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The Valley of the Kings   By: (1875-1936)

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[Frontispiece: Someone leaned above him to inspect his work. Chap X.]




Marmaduke Pickthall







"Woe on you, mothers of nothing! May the scourge of Allah flay you as you go!"

The mother of Iskender held the doorway of her little house in a posture of spitting defiance. Rancour, deep rooted and boundless, ranged in her guttural snarl. Her black eyes burned to kill, their thick brows quite united by the energy of her frown as she gazed across a sand dell, chary of vegetation but profuse in potsherds, towards the white walls and high red roof of the Mission house seen above a wave of tamarisks on the opposite dune. The hedge of prickly pear defining her small domain did not obstruct the view, for it consisted largely of gaps, by one of which a group of three Frankish ladies had just gone from her. She could see their white clad forms, under sunshades, down there in the hollow, battling ungracefully with the sand for foothold. With one hand raised as a screen from the declining sun, the mother of Iskender clenched the other, and shook it down the pathway of those ladies so that the bracelets of coloured glass tinkled upon her strong brown arm.

"Ha, Carûlîn, most ancient virgin, thy stalk is a crane's! There is neither flesh nor blood in thee, but only gristle and dry skin. Thy heart is gall and poison. . . . O Jane, thou art a fruit all husk; half man, yet lacking man's core, half maid, yet lacking woman's pulp! In thee is no fount of joy, no sweetness. Did love of our Blessed Saviour and the Sacred Book bring the pair of you to this land? By Allah, not so; well I know it! It was the love of change, of adventure; and what is that in a virgin save the hope of men? And now, seeing none have desired you, your longing is turned to hatred of all things sweet! My son is bad, you declare; it is a grace for him to be allowed to sweep your house. But the son of Costantîn that sly eyed devil! he is good: of him you make a clergyman, a grand khawâjah! Have I not washed these twenty years for you and the false priest whose things you are? Was I not among the first to profess your damning heresy? The house of Costantîn are converts of last year. Let Allah judge between us this day."

She paused a moment, the better to gesticulate a frantic reverence to the ladies, now on the opposite slope, who were waving hands to her.

"O poor little Hilda! Thou art a ripe fruit that whispers 'Pluck me.' But those two sexless devils guard thee sleeplessly. Thou wast not angry when Iskender kissed thy mouth. Is it likely, since thou didst incite him to it by previously stroking his hand? But the rest, thy keepers. . . . Holy Mother of God! . . . When shall I hear the last of my son's guilt! Iskender is vile, Iskender is worthless, Iskender is the son of all things evil. Ah, if the great lady, the mother of George, had been here, you would never have dared to use the poor lad so, for she loved him from a babe. But alas! she is away in your native land, watching the education of her many children. You and the priest, her husband, were gentler in your ways while she was here. But since she left, you have become true devils. Aye, you are right, forsooth, and the whole world of nature is quite wrong. May Allah set the foot of Iskender upon the necks of you, O false saints!"

With a parting menace of the fist, she turned indoors, still snarling. After the sun glare on the sands, the room was darkness. Doorway and unshuttered casement framed each its vision of relentless light; but no ray entered.

The place consisted of a single chamber, which, with door and window open as at present, became a draughtway for what air there was. A curtain veiled one corner, where the beds were stowed in daytime, with whatever else was unpresentable through dirt or breakage: for the ladies of the Mission valued tidiness above all virtues, and claimed the right to inspect the abode of their washerwoman and pet proselyte... Continue reading book >>

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