The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXXIII. The Dark Indenture
Nahoum had forgotten one very important thing: that what affected David as a Christian in Egypt would tell equally against himself. If, in his ill-health and dejection, Kaid drank deep of the cup of Mahomet, the red eyes of fanaticism would be turned upon the Armenian, as upon the European Christian. He had forgotten it for the moment, but when, coming into Kaid's Palace, a little knot of loiterers spat upon the ground and snarled, "Infidel--Nazarene!" with contempt and hatred, the significance of the position came home to him. He made his way to a far quarter of the Palace, thoughtfully weighing the circumstances, and was met by Mizraim.
Mizraim salaamed. "The height of thy renown be as the cedar of Lebanon, Excellency."
"May thy feet tread the corn of everlasting fortune, son of Mahomet."
They entered the room together. Nahoum looked at Mizraim curiously. He was not satisfied with what he saw. Mizraim's impassive face had little expression, but the eyes were furtively eager and sinister.
"Well, so it is, and if it is, what then?" asked Nahoum coolly.
"Ki di, so it is," answered Mizraim, and a ghastly smile came to his lips. This infidel pasha, Nahoum, had a mind that pierced to the meaning of words ere they were spoken. Mizraim's hand touched his forehead, his breast, his lips, and, clasping and unclasping his long, snakelike fingers, he began the story he had come to tell.
"The Inglesi, whom Allah confound, the Effendina hath blackened by a look, his words have smitten him in the vital parts--"
"Mizraim, thou dove, speak to the purpose!" Mizraim showed a dark pleasure at the interruption. Nahoum was impatient, anxious; that made the tale better worth telling.
"Sharif and the discontented ones who dare not act, like the vultures, they flee the living man, but swoop upon the corpse. The consuls of those countries who love not England or Claridge Pasha, and the holy men, and the Cadi, all scatter smouldering fires. There is a spirit in the Palace and beyond which is blowing fast to a great flame."
"Then, so it is, great one, and what bodes it?"
"It may kill the Inglesi; but it will also sweep thee from the fields of life where thou dost flourish."
"It is not against the foreigner, but against the Christian, Mizraim?"
"Thy tongue hath wisdom, Excellency."
"Thou art a Muslim--"
"Why do I warn thee? For service done to me; and because there is none other worth serving in Egypt. Behold, it is my destiny to rule others, to serve thee."
"Once more thy turban full of gold, Mizraim, if thou dost service now that hath meaning and is not a belching of wind and words. Thou hast a thing to say--say it, and see if Nahoum hath lost his wit, or hath a palsied arm."
"Then behold, pasha. Are not my spies in all the Palace? Is not my scourge heavier than the whip of the horned horse? Ki di, so it is. This I have found. Sharif hath, with others, made a plot which hath enough powder in it to shake Egypt, and toss thee from thy high place into the depths. There is a Christian--an Armenian, as it chances; but he was chosen because he was a Christian, and for that only. His name is Rahib. He is a tent-maker. He had three sons. They did kill an effendi who had cheated them of their land. Two of them were hanged last week; the other, caught but a few days since, is to hang within three days. To-day Kaid goes to the Mosque of Mahmoud, as is the custom at this festival. The old man hath been persuaded to attempt the life of Kaid, upon condition that his son--his Benjamin--is set free. It will be but an attempt at Kaid's life, no more; but the cry will go forth that a Christian did the thing; and the Muslim flame will leap high."
"And the tent-maker?" asked Nahoum musingly, though he was turning over the tale in his mind, seeing behind it and its far consequences.
"Malaish, what does it matter! But he is to escape, and they are to hang another Christian in his stead for the attempt on Kaid. It hath no skill, but it would suffice. With the dervishes gone malboos, and the faithful drunk with piety--canst thou not see the issue, pasha? Blood will be shed."
"The Jews of Europe would be angry," said Nahoum grimly but evenly. "The loans have been many, and Kaid has given a lien by the new canal at Suez. The Jews will be angry," he repeated, "and for every drop of Christian blood shed there would be a lanced vein here. But that would not bring back Nahoum Pasha," he continued cynically. "Well, this is thy story, Mizraim; this is what they would do. Now what hast thou done to stop their doing?"
"Am I not a Muslim? Shall I give Sharif to the Nile?"
Nahoum smiled darkly. "There is a simpler way. Thy mind ever runs on the bowstring and the sword. These are great, but there is a greater. It is the mocking finger. At midnight, when Kaid goes to the Mosque Mahmoud, a finger will mock the plotters till they are buried in confusion. Thou knowest the governor of the prisons--has he not need of something? Hath he never sought favours of thee?"
"Bismillah, but a week ago!"
"Then, listen, thou shepherd of the sheep--"
He paused, as there came a tap at the door, and a slave entered hurriedly and addressed Nahoum. "The effendi, Ebn Ezra Bey, whom thou didst set me to watch, he hath entered the Palace, and asks for the Effendina."
Nahoum started, and his face clouded, but his eyes flashed fire. He tossed the slave a coin. "Thou hast done well. Where is he now?"
"He waits in the hall, where is the statue of Mehemet Ali and the lions."
"In an hour, Mizraim, thou shalt hear what I intend. Peace be to thee!"
"And on thee, peace!" answered Mizraim, as Nahoum passed from the room, and walked hastily towards the hall where he should find Ebn Ezra Bey. Nearing the spot, he brought his step to a deliberate slowness, and appeared not to notice the stately Arab till almost upon him.
"Salaam, effendi," he said smoothly, yet with inquisition in his eye, with malice in his tone.
"Thou art come on the business of thy master?"
"Who is my master, Excellency?"
"Till yesterday it was Claridge Pasha. Hast thou then forsaken him in his trouble--the rat from the sinking ship?"
A flush passed over Ebn Ezra Bey's face, and his mouth opened with a gasp of anger. Oriental though he was, he was not as astute as this Armenian Christian, who was purposely insulting him, that he might, in a moment of heat, snatch from him the business he meant to lay before Kaid. Nahoum had not miscalculated.
"I have but one master, Excellency," Ebn Ezra answered quietly at last, "and I have served him straightly. Hast thou done likewise?"
"What is straight to thee might well be crooked to me, effendi."
"Thou art crooked as the finger of a paralytic."
"Yet I have worked in peace with Claridge Pasha for these years past, even until yesterday, when thou didst leave him to his fate."
"His ship will sail when thine is crumbling on the sands, and all thou art is like a forsaken cockatrice's nest."
"Is it this thou hast come to say to the Effendina?"
"What I have come to say to the Effendina is for the world to know after it hath reached his ears. I know thee, Nahoum Pasha. Thou art a traitor. Claridge Pasha would abolish slavery, and thou dost receive great sums of gold from the slave-dealers to prevent it."
"Is it this thou wilt tell Kaid?" Nahoum asked with a sneer. "And hast thou proofs?"
"Even this day they have come to my hands from the south."
"Yet I think the proofs thou hast will not avail; and I think that thou wilt not show them to Kaid. The gift of second thinking is a great gift. Thou must find greater reason for seeking the Effendina."
"That too shall be. Gold thou hadst to pay the wages of the soldiers of the south. Thou didst keep the gold and order the slave-hunt; and the soldiers of the Effendina have been paid in human flesh and blood--ten thousand slaves since Claridge Pasha left the Soudan, and three thousand dead upon the desert sands, abandoned by those who hunted them when water grew scarce and food failed. To-day shall see thy fall."
At his first words Nahoum had felt a shock, from which his spirit reeled; but an inspiration came to him on the moment; and he listened with a saturnine coolness to the passionate words of the indignant figure towering above him. When Ebn Ezra had finished, he replied quietly:
"It is even as thou sayest, effendi. The soldiers were paid in slaves got in the slave-hunt; and I have gold from the slave-dealers. I needed it, for the hour is come when I must do more for Egypt than I have ever done."
With a gesture of contempt Ebn Ezra made to leave, seeing an official of the Palace in the distance. Nahoum stopped him. "But, one moment ere thou dost thrust thy hand into the cockatrice's den. Thou dost measure thyself against Nahoum? In patience and with care have I trained myself for the battle. The bulls of Bashan may roar, yet my feet are shod with safety. Thou wouldst go to Kaid and tell him thy affrighted tale. I tell thee, thou wilt not go. Thou hast reason yet, though thy blood is hot. Thou art to Claridge Pasha like a brother--as to his uncle before him, who furnished my father's palace with carpets. The carpets still soften the fall of my feet in my father's palace, as they did soften the fall of my brother's feet, the feet of Foorgat Bey."
He paused, looking at Ebn Ezra with quiet triumph, though his eyes had ever that smiling innocence which had won David in days gone by. He was turning his words over on the tongue with a relish born of long waiting.
"Come," he said presently--"come, and I will give thee reason why thou wilt not speak with Kaid to-day. This way, effendi."
He led the other into a little room hung about with rugs and tapestry, and, going to the wall, he touched a spring. "One moment here, effendi," he added quietly. The room was as it had been since David last stood within it.
"In this room, effendi," Nahoum said with cold deliberation, "Claridge Pasha killed my brother, Foorgat Bey."
Ebn Ezra fell back as though he had been struck. Swiftly Nahoum told him the whole truth--even to the picture of the brougham, and the rigid, upright figure passing through the night to Foorgat's palace, the gaunt Mizraim piloting the equipage of death.
"I have held my peace for my own reasons, effendi. Wilt thou then force me to speak? If thou dost still cherish Claridge Pasha, wilt thou see him ruined? Naught but ruin could follow the telling of the tale at this moment--his work, his life, all done. The scandal, the law, vengeance! But as it is now, Kaid may turn to him again; his work may yet go on--he has had the luck of angels, and Kaid is fickle. Who can tell?"
Abashed and overwhelmed, Ebn Ezra Bey looked at him keenly. "To tell of Foorgat Bey would ruin thee also," he said. "That thou knowest. The trick--would Kaid forgive it? Claridge Pasha would not be ruined alone."
"Be it so. If thou goest to Kaid with thy story, I go to Egypt with mine. Choose."
Ebn Ezra turned to go. "The high God judge between him and thee," he said, and, with bowed head, left the Palace.