SETTING THE SNARES

Kāra also dreamed. The girl’s eyes haunted him. He saw her bright, eager
glance, her appealing smile, the graceful pose of her beautiful head
wherever he might chance to look. And he cursed the persistent vision
and tried to exorcise it, well knowing it might lead to his undoing.

The Egyptian’s present establishment consisted of a handsome villa on
the Shubra road which at one time had been owned by a high Turkish
official. It was splendidly furnished, including many modern
conveniences, and had a pretty garden in the court that led from the
master’s quarters to the harem. Tadros, the dragoman, proudly boasted to
himself–he dared not confide in others–that the furnishing of this
villa had enabled him to acquire a snug fortune. Kāra allowed him a free
hand, and much gold refused to pass through the dragoman’s fingers.

Tadros had ceased to bemoan the loss of his beloved tourists by this
time. Even a dozen profligate Americans could not enrich him as his own
countryman was doing. And the end was not yet.

A few days after the reception Kāra lunched at the Lotus Club and met
there Lord Consinor. Later the prince played a game of écarté with
Colonel Varrin, of the Khedivial army, and lost a large sum. Consinor
watched the game with interest, and after the colonel had retired
proposed to take a hand with the Egyptian himself. To this Kāra politely
assented. He was a careless player, and displayed little judgment. The
result was that he lost again, and Consinor found himself the richer by
a hundred pounds.

The prince laughed good-humoredly and apologized for his poor playing.

“The next time you favor me with a game,” said he, “I will try to do
better.”

Consinor smiled grimly. To meet so wealthy and indifferent a victim was
indeed rare good luck. He promised himself to fleece the inexperienced
Egyptian with exceptional pleasure.

The Lotus Club was then, as now, the daily resort of the most prominent
and at the same time the fastest set in Cairo. Both Roane and Consinor
had been posted for membership, although the former seldom visited the
place until after midnight, and then only to sup or indulge in a bottle
of wine when there was nothing more amusing to do. It appeared that Lord
Roane was conducting himself with exceptional caution since his arrival
in Cairo. His official duties were light, and he passed most of his days
at the rooms in the Savoy, where his party was temporarily located until
a suitable house could be secured and fitted up. He left Aneth much
alone in the evenings, however, and the girl was forced to content
herself with the gaieties of the fashionable hotel life and the
companionship of those few acquaintances who called upon her. As for the
viscount, he was now, as always, quite outside the family circle, and
while he seemed attentive to his desk at the Department of Finance, the
office hours were over at midday and he was free to pass the afternoons
and evenings at the club. The viscountess remained languidly helpless
and clung to her own apartment, where she kept a couple of Arab servants
busy waiting upon her.

Consinor had told Aneth that he would not touch a card while he remained
in Egypt; but if he had ever had an idea of keeping his word the
resolution soon vanished. He found Kāra irresistible. Sometimes, to be
sure, the prince had luck and won, but in that event it was his custom
to double the stakes indefinitely until his opponent swept all his
winnings away.

This reckless policy at first alarmed Consinor, who was accustomed to
the cautious play of the London clubs; but he observed that Kāra
declined ever to rise from the table a winner. No matter with whom he
played, his opponent was sure to profit in the end by the Egyptian’s
peculiar methods. For this reason no man was more popular at the club or
more eagerly sought as a partner in “a quiet game” than Prince Kāra,
whose wealth seemed enormous and inexhaustible and whose generosity was
proverbial.

But the rich Egyptian seemed to fancy Consinor’s society above all
other, and soon it came to be understood by the club’s habitués that
the two men preferred to play together, and the viscount was universally
envied as a most fortunate individual.

Yet Kāra was occupying himself in other ways than card-playing during
the weeks that followed the arrival of Lord Roane’s party in Egypt. The
victims of Hatatcha’s hatred had been delivered into his net, and it was
now necessary to spin his web so tightly about them that there could be
no means of escape. The oriental mind is intricate. It seldom leads
directly to a desired object or accomplishment, but prefers to plot
cunningly and with involute complexity.

One of Lord Roane’s few responsibilities was to audit the claims against
the Egyptian Government of certain British contractors who were engaged
in repairing the Rosetta Barrage and the canals leading from it. This
barrage had originally been built in 1842, but was so badly done that
important repairs had long been necessary. At one place a contractor
named McFarland had agreed to build a stone embankment for two miles
along the edge of a canal, to protect the country when the sluice-gates
of the dam were opened. This man found, when he began excavating, that
at one time a stone embankment had actually been built in this same
place, although not high enough to be effective, for which reason it had
become covered with Nile mud and its very existence forgotten. Finding
that more than half of the work he had contracted to perform was already
accomplished, the astute McFarland kept his lucky discovery a secret
and proceeded to complete the embankment. Then he presented his bill for
the entire work to be audited by Roane, after which he intended to
collect from the Government. The matter involved the theft of eighteen
thousand pounds sterling.

Kāra, whose well-paid spies were watching every official act of Lord
Roane, learned of the contractor’s plot by means of its betrayal to one
of his men by McFarland himself, who, in an unguarded moment, when he
was under the influence of drink, confided his good fortune to “his dear
friend.” But it was evident that Roane had no suspicion of the imposture
and was likely to approve the fulfilment of the contract without
hesitation.

Here was just the opportunity that the Egyptian had been seeking. One
morning Tadros, being fully instructed, obtained a private interview
with Lord Roane and confided to him his discovery of the clever plan of
robbing the Government which McFarland was contemplating. Roane was
surprised, but thanked the informer and promised to expose the swindle.

“That, my lord, would be a foolish thing to do,” asserted the dragoman,
bluntly. “The Egyptian Government is getting rich, and has ample money
to pay for this contract and a dozen like it. I assure you that no one
is aware of this secret but ourselves. Very well! Are we fools, my lord?
Are there no commissions to be exacted to repay you for living in this
country of the Turks, or me for keeping my ears open? I do not want
your thanks; I want money. For a thousand pounds I will keep silent
forever. For the rest, you can arrange your own division with the
contractor.”

Roane grew angry and indignant at once, asserting the dignity of his
high office and blustering and threatening the dragoman for daring to so
insult him. Tadros, however, was unimpressed.

“It is a mere matter of business,” he suggested, when he was again
allowed to proceed. “I am myself an Egyptian, but the Egyptians do not
rule Egypt. Nor do I believe the English are here from entirely
unselfish motives. To be frank, why should you or I endeavor to protect
the stupid Turks, who are being robbed right and left? In this affair
there is no risk at all, for if McFarland’s dishonesty is discovered no
one can properly accuse you of knowing the truth about the old
embankment. Your inspector has gone there now; on his return he will say
that the work is completed according to contract. You will approve the
bill, McFarland will be paid, and I will then call upon you to collect
my thousand pounds. Of your agreement with the contractor I wish to know
nothing; so, then, the matter is settled. You can trust to my
discretion, my lord.”

Then he went away, leaving Roane to consider the proposition.

The old nobleman’s career was punctured with such irregularities that
the contemplation of this innocent-looking affair was in no way
appalling to his moral sense. He merely pondered its safety, and decided
the risk of exposure was small. Cairo was an extravagant city to live
in, and his salary was too small to permit him to indulge in all the
amusements he craved. The opportunity to acquire a snug amount was not
to be despised, and, after all, the dragoman was correct in saying it
would be folly not to take advantage of it.

The next day Kāra personally interviewed the contractor, telling him
frankly that he was aware of all the details of the proposed swindle.
McFarland was frightened, and protested that he had no intention of
collecting the bill he had presented.

But the prince speedily reassured him.

“You must follow out your plans,” said he. “It is too late to withdraw
now. When you go to Roane he will inform you that he has discovered the
truth. You will then compromise with him, offering him one-half of the
entire sum you intend to steal, or a matter of nine thousand pounds.
Give him more, if necessary; but remember that every piastre you allow
Roane I will repay to you personally, if you can get my lord to sign a
receipt to place in my hands.”

“I see,” said McFarland, nodding wisely. “You want to get him in your
power.”

“Precisely; and I am willing to pay well to do so.”

“But when you expose him you will also implicate me.”

“I shall not expose him. It will merely be a weapon for me to hold over
him, but one I shall never use. You can depend upon that. Take your
eighteen thousand pounds and go to England, where it will enable you to
live in peace and affluence.”

“I will,” said the contractor. “I’ll take the chances.”

“There are none,” returned Kāra, positively.

So it was that Lord Roane bargained successfully with the contractor and
won for himself twelve of the eighteen thousand pounds for auditing the
bill. The money was promptly paid by the Government and the division of
spoils followed. Tadros called for his thousand pounds and gave a
receipt for it that would incriminate himself if he ever dared divulge
the secret. Roane also gave a receipt to McFarland, although
reluctantly, and only when he found the matter could be arranged in no
other way.

This receipt passed into the hands of Kāra. The contractor at once
returned to England, and my lord secretly congratulated himself upon his
“good luck” and began to enjoy his money.

While this little comedy was being enacted, Kāra found opportunity to
call more than once upon Miss Aneth Consinor, who was charmed by his
graceful speech and his exceptional knowledge of Egyptian history. Even
Winston, whom Kāra met sometimes in the young lady’s reception-room,
could not deny the prince’s claim to superior information concerning the
ancients, and he listened as eagerly as Aneth to the man’s interesting
conversations, while impotently resenting the Egyptian’s attention to
the girl.

Aneth, however, knowing no reason why she should not admire the handsome
native, whose personal attractions were by no means small, loved to draw
him into discussions on his favorite themes and watch his dark, glowing
eyes light up as he explained the mysteries of the priestly rites of the
early dynasties. Whatever might be the man’s secret designs, he always
treated the English girl with rare gentleness and courtesy, although the
bluntness of his speech and the occasional indelicacy of his allusions
betrayed the crudeness of his early training. Winston grew to dislike
and even to fear Kāra; for while he had nothing tangible with which to
reproach the Egyptian, his experience of the native character led him to
distrust the man intuitively.

Kāra doubtless felt this mistrust, for a coolness grew up between the
two men that quickly destroyed their former friendship, and they soon
came to mutually understand that they were rivals for Aneth’s favor, and
perhaps her affections.

Neither, however, had any idea of withdrawing from the field, and Aneth
distributed her favors equally between them because she had no thought
beyond her enjoyment of the society of the two men who had proved so
especially agreeable. The girl had no chaperone except a young English
lady whose rooms adjoined her own and with whom she had established a
friendship; but Mrs. Everingham took a warm interest in the lonely girl
and was glad to accompany her in many an excursion from which Aneth
would otherwise have been debarred. The visits to the museum with
Winston were frequent and of absorbing interest, for the handsome young
Egyptologist was a delightful guide. Following an afternoon examining
the famous relics, they would repair to the terrace at Shepheard’s for
five-o’clock tea, and here Kāra frequently joined them. The prince had
brought from Paris an automobile, together with a competent French
chauffeur, and in this machine many pleasant excursions were made to the
pyramids, Heliopolis, Sakkara and Helwan, the Egyptian roads being
almost perfection. Winston and Mrs. Everingham always joined these
parties, and neither could fail to admit that Kāra was a delightful
host.