Najib's 'Yowltide'

Najib's "Yowltide"  (1920) 
by Albert Payson Terhune
Extracted from Everybody's Magazine, 20 Dec. 1920, pp. 107-118. [# Kirby / Najib]

A yuletide celebration in the land of Moab lacked many things, but not excitement.

Najib's “Yowltide”

by Albert Payson Terhune

Author of “On Strike,” “The Thirteen Puzzle,” Etc.

Christmas time in far-off Syria was not as merry as it might have been for Kirby. Also it held its troubles for little Najib, who found his beloved Christiana false in a novel way

FURTHERMORE howadji,” spoke up Najib, as he appeared in the doorway of Logan Kirby's tent, “if you possession any book about the yowltide, it would bepleasure me to lend it from you and——

“A book about the—what?” asked Kirby, looking up absently from a letter he was reading for the twentieth time, and gazing in perplexity at his wriggling little henchman in the tent doorway. “A book about the——

“About the yowltide, howadji,” repeated Najib, edging into the tent and smirking supplicatingly at his chief. “I would enseek to learn myself more in its customs. There was a yowltide, once—perchancely over than once—perchancely every month—when I was at Coney's Island. I did not infest that yowltide. For we were making a show, that day. But I bestopped me outside the window of the hall where the yowltide was preparing itself to yowl. And I heard many children besinging themselves with much sweetness. And they sang a melodisome chant that began to chant by telling about 'Three Wee Kings of Orientar,' and they then——.”

“Oh!” Broke in Kirby, enlightened. “You mean 'yuletide.' I——

“Of an assuredly, howadji. As I said. The yowltide. And if there be any books here,” with a glance at a pine shelf in the tent corner, laden with dog-eared technical works on mining and with one or two classics scattered among their ranks, “any books which description the yowltide—or perchancely that tell more as to those three wee kings from Orientar—or——

“Tf you're trying to ask for a book that deals with American or European Christmas customs,” said Kirby, “I doubt if there's such a thing within a thousand miles—unless at some mission on the west side of the Jordan. Certainly there's none, out here in this God-forsaken pink-and-brown land of Moab. Christmas stops short of the Moab Mountains. Or”—tapping disgustedly the letter he had been rereading—“'it did, till this year. And it's as well it does. How could we get up any sort of Christmas spirit—either sacred or jolly—in a Moslem wilderness on the far side of nowhere? No, Christmas is a thing to dream about and get homesick over and then to forget—out here.”

He meandered on, more to himself than to his puzzled listener. And, as he talked, he glowered annoyedly at the letter. Najib waited in due respect for Kirby to fall silent. Then the little Syrian took up the tale again.

“But, howadji,” he pleaded, “even if you do not possession a book that tells of the yowltide, then, of a perhaps, you can betell me of it, so that I shall know.”

“What do you want to know about it?” demanded Kirby crossly. “There's no use trying to explain its wonderful sacred significance to a Mohammedan like you. Besides, it wouldn't interest you. What you want to know, I suppose, is the way it's celebrated in families; and all that sort of thing. Well, if you think I'm going to get all homesick and miserable, telling you how we used to have a royal good time, back home, at such seasons, you're mistaken. But, for the love of Mike stop jarring my nerves by calling it 'yowltide!' It's——

“But those children yowled most sweetly,” urged Najib. 'Those children I belistened myself to, at Coney's Island. The children who beyowled themselfs about the three wee kings of Orientar.”

“Are you trying to quote: 'We Three Kings of Orient Are?'” asked Kirby. “If so——

“Yes, howadji. Even as I quotioned it, but now. The yowltide chant. I call it 'yowltide' because I cannot say the sound of its last name. Here,” he ventured, picking up one of Kirby's pencils and scrawling with slow and painful intensity on the back of a scratch pad. “Here is the yowltide's last name. Or perhapsfully its first name. I read it so oftenly at Coney's Island. See, howadji?”

Kirby looked at the pad. On it, Najib had printed shakily the word, “Xmas.”

“It was thus it bespelt itself on the cards of gay coloring at Coney's Island,” went on the Syrian. “But my tongue cannot say it in the English. If——

“That is an abbreviation of 'Christmas,'” explained Kirby, trying not to grin. 'An abbreviation. 'Abbreviation' means 'short for.”

Najib was profoundly impressed; as always he was, when he struck a new English synonym or expression. He studied the printed word, with his head on one side; his eyes half shut, his lips moving. Then he picked up the pencil again and began to print other words beneath the first. Kirby watched him, in bewilderment; and sought vainly to make out the meaning of the new words which the fat little man was scrawling.

“Thus it is, howadji,” proclaimed Najib, in pride, as he shoved the pad under his chief's eyes, “thus it is that I belearn myself all this new-laid English in one time. Listen.”

But Kirby was not listening. He was striving to decipher what Najib had written. Half aloud, he spelled out:

“Xmas Xtian. Xtal. Xtopher. Xten. Xp. X.”

“What in blue blazes——” he asked perplexedly.

Najib, indicating each cabalistic word in rotation with a stubby and unwashed finger, translated proudly:

“Christmas. Christian. Crystal. Christopher. Christen. Crisp. Chris;” explaining, as he reached the last: “The pressed-agent person at Coney's Island entitled himself 'Chris.' It is a name. It is the shortness—the abbreve—for 'Christopher.' Oh, howadji, I have betaught me the spell of many a English word, this hour! I have learned me to spell them in a shortness. To abbrevify them, as you——

“Stop!” groaned Kirby. “Let it go at that. It would take ten hours for me to explain. And I haven't ten hours or even ten minutes to waste in teaching the mysteries of the English language to a man who murders English as you do. If you wanted to read up, on Christmas customs, because of this letter I showed you to-day—you needn't trouble yourself. This letter spells extra work and extra bother and extra trouble and extra time-wasting for both of us. That's all it means. And there is no need in your trying to master any Christmas customs, on account of it. You won't be asked to throw yourself into the spirit of the thing—only to stick to the double job this will mean. It's lucky we've gotten those Alexandretta shipments off our hands and the other consignment started for Damascus. That leaves us with a little breathing space. Otherwise, wed be snarled up for weeks, by this thing. Now, chase along and set a couple of the men to grading that knoll top for the camp site. Tamam!”

Aiwa, howadji,” assented Najib dutifully, in response to the time-honored Arabic phrase for ending an interview.

But as he sidled out of the tent, he murmured regretfully in English:

“Still, it would have been pleasureful, at the least, to know what befalled those three wee kings of Orientar! And now, perchancely, I shall never know even where is that strange Kingdom of Orientar; or why it has three kings, instead of one sultan, like our blessed Padishah—on whom be the peace of the Most High and of the Seven Khalifs!”

Left alone in his tent, Kirby fell to reading once more the letter which had arrived that morning, by muleteer, from Jerusalem; and which had heralded a wholesale upsetting of the mine's workaday routine.

Out there, in a cup of the immemorial Mountains of Moab, was the flourishing little antimony mine for which the Cabell Smelting Company of New York held a concession from the Turkish government. Because his father had been a missionary to Syria and because his own early boyhood had been passed there, Logan Kirby had been sent out by the Cabells as manager of the mine.

His superintendent and general factotum and adoring henchman was Najib; a squat and swarthy little Damascene who had once spent two gloriously unprofitable exile years with an all-nations show at Coney Island. During those two years, Najib had picked up a language which he believed fondly to be English; and of which he was inordinately proud. Indeed, seldom of his own accord would he speak to Kirby in any other tongue—not even in his own Arabic.

All this was in the days when Syria was under Turkish dominion; and before the World War changed the face—if not the heart—of the Near East. Thus, the holding of so rich a concession was a ticklish job; and one calling not only for resource and diplomacy, but for an intimate knowledge of Oriental ways and psychology. Thus, too, it was that Kirby proved himself invaluable to his employers; by steering a clever course between reefs that must have swamped the mine's prosperity, had the helm been in less expert hands.

The letter—which had set Kirby to worrying over future lost time and had set Najib to seeking closer information on yuletide customs—was from Henry Cabell, Sr., president and chief stockholder and titular head of the Cabell Smelting Company. It announced that Cabell and his wife had been touring Europe; and that they had decided to run over to Syria for the Christmas season. Cabell explained this odd decision by saying:

As you may or may not know, Mrs. Cabell is acquiring considerable fame as a writer of fiction and of articles on the “Travelogue” order. It has occurred to her to compile material for a forthcoming “brochure,” to be entitled “Christmas in Many Lands.” She has spent the Christmas season in no less than seven countries, during the past quarter century; and has observed closely the characteristic yuletide customs in each.

She thinks that the account of a Christmas in the Syrian wilderness would be a charming climax for this work; hence, as we arr now at Brindisi, and can be in Jerusalem in less than a week, we are starting at once. We shall pick up a camping outfit at Jerusalem or at Jaffa; and shall make the trip to the mine on horse-back. I am given to understand that the roads are good and more than moderately safe. This will also give me a long-desired opportunity to inspect in person our property there.

You will please see that everything possible is done for our comfort, and that every facility is given to Mrs. Cabell to study Syrian Christmas customs. Our party will include Mrs. Cabell, myself, and Mrs. Cabell's maid—in addition to such dragoman and grooms as we may bring from Jerusalem as our escorts, et cetera, on the three-day journey. As we expect to start to-morrow, from Brindisi, and shall remain in Jerusalem only long enough to hire our horses, tents, et cetera, you may expect us within two or three days after your receipt of this letter.

Logan Kirby got up, shook himself impatiently, and frowned afresh at the letter. Then he sat down, unlimbered his typewriter, addressed an envelope to his employer, in care of the American consul at Jerusalem, and hammered out the following reply:

Dear Mr. Cabell: Your letter of December 10th is just at hand. I am sending this answer by special dispatch, hoping it may reach you before you start for the land of Moab. Needless to say, we shall feel honored by a visit from Mrs. Cabell and yourself; and shall do all in our power to make you comfortable, in this decidedly primitive region.

But if Mrs. Cabell is coming here to glean material for her forthcoming book on “Christmas in Many Lands,” I warn her she will be grievously disappointed in her quest. In the first place, there are no “Syrian Christmas Customs” in the sense of national or home celebrations. Except in the homes of native Christians—and into those homes no outsider can hope to be admitted—there is no general Christmas observance. You will realize this, if you will stop to reflect that Syria is a Mohammedan country, and under the domination of the sultan. Here, officially, Christmas is not Christmas. It is not even December 25th. It is merely “the twelfth day of the Second Rabia.”

There is, however, one beautiful and unique observance of Christmas in Syria. Namely, the Christmas Eve ceremonies at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem—five miles south of Jerusalem; and reached by good carriage road. The sacred procession to the church—the solemnly beautiful midnight mass, there—the “Chorus of the Shepherds” through the silent streets and over the hillside, at three in the morning—the presence of countless reverent pilgrims who have traveled thither on foot to kneel at the manger, on the Saviour's birthday—all this makes a yuletide visit to Bethlehem an experience to remember forever.

Thus, I advise most strongly that Mrs. Cabell substitute it for her proposed trip to the mine. The so-called roads between here and the Jordan are the roughest mountain trails. Nor are camp fare and camp accommodations, here in the wilderness, at all suitable for any woman. If, in spite of this, you and she decide to come to the mine, I repeat I shall do all in my power to make your stay agreeable.

Sealing the letter, he shouted for Serkeese, the mine's scrubby little muleteer. Kirby bade him saddle a fast horse and set forth at once for Jerusalem; there to deliver the envelope at the United States Consulate. He scribbled an auxiliary note to his friend, the consul, begging him to send a kavasse to every hotel in the Holy City in an effort to locate the Cabells and to see they got his letter.

Then, having done all in his power to deflect the threatened invasion, Kirby set to work with gloomy pessimism at his preparations for the guests' arrival. Which was fortunate. For, on the morning of December 24th, the cavalcade topped the pass to westward and rode down into camp. There was a blue-and-gold dragoman with the usual outfit of gaudy tents and of servants. And, just behind the dragoman rode three white persons. All three were of more than generous proportions. And their wiry little unshod Syrian mounts looked jaded and weary. Kirby recognized the pompous and white-mustached Henry Cabell, from olden days. He recognized, too, the obese and grenadier-like woman in the dust-colored riding habit, at Cabell's right hand.

Cn the eve of his departure for Syria, years earlier, he had been honored by an invitation to dine with the Cabells; and the memory of their lofty patronage toward him on that evening was still whimsically fresh in his mind.

To Mrs. Cabell's right, now, rode a second feminine figure as ample as her own; clad in dusty, black bombazine. This third person was evidently the maid Cabell had mentioned. Her face was very red, and she was perspiring freely. She eyed the primeval scene before her with unmasked disfavor.

“Yes,” boomed Cabell as Kirby came forward, “we got your letter—got it the day we left. But Mrs. Cabell didn't care about the Bethlehem celebration. Says she's seen it in print, before. Says she'll get something much more unique out here—closer to the heart of the people and all that, you know.”

Mrs. Cabell was sitting her exhausted pony with the stately dignity of a meal sack. She acknowledged the mine manager's greeting by a gracious bobbing of her pith-helmeted head. Her pendulous cheeks shook, with the motion, the dewlaps of grayish skin swaying slightly. She permitted Kirby to lift her from the saddle. After the momentary contact with her weight, he glanced in panting sympathy at her dejected horse.

Kirby led the way to the knoll top prepared for the visitors' tents—about a hundred yards from his own weather-soiled tent and another hundred yards from the huddle of huts around the mine mouth. Already, the dragoman was bossing the job of erecting these guest tents—instructing his stolid brown servants in high-pitched Arabic blasphemy, and exhorting them to haste with a series of insults which, in a civilized land, would have served as ample defense in a homicide trial.

Najib, toppling under a mountain of luggage, pattered along in the immediate wake of the newcomers. The Cabells and Kirby and the maid had reached the half-erected main tent and were turning to look down toward the busy mine, as the Syrian came puffing up. The maid was nearest him. At sight of the oddly clad and laboriously lurching little man, she grinned.

Even Kirby was impressed, not to say startled, by that grin. For it split the maid's middle-aged and rubicund face, transversely. And it revealed a veritable army of enormous teeth. It was the aspect of these teeth which caught Kirby's amazed attention.

The teeth were a veritable network of gold and silver filagree. They had not the conventional aspect of teeth which have been filled or capped by gold. Instead, tiny criss-crosses of gold ran hither and thither on their huge and snowy surface, after the manner of inlay on a Satsuma jar. And, amid the flashing little channels of gold were islets and promontories of gleaming silver. In the mouth of this stout damsel, the silver had not tarnished, as usual, to blackness; but shone with all its primal luster.

Not a visible tooth had escaped the dual adornment. For the most part, the shallow caps and “necks” were of silver; while the broad intervening space was arabesqued with gold. But there were striking exceptions to this rule. Nor was the maid chary of displaying her glittering charms. At her grin, the mature lips drew well back from the teeth, displaying also a brief glimpse of super-red gums. Kirby turned his inquisitive glance from the dental phenomenon, almost at once; lest his wonder should be manifest in his face. And his gaze chanced to rest on Najib.

The little Syrian was standing, spellbound; his own wide mouth ajar, his beady little black eyes popping well-nigh out of his head as he surveyed the smiling siren in front of him. Piece by piece, the pile of luggage slipped from his nerveless grasp or avalanched from his slumped shoulders.

Hypnotized, he stood in a circle of bags and boxes and rugs, while he feasted his eyes on that array of precious metal and on the expanse of ruddy face surrounding it. A sharp word in Arabic from Kirby brought Najib back to himself. Starting as if from a dream, he began to pick up the things he had spilled. Yet, never once did he let his astounded eyes shift from the dental display before him.

Mrs. Cabelle noted how stupidly he floundered over his task of gathering up the dropped luggage, and she turned to the maid.

“Here, Christiana!” she commanded. “Help that poor little native with the bags. If he drops that hatbox again, it may——

“Christiana!” babbled Najib in a daze. “Christiana!”

Over his swart visage broke a light of heavenly inspiration. And, as the maid bore down on him for her share of the burden, he exclaimed in sudden rapture at his own brilliancy:


The maid halted abruptly in her advance.

“Keep yourself to yourself, you fat little heathen!” she exhorted in righteous wrath. “And don't go getting so free with decent folks' names!” She grabbed a flowered hatbox and a much-labeled suit case from his numb hands and flounced off toward the tents. Gaping after her, the Syrian watched with all his soul in his eyes.

“X-tiana!” he breathed, in muted ecstasy. “X-tiana! Oh, how happiful is the yowltide that brang her here! I——

“Najib!” barked Kirby.

At the sound Najib started, once more, as though from a trance; and, gathering together the luggage, trotted off up the knoll in Christiana's broad wake.

The day was busy, for Kirby. While Mrs. Cabell rested from her ride he showed her husband over the mine and deciphered for him the reports of the past three months' work. Later, he lunched with the Cabells and spent the bulk of the afternoon in sending to the nearest hill villages for extra supplies. For, at luncheon, Mrs. Cabell had outlined to him her plan for Christmas.

“Well have our yule dinner in the evening,” she decreed. “I don't want the hackneyed fare of turkey and cranberry jelly and mince pie and——

“I'm glad!” interposed Kirby with fervor. “For there isn't anything of the sort within hundreds of miles, at nearest.”

“I want,” said she, “a native Christmas dinner. I'll get you to write out the menu for me in full, so I can incorporate it into my article. Mind you, Mr. Kirby—a typical Syrian Christmas feast. And now for the guests——

“The—the what?” asked Kirby.

“The guests, of course. I want it to be a rousing big banquet. I want all the local people of any importance asked to it. It is short notice, I know, but——

“But, Mrs. Cabell!” protested Kirby, “the only people of any importance for a hundred miles in any direction are in this luncheon tent, at the present moment. In the mud villages, hereabouts, are only fellaheen and hillfolk.”

“Mr. Cabell tells me he learned, at Jerusalem,” she interrupted in rebuke, “that there are garrisons at Mejdel-es-Teb and at Wady Imbarak. Surely, the officers could be invited over for dinner! After the dull routine of barrack life, they'd jump at the chance. And nothing brightens up a dinner table like a smattering of military men. Then, there must surely be landowners who would——

“Mrs. Cabell!” urged Kirby in growing worry. 'Don't you see—the officers of a Turkish regiment wouldn't come here to eat with—with 'infidels,' as they consider us. Especially not to celebrate a Christian festival. Besides, they would not eat at the same table with a woman—an unveiled woman, at that.”

“Why not, I should like to know!” challenged Henry Cabell. “If my wife isn't good enough to break bread with any saddle-colored Turk——

“It isn't that!” Kirby hastened to explain. “It's—it's the way women are regarded over here. In a sense, the Moslems have a higher ideal of womanhood than Yankees have. Outsiders don't realize it; but it's so. A self-respecting woman can travel, day or night, through any Mohammedan city, without being insulted. But they have a more—a more exclusive idea of them than we do. An unveiled woman——

He paused, cornered. To his relief, Mrs. Cabell recalled, just then, excerpts from a most entertaining lecture she had attended during a Chautauqua course—a lecture on “Child Widows of the Orient;” wherein the lecturer had advanced precisely those same views.

After a long discussion, it was arranged that the Cabells and Kirby should dine alone together, on Christmas night, feasting on a typical Syrian menu, served in native fashion; and that, after the banquet, gifts of money should be dispensed among the miners and guards, by Mrs. Cabell's own fair hand, in true Lady Bountiful fashion.

It was a sorry substitute for her first gorgeous plans. But it would at least abound in local color. And the “reception” to the natives, afterward—this and their touching gratitude for her gifts—would write up well in Mrs. Cabell's proposed book. Even as she talked over the arrangements with the unhappy Kirby and with her bored husband, she hit on a right brilliant title for this Syrian article. She declared she was going to call it “How I Brought Christmas to the Land of Moab.”

Yet, as Logan Kirby plodded back to his own tent, to set in motion the details for the feast, his heart was heavy. He saw he was making a bad impression on his employer by the needful vetoing of so many of Mrs. Cabell's pet projects.

Cabell's first patronizing good nature was merging into surliness. If this silly visit should result in failure, it might well prejudice him against his mine manager. Many a competent man, nearer home, was angling for this job of Kirby's. And, by offending the company's domineering old president, he would do more toward ousting himself from his managership than by a dozen mishaps to antimony shipments. Yes, much hung on the success of this undesired visit.

To add a trifling weight to his burden, as Kirby stepped from the luncheon tent, he noticed a clump of fellaheen—men, boys, children—hanging around the visitors' camp and staring with frank curiosity at the paraphernalia of the Feringi intruders. Sharply Kirby strode toward them.

“Imshi!” he ordered.

The natives gave back at his curt order. But, before they could retreat more than a yard or so, Mrs. Cabell came to the tent door, exclaiming

“Oh, don't drive them away, Mr. Kirby! The poor things add such delightful local color to the scene! Let them stay. And,” smitten with a charming idea, “tell them they must come here to-morrow night after dinner and bring all their friends and their families! Well scatter coins to them, as Christmas presents, when we give the miners and the guards their yule money.”

Kirby's mouth flew open, in blank horror. Then he checked his first impulsive speech, and forced himself to say calmly:

“I'm very sorry, Mrs. Cabell. Very sorry, indeed. But in this region the people think it is a virtue to rob unbelievers. keep the mine property clear of these fellaheen, in a week there wouldn't be a drill or a pick or a scrap of cable or anything else of value left. If I let these fellaheen stay hanging around here—especially if I tell them to bring others——

“Kirby!” boomed Henry Cabell, in a voice that might have emanated from a somewhat asthmatic lion with tenor proclivities, “I don't think you quite understood my wife. She asked you to let those poor picturesque natives stay here and to have them bring their friends to her party, to-morrow night. And that's what you'll do, if you please. You seem to forget this is my property and that I have some slight cause to expect my orders and my wife's won't be disobeyed or argued, at every turn.”

Swallowing a fierce retort, Kirby turned to face the wondering group of hillfolk. Speaking in a kindly tone, even in an inviting tone, he addressed them in colloquial Arabic.

“Swine and offspring of unclean one-eyed she-camels!” he cooed politely. “Mangy carrion whose remains shall one day find their rightful resting place in the stomachs of hogs and vultures!—if you are not gone from here within the minute, my guards shall scourge the leprous flesh from your vile bones. Imshi, abras! In-al-abuk!”

As the clump of sightseers muttered in angry fear and melted before his invective, like slush under hot sun, Logan Kirby turned back to the scowling Cabell and to his sputtering wife.

“They thank you for your generous invitation,” he translated the fellaheen's wordless mutter; “and they are off to summon their friends to the baksheesh-distributing, to-morrow night.”

Then he went to his own tent. He was worried, not only over the danger to his job, but because of a certainty that these natives would not stay away from the visitors' encampment. They were sure to steal back, under cover of night, for further inspection of the wonders displayed in the Feringi outfit, and, more than probably, to lay hands on anything portable which chanced to be within reach.

Before entering the tent Kirby made his way downhill to the barrack hut of the Turkish guards. There, summoning the greasy sergeant, he bade him post two men, nightly, at the knoll foot, so long as the Cabells should remain.

As he had anticipated, the sergeant refused. He and his soldiers, he explained loudly, had been sent by the pasha—on whom the seventy-and-seven blisses of es-Semme!—to guard the mine and the mine property. It was no part of their duty to stand sentinel over the goods of any stray Feringi who might take it into their infidel heads to camp on the crest above the mine. Nor did it matter that Cabell Bey owned the Concession. The guard were not serving him, but the pasha—on whom, again and yet again, the seventy-and-seven blisses of es-Semme and the favor of Mahmoud of the Lion of Allah!

Back to his tent went the dispirited Kirby. And there, awaiting his orders, he found Najib. Briefly he told the Syrian what things to buy and what other arrangements to make. In evident abstraction Najib listened. Then, instead of leaving the tent on his mission, he burst forth with a sort of galvanic ecstasy, an ecstasy so intense that he lost for a moment his shaky command of English and chanted aloud in Arabic:

“Howadji! She is as the houris who sing to slumber the souls of the prophet's warriors in es-Semme! Her mouth is like unto silver and precious gold and to the mines of Ophir! Blessed among woman be the mother who bore her! Blessed be her noble sire! May he be also the father of an hundred hero sons! Blessed be the happy day whereon she was born! Blessed——

“Have you been sampling the guards' hashish?” demanded Kirby. “What on earth are you blithering about?”

“About?” echoed Najib dreamily, lapsing back into English, his face slack and vapid with a purely imbecile simper. “About, howadji? Why, of an assuredly, I am enspeeching myself about—her!”

“Her?” repeated Kirby, all at sea.

The simper deepened to a grimace of idiocy.

“X-tiana!” breathed Najib.

“Who in blazes——” began Kirby. Then he remembered. “Oh, Mrs. Cabell's fat maid?” he said. “What about her?”

“She is indeed of a pleaseful weightsomeness,” assented the dazzled Najib. “She is, of a sooth, 'built for endurance, rather than for speed,' as the catalogue person emprinted it about our new mine engine. I have had much sweetness of words with her this afternoon. And when she besmiles herself—oh, it is as the alleyway of paradise popping opened! Sawest you ever such a divineness of teeth, howadji? I would rapture to have a band of Badawi attackle our camp; that I might get beslain in salving her from harm!”

“Najib, you wall-eyed little fool!” howled Kirby in a gust of sudden laughter. “I verily believe you're in love with the old catamaran!”

“Catamaran!” mused Najib, with all his wonted eager interest in any novel English word, “Yea, blessed is she among catamarans. Fairest is she of all creationed catamarans! Of an assuredly. And my heart becleaves itself to her, howadji. It—it is in my mind to marry myself with her, howadji, and——

“Marry her?” gasped Kirby, with another unconquerable guffaw. “Why, man, you've got a wife already, in Damascus, haven't you?”

“Laughter,” reproved Najib, cut to the soul by his chief's ridicule, “laughter is for hyenas—and for women! Yes, howadji, I have me the wife of which you speak of, in Damas-es-schem. And a wife, as well, in Nablous. But, by the holy law of the Prophet—on whom the blessings of the Ages of the Ages!—a good and true believer may marry himself with four wifes. And, lo, I have but two. Them and all the world would I forsook for X-tiana, the beautisome!”

“Listen!” ordained Kirby, his laughter gone. “We're already in as much of a mess here as I care for. If you go making love to Mrs. Cabell's obnoxious old maid, you're liable to get us in worse trouble than ever.”

“Obnoxious!” repeated Najib relishfully.

“Isn't this Cabell visit enough of an infliction,” pursued Kirby, “without your adding your share of annoyance to it? Mr. Cabell told me, before lunch, to-day, that that maid is the apple of his wife's eye. Mrs. Cabell insisted on their dragging her all over Europe with them, and——

“You just now bespoke yourself of X-tiana as 'obnoxious,' interposed Najib. “It is a word I do not know. It is, I trust, of a compliment. Bespoken of her, it could undoubtlessly be nothing less. What does it mean?”

“It means just what she is. No more, no less,” growled Kirby. “Let it go at that. The point I'm getting at is—you've got to forget this asinine notion of yours, and attend to business. We're in a peck of bother, and——

“I am your servant,” returned Najib, with a certain queer dignity. “And in all that betains to the mine, I am contentful to obey you. But I am not a slave. And in my marryings I am a free man. I have a heart of love for X-tiana. It is my right. I know your Feringi strange weddage customs. I know one must bewoo himself, long, to a woman, before that he can hope to bewed himself with her.

“I know also that if he seek to wed with her so swiftfully as among believers, he is likesome to find himself downward and outward in his woo. So I have made me up the mind. When she departs here on the morrow after the morrow, then I shall depart here in pursuance of her. And I shall befollow her with my woo, until she will agree to me.

“It is so decisioned, howadji,” he ended sorrowfully. “Much do my eyes betear theirselves, at the thought to leave you. No human man could endraw me from you. But X-tiana is not as men. She is as an houri of es-Semme. Wherefore, I go. This day, when I had talked much to her, she bade me begone. And I bewent. But after to-morrow I shall bewent wherever she begoes. Inshallah!”

He picked up the list of provisions from the table and left the tent. Kirby stared after him, aghast.

This temporarily love-crazed little native was unspeakably valuable in the mine service. For years Kirby had trained him. It would be impossible to replace him satisfactorily. No new man could be broken in for many months.

Kirby felt as though his job and all his hopes were crashing down about his ears. He knew enough of Oriental character to steer clear of interference with a native who was in love. He knew, too, that Najib had every intention of keeping his weird love vow of following Christiana across the world. And, because he was fond of the simple little fellow, Kirby winced at thought of the vicissitudes that awaited Najib on such a mad quest. Jail or an asylum promised to be the destination he must reach. In the meantime, his antics would not prejudice Cabell further in his manager's favor.

With a grunt of disgust, Kirby sat down to write out in full the menu he had promised Mrs. Cabell; the menu which was to be incorporated into her brochure as a “typical Syrian Christmas feast.” Many a native banquet had Kirby attended. And with these and the materials at hand in mind, he wrote:

Shorba—a soup of chopped kid and raisins, thick with oil.

Riz-Siméon—rice boiled in allspice and cloves and mace, with a rancid sauce composed of clarified butter poured over it.

Leben Immon—goat, seethed in boiled milk and garnished with raisins, dates, and currants.

Mahsee Khousa—a squashlike gourd, hollowed out and stuffed with rice and meat.

Khibi—two layers of pounded meat and barley, baked in a round dish and marked off in almond-shaped portions. Between the layers chopped onions or lecks, pine nuts and tiny meat balls. A sauce of clarified butter poured over it.

Mejedra—a side dish of boiled lentils—supposed to be the “red pottage” for which Esau sold his birthright.

Halawi—sesame seed, boiled in oil and honey.

Baklawa—lozenge-shaped pastry, heavy as lead, soaked in clarified butter and stuffed with figs and almonds and honey. Cloyingly sweet.

He laid aside the amplified bill of fare, picked up his cap, and went down to the mine. As he passed the group of new tents, he saw Mrs. Cabell poring grimly over an Arabic phrase book she had picked up in Jerusalem, while the plump maid toiled over her mistress' graying and wispy coiffure.

From afar, Najib was neglecting his work to watch the proceedings with a fatuous smile. Henry Cabell was not in view. But a succession of reverberantly V-shaped sounds from his bedroom tent showed how peacefully he was recuperating after his long ride.

In the distance, just beyond the Concession Tract, huddled some ten or fifteen natives, watching the mystery of the hair-dressing. Kirby shook himself impatiently and went on to the mine.

There had been blue Christmases in Logan Kirby's Syrian career—Christmas days when his mind strayed beyond the encircling barriers of brown and pink mountain peaks and crossed the gray seas to America, there to reveal wistfully in memories of joyous home Christmases. And, after such mental absences, he was wont to return to his grimy and monotonous exile life with a sick heart and a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction at his lot.

Then, ever, he would brace himself by plans for his future, when he should have made this mine so great a success that Cabell should send for him, in line of promotion, for some high post in the home office. And with this glad goal in view he would throw himself with added zest into his labors.

But, for sheer misery, this Cabell-infested Christmas made all previous Syrian yuletides seem ecstatic, by contrast. Not only did everything go wrong, but as the day progressed, Kirby's ill luck increased.

In the morning the visitors and himself went for a ride, up a peculiarly impassable trail, known as Wady-es-De-eb—the Cañon of the Wolf—to a lofty peak, whence, as a rule, the view was stupendous. Mrs, Cabell was anxious to see Mount Nebo—Moses' burial place, in order to verify in her mind a poem of her long-vanished school days, beginning

By Nebo's lonely mountain.

But while the three were still in the wadi, a mountain scud of rain swept down on them, chilling and dampening the unacclimated visitors; and starting one of Henry Cabell's few remaining indigenous teeth to aching. And, when they had toiled to the peak's summit, the same curtain of drizzling rain blotted out the view, as with a gigantic wet towel. They could not see Nebo. They could not see, with any clearness, a single mile in front of them.

Mrs. Cabell all but wept. Her husband, who apparently had a hazy idea that Nebo was some sort of commercial trade-mark or the name of a book, glowered afresh at Kirby, and seemed to hold him personally responsible for the lady's sniffling disappointment.

On their return to camp, there was more trouble. Christiana came storming forth from the tents, before the trio could dismount, and tearfully complained to Mrs. Cabell that she had been vilely insulted.

It seemed Najib had taken advantage of his chief's absence, to leave the mine for an hour of loverly converse with the maid. But, before he had chatted with her for five minutes, she had driven him forth in fury, menacing him with a hot-water kettle from the kitchen tent, and threatening him with dire punishment, if ever he should dare come near her again. Through the groundswell of Christiana's indignant grief, Kirby gathered that Najib had addressed her tenderly as an “obnoxious old catamaran.”

Mrs. Cabell, in hot wrath at her dear satellite's distress, demanded that the miserable little native be dismissed, forthwith, from the mine service. Cabell sternly indorsed her decree. But he followed Kirby away from the scene of tears and mumbled:

“Keep the fellow out of sight, till after we've gone, to-morrow morning. If he's a good worker, you needn't fire him, so long as you can keep my wife from finding he's still here. Nobody with the brain to call Christiana an 'obnoxious old catamaran' is going to be fired, if I can help it. It's the phrase I've been trying to think of, to describe her, for the past three years, and somehow I couldn't hit on it.”

Only mildly relieved, Kirby went to Najib's hut, to give orders that the henchman keep out of the Americans' way, during the next eighteen hours. He found Najib far from cast down at the rebuke from Christiana.

“She begins to have a love at me!” he reported, in high hope. “She beflirts herself, like the lady I read, into a Feringi love tale, at Coney's Island. In that book story, the lady bewhacked the woo person playsomely on the arm with her fan. It is true, because there was likewise a book picture of her, doing it. And the wooist was glad, the book story said, because he knew then that she was beginning to enamor herself with him. So am I happy, beyond all other men, howadji, for that my woo with X-tiana begins to success itself. She had no fan to bewhack me with. So she made as though to tap me on the arm with the water kettle. Oh, gladdest of all yowltides!

“And yet, howadji,” he added wistfully, “our own customs, the weddage customs of the believers, are so much better and shorter! I besent me a friend to the fathers of my other wifes. The fathers named a dower price for me to pay. I named a price under than half the price the fathers named. There was a sweet behagglement for an hour. Then we agreed. The marriage feast was made. And that was the all of it. But, oh, howadji, X-tiana is worth the painfulness of the pursual. Her teeth——

Kirby stamped out,of the hut and left Najib to rhapsodize alone.

The native banquet was a rank failure that night. The greasiness and the strange spiciness and the cloying sweetness of the various Syrian dishes found scant favor in the sight of the Cabells. And Henry Cabell, after gorging on baklawa, announced gloomily that he felt as though he had swallowed six clock weights. He prophesied for himself agonies of dyspepsia.

Mrs. Cabell fared little better in her dispensing of Christmas baksheesh to the mine workers, after the feast. True, each man kissed her hand, in sloppy native fashion, as he received his silver coin from her pudgy fingers. And this she enjoyed mildly until she detected one ambitious hand kisser trying with industrious furtiveness to bite out the diamond from a ring she wore. Then she wept. And Cabell stormed.

Kirby, realizing that his job hung by a thread, went to his tent early as the guests were to start back for Jerusalem at sunrise. In spite of his worry, the strain of the past two days sent him quickly to sleep.

He was in the middle of an annoying dream—wherein Henry Cabell was discharging him from the company's employ, and was doing it in grand-opera recitative—when the recitative slurred into a panicky whimpering. It was this whimpering which awoke him.

Kirby sat up in his cot. The great white Syrian stars had vanished from the velvet sky. The yelp of jackals and the far-off howl of wolves and the sobbing “laugh” of hyenas, which puncture the mighty silences of a Moab night, had died down. The first ghostly hint of gray dawn was tingeing the east. And, still, that panicky, unearthly whimpering sound continued. Kirby got up, slipped into a pair of trousers and boots, and went out to investigate.

The camp lay still, except that a little figure was toiling up the steep slope from the huts. By the elusive faint light, Kirby recognized Najib, and went forward to meet him.

“Nahar-ak sa-eed, Howadji!” the native greeted his chief. “I beheard me much strangeness of noise, as I was awaking. I behear me of it, yet. And I came to see if anything was amissful. Is——

The queer sound increased in volume. And now both listeners could tell that it issued from the visitors' camp. Thither, by tacit consent, they hurried. Before they could cover half the distance, a tent flap was flung open. Out into the dim gray light bounced a truly remarkable figure.

It was a woman of great bulk, swathed in a shapeless scarlet wrapper which flapped and waved in the gusts of dawn wind that swept across the peaks. The woman was weeping. From her wide-parted lips issued the unearthly whimperings that had aroused Kirby and Najib. At sight of the two men, she bore down on them, her draperies swinging awry like the canvas of an ill-sailed ship. And they saw she was Christiana.

Najib burbled aloud, in loverly welcome, and quickened his pace. But, fast as he moved, the maid sped toward him still faster. As she drew near she demanded shrilly:

“Oo shole zhem, oo lisshle niggeh! Gibbhem uph; o' I'll hazh oo in przzhm!”

“Howadji!” sputtered the thunder-stricken Najib, cowering back from the weird verbal onslaught, and turning as ever to Kirby for aid. “Howadji, does she bespeak herself in—in a language, perchancely? And is—is there words to it?”

“I think,” answered Kirby, only a trifle less at a loss than his henchman, and raising his voice to drown a second avalanche of speech from the irately oncoming Christiana, “I think she's accusing you of stealing something, and that she's threatening to send you to prison if you don't give it up. Perhaps,” unkindly, she's referring to her heart. But I am inclined, from her manner, to doubt it. She——

“Gibbhem uph!” shrilled the maid gobblingly, as she advanced with brandished fists on Najib. “Gibbhem uph, oo sphieff! Oo shole muh teessh; oo——

A screech of genuine horror from Najib broke in on her fierce diatribe. For now she was close to him and to Kirby. And, even by the faint light, they caught a clear view of her distorted face. Her cavernous mouth was spread open to an unbelievable expanse. And that mouth was a truly horrible sight. It was toothless as a newborn infant's!

Najib, beholding, screeched aloud, once more, in stark dismay. He eyed the mouthing woman with fright; and he clutched Kirby's arm for protection from. the awful apparition. False teeth were unknown to him and to his kind. Najib looked on the toothless Christiana, now, as might an American at a woman whose entire face had fallen away from her skull.

Kirby himself was startled at the tremendous difference made in her aspect by the loss of those two rows of horselike and gold-and-silver-inlaid dentals. She looked thirty years older and indescribably hideous. To add to the gruesomeness of it all, she had kept right on talking, or rather shouting, in that jargon of the newly toothless.

“Ouh oo hizgh 'em, oo sphieving niggeh?” she squawked, her raucous voice soaring to high heaven, amid the solemn silences of the mountain dawn. “I gnow oo shole 'em! Oo weh lookhinh ah 'em, au zhe zhime! Gibbhem hoo muh! Oo——

“I gather,” translated Kirby, through the babel of racket, “that she says she knows you stole her teeth, because you were looking at them all the time. And she——

Out from the Cabell bedroom tent catapulted two sketchily attired and mountainous figures. Husband and wife, awakened by the godless din, had fared forth to investigate. At sight of Mrs. Cabell, the maid scuttled deliriously up to her, redoubling her plaints and trying to explain her loss.

From the disjointed patois he caught, as Christiana approached the dumbly marveling Cabells, Kirby gleaned an impression that the maid was saying she had awakened and had stretched out her hand, as usual, to the water glass by her bed, in which the cherished teeth spent every night, and had found them gone. Bewailing their loss, she had searched the tent and then had come out of doors to seek further for the ravished treasures.

But the tale of woe was never completed. For, as Christiana, mouthing horribly and displaying her bereft cavern of void gums, came near enough to her employers for the details of her twisted face to become visible, Mrs. Cabell recoiled with a little cry of disgust and, seizing her husband by the shoulder, drew him along with her to the tent. The maid followed, still bewailing her loss.

“Well!” mused Kirby, as he went back to dress, “it's happened now, all right! If anything had been needed to add a nightmare touch to this failure Christmas, the stealing of those extra-illustrated teeth did it! They'll never believe it wasn't somehow my fault! I knew, when they encouraged those hillfolk to hang around, that something was likely to be swiped. Good Lord! And I sent in an application for a raise, last fall, too! I hope Cabell won't remember that!”

But Cabell did remember it. He remembered it, two hours later, when, after a glum breakfast, the tents were struck.

Mrs. Cabell and Christiana—the latter's face swathed to the eyes in a green veil—had been hoisted to the saddles of their overtaxed mounts. A groom held Henry Cabell's pony. Kirby had exchanged stiff good-bys with the visitors, and stood sullenly waiting for them to go. Then it was that Cabell waved to his little cavalcade to start on ahead of him. And as they began to shuffle away down the pass, he turned back and confronted the wondering mine manager.

“Kirby!” he said sharply, scowling up into his manager's grim face. “This has been a rotten Christmas. The rottenest ever. Your fault.”

“It was your own fault!” contradicted Kirby hotly. “I warned you, by letter, not to——

“Shut up!” ordered Cabell. “Let me finish what I'm saying. Your fault that the camp wasn't better guarded. That's how those Golconda teeth got stolen. If the teeth hadn't been pinched, my wife would have kept on toting that—that obnoxious old catamaran around with us till doomsday. Lord, how I've always hated the sight of that woman! But the missus simply wouldn't let her go. Now she's seen the way Christiana really looks—without 'em—and heard the noises she makes—well, the missus had a healthy fit of hysterics, after we got back in the tent, this morning. Says it'll make her sick to think of the creature, after this; let alone to see her. Wants me to send her back to the States, as soon as we get to Jerusalem, and pension her. Never wants to set eyes on her again. My wife's very—very susceptible to the—to the beautiful, Kirby. Very. Can't bear ugliness or grotesqueness. So we're rid of Christiana. Rid of her, forever—glory be! All your fault, Kirby!”

He paused; then continued in the same staccato fashion:

“Got your application for a raise. Forwarded to me from New York last month. I was going to turn it down. By last night I was minded, a lot, to get rid of you, altogether, to pay you for our rotten time here. But we're rid of—of the whatdyecallit catamaran instead. You get your raise, Kirby. You get it. I'm cabling my secretary from Jerusalem, anyhow, and I'll mention that in my cable. This is a hell hole to live in. Man deserves a raise for staying here. One of these days I must get you something to do in the home office. Merry Christmas! So long, Kirby!”

He scrambled aboard his waiting pony and cantered down the pass, after the others. Long and dazedly, Kirby stared after him. As he stood there, the sun butted its way through the horizon murk and turned the shadowy peaks to living flame. In the hollow beneath, the mine windlass began to creak to an accompaniment of thirty workers' tuneless hoisting chant of “Allah saeed!—Nebi sa-eed!”

Up the knoll behind Kirby came the patter of fast-running bare feet. The manager turned. Najib was breasting the slope, the sunrise light illumining his swarthy face into a transfiguring glow. In his clasped hands he held something close to his breast.

“Well?” queried Kirby, “what are you doing here? I thought you were going to follow your adored Christiana across the whole world. Better start, before she gets any more of a lead.”

“Start?” repeated Najib in virtuous repugnance. “Howadji, it breaks me the heart to hear you bespeech me so. I am never going to desertion from you. And of an assuredly not to follow a—a woman person whose face is as the face of—of a hippopotamus' babe. I enworshiped not her, but her smiling heavenly teeth. And those I shall keep for the ever and for the allways, howadji. Beholden!”

Opening his carefully cupped hands, he disclosed in the palm of each a set of huge and gleaming false teeth; adorned with much chasing and embossing of silver and of gold.

“Najib!” gasped Kirby incredulously. “It was you who stole——

“No,” denied Najib, with no rancor at all, which led Kirby to know he was for once telling the truth, “no, howadji. It was not my fortune to bethieve them. You see, I did not even comprehend me that they would come off. But, as I came from my hut, now, in sorrow at my loss of what had beseemed itself a bright dream, I was met with a lad from the village yonder. He told me he had made a rounding of all the tents in the darksomeness, running his arm up undertheneath of the flaps, to find what he might find to take. And his hand, in the one tent, befound a glass on a table. A glass is of value to, those poor heathenful hillfolk, howadji. He betook it. And he amazed himself to see in it—these! He was ignoranceful and knew him not what were they. So he asked me, for these folk know I um a man of much wiseness and of traveling. I told him they were an ill-fortune charm of much evilness, and I took them away from him. I shall entreasure them for always, howadji. With—with your sweet permission, howadji! And, oh, I becrave me that you will permit!”

“H'm!” muttered Kirby, half to himself. “If I send these after the Cabells, Christiana may be able to make herself solid with her mistress again. And that will be a blow to poor old Cabell, now that he's so tickled over losing her. My first duty is to my employer. Keep them, Najib!”

“Allah be obeyed!” chortled the little Syrian gratefully, his beady eyes gloating over his treasure. “Oh, most joyousest of yowltides, that brang me so wealthsome a gift! A gift that—that—— How does your wise Feringi proverb say itself, howadji? 'Every teeth has a—a silver lining.” And—and 'behind the teeth the gold's still shining!' Maschallah!”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1942, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.