6/, and so forth, in the
Russian and British survey-maps. There he would
shoot bighorns and an occasional northern tiger that
had drifted down to the wake of the Mongolian snows.
This was strange, for an Afghan does not kill for the
sake of killing, the sake of sport. He kills only for
the sake of food or feud.
Nor could he explain even to himself why three or
four times every month he left his comfortable town
house and went into the hills, up and down, follow
ing the call of the wilderness ; through the gut of the
deep-cleft Nadakshi Pass ; up beyond the table-lands,
pleasant with apricot- and mulberry-trees ; still farther
up to the smoke-dimmed height of the Salt Hills,
where he stained his soft, city-bred hands with the
dirt of the tent-peg and the oily soot of his rifle.
Once I asked him, and he laughed gently.
"My mother came from the hills," he replied, "and
it is perhaps her blood screaming in my veins which
makes me take to the hills, to kill bighorn and snow-
tiger instead of killing brother Afghans."
"You do not believe in feuds?" I was astonished,
for I was young in those days.
Again he laughed.
"I do," he said; "an eye for an eye, and a tooth
for a tooth. A true saying, and a wise one. But
what worth is there to me in killing my enemy if my
enemy s son will kill me in the course of time? An
unfinished feud is a useless thing. For, tell me, can
even the fleetest horse escape its own tail? Can the
4 ALIEN SOULS
naked tear their clothes? Can a dead horse eat
So month after month he went into the hills, and
he came back, his soul filled with the sights he had
seen, his spirit peopled with the tales and the memories
of the hills. Often I spent the evening with him, and
he would digest his experiences in the acrid fumes of
his bamboo pipe. He smoked opium in those days.
Then one day he came back from the hills a married
She was a hillwoman of the Moustaffa-Khel tribe,
and her name was Bibi Halima. She was a distant
cousin of his on his mother s side.
Tall, hook-nosed, white-skinned, with gray-black,
flashing eyes and the build of a lean she-panther, not
unbeautiful, and fit mother for a strong man s sons,
I saw her often. For these hillwomen despise the
customs of the sheltered towns; they will not cover
their bodies with the swathing farandjts, nor their
faces with the cliasband, the horsehair veil of the city
Ali-Khan loved her. He loved her with that love
which comes to fortunate men once in a lifetime once
and not oftener. His spoken love was as his hands,
soft and smooth and courtly and slightly scented. He
would fill those hands with gifts for her adornment,
and he would write poems to her in the Persian
And she ? Did she love him ?
Assuredly, though she was silent. The women of
Afghanistan do not speak of love unless they are
courtezans. They bear children, sons, if Allah wills,
and what else is there for woman in the eyes of
woman or of man? Also, since love is sacrifice, can
there be greater proof of love than the pain of giving
No, Bibi Halima did not weave words of love, cun
ning and soft. Perhaps she thought her husband s
spoken love-words in keeping with his henna-stained
finger-nails, an effeminacy of the city, smacking of
soft Persia and softer Stamboul, the famed town of
She did not speak of love, but the time was near
when she was about to give answer, lusty, screaming
answer. She expected a child.
"May Allah grant it be a man-child," she said to
her husband and to her mother, a strong-boned, hook
nosed old hag of a hill woman who had come down
into the city to soothe her daughter s pains with her
knowledge "a man-child, broad-bodied and without a
"Aye, by God, the Holder of the Scale of Law ! A
man-child, a twirler of strength, a breaker of stones,
a proud stepper in the councils of fighting men!"
chimed in the old woman, using a tribal saying of the
Ali-Khan, as was his wont, snapped his fingers rap
idly to ward off the winds of misfortune. He bent
over Bibi Halima s hands, and kissed them very gently,
for you must remember that he was a soft man, city-
bred, very like a Persian.
"Let it be a man-child," he said in his turn, and his
voice was as deep and holy as the voice of the muezzin
calling the faithful to prayer. "Allah, give me a son,
a little son, to complete my house, to give meaning and
strength to my life; and to yours, blood of my soul!"
he added, again kissing Bibi Halima s hands. "And
you, beloved," he continued haltingly, for a great fear
6 ALIEN SOULS
was in his heart "but you, pearl tree of delight you
must live to "
"Silence, babble-mouth !" the old mother interrupted
with a shriek. "Do not speak aloud with naked heart
and tongue! You will bring ill luck on your house!
Of course she will live. She is my daughter, blood
of my blood and bone of my bone. She is of the
hills." She laughed. "Seven sons have I borne to
my lord, and still I live." And she pushed Ali-Khan
toward the door, mumbling bitter words about foolish
men of Persian manners sporting with the jinn of mis
fortune. "Go now !"
"I go," Ali-Khan said submissively; and he returned,
half an hour later, bearing many gifts, silk and brace
lets and sweetmeats and perfume from Ispahan.
But Bibi Halima waved them aside with a short,
impatient gesture. No, no, no, she did not want these
man-made things. She wanted him to go to the hills
to bring back to her the flowers of the hills, purple
rhododendrons, soft-colored mimosas, and wild hibis
cus smelling strongly of summer.
"Go to the hills, O pilgrim," added the old woman
as she saw his anxious face. "We women need no
man around in the hour of trial. Ho!" she spat out
her betel through blackened, stumpy teeth, "let women
do women s business. Men in the house are as useless
as barren spinsters, fit only to break the household
pots. Go to the hills, my lord, and bring back the
flowers of the hills. On your return, with the help
of Allah, there will be a little son strengthening the
And so he went to the hills, his rifle in his arm.
Up to the high hills he went to pick flowers for his
beloved, a song on his lips.
"O Peacock, cry again," I heard his voice as he
passed my house.
Early the next morning Ebrahim Asif came to town.
He also was of the Moustaffa-Khel, and a first cousin
to Bibi Halima, and upon the blue-misted Salt Hills
he was known as a brawler and a swashbuckler. A
year before he had spoken to her of love, and had been
refused. She had married Ali-Khan instead a few
Now he came to her house, and the old mother
stood in the doorway.
"Go away !" she shrilled ; for being an Afghan her
self, she did not trust the Afghan, her sister s son.
Ebrahim Asif laughed.
"I have come to see my cousin and Ali-Khan. See,
I have come bringing gifts."
But still the old woman was suspicious.
"Trust a snake before an Afghan," she replied.
"Ali-Khan is away to the hills. Go, filthy spawn of
"Spawn of your sister s blood, you mean," he re
plied banteringly; and the old woman laughed, for
this was a jest after her own heart. "Let me in !" he
continued. "Once your daughter blinded my soul with
a glance of her eye. Once the fringe of her eyelids
took me into captivity without ransom. But time and
distance have set me free from the shackles of my
love. It is forgotten. Let me bring these gifts to
So the old woman let him into the zenana, where
the windows were darkened to shut out the strong
Northern sun. Bibi Halima gave him pleasant greet
ing from where she lay on the couch in the corner
of the room.
8 ALIEN SOULS
"Live forever, most excellent cousin !" he said, bow
ing with clasped hands. "Live in the shadow of hap
piness!" He took a step nearer. "I have brought
you presents, dispenser of delights."
Bibi Halima laughed, knowing of old Ebrahim
Asif s facility for turning cunning words. She spoke
to her mother.
"Open the blinds, Mother, and let me see what my
cousin has brought from the hills."
The old woman drew up the blinds, and Bibi Halima
"See, see, Mother!" she exclaimed, "see the gifts
[which my cousin has brought me !"
"Aye, Daughter," the old woman replied, "gifts to
adorn the house." And then she added, with the pride
of age greedy for grandchildren, "but there will be a
gift yet more fit to adorn this house when you lay a
man-child into your lord s arms."
Then the terrible rage of the Afghans rose sud
denly in Ebrahim Asif s throat. He had come in
peace, bearing gifts ; but when he heard that the woman
;whom once he had loved would give birth to a child,
the other man s child, he drew his cheray.
A slashing, downward thrust, and he was out of the
house and off to the hills again.
The blow had struck Bibi Halima s temple with full
force. She was half dead, but she forced back her
ebbing strength because she wanted to hold a man-
child in her arms before she died.
"Stop your crying!" She turned to her mother,
who had fallen into a moaning heap at the foot of the
couch. "Allah el-Mumit God the Dispenser of Jus
tice will not let me die before I have laid a son into
my lord s arms. Call a doctor of the English."
So the old woman came to my door, giving word
to me of what had occurred. I hurried to the Street
of the Mutton Butchers, where the English hakim
lived, and together we went to the house of Bibi
He examined her, dressed her wound, and said :
"A child will be born, but the mother will assuredly
The old woman broke into a storm of tears, but
Bibi Halima silenced her with a gesture.
"It is as God wills," she said, and the doctor mar
veled at her vitality. "Let but the child be born first,
and let that child be a man-child. The rest matters
not. And you" she turned to me "and you, my
friend, go to the hills and fetch me my lord."
I bowed assent, and went to the door.
"Wait!" Her voice was firm despite her loss of
blood. "If on the way you should meet Ebrahim Asif,
you must not kill him. Let him be safe against my
husband s claiming."
"I shall not touch him," I promised, though the
sword at my side was whinnying in its scabbard like
a Balkh stallion in the riot of young spring.
All that day and the following night, making no
halt, I traveled, crossing the Nadakshi Pass at the lift
ing of dawn, and smelling the clean snow of the
higher range the following noon. Here and there,
from mountaineers and the Afghan Ameer s rowdy
soldiers, I asked if aught had been seen of the two
men, both being well known in the land.
Yes, I asked for both men ; for while I was hurry
ing to my friend with the message which was about
my heart like a heel-rope of grief, it was also in my
soul to keep track of Ebrahim Asif. Kill him I could
io ALIEN SOULS
not, because of the promise I had given to Bibi
Halima; but perhaps I could reach Ali-Khan before
the other had a chance to make the rock-perched vil
lages of the Moustaffa-Khel, and thus comparative
It was late in the afternoon, with the lights of the
camp-fires already twinkling in the gut of the Nadak-
shi, when I heard the noise of tent-peg speaking to
hammer-nose, and the squealing of pack-ponies, free
of their burdens, rolling in the snow. It was a cara
van of Bokhara tadjiks going south to Kabul with
wool and salt and embroidered silks, and perhaps a
golden bribe for the governor.
They had halted for a day and a night to rest the
sore feet of their animals, and the head-man gave
me ready answer.
"Yes, pilgrim," he said ; "two men passed here this
day, both going in the same direction," and he pointed
it out to me. "I did not know them, being myself a
stranger in these parts; but the first was a courteous
man who was singing as he walked. He gave us
pleasant greeting, speaking in Persian, and dipped
hands in our morning meal. Two hours later, travel
ing on the trail of the first man, another man passed
the kafilah, a hillman, with the manners of the hills,
and the red lust of killing in his eyes, nosing the
ground like a jackal. We did not speak to him, for
we do not hold with hillmen and hill-feuds. We be
peaceful men, trading into Kabul."
It was clear to me that the hillman intended to
forestall just fate by killing Ali-Khan before the lat
ter had heard of what had befallen Bibi Halima. So
I thanked the tadjik, and redoubled my speed; and
late that evening I saw Ebrahim Asif around the bend
of a stone spur in the higher Salt Range, walking
carefully, using the shelter of each granite boulder,
like a man afraid of breech-bolt snicking from am
bush. For a mile I followed him, and he did not see
me or hear me. He knew that his enemy was in front,
and he did not look behind. Again the sword was
whinnying at my side. For Ali-Khan was friend to
me, and we of Afghanistan are loyal in living, loyal
also in taking life.
But there was my promise to Bibi Halima to keep
Ebrahim Asif safe against her husband s claiming.
And I kept him safe, quite safe, by Allah, the holder
of the balance of right. For using a short cut which
I knew, having once had a blood-feud in those very
hills, I appeared suddenly in front of Ebrahim Asif,
covering him with my rifle.
He did not show fight, for no hillman will battle
against impossible odds. Doubtless he thought me a
robber ; and so, obeying my command, he dropped his
rifle and his cheray, and he suffered me to bind his
hands behind his back with my waistband.
But when I spoke to him, when I pronounced the
name of Ali-Khan and Bibi Halima, he turned as
yellow as a dead man s bones. His knees shook. The
fear of death came into his eyes, and also a great
cunning; for these Moustaffa-Khel are gray wolves
"Walk ahead of me, son of Shaitan and of a she-
jackal," I said, gently rubbing his heart with the muz
zle of my rifle. "Together you and I shall visit Ali-
Khan. Walk ahead of me, son of a swine-fed bazaar-
12 ALIEN SOULS
He looked at me mockingly.
"Bitter words," he said casually, "and they, too, will
be washed out in blood."
"A dead jackal does not bite," I said, and laughed ;
"or do you think that perhaps Ali-Khan will show you
mercy? Yes, yes," I added, still laughing, "he is a
soft man, with the manners of a Persian. Assuredly
he will show you mercy."
"Yes," he replied, "perhaps he will show me mercy."
Again the cunning look shone in his eyes, and a second
later he broke into riotous, high-shrilling laughter.
"Why the laughter?" I asked, astonished.
"Because you shall behold the impossible."
"When the impossible happens, it is seen," he an
swered, using the Sufi saying; "for eyes and ears
prove the existence of that which cannot exist: a
stone swims in the water; an ape sings a Kabuli love-
"Go on !" I interrupted him impatiently, rubbing his
side with my rifle.
So we walked along, and every few seconds he
would break into mad laughter, and the look of cun
ning would shine in his gray eyes. Suddenly he was
quiet. Only he breathed noisily through his nostrils,
and he rolled his head from side to side like a man
who has taken too much blmng. And that also was
strange, for, with his hands tied behind his back, he
could not reach for his opium-box, and I could not
make it out at all.
A few minutes later we came in sight of Ali-Khan.
He was sitting on a stone ledge near a bend of the
road, flowers about him, carefully wrapped in moist,
yellow moss so that they would keep fresh for the
longing of his beloved, and singing his old song, "O
Peacock, cry again "
Then he saw us, and broke off. Astonishment was
in his eyes, and he turned a little pale.
"Ebrahim Asif," he stammered, "what is the mean
ing of this?" And then to me, who was still cover
ing the hillman with my rifle: "Take away your
weapon from Ebrahim! He is blood-cousin to Bibi
Halima, distant cousin to me."
"Ho !" Ebrahim s shout cut in as sharp as the point
of an Ulwar saber. "Ho ! ho ! ho !" he shouted again
and again. Once more the mad, high-shrilling laugh
ter, and then suddenly he broke into droning chant.
I shivered a little, and so did Ali-Khan. We were
both speechless. For it was the epic, impromptu
chanting which bubbles to the lips of the Afghan hill-
men in moments of too great emotion, the chanting
which precedes madness, which in itself is madness
the madness of the she-wolf, heavy with young, which
has licked blood.
"Listen to the song of Ebrahim Asif, the Sulay-
mani, the Moustaffa-Khel," he droned, dancing in
front of us with mincing steps, doubly grotesque be
cause his hands were tied behind his back; "listen to
the song of Ebrahim Asif, son of Abu Salih Musa,
grandson of Abdullah el-Jayli, great-grandson of the
Imam Hasan Abu Talib, great-great-grandson of Abd
al-Muttalib al-Mahz! I have taken my rifle and my
clteray, arid I have gone into the plains to kill. I de
scended into the plains like a whirlwind of destruction,
leaving behind me desolation and grief. Blood is on
my hands, blood of feud justly taken, and therefore
I praise Allah, Opener of the Locks of Hearts with
His Name, and "
i4 ALIEN SOULS
The words died in his throat, and he threw himself
on the ground, mouthing the dirt like a jackal hunting
for a buried corpse.
For a moment I stood aghast. Was the man really
But no; I remembered the cunning look which had
crept into his eyes when he had said that perhaps
Ali-Khan would show him mercy. He was playing
at being mad. There was no other way of saving his
life, for in the hills madmen are considered especially
beloved by Allah, and thus sacrosanct.
"Blood has reddened the palms of my hands," came
the droning chant as Ebrahim Asif jumped up again
from the ground and began again his whirling dance.
"What has happened?" Ali-Khan whispered in my
ear. "Has there been killing? Where? When?"
Instead of replying, I pressed my rifle into his
"Shoot him!" I cried.
He looked at me, utterly amazed.
"Why should I shoot him?"
Again the droning chant of Ebrahim rose, swelling
and decreasing in turns, dying away in a thin, quavery
tremolo, then bursting forth thick and palpable.
"I give thanks to Allah the Just, the Withdrawer
of the Veils of Hidden Things, the Raiser of the
Flag of Beneficence! For He guided my footsteps!
He led me into the plains. And there I took toll, red
toll!" There came a shriek of mad laughter, then
very softly he chanted : "Once a nightingale warbled
in the villages of the Moustaffa-Khel, and now she is
dead. The death-gongs are ringing in the city of the
"Shoot him," I shouted again to Ali-Khan, "or, by
Allah, I myself will shoot him." And I picked up
But he put his hand across its muzzle.
"Why, why?" he asked. "He is blood-cousin to
Bibi Halima. Also does it seem that reason has de
parted his mind. He is a madman, a man beloved by
Allah. Shall I thus burden my soul with a double sin
because of your bidding? Why should I shoot him?"
he asked again.
And then, before I found speech, the answer came,
stark, crimson, in the hillman s mad chant :
"Bibi Halima was her name, and she mated with
a rat of the cities, a rat of an Herati speaking Persian.
Now she is dead. I drew my cheray, and I struck.
The blade is red with the blood of my loved one; the
death-gongs are ringing "
Then Ali-Khan understood.
"Allah!" he shouted. And the long, lean Afghan
knife leaped to his hand like a sentient being. "Al
lah!" he said again, and a deep rattle was in his
The grief in the man s eyes was horrible to see. I
put my hand on his arm.
"She is not dead," I said.
"Is that the truth?" he asked; then, pitifully, as I
did not reply, "we have spoken together with naked
hearts before this. Tell me, is the tale true ?"
"The child will be born," I said, quoting the Eng
lish doctor s words, "but Bibi Halima will assuredly
And then and at the time it seemed to me that
the great sorrow had snatched at the reins of his rea
son Ali-Khan sheathed his knife, with a little dry
metallic click of finality.
16 ALIEN SOULS
"It is even as Allah wills," he said, and he bowed
his head. "Even as Allah wills/ he repeated. He
turned toward the east, spread out his long, narrow
hands, and continued with a low voice, speaking to
himself, alone in the presence of God, as it were:
"Against the blackness of the night, when it over-
taketh me, I betake me for refuge to Allah, the lord
There came a long silence, the hillman again roll
ing on the ground, mouthing the dirt after the manner
Finally I spoke :
"Kill him, my friend. Let us finish this business,
so that we may return to the city."
"Kill him?" he asked, and there was in his voice
that which resembled laughter. "Kill a madman, a
man beloved by Allah- the Just?" He walked over
to Ebrahim Asif, touching him gently with the point
of his shoe. "Kill a madman?" he repeated, and he
smiled sweetly at the prostrate hillman, as a mother
smiles at a prattling babe.
"The man is not mad," I interrupted roughly; "he
is playing at being mad."
"No! no!" Ali-Khan said with an even voice as
passionless as fate. "Assuredly the man is mad mad
by the Forty-seven True Saints ! For who but a mad
man would kill a woman? And so you, being my
friend, will take this madman to the villages of the
Moustaffa-Khel. See him safely home. For it is not
good that harm should come to those whom Allah
loves. Tell the head-man of the village, tell the priest,
tell the elders, tell everybody, that there is no feud.
Tell them that Ebrahim Asif can live out his life in
peace. Also his sons, and the sons which the future
will bring him. Safe they are in God s keeping be
cause of their father s madness !"
I drew him to one side, and whispered to him :
"What is the meaning of this? What what "
He interrupted me with a gesture, speaking close
to my ear:
"Do as I bid you for the sake of our friendship;
for it is said that the mind of a friend is the well of
trust, and the stope of confidence sinks therein and is
no more seen." He was silent for a moment, then
he continued in yet lower voice: "Hold him safe
against my claiming? Assuredly him and his sons
and " then suddenly, "O Allah, send me a man-
And he strode down the hill into the purple dusk,
while I, turning over his last words in my mind, said
to myself that he was a soft man indeed; but that
there is also the softness of forged steel, which bends
to the strength of the sword-arm, and which kills on
So, obeying my friend s command, I went to the
villages of the Moustaffa-Khel. I delivered Ebrahim
Asif safe into the hands of the jirgahs, giving them
the message with which Ali-Khan had intrusted
There was a little laughter, a little cutting banter
hard to bear, and some talk of cowards, of city-bred
Heratis turning the other cheek after the manner of
the feringhees, of blind men wanting nothing but their
eyes; but I kept my tongue safe between my teeth.
For I remembered the softness of steel ; I remembered
Ali-Khan s love for Bibi Halima; and thirdly I re
membered that there is no love as deep as hate.
Four days later I knocked at the door of Ali-Khan s
i8 ALIEN SOULS
house, and there was the moaning of women, and the
ringing of the death-gong.
Ali-Khan was alone in his room, smoking opium.
"A son has been born me, praise Allah!" was his
"Praise Allah and the Prophet and the Prophet s
family, and peace and many blessings on them all!"
I laid my left hand against his, palm to palm, and
kissed him on both cheeks.
There was no need to ask after Bibi Halima, for
still from the inner rooms came the moaning of women
and the ringing of the death-gong. But another ques
tion was in my heart, and he must have read it. For
he turned to me, smiling gently, and said :
"Heart speaks naked to heart, and the head an
swers for both. And I am an Herati and a soft man."
There was peace in his eyes, at which I wondered,
and he continued :
"Once I spoke to you of feud. I said that an un
finished feud is a useless thing, as useless as horns
on a cat or flowers of air. For, if I kill my enemy,
my enemy s son, knowing my name and race, will kill
me, and thus through the many generations. A life
for a life, and yet again a life for a life. And where,
then, is the balancing of lives? Where, then, is the
profit to me and mine? So I have made peace be
tween Ebrahim Asif and myself, cunningly, declaring
him a madman, beloved by Allah, thus sacrosanct.
And I shall sell my house here, and take my little son
and go north to Bokhara. I shall sit under the shadow
of Russia, and I shall prosper exceedingly ; for I know
Central Asia and the intrigues of Central Asia, and I
shall sell my knowledge to the Russians. I shall be
not without honor."
"Do you, then, love the bear of the North that you
are willing to serve him?"
"Love is of the mind and not of the heart," he
flung out a bare palm, "unless it be the love of
woman. And Bibi Halima is dead."
"Then why serve Russia?" For be it remembered
that in those days I served the Ameer of Afghanistan,
and that there was talk in the bazaars of a railway
being built from Bokhara to Merv, within striking
distance of Herat.
Again he smiled.
"Because I said that love is of the mind. What
does me weal, that I love and serve. What does me
harm, that I hate and fight. See? Years from now,
if it be so written, my son, thanks to the honor which
shall be mine under the shadow of Russia, will be a
soldier of Russia in the north, in Bokhara. He will
be trained after the manner of the North, and he will
shoot as straight as a hawk s flight. He will be the
pride of the regiment, and he will wear the little silver
medal on a green ribbon which is given to the best
marksman in the army. And one day the young sol
dier, bearing a Russian name, even as will his father,
will desert from his regiment for a week or a month,
and the tale will be spread that he has gone north to
Moscow because of his young blood s desire to see
new sights and kiss strange women. But he will not
have gone north at all. No, by the teeth of God and
mine own honor! He will have gone south, to these
very hills, and there will be no desire in his heart but
the desire to kill. He will kill Ebrahim Asif and his
sons may he have as many as there are hairs in my
beard ! and also the women, at night, when they go
to the brook to fetch water for the evening meal. He
20 ALIEN SOULS
will kill from ambush, wasting no shots, being a sol
dier trained to war. Ahi! the carrion of the clan of
Ebrahim Asif will feed the kites of the Salt Hills,
and for many a day to come the jackals of the Nadak-
shi will not feel the belly-pinch of hunger. And the
family of Ebrahim Asif shall be no more, and thus will
the feud be stanched, if God be willing. And then
my son will return to the north, to Bokhara. And
tracking him will be like tracking the mists of dawn
to their home. For what is one soldier more or less
in the great land of Russia, where there are thou
sands and thousands and thousands of them? Also,
will not the Government s protection be his, since I,
his father, too, will be serving Russia not without
He left the room and returned, a moment later,
holding in his arms a little bundle of silk and linen.
"Look," he said, baring carefully the head of the
new-born infant. "See the eagle profile, the hooded
brow, the creamy skin, the black, curly hair! An
Afghan of Afghans! And see, he opens his right
eye, has he not the eye of the killer?"
The child twisted and gave a little cry. Ali-Khan
took a long, lean knife from the wall, offering its hilt
to his son. The tiny hand gripped it, while the blade,
point down, shone in the rays of the afternoon sun.
HE had kept his oath, Hadji Rahmet used to say,
for wrong or for right. He would give to the latter
word the emphasis of a slightly lowered voice. For,
clear beyond the depths of even subconscious sophistry,
he knew that he had done right; and the hills knew
it and perhaps Dost AH, the Red Chief.
The happening itself ? What did it matter? Noth
ing mattered except the right and wrong of it. Be
sides, the last word was not yet said; perhaps never
would be. It was bigger than his life; bigger than
Dost Ali s life; bigger than the hills themselves.
"The hills!" he would repeat in a voice tinged and
mellowed by distance, as it were. They seemed to
play a personal part in the telling; neither in the back
ground nor in the foreground, but hovering enigmat
ical, fabulous in a way, naive. It had an o t dd effect
his speaking of them, here, in the tainted, brooding
heat of India; as if, by speaking of them, he was being
carried out of a perplexing present into the austere
simplicity of the Himalayas; as if, by leaving them, he
had lost some of his own crushing simplicity. Yet,
leaving them, he had not been actuated by that com
plicated emotion called Fear in spite of Dost Ali s
threats, in spite of the leaky tongues of the Kabul
The man did not understand fear. He had gone
into the plains to find spiritual release from the
memory of the thing. So he had visited the many
22 ALIEN SOULS
shrines, true to the worship. Assiduously he had re
peated the ninety-nine excellent attributes of Allah, and
all his thought had been of forgetting, and of devotion
to Him. He had wandered from the Khyber snows to
the sour, sluggish swamps of Ceylon. He had talked
with ascetics of many faiths in that land of many
faiths. He had done bodily penance, gradually sub
duing his physical Self. But his memory had re
mained : an inky scrawl across his mind.
"For memory," said the hadji, "is of the soul, and
not of the dirt-clouted body. . . ."
Also there were the tongues the tongues which can
crush though they have no bones, the tongues of
Afghan traders who drift through the passes into
Hind. They would babble of the thing, back yonder
in the glitter of the hills. . . .
It started with the day on which Hadji Rahmet
crossed the Red Chief s path for the first time. Per
haps even though that is a question for ethnologists
to decide it had started many centuries earlier, when
one of the hadji s ancestors traveled from Persia
through Seistan into Kabul, there to trade with smooth
silk and flowered Kisbah cloth, to plant the damask
roses of Ispahan, to give a soft philosophical twist to
the harsh lessons of the Koran, and to break his heart
here in the stony north; while the Red Chief s
ancestor, driven out of Tatary by squat, flat-nosed
warriors who recognized no God, who fought on horse
back, and who tore like mastiffs at lumps of raw flesh
and quaffed down curdled milk poured from human
skulls, crossed into Afghanistan from the north. There
he sat himself on a sugarloaf -shaped hill, built a rough
castle, and put his descendants, straight down to Dost
AH, on a pedestal to represent the power and arrogance
of a race that will never grow old, that will never
emerge from the sunlight of brazen freedom into the
thrall and gloom of civilization.
Symbolic? In a way.
And that Hadji Rahmet should come into the Red
Chief s life was also symbolic ^and necessary: like the
shadow in a light, to emphasize its harsh brightness.
Take the Red Chief up there in his stronghold, the
Mahattah Ghurab, the Raven s Station, as the hill folk
Above him the jagged, bitter rocks of the higher
mountains where scrub oak met pine and where pine
to use the chief s words met the naked heart of Allah.
Still higher up the hard-baked, shimmering snows of
the Salt Range, hooded and grim like the gigantic eye
brow of some heathen Pukhtu god, a god mourning
the clank and riot of the days before the Arabs pushed
into Central Asia and whipped the land into the faith
of Islam alone there with his pride and his clan; clear
away from the twitter and cackle of the city marts,
from the turrets and bell-shaped domes of Kabul, from
the strangling lash of the Ameer s decrees; sloughing
his will and his passion as snakes cast their skin ; brook
ing no master but himself and the black mountain
At his feet a cuplike valley devoured by sunshine;
farther up the slopes the lean mountain pasture, smooth
and polished with the faint snow haze, and slashing
through, straight as a blade, the caravan road which
leads to Kabul ; the caravan road which, centuries ago,
had echoed to the footsteps of Alexander s legions
the caravan road which is as old as strife and older
34 ALIEN SOULS
Dost AH was a short, wide-shouldered man, with
gray, ironic eyes, high cheek bones, his beard dyed red
with henna juice. Like his ancestors, he had always
greatly distinguished himself that s just how he would
have considered it by the cheerful and methodical
ferocity of his fighting. He was a man who paid his
enemies with the crackle of steel and slaughtered cattle
and the red flames licking over hut and byre; a man
who had scarred the valley for a week s journey with
torch and cord, and whose greatest trust greater than
the fierce desert Prophet by whose name he gave oath
was the Khyber sword, curved like the croup of a
"I judge by the word of the hand and not by the
word of the mouth," he put it in his own epic manner;
and so he sat there on his mountain top and watched
his breed increase, though they were daughters all but
one. For his youngest child was a boy, Akbar Khan,
seven years old, short and broad, with a tinge of red
in his thick, curly hair and Dost Ali loved him.
"Thou art a flower in the turban of my soul," he
would say, picking up the lad and pressing him to his
massive, fur-clad breast, "and my heart is a tasseled
floorcloth for thy feet. Ho, thou, my hero!" And
then father and son would run through the gray old
rooms of the castle, playing like children, frightening
the women over their cook pots, screaming and yelling
Dost Ali was easily moved to laughter laughter
cold as the hill winds and he laughed loud and long
when early one day, with the valley still waist-high in
the clammy morning mist, he saw Hadji Rahmet
wander down the slopes, driving a herd of sheep with
a crooked staff, and followed by his little son.
He had heard about the hadji a few days earlier.
The blind mullah who ministered to the scant spirit
ual wants of the Raven s Station had brought word of
the stranger: the Kabuli merchant who, after his wife s
death, had bidden farewell to the mosques and bazaars
of the city and had come to live in the hills "to for
get," as he had told the sneering mullah, "to live mated
to the clean simplicity of the hills, to bring up my little
son away from the noisy toil of the market places,
away from the smoke and strife of the city streets,
here in the hills where there is nobody but God."
"God and the Red Chief !" the mullah had croaked
through his broken, blackened teeth ; and then the hadji
had spoken of the faith that was his.
He had spoken of Allah, the God of Peace.
"A new Allah by Allah !" the mullah had laughed
as he repeated it to the Red Chief.
Suddenly his laughter had keyed up to a high, senile
scream. For he was a man of stout orthodoxy, to
whom a freethinking Sufi was worse than Christian
or Jew. "A new Allah ! A soft Allah ! A sickly Allah
wrapped in sweating cotton ! An Allah who prates of
forgiveness and other leprous innovations. And he
that foul, swine-fed Kabuli said that he wanted his
blood to bear witness to his faith! And I" again
mirth gurgled through the mullah s fury "I told him
that all the faith in the world will not mend his bones
when we stone him as we should for a blasphemer
and a heretic !"
"God s curse on him !" Dost AH had chimed in and
here he saw the man in the flesh, walking along easily
enough for all his city-soft feet, his lean body swing
ing with the long, tireless pull of a mountain pony,
chanting as he walked :
26 ALIEN SOULS
"Peace upon Thee, Apostle of Allah, and the Mercy
and the Blessings! Peace upon Thee, O Seal of the
Prophets!" his voice rose and sank in turn, dying
away in a thin, quavering tremolo, again bursting forth
in palpable fervor, massive, unashamed, sublimely un-
self -conscious amid the silence of the snows.
"By the Three, the Seven, the Forty-seven True
Saints ! By the horns of the Angel Israfil ! Teach me
to see after ignorance !"
The faith in his heart bubbled to his lips a lonely
prayer, but a prayer which was to him a trumpet call
of God s eternal laws, a rally clear around the world,
a force in his heart to grip the everlasting meannesses
of life and strife and smash them against the unchang
ing portals of peace.
"Peace !" He bit on the word. His lips savored it
as a precious thing, then blew it free to lash the cool
hill air with the sound of it. A light like a clear flame
came into his eyes, illumining his face.
It was not altogether that of an ascetic, in spite of
the downward furrows graven deep by long hours of
meditation. For the nose beaked out bold and aquiline,
with flaring, nervous nostrils, speaking of courage
unconscious, racial courage scotched, it is true, by
his Persian ancestry, by breeding and training and de
liberate modes of thought, but always there, dark-
smoldering, ready to leap.
Even Dost AH read the signs, though he had never
had cause to learn the kind of mental stenography
known as character reading and psycology, preferring
to judge men by the work of their hands and the venom
of their tongues. But he had known fighters fighters
of many races and this
"Peace, O Opener of the Locks of Grief!" droned
the hadji s chant, with a trembling, throaty note of
He had left the hard grist of worldly ambition be
hind him in Kabul, in the stench of bazaar and mart,
in the burnished dome of the Chutter Mahal, the Au
dience Hall, where once he had sat at the right hand
of the governor, giving of his stored wisdom to help
rule the turbulent Afghan nation. Wealth and honor
and fame he had flung behind him, like a limp, worn-
out turban cloth, to bring peace to this land of strife,
from village to village.
Peace! With the thought he forgot the grim,
jagged rocks frowning above his head. He forgot the
bastioned castle which blotched the snow blur of the
slopes. He forgot the lank, rime-ringed pines which
silhouetted against the sky like sentinels of ill omen.
He even forgot the waddling sheep which gave him his
They turned and stared at him out of their flat,
stupid eyes, helpless without the point of the staff to
marshal their feeding.
"Peace!" came the word again a strange word
here, and to Dost AH it seemed an affront an affront
to the sweep of the hills, an affront to his own free
breed, to the Raven s Station which had always gar
nered strife and fed on strife. Yes, an affront, and
the Red Chief stepped square into the hadji s path and
shot forth his hatred and contempt in a few sharp-
ringing words : "Ho ! Abuser of the Salt !"
The deadly insult slashed clear through the other s
voice and thoughts. He looked up. Automatically
for there had been years of hot blood before the
message of peace had come to him his hand leaped to
his side, fingering for the blade.
28 ALIEN SOULS
Dost AH smiled at the gesture. Thank Allah, he
thought, this babbling heretic was a man after all. He
would not eat dirt. He would fight.
"Good !" he breathed the word, and his own sword
flashed free. But the next moment the hadji s hand
dropped dropped like a wilted, useless thing ; and the
Red Chief smiled again a different smile, slow, cruel
and again he spoke.
He chose his words carefully, each a killing insult,
and he spoke in an even, passionless voice to let their
venom trickle deep. Moreover, such is the Afghan
code with its strange niceties of honor and prejudice,
that unless he who is insulted respond immediately with
the point of the dagger, the consciousness of moral
rectitude rests with him who insults ; and so Dost AH
was shocked, morally as well as ethically, when the
hadji stood there and smiled; in spite of the fact that
he had called him a beggar, a cut-off one, the son of a,
burnt father, a foreigner, and a Yahudi ; though he had
wished that his hands be withered and his fingers pal
sied ; though he had compared him to the basest kinky-
haired one that ever hammered tent peg, and to one
cold of countenance ; though he had assured him "ay
wall ahi!" the Red Chief reen forced the statement, "by
the teeth of God and mine own honor !" that his head
was as full of unclean thoughts as a Kabuli s coat is
of lice, and that he himself, though an impatient man,
would rather hunt for pimples on the back of a cock
roach than for manliness and decency in the heart of
such a one "as thou, O son of a hornless and espe
cially illegitimate cow !"
And still the hadji was silent, passive, his sword
hand twisting the wooden beads of his rosary, only the
slow red which mantled his cheeks telling that he had
Dost AH looked at him, open-eyed, puzzled. It was
beyond his comprehension. If the other had thrown
himself at his feet, imploring protection and mercy, or
if he had run away, he would have understood. He
would even have understood a sort of caustic placidity
a silent, minatory contempt which would presently
leap into flame.
But why this man stood his ground. He stood
his ground without righting, with no answering flow
of abuse, and only a throaty "Peace ! Peace !" uttered
automatically, like the response in a litany, followed by
an admonition to the mountaineer not to be impatient
"indeed thou seest through the whirling mists of
passion, brother!" and finally a few stammering,
ragged words drawn across his helplessness when the
Red Chief burst into another flood of invective.
Dost Ali was a simple man. He could not sift the
hadji s heart. He did not see the waves of passion
which were lapping beneath the other s smiling coun
tenance and soft words. He did not understand how
the hadji, slowly, painfully, had purged his heart of
lust and hatred how even now, with the terrible in
sults ringing in his consciousness, he was forcing his
faith in God and Peace to buffet a road straight
through the black wrath which was consuming him;
how he was struggling with himself, finally doffing his
worldly pride like a dirty garment.
A coward ? Only in so far as he did not want real
ities to brush him too close. And here reality was
bulking big reality as expressed in the Red Chief s
squat mightiness, in his screaming abuse, the half-
30 ALIEN SOULS
drawn sword flickering like a cresset of all the evil
passions which he loathed and which he had set out to
"Peace, brother!" he said again. His voice was
steady; and then, even in Dost Ali s slow-grinding
mind, rose the conviction that this man this man who
suffered the most deadly insults without fight or flight
was not a coward. And his hatred grew apace. For
he did not understand.
A man who fought yes ! Also, a man who feared
and fled. He had met both sorts, had handled both
sorts. But here was a man who neither feared nor
fled. It was a new experience to the mountaineer s
naive brutality a new experience to crush which he
would have to devise new means. What means ? He
wondered. He jerked back his head as a racing
stallion slugs above the bit.
He stood there, squat, wide-shouldered, his red beard
flopping in the wind like a bat wing, looking with
puckered, puzzled eyes toward the east where the
farther fog banks were melting and rolling into noth
ingness and where a scarlet flush was shooting up in
fantastic spikes as if the east could give answer.
Should he kill outright?
A sob of steel, a gurgle, blood caking on the ground
he knew the tale of it, oft repeated and the fire of
his hatred would be out; the heat thereof would be
But to what profit ?
Where was the satisfaction in killing a man who
did not resist, who did not answer steel with the song
of steel, flash for flash, and strength for strength? It
would leave the mystery still unsolved, the riddle un
read, the grape impressed. The fact that the hadji had
once lived and, living, had been as he had been, would
remain like dregs; as salt as pain. Also, Dost Ali
was a superstitious man. He could imagine the hadji s
ghost, after the death of the body, squatting on a
mountain top like a lean, red-necked vulture, looking
down at the Raven s Station with flat, gray, indifferent
eyes perhaps smiling, perhaps still croaking about
Should he rob him? And what was there to rob?
A muslin shirt, a rough khilat, a sheepskin coat, a pair
of grass sandals not enough to satisfy the greed of
the meanest dancing girl from the south.
"Ho ! man of great feet and small head !" he began
again, then was silent. For the other had dropped on
"May the Lamp of Peace clear my path from hearth
stone to byre," he was praying, oblivious of man-made
passion and man-made words; and the Red Chief
trembled with rage. What by the blood of God!
what was the use of a talker when there were no listen
ers ; when nobody heard except the lank pines and the
cursed, blinking, waddling sheep, and ahi! the
hadji s little son?
There he stood, looking on with wondering eyes,
munching a wheaten cake with the solemn satisfaction
of childhood; strong, good-looking with his father s
hawklike profile and deep-set eyes.
The hadji was still droning his prayer of peace, and
the Red Chief laughed. The answer? The answer to
the riddle of his hatred? He had it. It lay in the
strength of his arms, the clouting strength of his will.
It was the hills way his own- way.
He would pour the black brewage of fear down this
stranger s throat till it choked him and he squealed for
32 ALIEN SOULS
mercy. He would drive him into the shadow of his
love and cause him to whimper like a beaten dog like
a dog well beaten with thorn sticks.
This babbler of meekness had no fear of the Red
Chief, no fear of the hills, but "Pray !" laughed Dost
AH, "pray to me, a man of strife, O thou fool of peace!
Fray, or thou shalt moan like the Bird of the Tamarisk
which moaneth like the childless mother !" And with
a quick gesture of his great hands he picked up the
hadji s little son by the waist shawl.
He held him high the child was rigid with fear
he walked over to the edge of the precipice where, deep
down, the lower mountains lay coiled and massive,
offering their immense stillness to the fiery face of the
sun. Still farther down the cataract of the Kabul River
fluffed like some waxen, blatant tropical flower.
"Father !" screamed the child.
The hadji turned and at the moment of seeing he
seemed to be struck blind. The second before, straight
through the fervor of his prayers, he had vaguely real
ized the world about him the peaks and the sunlight
and the cold glitter of the snows.
Now, suddenly, a nothing black.
All that was bright and light and good seemed to
have leaped back. There was nothing just a scream
in the dark: "Father!" and the chief s harsh bellow
as he swung the lad by the twisted waist shawl around
his head, with that savage, hairy strength of his.
A moment later vision returned to the hadji s eyes.
He saw everything. Absurdly, incongruously, the first
thing he saw, the first impressions which his eyes
graved on his brain, were the details, the petty, con
temptible details of inanimate nature : the eastern sky,
serenely cloudless, running from milky white into gold-
flecked crimson with a purple-nicked edge near the
horizon s rim; farther south the sun rays racing in a
river of fire and melting into the snows with a sort of
rainbow-colored foam. He saw it. He understood it.
Often, in after years, he would speak of it. He
would say that his first glimpse of his son, helpless in
the mountaineer s grip, at the verge of death, had
seemed but another detail ; a strange detail ; a sudden,
evil jest which he could not grasp.
He used to say that even after he had begun to com
prehend the reality of it his immediate thoughts had
not been of his son s life, but of the waist shawl. He
had remembered when he had bought it : in Kabul, in
the Bazaar of the Silk Weavers. His son had liked
the pattern and the bright blending of colors. So he
had bought it, and
Words had come to him. "Don t! Don t!" just
those words : weak, meaningless, foolish. But he spoke
them solemnly, as if he had found a powerful formula,
and then his little son gave a frantic, straining kick.
He jerked. His head shot down and his feet up,
shifting the weight of the sturdy young body. The
waist shawl snapped. Quite distinctly, for the fraction
of a second, the hadji saw the broken silk strands. He
saw their feathered ends ripping through the pattern,
brushing up, then down in the wind which sucked from
the precipice and his son s body fell away from the
Red Chief s grip.
It turned a somersault. It plunged into space. Came
a dull thud, from far down. Silence.
Dost AH stood motionless. By the Prophet, he had
not willed this this thing. He had only meant to
sport after the manner of the hills ; and he had taken a
child s life like a snake or a Hindu.
34 ALIEN SOULS
He must atone, somehow, according to the code of
But how? Blood money? Of course. But a life
was a life, and a son was a son and there was his
own little son running and playing through the gray
rooms of the Raven s Station.
The hadji had fallen on the ground, his hands
stretched out, clutching the short-stemmed, tufted
grass, his body jerking and twitching.
"Hadji!" said the Red Chief. "Hadji!" and, as
the other did not reply, did not hear, "by Allah, I did
not will this !"
He was silent. His lips twisted oddly, and had the
hadji looked up he would have seen a tear in the moun
taineer s beady, puckered eyes a tear which, strangely,
seemed to lift what was abominable into something not
altogether unworthy; to overshadow, somehow, the
drab, cruel, sinister fact of the broken body down there
by the cataract of the Kabul River.
"Hadji!" the mountaineer called again. Then, as
the other did not look up, did not reply, hardly seemed
to breathe, he walked away, shrugging his broad
shoulders. What was done was done, he thought, and
he would pay blood money as the Koran demands it.
Also, he would give the hadji a wife from among his
own people, and there would yet be another little boy,
with hawklike profile and deep-set eyes, to prate about
And he took the road to the Raven s Station, where
he gave a sound beating to the blind mullah who, ac
cording to the Red Chief s simple logic, had been the
cause of the whole trouble while the hadji was knit
ting his riven soul to hold the pain in his heart.
"Yes" the hadji would say years later as he was
wandering through the sun-stained plains of India,
from shrine to carved shrine, searching for release
from the memory of the thing "yes, the Red Chief
had prophesied right. Indeed I crept into the shadow
of my fallen love, and I whimpered like a dog that has
been beaten with thorn sticks!" And, with a flat, tor
tured laugh, he would add that God seemed to have an
swered his prayer for peace "/ had askerf for Peace,
don t you see, and He sent me the final peace the
peace of death, the peace of a hawk s claw and a snake s
fang and a hill-bred s heart"
An hour later, at the edge of the cataract, he found
his son. Instinctively he folded his feet under his
haunches, squatting by the side of the broken body,
and his heart s remembrance followed the little crushed
life followed it, followed it back through the narrow
span of years, back to the day when the old Yusufzai
nurse had come from the couch of his wife and had
laid a tiny bundle into his arms "a son, my lord, may
life be wide to him!"
He remembered the first cry of that tiny, white,
warm bundle. It had been like the morning cry of a
He remembered his son s last cry strangled, frantic
"Father! Father!" drowned in the Red Chief s
harsh bellow. He would never forget it.
And the hadji sat there until the sun died in a sickly
haze of coppery brown decayed, it seemed to him,
like the sun on the Day of Judgment and the moon
came up, stabbed on the outer horns of the world, dis
passionate, calm, indifferent to the heart of man.
36 ALIEN SOULS
He sat there silent and stony, while some friendly
hillmen carried his son s body away, decently wrapped
in a white fringed death shroud, a kindly old woman s
blue turquoise beads forced between the rigid little
ringers so that the hand of AH, which had not protected
his body during life, might protect his fluttering soul
He sat there till the wind came driving the dusk to
ward the East; till the sky flushed with the green of
the tropics, like a curved slab of thick, opaque jade;
till the afternoon sun glared hot and golden ; till once
more the mists of evening rose and coiled. The mists
of the hills the mists in his soul ! They echoed this
day to the scream and toll of the death gongs, and from
his heart there beat up a sob which all his faith could
He sat the next night through and watched the hiv
ing stars swarm and swirl past the horizon. He
watched them die one by one. He watched the young
sun shoot up, racing along the rim of the world in a
sea of fire, with shafts of purple light that put out the
paling moon. He watched a long streamer of north
bound birds, wild parrots tumbled out of their south
ern home by the moist sweep of the Punjab monsoon ;
they flopped about the lank pines, screeching dismally,
their motley finery of feather bedraggled with the snow
chill of the Himalayas.
A scout bird detached itself, flew down, then up,
flanking the packed crowd of its comrades in long,
graceful evolutions, finally leading them toward the
Raven s Station, which etched the sky line, peaked and
hooded, jeering like a face, extending its somber,
scarred walls like a grim jest hewn out of stone, evilly
infinite, like the very stronghold of the night and the
hills, like a sooty smudge on the crimson and
gold blaze of day and Hadji Rahmet s thoughts
whirred on the parrot s wings: up to the Raven s
Up there was the patter of little hard feet tapping
the stone flags ; a curly head, tinged with red ; a sturdy
little nut-brown body: Akbar Khan, the Red Chief s
son, blood of his blood and bone of his bone.
Up there was childish laughter, as the old women
whispered Persian fairy tales of the flea who tried
to lighten the camel s load, of Oguun, the god of little
babes, whose fingers and toes are made of sugar cane
and whose heart is a monstrous ball of pink sweetmeat
that was baked in far China.
A child s laughter!
The thought tore the hadji s heart, ragged, paining,
like a dull knife.
"O Lord !" the prayer came automatic and meaning
less, "pardon and pity and pass over what Thou
knowest, for Thou art the most dear and the most
generous " He was silent. He bent his head as if
listening. At his feet the cataract gurgled away to the
darkness of the deep-cleft passes lap-lap-lap mock
"And then," the hadji would say afterward, "the
dagger of grief pricked the bubble of my faith." And
a great turmoil surged in his heart, beyond control,
beyond prayer even; running into something molten,
finally emerging into the solid fact of his hatred, his
desire for revenge.
It seemed to bring up from his heart and brain un
expected, rather forgotten qualities, as a storm-whipped
wave brings up mud and gravel from the ground bed
of the shore.
38 ALIEN SOULS
That night Hadji Rahmet turned thief. He stole
a tiny trotting bullock belonging to Ram Chander Dass,
the Hindu who picked up a scant living by lending
badly chipped silver rupees to the hillmen and, as the
mullah said, by praying every night for the swag-
bellied and bestial god of the Hindus, which same god
is the guardian angel of Compound Interest.
He stole the bullock. For he had decided to kill
the Red Chief s son, and he knew that, while sharp
eyes would detect a stranger wandering up the slopes
to the Raven s Station, none would bother about a
bullock in a land where bullocks mean money and
food and clothes nor would sharp eyes, looking from
above, see a man clinging to the bullock s shaggy belly,
his hands buried in the thick pelt of the wabbly hump.
His long, lean body tortured into a grotesque angle
and now and then bumping against the sharp stones
of the rock path, the hadji hung on precariously while
the bullock lashed out right and left, lowering its head,
snorting, bellowing, stamping, whisking its tufted tail,
dancing about as if stung by a bramra beetle in its
efforts to shake off the strange burden that clung to its
nether side ; at last settling into a resigned, bovine trot
and reaching the horses paddock which stretched be
yond the Red Chief s sheep corral just after daybreak.
Already, down in the valley, the night mists were
twisting into baroque spirals, tearing into gauzelike
arabesques that burned like the plumage of a gigantic
peacock in every mysterious blend of green and purple
Once in the paddock, the hadji dropped to the ground
while the bullock trotted away to join its mates that
were dipping their ungainly noses into a stone bin half
buried beneath the crimson, feathery foliage of a squat
manna bush. There was nobody about the inner court
yards this time of early day. The watchmen were pac
ing above, on the crenelated, winglike battlements that
flushed out sharp and challenging under the rays of the
young sun, farther on, where the sun had not yet pene
trated, melting into the great pine woods that poured
down the steep slopes and running together into a single
sheet of purplish black, stippled white here and there
with a sudden glisten of snow.
The hadji stood still and listened. There was no
sound except the occasional click-clank-click of a metal
scabbard tip dragged along the stones of the battle
ments or the creaking of a grounded rifle butt.
The watchmen were looking across the valley. It
was there that, a week earlier, the Red Chief had lifted
the slate-blue, mottled Kabuli stallion belonging to
Jehan Tugluk Khan, the great naib of the Uzbek Khel ;
it was thence that the Uzbek Lances might pour toward
the Raven s Station to take toll. The sentinels had seen
the bullock dance up the paddock, stamping and lash
ing and roaring. But what harm was there in a bullock,
mad with spring fever?
Hadji Rahmet looked about him. To the left, sep
arated from the paddock by a stone wall, was a garden,
transplanted painfully tree for tree and shrub for shrub
from the Persian lowlands, and challenging the eternal
snows in an incongruous, stunted, scraggly maze of
crotons and mangoes, teak and Mellingtonia, poin-
settias and begonia creepers all frozen, homesick, out
of place. The Red Chief had slaughtered a hundred
head of cattle and sold their hides to pay for the exotic
plants on the day when his little son had first repeated
after him the words of the Pukhtunwali, the ancient
Afghan code of honor and conduct : "As to him who
40 ALIEN SOULS
does me harm, may I be permitted a full measure of
revenge. May I cause his hands to drop away, and
his feet. May his life pass into the dark like a sheet
of foam. . . ."
Beyond the garden, a little higher up, stretched the
gray stone stables of the blooded horses. The hadji
could hear the strangely human cry of a mare heavy
with foal, a stallion s answering whinny.
He crossed the paddock toward the castle itself. It
towered in massive outlines over a hundred feet high,
built of rough granite and shiny quartz blocks set in
concrete, swinging out in a great semicircle, its flanks
resting upon the naked rock of the hills. Directly in
front of him he saw a door, doubtless stolen genera
tions ago during a raid into India. For it was made of
a single, solid, age-darkened, adz-hewn teak slab, with
dowels that fitted into a fretted ivory frame. No Af
ghan hand clumsy except with martingale and tem
pered steel had carved this door. No Afghan hand
had fashioned the bossed, jewel-crusted silver plaque
set in the center. But it was Afghan carelessness which
had let the door warp, which had caused the delicate
bayonet lock to crack away from the wood, leaving
room for a narrow, nervous hand to slip inside and
finger the bolt.
The hadji sucked in his breath. His fingers moved
noiselessly. Another short jerk and the bolt would
slide from its groove
He stood quite still, his heart beating like a hammer.
Faint, from the other side of the door, came a rustle
of silken garments, the noise of bare feet pattering
away. The zenana, the women s quarter, doubtless, he
thought ; and there would be an old nurse about, with
sharp ears and shrill, lusty tongue.
He shut his teeth with a little dry click. His heart
felt swollen, as if he had washed it in brackish water,
and he asked God it seemed a personal issue between
him and God if he should be cheated of his revenge
because an old woman, thin of sleep, was rummaging
about the zenana in search of charcoal and hubble-
bubble and Latakia tobacco spiced with rose water and
grains of musk.
And, steadily, as he waited, his finger immobile on
the bolt of the door, undecided what to do, the sun was
rising, striking the jagged cliffs with dusted gold,
tumbling broken-rayed into the courtyard and drink
ing the newly thawed snow. Already the east was
flushing with pink and orange as the mists drifted
through the valley, shearing a glittering crimson slice
from the morning sun. Already, looking nervously
over his shoulder, he saw down the path one of the Red
Chief s peasants carrying a rough, iron-tipped milking
yoke across his shoulders. Still he stood, undecided,
ears and eyes tense.
The thousand noises of the waking day were about
him. Somewhere a tiny koel bird was gurgling and
twittering. A little furry bat cheeped dismally. A pea
cock-blue butterfly flopped quick quick as the shadow
of a leaf through summer dusk. A mousing owl rus
tled in the byre thatch.
The stallions whinnied. There was a metallic buzz
ing of flies around a gnarled siris tree.
Then, through the drowsy canticle of waking day,
straight through the cheeping and rustling and whinny
ing and buzzing, the hadji heard another sound a cry
faint, then louder, decreasing, then stabbing out
sharp and distinct : "Father !"
A human cry, calling for human help; rising to an
42 ALIEN SOULS
intolerable note of appeal, half choked, accompanied
by a rattling and crackling of steel, a crunching and
stamping and snorting curious, flat, dragging noise
and for a moment the hadji s heart was as still as freez
ing water. "Father !" came the cry again, and again :
"Fa " cut off in mid-air. Like his son s last
cry, the cry of a dead soul trying to span the gulf of
consciousness to the living heart!
Then once more the snorting and stamping, the steely
jar, coming from the stables of the blooded horses.
The hadji gulped his fear and looked.
Beyond the stunted garden he saw a little curly, red-
tinged bullethead peep above the wall, a small brown
leg stretching up, the heel, helpless, foolish, trying to
find hold on the smooth stone coping. Once more the
cry, agonized the little head jerking, the little heel
slipping a soft thud . . . and the hadji, the hair
on his neck bristling as though Death had whispered
in his ear, ran across courtyard and garden. He
cleared the stone wall at a jump.
Inside, at the open door of the stables, he saw the
Red Chief s son, a small, huddled bundle, the neck
strangely twisted, the hands grasped clawlike about
the left front fetlock of a slate-blue, mottled stallion.
It was clear to the hadji what had happened.
The boy had sneaked out, very early, to take a look
at the Kabuli stallion which his father had lifted from
Jehan Tugluk Khan. He had tried to undo the steel
chain by which the horse was fastened. The animal
had become frightened, had reared and plunged and
kicked ; the boy had become entangled in the steel halter,
had tried to jerk himself free; the stallion had become
more frightened than ever.
"Patience, little Moslem. Patience, little brother!"
said the hadji. He approached the stallion sidewise,
hand held high and open to show that he carried neither
bit nor martingale, soothing with soft voice, then with
cunning palm, rubbing the high, peaked withers, the
soft, quivering muzzle, the tufted ears, leaning for
ward and blowing warm into the dilated nostrils, finally
loosing the steel halter chain.
The headstall dropped. The stallion jumped back,
and the little boy fell on the ground, flopping gro
tesquely and something reached out and touched the
hadji s soul, leaving the chill of an undescribable un
He bent to pick the boy up. The little body lay still,
He looked. He saw a blue mark across the lad s
windpipe where the steel chain had pressed and he
thought that his own son was dead, and that dead was
the Red Chief s son. He thought that the hand of man
had killed the former, the hand of God the latter, thus
evening the score.
But was the score even?
For a full minute he considered.
His mind resisted from the spontaneous passivity
bred by long-continued meditations on Peace. But his
hand surrendered to the brain s subconscious, driving 1
will. His hand acted.
He drew the dagger from the waist shawl. He cut
across the blue mark which the steel chain had graved
on the boy s windpipe, obliterating it with torn flesh
and a rush of blood. He left the dagger sticking in
the wound. His name was cut in the ebony hilt. The
Red Chief would find, and read, and yes ! thus the
score would be even!
The hadji never knew how he reached safety. He
54 ALIEN SOULS
had a vague memory of a sentinel challenging him, of
a bullet whistling above his head, of how he went down
the path scudding on his belly like a jackal to the reek
of carrion. He remembered how, as he reached the
valley, the western tower of the Raven s Station seemed
like a spire away on the world s rim: a spire of hope
and lost hope. He remembered the sudden gusts of
snow coming down like hissing spears, with the moon
reeling above him through the clouds like a great,
blinding ball of light and with a lonely southern peak
pointing at the mute stars like a gigantic icicle, frozen,
He remembered vaguely how he traveled day and
night, day and night, and it was only gradually, slowly,
as his mind jerked free from fleshly thrall and buffeted
its road back through the mists of passion to God s
Peace, that there came to him knowledge of why he
was fleeing from that thing in the glitter of the hills as
from a thing accursed.
It was not fear of the Red Chief. Nor was it re
morse that he had mutilated the dead body. For the
hadji was an Afghan, and there was no worth nor
dignity to him in a lifeless thing.
What weighed on his soul, like a sodden blanket, was
the doubt of what he would have done had he found
the Red Chief s son alive.
He had gone to the Raven s Station to kill. But
would he have killed? Would he have broken God s
covenant of Peace and, killing, would he have done
right or wrong?
The doubt was on his soul like a stinging brand ; and
so the hadji took stick and wooden bowl and lived on
alms and went through the scorched Indian plains,
from shrine to shrine, seeking release from doubt,
release from memory.
He did bodily penance, gradually subduing his phys
ical Self. He submitted to the ordeal of fire, walking
barefoot through the white-hot charcoal, uncovering
his shaven head to the burning fire bath. And he felt
not the pain of the body. Only his soul trembled to the
whip of doubt.
Then he met a Holy Man from Gujrat who told him
that to clear his vision and fatten the glebe of under-
stanfling he must do penance with his head hanging
downward. True, the other was a Hindu infidel whose
gods were a monkey and a flower. But he himself was
a Sufi, an esoteric Moslem, taking the best of all creeds
and despising none, and he did as the fakir told him.
He swung with his head to the ground and shut his
eyes. When he opened them again he saw all upside
down, and the sight was marvelous beyond words. THe
blue hills had lost their struggling height and were a
deep, swallowing, mysterious void. Against them the
sky stoojd out, bold, sharp, intense, immeasurably dis
tant; and the fringe of clouds at the base of the sky
seemed a lake of molten amber with billows of tossing
He gazed. He gazed himself into stupefaction. But
his memory remained: an inky scrawl across his soul.
"For memory," said the hadji, "is not of the body,
but of the soul!"
YAR KHAN was off to his own country in the Month
of Pilgrimages. He broke the long journey at Bok
hara, to buy a horse for the trip South, to exchange
his Egyptian money for a rupee draft on a Hindu
banker in Afghanistan, and to buy sweets and silks
for the many cousins in his native village.
He had left there sixteen years before, a child of
seven, when his father, a poor man, but eager for
gain, and sensing no chance for barter and profit in
the crumbling basalt ridges of the foot-hills, had gone
West to Cairo. There he and his father the mother
had died in giving him birth had lived all these years ;
all these years he had spent in that city of smoky
purple and dull orange, but never had he been of
Cairo. The tang of the home land had not left him;
always his heart had called back to the sweep and
snow of the hills, and he had fed his love with gossa
mer memories and with the brave tales which his
father, Ali Khan, told him when the homesickness was
in his nostrils and when the bazaar gold of Cairo
seemed gray and useless dross.
Of gold there had come plenty. Ali Khan had pros
pered, and in his tight little shop in the Gamalyieh, the
Quarter of the Camel-Drivers, he had held his own
with the Red Sea traders who meet there, and cheat
and fight and give one another the full-flavored abuse
of near-by Asia.
THE HOME-COMING 47
Yar Khan had lived the haphazard life of Eastern
childhood, with no lessons but those of the crowded,
crooked streets and an occasional word of prosy Ko
ranic wisdom from some graybeard among his father s
customers. When he had reached his fifteenth year,
manhood had come sudden and a little cruel as it
comes to Asians. On that day, his father had taken
him into the shop, and, with a great gesture of his lean
arms, had pointed at the dusty confusion of his stock-
in-trade; at the mattings full of yellow Persian to
bacco, the pipe bowls of red clay, the palm-leaf bags
containing coffee and coarse brown sugar, the flat green
boxes filled with arsenic and rhubarb and antimony
and tafl and sal-ammoniac.
"He of great head becomes a chief, and he of great
feet a shepherd," Ali Khan had said, ridiculing Fate
after the manner of the hill-bred. "Thou art blood of
my blood. From this day on, thou wilt be a trader,
and thou wilt prosper. Gold will come to thy hands
unasked, like a courtezan."
Ali Khan had been right. Together, father and son
had prospered. They had heaped gold on clinking
gold, and of gold, too, had been the father s endless
talk, praising the cold metal at yawning length, dwell
ing, as it were, on the outer husk of things ; and when
Yar Khan s softer mind rebelled at the hard philos
ophy Ali Khan would laugh and say: "Thou art
right, little son. Gold is the breath of a thief. Gold
is a djinn. Gold is an infidel sect. But "with a
shrewd wink "give gold to a mangy dog and the
people will call him Sir Dog. For gold is strength !"
It was only in the evenings, when they had put up
the heavy wooden shutters of their shop and were re
turning to their tiny whitewashed living-house in the
48 ALIEN SOULS
Suk-en-Nahassim, that often something like a veil of
discontent would fall over the older man s shrill greed.
"Gold buys this and that and this," he would say,
in a hushed voice, pointing at some rich Pasha s silent,
extravagant house, with its projecting cornices, its
bulbous balconies of fretted woodwork supported by
gigantic corbels and brackets, and the dim oil lamp
glimmering above the carved gate "gold buys this
and no more !" and when a woman of the Egyptians
a woman swathed from head to foot, with only the
eyes showing crossed his path, he would cry, "They
do not wear veils, at home, in the hills."
Then, quite suddenly, he would break into harsh
laughter and add, "But veils cost gold, Yar Khan, and
we sell veils . . . thou and I in the Gamalyieh!"
Yar Khan understood that his father was homesick.
But when he begged him to return to the hills Ali
Khan would reply with the proverb which says that
the cock leaves home for four days only and returns
a peacock. He would add, with a crooked smile : "Of
what use the peacock s green tail on the dung-hills ? Of
what use the gold of Egypt on the barren rocks?"
and then again the talk would be of seasons and of
the gold which comes with the shifting seasons swing.
But Yar Khan would not understand why his father
did not return to the hills, why he preferred to live in
Cairo between the dusty shop and the tiny white
washed living-house up and down, up and down, like
a buffalo putting his shaggy back to the water-wheel
heavy and slow and blind. He only knew that his
father was eating out his heart with longing for the
chill, dark pines; and his own homesickness though
his memories were vague would be upon his shoulder
like a stinging brand.
THE HOME-COMING 49
Now his father was dead. There was no lack of
gold; and once more the thought of home had come
to Yar Khan like a sudden inrush of light after a
long, leaden, unlifting day. He was off to his own
country in the Month of Pilgrimages.
The old priest whom he met at Bokhara mumbling
his prayers and clicking his rosary beads in front of
the little pink mosque of Bala-i-Hava told him that
there was a certain significance to the date told him,
too, after the thin, pretentious manner of Moslem hier
archy, that he did not know if the omen be bad or
good "For," he added, "there is no power nor
strength save in Allah the Most High!" and Yar
Khan, who had lost most of his respect for holy men
in the blue, slippery mud of the Nile, snapped his
fingers with gentle derision, threw the whining gray-
beard a handful of chipped copper coins, and turned
to the bazaars to buy presents for his cousins.
He bought and bought embroidered silks from
Khiva and from far Moscow, pink and green sweet
meats from across the Chinese border, and Persian
silver filigree for the young girls. He paid royally,
without bargaining; for to-day he was master buy
ing, not selling and the smooth touch of the gold
pieces as he took them from his twisted waistband and
clinked them down on the counter was pleasant. It
was like prophecy : of conquest and, in a way, of free
dom. He swung the furry goat-skin bag which held
his purchases over his supple shoulders and turned
toward the open market-place to buy a horse.
Rapidly he passed through the bunched crowds
crowds of all Asia solemn, impassive-looking Bok-
harans, gently ambling along on gayly caparisoned
mules; straight-backed gipsies, swaggering with the
50 ALIEN SOULS
beggars arrogance of their race; melancholy Turko
mans in immense fur-caps and plaited duffle coats;
Greeks, cunning-faced and sleek and odiously hand
some; green-turbaned, wide-stepping shareefs, the
aristocracy of Islam ; anxious-eyed, tawdry Armenians ;
Sarts bristling with weapons and impudence ; here and
there a bearded official of the Ameer s household, with
his air of steely assurance, superb self-satisfaction
hooded under his sharply curved eyelids and once in
a while a woman, in white from head to foot, a restful
relief to the blaze of colors all around.
Yar Khan looked, but he felt no desire to linger.
For him there was no fragrance in the blossom-bur
dened gardens, no music in the song of the koil bird,
no beckoning in the life of the streets motley and
shrill and busy with shaggy Northern dromedaries
dragging along their loads and looming against the
sky-line like a gigantic scrawl of Asian handwriting,
with the hundreds of tiny donkeys tripping daintily
under their burdens of charcoal and fiery-colored vege
tables, with numbers of two-wheeled arbas creaking
in their heavy joints with all the utter, riotous mean
ing of trade and barter and gold. He bought a horse,
a dun stallion with high, peaked withers, and rode out
of the Southern Gate without turning around. Down
the long south trail he rode toward the little steel-
gray village perched on a flat, circular mountain top
which is called The Hoof of the Wild Goat in the
He pulled into Balkh, white as a leper with the
dust of the road, traded his stallion for a lean racing
camel, which had a profusion of blue ribbons plaited
into the bridle as protection against the djinns and
ghouls of the desert a superstition of his native land
THE HOME-COMING 51
at which he smiled, quite without malice filled his
saddle-bags with slabs of grayish wheaten bread and
with little hard, golden apricots, and was off again,
crossing the Great River at the shock of dawn. He
watched it for a long time; for, springing up in the
Hindu Kush, storming through the granite gorges of
the lower ranges, it was to him a messenger of the
home he had dreamt of and longed for these many
years. So he watched the impetuous, green-blue flood
bearing down to the soft Persian lowlands with a
shout and a roar, dashing against the bank as though
trying to sweep it away bodily, then swirling by in
two foaming streams on either side. And from the
cool waters there rose a flavor of that utter, sharp
freedom which was to him the breath, the reason,
the soul of the hills as he remembered them.
Yar Khan gave a deep, throaty laugh of sheer joy.
"Home and the salt of the home winds !" he thought,
and he thought the words in the Afghan tongue, the
harsh tongue of his childhood which he had nearly
forgotten in the gliding, purring gutturals of the Cairo
streets. Impatience overtook him.
"Home, lean daughter of unthinkable begetting!"
he shouted at the snarling camel; he tickled its soft
muzzle with the point of his dagger, urging it on to
greater speed ; and on the fifteenth day out of Bokhara,
the thirtieth out of Cairo, he found himself in the
valley below The Hoof of the Wild Goat.
He opened wide his lungs and filled them with the
snow-sharp air, as though to cleanse himself from the
shackling abominations of that far Egypt where he
had lived the years of his youth. Already night had
dropped down from the higher peaks ; and in the pur
ple depths of the cloudless sky hung a froth of stars
52 ALIEN SOULS
that sparkled with the cold-white gleam of diamonds.
He jerked the camel to its knees and dismounted.
But that night he did not stop to make camp, nor did
he sit long at his meal.
For above him, like a dream of freedom, stretched
the rock-perched village of his birth, and every minute
spent here in the valley was like another wasted year.
So he sat down, picked up a handful of mulberries
and ate them; and when a shaggy, skulking Afridi
came wandering into the valley, a wire-bound Snider
in his arms, and doubtless out to take a late shot at a
blood-enemy, Yar Khan stopped him with a shouted
friendly greeting and offered him the camel as a pres
ent. For he was anxious to tread the jagged rocks
of The Hoof of the Wild Goat, and he knew that no
plains-bred animal could find foothold on the narrow,
winding path which led to the mountain top. Often
his father had described the path to him, every foot
of it too, savoring every foot of it in the telling.
The price of the camel? "Masha, illah!" he
thought, "my father bartered the years of his man
hood for a waistbandful of coined gold; let me then
throw away a handful for a minute of home!" and
he put the bridle in the Afridi s eager hand, crooking
two fingers in sign of a free present.
"Manda na bash May your feet never be weary !"
the grateful Afridi shouted after Yar Khan, who was
already speeding up the dark path, the heavy goat
skin bag punctuating each step, the joy in his heart as
keen as a new-ground sword.
The night was a pall of deep brown, and the road
twisted and dipped and turned. But he walked along
steadily and sure-footed, though he had not seen the
hills, except in dreams, since he was a lisping babe
THE HOME-COMING 53
riding astride his nurse s stout hips. It seemed to him
as if the flame in his heart was lighting up the un
charted night, as if the thought of home was serving
him for an unerring beacon among the slippery timber-
falls and the hidden, crumbling rock-slides; on he
pushed, toward the higher peaks cooled with the wail
ing Northern thunder, and, just before the break of
day, turning a massive rock crowned with a stunted
lone pine, he came upon the village which huddled,
dwarfed and shapeless, among the jagged granite
bowlders stretching on toward the North like a
smudge of sooty gray below the glimmering band of
the eternal snows.
"O Allah!" he mumbled, softly. "O Thou Raiser
of the flags of increase to those who persevere in
thanking Thee I praise Thee and I bless and salute
our Lord Mohammed, the excelling in dignity!" and
again, with rising, high-pitched voice, "O Allah!"
letting loose all his long-throttled love and longing in
one great cry.
Then quite suddenly he was silent. He drew back
a step. He listened intently. There was a faint stir
of dry leaves, a soft crackling of steel and, the next
moment, a squat form robed in sheep-skins loomed
up from a clump of thorn-trees; a wide-mouthed
smooth-bore was pressed against Yar Khan s chest,
and a raucous voice bade him state his name, the names
of his father and grandfather, his race, his clan, his
destination and his reasons for coming by night, un
asked and unheralded, to The Hoof of the Wild Goat.
"Speak quick, cow maiming- jackal spawn!" com
manded the Afghan, with the ready abuse of the hills,
and Yar Khan laughed delightedly. This was what
he had expected, what he had hoped for, this greeting
54 ALIEN SOULS
out of the wilderness ; this savage, free call of his own
people, his own blood cousin and cousin again
through frequent intermarriage.
Smiling, he looked at the face of his cousin for
cousin he must be which was like a bearded smear
of gold-flecked red in the dim light of the rising sun.
He stated whence he came and why and whereto,
winding up by saying, "I am Yar Khan, the son of
Ali Khan, grandson of Abderrahman Khan the
Afghan the Usbek-Khel," and, unknown to himself,
a note of savage pride had crept into the telling of
name and pedigree.
The other eyed him suspiciously, undecided what
to do. He had heard of Ali Khan, the man who had
left the hills and who had gone South, in search of
gold. And this he clutched his rifle with steady
hands this smooth-faced, leaky-tongued stranger
claimed to be his son. But perhaps this night-prowler
was a spy sent by the Governor of Kabul to look into
the matter of certain bullocks that had strayed away
from the valley. Still, Ali Khan had had a son
Suddenly he gave a shrill, kitelike whistle, and, a
moment later, a second sentinel dropped from a rock
crest. Came a whispered colloquy between the two
villagers, another rigorous cross-examination as to
Yar Khan s pedigree and antecedents, and finally the
new-comer declared himself satisfied.
He walked up to Yar Khan, his right hand raised
high in sign of peace.
"I am Jehan Hydar," he said, "the son of Shujah
Ahmet, and I give thee peace " and with a slight
laugh he added, "O Egyptian !"
A great rage rose in Yar Khan s throat. Often,
THE HOME-COMING 55
in the past, people had called him Egyptian. There
was that gray-haired Englishwoman who had come to
his father s shop, year after year during the cool sea
son, in search of scarabs and damaskeened brass; al
ways had she addressed him as "my little Egyptian,"
and he had not minded it. But this was different,
somehow. Rash, bitter words crowded on his lips, but
he suppressed them. He was home home! and he
would not mar the first day with the whish and crackle
of naked steel. Better far to turn away ridicule with
a clear, true word.
"I am not an Egyptian, Jehan Hydar," he replied,
"but an Afghan and cousin to thee cousin to all
this !" making a great gesture which cut through the
still air like a dramatic shadow and which took in the
frowning gray hills, the huddled squat houses, and
the deep-cleft valley at his feet; and as the other
grudgingly admitted the relationship, he swung his
goatskin bag from his shoulders, opened it, and groped
among the presents he had bought in the bazaars of
Bokhara. For his heart seemed suddenly filled to
overflowing with the fine, impulsive generosity of
"Here, cousin mine," he laughed, "see what I have
brought thee from "
"Peace, peace!" interrupted the other, impatiently;
"the night is for the sleep of the sleepers, not for the
babble of the babblers," and, motioning Yar Khan to
follow, he led him to a low stone hut and bade him
In the middle of the room flickered a charcoal fire
in an open brazier, and there was no furniture except
a water jar and an earthen platform covered with
coarse rugs and sheepskins. Jehan Hydar pointed to
56 ALIEN SOULS
it without a word and left the hut, the tip of his steel
scabbard bumping smartly against the hard ground.
Such was the home-coming of Yar Khan, the son
of Ali Khan; and, as he stretched himself on the
earthen platform and gathered the covers about him,
he was conscious of a faint flavor of disappointment
[They had accepted him, those two, but there had been
no joy in the accepting, no generosity, no quick, warm
hearted friendship; and they were his cousins, blood
of his blood and bone of his bone and he had longed
for them so !
For their sake he had left Cairo and the smooth
gold of Cairo ; for their sake he had traveled the many
miles, riding till his spurs were red and his hands
galled with the pull of the reins and his saddle broken
across the tree.
And they Jehan Hydar and the other? Why,
they had accepted him as a man accepts salt to his
meat, and they had sneered a little.
He drew himself up on his elbow and looked out
of the tiny window which was set low into the wall.
A stark black pine stood spectrally in the haggard,
indifferent light of the young day. He shivered.
But again the impulsive magnanimity of youth
came to his rescue, and he said to himself that these
men were his cousins, hill-bred, their whole life a
rough fact reduced to rougher order. And he? He
was home, and nothing else mattered. Henceforth
he, too, would be a hill-man, free and unshackled.
The weaver of his own life he would be, running the
woof and warp of it as he willed, away from whee
dling barter, away from the crowded, fetid bazaars
and the shrill trade cries of the market-place. To
morrow he would greet his clan, his family, and they
THE HOME-COMING 57
would ask him about his dead father, about Cairo,
and yes they would ask him about himself and give
him a fair measure of honor. For he was coming
among them, not as a beggar asking for asylum and
bread because of kinship, but as a rich man bearing
gifts bought with the red gold of Egypt.
"Home Allah be praised!" he thought as he
dropped into the dreamless sleep of youth.
"Ho, cousin mine! Ho, great lord out of
Egypt!" . . .
The voice seemed to come from a far distance, and
Yar Khan thought that he was dreaming, perhaps of
his cousin, Jehan Hydar he who had addressed him
as "Egyptian" ; so he stretched his body luxuriously
for a second sleep and then he felt a hand touch his
shoulder and shake him gently.
At once he was wide awake. It was high day, with
the cool golden mountain sun already in the upper arc
of the heavens and weaving a lacy, ever-shifting pat
tern into the drab emptiness of the little hut.
"Ho, cousin mine !" again came the voice from the
head of the bed. Slowly he raised himself upright.
He turned and he saw. A young girl was standing
there, looking down at him with a smile, her narrow
hand on his shoulder. And Yar Khan blushed and
closed his eyes.
For be it remembered that all his life he had lived
in Egypt and that, while he had seen foreign women
walk about unveiled as well as old Moslem hags who
were considered too old to spread the soft scent of
temptation, he had never seen a young girl of his own
race and faith without a veil. Nor had he ever spoken
to such a one. He had dreamt of it as boys dream
58 ALIEN SOULS
and there had been his father s tales of hill customs.
Dreams and tales ! And now he had seen
For a moment he felt oddly checked and baffled.
He did not know what to say, and what bereft him
of speech was not embarrassment, but this new fact
of different customs and manners slowly awakening in
his consciousness. Quite suddenly it seemed to him
that his great yearning for the hills had grown out
of a far deeper foundation than he had yet thought
of; subconsciously he felt that this young girl was at
the root of it, and, with the thought, with the gather
ing conviction of it, he opened wide his eyes and looked
She was tall and lean, with black hair which fell
in heavy braids over either shoulder, a low white fore
head, the reddest of lips, and huge gray eyes set deep
below boldly curved brows. She was not beautiful.
But there was about her something best described as
a deep, luminous vivacity something like an open,
clashing response to the free life, the wild life, the
clean life the hills. And she was his cousin?
He formed the last thought into a wondering ques
tion, and her reply held both confirmation and, some
how, the flavor of prophecy. "Yes," she said, "I am
Kumar Jan, the daughter of Rahmet Ullah, chief of
The Hoof of the Wild Goat I am cousin to thee.
Thus were our fathers cousins and our grandfathers
and our grandfathers fathers cousin aye mating with
cousin, according to the rules of the hills."
As he still stared at her, wide-eyed, unwinking, she
asked him why he looked at her. "Am I then a danc
ing girl of the South or," she added, mockingly, "hast
thou never seen a girl in all thy life?"
And when Yar Khan replied truthfully that he had
THE HOME-COMING 59
not, she was out of the hut with a silvery laugh and
the parting advice to make haste and rise "For thy
clan is waiting for thee in full durbar!"
A few minutes later he left the hut and stepped out
into the village street, his goatskin bag over his shoul
der. A snow-bitten wind was drifting down from the
higher peaks, and the harried sun shivered and hid
among the clouds.
But Yar Khan, South-bred though he was, did not
feel the sleety, grained mountain chill ; his heart seemed
flushed with a hot June prime, and he raised his right
hand with an exuberant gesture as he stepped into the
council of the villagers who were squatting around a
flickering camp-fire behind every man his wife, un
veiled, proudly erect, her hand on her lord s shoulder,
and everywhere the sturdy children of the hills : boys
of twelve and thirteen who were already trying to
emulate the fierce, sullen swagger of their sires, little
bold-eyed girls, fondling crude dolls made of stones
and bits of string and wood, and wee babes, like tiny
gold-colored puff-balls, playing about their fathers
knees or munching wheaten cakes with the solemn sat
isfaction of childhood.
"I have come " began Yar Khan, and then he was
silent and his heart sagged like a leaden weight. For
no sound of greeting rose from the villagers, and the
bearded faces which were turned toward him seemed
impassive and cruel and slightly mocking.
Yar Khan felt like an intruder; there was some^
thing like a crash in his brain, and suddenly he realized
that he was longing for Cairo, for the busy, motley
crowds, the gay cries of bazaar and market-place, and
the dancing, red-flecking sunlight of the Southern sky.
He stood still, embarrassed, undecided what to do;
60 ALIEN SOULS
and then a clear voice called to him. "Ho, cousin !"
it was the voice of Kumar Jan.
She was standing behind a massive, white-bearded
man who was squatting at the head of the durbar,
evidently her father, Rahmet Ullah, chief of the tribe ;
and Yar Khan s flagging spirits rose, and he walked
up to Rahmet Ullah, kissing the hem of his robe in
sign of fealty.
Then and often in his thoughts, since he had rid
den out of Bokhara, had he enacted the scene he
threw the goatskin bag at the feet of the chief so that
the gifts which he had brought tumbled out on the
barren gray ground.
"Presents for all of you, my cousins," he cried;
"silks from Bokhara and sweetmeats from China . . ."
suddenly he was silent. A hot red flushed his
For the uncomfortable thought came to him that he
was praising the gifts as he had praised bartered wares
across his father s dusty counter in the Gamalyieh;
and there was a tense pause while some of the men
and women stooped leisurely and fingered the presents,
with now and then a short grunt of wonder at the
touch of the glittering Northern silks, but with never a
word to him of thanks or joy or pleasure.
Even Kumar Jan, to whom he had given a fine
Khivan shawl with his own hands, took the offering
in a matter-of-fact way. She threw it about her shoul
ders without a word, and Yar Khan was hurt and sad
dened; his soul seemed charged to the brim with an
overpowering loneliness, and terror came to his heart
the terror of the mountains, of the far places which
he did not understand.
JHE HOME-COMING 61
His lips quivered. He was about to turn, to leave
The Hoof of the Wild Goat, to rush down the steep
path and to take the trail the long trail, to Bokhara,
to Cairo when the voice of Rahmet Ullah cut sharply
into his reverie.
The chief welcomed him into the tribe with a few
simple words, and, indicating the whole assembly, he
added : "These be thy cousins, Yar Khan, son of Ali
Khan ! Their laws be thy laws, their customs thy cus
toms, their weal thy weal, their woes thy woes, their
feuds thy feuds! Thou art blood of our blood and
bone of our bone! Whatever is ours is thine !" and,
one after the other, the villagers rose and walked up
They greeted him, pressing palm against palm,
coldly, impassively, with short, rasping "Salaam
Alekhum s" and now and then a graybeard s querulous
reflection as to manners learned among foreigners and
infidels reflections spiced and sharpened with Afghan
"If a man be ugly what can the mirror do?" croaked
a battle-scarred grandfather who walked heavily with
the aid of a straight-bladed British cavalry saber doubt
less stolen during a raid across the Indian border ; an
other chimed in with the even, passionless statement
that the cock went to learn the walk of the goose and
forgot his own, while a third gaunt old warrior with
the bilious complexion of the hashish-smoker in
quired of the world at large why it was that in the
estimation of some people the strings of their cotton
drawers rivaled in splendor the Ameer s silken
The girls and the children tittered at the last re
mark; and when the younger tribesmen came up to
62 ALIEN SOULS
salute their cousin there were open sneers, and finally
a loud, insulting question from Jehan Hydar who
asked Yar Khan, pointing at his peach-colored Cairene
waistcoat, if he had ever considered what a pig could
do with a rose-bottle.
Yar Khan flushed an angry purple. This he
thought was the fair measure of honor which he had
expected, this the home-coming and he had traveled
the many weary miles, he had bought presents for them
purchased with the bitter gold of exile, he had given
them of his best in loyalty and desire and free-handed
He was silent. He felt Kumar Jan s eyes resting
upon him, wonderingly, expectantly and what could
she expect? He had gone to the hills in search of
freedom, and now he was forfeit to the customs of
the hills. He had gathered the swords of humiliation
under his armpits, and the feeling of it was bitter and
He looked up. Jehan Hydar was still standing in
front of him, a mocking smile playing about his thin
lips and in his oblique eyes a light like a high-eddying
"Cousin," he drawled, and the simple word held the
soft thud of a hidden, deadly insult, "cousin to me,
to all of us ! Yet do I declare by the teeth of Allah,"
here his eyes sought those of Kumar Jan, who stood
close by, her whole attitude one of tense expectancy,
"yes! I declare by mine own honor that thou seem-
est more like an Egyptian, a foreigner, an eater of
fish from the South of stinking fish, belike," he
added as an insulting after-thought; and there was
mocking laughter all around, high-pitched, cruel,
THE HOME-COMING 63
rasping; but clearest and sharpest rose the laughter
from Kumar Jan s red lips.
It was then that Yar Khan s good-humor suddenly
broke into a hundred splintering pieces. His rage
surged in deadly crimson waves. He forgot that
these men were his blood-kin. He forgot the yearn
ing of the swinging years. He only saw the sneer
which cleft Jehan Hydar s bold face; he only heard
the laughter which bubbled from Kumar Jan s lips,
and he stepped up close to the other.
"Better dried fish in the South," he cried, "than a
naked dagger in the hills," and his knife leaped out
with a soft whit-whit. But he had no time to strike,
to stain his soul with the blood of kin; for, even as
he spoke, even as the knife left the scabbard, a dozen
stout arms were about him, hugging him close and
there were laughter and frantic shouts of joy.
Bearded faces touched his ; the children crowded about
him and hailed him with shrill cries ; the women bowed
before him with a clank and jingle of silver orna
ments ; and again, clearest, sharpest, rose Kumar Jan s
laughter but this time it was not the laughter of
Suddenly, Yar Khan understood. They had tested
his manhood after the manner of the hills and they
had not found him wanting ; and so, when he walked
away from the camp-fire with Kumar Jan by his side,
the hard, pent rage which had bitten into his heart
disappeared like chaff in the meeting of winds.
He was home, home!
He said to himself that these men were his kin,
that their woes were his woes, their laws his laws,
their feuds his feuds and he knew why there had
been no thanks when he had emptied his goatskin bag
j6$ ALIEN SOULS
at the feet of the chief. Yes! Whatever was his
was theirs thus the law of the hills and then some
thing in his heart seemed to flame upward.
He looked at Kumar Jan.
She, too, had spoken of the law of the hills the
law which says that cousin shall aye mate with cousin;
and she she was his cousin.
And then, thinking epically as hillmen do in mo
ments of great emotion he said to himself that the
stroke and slash of his dagger were hers, that hers
was his brain, hers the eloquence of his tongue, hers
the strength of his body and the golden dreams of his
He gripped her hand and he knew that he had
THE DANCE ON THE HILL
BEHIND him the Koh Haji-Lal, the "Mountains of
the Red Pilgrim," closed like a ragged tide. In front
of him the snowy peaks of the Gul Koh pointed to
the skies in an abandon of frozen, lacy spires, while
ten miles the other side Ghuzni dipped to the green
of the valley with an avalanche of flat, white roof
tops, huddled close together beneath the chill of the
Himalayas. The English doctor lived there, mixing
his drugs and scolding his patients in the little house
at the end of the perfume-sellers bazaar, in the
shadow of the great bronze Mogul gun which both
Afghans and Lohani Sikhs called the Zubba-zung.
Mortazu Khan thought of him as he came down the
mountain-side, his rough sheepskin coat folded across
the smalt of his back to give free play to his lungs;
his short, hairy arms, sleeves rolled to the elbows,
moving up and down like propeller-blades. He
walked with the suspicious step of the hill-bred who
reckons with inequalities of ground, lifting his rope-
soled sandals gingerly over timberfalls and crumbling
granite slides, putting on extra speed when he crossed
a wide spread of rust-brown bracken that covered the
summer hue of the slope like a scarf, again warily
slowing as he forded a swift little stream bordered
with scented wild peppermint and chini stalks and
gray, spiky wormwood.
But straight through he kept up a steady clip, aver-
66 ALIEN SOULS
aging w.ell over five miles an hour, up-hill or down.
There was peace with the Suni Pathans who
squatted on the upland pastures and so he had left
his rifle at home, carrying only a broad-bladed dagger.
He was glad of it, for a rifle meant weight, weight in
the hills meant lack of speed, and speed was essential.
All last night his wife had moaned terribly, and the
village wise-woman, at the end of her remedies, had
told him that he needed the English hakim s skill be
fore the day was out if he wanted his wife to live:
his wife, and the little son he hoped it would be a
son whom she was bringing into the world with
Three hours he figured to Ghuzni. Three back.
Rather a little more, since the foreigner was not hill-
bred. Thus he would safely reach his village before
the sun had raced to the west; and by night his wife
would hold another little son in her arms.
Of course there would be a wrangle with the hakim,
Mortazu Khan thought and smiled at the thought.
First was spoken the ceremonious Afghan greet
ing, cut short by the Englishman s impatient, "Why
haven t you come sooner?" and his reply that his wife
was a stout hill woman who had borne children be
fore this; also that he had called in the wise-woman.
"What did she do?"
"She gave her fish sherbet to cool her blood. She
put leeches on her chest. She wrote a Koran verse
on a piece of paper, lit it, and held it smoking under
Azeena s nose "
And then the hakim s furious bellow : "Of all the
damned ! Good God! man, let s hurry, or your
wife ll go out before we get there!"
At the end of the imagined scene Mortazu Khan s
(THE DANCE ON THE HILL 67
smile twisted to a lop-sided frown. The doctor
would be rightly angry. He should have gone to him
yesterday. He should not have called in the wise-
woman. He had given her five rupees He
shrugged his shoulders. To-morrow he would make
her eat stick and force her to give back the money
He increased his speed as he reached the edge of
the slope where it flattened to a rock-studded plateau,
with here and there little gentians peeping from
granite splits and opening their stiff, azure stars. He
bent and picked one to put in his turban for good
luck, and as he straightened up again he smelled a
familiar odor and saw two small, reddish eyes glar
ing at him from a clump of thorny wild acacia.
He stood quite still. Instinctively he fingered
across his left shoulder for the rifle which was not
there. Then he walked on. At this time of the year
the blue-gray, bristly haired mountain bears were not
dangerous. They were busy filling their sagging
bellies with prangus leaves and mulberries against the
lean season. He would leave the bear alone, he de
cided, and the bear would leave him alone.
But when a moment later he heard the animal give
tongue a low, flat rumble growing steadily into a
sustained roar, then stabbing out in a squeaky high
note that sounded ridiculously inadequate, given the
brute s size Mortazu Khan, without looking over his
shoulder, jumped sideways like a cat, cleared a heap
of dry twigs, and made straight for a stout fir-tree
that towered in lanky loneliness a dozen yards away.
He reached it and jumped behind it. His hands
gripped the rough, warty bark.
"Some cursed fool of a foreigner must have burned
her pelt with a bullet of pain." He spoke aloud, after
68 ALIEN SOULS
the manner of hillmen. "And now Bibi Bear has a
He completed the sentence just as the bear tore out
of the acacia clump and made after him with a huge,
plumping, clumsy bound and a whickering, whinnying
"Allah be thanked because He gave me nimble
feet!" ejaculated Mortazu Khan. "And praise to
Him furthermore because He made this tree and
caused it to grow thick !" He finished his impromptu
prayer as he slid rapidly to the west side of the fir
while the bear lunged, big flat paws clawing, gaping
mouth showing the crimson throat, the chalk-white
teeth, the lolling, slobbering tongue, ears flat on the
narrow head like the head of a great snake.
The bear missed the hillman by half a yard and,
carried away by her weight and impetus, she landed,
paws sprawling, head down, on a bed of ochre moss
studded with needle-sharp granite splinters. Her
pointed muzzle, bumped smartly against the ground,
was torn by the ragged stone edges, and plowed a
painful furrow through the moss so that it rose to
either side in a velvety cloud.
She bellowed her disappointment and fury, sat on
her hunkers, slid back half a dozen yards, using her
fat hams with the speed and precision of roller-skates,
then returned to the attack, launching her blue-gray
bulk straight for the west side of the tree.
"Ahi! Pig, and Parent of Piglings!" shouted
Mortazu Khan, as he rapidly made the half -circle
around the tree to the opposite side.
"Waughrrrr-yi-yi!" said the bear, very low in her
throat and with a certain hurt, childish intonation.
"Pig !" repeated the hillman, wiping the sweat from
THE DANCE ON THE HILL 69
his forehead, while the bear, who had again landed
head down on the ground, wrinkled her ugly, thin-
skinned nose where the warm blood was trickling
down into her open mouth.
Mortazu Khan watched carefully. He knew that
he was safe as long as he kept the tree between him
self and the brute, knew, too, that he was the more
agile of the two.
Not that the bear was slow, but her body was
longer, her bulk larger. She could not make short
turns in a whizzing, flying half-circle like the hillman.
She could charge with a thousand pounds of bunched
muscle and brutal meat but when she missed, the
best she could do was to use her nose and forepaws
as brakes, bump back, twist in a sharp angle right or
left, according to what side of the tree Mortazu Khan
had slid and return to the charge. And always the
man, keeping tight to the fir, got ahead of her, while
the bear, squealing like an angry boar, landed on the
ground, hurting her delicate nose and clawing with
her paws till the moss was shredded to rags and the
sand beneath seemed to look up with scared, yellow
Little stones clattered mockingly. Twigs crackled
and whined. Somewhere from the higher branches
a noise trembled a gurgling, throaty noise. Doubt
less the cry of a buvra kurra, a black tree grouse,
thought the hillman, cursing the bird because of its
place of security, cursing the bear because of her
"Dog ! Jew ! Drunkard ! Illegitimate cow !" he
yelled as he danced around the tree, left and right and
left again, his fingers scraping the bark and the bark
scraping his fingers "Away! away!" Bibi Bear
70 ALIEN SOULS
after him, roaring, fuming, and always missing her
The bear s little, narrow-lidded eyes glowed like
charcoal balls. The hair along her back was thick
and taut, her ears flat. There was something ludi
crous in her appearance, too something which spoke
of iron, sinister resolution.
Plump! Down on her nose, paws furrowing the
ground! Twist and squat and twist.
She tried to learn from Mortazu Khan, tried to
whiz her bulk in shorter circles, to charge straight at
her foe. But always she missed. Always she had
to brake with head and paws and make sharp angles
while the man danced away.
"Infidel! Parent of naughty daughters!" shouted
Mortazu Khan as the bear missed him by less than
His hands were hot and raw. His heart was cold
with fear. For back across the hills was the mother
of his sons and then he cursed again the little bird
which gurgled in the branches. He could not see it.
But the gurgle was becoming loud, insistent, blending
curiously and malignantly with the bear s wicked
Underneath his duffle shirt sweat rolled in little icy
balls. His feet hurt. Moss had been around the
base of the tree, but he had worn great holes in it,
then long furrows and grooves. Now the whole
cover of moss was trampled away, and he was dancing
on the naked ground. One of his sandals had split
the heel-rope and had flown away and out, while he
had stepped through the other so that it was around
his ankles. His toes were bleeding
And Azeena waited !
THE DANCE ON THE HILL 71
But what could he do with his bare hands, without
his rifle? The dagger? He could throw it yes!
And what then? One does not kill a mountain bear
with a single thrust of steel. So he kept whizzing
around the tree, and his thoughts whizzed along, his
fears, his hopes and then, quite suddenly, the bear
changed her tactics.
"Alrrrh whoof airrh!" she said with low, rum
"Wheet-wheet!" came the echo from the branches
of the tree where the cursed, feathery thing was roost
ing in safety.
And Bibi Bear rose on her hind feet, fir needles
and moss sticking to her pelt, belly sagging loosely,
perspiration rising from her nostrils in a gray flag of
steam. Straight toward the tree she walked, fore-
paws wide extended as if to embrace the fir and the
miserable being who was clinging to it for dear life.
Something like a slobbering grin curled the brute s
black, leathery lips, and Mortazu Khan watched. His
skin seemed to shrink. Blue wheels whirled in front
of his eyes. A hammer beat at the base of his skull.
Ahi! There was Azeena who would not live out
the day unless. . . .
"Allah!" he said. "It is not I who shall be a
widower to-night, but Azeena who shall be a widow !"
and his knife flashed free while the bear came on,
slow, ponderous, thinking in her ugly, twisted brain
that all would be over in two crimson minutes if she
could only tear the man away from the protecting tree.
Mortazu Khan knew it, too. "Assassin !" he cried.
"Base-born and lean bastard!"
"Waughree!" replied the bear.
She came on without haste, leaned smack against
T2 ALIEN SOULS
the tree, and tried to reach around it, right and left,
with her murderous claws. But the tree was too
stout, and for the moment the hillman was safe.
He smiled. Then he frowned. For the sun was
rising higher, and he had to reach Ghuzni the doc
tor and back yonder Azeena was dying . . .
"Unclean spawn of filth!" he cried. "Large and
stinking devil!" and quite suddenly, watching his
chance, he flashed his dagger to the left. He brought
down the point with speed and ferocity, straight into
the brute s right eye.
Something warm and sticky squirted up his arm.
The bear, crazed with pain, jumped high in the air
like a rubber ball, came down again, roaring, squeal
ing, bellowing, slid lumberingly to the left, and again
Mortazu Khan resumed his dance .
But this time it was another dance. This time the
bear had no sharp angles to make. Both man and
beast were close against the tree, circling, circling
The sun rose and dipped. Far on the edge of the
horizon the peaks of the Gul Koh flushed gold and
"Waughrrr!" snorted the bear, stamping her
"Wheet-wheet!" chirped the echo from the upper
most branches of the fir, silly, mocking and safe!
And back beyond the bracken-clad slope, Azeena was
dying hard, and his son was dying dying before he
was born because Bibi Bear had broken the truce of
the fat season.
Mortazu Khan trembled with rage and fear. But
away! circling the tree, escaping the murderous
JHE DANCE ON THE HILL 73
He did not jump. No longer did he dance. He
seemed to stream, to flow, like a liquid wave, his body
scrunched into a curve while his lungs pumped the
breath with staccato thumps. Only his hand was
steady, taking crimson toll again and again, and the
bear followed, roaring like forked mountain thunder.
The blood on her huge body was caked with dirt and
moss until the wounds looked like gray patches on
a fur jacket.
A shimmering thread of sun-gold wove through the
branches and dipped low to see what was happening.
Far in the east a crane-pheasant called to its mate.
The wind soared lonely and chilly.
They were out of breath, man and beast. Momen
tarily they stopped in their mad circling, the bear
leaning against one side of the tree, a deep sob gur
gling in her hairy throat, the blood coming through
her wounds like black-red whips, while the man was
huddled against the opposite side as tight and small
as he could. He was tired and sleepy. His right
hand felt paralyzed, but still it gripped the dagger.
He knew that the end was near, knew that he him
self must hasten it, that he must face Bibi Bear face
her in the open and kill or be killed. For back yon
der was Azeena, and the minutes were slipping by
He raked together the dying embers of his strength.
"Allah!" he mumbled. "Do thou give me help!"
And then he heard again the cry of the cursed,
But it seemed less mocking than before, more in
sistent, as if the bird, too, had lost its sense of security,
had begun to fear the shaggy murderer below.
74 ALIEN SOULS
Mortazu Khan looked up. Then he saw it. It had
dropped to a branch lower down, and it was not a
bird It was round and toddling and fluffy and
blue-gray. A little, fat bear cub it was; and then
Mortazu Khan knew why Bibi Bear had broken the
truce of the fat season, and a certain pity and under
standing came to the hillman s simple heart.
Here he was fighting for his wife, his unborn son,
and he said to himself that the bear, too, was fighting
for the young of her body, for the thing which gave
meaning to life. And it was without hatred with
respect, rather, and a feeling of comradeship that
Mortazu Khan stepped away from the protecting tree,
deliberately to give battle in the open.
The bear followed, growling. And so the two stood
there, confronting each other, both breathing harc^
ready to leap, ready to finish the fight.
It was the man who leaped first. For the fraction
of a second he balanced himself, his bleeding toes
gripping the ground. Then he went straight into the
bear s embrace, the point of his dagger ahead of him
like a guidon. His lips were crinkly and pale, his
tongue like dry saddle leather, his eyes cold and gleam
ing. But straight he jumped, and straight stabbed
the knife, finding the brute s pumping, clamorous
heart, while the claws met across his shoulder-blades
and tore a furrow down his back.
Straight to the heart! With every ounce of
bunched strength and despair, and as the bear, in mor
tal agony, realized her steely grip, he struck again and
again and again. But there was no hatred in the
"Ahi!" he sobbed, as the bear toppled sideways and
fell, curling up like a sleeping dog. "Ahi! Poor
Bibi Bear! Brave Bibi Bear!"
His back bled and hurt. But he jerked the pain
away with a shrug of his massive shoulder. The
English hakim would have two patients instead of
one, he told himself, and, dizzy, a little depressed,
he turned to resume his walk across the plateau.
But something seemed to float down upon his con
sciousness, imperceptibly, like the shadow of a leaf
through summer dusk, and he stopped and returned
to the fir-tree. Standing on his toes, he reached up
and caught the toddling, fluffy cub which was trying
hard to back up, to regain the security of the higher
"Come, little Sheik Bear !" he crooned as he might
to a frightened child. "Come! There is room for
thee in the house of Mortazu Khan ! Room and food
and water and soon, if Allah be willing and the
hakim s medicine strong, a little man-child to play
And, the cub nuzzling his heaving chest with a
little grunt of satisfaction, Mortazu Khan walked to
ward the flat roofs of Ghuzni, leaving behind him a
thin trail of blood, but hurrying, hurrying.
THE RIVER OF HATE
"THE Wrath of the Thunder Gods," the Kafiri hill-
men called the river that dropped to the western plains
of Afghanistan and over into soft Persia in a suc
cession of overlapping falls like the feathers on the
breast of a pouter pigeon, while the Afghan nobles
who, armed with the great, carved seal of the Gov
ernor of Kabul, came there to levy the quota of young
men for the Ameer s army, called it the "River of
And Kafiri, as well as Afghans, spoke the truth.
For, during three months of the year, the North
wind was riding a wracked sky and met the shock of
the racing, roaring river, and the thunder crashed from
the high ranges, splintering the young pines, occa
sionally taking toll of human life; and it was hate,
even more than the swirling breadth of the river,
which divided the villages that squatted on either bank.
South of the river, the Red Village lay spotted and
threatening, like a tiger asleep in the sun, while North
the flat-roofed houses of the White Village seemed
snow flakes dropped on slabs of sullen granite as
sullen as the temper of the people when they looked
across and saw the men of the Red Village sweep the
whirlpool of the Black Rock with crude, effective net
traps made of jungly rattan and hempen ropes ; when
they saw the catch of fat, blue-scaled, red-eyed khirli
fish drawn up on the bank and flopping in the quiver
ing light like dusky flecks of sunshine.
L THE RIVER OF HATE 77
The Black Rock was the fortune of the Red Village.
Forming the end and pinnacle of a chain of ragged,
slippery stones that spanned three-fourths of the
river s breadth and rose and fell to the rise and fall
of the water, it was within fifteen feet of the southern
bank, and in winter, when rain had been heavy in the
mountains and the River of Hate surged up a man s
height in a couple of hours, it acted like a natural dam.
But in summer, when, freed from snow, the higher
range limned ghostly out of the purple-gray distance
and drouth shrunk the river, the Black Rock peaked
to a height of thirty feet and caused the water to drop
into a great whirlpool, not far from the Red Village,
where it blossomed like a gigantic waxen flower.
Too, it is in summer that the khirli fish, obeying
their ancient tribal customs, come from their spawn
ing, and when they return down the River of Hate
on their way to the Persian Gulf, they are tired and
weary with the many miles. So they lie down to
rest in the bottom of the whirlpool of the Black Rock
where the fishing rights, by immemorial law, antedat
ing the law of the Koran, belong to the people of the
Red Village; and the villagers catch them and feast,
while the men of the White Village bemoan their fate
and take the name of Allah and if the Afghan priests
be not listening the names of various heathen gods
decidedly in vain.
But they do not fight the people of the Red Village,
except with an occasional stone or stick hurled from
ambush and not meant to kill. For a law is a law.
When, after seven years service in the Ameer s
army during which he had learned to shoot straight,
to substitute a tall black fur cap, worn rakishly over
78 ALIEN SOULS
the right ear, for the greasy shawl turban of the
Kafiri, to embroider his rough hill diction with flowery
Persian metaphor, and to ogle the women in the
bazaars Ebrahim Asif received word that his father,
Sabihhudin Achmat, had died, and that he was now
chief of the White Village, he went straight to the
Governor of Kabul and asked to be released from
"My people are clamoring for me," he added in a
The Governor saw before him a young man, not
over twenty-five, of a supple sweep of shoulders, a
great, crunching reach of arms, a massive chest, and
a dead-white, hawkish face that rose up from a black,
pointed beard like a sardonic Chinese vignette. He
thought to himself that here was a Kafiri, a turbulent
pagan hillman indeed; but that seven years in Kabul
must have put the Afghan brand upon his soul, and
that he might be a valuable ally if ever his lawless
tribesmen should give trouble perhaps, only Allah
knew ! as a raiding vanguard accompanying an invad
ing British or Russian column, as the little, sniveling,
dirt-nosing jackals accompany the tiger.
"Your prayer is granted, Ebrahim Asif, M the Gov
ernor said. "Return to your own people a chief.
And " he smiled, "also remember that you are an Af
ghan, and no longer a lousy hillman !"
"Yes, Excellency!" said Ebrahim Asif.
On the second day out of Kabul he was back over
the borders of his own country. On the third, he
saw the faint, silvery gray mountain, flung like a cloud
against the sky, that marked the western limit of the
On the morning of the fourth, he was sitting on a
[THE RIVER OF HATE 79
raised earthen platform in the communal council hut
of the village where his ancestors had been hereditary
rulers since before the shining adventure of Shikandar
Khan, he whom the Christians call Alexander the Mace
donian, his rifle across his knees, and a naked, pot
bellied boy of ten fanning him with a silver-handled
yak tail, stolen during some raid into Tibet. He was
holding a perfumed, daintily embroidered handkerchief
to his nose.
On the bare mud floor, below the platform, squatted
the men of the village, some thirty in number, in a
confused heap of sun-and-dirt-browned arms, legs and
patched multi-colored garments.
Ebrahim Asif, remembering the days of his child
hood when his father had occupied the seat of chief
which to-day was his, turned slightly to the left.
Directly in front of him squatted an old man whose
name was Jarullah. His face was like a gnarled bit
of deodar wood beneath a thatch of bristly, reddish
Ebrahim Asif pointed at him.
"Jarullah," he said, "you are the oldest. Let me
hear what wisdom, if any, the many years have
"It is not money we want," muttered Jarullah.
Then, embarrassed he knew not why, he checked
himself. His roving eyes sought his knees and he
coughed apologetically, until a young man, lean, red-
haired, with pock-marked vulpine features and bold
gray eyes, stepped forward, pushed Jarullah uncere
moniously aside, and squatted down in his place.
Over his shoulder, he pointed through the doorway,
at the River of Hate, and the hissing whirlpool of the
Black Rock, and beyond, at the Red Village, that
8o ALIEN SOULS
seemed stiff and motionless in the quivering heat as if
forged out of metal. Only at the bank were signs of
life the men pulling in the nets sagging with their
shimmering load. Occasionally, a high-pitched, exult
ant yell drifted thinly across.
"Our bellies are empty, Chief/ the young man
whose name was Babar, said sulkily, "while they "
he spat "the people of the Red Village "
Ebrahim. Asif rose, picked up his rifle by the shoulder
strap, and walked toward the door.
"The old feud, eh?" he asked. "The feud over a
potful of stinking khirli fish? By the teeth of the
Prophet on whom peace I shall spice their mid-day
meal with a couple of bullets and a rich sluicing of
But Jarullah stepped into his path and laid a trem
bling hand on his shoulder.
"There is the law, Chief!" he cried in a cracked,
excited whine. "The fishing rights of the southern
bank belong to the Red Village. Remember the law
"There is no law for Afghans," smiled Ebrahim
"Right!" shrieked the old man. "There is indeed
no law for Afghans! But you are a Kafiri, Chief.
You must keep sacred the ancient law of the tribes "
and an angry, clucking chorus rose from the squatting
"The ancient law! The ancient law!"
Ebrahim Asif was utterly astonished.
Quite instinctively he had picked up his rifle. Quite
instinctively he had decided to send a few bullets whiz
zing to the opposite shore. It would be perfectly safe.
For the only firearms that ever came into Kafiristan
THE RIVER OF HATE 81
were those of the Ameer s ruffianly soldiers, soldiers
either on active duty or, like himself, released from
service, and he knew that for many years past no man
of the Red Village had been drafted into the army.
Thus he was perfectly safe in announcing his pres
ence to them with a charge of lead and, later on, of
coming to terms : a fair half of the khirli catch to his
own village otherwise bullets and blood.
It was simple as sublimely simple, as sublimely
brutal as his whole philosophy of life.
But they had spoken about the law the ancient
The young man with the pock-marked, vulpine face
Babar had seemed the most manly of them all.
"What do you say, Babar?" he asked, and the other
mumbled piously, "It is the law. The fishing rights
of the southern bank belong to the Red Village."
Ebrahim Asif shook his head. He stalked through
the doorway, while the villagers looked after him,
stolid, sullen. He walked up to the River of Hate.
The men of the Red Village were still fishing, peace
ful, undisturbed, serenely safe. One looked up,
squinted against the light with sharp, puckered eyes,
and seemed to see the rifle in Ebrahim Asif s hand.
But he paid no attention to it. To him, too, there
was the ancient law.
And, suddenly, out of the nowhere, a heavy weight
dropped on Ebrahim Asif s soul.
"Yes," he murmured, "there is the law for us
Kafiri " and he tossed the rifle into the swirling,
Late that night, as he sat alone in his father s hut,
which was now his, scraps of memory came to him.
Piece by piece he put them together.
82 ALIEN SOULS
He remembered how, years ago, when he had been
a naked, sun-burned child with a red turban cloth
wound about his shaven poll, his father, Sabihhudin
Achmat, had been guide to a Kashmere rajah who had
come North to hunt the thick-pelted, broad-headed
tigers that drift into Kafiristan in the wake of the
Mongolian snows. The rajah had brought a large
retinue of servants, and one evening they and their
master and his father had whispered together.
They had set to work, under the rajah s guidance.
All night they had worked, with little Ebrahim look
ing on open-mouthed, using odd bits of steel and wire
taken from the rajah s voluminous baggage, and wood
and stones and spliced ropes and rattan.
About midnight they had sneaked out of the house
and through the sleeping village, to the bank of the
River of Hate, carrying between them a strange con
trivance that seemed round and heavy. Hours later,
his father had returned, drenched to the skin, but
Today, Ebrahim Asif knew that the strange con
trivance the Kashmere men had fashioned that night
and which his father had put in a hole of the Black
Rock, below the surface, was a water wheel to change
the main current of the whirlpool, for since then he
had seen many such wheels.
And when the next drouth had shrunk the river
and the khirli fish had returned from their spawning,
when the people of the Red Village had swept the
whirlpool of the Black Rock, day after day, they had
caught no more than a lean handful of skinny, smelly
dagger-fish, while the men of the White Village, won
dering, yet obeying their chief s command, had gone
down to the northern bank where the fishing rights
THE RIVER OF HATE 83
were theirs and had set to work with improvised gear.
The catch had been huge; and for weeks, they had
eaten their fill of khirli spiced with turmeric and
sesame, while the people on the opposite shore had be
moaned their fate and had rubbed empty wrinkled
Only the hereditary chief of the Red Village, Yar
Zaddiq, a shrewd, elderly man, over six feet in height,
with gray hair that had once been reddish-brown, a
biting tongue and doubting, deep set eyes, had sus
pected the hand of man and, late one night, when the
water was very low, had swum over to the Black Rock
at the risk of his life and had investigated.
He had called for help. The wheel had been torn
out, and a few days later, four miles up the river, ac
companied by several of his clansmen, he had chanced
upon Sabihhudin Achmat and had beaten him terribly.
After that, there had been no more catching of
khirli fish on the northern bank, and the old hate of
White Village against Red had grown a thousandfold.
The days that followed were drab and listless.
Ebrahim Asif stalked through the village in his best,
most braggart Kabuli manner.
But, for the first time in his life, he was aware of a
strange sensation which, had he been a westerner, he
would have correctly analyzed as self-consciousness.
He said to himself that these were his people, that
they had put their grievances before his feet trusting
to his wisdom and strength and their greatest griev
ance was the matter of the khirli fish, the matter of
the River of Hate. Willing and ready he had been
to help them, he continued his thoughts angrily, but
they had tied his hands with their babble about the
84 ALIEN SOULS
ancient tribal laws; he had tossed his rifle into the
water and what did they want him to do?
They supplied him with food and tobacco and bhang
as was his right, since he was their chief. But it was
all done grudgingly, as a drab matter of duty.
Yet there was little open complaint ; just an under
current of muttering and whining. Only the young 1
man, Babar, put it into words one day.
"You are the Chief," he said. "You must help us !"
Simple enough words. But, somehow, they seemed
to Ebrahim the final, unbearable stigma.
"Do you want me to attempt the impossible, O
Abuser of the Salt, O Son of a Burnt Father?" he
cried. "Do you want me to make noises with my
ears and catch the wind of heaven with my bare hands,
O Cold of Countenance?" and he beat Babar with
the flat of his saber till the blood came.
After that, the people of the village, his own people,
trembled when he passed. And in all Kafiristan there
was no man more lonely than he.
Thus he took to roaming the hills up and down the
River of Hate, climbing to the higher range where,
caught in crevices, the snow lay clean and stainless
beneath the crisp air, down abrupt precipices, and into
thick forests of spruce and beach where the dry leaves
lay in intricate, wind-tossed, fox-red patterns fretted
with delicate green shadows; and one day, returning
past the natural bridge that marked the line between
the two villages and where, years earlier, his father had
been beaten by Yar Zaddiq, he saw a young girl stand
ing there, poised lightly upon narrow, sandaled feet,
and looking out upon the foaming River of Hate.
She turned as she heard his approach and stared at
him fearlessly, and he stood still and stared back.
JHE RIVER OF HATE 85
She was sixteen years of age. Her small slender
body, just budding into the promise of womanhood
beneath the thin, fringed, brown and gray striped fus
tian robe that covered her from her neck to just below
her knees, was perfect in every line. Her parted,
braided hair was light brown and as smooth as oil, her
eyes were gray with intensely black pupils, and her
nose straight and short. There was a sweet curve to
her upper lip and a quick, smiling lift at the corners.
The smile rippled into low, gurgling laughter when
she saw Ebrahim Asif bow deeply before her with
clasped hands, as she had seen the men of her village
salaam to the Ameer s swashbuckling emissaries.
He straightened up. With unconsciously graceful
ease he put his hand on the heavy, carved silver hilt
of his sword and looked at her squarely.
And his words, too, were square and clear, yet
tinged with a certain reckless, boisterous good humor,
a certain swaggering bravado.
"Your name,. Crusher of Hearts !"
Again the girl laughed.
"I am Kurjan," she said. "I am the daughter of
Yar Zaddiq, Chief of the Red Village, who, it is told,
once gave your father a sound beating."
"Then you know my name?" he rejoined, flushing
"Evidently, Ebrahim Asif !" came her mocking reply.
"The fame of your splendor has traveled many miles,
also the tale of how wisely you rule your own people,
how you fill their stomachs with khirli fish how they
love you, O great Afghan "
But, suddenly, she checked the flow of words and
turned to go when she saw the man s insolent, black
eyes fixed upon her with a calm, uncontrolled expres-
86 ALIEN SOULS
sion of admiration and desire, and instinctively she
drew in her breath and clasped her right hand against
her heart, as unhurryingly, he stepped up to her.
"Kurjan, daughter of Yar Zaddiq," he said very
gently, "I am not an Afghan, though my dress is that
of the Kabuli and though my lips have forgotten the
proper twist and click of my native tongue in the many
years I have spent away from home. I am a Kafiri,
a hillman of hillmen and " suddenly his voice peaked
up to a high, throaty note, like the cry of an eagle
circling above a frightened, fluttering song bird "I
love like a Kafiri !"
And, before she had time to run or defend herself,
his great arms were about her, crushing her against
his massive chest so that the long braids of her hair
swept the ground behind her.
Very slowly, as if reluctantly, he released her.
"Go back to your father," he continued as she stood
there, panting, a rush of unknown sensations, shy
ness, mixed with fear and a strange, tremulous, pain
ing delight, surging through her body. "Tell him
that a man has come to the River of Hate. Tell him
that to-night I shall come to his house to demand you
as my wife. And as to you, Crusher of Hearts
tell yourself when you lie on your couch, that I love
you that there is a sweetness and strength in my
soul which is known to your soul only!"
And he walked away, his saber clanking behind
him ; and he did not turn once to look back at her.
Kurjan did not know if it was the strange, sweet
shyness which had come to her so abruptly, or fear
of her father s terrible, raging temper which sealed her
lips. At all events, she did not say a word of what
had happened to her when she reached home. Courte-
THE RIVER OF HATE 87
ously she bowed to her father who was resting his
huge old gnarled body on the earthen platform, and
stepped through the curtain into the back part of the
house where the women crouched over the crimson
charcoal balls of the cooking fire.
Thus, hours later, when night had dropped as it
does in the hills, quickly, like a black-winged bird,
and when Ehrahim Asif had gone up the river, crossed
the natural bridge, and passed through the silent Red
Village to the house of Yar Zaddiq, he found the latter
unprepared for his coming.
But his first words explained the purpose of his
visit. "I am Ebrahim Asif, the son of Sabihhudin
Achmat, Chief of the White Village," he said with
nonchalant dignity. "I have decided that your daugh
ter shall be the mother of my sons. Hasten the wed
ding, old Chief. For I am an impatient man who does
not brook denial or contradiction, and my young blood
is sultry with passion."
And, calmly, he squatted down and helped himself
to the other s supply of finely shaved bhang, conscious,
by the rustle of the curtain that shut off the back
part of the house, that Kurjan was looking at him.
She was standing very still, her heart thumping
violently. Quickly, imperceptibly, the knowledge
floated down upon her that she loved him. Anxiously,
she waited for her father s reply.
When Yar Zaddiq looked up his words dropped
smooth and even, as stones drop down a glacier.
"So you are Ebrahim Asif " his lips curled in a
crooked smile, exposing the toothless gums stained
with opium and tobacco "the son of him whom once
I beat grievously with sticks as a dog is beaten with
thorn sticks ?"
88 ALIEN SOULS
"You and your tribesmen ! A dozen against one !"
"I could have killed him with my bare hands. I,
alone ! I was stronger than he !"
"But to-day you are old and I am young. Your
body is withered, while my body is bossed with muscles
as the night sky is with stars," Ebrahim Asif said in
a gentle voice, while his fingers toyed with the crimson
cord of his sword, an action the significance of which
was not lost on the older man.
And so he smiled.
"It is thus," he asked, "your wish to marry my
"But there is the ancient enmity between Red
Village and White"
"Over a potful of stinking khirli fish. I know."
Ebrahim Asif waved a great, hairy hand. "But there
will be no more babbling and jabbering and foolish
quarreling after I have married your daughter. I am
my late father s only son, and she " negligently, with
his thumb on which shone a star sapphire set in crude
silver, he pointed at the curtain where she stood "she
is your only child. Let peace be the dowry of our
wedding, peace between your village and mine, a for
getting of ancient hatreds, a splitting of future profits.
Let us put aside the old enmities as a clean man puts
aside soiled linen. In the future we shall divide the
khirli catch evenly between your people and mine."
Yar Zaddiq laughed in his throat.
"Ahee!" he cried. "It is I who gives all the dowry.
And what will you give, young Chief?"
"I?" Ebrahim Asif raised an eyebrow. "Where
hate has died, no room is needed to wield a sword.
Where strength goes to the making of pea:e, no vio-
THE RIVER OF HATE 89
lence is needed to strike a dagger blow. Where quar
rel is buried, no fertilizer is needed with which to
grow friendship. But I am an honest man ! I shall
make the bargain even, so that nobody may complain
and that none of your people may say that you are
unwise. Your daughter shall be mine ! Half the khirli
catch shall be my people s. And I, on my part, shall
lend to your people the help of wisdom which I learned
amongst the Afghans. And after your death which
Allah grant be not for many years I shall rule both
He rose and bowed with grave courtesy.
"I am an impatient man," he went on. "My heart
plays with my passion. Let the wedding be the next
time I set foot in the Red Village. Come. Give oath."
He stood still and looked at Yar Zaddiq who, too,
had risen. For several seconds, the older man did
not speak. His stubborn resolve that never, as long
as he was alive, should Ebrahim Asif marry his daugh
ter, that never, until the end of time, should his people
cede to the White Village one tenth, not one hundredth
part of the fishing rights which were theirs according
to the ancient law, stood firm ; but his opponent s equal
resolve hacked at his faith like a dagger.
"Give oath!" repeated the other, touching the hilt
of his sword, and then Yar Zaddiq spoke.
"You shall wed my daughter the next time you set
foot in the Red Village," he said solemnly. "I swear
it upon the Koran !"
But Ebrahim grinned boyishly.
"And yet I have heard," he said very gently, "that
you men of the older generation, converted to Islam at
the point of the sword, are not the stout Moslems you
claim to be. Thus swear by the gods of our people,
90 ALIEN SOULS
our own people! Swear by the ancient gods of the
And again he toyed with his sword, and again the
old chief, a great bitterness bubbling in his words
for the Moslem oath meant nothing to him swore that
the next time Ebrahim set foot in the Red Village,
he should wed Kurjan. By Ogun, god of sunshine,
he gave oath, and by the three thunder gods ; by Wog-
gun, the god of the mid-week, and by Khanli, the grim
god on whose forehead is an ivory horn from which
hangs the fates of men ; and finally by Gagabudh, the
jeweled god of the mountain glens who, alone of all
the gods, is immortal and whom even Time cannot slay.
And Ebrahim Asif, well satisfied, went out into the
night, courteously avoiding speech with Kurjan though,
during the last words, she had stepped fully into the
She looked after him. "I shall follow him," she
said in a low voice. "I love him. He is brave and
arrogant and cruel. There is passion in his heart and
strength in his arms. I love him. He is brave."
Quite suddenly, Yar Zaddiq laughed.
"Yes, little daughter," he said. "He is brave. But "
he burst into high-pitched, senile cackle, "it is not wis
dom he has learned amongst the Afghans! Not wis
"Except the wisdom of love!" murmured Kurjan
as she left the house and looked into the dark. "The
wisdom of love which is simplicity and arrogance
Love had come to her. She knew the lore of the
Red Village and of the White, the old feud, the bitter,
sullen enmity; but, somehow, Ebrahim Asif was neither
of the Red Village nor of the White. He seemed to
RIVER OF HATE 91
her the very spirit of the land, serenely brutal, reso
lutely pagan to the core of him, but a man !
"A man of men!" she said to him one whirling,
golden afternoon when she met him amongst the
frayed basalt ridges of the farther hills and lay pant
ing in his crushing embrace. "A man of men with
the bowels of compassion of a striped tiger!"
"You have spoken true words, Dispenser of De
lights," Ebrahim Asif agreed naively. "I am indeed
a man such as with whom any other chief would be
proud to have a quarrel."
"And such as any other woman might " she
slurred and stopped; and he held her close.
"That, too, is the truth, little musk rose," he said
calmly. "Often have I dragged my crackling sword
through the bazaars of Kabul, and black eyes of Af
ghan women and maids stared at me through close-
meshed veils and, perhaps, there may have been
hooded eyelids raised quickly in sign of promise and
hope and ahee! reward. But " and with a great
gesture he dismissed the past as if it had never ex
isted "they passed into the dark, like gray djinns of
evil. They left no trace, no heartache. There is only
you in all the world, heart of my heart, and my soul
is a carpet for your little feet. Step on it. Step on
it with all your strength! For I am strong, strong!"
"My father, too, is strong. And he hates you. He
speaks of you to me though I do not reply. He
curses you "
"Allah!" Ebrahim Asif laughed and snapped his
fingers. "Your father is a barren mule, bragging
about the horse, his father. He is a toothless she-
wolf and presently I shall set foot on the soil of the
Red Village and claim you."
92 ALIEN SOULS
"When, heart o me?" she whispered.
And the answer came low and triumphant. "To
morrow, Crusher of Hearts !"
And, the next day, in the White Village, the conches
brayed and the gongs were beaten; the young men
danced over crossed daggers, and the unmarried girls
drowned their heads with the dowers of the hillside
and the forest.
For that morning, Ebrahim Asif had called the
villagers to full durbar and had given them the good
news. There had been uncouth rejoicing.
Only Jarullah had struck a discordant note.
"Beware, young Chief," he had said, following
Ebrahim from the council hut. "Yar Zaddiq has a
forked tongue. His father was a hyena, and his mother
a she-devil," so he warned.
"Possibly," the other had laughed. "But, whatever
his ancestry, his curse has not descended to his daugh
ter. She is a precious casket filled with the arts of
coquetry. Too, she is strong and well turned of hip
and breast. She will bear me stout men-children."
And now he was in his house, adorning himself as
becomes a bridegroom; for he had decided that he
would wed Kurjan that very night.
He curled and oiled his beard ; he drew broad lines
of antimony down his eyelids ; he heightened the color
of his lips by chewing betel ; he stained his finger tips
crimson with henna; he wound an enormous green
muslin turban around his fur cap; he arranged well
the folds of his waistband ; he perfumed his body from
head to toes with pungent oil of geranium, a small
bottle of which had cost him a year s pay to Kabul.
Then he threw a peach-colored silk khalat, em
broidered with cunning Persian designs in gold thread,
JHE RIVER OF HATE 93
over his broad supple shoulders, picked up his sword,
and stepped out on the threshold where Jarullah was
"Jarullah," he said, "to-morrow morning I bring
home the bride. See that a feast is being prepared. I
myself shall bring some fat khirli fish, the pick of the
catch. As to you, have the women roast a sheep, well
stuffed and seasoned with condiments. In there,
amongst the boxes I brought from Kabul, you will
find many things, spices of India and the far countries,
strange sauces, and exquisite Chinese confections com
pounded of rose leaves and honey. Let the feast be
worthy of the bride and do not steal too much."
Jarullah overlooked the laughing insult of the young
chief s last words. He clutched the hem of Ebrahim s
khalat. He was terribly in earnest.
"Take care, young master," he whined, "lest evil
befall you. You are brave, and trusting. But neither
with bravery nor with trust can you knit the riven,
lying tongue of such a one as Yar Zaddiq. Take along
a dozen stout fighting men. Do not go alone."
Ebrahim smiled as he might at a babbling child.
"What avail is a rotten plow to a sound ox?" he
asked casually. "What shall talkers do when there
are no listeners? What is the good of lies when truth
is the greatest lie?"
With which thoroughly mystifying words, he walked
away in the direction of the natural bridge that linked
the two villages. Evening was dropping.
Steadily Ebrahim Asif kept on his way, along the
northern bank of the river, well within sight of the
southern, so that his peach-colored khalat flashed like
a flame in the rays of the dying sun; and he laughed
softly to himself at the thought that, doubtless, sharp
94 ALIEN SOULS
eyes in the Red Village were watching his progress
from bowlders and trees.
Half a mile below the natural bridge, he disappeared
behind the shoulder of a basalt ledge that jutted out
from the river and entered a thick clump of dwarf
Five minutes later, the watchers of the Red Village
saw once more the braggard sheen of peach-colored
silk and Yar Zaddiq whispered a last word to the
Kafiri who crowded at his heels as jungle wolves to
the tiger s kill.
Another ten minutes. The sun was hissing out in
a sea of blood. The heavens were melting into a quiet
night of glowing dark-violet with a pale moon peaking
its lonely horn in the North, and up at the natural
bridge where the two villages met, there was the sudden
yelling of war cries, the rattle of stones, the throwing
of thorn sticks, and, above the noise, Yar Zaddiq s
voice stabbed out as, flanked by the pick of his fight
ing men, he hurled himself upon the peach-colored
khalat before its wearer had had time to cross the
"When you set foot in the Red Village, Ebrahim
Asif ! I swore it! By the Koran did I give oath, and
by the ancient gods of the Kafiri ! When you set foot
in the Red Village ! True I am to the double oath !"
and his stick came down, tearing a great gash in the
bridegroom s silken finery, brought from far Kabul.
The men of the Red Village closed in, with exultant,
Night had dropped, suddenly, completely, as it does
in the tropics, with a burnous of black velvet.
Nothing was visible except the shadowy, fantastic
outline of a dozen human bodies balled together into
THE RIVER OF HATE 95
a tight knot, heaving, straining, wrestling, pulling down
their lonely opponent as hounds pull down a stag.
But the lonely man fought well. Time and again
he jerked himself loose. Time and again his sword
flashed free and tasted blood.
Time and again he drove his assailants before him
towards the boundary of the Red Village.
But always, rallied by Yar Zaddiq s warring shouts,
they hurled themselves back at him before he had a
chance to cross the line.
And then came the end.
A jagged rock crashed on his head and he fell down,
unconscious, bleeding from a dozen flesh wounds,
curled up like a sleeping dog, his right hand across his
forehead as if to ward off the blows of Fate.
Yar Zaddiq bent over him.
"You are a brave man, Ebrahim Asif," he said quite
gently, "and doubtless you were a swashbuckler and a
brawler in the tumult of the packed Kabul bazaars!
Doubtless the gods have dowered your heart with
stanch courage and your body with the strength of
bunched muscles! But there is no wisdom in your
soul, young Chief. Ahee! Your caution is as uncer
tain as a Tartar s beard, as rare as wings upon a cat !"
But, with utter, dramatic suddenness, just as the
moon stabbed down with a sharp wedge of silvery light
that brought the features of the unconscious man into
crass relief, his laugh changed to a howl of disappoint
ment and rage, cracked, high-pitched and ludicrous.
He kicked the prostrate form with all his might,
turned, and rushed back across the bridge as fast as
his gnarled old legs would let him, while his clansmen,
wondering, astonished, cluttered after him.
96 ALIEN SOULS
Stumbling, falling, cursing, he ran through the night.
His withered lungs beat like a hammer. But he kept
on, along the southern bank, towards his house that
sprang out at him with warm, golden lights.
With his last ounce of strength he hurtled across
the threshold and there, by the side of Kurjan, one
arm around her waist, the other gesturing some flowery
words of love he was whispering in her ear, sat Ebra-
him Asif, in the ragged clothes of Babar, drenched to
the skin, but happy, serene, supremely sure of himself.
Languidly he looked up and greeted the old man who
was speechless with rage and fatigue.
"Have the women prepare me a meal," he said, "a
khirli fish, carefully boned, and spiced with tumeric,
also a goblet of tea, steaming hot. For it was cold
swimming the River of Hate above the whirlpool of
the Black Rock, and it is not right that the bridegroom
should sit shivering at the wedding."
Then, casually, he asked :
"Did you by any chance kill that youth of my village
ah Babar who changed clothes with me in the
acacia clump below the bridge ?"
"No no " stammered Yar Zaddiq; and Ebrahim
Asif sighed contentedly.
"Good, by Allah and by Allah!" he said. "There
are the makings of a man in that youth once I shall
have taught him the shining wisdom I learned at
And, dreamily, with Kurjan s head on his shoulder,
he looked through the open door where the night was
draping the River of Hate in her trailing cloak of
purple and black.
THE SOUL OF A TURK
THAT night, with no hatred in his heart but with a
Moslem s implacable logic guiding his hand, he killed
the Prussian drill sergeant who, scarlet tarbush on
yellow-curled, flat-backed skull, was breveted as major
to his regiment, the Seventeenth Turkish Infantry.
His comrades saw him creep into the tattered, bell-
shaped tent where the Prussian was sleeping the sleep
of utter exhaustion. They heard the tragic crack
of the shot, and saw him come out again smoking
revolver in his right hand. Calmly squatting on their
haunches, they watched him go to the commissary,
help himself to slabs of spongy, gray bread, dried
apricot paste, and a bundle of yellow Latakia tobacco
leaves, fill his water canteen, and take the road toward
the giant breast of the Anatolian mountains, studded
here and there with small, bistre-red farms, like
brooches clasping a greenish-black garment.
"Allah s Peace on you, brother Moslems!" he said
piously, turning, the fingers of his left hand opening
like the sticks of a fan, then closing them again, to
show the inevitability of what he had done.
"And on you Peace, Mehmet el-Touati !" came their
mumbled reply, tainted by just a shade of envy, be
cause they told themselves that soon Mehmet el-Touati
would be in his own country while their homes were
far in the South and West, and they did not know the
98 ALIEN SOULS
They were neither astonished, nor shocked. They
understood him, as he understood them.
For, like himself, they were simple Turkish peas
ants, bearded, middle-aged, patient, slightly rheumy,
who had been drafted into the army and thrown into
the frothy, blood-stained cauldroji of European his
tory in the making, by the time honored process of a
green-turbaned priest rising one Friday morning in
the mosque pulpit and declaring with melodious unc
tion that the Russian was clamoring at the outer
door of the Osmanli house, and that Islam was in
The Russian by Allah- and by Allah, but they knew
him of old !
He would ride over their fields, over the sown and
the fallow. He would cut down the peach trees. He
would pollute their mosques, their harems, and their
wells. He would stable his horses in their cypress-
shaded graveyards. He would enslave the women,
kill the little children, and send the red flame licking
over byre and barn thatch.
Jehad! Ko\y War! Kill for the Faith and the
blessed Messenger Mohammed!
Thus, uncomplaining, ox-eyed, they had pressed!
their wives and their children to hairy, massive chests,
had adjusted the rawhide straps of their sandals, had
trooped to district military headquarters, had been
fitted into nondescript, chafing, buckram-stiffened uni
forms, had been given excellent German rifles,
wretched food, brackish water; and had trudged along
the tilting roads of stony, bleak Anatolia.
Moslems, peasants, pawns they had gone forth,
THE SOUL OF A TURK 99
leaving their all behind, stabbed on the horns of Fate ;
with no Red Cross, no doctors, no ambulances, to look
after their wounded or to ease the last agonies of their
dying; with sleek, furtive-eyed Levantine government
clerks stealing the pittance which the war office allowed
for the sustenance of the women and children and
feeble old men who tilled the fields and garnered
meagre crops with their puny arms while the strong,
the lusty, the bearded, were away battling for the
Faith; with none to praise their patriotism or sing
epic paeans to the glory of their matter-of-fact courage ;
with neither flags waving nor brasses blaring; with
no printed or spoken public opinion to tell them that
they were doing right, that they were heroes; with
nobody back home to send them encouragement or com
forts or pitiful little luxuries.
They had gone forth, unimaginative, unenthusiastic,
to kill as a matter of duty, a sending of Kismet.
For Islam was in danger. The Russian was clamor
ing at the outer gate, beyond Erzeroum.
Turks, they. Cannon fodder. Bloody dung to
mulch the fields of ambition.
Had come long months of fighting and marching
and fighting again. Victories, soberly accepted. More
marching, through a hot, sad land speckled with purple
And they had wondered a little, and one day Mehmet
el-Touati, as spokesman of his company, had asked a
question of his colonel, Moustaffa Sheffket Bey, who,
in time of peace, was the civilian Pasha of his native
The colonel had smiled through white, even teeth.
"Yes, Mehmet el-Touati," he had replied. "We are
TOO ALIEN SOULS
"But Russia is in the North, Effendina, beyond the
"I know. But have you ever hunted?"
"Good. You stalk deer against the wind, don t
you, so that it may not scent you and bolt ?"
"It is the same with warfare, with hunting men.
We are traveling South for a while. We do not
want the Russian to smell the Turkish scent."
"But " Mehmet el-Touati had pointed at a corpse
that lay curled up in the middle of the road, like a dog
asleep in the sun. "These people are not "
"No. They are not Russians. They are the Arme
nian jackals who accompany the Russian lion in search
of carrion. They are the Russian s allies. They, too,
are the enemies of the Faith. Kill them. Kill the
jackals first. Presently, with the help of Allah, the
All-Merciful, we shall nail the lion s pelt to the door of
He, and the others, had accepted the explanation.
They had marched South. They had fallen on the
Armenian villages with torch and rope and scimitar.
They had killed.
It was an order.
Many of his regiment died. Others took their
places, Turkish peasants like himself, middle aged,
bearded, solemn but from districts farther South and
They, too, had heard that Islam was in danger,
that the Russian was at the door.
Came more fighting, through many, weary months.
Then a defeat, a rout, a debacle; the ground littered
THE SOUL OF A TURK 101
with their dead and dying, amongst them the colonel
of the Seventeenth, Moustaffa Sheffket Bey; and talk
of treason in exalted places, of a renegade Saloniki
Jew by the name of Enver Bey throttling the ancient
Osmanli Empire and handing it over, tied hand and
foot, to a Potsdam usurper.
Greeks and Syrians and Druses had spread the
hushed, bitter tale through the ranks of the retreating
army. But the grave Turkish peasant soldiers had
slowly shaken their heads.
Leaky-tongued babble, that!
They had never heard of either Enver Bey or the
Potsdam usurper. Their very names were unknown
to them. They were fighting because Islam was in
Had not the green-turbaned priests told them so?
They had been defeated. What of it? That, too,
was Fate Fate, which comes out of the dark, like a
blind camel, with no warning, no jingling of bells.
At first they had won, and presently they would win
again. They would conquer as of old. It was so
They would return to their quiet, sleepy villages and
once more till the fields. Once more they would
harrow on the strips of fallow, shouting to their
clumsy, humped oxen. Once more they would hear
the creaking song of the water wheels, the chant of
the mullahs calling the Faithful to prayer, and the
drowsy zumming of the honey bees. Once more, on
Friday, the day of rest of all God s creatures, they
would stroll out with their women and children into
the sloping hills and smoke their pipes and eat their
food and sip their coffee and licorice water beneath
the twinkling of the golden crab apples that clustered
102 ALIEN SOULS
high up in the hedges and the greenish elderberries on
their thick, purple-blue stalks.
Meanwhile more fighting, marching, suffering.
Torch and rope and scimitar had done the work.
The Armenians had died by the thousands.
The land was a reeking shambles.
And what of the Russian?
With the Armenians strung up in front of their
own houses, or buried in shallow graves, there was
only the Russian left to fight.
And he did fight, with long-range guns and massed
machine-gun fire and airplanes and blazing white shells
that screamed death from afar.
Daily he took toll, gave toll.
"But," said Mehmet el-Touati, voicing the slug
gish, gray doubts of the Seventeenth Infantry which,
in its turn, voiced the doubts of the army "why is
the Russian here, in the South? How did he come
down from behind the snow ramparts of the Caucasus
and is facing us here, in the flat lands, the yellow
lands, the fertile lands? Also, I fought the Russian,
twenty, thirty years ago, when I was a youth, with
no gray in my hair and never a crack in my heart.
Then the Russian was heavy and bearded and dressed
in green. Now he is tall and lithe and slim and ruddy
of skin and " he pointed at an English prisoner
"dressed in khaki brown. I cannot understand it. Is
there then truth in the bazaar babble that treason has
crept into the Osmanli house on silent, tmclean feet ?"
Thus he spoke to the new colonel of the Seventeenth,
Yakub Lahada Bey.
The latter was a monocled, mustached dandy from
Stamboul, who had learned how to ogle and speak
THE SOUL OF A TURK 103
German and misquote Nietzsche and drink beer in the
Berlin academy of war. Too, he had learned, nor
badly, certain rudiments of strategy and tactics. But
he had paid a bitter price for his lessons. For he had
forgotten the simple, naive decencies of his native
land, the one eternal wisdom of the Koran which
says that all Moslems are brothers, equal.
He dropped his eyeglass, twirled his mustache,
and turned on Mehmet et-Touati with a snarl.
"Shut up, son of a dog with a dog s heart," he
cried. "Get back or "
He lifted his riding crop significantly, and Mehmet
el-Touati salaamed and walked away. He shrugged
his shoulders. A beating from a master and a step in
the mud, he said to himself, were not things one should
consider in times of stress. Nor did he mind the kill
ing, the dying, the wounds, the bleeding toes, the
But what of Islam? What of the Russian? What
of treason ?
Still, the priests had told them that Islam was in
danger, that they must fight. And they did. Though
not as well as before.
For doubt had entered their hearts.
Came another defeat; another retreat; another dis
grace hushed up, followed by hectic clamorings from
Stamboul, the seat of the Caliph, the Commander of
the Faithful, and thunderous, choleric, dragooning or
ders zumming South from Berlin along the telegraph
Then, one day, a red-faced, blue-eyed, white-mus-
tached, spectacled giant, eagle-topped silver helmet on
bullet head, stout chest ablaze with medals and ribbons,
rode into headquarters camp and addressed the sol-
104 ALIEN SOULS
diers, who were lined up for parade review, in halting
Turkish with a strange, guttural accent.
Mehmet el-Touati did not understand the whole of
the harangue. But he caught a word here and there :
about Islam being in danger, and the Russian at the
door; too, something about a great Emperor in the
North, Wilhelm by name, who, like themselves, was a
good Moslem and coming to their rescue.
Thus Mehmet el-Touati cheered until he was hoarse.
So did the others. And hereafter foreigners Prus
sians, they called themselves took the places of the
Osmanlis as officers and drill sergeants in many of
the regiments, including the Seventeenth. They said
that they were Moslems which was odd, considering
that their habits and customs were different from
those of the Turks. But said the priests they be
longed to a different sect, and what did that matter in
the eyes of Allah, the All-Knowing?
On and away, then !
Kill, kill for the Faith!
For days at a time they were loaded on flat, stink
ing cattle cars pulled by wheezy, rickety, sooty en
gines, until they lost all ideas as to direction and time
and distance. East they were shipped and fought,
losing half their effectives, quickly replaced by raw
village levies, until the Seventeenth was like a kaleido
scope of all the many provinces of the Turkish
Empire, with Mehmet el-Touati the last surviving
soldier of the Anatolian mountain district in his com
Again they were loaded on flat cars, then unloaded,
rushed into battle, bled white. Back on the cars once
more South, East, North, West!
The Russian Mehmet el-Touati wondered was he
THE SOUL OF A TURK 105
then all around themf? Was he attacking the house of
the Osmanli from all sides ?
Hard, hard Fate ! But fight for the Faith ! Islam
was in danger and on, on, along the never-ending
road of suffering and death !
Followed days of comparative quiet while the en
gines rushed their armed freight to the North; and
Mehmet el-Touati, who had not complained when the
food was wormy and the water thick with greenish
slime, who had not complained when bits of shrapnel
had lacerated his left arm and when a brutal German
student-doctor had treated the wound, with no anes
thetics, no drugs, with just his dirty fingers and dirtier
scalpel Mehmet el-Touati complained to the Prussian
officer in charge of his company while they were camp
ing on both sides of the railroad track.
"Bimbashi!" he said, salaaming with outstretched
hands. "We are clean men, being Moslems. There is
no water with which to make our proper ablutions be
"Schnauze halt en, verdammter Schweinehund !"
came the reply, accompanied by the supreme Teutonic
argument : kicks and cuffs ; and a detailed account in
halting, guttural Turkish of what he, himself, brevet-
major Gottlieb Kriiger, thought of the Moslem reli
gion, including its ablutions and prayers.
"Go and make your ablutions in "
Then a frightful, brutal obscenity, and the soldiers
who had accompanied Mehmet el-Touati drew back a
little. They questioned each other with their eyes.
They were like savage beasts of prey, about to leap.
Bashi byouk, begh; ayaghi byouk, tchobar "
purred one of them, in soft, feline, minatory Turkish.
A knife flashed free.
106 ALIEN SOULS
The Prussian paled beneath his tan. . . .
A tight, tense moment of danger. A little moment,
the result of a deed brutal, though insignificant, ex
cept in the final analysis of national psychology that
might have spread into gigantic, fuliginous conflagra
tion, that might have sent the whole German-Turk
ish card house into a pitful, smoldering heap of
But a Turkish staff officer, fat, pompous, good nat-
ured, his eyes red and swollen with too much hasheesh
smoking, played the part of the deus ex machina. He
stepped quickly between the Prussian and the Turks
and talked to them in a gentle, soothing singsong,
winding up with the old slogan, the old fetish, the
"Patience, brother Moslems! Patience and a stout
heart ! For Islam is in danger ! The Russian is at the
Yet, deep in the heart of Mehmet el-Touati, deep
in the hearts of the simple peasant soldiers, doubt
grew, and a terrible feeling of insecurity.
It was not alone that the Russian seemed to have
many allies Armenians yesterday, to-day Arabs and
Syrians, to-morrow Greeks and Druses and Persians.
All that could be explained, was explained, by the
green-turbaned priests who accompanied the army.
But they had been told that the Emperor of the North
who was coming to their rescue was a Moslem, like
themselves. Why then did these Prussian officers
for the case of brevet-major Gottlieb Kriiger was not
an isolated one kick and curse their brother Moslems,
the Turks? Why did they spit on Islam, the ancient
Faith, their own Faith?
Mehmet el-Touati shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
THE SOUL OF A TURK 107
The Russians must be beaten. Nothing else mat
tered. So, half an hour later, with his company, he
was entrained once more and under way, toward the
East this time, until one day the railroad tracks ended
suddenly in a disconsolate, pathetic mixture of red-
hot sand, twisted steel, and crumbling concrete.
They marched, horse, foot, and the guns, North,
"Where to?" ran the question from regiment to
Then the answer:
And cheers. For, while they had heard vaguely of
England and France and America, Russia alone ex
pressed to them all they hated and feared; and, grad
ually, their doubts and misgivings disappeared as time
and again they passed long columns of prisoners in
the familiar bottle-green of the Tsar s soldiery, and
as day after day the road tilted higher and the sharp
scent of the foot hills boomed down on the wings of
the morning wind and the ragged crags of Anatolia
limned ghostly out of the purplish-gray welter.
Mehmet el-Touati was kept busy explaining to the
men in his company, Southern and Western Turks
all but himself.
"It s the North," he said. "It s my own country.
Russia is over yonder " sweeping a hairy, brown
hand toward the hills that rolled down in immense,
overlapping planes, blue and orchid and olive green,
while the high horizon was etched with the lacy finials
of spruce and fir and dwarf oak.
"My own country," he went on. "I can smell it,
feel it. My heart is heavy with longing."
A terrible nostalgia was in his soul. Too, day after
io8 ALIEN SOULS
day, as the weeks of fighting had grown into the drab,
sad cycle of years, he felt more old and lonely and
tired. There was something ludicrously pathetic,
something almost tragic, in the picture of this middle
aged, bearded, rheumy peasant shouldering a musket
and fighting and killing.
But he did not complain, not even in his own heart.
He marched on, patient, stolid. First there must be
a victory. The Russian must be vanquished, the house
of the Osmanli made safe.
Then peace and the creaking of the water wheels,
the chant of the mullahs, the happy laughter of the
little children playing in the sun.
By this time, since the roads were narrow, mere
trails made by stray cattle and wild beasts, the army
corps had split into a number of columns, each com
posed of a half company with its complement of light
mountain guns, taken into pieces and carried on the
backs of small, mouse-colored mules; and the half
company to which Mehmet el-Touati belonged was the
rearmost column, winding along hot, jagged roads
where occasional thickets threw fleeting moments of
shade, up steep hillsides where thick, purplish-gold sun
shafts cleft the black rags of the fir trees, through
valleys sweating with brassy, merciless heat, past fields
of young corn that spread beneath the pigeon-blue sky
like dull, sultry summer dreams.
On, while their feet chafed and bled, while the
knapsacks cut their shoulders, and the rifles felt like
A few of the Seventeenth, Kurdish tribesmen
mostly, nomads drafted on the way from amongst the
black felt tents, had tried to desert.
THE SOUL OF A TURK 109
Why fight any more, had been their sneering com
ment, since their pockets were lined with Syrian and
Armenian gold and they had their fill of Syrian and
So they had snapped their fingers derisively and had
glided into the night shadows like ghosts, relying on
the hereditary, kindly negligence of their Osmanli
overlord. But they had reckoned without the fact that
the latter was no longer master in his own house
that the brevet-major of the company was a Prussian
drill sergeant, reared and trained with the Prussian
ramrod, the Prussian code.
"Riicksichtslos inconsiderate of everything except
duty !" was his watchword, and his slogan was :
"I shall make an example for the sake of disci
He had halted the marching column he drove them
afterwards to make up for the time he had lost
until the deserters, one by one, had been recaptured,
courtmartialed, sentenced to death.
The melancholy Turkish staff officer who was at
tached to the Seventeenth to act as a sort of philo
sophic, good-natured yeast, had tried to argue the
point, to reason; had said that Brevet-Major Kriiger
was making a slight error, that he did not know these
"They are like homing birds, these tribesmen," he
had said. "If a few of them want to go, let them. We
can always get more, and you cannot catch the winds
of heaven with your bare hands. These deserters are
Kurds, nomads., unreliable cattle, while the bulk of
the army is Turkish. You know yourself that the real
Turk is patient and obedient."
"Makes no difference! Schlechte Beispiele verder-
no ALIEN SOULS
ben gute Sit ten bad examples spoil good morals! If
we let the Kurds do what they please, some day,
when we least expect it, these stolid Turks of yours
will take the bit between their teeth, and then there ll
be the devil to pay ! No ! I am a Prussian. I will have
discipline. Discipline is going to win this war. I
shall make an example of these fellows !"
Then a firing squad. Blood stippling the dusty
And Gottlieb Kriiger was right. Perhaps, as the
months dragged along on weary, bleeding feet and
there was no end to suffering and dying, it was his
slogan of discipline with its obbligato accompaniment
of courtmartial and death which kept the Seventeenth
as a fighting unit fully as much as the ancient fear and
hatred of the Russian.
Then, one day, Mehmet el-Touati overheard a few
words not meant for his ear; and, with a suddenness
that to a Westerner would have seemed dramatic, even
providential, but that to him, Turk, Moslem, was
merely a prosy sending of Kismet to be accepted as
such and used, a veil slipped from his eyes and slowly,
in his grinding, bovine mind, he dovetailed what he
overheard into relationship with himself, his own life,
his past and present and future.
It was late in the afternoon and the company was
camping in a little grove, spotted with purple lilac
trees and walled in with the glowing pink of the horse-
chestnut. The soldiers had loosened the collars of
their tunics and lay stretched in the checkered, pleas
ant shade, sipping quickly brewed coffee, smoking
acrid Latakia tobacco, talking of home, and Mehmet
el-Touati, on the way to a little spring to fill his
water canteen, happened to pass the tent where the
THE SOUL OF A TURK
Prussian brevet-major was sharing the contents of his
brandy flask with the Turkish staff officer.
As he passed, a few words drifted through the tent
flap, flew out on the pinions of Fate, buffeted against
the stolid mind of Mehmet el-Touati with almost phys
ical impact caused him to tremble a little, then to
drop to the ground, to creep close, to listen, tensely,
with breath sucked in, lungs beating like trip hammers.
"Russia is smashed!" the Prussian was saying in
his halting, guttural Turkish. "The Russians have
signed a peace treaty with us, with Austria, with Bul
garia, with your country Turkey. There ll be a little
desultory border fighting but all danger is past. The
Russian is out of the running."
"You are sure of that ?" asked the other.
"Absolutely. Remember the despatches I received
"They were from headquarters. The peace treaty
at Brest-Litovsk had been signed. Russia is out of
the running as harmless as a bear with his teeth and
claws drawn. And now "
"And now?" breathed the staff officer.
"And now?" came the silent echo in Mehmet el-
Touati s heart, as he glued his ear against the tent.
"And now you Turks are going to see some real
fighting. Of course I am only guessing. But I lay
you long odds that your crack troops like this regi
ment, the Seventeenth are going to be sent to the
Western front, brigaded with Prussians and used
against the French and British. Or perhaps they ll
be sent to Albania to fight with the Austrians against
the Italians, or to Macedonia to stiffen the Bulgarians
H2 ALIEN SOULS
"You mean to say the war is not over with the
Russian beaten?" asked the Turkish staff officer.
"Your war ? Yes. It is over. But our war is not !
And you are going to fight for us, my friend and
you are going to toe the mark and fight well. For "
he laughed unpleasantly, "remember our Prussian
slogan Discipline! Discipline!"
Mehmet el-Touati crept away, into the shadow of
a horse-chestnut tree, to think. But he did not have
to think long.
Only one fact stood out: the Russian was beaten;
Islam was safe and the house of the Osmanli.
Nothing else mattered.
The West front? Albania? Macedonia?
The French and British and Italians?
No, no! He shook his head. He knew nothing
about them. They were not in his life, his world.
Russia was beaten. Islam was safe, and he had done
his duty, and now he must go home and look after
his fields and his wife and his children. They had
been neglected so long.
He must go soon. To-day. This very night. For
here he was in the foot hills of his own country,
where he knew the roads.
But how ?
He remembered the Kurds who had tried to desert^
who had been caught, courtmartialed, shot, by orders
Yes ! By orders of the Prussian, the foreigner !
The Turkish staff officer would not care. He would
argue that one man more or less in the company was
not worth the trouble of halting the column, of search
ing the surrounding valleys and mountains with a fine-
THE SOUL OF A JURK u 3
Thus there was just one way
And so, that night, with no hatred in his heart but
with a Moslem s implacable logic guiding his hand,
Mehmet el-Touati killed the Prussian officer and took
the road toward his own country.
(An Episode of the Balkan War)
CAPTAIN BORIS PLOTKINE, Third Bulgarian Infantry.
CAPTAIN MEMET ABDERRAMANN TOUATI, First Turk
LANCE-CORPORAL NADJ HANIECH, Second Battery
Turkish Horse Gunners.
SCENE : Represents a battlefield in Macedonia. It
is the early dawn of morning. The sky is pink and
silver and orange, and as far as the eye can see, there
are the shadowy, grim outlines of dead soldiers, Turks
and Bulgarians, dead horses, broken wheels and dis
mounted gun-limbers. A thick, humid haze rises from
the slimy ground, and there is the acrid smell of battle,
blood and powder and putrescence and dirt. In the
far distance are heard the crunching wheels of commis
sariat wagons, the heavy grumble of artillery, and once
in a while the sharp hissing of musketry fire.
TIME: November, 1912.
DISCOVERED: Plotkine and Touati, both badly
PLOTKINE (writhing on the ground; moaning)
Oh, Holy Kyrill and all the dear Saints this is in
sufferable. I can t stand it.
TOUATI (Slowly and painfully turning his head in the
direction of Plotkine)
You ll have to stand it, comrade.
Who s there? a friend?
No. I am of the First Turkish Cavalry. I am Cap
tain but never mind my name. I do not suppose a
ceremonious introduction is necessary under the cir
Come over and give a chap a bit of help, will you?
I am awfully sorry, but . . .
Oh, you re wounded yourself, are you? Can you
Not as much as I d like to. A piece of shrapnel
struck me, and one of my legs is shattered it s only
just making a bluff at hanging together by a shred of
I got mine through the chest right chest. (Short
pause.) You talk jolly good Bulgarian. (Another
pause. ) I say, comrade, there must be a Turkish am
bulance corps kicking about here somewhere. I can t
ii6 ALIEN SOULS
speak a word of Turkish and talking hurts me so
my chest you know. Don t you think you could call
Quite unnecessary, captain. There s nobody here,
nobody who could help us. The column marched away
long ago. You see, we two are lying in a sort of hole
in the ground. That s why they didn t notice us. Oh,
well Allah s will
PLOTKINE (with sudden, helpless fury)
God s curse on it, so we are lost what? help
Yes, captain. You re perfectly right.
PLOTKINE (after a short pause)
But couldn t we help each other ? somehow ?
I don t think I can do a thing. I am very weak,
you know. I ve lost so much blood. You see, it took
me nearly all night to crawl six feet a little bit away
from my brother
From your brother ?
Yes. He s dead, too. He was such a nice, Brave
young lad. But you see, this confounded heat and
then this wretched humidity and so he s been getting
rather smelly. Nothing against him, you know, noth
ing against him. But I had to move and you see, it
took me all night crawling crawling
And I can t move at all, not at all. Even when I
try to breathe hard, the air whistles through my lungs
as if there s a draft somewhere in my chest. And a
ton of rock seems to lie on my legs. I can t turn my
head. I can t see you. Can you see me?
Oh, yes. I am looking at you.
Then tell me: how far distant are we from each
I should judge about three yards. But for all it
would help you or me it might as well be three thou
(Both are silent for several minutes; Plotkine sighs.)
I am hungry. Got anything to eat about you?
Yes. A few dried dates. Here, look out. I ll
throw them over so that you can reach them with
your left hand. (He throws over a handful of dried
dates to Plotkine, who takes them and eats.)
PLOTKINE (between bites)
Thanks awfully. (Laughs.) You aim better than
did your artillery at the Tschataldja lines.
TOUATI (very stiffly)
I beg your pardon.
n8 ALIEN SOULS
So you think there s no hope for us, captain.
Only a miracle would help us.
I shall pray to my Patron Saint.
Well if it gives you any pleasure
(Plotkine prays fervently for a few minutes. Then
there is complete silence. They do not exchange a word
for over half an hour.)
Ho there, comrade ! Are you dead already?
No, not yet.
It must be getting on towards noon.
I think you re mistaken. It s hardly half an hour
since I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance
and that was early in the morning.
Which one of us is going to cash in first, do you
I think I ll go out first. You see, the chances are
that I ll get gangrene very soon now.
PLOTKINE (after a short silence)
I say, captain. You speak very excellent Bulgarian.
Where did you learn it ?
I? Oh, I lived in Sofia for two years studied
there at the Polytechnicon.
You don t say so ! Then you must know Professor
I certainly do.
Isn t that odd? You know, I married his daughter
Oh, I remember her. I saw her once when I called
on her father. She was a very charming girl.
Yes, isn t she? She is an angel, I tell you. And
how she loves me you ve no idea, captain. If she
knew that I m lying here, dying why, the poor little
kiddie she d cry her eyes out I tell you, she d kill
TOUATI (a little doubtful)
You think so?
Don t you believe it? I tell you she ll kill herself
when she reads my name in the list of those killed in
battle. You ll see.
120 ALIEN SOULS
TOUATI (with a laugh)
Pardon, comrade, but I don t think I ll see. Also,
I don t think we ll be in the list of casualties. We ll
be amongst those who are reported missing ; don t you
God ! that s right. The poor little girl that ll make
it worse for her. There she ll go on hoping for months
and months. (He cries.)
Did that relieve your feelings, captain?
Oh, my body just feels paralyzed. I tell you, I
can t even move my fingers any more. Damn this
war! What are we fighting about, anyway? Just
because you confounded Turks insist on having Mace
No because you are trying to steal it from us,
Yes as you wish. Makes no difference now. It s
all the same. Gracious Heavens, Tsar Ferdinand had
enough territory, God knows. What does he waat
this infernal desert for? I tell you, when I was a
child, hopping and playing about the ryefields, I had
no idea I d have to die here, in this desert. And poor
little Lisaveta will also die she loves me so much,
the dear little girl. (Pause.) Why, there is no sense
in all this this fighting this dying Tell me, where
is the sense of all this ?
You Christians are forever asking questions, and
then you either get no answer at all, or you get sev
eral answers to the same question which is worse.
We have war well and we are soldiers and so of
course we die. What s there extraordinary about
Yes but we die because of this confounded Mace
donia this damned desert where nothing grows
Well, captain, even a desert will grow wheat if you
give it enough manure and just look about you;
look at yourself and at me smell our dead comrades.
Oh, there ll be enough manure, enough stinking dung
for a good, rich crop. (Laughs,) Everything for
which one dies is good. And then, there are so
many human beings in this world. What do we
count, you and I ? Just think how many millions will
come after us.
I have no children. And what possible good is it
to Bulgaria if I die here? The priests will babble as
before, the tschinovniks will steal as before and the
comrades who return home will brag about their he
roic deeds and their decorations. Nobody will think
of me. My parents are dead and Lisaveta will kill
Yes, yes, she ll kill herself. But, captain, now s
your time to think of your former life, to think of all
life meant to you, of all you ve accomplished
122 ALIEN SOULS
PLOTKINE (with a grim laugh)
What? I should think of what my life meant to
me? Of my advancement in the army, I suppose,
what? new uniforms parties given for Lisaveta
an accolade by Tsar Ferdinand. Why, it s all over,
man and when I think of it, it seems all so horribly
prosy, so horribly cheap and indifferent. Does it con
sole you to think about your old life?
Yes. I think that I ve always done my duty, in
life and in death. Also I ve obeyed my Faith. That s
All for Turkey. All for the Crescent, what?
No. All for myself. If I learned anything, it was
for myself. If I achieved anything, it was for my
self. And thus it was for Turkey and for my Faith,
even thus. What more could I do?
And your wife?
The day I left for this war, I asked her to buy her
Do you think she ll kill herself like Lisaveta?
No. She ll marry again. You see, we have no
children. And now so many of us Turks died m this
war so we need more children, more sons to fight
again a few years hence to die again perhaps to
Oh, you wish to reconquer what you have lost?
Yes, I see; you love your country. And I love
mine. But must we die on the battlefield to prove our
It s the best proof.
No. It s the last proof.
The last proof only for ourselves. There are others
will come after us.
PLOTKINE (suddenly, with a loud, gurgling voice)
Oh, Mary, Mother of Jesus, pray (He dies.)
Oh, captain, captain (Pause.) Oh, he s dead.
I knew when he asked me, that he d go out before I
would. A shot through the chest of course. But
why should I have told him ? (Smiles.) And I don t
think Lisaveta will kill herself. (Pause.) After all,
it s quite indifferent one way or the other. (Laughs.)
Queer people, these Christians
(Lance-Corporal Nadj Haniech appears from the
distance; Touati hears his footsteps, and calls to him.)
124 ALIEN SOULS
HANIECH (running toward him)
TOUATI (looking up at him)
No use trying to get me to the hospital, corporal.
But I am suffering. I also would like to smoke got
a cigarette about you?
Yes, captain. (He gives a cigarette to Touati and
Just wait until I ve finished my smoke and then
(points to Haniech s revolver) you don t mind, do
you? You see, I am suffering and I can t be
(Haniech nods his head, squats on his heels near
Touati, and loads his revolver, while Touati finishes
FATE wrote the first chapter of this tale before either
Zado Krelekian or Mohammed Yar came to New
York; long before the transatlantic steamship lines,
seeing their European immigration business dwindle,
thanks to improved wage conditions, began to invade
Asiatic Turkey with agents who spoke the many lan
guages of that motley and illy patched empire, who
gave untold promises and were guilty of untold lies,
who plastered ancient walls, tumbledown mosques,
and battered, crumbling bazaars with garish six-sheet
posters that pictured the New World as an immense
block of real estate, entirely paved with minted gold
and especially protected by the blessed hand of Ali.
Fate wrote the tragedy of this tale when, shortly
after Creation itself, it made a compromise with Al-
Shaitan the Stoned, the Father of Lies, by planting
the seed of hatred in two races, Armenian and Kurd,
the first Christian, the second Moslem; a curse which
in the swing of the centuries stretched beyond the
western vilayets of the Ottoman Empire, across the
ragged, frayed basalt frontiers into the Caucasus and
Southern Russia, the plains of soft, lisping Persia,
west into the yellow, purple-blotched glare of Egypt,
and west again . . . even beyond the sea, following
the churned lane of Cunarder and White Star boat,
128 ALIEN SOULS
into New York, there to abut in the maze and reek
and riot of half a dozen tired, melancholy old streets
that, a few blocks away from the greasy drab of the
river, cluster toward the Rector Street Elevated sta
tion, toward the pride of the Wall Street mart, as far
even as busy, bartering, negligent Broadway.
Smelly, wheezy, threadbare old streets.
Gray, flat, dull. Powdered here and there with the
mottled brick-red of a once patrician house, a stable
or a garage that generations earlier had been a stately
residence. Streets branching west, north, and south,
in an irregular pattern of rays; rays of wretched,
lumpy cobblestone and wretcheder gutters; rays par
alleled by rickety frame dwellings that bring you
straight back to the days when square-rigged clippers
rode the waters and when men imported their liquor
from Holland and called it genever.
Tragic streets, fit background for a tragic tale.
Not that this tale is entirely tragic.
For both tragedy and comedy are a matter of view
point, perhaps of race and faith and prejudice (a wise
Arab once said that prejudice is but another name for
race and faith) ; and if your sense of humor be slightly
crooked, slightly acrid, in other words Oriental, you
will laugh at the thought of Zado Krelekian cooped
up in the back room of his house, with windows nailed
down and curtains and shutters tightly closed both
summer and winter, the doors hermetically sealed, with
fear forever stewing in his brain, in his very ears and
eyes, as he imagines he can see or hear the approach
of those whom he dreads, praying at times so as to
be on the safe side of ultimate salvation, praying quite
fervently to the God and the many saints of his ancient
Armenian church, in whom he does not really believe.
THE JESTER 127
You will also laugh at the picture of Aziza water
ing the starved geraniums in her window-box and
looking from her balcony across Washington Street
for the return of her lover; with her braided bluish-
black hair that looks as if cigarette smoke had been
blown through it, her immense, opaque eyes, her nar
row, pleasurable hands, her tiny feet, the soles stained
crimson with henna, the big toes and the ankles ablaze
with gold and precious stones.
And finally you may smile tolerantly at the thought
of Mohammed Yar, once a ragged, thin-mouthed,
hook-nosed Kurd tribesman, but dressed to-day in
swagger tweeds that bear the Fifth Avenue label, his
brown, predatory fingers encircled by rings of great
value, his shirt of silk and embroidered over the heart
with an extravagant monogram in lavender and pale
green, his shoes handstitched and bench-made; lord
ing it gloriously and arrogantly over Krelekian s Ar
menian clerks, spending Krelekian s money, and at
times kissing Aziza, Krelekian s wife.
"There is no power nor strength save in Allah, the
One!" he says with typical Moslem hypocrisy every
time he kisses her pouting lips. Always he smiles
when he kisses her. Always he snaps his fingers de
risively in the direction of the closed shutters behind
which Zado Krelekian shivers and prays.
Thus he had laughed and snapped his fingers that
day, half a year earlier, when he had walked down
the length of Washington Street, supple shoulders
thrown back, great, hairy hands swinging up and down
like flails, elbowing out of his path Armenian and
Syrian as if he were back in his native Turkish village
of Khinis, up in the hills, between Erzerum and Biltis.
There was angry murmuring at his back; curses;
128 ALIEN SOULS
occasionally a fist furtively clenched. But none chal
lenged his insolent progress. For the man was lean
and thin-mouthed and hook-nosed : a Kurd of Kurds ;
and a dozen years of American freedom cannot wipe
out the livid fear of the centuries.
"Out of my way, sons of burnt fathers!" snarled
Mohammed Yar, studying the sign-boards above the
stores, Armenian all, Kabulian and Jamjotchian and
Nasakian, and what-not, advertising all the world s
shopworn goods at a shopworn discount; and then,
taking a sallow, raven-haired youth by the neck and
twirling him like a top : "Where does Krelekian live
The evening before, the youth had learned in the
Washington Street Night School about all men s be
ing born free and equal, and so he mumbled some
thing hectic and nervous as to this being a free coun
try, and what did the other mean by
"Answer me, dog!" came the Kurd s even, passion
less voice. "Where is the house of Zado Krelekian?"
He tightened his grip.
The Armenian looked up and down the street, but
no policeman was in sight. He deckled to fence for
time, since he did not trust the stranger s intention.
"What do you want with Zado Krelekian?" he
Mohammed Yar slowly closed one eye.
"I want words with him. Honeyed words, brother
of inquisitiveness. Words smooth as silk, straight
as a lance, soft as a virgin s kiss. Krelekian is a
friend of mine, much beloved."
"A friend of yours? Ahi!" sighed the Armenian,
in memory of past happenings in his native vilayet.
THE JESTER 129
<f Was there ever friendship between your race and
"Indeed, there was not, goat of a smell most goat
ish !" came the pleasant rejoinder. "But this is Amer
ica. A free land, say you ! A land of brothers, say
I! Therefore, tell me, or" with a significant back
sweep of his right hand "I may think too much of
this being a land of brothers, and, being older than
you, may feel morally forced to chasten your reck
less spirit with many and painful beatings, as be
comes an elder and loving brother solicitous of his
younger brother s welfare. Do you get me?" he
wound up disconcertingly in plain American English.
"Yes, yes, yes! . . . Zado Krelekian lives at 84
"Is he rich?"
"Is he happy and honored and contented?"
"Yes. None more so."
"Good! Good! And is his wife still with him?"
"Yes." The young Armenian essayed a lopsided
smile. "She is with him, and she is beautiful and "
"Silence, dog! Do not besmirch a woman with
foul praise, or "
But the Armenian twisted quickly away from his
grip and ran down the street, rubbing his shoulder,
while Mohammed Yar turned into West Street, look
ing at the numbers of the houses until he reached
Eighty-Four was a shop, swollen and bulbous with
merchandise that tumbled across the counter and
through the open door, spilling into the street itself in
a motley, crazy avalanche. There were bolts of silk
130 ALIEN SOULS
and linen and wool; wooden boxes filled with Syrian
and Greek sweets; figs and dates, raisins from the
isles of Greece, and brittle, yellow Persian tobacco
tied up in bundles; pyramids of strange, high-colored
vegetables; slippers of flimsy red and orange leather.
Dried fish there was, and incense in crystals; oil of
rose and jessamine and geranium in slim bottles picked
out with leaf gold; carved walking-sticks from
Smyrna; inlaid metal work from Damascus; black
and white veils heavy with twisted silver and gold,
rugs from many lands, coffee and tea and what-not.
The whole seemed prosperous, and prosperous, too,
seemed the youngish, stout Armenian merchant about
a year Mohammed Yar s junior who stood in the
doorway, hands in pockets, contentedly puffing at a
fat, crimson-and-gold-banded cigar.
Peaceful he looked, and rosy, and well fed ; pleased
with himself, his neighbors, and the world in general.
And then, quite suddenly, his knees began to tremble.
An ashen pallor overspread his features. He dropped
his cigar. Up went his right eyebrow and his upper
lip in a curling, nervous twitch, and with a rapidity
that belied his solid bulk he tried to rush into his shop.
But he was not quick enough.
For Mohammed Yar s hairy hand fell on his shoul
der, and he heard the Kurd s raucous voice:
"Good morning, friend!"
"Go-goo go-ood morning," stammered Krelekian,
feebly trying to twist away; and the Kurd broke into
"Allah!" he said. "Is this the way in which you
welcome the man who has traveled many miles for the
pleasure of shaking your honest hand, of feasting his
eyes on your honest face? Shame on you, Zado of
THE JESTER 131
my heart!" and he slipped his arm through that of
the other and begged him to lead the way where they
could sip their coffee and smoke their pipes in
peace . . . "and speak of our home in Turkey, of the
olden days when you and I were even as twin brothers
rocked in the same cradle! *
Krelekian sighed. He looked to right and left, at
his clerks who were behind the counter attending to
the wants of the half-dozen customers. But not a
word did he utter in protest. He walked along by
the side of the Kurd; for beneath the man s ragged,
shabby, hand-me-down coat he could feel the sharp
angle of the crooked dagger-handle pressing into his
side like a message.
"Ah!" gently breathed Mohammed Yar as he sat
down on a carved, inlaid Syrian chair in the back
room of the shop, facing his host, who was still as
livid as a dead man s bones, still furtive-eyed, shak
ing in every limb. "This is good! Good, by mine
own honor! It is as if we were back in our home
village, in Khinis of the hills, friend of me !"
He made a great gesture with his hairy, high-veined
hand, that cut through the clustered shadows of the
little room like a dramatic incident, that brushed
through the sudden, clogged stillness like a conjurer/ s
wand, sweeping away the drab grime and riot of West
Street, and conjuring up the glare, the acrid sweet
ness, the booming, dropping snow chill of the little
hill village where both had lived and loved.
Clear across Zado Krelekian s livid realization of
the present slashed the picture of the little town,
Khinis, on the way to Erzerum, and what had hap
pened there between him, not then a well-fed, rosy,
132 ALIEN SOULS
prosperous New York shop-keeper, Mohammed Yar,
not then dressed in the slops of the New York water
front, and Aziza, the blue-haired girl with the henna-
stained feet and the anklets that tinkled, tinkled
Three years ago. And one day. And he had tried
to forget that day!
Three years rolled back like a curtain. And the
happenings of that one day, popping back again into
the cells of his remembrance, sitting in a solemn,
graven row, and jeering at him because of the pitiful
futility of it !
A cold, raw hill day it had been, with cottony snow-
flakes thudding softly and with the old mosque of
Hajji AH the Sweetmeat-Seller raised on its broad
marble steps as on a base, lifting the apex of its wide
horseshoe gate forty feet up in the air, and the gate
way how well he remembered it all, here in the flat,
melancholy drab of West Street! covered with
arabesques of mosaic faience in green and peacock
blue and deep rose and bearing its holy message in
conventionalized mushakil Arabic characters.
"In the name of Allah, the One, the All-Merciful,
the All-Knowing, the King of the Day of Judgment !"
read the inscription, and always he had feared it, he
and the others of his race, like something terribly
pious and terribly ironic, since it expressed the arro
gant, harsh faith of the Kurd masters who ruled them,
and beat them, and robbed them, and at times killed
them because of the sport of it.
Well he remembered how he had trembled even
as he was trembling now when Mohammed Yar,
dressed in sweeping woolen cloak, leather sandals, and
THE JESTER 133
tall, rakish fur cap, had come out of the mosque of
Hajji the Sweetmeat-Seller, had whispered a rapid
word to him, and had walked on by his side, towards
the coffee-house of Malakian, where they had sat
He remembered his own brazen words.
For, careful man, he had taken with him that day
Musa Lahada, the lean, sardonic Turkish Jew who
was attached as dragoman to the British Consulate
and thus protected by the Union Jack.
"I saw and heard the whole thing, Mohammed Yar,"
he had said. "I was passing through Nahassim
Street, and I heard the quarrel, the insults. I saw
the blow "
"He insulted me first !" the Kurd had cried. "That
cursed Frankish infidel! He struck the first blow!"
"True; but you drew steel and killed. I saw it. I
know where you hid the corpse back of the camel
stables in Farid Khan s Gully. And I have witnesses."
"Armenian witnesses ! Fathers of pigs, and sons of
pigs ! Liars "
"Armenians? Yes! Fathers of pigs, and sons of
pigs? Perhaps! But not liars, Mohammed Yar.
They saw the thing which is true, and they will swear
to it. And Armenians or not, pigs or not, they will
be believed by the British consul. For the man whom
you killed was an Englishman, and "
"And ?" Mohammed Yar had asked with a side
"Death is bitter bitter as the fruit which grows
near the Bahretlut!"
"But must there be death?"
134 ALIEN SOULS
"No, Mohammed Yar. I am willing to stuff my
mouth with silence for a consideration, supplemented
by an oath."
"Name the oath first," the Kurd had laughed. "It
is cheaper than the consideration when dealing with
an Armenian, O Father of Compound Interest !"
"Possibly cheaper." Krelekian had inclined his
head. "Here it is, for you to take or leave, accord
ing to how you prefer life or death. You must swear
on the Koran, by your own salvation and that of your
parents, by the honor of your mother and your sisters,
by the blood of the Prophet and the horns of the Arch
angel Gabriel you must swear a most sacred oath
that, as long as you live, there shall be no killing nor
beating in revenge of what I shall ask of you, that
never for what is happening to-day between you and
me will you take toll with steel or bullet or whip or
fist with blood nor with pain neither you nor your
tribesmen nor your friends! My life must be sacred
to you, and inviolate."
"Good ! I swear it. Yes, yes, yes" as the Arme
nian had insisted on the exact phraseology. "Never
shall I take toll, neither I nor my friends nor my
tribesmen, neither with steel nor bullet nor whip nor
fist. I swear it on the Koran, by my own and my
parents salvation, by the honor of my mother and my
sisters, by the blood of the Prophet and the horns of
the Archangel Gabriel! May my right hand dry on
my body may I eat dirt may God strike me dumb
and deaf and blind if I break this solemn oath!
And now what is the consideration for your silence
in that little killing matter?"
"It is simple, Mohammed Yar. Only a woman
whom you love and whom I love, but who, being a
THE JESTER 135
gypsy, loves neither you nor me, but only gold and
silver and jewels and sweets and laughter."
"Aziza?" the Kurd had whispered, the blood mount
ing to his high cheek bones.
Aziza! The gypsy!
Up there on the second floor above his shop, glisten
ing among the heaped green cushions of her couch
like an exotic beetle in a nest of fresh leaves; with
her tiny oval of a face that through the meshes of her
bluish-black hair looked like the face of a golden
statue with living eyes and the expression in those
eyes, hard, keen, narrow, like the curling shimmer of
moon-rays on forged steel . . .
For he had married Aziza after the Kurd, con
fronted by the inevitable, had given in. He had taken
her to New York with him. For love of her he had
outwitted his brother Armenians. He had out
generaled them, outbargained them, and if the truth
be told outcheated them . . . yes . . . because he
And now ?
"Mohammed Yar!" he stammered. "Remember
the oath you gave !"
"I do remember," smiled the other, with a flash of
even, white teeth, "and I shall keep it. Do not be
afraid, Zado. And now a cup of coffee, a few figs,
a handful of dates. Give me welcome!"
Zado gave a relieved laugh. The color came back
to his cheeks. He clapped his hands, summoning a
clerk, and ordered coffee and figs and pipes to be
brought, and for the next hour he sat facing his guest,
136 ALIEN SOULS ^
Finally the Kurd rose.
"I shall call again if I may," he said.
"Please do." Krelekian accompanied him to the
door. "Call again. I shall make you welcome.
What are you doing in New York? Where are you
staying? How long have you been here?"
"I came with an Arab doctor whom I met in
Smyrna," replied the Kurd. "We live oh, a ways
north, near the University. He is taking a special
course in the medicine of the Americans, and he
teaches me in payment for my services. Some day
I shall be a doctor myself." He took the other s hand,
shook it, then, just as he was about to release it,
raised it close up to his eyes and studied it. "Zado !"
he went on, giving his words the emphasis of a low
ered voice. "What is the matter with you?"
Again the Kurd studied the other s pudgy, flabby
"Well" he shrugged his shoulders "perhaps I am
mistaken. Never mind."
And he walked away, while the Armenian looked
after him, smiling, happy once more, and saying to his
chief clerk that indeed America was a great and won
"It teaches decency and kindliness and forgiving
even to a Kurd," he wound up, and he went upstairs
to kiss the red lips of Aziza.
Mohammed Yar had not lied when he had told Zado
Krelekian about his relations with the Arab doctor.
The latter, a graduate of the University of Paris, had
come to New York to take a special course un4er Pro-
THE JESTER 137
fessor Clinton McGarra, the great skin specialist, and
had picked up the Kurd in Smyrna. For Mohammed
Yar had left his native village shortly after Krelekian
and Aziza had departed for America, drifting on the
trail of the Armenian with the instinct of a wild ani
mal, serene in his belief that presently Fate would send
him across the other s path.
The Arab, being an Arab, thus an ironic observer
of living things, had taken an interest in the savage
tribesman, who took him completely into his con
fidence, telling him about Zado and Aziza.
"Come with me to America," El-Touati, the Arab,
had said. "You say he has gone there. It will not
be hard to find him. Armenians are a clannish folk,
herding together like sheep."
And thus Mohammed Yar became cook, bottle-
washer, valet, and half a dozen other useful things
to the smiling, bearded Arab, receiving in exchange
a small wage and certain lessons in medicine certain
lessons which, when first mentioned, had sent both
the Arab and the Kurd into fits of high-pitched,
El-Touati laughed now as Mohammed Yar came
into the room, returned from his morning s expedition
to West Street.
"Did you find him?" he asked.
"Did you bridle your tongue and your temper?"
"Yes. I spoke honeyed words, sweet words, glib
"And," pursued the Arab, "did you speak forked
words, twisted words, words filled with guile and
"Yes. I planted the seed of worry, Haakim."
138 ALIEN SOULS
The Arab raised his thin, brown hands in a pious
"Is-subr miftah il-faraj!" ("Patience is the key of
relief!") he muttered. And then Kurd and Arab
smiled at each other through half -closed eyes, and the
latter turned to the former and asked him to come
with him to the next room, his little private laboratory.
"I shall give you another lesson, my savage friend.
Hand me down that leather case with the crystal-
tipped needles and the little box filled with the tiny
green vials. Listen . . ."
And the Kurd inclined his great head, listening to
the other s smooth, rapid words, occasionally asking
a question when his primitive mind could not grasp
the technical and scientific details, but sturdily bent on
his task, until El-Touati declared himself satisfied.
"There is no danger?" asked Mohammed Yar.
"You know, Haakim, I gave a most solemn oath."
"There is no danger. None whatsoever. Ex
cept" he smiled "to Aziza. For she may change
the gentle hand of Zado for "
"I shall beat her," said Mohammed Yar. "Then
I shall kiss her red lips until they hurt. Then I shall
beat her again. She will love me very much. She is
a gypsy. . . ."
"And you a Kurd!" laughed El-Touati, closing
the little leather case, but not before the other had
dipped a furtive hand into its contents.
The next day, and again the next, and every day
the following week, Mohammed Yar called on Zado
Krelekian. Moslem, thus believing in the sacredness
and proprieties of married relations, he never in
quired after Aziza, never as much as mentioned her
THE JESTER 139
name to her husband, and it was not his fault that on
his fourth visit the gypsy was looking from the nar
row balcony where she was watering her starved, dusty
geraniums. It was not his fault that suddenly her
eyes opened wide and that one of the flowers fell at
Gradually the Armenian looked forward with real
pleasure to the Kurd s coming. For not only was
it a link with his little native Turkish village, but
also the fact of his being on such good terms with a
Kurd, a hereditary master, served to heighten his
importance and social standing among his country
There was only one thing to which he took ex
ception, namely the Kurd s habit of inquiring after
It was not the usual, flowery Oriental way, but a
detailed inquiry: "How did you sleep? Did you
perspire last night ? Have you a headache ? Does
your body itch? Have you fever?" And always
Mohammed Yar would study his hand intently, then
release it with a flat, sympathetic sigh, until Krelekian
one day lost his temper and made an ill-natured re
mark that the Kurd s association with the Arab doctor
seemed to have developed in him a positively ghoulish
"You are like some cursed, toothless Syrian mid
wife," he exclaimed, "forever smelling out sickness
and death sniffing about like some carrion-eating
jackal of the desert !"
Mohammed Yar spread his hairy paws in a massive
"I am sorry, my friend," he replied. "I meant only
to Never mind . . ."
140 ALIEN SOULS
Krelekian s nerves trembled like piano wires under
the hammer of the keys.
"Never mind what?" he cried in a cracked voice;
and the Kurd, like one making a sudden, disagreeable
resolution, leaned across the table and spoke in a low
"I " he began, and was silent again.
"I Ah! Ullah Karim!"
Mohammed Yar was evidently embarrassed ; just as
evidently sorry for his host, terribly sorry. Then, as
if obeying an overwhelming inner force, he picked up
Krelekian s flabby hand where it rested twitching and
nervous among the brass-encased coffee-cups, held it
high, and examined it intently, as on his first visit.
"Zado!" he murmured, in a low, choked voice.
"Zado dear, dear friend "
He was silent. He dropped the trembling hand as
if it were red-glowing charcoal. He rose very hur
riedly and rushed through the shop, out to the side
walk, Krelekian close on his heels and clutching his
"No, no!" whispered Mohammed Yar, still in that
same choked voice. "Do not ask me. Perhaps I am
mistaken and if I am mistaken and should tell you,
you would never forgive me ! Perhaps I am mistaken.
I must be mistaken . . . yes, yes ... I know I am
mistaken!" and he ran down the street, never heed
ing the Armenian s protests to come back, to explain.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that late that same
evening the Kurd, helping the Arab doctor, received a
special-delivery letter with the mark of a West Side
downtown post-office ; a letter perfumed with attar of
JHE JESTER 141
geranium and saying in Arabic that "the sword of
worry and despair has entered the buffalo s soul."
Perhaps it was coincidence that during the next four
weeks, while spring burst into the full flower of sum
mer, while Washington and West and Rector Streets
began to shimmer with a great, brittle heat that danced
about the heaped wares of the Armenian shops with
cutting rays, that touched the ramshackle, drab houses
and the dust-choked gutters with points of glittering
gold, that steeped the open doors of the stores with
black splotches like bottomless hollows and wove over
everything a crooked, checkered pattern of intolerable
orange and crimson that during four long weeks
Mohammed Yar attended strictly to his duties as Doc
tor El-Touati s factotum and never once found time
to call on Zado Krelekian.
Perhaps it was an accident that, when finally he did
go to the other s house, he kept himself at a little,
well-marked distance and, with clumsy intent, did not
see Zado s outstretched hand.
Lastly, it was perhaps by accident that when, after
a sharp pause and struggle, he did shake the other s
hand, that same hand was suddenly withdrawn with a
little cry of pain.
"Something scratched my palm," said Zado Krele
Apologetically the Kurd pointed at the sharp edge
of his cuff.
"I am sorry," he smiled, at the same time rapidly
dropping into his side pocket a little crystal-tipped
That day it was not the Kurd who inquired after
the Armenian s health, but the latter who spoke of it
voluntarily, hectically, the words tumbling out of his
142 ALIEN SOULS
mouth as if he had to speak them or choke, as if try
ing to roll an immense burden of grief and worry
from his stout chest.
"I am not well," he said. "I perspire at night.
My body itches. I have fever. I am not well not
well at all !"
"Summer," gently suggested Mohammed Yar.
"The fever of summer."
"No, no ! It is not that. I tell you I am sick and
at times I am afraid. Tell me, Mohammed Yar, you
who study with a great Arab doctor what do you
The other shook his head.
"I do not know," he replied. "The last time I saw
you I was afraid that you " He looked up with sud
den resolution. "Here is my address," he continued,
giving Zado a slip of paper. "If I say, if a tiny
white rash should break out on your hand to-night,
perhaps to-morrow morning, let me know at once.
But tell nobody else under no considerations whatso
ever!" he emphasized in a whisper.
"Because Never mind. You will know in time
if the rash should appear though Allah grant in his
mercy and understanding that it may not appear!
Allah grant it !" he repeated with pious unction as he
left the shop.
But late that night there was less unction and more
sincerity in his exclamation of "Allah is great indeed !
He is the One, All-Knowing!" when he opened the
telegram he had just received and read its contents to
"It is done," he said, "and I am off."
At the door he turned.
THE JESTER 143
"Tell me, Haakim," he asked, "are you sure there
is no danger ? Remember I have sworn a most solemn
oath never to take toll with steel or blood or pain for
what happened that day, back home in Khinis, between
him and me!"
"Rest assured," laughed the Arab. "Your oath is
inviolate. There will be neither blood nor pain ex
cept perhaps a pain of the mind, which" he shrugged
his shoulders "is beyond the probing of human ken,
being entirely a matter of Fate, thus sealed to
"There will also be pain on Aziza s crimson lips
when I crush them with the strength and the desire
of mine own lips!" replied the Kurd from the thresh-
It was hours later, in the little back room of Zado
Krelekian s shop, that Mohammed Yar put his hand
gently on the Armenian s shoulder.
"Heart of my heart," he said, and his voice was
as soft as the spring breeze, "it is the decree of Fate
Fate, which comes out of the dark like a blind camel,
with no warning, no jingling of bells; Fate, which is
about the necks of all of us, be we Armenians or
Kurds, Christians or Moslems, like a strangling lash.
Long life may yet be yours. But " He made a
"Is it hopeless?"
"Yes. As hopeless as when Khizr hides his shiny
"But what can I do? What?"
"Nothing ! I spoke to my Haakim, El-Touati. He
does not know you personally. But I told him about
you, of the fact that you and I, Armenian and Kurd,
144 ALIEN SOULS
Christian and Moslem, enemies once, became friends
in this strange land of America. And he says even
as I say : you must shut yourself up where none may
see you except I, your very good friend. For these
Americans fear it!" Again his hand pressed gently
the other s heaving, trembling shoulder. "If you go
to an American doctor, if you tell anybody, they will
make a report to their health police and send you away
to a desolate spot, far away from the land of the liv
ing, from everybody, from all your friends even
from me, heart of my heart! It is the law of this
land. It is so written in their books. But, doing
what I tell you, you will also be shut up, but you will
be near your shop you can take the little house next
door, which you own near Aziza, near me! And
I will take care of you. I I am your friend, and,
being your friend, I am not afraid of it! I, I my
self, will bring you food and drink and tobacco and
books and papers. But nobody must know, lest the
health police find out and send you to the desolate
"How can we do it?"
"I shall spread a lie, skillfully, hoping that Allah
may forgive me the lie because of the friendship which
causes it. I will tell your countrymen that a great
sorrow, a crushing melancholia, has overtaken you.
I shall bring a paper to that effect from the Arab
"But," cried Zado Krelekian hysterically, "my shop
my business my wife?"
"Zado" there was gentle reproof in the Kurd s
accents "do you not trust me? Have I not been a
friend to you? Has ever thought of revenge entered
my heart? Zado heart of my heart I shall take
THE JESTER 145
care of everything for you, because of the respect, the
friendship, the love, I bear you !"
And he walked softly out of the shop while Zado
Krelekian looked at his hand, at the little white rash
that had broken out where the crystal-tipped needle
had pricked the skin.
"Leper!" he whispered under his breath. "Leper!
Oh, my God!"
And it is thus that Zado Krelekian is cooped up in
the back room of his house, with windows nailed down
and curtains tightly closed both summer and winter,
with fear stewing forever in his brain.
It is thus that Mohammed Yar, once a ragged, thin-
mouthed, hook-nosed Kurd tribesman, dresses to-day
in the height of fashion and lords it gloriously over
Krelekian s Armenian clerks, spending Krelekian s
It is thus that, when the mood or the passion takes
him, he crushes Aziza in his great, muscular arms and
kisses her on the pouting, crimson lips.
Always he smiles when he kisses her. And always
he gives thanks to Allah. Always he snaps his rin
gers derisively in the direction of the closed shutters
behind which Zado Krelekian shivers.
Always when, as a good Moslem, he says his morn
ing and evening prayers, he adds :.
"I am glad, O Allah, O All-Knowing One, that I
kept my oath that I did not take toll of Zado Kre
lekian, neither with steel nor bullet, neither with whip
THE STRENGTH OF THE LITTLE THIN
IBRAHIM FADLALLAH shrugged his shoulders :
"You do not understand, my frfend. You cannot
get it through your head that it is impossible to de
stroy caste and to create fraternity by Act of Parlia
ment. Allah you can t even do it in your own
"But modern progress the telegraph the democ
racy of the railway carriage " interrupted the
"You can compel a Brahmin to sit in the same office
and to ride in the same railway compartment with
a man of low caste, but you can never force him to
eat with him or to give him his daughter in marriage.
You spoke of those who are educated abroad and
even they, my friend, when they return to Hind, drift
back into caste and the ways of caste. For there is a
little thread oh, such a tiny, thin little thread which
binds them to their own land, their own kin, their own
caste. And it seems that they have not the strength to
break it this little thread.
"Ah, yes! Let me tell you something which oc
curred last year a true tale and please do not for
get the thread, the little thread
"Now the whole thing was like a play in one of
your theaters it was staged, dear one, and well staged.
[The scene was the great hall in which meets the caste
THE LITTLE THIN THREAD
tribunal of a certain Brahmin clan. Imagine, if you
please, a huge quadrangle, impressively bare but for a
low dais at one end, covered with a few Bengali shawls
and an antelope skin or two ah ! and then the dra
matic atmosphere. Not the atmosphere of death oh,
no ! much worse than death, much worse. For what
is death compared to the loss of caste? And that af
ternoon they were going to try a man who had pol
luted his blood, who had sinned a great sin, a great sin
more heinous than the killing of cows not a sin ac
cording to your code of laws but then they were men
of a different race, and their sins are not your sins
eh? and mayhap their virtues may not be your
"On the dais sat his Holiness Srimat Muniswa-
mappa Rama-Swami, and on either side of him stood
anxious disciples who looked with awe at his thin,
clean-shaven lips and fanned his holy old poll with
silver-handled yak tails. Near him sat the pleader and
a few Brahmin grandees, whom he was in the habit of
consulting in cases of importance. At a respectful
distance were the men of the clan : they filed in slowly,
prostrating themselves in turn before the Swami and
uttering the name of the presiding deity with trembling
lips, while his Holiness smiled a contemplative smile,
and while his fingers counted the beads on his rosary.
"The proceeding opened with a sermon pronounced
by the Swami. First, he praised Ganesa, Sarasvati,
and half a dozen other assorted deities, and then with
a great abundance of detail and many long-winded
quotations he set forth the duties of the twice-born.
He told them that a Brahmin should not break up
clods of earth nor tear up the grass under his feet;
that he should not look at the setting sun, the rising
148 ALIEN SOULS
sun, the sun in eclipse, the image of the sun in a pool
of water; that he should not point at the stars with
fingers of irreverence; that he should not sleep with
his head turned toward the north or west; that he
should abstain from cutting his nails with his teeth,
from using the same toothstick more than once, from
eating off plates used by others, and from wearing san
dals worn by strangers and a thousand such foolish
"The assembly was politely bored, but the Swami
enjoyed himself hugely. For it gave him an oppor
tunity to show his great learning and his wonderful
memory, and then, like most holy men, he loved to
lay stress on the outward emblems of his faith. He
illustrated his sermon by relating several horrid ex
amples, chiefly that of a wicked barber who had shaved
a Brahmin with a razor which had been polluted by
the shadow of a low-caste falling on it. Finally, he
commented on the advent of modernity and expounded
with more lengthy and tiresome quotations how the
devils of progress, skepticism, irreverence, and anarchy
were making headway amongst the twice-born, how
the young Brahmins were making their names a name
of scorn in the present world and spoiling their chances
for the future world.
"Then he whispered a word to the pleader, who
called up the case of Chaganti Samashiva Rao, a young
Brahmin accused of having sullied his caste by marry
ing an infidel.
"There was a commotion at the door, and then Rao
appeared, struggling furiously in the arms of half a
dozen muscular youngsters. The pleader explained
that Rao had studied in Boston and that he had brought
home with him a girl, a native of the land of the
THE LITTLE THIN THREAD 149
foreigners and a Christian, whom he had married
according to the laws of the Americans. He had thus
polluted himself, his father, his mother, his cow, and
his caste. Here the pleader was silent for a few
moments to let the atrocity of the crime soak into all
hearts, and then he asked the assembly for a verdict.
And the assembly shouted like one man : Let him lose
caste. Drive him out. Drive him out.
"But Rao rose and declared he was going to make a
speech. He said he would tell the old fossils, includ
ing his Holiness Srimat Muniswamappa Rama-Swami,
what he thought of them. There were roars of:
Throw him out! Stop his unclean mouth! and
angry hands were raised. But his Holiness smiled a
thin, mocking smile and bade the assembly be quiet and
listen to what the defendant would have to say for
"Rao acknowledged this permission with a sarcastic
bow of gratitude, pulled out his cuffs he wore Eng
lish clothes and proceeded to shock the grave assem
bly greatly by declaring that he did not give a whoop
in Hades such was the expression he used, he being
a perfect English scholar for all the Brahmins, all
the Swamis, and all the caste tribunals in the length
and breadth of Hindustan. He had been brought into
court by force, he indignantly complained, and he ab
solutely denied the power and the right of the assembly
to punish him. For he had lived several years in
America, had become an American citizen, and had
voluntarily thrown away his caste as he would a
pair of worn-out sandals.
"His Holiness interrupted him, saying that he would
now pass sentence on him. But Rao exclaimed : Sen
tencethe devil you ve neither the right nor the
150 ALIEN SOULS
might to sentence me. The Swami, never heeding the
interruption, continued with a calm and even voice:
I sentence you to the living death of the outcast until
such time as you expiate your crime, acknowledge
your errors, and regain your caste status, which you
forfeit to-day, through the regular methods as laid
down in the holy books. Your friends and relatives
will assemble on the first unlucky day of next week,
and will offer, as if to your manes, a libation in a pot
of water which a slave girl shall dash against the walls
of your house, and all who take part in this ceremony
shall be regarded as impure for three days. Your
friends and relatives shall not be permitted to accept
your hospitality, nor shall you be allowed to share
theirs. Your touch shall be pollution unspeakable.
Your children shall be outcasts and shall not marry
anybody but Mangs and Mahars. Your own father
and mother shall be forbidden your house under the
risk of losing caste. Neither your barber, your tailor,
your cook, nor your washerwoman shall work for
you. Nobody shall assist you in any way, not even
at the funeral of a member of your household. You
shall be debarred access to the temples
"Here Rao, who had mocked and laughed during
all this sentence, cried : Save your breath, oh holy
one, for indeed all this tommyrot can never affect me.
As to hospitality, I don t care to invite those old fos
sils of Brahmins into my house, nor could I ever bring
myself to set foot in theirs and listen to their tire
some dissertations about the Veda and the Upanishads ;
besides, I ve plenty of European friends. As to my
children being outcasts, know, revered uncle, that ^ I
have none, and that if ever I should have any they will
be Americans like myself and marry like myself. As
[THE LITTLE JHIN THREAD 151
to my father and mother being forbidden my house
well, they re both dead. As to my being debarred
access to your temples by the great God Shiva I
never go there anyway
"His Holiness waited until Rao had finished, and
then he said, with the same inscrutable smile playing
about the corners of his thin lips: I furthermore
sentence you to have torn from your body the sacred
thread of your caste, though here he smiled again
I hardly believe that you, who have voluntarily
given up your caste and who mock at everything con
nected with it, can by any chance still have the thread
about your person.
"Here Rao made a wild dash in the direction of the
door, but he was stopped by many willing hands.
There was a short and furious struggle, his clothes
were torn and, my friend, it appeared that he, the
scoffer, the atheist, the expatriate, who had renounced
India, who had thrown much filth at caste, who had
become an American, a free-thinker, and a scoffer at
superstitions still wore next his heart the thin thread,
the holy thread of his caste the holiest, the most in
timate, the most exclusive, the most secret, the most
important emblem of the caste which he affected to
Ibrahim was silent, and the American asked : "Well
what happened ?"
The Egyptian lit a cigarette and continued :
"Oh, the usual thing. Rao did penance, he feasted
the priests, he went through the regular process of
ceremonious purification "
"But what about the girl?"
"His wife? Oh he sent her Back to her own
country " Ibrahim gave a dry little laugh. "Yes,
152 ALIEN SOULS
my friend, you assuredly understand India. You can
reform the world with your progress, your modern
ity, your splendid democracy you wonderful Anglo-
Saxons. Only it appears that there is a little thread
Allah, what a tiny little thread! which brings to
naught all your wonderful civilization, your liberty,
your democracy. Ah, such a tiny little thread, my
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER
IT is said that, compared to the cunning of the fakir,
the Holy Man of Hindustan, even an Armenian, a
trustee, a banker, a widow, a demon, and a female
cobra during the Grishna Season, are only lisping,
Listen, then, to the tale of Harar Lai, the babu, the
banker, the giver of many nautch parties, the sufferer
from that envied disease of the idle rich, diabetes;
and of Krishna Chucker-jee, the fakir, the Holy Man,
the ash-smeared darling of the many gods.
Harar Lai, the babu, was the big man of the village.
His earrings were of jade. His face was shiny with
ghee. His wife was fat and very beautiful; none of
your lean, panther-like women she, but a proper
woman, with the walk of the king-goose and the waist
of the she-elephant. A most proper woman indeed!
Three times he had been to Bombay; and he had
brought back marvelous devil-things; clocks which
clucked like moor-birds, boxes which had songs and
voices in their bowels, resplendent and beautiful orna
ments with the magic legend "Made in Birmingham."
He was a banker. And Fate endowed him with
such a miraculous skill in the making-out of accounts
that a man to whom he had loaned fifty rupees might
go on making monthly payments of twenty rupees
each for three years without reducing his debt by a
single anna. Great are the virtues of Compound In-
154 ALIEN SOULS
terest! And, indeed, his books proved beyond the
shadow of a doubt that the debt, instead of being re
duced, would grow with each successive payment, un
til in the end of a few years the original loan of fifty
rupees had become half a lakh. He would then give
thanks to Shiva, the great god, and to the just laws
of the English.
For look you:
During the lawless old Moghul days, the days when
the Moslem dogs ruled to the South of the Passes, a
quick, crooked dagger-thrust would have ended the
babu s earthly career. But the British Raj, the guard
ian angel of the poor and the pitiful, had established
the just laws of Europe in this land of oppression.
Thus Harar Lai carried on his business in security,
under the shadow of the law, even as they do in Eng
land and in America.
There was nothing he would not lend money on,
from a nautch girl s blue beads to an unborn calf,
from an acre of indigo plants to ten yards of muslin
turban cloth; provided the papers were drawn up in
proper form and witnessed by a notary public.
And so in good years, when abundant rain watered
the smiling fields, when the crops were green and
bounteous, the fish swarming in the river, and the
trees heavy with fruit, he would reap a goodish
share of the gifts of the gods, and everything being
so rich and plentiful he would naturally increase the
interest on loans a little, just a little; while in bad
years, when black famine stalked through the fields,
when the sun burnt as do the eternal fires in the seventh
hall of perdition, when the smoky yellow haze rose
from the ground and suffocated the parching crops,
when the fish perished of thirst in the drying streams,
.GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER 155
when the land was dying of hunger, and the call to
prayer gave way to the maddening chant of despair
when his heart, his poor, tortured heart bled with
the pity of it all, even then he would prosper exceed
ingly. For behold: he was a Hindu, a babu, a fol
lower of the praised god who is Shiva, charitable to
a fault and quite unlike the Armenian pigs who suck
the heart-blood of the unhappy land to the west;
again he would loosen the strings of his compassionate
purse and advance thousands of rupees to the men
of the village. Never would he accept more than three
hundred and twelve per cent a month, and he would
be content, as only security, with a mortgage on every
bullock and goat, every cartwheel and fishing-net,
every tree and well in the blessed village.
His eyes filled with tears of gratitude when he be
held the righteous growth of his treasures. I said
that he prospered and, indeed, there was never cart
wheel tired, there was never net anchored, tree planted
or grain sown but he received his fair share of the
He was the Corporation of the Village.
It was when the juice was being collected from the
heads of the opium poppies, that three wandering
fakirs, a guru and two disciples, strayed into the
village. They were very dirty, and thus very holy.
They demanded food, drink, shelter and cowdung fuel
from a wretched peasant who lived on the outskirts of
the village. Money? No. They had none. They
were fakirs, followers of the many gods, very holy,
also very dirty. They had no money. Not a single
"But do not let that worry you," said the guru.
"To-night I shall pray to Shiva. He will repay you."
156 ALIEN SOULS
So the poor peasant gave rice and ghee and sweet
meats and oil and onions and sugar and tamarinds to
the three holy vampires who had never done a stroke
of honest work in their lives. They did not have to.
For they were of a most thorough and most astound
ing dirtiness and ditto holiness. They lived thus on
the superstitions of the land of Hind; and they lived
exceedingly well. They also gave thanks to Shiva, the
great god and to the just laws of the English.
For look you:
During the lawless old Moghul days, the days when
the Moslem dogs ruled to the South of the Passes, a
sharp sword would have quickly removed the heads
of the three fakirs. But then the British Raj has estab
lished the just laws of Europe in this land of op
pression; the laws which preach tolerance and equal
rights for all religions and sects. And so these re
ligious parasites had gripped their fangs in the bowels
of the land s prosperity, even as in England and in
The holy men asked the news of the village, care
fully scanning the scraps of bazaar talk; and they
learned about Harar Lai, the babu, and they evinced
The next morning the three were gone. But they
had left ample payment for their entertainment. For
in the shade of a great babul tree stood a brand-new
idol, a Mahadeo which was so exceedingly ugly and
bestial and obscene that it was certain to bring prosper
ity to the village, especially to the peasant who had
been the host of the three so dirty, the three so holy
Soon its fame spread. Little chaplets of flowers
were offered to the holy emblem of creation, and thin-
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER 157
lipped, weary-eyed men and patient, onyx-eyed women
sent up many pathetic prayers to the grinning, staring,
sensual idol. And the idol prospered. It shone with
plentiful libations of ghee, and was more ugly and
more holy than ever. The very babul tree did homage
to it. For a gorgeous loofah creeper which for many
hot and many cold weathers had used the tree for
support and nourishment sent down strong shoots and
encircled with its sweet-smelling, lascivious flowers the
neck and the arms of the Mahadeo.
The babu saw it. He considered it. He was angry.
For here was something in the village which could
not be assisted with a mortgage at a reasonable rate
of interest. Mahadeos are gods. Gods do not need
money; only the fakirs, the Holy Men who serve the
gods, need money.
Let it be understood that Harar Lai had no inten
tion of fooling with the Mahadeo. He was a Hindu.
He was deeply religious. He would sooner have killed
his fat and beautiful wife than kill a cow.
Then, one day, the babu discovered how he could
make the god pay without defiling his caste, without
committing an irreligious act. On the contrary, he
would do great honor to the Mahadeo. All he had
to do, he thought, was to buy the plot of land which
housed the idol. Of course the peasant would not des
ecrate the god by removing it from the shade of the
babul tree which he had chosen for his abode. So he
would buy a plot of land and would then acquire a
reputation for sanctity by erecting a temple over it.
He would spread the tale of the Mahadeo through the
countryside. He would advertise in the Bande Mahr-
attam and other native papers; perhaps even in the
English press, the Bombay Times, the Englishman,
158 ALIEN SOULS
the Pioneer. There would be many offerings laid at
the feet of the god. He would be the owner of the
temple. He had a brother-in-law who was a Brahmin
priest. Together they would collect the offerings. The
plan was simple.
But the owner of the land absolutely refused to part
with it. Neither cajolings nor threats were of the
"No, no!" exclaimed the superstitious ryot. "No,
by Karma! I will not part with what the gods have
sent me. The Mahadeo has brought luck to my
house. Three weeks ago my wife gave birth to twin
sons. And though she drank buttermilk, she did not
die. Behold what a powerful Mahadeo he is! Also
be pleased to observe his face. How ugly, how bestial,
how obscene! No, there was never Mahadeo like
About this time one of the three fakirs, Krishna
Chucker-jee by name, came again to the village. He
was dirtier and holier than ever. Again he visited the
house of the peasant. Again he asked for food and
drink and cowdung fuel. Gladly the peasant gave.
He kissed the Holy Man s feet.
Then he told him about the babu s offer.
"Five times Harar Lai has asked me to sell him the
plot of land which houses the Mahadeo. Five times
I have refused. And each time the babu forecloses
on some of my land. What shall I do, O Holy Man ?"
The fakir blessed the peasant. He praised him for
his devotion. He told him that in a month he would
receive the answer to his question. But in the mean
time he was not to breathe a word to anybody about
his, the fakir s, second visit. Also he needn t worry
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER 159
about the mortgages. Everything would be straight
"See, my friend," he concluded. "For fifteen years
neither water nor soap nor scissors have defiled my
body. Daily I grow and gain in holiness and filth.
Tell me, have you ever seen so much holiness, so much
"No, beloved one of the gods," stammered the
"Then trust in me. Everything will be straight
ened out. Even to-night I shall cover my body with
ashes and cowdung. Have faith . . . and the gods
will be good to you. Praised be the many gods!"
The fakir left, again swearing the peasant to
Three days afterwards the babu was on the furthest
confines of the village, surveying with grim interest
the crops on which he held mortgages, when five fakirs
appeared suddenly before him.
They were naked. Their beards and hair were
matted. Their lean bodies were covered with dirt and
perspiration. Their finger nails had grown into long,
twisted, fantastic curves and knots. Even at two
miles, with a fair wind, your nose would have con
vinced you of their exceeding holiness.
So the babu bowed before them.
"Salaam, O babu-jee," exclaimed the oldest and
dirtiest of the five. "I have a message for thee."
"Salaam, O Harar Lai," rejoined the other four
in the heavy, impressive manner of a Greek tragedy
chorus. "We have a message for thee."
The babu was surprised that they knew his name,
and he asked them how they knew it.
i6p ALIEN SOULS
And Krishna Chucker-jee, the guru, the oldest of
the five, answered :
"We know many things, O babu-jee. We are Holy
Men, beloved of the gods. Behold our filth! We
know that at the age of fifteen thou didst leave thy
home in Shahjahanabad, and that thou hadst only five
rupees in thy waistband. We know that the gods
smiled on thee, and that thou didst prosper exceed
ingly. All is known concerning thee. And now the
gods have ordered us five to travel many miles be
cause they wish to build a temple in thy village to the
Mahadeo. Thus the gods send thee message through
"Be pleased to deliver it," said the babu, amazed at
their intimate knowledge of his affairs.
But Krishna Chucker-jee replied in a dignified and
haughty manner :
"Patience, O babu-jee. Patience! For remember
that patience is the key of relief, and that nothing
comes to an end except the beard of the beardless.
Patience, then !"
He squatted on the ground. He rolled up his eyes
in a thoroughly disgusting and very bewildering man
ner. His disciples crowded around him.
"Hush!" they admonished the banker. "Hush, O
babu-jee ! The guru is now communing with the deity,
with Shiva." And they gave a well-trained shudder,
in which the babu joined involuntarily.
Suddenly the guru gave a great sigh. He jumped
up. His eyes assumed once more their normal, beady
focus. He scratched his long, matted hair with his
claw-like hands.- Then he addressed the babu in gentle
"Shiva has whispered to me. At the appointed hour
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER 161
everything shall be made most clear. But first it is
necessary that thou, O babu-jee, shouldst give us food
for twelve days. At the end of the twelve days my
four chelas shall go away. Eight days more I shall
abide with thee, and then the message shall be given
to thee. For the gods are pleased with thee, and they
have heard of thy pious desires in the matter of the
Here he winked furiously at the peasant who hap
pened to pass by and who was watching the scene
with open mouth and staring eyes.
The jubilant babu did as he was bidden. For ta
his Eastern mind there was nothing incredible in such
For twelve days the guru and his four chelas were
the guests of the babu. Then they departed. Only
Krishna Chucker-jee remained in the house of the
The guru had an earnest talk with his host. He
told him that during the eight days which intervened
between that day and the delivery of the message he
must prepare himself and purify his mind and soul by
deeds of charity, ceremonious visits to the Mahadeo,
and complicated devotional exercises.
He could rest assured that every rupee given away
in charity would be returned a hundredfold to him.
"Wherefore hold not thy hand," said the ascetic at
the end of his pious exhortation.
Strictly the babu obeyed the instructions of the
Holy One. He tore up mortgages and he distributed
food and coins to the gaping villagers.
Eight long days passed. On the morning of the
ninth day, Krishna Chucker-jee ordered the babu to-
fetch a new earthenware jar, two cubits of khassa
1 62 ALIEN SOULS
cloth and a seer of attah flour. And now he would
see how everything that he had given away in charity
would be restored by the gods a hundredfold.
As a token he told him to bring a rupee, and, tak
ing it from the babu, he asked him to prostrate him
self on the ground and to say certain lengthy passages
from the Kata Upanishad, while he himself wrapped
the rupee in the cloth, placed it in the pot, emptied
the attah flour a-top, and then closed the mouth of the
jar with a piece of khassa cloth which was sealed with
the babu s own signet-ring. Then he told the babu
to hide the jar somewhere in the open country.
The next day the jar was brought back. Nobody
had tampered with it. The seal was intact. But,
miraculous to relate, when the cloth was removed and
ihe jar opened, there were two rupees wrapped in the
cloth instead of one.
Three times the ceremony was repeated, with the
same prostrations and prayers on the babu s part,
while the guru sealed the jar. And finally the rupee
had grown to be eight.
"Thou aft beloved by the gods," said Krishna
Chucker-jee. "Thy deeds of charity smell sweet in
their holy nostrils. Again I admonish thee : hold not
And the babu did as he was bid. He held not his
hand. He tore up all the other mortgages he had and
returned many acres of land to the original owners,
the peasants of the village.
"The period of probation has passed," said the
Followed a day of prayer and fasting, and on the
next morning the babu was told by Krishna Chucker-
jee to bring an extra large jar and to fetch all his
GRAFTER AND MASTER GRAFTER 163
currency notes, all his gold and silver coins, his own
jewels and those of his beautiful, fat wife.
"Fill the jar with them," said the guru. "But leave
sufficient room on top so that the gods can double
The babu did as he was told. He was jubilant.
Then Chucker-jee asked him to prostrate himself and
to recite an especially long passage from the Kata
Upanishad. Meanwhile he himself closed and sealed
Devotional exercises orer, he directed Harar Lai to
carry away the jar to a spot twenty times as far as
the one which had contained the jar with the one
rupee, and to guard it until the following dawn.
"Cease not to pray for a single minute," continued
the Holy Man. "Let none approach thee or speak to
thee. Do not fall asleep. Fast until thou comest here
again. Obey strictly, so as not to kindle divine anger."
The babu obeyed. He took the jar and carried it
a long distance into the country. He watched it. He
allowed nobody to approach. He prayed incessantly.
But, finally, worn out with his fastings and his
prayers, he fell asleep.
The sun was high in the heavens and the shadows
pointing northward when he awoke. Terror gripped
his heart when he thought that he might have angered
the Mahadeo by failing in his vigil. He seized the
jar in alarm. He examined it carefully. But the
seals were intact. Nobody had tampered with his
treasures. So he felt relieved. Again he watched
Finally he could not stand the suspense any longer.
He picked up the jar and returned to the house.
The fakir was not there. He searched through house
164 ALIEN SOULS
and garden. But there was no sign of the Holy Man.
He called loudly:
"Guru-jee ... O guru-jee!"
But no answer came. Then he inquired of the
villagers, but none had seen the Holy One.
Then he thought that perhaps the guru had set out
in search of him and would return sooner or later.
And he waited a long time till finally anxiety and
hunger got the better of his fear. He ate, and then
he opened the jar with the proper ceremonies . . .
But the gods had not doubled his riches. In fact,
they had removed them altogether and had put in their
place three large and heavy bricks.
The babu sat down and wept. That was the end of
all things. To call in the police to aid him against
the gods would be a futility. He visited the babul
tree and looked at the Mahadeo. And it seemed to
him that the Mahadeo was solemnly winking at him.
And a great fury seized him by the throat. He
cursed the deities of his native land.
And six months later the Christian Messenger
printed the glorious news that another pagan, this
time a high-class Brahmin, a charitable native Indian
banker, after giving away all his wealth in charities
to the village where he lived, and tearing up all the
mortgages he owned, had been converted to the True
Faith; and had even risked his life and been severely
beaten because in his righteous new zeal he had en
deavored to break a horrid and grinning Mahadeo
idol which stood in the shade of a great babul tree
at the confines of the village.
THE LOGICAL TALE OF THE FOUR
IN Sidi-el-Abas it was spring, white spring, and the
pale peace of perfumed dawn.
We were smoking and dreaming, too indolent to
speak, each waiting for his neighbor to open the
trickling stream of soft, lazy conversation. At last,
Ibrahim Fadlallah, the Egyptian, turned to the young
Englishman and said:
"Soon, oh my dear, you will return to your own
country, so listen to the moral tale I am about to
tell, so that you can take back to your own people
one lesson, one small lesson which will teach you
how to use the manly virtues of honor, self-restraint,
and piety all accomplishments in which you unbe
lievers are sadly deficient. Give me a cigarette, oh
my beloved. Ah, thanks; and now listen to what
happened in Ouadi-Halfa between Ayesha Zemzem,
the Sheik Seif Ed-din, and Hasaballah Abdelkader, a
young Bedouin gentleman, who is very close to my
"The Sheik was a most venerable man, deeply
versed in the winding paths of sectarian theology
he had even studied the Sunna and of a transcend
ent wisdom which his disciples declared to be greater
than that of all the other Sheiks.
"But even in your own country it may be that
166 ALIEN SOULS
sanctity of the mind and grace of the dust created
body do not always match. Indeed, the Sheik s beard
was scanty and of a mottled color; he was not over-
clean, especially when you consider that as a most
holy man he was supposed to be most rigorous in his
daily ablutions. He had grown fat and bulky with
years of good living; for tell me, should not a holy
man live well so that he may reach a ripe old age,
and that many growing generations of disciples may
drink the clear drops of honeyed piety which fall from
"Besides, to compensate for the many piastres he
spent on himself, he tightened the strings of his purse
when it came to paying for the wants of his large
household. He said it was his duty to train his sons
and the mothers of his sons in the shining virtue of
abstemiousness, asking them to repeat daily the words
in the book of the Koran : Over-indulgence is a most
vile abomination in the ^yes of Allah.
"His first two wives had grown gray, and, his old
heart yearning for the untaught shyness of youth, he
had taken as the third, Ayesha Zemzem, the daughter
of the morning. My dear, do not ask me to describe
her many charms. My chaste vocabulary could never
do her justice. Besides, do you not know that
our women go decently veiled before strangers?
Thus who am I to know what I am not allowed to
"Suffice it to say that she was a precious casket filled
with the arts of coquetry, that she was tall and slender
as the free cypress, that her forehead was as the
moon on the seventh day and her black eyes taverns
of sweetest wine. But the heart of woman acknowl
edges no law, respects no master except the one she
THE TALE OF THE FOUR CAMELS 167
appoints herself, and so it was that Ayesha had no love
for the Sheik in spite of his white sanctity, and though
he knew the Koran and all the commentaries by heart.
"And then one day she saw Hasaballah, and her
veil dropping by chance, he saw her.
"Hasaballah had but lately returned from that
famed asylum of learning and splendor, that abode of
the Commander of the Faithful, the noble town of
Stamboul. He had come back dressed in robes of
state, and when he donned his peach-colored coat em
broidered with cunning Persian designs in silver and
gold, the men in the bazaar looked up from their work
and exclaimed : Look at him who with his splendor
shames the light of the mid-day sun/
"He was indeed a true Osmanli for all his Bedouin
blood, and the soft fall of his large Turkish trousers,
which met at the ankle, the majestic lines of his silken
burnous, the bold cut of his famed peach-colored coat,
were the despair of all the leading tailors in Ouadi-
Halfa and the envy of all the young bloods. His
speech was a string of pearls on a thread of gold. He
walked lithely, with a jaunty step, swaying from side
to side. He was like a fresh-sprung hyacinth and the
master of many hearts.
"I said that Ayesha saw him and her veil was low
ered; and you, oh my dear, you know the heart of
man, and you also know what many women shall al
ways desire. You will not be shocked when I tell you
that on the very same night you could have seen
Hasaballah leaning against the wall in the shadow of
the screened balcony which protruded from the Sheik s
harem ; and there he warbled certain appropriate lines
which I had taught him. Indeed, I had used them
myself with great effect on a former occasion.
168 ALIEN SOULS
" I am a beggar and I love a Queen.
Tis thee, beloved, upon whose braided locks
The fez lies as a rose-leaf on the brook;
Tis thee whose breath is sweetest ambergris,
Whose orbs are dewdrops which the lilies wear.
"Claptrap! Oh, I don t know. You should have
heard Hasaballah s own effort. He was going to ad
dress her as blood of my soul/ but I thought it alto
gether too extravagant. The time to woo a woman is
when you first see her, and the way to woo her is the
old-fashioned way. Flatteries never grow old, and I
always use the time-honored similes.
"I tell her that she is as beautiful as the pale moon,
that her walk is the walk of the king-goose, that the
corners of her mouth touch her pink ears, that she has
the waist of a lion, and that her voice is sweeter than
the song of the Kokila-bird.
"But permit me to continue my tale.
"Two hours later Hasaballah and Ayesha knocked
at my gate, and, touching my knee, asked me for hos
pitality and protection, which I granted them, having
always been known as the friend of the oppressed and
the persecuted. And early the following morning the
Sheik came to my house, and I received him with open
arms as the honored guest of my divan.
"After partaking of coffee and pipe he said :
" Ibrahim, last night when I went to the women s
quarter to join my female household in their midnight
prayer, the weeping slaves told me that Ayesha had
run away. Great was my grief and fervent my
prayers, and when sleep at last closed my swollen
eyelids I saw in my dreams the angels Gabriel and
Michael descend from heaven. They took me on their
THE TALE OF THE FOUR CAMELS 169
shining wings into the seventh hall of Paradise, and
there I saw the Messenger Mohammed (on whom be
praises) sitting on a throne of pearls and emeralds,
and judging men and jinn.
" And the Prophet (peace on him) said to me : "Go
thott in the morning to the house of my beloved and
obedient servant Ibrahim Fadlallah, where thou shalt
find Ayesha, and with her a certain good-for-nought
young scoundrel, whom thou shouldst carry before the
Kadi and have punished with many lashes." Thus, O
Ibrahim, obeying the commands of the blessed Prophet
(on whom peace), I ask you to give up to me Ayesha
and Hasaballah, that I may kill the woman and have
the man much beaten, according to the wise and merci
ful law of the Koran/
"And I replied : O most pious Sheik, your tale is
strange indeed, though amply corroborated by what I
am about to relate. For last night, after the fugitives
had asked me for protection, I also prayed fervently
to Allah (indeed He has no equal), and in my dreams
the angels Gabriel and Michael carried me on wide
spread wings into the seventh hall of Paradise, even
into the presence of the Messenger Mohammed (on
whom be benedictions).
"And the Prophet (deep peace on him) turned to
me and said :
" Ibrahim, the pious and learned Sheik Seif Ed-din
has just left the abode of the righteous to return to
his earthly home. I gave him certain orders, but
after he left I reconsidered my decision. When he
visits you in the morning, tell him it is my wish that
he should leave Hasaballah undisturbed in the posses
sion of the woman he has stolen, and should accept
two camels in payment of her.
i/o ALIEN SOULS
"The Sheik pondered awhile, and replied:
" Verily it says in the most holy book of the Koran
that Allah loveth those who observe justice, and that
the wicked who turn their backs on the decisions of
the Prophet (on whom peace) are infidels who shall
hereafter be boiled in large cauldrons of very hot oil.
Now tell me, Ibrahim, are you sure that last night the
Prophet (peace on him) did not say that I should
accept four camels, and not two, in payment of the
bitter loss inflicted on my honor and dignity? In
deed, for four camels Hasaballah may keep the woman,
provided the animals be swift-footed and of a fair
pedigree. Upon those two points I must insist.
"Then, oh my eyes! I thought that bargaining is
the habit of Jews and Armenians, and I sent word to
Hasaballah to give four camels to the Sheik. And
everybody was happy, everybody s honor was satis
fied, and there was but little scandal and no foul-
mouthed gossip to hurt the woman s reputation.
"I have told you how we Moslems, being the wisest
of mankind, settle affairs of honor and love. Tell me,
do you not think that our way is better than your
crude Christian method of airing such matters in a
public court of law, and of announcing to a jeering
world the little details of harem life and of love mis
After a moment s reflection the Englishman replied :
"I must say, since you ask me, that I consider yours
a disgraceful way of bargaining for a few camels
where the shame of a misled woman and the honor of
an outraged husband are in the balance. In my coun
try, as you say, the whole affair would have been aired
in court and considered from every possible point of
view, thus giving the respondent, the petitioner, and
THE TALE OF THE FOUR CAMELS 171
the co-respondent equally fair chances. The judge
finally, according to our strict though humane law,
would have pronounced a divorce decree in favor of
the Sheik, and would have sentenced Hasaballah to
pay to the Sheik a heavy fine a fine of many hun
dreds of pounds."
And Ibrahim interrupted quickly :
"But, beloved one, you have no camels in your
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD
HE judged each act of the passing days by three
pictures in the back cells of his brain. These pictures
never weakened, never receded; neither during his
meals, which he shared with the other students at Frau
Grosser s pension in the Dahlmannstrasse, nor during
his hours of study and research spent over glass tubes
and crucibles and bottles and retorts in the Royal
Prussian Chemical Laboratory overlooking Unter den
Linden, with Professor Kreutzer s grating, sarcastic
yoice at his left ear, the rumbling basso of the profes
sor s German assistants at his right.
There was one picture which showed him the island
of Kiushu rising from the cloudy gray of the China
Sea, black-green with cedar and scarlet with autumn
maple, and the pink snow of cherry fluffing April and
early May; the island which stood to him for princely
Satsuma, and Satsuma; since he was a samurai, per
mitted to wear two swords, the daito and the shoto
for the whole of Japan.
There was the picture of his grandfather, the Mar
quis Takagawa his father had gone down fighting
his ship against the Russians under Makarov who
in his youth had drawn the sword for the Shogun
against the Mikado in the train of Saigo, the rebel
chief, who had finally made his peace with his sov
ereign lord and had given honorable oath that he
would lay the lives, the courage, and the brains of
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 173
his descendants for all time to come on the altar of
Nippon to atone for the sin of his hot youth.
There was, thirdly, the memory of his old tutor,
Komoto, a bonze of the Nichiren sect who had made
senaji pilgrimages to the thousand shrines, who had
taught him the Chinese classics from the Diamond
Sutra to the King-Kong-King, later on the wisdom
of Ogawa and Kimazawa and the bushi no ichi-gon
the lessons of Bushido, the lore of the two-handed
sword, the ancient code of Nippon chivalry.
"The spiritual light of the essential being is pure,"
Komoto had said to the marquis when the governors
of the cadet school at Nagasaki had decided that the
young samurai s body was too weak, his eyes too short
sighted, his blood too thin to stand the rigorous mili
tary training of modern Japan. "It is not affected by
the will of man. It is written in the book of Kung
Tzeu that not only the body but also the brain can
raise a levy of shields against the enemy."
"Yes," the marquis had replied; for he, too, was
versed in the Chinese classics. "Ships that sail the
ocean, drifting clouds, the waning moon, shores that
are washed away these are symbolic of change.
These, and the body. But the human mind is essen
tial, absolute, changeless, and everlasting. O Taka-
mori-san!" He had turned to his grandson. "You
will go to Europe and learn from the foreigners, with
your brain, since your body is too weak to carry the
burden of the two-handed sword. You will learn
with boldness, with patience, and with infinite trouble.
You will learn not for reward and merit, not for your
self, but for Nippon. Every grain of wisdom and
knowledge that falls from the table of the foreigners
you will pick up and store away for the needs of the
174 ALIEN SOULS
Rising Sun. You will learn and learn. But you will
learn honorably. For you are a samurai, O Taka-
And so the young samurai took ship for Europe.
He was accompanied by Kaguchi, an old family serv
ant, short, squat, flat-nosed, dark of skin and long of
arm. A low-caste he was who had sunk his person
ality in that of the family whom his ancestors had
been serving for generations, who had never consid
ered his personal honor but only that of his master s
clan which to him stood for the whole of Nippon.
If Takagawa Takamori had been small among the
short, sturdy daimios of Kiushu, he seemed wizened
and diminutive among the long-limbed, well-fleshed
men of Prussia and Mecklenburg, and Saxony who
crowded the chemical laboratory of Professor Kreut-
zer. Gentlemen according to the stiff, angular, ram
rod German code, they recognized that the little parch
ment-skinned, spectacled Asian was a gentleman ac
cording to his own code, and so, while they pitied him
after the manner of big blond men, lusty of tongue,
hard of thirst and greedy of meat, they sympathized
with him. They even liked him; and they tried to
help him when they saw his narrow-lidded, myopic
eyes squint over tomes and long-necked glass retorts
in a desperate attempt to assimilate in six short semes
ters the chemical knowledge which Europe had gar
nered in the course of twice a hundred years.
Professor Kreutzer, who had Semitic blood in his
veins and was thus in the habit of leaping at a subject
from a flying start and handling it with consciously
dramatic swiftness, was frequently exasperated at Ta-
kagawa s slowness of approach and comprehension.
On the other hand, his German training and traditions
iTHE TWO-HANDED SWORD 175
made him appreciate and admire the student s Asiatic
tenacity of purpose, his steel-riveted thoroughness and
efficiency which made it impossible for him to forget
a fact which he had once mastered and stored away.
Perhaps his method of learning was parrotlike. Per
haps his memory was mechanical, automatic, the fruit
of his early schooling when, with the mountain wind
blowing icy through the flimsy shoji walls, he had knelt
in front of Komoto and had laboriously learned by
heart long passages from the Yuen-Chioh and the eru
dite commentaries of Lao-tse. Whatever the basic
cause, whatever his method, the result was peculiar
and startling to his fellow students. Given a certain
discussion, a certain argument which sent his German
class-mates scuttling for library and reference books,
the young samurai seemed to turn on a special spigot
in his brain and give forth the desired information
like a sparkling stream.
"Sie sind ja so n echter Wunderknabe, Sie Miniatur
gelbe Gefahr!" (for that s what he called him: a
"miniature yellow peril") the professor would ex
claim ; and he would give him a resounding slap on the
back which would cause the little wizened body to
shake and smart.
But, sensing the kindliness beneath rough words
and rougher gesture, Takagawa would bow old-fash-
ionedly, with his palms touching his knees, and suck
in his breath noisily.
He was learning learning honorably ; and at night,
when he returned to his rooms in the pension, he
would go over the garnered wisdom of the day to
gether with Kaguchi, his old servant. Word for word
he would repeat to him what he had learned, until the
latter, whose brain was as that of his master per-
i?6 ALIEN SOULS
sistent, parrotlike, mechanical could reel off the
chemical formulae with the ease and fluency of an an
cient professor gray in the craft. He had no idea
what the barbarous foreign sounds meant. But they
amused him. Also he was proud that his young mas
ter understood their meaning his young master who
stood to him for Kiushu and the whole of Nippon.
Summer of the year 1914 found Takagawa still at
work under Professor Kreutzer, together with half a
dozen German students who like himself were using
the Long Vacations for a postgraduate course in spe
cial chemical research, and a Prussian officer, a Lieu
tenant Baron Horst von Eschingen, who on his arrival
was introduced by the professor as "a rara avis indeed
pardon me, baron !" with a lop-sided, sardonic grin
"a brass-buttoned, much-gallooned, spurred, and booted
East-Elbian Junker who is graciously willing to de
scend into the forum of sheepskin and learned dust
and stinking chemicals, and imbibe knowledge at the
feet of as humble a personage as myself."
The German students laughed boisterously, while
the baron smiled. For it was well known throughout
the empire that Professor Kreutzer was a Liberaler
who disliked bureaucratic authority, sneered at the
military, and was negligent of imperial favor.
From the first Takagawa felt a strong liking and
even kinship for Baron von Eschingen. He under
stood him. The man, tall, lean, powerful, red-faced,
ponderous of gesture and raucous of speech, was nev
ertheless a samurai like himself. There was no doubt
of it. It showed in his stiff punctiliousness and also
in his way of learning rather of accepting teaching.
For the professor, who welcomed the opportunity of
bullying with impunity a member of the hated ruling
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 177
classes, took a delight in deviling the baron s soul, in
baiting him, in putting to him sudden questions hard
to solve and pouncing on him when the answer did
not come swift enough, with such remarks as: "Of
course, lieber Herr Leutnant, what can I expect ? This
is not a hollow square, nor a firing squad, nor any
thing connected with martingale or rattling scabbard.
This is science the humble work of the proletariat
and, by God, it needs the humble brain of the prole
tariat to understand it."
Another time the baron was specializing in poison
ous gases and their effect on the human body the
professor burst out with : "I can t get it through my
head why you find it so terribly difficult to master the
principles of gas. I have always thought that the
army is making a specialty of gas bags !"
Von Eschingen would bite his mustache and blush.
But he would not reply to the other s taunts and gibes ;
and Takagawa knew that the baron, too, was learn
ing; learning honorably; nor because of reward and
They worked side by side through the warm, soft
July afternoons while the sun blazed his golden pano
ply across a cloudless sky and the scent of the linden
trees, drifting in through the open windows, cried
them out to field and garden cramming their minds
with the methodical devices of exact science, staining
their hands with sharp acids and crystals, with the pro
fessor wielding his pedagogic whip, criticizing, sneer
ing, mercilessly driving. More than once, when Kreut-
zer s back was turned, Takagawa would help the
baron, whisper him word or chemical formula from
the fund of his tenacious Oriental brain, and then the
two would laugh like naughty schoolboys, the German
178 ALIEN SOULS
with short, staccato bursts of merriment, the Japan
ese discreetly, putting his hand over his mouth.
Finally one afternoon as they were leaving the
laboratory together and were about to go their sepa
rate ways at the corner of the Dorotheenstrasse, Ta-
kagawa bowed ceremoniously before the officer and,
painfully translating in his mind from the Chinese
book of etiquette into Japanese and thence into the
harsh vagaries of the foreign tongue, begged him to
tie the strings of his traveling cloak and deign to set
his honorable feet in the miserable dwelling of Taka-
gawa Takamori, there to partake of mean food and
entirely worthless hospitality.
Baron von Eschingen smiled, showing his fine,
white teeth, clicked his heels, and accepted; and the
following evening found the curious couple in Taka-
gawa s room: the former in all the pale-blue and sil
ver glory of his regimentals, the latter, having shed
his European clothes, wrapped in a cotton crepe robe
embroidered on the left shoulder with a single pink
chrysanthemum, queer and hieratic the mon, the
coat of arms of his clan.
To tell the truth, the baron had brought with him
a healthy, meat-craving German appetite, and he felt
disappointed when all his host offered him was a plate
of paper-thin rice wafers and some very pale, very
tasteless tea served in black celadon cups. His dis
appointment changed to embarrassment when the Jap
anese, before filling the cups, went through a lengthy
ceremony, paying exaggerated compliments in halting
German, extolling his guest s nobility, and laying stress
on his own frightful worthlessness.
"And the funny little beggar did it with all the dig
nity of a hidalgo," the baron said the next morning
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 179
to a major in his regiment who had spent some years
as military attache in Japan. "Positively seemed to
The major laughed. "Why," he replied, "you ought
to feel highly honored. For that Jap paid you no
end of a compliment. He has initiated you into the
cha-no-yu, the honorable ceremony of tea sipping, thus
showing you that he considers you his equal."
"His his equal ?" flared up the other, who, away
from the laboratory, was inclined to be touchy on
points of family and etiquette.
"To be sure. Didn t you say his name is Taka-
gawa Takamori ?"
"Well the Takagawas are big guns in their own
land. They don t make em any bigger. They are
relatives of the Mikado, cousins to all the feudal
houses of Satsuma, descendants of the gods, and what
It was not altogether snobbishness which caused the
German to cultivate the little Asiatic after that. He
really liked him. At the end of a few weeks they
were friends strangely assorted friends who had not
much in common except chemistry, who had not much
to talk about except acids and poisonous gases. But
they respected each other, and many a sunny afternoon
found them strolling side by side through the crowded
thoroughfares of Berlin, the baron swinging along
with his long, even step, the tip of his scabbard
smartly bumping against the asphalt, while Taka-
gawa tripped along very much like a small, owlish
child, peering up at the big man through the concave
lenses of his spectacles.
Only once did the samurai mention the reasons
i8o ALIEN SOULS
which had brought him to Europe. Tfiey were pass
ing the Pariser Platz at the time, and stopped and
turned to look at the half company of Grenadiers of
the Guard who were marching through the Branden-
burger Thor to change the castle watch, shoulders
squared, rifles at the carry, blue-clad legs shooting
forth at right angles, toes well down, the spotless
metal on spiked helmet and collar and belt mirroring
the afternoon sun, while the drum major shook his
horse-tailed bell tree and a mounted captain jerked
out words of command:
"Achtung! Augen links! Vorwarts! Links an!
Links an! Marsch!"
Takagawa pointed a lean, brown finger.
"The scabbard of my blue steel spear is the liver of
my enemy," he quoted softly, translating from the
Japanese. "I carry the red life on my finger tips;
I have taken the vow of a hero !" and when the baron
looked down, uncomprehending, asking astonishedly :
"Hero? Hero?" the other gave a little, crooked smile.
"The mind too fights when the body is too weak
to carry the burden of the two-handed sword," he
explained. "The mind too can be a hero. Mine is!"
he added, with utter simplicity. "For my body aches
for the touch of steel, while I force my mind to drink
the learning of books. My mind bends under the
strain of it. But I do it for Japan."
The baron s hand descended on his friend s lean
"Yes," he said. "I understand, old boy. I have
an older brother. No good for the King s coat lost
a leg when he was a kid. Family shot him into the
Foreign Ministry. Works like a slave. But, auf
Ehrenwort, he hates it, the poor old beggar!" and,
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 181
seeing a drop of moisture in the other s oblique eyes,
he went on hurriedly: "Now, as to that gas that
new one Kreutzer is driveling about with some un
earthly, jaw-breaking Greek name and that fine, juicy
stink to it do you remember how " And a moment
later they were deep once more in the discussion of
July swooned into August and, overnight, it seemed,
the idyl of peace was spattered out by a brushful of
blood. Excitement struck Berlin like a crested wave.
People cheered. People laughed. People wept. A
conjurer s wand swung from Spandau to Kopenick,
thence east to Posen, and north and northwest in a
semicircle, touching Kiel, Hamburg, Cologne, and
Mayence. A forest of flags sprang up. Soldiers
marched in never-ending coils down the streets, horse
and foot, foot again, and the low, dramatic rumbling
of the guns. They crowded the railway stations from
Lehrter Bahnhof to Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof. They
entrained, cheered, were cheered, leaned from carriage
windows, floppy, unstarched fatigue caps set jauntily
on close-cropped heads, singing sentimental songs :
Lebt wohl, ihr Frauen und ihr Madchen,
Und schafft euch einen And r en an. ...
The cars pulled away, bearing crudely chalked leg
ends on their brown sides "This car for Paris!"
"This car for Brussels!" "This car for Calais!"-
and, twenty-four hours later, the world was startled
from stupid, fattening sleep through the news that
Belgium had been invaded by the gray-green hordes,
led by generals who had figured out each chance of
victory and achievement with logarithmic, infallible
182 ALIEN SOULS
cunning, and that already the Kaiser had ordered the
menu which should be served him when he entered
The wave of war struck the laboratory and the pen
sion in the Dahlmannstrasse together with the rest of
People assumed new duties, new garb, new lan
guage, new dignity and new psychology. The old
Germany was gone. A new Germany had arisen a
colossus, a huge, crunching animal of a country,
straddling Europe on massive legs, head thrown back,
shoulders flung wide; proud, defiant! And sullen!
Takagawa did not understand. He had come to
Berlin to learn honorably. He was not familiar with
European politics, and Belgium was only a geograph
ical term to him.
War? Of course! War! It meant honor and
strength and sacrifice. But
There was Hans Grosser, the only son of Frau
Grosser, the comfortable, stout Silesian widow who
kept the pension. Long, lean, pimply, clumsy, an un
derpaid clerk in the Dresdner Bank, he had been here
tofore the butt of his mother s boarders. When at the
end of the meal the Kompottschale, filled with stewed
fruit, was passed down the table, he was the last to
help himself, and then apologetically. The day after
war was declared he came to dinner his last dinner
before leaving for the front in gray-green, with a
narrow gold braid on his buckram-stiffened collar, gold
insignia on his epaulet, a straight saber dragging be
hind his clicking spurs like a steel-forged tail. Over
night the negligible clerk had become Herr Leutnant
second lieutenant in the reserves, detailed to the I24th
Infantry. The butt had become the potential hero.
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 183
He was listened to, bowed to. He was the first to dip
the battered silver spoon into the Kompottschale.
Dinner over, cigars and cigarettes lit, he held court,
leaning over the piano in all his gray-green glory. He
received congratulations which he accepted with a
yawn. But when Takagawa bowed to him, saying
something very kindly and very stiltified in his awk
ward German, Grosser looked him up and down as he
might some exotic and nauseating beetle, and it was
clear that the other boarders approved of his strange
It was the same in the laboratory. When he en
tered the students who were already there turned
stony eyes upon him.
"Good morning, gentlemen," he said. A harsh,
rasping sound, something between a cough and a snort,
was the reply.
Only the professor seemed unchanged.
"Good morning, miniature yellow peril!" he said,
while the German students formed into a group near
the window whence they could see the soldiers file
down Unter den Linden, with the hollow tramp-
tramp-tramp of drilled feet, the brasses braying out
their insolent call.
They seemed silent and grave and stolid, though at
times given to unreasonable, hectic fits of temper.
They talked excitedly among themselves about "Welt-
politik" about "Unser Plats in der Sonne" and
"Deutsche Ideate." Every once in a while one of them
would whisper something about "die Engl dnder,"
pronouncing the word as if it were a dread talisman.
Another would pick up the word: "die Engl dnder,"
with a tense, minatory hiss. Then again they would
all talk together, excitedly; and once Takagawa, busy
184 ALIEN SOULS
with a brass crucible and a handful of pink crystals,
could hear: "J a P an the situation in the Far East
Baron von Eschingen, usually punctual to the min
ute, did not make an appearance at the laboratory
"Getting ready for the wholesale butchery," the
professor explained to Takagawa in an undertone.
"Sharpening his cleaver and putting a few extra teeth
in his meat saw, I ve no doubt."
Takagawa felt disappointed. He would have liked
to say good-by to his friend, ceremoniously. For he
remembered how his father had gone forth at the
outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. He had only
been a small child at the time, but he recollected every
thing: how his mother and grandmother had bowed
low and had spoken unctuously of naijo, of inner help;
how the little girls of the household had brought their
Teai-ken dirks to be blessed by the departing warrior;
how Komoto had quoted long passages from the Po-
ro-po-lo-mi, reenforcing them with even lengthier
quotations from the Fuh-ko; how his father had taken
him to his arms with the true bushi no nasake, the
true tenderness of a warrior, and how immediately
after his father had left the women had put on plain
white linen robes, without hems, as the ancient rites
prescribe for widows.
"You you don t think he ll come back here before
he leaves for the front?" he asked the professor.
"Certainly," laughed the other. "He isn t through
yet with these!" indicating a wizardly array of tubes
and pipes whence acrid, sulphurous fumes were rising
to be caught, yellow, cloudy, whirling, in a bulb-
shaped retort which hung from the ceiling.
[THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 185
"But he is a samurai, a soldier!" stammered Ta-
kagawa. "What have these these gases to do with "
"With war?" Kreutzer gave a cracked laugh.
"Don t you know?"
"I know the ingredients. I know how the gas is
"Oh, you do; do you?"
And Takagawa, turning on the right spigot in his
fact-gathering brain, reeled off the correct formula in
all its intricacies.
The professor laughed again. "And you mean to
say," he asked in the same sibilant undertone, "that
you have no idea what the gas is for that you have
no idea why Baron von Eschingen has honored us
these six weeks with his spurred and booted presence ?"
Kreutzer slapped his knees. "Blessed innocence!"
he chuckled. "Blessed, spectacled, yellow-skinned,
Asiatic innocence! It is Well, never mind!"
He turned to the German students who were still
talking excitedly among themselves.
"Silentium !" he thundered. "War is all very well,
gentlemen. But we are not here to kill or to remake
the map of Europe. We are here to learn about "
And then a lengthy Greek word and the hush of the
The baron, who had shed his pale-blue and silver
regimentals for a uniform of gray-green, came in to
ward the end of the lesson. He spoke courteously to
the students, who instinctively stood at attention, shook
hands with Takagawa with his usual friendliness, and
drew the professor into a corner where he engaged
him in a low, heated conversation.
i86 ALIEN SOULS
"I won t do it!" Takagawa could hear Kreutzer s
angry hiss. "The lesson is over. I insist on my
academic freedom! I am a free burgess of the uni
versity. I " and the baron s cutting reply : "This is
war, Herr Professor! I am here by orders of the
Ministry of War. I order you to "
Takagawa smiled. Here was the real samurai
speaking; and he was still smiling ecstatically when, a
moment later, the professor turned to the class.
"Go downstairs, meine Herren," he said. "I have
a private lesson to give to to" he shot out the word
venomously "to our army dunce! To our saber-
rattling gray-green hope ! To our so intelligent East-
Elbian Junker! To"
"Shut up!" came the baron s harsh voice. "Don t
you dare, you damned " At once he controlled him
self. He forced himself to smile. "I am sorry, gen
tlemen," he said, "to disturb you and to interfere with
your lessons in any way. But I have some private
business with the professor. War you know the
necessities of war "
"Yes yes "
"Sie haben ganz Recht, Herr Leutnant!" came the
chorus of assent, and the students left the laboratory
together with Takagawa, who went last.
"Wait for me downstairs, old boy," the baron
called after him as he was about to close the door.
Arrived in the street, without civil words or touch
ing their hats, the German students turned to the left
to take their "second breakfast" at the Cafe Victoria,
while Takagawa paced up and down in front of the
building to wait for his friend.
[THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 187
Troops were still marching in never-ending files,
like a long, coiling snake with innumerable, bobbing
heads, and crowds of people were packing the side
walks in a dense mass, from the Brandenburger Thor
to beyond the Schloss.
They whirled about Takagawa. A few noticed
him only a few, since he was so small but these few
glared at him. They halted momentarily, mumbling :
"Ein Ausl dnder!" ( "A foreigner !" )
There was sullen, brooding hatred in the word
where, only yesterday, it had held kindliness and hos
pitality and tolerance.
Takagawa stepped back into a doorway. Not that
he was afraid. He did not know the meaning of the
complicated emotion called fear, since he was a samu
rai. But something intangible, something nauseat
ing and hateful, seemed to float up from the crowd,
like a veil in the meeting of winds the air, the people,
the music, everything, suddenly shot through with pe
culiar, disturbing, prismatic diffractions.
He was glad when the baron s tall form came from
the laboratory building.
"Sorry I kept you waiting," said the officer, slip
ping his white-gloved hand through the other s arm.
"I ve only a minute for you at that. Got to rush back
to headquarters, you know. But a word to the wise
is your passport in order?"
The baron did not seem to hear the last question.
He took a visiting card from his pocketbook and scrib
bled a few rapid words. "Here you are," he said,
giving the card to Takagawa. "Take this to my friend
Police Captain von Wilmowitz, at the Presidency of
i88 ALIEN SOULS
Police you know near the Spittelmarkt. He ll see
to it that you get away all right before it s too late
you, and your old servant, Kaguchi "
"Get away? Too late? You mean that "
"That you d better wipe your feet on the outer door
mat of the German Empire. Get out of the country,
in other words. Go to Holland, Switzerland any
"War !" came the baron s laconic reply.
"Yes, but Japan and Germany are not at war !"
The baron had put back his pocketbook and was
buttoning his tunic. "I know," he said. "But Eng
land declared war against us three hours ago, and
Japan is England s ally. Hurry up. Do what I tell
you. I ll drop in on you to-night or to-morrow and
see how you re making out." He turned and came
"By the way," he went on, "be careful about any pa
pers you take along. Destroy them. Your chemistry
notebooks the notes you made during class. There s
that poison gas, for instance." He was silent, hesi
tated, and continued: "I m sorry about that, Taka-
gawa. Puts both you and me in a devilishly embar
rassing position. You see, I had no idea honestly
that war was due when the powers that be detailed me
on that chemistry course. I thought it was all a tre
mendous bluff. Otherwise I would never have dreamt
of working side by side with you, comparing notes on
these poison-gas experiments, and all that. Well" he
shrugged his shoulders "what s the use of crying
over spilt milk? Burn your notebooks chiefly those
dealing with the gas." And he was off.
Jakagawa looked after him, uncomprehending. The
[THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 189
poison gas ! Here it was again. The same mysterious
allusion. First Professor Kreutzer had spoken of it,
and now the baron.
But what did they mean? What did it signify?
Finally, obeying the suggestion of the dusty labora
tory windows looking down on him from their stone
frames, Takagawa reentered the building and went
straight to Professor Kreutzer s lecture room.
He found the latter seated at his desk, his chin
cupped in his hands, his haggard face flushed and
congested. The man seemed to be laboring under an
excitement which played on every quivering nerve of
his body; the hand supporting the lean chin showed
the high-swelling veins, and trembled.
He looked up as Takagawa entered, and broke into
a harsh bellow of laughter. "Come back, have you,
you stunted yellow peril!"
"Yes. I want to ask you about about the gas."
Again the professor laughed boisterously.
"The gas!" he cried. "The poison gas! To be
sure! Not quite as innocent as you made yourself
out to be a while back, are you? Well, by God, I ll
tell you about the poison gas ! Got a remarkable sort
of brain, haven t you? Retentive faculty abnormally
developed don t need written notes or any other sort
of asses bridge, eh? Just as good! Couldn t take
anything written out of Germany. But your brain
your tenacious Oriental brain they can t put that to
the acid test ! All right ! Listen to me !"
Professor Kreutzer did not stop to dissect himself
or his motives. He obeyed, not a feeling, a sudden
impulse, but a pathological mood which was the growth
of forty years. For forty years he had hated au
tocratic, imperial Germany. For forty years he had
190 ALIEN SOULS
battled with his puny strength against militarism. Now
the steel-clad beast had won. The shadow of war had
fallen over the land. His gods lay shattered about
Forty years of ill-suppressed hatred brought to a
head, half an hour earlier, by Baron von Eschingen s
curt command : "This is war, Herr Professor. I am
here by orders of the Ministry of War. I order you
That uniformed, gold-braided jackanapes to order
him, a scientist, a thinker!
Kreutzer swore wickedly under his breath. He
turned to the Japanese, and talked to him at length,
going with minute care over the whole process of
making poison gas, from the first innocuous-looking
pink crystal to the final choking cloudy yellow fumes.
He made Takagawa repeat it, step by step, formula
by formula. Finally he declared himself satisfied.
"You know it now, don t you?" he asked.
"You ll never forget it?"
"All right. You have what you came here to get.
In one respect at least you know as much as the Ger
man War Office. Go back to Japan as soon as you
can." He returned to his desk and picked up a book.
Takagawa went after him. "Herr Professor!" he
"Well? What is it now?"
"I I " the samurai hesitated. "I know the gas.
I know how it is produced, how it is projected, how it
affects the human body. I understand all that. But
what is it for?"
"You you mean to say you don t know?"
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 191
The professor twirled in his chair, utter incredulity
in his accents. Then, reading the question in Taka-
gawa s oblique eyes, sensing that the man was asking
in perfect good faith, in perfect innocence, he rose,
took him by the arm, and led him to the window. He
pointed. Afternoon had melted into a soft evening
of glowing violet with a pale moon growing faintly
in the north. The linden trees stood stiff and motion
less as if forged out of a dark-green metal. But still
the soldiers tramped. Still there was the glitter of
rifle barrel and sword tip and lance point. Still crowds
packed *he sidewalks, cheering. The professor made
a great gesture. It was more than a mere waving of
hand and arm. It seemed like an incident which cut
through the air like a tragic shadow.
"They are going out to kill with bullet and steel.
But gas, too, can kill poison gas, projected from
iron tanks on an unsuspecting, unprepared enemy ! It
can win a battle, a campaign, a war! It can change
the course of world history ! It can ram imperial Ger
many s slavery down the throat of a free world!
Poison gas it is a weapon the newest, most wicked,
most effective weapon!" The professor was getting
slightly hysterical. "Take it back with you to Japan
to France, to England anywhere! Fight us with
our own weapons ! Fight us and give us freedom
freedom!" And, with an inarticulate cry, he pushed
the Japanese out of doors.
Takagawa walked down the Dorotheenstrasse like a
man in a dream. His feelings were tossed together
into too violent confusion for immediate disentangle
ment. "You will learn, not for reward and merit, not
for yourself, but for Japan !" his grandfather, the old
marquis, had told him. And he had learned a great
192 ALIEN SOULS
secret for Japan. And Japan would need it. For,
passing the newspaper kiosk at the corner of the Wil-
helmstrasse, he had glanced at the headlines of the
evening edition of the "Vossische Zeitung"^
"Japan Stands by England. Sends Ultimatum.
War inevitable and he was a samurai, a man en
titled to wield the two-handed sword, though his body
was too weak to carry the burden of it.
What of it? The professor had told him that
poison gas, too, was a weapon, the most modern, most
effective weapon in the world ; and he had its formula
tucked snugly away in his brain.
The poison gas! It was his sword! But first he
must get out of the country. He hailed a taxicab and
drove straight to the Presidency of Police. A crowd
of foreigners of all nationalities anxious, nervous,
shouting, gesticulating was surging in the lower en
trance hall of the square, baroque building. But the
baron s card proved a talisman, and in less than half
an hour Takagawa had seen Police Captain von Wil-
mowitz, had had his passport viseed and had received
permission for himself and his servant Kaguchi to
leave Berlin for Lake Constance on the following day.
Captain von Wilmowitz repeated the baron s warn
ing: "Take nothing written out of Germany.
Neither yourself nor your servant. They ll examine
you both thoroughly at the Swiss frontier. Be care
ful," and Takagawa had hidden a smile.
Let them search his person, his clothes, his baggage.
They would not be able to search his brain. He
started figuring rapidly. He would go to Switzer
land, thence via Paris to London. The Japanese am-
THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 193
Bassador there was a second cousin of his. He would
give him the precious formula, and then
He returned to the pension in the Dahlmannstrasse,
settled his bill, and ordered Kaguchi to pack. Note
book after notebook he burned, and as he worked he
was conscious of a feeling of power. There was no
actual presentiment, no psychic preliminaries. It sim
ply was there, this feeling of power, as if it had al
ways been there. He was a samurai, and his was the
two-handed sword a two-handed sword forged in a
stinking, bulb-shaped glass retort and shooting forth
yellow, choking, sulphurous fumes.
In the next room a half dozen Germans were smok
ing and drinking and singing. He could hear Hans
Grosser s excited voice, and now and then a snatch of
song, sentimental, patriotic, boastful, and he thought
that he too would soon again hear the songs of his
fatherland, back in the island of Kiushu, in the rocky
feudal stronghold of the Takagawas. The bards
would be there singing the old heroic epics; the
uguisus would warble the old melodies. Komoto
would be there, and he himself, and his grandfather,
"You will learn honorably!" his grandfather had
told him. And he had learned. He was bringing
back the fruit of it to Nippon.
He turned to Kaguchi with a laugh.
"I have learned, Kaguchi, eh?"
"Yes," replied the old servant, "you have learned
indeed, O Takamori-san !"
"And" he said it half to himself "I have learned
194 ALIEN SOULS
He repeated the word with a mental question mark
at the end of it.
Had he learned honorably?
He stood suddenly quite still. An ashen pallor
spread to his very lips. He dropped the coat which
he was folding. Doubt floated upon him impercepti
bly, like the shadow of a leaf through summer dusk.
Something reached out and touched his soul, leaving
the chill of an indescribable uneasiness, and indescrib
"Honorably!" He whispered the word.
He sat down near the window, looking out into
the street. Night had fallen with a trailing cloak of
gray and lavender. The tall, stuccoed apartment
houses on the Kurfurstendamm, a block away, rose
above the line of street lamps like a smudge of sooty
black beyond a glittering yellow band. Still people
were cheering, soldiers tramping.
Kaguchi spoke to him. But he did not hear. He
He said to himself that he had come to Germany,
to Berlin, as a guest, to partake of the fruit of wis
dom and knowledge. Richly the foreigners, the Ger
mans, had spread the table for him. Generously they
had bidden him eat. And he had dipped his hands
wrist-deep into the bowl and had eaten his fill in a
friend s house, giving thanks according to the law of
Then war had come. Belgium, France, England,
Russia and to-morrow Japan. To-morrow the
standard of the Rising Sun would unfurl. To
morrow the trumpets would blow through the streets
of Nagasaki. Peasants and merchants and samurai
would rush to arms.
JHE TWO-HANDED SWORD 195
And he was a samurai; and he had a weapon, a
weapon of Germany s own forging the formula for
the poison gas, safely tucked away in his brain.
They had taught him in good faith. And he had
learned. Nor would he be able to forget.
Professor Kreutzer? He did not count. He was
a traitor. But his friend, Baron von Eschingen, the
Prussian samurai who had worked side by side with
him, who had even helped him get away?
Takagawa walked up and down. His labored,
sibilant breathing sounded terribly distinct. From the
next room there still came excited voices, the clink
of beer steins, maudlin singing :
Von alien den Mddchen so blink und so
blank . . .
winding up in a tremendous hiccup. But he did not
hear. In his brain something seemed to flame up
ward, illuminating all his thoughts.
They were very clear. He could not stay here, in
the land of the enemy, while Nippon was girding her
loins. Nor could he go home. For home he was a
samurai, entitled to wield the two-handed sword.
And he carried that sword in his brain, the formula
for the poison gas. He would be forced forced by
himself, forced by his love of country to give it to
Nippon, and thus he would break the law of hos
pitality, his own honor.
He had learned the formula honorably. But there
was no way of using it honorably.
A great, tearing sob rose in his throat. Then he
heard a voice at his elbow: "O Takamori-san !"
He turned. "Yes, Kaguchi?" and, suddenly, the
196 ALIEN SOULS
answer to the riddle came to him. He looked at tHe
"You love me, Kaguchi ?" he asked.
"My heart is between your hands!"
"You trust me?"
Kaguchi drew himself up.
"You are a samurai, O Takamori-san. The sword
of Kiushu is unsullied."
"And unsullied it shall remain ! And so," he added
incongruously, "you will speak after me the foreign
words which I shall now teach you, syllable for sylla
ble, intonation for intonation"; and, step by step,
formula by formula, he taught Kaguchi the meaning
less German words.
For hours he worked with him until the old man
reeled off the strange sounds without hitch or error.
"You know now?" he asked him finally, even as
the professor had asked him earlier in the afternoon.
"You ll never forget it?"
Takamori Takagawa smiled.
"Kaguchi," he said, "you will go from here to
London, using this passport." He gave him the offi
cial paper which Herr von Wilmowitz had viseed.
"In London you will seek out the ambassador of
Nippon, who is my cousin. You will tell him word
for word what I have just taught you, adding that
it is the formula of a poison gas and that this gas is
mightier than the two-handed sword and will, per
haps, win the war for Nippon and her allies. You
will furthermore tell him and let this message be
transmitted by him to my respected grandfather that
I learned this formula honorably, but that I could not
L THE TWO-HANDED SWORD 197
take it back with me to Nippon without sullying the
law of hospitality, since the foreigners taught me in
good faith. I myself, being thus caught between the
dagger of my honor and the dagger of my country,
have tried to make a compromise with fate. Honor
ably I tried to do my duty by Nippon, honorably I
tried to keep the law of hospitality untainted. I do
not know if I have succeeded. Thus " he made a
gesture, and was silent.
Kaguchi bowed. His rugged old face was motion
less. But he understood and approved.
"You ! Ah " the word choked him.
"Yes." Takamori inclined his head. He used the
old Chinese simile which his tutor had taught him.
"I shall ascend the dragon."
He put his hand on Kaguchi s shoulder. "Come
back here in half an hour," he said. "Fold my hands
as the ancient customs demand. Then notify my
friend, the German samurai. He will help you get
over the frontier with the formula safe in your
And the servant bowed and left the room without
The young samurai smiled slowly. An old quota
tion came back to him : "I will open the seat of my
soul with a dagger of pain and show you how it
fares with it. See for yourself whether it is polluted
He walked across the room, opened the mirror
wardrobe, and took from the top shelf a dirk a splen
did, ancient blade in a lacquer case, whose guard was
of wrought iron shaped like a chrysanthemum. Then
he took off his European clothes and put on a volu
minous white hemless robe with long, trailing sleeves.
198 ALIEN SOULS
Very slowly he knelt. Carefully, according to the
rites, he tucked the sleeves under his knees, to prevent
himself falling backward, since a samurai should die
falling forward. He took the dirk from the scabbard.
The next moment it had disappeared beneath the
flowing draperies. He made a hardly perceptible
movement. One corner of his mouth was slightly
twisted, the first sign of great suffering heroically
borne. His right leg was bent back, his left knee too.
Then he drew the dirk slowly across to his right side
and gave a cut upward.
Crimson stained his white robe. His eyes, glazed,
staring, held a question a question, a doubt to the
last. Had he acted honorably? Had he ?
He fell forward. . . .
It was thus that Baron von Eschingen, ushered in
by Kaguchi, found him.
"Hara-kiri!" he said, drawing a sheet across the
dead man s face; and then, quite suddenly: "Yes
yes. I understand honorable little beggar!"
DELICATELY, with nervous, agile fingers he kneaded
the brown poppy cube against the tiny bowl of his
pipe, then dropped it into the open furnace of the
lamp and watched the flame change it gradually into
amber and gold.
The opium boiled, sizzled, dissolved, evaporated.
The fragrant, opalescent smoke rolled in sluggish
clouds over the mats, and Yung Han-Rai, having
emptied the pipe at one long-drawn inhalation, leaned
back, both shoulders pressed well down on the square,
hard, leather pillows, so as better to inflate his chest
and keep his lungs filled all the longer with the fumes
of the kindly drug.
The noises of the outer world seemed very far
away. There was just a memory of street cries lift
ing their hungry, starved arms; just a memory of
whispering river wind chasing the night clouds that
clawed at the moon with cool, slim fingers of white
A slow smile overspread Yung Han-Rai s placid,
butter-yellow features. He stared at the rolling
opium clouds. They seemed filled with a roaring sun
set of colors, fox-brown and steel-blue and purple;
like the colors of his past dreams moving and blazing
before him, changing into his future dreams.
That evening he had smoked thirty-seven pipes,
200 ALIEN SOULS
each pipe an excellent and powerful mixture of Yu-
nan and Benares poppy- juice.
Earlier in the evening he had used a precious pipe
of rose crystal with a yellow jade mouthpiece and
three black silk tassels, which his older brother had
given him years earlier, during the Eighth Moon fes
tival in honor of Huo Shen, the god of fire. It was
a charming pipe, the mouthpiece carved minutely with
all the divinities of the Taoist heaven, from Lao Tzu
himself to the Spiritual Exalted One; from the Pearly
Emperor to the Ancient Original; from the Western
Royal Mother to the god of the T ai Shan, the East
ern Peak, who watches the rock-strewn coast of the
Yellow Sea against the invasions of the outer
Yung Han-Rai liked this pipe. But he did not
He loved his old bamboo pipe, quite plain, with
out tassels or ornaments. Once it had been white
as ivory. But to-day it was blackish-brown, with a
thousand and ten thousand smokes. It was fragrant
with a thousand and ten thousand exquisite memories.
Yung Han-Rai had used it during the latter part of
the evening, and was using it now.
He called it his pipe of August Permanence, while
he called the other his pipe of Delightful Vice, com
paring the first to a wife grown gnarled and wrinkled
and berry-brown in her lord s service, and the second
to a courtezan, whom one caresses, pays and forgets.
He smoked three more pipes, one after the other,
in rapid succession.
The immaterial substance of his inner self had
floated away on the gray wings of smoke. His soul
reached to his former life, his longings, his loneliness,
S BLACK POPPIES 201
and his failure. It was failure no longer. He would
find that old life fair and satisfying. He might even
find the lesser gods.
The opium sizzled with a reedy, fluting song.
There was no other sound. Even the whispering wind
had died; the street cries had guttered out like spent
He smoked. . . .
Then came to him the vision.
He saw very little now except the house itself, and,
of the house, veiled through the opalescent saraband
of the poppy fumes, he saw really only the three violet
lanterns above the door.
He had seen the house so often, remembered it so
well. It was part of his dreams, thus part of his
real life. He had always loved it, with an almost
physical, sensuous love. It was like a fretted, chis
eled ingot, with a pagoda roof that shimmered in
every mysterious blending of blue and green and pur
ple, like the plumage of a gigantic peacock, or the
shootings of countless dragonflies.
Too, he had always loved the three lamps below
the carved, deep-brown pagoda beam. They were of
a glorious, glowing violet, faintly dusted with gold;
and, depending from them, fluttered long streamers
of pottery-red satin, with inscriptions from the Chi
nese classics in archaic Mandarin hieroglyphics.
These inscriptions changed every night ; they seemed
to blend with his own changing moods. That was
their greatest charm.
Last night he had been in a poetic mood, and the
silken strips had lisped some of Han Yu s lilting lines,
about "moonlight flooding the inner gallery, where
the japonica stammers with silvered petals." To-
202 ALIEN SOULS
night the drift of his mind inclined toward the philo
sophical, and he read on the fluttering streamers three
quotations from the Kung-Yuan Chang.
The first was: "Is virtue a thing remote?" The
second: "I wish to be virtuous!" The third: "Lo
and behold virtue is at hand !"
He loved the entrance hall of the house, with the
floor completely hidden under a shimmering mass of
Kien-Lun brocades that were like moon-beams on run
ning water, and, square in the center, an ancient Ming
rug of imperial yellow stamped with black bats as a
sign of good luck. These, with the three small tables
of ebony and dull-red lacquer supporting an incense
burner, an ivory vase for the hot wine, and a squat,
earthen pot filled with a profusion of feathery parrot-
tulips in exotic shades, and, in the far corner, a huge,
fantastic tiger in old crackle-glaze porcelain all these,
made for him a little world in themselves.
He loved the stilted, never-changing ceremonial of
Pekinese politeness with which the master of the house
somehow, because of the whirling clouds of poppy
smoke that veiled the room, he had never been able to
see his features distinctly greeted him, night after
night. He would receive his caller on the threshold,
bowing with clasped hands, and saying :
"Please deign to enter first."
Whereat Yung Han-Rai would bow still lower.
"How could I dare to, O wise and older brother?"
he would retort, sucking in his breath, and quoting an
appropriate line from the Book of Ceremonies and
Exterior Demonstrations, which proved that the man
ner is the heart s mirror.
Then, night after night, after another request by
his host, he himself still protesting his unworthiness,
BLACK POPPIES 203
he would enter as he was bidden and be asked to
"deign to choose a mat," on the west side of the room,
as a special mark of honor. And a so ft- footed serv
ant in a crimson, dragon-embroidered tunic and a cap
with a turquoise button would bring two jade cups;
cups not of the garish green iao jade which foreign
ers like, but of the white and transparent iu jade that
the rites reserve for princes, viceroys, Manchus, min
isters, and distinguished literati.
He himself was a literatus.
Had he not, many years ago, competing against
ninety-seven picked youths from all the provinces of
the Middle Kingdom, passed first in the examination
at the Palace of August and Happy Education, and
obtained the eminent degree of San Tsoi? Had not
the Dowager Empress, in person, thereon congrat
ulated him? Had not his mother been thanked pub
licly for having given birth to such a talented son?
And his prize poem was it not being quoted to this
day by white-bearded priests, sipping their jasmine-
flavored tea in the flaunting gardens of Pekin s Lama
He remembered how the poem began :
"Day reddens in the wake of night,
But the days of our life return not.
Sweet-scented orchids blot out the path,
But they die in the drift of waters,
And their flowers are blotted out,
But their perfume . . ."
Yes. He himself was a literatus. But he would
again protest his unworthiness.
"I shall drink if you wish me to, O wise and older
204 ALIEN SOULS
brother," he would say. "But from a wooden cup
with no ornaments," he would add.
And then, according to the proper rules of conduct
prescribed by the ancients, the master of the house
would insist three times, and he would drink the hot,
spiced wine from the jade cup.
It was so to-night.
He entered, exchanged the customary Pekinese civil
ities, sipped his cup of wine, and smiled at his host
who smiled back.
"Will you smoke?" asked the latter.
"A pipe of jade, or a pipe of tortoise-shell with five
"Either would be too flattering for me. Are you
not my brother, very wise and very old? And am I
not the unworthy and very little one? Let me, I be
seech you, smoke my old bamboo."
"Your lips will endow even an old bamboo with
harmonious beauty far more precious than all the
precious metals of the Mountains of the Moon," his
host replied courteously, and bowed.
He filled both pipes. The folds of smoke joined
over the lamp whose flame was hidden by a filagree
screen of butterflies in green enamel.
"The opium will clear the clouds from our brains,"
continued the master of the house slowly. "It will
purify our judgments, make our hearts more sensi
tive to beauty, and take away the tyrannical sensa
tions of actual life the sources, these, of all vulgar
mistakes. Will you smoke again ?"
Both men drew in the acrid fumes with all the
strength of their lungs.
BLACK POPPIES 205
Yung Han-Rai smiled dreamily.
"Did not Hoang Ti, the Yellow Emperor himself,
once remark that. . . . ?"
The sentence died unfinished on his lips.
They smoked in silence for nearly half an hour.
The room was filling with scented fog. Already the
objects scattered about had lost their outline, and the
silken stuffs on the walls and the floor gleamed less
Yung Han-Rai felt a confused sensation of the
marrow of his bones and his muscles, some of which
seemed to soften and almost to melt away, while
others seemed to strengthen and grow greatly, while
his subconscious brain seemed endowed with a new
and intense vitality. He no longer noticed the weight
of his body pressing on the mat ; rather he became con
scious of a tremendous intellectual and ethical power.
Hidden things became clear to him. The soul within
his soul came to the surface with a flaming rush of
speed. He felt himself part of nature a direct ex
pression of cosmic life. The currents of the earth
pulsed in his veins with a puissant and mysterious
High on the wall he saw a soft glow. It was an
ancient gilt-wood statue representing Han Chung-le,
the greatest of the Taoist immortals, who was sup
posed to have found the elixir of life.
Yung Han-Rai smiled at him familiarly, even
After all, the thought came to him, he and Han
Chung-le were brothers, immortal both.
He smoked again.
The poppy tasted sweet as summer rain. . . .
After a lapse of time, hours, days, weeks he knew
206 ALIEN SOULS
not, he became conscious that the master of the house
was addressing him. The voice was soft, like the far
piping of a reed.
"I have considered everything," the voice said. "I
have thought well. I have thought left and thought
right. There exists no doubt that my daughter, the
Plum Blossom, will greatly appreciate your many and
honorable qualities. She, on the other hand, will make
you a delightful wife. Her eyes are like sunbeams
filtering their gold through the shadows of the pine
woods. The mating-songs of all the birds are echoed
in the harmony of her voice. Too, she is a vessel filled
with all the domestic virtues. She is strong and high-
breasted. She will bear you as many men-children as
there are hairs in my queue."
"Your too-indulgent lips have pronounced words full
of the most delicate beauty," replied Yung Han-Rai.
"Alas, it grieves me, but I cannot accept. I am the
very little and unimportant one. My ancestry is
wretched, my manners deplorable, and my learning
less than the shadow of nothing at all. The honor
would be too great, O wise and older brother."
"It is my own justly despised family which will be
exquisitely honored," replied the other, rising, and
bowing deeply with clasped hands. "Let there I
humbly implore you be a marriage between you and
the Plum Blossom. You will make an excellent son-
in-law, virtuous, learned, a respecter of the ancient
traditions of Ming and Sung."
Yung Han-Rai was about to speak, to protest once
more, as the proper ceremonial demanded, his utter
unworthiness. His lips had already formed the care
fully chosen words when, very suddenly, he was
silent. He became nervous, uneasy, frightened. Cold
BLACK POPPIES 207
beads of perspiration trickled slowly down his nose.
He bent forward; listened.
That noise. What was it?
Something from the outside world, the unreal world
of facts, seemed to brush in on unclean, sardonic
wings, to disturb the perfect peace of the house, to
break and shiver the poppy-heavy air.
Cries of the street, in an uncouth, foreign language :
"Yer gotta travel the straight an narrow if yer
want me t stick t yer, get me ?"
"Gee, kid! Listen t me! I ain t never spoke a
woid to th guy, I tells yer honest !"
"Well looka here. . . ."
The voices drifted away. Came other noises. The
hooting of the Elevated, around the corner on Chatham
Square. The steely roar of a motor exhaust.
Motor? Elevated? Chatham Square?
What was it, Yung asked himself? What did the
Streets noises foreigners coarse-haired barbar
ians. . . .
No, no by the Excellent Lord Buddha !
They were only the figments of his dreams; dt earns
which he had often, day after day; dreams which he
hated and feared
Dreams which he must kill !
With shaking fingers he reached for the opium jar.
He kneaded the brown cube. He roasted it, filled his
pipe, and smoked.
And, at once, the poppy ghosts drew swiftly down
about him on silver-gray wings, building around him
a wall of fragant, gossamer clouds, suffusing the soul
within his soul with the wild loveliness of a forgotten
208 ALIEN SOULS
With a wealth of deep, radiant conviction, this
former existence, blending with his life of might-have-
been, poured into his brain. His brain inflamed his
heart. His thoughts softened; they trembled like a
wavering line of music in a night-blue wind of spring.
The fringe of his inner consciousness stretched far
and out, away to the stars and the high winds, into
a great and sweet freedom.
He smoked again.
He became conscious of something like a rain of
summer flowers. The feet of his soul were walking
down the path of some tremendous, dazzling verity.
The facts of the outer world touched him no longer
with their hard, cutting edges. These facts were un
true ; they were not ; they were only the lying thoughts
of the lying, lesser gods.
The poppy fumes whirled up, wreathing everything
in floating vapors. They darkened the air with a
solid, bloating shadow. The room disappeared. Dis
appeared his host.
He saw again the outside of the house, the tilted,
pagoda roof shimmering like a gigantic peacock; saw
again the three violet lanterns above the door.
He was now walking away from the house, but he
turned and saw that the inscriptions on the three flut
tering streamers had changed once more.
The first read: "Love like moon-born clouds
casting their tremulous shadows over stairs of rose-
red jade !" The second : "Love like little ghosts of
May-time ruffling the river of heart s desire!" The
third: "Love like a hidden lute softly lilting be
hind a silken alcove !"
So he strolled away, beneath a vaulted night, subtly
perfumed, secret, mystical, netted in delicate silver
BLACK POPPIES 209
mist, and the soft starlight drifting down through
budding boughs into budding earth, and the dreams
in his soul moving thick and soft ahead of him; and
he felt, deep within him, as the Lord Gautama Buddha
must have felt on the day of creation, when his golden
smile first dawned on chaos and the love in his heart
released the forces of nature.
And the opium clouds drove the night to the west,
and the broad, level wedge of day streamed out of
the east; and the strength of the young sun came,
stemming the morning mists.
The air was a rapidly whirling wheel of gleaming
dust, shedding crimson and purple sparks; a brook
went gurgling past, sparkling like a flow of emeralds,
there was a staccato breeze flickering over the sun-
spotted fields like the wind of a Manchu lady s gaily-
flirted fan; and the voice of his heart s desire whis
pered through the green roll of creation, and he saw,
etched against the distance, the Pavilion of Exquisite
Love that rose slowly from a garden of great black
poppies, curved fantastically into an upper story
framed by balconies, then raced away with spires and
turrets and tinkling silver bells to a bright, pigeon-
So he smoked again.
The fragrant fumes of his pipe, with the light of
the lamp playing upon them, laid a shining ribbon of
gold from his heart to the pavilion.
His feet stepped softly upon it. He reached the
pavilion, and entered.
The Plum Blossom was sitting erect on a chair of
ebony and lacquer encrusted with rose-quartz, and the
sweep of his heart s desire came down upon Yung
Han-Rai like a gentle, silvered miracle.
210 ALIEN SOULS
"Hayah ! my bridegroom !" she said, rising, and bow
"Hayah ! my bride !" he replied, and kowtowed three
He trembled a little. In his blood he felt pulsing
the whole earth with her myriad expressions of life
and the making of life, as if dancing to the primal
rhythm of all creation.
He looked at her.
He saw her very clearly. The poppy smoke had
faded into memory.
Her face was like a tiny, ivory flower, beneath the
great wedding-crown of paper-thin gold leaves, with
emeralds like drops of frozen green fire, with carved
balls of moonstone swinging from the lobes of her
ears. The finger nails of her right hand were very
long, and encased by pointed filagrees of lapis lazuli
studded with seed pearls.
She wore a long gown, that was like a current of
glossy silver, embroidered with trailing powder-blue
clouds and peach blossoms and, along the bottom of
the skirt, a golden dragon in whose head shimmered
the seven mystic jewels. The jacket, with its loose
sleeves of plum-color encircled by bands of coral lotus
buds, was tight and short, of apple-green satin em
broidered with sprays of yulan magnolias and guelder
roses, loped with fretted buttons of white jade; while
her slippers were of porcelain, of the one called Ting-
yao, which is fifth in rank among all perfect porcelains,
thin as a paper of rice, fragile as the wings of the
silk-moth, melodious as the stone khing when gently
struck by a soft hand, violet as a summer s night
and with an over-glaze like the amber bloom of
BLACK POPPIES 211
Again he kowtowed.
She was very close to him. Nothing separated them
except the delicate threshold between dream and fact.
Beyond that threshold there was peace, there was love,
there was the eternal thrill of fulfillment, there was an
end of those yearnings, of the loneliness and the pains
of actual life that had bruised his soul these many
So he smoked again. He enveloped himself in a
thick, strongly-scented poppy cloud, and he stepped a
little beyond the threshold, and knelt at her feet.
"I love you, Plum Blossom," he said. "I love you,
O very small Blossom of the Plum Tree!" and he
reached for the kin, the Chinese lute, which was at
her elbow on a pillow of yellow satin embrodiered with
an iridescent rain of pearls.
His fingers caressed the instrument. They brushed
over the cords.
The ancient Tartar melody winged up in minor,
wailing harmonies, like the fluting of long-limbed rice
birds flying against the dead-gold of the autumn sky;
and he sang:
"I love you. You are in my heart. You are in
my soul. You are in the soul within my soul, where
the world has not been spotted by dirt and lies, but
is pure as the laughter of little children; where there
are no fetters of the flesh nor galls of earthly restraint ;
where the winds roam in the pathless skies of outer
creation, with none but the Buddha s will to check
their vagabond waywardness. . . ."
Gently his fingers trembled across the strings of
the lute. The accompaniment rippled in white tone-
waves, silver-flecked; it quivered on a high note,
spreading a network of infinitely delicate tone fila-
212 ALIEN SOULS
ments, then brushed out with an abandon of throbbing
cadences, like tiny, drifting ghosts of spring tinkling
their girdle gems of fretted jade.
"I love you," he sang. "Daily my love for you
echoes through the vaulted halls of my dreams, my
life; echoes in smiles and tears and hopes of fulfill
ment. Daily the thought of you comes to me with
flute songs and flowers. Daily I launch the boat of
my desire on the lilied pond of your soul. Daily I seek
you in the whirling smoke of the poppies. . . ."
Skillfully, between thumb and second finger, he
twanged the third string. The note trembled as on
the brink of an abyss. It sobbed like a flame in the
meeting of winds. Then it blew clear into a high
rush of ecstasy, and he sang again:
"Daily I have sought you in the whirling smoke of
the poppies. Hayah, my bride! And to-day I have
found you found you."
Again he paused.
An overpowering desire tore across him burningly.
In a back cell of his brain, he caught the whispered
fragment of some enormous truth ; saw, with the eyes
of his body, the opium fumes pointing with dreamy,
blue fingers; saw, with the eyes of his soul, the Plum
Blossom s starry little face.
"To-day I have found you," he sang; and again
he twanged the third cord between thumb and second
It trembled. The clear note rose, then broke a
little. And he bent over the lute and pulled the cord
It sobbed protestingly. There was a tiny snap.
Then, suddenly, the cord broke, with a jarring ring.
BLACK POPPIES 213
"Today I have found you," he sang; and his voice
broke; vanished in the whirling fog of the poppies.
He felt a curious, sweet pain. An immense shutter
seemed to drop across his mind with a speed of light
ning. There was a momentary break in his conscious
ness, a sense of vague, yet abrupt dislocation, of in
finite, rather helpless regret, and the door opened
"Looka here, yer darned Chink hop-head!" came a
Bill Devoy, detective of Second Branch and on the
Pell Street beat of sewer gas and opium and yellow
man and white, stepped inside. He sniffed, turned
up the gas jet, then crossed to the window and opened
"Gosh! Wot a smell!"
He looked about the room, dusty, grimy, bare of
all furnishings except the narrow, wooden bunk where
Yung Han-Rai lay stretched out, the bamboo pipe in
his stiff fingers, and the small taboret with the smoker s
paraphernalia which stood beside the bunk.
He touched the Chinese on the shoulder with his
"Looka here, Yung," he said. "I don t wanta pinch
yer. Ye re a decent lad. I m only gonna talk t yer
like a Dutch uncle, see ? Yer gotta cut out the poppy,
get me? Wottahell! Look at yerself ! Look at this
room ! Doity and grimy, and not a stick o furniture !
Ain t yer ashamed o yerself ? Wottya mean soakin
yerself in th black smoke every night, wastin every
cent yer earn on hop? Ain t yer got no sense at all,
yer poor Chink? And they tells me yer useter be a
gent, back home in Chinkieland a real gent, eddy-
cated and of a swell family ! Wottya mean, yer poor,
2i 4 ALIEN SOULS
Again he touched the other on the shoulder. He
bent down a little more closely. Then a hush came
into his voice, as he saw the wistful smile on the
yellow, wrinkled old face of the dead man.
"Gee!" he whispered. "Oh, Gee!"
THE PERFECT WAY
HERE, where Pell Street jutted out from the Bowery,
there was not even a trace of the patina of antiquity,
that bitter and morose grace which clings about old
houses like the ghosts of dead flowers. There was
nothing here except the marks of the present hard,
gray, scabbed, already rotting before having lived
The noises of the street seethed in frothy, brutal
streaks : the snarling whine of Russian Jews barter
ing over infinitesimal values; the high, clipped tenor
of metallic, Italian vernaculars; the gliding sing-song
of Chinese coolies; and only occasionally an English
word, sharp and lonely and nostalgic. There was the
rumbling overtone of the Elevated around the corner
on Chatham Square; the sardonic hooting of a four-
ton motor dray; the ineffectual tinkle-tinkle of a ped
dler s bell. Rain came and joined in the symphony;
spluttering in the leaky eaves-troughs, dripping through
the huddled, greasy alleys, mumbling angrily in the
brown, clogged gutters.
And Yu Ching sat there by the window and stared
with cold, black eyes into the cold, wet evening, neither
seeing nor hearing. Behind him shadows coiled,
blotchy, inchoate, purplish-black, with just a fitful
dancing of elfin high-lights on a teakwood screen,
its tight, lemon silk embroidered with japonica, flut
tering their silvered petals, and on a small crystal
216 ALIEN SOULS
statue of Confucius that squatted amid the smoking
The corner lamp flared up, mean and yellow. The
light stabbed in and mirrored on the finger-nails of his
pudgy right hand. The hand was very still. Still was
the man s face large, hairless, butter-colored.
The rain spluttered and stammered. The street
cries belched defiantly. The peace in Yu Ching s heart
was perfect, exquisite.
Momentarily, there came to him fleeting memories
of the days when his own life, too, had been an in
tegral and not unimportant part of that cosmic Pell
Street energy, when he had been a shrewd and re
spected merchant, who had contributed his share of
wisdom and gossip to the evening gatherings of his
countrymen in the liquor store of the Chin Sor Com
pany the "Place of Sweet Desire and Heavenly En
Came memories of his wife, Marie Na Liu, sweet
with lissom, unformed sweetness of sixteen years,
tiny and soft and high-breasted, with the golden hair
of a Danish mother and the creamy, waxen skin, the
sloe-black eyes of a Chinese father.
Across the poetry of her youth had lain the stony
drag and smother, the subtle violence, the perfumed
dirt of the bastard Pell Street world. She had been
like a rainbow bubble floating on the stinking puddles
of Chinatown vice. But he had loved her dearly.
His love for her had burned away the caked, black
cinders, the dross and the dirt.
Her love for him ? There were classic, scholarly
traditions in his clan ; one of his ancestors had been a
poet of no mean repute in the days of the Ta Tsing
THE PERFECT WAY 217
Kwoh, the "Great-Pure Kingdom" ; and so Yu Ching
had compared Marie Na Liu s love to a dewdrop on a
willow spray, a flaunting of fairy pennons, and the
sound of a silver bell in the green mists of twilight
smiling, with kindly intent, at the last simile; for he
had been forty-seven years of age and she sixteen
when he had married her, quite respectably, with a
narrow gold ring, a bouquet of cabbagy, wired roses,
a proper, monumental wedding cake, a slightly shocked
Baptist clergyman mumbling the words of the blessed
ritual, and at the organ a yellow, half-caste boy in
troducing wailing Cantonese dissonances into the
"Voice that breathed o er Eden."
Down at the "Place of Sweet Desire and Heavenly
Entertainment," the comment had been brutally un
"You are old, and she is young!" had said Nag
Hong Fah, the paunchy restaurant proprietor, flutter
ing his paper fan. "Hay ah! On the egg combating
with the stone, the yolk came out, O wise and older
"The ass went seeking for horns and lost its ears !"
Yung Lung, the wholesale grocer, had darkly sug
And Yu Ch ang, the priest of the joss temple, had
added with pontifical unction :
"When I see the sun and the moon delivered up
by the eclipse to the hands of the demons; when I
perceive the bonds that fasten an elephant; and when
I behold a wise man surrendering ah to the fool
ish abominations of the flesh, the thought forces
itself upon me: How mighty is the power of
Thus, at the time of their marriage, had run the
218 ALIEN SOULS
gliding, malicious gossip of Chinatown. But when,
quite casually, Yu Ching had repeated it to his wife,
who was busying herself amongst the cook pots of
their neat little Pell Street flat, she had given him a
"You sh d worry, yer fat old sweetness!" she had
laughed. "Them Chinks is just plain jealous. You
treat me on th level and I ll retoin the compliment,
see? Besides, I m stuck on yer snoozly old phiz! I
ain t goin t waste no time huntin for thrills, as long
as ye re true to me ! I m a good Christian I am "
"And I am a good Buddhist, Plum Blossom !"
"Hell s bells wot s the difference, sweetness?"
They had been happy. And to-day he had forgotten
her. He had completely forgotten her; and he knew
subconsciously, for he never reflected on the subject
that she had been faithful to him ; that never, either
by word or deed, had she caused him to lose faith;
that she had lived up, straight and clean, to the words
of the ritual : love, honor, obey.
He knew subconsciously that he had broken her
heart when he walked out of her life, three years ago.
Very impersonally, he wondered what had become
of her. Then he cut off the wondering thought. He
smiled. He said to himself that she, too, had been
an illusion, a mirroring of shadows in the dun dusk
of his soul.
She did not matter.
Why he put his fingers together, delicately, tip
against tip nothing mattered. . . .
Outside, more lights sprang up against the violet
of the sky, spotting the gloom. The noises grew as,
THE PERFECT WAY 219
with night, grew and heaved the dark-smoldering
passions of the city. A pint pocket flask dropped,
smashed against a stone. A foul curse was answered
by throaty, malign laughter. Came the tail-end of a
gutter song; a shouted, obscene joke, old already when
the world was young; more curses and laughter; a
sailor s sodden, maudlin mouthings; a woman s gur
"Aw chase yerself ! Wottya mean, yer big stiff ?"
The drama of the city. The comedy. The vital,
writhing entrails. Life, clouting, breathing, fighting
But Yu Ching did not see, nor hear. His heart
was as pure as the laughter of little children, as pure
as a gong of white jade. There was hardly a trace of
the outer world, dimly, on the rim of his conscious
His soul had reached the end of its pilgrimage.
Calm, serene, passionless like the Buddha, it sat en
throned beyond the good and the evil.
"All forms are only temporary!" there was the
one great truth.
He smiled. Mechanically, his thin lips formed the
words of the Buddha s Twenty-Third Admonition :
"Of all attachments unto objects of desire, the
strongest is the attachment to form. He who cannot
overcome this desire, for him to enter the Perfect
Way of Salvation is impossible. . . ."
The rain had ceased. A great slow wind walked
braggingly through the skies. The Elevated, a block
away, rushed like the surge of the sea. The Bowery
leered up with a mawkish, tawdry face.
The noises of the street blended and clashed, blended
and clashed. A thousand people came and went, people
220 ALIEN SOULS
of all races, all faiths gulping down life in greedy
And still the peace in Yu Ching s heart was perfect
and exquisite. Still he smiled. Still, mechanically,
his lips mumbled the words of the Buddha :
"By day shineth the sun. By night shineth the
moon. Shineth also the warrior in harness of war.
But the Buddha, at all times by day and by night,
shineth ever the same, illuminating the world, calm,
passionless, serene "
The end of his soul s pilgrimage. . . .
And presently to-day, to-morrow, next year, ten
years from now his body would die, and his spirit
would leap the dragon gate, would blend its secret es
sence with the eternal essence of the Buddha s soul.
. . . And what else mattered?
He bent his head.
"Fire and night and day art Thou," he whispered,
"and the fortnight of waxing moon and the months
of the sun s northern circuit "
The end of his pilgrimage !
And the beginning had been hard. For he had
loved Marie Na Liu. He had not wanted to harm her.
But the Voice had spoken to him in the night, ask
ing him to arise and throw off the shackles of desire,
the fetters of the flesh ; to forget the illusions ; telling
him that, whatever meritorious results might be at
tained by prayers and sacrifices, by austerities and
gifts, there was no sacrifice to be compared with that
of a man s own heart. Such a sacrifice was the excel
lent sanctifier exhaustless in result.
"Sure," had said Bill Devoy, a detective of Second
Branch and detailed to the Pell Street beat of opium
and sewer gas and yellow man and white; he had
THE PERFECT WAY 221
caught on to the gossip in the course of a murder in
vestigation that had nothing whatsoever to do with the
pilgrimage of Yu Ching s soul "that Chink s got re
ligion wot he calls religion. I don t know if a yaller
Billy Sunday s come down to Pell and Mott, but I
do know as that there Yu Ching s hittin the trail to
salvation as them Chinks hit it sittin all day like
a bump on a log, just smilin , and never sayin a damn
word. Meditatin they calls it. Gee! He gives me
the creeps, he does "
At first, Marie Na Liu had laughed.
"Say wottya mean, sweetness?" she had asked.
"Leave me? Coin t leave me?" Then her voice had
risen a hectic octave. "Is there another skoit? For if
there is say "
"No, Plum Blossom. There is no other woman
never will be. Woman is an illusion "
"Wottya handin me?"
"The flesh is an illusion. There is just my soul
the Buddha has spoken to me in the night "
"You ve been eatin Welsh rabbit again down to
the Dutchman s ! You know it never agrees with yer !"
He had smiled, gently and patiently. Gently and
patiently, he had tried to explain to her, had tried to
make her understand.
"But sweetness listen t me! Yer can t leave me
oh, yer can t. . . ."
She had argued, cajoled, threatened. But nothing
she could say had made any impression on him. It had
seemed to her, suddenly, as if she had never really
known this man ; this man with whom she had lived in
the close physical and mental intimacy of married life
in a little, box-like flat. She had felt looking at him,
222 ALIEN SOULS
serene, passionless, calnu as if an alien life, an alien
existence, was enfolding him; enfolding him away
from her, in an incomprehensible and tmhuman quie
He had seemed to her far away so far away and
her narrow, white hands had stretched out. helplessly,
appealingly; had touched the crinkly, dark-blue silk of
"Aw come on, sweetness"
Again he had tried to explain; and, finally, while
she had not seen the tremendous and elemental force,
ancient and racial, that was driving him on to his
decision, she had understood the result.
He was going to leave her! Yu Ching, her man,
was going to leave her !
She had cursed. Then her gutter flow of words
had floundered in the eddy of her hurt love and pride
and vanity, her sheer amazement.
"Ye re goin to ? Ye re really, rtally goin to ?"
"I must. The Buddha has spoken to me. I must
break the shackles of the flesh, the ropes of illusion
ahee! the ropes of sand! It is a most meritorious
"Meritorious, is it ?" Swiftly her passion had turned
into an icy sneer. "Meritorious, is it to break a
goil s heart? To trample on her and spit on her
He had sighed, a little wearily.
"I shall leave you suitably provided for. I shall
only take along a couple of thousand dollars. All the
rest is yours the money the business everything."
"Money? Business? Who cares?" She had come
close to him, smiling up at him, piteously, with her
THE PERFECT WAY 223
broad, crimson, generous mouth, the black, somber
orbit of her eyes dimmed with tears. "I don t want
money! I want you, sweetness! You, you, you!
Aw Gee don t yer see?"
But he had not moved; had patiently continued
smiling. And then she had understood that she might
as well plead with some immense and stony sending
of fate, and her passion had leaped out in a splatter
ing stream of abuse:
"Yer damned Chink! Ye ll pay fer this say
ye ll pay fer this some day! Aw yer damned, yaller
hop-head of a Chink!"
She had laughed hysterically, her soft little oval of
a face twisted into a terrible grimace.
"I hate yer! I despise yer! Clear outa here! I
don t wanta ever see yer ugly mug again ! Clear out !
I hate yer yer damned, fat Chink!"
And so he had left her.
So he had left Pell Street, its warm, tame conven
iences, its pleasant, snug reek, its zest and tang of
shrewd barter and shrewd gossip, his friends, his Tong,
his life as he had known it and savored it these many
So he had gone on pilgrimage, seeking for release
from illusion, from attachment to objects of desire,
seeking the Buddha s Perfect Way, wandering here and
there, even returning to China where he made the
sengaji circuit of the thousand and three blessed
In lonely wayside temples he had sat, talking to
gentle priests about the faith and the hope that were
his, thinking ever of release from fleshly bondage, turn
ing his eyes toward the mazed depths of his soul, and
meditating on the mysterious way which is Life. And
224 ALIEN SOULS
when at times the air had been heavy with the musk
of remembrance and regret, of passion and longing,
when his subconscious fancy had peopled his brain cells
with pictures of his former existence Pell Street, his
friends sipping their tea and smoking their crimson-
tasseled pipes in the "Place of Sweet Desire and Heav
enly Entertainment," Marie Na Liu, her white smile
flashing through the purple night he had done pen
ance, submitting to the supreme physical ordeals, grad
ually subduing his body and his mind.
Thus, finally, he had found peace, perfect, exquisite ;
and then somehow, he never knew why or how "that,
too, was Fate," he used to say afterwards, "I but fol
lowed the way of my Fate. Who can avoid what is
written on the forehead in the hour of birth?" he
had returned to New York, and so he sat there by
the window and looked out upon the shrill Babel of
the Pell Street night calm, serene, passionless.
Just below the window, an elderly Chinese was ar
guing with a countryman, quoting the polished and
curiously insincere phrases of Mandarin sages, in a
"Pa nien jou chi i tien jou ki "
A policeman whistled shrilly. A barrel-organ
creaked a nostalgic, Sicilian melody. . . .
Yu Ching neither saw nor heard.
These people what did they matter? They were
only cosmic atoms whirling aimlessly in the wind of
desire, like formless swarming snatches of dreams.
No ! Nothing mattered, nothing was real, except the
He smiled, and whispered praises to the Buddha,
and then, suddenly, yet imperceptibly, like the shadow
of a leaf through summer dusk, he felt that he was not
THE PERFECT WAY 225
alone in the room, that eyes were staring at him.
He turned, just a little startled.
The door was open.
From the fluttering gas jet in the outer hall, a wedge
of light streamed in. Sharply outlined in its bluish-
green rays, Marie Na Liu stood there, her face pale
and drawn. She stood silent and motionless, but as
though charged with some kind of elemental force
that was inexhaustible.
Yu Ching twisted in his chair. For a moment, some
thing reached out and touched his soul, leaving the
chill of an indescribable uneasiness. For a moment,
he thought of his former life; thought of it in terms
of a new life, a future life ; it opened before him, hold
ing immense and measureless perspectives.
Then, with slow deliberation, he turned his back
upon his wife.
"O Buddha!" he mumbled. "All forms are only
temporary illusions of the flesh ! Thou knowest ! I
Outside, the wind shrieked. The Elevated cars
blundered along their steely spider s web, like weary
creatures seeking shelter.
"Say! Yu Ching! Listen t me!"
He did not turn.
"Buddha!" he prayed. "Permit me to withdraw
my senses wholly into meditation!"
"Looka here !" came Marie Na Liu s voice, strident
She closed the door and stepped into the room. He
could hear the rustle of her garments, could smell a
He bent his head on his chest; tried to conquer his
22(5 ALIEN SOULS
"I wanta talk t yer!"
He did not move ; did not speak.
Peace, perfect, exquisite there was the secret of
life, the way of salvation. He had reached it once,
had felt it once; like the stillness of dawn in a lonely
place, like the quiet hush of unseen stars. He had
reached it and felt it. He did not want to lose it
again. The pilgrimage had been hard, hard.
Deliberately, he gathered his soul into an inner
fold of his consciousness.
And then, as from very far off, across illimitable
distances, he heard again his wife s voice low, ap
pealing; presently leaping out extraordinarily strong,
with a sweep of utter abandon.
"Bill Devoy member the plain-clothes cop? ?
slips me woid that ye ve retoined. And well. . . .
"Say! When y left me, three years ago, I sed to
myself I d never forgive yer never wanted t see yer
mug again. Told yer I hated yer, didn t I? Gee
I was sure some sore ! But," she gave a little throaty,
embarrassed laugh, "well here I am see ?"
Silence. He could hear her breath coming in sibi
lant, staccato sobs. Again her voice :
"Y make it hard fer a feller, don t yer? Say!
Sweetness! I got my pride I m a woman, ain t I?"
Her voice broke a little.
"Sweetness! Aw Gawd! Why don t yer speak
The words wavered, sank, rose again.
"Why don t yer say somethin ? Anything oh
anything! Just toin and look at me, won t ye? Coise
me ! Swear at me ! Tell me to clear outa here ! But
please speak! Aw sweetness won t yer talk
t me please?"
THE PERFECT WAY 227
Yu Ching felt words rising in his throat. He choked
them back. All this Pell Street, the noises of the
night, his wife was an illusion in a sea of illusions.
It was not real. It was taking place in an alien world
of dreams. There was only his own soul, safe in some
inner and secret sanctuary of eternity, where the riot
and tumult of external life dared not intrude.
He smiled, very gently.
Somewhere, quite close to him, there was the sweet
passion and pain of long, exquisite suffering, some in
tense yearning. But, surely, it was not in his own
body, his own heart. It was just the remote experience
of a life which he had once known which he would
never know again.
"All forms are only temporary only temporary "
"So yer won t talk t me eh?"
The question came with a harsh, vindictive grating,
and something beyond fear stole with a freezing touch
upon Yu Ching s placid soul. He conquered the feel
ing, sent it reeling back to the undergrowth of his
stilled, half-remembering consciousness.
It seemed eternities until once more Marie Na Liu s
harsh words dropped into the great, open void.
"Well don t talk, if yer don t feel like it ! But
ye ll listen t me, awright, awright, yer damned Chink !
Sure Mike! Ye ll listen"
The voice plunged on, piercing, high-pitched.
" Member young Nag Gin Lee? Ol Nag Hong
Fah s nephew from Frisco, who came here t* learn
the business? Young feller member? more my
own age. Swell lookin guy, and some classy dresser,
member him ? Say, yer damned fat old Chink ! D yer
228 ALIEN SOULS
remember him ? Yer don t ? Well I do ! Yes, sir,
I do! And d yer know why? D yer wanta know?"
She spoke through her teeth. Her words clicked
and broke like dropping icicles.
She rushed up to her husband. She gripped his
shoulders with frantic hands. She forced him to turn
and look up until she could stare straight into his black,
oblique eyes, her own eyes blazing fire and hate.
"Not that ye ll care! Not that ye ll give a damn!
But yer might as well know. Me and young Nag
me and him. . . ."
She burst into gurgling, hysterical laughter that
shook her whole body.
"Me and him me and him. . . ."
He rose; trembled.
Marie Na Liu s last words had staggered him like
a blow between the eyes.
He tried to control himself.
Peace, perfect, exquisite! The peace of the soul,
calm, passionless, serene, in a world of illusions
ropes of illusions ropes of sand. . . .
His thoughts groped, slipped.
Peace the Buddha s peace the end of his soul s
pilgrimage. But and an extraordinary revulsion
caught him, flashed upon him like a sheet of black
fire what did it matter his soul s pilgrimage? What
did anything rrtatter, except
Marie Na Liu!
Golden-haired sloe-eyed. . . . Her little feet had
crushed his heart. . . .
He felt a terrible weakness in his knees, and a catch
in his throat. For a tenth part of a second his memory
turned back. He thought of a day, a spring day. He
THE PERFECT WAY 229
had come home rather earlier than usual, had found
young Nag sitting across from his wife, close to her.
He had heard them laugh as he came up the stairs
had heard mumbled words.
He stood there, a deep sob shaking his massive
frame, and Marie Na Liu was still laughing, loudly,
"Sure! Me and him me and him. . . ."
She rushed to the door, opened it, stood no the
"Me and him yer poor fish ! And yer never knew
yer never guessed !"
Her words came like the lash of a whip. Yu Ching
sank back in his chair. He heard the door close.
His wife and young Nag! His wife and young
The words repeated themselves in his thoughts.
They expanded and multiplied. They were in his
veins, in his bones, in the roots of his hair. They
seemed to fill every nook and cranny of his brain.
He looked out of the window. The night had thick
ened. Mist wreaths pointed with long, bloodless
fingers. Above them a heavy cloud-bank lumbered
clumsily in, the lilt of the wind.
Somebody laughed below the window. Somebody
Life was down there ; passion and desire, love and
hate and ambition life, real life. His own soul, he
thought, had dared sublime achievement ; it had failed,
had plunged him into an abyss.
He slumped in his chair; he cried, with cracked,
high-pitched sobs, as strong men cry.
He did not hear the rattling of the door knob. He
2 3 o ALIEN SOULS
did not see the melting and dimming of the bluish-
green gas jet in the outer hall, as the door opened and
But, suddenly, a faint scent of flowers was in his
nostrils. Suddenly he felt, close to him, at his knees,
a yielding form; heard soft, broken words:
"Aw sweetness! Don t yer believe wot I sed! I
lied! Honest t Gawd, I lied! Yer know I lied
don t yer don t yer, sweetness?"
And his arms folded about her, and she nestled like
a tired bird.
Then he smiled, very gently, very patiently.
"Peace," he whispered. "Ah peace perfect, ex
quisite. . . ."
IT was now the custom of Li Ping-Yeng, the wealthy
retired banker, to sit near the open window and look
up at the sky, which seemed always to be packed with
dirty clouds, or down into Pell Street, toward the
corner, where it streams into the Bowery in frothy,
brutal, yellow-and-white streaks. Occasionally, hud
dled snug and warm in a fold of his loose sleeve, a
diminutive, flat-faced Pekinese spaniel, with convex,
nostalgic eyes and a sniffy button of a nose, would
give a weak and rather ineffectual bark. Then, star
tled, yet smiling, Li Ping-Yeng would rise and go
down-stairs to the Great Shanghai Chop Suey Palace
in search of food.
To do this, he had to cross his apartment.
Fretted with shifting lights, it lay in dim, scented
splendor. Underfoot stretched a thick-napped dragon
rug of tawny orange and taupe, picked out with rose-
red and brown. Age-darkened tulip- wood furniture
faded into the corners, where the shadows drooped and
coiled. The door of the outer hall was hidden by a
great, ebony-framed screen of pale lotus silk em
broidered with conventionalized figures, black and pur
ple and maroon, that represented the "Hei-song-che-
choo," the "Genii of the Ink," household gods of the
literati ; while here and there, on table and taboret and
etagere, were priceless pieces of Chinese porcelain, blue-
and- white Ming and Kang-he beakers in aubergine and
232 ALIEN SOULS
oxen-blood, crackled clair-de-lune of the dynasty of
Sung, peachblow celadon, Corean Fo dogs and Fong-
hoang emblems in ash-gray and apple-green.
This was the room, these were the treasures, which
years ago he had prepared with loving, meticulous care
for the coming of his bride.
She had come, stepping mincingly in tiny bound
feet, "skimming," had said an impromptu Pell Street
poet who had cut his rice gin with too much heady
whompee juice, "over the tops of golden lilies, like
Yao Niang, the iron-capped Manchu prince s famous
But almost immediately the tragedy had not
loomed very large in the morning news, starting with
a crude head-line of "Woman Killed in Street by Car
on Wrong Side," and winding up with "The Chauffeur,
Edward H. Connor, of No. 1267 East I57th Street,
was held at the West 68th Street Station on a charge
of homicide" her body had passed into the eternal
twilight, her soul had leaped the dragon gate to join
the souls of her ancestors.
And to-day Li Ping-Yeng, in the lees of life, was
indifferent to the splendors of Ming and Sung, of
broidered silks and carved tulip-wood. To-day there
was only the searching for his personal tao, his inner
consciousness removed from the lying shackles of love
and hate, the drab fastening of form and substance
Daily, as he sat by the window, he approached nearer
to that center of cosmic life where outward activity
counts for less than the shadow of nothing. Daily he
felt the tide rise in his secret self, trying to blend with
the essence of eternity. Daily, beyond the dirty clouds
of lower Manhattan, beyond the Pell Street reek of
sewer-gas and opiumi and yellow man and white, he
caught a little more firmly at the fringe of final ful
Food ? Yes. There was still the lying reality called
body which needed food and drink and occasionally a
crimson-tasseled pipe filled with a sizzling, amber cube
of first-chop opium. Also, there was the little Pekin
ese spaniel that had once belonged to his bride, "Su
Chang," "Reverential and Sedate," was its ludicrous
name, and it cared nothing for tao and cosmic eter
nity, but a great deal for sugar and chicken bones and
bread steeped in lukewarm rqilk.
"Woo-ooff!" said "Reverential and Sedate."
And so, startled, yet smiling, Li Ping-Yeng went
down-stairs to the Great Shanghai Chop Suey Palace,
exchanged courtly greetings with the obese proprietor,
Mr. Nag Hong Fah, and ordered a heaped bowl for
the spaniel, and for himself a platter of rice, a pinch of
soey cheese, a slice of preserved ginger stem, and a
pot of tea.
Twenty minutes later he was back in his chair near
the window, scrutinizing sky and street.
Unseeing, meaningless scrutiny ; for it was only the
conscious, thus worthless, part of his brain which per
ceived, and reacted to, the details of what he saw:
the lemon tints of the street lamps leaping meanly out
of the trailing, sooty dusk and centering on a vivid
oblong of scarlet and gold where Yung Long, the
wholesale grocer, flung his sign-board to the winds and
proclaimed thereon in archaic Mandarin script that
"Trade revolves like a Wheel"; an automobile-load
of tourists gloating self-righteously over the bland,
shuffling Mongol s base infinitudes; a whisky-soaked
nondescript moving along with hound-like stoop and
234 ALIEN SOULS
flopping, ragged clothes, his face turned blindly to the
stars and a childlike smile curling his lips; or, per
haps, hugging the blotchy shadows of a postern, the
tiny figure of Wuh Wang, the wife of Li Hsu, the
hatchet-man, courting a particularly shocking fate by
talking, face close against face, to a youth, with a
checked suit and no forehead to speak of, whose na
tive habitat was around the corner, on the Bowery.
Also voices brushed up, splintered through the open
window, the stammering, gurgling staccato of felt-
slippered Cantonese, suggestive of a primitive utter
ance going back to the days before speech had evolved ;
the metallic snap and crackle of Sicilians and Cala-
brians talking dramatically about the price of garlic
and olive-oil; the jovial brogue of Bill Devoy, detec
tive of Second Branch, telling a licenseless peddler to
"beat it"; the unbearable, guttural, belching whine o
Russian Hebrews, the Pell Street symphony, with
the blazing roar of the elevated thumping a dissonant
counterpoint in the distance.
Li Ping-Yeng saw, he heard, but only with the
conscious, the worthless part of his brain; while the
real part, the subconscious, was occupied with the real
ization of himself which he must master in order to
reach the excellent and august wisdom of too the
search of his inner soul, beyond the good and the evil,
which, belike, he had muddied by his too great love
for his wife.
This tao was still too dim for him to see face to
face. It was still beyond the touch and feel of definite
thought. Its very possibility faded elusively when
he tried to bring it to a focus. Yet he knew well
what had been the basis of it. He had learned it by
the bitterest test of which the human heart is capable
the negative test ; the test of suffering and unfulfilled
desire; the test of acrid memory. "Memory," he would
say to himself, over and over again, patiently, defiantly,
almost belligerently, when the thought of his wife s
narrow, pleasurable hands rose flush with the tide of
his regrets and, by the same token, caused his tao
once more to dim and fade "memory, which is of
the dirt-clouted body, and not of the soul."
Yet in the matter of acrid memory and unfulfilled
desire Miss Edith Rutter, the social-settlement investi
gator who specialized in the gliding vagaries of the
Mongol mind as exemplified in Pell Street, had brought
back at the time an entirely different tale, an entirely
different interpretation of Chinese philosophy, too.
But be it remembered that philosophy is somewhat
affected by surroundings, and that Miss Rutter had
been on a visit to an aunt of hers in Albany, balancing
a Jasper ware tea-cup and cake-plate on a scrawny,
black-taffeta-covered knee, and, about her, tired,
threadbare furnishings that harped back to the days of
rep curtains, horsehair chaise-longues, wax fruit, shell
ornaments, banjo clocks, pictures of unlikely children
playing with improbable dogs, cases of polished corne
lian, levant-bound sets of Ouida, and unflinching, un
compromising Protestant Christianity.
"My dear," she had said to Aunt Eliza Jane, "the
more I see of these Chinamen, the less I understand
them. This man I told you about, Mr. Li Ping-Yeng;
oh, a most charming, cultured gentleman, I assure
you, with such grand manners! I saw him a few
minutes after they brought home the poor crushed lit
tle body of his young bride, his two days bride, and,
my dear, would you believe it possible? there wasn t
a tear in his eyes, his hands didn t even tremble. And
236 ALIEN SOULS
when I spoke to him, tactful, gentle, consoling words,
what do you imagine he replied ?"
"I ve no idea."
"He smiled! Yes, indeed, smiled! And he said
something I forget the exact words about his hav
ing, perhaps, loved too much, his having perhaps been
untrue to his inner self. I can t understand their
philosophy. It is oh so inhuman!" She had puz
zled. "How can anybody love too much ? What can
he have meant by his inner self ?"
"Pah ! heathens !" Aunt Eliza Jane had commented
resolutely. "Have another cup of tea?"
Thus the judgment of the whites ; and it was further
crystallized in detective Bill Devoy s rather more
brutal : "Say, them Chinks has got about as much
feelings as a snake has hips. No noives no noives
at all, see ?" and Mr. Brian Neill, the Bowery saloon
keeper s succinct: "Sure, Mike. I hates all them
yeller swine. They gives me the bloody creeps."
Still, it is a moot point who is right, the Oriental,
to whom love is less a sweeping passion than the result
of a delicate, personal balancing on the scales of fate,
or the Occidental, to whom love is a hectic, unthink
ing ecstasy, though, given his racial inhibitions, often
canopied in the gilt buckram of stiffly emotional sex-
At all events, even the humblest, earthliest coolie be
tween Pell and Mott had understood when, the day
after his wife s death, Li Ping-Yeng had turned to
the assembled company in the back room of the Great
Shanghai Chop Suey Palace, which was for yellow
men only and bore the euphonic appellation, "The Hon
orable Pavilion of Tranquil Longevity," and had said :
"The ancients are right. One must preserve a proper
TAG 2 37/
balance in all emotions. The man who, being selfish,
loves too much, is even as the one who cooks the dregs
of wretched rice over a sandalwood fire in a pot of lapis
lazuli, or as one who uses a golden plow in preparation
for cultivating weeds, or as one who cuts down a
precious camphor-grove to fence in a field of coarse
millet. Such a man is the enemy of his own too. It
is most proper that such a man should be punished."
After a pause he had added :
"I am such a man, brothers. I have been punished.
I tied my soul and my heart to a woman s jeweled ear
rings. The ear-rings broke. The woman died. Died
my heart and my soul. And now, where shall I find
them again? Where shall I go to seek for my tao?"
There had come a thick pall of silence, with only the
angry sizzling of opium cubes as lean, yellow hands
held them above the openings of the tiny lamps; a
sucking of boiling-hot tea sipped by compressed lips;
somewhere, outside, on the street, a cloudy, gurgling
trickle of obscene abuse, presently fading into the
memory of sounds.
The men sighed heavily. Coolies they were, the
sweepings of the Canton gutters and river-banks,
cooks, waiters, grocers, petty traders; yet men of an
ancient race, behind whom stretched forty centuries of
civilization and culture and philosophy, in solemn,
graven rows. Thus they were patient, slightly hard,
not easily embarrassed,, submimely unself conscious,
tolerant, permitting each man to look after his own
fate, be it good or evil. Anti-social, an American
would have called them, and he would have been wrong.
Li Ping-Yeng had bared his naked, quivering soul
to their gaze. He was their friend; they respected
him. He was a rich man, an educated man. Yet Li
238 ALIEN SOULS
Ping-Yeng s life was his own to make or to mar.
Sympathy? Yes; but not the arrogant indelicacy of
help offered, of advice proffered.
Thus they had thought, all except Yu Ch ang, the
priest of the joss-temple.
For many years, since he made his frugal living by
catering to the spiritual weal of Pell Street, it had been
the latter s custom, when he foregathered with his
countrymen, to gain face for himself and his sacerdotal
caste by talking with nagging, pontifical unction about
things religious and sectarian. But, being a hedge-
priest, self-appointed, who had received only scanty
training in the wisdom of the "three precious ones,"
the Buddha past, the Buddha present, and the Buddha
future, he had found it hard to uphold his end when
tackled by Li Ping-Yeng, the banker, the literatus,
anent the contents of such abstruse books of theolog
ical learning as the "Park of Narratives," "Ku-liang s
Commentaries," or the "Diamond Sutra."
Now, with the other baring his bleeding soul, he
had seen a chance of settling the score, of causing
him to lose a great deal of face.
"Little brother," he had purred, "I am a man of
religion, a humble seeker after truth, whose knowledge
is not to be compared with yours ; yet have I thought
much. I have thought left and thought right. Often
in the past have we differed, you and I, on minor
matters of philosophy and ceremonial. May I, the
very useless one, address words of advice to you, the
"Ah ! Then let me reply with the words of Confu
cius, that he who puts too much worth on worthless
things, such as the love of woman, the love of the
flesh, is like the wolf and the hare, leaving the direc
tion of his steps to low passions. To lead such a man
into the august ways of tao is as futile as tethering an
elephant with the fiber of the young lotus, as futile
as the attempt to cut a diamiond with a piece of wood,
as futile as trying to sweeten the salt sea with a drop
of honey, or to squeeze oil from sand. Ah, ahee!"
He had spread out his fingers like the sticks of a fan
and had looked about him with brutal triumph.
The other s features, as yellow as old parchment,
indifferent, dull, almost sleepy, had curled in a queer,
slow smile. He was smoking his fourth pipe, a pipe
of carved silver, with a green-amber mouthpiece and
black tassels. The room had gradually filled with
scented fog. The objects scattered about had lost their
outlines, and the embroidered stuffs on the walls had
gleamed less brilliantly. Only the big, violet-shaded
lanterns on the ceiling had continued to give some light,
since poppy vapors are slow to rise and float nearer
"You are wrong, wise priest," he had replied.
"Yes. For there is one who can tether the elephant
with the fiber of the young lotus, who can cut a dia
mond with a piece of soft wood, sweeten the salt sea
with a drop of honey, and squeeze oil from sand."
"Who?" Yu Ch ang had asked, smiling crookedly
at the grave assembly of Chinese who sat there, suck
ing in their breath through thin lips, their faces like
carved ivory masks.
Li Ping-Yeng had made a great gesture.
"The Excellent Buddha," he had replied, in low,
even, passionless, monotonous accents that were in
curious, almost inhuman, contrast to the sublime,
240 ALIEN SOULS
sweeping faith in his choice of words. "The Omni
scient Gautama! The All-Seeing Tathagata! The
Jewel in the Lotus! The most perfectly awakened
Blessed One who meditates in heaven on His seven-
stepped throne !"
And again the grave assembly of Chinese had sat
very still, sucking in their breath, staring at their neat,
slippered feet f romf underneath heavy, hooded eyelids,
intent, by the token of their austere racial simplicity,
on effacing their personalities from the focus of alien
conflict ; and then, like many a priest of many a creed
before him, Yu Ch ang, sensing the silent indifference
of his countrymen and interpreting it as a reproach to
his hierarchical caste, had let his rage get the better
of his professional, sacerdotal hypocrisy.
"The Buddha? Here? In Pell Street?" he had
exclaimed. He had laughed hoarsely, meanly. "Find
Him, the Excellent One, the Perfect One, in Pell
Street? Look for the shining glory of His face here
in the soot and grease and slippery slime of Pell
Street? Search, belike, for fish on top of the moun
tain, and for horns on the head of the cat ! Bah !" He
had spat out the word, had risen, crossed over to the
window, thrown it wide, and pointed to the west,
where a great, slow wind was stalking through the sky,
picking up fluttering rags of cloud. "Go ! Find Him,
the Buddha, in the stinking, rotten heaven of Pell
Street! Go, go by all means! And, perhaps, when
you have found Him, you will also have found your
"I shall try," had come Li Ping-Yeng s reply. "Yes ;
most decidedly shall I try." He had walked to the
door. There he had turned. "Little brother," he
had said to the priest over his shoulder, without malice
or hurt or bitterness, "and why should I not find Him
even in the Pell Street gutters? Why should I not
find my tao even in the stinking, rotten heaven that
vaults above Pell Street? Tell me. Is not my soul
still my soul? Is not the diamond still a diamond,
even after it has fallen into the dung-heap?"
And he had stepped out into the night, staring up
at the purple-black sky, his coat flung wide apart, his
lean, yellow hands raised high, indifferent to the rain
that had begun to come down in flickering sheets.
"Say, John, wot s the matter? Been hittin the old
pipe too much? Look out! One o these fine days I ll
raid that joint o yours," had come detective Bill
Devoy s genial brogue from a door-way where he had
taken refuge against the elements.
Li Ping-Yeng had not heard, had not replied ; except
to talk to himself, perhaps to the heaven, perhaps to
the Buddha, in staccato Mongol monosyllables, which,
had Bill Devoy been able to understand, would have
convinced him more than ever that that there Chink
was a sure-enough hop-head :
"Permit me to cross the torrent of grief, O Buddha,
as, even now, I am crossing the stream of passion!
Give me a stout raft to gain the other side of blessed
ness! Show me the way, O King!"
Back in the honorable Pavilion of Tranquil Lon
gevity, slant eye had looked meaningly into slant
"Ah, perhaps indeed he will find his tao," Yung
Long, the wholesale grocer, had breathed gently; and
then to Yu Ch ang, who had again broken into harsh,
mean cackling, said :
"Your mouth is like a running tap, O very great and
very uncouth cockroach !"
2 4 2 ALIEN SOULS
"Aye, a tap spouting filthy water." This was from
Nag Sen Yat, the opium merchant.
"A tap which, presently, I shall stop with my fist,"
said Nag Hop Fat, the soothsayer, winding up the
pleasant round of Oriental metaphor.
Thus was displayed, then, the serene, if negative,
sympathy of the Pell Street confraternity, further
demonstrated by its denizens leaving Li Ping-Yeng
hereafter severely alone and by replying to all questions
and remarks of outsiders with the usual formula of
the Mongol when he does not wish to commit himself :
"I feel so terribly sorry for him," this from Miss
Edith Rutter, "Is there really nothing I can do to "
"Looka here," from Bill Devoy, "you tell that
brother-Chink o yourn, that there Li Ping-Yeng, to
stop hittin the black smoke, or I ll pinch him on spec,
"Listen !" from the old Spanish woman who kept
the second-hand store around the corner, on the Bow
ery, "What do you think he s going to do with all
the truck he bought for his wife? I d like to buy the
lot. Now, if you want to earn a commission "
"Is he goin* t* try holy matrimony again, or near-
matrimony?" from Mr. Brian Neill, the saloon
keeper, who occasionally added to his income by un
savory deals between the yellow and the white,
"For, if he wants another goil, there s a peacherino
of a red-headed good-looker that blows into my back
parlor once in a while and that don t mind Chinks as
long s they got the kale "
And even to the emissary of a very great Wall Street
bank that in the past had handled certain flourishing
Manila and Canton and Hankow accounts for the Pell
Street banker, and who, unable to locate him personally
and being slightly familiar with Chinese customs, had
sought out the head of the latter s masonic lodge and
had asked him why Li Ping-Yeng had retired from
business, and if, at all events, he wouldn t help
them with the unraveling of a knotty financial tangle
in far Shen-si. Even there was the same singsong
"No savvy," exasperatingly, stonily repeated.
"No savvy, no savvy."
For two days after his wife s tragic death Li Ping-
Yeng, to quote his own words, had given up vigorously
threshing mere straw, by which term he meant all the
every-day, negligible realities of life.
He had begun by selling his various business inter
ests; nor, since he was a prosy Mongol whose brain
functioned with the automatic precision of a photo
graphic shutter and was nowise affected by whatever
was going on in his soul, had he made a bad deal. On
the contrary, he had bargained shrewdly down to the
last fraction of a cent.
Then, prudently, deliberately, the patient and materi
alistic Oriental even in matters of the spirit, he had
swept his mind clear of everything except the search
for his tao, the search for his salvation. This tao was
to him a concrete thing, to be concretely achieved, since
it was to link him, intimately and strongly, not with,
as would have been the case had he been a Christian,
an esoteric principle, a more or less recondite, theo
logical dogma, but with a precious and beneficent in-
244 ALIEN SOULS
fluence that, although invisible, was not in the least
supernatural. For he was of the East, Eastern; he
did not admit the existence of the very word "super
natural." To him everything was natural, since
everything, even the incredible, the impossible, the
never-to-be-understood, had its secret, hidden roots in
some evolution of nature, of the Buddha, the blessed
Fo, the active and eternal principle of life and creation.
Perhaps at the very first his search had not been
quite as concise, had rather shaped itself to his per
plexed, groping mind in the terms of a conflict, a dis
tant and mysterious encounter with the forces of fate,
of which his wife s death had been but a visible, out
Then, gradually and by this time it had become
spring, wakening to the white-and-pink fragrance of
the southern breezes spring that, occasionally, even
in Pell Street, painted a sapphire sky as pure as the
laughter of little children he had stilled the poignant
questionings of his unfulfilled desires, his fleshly love,
and had turned the search for his tao into more prac
Practical, though of the soul ! For, again, to him,
a Chinese, the soul was a tangible thing. Matter it
was, to be constructively influenced and molded and
clouted and fashioned. It had seemed to him to hold
the life of to-morrow, beside which his life of to-day
and yesterday had faded into the drabness of a
wretched dream. He had wanted this to-morrow, had
craved it, sensing in it a freedom magnificently remote
from the smaller personal existence he had known
heretofore, feeling that, presently, when he would have
achieved merit, it would stab out of the heavens with
a giant rush of splendor and, greatly, blessedly,
overwhelm him and destroy his clogging, individual
But how was this to be attained? Had he been a
Hindu ascetic, or even a member of certain Christian
sects, he would have flagellated his body, would have
gone through the ordeal of physical pain. But, a Mon
gol, thus stolidly unromantic and rational, almost tor
pidly sane, he had done nothing of the sort. On the
contrary, he had continued to take good care of him
self. True, he had begun to eat less, but not pur
posely ; simply because his appetite had decreased. And
his real reason for keeping his wife s Pekinese spaniel
tucked in his sleeve was because "Reverential and Se
date" reminded him when it was time for luncheon
or dinner, hours he might otherwise have forgotten.
The idea of suicide had never entered his reckoning,
since he held the belief of half Asia, that suicide de
stroys the body and not the soul; that it is only a
crude and slightly amateurish interruption of the pres
ent life, leaving the thread of it still more raveled and
tangled and knotted for the next life, and yet the
He had passed over the obvious solution of devoting
himself to charity, to the weal of others, as it had
seemed to him but another instance of weak and selfish
vanity, fully as weak and selfish as the love of woman ;
and the solace of religion he had dismissed with the
same ready, smiling ease. Religion, to him, was not
an idea, but a stout, rectangular entity, a great force
and principle, that did its appointed duty not because
people believed in it, but because it was. The Buddha
would help him, if it be so incumbent by fate upon
246 ALIEN SOULS
the Buddha, regardless, if he prayed to him or not, if
he memorized the sacred scriptures, if he burned
sweet-scented Hunshuh incense-sticks before the gilt
altar or not. For the Buddha, too, was tied firmly to
the Wheel of Things. The Buddha, too, had to do his
appointed task. Thus, Li Ping-Yeng had decided,
prayers would be a waste of time, since they could not
influence the Excellent One one way or the other.
How, then, could he acquire sufficient merit so as
to reach his tao, beyond the good and the evil?
Of course, first of all, mainly, by tearing from his
body and heart even the last root of the liana of desire,
of love, of regret for his wife; by again and again
denying, impugning, destroying the thought of her,
though, again and again, it would rise to the nostrils
of his remembrance, with a stalely sweet scent like the
ghost of dead lotus-blossoms.
She was on the shadow side of the forever. Her
soul, he would repeat to himself, incessantly, defiantly,
belligerently, had leaped the dragon gate. Broken
were the fetters that had held him a captive to the
tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of her jeweled ear-rings. A mere
picture she was, painted on the screen of eternity, im
personal, immensely aloof, passed from the unrealities
of the earth life to the realities of the further cosmos.
He must banish the thought of her, must forget her.
And he did forget her, again and again, with the
effort, the pain of forgetting choking his heart.
Sitting by the window, his subconscious mind cen
tered on his tao, his salvation, the blessed destruction
of his individual entity, "Reverential and Sedate" hud
dled in a fold of his loose sleeve, scrutinizing street
and sky with unseeing eyes, he would forget her
through the long, greasy days, while the reek of Pell
Street rose up to the tortured clouds with a mingled
aroma of sweat and blood and opium and suffering,
while the strident clamor of Pell Street blended with
the distant clamor of the Broadway mart.
He would forget her through the long, dim evenings,
while the sun died in a gossamer veil of gold and
mauve, and the moon cut out of the ether, bloated
and anemic and sentimental, and the night vaulted
to a purple canopy, pricked with chilly, indifferent
He would sit there, silent, motionless, and forget,
while the stars died, and the moon and the night, and
the sky flushed to the opal of young morning, and
again came day and the sun and the reek and the maze
and the soot and the clamors of Pell Street.
Forgetting, always forgetting; forgetting his love,
forgetting the tiny bound feet of the Plum Blossom,
the Lotus Bud, the Crimson Butterfly. Her little,
little feet! Ahee! He had made his heart a carpet
for her little, little feet.
Forgetting, reaching up to his tao with groping
soul; and then again the thought of his dead wife,
again his tao slipping back ; again the travail of forget
ting, to be forever repeated.
And so one day he died; and it was Wuh Wang,
the little, onyx-eyed, flighty wife of Li Hsu, the
hatchet-man, who, perhaps, speaking to Tzu Mo, the
daughter of Yu Ch ang, the priest, grasped a fragment
of the truth.
"Say, kid," she slurred in the Pell Street jargon,
"that there Li Ping-Yeng wot s kicked the bucket th
other day, well, you know wot them Chinks said how
he was always trying to get next to that now tao
of his by trying to forget his wife. Well, mebbe he
248 ALIEN SOULS
was all wrong. Mebbe his tao wasn t forgetting at
all. Mebbe it was just his love for her, his always
thinking of her, his not forgetting her that was his
"Mebbe," replied Tzu Mo. "I should worry!"
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