Artwork and photo by Baird Stiefel
Two telegrams arrived that day in Rabat, more activity than we'd seen in a week. I could have waited longer. Over these eight months, since the beginning of the year—1890—I'd learned that there are no impatient spies, none who last. My telegram said that time had run out for me. I had failed in my mission. I was to return immediately to Washington. So I wasn't to last, either, despite my patience.
Hodgson hadn't revealed his telegram, which wasn't unusual. He liked to parcel out information as a means of misdirection, as a way of forcing others into quick conclusions and dead-end decisions. Now he sat next to me whistling in the courtyard, the fat Moroccan moon low over the tiled walls, our elongated shadows blurred by the bulky, flickering tapers in each corner. It was the same tune as last night.
When he took a breath, I asked what the title was.
"She Took a Tumble on Primrose Hill," he said and began coughing.
"Last night you called it something different," I said. "She Met Me When My Ship Came In, something like that."
"Different tune, Reynolds. I'm sure of it. Subtleties..." Hodgson stifled his cough and went on. "This business—not a business at all—depends entirely on subtleties. I shouldn't have to point out what they are. Pay attention. Life and death at stake. Possibly even yours. It went like this."
We had been waiting in Rabat for one of Hodgson's sources, a water clerk at the docks, to report on German shipping in the area. The source was cagey, started with lies, wanted more money, hedged, made excuses. Hodgson was patient, of course. I got another lesson in spying.
Hodgson whistled the same tune again. I got up to leave. Even if he didn't know about my recall, I would hear gloating in his voice, no matter the topic. My thoughts focused on how to sneak away tomorrow without having to face the humiliation of goodbye.
"Where are you going, Reynolds? Sit down."
"I'll see you in the morning."
"Richard Francis Burton is dying..." He knew that would grab my attention and held his gaze on me as if to challenge me to resist. "Do sit down."
How cruel hallucinations can be. How often over these months had I fantasized hearing Burton's name spoken, though never like this, clear and ringing as the call to prayer. I puffed my cigar to lock my expression in place though my back was to Hodgson. The smoke drifted up, draping the moon like a veil. And by then there was no way to be certain the sounds ever existed at all. I turned to him, expecting to confront his impish grin reveling in my pain. That would be a sign I'd imagined everything. He surprised me—again. He was straight-backed and sharp, in pain himself and defying it. Reality can be cruel, as well.
"Your cigar smells like it was cut with hair of a skunked dog," he said.
He wasn't far off. That's how it tasted. But Hodgson was forbidden to smoke, or rather, smoking tickled something that made his insides want to come outside for a rest. I liked to remind him of his predicament whenever I could, even if it meant enduring a bad stogie.
"Would you like me to put it out?"
He breathed deeply. "Certainly not." He paused long enough to cough and recover. "You've heard of Burton, I suppose."
This was the time to pretend I hadn't looked at my cards. "I read his account of the search for the source of the Nile."
"Not his Arabian Nights? Kama Sutra?"
"Haven't gotten to the Kama Sutra yet."
"His Pilgrimage to Mecca?"
I didn't want to admit that I'd only gotten about halfway through before leaving it on the train from New York to Philadelphia, so I told him I hadn't read it. He paused long enough to make me think he didn't believe me. His eyes stayed fixed on mine, and I dared not look away, though I couldn't read him at all in the irregular, pulsing light.
"Were you told that I knew him?" I didn't answer. He understood. "Yes, but not the circumstances. And you have no idea that I betrayed him. No, of course not. If you'd known, you never could have resisted asking about it. No one knows."
His eyes drifted off, and he seemed to get lost in our shadows.
"It was the time of the Bab, 1852," he said. "Ever hear of him? Sufi iman, he was. Preached love and equality, oneness with the universe, that sort of thing. Scared the authorities, though he had no outside ties and whatever ambitions he had seemed to be limited to adoration. Had an aunt like that when I was a boy. Bring her a gift and listen to a few complaints, and I could have the run of the place for weeks. Horses. Shooting. Shot those birds but hated eating them. Should you like to eat the things you hate? Hate to eat the things you like? Well, I leave all that to you to contemplate, Reynolds. I'm far too busy.
"The sultan at the time, Abn-Hassan, eventually got rid of the Bab. But not before he spread his gospel across the western part of the country. Women, in particular, followed him. Threw off their burkas and declared their independence. The army's standing orders were to observe and not interfere.
"Burton was fascinated by the Bab and Sufism. He couldn't resist any gathering of the Bab's followers, and there he met Leda. She was the daughter of a nephew of the Shah, member of the Qajar family. Quite prosperous. She wasn't afraid of Burton. Teased him for his note taking. He spoke Farsi quite well but wanted more. That's how the romance began. To be alone they had to meet secretly, of course. Perhaps the stealth increased the passion, as I'm sure you're familiar with. Good for the spirits, stealth. Burton had been with many women and had thought himself in love before, but never like this. He wasn't one to fool himself into it or fall in love with the very idea.
"Leda could match him in languages. Correct him, even. And match him in adventure. She had trained her horse so she could ride standing on its back. She could compete with him with a bow and arrow. She could recite poetry and write it. By day they were strangers. She studied with the Bab. She played the disobedient daughter. Burton was careful not to let his gaze fall on her, and she, rarely alone, shunned all British soldiers. In the evenings, Burton donned a kefiyah and robes, disguising himself as a Persian. He would ride along an alley with an extra horse and climb into the garden of Leda's family's house and help Leda escape. They spent the hours in the hills outside the city making love. They made a spot near an ancient Zoroastrian ruin their own; Burton furnished it with rugs and pillows.
"One night he arrived at the garden wall, stood on his saddle and pulled himself up, and when he heard hoofbeats, he looked back to see the horses being led away. He jumped down and chased the thief. Burton pulled his dagger and pushed back the thief's hood: it was Leda.
"He told me, 'For the first time in my life I wasn't myself. That's what freedom is. I loved her completely. I was overwhelmed. More than that. I only loved her. I had no other thoughts or feelings.'
"That night as they lay together, he told her he was being sent back to England. 'Marry me,' he said. 'Come back there with me.'
"Leda laughed at him. 'How many women have you been with, Richard? Hundreds?'
"'I'm serious. How can I believe you love me...'
"'You know I do,' he said.
"'And only me.'
"'Because I've been with hundreds. If I'd loved only once before, how would I know the way I feel about you is special? I would just be in love with my own feeling. But, I'm past that. I have something to measure this against and that is why I can be certain. And so can you. If I had to spend the rest of my life sneaking out with you each night, then sneaking back, I would.'
"'Then I should try hundreds of men,' she said.
"'I would kill each one,' he said, and he quoted poetry to her. Traherne, it was... I remember it... Would you like to hear one?"
I wanted to hear how he knew all this. How did he know what lovers said to each other alone in the night? To ask was to accuse. I asked anyway.
Hodgson raised his eyebrows as if to give me a chance to retract the question. I asked him to go on.
"One star is better far
Than many precious stones;
One sun, which is by its own luster seen,
Is worth ten thousand golden thrones;
A juicy herb, or spire of grass,
In useful virtue, native green,
An em'rald doth surpass,
Hath in't more value, though less seen."
"I never expected to hear you recite real poetry," I said.
He was silent for a long while. At last he said, "Later, there's more... later." He smiled at that, the kind of bitter, inner smile I've seen from men just caught committing a crime.
But something in him fought back. As if he were forcing himself, he went on. "He was too lost in love to fear the world's interference or sense any subtlety in her reaction. At dawn, before he helped her over the wall, as they tarried for one more kiss, he told her he'd be waiting the next evening. Leda said she had to be careful. Burton pressed her, and she agreed.
"But she did not appear that night or the next. Burton bribed servants to bring her messages. The reply came three days later. Her note instructed him not to come to the alley, rather meet her at the Zorastrian ruin... you can guess what happened there."
"Burton was ambushed? By Leda's family members, I suppose?"
"I always wondered if he knew what he was riding into. He had to have considered the possibility of an ambush. Four men attacked him. Did they consider they stood no chance? Later I heard that two died, but Burton never mentioned it. He rode back frantically to Isfahan, crashing through the streets, past a group of his fellow officers who didn't recognize him at first."
Hodgson began to cough. His face grew darker and the veins bulged in his neck. Just then the muezzin's call echoed like a chorus. The spasm stopped, as if obeying a command, and he gulped down a glass of mahia, the sweet local liquor, and sat back with his eyes closed until the call ended.
"He told you all this? Where were you?"
"You wonder if I was the one who betrayed him to the family." He said it softly and with delight, but it wasn't a question.
"I wonder where you came into the story."
"You've read Arabian Nights, haven't you? Burton lived it. That's what I'm trying to tell you, but I can stop there if you prefer."
I did not want to give in to him. Did not want to ask to hear the rest. Ignoring him would hurt him, and I wanted to pierce his smugness. Wanted to make him beg me to listen. But I said, "Please go on."
"Burton burst into Leda's house. First, he saw Leda's servant, and he could read the shame on her face. He followed her into a large room where Leda's mother wept beside Leda's shrouded body. She shrieked when she saw him and jumped away. Burton threw back the shroud. There lay Leda, serene, lovely as a marble statue. Her perfection fixed in place. He was just bending to kiss her when her father came in cursing at Burton to leave at once.
"Burton drew his sword. He was calm. Detached, he said, floating outside himself. He studied the man as if he were from another world, a grotesque creature who had murdered his daughter to prevent her loving an infidel. Burton wondered—he remembered wondering—how the man could carry on for even one moment after such a horrendous act? How could he walk or talk after the strain of it? How could he recover? There was no hatred. He was a mere specimen to Burton.
"Burton's thoughts turned to himself. Grief was hitting him, threatening to knock him down any moment, disable him, and he sensed he wouldn't be able to defend himself so he'd better kill the father immediately. Get that out of the way so he could give in to the feelings he knew were gathering. He laughed when he told me. 'I had to kill the man so I could live and get on with thinking of killing myself. And, at the same time I felt guilty to be thinking of my own preservation.'
"He didn't see two of his fellow officers who had followed him into the house. They knocked Burton out before he could kill Leda's father and dragged him away. The next day Burton left Isfahan."
So primed was I to hear more, the faint whoosh of the tapers felt like an interruption. Hodgson sat still, hands folded in his lap. A trace of amusement formed as his eyes narrowed. At last he said, "I'll be sailing for Trieste tomorrow."
I said, "I'll go along with you."
The Sorpasso, bound for Trieste via Malta with the early tide, was one of those suspender and belt type buckets—a steamship masted for sail as well. How do you rush the tide? If I was going to defy my orders to return home, then I was eager for the decision to become irrevocable. The bet was that Hodgson's telegram would trump mine. Perhaps I could use his remorse, vague as it was at this point, as a wedge to lift the armor of disdain and condescension that had kept me, so far, from getting him to seriously consider betraying his country for the benefit of mine.
Hodgson's reputation as a master of the subtleties of spying was well earned. He seldom told me anything that fit the truth without the help of a tight girdle, and I realized early on he had turned me into an infant: I learned more by watching than by being told. It was thrilling, frustrating, infuriating, invaluable. Hodgson was a puzzle with a thousand solutions, not a single one of them satisfying.
I had ignored the warnings about him—except the warning not to mention Burton—and thought I would have an easy path to success in this recruitment because the word seduction had been used, but I soon learned seducing women is easier than seducing a spy. Fail with a woman, and you need only move along to another. But I had just the one target, and I was failing with him. I would not get another chance. The pressure made me hesitant. Hodgson could smell this defect from miles away.
Hodgson remained in his cabin all the first day and into the second. Though I hungered for more of the Burton story, I dared not ask; never give Hodgson an opportunity to frustrate you.
We had docked at Malta on the second evening when Hodgson appeared and invited me into the bar. We took a table, and he asked the barman for scotch. The drinkers had gone ashore. We shared the room with one elderly couple. Their presence and their silence reinforced our confidential tone. Hodgson told the barman to leave the bottle.
I expected more of Burton's story, but Hodgson's eyes settled on the bottle and he seemed to leave the room. There was nothing left to animate him. All the hawls and yips of the ship yammered, filling the void like an audience at intermission, though I sensed Hodgson heard none of it. I tensed, ready to reach out to catch him. Suddenly, he came alive with a weak smile.
"Have you ever been in love, Reynolds?" he said.
"I thought I was."
"Indeed. In love with love. Same as intrigue. Often not really there. A ghost. All based on lies. Many of them unspoken." He stopped briefly as a thought took hold, then recited a new limerick:
"There once was a man who was vain
On his shirt he suffered a stain
He rubbed and he wiped
another man's shirt he swiped
But it was only a drop of rain.
"Sums it up, I think. But Burton fell in love in a way you and I could never understand. He's dying now, Reynolds. Someone should know. Someone should know his... their story."
Sit still, sit still. Ban all expression. Erase the impatient curiosity consuming me. Give Hodgson nothing. I waited.
"I was still in the Army, but they had sent me to the Balkans, traveling as a representative of an impresario. I was supposed to be looking for acrobats and unusual talents. Bearded ladies, that sort of thing. Why does anyone want to see that? Have you considered?"
"I have. At length. There's little else to consider in some of those small towns. A bowl of something with horse parts in it—I hope it wasn't dog—and beer of sorts... It's cruelty, that's all. They feel superior. Some peasant with a low brow and enormous ears can feel superior."
"Much as you feel superior to the peasant?"
"Exactly, Reynolds! Peasants and Americans. And Russians, too, I suppose. And women, of course, though I know better. In fact, we knew war was coming with Russia in Crimea, and we very much wanted informants who could give us Russian military plans. I found one, but he would only cooperate on certain conditions. Burton was the only man I could think of who could help meet those conditions. It took weeks to track him down, and it took me weeks more to make all arrangements and travel to Herat. Ship to Karachi where a Lieutenant Ross joined me, and then overland.
"Ross was one of those officers who learned early on to hate the Indians and the Afghans and the Persians without discrimination. Unlike you, he made my arrogance seem like kindness. As we rode into Herat, we came upon a caravan and a Darwaysh stepped out and blocked our way. His robes were red, green, blue in a swirl. He wanted money, of course. I gave him a few coins. Ross tried to shoo him away. I ordered him to pay his toll and probably saved our lives by doing so. Have you run across a Darwaysh, Reynolds?"
"First I would have to know what a Darwaysh is."
"Pay the toll when you do meet one. They're religious men, Sufis most often, a sort of spiritual Muslim sect. Best I could ever tell, they beg and they pray and dance around a bit. Do tricks with knives. It's considered extreme bad form to turn them away. A Darwaysh might be a cobbler, tailor, a chef, even a lawyer, and might continue his practice even as he prays and begs. I don't know if it's good luck to give him money but it's definitely bad luck to refuse—often because the people who see you do so, murder you.
"The Darwaysh looked at us both and told us to follow him. There was a small outpost in Herat, but somehow he understood the particular reason we were there. He led us to a low clay building with a blue door. I tipped him again, and he spoke in Dari to the fat Afghan on guard. I ordered Ross to wait outside, knowing if he joined me, he wouldn't be able to resist showing off his disgust to Burton.
"Inside you wouldn't know it was day. No windows. Completely dark. The kind of place you should never enter, Reynolds, being afraid of the dark as you are."
"I'm not afraid of the dark."
"Aren't you? I wonder why not... The few oil lamps threw light beams that perished prematurely in the smoky air. The heat was oppressive, and I was tempted to unbutton my coat, but it was a place of compromises and I determined not to make even the smallest accommodation. The boy led me into a second room, a big room, just as dark. I could make out bunks lining two walls, three high. The boy indicated I was to sit on one of the pillows scattered near the back wall. A bubbling sound came from nearby, and soon the smoke drifted over me. Slowly, as if the smoke took shape, languid bodies formed in the bunks. They were young and they were old, and every one of them looked my way, their expressions pathetic. Pathetic. A mixture of shame and hope and a knowing sort of cynicism that said, 'Another one of us, maybe he knows me, maybe I know him, it doesn't matter anymore.'
"I don't know how long I sat there looking back at these ruins. Suddenly a face was close to mine, very close. He was bearded and dark. Dark and bearded. Dark, bearded, and his mouth was a gaping hole except for the few remaining teeth hanging like stalagmites. I said, "You're not Lieutenant Burton, are you?" He thrust the hookah pipe toward me like a child with his favorite toy. I pushed it away. He drifted back into the darkness. I waited. At last a door I hadn't noticed before opened, and the boy reappeared. I followed him into the next room.
"Rectangles of light were spaced across the floor like stepping stones leading to a platform at the far end of the room. There sat Burton, cross-legged on a cushion, bare-chested and wearing only a white dhoti. He looked like a Swami, majestic and serene in his self possession. The first thing I noticed about him were his eyes—sharp, always sharp, not angry, as you might have read, but sharp as if they could penetrate further, deeper. The boy brought in tea service and placed it beside Burton. It might have been a different boy. I can't say for sure.
"'Lieutenant Burton,' I said. "'I'm Major Hodgson.'
"He gestured for me to climb onto the platform and sit on a cushion across from him. Wordlessly, he picked up a cup, poured the tea, and held it out to me. I took it. Burton picked up his cup and drank. I drank.
"At last he spoke, 'Might I see your watch, Major?' I was Major then. Have I said that? Not stuck as I am now. Not hopeful, either, as I am now, too, but on the train, so to speak. Steaming ahead. Not stuck at Colonel in a way station, a backwater, tossing from port to port with an American, never to progress, never to achieve what was never my ambition, rather that which would allow me to quit doing what I so enjoy. Having nothing to look forward to by way of promotion has given me something to look forward to every day. Whereas becoming a General would leave me nothing to look forward to in every way. Where was I...?
"Oh yes... I handed it over. Burton smiled at me. He said, 'I want to see how long it takes the poison to work.'
"'You drank your tea,' I said.
"'Not from the same pot. Care to taste mine?'
"He was correct. I tamped down my sense of panic. 'You have no reason to poison me, Burton.'
"'Is your mouth getting dry? If you think I haven't poisoned you, have some more tea. If you feel too weak to lift the cup, I'll help you.'
"I placed my hands on my knees to keep them from shaking. Sweat dripped from my forehead, and I licked it as it hit my lips.
"Burton checked the watch again. 'You have only a few moments to live. Is there someone you're thinking of? Someone you wish were here?'
"'You'll never get away with it, Burton. The entire British Army will be after you. You'll be hanged, and for what?" It was his composure that infuriated me. Anger fought with my fear. I felt helpless as an invalid. Burton lifted my tea pot and poured it into my cup. My tongue felt dry as sand, and my throat was blocked. I thought he might toss the tea in my face. Instead, he drank it down. All of it.
"'Revenge. Threats. Now I know who you are. Refill?' He poured. I was shocked the liquid went down. 'This must be how they poisoned her,' he said. 'This is how I would do it. I would make sure she could see me pouring the tea. She knew her father was a beast, but she wouldn't have suspected him capable of this.'
"'Neither are you, apparently.'
"'Poisoning is for cowards,' he said. 'If I want to kill you, Major, I'll pretend that you have a chance of defending yourself. Anyway, the question isn't whether I could poison, it's whether I could kill my own child.'
"'The report says you have no children, Burton. I hope there's no reason to doubt its accuracy.'
"Burton chuckled, and the chuckle built into a full throated laugh. It was relief the way a smokestack relieves. Pain and frustration were the fuel. But there was something more. Something I didn't understand until later. He was struck by the gap between the overflowing love he felt for Leda and his pathetic inability to save her or to gain revenge.
"'Imagine if such a report actually existed. Imagine the job of researching it,' he said. 'I last saw you in India, Major. What do you want here now?'
"I told him the reason for my presence in this opium den in the middle of the desert. The daughter of a Moldavian army officer had been kidnapped and sold into the harem of an Arabian prince in Medina. Her father wanted her back.
"'So he can kill her?'
"'If we help him, he will help us. War is coming between us and Russia. This man can hand over the exact placement of Russian armaments and troops in the region. We want you to rescue his daughter.'
"'What can be bought once can be bought twice. Pay the prince a fair profit, and you'll have the girl.'
"'The currency, in this case, is information. As you did in India, you will disguise yourself. You will pose as a Muslim, attend the Hajj, then journey from Mecca to Medina to a celebration at the Prince's palace. There you'll find the girl. She's a blonde, by the way.'
"I threw down my cup, shattering it. The boy rushed in, but we both ignored him. 'Damn, man, stop this pathetic, self pitying charade. You're an officer in the Queen's forces, and you're being called to duty. Don't you dare say no.'
"Burton spoke calmly, ignoring my tone. 'Aren't you going to flatter me and tell me I'm the greatest spy in the empire and the only man who could possibly succeed at this?'
"'Do you need that?'
"'No, but I expected it. You're an interesting man, Major Hodgson. But I'm going to Africa. I'm going to find the source of the Nile.'
"It was my turn to laugh, knowing it would irritate him. Knowing the cynicism of it would be infuriating. I mocked him. 'The source of the Nile? Is that all? And I suppose you plan to get your backing from the Geographical Society? Well, Lieutenant Burton, let me assure you that they will back you if I tell them to and they won't if I tell them not to. In fact, they are the ostensible backers of your journey to Arabia, your cover story, so to speak.'
"Burton was stubborn. He was not going to Arabia, and nothing I said would change that. His mind was made up. The Nile was his quest. It would be his life's work. All this posing was a distraction, an exhausting one. I listened. It was fascinating to hear a man who could be so cold and calculating, so ruthless in the face of danger, talk like a boy dreaming under the stars.
"When he stopped, I said, 'After you complete this mission and return with the girl, I promise you the Geographical Society will indeed back you in Africa.' I told him he could find me at the army outpost near the Citadel in the center of the town.
Hodgson stopped abruptly, and I expected another coughing fit. His eyes closed for a moment. When they opened, they were round and still with fear. I was certain of it because that look had never appeared before. He began to speak, stopped, closed his eyes again and said softly, "I would like to rest now, Reynolds."
I rose and stood beside him, ready to help him return to his cabin. He didn't move. I bent to see if his eyes were still closed. They popped open and startled me, and I lurched backward just as if the ship tilted. I grabbed the table behind to steady myself.
"Sit down, Reynolds, you're disturbing everyone. We're in port, save the dramatics for a storm."
The room was empty now except for us and the barman who was dozing. I sat and said, "Tell me about the rest of Herat. Please..."
Revived, he carried on. "Herat... waited three days. Sun and boredom. Made me understand the popularity of the opium den. Listened endlessly to varied tales from the storytellers in the market and endlessly repetitive complaints from Ross. Finally I spotted an Afghan shopping for a vest in the bazaar and approached him. Burton. I complimented him on his disguise, but he said it was no good if I could recognize him. I said, 'The merchant didn't make you out.'
"Burton said, 'He was only looking at my purse.'
"Along with Ross we sat in the center patio of a café. Burton chatted pleasantly with us for a few minutes as if we were comrades reunited. I took that as acquiescence. I handed him a slip of paper with the information of a shop in Mecca where he would receive the invitation to the festival at the Prince's palace in Medinah. The place he would find the Moldavan woman he was to rescue. He read it and passed it back without comment.
"I said, 'How will you proceed?'
"Burton said, 'I wonder why you ask?'
"Ross said, 'Good god, man, it's a mission of the utmost importance which you are carrying out for your country.'
"Maybe it was because Burton looked so much like an Afghan, I thought he might stab Ross. But he only said, 'I'm not doing this for my country.'
"Burton ignored Ross's blustering and turned to me. I said, 'I simply thought you might need our help.'
"'And I thought you were the kind of man I could trust not to help.'
"Well, he was wrong on that count. I've never been accused of that before or after. No, I absolutely can not be trusted not to help. And, I'll confide in you, Reynolds, I do it for my country. On my own I'd be a much better person and would leave everyone alone, allow them to ruin themselves instead of helping them do it. And wouldn't I be happier?
"I said, 'I'll have someone meet you at Suez. He won't know your true identity or your mission but you might find him helpful.'
"'You might need an ally.'
"'You'll be killed if you're found out...'
"'No. And no. Send no one. Tell no one. In fact, send Ross to the Arctic, or kill him. I don't trust him. Send no one. Promise that.'
"I did promise and wondered why he didn't know immediately I was lying. I felt it all over my face. Just then the muezzin sang out. We were the only ones in the café, and it felt like we were the only people for miles around. I'd ignored that feeling countless times, but now I felt obligated to respond to it and didn't know how. It's the desert does that. You feel alone. Do you know? Biblical. Though hardly sacred. I had to admonish Ross with a harsh look to keep him from demanding Burton speak up. Burton seemed as occupied with the tea as he was in the opium house.
"At last he looked at me and said, 'Do you think I'm an arrogant man, Major?'
"What struck me was his change in tone. Gone was the challenge and the aggression. The question was meant sincerely. 'If you were arrogant, you wouldn't ask that. I would say you're confident.'
"'If I'm arrogant, it will show through, and my disguise won't work. I have to lose myself...'
"'Losing yourself won't bring her back, Burton. It wasn't arrogance. It was love...'
"He smiled. 'Are you a romantic, Major? That can't help in your job.' It seemed he wanted reassurance but I was torn between treating him as a junior officer and as an agent, an espionage agent. That would have required me to treat him sympathetically, pretending to be a friend, and I wasn't able to hold his eyes and give him that reassurance. Pretending friendship is just as hard as the real thing, I've found. I didn't understand, then, what he wanted. Do you understand? He wanted me to tell him that love wasn't a fatal weakness. That he could go on and succeed. He felt all his successes came from looking down from above the fray, above the rest of us, and now he was stuck on the ground, tethered to an anvil made of emotion. I looked away from him as if he were diseased or worse. Doomed. I knew what I was doing to him, and I couldn't face making that connection. I'm not... I wasn't then... that deceitful. We couldn't know what was coming. None of us could know.'
Hodgson shivered at the memory. He put his hand on my arm. He looked into my eyes. I dared not look away.
"It's fine. I'm fine," he said. "Yes, you know that. I know you do. The government doesn't. Put me out to pasture. Traveling around with an American. Wither subtlety? But I'll get my revenge. Do you know how? By telling you this story."
At last his hand relaxed, and he coughed briefly and then, revived and calmed, he continued. "The Darwaysh, the same one with the colorful robe and vest, came onto the patio. The waiter handed over a coin and went about his business. At our table I paid him, but Ross hesitated. The Darwaysh reached across, took up Ross's cup and drank. Ross leaped out of his chair and accosted the Darwaysh, but I explained again that he could do as he pleased. Ross handed over a coin.
"All the while, Burton remained still. Finally, when the Darwaysh turned to him, Burton rose and asked for my purse. I handed over a coin. 'No,' he said. 'The whole thing.' I complied. I had to tell Ross it was an order before he would hand over his purse. Burton promptly handed them both and his own to the Darwaysh, who couldn't hide his surprise and delight. He and Burton locked eyes for so long, I feared they might turn against each other. Instead, they joined arms. Burton said he'd meet me in Jiddah when he had the girl, and he and the Darwaysh started toward the door. But he stopped and turned back and said to Ross, 'I'm doing it, Lieutenant, because I can't help myself.'
"Ross railed on after they'd gone: Burton couldn't be trusted, he's mad, gone native, I'd sent the wrong man, I must call it off.
"But I knew I'd sent the right man. The only man. And I'd sent him to his death."