The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Gift Of The Gods
It was just after the capture of Khan Yunis. For days we had been discouraging "Jacko", and opening bully beef tins; so you can guess we welcomed a spell, and the chance of a smoke. I wanted a few "puffs" just then, more than a patent medicine ever did, and felt as hungry as a trooper's horse during a stunt.
I Sherlock Holmsed the village. After an hour's investigation, I was about to return, empty handed, when I noticed a straight, white road leading into the Desert, and followed it. It seemed as long as a compulsory Church Parade, but suddenly ended, and I found myself in Fairyland. luxurious vegetation surrounded me; palms, with great bunchts of ripe dates, swayed gently in the breeze, and delicious perfumes floated on the air.
All was quiet, so quiet that I could plainly hear a big black beetlr stumbling with its load across the sands. Then came a wailing noise, as of a lost soul in distress. I dismounted, tethered my steed to a palm, and stealthily advanced in the direction of the sound. Peering from behind a bush, I beheld a startling scene. An elderly native, drassed in costly, many coloured robes, lay prostrate before a hideous double headed idol. Beside him stood a woman, wearing the symbols of the wedded, and weeping as though her fashion journal had been lost in the post. I had been doing the Peeping Tom stunt for about ten minutes when the man arose. I moved, and he saw me. These natives seemed different from any Arabs I had ever seen before, people of some unknown tribe. "Sieda!' said I.
"Good afternoon," responded the idol worshipper, in perfect English, "Don't go away. Our grounds are honoured by the presence of an Australian. Come inside the palace and partake."
I hesitated for a moment, but " partake " won, so I followed him, whilst the wailer returned the wooden idol to its lodging place. We reached the palace, and a servant dressed in Royal purple laid before us the food one dreams of, and crystal goblets of sparkling nectar coloured like the sky at dawn.
Our meal finished, the Chief (I reckoned he was a Sheik) waxed confidential and explained the meaning of the scene in the garden. Fatima, his eldest daughter—the woman who wept— had been married two years, but the Gods had denied her their blessing—she was still childless. The Sheik naturally felt aggrieved, and I had witnessed him praying to Zalyoota to bless Fatima with a on.
I was still chatting with my venerable host— I think he was explaining that the soil in his garden was too fertile for the successful culti-vation of marrows and pumpkins, the vines growing so fast that heavy vegetables were dragged rapidly along the ground, and were worn out betore they matured—when a peal of silvery laughter attracted my attention; then a oitter patter of dainty footsteps, and a vision of loveliness en-tered the room.
I gazed spell-bound. Never before had I seen such a beauty. A face that would make a man throw bricks at his grandmother to win its smile, lips moulded only for kissing, and big brown eyes more beautiful than those of a gazelle. Yes, and her skin was almost white.
The Sheik introduced me to this wonder girl, his youngest daughter, whose name was Lulu, She graciously offered to show me the beauties of the palace grounds, and I accpted eagerly. Hand in hand we wandered through the gardens; yes, hand in hand we wandered through the gardens, that lovely maiden and I.
Will, all things come to an end, even peeps at Paradise; and at length I bade the family adieu ana returned t camp, never again to dream of my little gray home in the West, but only of a peerless Desert maiden, gliding beside me in a garden fair.
* * * * * * *
It was nearly a year later. We had fixed up that little affair at Gaza, and were now back again at Khan Yunis, "spelling". I was eager to renew my acquaintance with the Sheik and little Lulu; so one afternoon I saddled up, and once again took the long white road to Fairyland.
I discovered the Sheik chopping up firewood, punctuating the strokes of the axe with curses, and behaving generally as if his dinner were late.
"Pig-faced fool!" he hissed, "Idiot! Swine!"
For a moment I suspected him of reading my correspondence, but soon learned that my fears were unfounded. I touched him on the arm; he immediately dropped the axe, and became calm.
"Has your daughter received the blessing of the Gods?" I asked.
"The Sheik pointed to the wood he had been strafing, and I saw that it was the substance of the idol I had once seen him worshipping.
"Effendi," explained the old man, "I trusted Zalyoota, and implored him to bless my daughter with a child, that she be no longer accursed of her race.
"And he turned a deaf ear to your prayer," I remarked.
"Not exactly", said the Sheik, "my daughter gave birth to a boy this morning."
"Oh," I said, "Well, then, why the violence?"
"Because of the God's mistake," he replied, " He answered my prayer, all right. He presented my daughter with a child, but," the Sheik shrieked the concluding words, " thendiot gave it to the wrong daughter!"