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   Chapter 9 THE RETURN TO CAIRO.

Mohammed Ali and His House By L. Muhlbach Characters: 12459

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


Joy and exultation reign in Cairo. The united forces of the Mamelukes, Albanians, and Armenians, have returned home crowned with victory. Damietta and Rosetta have fallen, and the Turks have everywhere retreated; a miserable remnant only have found safety in Alexandria, where Courschid Pacha rules.

The people throng the streets to witness the grand entrance of the victorious troops.

There, at the head of four thousand Mamelukes, surrounded by a body of beys and kachefs, comes Osman Bey Bardissi, the hero of so many battles. How sparkling his eyes, how radiant the smile with which he greets the populace that hails him with shouts of enthusiasm!

He passes by, and now come the Albanians and Armenians. At their head rides the sarechsme, Mohammed Ali; around him his bim bashis, in their glittering uniforms. But who is it that rides beside him on the splendidly-caparisoned ass-who is the man in the long green caftan, trimmed with fur, the green turban on his head adorned with its glittering crescent? He is unarmed, and yet he rides beside the sarechsme. His countenance is pale, and his lips are firmly compressed, as if to keep back a cry of rage that struggles for utterance. Who is this man? Can it be Cousrouf Pacha? Yes, it is he, the viceroy, the prisoner given to Mohammed Ali by Bardissi. In his magnanimity Mohammed had grasped Bardissi's arm, uplifted for the deadly stroke, and had thus saved his enemy's life. And now he generously allows the man whose life he has saved to ride into Cairo at his side. The people relate this to each other, and are loud in their praises of the sarechsme's magnanimity.

Was it magnanimity? Ask Cousrouf, who feels that the favor shown him by his enemy is worse than death, who feels with anguish that he is merely an object of contempt, while the air resounds with the people's enthusiastic greeting to the accursed Mohammed Ali. Him the people had never saluted thus; upon his head the sheiks and cadis had never invoked Allah's blessing.

Now the citadel looms up before them; the sarechsme's countenance is radiant; smilingly he turns to Cousrouf.

"I take pleasure, highness, in conducting you to the citadel. You fled in the darkness of night; I conduct you back in the broad light of day, and wish you a pleasant sojourn in your palace. I regret, however, that you are not to reside there entirely alone. The great Mameluke Bey, Ismail, now resides there, and but few apartments remain unoccupied. With these few you will therefore have to content yourself."

"I should be contented with the smallest room, though it lay beneath the earth, could I be spared your presence, traitor! " mutters Cousrouf.

"Spared my presence!" cries Mohammed Ali. "Consider, highness, that I alone am to amuse and entertain you. With me alone can you converse, and recall fond recollections of the past, and I shall therefore not fail to wait on your highness right often. And now, highness, ride in advance and enter the palace first, as the master should."

He draws rein as they reach the gateway, and gives the ass on which Cousrouf is mounted a blow with the flat of his sword, that causes it to rush into the court-yard with a succession of quick bounds. The soldiers standing around laugh loudly. And this laughter makes Cousrouf's cheeks red with shame, and sends tears to his eyes, tears of rage.

Several of Ismail Bey's Mamelukes now approach, and lift Cousrouf from the saddle and lead him into the house. Mohammed seems to have forgotten him; let Ismail Bey take care of him. To him Mohammed intrusts the keeping of his prisoner.

"He belongs to me, Ismail, to me alone; I only intrust my prisoner to you for safe keeping."

He is conducted to the upper chambers of the citadel; there let his thoughts prey on the memory of her he murdered, and of him who avenges her!

The houses of Cairo are adorned with carpets and flowers, and laughter and merry-making are the order of the day.

The house of Mourad's widow also shows signs of life with-in, to- day. Sitta Nefysseh has returned to her home after a long sojourn in the house of Sheik Sadat. The doors of her house and the park-gate are again thrown open. Sitta Nefysseh is at home; she sits behind the golden lattice-work of her window and gazes out into the street. Why does her heart throb so wildly? Is Sitta Nefysseh awaiting any one?

A long array of richly-attired officers passes by. Sitta Nefysseh gazes at them intently, her heart still throbbing wildly. Suddenly she utters a low cry, and with closed eyes reels back from the window. It is he-yes, she has seen him, the young Mameluke bey, galloping toward her house on his proud steed, followed by a body of Mamelukes. She hears him stop before the door, and she knows that he is coming.

Her countenance radiant with delight, she stands with outstretched arms, as she had stood when she last saw him, and, as then, she whispers: "I love him! oh, I love him! My soul yearns for him! I would clasp him in my arms, and yet-no, it may not be! "murmurs she, interrupting herself and letting her arms sink down to her side. "No, it may not, cannot be! They would kill him! If Bardissi did not, L'Elfi would! And then my oath! O Mourad, be with me in this hour, that I may remain firm! Be strong, my heart! It may not be!"

The door opened, and a slave entered to announce that the Mameluke bey, Youssouf, was waiting at the door with his suite, and humbly begged that he might be permitted to see Sitta Nefysseh.

"Let him enter," said she, making an effort to compose herself."

Tell my women to go into the adjoining room, and to open the door."

Poor woman's heart! So strong in love, and yet so weak! These women and the open door were to stand guard over her heart, and keep her from forgetting all else in his presence.

Now the door opens and Youssouf enters. It seems to her that he has grown taller. His deeds have elevated him, and his countenance is radiant with energy and courage. Yet he kneels down before her, and kisses the hem of her robe.

"Sitta Nefysseh, you bade me go, and I went. Upon my return, my first thoughts were of you. I wished to hear from your sweet lips the word welcome! Do you spe

ak it, Sitta Nefysseh?"

"Welcome, Youssouf Bey! How beautiful that sounds-Youssouf Bey! But rise, it does not become the hero to bend the knee before a woman, before Nefyeseh."

"I was your slave when I went, now that I have returned I am your slave still. And thus should he salute his mistress."

He bends down. lower and kisses the gold-embroidered slipper that clasps her little foot.

"Youssouf!" she cried, in severe tones, "I command you to rise from your knees!"

"You see, I obey you, as it beseems your slave to do," said he, springing to his feet; "and he now begs to be permitted to enter your service again."

"My service?" said she, with an air of astonishment. "Mourad's widow is not so proud and not of such high rank as to desire to have a troop of Mamelukes in her service. You know I liberated all my Mamelukes at my husband's death; and how could I, who have so few servants about me, dare to take a Mameluke bey into my service? No, such honor were too great for me. You, Youssouf Bey, must go out into the world again. You will still accomplish many great deeds, and do me honor. For, when your deeds are spoken of, people will say: 'He was once a Mameluke with Mourad Bey, and afterward the kachef of Sitta Nefysseh. It was in Mourad's house that he grew up and became a hero.' That suffices for me, and Sitta Nefysseh will rejoice in your renown."

"Sitta Nefysseh!" cried he, in tones of anguish, "you drive me from you! I have done as you commanded. I went out to battle and did not seek death, because you had forbidden me to do so, but fought like a lion, and earned a name. Now that I have returned, you refuse to give me the one reward I desire. While the bullets whistled about me, amid the din of battle, I thought only of Sitta Nefysseh, who would bid me welcome when I returned home, and restore to me my place in her house. This was the only reward I sought. And now you drive me from you!"

She had listened to him in breathless suspense. It was bliss to hear his words, yet her countenance must not betray her. She slowly raised her eyes, and then gazed at him, long and fixedly.

"Youssouf Bey," said she, "you cannot remain with me, and though it may seem hard to you to-day, to-morrow you will confess that it is impossible. Youssouf Bey was not created for such purposes. He is a hero! Without, your men await you. Return to them. Those who imagine that peace has entered the city with you are in error. There are still many laurels to be earned by Youssouf Bey on the battlefield. Go and gather them!"

"They have no charms for me; I desire only to look on you, to love you, Sitta Nefysseh! To remain with you and dream of bliss, and perhaps-"

"Be still!" cried she, interrupting him. "Do you wish my women to hear what your folly dictates? Mourad's widow commands you to be silent. Now you have terminated our interview. Go, join your men!"

"Forgive me, Sitta, forgive me! By Allah, I entreat you, do not deal so severely with your poor Youssouf! You are lustrous, yet also cold like the diamond! You know no mercy; for, alas, you know not love! Yet, I conjure you, be merciful; do not drive me from you; and I swear that I will speak no more of love, but only serve you as your faithful slave!"

"Let us terminate this interview," said she, in a low voice. "I shall remain convinced that you should not stay in my house, and you will therefore go."

"I must go!" cried he, in despairing tones, "yet others may approach you! The great Bardissi will be welcome, and L'Elfi may also come. They may speak to you of their love and adoration, but me you command to depart!"

"No, Youssouf," cried she, "to them I shall say, depart also! I swear by Allah and by my-"

She stopped, she had almost pronounced the word that trembled on her lips. "By my love," she had almost said, yet, with quick command of herself, she added:

"By my honor, Bardissi and L'Elfi shall visit me no more! From this day the doors of my house are closed against all men; this I swear to you, Youssouf!"

"I cannot thank you for doing so," said Youssouf, sadly. "If no man is to cross your threshold, I also am banished from your presence, and I therefore rather entreat you to let others visit you, in order that I too may come to you sometimes."

There was something so humble, so imploring in his voice and look, that Sitta Nefysseh's heart was touched against her will. She could not do otherwise, she held out her hand and gave him a kindly look.

"I have sworn that no other man should cross my threshold; but you,

Youssouf, you may come sometimes."

He starts, and gazes at her intently. Her voice sounds so sweet, so changed, and his eyes sparkle with delight.

She quickly withdraws her hand and looks down. She feels that she has betrayed herself for a moment, she feels the ardent gaze that is fastened on her, and dares not look up, for fear that he may read the love that is reflected in her eyes.

"Farewell, Youssouf Bey! I tell you, you may sometimes come, but farewell for the present."

She turns, and, without looking at him again, goes into the other room, where her women are awaiting her. With a quick movement she draws the curtain over the door; she knows that no one must see him at this moment; she knows he will fall on his knees and kiss the place where she stood. Yes, she knows this, for she loves him, and understands his heart.

And she is right! He has fallen on his knees, and, again and again, kisses the spot where she stood. Then he stretches out his arms and opens his lips to utter a sweet word. Yet, he does not pronounce it, for, if what he thinks be true, the air itself may not hear it! No, his lips utter no word! He only kisses the air she has breathed. And now can he go, for she has said that he may return!

He turns and leaves the house; his soldiers have never seen their kachef's countenance so radiant as now. He mounts his horse, and gallops off through the streets, followed by his Mamelukes.

Sitta Nefysseh hears his horse's hoofs ring out against the pavement, and, like him, she sinks down upon her knees, and stretches out her arms. "Youssouf, I love you! Allah be praised, I have seen you again!"

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