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Fielding Had An Orderly
by [?]

His legs were like pipe-stems, his body was like a board, but he was straight enough, not unsoldierly, nor so bad to look at when his back was on you; but when he showed his face you had little pleasure in him. It seemed made of brown putty, the nose was like india-rubber, and the eyes had that dull, sullen look of a mongrel got of a fox-terrier and a bull-dog. Like this sort of mongrel also his eyes turned a brownish-red when he was excited.

You could always tell when something had gone wrong with Ibrahim the Orderly, by that curious dull glare in his eyes. Selamlik Pasha said to Fielding that it was hashish; Fielding said it was a cross breed of Soudanese and fellah. But little Dicky Donovan said it was something else, and he kept his eye upon Ibrahim. And Dicky, with all his faults, could screw his way from the front of a thing to the back thereof like no other civilised man you ever knew. But he did not press his opinions upon Fielding, who was an able administrator and a very clever fellow also, with a genial habit of believing in people who served him: and that is bad in the Orient.

As an orderly Ibrahim was like a clock: stiff in his gait as a pendulum, regular as a minute. He had no tongue for gossip either, so far as Fielding knew. Also, five times a day he said his prayers–an unusual thing for a Gippy soldier-servant; for as the Gippy’s rank increases he soils his knees and puts his forehead in the dust with discretion. This was another reason why Dicky suspected him.

It was supposed that Ibrahim could not speak a word of English; and he seemed so stupid, he looked so blank, when English was spoken, that Fielding had no doubt the English language was a Tablet of Abydos to him. But Dicky was more wary, and waited. He could be very patient and simple, and his delicate face seemed as innocent as a girl’s when he said to Ibrahim one morning: “Ibrahim, brother of scorpions, I’m going to teach you English!” and, squatting like a Turk on the deck of the Amenhotep, the stern-wheeled tub which Fielding called a steamer, he began to teach Ibrahim.

“Say ‘Good-morning, kind sir,'” he drawled.

No tongue was ever so thick, no throat so guttural, as Ibrahim’s when he obeyed this command. That was why suspicion grew the more in the mind of Dicky. But he made the Gippy say: “Good-morning, kind sir,” over and over again. Now, it was a peculiar thing that Ibrahim’s pronunciation grew worse every time; which goes to show that a combination of Soudanese and fellah doesn’t make a really clever villain. Twice, three times, Dicky gave him other words and phrases to say, and practice made Ibrahim more perfect in error.

Dicky suddenly enlarged the vocabulary thus: “An old man had three sons: one was a thief, another a rogue, and the worst of them all was a soldier. But the soldier died first!”

As he said these words he kept his eyes fixed on Ibrahim in a smiling, juvenile sort of way; and he saw the colour–the brownish-red colour–creep slowly into Ibrahim’s eyes. For Ibrahim’s father had three sons: and certainly one was a thief, for he had been a tax-gatherer; and one was a rogue, for he had been the servant of a Greek money-lender; and Ibrahim was a soldier!

Ibrahim was made to say these words over and over again, and the red fire in his eyes deepened as Dicky’s face lighted up with what seemed a mere mocking pleasure, a sort of impish delight in teasing, like that of a madcap girl with a yokel. Each time Ibrahim said the words he jumbled them worse than before. Then Dicky asked him if he knew what an old man was, and Ibrahim said no. Dicky said softly in Arabic that the old man was a fool to have three such sons–a thief and a rogue and a soldier. With a tender patience he explained what a thief and a rogue were, and his voice was curiously soft when he added, in Arabic: “And the third son was like you, Mahommed–and he died first.”