It Happened in Egypt
C. N. Williamson & A. M. Williamson
Part 2 out of 8
flower season in Cairo and up the Nile. All the men with one exception
seemed to have heard a lot about her and to find her an interesting
subject, and to want Dennis to introduce them."
"I can guess the 'one exception'!" said I.
"Can you? Well, I don't read newspaper gossip about heiresses. Thank
heaven, I've something better to do with my time. But the others wanted
to meet her, or pretended to, perhaps to chaff Dennis, rather a cocky
youth, though I oughtn't to say so, as he was nice to me, according to
his lights. He got Sam Blake to introduce us, when he happened to hear
my name, and went out of his way to pay me compliments, which I daresay
he thought I'd like. When there was a lull in the discussion of what
could be done to make Miss Gilder enjoy herself in Egypt--chaps
suggesting trips in their motor cars or on their camels and a lot of
rot, Dennis remarked that I was the only man who hadn't chipped into
the conversation. And hadn't I any ideas for entertaining the Golden
Girl? Naturally I said that I didn't know who she was and had never
heard of her, and even if I had, entertaining girls wasn't in my line.
They all roared, and Dennis wouldn't believe at first that I didn't
know of such an important person's existence; but the other men rotted
a bit, and described me to him according to their notions of me. So he
let me alone on the subject; and having plenty of other things to think
of, I forgot all about it till the lady in question introduced herself
this morning. Then--well, it struck me as rather amusing at first that
I, the only one in the crowd who hadn't made plans to get at her,
should have her trying to get at me. That was partly why I came up on
the terrace when she beckoned."
"Partly? For purely intellectual reasons I'm curious to know the rest.
I suppose it had nothing to do with her looks?"
"As it happened, my cynical friend, it hadn't. I've got eyes in my head
and I could see she was pretty, very pretty, though not my ideal type
at all. That little sprite of a woman in fawn colour, the one with
green eyes and a lot of black lashes, is more what I'd fall in love
with if I were frivolous. But apart from the funny side of my meeting
with Miss Golder, or Gilder, it popped into my head that I might make
her a victim in a certain cause. Don't ask me to explain yet, because
there are a lot of things that have got to be explained first, or you
couldn't understand. You were right, of course, when you thought I'd
stationed myself in front of Shepheard's to take a rise out of you. I
gave up my room there yesterday, for reasons I'll tell you. But I knew
you'd be in the hotel, and that you'd be bound to show yourself on the
terrace, in order to go out. I wanted to see if you'd recognize me, and
to have a little fun with you if you didn't. By the way, I'm not
pleased that you did. It's a poor compliment to my make-up, which I may
tell you has been warmly praised in high quarters!" "Well, you see," I
apologized, "I knew you were a nailer at that sort of thing, or you
would never have got to Mecca, and earned your green turban. I knew
you'd been pretty often called upon to disguise yourself and go about
among the natives for one thing or another. And besides, we were chums
before you had the shadow of a moustache, so I have an advantage over
the other Sherlock Holmeses! But even as it was, I couldn't be sure at
first. You must have got some fun out of my expression."
"I did. I took revenge on you for recognizing me by tormenting you as
far as I dared. Dear old boy, I knew you'd see me through to the end,
bitter or sweet!"
"Which was it?" I inquired.
"Mixed. The girl riled me, rather, so much so that I definitely decided
it would be fair play to make use of her as a cat's-paw. But it depends
on you, whether she's to lose or win her bet."
"If she loses, I get her hat. If she wins, I've engaged myself to
procure for her--your green turban."
"Did you think you could, without my consent?"
"No. I distinctly thought I couldn't. But I would have been willing to
bet the head in the turban, served up on a charger, so sure I was that
you'd refuse to come near her. I thought I knew you _au fond_, you
"You do. I haven't changed. But--circumstances have changed. And that
brings me near to the stage of this business which concerns you and me.
First, before I go further though, I'll tell you a part of the reason
why I'm sporting the green turban. There's been the dickens to pay
here, about a new street that had to be made; an immensely important
and necessary street. Well, they couldn't make it, because the tomb of
a popular saint or sheikh was in the way. To move the body or even
disturb a saint's tomb would mean no end of a row. You remember or have
read enough about Mohammedans to know that. What to do, was the
question. Nobody'd been able to answer it till yesterday, when the
sight of me reminded them of a trick or two I'd brought off some time
ago, by disguising myself and hanging about the cafés. They wanted me
to try it again. Consequently Captain A. Fenton received a telegram and
had to leave Cairo at once on business. He gave up his room at
Shepheard's, and the only regrettable thing to the official mind is,
that the fellow'd been seen about town even for an hour. However, it
couldn't be helped. Luckily Ahmed Antoun is not unknown in Cairo cafés.
He's made quite an impression upon the public on several occasions
since his pilgrimage to Mecca, two years ago. And since yesterday
afternoon, he's been drinking enough coffee to give him jaundice, while
casually spreading the story of a dream he had. Our friend the Hadji
related how he had slept in the mosque of Ibn Tulun after the noon
hour, and dreamed of the sheikh whose tomb is so inconveniently placed.
In the dream, the saint clamoured to have his tomb moved on account of
a bad smell of drainage which he considers an insult to his own memory.
Also dogs have taken to howling round his resting-place at night, and
you know that to the true believer a dog is an unclean animal. Except
for hunting purposes, or watch-dogging in various branches, good
Mohammedans class dogs and Christians together in their mind. Well,
already the Hadji's dream is working like yeast. The news of it is
being carried from one café to another; and I hope that a few more
nights' work will do the trick. The votaries of the saint will get up a
petition to have his body moved. When it has found another abode, the
making of the new thoroughfare will be suggested."
"Very neat! I see it all, except the connection with Miss Gilder. What
has your saint got to do with her?"
"Very little, I should say, by the look in her eyes. But though a green
turban's as good as an heirloom, and extorts respect wherever it goes,
even a Hadji may have jealous detractors. I have mine. Another green
turban in this town, whose genuineness is doubted for some obscure
reason or other, has sneered at my dream."
"I say! That sounds as if you might be in danger. If one man suspects
you to-day, to-morrow------"
"Oh, it's only the dream he suspects--at present. I know all the little
prayer tricks so well, and I've invented my own history so ingeniously,
with a _patois_ to match my province, that I shall get through this
incident as I have through others of the sort. There's only one hole in
my jebbah. Last night, when my rival sprang a sudden question as to
what I was doing in Cairo (I'm supposed to be a Luxor man), on the spur
of the moment I replied that I was acting as dragoman to a rich family
of tourists. On that, the brute inquired with honeyed accents where
they were staying. I said Shepheard's, because I expected you to be
there, and thought if I were followed, you might be useful as a dummy."
"Ah, that's where Miss Gilder comes in? A gilded gingerbread lamb,
ready for the sacrifice. Why didn't you accept her offer at once, as
she seemed so providential?" "I'm coming to that. It sounds
complicated, but it isn't. For one thing, though, it may be well to
wait and find out a little more about that goat-eyed Armenian of
"He isn't mine. He's--".
"I want to know for certain whose he is. If he has anything to do with
my rival Hadji, there's more venom and wit inside that green turban
than I've given it credit for. Is there a reason, by the way, except
their riches, why one should want to 'get at' a member of the American
"By Jove!" said I, as if I had been pinched--for there was a sharp nip
in the thought Anthony's question jabbed into my mind. I had disliked
and distrusted Bedr el Gemály, but I had associated my distaste for him
with Fenton's affairs. It had not occurred to me that Biddy's fears
meant more than a nervous woman's vague forebodings. During the few
hideous years of hide-and-seek she had passed in trying to protect the
traitor, Richard O'Brien, she had no doubt had real enough reason to
dread a spy in every stranger; but I had cheerfully advised her "not to
be morbid" when she spoke of herself as a dangerous companion, or
stopped me with a gasp in the midst of what seemed an innocent question
about her stepdaughter. Could it be possible that her alarms might
after all be justified, and that the powerful association betrayed by
O'Brien would visit his sins on his widow and daughter? That American
accent of Gemály's! He admitted having been in New York. Of course, he
had made acquaintances there. My thoughts flashed back to the meeting
at the railway train. Could the fellow have found out in advance that I
was with Mrs. O'Brien, [alias Jones] and her friends? It seemed as if
such knowledge could have reached land ahead of us only by miracle. But
there was always Marconi. Perhaps news of Miss Gilder had been sent by
wireless to Alexandria, with our humbler names starred as satellites of
that bright planet. If this were so, Bedr, instructed from afar to
watch Richard O'Brien's widow, might easily have been clever enough to
suborn a messenger waiting for one Ernest Borrow.
"What are you mumbling about?" Anthony wanted to know, when I forgot to
answer. "Have I put some idea that you don't like into your head?"
"I was turning your question over in it," I explained, "and wondering
what to answer. Of course, Miss Gilder's rather important, and I
believe her father's obsession used to be when she was a child, that
she'd be kidnapped for ransom. The 'little sprite of a woman' you
admire so much, knew the Gilders in those days. She says that the
unfortunate baby used to be dragged about in a kind of caged
perambulator, and that some of her nurses were female detectives in
disguise, with revolvers under their white aprons. No wonder the girl
revels in emancipation and travel! I should think, now she's grown up
to twenty-one years and five foot eight or nine of height, without
being kidnapped, there's not much danger so long as she keeps in the
boundaries of civilization. Still, one never knows, in such a queer
world as ours, where newspapers live on happenings we'd laugh to scorn
if they came out of novel writers' brains."
"That's the only incentive you can suggest for spying, unconnected with
I hesitated, for Biddy's secret was not my secret, and it seemed that I
had no right to pass it on, even to my best friend. I must ask Biddy's
permission before telling Fenton that Mrs. Jones was the widow of the
informer Richard O'Brien; that she feared over-subtlety on the part of
the enemy might confuse her girl travelling companion with Esmé
O'Brien, hidden in a convent school near Monaco. "It's just credible
that there may be other incentives," I said. "But I must confess, I'd
rather believe that Armenian spies were on the track of Ahmed Antoun,
who can take care of himself, than after poor Miss Gilder or--any of
"What's the name of the laughing sprite?" suddenly asked Fenton.
"Mrs.--er--Jones. Brigit Jones."
"Where's her husband?"
"In his grave."
"Oh! Well, his widow looks ready to bubble over with the joy of life,
so I suppose we can't associate spies or anything shady with her?
That's too much to hope for?"
"Why to 'hope' for?"
"It would make her too interesting."
"Look here, my dear fellow, you can't have them both!"
The dark eyes of Antoun lit with a spark of surprise and laughter. "I
don't want either, thanks. I admire flowers, but I never gather them. I
leave them growing. However, you might tell me which one you want for
your own buttonhole?" "Really, I don't know," I mumbled, taken aback.
"All I do know is, it's not likely I can get either."
Anthony stared at me with a curious expression, then abruptly changed
the subject. "You've heard of Sir Marcus Lark?" he asked.
"Of course," said I, surprised at this question sandwiched into our
affairs. Sir Marcus Lark is a man who has had his finger in many pies,
but I didn't see how he could poke one into ours. Everybody knows Sir
M. A. Lark, given a baronetcy by the Radicals some years ago in return
for services to the party--starting and running a newspaper which must
have cost him fifty thousand pounds before it began to pay. He has
financed theatres, and vegetarian restaurants; he owns cocoa
plantations and factories, and a garden city; he has a racing yacht
which once beat the German Emperor's; he owns two hotels; he has
written a book of travel; his name as a director is sought by financial
companies; he has lent money to a distressed South American government
in the making; and though the success of his enterprises has sometimes
hung in the balance for months or years, his wonderful luck seems
invariably to triumph in the end; so much so, that "Lark's Luck" has
become a well-known heading for newspaper columns, in the middle of
which his photograph is inset. At the mention of his name, the oft-seen
picture rose before my eyes--a big man, anywhere between thirty-six and
fifty--good head, large forehead, curly hair, kind eyes, pugnacious
nose, conceited smile under waxed moustache, heavy jaw, unconquerable
chin, and prize-fighter's neck and shoulders. "What has Sir Marcus Lark
to do with us?" "He's in Egypt--in Cairo just now; and--he's got our
"Good heavens!" I stared blankly at Anthony, seeing not his dark face
under the green turban, but that everlasting, ever-smiling newspaper
block portrait. Down toppled our castle in the air, Anthony's and
mine--the shining castle which had been the lodestone of my journey to
Egypt, the secret hope and romance of our two lives, for all those
months since Anthony first read the Ferlini papers and began
negotiations with the Egyptian Government.
"It's all up then," I said, when I felt that I could speak without
betraying palsy of the jaw. "We're done!"
"I'm not sure of that," Fenton answered. "If I had been, I shouldn't
have broken the news so brutally. It's on the cards that we may be able
to bring the thing off yet."
"But how, if that bounder has got the place for himself? He must have
found out the truth about it somehow, or he wouldn't have bothered. And
if he knows what we know--or think we know--he certainly won't give up
to us what he's grabbed for himself. A beastly shame we should have
been let in like this, after being given to understand that it would be
"Lark must have had a pull of some sort, I haven't learned what; but I
will. The one hope is, that he hasn't stumbled onto the secret."
"What! You think he hit on our pitch by a mere coincidence--an
"No. There's not a shadow of doubt that he had a special motive for
wanting _our_ mountain and no other." "Have you formed an idea what the
motive is, if not the same as ours?"
"I've heard his version from his own lips. It's rather astounding. And
I want you to hear it from him, too."
"You've met him!"
"Yesterday at Shepheard's, before I went in for this dressing-up
business. Lark heard I had wired for a room at the hotel, and was lying
in wait for me on the terrace when I got back from the Agency. We had a
talk. I'd heard just before, the news about the mountain. But he
explained. Now he wants to see you. He's got something special to say,
and I've made an appointment for you with him at two o'clock."
THE GREAT SIR MARCUS
The appointment was at the Semiramis Hotel, where Sir Marcus Lark was
staying. I went with my mind an aching void, and my heart a cold boiled
potato. I can think of nothing more disagreeable! For not a word more
would Fenton let drop as to the great man's business with us or the
Mountain of the Golden Pyramid.
I sent up my card, and a few minutes later was shown into a private
salon more appropriate to a beautiful young duchess than to a middle-aged,
bumptious financier. It was pale green and white, full of lilies
and fragrance, and an immense French window opened out upon a roofed
loggia overlooking the Nile. This would have been the ideal environment
for our Gilded Rose; and I felt more venomous than before, if possible,
toward the rich bounder who posed against such an unsuitable
background. I thought, as the door of the salon was opened for me by
the smart Arab servant, that the room was untenanted, and that Sir
Marcus Lark meant to keep me waiting; but there he was, on the balcony,
gazing in rapture at the shining river. As if he were capable of
raptures, he, an earth-bound worm! But there was no mistaking that
back, those shoulders, or the face, as the big body turned. He advanced
through the open window, holding out a hand as big as a steak. He was
exactly like his photograph, except that there was even more of him
than I had been led to expect. The pretty room was net small, but
entering, he seemed to turn it into a doll's house parlour. "Six foot
two, if he's an inch!" I said to myself, longing to play David to his
Goliath. "Big, rich, common brute!" I thought. "You snatch our mountain
out of our mouths, and then you send for us as if we were servants--men
whose boots you ought to be blacking!" I was vindictive. I stared him
straight between the eyes--where a stone from David's sling would have
fitted in neatly.
The eyes were wide apart, and kinder than in the photographs. They were
even curiously innocent, and boyish. His grin of greeting made the
large, waxed black moustache point joyously up. He showed teeth white
as a child's, and had dimples--actually dimples--in his big cheeks, to
say nothing of the one in his chin, with which snapshots had
familiarized me. He looked like a huge, overgrown schoolboy with a
corked moustache. My glare faded in the light of his smile. No man with
a gleam of humour could have kept a mask of grimness. I found my hand
enveloped in the pound of steak, and warmly shaken up and down inside
"Lord Ernest Borrow, I'm delighted to see you. Very good of you to
come, I'm sure!" to David quoth Goliath, in a big voice, mellow despite
a slight Cockney accent. "Nice view I've treated myself to here, what?
I'm in Egypt on business, but I like to have pretty things around me
--pleasant colours and flowers and a view. That's a specialty of mine.
I'm great on specializing. And that brings me to what we have in
common; a scheme of yours; a scheme of mine."
I wanted to detest the man, but somehow couldn't. To hate him would be
hating an overpowering force, like heat, or electricity.
With an old-fashioned politeness he made me sit down, picking out my
chair, the most comfortable in the room, then taking the next best for
himself. He fitted into it as tightly as a ripe plum into its skin, and
talked with one leg crossed over the other and swinging, the points of
his brown fingers joined. I was glad they were brown.
"I'm afraid you're sore with me," he began, having ordered coffee and
liqueurs, and forced upon his guest a cigar as big as a sausage. "I've
got what you and your friend wanted; and I'm going to be frank with you
as I've been with him, and admit that I got it because you did want it.
Simply and solely for that reason and nothing else. He told you this?"
"He left the telling to you," I said, wondering why I wasn't more
furious than curious. But it was the other way round.
"Good egg! He promised he would, and he looks the sort of chap to keep
his promise. Well, I see you want me to get down to business, and I
will. I'm going to lay all my cards on the table. I came here to Egypt
for the first time in my life, to see a scheme through, and I landed on
the scene in time to find that I was likely to fail. I haven't told any
one else that, but your friend Fenton; for I never have made a business
failure yet, and I don't mean to now if I can help it. The scheme had
to be saved in a hurry if it could be saved at all; and when I set my
wits to work I saw that I must get hold of some such young men as you
and Captain Fenton to help me. I don't know how the thought of you two
popped into my head, but I suppose it was seeing a lot of stuff about
Fenton in the papers, his Balkan adventure, and the announcement that
he'd been recalled to his regiment. There were paragraphs about him as
a linguist, and an Egyptologist, and anecdotes of him as a smart
soldier. You know the sort of thing. And the stories about his
parentage caught my fancy a bit. They're romantic. I've got enough
romance in me to see that side of life, and to know how it goes down
with the women. This scheme of mine depends on women. Most schemes do.
At the same time the Egyptian papers were printing paragraphs about
Lord Ernest Borrow. I don't know whether you're aware of that or not?
No? Would you like to see 'em? I've had my secretary cut 'em out--and
the Fenton stuff, too. The minute this idea began to wiggle in my mind
like a tadpole in water, I kept everything."
"Don't trouble about the paragraphs, thanks," I said.
"All right. It will save our time not to. But your wish to go in with
your friend, for the rights of excavating in the Sudan, was mentioned,
and the delay on account of alleged interference with Garstang's
"By Jove, I wonder how the reporters got onto that?" I couldn't help
"It's their livelihood to get onto everything. 'Well then,' I said to
myself, 'Here's my chance, my only one. I want those two young men.
They're the right combination nation for me, to give real distinction
to my undertaking. I have money, but they ain't the sort you can buy
with money. There must be an incentive. If I get what they want,
perhaps I can get _them_.' So I went into the job tooth and nail.
Neither you nor Fenton was on the spot. I was--very much on it. Nothing
was definitely fixed up between the Government and Fenton for the right
to excavate at the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid, as they call the
little old molehill, and I scored. Now, if you two will do what I want,
you can have your mountain, and whatever you find you can keep. You're
worth more to me than any beads and broken-nosed statues under the sand
of Egypt. I think I've made some impression on your friend. He may be
inclined to go in with me, if you will. He's explained that in any case
he can't use his own name, on account of his position in the army and
so on. That's a disappointment to me, but I'll put up with it for the
sake of his accomplishments and his looks. Your name alone will carry
the necessary weight as a leader."
"You're very flattering," said I. "But I'm in the dark."
"I'm going to put you wise, as Americans say. My scheme was--and is--to
be a rival _de luxe_ of Cook on the Nile. Not only that, but all over
the near East. You've heard, of course, about my buying the Marquis of
Redruth's yacht _Candace,_ on his bankruptcy--the second biggest, and
the most up-to-date yacht in the world--and turning her into a pleasure
cruiser for the Mediterranean?"
"If I've heard, I'm afraid my memory's treacherous," said I, glad to
show how unimportant to me were the schemes of financiers, but
interested in the yacht's name, which carried my thoughts away to
"Great Scout! And I've spent two thousand in advertising! I've taken
whole pages of London and Continental papers!"
"I never read advertisements if I can help it, except of new patents in
razors. They're a fad of mine."
"Thank goodness you've got fads. Then we've something in common. I make
money out of my fads. I call 'em inspirations. I thought the _Candace_
business was one of my inspirations, and that I'd have some fun out of
it. I advertised her to start on her first pleasure cruise from
Marseilles to Gib, Algiers, Tangier, Tunis, Greece, Alexandria, and
Jaffa. 'That'll be a smack in the eye for the big liners,' I said to
myself. 'I'll skim the top layer of clotted cream off their passenger
lists!' I was going to do the thing _de luxe_ straight through--bid for
the swell set, exclusiveness my motto. Of course I didn't expect to hit
the dukes and dollar kings first shot, but I thought if everything went
right the passengers would tell their friends at home how much better
we did them on board than any one else had ever done, and we'd get a
'snowball' ad, that nothing could stop. All would have worked out first
rate, if I hadn't made one mistake. I engaged a retired army colonel
for a conductor on board my yacht. I got the man cheap. But I was a
fool to economize on him. I ought to have launched out on a belted
earl. Folks, especially Americans, don't like retired colonels. The
woods are full of 'em over there, crawling with 'em. Most Americans are
colonels and not retired. Besides, this chap of mine's no good anyhow
--fancies himself as a politician, and is a first-class snob; has no
tact; rubs up the passengers the wrong way, and outrages their
feelings. We got a lot of people from the north of England, rich and a
bit crude, like me. Will you believe it, Colonel Corkran began his job
by sneering audibly at 'provincials' to some beastly friend of his,
come to see him off at Marseilles? Instead of making his dinner-table
lectures a kind of travellogue as he was hired to do, he turns 'em into
political tirades, and calls the Liberals scoundrels, half of our folks
being red-hot Rads. Not only that, if the girls and boys talk while the
band's playin' any of his favourite airs, he hisses out 'Silence,'
through a hole in his mouth where one tooth's missin'. That tooth bein'
gone, has got on the girls' nerves worse than anything else, it would
seem, except his being down on Suffragettes. And the crisis was reached
when he insulted Miss Hassett Bean, the richest and most important
woman in the bunch, when she expressed her political opinions. Said to
her, 'My dear lady, why do you bother to have opinions? They give you a
lot of trouble to collect, and nobody else will trouble to listen. Why
not collect insects or stamps instead?' Of course she did think Germany
had already invaded England with a large army of soldiers disguised as
hotel waiters, which was calculated to rile an old officer; but that's
no excuse for a man who's paid to please. And now the fellow's
wondering why he's not popular with the passengers!"
I laughed, but Sir Walter had worked himself into a state past smiling
point. "It's no laughing matter," he said, "This snob Corkran's killing
my scheme. There's a plot on foot for the party to walk off the yacht
at Alexandria, and demand half their passage money. Some old grampus on
board has started the story that the _Candace_ has been down three
"A lie, of course," I soothed him.
"A dastardly lie. She's been down only twice. The first time was a
collision, the second a coincidence."
"But I thought she was the most up-to-date yacht in the world!"
"So she is, as the _Candace._ That was the Marquis's name for her: gave
it after a trip to Egypt. He bought her second hand, and rechristened
her while she was being redecorated. He spared no expense, which he
could well afford, seeing that he never paid a penny. I got her at cost
price, as you may say. But these plotters are going to claim that they
were inveigled on board under false pretences, by my advertising the
_Candace_ as the newest thing in yachts. I've had a letter and several
cypher telegrams from the assistant conductor, a useful chap, telling
me the whole story of the plot, which he's nosed out; and I'm faced
with humiliating failure unless I can save the situation by a grand
coup at the eleventh hour. Now, you can guess why on the spur of the
moment I bought up your rights to dig in the Sudan, can't you?"
"I confess I can't," I said.
"Why, I want you to take Colonel Corkran's place on the _Candace_ as
conductor. And I want you and your friend Fenton to go up Nile in
charge of the splendid steam dahabeah I've bought to supplement the
Mediterranean trip. There you have my motives in a nutshell!"
I burst out laughing. "A cracked nutshell," I remarked. Sir Marcus'
rosy face turned royal purple. "What--you won't undertake it?"
"I couldn't," I assured him. "For one thing, I'd be a fish out of
water. My dear sir, perhaps you don't know that my nickname since the
age of five has been 'Duffer?' I'm proud of it. I take pains to live up
"I bet you do. I bet it opens doors and lays down velvet carpets for
you. Why, a duffer with a title is exactly what I want! Duffers are the
rage nowadays. You and your friend will make a brilliant pair, a fine
contrast, especially with your friend's present get up. If you'd both
been born for me you couldn't suit me better."
I laughed again. "You said you ought to have launched out on belted
earls. We're humble----"
"There's no earls handy, and if there were any, they wouldn't be what
you two are in looks and talents, to say nothing of your brother being
a marquis. I'm offering you both the softest kind of job. All you have
to do is to be agreeable young gentlemen, with a knowledge of society,
and history; that means, you can be yourselves. You get a fine trip on
high salaries if you don't scorn to accept my money; and as a reward
for a good holiday you receive the right to explore your golden
mountain. I suppose you must think it _is_ a golden mountain, or you
wouldn't be such nuts on it. You'd better consult your friend before
you refuse my offer, anyhow."
"Haven't you heard that Fenton's left Cairo?" I took the precaution to
ask. "That doesn't look as if he were entertaining the idea of going up
the Nile on your steam dahabeah." "I have heard that he's left. But I
happen to know--it isn't so. I saw him standing in front of Shepheard's
Hotel this morning, waiting for you. I got on to what was in that green
turban before the pretty girl in white--Miss Gilder, I've found out
since--called him on to the terrace. Don't look as if you wanted to eat
me, Lord Ernest. I've won my way up from the bottom rung of the ladder
by keeping my eyes open, and by putting two and two together. I
specialize on that. I don't suppose there's another man in Cairo except
me and you, would have recognized Fenton, so you needn't worry. I
twigged that he'd dressed up for serious business, not for fun, because
I read about some smart coups he'd brought off by going among the
natives like one of themselves. I'm not a sneak, and I shan't revenge
myself by giving him away, even if you two do show me the frozen face.
Captain Fenton encouraged me to think he might consider my proposition
if you would, though he refused to influence your decision one way or
the other. Naturally I conclude that he could be on my Nile boat if he
wanted to, even if not in his own capacity as an officer. I'll take him
in his green turban. He makes the best looking Egyptian I ever saw, and
he'd go down with the ladies like hot cakes."
"Sir Marcus," I smiled, "you're one of the most amusing as well as the
sharpest men, if you'll allow me to say so, that I ever met. Whatever
happens I shall not forget this conversation."
"I don't want you to forget it," he grinned, beginning to hope. "Think
it over. We're the chance of a lifetime for each other. And remember
the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid." I rose, and he got up heavily.
"When will you let me know?" he asked.
I was tempted to reply that he must have taken Fenton's seeming
encouragement too seriously, that, mountain or no mountain, it was
practically impossible for us to accept his amazing proposition. But
suddenly I seemed to hear "Antoun Effendi" telling Miss Gilder that she
must wait for his decision until evening. He had said afterward, also,
that it depended on me. It was evident that he had a scheme of his own,
worked by wheels within wheels. He had consoled me after the first blow
by saying that all was not lost. And I had four months' leave from
duty. A lot could be done in four months. "I will let you know before
night," I said to Sir Marcus Lark.
THE REVELATIONS OF A RETIRED COLONEL
Fenton's orders were, when the Cairo business should be finished, to go
slowly up the Nile in native dress, and get at the truth of certain
rumours which had disturbed officialdom at Cairo. At Denderah, Luxor,
and two or three other places there had been "incidents," small but
troublesome. English sightseers had complained of being hustled, and
even insulted by the inhabitants of several river towns, and it was
important to find out whether the Egyptians or the foreigners had been
more to blame; whether there were real symptoms of sedition, as
reported, or whether the young men of the suspected places had merely
resented with roughness some discourtesy of tactless tourists. Fenton
had seized upon the idea that, as Egyptian lecturer and conductor--a
sort of super-dragoman--on board Lark's Nile boat, he might find a
plausible pretext for his secret errand. "Why do you travel?" would be
the question he must expect from suspicious leaders of any plot that
might be hatching, if he journeyed from one Nile village to another
without the excuse of business. As a glorified conductor of a pleasure-trip
for a party of tourists his excuse would be readymade for him; but
he had been far from sure that I would fall in with Sir Marcus Lark's
plan, despite the bribe. He had wanted me to hear the whole story, the
whole project, from Sir Marcus' own lips; and in his uncertainty of the
result, he had thought of Miss Gilder as an attractive "victim." There
she was, as he had said, presented to him by Providence. If I should
pour scorn upon the Lark suggestion, he might find it worth while to
guide the Gilded Girl and her friends on their Nile pilgrimage. He left
the question for me, and I decided to kill as many birds as possible
with one stone. The name of the yacht was in itself an incentive:
_Candace_--Queen of Meröe--our Meröe. She seemed to call, and to
promise good luck. We would accept Lark's terms, and enter his service
in return for a written agreement to hand over his ill-got digging
rights to us, whether or no we turned out to be satisfactory as guides.
We could but do our best, and at all events we should earn the reward
which we had looked upon as ours already. Anthony would play his double
part, serving the interests of government and those of Sir Marcus Lark.
As for Monny Gilder, why shouldn't she and her party become Lark's
passengers? The only reason against this "inspiration" (as Sir Marcus
would have called it), lay in the fact that Monny wished to engage a
private dahabeah. When she wished for a thing, it appeared that only a
miracle or a cataclysm could induce her to give it up for something
else suggested by an outsider. But when I mentioned this peculiarity to
Fenton, he was fired to punish the girl by forcing her compliance with
our will. She had treated him like a servant. She looked upon a man
supposedly of Egyptian blood, even though of princely birth, somewhat
as she looked upon an American "nigger." True, Anthony Fenton had in
his veins but very few such drops. On his father's side he was all
English, and his mother had been more than two thirds Greek and
Italian. Nevertheless this spoilt girl had struck a blow at the pride
which went ever walking about the world with a chip lightly poised on
its shoulder. Anthony had no desire to poach on my preserves. At the
same time he yearned to show Miss Gilder that he could be her master,
not her servant.
Once Anthony and I had made up our minds, everything else arranged
itself with lightning speed. Sir Marcus, rejoicing in his ill-got
conquest of us, broke to me the news that I must go by the first ship
to the Piraeus, to meet the _Candace,_ and head off the recalcitrant
band of passengers. He flattered me by thinking that, if I took the
place of Colonel Corkran as conductor, they would abandon their plot to
desert the yacht at Alexandria. It was, according to Lark's secret
information, only the "smart and would-be smart set" who had combined
to spring this mine upon the management. The rest grumbled no more than
it was normal for all pleasure-pilgrims to grumble; and as, roughly
speaking, the contented travellers were all going on to Palestine after
a week's wild sightseeing in Cairo, the colonel might be allowed to
continue his voyage without the interruption of a "row."
"I should have had enough common sense at the start," growled Sir
Marcus with crude candour, "to engage a lord for the Smart Set, and a
parson for the Ernest Inquirers. There's a world of difference catering
for a Set, and a Flock. The art is, to know it, and how to do it. Now
I've secured you, I'm all right with the S. S. and thanks be, I've a
young reformed missionary on board to shepherd the Flock. Now the
Reverend Watts will come in handy, herding his sheep through Palestine,
while the colonel swaggers and fancies he's bossing the show. It's the
Egypt lot I worry about: girls out for dukes, and dukes out for
dollars. Not that there's a darned duke on board, but there are some
who think they out-duke the dukes, and it's our business to humour 'em.
You just duff all you want to, Lord Ernest, they'll swallow anything
you do, like honey. Don't bother about a line of conduct: only be
genial. Murmur soft nothings to the women; flirt but don't have
favourites. Don't be too political with the men: work in plenty of
anecdotes about your swell relations."
I replied that I could confidently promise geniality, except if
seasick: but Sir Marcus implored me at all costs not to be seasick.
That was the one thing I must not be. My whole time between the Piraeus
and Alexandria, on board the _Candace,_ must be spent ingratiating
myself with the sulky passengers, and obliterating from their memories
the crimes of Colonel Corkran. In Sir Marcus' opinion my future charges
had taken passage on the _Candace,_ and would go up the Nile, not to
see sights, but to be seen doing the right things. According to him not
two out of twenty cared tuppence for Egypt, but wished to talk about it
in sparkling style at home. My friend Captain Fenton and I must make it
sparkle. Sir Marcus had resigned himself to the fact that one of his
trump cards--Anthony--could not be produced until the arrival in Cairo
of the troupe, and that even then, the name of Fenton must not be used
as an attraction. Lark felt confident that I was a good enough card to
make his hand worth playing, and in spite of the half contemptuous
amusement with which I regarded the whole scheme, I couldn't help being
"on my mettle." I found myself wanting to succeed, wanting to please
the big, common man whom a few hours ago I had been cursing.
I had to start for Greece the night after our decision. Meanwhile, I
was anxious to explain the unexplainable to Brigit and Monny, and
secure the party for Sir Marcus Lark's alleged dahabeah, which turned
out to be one of Cook's old boats bought and newly decorated. Both my
tasks would be difficult. I had to hide the secret reason for selling
myself to the financier, and at the same time keep the respect of the
ladies. As for inducing Miss Gilder to give up her dream of a private
dahabeah, I foresaw that it would be like persuading the youngest
lioness in the Cairo Zoo to surrender her cherished wooden ball. But I
began by giving Monny a present; a fine old turban-box of rare, red
tortoise shell inlaid with mother of pearl, which I found at an
antiquary's. In the silklined box reposed a green turban; and that
green turban told its own story. Miss Gilder flushed with pleasure at
sight of it. "I've won my bet!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," said I. "To my astonishment! The man consents. He's a great
prize, knows Cairo and upper Egypt like a book. But you'll have to
surrender him when you go on the Nile."
In her haste to know why, Monny forgot to ask how I had obtained the
green turban; and for this I was glad, because it was only the second
best headgear of my smart friend the Hadji. In explaining that the
distinguished Egyptian had been engaged by Sir Marcus Lark, I slipped
in a word about my own part in the trip, describing it as an ideal
rest-cure for a budding diplomat on sick leave. I praised the boat and
spoke of the fun on board. I regretted Miss Gilder's preference for a
private dahabeah, so obvious, so millionairy! Still, I added, every one
to his taste! And anyhow, no doubt all the best cabins on the
_Enchantress Isis_ were taken.
That was the entering wedge--the mention of an obstacle to overcome.
Miss Gilder looked thoughtful, though she kept silence: and next day,
when making my adieux before starting for Alexandria, she flung out a
careless question. When would the _Enchantress Isis_ leave Cairo? How
many passengers would she carry? Would there be a rush at the Temples,
or would there be plenty of time for proper sightseeing? And was I sure
that all the nicest cabins were engaged? No, I was not sure. I could
inquire. I tried not to look triumphant, but I must have darted out a
ray, because Monny withdrew into her shell. She had inquired out of
curiosity, she explained. I had told such stories about the
_Enchantress Isis_ that she would like to see her. Perhaps Antoun
Effendi could get permission for a visit to the boat.
In this state I had to leave affairs, and start for the Piraeus, where
I must await the return of the tourists from Athens. I had two days at
sea in which to work up an agony of apprehension, and I could have
thanked heaven when, arriving on board the big white yacht, I found
that I was ahead of the passengers. I was expected, however, and a deck
cabin was ready for my occupation. I hoped that I had not turned out my
rival from the room, but dared not question the steward. He seemed to
know all about me, nevertheless, and said that my name had been "posted
up" as conductor of the Nile party. "If I may take the liberty of
mentioning it, my lord," he added, "it has made a very good
impression." We were to steam for Alexandria the moment the passengers
arrived in the special train--having had three days of sightseeing in
Athens--and I had just got my possessions stowed away when a wave of
chattering voices broke over the ship. My heart gave a jump, as a
soldier's must when called to fight on an empty stomach at dawn on a
winter's morning. What ought I to do? How was I to make the
acquaintance of my future charges? Must it be en masse, or could it be
done singly? I had neglected to ask Sir Marcus what would be expected
of me, and I was in a worse funk than a new boy on his first day at
school. Soon it would be dinner time. I wished that I were ill, but I
remembered that the one thing I must not do was to be seasick. Already
the ship was beginning to move out of the Greek harbour, or I should
have been tempted to get a telegram calling me home. Even the Mountain
of the Golden Pyramid seemed not too great a sacrifice to make--but it
was too late to make it--and some one was knocking at my door.
I opened it with such courage as I had; and the instant I set eyes on
the man I knew that he was Colonel Corkran. He was born to be a retired
colonel. What came before the retiring could have been but a prelude. A
stout figure of middle height; red face, veined on cheeks and nose;
pale blue eyes which looked as if they had faded in the wash; purple
moustache and eyebrows; close-cropped gray hair; a double chin
clamouring for extra collar space; and a bridge-player's expression.
This was the rival whose place I had virtually, though not officially,
I was prepared to hear him hiss "Viper!" between his teeth, as
characters in melodramatic serials do to perfection, their front teeth
having doubtless been designed for such purposes. But his look seemed
to denote pity rather than hatred. So might a prison-warder regard a
condemned man, in coming to announce the hour of execution.
"Lord Ernest Borrow?" said he, in a slightly hoarse voice. "I'm Colonel
Corkran. Delighted to meet you. I've met your brother, Lord Killeena.
Daresay he wouldn't remember me. I don't think I can begin better than
by thanking you for coming to take over my job."
"Oh, I haven't done that!" I hastened to protest, as he sat fatly down
in a chair I pushed forward. "As I understand, I'm to take a few people
off your hands, and the hands of your assistant, Mr. Kruger, so that
you can go to Palestine instead of leaving that important excursion
entirely to the chaplain, Mr. Watts."
Colonel Corkran laughed. "Thank you for trying to save my feelings,"
said he. "But I assure you they're not hurt. I'm sincerely delighted to
see you--for my own sake. For yours--well, that's another pair of
shoes! My dear fellow, I wonder if you've the smallest idea what you're
"In for?" I echoed.
"Yes. I'm saying this as a friend. Don't think I'm jealous. Lord, no! I
look on you as a deliverer. And don't think I want to frighten you. It
isn't that. But I feel it's my duty to prepare you. I might have got on
better if there'd been some one to do the same by me. There wasn't.
Kruger, my so-called assistant, is a spy. At best, he's a mere
accountant, not supposed to look after the passengers socially. I
gather that he was some secretary of Lark's. Beware of him. He writes
to Lark from every port. As for the passengers, the saintly lot are bad
enough. Yet it's only the food and the cabins and the attendance _they_
grumble about. I'm shunted off the worldly lot onto them in future. But
at their worst, they'll be a rest-cure! and Lark has the decency not to
reduce my screw. It's the worldly lot that's going to make you curse
the day you were born."
He wanted me to speak, or groan; but I maintained a stricken silence,
to which I gave some illusion of dignity. After a disappointed pause he
went on: "You'd better know something about these people. Beasts, every
one of 'em, young or old, some beastly common beasts, but all beastly
rich, except those that are beastly poor, and on the make--to marry
their daughters, or cadge for smart friends. Lark was bidding for
swells, and got snobs. Thinks his silly title will carry weight in
society as it does in the city. 'Lark Pie,' we're called, I hear. I
call us a 'Pretty Kettle of Fish!' The girls are the worst of the
caboodle, though some of 'em aren't bad looking. You won't believe the
trouble I've had with the creatures till you begin to get the same
"What kind of trouble?" I inquired gingerly.
"Every kind a woman can make. Apart from food troubles, they think
they're not being entertained enough on board; think I ought to get up
more dances; tango teas I suppose! Don't like the way I organize games;
are mad because they can't have music at meals--which they can't
because the band's all stewards; blame me because the men don't make
love to them, or because they do. And at the hotels where we go on
shore, it's Hades. Naturally the people staying in the hotels resent
us. They look on us as a menagerie--a rabble. So we are. At least, they
are. I don't count myself in with them. What can I do? I'm not
omnipotent. Perhaps you are. Anyhow, they're prepared to believe it,
for you're a new broom--a broom with a fine handle. I'm only a poor
colonel with a few medals given by my country for services that were
appreciated. You're brother to a marquis."
"You paint a lurid picture" I said, when he stopped for breath.
"I couldn't paint it lurider than it is. But you'll have to find out
for yourself. It won't be so bad while you're a novelty. Don't say I
haven't warned you. And oh, by the way, I've announced that you're to
be presented to the passengers at dinner to-night, on coming in, before
the soup is served."
"As a sort of _hors d'oeuvre,_ I suppose," I murmured weakly.
Colonel Corkran stared, without a smile. "As the titled conductor of
the Egypt tour," he explained to my dull intelligence, with a slight
sneer. "So will you please be in the dining saloon just before the
bugle blows the beasts in? I have to introduce you, in a short speech.
It's all I can do, except say, God help you! But I don't see how He
can. I suppose your friend Sir Marcus told you that you would be
expected to deliver a lecture on Egypt, to-night at the dinner table?
After you've finished your dinner, of course. I hope the cracking and
crunching of nuts doesn't disturb you much? I confess I've found it
getting on my nerves."
I was aghast. My mind jumped to the wild thought of eating soap, in
order to froth at the mouth and simulate a fit. It seemed my only way
of escape, and after that, the Deluge. But my rival was so revelling in
the mental havoc he had wrought that I rallied, replying that, as Sir
Marcus had not broken the news to me, I didn't see how it would be
possible to deliver a lecture.
"Aren't you up on Egypt?" the colonel asked, pityingly. "Neither am I,
though I've sweated over Baedeker with my head in wet towels, when I
wanted to be at bridge. But I thought that was the excuse for engaging
you? That, and your title, of course, which is going to make you
popular. As fast as I fag up the names of those beastly Egyptian gods
or kings and queens, they run out of my brains like water out of a
sieve. Or if I do contrive to remember any, by chance, together with
their dates, which is almost more than can be expected of the human
intellect, why, I find that I pronounce 'em wrong; or they're spelled
another way in the next book. But I suppose as you know Egypt, its d--d
history comes natural as breathing."
How I wished it did! And how different was this new programme from the
one outlined by Sir Marcus. Just to be genial, and flirt with the
girls. "My recollections of Egypt are from some time ago," I admitted.
"To give a lecture at half an hour's notice.----"
"In justice to yourself I'm afraid you'll have to," the colonel
persisted. "It's been announced that you will give the lecture, and the
Egypt lot are looking forward to it as the animals in a zoo look
forward to their food. If they're defrauded, they'll think you a
slacker, and that you're presuming on your title."
"I shouldn't like that!" my anguish racked out of me.
"I fancied you wouldn't. But what's to be done? Am I to announce, when
I introduce you, that your knowledge of Egypt isn't equal to the
I took an instant for reflection. I knew that he was hoping I might
throw myself on his mercy, or else that I would speak and fail; but I
determined to do neither. "On second thoughts, I may be able to give
some kind of a pow-wow," I replied.
Colonel Corkran's face fell. "That's all right, then!" he exclaimed,
getting to his feet. "Well, I must be off. Will you have a cocktail?"
"No, thanks," said I. "I think I can get on without it."
He was at the door. "Kind of hash of gods and goddesses with a
peppering of kings and queens, and mixed sauce of history and legend,
is what's needed," were his farewell words. Then he shut the door; and
I tore my watch from the pocket of my waistcoat. I had twenty-eight
minutes in which to prepare the said hash with its seasoning and sauce;
and the bugle was inviting my judges to dress for the inquisition.
"I'll show you your place," Corkran volunteered, lying in wait for me
inside the saloon door, with a cocktail in his hand. "Sorry you
wouldn't have one. You'll need it. But no time to change your mind.
I've put you at the head of the table that would be the captain's, if
he ate with us, which he doesn't--happy man! Place of honour. 'Twas
mine, 'tis yours. But I can't go on with the quotation unless I turn it
into 'You're slave to thousands.' Sixty odd can be as formidable as
"Are there sixty odd?" I asked.
"Yes, very 'odd.' The Egypt lot will be about twenty-five. But the
whole gang's yours for the present. I give them to you, with the seat
"Please don't put me in your place," I protested. "I prefer------"
"My poor boy, it isn't a question of what you prefer, as you'll learn
if you stick this out. Of course if you funk it--but that's a joke!
This table's the only one where you can be heard. Do you see?"
I did see; and accepted the situation, because the dinner bugle began
to sound, and I could not be scampering round the saloon like a
frightened rabbit as the Set and the Flock began dropping in to dinner.
As it happened, they did not drop--they poured into the room in a
steady stream, which phenomenon, whispered Corkran, was caused by
curiosity for a first sight of me. My heart counted each new arrival,
with a bump.
If Corkran had not represented "Lark's Party" as being a menagerie for
which I had inadvertently engaged as tamer, I should have thought they
looked a harmless crowd. But then, of course, I was not obliged to tame
anybody on the _Laconia,_ which makes a difference in one's point of
view. Miss Gilder needed taming, no doubt, but I hadn't tackled the
task. My thoughts flew to Cairo, as I stood struggling to look
pleasant; and I wished myself back where Anthony Fenton was now in the
taming business. I envied him, for there was only one Monny, whereas in
this terrible, bright dining saloon, the air was pink and white with
girls, dozens of girls, with eyes fixed on me, glittering eyes, which
appeared like the headlights of motor cars. I didn't suppose there
could be so many eyes in the world as these people of all ages and
every possible sex seemed to own. Sixty odd they were, according to
Corkran, but they looked like six hundred; a human miracle of loaves
Yes, the creatures might have appeared harmless enough had there been
no retired colonel. But there was a retired colonel, and so deftly had
he undermined my courage that almost any shock might cause it to
explode in a blue flame of funk. His speech of introduction was now to
come, and if I survived that, I might hope to live through my own
"They've put on their best bibs and tuckers," Corkran mumbled in a
stage whisper, as the eight dwellers at our table began to sort
themselves for places. Then, in portentous silence he paused till
everybody everywhere was seated. Waiting still, until satisfied that
eyes and ears were focussed upon us, he rapped on the table with the
handle of a knife.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he roared, "I have the pleasure of introducing
to you Sir Marcus Lark's Great Surprise, entitled Lord Ernest Borrow,
younger brother of the Marquis of Killeena, a peer, as Sir Marcus has
reminded us, of the oldest lineage in Ireland. Let me reassure you all
by saying that Lord Ernest's last name is as unsuited to his nature as
the first is true to it. If you'll pardon the pun it is Sir Marcus who
'Borrows' for your benefit, and he hasn't Borrowed Trouble, but a
Blessing--in disguise. I am now left free, as suits my superior age and
experience, to devote my attention to the serious minded ones among
you, who are to proceed with the Reverend Mr. Watts and myself to
Palestine. This young and gallant neophyte will 'lord' it over the
fleshpots of Egypt and those about to seek them. I hope you'll help him
as loyally as you have helped _me:_ and later we'll drink to his health
and success, in any beverage we happen to have signed for!"
To have killed Corkran might have been butchery; no jury could have
brought in a verdict of murder or even manslaughter, had I stabbed him
with the knife he used to pound upon the table. I smiled the smile of a
skull in a doctor's waiting-room, and in a sickly voice bleated my
pleasure in meeting these new acquaintances. I hoped we might be--er
--friends as well as shipmates. Then like a mass of jelly out of its
mould I plopped onto my chair. The colonel had sneaked off to his own
table and I was left to recover myself as best I might among eight of
his enemies. They proved (in whispers) to be the most active of these,
and tacitly offered me allegiance which I accepted in the same manner.
There was a Sir John Biddell, who informed me in the first five minutes
that he had been Lord Mayor of London. He promised to show me a speech
he had made in the presence of King Edward which, in the form of a
newspaper cutting, he never travelled without. This, however, was his
first trip farther than Paris, and he had brought with him, not only
the speech, but his wife and twin daughters. The distinguished family
occupied one side of my table: the other was given up to a General
Harlow, his wife (both with high profiles and opinions of themselves),
a youngish newspaper proprietor from Manchester, evidently rich and a
"catch," and a maiden lady doubtless of importance equal to her
proportions, as she was allowed to bring to the table a melancholy
marmoset. These people did their best to raise my spirits. The girls,
who copied royalties in their hair-dressing, looked alike, dressed
alike, talked and laughed alike, and entertained me with chat about
high society in London. They had red cheeks, black eyes, white teeth,
and an almost indecent familiarity with the private lives of the
aristocracy. The Misses Biddell and fat Miss Hassett-Bean (the lady of
the marmoset) hinted that the cream of the yacht's social life had
risen to our table, and told me, not only what to lecture about, but
how to treat the rival cliques. My brain felt more and more like a
blotting-pad. I answered at random and longed for the meal to end
--until I remembered my lecture. Then I wished that dinner might go on
indefinitely like the tea party of the Mad Hatter. All too soon the
glory of a French menu flickered down to a dying spark of nuts and
raisins, and hardly had I cracked my first almond (was it an ill omen
that there should be a worm in it?) when a steward handed me a twisted
note from the executioner. "The rule for conductor's dinner speech is,
rise with the raisins! Hope you won't find your lecture too hard a nut
to crack. Yours sympathetically, Corkran. Bang on the table to make
them stop gabbling. Or shall I do it for you? If you haven't by the
time I count ten, I will."
He did. I trust it wasn't my courage that failed. But having a raisin
in my mouth I could not on the instant respond to the lash. And as
Corkran would have said, it takes more than one swallow to make a
speech. Ruthlessly he rapped, seizing what I wished might be his dying
chance to indulge a mania for puns and thumping wood.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he bawled from his comparatively obscure
corner. "Lord Ernest Borrow will render your last moments the most
enjoyable of the meal, by washing down your nuts and raisins with the
wine of his eloquence. Take your desserts now. We conscientious
conductors hope for ours in heaven."
How ardently I desired that these might indeed be the "last moments"
not only of my audience but of Colonel Corkran. If the next second had
brought a tidal wave or a collision I should have blessed Providence.
But I got to my feet--and nothing happened. I seemed to be in a dream,
of having shot up to a gigantic height, and having put on the wrong
clothes, or none. My hands weighed two pounds each, and ought to have
been at the butcher's. My mouth was the size of a negro minstrel's, and
so full of large bones which once had been teeth that I could not utter
a syllable. I clacked my jaws, and emitted a hacking cough which
fortunately so much resembled that of a professional lecturer that I
kept my senses. Not only did I keep them, but they seemed suddenly to
become my servants. The thought of a certain fable jumped into my head,
and I began thereupon to speak; although I had forgotten everything I
had ever read of Egyptian history.
"It happens," said I, in a phonographic voice, "that I was born in
Egypt. I played with clay gods and goddesses instead of tin soldiers. I
preferred stories of Egypt's past and present to tales of adventure. I
confess to you what I fear I didn't confess to Sir Marcus Lark. The
trouble is, I'm stuffed too full of facts about Egypt. I want you to
help me get them out, and not duplicate yours. No doubt all of you, in
travelling to the East, have packed your brains with knowledge as well
as your boxes with guide books. Why should I bore you by telling you
things that you were born knowing? A plan has occurred to me by which
your knowledge can be turned into account. As I said, I beg your help.
And permission to drink a cup of coffee would be first aid."
People laughed, whether at me, or with me, I was not sure; yet I felt
that I had tickled their curiosity. Coffee was going round. Corkran was
unctuously sipping his, and had not expected me to receive mine till
after the battle. But I got it in spite of him, and mapped out a
programme as I drank. Then I ceased to tremble before the confused
assemblage or bird-headed gods, cat-faced goddesses, and sacred
vultures that danced or flapped in my brain.
I no longer felt inclined to commit suicide because I could remember
nothing about Egypt except that the Delta was shaped like a lily, with
the Fayum for a bud, and the Nile for its stem: that Alexander the
Macedonian defeated Darius the Persian B. C. three hundred and
something; that ancient Egyptians loved beer, but were forbidden to eat
"My proposal is," I went on, "that before I unload any of my knowledge
upon you, I gleam some idea of what you know already. Thus I can spare
you repetitions. Any one who has anything particularly interesting to
say about Egypt, let him--or her--hold up a hand."
Now was the crucial moment. If no hand went up, I was lost. But hardly
were the words out of my mouth when there was a waving as if in a
wind-swept wheatfield _Place aux dames!_ I called upon Miss Hassett-Bean
to begin. She rustled silkily up, bowing to me, then directing an
acetylene glare upon Colonel Corkran's end of the room. She was, I
foresaw, about to kill two birds with one stone, to say nothing of the
marmoset, who fell off her arm into General Harlow's coffee and created
a brief diversion. As soon, however, as the monkey was rescued and
before General Harlow's shirt front was dried, the lady began to speak.
"We all thank Lord Ernest," she said, looking from the colonel to the
Reverend Wyman Watts, and back again, "for sparing us one of those
commonplace inflictions from which we've nightly suffered on board this
yacht. If we didn't know already, such school-book facts as
Christianity being introduced to Egypt by St. Mark in Nero's time, and
Moses and Plato both studying philosophy at Heliopolis, and things like
that, we wouldn't be spending our money with Sir Marcus A. Lark to see
Egypt. Never before have we been encouraged to air our views. Those of
us with political opinions have been snubbed; and we who are interested
in Woman Suffrage have been assured that we'll find nothing to please
us in the land of Veiled Women. At last I am given a chance to state
without being interrupted that Egypt was once the most enlightened
country in her treatment of women. Long before the time of the Greeks,
and even before the Shepherd Kings Mr. Watts has told us so much about,
using his Old Testament as if it were a Baedeker, the women of Ancient
Egypt had rights according to their class. Queens and princesses were
considered equal with their husbands. Women were great musicians,
playing on many instruments, especially the sistrum, sacred to the
goddess Hathor. And weren't all the best gods goddesses, when you come
to think of it? Women used to drive their own chariots, as we do our
motors, and hold salons, like the French ladies. There was Rhodopis,
for instance, who married the brother of Sappho. I wonder if Colonel
Corkran could have told you that the story of Cinderella comes from an
anecdote of Rhodopis? I hardly think that he's been able to spare
enough time from bridge to study Strabo, who was the Baedeker of Egypt
for tourists six hundred years before Christ. An eagle saw Rhodopis
bathing, and stealing one of her sandals flew with it to Memphis, where
he dropped it into the king's lap. It was so small and dainty that King
Hophra scoured Egypt for the owner, and when he found her at last,
according to Strabo, made her his queen."
"If Strabo was right, she lived long before Sappho's day!" interpolated
the colonel's voice.
"Of course, Strabo was right. There were two of Rhodopis. Everybody
knows that. The Third Pyramid was built for the tomb of the first one,
_not_ for King Mycineris, _I_ believe. Why shouldn't a woman have a
Pyramid to herself? The Sphinx is a woman, as I will insist to my dying
day, if it were my last word! I hope Lord Ernest won't ram down our
throats any nonsense about that noble and graceful tribute to the
Mystery of Womanhood being a stupid King Harmachis, or Horemkhu. I
wouldn't believe it if I found a hundred nasty stone beards lying
buried in the sand under her chin, instead of one, which could easily
have been put there to deceive people. Probably King Harmachis had the
Sphinx altered to look like him. No wonder she shuddered at such
profanation, and shed her false beard. There you have my theory. And as
for Egypt being now the land of Veiled Women, where Suffragettes find
no sympathy, I've heard that the prophet's order for veiling has been
purposely misconstrued by tyrannical men, with their usual jealousy.
Even Mohammed himself was jealous."
With this Miss Hassett-Bean sat down, amid fitful applause; and at my
earnest request, Miss Enid Biddell, the prettier twin, stood bravely
up. She wished, before the subject was changed, to tell some little
things she had read about the girls of Ancient Egypt, how like they
were to girls of to-day, in all their ways, especially in--in things
concerning love. It was they who first questioned the petals of flowers
for their lovers' loyalty. How much they thought about their clothes,
too, getting their best things from foreign countries, as women did
now, from Paris! It was so funny to read how the girls of Old Egypt had
consulted palmists and fortune tellers and astrologers just as girls
did in Bond Street now; and that what 'Billikens' and 'Swasticas' and
birth-stones were to us, images of gods were to the girls of Egypt who
lived before the days of Moses! They had scarab rings with magic
inscriptions, and sacred apes for the symbol of Intelligence, and lucky
eyes of Horus, wounded by the wicked god Set, and cured by the love of
Isis. On their bracelets and necklaces they hung charms, and their
dressing-tables were covered with images of favourite gods and
goddesses. Hathor, the goddess of Love and Joy, was supposed to give
her choicest gifts to girls who wore her special colour (that green-blue
in the Temple of Edfu which Robert Hichens calls "the colour of
love") and to those who had her pet stones, emeralds, or turquoises.
Nowadays, in Egypt, the jewels of the women Were only lent to them by
their men, and could be taken away as a punishment, or be pawned or
sold in case of need; but in old days Egyptian women had all their most
beautiful possessions buried with them.
When her sister had finished I urged the other twin to speak, and
timidly Miss Elaine repeated to us what a friend of hers, a clergyman
(here a blush) had told her. That the Red Sea was not red but a
brighter blue than any sea in the world, and called red only because it
washed the Red Lands. Her friend had written down for her in verse
_such_ a sweet legend about the Nile rising every spring from a single
tear shed by Isis, a _much_ more powerful goddess than Hathor, because
she was the goddess of goodness as well as love. And the Nile used to
be named Sihor by the Egyptians; and the year separated into three
seasons, Flood time, Seed time, and Harvest. Miss Biddell's friend was
writing a book about Egypt and was going to divide it in three parts
like that. It was to be dedicated to _her_.
Bless the dear creatures, how they kept the ball rolling to please
themselves, and--indirectly--to sort out my stock of ideas!
Harry Snell, the newspaper man, was not hard to persuade to his feet.
He was studying the resemblance between Arabic and English words. He
had found out, among other things, that Tallyho was "Tallyhoon,"
brought home by the Crusaders. He even had a theory that some of our
words came from the early Egyptian. "Amen," for instance, he believed
to be derived from "Amon," the name of the great god, father of all the
other gods of Egypt, which was cried aloud, he understood, in the
temples, during religious services. The parson jumped eagerly up to
dispute this theory, and happily forgetful of me, seized the
opportunity to spring upon us a few facts from his own store. When,
however, Mr. Watts' discourse got him as far as Joseph's Well in the
Citadel, General Harlow could bear no more, but sprang up to inform us
that the Joseph of the Well in the Citadel was quite another Joseph,
some Yusef of the Arab conquerors. The general knew all about that,
because his son was stationed in the Citadel. And he proceeded to
meander on historically, over a period between the first Arab conqueror
Amru, to Haroun-al-Raschid, assuring us that old Cairo was the city of
the Arabian Nights. He would, to my joy, have gone on indefinitely from
Saladin to Napoleon if Sir John Biddell, as the only baronet on board,
had not cut the only general short. He is a square man whose portrait
could be properly done only by a Cubist. "Too much history, my friend!"
he shouted, getting up with the manner of one accustomed to making
dinner-table speeches. "What most of us are coming to Egypt for is
_mummies_. Egyptian history is too troublesome, anyhow, for a normal
man to grasp. Give me mummies! There's something _in_ them. Why, even
if you get a king or queen fixed in your head, somebody who's paid to
make you know things you don't know" (an eye-shot for Corkran) "comes
along and swears they didn't exist. Now, there's Mena. I'd pinned him
like a stuck butterfly. I could remember that he was the first known
king, and founded Memphis and lived six thousand years before Christ,
all because we're going to stay at Mena House, which is named after
him. I don't know why I remembered him that way, but I did. Just as I
could recall the queen with a name like a sneeze by thinking of her as
Queen Hat-and-Shoes. Now Colonel Corkran informs us that we must
pronounce her, in a different way. And what's the consequence to me?
I've ceased to try and keep track of her. King Mena, too, is lost to me
forever, through the over-conscientiousness of our late conductor, who
says there never was a Mena, only several kings they've mixed into one.
I seem to be the one who's most mixed up! To whet my appetite for Egypt
now, I have to have something tasty. Where's the good of stuffing my
mind with a string of names which I couldn't mention to any one at
home, because I can't pronounce them? The word Dynasty (he pronounced
it Die-nasty) makes me sick! Luckily I feel that nobody else will know
any more than I do. I'm coming to Egypt for a rest-cure, because I
don't have to learn its history. But some lecturers won't let me have a
minute's peace. A king named Sneferu couldn't expect to appeal to a man
like me, even if he did build the oldest Pyramid, and even if you could
show me his mummy, which you can't. But I draw the line at kings
without mummies. I don't want to know them. Now, my wife is against
mummies on show. She's heard that the malignance of mummies, especially
in museums, is incredible. And she thinks it a judgment that some of
the most distinguished ones are going bad. She says it's spite. I say
its management. But I'm not ready to sit down yet! My wife means to
start a society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Mummies, with the
object of sending them back to their tombs where they can rest in that
state of death it pleased their gods to call them to. Their object was
eternal privacy, and they spent more on their tombs than their houses,
because they expected to be dead a long tune, and wanted all the
comforts of home. But I judge mummies by myself. It wouldn't have taken
me these thousands of years to realize how narrow and un-christian my
notions had been. I should see that I owed some duty to the world; and
as so much posterity had rolled by since my day, I'd feel that lying in
a museum at some large place like Cairo, was, after all, the only way
to keep my name before the public. Now, that brings me to my tip for
Lord Ernest. He asks what there is we don't know, and want to know.
I'll answer for us all, being used to feel the pulse of crowds. We want
to know what the deuce Ancient Egyptians really believed about death
and religion. Had they any sense, or were they just plain fools?"
On the tide of applause which congratulated the boat's only baronet, I
rose. I felt that I was on the crest of the wave; for the ancient
religion of Egypt appeals to me; and as I now had reason to hope that
others were comfortably ignorant of my subject I could spread myself as
much as I pleased.
"The Ancient Egyptians were far from being fools," I answered Sir John
with the air of being in their confidence. "We who are tempted to think
so, don't take the trouble to try the key of their Faith in its door. I
might say that its door was the door of the Tomb. If we go through that
door into the Kingdom of Osiris, Amenti, which the Greeks renamed
Hades, the mysteries which appear tangled sort themselves graciously
out. The story of Isis the Great Enchantress, and her search for the
body of her husband Osiris, murdered by Set, his wicked and jealous
brother, Spirit of Evil, is perhaps the most lovable legend of the
world. But in hearing that Horus, the son of Isis, was really the same
god as Osiris, modern ideas begin to get mixed, and confuse themselves
over Isis, goddess of love and goodness, cow-headed Hathor, mistress of
love and joy, cat-headed Pasht and lioness-headed Sekhet, goddesses of
love and passion. There's hawk-headed Horus, the youth, too; and Horus
the child, represented in statues with his thumb in his mouth. How is
one to make sense of them all? But once you have the key, it is easy
and even beautiful. The esoteric or secret religion known to the high
priests and the instructed ones was different from the animal-worship
and adoration of bird-headed deities, which gave the common people such
interest in daily life. They would have been lost without their
monsters; and the priests would have been lost without the temples
necessary for the worship of such a menagerie. For Egypt was a
priest-ridden country in old days. The explanation of the many gods and
goddesses was this: each was a different phase of the one God, Rã, the
Sun, by whom and through whom only the world could exist. Animals and
birds were chosen to express the different phases, because animals were
considered to be nearer nature, therefore nearer God than human beings;
besides, to give a god the head of a man would not set him apart from
humanity, as it would to make him appear with the body of a man and the
head of some bird or beast. Horus, finished off with the head of a hawk
(that sacred bird who could look the sun in the face), became to the
uneducated eye a supernatural being, which he would not have been with
the face of a smiling youth. The child Horus, or Harpocrates, was not
respected as was Horus of the Hawk Head. He was merely petted and
loved. Even Set, god of evil, wasn't all bad. He was the Spirit of
Storm and Strife in Nature, and had to be propitiated by the ignorant.
Typhon, or Typhoon, and he were one. Red was his colour, and red-haired
people were his children. There were a hundred phases of the one god,
each made incarnate, given his own mission, and worshipped in a
different place. It's an ill wind (of Set) that blows nobody good, and
animals had a gorgeous time in those days. Very few weren't sacred for
some reason or other. It was death and destruction to kill a cat. And I
don't think that cats have forgotten to this day the importance they
had in Egypt. It's made them the most supercilious of animals.
"If Amon-Rã were angry he could become Menthu, the war god. If he were
inclined to be gentle, he could shrink to the dimensions of Horus,
child-god of the Rising Sun. If he were weary, he could rest as the old
god Tum, of the Setting Sun. Probably gods and goddesses never enjoyed
themselves so much as in Ancient Egypt; and though it does seem a
drawback from our artistic point of view for Hathor to have the head or
ears of a cow, for wise Thoth to have the long beak of an ibis, and so
on, it was for them only an amusing kind of masquerade or 'tête' party,
on the walls of the temples and tombs. At home, they could be what they
liked. Think how interesting for the Egyptians to have all these queer
gods, and what variety it gave to their lives. Perhaps the priests
really meant well in keeping the secret of the One God for themselves
and the kings, as the people weren't fitted to bear its solemnity.
Fancy how amusing it was for the children to be told, on silver-bright
nights, about Khonsu, god of the moon, always young, wearing the curled
lock of youth on his brow--who staked five nights of his light playing
draughts with Thoth, father of Magic. But he had a more serious phase,
for when he was not a gambler he was an Expeller of Demons, a most
popular accomplishment. Indeed, almost every god had several thriving
businesses, conducted under different aliases. Khnum the Creator,
dweller at the Cataracts, is my favourite, and is still busy, as he
looks after the rise and fall of the river. Hekt, goddess of birth, was
a pal of his, in spite of her appalling ugliness; and she used to kneel
by his potter's wheel. While he fashioned the clay she would hold the
Sign of Life, so that spirit might enter into the formed body when
Khnum got it to the right state. For very important babies, royal ones
or geniuses, she held a Sign of Life in each hand, which made them
extraordinarily vital. When you arrive in Egypt, the first thing you'll
be asked to buy will be the Sign, or Key of Life, in the shape of paper
knives or brooches or what not, and it will be pointed out to you in
tombs till you're tired and sick of it. You can buy Hekt, too, and
funny old Bes, nurse-goddess of children, quite the golliwog of her
day; and all the other gods and goddesses will be offered to you, to
say nothing of the kings who were entitled to worship themselves as
gods if they wanted to.
"It's easy, you see, to make fun of the ancient religion, and other
nations did make fun of it. But to be serious, the priests were nearer
right than it would seem; for they believed that God was All: that
there was nothing in this or any Universe which was not part of God."
That note was my highest, and I stopped on it. Besides, I could think
of nothing more to say. I ventured to sit down; and because the people
were glad to hear the last of me, or because I had helped them finish
their almonds and raisins, they applauded. Secretly I shook hands with
myself, as the monkey must have done, when, with the catspaw, he had
pulled the hot chestnuts out of the fire. I had carefully selected my
chestnuts--and waited till they were cool. Also, I had disappointed
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MY BACK WAS TURNED
Three letters for me, brought out by the pilot! One I had expected from
Anthony; but my heart gave a bound as I recognized Brigit's
handwriting, not seen for years; and instinct told me that the third
was from Monny Gilder.
My one thought for the last two days, steaming back from the Piraeus to
Alexandria, had been that I was drawing nearer to Cairo, and to those
whose doings in my absence pulled at my curiosity and keyed my interest
to breaking point. But if you think that I tore open those envelopes
and greedily absorbed their contents the moment they were put into my
hands, you have never been a conductor or even an observant passenger
on a "pleasure yacht." When the letters arrived I was engaged in
persuading breakfast-lingerers (they of the eggs-and-bacon habit, who
ought never to leave their peaceful English homes) that it would give
them more real pleasure to be first in the shore boats than last at the
table. Then to get them into the boats; then to hypnotize Lady Biddell
and Mrs. Harlow into the belief that they would not, could not, be
seasick on the dancing waves which bobbed us up and down. No time to
think of the letters; much less to feel the strangeness of fate which
brought me back in such queer circumstances to the port I had entered
on the _Laconia_ eight days ago.
"As soon as we get on shore," I soothed my gnawing impatience, "I'll
steal a minute somehow." But each moment was so conspicuously labelled
that I could not be a thief of time--my time, which was my charges'
time, bought and paid for by Sir Marcus Lark.
This was not the first occasion on which I'd heard the clanking of my
chains, for, although I flattered myself that I was a popular success,
popularity had penalties. On the night of the lecture I had used the
passengers. Since then they had used me. Old ladies appealed to me on
questions of etiquette, health or religion, and retailed my answers,
not always correctly. Girls asked my advice about keeping up
flirtations, and men wanted my help in getting out of them. I was
expected to spout pages of Strabo or Pliny at an instant's notice; I
must know why Plato went to Egypt, or how long he stayed; and be umpire
between American and British bridge-players. I must be able to explain
the true meaning and age of the Sphinx; invent new deck games; and show
those who hadn't learned, how to dance the Tango. But with those three
letters burning over my heart the duties of conductor became
It was an awful day; for what was Pompey's Pillar to me while I
remained ignorant of my friends' adventures? As I discoursed (more or
less) learnedly about Diocletian, and Ptolemy's plot to drown Pompey in
the Nile, something inside was asking, "Has Anthony fallen in love with
Monny Gilder?" "What scrapes has that blessed girl got into?" "Has
anything happened to worry Biddy?" Even that nameless but incomparable
tomb on the hill of Kom esh-Shukafa could not distract my thoughts from
the sealed envelopes; and three very modern handwritings came
obstinately between my eyes and the matchless wall-paintings--paintings
as fresh in their underground hiding-place as if finished yesterday
instead of in days when it was dowdy to be pagan, fashionable to be
Corkran, as a soldier, had to guide a band to Aboukir, and chat about
Nelson; point out the medieval fort of Kait Bey, and dash with hired
motors to Adjemi, where Napoleon landed. Kruger took a few studious
pilgrims to that unspoiled Oriental Nile town where the Rosetta Stone
gave the secrets of Ancient Egypt to the world. It was mine to pilot
the "frivolous lot"; to escort them in carriages round the
Italian-looking city when they had absorbed its two chief sights; to give
them a glimpse of the Museum, and to let them see the beauty and fashion
of Alexandria driving out to San Stefano in the late afternoon. Still I
had no chance to read my letters; but, thought I at the hotel, "Now at
last, it has come!" Not at all! People's trunks were missing, or in the
wrong rooms. It was I who had to sooth alarms, and calm rising storms.
It was I who must assure Mrs. Harlow that her room was really
preferable to that of Lady Biddell; and Lady Biddell that she, and not
Miss Hassett-Bean, had the best in the hotel. Still, I had ten minutes
to dress for dinner. Like Mr. Gladstone, I could do it in five, and
have five left for my letters. But hardly had I slipped a paper knife
under the flap of Monny's envelope (I should have felt a vandal to tear
it) when one of the hotel managers knocked at my door. A gentleman was
being very angry in the dining-room. He insisted on seeing me. He said
he had been Lord Mayor of London, and ought to have a window-table. All
these were previously engaged. What was to be done? Would I kindly come
I persuaded Sir John that window-tables were the least desirable, owing
to draughts, and returning to my room, had four minutes to dress or
risk further rows. After dinner Miss Hassett-Bean burst into tears
because she was alone in the world owing to the marmoset's death from
seasickness; and now that she was growing old nobody cared to talk to
her. I argued that people were shy because she was more important than
they, and had a reputation for satire. It took half an hour for the
lady's nose to go from red to pink (I think she had papier poudré in
her handkerchief); and then I was obliged to walk on the beach with
Miss Enid Biddell to keep Mr. Watts from proposing. As Snell relieved
me from sentry duty, I was called by Kruger to discuss certain details
of next morning's start for Cairo; and at midnight, when I crawled to
my room a shattered wreck, the letters were still unread.
"I'm incapable of caring now," I groaned, "what has happened to any of
them. If an earthquake has swallowed up our mountain, and Anthony's
married Monny, and Brigit's been abducted, or vice versa, and Miss
Guest has gone off with the jewels, it will leave me calm."
That was the spirit in which I tossed up a coin to see which letter to
read first. Heads, Monny's; tails, Anthony's; but the penny rolled
away, far under the bed where collar-buttons go, and so--I opened
Biddy's. She began:
MY DEAR GOOD DUFFER!
For any sake hurry back. Make an excuse to leave your pilgrims the
minute you get this, and take the first train to Cairo. Surely the late
conductor can be your understudy, and trot the people round Alexandria
for a day? We need you more than they do. I picture you reading this
early in the morning, with Alexandria still in the distance; for you
said you'd arrange to have letters come out to the yacht by the pilot.
I shall expect a telegram saying by what train you'll arrive here in
the afternoon. You'll understand when I've told you everything, why
it's _necessary_ for you to hurry.
We have done and seen so many things, it seems years instead of days
since you left us in care of that handsome Hadji of yours. I wonder if
really you didn't suspect that I guessed who he was; or _did_ you
suspect; and didn't care? I caught the look in your eyes, when you
first saw him standing under the terrace at Shepheard's, and then, when
the name "Antoun Effendi" came up in the conversation, I put two and
two together. Mrs. East guesses, also. I don't know if she did from the
first, but she does now. It isn't a question of "guessing" with either
of us, really. It's a certainty. Not that she's said anything to me or
I to her. That is the malady of us all since you went. We are boiling
with secret thoughts, and keeping them to ourselves, which is bad for
us and for each other in the long run. I haven't told Monny that the
"Egyptian Prince," as Rachel Guest has nicknamed him, is your friend
Captain Anthony Fenton playing some deep game, partly connected with
us, partly connected with a secret of his and yours; the secret you
said was a "dusty" one in which women would not be interested. I
haven't told her, because I don't want her to know. She is always
talking and thinking about him, and is vexed with herself for doing so.
She tries to stop, but can't. If she knew who he was, she wouldn't try
to stop. She'd let herself go, and feel she was living in a beautiful
romance. So she is living in a romance, but I want you to be the hero
of it, not your Anthony Fenton. That's why I don't open her eyes to the
game that's going on. The man is a perfect devil. Not a bad devil, but
a wild devil.
Mrs. East doesn't tell Monny that Antoun is "Anthony with an h" because
she is enjoying the thought that she alone knows the wonderful truth.
She imagines that she is in love with him. She believes Fate has
brought them together--that he is a "reincarnation," as she is, and
that they ought to belong to each other. Well, let them! She isn't more
than six or seven years older than he, and she's rich (though poor
compared to Monny, of course), and every day she grows handsomer. So
does Monny. As for Rachel Guest--but she is in another part of my
story. Yet no, come to think of it, I'll bring her in now, because if
it weren't for developments concerning that young woman, I might be
able to wait one more day without begging you to come to us. She is
taking Monny away from me; and something odd is going on, I can't make
out what. Anyhow, that horrid Bedr el Gemály is in it. And there's to
be a climax, I'm sure, to-morrow night. You'll get this letter
to-morrow morning, for I'm writing it early, with my hair down my back,
and my coffee not ordered, though I'm starving. We've left Shepheard's
because Monny wanted to live for a few days in a hotel close to the
Nile; and we were all pleased with the plan, for this was once a palace
of Khedive Ismael, and his furniture's still in it, the wildest mixture
of Orientalized French taste. There's a garden, with paths of vermilion
sand brought from somewhere in the desert. But the most convulsive
things live along the Nile Valley and spend their nights braying,
hooting, cooing, whining, bellowing, and barking. If only the donkeys
and dogs and birds and a few other sacred animals of Egypt would be a
little more reticent, especially after dark, the country would be
faultless. But what with worrying myself, and listening to furred and
feathered creatures worrying themselves, I couldn't sleep last night,
and I want you to help me! You'll be here to-morrow afternoon, and I
shall stay in to receive you instead of going to the bazaars with the
others, chaperoned by that dark-eyed devil of yours, "Antoun." I was
there all yesterday, watching crowds of tourists buy beautiful
expensive things for themselves, and horrid inexpensive things to take
to their friends. Cleopatra purchased some disgracefully cheap pearls
no self-respecting _mummy_ would be seen in; and my prophetic soul
tells me that she's going to try and dissolve them in wine.
There's to be a fancy dress ball at this hotel to-morrow night--or
rather in the adjacent Casino, which is one reason we migrated here;
and praise the saints you'll be in time for it because if anything's
going to happen, you'll be able to stop whatever it is. If I were
supposed to know that Antoun was Anthony Fenton, I might take him into
my counsels. As it is, I can't. And anyhow, it wouldn't do much good,
at present, because a silent duel is going on between him and Monny. He
is bent on compelling her to acknowledge his authority. She is bent on
resisting it--which is a great compliment to his power--but he doesn't
know that, for he doesn't know Monny yet. It would be fun to watch them
together, if I hadn't your interests to think of.
He hasn't got rid of Bedr el Gemály; but he would have done so, I'm
sure, if it hadn't been for an unexpected turn of the wheel, by the
hand of Fate in the person of Rachel Guest. Her hand is never _off_ the
wheel just now! The few days since you have been away have brought out
the true inwardness of her. _Felis Domestica_ with very little
_Domestica!_ Perhaps it's the air of Egypt which is having a really
extraordinary effect on all of us; perhaps it's the fact that Monny has
given Rachel a lot of lovely clothes which have rejuvenated and
apparently revitalized her. But you will see for yourself, and talk
things over with Your old friend, Biddy.
This was a nice letter to read, heaven knew how many hours too late!
My fatigue had slipped off like the skin off a grape. I felt energetic
enough to start out and walk to Cairo. What could be in Biddy's mind?
And what must she have thought when afternoon and evening passed
without even a telegram? The evening paper, if she had happened to
look, would have told her that the _Candace_ had reached Alexandria in
the morning, as she expected; and she could neither have guessed nor
believed that the whole day would pass without my having a chance to
read her letter. I ransacked the writing-table drawers for a telegraph
form; and finding one had begun to address it, when I stopped. The
message could not go out until morning. Meanwhile there were Monny's
and Anthony's letters to read. One or both might give me some clue to
the "climax" Biddy feared for to-night at the ball. I cut open Monny's
envelope, which had on it an alluring sunset picture of the Pyramids
and the name of the hotel. Hastily I ran through the pages. Not a hint
of anything disquieting! If I had read her letter instead of Brigit's I
might have gone to my well-earned rest without a qualm.
"Dear Lord Ernest," Miss Gilder addressed me, in a handwriting which to
any "expert" would reveal some originality, more pride, still more
conscientiousness, any amount of self-will, and singularly little
conceit. An odd combination! But the Gilded Rose is that. She went on:
You asked me to write to you while you were away, and tell you the
news, and what I thought about things. But I'm thinking so much and so
fast that I can't sort out my thoughts. I suppose it must be so with
every one who comes to Egypt for the first time. Everything fascinates
and absorbs me, even more than I had hoped it would--almost too much, I
feel sometimes. Your Antoun Effendi is a very good guide, and I am not
sorry that we have him--except once in a while. And now and then I'm
glad. We're proud of his looks when we go about, for every one stares
at him and envies us for having him to take us about, instead of being
condemned to a mere dragoman. Oh, talking of dragomen (you see I _will_
call them that!), we still have Bedr, though I know you thought we
ought to give him up, and I don't see how we are ever to discharge him
now, for he has attached himself to Rachel G. in the most wonderful
way. It is _pathetic_. It began with a talk they had the day you left,
about his having been in America, and about _religion_. She found him
half inclined to be converted, and of course, her goodness and
unselfishness made her long to snatch him like a brand from the
burning. He thinks no one ever talked so wonderfully about religion as
she does, which she, dear thing, attributes to the fact that she taught
Sunday-school in Salem. She says, if she can have him to work upon even
for a few weeks, she is sure to make him a convert.
We haven't wasted a minute since you went away, but have seen sights
from morning till night, so as not to have missed anything when we
leave Cairo on the _Enchantress Isis_. I hope you'll be pleased that
I've given up my dream of having a private dahabeah, and that we shall
be with you on Sir Marcus Lark's boat. She is really a beauty. Antoun
took us over her, and on board we met Sir Marcus, who was showing some
friends round. Antoun introduced him to us. I think Sir M. asked him to
do it. We had great fun, for Sir Marcus seemed to take the most violent
fancy to Aunt Clara, who didn't like him at all. She says now that she
believes when she was Cleopatra he was Caesar, and that it's a pity he
can't wear a wreath to hide his baldness, as she remembers his doing
then. It's only a _very_ little bald spot, really, and Rachel Guest
says it reminds her of a tonsure on the head of a fine-looking monk.
Aunt C. quite resents Sir Marcus being able to engage the services of
you and Antoun. She wants you both to be there, but she doesn't like
Sir M. to have a superior position to Antoun's. That day on the
_Enchantress Isis_ Sir M. invited us to have tea on the deck, and it
really was enchanting; a deck like a huge open-air drawingroom, or one
of our biggest verandas at Newport, or somewhere, with jolly green
wicker chairs and tables and sofas with heaps of cushions. But I
forgot--you've seen the boat. The best rooms _were_ engaged, but when
we talked to Sir Marcus, he called a man who can speak many languages
in bits--broken English, cracked German, fractured French, and goodness
knows what all. Between them, they arranged it somehow that we should
have our choice, and the other people were to take what was left. I
would have refused, because it didn't seem fair, but it was for Aunt
Clara's sake, evidently, that Sir M. wanted to make the exchange, and
_she_ accepted. She was as haughty as a queen, but in rather a
fascinating, soft way that I think men like. And she was looking
beautiful. So is Rachel, as even Biddy admits. I do believe Rachel
looks younger than I do, in some new dresses and hats she has. I never
noticed before, but I fancy now that we're rather alike. I'm so
delighted to see her enjoying herself so much, for you know, she's
_wonderful_. Think what courage it must have taken to break with her
tiresome old life, because she felt she must see the glory of the
world, when a tiny legacy gave her the chance she'd longed for. She
wouldn't have had a penny left, after she'd finished her trip, if Aunt
C. and I hadn't been able to help her out. It's a privilege to do
anything for such a brave creature. And I can't bear to think of her
having to go back when this is over, to the dull round. Perhaps some
way out will be found for her.
I've fallen in love with Cairo, although--or perhaps because--I still
feel as if I were moving in a marvellous picture. Antoun does make it
live for us! I will say that for him, though he can be so annoying that
at times he spoils everything, and makes me wish you'd won my hat
instead of my winning his green turban. I'm dying to find out how you
got it. But, of course, I can't ask him: it would be _infra dig_. You
_must_ tell me when you come. I think the one he wears now is handsomer
though. I wish I could change it for mine.
We have been to heaps of mosques, and I can't help wishing we were the
only tourists in Cairo. Of course, this is a selfish wish; and as dear
Biddy says, it's quite funny to think how each tourist feels that _he_
is the only spiritual-minded, imaginative person travelling--that he
alone has the right to be in Egypt--that all the others are offensive,
vulgar creatures, who desecrate the beautiful places with their
presence. But really, you know, it gets on one's nerves, meeting droves
of silly men in pith helmets with little white lambrequins looped up,
when it would be so much more appropriate to wear the kind of hats they
have at home. And some of the women are _weird!_ They have the queerest
ideas of what is suitable for Egypt. One friend of Bedr's refused to go
about and be seen with the ladies who'd engaged him, as he was the
smartest dragoman in Cairo and had his reputation to keep up. Don't you
_like_ that? Even Antoun laughed--which he hardly ever does. He's so
dignified I wish his turban would blow off or something. I _wonder_ how
he'd look without it, and if most of the charm would be gone? Almost, I
hope so. One doesn't like to catch one's self feeling toward an
Egyptian, even for a minute, as one does toward men of one's own blood
--I mean, on the same level, or even as if a person like that were
_above_ one. It's just the picturesque dignity of the _costume_, and
the _pose,_ perhaps. And then, this strange glamour of the East is over
everybody and everything, here. I used to wonder why people wrote and
spoke of the East as _mysterious._ Why should it be more mysterious
than the West? I would ask. Nobody could explain exactly. They said
only, "It is." Now I know why--at least I _feel_ why. Without his green
turban, or in European coat instead of his graceful silk robe, and away
from these luminous sunsets of pale rose and gold and emerald, Antoun
would be nothing extraordinary, would he? He says he is considered old
fashioned in his way of dress. Most of his friends wear European
clothes, and the tarboosh which Egyptians love because it never blows
away or falls off when they pray. He _does_ make me angry, because he
wants to banish the beggars and poor men who sell things in the street,
instead of letting me give and buy. What am I _for_, with all my money,
except to do things for people? And it's such fun making them happy by
saying "I _want_ a cat-necklace--" or a scarab, or whatever they have,
instead of pushing past with a stony glare as if they were dust under
our feet. Of course we're attended by great crowds whereever we go,
because it's got round that we don't refuse any one, consequently it
takes a _little_ long to arrive anywhere. But what does that matter in
Egypt? Already I'm losing my American hustle. I want to eat lotuses,
which seem out of season in Egypt now! I've asked for them everywhere
but can't get them. I want to feel back in the Middle Ages, in Cairo,
which, as Antoun says, is an Oriental and Medieval Gateway to the Egypt
older than history. And how I am looking forward to the _Desert!_ Sir
Marcus tells us that _you_ are to take the people of the _Candace_ for
a desert trip before they go up the Nile; so of course you must count
us among your "trippers," and Mr. Willis and Mr. Sheridan, who have
settled to go on the _Isis_. You didn't mention the desert plan before
you went away!
No news of that poor, beautiful child, Wretched Bey's wife though I've
written twice. I'm worried about her. Mabel she used to be. Now she's
Mabella Hânem! Biddy says you'll arrive for the ball to-morrow night.
But somehow I don't _feel_ you will. I don't know why you should. Men
don't care for such things much. And of course I shall not dance, as
I'm still in half mourning. I shall only look on, and then--Rachel and
I have an amusing plan for the end of the evening. But even if you
came, we couldn't let you into the secret, as you would think it silly.
Mine "sincerely, Rosamond Gilder!" So she ended her letter, with
youthful and characteristic dignity, childishly unaware, apparently,
that there was more to read between the lines than in the lines
Had I read this Rosamond letter first, the last four or five sentences
would have meant little for me. As it was, I would have given a month
out of my future for the gift of an astral body which could go this
minute to the ball at the Ghezireh Palace. I was lost in the mystery of
that "amusing plan."
In Anthony's letter lay my last hope of a clue. But in it there was
none. He did not even mention Monny's name. It was all about that
"desert trip" which, from her, I hadn't taken seriously. Sir Marcus was
actually planning it. Kruger had written that some of the passengers
were clamouring for a few days' camping, and the idea was to send them
off in my care, after three days in Cairo, while the others remained in
charge of Antoun, who wasn't yet ready to leave. Fenton said:
Somebody's trying to defeat my scheme for getting the sheikh's tomb
moved. I don't know who it is yet. Meanwhile my time and my head are so
full, that in the few hours of the night I put aside for sleep, I dream
queerer dreams than the visits of ghostly sheikhs. Apropos of dreams,
do you know by chance a man who answers this description: elderly,
stoutish, red face, gray hair, black moustache, pale eyes with sharp
look in them. Sounds commonplace, doesn't it?
But I have a recurring dream of such a man, whose face I never saw
elsewhere. For the last three nights, as soon as I shut my eyes, he
comes. He seems to interrupt some scene between you and Lark, and
myself, and I see him looking over Lark's shoulder. Then he turns
quickly away, and tiptoes off to a very low, closed door in a deep
recess. There he disappears into shadow--and I wake up with a jump, or
slide off into another dream--but generally this rouses me, for there's
an impression of something stealthy in the shadow round the door. That
so ordinary a type of person should be in a dream. You'll laugh at my
asking if you've ever known such a man, and say that I'm back at my old
tricks again, as a dreamer of dreams. Never mind, I scored, dreaming of
our Mountain of the Golden Pyramid the night before I got your letter
with Ferlini's papers. I can't help feeling that there may be something
in dreams--in mine, anyhow, though I never have any except in Egypt.
This one about the red-faced man and the closed door in the deep recess
is getting a bit on my nerves.
Excited as I was over the patchwork of news, I laughed scornfully at
Anthony's dream. For the man he described might be Colonel Corkran.
THE SECRET MONNY KEPT
Cairo at last! My watch said that the journey took only three hours;
but my nerves said six.
I had telegraphed Biddy first thing in the morning the hour of my
arrival with the "_Candace crowd_," and I half expected to see her at
the big white and red station, but there was no familiar form in the
throng, the gay throng which excited my charges. Everything interested
them; the black face of the Sudanese engine driver who looked down from
his huge British locomotive, the display of English, French and German
literature mingled with Greek, Italian, Arab, or Turkish papers on the
bookstall; the ebony and copper-coloured luggage carriers who seemed
eager to take one another's lives, but in reality desired no more than
to snatch each other's jobs, under the eyes of the uniformed
hotel-porters. To me, the busy place was a desert, lacking one face.
Even outside the station-yard, and in the streets and squares where
silent camels looked their contempt of electric trams, soldiers in
khaki uniforms jostled Bedouins in khaki robes, and drivers of arabeahs
made the way one long procession of shrieks, I still glanced at passing
carriages in hopes of a belated Biddy. All in vain! And destitute of
news I resigned myself to the task of piloting the Set out to Mena
House. The moon would be full that night--and it's "the thing" to be a
neighbour of the Sphinx while the moon feeds her with honey.
The Flock, under the guidance of Mr. Watts, had now definitely parted
from the Set, chieftained by me. They went meekly off to the cheaper
hotels, where they would live before boarding the _Candace_ again for
Palestine, and Colonel Corkran, who was supposed to have joined that
party, had announced that he was "bound for a long talk with Mark the
Lark." Mr. Watts, refused by Enid Biddell and separated from her, had
relapsed into melancholia. He had ceased to brilliantine his once sleek
hair, and dust and crumbs were allowed to collect in each fold of his
clerical waistcoat. As we of the Set buzzed richly away in taxicabs, I
saw him in a shabby arabeah between two old ladies, gazing wistfully
after us. He was envying me Enid!
It is a wonderful drive through Cairo to the Pyramids, whether you spin
out there in a motor, or trot on a donkey, or lilt on a camel,
squatting cross-legged on a load of green bersím. Past the great
swinging bridge, and the Island of Ghezireh (the word that in itself
means "island") begins the six-mile dyke, which is the road made by
Ismaïl to please the Empress Eugénie. Since her visit, in the days when
the Suez Canal was opened, it has pleased two empresses, and more
queens than I have time to count. Under the deep shade of lebbek trees
it goes on and on, toward the Pyramids, a dark cool avenue, high above
cultivated fields flooded by the Nile when the river is "up." The
emerald waves of grain flow like green water to the foot of the broad
dyke-road, and canals like long, tight-drawn blue ribbons are threaded
through it, their ends lost to sight at the shimmering horizon.
Even at this noon hour when the world should have been eating lotuses
or luncheon, the interminable arbour was crowded with strings of
camels, forever going both ways, into Cairo and out, one wondered why
--and there were flocks of woolly brown sheep, and donkeys drawing
sideless carts in which whole families of veiled women and half-naked
children were seated tailor fashion. On we spun, past the Zoo, past
scattered villas of Frenchified, Oriental fashion which might have been
designed by a confectioner: past azure lakes left by the ebbing Nile,
and so into sudden dazzling sight of three geometric mountains in a
tawny desert--two, monsters in size, and one a baby trying to catch up
"Oh!" everybody breathed. For these things were beyond words.
Then in a moment more the Great Pyramid had grown so big that it loomed
over us, and ate up half the sky--a pyre of yellow flame against a
flame of blue.
We were at the end of the shadowy road that leads like a causeway to
the desert, and on the verge of the golden, billowing sea which flows
round the Pyramids and engulfs the distant Sphinx. Oriental life
encircled us, in the foreground of the picture--a long row of waiting
camels gaily saddled and tasselled, delicately nibbling bersím green as
heaped emeralds--donkeys white and gray, beribboned and beaded--small
yellow sandcarts; little white, desert horses and tall brown, desert
men; camels snarling, donkeys braying, horses whinnying, and men
touting. "Very nice sandcarts--very nice camels! Take ladies and
gentlemen quick to Pyramids and Sphinx or Petrified Forest!" Farther
on, the big, modern hotel, rather like an overgrown Swiss chalet built
by Arabs--a vast, confused building the colour of sand or brown heather
honey, with carved mushrbiyeh work lending an Eastern charm to windows,
balconies, and loggias, and enough green, flowery garden to give a
sensational effect of contrast with the tidal wave of desert poised
ready, it would seem, to overwhelm palms and roses. Clustered near, the
tiny mushroom village which huddles under the shelter of Cheops'
Pyramid. Beyond, the immense upward sweep of golden dunes, culminating
in the Great Pyramid itself.
I stayed in the picture only long enough to settle my big children into
their quarters, and to see most of them making for the dining-room,
agreeably Oriental with its white and red walls, its dome and windows
of mushrbiyeh work. Then I darted back to Cairo, in a taxi driven by a
Nubian youth, so black that he was almost blue, like a whortleberry. He
wore a scarlet tarboosh, a livery of violet, and the holes for silver
rings in the tops of his ears were so large that the light shining
through gave the effect of inserted diamonds. Unconsciously he made a
nice contrast with his modern motor.
He drove with such reckless speed that camels "rubber-necked" to look
at us--and whirled me past the fat black gate-keeper into the Ghezireh
Palace garden of scarlet paths, moonlike lamps, Khedivial statues, and
spreading banyans where each tree continued itself in its own "next
number," like an endless serial romance.
I nearly asked for Mrs. O'Brien, but turned her into Jones at the
danger point. The face of the concierge, as he said that she was at
home, conveyed nothing, yet I could not resist adding, "Are the ladies
"Mrs. East is not very well to-day," he replied. "We have had the
doctor; but the young ladies have been out spending the night with
friends, I believe. They have not yet returned."
It was a long five minutes before Biddy and I were wildly shaking hands
in a huge private sitting-room all red-and-gold brocade and crystal
chandeliers, as it had been in the days of Ismaïl. I knew I should be
delighted to see her, but I didn't realize that it was going to be
quite as good as it was.
"Anyhow, _you're_ all right and safe," I heard myself blurt out.
"I'm safe, but not all right!" she reproached me. "My messenger who
went to the train didn't find you from my description, I know, because
he came back with my note----"
"Too flattering, was your description, or the other way?" I asked,
trying to buoy her up with frivolity.
"You wouldn't joke if you'd read the note. Oh, Ernest, Monny and Rachel
"Good gracious! But Anthony----"
"He went to look for them, of course; and he's disappeared, too."
"By Jove!" The exclamation sounded inadequate, but I was so taken aback
that I had nothing else to say. It seemed impossible that Anthony,
instead of averting danger, could be involved in it himself. It was
unlike his resourcefulness. I could not believe it of him, and so,
when I had time to control mind and tongue, I said as much to Biddy.
"Yes, I felt like that, too, at first," she admitted. "He gives one the
impression of being so infallible in any emergency, somehow, as if he'd
be above it, and look down on it from his height. But it's more than
twelve hours since he went, and he promised to send me word how things
were going on if he couldn't get to me himself. No word has come."
"What have you done?" I asked. "Have you communicated with the police?"
"Sir Marcus Lark has. He was at the ball, and has been very good. But
it's for Mrs. East's sake, mostly. One feels he's glad it happened, to
give him the chance to win her gratitude--or something. He's been back
and forth all day; and I'm expecting him any minute. Mrs. East has been
fainting and hysterical, and everything early Edwardian, so I sent for
a doctor. But she's better on the strength of _sal volatile_ and
eggnog, and she's promised to see Sir Marcus."
"Now tell me what happened, from the beginning," I said, when I had
made Biddy sit down by me on the sofa, and was trying to warm a cold
little hand in mine.
What it all amounted to, told disjointedly, was this: Since Monny had
had an inspiration the day after our arrival in Cairo, to give Rachel
Guest a lot of her new unworn clothes, Rachel had become quite girlish
and "flighty." She had lost her puritan primness, and behaved more in
accordance with her slanting eyes than with her bringing up. She
giggled like a schoolgirl rather than a schoolmistress, tried to make
herself look young, and copied Monny in the way she tilted her hat and
dressed her hair. No harm in this; but it had seemed to Biddy that
Rachel deliberately incited the girl to do things which "Antoun"
disapproved. Brigit fancied that Bedr's influence had been at work, for
knowing as he did that "Antoun" would gladly have given him marching
orders, he took pleasure in thwarting his superior when he could do so
with safety. Bedr had been clever in enlisting the girls' sympathy for
his soul. As for Biddy, she had disliked him from the first, and
imagined that he had tacked himself onto our party as a spy, upon the
receipt of orders from America, he having learned most of his English
there. The idea appeared so far-fetched that she had abandoned it. Now,
however, it was again hovering at the back of her mind.
Bedr had told Rachel stories of the fascination of hasheesh smoking,
and had said that no stranger knew Cairo who did not visit one of the
"best houses" where hasheesh, though forbidden, was still secretly
smoked. He had assured her that there were several which were
"perfectly respectable," even for the "nicest ladies and gentlemen;"
and Rachel, probably at his suggestion, had tried to persuade Monny to
make the expedition. Monny had mentioned it to "Antoun," in the
presence of everybody; and as Rachel and Bedr had looked guilty, Biddy
guessed that they had wished to keep the plan a secret.
"Antoun" had perhaps too brusquely vetoed the idea. He said that there
were no such houses, which could be visited by ladies, and that it was
absurd to think of going. That word "absurd" stung Monny. She began to
protest that Bedr knew Cairo as well as Antoun did, and was as likely
to be right. "I don't see why we shouldn't go, if others do," she
persisted, "and I've always longed to know what a hasheesh dream was
like, ever since I read De Quincey. A little, just once, could do us no
harm, and Rachel says----"
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