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- The Weavers, Volume 4. - 5/13 -
Mahommed nodded, but his look was now alert, and less sombre. He had caught at something vital and confident in Lacey's tone. He drew nearer, and listened closely.
"Well, now, my gentle gazelle, listen unto me," continued Lacey. He suddenly leaned forward, and spoke in subdued but rapid tones. "Say, Mahommed, once upon a time there was an American man, with a shock of red hair, and a nature like a spring-lock. He went down to Mexico, with a million or two of his own money got honestly by an undisputed will from an undisputed father--you don't understand that, but it doesn't matter-- and with a few millions of other people's money, for to gamble in mines and railways and banks and steamship companies--all to do with Mexico what the Saadat has tried to do in Egypt with less money; but not for the love of Allah, same as him. This American was going to conquer like Cortez, but his name was Thomas Tilman Lacey, and he had a lot of gall. After years of earnest effort, he lost his hair and the millions of the Infatuated Conquistadores. And by-and-by he came to Cairo with a thimbleful of income, and began to live again. There was a civil war going on in his own country, but he thought that one out of forty millions would not be strictly missed. So he stayed in Egypt; and the tale of his days in Egypt, is it not written with a neboot of domwood in the book of Mahommed Hassan the scribe?"
He paused and beamed upon the watchful Mahommed, who, if he did not understand all that had been said, was in no difficulty as to the drift and meaning of the story.
"Aiwa, effendi," he urged impatiently. "It is a long ride to the Etl Tree, and the day is far spent."
"Inshallah, you shall hear, my turtle-dove! One day there came to Cairo, in great haste, a man from Mexico, looking for the foolish one called T. T. Lacey, bearing glad news. And the man from Mexico blew his trumpet, and straightway T. T. Lacey fell down dismayed. The trumpet said that a million once lost in Mexico was returned, with a small flock of other millions; for a mine, in which it was sunk, had burst forth with a stony stream of silver. And behold! Thomas Tilman Lacey, the despised waster of his patrimony and of other people's treasure, is now, O son of the fig-flower, richer than Kaid Pasha and all his eunuchs."
Suddenly Mahommed Hassan leaned forward, then backward, and, after the fashion of desert folk, gave a shrill, sweet ululation that seemed to fill the palace.
"Say, that's A1," Lacey said, when Mahommed's voice sank to a whisper of wild harmony. "Yes, you can lick my boots, my noble sheikh of Manfaloot," he added, as Mahommed caught his feet and bent his head upon them. "I wanted to do something like that myself. Kiss 'em, honey; it'll do you good."
After a moment, Mahommed drew back and squatted before him in an attitude of peace and satisfaction. "The Saadat--you will help him? You will give him money?"
"Let's put it in this way, Mahommed: I'll invest in an expedition out of which I expect to get something worth while--concessions for mines and railways, et cetera." He winked a round, blue eye. "Business is business, and the way to get at the Saadat is to talk business; but you can make up your mind that,
"'To-morrow, we are pulling stakes for Shendy! Are you coming to my party, O Nahoum?'"
"By the prophet Abraham, but the news is great news," said Mahommed with a grin. "But the Effendina?"
"Well, I'll try and square the Effendina," answered Lacey. "Perhaps the days of backsheesh aren't done in Egypt, after all."
"And Nahoum Pasha?" asked Mahommed, with a sinister look.
"Well, we'll try and square him, too, but in another way."
"The money, it is in Egypt?" queried Mahommed, whose idea was that money to be real must be seen. "Something that's as handy and as marketable," answered Lacey. "I can raise half a million to-morrow; and that will do a lot of what we want. How long will it take to ride to the monastery?"
Mahommed told him.
Lacey was about to leave the room, when he heard a voice outside. "Nahoum!" he said, and sat down again on the divan. "He has come to see the Saadat, I suppose; but it'll do him good to see me, perhaps. Open the sluices, Mahommed."
Yes, Nahoum would be glad to see the effendi, since Claridge Pasha was not in Cairo. When would Claridge Pasha return? If, then, the effendi expected to see the Saadat before his return to Cairo, perhaps he would convey a message. He could not urge his presence on the Saadat, since he had not been honoured with any communication since yesterday.
"Well, that's good-mannered, anyhow, pasha," said Lacey with cheerful nonchalance. "People don't always know when they're wanted or not wanted."
Nahoum looked at him guardedly, sighed and sat down. "Things have grown worse since yesterday," he said. "Prince Kaid received the news badly." He shook his head. "He has not the gift of perfect friendship. That is a Christian characteristic; the Muslim does not possess it. It was too strong to last, maybe--my poor beloved friend, the Saadat."
"Oh, it will last all right," rejoined Lacey coolly. "Prince Kaid has got a touch of jaundice, I guess. He knows a thing when he finds it, even if he hasn't the gift of 'perfect friendship,' same as Christians like you and me. But even you and me don't push our perfections too far --I haven't noticed you going out of your way to do things for your 'poor beloved friend, the Saadat'."
"I have given him time, energy, experience--money."
Lacey nodded. "True. And I've often wondered why, when I've seen the things you didn't give and the things you took away."
Nahoum's eyes half closed. Lacey was getting to close quarters with suspicion and allusion; but it was not his cue to resent them yet.
"I had come now to offer him help; to advance him enough to carry through his expedition."
"Well, that sounds generous, but I guess he would get on without it, pasha. He would not want to be under any more obligations to you."
"He is without money. He must be helped."
"He cannot go to the treasury, and Prince Kaid has refused. Why should he decline help from his friend?" Suddenly Lacey changed his tactics. He had caught a look in Nahoum's eyes which gave him a new thought. "Well, if you've any proposition, pasha, I'll take it to him. I'll be seeing him to-night."
"I can give him fifty thousand pounds."
"It isn't enough to save the situation, pasha."
"It will help him over the first zareba."
"Are there any conditions?" "There are no conditions, effendi." "And interest?"
"There would be no interest in money."
"Yes, other considerations, effendi."
"If they were granted, would there be enough still in the stocking to help him over a second zareba--or a third, perhaps?"
"That would be possible, even likely, I think. Of course we speak in confidence, effendi."
"The confidence of the 'perfect friendship.'"
"There may be difficulty, because the Saadat is sensitive; but it is the only way to help him. I can get the money from but one source; and to get it involves an agreement."
"You think his Excellency would not just jump at it--that it might hurt some of his prejudices, eh?"
"And me--where am I in it, pasha?"
"Thou hast great influence with his Excellency."
"I am his servant--I don't meddle with his prejudices, pasha."
"But if it were for his own good, to save his work here."
Lacey yawned almost ostentatiously. "I guess if he can't save it himself it can't be saved, not even when you reach out the hand of perfect friendship. You've been reaching out for a long time, pasha, and it didn't save the steamer or the cotton-mills; and it didn't save us when we were down by Sobat a while ago, and you sent Halim Bey to teach us to be patient. We got out of that nasty corner by sleight of hand, but not your sleight of hand, pasha. Your hand is a quick hand, but a sharp eye can see the trick, and then it's no good, not worth a button."
There was something savage behind Nahoum's eyes, but they did not show it; they blinked with earnest kindness and interest. The time would come when Lacey would go as his master should go, and the occasion was not far off now; but it must not be forced. Besides, was this fat, amorous- looking factotum of Claridge Pasha's as Spartan-minded as his master? Would he be superior to the lure of gold? He would see. He spoke seriously, with apparent solicitude.
"Thou dost not understand, effendi. Claridge Pasha must have money. Prestige is everything in Egypt, it is everything with Kaid. If Claridge Pasha rides on as though nothing has happened--and money is the only horse that can carry him--Kaid will not interfere, and his black mood may pass; but any halting now and the game is done."
"And you want the game to go on right bad, don't you? Well, I guess you're right. Money is the only winner in this race. He's got to have money, sure. How much can you raise? Oh, yes, you told me! Well, I don't think it's enough; he's got to have three times that; and if he can't get it from the Government, or from Kaid, it's a bad lookout.
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