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قراءة كتاب The Flying Legion

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‏اللغة: English
The Flying Legion

The Flying Legion

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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with an attitude of utter and disheartening boredom. His crossed legs were stretched out, one heel digging into the soft pile of the Tabreez rug. Muscular arms folded in an idleness that irked them with aching weariness, he sat there, brooding, motionless.

Everything about the man spelled energy at bay, forces rusting, ennui past telling. But force still dominated. Force showed in the close-cropped, black hair and the small ears set close to the head; in the corded throat and heavy jaws; in the well-muscled shoulders, sinewed hands, powerful legs. This man was forty-one years old, and looked thirty-five. Lines of chest and waist were those of the athlete. Still, suspicions of fat, of unwonted softness, had begun to invade those lines. Here was a splendid body, here was a dominating mind in process of going stale.

The face of the man was a mask of weariness of the soul, which kills so vastly more efficiently than weariness of the body. You could see that weariness in the tired frown of the black brows, the narrowing of the dark eyes, the downward tug of the lips. Wrinkles of stagnation had began to creep into forehead and cheeks—wrinkles that no amount of gymnasium, of club life, of careful shaving, of strict hygiene could banish.

Through the west windows the slowly changing hues of gray, of mulberry, and dull rose-pink blurred in the sky, cast softened lights upon those wrinkles, but could not hide them. They revealed sad emptiness of purpose. This man was tired unto death, if ever man were tired.

He yawned, sighed deeply, stretched out his hand and took up a bit of a model mechanism from the table, where it had lain with other fragments of apparatus. For a moment he peered at it; then he tossed it back again, and yawned a second time.

"Business!" he growled. "'Swapped my reputation for a song,' eh?
Where's my commission, now?"

He got up, clasped his hands behind him, and walked a few times up and down the heavy rug, his footfalls silent.

"The business could have gone on without me!" he added, bitterly.
"And, after all, what's any business, compared to life?"

He yawned again, stretched up his arms, groaned and laughed with mockery:

"A little more money, maybe, when I don't know what to do with what I've got already! A few more figures on a checkbook—and the heart dying in me!"

Then he relapsed into silence. Head down, hands thrust deep in pockets, he paced like a captured animal in bars. The bitterness of his spirit was wormwood. What meant, to him, the interests and pleasures of other men? Profit and loss, alcohol, tobacco, women—all alike bore him no message. Clubs, athletics, gambling—he grumbled something savage as his thoughts turned to such trivialities. And into his aquiline face came something the look of an eagle, trapped, there in that eagle's nest of his.

Suddenly the Master of Niss'rosh came to a decision. He returned, clapped his hands thrice, sharply, and waited. Almost at once a door opened at the southeast corner of the room—where the observatory connected with the stairway leading down to the Master's apartment on the top floor of the building—and a vague figure of a man appeared.

The light was steadily fading, so that this man could by no means be clearly distinguished. But one could see that he wore clothing quite as conventional as his master's. Still, no more than the Master did he appear one of life's commonplaces. Lean, brown, dry, with a hawk-nose and glinting eyes, surely he had come from far, strange places.

"Rrisa!" the Master spoke sharply, flinging the man's name at him with the exasperation of overtensed nerves.

"M'almé?" (Master?) replied the other.

"Bring the evening food and drink," commanded the Master, in excellent
Arabic, guttural and elusive with strange hiatuses of breath.

Rrisa withdrew, salaaming. His master turned toward the western windows. There the white blankness of the map of Arabia seemed mocking him. The Master's eyes grew hard; he raised his fist against the map, and smote it hard. Then once more he fell to pacing; and as he walked that weary space, up and down, he muttered to himself with words we cannot understand.

After a certain time, Rrisa came silently back, sliding into the soft dusk of that room almost like a wraith. He bore a silver tray with a hook-nosed coffee-pot of chased metal. The cover of this coffee-pot rose into a tall, minaret-like spike. On the tray stood also a small cup having no handle; a dish of dates; a few wafers made of the Arabian cereal called temmin; and a little bowl of khat leaves.

"M'almé, al khat aja" (the khat has come), said Rrisa.

He placed the tray on the table at his master's side, and was about to withdraw when the other stayed him with raised hand.

"Tell me, Rrisa," he commanded, still speaking in Arabic, "where wert thou born? Show thou me, on that map."

The Arab hesitated a moment, squinting by the dim light that now had faded to purple dusk. Then he advanced a thin forefinger, and laid it on a spot that might have indicated perhaps three hundred miles southeast of Mecca. No name was written on the map, there.

"How dost thou name that place, Rrisa?" demanded the Master.

"I cannot say, Master," answered the Arab, very gravely. As he stood there facing the western afterglow, the profound impassivity of his expression—a look that seemed to scorn all this infidel civilization of an upstart race—grew deeper.

To nothing of it all did he owe allegiance, save to the Master himself—the Master who had saved him in the thick of the Gallipoli inferno. Captured by the Turks there, certain death had awaited him and shameful death, as a rebel against the Sublime Porte. The Master had rescued him, and taken thereby a scar that would go with him to the grave; but that, now, does not concern our tale. Only we say again that Rrisa's life lay always in the hands of this man, to do with as he would.

None the less, Rrisa answered the question with a mere:

"Master, I cannot say."

"Thou knowest the name of the place where thou wast born?" demanded the Master, calmly, from where he sat by the table.

"A (yes), M'almé, by the beard of M'hámed, I do!"

"Well, what is it?"

Rrisa shrugged his thin shoulders.

"A tent, a hut? A village, a town, a city?"

"A city, Master. A great city, indeed. But its name I may not tell you."

"The map, here, shows nothing, Rrisa. And of a surety, the makers of maps do not lie," the Master commented, and turned a little to pour the thick coffee. Its perfume rose with grateful fragrance on the air.

The Master sipped the black, thick nectar, and smiled oddly. For a moment he regarded his unwilling orderly with narrowed eyes.

"Thou wilt not say they lie, son of Islam, eh?" demanded he.

"Not of choice, perhaps, M'almé," the Mussulman replied. "But if the camel hath not drunk of the waters of the oasis, how can he know that they be sweet? These Nasara (Christian) makers of maps, what can they know of my people or my land?"

"Dost thou mean to tell me no man can pass beyond the desert rim, and enter the middle parts of Arabia?"

"I said not so, Master," replied the Arab, turning and facing his master, every sense alert, on guard against any admissions that might betray the secret he, like all his people, was sworn by a

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