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   Chapter 4 A STRONG HEART.

Mohammed Ali and His House By L. Muhlbach Characters: 13382

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

Mohammed Ali's warning to the kachef Youssouf had not been disregarded. In the secret vault, the entrance to which had been confided by Mourad Bey to his wife on his deathbed, Sitta Nefysseh's treasure now lay in security.

No one in the house knew of this vault; Sitta Nefysseh had confided it to the kachef Youssouf only, and they two had conveyed all her valuables to this hiding place.

When all was completed, and the Sitta had retired to her apartments, Youssouf announced himself, and, upon being admitted, stepped humbly forward, fell on his knees, and handed her the keys.

She looked at him in surprise. "What does this mean? What do you bring me?"

"The keys to the vault. This one opens the inner, and the other the outer door."

"You will keep them for me, Youssouf," said his mistress, inclining her beautiful head.

"You confide them to me," said he, his countenance radiant with delight. "You wish to confide to your slave the keys to your treasure?"

"Does that surprise you?" asked she, gently. "I know I can safely confide to the kachef of my deceased husband all that I have and possess. You will keep the keys; and listen, Youssouf, should I die- -"

"Die!" he exclaimed, with a cry which he found it impossible to repress. "Die!-you, Sitta Nefysseh?"

"I am mortal, as we all are, as great Mourad was!" said she, gravely. "If I should die, you will take these keys to Osman Bey Bardissi, and tell him that Sitta Nefysseh sends them to him, and that in the vault here are souvenirs for her friends. You, however, Youssouf, I make the executor of my last will; you are to distribute the souvenirs according to a list that I will give you."

She arose and took from a little closet in the wall a small book, bound with gold and richly studded with diamonds.

"This book contains the names of those to whom I wish to leave a present at my death; you will act according to the instructions contained in it, but the book itself you will keep. My initials are on it, set in splendid diamonds. It was given me by Bonaparte, the general of the Franks. Keep it, and, when you read my name, think of me!"

"Mistress, I can bear it no longer!" cried he, bursting into tears and falling on his knees. "No, I can bear it no longer! The thought of your dying robs me of all self-control. O mistress, be merciful, and do not speak of your death!"

"We have already dismissed that subject," said she, smiling. "We must be firm and brave. Youssouf must not weep like a young girl! Dry your tears, I will not see them!"

Obedient to her command, he arose and brushed the tears from his eyes. "Mistress, at your bidding my heart is strong again, and your slave awaits your commands," said he, in a firm voice.

She seemed to be struggling to regain control of herself. Youssouf's eyes rested on her in a glance of such passionate tenderness that she felt it without seeing it.

"I have a final commission to give you," said she.

"A command, mistress! You know that your slightest is a command for me, and would be carried out if I should die in the performance!"

"Die?" said she, with a slight start. "Now you speak of death,

Youssouf. No, you shall not die! No, thoughts of death overtake us

soon enough! Listen: I wish you to mount your horse and ride to

Osman Bey Bardissi's camp."

"Now, mistress! No, do not require this of me! " cried he, anxiously. "You are aware an unknown friend has warned us, and said that Sitta should hide her treasure, as danger threatened her. And now you require Youssouf to leave you, him who promised his master, Mourad Bey, that he would faithfully stand beside you his life long! You cannot send me away, you will wait until the danger is past; then will I go wherever you send me, were it to the ends of the world! For you, Youssouf will rush into the arms of Death, but he cannot leave you to face danger alone. No, Sitta Nefysseh, do not require this of me!"

"I do require it of you. The message I wish to send Osman Bey is important and secret, and I can entrust it to no one but you. Within an hour, you will mount your horse, leave the city, and not rest until you are with Bardissi."

"Impossible, mistress, quite impossible! Only let me remain with you until the danger is past, then I will fly to Osman Bey, and conjure him to come with his men to protect Sitta Nefysseh."

"Youssouf, I had always supposed you were devoted and obedient to me," said she, in tones of displeasure. "You have sworn that you will be my slave, although you are a free man, and may let your beard grow. Now when I, for the first time, put your obedience to the proof, you refuse to do what I require. Is that honoring your mistress, is that fulfilling your oath? I repeat it, Kachef Youssouf, you will leave my house, and repair at once to the camp of Osman Bey Bardissi."

"That is to say, O mistress, you intend to drive me from you; you wish to proclaim to the world that Kachef Youssouf is a faithless coward!"

"Who dare say that?" cried she, her eyes sparkling with anger.

"Do you not suppose all the world will point their fingers at me when I return? 'When danger threatened, he deserted his mistress,' I already hear them say; 'he saved himself, and left her to face the danger alone.'"

"If any one should dare to speak thus, I should say, it was I who sent you away. Go, now, Kachef Youssouf. Too many words have already passed between us; it is time you obeyed my command."

"Well, then, mistress, you command me to go, and I will go. What do you care, though you inflict profound anguish on a faithful servant, though his heart break? What do you care, though my whole future be made miserable? Like a heavenly vision, you float high above all human anguish and torment; they do not touch your heart. Your heart, O mistress, is luminous like the diamond, but also cold and hard like the diamond."

"Youssouf!" cried she, in tones that made his heart leap-"Youssouf, you accuse me of being hard and cold!"

For a moment a wondrous brilliancy shone in her eyes, then she suddenly drew back from Youssouf, who stood there, motionless, in a state of ecstasy. He stood gazing at her, entranced, seeming to hear and see nothing. Not far from him, her face turned away, Sitta Nefysseh stood still. He distinctly heard her hurried breathing, and something like a low sob escape her breast. He listened to it as to mysterious and wondrously sweet music.

Suddenly, she turned around, and advanced toward him with head erect and proud bearing. "Kachef Youssouf, you have excited my indignation by your unmerited reproaches! No one can say that Mourad Bey's widow has a cold, hard heart. Mo

urad Bey knew otherwise; he knew that I loved him; and if I have seemed, since his death, to have a cold, hard heart, it is only because I have remained true to his memory. Consider this, and do not dare to reproach me. Now go, and hasten with my message to Bardissi!"

"I am going, mistress," said he, sadly. "But, when I have executed your command, then I may return to my mistress with what speed my horse can bear me, may I not?"

She remained silent, and let her eyelids, with their long, black lashes, sink down over her beautiful eyes. It seemed to him that a sigh escaped her breast.

"No," said she, in a low voice.

"No?" shrieked, rather than cried, Youssouf. "I may not return!"

"You may not return, Kachef Youssouf. I have long recognized that it ill became a young man to pass his days here in ease and quiet, while his friends, his brothers, are confronting the enemy on the battlefield. You said it would disgrace Youssouf if he left his mistress in danger; but it seems to me that the disgrace is much greater when a youth, born perhaps to become a hero, spends his days in inglorious ease, reclining on soft cushions. Consider that Mourad Bey never laid aside his sword. Remember that, when the trumpet sounded, he was ever the first to the field. He would have considered him his enemy who should have said to him: 'Remain at home, and repose on your cushions while your brethren are facing death for the fatherland!' I think you should endeavor to follow his example. You must follow his example! Kachef Youssouf, I will tell you what is written in the letter you are to take to Osman Bey. I announce to him that I send the truest and bravest of all kachefs, and I beg him to take you to battle with him. I announce to him that I give him for the fatherland, and the most faithful friend I have, and beg him to place you at the starting-point, from which you are to run your race as a hero."

"Oh, bitterness and anguish!" cried Youssouf, in tones of despair. "She drives me from her like a miserable dog whom she will not tolerate on the threshold of her door."

"No, Youssouf," replied Sitta Nefysseh, sadly. "No! His mistress only points out to Youssouf the road he must pursue in order to become one day a hero, and the first and foremost of all the Mameluke beys. There is a higher bliss than domestic happiness, and that is the pursuit of glory. Let glory be your aim. You shall be called a hero, and the scha-er shall proclaim your deeds to the listening people. And this, O Youssouf," she added in lower tones, "this is my consolation in parting with you-you," she quickly resumed, as if feeling that there had been something in the tone of her voice that required an explanation, "you whom I esteem as my husband's devoted friend! And now go, Youssouf, and let this be my farewell greeting! Think of me when you go out to battle, think that your glory is my pride!"

"I am going," said he, in a choking voice. "I am going, and to die,

Sitta Nefysseh!"

"To die? No, Youssouf," cried she. "No, not to die."

"I must, for you drive me from you; you send me to confront the death-dealing bullets. Do not think that it is base fear that drives me to despair. When going with my master to battle, I have never known fear. I am going away to die; I shall seek the enemy's bullets in the hope that they graciously relieve me of my miserable existence."

"Youssouf," cried she, in tones of such pride and dignity that he started-" Youssouf, I had supposed until now that I was your mistress."

"Yes, you were my mistress until this hour; but now you drive me from you!" cried he in anguish.

"No; wherever you may be you are mine, and must obey me. You are a free man, and yet I hold you in bonds. In virtue of these bonds I command you not to seek death, but to seek renown. You are to return, a Mameluke bey. Thus must he return; thus must Sitta Nefysseh see him appear on her threshold, and then-And now," she quickly interrupted herself, "have you heard your mistress's command? You will not seek death? You swear to me that you will fight like a true soldier for fatherland and glory, and that you will not seek death? The brave do not fear death, neither do they seek it. The despairing seek death, and thereby invoke upon themselves the curse of Allah for all time. Swear to me that you will fight like a hero, and yet hold your life sacred. I, Sitta Nefysseh, your mistress, command you to do so!"

"And I will obey my mistress's command! I swear that I will struggle against my despair. I swear that I will live, to do your bidding now, and to return to hear from your lips, perhaps, a kindly word of approval. You shall be pleased with me. I will fight as beseems your servant. O Sitta Nefysseh, you are not cruel in sending me away; you are only wise and thoughtful, not cold and hard of heart, are you? You view the world with composure and wisdom. You find that Kachef Youssouf should no longer remain here in ease and inactivity, and you send him from you for his own sake. This is kind and noble on your part, and I should thank you for sending me away to perform deeds of valor, and return a Mameluke bey. This is magnanimous of you, and it was only my miserable weakness that prevented me from recognizing it, and sent foolish tears to my eyes."

He covered his face with his hands, and his head fell upon his breast. Sitta Nefysseh gazed at him intently; he did not see the expression of anguish that rested on her features. When he removed his hands from his face, she had averted her gaze, and her countenance was composed.

"Forgive me, mistress," said he, "I was a fool once more; I thought of the past, and wept over it. But I am now reconciled, and ready to go. I will do as you say; I will not seek death, but I will thank Allah if he allows it to find me. Farewell, mistress!" He fell on his knees and kissed the hem of her dress. He then stood up and rushed out of the room without looking at her again.

Sitta Nefysseh looked after him with outstretched arms, and the flood of tears which she had so long restrained burst from her eyes.

"I love him, O Allah! Thou knowest that I love him! Let him return a hero covered with glory, and then, O Allah, graciously grant that I may be able to reward him for all his love, and for all the pain I have caused him! Let Kachef Youssouf return as Youssouf the Mameluke bey, and I shall be blessed; as the master of my life will I accept him, for I love him."

A horse's hoofs ring out against the pavement of the court-yard without. A cry resounds from her lips, and she sinks down. "O Allah, watch over him! Let him return! I love him-I love him so dearly!"

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