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- The Weavers, Volume 2. - 5/24 -
in a gallery above. He would not have dwelt upon the incident, he would have set it down to the curiosity of a woman of the harem, but that the face looking out was that of an English girl, and peering over her shoulder was the dark, handsome face of an Egyptian or a Turk.
Self-control was the habit of his life, the training of his faith, and, as a rule, his face gave little evidence of inner excitement. Demonstration was discouraged, if not forbidden, among the Quakers, and if, to others, it gave a cold and austere manner, in David it tempered to a warm stillness the powerful impulses in him, the rivers of feeling which sometimes roared through his veins.
Only Nahoum Pasha had noticed his arrested look, so motionless did he sit; and now, without replying, he bowed gravely and deferentially to Kaid, who rose from the table. He followed with the rest. Presently the Prince sent Higli Pasha to ask his nearer presence.
The Prince made a motion of his hand, and the circle withdrew. He waved David to a seat.
"To-morrow thy business shall be settled," said the Prince suavely, "and on such terms as will not startle. Death-tribute is no new thing in the East. It is fortunate for thee that the tribute is from thy hand to my hand, and not through many others to mine."
"I am conscious I have been treated with favour, friend," said David. "I would that I might show thee kindness. Though how may a man of no account make return to a great Prince?"
"By the beard of my father, it is easily done, if thy kindness is a real thing, and not that which makes me poorer the more I have of it--as though one should be given a herd of horses which must not be sold but still must be fed."
"I have given thee truth. Is not truth cheaper than falsehood?"
"It is the most expensive thing in Egypt; so that I despair of buying thee. Yet I would buy thee to remain here--here at my court; here by my hand which will give thee the labour thou lovest, and will defend thee if defence be needed. Thou hast not greed, thou hast no thirst for honour, yet thou hast wisdom beyond thy years. Kaid has never besought men, but he beseeches thee. Once there was in Egypt, Joseph, a wise youth, who served a Pharaoh, and was his chief counsellor, and it was well with the land. Thy name is a good name; well-being may follow thee. The ages have gone, and the rest of the world has changed, but Egypt is the same Egypt, the Nile rises and falls, and the old lean years and fat years come and go. Though I am in truth a Turk, and those who serve and rob me here are Turks, yet the fellah is the same as he was five thousand years ago. What Joseph the Israelite did, thou canst do; for I am no more unjust than was that Rameses whom Joseph served. Wilt thou stay with me?"
David looked at Kaid as though he would read in his face the reply that he must make, but he did not see Kaid; he saw, rather, the face of one he had loved more than Jonathan had been loved by the young shepherd-prince of Israel. In his ears he heard the voice that had called him in his sleep-the voice of Benn Claridge; and, at the same instant, there flashed into his mind a picture of himself fighting outside the tavern beyond Hamley and bidding farewell to the girl at the crossroads.
"Friend, I cannot answer thee now," he said, in a troubled voice.
Kaid rose. "I will give thee an hour to think upon it. Come with me." He stepped forward. "To-morrow I will answer thee, Kaid."
"To-morrow there is work for thee to do. Come." David followed him.
The eyes that followed the Prince and the Quaker were not friendly. What Kaid had long foreshadowed seemed at hand: the coming of a European counsellor and confidant. They realised that in the man who had just left the room with Kaid there were characteristics unlike those they had ever met before in Europeans.
"A madman," whispered High Pasha to Achmet the Ropemaker.
"Then his will be the fate of the swine of Gadarene," said Nahoum Pasha, who had heard.
"At least one need not argue with a madman." The face of Achmet the Ropemaker was not more pleasant than his dark words.
"It is not the madman with whom you have to deal, but his keeper," rejoined Nahoum.
Nahoum's face was heavier than usual. Going to weight, he was still muscular and well groomed. His light brown beard and hair and blue eyes gave him a look almost Saxon, and bland power spoke in his face and in every gesture.
He was seldom without the string of beads so many Orientals love to carry, and, Armenian Christian as he was, the act seemed almost religious. It was to him, however, like a ground-wire in telegraphy-- it carried off the nervous force tingling in him and driving him to impulsive action, while his reputation called for a constant outward urbanity, a philosophical apathy. He had had his great fight for place and power, alien as he was in religion, though he had lived in Egypt since a child. Bar to progress as his religion had been at first, it had been an advantage afterwards; for, through it, he could exclude himself from complications with the Wakfs, the religious court of the Muslim creed, which had lands to administer, and controlled the laws of marriage and inheritance. He could shrug his shoulders and play with his beads, and urbanely explain his own helplessness and ineligibility when his influence was summoned, or it was sought to entangle him in warring interests. Oriental through and through, the basis of his creed was similar to that of a Muslim: Mahomet was a prophet and Christ was a prophet. It was a case of rival prophets--all else was obscured into a legend, and he saw the strife of race in the difference of creed. For the rest, he flourished the salutations and language of the Arab as though they were his own, and he spoke Arabic as perfectly as he did French and English.
He was the second son of his father. The first son, who was but a year older, and was as dark as he was fair, had inherited--had seized--all his father's wealth. He had lived abroad for some years in France and England. In the latter place he had been one of the Turkish Embassy, and, having none of the outward characteristics of the Turk, and being in appearance more of a Spaniard than an Oriental, he had, by his gifts, his address and personal appearance, won the good-will of the Duchess of Middlesex, and had had that success all too flattering to the soul of a libertine. It had, however, been the means of his premature retirement from England, for his chief at the Embassy had a preference for an Oriental entourage. He was called Foorgat Bey.
Sitting at table, Nahoum alone of all present had caught David's arrested look, and, glancing up, had seen the girl's face at the panel of mooshrabieh, and had seen also over her shoulder the face of his brother, Foorgat Bey. He had been even more astonished than David, and far more disturbed. He knew his brother's abilities; he knew his insinuating address--had he not influenced their father to give him wealth while he was yet alive? He was aware also that his brother had visited the Palace often of late. It would seem as though the Prince Pasha was ready to make him, as well as David, a favourite. But the face of the girl--it was an English face! Familiar with the Palace, and bribing when it was necessary to bribe, Foorgat Bey had evidently brought her to see the function, there where all women were forbidden. He could little imagine Foorgat doing this from mere courtesy; he could not imagine any woman, save one wholly sophisticated, or one entirely innocent, trusting herself with him--and in such a place. The girl's face, though not that of one in her teens, had seemed to him a very flower of innocence.
But, as he stood telling his beads, abstractedly listening to the scandal talked by Achmet and Higli, he was not thinking of his brother, but of the two who had just left the chamber. He was speculating as to which room they were likely to enter. They had not gone by the door convenient to passage to Kaid's own apartments. He would give much to hear the conversation between Kaid and the stranger; he was all too conscious of its purport. As he stood thinking, Kaid returned. After looking round the room for a moment, the Prince came slowly over to Nahoum, and, stretching out a hand, stroked his beard.
"Oh, brother of all the wise, may thy sun never pass its noon!" said Kaid, in a low, friendly voice.
Despite his will, a shudder passed through Nahoum Pasha's frame. How often in Egypt this gesture and such words were the prelude to assassination, from which there was no escape save by death itself. Into Nahoum's mind there flashed the words of an Arab teacher, "There is no refuge from God but God Himself," and he found himself blindly wondering, even as he felt Kaid's hand upon his beard and listened to the honeyed words, what manner of death was now preparing for him, and what death of his own contriving should intervene. Escape, he knew, there was none, if his death was determined on; for spies were everywhere, and slaves in the pay of Kaid were everywhere, and such as were not could be bought or compelled, even if he took refuge in the house of a foreign consul. The lean, invisible, ghastly arm of death could find him, if Kaid willed, though he delved in the bowels of the Cairene earth, or climbed to an eagle's eyrie in the Libyan Hills. Whether it was diamond-dust or Achmet's thin thong that stopped the breath, it mattered not; it was sure. Yet he was not of the breed to tremble under the descending sword, and he had long accustomed himself to the chance of "sudden demise." It had been chief among the chances he had taken when he entered the high and perilous service of Kaid. Now, as he felt the secret joy of these dark spirits surrounding him--Achmet, and High Pasha, who kept saying beneath his breath in thankfulness that it was not his turn, Praise be to God!--as he, felt their secret self-gratulations, and their evil joy over his prospective downfall, he settled himself steadily, made a low salutation to Kaid, and calmly awaited further speech. It came soon enough.
"It is written upon a cucumber leaf--does not the world read it?--that Nahoum Pasha's form shall cast a longer shadow than the trees; so that every man in Egypt shall, thinking on him, be as covetous as Ashaah, who knew but one thing more covetous than himself--the sheep that mistook the rainbow for a rope of hay, and, jumping for it, broke his neck."
Kaid laughed softly at his own words.
With his eye meeting Kaid's again, after a low salaam, Nahoum made answer:
"I would that the lance of my fame might sheathe itself in the breasts of thy enemies, Effendina."
"Thy tongue does that office well," was the reply. Once more Kaid laid a gentle hand upon Nahoum's beard. Then, with a gesture towards the consuls and Europeans, he said to them in French: "If I might but beg your presence for yet a little time!" Then he turned and walked away. He left by a door leading to his own apartments.
When he had gone, Nahoum swung slowly round and faced the agitated
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