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Title: Veiled Women
Author: Pickthall, Marmaduke William
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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VEILED WOMEN

by

MARMADUKE PICKTHALL

Author of “Saïd the Fisherman,” etc.



London
Eveleigh Nash
1913



TABLE OF CONTENTS

          CHAPTER I              5
          CHAPTER II            14
          CHAPTER III           20
          CHAPTER IV            24
          CHAPTER V             38
          CHAPTER VI            47
          CHAPTER VII           59
          CHAPTER VIII          64
          CHAPTER IX            71
          CHAPTER X             77
          CHAPTER XI            83
          CHAPTER XII           93
          CHAPTER XIII         100
          CHAPTER XIV          112
          CHAPTER XV           121
          CHAPTER XVI          131
          CHAPTER XVII         143
          CHAPTER XVIII        156
          CHAPTER XIX          166
          CHAPTER XX           174
          CHAPTER XXI          182
          CHAPTER XXII         188
          CHAPTER XXIII        195
          CHAPTER XXIV         203
          CHAPTER XXV          210
          CHAPTER XXVI         218
          CHAPTER XXVII        228
          CHAPTER XXVIII       236
          CHAPTER XXIX         246
          CHAPTER XXX          254
          CHAPTER XXXI         263
          CHAPTER XXXII        271
          CHAPTER XXXIII       277
          CHAPTER XXXIV        283
          CHAPTER XXXV         288
          CHAPTER XXXVI        296
          CHAPTER XXXVII       300
          CHAPTER XXXVIII      305
          CHAPTER XXXIX        310
          CHAPTER XL           314
          MR. EVELEIGH NASH’S LIST OF NEW BOOKS
          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE



CHAPTER I

    “If good the news, O bird, alight and welcome;
    If bad, draw up thy claws and hie away!”


At the corner of a lofty housetop overlooking a great part of Cairo,
a woman stood with arms uplifted and solemnly addressed a crow which
seemed about to settle. The bird, as if the meaning of the chant had
reached him, turned in the air with clumsy flapping, and withdrew,
rising to join the hundreds of his kind which circled high above the
city bathed in early sunlight. The woman shook her fist at his receding
shape, glass bracelets tinkling on her strong brown arm. She sighed,
“The curse of God on thy religion, O thou faithless messenger!” then,
with a laugh, turned round to join the group of slave-girls, her
companions, sent up to lay out herbs to dry upon the roof. These had
watched her invocation of the crow with knowing grins. But one, a young
Circassian, who sat watching while the others worked, betrayed surprise
and asked the meaning of the little ceremony.

At that there was much giggling.

“Knowest thou not, O flower? It is the woman’s secret!”

“Secret of secrets, all unknown of men!”

“By Allah, men know nothing of it. In sh´Allah, they will be astonished
some day!”

“O Hind, relate the story! Our honey, our gazelle, Gulbeyzah, has not
heard it.”

Thus urged, the one who had adjured the crow, a free servant of the
house, obsequious towards the slaves, its pampered children, explained
as she knelt down again to work:

“In the name of Allah, thus it is related: Know, O my sweet, that, in
the days of our lord Noah (may God bless him), after the flood, the men
and women were in equal numbers and on equal terms. What then? Why,
naturally they began disputing which should have the right to choose
in marriage and, as the race increased, enjoy more mates than one. The
men gave judgment on their own behalf, as usual; and when the women
made polite objection, turned and beat them. What was to be done? The
case was thus: the men were stronger than the women, but there exists
One stronger than the men--Allah Most High. The women sought recourse
to Allah’s judgment; but--O calamity!--by ill advice they made the crow
their messenger. The crow flew off towards Heaven, carrying their dear
petition in his claws, and from that day to this he brings no answer.
But God is everliving and most merciful; a thousand years with Him
seem but an hour. Perhaps He does but hold our favour over, as might a
son of Adam, till the evening for reflection, to grant it at the last.
In sh´Allah!”

“In sh´Allah!” came the chorus of a dozen voices; followed by a general
laugh when Gulbeyzah, the Circassian, yawned and sighed, “Four goodly
husbands all my own! O Lord, give quickly!”

“That is the reason,” Hind concluded, “why good women have a word to
say to crows who seek to settle. Any one of them may be the bearer of
the blessed edict. The reason as related--Allah knows!”

“Good news and hopeful, by my maidenhood!--the best I ever heard!”
chuckled Gulbeyzah, reposing with her back against the parapet. She
then remained a long while silent, lost in day-dreams.

The hour was after sunrise of a spring morning in the twelve hundred
and eightieth year of the Hegirah, the second of the reign of Ismaîl.
The house was that of Muhammad Pasha Sâlih, a Turk by origin but born
and bred in Egypt, who held a high position in the government. The
girls, their task accomplished, sat down on their heels, each with her
tray of basketwork before her, and sniffed the breeze, in no haste to
return indoors.

“Praise to Allah,” one exclaimed with fervour, “we escape for an hour
from that Gehennum there below. Never have I seen the lady Fitnah so
enraged. Her wrath is not so much because her son desires the English
governess, as because the Pasha sees no hindrance to the match. I
tremble every time I have to go to her, lest in her fury she should
damage my desirability.”

“Praise be to Allah, I am not her property,” replied another, “but that
of her durrah, the great lady. Yet I know her for a good and pious
creature, not likely to be so enraged without rare cause. They say
this foreign teacher has bewitched the young man. He is mad. He flung
himself before her in the passage as she came from driving. She spurned
him, and they bore him, senseless, to his chamber, where for two days
he weeps and moans, refusing nourishment. It is enchantment, evidently,
for the girl is ugly.”

“Nay, by Allah, she is white and nicely rounded. But shameless! But an
infidel!”

“She can change her faith.”

“As easily as dung can change its odour!”

“Gulbeyzah here is whiter and more appetizing.”

“Well, God alone knows what she is or is not. This is sure: I have no
itching to go down into the house while Fitnah Khânum rages.”

“Nor I!” “Nor I!” exclaimed the rest with feeling.

The morning clamour of the city came up to them as a soothing murmur.
Minarets dreamed round them in the sun-haze which was rosy at its
heart but in the distance pearly with a tinge of brown. On one hand
open country might be seen, green fields and palm trees crowding to
the desert wave on which three pyramids stood out, minute as ciphers;
on the other, ending the long ridge of the Mucattam Hill, arose the
Citadel in smoky shadow, its Turkish dome and minarets, its towers
and ramparts, appearing like a city of the sky. Here and there among
the housetops a small cloud of doves went up, fluttered a moment and
subsided peacefully. Kites hovered, crows were circling, in the upper
air. Gulbeyzah watched their evolutions dreamily.

“Allah defend us from the liberty of Frankish women!” she remarked at
length. “I could not bear it. To meet the stare of all men were too
dreadful. My maidenhood would flush my brain and kill me. O pure shame!
And yet they choose what men they like, the fact is known. In sh´Allah,
the great favour, when the crow does bring it, will not destroy our
blessed privacy.”

“In sh´Allah, truly!” answered Hind, with vehemence. “Fear nothing,
O beloved; God is greatest! Their freedom is from Satan, their liege
lord--the curse of Allah on him! It is a travesty of God’s work, like
all he does. Is it not known when Allah made the cow, he tried his best
to do the same, but got no farther than the water-buffalo? All Heaven
mocked him. Our charter, when it comes, will be perfection.”

“Talking of foreign women makes me curious to know how things are
going, down below. Has the governess consented to give life to Yûsuf?
Has the Pasha quieted the lady Fitnah?”

“Nothing could quiet her, unless it were the quick expulsion of the
Englishwoman. Why did she ever have her children taught the lore of
infidels? The fault is hers! She hoped to keep the Bey from honourable
marriage, chaining his fancy with some slave-girl, her own creature.”

“With me, say plainly!” laughed Gulbeyzah, with a yawn. “I was
brought into the house with that intention. Yet not her creature, for
Murjânah Khânum is my mistress, and she would have seen to it that I
was well respected. If the governess has pity on him--which I think
not likely--as soon would the wild serpent wed the dove--my lady must
provide me with a proper husband. I have no mind to wither as a fruit
untasted.” She yawned again. “Will no one go into the house and bring
me news?”

Up leapt a little Galla girl, a child as yet unveiled, all eyes and
teeth with glee in the adventure.

“I go, O lady! I am not afraid. I will even enter the selamlik. I will
find out everything.”

“Be very careful, O Fatûmah, lest old Fitnah seize thee. She would rip
up thy belly and pluck out thy entrails did she catch thee spying!”

The little black girl laughed and made an impudent grimace.

“And then the eunuchs! They will surely beat thee.”

“By Allah, they must catch me first. Sawwâb adores me, and the others
are too slow.”

“Good. Run, ere curiosity consume me!”

The little negress shot off like an arrow. Down dark, malodorous
stairs, through empty corridors, she glanced, incarnate mischief. In a
pleasure court of the harîm, where orange trees in tubs grew round a
pool, she stopped to listen for the voice of Fitnah. It came from an
apartment on her right. Straight forward, where she wished to go, the
coast seemed clear. Springing on tiptoe, she plucked a spray of blossom
from the nearest tree; then ran on down a passage through the ornate
screen, the boundary of the women’s quarters, where a eunuch tried in
fun to stop her; and in sight of a great hall where men were lounging,
knocked at a door.

The word had scarce been given ere she glided in and held out the sprig
of orange-blossom to the English governess, with every muscle of her
body fawning, smiling. Without a look, she read the stranger’s face,
perceived she had been crying lately but now looked exultant, observed
the order of the room, the foreign furniture; and then, before the
Englishwoman could find words to thank her for the pretty offering,
kissed a white hand which proved as hot as fire, and darted out as
noiselessly as she had entered.

As she was flitting back across the garden-court, she heard a male
voice cry:

“Be silent, woman; or, by the Prophet, I shall have to beat thee!”

Crouching behind a tub, she listened eagerly. But though a wrangle
was in progress not far off between the Pasha and his wife, the lady
Fitnah, she could glean no more than the main tenor of it from the
voices, of which the man’s was irritated and the woman’s mad.

At last the Pasha shouted:

“It is finished. No word more. I go straight to the Consul. Appeal to
the Câdi, I beseech thee; of thy kindness, do so! He will tell thee,
just as I do, that thou art demented.”

Another minute and he crossed the court, wearing his best tarbûsh and
his official garb of black frock-coat and narrow trousers--a thing
unheard of at that early hour.

Having seen him pass to the selamlik, Fatûmah ran like lightning
through the dim old house, till, breathless, she emerged in dazzling
sunlight and flopped down on the roof again beside the others.

“Well, what news?” they clamoured.

“Great news!” Fatûmah panted. “Only listen! The English governess is
going to marry Yûsuf Bey, and she has islamed!”

“Praise to Allah!” cried the others in amazement. “A Frankish woman
convert! A great miracle!”

“The Pasha goes this minute to the English Consul, to confer with him
and make arrangements for the ceremony.”

“Allahu akbar! Is it possible? But what says Fitnah?”

“What can she say, the poor one? The command is on her.”

“But, for the love of Allah, say, how didst thou learn all this?”

Fatûmah shut her lips tight, looking preternaturally cunning.

“Ha, ha!” was all she answered.

“Her tale is nonsense! She is making game of us,” exclaimed Gulbeyzah,
breaking out in laughter. “She was not gone five minutes, that is
known. Thou shalt be paid full measure, little poison-flower! Confess
now that thy story is all lies!”

The marvel was that every word proved true.



CHAPTER II


Muhammad Pasha Sâlih was intensely worried. As he drove toward the
English Consul’s office, he let deep furrows ravage his benignant brow,
and combed his long grey beard with nervous fingers. The ever-shifting
crowds, the eager faces, the laden camels rolling on like ships upon
the sea of heads; the water-sellers clinking their brass cups, the
cries of salesmen and the floating odours--all the pageant of the
streets and all their rumour, which filled the sunlight and seemed one
with it, went by unnoticed.

In youth he had been wedded to a noble Turkish lady, the sweetest and
most gentle of companions. Never an angry word had passed between
them. But, alas! when all her children died soon after birth, Murjânah
Khânum had grown melancholy and retired from life. She still dwelt in
his house, was still the nominal head of his harîm; but for more than
twenty years she had been dead to pleasure. At first he had amused
himself with pretty slaves, being reluctant to infringe her dignity of
only wife. Then, at her instance, for she feared debauch for him, he
had espoused the daughter of a wealthy native, whom the caprice of a
former ruler had exalted. The marriage, besides raising his importance,
had brought him four male children. Yet at this moment, with the curses
of the termagant still ringing in his ears, he almost wished he had let
well alone and kept to concubines.

Allah knew that Yûsuf’s malady was not uncommon at his age; the cure
self-evident. The governess was not a heathen. She was of those who
have received the Scriptures, therefore marriageable. Moreover, being,
as he shrewdly guessed, of no consideration in her native land, she
might be tempted by a life of wealth and ease. To save his son from
death, he had besought the Englishwoman, imagining that her consent
would fill the house with joy-cries. Yet when the cause was won, the
only possible objection cancelled by the girl’s unlooked-for turn to El
Islâm, behold! the lady Fitnah’s grief was changed to fury. The wrangle
with her had perturbed him at a moment when he stood in need of all his
wits to brave the Consul. Well, Allah saw what trials he endured!

The carriage drew up in a quiet alley, before a gateway ornamented with
a coloured picture of lions great and small in funny attitudes. Two
Cawasses in silver-braided jackets with long dangling sleeves rose from
stools beside the threshold and saluted. Muhammad Pasha passed between
them, crossing a courtyard to a second door, wide open like the first.
There, in a whitewashed room, two Copts sat at a table, cutting pens.
They both sprang up at recognition of the visitor and strove to kiss
his hands, which he prevented by patting each upon the shoulder kindly.

“Is the Consul busy, O my children?” he inquired. “I have an errand of
importance. Please inform him.”

“Upon my head. I go at once, by Allah!”

One of the Copts leapt to an inner door and knocked thereon. Enjoined
to enter, he opened it just far enough for the introduction of his
body, and slipped in. Anon returning in the same respectful manner,
he beckoned to the Pasha. Then he flung the door wide open, and stood
aside, with eyes downcast and hands demurely folded.

Muhammad Pasha entered with a beating heart. His mission was of essence
delicate, and he was anxious to avoid all odour of offence towards a
foreign representative possessing influence. Having touched hands with
the Consul and exchanged greetings, he sat down on the extreme edge of
a chair, and toying with his amber rosary, thus broached his business:--

“Monsieur le Consul,”--the conversation was in French of the Byzantine
school,--“you remember the young lady whom you were good enough to
recommend as an instructress for my children. Can you inform me of her
origin, her previous history?”

“Excellency, I only know what she herself confided: that she was
educated at a religious institution for poor children of good family.
She has no relatives. She came here to be governess in an English
house which, by the father’s sudden death, was brought to poverty two
weeks before she came. She found herself here without a situation and
with little money; and as she was well recommended and impressed me as
respectable, I thought of you, remembering that you desired an English
governess. I trust that you are satisfied of her efficiency?”

“Altogether. She has been a month now in our house, and almost is
become like one of us. She is so charming. It is there, the trouble.
She is ravishing. Monsieur le Consul,”--here the Pasha changed his
tone for that of one who bares his heart, discarding courtesies,--“I
am very gravely troubled. The anxiety I suffer cuts digestion and
gives me frightful belly-pains. My son adores this demoiselle, and she
adores him. The affair deprives me of all taste for food. You see my
sufferings!”

“Continue, Excellency!” said the Consul grimly. He got up from his
chair and paced the room. The Pasha kept the corner of an eye upon him,
as he proceeded:

“What can I do? The demoiselle has been secluded from my household,
as I promised you. But youth leaps boundaries; love can speak through
walls. My son has seen her in the passages--their eyes have met--What
know I? Youth is fatal.”

Here the Pasha wiped his eyes.

“Monsieur le Consul, when I heard of this two days ago, I put my son in
prison; I went myself and reasoned with the demoiselle. I have reasoned
with them both, entreated, threatened; but without result. I fear my
son will die if he may not espouse her. The demoiselle implores me not
to cast her forth. She says--it is so touching!--that we are her only
friends, that she never met with kindness till she came to us.”

“Beg her to come this afternoon and see me,” pronounced the Englishman,
whose face had darkened by perceptible gradations as he listened.

“That is precisely what I come to ask: that you will scold her. God
knows how the responsibility has weighed upon me. She is not the match
I should myself have chosen for my son; but still I should be glad of
the alliance, because of the esteem I have for all the English. I stand
impartial in the case and greatly worried.”

“Thank you, Excellency. Send her to me this afternoon. Is there
anything else?”

The Pasha had already risen to depart.

“One thing.” He dropped his voice to a stage whisper. “In the frenzy
of her love she asks to be of our religion. She has made an oath of
her conversion before witnesses. (The Consul swore.) But have no care.
We will forget it, if”--the Pasha laid great stress on the condition,
and for once looked boldly in the other’s eyes--“if, after consultation
with you, she should wish to recant.”

“But you say that there are witnesses to her conversion,” cried the
Frank, with bitterness. “I fail to see how it can be forgotten. There
would be a riot.”

“The witnesses are of my house,” rejoined the Pasha suavely. “My
command is guarantee of their discretion.”

“Send her to me!” The final words were uttered from tight lips beneath
a formidable frown, as the Consul flung the door wide open for the
Turk’s departure.

“Sont-ils fanatiques, ces brutes-là? Peuh!” respired the Pasha, shaking
the dust from off his boots as he regained his carriage. “The girl will
have a cruel hour, poor floweret! That dog would like to kill her. But,
God be praised, the law of El Islâm is still sufficient to protect a
convert in a Muslim land!”

His thoughts of the lone foreign girl were full of kindness. She was
his daughter. He would care for her true happiness. And then the
thought of Fitnah’s rage, recurring, caused him to frown, and swear,
and gnaw his underlip.



CHAPTER III


Immediately on his return to his own house, Muhammad Pasha sent a
eunuch to announce his coming to the lady Fitnah. He found her lying on
a couch in her state-room. Two slaves, who had been busy fanning her,
retired before him. Seeing she lay still with eyes closed as if quite
exhausted, he drew near and whispered:

“Now, in sh´Allah, O beloved, thou wilt hear my reasons.”

She opened great brown eyes, bloodshot with wrath, and glared at him a
moment.

“Well, what news?” she asked, with studied coldness.

The Pasha then embarked upon his story; but, at mention of the Consul,
she sprang up with rage renewed, expectorating:

“Curse thy father! ‘She will see the Consul,’ sayest thou? The Consul!
May the Consul and his whole race rot with agony! It is simply to evade
a duty which is thine and thine alone. Eject her from the house at
once, thou paltry coward! She will kill our son. I know thy guile, by
Allah! Thou wilt say, ‘The Consul orders her to marry Yûsuf. We must
obey the Consul,’--O salvation!--when all the while thyself art father
of the mischief. Oh, let her not come here, or, by my fruitfulness!
these hands shall cling to her and not leave hold till they have made
her so that no man could desire her.”

Expostulation proving vain, her lord retired in great annoyance. He had
to fear a scandal in his house, an inquisition by the Consul, ignominy,
if Yûsuf’s mother came in contact with the English lady.

In this dilemma, as in every other which concerned the household, he
went for counsel to his only love and first of wives. He sent a herald
of his coming to Murjânah Khânum, and after a decent interval repaired
to her apartments. She received him in a large room, with no other
solid furniture than a low desk on which a manuscript of the Corân lay
open; but exquisitely clean and sweet, a contrast to those quarters
of the house where Fitnah reigned. The windows were constructed of
the finest lattice-work, which made the light within seem rare and
delicate. Murjânah, old but stately, fondled her lord’s hand.

“Thy face is careworn,” she exclaimed, perusing it. “In sh´Allah, all
the news is good.”

“In sh´Allah,” he replied mechanically. “But Allah knows that I am
greatly troubled. I know not what to do.” And he proceeded to describe
the madness of the lady Fitnah. At the tale’s conclusion, a light laugh
surprised him.

“Thou askest what to do,” exclaimed Murjânah, “when there is danger
that a foolish woman, mad with jealousy, may harm a guest of ours! Hear
the word of Allah: ‘When ye have cause to fear their disobedience, ye
shall reprimand them, ye shall banish them to beds apart, and ye shall
beat them.’ Is not that plain? Beat her! It is thy sacred duty. No, no,
she will not cry against thee to the Câdi. She will hide her fault. All
women look to men for government, and if it is withheld, have cause
of grief. Trust me, beloved, there is no good woman who would not
rather suffer stripes occasionally than grow for lack of them into a
shrieking harridan. Fitnah Khânum is my durrah, and I love her truly,
as the mother of our darling children, and for many virtues. Still I
say to thee on this occasion: beat her soundly. Bestow on her a perfect
beating, O my soul!”

The Pasha kissed his old wife’s hand submissively, and went forth from
her presence with a face of awe. The high proceeding needed courage,
for a man so kindly. He went to the small chamber where the eunuchs sat
when not on duty, and called, “Sawwâb! Meymûn! Bring me a big kurbâj.
Attend me, both of you!”

The silent, swift obedience of those servants showed the impression
made by his unusual sternness. Their help was necessary that the scene
to come might wear the aspect of an execution, not a struggle.

Whip in hand, Muhammad Pasha crossed a courtyard and entered a small
room remote from others.

“Bring Fitnah Khânum hither secretly!” he told the eunuchs.

Sawwâb, the fat, was seized with trembling; while Meymûn, a tall, gaunt
creature, gave a deathlike grin. They sped, however. Three minutes had
not passed before the lady Fitnah, deftly bound and gagged, was borne
into the lonely chamber and the door was shut.

Half an hour later, Muhammad Pasha Sâlih sat conversing with the
English lady, preparing her intelligence to meet the Consul’s
arguments, which he forewarned her would be all misstatements born of
blind fanaticism. When married to Yûsuf, he assured her, and himself
believed it, she would hardly know the difference from an English home.



CHAPTER IV


The English girl, meanwhile, experienced a passionate elation, like new
life. The Pasha’s exhortations were not needed. Rebellion, which had
always lurked beneath her trained subservience, now clothed her in its
flames and made her terrible for any one who dared assail her new-found
pride.

What had she to regret? From childhood she had been repressed,
humiliated, and ordered to be thankful for bare daily bread. In
Christian families her lot had been unenviable. Here, in this Muslim
household, she was somebody. The month spent here had been the
happiest in her life. But, bred up to regard employers as a race
apart,--impressed, moreover, by the grandeur of the house and by the
rank of Pasha,--she had never dreamt of being thought an equal by her
entertainers. When Yûsuf Bey, whom she had noticed for his beauty,
assailed her in the hall, she had imagined his intentions far from
honourable, judging from past experience in English houses. She had
fled to her own rooms, ashamed and angry, while the image of his face
alight with passion remained to trouble her against her will. When the
Pasha came and begged her in most flattering terms to condescend to
marry his unworthy son, she nearly swooned. All her resistance sprang
from incredulity. When once convinced that the demand was earnest, she
gave way with grateful tears. Then her resolve became a living faith.
It was to break the bondage of the past completely, to cast in her lot
for ever with these friends who wanted her.

They were wealthy, of exalted rank, and yet they wanted her. They
thought her lovely, who had always been esteemed entirely plain, with
her squat figure, apple cheeks, and sandy hair. The sleekest youth in
all the world desired her. It was so marvellous that she was forced to
rub her eyes and fix their gaze on homely objects to dispel the sense
of some enchantment. The difference of religion gave her no concern;
indeed, the change was welcome, she had been so cramped by English
pietism. In this mood, she was fire against the Consul. A world of
happiness was opened suddenly, and there were those who would debar her
from it Woe betide them!

The Pasha himself escorted her to where a harîm carriage waited. Sawwâb
the eunuch held the door for her.

“The carriage will be there to bring you back,” the Pasha told her. “I
have ordered the servants by no means to return without you, upon pain
of death.”

The implied suspicion that she might be kidnapped made her laugh.

“Remember, my son’s life is in your hands--such pretty hands! His
earthly happiness is trusted to this carriage, all too vile to hold so
sweet a burden. Day and night he dreams of nothing but your charms. If
your mind changes he will surely die.”

She laughed and kissed her fingers to the dear old man, as she
stepped up into the carriage. The eunuch slammed the door, which
was close-shuttered, leaving her in perfumed shade. A burning blush
suffused her as she thought of Yûsuf--his strained, eager face, his
yearning lips, beheld that once to haunt her consciousness, a naked
shape of love. But pride was uppermost in all her thoughts just
then--pride in the comfortable carriage, the attentive servants--pride
in her new-found value, in her new-found relatives, and in the daring
resolution she had made to break with England. The foreign clamour of
the streets, the curious, heady odours, flattered her with a sense of
strange adventure.

Radiant, she alighted at the gate which bore the royal arms of England,
near which an open carriage also waited, and passed into the Consul’s
office. She expected sternness, but the Consul smiled agreeably, and
after shaking hands with her, took up his hat.

“I have been thinking,” he observed, “that all I have to say could be
much better said by some one else--a woman. I should be hampered by
embarrassment.” He smiled. “So, if you don’t mind, I have sent a note
to Mrs. Cameron, asking leave to bring you out to tea with her this
afternoon. I have a carriage at the door.”

“I also have a carriage,” she replied, with a light laugh, as they went
out together. She could not but admire his strategy, for Mrs. Cameron,
the leader of the English colony, was a gentlewoman of the straightest
Christian outlook, the last person whom a renegade would care to face.
She had, moreover, been all kindness to the stranded girl, hospitably
entertaining her until she found a situation. Since going to Muhammad
Pasha’s house the governess had spent a Sunday with her, and heard
warnings. To brave her now would be an ordeal, but no matter. The
destined bride of Yûsuf scorned all fear.

Out at the gate the Consul eyed her carriage with intense disfavour,
especially Sawwâb the eunuch, who stood ready at the door.

“You will kindly come in mine,” he said peremptorily.

“Then you will kindly tell the Pasha’s man to follow,” she replied,
with eyes that twinkled laughter at his show of temper.

He shouted to the Pasha’s coachman, and got in beside her. For a while
they drove in silence, the Consul stealing glances at her face from
time to time. She knew that he was struck by the new charm of her. His
manner had a dash of gallantry which was amusing.

“I hate to see you in that carriage, with those servants,” he exclaimed
at length impulsively. “You must forgive me. I have lived here years,
and know the country.”

Again she laughed and her eyes quizzed him. The thought that she knew
more than he did, possibly, was made conviction by his next remark:

“Please realize that you are absolutely free. Whatever may have
happened--I mean whatever influences have been brought to bear--those
people cannot hurt you now, or even reach you.” This man who knew the
country suspected the good Pasha of iniquity, and looked upon his
palace as a den of vice. She said:

“There has been nothing of the kind. I have never been so kindly
treated or so happy.”

He hemmed and hawed, remarking:

“Well, remember what I say. And don’t forget that, as a British subject
here, you have great privileges which, whatever happens, you will be
unwise to forfeit. I hope you will confide in Mrs. Cameron. There is no
one in this world more kind and trustworthy.”

She answered, “Thanks!” and turned from him to contemplate the passing
scene. Their carriage flew along a sandy lane between walled gardens
of the suburbs, with here and there a mansion closely shuttered
towards the street. The road was covered with the long procession of
the fellâhîn returning outward to their villages--men straddled over
donkeys between empty paniers; women stalked erect and queen-like in
their graceful drapery; here and there a camel sauntered, led by some
bare-legged boy--the whole, obscured by clouds of dust, illumined
warmly by the rays of the declining sun, or steeped in the deep shadow
of mud walls. Foot-farers, forced aside to let the carriage pass,
stared at its inmates with contemptuous eyes. The garb of Europe was a
blot upon the peaceful scene. Her heart went out to all those people,
plodding, contented, in the sunlit dust. Henceforth she would be
nothing strange to them, she swore it.

“Here we are!” The Consul’s voice disturbed her reverie. He shouted to
the driver and the carriage stopped. The harîm carriage drew up close
behind it. A door in a high wall was opened by a smiling negro. A
minute later she was in a cool verandah, looking on a well-kept garden,
outside a very English drawing-room.

It was a house where all was tidy and precise, a hostile element to one
in love with the untrimmed profusion of the Pasha’s palace. She hated
it as servants hate a nagging mistress.

“Now, having brought you two together, I shall leave you,” said the
Consul pleasantly. “This young lady, Mrs. Cameron, has gone and got
herself into a precious fix. Confess her thoroughly, and then we’ll
find some way to get her out of it.”

“But I have no desire to get out of it,” cried the girl, exasperated.
“The fix, as you are pleased to call it, is my greatest happiness.”

But the Consul was already gone, delighted as it seemed to wash his
hands of her. She found herself alone with Mrs. Cameron.

“We’ll have some tea at once, and you must see the children,” was that
lady’s first remark, so different from the attack anticipated that the
guest, all nerved for battle, felt defrauded. Though ready to resist
with fury, she lacked the energy required to open fight. Tea came,
and with it the three tow-haired children, whose presence made all
talk impossible. The girl sat moody, in abeyance, replying briefly to
remarks addressed to her. The garden perfumes became stronger as the
sun sank. They, or some kindred but more subtle influence, obscured her
brain with fumes in which her purpose loomed unreal and enormous. The
homely scene appealed to her against her will. Almost she had the sense
of hands held out to her, while Mrs. Cameron was talking nonsense with
the children. This playing on her nerves seemed a mean stratagem. Hot
anger grew beneath her careless shell.

At length the youngsters were dismissed. The girl then braced herself
to meet the blow. Again she felt a keen pang of deception when her
hostess said:

“I am going to ask you a great favour. Stay the night with me! My
husband is away at Alexandria. I am really lonely.”

“Thank you very much, but it is really quite impossible,”--there was
poison in the honey of this sweet reply,--“I have a carriage waiting.”

“We can send it with a message.”

“No, really, thank you! I have stayed too long already.” She suddenly
bethought her of the master move, and rose determined.

“No, sit down, my dear!” cried Mrs. Cameron. “I have to talk to you.
And though I would rather have had the night in which to think things
over, I must, since you force me to it, speak quite simply now. I say:
Don’t do it, child! Don’t take the step the Consul tells me that you
contemplate! He thought that you had been seduced by unfair practices;
but that, I see from your behaviour, is not so. It is just the charm
of novelty, the spirit of adventure--is it not?--with just, perhaps,
a little mischief prompting, a little grudge against the dull life
you have led. My love, you must not be allowed to do it--you, an
Englishwoman! It degrades us all. I have lived out here for years, and
I assure you that, if a daughter of mine declared her will to marry
one of them, sooner than it should happen I would kill her with my own
hands. A girl!--It is unheard of! With their view of women!”

“It is plain you know nothing about them,” sneered the other; “at
any rate, about the class of people I have mixed with. They have the
greatest reverence for women. You suppose, because we veil--”

“We!” interjected Mrs. Cameron.

“Yes, we; for I am one of those whom you so grossly slander.” A drum of
battle beat at either temple of the girl thus brought to bay. Her brain
reeled with indignation, and her voice grew husky. “I say, you think
because we veil that we are quite degraded, the same as we do when we
see your faces bare. The difference is one of custom only. Underneath
our veils, in our own houses, we are just as happy and as free as you
are.... It is too droll! You fancy that Mahometan women have their
lives made miserable? Why, I have never known such happy women. From my
rooms, I hear them laughing, playing, singing all day long.”

“Poor things! They know no other life. You do, and would be miserable
in the same conditions. Have you ever thought of what polygamy
involves--for women, anyhow?”

“It seems to me extremely sensible and kind to women. It takes into
consideration facts which we slur over, cruelly. It gives to every girl
a chance of motherhood.”

“My dear!” exclaimed the mentor, greatly shocked.

“I don’t care what you think. It is quite true.”

“You are young and inexperienced. We who live in the country hear
of things of which you cannot possibly know anything--things that I
wish most heartily that you may never know. That is why I beg of you
earnestly to change your mind.”

“Nothing will make me do that.”

“Then you are honestly in love, and we will say no more on that point.”
The forbearance was so unexpected that the governess was startled and
stared at Mrs. Cameron with unbelieving eyes. The elder lady showed
such trembling earnestness that she grieved for the necessity to shock
and wound her. “There remains another question, on an altogether higher
plane--I mean the question of religion.” Mrs. Cameron’s voice turned
awestruck. “The Consul tells me--but oh, no! It is too fearful!”

“I don’t see why!” returned the other doggedly. “They worship God as we
do, and they count Christ as a prophet. They are no more fearful than
the Unitarians in England. And I am sure they think much more about
religion in their daily lives than people do at home.”

“They deny the essence of Christianity--the Redemption. How can you
turn your back upon that marvel of Divine Love? Their ideals are all
much lower, more material.... My dear, I see that you have come here
primed with specious arguments, and I regret that I am not clever
enough to make you see their falseness. I wish I had the tongues of all
the angels at this moment grieving over you, to show you how terrific
is the gulf you view so lightly.”

The girl laughed nervously. “I don’t suppose the angels bother much.
You talk as if God only cared for Christians. I’m sure He thinks the
Moslems just as valuable. If you are so much better, why don’t you mix
with them and try to do them good?”

“Some of us are doing so.”

“In such a way!...”

“We are not discussing missionary methods, dear. Your case is the only
one before us.”

“Well, you say that missionaries mean to do good in their way; but it
never seems to strike you that I may hope to do a little good in mine!”

Her tone grew plaintive; the long contest wearied her. The bloom of
shadow on the garden, underneath the rose of sunset, the voices of the
evening made her wistful; while the sadness which attends all partings
clutched her heart. The whine of doing good had slipped from her at
unawares--an echo from her former life of hired hypocrisy. It had been
the natural tone of conversation with a lady of the class “employer.”

“That rings untrue. You’re simply talking for effect!” cried Mrs.
Cameron, indignant. “It is unkind when I am speaking from my heart of
hearts.... Now, only one word more. If you ever loved any one--father,
or mother, or friend--at home in England, think of that person and just
ask yourself what he or she would think of your denying Christ. The act
is so uncalled-for that it seems like wanton wickedness. You can marry
your Mahometan without renouncing Christianity, and by so doing you
would have more honour in your husband’s eyes. You could retain your
status as a British subject, which means something here; and if you
really have a purpose to do good among those people, you would be in a
better position to do so than by sinking to their level.”

“I won’t hear a word more! Oh, you are brutal!” The girl started up
with hands and teeth clenched, past endurance. “Oh, you are brutal to
bully me like this! I tell you once for all, I love those people, whom
you and all your kind hate and tell lies about. No one was ever really
nice to me before. They are a million times better than any Christians
I have ever known. I tell you I belong to them, and not to you! I mean
to have the same religion as my husband, and if he goes to Hell, well,
I’ll go too! Do you understand?” Her words now came in gusts, for she
was sobbing heavily. “You’ll never see me any more, of course, for
I’m a wicked Moslem and you’re so fanatical! I don’t care; I can do
without you. I have truer friends, who really like me and don’t only
patronize. Oh, how can you make me cry like this, when I was so--so
happy!”

To her surprise, she found herself in her tormentor’s arms.

“You wrong me, dear. I’m not fanatical, nor yet so narrow-minded as
you think. Now, will you promise that, whatever happens, you will look
upon me as a friend and come to see me sometimes? I have said all I can
to dissuade you, because I fear you may repent of your decision when
too late. My hope is, now and always, that you may be happy. You’ll
promise, won’t you, still to make a friend of me?”

The girl nodded, sobbing, speechless with emotion.

“Well, then, God bless you, dear, among the Moslems, and may you always
bear the standard of true Christian womanhood!”

With that two-edged blessing in her ears, the renegade, a bowed and
shrinking figure, traversed the garden in the blue of twilight. She
felt guilty and unnerved, irresolute, until she saw the Pasha’s
carriage waiting in the lane, when pride returned. The tears yet wet
upon her cheeks, she stood erect and sniffed the evening air. There was
still much traffic on the sandy road, running between dark garden-walls
to where, beside a little dome, a single palm-plume stood up black
against the sky. The dust kicked up by donkeys’ hoofs, by people’s
footsteps, rose greenish like wood-smoke. Some wayfarers already
carried lighted lanterns which made coloured circles in the gloaming
like the peacock’s eyes. A life of passionate adventure lay before her,
most curious and rich and warm with human failings, much better worth
than that which she had left behind.

Sawwâb the eunuch held the carriage door for her, and murmured “Praise
to Allah!” as he shut her in. She saw him merely as a well-trained
servant, having as yet no inkling of his grim significance.



CHAPTER V


Muhammad Pasha Sâlih went again to see the Consul, this time upon
receiving a peremptory summons. He came away with smart sensations
of indignity, the unbeliever having warned him to take care of his
behaviour to the English governess. The marriage contract, he was
told, must be in order, and every detail of her treatment strictly
honourable. These admonitions thrown as to a dog, to him, the known
embodiment of goodness, made him cry. When he got home it was to find
a note from the Grand Câdi, requesting him to call at once upon that
dignitary, who besought him, for the honour of the Faith, to be precise
in all his dealings with the English convert. And when, that afternoon,
he waited in his duty on the lord of Egypt, that prince demanded
tidings of the Englishwoman and, jesting, told him to be sure and use
her kindly.

“She must be a rare pearl,” the sovereign chuckled. “The English
Representative is maddened by her loss. By God and His Apostle, I have
half a mind to snatch her from thee.”

For one whose house had always been a guarded sanctuary, who never
made nor brooked the least allusion to his women, such language from
licentious lips, in hearing of the throng of courtiers, was sheer
ignominy. He cursed the parents and religion of the English Consul, the
cause of this indecent noising of a private matter. The dog appeared to
fancy that he had to do with fellâhîn or small officials; for he had
spoken of the facility of divorce and the danger of the Englishwoman
being cast adrift. Among the vulgar there were men who changed wives
constantly, even persecuting her they had till she herself besought the
Câdi for release, thus forfeiting the dowry which was justly hers. Such
men might be, who thought it clever to defraud poor maidens. But that
any one could think that he, Muhammad Pasha, or a child of his, could
harbour such iniquity seemed barely credible. The hot tears stung his
eyeballs at the thought of it.

“Just Allah!” he exclaimed within himself. “Does he suppose that we
have no morality? Would he, whose native customs are as shameless as
the ways of beasts, leaving females unprotected and at large, instruct
us how to cherish and to guard a woman? He talks as if I were some pimp
or ruffian, when I am dealing with the maid as faithfully as if she
were my only child!”

In truth, before this trouble with the Consul, at the ceremony of
betrothal, when he himself had prompted the bride’s proxy, he had
assigned to her a dowry of three thousand pounds--a sum sufficient
to make Yûsuf hesitate, however angry, before he gave the order for
divorce. He had, moreover, spoken to his son most gravely, pointing
out the friendless state of the young woman, and informing him that
if he took her it must be for life. Yûsuf had made frantic answer in
the way of lovers, comparing his fidelity to stars and blossoms. The
Pasha bound him by a solemn oath always to show forbearance to his
foreign wife. He then drove him forth to spend the time until the
wedding in a cousin’s house; where, as he had heard this afternoon from
the said cousin, Yûsuf kept raving of his love--in abstract terms,
for decency--till the whole selamlik was infected with the trick of
sighing. Nothing could have been more honourable than his conduct. The
girl was better off than ever in her life before, and knew it. He swore
an oath to let the Consul know it too.

Accordingly, returning to his house that evening, he craved immediate
audience of the sometime governess; and shortly entered her apartments,
which, providing simply for an upper servant of his house, he had
furnished in the Frankish manner to seem homelike. If he had gone to
so much trouble for a stranger’s comfort, was it likely he would prove
a niggard towards his dear son’s bride? The pig who thus traduced him
must be taught.

The girl was sitting in a chair beside the window, reading an English
book. It pleased him to reflect that she was highly educated. In these
bad times, when Frankish lore was in demand, her instructions might
secure advancement to a man like Yûsuf, who knew French already.

She laid aside her book and rose to meet him with a charming blush. He
took her hand and raised it to his lips; then sank down on a chair and
clasped his brow.

“Ah, mademoiselle!” he moaned, “I am so troubled. God knows my heart
is sad, profoundly wounded. You are kind and generous, and you know
our hearts. But those others of your nation.... Pouf! How bitter! How
fanatical! They treat me and my house as dirt. Here is the case: You
honour my poor house; you are alone; you have no parents. I say to
myself, ‘She is an orphan; I will be her father.’ I therefore do what
parents do according to our customs. I provide the trousseau; I also
bargain with the bridegroom’s people to endow you richly.

“Let me explain what that means, since it must be quite unknown to
you. With us, divorce is easy; it suffices for the man to say a little
formula; but the husband must support the wife for three months
afterwards, and he must pay the balance of the dowry stated in the
marriage-contract, or, if no portion has been paid beforehand, then
the whole of it. That makes him think. And the greater the dowry, the
longer will he meditate before divorcing her. Now I, your father, have
talked the matter over with myself, the bridegroom’s father, and have
obtained for you a dowry of three thousand pounds Egyptian. This sum
will be stated in the contract, signed and sealed before the judge,
and my son will have to pay it if ever he desires divorce, which God
forbid! Your trousseau, with the jewels and the slaves that I am going
to give you, the furniture of these rooms and more which I shall buy
to supplement it--I wish your house to be the kind you are accustomed
to--all this, I say, will be your absolute property, and so stipulated
in the contract.”

The girl had seized his hand. She pressed it to her lips and sighed:

“How good you are!”

His own emotion was no less than hers. The humiliations of that day had
taxed his fortitude, and the sense of his integrity beneath aspersion
was like a bubbling fount of tears in outer darkness. The warm touch of
her gratitude unmanned him quite. He sobbed aloud:

“Ah, mademoiselle! God knows that I have done my best! Yet here is
the Consul threatening me, and moving all the Government to watch
me closely; as if I had entrapped you for some evil purpose!--as
if I were the worst of criminals, intent to harm you!... I cannot
vindicate myself. It would be too degrading. And if he thinks me such
a first-class _canaille_ he would not believe me. Therefore I come to
beg you, mademoiselle, yourself to deign to write a little word to this
good monsieur, assuring him that we are not the monsters he supposes.”

The girl’s face flamed. “I write at once!” she said, and rose to do so.

But the Pasha cried: “One moment, mademoiselle!” He wiped his eyes and
struggled to recover firmness. “Do not suppose that I complain! Even if
the happiness of my dear son were not concerned, I would suffer more
than this--much more--abominations!--to serve so beautiful and good a
lady. I fear my words have saddened you. Oh, God forbid! Never, I pray
you, think of it again, your letter written. You must be all happy.
To-morrow you must go among our ladies. You will find there mothers,
sisters, longing to embrace you. They will help you choose the stuffs
for your trousseau. They speak Arabic, of which you know few words as
yet, or Turkish, which is quite unknown to you. But my widowed sister
speaks a little French, and Murjânah Khânum owns a young Circassian who
can talk it fluently. She is a present from relations in Constantinople
who have bred her from a child in every elegance. At the time of the
great war with Russia, French was much the mode; even girls learnt it,
and this maid of whom I speak, Gulbeyzah, talks it well. She shall be
attached to you as interpreter. The wedding, if it please you, can
take place next week. We will have it in the mode of Europe--nothing
barbarous!”

“I love your customs!” she replied. “Let it be just as if I were a
native bride.”

“No, no,” remarked the Pasha, with a chuckle. “There are many usual
ceremonies here in Egypt which are condemned by our religion, strictly
speaking. These we shall exclude, preserving only one or two which
may amuse you. My son also will modify his life to suit your foreign
standards; it is only just; although the life of our own ladies is by
no means terrible, as you will find. Tomorrow you shall spend in the
haramlik. You will find there many friends. All, all will love you and
make glad your heart. And now, with your permission, mademoiselle, I
shall retire. Forget not that small letter to the Consul.”

Muhammad Pasha, coming from that interview, was traversing the hall of
the selamlik towards his study, when a sudden clamour at the house-door
startled him.

“Curse thy father! Wait, I say! Be still a minute!” cried the
doorkeeper; while another voice yelled madly, “I must see the Pasha.
Where is he? Let me pass, I say! The need is urgent!”

“Cut short thy life! Wait only! Are these manners? He has entered the
harîm, I tell thee!”

There followed sounds as of a struggle, and before the Pasha could
divine the meaning of the uproar, a youth in poor attire rushed in and
fell before him, panting:

“He told me to win to thee, O my lord--to fight my way through armed
hosts if necessary, to seek thee even in the secrecy of the harîm,
saying that the letter which I bear would be my full excuse.”

It was a poor familiar of the palace, named Ghandûr, one who from early
childhood had been Yûsuf’s humble shadow, a youth so simply honest in
his judgments that to subtler wits they wore the look of imbecility.
But yesterday he had been here as usual, sitting in the entrance on the
watch for Yûsuf. To-day he had been absent, but without disloyalty: he
had been sitting in the entrance of the house where Yûsuf sojourned
temporarily.

“He bade me run, and Allah witness I have done his bidding. I am thy
slave, give pardon, O my lord the Pasha!”

“Salvation be upon thee, O Ghandûr. What letter, now, is this of which
thou speakest? Give!”

Reassured by the kind tone, Ghandûr arose, and smiling with a flash of
perfect teeth, produced a letter from his bosom, touched his forehead
with it, then reverently laid it in the Pasha’s outstretched hand. It
ran:

  “My garden of delight is in thy custody. The palpitations of my
  heart inform me danger shadows it. Alas! the grievous power
  of jealousy, which can make of a gazelle a tigress, and turn
  a mother’s love into a sword. This is the third time I have
  written to thee, yet no answer. Say that thou hast taken measures
  to preserve my lovely blossom from envious trampling and from
  poisoned water....”

The Pasha crumpled up the letter and stood wrapped in thought. Coming
so close upon his promise to the English girl that all the women in
the house would love and cherish her, the warning had a flavour of
fatality. He recalled the lady Fitnah’s frowardness. She had been
punished. Who could say that she had changed her mind? And, with the
Consul’s evil eye upon the house, the shame of any outbreak would be
doubled.

“Run to my son!” he told Ghandûr. “Assure him that a guard is kept,
none safer, under Allah. Bid his soul have rest.”

Having watched the youth depart, he called the eunuchs and ordered
them to guard the English lady as their life. Then he proceeded to the
kitchens and there gave command that every dish and drink prepared for
the table of the governess should come first to him that he might taste
and judge its quality. And he took good care to let the women know of
this precaution.



CHAPTER VI


The women’s quarters were a rambling place, with three small courtyards
all on different levels, tunnels, staircases inside and out, and
passages which ran in all directions. Besides the ladies Fitnah and
Murjânah and their households, a widowed sister of the Pasha, and a
former slave who had enjoyed his favour, kept separate state, with
children and attendants. Freed slaves and poor relations, recognized
go-betweens and sycophants came in and out, and slept there when
they chose--a privilege extending to their offspring. Old women with
a secret, knowing look edged through the corridors; untidy children
sprawled upon the stairs; outside the door of each of the great ladies
stood rows of coloured slippers, signifying humble callers. The place
seemed always populous and full of noise. In a sense, good order
reigned there; but it was the order of a township rather than a private
residence, including all degrees of cleanliness, of wealth and squalor.
The corps of eunuchs, ten in all, were the police.

This little world of women had its liberties. From the third hour of
the day until the sunset call to prayer, the lord of the harîm was
absent. If he happened to return, it was his duty to announce the fact
beforehand, allowing time for visitors to veil and slip away. The
inmates had their private interests, their games and jokes. The clash
of tambourines, the quick soft beat of darabukkahs made a pulse of
glee. They all seemed happy and in love with life, although they hardly
ever saw the sun or breathed free air; for when they drove abroad it
was in shuttered carriages; and the family mausoleum, where they went
for picnics, was a second palace with its own haramlik.

But what surprised the Englishwoman more than anything was the charm of
majesty--the exquisite prestige--which certain of these Eastern women
radiated; making her feel small. They called her “Barakah”; it was her
name thenceforward, and meant a Godsend, so the courtly Pasha told her.
That name increased her awkwardness at first, sounding sarcastic from
the lips of queenly women.

On the morning after she had written her indignant letter to the
Consul, she was awakened by soft singing. A beautiful and stately girl
sat by her bed, who, seeing her at last awake, sprang up and kissed
her. Murjânah Khânum, claiming Yûsuf’s bride as her own guest until
the wedding, had sent her slave Gulbeyzah to attend her to the bath,
attire her in a robe of honour (which was shown), and then escort her
to Murjânah Khânum’s rooms, where Barakah was asked to breakfast and
to spend the day. It was useless to resist. Gulbeyzah knew her duties,
and performed them scrupulously. By the time they left the bathhouse,
Barakah arrayed in gorgeous silk, her fingers hennaed and her eyes
enlarged with kohl, they were laughing friends.

Murjânah Khânum took the Englishwoman in her arms and kissed her; then
sitting down beside her, subjected her to a prolonged inspection, none
the less embarrassing for being tender.

“Ma sh´Allah!” she exclaimed, and added some soft words in Turkish,
looking to Gulbeyzah, who translated:

“Madame says you are more beautiful than she was told. Your beauty is
more excellent than the rose. Your eyes remind her of the Bosphorus.
You make her think of her own country. The desire which you inspire is
like home-sickness.”

Barakah could only blush and hang her head--a posture which drew down
fresh compliments upon her modesty.

Slaves brought in trays of fruit and set them down, retiring silently.
Then an old negress came in with a brazier and made coffee, with which
was served a kind of fritter smeared with honey. Then a young girl
appeared with ewer and basin and fine towels, going first to Barakah,
who rinsed her hands. Murjânah and Gulbeyzah, she saw afterwards, used
soap and washed their teeth as well--a cause of spluttering.

Murjânah Khânum rolled a cigarette. She lounged at ease with eyes
intent on Barakah, and while she smoked, gave vent to her reflections,
which Gulbeyzah rendered into French as best she could.

“It is a great distress to me not to be able to convey my loving
thoughts directly to the mind of one so near. Ask the dear one if she
speaks Romaic, or a little Persian. No? A pity! She is learning Arabic?
In sh´Allah, she will soon acquire that tongue and Turkish too....

“I fear she must feel strange and lonely in a life so different: I
wish I could expound its beauty to her. Ask her whether she has read
the tragedies of Sophocles, an ancient Greek. No? That surprises. I
had thought them known among the Franks. Say, I have read them in the
Turkish version and admired them greatly.... At least, she knows that,
in old times, before the prophets, there were priestesses who guarded
mysteries of the false gods?... Well, we secluded women of the East are
the guardians of the mysteries of God Most High--the verities of life
and death, of birth and growth and of decay--of all those things which
come directly from the hand of God. These are the sense of life; though
much obscured by all the surface agitation which disturbs the life of
men. We, in our calm retirement, always view them ...

“And then, when one regards the strife of tribes, the tumults and
rebellion in this world, is it not well that womanhood should be kept
sacred and aloof, respected in the strife of Muslims--the ark which
bears the future of the Faith?... Then, even as it is, much crime is
caused by love and jealousy. What would it be if women went unveiled?
I say not, in her land where men’s blood may be more equable; but
here.... Just Allah! Youth would be a curse. If marriageable girls were
barefaced, what could preserve them from atrocious accidents? We guard
their youth and train them to be lovers, child-bearers; we send forth
healthy boys to serve the Faith....

“Tell her that I myself, by Allah’s visitation, have lost all my
children; yet, thanks to El Islâm, I am not desolate. I have her Yûsuf
and a score of others for delight.”

Hearing these words translated by Gulbeyzah, Barakah felt abashed to
insignificance. The habit of confronting the brute facts of life, which
Europeans cover over, clothed this old woman in a tragic grandeur which
was almost terrifying. She was relieved when other ladies came and talk
grew shallow. Silks and fine linen fabrics were spread out before her.
Hearing that she was required to choose among them for her trousseau,
she implored Gulbeyzah with despairing gestures to say that she
resigned selection to the ladies. The answer caused relief. The ladies
set to work methodically, feeling, stroking, comparing the materials
in the best light, discoursing all the while like happy birds. Fitnah
Khânum was less forward than the others in politeness, and kept her
face averted from the gaze of Barakah. She took her leave before the
service of the midday meal.

The Pasha’s widowed sister begged of Barakah to spend the following day
with her in her apartments. Murjânah was approached and gave consent.

“I can give you dinner on a proper table with chairs and knives and
forks,” the widow said in broken French.

Murjânah Khânum’s tables were brass trays on little stands, and
everybody ate with fingers from the dish.

The day with Leylah Khânum was less serious. The widow’s talk was all
of love and lovers. A perfect host of go-betweens was kept employed to
find her a fresh husband; but, though ageing fast, she was fastidious
and asked perfection.

“God grant she may not die a widow,” sighed Gulbeyzah, who explained
the case to Barakah.

Leylah Khânum was much exercised to know whether Barakah had had much
love-experience in England. Hearing “No,” she raised her hands in
marvel. One so beautiful! The mistress of so much charm! And unveiled
among men! She asked the reason.

“I was poor,” said Barakah.

At that there was loud outcry; Leylah Khânum and Gulbeyzah called on
God for pity.

“But you are beautiful! Men pay for beauty, need no bribe with it.
And you mean to say they would have let you die a virgin--with that
loveliness? O Lord of Heaven! What a wicked waste!”

Their dread of dying in virginity appealed to Barakah as something
comical when she remembered the ideals preached in Christendom.

Leylah Khânum told her stories of true love, all far from proper judged
by English taste; and shocked her by the cool assertion that poison
was a woman’s natural weapon. In the afternoon they were invited to
Murjânah Khânum’s rooms, where the business of the trousseau still
proceeded. It went on for days. Each morning when she woke, the
bride-elect found some fresh present from the Pasha in her room,
which Gulbeyzah made her carry forth and show to every one. The whole
haramlik frolicked round her in excitement.

Gulbeyzah’s status in the household puzzled her. The Circassian seemed
the equal of the ladies, yet was called a slave.

She said to her one day:

“You are as white as I am. How can you bear to be a slave like Wardah
or Fatûmah?”

“Not like Wardah or Fatûmah, if you please!” was the superb rejoinder.
“They or their fathers were captured in a warlike raid and made to
islam, I, God be praised, was born in the Faith. Look!” she cried, and
with a splendid gesture bared her bosom. “This is the paste of which
they make sultanas. My parents sold me--they were poor--that I might
come to honour, as others of the family have done before me.”

“But what chance have you here? Do you expect to captivate the Pasha?”

“God forbid! I never even see him. Here I serve the sweetest of all
ladies, who will one day find me a rich husband. It is a famed harîm,
and my lady is renowned for goodness and refinement. The greatest in
the land would not disdain a fair Circassian girl of her instructing.”

“But do you never miss your freedom? You can form no projects, being,
it seems, entirely in the hands of others. Surely your thoughts are not
so ruly? You must sometimes dream?”

Gulbeyzah fixed her great eyes on the questioner as though debating
whether she were to be trusted. Then, with a smile, she grasped her
hand and whispered, “Come!”

She led the English girl across the court where grew the orange trees,
down a foul-smelling passage towards the kitchens, and up a flight
of stairs into a corridor which served the chambers of the humblest
servants. In its wall was a recess with a small window neither barred
nor latticed. Here Gulbeyzah stopped.

The reason why that window had been left uncaged was plain, since it
looked out upon blind walls and distant housetops. But one small angle
of a terraced roof appeared within clear seeing range, and on that
angle sat a man. When Gulbeyzah leaned her elbows on the window-sill,
he sprang to his feet and made despairing gestures. She watched his
antics for a moment, then drew in her head.

“It is a secret, mind!” she cautioned Barakah. “I spent an afternoon
here once, when I was sulky, and he was walking on that roof by chance.
Ever since then I see him every day. He always sits there. I sign to
him to climb up, but I know he cannot.” She laughed scornfully. “I make
romances in my mind about him. It is evident he dies of love. He has
grown thinner.”

“How cruel! How can you torment him so?”

“He is a man, you understand. One does not feel compassion as one would
for girls. Perhaps if he could climb up here I should reward him, but,
thanks to God, he cannot, poor young man!”

“But are you not ashamed to think such thoughts--you, the pupil of
Murjânah Khânum? So immoral!”

“It is my fancy, there! Morality is not our business. We are strictly
guarded. One gets a conscience--what you call a soul--when one has
children. How droll you are! You talk just like a man. God knows I love
you, and should like to be your durrah.” (The word means colleague in
the married state.)

Gulbeyzah flung her arms round Barakah. A sound of footsteps in the
passage made them turn and peep.

“It is a eunuch!” the Circassian whispered. “He has been there all the
time. He attends you like your shadow, have you noticed? How sweet to
be so precious; and so respected, for he keeps his distance!”

Barakah preferred these confidences with Gulbeyzah to the endless fuss
and noise about the trousseau. The hive was in commotion over the
approaching marriage; angry, Gulbeyzah told her, with the Pasha for
his wish to shear the festival of ancient ceremonies regarded as the
woman’s right. When approached upon this subject in a crowded conclave,
she said that she was anxious to conform to all their customs--an
answer which was hailed with cries of triumph.

Mrs. Cameron appeared one afternoon, the Consul’s envoy, to ascertain
that all was well with the perverted girl. She was shown to the
state-room, and there regaled with tea in glasses and sweet biscuits,
in what was thought to be the English manner. The ladies pestered her
with eager questions, persisting, despite frank denials, in regarding
her as a near and dear relation of the bride. She glanced reproachfully
at Barakah from time to time. “You’re quite at home with them, I see,”
she said at parting. “It sounds unkind, but I must say I wish you
weren’t. It is a fall for any woman bred as you were. How can you put
that kohl round your eyes?... Good-bye, my dear, and don’t forget our
compact.”

The visit leaving an unpleasant, sad impression, Barakah withdrew to
her own room, alleging headache. She was lying on her bed with eyes
half closed, endeavouring to lay the ghost of former days, when some
one entered without knocking, shut the door with care, and crept
towards her. It was a strange old woman. She sidled up with much
grimacing; whispered “Yûsuf,” laid her shrivelled cheek upon her hand;
“Yûsuf,” again, and smacked her lips delectably; “Yûsuf Bey, thy
bridegroom,” and made the motion of embracing with ecstatic grins.

Barakah grew interested. She longed to see the man she was to marry
and, fresh from Mrs. Cameron’s reproach, was feeling reckless. She
tried to question the old woman, but without result. The crone kept
nodding, “Yûsuf Bey” and “Come.” She had brought with her a habbarah
and mouth-veil, which Barakah put on by her direction. Then they stole
forth, the temptress in high glee.

But they had not made ten steps in the hall before two eunuchs pounced
on them and stared into their eyes. One beat the hag, whose screams
were frightful. The other, smiling, dragged back Barakah, pushed her
inside her room and locked the door.

The meaning of the whole adventure remained dark to her. Gulbeyzah,
when informed of it, declared that the old woman could not have been
employed by Yûsuf, who was much too honourable and obedient to his
father to indulge in such low games. She ascribed the incident to
machinations of the lady Fitnah, beheld a plot to lure the English
girl to some lone place, there to be ravished if not slain. Barakah
laughed at such wild fancies. That Yûsuf’s mother did not like her much
was plain to see; she had doubtless cherished other projects for her
first-born; but to impute the thought of crime to her was too absurd.

“I bring good news,” Gulbeyzah said to change the subject. “The Pasha
has granted us the visit to the bath with you. He has engaged the best
musicians and some famous dancers, and all the maidens of good houses
are to be invited Oh, what joy!”



CHAPTER VII


The party at the bath with all its ritual was one of the ordeals which
Muhammad Pasha had wished to spare the English girl. As a man he hated
all the pranks that women play alone, and deemed them of necessity
immodest. But the feeling roused in the harîm was too intense for
him; and as Barakah, he was told, herself desired the entertainment,
he could adduce no cogent reason for refusal. The place in the
haramlik being ill adapted to a large assembly, he hired the finest
of the public baths for the occasion. The dependants of the household
clamouring for a procession through the streets, he gave them one,
putting in place of Barakah a humbler bride whose nuptials would be
celebrated at his cost.

About the first hour after noon, the bride of Yûsuf left the house,
sped by the ululations of the whole harîm. In a carriage with the
Pasha’s nieces and Gulbeyzah, she was driven through the streets to
the Hammam. There, at the entrance, stood two eunuchs, and in the
antechamber many women-servants of the Pasha’s house. The ladies on
arrival were conducted to a second ante-room and there divested of
all clothing. Each put on a pair of clogs and had her hair tied up in
an embroidered kerchief. While they were disrobing, other veiled ones
entered who laughed heartily at Barakah’s confusion. The procession of
the humbler bride had arrived some minutes since, they were informed.

The elder of the Pasha’s nieces and Gulbeyzah took each a hand of
Barakah and led her on from room to room, pausing in each to get
accustomed to the growing warmth. Suddenly they came upon a noisy
crowd. Two shiny negresses sprang forth, and, singling out the bride,
lifted her up and bore her to a corner of the hall, beneath a tap.
They flung her on her back. Seeing a razor flash, she uttered shriek
on shriek the while they fell to rubbing, making her joints crack,
kneading her very bones with their hard fingers. With eyes half blind
with soapsuds, she beheld a wreath of naked figures moving round her in
a kind of dance. The wall and vaulted ceiling of the building sweated.
The windows were high up and gave no light; there entered not a whiff
of outer air. A pulse beat at her temples. She felt suffocated.

At last the women stopped their rubbing, and by playful slaps informed
her that her turn was ended. Like a sheep from the shearing she
rose up, staggering, intent to flee. But she was caught again and
made to sit down while her hair was plaited. Then some one--it was
Gulbeyzah--grasped her hand and led her to the other end of the great
hall, where were two tanks of water gently steaming. The hall presented
a strange spectacle, for it was full of naked figures, ebon and
mouse-brown, amber and snow-white. Singers, all naked, sat beside one
wall, and hummed and droned and shrilled distractingly.

At a call, “The bride!” the whole crowd rushed on Barakah with
ululations. Her shame became acute, an agony. Gulbeyzah led her up to
one of the tanks. Some one behind administered a push, and she fell in;
when some one else sprawled in upon the top of her. Her head was under
water for some seconds. Spluttering, indignant, her throat choked with
sobs, she found herself among a group of laughing girls, all colours,
who were ducking one another as they splashed about. Gulbeyzah cried,
“The butterflies! Look! Look!” and pointed to the smooth stone marge,
where all the ripples in the light of smoky cressets were reflected
like a thousand fluttering moths. The stir subsiding when all stopped
to look, the moths united into one great butterfly, dimly perceived,
whose wings beat faint and fainter as the water stilled.

“She has eaten them all! Behold, how fat she is!” cried out Gulbeyzah.
“I believe she is just going to have some others. Look!” She plunged,
and made fresh ripples. Laughter hailed this sally. A brown girl,
lissom as a snake, sprang hard on the facetious one and promptly ducked
her.

Angry, humiliated, feeling lost eternally, Barakah scrambled out to
face a row of grinning, dancing hags. They and the shameless girls,
the fiendish music, the sweating walls, the fumes of incense hiding
the high roof, combined to make her fancy she was underneath the earth
assisting at an orgy of malignant jinn.

Some one smote her from behind. She turned round angrily. A fair-haired
girl was running. She ran after her. Another struck her lightly as she
ran. She turned again. A third sprang on her, pinioned both her arms
and kissed her on the mouth, amid applause. Then first she realized
that it was all a game; the girls were friendly. In the magnitude
of her relief, her shyness vanished. She soon led the romp. It was
one long dancing game of follow-my-leader, varied with moods of
hide-and-seek and leapfrog. All the while the singers kept up their
wild din, the hired dancers never ceased their weird contortions.

Afterwards, when they were all rubbed down and clothed again, there
was a feast of most delicious dainties in the ante-rooms, and Barakah
was introduced to her late playfellows, transformed as if by magic
to polite young ladies. Every one of them, she found, had brought a
present for her. She chattered merrily in French, and ate and drank
with appetite unknown before. Driving home in the carriage with three
delicately perfumed maidens, whose soft hands caressed her, she
experienced a blissful languor, like thanksgiving.



CHAPTER VIII


Meanwhile the anguish of the lady Fitnah had become unbearable. The
beating she had received, which kept her silent, was only part of the
injustice which prevailed against her. She alone, she had assurance,
was vouchsafed clear vision of the horror of this marriage; all the
rest were drugged and blinded by the creature’s spells. She had heard
of Frankish women, who were barren, holding men entranced for life,
thus ending families; and had no doubt at all but this was one of them.
A woman of volcanic passions, always righteous, for her to look on evil
was to seek to slay it.

She said, “The fiend will suck my Yûsuf’s life out and then vanish.”

Her group of flatterers replied:

“Alas, yes! She will suck him as one sucks an orange, and go her
way refreshed,” giving the sad mother a distracting picture of her
first-born as an empty orange-skin flung in the gutter among other
refuse.

She cried, “By Allah! she shall die!”

The sycophants replied, “Yes, by thy blessed womb, she shall--an awful
death,” and began to meditate the form that death should take.

“But she has islamed,” one objected.

“Who knows if she has really islamed?” was the answer. “Our lord the
Pasha is bewitched. He has forgone in her case every ordeal that might
test her faith. It is ascertained that she is barren and will drink the
bridegroom’s life. Woe! Woe! The end of a most noble race!”

Inspired by hatred of iniquity, fanned and encouraged by her little
court, the anguished mother had made sure arrangements for the English
girl’s dishonour, thinking no crime to vilify so bad a thing. The
scheme, alas! had been frustrated by the eunuchs; whose vigilance
redoubled the poor lady’s grief. What dreadful magic must reside in
that foul creature to make the Pasha guard her like a pearl? to make
poor Yûsuf cling to her and shun his mother? Her cronies recommended
her to summon negresses, of those who have familiar intercourse with
demons, and hold the mystic ceremony called a zâr--the latest novelty.
But Fitnah Khânum feared the Pasha, who denounced such consolations as
against religion. She was in despair. The hours flew by towards the
wedding; and she, perceiving all its horror, had no power to stop it.

On the very morning of the day appointed for the final ceremonies, she
received two visitors, not in her own room, but in a dirty closet used
for rubbish. The first to enter was the same old woman who had lured
Barakah from her chamber with the name of Yûsuf. The second, throwing
off the veil, revealed a goatish face with pointed ears beneath a foul
white skull-cap. It was Abu Sumûm, the most renowned of sorcerers.

He spread out his hands and chanted:

    “In the name of Allah, Er Rahmân, Er Rahîm,
    Who taught the words of might to Suleymân el Hakîm,
    And gave the seal of power into his hand,
    Lo, here I stand,
    Abu Sumûm, your humble servant to command!
    Would you love-potions, I can give you those
    Will bring the loved one to your feet though walls oppose
    And all the doors be guarded by his foes.
    Or have you enemies, but name their names
    And I will torture them with hellish flames.
    Wouldst thou their death? I’ll write a potent spell
    Upon an ass’s thigh-bone, hide it well
    Beneath the threshold where they dwell.
    Wouldst thou their madness? I will tie their mind
    To some low creature of a restless kind,
    A bird or fish, that when it moves they rage,
    And when it rests their fury they assuage;
    And none shall know the secret saving I,
    So that for lack of remedy they die.
    Abu Sumûm the wily one I am,
    State but your need of me and so--Salâm!”

Having concluded this doggerel, setting forth his stock-in-trade, the
wizard stood with arms crossed, grinning widely.

“I have an enemy,” faltered the lady, “and she is dreadful, being a
ginniyeh, and no child of Adam.”

“Think not to instruct me,” said the warlock. “Nothing uncanny comes
to Masr, but my hosts of servants who are in the air inform me
instantly. Ah, if it is the Englishwoman thou opposest, have a care,
for she is full of art, having attained the secret of invisibility, of
self-protection, and also of transforming people into dogs. Now, what,
I ask, dost thou require of me exactly--a potion that shall make her
love thee, or her madness, or a wasting illness?”

“Nothing, nothing, save her instant death,” sobbed Fitnah--“the wedding
is to-day--and then take all my wealth.”

“By thy leave, lady,” cried the wizard, much offended, “I am not him
thou seekest! Send for an assassin! My business is with art and not
brutality. Find out some chopper-up of wood: I am a carver!”

“But I know of no assassin! How can we women find and bring one hither?
O Abu Sumûm, be generous, for Allah’s love!”

“Hear the excellent lady, the very mother of kindness! Hear her, O
Abu Sumûm! Behold her sufferings! Grant her petition, for the love of
Allah, and our Lord reward thee!” pleaded the old woman who had brought
him in.

“I know not. It is not my line of business. And yet, I bethink me,
there is art in it,” muttered the sorcerer, relenting visibly--“much
art, for she is the most skilful witch on earth; and no one else in
Masr, under Allah, could hope to overcome her--Ha! What is this?”
He raised his hand to his right ear, and stood intently listening,
as if to something just above him in the air. “I thank thee, O
Tarshûshak!--What is this?” He turned to Fitnah with a mien of
righteous anger. “My servant tells me she has islamed. Is that true?
If so, why not inform me at the first? My time is wasted. If she has
islamed it is a crime most heinous to assail her. May Allah----”

“Mercy! O my uncle, mercy!” Both the women flung themselves upon the
wizard, stopping his mouth and dragging down his arm upraised to curse
them. “Wait but a moment! Only listen! They say that she has islamed,
being all bewitched. She has not gone through all the ceremonies. She
refuses, and our lord the Pasha, by her spells, supports her. Whether
or no, she weds to-day my first-born son, and she is barren and will
keep him from all other women. Thou shalt have much wealth.”

Again the sorcerer went through the process of relenting visibly.
“Allah knows,” he groaned, “it is a cruel task you set me. It will
take three days and nights of fasting and seclusion spent in ceaseless
study, to overcome her servants who are in the air. Not until they are
vanquished can I mix the potion, for they would neutralize my spells
and make it harmless.”

“But the wedding is to-day!” wailed Fitnah, out of patience.

“What matter, since her bale is of the lingering sort, and not
swift-slaying. Hear what I tell thee! If I fight for thee with demons
and obtain the potion, use it not till three whole moons have waxed and
waned. Watch how thy son looks; notice his behaviour! It may be she has
islamed in good faith.”

“All that thou wishest, only give the potion!”

“After three days thou shalt have it, by the leave of Allah!”

The sorcerer then changed his tone for one of caution, urging, “The
reward, O blessed lady! It is worth much money. And it is usual to give
something in advance by way of earnest.”

Fitnah untied a bundle which had lain beside her all the while, and
thrust it towards him. It contained the best of all her jewels. Poor
lady, all her treasures--nay, her life itself--seemed light to give to
save her Yûsuf from that thirsty ghoul. The wizard’s small eyes gloated
on the heap.

“Woe on thee, Abu Sumûm!” cried the old woman. “Art thou not ashamed to
take more than is just from so benevolent and kind a lady? Thy heart is
of stone, not to be moved to bounty by her pious tears.”

“Silence, woman!” With a dignified and bounteous gesture, the sorcerer
pushed back the bag of trinkets, selecting for himself a single ring
containing stones of value. “Allah witness, that I did but test the
generosity of our good mistress. But, being poor and with some dreadful
work before me--having, moreover, risked my two old ears in coming
hither--I will, with thy permission, O Most Excellent, accept this
trifle. That and thy gracious favour be my only payment!”

Uprising, he resumed again the woman’s headdress, and in a woman’s
piping voice enjoined, as he prepared to go, “Forget not to delay three
months. A day too soon might cause tremendous evil.”

“Three months--I will remember!” answered Fitnah dutifully; adding
beneath her breath, “Three days--too long! I think thou hast a mind to
fool me, O thou father of three months! Well, bring thy potion. But
first we will essay some common poison without ceremony. Alas for Yûsuf
did we wait three months!”

She pressed both hands to her left side as if it pained her.



CHAPTER IX


The Englishwoman had surrendered to the importunities of all the
household, and submitted to be dressed entirely as an Eastern bride.
Her feet and hands had been well dyed with henna overnight; her hair
was intricately plaited, smeared with ointment smelling strong of
ambergris and sprinkled with gold dust until it made a close and
shining covering; her lips and cheeks were painted, and her eyes
enlarged with kohl. Then came the putting on of splendid clothes amid a
din of chatter, above which strains of music could be heard, wafted by
gusts from the selamlik, where festivity had reigned for two days past.
A jewelled crown completing her apparel, she was led with joy-cries to
the great reception-room, and there enthroned upon the dais. The room
was fairly full of visitors already, and every minute there were fresh
arrivals.

Early that morning, Gulbeyzah had shown Barakah her future
lodging--five rooms within the women’s portion of the house, but
self-contained, and with a private door to the selamlik. She had beheld
a salon hung with mirrors, full of gilded chairs and tables; and then
the nuptial chamber, the bed with silken bed-clothes, much too good
to use, beneath a canopy of cloth-of-gold embroidered. Four monstrous
candles placed around the bed looked ceremonial, and the perfume of
rare flowers reminded her of English death-rooms.

The vision of that room oppressed her now as she sat idle, feeling
like a wooden image, and met the criticizing stare of strangers who
perfunctorily blessed her. At first Gulbeyzah stayed with her and
played interpreter. Murjânah Khânum came and kissed her, praying: “May
the crown upon thy brow inure thee to the burden of responsibility,
may the rich robes and the throne foreshadow honour for thee; may
the ordeal of long stillness teach thee patience and long-suffering
with dignity. May all our blessings and our prayers to-day secure
thee fruitfulness, and mayst thou live to see thy children’s children
flourish round thee. Our Lord preserve thee ever in His grace. Amîn.”

Apart from this soft murmur of the Turkish lady, she discerned no hint
of a religious feeling with regard to marriage. After an hour Gulbeyzah
mingled with the throng of visitors, and Barakah was left alone to
face the curiosity, the unknown talk about her. Every one of all those
women used strong scent, and the smoke of divers kinds of incense
dimmed the air. The bride herself was saturated with perfumery; which,
however, could not drown the odour of her own new garments. This grew
sickening. Her brain swam. She was stuck there like a painted doll to
be appraised, inspected.

Anon the crowd was drawn away from her. She sat unnoticed. A group of
female musicians had arrived, with them a well-known singer. There
ensued a frightful caterwauling, as it seemed to Barakah, but the rest
were charmed, to judge from their enraptured “Ah’s!” and ravished
gestures.

Then a brown girl, clad diaphanously, writhed a dance of lewd
suggestion, ogling the bride the while maliciously. Her performance
was applauded even by Murjânah Khânum. Gulbeyzah flew up to the bride
and whispered: “We are in great luck! Tâhir, the greatest singer in
the world, has been performing for the bridegroom’s friends in the
selamlik. He is coming here to sing to us, behind that screen. Look!
Those are his children.” A small boy and girl had stolen shyly in, and
were made much of, being passed from hand to hand. Gulbeyzah ran off to
convey the news to other rooms.

Another minute and dead silence fell. All watched the screen. Up leapt
an eerie note, sustained till it became a terror to the ear, when all
at once it broke into a shower of trills like impish laughter. This
was repeated thrice, and then the singer struck a solemn and majestic
measure--a religious strain, which his strange voice embroidered
with all human passions in their natural tones. Barakah forgot her
weariness. This singing was like nothing she had ever heard. It seemed
to dignify all life with a tremendous meaning. All unawares she joined
the gusty sigh which swept the whole assembly when the last note died.
There followed a quick panting melody of lover’s sighs, more like a
bird’s song than the effort of a human voice; then came a wail of more
than human anguish, and then the singing ceased quite unexpectedly.
There was a storm of moans and prayers for more, but Tâhir, the great
singer, had already gone.

Barakah became once more aware of stiffness, headache, and a burning
mouth. She called to Hamdi, Yûsuf’s little brother, one of her former
pupils, to bring water to her. He ran off at once, but brought, instead
of water, cloying sherbet which increased her thirst. Her eyelids were
so stiffened they would hardly close; her eyeballs ached; the stiffness
of the paint upon her cheeks became an iron mask. She felt pilloried,
derided, miserably alone, when lo! a small soft hand touched hers
confidingly. It was the singer’s little daughter, who, grown tired of
sweets and petting, had come to the one lonely person in the room,
the quiet place. She looked up in the face of Barakah and smiled. Her
brother, a still smaller child, had followed her. They both sat down
without the slightest ceremony, and with their heads against her
knees, their hands in hers, fell fast asleep. This little group, when
it was noticed, caused much laughter and a shout: “Mabrûkah!” (lucky).
The bride, a statue of endurance, paid no heed.

At last a great noise came from the selamlik. A eunuch rushed to say
that the procession of the bridegroom to the mosque had just returned.
At once, a heavy veil, precluding sight, was flung on Barakah. The
bride’s train formed. With tapers and with garlands, amid joy-cries,
she was led to her own gilded salon, and there left alone. In the same
instant, so it seemed to her, the bridegroom came. Her veil was lifted.
She felt like to die. She dared not raise her eyes for fear of weeping.
The ritual words she had been schooled to say escaped her memory. But,
as luck befell, they were unneeded.

“Grand Dieu!” cried Yûsuf Bey. “The fools--the miscreants have made you
look like one of them. Your face--your hair! Ah, mon amour! Ma colombe!”

She was obliged to laugh, and the nice-looking, eager youth laughed
with her. Fatigue and headache fell off from her like a garment.

On the next afternoon, when Barakah, at peace with all the world, was
sitting in her gilded parlour, on the cushioned window-sill, peeping
through the lattice at red masts and flags, the decorations for her
wedding not yet taken down, it happened that she called for water.
That cry resounded through the whole haramlik in the hours of heat,
and slaves with pitchers waited always ready to obey it. The girl who
answered brought a vase of amber fluid, which she proclaimed the most
delicious sherbet known to woman. The lady Fitnah had herself prepared
it for the bride’s delight. Barakah took one sip, disliked the taste,
and, only waiting for politeness till the maid had gone, poured out the
rest upon a plant of jasmine in a flower-pot which stood upon a shelf
within the lattice. A little later she was very sick, and went and lay
down on her bed. She was feeling better when her husband was announced.

“Yûsuf!” she cried, as he came in, “it is so curious. Madame your
mother sent me up some special sherbet. I tasted it, and found it
disagreeable, so I emptied all the rest upon the plant there. Then I
felt so ill----”

She got no further. Yûsuf, following the direction of her gesture,
had fixed his eyes upon the flower-pot. They were riveted. The plant
was dead, a shrivelled, blackened object. With one despairing cry he
clutched his forehead and rushed headlong from the room.



CHAPTER X


“O wretched day! O death of honour! O calamity! Didst thou not swear
to guard my love from danger, O my father? Yet death has reached
her--poison! This house is now gehennum. Woe to all of us! O Allah,
ease the sorrow of my heart! O Lord, behold me rent in twain--My wife!
My mother!”

Yûsuf had burst into the room of the selamlik where his father was
transacting business with the steward of his property. Regardless
of the stranger’s presence, he gave way to grief and rage, falling
prostrate on the pavement, tearing at it with his hands, and biting at
it with his teeth convulsively. The steward, a person of discretion,
rose at once and asked permission to retire. The Pasha nodded, and,
when he was gone, bent over his demented child, inquiring of his cause
of grief with heart near broken, for he feared the worst had happened.
By dint of patience he elicited the simple facts, which, when he knew
them, eased his mind so greatly that he smiled and rendered fervent
thanks to the Most High. The Englishwoman was not dead; the poisonous
attempt had failed; the vision of an angry Consul, void of decency,
transgressing with investigations every man’s intrinsic right to sole
and secret jurisdiction in his own harîm, raising a scandal far more
dreadful than the sad event, receded suddenly.

“Be not distressed, my son!” he urged benignly. “Praise God, as I do,
that the matter is no worse. Think! a mere plant of jasmine dead in
place of her thou lovest. The call is for rejoicing, not for grief.
Have patience, O my soul! Control thy spirits!”

“Have patience, sayest thou?” sobbed Yûsuf. “My anguish is more
terrible than flesh can bear. My mother, she who bore me, whom I love
by nature, has turned my enemy, to poison her by whom alone I live. I
hate the murderess of my delight, and would destroy her; but lo! she is
my mother, and I can but weep. My soul is torn asunder. All the world
is blackened. O Allah, take my life! O Lord, protect me!”

Muhammad Pasha was profoundly moved by this lament. He thanked God for
vouchsafing him a son who, in the moment of extreme affliction, could
still preserve such justice in his sentiments.

“Take comfort, O my son! Be thankful that no harm has happened,” he
insisted tenderly.

But Yûsuf would not be consoled. The soothing tone enraged him, seeming
to make a trifle of his agony. He leapt upon his feet and cried:

“No harm! O Allah! Is it nought then, what I tell thee? Then thou hast
no love for me. Thou art my father; thou didst promise to preserve her
from my mother’s malice. Thou seest my despair, and yet thou smilest. O
Allah, kill me now, for I am orphaned cruelly. Both my parents hate me,
and deride my sufferings. I go to my mother Murjânah, who is kind and
gracious. She will weep with me.”

And before the older man could grasp his purpose, much less intervene,
that victim of a duteous heart had fled the room. After a space of
thought the Pasha followed to Murjânah Khânum’s quarters, where he
found the young man writhing on a bed of cushions, while his second
mother wept with him and prayed.

“Listen, O Yûsuf, O my son!” began the father earnestly. “I have been
thinking. Thou and thy bride shall have a house apart----”

But at his voice the young man, foaming at the mouth, sprang up from
his couch with teeth and hands clenched in a final spasm, and, flinging
up his hands, fell back insensible.

“Go, fetch the leech, the fit will pass, in sh´Allah. Be secret, lest
tongues wag to our dishonour,” said Murjânah, and the Pasha went at
once to the selamlik, returning with a black slave skilled in surgery.
Yûsuf was bled. While assisting in the operation the Pasha asked
Murjânah:

“What punishment is meet for her we wot of?”

“Forgiveness, for the love of Allah!” was the answer. “Upbraid her on
religious grounds and then forgive her. We know her generous, impulsive
nature. Thy sudden kindness will affect her more than blows. Poor soul,
she must have suffered very deeply. My slaves inform me that she saw
this Englishwoman as a kind of ghoul. Tomorrow, with her nature, she
may wish to hug her. Remove the young folks for the present.”

“I had thought of that,” rejoined the Pasha. “By Allah, they shall
have the garden-house towards Rôdah. To-morrow I will have the place
prepared for them.”

When Yûsuf Bey came back to life he wept anew, but weakly, helplessly.
In that condition he was carried to his own apartments by the surgeon,
with the Pasha’s help, Murjânah going on before to warn the bride.

This sad procession happened to encounter a slave of Leylah Khânum’s
who, hearing Yûsuf’s groans, ran off with screams and told her mistress
he was dead. At once the whole harîm was filled with wailing. Fitnah
Khânum, thunderstruck by the appalling news, defiled her face with dirt
and tore her raiment. She rushed shrieking to the bridal chamber, as
did every woman and child who by relationship could claim the right to
enter. She knelt before the bride, who stood apart, bewildered, and
besought her:

“Remove the spell, restore him, for the love of Allah. I sinned. I here
confess it. Thou art much too strong for me. Thou, by thy magic, hast
turned round the sword to pierce my bosom. I was impatient, I am justly
punished. The wisest of mankind advised me I should wait three months.
Thou seest how I love thee, how I kneel to thee and kiss thy feet.
Accept my life’s devotion: only save him!”

Without seeking for an answer to her prayer, she rose distractedly and
went and flung herself upon the bed where Yûsuf lay. He moaned:

“My mother! Oh, alas, thy bitterness! How couldst thou seek to rob me
of delight? Behold me dead! Now art thou satisfied? O Lord have mercy
on me! O Calamity!”

Blubbering loudly, she implored forgiveness. Soon his arms went
round her; they lay, hugging one another, sobbing, cooing, while the
spectators wept aloud in tender sympathy. The Pasha’s face was hidden
in his pocket-handkerchief. Murjânah Khânum murmured prayers beneath
her breath.

“O my despair! my wickedness!” the mother shrieked.

“My grief, my desolation; now my joy!” sobbed Yûsuf.

“O Lord, relieve me, for my heart is bursting,” moaned the Pasha.

“Oh, what do I behold. How rapture pains me!” came from bystanders.
All, in the selfish orgy of emotion, forgot the terrified and wondering
bride, who, understanding not a word of what was said, surveyed a
riddle. She asked the Pasha what the matter was. He answered with a
hiccup of emotion:

“It is nothing, mademoiselle. It will soon pass. Have no fear!” which
only added to her stupefaction.

She had seen such exhibitions in ill-governed nurseries, but never
among grown-up folks before. To account for all the outcry she imagined
some tremendous tragedy, and waited anxiously to learn its nature.

It was close on midnight ere the chamber emptied and, left alone with
Yûsuf, she could put her question. Then he told her the whole story
with frequent interjection of “Oh, how I suffered!” She learnt that she
had narrowly escaped a cruel death. But how her danger bore upon the
scenes she had just witnessed, or in what manner they were meant to
reassure her, she could not divine. Yûsuf himself bestowed no thought
on her predicament, immersed in contemplation of his own emotions.
Feeling alone and outcast, she wept a little ere she went to sleep.

In the morning Yûsuf had recovered his accustomed spirits. When she
alluded with a shudder to his mother’s wickedness, he bade her have
no fear; all that was past. From that day forth his mother would be
sure to cherish her. Her mind derived no comfort from that light
assurance; it remained perturbed until the Pasha came with tidings
of a new arrangement he had made for her and Yûsuf to sojourn in a
pleasure-house of his among the suburbs.



CHAPTER XI


The pleasure-house was a two-storeyed building, much dilapidated,
having been unoccupied by the proprietor for many years. The garden,
originally made for pleasure by the Pasha’s father, had since been used
exclusively for growing vegetables. It was now like several fields
with palm trees set at intervals, the whole surrounded by a high mud
wall. The Pasha in one day had had the rooms cleaned out, the snakes
extracted from their walls by a professional charmer; the next he sent
down servants with the furniture, and the same evening Barakah arrived.

The house resembled a gigantic lantern in the blue of night with light
exuding from its many lattices. Descending from the harîm carriage
which had brought her, together with two women and the girl Fatûmah,
her own slaves, she was met by Yûsuf, whom she had not seen all day. He
introduced to her two men--a new experience, which seemed an earnest
of less strict seclusion. One, who bore a torch, bowed low with eyes
downcast. He was the gardener. The other--a most honest-looking
youth--gazed awestruck at her shrouded form, his large brown eyes
dilated to the very utmost, while a vast ecstatic smile bared all his
teeth--a smile which told of infinite fidelity.

“His name,” said Yûsuf, “is Ghandûr--my faithful friend. He is your
water-carrier, and will be always within call in case you have some
errand out of doors.”

Yûsuf then walked apart with the two men, while Sawwâb, the eunuch,
showed the lady her apartments. Sawwâb had come as escort to the
carriage and returned with it as soon as he had seen her settled
comfortably. A leering crone was left to guard propriety, a task which
she performed extremely ill on that first evening; for instead of
checking the high spirits of the slave-girls, who romped for joy at
their release from stricter discipline, she smiled upon their antics,
and herself performed a most improper dance before the bride.

For several days Yûsuf remained contented in the house and garden;
while Barakah, half-dazed but happy too, beheld him as incarnate
passion, not as man. She was the first to tire of loves and doves, and
try to talk of something sensible. Yûsuf appeared to think the speech
of every day a waste of time between them.

Then came the period of tiffs, the fretful wakening. Yûsuf began to
deal in sentiment about his mother, proclaiming it a hardship that his
wife should still distrust her.

“She is kind and tender--O, how dear to me! Go to her, Barakah! Kneel
at her feet, embrace her hands, and she will surely pardon.”

“Pardon? What, pray?” exclaimed the bride indignantly. “It is for her
to ask pardon of me whom, kindly recollect, she tried to poison.”

“She is older than you; she is my mother. It behoves you to be modest
and submissive towards her. I have forgiven all, and so should you. She
is my mother.”

It was a relief one morning when the Pasha came and bore the young
man off, declaring jokingly that he would die of too much sweet if he
remained immured there longer. Of Barakah he said the same, informing
her that Leylah Khânum and Gulbeyzah would call that afternoon to take
her out upon a round of visits.

Then Yûsuf took to being absent all day long, but came home gladly in
the evenings, full of love. He volunteered no tidings of his day’s
amusements, and when she questioned him about them seemed to think it
odd.

“All that is not your business,” he informed her kindly.

She hinted at the pleasures of companionship, the bond of common
interests. He laughed, inquiring:

“Are we not companions? Have we not interests in common? You teach me
English, and I teach you Arabic; we compare the customs of the races.
And we love! Are not these interests much greater than to hear what
Fulân said to Zeyd, what Zeyd replied, and whether Hâfiz or Mahmûd
obtained the Government appointment? That is the life of men, a passing
of the hours till night, when they return to the beloved. If anything
of weight befell I should inform you. What pleasure could it give to
you to hear repeated the gabble of a lot of people you will never know?”

Perceiving much in Yûsuf’s tastes and conversation which pious English
people would have thought ungodly, she gasped a little on discovering
he was religious. Attracted by a faith which showed some tolerance
of human failings, she was studying the rudiments of El Islâm by
Yûsuf’s guidance; acquiring prayers and all the rules for saying them,
including washings and the proper time and place. Nothing seemed left
to the believer’s judgment, it was all laid down. When, at a lesson
in prostration, she was moved to laughter, he became quite terrible,
and warned her threateningly that in this country any man or woman was
likely to be torn in pieces for a hint of blasphemy. The awe she felt
was oddly mixed with fascination.

There were details she would not have chosen in her cloistered life,
but on the whole it was the happiest that she had ever known. She was
waited on hand and foot who had known drudgery; her husband used her
as a reigning beauty who, but a few weeks since, had been esteemed
uninteresting. Then there were pleasures of society. The Pasha’s
carriage often came, with one or other of the ladies and Gulbeyzah, to
take her round to call on grand harîms. She was received with favour by
great ladies. One, a princess, by name Amînah Khânum, insisted on her
spending a whole day alone with her.

This dame, though elderly, still dressed to charm. Her rooms were full
of European furniture, but she herself sat always on a sofa, smoking a
long, old-fashioned pipe with coral mouthpiece.

“You are not of the first rank in your own country,” she told Barakah
to start with, bluntly; “or you would not be where you are. You do not
know the people I have met in France and England, so don’t pretend
you do. I value frankness.” It seemed she knew the English pretty
thoroughly.

She spoke good French and talked of Western Europe with intelligence,
seeming in general to approve its customs. One little speech of hers
amazed the visitor, intruding as it did abruptly upon lighter talk:

“The Europeans have degraded love and made life banal. They spread
life’s agitation over a vast surface and account it progress; we value
depth and stillness. Enlarging each life’s pool, they make it shallow.
A woman’s life is of the feelings which are dulled, not quickened,
by extensive interests. Their men too suffer, growing superficial,
flippant, without depth of character.”

When Barakah retailed this saying to Gulbeyzah, the Circassian sighed:
“She knows!” and told a curious story.

It was that years ago a European officer in the Egyptian service had
wooed Amînah Khânum secretly; and she had been entirely captivated by
his charms. But endeavouring to sound his character, she found him
shallow. She made him islam, but his carelessness informed her that
conversion meant no more for him than access to her. In the same way
she perceived that what he felt for her was nothing more profound than
the desire to add a Muslim lady to his list of conquests. The blow was
dire, for she was then extremely lovely, and a great examiner of men,
having divorced or killed ten husbands. She would not have him tell a
tale among his kind, yet could not conquer her intense desire of him.
What could she do? She satisfied her heart, and the next morning gave
him death in easy form, being well versed in poisons.

Barakah cried out in horror; but Gulbeyzah shrugged.

“What else could woman, not a harlot, do? He was an infidel, and would
have bragged of her. Ever since then Amînah Khânum has a kindness for
the Franks, though she deplores their levity.”

“And would you do the same?”

“One cannot tell beforehand. I am not a princess. Either that or kill
myself. May God preserve us from unsanctioned love of all kinds!”

Barakah felt overwhelmed by the intenseness, the tragic vigour of
these women, who seemed mild and playful.

Mrs. Cameron called at the garden-house one afternoon, and Barakah was
proud to give her a real English tea. Except for the costume, which
was much richer, and an added glow of happiness, the visitor, she felt
convinced, could not detect the slightest change in her. One thing at
least was certain, she had not deteriorated, as Mrs. Cameron before
the marriage had foretold she would. The visitor was amiable, and made
no allusion to the past. Before departing she made Barakah an offer of
some knitting wool and needles she had just received from England. The
wife of Yûsuf Bey accepted gladly, for she began to feel the weight of
idle hands.

The wools arriving an hour later, she debated what to make with them;
and, being at the time in English mood, decided on a pair of slippers
for her husband. But when she told him of her purpose, he frowned
wonderingly, and asked:

“Are you a shoemaker?”

Utterly disconcerted by so apt a question, she tried to paint the
beauty of the project, but he could not see it.

“If you want slippers, buy them in the market. It is not your trade.
When one like you employs the needle, it is not for use. Ask my mother;
she will show you the right work to do.”

He had his own ideas. The coloured wools were given to Fatûmah, who
made anklets of them, and other personal adornments, which amused her
for a week.

Deducing from her wish to make him slippers that she found the hours
long in his absence, Yûsuf procured her books in French and English.
He also brought her a fine musical box, which played dance-music in
stentorian tones to the rapture of the slaves, who kept it going all
day long. The Pasha came and begged her not to imagine that she was
debarred from every pleasure. It would be cruel to confine a damsel of
her breeding as strictly as a native of the country. Let her but name
her wishes; they should be deferred to. He even threw out hints that
she and Yûsuf might possibly see Paris in the coming summer.

Thus exhorted, and encouraged by the sight of women like Amînah
Khânum, who seemed to order every one their way, she forsook the timid
attitude which had been hers since marriage, and viewed existence with
commanding eyes. The old woman who had been engaged to play propriety,
was horrified one day to see her talking barefaced at a window to
Ghandûr, the water-carrier. The crone expostulated, coaxed, entreated,
and at length, when all proved vain, informed the husband, who, to her
utter consternation, laughed.

“Ghandûr?” he cried; “Ghandûr is my right foot,” and immediately
applied that member to the beldame’s person.

The old woman did not dare to speak again to Barakah, though the latter
plagued her mercilessly, crying “Ghandûr!” here and “Ghandûr!” there,
for the treat of seeing her curvet and wring her hands.

One morning, after Yûsuf had departed, she grew conscious of a great
oppression due to lack of outlet. The feeling had been with her vaguely
for some days. Now she knew it for a craving; she must see an English
person to revive her fading interest in the strange things around her.

“Ghandûr!” she cried.--He answered “Hâdir!”--“Fetch me a carriage for
the fifth hour after noon.”

“Hâdir!” he said again; and from her lattice she saw him speed off on
his errand like the wind. There were few carriages for hire in Cairo in
those days, and it was necessary to bespeak one early.

“The lady wishes to go out? Shall I accompany her?” cooed the old
woman, who was hovering near.

“No. I go alone!”

“I had better accompany the lady.”

“No, I tell thee!”

The lady stamped her foot, when the duenna shuffled off, wagging her
head forebodingly and mumbling.

“How absurd!” thought Barakah. “Haven’t Yûsuf and the Pasha told me
twenty times that women, in the kind of shroud they make us wear, can
go anywhere alone without attracting notice?”

When the carriage came--a hooded one--she sallied forth, correctly
veiled, escorted by Ghandûr, who, seeing no one with her, asked leave
to mount the box beside the driver. She gave it, feeling sure that
the old woman was watching the departure through some upper lattice.
Ghandûr sprang up with a delighted grin, quite rigid with the pride of
high preferment.



CHAPTER XII


In the sandy lane outside the Camerons’ garden-gate some carriages
already waited; a saddle-horse or two and many donkeys, all in charge
of servants, twitched their ears and swished their tails in the deep
shadow by the wall. Barakah felt disappointed and annoyed. It seemed
that she had lighted on a great reception, when her desire had been
a quiet chat with Mrs. Cameron. Prevision of Ghandûr’s amazement if
she gave the order to turn back, and the satisfaction which her quick
return would give the mother of propriety, made her go on; but she
determined to stay only a few minutes and then walk home, the evening
being cool, to spend the time. With this in view, upon alighting she
gave money to Ghandûr, bidding him dismiss the carriage and himself
go home. He made a good deal of remonstrance, but at last submitted,
understanding that the people of the house would furnish means of
transit. He considered it his place, however, to remain in waiting.

Barakah then went in, much hampered by the stare of squatting servants
which seemed to cling like fetters to her ankles. A Berberi butler
ushered her into the drawing-room and announced her with the single
word:

“Harîm.”

The room was even fuller than she had expected. Her entrance seemed
to cause a great sensation. Her heart sank, there was singing in her
ears; she encountered all those faces with a sense of drowning. Moving
mechanically in a trance of apprehension, it was with surprise a
minute later that she found herself ensconced in a deck-chair beside
an open window, alive and quite uninjured, though her pulse beat high.
She removed her mouth-veil then and looked about her. It seemed to be
a gathering of the whole English colony, with the addition of some
French and German ladies. The Consul, her aversion, was talking with
some other men, who formed a standing group. He took no notice of her,
rather pointedly. The women, thirty at the least, kept up a din of
chatter.

The hostess came and introduced her to the ladies near her. Though the
manner in which this was done was very kind, Barakah felt that Mrs.
Cameron disliked her coming. That lady looked upon her as a fallen
creature, to be visited and seen occasionally out of charity, no longer
to be classed with English women. The prejudice stung Barakah to
downright impudence. Abashment left her. She began to chatter and laugh
loudly just to let her hostess know that she was somebody. Sipping
her tea, she talked of harîm life, deriding the false notions which
prevailed concerning it. It was perfectly delightful, not a bit what
Europeans thought. She proceeded to retail her own experiences. In a
trice she gathered half a score of eager listeners.

But is not this or that the case invariably? they inquired. She was
able to confute them always, with amusing instances. She sank her
voice, the listening heads drew nearer; there were stifled giggles.
Certain stories she had picked up from Gulbeyzah were quite killing.
She told of the old woman who was set to guard her--“an Oriental Mrs.
Grundy,” she assured them--and her horror at her going out alone that
afternoon.

“But my husband doesn’t mind a bit, of course. The dear man lets me
do just what I like. It is only middle-class people nowadays who
are strict about seclusion.... Oh, by the way, do you know Princess
Amînah?...”

She had never in her life talked so effectively. The stored frivolity
of weeks was spent in one short hour; while with the tail of an eye she
noted Mrs. Cameron’s disgust at her small social triumph, the shrugs
and glances she exchanged with her own kind.

While her success was at its height, she readjusted her white muslin
mouth-veil and got up to go.

“Thank you for a most delightful hour,” she gushed at taking leave,
receiving in reply a look which plainly said: “You have deteriorated.”

Going out upon the wave of her excitement, she suddenly remembered that
she had dismissed her carriage. It was no matter. The distance to be
traversed was no more than half a mile, the road a straight one, shady
at that hour. The little walk would serve to cool her wits.

But Ghandûr, who was squatting by the outer door, sprang up at sight of
her. He bade her “Wait!” with a profusion of engaging grins and frantic
gestures. Taking her assent for granted, when she stopped to argue, he
set off down the lane at a great pace, trailing a plume of dust from
either heel.

Seeing she still moved on, despite her servant’s warning, the
doorkeeper of the house stepped forward and, saluting, begged her to
return indoors. When she refused, he shrugged despairingly and with
some word which sounded like an oath went back to his own seat. The
waiting grooms and donkey-boys called out, and standing together in a
little crowd stared after her. She thought them merely rude.

She moved against the stream of country people returning homeward
from their business in the city. They stared at her in passing, and
occasionally made remarks which sounded friendly. The dust raised by
the trail of robes, and by the donkeys’ hoofs, was some annoyance; but
the dust itself became a splendour where the sunset caught it; the
shadows were deep blue, enhancing colours of the crowd; and the balm of
evening was in every breath she drew. To Barakah, who had not walked
for months, the very motion was a comfort. She stepped forward briskly,
musing on the scene she had just quitted.

What were those women saying of her now? Mrs. Cameron was no doubt
declaiming, and they all agreed with her. Every word that she had
said was turned against her. On that perception she was filled with
shame. The unkindness, the indecency of holding up her husband’s
people to provide amusement for a hostile race appeared unthinkable,
the basest treachery. A wave of tenderness for Yûsuf, for Ghandûr, the
slave-girls, even the old woman,--all the home surroundings,--overcame
her; while her mind abhorred the frigid, callous English, who had lured
her on to make a mock of her. Why should she ever see them more? She
hated them. Phrases which had passed her lips ten minutes since were
now abominable--a source of shame that could not cease, it seemed, but
must flow on for ever till the end of time. How had she uttered them?
It was their fault for scorning her, for placing her on an unnatural
footing, making speech a pitfall. The harîm was her natural refuge, her
true home. She never wished to quit its shade again.

Thus fiercely musing, she pursued the sandy lane until she reached a
point where a road branched off from it at right angles.

Upon the corner stood a whitewashed shrine, pink in the glow of
sunset, the crescent flashing on its egg-like dome; beside it a great
tree under whose foliage a crowd of men were sitting out on stools,
smoking and drinking coffee in the shade. Some of these took notice of
her, pointing rudely, attracting the attention of the others and the
passers-by. Supposing something wrong with her attire, she quickened
step. Her road ran through a village. She heard shouts and laughter. A
well-dressed man strode past her from behind, and turning searched her
eyes. Spurred now by fear, she tried to hurry on; but found herself the
centre of a crowd, whose members, moving with her, jabbered, pointed,
jeered. One tweaked her habbarah; another seized her arm as if to
feel the muscle. Her heart beat loud, her throat was choked with sobs
repressed by terror.

The mob grew every moment bolder in its menace. A stalwart
peasant-woman barred the way before her, grinning--prepared, it seemed,
to pluck away her mouth-veil.

Barakah had paused, cowering, not knowing where to turn for succour,
when the shout of a familiar voice relieved the strain and let her
tears have vent. Ghandûr came on the scene, leading a saddled ass. His
explanations soon dispersed the mob. He lifted her upon the donkey;
and in a moment, as things happen in a dream, she was at home again,
confronting Yûsuf, who approached the gate as they arrived.

He seemed thunderstruck at her appearance. Hearing Ghandûr’s story, he
asked God for help, and raised his arm to strike her. She fell fainting
at his feet.



CHAPTER XIII


When Barakah came to herself, she was lying in her bedroom, which was
dim and seemed unusually lofty, for her bed was on the floor, and
a feeble lamp confined in perforated brass, which gave what light
there was, stood down beside it. The pattern of the brass-work, much
enlarged, was faintly reproduced on wall and ceiling. She was alone,
but from a distance sounds of wailing reached her, and she heard her
husband cursing the old woman for neglect of duty.

When she recalled her glee at setting forth that afternoon, the course
of subsequent events seemed very cruel. After such misfortunes,
consolation was her due; instead of which the house was in commotion,
Yûsuf mad. Self-pity overwhelmed her. She was all alone among strange
savage beings without sympathy; while those who might have understood
and shared her feelings were her enemies. She lay with face down on her
pillow, weeping silently.

By and by Yûsuf came into the room. She could tell by his hard
breathing he was still enraged. Afraid that he was going to beat her,
she lay quiet, as though still unconscious; but in a little while a
sob betrayed her. Then his wrath descended. French deserting him, he
raved at her in Arabic and Turkish; and her inability to catch his
meaning made him angrier. She lay in terror, crying bitterly, replying
to such questions as she understood, until his fury sank to lamentation
and his French returned.

“My honour!” was his cry. “You have betrayed my honour in thus going
forth alone. The servants of the English house who know you will send
a whisper and a laugh through all the markets. And those who saw you
walking in the dust!... Have you no shame, no delicacy? What will my
father say? The news will kill him! You have killed my father!”

“You do not think of me at all,” sobbed Barakah. “Here have I been
insulted, scared to death by your vile people, and you scold me! I wish
that I had never seen you. I am so unhappy! In England people would
be punished for the things you do. Those horrible men and women who
attacked me----”

“May Allah burn them, every one!” cried Yûsuf in fierce Arabic. “Gladly
would I pluck out all their tongues! They witnessed the dishonour of my
name, and will relate it.”

The wrangle lasted far into the night. At last, however, Yûsuf’s tone
relented; they embraced, and he demanded the whole history of her
ill-starred visit. But when he heard that men had been in the same
room with her, his wrath redoubled. He beat his breast, he gnashed his
teeth, he slapped her face, he paced the room denouncing her depravity.

“You are a brute!” she cried hysterically. “What harm if men were
present? They did not come near me. I am not like your women--bred up
to think of one thing only. Nor are Englishmen like you; they have
respect for women. You are mad.”

Yûsuf was really mad, or seemed so, at that moment. He called her evil
names in every tongue of which he had a smattering; and then in French,
made childish by his rage, accused all Europeans of disgusting conduct.

“You deny it--_hein_? You are a liar, for the fact is known. We are not
ignorant; we travel, and we have their books. What say you of their
balls, their public dances, where women--nay, young virgins--choose
what man they please, deserting husband or fiancé--empty names!--and
dance and afterwards retire with him? The fact is known! The race is
shameless--may God punish them! It is forbidden for us to cast up
former things in marriage; but for the future I command you to forsake
their filthiness. Go once again, and we shall know you worthless! Swear
to renounce their company, or I will kill you!”

She sat up and confronted him with eyes of fire.

“Oh, brute!” she panted; “monster! rabid dog! I have had enough of you
and your behaviour. I shall leave you. To-morrow I shall go to the
Consul and tell him how you struck me!”

“You shall not leave this room. I am your master.”

“Lock the door, block up the window, bind me, guard me, I still will
find some way to let the Consul know. You shall be punished--I have
sworn it. I have had enough, I say. I shall return to England.”

“Your talk is madness! Have a care! The punishment is death for one
renouncing El Islâm. Say, is that your meaning? Your own slaves will
kill you!”

He put the question in blood-curdling tones. But Barakah, dissolved in
tears, made no rejoinder. A minute later he was once more at her side,
imploring mercy, declaring her his light of life, his pearl of pearls.
She still whimpered, “I shall tell the Consul.”

At last she fell into a troubled sleep.

When she woke again it was broad daylight; her coffee and a kind of
pancake, which composed her breakfast every morning, steamed upon a
tray beside her. Yûsuf had left the room. He came back presently,
and, kneeling down, implored her to forget his madness. Enjoying
her advantage in a listless way, she put on an exaggerated air of
feebleness, and moaned:

“You were too cruel. I shall tell the Consul.”

At that he sprang up as a man demented and rushed out. No sooner was
he gone than she relapsed to weeping, stricken by the curse of utter
helplessness which underlay her pitiful pretence at pride. To have been
beaten black and blue by Yûsuf would have been less ignominious than to
let the Consul know she was unhappy. She had walked into this guarded
life with open eyes, aware of the conditions which must thenceforth
fetter her existence, boasting love for them. The least complaint, much
more retreat, was thus impossible. Even in the heat of anger she had
had no real intention to go back. Yûsuf had enraged her, the mob upon
the previous day had frightened her exceedingly; but after all they
were her chosen people, though so strange. She could never come to hate
them as she did the English.

She rose at last with mind to go into another room. The door was
locked. Upon her trying it a slave-girl shouted:

“It is forbidden to go out. Does my lady require anything that I can
bring her?”

Barakah bit her lip and flushed as she turned back. Remembrance of her
boasting yesterday before those Englishwomen rose to taunt her.

A little sunlight entered through the lattice like gold-dust. The
gardener was at his work of watering--a lengthy process--assisted by
his little son and by Ghandûr, Fatûmah playing round and teasing
them. She heard their shouts and the familiar noises marking stages
of the work; and by degrees, as she sat idle, listening, a measure
of contentment came to her. Her troubles were of her own making; she
had tempted Providence by flouting rules she had herself accepted.
Henceforth, she vowed, she would be passive, of a boldness purely
speculative, like Gulbeyzah.

It was not very long before the room door opened, admitting Yûsuf
and his father, both with faces of concern. Saluting, in his courtly
way, the Pasha offered an unqualified apology for everything that
might displease her in the customs of the country. His son had told
him of the trouble which had come between them. It arose from a
simple and entirely pardonable misunderstanding, as he hoped at once
to demonstrate to her well-known intelligence, if she would pay him
the distinguished compliment of attending for a little moment to his
explanation.

With that, he crossed one leg beneath him on the sofa, a compromise
between the Eastern and the Western attitude, and began:

“I told you, if you will have the goodness to remember, when first
the question of a marriage with my son arose between us, that we had
stricter rules for the protection of our women than prevail in Europe.
I also told you that, those rules once honoured, a woman had all
freedom and consideration. I did wrong, I now perceive with infinite
regret, not to explain to you precisely the reason and the nature of
those rules; for, see, entirely owing to that fault of mine, you have
transgressed them innocently. I should like, if you permit it, to
expound their general tendency and benevolent intention.”

Barakah was sore abashed. The Pasha’s entrance, the intervention of
so dignified a person in a childish quarrel due to her misconduct,
overwhelmed her. At this point in his speech she interjected:

“Pardon! I did wrong, I know! But I had no idea ... I wore the habbarah
and mouth-veil. You had told me that a woman dressed like that was safe
from insult.”

“I spoke in too general a sense. It is my fault entirely. You sinned
through ignorance, and Yûsuf should not have been angry--though,
indeed, to our ideas your conduct was abominable.”

“But what wrong did I do, beyond going out without permission? Why did
the people on the road beset me? Oh, I am so miserable!”

The Pasha shrugged his shoulders with a smile to Yûsuf, as who should
say:

“Observe her innocence!”

“No, no, don’t cry, I beg of you!” he pleaded. “God be praised you have
derived no hurt from the adventure. It is entirely owing to respect
for you that I and my son are so concerned about it. Beloved daughter,
women are for us so sacred--the spirit of the house, the secret fount
of life--that we never even speak of them with friends for fear some
light word or unseemly thought should go towards them. Nothing must be
known of them, no talk made about them, outside the world of women and
our own harîm.

“Yesterday, by going out alone in an open carriage, you attracted
notice all unconsciously. Your habbarah is of a rich material, your
mouth-veil of the kind only worn by ladies of good houses. No such lady
would have gone abroad thus unattended. The servants of your English
friend would comment on the strange proceeding, and, knowing who you
were, think shame of us.

“But that is the least part of what you did. That, by itself, would
have been nothing. But you walked. Great God! What made you walk? That
is for me inexplicable!”

“I felt the wish to walk. It was a lovely evening.”

“Great God!” the Pasha gasped, with eyes upturned. “Does anybody walk
for pleasure here in Egypt? The natives have a proverb: ‘Better ride on
beetles than walk upon rich carpets.’ Well, well, there!” He shrugged
as giving up a hopeless puzzle. “You walked. A lady dressed as you were
had never been seen walking in this world before. More than that, you
did not walk like other people. Ghandûr informs me that the rascals who
beset you were all persuaded that you were a man dressed up. You say
you walked for pleasure in the dust?--and in a habbarah? Astonishing!

“So, you see now, Yûsuf was not angry altogether without cause. I trust
you will not now esteem it necessary to see the Consul, and produce a
scandal which I think would kill me.”

Thoroughly disgusted with her whole behaviour, Barakah began to sob
again.

“I never truly meant to go,” she blurted.

“I thank you infinitely,” said the Pasha grandly, again saluting as he
rose to go. “You relieve me of a terrible anxiety. Our house has never
known the breath of scandal.... But pleasure!--you assure me that you
walked for pleasure?” he gasped, reverting to the former wonder. “I
could understand it in a garden, round and round. But when it is a case
of going anywhere--Grand Dieu!”

That was a marvel which for weeks convulsed the harîm world. The Pasha
mentioned it at home. Within an hour the wondrous news was known to
every woman. The English bride of Yûsuf Bey Muhammad had walked from
such a house to such a crossways, all in thick dust, amid the crowd of
wayfarers--for pleasure, so she said! Insanity, a love appointment with
an Englishman, a touch of sunstroke, the insensibility to comfort of a
woman of coarse origin, were solutions of the riddle freely offered and
discussed. But the theory which found most favour for its probability
was that the Englishwoman was the sport of some malignant wizard or
afrît, who made her walk to show his power upon her.

Leylah Khânum and Gulbeyzah were the first to call and question her
upon the strange performance. They asked point-blank why she had
walked; and when she answered, “Just for exercise,” they eyed her in
a way that showed they thought her mad. Then came the throng of mere
acquaintances, not less curious, but infinitely too polite to ask a
question; who watched for symptoms of derangement through the flow
of compliments. The elderly princess, Amînah Khânum, alone showed
understanding and some sympathy.

“My dear,” she said, “you’ve set the parrots talking. Do you know that
‘durrah,’ which means fellow-wife, means parrot too? Bear that in mind.
Their tongues!--They fail to comprehend. They think you are bewitched
or mad. For me, your conduct was entirely natural. But I fancy you will
give up walking here in Egypt. Were not your clothes a mass of dust
beneath your habbarah? Whenever you are in a difficulty, come to me. I
have some jurisdiction, and I wish you happy.”

Barakah was far from happy in those days. For one thing, she had felt
the bars confining her. And then a vision of the English sneering
lurked ever in the background of her mind, a fount of gall. With Yûsuf
she was once more upon loving terms, and any differences that arose
between them came from her ill-temper. She was growing irritable.
The food, too highly spiced, did not agree with her; the sanitary
arrangements were disgusting; she noticed failings not observed before,
particularly in the behaviour of the servants to her.

At first, on coming to that nest of love, released from the
restrictions of a great harîm, her slave-girls had been lazy, but
obsequious. At that time the old woman had commanded them, relieving
Barakah, whose little knowledge of the language would have placed her
at their mercy. But now the crone had been dismissed; the servants,
with respect diminished by the quarrel they had witnessed, were grown
insolent and off-hand in their service. The child Fatûmah, who had been
a pet with Barakah, made rude grimaces and ran off when called.

One hot midday, feeling extremely ill, she called for water. There
came no answer, though she heard them chattering. She called again
and clapped her hands. Still no one came. The cruelty of such neglect
incensed her. With fevered strength she rose and went to scold them.
She met a slave arriving at her leisure. At the words, “Ready, O my
lady!” proffered with an undisguised yawn, she sprang upon the girl
and clutched her throat, exclaiming: “Bring water, dost thou hear, O
daughter of a dog! Bring water quickly!”

The slave, beholding murder in the lady’s eyes, made haste and ran.
Another girl looked in to learn the reason of the noise. Barakah picked
up an earthen jar and flung it at her head. The change was magical. In
a trice five several vessels full of water were being offered to her by
as many servile creatures; while Fatûmah snuggled up to her and kissed
her hand, receiving in return a box on the ear, which made her howl the
praises of her dear, kind mistress.

When Barakah returned to her own room she fainted, her borrowed
strength departing with her wrath. The servants, in a flutter of
solicitude, put her to bed, and sent Ghandûr to fetch the master. She,
knowing nothing of the flight of time, heard presently, as in a dream,
the Pasha saying:

“Call a European doctor! That dog must know that she has had the best
attendance!” and Yûsuf weeping uncontrollably. Then the next minute, as
it seemed to her, an English voice above her muttered: “Typhoid! Bound
to come, with native food.” That was the last she knew.



CHAPTER XIV


Ghandûr, had borne the summons to the Frankish doctor. Having delivered
it, he wandered to the Pasha’s house. A creature witless save for
love, existing by it, the kindness shown him by the lady Barakah had
raised her to the throne of Yûsuf in his mind. Her freak of walking
had imparted to his sentiments that touch of pity for one too innocent
to face the world which makes of service an angelic trust. He blamed
himself for the adventure. When he heard that she was in disgrace and
looking wan, he beat his breast. Now that she was like to die through
his demerits, his grief was such as caused him actual pains.

Upon arriving at Muhammad Pasha’s house, before he could divulge his
woe, he was informed:

“The lady Fitnah has been asking for thee. Go indoors, and wait while
they announce thee!”

He was standing in the hall, cocooned in sorrow, when a mob of children
burst through the mabeyn, as the great screen which bounds the women’s
realm is called, and fell upon him.

“Oh, Ghandûr, where hast thou been?”--“I have a new tarbûsh.”--“The
bitch beneath our windows has five puppies--blind, by Allah’s mercy!
Come and see!”--“My doll! Like a daughter of Adam--a bride arrayed--a
virgin--almost a sin for thee to look on! Come and see!”

Half weeping as he was, Ghandûr responded; and, unaware of his
preoccupation, the children led him towards the women’s doorway.

“Go in as far as to the second screen--no farther!” said the eunuch
there on guard.

Ghandûr was careful to obey; but his attendant imps, regarding all
authority as ground for sport, banded together suddenly and dragged
him on. He shook them off and drew back quickly; the eunuch came and
scattered them with swishing cane; and then the children, tumbling over
one another, began to fight among themselves with fearful insults.

“By my maidenhood, I swear to kill thee and devour thy liver!” screamed
out a girl of eight to a small boy who pushed against her.

“I will ravish thee, abandoned one, and then eject thee on a dunghill!”

The lady Fitnah from behind the screen cried out for order, naming
Hamdi, her own son, as probably the cause of tumult. The eunuch fell
upon that wayward, dreamy adolescent, whom Ghandûr did his utmost to
protect, for he was Yûsuf’s brother; while Fitnah Khânum asked what sin
she had committed to be punished with a boy so lazy and so mischievous.
She cared for Hamdi, but without indulgence. Her love was made a
whip-lash for his good. At last came silence, and Ghandûr poured forth
his grief.

“O Lord, have mercy! Woe upon us all! O most gracious lady, rare pearl
of beauty and refinement, companion of my dearest lord and brother!
Behold the glory of our house is in the dust.”

“By Allah, in the dust! Thou sayest truly!” scoffed the lady Fitnah.
“It is of that very business that I wish to speak with thee. What
is the truth about her walking in the dust, thou who wast with her?
Is it true that she had been alone with Frankish men? Was no man
following--didst thou look well?--when she walked off alone, rejecting
thee? Was not her chin upon her shoulder, and her gaze behind her,
ogling? Did I not well to rail against that marriage? Now it is clearly
proven that she has no modesty.”

“O my despair! O evil day! The fault is mine!” cried out Ghandûr,
beside himself. “Blame not her Grace; she is the noblest lady--as
innocent as is a babe; she thinks no evil. O bitter grief! O Allah! O
calamity!”

“Now Allah heal thee! It is plain she has bewitched thee too. She is
for all men, like the rest of her foul race--for strangers, servants,
donkey-drivers, even scavengers! Pray, pray to God till I bestow on
thee a charm of power!”

“Hush! Let him speak! Let Ghandûr tell his story!” cried a second
voice. Ghandûr became aware of other ladies pressing to the screen. He
lifted up his voice and wept.

“O lady, speak no bitterness against her. She lies this moment at the
point of death. Our house is as a tomb, a haunt of ominous owls. My
lord the Pasha frowns and looks distressful; my lord Yûsuf weeps as if
his heart would break. I myself have been to call a Frankish doctor,
who, on reading my lord’s message, rode off like the wind. Allah knows
the dear one may be dead this minute!”

He buried his face in his hands, while a hubbub of concern arose behind
the screen.

“O poor darling floweret! O despair!” wailed Yûsuf’s mother, all her
feelings turned right round. “What is her illness? Quick, describe! May
Allah heal her!”

“Fever--the worst sort!”

“I go at once to her.”

A sick-nurse of experience in charms and nostrums, the lady Fitnah
always quickened to the scent of illness and adored the sufferer. From
a creature hardly to be named by modest lips, the wife of Yûsuf was
become the apple of her eye Having sent an order for the carriage, she
went through her store of medicines, discoursing wisely to the other
ladies; while Ghandûr, retiring, heard from the attendant eunuch:

“Thou hast done it! We had word of this; Sawwâb was summoned. But the
command was, not to tell the ladies.”

He could only shrug.

Illness, like death and birth, was woman’s great occasion, when,
guarding the traditions, she stood forth as priestess. The whole harîm
was in a flutter of excitement.

“Gulbeyzah must come with us,” pronounced Fitnah Khânum, “because our
poor sick darling always loved her.”

The ladies Fitnah and Murjânah, the Pasha’s widowed sister and two
nieces, goodly persons, together with the well-grown, plump Gulbeyzah,
and a bundle of medicaments, including a whole plant of garlic and a
donkey’s thigh-bone, were all packed somehow into one close carriage.
The sun was setting when they reached the pleasure-house. The eunuch
went to herald their arrival; and all the ladies, nothing doubting
of their glad reception, freed themselves from the crushed mass they
formed together. They were shaking out and smoothing crumpled raiment
when the messenger returned to say they were refused admittance by
the doctor’s orders. The ladies stood stone-still and looked at one
another. Fitnah Khânum broke the silence.

“This is our son’s house! May Allah slay the doctor! Come, my sisters!”

Just then Sawwâb, chief eunuch of the guard, appeared, and barred the
entrance with the word “Forbidden!”

“Whose order, say?”

“The order of our lord.”

“Praise to Allah! That is better than the doctor. To hear is to obey,
though Allah knows that the command is wicked and against religion.
Tell thy master we shall lay a case before the Câdi.”

With this menace, which afforded her some satisfaction, Fitnah Khânum
turned back towards the carriage; and the work of packing those
redundant bodies was performed anew.

“Heard one ever the like? To hide our dearest from us at the point of
death! To keep a mother from a daughter’s sick-bed--a woman from a
woman! O Protector!”

The incident, when known, incensed the harîm world. The sick-room had
been woman’s temple from of old. To be forbidden access to the bedside
of a near relation appeared an outrage, even to the calm Murjânah. The
indignation of the slaves was riotous. The injured ladies received many
visits of condolence, when Fitnah Khânum’s lamentations were applauded
as the voice of right.

“O cruelty,” she sobbed. “To keep us from our darling, when she has
most need of us! The Frankish doctors are all monsters, hearts of
stone. It is known that they snatch dying people from their friends, to
practise on them, omitting even to return the bodies afterwards. They
may have skill, but many things they know not, being infidels. The pain
I suffer when I think of that sweet girl--the very liver of my darling
Yûsuf--lying senseless, an empty house for any demon to inhabit, and
not a charm put up for her protection, is excruciating!”

It is characteristic of the harîm life that, though the ladies were
thus irritated, near rebellion, no clear word of their grievance
reached the Pasha’s ear. There is a wall between the women and the man
more real than the mabeyn screen which man erected. The women raise it
to secure their privileges; the man, if he perceives it, cannot throw
it down. His anger meets with a subservience which foils its aim as
surely as loose sheets will stop a bullet. Even Murjânah, who adored
the Pasha, kept the harîm secret.

Fitnah Khânum had foretold that Barakah would die, thanks to the
ministrations of the Frankish doctor. When she heard that she was fast
recovering, she gave praise to Allah, who had saved her life in spite
of them. From wishing well to the sick woman, she had grown to love her
with all the strength of her impulsive, loyal nature.

The love she bore to Yûsuf was eclipsed. His neglect of her for weeks
was scarcely noticed. When at last he did appear, haggard but joyful,
her “Praise to Allah” was upon his wife’s account. She made him tell
her every detail of the doctor’s treatment, and vowed it was a miracle
the girl survived it. From him she learnt the reason of the Pasha’s
deference to every edict of that ignoramus. The English Consul had his
eye upon the house, watching to note that all was done correctly.

“Consume the Consul!” she exclaimed peremptorily.

“Our Lord consume him utterly!” said Yûsuf. “Yet for one boon I have
to thank him. My father, to propitiate him, gives command that I shall
visit Paris in the summer with my bride.”

“Allah forbid!” his mother screamed in horror. “Our pearl of pearls to
be exposed to vulgar handling, to be cast back into the mire from which
she was with pains extracted! Thou wilt not suffer her to go unveiled?
For shame, O Yûsuf! To let foul infidels survey thy secret joy.”

“Nay, she will veil her face as the Frenchwomen use.”

“Those veils are nothing, for the mouth is visible.”

“Our ladies wear them in that country to avoid publicity. Be reassured,
my mother; we shall guard the decencies. My father grumbles greatly at
the cost, but vows that he will show the Consul we are not fanatical.
We go to see the dog tomorrow, to tell him all that we have done for
her.”

But on the morrow Yûsuf and his father met with cruel disconcertion.
The Consul welcomed them and listened to their story with politeness,
but at its end he murmured blandly:

“I altogether fail to see how this concerns me, though highly honoured
by your visit and your confidence. The lady is, no doubt, extremely
fortunate.”

Muhammad Pasha, flushing hotly, licked his lips as might a panther, and
glanced sidelong at his son. He offered a profusion of excuses as he
rose to go. The Consul answered, “Always charmed!” and smiled them out.

“May the All-Powerful corrupt his bones and blind him! May the
All-Merciful frustrate his heart’s desire!” exclaimed the Pasha as
the two regained their carriage. “It seems he has deceived us, has
renounced all claim. Here have I spent more than I can afford--coined
money, hard to come by--what with her establishment, this doctor and
the nursing, and that trip to Paris, which cannot now be dropped, for I
have boasted of it; and lo! the dog cares nothing for my trouble. May
his limbs rot off!”

“May Allah cut his life!” said Yûsuf savagely.

The women never heard that tale of shame.



CHAPTER XV


With the return of reason a new spirit came to Barakah. At the moment
of her seizure she had been exasperated with her Eastern life. She
awoke to rapture in it, to impatience of the European nurse and
doctor. The smell of them, as they leaned over her, was an offence;
their voices jarred so that often she would hide her head beneath the
bed-clothes to shut out the sound.

On the other hand, she listened eagerly to noises out of doors--the
creak of the shadûf which tipped up water on the garden, the
camel-bells, the chant of passing funerals; she watched the sunlight
stud with gems the inky lacework of her lattice, and eagerly inhaled
the breeze which entered; and Yûsuf’s daily visits were her joy. In
the forest of distorted memories through which her soul had wandered
friendless like a ragged child, the Europeans she encountered had
reviled her; the love of Yûsuf and his people had been all her hope.

In the hunger which distressed her convalescence, the growing
disaffection for a diet all of milk, her fancy pictured feasts of
Eastern dishes, English cookery appearing loathsome in the memory.
Strangest of all, she could now think in Arabic, of which, before her
illness, she had scarce a sentence.

As soon as she had licence to see visitors, the Pasha’s harîm came
in force to greet her. The lady Fitnah fell upon her in a transport
of affection, and she responded with entire abandonment, thankful to
have at last the love of Yûsuf’s mother. The elderly princess, Amînah
Khânum, and other ladies of importance, paid her visits and, as her
health improved, carried her off to their own houses--not for an hour,
but for whole days together. There, in the perfumed shade, she was
enthroned with cushions, fanned and sprinkled, nourished delicately,
and sung to sleep when she showed signs of weariness. The sense of
frailty and of worth was exquisite. She was content to be the guarded
pet, and let them plan; regarding them as beings of a higher race,
with whom it would be vanity to try to cope. Their freedom from the
sentimental mists of Europe helped this feeling, and so did their bold
vision of existence, blinking nothing. The potential cruelty which
lurked beneath their gentleness subdued her; the way they talked of
death habitually made her feel a timid child.

Thus, with the body pampered and the mind enslaved, she studied and
observed their life, completely fascinated. The world of women was,
she found, a great republic, with liberties extending to the meanest
slave, and something of the strength which comes of solidarity. Unless
in jealous fury, no woman would inform against another, bond or free;
nor fail to help her in the hour of need. They had their shibboleths,
their customs, rites, and ceremonies, even their courts of justice,
independent of the world of men. Each lady owning slaves controlled
them absolutely. Her husband never saw their faces, hardly knew them.
The law against his making love among them, except by her command, was
very drastic. The child of such a union would have been her slave. If
he required a concubine, he had to buy, not steal one. So sacred with
the Muslims was the married woman’s right to property--a right which
was not recognized at all in England Occasionally Barakah heard talk of
cruelties which chilled her blood; but her friends excused them on the
ground of anger, which was for them a visitation from on high. The very
victims, they assured her, never felt as she did.

One feature of the harîm life which shocked her was the equalling of
black with white. The Muslim faith disowning all race prejudice, a
strain of negro blood appeared in the best families; and any negro
having fortune was esteemed as marriageable as the fairest Turk. Then
the black slaves, though less regarded because they cost less than the
white Circassians, possessed great influence, particularly in the
article of superstition, which they quite controlled. Weeds from the
heathen Soudan, brought to Cairo in the convoy of the slave-dealer,
luxuriated in that tank of guarded ignorance; and many an enlightened
Muslim would have died of horror had he known the works of darkness
countenanced by his harîm--the sacrifices to malignant beings; the
veneration paid to hoary negresses for demoniacal possession; the use
to which the name of God was sometimes put. To Barakah, however, in
those early days, such fancies--what she heard of them--seemed merely
comic. She ranked them with the women’s playfulness, their funny
stories. She was enamoured of their life as she conceived it, enslaved
and thrilled by its unblushing candour. This was the season of her real
conversion, which reached its climax on a certain morning, when she was
carried in a guarded litter to the citadel to witness the departure
of the yearly pilgrimage. From a place reserved for ladies on the
ramparts she beheld the troops, the guilds of dervishes, defile before
the Khedive’s tent, and then the great procession wind away. Fanfares
sounded, cannons roared, and from the multitude which hid the square
and covered every roof and balcony in sight, beading with heads the
very summits of the citadel, a sigh went up.

Barakah was in an ecstasy. When her eyes wearied of the flash and
movement, she surveyed the vast blue sky, the coloured, sunlit walls,
the minarets where doves were circling. She pictured the long journey
of the pilgrims, on the shining sea, across the burning sands, to the
eternal sanctuary. What scene in Christian Europe could be matched with
this? Religion, but a mummy there, here lived and moved.

Returning home, she felt a craving to unbosom, and bethought her of
a girl in England, once her friend. She called for ink and pens,
and wrote forthwith to Julia Long, recounting her changed fortunes,
and extolling Egypt. She described the scene she had that morning
witnessed, and concluded:

  “Julia darling, you will think it strange, but I am sure that
  this religion is the true one. Here every woman has a chance to
  marry, and the accidents of wealth and birth are not the barriers
  they are at home. Polygamy is not at all what people think. The
  Moslems are as strict as Puritans about morality; and the women
  here are happier than those at home. Europe has gone all wrong,
  and so has Christianity. Here we believe in Jesus just as you
  do: we know that His religion is the true one; but St. Paul
  and others after him corrupted it. Do think of this, and learn
  about Mahometanism. I would give anything that you might find
  the happiness that I have found. My husband will be taking me to
  Paris at the end of June. Do try and join us there. We will pay
  all expenses.

  “With true affection from your old friend

                                        { Madame Yousouf Bey Mohamed,
                                  “MARY { c/o Mohamed Pasha Sâlih,
                                        { Cairo, Egypt.”

This letter was read out to Yûsuf in the evening. He applauded it,
and vowed she had a natural gift of eloquence. He asked for a minute
description of her friend, seeming much pleased to think that they
would meet in Paris; and when Barakah had satisfied him to the best of
her remembrance, chuckled:

“And you love her? Then you would not object to have her for your
durrah!”

She warned him archly that she could be jealous.

Barakah called often on the lady Fitnah, who just now was in high
feather, having been commissioned by Murjânah Khânum to find out
a husband for the latter’s slave, Gulbeyzah. At once she sent out
go-betweens in all directions, threads of a gigantic web, in which she
sat and waited. Flies soon came--ladies with eligible sons or husbands
needing matrimony--whose claims the shrewd Egyptian sifted, smelling
out the slightest fraud. Barakah was interested in these doings,
naturally, seeing they concerned the welfare of her closest friend.

Murjânah Khânum wished to emancipate a charming slave and place her in
a good position, at the same time seeking some remuneration for her
previous outlay. She appointed Fitnah Khânum her intendant. Those were
the naked facts. But the word “price” was never mentioned in discussion
of the subject; it was always “dowry,” of which a third part would be
paid, of course, to the bride’s people. Gulbeyzah was referred to as a
cherished daughter of the house; her wishes were consulted with regard
to each proposal; and no one was annoyed when she seemed hard to please.

“Thou art like Leylah Khânum,” whispered Barakah. “Thou wilt choose and
choose away till none are left.”

“By no means,” was the laughing answer. “I am a young maid. Moreover,
it is not the man I stickle for; it is society.”

Whenever ladies whom she did not choose came to inspect her, Gulbeyzah
donned a rustic air and talked to shock them. Barakah had no idea of
what she meant when saying she required society, until one day she told
her:

“Praise to Allah! Only think, beloved! Three Circassians, young like
me, from the same district! Their lord--a Pasha of the richest--wants
another like them. They are gratified. I have been recommended. They
come to-day for my inspection. Thou shalt see them presently, as also
a Gulbeyzah no one ever saw before. O day of milk! O wave-crest of all
days!”

Barakah had been summoned by the ladies and a carriage sent for her.
Gulbeyzah had waylaid her on the way to the reception-room.

“But what of the man--the husband?” she inquired.

“Splendid! Rich and generous; impartial as the prophet in division of
his favours. If God wills, I shall bear him children. What more could
girl require? Think--four of us, like sisters! Four pearls strung
together, and inseparable! Thou wilt visit us, and we shall all four
love thee dearly. O joy! Now go! I will rejoin thee presently.”

The clack of tongues was heard from the reception-room. Before the
door stood rows of coloured slippers. All the dependants of the
household, all the go-betweens, had rallied to support the ladies on a
great occasion. Hardly had Barakah concluded greetings ere the three
Circassians were announced. They were all charming, and all bore, she
fancied, some resemblance to Gulbeyzah in their childlike faces and
huge eyes. They had pretty, deferential manners, seeming to speak by
pre-arrangement and to think in concert, obedient to some rule which
bound them, just like nuns. They were still amid the storm of formal
compliments when Gulbeyzah entered clad in soft apparel, and paused as
if in awe at finding strangers. Then, blushingly, she went and kissed
their hands, going on to kiss the hands of all the ladies present. In
so doing she gave Barakah a little bite, and when her tour was ended
sank down humbly at her feet.

“They will unmask thee. Thou canst never keep this up for life,” the
Englishwoman whispered.

“By Allah! only look!” was the reply. “They too are acting. See now,
the plump one: there is inward mirth.”

The visitors, impressed by her demeanour, put certain questions, which
she answered to the point. It appeared that she could dance and sing;
spoke Turkish, Arabic, and some Armenian. At mention of French also,
they raised hands and eyes, declaring her a perfect prodigy. They then
addressed her in their native dialect, when sudden smiles broke up
their shy decorum. Turning to the hostesses, they asked forgiveness for
employing private speech. They had but asked the dear one of her native
village, and smiled to hear that it adjoined their own. They begged for
leave to call again, which meant the bargain was acceptable; and then
withdrew with every blessing on the house.

No sooner had they vanished than Gulbeyzah threw off her demureness
and performed with energy a naughty dance which terminated in a sudden
swoop to clasp Murjânah Khânum’s feet. Her mistress bent and kissed her
forehead tenderly; the lady Fitnah was convulsed with glee; the humbler
women gave forth wedding-cries. And the cause of all this joy, the
object of that motherly consideration, was a slave! In Europe, people
thought of slaves as miserable. Here was a story to be told to Julia
Long.

“O disappointment! Thou wilt be in Paris! Thou wilt miss my wedding!”
cried Gulbeyzah suddenly. “Yûsuf Bey should take some low girl with him
since he needs must go. It is sinful to expose thy worth to risks of
travel.”

“Have I not told him?” cried the lady Fitnah. “The world will be quite
black when she is gone. A girl for whom his father paid three thousand
pounds. It is absurd to fling her into boats and filthy trains.”

Barakah smiled at their desire to keep her, thinking with rapture of
the coming talks with Julia. She had not then had Julia’s answer to her
letter. It arrived within a fortnight of the time of starting.

  “ ... How can you write such wickedness?... I heard that you had
  married a Turk, but thought of course he was converted.... I do
  not envy you your riches nor your rank at such a price!... No, I
  will not join you in Paris, and abet you in your infamy. I banish
  your most impious suggestions from my thoughts for ever.... I am
  poor and shall remain so; but I have incalculable treasure....”

She crumpled up the closely written sheets, then flung them on the
ground and stamped upon them. Yûsuf found her weeping uncontrollably,
and asked the cause.

“Then their women are fanatical like ours!” he sighed when told. “Take
heart, O fountain of my life! By Allah, such a friend is not worth
weeping. We will none the less enjoy ourselves in Paris.”

“I have no wish to go at all,” sobbed Barakah.



CHAPTER XVI


Ghandûr attended Yûsuf in the train to Alexandria, and accompanied
the pair on board the steamer. Kissing hands at parting he wept
uncontrollably, and in that condition was propelled by sailors to the
boat awaiting him. Barakah would have liked to stand and watch the
harbour, which offered charming pictures in the evening glow; but Yûsuf
drew her down into a stuffy cabin, where he left her, bidding her
secure the door against intrusion. He told her she must take her meals
down there, since there was no separate dining-room assigned to women.
Directly afterwards his voice resounded in the corridor, with others
talking Arabic, by which she knew that he had friends on board.

A stewardess knocked at her door, bringing her supper, which consisted
of a single dish of meat and vegetables. By then the pulse of engines
could be felt; there was a noise of running overhead, shouts, and the
clank of chains; the ship was moving. Having made an end of eating,
she retired to bed and, being tired, went to sleep immediately. The
slamming of the door by Yûsuf partly roused her. She could hear
him swearing, asking Allah to be put on shore, and knew that he was
sea-sick; but it seemed no matter. Next morning, as the sea was rather
rough, she kept her bunk until eleven o’clock, when she got up and put
on English clothes she had brought with her. Yûsuf, more dead than
living, asked what for.

“I go to smell the air.”

He sobbed: “With face exposed! Behold me dead, while dogs defile my
grave.”

Supposing his mind wandered--for she wore the English veil which
he himself had said would be sufficient after leaving Egypt--she
found her way on to the deck and spent an hour there, pacing up and
down, enjoying the strong wind. When she returned to Yûsuf he was
inarticulate. She stayed with him until the evening, when she went on
deck again for a few minutes before turning in. It was five days before
the gale abated.

At length one morning they awoke to ease of movement, and Yûsuf rose.
His smile was tentative at first, but soon grew confident. “I could
not tell thee for my sickness,” he informed her, “but there are common
people of our faith on board. I would not have their talk asperse my
wife. It mattered less while I myself made no appearance. No doubt they
took thee for some Frankish woman. But now keep close in here. Wait
till we get to Fransa.”

Without waiting for her answer, he went out. But in a minute he was
back again, exclaiming:

“The wife of Hâfiz Bey, my friend, lies near to death! Come thou and
see what can be done for her, and God reward thee! Put on thy habbarah.
My friend will guide thee.”

It was the first time he had spoken of his friends to her. She followed
him and was presented to a fat, good-tempered-looking youth, exceeding
swarthy, clad in a European suit too tight for him, who apologized in
baby French for thus “deranging” her. He opened the door of an adjacent
cabin, bowed her in, and then retreated arm in arm with Yûsuf.

It was a two-berth cabin. In the lower bunk a buxom girl of eighteen
years or less--a perfect blonde--lay with her eyes closed, making moan
with every breath. The childish face was flushed, discoloured round the
eyes with weeping; the hands clenched. Whatever her complaint, it was
not sea-sickness.

“How is thy health?” the visitor asked softly.

“O Lord! I die! I perish! O fresh air! O sun!” gasped out the sufferer.
“O Allah! Was I born a fish to be thus thrown upon the sea--a snake, to
be imprisoned in this box?”

“Be brave! The voyage is now almost ended. In two days or three, at
most, we are released. Tell me thy pains! What ails thee?”

The prostrate beauty opened great blue eyes of injured innocence and
asked: “Who art thou?”

“I am the wife of Yûsuf Bey, thy husband’s friend.”

“The Englishwoman!” She sat up and clung to Barakah. “How canst thou
bear it, thou, an honoured wife! Will not thy parents take account for
the indignity? Oh, end my life, I pray thee; it is unendurable!”

Slowly, by force of patience, Barakah elicited that the girl, by name
Bedr-ul-Budûr, a pet slave of the mother of young Hâfiz Bey, had been
presented to him for his comfort on this journey, since his bride, of
high ideas, refused to travel. She had been a little frightened in the
train, a new experience, but much elated till she came on board this
ship and felt the sea. Then she realized that she had been beguiled,
defrauded, enticed to an undignified and hideous death. Hiccuping sobs
broke in upon her narrative, which ended in a storm of tears.

Barakah tried to soothe her mind with cheerful talk, depicting all the
charms of life in Paris.

“Thy voice is sweetness!” she entreated. “Stay with me! Turn out my
consort: let him house with thine. What does one want with men when one
is dying?”

Going out on that injunction, Barakah found Hâfiz and her husband
waiting close at hand. The former, greatly scared by his companion’s
illness, was prepared for any sacrifice to save her life; and Yûsuf
raising no objection, Barakah’s effects were moved into the other
cabin, while Hâfiz took his baggage to the “house of Yûsuf,” as he
called it, jesting.

Bedr-ul-Budûr gave praise to Allah. The presence of a lady of
acknowledged standing relieved her of the sense of singular and base
ill-treatment, which was all her illness.

At length the ship stood still and filled with voices. It was night.
The men called from the corridor to warn them that the landing would
take place at the third hour next morning. Thus bidden, they took out
their Frankish garments and compared them.

Barakah’s were old, of sober hue. Bedr-ul-Budûr’s brand-new and
something garish. They slept but little, talking through the night.

When Barakah had finished dressing in the early morning, her companion,
waking, screamed with horror at the English veil.

“Merciful Allah! It is dreadful. It hides nothing. It is what the
wantons wear. Wait but a minute! I have more than one. I will provide
thee. My kind princess advised me what was right to wear.”

Tumbling out of her berth, Bedr-ul-Budûr found in her box a fold of
thick white gauze, which she proceeded to throw round the face of
Barakah, attaching it to the bonnet with two little brooches.

“By Allah, that is better!” she remarked, and then gave all her mind to
her own dressing.

When this was finished, her appearance smote the eye. Her bonnet was
sky-blue, the thick white veil depending from it like a curtain, her
dress a lively pink, her stockings white, her boots and gloves bright
yellow, shining in their newness; she had a pale blue parasol adorned
with frills of lace.

“The Franks wear many colours,” she remarked to Barakah, adding with
childish wonder, “Why are yours so dull?... By Allah, I feel naked in
the middle.”

So did Barakah. To one accustomed to go shrouded, a dress which
emphasized the hips and bust seemed vile at first.

Yûsuf and Hâfiz fetched them up on deck, where they found two more
ladies garishly arrayed, and two more men in French-made suits and
fezes.

After the introduction all stood awkwardly, gaping like children who
have lost remembrance of their part. Barakah, to ease the strain,
remarked to Hâfiz Bey upon the beauty of the morning, the bustle of
the harbour of Marseilles; but his response was marred by evident
embarrassment; his eyes kept veering round to look at Yûsuf, whom he
soon rejoined. The ladies formed a group apart, in titters at each
other’s odd appearance. Presently a man, clad as a Frank, approached
with Arab greetings. He kissed the hand of Hâfiz Bey, who welcomed him.
It seemed he had been warned by letter to prepare the way for them.

“All is ready, lords of bounty!” he exclaimed. “Deign but to follow me,
the ladies with you.”

The drive along the quays through noisy streets to the hotel, the
breakfast which their guide assured them had been cooked and chosen
in accordance with religious law, were trammelled by constraint, and
went off sadly. Only in the train, where they were separated, each sex
enjoying a reserved compartment, did conversation flow. Among the women
it was soon uproarious. They talked and laughed half through the night,
appealing constantly to Barakah, a European born, for information. The
appearance of the men at every station, to ascertain that they were
well, produced a hush; but no sooner were the despots gone again than
the mad talk and laughter raged anew.

At length they tired and tried to rest. They cursed the narrowness of
the divans, the work of devils. When morning came, Bedr-ul-Budûr was
at the point of death once more, asking her Maker what she had done to
earn such disrespectful treatment; while Barakah, beside the window,
looking out at Christian villages, was haunted by remembrance and grew
sad.

The sun had long been up when they reached Paris. Yûsuf and Hâfiz,
Bedr-ul-Budûr and Barakah, packed in one cab, were driven with a
rattle through tumultuous streets to the hotel where rooms had been
engaged for them. The hostess, a stout woman elegantly dressed in
black, and the entire staff stood out to welcome them. The woman bowed
incessantly, addressing Yûsuf and his friend as “Monseigneur.” Finding
that Barakah knew French she drew to her and poured a smooth flow of
amenities into her ear.

“Madame has only to command--all that she desires. The nobility of the
Orient are our most valued clients. Should madame require conversation,
I am always at her service. The princes come to Paris for diversion,
that is understood. Young men so rich! They must amuse themselves! But
then their ladies must not find the life too sad.”

Thus prattling, she conducted them upstairs and flung open a door,
exclaiming: “Voila!” Crossing the landing to another door, she flung
that open also. “Voila!” she cried again. Bedr-ul-Budûr, so tired that
she could hardly drag her feet up, chose the left-hand room, which
happened to be nearest. Yûsuf and Barakah proceeded to the other.
Both parties ordered coffee and some light refreshment, and after
breakfasting went straight to bed. They rested until evening, when the
men went out to find their friends, whose lodging was close by. They
returned with sundry purchases, hats, gloves, and scarves, which they
declared they needed for complete disguise.

On the next morning the whole party, in two carriages, went out to
smell the air and view the city. It was a cloudless day and the streets
sparkled, the trees along the boulevards were like fat green posies.
They were feeling happy when, in an important thoroughfare, they
discovered people pointing at them, drivers shouting. Yûsuf and his
seat companion Hâfiz grew uncomfortable. Cries of amazement reached
them from the other carriage. Their cabman turned round with a grin and
told them:

“‘Place aux dames,’ messieurs!--That is what they cry. These ladies are
not slaves with us, que diable!”

The two men had been lounging in the roomy seat which faced the horse.
They at once resigned it, addressing bows and smiles of deference to
the angry multitude; and called out to their friends to do the like.
But the incident destroyed their pleasure in the drive; nor were the
ladies happy in the seat of honour, a gazing-stock for infidels who
might possess the evil eye.

“Saw one ever such fanaticism?” groaned Yûsuf. “And they call this
country free--a place where every one does what he likes!”

That afternoon was spent in the hotel in a strange manner; Barakah,
at the demand of Yûsuf, instructing the four men in foreign customs.
They posed and pirouetted in her salon, rehearsing bows, the flourish
of a hat, the proper compliments; while the three girls looked on with
saucer eyes. After dinner they again appeared before her, this time
without their fezes, wearing hats which gave to them a very villainous
and sleek appearance. Required to criticize their dress and bearing
from a Frankish standpoint, she suggested some improvements which were
hailed with gratitude. Yûsuf returned home after midnight, tired but
garrulous. It seemed that they had lighted on a charming Frenchman,
who undertook to show them all the sights. Next day the men rose late
and then went out together, leaving the women to their own devices;
returned to dinner, then went off again, remaining out this time till
nearly morning.

The programme did not vary on succeeding days. The girls, deserted,
clung to Barakah. They wailed and prayed to God, and dreamed of Cairo.
At length one of them--it was Bedr-ul-Budûr--took courage to reproach
her lord; when all four men were stricken with amazement. They had
thought the ladies would be gay indoors without them, as they were at
home. To cheer them up, a trip to Versailles was arranged. It passed
off gaily, with less shyness than usually appeared when they all mixed
together. As they strolled about the park, a youth named Izz-ud-dîn
made up to Barakah, and with the greatest diffidence implored her to
confide to him the secret how to win the love of Frankish ladies. When
she smilingly assured him there was none, he cried:

“O Lord of Heaven! Then thou wilt not tell it. They are so easy to
their own men, as we know from books; to us so difficult. It cannot be
fanaticism, since we seem as Franks.”

“But what need hast thou of women, with a pearl of beauty here beside
thee?” questioned Barakah.

“One who has beheld thy loveliness must evermore desire the like of it!
Oh, that thou hadst a sister for me!” he made answer glibly.

He moved away, but presently another came and made the same
preposterous request, retreating with the same forced compliment; and
on the journey home, when Yûsuf closed his eyes and seemed to sleep,
Hâfiz Bey, whom she had thought more sensible, approached her in his
turn. When she denied all knowledge of the matter he answered in low
tones:

“There is a secret, that is known, by Allah. Thou hast it, and hast
given hints to Yûsuf; else why should he be more successful than the
rest of us?”

“Because he is better looking,” it was on the tip of her tongue to say,
as she surveyed the fat, good-tempered face of Hâfiz with its Chinese
eyes. It was all that she could do to keep from screams of laughter.

“It is my dream,” he whispered. “By Allah it disturbs my nights with
cruel pain--to take a lady just like thee in all respects--a Frank and
noble, of extreme refinement--back with me to Masr.”

She derided him. He still continued pleading, supporting his petition
with the grossest flattery, till they reached home, when Yûsuf
suddenly sprang up and glowered at Hâfiz. He had been feigning sleep.
It was a thunderbolt. Bedr-ul-Budûr screamed warning to her lord, who
gave but a single look and fled indoors, the jealous one pursuing like
a madman. In the hall the harmless youth was overtaken and turned round
to plead. With a howl of “Dog!” Yûsuf sprang at his throat and bore
him to the ground. Like dogs in very truth they fought till parted by
the hotel servants with the help of broomsticks; while Barakah strove
in vain to make her explanation heard; Bedr-ul-Budûr appealed to Allah
and the prophet; and the landlady from the third step of the stairs,
with hands and eyes thrown up, exclaimed repeatedly: “O ciel! C’est
monseigneur!”



CHAPTER XVII


Half an hour later Yûsuf and Hâfiz were in each other’s arms, sighing
gustily and rocking to and fro in the ecstasy of reconciliation.
Barakah had explained things to her husband in the interim, taking him
to task severely for his savage conduct. To be thought uncivilized
had always been his dread, and just then, with red eyes and all
dishevelled, a-quiver from the fray, he stood convicted. With repentant
tears he ran to ask forgiveness of his late antagonist.

It was decided that they twain, with their respective consorts, should
spend the evening quietly in Yûsuf’s room; in pursuance of which
resolution they had supped together, and Bedr-ul-Budûr, who owned
a lute, was going to sing, when a card was brought to Hâfiz by the
chamber-maid. He frowned and clenched his teeth as he examined it.

“It is the Prince, my uncle!” he exclaimed. “He has been told our
whereabouts; it must be by my father, since we have been careful not to
call on any of the Turks in Paris. O Calamity! My uncle is correct and
cold, a madman who condemns all pleasure.”

With haste he sent his concubine into her own apartment, while Yûsuf
hustled Barakah into the dressing-room and locked the door. No would-be
Franks received the exiled Prince, but a pair of ceremonious Orientals,
with fezes carried at the most respectful angle, who strove with one
another to be first to kiss his hand.

The Prince was a tremendous talker. A scion of the ruling house of
Egypt, enduring banishment for his political opinions, he began upon
the state of that unhappy country for which he saw no hope save in
a European form of government. He wished the young men to attend
the meetings of his club, “the Friends of Progress,” at a café on
the Boulevard des Italiens; and the young men swore to do so on the
first evening they could spare from the study of French thought and
institutions which at present took up every minute of their time.

From national affairs the Prince passed on to household matters,
advocating education for all women and promotion to an equal rank with
men. At this his nephew cried:

“We think as you do, having each a lady whom we treat precisely in the
Frankish manner. Yûsuf here present has espoused a noble Englishwoman,
who instructs us. Introduce her, Yûsuf, since my uncle shares our
views.”

Barakah expected her release, which she had long desired, for the
Prince’s voice was wonderfully sweet and winning, and she burned
with curiosity to see his face. But the talk sheered off from her.
The Prince, resenting the intrusion of a concrete instance on ideas,
rebuked the young men sternly, causing both to cringe.

“You mistake my meaning,” he informed them. “God forbid that I should
wish our ladies to resemble closely those of Europe. If you desire
that, you are very foolish. The harîm life, or something like it, is
the best for women. It only needs reform and elevation. It is a system
founded on the laws of God expressed in nature, whereas the European
way of treating women has no sanction. The latter seems entirely
meretricious when one sees how ladies here make sport of marriage and
shun motherhood--how children flout and override their parents. If the
understanding of our women were improved, their status raised, I think
our way would be acknowledged better by impartial judges. No, all that
I would borrow from the Franks would be a weapon. They excel us in
mechanical contrivances, in practical education, and in method. These
gifts I covet, for with equal weapons we should be their masters; our
Faith exceeding any motive power which they possess.”

He went on talking in this strain till nearly midnight, when he left
abruptly. Barakah was then let out of her dark prison. Alone with
Yûsuf, she inquired his real opinion of the Prince’s views, which
seemed to her inspiring.

“Like pitch! Like dung!” he answered in the vulgar speech of Egypt.
“The production of ideas is an amusing pastime. It is strange, the
things a man can think of if he applies his mind to it. And when a
Prince is speaking one admires, of course; though this one is a madman
who has lost a fine position and will lose his life merely for love of
argument. What we are and do belongs to Allah. No thinking or wild talk
affects it, praise to Him!”

He seemed glad to change the subject. Putting his arm round Barakah,
he begged her in seductive tones to confide to him the secret about
Frankish women.

“It is not for myself I ask,” he whispered fondly; “but Hâfiz,
Izz-ud-dîn, and Saïd die to know. Where are these balls at which
distinguished women fling aside all shame? We have been to dances, but
the women there are base and ribald, showing none of that refinement in
depravity which charms the mind in writings of this country.”

In vain did she assure him that good Frankish women were every whit as
moral as good Orientals.

“We have their books for testimony,” was his answer. And again he told
her: “It is for my friends I plead. I myself, as is well known, desire
thee only.”

The women were left more and more alone, the private explorations
of their lords bereaving them by day as well as night. Barakah did
her best to entertain them. Together with the landlady she planned
excursions, and took them to the ateliers where modes are created. But
the sense of desolation dogged them everywhere. Scenes which they might
have viewed with pleasure had their lords been faithful, encounters
which might then have given them a thrill of mischief, appeared
heart-rending in their luckless state. The very gaiety of the Parisian
streets seemed gruesome. If a man in passing touched them they were
seized with trembling, and once or twice came very near to fainting
from pure shame; and their terror was intense at passing unknown
doorways, though the landlady assured them there was not the slightest
danger.

Their haunting fear was lest male unbelievers should abduct them; still
more, perhaps, lest they should come to wish for such a fate--the most
appalling that could be imagined for a Muslim woman. Bedr-ul-Budûr
declared she knew a girl who, married to an infidel, brought forth
black beetles--“not one, but thousands! millions!”--she related
graphically--which at length devoured her. Such stories were received
with acclamation, as justifying the extreme abhorrence which they felt
for Frenchmen. And Barakah, though she tried to reason with them,
shared their feelings in some measure, dismayed by the vulgarity of
Western life. When, added to all this, it rained for five days in
succession, her friends resigned their cause to God and ceased to
worry, while she herself grew thoroughly despondent.

The girls shrugged shoulders at the sinful folly of their owners, now
too far gone in dissipation to endure reproaches.

“It is a malady, a madness,” said Bedr-ul-Budûr, with resignation.
“It is the air of infidelity in this accursed city. We did wrong to
travel unprovided with the antidote, which must be known to sages and
obtainable. It is bad enough for us, but what of Barakah--a chief wife,
a great lady? How can she endure it?”

Barakah did at last think fit to make a protest. One night and early
morning she sat up for Yûsuf, and her reproaches met with a success
which startled her. He wept aloud and flung himself upon the floor. His
face was ghastly. When questioned, he confessed that he had sinned most
foully, having that night consumed so much abomination that on his way
home he had been struck down by God with awful sickness and had nearly
died. He swore that none but devils lived in Paris, and implored her to
transport him back to Egypt.

A picture seen the previous morning in a shop upon the boulevard had
roused in Barakah the wish to visit Switzerland. She longed to walk by
forest streams, beneath great mountains, in solitude, with keen, cool
breezes to restore her spirits.

“Paris is not the whole of Europe,” she informed him gently. “There
are scenes of famous beauty which we ought to visit. Take me to
Switzerland!”

“At once!” he cried. “This very day now dawning! By Allah, I would go
to Gebel Câf with thee alone to get away from Paris.”

She bade him tell his friends to treat their women better, which he
swore to do; and directly after breakfast took him out, while his
resolve was eager, to obtain money from the bank where he had credit,
and buy tickets to Geneva, the first name occurring to her. She was
glad that she had taken this precaution when, later in the day, she saw
his purpose weaken. The tickets actually bought alone sustained it, for
he had the Oriental’s shrewd regard for money’s worth. That night they
spent in the train, both cherishing sensations of deliverance, though
those of Barakah were chequered by the vision of three weeping girls,
who at the moment of departure had embraced her knees and tried to hold
her.

Their Alpine tour, however, was of short duration. Yûsuf was contented
in Geneva, giving praise to Allah for the vast supply of drinking
water. But when, at her suggestion, they moved on to Chamounix, his
feeling changed. His face went green as on that night in Paris. His
nostrils and his eyes distended to their utmost, reminding the observer
of a frightened horse. The sight of the great mountains closing in
and hanging over him oppressed his soul with terror which was not
diminished by the occurrence in the hour of their arrival of a dreadful
thunderstorm. When he saw the numbers of the visitors he gasped and
questioned: “Come these here for pleasure? Is it possible? A place
so frightful, so appalling, like Gehennum! If one came with a large
company, with music and loud songs that never ceased, and kept his eyes
shut all the time, it might be bearable; supposing one were forced to
do it, for some crime ... For pleasure, sayest thou? What pleasure can
they find?”

“They walk and climb the mountains. They love Nature. And the air is
excellent.”

“By Allah, wild beasts! Human beings are more sensitive. How can they
love Nature who approve her in most horrid mood? It is evident that
God Most High designed such scenes for a warning and a menace, to be
shunned. Yet these applaud. They are utterly devoid of feeling. May Our
Lord destroy them!”

A prey to panic, he no longer heard her arguments. His one desire was
to rejoin his friends as soon as might be, to see once more the visage
of a true believer; and two days later they were back in Paris.

Barakah’s return was hailed with rapture by the hapless girls, who had
not ventured out of doors during her absence. Things, they declared,
were even worse than ere she left, their men more shameless. Yûsuf
had sworn beforehand to discountenance nocturnal outings, and for the
first two days he kept his word; though Hâfiz and the others begged
her to release him from it, protesting that their occupations were
most innocent. Indeed, their childlike zest in evil-doing so resembled
innocence that she felt cruel when refusing, as if denying babies some
small pleasure. But on the third day Yûsuf came to her, with worried
frown, and said:

“Hâfiz and the rest, I fear, are going much too far. I feel responsible
for them, since we are all one party. They do not tell me all their
pranks. I have been thinking. It is my duty to be with them and
restrain their conduct.”

“Do what thou judgest right and God preserve thee!” answered Barakah,
with a point of irony which he did not perceive.

“My conscience is relieved,” he cried. “I thank thee. God knows how it
has troubled me since our return.”

That evening he departed with his friends, leaving Barakah to hear the
lamentations of the girls.

“They are all bewitched,” cried Bedr. “Hâfiz is by nature pious. Even
now he names the Name of Allah when he opens any door and curses the
religion of the infidels when passing by their idols in the streets
and squares. Our Lord preserve his life! Each night I see him dead in
some disgraceful haunt, his house dishonoured. Oh that I knew a good
magician, a true believer, in this land of mangy dogs!”

Their fears, against her will, infected Barakah; during the long
night-watches they became a sickness, and when day broke again they
seemed confirmed. Yûsuf had not returned. She went to Bedr-ul-Budûr and
found her in the same anxiety. They sat together, wondering what to
do. Grey light at the window, raindrops coursing down the panes, made
anguish visible.

At length, when eight o’clock had struck, there came a note
for Barakah. It was in French, and from the exiled Prince, the
revolutionary. It bade her have no fear; her husband would be with her
in an hour, when the writer hoped, with her permission, to present his
compliments in person and explain the case. The other girls had come by
that time from their lodgings to get strength from Barakah. Conjecture
ravened round the simple statement in the letter. At ten o’clock the
Prince sent up his card; the three girls fled across the passage just
in time to avoid encountering the visitor, who led into the room the
errant youths. The Prince, a lean, ascetic-looking man, with boyish
eyes, bowed low to Barakah.

“Madame,” he opened, with a flourish of his hand towards the group of
reprobates, “I ask you to remember of your husband, and also beg you
to remind the fair companions of my nephew and these other gentlemen,
that they are young, these boys, and therefore capable of progress.
It is a proof that they possess some germ of sense, which later may
develop into mind, that, being terrified at last, they sent to me. I
found them in a most equivocal position--in fact, dear madame, at the
Conciergerie. Thanks to my relations with important people in this
city, I had no difficulty in procuring their release, since they were
not precisely guilty, only imbecile. I am glad to have been able to
assist them, for the love I bear their parents and our common Faith.
But they will allow me to remark that vicious boys should travel only
with a tutor, who should have a whip. It disgusts me even to conceive
that any man could be so foolish as to quit the side of one so lovely
and so virtuous as you, madame, to follow beastliness. Dear madame,
your servant!”

He retired; when Yûsuf and the others pressed round Barakah, a group
of penitent and frightened children. Hâfiz, the fat, knelt down before
her, tears coursing down his cheeks; Saïd kissed her raiment; Yûsuf
pleaded in her ear. They had done wrong, they owned, though nothing
very dreadful. Some elegant ladies had admitted them to their society;
they were sitting in a café communing in all refinement, when horrible
low men arrived and claimed those ladies. One threw a glass at Saïd
and cut his face--the wound was shown--on which there was a scuffle;
gendarmes came and, siding with their co-religionists, conveyed the
righteous Muslims straight to prison.

“Where we should have stayed for ever, had not Hâfiz thought of calling
in his uncle,” blubbered Izz-ud-dîn; “simply for being Muslims, they
are so fanatical.”

All four were bent upon return to Egypt, since Paris had become a place
of terror. The rapture of the girls was indescribable. They danced and
clapped their hands, embraced each other, laughed, cried, and gave way
to all kinds of folly. Bedr-ul-Budûr made vows to divers saints, and
held delighted conversations with her mother long since dead.

Four days later they were all on board a steamer, quitting France. The
sea was smooth; the ladies stayed on deck. There was no longer any
question of confining them in stuffy cabins; experience of Frankish
manners had done that much good.

Yûsuf turned round from cursing the fair country they were leaving, to
look ahead across the vast expanse of sparkling sea.

“O land of Egypt! Blessed one!” he sighed. “Most beautiful of all
that see the sun! In thee are no hideous and shocking mountains, no
cataracts, no chasms, no ferocious beasts or savage people such as
appal the traveller in other lands. All is flat and smooth and debonair
in thee; and if thou housest infidels they dare not bite. Thy Nile is
smooth and good to drink, not putrid and for ever kicking like this
sea. May Allah bring us to thy shores in safety and never let us leave
them any more, but live in honour, eating, drinking, fasting in due
season, praising God, doing good deeds, and getting many children!”

At this conclusion there was laughter and applause.

“Amîn!” cried Hâfiz. “By Allah, it is true. The air of lands of
infidelity breeds madness. Hail, O Egypt!”



CHAPTER XVIII


“A rare place, by Allah!--full to the brim of education and refinement.
It is there that one acquires the latest mode and learns to view all
creatures with fastidious eyes. In Paris people would be angered at the
ignorance which prevails even among our greatest learned men. Thou too
shouldst go to Paris, O my dear!”

Thus Hâfiz Bey at Alexandria, to a relative who came on board to
welcome him. Barakah was much amused to overhear him, as also Yûsuf
vaunting Paris to Ghandûr; who, weeping all the time and sighing
“Praise to Allah!” heard not a word of what his lord was pleased to
say. Great was the joy of seeing Egypt once again. Even for the girls,
it wiped out all unpleasantness, making a plaintive tone impossible.

Shrouded once more in habbarah and face-veil, they stood and watched
the crowd of buildings faint with sunshine, seeming diaphanous between
the sapphire sky and a blue sea that looked opaque as lapis lazuli.
A gaily coloured people thronged the quays and crossed the harbour
in innumerable little boats. A din as rousing as a clarion call,
composed of many simple noises, filled the sunlight. The girls,
exhilarated, danced on tiptoe as they waited for the word to go ashore.
They chattered like small birds, inconsequently, and every minute
interjected “Praise to Allah!” Barakah inclined to silence, though she
shared their rapture.

The face-veil, which she had not worn for many weeks, seemed strange
at first. It gave the sense of prying and slight mischief one has
in peeping over a forbidden wall. Her eyes above it seemed more
penetrating. She turned them from the crowd on shore to follow Yûsuf’s
movements. He was now himself again, correct and dignified, commanding
as of right, entirely rehabilitated in her good opinion. It seemed to
her that the contempt she had so lately felt for him was undeserved.
Sinking in a strange element, he had lost his head and for a moment
clung to her. The case had been her own at first in Egypt. A minute
previous she had said good-bye to Hâfiz, Izz-ud-dîn, and Saïd. It was
curious to know that though they would be dwelling near her in the
city, meeting Yûsuf daily, she would very likely never see them in this
world again. But the prospect did not sadden her at all. Shade and
seclusion seemed just then the highest good.

Having spoken their polite farewells, Yûsuf and his companions took no
further notice of the group of veiled ones. Ghandûr had been deputed
to look after them. He ushered them on shore, and sat beside the driver
of the carriage which conveyed them to the railway station, praising
Allah all the while and weeping tears of joy. In Barakah’s absence, he
declared repeatedly, there had been no breeze in Egypt nor any spot of
shade for man’s repose. He found them their reserved compartment in the
train, and supplied their many needs, procuring sweets, chickpease,
pistachio nuts, and hard-boiled eggs from venders on the platform, as
well as two large porous jars of drinking-water. The girls asked Allah
to take note how good he was, and called him brother.

The dazzle and intoxication of great light remained with them even
when the door was shut and they were in warm shade. The sunlight
here was not like that of Paris, a thing to stare at, but a blinding
glory. It danced in flakes of all the colours of the rainbow, making
the buildings and the people pale and ghostlike. The very heat which
soon reigned in their moving box, the very dust which drifted through
its shutters, were welcome, being heat and dust of Egypt; and at the
stations, when familiar cries were heard, the speech of true believers
built upon the name of Allah, the girls could not contain their
sentiments, but bounced upon the seats and shrieked for joy.

“Hear what I am going to do, by Allah’s leave,” cried Bedr.
“Immediately on my arrival at the palace, before seeing any one,
I shall go to the hammâm and make our old bellânah scrub and knead
me till every vestige of the dust of Paris is abolished. Then she
shall dye my hands and feet with henna and shall kohl my eyes and
eyebrows,--if we had not been forbidden to take kohl to Paris, our men
would not have left us as they did,--and then I shall stretch myself
like a sleek cat and looking at my pretty hennaed toes, shall say, ‘I
seek refuge in Allah from the abomination of the infidels.’ That done,
and being dressed in my most splendid robes, I shall present myself
before my ladies, and shall lie to them; declaring that I was most
happy there in Paris, that Hâfiz Bey refused to leave me for a single
instant. The ladies will not doubt me, seeing my great beauty, and
Hâfiz Bey, you may be sure, will not deny my story. Thus shall I gain
more favour in his eyes, and make his wife--the proud one!--wish that
she had gone instead of me. What say you?”

“By Allah, we will do the same in all respects!” her companions cried
delightedly. “But what of Barakah? Promise, O Barakah, to hide the
truth from the harîm!”

Barakah promised; when they made her swear to love them always, though
they were but slave-girls and she a dignified and noble lady, for the
sake of the misfortunes they had borne together. They all clung round
her when the train reached Cairo. The door of their compartment was
flung open by Sawwâb in person, grinning welcome, with other eunuchs
close behind him on the platform.

Sawwâb conducted Barakah with honour to the harîm carriage, entering
which she was hugged breathless by the lady Fitnah, while Leylah Khânum
and her daughters started chattering, telling her all the news at once
and in a single breath.

Gulbeyzah had been married a whole month. She was absent in the
country with her lord’s whole house, but would return, it was
expected, in a week or two. Had Barakah heard in Europe--no doubt she
had--that the Sea Canal was to be opened in the coming year, with
great festivities?--the King and Queen of France were coming, it was
rumoured. Murjânah Khânum had been far from well. That was why she had
not come to welcome Barakah, to whom she sent her warmest salutations.
Barakah was not going to the garden-house this time, but to the Pasha’s
palace, to remain with them, the praise to Allah! Fitnah herself had
seen the rooms cleaned out and perfumed. One of the blacks, Zamurrudah,
was dead, the Lord have mercy on her! The old striped cat had kittens,
lucky one! The Pasha’s nieces were quite positive about the fact,
though no one had been able to find out their hiding-place.

As Barakah, caressed by all of them, received this outpour, her feeling
of home-coming was complete. And when she came to her own gilded
salon--the same where she had sipped the poison which seemed now a
dream--there was a slave-girl of Murjânah Khânum’s waiting to conduct
her to the bath, with a present of rare flowers and fruit, and a robe
of honour which she was to don, when she had rested, for supper in
Murjânah Khânum’s rooms, where all the ladies were invited to meet her.

The ladies, having voided their own news, desired a full account of
Paris and her doings. “In sh´Allah, thou wast happy there!” they all
exclaimed. When she replied, “My happiness is here with you,” the
answer gave unbounded satisfaction. From their remarks she learnt, to
her no small amazement, that Hâfiz Bey was the son of her old friend
Aminâh Khânum.

“Thou didst not know?” they cried. “How can that be? And
Bedr-ul-Budûr--surely thou hast heard of her--the slave whose beauty
the Princess was always vaunting? It is very strange!”

The placid gossip and the shaded calm existence were delightful
after months of agitation. Barakah fell into the harîm habits with
enthusiasm, devouring sweetstuff at all hours, enjoying cigarettes
and the narghileh. The best part of her morning was spent at the
bath, where the ladies met for gossip and for healthful exercise; her
afternoon in seeing visitors or paying visits. Gulbeyzah came to see
her, radiating gladness, extolling not her husband but her fellow-wives.

“We spend such merry days together,” she informed her friend. “Oh, how
much better than to be an only wife!”

When Barakah returned the visit, she was received by the four durrahs
with one voice of welcome. The four together formed a charming small
society, quite independent of the husband’s humours and the outside
world. All their possessions they enjoyed in common, even children.
Barakah was begged to come and see them often, and to love them all.

She would have been completely happy in those days but for
embarrassment arising from a secret which she longed yet feared to
tell. She was with child. Suspicion grew to certainty and still she put
off the announcement, dreading the outcry of these candid women and the
harîm ceremonies. It slipped from her by accident, one afternoon, and
the fuss they made proved even worse than expectation.

Amînah Khânum brought Bedr-ul-Budûr to see her, saying:

“This girl of mine has news to tell you.”

The old Princess herself proclaimed the news with praise to Allah. A
flush suffused the listener from head to foot.

“I too----” she murmured, and then stopped in great confusion. Amînah
Khânum pounced on her with eager questions. Bedr-ul-Budûr knelt down
before her in an ecstasy.

“Thou, too, art blest? And thou hast kept it secret all this while?”
the Princess cried. “O Bedr, go and beg the lady Fitnah to come hither
instantly!”

“No, no!” entreated Barakah, distraught with shame.

“Yes, yes!” replied the other, scoffing at her. “Is this the famed
false modesty of England? Praise God Most High that thou art fruitful,
praise Him loudly!”

The joy of Fitnah Khânum passed all bounds. She sent a messenger at
once to Yûsuf, another to the Pasha, with the tidings. The Pasha came
at once to pay his compliments to Barakah. Yûsuf came later, having
thought it necessary to circulate the happy news among his friends.
Ghandûr, who, as the water-carrier of the apartment, sat always in the
alley, underneath the lady’s lattice, was heard intoning a loud song of
triumph, three parts prayer, of which each verse concluded with: “Twin
boys, in sh´Allah!”

Joy-shrieks resounded; the whole household smiled; her friends
thronged round her, informed of her good luck as if by miracle, for
black-shrouded newsbearers were ever flitting by shadowed walls, along
the edge of crowded markets, linking the great harîms in one society,
and what was done in one was known in all. And Barakah alone saw any
call for shame or reticence.

From that day forth she was the idol of her little world, her every
want forestalled by warm solicitude. Murjânah Khânum talked to her in
a religious strain; Fitnah, more homely, prepared dainties for her;
the Pasha’s sister came and told her stories. The very children talked
aloud of her condition, and hailed it as a blessing to the house.

She had a good excuse for shunning the festivities which took place on
the arrival of the Emperor of the French in Cairo; though her husband
was employed in the reception, and all the ladies were agog to see the
Empress. She wished to be entirely Oriental. Frankish talk disgusted
her. Any reminder that the Europeans still existed was annoying; how
much more to hear them vaunted by her Eastern friends. Yûsuf himself
made fun of her fanaticism. The women humoured her conceit with knowing
smiles.

Gulbeyzah and Bedr-ul-Budûr, both in the same condition, were her
constant visitors. Amînah Khânum gave advice in her brusque way, and as
the Englishwoman’s time drew near, did more for her protection than she
knew of in her illness; impressing on Muhammad Pasha through Murjânah
the necessity of calling in a Frankish doctor, and herself procuring
from the Mufti the religious judgment which stilled the angry outcry of
the harîm midwives.

The hour of trial came at length--an anguish worse than death,
succeeded by a happiness as calm as heaven. From the cries of
jubilation filling all the house, from the blessings showered on her
within the chamber, she knew that she had borne a son. She saw the blue
of evening at the lattice, heard the murmur of the tired city like a
voice of waters, and, lulled by vast contentment, fell asleep.



CHAPTER XIX


Never in her life had Barakah seen so many strange old women. There
were always four or five of them within her chamber, squatting on mats
along the wall, conversing in low tones, ready at a breath to rearrange
her pillows, or fetch some posset that was ordered for her. They were
all of apelike ugliness, and, going barefoot, moved as noiselessly as
ghosts.

The Frankish doctor--an Italian--had pronounced her much too frail
to nurse her baby--a decision which excited such dependants of the
house as were eligible for the post of foster-mother. This was a great
prize, kinship by milk, among the Muslims, being esteemed as genuine
and binding as by blood. The wet-nurse thus became a near relation of
the family, and all her race had claims upon its bounty. Barakah felt
jealous of the woman who usurped her function, till she heard from
Fitnah Khânum that the choice had fallen on the wife of her old friend
Ghandûr. The girl, a former slave of the harîm, was then presented
to her, the baby in her arms; and won her heart by her excessive
gratitude. She was touched, too, by the transports of Ghandûr, who
sang thanksgiving to her lattice in his simple way. His chant was
something in this manner:

    “The sun is in my eyes! O happy day!
    I grope as one half-blind. Behold the bounty of my lord!
    I, the poor slave of Allah,
    Am now the father of his son Abdallah,
    My wife the mother of his son, by leave of Allah,
    My little boy the brother of a child most blest, in sh´Allah!
    The gracious consort of my lord, istaghfar Allah!
    Has granted to our lowliness a share in her good gift from Allah.
    May Allah bless my lord and lady in their noble offspring, and
        preserve his life to be the luminary of our future days.”

She liked to hear him, his voice so near at hand produced a sense of
true devotion and security. Missing his chant upon the following day,
she inquired what had become of him. She was informed that, consequent
upon his wife’s preferment, he had been appointed to a small position
in the Government. It made her sad.

Her son was given over to the harîm midwives to fulfil no end of
ceremonies destined to frustrate the powers of evil. For a week he was
not left alone or in the dark a single second. They carried him in a
procession through the house, his future kingdom, and as each door was
opened, sprinkled salt mixed with the seven seeds to exorcize the jinn
who lurked within. Soon after birth his face had been defiled with
certain powders, which Barakah could not persuade the women to wash
off. It was a necessary precaution, they assured her, against jealous
powers of darkness who, if they had an inkling of his beauty, would
destroy him. Chief among these was the discarded wife of Adam, alluded
to as El Carînah (the companion), the cause of man’s first fall, who
hates Eve’s daughters and resents their great fertility. Where a child
seems lovely and the mother shows delight in its appearance, she
attacks them both; if, on the contrary, she sees it ugly and hears
words of disappointment, she lets it live to spite the seed of Adam.
For one so powerful, she must be very stupid to be taken in by such
pretences, Barakah remarked; but they cried out that such was not the
case, but Allah in His mercy had set limits to her sight and hearing.
Each day the infant was the central figure in some ancient rite
believed essential to its welfare.

As Barakah lay in bed and watched the pattern of the lattice, her whole
existence passing like a dream before her, she sought to reconcile her
former English with her present Eastern life. Her son was a fine boy,
they all assured her. It saddened her that she had no relations of her
own to take a pride in him. In this mood she asked Yûsuf to write a
little note to Mrs. Cameron entreating her to come one day and see the
baby. He did so, and the answer was that she would come with pleasure.

Elated by the prospect of this visit, Barakah wished to have her
offspring made presentable; but when she gave command to wash his face
and wrap him in nice clothes, the goodies screamed aloud, and fetched
the lady Fitnah to remonstrate with her. She gave way, perforce; and
Mrs. Cameron beheld the infant at his worst.

The visitor was very kind in her address to Barakah; but, when she held
the baby for a minute, looking down at it, the latter, watching keenly,
saw upon her face a quiver of extreme disfavour mixed with pity. The
whiteness of her hands and face showed the child yellow; Barakah had
thought him white as snow till then. A flush of anger and humiliation
reached her brain.

“His face is dirty, the poor little one! Our Lord preserve him!” the
visitor remarked in Arabic as she returned the baby to his nurse; at
which there was an outburst of applause from the onlookers. They called
down blessings on the lady’s head, desiring she might have herself a
thousand children, not like this one, puny and unpleasant, but most
beautiful.

Barakah, consumed with rage, murmured hoarsely in response to Mrs.
Cameron’s farewell. The moment she was gone she burst out weeping.

“She did not like the child! She scorned my son, because he is not
altogether white as she is.”

“Thou mistakest, O my dear! Be comforted!” cried Fitnah Khânum, while
the other women round her exchanged pitying glances.

“Thou art not yet perfect in our prudent customs; but thy friend,
though not a Muslimah, has learnt them, having been much longer in the
land. Hast thou forgotten my instructions touching El Carînah? Nor
is she alone to be redoubted, since Allah Himself abhors a boastful
spirit, and dishonours those who make too much of any creature....”

“O Lord! I know all that!” wailed Barakah. “But she disliked my child,
despised him! I--I saw it!”

Conviction that the portion of the human race from which she sprang
beheld her son as little better than a monkey, tortured Barakah.
She had looked upon him as a mediator, but now sought revenge. Hot,
feverish dreams of hate disturbed her rest; and when a spell of khamsîn
weather robbed the world of energy she grew as weak and fretful as her
thoughts were wild.

Already Barakah had kept her bed a fortnight longer than any Eastern
woman would have dreamt of doing after childbirth. The lady Fitnah,
seeing she did not gain strength, believed that some debilitating vile
afrît was in her. The Frankish doctor said there was no cause for
fear. She called him fool and worse, in her own circle; since by his
disregard or ignorance of pious formulas he had left the door ajar for
evil spirits. Resolved to stop the mischief, when no man was by she
hung a plant of garlic in the room, burnt potent odours till its air
grew suffocating, and dosed the patient with a paste compounded of the
dust of mummies mixed with human milk. When these means failed to drive
away the enemy, she sat down in despair among her cronies, and braced
herself to try the last resort of all.

This was the “zâr”--a very awful ceremony, of which she was exceedingly
afraid. Her wish to hold it in the house--risking the Pasha’s favour,
and her life through terror--was proof of her devoted love for Barakah.
The dear one must be healed at any price.

Accordingly, she summoned negresses of those who hold familiar
intercourse with demons, bought a kid and several fowls alive, and made
arrangements to secure the sick-room to herself and her confederates
for two good hours upon a certain afternoon.

Barakah was roused out of a troubled sleep by women moving out the
furniture from both bedchamber and salon, and covering the floor
with worn-out linen and the cheapest matting. They went, and she
lay wondering, when Fitnah Khânum came and bade her have no fear.
The ceremony she was going to witness was a potent medicine, well
calculated to restore her health completely. Many servants, female
children, and familiars of the household trooped in with noiseless
feet and squatted down along the wall. Then came a group of half a
dozen negresses, fantastically dressed in rags of finery, with ringing
anklets; one of whom embraced a struggling little goat, while the
others bore live chickens by the feet. Bold-eyed and with a swaggering
gait, they marched up to the bed, and seemed to offer up the fowls and
kid to Barakah, who could not understand the words they uttered in
a screeching chant. They then danced back to the adjoining room, of
which the door stood open. Upon the threshold madness seemed to seize
them. They fell upon the kid with cries of glee. The creature, bleating
piteously, was flung into an earthen bowl placed there in readiness.
Amid mad laughter knives were brandished and brought down, hands
helping to extract the creature’s life. The fowls were likewise gashed
and torn asunder; the matting round grew foul with steaming entrails.
Another minute and the slayers reappeared, their black arms purpled
to the elbow, dripping blood, their faces and their lips defiled with
it; and then began a devilish dance of self-abandonment, all the more
horrible for its approach to beauty. The sleek skin of the dancers
caught blue lights; their fixed eyes gleamed enormous, like those
painted on the lids of mummies. Barakah believed herself in hell, for
ever lost; it was as if an iron hand compressed her throat. Her heart
beat wildly. One of the women, the most shameless, lurched towards
her, stretching out a blood-stained hand. Her heart gave one tremendous
beat and then stood still.

When she recovered consciousness it was to find the lady Fitnah bending
over her. The negresses had gone, the room was cleansed, the furniture
replaced exactly as before. She might have thought she had been
dreaming had not Yûsuf’s mother whispered eagerly:

“Breathe not a word to Yûsuf or our lord the Pasha. Deny by Allah
that thou sawest anything. If not, the afrît which we have with pains
extracted will return and kill thee.”

In her weak state of mind, oppressed with dreadful and disgusting
images, Barakah believed the words and shuddered. She was ill for
weeks.



CHAPTER XX


During the heat of summer, part of the harîm, consisting of the ladies
Barakah and Fitnah, with their children and attendants, stayed at a
farm belonging to the Pasha, on the banks of the Nile, near Benha. The
journey thither was performed on donkeys in a long procession with a
eunuch at its head and tail, a eunuch boy leading the donkey of each
lady, that she might have freedom to hold up her sunshade and munch
nuts and sweetstuff. The slave-girls, some of them, rode two together;
they waxed hilarious, exchanging jests with all who passed them on the
dyke. Their going raised a goodly cloud of dust. The house to which
they went was large and formal, none too clean, though very sparsely
furnished. Behind it was a filthy yard hemmed in by hovels, where dwelt
the fellâhîn who worked the farm. Before it was a garden of fruit
trees, and beyond that a plantation of young date-palms. There was also
a big tree beside a water-wheel, where the ladies took their pleasure
in the shade. The land was absolutely flat in all directions, but
diversified in hue by divers crops, broken here and there by clumps of
trees and squat mud villages.

Here manners were relaxed; for all the peasant women went unveiled,
and their example made the slaves less strict than in the city. The
lady Fitnah, being of the country, took delight in talking with the
villagers, both men and women, and thus, though most correct in her
apparel, set the fashion of unbending. Yûsuf, who had now a Government
appointment, and the Pasha came to see them when they had the leisure;
and Ghandûr also travelled down to see his wife.

To please the lady Fitnah, Barakah gave French and English lessons to
the children in the mornings under the great tree, when many of the
servants also gathered round and tried to learn. She was begged to be
particularly strict with Hamdi, whom the lady Fitnah seemed to think
the soul of wickedness, as indeed did everybody else, making his life a
burden with perpetual scolding.

This boy, her husband’s younger brother, was attached to Barakah as
the only one who never shook him by the neck or cursed him. He told
her all his woes, and brought her offerings of curious things he found
in his illicit rambles. He was always straying, though with no worse
object, he asserted, than the wish to be alone. His lady mother called
him “stupid Turk,” vowing that he was all his father’s child, and she
herself had neither part nor lot in him; though Hamdi was the true
Egyptian adolescent, still but half awake, a slave to every breeze, to
every odour, and fascinated by the sight of gleaming objects. He would
sit still for hours in contemplation of a sunlit blade of grass; at
other times he would walk miles, drawn on invisibly, with great brown
eyes which seemed to harbour visions. Barakah found him gentle and
obedient. In truth, his only wickedness that she could see consisted
in resentment of shrill interruptions. At such times he would battle
blindly with assailants, cursing them, and crying out, in his despair:

“Am I not a man full-grown? Do I not sleep in the selamlik? Then let me
be, or it shall be the worse for you, by Allah!”

“A man full-grown, thou sayest?” screamed the lady Fitnah one evening
when he came home soaked in mud from head to foot. “Listen, O child of
dogs, O malefactor! Knowest thou what I shall do on our return to town?
I shall marry thee at once to Na’imah, thy uncle’s child. Thy clothes
are in a filthy state, thy tassel gone. Thou hast been sprawling in
some ditch, O piggish boy! By the Prophet, I shall do as I have said.
Sure, matrimony is the only cure for one like thee. Thou shalt wed
Na’imah.”

“Allah forbid!” exclaimed the lad with fervour; whereat the ladies and
the servants burst out laughing; for Na’imah, Leylah Khânum’s youngest
daughter, had been Hamdi’s chief tormentor there at home, disturbing
his still dreams with impish glee, and quick to vanish.

“Is it not cruel thus to hound me?” the unlucky boy asked Barakah. “I
do no wrong; they interfere with me. And now my mother threatens to
unite me to the most hateful daughter of a dog that ever yelped and
bit.”

The month of Ramadan came on them in their country life; and the long
hours of heat without a bite or sup made everybody irritable except
Barakah and the wife of Ghandûr, who were both exempt from fasting--the
former as an invalid, the latter as a nursing-mother. The slave-girls
lost their usual delight in birds and greenery. A gun fired in the
distant market-town announced the moment of release in the first bloom
of night; but the party failed to hear it sometimes, and looked out for
the lighting of the lamps around a village mosque across the plain.
At once arose vast sighs of praise to Allah; cigarettes, prepared in
readiness, were seized and lighted; water was handed round and food set
out.

It was at that blest hour upon a certain evening of the sacred month
that a rapturous surprise befell the party. A little cavalcade was seen
approaching on the dyke. It consisted of two donkeys and a baggage
mule. A woman sat upon the foremost donkey; on the second rode two
children, boy and girl; while the mule was led by a black-bearded,
turbaned man of noble presence. The ladies, sitting in the garden,
peered, then shouted:

“Tâhir! It is Tâhir! Tâhir, the great singer! O most blessed day!
Enter, O son of honour! Deign to favour us!”

Learning that the master of the house was absent, Tâhir would not
enter, but sought a lodging in the hovels of the fellâhîn, whither a
rich meal was sent to him. But after supper he came up into the garden
with his lute, followed timidly by all the population of the hamlet;
and his wife and children stole into the room where all the women sat
with windows open, looking forward to the concert. Once more his little
daughter drew to Barakah, and, having kissed her hand, sat down and
leaned against her. “I love thee,” she explained, with a soft look; and
then with a wide yawn exclaimed: “I am so tired!” Barakah put her arm
about her, and the child seemed happy. She did not go to sleep this
time, however, but lay still, fondling her protector’s hand, and gazing
up at the great stars.

“See, what a man he is!” exclaimed the Galla slave, Fatûmah, her hand
upon the shoulder of her mistress, all respect forgotten in intense
excitement. “He does not even stay to tune his lute. All that is for
the common singers. He is much above it. By Allah, he would sing to a
dog’s howl and make it musical.”

One twang of the lute, and then the magic voice arose from out the
shadow of the trees. It gave a living spirit to the starlight, a soul
to all the nights that ever were or would be. It seemed illumination,
yet was all of mystery; it gave the listener a sense of floating
disembodied.

Once when Tâhir paused to rest, the voice of Hamdi was heard in the
garden, begging for leave to hold his lute and play it.

“That boy again! Cut short his life!” cried Fitnah Khânum. “Devoid of
manners as of sensibility. Remove him quickly!”

But Tâhir answered pleasantly: “Here, O my son! Take it and play for
me. Observe the measure. Strike loudly in the pauses, softly while I
sing.” And Fatûmah, quite beside herself, exclaimed:

“Behold the man he is! He can dispense with all things. That which
would ruin the performance of another singer is a joy to him.”

Hamdi acquitted himself fairly well of the task of accompaniment and
won a word of praise from Tâhir, which so moved him that when the
singer was departing the next morning early, he stole out to him, and,
looking round to ascertain that he was heard of none save Barakah,
entreated:

“Take me with thee, O my uncle. Instruct me, let me play for thee for
ever. This girl, thy daughter, this little sugar-plum, shall be my
bride. Then we can all live happily together.”

“The honour is too high for us, O my small lord!” the singer answered,
with his charming smile. “Thy lot in life is better far, in sh´Allah,
than that of us poor players.”

“But they say that thou canst earn a hundred pounds a night.”

“Seldom as much as that, beloved. And my living is at Allah’s pleasure.
It is a gift from Him, to whom be praise. Come to me four years hence,
and we will think about it.”

With a dignified salute he started off; the children, on their donkey,
waved their hands and screamed farewell. Hamdi was left standing
disappointed and a trifle injured.

“O my misfortune!” he exclaimed to Barakah. “I would have given my
right hand to go with him. Like that I could escape from persecution
and accursed Na’imah, and dwell for ever in the sound of music which
transports my soul. Allah is greatest!”

And he heaved a mighty sigh.

When the month of fasting ended, there were mild rejoicings. The
fellâhîn fired guns and let off fireworks. The women smoked too much
and over-ate themselves, and felt aggrieved at being far from Cairo,
where the means of satisfaction were more varied and abundant.

Then Yûsuf and the Pasha came and stayed a week; delighted, coming
fresh to it, with the unoccupied existence over which the others had
begun to yawn. At the end of the week they all returned to Cairo, the
procession of the ladies keeping half a mile behind their lords. The
first view of the citadel on one hand, the pyramids of Gîzah on the
other, called forth thankful shouts. The coloured, noisy streets, the
odours sweet and foul, the atmosphere of teeming life, excited Barakah.
She joined in exclamations of delight.

While she gazed with strange eyes at her gilded salon, superintending
the disposal of her baggage, a letter was presented to her by Fatûmah.
It had been given to the latter that same minute by Sawwâb the eunuch,
who had had it in safe keeping for two months. It was from Mrs. Cameron.

Barakah, frowning, opened it and read:

  “It grieves me much to learn that you have been seriously ill.
  I heard of this quite by accident from Doctor Torranelli, whom
  I chanced to meet at a friend’s house. In some anxiety, I tried
  to call upon you yesterday, but learnt that you are absent in
  the country. I trust that the dear baby flourishes. He must be a
  great comfort and delight to you. Please never forget that I am
  your sincere friend.”

With an exclamation of annoyance, she tore up the note.



CHAPTER XXI


The idea of seeing Mrs. Cameron again was quite intolerable. She
therefore wrote that lady a brief note, an asp for venom, designed
to terminate acquaintance and to rankle, and plunged into the harîm
pleasures with sensations of defiance.

One morning, as she lounged upon her cushioned window-seat, smoking
her narghileh and listening to the voices wafted with the sunlight
through her lattice, Fatûmah came and with a grin announced that Hamdi
Bey desired an audience of her Honour. She gave the word, and in came
Hamdi, knuckling his two eyes.

“O day of pitch!” he cried. “O vile nefarious day! O my beloved sister,
hide me, save me! My father has enforced my mother’s harsh command. I
am to be married to-day to that unholy child of dogs--against my will.
I wished to wait a thousand years. Ghandûr is waiting at this minute to
conduct me to the bath.”

As if in confirmation of his words, the voice of Ghandûr shouted in
the street without: “Make haste, O Hamdi! Lo, the sun is high! The
shadow is already on the stone thou fixedst for a limit when I let thee
enter.”

“Thou hearest,” snuffled Hamdi, “how they hound me? He has my wedding
garments in a bundle--O my hatred! Guests have been bidden--may their
fathers perish! Go to my mother (she will hear thee); plead that I
may be allowed a few months’ respite. It is Na’imah who, through her
mother, hastens on the match. She would destroy my new-found freedom
and torment me.”

Barakah could not help laughing, though she uttered words of comfort.
Na’imah was a very pretty girl, she pointed out, and not ill-natured,
though a great coquette. He would have none of it, but shook his head
with ominous frowns.

“I hate her!” he declared. “And knowest thou? I have a mind to drown
myself this morning at the bath.”

Then, as Ghandûr’s calls became insistent, he left the room with slow,
reluctant steps.

The wedding was a small affair, the parties being children of one
house, and their betrothal (which is legal marriage) having taken place
in infancy. The bride, enthroned, showed none of the reluctance felt
by Hamdi. A bright-eyed and determined little maiden, she was wreathed
in smiles; and when Barakah inquired if she were truly happy, replied,
“The praise to Allah!” with decision.

Next day the house was full of smothered laughter. Hamdi was completely
changed. He and his bride were now the fondest pair. The lady Fitnah,
who had always held that matrimony was a panacea for the crotchets of
young people, male and female, rendered praise where praise was due.
For many days, through shame, the bridegroom hid from Barakah, and from
every one else to whom he had proclaimed his dread of marriage.

When she told Gulbeyzah of the case as of a kind of miracle, the
Circassian answered:

“I perceive no cause for wonder. The bridegroom had not thought of her
before in that relation, had not truly known her--that is all. Love is
a blessing that brings gratitude as surely as the Nile makes plants to
grow.”

Gulbeyzah and Bedr-ul-Budûr--nay, all her friends--viewed love, apart
from any individual man, as a material boon. Bred up to it and ripened
for it cunningly, they were ready to adore the man who gave it, however
unattractive from a European standpoint. This view of love, when
realized, explained to Barakah the happiness which every girl of her
acquaintance seemed to find in marriage, even where, as in Gulbeyzah’s
case, the husband was a greybeard thrice her age. Those who possessed
it were content and virtuous. In those who had it not, or were deprived
of it, all amorous crime was reckoned pardonable.

Gulbeyzah and Bedr-ul-Budûr explained all this to Barakah in thrilling
tones, as if they uttered truths divine.

“Behold the wisdom of our Faith,” they said, “which grants to every
woman this delight in secret. Women can never truly be the friends
of men; their soul is different. If thrown with men for long, they
feel fatigue. They ask of men one thing--the gift of love. Here we
consort with women, true companions, all day long; and in the night the
bridegroom comes, and we are blest. Is not this better than the way of
Europe, which sets at nought apparent truths--as that most men love
more than one of us, whereas most women need but love itself, the hope
of children?”

That was one of the occasions when Barakah would have given anything
to have an Englishwoman present, and to watch her face. Another came
a few days later when she called upon Gulbeyzah. Alighting from her
carriage at the palace door, she saw a baby’s coffin being carried out,
and thought at once of turning home again. But already smiling eunuchs
stood before her bidding welcome, beseeching her to deign to follow
them to the haramlik. Gulbeyzah met her with a kiss on either cheek.

“Come, help us to console Nasîbah,” she exclaimed. “Her baby died this
night. She is distracted.”

She drew her friend into a chamber where the childless mother lay, face
downward, moaning, while the others tried to soothe her.

“It is no matter,” was the burden of their consolations. “It is not as
if thou wert left altogether desolate. Are we not one, we four? Thou
hast two children left, since ours are thine, and in a day or two
Gulbeyzah will present thee with a third, in sh´Allah!”

“In sh´Allah!” cried Gulbeyzah. “And it shall be thine entirely.
Directly it is born it shall be sent to thee to nurse. I will forget
it. And when it is thy turn again, thou wilt repay me. Is not that a
good idea?”

Oh that English people, who regard polygamy as something dreadful,
could have witnessed that small scene! The wish, escaping Barakah at
unawares, begot a heartache, as she realized that all she saw and heard
for their instruction was thwarted of its natural vent for evermore.

She told herself that she was happy in this life; and so she was upon
the surface, where she kept her thoughts, not daring to pry down into
the depths. In the early days she had desired more knowledge of the
Muslim faith, and a woman learned in religion had been hired to teach
her. But the fury of that faith, the scathing nature of its truths,
appalled her, awaking recollections of a creed more sentimental, with
distressing doubts. She very soon gave up her lessons, closed the eyes
of her intelligence, and resolutely sought her pleasure in the passing
hour.

Still there were moments when vague fears oppressed her. When, in the
third year of her marriage, she brought forth a still-born child,
frightful abysses seemed to yawn around her, and for days she
was afflicted with a kind of nightmare of misgiving, derived from
recollection of the “zâr” and other horrors.

The Eastern ladies were so calm and strong compared with her; they
flinched at nothing except impropriety. The slaughter of a thousand
sheep at Curban Bairam, turning the kitchen court into a shambles,
caused them no disgust. It was ordained of God, they told her, and
it fed the poor. They had no horror of disease or death or filthy
persons, and, though most cleanly, looked on vermin philosophically.
The Turks and the Circassians, with their grand ideals, appeared
more dreadful than the Africans, whose faith was childlike. Barakah
preferred the latter. Her pleasure was in feasts and little outings, in
story-tellers, dancers, and musicians who beguile the time; her only
rapture was in adoration of her small Muhammad.

Her hidden yearnings and beliefs clung round the boy. She dwelt in
longing for the days when he should be her friend. He was her hope,
the product of both parts of her divided life; giving it sense and
sequence, and, in the end perhaps, if Allah willed, consistency. She
dreamt of a great future for him, to astonish Europe. But in the
meanwhile, being sometimes dull, she felt the need of an intelligent,
discreet companion.



CHAPTER XXII


On the recurrence of certain anniversaries, at the two Bairams and in
the month of Ragab, all Muslim Cairo left the city of the living for
the cities of the dead adjoining it upon the east and south. Mothers of
sorrow like Murjânah Khânum, whose heart was with her children in the
grave, inhabited the mausoleums for a week or more; but the majority
performed a one-day visit.

Blue night alive with stars was at her lattice when Barakah was softly
roused by her attendants and arrayed in proper garb. She found Leylah
Khânum and her daughters waiting for her by the mabeyn screen, where
the eunuch had a heap of roses and of henna-flowers to give them, as
well as branches of palm and sweet basil. With these they made their
way out to the carriage.

The principal streets were thronged with people going in the same
direction: men in clean robes, who yawned, still half asleep; women,
black-shrouded, bearing palm-branches, with trays of eatables upon
their heads; small girls in tinselled gauze of divers colours, and
boys in stiff new clothing--all with earnest faces, pressing out
towards the cemeteries. Barakah kept peeping through the shutter at
the solemn crowd, to which the fitful gleam of swinging lanterns added
weirdness. The concourse gave forth a dull clatter, above which was
heard the rumble of the carriage wheels upon the stones, the shouts
the coachman raised to clear a way. Then suddenly all noise of going
ceased, although their wheels still rolled and the besetting throng
was even denser than before. They were on sand. The people murmured
like a shell. The desert hill rose imminent against the stars. On all
sides spread a wilderness of humble graves, each with its family group
encamped beside the headstone. Then came a steep incline, up which
the horses struggled under whip and cursing; and lo! they were once
more in city streets. On every hand rose shadowy buildings, domes, and
minarets. A swarm of beggars went from door to door with sacks and
trays collecting doles of food.

Alighting at the gate of a large mosque-like building, Barakah and her
companions were conducted through a courtyard to the women’s quarters.
Fitnah and Murjânah, who had spent the night there with attendants,
made them welcome; after which they paid a visit to the mausoleum
proper, or the women’s side of it--for the house of death itself was
subdivided by a harîm screen. Here, in a gloom made spectral by the
hanging lamps, women of repute for sanctity, hired mourners, were
reciting the Corân, and through the screen some male professors could
be heard performing the same office in strong nasal tones. The visitors
bestowed their flowers and bits of palm among the graves, and, having
said some prayers, returned to the apartment, where preparations for a
feast were being made.

Already the muezzin’s chant announced the dawn. Murjânah Khânum was
at her devotions on a corner of the dais. The other ladies, who
deemed prayer the man’s affair, helped in the work of setting out the
breakfast. While this was going on, a woman and three children rushed
in from the twilight court, and with loud blessings began kissing hands.

“It is the wife and children of the guardian of this place, who makes
the graves,” Na’imah, her nearest neighbour, informed Barakah. “They
come for their accustomed gifts of food and raiment. See, Fitnah Khânum
is just going to bestow them in the name of all of us.”

A minute later the grave-digger’s wife and children were at Barakah,
kissing her hand repeatedly and crying, “May it be many a year ere we
receive thee here, O queen of charms.”

The Englishwoman shivered at this form of compliment; and then a
strange old woman, who had been observing her, sidled across the room
and squatted at her feet.

“O Umm ed-Dahak, welcome!” exclaimed Na’imah. “Where hast thou been
this long while, that we have not seen thee? There has been no fun at
all in life without thee. How is thy health? What new jests dost thou
bring us?”

But the old woman had not come, it seemed, to talk to Na’imah; for,
replying to these questions in the briefest manner possible, she
addressed herself to Barakah in coaxing whispers.

“Art thou not happy, O my pearl? I could see from over there that
something ailed thee. Is it the thought of death, the air of tombs?
The spectacle of graves should rather cheer the living. Give praise to
God that thou art still alive; enjoy existence! Allah is merciful! It
is certain that He has made provision for our sex hereafter--a finer
paradise than that of men, in sh´Allah! Ha, ha! What faces, thinkest
thou, the men would wear if they knew that we had heavenly youths for
our enjoyment, in our place apart? By Allah, it would spoil their
pleasure in the black-eyed maids! I see them sulking even in the home
of bliss.... The air is chill thus early; the end of night is always a
sad hour. A delicate soft flower like thee is dashed by it. Come, let
me talk to warm thee. I am called the Mother of Laughter, thou hast
heard!...

“Knowest thou what my daughter said in her soul when first her spouse
unveiled her? She said (and be the saying far from thee), the while
she stood with eyes downcast and bosom rising, falling, ‘May Allah
strike me blind this minute if I am half so innocent as thou art, O my
knowing lord!’ And she managed him, I can assure thee. Ah, she fooled
him perfectly--exclaiming ever at his wisdom, bowing to his lightest
word. It is thus we subtle ones beguile the world--the great strong
simpleton!--never opposing, lest he knock us down. By Allah, I must ask
thy pardon for thus prattling; but ladies condescend to find my talk
amusing. I can recount the origin of all that is, being most learned
in religious matters. If I chose, I could be howling with those cats
in there,”--she nodded towards the hired performers in the tomb,--“but
they are hypocrites and gloomy. I love merriment. It has long been my
desire to meet a foreign lady, to whom I might impart my knowledge of
this land. The Franks have great intelligence, and would admire my
lore. All the stories of the harîm I can teach thee....

“Thou knowest the three wives of Ali Bey El Halebi. The red-haired
one--the former slave--was killed last night. I had it but an hour ago
from a sure source. Her sin, though great, was pardonable, Allah knows.
Her husband had neglected her disgracefully: the fact is known. She
turned for comfort to a street musician. She lost her wit, it seems,
and made confession. I could have saved her, with the help of Allah,
had she come to me. The eunuchs held her so--and, click! her neck was
severed. Her corpse is floating down the Nile, dismembered, or buried
in the garden--Allah knows! Ah! I could keep thee interested for a
year together.”

The old creature’s flattery, more subtle in the tone and manner
than the words convey, was irresistible; her twinkling eyes and
ever-shifting wrinkles aroused the Englishwoman’s sense of humour,
which had long been dormant.

“Praise be to Allah, thou art better!” smiled the crone.

The sun had risen now; the lamps were useless; the city of the dead
was blushing like the rose; the chanting of the readers in the tomb
had lost its sadness. Barakah was staring at the strange old woman’s
face, now plainly visible. Where had she known it? Feature for feature,
it resembled one which had been long imprinted in her memory. Umm
ed-Dahak grinned when she became aware of this perplexity. With a very
roguish look for one so old, she laid her cheek upon her open palm and
whispered, “Yûsuf! Come!” It was the same old creature who, luring the
future bride of Yûsuf from her chamber in Muhammad Pasha’s house, had
been seized and beaten by the eunuchs in the hall, and never seen again
until this day.

“Rememberest thou?” she slyly asked. “Allah witness, I was tempted
with a bribe. Young men are devils! Never ask me to explain. I cannot
bear to be reminded of it, may Our Lord forgive me! We are all weak
creatures and succumb occasionally; but Fitnah Khânum will assure thee
I am to be trusted.”

With that and a most friendly smile, she edged away, repairing straight
to Fitnah Khânum, with whom she held some animated conversation in low
tones. The lady, at her instance, shortly came across to Barakah and
whispered:

“That old woman seeks thy patronage. I myself have found her useful
and obliging. To thee, a foreigner, she could afford much help. Thou
needest some one. Umm ed-Dahak is the best I know.”

“Umm ed-Dahak!” cried out Na’imah. “Why, there is no creature in the
world to match her for facetiousness. She was the rapture of our life
as children. Nobody could be dull or sad with Umm ed-Dahak. She is like
a monkey and a clever servant and a mother all in one!”

This joyful cry was overheard by Leylah Khânum, who frowned upon her
daughter and rebuked her sharply. In that place conversation must be
held in whispers and only ritual words pronounced aloud. The party
breakfasted in solemn silence, to the sound of chanting from the tomb.
But the aged Mother of Laughter smiled and nodded--even winked--at
Barakah whenever their eyes met, which was not seldom; and the
Englishwoman had a new sensation of relief and sympathy. At last she
had found somebody who understood her.



CHAPTER XXIII


Upon the morrow Barakah had quite forgotten the old woman; she was
lounging on a sofa, smoking after breakfast, watching the slave-girls
dress Muhammad, when Umm ed-Dahak stole in barefoot, making reverence.
The crone sank down before her as of right, and kissing her feet, asked
how she did and praised her loveliness. Then, looking at the infant,
she exclaimed in natural tones, “Ma sh´Allah! May Our Lord preserve him
in all times and places!” and straightway began making baby noises.

Barakah thought the moment opportune for getting at the secret of that
incident which teased her memory. But Umm ed-Dahak, though she answered
volubly, made no disclosure. Indeed, as Barakah soon learnt, that
seeming reckless chatterer was in the habit of imparting only what she
chose to tell.

It was manifest that half her compliments were insincere, nor did she
take the slightest trouble to disguise the fact; but in the intervals
of soporific fiction and pure blandishment she spoke of things worth
knowing in a tone of frank goodwill. She knew the why and how of
every custom, the stories giving rise to every proverb, and was so
acute a judge of human character that her gossip had the flavour of
an intellectual game. Her wiles, it seemed, were worn to show her
cleverness, or cynically, to travesty arts which flourish in this
transitory world.

She became a member of the household, but with privileges. Barakah was
the sultan, she the grand vizier, it was agreed. No monarch ever had
a more delightful minister. She made the slave-girls more attentive
to their mistress, whose comfort she increased in a variety of ways.
She knew where to lay her hands upon the leading story-tellers and
musicians, and was herself the most accomplished female mountebank at
that time living. She soon learnt every mood of her protectress, and
its antidote. The latest scandal dwelt at her tongue’s tip.

The whole harîm knew Umm ed-Dahak as a joker. Slaves from outside were
always coining pretexts to enter the apartment, just to look at her;
and the more frivolous among the ladies came to hear her stories.

“I am for them a comical performance, not a child of Adam,” she told
Barakah. “How different from thy kindness, O my sovereign lady! Thy
gracious condescension feeds and clothes me.”

Therewith she kissed the hand of Barakah, who was affected. By such
small means did she confirm her sway.

Her intelligence, her laughing view of life, were stimulating, and
prevented Barakah from brooding upon hopeless problems.

Without attempting to fatigue her mind in vain attempts to grasp the
universe--as Europeans do, inviting pessimism--this old woman took her
portion as it came, with relish and a very searching scrutiny. She
likened herself sometimes to a fisher of the Nile, who all his life
frequents one reach alone. He knows the currents and the mud-banks,
marks the winds, and, without preoccupation with the river’s source or
outlet, is cunning in the art of bringing fish to land. The soul of her
philosophy was non-resistance; her morality held all means lawful to
escape oppression.

“God is gracious and all-knowing,” she would shrug. “He gives to all
His creatures, great and small, the wherewithal to move in their
appointed element--to birds wings, fins to fishes, guile to women.”

In her time, she admitted, many sins had soiled her hands; shameful
employments had defiled her countenance. They would be pardoned, being
but a means to live. She held, against the world’s opinion, that Allah
is indulgent to the faults of women and even has a secret fondness for
them. Yet, with her guile, she had an admiration for pure virtue, a
teardrop for true love, wherever found. And with all her common sense
and her acuteness she was superstitious. As the fisher of the Nile,
her chosen image, wears an amulet and names the name of power before
he casts his net, so Umm ed-Dahak armed herself against malignant
influences. Her belief in witchcraft, philtres, and all kinds of charms
was quite beyond the reach of argument.

The old woman never asked for any wages. She took what food she wanted,
helped herself to cigarettes, and called for a narghileh when the fancy
seized her. By the Pasha’s order, in accordance with a pious custom
observed at that time in good Muslim houses, eatables, such as meat
and milk and vegetables which might go bad, were not kept overnight,
the remainder of each day’s provision being given in the evening to
the poor dependants. Of this dole Umm ed-Dahak claimed her share. If
she required a garment or a gift of money, she did not beg for it, but
told some tortuous and lengthy story which ended in a present as snakes
end in tails. When Barakah saw through the artifice, she was in no way
disconcerted. She merely smiled and praised her quick intelligence.

“Her need is real, for she is poor,” said Fitnah Khânum, when Barakah
remarked on the old woman’s foibles. “But she loves subtlety far more
than comfort, and would refuse high monthly wages, to obtain a lesser
sum by stealth and coaxing, as occasion offered. She has had much money
given to her, to my knowledge; but it is as dust to her. She is like
the clever fellow in the story, who, having earned much money by his
ingenuity, scrambled it among the crowd; and in the end, when it was
finished, sighed, ‘O Allah, would that I had all the gold on earth to
go on flinging it and see men fight like dogs for its possession!’”

Fitnah, though she scolded the old woman, had a liking for her company
and waggish talk. And Umm ed-Dahak, being very diplomatic, paid her
court. Indeed, she flattered all the ladies of the house with the
assurance that she wished to be the spokesman of their will with
Barakah, and went to them for orders every day.

The only person whom she feared was Yûsuf Bey, though she had known him
from a child. At the first hint of his approach she fled the house. In
vain did Barakah assure her he had no objection to her presence--nay,
had said more than once that he would like to see her. The old creature
smiled and wriggled, “May our Lord preserve him!” but fled no less. It
all came of her desire for surreptitiousness. She would not have felt
well in a harîm of which the lord approved of her.

Contentment grew in Barakah from day to day, and as the months wore
on she lost the wish to go abroad. The young Muhammad could now run
about, although he sometimes tumbled and set up a howl. He had been
taught to testify to his religion in a piping voice and screamed at
visitors, “There is no God but God. Muhammad is the apostle of God”;
for which they blessed him. He had also learned to curse the infidels
ferociously. A turbulent and wilful child, his mother and old Umm
ed-Dahak thought him perfect. They never tired of watching him torment
the slave-girls. “Ma sh´Allah!” the Mother of Laughter would croak
rapturously. “A blusterer, by the Most High! A boy with all the signs
of manhood on him! In sh´Allah, he will live to bully grown-up men!”

Occasionally Barakah paid visits as in duty bound; but she much
preferred to stay indoors, to smoke and dream and talk with Umm
ed-Dahak. Her husband, by his father’s influence, obtained a post
of some importance, necessitating their removal shortly to a proper
house, with a selamlik of its own where he could see his courtiers.
Barakah looked forward to the change with high indifference, though Umm
ed-Dahak strove to waken her enthusiasm, crying:

“Thou wilt now have eunuchs and a carriage of thy very own. In
sh´Allah, Yûsuf Bey will go on rising till thy pomp excels the dignity
of mighty queens.”

Her life could hardly be more easy, she considered; she was quite
content. The Pasha’s ladies would be grieved to lose her, and she would
feel quite lost apart from them. She thought they all respected and
admired her.

It was therefore a great shock to her when one afternoon Murjânah
Khânum sent for her and read her a kind lecture on her way of life.

“My pearl,” she said, “I am the head of this harîm and in some sort
responsible for all its members. I do not see a slave degenerating
without endeavouring to stop the process by a word of warning. How
much greater is my duty towards a near relation! My flower, thou art
an Englishwoman and we Turks of Europe and of Asia welcomed thee to
El Islâm as our own sister. We looked to thee for force of character,
for the light of education, for refinement. What has happened, on
the contrary? Thou shunnest us for boon companions, persons of the
country, who, however estimable, are inferior. Amînah Khânum yesterday
complained that thou art growing a fellâhah both in speech and
conduct. I do not hold with her, I only tell thee what she said--a
thing I cannot bear to hear of my dear daughter. My child, I speak in
tenderness. Give thought to higher things--our holy Faith, the dignity
of life--and spend not all thy time in mere frivolity. Keep that old
woman in her place; I say not shun her, since she is amusing. Frequent
good houses, study holy books. To spend one’s whole life in the hot
room of the bath is not existence.”

Barakah was deeply hurt. To have her harmless pleasures so severely
criticized was as cruel as to see a flower destroyed by hail. She could
not take the lofty standpoint of the Turkish lady. Had she done so,
viewing life in all its horror, she would have gone mad. How could she
bear to look upon herself, the renegade? She was now glad that she was
soon to leave that hateful house.

When she told Umm ed-Dahak of her grief, expecting sympathy, the latter
smiled and said:

“The right is with her. We must not neglect the things divine. I will
myself instruct thee in them, having some small learning. In sh´Allah,
I will teach thee to endure those thoughts which now appal thee.”

Instruction of that kind was needed two days later, when Barakah was
driven to her new abode. As she alighted from her carriage at the
door, some men in waiting cut the throat of a live buffalo by way of
compliment. Blood spurted in her path across the threshold.



CHAPTER XXIV


“Blood,” explained Umm ed-Dahak, “is but the juice of living creatures.
Had they crushed a fruit before thee, would thy Grace have shrunk or
fainted? Those servants sacrificed a thing of value in thy name and
scattered blood upon the threshold to bring thee good luck. The flesh
of the victim was distributed among the needy, as an almsdeed to the
credit of the house of Yûsuf Bey. There are those among the learned who
declare such practices to be against religion. Allah knows! Blood is
the life of creatures, and a precious offering; and our traditions say
that it is wise to shed it upon great occasions. Do but apply thy mind,
and thou shalt learn to view such sacrifices with a sort of pleasure.
It is true, by Allah! There is a thrill peculiar to the sight of blood.”

To this and many kindred exhortations Barakah replied with shudders.
She was downright ill. At last, perceiving her repugnance to be quite
invincible, the old woman resigned that branch of her instruction to
the Most High, and once more proffered only what she knew would please
her. Observing, also, her disgust at the sight of blind, diseased, or
crippled persons, numbers of whom frequented the harîm in quest of
alms, she prevented such from entering her presence.

To gain some credit with Murjânah Khânum, Umm ed-Dahak went and told
her, “My sweet lady is too frail. The weakness of the infidels still
clings to her. She cannot put her trust in God as we do, but is
harassed by the thought of pain and illness. I have tried in vain to
win her to a better mind.”

“Leave that to Allah!” was the saint’s reply. “All that I ask of her is
to frequent her equals, and not seclude herself in low frivolity.”

“To hear is to obey,” bowed Umm ed-Dahak.

She forthwith set to work to school her mistress in all the courtesies
expected of a noble lady. She coached her for her visits, teaching her
the names of all the male relations, after whom it was the custom to
inquire although she could not know them, together with the private
history of each lady of the house.

With such a commentator at her elbow, Barakah found amusement in her
social duties. Amînah Khânum was as kind to her as ever, but made no
secret of her disapproval of the life she led.

“I know,” she said, “that thou must feel bewildered sometimes. Our life
here is so different from that of Europe. It is natural for one who
has left much behind to seek forgetfulness in little pleasures. But
why with vulgar natives of the country? Why not with us, who are more
civilized and have a nobler view of El Islâm? Thou art not the only
European to be found among us. I have asked some others here to meet
thee, and rid thee of the sense of loneliness, which must be dreadful.”

She had in truth collected half a dozen other European women who had
married Muslims and assumed the veil. But Barakah, instead of being
pleased to meet them, seemed annoyed. They came from Italy and Southern
Austria. To be ranked with them aroused her English pride. When Amînah
Khânum asked why she disdained them, she replied that they were women
of the lowest class and doubtful character.

“It is unlawful to say that,” the princess scolded. “Such scorn is not
permitted here among us. A woman is invested with her husband’s honour.
It is a sin to cast up what she did before her marriage. Thy boast is
simply thou wast better guarded. Praise God for that, but do not scorn
those others!”

Barakah loved them none the more for this rebuke.

In her new dwelling she had three reception-rooms. The gilt salon was
kept for very ceremonious visitors. Her intimates were welcomed in a
large apartment with cushioned dais and divans round the wall, where
she herself was wont to sit with Umm ed-Dahak, though sometimes they
would camp upon the housetop under sunshades.

All kinds of suitors came to the selamlik to see Yûsuf; and most
of these brought presents, some of which were left at the haramlik
entrance to bespeak the intercession of the lady. Ghandûr was made the
steward of the house; he and his wife, who still attended on Muhammad,
inhabiting a room close by. Barakah was glad to hear his voice again.
As a relative by milk, he was allowed sometimes to kiss her hand and
raise his chant of honour in her presence.

The winter following her change of residence Barakah was once more
brought to bed. The whole household had been praying for another boy;
Muhammad had been taught to lisp, “A boy, in sh´Allah!” every time he
saw his mother. Umm ed-Dahak had desired her mistress might produce
boys only, because, she said, some of the brood were sure to die, and
were all boys there was less likelihood of being left with girls alone,
like Leylah Khânum. But a girl it proved to be. Muhammad shook his
little fist at the intruder, shouting, “Daughter of a dog, who bade
thee enter?” There was little joy at her reception in the world, and
that little raised to cheer the mother’s spirits.

“It is no matter,” chuckled Umm ed-Dahak, whose optimism triumphed over
every obstacle.

“A girl comes not amiss; she has her uses. Since some are bound to die
in early childhood, it is as well in every family to have a few who can
be spared. And Yûsuf Bey will thank thee for this gift. The fathers
always like to have a girl or two.”

“Why should some die? In sh´Allah, both of mine will be preserved!”
wailed Barakah.

“In sh´Allah! Yet if all the children born were to survive, there soon
would not be room to move in our great houses. For example, take the
palace of our lord the Pasha, thy good father. Let me see!” She sat in
thought and counted on her fingers: “Murjânah Khânum bore him twenty at
the least--all dead; Fitnah Khânum more than that--say thirty--of whom
six alive. The mother of Ali--she that was a slave--ten at the least,
three living. Then there was another concubine ...”

“Stop, stop! It is not true! It cannot be,” cried Barakah, with a
hysteric laugh.

But Umm ed-Dahak answered, “True, wallahi. What dismays thee? A woman’s
task is to produce. We leave the rest to Allah.”

And to console her hearer she went on to tell of broods of thirty,
even forty, reared successfully; when Barakah’s dismay was turned to
laughter.

In her moments of depression she was haunted by two terrors on her
son’s account. One was ophthalmia, a disease so prevalent in Egypt
that half the population was composed of blind and one-eyed persons.
The other was the plague, of which the women told grim stories with a
strange complacency. Many of her friends had been through epidemics of
the pestilence and, by their own report, had known no panic. It was a
swift and cruel illness, by which they had lost dear ones in despite
of careful nursing; it was from Allah; no one’s thinking could avert
or cure it. The horror the mere thought of it inspired in Barakah, her
futile worry, filled them with a placid wonder.

She had made up her mind that, if the plague drew near, she would carry
off her boy to Europe, having no doubt but she could win consent from
Yûsuf. But she said nothing of this resolution to the women, knowing
they would deem it godless. As a preventive against ophthalmia, she
bathed her son’s eyes with cold water twice a day, and gave orders for
the flies that settled on them to be brushed away--a thing the slaves
would not have thought of doing on their own initiative.

The plague did not come near her; and Muhammad’s eyes continued bright
and liquid under long black lashes. An enemy, unfeared as unexpected,
struck her joy.

About the period when he was being weaned, Muhammad had a serious
illness. An Armenian doctor was called in, who said, “It is the fever.”
At that the women wailed and prayed to Allah. The foe was too well
known, the scourge of children. There was no need to tell them what to
do.

“It carries off a host of infants every year,” said Umm ed-Dahak. “But
be not downcast, O beloved. God is great! Many survive, and those who
do recover are free from its malignancy for evermore.”

The malady was typhoid fever, or so like it that Barakah could not
detect the slightest difference. She had been often told that it did
not attack the natives of the land, but only Europeans, who were
thought more delicate. Here, then, was the reason. The natives who grew
up were all inoculated, having been through the disease in infancy.

Muhammad lived, for which his mother gave wild thanks to Allah, and
performed a hundred alms-deeds she had vowed in her suspense. But a
year later her small daughter died of the same scourge, and in the
after years she lost five children by it.



CHAPTER XXV


Her boy was her delight in life. No other woman was allowed to scold
him. When Yûsuf slapped him in the cause of order, which happened
often, for the child was naughty, she made it up to him with
sugar-plums and fond caresses. In his father’s absence Muhammad was the
lord of the harîm; all vied to please him. His foster-mother and the
servants told him fairy stories in which good children killed all kinds
of monsters. One, which he never tired of hearing, ended thus:

“Then little Hâfiz took a sword and reaped the head of the atrocious
ghoul; and beat to death the hag who had ill-used him, and with the
help of all the neighbours, who acclaimed his goodness, burnt all his
wicked little cousins in a cheerful fire.”

He knew that tale by heart and went about repeating it. He had a lot of
toys, but none which gave him so much pleasure as a little cane. With
this he beat the slave-girls, uttering terrific curses. The victims,
for his satisfaction, made believe to cry, and assured him they were
seriously injured. His mother and old Umm ed-Dahak praised his manly
spirit.

Fitnah Khânum sometimes shook her head and spoke of necessary
discipline. Barakah only smiled; as she did also, when young Na’imah,
puffed up with pride of her new motherhood, exclaimed: “By Allah, I
will bring up my son otherwise.” But when the prim and dainty Turkish
ladies looked fastidious, glancing around her room where toys lay
scattered, she felt angry. The salons of those ladies were maintained
in spotless cleanliness; their children, though untidy to avert
ill-fortune, were as courtly as small chamberlains towards their elders.

“It is strange! Thou art an Englishwoman, yet thou likest these
things!” Amînah Khânum exclaimed once, remarking her affection for
a certain sweetstuff, common in the markets but unknown in decent
houses--a taste she had acquired through Umm ed-Dahak. “Thou art too
much with the women of the country. Be more discerning in the choice of
friends.”

But Barakah was happy as she was; or, if not altogether happy, chose to
seem so from a blend of pride and indolence. Against the condescension
of the Turkish ladies she armed her dignity with the reflection that
she was born above all Eastern women. Yet she dared not let remembrance
dwell on England for fear of terrible misgivings she had sworn to
banish. Her boy, she thought, should be her vindication. He was visibly
superior to other children of the land.

To him, clasped tightly to her breast, she poured out all her secret
and tormenting thoughts.

The English had ill-treated her most shamefully. Her son must hate
the English for her sake. And yet he must remember he was half an
Englishman, a being of a different order from the children round him.
And when he prayed he must ask Allah to increase his strength and
wisdom, so that he might prove a match for any Englishman he might
encounter in the course of life. The child, with bright eyes, drank
in all she said, but God alone knew what his mind could make of it;
for Barakah’s opinions were a tangle as of angry serpents, their
utterance as incoherent as the cries of battle. She heard him once hurl
“Englishwoman!” at a slave who had enraged him. The girl laughed back:
“Thy mother is an Englishwoman,” when he replied: “A noble race and
warlike--the Muslimîn among them, like my mother. But thou art a low
Christian of that race, a filthy harlot!”

Outside her own house and her husband’s family Barakah’s chief friends
were Gulbeyzah and Bedr-ul-Budûr. With them she laid aside the pride
which had become her usual armour in society. Yet Gulbeyzah said one
day when Barakah was calling on her: “How thou art changed! Rememberest
thou the days when we talked French together? Then thou wast as timid
and demure as mice are; and so good and wise! Now thou art a high and
mighty Arab lady. I am half afraid!”

“Thou too art greatly changed, O wicked joker!” cried Barakah,
impounding the Circassian’s hand. “Rememberest thou the little window
in the passage?”

“Hush!” said Gulbeyzah, with uplifted finger. “By Allah, thou art owner
of a shameless memory. But come with me!”

She led her friend away from the reception-room, upstairs, and showed
her such another little window as that they both remembered, looking
out on distant roofs. “I come and dream here sometimes as of old--I,
the mother of two children!” sighed Gulbeyzah. “There is a roof well
fitted for a hopeless lover, but no one ever comes. Now thou knowest
that I have not changed my foolish nature, although in motherhood I
have acquired a soul.”

That the Turkish ladies rather wondered at her preference for Gulbeyzah
and Bedr-ul-Budûr, two former slaves, made Barakah the more enamoured
of their friendship. Muhammad was allowed to visit them, and play games
with their children, a transcendent favour; and it was with a horror as
of treason and of base ingratitude that she heard them, too, declare
that he was sadly spoilt.

It was at the wedding-feast which Tâhir, the great singer, gave his
daughter. The ladies of the grand harîms flocked thither eagerly, for
it was known that Tâhir would perform. The two Circassians found
out Barakah amid the throng, and went and sat with her in a deserted
corner. Muhammad had that day been playing with the children of
Gulbeyzah’s house.

“He is a little tyrant!” said his hostess, laughing. “A young savage.
He attacked my little girl as if to kill her, because she tried to get
back her own doll. I had to shake him. I told him that his mother would
be very angry at his conduct. He cursed my religion and then spat at
me. By our lady Zeynab, thou shouldst beat him sometimes, O my soul!”

“His spirit is too high and needs restraining. Every one says so,” said
Bedr-ul-Budûr.

“You must have thwarted him. He is not used to it. He has the noblest,
the most generous nature,” answered Barakah.

“By Allah, it is difficult not to thwart a boy who claims the eyes from
out one’s face as his to play with! He must be denied, and when denied
he grows infuriated,” said Gulbeyzah mildly.

Barakah was on the point of making a fierce answer, when the glorious
voice of Tâhir rose, compelling silence. She had heard a hundred
singers, male and female, since she came to Cairo; but Tâhir’s voice
alone had power to move her. The others mouthed and shrieked to
individual passions; but Tâhir took the soul and soared with it,
producing exaltation and a sense of peace. He sang from the pure heart
of El Islâm, and shed its fervent calm on all who heard him. When the
song died she had forgotten anger.

That wedding-feast became for ever memorable by reason of a shocking
tragedy at its conclusion. Barakah and her friends were led by Umm
ed-Dahak, who was a relative of Tâhir’s wife, to view the nuptial
chamber. It was full of flowering plants; the bed, with silken
coverings, was quite embowered. In addition to the odour of so many
blossoms the air was thick with perfumes burnt and sprinkled. The room,
they were informed, had been arranged, the flowers provided, by rich
admirers of the singer’s talent.

“By Allah, pretty! But I should not like to sleep there!” had been
Gulbeyzah’s comment, little guessing what would happen. For next
morning it was known to high and low, through all the city, that the
bridegroom and the bride had died of suffocation. When people went to
rouse them in the morning they found corpses. The news was brought
to Barakah by Umm ed-Dahak, who had herself been present at the sad
discovery. She told the story with an artist’s relish.

“What did Tâhir do? The poor demented father? What did he? He took his
lute and struck the chords and sang a song more mournful than was ever
heard on earth till now. Many present had to leave the room in grievous
pains. And then, with the last note--C-r-r-a-c-k!--he broke the lute,
and swore the binding oath that he would never sing again. In sh´Allah
he will change his mind,” said Umm ed-Dahak, in her ordinary tone.
“The world would lack a soul without his singing. His oath has spread
despair through all the town.”

For months the news of Tâhir was demanded eagerly. After his daughter’s
death he went to Tantah for a while. Returning to the capital,
prepared to keep his vow, he took a shop and furnished it with goods,
intending to become a merchant. He thought to work out bargains over
cups of coffee, by way of pastime only, for he was a wealthy man. But
the people, his admirers, would not have it. They thronged his shop
directly it was opened, and bought up all his goods in a few hours,
paying the price first asked without a protest. He stocked his shop
again; the same thing happened, till, finding himself debarred from
occupation, he cursed the day when he was born; and in the end repaired
to the Grand Câdi, and asked for liberation from his vow. The reverend
judge released him with a grin and “Praise to Allah!” It was what
his Honour and the whole of Egypt had been wanting. Enormous crowds
assembled to hear Tâhir call to noonday prayer at the great mosque El
Azhar--the first occasion of his singing since his daughter’s death.

“The praise to Allah, we possess him once again,” said Umm ed-Dahak,
when reporting his defeat. “It has cost us trouble to regain him,
Allah knows. He did wrong to swear that oath; which was as impious as
swearing to cut off his hand or foot, the work of God; and so the Câdi
told him in his judgment yesterday. He brought the grief upon himself
by doting on the girl above her merits, calling her his soul of music,
neglecting the son who is still with him--a fine lad. By the Prophet,
it was courting sorrow to make all that fuss about a daughter. Now had
it been his son, his source of honour----”

Barakah interrupted with a prayer to Allah to avert the omen of her
stabbing fear. She clutched Muhammad to her bosom; but he, intent on
playthings, kicked and struggled, even swore at her. And at that moment
Fitnah Khânum was announced.



CHAPTER XXVI


When Fitnah Khânum entered, the small boy was stamping about on the
dais, hurling frightful imprecations at his mother, who was on her
knees endeavouring to soothe him. His fez was off, and he had trampled
on it in his rage; he tore his clothing. Umm ed-Dahak, crouching by the
wall with her narghileh, made clucking noises to attract the child;
while the wife of Ghandûr, standing, smiled upon the scene, awaiting
the command to bear him off. The floor was littered with his broken
playthings. The light that filtered in through the rich lattice was
blue with all the dust that he had raised.

“Look, here comes thy grandmother, a great lady. Hush, O Muhammad! Be a
good boy. I will give thee such nice sweeties.”

“Mayest thou be ravished and then cut in pieces!” shrieked Muhammad,
knuckling both his eyes. Therewith he spurned his mother with his foot.

The visitor remained a moment petrified. It was the first time she had
seen her grandson at his worst. Then, boxing both ears of the wife of
Ghandûr, who stood grinning near her, she rushed upon the wicked boy,
and slapped him hard, regardless of his kicks and blows, his horrid
language.

“Learn to respect thy mother, little malefactor,” she admonished him,
enforcing every word with punishment. “Thou art no better than a
heathen, than a wild beast. Thou wilt merit fire hereafter!”

But Barakah sprang on her like a tigress. “He is my child! Let him
alone!” she panted.

“He is thy child, truly, but a Muslim first. To curse and kick his
mother is a dreadful crime.”

“Let him alone, I say! By Allah, no one shall chastise my son but me,
his mother!”

The ladies, both alike indignant, screamed against each other; Umm
ed-Dahak, ever ready to applaud a truth, however adverse, begged her
mistress to hear wisdom from the mouth of Fitnah Khânum; the wife of
Ghandûr was in tears, and all the slave-girls, assembling in the hope
to see a fight, shrieked prayers to Allah and implored the ladies to be
calm. Muhammad, in disgust at being quite forgotten, set up a dismal
howl, which no one heeded.

At length, perceiving the futility of further argument, the visitor
retired, by no means vanquished.

“The child must be removed if thou wilt not control him,” were her
parting words, unheard of any one amid the din.

In the greatest agitation and distress of mind, Fitnah Khânum went back
to her carriage and was driven home. She sought immediate audience of
Murjânah Khânum. She had a warm affection for the wife of Yûsuf, and
something like a passion for her little grandson. The need to take
stern measures with them filled her eyes with tears; but her religion
nerved her to perform a duty. A scene like that she had just witnessed
must never be allowed to be repeated in a Muslim house.

Murjânah’s look grew worried as she heard the story.

“I have spoken to the dear one once, and fain would never speak to her
again in chiding tones,” she murmured. “I pity her extremely, for she
is alone among us and, I think, afraid. Consider what might have become
of one of us if set down all alone amid the life of Europe! But it
devolves on us to intervene since Yûsuf, as thou sayest, will not act
against her.”

As a result of Fitnah’s allegations, Murjânah Khânum called a council
of the matrons of the family, including in the number her ex-slave,
Gulbeyzah, who, as Barakah’s best friend, might plead her cause. But
Gulbeyzah, when the case was laid before her, shrugged and cried:

“By Allah, it is true, she will destroy the child! How often have I
tried to warn her! But she is haughty in her weakness, and impatient
of advice. She loves the fawning voice of her own servants. She has
greatly changed. Yûsuf Bey, however, is for discipline. She has more
than once complained to me of his severity towards the boy.”

“What good is that when she consoles Muhammad afterwards, and talks
about his cruel father? I have heard her,” put in Na’imah, who was a
member of the conclave, though a child in years. She spoke with great
excitement. All the ladies smiled. Murjânah Khânum touched her cheek
affectionately, and called her the most excellent of little mothers.
Murjânah added:

“The whole trouble, as I see it, is her want of faith. She has lost the
comfort of her own religion, without acquiring ours in more than name.
Is such a woman, full of cowardice and self-indulgence, fit to rear a
Muslim? Unless she change her whole behaviour, which appears unlikely,
for her strength is gone, will it be wise to leave the child with her?”

“No!” came from all sides.

“Let his grandmother take charge of him,” said Leylah Khânum.

“God forbid!” cried Fitnah, “lest his mother hate me. Let him be given
to the wisest, most benign of women, to our dear Murjânah.”

This motion won applause from all the ladies on the divan. They
smiled to one another with rouged lips and kohled eyes. The room was
beautifully cool and sweet, the cigarettes were of the best, the coffee
excellent, and every one enjoyed the sense of doing serious business.

Murjânah showed no fear of the responsibility. Assured of Fitnah
Khânum’s gracious help, she said the task of civilizing the small boy
would not displease her; but first the menfolk had to be consulted, and
due warning must be given to the luckless mother. The ladies Fitnah,
Leylah, and Murjânah were deputed to convey the verdict of the council
to the Pasha and to Yûsuf Bey, who were invited to Murjânah’s rooms
that evening.

Yûsuf displayed some irritation when he heard the charges.

“But my wife is a Frank!” he cried. “Allah knows it is but natural her
ways should be different from ours.”

Murjânah took no notice of the interruption, but proceeded to relate
the scene described by Fitnah. She mentioned also facts which he could
not gainsay, as that Muhammad never kissed his father’s hand, that he
sat down in his father’s presence without asking leave, and that he
did not wait upon his parents as behoved a child. Yûsuf was silenced,
though he looked annoyed. The Pasha wore his blandest diplomatic visage.

“With thy permission, O my lord,” said the great lady, “we have thought
upon this matter and discussed it fully. If it be allowed for us to
proffer a suggestion, it is that thou, who didst endow the bride of
Yûsuf and stand in some sort for her people at the wedding, shouldst of
thy gracious favour go and reason with her.”

The Pasha, fingering his beads, observed that God is merciful.

“Of thy kindness condescend to view the case,” she urged. “The boy is
brought up utterly devoid of reverence. What is his fate when he goes
out to face the world--unmannerly, rebellious, a mad dog, a savage,
detestable alike to great and small. Of what use will he be to El
Islâm? Oh, God forbid that he should grow like that--a scourge to his
two parents, and the scorn of others. It is to save him and his mother
from the consequences of her folly that we beg thee of thy mercy to
remonstrate with her, and if she will not hearken, to confide the
education of the child to us. The word is spoken. May our Lord preserve
thee ever!”

“May Allah help us all!” replied the Pasha gently.

When he and Yûsuf had departed from the ladies and were returning
through dim corridors to the selamlik, he inquired:

“What sayest thou?”

“They much exaggerate,” said Yûsuf warmly. “I keep an eye upon the boy.
In course of time I shall correct his conduct.”

“Do it now!”

“What meanest thou? Why dost thou smile, my father?”

“I smile because I have observed that when the women take that
tone--‘of thy great kindness deign to listen,’ and the rest, there is
no safe course for man but to obey. The boy is five years old and it
is time he learnt behaviour. It is thy business, O my son; remonstrate
with her.”

“Nay, for they charged thee with the office.”

“It is thine of right.”

“Very gladly I resign it to thee. Thy words have more weight. And how
can I turn round upon her suddenly? She will think me mad.”

“By Allah, I implore thee to perform thy duty.”

“By the Prophet, I beseech, adjure thee to befriend me now, as thou
hast done from childhood. I will tell her to expect a visit from thee
in the morning.”

“Well, God is greatest!” The good Pasha heaved a sigh, proclaiming his
acceptance of the part allotted.

Accordingly, next morning, arrayed in his official black frock-coat
and newest fez, he waited upon Barakah, who received him with delight,
evidently unsuspecting the real purpose of his visit. He thought that
Yûsuf might at least have warned her. However, with a shrug, he opened
business in his usual courtly and confiding manner, speaking in
French, since servants are born eavesdroppers.

“Madame my daughter,” he began, “from the moment when you did my house
the honour of espousing my dear son, I have been your servant and
admirer; that is known. Yûsuf himself has not more tender veneration
for your many virtues and accomplishments, so rare among us.” He went
on to recite the panegyric of her general conduct as a wife and mother,
paid tribute to her beauty and her piety, and then said, “But there is
one small point on which I have to scold you. In your great goodness,
your untiring kindness, you forget to claim the service due to you.
Your slaves, as I have heard, grow fat and lazy, and though devoted to
you--as what soul would not be?--do not keep your house so scrupulously
clean and nicely ordered as the dwelling-place of such a treasure
ought to be. I beg you to make hard your heart from time to time, to
think a little less for others and more often for yourself. Even your
own son should be brought up to reverence you, as one to whom he owes
incalculable debts of gratitude. He should kiss your hand whenever he
approaches, and bow and ask your blessing when he takes his leave. It
is our custom for small children and, I think, a good one. How is the
little one this morning? Am I not to be allowed to see him for one
moment?”

Barakah clapped her hands and, when a slave appeared, gave order
for Muhammad to be brought. He came in presently, escorted by his
foster-mother, who stood and watched his progress to the dais with
loving smiles. He was in docile mood, and Barakah detained him, giving
the wife of Ghandûr leave to go.

“What fault is there to find in his behaviour?” she inquired in French,
with arch defiance of the Pasha.

“None in the world,” he made reply, with vast politeness, “except that
he has not kissed hands, nor waited your permission to sit down with
us.”

“Absurd!” laughed Barakah.

“Absurd, in verity, like many of our customs. Only, my cherished
daughter, he is one of us and must observe them. If you refuse to teach
him the behaviour which we consider fitting for young children, I
announce with deep regret that we must take him from you.”

Barakah gasped. She looked for signs of jesting; but the Pasha’s
visage, though urbane, was serious.

“It has been told me,” he continued very gravely, “that this boy, when
angry, kicks and curses his own mother. That is, for us others, a most
dreadful crime, apart from the regard in which I hold you personally.
My grandson must not be brought up to shame our house; the authority of
the family must be exerted to avert dishonour. In fact, dear madame,
if you will not punish him, he must be given for a while to some one
who will do so.”

“But it is unheard of!” cried the mother wildly. “How can you think
of such abominable cruelty? He is my child. My right to him exists in
nature.”

“And is inalienable,” said the Pasha, with a splendid bow. “No one else
can ever bear him, but some one else will have to educate him, since
madame refuses.”

“I am an Englishwoman. I shall complain to my Consul.”

“Believe me, dear madame, he will not listen. Your son is a Turkish
subject; we inhabit Egypt; and in a case of this sort we allow no
interference. The English are a race distinguished for intelligence
and force of character; I beg you to display those qualities on this
occasion.”

He left her in hysterics, clinging fiercely to her boy.



CHAPTER XXVII


No sooner was the Pasha gone than Umm ed-Dahak crept back softly to her
mistress and cooed of consolation in her ear. Muhammad, who had started
howling out of sympathy, she told to go and play with Ghandûr’s son.

“By Allah, it is all my fault, not thine,” she whispered. “I ought to
have foreseen this grief and warned thee. Vex not thy soul at all! It
is no matter! Praise be to Allah, we can change our policy. To-morrow
thou wilt beat thy son a little, and all the world will praise thy
management.”

But the mother’s tears were flowing less from sense of guilt than for
the helplessness, the lack of energy, which she discovered in herself
at such a crisis. The call to make an effort paralysed her; she hung
on Umm ed-Dahak like a frightened child, agreeing with loud sobs to
the old woman’s statement that on the morrow they would make a new
beginning.

That afternoon the little boy had been invited to Gulbeyzah’s house.
His mother being too unwell to bear him company, he started off on foot
in the custody of Ghandûr. Barakah adjured him to be very good and
mind his manners, on which he kissed her with a most angelic smile.

“See how obedient and how good he is!” she wailed, her anguish breaking
out afresh when he was gone. “How can they say he is not well brought
up?”

“Without a doubt they have been misinformed,” cooed Umm ed-Dahak.
“They have mistaken some exceptional disorder for his general conduct
Ma sh´Allah! With but a touch of discipline, a very little teaching
of good manners, thou wilt make him glorious, a pattern to all other
children of this age.”

But Muhammad, who had set forth as an angel, returned a little devil,
in a sullen rage. He would not speak a word, refused all nourishment,
and sat aloof with frowning brows and gnashing teeth. Ghandûr, who
brought him home, had sent in word that he had been a naughty boy and
needed punishment. So Ghandûr also was his mother’s enemy.

Muhammad struck at all the women who came near him. He swore by the
Most High to ravish every one of them, to tear their eyes out and
cut off their hands and feet. The servants laughed at his ferocious
impotence, which made things worse. When his mother came and knelt
beside him, he at first repelled her; but after half an hour’s
incessant coaxing she elicited his cause of grief.

He had been pretending in his play to kill Gulbeyzah’s little
girl--“not really hurting her,” he blubbered, “though she shrieked like
a dying fowl”--when all at once, without the slightest provocation, a
big boy assailed him, flung him down and knelt upon him, pinning his
two hands. While he was in that position the ladies of the harîm had
come in and reviled him, praising his cruel persecutor as a hero. They
had then conveyed him, kicking, to Ghandûr, who, like the beast he was,
believed their lies.

“It is no matter, O beloved! Dry thy tears! Never--never shalt thou
visit that unfriendly house again,” his mother whispered.

Muhammad hiccuped on a sob, “Wallahi!” and fell again to gnashing of
his teeth and moaning.

“See!” murmured Umm ed-Dahak. “See his dauntless spirit! By Allah, it
is true, he must be tamed a little.”

That night he cried himself to sleep, and in the morning was snappish
and morose, with furtive eyes. About the fourth hour of the day his
mother missed him, and having sought through all the house in vain,
conceived grave fears. She sent a eunuch to the Pasha’s palace, while
Ghandûr cried the tidings through the quarter. Distraught with grief,
she ran from room to room in the hottest hours of the day, always
expecting to find Muhammad hiding somewhere. At last she sank down on a
couch, exhausted.

The third hour after noon, as she was lying thus, Gulbeyzah and her
durrahs were announced. They entered with much tragic exclamation.
Then the truth was known. Muhammad had repaired that morning to their
house and joined the children’s games, appearing friendly. But he was
only waiting for his chance of vengeance; for, luring Gulbeyzah’s
little girl apart, he stabbed her with a dagger he had got--the Lord
knew how!--and cried to her big brother, “Thy account, O tyrant!”

His victim--praise to Allah--was not killed; nor even, by His mercy,
maimed for life; but the ensuing uproar in the house may be imagined.
The murderous child had been imprisoned in a room apart; the lord of
the harîm, when summoned, had sent at once for Yûsuf Bey, who was even
now examining the culprit. Directly the responsibility had been lifted
off them, they (the ladies) had flown straight to Barakah to assure her
of their unimpaired affection. But--merciful Allah!--what was the world
coming to? They sought refuge in Allah from such revengeful fury in so
small a child.

“You must have used him very cruelly,” the mother cried. “He is by
nature the most generous of children, not a criminal!”

At that, all four began to talk at once. Barakah talked against them,
and the slave-girls and dependants, looking on, raised cries. The
argument was at its height when Yûsuf was announced. The din ceased
instantly. The four Circassians raised their mouth-veils in alarm and
slipped away; the servants, silenced, went into another room.

Yûsuf entered, stern of countenance, dragging by the arm the peccant
boy, whose mouth hung open, while his eyes stared wildly, fixed in the
imbecility of abject fear.

Barakah fell down at her husband’s feet and screamed for mercy. He was
obdurate.

“Let be, O woman!” he commanded. “My child, as trained by thee, is now
a malefactor. He robs and kills; he breaks the law of hospitality. He
stole a weapon from Ghandûr, his foster-father, and with it stabbed a
little girl, whose guest he was. Henceforth I take him from thee, and
give him to my mothers to be educated. Seek not to counteract their
efforts, or by the Ca’abah I will beat thee soundly as I now beat him.”

With that, he marched his son into an inner room, whence presently
there issued sounds of blows and bitter wailing. Barakah ground her
face upon the floor and stopped her ears.

Muhammad, by his father’s orders, was shut off from her that night;
and the next morning, before Yûsuf went to business, the Pasha’s harîm
carriage came to fetch the child. The eunuch brought a letter from
Murjânah Khânum, inviting Barakah to come and give her counsel. But
Barakah’s sole answer was an angry cry.

For several days she would not budge from her own rooms, refused to see
the Pasha’s ladies when they called, and persisted, notwithstanding
every argument, in posing as the victim of most foul injustice. And Umm
ed-Dahak coaxed and soothed her all that while. At length, one day,
Murjânah Khânum entered, unannounced; and Barakah, in act to rise and
make indignant protest, was silenced by the sight of her own child.

“Go, O Muhammad, do what I have told thee,” said the old lady, with her
hand on the boy’s shoulder. Whereat Muhammad went up gravely and bowed
over his mother’s hand to kiss it, but she caught him in her arms,
preventing him. He called out to Murjânah Khânum that it was not fair,
and struggled to get free. She put him down, when he went on with his
polite performance, kissed her hand and pressed his forehead to it,
inquired after her health and asked her blessing; and then in the most
courtly Arabic asked what he had done that one of his parents, who were
dearer to him than all living creatures, should punish him by five days
of avoidance.

“The harîm of my grandfather, Muhammad Pasha Sâlih, depute me to
request that thou wilt honour us this day and every day with thy most
gracious presence, O my mother.”

Before the termination of this speech and ceremony, Barakah was lying
on her face in tears. She had thought, through the long hours of
deprivation, that they were teaching her own child to disregard, if not
to hate her. The relief was great. Murjânah sat beside her and caressed
her, while Muhammad, standing reverently, looked concerned.

They took her with them in the carriage to the Pasha’s house, where,
instead of reprobation, she met boundless sympathy. The ladies Fitnah
and Murjânah told her all that had been done for the small boy, with
evident anxiety for her approval. Muhammad showed her all the harîm
pets. He bade a slave-girl bring his own white doves. She brought three
in her bosom. At his call, they flew to him and settled on his head and
shoulders. There dwelt a parrot in the house of Na’imah, a monkey in
the house of Fitnah Khânum, which she had to visit; as well as roving
cats, and little birds in cages, and several street-dogs who came round
for food. He also showed with pride his plot of garden, consisting of
a box of scented herbs. And all the while that she was in the house,
he waited on her like a page, kissing her hand whenever he could get
a chance, and telling her the joy he felt in seeing her. When, left
alone with him, she strove to whisper consolation, he shook his head
decidedly, and told her: “O my mother, I have learnt to know that I was
very wicked. Thou wast ever much too gentle and too kind with me. Allah
knows how much I love thee--my grandmothers have taught me that--but
it is well that I should be removed from thee a while and brought to
reverence. It is not right that one so delicate as thou art should have
a rough, ill-mannered boy to vex her.”

He loved her more than ever, it appeared, but thought her not much
wiser than himself.

Her fear of the stern rules of El Islâm was tamed by reverence.

“By Allah, they are like the string and we the beads,” said Umm
ed-Dahak, holding up a rosary to point her meaning. “Thirty-three beads
of no intrinsic worth. If scattered, useless and soon lost. If strung
together, a comely instrument of praise to God.”

Barakah watched Muhammad with humility; not jealous of the change which
had been wrought by others, but choosing to regard it as a miracle
direct from Heaven. His pride, once wayward, now was focused on his
coming manhood. He told her all his thoughts, which seemed to her most
wise. He waited on her hand and foot when in her presence. Yet in this
deference there was a touch of condescension which was absent from the
honour which he paid to Yûsuf. His father was his sovereign, she his
tender care. Such wisdom in so small a child appeared miraculous. She
worshipped his perfections while he bowed before her.



CHAPTER XXVIII


At seven years old Muhammad went to school. It was customary for the
scions of great houses to be taught at home by private tutors, but the
family council had decreed that so exceptional a child must feel the
yoke of public discipline and mix with other boys as soon as possible.
The school, just founded by the widow of a former ruler, was reckoned
modern, for the simple reason that the scholars learnt geography and
history, and handled other books as well as the august Corân.

Ghandûr led off Muhammad every morning, and brought him home at evening
through the perils of the streets. Barakah’s thoughts were with him all
day long; she liked to guess at his employment at a given moment; while
Umm ed-Dahak painted flattering pictures of his skill in learning, the
astonishment of all his masters at his brilliant genius.

When she was driven out to pay her calls, Barakah arranged beforehand
with the eunuch that the carriage should pull up before the school.
Then through the shutter she would watch the iron screen which filled
each window-arch and listen to the drone of children’s voices.

The school was an octagonal kiosk of marble, touching the wall of a
world-famous mosque. Its salient bulk half throttled an important
thoroughfare, forming a narrow strait where traffic battled, and on
each side a little bay or backwater where the carriage could draw
up without obstruction. There, underneath the windows with their
arabesques of iron screen-work, sat street sorcerers with trays of sand
before them, venders of sugar-cane and slabs of bread and divers nuts;
and holy beggars slumbered in the shade. Barakah knew exactly where
Muhammad had his seat and, waiting upon that side, watched a certain
opening in the iron-work, from which there presently emerged a little
hand. It fluttered for a moment and was then withdrawn. She waited for
a second signal and a third before she gave the order to drive on.

At school Muhammad’s aim was to excel by all means. The counsels of
Murjânah Khânum, who used religious and inspiring words, had fired his
brain. He had but one ambition now--to please his father. He would
prove the best of Muslims, the most zealous, the most learned, and
then his father would forget his former wickedness. In pursuance of
this end he chafed at every obstacle and was infuriated by stupidity
or sloth in others. He beat his foster-brother more than once through
mere impatience, and in the end put zeal into that vacant but receptive
youth. And Barakah, whose worship of her paragon extended to the son
of Ghandûr as his shadow, became the confidante of all their thoughts
and projects.

The report which the headmaster made to Yûsuf Bey after Muhammad’s
first few weeks at school was satisfactory.

“The boy, thy son,” remarked the reverend man, “is highly gifted and
extremely diligent. In sh´Allah, he will live to be a light to El
Islâm, a glory to this land of Masr, and a worthy slave of the Most
High. We have only one small fault to find with his behaviour, which is
that, in his eagerness, he answers questions we address to other boys,
and is inclined to argue with the teacher as if instruction were for
him alone.”

His mother was delighted with this verdict, whose one restriction
seemed to her the highest praise. She began to cherish visions of his
future greatness, and with the aid of Umm ed-Dahak built grand castles
in the air.

“In sh´Allah, he will rise to rule in Egypt; he will be the right hand
of the Khedive, the chief vizier, the leader of the armies; the sword
and shield of El Islâm, the scourge of Allah on the heathen and all
infidels.”

Thus Umm ed-Dahak, seated on the floor beside her mistress; who,
reclining on the dais at ease with her narghileh, removed the amber
mouthpiece from her lips to sigh, “In sh´Allah!”

In order to be worthy of her son’s magnificence, Barakah had evolved
a fine romantic history out of her own past. The transmutation of
that dross to gold took place so naturally that she was not aware of
lying when she told her crony that she was of royal birth. Gentility
being something inconceivable by Umm ed-Dahak, who knew of no inherited
prestige save that of an Emîr, she was obliged, in order to convey the
status of a governess, to compare it with the lot of fallen princes.
From thence to the invention of a principality was but a step. The
remonstrance of the Consul and of Mrs. Cameron against her marriage
became the rage of a fanatical and angry nation. The noise of her
conversion had disturbed all Europe, and nearly brought on a religious
war. Let Umm ed-Dahak ask the Pasha, if she doubted!

But Umm ed-Dahak was not of the kind who doubt. For her, romantic
fiction was more worth than fact. She accepted this, as she accepted
every tale, artistically, and even added likely details unperceived of
Barakah.

The servants came to know the weakness of their mistress and addressed
her as “Emîrah” with all kinds of ceremony. The disease was catching;
they themselves became infected. With the blacks illusion took the form
of demoniacal possession. Each one began to brag of “him who dwells in
me,” his power and jurisdiction over other demons. Barakah overheard
them talking of their inmates, discussing pedigrees and finding out
relationships which had existence only in the world of ginn. She once
complained of their insanity to Fitnah Khânum, and asked what could be
done to put a stop to it.

“I know one cure for devils as for every other illness of unmarried
girls, and that is matrimony,” was the answer. “Among us here it is a
sovereign remedy; among the Franks it seems less efficacious.”

“Among the Franks such foolish fancies are unknown,” laughed Barakah,
when Fitnah Khânum sniffed, but said no more.

“The poor one is herself possessed,” she told Murjânah afterwards. “The
servants say a princess of the ginn inhabits her; and she complains
because they also harbour inmates. She ought to see a proper exorcist.”

The ladies all agreed to pity her. But Barakah, unconscious of their
criticism, pursued her path of dreams with Umm ed-Dahak.

“May fire consume the infidels who thus dethroned thee, who robbed thee
of thy land and honours!” cried the latter. “O day of milk, when thou
didst fly for succour to the Muslimîn! They will avenge thy wrongs, in
sh´Allah, in the time to come. Thy son shall win his birthright back
with fire and sword.... Ma sh´Allah! Do I not behold his state? I see
him on a throne, with courtiers prone before him--Muhammad Yûsuf Pasha,
styled ‘the Great’--nay, what say I?--the Emîr, the King Muhammad in
virtue of his mother’s dignity!” cried Umm ed-Dahak with dilated
eyes. “By Allah, the most splendid scene I ever witnessed! He is Grand
Vizier!”

But the downfall of the Khedive’s favourite, occurring at this epoch,
dashed the ardour of the seers, and caused them in alarm to change
their vision. The man, whose pomp had served them for a measure of
Muhammad’s greatness, disappeared from life. The story ran that, having
grown too great, he had been trapped by order of his loving master,
accommodated with a weighted sack, and dropped into the Nile. The
tidings caused a flutter in the world of women like that of seafarers
beholding shipwreck. For the favourite’s death involved the ruin of a
great harîm, boasting its troupes of dancers and of trained musicians,
lavish of entertainment and of gay repute. Its members, far too many
to be all beloved, had, some of them, found vent in wild amours which
furnished thrilling stories to more lucky women. Now all the slaves
were scattered among other houses; the ladies, owning private property,
returned to their relations pending further marriage. The great man’s
children were reduced to mediocrity; his honours and emoluments divided
up among a score of courtiers; his name became a byword for pride’s
fall.

“Wallahi, our beloved must not follow in his steps too closely. Allah
forbid!” said Umm ed-Dahak solemnly. And forthwith she began to make
another forecast, with frequent “In sh´Allahs” and “Ma sh´Allahs,” to
rob it of all taint of boastfulness. “He goes up gently, rousing no
suspicion in the ruler, winning the people’s voice, as did Muhammad
Ali. Then, when the times are ripe, he asks the Sovereign and his
courtiers to a banquet and cuts all their throats. Then he ascends the
throne and does good deeds, till all men praise the Maker for his rare
benevolence. And thou, his mother, wilt reside in splendid state, and
when the great ones of the English come with gifts for thee, thou wilt
spit upon them and repel them with thy little foot. In sh´Allah!”

Barakah would be a widow in those days, by Allah’s mercy. A queen, she
would of course have many lovers. Did she desire a man--one word, and
he was hers as quick as lightning! And Umm ed-Dahak would be ever at
her call to spread the net for goodly youths and guard her secret.

“But I shall be too old by then!” laughed Barakah.

“Please Allah, no!” cried the old woman, a trifle vexed at being
brought to earth. “Thou wilt be still quite youthful. See thee now:
what beauty, what a youthful figure! By Allah, almost wicked in a
mother! Thou dost not grow old.”

In fact, her shape, though something fat, was not ungainly, like
that of younger women leading the same life. She took no care of it,
conforming to the harîm custom for women who bear children to let
beauty go. “The time and purpose of the bloom is past, the fruit
succeeds, more noble,” they assured her. She saw the rarest beauties,
like Bedr-ul-Budûr, already changing into fat old women. Compared with
them she felt still young and comely. But when, her carriage rolling
on the Gîzah road, she saw real Frankish women, riding, driving,
she felt a raddled and unwieldy hag. There was one Englishwoman in
particular who often passed her, driving a light dog-cart with a Nubian
groom behind--straight as a lance and trim of waist, with rosy cheeks
and bright eyes under grizzled hair. A creature of free air and open
sunlight, the shuttered, perfumed shade could not produce her like. A
jealousy near hatred stirred in Barakah.

One evening Yûsuf, thinking to amuse her, had sent her with his sisters
and Muhammad to the new opera-house which the Khedive had built to
please the European visitors, and also to provide His Highness with
relays of mistresses. There, in a harîm box behind a screen, she smoked
cigarettes and listened to what seemed mere senseless screeching to one
who had admired the voice of Tâhir. The opera was _Don Giovanni_. Never
had she witnessed a performance so stilted, artificial, and absurd.
She quite agreed with the remarks of her companions, who, after their
first wonder at the building and the lighted stage, yawned openly and
called it simple madness. Yet the entertainment was no bad one to
the taste of Europe, as she knew from the applause of people in the
unscreened boxes, where barefaced, brilliant women sat and stared about
them. The mere existence of those women there in Cairo, transgressing
every native rule of conduct, was an insult. The freshness even of the
old ones made her conscious of decay. When the girls after the second
act proposed to go, she agreed gladly. Muhammad screamed to stay, and
had to be transported bodily by Barakah, while one of his young aunts
held her hand upon his mouth. A very small boy at the time, he had
supposed the scene was laid in hell, and all the hideous screams of the
performers denoted pangs of tortured infidels.

Muhammad, for his mother’s sake, abhorred the English; and yet he loved
his mother, who was of that race. He reconciled these warring passions
by supposing the existence of a race of Muslims in the British Isles.

One day, when he was ten years old, he came home with a face of
indignation, demanding, “O my mother, is it not quite true that the
English nation is as strong and warlike as the French, and nowise
subject to the lord of Paris?”

“True, O my son.”

“By Allah, that is what I said. We were arguing, a dozen of us, after
school. They all opposed me, stating that the French were much the
greater and more civilized. I, sure of my contention, asked a master
who stood by. He foolishly asserted that the French were stronger. I
informed him of his error in all courtesy, when, to my horror, he began
abusing me, detained me in the school an hour against my will, and
himself remained to gloat on my imprisonment.

“Nor is that all. No sooner was I free than I went to the house of
the principal and made complaint of the injustice. He said--the
malefactor!--thus escaping from the question, that it was a sin for
true believers to quarrel for the sake of infidels. I told him there
were Muslimîn among the English, as witness my own mother, who is one
of them. He had the rudeness to declare thou art a convert. It was all
that I could do to keep from plucking at his beard. I shall ask my
father to remove me straightway from a school where lying insults and
oppression thus prevail.”

“The principal spoke truth. I am a convert,” murmured Barakah, hanging
her head through fear of her son’s shame.

“Merciful Allah!” cried Muhammad, greatly shocked.

But in a moment he recovered from the blow. Kissing her hand, he
murmured fondly:

“Be not downcast, O beloved, it is not thy fault. My comrades sneer at
converts; but no matter. I shall still maintain that thou wert born in
the right way. Thou art still my dearest mother, loved and honoured.”

The lover-like, protecting air became him rarely.



CHAPTER XXIX


News from the world of men reached the harîm like voices from the
street without. From time to time some item, interesting them, was
cried in tones of censure or approval; but always in a manner of
abstraction. This apathy arose from centuries of strict seclusion,
in which, through change of dynasties and strife of factions, the
privilege of the harîm had been respected. The women felt that politics
could not come near them; the government which ruled the men was none
of theirs. A realm within the realm, they had their own excitements,
their own concerns of life and death and amorous crime. Events the most
important failed to move them, while trifling breaches of religion or
old custom caused a vast commotion in that nursery of fanaticism.

One day, when Barakah was out driving in her carriage, she was stopped
near Abdîn palace by the pressure of excited crowds and heard the
sounds of angry tumult. The driver backed the horses and then turned.
On reaching home she asked the eunuch of the matter.

He shrugged: “It is the soldiers, O my lady. They are angry at the
coming of the Frank commissioners.”

It was then that she presumed to question Yûsuf, and learnt that two
commissioners, one French, one English, had come to take control of
the finances of the country. The Khedive, that jovial libertine and
spendthrift, was now bankrupt. The Europeans, as his creditors, assumed
the reins.

“But why the English?” questioned Barakah with irritation, for up to
then the French alone had been a power in Egypt.

“Wallahi, just because their men are clever,” was the answer. “They
bought up all our Sovereign’s shares in the canal. Their guile is
great, but greater Allah’s mercy, for the arrival of these Franks is
good for me. Knowing both their languages I am put forward to receive
them, and so rise in honour.”

In fact, a few days later he was made a Pasha.

But Barakah could not regard the case thus philosophically. The
intrusion of the English frightened her. If they should ever come
to lord it in the country her degradation would be unendurable. She
confided her displeasure to Muhammad, who took an interest in politics
as schoolboys will. He bade her have no fear; the Muslims would destroy
them presently. The women told her God would intervene. But things went
rapidly from bad to worse.

Since a French force under Bonaparte had entered Cairo, before the era
of Muhammad Ali, no such fury had possessed the world of women as that
which seized them on the deposition of the Khedive Ismaîl. Whatever
touched the majesty of El Islâm excited them; vile infidels had here
contrived the downfall of a Muslim ruler. And there ensued a host of
innovations, in which the hand of unbelief was plainly visible.

The slave-trade had been formally abolished under Ismaîl, to please
the Franks, but with the customary wink of that facetious monarch. The
trade continued gaily with his sly connivance. Now, in his son’s reign,
it began to be suppressed in earnest. The slaves themselves were loud
in lamentation. When it was known that slavery itself was menaced, the
harîm chattered like ten thousand angry parrots.

“The Lord have mercy on us! It is gross impiety,” screamed Fitnah
Khânum. “Does not the august Corân lay down strict rules for the
control of slaves? Is it not therefore Allah’s will that they exist?”

“The trade in slaves is holy,” cried Gulbeyzah; “bringing every year
a thousand converts out of heathendom. If some are slain, it is no
matter, since the death of heathens is uncounted, like the death of
beasts. Without the cruel raids, the bloodshed, the survivors had not
known salvation. Praise be to Allah, they cannot suppress the trade in
us white people, since a father’s right to sell his child resides in
nature. Only since the English meddle do we hear such wickedness.”

Besides the slave-trade, good old customs were abolished--one ceremony
called the trampling, in particular, in which a sheykh, renowned for
piety, was wont to ride on horseback over strewn believers. Some people
thought the world was coming to an end, and looked for the appearance
of the final prophet. The times were full of omens, portents, monstrous
births. The French and English, in collusion, gave command in Egypt;
the monarch was a puppet in their hands. The apathy of men amazed
the women looking on. The good Khedive appeared a devil to those hot
non-combatants; rebellion a plain duty upon all believers. They prayed
for a deliverer to be raised up; and in the absence of the prophet whom
they half expected, applauded the exertions of a simple soldier, who
ventured to oppose the wicked rulers.

With the exception of some Turks, who sneered from pride of race, the
whole harîm acclaimed Arâbi from his first appearance as a champion.
The women viewed the question very simply. Here, on one hand, was a
man who wished to free the land from foreign interference, whose cry
of Egypt for the Egyptians, must mean Egypt for the Muslims, since the
Copts were nobody; on the other, an infirm, if not a wicked, ruler who
was letting all the privilege of El Islâm be torn away. In vain their
men assured them the Khedive was a good Muslim, and only deferential
to the Franks from sheer expediency; that Arâbi’s faction was the work
of clever rascals, and boasted not one man of solid parts. They took
religious ground and would not listen. They taught their children to
admire Arâbi. Muhammad, now a student in the school of war, assisted by
his faithful Ali, fought five boys who dared to ridicule the peasant
soldier. Though beaten many times the two did not give way, though
Ali, for his own part, would have fled thrice over. But Muhammad was
indomitable. Bruised and bleeding, he returned with fury to the charge,
till his opponents fled in pure religious terror of such dauntless
rage. A few weeks later the whole land was cringing before Arâbi’s
power. And then excitements followed thick and fast. Muhammad brought
his mother all the latest rumours. One day it was:

“Great tidings, O my mother! All the Franks are flying! Ali and I have
been to watch them at the railway station. Such a crowd! The faithful,
past all patience, have risen up at Tantah and Iskenderîyeh and slain
thousands of them.”

A number of the loyal Turks were also flying. Amînah Khânum and
Bedr-ul-Budûr came to take leave of Barakah. They were bound for
Alexandria, in the train of the Khedive, and thence would take ship for
Constantinople if things grew no better. Muhammad, when informed of
their departure, rendered praise to Allah.

“They are vanquished,” he remarked. “But would to Allah that we had
more Turks on our side. These fellâhîn, though braggarts, are great
cowards. They need the whip to urge them into battle. I, who am half
a Turk and half an Englishman, cannot endure the sluggishness of this
Nile mud.”

The boy forgot the portion of his blood which was derived from Fitnah
Khânum, his paternal grandmother. It was Nile mud of the thickest,
but it did not show in him. All hot and noble counsels moved him to
enthusiasm; the lukewarm and the philosophical enraged his soul.
Stupidity or insolence in an inferior he could not brook. If his
commands were not obeyed at once and with intelligence, he struck hard
with the first instrument that came to hand, and called down Allah’s
wrath on the offender. The old Pasha was delighted by those outbursts,
as showing the commanding spirit of his Turkish race.

“When all these low-born troubles have passed over, we must procure
him some small government,” he said to Yûsuf, who acquiesced with a
pathetic smile. He had not that supreme contempt for the Egyptian
rebels which kept his aged father calm amid the storm. He held a good
position, and he feared to lose it; whereas his father had retired from
public life.

Barakah delighted in her son’s account of the disorders. His excitement
and the animation of each glance and gesture provided her with
pictures upon which she brooded in the vacancy of summer days. The air
which drifted through her lattice was oppressive, the sunlight like a
furnace fire without; the voices of the street complained of dust and
heat; the ceaseless buzz of flies benumbed the brain; the call for
water rang incessantly through all the house, and even Umm ed-Dahak
felt too weak to talk. But Barakah was happy, since Muhammad spent much
time with her, finding her conversation more congenial to his patriotic
mood than that of Yûsuf. In his absence she lay still and smoked, and
quenched her thirst at frequent intervals, taking scant notice of her
little daughter--the only other of her many children who had managed
to survive the second year. Umm ed-Dahak loved the child and schooled
her privately, telling her stories of man’s love and woman’s duty, and
teaching her to pose and ogle in the proper way. But for the rest she
was of no importance; Muhammad’s known affection for her was her only
merit.

One afternoon Muhammad came in with a mien of wild excitement and,
having kissed his mother’s hand, cried out:

“Most dreadful news! O horror! O revenge! The English have destroyed
Iskenderîyeh with their cruel guns! The English only, since the French,
more honourable, fled from the hateful sight with tears of shame.
Simply because the forts were being mended, and work was not relaxed
at their command. But, praise to Allah, we have hurt them also. Quite
half their fleet has been destroyed by our brave fire. After this,
we give no quarter--no, by Allah! It is holy war. Muhammad Tewfik
is proclaimed a scoundrel. Our Arâbi is Dictator. The army is to be
augmented fourfold by forced levies. I met a boy, no older than myself,
who goes to fight. I go this minute to implore my father to let me
likewise join the army in the field.”

“Thy age is but fifteen. O Lord, he must not go!” cried out his mother
in an agony of apprehension.

“I am a man full-grown, proficient in all exercises that belong to
war. As young as I are going. Think, it is against the English, O my
mother--thy vile enemies!”

Embracing her without a thought for her despair, he left her in great
haste to find his father.



CHAPTER XXX


Yûsuf Pasha was upon the point of going out when his son was shown into
his presence in his private room. He smiled upon the stripling’s prayer
to be allowed to fight, but said:

“No, no, my son. Thou art too young as yet. Wait till the war is ended
and then join the fray.”

With that he patted the boy’s cheek, bestowed his blessing on him, and
went out, little guessing that he left despair behind him. A carriage
waited for him at the door. An armed slave scrambled up beside the
driver. It was the hour of sunset. Two months since the ways would
have been merry at that hour. But now the passengers were few and
fully armed; they looked suspicious and, where groups were formed, the
talk seemed guarded. A curse had fallen on the happy city. The sunset
blushed on her high roofs, the crescent flashed on all her spires and
domes, and in the gullies which were streets lay depths of shade; yet
no one felt the rapture of the evening.

Yûsuf, lolling in the carriage, gnawed his black moustache and cursed
the revolutionaries from his heart. He had attained the wisdom which
comes easily to middle age, hated disturbance and distrusted novelty.
The nervous passion which had marked his youth still dwelt in him;
but he reserved its transports for the calls of private life; having
another wife besides the Englishwoman, and two concubines, whom he kept
in the provincial centre whither public business often called him.
Politics had been for him a well-ruled game, on which a man would be
a fool to waste vitality. As a functionary, he had lounged on sofas,
telling beads, dictating orders to his secretaries, at ease except when
called before superiors; until this military rising scared his soul.
Its swiftness and success seemed downright fiendish.

One day a painstaking, obedient native officer had been selected by the
Khedive Ismaîl to organize a riot hostile to the Frank commissioners.
He seemed so trusty and discreet that Ismaîl forbore to execute him for
the trifling service. Within two years he was the idol of the native
soldiers, the spokesman of their grievances against the foreign Turks;
in five, he was the incubus and dread of Egypt, first Minister of War
and now Dictator. That first employment recommended him to schemers as
one who did not fear to lead rebellion. Straightforward and excitable,
extremely zealous in whatever charge he undertook, he was thrust
forward by the clever ones to posts of hazard. His prompters, Asiatics,
saw the bounds of his intelligence and thought to keep him in their
hands, a priceless instrument. But they had not allowed for the
inflation of the African, who, being once exalted, swelled and swelled
until his greatness overawed its very founders.

An honest man and a good Muslim, Ahmad Arâbi lacked the cleverness of
the conspirator; nor was he one. The sordid plots which guided his
career were spun behind him; while he pressed onward with clear brow
and conquering smile--a doomed man, in the view of calm spectators.

Yûsuf had known Arâbi for some years and liked him personally; but the
Khedive Muhammad Tewfik was his friend from childhood. Entreated by the
agitators to take office with them, he had referred the question to the
good Khedive, who begged him to accept the post thus offered, that he
(Muhammad Tewfik Pasha, Lord of Egypt) might have one friend among his
so-called servants. Tied by his duties, he had not fled to Alexandria
with the Sovereign; but remained behind in an absurd position, a member
of the rebel government which he abhorred. He was now upon his way to
meet some other Turks thus stranded, to decide on some safe line of
future conduct.

The rendezvous was at his father’s house, where, in the great
reception-room, he found a score of men assembled. All had the faces
of conspirators except his father, a very old man now, who bade them
welcome as to some court function.

“Where is my son Hamdi?” asked the patriarch upon the dais, peering
round upon the red-capped and black-coated throng.

“He is not with us. He has joined the fellâhîn. He dared not tell
thee,” answered Yûsuf sadly.

“Well, well,” remarked Muhammad Pasha, with benignity. “Boys will
be foolish! In Allah’s name I bid you welcome, O my friends. It is
well known that I myself despise these upstarts and have told their
leader my opinion to his face. Less old, I should have spent my life
and fortune for the young Khedive, whose ancestor, the great Muhammad
Ali, raised my house to honour; as it is, I pray to God to grant him
victory. But his dependence on the English likes me not; and God forbid
that I should influence your counsels. You have, each one, his life and
fortune to protect, his duty to decide towards El Islâm.”

He stopped, and an uneasy silence reigned for quite a minute. It was
broken by a man exclaiming, “They have set up a tribunal in each town
with power to ruin or to kill a man on mere suspicion. Hear the wording
of a document which I received this day.”

With that, he took a paper from his breast and read aloud its
contents--a call in truculent, inflated language upon the patriot
Mahmûd the son of Hâfiz to show his fervour by a contribution to
the war fund; failing which, he would be prosecuted as a foe to
Egypt--“for the public safety.”

“Aha!” laughed the old Pasha in his thin, cracked voice. “A French
model, by my beard! For men who would eschew all foreign influence!
That is the hand of Tulbah, not Arâbi. The mountebanks! The silly
children--apish imitators!”

“By your Excellency’s leave the matter is extremely serious--for me at
least,” groaned out the owner of the notice.

“Thou wilt make the contribution?” inquired Yûsuf.

“Better flee,” remarked another.

And then they all began to talk together in low whispers with
frightened glances round the room, for spies were everywhere. Flight
was now hopeless, every one agreed; nothing remained but to feign
ardour in Arâbi’s cause, give up communication with the loyalists at
Alexandria, and pray for the usurper’s overthrow.

“They cannot last, I tell you,” chuckled the old Pasha. “These fellâhîn
are quite unfit for government. The young Khedive has been too kind.
He has not whipped them. My son and I were present when his father
warned him to execute these men, his creatures, who had tasted power.
A sad mistake, by Allah! For, Allah knows, we do not want the English
in this land. My life-work, that of all the old diplomatists, has been
to stave off European interference, by compliments, by guile, by small
concessions. O Allah, let me die before the evil day! The Lord preserve
us from the domination of the infidels!”

The old man dropped his hands and hung his head.

“Better the English than this present anarchy,” another murmured.
“Already the whole land is overrun by gangs of brigands. The streets
here in the capital grow dangerous. There is no order kept except among
the soldiers. All trade, all enterprise is at a standstill, and every
public undertaking goes to ruin. Already all the people hate Arâbi.”

“The Lord deliver us,” said Yûsuf, “from him and from the English both.
A dreadful quandary!”

When he went forth to his carriage, still in waiting, he told his slave
to have his pistols ready, and himself examined the revolver which he
carried. He wrapped a shawl about his face to pass unrecognized and,
thus protected and disguised, drove through the darkling streets, where
every wayfarer betrayed the like anxiety. Only the street-dogs went
about their work as usual, prowling along the walls in search of offal.

At his own door a man accosted him. It was one of his paid spies. He
led the way across the hall into his private room.

“What news?” he questioned.

“May Allah turn it to thy good!” the spy replied, with his profoundest
reverence. “I have it from a member of the new Committee that your
Highness is marked down as a suspected notable. They say it may mean
destitution, even death.”

“I thank thee,” murmured Yûsuf and dismissed the man. Directly he was
gone he called Ghandûr and said:

“Didst thou not tell me, O beloved, that thou hadst some relative a
member of the new Committee for the Public Safety?”

“Yes, O my lord! The person is my father’s brother, a small merchant.”

“Where is their place of meeting?”

“I can show it thee.”

“Do they meet every day?”

“I think so, but will ascertain.”

“Good. I shall wait upon them in the morning. At daybreak take ten
pounds out of the treasury and carry it to thy relation to bespeak his
favour.”

“Has aught untoward happened?”

“Untoward? Listen!” Yûsuf told the story.

“Merciful Allah! How can such things be?” exclaimed Ghandûr. “We are
the greatest in the land, they--filthy upstarts. How much does my good
lord propose to give?”

“A thousand pounds were not too much to save my life.”

“Deign but to hear my counsel! Give a hundred and ask leave for thy
son to join the army. He is prostrated by thy late refusal. His going
will prove more than any gift of money that thy heart is with the
cause--which, Allah knows, may be the right one, since our lord has
chosen to put trust in infidels. His mother even wishes it, to heal
his chagrin. She sent for me and asked me to entreat your Excellency.
We have good friends within the army who will see that he is kept from
fighting. My son shall go along with him, to be his servant.”

Ghandûr, the simple creature, was in tears.

“By Allah, I will think about it,” murmured Yûsuf.

Five minutes later he repaired to his son’s room, revived the lad,
and passing thence to the haramlik, told Barakah that her request was
granted. She was half stunned, for she had counted on his obduracy.

Not noticing her dazed condition, for his mind ran still on puzzles of
diplomacy, he added:

“Thou, who art English, O my sweet one, inform me of that nation!
Are they harsh as conquerors? What is their custom with regard to
vengeance? Do they burn and ravish, or merely punish those who have
borne arms against them? It is important I should know beforehand if
they win the day.”

Barakah stared at him vaguely for a moment; then bursting into tears,
exclaimed:

“Cut short thy life! O most unfeeling father! O appalling prospect! I
would sooner die a thousand deaths than see them conquer.”

“Merciful Allah, are they so fanatical?” gasped Yûsuf, with a face of
great dismay. “I meant not to alarm thee, O beloved. I was thinking
only of myself, how to behave in case things happened so, which God
forbid!”

But Barakah thought only of their son.



CHAPTER XXXI


“A splendid victory at Kafr ed-Dowâr! A thousand infidels dispatched
to Hell, and not a single blessed martyr gone to Paradise!” cried Umm
ed-Dahak, entering her lady’s presence on a summer evening. “Ghandûr
has got the news-sheet, and craves leave to read it to thee.”

The lady ordered him to be admitted instantly. Muhammad and his servant
Ali were at Kafr ed-Dowâr. Drawing her head-veil so as to leave one eye
visible, she listened to the short triumphant notice, which began and
ended with “the praise to Allah!”

“The praise to Allah truly!” she suspired. “Not one was killed.”

Ghandûr assured her then, as he had done a score of times, that
Muhammad, with the blessing of the Highest, ran no danger. By
arrangement with the leaders he was kept at work in the trenched camp,
away from fighting. But her anxiety was not allayed, her boy was
venturesome and, burning as he was to fight, might break through rules.

Every evening in Arâbi’s journal there was news of some fresh triumph,
either at Kafr ed-Dowâr, by Alexandria, or on the banks of the Canal,
where the main force of the English was now operating. She heard it
said on all hands that the war would soon be over. Yet, though every
one abounded in exultant phrases, no single soul appeared exceptionally
cheerful; and she herself did not disguise her sorrow. The absence of
Muhammad was a constant pain. She gave attention to her little daughter
fitfully.

The weather was intensely hot, the town a desert full of dismal noises.
So many men had been compelled to join the army, so many beasts
of burden had been pressed for transport purposes, that trade was
paralysed and traffic almost ceased. When she drove out, the aspect
of the streets dismayed her; it was as if the city had been ravaged
by a pestilence. The European, Syrian, Armenian quarters were utterly
deserted, all the houses closed; and elsewhere there was very little
movement. In other summers the harîm had gone into the country, and
Barakah would gladly have drawn nearer to the seat of war; but her
husband vetoed the proposal instantly, the country districts were
unsafe and overrun by brigands. Yûsuf was irritable in those days.
He had his bed in the selamlik and seldom could spare time to visit
Barakah.

“I believe he has another woman somewhere,” she told Umm ed-Dahak in a
hopeless tone.

“It is his right, by Allah,” answered the old woman; “and no slight to
thee, if thou wouldst view it fairly, and throw aside the silly fiction
of the Franks. It is the nature of a man to have more wives than one,
and a woman should no more resent his doing so--always provided he
does not defraud her--than blame a cat for having several kittens at
a birth. Ibrahîm, the father of the faithful, Mûsa--all the prophets
till the crown of them (God bless and save him) married more than one.
Polygamy was in the customs of the Jews and Christians until they fell
away from El Islâm. Nay, a remembrance of it still exists among the
Franks. For do not their religious women dwell together in one house,
obedient to a rule like ours, attired like us, and call themselves--I
ask pardon of the Lord--Harîm Allah (the wives of God)? Rank blasphemy,
by Allah! Yet it shows that the old rule is not entirely lost.”

Barakah was too disconsolate to be contentious. Let Muhammad but return
to her in safety and she would not care though Yûsuf took a thousand
wives; but in his absence everything seemed grievous.

A real sorrow overhung the house of Yûsuf; for the old Pasha was fast
sinking to the grave. Hamdi, the hot disciple of Arâbi, the poet of
rebellion, author of the famous calls to patriotism which were printed
every week in the official journal, was bowed down by grief. He thought
his siding with the malcontents had killed his father.

“But what was I to do?” he asked of Barakah, to whom, as an old friend,
he took his troubles. “Their cries had fired my spirit. I could not
keep silent. Na’imah tells me not to worry, yet I feel most guilty.”

Yûsuf, too, was downcast and repentant.

“We have been like fools,” he sighed, “wasting in vanity the precious
hours we might have spent with him--as if we thought that he would live
for ever. Now the end draws near, we can but beat our breasts and curse
our folly.”

When Barakah went to the old palace to inquire, she was struck by the
despairing looks of all the servants. A eunuch with a very woeful smile
conducted her to Fitnah Khânum, who exclaimed at sight of her:

“The praise to Allah, thou art come! Our lord has asked for thee.
Murjânah was just going to dispatch a messenger. Come! Come at once!
There is no time to lose. He has refused to take a potion which I had
prepared. He will not let a charm be hung upon him. He resigns his life
to Allah. It is the end.”

Murjânah Khânum sat beside the bed, holding the old man’s hand. About
the walls crouched many black-robed women, waiting in silence, like a
flock of vultures.

“Here is the wife of Yûsuf,” said Murjânah, giving place to Barakah.

The Pasha spoke in French. His voice was faint.

“Madame,” he said, “I am about to die, and I am glad to be allowed to
say adieu to you. Very often have I thought of you and of your life
among us. I feel a very grave responsibility. I trust that you have
been, upon the whole, content?”

Barakah declared herself quite happy, and he said, “Thank God!”

“But you will not leave us yet; you will recover,” she exclaimed.

“No, no, my cherished daughter. My last hour has sounded. I have lived
to see my life-work all undone. The Christians always sought a war with
El Islâm. We kept a calm face under insults, even made concessions, as
one gives a rabid dog a stick to worry.” For a moment the worn face
resumed its light of humour. “But now the war has come.... Those rash
fanatics!...”

There rose a murmur in the room.

“The Grand Mufti comes,” announced Murjânah Khânum.

“Forgive me, dear madame. It is an old and cherished friend,” the dying
man suspired, with a faint smile. “Adieu! Adieu!”

And Barakah, with all the women save Murjânah Khânum, hurried out into
the passage. At the door a tall and stately man brushed past her. His
head was so erect beneath the massive turban, his long robe fell so
straight from well-squared shoulders, that it astonished her to see his
beard as white as snow. He passed into the room. The door was shut.

A minute later, Murjânah Khânum uttered a loud cry; the Mufti came
forth sobbing, with head bowed; the black-cowled women scurried
shrieking to the death-room, where they instantly began the dance of
death. They leapt and pirouetted, waving arms above their heads, with
frenzied cries. Barakah was gazing horror-stricken at the sight, when
some one took her hand and whispered, “Come away!”

It was Murjânah.

“I cannot bear these customs,” she confessed. “The women of the country
keep them in defiance of religion. It is useless to protest; one has to
suffer. I am very tired, my dear; for I have not slept for many nights.
Indeed, my weariness and grief are such that I can hardly look for rest
save in the grave.”

Barakah took coffee in Murjânah’s room, and tried to comfort her. She
too was sad. But her despair was turned to joy when that same day
Muhammad rushed into her arms. He had been called by telegram. She
held him back from her and gazed at him until he blushed and hung his
head. The uniform, the high-crowned fez, the sword, the snowy gloves,
embellished him. When she had gazed her fill, she made him tell her
of the camp, his friends, his duties; and, started on that theme, he
talked for hours.

“If only I could be transferred to the Canal!” he sighed. “That is the
real centre of the war. The fighting where I am is empty show, and I am
kept from taking part in it. Day after day, I have to teach recruits,
dull fellâhîn, who know not right from left. Instruction seems to make
them stupider. I beat and beat them, till my arm aches. By my sword
and valour, I could often kill them! Think, O my mother!--El Islâm
is menaced, armed infidels have set foot in our land, and these men,
Muslims, will not learn their exercises!”

His mother laughed at his impetuosity. She told his grandfather’s last
words to her, and how he feared the English would take hold of Egypt.

“There is no fear of that, in sh´Allah!” cried Muhammad. “Our faithful
host will sweep them off like fleas. I wish I had been there to
reassure the dear one. May Our Lord have mercy on him!”

The funeral of Muhammad Pasha Sâlih was among the greatest ever known,
although the town was empty. The harassed population flocked to pay
respect to one who had denounced Arâbi--a demonstration which could not
be punished since sons of the dead man--nay, half his family--acclaimed
the tyrant. In the front of the procession were led sheep and bullocks
to be slaughtered at the tomb, their meat distributed among the needy
in the name of the deceased. Then came hired chanters of the Corân,
then half the male inhabitants of Cairo, walking, flanked by two thin
lines of soldiers, then the male relations, then a choir of boys
shrieking an ode in honour of the Prophet. Immediately behind these
moved the lidless coffin, carried on men’s shoulders, with its coloured
pall, and then the females of the family in shuttered carriages.
A crowd of black-cowled women of the city, whose wailing sounded
bird-like in the open air, brought up the rear.

The train, a mile long, wound out in the blinding sunlight over the
sandhill to the city of the dead, from which at its approach the
kites and crows went up, affrighted. There ensued a period of forced
inaction, which to Barakah in the haramlik at the mausoleum seemed
interminable. The ceaseless chanting in the tomb, the wailing of the
crowd outside, attacked her nerves. Muhammad was to leave again that
evening, and every minute she was parted from him seemed an hour. He
was kept upon the men’s side of the tomb; nor would she see him till
they reached the house again; she had first to drive home in the stuffy
carriage with Na´imah and two of the late Pasha’s daughters. It was
maddening.

In fact, she saw him only for a moment, ere he ran to catch his train.
She wept a little at the disappointment, but his visit had relieved her
of a weight of sorrow. She had only to dispatch a telegram and he would
come again. Moreover, she was now quite certain he was not in danger.

When told by Yûsuf that her drives must cease, because the horses had
been taken for the army, she did not complain, but hired a donkey when
she had to pay a call; nor could the prospect of a famine frighten
her. Her mind had rest. Each evening brought the news of an Egyptian
victory. The English would be driven out. Her son was safe. Once more
she joked and dreamt with Umm ed-Dahak.



CHAPTER XXXII


At Kafr ed-Dowâr Muhammad was kept drilling conscripts, relieving older
officers who were required for actual fighting. Almost every day he
heard the boom of cannon, the stirring noises of attack and skirmish;
and often in his leisure moments he would perch in some high nook and
watch the flashes, the white puffs of smoke, dispersed upon the green
of level fields between the sea-coast sandhills and the lake--a pretty
sight. Beyond the plain of water skimmed by white-winged birds the town
of Alexandria basked in sunlit haze. Upon the land-plain doves were
wheeling round deserted villages, kites and vultures hovered high in
air. Franks from the seaport rode out in the rearward of the English
troops, and from the vantage-point of dykes and hillocks watched the
operations through their field-glasses. The assaults, as he had told
his mother, were not serious; mere “fantaziyeh” the old soldiers called
them. The aim of the assailants was to keep a portion of Arâbi’s troops
from joining the main army on the banks of the Canal, where war was
being waged in bitter earnest. Muhammad fretted at his dull employment.
The atmosphere of strife, the bugle-calls, the march of men, no
longer satisfied him as at first. He wished to fight, and begged the
general-in-chief, who favoured him, being a close friend of his uncle
Hamdi, to move him to some post of danger. The great one laughed and
patted him upon the back.

“We cannot spare thee yet from the recruits,” he said. “That work is
useful, and it must be done. Think, thou hast given us a thousand
soldiers, none like them for rigidity and speed of motion.”

Muhammad hated the recruits, who still were driven in by hundreds every
day--men past their prime, and boys dragged from the wretched villages,
and active rogues caught hiding in some ditch or patch of cane. The
land had been already drained; the dregs were called for. And they were
stupid, dazed, those fellâhîn; a flock of sheep has more intelligence!
Muhammad, for whom soldiering was a religion and every detail of the
drill had sanctity, was driven frantic by their apathy, their foolish
stare. Dancing with fury, he reviled their mothers and beat them with
his cane about the ears.

“By the Prophet, they are pigs!” he told the son of Ghandûr, who served
him in his tent and hung upon his every word. “Here is El Islâm in
danger; they are Muslims; yet they yawn and gape if asked to hold a
gun. Ah! if I had a hundred Turks instead of them!”

The son of Ghandûr, who to please Muhammad would himself have put
his head into a cannon’s mouth, was horrified at the behaviour of
the conscripts. That they could fail to see the light of inspiration
on Muhammad’s brow was proof sufficient of their utter baseness. For
the same reason he despised the generals. Muhammad was more gifted
for command than they, and yet they kept him ever at this menial
task. Had Muhammad--or his foster-brother even--owned the leadership,
Iskenderîyeh would long since have fallen, and all the English have
been pushed into the sea. He dared to proffer this opinion to his lord
one evening. But Muhammad in his wisdom answered:

“No, we cannot take the town, for this good reason, that a portion of
their fleet, unseen from here, commands it, and would pour in shells to
our destruction.”

Ali received this information with head bowed and thanks to God. He
prayed the Maker of the World to put some mind in the recruits in order
that they too might profit by such high instruction.

It was usual at that time for officers to handle soldiers roughly
on parade, caning them upon the head and shoulders, kicking them,
and heaping on them every species of abuse. Muhammad might be called
indulgent as commanders went; but he was over-much in earnest. His
outbreaks lacked the touch of humour which endears. Old soldiers might
have borne them with a laugh for the sake of his enthusiasm, which was
very evident.

But these were men who had been driven from their homes like cattle,
at the goad’s point. For days they had been herded up in pens in a
provincial town, and there harangued by holy men and maddened by
religious shouting till they lost what little wits remained to them
and hardly knew a true believer from an infidel. Arâbi had proclaimed
the golden age; yet here they were imprisoned, hounded, driven, and
now subjected to the cuffs and insults of a shameless boy. Huddling
together, they looked on with lowered brows, too scared to understand
what the young Turk was shouting. Arâbi had proclaimed the Turks
abolished. Where was reason? They gave forth inarticulate harsh cries
like frightened beasts.

Each squad Muhammad handled seemed more stupid than the last--so stupid
that one early morning an inspecting general advised him, laughing, to
give drill a rest, and take them to the trenches; they were used to
digging.

Muhammad felt the order as a whip-cut; he was furious. The general
despised his work as an instructor, whereas God knew what trouble he
had taken. It was all their fault. In the trenches he allowed them to
do nothing right, but shrieked out contradictory orders emphasized by
slashes of his cane. Slowly it dawned on them that he was quite alone;
the place was hidden by high banks from supervision.

The daily pageant of attack was then in progress. The crackle of a
volley came from no great distance. Muhammad implored Allah to direct
the bullets so as to kill them all, for they were worse than infidels.
He did not notice the changed manner of their breathing, nor the new
fire which smouldered in their eyes.

At a blow across the face, accompanied by frightful insults, a burly
fellow seized Muhammad’s wrists and deftly tripped him. The boy lay on
his back bereft of speech. His captor knelt upon his belly, while the
others crowded round like cattle interested. He could feel their breath.

“Hear, O my little son! Swear by the Sayyid Ahmad to be civil. It were
best for thee.”

Muhammad, with his pride undaunted, answered: “Sinful hog! I swear
to have thee thrashed with the nailed whip and then decapitated. O
Muslimîn! Do you not know that this is mutiny, an awful crime?”

“Then we must finish him,” remarked his captor, with a sigh. “With his
own sword! Here! Quickly, while I stop his screeching.”

The speaker pressed his hand down on Muhammad’s mouth, while another
drew the sword and plunged it several times into the prostrate form.
They watched until the last convulsions ceased; then piously observed:
“Our Lord have mercy on him! There is no power nor might save in Allah,
the High, the Tremendous!”

“By Allah, he could bite!” observed his first assailant, shaking
blood from his right hand. The palm was bitten through. He stopped
to bandage it; and then they made a litter with their spades and so
conveyed the body back to camp with wailing.

“The darling of our souls is dead,” they chanted. “Slain by the
infidels, whom we repulsed. Our brother, Abdul Câder, too, is wounded
in the hand.”

The lie was quite transparent, yet it passed unquestioned. The high
commanders shrugged and let it go. There were a hundred men concerned,
with Allah knew how many sympathizers. They dreaded a stampede of all
the conscripts in the camp.

When Ali, mad with grief, demanded justice, he was told to hold his
tongue. The general was profoundly grieved; he shed some tears, and
swore that every honour should be paid to the remains. A telegram was
sent to Yûsuf Pasha announcing that his son had died a martyr, and that
the blessed body was upon its way to Cairo. Within an hour of death it
had been dressed for burial. It was carried in a fine procession to the
railway, where a special train--a locomotive and an open truck--was
waiting. The corpse was laid down in the truck, and covered with some
tent-cloth; and Ali sat beside it, while the train sped hooting on past
empty villages, where only a few children played upon the dust-heaps, a
few women stood in doorways with hands shading eyes, past palm-groves
and the fields of cotton and of sugar-cane until the citadel rose up
before him in the evening sky.



CHAPTER XXXIII


The news was broken gently to the stricken mother. Yûsuf, overcoming
his own grief, came in at noon and sat an hour with her, leading her
up by little steps to view the glory that their son had died a martyr
for the Faith. When the announcement came at length, the fortitude he
had assumed gave way. He wept profusely. But Barakah was tearless. She
sat rigid, with pale eyes staring vaguely in a face of stone. She asked
that Ali, as soon as he arrived, might be sent in to her; and that was
all. Umm ed-Dahak came and mumbled on her hand, moaning endearments
which she did not hear. Then Ali was announced. At the same instant
dreadful wailing filled the house. She drew her head-veil round her
face (the movement had become instinctive) when he fell before her,
pouring forth his awful story, concluding with the words: “The funeral
sets forth this minute, O my lady. His body will not keep with all
those wounds.”

And then her anguish passed the bounds of suffering; she moved and
looked and spoke, but felt no more.

Her women, half demented, danced around her. They tore their flesh
with finger-nails, defiled their faces, and raised an endless chant,
reviewing all the charms and virtues of the dear one, his mother’s
love, the blackness of the world, each verse concluding with a shriek
of “O calamity!” It was the triumph-song of death.

Robbed of the corpse, the funeral over, they thronged her chamber,
keeping up the ghastly round, the death-chant, in the hope to give her
tears. Her petrifaction filled them with dismay. To women who accept
with rapture all life’s chances, whose custom is to celebrate each blow
that strikes them and magnify it as a witness to the power of God, her
stony apathy appeared uncanny. They increased their efforts, while Umm
ed-Dahak poured into her ear a song of memory designed to loose the
frozen fountain of despair.

“She was the fairest daughter of the seed of Adam. See her now! Her
feet, her finger-tips dropped perfume. She had the grace of flowers,
the voice of turtles. Now behold her! In a moment blind and deaf and
dumb and paralyzed. And why? Alas, O thou who askest! it is because
the sunshine of her life is fled. We saw her follow his dead body to
the grave. As the cow pursues the calf that has been reft from her,
so did she follow blindly with a noise of lowing. She has not even
strength to beat her face. Her breath is painful, husky like the voice
of doves; its sound is all the sobbing of the childless mother. Say,
O beloved, what is in thy mind? Dost thou remember his tarbûsh, his
yellow slippers, the loveliness of all that touched his body, which was
perfumed amber? There was a little mole upon his breast well known to
thee. O Allah, waken memory, or grief will slay her!”

Barakah saw and heard as in a trance. She thought herself in Hell,
bound fast and gagged while devils taunted her. She was tortured by
the memory of English winter evenings, of walking back from church in
the long train of orphans, the patter of their feet resounding sadly.
That dreariness appeared a state of bliss compared with this luxurious
life enclosed in heat. She longed for a cold wind, with rain in it.
Remembrance of a garden under sunset came to her; she saw once more a
cool verandah with long windows open on an English drawing-room, and
heard the earnest voice of Mrs. Cameron entreating her to stay and save
her soul. This was God’s punishment. Her life from then till now had
been all frowardness and self-indulgence. While basking in it she had
been aware that it was baneful. A thousand awful faces rose to sneer,
“We warned you!” The glimpses she had had of horrid depths, the scenes
of bloodshed and the tales of cruelty, seemed now emphatic warnings of
this end. She had sunk downward till she had no faith nor virtue more
than beasts have. Her all was in her son, whom God had killed. Crushed,
maimed, defrauded, she was flung upon the earth, the scorn of men and
angels and the sport of fiends.

As by degrees her sense returned to her, she looked about her with
strange eyes and tried to think. But every effort was a sword that
pierced her heart. One morning, peering dully through her lattice, she
saw a gay pavilion in the yard, and leading to it rows of masts with
lanterns hung between. They were erected for the meytam, or reception
for the dead. She had seen them often when she visited great houses;
but now her mind attached no meaning to them. It was two hours later,
in the middle of the function, that her sense returned. A mighty gust
of grief, a cry of “O calamity!” swept through the crowd of black-clad
women in her great reception-room. It roused her mind. She saw, and was
alarmed. What was she doing? What was all this crowd of people? Were
they human?

The great saloon was full of women. The ladies sat up on the dais
with flourished handkerchiefs, beating their breasts, their faces,
at each burst of woe. Dependants crouched upon the ground and rocked
incessantly, with foaming lips. Some faces wore a hideous fixed grin;
some mouthed continually. The hired performers stood and chanted with
obscene contortions, or squatted on a mat and wailed in chorus. The
words “O my calamity,” recurring in a sort of running chant without
coherence, shook the assembly like a tempest-blast. And all the while
dainties were being handed round by weeping servants, and accepted by
the mourners as fresh cause for grief.

An ague of intense repugnance seized on Barakah. She felt that she
must fly from this inferno, must keep the hope of flight before
her resolutely, or her soul was lost. It was as if a hostile hand
compressed her throat. She struggled, was determined to get free.
Towards that end she battled with instinctive cunning.

After the meytam, when she seemed exhausted, her brain, enamoured of
this hope, was planning madly.

“Take heart, O moon of moons,” the servants told her. “In sh´Allah thou
shalt bring forth sons instead of him.”

She strove to smile.

Her resolution was to leave her husband and her little daughter, the
comfortable house, the easy life, to stray alone and homeless, back to
Christian lands. There she would enter some religious order, and spend
the residue of life in prayer for Muslims.

Every one was kind. The tender sympathy of Yûsuf, though himself hard
stricken, might well have won her heart had she possessed one. Her
heart was dead and buried in the grave. The ladies and her servants
tried at first to cheer her; but when they found their efforts useless,
let her be. Only Umm ed-Dahak remained with her constantly. Discreet
as ever, she kept silence for long hours, watching her mistress with a
doleful mow. They thought her too depressed to take a step unaided, had
not the least suspicion of her wish to flee. It was, besides, a time of
national anxiety, when every one who could went out to seek the news,
and those imprisoned listened to the noises of the street.

One day, in the full heat of noon, when men are sleepy, she sent out
the old woman on an errand; and went and kissed her child, Afîfah, who
was fast asleep. Then, having made sure that the slave-girls were not
moving, she returned to her own room and donned a common habbarah,
which she had sometimes worn when she went out with Umm ed-Dahak. From
the store of money Yûsuf had entrusted to her she took sufficient to
defray her fare to France, and hung it in a bag around her neck.

Thus furnished, she stole out through the selamlik hall. No eunuch
challenged; the doorkeeper was snoring on his couch within the entry.
Beside him lay the best part of a water-melon.



CHAPTER XXXIV


Barakah had not made many steps outside the house before she was
completely lost. Although for sixteen years her home had been in Cairo,
she had never walked in the streets before. Which was the way? She
could not tell, but went on bravely, hoping for some guide. At last
she met a donkey-driver with a pleasant face. In answer to her timid
hail, he smiled delighted and praised his Maker for the honour of her
patronage. “To the railway station,” she enjoined at mounting, and he
answered “Ready!”

Away they went, arousing echoes in the stony alleys, the driver
shouting as he ran beside the ambling beast. Barakah felt exhilarated
by the change of motion, the little spice of danger when they dashed
round corners, or charged some group of wayfarers with warning cries.
The first stage of her flight would soon be over; and once on board the
train, she thought, escape was sure.

The streets were empty even for that hour. Scavenger dogs slept
undisturbed in every spot of shade. The persons they encountered seemed
to have no business, but stood about in groups conversing glumly. On
the wide, dusty square before the railway station groups were many.
A little crowd beset the station doors. These were all closed, to
Barakah’s amazement. The building looked deserted.

“Ask when the next train starts for the sea-coast,” she ordered her
attendant, who addressed a shout to persons standing near.

“The sea-coast? Allah knows! It may be never!” The reply was shrugged.
“A great fight has taken place. The end has come. The English fell upon
the camp at daybreak--yesterday or this morning, Allah knows! The rebel
army was dispersed like chaff. The leader--the arch-traitor--escaped
hither on an engine, and is in the town now somewhere, herding with his
kind. It is clearly seen how foully he deceived us, seducing us from
our allegiance with the promise of success.”

“Praise be to Allah that his reign is ended,” said another. “If the
English were but true believers, one would bless them.”

“Nay, the tidings are not certain,” cried a third with anguish.

“As certain as the sun is hot upon my reins this minute. I have it from
a man who saw Arâbi. The rascal’s face was yellow as a corpse.”

Barakah’s mind received no more than the initial statement. The way
that she had meant to take was closed against her.

“Whither, my lady?” asked the donkey-boy, with willing smile.

“Far, far away--towards the sea-coast. Anywhere!”

“Ready!” he laughed. “It is for thee to order. By Allah, we will go to
Gebel Câf if thou desire it.”

He smote his donkey, and they jogged along once more, out through
new suburbs to the open fields. The sun was an armed foe, the dust
a persecutor; her habbarah and face-veil made a sheath of fire. The
donkey-boy kept looking at her with compassion, smiling encouragement
whenever he could meet her gaze. He thought her mad, and so indulged
her fancy, assuring her that it would not take long to reach the sea.
But when she murmured of the heat and wished to rest, he showed immense
relief.

“That is the best,” he cried. “Wait till I find some pleasant shade for
thee. See, yonder is a tree. There thou shalt rest till the great heat
is past, and then, at thy command, we can resume the journey.”

Dismounting under leaves, she sank upon the ground and wept
despairingly. The tears, which bitter grief had failed to wring from
her, flowed freely for her impotence. Escape was hopeless. Her project
now appeared the last absurdity. The change of clothes, the change of
manners, now presented difficulties which she felt that she would never
have the strength to overcome. The donkey-boy’s consoling words, his
friendly grin, were teasing. She sent him to fetch water from a village
near at hand. He came back with a pitcher and two slabs of bread; which
so revived her spirit that she once more saw beyond the moment and
conceived a plan.

She would wait till nightfall and then seek the city of the dead, to
die on her son’s grave, if Allah willed it. At least she would spend
all the night in prayer imploring Allah’s mercy for him in the name of
Christ.

She had sat a long while, cross-legged, gazing straight before her,
her hands locked in her lap, when a soft voice disturbed her. The
donkey-boy was plucking at her sleeve.

“The heat is spent,” he told her. “Best be moving! It is back into the
city,--not so?--thy command? Much better than to journey to the sea,
like this, without provision. Say, which way?”

Barakah pointed a direction listlessly. She had no wish to enter Cairo
before dark, so chose a long way round, among the fields.

Soon the sunset reddened all the plain, stretching their shadows far
before them on the dyke. The citadel upon its height was hotly flushed
one minute, the next ash-grey and lifeless like a skull. It lived in
her imagination as a monstrous spider which held her with its web and
drew her in.

The donkey-boy beside her prattled ceaselessly.

“O lady, I will not forsake thee--no, by the Prophet, never, till thy
mind is healed. Do I know the cemetery El Afîfi? Wallahi! I can guide
thee thither. Not a bad idea; for Allah comforts those who visit the
deceased. By the Sayyid Ahmad, thou art as my mother. May God cut
short my life if I desert thee in thy present state.”

The lad’s support was of some comfort to her.

In the first blue of night, when daylight lingers in the memory, they
were following a sandy road towards the city, when a noise as of the
sea arose behind them. The donkey-boy was first to hear it. He stood
still and listened, holding up his hand. It seemed approaching on the
road behind them. He looked puzzled; then suddenly let fall his hands,
and made a bound.

“It is the army! Come, O my lady! We must hide ourselves. Hold fast!”
He made the donkey gallop for a hundred yards, then led it down into
a patch of cane. Peeping out between the stems they saw vague forms
in clouds of dust approaching on the dyke above. The roar became the
jangle of accoutrements, the roll of heavy carriages upon the road and
murmuring voices.

Innumerable ranks of horsemen passed, dust-stained and weary, with
faces resolutely strained towards Cairo. Barakah saw them as the
figures of a dream. Their silhouette against the sky appeared familiar.
The words with which they cheered their tired horses rang on memory.

“It is the English,” whispered her companion hoarsely.

“The English! Allah, help me!” murmured Barakah. Until that moment she
had lost remembrance of the war.



CHAPTER XXXV


The streets by night were full of people, in striking contrast with
their emptiness at noon that day. The mosques were all alight inside,
and from the glimpse which Barakah obtained through open doorways
appeared crowded.

She saw men making towards them through the press, embracing precious
bundles, with the look of fugitives.

“Their fear is of the English,” said the donkey-boy. “Who knows what
they will do by way of punishment?”

But the look on all the faces when a ray of light revealed them, the
note of the vast murmur lapping the whole city, was rather of relief
and comfort than anxiety. To hide away their treasures was a mere
precaution which only madmen would neglect in presence of a conquering
host; but men were thankful for the coming of the English, which meant
an end to anarchy and wild suspense.

“Wallahi, they are warriors,” one orator was declaiming at a street
corner. “The fight was far away at daybreak, and now behold them
here among us in the citadel. Wallahi, they are mighty! They smite
hard--one blow and all is said. Wallahi, they are not of those who
loiter. They appeared among us like a vision of the rising night; they
demanded the keys of our strong places as of right divine. The people
in the street stood still and gaped on them, rubbing their eyes to
ascertain that they were not asleep. May Allah make them merciful. The
praise to Allah!”

The donkey-boy, who had been looking at the lady’s eyes at frequent
intervals as if in expectation of a change of purpose, asked at length:

“Whither shall I conduct thee, O my mistress? Is it not thy wish to
return to the house?”

“I have no house,” was her reply. “Did I not tell thee? To the El Afîfi
cemetery!”

“Not by night! Hear reason, O my lady!” he besought her. “Tell me where
thou dwellest, that I may conduct thee thither!”

“I go to the cemetery, as I told thee. It is necessary. If thou art
weary of my service, I will pay thee and go out alone.”

Barakah’s tone grew plaintive, almost tearful. The resolution in her
words was mere bravado. She knew that she was utterly dependent on
this friendly youth, whose company alone kept up her courage. From
the moment of her turning back she had felt stupid, useless, relying
on this boy to bring her to the cemetery, where she hoped to die. It
seemed a certainty that if she prayed her utmost, full as her heart
was, the vexed soul must leave the body, and the prayer by sheer
brute force become acceptable. At thought of being baulked of her
self-sacrifice, the boy’s help failing, she began to whimper.

“Nay, dearest lady, weep not!” he entreated. “By Allah, thou shalt
neither walk nor go alone. I will conduct thee thither; but it may be
necessary that we wait till morning, since the way is lonely and the
haunt of ginn. See here, before us is my mother’s house. Deign to go in
and rest awhile, and take refreshment, while I feed the donkey. I will
make inquiries. If it is possible to go to-night, I swear to take thee.
If not, thou canst rest here until the dawn.”

They had stopped before a doorway in a narrow alley. He went a little
way into the gloom and whispered:

“O my mother!”

“Is it thou, Selîm?” came back the answer.

“O my mother, come at once! I have a lady, a great lady in disguise.
She has run mad through grief in these bad times, and wants to go out
to the cemetery. Receive her in thy house a minute, feed her, talk to
calm her; while I discover if the way is safe.”

“The cemetery! Go not thither. Best come in and sleep.”

“The lady is distraught with grief. I reverence her like a parent.
She is absent from the world; she does not hear us. I think that she
is going to the tombs to pray. It were a good deed to conduct her
thither.”

“True, wallahi! May Allah heal her soul, the poor one! These be
dreadful times!”

A woman came out to the doorway, holding up an earthen lamp.

“Deign to enter, O my sweet,” she called seductively.

Selîm assisted his employer to dismount.

“Go in and rest,” he whispered. “My mother and my sister are alone in
there. Thou canst unveil. The dwellings of the poor are all haramlik.
In a little while I shall return and call thee from without. I go but
to make sure the ways are safe.”

The room in which she found herself was small and stuffy. It was
lighted only by the little lamp the woman carried. Barakah was glad to
loose her veil awhile. She refused the food, but drank the water, which
the women offered, and listened to their cordial blessings with a sense
of dreaming. Her prayer was that the boy might not decide to wait till
morning. Desire to reach the tomb at once absorbed her life. Deprived
of it, she would have had no further being. Her prayer now took the
Christian form, and now the Muslim; the two religions growing tangled
in her tired mind. At length the boy’s voice sounded:

“Deign to come, O lady. The ways are thronged, they tell me, as in
Ragab. To-night is not as other nights, it is well seen.”

With praise to Allah she went out once more. But with its object now
assured, her mind grew dull. It was as if suspense alone had held it
wakeful. It lost the comprehension of its purpose, regained it with an
effort, and then let it go.

They passed beneath an ancient gateway. The city was behind them.
Still there was no solitude. Groups of people crossed the sand in all
directions. It was a moonless night. The many lanterns moving in the
darkness seemed reflections of the stars which shone like gems of many
facets in the silky sky. Barakah saw them both alike as golden insects
swarming in the cup of a great purple flower. At moments, her head
swimming, she mistook the earth for sky, and had the sense of moving
upside down.

“There is the cemetery,” said her guide. His whisper seemed to her a
long way off. Nor did she see the city of the dead till they were in
its streets, which loomed mysterious. The very stars looked sinister
above the frowning domes, from which a blacker darkness seemed to
emanate. The many crescents looked like horns against the sky. Bats
flitted past her; from the distance came a jackal’s howl. What had she
come to do there? She could not remember. “To pray,” she told herself,
but that meant nothing. She strove with all her might to recollect.
Then in a flash remembrance came to her; it bore her on, excited, to
the mausoleum. She dismounted, and then, upon the threshold, she
forgot once more. She entered, shuddering, too dazed to question why
the gate was left ajar, and turned instinctively towards the women’s
quarters. A step or two and she stood still in deadly terror, hardly
venturing to breathe. There was a light upon the men’s side; beasts
were tethered in the court; she heard a sound of digging and men’s
voices. Her thought was, “They expect me, and have dug a grave.” As
soon as fear would let her, she fled back to where the guide was
waiting.

“There are people. We must fly! Make haste!” she whispered.

He helped her to remount, and they retraced their steps. The solemn
thoughts which had possessed her mind gave place to rattle of dry bones
and impish laughter. A merry dance was going on within her brain, as
mad as could be, though her senses were quite clear--clearer than ever
they had been before, she knew exultantly. She rode out from the place
of tombs across the sandhills towards the city.

“Hist!” said her companion suddenly, and stopped the donkey,
hanging on to its tail to prevent braying. “There are men without a
lantern--robbers! I hear voices.”

She strained her ears in the direction pointed.

“Am I not acknowledged sheykh of all the thieves?” some unseen man
amid the darkness was exclaiming angrily. “Was it not I alone who had
the wisdom to foresee that every man would seek to hide his wealth
this night? It is light work for you; they fly like conies at a shout,
leaving their treasure, and the light for you to count it. Why then
grumble that I sit here and receive the gold? Some one must hold it
for fair distribution. Say, have I ever wronged a man among you of one
small piaster? See, yonder comes another lantern. Go, do your work, and
say no more to me.”

“Stay, O my lady! For the love of Allah,” moaned Selîm. “They are
robbers, murderers, the worst of ruffians.”

But Barakah had urged the donkey forward; the laughter in her brain
deriding fear. She headed straight towards the voices, waving her
left arm and shouting madly. She heard a shriek of “The afrîtah!
Help, O Allah!” and saw men running as if fiends pursued them. Her
next sensation was a dive into the sand. The ass had stumbled. Selîm
assisted her to rise, and murmured reassuring words which made her cry.

Remembrance of her little daughter overcame her. She had prayed to
Christ to guard her child before she recollected that the prayer was
useless. There was no mercy for disciples of the Arab prophet. She
reeled and would have fallen had not Selîm caught her. As it was, she
sank upon the ground, refusing to remount or take another step.

The boy, resigned, sat down beside her, holding his donkey by the
halter-rope. They were upon the trodden plain below the citadel. Lying
upon her back, she saw a blackness rising till it took the shape of
bastions, walls, towers, surmounted by a dome and needle-pointed
minarets. Gazing at this and at the stars she fell asleep.

When she awoke it was still night. The donkey-boy was snoring on the
ground hard by. A chill and a strange silence hung about her. The stars
above were throbbing violently as if about to burst in showers of
light. Her grief returned upon her like an ague. “O Lord, have mercy on
me!” she exclaimed, and groaned aloud.

“What ails thee, O my sister?” said a voice so sweet, so unexpected in
its nearness, that it stopped her heart.



CHAPTER XXXVI


From the shadow of a mass of houses close at hand emerged the figure
of a man in flowing robes, and glided towards her. For the moment she
supposed it was an angel. Again the sweet voice thrilled her, asking:

“What ails thee, O my sister? Art thou wounded? May Allah heal and
comfort thee in thy distress!”

She knew him then and felt a sudden craving.

“O Tâhir, sing to me!” she moaned. “Thy voice is healing. Canst thou
still sing when thy delight is dead?”

“Who art thou, lady?” He peered hard at her.

“I am the English wife of Yûsuf Pasha.”

“True; it is true,” he murmured, recollecting. “I heard that she had
fled the house distraught with grief.... Hearken, O my lady, I am
waiting here for the muezzin of the Sultan Hasan mosque, to ask his
leave to call the Dawn instead of him. Victorious infidels are on the
height above us; and no man can predict the future of this land. It is
a black day for the Faith, may Allah help us! Our souls are humbled,
weeping tears of blood. I lay upon my bed, but could not sleep for
thinking on this grief. My heart and brain were full of singing, sad
and noble. I felt the need to sing to God alone. And I vowed within
my soul that none but Tâhir should call to prayer this dawn at yonder
mosque within the shadow of the citadel which holds our shame. Now till
my vow is paid I cannot guide thee. I beg thee enter the muezzin’s
house and rest till my return.... Ah, here he comes.”

The thud as of a wooden bolt withdrawn, the creak of a door opening
reached their ears. The singer ran in the direction of the sound. She
heard him coaxing the muezzin, who replied upon a yawn:

“With honour and with reverence, O Tâhir! It is thine to order.”

They had both drawn near to Barakah, entreating her to go indoors and
rest, when the donkey-boy, aroused at last, rushed on them with stick
raised.

“Where is my lady?” he cried out dementedly. “For the love of Allah,
harm her not; her mind is troubled!”

They had some ado to reassure the lad, who was but half awake. Tâhir
renewed his prayer to Barakah to enter the muezzin’s house without
delay. She cried to be allowed to wait and hear his singing.

“Well, stay with her, O Mustafa! Bring cushions out! And thou, O best
of donkey-drivers, seek the house of Yûsuf Pasha, inquire for one
Ghandûr, and bring him hither!”

The boy bestrode his ass and disappeared into the darkness; the singer
strode off, eager to perform his vow. The muezzin fetched some cushions
from his house, and led the lady through the gloom until the minaret
of Sultan Hasan loomed before them, and Barakah could distinguish its
projecting gallery. Then he spread the cushions as a couch, himself
subsiding on the ground behind her.

Barakah waited for what seemed long hours, so great was her impatience,
like the sharpest hunger. Then, suddenly, when she had almost ceased
to hope, a high, sweet note, sustained most wonderfully, filled her
ear. It caused a parting of the lips, a melting rapture. It broke in a
cascade of melody. Then came the long sweet note again, not held this
time, but uttered often with a sobbed insistence. And then the song
soared up to heights of praise, or hovered over depths of sorrow; she
was lost in it. Uprising from the fount of hope in sadness, it soared
to certainty of endless joy. The sound was no made music, but a soul
poured forth in glorious melody, as spontaneous and unerring as the
song of birds. The greatest singer in the world stood there unseen in
the suspended gallery, and sang his heart out to the praise of the
Creator, watching the dawn’s first gleam above the eastern hill.

On Barakah the song fell like a voice from heaven. She beheld great
light. Her grief, her terrors, became natural shadows. There was one
God for Christian and for Muslim. Beyond the striving and the hatred
waited peace and love.

The professional muezzin on the ground behind her was rocking with
enjoyment, gasping, sobbing: “Enough, O Tâhir! Of thy kindness, stop!
Wouldst kill me quite? I faint, expire! It is too much of rapture! See
me die! Praise be to Allah for the faith of El Islâm. Praise to the
benign Creator who has vouchsafed a voice to creatures for His glory!”

Another whispered: “That is no man’s song, but the song of Israfîl.
Surely the last day is dawning. Praise to Allah!” And yet another
murmured: “Praise to Him who sleepeth not nor dieth, the Merciful, the
Compassionate, the Light of Lights, the Living King!”

Selîm the donkey-boy had come up with Ghandûr. They spoke no word
to Barakah until the last note died. By then the pallor of the dawn
shone on them faintly, showing the look of sadness which succeeds
enchantment. Ghandûr then came and kissed the hand of Barakah, begging
her of her kindness to return with him.

He and Selîm together lifted her on to the donkey.

As they left the square the English bugles sounded on the height above.



CHAPTER XXXVII


Quickly the daylight spread and filled the streets; while overhead
successive darts of light pierced the incumbent darkness and dispelled
it, till the sun’s first ray reddened the minarets and plunged the
streets in azure shade. Men came out from their doorways as from tombs,
and went about their business listlessly. Among the lower classes it
was quite expected that the English would take vengeance on the town
that day. The people did not care; they were in Allah’s hands, and gave
Him thanks because the war was ended.

For Barakah the city wore its usual air; the only wretched figure was
her own. She was being led back to a life which had become intolerable.
After her tragic flight of yesterday, how ignominious was this meek
return! Ghandûr, beside her, talked of the extreme anxiety in which her
flight had plunged the Pasha’s family.

“O my lady, how hadst thou the heart to cause us such despair? Think
of it! One like thee, alone and in the streets at such a time, when
all authority is in abeyance, and the English host may come at any
moment with the lust of conquerors! A hundred men were searching for
thee through the night. My lord the Pasha thought that grief might lead
thee to the place of tombs, and he himself went thither with the slaves
enjoined to hide our valuables. Praise be to Allah, thou art found at
last! Take comfort, O my lady! Often and often have I grieved for thee,
alone among us! And when our great calamity befell--alas, that son of
mine should bear such evil tidings!--I prayed to Allah to reveal to
thee His boundless mercy. For it has no limits. For all who suffer in
this world He will redress the balance. Even the unhorned cattle, O my
lady! It is written.”

Barakah heard these consolations as a dreary murmur.

“I am taking thee to the late Pasha’s house, to the great lady,” he
informed her. “My lord considers it will be less sad for thee.”

The great lady meant no other than Murjânah Khânum. Recalling the
authority Murjânah wielded, Barakah imagined she was being led to
punishment.

Two eunuchs came forth, bowing, crying, “Praise to Allah!” They helped
her to dismount, and both supported her. A minute later she had passed
the harîm screen. Her brief excursion in the world was ended. She was
once more caged.

Imagining her crime to be as great as that of Christian nun in breaking
convent, and knowing that Murjânah Khânum could be ruthless, she
expected torture; instead of which she was caressed and put to bed.

She had her lodging in Murjânah’s rooms, was dosed by Fitnah, comforted
by Leylah Khânum. The younger ladies came as visitors and talked to
cheer her. Old Umm ed-Dahak, not to be excluded, crouched by her bed
and crooned as to an infant.

“Why are you all so kind to me?” she asked one day. “I tried to flee, I
tell you, to escape to Europe--yet you pet me!”

“All things are pardoned to great grief,” replied Murjânah. “It was not
thy fault, O poor one! Would to Allah I could show thee what I see more
clearly than I see thee in this room--the power of God, His mercy all
around us. Fain would I hear thee give Him praise for thy misfortune.
He sees and knows; we fancy; it is weak to strive. Think, O my fawn, my
lily, thou hast still one child; thou hadst thy boy for thy delight for
fifteen years. More fortunate than I who lost all mine in infancy! What
peace can come to woman in thy case who does not offer up her will to
God? The men have promise of a certain paradise; we have no certitude
of what awaits us. Yet are we not dejected, for we know God’s mercy,
and leave the future gladly in His hands. We women are not bargainers,
we serve for love; and the mercy of the Highest cannot fail. Thou hast
been brought up otherwise to prouder thoughts. Humble thy soul if thou
wouldst find relief.”

“I proud?” cried Barakah. “Thou, the proudest woman I have ever known,
canst call me so? I am not as thou art--strong and dauntless, cruel in
thy resignation. I am feeble and afraid.”

“May Allah strengthen thee and drive out fear!”

Barakah had lost the vision which had come from Tâhir’s singing--a
vision which ignored divergences of race and custom. Without her son
the harîm life was senseless; she held the Muslim faith in secret
dread; and longed for sentimental Christian people. Yûsuf, her husband,
proved the soul of kindness, yet she had almost hated him in her revolt
from all his race.

One day he told the ladies in her presence:

“The English are not bad. They take wise measures for the land’s
redemption. They have asked me to take office, and I have a mind to do
so.”

It was the first time she had heard the English mentioned since her
reimprisonment. In fact, the Turkish pride had suffered cruelly from
this intrusion of a European power, the more so that the natives of the
land acclaimed it. Though the English arms restored their party in the
State, the Turks in Egypt gnawed their lips and could not speak of
them.

A new way of escape appeared to Barakah. She could obtain an
audience of the English rulers and announce her longing to return
to Christianity. She pined for the ideals of Christian lands, the
independent life of women, and their varied interests. Here she had
lost her value, having lost her son. She would soon be an old woman, a
mere worn-out animal.

Directly she conceived this plan, she grew more cheerful, and even felt
some kindness for the harîm walls. While making her endeavour to find
out from Yûsuf the names of Englishmen of influence, their character
and reputation, she wanted to make certain he would be consoled.

“Light of my eyes,” she whispered, nestling to him, “I have quite
outgrown my foolish prejudice. I beg thee now to wed another wife. The
son I bore to thee is dead, and I grow old.”

“Wallahi, thou art still delicious,” he replied gallantly; but all the
same he thanked her, seeming much relieved.

Perceiving that the anguish of her grief was past, the ladies let her
go to her own house.

“Remember my advice,” said old Murjânah in farewell. “Behold, my eyes
grow dim, my days are numbered. I speak not frivolously like the
young. Give up thy will. That is to islam truly. May Allah grant thee
resignation, which is strength.”



CHAPTER XXXVIII


She had not been in her own house a day, before she said to Umm
ed-Dahak:

“Wilt thou do me a great service?”

“Wallahi, that will I! Even--saving thy presence--one most sinful!”

“And canst thou keep a secret from the seed of Adam?”

“Not only that, but from the walls and air.”

“I want a letter carried to a great one of the English.”

“I seek refuge in Allah!” gasped the old woman, grinning widely.
“Knowest thou it is a crime unheard of that thou askest of me? Fie upon
thee! Wallahi, if I did my duty I should leave thee straightway!”

But far from flying from her mistress she came nearer. Her wrinkles ran
to smiles; her old eyes twinkled.

“Come, let us reason!” she remarked, as she sat down, and, fingering
her lady’s hand, began the argument.

“If thou desirest recreation of a shameful kind, let me discover some
devout believer. Thus the sin is less. Or better still, approach thy
husband, tell him thou art weary, implore him of his mercy to release
thee, with a portion of thy dowry. No man would refuse the offer after
years of marriage. Then I could find thee a good Muslim, for diversion.
But a Frank--an unbeliever! Ask me not! It is too horrible!”

“By Allah, my desire is not the thing thou thinkest!” Barakah made
answer gaily. “This Englishman is one I knew in childhood. I would
speak with him. The matter is no other than my lord’s advancement,
though if he knew I meddled he would kill me!”

“Swear to that! But swear to that!” cried Umm ed-Dahak, much excited,
“and I can do thy errand without sin. But if thy mind is for a Frank,
I could unearth thee Muslims of that race; though most of them are
idiotic from hashîsh.”

“My errand is to this one only!”

“Good, I go.”

The lady clapped her hands and called for writing things. The letter
taxed her mind for hours; the fitting phrase, the correct tone, eluding
one who for so many years had penned no word of English. At last it
was completed. She implored the great official, of his mercy, his
great kindness, to receive an English lady, long immured in the harîm,
where she had suffered greatly. She wished to make a most important
statement (this she underlined) and begged him to secure the utmost
secrecy. She would not write her name for fear the letter should be
intercepted, but would reveal it to him with the other matter when they
met. The document, enveloped and sealed down, was put into the hands of
Umm ed-Dahak. After two hours, she brought back the answer, “Tomorrow
at the fourth hour,” given her by word of mouth. She had not seen the
Englishman himself.

“Wallahi, we will make thee beautiful,” she chuckled.

Then Barakah reviewed her prison with affection. She went from room to
room, observing for remembrance. In one, the slave-girls crouched round
an old hag who told a story. The light which fell like powder from the
lattice singled out their teeth and eyeballs, and woke a blue sheen
in the copper vessels round the wall. In another, the child Afîfah
stood up on the seat beside the lattice, feeding pigeons; the wife of
Ghandûr, standing by, supported her. A little wicket in the tracery was
open.

“H’m-h’m-h’m-h’m!” Afîfah gave the pigeon-call, and held out crumbs. A
fluttering cloud of white and iridescent down, pink, shell-like claws,
and avid beaks and eyes, beset the lattice from without, its shadow
watering the child’s delighted face.

Barakah retired without disturbing them. She had a hankering to take
the little girl with her. But no, Afîfah was a child of El Islâm. Like
all the rest, she would condemn and curse her mother.

Then visitors arrived--Gulbeyzah and Bedr-ul-Budûr--and Barakah
waxed sentimental in her talk with them, recalling all the pleasant
hours which they had spent together. Both were now grown obese and
double-chinned. Nothing remained of the resplendent beauty which had
marked their girlhood save the eyes, which made them still attractive
when they wore the face-veil. She pitied them, with anguish for
herself; and kissed them fondly when they rose to go.

Then Yûsuf came to spend an hour with her. She thanked him with sincere
emotion for his never-failing kindness to her during all those years.

“It is nothing but thy due,” he answered, greatly touched. “Thou art
alone among us, and my cherished wife.”

That night the very howling of the street-dogs sounded sweet; the
starlight at her lattice seemed a humble friend. Her heart bled for the
parting which was very near. For not a doubt existed in her mind but
that the English, once informed of her desire for Christianity, would
snatch her from the Muslims with a mighty hand. The power was theirs;
they governed Egypt; and she knew from her remembrance that they were
fanatical. They would welcome her conversion, and defend her.

In the morning Umm ed-Dahak bubbled over with excitement. She
accompanied her lady to the bath, and bade the bath attendant take all
measures to enhance her beauty. She assured her mistress in an eager
whisper:

“Trust Umm ed-Dahak, I have managed everything.”

She had given orders in her lady’s name that the harîm carriage and a
eunuch should be ready at a certain hour. She and Barakah were driven
to a shop of good repute, famed for its stock of Frankish boots and
gloves, of which the harîm ladies were enamoured as showing off their
pretty hands and feet.

“Our business here may take some time--an hour, perhaps,” she told
the eunuch, who took position sentry-wise beside the entrance. The
shop possessed two doors. Making a trifling purchase, they went out
unnoticed, and found themselves within a stone’s throw of the public
office which the English ruler had appointed for the interview.

The street in blazing sunlight was flowing with a many-coloured crowd,
which kept up such a jabber that Barakah could not think clearly. The
scene she had rehearsed appeared ridiculous. Seized with panic, she was
anxious to turn back; but Umm ed-Dahak at her elbow whispered courage.
In a minute she had entered a great doorway leading to a wide stone
hall, where soldiers lounged. One of them came forward at a beck from
Umm ed-Dahak. Then the old woman went and squatted on the doorstep, and
Barakah, half dead with terror, was led on alone.



CHAPTER XXXIX


“You asked for a private interview. It is a little unusual, I believe,
in this country; but I granted your request upon the understanding that
you have important secrets to communicate, as stated in your letter.
Let me see--ah, here it is!”

The English official--a broad-shouldered, fresh-complexioned man
inclined to baldness--having studied her appearance through a monocle,
let fall that weapon and, disturbing papers on his desk, produced the
letter she had written to him, which looked somehow pitiful.

“I am an English lady. My name is Mary Smith. I did a very wicked
thing. I turned Mahometan, and married a Turkish gentleman, a Pasha,
here in Cairo. I want to leave him and return to Christianity. I am an
English lady, by name Mary Smith; not what they call me. I am prepared
to take my oath that this is true, and Mrs. Cameron can tell you--I
must get away!”

“What is all this, and who is Mrs. Cameron? In what way does your
private history concern me? I beg you to pass on to the important
statement which you have to make.”

“I ask your help to get away from the harîm.”

At that the Englishman resumed his eyeglass and surveyed her with a
slight gape of amazement.

The scene of conversation was a large room, sparsely furnished with a
desk, a table and a few plain chairs. The light from the high window
shone on Barakah who, to prove that she was really English, had removed
her face-veil. The critic’s wondering stare first made her conscious of
the discrepancy with her request of highly raddled cheeks and lips, and
kohled eyes--the touches Umm ed-Dahak had declared so beautiful. She
was not a European any longer. Her very words resounded with a foreign
accent. From the moment of her entering the presence of this hateful
man, she had been persuaded of the folly of her errand, out of heart
with it. Her speech, when uttered, carried no conviction.

“Indeed, indeed, I am an Englishwoman,” she persisted, with a kind of
whimper. “I want to get away from here and lead a Christian life.”

But while she spoke the words her hands were busy readjusting the white
muslin mouth-veil as a step towards going.

The great official shrugged his shoulders “Is that all you have to say?”

“Perhaps--I mean, I know that I did wrong to come here.” She was
quivering from head to foot with shame. The act of sitting on a chair
embarrassed her. She was completely out of touch with English ways.

“Well, I don’t quite see what I can do for you,” said her appraiser, in
a tone of bland reproach. “You see we are here as guardians of the laws
and customs of the country. We could hardly, therefore, interfere in a
case such as yours--a harîm quarrel. As for the religious controversy,
I can tell you we avoid it like hot coals. Our one desire is to uphold
the institutions of the country. Really, my dear lady, I think the only
thing for you to do is to go straight home and make the best of it.”

At that she rose. He passed before her to the door and held it open.
She thought of offering her hand, but his grand bow forbade it; and she
went out in profound humiliation.

“Well, art thou happy?” chuckled Umm ed-Dahak, still believing that she
was the servant of a criminal intrigue. She prattled merrily till they
regained the carriage and were driving homeward, when she noticed that
her lady trembled and looked sad.

“Alas!” she cried. “My dove, my poor one, is it so? Woe, woe for
womankind! There comes a time to all of us when love escapes.”

But Barakah surveyed a wider disillusion.

Until just now she had been strong in the conceit that she was
different from Eastern women, recognizably of higher race. From
her dreams with Umm ed-Dahak, built on memories of Mrs. Cameron’s
entreaties and the Consul’s arguments, she had derived the notion that
she was of value to the English, who would fain reclaim her. Now that
mirage, born of the sleepy harîm atmosphere, was swept away; and she
was nothing. With English people, she would always long for Orientals;
with Orientals, feel a yearning for the life of Europe.

And in religion, likewise, she was nothing. A Christian by conviction
after years of scoffing, she was doomed to play the part of a
Mahometan, to lose her soul. And she was glad to be returning to the
life so lately dreaded, the vision of herself in English eyes had so
appalled her. Well, she was nothing, and her soul of small account.
The harîm was her natural home; the teaching of the wise and kindly
Prophet her protection. She now beheld the vanity of all her struggles,
the vulgarity of much concern about the future. God was merciful! In
self-annihilation there was peace. Thus through her striving after
Christianity she reached at last the living heart of El Islâm.



CHAPTER XL


It was strange how, with her broken spirit, she regained a kindly
interest in all around her. She had found the keynote of harîm
existence--resignation; not merely passive, but exultant as an act of
worship. The gross, full-blooded speech, the something cruel in these
women, which in the day of sentimental pride had seemed intolerable,
was but the natural outcome of relentless vision. In the first fervour
of her self-abasement she stood beside the deathbed of Murjânah
Khânum, watched her last struggle, and endured the death-room orgies
without flinching. Thenceforth she took up the old Muslim standpoint,
denouncing all the fallacies of Europe. Having won from Yûsuf the
confession that he kept three other women, she had them brought to the
old Pasha’s palace, where she lived thenceforward, to rid his dealings
of the surreptitiousness which smacks of vice. She received them
sometimes in her rooms, and took benignant notice of their children,
but remained aloof. They called her “the great lady,” and deferred to
her.

When the festivals of visitation of the dead came round, she would
withdraw into the tomb for days together, but showed no mournfulness at
other seasons. When Englishwomen called on her (as sometimes happened,
for Yûsuf held a high position in the Government), she spoke in stilted
French, and never hinted that she knew their language, or was other
than the thing she seemed--a Turkish lady. She felt assured that, had
she carried out her plan and fled to Europe after her son’s death,
she would have gone mad in that sentimental atmosphere with all her
memories. More than the English, she disliked some French and German
ladies who, without renouncing their religion or their nationality,
had married Muslims. These, in their visits, showed a curiosity, and
used a tone of patronage, which was offensive. Of races less exclusive
than the English, they kept their European friends, maintained their
liberty. They had no real conception of the harîm life.

She was angry with her daughter when the latter told her:

“At marriage I shall make my husband promise to have me alone before
I yield to him. It is become the fashion in the noblest houses. Of
course, if I should fail to bear a son, I should release him.”

“Endeavour to retain him by thy charms,” the mother scolded. “O foolish
one, to make him promise is to make him sin. In following the madness
of the Frankish women, thou dost but court deception in the Frankish
manner. It all comes of the reading of French stories without knowledge
or intelligence.”

It vexed her soul to see young girls forsaking the old stately way to
hanker for the trash of Europe, which they misconceived. Afîfah had no
notion of that mutual love and comradeship which is the sole excuse for
monogamic marriage; she merely thought it fine to be an only wife. When
harîm ladies talked of feminine emancipation, they understood it to
involve licentiousness. Their genius was at once too indolent and too
direct ever to harbour European vapours.

But these vagaries were restricted to a score of wealthy houses, and
even there the harîm life went on the same. There were the lattices,
the veils, the eunuchs, and some few slaves in spite of many edicts;
the ladies still had their old interests and rules and customs; the
same old women hawked the news and bawdy tales from house to house; and
superstition flourished more than ever. Young wives who had been bred
up in the Frankish culture, and insisted on the husband talking French
in private, consulted witches when the baby ailed, or sent a portion of
his clothing to be blood-stained at a zâr.

Afîfah married in due course a high official, and Barakah spent half
the year with her. The mother had her little circle of old friends, and
many protégés--in particular the house of Ghandûr, whose first-born,
Ali, she regarded always as her son. Her age seemed not unhappy.

On a summer evening, she was sitting on the roof of the old Pasha’s
palace, watching the sunset with Gulbeyzah, Na´imah, and two of Yûsuf’s
sisters who had come to visit her. Red light as of a conflagration
shone around them. The shadow cast towards them by the parapet was
vastly elongated and as black as ink. A tray with fruit and sherbet
rested on the ground, and a slave-girl, squatting on her heels before
them, awaiting their good pleasure to remove it, followed their
conversation with an eager smile.

The English had been five-and-twenty years in Cairo, and mighty changes
had distressed the world of men, but the harîm seemed changeless in its
calm seclusion. Beliefs as old as Egypt lingered there, and new things
introduced were made to serve old customs. Yet the ladies had been
sighing at the growth of innovations.

“Dost thou remember, O my sweet one, the little window in the servants’
passage where I used to sit and dream as a young maiden?” sighed
Gulbeyzah. “Is it still there? I must go down and see it! And the
little lover on the roof who waved his arms so wildly? I wonder did
he die of me, the poor young man! Thou didst blame me for that small
amusement; but, by Allah, girls in those days are less innocent. My
granddaughters read French books till their brains are addled. They
had better sit alone and dream as I did.”

“The best of life is thinking with hands idle,” answered Na’imah. “All
women do it, and so form their minds. But the girls to-day have no
resources. They despise embroidery. They needs must be amused by some
strange sight, excited by unhealthy reading, or they die of ennui.”

“Look, look!” exclaimed Gulbeyzah suddenly.

They all stared in the direction which her finger pointed.

The slave, who had been waiting their good pleasure to remove the tray,
had started up and stood against the parapet, looking out towards the
sunset, with her back towards them. Both her arms were raised as for an
incantation. The rosy light enveloped her as with a halo. Her shadow,
grown enormous, covered half the roof.

“I seek refuge in Allah. Is she worshipping the sun?” gasped Na’imah.
“She should be punished for such gross impiety.”

“She is going to give that crow his salutation,” said Gulbeyzah.

The bird had wheeled away, but now drew near again.

    “If good the news, O bird, alight and welcome;
    If bad, draw up thy claws and hie away!”

The slave-girl having chanted the time-honoured formula, turned to
resume her attitude of patient waiting. She grinned to find herself
the object of all eyes.

“I shamed him,” she remarked, with a wide flash of teeth, as she sat
down once more.

“Thou knowest the history--not so, O my flower?” said Na’imah.

“Umm ed-Dahak has related it a thousand times--the Lord have mercy on
her!” Barakah made answer in a tone of fond remembrance.

“O light of my eyes, surely every woman here in Egypt knows it!”
giggled Yûsuf’s youngest sister. “They say it has been handed down
among us from the days of our lord Noah, when we sent up the petition.”

“That every girl might be allowed four husbands?” asked Gulbeyzah.

“More! more!--or so old Umm ed-Dahak used to tell me--as many as she
could endure, my sweet!” laughed Barakah.

“May Allah destroy the house of that most wicked crow, who has kept us
waiting all these thousands of long years till now!” groaned Na’imah.

“How long! How long, O Lord!” sighed out Gulbeyzah in a comic ecstasy.

“Never in my time, that is certain, under Allah,” answered Barakah.
“But perhaps you young ones....”

“Young ones! O Allah, listen to her! Ah, alas for us!” cried Yûsuf’s
youngest sister, with a sobbing laugh. Whereat the ladies looked into
each other’s faces, illumined by the greenish light which follows
sunset. A silence and a shudder fell upon them.

“Allah have mercy on us!” Gulbeyzah broke the stillness with a shrug.
“Behold us finished for the joys of this low world.”

“The praise to Allah!” answered Na’imah devoutly.

They were all old withered bodies, for the grave.


_Printed by_ MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED, _Edinburgh_



MR. EVELEIGH NASH’S LIST OF NEW BOOKS


THINGS I CAN TELL

_By Lord Rossmore_

      Illustrated          Price 10/6 net

Lord Rossmore’s recollections should contribute to the gaiety of the
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KING EDWARD IN HIS TRUE COLOURS

_By Edward Legge_

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A KEEPER OF ROYAL SECRETS

Being the Private and Political Life of Madame de Genlis

_By Jean Harmand_

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MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY

_By Madame Judith_

(_of the Comédie Française_)

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THE STORY OF THE BORGIAS

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ENGLAND’S WEAK POINTS

_By a German Resident--Mariano Hergellet_

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IN ABOR JUNGLES

Being an account of the Abor Expedition, the Mishmi Mission, and the
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_Author of “Korea,” “Afghanistan,” etc._

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VEILED MYSTERIES OF EGYPT

_By S. H. Leeder_

_Author of “The Desert Gateway,” etc._

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THE CHAPELS ROYAL

_By Archdeacon Sinclair_

With Full-page Illustrations reproduced in Photogravure from Point
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Transcriber’s note:

Archaic, unusual and inconsistent spellings have been maintained in the
text. The only change which was made to the text was the sentence on
page 74 which was originally written: “At unawares she joined the gusty
sigh ...” In the next edition it was changed to “All unawares ...”
which is clearer to me.





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