“And why should such a wish be insane?” cried the other in a harsh voice. “Putting you out of the question, who is there here that is shrewder or stronger than I?”
“No Moslem, perhaps. But neither you nor any other true believer will succeed to the dead man’s office, but an Egyptian and a Christian. Prudence requires it, and the Khaliff commands it.”
“And does he also command that this curled ape shall be left in possession of his millions?”
“So that is what you covet, you greedy curmudgeon—that is it? Do not all the crimes you have committed out of avarice weigh upon you heavily enough? Gold, and yet more gold—that is the end, the foul end, of all your desires. A fat morsel, no doubt: the Mukaukas’ estates, his talents of gold, his gems, slaves, and horses; I admit that. But thank God the All-merciful, we are not thieves and robbers!”
“And who was it that dug out the hidden millions from beneath the reservoir of Peter the Egyptian, and who made him bite the dust?”
“I—I. But—as you know—only to send the money to Medina. Peter had hidden it before we killed him. The Mukaukas and his son have declared all their possessions to the uttermost dinar and hide of land; they have faithfully paid the taxes, and consequently their property belongs to them as our swords, our horses, our wives belong to you or me. What will not your grasping spirit lead you to!—Take your hand from your dagger!—Not a copper coin from them shall fall into your hungry maw, so help me God! Do not again cast an evil eye on the Mukaukas’ son! Do not try my patience too far, man, or else—Hold your head tight on your shoulders or you will have to seek it at your feet; and what I say I mean!—Now, good-night! To-morrow morning in the divan you are to explain your scheme for the new distribution of the land; it will not suit me in any way, and I shall have other projects to propose for discussion.”
With this the Arab turned his back on the Vekeel; but no sooner had the door closed on him than Obada clenched his fist in fury at his lord and master, who had hitherto said nothing of his having had purloined a portion of the consignment of gold which Amru had charged him to escort to Medina. Then he rushed up and down the room, snorting and foaming till slaves came in to clear the tables.
Orion made his way home under the moonlit and starry night. He held his head high, and not since that evening on the water with Paula had he felt so glad or so hopeful. On the other side of the bridge he did not at once turn his horse’s head homewards; the fresh night air was so delightful, his heart beat so high that he shrunk from the oppression of a room. Full of renewed life, freed from a burden as it were, he made his way at a round pace to the house that held his beloved, picturing to himself how gladly she would welcome the news that he had found Amru ready to encourage him in his projects, indeed, to be a fatherly friend.