THE WEAVERS - VOLUME 4.
THE WEAVERS - VOLUME 4.
XXVIII. NAHOUM TURNS THE SCREW
XXIX. THE RECOIL
XXX. LACEY MOVES
XXXI. THE STRUGGLE IN THE DESERT
XXXII. FORTY STRIPES SAVE ONE
XXXIII. THE DARK INDENTURE
XXXIV. NAHOUM DROPS THE MASK
NAHOUM TURNS THE SCREW
Laughing to himself Higli Pasha sat with the stem of a narghileh in his
mouth. His big shoulders kept time to the quivering of his fat stomach.
He was sitting in a small court-yard of Nahoum Pasha's palace waiting
for its owner to appear. Meanwhile he exercised a hilarious patience.
The years had changed him little since he had been sent on that
expedition against the southern tribes which followed hard on David's
appointment to office. As David had expected few of the traitorous
officers returned. Diaz had ignominiously died of the bite of a
tarantula before a blow had been struck but Higli had gratefully
received a slight wound in the first encounter which enabled him to beat
a safe retreat to Cairo. He alone of the chief of the old conspirators
was left. Achmet was still at the Place of Lepers and the old nest of
traitors was scattered for ever.
Only Nahoum and Higli were left and between these two there had never
been partnership or understanding. Nahoum was not the man to trust to
confederates and Higli Pasha was too contemptible a coadjutor. Nahoum
had faith in no one save Mizraim the Chief Eunuch but Mizraim alone was
better than a thousand; and he was secret--and terrible. Yet Higli had a
conviction that Nahoum's alliance with David was a sham and that David
would pay the price of misplaced confidence one day. More than once when
David's plans had had a set-back Higli had contrived a meeting with
Nahoum to judge for himself the true position.
For his visit to-day he had invented a reason--a matter of finance; but
his real reason was concealed behind the malevolent merriment by which he
was now seized. So absorbed was he that he did not heed the approach of
another visitor down an angle of the court-yard. He was roused by a
"Well what's tickling you so pasha?"
The voice was drawling and quite gentle; but at the sound of it Higli's
laugh stopped short and the muscles of his face contracted. If there
was one man of whom he had a wholesome fear--why he could not tell--it
was this round-faced abrupt imperturbable American Claridge Pasha's
right-hand man. Legends of resourcefulness and bravery had gathered
round his name. "Who's been stroking your chin with a feather pasha?"
he continued his eye piercing the other like a gimlet.
"It was an amusing tale I heard at Assiout effendi" was Higli's abashed
and surly reply.
"Oh at Assiout!" rejoined Lacey. "Yes they tell funny stories at
Assiout. And when were you at Assiout pasha?"
"Two days ago effendi."
"And so you thought you'd tell the funny little story to Nahoum as quick
as could be eh? He likes funny stories same as you--damn nice funny
little stories eh?"
There was something chilly in Lacey's voice now which Higli did not
like; something much too menacing and contemptuous for a mere man-of-all-
work to the Inglesi. Higli bridled up his eyes glared sulkily.
"It is but my own business if I laugh or if I curse effendi" he
replied his hand shaking a little on the stem of the narghileh.
"Precisely my diaphanous polyandrist; but it isn't quite your own affair
what you laugh at--not if I know it!"
"Does the effendi think I was laughing at him?"
"The effendi thinks not. The effendi knows that the descendant of a
hundred tigers was laughing at the funny little story of how the two
cotton-mills that Claridge Pasha built were burned down all in one night
and one of his steamers sent down the cataract at Assouan. A knock-down
blow for Claridge Pasha eh? That's all you thought of wasn't it? And
it doesn't matter to you that the cotton-mills made thousands better off
and started new industries in Egypt. No it only matters to you that
Claridge Pasha loses half his fortune and that you think his feet are
in the quicksands and 'll be sucked in to make an Egyptian holiday.
Anything to discredit him here eh? I'm not sure what else you know; but
I'll find out my noble pasha and if you've had your hand in it--but no
you ain't game-cock enough for that! But if you were if you had a hand
in the making of your funny little story there's a nutcracker that 'd
break the shell of that joke--"
He turned round quickly seeing a shadow and hearing a movement. Nahoum
was but a few feet away. There was a bland smile on his face a look of
innocence in his magnificent blue eye. As he met Lacey's look the smile
left his lips a grave sympathy appeared to possess them and he spoke
"I know the thing that burns thy heart effendi to whom be the flowers
of hope and the fruits of merit. It is even so a great blow has fallen.
Two hours since I heard. I went at once to see Claridge Pasha but found
him not. Does he know think you?" he added sadly.
"May your heart never be harder than it is pasha and when I left the
Saadat an hour ago he did not know. His messenger hadn't a steamer like
Higli Pasha there. But he was coming to see you; and that's why I'm
here. I've been brushing the flies off this sore on the hump of Egypt
while waiting." He glanced with disdain at Higli.
A smile rose like liquid in the eye of Nahoum and subsided then he
turned to Higli inquiringly.
"I have come on business Excellency; the railway to Rosetta and--"
"To-morrow--or the next day" responded Nahoum irritably and turned
again to Lacey.
As Higli's huge frame disappeared through a gateway Nahoum motioned
Lacey to a divan and summoned a slave for cooling drinks. Lacey's eyes
now watched him with an innocence nearly as childlike as his own. Lacey
well knew that here was a foe worthy of the best steel. That he was a
foe and a malignant foe he had no doubt whatever; he had settled the
point in his mind long ago; and two letters he had received from Lady
Eglington in which she had said in so many words "Watch Nahoum!" had
made him vigilant and intuitive. He knew meanwhile that he was
following the trail of a master-hunter who covered up his tracks. Lacey
was as certain as though he had the book of Nahoum's mind open in his
hand that David's work had been torn down again--and this time with dire
effect--by this Armenian whom David trusted like a brother. But the
black doors that closed on the truth on every side only made him more
determined to unlock them; and when he faltered as to his own powers
he trusted Mahommed Hassan whose devotion to David had given him eyes
that pierced dark places.
"Surely the God of Israel has smitten Claridge Pasha sorely. My heart
will mourn to look upon his face. The day is insulting in its
brightness" continued Nahoum with a sigh his eyes bent upon Lacey
dejection in his shoulders.
Lacey started. "The God of Israel!" How blasphemous it sounded from the
lips of Nahoum Oriental of Orientals Christian though he was also!
"I think perhaps you'll get over it pasha. Man is born to trouble
and you've got a lot of courage. I guess you could see other people bear
a pile of suffering and never flinch."
Nahoum appeared not to notice the gibe. "It is a land of suffering
effendi" he sighed "and one sees what one sees."
"Have you any idea any real sensible idea how those cotton-mills got
afire?" Lacey's eyes were fixed on Nahoum's face.
The other met his gaze calmly. "Who can tell! An accident perhaps
"Or some one set the mills on fire in several places at once--they say
the buildings flamed out in every corner; and it was the only time in a
month they hadn't been running night and day. Funny isn't it?"
"It looks like the work of an enemy effendi." Nahoum shook his head
gravely. "A fortune destroyed in an hour as it were. But we shall get
the dog. We shall find him. There is no hole deep enough to hide him
"Well I wouldn't go looking in holes for him pasha.
"He isn't any cave-dweller that incendiary; he's an artist--no palace is
too unlikely for him. No I wouldn't go poking in mud-huts to find him."
"Thou dost not think that Higli Pasha--" Nahoum seemed startled out of
equanimity by the thought. Lacey eyed him meditatively and said
reflectively: "Say you're an artist pasha. You are a guesser of the
first rank. But I'd guess again. Higli Pasha would have done it if it
had ever occurred to him; and he'd had the pluck. But it didn't and he
hadn't. What I can't understand is that the artist that did it should
have done it before Claridge Pasha left for the Soudan. Here we were
just about to start; and if we'd got away south the job would have done
more harm and the Saadat would have been out of the way. No I can't
understand why the firebug didn't let us get clean away; for if the
Saadat stays here he'll be where he can stop the underground mining."
Nahoum's self-control did not desert him though he fully realised that
this man suspected him. On the surface Lacey was right. It would have
seemed better to let David go and destroy his work afterwards but he
had been moved by other considerations and his design was deep. His
own emissaries were in the Soudan announcing David's determination to
abolish slavery secretly stirring up feeling against him preparing for
the final blow to be delivered when he went again among the southern
tribes. He had waited and waited and now the time was come. Had he
Nahoum not agreed with David that the time had come for the slave-trade
to go? Had he not encouraged him to take this bold step in the sure
belief that it would overwhelm him and bring him an ignominious death
embittered by total failure of all he had tried to do?
For years he had secretly loosened the foundations of David's work and
the triumph of Oriental duplicity over Western civilisation and integrity
was sweet in his mouth. And now there was reason to believe that at
last Kaid was turning against the Inglesi. Everything would come at
once. If all that he had planned was successful even this man before
him should aid in his master's destruction.
"If it was all done by an enemy" he said in answer to Lacey at last
"would it all be reasoned out like that? Is hatred so logical? Dost
thou think Claridge Pasha will not go now? The troops are ready at Wady-
Halfa everything is in order; the last load of equipment has gone. Will
not Claridge Pasha find the money somehow? I will do what I can. My
heart is moved to aid him."
"Yes you'd do what you could pasha" Lacey rejoined enigmatically "but
whether it would set the Saadat on his expedition or not is a question.
But I guess after all he's got to go. He willed it so. People may try
to stop him and they may tear down what he does but he does at last
what he starts to do and no one can prevent him--not any one. Yes he's
going on this expedition; and he'll have the money too." There was a
strange abstracted look in his face as though he saw something which
held him fascinated.
Presently as if with an effort he rose to his feet took the red fez
from his head and fanned himself with it for a moment. "Don't you
forget it pasha; the Saadat will win. He can't be beaten not in a
thousand years. Here he comes."
Nahoum got to his feet as David came quickly through the small gateway
of the court-yard his head erect his lips smiling his eyes sweeping
the place. He came forward briskly to them. It was plain he had not
heard the evil news.
"Peace be to thee Saadat and may thy life be fenced about with safety!"
David laid a hand on Lacey's arm and squeezed it smiling at him with
such friendship that Lacey's eyes moistened and he turned his head away.
There was a quiet elation in David's look. "We are ready at last" he
said looking from one to the other. "Well well" he added almost
boyishly "has thee nothing to say Nahoum?"
Nahoum turned his head away as though overcome. David's face grew
instantly grave. He turned to Lacey. Never before had he seen Lacey's
face with a look like this. He grasped Lacey's arm. "What is it?" he
asked quietly. "What does thee want to say to me?"
But Lacey could not speak and David turned again to Nahoum. "What is
there to say to me?" he asked. "Something has happened--what is it?
. . . Come many things have happened before. This can be no worse.
Do thee speak" he urged gently.
"Saadat" said Nahoum as though under the stress of feeling "the
cotton-mills at Tashah and Mini are gone--burned to the ground."
For a moment David looked at him without sight in his eyes and his face
grew very pale. "Excellency all in one night the besom of destruction
was abroad" he heard Nahoum say as though from great depths below him.
He slowly turned his head to look at Lacey. "Is this true?" he asked at
last in an unsteady voice. Lacey could not speak but inclined his head.
David's figure seemed to shrink for a moment his face had a withered
look and his head fell forward in a mood of terrible dejection.
"Saadat! Oh my God Saadat don't take it so!" said Lacey brokenly
and stepped between David and Nahoum. He could not bear that the
stricken face and figure should be seen by Nahoum whom he believed to be
secretly gloating. "Saadat" he said brokenly "God has always been with
you; He hasn't forgotten you now.
"The work of years" David murmured and seemed not to hear.
"When God permits shall man despair?" interposed Nahoum in a voice
that lingered on the words. Nahoum accomplished what Lacey had failed to
do. His voice had pierced to some remote corner in David's nature and
roused him. Was it that doubt suspicion had been wakened at last? Was
some sensitive nerve touched that this Oriental should offer Christian
comfort to him in his need--to him who had seen the greater light? Or
was it that some unreality in the words struck a note which excited a new
and subconscious understanding? Perhaps it was a little of all three.
He did not stop to inquire. In crises such as that through which he was
passing the mind and body act without reason rather by the primal
instinct the certain call of the things that were before reason was.
"God is with the patient" continued Nahoum; and Lacey set his teeth to
bear this insult to all things. But Nahoum accomplished what he had not
anticipated. David straightened himself up and clasped his hands behind
him. By a supreme effort of the will he controlled himself and the
colour came back faintly to his face. "God's will be done" he said
and looked Nahoum calmly in the eyes. "It was no accident" he added
with conviction. "It was an enemy of Egypt." Suddenly the thing rushed
over him again going through his veins like a poisonous ether and
clamping his heart as with iron. "All to do over again!" he said
brokenly and again he caught Lacey's arm.
With an uncontrollable impulse Lacey took David's hand in his own warm
"Once I thought I lost everything in Mexico Saadat and I understand
what you feel. But all wasn't lost in Mexico as I found at last and I
got something too that I didn't put in. Say let us go from here. God
is backing you Saadat. Isn't it all right--same as ever?"
David was himself again. "Thee is a good man" he said and through the
sadness of his eyes there stole a smile. "Let us go" he said. Then he
added in a businesslike way: "To-morrow at seven Nahoum. There is much
He turned towards the gate with Lacey where the horses waited. Mahommed
Hassan met them as they prepared to mount. He handed David a letter.
It was from Faith and contained the news of Luke Claridge's death.
Everything had come at once. He stumbled into the saddle with a moan.
"At last I have drawn blood" said Nahoum to himself with grim
satisfaction as they disappeared. "It is the beginning of the end.
It will crush him-I saw it in his eyes. God of Israel I shall rule
again in Egypt!"
It was a great day in the Muslim year. The Mahmal or Sacred Carpet
was leaving Cairo on its long pilgrimage of thirty-seven days to Mecca
and Mahomet's tomb. Great guns boomed from the Citadel as the gorgeous
procession forming itself beneath the Mokattam Hills began its slow
march to where seated in the shade of an ornate pavilion Prince Kaid
awaited its approach to pay devout homage. Thousands looked down at the
scene from the ramparts of the Citadel from the overhanging cliffs and
from the tops of the houses that hung on the ledges of rock rising
abruptly from the level ground to which the last of the famed Mamelukes
leaped to their destruction.
Now to Prince Kaid's ears there came from hundreds of hoarse throats the
cry: "Allah! Allah! May thy journey be with safety to Arafat!"
mingling with the harsh music of the fifes and drums.
Kaid looked upon the scene with drawn face and lowering brows. His
retinue watched him with alarm. A whisper had passed that two nights
before the Effendina had sent in haste for a famous Italian physician
lately come to Cairo and that since his visit Kaid had been sullen and
depressed. It was also the gossip of the bazaars that he had suddenly
shown favour to those of the Royal House and to other reactionaries
who had been enemies to the influence of Claridge Pasha.
This rumour had been followed by an official proclamation that no
Europeans or Christians would be admitted to the ceremony of the Sacred
Thus it was that Kaid looked out on a vast multitude of Muslims in which
not one European face showed and from lip to lip there passed the word
"Harrik--Harrik--remember Harrik! Kaid turns from the infidel!"
They crowded near the great pavilion--as near as the mounted Nubians
would permit--to see Kaid's face; while he with eyes wandering over the
vast assemblage was lost in dark reflections. For a year he had
struggled against a growing conviction that some obscure disease was
sapping his strength. He had hid it from every one until at last
distress and pain had overcome him. The verdict of the Italian expert
was that possible but by no means certain cure might come from an
operation which must be delayed for a month or more.
Suddenly the world had grown unfamiliar to him; he saw it from afar; but
his subconscious self involuntarily registered impressions and he moved
mechanically through the ceremonies and duties of the immediate present.
Thrown back upon himself to fight his own fight with the instinct of
primary life his mind involuntarily drew for refuge to the habits and
predispositions of youth; and for two days he had shut himself away from
the activities with which David and Nahoum were associated. Being deeply
engaged with the details of the expedition to the Soudan David had not
gone to the Palace; and he was unaware of the turn which things had
Three times with slow and stately steps the procession wound in a
circle in the great square before it approached the pavilion where the
Effendina sat the splendid camels carrying the embroidered tent wherein
the Carpet rested and that which bore the Emir of the pilgrims moving
gracefully like ships at sea. Naked swordsmen with upright and shining
blades were followed by men on camels bearing kettle-drums. After them
came Arab riders with fresh green branches fastened to the saddles like
plumes while others carried flags and banners emblazoned with texts and
symbols. Troops of horsemen in white woollen cloaks sheikhs and
Bedouins with flowing robes and huge turbans religious chiefs of the
great sects imperturbable and statuesque were in strange contrast to
the shouting dervishes and camel-drivers and eager pilgrims.
At last the great camel with its sacred burden stopped in front of Kaid
for his prayer and blessing. As he held the tassels lifted the gold-
fringed curtain and invoked Allah's blessing a half-naked sheikh ran
forward and raising his hand high above his head cried shrilly:
"Kaid Kaid hearken!"
Rough hands caught him away but Kaid commanded them to desist; and the
man called a blessing on him; and cried aloud:
"Listen O Kaid son of the stars and the light of day. God hath exalted
thee. Thou art the Egyptian of all the Egyptians. In thy hand is power.
But thou art mortal even as I. Behold O Kaid in the hour that I was
born thou wast born I in the dust without thy Palace wall thou amid the
splendid things. But thy star is my star. Behold as God ordains the
Tree of Life was shaken on the night when all men pray and cry aloud to
God--even the Night of the Falling Leaves. And I watched the falling
leaves; and I saw my leaf and it was withered but only a little
withered and so I live yet a little. But I looked for thy leaf thou
who wert born in that moment when I waked to the world. I looked long
but I found no leaf neither green nor withered. But I looked again upon
my leaf and then I saw that thy name now was also upon my leaf and that
it was neither green nor withered; but was a leaf that drooped as when an
evil wind has passed and drunk its life. Listen O Kaid! Upon the tomb
of Mahomet I will set my lips and it may be that the leaf of my life
will come fresh and green again. But thou--wilt thou not come also to
the lord Mahomet's tomb? Or"--he paused and raised his voice--"or wilt
thou stay and lay thy lips upon the cross of the infidel? Wilt thou--"
He could say no more for Kaid's face now darkened with anger. He made a
gesture and in an instant the man was gagged and bound while a sullen
silence fell upon the crowd. Kaid suddenly became aware of this change
of feeling and looked round him. Presently his old prudence and
subtlety came back his face cleared a little and he called aloud
"Unloose the man and let him come to me." An instant after the man
was on his knees silent before him.
"What is thy name?" Kaid asked.
"Kaid Ibrahim Effendina" was the reply.
"Thou hast misinterpreted thy dream Kaid Ibrahim" answered the
Effendina. "The drooping leaf was token of the danger in which thy life
should be and my name upon thy leaf was token that I should save thee
from death. Behold I save thee. Inshallah go in peace! There is no
God but God and the Cross is the sign of a false prophet. Thou art mad.
God give thee a new mind. Go."
The man was presently lost in the sweltering half-frenzied crowd; but he
had done his work and his words rang in the ears of Kaid as he rode
A few hours afterwards bitter and rebellious murmuring to himself Kaid