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- The Weavers, Volume 6. - 2/11 -
There was no chance to misunderstand him. Foorgat Bey--he knew the truth, and had known it all these years.
"Excellency," she said, "if through me, Claridge Pasha--"
"One moment, madame," he interrupted, and, opening a drawer, took out a letter. "I think that what you would say may be found here, with much else that you will care to know. It is the last news of Claridge Pasha-- a letter from him. I understand all you would say to me; but he who has most at stake has said it, and, if he failed, do you think, madame, that you could succeed?"
He handed her the letter with a respectful salutation.
"In the hour he left, madame, he came to know that the name of Foorgat Bey was not blotted from the book of Time, nor from Fate's reckoning."
After all these years! Her instinct had been true, then, that night so long ago. The hand that took the letter trembled slightly in spite of her will, but it was not the disclosure Nahoum had made which caused her agitation. This letter she held was in David Claridge's hand, the first she had ever seen, and, maybe, the last that he had ever written, or that any one would ever see, a document of tears. But no, there were no tears in this letter! As Hylda read it the trembling passed from her fingers, and a great thrilling pride possessed her. If tragedy had come, then it had fallen like a fire from heaven, not like a pestilence rising from the earth. Here indeed was that which justified all she had done, what she was doing now, what she meant to do when she had read the last word of it and the firm, clear signature beneath.
"Excellency [the letter began in English], I came into the desert and into the perils I find here, with your last words in my ear, 'There is the matter of Foorgat Bey.' The time you chose to speak was chosen well for your purpose, but ill for me. I could not turn back, I must go on. Had I returned, of what avail? What could I do but say what I say here, that my hand killed Foorgat Bey; that I had not meant to kill him, though at the moment I struck I took no heed whether he lived or died. Since you know of my sorrowful deed, you also know why Foorgat Bey was struck down. When, as I left the bank of the Nile, your words blinded my eyes, my mind said in its misery: 'Now, I see!' The curtains fell away from between you and me, and I saw all that you had done for vengeance and revenge. You knew all on that night when you sought your life of me and the way back to Kaid's forgiveness. I see all as though you spoke it in my ear. You had reason to hurt me, but you had no reason for hurting Egypt, as you have done. I did not value my life, as you know well, for it has been flung into the midst of dangers for Egypt's sake, how often! It was not cowardice which made me hide from you and all the world the killing of Foorgat Bey. I desired to face the penalty, for did not my act deny all that I had held fast from my youth up? But there was another concerned--a girl, but a child in years, as innocent and true a being as God has ever set among the dangers of this life, and, by her very innocence and unsuspecting nature, so much more in peril before such unscrupulous wiles as were used by Foorgat Bey.
"I have known you many years, Nahoum, and dark and cruel as your acts have been against the work I gave my life to do, yet I think that there was ever in you, too, the root of goodness. Men would call your acts treacherous if they knew what you had done; and so indeed they were; but yet I have seen you do things to others--not to me--which could rise only from the fountain of pure waters. Was it partly because I killed Foorgat and partly because I came to place and influence and power, that you used me so, and all that I did? Or was it the East at war with the West, the immemorial feud and foray?
"This last I will believe; for then it will seem to be something beyond yourself--centuries of predisposition, the long stain of the indelible--that drove you to those acts of matricide. Ay, it is that! For, Armenian as you are, this land is your native land, and in pulling down what I have built up--with you, Nahoum, with you-- you have plunged the knife into the bosom of your mother. Did it never seem to you that the work which you did with me was a good work--the reduction of the corvee, the decrease of conscription, the lessening of taxes of the fellah, the bridges built, the canals dug, the seed distributed, the plague stayed, the better dwellings for the poor in the Delta, the destruction of brigandage, the slow blotting-out of exaction and tyranny under the kourbash, the quiet growth of law and justice, the new industries started--did not all these seem good to you, as you served the land with me, your great genius for finance, ay, and your own purse, helping on the things that were dear to me, for Egypt's sake? Giving with one hand freely, did your soul not misgive you when you took away with the other?
"When you tore down my work, you were tearing down your own; for, more than the material help I thought you gave in planning and shaping reforms, ay, far more than all, was the feeling in me which helped me over many a dark place, that I had you with me, that I was not alone. I trusted you, Nahoum. A life for a life you might have had for the asking; but a long torture and a daily weaving of the web of treachery--that has taken more than my life; it has taken your own, for you have killed the best part of yourself, that which you did with me; and here in an ever-narrowing circle of death I say to you that you will die with me. Power you have, but it will wither in your grasp. Kaid will turn against you; for with my failure will come a dark reaction in his mind, which feels the cloud of doom drawing over it. Without me, with my work falling about his ears, he will, as he did so short a time ago, turn to Sharif and Higli and the rest; and the only comfort you will have will be that you destroyed the life of him who killed your brother. Did you love your brother? Nay, not more than did I, for I sent his soul into the void, and I would gladly have gone after it to ask God for the pardon of all his sins--and mine. Think: I hid the truth, but why? Because a woman would suffer an unmerited scandal and shame. Nothing could recall Foorgat Bey; but for that silence I gave my life, for the land which was his land. Do you betray it, then?
"And now, Nahoum, the gulf in which you sought to plunge me when you had ruined all I did is here before me. The long deception has nearly done its work. I know from Ebn Ezra Bey what passed between you. They are out against me--the slave-dealers--from Senaar to where I am. The dominion of Egypt is over here. Yet I could restore it with a thousand men and a handful of European officers, had I but a show of authority from Cairo, which they think has deserted me.
"I am shut up here with a handful of men who can fight and thousands who cannot fight, and food grows scarcer, and my garrison is worn and famished; but each day I hearten them with the hope that you will send me a thousand men from Cairo. One steamer pounding here from the north with men who bring commands from the Effendina, and those thousands out yonder beyond my mines and moats and guns will begin to melt away. Nahoum, think not that you shall triumph over David Claridge. If it be God's will that I shall die here, my work undone, then, smiling, I shall go with step that does not falter, to live once more; and another day the work that I began will rise again in spite of you or any man.
"Nahoum, the killing of Foorgat Bey has been like a cloud upon all my past. You know me, and you know I do not lie. Yet I do not grieve that I hid the thing--it was not mine only; and if ever you knew a good woman, and in dark moments have turned to her, glad that she was yours, think what you would have done for her, how you would have sheltered her against aught that might injure her, against those things women are not made to bear. Then think that I hid the deed for one who was a stranger to me, whose life must ever lay far from mine, and see clearly that I did it for a woman's sake, and not for this woman's sake; for I had never seen her till the moment I struck Foorgat Bey into silence and the tomb. Will you not understand, Nahoum?
"Yonder, I see the tribes that harry me. The great guns firing make the day a burden, the nights are ever fretted by the dangers of surprise, and there is scarce time to bury the dead whom sickness and the sword destroy. From the midst of it all my eyes turn to you in Cairo, whose forgiveness I ask for the one injury I did you; while I pray that you will seek pardon for all that you have done to me and to those who will pass with me, if our circle is broken. Friend, Achmet the Ropemaker is here fighting for Egypt. Art thou less, then, than Achmet? So, God be with thee.
Without a pause Hylda had read the letter from the first word to the last. She was too proud to let this conspirator and traitor see what David's words could do to her. When she read the lines concerning herself, she became cold from head to foot, but she knew that Nahoum never took his eyes from her face, and she gave no outward sign of what was passing within. When she had finished it, she folded it up calmly, her eyes dwelt for a moment on the address upon the envelope, and then she handed it back to Nahoum without a word. She looked him in the eyes and spoke. "He saved your life, he gave you all you had lost. It was not his fault that Prince Kaid chose him for his chief counsellor. You would be lying where your brother lies, were it not for Claridge Pasha."
"It may be; but the luck was with me; and I have my way."
She drew herself together to say what was hard to say. "Excellency, the man who was killed deserved to die. Only by lies, only by subterfuge, only because I was curious to see the inside of the Palace, and because I had known him in London, did I, without a thought of indiscretion, give myself to his care to come here. I was so young; I did not know life, or men--or Egyptians." The last word was uttered with low scorn.
He glanced up quickly, and for the first time she saw a gleam of malice in his eyes. She could not feel sorry she had said it, yet she must remove the impression if possible.
"What Claridge Pasha did, any man would have done, Excellency. He struck, and death was an accident. Foorgat's temple struck the corner of a pedestal.
"His death was instant. He would have killed Claridge Pasha if it had been possible--he tried to do so. But, Excellency, if you have a daughter, if you ever had a child, what would you have done if any man had--"
"In the East daughters are more discreet; they tempt men less," he answered quietly, and fingered the string of beads he carried.
"Yet you would have done as Claridge Pasha did. That it was your brother was an accident, and--"
"It was an accident that the penalty must fall on Claridge Pasha, and on you, madame. I did not choose the objects of penalty. Destiny chose them, as Destiny chose Claridge Pasha as the man who should supplant me,
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