The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
Chapter VI. "Hast Thou Never Killed a Man?"
As David moved forward, his mind was embarrassed by many impressions. He was not confused, but the glitter and splendour, the Oriental gorgeousness of the picture into which he stepped, excited his eye, roused some new sense in him. He was a curious figure in those surroundings. The consuls and agents of all the nations save one were in brilliant uniform, and pashas, generals, and great officials were splendid in gold braid and lace, and wore flashing Orders on their breasts. David had been asked for half-past eight o'clock, and he was there on the instant; yet here was every one assembled, the Prince Pasha included. As he walked up the room he suddenly realised this fact, and, for a moment, he thought he had made a mistake; but again he remembered distinctly that the letter said half-past eight, and he wondered now if this had been arranged by the Prince--for what purpose? To afford amusement to the assembled company? He drew himself up with dignity, his face became graver. He had come in a Quaker suit of black broadcloth, with grey steel buttons, and a plain white stock; and he wore his broad-brimmed hat--to the consternation of the British Consul-General and the Europeans present, to the amazement of the Turkish and native officials, who eyed him keenly. They themselves wore red tarbooshes, as did the Prince; yet all of them knew that the European custom of showing respect was by doffing the hat. The Prince Pasha had settled that with David, however, at their first meeting, when David had kept on his hat and offered Kaid his hand.
Now, with amusement in his eyes, Prince Kaid watched David coming up the great hall. What his object was in summoning David for an hour when all the court and all the official Europeans should be already present, remained to be seen. As David entered, Kaid was busy receiving salaams, and returning greeting, but with an eye to the singularly boyish yet gallant figure approaching. By the time David had reached the group, the Prince Pasha was ready to receive him.
"Friend, I am glad to welcome thee," said the Effendina, sly humour lurking at the corner of his eye. Conscious of the amazement of all present, he held out his hand to David.
"May thy coming be as the morning dew, friend," he added, taking David's willing hand.
"And thy feet, Kaid, wall in goodly paths, by the grace of God the compassionate and merciful."
As a wind, unfelt, stirs the leaves of a forest, making it rustle delicately, a whisper swept through the room. Official Egypt was dumfounded. Many had heard of David, a few had seen him, and now all eyed with inquisitive interest one who defied so many of the customs of his countrymen; who kept on his hat; who used a Mahommedan salutation like a true believer; whom the Effendina honoured--and presently honoured in an unusual degree by seating him at table opposite himself, where his Chief Chamberlain was used to sit.
During dinner Kaid addressed his conversation again and again to David, asking questions put to disconcert the consuls and other official folk present, confident in the naive reply which would be returned. For there was a keen truthfulness in the young man's words which, however suave and carefully balanced, however gravely simple and tactful, left no doubt as to their meaning. There was nothing in them which could be challenged, could be construed into active criticism of men or things; and yet much he said was horrifying. It made Achmet Pasha sit up aghast, and Nahoum Pasha, the astute Armenian, for a long time past the confidant and favourite of the Prince Pasha, laugh in his throat; for, if there was a man in Egypt who enjoyed the thrust of a word or the bite of a phrase, it was Nahoum. Christian though he was, he was, nevertheless, Oriental to his farthermost corner, and had the culture of a French savant. He had also the primitive view of life, and the morals of a race who, in the clash of East and West, set against Western character and directness, and loyalty to the terms of a bargain, the demoralised cunning of the desert folk; the circuitous tactics of those who believed that no man spoke the truth directly, that it must ever be found beneath devious and misleading words, to be tracked like a panther, as an Antipodean bushman once said, "through the sinuosities of the underbrush." Nahoum Pasha had also a rich sense of grim humour. Perhaps that was why he had lived so near the person of the Prince, had held office so long. There were no Grand Viziers in Egypt; but he was as much like one as possible, and he had one uncommon virtue, he was greatly generous. If he took with his right hand he gave with his left; and Mahommedan as well as Copt and Armenian, and beggars of every race and creed, hung about his doors each morning to receive the food and alms he gave freely.
After one of David's answers to Kaid, which had had the effect of causing his Highness to turn a sharp corner of conversation by addressing himself to the French consul, Nahoum said suavely:
"And so, monsieur, you think that we hold life lightly in the East--that it is a characteristic of civilisation to make life more sacred, to cherish it more fondly?"
He was sitting beside David, and though he asked the question casually, and with apparent intention only of keeping talk going, there was a lurking inquisition in his eye. He had seen enough to-night to make him sure that Kaid had once more got the idea of making a European his confidant and adviser; to introduce to his court one of those mad Englishmen who cared nothing for gold--only for power; who loved administration for the sake of administration and the foolish joy of labour. He was now set to see what sort of match this intellect could play, when faced by the inherent contradictions present in all truths or the solutions of all problems.
"It is one of the characteristics of that which lies behind civilisation, as thee and me have been taught," answered David.
Nahoum was quick in strategy, but he was unprepared for David's knowledge that he was an Armenian Christian, and he had looked for another answer.
But he kept his head and rose to the occasion. "Ah, it is high, it is noble, to save life--it is so easy to destroy it," he answered. "I saw his Highness put his life in danger once to save a dog from drowning. To cherish the lives of others, and to be careless of our own; to give that of great value as though it were of no worth--is it not the Great Lesson?" He said it with such an air of sincerity, with such dissimulation, that, for the moment, David was deceived. There was, however, on the face of the listening Kaid a curious, cynical smile. He had heard all, and he knew the sardonic meaning behind Nahoum's words.
Fat High Pasha, the Chief Chamberlain, the corrupt and corruptible, intervened. "It is not so hard to be careless when care would be useless," he said, with a chuckle. "When the khamsin blows the dust- storms upon the caravan, the camel-driver hath no care for his camels. 'Malaish!' he says, and buries his face in his yelek."
"Life is beautiful and so difficult--to save," observed Nahoum, in a tone meant to tempt David on one hand and to reach the ears of the notorious Achmet Pasha, whose extortions, cruelties, and taxations had built his master's palaces, bribed his harem, given him money to pay the interest on his European loans, and made himself the richest man in Egypt, whose spies were everywhere, whose shadow was across every man's path. Kaid might slay, might toss a pasha or a slave into the Nile now and then, might invite a Bey to visit him, and stroke his beard and call him brother and put diamond-dust in the coffee he drank, so that he died before two suns came and went again, "of inflammation and a natural death"; but he, Achmet Pasha, was the dark Inquisitor who tortured every day, for whose death all men prayed, and whom some would have slain, but that another worse than himself might succeed him.
At Nahoum's words the dusky brown of Achmet's face turned as black as the sudden dilation of the pupil of an eye deepens its hue, and he said with a guttural accent:
"Every man hath a time to die."
"But not his own time," answered Nahoum maliciously.
"It would appear that in Egypt he hath not always the choice of the fashion or the time," remarked David calmly. He had read the malice behind their words, and there had flashed into his own mind tales told him, with every circumstance of accuracy, of deaths within and without the Palace. Also he was now aware that Nahoum had mocked him. He was concerned to make it clear that he was not wholly beguiled.
"Is there, then, for a man choice of fashion or time in England, effendi?" asked Nahoum, with assumed innocence.
"In England it is a matter between the Giver and Taker of life and himself--save where murder does its work," said David.
"And here it is between man and man--is it that you would say?" asked Nahoum.
"There seem wider privileges here," answered David drily.
"Accidents will happen, privileges or no," rejoined Nahoum, with lowering eyelids.
The Prince intervened. "Thy own faith forbids the sword, forbids war, or--punishment."
"The Prophet I follow was called the Prince of Peace, friend," answered David, bowing gravely across the table.
"Hast thou never killed a man?" asked Kaid, with interest in his eyes. He asked the question as a man might ask another if he had never visited Paris.
"Never, by the goodness of God, never," answered David.
"Neither in punishment nor in battle?"
"I am neither judge nor soldier, friend."
"Inshallah, thou hast yet far to go! Thou art young yet. Who can tell?"
"I have never so far to go as that, friend," said David, in a voice that rang a little.
"To-morrow is no man's gift."
David was about to answer, but chancing to raise his eyes above the Prince Pasha's head, his glance was arrested and startled by seeing a face--the face of a woman-looking out of a panel in a mooshrabieh screen in a gallery above. He would not have dwelt upon the incident, he would have set it down to the curiosity of a woman of the harem, but that the face looking out was that of an English girl, and peering over her shoulder was the dark, handsome face of an Egyptian or a Turk.
Self-control was the habit of his life, the training of his faith, and, as a rule, his face gave little evidence of inner excitement. Demonstration was discouraged, if not forbidden, among the Quakers, and if, to others, it gave a cold and austere manner, in David it tempered to a warm stillness the powerful impulses in him, the rivers of feeling which sometimes roared through his veins.
Only Nahoum Pasha had noticed his arrested look, so motionless did he sit; and now, without replying, he bowed gravely and deferentially to Kaid, who rose from the table. He followed with the rest. Presently the Prince sent Higli Pasha to ask his nearer presence.
The Prince made a motion of his hand, and the circle withdrew. He waved David to a seat.
"To-morrow thy business shall be settled," said the Prince suavely, "and on such terms as will not startle. Death-tribute is no new thing in the East. It is fortunate for thee that the tribute is from thy hand to my hand, and not through many others to mine."
"I am conscious I have been treated with favour, friend," said David. "I would that I might show thee kindness. Though how may a man of no account make return to a great Prince?"
"By the beard of my father, it is easily done, if thy kindness is a real thing, and not that which makes me poorer the more I have of it--as though one should be given a herd of horses which must not be sold but still must be fed."
"I have given thee truth. Is not truth cheaper than falsehood?"
"It is the most expensive thing in Egypt; so that I despair of buying thee. Yet I would buy thee to remain here--here at my court; here by my hand which will give thee the labour thou lovest, and will defend thee if defence be needed. Thou hast not greed, thou hast no thirst for honour, yet thou hast wisdom beyond thy years. Kaid has never besought men, but he beseeches thee. Once there was in Egypt, Joseph, a wise youth, who served a Pharaoh, and was his chief counsellor, and it was well with the land. Thy name is a good name; well-being may follow thee. The ages have gone, and the rest of the world has changed, but Egypt is the same Egypt, the Nile rises and falls, and the old lean years and fat years come and go. Though I am in truth a Turk, and those who serve and rob me here are Turks, yet the fellah is the same as he was five thousand years ago. What Joseph the Israelite did, thou canst do; for I am no more unjust than was that Rameses whom Joseph served. Wilt thou stay with me?"
David looked at Kaid as though he would read in his face the reply that he must make, but he did not see Kaid; he saw, rather, the face of one he had loved more than Jonathan had been loved by the young shepherd-prince of Israel. In his ears he heard the voice that had called him in his sleep-the voice of Benn Claridge; and, at the same instant, there flashed into his mind a picture of himself fighting outside the tavern beyond Hamley and bidding farewell to the girl at the crossroads.
"Friend, I cannot answer thee now," he said, in a troubled voice.
Kaid rose. "I will give thee an hour to think upon it. Come with me." He stepped forward. "To-morrow I will answer thee, Kaid."
"To-morrow there is work for thee to do. Come." David followed him.
The eyes that followed the Prince and the Quaker were not friendly. What Kaid had long foreshadowed seemed at hand: the coming of a European counsellor and confidant. They realised that in the man who had just left the room with Kaid there were characteristics unlike those they had ever met before in Europeans.
"A madman," whispered High Pasha to Achmet the Ropemaker.
"Then his will be the fate of the swine of Gadarene," said Nahoum Pasha, who had heard.
"At least one need not argue with a madman." The face of Achmet the Ropemaker was not more pleasant than his dark words.
"It is not the madman with whom you have to deal, but his keeper," rejoined Nahoum.
Nahoum's face was heavier than usual. Going to weight, he was still muscular and well groomed. His light brown beard and hair and blue eyes gave him a look almost Saxon, and bland power spoke in his face and in every gesture.
He was seldom without the string of beads so many Orientals love to carry, and, Armenian Christian as he was, the act seemed almost religious. It was to him, however, like a ground-wire in telegraphy-- it carried off the nervous force tingling in him and driving him to impulsive action, while his reputation called for a constant outward urbanity, a philosophical apathy. He had had his great fight for place and power, alien as he was in religion, though he had lived in Egypt since a child. Bar to progress as his religion had been at first, it had been an advantage afterwards; for, through it, he could exclude himself from complications with the Wakfs, the religious court of the Muslim creed, which had lands to administer, and controlled the laws of marriage and inheritance. He could shrug his shoulders and play with his beads, and urbanely explain his own helplessness and ineligibility when his influence was summoned, or it was sought to entangle him in warring interests. Oriental through and through, the basis of his creed was similar to that of a Muslim: Mahomet was a prophet and Christ was a prophet. It was a case of rival prophets--all else was obscured into a legend, and he saw the strife of race in the difference of creed. For the rest, he flourished the salutations and language of the Arab as though they were his own, and he spoke Arabic as perfectly as he did French and English.
He was the second son of his father. The first son, who was but a year older, and was as dark as he was fair, had inherited--had seized--all his father's wealth. He had lived abroad for some years in France and England. In the latter place he had been one of the Turkish Embassy, and, having none of the outward characteristics of the Turk, and being in appearance more of a Spaniard than an Oriental, he had, by his gifts, his address and personal appearance, won the good-will of the Duchess of Middlesex, and had had that success all too flattering to the soul of a libertine. It had, however, been the means of his premature retirement from England, for his chief at the Embassy had a preference for an Oriental entourage. He was called Foorgat Bey.
Sitting at table, Nahoum alone of all present had caught David's arrested look, and, glancing up, had seen the girl's face at the panel of mooshrabieh, and had seen also over her shoulder the face of his brother, Foorgat Bey. He had been even more astonished than David, and far more disturbed. He knew his brother's abilities; he knew his insinuating address--had he not influenced their father to give him wealth while he was yet alive? He was aware also that his brother had visited the Palace often of late. It would seem as though the Prince Pasha was ready to make him, as well as David, a favourite. But the face of the girl--it was an English face! Familiar with the Palace, and bribing when it was necessary to bribe, Foorgat Bey had evidently brought her to see the function, there where all women were forbidden. He could little imagine Foorgat doing this from mere courtesy; he could not imagine any woman, save one wholly sophisticated, or one entirely innocent, trusting herself with him--and in such a place. The girl's face, though not that of one in her teens, had seemed to him a very flower of innocence.
But, as he stood telling his beads, abstractedly listening to the scandal talked by Achmet and Higli, he was not thinking of his brother, but of the two who had just left the chamber. He was speculating as to which room they were likely to enter. They had not gone by the door convenient to passage to Kaid's own apartments. He would give much to hear the conversation between Kaid and the stranger; he was all too conscious of its purport. As he stood thinking, Kaid returned. After looking round the room for a moment, the Prince came slowly over to Nahoum, and, stretching out a hand, stroked his beard.
"Oh, brother of all the wise, may thy sun never pass its noon!" said Kaid, in a low, friendly voice.
Despite his will, a shudder passed through Nahoum Pasha's frame. How often in Egypt this gesture and such words were the prelude to assassination, from which there was no escape save by death itself. Into Nahoum's mind there flashed the words of an Arab teacher, "There is no refuge from God but God Himself," and he found himself blindly wondering, even as he felt Kaid's hand upon his beard and listened to the honeyed words, what manner of death was now preparing for him, and what death of his own contriving should intervene. Escape, he knew, there was none, if his death was determined on; for spies were everywhere, and slaves in the pay of Kaid were everywhere, and such as were not could be bought or compelled, even if he took refuge in the house of a foreign consul. The lean, invisible, ghastly arm of death could find him, if Kaid willed, though he delved in the bowels of the Cairene earth, or climbed to an eagle's eyrie in the Libyan Hills. Whether it was diamond-dust or Achmet's thin thong that stopped the breath, it mattered not; it was sure. Yet he was not of the breed to tremble under the descending sword, and he had long accustomed himself to the chance of "sudden demise." It had been chief among the chances he had taken when he entered the high and perilous service of Kaid. Now, as he felt the secret joy of these dark spirits surrounding him--Achmet, and High Pasha, who kept saying beneath his breath in thankfulness that it was not his turn, Praise be to God!--as he, felt their secret self-gratulations, and their evil joy over his prospective downfall, he settled himself steadily, made a low salutation to Kaid, and calmly awaited further speech. It came soon enough.
"It is written upon a cucumber leaf--does not the world read it?--that Nahoum Pasha's form shall cast a longer shadow than the trees; so that every man in Egypt shall, thinking on him, be as covetous as Ashaah, who knew but one thing more covetous than himself--the sheep that mistook the rainbow for a rope of hay, and, jumping for it, broke his neck."
Kaid laughed softly at his own words.
With his eye meeting Kaid's again, after a low salaam, Nahoum made answer:
"I would that the lance of my fame might sheathe itself in the breasts of thy enemies, Effendina."
"Thy tongue does that office well," was the reply. Once more Kaid laid a gentle hand upon Nahoum's beard. Then, with a gesture towards the consuls and Europeans, he said to them in French: "If I might but beg your presence for yet a little time!" Then he turned and walked away. He left by a door leading to his own apartments.
When he had gone, Nahoum swung slowly round and faced the agitated groups.
"He who sleeps with one eye open sees the sun rise first," he said, with a sarcastic laugh. "He who goes blindfold never sees it set."
Then, with a complacent look upon them all, he slowly left the room by the door out of which David and Kaid had first passed.
Outside the room his face did not change. His manner had not been bravado. It was as natural to him as David's manner was to himself. Each had trained himself in his own way to the mastery of his will, and the will in each was stronger than any passion of emotion in them. So far at least it had been so. In David it was the outcome of his faith, in Nahoum it was the outcome of his philosophy, a simple, fearless fatalism.
David had been left by Kaid in a small room, little more than an alcove, next to a larger room richly furnished. Both rooms belonged to a spacious suite which lay between the harem and the major portion of the Palace. It had its own entrance and exits from the Palace, opening on the square at the front, at the back opening on its own garden, which also had its own exits to the public road. The quarters of the Chief Eunuch separated the suite from the harem, and Mizraim, the present Chief Eunuch, was a man of power in the Palace, knew more secrets, was more courted, and was richer than some of the princes. Nahoum had an office in the Palace, also, which gave him the freedom of the place, and brought him often in touch with the Chief Eunuch. He had made Mizraim a fast friend ever since the day he had, by an able device, saved the Chief Eunuch from determined robbery by the former Prince Pasha, with whom he had suddenly come out of favour.
When Nahoum left the great salon, he directed his steps towards the quarters of the Chief Eunuch, thinking of David, with a vague desire for pursuit and conflict. He was too much of a philosopher to seek to do David physical injury--a futile act; for it could do him no good in the end, could not mend his own fortunes; and, merciless as he could be on occasion, he had no love of bloodshed. Besides, the game afoot was not of his making, and he was ready to await the finish, the more so because he was sure that to-morrow would bring forth momentous things. There was a crisis in the Soudan, there was trouble in the army, there was dark conspiracy of which he knew the heart, and anything might happen to-morrow! He had yet some cards to play, and Achmet and Higli--and another very high and great--might be delivered over to Kaid's deadly purposes rather than himself tomorrow. What he knew Kaid did not know. He had not meant to act yet; but new facts faced him, and he must make one struggle for his life. But as he went towards Mizraim's quarters he saw no sure escape from the stage of those untoward events, save by the exit which is for all in some appointed hour.
He was not, however, more perplexed and troubled than David, who, in the little room where he had been brought and left alone with coffee and cigarettes, served by a slave from some distant portion of the Palace, sat facing his future.
David looked round the little room. Upon the walls hung weapons of every kind--from a polished dagger of Toledo to a Damascus blade, suits of chain armour, long-handled, two-edged Arab swords, pistols which had been used in the Syrian wars of Ibrahim, lances which had been taken from the Druses at Palmyra, rude battle-axes from the tribes of the Soudan, and neboots of dom-wood which had done service against Napoleon at Damietta. The cushions among which he sat had come from Constantinople, the rug at his feet from Tiflis, the prayer-rug on the wall from Mecca.
All that he saw was as unlike what he had known in past years as though he had come to Mars or Jupiter. All that he had heard recalled to him his first readings in the Old Testament--the story of Nebuchadnezzar, of Belshazzar, of Ahasuerus--of Ahasuerus! He suddenly remembered the face he had seen looking down at the Prince's table from the panel of mooshrabieh. That English face--where was it? Why was it there? Who was the man with her? Whose the dark face peering scornfully over her shoulder? The face of an English girl in that place dedicated to sombre intrigue, to the dark effacement of women, to the darker effacement of life, as he well knew, all too often! In looking at this prospect for good work in the cause of civilisation, he was not deceived, he was not allured. He knew into what subterranean ways he must walk, through what mazes of treachery and falsehood he must find his way; and though he did not know to the full the corruption which it was his duty to Kaid to turn to incorruption, he knew enough to give his spirit pause. What would be --what could be--the end? Would he not prove to be as much out of place as was the face of that English girl? The English girl! England rushed back upon him--the love of those at home; of his father, the only father he had ever known; of Faith, the only mother or sister he had ever known; of old John Fairley; the love of the woods and the hills where he had wandered came upon him. There was work to do in England, work too little done--the memory of the great meeting at Heddington flashed upon him. Could his labour and his skill, if he had any, not be used there? Ah, the green fields, the soft grey skies, the quiet vale, the brave, self- respecting, toiling millions, the beautiful sense of law and order and goodness! Could his gifts and labours not be used there? Could not--
He was suddenly startled by a smothered cry, then a call of distress. It was the voice of a woman.
He started up. The voice seemed to come from a room at his right; not that from which he had entered, but one still beyond this where he was. He sprang towards the wall and examined it swiftly. Finding a division in the tapestry, he ran his fingers quickly and heavily down the crack between. It came upon the button of a spring. He pressed it, the door yielded, and, throwing it back, he stepped into the room-to see a woman struggling to resist the embraces and kisses of a man. The face was that of the girl who had looked out of the panel in the mooshrabieh screen. Then it was beautiful in its mirth and animation, now it was pale and terror-stricken, as with one free hand she fiercely beat the face pressed to hers.
The girl only had seen David enter. The man was not conscious of his presence till he was seized and flung against the wall. The violence of the impact brought down at his feet two weapons from the wall above him. He seized one-a dagger-and sprang to his feet. Before he could move forward or raise his arm, however, David struck him a blow in the neck which flung him upon a square marble pedestal intended for a statue. In falling his head struck violently a sharp corner of the pedestal. He lurched, rolled over on the floor, and lay still.
The girl gave a choking cry. David quickly stooped and turned the body over. There was a cut where the hair met the temple. He opened the waistcoat and thrust his hand inside the shirt. Then he felt the pulse of the limp wrist.
For a moment he looked at the face steadily, almost contemplatively it might have seemed, and then drew both arms close to the body.
Foorgat Bey, the brother of Nahoum Pasha, was dead.
Rising, David turned, as if in a dream, to the girl. He made a motion of the hand towards the body. She understood. Dismay was in her face, but the look of horror and desperation was gone. She seemed not to realise, as did David, the awful position in which they were placed, the deed which David had done, the significance of the thing that lay at their feet.
"Where are thy people?" said David. "Come, we will go to them."
"I have no people here," she said, in a whisper.
"Who brought thee?"
She made a motion behind her towards the body. David glanced down. The eyes of the dead man were open. He stooped and closed them gently. The collar and tie were disarranged; he straightened them, then turned again to her.
"I must take thee away," he said calmly. "But it must be secretly." He looked around, perplexed. "We came secretly. My maid is outside the garden--in a carriage. Oh, come, let us go, let us escape. They will kill you--!" Terror came into her face again. "Thee, not me, is in danger--name, goodness, future, all. . . . Which way did thee come?"
"Here--through many rooms--" She made a gesture to curtains beyond. "But we first entered through doors with sphinxes on either side, with a room where was a statue of Mehemet Ali."
It was the room through which David had come with Kaid. He took her hand. "Come quickly. I know the way. It is here," he said, pointing to the panel-door by which he had entered.
Holding her hand still, as though she were a child, he led her quickly from the room, and shut the panel behind them. As they passed through, a hand drew aside the curtains on the other side of the room which they were leaving.
Presently the face of Nahoum Pasha followed the hand. A swift glance to the floor, then he ran forward, stooped down, and laid a hand on his brother's breast. The slight wound on the forehead answered his rapid scrutiny. He realised the situation as plainly as if it had been written down for him--he knew his brother well.
Noiselessly he moved forward and touched the spring of the door through which the two had gone. It yielded, and he passed through, closed the door again and stealthily listened, then stole a look into the farther chamber. It was empty. He heard the outer doors close. For a moment he listened, then went forward and passed through into the hall. Softly turning the handle of the big wooden doors which faced him, he opened them an inch or so, and listened. He could hear swiftly retreating footsteps. Presently he heard the faint noise of a gate shutting. He nodded his head, and was about to close the doors and turn away, when his quick ear detected footsteps again in the garden. Some one--the man, of course--was returning.
"May fire burn his eyes for ever! He would talk with Kald, then go again among them all, and so pass out unsuspected and safe. For who but I--who but I could say he did it? And I--what is my proof? Only the words which I speak."
A scornful, fateful smile passed over his face. "'Hast thou never killed a man?' said Kaid. 'Never,' said he--'by the goodness of God, never!' The voice of Him of Galilee, the hand of Cain, the craft of Jael. But God is with the patient."
He went hastily and noiselessly-his footfall was light for so heavy a man-through the large room to the farther side from that by which David and Kaid had first entered. Drawing behind a clump of palms near a door opening to a passage leading to Mizraim's quarters, he waited. He saw David enter quickly, yet without any air of secrecy, and pass into the little room where Kaid had left him.
For a long time there was silence.
The reasons were clear in Nahoum's mind why he should not act yet. A new factor had changed the equation which had presented itself a short half hour ago.
A new factor had also entered into the equation which had been presented to David by Kaid with so flattering an insistence. He sat in the place where Kaid had left him, his face drawn and white, his eyes burning, but with no other "sign of agitation. He was frozen and still. His look was fastened now upon the door by which the Prince Pasha would enter, now upon the door through which he had passed to the rescue of the English girl, whom he had seen drive off safely with her maid. In their swift passage from the Palace to the carriage, a thing had been done of even greater moment than the killing of the sensualist in the next room. In the journey to the gateway the girl David served had begged him to escape with her. This he had almost sharply declined; it would be no escape, he had said. She had urged that no one knew. He had replied that Kaid would come again for him, and suspicion would be aroused if he were gone.
"Thee has safety," he had said. "I will go back. I will say that I killed him. I have taken a life, I will pay for it as is the law."
Excited as she was, she had seen the inflexibility of his purpose. She had seen the issue also clearly. He would give himself up, and the whole story would be the scandal of Europe.
"You have no right to save me only to kill me," she had said desperately. "You would give your life, but you would destroy that which is more than life to me. You did not intend to kill him. It was no murder, it was punishment." Her voice had got harder. "He would have killed my life because he was evil. Will you kill it because you are good? Will you be brave, quixotic, but not pitiful? . . . No, no, no!" she had said, as his hand was upon the gate, "I will not go unless you promise that you will hide the truth, if you can." She had laid her hand upon his shoulder with an agonised impulse. "You will hide it for a girl who will cherish your memory her whole life long. Ah--God bless you!"
She had felt that she conquered before he spoke as, indeed, he did not speak, but nodded his head and murmured something indistinctly. But that did not matter, for she had won; she had a feeling that all would be well. Then he had placed her in her carriage, and she was driven swiftly away, saying to herself half hysterically: "I am safe, I am safe. He will keep his word."
Her safety and his promise were the new factor which changed the equation for which Kaid would presently ask the satisfaction. David's life had suddenly come upon problems for which his whole past was no preparation. Conscience, which had been his guide in every situation, was now disarmed, disabled, and routed. It had come to terms.
In going quickly through the room, they had disarranged a table. The girl's cloak had swept over it, and a piece of brie-a-brae had been thrown upon the floor. He got up and replaced it with an attentive air. He rearranged the other pieces on the table mechanically, seeing, feeling another scene, another inanimate thing which must be for ever and for ever a picture burning in his memory. Yet he appeared to be casually doing a trivial and necessary act. He did not definitely realise his actions; but long afterwards he could have drawn an accurate plan of the table, could have reproduced upon it each article in its exact place as correctly as though it had been photographed. There were one or two spots of dust or dirt on the floor, brought in by his boots from the garden. He flicked them aside with his handkerchief.
How still it was! Or was it his life which had become so still? It seemed as if the world must be noiseless, for not a sound of the life in other parts of the Palace came to him, not an echo or vibration of the city which stirred beyond the great gateway. Was it the chilly hand of death passing over everything, and smothering all the activities? His pulses, which, but a few minutes past, were throbbing and pounding like drums in his ears, seemed now to flow and beat in very quiet. Was this, then, the way that murderers felt, that men felt who took human life--so frozen, so little a part of their surroundings? Did they move as dead men among the living, devitalised, vacuous calm?
His life had been suddenly twisted out of recognition. All that his habit, his code, his morals, his religion, had imposed upon him had been overturned in one moment. To take a human life, even in battle, was against the code by which he had ever been governed, yet he had taken life secretly, and was hiding it from the world.
Accident? But had it been necessary to strike at all? His presence alone would have been enough to save the girl from further molestation; but, he had thrown himself upon the man like a tiger. Yet, somehow, he felt no sorrow for that. He knew that if again and yet again he were placed in the same position he would do even as he had done--even as he had done with the man Kimber by the Fox and Goose tavern beyond Hamley. He knew that the blow he had given then was inevitable, and he had never felt real repentance. Thinking of that blow, he saw its sequel in the blow he had given now. Thus was that day linked with the present, thus had a blow struck in punishment of the wrong done the woman at the crossroads been repeated in the wrong done the girl who had just left him.
A sound now broke the stillness. It was a door shutting not far off. Kaid was coming. David turned his face towards the room where Foorgat Bey was lying dead. He lifted his arms with a sudden passionate gesture. The blood came rushing through his veins again. His life, which had seemed suspended, was set free; and an exaltation of sorrow, of pain, of action, possessed him.
"I have taken a life, O my God!" he murmured. "Accept mine in service for this land. What I have done in secret, let me atone for in secret, for this land--for this poor land, for Christ's sake!"
Footsteps were approaching quickly. With a great effort of the will he ruled himself to quietness again. Kaid entered, and stood before him in silence. David rose. He looked Kaid steadily in the eyes. "Well?" said Kaid placidly.
"For Egypt's sake I will serve thee," was the reply. He held out his hand. Kaid took it, but said, in smiling comment on the action: "As the Viceroy's servant there is another way!"
"I will salaam to-morrow, Kaid," answered David.
"It is the only custom of the place I will require of thee, effendi. Come."
A few moments later they were standing among the consuls and officials in the salon.
"Where is Nahoum?" asked Kaid, looking round on the agitated throng.
No one answered. Smiling, Kaid whispered in David's ear.