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- The Weavers, Volume 2. - 20/24 -
see that the hand of God has been against thee? He has spoken, and thy evil is discovered."
He paused. Still Harrik did not reply, but looked at him with dilated, fascinated eyes. Death had hypnotised him, and against death and destiny who could struggle? Had not a past Prince Pasha of Egypt safeguarded himself from assassination all his life, and, in the end, had he not been smothered in his sleep by slaves?
"There are two ways only," David continued--"to be tried and die publicly for thy crimes, to the shame of Egypt, its present peril, and lasting injury; or to send a message to those who conspired with thee, commanding them to return to their allegiance, and another to the Prince Pasha, acknowledging thy fault, and exonerating all others. Else, how many of thy dupes shall die! Thy choice is not life or death, but how thou shalt die, and what thou shalt do for Egypt as thou diest. Thou didst love Egypt, Eminence?"
David's voice dropped low, and his last words had a suggestion which went like an arrow to the source of all Harrik's crimes, and that also which redeemed him in a little. It got into his inner being. He roused himself and spoke, but at first his speech was broken and smothered.
"Day by day I saw Egypt given over to the Christians," he said. "The Greek, the Italian, the Frenchman, the Englishman, everywhere they reached out, their hands and took from us our own. They defiled our mosques; they corrupted our life; they ravaged our trade, they stole our customers, they crowded us from the streets where once the faithful lived alone. Such as thou had the ear of the Prince, and such as Nahoum, also an infidel, who favoured the infidels of Europe. And now thou hast come, the most dangerous of them all! Day by day the Muslim has loosed his hold on Cairo, and Alexandria, and the cities of Egypt. Street upon street knows him no more. My heart burned within me. I conspired for Egypt's sake. I would have made her Muslim once again. I would have fought the Turk and the Frank, as did Mehemet Ali; and if the infidels came, I would have turned them back; or if they would not go, I would have destroyed them here. Such as thou should have been stayed at the door. In my own house I would have been master. We seek not to take up our abode in other nations and in the cities of the infidel. Shall we give place to them on our own mastaba, in our own court-yard--hand to them the keys of our harems? I would have raised the Jehad if they vexed me with their envoys and their armies." He paused, panting.
"It would not have availed," was David's quiet answer. "This land may not be as Tibet--a prison for its own people. If the door opens outward, then must it open inward also. Egypt is the bridge between the East and the West. Upon it the peoples of all nations pass and repass. Thy plan was folly, thy hope madness, thy means to achieve horrible. Thy dream is done. The army will not revolt, the Prince will not be slain. Now only remains what thou shalt do for Egypt--"
"And thou--thou wilt be left here to lay thy will upon Egypt. Kaid's ear will be in thy hand--thou hast the sorcerer's eye. I know thy meaning. Thou wouldst have me absolve all, even Achmet, and Higli, and Diaz, and the rest, and at thy bidding go out into the desert"--he paused--"or into the grave."
"Not into the desert," rejoined David firmly. "Thou wouldst not rest. There, in the desert, thou wouldst be a Mahdi. Since thou must die, wilt thou not order it after thine own choice? It is to die for Egypt."
"Is this the will of Kaid?" asked Harrik, his voice thick with wonder, his brain still dulled by the blow of Fate.
"It was not the Effendina's will, but it hath his assent. Wilt thou write the word to the army and also to the Prince?"
He had conquered. There was a moment's hesitation, then Harrik picked up paper and ink that lay near, and said: "I will write to Kaid. I will have naught to do with the army."
"It shall be the whole, not the part," answered David determinedly. "The truth is known. It can serve no end to withhold the writing to the army. Remember what I have said to thee. The disloyalty of the army must not be known. Canst thou not act after the will of Allah, the all-powerful, the all-just, the all-merciful?"
There was an instant's pause, and then suddenly Harrik placed the paper in his palm and wrote swiftly and at some length to Kaid. Laying it down, he took another and wrote but a few words--to Achmet and Diaz. This message said in brief, "Do not strike. It is the will of Allah. The army shall keep faithful until the day of the Mahdi be come. I spoke before the time. I go to the bosom of my Lord Mahomet."
He threw the papers on the floor before David, who picked them up, read them, and put them into his pocket.
"It is well," he said. "Egypt shall have peace. And thou, Eminence?"
"Who shall escape Fate? What I have written I have written."
David rose and salaamed. Harrik rose also. "Thou wouldst go, having accomplished thy will?" Harrik asked, a thought flashing to his mind again, in keeping with his earlier purpose. Why should this man be left to trouble Egypt?
David touched his breast. "I must bear thy words to the Palace and the Citadel."
"Are there not slaves for messengers?" Involuntarily Harrik turned his eyes to the velvet curtains. No fear possessed David, but he felt the keenness of the struggle, and prepared for the last critical moment of fanaticism.
"It were a foolish thing to attempt my death," he said calmly. "I have been thy friend to urge thee to do that which saves thee from public shame, and Egypt from peril. I came alone, because I had no fear that thou wouldst go to thy death shaming hospitality."
"Thou wast sure I would give myself to death?"
"Even as that I breathe. Thou wert mistaken; a madness possessed thee; but thou, I knew, wouldst choose the way of honour. I too have had dreams--and of Egypt. If it were for her good, I would die for her."
"Thou art mad. But the mad are in the hands of God, and--"
Suddenly Harrik stopped. There came to his ears two distant sounds--the faint click of horses' hoofs and that dull rumble they had heard as they talked, a sound he loved, the roar of his lions.
He clapped his hands twice, the curtains parted opposite, and a slave slid silently forward.
"Quick! The horses! What are they? Bring me word," he said.
The slave vanished. For a moment there was silence. The eyes of the two men met. In the minds of both was the same thing.
"Kaid! The Nubians!" Harrik said, at last. David made no response.
The slave returned, and his voice murmured softly, as though the matter were of no concern: "The Nubians--from the Palace." In an instant he was gone again.
"Kaid had not faith in thee," Harrik said grimly. "But see, infidel though thou art, thou trustest me, and thou shalt go thy way. Take them with thee, yonder jackals of the desert. I will not go with them. I did not choose to live; others chose for me; but I will die after my own choice. Thou hast heard a voice, even as I. It is too late to flee to the desert. Fate tricks me. 'The lions are loosed on thee'--so the voice said to me in the night. Hark! dost thou not hear them--the lions, Harrik's lions, got out of the uttermost desert?"
David could hear the distant roar, for the menagerie was even part of the palace itself.
"Go in peace," continued Harrik soberly and with dignity, "and when Egypt is given to the infidel and Muslims are their slaves, remember that Harrik would have saved it for his Lord Mahomet, the Prophet of God."
He clapped his hands, and fifty slaves slid from behind the velvet curtains.
"I have thy word by the tomb of thy mother that thou wilt take the Nubians hence, and leave me in peace?" he asked.
David raised a hand above his head. "As I have trusted thee, trust thou me, Harrik, son of Mahomet." Harrik made a gesture of dismissal, and David salaamed and turned to go. As the curtains parted for his exit, he faced Harrik again. "Peace be to thee," he said.
But, seated in his cushions, the haggard, fanatical face of Harrik was turned from him, the black, flaring eyes fixed on vacancy. The curtain dropped behind David, and through the dim rooms and corridors he passed, the slaves gliding beside him, before him, and behind him, until they reached the great doors. As they swung open and the cool night breeze blew in his face, a great suspiration of relief passed from him. What he had set out to do would be accomplished in all. Harrik would keep his word. It was the only way.
As he emerged from the doorway some one fell at his feet, caught his sleeve and kissed it. It was Mahommed Hassan. Behind Mahommed was a little group of officers and a hundred stalwart Nubians. David motioned them towards the great gates, and, without speaking, passed swiftly down the pathway and emerged upon the road without. A moment later he was riding towards the Citadel with Harrik's message to Achmet. In the red- curtained room Harrik sat alone, listening until he heard the far clatter of hoofs, and knew that the Nubians were gone. Then the other distant sound which had captured his ear came to him again. In his fancy it grew louder and louder. With it came the voice that called him in the night, the voice of a woman--of the wife he had given to the lions for a crime against him which she did not commit, which had haunted him all the years. He had seen her thrown to the king of them all, killed in one swift instant, and dragged about the den by her warm white neck--this slave wife from Albania, his adored Fatima. And when, afterwards, he came to know the truth, and of her innocence, from the chief eunuch who with his last breath cleared her name, a terrible anger and despair had come upon him. Time and intrigue and conspiracy had distracted his mind, and the Jehad became the fixed aim and end of his life. Now this was gone. Destiny had tripped him up. Kaid and the infidel Inglesi had won.
As the one great passion went out like smoke, the woman he loved, whom he had given to the lions, the memory of her, some haunting part of her, possessed him, overcame him. In truth, he had heard a voice in the night, but not the voice of a spirit. It was the voice of Zaida, who, preying upon his superstitious mind--she knew the hallucination which possessed him concerning her he had cast to the lions--and having given the terrible secret to Kaid, whom she had ever loved, would still save Harrik from the sure vengeance which must fall upon him. Her design had
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