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- The Weavers, Volume 4. - 4/13 -
the two vast pyramids of Sakkarah stood up in the plaintive glow of the evening skies, majestic and solemn, faithful to the dissolved and absorbed races who had built them. Curtains of mauve and saffron-red were hung behind them, and through a break of cloud fringing the horizon a yellow glow poured, to touch the tips of the pyramids with poignant splendour. But farther over to the right, where Cairo lay, there hung a bluish mist, palpable and delicate, out of which emerged the vast pyramids of Cheops; and beside it the smiling inscrutable Sphinx faced the changeless centuries. Beyond the pyramids the mist deepened into a vast deep cloud of blue and purple, which seemed the end to some mystic highway untravelled by the sons of men.
Suddenly there swept over David a wave of feeling such as had passed over Kaid, though of a different nature. Those who had built the pyramids were gone, Cheops and Thotmes and Amenhotep and Chefron and the rest. There had been reformers in those lost races; one age had sought to better the last, one man had toiled to save--yet there only remained offensive bundles of mummied flesh and bone and a handful of relics in tombs fifty centuries old. Was it all, then, futile? Did it matter, then, whether one man laboured or a race aspired?
Only for a moment these thoughts passed through his mind; and then, as the glow through the broken cloud on the opposite horizon suddenly faded, and veils of melancholy fell over the desert and the river and the palms, there rose a call, sweetly shrill, undoubtingly insistent. Sunset had come, and, with it, the Muezzin's call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque hard by.
David was conscious of a movement behind him--that Kaid was praying with hands uplifted; and out on the sands between the window and the river he saw kneeling figures here and there, saw the camel-drivers halt their trains, and face the East with hands uplifted. The call went on--"La ilaha illa-llah !"
It called David, too. The force and searching energy and fire in it stole through his veins, and drove from him the sense of futility and despondency which had so deeply added to his trouble. There was something for him, too, in that which held infatuated the minds of so many millions.
A moment later Kaid and he faced each other again. "Effendina," he said, "thou wilt not desert our work now?"
"Money--for this expedition? Thou hast it?" Kaid asked ironically.
"I have but little money, and it must go to rebuild the mills, Effendina. I must have it of thee."
"Let them remain in their ashes."
"But thousands will have no work."
"They had work before they were built, they will have work now they are gone."
"Effendina, I stayed in Egypt at thy request. The work is thy work. Wilt thou desert it?"
"The West lured me--by things that seemed. Now I know things as they are."
"They will lure thee again to-morrow," said David firmly, but with a weight on his spirit. His eyes sought and held Kaid's. "It is too late to go back; we must go forward or we shall lose the Soudan, and a Mahdi and his men will be in Cairo in ten years."
For an instant Kaid was startled. The old look of energy and purpose leaped up into his eye; but it faded quickly again. If, as the Italian physician more than hinted, his life hung by a thread, did it matter whether the barbarian came to Cairo? That was the business of those who came after. If Sharif was right, and his life was saved, there would be time enough to set things right.
"I will not pour water on the sands to make an ocean," he answered. "Will a ship sail on the Sahara? Bismillah, it is all a dream! Harrik was right. But dost thou think to do with me as thou didst with Harrik?" he sneered. "Is it in thy mind?"
David's patience broke down under the long provocation. "Know then, Effendina," he said angrily, "that I am not thy subject, nor one beholden to thee, nor thy slave. Upon terms well understood, I have laboured here. I have kept my obligations, and it is thy duty to keep thy obligations, though the hand of death were on thee. I know not what has poisoned thy mind, and driven thee from reason and from justice. I know that, Prince Pasha of Egypt as thou art, thou art as bound to me as any fellah that agrees to tend my door or row my boat. Thy compact with me is a compact with England, and it shall be kept, if thou art an honest man. Thou mayst find thousands in Egypt who will serve thee at any price, and bear thee in any mood. I have but one price. It is well known to thee. I will not be the target for thy black temper. This is not the middle ages; I am an Englishman, not a helot. The bond must be kept; thou shalt not play fast and loose. Money must be found; the expedition must go. But if thy purpose is now Harrik's purpose, then Europe should know, and Egypt also should know. I have been thy right hand, Effendina; I will not be thy old shoe, to be cast aside at thy will."
In all the days of his life David had never flamed out as he did now. Passionate as his words were, his manner was strangely quiet, but his white and glistening face and his burning eyes showed how deep was his anger.
As he spoke, Kaid sank upon the divan. Never had he been challenged so. With his own people he had ever been used to cringing and abasement, and he had played the tyrant, and struck hard and cruelly, and he had been feared; but here, behind David's courteous attitude, there was a scathing arraignment of his conduct which took no count of consequence. In other circumstances his vanity would have shrunk under this whip of words, but his native reason and his quick humour would have justified David. In this black distemper possessing him, however, only outraged egotism prevailed. His hands clenched and unclenched, his lips were drawn back on his teeth in rage.
When David had finished, Kaid suddenly got to his feet and took a step forward with a malediction, but a faintness seized him and he staggered back. When he raised his head again David was gone.
If there was one glistening bead of sweat on the bald pate of Lacey of Chicago there were a thousand; and the smile on his face was not less shining and unlimited. He burst into the rooms of the palace where David had residence, calling: "Oyez! Oyez! Saadat! Oh, Pasha of the Thousand Tails! Oyez! Oyez!"
Getting no answer, he began to perform a dance round the room, which in modern days is known as the negro cake-walk. It was not dignified, but it would have been less dignified still performed by any other living man of forty-five with a bald head and a waist-band ten inches too large. Round the room three times he went, and then he dropped on a divan. He gasped, and mopped his face and forehead, leaving a little island of moisture on the top of his head untouched. After a moment, he gained breath and settled down a little. Then he burst out:
"Are you coming to my party, O effendi? There'll be high jinks, there'll be welcome, there'll be room; For to-morrow we are pulling stakes for Shendy. Are you coming to my party, O Nahoum?"
"Say, I guess that's pretty good on the spur of the moment," he wheezed, and, taking his inseparable note book from his pocket, wrote the impromptu down. "I guess She'll like that-it rings spontaneous. She'll be tickled, tickled to death, when she knows what's behind it." He repeated it with gusto. "She'll dote on it," he added--the person to whom he referred being the sister of the American Consul, the little widow, "cute as she can be," of whom he had written to Hylda in the letter which had brought a crisis in her life. As he returned the note- book to his pocket a door opened. Mahommed Hassan slid forward into the room, and stood still, impassive and gloomy. Lacey beckoned, and said grotesquely:
"'Come hither, come hither, my little daughter, And do not tremble so!'"
A sort of scornful patience was in Mahommed's look, but he came nearer and waited.
"Squat on the ground, and smile a smile of mirth, Mahommed," Lacey said riotously. "'For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May!'"
Mahommed's face grew resentful. "O effendi, shall the camel-driver laugh when the camels are lost in the khamsin and the water-bottle is empty?"
"Certainly not, O son of the spreading palm; but this is not a desert, nor a gaudy caravan. This is a feast of all angels. This is the day when Nahoum the Nefarious is to be buckled up like a belt, and ridden in a ring. Where is the Saadat?"
"He is gone, effendi! Like a mist on the face of the running water, so was his face; like eyes that did not see, so was his look. 'Peace be to thee, Mahommed, thou art faithful as Zaida,' he said, and he mounted and rode into the desert. I ran after till he was come to the edge of the desert; but he sent me back, saying that I must wait for thee; and this word I was to say, that Prince Kaid had turned his face darkly from him, and that the finger of Sharif--"
"That fanatical old quack--Harrik's friend!"
"--that the finger of Sharif was on his pulse; but the end of all was in the hands of God."
"Oh yes, exactly, the finger of Sharif on his pulse! The old story-the return to the mother's milk, throwing back to all the Pharaohs. Well, what then?" he added cheerfully, his smile breaking out again. "Where has he gone, our Saadat?"
"To Ebn Ezra Bey at the Coptic Monastery by the Etl Tree, where your prophet Christ slept when a child."
Lacey hummed to himself meditatively. "A sort of last powwow--Rome before the fall. Everything wrong, eh? Kaid turned fanatic, Nahoum on the tiles watching for the Saadat to fall, things trembling for want of hard cash. That's it, isn't it, Mahommed?"
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