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- The Weavers, Volume 4. - 2/13 -
the final blow to be delivered, when he went again among the southern tribes. He had waited and waited, and now the time was come. Had he, Nahoum, not agreed with David that the time had come for the slave-trade to go? Had he not encouraged him to take this bold step, in the sure belief that it would overwhelm him, and bring him an ignominious death, embittered by total failure of all he had tried to do?
For years he had secretly loosened the foundations of David's work, and the triumph of Oriental duplicity over Western civilisation and integrity was sweet in his mouth. And now there was reason to believe that, at last, Kaid was turning against the Inglesi. Everything would come at once. If all that he had planned was successful, even this man before him should aid in his master's destruction.
"If it was all done by an enemy," he said, in answer to Lacey, at last, "would it all be reasoned out like that? Is hatred so logical? Dost thou think Claridge Pasha will not go now? The troops are ready at Wady- Halfa, everything is in order; the last load of equipment has gone. Will not Claridge Pasha find the money somehow? I will do what I can. My heart is moved to aid him."
"Yes, you'd do what you could, pasha," Lacey rejoined enigmatically, "but whether it would set the Saadat on his expedition or not is a question. But I guess, after all, he's got to go. He willed it so. People may try to stop him, and they may tear down what he does, but he does at last what he starts to do, and no one can prevent him--not any one. Yes, he's going on this expedition; and he'll have the money, too." There was a strange, abstracted look in his face, as though he saw something which held him fascinated.
Presently, as if with an effort, he rose to his feet, took the red fez from his head, and fanned himself with it for a moment. "Don't you forget it, pasha; the Saadat will win. He can't be beaten, not in a thousand years. Here he comes."
Nahoum got to his feet, as David came quickly through the small gateway of the court-yard, his head erect, his lips smiling, his eyes sweeping the place. He came forward briskly to them. It was plain he had not heard the evil news.
"Peace be to thee, Saadat, and may thy life be fenced about with safety!" said Nahoum.
David laid a hand on Lacey's arm and squeezed it, smiling at him with such friendship that Lacey's eyes moistened, and he turned his head away.
There was a quiet elation in David's look. "We are ready at last," he said, looking from one to the other. "Well, well," he added, almost boyishly, "has thee nothing to say, Nahoum?"
Nahoum turned his head away as though overcome. David's face grew instantly grave. He turned to Lacey. Never before had he seen Lacey's face with a look like this. He grasped Lacey's arm. "What is it?" he asked quietly. "What does thee want to say to me?"
But Lacey could not speak, and David turned again to Nahoum. "What is there to say to me?" he asked. "Something has happened--what is it? . . . Come, many things have happened before. This can be no worse. Do thee speak," he urged gently.
"Saadat," said Nahoum, as though under the stress of feeling, "the cotton-mills at Tashah and Mini are gone--burned to the ground."
For a moment David looked at him without sight in his eyes, and his face grew very pale. "Excellency, all in one night, the besom of destruction was abroad," he heard Nahoum say, as though from great depths below him. He slowly turned his head to look at Lacey. "Is this true?" he asked at last in an unsteady voice. Lacey could not speak, but inclined his head.
David's figure seemed to shrink for a moment, his face had a withered look, and his head fell forward in a mood of terrible dejection.
"Saadat! Oh, my God, Saadat, don't take it so!" said Lacey brokenly, and stepped between David and Nahoum. He could not bear that the stricken face and figure should be seen by Nahoum, whom he believed to be secretly gloating. "Saadat," he said brokenly, "God has always been with you; He hasn't forgotten you now.
"The work of years," David murmured, and seemed not to hear.
"When God permits, shall man despair?" interposed Nahoum, in a voice that lingered on the words. Nahoum accomplished what Lacey had failed to do. His voice had pierced to some remote corner in David's nature, and roused him. Was it that doubt, suspicion, had been wakened at last? Was some sensitive nerve touched, that this Oriental should offer Christian comfort to him in his need--to him who had seen the greater light? Or was it that some unreality in the words struck a note which excited a new and subconscious understanding? Perhaps it was a little of all three. He did not stop to inquire. In crises such as that through which he was passing, the mind and body act without reason, rather by the primal instinct, the certain call of the things that were before reason was.
"God is with the patient," continued Nahoum; and Lacey set his teeth to bear this insult to all things. But Nahoum accomplished what he had not anticipated. David straightened himself up, and clasped his hands behind him. By a supreme effort of the will he controlled himself, and the colour came back faintly to his face. "God's will be done," he said, and looked Nahoum calmly in the eyes. "It was no accident," he added with conviction. "It was an enemy of Egypt." Suddenly the thing rushed over him again, going through his veins like a poisonous ether, and clamping his heart as with iron. "All to do over again!" he said brokenly, and again he caught Lacey's arm.
With an uncontrollable impulse Lacey took David's hand in his own warm, human grasp.
"Once I thought I lost everything in Mexico, Saadat, and I understand what you feel. But all wasn't lost in Mexico, as I found at last, and I got something, too, that I didn't put in. Say, let us go from here. God is backing you, Saadat. Isn't it all right--same as ever?"
David was himself again. "Thee is a good man," he said, and through the sadness of his eyes there stole a smile. "Let us go," he said. Then he added in a businesslike way: "To-morrow at seven, Nahoum. There is much to do."
He turned towards the gate with Lacey, where the horses waited. Mahommed Hassan met them as they prepared to mount. He handed David a letter. It was from Faith, and contained the news of Luke Claridge's death. Everything had come at once. He stumbled into the saddle with a moan.
"At last I have drawn blood," said Nahoum to himself with grim satisfaction, as they disappeared. "It is the beginning of the end. It will crush him-I saw it in his eyes. God of Israel, I shall rule again in Egypt!"
It was a great day in the Muslim year. The Mahmal, or Sacred Carpet, was leaving Cairo on its long pilgrimage of thirty-seven days to Mecca and Mahomet's tomb. Great guns boomed from the Citadel, as the gorgeous procession, forming itself beneath the Mokattam Hills, began its slow march to where, seated in the shade of an ornate pavilion, Prince Kaid awaited its approach to pay devout homage. Thousands looked down at the scene from the ramparts of the Citadel, from the overhanging cliffs, and from the tops of the houses that hung on the ledges of rock rising abruptly from the level ground, to which the last of the famed Mamelukes leaped to their destruction.
Now to Prince Kaid's ears there came from hundreds of hoarse throats the cry: "Allah! Allah! May thy journey be with safety to Arafat!" mingling with the harsh music of the fifes and drums.
Kaid looked upon the scene with drawn face and lowering brows. His retinue watched him with alarm. A whisper had passed that, two nights before, the Effendina had sent in haste for a famous Italian physician lately come to Cairo, and that since his visit Kaid had been sullen and depressed. It was also the gossip of the bazaars that he had suddenly shown favour to those of the Royal House and to other reactionaries, who had been enemies to the influence of Claridge Pasha.
This rumour had been followed by an official proclamation that no Europeans or Christians would be admitted to the ceremony of the Sacred Carpet.
Thus it was that Kaid looked out on a vast multitude of Muslims, in which not one European face showed, and from lip to lip there passed the word, "Harrik--Harrik--remember Harrik! Kaid turns from the infidel!"
They crowded near the great pavilion--as near as the mounted Nubians would permit--to see Kaid's face; while he, with eyes wandering over the vast assemblage, was lost in dark reflections. For a year he had struggled against a growing conviction that some obscure disease was sapping his strength. He had hid it from every one, until, at last, distress and pain had overcome him. The verdict of the Italian expert was that possible, but by no means certain, cure might come from an operation which must be delayed for a month or more.
Suddenly, the world had grown unfamiliar to him; he saw it from afar; but his subconscious self involuntarily registered impressions, and he moved mechanically through the ceremonies and duties of the immediate present. Thrown back upon himself, to fight his own fight, with the instinct of primary life his mind involuntarily drew for refuge to the habits and predispositions of youth; and for two days he had shut himself away from the activities with which David and Nahoum were associated. Being deeply engaged with the details of the expedition to the Soudan, David had not gone to the Palace; and he was unaware of the turn which things had taken.
Three times, with slow and stately steps, the procession wound in a circle in the great square, before it approached the pavilion where the Effendina sat, the splendid camels carrying the embroidered tent wherein the Carpet rested, and that which bore the Emir of the pilgrims, moving gracefully like ships at sea. Naked swordsmen, with upright and shining blades, were followed by men on camels bearing kettle-drums. After them came Arab riders with fresh green branches fastened to the saddles like plumes, while others carried flags and banners emblazoned with texts and symbols. Troops of horsemen in white woollen cloaks, sheikhs and Bedouins with flowing robes and huge turbans, religious chiefs of the great sects, imperturbable and statuesque, were in strange contrast to the shouting dervishes and camel-drivers and eager pilgrims.
At last the great camel with its sacred burden stopped in front of Kaid for his prayer and blessing. As he held the tassels, lifted the gold- fringed curtain, and invoked Allah's blessing, a half-naked sheikh ran
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