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- The Weavers, Volume 4. - 10/13 -
"Why didst thou come? What is there but death for thee here, or anywhere thou goest! Kaid's arm will find thee; a thousand hands wait to strike thee."
"I could not die there--Dost thou think that I repent?" he added with sudden fierceness. "Is it that which would make me repent? Was I worse than thousands of others? I have come out to die--to fight and die. Aiwa, I have come to thee, whom I hated, because thou canst give me death as I desire it. My mother was an Arab slave from Senaar, and she was got by war, and all her people. War and fighting were their portion--as they ate, as they drank and slept. In the black years behind me among the Unclean, there was naught to fight--could one fight the dead, and the agony of death, and the poison of the agony! Life, it is done for me-- am I not accursed? But to die fighting--ay, fighting for Egypt, since it must be, and fighting for thee, since it must be; to strike, and strike, and strike, and earn death! Must the dog, because he is a dog, die in the slime? Shall he not be driven from the village to die in the clean sand? Saadat, who will see in me Achmet Pasha, who did with Egypt what he willed, and was swept away by the besom in thy hand? Is there in me aught of that Achmet that any should know?"
"None would know thee for that Achmet," answered David.
"I know, it matters not how--at last a letter found me, and the way of escape--that thou goest again to the Soudan. There will be fighting there--"
"Not by my will," interrupted David.
"Then by the will of Sheitan the accursed; but there will be fighting-- am I not an Arab, do I not know? Thou hast not conquered yet. Bid me go where thou wilt, do what thou wilt, so that I may be among the fighters, and in the battle forget what I have seen. Since I am unclean, and am denied the bosom of Allah, shall I not go as a warrior to Hell, where men will fear me? Speak, Saadat, canst thou deny me this?"
Nothing of repentance, so far as he knew, moved the dark soul; but, like some evil spirit, he would choose the way to his own doom, the place and the manner of it: a sullen, cruel, evil being, unyielding in his evil, unmoved by remorse--so far as he knew. Yet he would die fighting, and for Egypt "and for thee, if it must be so. To strike, to strike, to strike, and earn death!" What Achmet did not see, David saw, the glimmer of light breaking through the cloud of shame and evil and doom. Yonder in the Soudan more problems than one would be solved, more lives than one be put to the extreme test. He did not answer Achmet's question yet. "Zaida--?" he said in a low voice. The pathos of her doom had been a dark memory.
Achmet's voice dropped lower as he answered. "She lived till the day her sister died. I never saw her face; but I was sent to bear each day to her door the food she ate and a balass of water; and I did according to my sentence. Yet I heard her voice. And once, at last, the day she died, she spoke to me, and said from inside the hut: 'Thy work is done, Achmet. Go in peace.' And that night she lay down on her sister's grave, and in the morning she was found dead upon it."
David's eyes were blinded with tears. "It was too long," he said at last, as though to himself.
"That day," continued Achmet, "there fell ill with leprosy the Christian priest from this place who had served in that black service so long; and then a fire leapt up in me. Zaida was gone--I had brought food and a balass of water to her door those many times; there was naught to do, since she was gone--"
Suddenly David took a step nearer to him and looked into the sullen and drooping eyes. "Thou shalt go with me, Achmet. I will do this unlawful act for thee. At daybreak I will give thee orders. Thou shalt join me far from here--if I go to the Soudan," he added, with a sudden remembrance of his position; and he turned away slowly.
After a moment, with muttered words, Achmet sank down upon the stone again, drew a cake of dourha from his inner robe, and began to eat.
The camel-boy had lighted a fire, and he sat beside it warming his hands at the blaze and still singing to himself:
"The bed of my love I will sprinkle with attar of roses, The face of my love I will touch with the balm With the balm of the tree from the farthermost wood, From the wood without end, in the world without end. My love holds the cup to my lips, and I drink of the cup, And the attar of roses I sprinkle will soothe like the evening dew, And the balm will be healing and sleep, and the cup I will drink, I will drink of the cup my love holds to my lips--"
David stood listening. What power was there in desert life that could make this poor camel-driver, at the end of a long day of weariness and toil and little food and drink, sing a song of content and cheerfulness? The little needed, the little granted, and no thought beyond--save the vision of one who waited in the hut by the onion-field. He gathered himself together and tuned his mind to the scene through which he had just passed, and then to the interview he would have with Kaid on the morrow. A few hours ago he had seen no way out of it all--he had had no real hope that Kaid would turn to him again; but the last two hours had changed all that. Hope was alive in him. He had fought a desperate fight with himself, and he had conquered. Then had come Achmet, unrepentant, degraded still, but with the spirit of Something glowing-- Achmet to die for a cause, driven by that Something deep beneath the degradation and the crime. He had hope, and, as the camel-driver's voice died away, and he lay down with a sheep-skin over him and went instantly to sleep, David drew to the fire and sat down beside it. Presently Ebn Ezra came to urge him to go to bed, but he would not. He had slept, he said; he had slept and rested, and the night was good--he would wait. Then the other brought rugs and blankets, and gave David some, and lay down beside the fire, and watched and waited for he knew not what. Ever and ever his eyes were on David, and far back under the acacia-tree Achmet slept as he had not slept since his doom fell on him.
At last Ebn Ezra Bey also slept; but David was awake with the night and the benevolent moon and the marching stars. The spirit of the desert was on him, filling him with its voiceless music. From the infinite stretches of sand to the south came the irresistible call of life, as soft as the leaves in a garden of roses, as deep as the sea. This world was still, yet there seemed a low, delicate humming, as of multitudinous looms at a distance so great that the ear but faintly caught it--the sound of the weavers of life and destiny and eternal love, the hands of the toilers of all the ages spinning and spinning on; and he was part of it, not abashed or dismayed because he was but one of the illimitable throng.
The hours wore on, but still he sat there, peace in all his heart, energy tingling softly through every vein, the wings of hope fluttering at his ear.
At length the morning came, and, from the west, with the rising sun, came a traveller swiftly, making for where he was. The sleepers stirred around him and waked and rose. The little camp became alive. As the traveller neared the fresh-made fire, David saw that it was Lacey. He went eagerly to meet him.
"Thee has news," he said. "I see it is so." He held Lacey's hand in his.
"Say, you are going on that expedition, Saadat. You wanted money. Will a quarter of a million do?" David's eyes caught fire.
From the monastery there came the voices of the monks:
"O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness, and come before His presence with a song."
THE DARK INDENTURE
Nahoum had forgotten one very important thing: that what affected David as a Christian in Egypt would tell equally against himself. If, in his ill-health and dejection, Kaid drank deep of the cup of Mahomet, the red eyes of fanaticism would be turned upon the Armenian, as upon the European Christian. He had forgotten it for the moment, but when, coming into Kaid's Palace, a little knot of loiterers spat upon the ground and snarled, "Infidel--Nazarene!" with contempt and hatred, the significance of the position came home to him. He made his way to a far quarter of the Palace, thoughtfully weighing the circumstances, and was met by Mizraim.
Mizraim salaamed. "The height of thy renown be as the cedar of Lebanon, Excellency."
"May thy feet tread the corn of everlasting fortune, son of Mahomet."
They entered the room together. Nahoum looked at Mizraim curiously. He was not satisfied with what he saw. Mizraim's impassive face had little expression, but the eyes were furtively eager and sinister.
"Well, so it is, and if it is, what then?" asked Nahoum coolly.
"Ki di, so it is," answered Mizraim, and a ghastly smile came to his lips. This infidel pasha, Nahoum, had a mind that pierced to the meaning of words ere they were spoken. Mizraim's hand touched his forehead, his breast, his lips, and, clasping and unclasping his long, snakelike fingers, he began the story he had come to tell.
"The Inglesi, whom Allah confound, the Effendina hath blackened by a look, his words have smitten him in the vital parts--"
"Mizraim, thou dove, speak to the purpose!" Mizraim showed a dark pleasure at the interruption. Nahoum was impatient, anxious; that made the tale better worth telling.
"Sharif and the discontented ones who dare not act, like the vultures, they flee the living man, but swoop upon the corpse. The consuls of those countries who love not England or Claridge Pasha, and the holy men, and the Cadi, all scatter smouldering fires. There is a spirit in the Palace and beyond which is blowing fast to a great flame."
"Then, so it is, great one, and what bodes it?"
"It may kill the Inglesi; but it will also sweep thee from the fields of life where thou dost flourish."
"It is not against the foreigner, but against the Christian, Mizraim?"
"Thy tongue hath wisdom, Excellency."
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