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- Donovan Pasha And Some People Of Egypt, Volume 2. - 1/12 -


By Gilbert Parker

Volume 2.



His legs were like pipe-stems, his body was like a board, but he was straight enough, not unsoldierly, nor so bad to look at when his back was on you; but when he showed his face you had little pleasure in him. It seemed made of brown putty, the nose was like india-rubber, and the eyes had that dull, sullen look of a mongrel got of a fox-terrier and a bull- dog. Like this sort of mongrel also his eyes turned a brownish-red when he was excited.

You could always tell when something had gone wrong with Ibrahim the Orderly, by that curious dull glare in his eyes. Selamlik Pasha said to Fielding that it was hashish; Fielding said it was a cross breed of Soudanese and fellah. But little Dicky Donovan said it was something else, and he kept his eye upon Ibrahim. And Dicky, with all his faults, could screw his way from the front of a thing to the back thereof like no other civilised man you ever knew. But he did not press his opinions upon Fielding, who was an able administrator and a very clever fellow also, with a genial habit of believing in people who served him: and that is bad in the Orient.

As an orderly Ibrahim was like a clock: stiff in his gait as a pendulum, regular as a minute. He had no tongue for gossip either, so far as Fielding knew. Also, five times a day he said his prayers--an unusual thing for a Gippy soldier-servant; for as the Gippy's rank increases he soils his knees and puts his forehead in the dust with discretion. This was another reason why Dicky suspected him.

It was supposed that Ibrahim could not speak a word of English; and he seemed so stupid, he looked so blank, when English was spoken, that Fielding had no doubt the English language was a Tablet of Abydos to him. But Dicky was more wary, and waited. He could be very patient and simple, and his delicate face seemed as innocent as a girl's when he said to Ibrahim one morning: "Ibrahim, brother of scorpions, I'm going to teach you English!" and, squatting like a Turk on the deck of the Amenhotep, the stern-wheeled tub which Fielding called a steamer, he began to teach Ibrahim.

"Say 'Good-morning, kind sir,'" he drawled.

No tongue was ever so thick, no throat so guttural, as Ibrahim's when he obeyed this command. That was why suspicion grew the more in the mind of Dicky. But he made the Gippy say: "Good-morning, kind sir," over and over again. Now, it was a peculiar thing that Ibrahim's pronunciation grew worse every time; which goes to show that a combination of Soudanese and fellah doesn't make a really clever villain. Twice, three times, Dicky gave him other words and phrases to say, and practice made Ibrahim more perfect in error.

Dicky suddenly enlarged the vocabulary thus: "An old man had three sons: one was a thief, another a rogue, and the worst of them all was a soldier. But the soldier died first!"

As he said these words he kept his eyes fixed on Ibrahim in a smiling, juvenile sort of way; and he saw the colour--the brownish-red colour-- creep slowly into Ibrahim's eyes. For Ibrahim's father had three sons: and certainly one was a thief, for he had been a tax-gatherer; and one was a rogue, for he had been the servant of a Greek money-lender; and Ibrahim was a soldier!

Ibrahim was made to say these words over and over again, and the red fire in his eyes deepened as Dicky's face lighted up with what seemed a mere mocking pleasure, a sort of impish delight in teasing, like that of a madcap girl with a yokel. Each time Ibrahim said the words he jumbled them worse than before. Then Dicky asked him if he knew what an old man was, and Ibrahim said no. Dicky said softly in Arabic that the old man was a fool to have three such sons--a thief and a rogue and a soldier. With a tender patience he explained what a thief and a rogue were, and his voice was curiously soft when he added, in Arabic: "And the third son was like you, Mahommed--and he died first."

Ibrahim's eyes gloomed under the raillery--under what he thought the cackle of a detested Inglesi with a face like a girl, of an infidel who had a tongue that handed you honey on the point of a two-edged sword. In his heart he hated this slim small exquisite as he had never hated Fielding. His eyes became like little pots of simmering blood, and he showed his teeth in a hateful way, because he was sure he should glut his hatred before the moon came full.

Little Dicky Donovan knew, as he sleepily told Ibrahim to go, that for months the Orderly had listened to the wholesome but scathing talk of Fielding and himself on the Egyptian Government, and had reported it to those whose tool and spy he was.

That night, the stern-wheeled tub, the Amenhotep, lurched like a turtle on its back into the sands by Beni Hassan. Of all the villages of Upper Egypt, from the time of Rameses, none has been so bad as Beni Hassan. Every ruler of Egypt, at one time or another, has raided it and razed it to the ground. It was not for pleasure that Fielding sojourned there.

This day, and for three days past, Fielding had been abed in his cabin with a touch of Nilotic fever. His heart was sick for Cairo, for he had been three months on the river; and Mrs. Henshaw was in Cairo--Mrs. Henshaw, the widow of Henshaw of the Buffs, who lived with her brother, a stone's-throw from the Esbekieh Gardens. Fielding longed for Cairo, but Beni Hassan intervened. The little man who worried Ibrahim urged him the way his private inclinations ran, but he was obdurate: duty must be done.

Dicky Donovan had reasons other than private ones for making haste to Cairo. During the last three days they had stopped at five villages on the Nile, and in each place Dicky, who had done Fielding's work of inspection for him, had been met with unusual insolence from the Arabs and fellaheen, officials and others; and the prompt chastisement he rendered with his riding-whip in return did not tend to ease his mind, though it soothed his feelings. There had been flying up the river strange rumours of trouble down in Cairo, black threats of rebellion-- of a seditious army in the palm of one man's hand. At the cafes on the Nile, Dicky himself had seen strange gatherings, which dispersed as he came on them. For, somehow, his smile had the same effect as other men's frowns.

This evening he added a whistle to his smile as he made his inspection of the engine-room and the galley and every corner of the Amenhotep, according to his custom. What he whistled no man knew, not even himself. It was ready-made. It might have been a medley, but, as things happened, it was an overture; and by the eyes, the red-litten windows of the mind of Mahommed Ibrahim, who squatted beside the Yorkshire engineer at the wheel, playing mankalah, he knew it was an overture.

As he went to his cabin he murmured to himself "There's the devil to pay: now I wonder who pays?" Because he was planning things of moment, he took a native drum down to Fielding's cabin, and made Fielding play it, native fashion, as he thrummed his own banjo and sang the airy ballad, "The Dragoons of Enniskillen." Yet Dicky was thinking hard all the time.

Now there was in Beni Hassan a ghdzeeyeh, a dancing-woman of the Ghawazee tribe, of whom, in the phrase of the moralists, the less said the better. What her name was does not matter. She was well-to-do. She had a husband who played the kemengeh for her dancing. She had as good a house as the Omdah, and she had two female slaves.

Dicky Donovan was of that rare type of man who has the keenest desire to know all things, good or evil, though he was fastidious when it came to doing them. He had a gift of keeping his own commandments. If he had been a six-footer and riding eighteen stone--if he hadn't been, as Fielding often said, so "damned finicky," he might easily have come a cropper. For, being absolutely without fear, he did what he listed and went where he listed. An insatiable curiosity was his strongest point, save one. If he had had a headache--though he never had--he would at once have made an inquiry into the various kinds of headache possible to mortal man, with pungent deductions from his demonstrations. So it was that when he first saw a dancing-girl in the streets of Cairo he could not rest until by circuitous routes he had traced the history of dancing- girls back through the ages, through Greece and the ruby East, even to the days when the beautiful bad ones were invited to the feasts of the mighty, to charm the eyes of King Seti or Queen Hatsu.

He was an authority on the tribe of the Ghawazee, proving, to their satisfaction and his own, their descent from the household of Haroon al Rashid. He was, therefore, welcome among them. But he had found also, as many another wise man has found in "furrin parts," that your greatest safety lies in bringing tobacco to the men and leaving the women alone. For, in those distant lands, a man may sell you his nuptial bed, but he will pin the price of it to your back one day with the point of a lance or the wedge of a hatchet.

Herebefore will be found the reason why Dicky Donovan--twenty-five and no moustache, pink-cheeked and rosy-hearted, and "no white spots on his liver"--went straight, that particular night, to the house of the chief dancing-girl of Beni Hassan for help in his trouble. From her he had learned to dance the dance of the Ghawazee. He had learned it so that, with his insatiable curiosity, his archaeological instinct, he should be able to compare it with the Nautch dance of India, the Hula-Hula of the Sandwich Islanders, the Siva of the Samoans.

A half-hour from the time he set his foot in Beni Hassan two dancing- girls issued from the house of the ghdzeeyeh, dressed in shintiydn and muslin tarah, anklets and bracelets, with gold coins about the forehead --and one was Dicky Donovan. He had done the rare thing: he had trusted absolutely that class of woman who is called a "rag" in that far country, and a "drab" in ours. But he was a judge of human nature, and judges of human nature know you are pretty safe to trust a woman who never trusts, no matter how bad she is, if she has no influence over you. He used to say that the better you are and the worse she is, the more you can trust her. Other men may talk, but Dicky Donovan knows.

What Dicky's aunt, the Dowager Lady Carmichael, would have said to have seen Dicky flaunting it in the clothes of a dancing-girl through the streets of vile Beni Hassan, must not be considered. None would have believed that his pink-and-white face and slim hands and staringly white ankles could have been made to look so boldly handsome, so impeachable.

Donovan Pasha And Some People Of Egypt, Volume 2. - 1/12

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