The Carpet from Bagdad (Illustrated)by Harold MacGrath
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"To possess two distinctly alien red corpuscles in one's blood, metaphorically if not in fact, two characters or individualities under one epidermis, is, in most cases, a peculiar disadvantage. One hears of scoundrels and saints striving to consume one another in one body, angels and harpies; but ofttimes, quite the contrary to being a curse, these two warring temperaments become a man's ultimate blessing: as in the case of George P. A. Jones, of Mortimer & Jones, the great metropolitan Oriental rug and carpet company, all of which has a dignified, sonorous sound. George was divided within himself. This he would not have confessed even into the trusted if battered ear of the Egyptian Sphynx. There was, however, no demon-angel sparring for[Pg 2] points in George's soul. The difficulty might be set forth in this manner: On one side stood inherent common sense; on the other, a boundless, roseate imagination which was likewise inherent—a kind of quixote imagination of suitable modern pattern. This alter ego terrified him whenever it raised its strangely beautiful head and shouldered aside his guardian-angel (for that's what common sense is, argue to what end you will) and pleaded in that luminous rhetoric under the spell of which our old friend Sancho often fell asleep.
P. A., as they called him behind the counters, was but twenty-eight, and if he was vice-president in his late father's shoes he didn't wabble round in them to any great extent. In a crowd he was not noticeable; he didn't stand head and shoulders above his fellow-men, nor would he have been mistaken by near-sighted persons, the myopes, for the Vatican's Apollo in the flesh. He was of medium height, beardless, slender, but tough and wiry and enduring. You may see his prototype on the streets a dozen times the day, and you may also pass him without turning round for a second view. Young men like P. A. must be intimately known to be admired; you[Pg 3] did not throw your arm across his neck, first-off. His hair was brown and closely clipped about a head that would have gained the attention of the phrenologist, if not that of the casual passer-by. His bumps, in the phraseology of that science, were good ones. For the rest, he observed the world through a pair of kindly, shy, blue eyes.
Young girls, myopic through ignorance or silliness, seeing nothing beyond what the eyes see, seldom gave him a second inspection; for he did not know how to make himself attractive, and was mortally afraid of the opposite, or opposing, sex. He could bully-rag a sheik out of his camels' saddle-bags, but petticoats and lace parasols and small Oxfords had the same effect upon him that the prodding stick of a small boy has upon a retiring turtle. But many a worldly-wise woman, drawing out with tact and kindness the truly beautiful thoughts of this young man's soul, sadly demanded of fate why a sweet, clean boy like this one had not been sent to her in her youth. You see, the worldly-wise woman knows that it is invariably the lay-figure and not Prince Charming that a woman marries, and that matrimony is blindman's-buff for grown-ups.
Many of us lay the blame upon our parents. We shift the burden of wondering why we have this fault and lack that grace to the shoulders of our immediate forebears. We go to the office each morning denying that we have any responsibility; we let the boss do the worrying. But George never went prospecting in his soul for any such dross philosophy. He was grateful for having had so beautiful a mother; proud of having had so honest a sire; and if either of them had endued him with false weights he did his best to even up the balance.
The mother had been as romantic as any heroine out of Mrs. Radcliff's novels, while the father had owned to as much romance as one generally finds in a thorough business man, which is practically none at all. The very name itself is a bulwark against the intrusions of romance. One can not lift the imagination to the prospect of picturing a Jones in ruffles and highboots, pinking a varlet in the midriff. It smells of sugar-barrels and cotton-bales, of steamships and railroads, of stolid routine in the office and of placid concern over the daily news under the evening lamp.
Mrs. Jones, lovely, lettered yet not worldly, had[Pg 5] dreamed of her boy, bayed and decorated, marrying the most distinguished woman in all Europe, whoever she might be. Mr. Jones had had no dreams at all, and had put the boy to work in the shipping department a little while after the college threshold had been crossed, outward bound. The mother, while sweet and gentle, had a will, iron under velvet, and when she held out for Percival Algernon and a decent knowledge of modern languages, the old man agreed if, on the other hand, the boy's first name should be George and that he should learn the business from the cellar up. There were several tilts over the matter, but at length a truce was declared.
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