Donovan Pasha and Some People of Egypt - Volume 2

Donovan Pasha and Some People of Egypt - Volume 2

DONOVAN PASHA AND SOME PEOPLE OF EGYPT - VOLUME 2. GILBERT PARKER Volume 2. FIELDING HAD AN ORDERLY THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE A TREATY OF PEACE AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS ALL THE WORLD'S MAD FIELDING HAD AN ORDERLY His legs were like pipe-stems his body was like a board but he was straight enough not unsoldierly nor so bad to look at when his back was on you; but when he showed his face you had little pleasure in him. It seemed made of brown putty the nose was like india-rubber and the eyes had that dull sullen look of a mongrel got of a fox-terrier and a bull- dog. Like this sort of mongrel also his eyes turned a brownish-red when he was excited. You could always tell when something had gone wrong with Ibrahim the Orderly by that curious dull glare in his eyes. Selamlik Pasha said to Fielding that it was hashish; Fielding said it was a cross breed of Soudanese and fellah. But little Dicky Donovan said it was something else and he kept his eye upon Ibrahim. And Dicky with all his faults could screw his way from the front of a thing to the back thereof like no other civilised man you ever knew. But he did not press his opinions upon Fielding who was an able administrator and a very clever fellow also with a genial habit of believing in people who served him: and that is bad in the Orient. As an orderly Ibrahim was like a clock: stiff in his gait as a pendulum regular as a minute. He had no tongue for gossip either so far as Fielding knew. Also five times a day he said his prayers--an unusual thing for a Gippy soldier-servant; for as the Gippy's rank increases he soils his knees and puts his forehead in the dust with discretion. This was another reason why Dicky suspected him. It was supposed that Ibrahim could not speak a word of English; and he seemed so stupid he looked so blank when English was spoken that Fielding had no doubt the English language was a Tablet of Abydos to him. But Dicky was more wary and waited. He could be very patient and simple and his delicate face seemed as innocent as a girl's when he said to Ibrahim one morning: "Ibrahim brother of scorpions I'm going to teach you English!" and squatting like a Turk on the deck of the Amenhotep the stern-wheeled tub which Fielding called a steamer he began to teach Ibrahim. "Say 'Good-morning kind sir'" he drawled. No tongue was ever so thick no throat so guttural as Ibrahim's when he obeyed this command. That was why suspicion grew the more in the mind of Dicky. But he made the Gippy say: "Good-morning kind sir" over and over again. Now it was a peculiar thing that Ibrahim's pronunciation grew worse every time; which goes to show that a combination of Soudanese and fellah doesn't make a really clever villain. Twice three times Dicky gave him other words and phrases to say and practice made Ibrahim more perfect in error. Dicky suddenly enlarged the vocabulary thus: "An old man had three sons: one was a thief another a rogue and the worst of them all was a soldier. But the soldier died first!" As he said these words he kept his eyes fixed on Ibrahim in a smiling juvenile sort of way; and he saw the colour--the brownish-red colour-- creep slowly into Ibrahim's eyes. For Ibrahim's father had three sons: and certainly one was a thief for he had been a tax-gatherer; and one was a rogue for he had been the servant of a Greek money-lender; and Ibrahim was a soldier! Ibrahim was made to say these words over and over again and the red fire in his eyes deepened as Dicky's face lighted up with what seemed a mere mocking pleasure a sort of impish delight in teasing like that of a madcap girl with a yokel. Each time Ibrahim said the words he jumbled them worse than before. Then Dicky asked him if he knew what an old man was and Ibrahim said no. Dicky said softly in Arabic that the old man was a fool to have three such sons--a thief and a rogue and a soldier. With a tender patience he explained what a thief and a rogue were and his voice was curiously soft when he added in Arabic: "And the third son was like you Mahommed--and he died first." Ibrahim's eyes gloomed under the raillery--under what he thought the cackle of a detested Inglesi with a face like a girl of an infidel who had a tongue that handed you honey on the point of a two-edged sword. In his heart he hated this slim small exquisite as he had never hated Fielding. His eyes became like little pots of simmering blood and he showed his teeth in a hateful way because he was sure he should glut his hatred before the moon came full. Little Dicky Donovan knew as he sleepily told Ibrahim to go that for months the Orderly had listened to the wholesome but scathing talk of Fielding and himself on the Egyptian Government and had reported it to those whose tool and spy he was. That night the stern-wheeled tub the Amenhotep lurched like a turtle on its back into the sands by Beni Hassan. Of all the villages of Upper Egypt from the time of Rameses none has been so bad as Beni Hassan. Every ruler of Egypt at one time or another has raided it and razed it to the ground. It was not for pleasure that Fielding sojourned there. This day and for three days past Fielding had been abed in his cabin with a touch of Nilotic fever. His heart was sick for Cairo for he had been three months on the river; and Mrs. Henshaw was in Cairo--Mrs. Henshaw the widow of Henshaw of the Buffs who lived with her brother a stone's-throw from the Esbekieh Gardens. Fielding longed for Cairo but Beni Hassan intervened. The little man who worried Ibrahim urged him the way his private inclinations ran but he was obdurate: duty must be done. Dicky Donovan had reasons other than private ones for making haste to Cairo. During the last three days they had stopped at five villages on the Nile and in each place Dicky who had done Fielding's work of inspection for him had been met with unusual insolence from the Arabs and fellaheen officials and others; and the prompt chastisement he rendered with his riding-whip in return did not tend to ease his mind though it soothed his feelings. There had been flying up the river strange rumours of trouble down in Cairo black threats of rebellion-- of a seditious army in the palm of one man's hand. At the cafes on the Nile Dicky himself had seen strange gatherings which dispersed as he came on them. For somehow his smile had the same effect as other men's frowns. This evening he added a whistle to his smile as he made his inspection of the engine-room and the galley and every corner of the Amenhotep according to his custom. What he whistled no man knew not even himself. It was ready-made. It might have been a medley but as things happened it was an overture; and by the eyes the red-litten windows of the mind of Mahommed Ibrahim who squatted beside the Yorkshire engineer at the wheel playing mankalah he knew it was an overture. As he went to his cabin he murmured to himself "There's the devil to pay: now I wonder who pays?" Because he was planning things of moment he took a native drum down to Fielding's cabin and made Fielding play it native fashion as he thrummed his own banjo and sang the airy ballad "The Dragoons of Enniskillen." Yet Dicky was thinking hard all the time. Now there was in Beni Hassan a ghdzeeyeh a dancing-woman of the Ghawazee tribe of whom in the phrase of the moralists the less said the better. What her name was does not matter. She was well-to-do. She had a husband who played the kemengeh for her dancing. She had as good a house as the Omdah and she had two female slaves. Dicky Donovan was of that rare type of man who has the keenest desire to know all things good or evil though he was fastidious when it came to doing them. He had a gift of keeping his own commandments. If he had been a six-footer and riding eighteen stone--if he hadn't been as Fielding often said so "damned finicky" he might easily have come a cropper. For being absolutely without fear he did what he listed and went where he listed. An insatiable curiosity was his strongest point save one. If he had had a headache--though he never had--he would at once have made an inquiry into the various kinds of headache possible to mortal man with pungent deductions from his demonstrations. So it was that when he first saw a dancing-girl in the streets of Cairo he could not rest until by circuitous routes he had traced the history of dancing- girls back through the ages through Greece and the ruby East even to the days when the beautiful bad ones were invited to the feasts of the mighty to charm the eyes of King Seti or Queen Hatsu. He was an authority on the tribe of the Ghawazee proving to their satisfaction and his own their descent from the household of Haroon al Rashid. He was therefore welcome among them. But he had found also as many another wise man has found in "furrin parts" that your greatest safety lies in bringing tobacco to the men and leaving the women alone. For in those distant lands a man may sell you his nuptial bed but he will pin the price of it to your back one day with the point of a lance or the wedge of a hatchet. Herebefore will be found the reason why Dicky Donovan--twenty-five and no moustache pink-cheeked and rosy-hearted and "no white spots on his liver"--went straight that particular night to the house of the chief dancing-girl of Beni Hassan for help in his trouble. From her he had learned to dance the dance of the Ghawazee. He had learned it so that with his insatiable curiosity his archaeological instinct he should be able to compare it with the Nautch dance of India the Hula-Hula of the Sandwich Islanders the Siva of the Samoans. A half-hour from the time he set his foot in Beni Hassan two dancing- girls issued from the house of the ghdzeeyeh dressed in shintiydn and muslin tarah anklets and bracelets with gold coins about the forehead --and one was Dicky Donovan. He had done the rare thing: he had trusted absolutely that class of woman who is called a "rag" in that far country and a "drab" in ours. But he was a judge of human nature and judges of human nature know you are pretty safe to trust a woman who never trusts no matter how bad she is if she has no influence over you. He used to say that the better you are and the worse she is the more you can trust her. Other men may talk but Dicky Donovan knows. What Dicky's aunt the Dowager Lady Carmichael would have said to have seen Dicky flaunting it in the clothes of a dancing-girl through the streets of vile Beni Hassan must not be considered. None would have believed that his pink-and-white face and slim hands and staringly white ankles could have been made to look so boldly handsome so impeachable. But henna in itself seems to have certain qualities of viciousness in its brownish-red stain and Dicky looked sufficiently abandoned. The risk was great however for his Arabic was too good and he had to depend upon the ghdzeeyeh's adroitness on the peculiar advantage of being under the protection of the mistress of the house as large as the Omdah's. From one cafe to another they went. Here a snakecharmer gathered a meagre crowd about him; there an 'A'l'meh or singing-girl lilted a ribald song; elsewhere hashish-smokers stretched out gaunt loathsome fingers towards them; and a Sha'er recited the romance of Aboo Zeyd. But Dicky noticed that none of the sheikhs none of the great men of the village were at these cafes; only the very young the useless the licentious or the decrepit. But by flickering fires under the palm- trees were groups of men talking and gesticulating; and now and then an Arab galloped through the street the point of his long lance shining. Dicky felt a secret like a troubled wind stirring through the place a movement not explainable by his own inner tremulousness. At last they went to the largest cafe beside the Mosque of Hoseyn. He saw the Sheikh-el-beled sitting on his bench and grouped round him smoking several sheikhs and the young men of the village. Here he and the ghdzeeyeh danced. Few noticed them; for which Dicky was thankful; and he risked discovery by coming nearer the circle. He could however catch little that they said for they spoke in low tones the Sheikh-el- beled talking seldom but listening closely. The crowd around the cafe grew. Occasionally an Arab would throw back his head and cry: "Allahu Akbar!" Another drew a sword and waved it in the air. Some one in front of him whispered one startling word to a camel-driver. Dicky had got his cue. To him that whisper was as loud and clear as the "La ilaha illa-llah!" called from the top of a mosque. He understood Ibrahim the Orderly now; he guessed all--rebellion anarchy massacre. A hundred thoughts ran through his head: what was Ibrahim's particular part in the swaggering scheme was the first and the last of them. Ibrahim answered for himself for at that moment he entered the burning circle. A movement of applause ran round then there was sudden silence. The dancing-girls were bid to stop their dancing were told to be gone. The ghazeeyeh spat at them in an assumed anger and said that none but swine of Beni Hassan would send a woman away hungry. And because the dancing-girl has power in the land the Sheikh-el-beled waved his hand towards the cafe hastily calling the name of a favourite dish. Eyes turned unconcernedly towards the brown clattering ankles of the two as they entered the cafe and seated themselves immediately behind where the Sheikh-el-beled squatted. Presently Dicky listened to as sombre a tale as ever was told in the darkest night. The voice of the tale-teller was that of Ibrahim and the story was this: that the citadel at Cairo was to be seized that the streets of Alexandria were to be swept free of Europeans that every English official between Cairo and Kordofan was to be slain. Mahommed Ibrahim the spy who knew English as well as Donovan Pasha knew Arabic was this very night to kill Fielding Bey with his own hand! This night was always associated in Dicky's mind with the memory of stewed camel's-meat. At Ibrahim's words he turned his head from the rank steam and fingered his pistol in the loose folds of his Arab trousers. The dancing-girl saw the gesture and laid a hand upon his arm. "Thou art one against a thousand" she whispered; "wait till thou art one against one." He dipped his nose in the camel-stew for some one poked a head in at the door--every sense in him was alert every instinct alive. "To-night" said Mahommed Ibrahim in the hoarse gutturals of the Bishareen "it is ordered that Fielding Bey shall die--and by my hand mine own by the mercy of God! And after Fielding Bey the clean-faced ape that cast the evil eye upon me yesterday and bade me die. 'An old man had three sons' said he the infidel dog 'one was a thief another a rogue and the third a soldier--and the soldier died first.' 'A camel of Bagdad' he called me. Into the belly of a dead camel shall he go be sewn up like a cat's liver in a pudding and cast into the Nile before God gives tomorrow a sun." Dicky pushed away the camel-stew. "It is time to go" he said. The ghdzeeyeh rose with a laugh caught Dicky by the hand sprang out among the Arabs and leapt over the head of the village barber calling them all "useless sodden greybeards with no more blood than a Nile shad poorer than monkeys beggars of Beni Hassan!" Taking from her pocket a handful of quarter-piastres she turned on her heels and tossed them among the Arabs with a contemptuous laugh. Then she and Dicky disappeared into the night. II When Dicky left her house clothed in his own garments once more but the stains of henna still on his face and hands and ankles he pressed into the ghazeeyeh's hand ten gold-pieces. She let them fall to the ground. "Love is love effendi" she said. "Money do they give me for what is no love. She who gives freely for love takes naught in return but love by the will of God!" And she laid a hand upon his arm. "There is work to do!" said Dicky; and his hand dropped to where his pistol lay--but not to threaten her. He was thinking of others. "To-morrow" she said; "to-morrow for that effendi" and her beautiful eyes hung upon his. "There's corn in Egypt but who knows who'll reap it to-morrow? And I shall be in Cairo to-morrow." "I also shall be in Cairo to-morrow O my lord and master!" she answered. "God give you safe journey" answered Dicky for he knew it was useless to argue with a woman. He was wont to say that you can resolve all women into the same simple elements in the end. Dicky gave a long perplexed whistle as he ran softly under the palms towards the Amenhotep lounging on the mud bank. Then he dismissed the dancing-girl from his mind for there was other work to do. How he should do it he planned as he opened the door of Fielding's cabin softly and saw him in a deep sleep. He was about to make haste on deck again where his own nest was when glancing through the window he saw Mahommed Ibrahim stealing down the bank to the boat's side. He softly drew-to the little curtain of the cabin window leaving only one small space through which the moonlight streamed. This ray of light fell just across the door through which Mahommed Ibrahim would enter. The cabin was a large one the bed was in the middle. At the head was a curtain slung to protect the sleeper from the cold draughts of the night. Dicky heard a soft footstep in the companionway then before the door. He crept behind the curtain. Mahommed Ibrahim was listening without. Now the door opened very gently for this careful Orderly had oiled the hinges that very day. The long flabby face with the venomous eyes showed in the streak of moonlight. Mahommed Ibrahim slid inside took a step forward and drew a long knife from his sleeve. Another move towards the sleeping man and he was near the bed; another and he was beside it stooping over. . . Now a cold pistol suddenly thrust in your face is disconcerting no matter how well laid your plans. It was useless for the Orderly to raise his hand: a bullet is quicker than the muscles of the arm and the stroke of a knife. The two stood silent an instant the sleeping man peaceful between them. Dicky made a motion of his head towards the door. Mahommed Ibrahim turned. Dicky did not lower his pistol as the Orderly obeying softly went as he had softly come. Out through the doorway up the stairs then upon the moonlit deck the cold muzzle of the pistol at the head of Mahommed Ibrahim. Dicky turned now and faced him the pistol still pointed. Then Mahommed Ibrahim spoke. "Malaish!" he said. That was contempt. It was Mahommedan resignation; it was the inevitable. "Malaish--no matter!" he said again; and "no matter" was in good English. Dicky's back was to the light the Orderly's face in the full glow of it. Dicky was standing beside the wire communicating with the engineer's cabin. He reached out his hand and pulled the hook. The bell rang below. The two above stood silent motionless the pistol still levelled. Holgate the young Yorkshire engineer pulled himself up to the deck two steps of the ladder at a time. "Yes sir" he said coming forward quickly but stopping short when he saw the levelled pistol. "Drop the knife Ibrahim" said Dicky in a low voice. The Orderly dropped the knife. "Get it Holgate" said Dicky; and Holgate stooped and picked it up. Then he told Holgate the story in a few words. The engineer's fingers tightened on the knife. "Put it where it will be useful Holgate" said Dicky. Holgate dropped it inside his belt. "Full steam and turn her nose to Cairo. No time to lose!" He had told Holgate earlier in the evening to keep up steam. He could see a crowd slowly gathering under the palm-trees between the shore and Beni Hassan. They were waiting for Mahommed Ibrahim's signal. Holgate was below the sailors were at the cables. "Let go ropes!" Dicky called. A minute later the engine was quietly churning away below; two minutes later the ropes were drawn in; half a minute later still the nose of the Amenhotep moved in the water. She backed from the Nile mud lunged free. "An old man had three sons; one was a thief another a rogue and the worst of the three was a soldier--and he dies first! What have you got to say before you say your prayers?" said Dicky to the Orderly. "Mafish!" answered Mahommed Ibrahim moveless. "Mafish--nothing!" And he said "nothing" in good English. "Say your prayers then Mahommed Ibrahim" said Dicky in that voice like a girl's; and he backed a little till he rested a shoulder against the binnacle. Mahommed Ibrahim turned slightly till his face was towards the east. The pistol now fell in range with his ear. The Orderly took off his shoes and standing with his face towards the moon and towards Mecca he murmured the fatihah from the Koran. Three times he bowed afterwards he knelt and touched the deck with his forehead three times also. Then he stood up. "Are you ready?" asked Dicky. "Water!" answered Mahommed Ibrahim in English. Dicky had forgotten that final act of devotion of the good Mahommedan. There was a filter of Nile-water near. He had heard it go drip-drip drip-drip as Mahommed Ibrahim prayed. "Drink" he said and pointed with his finger. Mahommed Ibrahim took the little tin cup hanging by the tap half filled it drank it off and noiselessly put the cup back again. Then he stood with his face towards the pistol. "The game is with the English all the time" said Dicky softly. "Malaish!" said Mahommed. "Jump" said Dicky. One instant's pause and then without a sound Ibrahim sprang out over the railing into the hard-running current and struck out for the shore. The Amenhotep passed him. He was in the grasp of a whirlpool so strong that it twisted the Amenhotep in her course. His head spun round like a water-fly and out of the range of Dicky's pistol he shrieked to the crowd on the shore. They burst from the palm-trees and rushed down to the banks with cries of rage murder and death; for now they saw him fighting for his life. But the Amenhotep's nose was towards Cairo and steam was full on and she was going fast. Holgate below had his men within range of a pistol too. Dicky looked back at the hopeless fight as long as he could see. Down in his cabin Fielding Bey slept peacefully and dreamed of a woman in Cairo. THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE In spite of being an Englishman with an Irish name and a little Irish blood Dicky Donovan had risen high in the favour of the Khedive remaining still the same Dicky Donovan he had always been--astute but incorruptible. While he was favourite he used his power wisely and it was a power which had life and death behind it. When therefore one day he asked permission to take a journey upon a certain deadly business of ...