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
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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:
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.