I am afraid we have been very selfish, Tom and I, she says, with a slight increase of color on her cheeks; Fanny seems so tired. But these people are interesting. I think this is a delightful placedont you?
Some men passing along the road turn again to stare at the strangers, and Mr. Stuart returns their glances with a little of that abounding contempt we instinctively exhibit towards people who, in all probability, will never be in any fashion connected with ourselves.
It is so seldom Tom can be got to talk. Tom is something like an Englishman in that respect. Did you never notice how an American will invariably endeavor to be interesting at any costeither to others or to himself? Now an Englishman has the courage to be dull.
The Arabs are still standing watching him. They whisper together. As the young man brushes by them there is a hoarse cry of Backshish! and then an insolent laugh. It is only a trifling annoyance, but it comes charged with the weight of the mornings exasperation, and sends the hot blood flushing to his forehead. He turns upon Constance with that sudden, irrational resentment of an unpleasant impression which is, perhaps, at the bottom of half the follies of life.
Dont you think these small travelling-parties are a mistake? he says, with an air of elaborate impartiality. One sees the same people so continuously thatin fact, you see the same people so much.
I am tired of the whole thing. You treat me like a boy. You laugh at me. Youyou attempt toto patronize me, by Jove! cries the young man, turning very red. I dont like it. I dont think you are treating me fairly, Constance, he says, with sudden firmness, with an assertion of mastery in his voice that she has never heard before.
You are probably not aware of what you are saying. You will excuse me if I fail to understandshe begins very coldly; and then there comes a sudden look of kindness in her eyes. What is the use of quarrelling, Jack? You know you are talking nonsense. When have I ever done anything purposely to vex you? she says very gently.
A group of fair-haired Nablous children are standing in a doorway. At the sight of the strange faces approaching them they dart away like frightened birds, all but one, a little boy of two or three, who stands in the middle of the street and contemplates them meditatively. Such a flower-face as it is! with the beautiful, open look of a peach-blossom overblown. Come here, you delightful little creature, and get some backshish, says Miss Varley, and holds up a tempting silver coin. There is a moments hesitation, and then the baby comes forward a few steps, stops, stares about him. Poor little thing! says Constance, and stoops to pick him up. To her surprise the child resists her with sudden, shrill cries of alarm.
Poor little thing! You dont suppose it was afraid I had the evil eye? begins the girl; and at the same moment a woman, veiled and shapeless in her cotton gown, breaks through the ring, seizes the sobbing child in her arms, and turns and addresses the crowd in high-pitched Arabic.
But this is not so easily done. It is true the crowd parts before them, but only to close about on every side. Backshish! yells a tall, one-eyed lad in a tattered gown, who has followed them persistently since they entered the bazaar. Backshish! calls out a man, putting a hand on Miss Varleys shoulder and stooping to look into her face. Back A vigorous push sends him staggering against the wall.
Take my arm; dont be frightened, says Jack, cheerfully. If we can only get through this infernal bazaar A shove from the yellow fanatic on the outside of the ring sends the nearest beggar upon him. He turns, and a shove from the other side flings Constance against his shoulder. No sound; but the double movement meant mischief.
Dont be frightened, he says; there is going to be a row. Here, stand back under that arch, and dont move, whatever happens. Dont be frightened, and dont cry. Dont cry, my darling, Ill take care of you.
As luck will have it, the arch of which he speaks is the gaudy-painted doorway of the mosque. A savage howl of execration runs through the crowd at sight of this new outrage. They press forward, stop, waver; and then Jack turns and faces them and draws his pistol from his belt.
Come on, then! Why dont you come on, you blackguards! he calls out, in English; and, as by the breaking of a spell, the sound of his voice evokes a very storm of frenzy and abuse. With every moment the tumult increases. A piece of mud knocks off his hat; in an instant it is seized and torn to shreds; and the sight of his blond Saxon face is the signal for a new outbreak of impotent rage. Twice already the jeering, hissing mass of infuriated men has pushed and swayed up to the very limit of the steps, and twice the sight of his steady, unblenching face has swept them back again with a sound as of the surf grinding upon the shore. And each time they have lessened the distance between them.
He took three steps forward, paused, then deliberately drew a deep line with the heel of his boot in the dust. Well see who crosses that, my men! he says, significantly. A long howl of defiance is the instant answer. And now, with one common impulse, the mob hurls itself forward and stands straining and foaming like a pack of craven, white-toothed pariah dogs on the farther side of the barrier.
There is a scuffle, a push; one of the foremost assailants, a half-grown lad in a long, blue caftan, is sent staggering across the mark: he falls heavily on his face and is dragged back by his nearest neighbors. And then comes an ominous pause.
From his vantage-ground on the mosque-steps Stuart overlooks the street; and at this moment he is aware of a disturbance in the spirit of the mobsome new object is drawing their attention. There is a cry of Allah! the sound of a low, wailing, inarticulate chant, a sudden falling asunder of the close-packed men; in the centre of this space, advancing slowly towards him, is a creaturea man. It has the figure of a manbut whether young or old it is impossible to say. A strip of sheepskin is slung about its waist, a long string of coarse amulets dangles from its neck and down upon the naked breast, covered with hair like the breast of an animal. On his head is a fantastic crown of iron spikes, from under which long and matted locks stream down over his thick arms, his naked, shining shoulders, his fixed and vacant eyes. He comes slowly forward, rolling from side to side in his walk, keeping time to the monotonous, lolling chant. The crowd have fallen respectfully back; he stands alone in the centre of an open space, looking at Stuart with a dull, malignant smile.
My God! what shall I do? thought Stuart, clinching his teeth. He moves, and the dervish catches sight of Constance. A sudden, furious gleam of insanity transfigures the livid face. He turns, with a wild gesture of exhortationhe turns and harangues the mob. He turns againhe walks deliberately forward. Jack raises the revolver slowly to a level.
And then a murderous silence falls upon the crowd. The dervish comes steadily forward; his foot is on the line; he looks up at Stuart with an idiotic laugh, and then, like a mockery from heaven, they hear through the intense silence the innocent, bubbling laughter of a child.
And even as she speaks there is a clattering charge of mounted men, a swinging of sabres, a slashing of whips, a cheer. The surging mob sweeps back against the steps. In a moment the dervish is seized, surrounded, forced bodily into the shelter of the mosque. Major Thayer springs from his saddle. The Turkish soldiers clear the piazza of the last terrified stragglers. The dragoman rushes forward flourishing his koorbash.