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Bella Donna - A Novel
by Robert Hichens
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How near everything looked! How startlingly every detail of things stood out in this exquisite evening!

Presently his eyes went to the Loulia. She, too, looked strangely near, strangely distinct. He watched her, only because of that at first, but presently because he began to notice an unusual bustle on board. Men were moving rapidly about both on the lower and on the upper deck, were going here and there ceaselessly.

One man swarmed up the long and bending mast. Another clambered over the balcony-rail into the stern.

What did all this movement mean?

The master of the Loulia must surely be expected—the man Isaacson had seen driving the Russian horses, and, clothed almost in rags, squatting in the darkness of the hashish cafe in the entrails of Cairo.

And Bella Donna was hurrying back after only one night in Cairo!

Isaacson forgot the marvellous beauty of the declining day. In a few minutes he returned to the house. But immediately after dinner, leaving Nigel sitting on the terrace, he went again to the bank of the Nile.

The Loulia was illuminated from prow to stern. Light gleamed from every cabin window, and the crew had not only the daraboukkeh but the pipes on board, and were making the fantasia. Some of them, too, were dancing. Against a strong light on the lower deck, Isaacson saw black figures, sometimes relieved for a moment, moving with a wild grotesqueness, like crazy shadows.

He stood for several minutes listening, watching. He thought of a train travelling towards Luxor. Then he went quickly across the garden, and came to the terrace and Nigel.

The deep voice within him must be obeyed. He could resist it no longer.

"They're lively on the Loulia to-night," Nigel said, as he came up.

"Yes," Isaacson answered.

He stood while he lighted a cigar. Then he sat down near to his friend. The light from the drawing-room streamed out upon them from the open French window. The shrill sound of the pipes, the dull throbbing of the daraboukkeh, came to them from across the water.

"The whole vessel is lighted up," he added.

"Is she? Perhaps Baroudi has come up the river."

"Looks like it," said Isaacson.

He crossed, then uncrossed his legs. Never before had he felt himself to be a coward. He knew what he must do. He knew he would do it before Nigel and he went into the room behind them. Yet he could not force himself to begin. He thought, "When I've smoked out this cigar."

"You've never seen Baroudi," Nigel said. "He's one of the handsomest fellows I've ever clapped eyes on. As strong as a bull, I should think; enormously rich. A very good chap, too, I should say. But I don't fancy my wife liked him. He's hardly a woman's man."

"Why d'you think that?"

"I don't know. His manner, perhaps. And he doesn't seem to bother about them. But we only saw him about twice, except on the ship coming out. He dined here one night, and the next day we went over the Loulia with him, and we've never set eyes on him since. He went up river, and we went down, to the Fayyum."

"But—but you went off alone to the Fayyum, didn't you? At first, I mean?"

"Oh, yes. The morning after Baroudi had sailed for Armant."

"And Mrs. Armine was alone here for some time?"

"Yes. Just while I was getting things a little ship-shape for her. But we didn't have much luxury after all. However, she didn't mind that."

"Wasn't—don't you think it may have been rather dull for Mrs. Armine during that time?"

"Which time? D'you mean in the Fayyum?"

"I mean, while you were away in the Fayyum."

"I dare say it was. I expect it was. But why?"

"Well—"

Isaacson threw away his cigar.

"Not going to finish your cigar?" said Nigel.

He was evidently beginning to be surprised by his friend's words and manner.

"No," Isaacson said. "I don't want to smoke to-night; I want to talk. I must talk to you. You remember our conversation on the night of Mrs. Armine's departure?"

"About my illness?"

"Yes."

"Of course I do."

"I said then that I wouldn't accept the usual money compensation for anything I had been able to do for you."

"Yes, but—"

"And I told you you could compensate me in another way."

"What way?"

"That's what I'm going to try and tell you now. But—but it's not easy. I want you to understand—I want you to understand."

There was a moment of silence. Then Nigel said:

"But what? Understand what?"

"Armine, do you believe thoroughly in my friendship for you?"

"Yes."

"You believe, you know, it's a friendship that is quite disinterested?"

"I'm sure it is."

"And yet you have treated me all this time with almost as much reserve as if I had been a mere acquaintance."

Nigel looked uncomfortable.

"I didn't mean—I am deeply grateful to you," he said; "deeply grateful. You have saved my life."

"I have, indeed," Isaacson said, solemnly. "If I had not followed you up the river, you would certainly have died."

"Are you—you said you would tell me what was the matter with me."

"I'm going to."

"What was it?"

"The bath at Kous had nothing to do with it. As to sunstroke, you never had it. You began to feel unwell—didn't you?—soon after you started for your voyage?"

"Yes."

"Hasn't it ever struck you as very strange that you, a young man in magnificent health, living an outdoor life in one of the finest climates in the world, should be struck down by this mysterious illness?"

"Mysterious?"

"Well, wasn't it?"

"It was very odd. I always thought that, of course."

He leaned forward a little in his chair, fixing his eyes on Isaacson.

"What was my illness?"

"You've been suffering from lead-poisoning," said Isaacson, slowly, and with an effort.

"Lead?"—Nigel leaned farther forward, moving his hands along the arms of his reclining chair—"lead-poisoning?"

"Yes."

"I've been—you say I've been poisoned?"

"Poisoned from day to day, gradually poisoned through a considerable period of time."

"Poisoned!"

Nigel repeated the word heavily, almost dully. For a moment he seemed dazed.

"If I had not arrived in time, you would have been killed, undoubtedly."

"Killed! But—but who, in the name of God, should want to kill me?"

Isaacson was silent.

"I say, who should want to kill me?" reiterated Nigel.

And this time there was a sound of violence in his voice.

"There was somebody on board of the Loulia who must have wished for your death."

"But who—who? The Nubians? Ibrahim? Hamza?"

Isaacson did not answer. He could not answer at that moment.

"I treated them well, I paid them well, they had everything they could possibly want. They had an easy time. They all seemed fond of us. They were fond of us. I know they were."

"I don't say they were not."

"Then what d'you mean? There was nobody else on board with me."

"Yes, there was."

"There was? Then I never saw him! Do you mean to say there was some one hidden on board? What are you talking about, Isaacson?"

He was becoming greatly, almost angrily excited.

"Armine, the compensation I want is this. I don't want to clear out and leave you here in Egypt; I want to take you away with me."

"Take me away? Where to?"

"Anywhere—back to England."

"We are going to England as soon as I'm quite strong. But you haven't told me! You say I've been poisoned. I want to know by whom."

* * * * *

"But perhaps you don't know! Do you know?"

Isaacson got up. He felt as if he could not speak any more sitting down.

"If you will only give me my compensation, let me take you away quietly—I'm a doctor. Nobody will think anything of it—I need say nothing more."

"Take me away! But I'm nearly well now, and there can be no more danger."

"If you come away with me—no!"

"But you forget, I'm not alone. I must consult my wife."

"That is what I don't wish you to do."

"Don't? You mean, go away with you without—?"

"I mean, without Mrs. Armine."

"Leave my wife?"

"Leave Ruby? Desert her after all she's done for me?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Isaacson said nothing.

Nigel looked at Isaacson in silence for what seemed to Isaacson a long time—minutes. Then his face slowly flushed, was suffused with blood up to his forehead. It seemed to swell, as if there was a pressure from within outwards. Then the blood retreated, leaving behind it a sort of dark pallor, and the eyes looked sunken in their sockets.

"You—you dare to think—you dare to—to say—?" he stammered.

"I say that you must come away from Mrs. Armine. Don't ask me to say why."

"You—you liar! You damnable liar!"

He spoke slowly, in a low, husky voice.

"That you hated her, I knew that! She told me that. But that you—that you should dare to—"

His voice broke, and he stopped. He leaned forward in his chair and made a gesture.

"Go!" he said. "Get out! If I—if I were myself, I'd put you out."

But Isaacson did not move. He felt no anger, nothing but a supreme pity for this man who could not see, could not understand the truth of a nature with which he had held commune for so long, and, as he in his blindness believed, in such a perfect intimacy. There was to the Doctor something shocking in such blindness, in such ignorance. But there was something beautiful, too. And to destroy beauty is terrible.

"If I am to go, you must hear me first," he said, quietly.

"I won't hear you—not one word!"

Again there was the gesture towards the door.

"I have saved your life," Isaacson said. "And you shall hear me!"

And then, without waiting for Nigel to speak again, very quietly, very steadily, and with a great simplicity he told him what he had to tell. He did not, even now, tell him all. He kept secret the visit of Mrs. Chepstow to his consulting-room, and her self-revelation there. And he did not mention Baroudi. At this moment of crisis the man bred up in England fought against the Eastern Jew within Isaacson, and the Eastern Jew gave way. But he described his visits to the Savoy, how the last time he had gone with the resolution to beg Mrs. Chepstow not to go to Egypt, not to link herself with his friend; how he had begun to speak, and how her cold irony, pitiless and serene, had shown him the utter futility of his embassy. Then he came on to the later time, after the marriage and the departure, when he received his friend's letter describing his happiness and his wonderful health, when he received soon afterwards that other letter from the lady patient, speaking of Nigel's "extraordinary colour." He told how in London he had put those letters side by side and had compared them, and how some strong instinct of trouble and danger had driven him, almost against his will, to Egypt, had bound him to silence about his arrival. Then on the terrace at Shepheard's an acquaintance casually met had increased his fears. And so, in his quick, terse, unembroidered narrative, almost frightfully direct, he reached the scene in the temple of Edfou. From that moment he spared Nigel no detail. He described Mrs. Armine's obvious terror at his appearance; her lies, her omission to tell him her husband was ill until she realized that he—Isaacson—had already heard of the illness in Luxor; her pretence that his dangerous malady was only a slight indisposition caused by grief at the death of Lord Harwich; her endeavor to prevent Isaacson from coming on board the Loulia; the note she had sent by the felucca; his walk by night on the river bank till he came to the dahabeeyah, his eavesdropping, and how the words he overheard decided him to insist on seeing Nigel; the interview with Mrs. Armine in the saloon, and how he had forced his way, by a stratagem, to the after part of the vessel. Then he told of the contest with Doctor Hartley, already influenced by Mrs. Armine, and of the final victory, won—how? By a threat, which could only have frightened a guilty woman.

"I told Mrs. Armine that either I took charge of your case or that I communicated with the police authorities. Then, and only then, she gave way. She let me come on board to nurse you back to life."

"How could you have known?" Nigel exclaimed, with intensely bitter defiance, when at last a pause came. "Even if it had been true, how could you have known?"

"I did not know. I suspected. To save you, I drew a bow at a venture, and I hit the mark. Your illness has been caused by the administration, through a long period of time, of minute doses of some preparation of lead—almost impalpable doubtless, perhaps not to be distinguished from the sand that is blown from the desert. And Mrs. Armine either herself gave or caused it to be given to you."

"Liar! Liar!"

"Did she ever herself give you food? Did she ever prepare your coffee?"

Nigel started up in his chair with a furious spasm of energy.

"Go! Go!" he uttered, in a sort of broken shout or cry. His face was yellowish white. His mouth was working.

"By God! I'll put you out!"

Grasping the arms of his chair, he stood up and he advanced upon Isaacson.

"I'll go. But I'll leave you that!"

And Isaacson drew from his pocket the letter Mrs. Armine had sent by the felucca, and laid it on the coffee-table.

Then he turned quickly, and went away through the dark garden.

Before he was out of sight of the house, he looked back. Nigel had sunk upon his chair in a collapsed attitude.

From the western bank of the Nile came the shrill, attenuated sound of the pipes, the deep throbbing of the daraboukkeh, the nasal chant of the Nubians.

And the lights of the Loulia were like a line of fiery eyes staring across the Nile.



XLIII

When Mrs. Armine got into the night train at Luxor, heard the whistle of the engine, felt the first slow movement of the carriage, then the gradually increasing velocity, saw the houses of the village disappearing, and presently only the long plains and the ranges of mountains to right and left, hard and clear in the evening light, she had a moment of almost savage exultation, as of one who had been in great danger suddenly and unexpectedly escaping into freedom.

At last she was alone, unwatched by the eyes of affection and of perhaps menacing suspicion and even hatred. How had she endured so long? She wondered, and could scarcely tell where she had found her courage. But though now she felt exultation, she felt also the tremendous strain she had undergone. She knew that her nerves were shattered. Only in happiness could she recover. She must have the life she wanted, and she must have it now. Otherwise she was "done for." Was she going to have it?

And soon the exultation passed, and again fear beset her. Even if she found Baroudi in Cairo, what reception would she have at his hands?

With anxious fingers she took out of her dressing-case the gilded box he had given her, and opened the lid. But, having opened it, she dared not look at herself in the glass, and she shut it sharply, replaced it in the case, and leaned back in her corner.

"I won't bother," she said to herself; "I won't worry. To-night I must sleep. I must look my best to-morrow. Everything now may depend on how I look when I get to Cairo."

And she shut her eyes with the determination to be calm, to be tranquil. And soon she went to bed, determined to sleep.

But of course she did not sleep. Quietly, then angrily, she strove to lay hold on sleep. But it would not come to her wooing. The long hours of darkness wore gradually away; the first pale light of the new day crept in to the rocking carriage; the weary woman who had been tossing and turning from side to side, in a sort of madness of restrained and attenuated movement, sat up against her crushed pillow, and knew that there was probably some new line on her face, an accentuation of the sharpness of the cheek-bones, a more piteous droop at the corners of the mouth.

As she sat there, with her knees drawn up and her hands hanging, she felt that she was uglier than she had been only the day before.

When the train reached Cairo, she pulled down her veil, got out, and drove to Shepheard's. She knew an address that would find Baroudi in Cairo, if he were there, and directly she was in her room she sat down and wrote a note to him.

"Shepheard's Hotel, Tuesday morning.

"I have come to Cairo for a day's shopping. Can I see you? If so, please tell me where and at what hour.

"Ruby Armine."

She wrote in French, sealed the envelope, and told the waiter to have it taken at once by a messenger. Then she ordered coffee and rolls to be sent in half an hour, and took a hot bath. How she wished that she had a clever maid with her! It was maddening to have no help except that of a clumsy Swiss housemaid, and she now saw, with horror, that she was haggard. She scarcely recognized her own face. Instead of looking younger than she was, it seemed to her now that she looked older, much older. She was shocked by her appearance.

But she had had a night journey and had not slept, and every woman looks old after a night journey. She would be all right when she had rested. On arriving she had engaged a sitting-room. She went into it and had breakfast, then asked for newspapers, and lay down on the sofa to read. At every moment she expected the return of her messenger to Baroudi. He came at last.

"Have you brought a note?" she asked, starting up on the sofa.

The messenger said no; the gentleman was not in.

"Did you leave the note?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You can go back presently. Go back at twelve, and see if the gentleman has come in. He may come in for lunch. Stay till lunch-time and see. I want an answer."

The man went away. Slowly the morning passed. Twelve o'clock came, but the messenger did not return. Mrs. Armine had lunch in her room, but she could scarcely eat anything. After lunch she ordered very strong coffee. As she was drinking her second cup, there was a tap on the door. She cried, "Come in," and the messenger reappeared.

"Well?" she said. "Well?"

The man looked at her as if her voice had startled him.

"The gentleman has not come in, ma'am."

"When is he coming in?"

"I don't know, ma'am."

"Is he in Cairo?"

"I don't know, ma'am."

"What do you know? What's the good of you? What are you here for? Go back at once, and find out whether the gentleman is in Cairo or not."

The messenger went out rather hurriedly.

Mrs. Armine was shaking. She had felt inclined to attack the man, to beat him for his stupidity, as slaves are often beaten by their masters when they do wrong. When she was alone, she uttered two or three incoherent exclamations. Her body was burning with a sort of cruel, dry heat. She felt parched all over. An hour passed, and at length she again heard a tap. The messenger came in, and very sulkily said:

"The gentleman was in Cairo last night, ma'am."

"What I want to know is whether he is in Cairo now!" she exclaimed, angrily.

"They don't know, ma'am."

"Don't know! They must know!"

"They don't know, ma'am."

"I tell you they must know!"

"They don't know, ma'am."

She sprang up, tingling. She didn't know what she was going to do, but as she faced him the expression in the messenger's eyes recalled her to a sense of the proprieties. Without another word, she gave him some money and turned her back on him. When she heard the door close, she no longer controlled herself, until suddenly once more she remembered her ravaged face.

She went into her bedroom and after half an hour she came out dressed for driving. She was resolved to go herself to Baroudi's house. After all these months of slavish obedience and of fear, something rose up within her, something that had passed for the moment beyond obedience and even beyond fear, that was fiercely determined, that was reckless of consequences. She engaged a victoria and drove to Baroudi's house. It was on the outskirts of Cairo, near the Nile, on the Island of Gezira. A garden surrounded it, enclosed by high walls and entered by tall gates of elaborately-wrought ironwork. These gates were shut and the coachman pulled up his horses. Inside, on the left, there was a lodge from which there now came a tall Arab. Mrs. Armine got quickly out of the carriage, passed the horses, and stood looking through the gate.

"Is Mahmoud Baroudi in Cairo?" she said, in French.

The Arab said something in Arabic.

"Is Baroudi Effendi in Cairo?" Mrs. Armine said in English.

"Yes, I think," replied the man, in careful English, speaking slowly.

"In the city?"

"I think."

She took her purse, opened it, and gave him some money.

"Where?"

"I dunno."

"When will he be back here?"

"I dunno."

She felt inclined to scream.

"Will he come back to-night, do you think?"

"I dunno. Sometimes stay in Cairo all night."

"But he has not gone away? He is not away from Cairo? He is in Cairo?"

"I s'pose."

They stood for a moment staring at each other through the dividing gate. The man's eyes were absolutely expressionless. He looked as if he were half asleep. Mrs. Armine turned away, and got into the carriage.

"Go back to Shepheard's."

The coachman smacked his whip. The horses trotted.

When she reached Shepheard's, she resolved to spend the whole afternoon upon the terrace. By chance Baroudi might come there. It was not at all improbable. She had heard it said that almost every one who was any one, in Cairo, either came to Shepheard's or might be seen passing by in the afternoon hours. She took an arm-chair near the railing, with a table beside it. She bought papers, a magazine, and sat there, sometimes pretending to read, but always looking, looking, at the men coming up and down the steps, at the men walking and driving by in the crowded street. Tea-time came. She ordered tea. She drank it slowly. Her head was aching. Her eyes were tired with examining so many faces of men. But still she watched, till evening began to fall and within the house behind her the deep note of a gong sounded, announcing the half-hour before dinner. What more could she do? Mechanically she began to gather the papers together. She supposed she must go in. The terrace was almost deserted. She was just about to get up, when two men, one English, the other American, came up the steps and sat down at a table near her. One of these men was Starnworth, whom she did not know, and of whom she had never heard. He ordered an aperitif, and plunged into conversation with his companion. They talked about Cairo. Mrs. Armine sat still and listened. Starnworth began to describe the native quarters. Presently he spoke of the hashish cafe to which he had taken Isaacson. He told his friend where it was. Mrs. Armine heard the name of the street, Bab-el Meteira. Then he spoke of the rich Egyptians who frequented the cafe, and he mentioned the name of Baroudi. Almost immediately afterwards he and his companion got up and strolled into the hotel.

That night, quietly dressed and veiled, Mrs. Armine, accompanied by a native guide, made a pilgrimage into the strange places of the city; stayed long, very long, beneath the blackened roof of the cafe where the hashish was smoked. She was exhausted, yet she felt feverishly, almost crazily alive. She drank coffee after coffee. She watched the dreaming smokers, the dreaming dancers, till she seemed to be living in a nightmare, to be detached from earth and all things she had ever known till now.

But Baroudi did not come. And at last she returned through the dancing quarters, where her sense of nightmare deepened.

Again she did not sleep.

When day came, she felt really ill. Yet her body was still pulsing, her brain was still throbbing, with an activity that was like a fever within her. Directly after breakfast, which she scarcely touched, she again took a carriage and drove to Baroudi's house.

The sleepy Arab met her at the grille, and in an almost trembling voice she made enquiries.

"Gone away," was the reply.

"Gone? Where to?"

"Him gone to Luxor. Him got one dahabeeyah at Luxor."

"Gone to Luxor! When did he go?"

"We know last night."

"Did he get a note I sent him yesterday morning?"

The Arab shook his head.

"Not bin back heeyah at all."

Mrs. Armine telegraphed to the villa, and took the night train back to Luxor.

She arrived in the morning about nine, after another sleepless night. As she drove by the Winter Palace Hotel, she saw a man walking alone upon the terrace, and, to her great surprise, recognized Meyer Isaacson. He saw her—she was certain of that—but he immediately looked away, and did not take off his hat to her. Had she, or had she not, bowed to him? She did not know. But in either case his behaviour was very strange. And she could not understand why he was at the hotel. Had something happened at the villa? Almost before she had had time to wonder, the horses were pulled up at the gate.

She had expected Ibrahim to meet her at the station. But he had not come. Nor did he meet her at the gate, which was opened by the gardener. She nodded in reply to his salutation, hastened across the garden, and came into the house.

"Nigel!" she called out. "Nigel!"

She immediately heard a slow step, and saw her husband coming towards her from the drawing-room. She thought he looked very ill.

"Well, Ruby, you are back," he said.

He held out his hand. His eyes, which were curiously sunken, gazed into hers with a sort of wistful, yearning expression.

"Yes," she said. "I hurried. I couldn't stand Cairo. It was hot and dreadful. And I felt miserable there."

They were standing in the little hall.

"You look fearfully tired—fearfully!" he said.

He was still holding her hand.

Her mouth twisted.

"Do I? It's the two night journeys. I didn't sleep at all."

"And the maid? Did you get one?"

"No. What does it matter?"

Infinitely unimportant to her now seemed such a quest.

"I must sit down," she added. "I'm nearly dead."

She really felt as if her physical powers were failing her. Her legs shook under her.

"Come into the drawing-room. And you must have some breakfast."

He let go her hand. She went into the drawing-room, and she sank down on a sofa. He followed almost immediately.

"Oh!" she said.

She leaned back against the cushions, stretched out her arms, and shut her eyes. All the time she was thinking, "Baroudi is here! Baroudi is here! And I can't go to him; I can't go—I can't go!"

She seemed to see his mighty throat, his eyebrows, slanting upwards above his great bold eyes, his large, muscular hands, his deep chest of an athlete.

She heard Nigel sitting down close to her.

"Why didn't Ibrahim come to the station?" she said, with an effort opening her eyes.

"Oh, I suppose he was busy," Nigel replied.

His voice sounded cautious and uneasy.

"Busy?"

"Yes. He'll bring your breakfast. I've told him to."

Then he was in the house. She felt a slight sense of relief, she scarcely knew why.

The door opened, and Ibrahim came in quietly and carefully with a tray.

"Good mornin' to you, my lady," he said.

"Good morning, Ibrahim."

He set down the tray without noise, stood for a minute as if considering it, then softly went away.

"You'll feel better when you've had breakfast."

"I ought to have had a bath first. But I couldn't wait."

She sat up in front of the little table, and poured out the strong tea. As she did this, she glanced again at her husband and again thought how ill he looked. But she did not remark upon it. She drank some tea, and ate a piece of toast.

"Oh," she said, "as I passed by the Winter Palace, I saw Doctor Isaacson on the terrace."

"Did you?"

"Yes. What's he gone there for this morning?"

"I suppose he's staying there."

Mrs. Armine put down the cup she was lifting to her lips.

"Staying! Doctor Isaacson!" she said, staring at her husband.

"I suppose so."

"But—do you mean he has left here?"

"Yes. He went away last night."

"Why? Why?"

"Why? Well—well, we had a discussion. It ended in a disagreement, and he left the house."

"You quarrelled?"

"Yes, I suppose it might be called that."

In the midst of her exhaustion, her physical misery and mental distraction, Mrs. Armine was conscious of a sharp pang. It was like that of joy.

"Doctor Isaacson has left the house for good?" she said.

"Yes. He won't come here again."

She drank some more tea, and went on eating. For the first time for days she felt some appetite. A shock of fear that had assailed her had passed away. She remembered how Nigel had held her hand closely in the hall.

"But why did you quarrel?" she said, at last.

"Oh, we had a discussion—" He paused.

"I know," she said, "I know! You did what I asked you to do. You spoke about being strong enough now to let Doctor Isaacson go back to London."

"Yes, I did that."

"And about what we owed him?"

"Yes."

"And he was angry?"

"I had been speaking of that; and—Ruby, what do we owe him? I—I must send him a cheque. I must send it to him to-night."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't know. He'll open his mouth very wide, no doubt, now you've quarrelled."

"I think—I'm sure that you wrong him there," Nigel said, slowly.

"Do you think so? Well, I must go up and take a bath. I may be a good while."

"Let me come and sit with you. Shall I? I mean in a few minutes."

"Not just yet. Better try and calculate out your debt to Doctor Isaacson."

She hastened away. Directly she reached her room, she locked the door, went out on to the balcony, and looked across the river to the Loulia. She saw the Egyptian flag flying. Was Baroudi on board? She must know, and immediately. She rang the bell, and unlocked the door.

"Ibrahim!" she said, to the Nubian who appeared.

He retreated, and in a moment Ibrahim came, with his soft stride, up the staircase.

"Ibrahim," she almost whispered, "is Baroudi on board the Loulia?"

"Yes, my lady."

She could hardly repress an exclamation.

"He is? Ibrahim"—in her astonishment she put one hand on his shoulder and grasped it tightly—"to-night, as soon as dinner is over, you are to have a felucca ready at the foot of the garden. D'you understand?"

He looked at her very seriously.

"Can you manage to row me across to the Loulia without help?"

"My lady, I am as strong as Rameses the Second."

"Very well then! Get a small, light boat. We shall go more quickly in that. How long is Baroudi going to stay?"

"I dunno."

"Try to find out. Is Hamza with him?"

Ibrahim looked vicious.

"Hamza him there. But Hamza very bad boy. I not speak any more to Hamza."

"Don't forget! Directly after dinner."

She shut and relocked the door.

She took a hot bath, let down her hair, got into a wrapper, lay down, and tried to rest. But her body twitched with desire for active movement, almost worn out though she was. Again and again she got up, went out to the terrace, and looked at the Loulia. She took her glasses and tried to discern Baroudi on the upper deck. But she could not see him. Presently she pulled a long chair out to the balcony, and was just going to lie down on it when she heard a knock on the door.

"Ruby!"

It was Nigel. She felt inclined to rush across the room, to open the door, to seize him by the shoulders and thrust him out of the house, out of her life for ever.

"Ruby!"

"I am coming!" she said.

She waited an instant, striving for self-control. Every nerve in her body seemed to be quivering.

"The door is locked."

"I know. I'm coming! I'm coming!"

She set her teeth, went to the door, and unlocked it.

"Come in! Come in, your importunate man!"

"Importunate! But I haven't seen you for three nights. And I can't get on without you, Ruby. Thank God, to-night we shall be alone together. After dinner I want you to play to me."

Her face twitched.

"If I'm not too tired."

"We'll go to bed quite early."

He shut the door.

"I'll come and sit in here with you. I want to take your opinion about this cheque to Isaacson."

He sighed heavily.

He had a pencil and some paper in his hands, and he sat down by a table.

"I must get this off my mind. After what has happened, I must pay Isaacson, though otherwise I think we—" He sighed again. "Let me see, when did he first come on board to take care of me?"

* * * * *

That day went by slowly, slowly, with feet of lead. Whether she would endure to its end without some hysterical outburst of temper Mrs. Armine did not know. She seemed to herself to be clinging frantically to the last fragments of her self-control. For so long she had acted a part, that it would be tragic to break down feebly, contemptibly, now close to the end of the drama.

This night must see its end. For her powers were exhausted. She meant to tell Baroudi so. He must take her away now, or let her join him somewhere. But in any case she must get away from her life with Nigel. She could no longer play the devoted wife, safe at last, after many trials, in the arms of respectability. It was only by making a cruel effort that she was able to get through the day without rousing suspicion in Nigel. And to-day he was curiously observant of her. His eyes seemed to be always upon her, watching her with a look she could not quite understand. He never left her for a moment, and sometimes she had a strange sensation that, like herself, he was on the verge of—what—some self-revelation? Some confession? Some perhaps emotional laying bare of his heart? She did not know. But she did know that he was not in a normal state. And once or twice she wondered what had been the exact truth of the quarrel with Isaacson. But, at any rate, it had not been the truth in which she was concerned. And she was too frightfully intent upon herself to-day to be very curious, even about Isaacson's relations with her husband.

He was gone, and gone without having tried to destroy her. That was enough. She would not bother about small things to-day.

At last the evening approached along the marvellous ways of gold. As she saw the sky beginning to change Mrs. Armine's fever of excitement and impatience increased. Now that the moment of her meeting with Baroudi was so near she felt as if she could not bear even another second's delay. How she was going to escape from her husband she did not know. But she did not worry about that. She could always manage Nigel somehow, and she would not fail for the first time to-night.

When the moment came it would find her ready. Of that she was sure.

She made up her face elaborately that evening, put a delicate flush upon her cheeks, darkened her eyebrows more than usual, made her lips very red. She took infinite pains to give to her face an appearance of youth. Her eyes burned out of the painted shadows about them. Her shining hair was perfectly arranged in the way that suited her best. She put on a very low-cut evening gown, that showed as much as possible of her still lovely figure. And she strove to think that she looked no older now than when Baroudi had seen her last. The mirror contradicted her cruelly. But she was determined not to believe what it said.

At last she was ready, and she went down to get through the last supplice, as she called it to herself, the tete-a-tete dinner with Nigel.

He was not yet down, and she was just going to step out upon the terrace when he came into the drawing-room in evening dress. This was the first evening since his illness that he had dressed for dinner, and the clothes he wore seemed to her a sign that soon he would resume his normal and active life. The look of illness which she had thought she saw in his face that morning had given place to an expression of intensity that must surely be the token of inward excitement.

As he came in, she thought to herself that she had never seen Nigel look so expressive, that she had never imagined he could look so expressive. Something in his face startled and gripped her.

He, too, gazed at her almost as if with new eyes, as he came towards her, looking resolute, like a man who had taken some big decision since she had last seen him an hour ago. All day he had seemed curiously watchful, uneasy, sometimes weak, sometimes lively with effort. Now, though intense, excited, he looked determined, and this determination, too, was like a new note of health.

His eyes went over her bare shoulders. Then he said:

"For me!"

His voice lingered over the words. But his eyes changed in expression as they looked at her face.

"I couldn't help it to-night Nigel," she said, coolly. "I knew I must be looking too frightful after all this journeying. You must forgive me to-night."

"Of course I do. It's good of you to take this trouble for me, even though I—Come! Dinner is ready."

He drew her arm through his, and led her in to the dining-room.

"Where's Ibrahim to-night?" she said carelessly, as they sat down.

"He asked if he might go to the village to see his mother, and I let him go."

"Oh!"

She felt relieved. Ibrahim had gone to fetch the felucca to take her across the Nile. A hot excitement surged through her. In a couple of hours, perhaps in less time, she would see Baroudi, be alone with Baroudi. How long she had waited! What torment she had endured! What danger, what failure she had undergone! But for a moment she forget everything in that thought which went like wine to her head, "To-night I shall be with Baroudi!" She did not just then go beyond that thought. She did not ask herself what sort of reception he would give her. That wine from the mind brought a carelessness, almost a recklessness, with it, preventing analysis, sweeping away fears. A sort of spasm—was it the very last?—of youth seemed to leap up in her, like a brilliant flame from a heap of ashes. And she let the flame shoot out towards Nigel.

And again he was saying:

"For me!"

He was repeating it to himself, and he was reiterating silently those terrible words with which he had struck the man who had saved him from death.

"You liar! You damnable liar!"

The dinner was not the supplice Mrs. Armine had anticipated. She talked, she laughed, she was gay, frivolous, gentle, careless, as in the days long past when she had charmed men by mental as much as by merely physical qualities. And Nigel responded with an almost boyish eagerness. Her liveliness, her merriment, seemed not only to delight but to reassure something within him. She noticed that. And, noticing it, she was conscious that with his decision, beneath it as it were, there was something else, some far different quality, stranger to her, though faintly perceived, or perhaps, rather, obscurely divined by that sleepless intuition which lives in certain women. Her apparent joyousness gave helping hands to something in Nigel, leading it forward, onward—whither?

She was to know that night.

At length the dinner was over, and they got up to go into the drawing-room. And now, instantly, Mrs. Armine was seized by a frantic longing to escape. The felucca, she felt sure, was waiting on the still water just below the promontory. If only Nigel would remain behind over his cigarette in the dining-room for a moment, she would steal out to see. She would not start, of course, till he was safely upstairs. But she longed to be sure that the boat was there.

"Won't you have your cigarette in here?" she said, carelessly, as he followed her towards the door.

"Here? Alone?"

His voice sounded surprised.

"I thought perhaps you wanted another glass of wine," she murmured with a feigned indifference as she walked on.

"No," he said, "I am coming to the terrace with you."

"For a little while. But you must soon go to bed. Now that Doctor Isaacson has gone, I must play the sick nurse again, or you will be ill, and then I know he'll blame me."

"How do you know that?"

The sound of his voice startled her. She was just by the drawing-room door. She stood still and looked round.

"How?" she said. "Why, because Doctor Isaacson doesn't believe in me in any capacity."

"But I do."

Again she noticed the amazing expressiveness of his face.

"Yes," she said, "I know. You are different."

She opened the door and passed into the room. Directly she was in it she heard the Nubian sailors on the Loulia beginning their serenade. (She chose to call it that to herself to-night.) Their music tore at her heart, at her whole nature. She wanted to rush to it, now, at once, without one moment of waiting. Hardly could she force her body to move quietly across the room to the terrace. Nigel came up and stood close to her.

"Oh, I must have a wrap," she said.

"I'll fetch it."

"No, no! You mustn't go upstairs. You'll tire yourself."

"Not to-night," he said.

And he turned away. Directly the door shut behind him Mrs. Armine darted into the garden.

"Ibrahim! Ibrahim! Are you there?"

"Yes, my lady."

He came up from the water's edge and stood beside her.

"I can't come yet, but I'll be as quick as I can."

"Yes."

He looked at her. Then he said:

"I dunno what Mahmoud Baroudi say to us. He got one girl on the board."

"On the board!"

"On the board of the Loulia."

"Ruby! Ruby! where are you?"

"Go back! Wait for me—wait!"

"Ruby!"

"I'm here! I'm coming, Nigel!"



XLIV

She met him in the garden, a little beyond the terrace. He had on an overcoat and a soft hat, and was carrying a cloak for her.

"You shouldn't walk out in the night air with bare arms and shoulders," he said, holding the cloak so that she could easily put it on.

She turned her back on him, put up her hands and so took it.

"It's very warm to-night."

"Still, it's imprudent."

"You playing sick nurse!"

But all the gaiety had gone out of her voice, all the liveliness had vanished from her manner.

"Shall we walk a little?" he said. "Shall we go to the bank of the river?"

"No, no. You mustn't tire yourself. Let us sit down, and very soon I shall send you to bed."

"Not just yet."

"I'm—"

"It isn't that I want you to play. Besides, that noise over there would disturb us. No, but I want to talk to you. I must talk to you to-night."

One side of her mouth went down. But she turned her face quickly, and he did not see it. They came on to the terrace before the lighted windows.

"Sit down here, Ruby—near to me."

She sat down. With the very madness for movement thrilling, tingling, through all her weary and feverish body she was obliged to sit down quietly.

Nigel sat down close to her. There was a silence.

"Oh," she said, almost desperately to break it, "we haven't had coffee to-night. Shall I—would you like me to make it once more for you?"

She spoke at random. She wanted to move, to do something, anything. She felt as if she must occupy herself in some way, or begin to cry out, to scream.

"Shall I? Shall I?" she repeated, half getting up.

Nigel looked at her fixedly.

"No, Ruby, not to-night."

She sank back.

"Very well. But I thought you liked my coffee."

"So I did. So I shall again."

He put out his hand to touch hers.

"Only not to-night."

"Just as you like."

"We've—there are other things to-night."

He kept his eyes always fixed upon hers.

"Other things!" she said. "Yes—sleep. You must rest well to-night, and so must I."

A fierce irony, in despite of herself, broke out in her voice as she said the last three words. It frightened her, and she burst into a fit of coughing, and pulled up her cloak about her bare neck. To do this she had to draw away her hand from Nigel's. She was thankful for that.

"I swallowed quantities of dust and sand in the train," she said.

He held out his hand to take hers again, and she was forced to give it.

"I shall rest to-night," he said. "Because I've come to a resolution. If I hadn't, if—if I followed my first thought, my first decision, I know I should not be able to rest. I know I shouldn't."

She stared at him in silence.

"Ruby," he said, "you remember our first evening here?"

"Yes," she forced herself to say.

Would he never end? Would he never let go of her hand? never let her get away to the Nile, to that barbarous music?

"I think we were getting close to each other then. But—but I think we are much closer now. Don't you?"

"Yes," she managed to say.

"Closer because I've proved you; I've proved you through all this dreadful illness."

His hand gripped hers more firmly.

"But you, perhaps, haven't proved me yet as I have proved you."

"Oh, I don't doubt your—"

"No, but I want you to know, to understand me as I believe I understand you. And that's why I'm going to tell you something, something very—frightful."

There was a solemnity in his voice which held, which startled her.

"Frightful?" she almost whispered.

"Yes. I didn't mean ever to tell you. But somehow, when you came back to-day, came hurrying back to me so quickly, without even doing what you went away to do, somehow I began to feel as if I must tell you, as if I should be a cad not to, as if it was your right to know."

She said nothing. She had no idea what was coming.

"It is your right to know."

He paused. Now he was not looking at her, but straight before him into the darkness.

"Last night Isaacson and I were here."

At the Doctor's name she moved.

"I had asked him to tell me what my illness had been, what I had been suffering from. He said he would tell me. This was before."

Now again he looked at her.

She formed "Yes" with her lips.

"When we were out here after dinner, I asked him again to tell me. I had had your telegram then."

She nodded.

"He knew you were coming back a day sooner than we had expected."

She nodded again.

"And he told me. I am going to tell you what he said. He said that I had been poisoned"—her hand twitched beneath his—"by a preparation of lead, administered in small doses through a long period of time."

"Poisoned!"

"Yes."

"And—and you believe such a thing?"

"Yes. In such matters Isaacson knows."

"Poisoned!" she repeated.

She said the word without the horror he had expected, dully, mechanically. He thought perhaps she was dazed by surprise.

"But that's not all," he said, still holding her hand closely. "I asked him who on board the Loulia could have wished for my death."

"That's—that's just what I was thinking," she managed to say.

"And then he said a dreadful thing."

"What?"

"He said that you had done it."

She took her hand away from his sharply, and sat back in her chair. He did not move. They sat there looking at each other. And their silence was disturbed by the perpetual singing on the Loulia.

And so it had been said!

Isaacson had discovered the exact truth, and had told it to Nigel!

She felt a reckless relief. As she sat there, she seemed to be staring not at Nigel but at herself. And as she stared at herself, she marvelled.

"He said that you had done it, or, if not that, had known that it was being done, had meant it to be done."

She remained silent and motionless. And now, with her thought of the truth revealed to her husband was linked another thought of the girl with Baroudi on board of the Loulia.

"Then I told him to go, or I would put him out."

"Ah!" she said.

There was a sort of bitter astonishment in the exclamation, and now in the eyes regarding him Nigel seemed to discern wonder.

"And he went, after he had told me some—some other things."

Something in her, in her face, or her manner, or her deadly silence, broken only by that seemingly almost sarcastic cry—began evidently to affect her husband.

"Some other things," he repeated.

"What were they?"

"He said he had come out from England because he had suspected something was wrong. He told me that he met you by chance in the temple of Edfou, that you seemed terrified at seeing him, that it was not you who asked him to come to the Loulia to see me, but that, on the contrary, he asked to come and you refused to let him. He said you even sent him a letter telling him not to come. He gave me that letter. Here it is. I have not read it."

He put his hand into his coat and drew out the letter, and with it the gilded box which Baroudi had given to her in the orange garden.

"There is the letter."

He laid it on the table.

"I found this in your room when I went for the cloak," he said, "full of Eastern things for the face."

His eyes were a question.

"I bought it in Cairo yesterday."

He laid it down.

"In spite of that letter—Isaacson said—he did come that night, and he overheard us talking on the balcony, and heard me say how I wished he were in Egypt."

He stopped again. His own narrative seemed to be waking up something in his mind.

"Why didn't you tell me then that you knew he was in Egypt?" he asked.

She merely raised her eyebrows. Within her now the recklessness was increasing. With it was blent a strange and powerful sensation of fatalism.

"Was it because you hated Isaacson so much?"

"That was it."

"But then—but then, when he was with me, you said that you had brought him. You said that in the temple you had begged him to come. I remember that quite well."

"Do you?" she said.

And fate seemed to her to be moving her lips, to be forming for her each word she said.

"Yes. Why was that? Why did you say that?"

"Don't remember!"

"You don't—?"

He got up slowly out of his chair.

"But the—the strangest thing Isaacson said was this."

He put one hand on the back of the chair, and leaned down a little towards her.

"He said that at last he forced you to let him attend me as a doctor by—by threatening you."

"Oh!"

"By threatening, if you would not, to call in the police authorities."

She said nothing. All he was saying flowed past her like running water. No more than running water did it mean to her. Apparently she had fought and struggled too long, and the revenge of nature upon her was this terrible indifference following upon so much of terror, of strife, of enforced and desperate patience.

"Ruby!"

* * * * *

"Ruby!"

"Well?" She looked at him. "What is it?"

"You don't say anything!"

"Why should I? What do you want me to say?"

"Want! I—but—"

He bent down.

"You—you don't think—you aren't thinking that I—?"

"Well?"

"I've told you this to prove my complete trust in you. I've only told you so that there may be nothing between us, no shadow; as even such a thing, hidden, might be."

"Ah!"

"And if there are things I don't understand, I know—they are such trifles in comparison—I know you'll explain. Won't you?"

"Not to-night. I can't explain things to-night."

"No. You're tired out. To-morrow—to-morrow!"

"Ah!" she said again.

He leant right down to her, and took both her hands.

"Come upstairs with me! Come!" She stood up. "Come! I'll prove to you—I'll prove to you—"

There was a sort of desperation of crude passion in his manner.

He tried to draw her towards the house. She resisted him.

"Ruby!"

"I'm not coming."

He stopped.

"Ruby!" he said again, but with a different voice.

"I'm not coming!"

His hands grew cold on hers. He let her hands go. They dropped to her sides.

"So you didn't believe what Isaacson told you?" she said.

Her only thought was, "I'll make him give me my liberty! I'll make him give me my liberty, so that Baroudi must keep me!"

"What?" he said.

"You didn't believe what Isaacson told you?" she repeated.

"Believe it! I turned him out!"

"You fool!" she said.

She moved a step nearer to him.

"You fool!" she repeated. "It's true!"

She snatched up the gilded box from the table. He tore it out of her hands.

"Who—who—?" he whispered, with lips that had gone white.

"Mahmoud Baroudi," she said.

The box fell from his hands to the terrace, scattering the aids to her beauty, which he had always hated.

She turned, pulled her cloak closely round her, and hurried to the bank of the Nile.

"Ibrahim! Ibrahim!"

"My lady!"

He came, striding up the bank.

"Take my hand! Help me! Quickly!"

She almost threw herself down the bank.

"Where is the boat—ah!"

She stumbled as she got into it, and nearly fell.

"Push off!"

She sat straight up on the hard, narrow bench, and stared at the lights on the Loulia.

"There's a girl on board," she said, in a minute.

"Yes, my lady, one girl. Whether Mahmoud Baroudi likin' we comin' I dunno."

"Ibrahim!"

"My lady!"

"Directly I go on board the Loulia, you are to go. Take the boat straight back to Luxor."

"I leavin' you?"

He looked relieved.

"Yes. I'll—I'll come back in Baroudi's felucca."

"I quite well stayin', waitin' till you ready."

"No, no. I don't wish that. Promise me you will take the boat away at once."

"All what you want you must have," he murmured.

"How loudly the sailors are singing!" she said.

Now they were drawing near to the Loulia. Mrs. Armine, with fierce eyes, gazed at the lighted cabin windows, at the upper deck, at the balcony in the stern where so often she had sat with Nigel. She was on fire with eagerness; she was the prey of an excitement that made her forget all her bodily fatigue, forget everything except that at last she was close to Baroudi. Already her husband had ceased to exist for her. He was gone for ever with the past. Not only the river but a great gulf, never to be bridged, divided them.

"Baroudi! Baroudi! Baroudi!"

She could belong to Baroudi openly at last. In this moment she even forgot herself, forgot to think of her appearance. Within her there was a woman who could genuinely feel. And that woman asserted herself now.

The boat touched the Loulia's side. A Nubian appeared. The singing on board abruptly ceased. Mrs. Armine quickly stood up in the boat.

"Go to Luxor, Ibrahim! Go at once!"

"I goin' quick, my lady."

She sprang on board and stood to see him go. Only when the boat had diminished upon the dark water did she turn round. She was face to face with Hamza.

"Hamza!" she said, startled.

His almond-shaped eyes regarded her, and she thought a menace was in them. Even in the midst of her fiery excitement she felt a touch of something that was cold as fear is cold.

"Yes," he said.

"I must see Mahmoud Baroudi."

He did not move. His expression did not change. The Nubians, squatting in a circle on the deck a little way off, looked at her calmly, almost as animals look at something they have very often seen.

"Where is he?" she said. "Where is he?"

And abruptly she went down the steps, under the golden letters, and into the first saloon. It was lit up, but no one was there. She hurried on down the passage, pulled aside the orange-coloured curtain, and came into the room of the faskeeyeh.

On the divan, dressed in native costume, with the turban and djelab, Baroudi was sitting on his haunches with his legs tucked under him, smoking hashish and gazing at the gilded ball as it rose and fell on the water. A little way off, supported by many cushions, an Eastern girl was lying. She looked very young, perhaps sixteen or seventeen. But her face was painted, her eyes were bordered with kohl, and the nails of her fingers and of her bare toes were tinted with the henna. She wore the shintiyan, and a tob, or kind of shirt of coloured and spangled gauze. On her pale brown arms there were quantities of narrow bracelets. She, too, was smoking a little pipe with a mouthpiece of coral.

Mrs. Armine stood still in the doorway. She looked at the girl, and now, immediately, she thought of her own appearance, with something like terror.

"Baroudi!" she said. "Baroudi!"

He stared at her face.

When she saw that, with trembling fingers she unfastened her cloak and let it fall on the floor.

"Baroudi!" she repeated.

But Baroudi still stared at her face.

With one hand he held the long stem of his pipe, but he had stopped smoking.

At once she felt despair.

But she came on into the middle of the saloon.

"Send her away!" she said. "Send her away!"

She spoke in French. And he answered in French:

"Why?"

"I've left my husband. I've left the villa. I can never go back."

"Why not?" he said, still gazing at her face.

He threw back his head, and his great throat showed among the folds of muslin that swept down to his mighty chest.

"He knows!"

"Knows! Who has told him?"

"I have!"

As he looked at her, she grew quite cold, as if she had been plunged into icy water.

"You have told him about me?" he said.

"Not all about you! But he knows that—that I made him ill, that I wished him to die. I told him, because I wanted to get away. I had to get away—and be with you...."

The bracelets on the arms of the Eastern girl jingled as she moved behind Mrs. Armine.

"Send her away! Send her away!" Mrs. Armine repeated.

"Hamza!"

Baroudi called, but not loudly. Hamza came in at the door.

Baroudi spoke to him quickly in Arabic. A torrent of words that sounded angry, as Arabic words do to those from the Western world, rushed out of his throat. What did they mean? Mrs. Armine did not know. But she did know that her fate was in them.

Hamza said nothing, only made her a sign to follow him.

But she stood still.

"Baroudi!" she said.

"Go with Hamza," he said, in French.

And she went, without another word, past the girl, and out of the room.

Hamza, with a sign, told her to go in front of him. She went slowly down the passage, into the first saloon. There she hesitated, looked back. Hamza signed to her to go on. She passed under the Loulia's motto—for the last time. On the sailors' deck she paused.

The small felucca of the Loulia was alongside. Hamza took her by the arm. Although his hand was small and delicate, it seemed to her then a thing of iron that could not be resisted. She got into the boat. Where was she going to be taken? It occurred to her now that perhaps Baroudi had some plan, that he did not choose to keep her on board, that he had a house at Luxor, or—

The Villa Nuit d'Or! Was Hamza going to take her there in the night?

Hamza sat down, took the oars, pushed off.

Yes, he was rowing up stream against the tide! A wild hope sprang up in her. The Loulia diminished. Always Hamza was rowing against the tide, but she noticed that the felucca was drifting out into the middle of the Nile. The current was very strong. They were making little or no headway. She longed to seize an oar, to help the boat up stream. Now the eastern bank of the river grew more distinct, looming out of the darkness. It seemed to be approaching them, coming stealthily nearer and nearer. She saw the lights in the Villa Androud.

"Hamza!" she murmured. "Hamza!"

He rowed on, without much force, almost languidly. Never could they go up against the tide if he did not pull more strongly. Why had they not two of the Nubians with them? The lights of the villa vanished. They were hidden by the high and shelving bank.

"Hamza!" she cried out. "Hamza!"

There was a slight shock. The felucca had touched bottom. Hamza, with a sort of precision characteristic of him, stepped quietly ashore and signed to her to come.

She knew she would not go. And, instantly, she went.

Directly she stood upon the sand, near the tangle of low bushes, Hamza pushed off the felucca, springing into it as he did so, and rowed away on the dark water.

"Hamza!" she called.

"Hamza! Hamza!" she shrieked.

The boat went on steadily, quickly, and disappeared.

* * * * *

Nearly an hour later there appeared at the edge of the garden of the Villa Androud a woman walking unsteadily, with a sort of frantic slowness. She made her way across the garden and drew near to the terrace, beyond which light shone out from the drawing-room through the tall window space. Close to the terrace she stood still, and she looked into the room.

She saw Nigel sitting crouched upon a sofa, with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He was alone, and was sitting quite still.

She stood for some time staring in at him. Then at last, as if making up her mind to something, she moved, and slowly she stepped upon the terrace.

Just as she did this, the door of the drawing-room opened and Ibrahim came in, looking breathless and scared. Behind him came Meyer Isaacson.

The woman stood still on the terrace.

Ibrahim remained by the door. Nigel never moved. Meyer Isaacson came quickly forward into the room as if he were going to Nigel. But when he was in the middle of the room, something seemed to startle him. He stopped abruptly, looked questioningly towards the window, then came out to the terrace. On the threshold he stopped again. He had seen the woman. He looked for a moment at her, and she at him. Then he came forward, put out his hands quickly, unlatched the wooden shutters, which were set back against the house wall, and pulled them inward towards him. They met with a clang, blotting out the room from the woman's eyes.

Then she waited no longer. She made her way to the gate of the garden, passed out to the deserted track beyond, and disappeared into the darkness, going blindly towards the distant hills that keep the Arabian desert.

THE END

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