But early in the evening of that same day, at the corners of quiet streets, in the covered ways, by the doors of bazaars, among the horses tethered in the fondaks, wheresoever two men could stand and talk unheard and unobserved by a third, one secret message of twofold significance passed with the voice of smothered joy from lip to lip. And this was the way and the word of it:
“She is back in the Kasbah!”
“The daughter of Ben Oliel? Thank God! But why? Has she recanted?”
“She has fallen sick.”
“And Ben Aboo has sent her to prison?”
“He thinks that the physician who will cure her quickest.”
“Allah save us! The dog of dogs! But God be praised! At least she is saved from the Sultan.”
“For the present, only for the-present.”
“For ever, brother, for ever! Listen! your ear. A word of news for your news: the Mahdi is coming! The boy has been for him.”
“Bismillah! Ben Oliel’s boy?”
“Ali. He is back in Tetuan. And listen again! Behind the Mahdi comes the—”
“Ya Allah! well?”
“Hark! A footstep on the street—some one is near—”
“But quick. Behind the Mahdi—what?”
“God will show! In peace, brother, in peace!”
THE COMING OF THE MAHDI
The Mahdi came back in the evening. He had no standard-bearers going before him, no outrunners, no spearmen, no fly-flappers, no ministers of state; he rode no white stallion in gorgeous trappings, and was himself bedecked in no snowy garments. His ragged following he had left behind him; he was alone; he was afoot; a selham of rough grey cloth was all his bodily adornment; yet he was mightier than the monarch who had entered Tetuan that day.
He passed through the town not like a sultan, but like a saint; not like a conquering prince, but like an avenging angel. Outside the town he had come upon the great body of the Sultan’s army lying encamped under the walls. The townspeople who had shut the soldiers out, with all the rabble of their following, had nevertheless sent them fifty camels’ load of kesksoo, and it had been served in equal parts, half a pound to each man. Where this meal had already been eaten, the usual charlatans of the market-place had been busily plying their accustomed trades. Black jugglers from Zoos, sham snake-charmers from the desert, and story-tellers both grave and facetious, all twanging their hideous ginbri, had been seated on the ground in half-circles of soldiers and their women. But the Mahdi had broken up and scattered every group of them.
“Away!” he had cried. “Away with your uncleanness and deception.”
And the foulest babbler of them all, hot with the exercise of the indecent gestures wherewith he illustrated his filthy tale, had slunk off like a pariah dog.