The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
Chapter VII. The Compact
One by one the lights went out in the Palace. The excited guests were now knocking at the doors of Cairene notables, bent upon gossip of the night's events, or were scouring the bazaars for ears into which to pour the tale of how David was exalted and Nahoum was brought low; how, before them all, Kaid had commanded Nahoum to appear at the Palace in the morning at eleven, and the Inglesi, as they had named David, at ten. But they declared to all who crowded upon their words that the Inglesi left the Palace with a face frozen white, as though it was he that had met debacle, while Nahoum had been as urbane and cynical as though he had come to the fulness of his power.
Some, on hearing this, said: "Beware Nahoum!" But those who had been at the Palace said: "Beware the Inglesi!" This still Quaker, with the white shining face and pontifical hat, with his address of "thee" and "thou," and his forms of speech almost Oriental in their imagery and simplicity, himself an archaism, had impressed them with a sense of power. He had prompted old Diaz Pasha to speak of him as a reincarnation, so separate and withdrawn he seemed at the end of the evening, yet with an uncanny mastery in his dark brown eyes. One of the Ulema, or holy men, present had said in reply to Diaz: "It is the look of one who hath walked with Death and bought and sold with Sheitan the accursed." To Nahoum Pasha, Dim had said, as the former left the Palace, a cigarette between his fingers: "Sleep not nor slumber, Nahoum. The world was never lost by one earthquake." And Nahoum had replied with a smooth friendliness: "The world is not reaped in one harvest."
"The day is at hand--the East against the West," murmured old Diaz, as he passed on.
"The day is far spent," answered Nahoum, in a voice unheard by Diaz; and, with a word to his coachman, who drove off quickly, he disappeared in the shrubbery.
A few minutes later he was tapping at the door of Mizraim, the Chief Eunuch. Three times he tapped in the same way. Presently the door opened, and he stepped inside. The lean, dark figure of Mizraim bowed low; the long, slow fingers touched the forehead, the breast, and the lips.
"May God preserve thy head from harm, excellency, and the night give thee sleep," said Mizraim. He looked inquiringly at Nahoum.
"May thy head know neither heat nor cold, and thy joys increase," responded Nahoum mechanically, and sat down.
To an European it would have seemed a shameless mockery to have wished joy to this lean, hateful dweller in the between-worlds; to Nahoum it was part of a life which was all ritual and intrigue, gabbling superstition and innate fatalism, decorated falsehood and a brave philosophy.
"I have work for thee at last, Mizraim," said Nahoum.
"Thou hast but played before. To-night I must see the sweat of thy brow."
Mizraim's cold fingers again threw themselves against his breast, forehead, and lips, and he said:
"As a woman swims in a fountain, so shall I bathe in sweat for thee, who hath given with one hand and hath never taken with the other."
"I did thee service once, Mizraim--eh?"
"I was as a bird buffeted by the wind; upon thy masts my feet found rest. Behold, I build my nest in thy sails, excellency."
"There are no birds in last year's nest, Mizraim, thou dove," said Nahoum, with a cynical smile. "When I build, I build. Where I swear by the stone of the corner, there am I from dark to dark and from dawn to dawn, pasha." Suddenly he swept his hand low to the ground and a ghastly sort of smile crossed over his face. "Speak--I am thy servant. Shall I not hear? I will put my hand in the entrails of Egypt, and wrench them forth for thee."
He made a gesture so cruelly, so darkly, suggestive that Nahoum turned his head away. There flashed before his mind the scene of death in which his own father had lain, butchered like a beast in the shambles, a victim to the rage of Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mehemet Ali.
"Then listen, and learn why I have need of thee to-night."
First, Nahoum told the story of David's coming, and Kaid's treatment of himself, the foreshadowing of his own doom. Then of David and the girl, and the dead body he had seen; of the escape of the girl, of David's return with Kaid--all exactly as it had happened, save that he did; not mention the name of the dead man.
It did not astonish Mizraim that Nahoum had kept all this secret. That crime should be followed by secrecy and further crime, if need be, seems natural to the Oriental mind. Mizraim had seen removal follow upon removal, and the dark Nile flowed on gloomily, silently, faithful to the helpless ones tossed into its bosom. It would much have astonished him if Nahoum had not shown a gaping darkness somewhere in his tale, and he felt for the key to the mystery.
"And he who lies dead, excellency?"
"Even he, Mizraim. He lured the girl here--a mad man ever. The other madman was in the next room. He struck--come, and thou shalt see."
Together they felt their way through the passages and rooms, and presently entered the room where Foorgat Bey was lying. Nahoum struck a light, and, as he held the candle, Mizraim knelt and examined the body closely. He found the slight wound on the temple, then took the candle from Nahoum and held it close to the corner of the marble pedestal. A faint stain of blood was there. Again he examined the body, and ran his fingers over the face and neck. Suddenly he stopped, and held the light close to the skin beneath the right jaw. He motioned, and Nahoum laid his fingers also on the spot. There was a slight swelling.
"A blow with the fist, excellency--skilful, and English." He looked inquiringly at Nahoum. "As a weasel hath a rabbit by the throat, so is the Inglesi in thy hands."
Nahoum shook his head. "And if I went to Kaid, and said, 'This is the work of the Inglesi,' would he believe? Kaid would hang me for the lie-- would it be truth to him? What proof have I, save the testimony of mine own eyes? Egypt would laugh at that. Is it the time, while yet the singers are beneath the windows, to assail the bride? All bridegrooms are mad. It is all sunshine and morning with the favourite, the Inglesi. Only when the shadows lengthen may he be stricken. Not now."
"Why dost thou hide this from Kaid, O thou brother of the eagle?"
"For my gain and thine, keeper of the gate. To-night I am weak, because I am poor. To-morrow I shall be rich and, it may be, strong. If Kaid knew of this tonight, I should be a prisoner before cockcrow. What claims has a prisoner? Kaid would be in my brother's house at dawn, seizing all that is there and elsewhere, and I on my way to Fazougli, to be strangled or drowned."
"O wise and far-seeing! Thine eye pierces the earth. What is there to do? What is my gain--what thine?"
"Thy gain? The payment of thy debt to me." Mizraim's face lengthened. His was a loathsome sort of gratitude. He was willing to pay in kind; but what Oriental ever paid a debt without a gift in return, even as a bartering Irishman demands his lucky penny.
"So be it, excellency, and my life is thine to spill upon the ground, a scarlet cloth for thy feet. And backsheesh?"
Nahoum smiled grimly. "For backsheesh, thy turban full of gold."
Mizraim's eyes glittered-the dull black shine of a mongrel terrier's. He caught the sleeve of Nahoum's coat and kissed it, then kissed his hand.
Thus was their bargain made over the dead body; and Mizraim had an almost superstitious reverence for the fulfilment of a bond, the one virtue rarely found in the Oriental. Nothing else had he, but of all men in Egypt he was the best instrument Nahoum could have chosen; and of all men in Egypt he was the one man who could surely help him.
"What is there now to do, excellency?"
"My coachman is with the carriage at the gate by which the English girl left. It is open still. The key is in Foorgat's pocket, no doubt; stolen by him, no doubt also. . . . This is my design. Thou wilt drive him"--he pointed to the body--"to his palace, seated in the carriage as though he were alive. There is a secret entrance. The bowab of the gate will show the way; I know it not. But who will deny thee? Thou comest from high places--from Kaid. Who will speak of this? Will the bowab? In the morning Foorgat will be found dead in his bed! The slight bruise thou canst heal--thou canst?"
Mizraim nodded. "I can smooth it from the sharpest eye."
"At dawn he will be found dead; but at dawn I shall be knocking at his gates. Before the world knows I shall be in possession. All that is his shall be mine, for at once the men of law shall be summoned, and my inheritance secured before Kaid shall even know of his death. I shall take my chances for my life."
"And the coachman, and the bowab, and others it may be?"
"Shall not these be with thee--thou, Kaid's keeper of the harem, the lion at the door of his garden of women? Would it be strange that Foorgat, who ever flew at fruit above his head, perilous to get or keep, should be found on forbidden ground, or in design upon it? Would it be strange to the bowab or the slave that he should return with thee stark and still? They would but count it mercy of Kaid that he was not given to the serpents of the Nile. A word from thee--would one open his mouth? Would not the shadow of thy hand, of the swift doom, be over them? Would not a handful of gold bind them to me? Is not the man dead? Are they not mine--mine to bind or break as I will?"
"So be it! Wisdom is of thee as the breath of man is his life. I will drive Foorgat Bey to his home."
A few moments later all that was left of Foorgat Bey was sitting in his carriage beside Mizraim the Chief Eunuch--sitting upright, stony, and still, and in such wise was driven swiftly to his palace.