The Seed of the Faith
by Edith Wharton
THE blinding June sky of Africa hung over the town. In the doorway
of an Arab coffee-house a young man stood listening to the remarks
exchanged by the patrons of the establishment, who lay in torpid heaps
on the low shelf bordering the room.
The young man's caftan was faded to a dingy brown, but the muslin
garment covering it was clean, and so was the turban wound about his
Cleanliness was not the most marked characteristic of the
conversation, to which he lent a listless ear. It was no prurient
curiosity that fixed his attention on this placid exchange of
obscenities; he had lived too long in Morocco for obscenities not to
have lost their savor. But he had never quite overcome the fascinated
disgust with which he listened, nor the hope that one among the talkers
would suddenly reveal some sense of a higher ideal of what, at home,
the earnest women he knew used solemnly to call a Purpose. He was sure
that, some day, such a sign would come, and then —
Meanwhile, at that hour, there was nothing on earth to do in Eloued
but to stand and listen. . .
The bazaar was beginning to fill up. Looking down the vaulted
tunnel which led to the coffee-house the young man watched the
thickening throng of shoppers and idlers. The fat merchant whose shop
faced the end of the tunnel had just ridden up and rolled off his mule,
while his black boy unbarred the door of the niche hung with
embroidered slippers where the master throned. The young man in the
faded caftan, watching the merchant scramble up and sink into his
cushions, wondered for the thousandth time what he thought about all
day in his dim stifling kennel, and what he did when he was away from
it . . . for no length of residence in that dark land seemed to bring
one nearer to finding out what the heathen thought and did when the eye
of the Christian was off him.
Suddenly a wave of excitement ran through the crowd. Every head
turned in the same direction, and even the camels bent their frowning
faces and stretched their necks all one way, as animals do before a
storm. A wild hoot had penetrated the bazaar, howling through the long
white tunnels and under the reed-woven roofs like a Djinn among
dishonored graves. The heart of the young man began to beat.
"It sounds," he thought, "like a motor. . ."
But a motor at Eloued! There was one, every one knew, in the
Sultan's Palace. It had been brought there years ago by a foreign
Ambassador, as a gift from his sovereign, and was variously reported to
be made entirely of aluminum, platinum, or silver. But the parts had
never been put together, the body had long been used for breeding
silk-worms — a not wholly successful experiment — and the acetylene
lamps adorned the Pasha's gardens on state occasions. As for the horn,
it had been sent as a gift, with a choice panoply of arms, to the Caid
of the Red Mountain; but as the india-rubber bulb had accidentally been
left behind, it was certainly not the Caid's visit which the present
discordant cries announced. . .
"Hullo, you old dromedary! How's the folks up-state?" cried a
ringing voice; the awe-struck populace gave way, and a young man in
linen duster and motor-cap, slipping under the interwoven necks of the
astonished camels, strode down the tunnel with an air of authority and
clapped a hand on the dreamer in the doorway.
"Harry Spink!" the other gasped in a startled whisper, and with an
intonation as un-African as his friend's. At the same instant he
glanced over his shoulder, and his mild lips formed a cautious "sh."
"Who'd you take me for — Gabby Delys?" asked the newcomer gayly;
then, seeing that this topical allusion hung fire: "And what the
dickens are you 'hushing' for, anyhow? You don't suppose, do you, that
anybody in the bazaar thinks you're a native? D'ye'ever look at your
chin? Or that Adam's apple running up and down you like a bead on a
billiard-marker's wire? See here, Willard Bent. . ."
The young man in the caftan blushed distressfully, not so much at
the graphic reference to his looks as at the doubt cast on his
"I do assure you, Harry, I pick up a great deal of . . . of useful
information . . . in this way. . ."
"Oh, get out," said Harry Spink cheerfully. "You believe all that
still, do you? What's the good of it all, anyway?"
Willard Bent passed a hand under the other's arm and led him
through the coffee-house into an empty room at the back. They sat down
on a shelf covered with matting and looked at each other earnestly.
"Don't you believe any longer, Harry Spink?" asked Willard Bent.
"Don't have to. I'm travelling for rubber now."
"Oh, merciful heaven! Was that your automobile?"
There was a long silence, during which Bent sat with bowed head
gazing on the earthen floor, while the bead in his throat performed its
most active gymnastics. At last he lifted his eyes and fixed them on
the tight red face of his companion.
"When did your faith fail you?" he asked.
The other considered him humorously. "Why — when I got onto this
job, I guess."
Willard Bent rose and held out his hand.
"Good-by. . . I must go. . . If I can be of any use . . . you know
where to find me. . ."
"Any use? Say, old man, what's wrong? Are you trying to shake me?"
Bent was silent, and Harry Spink continued insidiously: "Ain't you a
mite hard on me? I thought the heathen was just what you was laying
Bent smiled mournfully. "There's no use trying to convert a
"That what I am? Well — all right. But how about the others? Say
— let's order a lap of tea and have it out right here."
Bent seemed to hesitate; but at length he rose, put back the
matting that screened the inner room, and said a word to the
proprietor. Presently a scrofulous boy with gazelle eyes brought a
brass tray bearing glasses and pipes of kif, gazed earnestly at the
stranger in the linen duster, and slid back behind the matting.
"Of course," Bent began, "a good many people know I am a Baptist
missionary" — ("No?" from Spink, incredulously) — "but in the crowd
of the bazaar they don't notice me, and I hear things. . ."
"Golly! I should suppose you did."
"I mean, things that may be useful. You know Mr. Blandhorn's idea.
A tinge of respectful commiseration veiled the easy impudence of
the drummer's look. "The old man still here, is he?"
"Oh, yes, of course. He will never leave Eloued."
"And the missus — ?"
Bent again lowered his naturally low voice. "She died — a year ago
— of the climate. The doctor had warned her; but Mr. Blandhorn felt a
call to remain here."
"And she wouldn't leave without him?"
"Oh, she felt a call, too . . . among the women. . ."
Spink pondered. "How many years you been here, Willard?"
"Ten next July," the other responded, as if he had added up the
weeks and months so often that the reply was always on his lips.
"And the old man?"
"Twenty-five last April. We had planned a celebration . . . before
Mrs. Blandhorn died. There was to have been a testimonial offered . . .
but, owing to her death, Mr. Blandhorn preferred to devote the sum to
"I see. How much?" said Spink sharply.
"It wouldn't seem much to you. I believe about fifty pesetas. . ."
"Two pesetas a year? Lucky the Society looks after you, ain't it?"
Willard Bent met his ironic glance steadily. "We're not here to
trade," he said with dignity.
"No — that's right, too." Spink reddened slightly. "Well, all I
meant was — look at here, Willard, we're old friends, even if I did go
wrong, as I suppose you'd call it. I was in this thing near on a year
myself, and what always tormented me was this: What does it all amount
"Yes. I mean, what's the results? Supposing you was a fisherman.
Well, if you fished a bit of river year after year, and never had a
nibble, you'd do one of two things, wouldn't you? Move away — or lie
about it. See?"
Bent nodded without speaking. Spink set down his glass and busied
himself with the lighting of his long, slender pipe. "Say, this
mint-julep feels like old times," he remarked.
Bent continued to gaze frowningly into his untouched glass. At
length he swallowed the sweet decoction at a gulp, and turned to his
"I'd never lie . . ." he murmured.
"Well — "
"I'm — I'm still — waiting. . ."
"Waiting — ?"
"Yes. The wind bloweth where it listeth. If St. Paul had stopped to
count . . . in Corinth, say. As I take it" — he looked long and
passionately at the drummer — "as I take it, the thing is to be St.
Harry Spink remained unimpressed. "That's all talk — I heard all
that when I was here before. What I want to know is: What's your bag?
"It's difficult — "
"I see: like the pigs. They run around so!"
Both the young men were silent, Spink pulling at his pipe, the
other sitting with bent head, his eyes obstinately fixed on the beaten
floor. At length Spink rose and tapped the missionary on the shoulder.
"Say — s'posin' we take a look around Corinth? I got to get onto
my job to-morrow, but I'd like to take a turn round the old place
Willard Bent rose also. He felt singularly old and tired, and his
mind was full of doubt as to what he ought to do. If he refused to
accompany Harry Spink, a former friend and fellow worker, it might look
like running away from his questions. . .
They went out together.
THE bazaar was seething. It seemed impossible that two more people
should penetrate the throng of beggars, pilgrims, traders, slave women,
water-sellers, hawkers of dates and sweetmeats, leather-gaitered
country-people carrying bunches of hens head downward, jugglers' touts
from the market-place, Jews in black caftans and greasy turbans, and
scrofulous children reaching up to the high counters to fill their jars
and baskets. But every now and then the Arab "Look out!" made the crowd
divide and flatten itself against the stalls, and a long line of
donkeys loaded with water-barrels or bundles of reeds, a string of
musk-scented camels swaying their necks like horizontal question-marks,
or a great man perched on a pink-saddled mule and followed by slaves
and clients, swept through the narrow passage without other peril to
the pedestrians than that of a fresh exchange of vermin.
As the two young men drew back to make way for one of these
processions, Willard Bent lifted his head and looked at his friend with
a smile. "That's what Mr. Blandhorn says we ought to remember — it's
one of his favorite images.
"What is?" asked Harry Spink, following with attentive gaze the
movements of a young Jewess whose uncovered face and bright head-dress
stood out against a group of muffled Arab women.
Instinctively Willard's voice took on a hortatory roll.
"Why, the way this dense mass of people, so heedless, so
preoccupied, is imperceptibly penetrated — "
"By a handful of asses? That's so. But the asses have got some kick
in 'em, remember!"
The missionary flushed to the edge of his fez, and his mild eyes
grew dim. It was the old story: Harry Spink invariably got the better
of him in bandying words — and the interpretation of allegories had
never been his strong point. Mr. Blandhorn always managed to make them
sound unanswerable, whereas on his disciple's lips they fell to pieces
at a touch. What was it that Willard always left out?
A mournful sense of his unworthiness overcame him, and with it the
discouraged vision of all the long months and years spent in the
struggle with heat and dust and flies and filth and wickedness, the
long, lonely years of his youth that would never come back to him. It
was the vision he most dreaded, and turning from it he tried to forget
himself in watching his friend.
"Golly! The vacuum-cleaner ain't been round since my last visit,"
Mr. Spink observed, as they slipped in a mass of offal beneath a
butcher's stall. "Let's get into another soukh — the flies here beat
They turned into another long lane chequered with an interweaving
of black reed-shadows. It was the saddlers' quarter, and here an even
thicker crowd wriggled and swayed between the cramped stalls hung with
bright leather and spangled ornaments.
"Say! It might be a good idea to import some of this stuff for
Fourth of July processions — Knights of Pythias and secret societies'
kinder thing," Spink mused, pausing before the brilliant spectacle. At
the same moment a lad in an almond-green caftan sidled up and touched
Willard's face brightened. "Ah, that's little Ahmed — you don't
remember him? Surely — the water-carrier's boy. Mrs. Blandhorn saved
his mother's life when he was born, and he still comes to prayers. Yes,
Ahmed, this is your old friend Mr. Spink."
Ahmed raised prodigious lashes from seraphic eyes and reverently
surveyed the face of his old friend. "Me 'member."
"Hullo, old chap . . . why, of course . . . so do I," the drummer
beamed. The missionary laid a brotherly hand on the boy's shoulder. It
was really providential that Ahmed — whom they hadn't seen at the
Mission for more weeks than Willard cared to count — should have
"happened by" at that moment: Willard took it as a rebuke to his own
"You'll be in this evening for prayers, won't you, Ahmed?" he said,
as if Ahmed never failed them. "Mr. Spink will be with us."
"Yessir," said Ahmed with unction. He slipped from under Willard's
hand, and outflanking the drummer approached him from the farther side.
"Show you Souss boys dance? Down to old Jewess's, Bab-el-Soukh," he
Willard saw his companion turn from red to a wrathful purple.
"Get out, you young swine, you — do you hear me?"
Ahmed grinned, wavered and vanished, engulfed in the careless
crowd. The young men walked on without speaking.
IN the market-place they parted. Willard Bent, after some
hesitation, had asked Harry Spink to come to the Mission that evening.
"You'd better come to supper — then we can talk quietly afterward. Mr.
Blandhorn will want to see you," he suggested; and Mr. Spink had
The prayer-meeting was before supper, and Willard would have liked
to propose again that his friend should come to that also; but he did
not dare. He said to himself that Harry Spink, who had been merely a
lay assistant, might have lost the habit of reverence, and that it
would be too painful to risk his scandalizing Mr. Blandhorn. But that
was only a sham reason; and Willard, with his incorrigible habit of
self-exploration, fished up the real one from a lower depth. What he
had most feared was that there would be no one at the meeting.
During Mrs. Blandhorn's lifetime there had been no reason for such
apprehension: they could always count on a few people. Mrs. Blandhorn,
who had studied medicine at Ann Arbor, Michigan, had early gained
renown in Eloued by her miraculous healing powers. The dispensary, in
those days, had been beset by anxious-eyed women who unwound skinny
fig-colored children from their dirty draperies; and there had even
been a time when Mr. Blandhorn had appealed to the Society for a young
lady missionary to assist his wife. But, for reasons not quite clear to
Willard Bent, Mrs. Blandhorn, a thin-lipped, determined little woman,
had energetically opposed the coming of this youthful "Sister," and had
declared that their Jewish maid servant, old Myriem, could give her all
the aid she needed.
Mr. Blandhorn yielded, as he usually did — as he had yielded, for
instance, when one day, in a white inarticulate fury, his wife had
banished her godson, little Ahmed (whose life she had saved), and
issued orders that he should never show himself again except at
prayer-meeting, and accompanied by his father. Mrs. Blandhorn, small,
silent and passionate, had always — as Bent made out in his long
retrospective musings — ended by having her way in the conflicts that
occasionally shook the monotony of life at the Mission. After her death
the young man had even suspected, beneath his superior's sincere and
vehement sorrow, a lurking sense of relief. Mr. Blandhorn had snuffed
the air of freedom, and had been, for the moment, slightly intoxicated
by it. But not for long. Very soon his wife's loss made itself felt as
a lasting void.
She had been (as Spink would have put it) "the whole show"; had
led, inspired, organized her husband's work, held it together, and
given it the brave front it presented to the unheeding heathen. Now the
heathen had almost entirely fallen away, and the too evident inference
was that they had come rather for Mrs. Blandhorn's pills than for her
husband's exhortations. Neither of the missionaries had avowed this
discovery to the other, but to Willard at least it was implied in all
the circumlocutions and evasions of their endless talks.
The young man's situation had been greatly changed by Mrs.
Blandhorn's death. His superior had grown touchingly dependent on him.
Their conversation, formerly confined to parochial matters, now ranged
from abstruse doctrinal problems to the question of how to induce
Myriem, who had deplorably "relapsed," to keep the kitchen cleaner and
spend less time on the roofs. Bent felt that Mr. Blandhorn needed him
at every moment, and that, during any prolonged absence, something
vaguely "unfortunate" might happen at the Mission.
"I'm glad Spink has come; it will do him good to see somebody from
outside," Willard thought, nervously hoping that Spink (a good fellow
at bottom) would not trouble Mr. Blandhorn by any of his "unsettling"
At the end of a labyrinth of lanes, on the farther side of the
Jewish quarter, a wall of heat-cracked clay bore the inscription:
"American Evangelical Mission." Underneath a door opened into a court
where an old woman in a bright head-dress sat under a fig-tree pounding
something in a mortar.
She looked up, and, rising, touched Bent's draperies with her lips.
Her small face, withered as a dry medlar, was full of an ancient
wisdom: Mrs. Blandhorn had certainly been right in trusting Myriem.
A narrow house-front looked upon the court. Bent climbed the steep
stairs to Mr. Blandhorn's study. It was a small room with a few
dog-eared books on a set of rough shelves, the table at which Mr.
Blandhorn wrote his reports for the Society, and a mattress covered
with a bit of faded carpet on which he slept. Near the window stood
Mrs. Blandhorn's sewing-machine: it had never been moved since her
The missionary was sitting in the middle of the room, in the
rocking-chair which had also been his wife's. His large veined hands
were clasped about its arms and his head rested against a patchwork
cushion tied to the back by a shoe-lace. His mouth was slightly open,
and a deep breath, occasionally rising to a whistle, proceeded with
rhythmic regularity from his delicately cut nostrils. Even surprised in
sleep he was a fine man to look upon; and when, at the sound of Bent's
approach, he opened his eyes and pulled himself out of his chair, he
became magnificent. He had taken off his turban, and thrown a
handkerchief over his head, which was shaved like an Arab's for
coolness. His long beard was white, with the smoker's yellow tinge
about the lips; but his eyebrows were jet-black, arched and restless.
The gray eyes beneath them shed a mild benedictory beam, confirmed by
the smile of a mouth that might have seemed weak if the beard had not
so nearly concealed it. But the forehead menaced, fulminated or awed
with the ever-varying play of the eyebrows. Willard Bent never beheld
that forehead without thinking of Sinai.
Mr. Blandhorn brushed some shreds of tobacco from his white
djellabah and looked impressively at his assistant.
"The heat is really overwhelming," he said, as if excusing himself.
He readjusted his turban, and then asked: "Is everything ready
Bent assented, and they went down to the long bare room where the
prayer-meetings were held. In Mrs. Blandhorn's day it had also served
as the dispensary, and a cupboard containing drugs and bandages stood
against the wall under the text: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and
are heavy laden."
Myriem, abandoning her mortar, was vaguely "tidying" the Arab
tracts and leaflets that lay on the divan against the wall. At one end
of the room stood a table covered with a white cloth, with a Bible
lying on it; and to the left a sort of pulpit-lectern, from which Mr.
Blandhorn addressed his flock. In the doorway squatted Ayoub, a silent
gray-headed negro: Bent, on his own arrival at Eloued, ten years
earlier, had found him there in the same place and the same attitude.
Ayoub was supposed to be a rescued slave from the Soudan, and was shown
to visitors as "our first convert." He manifested no interest at the
approach of the missionaries, but continued to gaze out into the
sun-baked court cut in half by the shadow of the fig-tree.
Mr. Blandhorn, after looking about the empty room as if he were
surveying the upturned faces of an attentive congregation, placed
himself at the lectern, put on his spectacles, and turned over the
pages of his prayer-book. Then he knelt and bowed his head in prayer.
His devotions ended, he rose and seated himself in the cane armchair
that faced the lectern. Willard Bent sat opposite in another armchair.
Mr. Blandhorn leaned back, breathing heavily, and passing his
handkerchief over his face and brow. Now and then he drew out his
watch, now and then he said: "The heat is really overwhelming."
Myriem had drifted back to her fig-tree, and the sound of the
pestle mingled with the drone of flies on the window-pane. Occasionally
the curses of a muleteer or the rhythmic chant of a water-carrier broke
the silence; once there came from a neighboring roof the noise of a
short catlike squabble ending in female howls; then the afternoon heat
laid its leaden hush on all things.
Mr. Blandhorn opened his mouth and slept.
Willard Bent, watching him, thought with wonder and admiration of
his past. What had he not seen, what secrets were not hidden in his
bosom? By dint of sheer "sticking it out" he had acquired to the
younger man a sort of visible sanctity. Twenty-five years of Eloued! He
had known the old mad torturing Sultan, he had seen, after the defeat
of the rebels, the long line of prisoners staggering in under a torrid
sky, chained wrist to wrist, and dragging between them the putrefying
bodies of those who had died on the march. He had seen the Great
Massacre, when the rivers were red with French blood, and Mr. Blandhorn
had hidden an officer's wife and children in the rat-haunted drain
under the court; he had known robbery and murder and intrigue, and all
the dark maleficence of Africa; and he remained as serene, as confident
and guileless, as on the day when he had first set foot on that evil
soil, saying to himself (as he had told Willard): "Thou shalt tread
upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou
trample under feet."
Willard Bent hated Africa; but it awed and fascinated him. And as
he contemplated the splendid old man sleeping opposite him, so
mysterious, so childlike and so weak (Mrs. Blandhorn had left him no
doubts on that point), the disciple marvelled at the power of the faith
which had armed his master with a sort of infantine strength against
such dark and manifold perils.
Suddenly a shadow fell in the doorway, and Bent, roused from his
dream, saw Harry Spink tiptoeing past the unmoved Ayoub. The drummer
paused and looked with astonishment from one of the missionaries to the
other. "Say," he asked, "is prayer-meeting over? I thought I'd be round
He spoke seriously, even respectfully; it was plain that he felt
flippancy to be out of place. But Bent suspected a lurking malice under
his astonishment: he was sure Harry Spink had come to "count heads."
Mr. Blandhorn, wakened by the voice, stood up heavily.
"Harry Spink! Is it possible you are amongst us?"
"Why, yes, sir — I'm amongst. Didn't Willard tell you? I guess
Willard Bent's ashamed of me."
Spink, with a laugh, shook Mr. Blandhorn's hand, and glanced about
the empty room.
"I'm only here for a day or so — on business. Willard'll explain.
But I wanted to come round to meeting — like old times. Sorry it's
The missionary looked at him with a grave candor. "It's not over —
it has not begun. The overwhelming heat has probably kept away our
"I see," interpolated Spink.
"But now," continued Mr. Blandhorn with majesty, "that two or three
are gathered together in His name, there is no reason why we should
wait. — Myriem! Ayoub!"
He took his place behind the lectern and began: "Almighty and
merciful Father — "
THE night was exceedingly close. Willard Bent, after Spink's
departure, had undressed and stretched himself on his camp-bed; but the
mosquitoes roared like lions, and lying down made him more wakeful.
"In any Christian country," he mused, "this would mean a
thunder-storm and a cool-off. Here it just means months and months more
of the same thing." And he thought enviously of Spink, who, in two or
three days, his "deal" concluded, would be at sea again, heading for
Bent was honestly distressed at his own state of mind: he had
feared that Harry Spink would "unsettle" Mr. Blandhorn, and, instead,
it was he himself who had been unsettled. Old slumbering distrusts and
doubts, bursting through his surface-apathy, had shot up under the
drummer's ironic eye. It was not so much Spink, individually, who had
loosened the crust of Bent's indifference; it was the fact of feeling
his whole problem suddenly viewed and judged from the outside. At
Eloued, he was aware, nobody, for a long time, had thought much about
the missionaries. The French authorities were friendly, the Pasha was
tolerant, the American consul at Mogador had always stood by them in
any small difficulties. But beyond that they were virtually
non-existent. Nobody's view of life was really affected by their
presence in the great swarming mysterious city: if they should pack up
and leave that night, the story-tellers of the market would not
interrupt their tales, or one less bargain be struck in the bazaar.
Ayoub would still doze in the door, and old Myriem continue her secret
life on the roofs. . .
The roofs were of course forbidden to the missionaries, as they are
to men in all Moslem cities. But the Mission-house stood close to the
walls, and Mr. Blandhorn's room, across the passage, gave on a small
terrace overhanging the court of a caravansary upon which it was no sin
to look. Willard wondered if it were any cooler on the terrace.
Some one tapped on his open door, and Mr. Blandhorn, in turban and
caftan, entered the room shading a small lamp.
"My dear Willard — can you sleep?"
"No, sir." The young man stumbled to his feet.
"Nor I. The heat is really . . . Shall we seek relief on the
Bent followed him, and having extinguished the lamp Mr. Blandhorn
led the way out. He dragged a strip of matting to the edge of the
parapet, and the two men sat down on it side by side.
There was no moon, but a sky so full of stars that the city was
outlined beneath it in great blue-gray masses. The air was motionless,
but every now and then a wandering tremor stirred it and died out.
Close under the parapet lay the bales and saddle-packs of the
caravansary, between vaguer heaps, presumably of sleeping camels. In
one corner the star-glitter picked out the shape of a trough brimming
with water, and stabbed it with long silver beams. Beyond the court
rose the crenellations of the city walls, and above them one palm stood
up like a tree of bronze.
"Africa — " sighed Mr. Blandhorn.
Willard Bent started at the secret echo of his own thoughts.
"Yes. Never anything else, sir — "
"Ah — " said the old man.
A tang-tang of stringed instruments, accompanied by the lowing of
an earthen-ware drum, rose exasperatingly through the night. It was the
kind of noise that, one knew, had been going on for hours before one
began to notice it, and would go on, unchecked and unchanging, for
endless hours more: like the heat, like the drought — like Africa.
Willard slapped at a mosquito.
"It's a party at the wool-merchant's, Myriem tells me," Mr.
Blandhorn remarked. It really seemed as if, that night, the thoughts of
the two men met without the need of words. Willard Bent was aware that,
for both, the casual word had called up all the details of the scene:
fat merchants in white bunches on their cushions, negresses coming and
going with trays of sweets, champagne clandestinely poured, ugly
singing-girls yowling, slim boys in petticoats dancing — perhaps
little Ahmed among them.
"I went down to the court just now. Ayoub has disappeared," Mr.
"Of course. When I heard in the bazaar that that black caravan was
in from the south I knew he'd be off. . ."
Mr. Blandhorn lowered his voice. "Willard — have you reason to
think . . . that Ayoub joins in their rites?"
"Myriem has always said he was a Hamatcha, sir. Look at those queer
cuts and scars on him. . . It's a much bloodier sect than the
Through the nagging throb of the instruments came a sound of human
wailing, cadenced, terrible, relentless, carried from a long way off on
a lift of the air. Then the air died, and the wailing with it.
"From somewhere near the Potters' Field . . . there's where the
caravan is camping," Willard murmured.
The old man made no answer. He sat with his head bowed, his veined
hands grasping his knees; he seemed to his disciple to be whispering
fragments of Scripture.
"Willard, my son, this is our fault," he said at length.
"What — ? Ayoub?"
"Ayoub is a poor ignorant creature, hardly more than an animal.
Even when he witnessed for Jesus I was not very sure the Word reached
him. I refer to — to what Harry Spink said this evening. . . It has
kept me from sleeping, Willard Bent."
"Yes — I know, sir."
"Harry Spink is a worldly minded man. But he is not a bad man. He
did a manly thing when he left us, since he did not feel the call. But
we have felt the call, Willard, you and I — and when a man like Spink
puts us a question such as he put this evening we ought to be able to
answer it. And we ought not to want to avoid answering it."
"You mean when he said: 'What is there in it for Jesus'?"
"The phrase was irreverent, but the meaning reached me. He meant, I
take it: 'What have your long years here profited to Christ?' You
understood it so — ?"
"Yes. He said to me in the bazaar: 'What's your bag?'"
Mr. Blandhorn sighed heavily. For a few minutes Willard fancied he
had fallen asleep; but he lifted his head and, stretching his hand out,
laid it on his disciple's arm.
"The Lord chooses His messengers as it pleaseth Him; I have been
awaiting this for a long time." The young man felt his arm strongly
grasped. "Willard, you have been much to me all these years; but that
is nothing. All that matters is what you are to Christ . . . and the
test of that, at this moment, is your willingness to tell me the exact
truth, as you see it."
Willard Bent felt as if he were a very tall building, and his heart
a lift suddenly dropping down from the roof to the cellar. He stirred
nervously, releasing his arm, and cleared his throat; but he made no
answer. Mr. Blandhorn went on:
"Willard, this is the day of our accounting — of my accounting.
What have I done with my twenty-five years in Africa? I might deceive
myself as long as my wife lived — I cannot now." He added, after a
pause: "Thank heaven she never doubted. . ."
The younger man, with an inward shiver, remembered some of Mrs.
Blandhorn's confidences. "I suppose that's what marriage is," he mused
— "just a fog, like everything else."
Aloud he asked: "Then why should you doubt, sir?"
"Because my eyes have been opened — "
"By Harry Spink?" the disciple sneered.
The old man raised his hand. "'Out of the mouths of babes — ' But
it is not Harry Spink who first set me thinking. He has merely loosened
my tongue. He has been the humble instrument compelling me to exact the
truth of you."
Again Bent felt his heart dropping down a long dark shaft. He found
no words at the bottom of it, and Mr. Blandhorn continued: "The truth
and the whole truth, Willard Bent. We have failed — I have failed. We
have not reached the souls of these people. Those who still come to us
do so from interested motives — or, even if I do some few of them an
injustice, if there is in some a blind yearning for the light, is there
one among them whose eyes we have really opened?"
Willard Bent sat silent, looking up and down the long years, as if
to summon from the depths of memory some single incident that should
permit him to say there was.
"You don't answer, my poor young friend. Perhaps you have been
clearer-sighted; perhaps you saw long ago that we were not worthy of
"I never thought that of you, sir!"
"Nor of yourself? For we have been one — or so I believed — in
all our hopes and efforts. Have you been satisfied with your results?"
Willard saw the dialectical trap, but some roused force in him
refused to evade it.
"No, sir — God knows."
"Then I am answered. We have failed: Africa has beaten us. It has
always been my way, as you know, Willard, to face the truth squarely,"
added the old man who had lived so long in dreams; "and now that this
truth has been borne in on me, painful as it is, I must act on it . . .
act in accordance with its discovery. . ."
He drew a long breath, as if oppressed by the weight of his
resolution, and sat silent for a moment, fanning his face with a corner
of his white draperies.
"And here too — here too I must have your help, Willard," he began
presently, his hand again weighing on the young man's arm. "I will tell
you the conclusions I have reached; and you must answer me — as you
would answer your Maker."
The old man lowered his voice. "It is our lukewarmness, Willard —
it is nothing else. We have not witnessed for Christ as His saints and
martyrs witnessed for Him. What have we done to fix the attention of
these people, to convince them of our zeal, to overwhelm them with the
irresistibleness of the Truth? Answer me on your word — what have we
Willard pondered. "But the saints and martyrs . . . were
" Persecuted! You have spoken the word I wanted."
"But the people here," Willard argued, "don't want to persecute
anybody. They're not fanatical unless you insult their religion."
Mr. Blandhorn's grasp grew tighter. "Insult their religion! That's
it . . . to-night you find just the words. . ."
Willard felt his arm shake with the tremor that passed through the
other's body. "The saints and martyrs insulted the religion of the
heathen — they spat upon it, Willard — they rushed into the temples
and knocked down the idols. They said to the heathen: 'Turn away your
faces from all your abominations,' and after the manner of men they
fought with the beasts at Ephesus. What is the Church on earth called?
The Church Militant! You and I are soldiers of the Cross."
The missionary had risen and stood leaning against the parapet, his
right arm lifted as if he spoke from a pulpit. The music at the
wool-merchant's had ceased, but now and then, through the midnight
silence, there came an echo of ritual howls from the Potter's Field.
Willard was still seated, his head thrown back against the parapet,
his eyes raised to Mr. Blandhorn. Following the gesture of the
missionary's lifted hand, from which the muslin fell back like the
sleeve of a surplice, the young man's gaze was led upward to another
white figure, hovering small and remote above their heads. It was a
Muezzin leaning from his airy balcony to drop on the blue-gray masses
of the starlit city the cry: "Only Allah is great!"
Mr. Blandhorn saw the white figure too, and stood facing it with
motionless raised arm.
"Only Christ is great, only Christ crucified!" he suddenly shouted
in Arabic with all the strength of his broad lungs.
The figure paused, and seemed to Willard to bend over, as if
peering down in their direction; but a moment later it had moved to the
other corner of the balcony, and the cry fell again on the sleeping
"Allah — Allah — only Allah!"
"Christ — Christ — only Christ crucified!" roared Mr. Blandhorn,
exalted with wrath and shaking his fist at the aerial puppet.
The puppet once more paused and peered; then it moved on and
vanished behind the flank of the minaret.
The missionary, still towering with lifted arm, dusky-faced in the
starlight, seemed to Willard to have grown in majesty and stature. But
presently his arm fell and his head sank into his hands. The young man
knelt down, hiding his face also, and they prayed in silence, side by
side, while from the farther corners of the minaret, more faintly, fell
the infidel call.
Willard, his prayer ended, looked up, and saw that the old man's
garments were stirred as if by a ripple of air. But the air was quite
still, and the disciple perceived that the tremor of the muslin was
communicated to it by Mr. Blandhorn's body.
"He's trembling — trembling all over. He's afraid of something.
What's he afraid of?" And in the same breath Willard had answered his
own question: "He's afraid of what he's made up his mind to do."
TWO days later Willard Bent sat in the shade of a ruined tomb
outside the Gate of the Graves and watched the people streaming in to
Eloued. It was the eve of the feast of the local saint, Sidi Oman, who
slept in a corner of the Great Mosque, under a segment of green-tiled
cupola, and was held in deep reverence by the country people, many of
whom belonged to the powerful fraternity founded in his name.
The ruin stood on a hillock beyond the outer wall. From where the
missionary sat he overlooked the fortified gate and the irregular
expanse of the Potter's Field, with its primitive furnaces built into
hollows of the ground between ridges shaded by stunted olive-trees. On
the farther side of the trail which the pilgrims followed on entering
the gate lay a sun-blistered cemetery, where hucksters traded between
the crooked gravestones and the humblest caravans camped in a waste of
refuse, offal and stripped date-branches. A cloud of dust, perpetually
subsiding and gathering again, hid these sordid details from Bent's
eyes, but not from his imagination.
"Nowhere in Eloued," he thought with a shudder, "are the flies as
fat and blue as they are inside that gate."
But this was a fugitive reflection: his mind was wholly absorbed in
what had happened in the last forty-eight hours, and what was likely to
happen in the next.
"To think," he mused, "that after ten years I don't really know
him! . . . A laborer in the Lord's vineyard — shows how much good I
His thoughts were moody and oppressed with fear. Never, since his
first meeting with Mr. Blandhorn, had he pondered so deeply the problem
of his superior's character. He tried to deduce from the past some
inference as to what Mr. Blandhorn was likely to do next; but, as far
as he knew, there was nothing in the old man's previous history
resembling the midnight scene on the Mission terrace.
That scene had already had its repercussion.
On the following morning, Willard, drifting as usual about the
bazaar, had met a friendly French official, who, taking him aside, had
told him there were strange reports abroad — which he hoped Mr. Bent
would be able to deny. . . In short, as it had never been Mr.
Blandhorn's policy to offend the native population, or insult their
religion, the Administration was confident that . . .
Surprised by Willard's silence, and visibly annoyed at being
obliged to pursue the subject, the friendly official, growing graver,
had then asked what had really occurred; and, on Willard's replying,
had charged him with an earnest recommendation to his superior — a
warning, if necessary — that the government would not, under any
circumstances, tolerate a repetition. . . "But I dare say it was the
heat?" he concluded; and Willard weakly acquiesced.
He was ashamed now of having done so; yet, after all, how did he
know it was not the heat? A heavy sanguine man like Mr. Blandhorn would
probably never quite accustom himself to the long strain of the African
summer. "Or his wife's death — " he had murmured to the sympathetic
official, who smiled with relief at the suggestion.
And now he sat overlooking the enigmatic city, and asking himself
again what he really knew of his superior. Mr. Blandhorn had come to
Eloued as a young man, extremely poor, and dependent on the pittance
which the Missionary Society at that time gave to its representatives.
To ingratiate himself among the people (the expression was his own),
and also to earn a few pesetas, he had worked as a carpenter in the
bazaar, first in the soukh of the ploughshares and then in that of the
cabinet makers. His skill in carpentry had not been great, for his
large eloquent hands were meant to wave from a pulpit, and not to use
the adze or the chisel; but he had picked up a little Arabic (Willard
always marvelled that it remained so little), and had made many
acquaintances — and, as he thought, some converts. At any rate, no
one, either then or later, appeared to wish him ill, and during the
massacre his house had been respected, and the insurgents had even
winked at the aid he had courageously given to the French.
Yes — he had certainly been courageous. There was in him, in spite
of his weaknesses and his vacillations, a streak of moral heroism that
perhaps only waited its hour. . . But hitherto his principle had always
been that the missionary must win converts by kindness, by tolerance,
and by the example of a blameless life.
Could it really be Harry Spink's question that had shaken him in
this belief? Or was it the long-accumulated sense of inefficiency that
so often weighed on his disciple? Or was it simply the call — did it
just mean that their hour had come?
Shivering a little in spite of the heat, Willard pulled himself
together and descended into the city. He had been seized with a sudden
desire to know what Mr. Blandhorn was about, and avoiding the crowd he
hurried back by circuitous lanes to the Mission. On the way he paused
at a certain corner and looked into a court full of the murmur of
water. Beyond it was an arcade detached against depths of shadow in
which a few lights glimmered. White figures, all facing one way,
crouched and touched their foreheads to the tiles, the soles of their
bare feet, wet with recent ablutions, turning up as their bodies swayed
forward. Willard caught the scowl of a beggar on the threshold, and
hurried past the forbidden scene.
He found Mr. Blandhorn in the meeting-room, tying up Ayoub's head.
"I do it awkwardly," the missionary mumbled, a safety-pin between
his teeth. "Alas, my hands are not hers."
"What's he done to himself?" Willard growled; and above the
bandaged head Mr. Blandhorn's expressive eyebrows answered.
There was a dark stain on the back of Ayoub's faded shirt, and
another on the blue scarf he wore about his head.
"Ugh — it's like cats slinking back after a gutter-fight," the
young man muttered.
Ayoub wound his scarf over the bandages, shambled back to the
doorway, and squatted down to watch the fig-tree.
The missionaries looked at each other across the empty room.
"What's the use, sir?" was on Willard's lips; but instead of
speaking he threw himself down on the divan. There was to be no
prayer-meeting that afternoon, and the two men sat silent, gazing at
the back of Ayoub's head. A smell of disinfectants hung in the heavy
air. . .
"Where's Myriem?" Willard asked, to say something.
"I believe she had a ceremony of some sort . . . a family affair. .
"A circumcision, I suppose?"
Mr. Blandhorn did not answer, and Willard was sorry he had made the
suggestion. It would simply serve as another reminder of their failure.
He stole a furtive glance at Mr. Blandhorn, nervously wondering if
the time had come to speak of the French official's warning. He had put
off doing so, half hoping it would not be necessary. The old man seemed
so calm, so like his usual self, that it might be wiser to let the
matter drop. Perhaps he had already forgotten the scene on the terrace;
or perhaps he thought he had sufficiently witnessed for the Lord in
shouting his insult to the Muezzin. But Willard did not really believe
this: he remembered the tremor that had shaken Mr. Blandhorn after the
challenge, and he felt sure it was not a retrospective fear.
"Our friend Spink has been with me," said Mr. Blandhorn suddenly.
"He came in soon after you left."
"Ah? I'm sorry I missed him. I thought he'd gone, from his not
coming in yesterday."
"No; he leaves to-morrow morning for Mogador." Mr. Blandhorn
paused, still absently staring at the back of Ayoub's neck; then he
added: "I have asked him to take you with him."
"To take me — Harry Spink? In his automobile?" Willard gasped. His
heart began to beat excitedly.
"Yes. You'll enjoy the ride. It's a long time since you've been
away, and you're looking a little pulled down."
"You're very kind, sir; so is Harry." He paused. "But I'd rather
Mr. Blandhorn, turning slightly, examined him between half-dropped
"I have business for you — with the consul," he said with a
certain sternness. "I don't suppose you will object — "
"Oh, of course not." There was another pause. "Could you tell me —
give me an idea — of what the business is, sir?"
It was Mr. Blandhorn's turn to appear perturbed. He coughed, passed
his hand once or twice over his beard, and again fixed his gaze on
Ayoub's inscrutable nape.
"I wish to send a letter to the consul."
"A letter? If it's only a letter, couldn't Spink take it?"
"Undoubtedly. I might also send it by post — if I cared to
transmit it in that manner. I presumed," added Mr. Blandhorn with
threatening brows, "that you would understand I had my reasons — "
"Oh, in that case, of course, sir — " Willard hesitated, and then
spoke with a rush. "I saw Lieutenant Lourdenay in the bazaar yesterday
— " he began.
When he had finished his tale Mr. Blandhorn meditated for a long
time in silence. At length he spoke in a calm voice. "And what did you
"I — I said I'd tell you — "
"Very well. We'll talk of all this more fully . . . when you get
back from Mogador. Remember that Mr. Spink will be here before sunrise.
I advised him to get away as early as possible on account of the Feast
of Sidi Oman. It's always a poor day for foreigners to be seen about
AT a quarter before four on the morning of the Feast of Sidi Oman
Willard Bent stood waiting at the door of the Mission.
He had taken leave of Mr. Blandhorn the previous night, and
stumbled down the dark stairs on bare feet, his bundle under his arm,
just as the sky began to whiten around the morning star.
The air was full of a mocking coolness which the first ray of the
sun would burn up; and a hush as deceptive lay on the city that was so
soon to blaze with religious frenzy. Ayoub lay curled up on his
door-step like a dog, and old Myriem, presumably, was still stretched
on her mattress on the roof.
What a day for a flight across the desert in Harry's tough little
car! And after the hours of heat and dust and glare, how good, at
twilight, to see the cool welter of the Atlantic, a spent sun dropping
into it, and the rush of the stars. . . Dizzy with the vision, Willard
leaned against the door-post with closed eyes.
A subdued hoot aroused him, and he hurried out to the car, which
was quivering and growling at the nearest corner. The drummer nodded a
welcome, and they began to wind cautiously between sleeping animals and
huddled heaps of humanity till they reached the nearest gate.
On the waste-land beyond the walls the people of the caravans were
already stirring, and pilgrims from the hills streaming across the
palmetto scrub under emblazoned banners. As the sun rose the air took
on a bright transparency in which distant objects became unnaturally
near and vivid, like pebbles seen through clear water: a little
turban-shaped tomb far off in the waste looked as lustrous as ivory,
and a tiled minaret in an angle of the walls seemed to be carved of
turquoise. How Eloued lied to eyes looking back on it at sunrise!
"Something wrong," said Harry Spink, putting on the brake and
stopping in the thin shade of a cork-tree. They got out, and Willard
leaned against the tree and gazed at the red wall of Eloued. They were
already about two miles from the town, and all around them was the
wilderness. Spink shoved his head into the bonnet, screwed and greased
and hammered, and finally wiped his hands on a black rag and called
out: "I thought so — Jump in!"
Willard did not move.
"Hurry up, old man. She's all right, I tell you. It was just the
The missionary fumbled under his draperies and pulled out Mr.
"Will you see that the consul gets this to-morrow?"
"Will I — what the hell's the matter, Willard?" Spink dropped his
rag and stared.
"I'm not coming. I never meant to."
The young men exchanged a long look.
"It's no time to leave Mr. Blandhorn — a day like this," Willard
continued, moistening his dry lips.
Spink shrugged and sounded a faint whistle. "Queer — !"
"He said just the same thing to me about you — wanted to get you
out of Eloued on account of the goings-on to-day. He said you'd been
rather worked up lately about religious matters, and might do something
rash that would get you both into trouble."
"Ah — " Willard murmured.
"And I believe you might, you know — you look sorter funny."
"Oh, come along," his friend urged, disappointed.
"I'm sorry — I can't. I had to come this far, so that he wouldn't
know. But now I've got to go back. Of course what he told you was just
a joke — but I must be there to-day to see that nobody bothers him."
Spink scanned his companion's face with friendly flippant eyes.
"Well, I give up — What's the use, when he don't want you? Say," he
broke off, "what's the truth of that story about the old man's having
insulted a marabout in a mosque night before last? It was all over the
bazaar — "
Willard felt himself turn pale. "Not a marabout. It was — where
did you hear it?" he stammered.
"All over — the way you hear stories in these places."
"Well — it's not true." Willard lifted his bundle from the motor
and tucked it under his arm. "I'm sorry, Harry — I've got to go back,"
"What? The Call, eh?" The sneer died on Spink's lips, and he held
out his hand. "I'm sorry, too. So long." He turned the crank of the
motor, scrambled into his seat, and called back over his shoulder:
"What's the use, when he don't want you?"
Willard was already laboring home across the plain.
After struggling along for half an hour in the heavy sand he
crawled under the shade of an abandoned well, and sat down to ponder.
Two courses were open to him, and he had not yet been able to decide
between them. His first impulse was to go straight to the Mission, and
to present himself to Mr. Blandhorn. He felt sure, from what Spink had
told him, that the old missionary had sent him away purposely, and the
fact seemed to confirm his apprehensions. If Mr. Blandhorn wanted him
away, it was not through any fear of his imprudence, but to be free
from his restraining influence. But what act did the old man
contemplate, in which he feared to involve his disciple? And if he were
really resolved on some rash measure, might not Willard's unauthorized
return merely serve to exasperate his resolve, and hasten whatever
action he had planned?
The other step the young man had in mind was to go secretly to the
French Administration, and there drop a hint of what he feared. It was
the course his sober judgment commended. The echo of Spink's "What's
the use?" was in his ears. It was the expression of his own secret
doubt. What was the use? If dying could bring any of these darkened
souls to the light . . . well, that would have been different. But what
least sign was there that it would do anything but rouse their sleeping
Willard was oppressed by the thought that had always lurked beneath
his other doubts. They talked, he and Mr. Blandhorn, of the poor
ignorant heathen — but were not they themselves equally ignorant in
everything that concerned the heathen? What did they know of these
people, of their antecedents, the origin of their beliefs and
superstitions, the meaning of their habits and passions and
precautions? Mr. Blandhorn seemed never to have been troubled by this
question, but it had weighed on Willard ever since he had come across a
quiet French ethnologist who was studying the tribes of the Middle
Atlas. Two or three talks with this traveller — or listenings to him
— had shown Willard the extent of his own ignorance. He would have
liked to borrow books, to read, to study; but he knew little French and
no German, and he felt confusedly that there was in him no soil
sufficiently prepared for facts so overwhelmingly new to root in it. .
. And the heat lay on him, and the little semblance of his missionary
duties deluded him . . . and he drifted. . .
As for Mr. Blandhorn, he never read anything but the Scriptures, a
volume of his own sermons (printed by subscription, to commemorate his
departure for Morocco), and — occasionally — a back number of the
missionary journal that arrived at Eloued at long intervals, in thick,
mouldy batches. Consequently no doubts disturbed him, and Willard felt
the hopelessness of grappling with an ignorance so much deeper and
denser than his own. Whichever way his mind turned, it seemed to bring
up against the blank wall of Harry Spink's: "What's the use?"
. . . . . . . .
He slipped through the crowds in the congested gateway, and made
straight for the Mission. He had decided to go to the French
Administration, but he wanted first to find out from the servants what
Mr. Blandhorn was doing, and what his state of mind appeared to be.
The Mission door was locked, but Willard was not surprised; he knew
the precaution was sometimes taken on feast-days, though seldom so
early. He rang, and waited impatiently for Myriem's old face in the
crack; but no one came, and below his breath he cursed her with
"Ayoub — Ayoub!" he cried, rattling at the door; but still there
was no answer. Ayoub, apparently, was off too. Willard rang the bell
again, giving the three long pulls of the "emergency call": it was the
summons that always roused Mr. Blandhorn. But no one came.
Willard shook and pounded, and hung on the bell till it tinkled its
life out . . . but all in vain. The house was empty: Mr. Blandhorn was
evidently out with the others.
Disconcerted by this unexpected discovery, the young man turned and
plunged into the red clay purlieus behind the Mission. He entered a mud
hut where an emaciated dog, dozing on the threshold, lifted a
recognizing lid, and let him by. It was the house of Ahmed's father,
the water-carrier, and Willard knew it would be empty at that hour.
A few minutes later there emerged into the crowded streets a young
American dressed in a black coat of vaguely clerical cut, with a soft
felt hat shading his flushed cheek-bones, and a bead running up and
down his nervous throat.
The bazaar was already full of a deep holiday rumor, like the
rattle of wind in the palm-tops. The young man in the clerical coat,
sharply examined as he passed by hundreds of long Arab eyes, slipped
into the lanes behind the soukhs, and by circuitous passages gained the
neighborhood of the Great Mosque. His heart was hammering against his
black coat, and under the buzz in his brain there boomed out
insistently the old question: "What's the use?"
Suddenly, near the fountain that faced one of the doors of the
Great Mosque, he saw the figure of a man dressed like himself. The eyes
of the two men met across the crowd, and Willard pushed his way to Mr.
"Sir, why did you — why are you — ? I'm back — I couldn't help
it," he gasped out disconnectedly.
He had expected a vehement rebuke; but the old missionary only
smiled on him sadly.
"It was noble of you, Willard . . . I understand. . ." He looked at
the young man's coat. "We had the same thought — again — at the same
hour." He paused, and drew Willard into the empty passage of a ruined
building behind the fountain. "But what's the use — what's the use?"
The blood rushed to the young man's forehead. "Ah — then you feel
Mr. Blandhorn continued, grasping his arm: "I've been out — in
this dress — ever since you left; I've hung about the doors of the
Medersas, I've walked up to the very threshold of the Mosque, I've
leaned against the wall of Sidi Oman's shrine; once the police warned
me, and I pretended to go away . . . but I came back . . . I pushed up
closer . . . I stood in the doorway of the Mosque, and they saw me . .
. the people inside saw me . . . and no one touched me . . . I'm too
harmless . . . they don't believe in me!"
He broke off, and under his struggling eyebrows Willard saw the
tears on his old lids.
The young man gathered courage. "But don't you see, sir, that's the
reason it's no use? We don't understand them any more than they do us;
they know it, and all our witnessing for Christ will make no
Mr. Blandhorn looked at him sternly. "Young man, no Christian has
the right to say that."
Willard ignored the rebuke. "Come home, sir, come home . . . it's
no use. . ."
"It was because I foresaw you would take this view that I sent you
to Mogador. Since I was right," exclaimed Mr. Blandhorn, facing round
on him fiercely, "how is it you have disobeyed me and come back?"
Willard was looking at him with new eyes. All his majesty seemed to
have fallen from him with his Arab draperies. How short and heavy and
weak he looked in his scant European clothes! The coat, tightly
strained across the stomach, hung above it in loose wrinkles, and the
ill-fitting trousers revealed their wearer's impressive legs as
slightly bowed at the knees. This diminution in his physical prestige
was strangely moving to his disciple. What was there left, with that
gone — ?
"Oh, do come home, sir," the young man groaned. "Of course they
don't care what we do — of course — "
"Ah — " cried Mr. Blandhorn, suddenly dashing past him into the
The rumor of the crowd had become a sort of roaring chant. Over the
thousands of bobbing heads that packed every cranny of the streets
leading to the space before the Mosque there ran the mysterious sense
of something new, invisible, but already imminent. Then, with the
strange Oriental elasticity, the immense throng divided, and a new
throng poured through it, headed by riders ritually draped, and
overhung with banners that seemed to be lifted and floated aloft on the
shouts of innumerable throats. It was the Pasha of Eloued coming to
pray at the tomb of Sidi Oman.
Into this mass Mr. Blandhorn plunged and disappeared, while Willard
Bent, for an endless minute, hung back in the shelter of the passage,
the old "What's the use?" in his ears.
A hand touched his sleeve, and a cracked voice echoed the words.
"What's the use, master?" It was old Myriem, clutching him with
scared face and pulling out a limp djellabah from under her holiday
"I saw you . . . Ahmed's father told me. . ." (How everything was
known in the bazaars!) "Here, put this on quick, and slip away. They
won't trouble you. . ."
"Oh, but they will — they shall!" roared Willard, in a voice
unknown to his own ears, as he flung off the old woman's hand and,
trampling on the djellabah in his flight, dashed into the crowd at the
spot where it had swallowed up his master.
They would — they should! No more doubting and weighing and
conjecturing! The sight of the weak unwieldy old man, so ignorant, so
defenseless and so convinced, disappearing alone into that red furnace
of fanaticism, swept from the disciple's mind every thought but the
single passion of devotion.
"That he lay down his life for his friend — " If he couldn't bring
himself to believe in any other reason for what he was doing, that one
seemed suddenly to be enough. . .
The crowd let him through, still apparently indifferent to his
advance. Closer, closer he pushed to the doors of the Mosque,
struggling and elbowing through a mass of people so densely jammed that
the heat of their breathing was in his face, the rank taste of their
bodies on his parched lips — closer, closer, till a last effort of his
own thin body, which seemed a mere cage of ribs with a wild heart
dashing against it, brought him to the doorway of the Mosque, where Mr.
Blandhorn, his head thrown back, his arms crossed on his chest, stood
steadily facing the heathen multitude.
As Willard reached his side their glances met, and the old man,
glaring out under prophetic brows, whispered, without moving his lips:
"Now — now!"
Willard took it as a signal to follow, he knew not where or why: at
that moment he had no wish to know.
Mr. Blandhorn, without waiting for an answer, had turned, and,
doubling on himself, sprung into the great court of the Mosque. Willard
breathlessly followed, the glitter of tiles and the blinding sparkle of
fountains in his dazzled eyes. . .
The court was almost empty, the few who had been praying having
shortened their devotions and joined the Pasha's train, which was
skirting the outer walls of the Mosque to reach the shrine of Sidi
Oman. Willard was conscious of a moment of detached reconnoitring: once
or twice, from the roof of a deserted college to which the government
architect had taken him, he had looked down furtively on the forbidden
scene, and his sense of direction told him that the black figure
speeding across the blazing mirror of tiles was making for the hall
where the Koran was expounded to students.
Even now, as he followed, through the impending sense of something
dangerous and tremendous, he had the feeling that after all the effort
of will pumped up by his storming heart to his lucid brain might
conceivably end in some pitiful anticlimax in the French Administration
"They'll treat us like whipped puppies — " he groaned.
But Mr. Blandhorn had reached the school, had disappeared under its
shadowy arcade, and emerged again into the sunlight, clutching a great
"Ah," thought Willard, " now — !"
He found himself standing at the missionary's side, so close that
they must have made one black blot against the white-hot quiver of
tiles. Mr. Blandhorn lifted up the Book and spoke.
"The God whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you," he
cried in halting Arabic.
A deep murmur came from the turbaned figures gathered under the
arcade of the Mosque. Swarthy faces lowered, eyes gleamed like agate,
teeth blazed under snarling lips; but the group stood motionless,
holding back, visibly restrained by the menace of the long arm of the
"Him declare I unto you — Christ crucified!" cried Mr. Blandhorn.
An old man, detaching himself from the group, advanced across the
tiles and laid his hand on the missionary's arm. Willard recognized the
delegate of the Caid.
"You must restore the Book," the delegate said gravely to Mr.
Blandhorn, "and leave this court immediately; if not — "
He held out his hand to take the Koran. Mr. Blandhorn, in a flash,
dodged the restraining arm, and, with a strange new elasticity of his
cumbrous body, rolling and bouncing across the court between the dazed
spectators, gained the gateway opening on the market-place behind the
Mosque. The centre of the great dusty space was at the moment almost
deserted. Mr. Blandhorn sprang forward, the Koran clutched to him,
Willard panting at his heels, and the turbaned crowd after them,
menacing but still visibly restrained.
In the middle of the square Mr. Blandhorn halted, faced about and
lifted the Koran high above his head. Willard, rigid at his side, was
obliquely conscious of the gesture, and at the same time aware that the
free space about them was rapidly diminishing under the mounting tide
of people swarming in from every quarter. The faces closest were no
longer the gravely wrathful countenances of the Mosque, but lean
fanatical masks of pilgrims, beggars, wandering "saints" and
miracle-makers, and dark tribesmen of the hills careless of their creed
but hot to join in the halloo against the hated stranger. Far off in
the throng, bobbing like a float on the fierce sea of turbans, Willard
saw the round brown face of a native officer frantically fighting his
way through. Now and then the face bobbed nearer, and now and then a
tug of the tide rolled it back.
Willard felt Mr. Blandhorn's touch on his arm.
"You're with me — ?"
"Yes — "
The old man's voice sank and broke. "Say a word to . . . strengthen
me . . . I can't find any . . . Willard," he whispered.
Willard's brain was a blank. But against the blank a phrase
suddenly flashed out in fire, and he turned and spoke to his master. "
Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth."
"Ah — " Mr. Blandhorn, with a gasp, drew himself to his full
height and hurled the Koran down at his feet in the dung-strown dust.
"Him, Him declare I unto you — Christ crucified!" he thundered:
and to Willard, in a fierce aside: "Now spit!"
Dazed a moment, the young man stood uncertain; then he saw the old
missionary draw back a step, bend forward, and deliberately spit upon
the sacred pages.
"This . . . is abominable . . ." the disciple thought; and, sucking
up the last drop of saliva from his dry throat, he also bent and spat.
"Now trample — trample!" commanded Mr. Blandhorn, his arms
stretched out, towering black and immense, as if crucified against the
flaming sky; and his foot came down on the polluted Book.
Willard, seized with the communicative frenzy, fell on his knees,
tearing at the pages, and scattering them about him, smirched and
defiled in the dust.
"Spit — spit! Trample — trample! . . . Christ! I see the heavens
opened!" shrieked the old missionary, covering his eyes with his hands.
But what he said next was lost to his disciple in the rising roar of
the mob which had closed in on them. Far off, Willard caught a glimpse
of the native officer's bobbing head, and then of Lieutenant
Lourdenay's scared face. But a moment later he had veiled his own face
from the sight of the struggle at his side. Mr. Blandhorn had fallen on
his knees, and Willard heard him cry out once: "Amy! Amy!" It was his
Then the young man was himself borne down, and darkness descended
on him. Through it he felt the sting of separate pangs indescribable,
melting at last into a general mist of pain. He remembered Stephen, and
thought: "Now they're stoning me — " and tried to struggle up and
reach out to Mr. Blandhorn. . .
But the market-place seemed suddenly empty, as though the throng of
their assailants had been demons of the desert, the thin spirits of
evil that dance on the noonday heat. Now the dusk seemed to have
dispersed them, and Willard looked up and saw a quiet star above a
wall, and heard the cry of the Muezzin dropping down from a near-by
minaret: "Allah — Allah — only Allah is great!"
Willard closed his eyes, and in his great weakness felt the tears
run down between his lids. A hand wiped them away, and he looked again,
and saw the face of Harry Spink stooping over him.
He supposed it was a dream-Spink, and smiled a little, and the
dream smiled back.
"Where am I?" Willard wondered to himself; and the dream-Spink
answered: "In the hospital, you infernal fool. I got back too late — "
"You came back — ?"
"Of course. Lucky I did — ! I saw this morning you were off your
Willard, for a long time, lay still. Impressions reached him
slowly, and he had to deal with them one by one, like a puzzled child.
At length he said: "Mr. Blandhorn — ?"
"They did for him in no time; I guess his heart was weak . . . I
don't think he suffered. Anyhow, if he did he wasn't sorry; I know,
because I saw his face before they buried him. . . Now you lie still,
and I'll get you out of this to-morrow," he commanded, waving a
fly-cloth above Willard's sunken head.