HotFreeBooks.com
The Fortieth Door
by Mary Hastings Bradley
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE FORTIETH DOOR

by

MARY HASTINGS BRADLEY

AUTHOR OF The Wine of Astonishment, etc.

1920



TO ARTHUR MILLS CORWIN



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. A RASH PROMISE II. MASKS AND MASKERS III. IN THE PASHA'S PALACE IV. EXPLANATIONS V. AT THE GARDEN GATE VI. A SECRET OF THE SANDS VII. TO McLEAN'S ASTONISHMENT VIII. TEWFICK RECEIVES IX. A WEDDING PRESENT X. THE RECEPTION XI. THE FORTY DOORS XII. THE UNINVITED GUEST XIII. THE BEY RETURNS XIV. WITHIN THE WALLS XV. UNDERGROUND XVI. OUT OF THE DARKNESS XVII. AZIZA XVIII. AZIZA IS OFFENDED XIX. AN INTERRUPTION XX. BEYOND THE DOOR XXI. MISS JEFFRIES MAKES A CALL XXII. FROM THE BAZAARS XXIII. IN THE DESERT XXIV. THE TOMB OF A KING XXV. IN CAIRO XXVI. THE PAINTED CASE



CHAPTER I

A RASH PROMISE

He didn't want to go. He loathed the very thought of it. Every flinching nerve in him protested.

A masked ball—a masked ball at a Cairo hotel! Grimacing through peep-holes, self-conscious advances, flirtations ending in giggles! Tourists as nuns, tourists as Turks, tourists as God-knows-what, all preening and peacocking!

Unhappily he gazed upon the girl who was proposing this horror as a bright delight. She was a very engaging girl—that was the mischief of it. She stood smiling there in the bright, Egyptian sunshine, gay confidence in her gray eyes. He hated to shatter that confidence.

And he had done little enough for her during her stay in Cairo. One tea at the Gezireh Palace Hotel, one trip to the Sultan al Hassan Mosque, one excursion through the bazaars—not exactly an orgy of entertainment for a girl from home!

He had evaded climbing the Pyramids and fled from the ostrich farm. He had withheld from inviting her to the camp on the edge of the Libyan desert where he was excavating, although her party had shown unmistakable signs of a willingness to be diverted from the beaten path of its travel.

And he was not calling on her now. He had come to Cairo for supplies and she had encountered him by chance upon a corner of the crowded Mograby, and there promptly she had invited him to to-night's ball.

"But it's not my line, you know, Jinny," he was protesting. "I'm so fearfully out of dancing—"

"More reason to come, Jack. You need a change from digging up ruins all the time—it must be frightfully lonely out there on the desert. I can't think how you stand it."

Jack Ryder smiled. There was no mortal use in explaining to Jinny Jeffries that his life on the desert was the only life in the world, that his ruins held more thrills than all the fevers of her tourist crowds, and that he would rather gaze upon the mummied effigy of any lady of the dynasty of Amenhotep than upon the freshest and fairest of the damsels of the present day.

It would only tax Jinny's credulity and hurt her feelings. And he liked Jinny—though not as he liked Queen Hatasu or the little nameless creature he had dug out of a king's ante-room.

Jinny was an interfering modern. She was the incarnation of impossible demands.

But of course there was no real reason why he should not stop over and go to the dance.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later, when she had extracted his promise and abandoned him to the costumers, he was scourging his weakness.

He had known better! Very well, then, let him take his medicine. Let him go as—here he disgustedly eyed the garment that the Greek was presenting—as Little Lord Fauntleroy! He deserved it.

Shudderingly he looked away from the pretty velvet suit; he scorned the monk's robes that were too redolent of former wearers; he rejected the hot livery of a Russian mujik; he flouted the banality of the Pierrot pantaloons.

Thankfully he remembered McLean. Kilts, that was the thing. Tartans, the real Scotch plaids. Some use, now, McLean's precious sporrans.... He'd look him up at once.

Out of the crowded Mograby he made his way on foot to the Esbekeyih quarters where the streets were wider and emptier of Cairene traffickers and shrill itinerates and laden camels and jostling donkeys.

It was a glorious day, a day of Egypt's blue and gold. The sky was a wash of water color; the streets a flood of molten amber. A little wind from the north rustled the acacias and blew in his bronzed face cool reminders of the widening Nile and dancing waves.

He remembered a chap he knew, who had a sailing canoe—but no, he was going to get a costume for a fool ball!

Disgustedly he turned into the very modern and official-looking residence that was the home of his friend, Andrew McLean, and the offices of that far-reaching institution, the Agricultural Bank.

A white-robed, red-sashed and red-fezed houseboy led him across the tiled entrance into the long room where McLean was concluding a conference with two men.

"Not the least trace," McLean was saying. "We've questioned all our native agents—"

Afterwards Ryder remembered that indefinite little pause. If the two men had not lingered—if McLean had not remembered that he was an excavator—if chance had not brushed the scales with lightning wings—!

"Ever hear of a chap called Delcasse, Paul Delcasse, a French excavator?" McLean suddenly asked of him. "Disappeared in the desert about fifteen years ago."

"He was reported, monsieur, to have died of the fever," one of the men explained.

McLean introduced him as a special agent from France. His companion was one of the secretaries of the French legation. They were trying every quarter for traces of this Delcasse.

Ryder's memory darted back to old library shelves. He saw a thin, brown volume, almost uncut....

"He wrote a book on the Tomb of Thi," he said suddenly. "Paul Delcasse—I remember it very well."

Now that he thought of it, the memory was clear. It was one of those books that had whetted his passion for the past, when his student mind was first kindling to buried cities and forgotten tombs and all the strange store and loot of time.

Paul Delcasse. He didn't remember a word of the book, but he remembered that he had read it with absorption. And now the special agent, delighted at the recognition, was talking eagerly of the writer.

"He was a brilliant young man, monsieur, but he was of no importance to his generation—and he becomes so now through the whim of a capricious woman to disinherit her other heirs. After all this time she has decided to make active inquiries."

"But you said that Delcasse had died—"

"He left a wife and child. Her letters of her husband's death reached his relatives in France, then nothing more. They feared that the same fever—but nothing, positively, was known.... A sad story, monsieur.... This Delcasse was young and adventurous and an ardent explorer. An ardent lover, too, for he brought a beautiful French wife to share the hazards of his expedition—"

"An ardent idiot," thrust in McLean unfeelingly. "Knocking a woman about the desert.... Not much chance of a clue after all these years," he concluded with a very British air of dismissal.

But the French agent was not to be sundered from the American who remembered the book of Delcasse.

From his pocket he brought a leather case and from the case a large and ornate gold locket.

"His picture, monsieur." He pressed the spring and offered Ryder the miniature. "It was done in France before he returned on that last trip, and was left with the aunt. It is said to be a good likeness."

Ryder looked down upon the young face presented to his gaze with a feeling of sympathy for this unlucky searcher of the past who had left his own secret in the sands he had come to conquer—sympathy mingled with blank wonder at the insanity which had brought a woman with it....

McLean couldn't understand a man's doing it.

Jack Ryder couldn't understand a man's wanting to do it. Love to Ryder was incomprehensible idiocy. Woman, as far as he was concerned, had never been created. She was still a spectacle, an historical record, an uncomprehended motive.

"Nice looking chap," he commented briefly, fingering the curious old case as he handed it back.

"I'll keep up the inquiries," McLean assured them, "but, as I said, nothing will come of it.... It's been fifteen years. One more grain lost in the desert of sand.... By luck, you know, you might just stumble on something, some native who knew the story, but if fever carried them off and the Arabs rifled their camp, as I fancy, they'll jolly well keep their mouths shut. No white man will know.... I don't advise your people to spend much money on the search."

"Odd, the inquiries we get," he commented to Ryder when the Frenchmen had completed their courteous farewells. "You'd think the Bank was a Bureau of Information! Yesterday there was a stir about two crazy lads who are supposed to have joined the Mecca pilgrims in disguise.... Of course our clerks are Copts and do pick up a bit and the Copts will talk.... I say, Jack, what are you doing?" he broke off to demand in astonishment, for Jack Ryder had seated himself upon a divan and was absorbedly rolling up his trouser leg.

"The dear Egyptian flea?" he added.

"Not at all. I am looking at my knees," said Ryder glumly. "I just remembered that I have to show them to-night.... A ball—in masquerade. At a hotel. Tourist crowd.... How do you think they'll look with one of your Scotch plaidies atop?" he inquired feelingly.

"Fascinating, Jack, fascinating," said the promptly sardonic McLean. "You—at a masquerade!... So that's what brought you to town."

He cocked a taunting eye at him. "Well, well, she must be a most engaging young person—you'll be taking her out on the desert with you now, like our friend Delcasse—a pleasant, retired spot for a body to have his honeymoon ... no distractions of society ... undiluted companionship, you might say.... Now what made you think she'd like your knees?" he murmured contemplatively. "Aren't you just a bit—previous? Apt to startle and frighten the lady?"

"Oh, go on, go on," Ryder exhorted bitterly. "I like it. It's better than I can do myself. Go on.... But while you are talking trot out your tartans. Something clannish now—one of those ancestral rigs that you are always cherishing ... Rich and red, to set off my dark, handsome type."

"Set off you'll be, Jack dear," promised McLean, dragging out a huge chest. "Set off you'll be."

* * * * *

Set off he was.

And a fool he felt himself that night, as he confronted his brilliant image in the glass. A Scot of the Scots, kilted in vivid plaid, a rakish cap on his black hair, a tartan draped across his shoulder, short, heavy stockings clasping his legs and low shoes gay with big buckles.

"Oh, young Lochinvar has come out of the west," warbled McLean merrily, as he straightened the shoulder pin of silver and Scotch topaz.

"Out of Hades," said Ryder, rather pointlessly, for he felt it was Hades he was going into.

Chiefly he was concerned with his knees and the striking contrast between their sheltered whiteness and the desert brown of his face.... Milky pale they gleamed at him from the glass.... Bony hard, they flaunted their angles at every move.... He was grateful that he was not a centipede.

"Oh, 'twas all for my rightful king, That I gaed o'er the border; Twas all for—

"You didn't tell me her name, now, Jack."

"Where's my mask?" Ryder was muttering. "I say, aren't there any pockets in these confounded petticoats?"

"In the sporran, man.... There!" McLean at last withheld his hand from its handiwork. "Jock, you're a grand sight," he pronounced with a special Scottish burr. "If ye dinna win her now—'Bonny Charley's now awa,'" he sung as Ryder, with a last darkling look at his vivid image, strode towards the door.

"He's awa' all right—and he'll be back again as soon as he can make it."

With this cheerless anticipation of the evening's promise, the departing one stalked, like an exiled Stuart, to his waiting carriage.

For a moment more McLean kept the ironic smile alive upon his lips, as he listened to the rattle of the wheels and the harsh gutturals of the driver, then the smile died as he turned back into the room.

"Eh, but wouldn't you like it, though, Andy," he said to himself, "if some girl now liked you enough to get you to go to one of those damned things.... The lucky dog!"



CHAPTER II

MASKS AND MASKERS

Moors and Juliets and Circassian slaves and Knights at Arms were fast emerging from lift or cloak room, and confronting each other through their masks in sheepish defiance and curiosity. Adventurous spirits were circulating. Voices, lowered and guarded, began to engage in nervous, tittering banter.... Laughter, belatedly smothered, flared to betrayals....

The orchestra was playing a Viennese waltz and couple after couple slipped out upon the floor.

Lounging against the wall, Ryder glowered mockingly through his mask holes at the motley. It was so exactly as he had foreseen. He was bored—and he was going to be more bored. He was jostled—and he was going to be more jostled. He was hot—and he was going to be hotter.

Where in the world was Jinny Jeffries? He deserved, he felt, exhilaratingly kind treatment to compensate him for this insanity. He gazed about, and encountering a plump shepherdess ogling him he stepped hastily behind a palm.

He fairly stepped upon a very small person in black. A phantom-like small person, with the black silk hubarah of the Mohammedan high-caste woman drawn down to her very brows, and over the entire face the black street veil. Not a feature visible. Not an eyebrow. Not an eyelash, not a hint of the small person herself, except a very small white, ringed hand, lifted as if in defense of his clumsiness.

"Sorry," said Ryder quickly, and driven by the instinct of reparation. "Won't you dance?"

A mute shake of the head.

Well, his duty was done. But something, the very lack of all invitation in the black phantom, made him linger. He repeated his request in French.

From behind the veil came a liquidly soft voice with a note of mirth. "I understand the English, monsieur," it informed him.

"Enough, then, to say yes in it?"

The black phantom shook its head. "My education, alas! has only proceeded to the N." Her speech was quaint, unhesitating, but oddly inflected. "I regret—but I am not acquainted with the yes."

A gay character for a masked ball! Indifference and pique swung Ryder towards a geisha girl, but a trace of irritation lingered and he found her, "You likee plink gleisha?" singularly witless.

He'd tell McLean just how darned captivating his outfit was, he promised himself.

And then he caught sight of a familiar pair of gray eyes smiling over the white veil of an odalisque. Jinny Jeffries was wearing one of the many costumes there that passed for Oriental, a glittering assemblage of Turkish trousers and Circassian veils, silver shawls and necklaces and wide bracelets banding bare arms.

As an effect it was distinctly successful.

"Ten thousand dinars could not pay for the chicken she has eaten," uttered Ryder appreciatively in the language of the old slave market, and stepped promptly ahead of a stout Pantalon.

"Jack! You did come!" There was a note in the girl's voice as if she had disbelieved in her good fortune. "Oh, and beautiful as Roderick Dhu! Didn't I tell you that you could find something in that shop?" she declared in triumph.

"Do you imagine that this came out of a costumer's?" Ryder swung her swiftly out in the fox trot before the crowd invaded the floor. "If Andy McLean could hear you! Why this, this is the real thing, the Scots-wha-hae-wi'-Wallace-bled stuff."

"Who is Andy McLean?"

"Andrew is Scotch, Single, and Skeptical. He is a great pal of mine and also an official of the Agricultural Bank which is by way of being a Government institution. These are the togs of his Hieland Grandsire—"

"Why didn't you bring him?"

"Too dead, unfortunately—grandsires often are—"

"I mean Andrew McLean."

"It would take you, my dear Jinny, to do that. You brought me—and I can believe in anything after the surprise of finding myself here."

Jinny Jeffries laughed. "If I could only believe what you say!"

"Oh, you can believe anything I say," Jack obligingly assured her. "I'm very careful what I say—"

"I wish I were."

"You'd have to be careful how you look, Jinny—and you can't help that. The Lord who gave you red hair must provide the way to elude its consequences.... I suppose the Orient isn't exactly a manless Sahara for you?"

She countered, her bright eyes intent, "Is it a girl-less Sahara for you, Jack?"

"The only woman I have laid a hand on, in kindness or unkindness, died before Ptolemy rebuilt Denderah."

"That's not right—"

"No? And I thought it such a virtuous record!"

"I mean," Jinny laughed, "that you really ought to be seeing more of life—like to-night—"

"To-night? Do you imagine this is a place for seeing life?"

"Why not?" she retorted to the irony in his voice. "It's real people—not just dead and gone things in cases with their lives all lived. I don't care if you are going to be a very famous person, Jack, you ought to see more of the world. You have just been buried out here for two years, ever since you left college—"

Beneath his mask the young man was smiling. A quaint feminine notion, that life was to be encountered at a masquerade! This motley of hot, over-dressed, wrought up idiots a human contact!

Life? Living?... Thank you, he preferred the sane young English officials ... the comradeship of his chief ... the glamor of his desert tombs.

Of course there was a loneliness in the desert. That was part of the big feeling of it, the still, stealing sense of immensity reaching out its shadowy hands for you.... Loneliness and restlessness.... These tropic nights, when the stars burned low and bright, and the hot sands seemed breathing.... Loneliness and restlessness—but they gave a man dreams.... And were those dreams to be realized here?

The music stopped and the ever-watchful Pantalon bore down upon them. Abandoning Jinny to her fate, Ryder sought refuge and a cigarette.

The hall was crowded now; the ball was a flash of color, a whirl of satins and spangles and tulle and gauze, gold and green and rose and sapphire, gyrating madly in vivid projection against the black and white stripes of the Moorish walls. The color and the music had sent their quickening reactions among the throng. Masks were lending audacity to mischief and high spirits.

Three little Pierrettes scampered through the crowd, pelting right and left with confetti and balloons, and two stalwart monks and a thin Hamlet pursued them, keeping up the bombardment amid a great combustion of balloons. A spangled Harlequin snatched his hands full of confetti and darted behind a palm.

It was the palm of the black phantom, the palm of Ryder's rebuff. Perhaps the Harlequin had met repulse here, too, and cherished resentment, not a very malicious resentment but a mocking feint of it, for when Ryder turned sharply after him—oddly, he himself was strolling toward that nook—he found Harlequin circling with mock entreaties about the stubbornly refusing black domino.

"Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?" chanted Harlequin, with a shower of confetti flung at the girl's averted face.

There was such a shrinking of genuine fright in her withdrawal that Ryder had a fine thrill of rescue.

"My dance," he declared, laying an intervening hand on her muffled arm.

His tartan-draped shoulder crowded the Harlequin from sight.

She raised her head. The black street veil was flung back, but a black yashmak was hiding all but her eyes. Great dark eyes they were, deep as night and soft as shadows, arched with exquisitely curved brows like the sweep of wild birds' wings.... The most lovely eyes that dreams could bring.

A flash of relief shone through their childish fright. With sudden confidence she turned to Ryder.

"Thank you.... My education, monsieur, has proceeded to the Ts," she told him with a nervous little laugh over her chagrin, drowned in a burst of louder laughter from the discomfited Harlequin, who turned on his heel and then bounded after fresh prey.

"Shall we dance or promenade?" asked Ryder.

Hesitatingly her gaze met his. Red and gold and green and blue flecks of confetti were glimmering like fishscales over her black wrap and were even entangled drolly in the absurd lengths of her eye-lashes.

"It is—if I have not forgotten how to dance," she murmured. "If it is a waltz, perhaps—"

It was a waltz. Ryder had an odd impression of her irresolution before, with strange eagerness, he swept her into the music. Within the clumsy bulk of her draperies his arm felt the slightness of her young form. She was no more than a child.... No child, either, at a masquerade, but a fairy, dancing in the moonlight.... She was a leaf blowing in the breeze.... She was the very breeze and the moonlight.

And then, to his astonishment, the dance was over. Those moments had seemed no more than one.

"We must have the next," he said quickly. "What made you think you had forgotten?"

"It is nearly four years, monsieur, since I danced with a man."

"With a man? You have been dancing with girls, then?"

She nodded.

"At a school?"

"At a—a sort of school." The black domino laughed with ruefulness. "At a very dull sort of school."

"To which, I hope, you are not to return?"

She made no answer to that—unless it was a sigh that slipped out.

"At any rate," he said cheerily, "you are dancing to-night."

"To-night—yes, to-night I am dancing!" There was triumph in her young voice, triumph and faint defiance, and gayety again in her changing eyes.

Extraordinary, those eyes. Innocent, audacious, bewildering.... To look down into them produced the oddest of excitement.

He took off his mask. Masks were hindering things—he could see so much better without.

She, too, could see better—could see him better. Shyly, yet intently, her gaze took note of him, of the clean, clear-cut young face, bronzed and rather thin, of the dark hair that looked darker against the scarlet cap, of the deep-set eyes, hazel-brown, that met hers so often and were so full of contradictory things ... life ... and humor ... and frank simplicity ... and subtle eagerness.

He looked so young and confident and handsome....

"You are—a Scotchman?" slipped out from her black yashmak.

"Only in costume. I am an American."

She repeated it a little musingly. "I do not think I ever met an American young man." She added, "I have met old ones—yes, and middle-aged ones and the women—but a young one, no."

"A retired spot, that school of yours," said Ryder appreciatively. "You are French?"

"That is for your imagination!" Teasingly, she laughed. "I am, monsieur, only a black domino!"

It was the loveliest laugh, Ryder was instantly aware, and the loveliest voice in the world. Yes, and the loveliest eyes.

He forgot the crowd. He forgot the heat. He forgot—alas!—Jinny Jeffries. He was aware of an intense exhilaration, a radiant sense of well-being, and—at the music's beginning—of a small palm pressed again to his, a light form within his arm ... of shy, enchanting eyes out from the shrouding black.

"Do put that veil away," he youthfully entreated. "It's quite time. The others are almost all unmasked."

Her glance about the room returned to him with mock plaintiveness. She shook her head as they spun lightly about a corner.

"Perhaps, monsieur, I have an unfortunate nose."

"My nerves are strong."

"But why afflict them?" Prankishly her eyes sparkled up at him over the black veil that made her a mystery. "Enjoy the present, monsieur!"

"Are you enjoying it?"

Her lashes dropped, like black butterflies. She was a changeling of a girl, veering from gayety to shyness.... Her gaze was now on her wrist watch, a slender blaze of platinum and diamonds.

"The present—yes," she said in a muffled little voice.

He bent his head to hear her through the veil.

A tormenting curiosity was assailing him. It had become not enough to know that she was young and slender, with enchanting eyes and a teasing spirit of wit.... Vaguely he had thought her to be French, one of the quaint jeunes filles so rarely taken traveling.

But who was she? A child at her first ball? But what in the world was she doing, back in the palms, away from her chaperon?

He realized, even in the cloud of his fascination, that French jeunes filles are not wonted to lurk about palms at a ball.

Was she a little Cinderella, then, slipping among the guests? Some poor companion, stealing in for fun?... She was too young. And there was that watch, that glitter of diamonds upon her wrist.

"Have you just come to Cairo?"

She shook her head. "For some time—I have been here."

"Up the Nile yet?"

"The Nile—no, monsieur."

"But you are going?"

"That—that I do not know. Sometime, perhaps."

She sounded guarded.... He hurried into revelations.

"I am staying not far from Cairo, myself. I am an excavator—on an expedition from an American museum."

"Ah, you dig?"

"Well, not personally.... But the expedition digs.... We've had some bully finds."

"And you came from America—to dig in the sands?" The black domino laughed softly. "For how long, monsieur?"

"This is my second year."

Still laughing, she shook her shrouded little head at him. "But I cannot understand! What wonderful thing do you hope to find—what buried secret—?"

"Nothing half as wonderful as to know who you are," he said boldly.

"That, too, is—is buried, monsieur!"

"But not beyond discovery," he told her very gayly and confidently, and danced the music out.

As the last strains died, they paused for an instant as if the spell still bound them, then his arms fell slowly away, and he heard the girl draw a quick, startled breath. Her eyes sped to that tiny, blazing watch; when she lifted them he thought he surprised a gleam of panic.

"How fast is an hour!" she said with an excited little laugh. "Time is a—a very sudden thing!"

Sudden, indeed! How long since he had been a badly bored, impatient young man, mocking the follies of the masquerade? How long since he had danced with Jinny, flouting her notion of this sort of thing as life? How long since he had looked into a pair of dark disquieting eyes ... listened to a gay little voice....

Many important things in life happen suddenly. Juliet happened very suddenly to Romeo. Romeo happened as suddenly to Juliet.

But Jack Ryder was not remembering anything about Romeo and Juliet. He was watching that glance steal to the wrist watch again.

Then, as if with a determination of the spirit, they smiled up at him.

"Monsieur the American," said the black domino, "you have been most kind to an—an incognita—of a masque. I hope that you dig out of your sands all the secrets that you most desire."

"You sound as if you were saying good-bye," said Jack Ryder with quick denial in his blood.

The smile in her eyes flickered.

"Perhaps I have kept you too long from the other guests."

He shook his head. "They don't exist."

"Ah! I will give you the chance to say such nice things to them."

"But I never say nice things—unless I mean them!"

"Never—monsieur?"

"Never. I am very careful what I say," he assured her, even as he had assured another girl, in what different meaning, hours or centuries before. "You can believe anything that I say."

"A young man of character! Perhaps that goes with the Scotch costume. I have read the Scots are a noble people."

"They haven't a thing on the Americans. You must know me better and discover—"

But again her eyes had gone, almost guiltily, to that watch. And when she raised them again they were not smiling but very strangely resolved.

"Monsieur, it is so hot—if you would get me a glass of sherbet?"

"Certainly." Convention brought out the assent; convention turned him about and marched him dutifully toward the crowded table she indicated.

But something deeper than convention, some warning born of that too-often consulted watch and that strange look in her eyes, that uneasy fear and swift resolve, turned him quickly about again.

Other couples had strolled between them. He hurried through and stepped back among the palms.

The place was empty. The black domino was gone.

* * * * *

He wasted one minute in assuring himself that she was not hidden in some corner, not mingled with the crowd. But the niche was deserted as a rifled nest. Then his eyes spied the door that the green decorations had conspired to hide and he wrenched it open.

He found himself on a little balcony overlooking the hotel garden. He knew the place in daytime—palms and shrubs and a graveled walk and painted chairs where he had drunk tea with Jinny and watched a Russian tourist beautifully smoking cigarettes.

Now the place was strange. Night and a crescent moon had wrought their magic, and the garden was a mystery of velvet dusks and ivory pallors. The graveled path ran glimmering beneath the magnolias. Over the wall's blankness the eucalyptus defined its crooked lines against the blue Egyptian sky.

No living thing was there ... nothing ... or did that shadow stir? There, just at the path's end.

Ryder's lithe strength was swift. There was one breathless moment of pursuit, then his hand fell with gripping fierceness upon the huddled dark figure that had sped so frantically to the tiny door in the garden's end.... A moment more and she would have been through.

His hand on her shoulder turned her towards him. Her eyes met his with a dash of desperation.... He was unconscious how his own were blazing ... how queerly white his face had gone under its desert brown.

She was actually running away. She had meant never to see him again. He had frustrated her, but the blow she had meant to deal him was still felt.

His voice, when it came, sounded shaken.

"You were going to leave me?"

Strangely her eyes changed. The defiance, the panic fear, faded. A cloud of slow despair welled up in them.

"What else?" she said very softly.

He did not lose his hold on her. He drew her back into the shadows with involuntary caution, and he felt her slender body trembling in his grasp. The tremors seemed to pass into his own.

A sense of urgency was pressing upon him. He was not himself, not any self that he had known. He stood there, in the Egyptian night, in the motley of a Scotch chieftain, grasping this mysterious creature of the masquerade, and he heard a voice that he did not know ask of her again and again, "But why? Why? Why were you going?"

It was not, he was telling himself, and her eyes were telling him, as if she wanted to go. He knew what he knew.... Those had been enchanted hours.... Yet she had deceived and fled from him.

Her eyes looked darkly back at him through the dusk.

"Because I must return to my own life." Her voice was a whisper. "And I did not want you to know—"

"To know what? Who are you? Where were you going?" A confusion of conjecture, fantastic, horrible, impossible, was surging in him. Dim, vague, terrible things....

"Who are you, anyway?"

She looked away from him, to the door which she had tried to gain.

"No masker, monsieur.... For me, there is no unveiling."

Ryder's hand stiffened. He felt his blood stop a moment, as if his heart stood still.

And then it beat on again in a furious turmoil of contradiction of this impossible thing that she was telling him.

"That door, monsieur, is to the lane, and in the lane another door leads to another garden—the garden of a girl you can never know."

He was no novice to Egypt. Even while his credulity was still battling with belief, his mind had realized this thing that had happened ... the astounding, unbelievable thing.... He had heard something of those Turkish girls, daughters of rich officials, whose lives were such strange opposition of modernity and tradition.

Indulgence and luxury. French governesses and French frocks ... freedom, travel, often,—Paris, London, perhaps—and then, as the girl eclipses the child—the veil. Still indulgence and luxury, still books and governesses and frocks and motors and society—but a feminine society.

Not a man in it. Not a caller. Not a friend. Not a lover.... Not an interview, even, with the man who is to be the husband—until the bride is safe in the husband's home. Hidden women. Secret, secluded lives.... Extinguished by tradition—a tradition against which their earlier years only had won modern emancipation.

And she—this slim creature in the black domino—one of those invisibles?

Stark amazement looked out of his eyes into hers.

"You—a Turk?" he blurted.

"I—a Turk!" Her head went suddenly high; she stiffened with defensive pride. "I am ashamed—but for the thing I have done. That is a shameful thing. To steal out at night—to a hotel—to a ball—And to dance with a man! To tell him who I am—Oh, yes, I am much ashamed. I am as bold as a Christian!" she tossed at him suddenly, between mockery and malice.

Still his wonder and his trouble found no words and the shadow on his face was reflected swiftly in her own.

"I beg you to believe, monsieur, that never before—never have I done such a thing. My greatest fault was to be out in the garden after sunset—when all Moslem women should be within. But my nurse was indulgent."

Almost pleadingly she looked up at the young man. "Believe this of me, monsieur. I would not have you think of me lightly. But to-night something possessed me. I had heard of the masque, and I remembered the balls of the Embassy where I danced when I was so young and so I slipped away—there was a garden key that I had stolen, long ago, and kept for another thing.... I did not mean to dance. Only to look on at the world again."

"Oh, my good Lord," said Jack Ryder.

And then suddenly he asked, "Are you—do you—whom do you live with?"

And when she answered in surprise, "But with whom but my father—he is Tewfick Pasha," he drew a long breath.

"I thought you'd tell me next you were married," he said limply.

The next moment they were laughing the sudden, incredibly absorbed laughter of youth.

"No husband. I am one of the young revoltees—the moderns—and I am the only daughter of a most indulgent father."

"Well, that's something to the good," was Ryder's comment upon that. He added, "But if that most indulgent father caught you—"

He looked down at her. The secret trouble of her answering look told him more than its assumption of courage.

This was no boarding school girl lingering beyond hours.... This was a high-born Moslem, risking more than he could well know.

The escapade was suddenly serious, tremendously menacing.

She answered faintly, "I have no idea—the thing is so impossible! But of course," she rallied her spirit to protest, "I do not think they would sew me in a sack with a stone and drop me in the river, like the odalisques of yesterday!"

She added, her voice uncertain in spite of her, "I meant only to stay a moment."

"Which is the way?" said Jack briefly.

With caution he opened the gate into the black canyon of the lane. Silence and darkness. Not a loiterer, only one of the furtive starved dogs, slinking back from some rubbish....

The girl moved forward and keeping closely at her side he followed; they crossed to the other wall, and turned towards the right, stopping before the deeper shadow of a small, pointed door set into the heavy brick of the high wall. From her draperies the girl drew out a huge key.

She fitted it into the ancient lock and turned it; carefully she pressed open the gate and stared anxiously into the gloom of the shadowy garden that it disclosed.

Relief colored her voice as she turned to him.

"All is quiet.... I am safe, now.... And so—good-bye, monsieur."

"And this is where you live?" Ryder whispered.

"There—in that wing," she murmured, slipping within the gate, and he stole after her, and looked across the garden, through a fringe of date palms, to the outlines of the buildings.

Dim and dark showed the high walls, black as a prison, only here and there the pale orange oblong of a lighted window.

"Did you climb out the window?" he murmured.

From beneath the veil came a little sound of soft derision.

"But there are always bars, even in the garden windows of the haremlik!... No, I stole down by an old stair.... That wing, there, on the right."

Barred on the garden, and on the street the impregnable wooden screens of the mashrubiyeh, those were the rooms where this girl beside him was to spend her life—until that most indulgent father wearied of her modernity and transferred her to other rooms, as barred and screened, in the palace of some husband!... That thought was brushing Ryder ... with other thoughts of her present risk ... of her lovely eyes, visible again, above the veil, thoughts of the strangeness and unreality of it all ... there in the shrubbery of a pasha's garden, the pasha's daughter whispering at his side.

"What about your mother—?" he asked her. "Is she—?"

"She is dead," the girl told him, with a drop in her voice.

And after a long moment of silence, "When I was so little—but I remember her, oh, indeed I do ... She was French, monsieur."

"Oh! And so you—"

"I am French-Turk," she whispered back. "That is very often so—in the harems of Cairo.... She was so lovely," said the girl wistfully. "My father must have loved her very much ... he never brought another wife here. Always I lived alone with my old nurse and the governesses—"

"You had—lessons?"

"Oh, nothing but lessons—all of that world which was shut away so soon.... French and English and music and the philosophy—Oh, we Turks are what you call blue stockings, monsieur, shut away with our books and our dreams ... and our memories ... We are so young and already the real world is a memory.... Sometimes," she said, with a tremor of suppressed passion in her still little tones, "I could wish that I had died when I was very young and so happy when my father took me traveling in Europe.... I played games on the decks of the ships ... I had my tea with the English children.... I went down into the hold to play with their dogs..."

She broke off, between a laugh and a sigh, "Dogs are forbidden to Moslems—but of course you know, if you have been here two years.... And emancipated as we may be, there is no changing the customs. We must live as our grandmothers lived ... though we are not as our grandmothers are..."

"With a French mother, you must be very far from what some of your grandmothers were!"

"My poor French mother!" Whimsically the girl sighed. "Must I blame it on her—the spirit that took me to the ball?... To-morrow this will be a dream to me.... I shall not believe in my shamelessness.... And you, too, must forget—"

"Forget?" said Ryder under his breath.

"Forget—and go. Positively you must go now, monsieur. It is very dangerous here—"

"It is." There was a light dancing in his hazel eyes. "It is more dangerous every moment—"

"But I mean—" Her confusion betrayed itself.

"But I mean—that you are magic—black magic," he murmured bending over the black domino.

The crescent moon had found its way through a filigree of boughs. Faintly its exploring ray lighted the contour of that shrouded head, touched the lovely curves of her arched brows and the tender pallor of the skin about those great wells of dark eyes.... From his own eyes a flame seemed to pass into hers.... Breathlessly they gazed at each other ... like dim shadows in a garden of still enchantment.

And then, as from a palpable clasp, she tried to slip away. "Truly, I must go! It is so late—"

Ryder's heart was pounding within him. He did not recognize this state of affairs; it was utterly unrelated to anything that had gone before in his merry, humorous, rather clear-sighted and wary young life.... He felt dazed and wondering at himself ... and irresponsible ... and appalled ... but deeper than all else, he felt eager and exultant and strangely, furtively determined about something that he was not owning to himself ... something that leaped off his lips in the low murmur to her, "But to-morrow night—I shall see you again—"

She caught her breath. "Oh, never again! To-night has no to-morrow—"

"Outside this gate," he persisted. "I shall wait—and other nights after that. For I must know—if you are safe—"

"See, I am very safe now. For if I were missed there would be running and confusion—"

He only drew a little closer to her. "To-morrow night—or another—I shall come to this door—"

"It must not open to you.... It is a forbidden door—forbidden as that fortieth door in the old story.... There are thirty and nine doors in your life, monsieur, that you may open, but this is the forbidden—"

"I shall be waiting," he insisted. "To-morrow night—or another—"

She moved her head in denial.

"Neither to-morrow nor another night—"

Again their eyes met. He bent over her. He knew a gleam of sharpest wonder at himself as his arms went swiftly round that shrouding drapery, and then all duality of consciousness was blotted out in the rush of his young madness. For within that drapery was the soft, human sweetness of her; his arms tightened, his face bent close, and through the sheer gauze of her veil his lips pressed her lips....

Some one was coming down the walk: Footsteps crunched the gravel.

Like a wraith the girl was out of his arms ... in anger or alarm his whirling senses could not know, although it was their passionate concern. But his last gleam of prudence got him through the gate he heard her locking after.

And then, for her sake, he fled.



CHAPTER III

IN THE PASHA'S PALACE

Nearer sounded the footsteps on the graveled walk and in frightened haste the girl drew out the key from the gate and slipped away into the shrubbery, grateful for the blotting shadows.

At the foot of a rose bush she crouched to thrust the key into a hole in the loose earth, covering the top and drawing the low branches over it.

"Aimee," came a guarded call. "Aimee!"

Still stooping, she tried to steal through the bushes, but the thorns held her and she stood up, pulling at her robes.

"Yes? Miriam?" she said faintly, and desperately freeing herself, she hurried forward towards the dark, bulky figure of her old nurse, emerging now into the moonlight.

"Alhamdolillah—Glory to God!" ejaculated the old woman, but cautiously under her breath. "Come quickly—he is here—thy father! And thou in the garden, at this hour.... But come," and urgently she gripped the girl's wrist as if afraid that she would vanish again into the shadows of the shrubbery.

Aimee felt her knees quake under her. "My father!" she murmured, and her voice died in her throat.

Had he discovered? Had some one seen her slip out? Or recognized her at the ball?

The panic-stricken conjectures surged through her in dismaying confusion. She tried to beat down her fear, to think quickly, to rally her force, but her swimming senses were still invaded with the surprise of those last moments at the gate, her heart still beating with the touch of Ryder's arms about her ... of that long, deep look ... that kiss, beyond all else, that kiss....

Little rivers of fire were running through her veins. Shame and proud anger set up their swift reactions. Oh, what wings of wild, incredible folly had brought her to this! To be kissed like—like a dancing girl—by a man, an unknown, an American!

How could he, how could he! After all his kindness—to hold her so lightly.... And yet there had been no lightness in his eyes, those eager, shining young eyes, so gravely concerned....

But she could not stop to think of this thing. Her father was waiting.

"He came in like a fury," the old nurse was panting, as they scurried up the walk together, "and asked for you ... and your room empty, your bed not touched!... Oh, Allah's ruth upon me, I went trotting through the house, mad with fear.... Up to the roofs then down to the garden ... sending him word that you were dressing that he should not know the only child of his house was a shameless one, devoid of sense."

"But there is no harm in a garden," breathed the girl, her face hot with shame. "To-night was so hot—"

"Is there no coolth upon the roof?"

"But the roses—"

"Can roses not be brought you? Have you no maids to attend you?"

"I am tired of being attended! Can I never be alone—"

"Alone in the garden!... A pretty talk! Eh, I will tell thy father, I will have a stop put to this—hush, would you have him hear?" she admonished, in a sudden whisper, as they opened the little door at the foot of the dark well of spiral steps.

Like conspirators they fled up the staircase, and then with fumbling haste the old nurse dragged off the girl's mantle and veil, muttering at the pins that secured it. She shook out the pale-flowered chiffon of her rumpled frock and gathered back a strand of her dark, disordered hair.

"Say that you were on the roofs," she besought her.

For a moment the girl put the warm rose of her cheek against the old woman's dark, wrinkled one.

"But you are good, Dadi," she said softly, using the Turkish word for familiar old servants.

With a sound of mingled vexation and affection Miriam pushed her ahead of her into the drawing-room.

It was a long, dark room, on whose soft, buff carpet the little gilt chairs and sofas were set about with the empty expectancy of a stage scene in a French salon. French were the shirred, silk shades upon the electric lamps, French the music upon the chic rosewood piano.

And then, as if some careless property man had overlooked them in changing the act, two window balconies of closely carved old wood, of solidly screening mashrubiyeh wood, jutted out from one cream-tinted wall, and above a gilded sofa, upholstered in the delicate fabric of the Rue de la Paix, hung a green satin banner embroidered in silver with a phrase from the Koran.

Tewfick Pasha was at one side of the room, filling his match case. He was in evening dress, a ribbon of some order across a rather swelling shirt bosom, a red fez upon his dark head.

At his daughter's entrance he turned quickly, with so sharp a gleam from his full, somewhat protuberant black eyes that her guilty heart fairly turned over in her.

It made matters no more comforting to have Miriam packed from the room.

She would deny it all, she thought desperately ... No, she would admit it, and implore his indulgence.... She would admit nothing but the garden.... She would admit the ball.... She would never admit the young man....

With conscious eyes and flushing cheeks, woefully aware of dew-drenched satin slippers and an upsettingly hammering heart, Aimee presented the young image of irresolute confusion.

To her surprise there was no outburst. Her father was suddenly gay and smiling, with a flow of pleasant phrases that invited her affection. In his good humor—and Tewfick Pasha liked always to be kept in good humor—he had touches of that boyish charm that had made him the enfant gate of Paris and Vienna as well as Cairo and Constantinople. An enfant no more, in the robustly rotund forties, his cheerful self-indulgence demanded still of his environment that smiling acquiescence that kept life soft and comfortable.

And now it suddenly struck Aimee, through her tense alarm, that his smile was not a spontaneous smile, but was silently, uneasily asking his daughter not to make something too unpleasant for him ... that something that had brought him here, at an unprecedented midnight ... that had kept him waiting until she, supposedly, should rise and dress....

If it were not then a knowledge of her escapade—?

The relief from that fear made everything else bearable. She was even able to entertain, with a certain welcome, the alternative alarm that he had decided to marry again—that nightmare from whose realization the unknown gods (or more truly, the unknown goddesses of the Cairene demi-monde!) had assisted to save her.

There was a furtive excitement about him that fanned the supposition.

Then, quite suddenly, the illuminating lightning cut the clouds.

"My dear child, I have news, really important news for you. If I have not been discussing your future," said Tewfick Pasha, staring with stern nonchalance ahead and determinedly unaware of her instant stiffening of attention, "I have by no means been neglectful of it.... To-day—indeed to-night—there has been a consummation of my plans.... It is not to every daughter that a father may hurry with such an announcement."

Her first feeling was a merciful relief. He knew nothing then of the ball! She could breathe again.... It was her marriage that had brought him.

No new danger, that, but the eternal menace that she had always to dread.... But how many times had he promised that she should have no unknown husband, imposed by tradition! How many times had she indulged dreams of Europe, of bright, free romance!

And now he was off on some tangent from which it would need all her coaxing wit to divert him. With wide eyes painfully intent, her little, jeweled fingers very still in their locked grip in her lap, the color draining from her cheeks, she sat waiting for the revelation.

What was it all? Had he really decided upon something? Upon some one?

Tewfick Pasha appeared in no hurry to inform her. He wandered rather confusedly into a rambling speech about her age and her position and the responsibilities of life and his inabilities to prevent their reaching her, and about his very tender affection for her and his understanding of all those girlish reticences and reluctances which made innocent youth so exquisite, while silently his daughter hung her head and wondered what he would be saying if he knew that she had broken every canon of seclusion and convention, had talked and danced with a man....

His astonishment would be so horrific that she flinched even from the thought.

And if he knew, moreover, that this man had caught her and kissed her—!

She told herself that she was disgraced for life. She had a dreamy desire to close her eyes and lean back and dream on about that disgrace....

But she must listen to her father. He was talking now about the powers of wealth, not merely the nominal riches of his somewhat precarious political affiliations, but solid, sustaining, invested and invulnerable wealth.

Unexpectedly Aimee laughed. "He must be very plain," she declared, her face brightening with mockery, "if you take so long to tell me his name!"

Not, she added to herself under her breath, that any name would weigh a feather's difference!

"On the contrary," and the pasha's eyes met hers frankly for the first time and he seemed delighted to indulge a laugh, "he has the reputation of good looks. He is much a la mode."

"Beautiful and golden—did you meet him just to-night, my father?" Aimee went on, in that light audacity which he had loved to indulge.

Now he smiled, but his glance went uneasily away from her.

"Not at all. This is a serious affair, you understand—the devil of a serious affair!" and for the first time she felt she heard the accents of his candor.

But again he was back to voluble protestation. This man was really an old friend. He boggled over the word, then got it out resonantly. A man he knew well. Not a young man, perhaps—certainly he was not going to hand his only daughter to any boy, a mere novice in life!—but a man who could give her the position she deserved. Not only a rich man, but an influential one.

His name, he brought out at last, was Hamdi Bey. He was a general in the armies of the sultan.

It was a long moment before she could piece any shreds of recollection together.

Hamdi Bey ... A general.... Why, that was a man her father had disliked ... more than once he had dropped resentful phrases of his airs, his arrogance ... had recounted certain clashes with malicious joy.

And now he was planning—no, seriously announcing—

A general ... He must be terribly old....

Not that it made any difference. Old or young, black or white, general or ghikar, would mean nothing in her life. She would have none of him ... none of him.... Never would she endure the humiliation of being handed over like a toy, an odalisque, a slave....

What had happened? She could only suppose that her father had been overcome by that wealth of the general's on which he had made her such a speech. Or perhaps his dislike of Hamdi had been founded on nothing but resentment of Hamdi's airs of superiority, and now that the bey was condescending to ask for her hand her father's flattered appeasement was rushing into genial acceptance.

Anything might be possible to Tewfick Pasha's eternally youthful enthusiasms.

She told her frightened heart that she was not afraid.... Her father would never really fail her.... And she would never surrender to this degradation; for all her fright and all her flinching from defiance she divined in herself some hidden stuff of resistance, tenacious to endure ... some strain of daring which had made her brave that wild escapade to-night.

Was it still the same night? Were the violins still playing, the people still dancing in their fairy land of freedom?... Was that young man in the Highland dress, that unknown American, was he back there dancing with some other girl?

What was it he had said? To-morrow night, and another night, he would be there in the lane.... If she would come! As if she would demean herself, after his rude affront, to steal again to the gate, like a gardener's daughter—!

Her thoughts were so full of him. And now she had this new horror to face, this marriage to Hamdi Bey. Did her father dream that she would not resist? It was against such a danger that she had long ago stolen a garden key, a key to the outer world in which she had neither a friend nor a piaster to save her....

"My dear father," she said entreatingly, "please do not tell me that you really mean—that you really think you would like to—that you would consider—this man—"

He turned on her a suddenly direct, confessing look.

"Aimee, I have arranged this matter."

He added heavily, "To-night. That is what I came to tell you."

In the silence that settled upon them he finally ceased his effort to ignore her shocked dismay. He abandoned his airy pretense that the affair could possibly evoke her enthusiasm. He sucked at his cigarette like a rather sullen little boy.

"I have always indulged you, Aimee," he said at last, without looking round at her. "I hope you are not going to make me infernally sorry."

"I think you are m-making me inf-fernally sorry," said an unsteady little voice.

He looked about. His daughter was sitting very still upon the gilded sofa beneath the banner of Mahomet; as he regarded her two great tears formed in her dark eyes and ran slowly down her cheeks.

With a sound of impatience he jumped to his feet and began to pace up and down the room.

This, he pointed out heatedly, to her, was what a man got who indulged his daughter. This is what came of French and English governesses and modern ideas.... After all he had done—more than any other father! To sit and weep! Weep—at such a marriage! What did she expect of life? Was she not as other women? Did she never look ahead? Had she no pride, no ambition—no hopes? Did she wish never to marry, then, to become an old mees like her English companion?

"I am but eighteen," she said quiveringly. "Oh, my father, do not give me to this unknown—"

"Unknown—unknown! Do I not know him?"

"But you promised—"

Angrily he gestured with his cigarette. "Do I know what is good for you or do I not? Have I your interest at heart—tell me! Am I a savage, a dolt—"

"But you do not know what it is to be unhappy. I beg of you, my father,—I should die with such a life before me, with such a man for my husband. I am too French, too like my mother—"

"Ah, your mother!... Too French, are you?... But what would you have in France?" he demanded with the bursting appearance of a man making every effort to restrain himself within unreasonable bounds. "Would not your parents there arrange your marriage? You might see the fiance," he caught the words out of her mouth, "but only for a time or two—after the arrangements—and what is that? What more would you know than what your father knows? Are you a thing to be exhibited—given to a man to gaze at and appraise? I tell you, no.... You are my daughter. You bear my name. And when you marry you marry in the sanctity of the custom of your father—and you go to your husband's house as his mother went to his father."

Timidly she protested, "But my mother—and you—"

"Do not speak of your mother! If she were here she would counsel gratitude and obedience." He turned his back on her. "This is what comes," he muttered, "of this modernity, this education...."

He pitched away his stub as if he were casting all that he hated away with it.

She had never seen him so angry. Helplessly she felt that his vanity and his word were engaged with the general more than she had dreamed. She felt a surge of panic at the immensity of the trouble before her.

"But, my father, if you love me—"

"No, my little one, if you love me!"

With a sudden assumption of good humor over the angry red mottling his olive cheeks, he came and sat beside her, putting his arm about her silently shrinking figure.

"I am a weak fool to stay and drink a woman's tears, as the saying goes," he told her, "but this is what a man gets for being good natured.... But, tears or not, I know what is best.... Come, Aimee, have I not ever been fond of you—?"

He patted her hand with his own plump one where bright rings were sparkling deep in the encroaching flesh. Aimee looked down with a sudden wild dislike.... That soft, ingratiating hand, with its dimples and polished nails, which thought it could pat her so easily into submission....

It was nothing to him, she thought, chokingly, whether she was happy or unhappy. He had decided on the match—perhaps he had foreseen her protests and plunged into it, so as to be committed against her entreaties!—and he was not stopped by any thought of her feelings.

After all her hopes! After all he had promised!

But she told herself that she had never been secure. Beneath all her trust there had always been the silent fear, slipping through the shadows like a serpent.... Some instinct for character, more precocious than her years, had whispered through her fond blindness, and initiated her into foreboding.

"Come now, my dear," he said heartily, "this is a surprise, of course, but after all you will find it is for the best—much for the best—"

His voice died away. After a long pause, "You may make the arrangements," she told him in a still, tenacious little voice, "but you cannot make me marry him.... I will never put on the marriage dress.... Never wear the diadem.... Never stir one step within his house."

A complete silence succeeded this declaration. He got up violently from beside her. She did not dare look at him. He was going away, she thought.

It would be the beginning of war. She did not know what he would do but she knew that she would endure it.

And the gossip of the harems would be her protection. Her opposition, bruited through those feminine channels, would not be long in reaching Hamdi Bey.... And no man could to-day be so callous of his pride or the world's opinion that he would be willing to receive such a revolting bride.

Did her father think of that, that poor, pale power of hers? He stood irresolute, as if meditating a last exhortation, and then suddenly turned on her the haggard face of a violent despair.

"Would you see me ruined?" he said passionately.

Sharply he glanced about the room, at the far, closed doors where it was not inconceivable that old Miriam was lurking, and strode over to her and began talking very jerkily and huskily, over her bent head.

"I tell you that Hamdi is making this a condition—it is the price of silence, of those papers back.... He came to me to-night. I knew that hound of Satan had been smelling about, but I could not imagine—as if, between gentlemen—"

At that, she lifted her stupefied head.... Her father, with the face of a cornered fox!... She caught her breath with the shock of it. Her lips parted, but only her mute eyes asked their startled questions.

Hurriedly, shamefacedly, with angry resentments and self-justifications, he was pouring a flood of broken phrases at her. She caught unintelligible references to narrow laws and the imbecile English, to impositions binding only upon the fools.... And then the word hasheesh.

Sharply then the truth took its outlines. Her father had been smuggling in hasheesh. Hamdi Bey had discovered this, and Hamdi Bey, unless silenced, had threatened betrayal.

The danger was real. English laws were stringent. Vaguely the horrors loomed—arrest, trial.... Even if he escaped the scandal was ruin....

Small wonder that her father had come flying upon the wings of his danger and its deliverance, small wonder that his brow was wet and his lips dry and his eyes hard with terror.

Thrown to the winds now his pretense of affection for Hamdi Bey! He hated and feared him. The old fox had done this, he declared, to get a hold upon him, for always there had been bad blood.

And the bey had heard, of course, of the beauty of the pasha's daughter. Some cousin had babbled.... And undoubtedly the rumor of that beauty—Tewfick Pasha received his inspiration upon the moment, but that was not gainsaying its truth—had determined the bey to find some vulnerable hold.

He was like that, a soft-voiced, sardonic devil! And this accursed business of the hasheesh had served his ends. To-night, he had come with his proofs....

"So you see," muttered Tewfick Pasha, "what the devil of a serious business this is. And how any talk of—of unreadiness—if you were not amiable, for example, to his cousin when she calls upon you—might serve to anger him.... And so—"

Significantly his glance met hers. Her eyes fell, stricken. The color flooded her trembling face. She quivered with confused pain, with shame for his shame, with terror and fright ... with a hot, protective compassion that tore at her pride....

She struggled against her dismay, trying for reassuring little words that would not come. Her heart seemed beating thickly in her throat.

She never knew just what she said, what little broken words of pity, of understanding, of promise, she achieved. But her father suddenly dropped beside her, with an abandon reminiscent of the enfant gate of his Paris days, and drew her hands to his lips, kissing their soft, quiescent palms.... She drew one away and placed it upon his dark head from which the fez had tumbled.

For the moment she was sorry, as one is sorry for a hurt child. And her sorriness held her heart warm, in the glow of giving comfort.

She had need of that warmth. For a cold tide was rising in her, a tide of chill, irresistible foreboding....

For all the years of her life.... For all the years....



CHAPTER IV

EXPLANATIONS

The remaining hours of Jack Ryder's night might be divided into three periods. There was an interval of astounding exhilaration coupled with complete mental vacancy, during which a figure in a Scots costume might have been observed by the astonished Egyptian moon striding obliviously along the silent road to the Nile, past sleeping camels and snoring dhurra merchants—a period during which his sole distinguishable sensation was the memory of enchanting eyes, of a voice, low and lovely ... of a slender figure in a muffling tcharchaf ... of the touch of soft lips beneath a gauzy veil....

This period was succeeded by hours of utter incredulity, in which he lay wide-eyed on the sleeping porch of McLean's domicile and stared into the white cloud of his fly net and questioned high heaven and himself.

Had he really done this? Had he actually caught and kissed this girl, this girl whose name he did not know, whose face he had never seen, of whom he knew nothing but that she was the daughter of a Turk and utterly forbidden by every canon of sanity and self-preservation?

In the name of wonder, what had possessed him? The night? The moon? The mystery of the unknown?... If he had never really kissed her he might have convinced himself that he had never really wanted to. But having kissed her—!

He looked upon himself as a stranger. A stranger of whom he would be remarkably wary, in the days and nights to come ... but a stranger for whom he entertained a sort of secret, amazed respect. There had been an undeniable dash and daring to that stranger....

During the third period he slept.

When he awoke, late in the morning, and descended from a cold tub to a breakfast room from which McLean had long since departed, he brought yet another mood with him, a mood of dark, deep disgust and a shamed inclination to dismiss these events very speedily from memory. For that shadowy and rather shady affair he had abandoned the merry and delightful Jinny Jeffries and got himself involved now in the duty of explanations and peacemaking.

What in the world was he going to say?

He meditated a note—but he hated a lie on paper. It looked so thunderingly black and white. Besides, he could not think of any. "Dear Jinny—Awfully sorry I was called away."

No, that wouldn't do. He could take refuge in no such vagueness. Unfortunately, he and Jinny were on such terms of old intimacy that a certain explicitness of detail was expected.

"Dear Jinny—I had to leave last night and take a girl home—"

No, she would ask about the girl. Jinny had a propensity for locating people. It wouldn't do.

His masculine instinct for saying the least possible in a matter with a woman, and his ripening experience which taught him to leave no mystery to awaken suspicion, wrestled with the affair for some time and then retired from the field.

He compromised by telephoning Jinny briefly—and Jinny was equally as brief and twice as cool and cryptic—and promising to take her out to tea.

He reflected that if he took her to tea he would really have to stay over another night, for it would be too late to regain his desert camp. But the circumstances seemed to call for some social amend.... And no matter how many nights he stayed he certainly was not going to lurk about that lane, outside garden doors!

He must have been mad, stark, staring, March-hatter mad!

* * * * *

That morning, during its remainder, he concluded his buying of supplies and saw to their shipment upon the boat that left upon the following morning. That noon he lunched with an assistant curator of the Cairo museum who found him a good listener.

That afternoon he escorted Jinny Jeffries and her uncle and aunt, the Josiah Pendletons, to tea upon the little island in the Cairo park, where white-robed Arabs brought them tea over the tiny bridge and violins played behind the shrubbery and white swans glided upon the blue lake, and then he carried them off in a victoria to view the sunset from the Citadel heights.

Not a word about the dance—except a general affirmative to Mrs. Pendleton's question if he had enjoyed himself. The Pendletons had not stayed to look on for long, and Jinny had apparently not worn her bleeding heart upon her sleeve.

But this immunity could not last. He could not hug the protecting Pendletons to him forever.

Nor did he want to. They waned upon him. Mrs. Pendleton's conversation was a perpetual, "Do look at—!" or dissertations from the guide books—already she had imparted a great deal of Flinders Petrie to him about his tombs. Mr. Pendleton was neither enthusiastic nor voluble, but he was attacking the objects of their travels in the same thorough-going spirit that he had attacked and surmounted the industrial obstacles of his career, and he went to a great deal of persistent trouble to ascertain the exact dates of passing mosques and the conformations of their arches.

The travelers had already "done" the Citadel. They had climbed its rocky hill, they had viewed the Mahomet Ali mosque and its columns and its carpets and had taken their guide's and their guidebook's word that it was an inferior structure although so amazingly effective from below; they had looked studiously down upon the city and tried to distinguish its minarets and towers and ancient gates, they had viewed with proper quizzicalness the imprint in the stone parapet of the hoof of that blindfolded horse which the last of the Mamelukes, cornered and betrayed, had spurred from the heights.

So now, no duty upon them, Ryder led them past the Citadel, up the Mokattam hills behind it, to that hilltop on which stood the little ancient mosque of the Sheykh-el-Gauchy, where the sunset spaces flowed round them like a sea of light and the world dropped into miniature at their feet.

Below them, in a golden haze, Cairo's domes and minarets were shining like a city of dreams. To the north, toy fields, vivid green, of rice and cotton lands, and the silver thread of the winding Nile, and all beyond, west and southwest, the vast, illimitable stretch of desert, shimmering in the opalescent air, sweeping on to the farthest edge of blue horizon.

"A nice resting place," said Jack Ryder appreciatively of the tomb of the Sheykh-el-Gauchy.

"I presume the date is given," Mr. Pendleton was murmuring, as he began to ferret with his Baedecker.

Mrs. Pendleton sighed sentimentally. "He must have been very fond of nature."

"He was very distrustful of his wives," said Ryder, grinning. "He had three of them, all young and beautiful."

"I thought you said he was a saint?" murmured Jinny, to which interpolation he responded, "Wouldn't three wives make any man a saint?" and resumed his narrative.

"And so he had his tomb made where he could overlook the whole city and observe the conduct of his widows."

"They could move," objected Miss Jeffries.

"The female of the Mohammedan species is not the free agent that you imagine," Ryder retorted, beginning with a smile and ending with a queer, reminiscent pang. He had a moment's rather complicated twinge of amusement at her reactions if she should know that to an encounter with a female of the Mohammedan species was to be attributed his departure from her party last night.

And then he remembered that he hadn't decided yet what to tell her and the time was undoubtedly at hand.

The time was at hand. The Pendletons were too thorough-going Americans not to abdicate before the young. They did not saunter self-consciously away and make any opportunity for Jack and Jinny, as sympathetic European chaperons might have done; they sat matter-of-factedly upon the rocks while their competent young people betook themselves to higher heights.

Conscientiously Ryder was pointing out the pyramid fields.

"Gizeh, Abusir, Sakkara, Dahsur—and now here, if you look—that's the Medun pyramid—that tiny, sharp prick. If we had glasses...."

"Yes; but why didn't you like the ball?" murmured Jinny the direct.

"I did like the ball. Very much."

"Then why didn't you stay?"

"I—I wasn't feeling top-hole," he murmured lamely, wondering why girls always wanted to go back and stir up dogs that had gone comfortably to sleep.

"Did it come on suddenly?" said Jinny, unsympathetically, her eyes still upon the pyramids.

Something whimsical twitched at Jack Ryder's lips. "Very suddenly. Like thunder, out of China crost the bay."

"I suppose that dancing with the same girl in succession brings on the seizures?"

So she had noticed that!... Not for nothing were those bright, gray eyes of hers! Not for nothing the red hair.

"Well, I rather think it did," he said deliberately. "That girl was a child who hadn't danced in four years—so she said, and I believe her."

And Jinny received what he intended to convey. "Stepped on your buckled shoon and you felt a martyr?... But why bolt? There were other girls who had danced within four years—"

"I went into the garden," he murmured. "The fact is, I was feeling awfully—queer," he brought out in an odd tone.

Queer was a good word for it. He let it go at that. He couldn't do better.

Jinny looked suddenly uncertain. Her pique was streaked with compunction. She had been horribly angry with him for running away, and she remembered his opposition to the idea enough to be suspicious of any disappearance—but there was certainly an accent of embarrassed sincerity about him.

Perhaps he had been ill. Sudden seizures were not unknown in Egypt. And for all his desert brown he didn't look very rugged.

She murmured, "I hope you hadn't taken anything that disagreed with you."

"H'm—it rather agreed with me at the time," said Jack, and then brought himself up short. "I expect I haven't looked very sharp after myself—"

But Jinny did not wholly renounce her idea. "Does it always take you at dances you don't want to go to?"

"That's unfair. I came, you know."

"You came—and went."

"I'd have been all right if I hadn't come," he murmured, and Jinny felt suddenly ashamed of herself.

"Do you suppose that you would stay all right if you came to dinner?" she offered pacificably. "It's our last night, you know, till we come back from the Nile."

"I wish I could." Ryder stopped short. Now, why didn't he? Certainly he didn't intend—

But his tongue took matters promptly out of his hesitation's hands. "Fact is, I've an engagement." He added, appeasingly, "That's why I was so keen on getting you for tea." And Jinny told him appreciatively that it was a lovely tea and a lovely view.

"We're going to be at the hotel, I expect," she threw out, carelessly, "and if you get through in time—"

Rather hastily he assured her that indeed, if he got through in time—

She was a nice girl, was Jinny. A pretty girl, with just the right amount of red in her hair. Sanity would have sent him to the hotel to dine with her.

Sanity would also have sent him to the Jockey Club with McLean.

Certainly sanity had nothing to do with the way that he kept himself to himself, after his farewells at the hotel with the Pendletons, and took him to an out-of-the-way Greek cafe where he dined very badly upon stringy lamb and sodden baklava.

Later he wandered restlessly about dark, medieval streets where squat groups were clustered about some coffee house door, intent upon a game of checkers or some patriarchal story teller, recounting, very probably, a bandied narration of the Thousand and One Nights. Through other open doors drifted the exasperating nasal twang of Cairene music, and idly pausing, Ryder could see above the red fezes and turbans that topped the cross-legged audiences the dark, sleek, slowly-revolving body of some desert dancing girl.

Irresolutely he drifted on to the Esbekeyih quarters, to the streets where the withdrawn camels and donkeys had left pre-eminent the carriages and motors of that stream of Continental night life which sets towards Cairo in the season, Russian dukes and German millionaires, Viennese actresses and French singers and ladies of no avowed profession, gamblers, idlers, diplomats, drifters, vivid flashes of color in the bizarre, kaleidoscopic spectacle.

It was quite dark now. The last pale gleam of the afterglow had faded, and the blue of the sky, deepening and darkening, was pierced with the thronging stars. It was very warm; no breeze, but a fitful stirring in the tops of the feathery palms.

The streets were growing still. Only from some of the hotels came the sound of music from lighted, open windows.

Jinny would be rather expectant at her hotel. He could, of course, drop in for a few minutes since he was so near.... He walked past the hotel.... Jinny would be packing—or ought to be. A pity to disturb her.... And his dusty tweeds and traveling cap was no calling costume....

He walked past again. And this time he paused, on the brink of a dark canyon of a lane, running back between walls hung with bougainvillea.

Quite suddenly he remembered that he had told that girl, whose name he did not know, that he would come. It was a definite promise. It was an obligation.

He could do nothing less. It might be unwelcome, absurd, a nuisance, but really it was an obligation.

He sauntered down the lane, keeping carefully in the shadow. He loitered within that deep-set door—and felt a queer throb of emotion at the sight of it—and so, sauntering and loitering, he waited in the darkening night, promising himself disgustedly through the dragging moments to clear out and be done with this, but still interminably lingering, his pulses throbbing with that disowned expectancy.

Very cautiously, the gate began to open.



CHAPTER V

AT THE GARDEN GATE

Inch by inch the gate edged open. Warily he presented himself. The furtive crack gave him an instant's glimpse of a dark form within the shadows, then, in his face, it closed.

Ryder waited. In a moment it was opened wider, and he saw the dark-shrouded head and the veiled face of the Turkish girl, and out from the blackness the sparkle of young eyes.

"Is it—but who is it?" whispered a doubtful voice, and at his, "Why it is I—the American," quickly drawing off his cap, a little hand darted out of the darkness to pluck him swiftly within and the door was closed to within an inch of its opening.

Then the black phantom, drawing him back among the shrubbery, against the wall, turned with a muffled note of laughter.

"But the costume! Imagine that I—I was looking again for a Scottish chieftain with red kilts and a feather in his cap!"

"And instead—" Ryder glanced down at his tweeds with humorous recognition of his change of figure. Then his eyes returned to her.

"But you are the same," he murmured.

She was indeed the same. The same black street mantle, down to her very brows. The same black veil, up to her very eyes. And the eyes—! Their soft mysterious loveliness—the little winged tilt of the brows!

Apparently their effect was disconcertingly the same. He was conscious of a feeling that was far from a normal calm.

"So you were all right?" he half whispered. "Those steps, last night, you know, made me horribly afraid for you—"

"But, yes, I am all right."

As excitement gained upon him, a constraint was falling upon her. They were both remembering that moment, overlooked in the rush of recognition, when they had parted in this place, when he had had the temerity to clasp and kiss her.

Aimee was standing rigid and wary, ready for flight at the first fear. She told herself that she had only come through pride, the pride that insisted upon humbling his presumption. She would let him see how bitterly he had offended.... She had only come for this, she told herself—and to see if he had come.

If he had not come! That would have dealt a sorrily humiliating blow.

But he was here. And reassured and haughty, repeating that she was mortally offended, her spirit alternating between pride and shame and a delicious fear, she stood there in the shrubbery, fascinated, like a wild, shy thing of another age.

"That was old Miriam," she explained constrainedly. "My father had come in—with unexpectedness."

"Lord, it was lucky you were back!"

"Yes, it was—lucky," she assented. "If it had been half an hour before—"

She broke off. There came to the young man a sobering perception of the risk she ran, of the supreme folly of this escapade to which they were entrusting themselves.

It was a realization that deserved some consideration. But, obstinately, with young carelessness, he shook it off. After all, this was comparatively safe for her. She was not out of bounds. At an alarm he could slip away and no one could ever know. What risk there might be was chiefly his own.

"When you asked who it was," he murmured, "it occurred to me that you did not know my name—nor I yours. My own," he added, as she stood unresponsive, "is Ryder—Jack Ryder. You can always get a letter to me at the Agricultural Bank. That is the quickest way. My friend, McLean there, always knows where my diggings are. When in Cairo I stop with him; or at the Rossmore House."

"I shall not need to get a letter to you, monsieur," she told him stiffly.

"But, if you did, how would you sign it?"

"Aimee.... That is French—after my mother."

"Aimee. That means Beloved, doesn't it?"

She was silent.

Surely, she thought with a swelling heart, if he were sorry he would tell her now. It was the moment for contrition, for appeasement, for whatever explanation his American ways might have.

She had thought about him all night. She had given his declaration a hundred forms—but always it had been a declaration.

Now she waited, flagellating her sensitive pride.

Ryder was conscious of the constraint tightening about them and in the dragging pause an uncomfortable common sense had time to put its disconcerting questions.

What did it matter what her name meant? What in the world was he doing here?.... And what did she think she was doing here?... Not that he wanted her to go....

And suddenly it didn't matter—whatever they thought. It was enough that they were together in that still, soft, jasmine-scented dark. He was breathing quickly; his pulses were beating; he had a feeling of strange, heady delight.

The crescent moon was up at last, sailing clear of the house tops, sending its bright rays through the filigree of tall shrubs. A finger of light edged the contour of her shrouded head.

He bent a little closer.

"Won't you," he said softly, "take off your veil for me?"

Appalled, she clasped it to her. He had no idea in the world of the shock of that request. It would be only a faint parallel of its impropriety to suggest to Jinny Jeffries that she discard her frock. Even Ryder's acquaintance with Egypt could not tell him how that swift, confident eagerness of his could startle and affront.

"I want to see you so very much," he was murmuring, and met the chill disdain of her retort, "But it is not for you to see my face, monsieur!"

"Who is to see it?" he demanded.

"Who but the man I am to marry," she gave distinctly back.

The word hit him like stone.

He was conscious of a shock. Did she intend to rebuke—or to imply—to question his intention? The steadiness of her low voice suggested a certain steadiness of design.... He had heard of girls who knew their own minds ... girls with unexpectedly far-sighted vision.... Perhaps, poor child, she looked upon him as romantic escape from all that was restrictive in her life. Secluded women go fast—when they start.

The devil take him for that kiss!

A somewhat set look upon his thin face guarded the fluctuations of his soul, but the blood rose strongly under his dark skin.

For a moment he did not venture upon a reply, and in that moment he was suddenly aware that she had caught his meaning from him—and that it was a horrible mistake. It was one of those instants of highly-charged exchanges of meanings whose revelation was as useless to be denied as powerless to be explained.

Then her words came in tumultuous, passionate refutation of his thought. "That is what my father had come to tell me—that he had arranged my marriage. It is a very splendid thing. To a general—a rich general!"

She had not meant to tell him like that! But for the moment she was savagely glad to hurl it at him.

He made no answer. His eyes were inscrutably intent. A variety of things were rearranging themselves in his head.

"You're—you're going to marry him?" he said slowly.

"What else?" But she felt the phrase unfortunate and plunged past it. "It is not for me to say no, monsieur. It is for my father to arrange."

"But his indulgence—? You were telling me, you know, that he was so fond of you. And that you were one of the moderns—the revolting moderns—"

Jack Ryder's tone was questioningly cynical and its raillery cut through her brief sham of pride.

"So I thought, too, last night." A tinge of infinite disillusionment was in her young voice. "But it is not so."

"Then you accept—?"

The shrouded head nodded.

"But you can't want to," he broke out with sudden heat. "You don't know him at all, do you—this general?"

"Know him? I have never seen his face nor heard his voice—and I would die first," she added with bitter, helpless fierceness under her breath.

The veil muffled that from him. "But why—why?" he repeated in an angrily puzzled way.

She made a little gesture of weary impotence. Out of the dark draperies her hands were like white fluttering butterflies.

"What can I do?"

"I should think you could do the Old Harry of a lot."

"Weep?" said the girl with a pale irony not lost upon him.

"Weep—or row. Or run," he added, almost reluctantly.

She turned away her head. "I know, I thought once that I could run. For that I stole the key to this gate. But where would I run, monsieur? I have neither friends, nor—nor the resources.... There have been girls—two sisters—who ran away last year—but they were already married and they had cousins in France. For me, my cousins do not exist. I do not know my mother's family. They disowned her for her marriage, my father says. And so—but it is not possible to evade this.... It is not possible. This marriage is required."

"Required—rot! Can't you—don't you—" he paused, looking down upon her in tremendous and serious uncertainty. The impulse was strong upon him to tell her that he would help her. The accents of her voice had seemed to tear at his very heart.

It was utter madness. Where, in the map of Africa, would he hide her? And how would he take care of her? What would he do to her? Make love to her? Marry her? Take home a wife from an Egyptian harem—a surprising acquisition with which to startle and enchant his decorous family in East Middleton!

And a pretty end to his work here, his reputation, his responsibilities—

It was madness. And the fact that the thought had presented itself, even for his flouting mockery, indicated that he was mad. He told himself to be careful. Better men than he had everlastingly done for themselves because upon a night of stars and moonshine some dark-eyed girl had played the very devil with their common sense.

He reminded himself that he had never set eyes on her until last night, that she might be the consummate perfection of a minx, that there might not be a word of truth in all of this.

This general, now! Sudden. Not a word about it last night. And now—

He had an inkling that even Mohammedan fathers do not rush matters at such a pace.

For all he knew the girl might be inventing this general—for some artless reasons of her own. For all he knew she might be married to him and desirous of escape.

But he didn't believe it. She was too young and shy and virginal. The accents of her candor rebuked his skepticism. He merely told himself these things because the last vestige of his expiring common sense was prompting him.

And after all these creditable and excellent exhortations, to the utter extinction of the last vestige of that common sense he heard himself saying abruptly, "But isn't there anything in the world that I can do—?"

"Nothing, monsieur."

"But for you to submit—like this—"

"It is not to be helped."

"But it is to be helped—if you really dislike it," he added jealously.

"I cannot help it, because—because my father—" She hesitated. The honor of her father and her family pride and affection were all involved, yet suddenly the sacrifice of these became more tolerable than to consent to that image of herself which she saw swiftly defining itself in his mind, that slight, weak creature, whose acquiescent passivity submitted to this marriage.

The thought was unbearable. She was burning beneath her veil. She would tell him.... And perhaps she was not averse, in her childish pride, to the pitiful glory of having him see her in the beauty of her filial sacrifice.

"My father has—has done something against the English laws," she faltered, "and Hamdi Bey, this general, knows of it, and will inform unless—unless my father makes this marriage. A cousin of his has seen me," she added, her young vanity forlornly rearing its head, "and told Hamdi that I am not—not too ill-looking a girl—"

Her essay of a laugh died.

Ryder's look deepened its sharp, defensive concentration.

"This is true—I mean your father is not just putting something over—telling you to get your consent?"

Her thoughts flew back to her father's haggard face. "Oh, it is true! I know."

"And he's going to hand you over—What sort is this Hamdi?"

"A general. Old. Evil enough to lay traps to obtain me."

"It's abomination." The anger in the young man surged beyond his control. "You must not do it.... If your father is clever enough to break a law let him be clever enough to mend it—by himself. Such a sacrifice is not required.... You must realize what this means to you. You must realize—Look here, I'll help you. I'll plan some escape. There must be ways. I have friends—"

She stifled the leap of her heart. She held her head high and made what she thought was a very noble little speech. "It is for my father, monsieur. You do not understand. It is to save my father."

He looked at her in silence. He was afraid to answer for a moment; he could feel the unruly blood beating even in the lips he pressed together.

"But don't you understand—" he blurted at last and broke off.

After all, he did not know this girl. If he swayed her judgment now, and dragged her away, what life, what compensation could he offer her? How did he know that she would not regret it? Would she be happier in a world unknown?....

She had been brought up to this sort of thing. It was bred in her.... Marriage was her inevitable game. This very charm she exercised, this subtle, haunting invasion of his senses, what was that but another proof of the harem existence where all influences were forced to serve the ends of sex ...

And she was so maddeningly resigned to taking this general!

A queer hot rage was gaining possession of him. "Oh, well, if you prefer this," he said brutally, with a youthful desire to wreak pain in return for that strange pain which something was inflicting upon him.

A girl who would let him kiss her one night—and on the next inform him that she was giving herself to an unknown—an old Turk.... If she could go like that, to some other's arms and lips ...

He wanted to take her fiercely in his arms and crush her lips against his and then fling her away and say, "Oh, go to him now—if you can!"

And at the same time he wanted to gather her to him as tenderly as if she were a flower he was guarding and tell her that he would protect her against all the world.

He was divided and confused and blindly angry. He felt baffled and frustrated. He was both aching and raging. And yet he was capable of reminding himself, in some corner of his uninvaded mind, that this was undoubtedly the best thing for them both.

What else? For him? For her?

And yet his tongue went on stabbing her.

"If this is what you are determined to do—" he heard himself saying hardly, yet with a hint of deferred finality.

It was as if he had said, "If this, then, is what you are like! If you are the soft, submissive harem creature, the toy, the odalisque—If you will endure undesired love rather than face the world—"

And she knew that was what he was saying to her. The injustice brought a lump of self-pity to her throbbing throat.... That he should not realize and honor the courage of her sacrifice.... That he should reproach, despise.... She had expected other entreaties ... protestations....

Her heart ached with a throb of steady dreariness.

But she did not stir. Not a line of her drooping draperies wavered towards him. And swallowing that lump in her throat, she achieved a toneless, "That is what I am going to do."

At the other end of the garden a sound came from the house.

Ryder seemed to rouse himself. "Good-bye, then," he said, uncertainly.

"Good-bye, monsieur."

He looked oddly at her. "Good-bye," he muttered again, and turned, and stumbled out of the gate.

A pool of moonlight lay without its arches, and he stepped into it as if coming out of the shadows of an enchanted garden. He stood and straightened himself as if throwing off that garden's spell. He put back his shoulders and took a quick step down the lane.

A slight sound drew his eyes back.

She had followed him to the gate; she stood there, in the moonlight, against the inky wells of shadow into which her black robe flowed, and in the moonlight her face, gazing after him, was an exquisite, ethereal apparition, like a spirit of the garden.

She had cast off her veil. He had a vision of her dark eyes shining over rose-flushed cheeks, of deeper-rose-red lips in curves of haunting sweetness, of the tender contour of her young face, fixed unforgettingly in the radiant moonlight—only an instant's vision, for while the blood stopped in his veins the darkness engulfed her, like a magician's curtain.

But he waited while he heard the gate closed. Still he waited while he heard her locking it. And then for all his hot young pride, he turned back and knocked upon it. He called softly. He whispered entreaties.

Not a sound. Not an answer.

In a revulsion of feeling he turned and made his way blindly from the lane.

She had heard his voice. Like a creature utterly spent, she had been leaning against the great gate from which she had withdrawn the key. But she uttered not a breath in answer, and after she had heard his footsteps die away she turned slowly back and groped among the rose roots for the key's hiding place.

Mechanically she smoothed it over and moved on towards the house. All was quiet there. That sound had been no alarm. Unobserved she slipped within the little door, and up the spiral steps.

She had not seen the dark eyes that were watching her, from the other side of the rose thicket. After the girl had gained the house, the old woman came forward and stooped before the marked bush, muttering under her breath at the thorns. After a few moments she gave a little grunt of satisfaction and her exploring hand drew out the key.

Smoothing again the rifled hiding place among the roses, she made her careful way into the house.



CHAPTER VI

A SECRET OF THE SANDS

The siesta was past. The sun was tilting towards the west and shadows were beginning to jut out across the blazing sands.

Over the mounds of rubbish the bearers had resumed their slow procession, a picturesque frieze of tattered, indigo-robed, ebony figures, baskets on heads, against a cloudless cobalt sky, and again the hot air was invaded with the monotonous rise and fall of their labor chant.

A man with a short, pointed red beard and an academic face beneath a pith helmet was stooping over the siftings from those baskets, intent upon the stream of sand through the wire screens. Patiently he discarded the unending pebbles, discovering at rare intervals some lost bead, some splinter of old sycamore wood, some fragment of pottery in which a Ptolemy had sipped his wine—or a kitchen wench had soaked her lentils.

Beyond the man were traces of the native camp, a burnt-out fire, a roll of rags, a tattered shelter cloth stuck on two tottering sticks, and distributed indiscriminatingly were a tethered goat, a white donkey with motionless, drooping ears, and a few supercilious camels.

The camp was in the center of a broken line of foothills on the desert's edge. North and south and west the wide sands swept out to meet the sky, and to the east, shutting out the Nile valley, the hills reared their red rock from the yellow drift.

Among the jutting rock in the foreground yawned dark mouths that were the entrances of the discovered tombs, and within one of these tombs was another white man. He was conducting his own siftings in high solitude, a lean, bronzed young man, with dark hair and eyes and, at the present moment, an unexhilarated expression.

It had been two weeks since Jack Ryder had returned to camp. Two interminable weeks. They were the longest, the dullest, the dreariest, the most irritatingly undelighting weeks that he had ever lived through.

But bitterly he resented any aspersion from the long-suffering Thatcher upon his disposition. He wanted it distinctly understood that he was not low-spirited. Not in the least. A man wasn't in the dumps just because he wasn't—well, garrulous. Just because he didn't go about whistling like a steam siren or exult like a cheer leader when some one dug up the effigy of a Hathor-cow.... Just because he objected when the natives twanged their fool strings all night and wailed at the moon.

The moon was full now. Round and white it went sailing blandly over the eternal monotony of desert.... Round and white, it lighted up the eternal sameness of life.... He had never noticed it before, but a moon was a poignantly depressing phenomenon.

He couldn't help it. A man couldn't make himself be a comedian. It wasn't as if he wanted to be a grump. He would have been glad to be glad. He wanted Thatcher to make him glad. He defied him to.

He didn't enjoy this flat, insipid taste of things, this dull grind, this feeling of sameness and dullness that made nothing seem worth while.... A feeling that he had been marooned on a desert island, far from all stir and throb of life.

Suppose he did dig up a Hathor-cow? Suppose he dug up Hathor herself, or Cleopatra, or ten little Ptolemies? What was the good of it?

Not Jinny Jeffries herself could have cast more aspersions upon the personal value of excavations.

When he was tired of denying to himself that there was anything unusual the matter with him, he shifted the inner argument and took up the denial that anything which had happened in Cairo those two weeks before had anything to do with it. As if that rash encounter mattered! As if he were the silly, senseless sentimental sort of idiot to go mooning about his work because of a girl—and a girl from a harem with a taste for secret masquerades and Turkish marriages!

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse