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: 8

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?"


"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?"


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.