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- The Weavers, Volume 4. - 3/13 -
forward, and, raising his hand high above his head, cried shrilly: "Kaid, Kaid, hearken!"
Rough hands caught him away, but Kaid commanded them to desist; and the man called a blessing on him; and cried aloud:
"Listen, O Kaid, son of the stars and the light of day. God hath exalted thee. Thou art the Egyptian of all the Egyptians. In thy hand is power. But thou art mortal even as I. Behold, O Kaid, in the hour that I was born thou wast born, I in the dust without thy Palace wall, thou amid the splendid things. But thy star is my star. Behold, as God ordains, the Tree of Life was shaken on the night when all men pray and cry aloud to God--even the Night of the Falling Leaves. And I watched the falling leaves; and I saw my leaf, and it was withered, but only a little withered, and so I live yet a little. But I looked for thy leaf, thou who wert born in that moment when I waked to the world. I looked long, but I found no leaf, neither green nor withered. But I looked again upon my leaf, and then I saw that thy name now was also upon my leaf, and that it was neither green nor withered; but was a leaf that drooped as when an evil wind has passed and drunk its life. Listen, O Kaid! Upon the tomb of Mahomet I will set my lips, and it may be that the leaf of my life will come fresh and green again. But thou--wilt thou not come also to the lord Mahomet's tomb? Or"--he paused and raised his voice--"or wilt thou stay and lay thy lips upon the cross of the infidel? Wilt thou--"
He could say no more, for Kaid's face now darkened with anger. He made a gesture, and, in an instant, the man was gagged and bound, while a sullen silence fell upon the crowd. Kaid suddenly became aware of this change of feeling, and looked round him. Presently his old prudence and subtlety came back, his face cleared a little, and he called aloud, "Unloose the man, and let him come to me." An instant after, the man was on his knees, silent before him.
"What is thy name?" Kaid asked.
"Kaid Ibrahim, Effendina," was the reply.
"Thou hast misinterpreted thy dream, Kaid Ibrahim," answered the Effendina. "The drooping leaf was token of the danger in which thy life should be, and my name upon thy leaf was token that I should save thee from death. Behold, I save thee. Inshallah, go in peace! There is no God but God, and the Cross is the sign of a false prophet. Thou art mad. God give thee a new mind. Go."
The man was presently lost in the sweltering, half-frenzied crowd; but he had done his work, and his words rang in the ears of Kaid as he rode away.
A few hours afterwards, bitter and rebellious, murmuring to himself, Kaid sat in a darkened room of his Nile Palace beyond the city. So few years on the throne, so young, so much on which to lay the hand of pleasure, so many millions to command; and yet the slave at his door had a surer hold on life and all its joys and lures than he, Prince Kaid, ruler of Egypt! There was on him that barbaric despair which has taken dreadful toll of life for the decree of destiny. Across the record of this day, as across the history of many an Eastern and pagan tyrant, was written: "He would not die alone." That the world should go on when he was gone, that men should buy and sell and laugh and drink, and flaunt it in the sun, while he, Prince Kaid, would be done with it all.
He was roused by the rustling of a robe. Before him stood the Arab physician, Sharif Bey, who had been in his father's house and his own for a lifetime. It was many a year since his ministrations to Kaid had ceased; but he had remained on in the Palace, doing service to those who received him, and--it was said by the evil-tongued--granting certificates of death out of harmony with dark facts, a sinister and useful figure. His beard was white, his face was friendly, almost benevolent, but his eyes had a light caught from no celestial flame.
His look was confident now, as his eyes bent on Kaid. He had lived long, he had seen much, he had heard of the peril that had been foreshadowed by the infidel physician; and, by a sure instinct, he knew that his own opportunity had come. He knew that Kaid would snatch at any offered comfort, would cherish any alleviating lie, would steal back from science and civilisation and the modern palace to the superstition of the fellah's hut. Were not all men alike when the neboot of Fate struck them down into the terrible loneliness of doom, numbing their minds? Luck would be with him that offered first succour in that dark hour. Sharif had come at the right moment for Sharif.
Kaid looked at him with dull yet anxious eyes. "Did I not command that none should enter?" he asked presently in a thick voice.
"Am I not thy physician, Effendina, to whom be the undying years? When the Effendina is sick, shall I not heal? Have I not waited like a dog at thy door these many years, till that time would come when none could heal thee save Sharif?"
"What canst thou give me?"
"What the infidel physician gave thee not--I can give thee hope. Hast thou done well, oh, Effendina, to turn from thine own people? Did not thine own father, and did not Mehemet Ali, live to a good age? Who were their physicians? My father and I, and my father's father, and his father's father."
"Thou canst cure me altogether?" asked Kaid hesitatingly.
"Wilt thou not have faith in one of thine own race? Will the infidel love thee as do we, who are thy children and thy brothers, who are to thee as a nail driven in the wall, not to be moved? Thou shalt live-- Inshallah, thou shalt have healing and length of days!"
He paused at a gesture from Kaid, for a slave had entered and stood waiting.
"What dost thou here? Wert thou not commanded?" asked Kaid.
"Effendina, Claridge Pasha is waiting," was the reply.
Kaid frowned, hesitated; then, with a sudden resolve, made a gesture of dismissal to Sharif Bey, and nodded David's admittance to the slave.
As David entered, he passed Sharif Bey, and something in the look on the Arab physician's face--a secret malignancy and triumph--struck him strangely. And now a fresh anxiety and apprehension rose in his mind as he glanced at Kaid. The eye was heavy and gloomy, the face was clouded, the lips once so ready to smile at him were sullen and smileless now. David stood still, waiting.
"I did not expect thee till to-morrow, Saadat," said Kaid moodily at last.
"The business is urgent?" "Effendina," said David, with every nerve at tension, yet with outward self-control, "I have to report--" He paused, agitated; then, in a firm voice, he told of the disaster which had befallen the cotton-mills and the steamer.
As David spoke, Kaid's face grew darker, his fingers fumbled vaguely with the linen of the loose white robe he wore. When the tale was finished he sat for a moment apparently stunned by the news, then he burst out fiercely:
"Bismillah, am I to hear only black words to-day? Hast thou naught to say but this--the fortune of Egypt burned to ashes!"
David held back the quick retort that came to his tongue.
"Half my fortune is in the ashes," he answered with dignity. "The rest came from savings never made before by this Government. Is the work less worthy in thy sight, Effendina, because it has been destroyed? Would thy life be less great and useful because a blow took thee from behind?"
Kaid's face turned black. David had bruised an open wound.
"What is my life to thee--what is thy work to me?"
"Thy life is dear to Egypt, Effendina," urged David soothingly, "and my labour for Egypt has been pleasant in thine eyes till now."
"Egypt cannot be saved against her will," was the moody response. "What has come of the Western hand upon the Eastern plough?" His face grew blacker; his heart was feeding on itself.
"Thou, the friend of Egypt, hast come of it, Effendina."
"Harrik was right, Harrik was right," Kaid answered, with stubborn gloom and anger. "Better to die in our own way, if we must die, than live in the way of another. Thou wouldst make of Egypt another England; thou wouldst civilise the Soudan--bismillah, it is folly!"
"That is not the way Mehemet Ali thought, nor Ibrahim. Nor dost thou think so, Effendina," David answered gravely. "A dark spirit is on thee. Wouldst thou have me understand that what we have done together, thou and I, was ill done, that the old bad days were better?"
"Go back to thine own land," was the surly answer. "Nation after nation ravaged Egypt, sowed their legions here, but the Egyptian has lived them down. The faces of the fellaheen are the faces of Thotmes and Seti. Go back. Egypt will travel her own path. We are of the East; we are Muslim. What is right to you is wrong to us. Ye would make us over-- give us cotton beds and wooden floors and fine flour of the mill, and cleanse the cholera-hut with disinfectants, but are these things all? How many of your civilised millions would die for their prophet Christ? Yet all Egypt would rise up from the mud-floor, the dourha-field and the mud-hut, and would come out to die for Mahomet and Allah--ay, as Harrik knew, as Harrik knew! Ye steal into corners, and hide behind the curtains of your beds to pray; we pray where the hour of prayer finds us --in the street, in the market-place, where the house is building, the horse being shod, or the money-changers are. Ye hear the call of civilisation, but we heap the Muezzin--"
He stopped, and searched mechanically for his watch. "It is the hour the Muezzin calls," said David gently. "It is almost sunset. Shall I open the windows that the call may come to us?" he added.
While Kaid stared at him, his breast heaving with passion, David went to a window and opened the shutters wide.
The Palace faced the Nile, which showed like a tortuous band of blue and silver a mile or so away. Nothing lay between but the brown sand, and here and there a handful of dark figures gliding towards the river, or a little train of camels making for the bare grey hills from the ghiassas which had given them their desert loads. The course of the Nile was marked by a wide fringe of palms showing blue and purple, friendly and ancient and solitary. Beyond the river and the palms lay the grey-brown desert, faintly touched with red. So clear was the sweet evening air that the irregular surface of the desert showed for a score of miles as plainly as though it were but a step away. Hummocks of sand--tombs and fallen monuments gave a feeling as of forgotten and buried peoples; and
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