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- The Weavers, Volume 2. - 2/24 -
see him at his window looking out towards the Cloistered House; and if our neighbour comes forth, perhaps upon his hunter, or now in his cart, or again with his dogs, he draws his hat down upon his eyes and whispers to himself. I think he is ever setting thee off against Lord Eglington; and that is foolish, for Eglington is but a man of the earth earthy. His is the soul of the adventurer.
Now what more to be set down? I must ask thee how is thy friend Ebn Ezra Bey? I am glad thee did find all he said was true, and that in Damascus thee was able to set a mark by my uncle's grave. But that the Prince Pasha of Egypt has set up a claim against my uncle's property is evil news; though, thanks be to God, as my father says, we have enough to keep us fed and clothed and housed. But do thee keep enough of thy inheritance to bring thee safe home again to those who love thee. England is ever grey, Davy, but without thee it is grizzled--all one "Quaker drab," as says the Philistine. But it is a comely and a good land, and here we wait for thee.
In love and remembrance.
I am thy mother's sister, thy most loving friend.
David received this letter as he was mounting a huge white Syrian donkey to ride to the Mokattam Hills, which rise sharply behind Cairo, burning and lonely and large. The cities of the dead Khalifas and Mamelukes separated them from the living city where the fellah toiled, and Arab, Bedouin, Copt strove together to intercept the fruits of his toiling, as it passed in the form of taxes to the Palace of the Prince Pasha; while in the dark corners crouched, waiting, the cormorant usurers--Greeks, Armenians, and Syrians, a hideous salvage corps, who saved the house of a man that they might at last walk off with his shirt and the cloth under which he was carried to his grave. In a thousand narrow streets and lanes, in the warm glow of the bazaars, in earth-damp huts, by blistering quays, on the myriad ghiassas on the river, from long before sunrise till the sunset-gun boomed from the citadel rising beside the great mosque whose pinnacles seem to touch the blue, the slaves of the city of Prince Kaid ground out their lives like corn between the millstones.
David had been long enough in Egypt to know what sort of toiling it was. A man's labour was not his own. The fellah gave labour and taxes and backsheesh and life to the State, and the long line of tyrants above him, under the sting of the kourbash; the high officials gave backsheesh to the Prince Pasha, or to his Mouffetish, or to his Chief Eunuch, or to his barber, or to some slave who had his ear.
But all the time the bright, unclouded sun looked down on a smiling land, and in Cairo streets the din of the hammers, the voices of the boys driving heavily laden donkeys, the call of the camel-drivers leading their caravans into the great squares, the clang of the brasses of the sherbet-sellers, the song of the vendor of sweetmeats, the drone of the merchant praising his wares, went on amid scenes of wealth and luxury, and the city glowed with colour and gleamed with light. Dark faces grinned over the steaming pot at the door of the cafes, idlers on the benches smoked hasheesh, female street-dancers bared their faces shamelessly to the men, and indolent musicians beat on their tiny drums, and sang the song of "O Seyyid," or of "Antar"; and the reciter gave his sing-song tale from a bench above his fellows. Here a devout Muslim, indifferent to the presence of strangers, turned his face to the East, touched his forehead to the ground, and said his prayers. There, hung to a tree by a deserted mosque near by, the body of one who was with them all an hour before, and who had paid the penalty for some real or imaginary crime; while his fellows blessed Allah that the storm had passed them by. Guilt or innocence did not weigh with them; and the dead criminal, if such he were, who had drunk his glass of water and prayed to Allah, was, in their sight, only fortunate and not disgraced, and had "gone to the bosom of Allah." Now the Muezzin from a minaret called to prayer, and the fellah in his cotton shirt and yelek heard, laid his load aside, and yielded himself to his one dear illusion, which would enable him to meet with apathy his end--it might be to-morrow!--and go forth to that plenteous heaven where wives without number awaited him, where fields would yield harvests without labour, where rich food in gold dishes would be ever at his hand. This was his faith.
David had now been in the country six months, rapidly perfecting his knowledge of Arabic, speaking it always to his servant Mahommed Hassan, whom he had picked from the streets. Ebn Ezra Bey had gone upon his own business to Fazougli, the tropical Siberia of Egypt, to liberate, by order of Prince Kaid,--and at a high price--a relative banished there. David had not yet been fortunate with his own business--the settlement of his Uncle Benn's estate--though the last stages of negotiation with the Prince Pasha seemed to have been reached. When he had brought the influence of the British Consulate to bear, promises were made, doors were opened wide, and Pasha and Bey offered him coffee and talked to him sympathetically. They had respect for him more than for most Franks, because the Prince Pasha had honoured him with especial favour. Perhaps because David wore his hat always and the long coat with high collar like a Turk, or because Prince Kaid was an acute judge of human nature, and also because honesty was a thing he greatly desired--in others--and never found near his own person; however it was, he had set David high in his esteem at once. This esteem gave greater certainty that any backsheesh coming from the estate of Benn Claridge would not be sifted through many hands on its way to himself. Of Benn Claridge Prince Kaid had scarcely even heard until he died; and, indeed, it was only within the past few years that the Quaker merchant had extended his business to Egypt and had made his headquarters at Assiout, up the river.
David's donkey now picked its way carefully through the narrow streets of the Moosky. Arabs and fellaheen squatting at street corners looked at him with furtive interest. A foreigner of this character they had never before seen, with coat buttoned up like an Egyptian official in the presence of his superior, and this wide, droll hat on his head. David knew that he ran risks, that his confidence invited the occasional madness of a fanatical mind, which makes murder of the infidel a passport to heaven; but as a man he took his chances, and as a Christian he believed he would suffer no mortal hurt till his appointed time. He was more Oriental, more fatalist, than he knew. He had also early in his life learned that an honest smile begets confidence; and his face, grave and even a little austere in outline, was usually lighted by a smile.
From the Mokattam Hills, where he read Faith's letter again, his back against one of the forts which Napoleon had built in his Egyptian days, he scanned the distance. At his feet lay the great mosque, and the citadel, whose guns controlled the city, could pour into it a lava stream of shot and shell. The Nile wound its way through the green plains, stretching as far to the north as eye could see between the opal and mauve and gold of the Libyan Hills. Far over in the western vista a long line of trees, twining through an oasis flanking the city, led out to a point where the desert abruptly raised its hills of yellow sand. Here, enormous, lonely, and cynical, the pyramids which Cheops had built, the stone sphinx of Ghizeh, kept faith with the desert in the glow of rainless land-reminders ever that the East, the mother of knowledge, will by knowledge prevail; that:
"The thousand years of thy insolence The thousand years of thy faith, Will be paid in fiery recompense, And a thousand years of bitter death."
"The sword--for ever the sword," David said to himself, as he looked: "Rameses and David and Mahomet and Constantine, and how many conquests have been made in the name of God! But after other conquests there have been peace and order and law. Here in Egypt it is ever the sword, the survival of the strongest."
As he made his way down the hillside again he fell to thinking upon all Faith had written. The return of the drunken chair-maker made a deep impression on him--almost as deep as the waking dreams he had had of his uncle calling him.
"Soolsby and me--what is there between Soolsby and me?" he asked himself now as he made his way past the tombs of the Mamelukes. "He and I are as far apart as the poles, and yet it comes to me now, with a strange conviction, that somehow my life will be linked with that of the drunken Romish chair-maker. To what end?" Then he fell to thinking of his Uncle Benn. The East was calling him. "Something works within me to hold me here, a work to do."
From the ramparts of the citadel he watched the sun go down, bathing the pyramids in a purple and golden light, throwing a glamour over all the western plain, and making heavenly the far hills with a plaintive colour, which spoke of peace and rest, but not of hope. As he stood watching, he was conscious of people approaching. Voices mingled, there was light laughter, little bursts of admiration, then lower tones, and then he was roused by a voice calling. He turned round. A group of people were moving towards the exit from the ramparts, and near himself stood a man waving an adieu.
"Well, give my love to the girls," said the man cheerily. Merry faces looked back and nodded, and in a moment they were gone. The man turned round, and looked at David, then he jerked his head in a friendly sort of way and motioned towards the sunset.
"Good enough, eh?"
"Surely, for me," answered David. On the instant he liked the red, wholesome face, and the keen, round, blue eyes, the rather opulent figure, the shrewd, whimsical smile, all aglow now with beaming sentimentality, which had from its softest corner called out: "Well, give my love to the girls."
"Quaker, or I never saw Germantown and Philadelphy," he continued, with a friendly manner quite without offence. "I put my money on Quakers every time."
"But not from Germantown or Philadelphia," answered David, declining a cigar which his new acquaintance offered.
"Bet you, I know that all right. But I never saw Quakers anywhere else, and I meant the tribe and not the tent. English, I bet? Of course, or you wouldn't be talking the English language--though I've heard they talk it better in Boston than they do in England, and in Chicago they're making new English every day and improving on the patent. If Chicago can't have the newest thing, she won't have anything. 'High hopes that burn like stars sublime,' has Chicago. She won't let Shakespeare or Milton be standards much longer. She won't have it--simply won't have England swaggering over the English language. Oh, she's dizzy, is Chicago--simply dizzy. I was born there. Parents, one Philadelphy, one New York, one Pawtucket--the Pawtucket one was the step-mother. Father liked his wives from the original States; but I was born in Chicago. My name is Lacey--Thomas Tilman Lacey of Chicago."
"I thank thee," said David.
"And you, sir?"
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