The PALACE of DARKENED WINDOWS
By MARY HASTINGS BRADLEY
AUTHOR OF "THE FAVOR OF KINGS"
ILLUSTRATED BY EDMUND FREDERICK
NEW YORK AND LONDON D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1914
[Frontispiece illustration: "'It is no use,' he repeated. 'There is no way out for you.'" (Chapter IV)]
TO MY HUSBAND
CHAPTER I. THE EAVESDROPPER II. THE CAPTAIN CALLS III. AT THE PALACE IV. A SORRY QUEST V. WITHIN THE WALLS VI. A GIRL IN THE BAZAARS VII. BILLY HAS HIS DOUBTS VIII. THE MIDNIGHT VISITOR IX. A DESPERATE GAME X. A MAID AND A MESSAGE XI. OVER THE GARDEN WALL XII. THE GIRL FROM THE HAREM XIII. TAKING CHANCES XIV. IN THE ROSE ROOM XV. ON THE TRAIL XVI. THE HIDDEN GIRL XVII. AT BAY XVIII. DESERT MAGIC XIX. THE PURSUIT XX. A FRIEND IN NEED XXI. CROSS PURPOSES XXII. UPON THE PYLON XXIII. THE BETTER MAN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'It is no use,' he repeated. 'There is no way out for you'" Frontispiece
"'I do not want to stay here'"
"He found himself staring down into the bright dark eyes of a girl he had never seen"
"Billy went to the mouth, peering watchfully out"
THE PALACE OF DARKENED WINDOWS
A one-eyed man with a stuffed crocodile upon his head paused before the steps of Cairo's gayest hotel and his expectant gaze ranged hopefully over the thronged verandas. It was afternoon tea time; the band was playing and the crowd was at its thickest and brightest. The little tables were surrounded by travelers of all nations, some in tourist tweeds and hats with the inevitable green veils; others, those of more leisurely sojourns, in white serges and diaphanous frocks and flighty hats fresh from the Rue de la Paix.
It was the tweed-clad groups that the crocodile vender scanned for a purchaser of his wares and harshly and unintelligibly exhorted to buy, but no answering gaze betokened the least desire to bring back a crocodile to the loved ones at home. Only Billy B. Hill grinned delightedly at him, as Billy grinned at every merry sight of the spectacular East, and Billy shook his head with cheerful convincingosity, so the crocodile merchant moved reluctantly on before the importunities of the Oriental rug peddler at his heels.
Then he stopped. His turbaned head, topped by the grotesque, glassy-eyed, glistening-toothed monster, revolved slowly as the Arab's single eye steadily followed a couple who passed by him up the hotel steps. Billy, struck by the man's intense interest, craned forward and saw that one of the couple, now exchanging farewells at the top of the steps, was a girl, a pretty girl, and an American, and the other was an officer in a uniform of considerable green and gold, and obviously a foreigner.
He might be any kind of a foreigner, according to Billy's lax distinctions, that was olive of complexion and very black of hair and eyes. Slender and of medium height, he carried himself with an assurance that bordered upon effrontery, and as he bowed himself down the steps he flashed upon his former companion a smile of triumph that included and seemed to challenge the verandaful of observers.
The girl turned and glanced casually about at the crowded groups that were like little samples of all the nations of the earth, and with no more than a faint awareness of the battery of eyes upon her she passed toward the tables by the railing. She was a slim little fairy of a girl, as fresh as a peach blossom, with a cloud of pale gold hair fluttering round her pretty face, which lent her a most alluring and deceptive appearance of ethereal mildness. She had a soft, satiny, rose-leaf skin which was merely flushed by the heat of the Egyptian day, and her eyes were big and very, very blue. There were touches of that blue here and there upon her creamy linen suit, and a knot of blue upon her parasol and a twist of blue about her Panama hat, so that she could not be held unconscious of the flagrantly bewitching effect. Altogether she was as upsettingly pretty a young person as could be seen in a year's journey, and the glances of the beholders brightened vividly at her approach.
There was one conspicuous exception. This exception was sitting alone at the large table which backed Billy's tiny table into a corner by the railing, and as the girl arrived at that large table the exception arose and greeted her with an air of glacial chill.
"Oh! Am I so terribly late?" said the girl with great pleasantness, and arched brows of surprise at the two other places at the table before which used tea things were standing.
"My sister and Lady Claire had an appointment, so they were obliged to have their tea and leave," stated the young man, with an air of politely endeavoring to conceal his feelings, and failing conspicuously in the endeavor. "They were most sorry."
"Oh, so am I!" declared the girl, in clear and contrite tones which carried perfectly to Billy B. Hill's enchanted ears. "I never dreamed they would have to hurry away."
"They did not hurry, as you call it," and the young man glanced at his watch, "for nearly an hour. It was a disappointment to them."
"Pin-pate!" thought Billy, with intense disgust. "Is he kicking at a two-some?"
"And have you had your tea, too?" inquired the girl, with an air of tantalizing unconcern.
"I waited, naturally, for my guest."
"Oh, not naturally!" she laughed. "It must be very unnatural for you to wait for anything. And you must be starving. So am I—do you think there are enough cakes left for the two of us?"
Without directly replying, the young man gave the order to the red-fezzed Arab in a red-girdled white robe who was removing the soiled tea things, and he assisted the girl into a chair and sat down facing her. Their profiles were given to the shameless Billy, and he continued his rapt observations.
He had immediately recognized the girl as a vision he had seen fluttering around the hotel with an incongruously dismal couple of unyouthful ladies, and he had mentally affixed a magnate's-only-daughter-globe-trotting-with-elderly-friends label to her.
The young man he could not place so definitely. There were a good many tall, aristocratic young Englishmen about, with slight stoops and incipient moustaches. This particular Englishman had hair that was pronouncedly sandy, and Billy suddenly recollected that in lunching at the Savoy the other day he had noticed that young Englishman in company with a sandy-haired lady, not so young, and a decidedly pretty dark-haired girl—it was the girl, of course, who had fixed the group in Billy's crowded impressions. He decided that these ladies were the sister and Lady Claire—and Lady Claire, he judiciously concluded, certainly had nothing on young America.
Young America was speaking. "Don't look so thunderous!" she complained to her irate host. "How do you know I didn't plan to be late so as to have you all to myself?"
This was too derisive for endurance. A dull red burned through the tan on the young Englishman's cheeks and crept up to meet the corresponding warmth of his hair. A leash within him snapped.
"It is simply inconceivable!" burst from him, and then he shut his jaw hard, as if only one last remnant of will power kept a seething volcano, from explosion.
"How any girl—in Cairo, of all places!" he continued to explode in little snorts.
"You are speaking of—?" she suggested.
"Of your walking with that fellow—in broad daylight!"
"Would it have been better in the gloaming?"
The sweet restraint in the young thing's manner was supernatural. It was uncanny. It should have warned the red-headed young man, but oblivious of danger signals, he was plunging on, full steam ahead.
"It isn't as if you didn't know—hadn't been warned."
"You have been so kind," the girl murmured, and poured a cup of tea the Arab had placed at her elbow.
The young man ignored his. The color burned hotter and hotter in his face. Even his hair looked redder.
"The look he gave up here was simply outrageous—a grin of insolent triumph. I'd like to have laid my cane across him!"
The girl's cup clicked against the saucer. "You are horrid!" she declared. "When we were on shipboard Captain Kerissen was very popular among the passengers and I talked with him whenever I cared to. Everyone did. Now that I am in his native city I see no reason to stalk past him when we happen to be going in the same direction. He is a gentleman of rank, a relative of the Khedive who is ruling this country—under your English advice—and he is——"
"A Turk!" gritted out the young man.
"A Turk and proud of it! His mother was French, however, and he was educated at Oxford and he is as cosmopolitan as any man I ever met. It's unusual to meet anyone so close to the reigning family, and it gives one a wonderful insight into things off the beaten track——"
"The beaten—damn!" said the young man, and Billy's heart went out to him. "Oh, I beg pardon, but you—he—I—" So many things occurred to him to say at one and the same time that he emitted a snort of warring and incoherent syllables. Finally, with supreme control, "Do you know that your 'gentleman of rank' couldn't set foot in a gentleman's club in this country?"
"I think it's mean!" retorted the girl, her blue eyes very bright and indignant. "You English come here and look down on even the highest members of the country you are pretending to assist. Why do you? When he was at Oxford he went into your English homes."
"English madhouses—for admitting him."
A brief silence ensued.
The girl ate a cake. It was a nice cake, powdered with almonds, but she ate it obliviously. The angry red shone rosily in her cheeks.
The young man took a hasty drink of his tea, which had grown cold in its cup, and pushed it away. Obstinately he rushed on in his mad career.
"I simply cannot understand you!" he declared.
"Does it matter?" said she, and bit an almond's head off.
"It would be bad enough, in any city, but in Cairo—! To permit him to insult you with his company, alone, upon the streets!"
"When you have said insult you have said a little too much," she returned in a small, cold voice of war. "Is there anything against Captain Kerissen personally?"
"Who knows anything about any of those fellows? They are all alike—with half a dozen wives locked up behind their barred windows."
"He isn't married."
"How do you know?"
The Englishman snorted: "According to his custom, you know, it isn't the proper thing to mention his ladies in public."
"You are frightfully unjust. Captain Kerissen's customs are the customs of the civilized world, and he is very anxious to have his country become modernized."
"Then let him send his sisters out walking with fellow officers.... For him to walk beside you——"
"He was following the custom of my country," said the girl, with maddening superiority. "Since I am an American girl——"
The young Englishman said a horrible thing. He said it with immense feeling.
"American goose!" he uttered, then stopped short. Precipitately he floundered into explanation:
"I beg your pardon, but, you know, when you say such bally nonsense as that—! An American girl has no more business to be imprudent than a Patagonian girl. You have no idea how these people regard——"
"Oh, don't apologize," murmured the girl, with charming sweetness. "I don't mind what you say—not in the least."
The outraged man was not so befuddled but what he saw those danger signals now. They glimmered scarlet upon his vision, but his blood was up and he plunged on to destruction with the extraordinary remark, "But isn't there a reason why you should?"
She gazed at him in mock reflection, as if mulling this striking thought presented for her consideration, but her eyes were too sparkly and her cheeks too poppy-pink to substantiate the reflective pose.
"N-no," she said at last, with an impertinent little drawl. "I can't seem to think of any."
He did not pause for innuendo. "You mean you don't give a piastre what I think?"
"Not half a piastre," she confirmed, in flat defiance.
The young man looked at her. He was over the brink of ruin now; nothing remained of the interesting little affair of the past three weeks but a mangled and lamentable wreck at the bottom of a deep abyss.
Perhaps a shaft of compunction touched her flinty soul at the sight of his aghast and speechless face, for she had the grace to look away. Her gaze encountered the absorbed and excited countenance of Billy B. Hill, and the poppy-pink of her cheeks became poppy-red and she turned her head sharply away. She rose, catching up her gloves and parasol.
"Thank you so much for your tea," she said in a lowered tone to her unfortunate host. "I've had a delicious time.... I'm sorry if I disappointed you by not cowering before your disapproval. Oh, don't bother to come in with me—I know my way to the lift and the band is going to play God Save the King and they need you to stand up and make a showing."
Billy B. Hill stared across at the abandoned young man with supreme sympathy and intimate understanding. He was a nice and right-minded young man and she was an utter minx. She was the daughter of unreason and the granddaughter of folly. She needed, emphatically needed, to be shown. But this Englishman, with his harsh and violently antagonizing way of putting things, was clearly not the man for the need. It took a lighter touch—the hand of iron in the velvet glove, as it were. It took a keener spirit, a softer humor.
Billy threw out his chest and drew himself up to his full five feet eleven and one-half inches, as he passed indoors and sought the hotel register, for he felt within himself the true equipment for that delicate mission. He fairly panted to be at it.
Fate was amiable. The hotel clerk, coerced with a couple of gold-banded ones with the real fragrance, permitted Billy to learn that the blue-eyed one's name was Beecher, Arlee Beecher, and that she was in the company of two ladies entitled Mrs. and Miss Eversham. The Miss Eversham was quite old enough to be entitled otherwise. They were occupied, the clerk reported, with nerves and dissatisfaction. Miss Beecher appeared occupied in part—with a correspondence that would swamp a foreign office.
* * * * *
Now it is always a question whether being at the same hotel does or does not constitute an introduction. Sometimes it does; sometimes it does not. When the hotel is a small and inexpensive arrangement in Switzerland, where the advertised view of the Alpengluehen is obtained by placing the chairs in a sociable circle on the sidewalk, then usually it does. When the hotel is a large and expensive affair in gayest Cairo, where the sunny and shady side rub elbows, and gamesters and debutantes and touts and school teachers and vivid ladies of conspicuous pasts and stout gentlemen of exhilarated presents abound, in fact where innocent sightseers and initiated traffickers in human frailties are often indistinguishable, then decidedly it does not.
But fate, still smiling, dropped a silver shawl in Billy's path as he was trailing his prey through the lounge after dinner. The shawl belonged, most palpably, to a German lady three feet ahead of him, but gripping it triumphantly, he bounded over the six feet which separated him from the Eversham-Beecher triangle and with marvelous self-restraint he touched Miss Eversham on the arm.
"You dropped this?" he inquired.
Miss Eversham looked surprisedly at Billy and uncertainly at the shawl, which she mechanically accepted. "Why I—I didn't remember having it with me," she hesitated.
"I noticed you were wearing one other evenings," said Billy, the Artful, "so I thought——"
"You know whether this is yours or not, don't you, Clara?" interposed the mother.
"They all look alike," murmured Clara Eversham, eying helplessly the silver border.
Billy permitted himself to look at Miss Beecher. That young person was looking at him and there was a disconcerting gaiety in her expression, but at sight of him she turned her head, faintly coloring. He judged she recalled his unmannerly eavesdropping that afternoon.
"Pardon—excuse me—but that is to me belonging," panted an agitated but firm voice behind them, and two stout and beringed hands seized upon the glittering shawl in Miss Eversham's lax grasp. "It but just now off me falls," and the German lady looked belligerent accusation upon the defrauding Billy.
There was a round of apologetic murmurs, unacknowledged by the recipient, who plunged away with her shawl, as if fearing further designs upon it. Billy laughed down at the Evershams.
"I feel like a porch climber making off with her belongings. But I had seen you with——"
"I do think I had mine this evening, after all," murmured Clara, with a questioning glance after the departing one.
"An uncultured person!" stated Mrs. Eversham.
Miss Beecher said nothing at all. Her faint smile was mockingly derisive.
"Anyway you must let me get you some coffee," Billy most inconsequentially suggested, beckoning to the red-girdled Mohammed with his laden tray, and because he was young and nice looking and evidently a gentleman from their part of the world and his evening clothes fitted perfectly and had just the right amount of braid, Mrs. Eversham made no objection to the circle of chairs he hastily collected about a taborette, and let him hand them their coffee and send Mohammed for the cream which Miss Eversham declared was indispensable for her health.
"If I take it clear I find it keeps me awake," she confided, and Billy deplored that startling and lamentable circumstance, and passed Mrs. Eversham the sugar and wondered if they could be the Philadelphia Evershams of whom he had heard his mother speak, and regretted that they were not, for then they would know who he was—William B. Hill of Alatoona, New York. He found it rather stupid traveling alone. Of course one met many Americans, but——
Mrs. Eversham took up that "but" most eagerly, and recounted multiple and deplorable instances of nasal countrywomen doing the East and monopolizing the window seats in compartments, and Miss Eversham supplied details and corrections.
Still Miss Beecher said nothing. She had a dreamy air of not belonging to the conversationalists. But from an inscrutable something in her appearance, Billy judged she was not unentertained by his sufferings.
At the first pause he addressed her directly. "And how do you like Cairo?" was his simple question. That ought, he reflected, to be an entering wedge.
The young lady did not trouble to raise her eyes. "Oh, very much," said she negligently, sipping her coffee.
"Oh, very well!" said Billy haughtily to himself. If being her fellow countryman in a strange land, and obviously a young and cultivated countryman whom it would be a profit and pleasure for any girl to know, wasn't enough for her—what was the use? He ought to get up and go away. He intended to get up and go away—immediately.
But he didn't. Perhaps it was the shimmery gold hair, perhaps it was the flickering mischief of the downcast lashes, perhaps it was the loveliness of the soft, white throat and slenderly rounded arms. Anyway he stayed. And when the strain of waltz music sounded through the chatter of voices about them and young couples began to stroll to the long parlors, Billy jumped to his feet with a devastating desire that totally ignored the interminable wanderings of Clara Eversham's complaints.
"Will you dance this with me?" he besought of Miss Arlee Beecher, with a direct gaze more boyishly eager than he knew.
For an agonizing moment she hesitated. Then, "I think I will," she concluded, with sudden roguery in her smile.
Stammering a farewell to the Evershams, he bore her off.
It would be useless to describe that waltz. It was one of the ecstatic moments which Young Joy sometimes tosses from her garlanded arms. It was one of the sudden, vivid, unforgettable delights which makes youth a fever and a desire. For Billy it was the wildest stab the sex had ever dealt him. For though this was perhaps the nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-ninth girl with whom he had danced, it was as if he had discovered music and motion and girls for the first time.
The music left them by the windows.
"Thank you," said Billy under his breath.
"You didn't deserve it," said the girl, with a faint smile playing about the corners of her lips. "You know you stared—scandalously."
Grateful that she mentioned only the lesser sin, "Could I help it?" he stammered, by way of a finished retort.
The smile deepened, "And I'm afraid you listened!"
He stared down at her anxiously. "Will you like me better if I didn't?" he inquired.
"I shan't like you at all if you did."
"Then I didn't hear a word.... Besides," he basely uttered, "you were entirely in the right!"
"I should think I was!" said Arlee Beecher very indignantly. "The very notion—! Captain Kerissen is a very nice young man. He is going to get me an invitation to the Khedive's ball."
"Is that a very crumby affair?"
"Crumby? It's simply gorgeous! Everyone is mad over it. Most tourists simply read about it, and it is too perfect luck to be invited! Only the English who have been presented at court are invited and there's a girl at the Savoy Hotel I've met—Lady Claire Montfort—who wasn't presented because she was in mourning for her grandmother last year, and she is simply furious about it. An old dowager here said that there ought to be similar distinctions among the Americans—that only those who had been presented at the White House ought to be recognized. Fancy making the White House a social distinction!" laughed the daughter of the Great Republic.
"I wonder," said Billy, "if I met a nice Turkish lady, whether she would get me an invitation? Then we could have another waltz——"
"There aren't any Turkish ladies there," uttered Miss Beecher rebukingly. "Don't you know that? When they are on the Continent—those that are ever taken there—they may go to dances and things, but here they can't, although some of them are just as modern as you or I, I've heard, and lots more educated."
"You speak," he protested, "from a superficial acquaintance with my academic accomplishments."
"Are you so very—proficient?"
"I was—I am Phi Beta Kappa," he sadly confessed.
Her laugh rippled out. "You don't look it," she cheered.
"Oh, no, I don't look it," he complacently agreed. "That's the lamp in the gloom. But I am. I couldn't help it. I was curious about things and I studied about them and faculties pressed honors upon me. I am even here upon a semi-learned errand. I wanted to have a look at the diggings a friend of mine is making at Thebes and several looks at the dam at Assouan, for I am by way of being an engineer myself—a beginning engineer."
"You have been up the Nile, then?"
"Yes, I'm just back. Now I'm going to see something of Cairo before I leave."
"We start up the Nile day after to-morrow," said she.
"The day after—" he stopped.
'Twas ever thus. Fate never did one good turn but she sneaked back and jabbed him unawares. She was a tricksy jade.
"That's—that's gloomy luck," said Billy, and felt outraged. "Why, how about that Khedive ball thing?"
"Oh, that's when we come back."
She was coming back, then. Hope lifted her head.
"When will that be?"
"In three weeks. It takes about three weeks to go up to the first cataract and back, doesn't it?"
"Yes, by boat," he said, adding hopefully, "but lots of people like the express trains better. They—they don't keep you so long on the way."
"Oh, I hate trains," said she cheerfully.
Three weeks ... Ruefully he surveyed the desolation. "I ought to be gone by then," he muttered.
A trifle startled, the girl looked up at him. As he was not looking at her, but staring moodily into what was then black vacancy, her look lingered and deepened. She saw a most bronzed and hardy looking young man, tall and broad-shouldered, with gray eyes, wide apart under straight black brows, and black hair brushed straight back from a wide forehead. She saw a rugged nose, a likeable mouth, and an abrupt and aggressive chin, saved somehow from grimness by a deep cleft in the blunt end of it.... She thought he was a very stirring looking young man. Undoubtedly he was a very sudden young man—if he meant one bit of what he intimated.
Feminine-wise, she mocked.
"What a calamity!"
"Yes, for me," said Billy squarely. "You know it's—it's awfully jolly to meet a girl from home out here!"
"A girl from home——!"
"Well, all America seems home from this place. And I shouldn't be surprised if we knew a lot of the same people ... You can get a good line on me that way, you know," he laughed. "Now I went to Williams and then to Boston Tech., and there must be acquaintances——"
"Don't!" said Arlee, with a laughing gesture of prohibition. "We probably have thousands of the same acquaintances, and you would turn out to be some one I knew everything about—perhaps the first fiance of my roommate whose letters I used to help her answer."
"Where did you go to school?"
"At Elm Court School, near New York. For just a year."
He shook his head with an air of relief. "Never was engaged to anybody's roommate there.... But if you'd rather not have my background painted——"
"Much rather not," said the girl gaily. "Why, half the romance, I mean the fun, of meeting people abroad is not knowing anything about them beforehand."
The music was beginning again. Unwillingly the remembrance of the outer world beat back into Billy's mind. Unhappily he became aware that the room appeared blackened with young men in evening clothes, staring ominously his way.
Squarely he stood in front of the girl. "I think this is the encore to our dance," he told her with a little smile.
She shook her pretty head laughingly at him—and then yielded to his clasping hands. "But we must dance back to the Evershams," she demurred. "It is time for us to go to our concert."
But Billy had no intention of relinquishing her before the music ceased. It was a one step, and it carried them with it in a gaiety of rhythm to which the girl gave herself with the light-hearted abandon of a romping child. Her light feet seemed scarcely to brush the floor; the delicate flush of her cheeks deepened with the stirring blood; her lips parted breathlessly over white little teeth, and when her eyes, intensely blue, met Billy's, the smile in them quickened in sparkling radiance. She was the very spirit of the dance; she was Youth and Joy incarnate. And the heart behind the white shirt bosom near which her fairy hair was floating began to pitch and toss like a laboring ship in the very devil of a sea.
"I think I'll go up the Nile again," said Billy irrelevantly.
She laughed elfishly at him, her head swaying faintly with the rhythm.
"Three weeks," said Billy under his breath, "that's twenty-one days—at ten dollars a day. Now I wonder how many hours—or moments—that rash outlay would assure?"
"You miser! You calculating——"
"You have to calculate—when you're an engineer."
"But to be sure spoils the charm! Now I—I do things on impulse."
"If you will only have the impulse to dance with me—on the Nile——"
"Why not risk it?" she challenged lightly, arrant mischief in her eyes. She added, in mocking tone, "There's a moon."
"That's a clincher," said he, with an air of decision. A faint question dwelt in the look she gave him. It was ridiculous to think he meant anything he was saying, but—she felt suddenly a little confused and shy under that light-hearted young gaiety which took every man's friendly admiration happily for granted.
In silence they finished the dance, and this time the music failed them when they were near the wide entrance to the room where the Evershams, beckoning specters, were standing.
"I'm keeping them waiting," said the girl, with a note of concern which she had not shown over her performance in that line earlier in the day. But Billy had no time for humorous comparisons.
"When can I see you again?" he demanded bluntly. "Can I see you to-morrow?"
"To-morrow is a very busy day," she parried.
"But the evening——?"
"I shall be here," she admitted.
"And could I—could I take you—and the Evershams, of course—somewhere, anywhere, you'd like to go? If there's any other concert——"
She shook her head. "We leave bright and early the next morning, and I know Mrs. Eversham will want her rest. I think they would rather stay here in the hotel after dinner."
"But you will keep a little time for me?" Billy urged. "Of course, staying in the same hotel, I can't take my hat and go and make a formal call on you—but that's the result I'm after."
They had paused, to finish this colloquy, a few feet away from the ladies, who were regarding with dark suspicion this interchange of lowered tones.
Suddenly Arlee raised her eyes and gave Billy a quick look, questioning, shyly serious.
"I shall be here—and you can call on me," she promised, and bade him farewell.
She left him deliriously, inexplicably, foolishly in spirits. He plunged his hands in his pockets and squared his shoulders; he wanted to whistle, he wanted to sing, he wanted to do anything to vent the singular hilarity which possessed him.
Then he saw, across the room, a sandy-haired young man regarding him with dour intentness, and the spectacle, instead of feeding his joy, sent conjecturing chills down his spine. His bubble was pricked. Suppose, ran the horrid thought, suppose she was simply paying off the Englishman? Girls, even blue-eyed, angel-haired girls of cherubic aspect, have not been unknown to perform such deeds of darkness! And this particular girl had mischief in her eyes.... The thought was unpleasantly likely. What had he, Billy B. Hill, of New York—State—to offer to casual view worthy of competition with the presumable advantages of a young Englishman whose sister was staying with a Lady Claire? Perhaps the fellow himself had a title....
Considerably dashed, he went out to consult the register upon that point.
THE CAPTAIN CALLS
Now, when the card of Captain Kerissen was handed to Miss Arlee Beecher the next afternoon, when she sauntered in from the sunny out-of-doors and paused at the desk for the voluminous harvest of letters the last mail had brought, and furthermore the information was added that the Captain was waiting, little Miss Beecher's first thought was the resentful appreciation that the Captain was overdoing it.
She hesitated, then, with her hands full of letters and parasol, she crossed the hall into the reception room. She intended to let her caller see his mistake, so with her burdened hands avoiding a handclasp, she greeted him and stood waiting, with eyes of inquiry upon him.
The young man smiled secretly to himself. He was a young man not without experience in ladies' moods and he had a very shrewd idea that somebody had been making remarks, but he did not permit a hint of any perception of the coolness of her manner to impair the impeccable suavity of his.
"Will you accord me two moments of your time that I may give you two messages?" he inquired, and Arlee felt suddenly ill-bred before his gentle courtesy and she sat down abruptly upon the edge of the nearest chair.
The Captain placed one near her and seated himself, with a clank of his dangling scabbard. He was really a very handsome young man, though his features were too finely finished to please a robust taste, and there was a hint of insolence and cruelty about the nose and mouth—though this an inexperienced and light-hearted young tourist of one and twenty did not more than vaguely perceive.
"They are, the both, of the ball of the Khedive," he continued in his English, which was, though amazingly fluent and ready, a literal sounding translation of the French, which was in reality his mother tongue. "My sister thinks she can arrange that invitation. You are sure that you will be returned at Cairo, then?"
"Oh, dear, yes! I would come back by train," Arlee declared eagerly, "rather than miss that wonderful ball!"
She thought how astonished a certain red-headed young Englishman would be to see her at that ball, and how fortunate she was compared to his haughty and disappointed friend, the Lady Claire, and the chill of her resentment against the Captain's intrusion vanished like snow in the warmth of her gratitude.
"Good!" He smiled at her with a flash of white teeth. "Then my sister herself will see one of the household of the Khedive and request the invitation for you and for your chaperon, the Madame——"
"Eversham. She will be included for you, but not the daughter—no?"
"Is that asking too much?" said Arlee hesitantly. "Miss Eversham would feel badly to be left out.... But, anyway, I'm not sure that I shall be with them then," she reflected.
"Not with them?" The young man leaned forward, his eyes curiously intent upon her.
"No, I may be with some other friends. You see, it's this way—I didn't come abroad with the Evershams in the first place. I came in the fall with a school friend and her mother to see Italy. The Evershams were friends of theirs and were stopping at the same hotel, and since my friends were called back very suddenly, the Evershams asked me to go on to Egypt with them. It was very nice of them, for I'm a dreadful bother," said Arlee, dimpling.
"But you speak of leaving them?" he said.
"Oh, yes, I may do that as soon as some other friends of mine, the Maynards, reach here. They are coming here on their way to the Holy Land and I want to take that trip with them. And then I'll probably go back to America with them."
The Turkish captain stared at her, his dark eyes rather inscrutable, though a certain wonder was permitted to be felt in them.
"You American girls—your ways are absolute like the decrees of Allah!" he laughed softly. "But tell me—what will your father and your mother say to this so rapidly changing from the one chaperon to the other?"
"I haven't any father or mother," said the girl. "I have a big, grown-up, married brother, and he knows I wouldn't change from one party unless it was all right." She laughed amusedly at the young man's comic gesture of bewilderment. "You think we American girls are terribly independent."
"I do, indeed," he avowed, "but," and he inclined his dark head in graceful gallantry, "it is the independence of the princess of the blood royal."
A really nice way of putting it, Arlee thought, contrasting the chivalrous homage of this Oriental with the dreadful "American goose!" of the Anglo-Saxon.
"But tell me," he went on, studying her face with an oddly intent look, "do these friends now, the Evershams, know these others, the—the——"
"Maynards," she supplied. "Oh, no, they have never met each other. The Maynards are friends I made at school. And Brother has never met them either," she added, enjoying his humorous mystification.
"The decrees of Allah!" he murmured again. "But I will promise you an invitation for your chaperon and arrange for the name of the lady later—n'est-ce-pas?"
"Yes, I will know as soon as I return from the Nile. You are going to a lot of bother, you and your sister," declared Arlee gratefully.
"I go to ask you to take a little trouble, then, for that sister," said the Captain slowly. "She is a widow and alone. Her life is—is triste—melancholy is your English word. Not much of brightness, of new things, of what you call pleasure, enters into that life, and she enjoys to meet foreign ladies who are not—what shall I say?—seekers after curiosities, who think our ladies are strange sights behind the bars. You know that the Europeans come uninvited to our wedding receptions and make the strange questions!"
Arlee had the grace to blush, remembering her own avid desire to make her way into one of those receptions, where the doors of the Moslem harem are thrown open to the feminine world in widespread hospitality.
The Captain went on, slowly, his eyes upon her, "But she knows that you are not one of those others and has requested that you do her the grace to call upon her. I assured her that you would, for I know that you are kind, and also," with an air of naive pride which Arlee found admirable in him, "it is not all the world who is invited to the home of our—our haut-monde, you understand?... And then it will interest you to see how our ladies live in that seclusion which is so droll to you. Confess you have heard strange stories," and he smiled in quizzical raillery upon her.
The girl's flush deepened with the memory of the confusing stories her head was stuffed with; tales of the bloomers, the veils, the cushions, the sweetmeats, the nargueils, the rose baths of the old regime were jostled by the stories of the French nurses and English governesses and the Paris fashions of the new era. She had listened breathlessly, with her eager young zest in life, to the amazing and contradictory narrations of the tourists who were every whit as ignorant as she was, and her curiosity was on fire to see for herself. She felt that a chance in a thousand had come her lucky way.
"I shall be very glad to call," she told him, "just as soon as I return from the Nile."
His face showed his disappointment—and a certain surprise. "But not before?"
"Why, I go to-morrow morning, you know," said Arlee. "And——"
"It would be better—because of the invitation," he said slowly, hesitantly, with the air of one who does not wish to importune. "My sister would like to ask for one who is known personally to herself. She thought you could render her a few minutes this afternoon."
"This afternoon?" Arlee thought quickly. "I ought to be packing," she murmured, "my things aren't all ready.... And Mrs. Eversham is at the bazaars again and dear knows when she will be back."
Just for an instant a spark burned in the black eyes watching the girl, and then was gone, and when she raised her own eyes, perplexed and considering, to him, she saw only the same courteously attentive, but faintly indolent regard as before. Then the young man smiled, with an air of frank amusement.
"That would seem to be a dispensation!" he laughed. "My sister and the Madame Eversham—no, they would not be sympathetic!... But if you can come," he went on quickly, leaning forward and speaking in a hurried, lowered tone, "it can be arranged in an instant. I am to telephone to my sister and she will send her car for you. It is not far and it does not need but a few minutes for the visit—unless you desire. I cannot escort you in the car—it is not en regle—but I will come to the house and present you and then depart, that you ladies may exchange the confidences.... Does that programme please you?"
"I—I don't know your sister's name," said Arlee.
He smiled. "Nechedil Azade Seniha—she is the widow of Tewfik Pasha. But say Madame simply to her—that will suffice. Shall I, then, telephone her?"
Just an instant Arlee hesitated, while her imagination fluttered about the thought like humming-birds about sweets. Already she was thinking of the story she could have to tell to her fellow travelers here and to the people at home. It was a chance, she repeated to herself, in a thousand, and the familiar details of phones and motors seemed to rob its suddenness of all strangeness.... Besides, there was that matter of the Khedive's ball. It would be very ungracious to refuse a few minutes' visit to a lady who was going to so much trouble for her.
"I will be ready in ten minutes," she promised, springing to her feet.
The forgotten letters scattered like a fall of snow and the Captain stooped quickly for them, hiding the flash of exultation in his face. He thrust the letters rather hurriedly upon her.
"Good!... But need you wait for a toilette when you are so—so ravissante now?"
He gazed with frank appreciation at the linen suit she was wearing, but she shook her head laughingly at him. "To be interesting to a foreign lady I must have interesting clothes," she avowed. "I shan't be ten minutes—really."
"Then the car will be in waiting. I will give your name to the chauffeur and he will approach you." He thought a minute, and then said, quickly, "And I will leave a note for Madame Eversham at the desk to inform her of your destination and to express my regret that she is not here to accept the invitation." His voice was flavored with droll irony. "In ten minutes—bien sur?"
She confirmed it most positively, and it really was not quite eighteen when she stepped out on the veranda, a vision, a positively devastating vision in soft and filmy white, with a soft and filmy hat all white lace and a pink rose. It is to be hoped that she did not know how she looked. Otherwise there would have been no excuse for her and she should have been summarily haled to the nearest justice, with all other breakers of the peace, and condemned to good conduct and Shaker bonnets for the rest of her life. The rose on the hat, with such a rose of a face beneath the hat, was sheer wanton cruelty to mankind.
It brought the heart into the throat of one young man who was reading his paper beneath the striped awning, when he was not watching, cat-like, the streets and the hotel door. He dropped the paper with an agitated rustle and half rose to his feet; his eyes, alert and humorous gray-blue eyes, lighted with eagerness. His hand flew up to his hat.
He did not need to take it off. She did not even see him. She was hurrying forward to the steps, following a long, lean Arab, some dragoman, apparently, in resplendent pongee robes, who opened the door of a limousine for her. The next instant he slammed the door upon her, mounted the front seat, and the car rolled away.
AT THE PALACE
That limousine utterly routed the tiny little qualm which had been furtively worming into Arlee's thrill of adventure. Nothing very strange or out-of-the-way, she thought, could be connected with such a modern car; it presented every symptom of effete civilization. Against the upholstery of delicate gray flamed the scarlet poinsettias hanging in wall vases of crystal overlaid with silver tracery; the mirror which confronted her was framed in silver, and beneath it a tiny cabinet revealed a frivolous store of powders and pins and scents. Decidedly the Oriental widow of said sequestration had a car very much up to times. The only difference which it presented from the cars of any modern city or of any modern lady was in the smallness of the window panes, whose contracted size confirmed the stories of the restrictions which Arlee had been told were imposed upon Moslem ladies by even those emancipated masculine relatives who conceded cars.
She peered out of the diminutive windows at the throng of life in the unquiet streets as they halted for the passing of a camel laden with bricks and stones from a demolished building; the poor thing teetered precariously past under such a back-breaking load that the girl felt it would have been a mercy to add the last straw and be done with it. After it bobbed what was apparently an animated load of hay, so completely were this other camel's legs hidden by his smothering burden.
Then the car shot impatiently forward, passing a dog cart full of fair-haired English children, the youngest clasped in the arms of a dark-skinned nurse, and behind the cart ran an indefatigable sais, bare-legged and sinewy, his red headdress and gold-embroidered jacket and blue bloomers flashing in the sun. On the sidewalk a party of American tourists were capitulating to a post-card vender, and ahead of them a victoria load of German sightseers careened around the corner in the charge of a determined dragoman.
Arlee smiled in happy superiority over these mere outsiders. She was not going about the beaten track, peeping at mosques and tombs and bazaars and windows; she was penetrating into the real life of this fascinating city, getting behind the grills and veils to glimpse the inner secrets.
She thought, with a deepening of the sparkle in her blue eyes and a defiant lifting of the pointed chin, of a certain sandy-haired young Englishman and how wrong and reasonless and narrow and jealous were his strictures upon her politeness to young Turks, and she thought with a sense of vindicated pride of how thoroughly that nice young man who had managed to introduce himself last night had endorsed her views. Americans understood. And then her thoughts lingered about Billy and she caught herself wondering just how much he did mean about coming up the Nile again. For upon happening to meet Billy that morning—Billy had devoted two hours and a half to the accident of that happening!—he had joyously mentioned that he was trying to buy out another man's berth upon that boat. It wasn't so much his wanting to come that was droll—teasing sprites of girls with peach-blossom prettiness are not unwonted to the thunder of pursuing feet—but the frank and cheery way he had of announcing it. Not many men had the courage of their desires. Not any men that little Miss Arlee had yet met had the frankness of such courage. And because all women love the adventurous spirit and are woefully disappointed in its masculine manifestations, she felt a gay little eagerness which she would have refused to own. It would be rather fun to see more of him—on the Nile—while Robert Falconer was sulking away in Cairo. And then when she returned she would surprise and confound that misguided young Englishman with her unexpected—to him—presence at the Khedive's ball. And after that—but her thoughts were lost in haziness then. Only the ball stood out distinct and glittering and fairylike.
Thinking all these brightly revengeful thoughts she had been oblivious to the many turnings of the motor, though it had occurred to her that they were taking more time than the car had needed to appear, and now she looked out the window and saw that they were in a narrow street lined with narrow houses, whose upper stories, slightly projecting in little bays, all presented the elaborately grilled facades of mashrubiyeh work which announced the barred quarters of the women, the haremlik.
Arlee loved to conjure up a romantic thrill for the mysterious East by reflecting that behind these obscuring screens were women of all ages and conditions, neglected wives and youthful favorites, eager girls and revolting brides, whose myriad eyes, bright or dull or gay or bitter, were peering into the tiny, cleverly arranged mirrors which gave them a tilted view of the streets. It was the sense of these watching eyes, these hidden women, which made those screened windows so stirring to her young imagination.
The motor whirled out of the narrow street and into one that was much wider and lined by houses that were detached and separated, apparently, by gardens, for there was a frequent waving of palms over the high walls which lined the road. The street was empty of all except an old orange vender, shuffling slowly along, with a cartwheel of a tray on her head, piled with yellow fruit shining vividly in the hot sun. The quiet and the solitude gave a sense of distance from the teeming bazaars and tourist-ridden haunts, which breathed of seclusion and aloofness.
The car stopped and Arlee stepped out before a great house of ancient stone which rose sharply from the street. A high, pointed doorway, elaborately carved, was before her, arching over a dark wooden door heavily studded with nails. Overhead jutted the little balconies of mashrubiyeh. She had no more than a swift impression of the old facade, for immediately a doorkeeper, very vivid in his Oriental blue robes and his English yellow leather Oxfords, flung open the heavy door.
Stepping across the threshold, with a sudden excited quickening of the senses, in which so many things were mingled that the misgiving there had scarcely time to make itself felt, Arlee found herself in a spacious vestibule, marble floored and inlaid with brilliant tile. She had just a glimpse of an inner court between the high arches opposite, and then her attention was claimed by Captain Kerissen, who sprang forward with a flash of welcome in his eyes that was like a leap of palpable light.
"You are come!" he said, in a voice which was that of a man almost incredulous of his good fortune. Then he bowed very formally in his best military fashion, straight-backed from the waist, heels stiffly together. "I welcome you," he said. "My sister is rejoiced.... This stair—if you please."
He waved to a stairway on the left, a small, steep affair, which Arlee ascended slowly, a sense of strangeness mounting with her, in spite of her confident bearing. She had not realized how odd it would feel to be in this foreign house with the Captain at her heels.
There was a door at the top of the stairs standing open into a long, spacious room which seemed shrouded in twilight after the sunflooded court. One entire side of the room was a brown, lace-like screen of mashrubiyeh windows; wide divans stretched beside them, and at the end of the room, facing Arlee, was a throne-like chair raised on a small dais and canopied with heavy silks.
By one of the windows a woman was squatting, a short, stout, turbaned figure, striking a few notes on a tambourine and crooning softly to herself in a low guttural. She raised her head without rising, to look at the entering couple, and for a startled second Arlee had the half hysterical fear that this squatting soloist was the triste and aristocratic representative of the haut-monde of Moslem which the Captain had brought her to see, but the next instant another figure appeared in a doorway and came slowly toward them.
Flying to the winds went Arlee's anticipations of somber elegance. She saw the most amazingly vivid creature that she had ever laid eyes on—a woman, young, though not in her first youth, penciled, powdered, painted, her hair a brilliant red, her gown a brilliant green. After the first shock of scattering amazement, Arlee became intensely aware of a pair of yellow-brown eyes confronting her with a faintly smiling and rather mocking interrogation. The dark of kohl about the eyes emphasized a certain slant diablerie of line and a faint penciling connected with the high and supercilious arch of the brows. Henna flamed on the pointed tips of the fingers blazoned with glittering rings, and Arlee fancied the brilliance of the hair was due to this same generous assistance of nature.
"My soul!" thought the girl swiftly, "they do get themselves up!"
The Captain had stepped forward, speaking quickly in Turkish, with a hard-sounding rattle of words. The sister glanced at him with a deepening of that curious air of mockery and let fall two words in the same tongue. Then she turned to Arlee.
"Je suis enchantee—d'avoir cet honneur—cet honneur inattendu——"
She did not look remarkably enchanted, however. The eyes that played appraisingly over her pretty caller had a quality of curious hardness, of race hostility, perhaps, the antagonism of the East for the West, the Old for the New. Not all the modernity of clothes, of manners, of language, affected what Arlee felt intensely as the strange, vivid foreignness of her.
"My sister does not speak English—she has not the occasion," the Captain was quickly explaining.
"Gracious" thought Arlee, in dismay. She had no illusions about her French; it did very well in a shop or a restaurant, but it was apt to peeter out feebly in polite conversation. Certainly it was no vessel for voyaging in untried seas. There were simply loads of things, she thought discouragedly, the things she wanted most to ask, that she would not be able to find words for.
Aloud she was saying, "I am so glad to have the honor of being here. I am only sorry that my French is so bad. But perhaps you can understand——"
"I understand," assented the Turkish woman, faintly smiling.
The Captain had brought forward little gilt chairs of a French design which seemed oddly out of place in this room of the East, and the three seated themselves. Out of place, too, seemed the grand piano which Arlee's eyes, roving now past her hostess, discovered for the first time.
"It was so kind of you," began Arlee again as the silence seemed to be politely waiting upon her, "to send your automobile for me."
"Ah—my automobile!" echoed the woman on a higher note, and laughed, with a flash of white teeth between carmined lips. "It pleased you?"
"Oh, yes, it is splendid!" the girl declared, in sincere praise. "It is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen."
"I enjoy it very much—that automobile!" said the other, again laughing, with a quick turn of her eyes toward the brother.
Negligently, rather caressingly, the young man murmured a few Turkish words. She shrugged and leaned back in her chair, the flash of animation gone. "And Cairo—that pleases you?" she asked of Arlee.
Stumbling a little in her French, but resolutely rushing over the difficulties, Arlee launched into the expression of how very much it pleased her. Everything was beautiful to her. The color, the sky, the mosques, the minarets, the Nile, the pyramids—they were all wonderful. And the view from the Great Pyramid—and then she stopped, wondering if that were not beyond her hostess's experience.
In confirmation of the thought the Turkish lady smiled, with an effect of disdain. "Ascend the pyramids—that is indeed too much for us," she said. "But nothing is too much for you Americans—no?"
Her curious glance traveled slowly from Arlee's flushed and lovely face, under the rose-crowned hat, down over the filmy white gown and white-gloved hands clasping an ivory card case, to the small, white-shod feet and silken ankles. Arlee did not resent the deliberate scrutiny; in coming to gaze she had been offering herself to be gazed upon, and she was conscious that the three of them presented a most piquant group in this dim and spacious old room of the East—the modern American girl, the cosmopolitan young officer in his vivid uniform, and this sequestered woman, of a period of transition where the kohl and henna of the odalisque contrasted with a coiffure and gown from Paris.
Slowly and disconnectedly the uninspiring conversation progressed. Once, when it appeared halted forever, Arlee cast a helpless look at the Captain and intercepted a sharp glance at his sister. Indeed, Arlee thought, that sister was not distinguishing herself by her grateful courtesy to this guest who was brightening the tristesse of her secluded day, but perhaps this was due to her Oriental languor or the limitations of their medium of speech.
It was a relief to have the Captain suggest music. At their polite insistence Arlee went to the piano and did her best with a piece of MacDowell. Then the sister took her turn, and to her surprise Arlee found herself listening to an exquisite interpretation of some of the most difficult of Brahms. The beringed and tinted fingers touched the notes with rare delicacy, and brought from the piano a quality so vivid and poignant in appeal that Arlee could dream that here the player's very life and heart were finding their real expression.
The last note fell softly into silence, and with her hands still on the keys the woman looked up over her shoulder at her brother, looked with an intentness oddly provocative and prolonged. And for the first time Arlee caught the quality of sudden and unforeseen attraction in her, and realized that this insolence of color, this flaunting hair and painted mouth might have their place in some scheme of allurement outside her own standards.... And then suddenly she felt queerly sorry for her, touched by the quick jarring bitterness of a chord the woman suddenly struck, drowning the laughing words the Captain had murmured to her.... Arlee felt vaguely indignant at him. No one wanted to have jokes tossed at her when she had just poured her heart out in music.
The Captain was on his feet, making his adieux. Now that the ladies were acquainted, he would leave them to discuss the modes and other feminine interests. He wished Miss Beecher a delightful trip upon the Nile and hoped to see her upon her return, and she could be sure that everything would be arranged for her. When she had had her tea and wished to leave, the motor would return her to the hotel. He made a rapid speech in Turkish to his sister, bowed formally to Arlee over a last au revoir and was gone.
Immediately the old woman entered with a tray of tea things, the same old woman who had been squatting by the window, but who had noiselessly left the room during the music. She was followed by a bewitching little girl of about ten with another tray, who remained to serve while the old woman shuffled slowly away. Arlee was struck by the informality of the service; the servants appeared to be underfoot like rugs; they came and went at will, unregarded.
The tea was most disappointingly ordinary, for the pat of butter bore the rose stamp of the English dairy and the bread was English bake, but the sweetmeats were deliciously novel, resembling nothing Arlee had seen in the shops, and new, too, was the sip of syrup which completed the refreshment.
Her hostess had said but little during the repast, remaining silent, with an air of polite attention, her eyes fixed upon her caller with a gaze the girl found bafflingly inscrutable. Now as the girl rose to go, the Turkish woman suddenly revived her manners of hostess and suggested a glimpse of some of the other rooms of the palace. "Our seclusion interests you—yes?" she said, with a half-sad, half-bitter smile on her scarlet lips, and Arlee was conscious of a sense of apologetic intrusion battling with her lively curiosity as she followed her down the long chamber and through a curtained doorway to the right of the throne-like chair, into a large and empty anteroom, where the sunlight streaming through the lightly screened window on the wall at the right reminded Arlee that it was yet glowing afternoon.
She lingered by the window an instant, looking down into the court which she had glimpsed from the vestibule. Across the court she saw a row of windows which, being unbarred, she guessed to be on the men's side of the house, and to the left the court was ended by a sort of roofed colonnade.
Her hostess passed under an elaborate archway, and Arlee followed slowly, passing through one stately, high-ceiled, dusty room into another, plunged again into the twilight of densely screening mashrubiyeh. There were views of fine carving, painted ceilings, inlaid door paneling, and rich and rusty embroideries where the name of Allah could frequently be traced, but Arlee was ignorant of the rare worth of all she saw; she stared about with no more than a girl's romantic sense of the old-time grandeur and the Oriental strangeness, mingled with a disappointment that it was all so empty and devoid of life.
This part of the palace was very old, her hostess said uninterestedly; these were the rooms of the dead and gone ladies of the dead and gone years. One of the Mamelukes had first built this wing for his favorite wife—she had been poisoned by her rival and died, here, on that divan, the narrator indicated, with a negligent gesture.
Wide-eyed, Arlee stared about the empty, darkened rooms and felt dimly oppressed by them. They were so old, so melancholy, these rooms of dead and gone ladies. How much of life had been lived here, how much of hope had been smothered with these walls! What aching love and fiery hate had vibrated here, only to smolder into helpless ennui under the endless weight of tedious days.... She shivered slightly, oppressed by the dreams of these ancient rooms, dreams that were heavy with realities.
Slowly she moved back after her hostess, who had pushed back a panel in one wall, and Arlee stepped beside her within the tiny, balcony-like enclosure the panel had revealed, one side of which was a wooden lace-work of fine screening, permitting one to see but not be seen. Pressing her face against the grill, Arlee found she was looking down into a long and spacious hall, lined with delicate columns bearing beautiful, pointed arches, and brilliant with old gilding and inlay.
This was the colonnade which she had seen forming one side of the court; it was the hall of banquets, she was told, and connected this wing of the palace, the haremlik, with the selamlik, the men's wing, across the way. Here in old times the lord of the palace gave his feasts, and this nook had been built for some favorite to view the revels.
Arlee stared down into the great empty hall with an involuntary quickening of the breath. How desolate it was, but how beautiful in its desolation! What strange revels had taken place there to the notes of wild music, what girls had danced, what voices had shouted, what moods had been indulged! She thought of the men who had made merry there ... and then she thought of the women, generations of women, who had stood where she was standing, pressing their young faces against the grill, their bright eyes peering, peering down. She felt their soft little silken ghosts all about her, their bangles clinking, their perfumes enveloping her sense—lovely little painted dolls, their mimic passions helpless in their hearts....
Dreaming, she turned and in silence retraced her way after her hostess, loitering by the window in the anteroom to watch a veiled girl drawing water at the old well in the center, an old well rich in arabesques.
How much happier, thought Arlee, were these serving maids in the freedom of their poverty than the cloistered aristocrats behind their darkened windows. She wondered if that strange figure beside her, half Moslem, half modern, envied the little maid the saucy jest which she flung at a bare-footed boy idling beside a dozing white donkey. As she watched the old-world quiet of the picture was broken. Some one, the doorkeeper, she thought, from his vivid robes and yellow shoes, came running across the court, shouting something at the girl which sent her flying to the house, her jar forgotten, and another man, an enormous Nubian with blue Turkish bloomers, short red jacket and a red fez, hurried across the court toward the haremlik.
The lady stepped toward the screening and called down; the man stopped, raised his head, and shouted back a jargon of excited gutturals, waving his arms in vehement gesturing. His mistress interrupted with a brief question, then with another, then nodding her head indifferently to herself, she called down an order, apparently, and turned away.
"One of our servants is dead," she murmured to Arlee in explanation. "They say now it is the plague."
"The plague?" repeated the girl absently. She was thinking what a hideous creature that great Nubian was. Then, more vividly, "The plague?"
"You have fear?" said the negligent voice.
Arlee nodded frankly. "Oh, yes, I should be terribly afraid of it," she averred. "Aren't you?" And then she reflected, as she saw the inscrutable smile playing about the older woman's lips, that she must be witnessing that fatalistic apathy of the East that she had read about.
But there was nothing apathetic about the Captain. He followed on the very heels of the announcement, his sword clanking, his spurs jingling, as he bounded up the stairs and hurried through the long, dim drawing-room toward them.
"You have heard?" he cried in English as they came to meet him. "You have heard?"
"Of the plague!" Arlee answered, wondering at his agitation. "Yes, your sister just told me. Is it really the plague?"
"So say those damned doctors—pardon, but they are such imbeciles!" He made an angry gesture with his clenched hand. His face was tense and excited. "They say so. And there is another sick ... Dieu, what a misfortune! Truly, there was illness about us, a little, but who thought——"
"I shall run back to my hotel," said Arlee lightly, "before I catch one of your germs."
"To the hotel—a thousand pardons, but that is the thing forbidden." The young man made a gesture, with empty palms outspread, eloquent of rebellion and despair. "Those doctors—those pig English—they have set a quarantine upon us!"
A SORRY GUEST
"A quarantine?" said Arlee Beecher, in a perfectly flat little voice.
Again the young man exercised his power of gesture, his dark eyes seeming to plead his own helpless desire to mitigate his words.
"Truly a quarantine. It is tyranny, but what can one do? They will hear nothing—they set their guard and it is finished—bien simple. We are their prisoners."
"Prisoners?" Her mind appeared but a hollow echo of his words. Her heart was dropping, dropping sickishly, into unending space. Then meaning stabbed her like a dentist's needle, and a pandemonium of incredulity and revolt clamored through every nerve in her body. "Why you can't mean—I'm going back to the hotel this instant! I haven't seen your servant!"
"That is nothing to them. They have no reason—heads of pigs! No one must leave or they shoot—the tyrants, the imbecile tyrants! But their day will not be forever—Islam will not endure——"
It was of no moment to Arlee Beecher what Islam would not endure. Her heart was galloping now like a runaway horse, but her voice rang with quick reaction from that first sickening shock.
"What nonsense," she said positively. "They wouldn't shoot me. Why didn't you call me when the English doctor was here. I could have explained then. But now—now I had better telephone, I suppose. Either to the doctor or the English ambassador—or the American consul. I'll make them understand in a jiffy. Where is your telephone, please?"
"Alas, not in the palace." The young captain's look of regret deepened.
"But—but you telephoned your sister! You telephoned her this afternoon."
"Ah, yes, but I spoke to a telephone which is in a palace near here—the palace of my uncle. I sent a servant with the message. But I can send a message to that palace," he offered eagerly, "and they can telephone for you. Or I can send notes out to all the people you wish. The soldiers will call boys to deliver them."
Across the girl's perfectly white face a tremor of panic darted; then she bit her lips very hard and stared very intently past the Captain's green and gold shoulder. She had totally forgotten the sister who had sunk on a divan beside them, her brown eyes rimmed in their dark pencilings turning from one to the other as if to read their faces.
"I'll just speak to those soldiers, myself," said Arlee decidedly. "I'll make them understand." She left them there, their eyes upon her and sped down the long room to the door which the Captain's hurried entrance had left half open. She disappeared down the steps.
In three minutes she was back, a flame in the frightened white of her cheeks, a flame in the frightened blue of her eyes.
"Captain Kerissen," she called, and he took a step nearer to her, his face alert with sympathy, "Captain Kerissen, that is a native soldier! He is at the bottom of the stairs—with a bayonet—and he will not let me pass. He doesn't know a word I say. Please come and tell him."
"Miss Beecher, it is useless for me to tell him anything," said the young Turk with a ring of quiet conviction. "I have been talking to that one—and to the others. They are at every entrance. It is as I told you—we are prisoners."
"Surely you can tell him that I am a guest—you can bribe him to turn his head, to let me slip by——"
"He would be shot if he let you out that street door. He has his orders to keep the ladies in their quarters and it is death to him to disobey. That is the discipline—and the discipline has no mercy—particularly upon the native soldiers." His tone held bitterness. "It is useless to resist the soldiers. You must resign yourself to remain a guest until I can obtain word to one who can render assistance.... Will it be so hard?" he added sympathetically, as she stood silent, her lips pressed quiveringly together. "My sister will do everything——"
"Of course I can't stay here," broke in Arlee in her clear, positive young tones. "I must get back to the Evershams—and we are going up the Nile to-morrow morning. Can you get a message to that doctor at once? And have someone go and telephone from the next house to the consul and ambassador—and I'll write them notes, too."
Her voice broke suddenly. On what wings of folly she had come alone to this place! Her bright adventure was a stupid scrape. Oh, what mischance—what mischance! She was chokingly ashamed of the predicament—to be penned up by a quarantine in a Moslem household. She was angry, defiant and humiliated at once. What would the Evershams say—and Robert Falconer——
* * * * *
She had never waited for anything as she waited for the answers to the passionately urgent notes she sent out. She had written the doctor, the ambassador, the consul, the Evershams. And then she walked up and down, up and down that long, dim room which grew darker and darker with the fading light and counted off the seconds and the minutes and the hours with her pulsing heart beats. She had never known there was such suspense in the world. It was comparable to nothing in her girl's life—the only faint analogy was in the old school-time when she thought she had failed in the history examination and her roommate had gone to the office to find out for her. She remembered walking the floor then, in a silly panic of fear. But she had not failed—she had just squeaked through and it would be like that now. Someone would come to tell her that everything was all right and laugh with her at her foolish fright. But underneath this strain of fervent reassurance ran a cold little current like an underground brook, a seeping chill of dread and vague fear and strange amazement that she should be here in this lonely palace, peering out of darkened windows, waiting and listening.
This time it was the Captain's steps, coming up the stairs. Perceptive of her impatience, he had left her to herself, till he could bring word. Now she stood, listening to the nearing jingle that accompanied his footsteps, her hands clasped involuntarily against her breast in rigid tension. And when she saw his face through the dusk, saw the courteous deprecation of it, the solicitous sympathy, she did not need his words to tell her that it was not yet all right.
There was nothing to be done. Legal and medical authorities united in insisting that no one, not even the guest, should leave the palace until the fear of spreading the infection was past. This might be modified in a day or two, but for the present they were too frightened to make exceptions.
And they were going up the Nile Friday morning, Arlee remembered numbly. And this was Thursday night.
"Did the Evershams—did they answer my letter?" she said with dry lips.
The Evershams, it seemed, had not been at the hotel. Perhaps when they had read the letter they would be able to do something about it.
"They'll just talk!" cried Arlee passionately, her breast heaving.
She wanted to scream, she wanted to rave, she wanted to fly down the stairs and hurl herself recklessly against that barring bayonet. But because there was pride and spirit behind her delicate loveliness she shut the door hard upon those imps of hysteria and with high-held head and palely smiling lips she thanked the Captain for the hospitality he was extending in his sister's name. Yes, thank you, she would rejoin them at dinner. Yes, thank you, she would like to go to her room now.
A serving maid, called by her hostess, conducted her—the blue-robed girl, she thought, that she had seen drawing water at the well. A black shawl hung from her head and dangling in its folds the yashmak ready to be slipped on at the approach of the men before whom she must appear veiled. Her bare feet were thrust into scarlet slippers, and as she moved silver anklets were visible, hanging loosely over slim, brown ankles. Shuffling slightly, yet with an erectly graceful carriage, the girl led the way into the ante-room again, pulled open one of the closed doors in the opposite wall and passed up an encased staircase wrapped in darkness. They emerged into the dusk of a long, dim hall, where hanging lamps from the ceiling shed a mild luster and a strong smell of oil, and passing one or two doors on the right, the maid pushed, open one that was rich in old gilding.
Crossing the threshold Arlee felt that she was crossing the centuries again into her own time.
The room was a glitter of white and rose; the windows, unscreened, admitted the warm glow of late afternoon, and windows and doorway and bed were smothered in rose and white hangings. A white triple-mirrored dressing-table gleamed with gold and ivory pieces; a white fur rug was stretched before a rose silk divan billowy with plump pillows, and an open door beyond gave a view of shining tile and a porcelain bath. Near her was a baby grand piano in white enamel—reminding her of one she had seen in the White House—and she noted absently a pile of gaudily covered music upon it betokening tunes different from the Brahms she had heard downstairs.
The maid indicated a pitcher of hot water in the bathroom—evidently pipes and faucets played no part with the shining tub—and then stepped outside, closing the door.
After an instant's hesitation, Arlee took off her hat and bathed her face and hands, then moved slowly to the dressing table to glance at her hair. Hesitantly she picked up the shining brush and stared at the flourish of an unintelligible monogram upon the back. Whose brush was this? Whose room was she in? The place, vivid, silken, scented, was fairly breathing with occupancy.
She laid down the brush without using it, touched her hair with absent fingers, and crossed to the windows. She looked down into a garden, a deep tangle of a garden, presided over by a huge lebbek tree that threw a pall of shadow upon the faintly moving flowers beneath.
The place seemed a riot in neglect, for across the white sanded paths thick creepers had flung their arms, and vines and climbers were scaling the gnarled limbs of the acacia trees and covering the high walls beyond. She was looking to the west where the rose and gold of sunset still hung breathless on the painted air, though the sun was hidden below the fringe of palms which rose above the wall, and for a moment that still brilliance of the sky above the sharply silhouetted palms made her heart quicken in forgetfulness.
And then her hands became aware of the bars she had been unconsciously clasping, white-painted bars extending across the window. They were of iron.
Not even here was there freedom, she thought with a throb of dread, not even here where one faced dark gardens and blank walls and the empty west.
* * * * *
Somehow that dinner had passed, that queer dinner in the candle light between the silent, painted woman and the politely talkative young man, and passed without a word from outside for the girl whose nerves were fraying with the suspense. The old woman and the little girl had served them with a meal which would have been judged delicious in any European hotel and though Arlee's nerves were tricky her young appetite was not and she ate and talked with a determined little air of trying to dissipate the strangeness of the situation.
And with the coffee came inspiration. She began to plan ... half listening to the Captain's amiable efforts to entertain her with an account of the palace, and of its history under Ismail, the Mad Khedive, who had occupied it for some months, tearing down and building in his feverish way, only to weary at the first hint of completion. She was wondering why in the world the inspiration had not arrived at once. Perhaps something in this fatalistic air, this stupid acceptance of authority had numbed her.
With alacrity she accepted the Captain's suggestion of a stroll in the garden, and was relieved when the silent sister did not rise to accompany them, but remained in the candle-light with her coffee and cigarette. She found the woman's lightly mocking, watchful eyes, the enigmatic smile upon the carmined lips, increasingly hard to bear. That woman didn't like her—she had failed, somehow, to propitiate her hostile curiosities.
Back through the old empty rooms of the past, the Captain led her, and passing by the screened alcove from which Arlee had looked down into the ancient banquet hall he came to a small dark painted door which he unlocked. The door opened upon a flight of worn and narrow stone steps descending into the garden.
* * * * *
It had been night in the palace of darkened windows but in the garden it was yet day, although the rose and gold of sunset had faded to paling pinks and translucent ambers and in the east the stars were shining in the deepening blue. It was the same garden on which her windows opened; Arlee recognized the huge lebbek tree in the center, the row of acacias, and the palms against the farthest wall. It was a very old garden. Those trees must have seen many, many years, she thought, and felt again that sense of vague oppression and melancholy which the lonely rooms of the palace had given her; that row of acacias which cast such crooked shadows over the path had been planted by very long-ago hands.
So she thought fleetingly, then stared about, her concern for other things. Captain Kerissen lighted a cigarette; over his cupped hands his eyes followed hers searchingly.
"That is the hall of banquets?" she said, pointing to the raised colonnade.
"Ah, yes—you are quick to learn!" he complimented.
"And could we walk through that into the courtyard?"
"And this side is the haremlik," she murmured, glancing up at the windows upon the third floor which she felt were those of that rose and white room. Much of the rest of the wing, she saw, extending down to the high wall at right angles to it, was in a ruinous and dilapidated condition. "What is there?" she asked.
"The rooms the Khedive Ismail left unfinished. They are of no use."
"And on the other side?" she persisted, pointing towards the wall that was the continuation of the men's wing, which stopped at the colonnade.
"On the other side is the palace of another man, and on the other side of that, ending the road is a cimitere—what you say, cemetery."
"And back of that wall?" She nodded at the one behind the palms, running parallel to the banquet hall.
"Back of that a canal, Mademoiselle, and across are other palaces.... You study the geography, it appears?"
"Indeed I do!" She turned towards him, her face bright with eagerness. Her light curls were blown about her forehead by a breeze, hot and dry, that seemed to mingle the odors of the desert with a piercing sweetness which it drew from the deep throats of the lilies swaying beside the path. "And I think that is going to be the way out for me." Her quick nod was for the wall behind the palms. "I want you to do me a great big favor, Captain Kerissen, that will make me your debtor for life! You must help me break out of this quarantine this very night?"
Not the ghost of a fear of failure to persuade him lurked in those bright, dancing eyes. Not the ghost of a fear of failure haunted those confident, smiling lips.
He sucked on his cigarette a moment, then slowly blew a thin ring of blue smoke. He appeared interested in watching it.
"What is it—this idea?" he murmured.
"Well, you may have a better one but mine is just to climb that wall, as soon as it gets dark. If you just get a ladder, or a pile of chairs I am sure I can manage it—and then I'll be back at the hotel in an hour!"
He took out his cigarette and shook his head at her. "You would drop, like the plum of Haydee, into the arms of the soldier who is guarding on the other side.... Shall I tell you the story of that plum?"
"A soldier guarding—a native soldier?"
"Then—then please won't you see if you can bribe him?" she shamelessly pleaded, anxiously clasping and unclasping her hands. "Please, Captain Kerissen, you must help me to run away to-night. I can't be shut up like this—I can't give up the Nile trip and besides—Oh, I really must be back at that hotel to-night!... If that soldier is sure no one else will see him I know you can persuade him to look away just a little minute while I slip down and run off!"
"Ah, no, no, my dear Miss Beecher, there is no hope of that." The young man started walking down the path and Arlee walked beside him, her eyes fixed on his face, incredulous of the denial that they were reading there. "He would think it a test, a trap—not for one minute is it to be thought of! Now could I let you go alone in that place by the canal. There is danger—you do not understand——"
"Oh, I understand, but I can take care of myself!" Across her pleading flashed the ironic thought of how excellently she had taken care of herself in coming there that very afternoon! "Just let me get over that wall and I can find my way—and if you cannot bribe the man we can wait till it is darker and then, when he is at the other end, why I can be down and off in a jiffy!"
"He would shoot," said the Captain. "He has his order. I have talked with them.... And what would the authorities say when they send here the doctor to-morrow and you are gone?"
"Say—say—Oh, what does it matter what they say? Tell them that I ran away without your knowledge. Surely——"
"But your name has been given as detained. They would not let you reappear in the world——"
"You leave that to me! I know it would be all right—once I was there. Please do this for me, Captain Kerissen—please! I know that in a great palace like this there must be many, many ways where one could slip into the streets——"
"In all this palace there are but three doors—the door in the vestibule by which you entered, the great door to its right, under the arch into the court, and the little door from the garden to the canal." He waved his cigarette at the wall ahead of them, towards which they were slowly walking. "And all those three doors are barred upon the outside and there is a soldier before each one—and the soldier that you saw within the vestibule, watching us there."
"But—but the windows." She remembered the mashrubiyeh, but went on resolutely, "I mean, the windows on the men's side. Aren't there any windows in that part which are open?"
"The selamlik is a short wing and looks into the court." A note of impatience sounded in his voice. He tossed away his cigarette which fell, a burning spark, in the shadows. Already, as they talked, it had grown darker, and the impatient tropic night was stealing on them. "It is no use," he repeated. "There is no way out for you—or any of us."
Into her heart stole the unthinkable perception that he did not want to help her—he was afraid of the authorities—or else—or else—Desperately she returned to the appeal.
"But do let me try to get over that wall. I will watch for the soldier—I will take the responsibility. Please, now—let us plan that attempt."
His answer held a quiet finality. "It is impossible.... And the wall is too high for such little feet."
The startled color flashed into her cheeks. Only Oriental language of course.... Perhaps she was unduly sensitive to any hint of familiarity in her predicament.
"I could manage it perfectly," she said with coldness.
He bent over her, as they walked. "Are you so unhappy here?"
"Of course I am unhappy," she gave back with a clear matter-of-factness that strove to ignore the sudden softening of his voice. "I am very unhappy. I realize that I should not be here, that I am intruding upon your hospitality——"
"You are making me most happy."
"And I am making my friends most anxious and losing my trip on the Nile."
"The Nile," he said, "flows on forever. Who knows how soon you will see it and under what happier circumstances?"
"Our boat was to sail at ten. I simply must find a way out to-night——"
"That is impossible." He spoke with sudden irritation, which he softened the next instant, with a light laugh. "You Americans—how you hurry!... Tell me—have you no heart for all this?"
She looked about her at the silent garden, the deepening shadows, the darkening sky. Above her head, now, high in the air were the faintly rustling palm leaves. Behind the palms stretched the wall, high and blankly impassable. She felt strange, unreal.... Her very fright was unreal.
"Tell me," he was saying, his voice low and caressing, "are there many girls like you—in your America?"
She tried to speak quite easily, quite simply. "You have been in England and France, Captain Kerissen, and you have seen many Americans traveling there."
"I have seen many—yes. But not like you." She looked swiftly at him, then more swiftly away. His eyes were glowing with a look of deep excitement; his teeth flashed white under his small, dark mustache. "Shall I tell you how you appear beside those others?"
"No, thank you," the girl answered with a hurried crispness which brought a stare and then a low laugh from him.
"You have been told so often?" he suggested.
"I never permit myself to be told at all!" Anger made her young voice imperious, but her heart was beating furiously. Involuntarily she quickened her steps and he reached his hand to her bare forearm and held her back.
"Pardon—but you are too quick."
She stood rigid, some deep instinct warning her not to resist. The situation had gone to the man's head, she felt dumbly; his courtesy was only a scant veneer over that Oriental cast of view which, like the Latin, reads every accident of propinquity as opportunity. His hand fell away and they walked on in slower time. When he spoke his voice betrayed the feeling quickening within him.
"Then I have a pleasure before me, for you will listen, please. To me your sister Americans are like big, bright flowers which grow by the wayside where every wind blows hard upon them. And each receives the dust of the footsteps of many men till comes the one who shall possess her. But he does not bear her away. He puts his name upon her, but leaves her out in the same field where every passerby may look and handle——"
"You are dreadfully rude," said Arlee clearly. "You don't understand at all. I thought you knew better."
"Ah, I know! Was I not in England and did I not hear men talk—yes, of sisters and wives with bold words and laughter? Not so of our ladies—they are sacred names not to be spoken by another.... But I do not wish to speak of these others of your race. I speak of you."
"Really, I would rather you would not speak of me."
"But I wish to tell you." His voice was no louder; it was even lower, but it took on a note of authority. Arlee was silent, a chill creeping up about her heart—like a rising tide....
"You are a flower upon a height," he said, and his tones were soft again and gently caressing, "laughing at others because you know you are so high above them, and so proud. The blue of the skies is in your eyes, and the gold of the sun in your hair. You have a beauty that is too bright to be endured—it burns a man's heart like a flame.... It was never meant to shine in a common field. It must be guarded, revered, adored—a princess upon a height——"
"You have an Oriental imagination," said Arlee Beecher, and prayed God her voice did not tremble. "I must ask you not to pay me such compliments while I am your guest."
"No?... Why not?"
"Embarrassment is an emotion rare to find among your ladies—it is the dewy bloom upon your own perfect innocence.... Ah, I wish you spoke my language! I could tell you many things——"
"Your English is excellent," said the white-faced girl. "Did you learn it at Oxford or before?"
He did not pause for such foolish questionings. "Why do you not wish me to tell you what you are?" he said reproachfully. "Is it because you doubt that I mean it?"
"Because I am not used to such compliments—and I would rather not hear them now. I am your guest and I am very tired. I must go in."
It was very dark in the garden. And it was still and unutterably lonely. Only the stars burned above them in the heavens; only the light wind of the desert stirred. From the far distance the muffled beat of the tom-tom sounded. Surely, thought Arlee, surely she was dreaming.... This could not be Arlee Beecher, here with this man—this Turk.
"I must go in," she repeated, with a heightening of assurance.
As he looked down at her for a moment that chill dread seemed to lay its icy hands on her very heart as she glimpsed something of the tumult within his eyes. She had a vision of him as a man capable of all, reckless, impassioned, poised upon the brink of some desperate plunge.... Then the hands of consequences seemed to lay compelling hold upon him; the fire was extinguished; the vision gone like a mirage. His eyes were friendly, his lips smiling, as he bowed to her, in deferential courtesy, to all appearances a gentleman of her world.
"I must not tire my guest," he said, and stood aside to let her pass up the narrow stone steps.
"We shall have other walks," he added, and the chill, delicate menace of those words went with Arlee Beecher to the rose and white room, and kept her sorry company through the long and restless hours.
WITHIN THE WALLS
Again the knocking, muffled but softly insistent, and Arlee's eyes, heavy with tardy sleep, came slowly open, resting blankly on the glittering strangeness of the room. The daylight was streaming in the wide windows, striking brightly on the white enameled furniture which had glimmered so ghost-like through the wakeful darkness of the night, and flung back in dancing points of color from the mirrors and the glass and gold of toilet pieces. The air was hot and close, as if the first freshness of the morning was already past.
Again through the heavy door came the knocking and the soft reassurance of a girl's voice. Arlee sprang from the couch where she had lain down that night, not undressed, but with her white frock exchanged for the negligee she had found laid out for her among other things, and hurried toward the door where she had piled two chairs to supplement the lock—a foolish-looking barricade in the shining light of day, she thought, her lips lifting whimsically.
The young Turkish maid entered with a huge jar of water which she emptied into the bath, returning to the door to take in another and yet another and another from some unseen porter, and pouring these into the bath, she added a spray of perfume and laid out powders and towels, smiling the while at Arlee, with the fascinated interest of a child.
"Do you speak English?" said Arlee eagerly.
But the girl laughed and shook her head at the question, and at the French and German with which Arlee next addressed her, and answered in soft Turkish, at which it was Arlee's turn to laugh and shake her head. But she felt a little rueful behind her pleasant smiling. She wished she could talk with the girl. She wondered about her. She had very handsome dark eyes, though perhaps overbold at times, but her lips were thick and her nose was flattened as if generations of yashmak-wearing women had crushed every hope of contour.
The cool freshness of the water was grateful to her senses. It was a plunge back into sanity and normal life again, drowning those ghosts of vague foreboding and anxieties which had kept such unpleasant vigil with her, and when the Turkish girl returned with a tray, Arlee was able to sit and eat breakfast with a trace of amusement at the oddity of the affair—sipping coffee in this Parisian boudoir overlooking an Egyptian garden.
As she was buttering a last crumb of toast the girl re-entered with a box from the florist. Her white teeth flashing at Arlee in a smile of admiring interest, she broke the cord with thick fingers and Arlee found the box full of roses, creamy pink and dewy fresh. The Captain's card was enclosed, and across the back of it he had written a message:
I am sending out for some flowers for our guest and I hope that they will convey to her my greeting. If there is anything that you would have, it is yours if it is in my power to give. My sister is indisposed, but will visit you when her indisposition will permit. This afternoon I will see you and report the result of our protests to the authorities. Until then, be tranquil, and accommodate yourself here.
A tacit apology, thought Arlee, pondering the dull letter a moment, then dropping it to touch the roses with light fingers. The young man's wits had evidently returned with the sun. He had utterly lost them last night with the starshine and the shadows and his Oriental conception of the intimacy of the situation—but, after all, he had too much good sense not to be aware of the folly of annoying her. Her cheeks flushed a little warmer at the memory of the bold words and the lordly hand on her arm, and her heart quickened in its beating. She had certainly been playing with fire, and the sparks she had so ignorantly struck had lighted for her an unforgettable glimpse of the Oriental nature beneath all its English polish, but she imagined, very fearlessly, that the spark was out. She was not a nature that was easily alarmed or daunted; beneath her look of delicate fragility was a very sturdy confidence, and she had the implicit sense of security instinct in the kitten whose blithe days have known nothing but kindness. Yet she felt herself tremendously experienced and initiated....