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In a wareroom in the same factory I noticed that one of the walls was stone, and looked like Roman masonry; also that in it were the outlines of two high arches, walled up. I asked Habib about it.
“Those,” he said, “are two of the entrances to the Street called Straight. We are outside of the wall here; this house is built against it. The Straight street had three entrances in the old days. Those two have long been closed."
It always gives me a curious sensation to realize that actual people are living and following their daily occupations in the midst of associations like these. I can't get used to it at all.
To them, however, it is nothing. The fact that they sleep and wake and pursue their drowsy round in places hallowed by tradition; that the house which sheltered St. Paul stands in the midst of their murmuring bazaar; that one side of this wareroom is the wall of the ancient city, the actual end of the Street called Straight; that every step they take is on historic ground, sacred to at least three religionsthis to me marvellous condition is to them not strange at all.
It is not that they do not realize the existence of these things: they do—at least, most of them doand honor and preserve their landmarks. But that a column against which they dream and smoke may be one of the very columns against which St. Paul leaned as he groped his blind way down the Street called Straight is to them not a matter for wonder, or even comment. I am beginning to understand their point of view
even to envy it. I do not envy some of the things they have—some of their customs—but their serenity of habit, their security of place in the stately march of time, their establishment of race and religion-one must envy these things when he considers them here, apart from that environment which we call civilized—the whirl which we call progress.
I do not think I shall turn Moslem. The doctrine has attractive features, both here and hereafter; but I would not like to undertake the Koran at my time of life. I can, however, and I do, pay the tribute of respect to the sun-baked land and sun-browned race that have given birth to three of the world's great religions, even though they have not unnaturally claimed their last invention as their best and held it as their own.
E entered the remaining portal of the Street
called Straight and drove to the Grand Bazaar. We were in a buying fever by this time, and plunged into a regular debauch of bargain and purchase. We were all a little weary when we reached the hotel. We came in carrying our brass and other loot, and dropped down on the first divan, letting our bundles fall where they listed.
I thought the Apostle looked particularly solemn. Being a weighty person, jouncing all day in a carriage and walking through brass bazaars and fez bazaars and silk bazaars and rug bazaars and silver bazaars and leather bazaars and saddle bazaars, and at least two hundred and seven other bazaars, had told on him. When I spoke cheeringly he merely grunted and reached for something in a glass which, if it tasted as it smelled, was not calculated to improve his temper.
When I sat down beside him he did not seem over cordial.
Then, quite casually, I asked him if he wouldn't execute a little commission for me in the bazaars; there were a few trifles I had overlooked: another coffee-set, for instance—something for a friend at home; I had faith in his (the Apostle's) taste. It seemed a reasonable request, and I made it politely enough, but the Apostle became suddenly violent. He said:
"Damn the bazaars! I'm full of brass and Oriental rugs and bric-à-brac. I never want to hear of a bazaar again. I want to give away the junk I've already bought, and get back to the ship.” Which we knew he didn't mean, for he had put in weary hours acquiring those things, inspired with a large generosity for loved ones at home.
The Colonel came drifting along just then-unruffled, debonair-apparently unwearied by the day's round. Nothing disturbs the Colonel. If he should outwear the century, he would still be as blithe of speech and manner as he is to-day at-dear me, how old is the Colonel? Is he thirty? Is he fifty?
He might be either of those ages or at any mile-post between
He stood now, looking down at the Apostle and his cup of poison. Then, with a coaxing smile:
“Match you, Joe-my plunder against yoursjust once.”
The Apostle looked up with a perfectly divine sneer. “Yes, you will—I think I see myself!” The Colonel slapped a coin on the table briskly.
“Come on, Joe—we never matched for bric-à-brac before. Let's be game-just this time."
What was the use? The Apostle resisted-at first violently, then feebly—then he matched and lost.
For a moment he could hardly realize the extent of his disaster. Then he reached for the mixture in front of him, swallowed it, gagged, and choked alarmingly. . When he could get his voice, he said: