The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XII. The Jehad and the Lions
"Allah hu Achbar! Allah hu Achbar! Ashhadu an la illaha illalla!" The sweetly piercing, resonant voice of the Muezzin rang far and commandingly on the clear evening air, and from bazaar and crowded street the faithful silently hurried to the mosques, leaving their slippers at the door, while others knelt where the call found them, and touched their foreheads to the ground.
In his palace by the Nile, Harrik, the half-brother of the Prince Pasha, heard it, and breaking off from conversation with two urgent visitors, passed to an alcove near, dropping a curtain behind him. Kneeling reverently on the solitary furniture of the room--a prayer-rug from Medina--he lost himself as completely in his devotions as though his life were an even current of unforbidden acts and motives.
Cross-legged on the great divan of the room he had left, his less pious visitors, unable to turn their thoughts from the dark business on which they had come, smoked their cigarettes, talking to each other in tones so low as would not have been heard by a European, and with apparent listlessness.
Their manner would not have indicated that they were weighing matters of life and death, of treason and infamy, of massacre and national shame. Only the sombre, smouldering fire of their eyes was evidence of the lighted fuse of conspiracy burning towards the magazine. One look of surprise had been exchanged when Harrik Pasha left them suddenly--time was short for what they meant to do; but they were Muslims, and they resigned themselves.
"The Inglesi must be the first to go; shall a Christian dog rule over us?"
It was Achmet the Ropemaker who spoke, his yellow face wrinkling with malice, though his voice but murmured hoarsely.
"Nahoum will kill him." Higli Pasha laughed low--it was like the gurgle of water in the narghileh--a voice of good nature and persuasiveness from a heart that knew no virtue. "Bismillah! Who shall read the meaning of it? Why has he not already killed?"
"Nahoum would choose his own time--after he has saved his life by the white carrion. Kaid will give him his life if the Inglesi asks. The Inglesi, he is mad. If he were not mad, he would see to it that Nahoum was now drying his bones in the sands."
"What each has failed to do for the other shall be done for them," answered Achmet, a hateful leer on his immobile features. "To-night many things shall be made right. To-morrow there will be places empty and places filled. Egypt shall begin again to-morrow."
Achmet stopped smoking for a moment. "When the khamsin comes, when the camels stampede, and the children of the storm fall upon the caravan, can it be foretold in what way Fate shall do her work? So but the end be the same--malaish! We shall be content tomorrow."
Now he turned and looked at his companion as though his mind had chanced on a discovery. "To him who first brings word to a prince who inherits, that the reigning prince is dead, belong honour and place," he said.
"Then shall it be between us twain," said High, and laid his hot palm against the cold, snaky palm of the other. "And he to whom the honour falls shall help the other."
"Aiwa, but it shall be so," answered Achmet, and then they spoke in lower tones still, their eyes on the curtain behind which Harrik prayed.
Presently Harrik entered, impassive, yet alert, his slight, handsome figure in sharp contrast to the men lounging in the cushions before him, who salaamed as he came forward. The features were finely chiselled, the forehead white and high, the lips sensuous, the eyes fanatical, the look concentrated yet abstracted. He took a seat among the cushions, and, after a moment, said to Achmet, in a voice abnormally deep and powerful: "Diaz--there is no doubt of Diaz?"
"He awaits the signal. The hawk flies not swifter than Diaz will act."
"The people--the bazaars--the markets?"
"As the air stirs a moment before the hurricane comes, so the whisper has stirred them. From one lip to another, from one street to another, from one quarter to another, the word has been passed--'Nahoum was a Christian, but Nahoum was an Egyptian whose heart was Muslim. The stranger is a Christian and an Inglesi. Reason has fled from the Prince Pasha, the Inglesi has bewitched him. But the hour of deliverance draweth nigh. Be ready! To-night!' So has the whisper gone."
Harrik's eyes burned. "God is great," he said. "The time has come. The Christians spoil us. From France, from England, from Austria--it is enough. Kaid has handed us over to the Greek usurers, the Inglesi and the Frank are everywhere. And now this new-comer who would rule Kaid, and lay his hand upon Egypt like Joseph of old, and bring back Nahoum, to the shame of every Muslim--behold, the spark is to the tinder, it shall burn."
"And the hour, Effendina?"
"At midnight. The guns to be trained on the Citadel, the Palace surrounded. Kaid's Nubians?"
"A hundred will be there, Effendina, the rest a mile away at their barracks." Achmet rubbed his cold palms together in satisfaction.
"And Prince Kaid, Effendina?" asked Higli cautiously.
The fanatical eyes turned away. "The question is foolish--have ye no brains?" he said impatiently.
A look of malignant triumph flashed from Achmet to High, and he said, scarce above a whisper: "May thy footsteps be as the wings of the eagle, Effendina. The heart of the pomegranate is not redder than our hearts are red for thee. Cut deep into our hearts, and thou shalt find the last beat is for thee--and for the Jehad!"
"The Jehad--ay, the Jehad! The time is at hand," answered Harrik, glowering at the two. "The sword shall not be sheathed till we have redeemed Egypt. Go your ways, effendis, and peace be on you and on all the righteous worshippers of God!"
As High and Achmet left the palace, the voice of a holy man--admitted everywhere and treated with reverence--chanting the Koran, came somnolently through the court-yard: "Bismillah hirrahmah, nirraheem. Elhamdu lillahi sabbila!"
Rocking his body backwards and forwards and dwelling sonorously on each vowel, the holy man seemed the incarnation of Muslim piety; but as the two conspirators passed him with scarce a glance, and made their way to a small gate leading into the great garden bordering on the Nile, his eyes watched them sharply. When they had passed through, he turned towards the windows of the harem, still chanting. For a long time he chanted. An occasional servant came and went, but his voice ceased not, and he kept his eyes fixed ever on the harem windows.
At last his watching had its reward. Something fluttered from a window to the ground. Still chanting, he rose and began walking round the great court-yard. Twice he went round, still chanting, but the third time he stooped to pick up a little strip of linen which had fallen from the window, and concealed it in his sleeve. Presently he seated himself again, and, still chanting, spread out the linen in his palm and read the characters upon it. For an instant there was a jerkiness to the voice, and then it droned on resonantly again. Now the eyes of the holy man were fixed on the great gates through which strangers entered, and he was seated in the way which any one must take who came to the palace doors.
It was almost dark, when he saw the bowab, after repeated knocking, sleepily and grudgingly open the gates to admit a visitor. There seemed to be a moment's hesitation on the bowab's part, but he was presently assured by something the visitor showed him, and the latter made his way deliberately to the palace doors. As the visitor neared the holy man, who chanted on monotonously, he was suddenly startled to hear between the long-drawn syllables the quick words in Arabic:
"Beware, Saadat! See, I am Mahommed Hassan, thy servant! At midnight they surround Kaid's palace--Achmet and Higli--and kill the Prince Pasha. Return, Saadat. Harrik will kill thee."
David made no sign, but with a swift word to the faithful Mahommed Hassan, passed on, and was presently admitted to the palace. As the doors closed behind him, he would hear the voice of the holy man still chanting: "Waladalleen--Ameen-Ameen! Waladalleen--Ameen!"
The voice followed him, fainter and fainter, as he passed through the great bare corridors with the thick carpets on which the footsteps made no sound, until it came, soft and undefined, as it were from a great distance. Then suddenly there fell upon him a sense of the peril of his enterprise. He had been left alone in the vast dim hall while a slave, made obsequious by the sight of the ring of the Prince Pasha, sought his master. As he waited he was conscious that people were moving about behind the great screens of mooshrabieh which separated this room from others, and that eyes were following his every motion. He had gained easy ingress to this place; but egress was a matter of some speculation. The doors which had closed behind him might swing one way only! He had voluntarily put himself in the power of a man whose fatal secret he knew. He only felt a moment's apprehension, however. He had been moved to come from a whisper in his soul; and he had the sure conviction of the predestinarian that he was not to be the victim of "The Scytheman" before his appointed time. His mind resumed its composure, and he watchfully waited the return of the slave.
Suddenly he was conscious of some one behind him, though he had heard no one approach. He swung round and was met by the passive face of the black slave in personal attendance on Harrik. The slave did not speak, but motioned towards a screen at the end of the room, and moved towards it. David followed. As they reached it, a broad panel opened, and they passed through, between a line of black slaves. Then there was a sudden darkness, and a moment later David was ushered into a room blazing with light. Every inch of the walls was hung with red curtains. No door was visible. He was conscious of this as the panel clicked behind him, and the folds of the red velvet caught his shoulder in falling. Now he saw sitting on a divan on the opposite side of the room Prince Harrik.
David had never before seen him, and his imagination had fashioned a different personality. Here was a combination of intellect, refinement, and savagery. The red, sullen lips stamped the delicate, fanatical face with cruelty and barbaric indulgence, while yet there was an intensity in the eyes that showed the man was possessed of an idea which mastered him --a root-thought. David was at once conscious of a complex personality, of a man in whom two natures fought. He understood it. By instinct the man was a Mahdi, by heredity he was a voluptuary, that strange commingling of the religious and the evil found in so many criminals. In some far corner of his nature David felt something akin. The rebellion in his own blood against the fine instinct of his Quaker faith and upbringing made him grasp the personality before him. Had he himself been born in these surroundings, under these influences! The thought flashed through his mind like lightning, even as he bowed before Harrik, who salaamed and said: "Peace be unto thee!" and motioned him to a seat on a divan near and facing him.
"What is thy business with me, effendi?" asked Harrik.
"I come on the business of the Prince Pasha," answered David.
Harrik touched his fez mechanically, then his breast and lips, and a cruel smile lurked at the corners of his mouth as he rejoined:
"The feet of them who wear the ring of their Prince wait at no man's door. The carpet is spread for them. They go and they come as the feet of the doe in the desert. Who shall say, They shall not come; who shall say, They shall not return!"
Though the words were spoken with an air of ingenuous welcome, David felt the malignity in the last phrase, and knew that now was come the most fateful moment of his life. In his inner being he heard the dreadful challenge of Fate. If he failed in his purpose with this man, he would never begin his work in Egypt. Of his life he did not think--his life was his purpose, and the one was nothing without the other. No other man would have undertaken so Quixotic an enterprise, none would have exposed himself so recklessly to the dreadful accidents of circumstance. There had been other ways to overcome this crisis, but he had rejected them for a course fantastic and fatal when looked at in the light of ordinary reason. A struggle between the East and the West was here to be fought out between two wills; between an intellectual libertine steeped in Oriental guilt and cruelty and self-indulgence, and a being selfless, human, and in an agony of remorse for a life lost by his hand.
Involuntarily David's eyes ran round the room before he replied. How many slaves and retainers waited behind those velvet curtains?
Harrik saw the glance and interpreted it correctly. With a look of dark triumph he clapped his hands. As if by magic fifty black slaves appeared, armed with daggers. They folded their arms and waited like statues.
David made no sign of discomposure, but said slowly: "Dost thou think I did not know my danger, Eminence? Do I seem to thee such a fool? I came alone as one would come to the tent of a Bedouin chief whose son one had slain, and ask for food and safety. A thousand men were mine to command, but I came alone. Is thy guest imbecile? Let them go. I have that to say which is for Prince Harrik's ear alone."
An instant's hesitation, and Harrik motioned the slaves away. "What is the private word for my ear?" he asked presently, fingering the stem of the narghileh.
"To do right by Egypt, the land of thy fathers and thy land; to do right by the Prince Pasha, thy brother."
"What is Egypt to thee? Why shouldst thou bring thine insolence here? Couldst thou not preach in thine own bazaars beyond the sea?"
David showed no resentment. His reply was composed and quiet. "I am come to save Egypt from the work of thy hands."
"Dog of an unbeliever, what hast thou to do with me, or the work of my hands?"
David held up Kaid's ring, which had lain in his hand. "I come from the master of Egypt--master of thee, and of thy life, and of all that is thine."
"What is Kaid's message to me?" Harrik asked, with an effort at unconcern, for David's boldness had in it something chilling to his fierce passion and pride.
"The word of the Effendina is to do right by Egypt, to give thyself to justice and to peace."
"Have done with parables. To do right by Egypt wherein, wherefore?" The eyes glinted at David like bits of fiery steel.
"I will interpret to thee, Eminence."
"Interpret." Harrik muttered to himself in rage. His heart was dark, he thirsted for the life of this arrogant Inglesi. Did the fool not see his end? Midnight was at hand! He smiled grimly.
"This is the interpretation, O Prince! Prince Harrik has conspired against his brother the Prince Pasha, has treacherously seduced officers of the army, has planned to seize Cairo, to surround the Palace and take the life of the Prince of Egypt. For months, Prince, thee has done this: and the end of it is that thee shall do right ere it be too late. Thee is a traitor to thy country and thy lawful lord."
Harrik's face turned pale; the stem of the narghileh shook in his fingers. All had been discovered, then! But there was a thing of dark magic here. It was not a half-hour since he had given the word to strike at midnight, to surround the Palace, and to seize the Prince Pasha. Achmet--Higli, had betrayed him, then! Who other? No one else knew save Zaida, and Zaida was in the harem. Perhaps even now his own palace was surrounded. If it was so, then, come what might, this masterful Inglesi should pay the price. He thought of the den of lions hard by, of the cage of tigers-the menagerie not a thousand feet away. He could hear the distant roaring now, and his eyes glittered. The Christian to the wild beasts! That at least before the end. A Muslim would win heaven by sending a Christian to hell.
Achmet--Higli! No others knew. The light of a fateful fanaticism was in his eyes. David read him as an open book, and saw the madness come upon him.
"Neither Higli, nor Achmet, nor any of thy fellow-conspirators has betrayed thee," David said. "God has other voices to whisper the truth than those who share thy crimes. I have ears, and the air is full of voices."
Harrik stared at him. Was this Inglesi, then, with the grey coat, buttoned to the chin, and the broad black hat which remained on his head unlike the custom of the English--was he one of those who saw visions and dreamed dreams, even as himself! Had he not heard last night a voice whisper through the dark "Harrik, Harrik, flee to the desert! The lions are loosed upon thee!" Had he not risen with the voice still in his ears and fled to the harem, seeking Zaida, she who had never cringed before him, whose beauty he had conquered, but whose face turned from him when he would lay his lips on hers? And, as he fled, had he not heard, as it were, footsteps lightly following him--or were they going before him? Finding Zaida, had he not told her of the voice, and had she not said: "In the desert all men are safe--safe from themselves and safe from others; from their own acts and from the acts of others"? Were the lions, then, loosed upon him? Had he been betrayed?
Suddenly the thought flashed into his mind that his challenger would not have thrust himself into danger, given himself to the mouth of the Pit, if violence were intended. There was that inside his robe, than which lightning would not be more quick to slay. Had he not been a hunter of repute? Had he not been in deadly peril with wild beasts, and was he not quicker than they? This man before him was like no other he had ever met. Did voices speak to him? Were there, then, among the Christians such holy men as among the Muslims, who saw things before they happened, and read the human mind? Were there sorcerers among them, as among the Arabs?
In any case his treason was known. What were to be the consequences? Diamond-dust in his coffee? To be dropped into the Nile like a dog? To be smothered in his sleep?--For who could be trusted among all his slaves and retainers when it was known he was disgraced, and that the Prince Pasha would be happier if Harrik were quiet for ever?
Mechanically he drew out his watch and looked at it. It was nine o'clock. In three hours more would have fallen the coup. But from this man's words he knew that the stroke was now with the Prince Pasha. Yet, if this pale Inglesi, this Christian sorcerer, knew the truth in a vision only, and had not declared it to Kaid, there might still be a chance of escape. The lions were near--it would be a joy to give a Christian to the lions to celebrate the capture of Cairo and the throne. He listened intently to the distant rumble of the lions. There was one cage dedicated to vengeance. Five human beings on whom his terrible anger fell in times past had been thrust into it alive. Two were slaves, one was an enemy, one an invader of his harem, and one was a woman, his wife, his favourite, the darling of his heart. When his chief eunuch accused her of a guilty love, he had given her paramour and herself to that awful death. A stroke of the vast paw, a smothered roar as the teeth gave into the neck of the beautiful Fatima, and then--no more. Fanaticism had caught a note of savage music that tuned it to its height.
"Why art thou here? For what hast thou come? Do the spirit voices give thee that counsel?" he snarled.
"I am come to ask Prince Harrik to repair the wrong he has done. When the Prince Pasha came to know of thy treason--"
Harrik started. "Kaid believes thy tale of treason?" he burst out.
"Prince Kaid knows the truth," answered David quietly. "He might have surrounded this palace with his Nubians, and had thee shot against the palace walls. That would have meant a scandal in Egypt and in Europe. I besought him otherwise. It may be the scandal must come, but in another way, and--"
"That I, Harrik, must die?" Harrik's voice seemed far away. In his own ears it sounded strange and unusual. All at once the world seemed to be a vast vacuum in which his brain strove for air, and all his senses were numbed and overpowered. Distempered and vague, his soul seemed spinning in an aching chaos. It was being overpowered by vast elements, and life and being were atrophied in a deadly smother. The awful forces behind visible being hung him in the middle space between consciousness and dissolution. He heard David's voice, at first dimly, then understandingly.
"There is no other way. Thou art a traitor. Thou wouldst have been a fratricide. Thou wouldst have put back the clock in Egypt by a hundred years, even to the days of the Mamelukes--a race of slaves and murderers. God ordained that thy guilt should be known in time. Prince, thou art guilty. It is now but a question how thou shalt pay the debt of treason."
In David's calm voice was the ring of destiny. It was dispassionate, judicial; it had neither hatred nor pity. It fell on Harrik's ear as though from some far height. Destiny, the controller--who could escape it?
Had he not heard the voices in the night--"The lions are loosed upon thee"? He did not answer David now, but murmured to himself like one in a dream.
David saw his mood, and pursued the startled mind into the pit of confusion. "If it become known to Europe that the army is disloyal, that its officers are traitors like thee, what shall we find? England, France, Turkey, will land an army of occupation. Who shall gainsay Turkey if she chooses to bring an army here and recover control, remove thy family from Egypt, and seize upon its lands and goods? Dost thou not see that the hand of God has been against thee? He has spoken, and thy evil is discovered."
He paused. Still Harrik did not reply, but looked at him with dilated, fascinated eyes. Death had hypnotised him, and against death and destiny who could struggle? Had not a past Prince Pasha of Egypt safeguarded himself from assassination all his life, and, in the end, had he not been smothered in his sleep by slaves?
"There are two ways only," David continued--"to be tried and die publicly for thy crimes, to the shame of Egypt, its present peril, and lasting injury; or to send a message to those who conspired with thee, commanding them to return to their allegiance, and another to the Prince Pasha, acknowledging thy fault, and exonerating all others. Else, how many of thy dupes shall die! Thy choice is not life or death, but how thou shalt die, and what thou shalt do for Egypt as thou diest. Thou didst love Egypt, Eminence?"
David's voice dropped low, and his last words had a suggestion which went like an arrow to the source of all Harrik's crimes, and that also which redeemed him in a little. It got into his inner being. He roused himself and spoke, but at first his speech was broken and smothered.
"Day by day I saw Egypt given over to the Christians," he said. "The Greek, the Italian, the Frenchman, the Englishman, everywhere they reached out, their hands and took from us our own. They defiled our mosques; they corrupted our life; they ravaged our trade, they stole our customers, they crowded us from the streets where once the faithful lived alone. Such as thou had the ear of the Prince, and such as Nahoum, also an infidel, who favoured the infidels of Europe. And now thou hast come, the most dangerous of them all! Day by day the Muslim has loosed his hold on Cairo, and Alexandria, and the cities of Egypt. Street upon street knows him no more. My heart burned within me. I conspired for Egypt's sake. I would have made her Muslim once again. I would have fought the Turk and the Frank, as did Mehemet Ali; and if the infidels came, I would have turned them back; or if they would not go, I would have destroyed them here. Such as thou should have been stayed at the door. In my own house I would have been master. We seek not to take up our abode in other nations and in the cities of the infidel. Shall we give place to them on our own mastaba, in our own court-yard--hand to them the keys of our harems? I would have raised the Jehad if they vexed me with their envoys and their armies." He paused, panting.
"It would not have availed," was David's quiet answer. "This land may not be as Tibet--a prison for its own people. If the door opens outward, then must it open inward also. Egypt is the bridge between the East and the West. Upon it the peoples of all nations pass and repass. Thy plan was folly, thy hope madness, thy means to achieve horrible. Thy dream is done. The army will not revolt, the Prince will not be slain. Now only remains what thou shalt do for Egypt--"
"And thou--thou wilt be left here to lay thy will upon Egypt. Kaid's ear will be in thy hand--thou hast the sorcerer's eye. I know thy meaning. Thou wouldst have me absolve all, even Achmet, and Higli, and Diaz, and the rest, and at thy bidding go out into the desert"--he paused--"or into the grave."
"Not into the desert," rejoined David firmly. "Thou wouldst not rest. There, in the desert, thou wouldst be a Mahdi. Since thou must die, wilt thou not order it after thine own choice? It is to die for Egypt."
"Is this the will of Kaid?" asked Harrik, his voice thick with wonder, his brain still dulled by the blow of Fate.
"It was not the Effendina's will, but it hath his assent. Wilt thou write the word to the army and also to the Prince?"
He had conquered. There was a moment's hesitation, then Harrik picked up paper and ink that lay near, and said: "I will write to Kaid. I will have naught to do with the army."
"It shall be the whole, not the part," answered David determinedly. "The truth is known. It can serve no end to withhold the writing to the army. Remember what I have said to thee. The disloyalty of the army must not be known. Canst thou not act after the will of Allah, the all-powerful, the all-just, the all-merciful?"
There was an instant's pause, and then suddenly Harrik placed the paper in his palm and wrote swiftly and at some length to Kaid. Laying it down, he took another and wrote but a few words--to Achmet and Diaz. This message said in brief, "Do not strike. It is the will of Allah. The army shall keep faithful until the day of the Mahdi be come. I spoke before the time. I go to the bosom of my Lord Mahomet."
He threw the papers on the floor before David, who picked them up, read them, and put them into his pocket.
"It is well," he said. "Egypt shall have peace. And thou, Eminence?"
"Who shall escape Fate? What I have written I have written."
David rose and salaamed. Harrik rose also. "Thou wouldst go, having accomplished thy will?" Harrik asked, a thought flashing to his mind again, in keeping with his earlier purpose. Why should this man be left to trouble Egypt?
David touched his breast. "I must bear thy words to the Palace and the Citadel."
"Are there not slaves for messengers?" Involuntarily Harrik turned his eyes to the velvet curtains. No fear possessed David, but he felt the keenness of the struggle, and prepared for the last critical moment of fanaticism.
"It were a foolish thing to attempt my death," he said calmly. "I have been thy friend to urge thee to do that which saves thee from public shame, and Egypt from peril. I came alone, because I had no fear that thou wouldst go to thy death shaming hospitality."
"Thou wast sure I would give myself to death?"
"Even as that I breathe. Thou wert mistaken; a madness possessed thee; but thou, I knew, wouldst choose the way of honour. I too have had dreams--and of Egypt. If it were for her good, I would die for her."
"Thou art mad. But the mad are in the hands of God, and--"
Suddenly Harrik stopped. There came to his ears two distant sounds--the faint click of horses' hoofs and that dull rumble they had heard as they talked, a sound he loved, the roar of his lions.
He clapped his hands twice, the curtains parted opposite, and a slave slid silently forward.
"Quick! The horses! What are they? Bring me word," he said.
The slave vanished. For a moment there was silence. The eyes of the two men met. In the minds of both was the same thing.
"Kaid! The Nubians!" Harrik said, at last. David made no response.
The slave returned, and his voice murmured softly, as though the matter were of no concern: "The Nubians--from the Palace." In an instant he was gone again.
"Kaid had not faith in thee," Harrik said grimly. "But see, infidel though thou art, thou trustest me, and thou shalt go thy way. Take them with thee, yonder jackals of the desert. I will not go with them. I did not choose to live; others chose for me; but I will die after my own choice. Thou hast heard a voice, even as I. It is too late to flee to the desert. Fate tricks me. 'The lions are loosed on thee'--so the voice said to me in the night. Hark! dost thou not hear them--the lions, Harrik's lions, got out of the uttermost desert?"
David could hear the distant roar, for the menagerie was even part of the palace itself.
"Go in peace," continued Harrik soberly and with dignity, "and when Egypt is given to the infidel and Muslims are their slaves, remember that Harrik would have saved it for his Lord Mahomet, the Prophet of God."
He clapped his hands, and fifty slaves slid from behind the velvet curtains.
"I have thy word by the tomb of thy mother that thou wilt take the Nubians hence, and leave me in peace?" he asked.
David raised a hand above his head. "As I have trusted thee, trust thou me, Harrik, son of Mahomet." Harrik made a gesture of dismissal, and David salaamed and turned to go. As the curtains parted for his exit, he faced Harrik again. "Peace be to thee," he said.
But, seated in his cushions, the haggard, fanatical face of Harrik was turned from him, the black, flaring eyes fixed on vacancy. The curtain dropped behind David, and through the dim rooms and corridors he passed, the slaves gliding beside him, before him, and behind him, until they reached the great doors. As they swung open and the cool night breeze blew in his face, a great suspiration of relief passed from him. What he had set out to do would be accomplished in all. Harrik would keep his word. It was the only way.
As he emerged from the doorway some one fell at his feet, caught his sleeve and kissed it. It was Mahommed Hassan. Behind Mahommed was a little group of officers and a hundred stalwart Nubians. David motioned them towards the great gates, and, without speaking, passed swiftly down the pathway and emerged upon the road without. A moment later he was riding towards the Citadel with Harrik's message to Achmet. In the red- curtained room Harrik sat alone, listening until he heard the far clatter of hoofs, and knew that the Nubians were gone. Then the other distant sound which had captured his ear came to him again. In his fancy it grew louder and louder. With it came the voice that called him in the night, the voice of a woman--of the wife he had given to the lions for a crime against him which she did not commit, which had haunted him all the years. He had seen her thrown to the king of them all, killed in one swift instant, and dragged about the den by her warm white neck--this slave wife from Albania, his adored Fatima. And when, afterwards, he came to know the truth, and of her innocence, from the chief eunuch who with his last breath cleared her name, a terrible anger and despair had come upon him. Time and intrigue and conspiracy had distracted his mind, and the Jehad became the fixed aim and end of his life. Now this was gone. Destiny had tripped him up. Kaid and the infidel Inglesi had won.
As the one great passion went out like smoke, the woman he loved, whom he had given to the lions, the memory of her, some haunting part of her, possessed him, overcame him. In truth, he had heard a voice in the night, but not the voice of a spirit. It was the voice of Zaida, who, preying upon his superstitious mind--she knew the hallucination which possessed him concerning her he had cast to the lions--and having given the terrible secret to Kaid, whom she had ever loved, would still save Harrik from the sure vengeance which must fall upon him. Her design had worked, but not as she intended. She had put a spell of superstition on him, and the end would be accomplished, but not by flight to the desert.
Harrik chose the other way. He had been a hunter.
He was without fear. The voice of the woman he loved called him. It came to him through the distant roar of the lions as clear as when, with one cry of "Harrik !" she had fallen beneath the lion's paw. He knew now why he had kept the great beast until this hour, though tempted again and again to slay him.
Like one in a dream, he drew a dagger from the cushions where he sat, and rose to his feet. Leaving the room and passing dark groups of waiting slaves, he travelled empty chambers and long corridors, the voices of the lions growing nearer and nearer. He sped faster now, and presently came to two great doors, on which he knocked thrice. The doors opened, and two slaves held up lights for him to enter. Taking a torch from one of them, he bade them retire, and the doors clanged behind them.
Harrik held up the torch and came nearer. In the centre of the room was a cage in which one great lion paced to and fro in fury. It roared at him savagely. It was his roar which had come to Harrik through the distance and the night. He it was who had carried Fatima, the beloved, about his cage by that neck in which Harrik had laid his face so often.
The hot flush of conflict and the long anger of the years were on him. Since he must die, since Destiny had befooled him, left him the victim of the avengers, he would end it here. Here, against the thing of savage hate which had drunk of the veins and crushed the bones of his fair wife, he would strike one blow deep and strong and shed the blood of sacrifice before his own was shed.
He thrust the torch into the ground, and, with the dagger grasped tightly, carefully opened the cage and stepped inside. The door clicked behind him. The lion was silent now, and in a far corner prepared to spring, crouching low.
"Fatima!" Harrik cried, and sprang forward as the wild beast rose at him. He struck deep, drew forth the dagger--and was still.