The Miracle Mix-Up

The Miracle Mix-Up  (1916) 
by Albert Payson Terhune

Extracted from "Popular" magazine, 07 Jan 1916, pp. 67-77. [# Kirby / Najib]

The Miracle Mix-Up

By Albert Payson Terhune

Author of "The Man Who Could Do Everything-," "The Brick," Etc.

The plight of an American somewhere in the Land of Moab, about seventy miles from Jerusalem, who starts to develop an antimony mine, only to be confronted with the tidings that Fathma, the favorite wife of Ali, the Lion of Allah, is buried there, and to disturb her bones means to let loose upon the desecrators a horde of Oriental hobgoblins.

AND, furthermore, Howaji," finished Najib, "he is a scourge, this Welee—a hell person—pretty bad."

Kirby solemnly drew out a packet of deuxième qualité cigarettes, with equal solemnity shredded the paper from four of them, and stuffed the resultant handful of free tobacco into his smelly black pipe. This he lighted. All without reply to his factotum's vehement speech.

"And, superadded to which, Howaji," pursued Najib, after vainly pausing for answer, "superadded to which, Je-hen-em yawns for him. But he has us, as the folklore of your West world land would say, in the hollows of his fingers. Wherefore, what is to be done?"

Logan Kirby withdrew the pipe from his lips, looked with contempt at the upheaved yellow tobacco in its bowl, and gingerly sought to tamp it down with his forefinger. Then he broke silence.

"Najib," he said, "hereabouts—somewhere between here and Bagdad—or maybe only between here and Damascus—that yarn was invented about the Magic Carpet. The rug that would carry its owner anywhere on earth. I wish I had it. I'd climb aboard for a ruggy ride; and I'd tell it to start off and keep going till I told it to stop. Then, when I got just in front of a tobacco store of my acquaintance, a block or so from Times Square, I'd yell 'Whoa!' to the rug and hitch it to a lamp-post while I went inside and bought about even and three-eighths tons of a certain pipe mixture I know of. I'd——"

"There is a plenitude of tobacco here, Howaji," interposed Najib, sore puzzled. "Both in cigarettes and for also the nargile. But I was speaking with an urgency of——"

"There's enough tobacco," agreed Kirby, "but it makes me homesick whenever I smoke it. It reminds me of the dear old days when I used to rake autumn leaves and make bonfires of them."

"Howaji!" spoke up Najib, with tearful impatience. "I ask you if it is a time and also a season for these sad memories of home. I request to know, is it? We are in peril to lose all. There is perhaps a peril to the life as well. And you talk sweetly of tobacco!"

"No," mildly corrected Kirb, "I talk of the stuff in these Cairene cigarettes. Don't take the precious name of tobacco in vain by——"

"But we are in a danger!" wailed Najib. "The Welee——"

"That's so," assented Kirby. "The Welee, to be sure. You were speaking of him just now, I remember. Calling him pretty names, weren't you? When did he say he'd be here?"

"At the hour before Azim, Howaji. And I beseech——"

"H'm!" Kirby consulted his watch. "Sun sets at about five-twenty. That would bring him here by twenty minutes past four or so. I'll have barely time to write those two letters I must send off when Imbarak starts for Jerusalem."

He turned toward his tent. Najib interrupted him.

"Is it a time for being a scribe," he demanded, in dismay, "when the Welee is prone to be in our mongst within the hour?"

"There won't be time after he's gone. Imbarak starts for Jerusalem at seven."

"There also and likewise may not be time to be alive after the Welee is gone, Howaji," groaned Najib. "If the Howaji——"

Kirby cut him short by strolling into the tent and closing the flap behind him. But as the dingy tent flap shut him off from view of Najib and the lounging soldiers and laborers outside, the American's flippancy of manner fell away from him like an ill-fitting garment. The lazily tolerant grin he had worn for the natives' benefit was wiped from his lean face as a sponge wipes chalk from a blackboard.

He crossed to a pile of luggage at one end of the tent and fumbled with the contents of two or three bags and cases for a few moments, neatly wrapping in paper several articles and dropping them into his khaki pockets. Then he went to the deal table alongside the center pole, sat down on a camp chair, drew a scratch pad toward him, and began to scribble. He headed his letter:

Cabell Smelting Company's Antimony Mine; Somewhere in the land of Moab, about seventy miles east of Jerusalem, Syria.

After which, he wrote:

Dear Uncle Dick: You're surprised to hear from me, of course. Especially since your gushingly cordial invitation to me, three years back, to go to the devil. A few months ago I accepted the invitation. At least I did the next best thing—I came to the land of Moab. I came here as manager of the Cabell people's antimony venture.

I don't know why they picked me for the job, for they have fully a dozen better men for it than I—except because I had spent my first ten years of life in this God-forsaken corner of the world, when father was in charge of the Nablous mission; and because I knew the language, and as much about the Syrian character as an outsider can reasonably hope to learn inside of two thousand centuries. But that's beside the point, which is—I'm here.

I'm not only here, but I stand a fairly bright chance of passing on to the hereafter, during the next couple of hours. That's why I'm bothering you with this letter. You're the only one of my kin who is still on top of the earth. And you were mighty good to me—at least, until I decided to keep on in the school of mines instead of going into the law school as you wanted me to. Honestly, I could have never have made a decent lawyer. Father was a missionary, and my inherited conscience would forever have been tangling me up. Never mind all that, though. As I remember, you and I threshed it out pretty exhaustively three years ago.

You're the only relative I have. And I'm sentimental enough to want to shake hands with you if this is really the end of the road, and to part with you as good friends. I'm going to give this letter to a muleteer who is starting this evening on a provision trip to Jerusalem. I'll give it to him before the row begins, and tell him to keep out of the way of the trouble, and to set out as soon as the road is clear—no matter what happens. If nothing happens, I'm going to get this letter back from him, and tear it up. For I don't want to extend the olive branch to you unless there's a scrap of crape tied to it. Because I'm pretty sure you don't want it—undraped.

So if this letter gets to you, you'll know it is a genuine good-by, and that I'm sorry I couldn't meet your ideas about a career, and that I wish we could have gotten on better together, you and I. For I like you a lot.

Here's the fix I'm in: As I told you, I've been running this little antimony mine for the Cabell people. It's about the only one between the Hartz Mountains and Sarawak. And it's a good property, for all it's so small. We sell our output right here in Syria. Not only for drug use, but for Kohl. That's the stuff the Oriental beauties use to blacken their eyelids. My predecessor used to spring a merry wheeze about "working in a Kohl mine."

I was doing finely for a while. And I got a raise and the promise of another. We had a concession from the sultan. We'd "greased" the basha—you'd call him the "pasha," but the Arabs have no letter "P" in their alphabet, and they couldn't pronounce it if they had. We'd also sprinkled tribute money ("baksheesh" is the local word) among the nastier of the near-by Bedouin tribes. And we had—and have—an imposing and quite useless honorary guard of twelve Turkish soldiers to protect us. When the soldiers aren't eating they're sleeping. When they aren't doing either, they're stealing.

My superintendent is a Damascene, named Najib. Except that he insists on talking to me in a language which he mistakes for English, he is a treasure. For two years, long ago, he was with a show at Coney Island, and he can't seem to get it out of his system.

Everything was going beautifully at the mine until yesterday a Welee (native "faquir," or "holy man," same as "medicine man" among the Indians) happened along. At sight of our mine he nearly had a fit.

He explained to the fellaheen laborers and the soldiers that we were digging in the exact locality where Fathma, favorite wife of Ali, the Lion of Allah, was buried. She is a Moslem saint, and to disturb her bones, he assured my men, would let loose upon the desecrators a horde of djinni and afrits and similar Oriental hobgoblins who would torture them to death and then burn their souls.

Don't laugh. It isn't a joke. Or if it is my natives don't know it. To a man, they knocked off work. The fellaheen and the soldiers alike vowed they would not risk Je-hen-em by digging farther or allowing any one else to.

I flashed the concession on them, and threatened them with the sultan's wrath. Also the basha's. No use. The best I could do was to keep them from running away at once. For the present they graciously remain and gobble full rations, but they don't do one lick of work. And if we don't get off our next shipment this week we lose the biggest customer we have—a Damascus firm that takes seventy per cent of our output and is flirting with a German syndicate which is trying to undersell us and can't. Najib has known the Welee in other days. He is positive our German competitors have bribed the holy man to stir up this row. It's been done before out here.

It's a strike. And failure to the mine means failure to me. This job was my Big Chance. And I had no intention of losing it. Certainly not for an unwashed Welee. So I tried to bribe the slimy old crook. Nothing doing. He has evidently been too solidly fixed by the syndicate. He won't even talk terms with me.

He cursed me in a way that has set my men to looking crosswise at me ever since. Then, once more, he bade me leave this holy ground that my infidel feet were defiling. I refused. He cursed me again and went away. I thought I was rid of him.

I wasn't. Najib has found out that he is rounding up a crowd of Syrian fellaheen from near-by villages and preaching a sort of pocket-edition "holy war" to them. He's surely earning his syndicate pay. Najib found out, too, that he's got a bunch of natives worked up to the proper pitch of crazy zeal, and that he is going to lead them here against us at Azim (sunset) to-day.

As I understand it, his playful plan is to sic them onto me. And then, when they have slain the infidel, they are to enact one more pious duty by filling up the mine, so that the late lamented Fathma's mythical bones may rest in peace again. And incidentally so that the syndicate may grab our trade.

Pretty outlook, isn't it? Do you wonder I'm scratching off a word of good-by to the only living person of my kin? Not that it does any special good, but I'd like you to know what happened. No one would know otherwise. For it's a safe bet the natives won't tell. According to their report, I'll have died from cholera or the plague or snake bite, as has many another white man out here in these pink-brown mountains.

Najib's the only one of the crew who has too much sense to believe in every word of the Welee's bugaboo story. And he's scared stiff; so he isn't much use to me. I try to keep his pluck up and to impress the others by not seeming to take the thing seriously. But it's about the seriousest thing in the world,

I've only one hope left, as a matter of fact. And that hope is so fantastic it wouldn't he a hope at all anywhere except in Syria—where everything is fantastic. It's a fifty-to-one shot. But I've made my arrangements to play it. In the meantime——

Logan Kirby laid down his fountain pen. For Najib, without any show of ceremony, came running into the tent.

"Howaji!" he almost screamed. "He is coming—the Welee is coming—up the hill he comes! And over five trillion men at his heels. All singing 'Din—Din—DIN! Muhammed Din!' and making ready to kill in very saintly joy. A half hour it is before the time the Welee have averred that he will come. He—listen!"

Through the drowsy stillness of the afternoon came a rumbling and muttering, with a singsong cadence in it. Kirby had heard the sound but once before—in his early childhood, when a horde of Moslem fanatics had tried to storm his father's mission house at Nablous—but he would have recognized it anywhere. He glanced down, regretfully at the letter there was no time to finish. He tore it across, then made for the tent door. The chattering and ague-stricken Najib pattered close behind him.

The camp was pitched in a little hollow a hundred yards in front of the mine, and facing a low hill that sloped down into the valley behind. From beyond the crest of this hillock came the droning chant of:

"Din—Din! Muhammed Din!" ("For the Faith! For Islam!") ever swelling closer.

The laborers and the dozen soldiers were already trotting up the hill's hither side to welcome the oncomers.

With a dash, Kirby was among his erstwhile workers and guards, pushing past them and making at headlong speed for the hillcrest. In thirty seconds he was at the summit, the ashen-faced Najib toiling along prayerfully in his wake.

At the crest, Kirby paused. Behind him his men were pressing forward. In front, moving in ragged formation and carrying flintlock guns and horse pistols and rusty, curved sabers and clubs, a body of perhaps fifty men and boys toiled up the steeper incline toward him.

They swayed to and fro as they climbed, moving their bodies in time to their eternal rumbling chant of "Din—Din—DIN!" Ten paces in front of them minced the Welee, a horrible figure, filthy, white-bearded, draped in a cloud of yellowish rags.

At the crest was a little stone-encircled spring, the camp's source of drinking water. Kirby had forbidden the sinking of a well nearer the mine, on the theory that men who must walk a quarter mile every time they are thirsty will not often waste the company's time by being thirsty.

Beside the rough coping of this spring he paused. The crowd in front caught sight of him, outlined against the coppery sky, above them. And the chant took on new fierceness, intershot with words quite as unnecessary as untranslatable. Nor were the workers and soldiers, who had swarmed up the slope behind Kirby, overcordial in their looks. Indeed, one or two of them had even caught up the "Din—Din—DIN!" singsong.

Kirby lifted a hand for attention, and, before dropping the hand to his side, put its palm across his mouth to mask a yawn that had no existence. Then, as the hand fell, he carelessly let its fingers entwine themselves about the butt of the pistol at his belt.

His eyes were on the Welee. And the latter checked his uphill scramble as he noted the contact of the long brown fingers with the pistol butt. He came to a standstill a bare fifteen feet from the spring. His followers, disappointed at their leader's pause, straggled to a halt behind him.

And thus, for a brief instant, the whole party stood, the mine men and the Welee's followers in irregular semi-circles opposite each other, and at the edges of the summit Kirby, beside the spring, facing the Welee and with Najib crouching, doglike, at his feet.

The silence endured for the merest fraction of a second; then the Welee spoke, his husk-dry voice whirring like a locust's through the sudden hush.

"Feringhee (foreigner)," he puffed, still winded by the run. "Upon you be such peace as Allah the All-merciful can grant unto an infidel!"

"And unto you, O Son of the Prophet and father of an hundred sons," unctuously replied Kirby, "be peace and prosperity and the blessings of Es-Semme!"

It is said that in the Orient two stray dogs do not meet to fight without first swapping compliments. It is certain that no two humans—be their meeting never so urgent or hostile—fail to observe this world-old usage. It costs nothing—except time. And time is the one commodity wherein every Oriental is rich.

"You have desecrated the shrine of a saint," pursued the Welee, courtesy being sated, "and I am come hither to stop——"

"So you said yesterday," returned Kirby, with real urbanity. "But you were mistaken. I am glad you are here, so that I may tell you so."

He spoke very quietly, yet making sure that his voice should carry to the utmost bounds of two semilunes of listeners. Forestalling an answer, he went on:

"O holy and Heaven-descended Welee, you were right—Truth flowed, as sparkling and clear as the Abana itself, from your reverend lips—when you told me our mine was digged at the spot where sleep the ashes of immortal and glorified Fathma—on whom be the smile of the Most High! I know that now past all peradventure. Though I was fool enough yesterday to doubt. Yet when you say I desecrate her shrine you err. That, too, has been revealed to me."

His voice had gradually taken on the droning intonation and his eyes the glassily exalted look of the true Eastern devotee. His body swayed as he spoke. The crouching Najib peered up at him in amaze.

The others, who had begun edging and milling slowly forward, came again to a standstill. They recognized the signs and instinctively did them reverence.

Even as the busiest street in Damascus or Jerusalem will respectfully suspend traffic while a ragged mystic proceeds to have an epileptic fit or a revelation or a vision in the center of the thoroughfare—even as the war-crazed dervish hosts slackened their mad onrush to a dead stop when their Khalifa was stricken by a heavenly trance, on the march to Omdurman, so now, at the time-honored symptoms of such a supernatural visitation—even in an infidel—the fanatics paused to look.

The primal check was but momentarily, and Kirby realized this. So he wasted no time before making use of it. He swung his hands aloft, his eyes glaring heavenward, his body swaying convulsively. White foam appeared upon his parted lips. His jaws moved awkwardly, as if he were chewing. (As indeed he was. The bit of shaving soap he had put into his mouth as he stifled the nonexistent yawn was "lathering" more slowly than he could have wished.)

But the sight of the foam capped the impression of the staring eyes and the chanting voice and the swaying form. There could be no possible doubt that this Feringhee infidel was in the throes of inspiration from Heaven. The villagers, the soldiers, the laborers gazed upon him with the awed delight that Eastern onlookers ever glean from such attacks. Even the Welee looked at him, irresolute, the fanatic fire ebbing a little from his withered and unwashed face.

Kirby, through the tenseness of the moment, recalled how his missionary father had given him no less than three sound spankings, in childhood, for mimicking these "devotee ecstasies." It had been the lonely boy's favorite game at the Nablous mission house.

His voice scaling upward, almost to a falsetto, and his language taking on a formality worthy of Bible days, he intoned:

"Fathma the glorified—Fathma the loved spouse of Ali the Lion of Allah—Fathma appeared to me this day at the still hour before dawn. In a vision she appeared to me, And she spake. O Welee, wouldst hear her words from these poor lips of mine that are unfit to breathe them? They are a message for thee."

"A message!" snorted the scandalized Welee. "A message to me—through the lips of an infidel?"

"She said thou wouldst not believe," wailed the swaying Kirby. "She said thou wouldst not. Because I am an infidel. And she bade me remind thee that the Prophet—on whom be forever the peace of es Semme!—she bade me remind thee that the Prophet himself, in his hour of need at El-Mecca, deigned to send an infidel Greek to Omar with his call for help. Also that the blessed Koran saith——"

The lather strangled him, and he gulped. He was glad of the interruption. For he could not remember for the life of him just what the blessed Koran had said on the subject of using infidels as instruments for grace. The text's exact wording had slipped his tumult-stirred mind.

But, with his audience, the gulp and its accompanying shudder readily passed muster as a spiritual spasm. The natives began to look impressed. The Welee still glowered, angrily doubtful, but the crowd was visibly—and audibly—interested. Mastering the strangulation, Kirby went on with his chant:

"Thus spake the glorified spouse of Ali, in my vision: 'Lo, I have chosen thee as my mouthpiece, that all may know the power of Allah and His servants to speak to mankind even through the lips of an infidel pariah.' Wilt hear me, O Welee? Or shall I hold my peace?"

The Welee made as though to speak in sharp negation; but an eager murmur of assent from the two half circles of hearers drowned his reply. And Kirby hurried on:

"This is the message, O my brothers, as the vision of Fathma the wonderful spake it to me at the hour of false dawn, standing at my couch foot, enwrapped in glory and with the face of the sun and—'and the stars in her crown were seven,'" he ended lamely, drawing on Rossetti for inspiration.

Bracing his taut nerves, he repeated:

"This is the message: 'My mortal ashes have been transmuted, by a miracle of the Most High, into the silvery-white dust of the mineral ye seek here. And it is my will that ye continue to seek it, so that men shall distribute it throughout the earth, and that my dust may serve to blend with potions that restore health to the stricken, and to darken and make lovely for their lords the eyes of women, and to weld rare metals into strength and beauty. Continue thy task, O infidel, thou and the believers who toil for thee! Thus may the power of Fathma forever reach out beyond the grave. It is my will.'"

Kirby threw out his arms and fairly shrieked the last words through his foaming lips. And to himself he was groaning:

"Good Lord! A six-year-old kid wouldn't be taken in by such piffle!"

A murmur of assent and dissent and of argument was running through the crowd. The Welee lurched forward in a furious gust of rage, shouting:

"He lies! He blasphemes! He would trick you! I say it—I the——"

"Aiwa! (Yes!)," intoned Kirby, as if verifying something he had wholly expected. "It is thus she told me thou wouldst speak, thy holy zeal for once overcoming thine Heaven-inspired brain. And she bade me prove by deeds what thou wouldst not believe from my words. She bade me give thee a sign. Yea, two signs, if need be. Though for thine own sake, O Welee, she bade me seek to persuade thee by the first and simpler sign."

"A sign?" repeated the Welee, in angry disbelief.

"A sign?" flew the muttered echo through the crowd.

"You repeat, all of you, the very words I spake to her," responded Kirby. "When she bade me give a sign, I said: 'O mother of a million believers, how may I give a sign that thine exalted servant, the Welee, shall believe? For lo, I am but an ignorant Feringhee who hath not wit to work miracles!' And she replied to me: 'Be of good cheer. For it is not thou, but I, working through thee, who shall make these miracles come to pass.' And then she told me those things which I should do."

By this time the crowd was as tense with anticipated thrills as a Sunday-school class at its first circus. For miracles are things not seen every day, even in Syria. And there was every prospect of at least one such manifestation. Perhaps of two. The Welee noted the change in his followers' mental attitude, and he strove hotly to counteract it.

"It is a trick!" he reiterated. "A windy promise whereby he seeks to fool you. To none but the holy is it granted to perform miracles. Behold!"

He drew his gnarled body to its full height and opened wide his toothless mouth. From between his jaws gushed a swirl of red flame.

"Allah sa-id! Nabi sa-id!" shrieked the wondering Syrians.

The Welee glared triumphantly at Kirby—who had seen the fire-belching trick a half hundred times, from the faquir booths of Bagdad to the circus side shows of Pompton, New Jersey.

Taking quick advantage of the crowd's stark amaze, the Welee drew a curved knife from his belt, and, in sight of them all, drove it hilt deep into his own emaciated chest. When he removed his fingers from around the handle, there was no sign of knife hilt, knife blade, nor wound.

"Allah sa-id!" gasped the onlookers again, many of them falling face downward on the earth and moaning forth Koran texts and prayers.

"It is well!" broke in Kirby, with difficulty steadying his voice again into the singsong. "It is well! None doubted the holiness of the Welee nor his Heaven-sent power to do things which are impossible to mere mortals such as we. The spouse of Ali foretold that he would do so. She told me he would spout forth flame and would drive a knife to his heart. She bade me say it is she—under the will of Allah—who hath given him such power."

The Welee eyed his opponent with a new look—a look in which rage was now mingled with something very like bewilderment.

"It is known," reiterated Kirby. "It is known to all folk that Allah endows His saints upon earth with miraculous powers. But it is also known to all folk that Allah doth not waste such power upon the Feringhee. Therefore, when I perform miracles before you, will it not be proof that I am but the unworthy and helpless instrument in the hands of Allah—through his beloved handmaiden, Fathma?"

Again the Welee's hesitant denial was drowned in an eagerly assenting chorus of "Aiwa!" The crowd packed and jostled in its crass excitement. Here, forsooth, was more than a miracle. It was to be a duel of miracles. A sight to remember forever and to relate to one's ophthalmic grandsons.

For a moment Kirby stood moveless, facing his foe, waiting to let the impression sink in, and to sharpen by delay the nerves and the credulity of his audience.

Somewhere hereabouts, thirty centuries agone, Elijah and the priests of Baal had held their miracle contest. Kirby remembered the sacred tale, and he smiled to himself at the idea of enacting the same scene under twentieth-century skies. But Syrian skies, he reflected, are not twentieth-century skies. They are still the skies that looked down upon the childhood of the world. And at the thought he took heart.

"The first sign," he droned, body asway and mouth afoam, "the first sign she bade me give you was this."

He drew from the breast of his coat a half dozen flat little paper parcels. Every man among the miners and the soldiers was familiar with the sight of the packages. They were used for holding ore samples. In such packets the men had again and again seen Kirby wrap the silvery-white specimens of pulverized antimony.

"These," intoned the American, waving the handful of papers at the Welee, "are pinches of the dust and the crushed metal that I dig from the shrine of the blessed Fathma. Thine own brethren will bear me out in this. An hundred times they have beheld me fill the paper squares with such dust. Many of them have filled the papers for me. Is it not so?"

"Aiwa!" assented the laborers, zestfully nervous to see the miracle begin.

Carelessly taking one paper from the handful, Kirby thrust the rest back into his pocket. Opening the paper he held, he displayed a teaspoonful of the whitish powder.

"This is the sign," he droned. "The powder here is but the powder we gain from crushing the mineral yonder, as all of my men will attest. Brothers, ye have oft and again washed this powder for me, to cleanse it from earth stains. Bear my witness, hath the water changed it in any way?"

"Lla!" (No!), negatived the workers, in ragged chorus, growing more and more impatient.

"Good!" approved Kirby. "Thus spake Fathma, the blessed among women: 'Sprinkle water upon this dust of mine, before the eyes of my servant, the holy Welee. And give him also of the dust, that he, too, may sprinkle it with water. If the dust he sprinkleth doth not change, and if the dust thou sprinklest doth become a cloud of snow, he shall know that thou art my messenger and he shall obey my will, and all my people shall obey my will and shall hinder thy labors no more, lest in my wrath I prevail upon Allah to send such snow throughout the land, to blast the pastures, even as snow has ever blasted the summit of Hermon."

It was a dire threat to folk in a country where prosperity depends on pasturage. Scarce a man there but had at some time been so inquisitive as to climb Mount Hermon's slopes to stare at the wet, soggy snow that plastered the mountain's crest after each lowland rainfall. Scarce a man but remembered the barren deadness of the earth on Hermon's summit. The threat was pregnant.

"It is a lie!" sputtered the Welee. "The blessed Fathma——"

"Then prove it a lie!" ordered Kirby, taking another of the papers from his pocket and literally thrusting it into the Welee's clawlike hand. "Here is water," tapping a partly full earthen ghoola that stood on the coping of the spring. "I call on thee—in the name of the glorified Fathma—to do her bidding."

The Welee dropped the paper to the earth, where, one end of the packet opening, the silvery powder spilled on the dusty ground. Kirby had picked up the ghoola and was pressing it upon his foe. The natives had clustered close around, breathless, goggle-eyed. The Welee pushed back the ghoola.

"I will not!" he raged. "It is a lie! It——"

"Blasphemy!" reproved Kirby. "I have no means to make thee obey the vision's mandate, O Welee," he added. "Yet I, a mere infidel, respect her too profoundly to disobey. See!"

He shook upon a flat rock the powder contents of his own packet, then dashed a spoonful of water on it. Smoothing and manipulating the wet powder with one hand, he held aloft the other in supplication, his eyes rolling heavenward as he chanted:

"O Fathma, favored of Allah, spouse of Ali, if I lie or if I call on thee in vain, smite me with fearful death, or let these thy servants slay me. If I am in truth thy messenger, show forth thy miracle according to thy word and let this dust of thy lovely body turn to the snows of——"

He got no farther. His audience had broken into a cry that swelled to a roar. Wonder, veneration, fear—all were blended in that spontaneous outburst.

Kirby glanced downward. To the wrist, his hand that manipulated the wet powder was engulfed in a snowy substance that glittered white in the sunset.

"Allah!" quavered the awed crowd. "Allah hu akbar!"

To all intents and purposes, the powder had in a few seconds become transformed into a little snowdrift of thirty times its original bulk. At least, to men who have seen no more of such phenomena than has the average Syrian, it was indubitable and flawless snow.

"Miracle! Miracle!" groaned the crowd. "The spouse of Ali hath spoken—and through a Feringhee! It is as he said."

"It is a lie! A trick!" stormed the Welee.

But for once no one heeded him. A miracle is a miracle, whoever performs it. And a miracle had been performed. The miners knew well that a pinch of antimony powder does not change to a double handful of snow through washing. The other fellaheen knew nothing of antimony nor of chemistry. But they knew snow—the soggy, wet, sticky snow of Syrian mountaintops. And, seeing, they believed.

Again Kirby caught up the ghoola. He shoved it roughly into the Welee's grasp, then stepped back. For the very briefest instant the Welee mechanically held the vessel, then in scorn he let it drop. It fell on soft earth and did not break. But a splash of water flew from it as it struck ground and spattered some of the powder that had been strewn from the paper the Welee had dropped.

"Now!" cried Kirby, taking swift advantage of the accident. "Thou also hast sprinkled the white dust with water—though against thy will—even as Fathma the blessed foretold to me thou shouldst. And her prophecy shall come true. For the dust does not change into snow."

And then and there the badly rattled Welee made the one and only blunder of his snaky career. Nettled at his followers' wavering allegiance, he dropped on one knee, and, as he had seen Kirby do, he began to manipulate the wet antimony. And it remained wet antimony.

A murmur rose from the little throng.

"Have I lied, O my brothers?" demanded Kirby, as the discomfited Welee scrambled to his feet, fiercely chagrined at his own blunder. "Have I lied? Does or does not the glorified spouse of Ali speak through me, her unworthy mouthpiece? Are ye content? May I carry out the wishes of the blessed one and continue to dig in yonder mine?"

"Aiwa!" burst from fifty throats. "The blessed one hath spoken!"

"It—it is false!" mumbled the Welee, more and more stricken at his devotees' defection. "It is a trick!"

But the miners knew better. They knew the ordinarily harmless action of water upon antimony. The fellaheen, too, had witnessed the miracle of the snow making, and they were convinced. Sure of his backing, Kirby wheeled once more upon the Welee.

"A trick?", he echoed. "A trick? It is sacrilege to say so. Must I make the second—the decisive—test?"

"Aiwa! Aiwa!" babbled the crowd, crazy to behold another miracle.

"It is well," decreed Kirby, taking forth the handful of the specimen parcels once more. "The blessed Fathma bade me, as a final sign, to devour two of these packets of her dust, and to bid her unbelieving servant, the Welee, also to devour two. If I be speaking in her name, no harm shall befall me. If he be right and I be wrong, no harm shall befall him. But if either of us be wrong in what we have told you concerning her will as to the digging of her dust, then she will at once let loose an afrit to afflict the liar in such way as shall show all men that he is false. Behold, I do her will!"

Choosing two of the packets, as at random, he tossed the contents into his mouth and swallowed them by the aid of a swig of water from the fallen ghoola.

"Now!" he commanded, thrusting two more of the powders upon the Welee.

"I will not!" vowed the Welee, in a last burst of wrath. "It is fraud! How know I the dust is not poisoned?"

"Thou hast seen me devour it," said Kirby. "It has oft and again fallen on the lips and tongues of these my workers and no harm has befallen them. Take these two packets!"

"I will not! I——"

A general muttering—decidedly ugly in trend—stopped the Welee's hot refusal. His prestige was very much at stake. With a snarl like a cross cat's, he snatched the proffered paper receptacles, shook their powders on his tongue, and gulped them down. They stuck midway. He coughed and took a swallow of water.

"O Fathma!" breathed Kirby, in pious ecstasy, and in almost dizzy relief. "It is done!"

It was done. There could be no doubt of that. After a few seconds of breathless silence, wherein the eyes of the close-packed and breath-held throng devoured him, the Welee's expression of lofty contempt changed all at once to a look of trouble. The crowd cried out in sheer astonishment.

From trouble the Welee's aspect merged into agony. His mouth flew wide open, emitting marvelous sounds that were a blend of dog howls and the noise made by fifty exhausted siphons.

The Welee's claw hands gripped the Welee's sunken waist. The Welee's thin legs carried the Welee's thinner body high into the air in a series of frantic leaps whose nimbleness was astounding in one so old and weak.

"Maschallah! Fathma el Sitt! Oäh! El Afrit!" chorused the onlookers, jostling and shuffling in fanatic fervor.

One big fellah cast down his antique musket and fell at Kirby's feet, crying adoringly:

"Saadat el Basha! Rasoul Allah!" (Great Master! Apostle of Allah!)

Others followed his example. Ecstatic miners ran to the American, kneeling and seeking to kiss his hands and his dusty boots.

Meantime, the Welee was doing a dervish contortion dance whose splendid abandon would have won him a fortune on any stage. And he accompanied each flying step with ear-torturing screeches and with that nameless vocalization as of a half hundred emptying siphons.

At last, worn out, writhing in agony, moaning, and still siphoning, he rolled helpless at Kirby's feet.

The last of the rioters emeritus had drifted out of sight down the wady. The last miner had rushed back to work with tireless religious zeal. Kirby, weak with reaction, longed for some one—any one—with whom to talk over his victory. So he summoned to his tent the worshiping Najib, who had been frisking adoringly about him with the grace and glee of a drunken bear cub.

"In storybooks, Najib," observed Kirby, "the gallant young hero overawes the low-browed savages by some such good old device as false teeth or a wooden leg or a solar eclipse or a neat conjuring trick. But I don't know eclipse dates, and I'm shy on parlor stunts, and I've still got at least two fairly solid legs and most of my original teeth——"

"Praise unto the Most High for sparing these blessings unto you, O Howaji!" interposed Najib blissfully in English. "And may your father's forty lesser wives pay homage to your respectable mother for that she have condescended to bear so grand a person as you! Blest likewise and also be thy paternal——"

"So," went on Kirby, unheeding the rainfall of adulation, "I had to do what I could with what I had. I never dreamed there could be so much beautiful snowy lather in one spoonful of shaving powder; but——"

"But," put in Najib, perplexed, "the powder you gave him to sprinkle? It pasted only, and it neglected to fuzz itself like——"

"It was a perfectly good antimony sample. So were the two powders I swallowed. I hope antimony isn't bad for the——"

"And the powder he ate? By the grace of the blessed Fathma—on whom be——"

"Those just happened to be seidlitz powders—the blue and the white. The sort I gave you when you were sick last month. But this time I had put the blue one in a white paper and——"

"But, Howaji!" babbled Najib. "They did not arouse hell fight within me! Oh, of an assuredly, the glorified Fathma hath——"

"You mixed the two powders before you swallowed them. The Welee swallowed them before he mixed them. That's all the difference. Just the trifling difference between a glass of soda water and a volcano. You see, I——"

"I see, Howaji," murmured Najib in solemn veneration. "And I see that the American Bible text is brought to pass: 'One man's meat is better than two in the bush; and—the way of the transgressor is the shortest way home.' Bismillah!"

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.