And that's why," Ryanne declared, "I wanted you to look at it. To me, considering what I have gone through to get it, to me it is the genuine carpet. To your expert eye it may be only a fine copy. I know this much, that rare rugs and paintings have many copies, and that some one is being hooked, sold, bamboozled, sandbagged, every day in the week. If this is the real article, I want you to take it off my hands," the adventurer finished pleasantly.
"There will be a hue and cry."
"No doubt of it."
"And the devil's own job to get it out of Egypt." These were set phrases of the expert, preliminaries to bargaining. "One might as well carry round a stolen elephant."
"But a man who is as familiar with the game as you are would have little difficulty. Your integrity is an established fact, on both sides of the water. You could take it to New York as a copy, and no appraiser would know the difference. It's worth the attempt. I'd take it to New York myself, but you see, I am flat broke. Come; what do you or I care about a son-of-a-gun of a Turk?" drolly.
"What do you want for it, supposing it's genuine?" George's throat was dry and his voice harsh. His conscience roused herself, feebly, for it had been a long time since occasion had necessitated her presence.
Ryanne narrowed his eyes, carefully balancing the possibilities. "Say, one thousand pounds. It is like giving it away. But when the devil drives, you know. It is beyond any set price; it is worth what any collector is willing to pay for it. I believe I know the kind of man you are, Mr. Jones, and that is why, when I learned you were in Cairo, I came directly to you. You would never sell this rug. No. You would become like a miser over his gold. You would keep it with your emeralds (I have heard about them, too); draw the curtains, lock the doors, whenever you looked at it. Eh? You would love it for its own sake, and not because it is worth so many thousand pounds. You are sailing in a few days; that will help. The Pasha is in Constantinople, and it will be three or four weeks before he hears of the theft, or the cost," with a certain grimness.
"You haven't killed any one?" whispered George.
"I don't know; perhaps. Christianity against paganism; the Occidental conscience permits it." Ryanne made a gesture to indicate that he would submit to whatever moral arraignment Mr. Jones deemed advisable to make.
But George made none. He rose hastily, sought his knife and, without so much as by your leave, slashed the twine, flung aside the paper, and threw the rug across the counterpane. It was the Yhiordes. There was not the slightest doubt in his mind. He had heard it described, he had seen a photograph of it, he knew its history and, most vital of all, he owned a good copy of it.
Against temptation that was robust and energetic and alluring (like the man who insists upon your having a drink when you want it and ought not to have it), what chance had conscience, grown innocuous in the long period of the young man's good behavior? Collectors are always honest before and after that moment arrives when they want something desperately; and George was no more saintly than his kind. And how deep Ryanne and his confederates had delved into human nature, how well they could read and judge it, was made manifest in this moment of George's moral relapse.