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- The Weavers, Volume 2. - 3/24 -
"Mr. Claridge of Hamley. Mr. Claridge, I am glad to meet you." They shook hands. "Been here long, Mr. Claridge?"
"A few months only."
"Queer place--gilt-edged dust-bin; get anything you like here, from a fresh gutter-snipe to old Haroun-al-Raschid. It's the biggest jack-pot on earth. Barnum's the man for this place--P. T. Barnum. Golly, how the whole thing glitters and stews! Out of Shoobra his High Jinks Pasha kennels with his lions and lives with his cellars of gold, as if he was going to take them with him where he's going--and he's going fast. Here --down here, the people, the real people, sweat and drudge between a cake of dourha, an onion, and a balass of water at one end of the day, and a hemp collar and their feet off the ground at the other."
"You have seen much of Egypt?" asked David, feeling a strange confidence in the garrulous man, whose frankness was united to shrewdness and a quick, observant eye.
"How much of Egypt I've seen, the Egypt where more men get lost, strayed, and stolen than die in their beds every day, the Egypt where a eunuch is more powerful than a minister, where an official will toss away a life as I'd toss this cigar down there where the last Mameluke captain made his great jump, where women--Lord A'mighty! where women are divorced by one evil husband, by the dozen, for nothing they ever did or left undone, and yet 'd be cut to pieces by their own fathers if they learned that 'To step aside is human--' Mr. Claridge, of that Egypt I don't know much more'n would entitle me to say, How d'ye do. But it's enough for me. You've seen something--eh?"
"A little. It is not civilised life here. Yet--yet a few strong patriotic men--"
Lacey looked quizzically at David.
"Say," he said, "I thought that about Mexico once. I said Manana-- this Manana is the curse of Mexico. It's always to-morrow--to-morrow --to-morrow. Let's teach 'em to do things to-day. Let's show 'em what business means. Two million dollars went into that experiment, but Manana won. We had good hands, but it had the joker. After five years I left, with a bald head at twenty-nine, and a little book of noble thoughts--Tips for the Tired, or Things you can say To-day on what you can do to-morrow. I lost my hair worrying, but I learned to be patient. The Dagos wanted to live in their own way, and they did. It's one thing to be a missionary and say the little word in season; it's another to run your soft red head against a hard stone wall. I went to Mexico a conquistador, I left it a child of time, who had learned to smile; and I left some millions behind me, too. I said to an old Padre down there that I knew--we used to meet in the Cafe Manrique and drink chocolate-- I said to him, 'Padre, the Lord's Prayer is a mistake down here.' 'Si, senor,' he said, and smiled his far-away smile at me. 'Yes,' said I, 'for you say in the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread."' 'Si, senor,' he says, 'but we do not expect it till to-morrow!' The Padre knew from the start, but I learned at great expense, and went out of business--closed up shop for ever, with a bald head and my Tips for the Tired. Well, I've had more out of it all, I guess, than if I'd trebled the millions and wiped Manana off the Mexican coat of arms."
"You think it would be like that here?" David asked abstractedly.
Lacey whistled. "There the Government was all right and the people all wrong. Here the people are all right and the Government all wrong. Say, it makes my eyes water sometimes to see the fellah slogging away. He's a Jim-dandy--works all day and half the night, and if the tax-gatherer isn't at the door, wakes up laughing. I saw one"--his light blue eyes took on a sudden hardness--"laughing on the other side of his mouth one morning. They were 'kourbashing' his feet; I landed on them as the soles came away. I hit out." His face became grave, he turned the cigar round in his mouth. "It made me feel better, but I had a close call. Lucky for me that in Mexico I got into the habit of carrying a pop-gun. It saved me then. But it isn't any use going on these special missions. We Americans think a lot of ourselves. We want every land to do as we do; and we want to make 'em do it. But a strong man here at the head, with a sword in his hand, peace in his heart, who'd be just and poor--how can you make officials honest when you take all you can get yourself--! But, no, I guess it's no good. This is a rotten cotton show."
Lacey had talked so much, not because he was garrulous only, but because the inquiry in David's eyes was an encouragement to talk. Whatever his misfortunes in Mexico had been, his forty years sat lightly on him, and his expansive temperament, his childlike sentimentality, gave him an appearance of beaming, sophisticated youth. David was slowly apprehending these things as he talked--subconsciously, as it were; for he was seeing pictures of the things he himself had observed, through the lens of another mind, as primitive in some regards as his own, but influenced by different experiences.
"Say, you're the best listener I ever saw," added Lacey, with a laugh.
David held out his hand. "Thee sees things clearly," he answered.
Lacey grasped his hand.
At that moment an orderly advanced towards them. "He's after us--one of the Palace cavalry," said Lacey.
"Effendi--Claridge Effendi! May his grave be not made till the karadh- gatherers return," said the orderly to David.
"My name is Claridge," answered David.
"To the hotel, effendi, first, then to the Mokattam Hills after thee, then here--from the Effendina, on whom be God's peace, this letter for thee."
David took the letter. "I thank thee, friend," he said.
As he read it, Lacey said to the orderly in Arabic "How didst thou know he was here?"
The orderly grinned wickedly.
"Always it is known what place the effendi honours. It is not dark where he uncovers his face."
Lacey gave a low whistle.
"Say, you've got a pull in this show," he said, as David folded up the letter and put it in his pocket.
"In Egypt, if the master smiles on you, the servant puts his nose in the dust."
"The Prince Pasha bids me to dinner at the Palace to-night. I have no clothes for such affairs. Yet--" His mind was asking itself if this was a door opening, which he had no right to shut with his own hand. There was no reason why he should not go; therefore there might be a reason why he should go. It might be, it no doubt was, in the way of facilitating his business. He dismissed the orderly with an affirmative and ceremonial message to Prince Kaid--and a piece of gold.
"You've learned the custom of the place," said Lacey, as he saw the gold piece glitter in the brown palm of the orderly.
"I suppose the man's only pay is in such service," rejoined David. "It is a land of backsheesh. The fault is not with the people; it is with the rulers. I am not sorry to share my goods with the poor."
"You'll have a big going concern here in no time," observed Lacey. "Now, if I had those millions I left in Mexico--" Suddenly he stopped. "Is it you that's trying to settle up an estate here--at Assiout--belonged to an uncle?"
David inclined his head.
"They say that you and Prince Kaid are doing the thing yourselves, and that the pashas and judges and all the high-mogul sharks of the Medjidie think that the end of the world has come. Is that so?"
"It is so, if not completely so. There are the poor men and humble--the pashas and judges and the others of the Medjidie, as thee said, are not poor. But such as the orderly yonder--" He paused meditatively.
Lacey looked at David with profound respect. "You make the poorest your partners, your friends. I see, I see. Jerusalem, that's masterly! I admire you. It's a new way in this country." Then, after a moment: "It'll do--by golly, it'll do! Not a bit more costly, and you do some good with it. Yes--it--will--do."
"I have given no man money save in charity and for proper service done openly," said David, a little severely.
"Say--of course. And that's just what isn't done here. Everything goes to him who hath, and from him who hath not is taken away even that which he hath. One does the work and another gets paid--that's the way here. But you, Mr. Claridge, you clinch with the strong man at the top, and, down below, you've got as your partners the poor man, whose name is Legion. If you get a fall out of the man at the top, you're solid with the Legion. And if the man at the top gets up again and salaams and strokes your hand, and says, 'Be my brother,' then it's a full Nile, and the fig-tree putteth forth its tender branches, and the date-palm flourisheth, and at the village pond the thanksgiving turkey gobbles and is glad. 'Selah'!"
The sunset gun boomed out from the citadel. David turned to go, and Lacey added:
"I'm waiting for a pasha who's taking toll of the officers inside there --Achmet Pasha. They call him the Ropemaker, because so many pass through his hands to the Nile. The Old Muslin I call him, because he's so diaphanous. Thinks nobody can see through him, and there's nobody that can't. If you stay long in Egypt, you'll find that Achmet is the worst, and Nahoum the Armenian the deepest, pasha in all this sickening land. Achmet is cruel as a tiger to any one that stands in his way; Nahoum, the whale, only opens out to swallow now and then; but when Nahoum does open out, down goes Jonah, and never comes up again. He's a deep one, and a great artist is Nahoum. I'll bet a dollar you'll see them both to-night at the Palace--if Kaid doesn't throw them to the lions for their dinner before yours is served. Here one shark is swallowed by another bigger, till at last the only and original sea-serpent swallows 'em all."
As David wound his way down the hills, Lacey waved a hand after him.
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