C.N. & A.M. Williamson
"The Port of Adventure"
"The Heathen Moon", Etc.
D.D. AND F.C.J.
WHO WERE THERE WHEN
WE DEDICATE THIS STORY OF ADVENTURES GRAVE AND GAY IN EGYPT
I. The Secret and the Girl
II. Cleopatra and the Ship's Mystery
III. A Disappointment and a Dragoman
IV. A Man in a Green Turban
V. The Cafe of Abdullahi
VI. The Great Sir Marcus
VII. The Revelations of a Retired Colonel
VIII. Foxy Duffing
IX. What Happened When My Back Was Turned
X. The Secret Monny Kept
XI. The House of the Crocodile
XII. The Night of the Full Moon
XIII. An Underground Proposal
XIV. The Desert Diary Begun
XV. The Desert Diary to Its Bitter End
XVI. An Oiled Hand
XVII. The Ship's Mystery Again
XVIII. The Asiut Affair
XIX. "If at First You Don't Succeed"
XX. The Zone of Fire
XXI. The Opening Door
XXII. The Driver of an Arabeah
XXIII. Bengal Fire
XXIV. Playing Heavy Father to Rachel
XXVI. What We Said: What We Heard
XXVII. The Inner Sanctuary
XXVIII. Worth Paying For
XXIX. Exit Antoun
XXX. The Sirdar's Ball
XXXI. The Mountain of the Golden Pyramid
XXXII. The Secret
IT HAPPENED IN EGYPT
THE SECRET AND THE GIRL
The exciting part began in Cairo; but perhaps I ought to go back to what happened on the Laconia, between Naples and Alexandria. Luckily no one can expect a man who actually rejoices in his nickname of "Duffer" to know how or where a true story should begin.
The huge ship was passing swiftly out of the Bay of Naples, and already we were in the strait between Capri and the mainland. I had come on deck from the smoking-room for a last look at poor Vesuvius, who lost her lovely head in the last eruption. I paced up and down, acutely conscious of my great secret, the secret inspiring my voyage to Egypt. For months it had been the hidden romance of life; now it began to seem real. This is not the moment to tell how I got the papers that revealed the secret, before I passed them on to Anthony Fenton at Khartum, for him to say whether or not the notes were of real importance. But the papers had been left in Rome by Ferlini, the Italian Egyptologist, seventy years ago, when he gave to the museum at Berlin the treasures he had unearthed. It was Ferlini who ransacked the pyramids all about Meroe, that so-called island in the desert, where in its days of splendour reigned the queens Candace. Fenton, stationed at Khartum, an eager dabbler in the old lore of Egypt, sent me an enthusiastic telegram the moment he read the documents. They confirmed legends of the Sudan in which he had been interested. Putting two and two together—the legends and Ferlini's notes—Anthony was convinced that we had the clue to fortune. At once he applied for permission to excavate under the little outlying mountain named by the desert folk "the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid." At first the spot was thought to fall within the province given up to Garstang, digging for Liverpool University. Later, however, the Service des Antiquites pronounced the place to be outside Garstang's borders, and it seemed that luck was coming our way. No one but we two—Fenton and I—had any inkling of what might lie hidden in the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid. That was the great secret! Then Fenton had gone to the Balkans, on a flying trip in every sense of the word. It was only a fortnight ago—I being then in Rome—that I had had a wire from him in Salonica saying, "Friends at work to promote our scheme. Meet me on my return to Egypt." After that, several telegrams had been exchanged; and here I was on the Laconia bound for the land of my birth, full of hope and dreams.
For some moments distant Vesuvius had beguiled my thoughts from the still more distant mountain of the secret, when suddenly a white girl in a white hood and a long white cloak passed me on the white deck: whereupon I forgot mountains of reality and dreams. She was one of those tall, slim, long-limbed, dryad-sort of girls they are running up nowadays in England and America with much success; and besides all that, she was an amazing symphony in white and gold against an azure Italian sea and sky, the two last being breezily jumbled together at the moment for us on shipboard. She walked well in spite of the blue turmoil; and if a fair girl with golden-brown hair gets herself up in satiny white fur from head to foot she is evidently meant to be looked at. Others were looking: also they were whispering after she went by: and her serene air of being alone in a world made entirely for her caused me to wonder if she were not Some One in Particular.
Just then a sweet, soft voice said, close to my ear:
"Why, Duffer, dear, it can't possibly be you!"
I gave a jump, for I hadn't heard that voice for many a year, and between the ages of four and fourteen I had been in love with it.
"Brigit O'Brien!" said I. Then I grabbed her two hands and shook them as if her arms had been branches of a young cherry tree, dropping fruit.
"Why not Biddy?" she asked. "Or are ye wanting me to call ye Lord Ernest?"
"Good heavens, no! Once a Duffer, always a Duffer," I assured her. "And I've been thinking of you as Biddy from then till now. Only—"
"'Twas as clever a thing as a boy ever did," she broke in, with one of her smiles that no man ever forgets, "to begin duffing at an early age, in order to escape all the professions and businesses your pastors and masters proposed, and go your own way. Are ye at it still?"
"Rather! But you? I want to talk to you."
"Then don't do it in a loud voice, if you please, because, as you must have realized, if you've taken time to think, I'm Mrs. Jones at present."
"Because Smith is engaged beforehand by too many people. Honestly, without joking, I'm in danger here and everywhere, and it's a wicked, selfish thing for me to come the way I have; but Rosamond Gilder is the hardest girl to resist you ever saw, so I'm with her; and it's a long history."
"Rosamond Gilder? What—the Cannon Princess, the Bertha Krupp of America?"
"Yes, the 'Gilded Babe' that used to be wheeled about in a caged perambulator guarded by detectives: the 'Gilded Bud' whose coming out in society was called the Million Dollar Debut: now she's just had her twenty-first birthday, and the Sunday Supplements have promoted her to be the Golden Girl, alternating with the Gilded Rose, although she's the simplest creature, really, with a tremendous sense of the responsibility of her riches. Poor child! There she is, walking toward us now, with those two young men. Of course, young men! Droves of young men! She can't get away from them any more than she can from her money. No, she's stopped to talk to Cleopatra."
"That tall, white girl Rosamond Gilder! Just before you came, I was wondering who she was; and when you smiled at each other across the deck it sprang into my mind that—that—"
"Oh, it seems stupid now."
"Give me a chance to judge, dear Duffer."
"Well, seeing you, and knowing—that is, it occurred to me you might be travelling with—the daughter of—your late—"
"Good heavens, don't say any more! I've been frightened to death somebody would get that brilliant notion in his head, especially as Monny and her aunt came on board the Laconia only at Monaco. Esme O'Brien is in a convent school not thirty miles from there. But that's the deepest secret. Poor Peter Gilder's fears for his millionaire girl would be child's play to what might happen, before such a mistake was found out if once it was made. That's just one of the hundred reasons why it would be as safe for Monny Gilder to travel with a bomb in her dressing-bag as to have me in her train of dependants. She telegraphed to New York for me, because of a stupid thing I said in a letter, about being lonely: though she pretends it would be too dull journeying to such a romantic country alone with a mere aunt. And she thinks I 'attract adventures.' It's only too true. But I couldn't resist her. Nobody can. Why, the first time I ever saw Monny she'd cast herself down in a mud-puddle, and was screaming and kicking because she wanted to walk while one adoring father, one sycophantic governess and two trained nurses wanted her to get into an automobile. That was on my honeymoon—heaven save the mark—! and Monny was nine. She has other ways now of getting what she wants, but they're even more effective. I laughed at her that first time, and she was so surprised at my impudence she took a violent fancy to me. But I don't always laugh at her now. Oh, she's a perfect terror, I assure you—and a still more perfect darling! Such an angel of charity to the poor, such a demon of obstinacy with the rich! I worship her. So does Cleopatra. So does everybody who doesn't hate her. So will you the minute you've been introduced. And by the way, why not? Why shouldn't I make myself useful for once by arranging a match between Rosamond Gilder, the prettiest heiress in America, and Lord Ernest Borrow, of the oldest family in Ireland?"
"And the poorest."
"All the more reason why. Don't you see?"
"Well, what's the good of her having all that money if she doesn't get hold of a really grand title to hang it on? I shall tell her that Borrow comes down from Boru, Brian Boru the rightful King of Ireland: and when your brother dies you'll be Marquis of Killeena."
"He'll not die for thirty or forty years, let's hope."
"Why hope it, when he likes nobody and nobody likes him, and everybody likes you? He can't be happy. And anyhow, isn't it worth a few millions to be Lady Ernest Borrow, and have the privilege of restoring the most beautiful old castle in Ireland? I'm sure Killeena would let her."
"He would, out of sheer, weak kindness of heart! But she's far too thickly gilded an heiress for me to aspire to. A few thousands a year is my most ambitious figure for a wife. Look at the men collecting around her and the wonderful lady you call Cleopatra. Why Cleopatra? Did sponsors in baptism—"
"No, they didn't. Why she's Cleopatra is as weird a history as why I'm Mrs. Jones. But she's Monny's aunt—at least, she's a half-sister of Peter Gilder, and as his only living relative his will makes her Monny's guardian till the girl marries or reaches twenty-five. A strange guardian! But he didn't know she was going to turn into Cleopatra. She wisely waited to do that until he was dead; so it came on only a year ago. It was a Bond Street crystal-gazer transplanted to Fifth Avenue told her who she really was: you know Sayda Sabri, the woman who has the illuminated mummy? It's Cleopatra's idea that Monny's second mourning for Peter should be white, nothing but white."
"Her idea! But I thought Miss Monny, as you call her, adopted only her own ideas. How can a mere half-aunt, labouring under the name of Cleopatra, force her—"
"Well, you see, white's very becoming; and as for the Cleopatra part, it pleases our princess to tolerate that. It's part of the queer history that's mixing me up with the family. We've come to spend the season in Egypt because Cleopatra thinks she's Cleopatra; also because Monny (that's what she's chosen to call herself since she tried to lisp 'Resamond' and couldn't) because Monny has read 'The Garden of Allah,' and wants the 'desert to take her.' That book had nothing to do with Egyptian deserts; but any desert will do for Monny. What she expects it to do with her exactly when it has taken her, on the strength of a Cook ticket, I don't quite know; but I may later, because she vows she'll keep me at her side with hooks of steel all through the tour—unless something worse happens to me, or to some of us because of me." "Biddy, dear, don't be morbid. Nothing bad will happen," I tried to reassure her.
"Thank you for saying so. It cheers me up. We women folk are so in the habit of believing anything you men folk tell us. It's really quaint!"
"Stop rotting, and tell me about yourself; and a truce to heiresses and Cleopatras. You know I'm dying to hear."
"Not a syllable, until you've told me about yourself. Where you're going, and what the dickens for!"
We laughed into each other's eyes. To do so, I had to look a long way down, and she a long way up. This in itself is a pleasantly Victorian thing for a man to do in these days of Jerrybuilt girls, on the same level or a story or two higher than himself. I'm not a tall man: just the dull average five foot ten or eleven that appears taller, while it keeps lean—so naturally I have a hopeless yearning for nymph-like creatures who pretend to be engaged when I ask them to dance. Still, there's consolation and homely comfort in talking with a little woman who makes you feel the next best thing to a giant. Biddy is an old-fashioned five foot four in her highest heels; and as she smiled up at me I saw that she hadn't changed a jot in the last ten years, despite the tragedy that had involved her. Not a silver thread in the black hair, not a line on the creamy round face.
"You're just yourself," I said.
"I oughtn't to be. I know that very well. I ought to be a Dido and Niobe and Cassandra rolled into one. I'm a brute not to be dead or look a hag. I've gone through horrors, and the secrets I know could put dozens of people in prison, if not electrocute them. But you see I'm not the right type of person for the kind of life I've had, as I should be if I were in a story book, and the author had created me to suit my background. I can't help flapping up out of my own ashes before they're cold. I can't help laughing in the face of fate."
"And looking a girl of twenty-three, at most, while you do it!"
"If I look a girl, I must be a phenomenon as well as a phoenix, for nobody knows better than you that my Bible age is thirty-one if it's a day. And I think Burke and Debrett have got the same tale to tell about you, eh?"
"They have. I was always delighted to share something with you."
"You can have the whole share of my age over twenty-six. There's one advantage 'Mrs. Jones' has. She can, if her looking-glass doesn't forbid, go back to that classic age dear to all sensible adventuresses. I'm afraid I come under the head of adventuress, with my alias, and travelling as companion to the rich Miss Gilder."
"You're the last person on earth for the part! Your fate was thrust on you. You've thrust yourself on no one. Miss Gilder 'achieved' you."
"Collected me, rather, as one of her 'specimens.' She has a noble weakness for lame ducks, and though she fails sometimes in trying to strengthen their game legs, she tries gloriously. She and her aunt have been travelling in France and Italy, guided by instinct and French maids, and already Monny has picked up two weird protegees, sure to bring her to grief. The most exciting and deadly specimen is a perfectly beautiful American girl just married to a Turkish Bey who met her in Paris, and is taking her home to Egypt. I haven't even seen the unfortunate houri, because the Turk has shut her up in their cabin and pretends she's seasick. Monny doesn't believe in the seasickness, and sends secret notes in presents of flowers and boxes of chocolate. But I have seen the Turk. He's pink and white and looks angelic, except for a gleam deep down in his eyes, if Monny inquires after his wife when any of her best young men are hanging about. Especially when there's Neill Sheridan, a young Egyptologist from Harvard, Monny met in Paris, or Willis Bailey, a fascinating sculptor who wants to study the crystal eyes of wooden statues in the Museum at Cairo. He is going to make them the fashion in America, next year. Yes, Madame Rechid Bey is a most explosive protegee for a girl to have, on her way to Egypt. I'm not sure even I am not innocuous by comparison; though I do wish you hadn't reminded me of my poor little step-daughter Esme, in her convent-school. If any one should get the idea that Monny—but I won't put it in words! Besides me, and the brand-new bride of Rechid Bey ('Wretched Bey' is our name for him), there's one more protegee, a Miss Rachel Guest from Salem, Massachusetts, a school-teacher taking her first holiday. That sounds harmless, and it looks harmless to an amateur; but wait till you meet her and see what instinct tells you about her eyes. Oh, we shall have ructions! But that reminds me. You haven't told me where you're bound—or anything."
"Thanks for putting me among the 'specimens.' But this sample hasn't yet been collected by Miss Gilder."
"You might be her salvation, and keep her out of mischief. She's quite wild now with sheer joy because she's going to Egypt. But do be serious, and tell me all I pine to know, if you want me to do the same by you."
"Well—though it's unimportant compared to what you have to tell! I'm an insignificant second secretary to Sir Raymond Ronalds, the British Ambassador at Rome. I've got four months' leave——"
"Ah, that's what comes of duffing so skilfully, and avoiding all the things you didn't want to do, till you got exactly what you did want! I remember when we were small boy and girl, and you used to walk down to the vicarage every day, to talk Greek or Latin or something with father——"
"No, to see you!"
"Well, you used to tell me, if you couldn't be the greatest prize-fighter or the greatest opera-singer in the world, you thought you'd like to be a diplomat.
"I haven't become a diplomat yet, in spite of Foreign Office grubbing. But I've been enjoying life pretty well, fagging up Arabic and modern Greek, and playing about with pleasant people, while pretending to do my duty. Now I've got leave on account of a mild fever which turned out a blessing in disguise. I could have found no other excuse for Egypt this winter."
"You speak as if you had some special reason for going to Egypt."
"I've been wishing to go, more or less, for years, because you know—if you haven't forgotten—I was accidentally born in Cairo while my father was fighting in Alexandria. My earliest recollections are of Egypt, for we lived there till I was four—about the time I met and fell in love with you. I've always thought I'd like to polish up old memories. But my special hurry is because I'm anxious to meet a friend, a chap I admire and love beyond all others. I want to see him for his own sake, and for the sake of a plan we have, which may make a lot of difference for our future."
"How exciting! Did I ever know him?"
"I think not."
"Well? Don't you mean to tell me who he is?"
I hesitated, sorry I had let myself go: because Anthony had written that he didn't want his movements discussed at present.
"I'll tell you another time," I said. "I want to talk about you. Anybody else is irrelevant."
"Clever Duffer! Your friend is a secret."
"Not he! But if there's a secret anywhere, it's only a dull, dusty sort of secret. You wouldn't be interested."
"Women never are, in secrets. Well, I'm glad somebody else besides myself has a mystery to hide."
"You're very quick."
"I'm Irish! But I'm merciful. No more questions—till you're off your guard. You're free to ask me all you like, if there's anything you care to know which horrid newspapers haven't told you these last few years."
"There are a thousand things. You didn't answer anybody's letters, after—after——"
"After Richard died. Oh, I can talk about it, now. It was the best thing that could happen for him, poor fellow. Life in hiding was purgatory. No, I couldn't answer letters, though my old friends (you among them) wanted to be kind. There wasn't anything I could let anybody do for me. Monny Gilder's different. You'll soon see why."
I smiled indulgently. But, though I was to be introduced to Miss Gilder for the purpose of being eventually gilded by her, at the instant my thoughts were for my childhood's sweetheart.
Brigit Burne made a terrible mess of things in marrying, when she was eighteen or so, Richard O'Brien, in the height of his celebrity as a socialist leader. People still believed in him then, at the time of his famous lecturing tour and visit to his birthplace on our green island; and though he was more than twice her age, the fascination he had for Biddy surprised few who knew him.
He was eloquent, in a fiery way. He had extraordinary eyes, and it was his pride to resemble portraits of Lord Byron. After an acquaintance of a month, Biddy married O'Brien (I had just gone up to Oxford at the time, or I should have tried not to let it happen), went to America with him, and voluntarily ceased to exist for her friends.
Poor girl, she must have had an awakening! He had posed as a bachelor; but after her marriage she found out (and the world with her) that he was a widower with one child, a little girl he had practically abandoned. Biddy adopted her, though the mother had been a rather undesirable Frenchwoman; and now when I saw her smiling at the tall white girl on the Laconia, I had thought for an instant that Biddy and her stepdaughter might be in flight together. O'Brien was a drunkard, as well as a demagogue; and not long after Brigit's flitting with him there was a scandal about the accepting of bribes from politicians on the opposing side, apparently his greatest enemies; but a minor scandal compared to what came some years afterward. O'Brien's name was implicated in the blowing up of the World-Republican Building in Washington, and the wrecking of Senator Marlowe's special train after his speech against socialist interests, but the coward turned informer against his friends and associates in the secret society of which he had been a leader, and saved himself by sending them to prison. From that day until his death he lived the life of a hunted animal flying from the hounds of vengeance. Brigit stood by him in spite of threats against her life as well as his, and the life of the child. Since then, though she answered none of our letters, we had heard rumours. The girl Esme, whom the avengers had threatened to kidnap, was supposed to be hidden in some convent-school in Europe. As for Brigit, she was said to be training for a hospital nurse: reported to have become a missionary in India, China, and one or two other countries; seen on the music-hall stage, and traced to Johannesburg, where she had married a diamond-merchant; yet here she was on board the Laconia, unchanged in looks, or nature, and the guest of a much paragraphed, much proposed to American heiress en route to Egypt.
While Brigit was telling me the real story of her last two years, as governess, companion, teacher of music, and journalist, Miss Gilder regarded us sidewise from amid her bodyguard of young men. Evidently she was dying to know who was the acquaintance her darling Biddy had picked up in mid-Mediterranean the moment her back was turned; and at last, unable to restrain herself longer, she made use of some magic trick to attach the band of youths to her aunt. Then, separating herself with almost indecent haste from the group, she marched up to us, gazing—I might say, staring—with large unfriendly eyes at the intruder.
Brigit promptly accounted for me, however, rolling her "r's" patriotically because I reminded her of Ireland. "Do let me introduce Lord Ernest Borrow," she said. "I must have told you about him in my stories, when you were a child, for he was me first love."
"It was the other way round," I objected. "She wouldn't look at me. I adored her."
Biddy glared a warning. Her eyes said, "Silly fellow, don't you know every girl wants to be the one and only love of a man's life?"
I had supposed that this old craze had gone out of fashion. But perhaps there are a few primitive things which will never go out of fashion with women.
Now that I had Miss Gilder's proud young face opposite mine, I saw that it wasn't quite so perfect as I'd fancied when she flashed by in her tall whiteness. Her nose, pure Greek in profile, seen in full was —well, just neat American: a straight, determined little twentieth-century nose. The full red mouth, not small, struck me as being determined also, rather than classic, despite the daintily drawn cupid's bow of the short upper lip. I realized too that the long-lashed, wide-open, and wide-apart eyes were of the usual bluish-gray possessed by half the girls one knows. And as for the thick wavy hair pushed crisply forward by the white hood, now it was out of the sun's glamour, there was more brown than gold in it. I said to myself, that the face with the firm cleft chin was only just pretty enough to give a great heiress or a youthful princess the reputation of a beauty; a combination desired and generally produced by journalists. Then, as I was thinking this, while Brigit explained me, Miss Gilder suddenly smiled. I was dazzled. No wonder Biddy loved her. It would be a wonder if I didn't love her myself before I knew what was happening.
And so I should instantly have done, perhaps, if it hadn't been for Biddy's eyes seeming to come between mine and Miss Gilder's: and the fact that at the moment I was in quest of another treasure than a woman's heart. My thoughts were running ahead of the ship to Alexandria, to find out from Anthony Fenton ("Antoun Effendi" the biggest boys used to nickname him at school) more about the true history of that treasure than he dared trust to paper and ink and the post office.
So I put off falling in love with Rosamond Gilder till I should have seen Anthony, and tidied up my distracted mind. A little later would do, I told myself, because (owing to the fact that my ancestral castle had figured in Biddy's tales of long ago) I was annexed as one of the proteges; allowed to make a fifth at the small, flowery table under a desirable porthole in the green and white restaurant; also I was invited to go about with the ladies and show them Cairo. Just how much "going about," and falling in love, I should be able to do there, depended on "Antoun Effendi." But when Biddy congratulated me on my luck, and chance of success in the "scheme," I said nothing of Anthony.
CLEOPATRA AND THE SHIP'S MYSTERY
Now, at last, I can skip over the three days at sea, and get to our arrival at Alexandria, because, as I've said, the exciting part began soon after, at Cairo.
They were delightful days, for the Laconia is a Paris hotel disguised as a liner. And no man with blood in his veins could help enjoying the society of Brigit O'Brien and Rosamond Gilder. Cleopatra, too, was not to be despised as a charmer; and then there was the human interest of the protegees, the one with the eyes and the one who had reluctantly developed into the Ship's Mystery.
Still, in spite of Biddy and Monny and the others, and not for them, my heart beat fast when, on the afternoon of the third day out from Naples, the ship brought us suddenly in sight of something strange. We were moving through a calm sea, more like liquefied marble than water, for it was creamy white rather than blue, veined with azure, and streaked, as marble is, with pink and gold. Far away across this gleaming floor blossomed a long line of high-growing lotus flowers, white and yellow against a silver sky. The effect was magical, and the wonder grew when the big flower-bed turned into domes and cupolas and spires rising out of the sea. Unimaginative people remarked that the coast looked so flat and uninteresting they didn't see why Alexander had wanted to bother with it; but they were the sort of people who ought to stop at home in London or Birmingham or Chicago and not make innocent fellow-passengers burn with unchristian feelings.
Soon I should see Anthony and hear his news. I felt sure he would be at Alexandria to meet the ship. When "Antoun Effendi" makes up his mind to do a thing, he will crawl from under a falling sky to do it. As the Laconia swept on, I hardly saw the glittering city on its vast prayer-rug of green and gold, guarded by sea forts like sleepy crocodiles. My mind's eyes were picturing Anthony as he would look after his wild Balkan experiences: brown and lean, even haggard and bearded, perhaps, a different man from the smart young officer of everyday life, unless he'd contrived to refit in the short time since his return to Egypt—a day or two at most, according to my calculation. But all my imaginings fell short of the truth.
As I thought of Anthony, Mrs. East came and stood beside me. I knew she was there before I turned to look, because of the delicate tinkling of little Egyptian amulets, which is her accompaniment, her leit motif, and because of the scent of sandalwood with which, in obedience to the ancient custom of Egyptian queens, she perfumes her hair.
I don't think I have described Monny Gilder's aunt, according to my conception of her, though I may have hinted at Biddy's. Biddy having a habit of focussing her sense of humour on any female she doesn't wholly love, may not do Mrs. East justice. The fact is, Monny's aunt is a handsome creature, distinctly a charmer who may at most have reached the age when Cleopatra—Antony's and Caesar's Cleopatra—died in the prime of her beauty. If Mrs. East chooses to date herself at thirty-three, any man not a confirmed misanthrope must believe her. Biddy says that until Peter Gilder was safely dead, Clara East was just an ordinary, well-dressed, pleasure-loving, novel-reading, chocolate-eating, respectable widow of a New York stockbroker: superstitious perhaps; fond of consulting palmists, and possessing Billikens or other mascots: (how many women are free from superstition?) slightly oriental in her love of sumptuous colours and jewellery; but then her mother (Peter Gilder's step-mother) was a beautiful Jewish opera singer. After Peter's death, his half-sister gave up novels for Egyptian and Roman history, took to studying hieroglyphics, and learning translations of Greek poetry. She invited a clairvoyant and crystal-gazer, claiming Egyptian origin, to visit at her Madison Square flat. Sayda Sabri, banished from Bond Street years ago, took up her residence in New York, accompanied by her tame mummy. Of course, it is the mummy of a princess, and she keeps it illuminated with blue lights, in an inner sanctum, where the bored-looking thing stands upright in its brilliantly painted mummy case, facing the door. About the time of Sayda's visit, it was noticed by Mrs. East's friends (this, according to Biddy) that the colour of the lady's hair was slowly but surely changing from black to chestnut, then to auburn; she was heard to remark casually that Queen Cleopatra's hair had been red. She took to rich Eastern scents, to whitening her face as Eastern women of rank have whitened theirs since time immemorial. The shadows round her almond-shaped eyes were intensified: her full lips turned from healthful pink to carmine. The ends of her tapering fingers blushed rosily as sticks of coral. The style of her dress changed, at the moment of going into purple as "second mourning" for Peter, and became oriental, even to the turban-like shape of her hats, and the design of her jewellery. She did away with crests and monograms on handkerchiefs, stationery, luggage and so on, substituting a curious little oval containing strange devices, which Monny discovered to be the "cartouche" of Cleopatra. Then the whole truth burst forth. Sayda Sabri's crystal had shown that Clara East, nee Gilder, was the reincarnation of Cleopatra the Great of Egypt. There had been another incarnation in between, but it was of no account, and, like a poor relation who has disgraced a family, the less said about it the better.
The lady did not proclaim her identity from the housetops. Rare souls possessing knowledge of Egyptian lore might draw their own conclusions from the cartouche on her note-paper and other things. Only Monny and a few intimates were told the truth at first; but afterward it leaked out, as secrets do; and Mrs. East seemed shyly pleased if discreet questions were asked concerning her amulets and the cartouche.
Now, I never feel inclined to laugh at a pretty woman. It is more agreeable, as well as gallant, to laugh with her; but the trouble is, Cleopatra doesn't go in for laughter. She takes life seriously. Not only has she no sense of humour, but she does not know the difference between it and a sense of fun, which she can understand if a joke (about somebody else) is explained. She is grateful to me because I look her straight in the eyes when the subject of Egypt is mentioned. Sheridan from Harvard has been in her bad books since he put Ptolemaic rulers outside of the pale of Egyptian history, called their art ornate and bad, mentioned that each of their queens was named Cleopatra and classified the lot as modern, almost suburban.
Mrs. East, leaning beside me on the rail, was burning with thoughts inspired by Alexandria. She had "Plutarch's Lives" under her arm, and "Hypatia" in her hand. Of course, she dropped them both, one after the other, and I picked them up.
"Do you know, Lord Ernest," she said, in the low, rich voice she is cultivating, "I don't mind telling you that I felt as if I were coming home, after a long absence. Monny wanted to see Egypt; I was dying to. That's the difference between us."
"It's natural," I answered, sympathetically.
"Yes—considering everything. Yet we're both afraid. She in one way, I in another. I haven't told her. She hasn't told me. But I know. She has the same impression I have, that something's going to happen —something very great, to change the whole of life—in Egypt: 'Khem,' it seems to me I can remember calling it. You know it was Khem, until the Arabs came and named it Misr. Do you believe in impressions like that?"
"I don't disbelieve," I said. "Some people are more sensitive than others."
"Yes. Or else they're older souls. But it may be the same thing. I can't fancy Monny an old soul, can you?—yet she may be, for she's very intelligent, although so self-willed. I think what she's afraid of is getting interested in some wonderful man with Turkish or Egyptian blood, a magnificent creature like you read of in books, you know; then you have to give them up in the last chapter, and send them away broken-hearted. I suppose there are such men in real life?"
"I doubt if there are such romantic figures as the books make out," I tried to reassure her. "There might be a prince or two, handsome and cultivated, educated in England, perhaps, for some of the 'swells' are sent from Egypt to Oxford and Cambridge, just as they are in India. But even if Miss Gilder should meet a man of that sort, I should say she was too sensible and clear-headed—"
"Oh, she is, almost too much so for a young girl, and she has a detestation for any one with a drop of dark blood, in America. She doesn't even like Jews; and that makes friction between us, if we ever happen to argue, for—maybe you don't know?—my mother was a Jewess. I'm proud of her memory. But that's just why, if you can understand, Monny's afraid in Egypt. Some girls would like to have a tiny flirtation with a gorgeous Eastern creature (of course, he must be a bey, or prince or something, otherwise it would be infra dig), but Monny would hate herself for being attracted. Yet I know she dreads it happening, because of the way I've heard her rave against the heroines of novels, saying she has no patience with them; they ought to have more strength of mind, even if it broke their hearts."
I wondered if Biddy, too, suspected some such fear in the mind of her adored girl, and if that were one reason why she had turned matchmaker for my benefit. Since the first day out she had used strategems to throw us together: and it seemed that, years ago, when she used to teach the little girl French, Monny's favourite stories had been of Castle Killeena, and my boyish exploits birds'-nesting on the crags. (Biddy said that this was a splendid beginning, if I had the sense to follow it up.)
"And you?" I went on to Mrs. East. "What do you feel is going to happen to you in the land of Khem?"
"Oh, I don't know," she sighed. "I wish I did! And 'afraid' isn't exactly the word. I just know that something will happen. I wonder if history does repeat itself? I should hate to be bitten by an asp——"
"Asps are out of fashion," I comforted her. "I doubt if you could find one in all of Egypt, though I remember my Egyptian nurse used to say there were cobras in the desert in summer. Anyhow, we'll be away before summer."
"I suppose so," she agreed. "Yet—who knows what will become of any of us? Madame Rechid Bey will be staying, of course. I don't know whether to be sorry for her or not. The Bey's good-looking. He has brown eyes, and is as white as you or I. Probably it's true that she's been too seasick to leave her room for the last ten days, though Monny and Mrs. O'Bri—I mean, Mrs. Jones—think she's shut up because men stared, and because Mr. Sheridan talked to her. As for me, there's always that question asking itself in my mind: 'What is going to happen?' And I hear it twice as loud as before, in sight of Alexandria. Rakoti, we Lagidae used to call the city." As she spoke, the long, oriental eyes glanced at me sidewise, but my trustworthy Celtic features showed a grave, intelligent interest in her statements.
"It must be," she went on, encouraged, "that I'm the reincarnation of Cleopatra, otherwise how could I have the sensation of remembering everything? There's no other way to account for it! And you know my modern name, Clara, does begin with 'C.' Sayda must be right. She's told lots of women the most extraordinary things. You really ought to consult her, Lord Ernest, if you ever go to New York."
I did not say, as Neill Sheridan might, that a frothy course of Egyptian historical novels would account for anything. I simply looked as diplomatic training can teach any one to look.
Evidently it was the right look in the right place, for Cleopatra continued more courageously, recalling the great Pharos of white marble which used to be one of the world's wonders in her day; the Museum, and the marvellous Library which took fire while Julius Caesar burned the fleet, nearby in the harbour.
"Think of the philosophers who deserted the College of Heliopolis for Alexandria!" she said. "Antony was more of a soldier than a student, but even he grieved for the Library. You know he tried to console Cleopatra by making her a present of two hundred thousand MSS. from the library of the King of Pergamus. It was a generous thought—like Antony!"
"Does the harbour looked changed?" I hastened to inquire.
"Not from a distance, though landing may be a shock: they tell me it's all so Italian now. It was Greek in old days. I've read that there isn't a stone left of my—of the lovely place on Lochias Point, except the foundations they found in the seventies. But I must go to see what's left of the Baths, even though there's only a bit of mosaic and the remains of a room. Monny's anxious to get on to Cairo, but we shall come back to Alexandria later. Lord Ernest, when I shut my eyes, I really do seem to picture the Mareotic Lake, and the buildings that made Alexandria the glory of the world. Do you remember what Strabo said about Deinchares, the architect who laid out the plan of the city in the shape of a Macedonian mantle, to please Alexander?"
"I'm not as well up in history as you are," I said, "though I've studied a bit, because I was born in Egypt. Poor Alexander didn't live long in his fine city, did he? I wonder what he'd think of it now? And I wonder if his palace was handsomer than the Khedive's? That huge white building with the pillars and domes. I seem to remember——"
"What, you remember, too? You ought to consult Sayda!"
"I didn't mean exactly what you mean," I explained, humbly. "Still, why shouldn't I have lived in Egypt long ago? The learned ones say you're always drawn back where you've been in other states of existence——"
"That's true, I'm sure!"
"Well, then, why shouldn't I have the same sort of right to Egypt you have, if you were Cleopatra?—I believe you must have been, because you look as she ought to have looked, you know. Why shouldn't I have been a friend of Marc Antony, coming from Rome to give him good advice and trying to persuade——"
"Oh, not that he ought to give me up!"
"No, indeed: to urge him to leave the island where he hid even from you (didn't they call it Timoneum?). Why couldn't Antony play his cards so as to keep Cleopatra and the world, too? She'd have liked him better, wouldn't she? My friend Antoun Effendi—I mean Anthony Fenton,"—I stopped short: for the less said about Fenton the better, at present. But Cleopatra caught me up.
"What—have you really a friend Antony? Where does he live? and what's he like?"
I hesitated; and glancing round for inspiration (in other words for some harmless, necessary fib) I saw that Brigit and Monny had arrived on the scene. They had been pacing the deck, arm in arm; and now, arrested by Mrs. East's question, they hovered near, awaiting my answer with vague curiosity. A twinkle in Biddy's eyes, which I caught, rattled me completely. I missed all the easiest fibs and could catch hold of nothing but the bare truth. There are moments like that, when, do what you will, you must be truthful or silent; and silence fires suspicion.
"What is he?" I echoed feebly. "Oh, Captain Fenton. He's in the Gyppy Army stationed up at Khartum, hundreds of miles beyond where Cook's boats go. You wouldn't be interested in Anthony, because he spells his name with an 'H', and he's dark and thin, not a bit like your Antony, who was a big, stout fellow, I've always heard, and fair." "Big, but not stout," Cleopatra corrected me. "And—and if he's incarnated again, he may be dark for a change. As for the 'H', that's not important. I wonder if we shall meet your Anthony? We think of going to Khartum, don't we, Monny?"
"Yes," said the girl, shortly. She was always rather short in her manner at that time when in her opinion her aunt was being "silly."
I gathered from a vexed flash in the gray eyes that there had never been any hint of an impending Antony.
"Is your friend in Khartum now?" Biddy ventured, in her creamiest voice. The twinkle was carefully turned off like the light of a dark lantern, but I knew well that "Mrs. Jones" was recalling a certain conversation, in which I had refused to satisfy her curiosity. Brigit's quick, Irish mind has a way of matching mental jigsaw puzzles, even when vital bits appear to be missing; and if she could make a cat's paw of Cleopatra, the witch would not be above doing it. I bore her no grudge—who could bear soft-eyed, laughing, yet tragic Biddy a grudge? —but I wished that she and Monny were at the other end of the deck.
"I—er—really, I don't know where my friend is just now," I answered, with more or less foundation of truth.
"I wonder if I didn't read in the papers about a Captain Fenton who took advantage of leave he'd got, to make a rush for the Balkans, and see the fighting from the lines of the Allies?" Biddy murmured with dreadful intelligence. "Can he be your Captain Fenton? I fancy he'd been stationed in the Sudan; and he was officially supposed to have gone home to spend his leave in England. Anyhow, there was a row of some sort after he and another man dropped down on to the Turks out of a Greek aeroplane. Or was it a Servian one? Anyhow, I know he oughtn't to have been in it; and 'Paterfamilias' and 'Patriot' wrote letters to the Times about British officers who didn't mind their own business. Why, I saw the papers on board this ship! They were old ones. Papers on ships always are. But I think they came on at Algiers or somewhere."
"Probably 'somewhere,'" I witheringly replied. "I didn't come on at Algiers, so I don't know anything about it."
"Diplomatists never do know anything official, do they, Duffer dear?" smiled Biddy. "I'll wager your friend is interesting, even if he does spell himself with an 'H', and weighs two stone less than his namesake from Rome. Mrs. East believes in reincarnation, and I'm not sure I don't, though Monny's so young she doesn't believe in anything. Just suppose your friend is a reincarnation of Antony without an 'H'? And suppose, too, by some strange trick of fate he should meet you in Alexandria or Cairo? You'd introduce him to us, wouldn't you?"
"It's the most unlikely thing in the world. And he'd be no good to you. He's a man's man. He thinks he doesn't like women."
"Doesn't like women!" echoed Monny Gilder. "He must be a curmudgeon. Or has he been jilted?"
"Rather not!" Too impulsively I defended the absent. "Girls go mad about him. He has to keep them off with a stick. He's got other things to think of than girls, things he believes are more important—though, of course, he's mistaken. He'll find that out some day, when he has more time. So far, he's been hunting other game, often in wild places. A book might be written on his adventures."
"What kind of adventures? Tell us about them," said Biddy, "up to the Balkan one, which you deny having heard of."
"You wouldn't care about his sort of adventures. There aren't any women in them," said I. "Women want love stories. It's only the heroines they care for, not the heroes, and I don't somehow see the right heroine for Fenton's story."
I noticed an expression dawning on Cleopatra's face, as I thus bereft her of a possible Antony (with an "H"). There was a softening of the long eyes, and the glimmer of a smile which said "Am I Cleopatra for nothing?"
Never had she looked handsomer. Never before had I thought of her as really dangerous. I'd been inclined to poke fun at the lady for her superstition and her cartouche, and Cleopatra-hood in general. But suddenly I realized that her make-up was no more exaggerated than that of many a beauty of the stage and of society: and that nowadays, women who are—well, forty-ish—can be formidable rivals for younger and simpler sisters. Not that I feared much for Anthony from Cleopatra or any other female thing, for I'd come to consider him practically woman-proof; still, I saw danger that the lady might make a dead set at him, if she got the chance, and all through my stupidity in giving away his name. "Antony" was a thrilling password to that mysterious "something" which she expected to happen in Egypt: and already she regarded my friend as a ram caught in the bushes, for a sacrifice on her altar. Instead of screening him I had dragged him in front of the footlights. But fortunately there was still time to jerk down the curtain.
I threw a glance at Brigit and Monny, and was relieved to find that their attention was distracted by a new arrival: Miss Rachel Guest from Salem, Massachusetts: a pale, thin, lanky copy of our Rose, with the beauty and bloom left out; but a pair of eyes to redeem the colourless face—oh, yes, a pair of eyes! Strange, hungry, waiting eyes.
When I am alone, I fear Monny's favourite protegee, who started out to "see the world" on a legacy of two thousand dollars, and won Miss Gilder's admiration (and hospitality) through her unassuming pluck. To my mind she is the ideal adventuress of a new, unknown, and therefore deadly type; but for once I rejoiced at sight of the pallid, fragile woman, so cheerful in spite of frail health, so frank about her twenty-eight years. She had news to tell of a nature so exciting that, after a whisper or two, Cleopatra forgot Anthony in her desire to know the latest development in the Ship's Mystery.
"My stewardess says he won't let his wife land till we're all off," murmured the ex-schoolmistress, in her colourless voice. "She heard the end of a conversation, when she carried the poor girl's lunch to the door—just a word or two. So we shan't see her again, I suppose."
"Oh, yes, we shall," said Monny. "If Wretched Bey can get a private boat, so can I. I'll not desert her, if I have to stay on board the Laconia the whole night."
All four began talking together eagerly, and blessing Miss Guest I sneaked away. Presently I saw that clever Neill Sheridan and handsome, actor-like Willis Bailey, the two betes noires of Wretched Bey, had joined the group.
By this time the roofs and domes and minarets of Alexandria sparkled in clearly sketched outlines between sunset-sky and sea; sunset of Egypt, which divided ruby-flame of cloud, emerald dhurra, gold of desert, and sapphire waters into separate bands of colour, vivid as the stripes of a rainbow.
There was a new buzz of excitement on the decks and in the ivy draped veranda cafe. Those who had been studying Baedeker gabbled history, ancient and modern, until the conquest of Alexander and the bombardment of '82 became a hopeless jumble in the ears of the ignorant. Bores who had travelled inflicted advice on victims who had not. People told each other pointless anecdotes of "the last time I was in Egypt," while those forced to listen did so with the air of panthers waiting to pounce. A pause for breath on the part of the enemy gave the wished-for opportunity to spring into the breach with an adventure of their own.
We took an Arab pilot on board—the first Arab ever seen by the ladies of my party—and before the red torch of sunset had burned down to dusky purple, tenders like big, black turtles were swimming out to the Laconia. We slaves of the Rose, however, had surrendered all personal interest in these objects. The word of Miss Gilder had gone forth, and, unless Rechid Bey changed his mind at the last minute, we were all to lurk in ambush until he appeared with his wife. Then, somehow, Monny was to snatch her chance for a word with the Ship's Mystery; and whatever happened, none of us were to stir until it had been snatched.
Arguments, even from Biddy, were of no avail, and mine were silenced by cold permission to go away by myself if I chose. It was terrible, it was wicked to talk of people making their own beds and then lying in them. It was nonsense to say that, even if the wife of Rechid Bey asked for help, we could do nothing. Of course, we would do something! If the girl wanted to be saved, she should be saved, if Monny had to act alone. Whatever happened, Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Bailey must remain in the background, as the very sight of them would drive "Wretched Bey" wild!
I was thinking of Anthony's surprise when one after the other, two tenders should reach the quay without me; and if the Gilded Rose had not been so sweet, her youthful cocksureness would have made me yearn to slap her. In spite of all, however, the girl's excitement became contagious as passengers crowded down the gangway and Rechid Bey did not appear.
"Allah—Allah!" cried the boatman and the Arab porters as they hauled huge trunks off the ship onto a float. Then one after the other the two tenders puffed away, packed from stem to stern. A few people for whom there was no room embarked in small boats manned by jabbering Arabs. Two of these cockle-shells still moved up and down under the black, mountainous side of the ship, and the officer whose duty it was to see the passengers off was visibly restless. He wanted to know if my lordship was ready; and my lordship's brain was straining after an excuse for further delay, when a man and woman arrived opportunely; Rechid Bey and a veiled, muffled form hooked to his arm; a slender, appealing little figure: and through the veil I fancied that I caught a gleam of large, wistful, anxious eyes.
The ladies were lying in wait out of sight, and I dodged behind the sturdy blue shoulders guarding the gangway. This was my first glimpse of the Ship's Mystery; and though I did not like my job (I had to surprise Rechid Bey and take his mind off his wife) my curiosity was pricked. The figure in sealskin looked very girlish; the veiled head was bowed. The mystery took on human personality for me, and Monny Gilder was no longer obstinate; she was a loyal friend. I did not see that we could be of use to the poor little fool who had married a Turk, yet I was suddenly ready to do what I could. As Rechid Bey brought his wife to the top of the gangway, I lounged out, and spoke. Disconcerted, the stout, good-looking man of thirty let drop the arm of the girl, putting her behind him. And this was what Monny wanted. They would have an instant for a few disjointed words: Monny might perhaps have time to promise help which the girl dared not ask, even behind her husband's back.
"Good evening," I said in French, taking advantage of a smoke-room acquaintance. "Is that smart boat down there for you? I was trying to secure it, in my best Arabic, but the fellow said it was engaged."
"Yes, it is mine," Rechid answered, civilly, trying to hide his annoyance. "I telegraphed from Naples to a friend in Alexandria to send me a private boat. I do not like crowds."
"Neither do I, so I waited, too," I explained. "They told me there were always boats, and my big luggage has gone. I suppose yours has, too?"
"No doubt," said Rechid Bey. "Good night, Milord Borrow."
He turned quickly to his wife, as if to catch her at something, but the slim veiled mystery stood meekly awaiting his will. To my intense relief Monny and her friends were invisible. I could hardly wait until the two figures had passed out of sight down the gangway, to know whether my skirmishing attack had been successful.
"Well?" I asked, as Miss Gilder, "Mrs. Jones," Cleopatra, Rachel Guest, and two maids filed out from concealment. "Did I give you time enough? Did you get the chance you wanted?"
"Yes, thank you ever so much," said Monny, with one of those dazzling smiles that would make her a beauty even if she were not the favourite Sunday supplement heiress. "I counted on you—and she had counted on me. She must have known I wouldn't fail her, for she had this bit of paper ready. When I jumped out she slipped it into my hand. We didn't need to say a word, and Wretched Bey has no idea I came near her."
"A bit of paper?" I echoed, with interest. For it sounded the obvious secret thing; a bit of paper stealthily slid from hand to hand.
"Yes, with her address on it—nothing more in writing: but two other words, pricked with a pin. 'Save me.' Don't you see, if her husband had pounced on it, no harm would have been done. He wouldn't have noticed the pin-pricks, as a woman would. I thought she was going to live in Cairo, and I believe she thought so too, at first. But she's written down the name of a house in a place called Asiut. Did you ever hear of such a town, Lord Ernest?"
"Oh, yes," said I. "The Nile boats stop there and people see tombs and mummied cats and buy silver shawls."
"Good!" said Monny. "My boat shall stop there, but not only for tombs or cats or silver shawls. I have an idea that the poor girl is frightened, and wants me to help her escape."
"Great heavens!" I exclaimed. "You mustn't on any account get mixed up in an adventure of that sort! Remember, this is Egypt——"
"I don't care," said Monny, "if it's the moon."
She believed that this settled the matter. I believed the exact opposite. But I left it at that, for the moment, as the boat was waiting, and Asiut seemed a long way off.
This was my first lesson in what Brigit called "Monny's little ways"; but the second lesson was on the heels of the first.
A DISAPPOINTMENT AND A DRAGOMAN
It was a blow not to see Anthony on the quay. And other blows rained thick and fast. My two consolations were that I was actually in Egypt; and that in the confusion Rechid Bey with the veiled figure of his silent bride had slipped away without further incidents. Their disappearance was regretted by no one save Monny, unless it was Neill Sheridan, and he was discreet enough to keep his feelings to himself. The girl was not. She protested on principle, although she had the Asiut address. But where all men, black and brown and white, were yelling with the whole force of their lungs, and pitching and tossing luggage (mostly the wrong luggage) with all the force of their arms, nobody heard or cared what she said. For once Monny Gilder was disregarded by a crowd of men. This could happen only at the departure of a boat train! But if I was not thinking about her, I was thinking about her fifteen trunks, and Cleopatra's sixteen and Biddy's and Miss Guest's two. The maids were worse than useless, and I had no valet. I have never had a valet. I clawed, I fought, I wrestled in an arena where it was impossible to tell the wild beasts from the martyrs. I rescued small bags from under big boxes, and dashed off with a few samples to the train, in order to secure places. All other able-bodied men, including Sheridan and the artist sculptor Bailey, were engaged in the same pursuit, and our plan was to "bag" a whole compartment between us in the boat-special for Cairo. But we never met again till we reached our destination. One expects Egypt to warm the heart with its weather, but the cold was bitter; so was the disappointment about Anthony. Both cut through me like knives. Darkness had fallen before I was ready to join the ladies—if I could. In passing earlier, I had shouted to the maids where to find the places, grabbed with difficulty, for their mistresses. Whether they had found them, or whether any of the party still existed, was the next question; and it was settled only as the train began to move. The compartment I had selected was boiling over with a South American president and his effects; but as I stood transfixed by this transformation scene, Cleopatra's maid hailed me from the end of the corridor. Les quatres dames were in the restaurant car. Why? Ah, it was the Arab they had engaged as dragoman, who had advised the change in milord's absence. He said it would be better, as of course they would want dinner. He himself was looking after the small baggages, except the little sacks of the hand which the maids kept.
What, the ladies had engaged a dragoman! And they had trusted him—a stranger—with luggage? Then it was as good as gone! But no, mildly ventured Cleopatra's handmaiden. The dragoman came recommended. He had a letter from a friend of milord.
My thoughts jumped, of course, to Anthony. Yet how could he have known that I was travelling with ladies? And if by some Marconian miracle he had heard, why should he, who prided himself on "not bothering" with women, trouble to provide a dragoman at Alexandria?
I hurried to the dining car, and found Monny with her satellites seated at a table, three of them looking as calmly innocent as if they had not upset my well-laid scheme for their comfort. Biddy alone had a guilty air, because, perhaps, I was more important in her eyes than in the eyes of the others. "Oh, dear Duffer," she began to wheedle me: "We hope you don't mind our coming here? We thought it a good idea, for we're starving, although we're perfectly happy because we're in Egypt, and because it's such a quaint train, so different and Eastern. The dragoman who——"
"I think he came from your friend Anthony with an 'H,'" Cleopatra broke in. "He seemed providential. And he speaks English. The only objection is, he's not as good-looking as Monny and I wanted our dragoman to be. We did hope to get one who would be becoming to us, you see, and give the right sort of Eastern background. But I suppose one can't have everything! And it was I who said your friend Anthony's messenger must be engaged even if his face is—is—rather like an accident!"
"It's like a catastrophe," remarked Monny, looking as if she blamed me.
"Where is it?" I wanted to know.
"It's waiting in a vestibule outside where the cook's cooking," Biddy explained ungrammatically. "I told it you'd want to see it. And it's got a letter for you from some one." "Did the fellow say the letter was from Fenton?" I inquired.
"No. He only said, from a friend who'd expected to meet you; and Mrs. East was sure it must be from the one you were talking about."
Wasting no more words, I marched off to the fountainhead for information. Near the open door of the infinitesimal kitchen stood a fat little dark man with a broken nose, and one white eye. The other eye, as if to make up, was singularly, repellently intelligent. It fixed itself upon me, as I approached, with eager questioning which melted into ingratiating politeness. Instinct warned the fellow that I was the person he awaited. At the same moment, instinct was busily whispering to me that there was something fishy about him, despite the alleged letter. He did not look the type of man Fenton would recommend. And though his face was of an unwholesome olive tint, and he wore a tarbush, and a galabeah as long as a dressing-gown, under his short European coat, I was sure he was not of Arab or Egyptian blood.
"Milord Borrow?" he began, displaying large white teeth, of which he was evidently proud.
"My name is Bedr el Gemaly," he introduced himself. "I have a letter for milord."
"Who gave it to you?" I challenged him.
The ingratiating smile seemed to flicker like a candle flame in a sudden puff of wind. "A friend of my, a dragoman. He could not come to bring it. So he give it to me. The gentleman's name was Fenton. My friend, he was sent from him at Cairo." As the fellow spoke, in fairly good English, he took from a pocket of the short coat which spoiled his costume, a colourful silk handkerchief. Unwrapping this, he produced an envelope. It was addressed to me in the handwriting of Fenton, but before opening it I went on with my catechism.
"Then the letter doesn't introduce you, but your friend?"
The smile was practically dead now. "I think it do not introduce any ones. It is only a letter. My friend Abdullah engaged to carry it. But he got sick too soon to come to the ship."
"I see," said I. "You seem to have used the letter, however, to get yourself taken on as dragoman by the ladies of my party. How the devil did you find out that they were travelling with me, eh?" I shot the question at him and tried to imitate gimlets with my eyes. But he was ready with his answer. No doubt he had prepared it.
"I see you all together, from a distant place, before I come there. A gentleman off the ship, he pointed you out when I ask where I find Milord Borrow. I see you, and those ladies. When I come, you was away already, so I speak to them, and say if I could help, I be very pleased. When I tell one of the ladies I was from a friend of milord's with a letter, she say, is the friend's name Captain Fenton, and I say 'yes, madame, Captain Fenton, that is the name; and I am a dragoman to show Egypt to the strangers. I know it all very well, from Alexandria way up Nile.' Then the lady say very quick she will take me for her dragoman. I am pleased, for I was not engaged for season, and she say if I satisfy her she keep me in Cairo and on from there." "H'm," I grunted, still screwing in the gimlets. "I see you're not an Egyptian. You have selected the name of an Armenian famous in history. Are you Armenian?"
"I am the same thing as Egyptian, I bin here for dragoman so many years. I am Mussulman in faith. But I was born Armenian," he admitted.
"You speak English with an American accent," I went on. "Have you lived in America?"
"One time a family take me to New York and I stay a year or two. Then I get homesick and come to Egypt again. But I learn to talk maybe some like American peoples while I am over there."
It sounded plausible enough, the whole story. And if Mrs. East had snapped the dragoman up under the impression that he came from a man she had determined to meet, the fellow might be no more to blame than any other boaster, touting in his own interest. Still, I had an uneasy feeling that something lay hidden under Armenian plausibility. Bedr el Gemaly was perhaps a thief who had courted a chance for a big haul of jewellery. Yet if that were all, why hadn't he hopped off the tram, as it began to move, with the ladies' hand luggage? He might easily have got away, and disappeared into space, before we could wire the police of Alexandria to look out for him. He had not done that, but had waited, and risked facing my suspicions. And he must have realized, while in charge of Monny's and Cleopatra's attractive dressing bags, that he was missing an opportunity such as might never come to him again. This conduct suggested an honest desire to be a good dragoman. Yet—well, I resolved not to let the gimlets rust until Bedr el Gemaly had been got rid of. If Mrs. East had really promised him a permanent engagement, she could salve his disappointment by giving him a day's pay. I would take the responsibility of sending him about his business.
Without further parley I opened the letter. It was short, evidently written in a hurry. Anthony had scribbled:
Horribly sorry, dear old Duffer, but I'm wanted by the Powers that Be in Cairo. No other reason could have kept me from Alexandria. I was afraid a wire wouldn't reach you, so I sent a decent old chap by the train I meant to take. He's pledged to find you on the quay, and he will—unless some one makes him drunk. This seems unlikely to happen, as he won't be paid till he gets back, and having no friends on earth, nobody will stand him drinks. Beastly luck, but I shan't be able to see you to-night even in Cairo. Tell you all to-morrow—and there's a lot to tell, about many things.
The messenger had "no friend on earth," according to Fenton. Then the friendship stated to exist between him and Bedr el Gemaly must have come readymade from heaven, or—its opposite. I guessed the nature of the "decent old chap's" illness. But I should have been glad to know whether it had been produced by design or accident.
When I went back to the ladies, Bedr went with me, at my firm suggestion, and gave them their handbags to use as footstools. Dinner was ready, and a seat had been kept for me at a table just across the aisle, but before beginning, I explained the real circumstances governing the dragoman's arrival. "Whatever else he may be, he's a shark," I said, "or he wouldn't have traded on a misunderstanding to grab an engagement. You owe him nothing really, but if you choose, give him a sovereign when we get to Cairo, and I'll tell him that I have a dragoman in view for the party. He'll then have two days' pay, according to the guide-books."
With this, I slipped into my seat, thinking the matter settled. But between courses, Monny leaned across from her table (she and I had end seats) and said that she and her aunt had been talking about that poor dragoman. "Aunt Clara raised his hopes," the girl went on, "and now Rachel Guest and I think it would be mean to send him away, just because he's hideous."
"That won't be the reason!" said I. "It will be because we don't know anything about him, and because in his sharpness he's over-reached himself."
"But we do know things about him. He showed Aunt Clara letters from people who'd employed him, lots of Americans whose names we've heard, and some we're acquainted with. The tragic thing is, that he finds difficulty in getting engaged because of his face. I've felt guilty ever since I called it a catastrophe. Of course it is; but I said it to be funny, which was cruel. And we deserve to punish ourselves by keeping the poor wretch a few days, or more, if he's good."
"I thought you wanted a becoming dragoman?" I reminded her.
"Oh, that was just our silliness. I do like good-looking people, I must say. But what does it matter whether a brown person is handsome or homely, when you come to think of it? Besides, we can have another dragoman, too, for ornament, if we run across a very picturesque one."
I laughed. "But you can't go up the Nile on a boat with a drove of private dragomans, you know!"
"I don't know, Lord Ernest. And why don't you call them dragomen? You make them sound as if they were some kind of animal."
"Dragomans is the plural," I persisted.
"Well, I shall call them dragomen. And if this poor thing can't get any one else to drag, he shall drag us up the Nile, if he's as intelligent in his ways as he is in that one eye, which is so like a hard-boiled egg. You see, Lord Ernest, we're going to have a boat of our own. A steam dahabeah is what we want, so we won't be at the mercy of the wind. And we can have all the dragomen we choose, can't we?"
"I suppose you can fill up your cabins with them," I agreed, because I felt that the Gilded Rose wished me to argue the point, and that if I did I should be worsted. As I should not be on board the dahabeah in question, it would not matter to me personally if the boat were entirely manned by dragomans. Except that there would in that case probably be a collision, and I should not be near to save Biddy—and incidentally the girl Biddy wished me to marry.
After that, we went on eating our dinner and talking of Egypt, Miss Guest doing all the listening, as usual. When we had finished, we kept our places because we had no others. Cleopatra was curious about my friend's failure to arrive, but I put her off with vaguenesses; and said to myself that, for Anthony's sake, it was well that mysterious business had kept him in Cairo. Still, I wondered what the business was: why he would be unable to see me that night: and what were the "many things" he had to tell.
A MAN IN A GREEN TURBAN
I shall never know for certain whether or not our future was entirely shaped by Monny's resolve to breakfast on the terrace of Shepheard's Hotel next morning.
A great many remarkable things have happened on that historic site. Napoleon made the place his headquarters. General Kleber was murdered in the garden. Half the most important people in the world have had tea on the terrace: but, according to a German waiter, there was one deed yet undone. Nobody had ever ordered breakfast out of doors.
Of course, Monny got what she wanted. Not by storming, not by putting on power-of-wealth airs, but simply by turning bright pink and looking large-eyed. At once that waiter rushed off, and fetched other waiters; and almost before the invited guests knew what to expect, two tables had been fitted together, covered with white, adorned with fresh roses, and set forth with cups and saucers. I was the one man invited, and I felt like an actor called to play a new part in an old scene, a scene vaguely, excitingly familiar. Could I possibly be remembering it, I asked myself, or was my impression but the result of a life-long debauch of Egyptian photographs? Anyhow, there was the impression, with a thrill in it; and I felt that I ought to be handsomer, more romantic, altogether more vivid, if I were to live up to the moving picture. It seemed as if nothing would be too extraordinary to do, if I wanted to match my surroundings. I thought, even if I burst into a passionate Arab love-song and proposed to Monny across the table, it would be quite the right note. But somehow I didn't feel inclined to propose. It was enough to admire her over the rim of a coffee cup. In her white tussore (I heard Biddy call it tussore) and drooping, garden-type of hat, she was a different girl from the girl of the ship. She had been a winter girl in white fur, then. Now she was a summer girl, and a radiant vision, twice as pretty as before, especially in this Oriental frame; still I was waiting to see myself fall in love with her, much in the same way that Biddy was waiting. And there was that Oriental frame! It belonged to my past, and perhaps Monny Gilder didn't belong even to my future, so it was excusable if I thought of it more than of her.
It was hardly nine o'clock, but already the wonderful coloured cinema show of Cairo daily life had begun to flash and flicker past the terrace of Shepheard's, where East and West meet and mingle more sensationally than anywhere in Egypt. Nobody save ourselves had dared suggest breakfast; but travellers were pouring into the hotel, and pouring out. Pretty women and plain women were sitting at the little wicker tables to read letters, or discuss plans for the day with each other or their dragomans. Officers in khaki came and talked to them about golf and gymkhanas. Down on the pavement, close under the balustrade, crowded young and old Egyptian men with dark faces and wonderful eyes or no eyes at all, struggling to sell painted post-cards, strings of blue-gray mummy beads; necklaces of cornelian and great lumps of amber; fans, perfumes, sample sticks of smoking incense, toy camels cleverly made of jute; fly whisks from the Sudan with handles of beads and dangling shells; scarab rings and brooches; cheap, gay jewellery, scarfs from Asiut, white, black, pale green and purple, glittering like miniature cataracts of silver, as brown arms held them up. Darting Arab urchins hawked tame ichneumons, or shouted newspapers for sale—English, American, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Turkish. Copper-tinted, classic-featured youths in white had golden crowns of bananas round their turbans; withered patriarchs in blue galabeahs offered oranges, or immense bunches of mixed flowers, fresh and fragrant as the morning; or baskets of strawberries red and bright as rubies. Dignified Arabs stalked by, bearing on nobly poised heads pots of growing rose-bushes or arum lilies, or azaleas. Jet-black giants, wound in rainbow-striped cottons, clanked brass saucers like cymbals, advertising the sweet drinks in their glass jars, while memory whispered in my ears the Arab name "sherbetly." Across the street, clear silver-gold sunshine of winter in Egypt shone on precious stones, on carved ivories, silver anklets, Persian rugs, and embroideries, brilliant as hummingbirds' wings, all displayed in the windows of shops where dark eyes looked out eagerly for buyers. Everything was for sale, for sale to the strangers! The whole clamouring city seemed to consist of one vast, concentrated desire on the part of brown people to sell things to fair people. They shouted and wheedled and besought on the sidewalks; and the roadway between was a wide river of colour and life. Motor cars with Arab chauffeurs carried rich Turks to business, or to an audience of State. Now and then a face of ivory glimmered through a gauzy veil and eyes of ink and diamonds shot starry glances from passing carriage windows. Erect English women drove high dog-carts. Gordon Highlanders swung along in the kilt, more at home in Cairo then in Edinburgh, the droning of their pipes as Oriental as the drone of a raeita, or the beat of tom-toms. A wedding party with a hidden bride in a yellow chariot, met a funeral, and yashmaked faces peeped from curtained windows, in one procession, to stare at the wailing, marching men of the other, and to shrink back hastily from the sight of the coffin. Tangled it would seem inextricably with streams of traffic, surging both ways, moved the "ships of the desert," loaded with emerald-green bersim; long, lilting necks, and calm, mysterious eyes of camels high above the cloaked heads of striding Bedouins, heads of defiant Arab prisoners, chained and handcuffed to each other; heads of blue-eyed water buffaloes, and heads of trim white, tasselled donkeys.
None of us talked very much, as we sat at the breakfast table: the novelty and wonder of the scene made the actors forget their words: and if we had been able to talk, we could not have appreciated each other's rhapsodies, over the shoutings of men who wanted us to buy their wares, and harangues of dragomans who wished, as Monny said, to "drag" us. These latter, especially, were persistent, and Bedr the One Eyed, having been forbidden to come till ten o'clock, was not on the spot to give protection. Our method at first was to appear oblivious, but presently in my wickedest Arabic, I would have ordered the troop away if Monny had not interfered.
"Don't!" she said, "they're part of the picture. Besides, they've more right here than we have. It's their country, not ours. And they're so interesting—most of them. That tall man over there, for instance, with the green turban. He's the only one who hasn't opened his mouth. Just to show him that virtue's its own reward, I'm going to engage him. Will you call him to us, please, Lord Ernest?"
Sitting as I sat, I could not see the person indicated. "What do you want him for, Miss Gilder?" I obeyed temptation, and asked.
"Why, to be a dragoman, of course," she explained. "That's what he's for. I told you, I'd have a picturesque one for ornament. This creature's a perfect specimen."
I stood up reluctantly, and looked down over the balustrade. "A man with a green turban?" I repeated. "But that means he's a Hadji, who's been to Mecca and back. I never heard of a dragoman—"
I stopped short in my argument. My eyes had found the man with the green turban.
He stood at some distance behind the pavement-merchants and self-advertising dragomans who pressed against the railing. In his long galabeah of Sudan silk, ashes of roses in colour, he was tall and straight as a palm, gravely dignified with his folded arms and the haughty remoteness of his expression. Dark and silent, half-disdainful, half-amused, he was like a prince compared with his humbler brethren; but there was another resemblance more relevant and intimate which cut my sentence short.
"By Jove," I thought, "how like he is to Anthony Fenton!"
He was looking, not at me, but at Miss Gilder, quite respectfully yet hypnotically, as if by way of an experiment he had been willing her to find and single out the one motionless figure, the one person whose tongue had not called attention to himself.
Yes, I thought again, he was an Arab copy of Anthony, but more as Anthony had been years ago before his moustache grew, than as Anthony had become in late years. Still, there were the aquiline features, the long, rather sad eyes shaded with thick, straight lashes, the eyebrows raised at the bridge of the thin nose, then sloping steeply down toward the temples; the slight working of muscles in the cheeks; the peculiarly charming mouth which could be irresistible in a smile, the stern, contradictory chin marring by its prominence the otherwise perfect oval of the face. I wondered if Anthony had as noble a throat as this collarless galabeah left uncovered, reminding myself that I could not at all recall Anthony's throat. Then, as the sombre eyes turned to me, drawn perhaps by my stare, I was stunned, flabbergasted, what you will, by realizing that Anthony himself was looking at me from under the green turban.
The dark face was blankly expressionless. He might have been gazing through my head. His eyes neither twinkled with fun nor sent a message of warning; but somehow I knew that he saw me, that he had been watching me for a long time. "You see the one I mean, don't you?" asked Monny. "Well, that's the one I want. I'll take him."
She spoke as if she were selecting a horse at a horse show.
Anthony had brought this on himself, but I was not angry with Anthony. I was angry with the girl for putting her finger into our pie.
"That's not a dragoman," I assured her. "If he were, he'd come and bawl out his accomplishments, as the others do. He's a very different sort of chap."
"That's why I want him," said Monny. "And if he isn't a dragoman, he'll jump at being one if I offer to pay him enough. He's an Egyptian, anyhow, by his clothes, or a Bedouin or something—although he isn't as dark as the rest of these men. I suppose he must know a little about his own city and country."
"It doesn't follow he'd tell travellers about them for money," said I. "He looks to me a man of good birth and distinction in old fashioned dress. Why he's lingering on the pavement in front of this hotel I can't explain, but I'm certain he isn't touting. Probably he's waiting for a friend."
"He's the best looking Arab we've seen yet," remarked Mrs. East. "Like my idea of an Egyptian gentleman."
"Pooh!" said Monny. "Just test him, Lord Ernest."
"Sorry, but I can't do it," I answered, with a firmness which ought to have been tried on her long ago. "And I wouldn't discuss him in such a loud tone of voice. He may understand English."
"We have to yell to hear ourselves speak over all this row," Biddy apologized for her darling; but she need not have troubled herself. Miss Gilder had been deaf to my implied reproach.
"I'm glad I'm an American girl," she said. "When I want things I want them so dreadfully I just go for them, and surprise them so much that I get them before they know where they are. Now I'm going for this dragoman."
"He's not a drag—" I persisted, but she cut me short.
"I bet you my hat he will be one! What will you bet that he won't, Lord Ernest?"
"I'll bet you his green turban," said I.
"How can you get it?"
"As easily as you can get him," I retorted. "It's a safe bet."
Monny looked excited, but firm. Luckily, as she does it so often, it's becoming to her to look firm. (I have noticed that it's not becoming to most girls. It squares their jaws and makes their eyes snap.) But the spoiled daughter of the dead Cannon King at her worst, merely looks pathetically earnest and Minerva-like. This, I suppose, is one of the "little ways" she has acquired, since she gave up kicking and screaming people into submission. As Biddy says, the girl can be charming not only when she wants to be, but quite often when she doesn't.
The man with the green turban was no longer engaged in hypnotizing. He had retired within himself, and appeared oblivious to the outer world. Yet nobody jostled the tall, straight figure which stood with folded arms, lightly leaning against a tree. The colour of his turban was sacred in the eyes of the crowd; and when Miss Gilder, leaning over the terrace railing beckoned him, surprise rather than jealousy showed on the faces of the unwanted dragomans. As for the wearer of the turban, he did what I expected and wished him to do: paid not the slightest attention to the gesture. Whatever the motive for his masquerade, it was not to attract anything feminine.
I smiled sardonically. "That's a nice hat you've got on, Miss Gilder," I remarked.
"Do you collect girls' hats?" she asked sweetly. "But mine isn't eligible yet for your collection. Let me see, what did you say he was? Oh, a Hadji!" And she shrilled forth sweetly, her voice sounding young and clear, "Hadji! Hadji! Effendi! Venez ici, s'il vous plait. Please come here."
I could have been knocked flat by a blow of the smallest, cheapest ostrich feather in the hands of any street-merchant. For he came. Anthony came! Not to look meekly up from the pavement below the railing, but to ascend the steps of the terrace, and advance with grave dignity toward our table. Within a yard of us he stopped, giving to me, not to Miss Gilder, the beautiful Arab salute, a touch on forehead and heart.
"You devil!" I was saying to myself. "So you walk into this trap, do you, and calmly trust me to get you out. Serve you right if I don't move hand or foot." And I almost made up my mind that I wouldn't. But I was interested. I wanted intensely to know what the dickens Anthony was up to, and whether he would have been up to it if he'd known the sort of young woman he had to deal with.
"It was I who called to you, not this gentleman," said Monny, when she found that Green Turban did not look at her. "Do you speak French or English a little?"
"A little of both. But I choose French when talking to Americans," replied Anthony Fenton, with astounding impertinence, in the preferred language. "I do not know you, Madame. But I do know this gentleman."
Good heavens! What next? He acknowledged me! What was I to do now? What did the impudent fellow want me to do? Evidently he was trying an experiment. Anthony is great on experiments, and always has been. But this was a bomb. I thought he wanted to see if I could catch it on the fly, and drop it into water before it had time to explode.
"Why didn't you tell us, Lord Ernest?" asked Monny, with a flash in her gray eyes. "I thought you hadn't been in Egypt since you were a child."
"I haven't, and I didn't recognize him at first," I answered, trying for the coolness which Anthony dared to count upon.
"You remember me now?" he inquired politely.
"I—er—yes," I replied, also in French. "Your face is familiar, though you've changed, I think, since—er—since you were in England. It must have been there—yes, of course. You were on a diplomatic mission. But your name—"
"You may have known me as Ahmed Antoun," said the wretch, not dreaming of that slip he had made.
Cleopatra, who has little French, nevertheless started, and fixed upon the face under the turban a stare of feverish interest. Brigit and the unobtrusive lady with the slanting eyes both showed such symptoms of surprise as must too late have warned Fenton that he had missed his footing, skating on thin ice.
"Antoun!" exclaimed Mrs. East. "Why, that's what you said you called your friend Captain Fenton."
I glanced at Anthony. His profile had no more expression than that of an Indian on an American penny, and, indeed, rather resembled it. If he were blaming me for letting anything out, I had a right to blame him for letting himself in. He was silent as well as expressionless. He left it all to me—diplomat or duffer.
"'Antoun Effendi' was the nickname my friend Fenton got at school," I explained to Cleopatra, "because it sounded a bit like his own name, and because he had—er—because he had associations with Egypt. He was proud of them and is still. But Antoun is a name often heard here. And every man who isn't a Bey or a Prince, or a Sheikh, is an Effendi. I quite remember you now," I hurried on, turning to Anthony once more. "You are Hadji as well as Effendi."
"I have the right to call myself so, if I choose," he admitted. "I am pleased to meet you again. I was waiting for a friend when you beckoned. If you did not recognize my face at first, may I ask what it was you wanted of me?"
There was no limit, then, to his audacity. He had not learned his lesson yet, after all, it would seem.
Monny could not bear tamely to lose her hat, though she must have felt her hatpins trembling in the balance. "I told you before," she repeated, "that it was I who beckoned you." He looked at her, without speaking; and somehow the green turban and the long straight gown, by adding to his dignity, added also to his remote air of cold politeness. How could she go on? Had she the cheek to go on? She had; but the cheek was flushed with embarrassment.
"I—er—I am anxious for a guide, some one who knows Egypt well, and several languages," she desperately blurted out, looking like a half-frightened, half-defiant child. "I thought——"
"There are plenty of dragomans, Madame," Green Turban reminded her. "I can recommend you several."
"I don't want a regular dragoman," she said. "And I'm not 'Madame.' I am Miss Gilder."
"Indeed?" Chilling indifference in the tone. (Monny's hat was practically mine. I thought I should rather value it.)
"Yes. But of course that can't matter to you."
"No. It cannot, Mademoiselle."
"What I want to say, is this. You're a Hadji, which means you've been to Mecca; Lord Ernest Borrow's just told us. So you must be very intelligent. Are you in business?"
"I am interested in excavations."
"Oh! And are you allowed to make them yourself?"
I glanced at him quickly, wondering if he meant that answer more for me than for the girl. But his face told nothing.
"Would you be able to, if you were rich enough?"
"It is possible." "Well, I'd be willing to give you a big salary for showing us about Cairo, and perhaps going up the Nile."
"You do not know who I am, Mademoiselle. Ask your friend Lord Ernest Borrow. Perhaps he may remember something about my circumstances now he has recalled my face."
I was honestly not sure whether this were further deviltry, or an appeal for help. In any case, I thought it time for the scene to end. "I told you," I said to Monny in English, "that he was a man of importance, not at all the sort of person you could expect to engage for a guide. You must see now that he's a gentleman. And a—a—an Egyptian gentleman is just the same as any other."
"Surely not quite!" she answered in the same language, and I realized my foolish mistake in using it, as if I meant her to understand that Antoun Effendi knew it too little to catch our secrets.
"An Egyptian man can't have the same feelings as a European? Why, for hundreds and hundreds of years they've been an enslaved race, like our black people at home. We'd never think of calling even the fairest quadroon man a gentleman, though he might be wonderfully good looking and nice mannered."
Literally, I was frightened. Anthony Fenton is fiercely devoted to the memory of the beautiful princess-mother, for love of whom his father's career was ruined. Her mother was a Sicilian woman, and her father was half Greek, so there is little enough Egyptian blood, after all, in the veins of General Fenton's son. He is proud of what there is—proud, because of his mother's fatal charm, and the romance of her story (it was on the eve of her wedding with a cousin of the Sultan that the famous soldier Charles Fenton ran away with Princess Lalla and married her in Sicily): but he is sensitive, too, because, great name as Charles Fenton had made in Egypt, he was asked to resign his commission on account of the escapade. Anthony, sent to England to a public school, had fought bigger boys than himself, who, in a certain tone, had sneeringly called him "Egyptian." I imagined now that through the dark stain on his face I could see him turn pale with rage. He thought, perhaps, that the American beauty was revenging herself for his impertinence, and maybe he was right, but that did not excuse her.
"Be careful, Miss Gilder!" I warned the girl. "This man understands English better than you think. He comes of a princely family and he's got only to put out his hand to claim a fortune—"
"You seem to remember all about me now, Lord Ernest," broke in Fenton, looking dangerous.
"Yes," I said. "It comes back to me. You must forgive Miss Gilder."
"There is nothing to forgive," he caught me up. "I am not a dragoman, to be sure, but I'm enough of an Egyptian to have a price for anything I do. I may put myself at this lady's service if she will pay my price, though I'm not a servant and can't accept wages, even for the sake of pursuing my excavations!"
He continued to speak in French, lest my companions' suspicions should be further roused by the English of an Englishman; and Monny, pale after her blush, answered in neat, schoolgirl French, with a pretty American, accent. "What's the price you wish to name?" she inquired, looking a little afraid of him and ashamed of herself, now that talk of princes and fortunes was bandied about. "Of course," she went on, when he did not answer at once, "if I'd known—all this, I shouldn't have asked you to be a dragoman. At least, perhaps I shouldn't. Anyhow, I shouldn't have made a bet—"
"A bet that I would have a 'price,' Mademoiselle? Then you may win your bet, for I've just told you; I have a price. But I think it unlikely you would be willing to pay it."
"Good heavens, is he going to try and marry the girl?" I asked myself. It would be the last thing to expect of Anthony Fenton. However, he had already done the last but one; the thing I had bet his green turban he would not do. After all, he was a man, and a reckless man, as he had proved on more than one wild occasion. He was in a strange mood, capable of anything; and the Gilded Rose could never have been prettier in her life than at this minute. She had made him furious, and I had imagined that his acceptance of her overtures was the beginning of some scheme of punishment. Now I was almost sure I had been right, yet I could not guess what he would be at. Neither could Monny. But here was the dangerously picturesque Arab who "must be a prince or something," as Cleopatra had expressed it. And he was even more dangerous than picturesque.
"You—you said you wouldn't take wages," she stammered (I enjoyed hearing the self-willed young person stammer): "so I can't understand what you mean. But even though you are all those things Lord Ernest says you are, your price can't be so terribly high as to be beyond my power to pay—if I choose to pay."
"First, Mademoiselle, I must decide whether I choose to be paid."
"Oh!" Monny exclaimed, taken aback. "I thought it was a question of price."
"Not only that. 'I may put myself at the lady's service—for a price,' was what I said. I didn't say, 'I will.' I shall not be able to tell you until to-night." The patronizing tone in which Anthony spoke this sentence was worth to me everything I had gone through in the last half hour.
"But—I want to settle things this morning or—not at all," said Monny, reverting to type: that of the spoiled child.
"I am sorry," replied the man of the green turban. "In that case, it must be not at all." And he made as if to go.
The Gilded Girl could not bear this. I and the others would see that she was fallible; that there were things she wanted which she could not get. "Why can't you tell me now what your price is?" she persisted.
"Because, Mademoiselle, I may not need to tell you ever. It depends partly on another than myself." He threw a quick glance at me. "I expect to meet that other at Abdullahi's Cafe in an hour from now at latest. Everything will depend on the interview. In any case, I will let you know to-night what I can do."
"I may not be in," said Monny. "But if I'm out, you can leave a note."
"If I must refuse to serve you, yes, I can leave a note. If I am to accept, I must see you in person. Should you be out, I'll take it for granted that you have changed your mind and do not want"—he smiled faintly for the first time—"so expensive a guide."
Monny hesitated. "I am not stingy. I'll stay at home this evening," she volunteered at last.
"Bravo Petruchio!" I said under my breath. But if Biddy's plot were to succeed, it was my business to play the part of Petruchio to this Katherine. Let the masquerading prince find a Desdemona who would suit his Othello!
THE CAFE OF ABDULLAH
"Well—you got away from them all right?" began the man with the green turban when, according to his roundabout instructions, I met him an hour later at the cafe he had named, one of the principal resorts of Cairo, where Europeans can consort with natives without attracting remark.
"The real dragoman came and took them off my hands—at least the realer one than you—a dreadful creature with a game eye, who murdered your messenger last night, and gave me your letter and induced the ladies to engage him on the strength of it. No wonder they want a 'looker' to take the taste of him out of their mouths. And you certainly are a 'looker' in that get-up. Now kindly tell me all about it, and everything else."
"That's what I'm here for," said Anthony, running a match-box to earth in some mysterious Arab pocket. "But hold on, Duffer. Something you said just then may be important. Is it true that my messenger didn't give you the letter?"
"If you'd hung about Shepheard's Hotel ten minutes longer, you'd have seen the fellow who did give it. Bedr el Gemaly he calls himself —Armenian Mussulman, a sickening combination, and an awful brute to look at—said your messenger was taken suddenly ill; pretends to be a dragoman."
"What is he like?"
"Rather like a partially decayed but decently dressed goat."
"Don't rot. This may be serious."
I described Bedr el Gemaly as best I could, feature by feature. When I had polished them off, Anthony shook his green-turbaned head. "No portrait of him in my rogues' gallery. Just now, I'm sensitive about spies—over-sensitive rather. Of course, you've spotted my game?"