Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > The Last Egyptian > CHAPTER III. THE DRAGOMAN.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】
CHAPTER III. THE DRAGOMAN.
Nephthys came from her mother’s hut in the cool of early morning, bearing on her head an earthen jar. She was bound for the river, to carry from thence their daily supply of water.

As she passed Hatatcha’s dwelling she found Kāra standing in the archway, and he drew the girl toward him and kissed her lips. They were cold and unresponsive.

“How is your grandmother?” she asked, indifferently.

“She is with Isis,” he answered, holding her arm with one hand and feeling her brown cheek with the other.

The girl shuddered and glanced askance at the arch.

“Let me go,” she said.

Instead, he folded an arm around her and kissed her again, while she put up a hand to steady the jar from falling.

Then Kāra experienced a sudden surprise. His body spun around like a top and was hurled with force against the opposite wall. At the same time the jar toppled from Nephthys’ head and was shattered on the ground. The girl staggered back and leaned against the stones of the arch, staring at the path ahead.{40}

In front of her stood a young man most gorgeously arrayed. A red fez, such as many wear in Egypt, was perched jauntily upon his head. Covering his breast was a blue satin jacket elaborately braided with silver, and where it parted in front a vest of white silk showed, with a line of bright silver buttons. His knee breeches were of saffron pongee, wide and flowing, like those of a Turk, and from there down to his yellow slippers his legs were bare. Add a voluminous sash of crimson silk and a flowing mantle suspended from his shoulders, and you can guess the splendor of the man’s attire.

His person was short and inclined to stoutness, and his face, with its carefully curled black mustache, was remarkably regular and handsome. His eyes were nearly as large and black as Kāra’s, and at the present moment they flashed fire, while an angry frown distorted his brow. He stood with his legs spread apart and his hands pressed upon his hips, regarding the girl with a glance of sullen fury.

Nephthys returned the look with one of stupor. Her face was quite as expressionless as before, but her nostrils dilated a little, as if she were afraid.

“Tadros!” she muttered.

Kāra lifted his tall form from the ground and stood scowling upon his assailant.

“The cursed dragoman again!” he exclaimed, with bitterness.

Tadros turned his head slightly to direct a look of scorn upon his enemy. Then he regarded the girl again.{41}

“What of your promise to me, woman?” he demanded, sternly. “Are you the plaything of every dirty Egyptian when my back is turned?”

Nephthys had no reply. She looked at the pattern of the silver braid upon his jacket and followed carefully its curves and twists. The blue satin was the color of lapis lazuli, she thought, and the costume must have cost a lot of money—perhaps as much as fifty piasters.

“Your mother shall answer for this perfidy,” continued the dragoman, in Arabic. “If I am to be toyed with and befooled, I will have my betrothal money back—every piaster of it!”

The girl’s eyes dropped to her feet and examined the fragments of the jar.

“It is broken!” she said, with a wailing accent.

“Bah! there are more at Keneh,” he returned, kicking away a bit of the earthenware. “It will cost old S?ra more than the jar if she does not rule you better. Come!”

He waved his hand pompously and strutted past her to the door of her mother’s hut, paying no heed to the evil looks of Kāra, who still stood motionless in his place.

The girl followed, meek and obedient.

They entered a square room lighted by two holes in the mud walls. The furniture was rude and scanty, and the beds were rushes from the Nile. A black goat that had a white spot over its left eye stood ruminating with its head out of one of the holes.{42}

A little withered woman with an erect form and a pleasant face met Tadros, the dragoman, just within the doorway.

“Welcome!” she said, crossing her arms upon her breast and bending her head until she was nearly double.

“Peace to this house,” returned Tadros, carelessly, and threw himself upon a bench.

S?ra squatted upon the earthen floor and looked with pride and satisfaction at the dragoman’s costume.

“You are a great man, my Tadros,” she said, “and you must be getting rich. We are honored by your splendid presence. Gaze upon your affianced bride, O Dragoman! Is she not getting fat and soft in flesh, and fit to grace your most select harem?”

“I must talk to you about Nephthys,” said the dragoman, lighting a cigarette. “She is too free with these dirty Fedahs, and especially with that beast Kāra.”

His tone had grown even and composed by this time, and his face had lost its look of anger.

“What would you have?” asked old S?ra, deprecatingly. “The girl must carry water and help me with the work until you take her away with you. I cannot keep her secluded like a princess. And there are no men in Fedah except old Nikko, who is blind, and young Kāra, who is not.”

“It is Kāra who annoys me,” said Tadros, puffing his cigarette lazily.

“Kāra! But he is the royal one. You know that well enough. The descendant of the ancient kings has{43} certain liberties, and therefore takes others, and he merely indulges in a kiss now and then. I have watched him, and it does not worry me.”

“The royal one!” repeated the dragoman scornfully. “How do we know old Hatatcha’s tales are true?”

“They must be true,” returned S?ra, positively. “My mother served Hatatcha’s mother, because she was the daughter of kings. For generations the ancestors of Kāra have been revered by those who were Egyptians, although their throne is a dream of the past, and they are condemned to live in poverty. Be reasonable, my Tadros! Your own blood is as pure as ours, even though it is not royal. What! shall we Egyptians forget our dignity and rub skins with the English dogs or the pagan Arabs?”

“The Arabs are not so bad,” said Tadros, thoughtfully. “They have many sensible customs, which we are bound to accept; for these Muslims overrun our country and are here to stay. Nor are the simple English to be sneered at, my S?ra. I know them well, and also their allies, the Americans and the Germans and French. They travel far to see Cairo and our Nile, and drop golden sovereigns into my pockets because I guide them to the monuments and explain their history, and at the same time keep the clever Arabs from robbing them until after I am paid. Yes; all people have their uses, believe me.”

“Ah, you are wonderful!” ejaculated the old woman, with earnest conviction.{44}

“I am dragoman,” returned the man, proudly, “and my name is known from Cairo to Khartoum.” He tossed a cigarette at S?ra, who caught it deftly and put it between her lips. Then he graciously allowed her to obtain a light from his own cigarette.

Meantime, Nephthys, on entering the hut behind Tadros, had walked to the further side of the room and lifted the lid of a rude chest, rough hewn from eucalyptus wood. From this she drew a bundle, afterward closing the lid and spreading the contents of the bundle upon the chest. Then she turned her back to the others, unfastened her dusty black gown, and allowed it to fall to her hips. Over her head she dropped a white tunic, and afterward a robe of coarse gauze covered thickly with cheap spangles. She now stepped out of the black gown and hung it upon a peg. A broad gilt belt was next clasped around her waist—loosely, so as not to confine too close the folds of spangled gauze.

Tadros, during his conversation with S?ra, watched this transformation of his betrothed with satisfaction. When she had twined a vine of artificial flowers in her dark hair, the girl came to him and sat upon his knee. Her feet were still bare, and not very clean; but he did not notice that.

“I will speak to Hatatcha about Kāra,” remarked the old woman, inhaling the smoke of her cigarette with evident enjoyment, “and she will tell him to be more careful.”

“Hatatcha is dead,” said Nephthys.{45}

S?ra stared a moment and dropped her cigarette. Then she uttered a shrill wail and threw her skirt over her head, swaying back and forth.

“Shut up!” cried the dragoman, jerking away the cloth. “It is time enough to wail when the mourners assemble.”

S?ra picked up her cigarette.

“When did Hatatcha go to Anubis?” she asked her daughter.

“Kāra did not say,” returned the girl. “I was with her at the last sunset, and she was dying then.”

“It matters nothing,” said the dragoman, carelessly. “Hatatcha is better off in the nether world, and her rascally grandson must now go to work or starve his royal stomach.”

“Who knows?” whispered S?ra, with an accent of awe. “They have never worked. Perhaps the gods supply their needs.”

“Or they have robbed a tomb,” returned Tadros. “It is much more likely; but if that is so I would like to find the place. There is money in a discovery of that sort. It means scarabs, and funeral idols, and amulets, and vases and utensils of olden days, all of which can be sold in Cairo for a good price. Sometimes it means jewels and gold ornaments as well; but that is only in the tombs of kings. Go to Hatatcha, my S?ra, and keep your eyes open. Henf! what says the proverb? ‘The outrunner of good fortune is thoughtfulness.’{46}”

The mother of Nephthys nodded, and drew the last possible whiff from her cigarette. Then she left the hut and hurried under the heavy arch of Hatatcha’s dwelling.

Five women, mostly old and all clothed in deep black, squatted in a circle around the rushes upon which lay the dead. Someone had closed Hatatcha’s eyes, but otherwise she lay as she had expired. In a corner Kāra was chewing a piece of sugar-cane.

S?ra joined the circle. She threw sand upon her head and wailed shrilly, rocking her body with a rhythmical motion. The others followed her example, and their cries were nerve-racking. Kāra looked at them a moment and then carried his sugar-cane out of doors.

For a time he stood still, hesitating. There was work for him to do, and he had only delayed it until the mourners were in possession of the house. But the sun was already hot and a journey lay before him. Kāra sighed. He was not used to work.

He walked to the north end of the huddle and entered the house of the blind man, Nikko. A Syrian donkey, with a long head and solemn eyes, stood near the door, and its owner was seated upon the ground rubbing its feet with an old rag that had been dipped in grease. Kāra caught up a bridle and threw it over the donkey’s head.

“Who is it?” asked Nikko, turning his sightless eyes upward.{47}

Kāra made no reply, but swung the saddle across the animal’s back and tried to strap the girth. The old man twined his thin legs around those of the donkey and reached up a hand to pull the saddle away.

“It is Hatatcha’s brute of a grandson!” cried Nikko, struggling to resist. “No other would try to rob me of my dear Mammek. Desist, or I will call the dragoman, who arrived this morning!”

For answer Kāra dealt him a kick in his stomach and he doubled up with a moan and rolled upon the ground. Then the royal one led Mammek out of the door and lightly leaped upon the donkey’s back.

“Oo-ah!” he cried, digging his heels into the animal’s flanks; and away trotted Mammek, meek but energetic.

There was no path in the direction he went and the desert sands seemed interminable. Kāra sat sidewise upon the donkey and sucked his sugar-cane, keeping the beast at a trot at the same time. An hour passed, and another. Finally a heap of rocky boulders arose just ahead of him, with a group of date palms at its foot. The heap grew bigger as he approached, and resolved itself into a small mountain, seared by deep fissures in the rocks. But there was verdure within the fissures, and several goats lay underneath the trees. Kāra rode past them and up to the foot of the mountain, where there was an overhanging entrance to a cave.

Throwing himself from the donkey, he ran into the cave and knelt at a spring which welled sparkling and cool from the rocks. Mammek followed and thrust his{48} nozzle into the water beside Kāra’s face. They drank together.

Then the man stood up and called aloud:

“Hi-yah, Sebbet; hi-yah!”

Someone laughed behind him, and Kāra swung upon his heel. There stood confronting him a curiously misshapen dwarf, whose snowy hair contrasted strangely with his dark chocolate skin. He was scarcely as tall as Kāra’s waist, but his body and limbs were so enormous as to convey the impression of immense strength. He wore a spotless white burnous, which fell from his neck to his feet, but his head was bare of covering.

While the young man stared the dwarf spoke.

“I know your mission,” said he, in ancient Egyptian. “Hatatcha is dead.”

“It is true,” returned Kāra, briefly.

“She swore I would live long enough to embalm her,” continued the dwarf, rubbing his nose reflectively; “and she was right. A wonderful woman was old Hatatcha, and a royal one. I will keep my compact with her.”

“Can you do it?” asked Kāra, wondering. “Do you know the ancient process of embalming?”

“Why, I am no paraschites, you understand, for the trade is without value in these degenerate days. But I successfully embalmed her mother—your great-grandmother—and Hatatcha was greatly pleased with the work. Does not your great-grandmother look natural? Have you seen her?”{49}

Kāra shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said.

“And I have safely hoarded the store of aromatic gums and spices, the palm wine and myrrh and cassia, and the natron, with which Hatatcha long since entrusted me. The strips of fine linen for the bandages and the urns for the entrails are still in my storehouse, where they have remained since your grandmother gave them into my hands; so there is no reason why her wishes should not be carried out.”

“You will return with me?” asked Kāra.

“Yes, and bring the dead to this desolate spot,” replied the dwarf. “It is no longer Hatatcha, but the envelope which she used, and will use again. Therefore it must be carefully preserved. The process will require forty days, as you know. At the end of that time I will deliver Hatatcha’s mummy into your hands. You must then give to me a flat, oblong emerald that is graven with the cartouch of the mighty Ahtka-Rā. Is not that the compact, my prince?”

“It is, my Sebbet.”

“And you know where to find it?” asked the dwarf, anxiously.

“I know,” said Kāra.

The dwarf seemed pleased, and retired to make preparations for his journey. Kāra fell asleep in the cave, for the sun had been terribly hot and the long ride had exhausted him. The blind man’s donkey also lay down and slept.{50}

In the middle of the afternoon Sebbet awakened the young Egyptian and gave him some cakes to eat and a draught of goat’s milk. Then he brought out a stout donkey of a pure white color and mounted it with unexpected agility. Kāra noticed a large sack fastened to the saddle-ring.

A moment later they were riding together across the sands.

“We must not reach Fedah before sundown,” remarked the dwarf, and Kāra nodded assent. So they went at a moderate pace and bore the blistering rays of the sun as none but natives of Egypt can.

At sundown they sighted Gebel Abu Fedah, and it was dark when they entered the narrow street of Fedah. Kāra dismounted from Mammek’s back at its master’s hut, and at a slap on the thigh the donkey bolted quickly through the doorway. Then the young man followed after the dwarf to the threshold of his own dwelling.

The mourners had gone home and Hatatcha lay alone; but someone had placed a coarse cloth over her face to keep the flies away.

The dwarf drew from his pocket a rush-candle and lighted it. Removing the face-cloth he gazed for several minutes earnestly upon the features of the dead woman. Then he sighed deeply, untied the sack from his saddle and blew out the flame of the candle.

Kāra stood in the archway, looking at the slender rim of the moon. In a short time the dwarf’s white donkey paused beside him. The sack, now bulky and
Image unavailble: They went at a moderate pace, and bore the blistering rays of the sun as none but natives of Egypt can
They went at a moderate pace, and bore the blistering rays of the sun as none but natives of Egypt can

{51}

heavy, hung limply across the saddle. Kāra could see it plainly in the dim light.

He put his hand on the sack.

“Will it ride without tumbling off?” he asked.

“I will hold it fast,” replied the dwarf, springing upon the donkey’s back behind the burden. “Poor Hatatcha! She will not know we are taking our last ride together in Khonsu’s company.”

“Good-night,” said Kāra.

“Good-night. In forty days, remember.”

“In forty days.”

“And the emerald?”

“You shall have it then.”

The donkey hobbled out of the archway and passed silently down the little street. Presently it had faded into the night and was gone.

Kāra yawned and looked attentively at the huts. In only one, that of old S?ra, a dim light burned. The man frowned, and then he laughed.

“Let the dragoman have his Nephthys,” he muttered. “For me Cairo, London and the great world beckon. And women? Bah! There are women everywhere.”

He entered the house and unrolled the mat that hung across the archway, fastening it securely to prevent intrusion.
Tools

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2014 wenovel.com, All Rights Reserved