Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Carpet from Bagdad
Author: MacGrath, Harold, 1871-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Carpet from Bagdad" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



available by the Google Books Library Project (http://books.google.com)



      Images of the original pages are available through
      the Google Books Library Project. See
      http://www.google.com/books?id=KClwkmqxc-MC



THE CARPET FROM BAGDAD


[Illustration]


THE CARPET FROM BAGDAD

by

HAROLD MACGRATH

Author of
A Splendid Hazard
The Man on the Box

With Illustrations by Andre Castaigne



Indianapolis
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Publishers

Copyright 1911
The Bobbs-Merrill Company



TO
ROBERT HICHENS



  _The wild hawk to the windswept sky,_
    _The deer to the wholesome wold,_
  _And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid,_
    _As it was in the days of old._

                        --_Rudyard Kipling._



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
      I WHAT'S IN A NAME?                                              1
     II AN AFFABLE ROGUE                                              20
    III THE HOLY YHIORDES                                             37
     IV AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE                                           55
      V THE GIRL WHO WASN'T WANTED                                    74
     VI MOONLIGHT AND POETRY                                          96
    VII RYANNE TABLES HIS CARDS                                      114
   VIII THE PURLOINED CABLE                                          132
     IX THE BITTER FRUIT                                             145
      X MAHOMED LAUGHS                                               160
     XI EPISODIC                                                     179
    XII THE CARAVAN IN THE DESERT                                    200
   XIII NOT A CHEERFUL OUTLOOK                                       219
    XIV MAHOMED OFFERS FREEDOM                                       240
     XV FORTUNE'S RIDDLE SOLVED                                      259
    XVI MAHOMED RIDES ALONE                                          279
   XVII MRS. CHEDSOYE HAS HER DOUBTS                                 301
  XVIII THE MAN WHO DIDN'T CARE                                      323
    XIX FORTUNE DECIDES                                              337
     XX MARCH HARES                                                  354
    XXI A BOTTLE OF WINE                                             367
   XXII THE END OF THE PUZZLE                                        380



CHAPTER I

WHAT'S IN A NAME?


To possess two distinctly alien red corpuscles in one's blood,
metaphorically if not in fact, two characters or individualities under
one epidermis, is, in most cases, a peculiar disadvantage. One hears of
scoundrels and saints striving to consume one another in one body,
angels and harpies; but ofttimes, quite the contrary to being a curse,
these two warring temperaments become a man's ultimate blessing: as in
the case of George P. A. Jones, of Mortimer & Jones, the great
metropolitan Oriental rug and carpet company, all of which has a
dignified, sonorous sound. George was divided within himself. This he
would not have confessed even into the trusted if battered ear of the
Egyptian Sphynx. There was, however, no demon-angel sparring for points
in George's soul. The difficulty might be set forth in this manner: On
one side stood inherent common sense; on the other, a boundless, roseate
imagination which was likewise inherent--a kind of quixote imagination
of suitable modern pattern. This _alter ego_ terrified him whenever it
raised its strangely beautiful head and shouldered aside his
guardian-angel (for that's what common sense is, argue to what end you
will) and pleaded in that luminous rhetoric under the spell of which our
old friend Sancho often fell asleep.

P. A., as they called him behind the counters, was but twenty-eight, and
if he was vice-president in his late father's shoes he didn't wabble
round in them to any great extent. In a crowd he was not noticeable; he
didn't stand head and shoulders above his fellow-men, nor would he have
been mistaken by near-sighted persons, the myopes, for the Vatican's
Apollo in the flesh. He was of medium height, beardless, slender, but
tough and wiry and enduring. You may see his prototype on the streets a
dozen times the day, and you may also pass him without turning round for
a second view. Young men like P. A. must be intimately known to be
admired; you did not throw your arm across his neck, first-off. His
hair was brown and closely clipped about a head that would have gained
the attention of the phrenologist, if not that of the casual passer-by.
His bumps, in the phraseology of that science, were good ones. For the
rest, he observed the world through a pair of kindly, shy, blue eyes.

Young girls, myopic through ignorance or silliness, seeing nothing
beyond what the eyes see, seldom gave him a second inspection; for he
did not know how to make himself attractive, and was mortally afraid of
the opposite, or opposing, sex. He could bully-rag a sheik out of his
camels' saddle-bags, but petticoats and lace parasols and small Oxfords
had the same effect upon him that the prodding stick of a small boy has
upon a retiring turtle. But many a worldly-wise woman, drawing out with
tact and kindness the truly beautiful thoughts of this young man's soul,
sadly demanded of fate why a sweet, clean boy like this one had not been
sent to her in her youth. You see, the worldly-wise woman knows that it
is invariably the lay-figure and not Prince Charming that a woman
marries, and that matrimony is blindman's-buff for grown-ups.

Many of us lay the blame upon our parents. We shift the burden of
wondering why we have this fault and lack that grace to the shoulders of
our immediate forebears. We go to the office each morning denying that
we have any responsibility; we let the boss do the worrying. But George
never went prospecting in his soul for any such dross philosophy. He was
grateful for having had so beautiful a mother; proud of having had so
honest a sire; and if either of them had endued him with false weights
he did his best to even up the balance.

The mother had been as romantic as any heroine out of Mrs. Radcliff's
novels, while the father had owned to as much romance as one generally
finds in a thorough business man, which is practically none at all. The
very name itself is a bulwark against the intrusions of romance. One can
not lift the imagination to the prospect of picturing a Jones in ruffles
and highboots, pinking a varlet in the midriff. It smells of
sugar-barrels and cotton-bales, of steamships and railroads, of stolid
routine in the office and of placid concern over the daily news under
the evening lamp.

Mrs. Jones, lovely, lettered yet not worldly, had dreamed of her boy,
bayed and decorated, marrying the most distinguished woman in all
Europe, whoever she might be. Mr. Jones had had no dreams at all, and
had put the boy to work in the shipping department a little while after
the college threshold had been crossed, outward bound. The mother, while
sweet and gentle, had a will, iron under velvet, and when she held out
for Percival Algernon and a decent knowledge of modern languages, the
old man agreed if, on the other hand, the boy's first name should be
George and that he should learn the business from the cellar up. There
were several tilts over the matter, but at length a truce was declared.
It was agreed that the boy himself ought to have a word to say upon a
subject which concerned him more vitally than any one else. So, at the
age of fifteen, when he was starting off for preparatory school, he was
advised to choose for himself. He was an obedient son, adoring his
mother and idolizing his father. He wrote himself down as George
Percival Algernon Jones, promised to become a linguist and to learn the
rug business from the cellar up. On the face of it, it looked like a big
job; it all depended upon the boy.

The first day at school his misery began. He had signed himself as
George P. A. Jones, no small diplomacy for a lad; but the two initials,
standing up like dismantled pines in the midst of uninteresting
landscape, roused the curiosity of his school-mates. Boys are boys the
world over, and possess a finesse in cruelty that only the Indian can
match; and it did not take them long to unearth the fatal secret. For
three years he was Percy Algy, and not only the boys laughed, but the
pretty girls sniggered. Many a time he had returned to his dormitory
decorated (not in accord with the fond hopes of his mother) with a
swollen ear, or a ruddy proboscis, or a green-brown eye. There was a
limit, and when they stepped over that, why, he proceeded to the best of
his ability to solve the difficulty with his fists. George was no
milksop; but Percival Algernon would have been the Old Man of the Sea on
broader shoulders than his. He dimly realized that had he been named
George Henry William Jones his sun would have been many diameters
larger. There was a splendid quality of pluck under his apparent
timidity, and he stuck doggedly to it. He never wrote home and
complained. What was good enough for his mother was good enough for him.

It seemed just an ordinary matter of routine for him to pick up French
and German verbs. He was far from being brilliant, but he was sensitive
and his memory was sound. Since his mother's ambition was to see him an
accomplished linguist, he applied himself to the task as if everything
in the world depended upon it, just as he knew that when the time came
he would apply himself as thoroughly to the question of rugs and
carpets.

Under all this filial loyalty ran the pure strain of golden romance,
side by side with the lesser metal of practicality. When he began to
read the masters he preferred their romances to their novels. He even
wrote poetry in secret, and when his mother discovered the fact she
cried over the sentimental verses. The father had to be told. He laughed
and declared that the boy would some day develop into a good writer of
advertisements. This quiet laughter, unburdened as it was with ridicule,
was enough to set George's muse a-winging, and she never came back.

After leaving college he was given a modest letter of credit and told
to go where he pleased for a whole year. George started out at once in
quest of the Holy Grail, and there are more roads to that than there are
to Rome. One may be reasonably sure of getting into Rome, whereas the
Holy Grail (diversified, variable, innumerable) is always the exact sum
of a bunch of hay hanging before old Dobbin's nose. Nevertheless, George
galloped his fancies with loose rein. He haunted the romantic quarters
of the globe; he hunted romance, burrowed and plowed for it; and never
his spade clanged musically against the hidden treasure, never a forlorn
beauty in distress, not so much as chapter one of the Golden Book
offered its dazzling first page. George lost some confidence.

Two or three times a woman looked into the young man's mind, and in his
guilelessness they effected sundry holes in his letter of credit, but
left his soul singularly untouched. The red corpuscle, his father's
gift, though it lay dormant, subconsciously erected barriers. He was
innocent, but he was no fool. That one year taught him the lesson,
rather cheaply, too. If there was any romance in life, it came
uninvited, and if courted and sought was as quick on the wing as that
erstwhile poesy muse.

The year passed, and while he had not wholly given up the quest, the
practical George agreed with the romantic Percival to shelve it
indefinitely. He returned to New York with thirty-pounds sterling out of
the original thousand, a fact that rejuvenated his paternal parent by
some ten years.

"Jane, that boy is all right. Percival Algernon could not kill a boy
like that."

"Do you mean to infer that it ever could?" Sometimes a qualm wrinkled
her conscience. Her mother's heart told her that her son ought not to be
shy and bashful, that it was not in the nature of his blood to suspect
ridicule where there was none. Perhaps she had handicapped him with
those names; but it was too late now to admit of this, and useless,
since it would not have remedied the evil.

Jones hemmed and hawed for a space. "No," he answered; "but I was afraid
he might try to live up to it; and no Percival Algernon who lived up to
it could put his nose down to a Shah Abbas and tell how many knots it
had to the square inch. I'll start him in on the job to-morrow."

Whereupon the mother sat back dreamily. Now, where was the girl worthy
her boy? Monumental question, besetting every mother, from Eve down,
Eve, whose trials in this direction must have been heartrending!

George left the cellar in due time, and after that he went up the ladder
in bounds, on his own merit, mind you, for his father never stirred a
hand to boost him. He took the interest in rugs that turns a buyer into
a collector; it became a fascinating pleasure rather than a business. He
became invaluable to the house, and acquired some fame as a judge and an
appraiser. When the chief-buyer retired George was given the position,
with an itinerary that carried him half way round the planet once a
year, to Greece, Turkey, Persia, Arabia, and India, the lands of the
genii and the bottles, of arabesques, of temples and tombs, of
many-colored turbans and flowing robes and distracting tongues. He
walked always in a kind of mental enchantment.

The suave and elusive Oriental, with his sharp practices, found his
match in this pleasant young man, who knew the history of the very wools
and cottons and silks woven in a rug or carpet. So George prospered,
became known in strange places, by strange peoples; and saw romance,
light of foot and eager of eye, pass and repass; learned that romance
did not essentially mean falling in love or rescuing maidens from
burning houses and wrecks; that, on the contrary, true romance was
kaleidoscopic, having more brilliant facets than a diamond; and that the
man who begins with nothing and ends with something is more wonderful
than any excursion recounted by Sinbad or any tale by Scheherazade. But
he still hoped that the iridescent goddess would some day touch his
shoulder and lead him into that maze of romance so peculiar to his own
fancy.

And then into this little world of business and pleasure came death and
death again, leaving him alone and with a twisted heart. Riches mattered
little, and the sounding title of vice-president still less. It was with
a distinct shock that he realized the mother and the father had been
with him so long that he had forgotten to make other friends. From one
thing to another he turned in hope to soothe the smart, to heal the
wound; and after a time he drifted, as all shy, intelligent and
imaginative men drift who are friendless, into the silent and intimate
comradeship of inanimate things, such as jewels, ivories, old metals,
rare woods and ancient embroideries, and perhaps more comforting than
all these, good books.

The proper tale of how the aforesaid iridescent goddess jostled (for it
scarce may be said that she led) him into a romance lacking neither
comedy nor tragedy, now begins with a trifling bit of retrospection. One
of those women who were not good and who looked into the clear pool of
the boy's mind saw the harmless longing there, and made note, hoping to
find profit by her knowledge when the pertinent day arrived. She was a
woman so pleasing, so handsome, so adroit, that many a man, older and
wiser than George, found her mesh too strong for him. Her plan matured,
suddenly and brilliantly, as projects of men and women of her class and
caliber without variation do.

Late one December afternoon (to be precise, 1909), George sat on the
tea-veranda of the Hotel Semiramis in Cairo. A book lay idly upon his
knees. It was one of those yarns in which something was happening every
other minute. As adventures go, George had never had a real one in all
his twenty-eight years, and he believed that fate had treated him rather
shabbily. He didn't quite appreciate her reserve. No matter how late he
wandered through the mysterious bazaars, either here in Egypt or over
yonder in India, nothing ever befell more exciting than an argument with
a carriage-driver. He never carried small-arms, for he would not have
known how to use them. The only deadly things in his hands were
bass-rods and tennis-racquets. No, nothing ever happened to him; yet he
never met a man in a ship's smoke-room who hadn't run the gamut of
thrilling experiences. As George wasn't a liar himself, he believed all
he saw and most of what he heard.

Well, here he was, eight-and-twenty, a pocket full of money, a heart
full of life, and as hopeless an outlook, so far as romance and
adventure were concerned, as an old maid in a New England village. Why
couldn't things befall him as they did the chap in this book? He was
sure he could behave as well, if not better; for this fellow was too
handsome, too brave, too strong, not to be something of an ass once in a
while.

"George, you old fool, what's the use?" he thought. "What's the use of a
desire that never goes in a straight line, but always round and round in
a circle?"

He thrust aside his grievance and surrendered to the never-ending wonder
of the Egyptian sunset; the Nile feluccas, riding upon perfect
reflections; the date-palms, black and motionless against the
translucent blue of the sky; the amethystine prisms of the Pyramids, and
the deepening gold of the desert's brim. He loved the Orient, always so
new, always so strange, yet ever so old and familiar.

A carriage stopped in front, and his gaze naturally shifted. There is
ceaseless attraction in speculating about new-comers in a hotel, what
they are, what they do, where they come from, and where they are going.
A fine elderly man of fifty got out. In the square set of his shoulders,
the flowing white mustache and imperial, there was a suggestion of
militarism. He was immediately followed by a young woman of twenty,
certainly not over that age. George sighed wistfully. He envied those
polo-players and gentleman-riders and bridge-experts who were stopping
at the hotel. It wouldn't be an hour after dinner before some one of
them found out who she was and spoke to her in that easy style which he
concluded must be a gift rather than an accomplishment. You mustn't
suppose for a minute that George wasn't well-born and well-bred, simply
because his name was Jones. Many a Fitz-Hugh Maurice or Hugh
Fitz-Maurice might have been---- But, no matter. He knew instinctively,
then, what elegance was when he saw it, and this girl was elegant, in
dress, in movement. He rather liked the pallor of her skin, which hinted
that she wasn't one of those athletic girls who bounced in and out of
the dining-room, talking loudly and smoking cigarettes and playing
bridge for sixpenny points. She was tall. He was sure that her eyes were
on the level with his own. The grey veil that drooped from the rim of
her simple Leghorn hat to the tip of her nose obscured her eyes, so he
could not know that they were large and brown and indefinably sad. They
spoke not of a weariness of travel, but of a weariness of the world,
more precisely, of the people who inhabited it.

She and her companion passed on into the hotel, and if George's eyes
veered again toward the desert over which the stealthy purples of night
were creeping, the impulse was mechanical; he saw nothing. In truth, he
was desperately lonesome, and he knew, moreover, that he had no business
to be. He was young; he could at a pinch tell a joke as well as the next
man; and if he had never had what he called an adventure, he had seen
many strange and wonderful things and could describe them with that
mental afterglow which still lingers over the sunset of our first
expressions in poetry. But there was always that hydra-headed monster,
for ever getting about his feet, numbing his voice, paralyzing his
hands, and never he lopped off a head that another did not instantly
grow in its place. Even the sword of Perseus could not have saved him,
since one has to get away from an object in order to cut it down.

Had he really ever tried to overcome this monster? Had he not waited for
the propitious moment (which you and I know never comes) to throw off
this species from Hades? It is all very well, when you are old and dried
up, to turn to ivories and metals and precious stones; but when a
fellow's young! You can't shake hands with an ivory replica of the Taj
Mahal, nor exchange pleasantries with a Mandarin's ring, nor yet confide
joys and ills into a casket of rare emeralds; indeed, they do but
emphasize one's loneliness. If only he had had a dog; but one can not
carry a dog half way round the world and back, at least not with
comfort. What with all these new-fangled quarantine laws, duties, and
fussy ships' officers who wouldn't let you keep the animal in your
state-room, traveling with a four-footed friend was almost an
impossibility. To be sure, women with poodles.... And then, there was
the bitter of acid in the knowledge that no one ever came up to him and
slapped him on the shoulder with a--"_Hel_-lo, Georgie, old sport;
what's the good word?" for the simple fact that his shoulder was always
bristling with spikes, born of the fear that some one was making fun of
him.

Perchance his mother's spirit, hovering over him this evening, might
have been inclined to tears. For they do say that the ghosts of the dear
ones are thus employed when we are near to committing some folly, or to
exploring some forgotten chamber of Pandora's box, or worse still, when
that lady intends emptying the whole contents down upon our unfortunate
heads. If so be, they were futile tears; Percival Algernon had
accomplished its deadly purpose.

Pandora? Well, then, for the benefit of the children. She was a lady who
was an intimate friend of the mythological gods. They liked her
appearance so well that they one day gave her a box, casket, chest, or
whatever it was, to guard. By some marvelous method, known only of gods,
they had got together all the trials and tribulations of mankind (and
some of the joys) and locked them up in this casket It was the Golden
Age then, as you may surmise. You recall Eve and the Apple? Well,
Pandora was a forecast of Eve; she couldn't keep her eyes off the latch,
and at length her hands--Fatal curiosity! Whirr! And everything has been
at sixes and at sevens since that time. Pandora is eternally recurring,
now here, now there; she is a blonde sometimes, and again she is a
brunette; and you may take it from George and me that there is always
something left in the casket.

George closed the book and consulted his sailing-list. In a short time
he would leave for Port Saïd, thence to Naples, Christmas there, and
home in January. Business had been ripping. He would be jolly glad to
get home again, to renew his comradeship with his treasures. And, by
Jove! there _was_ one man who slapped him on the shoulder, and he was no
less a person than the genial president of the firm, his father's
partner, at present his own. If the old chap had had a daughter now....
And here one comes at last to the bottom of the sack. He had only one
definite longing, a healthy human longing, the only longing worth while
in all this deep, wide, round old top: to love a woman and by her be
loved.

At exactly half after six the gentleman with the reversible cuffs
arrived; and George missed his boat.



CHAPTER II

AN AFFABLE ROGUE


The carriage containing the gentleman with the reversible cuffs drew up
at the side entrance. Instantly the Arab guides surged and eddied round
him; but their clamor broke against a composure as effective as granite.
The roar was almost directly succeeded by a low gurgle, as of little
waves receding. The proposed victim had not spoken a word; to the Arabs
it was not necessary; in some manner, subtle and indescribable, they
recognized a brother. He carried a long, cylindrical bundle wrapped in
heavy paper variously secured by windings of thick twine. His regard for
this bundle was one of tender solicitude, for he tucked it under his
arm, cumbersome though it was, and waved aside the carriage-porter, who
was, however, permitted to carry in the kit-bag.

The manager appeared. When comes he not upon the scene? His quick,
calculating eye was not wholly assured. The stranger's homespun was
travel-worn and time-worn, and of a cut popular to the season gone the
year before. No fat letter of credit here, was the not unreasonable
conclusion reached by the manager. Still, with that caution acquired by
years of experience, which had culminated in what is known as Swiss
diplomacy, he brought into being the accustomed salutatory smile and
inquired if the gentleman had written ahead for reservation, otherwise
it would not be possible to accommodate him.

"I telegraphed," crisply.

"The name, if you please?"

"Ryanne; spelled R-y-a double-n e. Have you ever been in County Clare?"

"No, sir." The manager added a question with the uplift of his eyebrows.

"Well," was the enlightening answer, "you pronounce it as they do
there."

The manager scanned the little slip of paper in his hand. "Ah, yes; we
have reserved a room for you, sir. The French style rather confused me."
This was not offered in irony, or sarcasm, or satire; mining in a Swiss
brain for the saving grace of humor is about as remunerative as the
extraction of gold from sea-water. Nevertheless, the Swiss has the
talent of swiftly substracting from a confusion of ideas one point of
illumination: there was a quality to the stranger's tone that decided
him favorably. It was the voice of a man in the habit of being obeyed;
and in these days it was the power of money alone that obtained
obedience to any man. Beyond this, the same nebulous cogitation that had
subdued the Arabs outside acted likewise upon him. Here was a brother.

"Mail?"

"I will see, sir." The manager summoned a porter. "Room 208."

The porter caught up the somewhat collapsed kit-bag, which had in all
evidence received some rough usage in its time, and reached toward the
roll. Mr. Ryanne interposed.

"I will see to that, my man," tersely.

"Yes, sir."

"Where is your guest-list?" demanded Mr. Ryanne of the manager.

"The head-porter's bureau, sir. I will see if you have any mail." The
manager passed into his own bureau. It was rather difficult to tell
whether this man was an American or an Englishman. His accent was
western, but his manner was decidedly British. At any rate, that tone
and carriage must be bastioned by good English sovereigns, or for once
his judgment was at fault.

The porter dashed up-stairs. Mr. Ryanne, his bundle still snug under his
arm, sauntered over to the head-porter's bureau and ran his glance up
and down the columns of visiting-cards. Once he nodded with approval,
and again he smiled, having discovered that which sent a ripple across
his sleeping sense of amusement. Major Callahan, room 206; Fortune
Chedsoye, 205; George P. A. Jones, 210.

"Hm! the Major smells of County Antrim and the finest whisky in all the
isle. Fortune Chedsoye; that is a pleasing name; tinkling brooks, the
waving green grasses in the meadows, the kine in the water, the fleeting
shadows under the oaks; a pastoral, a bucolic name. To claim Fortune for
mine own; a happy thought."

As he uttered these poesy expressions aloud, in a voice low and not
unpleasing, for all that it was bantering, the head-porter stared at
him with mingling doubt and alarm; and as if to pronounce these emotions
mutely for the benefit of the other, he permitted his eyes to open their
widest.

"Tut, tut; that's all right, porter. I am cursed with the habit of
speaking my inmost thoughts. Some persons are afflicted with insomnia;
some fall asleep in church; I think orally. Beastly habit, eh?"

The porter then understood that he was dealing not with a species of
mild lunacy, but with that kind of light-hearted cynicism upon which the
world (as porters know it) had set its approving seal. In brief, he
smiled faintly; and if he had any pleasantry to pass in turn, the
approach of the manager, now clothed metaphorically in deferentialism,
relegated it to the limbo of things thought but left unsaid.

"Here is a letter for you, Mr. Ryanne. Have you any more luggage?"

"No." Mr. Ryanne smiled. "Shall I pay for my room in advance?"

"Oh, no, sir!" Ten years ago the manager would have blushed at having
been so misunderstood. "Your room is 208."

"Will you have a boy show me the way?"

"I shall myself attend to that. If the room is not what you wish it may
be exchanged."

"The room is the one I telegraphed for. I am superstitious to a degree.
On three boats I have had fine state-rooms numbered 208. Twice the
number of my hotel room has been the same. On the last voyage there were
208 passengers, and the captain had made 208 voyages on the
Mediterranean."

"Quite a coincident."

"Ah, if roulette could be played with such a certainty."

Mr. Ryanne sighed, hitched up his bundle, which, being heavy, was
beginning to wear upon his arm, and signified to the manager to lead the
way.

As they vanished round the corner to the lift, the head-porter studied
the guest-list. He had looked over it a dozen times that day, but this
was the first instance of his being really interested in it. As his chin
was freshly shaven he had no stubble to stroke to excite his mental
processes; so he fell back, as we say, upon the consoling ends of his
abundant mustache. Curious; but all these persons were occupying or
about to occupy adjacent rooms. There was truly nothing mysterious
about it, save that the stranger had picked out these very names as a
target for his banter. Fortune Chedsoye; it was rather an unusual name;
but as she had arrived only an hour or so before, he could not
distinctly recall her features. And then, there was that word bucolic.
He mentally turned it over and over as physically he was wont to do with
post-cards left in his care to mail. He could make nothing of the word,
except that it smacked of the East Indian plague.

Here he was saved from further cerebral agony by a timely interruption.
A man, who was not of bucolic persuasion either in dress or speech,
urban from the tips of his bleached fingers to the bulb of his bibulous
nose, leaned across the counter and asked if Mr. Horace Ryanne had yet
arrived. Yes, he had just arrived; he was even now on his way to his
room. The urban gentleman nodded. Then, with a finger slim and
well-trimmed, he trailed up and down the guest-list.

"Ha! I see that you have the Duke of What-d'ye-call from Germany here.
I'll give you my card. Send it up to Mr. Ryanne. No hurry. I shall be in
again after dinner."

He bustled off toward the door. He was pursy, well-fed, and decently
dressed, the sort of a man who, when he moved in any direction, created
the impression that he had an important engagement somewhere else or was
paring minutes from time-tables. For a man in his business it was a
clever expedient, deceiving all but those who knew him. He hesitated at
the door, however, as if he had changed his mind in the twenty-odd paces
it took to reach it. He stared for a long period at the elderly
gentleman who was watching the feluccas on the river through the window.
The white mustache and imperial stood out in crisp relief against the
ruddy sunburn on his face. If he was aware of this scrutiny on the part
of the pursy gentleman, he gave not the least sign. The revolving door
spun round, sending a puff of outdoor air into the lounging-room. The
elderly gentleman then smiled, and applied his thumb and forefinger to
the waxen point of his imperial.

In the intervening time Mr. Ryanne entered his room, threw the bundle on
the bed, sat down beside it, and read his letter. Shadows and lights
moved across his face; frowns that hardened it, smiles that mellowed
it. Women hold the trick of writing letters. Do they hate, their
thoughts flash and burn from line to line. Do they love, 'tis lettered
music. Do they conspire, the breadth of their imagination is without
horizon. At best, man can indite only a polite business letter, his
love-notes were adjudged long since a maudlin collection of loose
sentences. In this letter Mr. Ryanne found the three parts of life.

"She's a good general; but hang these brimstone efforts of hers. She
talks too much of heart. For my part, I prefer to regard it as a mere
physical function, a pump, a motor, a power that gives action to the
legs, either in coming or in going, more especially in going." He
laughed. "Well, hers is the inspiration and hers is the law. And to
think that she could plan all this on the spur of the moment, down to
the minutest detail! It's a science." He put the letter away, slid out
his legs and glared at the dusty tips of his shoes. "The United Romance
and Adventure Company, Ltd., of New York, London, and Paris. She has the
greatest gift of all, the sense of humor."

He rose and opened his kit-bag doubtfully. He rummaged about in the
depths and at last straightened up with a mild oath.

"Not a pair of cuffs in the whole outfit, not a shirt, not a collar. Oh,
well, when a man has to leave Bagdad the way I did, over the back fence,
so to speak, linen doesn't count."

He drew down his cuffs, detached and reversed them, he turned his
folding collar wrong-side out, and used the under side of the foot-rug
as a shoe-polisher. It was the ingenius procedure of a man who was used
to being out late of nights, who made all things answer all purposes.
This rapid and singularly careless toilet completed, he centered his
concern upon the more vital matter of finances. He was close to the
nadir: four sovereigns, a florin, and a collection of battered coppers
that would have tickled the pulse of an amateur numismatist.

"No vintage to-night, my boy; no long, fat Havana, either. A bottle of
stout and a few rags of plug-cut; that's the pace we'll travel this
evening. The United Romance and Adventure Company is not listed at
present. If it was, I'd sell a few shares on my own hook. The kind Lord
knows that I've stock enough and to spare." He laughed again, but
without the leaven of humor. "When the fool-killer snatches up the last
fool, let rogues look to themselves; and fools are getting scarcer every
day.

"Percival Algernon! O age of poets! I wonder, does he wear high collars
and spats, or has she plumbed him accurately? She is generally right.
But a man changes some in seven years. I'm an authority when it comes to
that. Look what's happened to me in seven years! First, Horace, we shall
dine, then we'll smoke our pipe in the billiard-room, then we'll softly
approach Percival Algernon and introduce him to Sinbad. This independent
excursion to Bagdad was a stroke on my part; it will work into the
general plan as smoothly as if it had been grooved for the part. Sinbad.
I might just as well have assumed that name: Horace Sinbad, sounds well
and looks well." He mused in silence, his hand gently rubbing his chin;
for he did possess the trick of talking aloud, in a low monotone, a
habit acquired during periods of loneliness, when the sound of his own
voice had succeeded in steadying his tottering mind.

What a woman, what a wife, she would have been to the right man! Odd
thing, a man can do almost anything but direct his affections; they
must be drawn. She was not for him; nay, not even on a desert isle.
Doubtless he was a fool. In time she would have made him a rich man.
Alack! It was always the one we pursued that we loved and never the one
that pursued us.

"I'm afraid of her; and there you are. There isn't a man living who has
gone back of that Mona Lisa smile of hers. If she was the last woman and
I was the last man, I don't say." He hunted for a cigarette, but failed
to find one. "Almost at the bottom, boy; the winter of our discontent,
and no sun of York to make it glorious. Twenty-four hundred at cards,
and to lose it like a tyro! Wallace has taught me all he knows, but I'm
a booby. Twenty-four hundred, firm's money. It's a failing of mine, the
firm's money. But, damn it all, I can't cheat a man at cards; I'd rather
cut his throat."

He found his pipe, and a careful search of the corners of his
coat-pockets revealed a meager pipeful of tobacco. He picked out the
little balls of wool, the ground-coffee, the cloves, and pushed the
charge home into the crusted bowl of his briar.

"To the devil with economy! A pint of burgundy and a perfecto if they
hale us to jail for it. I'm dead tired. I've seen three corners in hell
in the past two months. I'm going as far as four sovereigns will take
me.... Fortune Chedsoye." His blue eyes became less hard and his mouth
less defiant. "I repeat, the heart should be nothing but a pump.
Otherwise it gets in the way, becomes an obstruction, a bottomless pit.
Will-power, that's the ticket. I can face a lion without an extra beat,
I can face the various countenances of death without an additional
flutter; and yet, here's a girl who, when I see her or think of her,
sends the pulse soaring from seventy-seven up to eighty-four. Bad
business; besides, it's so infernally unfashionable. It's hard work for
a man to keep his balance 'twixt the devil and the deep, blue sea;
Gioconda on one side and Fortune on the other. Gioconda throws open
windows and doors at my approach; but Fortune locks and bars hers, nor
knocks at mine. That's the way it always goes.

"If a man could only go back ten years and take a new start. Ass!"
balling his fist at the reflection in the mirror. "Snivel and whine over
the bed of your own making. You had your opportunity, but you listened
to the popping of champagne-corks, the mutter of cards, the inane drivel
of chorus-ladies. You had a decent college record, too. Bah! What a
guileless fool you were! You ran on, didn't you, till you found your
neck in the loop at the end of the rope? And perhaps that soft-footed,
estimable brother of yours didn't yank it taut as a hangman's? You heard
the codicil; into one ear and out the other. Even then you had your
chance; patience for two short years, and a million. No, a thousand
times no. You knew what you were about, empty-headed fool! And to-day,
two pennies for a dead man's eyes."

He dropped his fist dejectedly. Where had the first step begun? And
where would be the last? In some drab corner, possibly; drink, morphine,
or starvation; he'd never have the courage to finish it with a bullet.
He was terribly bitter. Everything worth while seemed to have slipped
through his fingers, his pleasure-loving fingers.

"Come, come, Horace; buck up. Still the ruby kindles in the vine. No
turning back now. We'll go on till we come bang! against the wall. There
may be some good bouts between here and there. I wonder what Gioconda
would say if she knew why I was so eager for this game?"

He went down to dinner, and they gave him a table in an obscure corner,
as a subtle reminder that his style was _passé_. He didn't care; he was
hungry and thirsty. He could see nearly every one, even if only a few
could see him. This was somewhat to his vantage. He endeavored to pick
out Percival Algernon; but there were too many high collars, too many
monocles. So he contented himself with a mild philosophical observance
of the scene. The murmur of voices, rising as the wail of the violins
sank, sinking as the wail rose; the tinkle of glass and china, the
silver and linen, the pretty women in their rustling gowns, the delicate
perfumes, the flash of an arm, the glint of a polished shoulder: this
was the essence of life he coveted. He smiled at the thought and the
sure knowledge that he was not the only wolf in the fold. Ay, and who
among these dainty Red Riding Hoods might be fooled by a vulpine
grandmother? Truth, when a fellow winnowed it all down to a handful,
there were only fools and rogues. If one was a fool, the rogue got you,
and he in turn devoured himself.

He held his glass toward the table-lamp, moved it slowly to and fro
under his nose, epicureanly; then he sipped the wine. Something like! It
ran across his tongue and down his throat in tingling fire, nectarious;
and he went half way to Olympus, to the feet of the gods. For weeks he
had lived in the vilest haunts, in desperate straits, his life in his
open hands; and now once more he had crawled from the depths to the
outer crust of the world. It did not matter that he was destined to go
down into the depths again; so long as the spark burned he was going to
crawl back each time. Damnable luck! He could have lived like a prince.
Twenty-four hundred, and all in two nights, a steady stream of gold into
the pockets of men whom he could have cheated with consummate ease, and
didn't. A fine wolf, whose predatory instincts were still riveted to
that obsolete thing called conscience!

"Conscience? Rot! Let us for once be frank and write it down as caution,
as fear of publicity, anything but the white guardian-angel of the
immortality of the soul. Heap up the gold, Apollyon; heap it up, higher
and higher, till not a squeak of that still small voice that once awoke
the chap in the Old Testament can ever again be heard. Now; no more
retrospection, Horace; no more analysis; the vital question simmers down
to this: If Percival Algernon balks, how far will four sovereigns go?"



CHAPTER III

THE HOLY YHIORDES


George drank _his_ burgundy perfunctorily. Had it been astringent as the
native wine of Corsica, he would not have noticed it. The little nerves
that ran from his tongue to his brain had temporarily lost the power of
communication. And all because of the girl across the way. He couldn't
keep his eyes from wandering in her direction. She faced him diagonally.
She ate but little, and when the elderly gentleman poured out for her a
glass of sauterne, she motioned it aside, rested her chin upon her
folded hands, and stared not at but through her _vis-à-vis_.

It was a lovely head, topped with coils of lustrous, light brown hair;
an oval face, of white and rose and ivory tones; scarlet lips, a small,
regular nose, and a chin the soft roundness of which hid the resolute
lift to it. To these attributes of loveliness was added a perfect form,
the long, flowing curves of youth, not the abrupt contours of maturity.
George couldn't recollect when he had been so impressed by a face. From
the moment she had stepped down from the carriage, his interest had been
drawn, and had grown to such dimensions that when he entered the
dining-room his glance immediately searched for her table. What luck in
finding her across the way! He questioned if he had ever seen her
before. There was something familiar; the delicate profile stirred some
sleeping memory but did not wake it.

How to meet her, and when he did meet her, how to interest her? If she
would only drop her handkerchief, her purse, something to give him an
excuse, an opening. Ah, he was certain that this time the hydra-headed
one should not overcome him. To gain her attention and to hold it, he
would have faced a lion, a tiger, a wild-elephant. To diagnose these
symptoms might not be fair to George. "Love at first sight" reads well
and sounds well, but we hoary-headed philosophers know that the phrase
is only poetical license.

Once, and only once, she looked in his direction. It swept over him with
the chill of a winter wind that he meant as much to her as a tree, a
fence, a meadow, as seen from the window of a speeding railway train.
But this observation, transient as it was, left with him the indelible
impression that her eyes were the saddest he had ever seen. Why? Why
should a young and beautiful girl have eyes like that? It could not mean
physical weariness, else the face would in some way have expressed it.
The elderly man appeared to do his best to animate her; he was kindly
and courteous, and by the gentle way he laughed at intervals was trying
to bolster up the situation with a jest or two. The girl never so much
as smiled, or shrugged her shoulders; she was as responsive to these
overtures as marble would have been.

George's romance gathered itself for a flight. Perhaps it was love
thwarted, and the gentleman with the mustache and imperial, in spite of
his amiability, might be the ogre. Perhaps it was love and duty. Perhaps
her lover had gone down to sea. Perhaps (for lovers are known to do such
things) he had run away with the other girl. If that was the case,
George did not think highly of that tentative gentleman's taste. Perhaps
and perhaps again; but George might have gone on perhapsing till the
crack o' doom, with never a solitary glimmer of the true state of the
girl's mind. Whenever he saw an unknown man or woman who attracted his
attention, he never could resist the impulse to invent a romance that
might apply.

Immediately after dessert the two rose; and George, finding that nothing
more important than a pineapple ice detained him, got up and followed.
Mr. Ryanne almost trod on his heels as they went through the doorway
into the cosy lounging-room. George dropped into a vacant divan and
waited for his _café à la Turque_. Mr. Ryanne walked over to the
head-porter's bureau and asked if that gentleman would be so kind as to
point out Mr. George P. A. Jones, if he were anywhere in sight. He
thoughtfully, not to say regretfully, laid down a small bribe.

"Mr. Jones?" The porter knew Mr. Jones very well. He was generous, and
treated the servants as though they were really human beings. Mr.
Ryanne, either by his inquiry or as the result of his bribe, went up
several degrees in the porter's estimation. "Mr. Jones is over there,
on the divan by the door."

"Thanks."

But Ryanne did not then seek the young man. He studied the quarry from a
diplomatic distance. No; there was nothing to indicate that George
Percival Algernon Jones was in any way handicapped by his Arthuresque
middle names.

"No fool, as Gioconda in her infinite wisdom hath said; but romantic,
terribly romantic, yet, like the timid bather who puts a foot into the
water, finds it cold, and withdraws it. It will all depend upon whether
he is a real collector or merely a buyer of rugs. Forward, then, Horace;
a sovereign has already dashed headlong down the far horizon." The curse
of speaking his thoughts aloud did not lie heavily upon him to-night,
for these cogitations were made in silence, unmarked by any facial
expression. He proceeded across the room and sat down beside George. "I
beg your pardon," he began, "but are you not Mr. Jones?"

Mildly astonished, George signified that he was.

"George P. A. Jones?"

George nodded again, but with some heat in his cheeks. "Yes. What is
it?" The girl had just finished her coffee and was going away. Hang this
fellow! What did he want at this moment?

If Ryanne saw that he was too much, as the French say, he also perceived
the cause. The desire to shake George till his teeth rattled was
instantly overcome. She hadn't seen him, and for this he was grateful.
"You are interested in rugs? I mean old ones, rare ones, rugs that are
bought once and seldom if ever sold again."

"Why, yes. That's my business." George had no silly ideas about trade.
He had never posed as a gentleman's son in the sense that it meant
idleness.

Ryanne presented his card.

"How do you pronounce it?" asked George naïvely.

"As they do in Cork."

"I never saw it spelled that way before."

"Nothing surprising in that," replied Ryanne. "No one else has, either."

George laughed and waited for the explanation.

"You see, Ryan is as good a name as they make them; but it classes with
prize-fighters, politicians, and bar chemists. The two extra letters put
the finishing touch to the name. A jewel is all right, but what tells
is the way you hang it round your neck. To me, those additional letters
represent the jewel Ryan in the hands of a Lalique."

"You talk like an American."

"I am; three generations. What's the matter?" with sudden concern.

George was frowning. "Haven't I met you somewhere before?"

"Not to my recollection." A speculative frown now marred Ryanne's
forehead. It did not illustrate a search in his memory for such a
casualty as the meeting of George. He never forgot a face and certainly
did not remember George's. Rather, the frown had its source in the mild
dread that Percival Algernon had seen him somewhere during one of those
indispositions of the morning after. "No; I think you have made a
mistake."

"Likely enough. It just struck me that you looked something like a chap
named Wadsworth, who was half-back on the varsity, when I entered my
freshman year."

"A university man? Lord, no! I was turned loose at ten; been hustling
ever since." Ryanne spoke easily, not a tremor in his voice, although
he had received a slight mental jolt. "No; no college record here. But I
want to chat with you about rugs. I've heard of you, indirectly."

"From the carpet fellows? We do a big business over here. What have you
got?"

"Well, I've a rug up in my room I'd like to show you. I want your
judgment for one thing. Will you do me the favor?"

Since the girl had disappeared and with her those imaginary
appurtenances that had for a space transformed the lounging-room into a
stage, George saw again with normal vision that the room was simply a
common meeting-ground for well-dressed persons and ill-dressed persons,
of the unimpeachable, the impeccable, the doubtful and the peccant; for
in Cairo, as in ancient Egypt, there is every class and kind of humans,
for whom the Decalogue was written, transcribed, and shattered by the
turbulent Moses, an incident more or less forgotten these days. From the
tail of his eye he gave swift scrutiny to this chance acquaintance, and
he found nothing to warrant suspicion. It was not an unusual procedure
for men to hunt him up in Cairo, in Constantinople, in Smyrna, or in
any of the Oriental cities where his business itinerary led him. The
house of Mortimer & Jones was widely known. This man Ryanne might have
been anywhere between thirty and forty. He was tall, well set up, blond
and smooth-skinned. True, he appeared to have been ill-fed recently. A
little more flesh under the cheek-bones, a touch of color, and the
Irishman would have been a handsome man. George could read a rug a
league off, as they say, but he was a child in the matter of
physiognomy, whereas Ryanne was a past-master in this regard; it was
necessary both for his business and safety.

"Certainly, I'll take a look at it. But I tell you frankly," went on
George, "that to interest me it's got to be a very old one. You see,
it's a little fad of mine, outside the business end of it. I'm crazy
over real rugs, and I know something about every rare one in existence,
or known to exist. Is it a copy?"

"No. I'll tell you more about it when we get to my room."

"Come on, then." George was now quite willing to discuss rugs and
carpets.

Having gained the room, Ryanne threw off his coat and relighted his
cigar, which, in a saving mood, he had allowed to go out. He motioned
George to be seated.

"Just a little yarn before I show you the rug. See these cuffs?"

"Yes."

"You will observe that I have had to reverse them. Note this collar?
Same thing. Trousers-hems a bit frayed, coat shiny at the elbows."
Ryanne exhibited his sole fortune. "Four sovereigns between me and a
jail."

George became thoughtful. He was generous and kind-hearted among those
he knew intimately or slightly, but he had the instinctive reserve of
the seasoned traveler in cases like this. He waited.

"The truth is, I'm all but done for. And if I fail to strike a bargain
here with you.... Well, I should hate to tell you the result. Our consul
would have to furnish me passage home. Were you ever up against it to
the extent of reversing your cuffs and turning your collars? You don't
know what life is, then."

George gravely produced two good cigars and offered one to his host.
There was an absence of sound, broken presently by the cheerful crackle
of matches; two billowing clouds of smoke floated outward and upward.
Ryanne sighed. Here was a cigar one could not purchase in all the length
and breadth of the Orient, a Pedro Murias. In one of his doubtfully
prosperous epochs he had smoked them daily. How long ago had that been?

"Yonder is a rug, a prayer-rug, as holy to the Moslem as the idol's eye
is to the Hindu, as the Bible is to the Christian. For hundreds of years
it never saw the outside of the Sultan's palace. One day the late, the
recently late, Abdul the Unspeakable Turk, gave it to the Pasha of
Bagdad. Whenever this rug makes its appearance in Holy Mecca, it is
worshiped, and none but a Sultan or a Sultan's favorite may kneel upon
it. Bagdad, the hundred mosques, the old capital of Suleiman the Great,
the dreary Tigris and the sluggish Euphrates, a muezzin from the turret
calls to prayer, and all that; eh?"

George leaned forward from his chair, a gentle terror in his heart. "The
Yhiordes? By Jove! is that the Yhiordes?"

Admiration kindled in Ryanne's eyes. To have hit the bull's-eye with so
free and quick an aim was ample proof that Percival Algernon had not
boasted when he said that he knew something about rugs.

"You've guessed it."

"How did you come by it?" George demanded excitedly.

"Why do you ask that?"

"Man, ten-thousand pounds could not purchase that rug, that bit of
carpet. Collectors from every port have been after it in vain. And you
mean to tell me that it lies there, wrapped in butcher's paper?"

"Right-O!"

Ryanne solemnly detached a cuff and rolled up his sleeve. The bare
muscular arm was scarred by two long, ugly knife-wounds, scarcely
healed. Next he drew up a trousers-leg, disclosing a battered shin. "And
there's another on my shoulder-blade, the closest call I ever had. A man
who takes his life in his hands, as I have done, merits some reward. Mr.
Jones, I'll be frank with you. I am a kind of derelict. Since I was a
boy, I have hated the humdrum of offices, of shops. I wanted to be my
own man, to go and come as I pleased. To do this and live meant
precarious exploits. This rug represents one of them. I am telling you
the family secret; I am showing you the skeleton in the closet,
confidentially. I stole that rug; and when I say that the seven labors
of our old friend Hercules were simple diversions compared, you'll
recognize the difficulties I had to overcome. You know something of the
Oriental mind. I handled the job alone. I may not be out of the jungle
yet."

George listened entranced. He could readily construct the scenes through
which this adventurer had gone: the watchful nights, the untiring
patience, the thirst, the hunger, the heat. And yet, he could hardly
believe. He was a trifle skeptical. Many a rogue had made the mistake of
playing George's age against his experience. He had made some serious
blunders in the early stages of the business, however; and everybody, to
gain something in the end, must lose something at the start.

"If that rug is the one I have in mind, you certainly have stolen it.
And if it's a copy, I'll tell you quickly enough."

"That's fair. And that's why," Ryanne declared, "I wanted you to look at
it. To me, considering what I have gone through to get it, to me it is
the genuine carpet. To your expert eye it may be only a fine copy. I
know this much, that rare rugs and paintings have many copies, and that
some one is being hooked, sold, bamboozled, sandbagged, every day in the
week. If this is the real article, I want you to take it off my hands,"
the adventurer finished pleasantly.

"There will be a hue and cry."

"No doubt of it."

"And the devil's own job to get it out of Egypt." These were set phrases
of the expert, preliminaries to bargaining. "One might as well carry
round a stolen elephant."

"But a man who is as familiar with the game as you are would have little
difficulty. Your integrity is an established fact, on both sides of the
water. You could take it to New York as a copy, and no appraiser would
know the difference. It's worth the attempt. I'd take it to New York
myself, but you see, I am flat broke. Come; what do you or I care about
a son-of-a-gun of a Turk?" drolly.

"What do you want for it, supposing it's genuine?" George's throat was
dry and his voice harsh. His conscience roused herself, feebly, for it
had been a long time since occasion had necessitated her presence.

Ryanne narrowed his eyes, carefully balancing the possibilities. "Say,
one thousand pounds. It is like giving it away. But when the devil
drives, you know. It is beyond any set price; it is worth what any
collector is willing to pay for it. I believe I know the kind of man you
are, Mr. Jones, and that is why, when I learned you were in Cairo, I
came directly to you. You would never sell this rug. No. You would
become like a miser over his gold. You would keep it with your emeralds
(I have heard about them, too); draw the curtains, lock the doors,
whenever you looked at it. Eh? You would love it for its own sake, and
not because it is worth so many thousand pounds. You are sailing in a
few days; that will help. The Pasha is in Constantinople, and it will be
three or four weeks before he hears of the theft, or the cost," with a
certain grimness.

"You haven't killed any one?" whispered George.

"I don't know; perhaps. Christianity against paganism; the Occidental
conscience permits it." Ryanne made a gesture to indicate that he would
submit to whatever moral arraignment Mr. Jones deemed advisable to make.

But George made none. He rose hastily, sought his knife and, without so
much as by your leave, slashed the twine, flung aside the paper, and
threw the rug across the counterpane. It was the Yhiordes. There was not
the slightest doubt in his mind. He had heard it described, he had seen
a photograph of it, he knew its history and, most vital of all, he owned
a good copy of it.

Against temptation that was robust and energetic and alluring (like the
man who insists upon your having a drink when you want it and ought not
to have it), what chance had conscience, grown innocuous in the long
period of the young man's good behavior? Collectors are always honest
before and after that moment arrives when they want something
desperately; and George was no more saintly than his kind. And how deep
Ryanne and his confederates had delved into human nature, how well they
could read and judge it, was made manifest in this moment of George's
moral relapse.

[Illustration]

Bagdad, the jinns, Sinbad, the Thousand and One Nights, Alibaba and the
Forty Thieves: George was transported mentally to that magic city,
standing between the Tigris and the Euphrates, in all its white glory of
a thousand years gone. Ryanne, the room and its furnishings, all had
vanished, all save the exquisite fabric patterned out of wool and cotton
and knotted with that mingling love and skill and patience the world
knows no more. He let his hand stray over it. How many knees had pressed
its thick yet pliant substance? How many strange scenes had it mutely
witnessed, scenes of beauty, of terror? It shone under the light like
the hide of a healthy hound.

The nerves of a smoker are generally made apparent by the rapidity of
his exhalations. These two, in the several minutes, had filled the room
with a thick, blue haze; and through this the elder man eyed the
younger. The sign of the wolf gleamed in his eyes, but without
animosity, modified as it was by the half-friendly, half-cynical smile.

"I'll risk it," said George finally, having stepped off the magical
carpet, as it were. "I can't give you a thousand pounds to-night. I can
give you three hundred, and the balance to-morrow, between ten and
eleven, at Cook's."

"That will be agreeable to me."

George passed over all the available cash he had, rolled up the treasure
and tucked it under his arm. That somewhere in the world was a true
believer, wailing and beating his breast and calling down from Allah
curses upon the giaour, the dog of an infidel, who had done this thing,
disturbed George not in the least.

"I say," as he opened the door, "you must tell me all about the
adventure. It must have been a thriller."

"It was," replied Ryanne. "The story will keep. Later, if you care to
hear it."

"Of course," added George, moved by a discretionary thought, "this
transaction is just between you and me."

"You may lay odds on that," heartily. "Well, good night. See you at
Cook's in the morning."

"Good night." George passed down the corridor to the adjoining room.

And now, bang! goes Pandora's box.



CHAPTER IV

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE


That faculty which decides on the lawlessness of our actions: so the
noted etymologist described conscience. It fell to another distinguished
intellect to add that conscience makes cowards of us all. Ay. She may be
overcome at times, side-tracked for any special desire that demands a
clear way; but she's after us, fast enough, with that battered red
lantern of hers, which, brought down from all tongues crisply into our
own, reads--"Don't do it!" She herself is not wholly without cunning.
She rarely stands boldly upon the track to flag us as we come. She
realizes that she might be permanently ditched. No; it is far safer to
run after us and catch us. A digression, perhaps, but more pertinently
an application.

Temptation then no longer at his shoulder, George began to have qualms,
little chaps, who started buzzing into his moral ears with all that
maddening, interminable drone which makes one marvel however do
school-teachers survive their first terms. Among these qualms there was
none that pleaded for the desolate Turk or his minions whose
carelessness had made the theft possible. For all George cared, the
Moslem might grind his forehead in the soulless sand and make the air
palpitate with his plaints to Allah. No. The disturbance was due to the
fact that never before had he been wittingly the purchaser of stolen
goods. He never tried to gloze over the subtle distinction between
knowing and suspecting; and if he had been variously suspicious in
regard to certain past bargains, conscience had found no sizeable wedge
for her demurrers. The Yhiordes was confessedly stolen.

He paused, with his hand upon the door-knob of his room. If he didn't
keep the rug, it would fall into the hands of a collector less
scrupulous. To return it to the Pasha at Bagdad would be pure folly, and
thankless. It was one of the most beautiful weavings in existence. It
was as priceless in its way as any Raphael in the Vatican. And he
desired its possession intensely. Why not? Insidious phrase! Was it not
better that the world should see and learn what a wonderful craft the
making of a rare rug had been, than to allow it to return to the sordid
chamber of a harem, to inevitable ruin? As Ryanne said, what the deuce
was a fanatical Turk or Arab to him?

Against these specious arguments in favor of becoming the adventurer's
abettor and accomplice, there was first the possible stain of blood. The
man agreed that he had come away from Bagdad in doubt. George did not
like the thought of blood. Still, he had collected a hundred emeralds,
not one of which was without its red record. Again, if he carried the
rug home with his other purchases, he could pull it through the customs
only by lying, which was as distasteful to his mind as being a receiver
of stolen goods.

He had already paid a goodly sum against the purchase; and it was not
likely that a man who was down to reversing his collars and cuffs would
take back the rug and refund the money. The Yhiordes was his, happen
what might. So conscience snuffed out her red lantern and retired.

Some light steps, a rustle, and he wheeled in time to see a woman open a
door, stand for a minute in the full light, and disappear. It was she.
George opened the door of his own room, threw the rug inside, and
tiptoed along the corridor, stopping for the briefest time to ascertain
the number of that room. He felt vastly more guilty in performing this
harmless act than in smothering his mentor.

There was no one in the head-porter's bureau; thus, unobserved and
unembarrassed, he was free to inspect the guest-list. Fortune Chedsoye.
He had never seen a name quite like that. Its quaintness did not suggest
to him, as it had done to Ryanne, the pastoral, the bucolic. Rather it
reminded him of the old French courts, of rapiers and buckles, of
powdered wigs and furbelows, masks, astrologers, love-intrigues, of all
those colorful, mutable scenes so charmingly described by the genial
narrator of the exploits of D'Artagnan. And abruptly out of this age of
Lebrun, Watteau, Molière, reached an ice-cold hand. If that elderly
codger wasn't her father, who was he and what?

The Major--for George had looked him up also--was in excellent trim for
his age, something of a military dandy besides; but as the husband of so
young and exquisite a creature! Out upon the thought! He might be her
guardian, or, at most, her uncle, but never her husband. Yet (O
poisonous doubt!), at the table she had ignored the Major, both his
jests and his attentions. He had seen many wives, joyfully from a safe
distance, act toward their husbands in this fashion. Oh, rot! If his
name was Callahan and hers Chedsoye, they could not possibly be tied in
any legal bonds. He dismissed the ice-cold hand and turned again to the
comforting warmth of his ardor.

He had never spoken to young women without presentation, and on these
rare occasions he had broached the weather, suggested the possibilities
of the weather, and concluded with an apostrophe on the weather at
large. It was usually a valedictory. For he was always positive that he
had acted like a fool, and was afraid to speak to the girl again. Never
it failed, ten minutes after the girl was out of sight, the brightest
and cleverest things crowded upon his tongue, to be but wasted on the
desert air. He was not particularly afraid of women older than himself,
more's the pity. And yet, had he been as shy toward them as toward the
girls, there would have been no stolen Yhiordes, no sad-eyed maiden, no
such thing as The United Romance and Adventure Company, Ltd.; and he
would have stepped the even tenor of his way, unknown of grand passions,
swift adventure, life.

George was determined to meet Fortune Chedsoye, and this determination,
the first of its kind to take definite form in his mind, gave him a
novel sensation. He would find some way, and he vowed to best his old
enemy, diffidence, if it was the last fight he ever put up. He would
manoeuver to get in the way of the Major. He never found much trouble
in talking to men. Once he exchanged a word or two with the uncle or
guardian, he would make it a point to renew the acquaintance when he saw
the two together. It appeared to him as a bright idea, and he was rather
proud of it. Even now he was conscious of clenching his teeth strongly.
It's an old saying that he goes farthest who shuts his teeth longest. He
was going to test the precept by immediate practice.

He had stood before the list fully three minutes. Now he turned about
face, a singular elation tingling his blood. Once he set his mind upon a
thing, he went forward. He had lost many pleasurable things in life
because he had doubted and faltered, not because he had reached out
toward them and had then drawn back. He was going to meet Fortune
Chedsoye; when or how were but details. And as he discovered the Major
himself idling before the booth of the East Indian merchant, he saw in
fancy the portcullis rise and the drawbridge fall to the castle of
enchantment. He strolled over leisurely and pretended to be interested
in the case containing mediocre jewels.

"This is a genuine Bokhara embroidery?" the Major was inquiring.

"Oh, yes, sir."

"How old?"

The merchant picked up the tag and squinted at it. "It is between two
and three hundred years old, sir."

To George's opinion the gods themselves could not have arranged a more
propitious moment.

"You've made a mistake," he interposed quietly. "That is Bokhara, but
the stitch is purely modern."

The dark eyes of the Indian flashed. "The gentleman is an authority?"
sarcastically.

"Upon that style of embroidery, absolutely." George smiled. And then,
without more ado, he went on to explain the difference between the
antique and the modern. "You have one good piece of old Bokhara, but it
isn't rare. Twenty-pounds would be a good price for it."

The Major laughed heartily. "And just this moment he asked a hundred for
it. I'm not much of a hand in judging these things. I admire them, but
have no intimate knowledge regarding their worth. Nothing to-night," he
added to the bitter-eyed merchant. "The Oriental is like the amateur
fisherman: truth is not in him. You seem to be a keen judge," as they
moved away from the booth.

"I suppose it's because I'm inordinately fond of the things. I've really
a good collection of Bokhara embroideries at home in New York."

"You live in New York?" with mild interest. The Major sat down and
graciously motioned for George to do the same. "I used to live there;
twenty-odd years ago. But European travel spoils America; the rush
there, the hurry, the clamor. Over here they dine, there they eat.
There's as much difference between those two performances as there is
between _The Mikado_ and _Florodora_. From Portland in Maine to Portland
in Oregon, the same dress, same shops, same ungodly high buildings. Here
it is different, at the end of every hundred miles."

George agreed conditionally. (The Major wasn't very original in his
views.) He would have shed his last drop of blood for his native land,
but he was honest in acknowledging her faults.

Conversation idled in various channels, and finally became anchored at
jewels. Here the Major was at home, and he loved emeralds above all
other stones. He proved to be an engaging old fellow, had circled the
globe three or four times, and had had an adventure or two worth
recounting. And when he incidentally mentioned his niece, George wanted
to shake his hand.

Would Mr. Jones join him with a peg to sleep on? Mr. Jones certainly
would. And after a mutual health, George diplomatically excused himself,
retired, buoyant and happy. How simple the affair had been! A fellow
could do anything if only he set his mind to it. To-morrow he would
meet Fortune Chedsoye, and may Beelzebub shrive him if he could not
manage to control his recalcitrant tongue.

As he passed out of sight, Major Callahan smiled. It was that old
familiar smile which, charged with gentle mockery, we send after
departing fools. It was plain that he needed another peg to keep company
with the first, for he rose and gracefully wended his way down-stairs to
the bar. Two men were already leaning against the friendly, inviting
mahogany. There was a magnum of champagne standing between their
glasses. The Major ordered a temperate whisky and soda, drank it,
frowned at the magnum, paid the reckoning, and went back up-stairs
again.

"Don't remember old friends, eh?" said the shorter of the two men,
caressing his incarnadined proboscis. "A smile wouldn't have hurt him
any, do you think?"

"Shut up!" admonished Ryanne. "You know the orders; no recognition on
the public floors."

"Why, I meant no harm," the other protested. He took a swallow of wine.
"But, dash it! here I am, more'n four thousand miles from old Broadway,
and still walking blind. When is the show to start?"

"Not so loud, old boy. You've got to have patience. You've had some good
pickings for the past three months, in the smoke-rooms. That ought to
soothe you."

"Well, it doesn't. Here I come from New York, three months ago, with a
wad of money for you and a great game in sight. It takes a week to find
you, and when I do.... Well, you know. No sooner are you awake, than
what? Off you go to Bagdad, on the wildest goose-chase a man ever heard
of. And that leaves me with nothing to do and nobody to talk to. I could
have cried yesterday when I got your letter saying you'd be in to-day."

"Well, I got it."

"The rug?"

"Yes. It was wild; but after what I'd been through I needed something
wild to steady my nerves; some big danger, where I'd simply have to get
together."

"And you got it?" There was frank wonder and admiration in the pursy
gentleman's eyes. "All alone, and you got it? Honest?"

"Honest. They nearly had my hide, though."

"Where is it?"

"Sold."

"Who?"

"Percival."

"Horace, you're a wonder, if there ever was one. Sold it to Percival!
You couldn't beat that in a thousand years. You're a great man."

"Praise from Sir Hubert."

"Who's he?"

"An authority on several matters."

"How much did he give you for it?"

"Tut, tut! It was all my own little jaunt, Wallace. I should hate to lie
to you about it."

"What about the stake I gave you?"

Ryanne made a sign of dealing cards.

"Threw it away on a lot of dubs, after all I've taught you!"

"Cards aren't my _forte_."

"There's a yellow streak in your hide, somewhere, Horace."

"There is, but it is the tiger's stripe, my friend. What I did with my
money is my own business."

"Will she allow for that?"

"Would it matter one way or the other?"

"No, I don't suppose it would. Sometimes I think you're with us as a
huge joke. You don't take the game serious enough." Wallace emptied his
glass and tipped the bottle carefully. "You're out of your class,
somehow."

"So?"

"Yes. You have always struck me as a man who was hunting trouble for one
end."

"And that?" Ryanne seemed interested.

Wallace drew his finger across his throat. Ryanne looked him squarely in
the eye and nodded affirmatively.

"I don't understand at all."

"You never will, Wallace, old chap. I am the prodigal son whose brother
ate the fatted calf before I returned home. I had a letter to-day. She
will be here to-morrow sometime. You may have to go to Port Saïd, if my
little plan doesn't mature."

"The _Ludwig_?"

"Yes."

"Say, what a _Frau_ she would have made the right man!"

Ryanne did not answer, but glowered at his glass.

"The United Romance and Adventure Company." Wallace twirled his glass.
"If you're a wonder, she's a marvel. A Napoleon in petticoats! It does
make a fellow grin, when you look it all over. But this is going to be
her Austerlitz or her Waterloo. And you really got that rug; and on top
of that, you have sold it to George P. A. Jones! Here's----"

"Many happy returns," ironically.

They finished the bottle without further talk. There was no conviviality
here. Both were fond of good wine, but the more they drank, the tighter
grew their lips. Men who have been in the habit of guarding dangerous
secrets become taciturn in their cups.

From time to time, flittingly, there appeared against one of the
windows, just above the half-curtain, a lean, dark face which, in
profile, resembled the kite--the hooked beak, the watchful, preyful
eyes. There were two hungers written upon that Arab face, food and
revenge.

"Allah is good," he murmured.

He had but one eye in use, the other was bandaged. In fact, the face,
exhibited general indications of rough warfare, the skin broken on the
bridge of the nose, a freshly healed cut under the seeing eye, a long
strip of plaster extending from the ear to the mouth. There was nothing
of the beggar in his mien. His lean throat was erect, his chin
protrusive, the set of his shoulders proud and defiant. Ordinarily, the
few lingering guides would rudely have told him to be off about his
business; but they were familiar with all turbans, and in the peculiar
twist of this one, soiled and ragged though it was, they recognized some
prince from the eastern deserts. Presently he strode away, but with a
stiffness which they knew came from long journeys upon racing-camels.

George dreamed that night of magic carpets, of sad-eyed maidens, of
fierce Bedouins, of battles in the desert, of genii swelling
terrifically out of squat bottles. And once he rose and turned on the
lights to assure himself that the old Yhiordes was not a part of these
vivid dreams.

He was up shortly after dawn, in white riding-togs, for a final canter
to Mena House and return. In two days more he would be leaving Egypt
behind. Rather glad in one sense, rather sorry in another. Where to put
the rug was a problem. He might carry it in his steamer-roll; it would
be handier there than in the bottom of his trunk, stored away in the
ship's hold. Besides, his experience had taught him that steamer-rolls
were only indifferently inspected. You will observe that the luster of
his high ideals was already dimming. He reasoned that insomuch as he was
bound to smuggle and lie, it might be well to plan something
artistically. He wished now that he was going to spend Christmas in
Cairo; but it was too late to change his booking without serious loss of
time and money.

He had a light breakfast on the veranda of the Mena House, climbed up to
the desert, bantered the donkey-boys, amused himself by watching the
descent of some German tourists who had climbed the big Pyramid before
dawn to witness the sunrise, and threw pennies to the horde of blind
beggars who instantly swarmed about him and demanded, in the name of
Allah, a competence for the rest of their days. He finally escaped them
by footing it down the incline to the hotel gardens, where his horse
stood waiting.

It was long after nine when he slid from the saddle at the side
entrance of the Semiramis. He was on his way to the bureau for his key,
when an exquisitely gloved hand lightly touched his arm.

"Don't you remember me, Mr. Jones?" said a voice of vocal honey.

George did. In his confusion he dropped his pith-helmet, and in stooping
to pick it up, bumped into the porter who had rushed to his aid.
Remember her! Would he ever forget her? He never thought of her without
dubbing himself an outrageous ass. He straightened, his cheeks afire;
blushing was another of those uncontrollable asininities of his. It was
really she, come out of a past he had hoped to be eternally
inresuscitant; the droll, the witty woman, to whom in one mad moment of
liberality and Galahadism he had loaned without security one hundred and
fifty pounds at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo; she, for whom he had
always blushed when he recalled how easily she had mulcted him! And here
she was, serene, lovely as ever, unchanged.

"My dear," said the stranger (George couldn't recall by what name he had
known her); "my dear," to Fortune Chedsoye, who stood a little behind
her, "this is the gentleman I've often told you about. You were at
school at the time. I borrowed a hundred and fifty pounds of him at
Monte Carlo. And what do you think? When I went to pay him back the next
day, he was gone, without leaving the slightest clue to his whereabouts.
Isn't that droll? And to think that I should meet him here!"

That her name had slipped his memory, if indeed he had ever known it,
was true; but one thing lingered incandescently in his mind, and that
was, he _had_ written her, following minutely her own specific
directions and inclosing his banker's address in Paris, Naples, and
Cairo; and for many passings of moons he had opened his foreign mail
eagerly and hopefully. But hope must have something to feed upon, and
after a struggle lasting two years, she rendered up the ghost.... It
wasn't the loss of money that hurt; it was the finding of dross metal
where he supposed there was naught but gold. Perhaps his later shyness
was due as much to this disillusioning incident as to his middle names.

"Isn't it droll, my dear?" the enchantress repeated; and George grew
redder and redder under the beautiful, grateful eyes. "I must give him
a draft this very morning."

"But.... Why, my dear Madame," stammered George. "You must not....
I...!"

Fortune laughed. Somehow the quality of that laughter pierced George's
confused brain as sometimes a shaft of sunlight rips into a fog,
suddenly, stiletto-like. It was full of malice.



CHAPTER V

THE GIRL WHO WASN'T WANTED


If any one wronged George, defrauded him of money or credit, he was
always ready to forgive, agreeing that perhaps half the fault had been
his. This was not a sign of weakness, but of a sense of justice too well
leavened with mercy. Humanity errs in the one as much as in the other,
doubtless with some benign purpose in perspective. Now, it might be that
this charming woman had really never received his letter; such things
have been known to go astray. In any case he could not say that he had
written. That would have cast a doubt upon her word, an unpardonable
rudeness. So, for her very beauty alone, he gave her the full benefit of
the doubt.

"You mustn't let the matter trouble you in the least," he said, his
helmet now nicely adjusted under his arm. "It was so long ago I had
really forgotten all about it." Which was very well said for George.

"But I haven't. I have often wondered what you must have thought of me.
Monte Carlo is such a place! But I must present my daughter. I am Mrs.
Chedsoye."

"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Jones;" and in the sad eyes there was a
glimmer of real friendliness. More, she extended her hand.

It was well worth while, that hundred and fifty pounds. It was well
worth the pinch here and the pinch there which had succeeded that loan.
For he had determined to return to America with a pound or two on his
letter of credit, and the success of this determination was based upon
many a sacrifice in comfort, sacrifices he had never confided to his
parents. It was not in the nature of things to confess that the first
woman he had met in his wanderings should have been the last. As he took
the girl's hand, with the ulterior intent of holding it till death do us
part, he wondered why she had laughed like that. The echo of it still
rang in his ears. And while he could not have described it, he knew
instinctively that it had been born of bitter thought.

They chatted for a quarter of an hour or more, and managed famously. It
seemed to him that Fortune Chedsoye was the first young woman he had
ever met who could pull away sudden barriers and open up pathways for
speech, who, when he was about to flounder into some _cul-de-sac_,
guided him adroitly into an alley round it. Not once was it necessary to
drag in the weather, that perennial if threadbare topic. He was truly
astonished at the ease with which he sustained his part in the
conversation, and began to think pretty well of himself. It did not
occur to him that when two clever and attractive women set forth to make
a man talk (always excepting he is dumb), they never fail to succeed. To
do this they contrive to bring the conversation within the small circle
of his work, his travels, his preferences, his ambitions. To be sure,
all this is not fully extracted in fifteen minutes, but a woman obtains
in that time a good idea of the ground plan.

Two distinct purposes controlled the women in this instance. One
desired to interest him, while the other sought to learn whether he was
stupid or only shy.

At last, when he left them to change his clothes and hurry down to
Cook's, to complete the bargain for the Yhiordes, he had advanced so
amazingly well that they had accepted his invitation to the polo-match
that afternoon. He felt that invisible Mercurial wings had sprouted from
his heels, for in running up the stairs, he was aware of no gravitative
resistance. That this anomaly (an acquaintance with two women about whom
he knew nothing) might be looked upon askance by those who conformed to
the laws and by-laws of social usages, worried him not in the least. On
the contrary, he was thinking that he would be the envy of every other
man out at the Club that afternoon.

"Well?" said Mrs. Chedsoye, a quizzical smile slanting her lips.

"You wish my opinion?" countered the daughter. "He is shy, but he is
neither stupid nor silly; and when he smiles he is really good-looking."

"My child," replied the woman, drawing off her gloves and examining her
shapely hands, "I have looked into the very heart of that young man. A
thousand years ago, a red-cross on his surtout, he would have been
beating his fists against the walls of Jerusalem; five hundred years
later, he would have been singing _chant-royales_ under lattice-windows;
a paladin and a poet."

"How do you know that? Did he make love to you?"

"No; but I made love to him without his knowing it; and that was more to
my purpose than having him make love to me," enigmatically. "Three days,
and he was so guileless that he never asked my name. But in Monte Carlo,
as you know, one asks only your banker's name."

"And your purpose?"

"It is still mine, dear. Do you realize that we haven't seen each other
in four months, and that you haven't offered to kiss me?"

"Did he go away without writing to you about that money?"

Mrs. Chedsoye calmly plucked out the inturned fingers of her gloves. "I
believe I did receive a note inclosing his banker's address, but,
unfortunately, in the confusion of returning to Paris, I lost it. My
memory has always been a trial to me," sadly.

"Since when?" coldly. "There is not a woman living with a keener memory
than yours."

"You flatter me. In affairs that interest me, perhaps."

"You never meant to pay him. It is horrible."

"My dear Fortune, how you jump at conclusions! Did I not offer him a
draft the very first thing?"

"Knowing that at such a moment he could not possibly accept it?"
derisively. "Sometimes I hate you!"

"In these days filial devotion is a lost art."

"No, no; it is a flower parents have ceased to cultivate."

And there was in the tone a strained note which described an intense
longing to be loved. For if George Percival Algernon Jones was a lonely
young man, it was the result of his own blindness; whereas Fortune
Chedsoye turned hither and thither in search of that which she never
could find. The wide Lybian desert held upon its face a loneliness, a
desolation, less mournful than that which reigned within her heart.

"Hush! We are growing sentimental," warned the mother. "Besides, I
believe we are attracting attention." Her glance swept a half-circle
complacently.

"Pardon me! I should be sorry to draw attention to you, knowing how you
abhor it."

"My child, learn from me; temper is the arch-enemy of smooth
complexions. Jones--it makes you laugh."

"It is a homely, honest name."

"I grant that. But a Percival Algernon Jones!" Mrs. Chedsoye laughed
softly. It was one of those pleasant sounds that caused persons within
hearing to wait for it to occur again. "Come; let us go up to the room.
It is a dull, dusty journey in from Port Saïd."

Alone, Fortune was certain that for her mother her heart knew nothing
but hate. Neglect, indifference, injustice, misunderstanding, the chill
repellence that always met the least outreaching of the child's
affections, the unaccountable disappearances, the terror of the unknown,
the blank wall of ignorance behind which she was always kept, upon these
hate had builded her dark and brooding retreat. Yet, never did the
mother come within the radius of her sight that she did not fall under
the spell of strange fascination, enchaining, fight against it how she
might. A kindly touch of the hand, a single mother-smile, and she would
have flung her arms about the other woman's neck.

But the touch and the mother-smile never came. She knew, she understood:
she wasn't wanted, she hadn't been wanted in the beginning; to her
mother she was as the young of animals, interesting only up to that time
when they could stand alone. That the mother never made and held
feminine friendships was in nowise astonishing. Beauty and charm, such
as she possessed, served immediately to stimulate envy in other women's
hearts. And that men of all stations in life flocked about her, why, it
is the eternal tribute demanded of beauty. Here and there the men were
not all the daughter might have wished. Often they burnt sweet flattery
at her shrine, tentatively; but as she coolly stamped out these
incipient fires, they at length came to regard her as one regards the
beauty of a frosted window, as a thing to admire and praise in passing.
One ache always abided: the bitter knowledge that had she met in kind
smile for smile and jest for jest, she might have been her mother's boon
companion. But deep back in some hidden chamber of her heart lay a
secret dread of such a step, a dread which, whenever she strove to
analyze it, ran from under her investigating touch, as little balls of
quicksilver run from under the pressure of a thumb.

She was never without the comforts of life, well-fed, well-dressed,
well-housed, and often her mother flung her some jeweled trinket which
(again that sense of menace) she put away, but never wore. The bright
periods were when they left her in the little villa near Mentone, with
no one but her old and faithful nurse. There, with her horse, her books
and her flowers, she was at peace. Week into week and month into month
she was let be. Never a letter came, save from some former schoolmate
who was coming over and wanted letters of introduction to dukes and
duchesses. If she smiled over these letters it was with melancholy; for
the dukes and duchesses, who fell within her singular orbit, were not
the sort to whom one gave letters of introduction.

Where her mother went she never had the least idea. She might be in any
of the great ports of the world, anywhere between New York and Port
Saïd. The Major generally disappeared at the same time. Then, perhaps,
she'd come back from a pleasant tram-ride over to Nice and find them
both at the villa, maid and luggage. Mayhap a night or two, and off
they'd go again; never a word about their former journey,
uncommunicative, rather quiet. These absences, together with the
undemonstrative reappearances, used to hurt Fortune dreadfully. It gave
her a clear proof of where she stood, exactly nowhere. The hurt had
lessened with the years, and now she didn't care much. Like as not, they
would drag her out of Eden for a month or two, for what true reason she
never could quite fathom, unless it was that at times her mother liked
to have the daughter near her as a foil.

At rare intervals she saw steel-eyed, grim-mouthed men wandering up and
down before the gates of the Villa Fanny, but they never rang the bell,
nor spoke to her when she passed them on the street. If she talked of
these men, her mother and the Major would exchange amused glances,
nothing more.

If, rightly or wrongly, she hated her mother, she despised her uncle,
who was ever bringing to the villa men of money, but of coarse fiber,
ostensibly with the view of marrying her off. But Fortune had her
dreams, and she was quite content to wait.

There was one man more persistent than the others. Her mother called him
Horace, which the Major mellowed into Hoddy. He was tall, blond,
good-looking, a devil-may-care, educated, witty, amusing; and in evening
dress he appeared to be what it was quite evident he had once been, a
gentleman. At first she thought it strange that he should make her,
instead of her mother, his confidante. As to what vocation he pursued,
she did not know, for he kept sedulous guard over his tongue; but his
past, up to that fork in the road where manhood says good-by to youth,
was hers. And in this direction, clever and artful as the mother was,
she sought in vain to wrest this past from her daughter's lips. To the
mother, it was really necessary for her to know who this man really was,
had been, knowing thoroughly as she did what he was now.

Persistent he undeniably was, but never coarse nor rude. Since that time
he had come bade from the casino at Monte Carlo, much the worse for
wine, she feared him; yet, in spite of this fear, she had for him a
vague liking, a hazy admiration. Whatever his faults might be, she stood
witness to his great physical strength and courage. He was the only man,
among all those who appeared at the Villa Fanny and immediately
vanished, who returned again. And he, too, soon grew to be a part of
this unreal drama, arriving mysteriously one day and departing the next.

That a drama was being enacted under her eyes she no longer doubted; but
it was as though she had taken her seat among the audience in the middle
of the second act She could make neither head nor tail to it.

Whenever she accompanied her mother upon these impromptu journeys, her
character, or rather her attitude, underwent a change. She swept aside
her dreams; she accepted the world as it was, saw things as they were;
laughed, but without merriment; jested, but with the venomed point. It
was the reverse of her real character to give hurt to any living thing,
but during these forced marches, as the Major humorously termed them,
and such they were in truth, she could no more stand against giving the
cruel stab than, when alone in her garden, she could resist the tender
pleasure of succoring a fallen butterfly. She was especially happy in
finding weak spots in her mother's armor, and she never denied herself
the thrust. Mrs. Chedsoye enjoyed these sharp encounters, for it must be
added that she gave as good as she took, and more often than not her
thrusts bit deeper and did not always heal.

Fortune never asked questions relative to the family finances. If she
harbored any doubts as to their origin, to the source of their
comparative luxury, she never put these into speech.

She had never seen her father, but she had often heard him referred to
as "that brute" or "that fool" or "that drunken imbecile." If a portrait
of him existed, Fortune had not yet seen it. She visited his lonely
grave once a year, in the Protestant cemetery, and dreamily tried to
conjure up what manner of man he had been. One day she plied her old
Italian nurse with questions.

"Handsome? Yes, but it was all so long ago, _cara mia_, that I can not
describe him to you."

"Did he drink?" Behind this question there was no sense of moral obloquy
as applying to the dead.

"Sainted Mary! didn't all men drink their very souls into purgatory
those unreligious days?"

"Had he any relatives?"

"I never heard of any."

"Was he rich?"

"No; but when the signora, your mother, married him she thought he was."

It was not till later years that Fortune grasped the true significance
of this statement. It illumined many pages. She dropped all
investigations, concluding wisely that her mother, if she were minded to
speak at all, could supply only the incidents, the details.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was warm, balmy, like May in the northern latitudes. Women wore white
dresses and carried sunshades over their shoulders. A good band played
airs from the new light-operas, and at one side of the grand-stand were
tea-tables under dazzling linen. Fashion was out. Not all her votaries
enjoyed polo, but it was absolutely necessary to pretend that they did.
When they talked they discussed the Spanish dancer who paraded back and
forth across the tea-lawn. They discussed her jewels, her clothes, her
escort, and quite frankly her morals, which of the four was by all odds
the most popular theme. All agreed that she was handsome in a bold way.
This modification invariably distinguishes the right sort of women from
the wrong sort, from which there is no appeal to a higher court. They
could well afford to admit of her beauty, since the dancer was outside
what is called the social pale, for all that her newest escort was a
prince _incognito_. They also discussed the play at bridge, the dullness
of this particular season, the possibility of war between England and
Germany. And some one asked others who were the two well-gowned women
down in front, sitting on either side of the young chap in pearl-grey.
No one knew. Mother and daughter, probably. Anyhow, they knew something
about good clothes. Certainly they weren't ordinary tourists. They had
seen What's-his-name tip his hat; and this simple act would pass any one
into the inner shrine, for the general was not promiscuous. There, the
first-half was over. All down for tea! Thank goodness!

George was happy. He was proud, too. He saw the glances, the nods of
approval. He basked in a kind of sunshine that was new. What an ass he
had been all his life! To have been afraid of women just because he was
Percival Algernon! What he should have done was to have gone forth
boldly, taken what pleasures he found, and laughed with the rest of
them.

There weren't two other women in all Cairo to compare with these two.
The mother, shapely, elegant, with the dark beauty of a high-class
Spaniard, possessing humor, trenchant comment, keen deduction and
application; worldly, cynical, high-bred. The student of nations might
have tried in vain to place her. She spoke the French of the Parisians,
the Italian of the Florentines, the German of the Hanoverians, and her
English was the envy of Americans and the wonder of the Londoners. The
daughter fell behind her but little, but she was more reserved. The
worldly critic called this good form: no daughter should try to outshine
her widowed mother.

As Fortune sat beside the young collector that afternoon, she marveled
why they had given him Percival Algernon. Jones was all right, solid
and substantial, but the other two turned it into ridicule. Still, what
was the matter with Percival Algernon? History had given men of these
names mighty fine things to accomplish. Then why ridicule? Was it due to
the perverted angle of vision created by wits and humorists in the comic
weeklies, who were eternally pillorying these unhappy prefixes to
ordinary cognomens? And why this pillorying? She hadn't studied the
subject sufficiently to realize that the business of the humorist is not
so much to amuse as to warn persons against becoming ridiculous. And
Percival Algernon Jones was all of that. It resolved itself into a
matter of values, then. Had his surname been Montmorency, Percival
Algernon would have fitted as a key to its lock. She smiled. No one but
a fond mother would be guilty of such a crime. And if she ever grew to
know him well enough, she was going to ask him all about this mother.

What interest had her own mother in this harmless young man? Oh, some
day she would burst through this web, this jungle; some day she would
see beyond the second act! What then? she never troubled to ask
herself; time enough when the moment arrived.

"I had an interesting adventure last night, a most interesting one,"
began George, who was no longer the shy, blundering recluse. They were
on the way back to town.

"Tell it me," said Mrs. Chedsoye.

He leaned over from his seat beside the chauffeur of the hired
automobile. (Hang the expense on a day like this!) "A fellow brought me
a rug last night, one of the rarest outside the museums. How and where
he got it I'm not fully able to state. But he had been in a violent
struggle somewhere, arms slashed, shins battered. He admitted that he
had gone in where many shapes of death lurked. It was a bit irregular. I
bought the rug, however. Some one else would have snatched it up if I
hadn't. I wanted him to recount the adventure, but he smiled and
refused. I tell you what it is, these eastern ports are great places."

"How interesting!" Mrs. Chedsoye's color was not up to the mark. "He was
not seriously wounded?"

"Oh, no. He looks like a tough individual. I mean, a chap strong and
hardy enough to put himself out of pretty bad holes. He needed the
money."

"Did he give his name?" asked Fortune.

"Yes; but no doubt it was assumed. Ryanne and he spelt it with an 'ne,'
and humorously explained why he did so."

"Is he young, old, good-looking, or what?"

Mrs. Chedsoye eyed her offspring through narrowed lids.

"I should say that he was about thirty-five, tall, something of an
athlete; and there remains some indications that in the flush of youth
he was handsome. Odd. He reminded me of a young man who was on the
varsity eleven--foot-baller--when I entered my freshman year. I didn't
know him, but I was a great admirer of his from the grand-stand. Horace
Wadsworth was _his_ name."

Horace Wadsworth. Fortune had the sensation of being astonished at
something she had expected to happen.

Just before going down to dinner that night, Fortune turned to her
mother, her chin combative in its angle.

"I gave Mr. Jones a hundred and fifty pounds out of that money you left
in my care. Knowing how forgetful you are, I took the liberty of
attending to the affair myself."

She expected a storm, but instead her mother viewed her with appraising
eyes. Suddenly she laughed mellowly. Her sense of humor was too
excitable to resist so delectable a situation.

"You told him, of course, that the money came from me?" demanded Mrs.
Chedsoye, when she could control her voice.

"Surely, since it did come from you."

"My dear, my dear, you are to me like the song in _The Mikado_," and she
hummed lightly--

  "'To make the prisoner pent
  Unwillingly represent
  A source of innocent merriment,
  Of innocent merriment!'"

"Am I a prisoner, then?"

"Whatever you like; it can not be said that I ever held you on the
leash," taking a final look into the mirror.

"What is the meaning of this rug? You and I know who stole it.

"I have explicitly warned you, my child, never to meddle with affairs
that do not concern you."

"Indirectly, some of yours do. You are in love with Ryanne, as he calls
himself."

"My dear, you do not usually stoop to such vulgarity. And are you
certain that he has any other name?"

"If I were I should not tell you."

"Ah!"

"A man will tell the woman he loves many things he will not tell the
woman he admires."

"As wise as the serpent," bantered the mother; but she looked again into
the mirror to see if her color was still what it should be. "And whom
does he admire?" the Mona Lisa smile hovering at the corners of her
lips.

"You," evenly.

Mrs. Chedsoye thought for a moment, thought deeply and with new insight.
It was no longer a child but a woman, and mayhap she had played upon the
taut strings of the young heart once too often. Still, she was unafraid.

"And whom does he love?"

"Me. Shall I get you the rouge, mother?"

Still with that unchanging smile, the woman received the stab. "My
daughter," as if speculatively, "you will get on. You haven't been my
pupil all these years for nothing. Let us go down to dinner."

Fortune, as she silently followed, experienced a sense of disconcertion
rather than of elation.



CHAPTER VI

MOONLIGHT AND POETRY


A ball followed dinner that night, Wednesday. The ample lounging-room
filled up rapidly after coffee: officers in smart uniforms and spurs,
whose principal function in times of peace is to get in everybody's way,
rowel exposed ankles, and demolish lace ruffles, Egyptians and Turks and
sleek Armenians in somber western frock and scarlet eastern fez or
_tarboosh_, women of all colors (meaning, of course, as applied) and
shapes and tastes, the lean and fat, the tall and short, such as _Billy
Taylor_ is said to have kissed in all the ports, and tail-coats of as
many styles as Joseph's had patches. George could distinguish his
compatriots by the fit of the trousers round the instep; the Englishman
had his fitted at the waist and trusted in Providence for the hang of
the rest. This trifling detective work rather pleased George. The women,
however, were all Eves to his eye; liberal expanses of beautiful white
skin, the bare effect being modified by a string of pearls or diamonds
or emeralds, and hair which might or might not have been wholly their
own. He waited restlessly for the reappearance of Mrs. Chedsoye and her
daughter. All was right with the world, except that he was to sail
altogether too soon. His loan had been returned, and he knew that his
former suspicions had been most unworthy. Mrs. Chedsoye had never
received his note.

Some one was sitting down beside him. It was Ryanne, in evening clothes,
immaculate, blasé, pink-cheeked. There are some men so happily framed
that they can don ready-made suits without calling your attention to the
fact. George saw at once that the adventurer was one of these fortunate
individuals.

"Makes a rather good picture to look at; eh?" began Ryanne, rolling a
flake-tobacco cigarette. "Dance?"

"No. Wish I could. You've done quick work," with admiring inspection.
"Not a flaw anywhere. How do you do it?"

"Thanks. Thanks to you, I might say. I did some tall hustling, though.
Strange, how we love these funeral toggeries. We follow the dance and we
follow the dead, with never a variation in color. The man who invented
the modern evening clothes must have done good business during the day
as chief-mourner."

"Why don't you send for your luggage?"

Ryanne caressed his chin. "My luggage is, I believe, in the hands of the
enemy. It is of no great importance. I never carry anything of value,
save my skin. I'm not like the villain in the melodrama; no
incriminating documents, no lost wills, no directions for digging up
pirates' gold."

"I suppose you'll soon be off for America?" George asked indifferently.

"I suppose so. By the way, I saw you at the game to-day."

"No! Where were you?"

"Top row. I am going to ask a favor of you. It may sound rather odd to
your ears, but I know those two ladies rather well. I kept out of the
way till I could find some clothes. The favor I ask is that you will not
tell them anything regarding the circumstances of our meeting. I am
known to them as a globe-trotter and a collector."

"That's too bad," said George contritely. "But I have already told
them."

"The devil you have!" Ryanne dropped his cigarette into the ash-tray.
"If I remember rightly, you asked me to say nothing."

"I know," said George, visibly embarrassed. "I forgot."

"Well, the fat is in the fire. I dare say that I can get round it. It
was risky. Women like to talk. I expect every hour to hear of some one
arriving from Bagdad."

"There's no boat from that direction till next week," informed George,
who was a stickler on time-tables.

"There are other ways of getting into Egypt. Know anything about
racing-camels?"

"You don't believe...?"

"My friend I believe in all things that haven't been proved impossible.
You've been knocking about here long enough to know something of the
tenacity of the Arab and the East Indian. Given a just cause, an idol's
eye or a holy carpet, and they'll follow you round the world ten times,
if need be. I never worry needlessly, but I lay out before me all the
points in the game. There is one man in Bagdad who will never cease to
think of me. This fellow is an Arab, Mahomed-El-Gebel by name, the real
article, proud and savage, into whose keeping the Holy Yhiordes was
given; Mahomed-El-Gebel, the Pasha's right-hand, a sheik in his own
right."

"But you haven't got the rug now."

"No, Mr. Jones, I haven't; but on the other hand, you have. So, here we
are together. When he gets through with me, your turn."

George laughed. Ryanne grew thoughtful over this sign. Percival Algernon
did not seem exactly worried.

"Aren't you a little afraid?"

"I? Why should I be?" inquired George innocently. "Certainly, whatever
your Arab friend's arguments may be, moral or physical, I'm going to
keep that Yhiordes."

Was he bluffing? Ryanne wondered. Did he really have nerve? Well,
within forty-eight hours there would come a test.

"Say, do you know, I rather wish you'd been with me on that trip--that
is, if you like a rough game." Ryanne said this in all sincerity.

"I have never been in a rough game, as you call it; but I've often had a
strong desire to be, just to find out for myself what sort of a duffer I
am."

Ryanne had met this sort of man before; the fellow who wanted to know
what stuff he was made of, and was ready to risk his hide to find out.
His experience had taught him to expect nothing of the man who knew just
what he was going to do in a crisis.

"Did you ever know, Mr. Jones," said Ryanne, his eyes humorous, "that
there is an organization in this world of ours, a company that offers a
try-out to men of your kidney?"

"What's that? What do you mean?"

"What I say. There is an established concern which will, upon
application for a liberal purchase of stock, arrange any kind of
adventure you wish."

"What?" George drew in his legs and sat up. "What sort of a jolly is
this?"

"You put your finger upon the one great obstacle. No one will believe
that such a concern exists. Yet it is a fact. And why not?"

"Because it wouldn't be real; it would be going to the moon _à la_ Coney
Island."

"Wrong, absolutely wrong. If I told you that I am a stock-holder in this
company, and that the adventure of the Yhiordes rug was arranged for my
special benefit, what would you say?"

"Say?" George turned a serious countenance toward the adventurer. "Why,
the whole thing is absurd on the face of it. As a joke, it might go; but
as a genuine affair, utterly impossible."

"No," quietly. "I admit that it sounds absurd, yes; but ten years ago
they'd have locked up, as insane, a man who said that he could fly. But
think of last summer at Paris, at Rheims, at Frankfort; the Continental
air was full of flying-machines. Bah! It's pretty difficult to impress
the average mind with something new. Why shouldn't we cater to the
poetic, the romantic side of man? We've concerns for everything else.
The fact is, mediocrity is always standing behind the corner with
brickbats for the initiative. Believe me or not, Mr. Jones, but this
company exists. The proof is that you have the rug and I have the
scars."

"But in these prosaic times!" murmured George, still skeptical.

"Prosaic times!" sniffed Ryanne. "There's one of your brickbats. They
swung it at the head of the first printer. Prosaic times! My friend,
this is the most romantic and bewildering age humanity has yet seen.
There's more romance and adventure going about on wheels and
steel-bottoms than ever there was in the days of Drake and the
Spanish galleons. There's an adventure lurking round the nearest
corner--romance, too. What this organization does is to direct you;
after that you have to shift for yourself. But, like a first-rate
physical instructor, they never map out more than a man can do. They
gave me the rug. Your bones, on such a quest, would have been bleaching
upon the banks of the Tigris."

"What the deuce is this company called?" George was enjoying the
conversation immensely.

"The United Romance and Adventure Company, Ltd., of London, Paris, and
New York."

"Have you any of the company's paper with you?" George repressed his
laughter because Ryanne's face was serious enough.

"Unfortunately, no. But if you will give me your banker's address I'll
be pleased to forward you the prospectus."

"Knauth, Nachod and Kühne. I am shortly leaving for home. Better send it
to New York. I say, suppose a chap buys an adventure that is not up to
the mark; can he return it or exchange it for another?"

"No. It's all chance, you know. The rules of the game are steel-bound.
We find you an adventure; it's up to you to make good."

"But, once more, suppose a chap gets a little too rough a game, and
doesn't turn up for his dividends; what then?"

"In that event," answered Ryanne sadly, "the stock reverts to the
general fund."

George lay back in his chair and let go his laughter. "You are mighty
good company, Mr. Ryanne."

"Well, well; we'll say nothing more about it. But a moment gone you
spoke as if you were game for an exploit."

"I still am. But if I knew the adventure was prearranged, as you say,
and I was up against a wall, there would be the inclination to cable the
firm for more instructions."

Ryanne himself laughed this time. "That's a good idea. I don't believe
the company ever thought of such a contingency. But I repeat, our
business is to give you the kick-off. After that you have to fight for
your own downs."

"The stock isn't listed?" again laughing.

"Scarcely. One man tells another, as I tell you, and so on."

"You send me the prospectus. I'm rather curious to have a look at it."

"I certainly shall do so," replied Ryanne, with gravity unassumed. "Ah!
Here come Mrs. Chedsoye and her daughter. If you don't mind, I'll make
myself scarce. I do not care to see them just now, after your having
told them about the stolen Yhiordes."

"I'm sorry," said George, rising eagerly.

"It's all in the game," gallantly.

George saw him gracefully manoeuver his way round the crush toward the
stairs leading to the bar. Really, he would like to know more about
this amiable free-lance. As the old fellows used to say, he little
dreamed that destiny, one of those things from Pandora's box, was
preparing a deeper and more intimate acquaintance.

"And what has been amusing you, Mr. Jones?" asked Mrs. Chedsoye. "I saw
you laughing."

"I was talking with the rug chap. He's a droll fellow. He said that he
had met you somewhere, but concluded not to renew the acquaintance,
since I told him that his adventure in part was known to you."

"That is foolish. I rather enjoy meeting men of his stamp. Don't you,
Fortune?"

"Sometimes," with a dry little smile. "I believe we have met him,
mother. There was something familiar about his head. Of course, we saw
him only from a distance."

"I do not think there is any real harm in him," said George. "What made
me laugh was a singular proposition he set before me. He said he owned
stock in a concern called 'The United Romance and Adventure Company';
and that for a specified sum of money, one could have any adventure one
pleased."

"Did you ever hear of such a thing?" cried the mother merrily. Fortune
searched her face keenly. "The United Romance and Adventure Company! He
must have been joking. What did you say his name is?"

"Ryanne. Joking is my idea exactly," George agreed. "The scheme is to
plunge the stock-holder into a real live adventure, and then let him
pull himself out the best way he can. Sounds good. He added that this
rug business was an instance of the success of the concern. There goes
the music. Do you dance, Miss Chedsoye?"

"A little." Fortune was preoccupied. She was wondering what lay behind
Mr. Ryanne's amiable jest.

"Go along, both of you," said Mrs. Chedsoye. "I am too old to dance. I
prefer watching people." She sat down and arranged herself comfortably.
She was always arranging herself comfortably; it was one of the secrets
of her perennial youth. She was very lovely, but George had eyes for the
daughter only. Mrs. Chedsoye saw this, but was not in the least
chagrined.

"It is so many years since I tripped the light fantastic toe," George
confessed, reluctantly and nervously, now that he had bravely committed
himself. "It is quite possible that the accent will be primarily upon
the trip."

"Perhaps, then," replied the girl, who truthfully was out of tune,
"perhaps I had better get my wraps and we'll go outside. The night is
glorious."

She couldn't have suggested anything more to his liking. And so, after a
little hurrying about, the two young people went outside and began to
promenade slowly up and down the mole. Their conversation was desultory.
George had dropped back into his shell and the girl was not equal to the
task of drawing him out. Once he stumbled over a sleeping beggar, and
would have fallen had she not caught him by the arm.

"Thanks. I'm clumsy."

"It's rather difficult to see them in the moonlight; their rags match
the pavements."

The Egyptian night, that sapphirine darkness which the flexible
imagination peoples with lovely and terrible shades, or floods with
mystery and romance and wonder, lay softly upon this strip of verdure
aslant the desert's face, the Valley of the Nile. The moon, round,
brilliant, strangely near, suffused the scarred old visage of the world
with phantom silver; the stones of the parapet glowed dully, the
pavement glistened whitely, all things it touched with gentleness,
lavishing beauty upon beauty, mellowing ugliness or effacing it. The
deep blue Nile, beribboned with the glancing lights from the silent
feluccas, curling musically along the sides of the frost-like dahabeahs
and steamers, rolled on to the sea; and the blue-white arc-lamps,
spanning the Great Nile Bridge, took the semblance of a pearl necklace.
From time to time a caravan trooped across the bridge into Cairo. The
high and low weird notes of the tom-toms, the wheezing protests of the
camels, the raucous defiance of the donkeys, the occasional thin music
of reeds, were sounds that crossed and recrossed one another, anciently.

"Do you care for poetry, Mr. Jones?"

"I? I used to write it."

"And you aren't afraid to admit it?"

"Well, I shouldn't confess the deed to every one," he answered frankly.
"We all write poetry at one time or another; but it's generally not
constitutional, and we recover."

"I do not see why any one should be ashamed of writing poetry."

"Ah, but there is poetry and poetry. My kind and Byron's is born of
kindred souls; but he was an active genius, whereas, I wasn't even a
passive one. In all great poets I find my own rejected thoughts, as
Emerson says; and that's enough for my slender needs. Poets are rather
uncomfortable chaps to have round. They are capricious, irritable,
temperamental, selfish, and usually demand all the attention."

The little vocal stream dried up again, and once more they listened to
the magic sounds of the night. She stopped abruptly to look over the
parapet, and his shoulder met hers; after that the world to him was
never going to be the same again.

Moonlight and poetry; not the safest channels to sail uncharted. The
girl was lonely, and George was lonely, too. His longing had now assumed
a definite form; hers moved from this to that, still indefinitely. The
quickness with which this definition had come to George rather startled
him. His first sight of Fortune Chedsoye had been but yesterday; yet,
here he was, not desperately but consciously in love with her. The
situation bore against all precepts; it ripped up his preconceived ideas
of romance as a gale at sea shreds a canvas. He felt a bit panicky. He
had always planned a courtship of a year or so, meetings, separations,
and remeetings, pleasurable expectations, little junkets to theatres and
country places; in brief, to witness the rose grow and unfold. Somewhere
he had read or heard that courtship was the plummet which sounded the
depths of compatibility. He knew nothing of Fortune Chedsoye, save that
she was beautiful to his eyes, and that she was as different from the
ordinary run of girls as yonder moon was from the stars. Here his
knowledge ended. But instinct went on, appraising and delving and
winnowing, and instinct told him what knowledge could not, that she was
all his heart desired.

When a man finally decides that he is in love, his troubles begin, the
imaginary ones. Is he worthy? Can he always provide for her? Is it
possible for such a marvelous creature to love an insignificant chap
like himself? And that worst of mental poisons, is she in love with any
one else? What to do to win her? The feats of Hercules, of Perseus, of
Jason: what mad piece of heroism can he lay his hand to that he may wake
the slumbering fires, and having roused them, continue to feed them?

Manhood, meaning that decade between thirty and forty, looks upon this
phase, abashed. After all, it wasn't so terrible; there were vaster
emotions, vaster achievements in life to which in comparison love was as
a candle held to the sun.

Again she stopped, leaning over the parapet and staring down at the
water swirling past the stone embankment. He did likewise, resting upon
his folded arms. Suddenly his tongue became alive; and quietly, without
hesitancy or embarrassment, he began to tell her of his school life, his
life at home. And the manner in which he spoke of his mother warmed her;
and she was strangely and wonderingly attracted.

"Of course, the mother meant the best in the world when she gave me
Percival Algernon; and because she meant the best, I have rarely tried
to hide them. What was good enough for her to give was good enough for
me to keep. It is simply that I have been foolish about it,
supersensitive. I should have laughed and accepted the thing as a joke;
instead, I made the fatal move of trying to run away and hide. But,
taking the name in full," lightly, "it sounds as incongruous as playing
_Traumerei_ on a steam-piano."

He expected her to laugh, but her heart was too full of the old ache.
This young man, kindly, gentle, intelligent, if shy, was a love-child.
And she? An offspring, the loneliest of the lonely, the child that
wasn't wanted. Many a time she had thought of flinging all to the winds,
of running away and hiding where they never should find her, of working
with her own hands for her bread and butter. Little they'd have cared.
But always the rebel spirit died within her as she stepped outside the
villa gates. To leave behind for unknown privations certain assured
comforts, things of which she was fond, things to which she was used,
she couldn't do it, she just couldn't. Morally and physically she was a
little coward.

"Let us go in," she said sharply. Another moment, and she would have
been in tears.



CHAPTER VII

RYANNE TABLES HIS CARDS


During this time Mrs. Chedsoye, the Major, Messrs. Ryanne and Wallace,
officers and directors in the United Romance and Adventure Company,
Ltd., sat in the Major's room, round the boudoir-stand which had
temporarily been given the dignity of a table. The scene would not have
been without interest either to the speculative physiognomist or to the
dramatist. To each it would have represented one of those astonishing
moments when the soul of a person comes out into the open, as one might
express it, incautiously, to be revealed in the expressions of the eyes
and the mouth. These four persons were about going forward upon a
singularly desperate and unusual enterprise. From now on they were no
longer to fence with one another, to shift from this topic to that,
with the indirect manoeuvers of a house-cat intent upon the quest of
the Friday mackerel. The woman's face was alive with eagerness; the
oldest man looked from one to the other with earnest calculation;
Wallace no longer hid his cupidity; Ryanne's immobility of countenance
was in itself a tacit admission to the burning of all his bridges that
he might become a part of this conclave.

"Smuggling," said the Major, with prudent lowering of voice, evidently
continuing some previous debate, "smuggling is a fine art, a keen
sporting proposition; and the consequences of discovery are never very
serious. What's a fine of a thousand dollars against the profits of many
successful excursions into the port of New York? Nothing, comparatively.
For several years, now, we have carried on this business with the utmost
adroitness. Never have we drawn serious attention. We have made two or
three blunders, but the suspicions of the secret-service were put to
sleep upon each occasion. We have prospered. Here is a gem, let us say,
worth on this side a thousand; over there we sell it for enough to give
us a clean profit of three or four hundred. Forty per cent. upon our
investment. That ought to be enough for any reasonable person. Am I
right?"

Mrs. Chedsoye alone was unresponsive to this appeal.

"I continue, then. We are making enough to lay by something for our old
age. And that's the only goal which never loses its luster. But this
affair!"

"Talk, talk," said Mrs. Chedsoye impatiently.

"My dear Kate, allow me to relieve my mind."

"You have done so till the topic is threadbare. It is rather late in the
day to go over the ground again. Time is everything just now."

"Admitted. But this affair, Kate, is big; big with dangers, big with
pitfalls; there is a hidden menace in every step of it. Mayhap death;
who knows? The older I grow, the more I cling to material comforts, to
enterprises of small dangers. However, as you infer, there's no going
back now."

"No," assented Ryanne, his mouth hard; "not if I have to proceed alone."

She smiled at him. "You talk of danger," speaking to the Major. "What
danger can there be?"

"The unforeseen danger, the danger of which we know nothing, and
therefore are unable to prepare for it. You do not see it, my dear, but
it is there, nevertheless."

Wallace nodded approvingly. Ryanne shrugged.

"Failure is practically impossible. And I want excitement; I crave it as
you men crave your tobacco."

"And there we are, Kate. It really isn't the gold; it's the excitement
of getting it and coming away unscathed. If I could only get you to look
at all sides of the affair! It's the Rubicon."

"I accept it as such. I am tired of petty things. I repeat, failure is
not possible. Have I not thought it out, detail by detail, mapped out
each line, anticipated dangers by eliminating them?"

"All but that one danger of which we know nothing. You're a great woman,
Kate. You have, as you say, made ninety-nine dangers out of a hundred
impossible. Let us keep an eye out for that hundredth. Our photographs
have yet to grace the rogues' gallery."

"With one exception." Ryanne's laughter was sardonic.

"Whose?" shot the Major.

"Mine. A round and youthful phiz, a silky young mustache. But rest
easy; there's no likeness between that and the original one I wear now."

"You never told us...." began Mrs. Chedsoye.

"There was never any need till now. Eight years ago. Certain powers that
be worked toward my escape. But I was never to return. You will
recollect that I have always remained this side. Enough. What I did does
not matter. I will say this much: my crime was in being found out. One
venture into New York and out to sea again; they will not have a chance.
I doubt if any could recall the circumstances of my meteoric career. You
will observe that I am keyed for anything. Let us get to work. It
doesn't matter, anyhow."

"You did not...." Mrs. Chedsoye hesitated.

"Blood?" reading her thought. "No, Gioconda; my hands are guiltless, at
least they were till this Bagdad affair; and I am not sure there. I was
a trusted clerk; I gambled; I took money that did not belong to me. And
here I am, room number 208."

"It doesn't matter. Come, Kate; don't stare at Hoddy as if he were a new
species." The Major smoothed the ends of his mustache. "This confession
will be good for his soul."

"Yes, Gioconda; I feel easier now. I am heart and soul in this affair. I
need excitement, too. Lord, yes. When I went to Bagdad, I had no idea
that I should ever lay eyes upon that rug. But I did. And there's the
emeralds, too, Major."

The Major rubbed his hands pleasurably. "Yes, yes; the emeralds; I had
not forgotten them. One hundred lovely green stones, worth not a penny
under thirty thousand. A fine collection. But another idea has taken
possession of this teeming brain of mine. Have you noticed how this
fellow Jones hovers about Fortune? He's worth a million, if he's worth a
cent. I am sure, in pure gratitude, she would see to it that her loved
ones were well taken care of in their old age."

"I am going to marry Fortune myself," said Ryanne blandly.

"You?" The Major was nonplussed.

Wallace shuffled his feet uneasily. This blond companion of his was
always showing kinks in his nature, kinks that rarely ever straightened
out.

"Yes. And why not? What is she to either you or her mother? Nothing.
Affection you have never given her, being unable. It surprises you; but,
nevertheless, I love her, and I am going to marry her."

"Really?" said Mrs. Chedsoye.

"Even so."

"You are a fool, Horace!" with rising fury. So then, the child had not
jibed her in a moment of pique?

"Men in love generally are fools. I've never spoken before, because you
never absolutely needed me till now. There's my cards, pat."

Mrs. Chedsoye's fury deepened, but not visibly. "You are welcome to her,
if she will have you."

"Yes," supplemented the Major; "if she will have you, my friend, take
her, and our benedictions."

Ryanne's shoulders stirred suggestively.

"Of course, I expect to have the final word to say on the subject. She
is my daughter," said Mrs. Chedsoye.

"A trifling accident, my dear Gioconda," smiled Ryanne; "merely that."

"Just a little oil, just a little oil," the Major pleaded anxiously.
"Dash it all, this is no time for a row of this silly order. But it's
always the way," irritably. "A big enterprise, demanding a single
purpose, and a trifle like this to upset it all!"

"I am ready for business at any moment."

"And you, Kate?"

"We'll say no more about it till the affair is over. After that...."

"Those who live will see, eh?" Ryanne rolled a cigarette.

"To business, then. In the first place, Mr. Jones must not reach the
_Ludwig_!"

"He will not." Ryanne spoke with quiet assurance.

"He will not even see that boat," added Wallace, glad to hear the sound
of his voice again.

"Good. But, mind, no rough work."

"Leave it all to me," said Ryanne. "The United Romance and Adventure
Company will give him an adventure on approval, as it were."

"To you, then. The report from New York reads encouragingly. Our friends
there are busy. They are merely waiting for us. From now on Percival
Algernon must receive no more mail, telegrams or cables."

"I'll take care of that also." Ryanne looked at Mrs. Chedsoye musingly.

"His real-estate agent will wire him, possibly to-morrow."

"In that event, he will receive a cable signifying that the transaction
is perfectly correct."

"He may also inquire as to what to do with the valuables in the
wall-safe."

"He will be instructed to touch nothing, as the people who will occupy
the house are old friends." Ryanne smoked calmly.

"Wallace, you will return to New York at once."

"I thought I was wanted here?"

"No longer."

"All right; I'm off. I'll sail on the _Prince Ludwig_, state-room 118.
I'll have my joke by the way."

"You will do nothing of the kind. You will have a state-room by
yourself," said Mrs. Chedsoye crisply. "And no wine, no cards. If you
fail, I'll break you...."

"As we would a churchwarden's pipe, Wallace, my lad." Ryanne gripped his
companion by the shoulder, and there was enough pressure in the grip to
cause the recipient to wince.

"Well, well; I'll lay a straight course." Wallace slid his shoulder from
under Ryanne's hand.

"To you, then, Hoddy, the business of quarantining our friend Percival.
Don't hurt him; simply detain him. You must realize the importance of
this. Have you your plans?"

"I'll perfect them to-morrow. I shall find a way, never fear."

"Does the rug come in anywhere?" The Major was curious. It sometimes
seemed to him that Ryanne did not always lay his cards face up upon the
table.

"It will play its part. Besides, I am rather inclined to the idea of
taking it back. It may be the old wishing-carpet. In that case, it will
come in handy. Who knows?"

"How much is it worth?"

"Ah, Major, Percival himself could not say exactly. He gave me a
thousand pounds for it."

"A thousand pounds!" murmured Wallace.

The Major struck his hands lightly together. Whether in applause or
wonder he alone knew.

"And it was worth every shilling of it, too. I'll tell you the story
some day. There are a dozen ways of suppressing Percival, but I must
have something appealing to my artistic side."

"You have never told us your real name, Horace," Mrs. Chedsoye bent
toward him.

He laughed. "I must have something to confess to you in the future, dear
Gioconda."

"Well, the meeting adjourns, _sine die_."

"What are you going to do with Fortune?" demanded Ryanne.

"Send her back to Mentone."

"What the deuce did you bring her here for, knowing what was in the
wind?"

"She expressed a desire to see Cairo again," answered Mrs. Chedsoye.

"We never deny her anything." The Major rose and yawned suggestively.

In the corridor, Ryanne whispered softly: "Why not, Gioconda?"

"She shall never marry a man of your stamp," coldly.

"Charming mother! How tenderly you have cherished her!"

"Horace," calmly enough, "is it wise to anger me?"

"It may not be wise, but I have never seen you in a rage. You would be
magnificent."

"Cease this foolery," patiently. "I am in no mood for it to-night. As an
associate in this equivocal business, you do very well; you are
necessary. But do not presume too much upon that. For all that I may not
have been what a mother should be, I still have some self-respect. So
long as I have any power over her, Fortune shall never marry a man so
far down in the social scale as yourself."

"Social scale? Gioconda, how you hurt me!" mockingly. "I should really
like to know what your idea of that invincible barrier is. Is it because
my face is in the rogues' gallery? Surely, you would not be cruel!"

"She is far above us all, my friend," continuing unruffled. "Sometimes I
stand in absolute awe of her."

"A marvel! If my recollection is not at fault, many a man has entered
the Villa Fanny, with a view to courtship, men beside whom I am as
Roland to the lowest Saracen. You never objected to them."

"They had money and position."

"Magic talisman! And if I had money and position?"

"My objections would be no less strong."

"Your code puzzles me. You would welcome as a son-in-law a man who stole
openly the widow's mite, while I, who harass none but the predatory
rich, must dwell in the outland? Rank injustice!"

"You couldn't take care of her."

"Yes, I could. With but little effort I could make these two hands as
honest as the day is long."

"I have my doubts," smiling a little.

"Suppose, for the sake of an argument, suppose Fortune accepted me?"

Mrs. Chedsoye's good humor returned. She knew her daughter tolerably
well; the child had a horror of men. "Poor Horace! Do you build upon
that?"

"Less, perhaps, than upon my own bright invention. My suit, then, to be
brief, is rejected?"

"Emphatically. I have spoken."

"Oh, well; the feminine prerogative shall be mine, the last word. Good
night; _dormi bene_!" He bowed grandly and turned toward his own room.

He possessed that kind of mockery which was the despair of those at whom
it was directed. They never knew whether his mood was one of harmless
fun or of deadly intent. And rather than mistake the one quality for the
other, they generally pretended to ignore. Mrs. Chedsoye, who had a
similar talent, was one of the few who felt along the wall as one does
in the dark, instinctively. To-night she recognized that there was no
harmless fun but a real desperateness behind the mask; and she had held
in her temper with a firm hand. This was not the hour for a clash. She
shivered a little; and for the first time in the six or seven years she
had known him, she faced a fear of him. His great strength, his reckless
courage, his subtle way of mastering men by appearing to be mastered by
them, held her in the thrall of a peculiar fascination which, in quiet
periods, she looked upon as something deeper. Marriage was not to her an
ideal state, nor was there any man, living or dead, who had appealed to
the physical side of her. But he was in the one sex what she was in the
other; and while she herself would never have married him, she raged
inwardly at the possibility of his wanting another woman.

To her the social fabric which holds humanity together was merely a
convenience; the moral significance touched neither her heart nor her
mind. In her the primordial craving for ease, for material comforts,
pretty trinkets and gowns was strongest developed. It was as if this
sense had been handed down to her, untouched by contact with
progression, from the remote ages, that time between the fall of Roman
civilization and where modern civilization began. In short, a beautiful
barbarian, whose intellect alone had advanced.

Fortune was asleep. The mother went over to the bed and gently shook the
slim, round arm which lay upon the coverlet. The child's nature lay
revealed as she opened her eyes and smiled. It did not matter that the
smile instantly changed to a frowning inquiry. The mother spoke truly
when she said that there were times when she stood in awe of this, her
flesh and blood.

"My child, I wish to ask you a question, and for your own good answer
truthfully. Do you love Horace?"

Fortune sat up and rubbed her eyes. "No." Had her wits been less
scattered she might have paltered.

The syllable had a finality to it that reassured the mother more than a
thousand protestations would have done.

"Good night," she said.

Fortune lay down again and drew the coverlet up to her chin. With her
eyes shut she waited, but in vain. Her mother disrobed and sought her
own bed.

Ryanne was intensely dissatisfied with himself. For once his desperate
mood had carried him too far. He had made too many confessions, had
antagonized a woman who was every bit as clever and ingenious as
himself. The enterprise toward which they were moving held him simply
because it was an exploit that enticed wholly his twisted outlook upon
life. There was a forbidding humor in the whole affair, too, which he
alone saw. The possible rewards were to him of secondary consideration.
It was the fun of the thing. It was the fun of the thing that had put
him squarely upon the wide, short road to perdition, which had made him
first a spendthrift, then a thief. The fun of the thing: sinister
phrase! A thousand times had he longed to go back, for he wasn't all
bad; but door after door had shut behind him; and now the single
purpose was to get to the end of the road by the shortest route.

He did not deceive himself. His desperate mood was the result of an
infernal rage against himself, a rage against the weakness of his heart.
Fortune Chedsoye. Why had she not crossed his path at that time when he
might have been saved? And yet, would she have saved him? God alone
knew.

He heard Jones stirring in his room next door. Presently all became
still. To sleep like that! He shrugged, threw off his coat, swept the
cover from the stand, found a pack of cards, and played solitaire till
the first pallor of dawn announced the new day.

Reclining snugly against the parapet, wrapped in his tattered arbiyeh,
or cloak, his head pillowed upon his lean arm, motionless with that
pretended sleep of the watcher, Mahomed-El-Gebel kept his vigil. Miles
upon miles he had come, across three bleak, cold, blinding deserts, on
camels, in trains, on camels again, night and day, day and night, across
the soundless, yellow plains. Allah was good to the true believer. The
night was chill, but certain fires warmed his blood. All day long he
had followed the accursed, lying giaour, but never once had he wandered
into the native quarters of the city. Patience! What was a day, a week,
a year? Grains of sand. He could wait. _Inshalla!_



CHAPTER VIII

THE PURLOINED CABLE


George, having made his bargain with conscience relative to the Yhiordes
rug, slept the sleep of the untroubled, of the just, of the man who had
nothing in particular to get up for. In fact, after having drunk his
breakfast cocoa and eaten his buttered toast, he evinced his
satisfaction by turning his face away from the attracting morning light
and passing off into sleep again. And thereby hangs this tale.

So much depended upon his getting his mail as it came in that morning,
that Fate herself must have resisted sturdily the desire to shake him by
the shoulder. Perhaps she would have done so but for the serenity of his
pose and the infantile smile that lingered for a while round his lips.
Fate, as with most of us, has her sentimental lapses.

The man next door, having no conscience to speak of (indeed, he had
derailed her while passing his twentieth meridian!), was up betimes. He
had turned in at four; at six he was strolling about the deserted
lounging-room, watching the entrances. It is inconceivable how easily
mail may be purloined in a large hotel. There are as many ways as points
to the wind. Ryanne chose the simplest. He waited for the mail-bag to be
emptied upon the head-porter's counter. Nonchalantly, but deftly, while
the porter looked on, the adventurer ran through the bulk. He found
three letters and a cable, the latter having been received by George's
bankers the day before and mailed directly to the hotel. The porter had
no suspicion that a bold theft was being committed under his very eyes.
Moreover, circumstances prevented his ever learning of it. Ryanne
stuffed the spoils into a pocket.

"If any one asks for me," he said, "say that I shall be at my banker's,
the Anglo-Egyptian Bank, at ten o'clock."

"Yes, sir," replied the porter, as he began to sort the rest of the
mail, not forgetting to peruse the postals.

Ryanne went out into the street, walking rapidly into town.
Mahomed-El-Gebel shook the folds of his cloak and followed. The
adventurer did not slacken his gait till he reached Shepheard's Hotel.
Upon the steps he paused. Some English troops were marching past, on the
way to the railway station; the usual number of natives were patrolling
the sidewalks, dangling strings of imitation scarabs; a caravan of
pack-camels, laden with cotton, shuffled by haughtily; a blind beggar
sat on the curb in front, munching a piece of sugar-cane. Ryanne,
assured that no one he knew was about, proceeded into the writing-room,
wholly deserted at this early hour.

He sat down at a desk and opened the cable. It contained exactly what he
expected. It was a call for advice in regard to the rental of Mr. George
P. A. Jones's mansion in New York and the temporary disposing of the
loose valuables. Ryanne read it over a dozen times, with puckered brow,
and finally balled it fiercely in his fist. Fool! He could not, at that
moment, remember the most essential point in the game, the name and
office of the agent to whom he must this very morning send reply.
Hurriedly he fished out the letters; one chance in a thousand. He swore,
but in relief. In the corner of one of the letters he saw that for some
unknown reason the gods were still with him. Reynolds and Reynolds,
estates, Broad Street; he remembered. He wrote out a reply on a piece of
hotel paper, intending to copy it off at the cable-office. This reply
covered the ground convincingly. "Renting for two months. Old friends.
Leave things as they are. P. A." The initials were a little stroke. From
some source Ryanne had picked up the fact that Jones's business
correspondence was conducted over those two initials. He tore up the
cable into small illegible squares and dropped some into one basket and
some into another. Next, he readdressed George's mail to Leipzig;
another stroke, meaning a delay of two or three months; from the head
office of his banker's there to Paris, Paris to Naples, Naples to New
York. That Ryanne did not open these letters was in nowise due to moral
suasion; whatever they contained could be of no vital importance to him.

"Now, Horace, we shall bend the crook of our elbow in the bar-room. The
reaction warrants a stimulant."

An hour later the whole affair was nicely off his hands. The cable had
cost him three sovereigns. But what was that? _Niente_, _rien_; nothing;
a mere bagatelle. For the first time in weeks a sense of security
invaded his being.

It was by now nine o'clock; and Percival Algernon still reposed upon his
bed of ease. Let him sleep. Many days were to pass ere he would again
know the comfort of linen sheets, the luxury of down under his ear.

What to do? mused the rogue. On the morrow Mr. Jones would leave for
Port Saïd. Ryanne shook his head and with his cane beat a light tattoo
against the side of his shin. Abduction was rather out of his sphere of
action. And yet, the suppression of Percival was by all odds the most
important move to be made. He had volunteered this service and
accomplish it he must, in face of all obstacles, or poof! went the whole
droll fabric. For to him it was droll, and never it rose in his mind
that he did not chuckle saturninely. It was a kind of nightmare where
one hung in mid-air, one's toes just beyond the flaming dragon's jaws.
The rewards would be enormous, but these he would gladly surrender for
the supreme satisfaction of turning the poisoned arrow in the heart of
that canting hypocrite, that smug church-deacon, the sanctimonious, the
sleek, the well-fed first-born. And poor Percival Algernon, for no blame
of his own, must be taken by the scruff of his neck and thrust bodily
into this tangled web of scheme and under-scheme. It was infinitely
humorous.

He had had a vague plan regarding Mahomed, guardian of the Holy
Yhiordes, but it was not possible for him to be in Cairo at this early
date. That he would eventually appear Ryanne never doubted. He knew the
Oriental mind. Mahomed-El-Gebel would cross every barrier less effective
than death. It was a serious matter to the Moslem. If he returned to the
palace at Bagdad, minus the rug, it would mean free transportation to
the Arabian Gulf, bereft of the most important part of his excellent
anatomy, his head. Some day, if he lived, Ryanne intended telling the
exploit to some clever chap who wrote; it would look rather well in
print.

To turn Mahomed against Percival as being the instigator would be an
adroit bit of work; and it would rid him of both of them. Gioconda said
that she wanted no rough work. How like a woman! Here was a man's game,
a desperate one; and Gioconda, not forgetting that it was her
inspiration, wanted it handled with gloves! It was bare-hand work, and
the sooner she was made to realize this, the better. It was no time for
tuning fiddles.

Mahomed out of it, there was a certain English-Bar in the Quarter
Rosetti, a place of dubious repute. Many derelicts drifted there in
search of employment still more dubious. Dregs, scum; the bottom and the
top of the kettle; outcasts, whose hand and animus were directed against
society; black and brown and white men; not soldiers of fortune, like
Ryanne, but their camp-followers. In short, it was there (and Ryanne
still felt a dull shame of it) that Wallace, carrying the final
instructions of the enterprise, had found him, sleeping off the effects
of a shabby rout of the night before. It was there also that he had
heard of the history and the worth of the Yhiordes rug and the
possibility of its theft. He laughed. To have gone upon an adventure
like that, with nothing but the fumes of wine in his head!

For a few pieces of gold he might enroll under his shady banner three or
four shining lights who would undertake the disposal of Percival. Not
that he wished the young man any harm--no; but business was business,
and in some way or another he must be made to vanish from the sight and
presence of men for at least two months.

As for Major Callahan's unforeseen danger, the devil could look out for
that.

Ryanne consulted his watch, a cheap but trustworthy article, costing a
dollar, not to be considered as an available asset. He would give it
away later in the day; for he had decided that while he was in funds
there would be wisdom in the purchase of a fine gold _Longines_. A good
watch, as every one knows, is always as easily converted into cash as a
London bank-note, providing, of course, one is lucky enough to possess
either. Many watches had he left behind, in this place or in that; and
often he had exchanged the ticket for a small bottle with a green neck.
Wherever fortune had gone against him heavily at cards, there he might
find his latest watch. Besides getting a new time-piece, he was
strongly inclined to leave the bulk of his little fortune in the
hotel-safe. One never could tell.

And another good idea, he mused, as he swung the time-piece into his
vest-pocket, would be to add the splendor of a small white stone to his
modest scarf. There is only one well-defined precept among the sporting
fraternity: when flush, buy jewelry. Not to the cause of vanity, not at
all; but precious stones and gold watches constitute a kind of
reserve-fund against the evil day. When one has money in the pocket the
hand is quick and eager to find it. But jewelry is protected by a
certain quality of caution; it is not too readily passed over bars and
gaming-tables. While the pawnbroker stands between the passion and the
green-baize, there's food for thought.

Having settled these questions to his satisfaction, there remained but
one other, how to spend his time. It would be useless to seek the
English-Bar before noon. Might as well ramble through the native town
and the bazaars. He might pick up some little curio to give to Fortune.
So he beckoned to an idle driver, climbed into the carriage, and was
driven off as if empires hung upon minutes.

Ryanne never wearied of the bazaars in Cairo. They were to him no less
enchanting than the circus-parades of his youth. In certain ways, they
were not to be compared with those in Constantinople and Smyrna; but, on
the other hand, there was more light, more charm, more color. Perhaps
the magic nearness of the desert had something to do with it, the
rainless skies, the ever-recurring suggestions of antiquity. His lively
observation, his sense of the picturesque and the humorous, always close
to the surface, gave him that singular impetus which makes man a
prowler. This gift had made possible his success in old Bagdad. Some
years before he had prowled through the narrow city streets, had noted
the windings, the blind-alleys, and had never forgotten. Faces and
localities were written indelibly upon his memory.

One rode to the bazaars, but walked through them or mounted donkeys.
Ryanne preferred his own legs. So did Mahomed. Once, so close did he
come that he could have put his two brown hands round the infidel's
throat. But, patience. Did not the Koran teach patience among the
higher laws? Patience. He could not, madly as he had dreamed, throttle
the white liar here in the bazaars. That would not bring the Holy
Yhiordes to his hands. He must wait. He must plan to lure the man out at
night, then to hurry him into the desert. Out into the desert, where no
man might be his master. Oh, the Holy Yhiordes should be his again; it
was written.

The cries, the shouts, the tower of Babel reclaimed; the intermingling
of the races of the world: the Englishman, the American, the German, the
Italian, the Frenchman, the Greek, the Levantine, the purple-black
Ethiopian, the bronze Nubian; the veiled women, the naked children; all
the color-tones known to art, but predominating, that marvelous faded
tint of blue, the Cairene blue, in the heavens, in the waters, in the
dyes.

"Make way, O my mother!" bawled a donkey-boy to the old crone peddling
matches.

"Backsheesh! Backsheesh!" in the eight tones of the human voice. From
the beggar, his brother, his uncle, his grandfather, his children and
his children's children. "Backsheesh, backsheesh!"

"To the right!" was shrilled into Ryanne's ear; and he dodged. A troop
of donkeys passed, laden with tourists, unhappy, fretful,
self-conscious. A water-carrier brushed against him, and he whiffed the
fresh dampness of the bulging goat-skin. A woman, the long, black
head-veil streaming out behind in the clutch of the monkey-like hand of
a toddling child, carried a terra-cotta water-jar upon her head. The
grace with which she moved, the abruptness of the color-changes, caught
Ryanne's roving eye and filled it with pleasure.

Dust rose and subsided, eddied and settled; beggars blind and one-eyed
squatted in it, children tossed it in play, and beasts of burden
shuffled through it.

The roar in front of the shops, the pressing and crowding of customers,
the high cries of the merchants; the gurgle of the water-pipes, the
pleasant fumes of coffee, the hardy loafers lolling before the khans or
caravansaries; a veiled face at a lattice-window; the violet shadows in
a doorway; the sunshine upon the soaring mosques; a true believer,
rocking and mumbling over his tattered Koran; gold and silver and
jewels; amber and copper and brass; embroideries and rugs and carpets;
and the pest of fleas, the plague of flies, the insidious smells.

Rarely one saw the true son of the desert, the Bedouin. He disdained
streets and walls, and only necessity brought him here among the
polyglot and the polygon.

Ryanne found himself inspecting "the largest emerald in the world, worth
twelve thousand pounds," which looked more like a fine hexagonal of onyx
than a gem. It was one of the curiosities of the bazaars, however, and
tourists were generally round it in force. To his experienced eye it was
no more than a fine specimen of emerald quartz, worth what any fool of a
collector was willing to pay for it. From this bazaar he passed on into
the next, and there he saw Fortune.

And as Mahomed, always close at hand, saw the hard lines in Ryanne's
face soften, the cynical smile become tender, he believed he saw his way
to strike.



CHAPTER IX

THE BITTER FRUIT


Fortune had a hearty contempt for persons who ate their breakfast in
bed. For her the glory of the day was the fresh fairness of the morning,
when every one's step was buoyant, and all life stirred energetically.
There was cheer and hope everywhere; men faced their labors with clear
eye and feared nothing; women sang at their work. It was only at the
close of day that despair and defeat stalked the highways. So she was up
with the sun, whether in her own garden or in these odd and mystical
cities. Thus she saw the native as he was, not as he later in the day
pretended to be, for the benefit of the Feringhi about to be stretched
upon the sacrificial stone. She saw, with gladness, the honey-bee
thirling the rose, the plowman's share baring the soil: the morning,
the morning, the two or three hours that were all, all her own. Her
mother was always irritable and petulant in the morning, and her uncle
never developed the gift of speech till after luncheon.

She had the same love of prowling that lured Ryanne from the beaten
paths. She was not inquisitive but curious, and that ready disarming
smile of hers opened many a portal.

She was balancing upon her gloved palm, thoughtfully, a Soudanese
head-trinket, a pendant of twisted gold-wires, flawed emeralds and
second pearls, really exquisite and not generally to be found outside
the expensive shops in the European quarters, and there infrequently.
The merchant wanted twenty pounds for it. Fortune shook her head,
regretfully. It was far beyond her means. She sighed. Only once in a
great while she saw something for which her whole heart cried out. This
pendant was one of these.

"I will give you five pounds for it. That is all I have with me."

"Salaam, madame," said the jeweler, reaching for the pendant.

"If you will send it to the Hotel Semiramis this afternoon...." But she
faltered at the sight of the merchant's incredulous smile.

"I'll give you ten for it; not a piastre more. I can get one like it in
the Shâriâ Kâmel for that amount."

Both Fortune and the merchant turned.

"You, Horace?"

"Yes, my child. And what are you doing here alone, without a dragoman?"

"Oh, I have been through here alone many times. I'm not afraid. Isn't it
beautiful? He wants twenty pounds for it, and I can not afford that."

She had not seen him in many weeks, yet she accepted his sudden
appearance without question or surprise. She was used to his turning up
at unexpected moments. Of course, she had known that he was in Cairo:
where her mother and uncle were this secretive man was generally within
calling. There had been a time when she had eagerly plied him with
questions, but he had always erected barriers of evasion, and finally
she ceased her importunities, for she concluded that her questions were
such. No matter to whom she turned, there was no one to answer her
questions, questions born of doubt and fear.

"Ten pounds," repeated Ryanne, a hand in his pocket.

[Illustration]

The merchant laughed. Here were a young man and his sweetheart. His
experience had taught him, and not unwisely, that love is an easy
victim, too proud to haggle, too generous to bargain sharply. "Twenty,"
he reiterated.

"Salaam!" said Ryanne. "Good day!" He drew the somewhat resisting hand
of Fortune under his arm and made for the door. "Sh!" he whispered.
"Leave it to me." They gained the street.

The merchant was dazed. He had misjudged what he now recognized as an
old hand. The two were turning up another street when he ran out,
shouting to them and waving the pendant. Ryanne laughed.

"Ten pounds. I am a poor man, effendi, and I need the money. Ten pounds.
I am giving it away." The merchant's eyes filled with tears, a trick
left to him from out the ruins of his youth, that ready service to
forestall the merited rod.

Ryanne counted out ten sovereigns and put the pendant in Fortune's
hand. And the pleasure in his heart was such as he had not known in many
days. The merchant wisely hurried back to his shop.

"But...." she began protestingly.

"Tut, tut! I have known you since you wore short dresses and
tam-o'-shanters."

"I really can not accept it as a gift. Let me borrow the ten pounds."

"And why can't you accept this little gift from me?"

She had no ready answer. She gazed steadily at the dull pearls and the
flaky emeralds. She could not ask him where he had got those sovereigns.
She could not possibly be so cruel. She could not dissemble in words
like her mother. That gold she knew to be a part of a dishonest bargain
whose forestep had been a theft--more, a sacrilege. Her honesty was like
pure gold, unalloyed, unmixed with sophistic subterfuges. That the young
man who had purchased the rug might be mildly peccable had not yet
occurred to her.

"Why not, Fortune?" Ryanne was very earnest, and there was a pinch at
his heart.

"Because...."

"Don't you like me, just a little?"

"Why, I do like you, Horace. But I do not like any man well enough to
accept expensive gifts from him. I do not wish to hurt you, but it is
impossible. The only concession I'll make is to borrow the money."

"Well, then, let it go at that." He was too wise to press her.

"And can you afford to throw away ten pounds?" with assumed lightness.
"My one permanent impression of you is the young man who was always
forced to borrow car-fare whenever he returned from Monte Carlo."

"A fool and his money. But I'm a rich man now," he volunteered. And
briefly he sketched the exploit of the Yhiordes rug.

"It was very brave of you. But has it ever occurred to you that it
wasn't honest?"

"Honest?" frankly astonished that she should question the ethics. "Oh, I
say, Fortune; you don't call it dishonest to get the best of a pagan!
Aren't they always getting the best of us?"

"If you had bargained with him and beaten him down, it would have been
different. But, Horace, you stole it; you admit that you did."

"I took my life in my hands. I think that evened up things."

"No. And you sold it to Mr. Jones?"

"Yes, and Mr. Jones was only too glad to buy it. I told him the facts.
He wasn't particularly eager to bring up the ethics of the case. Why,
child, what the deuce is a Turk? I shouldn't cry out if some one stole
my Bible."

"Good gracious! do you carry one?"

"Well, there's always one on the room-stand in the hotels I patronize."

"I suppose it all depends upon how we look at things."

"That's it. A different pair of spectacles for every pair of eyes."

If only he weren't in love with her! thought the girl. He would then be
an amusing comrade. But whenever he met her he quietly pressed his suit.
He had never spoken openly of love, for which she was grateful, but his
attentions, his little kindnesses, his unobtrusive protection when those
other men were at the villa, made the reading between the lines no
difficult matter.

"What shall you do if this Mahomed you speak of comes?"

"Turn him loose upon our friend Jones," with a laugh.

"And what will he do to him?"

"Carry him off to Bagdad and chop off his head," Ryanne jested.

"Tell me, is there any possibility of Mr. Jones coming to harm?"

"Can't say." Her concern for Percival annoyed him.

"Is it fair, when he paid you generously?"

He did not look into the grave eyes. They were the only pair that ever
disconcerted him. "My dear Fortune, it's a question which is the more
valuable to me, my skin or Percival's."

"It isn't fair."

"From my point of view it's fair enough. I warned him; I told him the
necessary facts, the eventual dangers. He accepted them all with the
Yhiordes. I see nothing unfair in the deal, since I risked my own life
in the first place."

"And why must you do these desperate things?"

"Oh, I love excitement. My one idea in life is to avoid the humdrum."

"Is it necessary to risk your life for these excitements? Is your life
nothing more to you than something to experiment with?"

"Truth, sometimes I don't know, Fortune. Sometimes I don't care. When
one has gambled for big stakes, it is hard to play again for penny
points."

"A strong, healthy man like you ought not to court death."

"I do not seek it. My only temptation is to see how near I can get to
the Man in the Shroud, as some poet calls it, without being touched.
I'll make you my confessor. You see, it is like this. A number of
wearied men recently formed a company whereby monotony became an
obsolete word in our vocabulary. You must not think I'm jesting; I'm
serious enough. This company ferrets out adventures and romances and
sells them to men of spirit. I became a member, and the trip to Bagdad
is the result. One never has to share with the company. The rewards are
all yours. All one has to do is to pay a lump sum down for the adventure
furnished. You work out the end yourself, unhindered and unassisted."

"Are you really serious?"

"Never more so. Now, Percival Algernon has always been wanting an
adventure, but the practical side of him has made him hold aloof. I told
him about this concern, and he refuses to believe in it. So I am going
to undertake to prove it to him. This is confidential. You will say
nothing, I know."

"He will come to no harm physically?"

"Lord, no! It will be mild and innocuous. Of course, if any one told him
that an adventure was toward for his especial benefit, it would spoil
all. I can rely upon your silence?"

She was silent. He witnessed her indecision with distrust. Perhaps he
had said too much.

"Won't you promise? Haven't I always been kind to you, Fortune, times
when you most needed kindness?"

"I promise to say nothing. But if any harm comes to that young man,
either in jest or in earnest, I will never speak to you again."

"I see that, after getting Percival Algernon into an adventure, I've got
to cicerone him safely out of it. Well, I accept the responsibility."
Some days later he was going to recall this assurance.

"Sometimes I wonder...." pensively.

"Wonder about what?"

"What manner of man you are."

"I should have been a great deal better man had I met you ten years
ago."

"What? When I was eleven?" with a levity intended to steer him away from
this channel.

"You know what I mean," he answered, moody and dejected.

She opened her purse and dropped the pendant into it, but did not speak.

"Ten years ago," abstractedly. "What a lot of things may happen in ten
years! Deaths, births, marriages," he went on; "the snuffing out of
kingdoms and republics; wars, panics, famine; honor to some and dishonor
to others. It kind of makes a fellow grind his teeth, little girl; it
kind of makes him shut his fists and long to run amuck."

"Why should a strong, intelligent man, such as you are, think like that?
You are resourceful and unafraid. Why should you talk like that? You are
young, too. Why?"

He stopped and looked full into her eyes. "Do you really wish to know?"

"Had I better?" with a wisdom beyond her years.

"No, you had better not. I'm not a good man, Fortune, as criterions go.
I've slipped here and there; I've gambled and drunk and squandered my
time. Why, in my youth I was as model a boy as ever was Percival. Where
the divarication took place I can't say. There's always two forks in the
road, Fortune, and many of us take the wrong one. It's easier going.
Fine excuse; eh? Some persons would call me a scoundrel, a black-leg; in
some ways, yes. But in the days to come I want you always to remember
the two untarnished spots upon my shield of honor: I have never cheated
a man at cards nor run away with his wife. The devil must give me these
merits, however painful it may be to him. Ten years ago, only a decade;
good Lord! it's like a hundred years ago, sometimes."

Fortune breathed with difficulty. Never before had he taken her into his
confidence to such extent. She essayed to speak; the old terror seemed
fairly to smother her. It was not what he had told her, but what she
wished to but dared not ask. She was like Bluebeard's wife, only she had
not the moral courage to open the door of the grisly closet.... Her
mother, her uncle; what of them, ah, what of them? The crooked street
vanished; the roar dwindled away; she was alone, all, all alone.

"I suppose I ought not to have told you," he said troubled at the misery
he saw gathered in her eyes and vaguely conscious of what had written it
there. "Your mother and uncle have been very kind to me. They know less
of me than you do. I have been to them a kind of errand-boy; a
happy-go-lucky fellow, who cheered them when they had the doldrums."
With forced cheerfulness he again took her hand and snuggled it under
his arm, giving it a friendly, reassuring pat. "I'll not speak to you of
love, child, but a hair of your head is more precious to me than all
Midas' gold. Whenever I've thought of you, I've tried to be good.
Honestly."

"And can't you go back to the beginning and start anew?" tremulously.

"Can any one go back? The moving finger writes. An hour is a terrible
thing when you look to see what can happen in it. But, come; sermons!
I'd far rather see you smile. Won't you?"

She tried to, but to him it was sadder than her tears would have been.

For an hour they walked through the dim and musty streets. He exerted
himself to amuse her and fairly succeeded. But never did the
unaccountable fear, that presage of misfortune, sleep in her heart. And
at last, when he took her to her carriage and bade her good-by till
dinner, a half-formed idea began to grow in her brain: to save Mr. Jones
without betraying Ryanne.

The latter's carriage was at the other end of the bazaars; so he strode
sullenly through the press, rudely elbowing those who got in his way. An
occasional curse was flung after him; but his height, his breadth of
shoulder, his lowering face, precluded anything more active. The Moslems
had a deal of faith in the efficacy of curses; so the jostled ones
rested upon the promise of these, satisfied that directly, or in the
near future, Allah would blast the unbelieving dog in his tracks.

What cleverness the mother and scallawag of an uncle had shown to have
kept the child in ignorance all these years! That she saw darkly, as
through a fog, he was perfectly sure. Sooner or later the storm would
burst upon her innocent head, and then God alone knew what would become
of her. Oh, damn the selfish, sordid world! At that instant a great
longing rolled over him to cut loose from all these evil webs, to begin
anew somewhere, even if that somewhere were but a wilderness, a clearing
in a forest.

This moment flashed and was gone. Next, he reviewed with chagrin and
irritation the folly of his ultimatum of the preceding night. He had had
not the slightest semblance of a plan in his head. Sifted down, he saw
only his savage and senseless humor and the desire to stir up discord.
Gioconda was right. Fortune was above them all, in feeling, in instinct,
in loyalty. What right had he, roisterer by night that he was,
predaceous outlaw, what right had he to look upon Fortune as his own?
Harm her! He would have lopped off his right hand first.

Well, he had but little time, and Percival Algernon called for prompt
action. The young fool was smitten with Fortune. Any one could see that.
As he shouldered his pathway to the carriage, his eyes seeing but not
visualizing objects, three brown men glided in between him and the
carriage-step.



CHAPTER X

MAHOMED LAUGHS


The drawing back of Ryanne's powerful arm was produced by the stimulus
of self-preservation; but almost instantly thought dominated impulse,
and all indications of belligerency disappeared. The arm sank, relaxed.
It was not possible nor politic that Mahomed-El-Gebel meant to take
reprisal in this congested quarter. It would have gained him no
advantage whatever. And Ryanne's perception of the exact situation
enabled him to smile with the cool effrontery of a man inured to sudden
dangers.

"Well, well! So you have found your way to Cairo, Mahomed?"

"Yes, effendi," returned Mahomed, with a smile that answered Ryanne's in
thought and expression, the only perceivable difference being in the
accentuated whiteness of his fine teeth. "Yes, I have found you."

"And you have been looking for me?"

"Surely."

Ryanne, with an airy gesture, signified that he wished to enter his
carriage. Mahomed, with a movement equally light, implied his
determination to stand his ground.

"In a moment, effendi," he said smoothly.

Mahomed spoke English more or less fluently. His career of forty-odd
years had been most colorful. Once a young sheik of the desert, of ample
following, a series of tribal wars left him unattached, a wanderer
without tent, village, or onion-patch. He had first appeared in Cairo.
Here he had of necessity picked up a few words of English; and from a
laborer in the cotton fields he was eventually graduated to the envied
position of dragoman or guide. He tired of this, being nomadic by
instinct and inclination. He tried his hand at rugs in Smyrna, failed,
and found himself stranded in Constantinople. He drifted, became a
stevedore, a hotel porter, burying his pride till that moment when he
could, in dignity and security, resurrect it. Fortune, hanging fire,
relented upon his appointment as _cavass_ or messenger to the British
Consulate. After a time, he became what he considered prosperous; and
like all fanatic pagans of his faith, proposed to reconstruct his
religious life by a pilgrimage to Holy Mecca. While there, he had
performed a considerable service in behalf of the future Pasha of
Bagdad, who thereafter gave him a place in his retinue.

Mahomed was not only proud but wise; and a series of events, sequences
of his own shrewdness, pushed him forward till he became in deed, if not
in fact, the Pasha's right-hand man in Bagdad. That quaint city, removed
as it is from the ordinary highways of the Orient, is still to most of
us an echo remote and mysterious; and the present Pasha enjoys great
privileges, over property, over life and death; and it is not enlarging
upon fact to say that when he deems it necessary to lop off a head, he
does so, without consulting his master in Constantinople. It is all in
the business of a day. Next to his celebrated pearls and rose-diamonds,
the Pasha held as his most precious treasure, the Holy Yhiordes. And for
its loss Mahomed knew that his own head rested but insecurely upon his
lean neck. That his star was still in ascendancy he believed. The Pasha
would not be in Bagdad for many weeks. The revolution in Constantinople,
the success of the Young Turk party, made the Pasha's future incumbency
a matter of conjecture. While he pulled those wires familiar to the
politician, Mahomed set out bravely to recover the stolen rug. He was
prepared to proceed to any length to regain it, even to the horrible (to
his Oriental mind) necessity of buying it. He retained his travel-worn
garments circumspectly, for none would believe that his burnouse was
well lined with English bank-notes.

"Well?" said Ryanne, whirling his cane. He was by no means at ease.
There was going to be trouble somewhere along the road.

"I have come for the Yhiordes, effendi."

"The rug? That's too bad. I haven't it."

"Who has?" One fear beset Mahomed's heart: this dog, whom he called
effendi, might have sold it, since that must have been the ultimate
purpose of the theft. And if he had sold it to one who had left
Egypt.... Mahomed's neck grew cold. "Who has it, effendi? Is the man
still in Cairo?"

"Yes. If you and your two friends will come with me to the English-Bar,
I'll explain many things to you," assured Ryanne, beginning, as he
believed, to see his way forward. "Don't be afraid. I'm not setting any
trap for you. I'll tell you truthfully that I didn't expect to see you
so soon. If you'll come along I'll do the best I can to straighten out
the matter. What do you say?"

Mahomed eyed him with keen distrust. This white man was as strong in
cunning as he was in flesh. He had had practical demonstrations. Still,
whatever road led to the recovery of the rug must needs be traveled. His
arm, though it still reposed in a sling, was not totally helpless. It
stood three to one, then. He spoke briefly to his companions, over whom
he seemed to have some authority. These two inventoried the smooth-faced
Feringhi. One replied. Mahomed approved. Three to one, and in these
streets many to call upon, in case of open hostilities. The English-Bar
Mahomed knew tolerably well. He had known it in the lawless and reveling
eighties. It would certainly be neutral ground, since the proprietor was
a Greek. With a dignified sweep of his hand, he signed for Ryanne to
get into the carriage. Ryanne did so, relieved. He was certain that he
could bring Mahomed round to a reasonable view of the affair. He was
even willing to give him a little money. The three Arabs climbed in
beside him, and the journey to the hostelry was made without talk.
Ryanne pretended to be vastly interested in the turmoil through which
the carriage rolled, now swiftly, now hesitant, now at a standstill, and
again tortuously. Once Mahomed felt beneath his burnouse for his money;
and once Ryanne, in the pretense of seeking a cigar, felt for his. They
were rather upon even terms in the adjudication of each other's
character.

The English-Bar was not the most inviting place. Sober, Ryanne had never
darkened its doors. The odor of garlic prevailed over the lesser smells
of bad cooking. It was lighted only from the street, by two windows and
a door that swung open all the days in the year. The windows were
generally half obscured by bills announcing boxing-matches,
wrestling-bouts and the lithographs of cheap theaters. The walls were
decorated in a manner to please the inherent Anglo-Saxon taste for
strong men, fast horses, and pink-tighted Venuses. A few iron-topped
tables littered both room and sidewalk, and here were men of a dozen
nationalities, sipping coffee, drinking beer, or solemnly watching the
water-bubbles in their _sheeshas_, or pipes.

A curious phase of this class of under-world is that no one is curious.
Strangers are never questioned except when they invite attention, which
they seldom do. So, when Ryanne and his quasi-companions entered, there
wasn't the slightest agitation. A blowsy barmaid stood behind the bar,
polishing the copper spigots. Ryanne threw her a greeting, to which she
responded with a smirk that once upon a time had been a smile. He, being
master of ceremonies, selected a table in the corner. The four sat down,
and Ryanne plunged intrepidly into the business under hand. To make a
tool of Mahomed, if not an ally, toward this he directed his effort.
Half a dozen times, Mahomed dropped a word in Arabic to the other two,
who understood little or no English.

"So, you see, Mahomed, that's the way the matter stands. I'm not so much
to blame as you think. Here this man Jones has me in a vise. If I do not
get this bit of carpet, off I go, into the dark, into nothing, beaten.
I handled you roughly, I know. But could I help it? It was my throat or
yours. You're no chicken. You and that other chap made things exciting."

Mahomed accepted this compliment to his prowess in silence. Indeed, he
gazed dreamily over Ryanne's head. The other fellow wouldn't trouble any
one again. To Mahomed it had not been the battle, man to man; it had
been the guile and trickery leading up to it. He had been bested at his
own game, duplicity, and that irked him. Death, he, as his kind, looked
upon with Oriental passivity. Ah, well! The game was to have a second
inning, and he proposed to play it in strictly Oriental ways.

"How much did he give you for it?"

The expression upon Ryanne's face would have deceived any one but
Mahomed. "Give for it!" indignantly. "Why, that's the whole trouble. All
my trouble, all the hard work, and not a piaster, not a piaster! Can't
you understand, I _had_ to do it?"

"Is he going to sell it?"

"Sell it? Not he! He's a collector, and crazy over the thing."

Mahomed nodded. He knew something of the habits of collectors. "Is he
still in Cairo, and where may he be found?"

Ryanne began to believe that the game was going along famously; Mahomed
was sure of it.

"He is George P. A. Jones, of Mortimer & Jones, rich rug dealers of New
York. Money no object."

Though his face did not show it, Mahomed was singularly depressed by
this news. If this man Jones had money, of what use was his little
packet of notes?

"I must have that rug, effendi. There are two reasons why: it is holy,
and the loss of it means my head."

"Good riddance!" thought Ryanne, a sympathetic look upon his face.

"What have you to suggest in the way of a plan?" asked Mahomed.

Ryanne felt a tingle of jubilation. He saw nothing but plain-sailing
into port. But Mahomed had arranged to guide his craft into the
whirlpool. Unto himself he kept up a ceaseless reiteration
of--"Patience, patience, patience!"

Said Ryanne: "You do not care how you get the rug, so long as you do get
it?"

"No, effendi." Mahomed smiled.

"A little rough work wouldn't disturb you?"

"No, it would not."

"Well, then, listen to me. Suppose you arrange to take my friend Jones
into the desert for a little trip. Be his dragoman for a while. In fact,
kidnap him, abduct him, steal him. You can hold him in ransom for the
rug and a nice little sum of money besides."

"Can they do such things these days in Cairo?"

"Why not?"

"Truly, why not?" Mahomed sat thoughtfully studying the outrageous
prints on the cracked walls. Had he dared he would have laughed. And he
had thought this dog cunning beyond all his kind! "I agree. But the
arrangements I must leave to you. Bring him here at nine o'clock
to-night," he continued, leaning across the table impressively, "and I
will give you one hundred pounds English."

Ryanne quickly assumed the expression needed to meet such splendid news.
"I say, Mahomed, that is pretty square, after what has passed between
us."

"It is nothing," gallantly.

If Ryanne laughed in his sleeve, Mahomed certainly found ample room in
his for such silent and figurative cachinnations. He knew very well that
Ryanne had received a goodly sum for his adventure. No man took his life
in his hand to cancel an obligation which was not based upon
disinterested friendship; and already the man had disavowed any such
quality. Also, he had not been a seller of rugs himself, or guardian of
the Yhiordes all these years, without having had some contact with
collectors. Why, if there was one person dear at this moment to
Mahomed-El-Gebel's heart, it was this man sitting opposite. And he
wanted him far more eagerly than the rug; only, the rug must be
regained, for its loss was a passport into paradise; and he wasn't quite
prepared to be received by the houris.

"Mr. Jones, then, shall be here promptly at nine," declared Ryanne,
beckoning the barmaid. "What will you have?"

Mahomed shook his head. His two companions, gathering the significance
of the gesture, likewise declined.

"A smoke, then?"

A smiling negative.

"Beware of the Greek bearing gifts," laughed Ryanne. "All right. You
won't mind if I have a beer to the success of the venture?"

"No, effendi."

Ryanne drank the lukewarm beverage, while Mahomed toyed with his
turquoise ring, that sacred badge of an honorable pilgrimage to Holy
Mecca.

"The young lady, effendi; she was very pretty. Your sister?" casually
inquired Mahomed.

"Oh, no. She is a young lady I met at the hotel the other day."

The liar! thought the Moslem, as he recalled the light in Ryanne's eyes
and the tenderness of his smiles. Apparently, however, Mahomed lost
interest directly. "At nine o'clock to-night, then, this collector will
arrive to become my guest?"

"By hook or crook," was the answer. "I'll have him here. Cash upon
delivery, as they say."

"Cash upon delivery," Mahomed repeated, the phrase being familiar to his
tongue.

"Frankly, I want this man out of the way for a while."

"Ah!"

"Yes. I want a little revenge for the way he has treated me."

"So it is revenge?" softly. Traitorous to both sides.

"And when I get him here?"

"Leave the rest to me."

"Good. I'm off, then. Take him to Bagdad. It will be an experience for
him. But when you get him there, keep an eye out for the Shah Abbas in
the Pasha's work-room."

The affair had gone so smoothly that Ryanne's usual keenness fell below
the mark; fatuity was the word. There had been so many twists to the
morning that his abiding distrust of every one became, for the time
being, edgeless. The trick of purloining the cable had keyed him high;
the subsequent meeting of Fortune had depressed him. And besides, he was
too anxious to be rid of Jones to consider the possibilities of
Mahomed's state of mind.

He got up, paid his score, turned a jest for the amusement of the
barmaid, and went out to his carriage. His deduction still fallow, he
rode away. Lord! how easy it had been. Not a hitch anywhere. And here,
for days, he had imagined all sorts of things, and his dreams, a jumble
of dungeons, of tortures. He understood. The old rascal's own head hung
in the balance. That's what saved him. To Mahomed the rug was the
paramount feature; revenge (and he knew that Mahomed was longing madly,
fiercely for it) must wait. And when Mahomed turned his attention to
this phase, why, he, Ryanne, would be at the other side of the Atlantic.
It was very hard not to drop off at Shepheard's and confide the whole
droll conspiracy to a bottle with a green and gilded neck. But, no; he
had had no sleep the night before; wine and want of rest would leave him
witless when the time came to see that Percival was safely stowed away.
A fine joke, a monstrous fine joke! By-by, Percival, old chap; pleasant
journey. The United Romance and Adventure Company gives you this little
romance upon approval. If you do not like it, return it ... if you can!

Mahomed sat perfectly still in his chair. His two companions watched him
carefully. The mask had fallen, and their master's face was not pleasant
to see. Suddenly he laughed. The barmaid stopped at her work. She had
somewhere heard laughter like that. It gave her a shiver. Where had she
heard it? Yes, that was it. A man who had played the devil in an opera
called _Fawst_ or something like that. Would she ever see dear old foggy
London again? With a vain sigh she went on rinsing the glasses and
coffee-cups.

       *       *       *       *       *

When George rolled out of bed it was eleven. He bathed and dressed,
absolutely content, regretless of the morning hours he had wasted. Truth
to tell, he hadn't enjoyed sleep so thoroughly in weeks. He set to work,
ridding the room of its clutter of books and clothes and what-nots.
Might as well get the bulk of his packing out of the way while he
thought of it.

Why had he been in such a dreadful hurry to pull out? Cairo was just now
the most delightful place he knew of. To leave behind the blue skies and
warm sunshine, and to face instead the biting winds and northern snows,
rather dispirited him. He paused, a pair of trousers dangling from his
hand. Pshaw! Why not admit it frankly and honestly? Wherever Fortune
Chedsoye was or might be, there was the delectable country. He hadn't
thought to ask her when she was to leave, nor whither she was to go. The
abruptness with which she had left him the night before puzzled rather
than disturbed him. Oh, well; this old planet was neither so deep nor so
round as it had once been. What with steamships and railroads, the
so-called four ends were drawn closely together. He would ask her
casually, as if it did not particularly matter. In Naples it would be an
easy matter to change his booking to New York. From Naples to Mentone
was only a question of a few hours.

"It doesn't seem possible, George, old boy, does it? But it's true; and
there's no use trying to fool yourself that it isn't. Fortune Chedsoye;
it will be a shame to add Jones to it; but I'm going to try."

He pressed down the last book, the last collar, the last pair of shoes,
and sat upon the lid of the trunk. He growled a little. The lock was
always bothering him. It was wonderful how many things a chap could take
out of a trunk and how plagued few he could put back. It did not seem to
relieve the pressure if he added a steamer-trunk here or a suit-case
there; there was always just so much there wasn't any room for. Truly,
it needed a woman's hand to pack a trunk. However his mother in the old
school-days had got all his belongings into one trunk was still an
unsolved mystery.

Stubborn as the lock was, perseverance overcame it. George then, as a
slight diversion, spread the ancient Yhiordes over the trunk and stared
at it in pleasurable contemplation. What a beauty it was! What exquisite
blue, what soft reds, what minute patterns! And this treasure was his.
He leaned down upon it with his two hands. A color stole into his
cheeks. It had its source in an old confusion: school-boys jeering a
mate seen walking home from school with a girl. It was all rot, he
perfectly knew, this wishing business; and yet he flung into the
sun-warmed, sun-gilded space an ardent wish, sent it speeding round the
world from east to west. Fast as heat, fast as light it traveled, for no
sooner had it sprung from his mind than it entered the window of a room
across the corridor. Whether the window was open or shut was of no
importance whatever. Such wishes penetrated and went through all
obstacles. And this one touched Fortune's eyes, her hair, her lips; it
caressed her in a thousand happy ways. But, alas! such wishes are
without temporal power.

Fortune never knew. She sat in a chair, her fingers locked tensely, her
eyes large and set in gaze, her lips compressed, her whole attitude one
of impotent despair.

George did not see her at lunch, and consequently did not enjoy the
hour. Was she ill? Had she gone away? Would she return before he
started? He greeted the Major as one greets a long-lost friend; and by
gradations George considered clever indeed, brought the conversation
down to Fortune. No, the Major did not know where she was. She had gone
early to the bazaars. Doubtless she was lunching alone somewhere. She
had the trick of losing herself at times. Mrs. Chedsoye was visiting
friends at Shepheard's. When did Mr. Jones leave for America? What! on
the morrow? The Major shook his head regretfully. There was no place
like Cairo for Christmas.

George called a carriage, drove about the principal streets and shopping
districts, and used his eyes diligently; but it was love's labor lost.
Not even when he returned at tea-time did he see her. Why hadn't he
known and got up? He could have shown her the bazaars; and there wasn't
a dragoman in Cairo more familiar with them than he. A wasted day,
totally wasted. He hung about the lounging-room till it was time to go
up and dress for dinner. To-night (as if the gods had turned George's
future affairs over to the care of Momus) he dressed as if he were going
to the opera: swallow-tail, white vest, high collar and white-lawn
cravat, opera-Fedora, and thin-soled pumps; all those habiliments and
demi-habiliments supposed to make the man. When he reached what he
thought to be the glass of fashion and the mold of form, he turned for
the first time toward his trunk. He did not rub his eyes; it wasn't at
all necessary; one thing he saw, or rather did not see, was established
beyond a doubt, as plainly definite as two and two are four. The ancient
Yhiordes had taken upon itself one of the potentialities of its fabulous
prototype, that of invisibility: it was gone.



CHAPTER XI

EPISODIC


Fortune had immediately returned from the bazaars. And a kind of torpor
blanketed her mind, usually so fertile and active. For a time the
process of the evolution of thought was denied her; she tried to think,
but there was an appalling lack of continuity, of broken threads. It was
like one of those circumferential railways: she traveled, but did not
get anywhere. Ryanne had told her too much for his own sake, but too
little for hers. She sat back in the carriage, inert and listless, and
indeterminedly likened her condition to driftwood in the ebb and flow of
beach-waves. The color and commotion of the streets were no longer
absorbed; it was as if she were riding through emptiness, through the
unreality of a dream. She was oppressed and stifled, too; harbinger of
storms.

Mechanically she dismissed the carriage at the hotel, mechanically she
went to her room, and in this semiconscious mood sat down in a chair,
and there George's wish found her, futilely. Oh, there was one thing
clear, clear as the sky outside. All was not right; something was wrong;
and this wrong upon one side concerned her mother, her uncle and Ryanne,
and upon the other side, Mr. Jones. Think and think as she might, her
endeavors gave her no single illumination. Four blind walls surrounded
her. The United Romance and Adventure Company--there could not possibly
be such a thing in existence; it was a jest of Ryanne's to cover up
something far more serious.

She pressed her eyes with a hand. They ached dully, the dull pain of
bewilderment, which these days recurred with frequency. A sense of time
was lacking; for luncheon hour came and passed without her being
definitely aware of it. This in itself was a puzzle. A jaunt, such as
she had taken that morning, always keened the edge of her appetite; and
yet, there was no craving whatever.

Where was her mother? If she would only come now, the cumulative doubts
of all these months should be put into speech. They had treated her as
one would treat a child; it was neither just nor reasonable. If not as a
child, but as one they dared not trust, then they were afraid of her.
But why? She pressed her hands together, impotently. Ryanne, clever as
he was, had made a slip or two which he had sought to cover up with a
jest. Why should he confess himself to be a rogue unless his tongue had
got the better of his discretion? If he was a rogue, why should her
mother and her uncle make use of him, if not for roguery's sake? They
were fools, fools! If they had but seen and understood her as she was,
she would have gone to the bitter end with them, loyally, with sealed
lips. But no; they had chosen not to see; and in this had morally
betrayed her. Ah, it rankled, and the injustice of it grew from pain to
fury. At that moment, had she known anything, she certainly would have
denounced them. Of what use was loyalty, since none of them sought it in
her?

The Major was wiser than he knew when he spoke of the hundredth danger,
the danger unforeseen, the danger against which they could make no
preparation. And he would have been first to sense the irony of it
could he have seen where this danger lay.

Why should they wish the pleasant young man out of the way? Why should
Ryanne wish to inveigle him into the hands of this man Mahomed? Was it
merely self-preservation, or something deeper, more sinister? Think! Why
couldn't she think of something? It was only a little pleasure trip to
Cairo, they had told her, and when she had asked to go along, they
seemed willing enough. But they had come to this hotel, when formerly
they had always put up at Shepheard's. And here again the question, why?
Was it because Mr. Jones was staying here? She liked him, what little
she had seen of him. He was out of an altogether different world than
that to which she was accustomed. He was neither insanely mad over cards
nor a social idler. He was a young man with a real interest in life, a
worker, notwithstanding that he was reputed to be independently rich.
And her mother had once borrowed money of him, never intending to pay it
back. The shame of it! And why should she approach him the very first
day and recall the incident, if not with the ulterior purpose of using
him further? As a ball strikes a wall only to rebound to the thrower,
so it was with all these questions. There was never any answer.

Tired out, mentally and physically, she laid her head upon the cool top
of the stand. And in this position her mother, who had returned to dress
for tea, found her. Believing Fortune to be asleep, Mrs. Chedsoye
dropped a hand upon her shoulder.

Fortune raised her head.

"Why, child, what is the matter?" the mother asked. The face she saw was
not tear-stained; it was as cold and passionless as that by which
sculptors represent their interpretations of Justice.

"Matter?" Fortune spoke, in a tone that did not reassure the other. "In
the first place I have only one real question to ask. It depends upon
how you answer it. Am I really your daughter?"

"Really my daughter?" Mrs. Chedsoye stepped back, genuinely astonished.
"Really my daughter? The child is mad!" as if addressing an imaginary
third person. "What makes you ask such a silly question?" She was in a
hurry to change her dress, but the new attitude of this child of hers
warranted some patience.

"That is no answer," said Fortune, with the unmoved deliberation of a
prosecuting attorney.

"Certainly you are my daughter."

"Good. If you had denied it, I should have held my peace; but since you
admit that I am of your flesh and blood, I am going to force you to
recognize that in such a capacity I have some rights. I did not ask to
come into this world; but insomuch as I am here, I propose to become an
individual, not a thing to be given bread and butter upon sufferance. I
have been talking with Horace. I met him in the bazaars this morning. He
said some things which you must answer."

"Horace? And what has he said, pray tell?" Her expression was flippant,
but a certain inquietude penetrated her heart and accelerated its
beating. What had the love-lorn fool said to the child?

"He said that he was not a good man, and that you tolerated him because
he ran errands for you. What kind of errands?"

Mrs. Chedsoye did not know whether to laugh or take the child by the
shoulders and shake her soundly. "He was laughing when he said that.
Errands? One would scarcely call it that."

"Why did you renew the acquaintance with Mr. Jones, when you knew that
you never intended paying back that loan?"

Here was a question, Mrs. Chedsoye realized, from the look of the child,
that would not bear evasion.

"What makes you think I never intended to repay him?"

Fortune laughed. It did not sound grateful in the mother's ears.

"Mother, this is a crisis; it can not be met by counter-questions nor by
flippancy. You know that you did not intend to pay him. What I demand to
know is, why you spoke to him again, so affably, why you seemed so eager
to enter into his good graces once more. Answer that."

Her mother pondered. For once she was really at a loss. The
unexpectedness of this phase caught her off her balance. She saw one
thing vividly, regretfully: she had missed a valuable point in the game
by not adjusting her play to the growth of the child, who had, with that
phenomenal suddenness which still baffles the psychologists, stepped out
of girlhood into womanhood, all in a day. What a fool she had been not
to have left the child at Mentone!

"I am waiting," said Fortune. "There are more questions; but I want this
one answered first."

"This is pure insolence!"

"Insolence of a kind, yes."

"And I refuse to answer. I have some authority still."

"Not so much, mother, as you had yesterday. You refuse to explain?"

"Absolutely!"

"Then I shall judge you without mercy." Fortune rose, her eyes blazing
passionately. She caught her mother by the wrist, and she was the
stronger of the two. "Can't you understand? I am no longer a child, I am
a woman. I do not ask, I demand!" She drew the older woman toward her,
eye to eye. "You palter, you always palter; palter and evade. You do not
know what frankness and truth are. Is this continual evasion calculated
to still my distrust? Yes, I distrust you, you, my mother. You have made
the mistake of leaving me alone too much. I have always distrusted you,
but I never knew why."

Mrs. Chedsoye tugged, but ineffectually. "Let go!"

"Not till I have done. Out of the patchwork, squares have been formed.
What of the men who used to come to the villa and play cards with Uncle
George, the men who went away and never came back? What of your long
disappearances of which I knew nothing except that one day you vanished
and upon another you came back? Did you think that I was a fool, that I
had no time to wonder over these things? You have never tried to make a
friend of me; you have always done your best to antagonize me. Did you
hate my father so much that, when his death put him out of range, you
had to concentrate it upon me? My father!" Fortune roughly flung aside
the arm. "Who knows about him, who he was, what he was, what he looked
like? As a child, I used to ask you, but never would you speak. All I
know about him nurse told me. This much has always burned in my mind:
you married him for wealth that he did not have. What do you mean by
this simple young man across the corridor?"

Mrs. Chedsoye was pale, and the artistic touch of rouge upon her cheeks
did not disguise the pallor. The true evidence lay in the whiteness of
her nose. Never in her varied life had she felt more helpless, more
impotent. To be wild with rage, and yet to be powerless! That alertness
of mind, that mental buoyancy, which had always given her the power to
return a volley in kind, had deserted her. Moreover, she was distinctly
alarmed. This little fool, with a turn of her hand, might send tottering
into ruins the skilful planning of months.

"Are you in love with him?" aiming to gain time to regather her
scattered thoughts.

"Love?" bitterly. "I am in a fine mood to love any one. My question, my
question," vehemently; "my question!"

"I refuse absolutely to answer you!" Anger was first to reorganize its
forces; and Mrs. Chedsoye felt the heat of it run through her veins.
But, oddly enough, it was anger directed less toward the child than
toward her own palpable folly and oversight.

"Then I shall leave you. I will go out into the world and earn my own
bread and butter. Ah," a little brokenly, "if you had but given me a
little kindness, you do not know how loyal I should have been to you!
But no; I am and always have been the child that wasn't wanted."

The despair in the gesture that followed these words stirred the
mother's calloused heart, moved it strangely, mysteriously. "My child!"
she said impulsively, holding out her hands.

"No." Fortune drew back. "It is too late."

"Have it so. But you speak of going out into the world to earn your
bread and butter. What do you know about the world? What could you do?
You have never done anything but read romantic novels and moon about in
the flower-garden. Foolish chit! Harm Mr. Jones? Why? For what purpose?
I have no more interest in him than if he were one of those mummies over
in the museum. And I certainly meant to repay him. I should have done so
if you hadn't taken the task upon your own broad shoulders. I am in a
hurry. I am going out to Mena House to tea. I've let Celeste off for the
day; so please unhook my waist and do not bother your head about Mr.
Jones." She turned her back upon her daughter, quite confident that she
had for the time suppressed the incipient rebellion. She heard Fortune
crossing the room. "What are you doing?" petulantly.

"I am ringing for the hall-maid." And Fortune resumed her chair, picked
up her Baedeker, and became apparently absorbed over the map of Assuan.

Again wrath mounted to the mother's head. She could combat anger, tears,
protestations; but this indifference, studied and unfilial, left her
weaponless; and she was too wise to unbridle her tongue, much as she
longed to do so. She was beaten. Not an agreeable sensation to one who
counted only her victories.

"Fortune, later you will be sorry for this spirit," she said, when she
felt the tremor of wrath no longer in her throat.

Fortune turned a page, and jotted down some notes with a pencil. Sad as
she was at heart, tragic as she knew the result of this outbreak to be,
she could hardly repress a smile at the thought of her mother's
discomfiture.

And so the chasm widened, and went on widening till the end of time.

Mrs. Chedsoye was glad that the hall-maid knocked and came in just then.
It at least saved her the ignominy of a retreat. She dressed, however,
with the same deliberate care that she had always used. Nothing ever
deranged her sense of proportion relative to her toilet, nothing ever
made her forget its importance.

"Good-by, dear," she said. "I shall be in at dinner." If the maid had
any suspicion that there had been a quarrel, she should at least be
impressed with the fact that she, Mrs. Chedsoye, was not to blame for
it.

Fortune nibbled the end of her pencil.

The door closed behind her mother and the maid. She waited for a time.
Then she sprang to the window and stood there. She saw her mother driven
off. She was dressed in pearl-grey, with a Reynolds' hat of grey velour
and sweeping plumes: as handsome and distinguished a woman as could be
found that day in all Cairo. The watcher threw her Baedeker, her
note-book, and her pencil violently into a corner. It had come to her at
last, this thing she had been striving for since noon. She did not care
what the risks were; the storm was too high in her heart to listen to
the voice of caution. She would do it; for she judged it the one thing,
in justice to her own blood, she must accomplish. She straightway
dressed for the street; and if she did not give the same care as her
mother to the vital function, she produced an effect that merited
comparison.

She loitered before the porter's bureau till she saw him busily engaged
in answering questions of some women tourists. Then, with a slight but
friendly nod, she stepped into the bureau and stopped before the
key-rack. She hung up her key, but took it down again, as if she had
changed her mind. At least, this was the porter's impression as he bowed
to her in the midst of the verbal bombardment. Fortune went up-stairs.
Ten or fifteen minutes elapsed, when she returned, hung up the key, and
walked briskly toward the side-entrance at the very moment George, in
his fruitless search of her, pushed through the revolving doors in
front. And all the time she was wondering how it was that her knees did
not give under. It was terrible. She balanced between laughter and
tears, hysterically.

She had gone scarcely a hundred yards when she was accosted by a tall
Arab whom she indistinctly recollected having seen before; where, she
could not definitely imagine. It was the ragged green turban that
cleared away her puzzlement. The Arab was the supposed beggar over whom
Percival (how easily she had fallen into the habit of calling him that!)
had stumbled. He stood so tall and straight that she knew he wasn't
going to beg; so naturally she stopped. Without a word, without even a
look that expressed anything, he slipped a note into her hand, bowed
with Oriental gravity, and stepped aside for her to proceed. She read
the note hastily as she continued her way. Horace? Why should he wish to
meet her that evening, at the southeast corner of the Shâri'a
Mahomoud-El-Fäläki, a step or so from the British Consulate's? And she
mustn't come in a carriage nor tell any one where she was going? Why all
such childish mystery? He could see her far more conveniently in the
lounging-room of the hotel. She tore the note into scraps and flung them
upon the air. She was afraid. She was almost certain why he wished to
meet her where neither her mother's nor her uncle's eyes would be within
range. Should she meet him? Deeper than this, dared she? Why had she
come to Cairo, when at Mentone she had known peace, such peace as
destiny was generous enough to dole out to her? And now, out of this
tolerable peace, a thousand hands were reaching to rend her heart, to
wring it. She decided quickly. Since she had come this far, to go on to
the end would add but little to her burden. Better to know all too soon
than too late.

That the note had not been directed to her and that she was totally
unfamiliar with Ryanne's handwriting, escaped her. She had too many
other things upon her mind to see all things clearly, especially such
trifles. She finished her walk, returning by the way she had gone, gave
the key to the lift-boy, and in her room dropped down upon the bed,
dry-eyed and weary. The most eventful day she had ever known.

And all the while George sat by the window and watched, and at length
fell into a frame of mind that was irritable, irascible and
self-condemnatory. And when he found that his precious Yhiordes was
gone, his condition was the essence of all disagreeable emotions. It was
beyond him how any one could have stolen it. He never failed to lock
his door and leave the key with the porter. And surely, only a man with
wings could have gained entrance by the window. Being a thorough
business man among other accomplishments, he reported his loss at once
to the management; and the management set about the matter with
celerity. At half after seven every maid and servant in the hotel had
been questioned and examined, without the least noticeable result. The
rug was nowhere to be found. George felt the loss keenly. He was not so
rich that he could afford to lose both the rug and the thousand pounds
he had paid for it. His first thought had been of Ryanne; but it was
proved that Ryanne had not been in the hotel since morning; at least, no
one had seen him.

George gloomed about. A beastly day, all told; everything had gone
wrong, and all because he had overslept. At dinner something was wrong
with the soup; the fish was greasy; the roast was dry and stringy; the
wine, full of pieces of cork. Out into the lounging-room again; and then
the porter hurried over to him with a note from Ryanne. It stated
briefly that it was vitally important for Mr. Jones to meet him at nine
o'clock at the English-Bar in the Quarter Rosetti. Any driver would
show him the way. Mahomed-El-Gebel, the guardian of the Holy Yhiordes,
had turned up, and the band was beginning to play. Would Mr. Jones like
a little fun by the wayside?

"I'm his man," said George. "But how the devil did this Mahomed ever get
into my room?"

Had Fortune dined down-stairs instead of alone in her room, events might
have turned out differently. Ryanne had really written to George, but
not to Fortune.

Mahomed, fatalist that he was, had thrown everything upon the whirling
scales of chance, and waited. Later, he may have congratulated himself
upon his good luck. But it wasn't luck; it was the will of Allah that
he, Mahomed, should contribute his slender share in working out the
destinies of two young people.

George was in the proper mood for an adventure. He went so far as to
admit to himself that he would have liked nothing better than a
fisticuff. The one mistake he made in his calculations was dress. Men
didn't generally go a-venturing in such finical attire. They wore
bowlers and sack-coats and carried heavy walking-sticks. The only
weapons George had were his two hands, now adorned with snug-fitting
opera-gloves.

He saw Mrs. Chedsoye, spoke to her, inquired about Fortune, and was
informed that she had dined in her room. A case of doldrums, Mrs.
Chedsoye believed.

"I'm in a peck of trouble," said George, craving a little sympathy.

"In what way?"

"That rug I told you about is gone."

"What? Stolen?"

"Yes. Vanished into thin air."

"That's too bad. Of course, the police will eventually find it for you."

"I'm afraid that's exactly the trouble. I really daren't put the case in
the hands of the police."

"Oh, I see." Mrs. Chedsoye looked profoundly sorry.

"And here I am, due for Port Saïd to-morrow."

"That's the kind that bowls you over," said the Major. "If there is
anything I can do after you are gone...."

"Oh, I shouldn't think of bothering you. Thanks, though."

"You must have lost your key," suggested Mrs. Chedsoye.

"No. It's been hanging up in the porter's bureau all day."

"Well, I hope you find the rug," said the Major, with a sly glance at
his sister.

"Thanks. I must be off. The chap I bought it of says that the official
guardian from Bagdad has arrived, and that there's likely to be some
sport. I'm to meet him at a place called the English-Bar."

"The English-Bar?" The Major shook his head. "A low place, if I
remember."

"And you are going dressed like that?" asked Mrs. Chedsoye.

"Haven't time to change." He excused himself and went in search of a
carriage.

"The play begins, Kate," whispered the Major. "This Hoddy of ours is a
wonderful chap."

"Poor fellow!"

"What; Hoddy?"

"No; Percival. He'll be very uncomfortable in patent-leather pumps."

The Major laughed light-heartedly. "I suppose we might telegraph for
reservation on the _Ludwig_."

"I shall pack at once. Fortune can find her way to Mentone from Naples.
I am beginning to worry about that girl. She has a temper; and she is
beginning to have some ideas."

"Marry her, marry her! How much longer must I preach that sermon? She's
growing handsomer every day, too. Watch your laurels, Kate."

Mrs. Chedsoye inspected her rings.

Meanwhile, George directed his driver to go post-haste to the
English-Bar. That he found it more or less of a dive in nowise alarmed
him. He had been in places of more frightful aspect. As Ryanne had
written him to make inquiries of the barmaid relative to finding him, he
did so. She jerked her head toward the door at the rear. George went
boldly to it, opened it, and stepped inside.

And vanished from the haunts of men.



CHAPTER XII

THE CARAVAN IN THE DESERT


Yes, George vanished from the haunts of men, as completely as if the
Great Roc had dropped him into the Valley of Diamonds and left him
there; and as nobody knows just where the Valley of Diamonds is, George
was very well lost. Still, there was, at the end of a most unique
experience, a recompense far beyond its value. But, of course, George,
being without the gift of clairvoyance, saw nothing save the immediate
and imminent circumstances: a door that banged behind him, portentously;
a sack, a cloak, a burnouse, or whatever it was, flung about his head,
and smelling evilly.

George hit out valiantly, and a merry scuffle ensued. The room was
small; at least, George thought it was, for in the space of one minute
he thumped against the four sides of it. He could see nothing and he
couldn't breathe very well; but in spite of these inconveniences he put
up three rounds that would have made some stir among the middle-weights.
In the phraseology of the fancy, he had a good punch. All the
disappointments of the day seemed to become so many pounds of steam in
his shoulder; and he was aware of a kind of barbaric joy whenever he hit
some one. All the circumspection of years, all of the gentle blood of
his peaceful forebears, gave way to the strain which still lurks in the
blood of civilized humanity, even in the veins of poets and parsons. He
fought with all the tactics of a sailor in a bar-room, not overnicely.

[Illustration]

A table toppled over with a smashing noise. George and his assailants
fell in a heap beside it. Thwack! Bang! George struggled to his feet and
tugged at the stifling envelope. Some one jumped upon his back, Old Man
of the Sea style. A savage elbow-jab disposed of this incubus. And then
the racket began all over again. George never paused mentally to wonder
what all this rumpus was about; time enough to make inquiries after the
scrimmage. Intrepidly, as Hereward the Wake, as Bussy d'Ambois, as
Porthos in the cave of Loch-Maria, George fought. He wasn't a trained
athlete; he hadn't any science; he was simply ordinarily tough and
active and clean-lived; and the injustice of an unprovoked assault added
to physical prowess a full measure of nervous energy. It was
quasi-Homeric: a modern young gentleman in evening dress holding off for
several minutes five sleek, sinewy, unhampered Arabs. But the days of
the gods were no more; and no quick-witted goddess cast a veil across
the eyes of the Arabs. No; George had to shift for himself. Suddenly
there came a general rush from the center of the room into one of the
right-angular corners. The subsequent snarl of legs and arms was not
unlike that seen upon the foot-ball field. George was the man with the
ball. And then to George came merciful darkness. The conjunction, as in
astronomy, of two planets in the same degree of the Zodiac--meaning
George's head and the stucco-wall--gave the Arabs complete mastery of
the field of battle.

From the opposite side of the room came the voice of the referee:
"Curses of Allah upon these white dogs! How they fight!" And Mahomed
peered down into the corner.

One by one the Arabs got up, each examining his honorable wounds. George
alone remained unmoved, quiet and disinterested, under the folds of the
tattered burnouse.

"Is he dead?" demanded Mahomed.

"No, my father. His head hit the wall."

"Hasten, then. Bind his feet and hands and cover his eyes and mouth. We
have but little time."

There was a long way yet to go, and Mahomed was too wise and cautious to
congratulate himself at this early stage. George was thereupon trussed
up like a Christmas fowl ready for the oven. They wrapped him up in the
burnouse and carried him out to the closed carriage in waiting. No one
in the street seemed curious. No one in the English-Bar deemed it
necessary to be. Whatever happened in this resort had long been written
in the book of fate. Had a white man approached to inquire what was
going on, Mahomed would have gravely whispered that it was a case of
plague they were hurrying away to prevent interference by the English
authorities.

Once George was snug inside the carriage, it was driven off at a run
toward the tombs of the caliphs. As the roads were not the levelest, the
vehicle went most of the way upon two wheels. Mahomed sat beside his
victim, watchful and attentive. His intention was to take him no farther
than the outskirts of the city, force him to send back to the hotel a
duly credited messenger for the rug, after which he would turn George
adrift, with the reasonable assurance that the young man would find some
one to guide him back to the hotel. After a while he observed that
George had recovered and was grimly fighting the imprisoning ropes.

"You will need your strength," interposed Mahomed gently. "If I take the
cloth from your mouth, will you promise not to cry out?" There was an
affirmative nod, and Mahomed untied the bandage. "Listen. I mean you no
harm. If you will send to the hotel for the Holy Yhiordes, you will be
liberated the moment it is put into my hands."

"Go to the deuce!" snapped George, still dizzy. The fighting mood
hadn't evaporated, by any means. "You know where it is better than I."
So this was Mahomed?

"Fool!" cried the other, shaking George roughly.

"Easy there! I had the rug, but it was stolen this afternoon." He was
very weak and tired. "And if I had it, I shouldn't give it to you," with
renewed truculence; "and you may put that in your water-pipe and smoke
it."

Mahomed, no longer pacific, struck George violently upon the mouth. He,
on his part, was unknightly enough to attempt to sink his teeth in the
brutal hand. Queer fancies flit through a man's head in times like this;
for the ineffectuality of his bite reminded him of Hallowe'ens and the
tubs with the bobbing apples. One thing was certain: he would kill this
pagan the very first opportunity. Rather a startling metamorphosis in
the character of a man whose life had been passed in the peacefulest
environments. And to kill him without the least compunction, too. To
strike a man who couldn't help himself!

"Hey there!" he yelled. "Help for a white man!" After such treatment he
considered it anything but dishonorable to break his parole. And where
was Ryanne? "Help!"

Mahomed swung his arm round George's neck, and the third cry began with
a gurgle and ended with a sigh. Deftly, the Arab rebandaged the
prisoner's mouth. So be it. He had had his chance for freedom; now he
should drink to the bottom of the bitter cup, along with the others. He
had had no real enmity against George; he was simply one of the pawns in
the game he was playing. But now he saw that there was danger in
liberating him. The other! Mahomed caressed his wiry beard. To subject
him to the utmost mental agony; to break him physically, too; to pay him
back pound for pence; to bruise, to hurt, to rack him, that was all
Mahomed desired.

George made no further effort to free himself, nor apparently to bestir
himself about the future. Somewhere in the fight, presumably as he fell
against the table, he had received a crushing blow in the small ribs;
and when Mahomed threw him back, he fainted for the second time in his
life. He reclined limply in the corner of the carriage, the bosom of his
shirt bulging open; for the thrifty Arabs had purloined the
pearl-studs, the gold collar-buttons, and the sapphire cuff-links. And
consciousness returned only when they lifted him out and dropped him
inconsiderately into the thick dust of the road. He stirred again at his
bonds, but presently lay still. The pain in his side hurt keenly, and he
wasn't sure that the rib was whole. What time had passed since his
entrance to the English-Bar was beyond his reckoning, but he knew that
it was yet in the dark of night, as no light whatever penetrated the
cloth over his eyes. That he was somewhere outside the city he was
assured by the tang of the winter wind. He heard low voices--Arabic; and
while he possessed a smattering of the tongue, his head ached too
sharply for him to sense a word. Later, a camel coughed. Camels? And
where were they taking him upon a camel? Bagdad? Impossible: there were
too many white men following the known camel-ways. He groaned a little,
but the sound did not reach the ears of his captors. To ride a camel
under ordinary conditions was a painful affair; but to straddle the
ungainly brute, dressed as he was, in a swallow-tail and paper-thin
pumps, did not promote any pleasurable thoughts. They would in all
truth kill him before they got through. Hang the rug! And doubly hang
the man who had sold it to him!

His whilom friend, conscience, came back and gibbered at him. Once she
had said: "Don't do it!" and now she was saying quite humanly: "I told
you so!" Hadn't she warned him? Hadn't she swung her red lantern under
his very nose? Well, she hoped he was satisfied. His reply to this brief
jeremiad was that if ever he got his hands upon the rug again, he would
hang on till the crack of doom, and conscience herself could go hang.
Mere perverseness, probably. And where was it, since he was now certain
that Mahomed had it not? It was Ryanne; Ryanne, smooth and plausible of
tongue. Not being satisfied with a thousand pounds, he had stolen it
again to mulct some other simple, trustful person. George, usually so
unsuspicious, was now quite willing to believe anything of anybody.

He felt himself being lifted to his feet. The rope round his ankles was
thrown off. His feet stung under the renewed flow of blood. He waited
for them to liberate his hands, but the galling rope was not disturbed.
It was evident that the natives still entertained some respect for his
fighting ability. Next, they boosted him, flung a leg here and a leg
there; then came a lurch forward, a lurch backward, the recurrence of
the pain in his side, and he knew that he was upon the back of a camel,
desert-bound. There were stirrups, and as life began to spread vigor
once more through his legs, he found the steel. The straps were too
short, and in time the upper turn of the steel chafed his insteps. He
eased himself by riding sidewise, the proper way to ride a camel, but
with constant straining to keep his balance without the use of his
hands. Fortunately, they were not traveling very fast, otherwise, what
with the stabbing pains in his side, produced by the unvarying dog-trot,
he must have fallen. He was miserable, yet defiant; tears of anger and
pain filled his eyes and burned down his cheeks in spite of the cloth.

And he, poor fool, had always been longing for an adventure, a taste of
life outside the peaceful harbor wherein he had sailed his cat-boat!
Well, here he was, in the deep-sea water; and he read himself so truly
that he knew the adventure he had longed for had been the cut-and-dried
affairs of story-tellers, in which only the villains were seriously
discommoded, and everything ended happily. A dashing hero he was, to be
sure! Why hadn't he changed his clothes? Was there ever such an ass?
Ryanne had told him that there was likely to be sport; and yet he had
left the hotel as one dressed for the opera. Ass! And to-morrow the
_Ludwig_ would sail without him.

The wind blew cold against his chest, and the fact that he could neither
see, nor use his tongue to moisten his bruised lips, added to the
discomforts. Back and forth he swayed and rocked. The pain in his side
was gradually minimized by the torture bearing upon his ankles, his
knees, across his shoulders. Finally, when in dull despair he was about
to give up and slide off, indifferent whether the camels following
trampled him or not, a halt was called. It steadied him. Some one
reached up and untied the thong that strangled the life in his hands.
Forward again. This was a trifle better. He could now ease himself with
his hands. No one interfered with him when he tore off the bandages over
his eyes and mouth. The camels were now urged to a swifter pace.

Egyptian night, well called, he thought. He could discern nothing but
phantom-like grey silhouettes that bobbed up and down after the fashion
of corks upon water. Before him and behind him; how many camels made up
the caravan he could not tell. He could hear the faint slip-slip as the
beasts shuffled forward in the fine and heavy sand. They were well out
into the desert, but what desert was as yet a mystery. He had forgotten
to keep the points of the compass in his mind. And to pick out his
bearings by any particular star was to him no more simple than
translating Chinese.

Far, far away behind he saw a luminous pallor in the sky, the reflected
lights of Cairo. And only a few hours ago he had complained to the
head-waiter because of the bits of cork floating in his glass of wine.
Ah, for the dregs of that bottle now; warmth, revival, new courage!...
Curse the luck! There went one of his pumps. He called out. The man
riding in front and leading George's camel merely gave a yank at the
rope. The camel responded with a cough and a quickened gait.

Presently George became aware of a singular fact: that he could see out
of one eye better than the other; and that the semi-useless orb shot
out little stars with every beat of his heart. One of his ears, too,
began to throb and burn. He felt of it. It was less like an ear than a
mushroom. It had been a rattling good mix-up, anyhow; and he accepted
the knowledge rather proudly that the George Percival Algernon, who but
lately had entered the English-Bar sprucely and had made his exit in a
kind of negligible attire, had left behind one character and brought
away another. Never again was he going to be afraid of anything; never
again was he going to be shy: the tame tiger, as it were, had had his
first taste of blood.

Dawn, dawn; if only the horizon would brighten up a little so that he
could get his bearings. By now they were at least fifteen or twenty
miles from Cairo; but in what direction?

Hour after hour went by; over this huge grey roll of sand, down into
that cup-like valley; soundless save when the camels protested or his
stirrup clinked against a buckle; all with the somber aspect of a scene
from Dante. Several black spots, moving in circles far above, once
attracted George; and he knew them to be kites, which will follow a
caravan into the desert even as a gull will follow a ship out to sea.
Later, a torpid indifference took possession of him, and the sense of
pain grew less under the encroaching numbness.

And when at last the splendor of the dawn upon the desert flashed like a
sword-blade along the sky in the east, grew and widened, George
comprehended one thing clearly, that they were in the Arabian desert,
out of the main traveled paths, in the middle of nowhere.

His sense of beauty did not respond to the marvel of the transformation.
The dark grey of the sand-hills that became violet at their bases, to
fade away upward into little pinnacles of shimmering gold; the drab,
formless, scattered boulders, now assuming clear-cut shapes, transfused
with ruby and sapphire glowing; the sun itself that presently lifted its
rosal warming circle above the stepping-off place--George saw but noted
not. The physical picture was overshadowed by the one he drew in his
mind: the good ship _Ludwig_, boring her way out into the sea.

The sun was free from the desert's rim when the leading camel was
halted. A confusion ensued; the camels following stupidly into one
another, in a kind of panic. Out of the silence came a babble of
voices, a grunting, a clatter of pack-baskets and saddle-bags. George,
as his camel kneeled, slid off involuntarily and tumbled against a small
hillock, and lay there, without any distinct sense of what was going on
round him. The sand, fine and mutable, formed a couch comfortingly under
his aching body; and he fell asleep, exhausted. Already the impalpable
dust, which had risen and followed the caravan all through the night,
had powdered his clothes, and his face was stained and streaked. His
head lay in the sand, his soft Fedora crushed under his shoulders. What
with the bruises visible, the rents in his coat, the open shirt, soiled,
crumpled, collarless, he invited pity; only none came from the busy
Arabs. As he slept, a frown gathered upon his face and remained there.

When he came back from his troubled dreams, a bowl of rice, thinned by
hot water, was given him. He cleaned the bowl, not because he was
hungry, but because he knew that somewhere along this journey he would
need strength; and the recurring fury against his duress caused him to
fling the empty bowl at the head of the camel-boy who had brought it.
The boy ducked, laughing. George lay down again. Let them cut his throat
if they wanted to; it was all the same to him. Again he slept, and when
he was roughly and forcibly awakened, he sat up with a snarl and looked
about.

His head was clear now, and he began to take notes. He counted ten,
eleven, twelve camels; a caravan in truth, prepared for a long and
continuous journey. There were three pack-camels, laden with wood,
tents, and such cooking utensils as the frugal Arab had need of.
Certainly Mahomed was a rich man, whether he owned the camels or hired
them for the occasion. Upon one of the beasts they were putting up a
_mahmal_, a canopy used to protect women from the sun while riding. One
Arab, taller, more robust than the others, moved hither and thither
authoritatively. Wound about his _tarboosh_ or fez was a bright green
_cufia_, signifying that the wearer had made the pilgrimage to Holy
Mecca. This individual George assumed to be Mahomed himself. And he
recognized him as the beggar over whom he had stumbled two nights gone.
Pity he hadn't known, and pitched him into the Nile when he had had the
chance.

Mahomed completed his directions, and walked leisurely toward George,
but his attention was not directed toward him. A short distance away, at
George's left, was a man, stretched out as if in slumber. Over his inert
figure Mahomed watched. He drew back his foot and kicked the sleeping
man soundly, smiling amiably the while; a kick which, had Mahomed's foot
been cased in western leather, must have stove in the sleeper's ribs.
Strange, the victim did not stir. Mahomed shrugged, and returned to the
business of breaking camp.

George was keenly interested in this man who could accept such a kick
apparently without feeling or resentment. He stood up for a better view.
One glance was sufficient. It was Ryanne, the erstwhile affable Ryanne
of the reversible cuffs: his feet and hands still in bondage, his
clothes torn, his face battered and bruised like a sailor's of a Sunday
morning on shore-leave. The sight of Ryanne brightened him considerably.
Although he was singularly free from the spirit of malevolence, he was,
nevertheless, human enough to subscribe to that unwritten and much
denied creed that the misery of one man reconciles another to his. And
here was company such as misery loved; here was a man worse off than
himself, whose prospects were a thousand times blacker. Poor devil! And
here he was, captive of the man he had wronged and beaten and robbed. As
seen through George's eyes, Ryanne's outlook was not a pleasant thing to
contemplate. But oh! the fight this one must have been! If it had taken
five natives to overcome him, how many had it taken to beat Ryanne into
such a shocking condition? He was genuinely sorry for Ryanne, but in his
soul he was glad to see him. One white man could accomplish nothing in
the face of these odds; but two white men, that was a different matter.
Ryanne, once he got his legs, strong, courageous, resourceful, Ryanne
would get them both out of it somehow.... And if Ryanne hadn't the rug,
who the dickens had?

The jumble of questions that rose in his mind, seeking answers to the
riddle of the Yhiordes rug, subsided even as they rose. The bundle to
the far side of Ryanne stirred. He had, in his general survey of the
scene, barely set a glance upon it, believing it to be a conglomeration
of saddle-bags (made of wool and cotton) and blankets. It stirred
again. George studied it with a peculiar sense of detachment. A woman; a
woman in what had but recently been a smart Parisian tailor-made
street-dress. The woman, rubbing her eyes, bore herself up painfully to
a sitting posture. She was white. All the blows of the night past were
as nothing in comparison with this invisible one which seemed to strike
at the very source of life.

Fortune Chedsoye!



CHAPTER XIII

NOT A CHEERFUL OUTLOOK


George, his brain in tumult, a fierce tigerish courage giving fictitious
strength to his body, staggered toward her. It was a mad dream, a mirage
of his own disordered thoughts. Fortune there? It was not believable.
What place had she in this tangled web? He ran his fingers into his
hair, gripped, and pulled. If it was a dream the pain did not waken him;
Fortune sat there still. Through what terrors might she not have passed
the preceding night? Alone in the desert, without any of those
conveniences which are to women as necessary as the air they breathe! He
tried to run, but his feet sank too deeply into the pale sand; he could
only plod. He must touch her or hear her voice; otherwise he stood upon
the brink of madness. There was no doubt in his mind now; he loved her,
loved her as deeply and passionately as any storied knight loved his
lady; loved her without thought of reward, unselfishly, with great and
tender pity, for unconsciously he saw that she, like he, was all alone,
not only here in the desert, but along the highways where men set up
their dwellings.

Mahomed, having an eye upon all things, though apparently seeing only
that which was under his immediate concern, saw the young man's
intention, and more, read the secret in his face. He was infinitely
amused. There were two of them, so it seemed. Quietly he stepped in
between George and the girl, and his movement freed George's mind of its
bewilderment. Unhesitatingly, he flung himself upon the Arab, striving
to reach the lean, brown throat. Mahomed, strong and unwearied, having
no hand in the actual warfare, thrust George back so vigorously that the
young man lost his balance and fell prone upon the sand. He was so weak
that the fall stunned him. Mahomed stepped forward, doubtless with the
generous impulse to prove that in the matter of kicks he desired to show
no partiality, when a hand caught at his burnouse. He paused and looked
down. It was the girl.

"Don't! A brave man would not do that."

Mahomed, moved by some feeling that eluded immediate analysis, turned
about. It was time to be off, if he wished to reach Serapeum the
following night. Pursuit he knew to be out of the question, since who
was there to know that there was anything to pursue? But many miles
intervened between here and his destination. He dared not enter Serapeum
in the daytime. Lying upon the canal-bank as it did, the possibility of
encountering a stray white man confronted him. Every camel-way
frequented by Europeans must of necessity be avoided, every town of any
size skirted, and all the while he must keep parallel with known paths
or become lost himself. Not to become lost himself, that was his real
concern. The caravan was provisioned for months, and he knew Asia-Minor
as well as the lines upon his palms. There were sand-storms, too; but
against these blighting visitations he would match his vigilant eye and
the instinct of his camels. The one way in which these peculiar storms
might distress him lay in the total obliteration of the way-signs,
certain rocks, certain hills, without the guidance of which, like a good
ship bereft of its compass, he might fall away from his course,
notwithstanding that he would always travel toward the sun.

And there was also the vital question of water; he must never forget
that; he must measure the time between each well, each oasis. So, then,
aside from these dangers with which he felt able to cope, there was one
unforeseen: the chance meeting with a wandering caravan headed by white
men in search of rugs and carpets. These fools were eternally hunting
about the wastes of the world; they were never satisfied unless they
were prowling into countries where they had no business to be, were
always breaking the laws of the caliphs and the Koran.

The girl was beautiful in her pale, foreign way; beautiful as the star
of the morning, as the first rose of the Persian spring; and he sighed
for the old days that were no more. She would have brought a sultan's
ransom in the markets. But the accursed Feringhi were everywhere, and
these sickly if handsome white women were more to them than their
heart's blood; why, he had never ceased to wonder. But upon this
knowledge he had mapped out his plan of torture in regard to Ryanne. The
idea of selling Fortune had dimly formed in his mind, while his blood
had burned in anger; but today's soberness showed him the futility of
such a procedure. He would have to make the best of a foolish move; for
the girl would eventually prove an encumbrance. At any rate, he would
wring one white man's heart till it beat dry in his breast. That her
health might be ruined, that she might sicken and die, in no manner
aroused his pity. This attribute was destined never to be awakened in
Mahomed's heart.

The _kisweh_, the _kisweh_, always the Holy Yhiordes; that he must have,
even if he had to forego the pleasure of breaking Ryanne. He was too old
to start life anew; at least, too old to stir ambition. He had wielded
authority too many years to surrender it lightly; he had known too long
his golden-flaked tobacco, his sherbet, his syrupy coffee, the pleasant
loafing in the bazaars with his merchant friends. To return to the
palace, to confess to the Pasha that his carelessness had lost him the
rug, would result either in death or banishment; and so far as he was
concerned he had no choice, the one was as bad as the other. So, if the
young fool who had bought the rug of Ryanne told the truth when he
declared that it had been stolen again, then Ryanne knew where it was;
and he could be made to tell; he, Mahomed, would attend to that. And
when Ryanne confessed, the girl and the other would be conveyed to the
nearest telegraph-post. That they might at once report the abduction to
the English authorities did not worry Mahomed. Not the fleetest
racing-camel could find him, and behind the walls of the palace of
Bagdad, only Allah could touch him. He had figured it all out closely;
and he was an admirable strategist in his way. Revenge upon Ryanne for
the dishonor and humiliation, and the return of the rug; there was
nothing more beyond that.

Before George had the opportunity of speaking to Fortune, he was raised
from the sand and bodily lifted upon his camel; and by way of passing
pleasantry, his hat was jammed down over his eyes. He swore as he pulled
up the brim. Swearing was another accomplishment added to the list of
transformations. He had a deal to learn yet, but in his present mood he
was likely to proceed famously. He readjusted the hat in time to see
Ryanne unceremoniously dumped into one of the yawning pack-baskets, his
arms and legs hanging out, his head lolling against his shoulder,
exactly like a marionette, cast aside for the time being. A man of
ordinary stamina would have died under such treatment. But Ryanne
possessed an extraordinary constitution, against which years of
periodical dissipation had as yet made no permanent inroads. Moreover,
he never forgot to keep his chin up and his waist-line down. They put
him into the pack-basket because there was no alternative, being as he
was incapable of sitting upon a camel's back.

Next, George saw Fortune, unresisting, placed upon the camel, under
canopy. At least, she would know a little comfort against the day's long
ride. His heart ached to see her. He called out bravely to her to be of
good cheer. She turned and smiled; and he saw only the smile, not the
swift, decisive battle against the onset of tears: she smiled, and he
was too far away to see the swimming eyes.

A bawling of voices, a snapping of the _kurbash_ upon the flanks of the
camels, and the caravan was once more under way. George looked at his
watch, which fortunately had been overlooked by the thieving natives,
and found it still ticking away briskly. It was after nine. It was a
comfort to learn that the watch had not been injured. Most men are
methodical in the matter of time, no matter how desultory they may be in
other things. There is a peculiar restfulness in knowing what the hour
is, whether it passes quickly or whether it drags.

Further investigation revealed that his letter of credit was undisturbed
and that he was the proud possessor of six damaged cigars and a box of
cigarettes. Instantly the thought of being days without tobacco smote
him almost poignantly. He was an inveterate smoker, and the fact that
the supply was so pitiably small gave unusual zest to his craving. He
now longed for the tang of the weed upon his lips, but he held out
manfully. He would not touch a cigar or cigarette till nightfall, and
then he made up his mind to smoke half of either. The touch, selfish and
calculating, of the miser stole over him. If Ryanne was without the
soother, so much the worse for him. The six cigars he would not share
with the Archangel Michael, supposing that gentleman came down for a
smoke.

Forward, always forward, winding in and out of the valleys, trailing
over the hills, never faster, never slower. Noon came, and the
brilliance of afternoon dimmed and faded into the short twilight. Were
they never going to stop? One hill more, and George, to his infinite
delight, saw a cluster of date-palms ahead, a mile or so; and he knew
that this was to be the haven for the ship of the desert. The caravan
came to it under the dim light of the few stars that had not yet
attained their refulgence. Under the palms were a few deserted
mud-houses, huddled dejectedly together, like outcasts seeking the
nearness rather than the companionship of their co-unfortunates. Men had
dwelt here once upon a time, but the plague had doubtless counted them
out, one by one. They made camp near the well, which still contained
water.

Prayers. A wailing chanted forth toward Mecca. "God is great. There is
no God but God."

George had witnessed prayers so often that he no longer gave attention
to the muezzin calling at eventide from a minaret. But out here, in the
blank wilderness, it caught him again, caught him as it had never done
before. A shiver stirred the hair at the base of his neck. The lean
bodies, one not distinguishable from the other now, kneeling, standing,
sweeping the arms, touching the forehead upon the rug, for even the
lowest camel-boy had his prayer-rug, ceaselessly intoning the set
phrases--George felt shame grow in his heart. Was he as loyal to his God
as these were to theirs?

A good fire was started, and the funereal aspect of the oasis became
quick and cheerful. A little distance from the blaze, George saw Fortune
bending over the inanimate Ryanne. She was bathing his face with a wet
handkerchief. After a time Ryanne turned over and flung his arms limply
across his face. It was the first sign of life he had exhibited since
the start. Fortune gently pulled aside his arms and continued her tender
mercies.

"Can I help?" asked George.

"You might rub his wrists," she answered.

It seemed odd to him that they should begin in such a matter-of-fact
way. It would be only when they had fully adjusted themselves to the
situation that questions would put forth for answers. He knelt down at
the other side of Ryanne and massaged his wrists and arms. Once he
paused, catching his breath.

"What is it?" she asked.

"A rib seems to bother me. It'll be all right to-morrow." He went on
with his manipulations.

"Is he badly hurt?"

"I can't say."

His knowledge of anatomy was not wide; still, Ryanne's arms and legs
worked satisfactorily. The trouble was either in his head or back of his
ribs. He put his arm under Ryanne's shoulder and raised him. Ryanne
mumbled some words. George bent down to catch them. "Hit 'em up in this
half, boys; we've got them going. Hell! Get off my head, you farmer!...
Two cards, please." His face puckered into what was intended for a
smile. George laid him back gently. Foot-ball and poker: what had this
man not known or seen in life? Some one came between the two men and the
fire, casting a long shadow athwart them. George looked up and saw
Mahomed standing close by. His arms were folded and his face grimly
inscrutable.

"Have you any blankets?" asked George coolly.

Mahomed gave an order. A blanket and two saddle-bags were thrown down
beside the unconscious man. George made a pillow of the bags and laid
the blanket over Ryanne.

"Why do you waste your time over him?" asked Mahomed curiously.

"I would not let a dog die this way," he retorted.

"He would have let you die," replied Mahomed, turning upon his heel.

George stared thoughtfully at his whilom accomplice. What did the old
villain insinuate?

"Can I do anything to make you more comfortable?" speaking to Fortune.

"I'm all right. I was chilled a little while ago, but the fire has done
away with that. Thank you."

"You must eat when they bring you food."

"I'll try to," smiling bravely.

To take her in his arms, then and there, to appease their hunger and his
heart's!

Self-consciously, her hand stole to her hair. A color came into her
cheeks. How frightful she must look! Neither hair-pin nor comb was left.
She threw the strands across her shoulder and plucked the snarls and
tangles apart, then braided the whole. He watched her, fascinated. He
had never seen a woman do this before. It was almost a sacrilege for him
to be so near her at such a moment. Afterward she drew her blanket over
her shoulders.

"You've got lots of pluck."

"Have I?"

"Yes. You haven't asked a question yet."

"Would it help any?"

"No, I don't suppose it would. I've an idea that we're all on the way to
the home of Haroun-al-Rashid."

"Bagdad," musingly.

"It's the rug. But I do not understand you in the picture."

"No more do I."

With a consideration that spoke well of his understanding, he did not
speak to her again till food was passed. Later, when the full terror of
the affair took hold of her, she would be dreadfully lonely and would
need to see him near, to hear his voice. He forced some of the hot soup
down Ryanne's throat, and was glad to note that he responded a little.
After that he limped about the strange camp, but was careful to get in
no one's way. Slyly he took note of this face and that, and his
satisfaction grew as he counted the aftermath of the war. And it had
taken five of them, and even then the result had been in doubt up to
that moment when his head had gone bang against the stucco. He took a
melancholy pride in his swollen ear and half-shut eye. He had always
been doubtful regarding his courage; and now he knew that George
Percival Algernon Jones was as good a name as Bayard.

The camel-boys (they are called boys all the way from ten years up to
forty), having hobbled the beasts, were portioning each a small bundle
of tibbin or chopped straw in addition to what they might find by
grazing. Funny brutes, thought George, as he walked among the kneeling
animals: to go five days without food or water, to travel continuously
from twenty-five to eighty miles the day! Others were busy with the
pack-baskets. A tent, presumably Mahomed's, was being erected upon a
clayey piece of ground in between the palms. No one entered the huts,
even out of curiosity; so George was certain that the desertion had been
brought about by one plague or another. A smaller tent was put up
later, and he was grateful at the sight of it. It meant a little privacy
for the poor girl. Great God, how helpless he was, how helpless they all
were!

An incessant chatter, occasionally interspersed with a laugh, went on.
The Arab, unlike the East Indian, is not ordinarily surly; and these
seemed to be good-natured enough. They eyed George without malice. The
war of the night before had been all in a day's work, for which they had
been liberally paid. While he had spent much time in the Orient and had
ridden camels, a real caravan, prepared for weeks of travel, was a
distinct novelty; and so he viewed all with interest, knowing perfectly
well that within a few days he would look upon these activities with a
dull, hopeless anger. He went back to the girl and sat down beside her.

"Have you any idea why you are here?"

"No; unless he saw me in the bazaars with Horace, and thought to torture
him by bringing me along."

Horace! A chill that was not of the night ran over his shoulders. So she
called the adventurer by his given name? And how might her presence
torture Ryanne? George felt weak in that bitter moment. Ay, how might
not her presence torture _him_ also? He had never, for the briefest
space, thought of Ryanne and Fortune at the same time. She spoke,
apathetically it was true, as if she had known him all her life. The
wisest thing he could do was to bring Ryanne to a condition where he
could explain some parts of the enigma and be of some use. Horace!

"I'm going to have another try at him," he said.

She nodded, but without any particular enthusiasm.

George worked over Ryanne for the better part of an hour, and finally
the battered man moved. He made an effort to speak, but this time no
sound issued from his lips. At the end of the hour he opened his eyes
and smiled. It was more like the grin George had once seen upon the face
of a boxer who had returned to the contest after having been floored
half a dozen times.

"Can you hear me?" asked George.

Ryanne stared into his face. "Yes," thickly. "Where are we?"

"In the desert."

"Which one?"

"Arabian."

Ryanne tried to sit up alone.

"Better not try to move. They banged you up at a great rate. Best thing
you can do is to go to sleep. You'll be all right in the morning."

Ryanne sank back, and George bundled him up snugly. Poor devil!

"He'll pull himself together in the morning," he said to Fortune. "I did
not know that you knew him well."

"I have known him for eight or nine years. He used to visit my uncle at
our villa in Mentone." She smiled. "You look very odd."

"No odder than I feel," with an ineffectual attempt to bring together
the ends of his collar-band. "I must be a sight. I was in too much of a
hurry to get here. Did you eat the soup and fish?"

"The soup, yes; but I'm afraid that it will be some time before I can
find the dried fish palatable. I hope my courage will not fail me," she
added, the first sign of anxiety she had yet shown. She was very lonely,
very tired, very sad.

It is quite possible that Mahomed, coming over, spoiled a pretty scene;
for George had some very brave words upon the tip of his tongue.

"Come," said Mahomed to Fortune. "You will sleep in the little tent. No
one will disturb you."

"Good night, Mr. Jones. Don't worry; I am not afraid."

George was alone. He produced one of his precious cigars and lighted it.
Then he drew over his feet one of the empty saddle-bags, wrapped his
blanket round him, and sat smoking and thinking till the heat of the
fire, replenished from time to time, filled him with a comfortable
drowsiness; and the cigar, still smoking, slipped from his nerveless
fingers, as he lay back upon the hard clay and slept. Romance is the
greatest thing in the world; but for all that, a man must eat and a man
must sleep.

The cold dew of dawn was the tonic that recalled him from the land of
grotesque dreams. He sat up and rubbed his face briskly with his hands,
drying it upon the sleeve of his coat, as hasty and as satisfying a
toilet as he had ever made. There was no activity in camp; evidently
they were not going to start early. The cook alone was busy. The fire
was crackling, the kettle was steaming, and a pot of pleasant-smelling
coffee leaned rakishly against the hot ashes. The flap to Fortune's tent
was still closed. And there was Ryanne, sitting with his knees drawn up
under his chin, his hands clasped about his shins, and glowering at no
visible thing.

"Hello!" cried George. "Found yourself, eh?"

Ryanne eyed him without emotion.

"When and how did they get you?" George inquired.

"About three hours before they got you. Something in a glass of wine.
Dope. I'd have cleaned them up but for that."

"How do you feel?"

"Damned bad, Percival."

"Any bones broken?"

"No; I'm just knocked about; sore spot in my side; kicked, maybe. But it
isn't that."

George didn't ask what "that" was. "Where do you think he's taking us?"

"Bagdad, if we don't die upon the way."

"I don't think he'll kill us. It wouldn't be worth his while."

"You did not give him the rug?"

"Not I!"

"It comes hard, Jones, I know, but your giving it up will save us both
many bad days. He asked you for it?"

"He did."

"Then why the devil didn't you give it to him? What's a thousand pounds
against this muddle?"

"For the simple reason I didn't have it to give up."

"What's that?"

"When I went up to my room, night before last, some one had been there
ahead of me. And at first I had given you the credit," said George, with
admirable frankness.

"Gone!" There was no mistaking the dismay in Ryanne's voice.

"Absolutely."

"Well, I be damn!" Ryanne threw aside the blanket and got up. It was a
painful moment, and he swayed a little. "If Mahomed hasn't it, and I
haven't it, and you haven't it, who the devil has, then?"

George shook his head.

"Jones, we are in for it. If that cursed rug is Mahomed's salvation, it
is no less ours. If we ever reach the palace of Bagdad and that rug is
not forthcoming, we'll never see the outside of the walls again."

"Nonsense! There's an American consul at Bagdad."

"And Mahomed will notify him of our arrival!" bitterly.

"Isn't there some way we two might get at Mahomed?"

"Perhaps; but it will take time. Don't bank upon money. Mahomed wants
his head. If the rug...." But Ryanne stopped. He looked beyond George,
his face full of terror. George turned to see what had produced this
effect. Fortune was coming out of her tent. "Fortune? My God!" Ryanne's
legs gave under and he sank, his face in his hands. "I see it all now!
Fool, fool! He's going to get me, Jones; he's going to get me through
her!"



CHAPTER XIV

MAHOMED OFFERS FREEDOM


Fortune had slept, but only after hours of watchful terror. The
slightest sound outside the tent sent a scream into her throat, but she
succeeded each time in stifling it. Once the evil laughter of a hyena
came over the dead and silent sands, and she put her hands over her
ears, shivering. Alone! She laid her head upon the wadded saddle-bags
and wept silently, and every sob tore at her heart. She must keep up the
farce of being brave when she knew that she wasn't. The men must not be
discouraged. Her deportment would characterize theirs; any sign of
weakness upon her side would correspondingly depress them the more. She
prayed to God to give her the strength to hold out. She was afraid of
Mahomed; she was afraid of his grim smile, afraid of his mocking eyes;
she could not sponge out the scene wherein he had so gratuitously kicked
Horace in the side. Horace! No, she did not believe that she would ever
forgive him for this web which he had spun and fallen into himself. Two
things she must hide for the sake of them all: her fear of Mahomed and
her knowledge of Ryanne's trickery.

What part in this tragedy had the Arab assigned her? Her fingers twined
and untwined, and she rocked and rocked, bit her lips, lay down, sat up
and rocked again. But for the exhaustion, but for the insistent call of
nature, she would never have closed her eyes that night.

And her mother! What would her mother believe, after the scene that had
taken place between them? What could she believe, save that her daughter
had fulfilled her threat, and run away? And upon this not unreasonable
supposition her mother would make no attempt to find out what had become
of her. Perhaps she would be glad, glad to be rid of her and her
questions. Alone! Well, she had always been alone.

The only ray of sunshine in all was the presence of Jones. She felt,
subtly, that he would not only stand between her and Mahomed, but also
between her and Ryanne.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hush!" whispered George. "Don't let her see you like this. She mustn't
know."

"You don't understand," replied Ryanne miserably.

"I believe I do." George's heart was heavy. This man was in love with
her, too.

Ryanne struck the tears from his eyes and turned aside his head. He was
sick in soul and body. To have walked blindly into a trap like this, of
his own making, too! Fool! What had possessed him, usually so keen, to
trust the copper-hided devil? All for the sake of one glass of wine!
With an effort entailing no meager pain in his side, he stilled the
strangling hiccoughs, swung round and tried to smile reassuringly at the
girl.

"You are better?" she asked.

There was in the tone of that question an answer to all his dreams. One
night's work had given him his ticket to the land of those weighed and
found wanting. She knew; how much he did not care; enough to read his
guilt.

It appeared to George that she was accepting the situation with a
philosophy deeper than either his or Ryanne's. Not a whimper, not a
plaint, not a protest so far had she made. She was a Roland in
petticoats.

"Oh, I'm bashed up a bit," said Ryanne. "I'll get my legs in a day or
so. Fortune, will you answer one question?"

"As many as you like."

"How did you get here?"

"Don't you know?"

George wasn't certain, but the girl's voice was cold and accusing.

"I?"

"Yes. Wasn't it the note that you wrote to me?"

Ryanne took his head in his hands, wearily. "I wrote you no note,
Fortune; I have never written you a note of any kind. You do not know my
handwriting from Adam's. In God's name, why didn't you ask your mother
or your uncle? They would have recognized the forgery at once. Who gave
it to you?"

"Mahomed himself."

"Damn him!" Ryanne grew strong under the passing fit of rage. "No, don't
tell me to be silent. I don't care about myself. I'm the kind of a man
who pulls through, generally. But this takes the spine out of me. I'm to
blame; it's all my fault."

"Say no more about it." She believed him. She really hadn't thought him
capable of such baseness, though at the time of her abduction she had
been inclined to accuse him. That he was here, a prisoner like herself,
was conclusive evidence, so far as she was concerned, of his innocence.
But she knew him to be responsible for the presence of Jones; knew him
to be culpable of treachery of the meanest order; knew him to be lacking
in generosity and magnanimity toward a man who was practically his
benefactor. "What does Mahomed want?"

"The bally rug, Fortune. And Jones here, who had it, says that it is
gone."

"Vanished, magic-carpet-wise," supplemented George.

"And Jones would have given it up."

"And a thousand like it, if we could have bought you out of this."

"Jones and I could have managed to get along."

"We shouldn't have mattered."

"And would you have returned to Mr. Jones his thousand pounds?"

"Yes, and everything else I have," quite honestly.

"Don't worry any more about the rug, then. I know where it is."

"You?" cried the two men.

"Yes. I stole it. I did so, thinking to avert this very hour; to save
you from harm," to George, "and you from doing a contemptible thing," to
Ryanne. "It is in my room, done up in the big steamer-roll. And now I am
glad that I stole it."

Ryanne laughed weakly.

Said George soberly: "What contemptible thing?" He recollected Mahomed's
words in regard to Ryanne as the latter lay insensible in the sand.

Ryanne, quick to seize the opportunity of solving, to his own advantage,
the puzzle for George, and at the same time guiding Fortune away from a
topic, the danger of which she knew nothing, raised a hand. "I bribed
Mahomed to kidnap you, Jones. Don't be impatient. You laughed at me when
I laid before you the prospectus of the United Romance and Adventure
Company. I wished to prove to you that the concern existed. And so here
is your adventure upon approval. I thought, of course, you still had the
rug. Mahomed was to carry you into the desert for a week, and by that
time you would have surrendered the rug, returned to Cairo, the hero of
a full-fledged adventure. Lord! what a mess of it I've made. I forgot,
next to his bally rug, Mahomed loved me."

The hitherto credulous George had of late begun to look into facts
instead of dreams. He did not believe a word of this amazing confession,
despite the additional testimony of Fortune, relative to Ryanne's
statements made to her in the bazaars.

"The biter bitten," was George's sole comment.

Ryanne breathed easier.

"Why not tell Mahomed at once, and have him send a courier back for the
rug?" suggested Fortune.

"By Jove, that clears up everything. We'll do it immediately." George
felt better than he had at any stage of the adventure. Here was a
simple way out of the difficulty.

"Softly," said Ryanne. "Let us come down to the lean facts. If that rug
is in your room, Fortune, your mother has discovered it long before now.
She will turn it over to your estimable uncle. None of us will ever see
it again, I'm thinking. The Major knows that Jones gave me a thousand
pounds for it." Struck by a sense of impending disaster, Ryanne began to
fumble in his pockets. Gone! Every shilling of it gone! "He's got that,
too; Mahomed; the cash you gave me, Jones. Wait a moment; don't speak;
things are whirling about some. Over nine hundred pounds; every shilling
of it. We mustn't let him know that I've missed it. I've got to play
weak in order to grow strong.... But they will at least start up a row
as to your whereabouts, Fortune."

"No," thoughtfully; "no, I do not think they will."

The undercurrent was too deep for George. He couldn't see very clearly
just then. The United Romance and Adventure Company; was that all? Was
there not something sinister behind that name, concerning him? He
looked patiently from the girl to the adventurer.

Ryanne stared at the yellow desert beyond. His brain was clearing
rapidly under the stimulus of thought. He himself did not believe that
they would send out search-parties either for him or for Fortune. He
could not fathom what had given Fortune her belief; but he realized that
his own was based upon the recollection of that savage mood when he had
thrown down the gauntlet. Now they would accept it. He had run away with
Fortune as he had boldly threatened to do. The mother and her precious
brother would proceed at once to New York without him. He had made a
fine muddle of it all. But for a glass of wine and a grain too much of
confidence, he had not been here this day.

Mahomed, himself astir by this time, came over to the group, leisurely.
The three looked like conspirators to his suspicious eye, but unlike
conspirators they made no effort to separate because he approached. He
understood: as yet they were not afraid of him. That was one of the
reasons he hated white men; they could seldom be forced to show fear,
even when they possessed it. Well, these three should know what fear
was before they saw the last of him. He carried a _kurbash_, a cow-hide
whip, which he twirled idly, even suggestively. First, he came to
George.

"If you have the Yhiordes, there is still a chance for you. Cairo is but
fifty miles away. Bagdad is several hundred." He drew the whip
caressingly through his fingers.

"I do not lie," replied George, a truculent sparkle in his eyes. "I told
you that I had it not. It was the truth."

A ripple of anxiety passed over Mahomed's face. "And you?" turning upon
Ryanne, with suppressed savageness. How he longed to lay the lash upon
the dog!

"Don't look at me," answered Ryanne waspishly. "If I had it I should not
be here." Ah, for a bit of his old strength! He would have strangled
Mahomed then and there. But the drug and the beating had weakened him
terribly.

"If I give you the rug," interposed Fortune, "will you promise freedom
to us all?"

Mahomed stepped back, nonplussed. He hadn't expected any information
from this quarter.

"I have the rug," declared Fortune calmly, though she could scarcely
hear her own voice, her heart beat so furiously.

"You have it?" Mahomed was confused. Here was a turn in the road upon
which he had set no calculation. All three of them!

"Yes. And upon condition that you liberate us all, I will put it into
your hands. But it must be my writing this time."

A white man would have blushed under the reproach in her look. Mahomed
smiled amiably, pleased over his cleverness. "Where is the _kisweh_?"

"The _kisweh_?"

"The Holy Yhiordes. Where is it?"

"That I refuse to tell you. Your word of honor first, to bind the
bargain."

Ryanne laughed. It acted upon Mahomed like a goad. He raised the whip,
and had Ryanne's gaze swerved the part of an inch, the blow would have
fallen.

"You laugh?" snarled Mahomed.

"Why, yes. A bargain with your honor makes me laugh."

"And _your_ honor?" returned Mahomed fiercely. He wondered why he held
his hand. "I have matched trickery against trickery. My honor has not
been called. I fed you, I gave you drink; in return you lied to me,
dishonored me in the eyes of my friends, and one of them you killed."

"It was my life or his," exclaimed Ryanne, not relishing the recital of
this phase. "It was my life or his; and he was upon my back."

Fortune shuddered. Presently she laid her hand upon Mahomed's arm.
"Would you take my word of honor?"

Mahomed sought her eyes. "Yes. I read truth in your eyes. Bring me the
rug, and my word of honor to you, you shall go free."

"But my friends?"

"One of them." Mahomed laughed unpleasantly. It was an excellent idea.
"One of them shall go free with you. It will be for you to choose which.
Now, you dog, laugh, laugh!" and the tongue of the _kurbash_ bit the
dust within an inch of Ryanne's feet.

"What shall I do?" asked Fortune miserably.

"Accept," urged Ryanne. "If you are afraid to choose one or the other
of us, Jones and I will spin a coin."

"I agree," said George, very unhappy.

"Have you any paper, Jones?"

George searched. He found the dance-card to the ball at the hotel. In
another pocket he discovered the little pencil that went with it.

"You write," said Mahomed to Fortune.

"I intend to." Fortune took the card and pencil and wrote as follows:

     "MOTHER:

      "Horace, Mr. Jones and I are prisoners of the man who owned the
      rug, which you will find in the large steamer-roll. Give it to the
      courier who brings this card. And under no circumstances set spies
      upon his track." In French she added: "We are bound for Bagdad. In
      case Mahomed receives the rug and we are not liberated, wire the
      embassy at Constantinople and the consulate at Bagdad.

  "FORTUNE."

She gave it to Mahomed.

"Read it out loud," he commanded. While he spoke English fluently, he
could neither read nor write it in any serviceable degree. The note he
had given to Fortune had been written by a friend of his in the bazaars
who had upon a time lived in New York. Fortune read slowly, slightly
flushing as she evaded the French script.

"That will do," Mahomed agreed.

He shouted for one of his boys, bade him saddle the _hagin_ or
racing-camel, which of all those twelve, alone was his, and be off to
Cairo. The boy dipped his bowl into the kettle, ate greedily, saddled
the camel, and five minutes later was speeding back toward Cairo at a
gait that would bring him there late that night.

Fortune and George and Ryanne watched him till he disappeared below a
dip and was gone from view. In the minds of the three watchers the same
question rose: would he be too late? George was cheerful enough
thereafter, but his cheerfulness was not of the infectious kind.

At noon the caravan was once more upon its way. Ryanne was able to ride.
The fumes of whatever drug had been administered to him had finally
evaporated, and he felt only bruised, old, disheartened. An evil day for
him when he had set forth for Bagdad in quest of the rug. He was
confident that there would be no rug awaiting the courier, and what
would be Mahomed's procedure when the boy returned empty-handed was not
difficult to imagine. Mahomed was right; so far honor had not entered
into the contest. According to his lights, the Arab was only paying coin
for coin. But for the girl, Ryanne would have accepted the situation
with a shrug, to await that moment when Mahomed, eased by the sense of
security, would naturally relax vigilance. The presence of Fortune
changed the whole face of the affair. Mahomed could have his eyes and
heart if he would but spare her. He must be patient; he must accept
insults, even physical violence, but some day he and Mahomed would play
the final round.

His past, his foolish, futile past: all the follies, all the petty
crimes, all the low dissipations in which he had indulged, seemed
trooping about his camel, mocking and gibbering at him. Why hadn't he
lived clean like Jones there? Why hadn't he fought temptation as he had
fought men? Environment was no excuse; bringing-up offered no
palliation; he had gone wrong simply because his inclinations had been
wrong. On the other hand, no one had ever tried to help him back to a
decent living. His mother had died during his childhood, and her
influence had left no impression. His father had been a money-maker,
consumed by the pleasure of building up pyramids of gold. He had never
reasoned with his youngest-born; he had paid his bills without protest
or reproach; it was so much a month to be written down in the expense
account. And the first-born had been his natural enemy since the days of
the nursery. Still, he could not acquit himself; his own arraignment was
as keen as any judge could have made. Strong as he was physically,
brilliant as he was mentally, there was a mortal weakness in his blood;
and search as he might the history of his ancestors, their lives shed no
light upon his own.

In stating that his face had been granted that dubious honor and concern
Of the perpetrators of the rogues' gallery, he had merely given rein to
a seizure of soul-bitterness. But there was truth enough in the
statement that he had been short in his accounts many thousands at his
father's bank; gambling debts; and in making no effort to replace the
loss, he was soon found out by his brother, who seemed only too glad to
dishonor him. He was given his choice: to sign over his million, due
him a year later (for at this time the father was dead), or go to
prison. The scandal of the affair had no weight with his brother; he
wanted the younger out of the way. Like the hot-headed fool he was, he
had signed away his inheritance, taken a paltry thousand and left
America, facing imprisonment if he returned. That was the kind of a
brother he had. Once he had burned his bridges, there came to him a
dozen ways by which he could have extricated himself. But once a fool,
always a fool!

Disinherited, outcast, living by his wits, ingenious enough; the finer
senses callousing under the contact with his inferiors; a gambler, a
hard drinker periodically; all in all, a fine portrait for any gallery
given over to rogues. And he hadn't worried much over the moral problem
confronting him, that the way of the transgressor is hard. It was only
when love rent the veil of his fatuity that he saw himself as he really
was.

Love! He gazed ahead at Fortune under the _mahmal_. That a guileless
young girl as she was should enchain him! That the sight of her should
always send a longing into his soul to go back and begin over! His jaws
hardened. Why not? Why not try to recover some of the crumbs of the fine
things he had thrown away? At least enough to permit him to go again
among his fellows without constantly looking behind to note if he were
followed? By the Lord Harry! once he was out of this web of his own
weaving, he _would_ live straight; he swore that every dollar hereafter
put in his pocket should be an honest one. Fortune could never be his
wife. He came to this fact without any roundabout or devious byways. In
the first place, he knew that he had not touched her; she had only been
friendly; and now even her friendship hung by a thread. All right. The
love he bore her was going to be his salvation just the same; and at
this moment he was deadly in earnest.

It was after nine when they were ferried across the two canals, the
fresh-water and the salt, several miles below Serapeum. The three weary
captives saw a great liner slip past slowly and majestically upon its
way to the Far East. She radiated with light and cheer and comfort; and
all could hear faintly the pulsations of her engines. So near and yet so
far; a cup of water to Tantalus! At midnight they made camp. There were
no palms this time; simply a well in the center of a jumble of huge
boulders. The tents were pitched to the southwest, for now the wind
blew, biting from the land of northern snows; and a fire was a welcome
thing. This was Arabia; Africa had been left behind. Here they awaited
the return of the courier, who arrived two days later, dead tired. The
persons to whom the card had been sent had sailed for Naples with the
steamer _Ludwig_. Mahomed turned upon the three miserables.

"I have you three, then; and by the beard of the Prophet, you shall pay,
you shall pay! You have robbed and beaten and dishonored me; and you
shall pay!"

"Am I guilty of any wrong toward you?" faltered the girl. Her mother had
gone. She had hoped against hope.

"No," cried Mahomed. He laughed. "You are free to return to Cairo ...
alone! Free to take your choice of these two men to accompany you. Free,
free as the air.... Well, why do you hesitate?"



CHAPTER XV

FORTUNE'S RIDDLE SOLVED


Fortune, without deigning to reply, walked slowly and proudly to her
tent, and disappeared within. She looked neither at Ryanne nor at
George. She knew that George, his soul filled with that unlucky quixotic
sense of chivalry which had made him so easy a victim to her mother,
would not accept his liberty at the price of Ryanne's, Ryanne, to whom
he owed nothing, not even mercy. And if she had had to ask one of the
two, George would have been the natural selection, for she trusted him
implicitly. Perhaps there still lingered in her mind a recollection of
how charmingly he had spoken of his mother.

She could have set out for Cairo alone: even as she could have grown a
pair of wings and sailed through the air! The fate that walked behind
her was malevolent, cruel, unjust. She had wronged no one, in thought or
deed. She had put out her hand confidently to the world, to be laughed
at, distrusted, or ignored. Was it possible that a little more than a
month ago she wandered, if not happy, in the sense she desired, at least
in a peaceful state of mind, among her camelias and roses at Mentone?
Her world had been, in this short time, remolded, reconstructed; where
once had bloomed a garden, now yawned a chasm: and the psychological
earthquake had left her dizzy. That Mahomed, now wrought to a kind of
Berserk rage, might begin reprisals at once, did not alarm her; indeed,
her feeling was rather of dull, aching indifference. Nothing mattered
now.

But Ryanne and George were keenly alive to the danger, and both agreed
that Fortune must go no farther.

Ryanne, under his bitter raillery and seeming scorn for sacred things,
possessed a latent magnanimity, and it now pushed up through the false
layers. "Jones, it's my funeral. Go tell her. You two can find the way
back to the canal, and once there you will have no trouble. Don't
bother your head about me."

"But what will you do?"

"Take my medicine," grimly.

"Ryanne, you are offering the cowardly part to me!"

"You fool, it's the girl. What do you and I care about the rest of it?
You're as brave as a lion. When you put up your fists the other night,
you solved that puzzle for yourself. For God's sake, do it while I have
the courage to let you! Don't you understand? I love that girl better
than my heart's blood, and Mahomed can have it drop by drop. Go and go
quickly! He will give you food and water."

"You go. She knows you better than me."

"But will she trust me as she will you? Percival, old top, Mahomed will
never let me go till he's taken his pound of flesh. Fortune!" Ryanne
called. "Fortune, we want you!"

She appeared at the flap of the tent.

"Jones here will go back with you. Go, both of you, before Mahomed
changes his mind."

"Miss Chedsoye, he is wrong. He's the one to go. He was hurt worse than
I was. Pride doesn't matter at a time like this. You two go,"
desperately.

Fortune shook her head. "All or none of us; all or none of us," she
repeated.

And Mahomed, having witnessed and overheard the scene, laughed, a
laughter identical to that which had struck the barmaid's ears
sinisterly. He had not studied his white man without gathering some
insight into his character. Neither of these men was a poltroon. And
when he had made the offer, he knew that the conditions would erect a
barrier over which none of them would pass voluntarily. So much for
pride as the Christian dogs knew it. Pride is a fine buckler; none knew
that better than Mahomed himself; but a wise man does not wear it at all
times.

"What is it to be?" he demanded of Fortune.

"What shall I say to him?"

"Whatever you will." Ryanne was tired. He saw that argument would be of
no use.

"All or none of us." And Fortune looked at Mahomed with all the pride of
her race. "It is not because you wish me to be free; it is because you
wish to see one of my companions made base in my eyes. I will not have
it!"

"The will of Allah!" He could not repress the fire of admiration in his
own eyes as they took in her beauty, the erect, slender figure, the
scorn upon her face, and the fearlessness in her great, dark eyes. Such
a woman might have graced the palace of the Great Caliph. He had had in
mind many little cruelties to practice upon her, that he might see the
men writhe, impotent and helpless to aid her. But in this tense and
dramatic scene, a sense of shame took possession of him; his pagan heart
softened; not from pity, but from that respect which one brave person
gives free-handed to another.

Mahomed was not a bad man, neither was he a cruel one. He had been
terribly wronged, and his eastern way had but one angle of vision: to
avenge himself, believing that revenge alone could soothe his outraged
pride and reëstablish his honor as he viewed it from within. Had the
courier returned with the Holy Yhiordes, it is not impossible that he
would have liberated them all. But now he dared not; he was not far
enough away. To Bagdad, then, and as swiftly as the exigencies of
desert travel would permit. One beacon of hope burned in his breast.
The Pasha might be deposed, and in that case he could immediately
dispose of his own goods and chattels and seek new pastures. It would
come hard, doubly hard, since he never could regain the position he was
to lose.

Nine hundred pounds English, and a comfortable fraction over; the
yellow-haired dog would have nothing in the end for his pains. It would
be what the Feringhi called a good joke.

A week passed. Christmas. And not one of them recalled the day. Perhaps
it was because years had passed since that time when it meant anything
to them. The old year went out a-lagging; neither did they take note of
this. Having left behind civilization, customs and habits were
forgotten.

Sometimes they rode all day and all night, sometimes but half a day, and
again, when the water was sweet, they rested the day and night. Never a
human being they saw, never a caravan met or crossed them. In this week,
the secret marvels of the desert became theirs. They saw it gleam and
waver and glitter under skies of brass, when the north wind let down and
a breeze came over from the Persian Gulf. They saw it covered with the
most amazing blues and greys and greens. They saw it under the rarest
azure and a stately fleet of billowy clouds; under the dawn, under the
set of sun, under the moon and the stars; and unfailingly the
interminable reaches of sand and rock and scrubby bush, chameleon-like,
readjusted its countenance to each change in the sky. George, who was a
poet without the gift of expression, never ceased to find new charms;
and nothing pleased his fancy more than to see the cloud-shadows scud
away across the sands. Once, toward the latter end of day, Fortune cried
out and pointed. Far away, palely yet distinctly, they saw an ocean
liner. She stood out against the yellowing sky as a magic-lantern
picture stands out upon the screen, and faded similarly. It was the one
and only mirage they saw, or at least noticed.

[Illustration]

Once another caravan, composed wholly of Arabs, passed. What hope the
prisoners had was instantly snuffed out. Before the strangers came
within hailing, Mahomed hustled his captives into his tent and swore he
would kill either George or Ryanne if they spoke. He forgot Fortune,
however. As the caravan was passing she screamed. Instantly Mahomed
clapped his hand roughly over her mouth. The sheik of the passing
caravan looked keenly at the tent, smiled grimly and passed on. What was
it to him that a white woman lay in yonder tent? His one emotion was of
envy. After this the prisoners became apathetic.

Upon the seventh day, they witnessed the desert's terrifying anger. The
air that had been cool, suddenly grew still and hot; the blue above
began to fade, to assume a dusty, copperish color. The camels grew
restless. Quickly there rose out of the horizon saffron clouds,
approaching with incredible swiftness. Little whirlwinds of sand
appeared here and there, rose and died as if for want of air. Mahomed
veered the caravan toward a kind of bluff composed of sand and
precipitous boulders. All the camels were made to kneel. The boys
muffled up their mouths and noses, and Mahomed gave instructions to his
captives. Fortune buried her head in her coat and nestled down beside
her camel, while George and Ryanne used their handkerchiefs. George left
his camel and sought Fortune's side, found her hand and held it tightly.
He scarcely gave thought to what he did. He vaguely meant to encourage
her; and possibly he did.

The storm broke. The sun became obscured. Pebbles and splinters of rock
sang through the pall of whirling sand. A golden tone enveloped the
little gathering.

Had there been no natural protection, they must have ridden on, blindly
and desperately, for to have remained still in the open would have been
to await their tombs. It spent its fury in half an hour; and the
clearing air became cold again. The caravan proceeded. The hair of every
one was dimly yellow, their faces and their garments.

When camp was made that night it found the captives untalkative. The
girl and the two men sat moodily about the fire. Fatigue had dulled
their bodies and hopelessness their minds. The men were ragged now,
unkempt; a stubble of beard covered their faces, gaunt yet burned.
George had lost his remaining pump, and as his stockings were now full
of holes, he had, in the last flicker of personal pride, wound about
them some cast-off cloths he had found. There was not enough water for
ablutions; there was scarcely enough to assuage thirst.

By and by, Ryanne, without turning his head, spoke to George. "You say
you questioned the courier?"

"Yes."

"He says he showed the note to no one?"

"Yes."

"And so no one will try to find us?

"No."

Ryanne had asked these questions a dozen times and George had always
given the same answers.

Up and away at dawn, for they must reach the well that night. It was a
terrible day for them all. Even the beasts showed signs of distress. And
the worst of it was, Mahomed was not quite sure of his route.
Fortunately, they found the well. They drank like mad people.

Ryanne, who had discovered a pack of cards in his pocket, played
patience upon a spot smoothed level with his hand. He became absorbed in
the game; and the boys gathered round him curiously. Whenever he
succeeded in turning out the fifty-two cards, he would smile and rub his
hands together. The boys at length considered him unbalanced mentally,
and in consequence looked upon him as a near-holy man.

Between Fortune and George, conversation dwindled down to a query and an
answer.

"Can I do anything for you?"

"No, thanks; I am getting along nicely."

To-night she retired early, and George joined Ryanne's audience.

"It averages about nine cards to the play," he commented.

Ryanne turned over an ace. Ten or fifteen minutes went by. In the
several attempts he had failed to score the full complement.

George laughed.

"What's in your mind?" cried Ryanne peevishly. "If it's anything worth
telling, shoot it out, shoot it out!"

"I was thinking what I'd do to a club-steak just about now."

Ryanne stared beyond the fire. "A club-steak. Grilled mushrooms."

"Sauce Bordelaise. Artichokes."

"No. Asparagus, vinaigrette."

"What's the matter with endives?"

"That's so. Well, asparagus with butter-sauce."

"Grilled sweets, coffee, Benedictine, and cigars."

"And a magnum of '1900' to start off with!" Ryanne, with a sudden change
of mood, scooped up the cards and flung them at George's head. "Do you
want us both to become gibbering idiots?"

George ducked. He and the boys gathered in the fluttering paste-boards.

"You're right, Percival," Ryanne admitted humbly. "It will not hurt us
to talk out loud, and we are all brooding too much. I am crazy for the
want of tobacco. I'd trade the best dinner ever cooked for a decent
cigar."

George put a hand reluctantly into his pocket. He brought forth, with
extreme gentleness, a cigar, the wrapper of which was broken in many
places. "I've saved this for days," he said. With his pen-knife he sawed
it delicately into two equal parts, and gave one to Ryanne.

"You're a good fellow, Jones, and I've turned you a shabby trick. I
shan't forget this bit of tobacco."

"It's the last we've got. The boys, you know, refuse a pull at the
water-pipe; defiles 'em, they say. Funny beggars! And if they gave us
tobacco, we shouldn't have paper or pipes."

"I always carry a pipe, but I lost it in the shuffle. I never looked
upon smoking as a bad habit. I suppose it's because I was never caught
before without it. And it is a bad habit, since it knocks up a chap this
way for the lack of it. Where do you get your club-steaks in old N. Y.?"

And for an hour or more they solemnly discussed the cooking here and
there upon the face of the globe.

By judicious inquiries, George ascertained that the trip to Bagdad,
barring accidents, would take fully thirty-five days. The daily journeys
proceeded uneventfully. Mahomed maintained a taciturn grimness. If he
aimed at Ryanne at all, it was in trifling annoyances, such as
forgetting to give him his rations unless he asked for them, or walking
over the cards spread out upon the sand. Ryanne carried himself very
well. Had he been alone, he would have broken loose against Mahomed; but
he thought of the others, and restrained himself--some consideration was
due them.

But into the blood of the two men there crept a petty irritability.
They answered one another sharply, and often did not speak. Fortune
alone seemed mild and gentle. Mahomed, since that night she had braved
him, let her go and come as she pleased, nor once disturbed her. Had she
shown weakness when most she needed courage, Mahomed might not have
altered his plans. Admiration of courage is inherent in all peoples. So,
without appreciating it, that moment had been a precious one, saving
them all much unpleasantness.

By the twentieth day, the caravan was far into the Arabian desert, and
early in the afternoon, they came upon a beautiful oasis, nestling like
an emerald in a plaque of gold. So many days had passed since the
beloved green of growing things had soothed their inflamed eyes, that
the sight of this haven cheered them all mightily. Once under the shade
of the palms, the trio picked up heart. Fortune sang a little, George
told a funny story, and Ryanne wanted to know if they wouldn't take a
hand at euchre. Indeed, that oasis was the turning-point of the crisis.
Another week upon the dreary, profitless sands, and their spirits would
have gone under completely.

This oasis was close to the regular camel-way, there being a larger
oasis some twenty-odd miles to the north. But Mahomed felt safe at this
distance, and decided to freshen up the caravan by a two-days' rest.

George immediately began to show Fortune little attentions. He fixed her
saddle-bags, spread out her blanket, brought her some ripe dates of his
own picking, insisted upon going to the well and drawing the water she
was to drink. And oh! how sweet and cool that water was, after the
gritty flat liquid they had been drinking! Just before sundown, he and
Fortune set out upon a voyage of discovery; and Ryanne paused in his
game of patience to watch them. There was more self-abnegation than
bitterness in his eyes. Why not? If Fortune returned to her mother,
sooner or later the thunderbolt would fall. Far better that she should
fall in love with Jones than to go back to the overhanging shadow. A
smile lifted the corners of his lips, a sad smile. Percival didn't look
the part of a hero. His coat was variously split under the arms and
across the shoulders; his trousers were ragged, and he walked in his
cloth pads like a man who had gout in both feet. A beard covered his
face, and the bare spots were blistered and peeling. But there was youth
in Percival's eyes and youth in his heart, and surely the youth in hers
must some day respond. She would know this young man; she would know
that adversity could not crush him; that the promise of safety could not
make a coward of him; that he was loyal and brave and honest. She would
know in twenty days what it takes the average woman twenty years to
learn, the manner of man who professed to love her. Ryanne left the game
unfinished, stretched himself upon the ground with his face hidden in
the crook of his arms. Oh, the bitter cup, the bitter cup!

Round the fire that night, the camel-boys got out their tom-toms and
reeds, and the eerie music affected the white people hauntingly and
mysteriously. For thousands of years, the high and low notes of the
drums (hollow earthen-jars or large gourds covered with goat-skin at one
end) and the thin, metallic wail of the reeds had echoed across the
deserts, unchanged. The boys swayed to and fro to the rhythm, gradually
working themselves into an ecstatic frenzy.

Fortune always remembered that night. Wrapped in her blanket, she had
lain down just outside the circle, and had fallen into a doze. When the
music stopped and the boys left the prisoners to themselves, George and
Ryanne talked.

"I never forget faces," began George.

"No? That's a gift."

"And I have never forgotten yours. I was in doubt at first, but not
now."

"I never met you till that night at the hotel."

"That's true. But you are Horace Wadsworth, all the same, the son of the
millionaire-banker, the man I used to admire in the field."

"You still think I'm that chap?"

"I am sure of it. The first morning you gave yourself away."

"What did I say?" anxiously.

"You mumbled foot-ball phrases."

"Ah!" Ryanne was vastly relieved. He seemed to be thinking.

"Do you persist in denying it?"

"I might deny it, but I shan't. I'm Horace Wadsworth, all right. Fortune
knows something about that chapter, but not all. Strikes you odd, eh?"
continued Ryanne, iron in his voice. "Every opportunity in the world;
and yet, here I am. How much do you know, I wonder?"

"You took some money from the bank, I think they said."

"Right-O! Wine, Percival; cards, wine and other things. Advice and
warning went into one ear and out of the other. Always so, eh? You have
heard of my brother, I dare say. Well, he wouldn't lend me two stamps
were I to write for the undertaker to come and collect my remains.
Beautiful history! I've been doing some tall thinking these lonely
nights. Only the straight and narrow way pays. Be good, even if you are
lonesome. When I get back, if I ever do, it's a new leaf for mine.
Neither wine nor cards nor women."

Silence. The fire no longer blazed; it glowed.

"Who is Mrs. Chedsoye?" George finally began anew.

"First, how did you chance to make her acquaintance?"

"Some years ago, at Monte Carlo."

"And she borrowed a hundred and fifty pounds of you."

"Who told you that?" quickly.

"She did. She paid you back."

"Yes."

"And she hadn't intended to. You poor innocent!"

"Why do you call me that?"

"To lend money at Monte Carlo to a woman whose name you did not know at
the time! Green, green as a paddy field! I'll tell you who she is,
because you're bound to learn sooner or later. She is one of the most
adroit smugglers of the age; jewels and rare laces. And never once has
the secret-service been able to touch her. Her brother, the Major,
assists her when he isn't fleecing tender lambs at all known games of
chance. He's a card-sharp, one of the best of them. He tried to teach
me, but I never could cheat a man at cards. Never makes any false moves,
but waits for the quarry to offer itself. That poor child has always
been wondering and wondering, but she never succeeded in finding out the
truth. Brother and sister have made a handsome living, and many a time I
have helped them out. There; you have me in the ring, too. But who
cares? The father, so I understand, married Fortune's mother for love;
she married him for his money, and he hadn't any. Drink and despair
despatched him quickly enough. She is a remarkable woman, and if she had
a heart, she would be the greatest of them all. She has as much heart as
this beetle," as he filliped the green iridescent shell into the fire.
"But, after all, she's lucky. It's a bad thing to have a heart,
Percival, a bad thing. Some one is sure to come along and wring it, to
jab it and stab it."

"The poor little girl!"

"Percival, I'm no fool. I've been watching you. Go in and win her; and
God bless you both. She's not for me, she's not for me!"

"But what place have I in all this?" evasively.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Why did Mrs. Chedsoye pay me back, when her original intention had been
not to pay me?"

"You'll find all that written in the book of fate, as Mahomed would say.
More, I can not tell you."

"Will not?"

"Well, that phrase expresses it."

They both heard the sound. Fortune, her face white and drawn, stood
immediately behind them.



CHAPTER XVI

MAHOMED RIDES ALONE


It was as if the stillness of the desert itself had encompassed the two
men. In their ears the slither of the brittle palm-leaves against one
another and the crackle of the fire were no longer sounds. They stared
at Fortune with that speechless wonder of men who had come unexpectedly
upon a wraith. What with the faint glow of the fire upon one side of her
and the pallor of moonshine upon the other, she did indeed resemble
man's conception of the spiritual.

Ryanne was first to pull himself together.

"Fortune, I am sorry; God knows I am. I'd have cut out my tongue rather
than have hurt you. I thought you were asleep in the tent."

"Is it true?"

"Yes." Ryanne looked away.

"I had not quite expected this: the daughter of a thief."

"Oh, come now; don't look at it that way. Smuggling is altogether a
different thing," protested Ryanne. (Women were uncertain; here she was,
apparently the least agitated of the three.) "Why, hundreds of men and
women, who regularly go to church, think nothing of beating Uncle Sam
out of a few dollars. Here's Jones, for instance; he would have tried to
smuggle in that rug. Isn't that right, Jones?"

"Of course!" cried George eagerly, though scarcely knowing what he said.
"I'd have done it."

"And you wouldn't call Percival a thief," with a forced laugh. "It's
like this, Fortune. Uncle Sam wants altogether too much rake-off. He
doesn't give us a square deal; and so we even up the matter by trying to
beat him. Scruples? Rot!"

"It is stealing," with quiet conviction.

"It isn't, either. Listen to me. Suppose I purchase a pearl necklace in
Rome, and pay five-thousand for it. Uncle Sam will boost up the value
more than one-half. And what for? To protect infant industries? Bally
rot! We don't make pearls in the States; our oysters aren't educated up
to it." His flippancy found no response in her. "Well, suppose I get
that necklace through the customs without paying the duty. I make
twenty-five hundred or so. And nobody is hurt. That's all your mother
does."

"It is stealing," she reiterated.

How wan she looked! thought George.

"How can you make that stealing?" Ryanne was provoked.

"The law puts a duty upon such things; if you do not pay it, you steal.
Oh, Horace, don't waste your time in specious arguments." She made a
gesture, weariness personified. "It is stealing; all the arguments in
the world can not change it into anything else. And how about my uncle
who fleeces the lambs at cards, and how about my mother who knows and
permits it?"

Ryanne had no plausible argument to offer against these queries.

"Is not my uncle a thief, and is not my mother an abettor? I do not
know of anything so vile." Her figure grew less erect. To George's eyes,
dimmed by the reflecting misery in hers, she drooped, as a flower
exposed to sudden cold. "I think the thief in the night much honester
than one who cheats at cards. A card-sharp; did you not call it that?
Don't lie, Horace; it will only make me sad."

"I shan't lie any more, Fortune. All that you believe is true; and I
would to God that it were otherwise. And I've been a partner in many of
their exploits. But not at cards, Fortune; not at cards. I'm not that
kind of a cheat."

"Thank you. I should have known some time, and perhaps only half a
truth. Now I know all there is to know." She held her hands out before
her and studied them. "I shall never go back."

"Good Lord! Fortune, you must. You'd be as helpless as a babe. What
could you do without money and comfort?"

"I can become a clerk in a shop. It will be honest. Bread at Mentone
would choke me;" and she choked a little then as she spoke.

"My dear Fortune," said Ryanne, calling into life that persuasive
sweetness which upon occasions he could put into his tones, "have you
ever thought how beautiful you are? No, I don't believe you have. Some
ancestor of your father's has been reincarnated in you. You are without
vanity and dishonesty; and I have found that these usually go together.
Well, at Mentone you had a little experience with men. You were under
protection then; protection it was of a sort. If you go out into the
world alone, there will be no protection; and you will find that men are
wolves generally, and that the sport of the chase is a woman. Must I
make it plainer?"

"I understand," her chin once more resolute. "I shall become a clerk in
a shop. Perhaps I can teach, or become a nurse. Whatever I do, I shall
never go back to Mentone. And all men are not bad. You're not all bad
yourself, Horace; and so far as I am concerned, I believe I might trust
you anywhere."

"And God knows you could!" genuinely. "But I can't help you. If I had a
sister or a woman relative, I could send you to her. But I have no one
but my brother, and he's a worse scoundrel than I am. I at least work
out in the open. He transacts his villainies behind closed doors."

George listened, sitting as motionless as a Buddhist idol. Why couldn't
_he_ think of something? Why couldn't _he_ come to the aid of the woman
he loved in this her hour of trial? A fine lover, forsooth! To sit there
like a yokel, stupidly! Could he offer to lend her money? A thousand
times, no! And he could not ask her to marry him; it would not have been
fair to either. She would have misunderstood; she would have seen not
love but pity, and refused him. Neither she nor Ryanne suffered more in
spirit than he did at that moment.

"Jones, for God's sake, wake up and suggest something! You know lots of
decent people. Can't you think of some one?"

But for this call George might have continued to grope in darkness.
Instantly he saw a way. He jumped to his feet and seized her by the
hands, boyishly.

"Fortune, Ryanne is right. I've found a way. Mr. Mortimer, the president
of my firm, is an old man, kindly and lovable. He and his wife are
childless. They'll take you. Why, it's as easy as talking."

She leaned back against the drawing of his hands. She was afraid that in
his eagerness he was going to take her in his arms. She wondered why, of
a sudden, she had become so weak. Slowly she withdrew her hands from
his.

"I'll cable the moment we reach port," he said, as if reaching port
under the existing conditions was a thing quite possible. "Will you go
to them? Why, they will give you every care in the world. And they will
love you as ... as you ought to be loved!"

Ryanne turned away his head.

Fortune was too deeply absorbed by her misery to note how near George
had come to committing himself. "Thank you, Mr. Jones; thank you. I am
going to the tent. I am tired. And I am not so brave as you think I am."

"But will you?"

"I shall tell you when we reach port." And with that she fled to the
tent.

Ryanne folded his arms and stared at the sand. George sat down and
aimlessly hunted for the stub of the cigar he had dropped; a kind of
reflex action.

The two men were all alone. The camel-boys were asleep. Mahomed had now
ceased to bother about a guard.

"I can't see where she gets this ridiculous sense of honesty," said
Ryanne gloomily.

George leaned over and laid his hand upon Ryanne's knee. "She gets it
the same way I do, Ryanne--from here," touching his heart; "and she is
right."

"I believe I've missed everything worth while, Percival. Till I met you
I always had a sneaking idea that money made a man evil. The boot seems
to be upon the other foot."

"Ryanne, you spoke about becoming honest, once you get out of this. Did
you mean it?"

"I did, and still do."

"It may be that I can give you a lift. You worked in your father's bank.
You know something about figures. I own two large fruit-farms in
California. What do you say to a hundred and fifty a month to start
with, and begin life over again?"

Ryanne got up and restlessly paced. Nonchalance had been beaten out of
him; the mercurial humor which had once been so pleasant to excite,
which had once given him foothold in such moments, was gone. He had only
one feeling, a keen, biting, bitter shame. At length he stopped in front
of George, who smiled and looked up expectantly.

"Jones, when you stick your finger into water and withdraw it, what
happens? Nothing. Well, the man who gives me a benefit is sticking his
finger into water. I'm just as unstable. How many promises have I made
and broken! I mean, promises to myself. I don't know. This moment I
swear to be good, and along comes a pack of cards or a bottle of wine,
and back I slip. Would it be worth while to trust a man so damned weak
as that? Look at me. I am six-foot two, normally a hundred and eighty
pounds, no fat. I am as sound as a cocoanut. There isn't a boxer in the
States I'm afraid of. I can ride, shoot, fence, fight; there isn't a
game I can't take a creditable hand in. So much for that. There's the
other side. Morally, I'm putty. When it's soft you can mold it any
which way; when it's hard, it crumbles. Will you trust a man like that?"

"Yes. Out there you'll be away from temptation."

"Perhaps. Well, I accept. And if one day I'm missing, think kindly of
the poor devil of an outcast who wanted to be good and couldn't be. I'm
fagged. I'm going to turn in. Good night."

He picked up his blanket and saddle-bags and made his bed a dozen yards
away.

George set his gaze at the fire, now falling in places and showing
incandescent holes. A month ago, in the rut of commonplace, moving round
in the oiled grooves of mediocrity. Bang! like a rocket. Why, never had
those liars in the smoke-rooms recounted anything half so wild and
strange as this adventure. Smugglers, card-sharps, an ancient rug, a
caravan in the desert! He turned his head and looked long and earnestly
at the little tent. Love, too; love that had put into his diffident
heart the thrill and courage of a Bayard. Love! He saw her again as she
stepped down from the carriage; in the dining-room at his side, leaning
over the parapet; ineffably sweet, hauntingly sad. Would she accept the
refuge he had offered? He knew that old Mortimer would take her without
question. Would she accept the shelter of that kindly roof? She must! If
she refused and went her own way into the world, he would lose her for
ever. She must accept! He would plead with all the eloquence of his
soul, for his own happiness, and mayhap hers. He rose, faced the tent,
and, with a gesture not unlike that of the pagan in prayer, registered a
vow that never should she want for protection, never should she want for
the comforts of life. How he was going to keep such a vow was a question
that did not enter his head. Somehow he was going to accomplish the
feat.

What mattered the ragged beard upon his face, the ragged clothes upon
his body, the tattered cloths upon his feet, the grotesque attitude and
ensemble? The Lord of Life saw into his heart and understood. And who
might say with what joy Pandora gazed upon this her work, knowing as she
did what still remained within her casket?

From these heights, good occasionally for any man's soul, George came
down abruptly and humanly to the prosaic question of where would he
make his bed that night? To lie down at the north side of the fire meant
a chill in the morning; the south side, the intermittent, acrid breath
of the fire itself; so he threw down his blanket and bags east of the
fire, wrapped himself up, and sank into slumber, light but dreamless.

What was that? He sat up, alert, straining his ears. How long had he
been asleep? An hour by his watch. What had awakened him? Not a sound
anywhere, yet something had startled him out of his sleep. He glanced
over the camp. That bundle was Ryanne. He waited. Not a movement there.
No sign of life among the camel-boys; and the flaps of the two tents
were closed. Bah! Nerves, probably; and he would have lain down again
had his gaze not roved out toward the desert. Something moved out there,
upon the misty, moonlit space. He shaded his eyes from the fire, now but
a heap of glowing embers. He got up, and shiver after shiver wrinkled
his spine. Oh, no; it could not be a dream; he was awake. It was a
living thing, that long, bobbing camel-train, coming directly toward the
oasis, no doubt attracted by the firelight. Fascinated, incapable of
movement, he watched the approach. Three white dots; and these grew and
grew and at length became ... pith-helmets! Pith-helmets! Who but white
men wore pith-helmets in the desert? White men! The temporary paralysis
left him. Crouching, he ran over to Ryanne and shook him.

"What...."

But George smothered the question with his hand. "Hush! For God's sake,
make no noise! Get up and stand guard over Fortune's tent. There's a
caravan outside, and I'm going out to meet it. Ryanne, Ryanne, there's a
white man out there!"

George ran as fast as he could toward the incoming caravan. He met it
two or three hundred yards away. The broken line of camels bobbed up and
down oddly.

"Are you white men?" he called.

"Yes," said a deep, resonant voice. "And stop where you are; there's no
hurry."

"Thank God!" cried George, at the verge of a breakdown.

"What the devil.... Flanagan, here's a white man in a dress-suit! God
save us!" The speaker laughed.

"Yes, a white man; and there's a white woman in the camp back there, a
white woman! Great God, don't you understand? A white woman!" George
clutched the man by the foot desperately. "A white woman!"

The man kicked George's hand away and slashed at his camel. "Flanagan,
and you, Williams, get your guns in shape. This doesn't look good to me,
twenty miles from the main _gamelieh_. I told you it was odd, that fire.
Lively, now!"

George ran after them, staggering. Twice he fell headlong. But he
laughed as he got up; and it wasn't exactly human laughter, either. When
he reached camp he saw Mahomed and the three strangers, the latter with
their rifles held menacingly. Fortune stood before the flap of her tent,
bewildered at the turn in their affairs. Behind the leader of the
new-comers was Ryanne, and he was talking rapidly.

"Well," the leader demanded of Mahomed, "what have you to say for
yourself?"

"Nothing!"

"Take care! It wouldn't come hard to put a bullet into your ugly hide.
You can't abduct white women these days, you beggar! Well, what have you
to say?"

Mahomed folded his arms; his expression was calm and unafraid. But down
in his heart the fires of hell were raging. If only he had brought his
rifle from the tent; even a knife; and one mad moment if he died for it!
And he had been gentle to the girl; he had withheld the lash from the
men; he had not put into action a single plan arranged for their misery
and humiliation! Truly his blood had turned to water, and he was worthy
of death. The white man, always and ever the white man won in the end.
To have come this far, and then to be cheated out of his revenge by
chance! _Kismet!_ There was but one thing left for him to do, and he did
it. He spoke hurriedly to his head-boy. The boy without hesitation
obeyed him. He ran to the racing-camel, applied a kick, flung on the
saddle-bags, stuffed dates and dried fish and two water-bottles into
them, and waited. Mahomed walked over to the animal and mounted.

"Stop!" The white man leveled his rifle. "Get down from there!"

Mahomed, as if he had not heard, kicked the camel with his heels. The
beast lurched to its feet resentfully. Mahomed picked up the
guiding-rope which served as a bridle, and struck the camel across the
neck.

Click! went the hammer of the rifle, and Mahomed was at that moment very
near death. He gave no heed.

"No, no!" cried Fortune, pushing up the barrel. "Let him go. He was kind
to me, after his fashion."

Mahomed smiled. He had expected this, and that was why he had gone about
the business unconcernedly.

"What do you say?" demanded the stranger of Ryanne.

Ryanne, having no love whatever for Mahomed, shrugged.

"Humph! And you?" to George.

"Oh, let him go."

"All right. Two to one. Off with you, then," to Mahomed. "But wait! What
about these beggars of yours? What are you going to do with them?"

"They have been paid. They can go back."

The moment the camel felt the sand under his pads, he struck his gait
eastward. And when the mists and shadows crept in behind him and his
rider, that was the last any of them ever saw of Mahomed-El-Gebel,
keeper of the Holy Yhiordes in the Pasha's palace at Bagdad.

"Now then," said the leader of the strange caravan, "my name is
Ackermann, and mine is a carpet-caravan, in from Khuzistan, bound for
Smyrna. How may I help you?"

"Take us as far as Damascus," answered Ryanne. "We can get on from there
well enough."

"What's your name?" directly.

"Ryanne."

"And yours?"

"Fortune Chedsoye."

"Next?"

"Jones."

The humorous bruskness put a kind of spirit into them all, and they
answered smilingly.

"Ryanne and Jones are familiar enough, but Chedsoye is a new one. Here,
you!" whirling suddenly upon the boys who were pressing about. He
volleyed some Arabic at them, and they dropped back. "Well, I've heard
some strange yarns myself in my time, but this one beats them all.
Shanghaied from Cairo! Humph! If some one had told me this, anywhere
else but here, I'd have called him a liar. And you, Mr. Ryanne, went
into Bagdad alone and got away with that Yhiordes! It must have been the
devil's own of a job."

"It was," replied Ryanne laconically. He did not know this man
Ackermann; he had never heard of him; but he recognized a born leader of
men when he saw him. Gray-haired, lean, bearded, sharp of word, quick of
action, rude; he saw in this carpet-hunter the same indomitable
qualities of the ivory-seeker. "You did not stop at Bagdad?" he asked,
after the swift inventory.

"No. I came direct. I always do," grimly. "Better turn in and sleep;
we'll be on the way at dawn, sharp."

"Sleep?" Ryanne laughed.

"Sleep?" echoed George.

Fortune shook her head.

"Well, an hour to let the reaction wear away," said Ackermann. "But
you've got to sleep. I'm boss now, and you won't find me an easy one,"
with a humorous glance at the girl.

"We are all very happy to be bossed by you," she said.

"Twenty days," Ackermann mused. "You're a plucky young woman. No
hysterics?"

"Not even a sigh of discontent," put in George. "If it hadn't been for
her pluck, we'd have gone to pieces just from worry. Are you Henry
Ackermann, of the Oriental Company in Smyrna?"

"Yes; why?"

"I'm George P. A. Jones, of Mortimer & Jones, New York. I've heard of
you; and God bless you for this night's work!"

"Mortimer & Jones? You don't say! Well, if this doesn't beat the Dutch!
Why, if you're Robert E. Jones's boy, I'll sell you every carpet in the
pack at cost." He laughed; and it was laughter good to hear, dry and
harsh though it was. "Your dad was a fine gentleman, and one of the
best judges of his time. You couldn't fool him a knot. He wrote me when
you came into this world of sin and tribulation. Didn't they call you
Percival Algernon, or something like that?"

"They did!" And George laughed, too.

"You're a sight. Any one sick? Got a medicine-chest aboard."

"No, only banged up and discouraged. I say, Mr. Ackermann, got an extra
pipe or two and some 'baccy?"

"Flanagan, see what's in the chest."

Shortly Flanagan returned. He had half a dozen fresh corn-cob pipes and
a thick bag of tobacco. George and Ryanne lighted up, about as near
contentment as two men in their condition could possibly be.

Said Flanagan to Fortune: "Do you chew?"

Fortune looked horrified.

"Oh, I mean gum!" roared Flanagan.

No, Fortune did not possess that dubious accomplishment.

"Mighty handy when you're thirsty," Flanagan advised.

They built up the fire and sat round it cosily. They were all more or
less happy, all except Fortune. So long as she had been a captive of
Mahomed, she had forced the thought from her mind; but now it came back
with a full measure of misery. Never, never would she return to Mentone,
not even for the things that were rightfully hers. Where would she go
and what would she do? She was without money, and the only thing she
possessed of value was the Soudanese trinket Ryanne had forced upon her
that day in the bazaars. She heard the men talking and laughing, but
without sensing. No, she could not accept charity. She must fight out
her battle all alone.... The child of a thief: for never would her clear
mind accept smuggling as other than thieving.... Neither could she
accept pity; and she stole a glance at George, as he blew clouds of
smoke luxuriantly from his mouth and nose, his eyes half closed in
ecstasy. How little it took to comfort a man!

Ryanne suddenly lowered his pipe and smote his thigh. "Hell!" he
muttered.

"What's up?" asked George.

"I want you to look at me, Percival; I want you to take a good look at
this thing I've been carrying round as a head."

"It looks all right," observed George, puzzled.

"Empty as a dried cocoanut! I never thought of it till this moment. I
wondered why he was in such a hurry to get out. I've let that
copper-hided devil get away with that nine hundred pounds!"



CHAPTER XVII

MRS. CHEDSOYE HAS HER DOUBTS


Mrs. Chedsoye retired to her room early that memorable December night.
Her brother could await the return of Horace. She hadn't the least doubt
as to the result; a green young man pitted against a seasoned veteran's
duplicity. She wished Jones no harm physically; in fact, she had put
down the law against it. Still, much depended upon chance. But for all
her confidence of the outcome, a quality of restlessness pervaded her.
She tried to analyze it, ineffectually at first. Perhaps she did not
look deep enough; perhaps she did not care thoroughly to examine the
source of it. Insistently, however, it recurred; and by repeated
assaults it at length conquered her. It was the child.

Did she possess, after all, a latent sense of motherhood, and was it
stirring to establish itself? She really did not know. Was it not fear
and doubt rather than motherly instinct? She paused in front of the
mirror, but the glass solved only externals. She could not see her soul
there in the reflection; she saw only the abundant gifts of nature,
splendid, double-handed, prodigal. And in contemplating that reflection,
she forgot for a space what she was seeking. But that child! From whom
did she inherit her peculiar ideas of life? From some Puritan ancestor
of her father's; certainly not from her side. She had never bothered her
head about Fortune, save to house and clothe her, till the past
forty-eight hours. And now it was too late to pick up the thread she had
cast aside as not worth considering. To no one is given perfect wisdom;
and she recognized the flaw in hers that had led her to ignore the
mental attitude of the girl. She had not even made a friend of her; a
mistake, a bit of stupidity absolutely foreign to her usual keenness.
The child lacked little of being beautiful, and in three or four years
she would be. Mrs. Chedsoye was without jealousy; she accepted beauty
in all things unreservedly. Possessing as she did an incomparable beauty
of her own, she could well afford to be generous. Perhaps the true cause
of this disturbance lay in the knowledge that there was one thing her
daughter had inherited from her directly, almost identically; indeed, of
this pattern the younger possessed the wider margin of the two: courage.
Mrs. Chedsoye was afraid of nothing except wrinkles, and Fortune was too
young to know this fear. So then, the mother slowly began to comprehend
the spirit which had given life to this singular perturbation. Fortune
had declared that she would run away; and she had the courage to carry
out the threat.

Resolutely Mrs. Chedsoye rang for her maid Celeste. Thoughts like these
only served to disturb the marble smoothness of her forehead.

The two began to pack. That is to say, Celeste began; Mrs. Chedsoye
generally took charge of these manoeuvers from the heights, as became
the officer in command. Bending was likely to enlarge the vein in the
neck; and all those beautiful gowns would not be worth a _soldi_ without
the added perfection of her lineless throat and neck. She was getting
along in years, too, a fact which was assuming the proportions of a
cross; and more and more she must husband these lingering (not to say
beguiling) evidences of youthfulness.

"We might as well get Fortune's things out of the way, too, Celeste."

"Yes, Madame."

"And bring my chocolate at half after eight in the morning. It is quite
possible that we shall sail to-morrow night from Port Saïd. If not from
there, from Alexandria. It all depends upon the booking, which can not
be very heavy going west this time of year."

"As madame knows!" came from the depth of the cavernous trunk. Celeste
was no longer surprised; at least she never evinced this emotion. For
twelve years now she had gone from one end of the globe to the other,
upon the shortest notice. While surprise was lost to her or under such
control as to render it negligible, she still shivered with pleasurable
excitement at the thought of entering a port. Madame was so clever, so
transcendently clever! If she, Celeste, had not been loyal, she might
have retired long ago, and owned a shop of her own in the busy Rue de
Rivoli. But that would have meant a humdrum existence; and besides, she
would have grown fat, which, of the seven horrors confronting woman, so
madame said, was first in number.

"Be very careful how you handle that blue ball-gown."

"Oh, Madame!" reproachfully.

"It is the silver braid. Do not press the rosettes too harshly."

Celeste looked up. Mrs. Chedsoye answered her inquiring gaze with a thin
smile.

"You are wonderful, Madame!"

"And so are you, Celeste, in your way."

At ten o'clock Mrs. Chedsoye was ready for her pillow. She slept
fitfully; awoke at eleven and again at twelve. After that she knew
nothing more till the maid roused her with the cup of chocolate. She sat
up and sipped slowly. Celeste waited at the bedside with the tray. Her
admiration for her mistress never waned. Mrs. Chedsoye was just as
beautiful in dishabille as in a ball-gown. She drained the cup, and as
she turned to replace it upon the tray, dropped it with a clatter, a
startled cry coming from her lips.

"Madame?"

"Fortune's bed!"

It had not been slept in. The steamer-cloak lay across the counterpane
exactly where Celeste herself had laid it the night before. Mrs.
Chedsoye sprang out of her bed and ran barefoot to the other. Fortune
had not been in the room since dinner-time.

"Celeste, dress me as quickly as possible. Hurry! Something has happened
to Fortune."

Never, in all her years of service, could she recollect such a toilet as
madame made that morning. And never before had she shown such concern
over her daughter. It was amazing!

"The little fool! The little fool!" Mrs. Chedsoye repeatedly murmured as
the nimble fingers of the maid flew over her. "The silly little fool;
and at a time like this!" Not that remorse of any kind stirred Mrs.
Chedsoye's conscience; she was simply extremely annoyed.

She hastened out into the corridor and knocked at the door of her
brother's room. No answer. She flew down-stairs, and there she saw him
coming in from the street. He greeted her cheerily.

"It's all right, Kate; plenty of room on the _Ludwig_. We shall take the
afternoon train for Port Saïd. She sails at dawn to-morrow instead of
to-night.... What's up?" suddenly noting his sister's face.

"Fortune did not return to her room last night."

"What? Where do you suppose the little fool went, then?"

They both seemed to look upon Fortune as a little fool.

"Yesterday she threatened to run away."

"Run away? Kate, be sensible. How the deuce could she run away? She
hasn't a penny. It takes money to go anywhere over here. She has
probably found some girl friend, and has spent the night with her. We'll
soon find out where she is." The Major wasn't worried.

"Have you seen Horace?" with discernible anxiety.

"No. I didn't wait up for him. He's sleeping off a night of it. You know
his failing."

"Find out if he _is_ in his room. Go to the porter's bureau and inquire
for both him and Jones."

The Major, perceiving that his sister was genuinely alarmed, rushed over
to the bureau. No, neither Mr. Ryanne nor Mr. Jones had been in the
hotel since yesterday. Would the porter send some one up to the rooms of
those gentlemen to make sure? Certainly. No; there was no one in the
rooms. The Major was now himself perturbed. He went back to Mrs.
Chedsoye.

"Kate, neither has been in his room since yesterday. If you want my
opinion, it is this: Hoddy has sequestered Jones all right, and is
somewhere in town, sleeping off the effects of a night of it."

"He has run away with Fortune!" she cried. Her expression was tragic.
She couldn't have told whether it was due to her daughter's
disappearance or to Horace's defection. "Did he not threaten?"

"Sh! not so loud, Kate."

"The little simpleton defied me yesterday, and declared she would leave
me."

"Oho!" The Major fingered his imperial. "That puts a new face to the
subject. But Jones! He has not turned up. We can not move till we find
out what has become of him. I know. I'll jump into a carriage and see if
he got as far as the English-Bar."

Mrs. Chedsoye did not go up-stairs, but paced the lounging-room, lithe
and pantherish. Frequently she paused, as if examining the patterns in
the huge carpets. She entered the reception-room, came back, wandered
off into the ball-room, stopped to inspect the announcement hanging upon
the bulletin-board, returned to the windows and watched the feluccas
sail past as the great bridge opened; and during all these aimless
occupations but a single thought busied her mind: what could a man like
Horace see in a chit like Fortune?

It was an hour and a half before the Major put in an appearance. He was
out of breath and temper.

"Come up to the room." Once there, he sat down and bade her do likewise.
"There's the devil to pay. You heard Hoddy speak of the nigger who
guarded the Holy Yhiordes, and that he wanted to get out of Cairo
before he turned up? Well, he turned up. He fooled Hoddy to the top of
his bent. So far as I could learn, Fortune and Hoddy and Jones are all
in the same boat, kidnapped by this Mahomed, and carried out into the
desert, headed, God knows where! Now, don't get excited. Take it easy.
Luck is with us, for Hoddy left all the diagrams with me. We need him,
but not so much that we can't go on without him. You see, these Arabs
are like the Hindus; touch anything that concerns their religion, and
they'll have your hair off. How Fortune got into it I can't imagine,
unless Mahomed saw her with Hoddy and jumped to the conclusion that they
were lovers. All this Mahomed wants is the rug; and he is going to hold
them till he gets it. No use notifying the police. No one would know
where to find him. None of them will come to actual harm. Anyhow, the
coast is clear. Kate, there's a big thing in front. No nerves. We've got
to go to-day. Time is everything. Our butler and first man cabled this
morning that they had just started in, and that everything was running
like clockwork. We'll get into New York in time for the _coup_.
Remember, I was against the whole business at the start, but now I'm
going to see it off."

Feverishly Mrs. Chedsoye prepared for the journey. She was irritable to
Celeste, she was unbearable to her brother, who took a seat in a forward
compartment to be rid of her. It was only when they went aboard the
steamer that night that she became reconciled to the inevitable. At any
rate, the presence of Jones would counteract any influence Horace might
have gained over Fortune. That the three of them might suffer unheard-of
miseries never formed thought in her mind. It appealed to her in the
sense of a comedy which annoyed rather than amused her.

They were greeted effusively by Wallace, he of the bulbous nose; and his
first inquiry was of Ryanne. Briefly the Major told him what had
happened and added his fears. Wallace was greatly cast-down. Hoddy had
so set his heart upon this venture that it was a shame to proceed
without him. He had warned him at the beginning about that infernal
rug; but Hoddy was always set in his daredevil schemes. So long as the
Major had the plans, he supposed that they could turn the trick without
Hoddy's assistance; only, it seemed rather hard for him not to be in the
sport.

"He told me that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to stick
his fist into the first bag of yellow-boys. There was something
mysterious in the way he used to chuckle over the thing when I first
sprung it on him. He saw a joke somewhere. Let's go into the smoke-room
for a peg. It won't hurt either of us. And that poor little girl! It's a
hell of a world; eh?"

The Major admitted that it was; but he did not add that Fortune's
welfare or ill-fare was of little or no concern of his. The little
spitfire had always openly despised him.

They were drinking silently and morosely, when Mrs. Chedsoye, pale and
anxious, appeared in the companionway. She beckoned them to follow her
down to her cabin. Had Fortune arrived? Had Ryanne? She did not answer.
Arriving at her cabin she pushed the two wondering men inside, and
pointed at the floor. A large steamer-roll lay unstrapped, spread out.

"I only just opened it," she said. "I never thought of looking into it
at Cairo. Here, it looked so bulky that I was curious."

"Why, it's that damned Yhiordes!" exclaimed the Major wrathfully. "What
the devil is it doing in Fortune's steamer-roll?"

"That is what I should like to know. If they have been kidnapped in
order to recover the rug, whatever will become of them?" And Mrs.
Chedsoye touched the rug with her foot, absently. She was repeating in
her mind that childish appeal: "You don't know how loyal I should have
been!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They took the first sailing out of Naples. Twelve days later they landed
at the foot of Fourteenth Street. There was some trifling difficulty
over the rug. It had been declared; but as Mrs. Chedsoye and her brother
always declared foreign residence, there was a question as to whether it
was dutiable or not. Being a copy, it was not an original work of art,
therefore not exempt, and so forth and so on. It was finally decided
that Mrs. Chedsoye must pay a duty. The Major paid grumblingly, very
cleverly assuming an irritability well known to the inspectors. The way
the United States Government mulcted her citizens for the benefit of the
few was a scandal of the nations.

A smooth-faced young man approached them from out the crowd.

"Is this Major Callahan?"

"Yes. This must be Mr. Reynolds, the agent?"

"Yes. Everything is ready for your occupancy. Your butler and first man
have everything ship-shape. I could have turned over to you Mr.
Jones's."

"Not at all, not at all," said the Major. "They would have been
strangers to us and we to them. Our own servants are best."

"You must be very good friends of my client?"

"I have known him for years," said Mrs. Chedsoye sweetly. "It was at his
own suggestion that we take the house over for the month. He really
insisted that we should pay him nothing; but, of course, such an
arrangement could not be thought of. Oh, good-by, Mr. Wallace,"
tolerantly. "We hope to see you again some day."

Wallace, taking up his role once more, tipped his hat and rushed away
for one of his favorite haunts.

"Bounder!" growled the Major. "Well, well; a ship's deck is always
Liberty-Hall."

"You have turned your belongings over to an expressman?" asked the
agent. These were charming people; and any doubts he might have
entertained were dissipated. And why should he have any doubts? Jones
was an eccentric young chap, anyhow. An explanatory letter (written by
the Major in Jones's careless hand), backed up by a cable, was enough
authority for any reasonable man.

"Everything is out of the way," said the Major.

"Then, if you wish, I can take you right up to the house in my car. Your
butler said that he would have lunch ready when you arrived."

"Very kind of you. How noisy New York is! You can take our
hand-luggage?" Mrs. Chedsoye would have made St. Anthony uneasy of mind;
Reynolds, young, alive, metaphorically fell at her feet.

"Plenty of room for it."

"I am glad of that. You see, Mr. Jones intrusted a fine old rug to us to
bring home for him; and I shouldn't want anything to happen to it."

The Major looked up at the roof of the dingy shed. He did not care to
have Reynolds note the flicker of admiration in his eyes. The cleverest
woman of them all! The positive touch to the whole daredevil affair! And
he would not have thought of it had he lived to be a thousand. "One
might as well disembark in a stable," he said aloud. "Ah! We are ready
to go, then?"

They entered the limousine and went off buzzing and zigzagging among the
lumbering trucks. The agent drove the car himself.

"Where is Jones now?" he asked of the Major, who sat at his left.
"Haven't had a line from him for a month."

"Just before we sailed," said Mrs. Chedsoye through the window, over the
Major's shoulder, "he went into the desert for a fortnight or so; with a
caravan. He had Heard of some fabulous carpet."

Touch number two. The Major grinned. "Jones is one of the best judges I
have ever met. He was off at a bound. I only hope he will get back
before we leave for California." The Major drew up his collar. It was a
cold, blustery day.

The agent was delighted. What luck a fellow like Jones had! To wander
all over creation and to meet charming people! And when they invited him
to remain for luncheon, the victory was complete.

Mrs. Chedsoye strolled in and out of the beautifully appointed rooms.
Never had she seen more excellent taste. Not too much; everything
perfectly placed, one object nicely balanced against another. Here was a
rare bit of Capo di Monte, there a piece of Sèvres or Canton. Some
houses, with their treasures, look like museums, but this one did not.
The owner had not gone mad over one subject; here was a sane and prudent
collector. The great yellow Chinese carpet represented a fortune; she
knew enough about carpets to realize this fact. Ivories, jades,
lapis-lazuli, the precious woods, priceless French and Japanese
tapestries, some fine paintings and bronzes; the rooms were full of
unspoken romance and adventure; echoed with war and tragedy, too. And
Fortune might have married a man like this one. A possibility occurred
to her, and the ghost of a smile moderated the interest in her face.
They might be upon the desert for weeks. Who knew what might not happen
to two such romantic simpletons?

The butler and the first man (who was also the cook) were impeccable
types of servants; so thought Reynolds. They moved silently and
anticipated each want. Reynolds determined that very afternoon to drop a
line to Jones and compliment him upon his good taste in the selection of
his friends. A subsequent press of office work, however, drove the
determination out of his mind.

The instant his car carried him out of sight, a strange scene was
enacted. The butler and the first man seized the Major by the arms, and
the three executed a kind of _pas-seul_. Mrs. Chedsoye eyed these
manifestations of joy stonily.

"Now then, what's been done?" asked the Major, pulling down his cuffs
and shaking the wrinkles from his sleeves.

"Half done!" cried the butler.

"Fine! What do you do with the refuse?"

"Cart it away in an automobile every night, after the gun starts down
the other end of the street."

"Gun?" The Major did not quite understand.

"Gun or bull; that's the argot for policeman."

"Thieves' argot," said Mrs. Chedsoye contemptuously.

The butler laughed. He knew Gioconda of old.

"Where's that wall-safe?" the Major wanted to know.

"Behind that sketch by Detaille." And the butler, strange to say,
pronounced it Det-i.

"Can you open it?"

"Tried, but failed. Wallace is the man for that."

"He'll be along in an hour or so."

"Where's Ryanne?"

"Don't know; don't care." The Major sketched the predicament of their
fellow-conspirator.

The butler whistled, but callously. One more or less didn't matter in
such an enterprise.

When Wallace arrived he applied his talent and acquired science to the
wall-safe, and finally swung outward the little steel-door. The Major
pushed him aside and thrust a hand into the metaled cavity, drawing out
an exquisite Indian casket of rosewood and mother-of-pearl. He opened
the lid and dipped a hand within. Emeralds, deep and light and shaded,
cut and uncut and engraved, flawed and almost perfect. He raised a
handful and let them tinkle back into the casket. One hundred in all,
beauties, every one of them, and many famous.

And while he toyed with them, pleased as a child would have been over a
handful of marbles, Mrs. Chedsoye spread out the ancient Yhiordes in the
library. She stood upon the central pattern, musing. Her mood was not
one which she had called into being; not often did she become
retrospective; the past to her was always like a page in a book, once
finished, turned down. Her elbow in one palm, her chin in the other, she
stared without seeing. It was this house, this home, it was each sign of
riches without luxury or ostentation, where money expressed itself by
taste and simplicity; a home such as she had always wanted. And why,
with all her beauty and intellect, why had she not come into possession?
She knew. Love that gives had never been hers; hers had been the love
that receives, self-love. She had bartered her body once for riches and
had been fooled, and she never could do it again.... And the child was
overflowing with the love that gives. She couldn't understand. The child
was the essence of it; and she, her mother, had always laughed at her.

The flurry of snow outside in the court she saw not. Her fancy re-formed
the pretty garden at Mentone, inclosed by pink-washed walls. Many a
morning from her window she had watched Fortune among the flowers, going
from one to the other, like a bee or a butterfly. She had watched her
grow, too, with that same detachment a machinist feels as he puts
together the invention of another man. Would she ever see her again? Her
shoulders moved ever so little. Probably not. She had blundered
wilfully. She should have waited, thrown the two together,
manoeuvered. And she had permitted this adventure to obsess her! She
might have stood within this house by right of law, motherhood,
marriage. Ryanne was in love with Fortune, and Jones by this time might
be. The desert was a terribly lonely place.

She wished it might be Jones. And immediately retrospection died away
from her gaze and actualities resumed their functions. The wish was not
without a phase of humor, formed as it was upon this magic carpet; but
it nowise disturbed the gravity of her expression.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE MAN WHO DIDN'T CARE


It was the first of February when Ackermann's caravan drew into the
ancient city of Damascus. That part of the caravan deserted by Mahomed
put out for Cairo immediately they struck the regular camel-way.
Fortune, George and Ryanne were in a pitiable condition, heart and body
weary, in rags and tatters. George, now that the haven was assured,
dropped his forced buoyancy, his prattle, his jests. He had done all a
mortal man could do to keep up the spirits of his co-unfortunates; and
he saw that, most of the time, he had wasted his talents. Ryanne, sullen
and morose, often told him to "shut up"; which wasn't exhilarating. And
Fortune viewed his attempts without sensing them and frequently looked
at him without seeing him.

Now, all this was not particularly comforting to the man who loved her
and was doing what he could to lighten the dreariness of the journey. He
made allowances, however; besides suffering unusual privations, Fortune
had had a frightful mental shock. A girl of her depth of character could
not be expected to rise immediately to the old level. Sometimes, while
gathered about the evening fire, he would look up to find her sad eyes
staring at him, and it mattered not if he stared in return; a kind of
clairvoyance blurred visibilities, for she was generally looking into
her garden at Mentone and wondering when this horrible dream would pass.
Subjects for conversation were exhausted in no time. Dig as he might,
George could find nothing new; and often he recounted the same tale
twice of an evening. Sardonic laughter from Ryanne.

Ackermann had given them up as hopeless. He was a strong, vain,
domineering man, kindly at heart, however, but impatient. When he told a
story, he demanded the attention of all; so, when Ryanne yawned before
his eyes, and George drew pictures in the sand, and the girl fell
asleep with her head upon her knees, he drew off abruptly and left them
to their own devices. He had crossed and recrossed the silences so often
that he was no longer capable of judging accurately another man's mental
processes. That they had had a strange and numbing experience he readily
understood; but now that they were out of duress and headed for the
coast, he saw no reason why they should not act like human beings.

They still put up the small tent for Fortune, but the rest of them slept
upon the sand, under the stars. Once, George awoke as the dawn was
gilding the east. Silhouetted against the sky he saw Fortune. She was
standing straight, her hands pressed at her sides, her head tilted
back--a tense attitude. He did not know it, but she was asking God why
these things should be. He threw off his blanket and ran to her.

"Fortune, you mustn't do that. You will catch cold."

"I can not sleep," she replied simply.

He took her by the hand and led her to the tent. "Try," he said. Then he
did something he had never done before to any woman save his mother. He
kissed her hand, turned quickly, and went over to his blanket. She
remained motionless before the tent. The hand fascinated her. From the
hand her gaze traveled to the man settling himself comfortably under his
blanket.... Pity, pity; that was ever to be her portion; pity!

In Damascus the trio presented themselves at the one decent hotel, and
but for Ackermann's charges upon the manager, it is doubtful if he would
have accepted them as guests; for a more suspicious-looking trio he had
never set eyes upon. (A hotel man weighs a person by the quality of his
clothes.) Moreover, they carried no luggage. Ackermann went sponsor; and
knowing something of the integrity of the rug-hunter, the manager
surrendered. And when George presented his letter of credit at the
Imperial Ottoman Bank, again it was Ackermann who vouched for him. It
had been agreed to say nothing of the character of their adventure. None
of them wanted to be followed by curious eyes.

With a handful of British gold in his pocket, George faced the future
hopefully. He took his companions in and about town, hunting the shops
for clothing, which after various difficulties they succeeded in
finding. It was ill-fitting and cheap, but it would serve till they
reached either Alexandria or Naples.

"How are you fixed?" asked Ryanne, gloomily surveying George's shoddy
cotton-wool suit.

"Cash in hand?"

"Yes."

"About four-hundred pounds. At Naples I can cable. Do you want any?"

"Would you mind advancing me two months' salary?"

"Ryanne, do you really mean to stick to that proposition?"

"It's on my mind just now."

"Well, we'll go back to the bank and I'll draw a hundred pounds for you.
You can pay your own expenses as we go. But what are we going to do in
regard to Fortune?"

"See that she gets safely back to Mentone."

"Suppose she will not go there?"

"It's up to you, Percival; it's all up to you. You're the gay Lochinvar
from the west. I'm not sure--no one ever is regarding a woman--but I
think she'll listen to you. She wouldn't give an ear to a scallawag like
me. This caravan business has put me outside the pale. I've lost caste."

"You're only desperate and discouraged; you can pull up straight."

"Much obliged!"

"You haven't looked at life normally; that's what the matter is."

"Solon, you're right. There's that poor devil back in Bagdad. I've
killed a man, Percival. It doesn't mix well with my dreams."

"You said that it was in self-defense."

"And God knows it was. But if I hadn't gone after that damned rug, he'd
have been alive to-day. Oh, damn it all; let's go back to the hotel and
order that club-steak, or the best imitation they have. I'm going to
have a pint of wine. I'm as dull as a ditch in a paddy-field."

"A bottle or two will not hurt any of us. We'll ask Ackermann. For God
knows where we'd have been to-day but for him. And let him do all the
yarning. It will please him."

"And while he gabs, we'll get the best of the steak and the wine!" For
the first time in days Ryanne's laughter had a bit of the erstwhile
rollicking tone.

The dinner was an event. No delicacy (mostly canned) was overlooked. The
manager, as he heard the guineas jingle in George's pocket, was filled
with shame; not over his original doubts, but relative to his lack of
perception. The tourists who sat at the other tables were scandalized at
the popping of champagne-corks. Sanctimonious faces glared reproof. A
jovial spirit in the Holy Land was an anacronism, not to be tolerated.
And wine! Horrible! Doubtless, when they retired to their native
back-porches, they retold with never-ending horror of having witnessed
such a scene and having heard such laughter upon the sacred soil.

Even Fortune laughed, though Ryanne's ear, keenest then, detected the
vague note of hysteria. If the meat was tough, the potatoes greasy, the
vegetables flavorless, the wine flat, none of them appeared to be aware
of it. If Ackermann could talk he could also eat; and the clatter of
forks and knives was the theme rather than the variation to the
symphony.

George felt himself drawn deeper and deeper into those magic waters from
which, as in death, there is no return. She was so lonely, so sad and
forlorn, that there was as much brother as lover in his sympathy. How
patient she had been during all those inconceivable hardships! How brave
and steady; and never a murmur! The single glass of wine had brought the
color back to her cheek and the sparkle into her eye; yet he was sure
that behind this apparent liveliness lay the pitiful desperation of the
helpless. He had not spoken again about old Mortimer. He would wait till
after he had sent a long cable. Then he would speak and show her the
answer, of which he had not a particle of doubt. As matters now stood,
he could not tell her that he loved her; his quixotic sense of chivalry
was too strong to permit this step, urge as his heart might upon it. She
might misinterpret his love as born of pity, and that would be the end
of everything. He was confident now that Ryanne meant nothing to her.
Her lack of enthusiasm, whenever Ryanne spoke to her in these days; the
peculiar horizontality of her lips and brows, whenever Ryanne offered a
trifling courtesy--all pointed to distrust. George felt a guilty
gladness. After all, why shouldn't she distrust Ryanne?

George concluded that he must acquire patience. She was far too loyal to
run away without first giving him warning. In the event of her refusing
Mortimer's roof and protection, he knew what his plans would be. Some
one else could do the buying for Mortimer & Jones; his business would be
to revolve round this lonely girl, to watch and guard her without her
being aware of it. Of what use were riches if he could not put them to
whatever use he chose? So he would wait near her, to see that she came
and went unmolested, till against that time when she would recognize how
futile her efforts were and how wide and high the wall of the world was.

That mother of hers! To his mind it was positively unreal that one so
charming and lovely should be at heart strong as the wind and merciless
as the sea. His mother had been everything; hers, worse than none, an
eternal question. What a drama she had moved about in, without
understanding!

George did not possess that easy and adjustable sophistry which made
Ryanne look upon smuggling as a clever game between two cheats. His
point of view coincided with Fortune's; it was thievery, more or less
condoned, but the ethics covering it were soundly established. He had
come very near being culpable himself. True, he would not have been
guilty of smuggling for profit; but none the less he would have tried to
cheat the government. His sin had found him out; he had now neither the
rug nor his thousand pounds.

All these cogitations passed through his mind, disjointedly, as the
dinner progressed toward its end. They bade Ackermann good-by and
God-speed, as he was to leave early for Beirut, upon his way to Smyrna.
Fortune went to bed; Ryanne sought the billiard-room and knocked about
the balls; while George asked the manager if he could send a cable from
the hotel. Certainly he could. It took some time to compose the cable to
Mortimer; and it required some gold besides. Mortimer must have a fair
view of the case; and George presented it, requesting a reply to be sent
to Cook's in Naples, where they expected to be within ten days.

"How much will this be?"

The porter got out his telegraph-book and studied the rates carefully.

"Twelve pounds and six, sir."

The porter greeted each sovereign with a genuflection, the lowest being
the twelfth. George pocketed the receipt and went in search of Ryanne.

But that gentleman was no longer in the billiard-room. Indeed, he had
gone quietly to the other hotel and written a cable himself, the code of
which was not to be found in any book. For a long time he seemed to be
in doubt, for he folded and refolded his message half a dozen times
before his actions became decisive. He tore it up and threw the scraps
upon the floor and hastened into the street, as if away from temptation.
He walked fast and indirectly, smoking innumerable cigarettes. He was
fighting, and fighting hard, the evil in him against the good, the
chances of the future against the irreclaimable past. At the end of an
hour he returned to the strange hotel. His lips were puffed and
bleeding. He had smoked so many cigarettes and had pulled them so
impatiently from his mouth, that the dry paper had cracked the delicate
skin.

He rewrote his cable and paid for the sending of it. Then he poked about
the unfamiliar corridors till he found the dingy bar. He sat down before
a peg of whisky, which was followed by many more, each a bit stiffer
than its predecessor. At last, when he had had enough to put a normal
man's head upon the table or to cover his face with the mask of inanity,
Ryanne fell into the old habit of talking aloud.

"Horace, old top, what's the use? We'd just like to be good if we could;
eh? But they won't let us. We'd grow raving mad in a monastery. We were
honest at the time, but we couldn't stand the monotony of watching green
olives turn purple upon the silvery bough. Nay, nay!"

He pushed the glass away from him and studied the air-bubbles as they
formed, rose to the surface, and were dissipated.

"No matter what the game has been, somehow or other, they've bashed us,
and we've lost out."

He emptied the glass and ordered another. He and the bartender were
alone.

"After all, love is like money. It's better to live frugally upon the
interest than to squander the capital and go bankrupt. And who cares,
anyhow?"

He drank once more, dropped a half-sovereign upon the table, and pushed
back his chair. His eyes were bloodshot now, and the brown of his skin
had become a slaty tint; but he walked steadily enough into the
reading-room, where he wrote a short letter. It was not without a
perverted sense of humor, for a smile twisted his lips till he had
sealed the letter and addressed the envelope to George Percival Algernon
Jones. He stuffed it into a pocket and went out whistling _The Heavy
Dragoons_ from the opera _Patience_.

Before the lighted window of a shop he paused. He swayed a little. From
a pocket of his new coat he pulled out a glove. It was gray and small
and much wrinkled. From time to time he drew it through his fingers,
staring the while at the tawdry trinkets in the shop-window. Finally he
looked down at the token. He became very still. A moment passed; then he
flung the glove into the gutter, and proceeded to his own hotel. He left
the letter with the porter, paid his bill, and went out again into the
dark, chill night.

He was now what he had been two months ago, the man who didn't care.



CHAPTER XIX

FORTUNE DECIDES


George and Fortune were seated at breakfast. It was early morning. At
ten they were to depart for Jaffa, to take the tubby French packet there
to Alexandria. They could just about make it, and any delay meant a week
or ten days longer upon this ragged and inhospitable coast.

"Ryanne has probably overslept. After breakfast I'll go up and rout him
out. The one thing that really tickles me," George continued, as he
pared the tough rind from the skinny bacon, "is, we shan't have any
luggage. Think of the blessing of traveling without a trunk or a valise
or a steamer-roll!"

"Without even a comb or a hairbrush!"

"It's great fun." George broke his toast.

And Fortune wondered how she should tell him. She was without any toilet
articles. She hadn't even a tooth-brush; and it was quite out of the
question for her to bother him about such trifles, much as she needed
them. She would have to live in the clothes she wore, and trust that the
ship's stewardess might help her out in the absolute necessities.

Here the head-waiter brought George a letter. The address was enough for
George. No one but Ryanne could have written it. Without excusing
himself, he ripped off the envelope and read the contents. Fortune could
not resist watching him, for she grasped quickly that only Ryanne could
have written a letter here in Damascus. At first the tan upon George's
cheeks darkened--the sudden suffusion of blood; then it became lighter,
and the mouth and eyes and nose became stern.

"Is it bad news?"

"It all depends upon how you look at it. For my part, good riddance to
bad rubbish. Here, read it yourself."

She read:

     "MY DEAR PERCIVAL:

      "After all, I find that I can not reconcile myself to the dullness
      of your olive-groves. I shall send the five-hundred to you when I
      reach New York. With me it is as it was with the devil. When he
      was sick, he vowed he would be a saint; but when he got well,
      devil a saint was he. There used to be a rhyme about it, but I
      have forgotten that. Anyhow, there you are. I feel that I am
      conceding a point in regard to the money. It is contrary to the
      laws and by-laws of the United Romance and Adventure Company to
      refund. Still, I intend to hold myself to it.

  "With hale affection,
  "RYANNE."

"What do you think of that?" demanded George hotly. "I never did a good
action in my life that wasn't served ill. I'm a soft duffer, if there
ever was one."

"I shall never be ungrateful for your kindness to me."

"Oh, hang it! You're different; you're not like any other woman in the
world," he blurted; and immediately was seized with a mild species of
fright.

Fortune stirred her coffee and delicately scooped up the swirling
circles of foam.

"Old maids call that money," he said understandingly, eager to cover up
his boldness. "My mother used to tell me that there were lots of wonders
in a tea-cup."

"Tell me about your mother."

To him it was a theme never lacking in new expressions. When he spoke of
his mother, it altered the clear and boyish note in his voice; it became
subdued, reverent. He would never be aught than guileless; it was not in
his nature to divine anything save his own impulses. While he thought he
was pleasing her, each tender recollection, each praise, was in fact a
nail added to her crucifixion, self-imposed. However, she never lowered
her eyes, but kept them bravely directed into his. In the midst of one
of his panegyrics he caught sight of his watch which he had placed at
the side of his plate.

"By Jove! quarter to nine. I've got an errand or two to do, and there's
no need of your running your feet off on my account. I'll be back
quarter after." He dug into his pocket and counted out fifty pounds in
paper and gold. "You keep this till I get back."

She pushed it aside, half rising from her chair.

"Fortune, listen. Hereafter I am George, your brother George; and I do
not want you ever to question any action of mine. I am leaving this
money in case some accident befell me. You never can tell." He took her
hand and firmly pressed it down upon the money. "In half an hour,
sister, I'll be back. You did not think that I was going to run away?"

"No."

"Do you understand me now?"

"Yes."

While he was gone she remained seated at the table. She made little
pyramids of the gold, divided the even dates from the odd, arranged
Maltese crosses and circles and stars.... Pity, pity! Well, why should
she rebel against it? Was it not more than she had had hitherto? What
should she do? She closed her eyes. She would trouble her tired brain no
more about the future till they reached Naples. She would let this one
week drift her how it would.

George came in under the time-limit of his adventure. He had been upon
the most difficult errand imaginable, at least from a bachelor's point
of view. He carried two hand-bags. One of these he deposited in
Fortune's lap.

"Shall I open it?"

"If you wish."

She noted his embarrassment, and her immediate curiosity was not to be
denied. She slipped the catch and looked inside. There were combs and
brushes, soap and tooth-powder and talc, a manicure-set, a pair of soft
woolen slippers, and.... She glanced up quickly. The faintest rose stole
under her cheeks. It was droll; it was pathetically funny. She would
have given worlds to have seen him making the purchases.

"You are not offended?" he stammered.

"Why should I be? I am human; I have slept and lived for days in a
dress, and worn my hair down my back for lack of hair-pins and combs. I
am sure that it is a very nice nightgown."

Laughter overcame her. He laughed, too; not because the situation
appealed to him as laughable, but because there was something, an
indefinable something, in that laughter of hers that made him
wonderfully happy.

"Mr. Jones...."

"George," he interrupted determinedly.

"Brother George, it was very kind and thoughtful of you. Not one man in
a thousand would have thought of--of ... hair-pins!" More laughter.

"I didn't think of them; it was the clerk."

"He...."

"She."

"Well, then, she will achieve great things," lightly, though her heart
was full.

Tactfully he reached over and swept up the money.

"Shall I ever be able to repay you?" she said.

"Yes, by letting me be your brother; by not deciding the future till we
land in Naples; by letting me keep in touch with you, whatever your
ultimate decision may be. That isn't much. Will you promise that?"

"Yes."

They spoke no more of Ryanne. It was as though he had dropped out of
their lives completely. To a certain extent he had. They were to meet
him once again, however, in the last act of this whimsical drama, which
had drawn them both out of the commonplace and dropped them for a full
spin upon the whirligig of life.

In due time they arrived at Alexandria. There they found the great
transatlantic liner, homeward bound.

Ryanne would beat them into New York by ten days. He had picked up a
boat of the P. & O. line at Port Saïd, sailing without stop to
Marseilles. From there to Cherbourg was a trifling journey.

George knew the captain, and the captain not only knew George, but had
known George's father before him. The young man went to the heart of the
matter at once; and when he had finished his remarkable tale, the
captain lowered his cigar. It had gone out.

"And all this happened in the year 1909-1910! If any one but you, Mr.
Jones, had told me this, I'd have sent him ashore as a lunatic. You have
reported it?"

"What good would it do? We are out of it, and that's enough. More, we
do not want any one to know what we've been through. If the newspapers
got hold of it, there would be no living."

"You leave it to me," said the big-hearted German. "From here to Naples
she shall be as mine own daughter. You have not told me all?"

"No; only what I had of necessity to tell."

"Well, you know best I shall do my share to make her feel at home. She
is as pretty as a flower."

To this George agreed, but not verbally.

The steamer weighed anchor at six o'clock that evening, with only a
handful of passengers for the trip to Naples. George had wired from
Damascus to Cairo to have his luggage sent on, and he saw it put aboard
himself. Without letting Fortune know, he had also telegraphed the hotel
to forward whatever she had left; but the return wire informed him that
Mrs. Chedsoye had taken everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were leaning against the starboard-rail, watching the slowly
converging lights of the harbor. Fortune had borrowed a cloak from her
stewardess and George wore the mufti of the first-officer. The captain
had offered his, but George had declined. He would have been lost in its
ample folds.

"I can not understand why they made no effort to find you," he mused.
"It doesn't seem quite human."

"Don't you understand? It is simple. My mother believes that Horace and
I ran away together. If not that, I ran away myself, as I that day
threatened to do. In either case, she saw nothing could be done in
trying to find out where I had gone. Perhaps she knows exactly what did
happen. Doubtless she has sent on my things to Mentone, which, of
course, I shall never see again. No, no! I can not go back there. I have
known the misery of suspense long enough." She lowered her head to the
rail.

He came quite near to her. His arms went out toward her, only to drop
down. He must wait. It was very hard. But nothing prevented his putting
forth a hand to press hers reassuringly, and saying: "Don't do that,
Fortune. It makes my heart ache to see a woman cry."

"I am not crying," came in muffled tones. "I am only sad, and tired,
tired."

"Everything will come out all right in the end," he encouraged. "Of
course you are tired. What woman wouldn't be, having gone through what
you have? Here; let's sit in the steamer-chairs till the bugle blows for
dinner. I'm a bit fagged out myself."

They lay back in the chairs, and no longer cared to talk. The lights
twinkled, but fainter and fainter, till at last only the pale line
between the sky and the sea remained. She turned her head and looked
sharply at him. He was sound asleep. "Poor boy!" she murmured softly.
"How careworn!" There was something grotesque in the mask of desert tan
and shaven skin. How patient he had been through it all, and how kind
and gentle to her! She remembered now of seeing him that night in Cairo,
and of remarking how young and fresh he seemed in comparison to the men
she knew and had met. And she must leave him, to go into the world and
fight her own battles. If God had but given to her a brother like this!
But brother he never could be, no, not even in the pleasant sense of
adoption. She did not want pity.... To think of his getting those things
for her in Damascus!... Pity suggested that she was weak and helpless,
whereas she knew that she was both patient and strong.... What did she
want? She glanced up and down the deck. It was totally deserted save for
them. Then, "clad in the beauty of a thousand stars," she leaned over
and down and brushed his hand with her lips.

And George slept on. Only the blare of the bugle brought him back to
mundane affairs. He was hungry, and he announced the fact with gusto.
They would dine well that night. The captain placed Fortune at his right
and George at his left, and broached a bottle of fine old
Johannisberger. And the three of them had coffee in the smoke-room. If
the other passengers had any curiosity, they did not manifest it openly.

Upon finding that they had no real need of staying over in Naples, the
captain urged that they take the return voyage with him. He saw more
than either of the young people, with those blue Teutonic eyes of his.
George promised to let him know within a dozen hours of the sailing.
Certainly Fortune would decide one way or the other within that time.

Both had seen the Vesuvian bay many times, with never-failing love and
interest. They sailed across the bay in the bright clearness of the
morning.

"You are going back with me," George announced in a tone which inferred
that nothing more was to be said upon the subject. But, for all his
confidence, there was a great and heavy fear upon his heart as he asked
for mail at the little inclosure at Cook's, in the Galleria Vittoria.
There was a cable; nothing more.

"Now, Fortune...."

"Have I ever given you permission to call me by that name?"

"Why...."

"Have I?"

"No."

"Then I give you that permission now."

"What do you frighten a man like that for?" he cried. "What I was going
to say...."

"Fortune."

"What I was going to say, Fortune, was this: here is the cable from
Mortimer. I'm not going to open it till after dinner to-night. We'll go
up to the Bertolini to dine. You'll stay there for the night, while I
put up at the Bristol, which is only a little ways up the Corso. I'm not
going to ask you a question till coffee. Then we'll thrash out the
subject till there isn't a grain left."

She made no protest. Secretly she was pleased to be bullied like this.
It proved that among all these swarming peoples there was one interested
in her welfare. But she knew in her heart what she was going to say when
the proper time came. She did not wish to spoil his dinner. She was also
going to put her courage to its supreme test: borrow a hundred pounds,
and bravely promise to pay him back. If she failed to pay it, it would
be because she was dead! For she could not survive a comparison between
herself and her mother. Here in Naples she might find something, an
opportunity. She spoke French and Italian fluently; and in this crowded
season of the year it would not be difficult to find a situation as a
maid or companion. So long as she could earn a little honestly, she was
not afraid. She was desperately resolved.

Such a dinner! Long would she remember it; and longer still, how little
either of them ate of it! She knew enough about these things to
appreciate it. It must have cost a pretty penny. She smiled, she
laughed, she jested; and always a battle to dam the uprising tears.

The dining-room was filled; women in beautiful evening gowns and men in
sober black. But the two young people were oblivious. Their
fellow-diners, however, bent more than one glance in their direction.
Ill-fitting clothes, to be sure, but it was observed that they ate to
the manner born. The girl was beautiful in a melancholy way, and the
young man was well-bred and pleasant of feature, though oddly burned.

Coffee. George produced the cable. It was still sealed.

"You read it first," he said, passing it across the table.

Her hands shook as she ripped the sealed flap and opened the message.
She read. Her eyes gathered dangerously.

"Be careful!" he warned. "You've been brave so long; be brave a little
longer."

"I did not know that there lived such good and kindly men. Oh, thank
him, thank him a thousand times for me. Read it." And she no longer
cared if any saw her tears.

     "Bring her home, and God bless you both.

  "MORTIMER."

"I knew it!" he cried exultantly. "He and my father were the finest two
men in the world. The sky is all clear now."

"Is it?" sadly. "Oh, I do not wish to pain you, but it is charity; and I
am too proud."

"You refuse?" He could not believe it.

"Yes. But when things grow dark, and the day turns bitter, I shall
always remember those words. I can see no other way. I must fight it out
alone."

Love makes a man dumb or eloquent; and as George saw all his treasured
dreams fading swiftly, eloquence became his buckler in this battle of
love unspoken and pride in arms. Each time he paused for breath, she
shook her head slowly.

The diners were leaving in twos and fours, and presently they were all
alone. Servants were clearing up the tables; there was a clatter of
dishes and a tread of hurrying feet. They noted it not.

"Well, one more plea!" And he swept aside his self-imposed restrictions.
"Will you come for my sake? Because I am lonely and want you? Will you
come for my sake?"

This time her head did not move.

"Is it pity?" she whispered.

"Pity!" His hands gripped the linen and the coffee-cups rattled. "No! It
is not pity. Because you were lonely, because you had no one to turn to,
I could not in honor tell you. But now I do. Fortune, will you come for
my sake, because I love you and want you always and always?"

"I shall come."



CHAPTER XX

MARCH HARES


George, in that masterful way which was not wholly acquired, but which
had been a latency till the episodic journey--George paid for the
dinner, called the head-waiter and thanked him for the attention given
it, and laid a generous tip upon the cover. From the dining-room the two
young people, outwardly calm but inwardly filled with the Great Tumult,
went to the manager's bureau and arranged for Fortune's room. This
settled, Fortune went down to the cavernous entrance to bid George good
night. They were both diffident and shy, now that the great problem was
solved. George was puzzled as to what to do in bidding her good night,
and Fortune wondered if he would kiss her right here, before all these
horrid cab-drivers.

"I shall call for you at nine," he said. "We've got to do some
shopping."

A tinkle of laughter.

"These ready-made suits are beginning to look like the deuce."

"Do you always think of everything?"

"Well, what I don't remember, the clerk will," slyly. "Till recently I
believe I never thought of anything. I must be off. It's too cold down
here for you." He offered his hand nervously.

She gave hers freely. He looked into her marvelous eyes for a moment.
Then he turned the palm upward and kissed it, lightly and loverly; and
she drew it across his face, over his eyes, till it left in departing a
caress upon his forehead. He stood up, breathing quickly, but not more
so than she. A little tableau. Then he jammed his battered fedora upon
his head and strode up the Corso. He dared not turn. Had he done so, he
must have gone back and taken her in his arms. She followed him with
brave eyes; she saw him suddenly veer across the street and pause at
the parapet. It was then that she became conscious of the keenness of
the night-wind. She went in. Somehow, all earth's puzzles had that night
been solved.

George lighted a cigar, doubtless the most costly weed to be found in
all Naples that night. The intermittent glowing of the end faintly
outlined his face. Far away across the shimmering bay rose Capri in a
kind of magic, amethystine transparency. A light or two twinkled where
Sorrento lay. His gaze roved the half-circle, and finally rested upon
the grim dark ash-heap, Vesuvius. Beauty, beauty everywhere; beauty in
the sky, beauty upon earth, in his heart and mind. He was twenty-eight,
and all these wonderful things had happened in a little more than so
many days!

  "God's in His heaven,
  All's right with the world!"

He flung the half-finished cigar into the air, careless as to where it
fell, or that in falling it might set Naples on fire. It struck a roof
somewhere below; a sputter of sparks, and all was dark again.

"I shall come." All through his dreams that night he heard it. "I shall
come."

Next morning he notified the captain to retain their cabins. After that
they proceeded to storm the shops. They were like March hares;
irresponsible children, both of them. What did propriety matter? What
meaning had circumspection? They two were all alone; the rest of the
world didn't count. It never had counted to either of them. Certainly
they should have gone to a parsonage; Mrs. Grundy would prudently have
suggested it. The trivialities of convention, however, had no place at
that moment in their little Eden. They were a law unto themselves.

Into twenty shops they went; _modiste_ after _modiste_ was interviewed;
and Fortune at length found two models. These were pretty, and, being
models, quite inexpensive. Once, George was forced to remain outside in
the carriage. It was in front of the _lingerie_ shop. He put away each
receipt, just like a husband upon his honeymoon. Later, receipts would
mean as much, but from a different angle of vision. He bought so many
violets that the carriage looked as though it were ready for the flower
carnival. He laughingly disregarded her protests. It was the Song of
Songs.

"My shopping is done," she said at last, dropping the bundles upon the
carriage floor. "Now, it is your turn."

"You have forgotten a warm steamer-cloak," he reminded her.

"So I have!"

This oversight was easily remedied; and then George sought the
tailor-shops for ready-made clothes. He had more difficulty than
Fortune; ready-made suits were not the easiest things to find in Naples.
By noon, however, he had acquired a Scotch woolen for day wear and a
fairly decent dinner suit, along with other necessities.

"Well, I say!" he murmured, struck by a revealing thought.

"Have you forgotten anything?"

"No. On the contrary, I've just remembered something. I've got all _I_
need or want in my steamer-trunk; and till this minute I never once
thought of it."

How they laughed! Indeed, so high were their spirits that they would
have laughed at any inconsequent thing. They lunched at the Gambrinus,
and George mysteriously bought up all the pennies from the hunchback
tobacco vendor. Later, as they bowled along the sea-front, George
created a small riot by flinging pennies to small boys and whining
beggars. At five they went aboard the ship, which was to leave at
sundown, some hours ahead of scheduled time. The captain himself
welcomed them as they climbed the swaying ladder. There were a hundred
first-class passengers for the final voyage. The two, however, still sat
at the right and left of the captain; but the table was filled, and they
maintained a guarded prattle. Every one at once assumed that they were a
bridal couple, and watched them with tolerant amusement. The captain had
considerately left their names off the passenger-list as published for
the benefit of the passengers and the saloon-sitting. So they moved in a
sort of mystery which rough weather prevented being solved.

One night, when the sea lay calm and the air was caressingly mild,
George and Fortune had gone forward and were leaning over the
starboard-rail where it meets and joins the forward beam-rail. They
were watching for the occasional flicker of phosphorescence. Their
shoulders touched, and George's hand lay protectingly over hers.

"I love you," he said; "I love you better than all the world."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure? Can you doubt it?"

"Sometimes."

"Why...."

But she interrupted him quickly. "In all this time you have never asked
me if I love you. Why haven't you?"

"I have been afraid."

"Ask me!"

"Do you love me?" his heart missing a beat.

She leaned toward him swiftly. "Here is my answer," pursing her lips.

"Fortune!"

"Be careful! I've a terrible temper."

But she was not quite prepared for such roughness. She could not stir,
so strongly did he hold her to his heart. Not only her lips, but her
eyes, her cheeks, her throat, and again her lips. He hurt her, but her
heart sang. No man could imitate love like that; and doubt spread its
dark pinions and went winging out to sea.

"That is the way I want to be loved. Always love me like that. Never
wait for me to ask. Come to me at all times, no matter how I am engaged,
and take me in your arms, roughly like this. Then I shall know. I have
been so lonely; my heart has been so filled with love and none to
receive it! I love you. I haven't asked why; I don't care. When it began
I do not know either. But it is in my heart, strong and for ever."

"Heart o' mine, I'm going to be the finest lover there ever was!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The great ship came up the bay slowly. It was a clear, sparkling, winter
day, and the towering minarets of business stood limned against the
pale-blue sky with a delicacy not unlike Japanese shell-carving. A
thousand thousand ribbons of cheery steam wavered and slanted and
dartled; the river swarmed with bustling ferries and eager tugs; and
great floats of ice bumped and jammed about the invisible highways.

"This is where _I_ live," said George, running his arm under hers. "The
greatest country in the world, with the greatest number of mistaken
ideas," he added humorously.

"What is it about the native land that clutches at our hearts so? I am
an American, and yet I was born in the south of France. I went to school
for a time near Philadelphia. America, America! Can't I be an American,
even if I was born elsewhere?"

"You can never be president," he said gravely.

"I don't want to be president!" She snuggled closer to him. "All I want
to be is a good man's wife; to watch the kitchen to see that he gets
good things to eat; to guard his comforts; to laugh when he laughs; to
be gentle when he is sad; to nurse him when he is ill; to be all and
everything to him in adversity as well as in prosperity: a true wife."
She touched his sleeve with her cheek. "And I don't want him to think
that he must always be with me; if he belongs to a man-club, he must go
there once in a while."

"I am very happy," was all he could say.

"George, I am uneasy. I don't know why. It's my mother, my uncle, and
Horace. I am going to meet them somewhere. I know it. And I worry about
you."

"About me? That's foolish." He smiled down at her.

"Ah, why did my mother seek to renew the acquaintance with you? Why did
Horace have you kidnapped into the desert? There can be no such a thing
as the United Romance and Adventure Company. It is a cloak for something
more sinister."

"Pshaw! What's the use of worrying, little woman? Whatever schemes they
had must be out of joint by now. Sometimes I think I must be dreaming,
little girl."

"I am not little. I'm almost as tall as you are."

"You are vastly taller in many ways."

"Don't be too sure. I am human; I have my moods. I am sometimes
crotchety; sometimes unjust and quick of temper."

"All right; I want you, temper and all, just the same."

"But will they like me? Won't they think I'm an adventuress, or
something like that?"

"Bless your heart, not in a thousand years! I'm a pretty wise man in
some ways, and they know it."

And so it proved to be. Both Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer greeted them at the
pier in Hoboken. One glance at the face of the girl was sufficient. Mrs.
Mortimer held out her arms. It was a very fine thing to do.

"I was in doubt at first," she said frankly. "George is so guileless.
But to look at you, my child, would scatter the doubts of a Thomas. Will
you let me be your mother, if only for a little while?" with a wise and
tender smile.

Shyly Fortune accepted the embrace. Never had she been so happy. Never
had she felt arms like these about her.

"What did he cable you?" she asked in a whisper.

"That he loved you and wanted me to mother you against that time when he
might have the right to take you as his own. Has he that right?"

"Yes. And oh! he is the bravest and tenderest man I know; and below it
all he is only a boy."

Mrs. Mortimer patted her hand. A little while later all four went over
to the city and drove uptown to the Mortimer home. On the way Fortune
told her story, simply, without avoiding any essential detail. And all
her new mother did was to put an arm about her and draw her closer.

The Mortimer home was only three blocks away from George's. So, when
dinner was over, George declared that he would run over and take a look
at his own house. He wanted to wander about the rooms a bit, to fancy
how it would look when Fortune walked at his side. He promised to return
within an hour. He had forgotten many things, ordinarily important; such
as wiring his agent, his butler and cook, who were still drawing their
wages. He passed along the street above which was his own. He paused for
a moment to contemplate the great banking concern. And the president of
this bank was the elder brother of Ryanne! Lots of queer kinks in the
world; lots of crooked turnings. He passed on, turned the corner, and
strode toward his home, ecstasy thrilling his heart. Lightly he ran up
the steps. Three doors below he noticed two automobiles. He gave them
only a cursory glance. He took out his ring of keys, found the
night-latch and thrust it into the keyhole. He never had believed in
this putting up of iron-gates and iron-shutters. A night-latch and a
caretaker who came round once a day was enough for any sensible person.
He turned the key. Eh? It didn't seem to go round. He tried several
times, but without success. Puzzled, he struck a match and stooped
before the keyhole.

It was a new one.



CHAPTER XXI

A BOTTLE OF WINE


George stood irresolutely upon the steps. A new keyhole! What the deuce
did the agent mean by putting a new keyhole in the door without
notifying him? As the caretaker never entered that door, it was all the
agent's fault. There was no area-way in front, but between George's
house and the next there was a court eight feet in width, running to the
dividing wall between the bank property and his own. A grille gate
protected this court. George had a key. The gate opened readily enough.
His intention was to enter by the basement-door. But he suddenly paused.
To his amazement he saw just below the library curtain a thin measure of
light. Light! Some one in the house! He did the most sensible thing
possible: he stood still till the shock left him. Some one in the house,
some one who had no earthly or heavenly business there! Near the window
stood a tubbed bay-tree. Cautiously he mounted this, holding the ledge
of the window with his fingers. That he did not instantly topple over
with a great noise was due to the fact that he was temporarily
paralyzed.

Here was the end of the puzzle. The riddle of the United Romance and
Adventure Company was solved. At last he understood why Mrs. Chedsoye
had sought him, why Ryanne had kidnapped him. But for his continuing his
journey upon the German-Lloyd boat, he would have come home a week too
late; he would have missed being a spectator (already an innocent
contributor) to one of the most daring and ingenious bank-robberies
known in the pages of metropolitan crime. There was Mrs. Chedsoye,
intrusively handsome as ever; there was her rascally card-sharper
brother, that ingrate who called himself Ryanne, and three unknown men.
The impudence of it; the damnable insolence of it! And there they were,
toasting their success in a brace of his own vintage-champagne! But the
wine was, after all, inconsequential. It was what he saw upon the floor
that caught him by the throat. His knees weakened, but he held on grimly
to his perch.

White bags of gold, soiled bags of gold, and neat packets of green and
yellow notes: riches! Twenty bags and as many packets of currency; a
million, not a penny under that! George was seized with a horrible
desire to yell with laughter. He felt the cachinnations bubble in his
throat. He swallowed violently and gnawed his lips. They had got into
his house under false pretenses and had tunneled back into the
Merchant-Mechanic Bank, of which Horace's brother was president and in
which he, George P. A. Jones, always carried a large private balance! It
was the joke of the century.

As quietly as he possibly could, he stepped down from his uncertain
perch. In the fine fury that followed his amazement, his one thought was
to summon the police at once, to confront the wretches in their
villainy; but once outside in the street, he cooled. Instantly he saw
the trial in court. Fortune as witness against her own mother. That was
horrible and not to be thought of. But what should he do? He was shaken
to his soul. The stupendous audacity of such a plan! To have worked out
every detail, down to the altering of the keyhole to prevent surprise!
He saw the automobiles. They were leaving that night. If he acted at
all, it must be within an hour; in less than that time they would be
loading the cars. His mind began to rid itself of its confusion. Without
the aid of the police; and presently he saw the way to do it.

He was off at a dog-trot, upon the balls of his feet, silently. Within
five minutes he was mounting the steps to the Mortimer home, and in
another minute was inside. The others saw directly that something
serious had happened.

"What's the trouble, George? House vanished?" asked Mortimer.

"Have you got a brace of revolvers?" said George quietly.

"Two automatics. But...."

"Give them to me," less evenly in tone. "Will you call up Arthur
Wadsworth, president of the Merchant-Mechanic Bank?"

"The bank?"

"Yes, the bank. You know, it is just in the rear of my house."

Here Fortune came forward. All the bright color was gone from her
cheeks; the old mask of despair had re-formed. She needed no further
enlightenment.

"Are you going back there?" she asked.

"Yes, dear; I must. Mr. Mortimer will go with me."

"And I?"

"No, heart o' mine; you've got to stay here."

"If you do not take me with you, you will not find me here when you
return."

"My child," began Mortimer soothingly, "you must not talk like that.
There will be danger."

"Then notify the police, and let the danger rest upon their shoulders,"
she said, her jaws set squarely.

"I can't call in the police," replied George, miserable.

"Shall I tell you why?"

"Dearest, can't you understand that it is you I am thinking of?"

"I am determined. If I do not go with you, you shall never see me again.
My mother is there!"

Tragedy. Mrs. Mortimer stretched out a hand, but the girl did not see
it. Her mother; her own flesh and blood! Oh, the poor child!

"Come, then," said George, in despair. "But you are hurting me,
Fortune."

"Forgive me, but I _must_ go with you. I _must_!"

"Get me the revolvers, Mr. Mortimer. We'll wait for Wadsworth. Will you
please telephone him? I'm afraid I couldn't talk steadily enough.
Explain nothing save that it concerns his bank."

George sat down. Not during those early days of the journey across the
desert had he felt so pitiably weak and inefficient.

Fortune paced the room, her arms folded tightly across her breast.
Strange, there was neither fear nor pain in her heart, only a wild
wrath.

When Mortimer returned from the telephone, saying that Wadsworth would
be right over, he asked George to explain fully what was going on. It
was rather a long story. George managed to get through it with a
coherency understandable, but no more. Mrs. Mortimer put her motherly
arms about the girl, but she found no pliancy. There was no resistance,
but there was that stiffness peculiar to felines when picked up under
protest. And there was a little more than the cat in Fortune then; the
tigress. She was not her mother's daughter for nothing. To confront her,
to overwhelm her with reproach, to show her not the least mercy, stonily
to see her led away to prison!

George inspected the revolvers carefully to see if they were loaded.

The bell rang, and Arthur Wadsworth came in. Mortimer knew him; George
did not. He drew his interest as it fell due and deposited it in another
bank. That was the extent of his relations with Arthur Wadsworth,
president of the Merchant-Mechanic Bank of New York.

Arthur was small, thin, blond like his brother, but the hair was so
light upon the top of his head that he gave one the impression that he
was bald. His eyes looked out from behind half-shut lids; his cheeks
were cadaverous; his pale lips met in a straight, unpleasant line. There
was not the slightest resemblance between the two brothers, either in
their bodies or in their souls. George recognized this fact immediately.
He disliked the man instinctively, just as he could not help admiring
his rogue of a brother.

"I want you to go with me to my house at once," began George.

"Please explain."

George disliked the voice even more than the man himself. "Everything
will be explained there," he replied.

"This is very unusual," the banker complained.

"You will find it so. Come." George moved toward the hall, the revolvers
in his coat-pocket.

"But I insist...."

"Mr. Wadsworth, everything will be fully explained to you the moment you
enter my house; More I shall not tell you. You are at liberty to return
home."

"It concerns the bank?" The voice had something human in it now; a note
of affection.

Arthur Wadsworth loved the bank as a man loves his sweetheart, but more
explicitly, as a miser loves the hoard hidden in the stocking. He loved
every corner of the building. He worshiped the glass-covered marbles
over which the gold passed and repassed. He adored the sight of the bent
backs of the bookkeepers, the individual-account clerks, the little
cages of the paying and receiving tellers, always so beautifully
littered with little slips of paper, packets of bills, stacks of gold
and silver; he loved the huge steel-vault, stored with bags of gold and
bundles of notes, bonds, and stocks. Money was his god. Summed up, he
was a miser in all that contemptible word implies: stingy, frugal,
cautious, suspicious, sly, cruel, and relentless; he was in the concrete
what his father had been in the abstract.

"It concerns the bank?" he repeated, torn by doubt.

George shrugged. "Let us be going."

"Will it be necessary to call in the police?"

"No."

"I suppose, then," said Wadsworth bitterly, wondering, too, over the
strange animosity of this young man he did not know--"I suppose I must
do just as you say?"

"Absolutely." George's teeth came together with a click.

The four of them passed out of the house, each singularly wrought with
agitation. Fortune walked ahead with George. Neither spoke. They could
hear the occasional protest from the banker into Mortimer's ear; but
Mortimer did not open his lips. They came to the house, and then George
whispered his final instructions to Wadsworth. The latter, when he
understood what was taking place, became wild with rage and terror; and
it was only because George threatened to warn the conspirators that he
subsided.

"And," went on George, "if you do not obey, you can get out of it the
best you know how. Now, silence, absolute silence."

He pressed back the grille gate, and the others tiptoed after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ryanne tipped the third bottle delicately. Not a drop was wasted. How
the golden beads swarmed up to the brim, to break into little essences
of perfume! And this was good wine; twelve years in the bottle.

"It's like some dream; eh?"

Wallace smacked his lips loudly.

"Wallace," chided Ryanne, "you always drink like a sailor. You don't
swallow champagne; you sip it, like this."

Major Callahan swayed his glass back and forth under his nose. "Smells
like a vineyard after a rain.

"There's poetry for you!" laughed the butler.

Mrs. Chedsoye alone seemed absorbed in other things. She was trying to
discover what it was that gave this supreme moment so flat a taste. It
was always so; it was the chase, the goal was nothing. It was the
excitement of going toward, not arriving at, the destination. Was she,
who considered herself so perfect, a freak after all, shallow like a
hill-stream and as aimless in her endeavors? Had she possessed a real
enthusiasm for anything? She looked back along the twisted avenue of
years. Had anything really stirred her profoundly? From the bags of gold
her glance strayed up and over to Ryanne. Love? Love a man so weak that
he could not let be the bottle? She had a horror of drunkenness, the
inane giggles, the attending nausea; she had been through it all. Had
she loved him, or was it because he loved the child? Even this she could
not tell. Inwardly she was opaque to her searchings. She stirred
restlessly. She wanted to be out of this house, on the way. The gold, as
gold, meant nothing. She had enough for her needs. What was it, then?
Was she mad? What flung her here and about, without real purpose?

"We could have taken every dollar from the vault," said Wallace
cheerfully.

"But we couldn't have made our get-away with it," observed the butler,
holding his empty glass toward Ryanne, who was acting as master of
ceremonies.

"A clear, unidentified million," mused Ryanne. "Into the cars with it;
over to Jersey City; on to Philadelphia; but there for Europe; quietly
transfer the gold to the various Continental banks; and in six months,
who could trace hair or hide of it?" Ryanne laughed.

"It's all right to laugh," said the Major. "But are you sure about
Jones? He could have arrived this afternoon."

"Impossible! He left Alexandria for Naples on a boat that stopped but
thirty hours. With Fortune on his hands he could not possibly sail
before the following week, and maybe not then. Sit tight. I know what I
am talking about."

"He might cable."

"So he might. But if he had we'd have heard from him before now. I'm
going to tell you a secret. My name is not Ryanne."

"We all know that," said the Major.

"It's Wadsworth. Does that tickle your mind any?"

The men shook their heads. Mrs. Chedsoye did not move hers.

"Bah! Greatest joke of the hour. I'm Horace Wadsworth, and Arthur
Wadsworth, president of the Merchant-Mechanic Bank, is my beloved
brother!"

"Ay, damnable wretch!"

A shock ran through them all. In the doorway leading to the rear hall
stood George, his revolvers leveled steadily. Peering white-faced over
his shoulder was the man who had spoken, Arthur Wadsworth.



CHAPTER XXII

THE END OF THE PUZZLE


The elder brother tried to push past George, but old Mortimer caught him
by the shoulders and dragged him back.

"Let me go!" he cried, his voice nasal and high. "Do you hear me? Let me
go!"

"Mr. Mortimer," said George, without turning his head or letting his eye
waver, "keep him back. Thanks." George stepped over the threshold. "Now,
gentlemen, I shall shoot the first man who makes a movement."

And Ryanne, who knew something about George, saw that he meant just what
he said. "Steady, every one," he said. "My friend George here can't
shoot; but that kind of a man is deadliest with a pistol. I surrender."

The brother was struggling. "The telephone! The telephone! I demand to
call the police. This is accessory to the fact! I tell you, let me go!"

"Mr. Wadsworth," replied George, "if you do not be still and let me run
this affair, I'll throw the pistols to the floor, and your brother and
his friends may do as they bally please. Now, step back and be quiet.
Stop!" to Ryanne, whose hand was reaching out toward the table.

[Illustration]

"Don't shoot, Percival; I want only a final glass of wine." Ryanne
calmly took the slender stem of the glass between his fingers, lifted it
and drank. He set it down empty. From his outside pocket he drew a
handkerchief and delicately dried his lips. He alone of his confederates
had life. It was because he alone understood. Prison wasn't staring them
in the face just yet. "Well, Arthur, old top, how goes it? Nearly got
your money-bags, didn't we? And we surely would have but for this
delicious vintage."

"Damn you and your wine!" roared the Major, shaking with rage. This
adventure had been no joke to him, no craving for excitement. He wanted
the gold, the gold. With what would have been his share he could have
gambled at Monte Carlo and Ostend till the end of his days. For the
first time he saw long, thick bars of iron running up and down a window.
And all for a bottle of wine!

"Damn away, old sport!" Ryanne reached for the bottle and filled his
glass again. "Percival, I'm blamed sorry about that olive-tree of
yours." He waved his hand toward the bags. "You can see that my
intentions in regard to refunding that hundred pounds were strictly
honorable. Now, what's on the ticket?"

"I suppose your luggage is outside in the automobiles?"

"Right-O!"

"Well, I need not explain my reasons; you will understand them; but I am
going to give you all two hours' time. Then I shall notify the police.
You will have to take your chance after that time."

The circling faces brightened perceptibly. Two hours--that would carry
them far into Jersey.

"Accepted with thanks," said Ryanne.

"I refuse to permit it!" yelled the brother. "Mr. Jones, you will rue
this night's work. I shall see that the law looks into your actions.
This is felony. I demand to be allowed to telephone."

"Percival, for heaven's sake, let him!" cried Ryanne wearily. "Let him
shout; it will soften his voice. He will hurt nobody. The wires were cut
hours ago."

Mortimer felt the tense muscles in his grasp relax. Arthur Wadsworth
grew limp and reeled against the jamb of the door.

"You had better start at once," George advised. "You three first," with
a nod toward Wallace (his bulbous nose now lavender in hue), the butler
and the first-man. "Forward march, front door. Go on!"

"What about me?" asked Ryanne.

"In a moment." George could not but admire the man, rascal though he
was. There was a pang of regret in his heart as the thought came and
went swiftly: what a comrade this man would have made under different
circumstances! Too late! "Halt!" he cried. The trio marching toward the
door came to a stop, their heads turned inquiringly. "Here, Mr.
Mortimer; take one of these guns and cover the Major. He's the one I
doubt." Then George followed the others into the hall and ironically
bade them God-speed as he opened the door for them. They went out
stupidly; the wine had dulled them. George immediately returned to the
library.

Neither Fortune nor her mother had stirred in all this time. A quality
of hypnotism held them in bondage. The mother could not lower her glance
and the daughter would not. If there was a light of triumph in Fortune's
eyes, it was unconsciously there. And no one will know the full
bitterness that shone from the mother's. She could have screamed with
fury; she could have rent her clothes, torn her skin, pulled her hair;
and yet she sat there without physical sign of the tempest. This offers
a serio-comic suggestion; but it was tragedy enough for the woman who
was in the clutch of these emotional storms. It was not her predicament;
it was not that she was guilty of a crime against society; it was not
that she had failed. No. It was because she, in leaving this house for
ever, was leaving her daughter behind, mistress of it.

On her side, Fortune knew, that, had there been a single gesture
inviting pity, she must have flown to her mother's side. But there was
no sign. Finally, Fortune stepped back, chilled. It was all too late.

"Fortune," said George, terribly embarrassed, "do you wish to speak to
your mother, alone?"

"No." It was a little word, spoken in a little, hushed tone.

Mrs. Chedsoye rose and proceeded to put on her furs, which she had flung
across the back of her chair.

"Mother!" This came in a gasp from the elder Wadsworth. An understanding
of this strange proceeding began to filter through his mind. The young
girl's mother!

Mrs. Chedsoye drew on her gloves slowly. She offered them to the Major
to button. He flung the hands aside. He was not nice under the veneer.
But Ryanne was instantly at her service. And curiously she watched his
agile fingers at work over the buttons; they were perfectly steady.
Then, followed by the Major and Ryanne, she walked easily toward the
hall. Ryanne paused.

"Good night, Arthur. I'm sure you will not sleep well. That handsome
safe is irreparably damaged. I dare say you will find a way to cover the
loss without any injury to your own pocket. Old top, farewell! Who was
it, Brutus or Cæsar, who said: 'I go but to return'?" The banter left
his face and voice swiftly. "You sneaking black-guard, you cheater of
widows; yes, I shall come again; and then look to your sleek,
sanctimonious neck! You chucked me down the road to hell, and the pity
of it is, some day I must meet you there! Fortune, child," his voice
becoming sad, "you might remember a poor beggar in your prayers
to-night. Percival, a farewell to you. We shall never meet again. But
when you stand upon that bally old rug there, you'll always see me, the
fire, the tents, the camels and the desert, and the moon in the
date-palms. By-by!"

And presently they were gone. A moment later those remaining could hear
the chug-chug of the motors as they sped away. The banker was first to
recover from the spell. He rushed for the hall, but George stopped him
rudely.

"Two hours, if you please. I never break my word. Your money is all
there. If you do not act reasonably, I'll throw you down and sit on you
till the time is up. Sit down. I do not propose that my future wife
shall appear in court as a witness against her mother. Do you understand
me now?"

The banker signified that he did. He sat down, rather subdued. Then he
got up nervously and inventoried the steal. He counted roughly a
million. A million! He felt sick and weak. It would have wrecked the
bank, wiped it out of existence. And saved by the merest, the most
trifling chance! A bottle of wine! He resumed his chair and sat there
wonderingly till the time-limit expired.

The public never heard how nearly the Merchant-Mechanic had gone to the
wall; nor how six policemen had worked till dawn carrying back the gold;
nor that the banker had not even thanked them for their labor. The first
impulse of the banker had been to send the story forth to the world, to
harass and eventually capture his brother; but his foresight becoming
normal, he realized that silence was best, even if his brother escaped.
If the depositors heard that the bank had been entered and a million
taken from the vaults, there would naturally follow a terrific run.

When the last bag had been taken out of the library and the banker and
the police had gone, the bell rang. George went to the door. A messenger
handed him a small satchel and a note. There was to be no reply. The
note was from Ryanne. Briefly it stated that the satchel contained the
emeralds. There had been some difficulty in forcing the Major to
surrender them. But that much was due to George for his generosity.
Later in the day he--George--might inform his--Horace's--brother that
the _coup_ hadn't been a total fizzle. They had already packed away in
suit-cases something like two hundred thousand dollars in bills of all
denominations. "Tell that dear brother of mine to charge it to our
account. It will be less than the interest upon a million in ten years.
To you, my boy, I add: Fortune favors the brave!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"George," said Mortimer, "you will not mind if I forage round in the
kitchen? A bottle of beer and a bit of cheese would go handy. It's
almost my breakfast time."

"Bless your heart, help yourself!"

And George turned to Fortune.

"Ah," she cried, seizing his hands, "you will not think ill of me?"

"And for what?" astonished.

"For not speaking to my mother. Oh, I just couldn't; I just couldn't!
When I thought of all the neglect, all the indifference, the loneliness,
I couldn't! It was horribly unnatural and cruel!"

"I understand, heart o' mine. Say no more about it." And he put his two
hands against her cheeks and kissed her. "Never shall you be lonely
again, for I am going to be all things to you. Poor heart! Just think
that all that has passed has been only a bad dream, and that it's clear
sunshiny morning; eh?" He held her off a ways and then swept her into
his arms as he had done on board the ship, roughly and masterly. "And
there's that old rug! Talk about magic carpets! There never was one just
like this. But for it I shouldn't even have known you. And, by Jove!
when the minister comes this afternoon...."

"This afternoon!"

"Exactly! When he comes, you and I are going to stand upon that
beautiful, friendly old rug, and both of us are going to be whisked
right away into Eden."

"Please!"

Silence.

"How brave you are!"

"I? Oh, pshaw!"

"Would you have shot one of them?"

"Girl, your Percival Algernon couldn't have hit the broad side of a
barn." He laughed joyously.

"I knew it. And that is why I call you brave."

And when the pale gold of winter dawn filled the room, it found them,
hand in hand, staring down at the old Yhiordes, the magic old Yhiordes
from Bagdad.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Carpet from Bagdad" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home