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At The Mercy Of Tiberius
by [?]

In a certain year when Dicky Donovan was the one being in Egypt who had any restraining influence on the Khedive, he suddenly asked leave of absence to visit England. Ismail granted it with reluctance, chiefly because he disliked any interference with his comforts, and Dicky was one of them–in some respects the most important.

“My friend,” he said half petulantly to Dicky, as he tossed the plans for a new palace to his secretary and dismissed him, “are you not happy here? Have you not all a prince can give?”

“Highness,” answered Dicky, “I have kith and kin in England. Shall a man forget his native land?” The Khedive yawned, lighted a cigarette, and murmured through the smoke: “Inshallah! It might be pleasant–betimes.”

“I have your Highness’s leave to go?” asked Dicky. “May God preserve your head from harm!” answered Ismail in farewell salutation, and, taking a ring from his finger set with a large emerald, he gave it to Dicky. “Gold is scarce in Egypt,” he went on, “but there are jewels still in the palace–and the Khedive’s promises-to-pay with every money-barber of Europe!” he added, with a cynical sneer, and touched his forehead and his breast courteously as Dicky retired.

Outside the presence Dicky unbuttoned his coat like an Englishman again, and ten minutes later flung his tarboosh into a corner of the room; for the tarboosh was the sign of official servitude, and Dicky was never the perfect official. Initiative was his strong point, independence his life; he loathed the machine of system in so far as he could not command it; he revolted at being a cog in the wheel. Ismail had discovered this, and Dicky had been made a kind of confidential secretary who seldom wrote a line. By his influence with Ismail he had even more power at last than the Chief Eunuch or the valet-de-chambre, before whom the highest officials bowed low. He was hated profoundly by many of the household, cultivated by certain of the Ministers, fawned upon by outsiders, trusted by the Khedive, and entirely believed in by the few Englishmen and Frenchmen who worked for decent administration faithfully but without hope and sometimes with nausea.

It was nausea that had seized upon Dicky at last, nausea and one other thing–the spirit of adventure, an inveterate curiosity. His was the instinct of the explorer, his feet were the feet of the Wandering Jew. He knew things behind closed doors by instinct; he was like a thought-reader in the sure touch of discovery; the Khedive looked upon him as occult almost and laughed in the face of Sadik the Mouffetish when he said some evil things of Dicky. Also, the Khedive told the Mouffetish that if any harm came to Dicky there would come harm to him. The Khedive loved to play one man off against another, and the death of Sadik or the death of Dicky would have given him no pain, if either seemed necessary. For the moment, however, he loved them both after his fashion; for Sadik lied to him, and squeezed the land dry, and flailed it with kourbashes for gold for his august master and himself; and Dicky told him the truth about everything–which gave the Khedive knowledge of how he really stood all round.

Dicky told the great spendthrift the truth about himself; but he did not tell the truth when he said he was going to England on a visit to his kith and kin. Seized by the most irresistible curiosity of his life, moved by desire for knowledge, that a certain plan in his mind might be successfully advanced he went south and east, not west and north.

For four months Egypt knew him not. For four months the Khedive was never told the truth save by European financiers, when truths were obvious facts; for four long months never saw a fearless or an honest eye in his own household. Not that it mattered in one sense; but Ismail was a man of ideas, a sportsman of a sort, an Iniquity with points; a man who chose the broad way because it was easier, not because he was remorseless. At the start he meant well by his people, but he meant better by himself; and not being able to satisfy both sides of the equation, he satisfied one at the expense of the other and of that x quantity otherwise known as Europe. Now Europe was heckling him; the settling of accounts was near. Commissioners had been sent to find where were the ninety millions he had borrowed. Only Ismail and Sadik the Mouffetish, once slave and foster-brother, could reply. The Khedive could not long stave off the evil day when he must “pay the debt of the lobster,” and Sadik give account of his stewardship. Meanwhile, his mind turned to the resourceful little Englishman with the face of a girl and the tongue of an honest man.