قراءة كتاب The Carpet from Bagdad

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‏اللغة: English
The Carpet from Bagdad

The Carpet from Bagdad

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

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.



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