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    Chapter 7
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    I have a little circle of friends, among all my other friends quite distinct, though of them. They are four men and four women; the husbands more in love with their wives than on the days when they married them, and the wives with their husbands. These people live for the good of the world, to a fair extent, but much, very much, of their lives is passed together. Perhaps the happiest period they ever knew was when, in different subordinate capacities, they were all on the staff of the same magazine. Then they met daily at the office, lunched together perforce, and could make arrangements for the evening. But, to say true, things differ little with them now, though that magazine long since took wings and went to a better world.

    Their names are Felix and Fausta Carter, Frederic and Mary Ingham, George and Anna Haliburton, George and Julia Hackmatack.

    I get the children's names wrong to their faces-- except that in general their name is Legion, for they are many--so I will not attempt them here.

    These people live in very different houses, with very different "advantages," as the world says. Haliburton has grown very rich in the rag and paper business, rich enough to discard rag money and believe in gold. He even spits at silver, which I am glad to get when I can. Frederic Ingham will never be rich. His regular income consists in his half-pay as a retired brevet officer in the patriot service of Garibaldi of the year 1859. For the rest, he invested his money in the Brick Moon, and, as I need hardly add, insured his life in the late Continental Insurance Company. But the Inghams find just as much in life as the Haliburtons, and Anna Haliburton consults Polly Ingham about the shade of a flounce just as readily and as eagerly as Polly consults her about the children's dentistry. They are all very fond of each other.

    They get a great deal out of life, these eight, partly because they are so closely allied together. Just two whist-parties, you see; or, if they go to ride, they just fill two carriages. Eight is such a good number-- makes such a nice dinner-party. Perhaps they see a little too much of each other. That we shall never know.

    They got a great deal of life, and yet they were not satisfied. They found that out very queerly. They have not many standards. Ingham does take the "Spectator;" Hackmatack condescends to read the "Evening Post;" Haliburton, who used to be in the insurance business, and keeps his old extravagant habits, reads the "Advertiser" and the "Transcript;" all of them have the "Christian Union," and all of them buy "Harper's Weekly." Every separate week of their lives they buy of the boys, instead of subscribing; they think they may not want the next number, but they always do. Not one of them has read the "Nation" for five years, for they like to keep good-natured. In fact, they do not take much stock in the general organs of opinion, and the standard books you find about are scandalously few. The Bible, Shakespeare, John Milton; Polly has Dante; Julia has "Barclay's Apology," with ever so many marks in it; one George has "Owen Felltham," and the other is strong on Marcus Aurelius. Well, no matter about these separate things; the uniform books besides those I named, in different editions but in every house, are the "Arabian Nights" and "Robinson Crusoe." Hackmatack has the priceless first edition. Haliburton has Grandville's (the English Grandville). Ingham has a proof copy of the Stothard. Carter has a good copy of the Cruikshank.

    If you ask me which of these four I should like best, I should say as the Laureate did when they gave him his choice of two kinds of cake, "Both's as good as one."

    Well, "Robinson Crusoe" being their lay gospel and creed, not to say epistle and psalter, it was not queer that one night, when the election had gone awfully, and the men were as blue as that little porcelain Osiris of mine yonder, who is so blue that he cannot stand on his feet--it was not queer, I say, that they turned instinctively to "Robinson Crusoe" for relief.

    Now, Robinson Crusoe was once in a very bad box indeed, and to comfort himself as well as he could, and to set the good against the evil, that he might have something to distinguish his case from worse, he stated impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts and miseries, thus:--


    I am cast upon a horrible But I am alive, and not desolate island, void of all drowned as all my hope of recovery. ship's company were.

    I am singled out and separated, But I am singled out, as it were, from all the world, to too, from the ship's crew be miserable. to be spared from death.

    And so the debtor and creditor account goes on.

    Julia Hackmatack read this aloud to them--the whole of it--and they agreed, as Robinson says, not so much for their posterity as to keep their thoughts from daily poring on their trials, that for each family they would make such a balance. What might not come of it? Perhaps a partial nay, perhaps a perfect cure!

    So they determined that on the instant they would go to work, and two in the smoking-room, two in the dining- room, two in George's study, and two in the parlor, they should in the next halfhour make up their lists of good and evil. Here are the results:--



    We have three nice boys But the door-bell rings all and three nice girls. the time.

    We have enough to eat, But the coal bill is awful, drink, and wear. and the Larrabee furnace has given out. The firm that made it has gone up, and no castings can be got to mend it.

    We have more books than But our friends borrow our we can read, and do not care books, and only return odd to read many newspapers. volumes.

    We have many very dear But we are behindhand 143 friends--enough. names on our lists of calls.

    We have health in our But the children may be family. sick. The Lowndes children are.

    We seem to be of some But Mrs. Hogarth has left use in the world. Fred $200 for the poor, and he is afraid he shall spend it wrong.

    The country has gone to the dogs.



    We have a nice home in You cannot give a cup of town, and one in Sharon, and coffee to a beggar but he sends a sea-shore place at Little five hundred million tramps to Gau, and we have friends the door. enough to fill them.

    We have some of the nicest A great many people call children in the world. whose names we have forgotten.

    We have enough to do, and We have to give a party to not too much. all our acquaintance every year, which is horrid.

    Business is good enough, We do not do anything we though complaining. want to do, and we do a great deal that we do not want to do. George had added, "And there is no health in us." But Anna marked that out as wicked.

    The children are all well. People vote as if they were possessed.



    We have eight splendid The plumbers' work always children. gives way at the wrong time, and the plumbers' bills are awful.

    We have money enough, The furnace will not heat the though we know what to do house unless the wind is at the with more. southwest. None of the chimneys draw well.

    George will not have to go We hate the Kydd School. to Bahia next year. The master drinks and the first assistant lies. But we live in that district; so the boys have to go there.

    Tom got through with scarlet Lucy said "commence" yesterday, fever without being deaf. Jane said "gent," Walter said "Bully for you," and Alice said "nobby." And what is coming we do not know.

    Dr. Witherspoon has accepted How long any man can live the presidency of Tiberias under this government I do College in Alaska. not know.



    Governments are stronger But as the children grow every year. Money goes farther bigger, their clothes cost than it did. more.

    All the boys are good and But the children get no well. So are the girls. good at school, except They are splendid children. measles, whooping-cough, and scarlet fever.

    Old Mr. Porter died last But the gas-meter lies; week, and Felix gets promotion and the gas company wants to in the office. have it lie.

    The lost volume of Fichte But the Athenaeum is always was left on the door-step last calling in its books to examine night by some one who rang the them, and making us say where bell and ran away. It is rather Mr. Fred Curtis's books are. wet, but when it is bound will As if we cared. look nicely.

    The mistress of the Arbella But our drains smell School is dead. awfully, though the Board of Health says they do not.

    We have to go to evening parties among our friends, or seem stuck up. We hate to go, and wish there were none. We had rather come here.

    The increasing worthlessness of the franchise.

    With these papers they gathered all in the study just as the clock struck nine, and, in good old Boston fashion, Silas was bringing in some hot oysters. They ate the oysters, which were good--trust Anna for that-- and then the women read the papers, while the smoking men smoked and pondered.

    They all recognized the gravity of the situation. Still, as Julia said, they felt better already. It was like having the doctor come: you knew the worst, and could make ready for it.

    They did not discuss the statements much. They had discussed them too much in severalty. They did agree that they should be left to Felix to report upon the next evening. He was, so to speak, to post them, to strike out from each side the quantities which could be eliminated, and leave the equations so simplified that the eight might determine what they should do about it-- indeed, what they could do about it.

    The visitors put on their "things"--how strange that that word should once have meant "parliaments!"--kissed good-by so far as they were womanly, and went home. George Haliburton screwed down the gas, and they went to bed.



    The next night they went to see Warren at the Museum. That probably helped them. After the play they met by appointment at the Carters'. Felix read his


    1. NUMBER.--There are twenty-one reasons for congratulation, twenty-four for regret. But of the twenty-four, four are the same; namely, the cursed political prospect of the country. Counting that as one only, there are twenty-one on each side.

    2. EVIL.--The twenty-one evils may be classified thus: political, 1; social, 12; physical, 5; terrors, 3.

    All the physical evils would be relieved by living in a temperate climate, instead of this abomination, which is not a climate, to which our ancestors were sold by the cupidity of the Dutch.

    The political evil would be ended by leaving the jurisdiction of the United States.

    The social evils, which are a majority of all, would be reduced by residence in any place where there were not so many people.

    The terrors properly belong to all the classes. In a decent climate, in a country not governed by its vices, and a community not crowded, the three terrors would be materially abated, if not put to an end.

    Respectfully submitted,


    How they discussed it now! Talk? I think so! They all talked awhile, and no one listened. But they had to stop when Phenice brought in the Welsh rare-bit (good before bed, but a little indigestible, unless your conscience is stainless), and Felix then put in a word.

    "Now I tell you, this is not nonsense. Why not do what Winslow and Standish and those fellows thought they were doing when they sailed? Why not go to a climate like France, with milder winters and cooler summers than here? You want some winter, you want some summer."

    "I hate centipedes and scorpions," said Anna.

    "There's no need of them. There's a place in Mexico, not a hundred miles from the sea, where you can have your temperature just as you like."


    "No, it is not stuff at all," said poor Felix, eagerly. "I do not mean just one spot. But you live in this valley, you know. If you find it is growing hot, you move about a quarter of a mile to another place higher up. If you find that hot, why you have another house a little higher. Don't you see? Then, when winter comes, you move down."

    "Are there many people there?" asked Haliburton; "and do they make many calls?"

    "There are a good many people, but they are a gentle set. They never quarrel. They are a little too high up for the revolutions, and there is something tranquillizing about the place; they seldom die, none are sick, need no aguardiente, do what the head of the village tells them to do--only he never has any occasion to tell them. They never make calls."

    "I like that," said Ingham. That patriarchal system is the true system of government."

    "Where is this place?" said Anna, incredulously.

    "I have been trying to remember all day, but I can't. It is in Mexico, I know. It is on this side of Mexico. It tells all about it in an old 'Harper'--oh, a good many years ago--but I never bound mine; there are always one or two missing every year. I asked Fausta to look for it, but she was busy. I thought," continued poor Felix, a little crestfallen, "one of you might remember."

    No, nobody remembered; and nobody felt much like going to the public library to look, on Carter's rather vague indications. In fact, it was a suggestion of Haliburton's that proved more popular.

    Haliburton said he had not laid in his coal. They all said the same. "Now," said he, "the coal of this crowd for this winter will cost a thousand dollars, if you add in the kindling and the matches, and patching the furnace pots and sweeping the chimneys."

    To this they agreed.

    "It is now Wednesday. Let us start Saturday for Memphis, take a cheap boat to New Orleans, go thence to Vera Cruz by steamer, explore the ground, buy the houses if we like, and return by the time we can do without fires next spring. Our board will cost less than it would here, for it is there the beef comes from. And the thousand dollars will pay the fares both ways."

    The women, with one voice, cried, "And the children?"

    "Oh yes," cried the eager adventurer. "I had forgotten the children. Well, they are all well, are they not?"

    Yes; all were well.

    "Then we will take them with us as far as Yellow Springs, in Ohio, and leave them for the fall and winter terms at Antioch College. They will be enough better taught than they are at the Kydd School, and they will get no scarlet fever. Nobody is ever sick there. They will be better cared for than my children are when they are left to me, and they will be seven hundred miles nearer to us than if they were here. The little ones can go to the Model School, the middling ones to the Academy, and the oldest can go to college. How many are there, Felix?"

    Felix said there were twenty-nine.

    "Well," said the arithmetical George, "it is the cheapest place I ever knew. Why, their Seniors get along for three hundred dollars a year, and squeeze more out of life than I do out of twenty thousand. The little ones won't cost at that rate. A hundred and fifty dollars for twenty-nine children; how much is that, Polly?"

    "Forty-three hundred and fifty dollars, of course," said she.

    "I thought so. Well, don't you see, we shall save that in wages to these servants we are boarding here, of whom there are eleven, who cost us, say, six dollars a week; that is, sixty-six dollars for twenty weeks is thirteen hundred and twenty dollars. We won't buy any clothes, but live on the old ones, and make the children wear their big brothers' and sisters'. There's a saving of thirty-seven hundred dollars for thirty-seven of us. Why, we shall make money! I tell you what, if you'll do it, I'll pay all the bills till we come home. If you like, you shall then each pay me three-quarters of your last winter's accounts, and I'll charge any difference to profit and loss. But I shall make by the bargain."

    The women doubted if they could be ready. But it proved they could. Still they did not start Saturday; they started Monday, in two palace-cars. They left the children, all delighted with the change, at Antioch on Wednesday--a little tempted to spend the winter there themselves; but, this temptation well resisted, they sped on to Mexico.



    Such a tranquil three days on the Mississippi, which was as an autumn flood, and revealed himself as indeed King of Waters! Such delightful three days in hospitable New Orleans! Might it not be possible to tarry even here? "No," cried the inexorable George. "We have put our hand to the plough. Who will turn back?" Two days of abject wretchedness on the Gulf of Mexico. "Why were we born? Why did we not die before we left solid land?" And then the light-house at Vera Cruz.

    "Lo, land! and all was well."

    What a splendid city! Why had nobody told them of this queen on the sea-shore? Red and white towers, cupolas, battlements! It was all like a story-book. When they landed, to be sure, it was not quite so big a place as they had fancied from all this show; but for this they did not care. To land--that was enough. Had they landed on a sand-spit, they would have been in heaven. No more swaying to and fro as they lay in bed, no more stumbling to and fro as they walked. They refused the amazed Mexicans who wanted them to ride to the hotel. To walk steadily was in itself a luxury.

    And then it was not long before the men had selected the little caravan of horses and mules which were to carry them on their expedition of discovery. Some valley of paradise, where a man could change his climate from midwinter to midsummer by a journey of a mile. Did the consul happen to have heard of any such valley?

    Had he heard of them? He had heard of fifty. He had not, indeed, heard of much else. How could he help hearing of them?

    Could the consul, then, recommend one or two valleys which might be for sale? Or was it, perhaps, impossible to buy a foothold in such an Eden?

    For sale! There was nothing in the country, so far as the friend knew to whom the consul presented them, which was not for sale. Anywhere in Queretaro; or why should they not go to the Baxio? No; that was too flat and too far off. There were pretty places round Xalapa. Oh, plenty of plantations for sale. But they need not go so far. Anywhere on the rise of Chiquihiti.

    Was the friend quite sure that there were no plumbers in the regions he named?

    "Never a plumber in Mexico."

    Any life-insurance men?

    "Not one." The prudent friend did not add, "Risk too high."

    Were the public schools graded schools or district schools?

    "Not a public school in six provinces."

    Would the neighbors be offended if we do not call?

    "Cut your throats if you did."

    Did the friend think there would be many tramps?

    The friend seemed more doubtful here, but suggested that the occasional use of a six-shooter reduced the number, and gave a certain reputation to the premises where it was employed which diminished much tramping afterward, and said that the law did not object to this method.

    They returned to a dinner of fish, for which Vera Cruz is celebrated. "If what the man says be true," said Ingham, "we must be very near heaven."

    It was now in November. Oh, the glory of that ride, as they left Vera Cruz and through a wilderness of color jogged slowly on to their new paradise!

    "Through Eden four glad couples took their way."

    Higher and higher. This wonder and that. Not a blade of grass such as they ever saw before, not a chirping cricket such as they ever heard before; a hundred bright-winged birds, and not one that they had ever seen before. Higher and higher. Trees, skies, clouds, flowers, beasts, birds, insects, all new and all lovely.

    The final purchase was of one small plantation, with a house large enough for a little army, yet without a stair. Oranges, lemons, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas, pine-apples, coffee, sugar--what did not ripen in those perennial gardens? Half a mile above there were two smaller houses belonging to the same estate; half a mile above, another was purchased easily. This was too cold to stay in in November, but in June and July and August the temperature would be sixty-six, without change.

    They sent back the mules. A telegram from Vera Cruz brought from Boston, in fifteen days, the best books in the world, the best piano in the world, a few boxes of colors for the artists, a few reams of paper, and a few dozen of pencils for the men. And then began four months of blessed life. Never a gas-bill nor a water-leak, never a crack in the furnace nor a man to put in coal, never a request to speak for the benefit of the Fenians, never the necessity of attending at a primary meeting. The ladies found in their walks these gentle Mexican children, simple, happy, civil, and with the strange idea that the object for which life is given is that men may live. They came home with new wealth untold every day-- of ipomoea, convolvulus, passion-flowers, and orchids. The gentlemen brought back every day a new species, even a new genus,--a new illustration of evolution, or a new mystery to be accounted for by the law of natural selection. Night was all sleep; day was all life. Digestion waited upon appetite; appetite waited upon exercise; exercise waited upon study; study waited upon conversation; conversation waited upon love. Could it be that November was over? Can life run by so fast? Can it be that Christmas has come? Can we let life go by so fast? Is it possible that it is the end of January? We cannot let life go so fast. Really, is this St. Valentine's Day! When ever did life go so fast?

    And with the 1st of March the mules were ordered, and they moved to the next higher level. The men and women walked. And there, on the grade of a new climate, they began on a new botany, on new discoveries, and happy life found new forms as they began again.

    So sped April and so sped May. Life had its battles,--oh yes, because it was life. But they were not the pettiest of battles. They were not the battles of prisoners shut up, to keep out the weather, in cells fifteen feet square. They fought, if they fought, with God's air in their veins, and God's warm sunshine around them, and God's blue sky above them. So they did what they could, as they wrote and read and drew and painted, as they walked and ran and swam and rode and drove, as they encouraged this peon boy and taught that peon girl, smoothed this old woman's pillow and listened to that old man's story, as they analyzed these wonderful flowers, as they tasted these wonderful fruits, as they climbed these wonderful mountains, or, at night, as they pointed the telescope through this cloudless and stainless sky.

    With all their might they lived. And they were so many, and there were so many round them to whom their coming was a new life, that they lived in love, and every day drank in of the infinite elixir.

    But June came. The mules are sent for again. Again they walked a quarter of a mile. And here in the little whitewashed cottage, with only a selection from the books below, with two guitars and a flute in place of the piano,--here they made ready for three weeks of June. Only three weeks; for on the 29th was the Commencement at Antioch, and Jane and Walter and Florence were to take their degrees. There would need five days from Vera Cruz to reach them. And so this summer was to be spent in the North with them, before October should bring all the children and the parents to the land of the open sky. Three busy weeks between the 1st and the 22d, in which all the pictures must be finished, Ingham's novel must be revised, Haliburton's articles completed, the new invention for measuring power must be gauged and tested, the dried flowers must be mounted and packed, the preserved fruits must be divided for the Northern friends. Three happy weeks of life eventful, but life without crowding, and, above all, without interruption. "Think of it," cried Felix, as they took their last walk among the lava crags, the door-bell has not rung all this last winter.'"

    "'This happy old king On his gate he did swing, Because there was never a door-bell to ring.'"

    This was Julia's impromptu reply.



    So came one more journey. Why can we not go and come without this musty steamer, these odious smells, this food for dogs, and this surge--ah, how remorseless!--of the cruel sea?

    But even this will end. Once more the Stars and Stripes! A land of furnaces and of waterpipes, a land of beggars and of caucuses, a land of gas-meters and of liars, a land of pasteboard and of cards, a land of etiquettes and of bad spelling, but still their country! A land of telegraphs, which told in an instant, as they landed on the levee, that all the twenty-nine were well, and begged them to be at the college on Tuesday evening, so as to see "Much Ado about Nothing." For at Antioch they act a play the night before Commencement. A land of Pullman's palace-cars. And lo! they secured sections 5 and 6, 7 and 8, in the "Mayflower." Just time to kiss the baby of one friend, and to give a basket of guavas to another, and then whir for Cincinnati and Xenia and Yellow Springs!

    How beautiful were the live-oaks and the magnolias! How fresh the green of the cotton! How black the faces of the little negroes, and how beyond dispute the perfume of the baked peanuts at the stations where sometimes they had to stop for wood and water! Even the heavy pile of smoke above Cincinnati was golden with the hopes of a new-born day as they rushed up to the Ohio River, and as they crossed it. And then, the land of happy homes! It was Kapnist who said to me that the most favored places in the world were the larger villages in Ohio. He had gone everywhere, too. Xenia, and a perfect breakfast at the station, then the towers of Antioch, then the twenty-nine children waving their handkerchiefs as the train rushes in!

    How much there was to tell, to show, to ask for, and to see! How much pleasure they gave with their cochineal, their mangoes, their bananas, their hat-bands for the boys, and their fans for the girls! Yes; and how much more they took from nutbrown faces, from smiles beaming from ear to ear, from the boy so tall that he looked down upon his father, from the girl so womanly that you asked if her mother were not masquerading. "You rascal Ozro, you do not pretend that those trousers were made for you? Why, my boy, you disgrace the family." "I hope not, papa; I had ninety-eight in the botany examination, passed with honors in Greek, and we beat the Buckeye Club to nothing in the return match yesterday." "You did, you little beggar?" the proud papa replied. "You ran all the better, I suppose, because you had nothing to trip you." And so on, and so on. The children did not live in paradise, perhaps, but this seems very like the kingdom come!

    And after commencements and the president's party, up to the Yellow Springs platform came two unusual palaces, specially engaged. And one was named the "Valparaiso," and the other, as it happened, the "Bethlehem." And they took all the children, and by good luck Mrs. Tucker was going also, and three or four of the college girls, and they took them. So there were forty-two in all. And they sped and sped, without change of cars, save as Bethlehem visited Paradise and Paradise visited Bethlehem, till they came to New Salem, which is the station men buy tickets for when they would go to the beach below Quonochontaug, where the eight and the twenty-nine were to make their summer home before the final emigration.

    They do not live at Quonochontaug, but to that post- office are their letters sent. They live in a hamlet of their own, known to the neighbors as the Little Gau. Four large houses, whitewashed without and within, with deep piazzas all around, the roofs of which join the roofs of the houses themselves, and run up on all sides to one point above the centre. In each house a hall some twenty feet by fifty, and in the hall,--what is not in the hall?--maybe a piano, maybe a fish-rod, maybe a rifle or a telescope, a volume of sermons or a volume of songs, a spinning-wheel, or a guitar, or a battledore. You might ask widely for what you needed, for study or for play, and you would find it, though it were a deep divan of Osiat or a chibouque from Stamboul--you would find it in one of these simple whitewashed halls.

    Little Gau is so near the sea-shore that every day they go down to the beach to bathe, and the beach is so near the Gulf Stream that the swim is--well, perfection. Still, the first day the ladies would not swim. They had the trunks to open, they said, and the closets to arrange. And the four men and the fourteen boys went to that bath of baths alone. And as Felix, the cynic grumbler, ran races naked on the beach with his boy and the boy beat him, even Felix was heard to say, "How little man needs here below to be perfectly happy!"

    And at the Little Gau they spent the months from the Fourth of July to the 13th of October--two great days in history--getting ready for Mexico. New sewing-machines were bought, and the fall of the stream from the lake was taught to run the treadles. No end of clothing was got ready for a country which needs none; no end of memoranda made for the last purchases; no end of lists of books prepared, which they could read in that land of leisure. And on the 14th of October, with a passing sigh, they bade good-by to boats and dogs and cows and horses and neighbors and beaches--almost to sun and moon, which had smiled on so much happiness, and went back to Boston to make the last bargains, to pay the last bills, and to say the last good-byes.

    After one day of bill-paying and house-advertising and farewelling, they met at Ingham's to "tell their times." And Julia told of her farewell call on dear Mrs. Blake.

    "The saint!" said she; "she does not see as well as she did. But it was just lovely there. There was the great bronze Japanese stork, which seemed so friendly, and the great vases, and her flowers as fresh as ever, and her books everywhere. She found something for Tom and Maud to play with, just as she used to for Ben and Horace. And we sat and talked of Mexico and Antioch and everything. I asked her if her eyes troubled her, and I was delighted because it seems they do not trouble her at all. She told all about Swampscott and her grandchildren. I asked her if the dust never troubled them on Gladstone Street, but she says it does not at all; and she told all about her son's family in Hong- Kong. I asked her if the failure of Rupee & Lac annoyed them, and she said not at all, and I was so glad, for I had been so afraid for them; and then she told about how much they were enjoying Macaulay. Then I asked her if the new anvil factory on the other side of the street did not trouble her, and she said not at all. And when I said, 'How can that be?' she said, 'Why, Julia dear, we do not let these things trouble us, don't you see. If I were you, I would not let such things trouble me.'"

    George Haliburton laid down his knife as Julia told the story. "Do you remember Rabia at Mecca? Yes, they all remembered Rabia at Mecca:--

    "Oh heart, weak follower of the weak, That thou shouldst traverse land and sea; In this far place that God to seek Who long ago had come to thee!"

    "Why should we not stay here, and not let these things trouble us?"

    Why not, indeed?

    And they stayed.
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