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HOME > Classical Novels > The Last Egyptian > CHAPTER VII. A STEP TOWARD THE GOAL.
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Kāra wandered about the streets. Cairo is a marvel to the most blasé traveler; it could not fail to impress an inexperienced native. But the Egyptian masked the astonishment under an expression cold and reserved and a manner dignified and undemonstrative. No one must suspect he was fresh from the desert and the Nile country. The shops of the jewelers especially attracted his attention, and he stopped many times to examine the splendid gems displayed in the windows. Some were priced, and he wondered at their value. It is said that no capital in the world contains so many rare and costly gems as Cairo.

In the evening he crossed the great bridge of Isma’il Pasha to the island of Gizireh, staring at the procession of carriages, camels, automobiles and donkeys that at twilight followed on one another’s heels. In the carriages and automobiles rode Syrians, Turks, Copts and Arabs, clothed in conventional European dress, save for the red fez everywhere prevalent. The burnous and native dress had been abandoned by these aristocrats, and this met with Kāra’s full approval. He was not averse to innovations upon the ancient customs in which he had been reared. If the dominant people of his country and age were English, then the manners and{84} customs of the English should be adopted by those who wished to compete with them in importance.

Also he began to understand that it is more dignified to ride than to walk. At Gizireh he hailed a carriage and in it returned across the bridge, avoiding the dust and heat and mingling with a procession of beautifully costumed women and handsomely dressed men. His own costume was poor enough in comparison, but his magnificent chain drew the eye of more than one curious observer.

And now Cairo was ablaze with lights, and the population seemed gathered upon the sidewalks before the cafés and restaurants. Kāra discovered that he was hungry. He dismissed his carriage and seated himself at one of the outdoor tables, ordering liberal refreshment. Opposite him sat a young English girl with a vacant-faced man for escort. Kāra, as he ate, examined this girl critically, for she was the first of her class he had seen at close range. Her dress was dainty and beautiful; but she was not fat at all. She was vivacious, and talked and laughed with unrestrained liberty. She seemed to imagine herself on an equality with the man beside her, who, despite his inanity, was still a man. Altogether, Kāra was disappointed in her, although his grandmother had warned him that the training of European women imbued them with peculiar ideas, to which he must defer in his association with them.

As he watched the girl, Nephthys rose several degrees in Kāra’s estimation. Nephthys was certainly
Image unavailble: In the evening he crossed the great bridge of Isma’il Pasha to the island of Gizireh
In the evening he crossed the great bridge of Isma’il Pasha to the island of Gizireh


fat and soft of flesh, and she did not talk much. The possession of such a woman was quite desirable, and perhaps he had not paid an extravagant price for Nephthys after all. These independent, chattering Western women must be tolerated, however, until he had accomplished his mission; so it would be well to begin at once to study their ways.

Presently someone touched his shoulder familiarly, causing Kāra to shrink back with an indignant gesture. Tadros, the dragoman, stood smilingly beside him, more gorgeously arrayed than ever. Tadros was in an excellent humor. He had not been obliged to take his roll of papyrus to the museum for a market, but had disposed of it to a private collector for a price far exceeding his expectations, which had not been too modest. Altogether he had made an excellent trade, and there might be other pickings in this unsophisticated fellow-townsman of his, whose very presence in Cairo was warrant that he had money to part with.

Before accosting Kāra the dragoman had observed the change in his appearance and demeanor. The former recluse was no longer disgustingly filthy, but seemed clean in person and was gowned in a snowy and respectable burnous. The objectionable turban had given place to the fez; the red slippers were of excellent morocco. Best of all, the chain around his neck was rich and heavy and of remarkable workmanship. Kāra was not only presentable, but his manner was dignified and well bred.{86}

All this indicated suddenly acquired wealth—that mysterious old Hatatcha must have left to her grandson much more than the papyrus rolls; and although Kāra might endeavor to be secret and uncommunicative, he was bound to betray himself before very long. Now was the heated term, and even gay Cairo was listless and enervated. The dragoman would have ample leisure to pick this bone skilfully before the tourist season arrived.

Kāra’s first angry exclamation was followed by a word of greeting. He was glad Tadros had found him, for as yet he had secured no place of residence, and the bigness of the city somewhat bewildered him in spite of his assumed reserve.

The dragoman agreed to take him to a respectable rooming-house much frequented by Copts of the better class. When they had arrived there, Kāra’s guide made a mystic sign to the proprietor, who promptly charged his new guest double the usual rate, and obtained it because the Egyptian was unaware he was being robbed. The room assigned him was a simply furnished, box-like affair; yet Kāra had never before occupied an apartment so luxurious. He examined the door with care and was pleased to find that it was supplied with a stout bolt as well as a lock and key.

“Now,” said the dragoman, “it is yet early; we have barely crossed the edge of the evening. I will take you to the theatre to see the dancing girls, and later to a house where they wager money upon a singular and{87} interesting game of red and black. We can afterward eat our supper at a restaurant and listen to a fine band composed of Hungarian gypsies. How will that suit you?”

“Not at all,” replied Kāra, coldly. “I am going to bed. Be here to receive my orders at seven o’clock in the morning.”

Tadros fairly gasped with astonishment.

“Seven o’clock is too early,” he said, a little sullenly. “The city is asleep at that hour.”

“When does it awaken?”

“Well, the shops are open at about nine.”

“Come to me, then, at nine. Good night.”

This summary dismissal was a severe disappointment to the dragoman, yet he had no alternative but to take his leave. Strange that Kāra had refused the dancing girls and the game table; but perhaps he was really tired. Tadros must not expect too much from his innocent at first.

At nine o’clock the next morning he found that the young Egyptian had breakfasted and was impatiently awaiting him.

“Take me to the leading jeweler in town,” said Kāra.

The dragoman frowned, but presently brightened again and took his employer to a second-rate shop, where his commissions were assured.

“Not here,” said Kāra. “I have seen much better shops.”{88}

Tadros tried again, but with no better success; so he altered his plans and took Kāra direct to Andalaft’s, trusting to luck to exact a commission afterward.

“Now, then,” said he, briskly, “what shall we examine first?”

But Kāra ignored him, asking to see the proprietor in private. Mr. Andalaft graciously consented to the interview, and when the Egyptian entered the great jeweler’s private room Tadros was left outside.

Kāra laid a splendid ruby upon the merchant’s table. The latter pounced upon it with an eager exclamation.

“It is very old,” said the Egyptian. “Tell me, sir, is there any one in Cairo who can recut it in the modern fashion?”

“But it will be a shame to alter this exquisite gem,” protested Andalaft. “It is the square, flat cutting of the ancients, and shows the stone to be absolutely pure and flawless. Such specimens are rare in these days. Let it alone.”

Kāra shook his head with positiveness.

“I must have it recut,” said he, “and by the best man obtainable.”

“Ah, that is Van der Veen, the Hollander. He does all my important work. But Van der Veen will himself argue against the desecration. He is a man of judgment.”

“Where can I find him?” asked the prince.

The merchant reflected.{89}

“I will give you a letter to him,” said he. “If the stone must be recut, I want Van der Veen to do it himself. He has three sons who are all expert workmen, but no one in the world can excel the father.”

He wrote the note, addressed it, and gave it to Kāra. Then he again picked up the ruby and examined it.

“If you would but sell it,” he suggested, with hesitation, “I could secure for you a liberal price. The Khedive has placed with me an order for a necklace of the ancient Egyptian gems; but in two years I have been unable to secure more than three stones, none of which compare with this in size or beauty. Allow me.”

He opened a drawer and displayed the three antique stones—two emeralds and an amethyst. Kāra smiled, and putting his hand in a pocket underneath his burnous, he drew out five more rubies, but little inferior in size to the one he had first shown.

“Tell me,” said he, “what price you will pay for these, to add to the Khedive’s necklace.”

Andalaft was amazed, but concealed his joy and eagerness as much as possible. Carefully he examined the gems under a glass and then weighed each one in his scales.

“I will give you,” said he, after figuring a little, “four hundred pounds for the five stones.”

Kāra shrugged his shoulders and picked up the rubies.

“That may be the price for ordinary gems,” he remarked; “but their age and cutting give these an{90} added value. I am holding them at eight hundred pounds.”

The merchant smiled.

“It is easy to understand,” said he, with politeness, “that you are a connoisseur of precious stones; but, because you love the antique, your partiality induces you to place an undue value upon your rubies. Come! let us say six hundred.”

“I will not bargain,” returned the Egyptian; “nor do I urge you to buy. If you cannot afford to pay my price I will keep the rubies,” and he made a motion to gather them up.

“Stay!” exclaimed the jeweler. “What does it matter? The Khedive wishes them, and I must make the sacrifice for his pleasure.”

With a hand he vainly endeavored to render steady he wrote a check for the sum demanded, and Kāra took it and went away. Andalaft had made an excellent bargain; yet the Egyptian, for all his cleverness, did not know that he had been victimized.

At the house of the diamond-cutter, on a quiet side street at the lower end of the Mouski, Kāra had a long interview with Van der Veen and his three sons. As a result they agreed, after examining the magnificent diamonds shown them, to devote their exclusive services to Prince Kāra for a full year, he promising to keep them busy with the work of recutting his collection of ancient gems.

Afterward he sent Tadros with notes to Gerald{91} Winston and the banker, informing them of his temporary address, as he had promised. Then he had an excellent luncheon and smoked a Cuban cigar. In the afternoon he followed his imploring dragoman into several shops where he made simple purchases, and returned early to his hotel to find Winston impatiently awaiting him.

“You must accompany me at once to see my friend Professor Daressy, with whom I am already disputing concerning the new papyri. He is much interested in your method of interpreting the manuscripts, but requires a better proof of its accuracy than I can give him. Will you come?”

“It will give me pleasure,” answered Kāra—he drove with Winston to the curator’s house. His knowledge of the hieroglyphics was well founded, and he was not averse to an argument with the two savants. Indeed, they found his explanations so clear and concise that they were equally amazed and delighted.

The Egyptian dined with them in a private room, where the discussion could not be interrupted, and it was late in the evening when he returned thoughtfully to his own humble lodging.

“Tadros,” said he, “find me a comfortable house in a good part of the city. Something like that of Professor Daressy will do.”

“It will cost a lot of money,” objected the dragoman.

“Never mind; I will pay the price,” returned the prince, haughtily.{92}

So the next day Tadros rented a furnished house near the Ezbekieh Gardens for twelve hundred piastres a month, and charged Kāra two thousand piastres for it. The prince moved in, and for three or four weeks devoted himself to watching the Van der Veens recut his treasures, to long conversations with those Egyptologists who were spending the heated term in Cairo, and to a study of the collection of ancient relics in the great museum which Maspero had founded under Said Pasha. Incidentally he observed the social life and manners of those with whom he came in contact, and acquired a polish of his own in a surprisingly short period.

At the end of the month he returned to Fedah, taking his dragoman with him. Tadros went without protest, for he was making excellent profits from his old-time friend and had perfected a system of robbery that almost doubled Prince Kāra’s expenses.

They traveled by train and crossed the river in a boat, arriving in the evening at the tiny village. Tadros carried Kāra’s large traveling case and walked behind him, as was fitting in a paid retainer.

And so they entered the narrow street of the village, where all the dozen or so inhabitants stood in their doorways to stare and nod gravely at their returned fellow-citizens.

Kāra bade his dragoman leave the luggage in his own dwelling and seek a lodging for himself with old Nefert or Amenka. He then walked on to where S?ra and her daughter awaited him.{93}

He pinched Nephthys’ fat cheeks, felt of her round bare arms, and finally kissed her lips, declaring that she was steadily improving in condition and would put to shame many of the women of Cairo.

Nephthys allowed the caresses listlessly, her eyes only brightening slightly when the gaily dressed dragoman came near and stood watching the proceedings. He wore a green jacket with gold embroidery to-day, and the girl observed it with evident approval.

“I sold her too cheaply, Kāra,” remarked the dragoman, stroking his thin mustache reflectively.

“In that I do not agree with you,” answered Kāra.

“I will pay double the price for her return,” said Tadros.

“The girl is not for sale. And see here, my man, keep your hands off her while you are in Fedah, or I will be obliged to kill you.”

“Never fear; I know my duties,” replied the dragoman, turning on his heel. It would not be wise to offend Kāra just now. The bone was not yet picked.

Nephthys put on her spangled gown and sat upon Kāra’s knee, while her mother brought cakes and milk for their refreshment. Kāra threw a chain of beads over the girl’s head, and she laughed for very pleasure. S?ra felt of the beads and counted them. They were blue, and had cost five piastres, but the two women were delighted with them and would enjoy their possession for many days.

It was late when Kāra left S?ra’s hut.{94}

“In the winter,” said he, “I will doubtless come for the girl and take her to Cairo. Then you shall have the rest of your money. Meantime, here is backshish to console you.”

He gave her a piece of gold—the first she had ever possessed—and went away to his dwelling.

“Nephthys,” said the mother, “I am proud of you. You have made us both rich!”

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