Then the Mahdi spoke of Naomi, and Israel made a slow shake of the head. He told him what had happened to her when her father was taken to prison, and Israel listened with a great outward calmness. After that he described the girl’s journey in the hope of taking food to him, and how she fell into the hands of Habeebah; and then he saw by Israel’s face that the affection of the father was tearing his old heart woefully. At last he recited the incidents of her cruel trial, and how she had yielded at length, knowing nothing of religion, being only a child, seeing her father in everything and thinking to save his life, though she herself must see him no more (for all this he had gathered from Fatimah), and then the great thaw came to Israel, and his fingers trembled, and his face twitched, and the hot tears rained down his cheeks.
“My poor darling!” he muttered in a trembling undertone, and then he asked in a faltering voice where she was at that time.
The Mahdi told him that she was back in prison, for rebelling against the fortune intended for her—that of becoming a concubine of the Sultan.
“My brave girl!” he muttered, and then his face shone with a new light that was both pride and pain.
He lifted his eyes as if he could see her, and his voice as if she could hear: “Forgive me, Naomi! Forgive me, my poor child! Your weak old father; forgive him, my brave, brave daughter!”
This was as much as the Mahdi could bear; and when Israel turned to him, and said in almost a childish tone, “I suppose there is no help for it now, sir. I meant to take her to England—to my poor mother’s home, but—”
“And so you shall, as sure as the Lord lives,” said the Mahdi, rising to his feet, with the resolve that a plan for Naomi’s rescue which he had thought of again and again, and more than once rejected, which had clamoured at the door of his heart, and been turned away as a barbarous impulse, should at length be carried into effect.
ALI’S RETURN TO TETUAN
The plan which the Mahdi thought of had first been Ali’s, for the black lad was back in Tetuan. After he had fulfilled his errand of mercy at Shawan; he had gone on to Ceuta; and there, with a spirit afire for the wrongs of his master, from whom he was so cruelly parted, he had set himself with shrewdness and daring to incite the Spanish powers to vengeance upon his master’s enemies. This had been a task very easy of execution, for just at that time intelligence had come from the Reef, of barbarous raids made by Ben Aboo upon mountain tribes that had hitherto offered allegiance to the Spanish crown. A mission had gone up to Fez, and returned unsatisfied. War was to be declared, Marteel was to be bombarded, the army of Marshal O’Donnel was to come up the valley of the river, and Tetuan was to be taken.