Hassan came in and began very deliberately to light the four lamps. He muttered to himself and often smiled in the childish manner which characterizes some Egyptians. Hassan wore a red cap, and a white robe confined at the waist by a red sash. On his brown feet he wore loose slippers, also of red. He had good features and made a very picturesque figure moving slowly about his work.
As he lighted lamp after lamp and soft illumination crept about the big room, because of the heavy shadows created the place seemed to become mysteriously enlarged. That it was an Eastern apartment cunningly devised to appeal to the Western eye, one familiar with Arab households must have seen at once. It was a traditional Oriental interior, a stage setting rather than the nondescript and generally uninteresting environment of the modern Egyptian at home.
Brightly coloured divans there were and many silken cushions of strange pattern and design. The hanging lamps were of perforated brass with little coloured glass panels. In carved wooden cabinets stood beautiful porcelain jars, trays, and vessels of silver and copper ware. Rich carpets were spread about the floor, and the draperies were elegant and costly, while two deep windows projecting over the court represented the best period of Arab architecture. Their intricate carven woodwork had once adorned the palace of a Grand Wazir. Agapoulos had bought them in Cairo and had had them fitted to his house in Chinatown. A smaller brass lamp of very delicate workmanship was suspended in each of the recesses.
As Hassan, having lighted the four larger lanterns, was proceeding leisurely to light the first of the smaller ones, draperies before a door at the east end of the room were parted and Agapoulos came in. Agapoulos was a short but portly Greek whom the careless observer might easily have mistaken for a Jew. He had much of the appearance of a bank manager, having the manners of one used to making himself agreeable, but also possessing the money-eye and that comprehensive glance which belongs to the successful man of commerce.
Standing in the centre of the place he brushed his neat black moustache with a plump forefinger. A diamond ring which he wore glittered brilliantly in the coloured rays of the lanterns. With his right hand, which rested in his trouser pocket, he rattled keys. His glance roved about the room appraisingly. Walking to a beautifully carved Arab cabinet he rearranged three pieces of Persian copperware which stood upon it. He moved several cushions, and taking up a leopard skin which lay upon the floor he draped it over an ebony chair which was inlaid intricately with ivory.
The drooping eyelids of M. Agapoulos drooped lower, as returning to the centre of the room he critically surveyed the effect of these master touches. At the moment he resembled a window- dresser, or, rather, one of those high-salaried artists who beautify the great establishments of Regent Street, the Rue de la Paix, and Ruination Avenue, New York.
Hassan lighted the sixth lamp, muttering smilingly all the time. He was about to depart when Agapoulos addressed him in Arabic.
"There will be a party down from the Savoy tonight, Hassan. No one else is to come unless I am told. That accursed red policeman, Kerry, has been about here of late. Be very careful."
Hassan saluted him gravely and retired through one of the draped openings. In his hand he held the taper with which he had lighted the lamps. In order that the draperies should not be singed he had to hold them widely apart. For it had not occurred to Hassan to extinguish the taper. The Egyptian mind is complex in its simplicity.
M. Agapoulos from a gold case extracted a cigarette, and lighting it, inhaled the smoke contentedly, looking about him. The window-dresser was lost again in the bank manager who has arranged a profitable overdraft. Somewhere a bell rang. Hassan, treading silently, reappeared, crossed the room, and opening a finely carved door walked along a corridor which it had concealed. He still carried the lighted taper.
Presently there entered a man whose well-cut serge suit revealed the figure of a soldier. He wore a soft gray felt hat and carried light gloves and a cane. His dark face, bronzed by recent exposure to the Egyptian sun, was handsome in a saturnine fashion, and a touch of gray at the temples tended to enhance his good looks. He carried himself in that kind of nonchalant manner which is not only insular but almost insolent.
M. Agapoulos bowed extravagantly. As he laid his plump hand upon his breast the diamond ring sparkled in a way most opulent and impressive.
"I greet you, Major Grantham," he said. "Behold"--he waved his hand glitteringly--"all is prepared."
"Oh, yes," murmured the other, glancing around without interest; "good. You are beginning to get straight in your new quarters."
Agapoulos extended the prosperous cigarette-case, and Major Grantham took and lighted a superior cigarette.
"How many in the party?" inquired the Greek smilingly.
"Three and myself."
A shadow of a frown appeared upon the face of Agapoulos.
"Only three," he muttered.
Major Grantham laughed.
"You should know me by this time, Agapoulos," he said. "The party is small but exclusive, you understand?"
He spoke wearily, as a tired man speaks of distasteful work which he must do. There was contempt in his voice; contempt of Agapoulos, and contempt of himself.
"Ah!" cried the Greek, brightening; "do I know any of them?"
"Probably. General Sir Francis Payne, Mr. Eddie, and Sir Horace Tipton."
"An Anglo-American party, eh?"
"Quite. Mr. Eddie is the proprietor of the well-known group of American hotels justly celebrated for their great height and poisonous cuisine; while Sir Horace Tipton alike as sportsman, globe-trotter, and soap manufacturer, is characteristically British. Of General Sir Francis Payne I need only say that his home services during the war did incalculable harm to our prestige throughout the Empire."
He spoke with all the bitterness of a man who has made a failure of life. Agapoulos was quite restored to good humour.
"Ahl" he exclaimed, brushing his moustache and rattling his keys; "sportsmen, eh?"
Major Grantham dropped into the carven chair upon which the Greek had draped the leopard skin. Momentarily the window-dresser leapt into life as Agapoulos beheld one of his cunning effects destroyed, but he forced a smile when Grantham, shrugging his shoulders, replied:
"If they are fools enough to play--the usual 5 per cent, on the bank's takings."
He paused, glancing at some ash upon the tip of his cigarette. Agapoulos swiftly produced an ashtray and received the ash on it in the manner of a churchwarden collecting half a crown from a pew-holder.
"I think," continued Grantham indifferently, "that it will be the dances. Two of them are over fifty."
"Ah!" said Agapoulos thoughtfully; "not, of course, the ordinary programme?"
Major Grantham looked up at him with lazy insolence.
"Why ask?" he inquired. "Does Lucullus crave for sausages? Do philosophers play marbles?"
He laughed again, noting the rather blank look of Agapoulos.
"You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?" he added. "I mean to say that these men have been everywhere and done everything. They have drunk wine sweet and sour and have swallowed the dregs. I am bringing them. It is enough."
"More than enough," declared the Greek with enthusiasm. He bowed, although Grantham was not looking at him. "In the little matter of fees I can rely upon your discretion, as always. Is it not said that a good dragoman is a desirable husband?"
Major Grantham resettled himself in his chair.
"M. Agapoulos," he said icily, "we have done shady business together for years, both in Port Said and in London, and have remained the best of friends; two blackguards linked by our common villainy. But if this pleasant commercial acquaintance is to continue let there be no misunderstanding between us, M. Agapoulos. I may know I'm a dragoman; but in future, old friend"--he turned lazy eyes upon the Greek--"for your guidance, don't remind me of the fact or I'll wring your neck."
The drooping eyelids of M. Agapoulos flickered significantly, but it was with a flourish more grand than usual that he bowed.
"Pardon, pardon," he murmured. "You speak harshly of yourself, but ah, you do not mean it. We understand each other, eh?"
"I understand you perfectly," drawled Grantham; "I was merely advising you to endeavour to understand me. My party will arrive at nine o'clock, Agapoulos, and I am going back to the Savoy shortly to dress. Meanwhile, if Hassan would bring me a whisky and soda I should be obliged."
"Of course, of course. He shall do so at once," cried Agapoulos. "I will tell him."
Palpably glad to escape, the fat Greek retired, leaving Major Grantham lolling there upon the leopard skin, his hat, cane and gloves upon the carpet beside him; and a few moments later Hassan the silent glided into the extravagant apartment bearing refreshments. Placing his tray upon a little coffee-table beside Major Grantham, he departed.
There was a faint smell of perfume in the room, a heavy voluptuous smell in which the odour of sandal-wood mingled with the pungency of myrrh. It was very silent, so that when Grantham mixed a drink the pleasant chink of glass upon glass rang out sharply.