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Little Fatima by Sara Keables Hunt


It was a beautiful Oriental picture, and I paused in my walk along the banks of the Nile to sketch her, that dark-eyed Arab girl, as she half reclined in the sand, the western sunlight flickering through the green boughs of a clump of palms, and falling upon the upturned face and purplish braids with their glitter of gold coins. In the background were a few broken columns, relic of some past grandeur, and at a little distance a camel crouched in the sand, gazing as mournfully as the Sphynx across the desert. The flowing Eastern dress of the child was pushed back from one beautifully rounded arm, but the other was concealed, as if she had tried to hide it from even the sunlight. It was crippled and pitifully deformed.

Poor little Fatima! I knew her sensitive spirit, and I put my pencil out of sight as I came nearer, for I saw on her face the shadow of a restless discontent. She smiled as she bade me welcome, but it was a sad smile, and changed to tears as she spoke.

"I am of no use," she said in Arabic. "If I were a boy, they would care for me; but a girl! They scorn me and my disfigured arm. I can never do any good in the world; never, never. And, oh, lady, there is a soul within me that longs to do something for somebody! I want to accomplish something; not to sit here day after day making figures in the sand, only to see them drift back again into a dull level. But I shall live in vain. What can I do with this poor crippled arm?"

It was a difficult task to soothe her; but I think, after awhile, she felt that the great Allah had done all things well, and peace crept over her tired little heart.

"But, dear child," I said, as I left her, "it may be that you can do more good with your one arm than I ever can with my two. We do not know what may happen."

And so I went home to my little cottage, taking the field path instead of the railroad track, as I usually did. When I reached the house, and called for my little girl-baby, who often came toddling out to meet me, all was silent, and in answer to my inquiries the nurse said she had just gone down the track a little way to meet me.

"Down the track! Oh, the train! the train! It's time for the train! Why do you stand here idle? Call Hassan and Mahomet. Run, and save her!"

I rushed wildly along the embankment. How plain it all is to me now, even to the bits of pottery gleaming in the sand, and the distant echo of an Arab's song as it floated over the hills! I saw the white dress of my darling far ahead, and stumbled on—how, I hardly knew. The train was coming! I could hear it plunging on; I could see the fearful light. Oh, if I might reach her!

But who is that? Can it be Fatima? It is Fatima, waving her arms wildly as she speeds onward. She is on the bank! She is there! She grasps the child! And the train plunges past me with a wild glare; and there, before me, is my baby, my golden-haired baby, safe and unharmed, but Fatima lay dying on the iron rail. I clasped her to my heart, and called her name amid my sobs. She lifted the long, dark eyelashes, and smiled. "Allah be praised!" she murmured. Then in her weak, broken English she said:

"Me do something wid dis poor arm; me die for you baby!" She fell back in my arms; and so we carried her to my home, white and insensible.

But she did not die. The deformed arm had to be severed from the shoulder, but her life was saved; and to-day, surrounded by all that grateful hearts can give, she is one of the happiest little creatures on the banks of the Nile.