Tish by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Like A Wolf On The Fold
Aggie has always been in the habit of observing the anniversary of Mr. Wiggins's death. Aggie has the anniversary habit, anyhow, and her life is a succession: of small feast-days, on which she wears mental crape or wedding garments--depending on the occasion. Tish and I always remember these occasions appropriately, sending flowers on the anniversaries of the passing away of Aggie's parents; grandparents; a niece who died in birth; her cousin, Sarah Webb, who married a missionary and was swallowed whole by a large snake,--except her shoes, which the reptile refused and of which Aggie possesses the right, given her by the stricken husband; and, of course, Mr. Wiggins.
For Mr. Wiggins Tish and I generally send the same things each year--Tish a wreath of autumn foliage and I a sheaf of wheat tied with a lavender ribbon. The program seldom varies. We drive to the cemetery in the afternoon and Aggie places the sheaf and the wreath on Mr. Wiggins's last resting-place, after first removing the lavender ribbon, of which she makes cap bows through the year and an occasional pin-cushion or fancy-work bag; then home to chicken and waffles, which had been Mr. Wiggins's favorite meal. In the evening Charlie Sands generally comes in and we play a rubber or two of bridge.
On the thirtieth anniversary of Mr. Wiggins's falling off a roof and breaking his neck, Tish was late in arriving, and I found Aggie sitting alone, dressed in black, with a tissue-paper bundle in her lap. I put my sheaf on the table and untied my bonnet-strings.
"Where's Tish?" I asked.
"Not here yet."
Something in Aggie's tone made me look at her. She was eyeing the bundle in her lap.
"I got a paler shade of ribbon this time," I said, seeing she made no comment on the sheaf. "It's a better color for me if you're going to make my Christmas present out of it this year again. Where's Tish's wreath?"
"Here." Aggie pointed dispiritedly to the bundle in her lap and went on rocking.
"That! That's no wreath."
In reply Aggie lifted the tissue paper and shook out, with hands that trembled with indignation, a lace-and-linen centerpiece. She held it up before me and we eyed each other over it. Both of us understood.
"Tish is changed, Lizzie," Aggie said hollowly. "Ask her for bread these days and she gives you a Cluny-lace fandangle. On mother's anniversary she sent me a set of doilies; and when Charlie Sands was in the hospital with appendicitis she took him a pair of pillow shams. It's that Syrian!"
Both of us knew. We had seen Tish's apartment change from a sedate and spinsterly retreat to a riot of lace covers on the mantel, on the backs of chairs, on the stands, on the pillows-- everywhere. We had watched her Marseilles bedspreads give way to hem-stitched covers, with bolsters to match. We had seen Tish go through a cold winter clad in a succession of sleazy silk kimonos instead of her flannel dressing-gown; terrible kimonos-- green and yellow and red and pink, that looked like fruit salads and were just as heating.
"It's that dratted Syrian!" cried Aggie--and at that Tish came in. She stood inside the door and eyed us.
"What about him?" she demanded. "If I choose to take a poor starving Christian youth and assist him by buying from him what I need--what I need!--that's my affair, isn't it? Tufik was starving and I took him in."
"He took you in, all right!" Aggie sniffed. "A great, mustached, dirty, palavering foreigner, who's probably got a harem at home and no respect for women!"
Tish glanced at my sheaf and at the centerpiece. She was dressed as she always dressed on Mr. Wiggins's day--in black; but she had a new lace collar with a jabot, and we knew where she had got it. She saw our eyes on it and she had the grace to flush.
"Once for all," she snapped, "I intend to look after this unfortunate Syrian! If my friends object, I shall be deeply sorry; but, so far as I care, they may object until they are purple in the face and their tongues hang out. I've been sending my money to foreign missions long enough; I'm doing my missionary work at home now."
"He'll marry you!" This from Aggie.
Tish ignored her. "His father is an honored citizen of Beirut, of the nobility. The family is impoverished, being Christian, and grossly imposed on by the Turks. Tufik speaks French and English as well as Mohammedan. They offered him a high government position if he would desert the Christian faith; but he refused firmly. He came to this country for religious freedom; at any moment they may come after him and take him back."
A glint of hope came to me. I made a mental note to write to the mayor, or whatever they call him over there, and tell him where he could locate his wandering boy.
"He loves the God of America," said Tish.
"Money!" Aggie jeered.
"And he is so pathetic, so grateful! I told Hannah at noon today--that's what delayed me--to give him his lunch. He was starving; I thought we'd never fill him. And when it was over, he stooped in the sweetest way, while she was gathering up the empty dishes, and kissed her hand. It was touching!"
"Very!" I said dryly. "What did Hannah do?"
"She's a fool! She broke a cup on his head."
Mr. Wiggins's anniversary was not a success. Part of this was due to Tish, who talked of Tufik steadily--of his youth; of the wonderful bargains she secured from him; of his belief that this was the land of opportunity--Aggie sniffed; of his familiarity with the Bible and Biblical places; of the search the Turks were making for him. The atmosphere was not cleared by Aggie's taking the Cluny-lace centerpiece to the cemetery and placing it, with my sheaf, on Mr. Wiggins's grave.
As we got into Tish's machine to go back, Aggie was undeniably peevish. She caught cold, too, and was sneezing--as she always does when she is irritated or excited.
"Where to?" asked Tish from the driving-seat, looking straight ahead and pulling on her gloves. From where we sat we could still see the dot of white on the grass that was the centerpiece.
"Back to the house," Aggie snapped, "to have some chicken and waffles and Tufik for dinner!"
Tish drove home in cold silence. As well as we could tell from her back, she was not so much indignant as she was determined. Thus we do not believe that she willfully drove over every rut and thank-you-ma'am on the road, scattering us generously over the tonneau, and finally, when Aggie, who was the lighter, was tossed against the top and sprained her neck, eliciting a protest from us. She replied in an abstracted tone, which showed where her mind was.
"It would be rougher on a camel," she said absently. "Tufik was telling me the other day--"
Aggie had got her head straight by that time and was holding it with both hands to avoid jarring. She looked goaded and desperate; and, as she said afterward, the thing slipped out before she knew she was more than thinking it.
"Oh, damn Tufik!" she said.
Fortunately at that moment we blew out a tire and apparently Tish did not hear her. While I was jacking up the car and Tish was getting the key of the toolbox out of her stocking, Aggie sat sullenly in her place and watched us.
"I suppose," she gibed, "a camel never blows out a tire!"
"It might," Tish said grimly, "if it heard an oath from the lips of a middle-aged Sunday-school teacher!"
We ate Mr. Wiggins's anniversary dinner without any great hilarity. Aggie's neck was very stiff and she had turned in the collar of her dress and wrapped flannels wrung out of lamp oil round it. When she wished to address either Tish or myself she held her head rigid and turned her whole body in her chair; and when she felt a sneeze coming on she clutched wildly at her head with both hands as if she expected it to fly off.
Tufik was not mentioned, though twice Tish got as far as Tu- and then thought better of it; but her mind was on him and we knew it. She worked the conversation round to Bible history and triumphantly demanded whether we knew that Sodom and Gomorrah are towns today, and that a street-car line is contemplated to them from some place or other--it developed later that she meant Tyre and Sidon. Once she suggested that Aggie's sideboard needed new linens, but after a look at Aggie's rigid head she let it go at that.
No one was sorry when, with dinner almost over, and Aggie lifting her ice-cream spoon straight up in front of her and opening her mouth with a sort of lockjaw movement, the bell rang. We thought it was Charlie Sands. It was not. Aggie faced the doorway and I saw her eyes widen. Tish and I turned.
A boy stood in the doorway--a shrinking, timid, brown-eyed young Oriental, very dark of skin, very white of teeth, very black of hair--a slim youth of eighteen, possibly twenty, in a shabby blue suit, broken shoes, and a celluloid collar. Twisting between nervous brown fingers, not as clean as they might have been, was a tissue-paper package.
"My friends!" he said, and smiled.
Tish is an extraordinary woman. She did not say a word. She sat still and let the smile get in its work. Its first effect was on Aggie's neck, which she forgot. Tufik's timid eyes rested for a moment on Tish and brightened. Then like a benediction they turned to mine, and came to a stop on Aggie. He took a step farther into the room.
"My friend's friend are my friend," he said. "America is my friend--this so great God's country!"
Aggie put down her ice-cream spoon and closed her mouth, which had been open.
"Come in, Tufik," said Tish; "and I am sure Miss Pilkington would like you to sit down."
Tufik still stood with his eyes fixed on Aggie, twisting his package.
"My friend has said," he observed--he was quite calm and divinely trustful--"My friend has said that this is for Miss Pilk a sad day. My friend is my mother; I have but her and God. Unless--but perhaps I have two new friend also--no?"
"Of course we are your friends," said Aggie, feeling for the table-bell with her foot. "We are--aren't we, Lizzie?"
Tufik turned and looked at me wistfully. It came over me then what an awful thing it must be to be so far from home and knowing nobody, and having to wear trousers and celluloid collars instead of robes and turbans, and eat potatoes and fried things instead of olives and figs and dates, and to be in danger of being taken back and made into a Mohammedan and having to keep a harem.
"Certainly," I assented. "If you are good we will be your friends."
He flashed a boyish smile at me.
"I am good," he said calmly--"as the angels I am good. I have here a letter from a priest. I give it to you. Read!"
He got a very dirty envelope from his pocket and brought it round the table to me. "See!" he said. "The priest says: 'Of all my children Tufik lies next my heart.'"
He held the letter out to me; but it looked as if it had been copied from an Egyptian monument and was about as legible as an outbreak of measles.
"This," he said gently, pointing, "is the priest's blessing. I carry it ever. It brings me friends." He put the paper away and drew a long breath; then surveyed us all with shining eyes. "It has brought me you."
We were rather overwhelmed. Aggie's maid having responded to the bell, Aggie ordered ice cream for Tufik and a chair drawn to the table; but the char Tufik refused with a little, smiling bow.
"It is not right that I sit," he said. "I stand in the presence of my three mothers. But first--I forget--my gift! For the sadness, Miss Pilk!"
He held out the tissue- paper package and Aggie opened it. Tufik's gift proved to be a small linen doily, with a Cluny-lace border!
We were gone from that moment--I know it now, looking back. Gone! We were lost the moment Tufik stood in the doorway, smiling and bowing. Tish saw us going; and with the calmness of the lost sat there nibbling cake and watching us through her spectacles--and raised not a hand.
Aggie looked at the doily and Tufik looked at her.
"That's--that's really very nice of you," said Aggie. "I thank you."
Tufik came over and stood beside her.
"I give with my heart," he said shyly. "I have had nobody--in all so large this country--nobody! And now--I have you!" Aggie saw-- but too late. He bent over and touched his lips to her hands. "The Bible says: 'To him that overcometh I will give the morning star!' I have overcometh--ah, so much!--the sea; the cold, wet England; the Ellis Island; the hunger; the aching of one who has no love, no money! And now--I have the morning star!"
He looked at us all three at once--Charlie Sands said this was impossible, until he met Tufik. Aggie was fairly palpitant and Tish was smug, positively smug. As for me, I roused with a start to find myself sugaring my ice cream.
Charlie Sands was delayed that night. He came in about nine o'clock and found Tufik telling us about his home and his people and the shepherds on the hills about Damascus and the olive trees in sunlight. We half-expected Tufik to adopt Charlie Sands as a father; but he contented himself with a low Oriental salute, and shortly after he bowed himself away.
Charlie Sands stood looking after him and smiling to himself. "Pretty smooth boy, that!" he said.
"Smooth nothing!" Tish snapped, getting the bridge score. "He's a sad-hearted and lonely boy; and we are going to do the kindest thing--we are going to help him to help himself."
"Oh, he'll help himself all right!" observed Charlie Sands. "But, since his people are Christians, I wish you'd tell me how he knows so much about the inside of a harem!"
Seeing that comment annoyed us, he ceased, and we fell to our bridge game; but more than once his eye fell on Aggie's doily, and he muttered something about the Assyrian coming down like a wolf on the fold.
The problem of Tufik's future was a pressing one. Tish called a meeting of the three of us next morning, and we met at her house. We found her reading about Syria in the encyclopedia, while spread round her on chairs and tables were numbers of silk kimonos, rolls of crocheted lace, shirt-waist patterns, and embroidered linens.
Hannah let us in. She looked surly and had a bandage round her head, a sure sign of trouble--Hannah always referring a pain in her temper to her ear or her head or her teeth. She clutched my arm in the hall and held me back.
"I'm going to poison him!" she said. "Miss Lizzie, that little snake goes or I go!"
"I'm ashamed of you, Hannah!" I replied sternly. "If out of the breadth of her charity Miss Tish wishes to assist a fellow man--"
Hannah reeled back and freed my arm.
"My God!" she whispered. "You too!"
I am very fond of Hannah, who has lived with Tish for many years; but I had small patience with her that morning.
"I cannot see how it concerns you, anyhow, Hannah," I observed severely.
Hannah put her apron to her eyes and sniffled into it.
"Oh, you can't, can't you!" she wailed. "Don't I give him half his meals, with him soft-soapin' Miss Tish till she can't see for suds? Ain't I fallin' over him mornin', noon, and night, and the postman telling all over the block he's my steady company-- that snip that's not eighteen yet? And don't I do the washin'? And will you look round the place and count the things I've got to do up every week? And don't he talk to me in that lingo of his, so I don't know whether he's askin' for a cup of coffee or insultin' me?"
I patted Hannah on the arm. After all, none of the exaltation of a good deed upheld Hannah as it sustained us.
"We are going to help him help himself, Hannah," I said kindly. "He hasn't found himself. Be gentle with him. Remember he comes from the land of the Bible."
"Humph!" said Hannah, who reads the newspapers. "So does the plague!"
The problem we had set ourselves we worked out that morning. As Tish said, the boy ought to have light work, for the Syrians are not a laboring people.
"Their occupation is--er--mainly pastoral," she said, with the authority of the encyclopedia. "Grazing their herds and gathering figs and olives. If we knew some one who needed a shepherd--"
Aggie opposed the shepherd idea, however. As she said, and with reason, the climate is too rigorous. "It's all well enough in Syria," she said, "where they have no cold weather; but he'd take his death of pneumonia here."
We put the shepherd idea reluctantly aside. My own notion of finding a camel for him to look after was negatived by Tish at once, and properly enough I realized.
"The only camels are in circuses," she said, "and our duty to the boy is moral as well as physical. Circuses are dens of immorality. Of course the Syrians are merchants, and we might get him work in a store. But then again--what chance has he of rising? Once a clerk, always a clerk." She looked round at the chairs and tables, littered with the contents of Tufik's pasteboard suitcase, which lay empty at her feet. "And there is nothing to canvassing from door to door. Look at these exquisite things!--and he cannot sell them. Nobody buys. He says he never gets inside a house door. If you had seen his face when I bought a kimono from him!"
At eleven o'clock, having found nothing in the "Help Wanted" column to fit Tufik's case, Tish called up Charlie Sands and offered Tufik as a reporter, pro- vided he was given no nightwork. But Charlie Sands said it was impossible--that the editors and owners of the paper were always putting on their sons and relatives, and that when there was a vacancy the big advertisers got it. Tish insisted--she suggested that Tufik could run an Arabian column, like the German one, and bring in a lot of new subscribers. But Charlie Sands stood firm.
At noon Tufik came. We heard a skirmish at the door and Hannah talking between her teeth.
"She's out," she said.
"Well, I think she is not out," in Tufik's soft tones.
"You'll not get in."
"Ah, but my toes are in. See, my foot wishes to enter!" Then something soft, coaxing, infinitely wistful, in Arabian followed by a slap. The next moment Hannah, in tears, rushed back to the kitchen. There was no sound from the hallway. No smiling Tufik presented himself in the doorway.
Tish rose in the majesty of wrath. "I could strangle that woman!" she said, and we followed her into the hall.
Tufik was standing inside the door with his arms folded, staring ahead. He took no notice of us.
"Tufik!" Aggie cried, running to him. "Did she-- did she dare-- Tish, look at his cheek!"
"She is a bad woman!" Tufik said somberly. "I make my little prayer to see Miss Tish, my mother, and she--I kill her!"
We had a hard time apologizing to him for Hanna. Tish got a basin of cold water so he might bathe his face; and Aggie brought a tablespoonful of blackberry cordial, which is soothing. When the poor boy was calmer we met in Tish's bedroom and Tish was quite firm on one point--Hannah must leave!
Now, this I must say in my own defense--I was sorry for Tufik; and it is quite true I bought him a suit and winter flannels and a pair of yellow shoes--he asked for yellow. He said he was homesick for a bit of sunshine, and our so somber garb made him heart-sad. But I would never have dismissed a cook like Hannah for him.
"I shall have to let her go," Tish said. "He is Oriental and passionate. He has said he will kill her--and he'll do it. They hold life very lightly."
"Humph!" I said. "Very well, Tish, that holding life lightly isn't a Christian trait. It's Mohammedan--every Mohammedan wants to die and go to his heaven, which is a sort of sublimated harem. The boy's probably a Christian by training, but he's a Mohammedan by blood."
Aggie thought my remark immoral and said so. And just then Hannah solved her own problem by stalking into the room with her things on and a suitcase in her hand.
"I'm leaving, Miss Tish!" she said with her eye-rims red. "God knows I never expected to be put out of this place by a dirty dago! You'll find your woolen stockings on the stretchers, and you've got an appointment with the dentist tomorrow morning at ten. And when that little blackguard has sucked you dry, and you want him killed to get rid of him, you'll find me at my sister's."
She picked up her suitcase and Tish flung open the door. "You're a hard-hearted woman, Hannah Mackintyre!" Tish snapped. "Your sister can't keep you. You'll have to work."
Hannah turned in the doorway and sneered at the three of us.
"Oh, no!" she said. "I'm going to hunt up three soft-headed old maids and learn to kiss their hands and tell 'em I have nobody but them and God!"
She slammed out at that, leaving us in a state of natural irritation. But our rage soon faded. Tufik was not in the parlor; and Tish, tiptoeing back, reported that he was in the kitchen and was mixing up something in a bowl.
"He's a dear boy!" she said. "He feels responsible for Hannah's leaving and he's getting luncheon! Hannah is a wicked and uncharitable woman!"
"Man's inhumanity to man, Makes countless thousands mourn!" quoted Aggie softly. From the kitchen came the rhythmic beating of a wooden spoon against the side of a bowl; a melancholy chant--quite archaic, as Tish said--kept time with the spoon, and later a smell of baking flour and the clatter of dishes told us that our meal was progressing.
"'The Syrians,'" read Tish out of her book, "'are a peaceful and pastoral people. They have not changed materially in nineteen centuries, and the traveler in their country finds still the life of Biblical times.' Something's burning!"
Shortly after, Tufik, beaming with happiness and Hannah clearly forgotten, summoned us to the dining-room. Tufik was not a cook. We realized that at once. He had made coffee in the Oriental way--strong enough to float an egg, very sweet and full of grounds; and after a bite of the cakes he had made, Tish remembered the dentist the next day and refused solid food on account of a bad tooth. The cakes were made of lard and flour, without any baking-powder or flavoring, and the tops were sprinkled thick with granulated sugar. Little circles of grease melted out of them on to the plate, and Tufik, wide-eyed with triumph, sweetly wistful over Tish's tooth, humble and joyous in one minute, stood by the cake plate and fed them to us!
I caught Aggie's agonized eye, but there was nothing else to do. Were we not his friends? And had he not made this delicacy for us? On her third cake, however, Aggie luckily turned blue round the mouth and had to go and lie down. This broke up the meal and probably saved my life, though my stomach has never been the same since. Tish says the cakes are probably all right in the Orient, where it is hot and the grease does not get a chance to solidify. She thinks that Tufik is probably a good cook in his own country. But Aggie says that a good many things in the Bible that she never understood are made plain to her if that is what they ate in Biblical times--some of the things they saw in visions, and all that. She dropped asleep on Tish's lounge and distinctly saw Tufik murdering Hannah by forcing one of his cakes down her throat.
The next month was one of real effort. We had planned to go to Panama, and had our passage engaged; but when we broke the news to Tufik he turned quite pale.
"You go--away?" he said wistfully.
"Only for a month," Tish hastened to apologize. "You see, we--we are all very tired, and the Panama Canal--"
"Canal? I know not a canal."
"It is for ships--"
"You go there in a ship?"
"Yes. A canal is a--"
"You go far--in a ship--and I--I stay here?"
"Only for a month," Aggie broke in. "We will leave you enough money to live on; and perhaps when we come back you will have found something to do--"
"For a month," he said brokenly. "I have no friends, no Miss Tish, no Miss Liz, no Miss Pilk. I die!"
He got up and walked to the window. It was Aggie who realized the awful truth. The poor lonely boy was weeping--and Charlie Sands may say what he likes! He was really crying--when he turned, there were large tears on his cheeks. What made it worse was that he was trying to smile.
"I wish you much happiness on the canal," he said. "I am wicked; but my sad heart--it ache that my friends leave me. I am sad! If only my seester--"
That was the first we had known of Tufik's sister, back in Beirut, wearing a veil over her face and making lace for the bazaars. We were to know move.
Well, between getting ready to go to Panama and trying to find something Tufik could do, we were very busy for the next month. Tufik grew reconciled to our going, but he was never cheerful about it; and finding that it pained him we never spoke about it in his presence.
He was with us a great deal. In the morning he would go to Tish, who would give him a list of her friends to see. Then Tish would telephone and make appointments for him, and he would start off hopefully, with his pasteboard suitcase. But he never sold anything--except a shirt-waist pattern to Mrs. Ostermaier, the minister's wife. We took day about giving him his carfare, but this was pauperizing and we knew it. Besides, he was very sensitive and insisted on putting down everything we gave him in a book, to be repaid later when he had made a success.
The allowance idea was mine and it worked well. We figured that, allowing for his washing,--which was not much, as he seemed to prefer the celluloid collar,--he could live in a sort of way on nine dollars a week. We subscribed equally to this; and to save his pride we mailed it to him weekly by check.
His failure to sell his things hurt him to the soul. More than once we caught tears in his eyes. And he was not well--he could not walk any distance at all and he coughed. At last Tish got Charlie Sands to take him to a lung specialist, a stupid person, who said it was a cigarette cough. This was absurd, as Tufik did not smoke.
At last the time came for the Panama trip. Tish called me up the day she packed and asked me to come over.
"I can't. I'm busy, Tish," I said.
She was quite disagreeable. "This is your burden as well as mine," she snapped. "Come over and talk to that wretched boy while I pack my trunk. He stands and watches everything I put in, and I haven't been able to pack a lot of things I need."
I went over that afternoon and found Tufik huddled on the top step of the stairs outside Tish's apartment, with his head in his hands.
"She has put me out!" he said, looking up at me with tragic eyes. "My mother has put me out! She does not love Tufik! No one loves Tufik! I am no good. I am a dirty dago!"
I was really shocked. I rang the bell and Tish let me in. She had had no maid since Hannah's departure and was taking her meals out. She saw Tufik and stiffened.
"I thought I sent you away!" she said, glaring at him.
He looked at her pitifully.
"Where must I--go?" he asked, and coughed.
Tish sighed and flung the door wide open. "Bring him in," she said with resignation, "but for Heaven's sake lock him in a closet until I get my underwear packed. And if he weeps--slap him."
The poor boy was very repentant, and seeing that his cough worried us he fought it back bravely. I mixed the white of an egg with lemon juice and sugar, and gave it to him. He was pathetically grateful and kissed my hand. At five o'clock we sent him away firmly, having given him thirty-six dollars. He presented each of us with a roll of crocheted lace to take with us and turned in the doorway to wave a wistful final good-bye.
We met at Tish's that night so that we might all go together to the train. Charlie Sands had agreed to see us off and to keep an eye on Tufik during our absence. Aggie was in a palpitating travel ecstasy, clutching a patent seasick remedy and a map of the Canal Zone; Tish was seeing that the janitor shut off the gas and water in the apartment; and Charlie Sands was jumping on top of a steamer trunk to close it. The taxicab was at the door and we had just time to make the night train. The steamer sailed early the next morning.
"All ready!" cried Charlie Sands, getting the lid down finally. "All off for the Big Ditch!"
We all heard a noise in the hall--a sort of scuffling, with an occasional groan. Tish rushed over and threw open the door. On the top step, huddled and shivering, with streams of water running off his hair down over his celluloid collar, pouring out of his sleeves and cascading down the stairs from his trousers legs, was Tufik. The policeman on the beat was prodding at him with his foot, trying to make him get up. When he saw us the officer touched his hat.
"Evening, Miss Tish," he said, grinning. "This here boy of yours has been committing suicide. Just fished him out of the lake in the park!"
"Get up!" snapped Charlie Sands. "You infernal young idiot! Get up and stop sniveling!"
He stooped and took the poor boy by the collar. His brutality roused us all out of our stupor. Tish and I rushed forward and commanded him to stand back; and Aggie, with more presence of mind than we had given her credit for, brought a glass containing a tablespoonful of blackberry cordial into which she had pored ten drops of seasickness remedy. Tufik was white and groaning, but he revived enough to sit up and stare at us with his sad brown eyes.
"I wish to die!" he said brokenly. "Why you do not let me die? My friends go on the canal! I am alone! My heart is empty!"
Tish wished to roll him on a barrel, but we had no barrel; so, with Charlie Sands standing by with his watch in his hand, refusing to assist and making unkind remarks, we got him to Tish's room and laid out on her mackintosh on the bed. He did not want to live. We could hardly force him to drink the hot coffee Tish made for him. He kept muttering things about his loneliness and being only a dirty dago; and then he turned bitter and said hard things about this great America, where he could find no work and must be a burden on his three mothers, and could not bring his dear sister to be company for him. Aggie quite broke down and had to lie down on the sofa in the parlor and have a cracker and a cup of tea.
When Tish and I had succeeded in making Tufik promise to live, and had given him one of his own silk kimonos to put on until his clothing could be dried--Charlie Sands having disagreeably refused to lend his overcoat--and when we had given the officer five dollars not to arrest the boy for attempting suicide, we met in the parlor to talk things over.
Charlie Sands was sitting by the lamp in his overcoat. He had put our railway and steamer tickets on the table, and was holding his cigarette so that Aggie could inhale the fumes, she having hay fever and her cubebs being on their way to Panama.
"I suppose you know," he said nastily, "that your train has gone and that you cannot get the boat tomorrow?"
Tish was in an exalted mood--and she took off her things and flung them on a chair.
"What is Panama," she demanded, "to saving a life? Charlie, we must plan something for this boy. If you will take off your overcoat--"
"And see you put it on that little parasite? Not if I melt! Do you know how deep the lake is? Three feet!"
"One can drown in three feet of water," said Aggie sadly, "if one is very tired of life. People drown themselves in bathtubs."
Tish's furious retort to this was lost, Tufik choosing that moment to appear in the doorway. He wore a purple-and-gold kimono that had given Tish bronchitis early in the winter, and he had twisted a bath towel round the waist. He looked very young, very sad, very Oriental. He ignored Charlie Sands, but made at once for Tish and dropped on one knee beside her.
"Miss Tish!" he begged. "Forgive, Miss Tish! Tufik is wicked. He has the bad heart. He has spoil the going on the canal. No?"
"Get up!" said Tish. "Don't be a silly child. Go and take your shoes out of the oven. We are not going to Panama. When you are better, I am going to give you a good scolding."
Charlie Sands put the cigarette on a book under Aggie's nose and stood up.
"I guess I'll go," he said. "My nerves are not what they used to be and my disposition feels the change."
Tufik had risen and the two looked at each other. I could not quite make out Tufik's expression; had I not known his gentleness I would have thought his expression a mixture of triumph and disdain.
"'The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold!'" said Charlie Sands, and went out, slamming the door.
The next day was rainy and cold. Aggie sneezed all day and Tish had neuralgia. Being unable to go out for anything to eat and the exaltation of the night before having passed, she was in a bad humor. When I got there she was sitting in her room holding a hot-water bottle to her face, and staring bitterly at the plate containing a piece of burned toast and Tufik's specialty-- a Syrian cake crusted with sugar.
"I wish he had drowned!" she said. "My stomach's gone, Lizzie! I ate one of those cakes for breakfast. You've got to eat this one."
"I'll do nothing of the sort! This is your doing, Tish Carberry. If it hadn't been for you and your habit of picking up stray cats and dogs and Orientals and imposing them on your friends we'd be on the ocean today, on our way to a decent climate. The next time your duty to your brother man overwhelms you, you'd better lock yourself in your room and throw the key out the window."
Tish was not listening, however. Her eye and her mind both were on the cake.
"If you would eat it and then take some essence of pepsin--" she hazarded. But I looked her full it the eye and she had the grace to color. "He loves to make them," she said--"he positively beamed when he brought it. He has another kind he is making now--of pounded beans, or something like that. Listen!" I listened.
>From back in the kitchen came a sound of hammering and Tufik's voice lifted in a low, plaintive chant. "He says that song is about the valleys of Lebanon," said Tish miserably. "Lizzie, if you'll eat half of it, I'll eat the rest."
My answer was to pick up the plate and carry it into the bathroom. Heroic measures were necessary: Tish was not her resolute self; and, indeed, through all the episode of Tufik, and the shocking denouement that followed, Tish was a spineless individual who swayed to and fro with every breeze.
She divined my purpose and followed me to the bathroom door.
"Leave some crumbs on the plate!" she whispered. "It will look more natural. Get rid of the toast too."
I turned and faced her, the empty plate in my hands.
"Tish," I said sternly, "this is hypocrisy, which is just next door to lying. It's the first step downward. I have a feeling that this boy is demoralizing us! We shall have to get rid of him."
"As for instance?" she sarcastically asked.
"Send him back home," I said with firmness. "He doesn't belong here; he isn't accustomed to anything faster than a camel. He doesn't know how to work--none of them do. He comes from a country where they can eat food like this because digestion is one of their occupations."
I was right and Tish knew it. Even Tufik was satisfied when we put it up to him. He spread his hands in his Oriental way and shrugged his shoulders.
"If my mothers think best," he said softly. "In my own land Tufik is known--I sell in the bazaar the so fine lace my sister make. I drink wine, not water. My stomach--I cannot eat in this America. But--I have no money."
"We will furnish the money," Tish said gently. "But you must promise one thing, Tufik. You must not become a Mohammedan."
"Before that I die!" he said proudly.
"And--there is something else, Tufik,--something rather personal. But I want you to promise. You are only a boy; but when you are a man--" Tish stopped and looked to me for help.
"Miss Tish means this," I put in, "you are to have only one wife, Tufik. We are not sending you back to start a harem. We-- we disapprove strongly of--er--anything like that."
"Tufik takes but one wife," he said. "Our people--we have but one wife. My first child--it is called Tish; my next, Lizzie; and my next, Aggie Pilk. All for my so kind friends. And one I call Charlie Sands; and one shall be Hannah. So that Tufik never forget America."
Aggie was rather put out when we told her what we had done; but after eating one of the cakes made of pounded beans and sugar, under Tufik's triumphant eyes, she admitted that it was probably for the best. That evening, while Tufik took his shrunken and wrinkled clothing to be pressed by a little tailor in the neighborhood who did Tish's repairing, the three of us went back to the kitchen and tried to put it in order. It was frightful-- flour and burned grease over everything, every pan dirty, dishes all over the place and a half-burned cigarette in the sugar bin. But--it touched us all deeply--he had found an old photograph of the three of us and had made a sort of shrine of the clock-shelf--the picture in front of the clock and in front of the picture a bunch of red geraniums.
While we were looking at the picture and Aggie was at the sink putting water in the glass that held the geraniums, Tufik having forgotten to do so, Tish's neighbor from the apartment below, an elderly bachelor, came up the service staircase and knocked at the door. Tish opened it.
"Humph!" said the gentleman from below. "Gone is he?"
"Is who gone?"
"Your thieving Syrian, madam!"
"Perhaps," she said, "if you will explain--"
"Perhaps," snarled the visitor, "you will explain what you have done with my geraniums! Why don't you raise your own flowers?"
Tish was quite stunned and so was I. After all, it was Aggie who came to the rescue. She slammed the lid on to the teakettle and set it on the stove with a bang.
"If you mean," she said indignantly, "that you think we have any geraniums of yours--"
"Think! Didn't my cook see your thieving servant steal 'em off the box on the fire-escape?"
"Then, perhaps," Aggie suggested, "you will look through the apartment and see if they are here. You will please look everywhere!"
Tish and I gasped. It was not until the visitor had made the rounds of the apartment, and had taken an apologetic departure, that Tish and I understood. The teakettle was boiling and from its spout coming a spicy and familiar odor. Aggie took it off the stove and removed the lid. The geraniums, boiled to a pulp, were inside.
"Back to Syria that boy goes!" said Tish, viewing the floral remains. "He did it out of love and we must not chide him. But we have our own immortal souls to think of."
The next morning two things happened. We gave Tufik one hundred and twenty dollars to buy a ticket back to Syria and to keep him in funds on the way. and Tish got a note from Hannah:--
In spite of herself, Tish looked haunted. It was the salad, no doubt. She said nothing, but she looked round the untidy rooms, where everything that would hold it had a linen cover with a Cluny-lace edge--all of them soiled and wrinkled. She watched Tufik, chanting about the plains of Lebanon and shoving the carpet-sweeper with a bang against her best furniture; and, with Hannah's salad in mind, she sniffed a warning odor from the kitchen that told of more Syrian experiments with her digestion. Tish surrendered: that morning she wrote to Hannah that Tufik was going back to Syria, and to come and brink the salad recipe with her.
That was, I think, on a Monday. Tufik's steamer sailed on Thursday. On Tuesday Aggie and I went shopping; and in a spirit of repentance--for we felt we were not solving Tufik's question but getting rid of him--we bought him a complete new outfit. He almost disgraced us by kissing our hands in the store, and while we were buying him some ties he disappeared--to come back later with the rims of his eyes red from weeping. His gentle soul was touched with gratitude. Aggie had to tell him firmly that if he kissed any more hands he would get his ears boxed.
The clerks in the store were all interested, and two or three cash- boys followed us round and stood, open-mouthed, staring at us. Neither Aggie nor I knew anything about masculine attire, and Tufik's idea was a suit, with nothing underneath, a shirt- front and collar of celluloid, and a green necktie already tied and hooking on to his collar-button. He was dazed when we bought him a steamer trunk and a rug, and disappeared again, returning in a few moments with a small paper bag full of gumdrops. We were quite touched.
That, as I say, was on Tuesday. Tufik had been sleeping in Tish's guest-room since his desperate attempt at suicide, and we sent his things to Tish's apartment. That evening Tufik asked permission to spend the night with a friend in the restaurant business--a Damascan. Tish let him go against my advice.
"He'll eat a lot of that Syrian food," I objected, "and get sick and miss his boat, and we'll have the whole thing over again!"
But Tish was adamant. "It's his last night," she said, "and he has promised not to smoke any cigarettes and I've given him two pepsin tablets. This is the land of the free, Lizzie."
We were to meet Tufik at the station next morning and we arranged a lunch for him to eat on the train, Aggie bringing fried chicken and I sandwiches and cake. Tish's domestic arrangements being upset, she supplied fruit, figs and dates mostly, to make him think of home.
The train left early, and none of us felt very cheerful at having to be about. Aggie sat in the station and sneezed; Tish had a pain above her eye and sat by a heater. We had the luncheon in a large shoebox, wrapped in oiled paper to keep it moist.
He never appeared! The train was called, filled up, and left. People took to staring at us as we sat there. Aggie sneezed and Tish held her eye. And no Tufik! In a sort of helpless, breakfastless rage we called a taxicab and went to Tish's. No one said much. We were all thinking.
We were hungry; so we spread out the shoebox lunch on one of the Cluny-lace covers and ate it, mostly in silence. The steamer trunk and the rug had gone. We let them go. They might go to Jerusalem, as far as we were concerned! After we had eaten,-- about eleven o'clock, I think,--Tish got up and surveyed the apartment. Then, with a savage gleam in her eye, she whisked off all the fancy linens, the Cluny laces, the hemstitched bedspreads, and piled them in a heap on the floor. Aggie and I watched her in silence. She said nothing, but kicked the whole lot into the bottom of a cupboard. When she had slammed the door, she turned and faced us grimly.
"That roll of fiddle-de-dees has cost me about five hundred dollars," she said. "It's been worth it if it teaches me that I'm an old fool and that you are two others! If that boy shows his face here again, I'll hand him over to the police."
However, as it happened, she did nothing of the sort. At four o'clock that afternoon there was a timid ring at the doorbell and I answered it. Outside was Tufik, forlorn and drooping, and held up by main force by a tall, dark-skinned man with a heavy mustache.
"I bring your boy!" said the mustached person, smiling. "He has great trouble--sorrow; he faint with grief."
I took a good look at Tufik then. He was pale and shaky, and his new suit looked as if he had slept in it. His collar was bent and wilted, and the green necktie had been taken off and exchanged for a ragged black one.
"Miss Liz!" he said huskily. "I die; the heart is gone! My parent--"
He broke down again; and leaning against the door jamb he buried his face in a handkerchief that I could not believe was one of the lot we had bought only yesterday. I hardly knew what to do. Tish had said she was through with the boy. I decided to close them out in the hallway until we had held a council; but Tufik's foot was on the sill, and the more I asked him to move it, the harder he wept.
The mustached person said it was quite true. Tufik's father had died of the plague; the letter had come early that morning. Beirut was full of the plague. He waved the letter at me; but I ordered him to burn it immediately--on account of germs. I brought him a shovel to burn it on; and when that was over Tufik had worked out his own salvation. He was at the door of Tish's room, pouring out to Aggie and Tish his grief, and offering the black necktie as proof.
We were just where we had started, but minus one hundred and twenty dollars; for, the black-mustached gentleman having gone after trying to sell Tish another silk kimono, I demanded Tufik's ticket--to be redeemed--and was met with two empty hands, outstretched.
"Oh, my friends,--my Miss Tish, my Miss Liz, my Miss Ag,--what must I say? I have not the ticket! I have been wikkid--but for my sister--only for my sister! She must not die--she so young, so little girl!"
"Tufik," said Tish sternly, "I want you to tell us everything this minute, and get it over."
"She ees so little!" he said wistfully. "And the body of my parent--could I let it lie and rot in the so hot sun? Ah, no; Miss Tish, Miss Liz, Miss Ag,-- not so. To-day I take back my ticket, get the money, and send it to my sister. She will bury my parent, and then--she comes to this so great America, the land of my good friends!"
There was a moment's silence. Then Aggie sneezed!
I shall pass over the next month, with its unpleasantnesses; over Charlie Sands's coming one evening with a black tie and, on the strength of having killed a dog with his machine, asking for money to bury it, and bring another one from Syria! I shall not more than mention Hannah, who kept Tish physically comfortable and well fed and mentally wretched, having a teakettle of boiling water always ready if Tufik came to the apartment; I shall say nothing of our success in getting him employment in the foreign department of a bank, and his ending up by washing its windows; or of the position Tish got him as elevator boy in her hospital, where he jammed the car in some way and held up four surgeons and three nurses and a patient on his way to the operating-room--until the patient changed his mind and refused to be operated on.
Aggie had a brilliant idea about the census-- that he could make the census reports in the Syrian district. To this end she worked for some time, coaching Tufik for the examination, only to have him fail--fail absolutely and without hope. He was staying in the Syrian quarter at that time, on account of Hannah; and he brought us various tempting offers now and then-- a fruit stand that could be bought for a hundred dollars; a restaurant for fifty; a tailor's shop for twenty-five. But, as he knew nothing of fruits or restaurants or tailoring, we refused to invest. Tish said that we had been a good while getting to it, but that we were being businesslike at last. We gave the boy nine dollars a week and not a penny more; and we refused to buy any more of his silly linens and crocheted laces. We were quite firm with him.
And now I come to the arriving of Tufik's little sister--not that she was really little. But that comes later.
Tufik had decided at last on what he would be in our so great America. Once or twice, when he was tired or discouraged, Tish had taken him out in her machine, and he had been thrilled-- really thrilled. He did not seem able to learn how to crank it-- Tish's car is hard to crank--but he learned how to light the lamps and to spot a policeman two blocks away. Several times, when we were going into the country, Tish took him because it gave her a sense of security to have a man along.
Having come from a country where the general travel is by camel, however, he had not the first idea of machinery. He thought Tish made the engine go by pressing on the clutch with her foot, like a sewing machine, and he regarded her strength with awe. And once, when we were filling a tire from an air bottle and the tube burst and struck him, he declared there was a demon in the air bottle and said a prayer in the middle of the road. About that time Tish learned of a school for chauffeurs, and the three of us decided to divide the expense and send him.
"In three months," Tish explained, "we can get him a state license and he can drive a taxicab. It will suit him, because he can sit to do it."
So Tufik went to an automobile school and stood by while some one drew pictures of parts of the engine on a blackboard, and took home lists of words that he translated into Arabic at the library, and learned everything but why and how the engine of an automobile goes. He still thought--at the end of two months-- that the driver did it with his foot! But we were ignorant of all that. He would drop round in the evenings, when Hannah was out or in bed, and tell us what "magneto" was in Arabic, and how he would soon be able to care for Tish's car and would not take a cent for it, doing it at night when the taxi-cab was resting.
At the end of six weeks we bought him a chauffeur's outfit. The next day the sister arrived and Tufik brought her to Aggie's, where we were waiting. We had not told Hannah about the sister; she would not have understood.
Charlie Sands telephoned while we were waiting and asked if he might come over and help receive the girl. We were to greet her and welcome her to America; then she was to go to the home of the Syrian with the large mustache. Charlie Sands came in and shook hands all round, surveying each of us carefully.
"Strange!" he muttered. "Curious is no name for it! What do we know of the vagaries of the human mind? Three minds and one obsession!" he said with the utmost gentleness. "Three maiden ladies who have lived impeccable lives for far be it from me to say how many years; and now--this! Oh, Aunt Tish! Dear Aunt Tish!"
He got out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. Tish was speechless with rage, but I rose to our defense.
"We don't want to do it and you know it!" I said tartly. "But when the Lord sends want and suffering to one's very door--"
"Want, with large brown eyes and a gentle voice!" he retorted. "My dear ladies, it's your money; and I dare say it costs you less than bridge at five cents a point, or the Gay White Way. But, for Heaven's sake, my respected but foolish virgins, why not an American that wants a real job? Why let a sticky Oriental pull your legs--"
"Charlie Sands!" cried Tish, rising in her wrath. "I will not endure such vulgarity. And when Tufik takes you out in a taxicab--"
"God forbid!" said Charlie Sands, and sat down to wait for Tufik's sister.
She did not look like Tufik and she was tired and dirty from the journey; but she had big brown eyes and masses of dark hair and she spoke not a single word of English. Tufik's joy was boundless; his soft eyes were snapping with excitement; and Aggie, who is sentimental, was obliged to go out and swallow half a glass of water without breathing to keep from crying. Charlie Sands said nothing, but sat back in a corner and watched us all; and once he took out his notebook and made a memorandum of something. He showed it to us later.
Tufik's sister was the calmest of us all, I believe. She sat on a stiff chair near the door and turned her brown eyes from one to the other. Tish said that proper clothing would make her beautiful; and Aggie, disappearing for a few minutes, came back with her last summer's foulard and a jet bonnet. When the poor thing understood they were for her, she looked almost frightened, the thing being unexpected; and Tufik, in a paroxysm of delight, kissed all our hands and the girl on each cheek.
Tish says our vulgar lip-osculation is unknown in the Orient and that they rub noses by way of greeting. I think, however, that she is mistaken in this and that the Australians are the nose- rubbers. I recall a returned missionary's telling this, but I cannot remember just where he had been stationed.
Things were very quiet for a couple of weeks. Tufik came round only once--to tell us that, having to pay car fare to get to the automobile school, his nine dollars were not enough. We added a dollar a week under protest; and Tish suggested with some asperity that as he was only busy four hours a day he might find some light employment for the balance of the day. He spread out his hands and drew up his shoulders.
"My friends are angry," he said sadly. "It is not enough that I study? I must also work? Ver' well, I labor. I sell the newspaper. But, to buy newspapers, one must have money--a dollar; two dollars. Ver' leetle; only--I have it not."
We gave him another dollar and he went out smiling and hopeful. It seemed that at last we had solved his problem. Tish recalled one of her Sunday-school scholars who sold papers and saved enough to buy a second-hand automobile and rear a family. But our and hopes were dashed to the ground when, the next morning, Hannah, opening the door at Tish's to bring in the milk bottles, found a huge stack of the night-before's newspapers and a note on top addressed to Tish, which said:-
We were discouraged and so, clearly, was Tufik. For ten days we did not hear from him, except that a flirty little Syrian boy called for the ten dollars on Saturday and brought a pair of Tufik's shoes for us to have resoled. But one day Tish telephoned in some excitement and said that Tufik was there and wanted us to go to a wedding.
"His little sister's wedding!" she explained. "The dear child is all excited. He says it has been going on for two days and this is the day of the ceremony."
Aggie was spending the afternoon with me, and spoke up hastily.
"Ask her if I have time to go home and put on my broadcloth," she said. "I'm not fixed for a wedding."
Tish said there was no time. She would come round with the machine and we were to be ready in fifteen minutes. Aggie hesitated on account of intending to wash her hair that night and so not having put up her crimps; but she finally agreed to go and Tish came for us. Tufik was in the machine. He looked very tidy and wore the shoes we had had repaired, a pink carnation in his buttonhole, and an air of suppressed excitement.
"At last," he said joyously while Tish cranked the car--"at last my friends see my three mothers! They think Tufik only talks-- now they see! And the priest will bless my mothers on this so happy day."
Tish having crawled panting from her exertion into the driver's seat and taken the wheel, in sheer excess of boyish excitement he leaned over and kissed the hand nearest him.
The janitor's small boy was on the curb watching, and at that he set up a yell of joy. We left him calling awful things after us and Tish's face was a study; but soon the care of the machine made her forget everything else.
The Syrian quarter was not impressive. It was on a hillside above the Russian Jewish colony, and consisted of a network of cobble-paved alleys, indescribably dirty and incredibly steep. In one or two of these alleys Tish was obliged to turn the car and go up backward, her machine climbing much better on tire reverse gear. Crowds of children followed us; dogs got under the wheels and apparently died, judging by the yelps--only to follow us with undiminished energy after they had picked themselves up. We fought and won a battle with a barrel of ashes and came out victorious but dusty; and at last, as Tufik made a lordly gesture, we stopped at an angle of forty-five degrees and Tufik bowed us out of the car. He stood by visibly glowing with happiness, while Tish got a cobblestone and placed it under a wheel, and Aggie and I took in our surroundings.
We were in an alley ten feet wide and paved indiscriminately with stones and tin cans, babies and broken bottles. Before us was a two-story brick house with broken windows and a high, railed wooden stoop, minus two steps. Under the stoop was a door leading into a cellar, and from this cellar was coming a curious stamping noise and a sound as of an animal in its death throes.
Aggie caught my arm. "What's that?" she quavered.
I had no time to reply. Tufik had thrown open the door and stood aside to let us pass.
"They dance," he said gravely. "There is always much dancing before a wedding. The music one hears is of Damascus and he who dances now is a sheik among his people."
Reassured as to the sounds, we stepped down into the basement. That was at four o'clock in the afternoon.
I have never been fairly clear as to what followed and Aggie's memory is a complete blank. I remember a long, boarded-in and floored cellar, smelling very damp and lighted by flaring gas jets. The center was empty save for a swarthy gentleman in a fez and his shirt-sleeves, wearing a pair of green suspenders and dancing alone--a curious stamping dance that kept time to a drum. I remember the musicians too--three of them in a corner: one playing on a sort of pipes-of-Pan affair of reeds, one on a long- necked instrument that looked like a guitar with zither ambitions, and a drummer who chanted with his eyes shut and kept time to his chants by beating on a sheepskin tied over the mouth of a brass bowl. Round three sides of the room were long, oil cloth-covered tables; and in preparation for the ceremony a little Syrian girl was sweeping up peanut shells, ashes, and beer bottles, with absolute disregard of the guests.
All round the wall, behind rows of beer bottles, dishes of bananas, and plates of raw liver, were men,--soft-eyed Syrians with white teeth gleaming and black hair plastered close and celluloid collars,--gentle-voiced, urbane-mannered Orientals, who came up gravely one by one and shook hands with us; who pressed on us beer and peanuts and raw liver.
Aggie, speaking between sneezes and over the chanting and the drum, bent toward me. "It's a breath of the Orient!" she said ecstatically. "Oh, Lizzie, do you think I could buy that drum for my tabouret?"
"Orient!" observed Tish, coughing. "I'm going out and take the switch-key out of that car. And I wish I'd brought Charlie Sands!"
It was in vain we reminded her that the Syrians are a pastoral people and that they come from the land of the Bible. She looked round her grimly.
"They look like a lot of bandits to me," she sniffed. "And there's always a murder at a wedding of this sort. There isn't a woman here but ourselves!"
She was exceedingly disagreeable and Aggie and I began to get uncomfortable. But when Tufik brought us little thimble-sized glasses filled with a milky stuff and assured us that the women had only gone to prepare the bride, we felt reassured. He said that etiquette demanded that we drink the milky white stuff.
Tish was inclined to demur. "Has it any alcohol in it?" she demanded. Tufik did not understand, but he said it was harmless and given to all the Syrian babies; and while we were still undecided Aggie sniffed it.
"It smells like paregoric, Tish," she said. "I'm sure it's harmless."
We took it then. It tasted sweet and rather spicy, and Aggie said it stopped her sneezing at once. It was very mild and pleasant, and rather medicinal in its flavor. We each had two little glasses--and Tish said she would not bother about the switch-key. The car was insured against theft.
A little later Aggie said she used to do a little jig step when she was a girl, and if they would play slower she would like to see if she had forgotten it. Tish did not hear this--she was talking to Tufik, and a moment later she got up and went out.
Aggie had decided to ask the musicians to play a little slower and I had my hands full with her; so it was with horror that, shortly after, I heard the whirring of the engine and through the cellar window caught a glimpse of Tish's machine starting off up the hill. I rose excitedly, but Tufik was before me, smiling and bowing.
"Miss Tish has gone for the bride," he said softly. "The taxicab hav' not come. Soon the priest arrive, and so great shame--the bride is not here! Miss Tish is my mother, my heart's delight!"
When Aggie realized that Tish had gone, she was rather upset-- she depends a great deal on Tish--and she took another of the little glasses of milky stuff to revive her.
I was a little bit nervous with Tish gone and the sun setting and another tub of beer bottles brought in--though the people were orderly enough and Tufik stood and near. But Aggie began to feel very strange, and declared that the man with the sheepskin drum was winking at her and that her head was twitching round on her shoulders. And when a dozen or so young Syrians formed a circle, their hands on each other's shoulders, and sang a melancholy chant, stamping to beat time, she wept with sheer sentiment.
"Ha! Hoo! Ta, Ta, Ta!" they chanted in unison; and Tufik bent over us, his soft eyes beaming.
"They are shepherds and the sons of shepherds from Palestine," he whispered. "That is the shepherd's call to his sheep. In my country many are shepherds. Perhaps some day you go with me back to my country, and we hear the shepherd call his sheep--'Ha! Hoo! Ta, Ta, Ta!'--and we hear the sleepy sheep reply: 'Maaaa!'"
"It is too beautiful!" murmured Aggie. "It is the Holy Land all over again! And we should never have known this but for you, Tufik!"
Just then some one near the door clapped his hands and all the noise ceased. Those who were standing sat down. The little girl with the broom swept the accumulations of the room under a chair and put the broom in a corner. The music became loud and stirring.
Aggie swayed toward me. "I'm sick, Lizzie!" she gasped. "That paregoric stuff has poisoned me. Air!"
I took one arm and Tufik the other, and we got her out and seated on one of the wooden steps. She was a blue-green color and the whites of her eyes were yellow. But I had little time for Aggie. Tufik caught my hand and pointed.
Tish's machine was coming down the alley. Beside her sat Tufik's sister, sobbing at the top of her voice and wearing Aggie's foulard, a pair of cotton gloves, and a lace curtain over her head. Behind in the tonneau were her maid of honor, a young Syrian woman with a baby in her arms and four other black-eyed children about her. But that was not all. In front of the machine, marching slowly and with dignity, were three bearded gentlemen, two in coats and one in a striped vest, blowing on curious double flutes and making a shrill wailing noise. And all round were crowds of women and children, carrying tin pans and paper bags full of parched peas, which they were flinging with all their might.
I caught Tish's eye as the procession stopped, and she looked subdued--almost stunned. The pipers still piped. But the bride refused to move. Instead, her wails rose higher; and Aggie, who had paid no attention so far, but was sitting back with her eyes shut, looked up.
"Lizzhie," she said thickly, "Tish looks about the way I feel." And with that she fell to laughing awful laughter that mingled with the bride's cries and the wail of the pipes.
The bride, after a struggle, was taken by force from the machine and placed on a chair against the wall. Her veil was torn and her wreath crooked, and she observed a sulky silence. To our amazement, Tufik was still smiling, urbane and cheerful.
"It is the custom of my country, my mothers," he said. "The bride leave with tears the home of her good parents or of her friends; and she speak no word--only weep--until she is marriaged. Ah--the priest!"
The rest of the story is short and somewhat blurred. Tish having broken her glasses, Aggie being, as one may say, hors de combat, and I having developed a frightful headache in the dust and bad air, the real meaning of what was occurring did not penetrate to any of us. The priest officiated from a table in the center of the room, on which he placed two candles, an Arabic Bible, and a sacred picture, all of which he took out of a brown valise. He himself wore a long black robe and a beard, and looked, as Tish observed, for all the world as if he had stepped from an Egyptian painting. Before him stood Tufik's sister, the maid of honor with her baby, the black-mustached friend who had brought Tufik to us after his tragic attempt at suicide, and Tufik himself.
Everybody held lighted candles, and the heat was frightful. The music ceased, there was much exhorting in Arabic, much reading from the book, many soft replies indiscriminately from the four principals--and then suddenly Tish turned and gripped my arm.
"Lizzie," she said hoarsely, "that little thief and liar has done us again! That isn't his sister at all. He's marrying her-- for us to keep!"
Luckily Aggie grew faint again at that moment, and we led her out into the open air. Behind us the ceremony seemed to be over; the drum was beating, the pipes screaming, the lute thrumming.
Tish let in the clutch with a vicious jerk, and the whir of the engine drowned out the beating of the drum and the clapping of the hands. Twilight hid the tin cans and ash-barrels, and the dogs slept on the cool pavements. In the doorways soft-eyed Syrian women rocked their babies to drowsy chants. The air revived Aggie. She leaned forward and touched Tish on the shoulder.
"After all," she said softly, "if he loves her very much, and there was no other way--Do you remember that night she arrived-- how he looked at her?"
"Yes," Tish snapped. "And I remember the way he looked at us every time he wanted money. We've been a lot of sheep and we've been sheared good and proper! But we needn't bleat with joy about it!"
As we drew up at my door, Tish pulled out her watch.
"It's seven o'clock," she said brusquely. "I am going to New York on the nine-forty train and I shall take the first steamer outward bound--I need a rest! I'll go anywhere but to the Holy Land!"
We went to Panama.
Two months afterward, in the dusk of a late spring evening, Charlie Sands met us at the station and took us to Tish's in a taxicab. We were homesick, tired, and dirty; and Aggie, who had been frightfully seasick, was clamoring for tea.
As the taxicab drew up at the curb, Tish clutched my arm and Aggie uttered a muffled cry and promptly sneezed. Seated on the doorstep, celluloid collar shining, the brown pasteboard suitcase at his feet, was Tufik. He sat calmly smoking a cigarette, his eyes upturned in placid and Oriental contemplation of the heavens.
"Drive on!" said Tish desperately. "If he sees us we are lost!"
"Drive where?" demanded Charlie.
Tufik's gaze had dropped gradually--another moment and his brown eyes would rest on us. But just then a diversion occurred. A window overhead opened with a slam and a stream of hot water descended. It had been carefully aimed--as if with long practice. Tufik was apparently not surprised. He side-stepped it with a boredom as of many repetitions, and, picking up his suitcase, stood at a safe distance looking up. First, in his gentle voice he addressed the window in Arabic; then from a safer distance in English.
"You ugly old she-wolf!" he said softly. "When my three old women come back I eat you, skin and bones,--and they shall say nothing! They love me--Tufik! I am their child. Aye! And my child--which comes--will be their grandchild!"
He kissed his fingers to the upper window which closed with a slam. Tufik stooped, picked up his suitcase, and saw the taxi for the first time. Even in the twilight we saw his face change, his brown eyes brighten, his teeth show in his boyish smile. The taxicab driver had stalled his engine and was cranking it.
"Sh!" I said desperately, and we all cowered back into the shadows.
Tufik approached, uncertainty changing to certainty. The engine was started now. Oh, for a second of time! He was at the window now, peering into the darkness.
"Miss Tish!" he said breathlessly. No one answered. We hardly breathed. And then suddenly Aggie sneezed! "Miss Pilk!" he shouted in delight. "My mothers! My so dear friends--"
The machine jerked, started, moved slowly off. He ran beside it, a hand on the door. Tish bent forward to speak, but Charlie Sands put his hand over her mouth.
And so we left him, standing in the street undecided, staring after us wistfully, uncertainly--the suitcase, full of Cluny- lace centerpieces, crocheted lace, silk kimonos, and embroidered bedspreads, in his hand.
That night we hid in a hotel and the next day we started for Europe. We heard nothing from Tufik; but on the anniversary of Mr. Wiggins's death, while we were in Berlin, Aggie received a small package forwarded from home. It was a small lace doily, and pinned to it was a card. It read:--
Aggie cried over it.