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: 3

strain of golden romance, side by side with the lesser metal of practicality. When he began to read the masters he preferred their romances to their novels. He even wrote poetry in secret, and when his mother discovered the fact she cried over the sentimental verses. The father had to be told. He laughed and declared that the boy would some day develop into a good writer of advertisements. This quiet laughter, unburdened as it was with ridicule, was enough to set George's muse a-winging, and she never came back.

After leaving college he was given a modest letter of credit and told to go where he pleased for a whole year. George started out at once in quest of the Holy Grail, and there are more roads to that than there are to Rome. One may be reasonably sure of getting into Rome, whereas the Holy Grail (diversified, variable, innumerable) is always the exact sum of a bunch of hay hanging before old Dobbin's nose. Nevertheless, George galloped his fancies with loose rein. He haunted the romantic quarters of the globe; he hunted romance, burrowed and plowed for it; and never his spade clanged musically against the hidden treasure, never a forlorn beauty in distress, not so much as chapter one of the Golden Book offered its dazzling first page. George lost some confidence.

Two or three times a woman looked into the young man's mind, and in his guilelessness they effected sundry holes in his letter of credit, but left his soul singularly untouched. The red corpuscle, his father's gift, though it lay dormant, subconsciously erected barriers. He was innocent, but he was no fool. That one year taught him the lesson, rather cheaply, too. If there was any romance in life, it came uninvited, and if courted and sought was as quick on the wing as that erstwhile poesy muse.

The year passed, and while he had not wholly given up the quest, the practical George agreed with the romantic Percival to shelve it indefinitely. He returned to New York with thirty-pounds sterling out of the original thousand, a fact that rejuvenated his paternal parent by some ten years.

"Jane, that boy is all right. Percival Algernon could not kill a boy like that."

"Do you mean to infer that it ever could?" Sometimes a qualm wrinkled her conscience. Her mother's heart told her that her son ought not to be shy and bashful, that it was not in the nature of his blood to suspect ridicule where there was none. Perhaps she had handicapped him with those names; but it was too late now to admit of this, and useless, since it would not have remedied the evil.

Jones hemmed and hawed for a space. "No," he answered; "but I was afraid he might try to live up to it; and no Percival Algernon who lived up to it could put his nose down to a Shah Abbas and tell how many knots it had to the square inch. I'll start him in on the job to-morrow."

Whereupon the mother sat back dreamily. Now, where was the girl worthy her boy? Monumental question, besetting every mother, from Eve down, Eve, whose trials in this direction must have been heartrending!

George left the cellar in due time, and after that he went up the ladder in bounds, on his own merit, mind you, for his father never stirred a hand to boost him. He took the interest in rugs that turns a buyer into a collector; it became a fascinating pleasure rather than a business. He became invaluable to the house, and acquired some fame as a judge and an appraiser. When the chief-buyer retired George was given the position, with an itinerary that carried him half way round the planet once a year, to Greece, Turkey, Persia, Arabia, and India, the lands of the genii and the bottles, of arabesques, of temples and tombs, of many-colored turbans and flowing robes and distracting tongues. He walked always in a kind of mental enchantment.

The suave and elusive Oriental, with his sharp practices, found his match in this pleasant young man, who knew the history of the very wools and cottons and silks woven in a rug or carpet. So George prospered, became known in strange places, by strange peoples; and saw romance, light of foot and eager of eye, pass and repass; learned that romance did not essentially mean falling in love or rescuing maidens from burning houses and wrecks; that, on the contrary, true romance was kaleidoscopic, having more brilliant facets than a diamond; and that the man who begins with nothing and ends with something is more wonderful than any excursion recounted by Sinbad or any tale by Scheherazade. But he still hoped that the iridescent goddess would some day touch his shoulder and lead him into that maze of romance so peculiar to his own fancy.

And then into this little world of business and pleasure came death and death again, leaving him alone and with a twisted heart. Riches mattered little, and the sounding title of vice-president still less. It was with a distinct shock that he realized the mother and the father had been with him so long that he had forgotten to make other friends. From one thing to another he turned in hope to soothe the smart, to heal the wound; and after a time he drifted, as all shy, intelligent and imaginative men drift who are friendless, into the silent and intimate comradeship of inanimate things, such as jewels, ivories, old metals, rare woods and ancient embroideries, and perhaps more comforting than all these, good books.

The proper tale of how the aforesaid iridescent goddess jostled (for it scarce may be said that she led) him into a romance lacking neither comedy nor tragedy, now begins with a trifling bit of retrospection. One of those women who were not good and who looked into the clear pool of the boy's mind saw the harmless longing there, and made note, hoping to find profit by her knowledge when the pertinent day arrived. She was a woman so pleasing, so handsome, so adroit, that many a man, older and wiser than George, found her mesh too strong for him. Her plan matured, suddenly and brilliantly, as projects of men and women of her class and caliber without variation do.

Late one December afternoon (to be precise, 1909), George sat on the tea-veranda of the Hotel Semiramis in Cairo. A book lay idly upon his knees. It was one of those yarns in which something was happening every other minute. As adventures go, George had never had a real one in all his twenty-eight years, and he believed that fate had treated him rather shabbily. He didn't quite appreciate her reserve. No matter how late he wandered through the mysterious bazaars, either here in Egypt or over yonder in India, nothing ever befell more exciting than an argument with a carriage-driver. He never carried small-arms, for he would not have known how to use them. The only deadly things in his hands were bass-rods and tennis-racquets. No, nothing ever happened to him; yet he never met a man in a ship's smoke-room who hadn't run the gamut of thrilling experiences. As George wasn't a liar himself, he believed all he saw and most of what he heard.

Well, here he was, eight-and-twenty, a pocket full of money, a heart full of life, and as hopeless an outlook, so far as romance and adventure were concerned, as an old maid in a New England village. Why couldn't things befall him as they did the chap in this book? He was sure he could behave as well, if not better; for this fellow was too handsome, too brave, too strong, not to be something of an ass once in a while.

"George, you old fool, what's the use?" he thought. "What's the use of a desire that never goes in a straight line, but always round and round in a circle?"

He thrust aside his grievance and surrendered to the never-ending wonder of the Egyptian