Puslapio vaizdai

crawl on to the tram and crawl off again when it stopped quite close to the door of that hospitable Mrs. Todd. Her husband had a job at the Tanzim, -it's the department that tries to keep the place clean,-rather a business, with everybody chewing sugarcane and eating melon and throwing what they can't swallow into the street. There was Mrs. Todd, with her husband and the two children; but they don't matter much, except that they were very kind.

"When we'd lunched and got into our pajamas, and plump little Mrs. Todd into a muslin wrapper, and when I'd slept and sweated in the darkened room, with all its shutters closed, and had a cold shower and drunk a cup or two of tea, then I 'd get my second wind and go out to explore. Cairo was mysterious to me in those days, before I could understand their Arabic and think their thoughts and speak and listen. It was all wonderful and rather fearful. Yes, sometimes it gave me the blue funks. When you're the only white man among crowds and crowds of natives you 'll understand what I mean.

"The old Moslem city beyond the Ezbekiah and ending at the tombs and gates and flowing round the citadel fascinated and lured me. This world was new to me, as it was to you. We lived close by Kasr el Nil, all dull and European, and I would get on a tram and hop off at Gamamiz or the junction outside the Mousky, and then I'd prowl. One walked a few yards, and Europe was ended. At first I used a guide-book with a map and found the great mosques. I began with Ibn Tulun, and I 'll never forget it-that vast and surprising courtyard under the fiery blue. The size of it!

And you find it so unexpectedly, off a tangle of narrow alleys. It's like the one at Mecca, and somehow, the first time, I seemed to see it packed with bloody-minded fanatics listening to the word and feverish with their hate against the infidel. Really, it was always empty and always dead; no one prays in an old mosque if they can find a new one. Sometimes you found the peace of God there, and sometimes the place and the ghosts you saw in it got on one's nerves. I remember the first time. There were women in a nearby house exorcising a devil, howling and shrieking as though they themselves were possessed. You could see nothing; you were only aware of that infernal din. I seemed back in the Dark Ages, or as though I had wandered away into some wild corner of the Hebrew Bible; and there was a little Egyptian I had picked up with beside me, apologizing. He was distressed because he thought I might fancy his compatriots were uncivilized. But they are; that's the charm of them to us who try to escape our chains.

"And there was the Sultan Hasan Mosque, the perfect mosque, so beautiful that it hit you like a woman loved at sight. Arab art reached its climax here, could go no further; it has never reached that perfection since, will never touch it or come near it. Coldly, you may realize that the thing is mathematics, an arrangement of lines and curves, and lacking the warm humanism we breathe into our masterpieces. But that great mosque justifies everything; for Arab art can do no more than that, has said its say. I stood under the dome and gloated, and the same little Egyptian I had picked up with was pleased because I was

pleased, and flattered and conciliated. "The other mosques were mostly repetitions; so when I had seen enough of them I dropped them out and simply passed away my evenings in the streets-those narrow, unpaved streets, two camels wide, where it never rains, and where life is a perpetual procession. I knew most of them between the citadel and the towers and walls that Saladin built-the whole breadth of the city. I had no money worth mentioning, and the bazaars did not greatly tempt me: but these strange, chattering, light-hearted people, these men in gowns, caftans, and colored slippers, with their mysterious affairs that I could never follow; these smiling women, with their black garments, their black veils, a metal cylinder on their nose, their bare bosoms, and feet on which shone anklets-they all filled me with a wonder which it took long to outgrow. At the end of many a vista was the gray bulk of Mokattam, those starved and naked hills that always reminded me of a back curtain in a theater. The light would grow less and less, the dusk would come swiftly, and I would be tired from constant looking and wondering and prowling; and then sometimes the whole place would become sinister and dark, and I would feel that all those people hated me, the interloper. I might disappear quite easily. In those narrow streets, those haphazard byways, who would find me, who would ever know? I felt sometimes like an animal enmeshed, and was glad to come out into an open street, with policemen and lighted lamps.

"Of course it was my imagination. Just as in Ibn Tulun I had filled the great courtyard with a horde of bloody-minded fanatics, so in these

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"The summer went at last, and we could breathe more freely. The great heat was over, and the man whose place I had taken returned from Europe. I was now out of a job, but I had no difficulty in finding a new one. Indeed, I had my choice. There was a man I had met-his name was Marini, and he was a mixture of all kinds, a true Levantine, though he spoke French better than either Greek or Arabic or Italian, and for some unknown reason he had chosen to call himself a British subject. All these mongrels put themselves under the protection of foreign consulates.

"This Marini was an enterprising chap. He owned a second-rate hotel, a third-rate music-hall, a gamblinghouse, an Oriental carpet-shop, and various other trifles. With the tourist season approaching, he had decided on a further venture. It was before the days of cars and the internal-combustion engine. He proposed to open a first-class livery-stable where the tourists could hire carriages and horses. It was all to be done very smartly— Arab ponies, open coupés, and a bright dress for the drivers. He had bought the coupés in Paris, and he could lay his hand on stables, horse-flesh, and the men. Would I go into it and be his manager? As most of the tourists were British or American, he wanted some one who could deal with them in their own language. It was to be beyond anything of the kind ever seen in Cairo. He was eloquent and persuasive, a man of imagination.

"I took it on because I was n't tired of Cairo, not by a long chalk; and after sticking out the summer, I wanted to spend the winter and see the city full and at its best. The Todd family agreed with me, but warned me not to trust Marini; so I said that if he paid me each month's wages in advance, I'd take it on. He agreed to that. He was glad to get hold of me, for I understood horses, which he did not, and now I knew enough Arabic to run a stable-yard of men. We came to an agreement, and he found me an office and furniture and a brass plate and a telephone, then quite new in Cairo; but if we were to be at the disposal of the tourists in the hotels, then the first thing was to put in a telephone. I drew my month's wages in advance as well, and Marini, once we got going, being fully occupied with his other and ever-increasing enterprises, left me pretty much to do as I pleased.

"He was a curious fellow, restless, never satisfied. In Europe or America he would have become a millionaire or a stupendous bankrupt. He wanted He wanted to have a finger in everything, and he felt that if anybody started a scheme in Cairo without his assistance, he was being defrauded of his dues. He had a share in somebody's auction-rooms, he was in partnership with a man who sold dubious antiquities, he was a member of the stock exchange, and he owned a casino on the sea-coast farther north. At the same time he was always getting into trouble with the wives and daughters of his friends, who blackmailed him unmercifully and followed him and made scenes. That was why he was so often short of ready money, he would explain to me. A curious, unblushing rascal, he was,

and always very frank about his troubles. He had three wives and families between Cairo and Alexandria, and I said to him that a man of his temperament ought to become a Moslem and be done with it. It would come far cheaper, and he 'd be perfectly respectable. But he had a queer fear of the social consequences of such a step. He had social ambitions, and one day, when he was rich enough, he said, he 'd clear off to Europe and start over again there, where nobody would know him. As a matter of fact, he came a most awful cropper after the land boom which followed later, and had a stroke, and finished his life in a chair. But just now Marini was in high fettle and had given me charge of his newest enterprise.

"I sat in my private office most of the day and answered the telephone and kept the accounts, or, when I was tired of that, I strolled into the yard and jollied up the grooms and washers and coachmen, and kept an eye on the horses and saw that our carriages were turned out spick and span. And I'd chaff the Arab women who came after the dung, which they dried for fuel.

"We made headway, for really and truly we beat the old gharry-drivers hollow and everybody else, and a coupé from Marini's was almost as good as a private turnout and often better. The tourists took to us,-I fixed that with Cook's, and I'd bribed every hotel porter and even some of the native Egyptians, those lovers of new things, and came in and gave us orders, though rather distressed about our charges, and inclined to tumble in ten at a time when we sent round to them.

"It was a peaceful, regular life for me, and I seemed settled to it; and

soon I got a clerk to do the donkeywork, while I saw Cairo in the winter, when the city is gay and cool and full of bustle. And now that I knew some Arabic and could find my way around alone and understood most of what I saw and heard, I used to go to the Egyptian theaters and the concerts where they danced and sang. The audiences amused me. Most often I was the only European in the place, and there was that perfervid audience, wild with ecstasy when Yasmina sang her few lines and her voice dropped and she sang again, barely interrupting the musicians who were playing for her. They went on, and every now and then, with an indescribable languor, she would join in with three or four love-sick verses; and when it had gone on for some little time, half the Gyppos in the hall, young and old, were offering her their hearts, their hands, their treasure, with passionate outcries and gesticulations. She sat quite still and took no notice of them. And then a special attendant would go round yelling, 'Shut up!' and quieting them, so that the concert could go on again and work up to a new explosion. There was a similar lady in the place near the station, equally plump, equally indifferent, and full of the same languor and voluptuousness. My little Egyptian friend Fahmy would sometimes go with me and sit, all eyes and ears. And when the declarations began, and old men in dirty galabiahs and fat men in caftans and bucks in European clothes howled their undying affection and smote their hearts, and the attendant at last went round yelling, 'Shut up!' he seemed to catch my point of view and laughed with me; but he never seemed to understand

that in my eyes even the great Yasmina, who sat unveiled, was fat and ugly and rather ridiculous, with her bleached hair and made-up face and her overpowering jewelry.

§ 3

"I was attracted, and in a way fascinated, by this native life, so close to the ground, so near to savagery and all the primary emotions. It was not the same life that is offered to the tourists, who see only the horrible things that are done to catch the money of the infidel. I had not fathomed the life, and it needed a spark, some personal touch, to make it start into reality. I was outside it all, and looked likely to remain so. But the touch, the spark, whatever it was, came: it came quite suddenly. You remember there was a telephone on my office wall. wall. I approached it one day. I rang up the exchange and gave the number of our grain merchant. The girl at the exchange-one spoke in French to her-put me through to the wrong number. That had happened before, and it was not the last time. I heard a voice at the other end, and I began in English: 'Mr. Vignolles, speaking from Marini's stables, and I want Mr. Coronakis.'

"Instead of the plump Greek with whom I was about to place an order, I heard a ripple of laughter, and next in French:

"'You are an Englishman? I would like to speak with an Englishman; but I speak little English. "Ow you do?" I can say; and, "I am very well."'

"I was puzzled at the moment, but soon I tumbled to it. I had been put through to some stranger, evidently a lady, with time on her hands and perhaps of a coquettish turn. The situa

tion amused me, and I dare say I answered in kind. When one is young and not especially busy-but she had gone on with it.

"You are a tourist?' she next asked.
"No, I live in Cairo.'
"Mashallah!' she cried.

"That is better.' And next, 'You are in the Government?'

"No, I govern myself,' I answered. "She laughed at that. She must have laughed very easily.

"You are an Englishman and you live in Cairo and you are not in the Government. Ah, you are an officer of the army?'

"Not even a simple soldier,' I replied.

"She hesitated; and then said: "You are an archæologist; you look for mummies,' she cried, evidently quite pleased with herself. "Tiens, I have guessed right?' she asked.

"No, you 've guessed wrong,' I answered very ungallantly.

"And then an idea struck her.
"Perhaps you are in business?'
"Bravo!' I cried.

"She asked me all about it, just as an inquisitive child might do, and I told her of Marini's and the stables and the horses and the carriages and how I passed my time.

"When I had done, she said:

"It is not very chic-not very elegant. Still, you are an Englishman, are you not?'

"Is that elegant?' I asked her. ""They always speak the truth,' said she, 'do they not? "Parole d'un "Parole d'un Anglais," she quoted. she quoted. It was all, seemingly, that she knew about us, but she was eager to learn more. 'Will you speak to me every day, Mr. Englishman?' she asked me. ""Try me,' I answered.

"Well, to-morrow at four o'clock. What is your number?'

"I gave it to her, and she repeated it, and repeated it once more to make sure. "Till to-morrow,' she said, 'at four o'clock. You will be there?' ""I will.'

"Parole d'un Anglais?' she said and laughed. 'Say it in English?'

"On the word of any young man who loves to listen to a beautiful voice,' I said.

"There was no answer. I waited, I listened, I spoke. All was silence. I hung the receiver up on its hook and rang off.

"It was a ridiculous adventure. Everything in Egypt was ridiculous, it sometimes seemed. I did not take the affair very seriously. I tried my luck again with Mr. Coronakis, and this time I found him."

Vignolles paused here, I remember.

"It is ridiculous," he exclaimed, "to think that the chance mistake of a girl in the exchange, to think that an absurd instrument like a telephone, could make all the difference."

"Something has to make all the difference," I answered; "if it is n't the telephone, it 's some other accident. But go on with it; I am interrupting you. Did she ring up next day at four?"

"But don't you realize what had happened? I had been put through to a harem; I had been speaking to one of the guarded ones, to one of the hidden pearls, to one of those delicate

ladies who so aroused

ladies who so aroused your admiration, with their white veils and their kohldarkened eyes. And their little hands and feet. I suppose you noticed them as well?"

I had noticed them; but instead of replying directly, I only whistled.

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