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- The Weavers, Volume 2. - 6/24 -


"He who sleeps with one eye open sees the sun rise first," he said, with a sarcastic laugh. "He who goes blindfold never sees it set."

Then, with a complacent look upon them all, he slowly left the room by the door out of which David and Kaid had first passed.

Outside the room his face did not change. His manner had not been bravado. It was as natural to him as David's manner was to himself. Each had trained himself in his own way to the mastery of his will, and the will in each was stronger than any passion of emotion in them. So far at least it had been so. In David it was the outcome of his faith, in Nahoum it was the outcome of his philosophy, a simple, fearless fatalism.

David had been left by Kaid in a small room, little more than an alcove, next to a larger room richly furnished. Both rooms belonged to a spacious suite which lay between the harem and the major portion of the Palace. It had its own entrance and exits from the Palace, opening on the square at the front, at the back opening on its own garden, which also had its own exits to the public road. The quarters of the Chief Eunuch separated the suite from the harem, and Mizraim, the present Chief Eunuch, was a man of power in the Palace, knew more secrets, was more courted, and was richer than some of the princes. Nahoum had an office in the Palace, also, which gave him the freedom of the place, and brought him often in touch with the Chief Eunuch. He had made Mizraim a fast friend ever since the day he had, by an able device, saved the Chief Eunuch from determined robbery by the former Prince Pasha, with whom he had suddenly come out of favour.

When Nahoum left the great salon, he directed his steps towards the quarters of the Chief Eunuch, thinking of David, with a vague desire for pursuit and conflict. He was too much of a philosopher to seek to do David physical injury--a futile act; for it could do him no good in the end, could not mend his own fortunes; and, merciless as he could be on occasion, he had no love of bloodshed. Besides, the game afoot was not of his making, and he was ready to await the finish, the more so because he was sure that to-morrow would bring forth momentous things. There was a crisis in the Soudan, there was trouble in the army, there was dark conspiracy of which he knew the heart, and anything might happen to-morrow! He had yet some cards to play, and Achmet and Higli--and another very high and great--might be delivered over to Kaid's deadly purposes rather than himself tomorrow. What he knew Kaid did not know. He had not meant to act yet; but new facts faced him, and he must make one struggle for his life. But as he went towards Mizraim's quarters he saw no sure escape from the stage of those untoward events, save by the exit which is for all in some appointed hour.

He was not, however, more perplexed and troubled than David, who, in the little room where he had been brought and left alone with coffee and cigarettes, served by a slave from some distant portion of the Palace, sat facing his future.

David looked round the little room. Upon the walls hung weapons of every kind--from a polished dagger of Toledo to a Damascus blade, suits of chain armour, long-handled, two-edged Arab swords, pistols which had been used in the Syrian wars of Ibrahim, lances which had been taken from the Druses at Palmyra, rude battle-axes from the tribes of the Soudan, and neboots of dom-wood which had done service against Napoleon at Damietta. The cushions among which he sat had come from Constantinople, the rug at his feet from Tiflis, the prayer-rug on the wall from Mecca.

All that he saw was as unlike what he had known in past years as though he had come to Mars or Jupiter. All that he had heard recalled to him his first readings in the Old Testament--the story of Nebuchadnezzar, of Belshazzar, of Ahasuerus--of Ahasuerus! He suddenly remembered the face he had seen looking down at the Prince's table from the panel of mooshrabieh. That English face--where was it? Why was it there? Who was the man with her? Whose the dark face peering scornfully over her shoulder? The face of an English girl in that place dedicated to sombre intrigue, to the dark effacement of women, to the darker effacement of life, as he well knew, all too often! In looking at this prospect for good work in the cause of civilisation, he was not deceived, he was not allured. He knew into what subterranean ways he must walk, through what mazes of treachery and falsehood he must find his way; and though he did not know to the full the corruption which it was his duty to Kaid to turn to incorruption, he knew enough to give his spirit pause. What would be --what could be--the end? Would he not prove to be as much out of place as was the face of that English girl? The English girl! England rushed back upon him--the love of those at home; of his father, the only father he had ever known; of Faith, the only mother or sister he had ever known; of old John Fairley; the love of the woods and the hills where he had wandered came upon him. There was work to do in England, work too little done--the memory of the great meeting at Heddington flashed upon him. Could his labour and his skill, if he had any, not be used there? Ah, the green fields, the soft grey skies, the quiet vale, the brave, self- respecting, toiling millions, the beautiful sense of law and order and goodness! Could his gifts and labours not be used there? Could not--

He was suddenly startled by a smothered cry, then a call of distress. It was the voice of a woman.

He started up. The voice seemed to come from a room at his right; not that from which he had entered, but one still beyond this where he was. He sprang towards the wall and examined it swiftly. Finding a division in the tapestry, he ran his fingers quickly and heavily down the crack between. It came upon the button of a spring. He pressed it, the door yielded, and, throwing it back, he stepped into the room-to see a woman struggling to resist the embraces and kisses of a man. The face was that of the girl who had looked out of the panel in the mooshrabieh screen. Then it was beautiful in its mirth and animation, now it was pale and terror-stricken, as with one free hand she fiercely beat the face pressed to hers.

The girl only had seen David enter. The man was not conscious of his presence till he was seized and flung against the wall. The violence of the impact brought down at his feet two weapons from the wall above him. He seized one-a dagger-and sprang to his feet. Before he could move forward or raise his arm, however, David struck him a blow in the neck which flung him upon a square marble pedestal intended for a statue. In falling his head struck violently a sharp corner of the pedestal. He lurched, rolled over on the floor, and lay still.

The girl gave a choking cry. David quickly stooped and turned the body over. There was a cut where the hair met the temple. He opened the waistcoat and thrust his hand inside the shirt. Then he felt the pulse of the limp wrist.

For a moment he looked at the face steadily, almost contemplatively it might have seemed, and then drew both arms close to the body.

Foorgat Bey, the brother of Nahoum Pasha, was dead.

Rising, David turned, as if in a dream, to the girl. He made a motion of the hand towards the body. She understood. Dismay was in her face, but the look of horror and desperation was gone. She seemed not to realise, as did David, the awful position in which they were placed, the deed which David had done, the significance of the thing that lay at their feet.

"Where are thy people?" said David. "Come, we will go to them."

"I have no people here," she said, in a whisper.

"Who brought thee?"

She made a motion behind her towards the body. David glanced down. The eyes of the dead man were open. He stooped and closed them gently. The collar and tie were disarranged; he straightened them, then turned again to her.

"I must take thee away," he said calmly. "But it must be secretly." He looked around, perplexed. "We came secretly. My maid is outside the garden--in a carriage. Oh, come, let us go, let us escape. They will kill you--!" Terror came into her face again. "Thee, not me, is in danger--name, goodness, future, all. . . . Which way did thee come?"

"Here--through many rooms--" She made a gesture to curtains beyond. "But we first entered through doors with sphinxes on either side, with a room where was a statue of Mehemet Ali."

It was the room through which David had come with Kaid. He took her hand. "Come quickly. I know the way. It is here," he said, pointing to the panel-door by which he had entered.

Holding her hand still, as though she were a child, he led her quickly from the room, and shut the panel behind them. As they passed through, a hand drew aside the curtains on the other side of the room which they were leaving.

Presently the face of Nahoum Pasha followed the hand. A swift glance to the floor, then he ran forward, stooped down, and laid a hand on his brother's breast. The slight wound on the forehead answered his rapid scrutiny. He realised the situation as plainly as if it had been written down for him--he knew his brother well.

Noiselessly he moved forward and touched the spring of the door through which the two had gone. It yielded, and he passed through, closed the door again and stealthily listened, then stole a look into the farther chamber. It was empty. He heard the outer doors close. For a moment he listened, then went forward and passed through into the hall. Softly turning the handle of the big wooden doors which faced him, he opened them an inch or so, and listened. He could hear swiftly retreating footsteps. Presently he heard the faint noise of a gate shutting. He nodded his head, and was about to close the doors and turn away, when his quick ear detected footsteps again in the garden. Some one--the man, of course--was returning.

"May fire burn his eyes for ever! He would talk with Kald, then go again among them all, and so pass out unsuspected and safe. For who but I--who but I could say he did it? And I--what is my proof? Only the words which I speak."

A scornful, fateful smile passed over his face. "'Hast thou never killed a man?' said Kaid. 'Never,' said he--'by the goodness of God, never!' The voice of Him of Galilee, the hand of Cain, the craft of Jael. But God is with the patient."

He went hastily and noiselessly-his footfall was light for so heavy a man-through the large room to the farther side from that by which David and Kaid had first entered. Drawing behind a clump of palms near a door opening to a passage leading to Mizraim's quarters, he waited. He saw David enter quickly, yet without any air of secrecy, and pass into the little room where Kaid had left him.

For a long time there was silence.

The reasons were clear in Nahoum's mind why he should not act yet. A new factor had changed the equation which had presented itself a short half

The Weavers, Volume 2. - 6/24

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