She turned again on her pillows, and she put her arms outside the sheet, then she put her hands up to her face and felt that her cheeks were burning. And she remembered how, long ago, when she was a young married woman, one night she had lain awake and had felt her burning cheeks with her hands.
That was soon after she had met the man for whom she had been divorced, the man who had ruined her social life. Does life return upon its steps? She remembered the violent joys of that secret love which had ultimately been thrown down in the dust for all the world to stare at. Was she to know such joys again? Was it possible that she could know them, had she the capacity to know them after all she had passed through?
She knew she had that capacity, and with her fear was mingled a sense of triumph; for she felt that with the years the capacity within her for that which to her was joy had not diminished, but increased. And this sense of increase gave her a vital sense of youth. Even Nigel had said, "You are blossoming here!" Even he, whom she had so easily and so completely deceived, had seen that truth of her clearly.
And when he came back from the Fayyum to stay again with her, or, more probably, to fetch her away?
The voices that had come to her from far away on the Nile were hushed. The night at last had imposed herself on the singers, and they had sunk down to sleep under the mantle of her silence. But Mrs. Armine still lay awake, felt as if the cessation of the singing had made her less capable of sleeping.
When Nigel came to fetch her away to the tent in the Fayyum, what then?
She would not think about that, but she would obey her temperament. She had two weeks of freedom before her, she who had had so many years of freedom. She had only two weeks. Then she would use them, enjoy them to the uttermost. She would think of nothing but the moment. She would squeeze, squeeze out the golden juices that these moments contained which lay immediately before her. The tent in the Fayyum—perhaps she would never see it, would never come out in the night with Nigel to hear the Egyptian Pan by the water. But—she would surely hear Baroudi sing again to-morrow, she would surely, to-morrow, watch him while he sang.
She put her arms inside the bed, and feverishly drew the sheet up underneath her chin. She must sleep, or to-morrow her face would show that she had not slept. And Baroudi stared at her while he sang.
Again she was seized by fear.
Late the next morning there awoke with Mrs. Armine a woman who for a time had lain in a quiescence almost like that of death, a woman who years ago had risked ruin for a passion more physical than ideal, who, when ruin actually overtook her, had let the ugly side of her nature run free with a loose rein, defiant of the world.
Only when she awoke to that new day did she fully realize the long effort she had been making, and how it had tired and irritated her nerves and her temperament. She had won her husband by playing a part, and ever since she had won him she had gone on playing a part. And this acting had not hitherto seemed to her very difficult, although there had been moments when she had longed fiercely to show herself as she was. But now that she had spent some hours with a man who read her rightly, and who desired of her no moral beauty, no strivings after virtue, no bitter regret for any actions of the past, she realized the weight of the yoke she had been bearing, and she was filled with an almost angry desire for compensation.
She felt as if destiny were heavily in her debt, and she was resolved that the debt should be paid to the uttermost farthing.
Freed from the restraint of her husband's presence, and from the burden of his perpetual though very secret search for the moral rewards she could never give him, her whole nature seemed violently to rebound. During the days that immediately followed she sometimes felt more completely, more crudely, herself than she had ever felt before, and she was often conscious of the curious, almost savage, relief that the West sometimes feels when brought into close touch with the warm and the subtle barbarity of the East, of the East that asks no questions, that has omitted "Why?" from its dictionary.
Baroudi was as totally devoid of ordinary scruples as the average well-bred Englishman is full of them. He had, no doubt, a code of his own to guide his conduct towards his co-religionists, but this code seemed wholly inoperative when he was brought into relation with those of another race and faith.
And Mrs. Armine was a woman, and therefore, in his eyes, on a lower plane than himself.
Among the attractions which he possessed for Mrs. Armine, certainly not the least was his lack of respect for women as women. It is usually accepted as true of all women that, however low one of them has fallen, she preserves for ever within her a secret longing to be respected by man. Whether Mrs. Armine shared this secret longing or not, one thing is certain: her husband had respect for her, and she wore his respect like a chain; Baroudi had not respect for her, and she wore his lack of respect like a flower.
When she had visited the Loulia, reading, as women often do, the character of a man in the things by which he has deliberately surrounded himself, Mrs. Armine had grasped at once certain realities of him which, in his intercourse with her, he was at no pains to conceal. Mingled with his penetration, his easy subtlety, his hard lack of scruple, his boldness that was smooth, and polished, and cool as bronze, there went a naive crudity, a simplicity like that of a school-boy, an uncivilized ingenuousness which was startling, and yet attractive, in its unexpectedness. The man who had bought the cuckoo-clocks and the cheap vases, who had set the gilded ball dancing upon the water of the faskeeyeh, who had broken the dim harmony of the colours in his resting-place by the introduction of that orange hue which seemed to reflect certain fierce lights within his nature, walked hand-in-hand with the shrewd money-maker, the determined pleasure-seeker, the sensual dreamer, the acute diplomatist. The combination was piquant, though not very unusual in the countries of the sun. It appealed to Mrs. Armine's wayward love of novelty, it made her feel that despite her wide experience of life in relation to men there still remained terra incognita on which she might set her feet. And though she did not care particularly for children, and had never longed to have a child of her own, she knew she would love occasionally to play with the child enclosed in this man, to pet it, to laugh at it, to feel superior to it, to feel tender over it, as the hardest woman can feel tender over that which wakes in her woman's dual capacity for passion and for motherliness. She both feared Baroudi and smiled, almost laughed, at him; she both wondered at and saw through him. At one moment he was transparent as glass to her view, at another he confronted her like rock surrounded by the blackness of an impenetrable night. And he never cared whether she was looking through the glass or whether she was staring, baffled, at the rock.
Never, for one moment, did he seem to be self-conscious when he was with her, did he seem to be anxious about, or even attentive to, what she was thinking of him. And the completeness of his egoism called from her egoism respect, as she was forced to realize that he possessed certain of her own qualities, but exaggerated, made portentous, brilliant, mysterious, by something in his temperament which had been left out of hers, something perhaps racial which must be for ever denied to her.
Each day Hamza, the praying donkey-boy, awaited her at some point fixed beforehand on the western side of the river, and Ibrahim escorted her there in the felucca, smiling gently like an altruistic child, and holding a rose between his teeth.
Far up the river the Loulia was moored, between Baroudi's orange-gardens and Armant, and each day he dropped down the Nile in his white boat to meet the European woman, bringing only one attendant with him, a huge Nubian called Aiyoub. The tourists who come to Luxor seldom go far from certain fixed points. Their days are spent either floating upon the river within sight of the village and of Thebes, among the temples and tombs on the western bank, or at Karnak, the temple of Luxor, in the antiquity shops, or in the shade of the palm-groves immediately around the brown houses of Karnak and the minarets of Luxor. Go to the north beyond Kurna, to the south beyond Madinat-Habu, or to the east to the edge of the mountains that fringe the Arabian desert, and a man is beyond their ken and the clamour of their gossip. Baroudi and Mrs. Armine met in the territory to the south, once again among the mountains, then in the plain, presently under the flickering shade of orange-trees neatly planted in serried rows and accurately espaced.
When she started in the morning from the river-bank below the garden, Mrs. Armine did not ask where she was going of Ibrahim; when she got upon her donkey did not put any question to Hamza. She just gave herself without a word into the hands of these two, let them take her, as on that first day of her freedom, where they had been told, where they had been paid to take her. As on that first day of her freedom! Soon she was to ask herself whether part of the creed of Islam was not true for those beyond its borders, whether, till the sounding of the trumpet by the angel Asrafil, each living being was not confined in the prison of the fate predestined for it. But, able to be short-sighted sometimes, although already in the dark moments of the night far-sighted and afraid, she had now often the sensation of an untrammelled liberty, realizing the spaces that lay between her and the Fayyum, seeing no longer the eyes that asked gifts of her, hearing no longer the voice that pleaded for graces in her, that she could never make, could never display, though she might pretend to display them.
And so she sometimes hugged to her breast the spectre of perfect liberty in the radiant, unclouded mornings when Ibrahim came to tell her it was time to start, and she heard the low chaunt of the boatmen in the felucca. If her fate were being bound about her neck, there were moments when she did not fully realize it, when she was informed by a light and a heady sensation of strength and of youth, when she thought of the woman who had sat one day in Meyer Isaacson's consulting-room as of a weary stranger with whom she had no more to do.
But though Mrs. Armine had moments of exultation in these days, which she often told herself were her days of liberty, she had also many moments of apprehension, of depression, of wonder about the future, moments that were more frequent as she began more fully to realize the truth of her nature now fiercely revealing itself.
She had never supposed that within her there still remained so strong a capacity for feeling. She had never supposed it possible that she could really care for a man again—care, that is, with ardour, with the force that brings in its train uneasiness and the cruel desire to monopolize, to assert oneself, to take possession, not because of feminine vanity or feminine greed, but because of something lodged far deeper among the very springs of the temperament. She had never imagined that, at this probably midmost epoch of her life, there could be within her such a resurrection as that which soon she began to be anxiously aware of. The weariness, the almost stagnant calm that had, not seldom, beset her—they sank down suddenly like things falling into a measureless gulf. Body and mind bristled with an alertness that was not free from fever.
She said to herself sometimes, trying to play false even with herself, that the blame, or at least the responsibility, for this change must be laid on the shoulders of Egypt.
And then she looked, perhaps, at the mighty shoulders of Baroudi. And he saw the look, and understood her better than she just then chose to say to herself that she understood herself.
And yet for many years she had not been a woman who had tried to play tricks with her own soul. This man was to have an effect not only upon the physical part of her, but also upon that in her which would not respond to tender attempts at influencing it towards goodness or any lofty morality, but which existed, a vital spark, incorporeal, the strange and wonderful thing in the cage of her ardent flesh.
And Mahmoud Baroudi? Was there any drama being acted behind the strong, but enigmatic, exterior which he offered to the examination of the world and of this woman?
Mrs. Armine sometimes wondered, and could not determine. She knew really little of him, for though he seemed often to be very carelessly displaying himself exactly as he was, at the close of each interview she went back to the villa with a mind not yet emptied of questions. She was often strangely at ease with him because he did not ask from her that which she could not give, and therefore she could be herself when with him. But the Eastern man does not pour confidences into the ear of the Western woman, nor are the workings of his mind like the workings of the mind of a Western man. Never till now had Mrs. Armine known a secret intimacy, or any intimacy, like this, procured by bribery, and surely hastening to a swift and decisive ending.
Upon the Hohenzollern Baroudi must have laid his plans to see her as he was seeing her now. He did not tell her so, but she knew it. Had she not known it upon ship-board? In their exchange of glances how much had been said and answered?
Despite her life of knowledge, she said to herself now that she did not know. And there was much in Baroudi's mind, even in connection with herself, that she could not possibly know.
Something about him, nevertheless, she was able to find out.
Baroudi's father was a rich Turco-Egyptian. His mother had been a beautiful Greek girl, who had embraced Islam when his father fell in love with her and proposed to marry her. She assumed the burko, and vanished from the world into the harim. And in the harim she had eventually died, leaving this only son behind her.
The Turco-Egyptians are as a rule more virile, more active, more dominant, and perhaps more greedy than are the pure-bred Egyptians. In the days before the English protectorate they held many important positions among the ruling classes of Egypt. They lined their pockets well, plundering those in their power with the ruthlessness characteristic of the Oriental character. The English came and put a stop to their nefarious money-making. And even to-day love of the Englishman is far less common than hatred in the heart of a Turco-Egyptian. In the Turco-Egyptian nature there is, nevertheless, not seldom something that is more nearly akin to the typical Englishman's nature than could be found in the pure-bred Egyptian. And possibly because he sometimes sees in the Englishman what—but for certain Oriental characteristics that hold him back—he might almost become himself, the Turco-Egyptian often nourishes a peculiar venom against him. Men may hate because of ignorance, but they may hate also because of understanding.
Baroudi had been brought up in an atmosphere of Anglophobia. His father, though very rich, had lost place and power through the English. He had once had the upper hand with many of his countrymen. He had the upper hand no longer, would never have it again. The opportunity to plunder had been quietly taken from him by the men who wore the helmet instead of the tarbush, and who, while acknowledging that there is no god but God, deny that Mohammed was the Prophet of God. He hated the English, and he taught his half-Greek son to hate them, but never noisily or ostentatiously. And Baroudi learnt the lesson of his father quickly and very thoroughly. He grew up hating the English, and yet, paradoxically, developing a nature in which were certain characteristics, certain aptitudes, certain affections shared by the English.
He was no lethargic Eastern, unpractical, though deviously subtle, taking no thought for the morrow, uselessly imaginative, submissive, ready to cringe genuinely to authority, then turn and kick the man below him. He was no stagnant pool with only the iridescent lights of corruption upon it. Almost in the English sense he was thoroughly manly. He had the true instinct for sport, the true ability of the thorough sportsman. He was active. He had within him the faculty to command, to administrate, to organize. He had, like the Englishman, the assiduity that brings a work undertaken to a successful close. He had will as well as cunning, persistence as well as penetration. From his father he had inherited instincts of a conquering race—therefore akin to English instincts; from his mother, who had sprung from the lower classes, that extraordinary acquisitive faculty, that almost limitless energy, regardless of hardship, in the pursuit of gain which is characteristic of the modern Greek in Egypt.
But he had also within him a secret fanaticism that was very old, a fatalism, obscure, and cruel, and strange, a lack of scruple that would have revolted almost any Englishman who could have understood it, an occasional childishness, rather Egyptian than Turco-Egyptian, and a quick and instinctive subtlety that came from no sunless land.
He prayed, and was a sensualist. He fasted, and loved luxury. He could control his appetites, and fling self-control to the winds. But in all that he did and left undone there was the diligent spirit at work of the man who can persevere, in renunciation even as in pursuit. And that presence of the diligent spirit made him a strong man.
That he was a strong man, with a strength not merely physical, Mrs. Armine swiftly realized. He told her of his father and mother, but he did not tell her of the atmosphere in which he had been brought up. He told her of his father's large fortune and wide lands, of his own schemes, what they had brought him, what they would probably bring him in the future; of certain marvellous coups which he had made by selling bits of land he had possessed in the environs of Cairo when the building craze was at its height during the "boom" of 1906. But he did not tell her of a governing factor in his life—his secret hatred of the English, originally implanted in him by his father, and nourished by certain incidents that had occurred in his own experience. He did not tell her, in more ample detail, what he had already hinted at on the evening when Nigel had brought him to the villa, how certain Egyptians love to gratify not merely their vanity and their sensuality, but also their secret loathing of their masters, by betraying those masters in the most cruel way when the opportunity is offered to them. He did not tell her that since he had been almost a boy—quite a boy according to English ideas—he, like a good many of his smart, semi-cultured, self-possessed, and physically attractive young contemporaries, had gloried in his triumphs among the Occidental women who come in crowds to spend the winters in Cairo and upon the Nile, had gloried still more in the thought that with every triumph he struck a blow at the Western man who thought him a child, unfit to rule, who ruled him for his own benefit, and who very quietly despised him.
Perhaps he feared lest Mrs. Armine might guess at a bitter truth of his nature, and shrink from him, despite the powerful attraction he possessed for her, despite her own freedom from scruple, her own ironic and even cruel outlook upon the average man.
In any case he was silent, and she almost forgot the shadow of his truth, which had risen out of the depths and stood before her on the terraces of the Villa Androud. Had she remembered it now, it might have rendered her uneasy, but it could not have recalled her from the path down which she was just beginning to go. For her life had blunted her, had coarsened her nature. She had followed too many ignoble impulses, has succumbed too often to whim, to be the happy slave of delicacy, or to allow any sense of patriotism to keep her hand in virtue's.
She told herself that when Baroudi's eyes had spoken to her on the Hohenzollern they had spoken in reply to the summons of her beauty, and for no other reason. What else could such a woman think? And yet there were moments when feminine intuition sought for another reason, and, not finding it, went hungry.
Baroudi had no need to seek for more reasons in her than jumped to his eyes. Ever since he had been sixteen he had been accustomed to the effect that his assurance, combined with his remarkable physique, had upon Western women.
And so each day Ibrahim and Hamza brought this Western woman to the place he had appointed, and always he was there before her.
Baroudi loved secrecy, and Mrs. Armine had nothing to fear at present from indiscretion of his. And she had no fear of that kind in connection with him.
But there were envious eyes in the villa—eyes which watched her go each morning, which greeted her on her return at sundown with a searching light of curiosity. For years she had not been obliged to care what her maid thought about her. But now she had to care. Obligations swarm in the wake of marriage. Marie knew nothing, had really no special reason to suspect anything, but, because of her mistress's personality, suspected all that a sharp French girl with a knowledge of Paris can suspect. And while Mrs. Armine trusted in the wickedness of Ibrahim and Hamza, she did not trust in the wickedness of Marie.
The Loulia had vanished from Luxor with its master. Mrs. Armine, left alone for a little while, naturally spent her time, like all other travellers upon the Nile, in sightseeing. She lunched out, as almost every one else did. There was no cause for Marie to be suspicious.
Yes, there was a cause—what Mrs. Armine was, and was actually doing. Truth often manifests itself, how no one can say, not even she who sees it. Mrs. Armine knew this at evening when she saw her maid's eyes, and she wished she had brought with her an unintelligent English maid.
And then, from the Fayyum, a shadow fell over her—the shadow of her husband.
Eight days after her meeting with Baroudi among the flame-coloured rocks she was taken by Ibrahim and Hamza to the orange-gardens up the river which Baroudi had mentioned to Nigel. They lay on the western bank of the Nile, between Luxor and Armant, and at a considerable distance from Luxor. But it chanced that the wind was fair, and blew with an unusual briskness from the north. The sailors set the great lateen sails of the felucca, which bellied out like things leaping into life. The greenish-brown water curled and whispered about the prow, and the minarets of Luxor seemed to retreat swiftly from Mrs. Armine's eyes, as if hastening from her with the desire to be lost among the palm-trees. As the boat drew on and on, and reach after reach of the river was left behind, she began to wonder about this expedition.
"Where are we going?" she asked of Ibrahim.
"To a noo place," he answered, composedly. "To a very pretty place, a very nice place."
"We must not go too far," she said, rather doubtfully. "I must not be very late in getting back."
She was thinking at the moment angrily of Marie. If only Marie were not in the Villa Androud! She had no fear of the Nubian servants. They were all devoted to her. Already she had begun to consider them as her—not Nigel's—black slaves. But that horrid little intelligent, untrustworthy French girl—
"I have tell the French mees we are goin' to see a temple in the mountains—a temple that is wonderful indeed, all full of Rameses. I have tell her we may be late."
Mrs. Armine looked sharply into the boy's gentle, shining eyes.
"Yes; but we must be back in good time," she said.
And her whole nature, accustomed to the liberty that lies outside the pale, chafed against this small obligation. Suddenly she came to a resolve. She would get rid of Marie—send her back to Europe. How was she to manage without a maid? She could not imagine, and at this moment she did not care. She would get rid of Marie and—Suddenly a smile came to her lips.
"Why do you larf?" asked Ibrahim.
"Because it is so fine, because I'm happy," she said.
Really she had smiled at the thought of her explanation to Nigel: "I don't want a maid here. I want to learn to be simple, to do things for myself. And how could I take her to the Fayyum?"
Nigel would be delighted.
And the Fayyum without a maid? But she turned her mind resolutely away from that thought. She would live for the day—this day on the Nile. She leaned over the gunwale of the boat, and she gazed towards the south across the great flood that was shining in the gold of the sunshine. And as she gazed the boat went about, and presently drew in towards the shore. And upon the top of a high brown bank, where naked brown men were bending and singing by a shaduf, she saw the long ears of a waiting donkey, and then a straight white robe, and a silhouette like a silhouette of bronze, and a wand pointing towards the sun.
Hamza was waiting for her, was waiting—like a Fate.
Mrs. Armine rode slowly along the river-bank. Hamza did not turn the head of the donkey towards the Libyan mountains. The tombs and the temples of Thebes were far away. She wondered where she was being taken, but she did not ask again. She enjoyed this new sensation of being governed from a distance, and she remembered her effort of the imagination when she was shut up in the scented darkness of the Loulia. She had imagined herself a slave, as Eastern wives are slaves. Now she glanced at Ibrahim and Hamza, and she thought of the eunuchs who often accompany Eastern women of the highest rank when they go out veiled into the world. And she touched her floating veil and smiled, as she played with her vagrant thoughts.
This Egyptian life was sharp with the spice of novelty.
Before her, at a short distance, she saw a great green dusk of trees spreading from the river-bank inland, sharply defined, with no ragged edges—a dusk that had been planned by man, not left to Nature's dealings. This was not a feathery dusk of palm-trees. She looked steadily, and knew.
"Mahmoud Baroudi's orange-gardens!" she said to Ibrahim.
"Suttinly!" he replied.
He looked towards them, and added, after a pause:
"They are most beautiful, indeed."
Then he spoke quickly in Arabic to Hamza. Hamza replied with volubility. When he talked with his own people he seemed to become another being. His almost cruel calm of a bronze vanished. His face lit up with expression. A various life broke from him, like a stream suddenly released. But if Mrs. Armine spoke to him, instantly his rigid calm returned. He answered "Yes," and his almond-shaped eyes became impenetrable.
"What are they really?" she thought now, as she heard them talking.
She could not tell, but at least there was in this air a scent of spices, a sharp and aromatic savour. And she had been—perhaps would be again—a reckless woman. She loved the aromatic savour. It made her feel as if, despite her many experiences, she had lived till now perpetually in a groove; as if she had known far less of life than she had hitherto supposed.
They gained the edge of the orange-grove, passed between it and the Nile, and came presently to a broad earth-track, which led to the right. Along this they went, and reached a house that stood in the very midst of the grove, in a delicious solitude, a very delicate calm. From about it on every hand stretched away the precisely ordered rows of small, umbrageous, already fruit-bearing trees, not tall, with narrow stems, forked branches, shining leaves, among which the round balls, some green, some in the way of becoming gold, a few already gold, hung in masses that looked artificial because so curiously decorative. The breeze that had filled the sails of the felucca had either died down or was the possession of the river. For here stillness reigned. In a warm silence the fruit was ripening to bring gold to the pockets of Baroudi. The wrinkled earth beneath the trees was a dark grey in the shade, a warmer hue, in which pale brown and an earthy yellow were mingled, where the sunlight lay upon it.
Mrs. Armine got down before the house, which was painted a very faint pink, through which white seemed trying to break. It had only one storey. A door of palm-wood in the facade was approached by two short flights of steps, descending on the right and left of a small terrace. At this door Baroudi now appeared, dressed in a suit of flannel, wearing the tarbush, and holding in his hand a great palm-leaf fan. Hamza led away the donkey, going round to the back of the house. Ibrahim followed him. Mrs. Armine went slowly up the steps and joined Baroudi on the terrace.
He did not speak, and she stood by his side in silence for a moment, looking into the orange-grove. The world seemed planted with the beautiful little trees, the almost meretricious, carefully nurtured, and pampered belles of their tribe. And their aspect of artificiality, completely—indeed, quite wonderfully—effective, gave a thrill of pleasure to something within her. They were like trees that were perfectly dressed. Since the day when she first met Baroudi in the mountains she had resumed her practice of making up her face. Marie might be wrong, although Baroudi was not a Frenchman. Today Mrs. Armine was very glad that she had not trusted completely to Nature. In the midst of these orange trees she felt in place, and now she lifted her veil and she spoke to Baroudi.
"What do you call this? Has it a name?"
"It is the Villa Nuit d'Or. I use the word 'villa' in the Italian sense."
"Oh, of course. Night of gold. Why night?"
"The trees make a sort of darkness round the house."
"The gold I understand."
"Yes, you understand gold."
He stared at her and smiled.
"You understand it as well as I do, but perhaps in a different way," he said.
"I suppose we understand most things in different ways."
They spoke in French. They always spoke French together now. And Mrs. Armine preferred this. Somehow she did not care so much for this man translated into English. She wished she could communicate with him in Arabic, but she was too lazy to try to learn.
"Don't you think so?" she added.
"I think my way of understanding you is better than Mr. Armeen's way," he answered, calmly.
He lit a cigarette.
"What is your way of understanding me, I do not know," he added.
"Do I understand you at all?" she said. "Do you wish me to understand you?"
Suddenly she seemed to be confronted by the rock, and a sharp irritation invaded her. It was followed by a feeling colder and very determined. The long day was before her. She was in a very perfect isolation with this man. She was a woman who had for years made it her business to understand men. By understanding them—for what is beauty without any handmaid of brains?—she had gained fortunes, and squandered them. By understanding them, when a critical moment had come in her life, she had secured for herself a husband. It was absurd that a man, who was at least half child—she thought of the cuckoo-clocks, the gilded dancing-ball—should baffle her. If only she called upon her powers, she must be able to turn him inside out like one of her long gloves. She would do it to-day. And before he had replied to her question she had left it.
"Who cares for such things on the Nile?" she said.
"At least, what Western woman can care? I do not. I am too drunk with your sun."
She sent him a look.
"Is it to be in—or out?" she asked. "The house or the orange-gardens?"
"Which you wish."
But his movement was outwards, and she seconded it with hers.
As they went down the steps the loud voice of a shaduf man came to them from some distant place by the Nile, reminding her of the great river which seemed ever to be flowing through her Egyptian life, reminding her of the narrowness of Upper Egypt, a corridor between the mountains of Libya and of the Arabian desert. She stood still at the bottom of the steps to listen. There was a pause. Then the fierce voice was lifted again, came to them violently through the ordered alleys of lovely little trees. The first time she had ever seen the man with whom she had been divorced was at the opera in London. She remembered now that the opera on that night of fate had been "Aida," with its cries of the East, with its scenes beside the Nile. And for a moment it seemed to her that the hidden Egyptian who was working the shaduf was calling to them from a stage, that this garden of oranges was only a wonderful decor. But the illusion was too perfect for the stage. Reality broke in with its rough, tremendous touch that cannot be gainsaid, and she walked on in something that had a strangeness of truth—that naked wonder, and sometimes terror—more strange than that to be found in the most compelling art.
And yet she was walking in the Villa Nuit d'Or, a name evidently given to his property by the child of the gilded ball, a name that might be in place, surely, on the most stagey stage. She knew that, felt it, smiled at it—and yet mentally caressed the name, caressed the thing in Baroudi which had sought and found it appropriate.
"What hundreds and hundreds of orange-trees! We are losing ourselves in them," she said.
The little house was lost to sight in the trees.
"Where are we going?" she added.
"Wait a moment and you will see."
He walked on slowly, with his easy, determined gait, which, in its lightness, denoted a strength that had been trained.
"Now to the right."
He was walking on her left. She obeyed his direction, and, turning towards the Nile, saw before her a high arbour made of bamboo and encircled by a hedge of wild geranium. Its opening was towards the Nile, and when she entered it she perceived, far off, at the end of a long alley of orange-trees, the uneven line of the bank. Just where she saw it the ground had crumbled, the line wavered, and was depressed, and though the water was not visible the high lateen sails of the native boats, going southward in the sun, showed themselves to her strangely behind the fretwork of the leaves. At her approach a hoopoo rose and flew away above the trees. Somewhere a lark was singing.
In the arbour was spread an exquisite prayer-rug, and for her there was a low chair, with a cushion before it for her feet. On a table was Turkish coffee. In silver boxes were cigarettes, matches, soft sweetmeats shrouded in powdered sugar, through which they showed rose-colour, amber, and emerald green. At the edge of the table, close to the place where the chair was set, there was a pretty case of gilded silver, the top of which was made of looking-glass. She took it up at once.
"What is in this?" she said.
He opened the case, and showed her gravely a powder-puff, powder, kohl, with a tiny blunt instrument of ivory used in Egypt for its appliance, a glass bottle of rose-water, paste of henna, of smoke-black with oil and quick-lime, and other preparations commonly used in the East for the decoration of women. She examined them curiously and minutely, then looked up at him and smiled, thinking of Nigel's gentle but ardent protest. Yes, she could be strangely at home with Baroudi. But—now to turn inside out that long glove.
She sat down and put her feet on the cushion. Baroudi was instantly cross-legged on the rug. Dressed as he was, in European clothes, he ought to have looked awkward, even ridiculous. She said so to herself as she gazed down on him; and she knew that he was in the perfectly right posture, comfortable, at his ease, even—somehow—graceful. And, as she knew it, she felt the mystery of his body of the East as sometimes she had felt the mystery of his mind.
"Will you take coffee after your ride?" he said.
"Yes. Don't get up. I will pour it out, and give you yours."
She did so, with the smiling grace that had affected Nigel, had even affected Meyer Isaacson. She put up her veil, lifted the gilded case, looked at herself in the mirror steadily, critically, took the powder-puff and deftly used it. She knew instinctively that Baroudi liked to see her do this. When she was satisfied with her appearance she put the case down.
"It is charming," she said, touching it as it lay near her cup.
"It is for you."
"I will take it away this evening."
She wished there was a big diamond, or a big emerald, set in it somewhere. She had had to sell most of her finest jewels when the bad time had come in England.
"I must have a cigarette."
The coffee, the cigarette—they were both delicious. The warmth of the atmosphere was like satin about her body. She heard a little soft sound. An orange had dropped from a branch into the scarlet tangle of the geraniums.
"Why don't you talk to me?" she said to Baroudi.
But she said it with a lazy indifference. Was her purpose beginning to weaken in this morning made for dreaming, in this luxury of isolation with the silent man who always watched her?
"Why should I talk to you? I am not like those who make a noise always whether they have words within them that need to be spoken or not. What do you wish me to say to you?" he answered.
She took up the palm-leaf fan which he had laid upon the table.
"Let me see!"
How should she get at him? What method was the best? Somehow she did not feel inclined to be subtle with him. As she had powdered her face before him so she could calmly have applied the kohl to her eyelids, and so she could now be crude in speech with him. What a rest, what an almost sensuous joy that was! And she had only just realized it, suddenly, very thoroughly.
"What are you like?" she said. "I want to know."
She moved the fan gently, very languidly, to and fro.
"But you can tell me, because you can see me all the time, and I cannot see myself unless I take the glass," he said.
"Not outside, Baroudi, inside."
She spoke rather as if to a child.
"The man who shows all that is in him to a woman is not a clever man."
"But clever men often do that, without knowing they are doing it."
"You are thinking of your Englishmen," he said, but apparently without sarcasm.
She remembered their first conversation alone.
"The fine fellers—the rulers!" she said.
He did not answer her smile.
"Your Englishmen show what they are. They do not care to hide anything. If any one does not like all they are, so much the worse for him. Let him have a kick and no piastre. And to the women they are the same—no! that is not true."
He checked himself.
"No; to the men they are men who are ready to kick, but to the women they are boys. A woman takes a boy by the ear"—he put his left hand over his head and took hold of his right ear by the top—"so, and leads him where she pleases. So the woman leads the Englishman. But we are not like that."
She gazed at the brown hand that held the ear. How unnatural that action had seemed to her! Yet to him it was perfectly natural. Surely in everything he was the opposite of all that she was accustomed to. He took his hand away from his ear.
"How much have you been out of Egypt?" she asked him.
"Not very much. I have been three times to Naples in the hot weather. My father had a villa at Posilipo. I have been with my father to Vichy. I have been four times to Paris. I have been to Constantinople, and I have travelled in Syria."
"Did you go to Palestine?"
"Jerusalem—no. That is for Copts!"
He spoke with disdain. Then he added, with a sort of calm pride and a certain accession of dignity:
"I have been, of course, to Mecca."
"The real man—is he to be found in his religion?"
The thought came to her, and again she—she of all women! How strange that was!—felt the fascination of his faith.
"To Mecca!" she said.
Men passed through deserts to reach the holy places. Nigel one evening had told her something of that journey, and she had felt rather bored. Now she looked at a pilgrim who had gone with the Sacred Carpet, and she was bored no longer.
"Hamza—is he your servant?" she asked, with an apparent irrelevance, that was not really irrelevance.
"He is a donkey-boy at Luxor."
"Yes. He used not to be my donkey-boy. He has only been my donkey-boy since—since my husband has gone. They say in Luxor he is really a dervish."
"They say many things in Luxor."
"They call him the praying donkey-boy. Has he too been to Mecca?"
His face slightly changed. The eyes narrowed, the sloping brows came down. But after a short pause he answered:
"He went to Mecca with me. I paid for him to go."
She did not know much of Mohammedans, but she knew enough to be aware that Hamza was not likely to forget that benefit. And Baroudi had chosen Hamza to be her donkey-boy. She felt as if the hands of Islam were laid upon her.
"Hamza must be very grateful to you!" she said, slowly.
Baroudi made no reply. She looked away over the wild geraniums, down the alley between the trees to the hollow in the river-bank, and she saw a lateen sail glide by, and vanish behind the trees, going towards the south. In a moment another came, then a third, a fourth. The fourth was orange-coloured. For an instant she followed its course beyond the leaves of the orange-trees. How many boats were going southwards!
"All the boats are going southwards to-day," she said.
"The breeze is from the north," he answered, prosaically.
"I want to go further up the Nile."
"If you go, you should take a dahabeeyah."
"Like the Loulia. But I am sure there is not a second Loulia on the Nile."
"Do you think you would like to live for a time upon my Loulia?"
She nodded, without speaking.
More lateen sails went by, like wings. The effect of them was bizarre, seen thus from a distance and without the bodies to which they were attached. They became mysterious, and Mrs. Armine was conscious of their mystery. With Baroudi she felt strangeness, mystery, romance, things she had either as a rule ignored or openly jeered at during many years of her life. Did she feel them because he did? The question could not be answered till she knew more of what he felt.
"Perhaps it will be so. Perhaps you will live upon the Loulia," he said.
"How could I? And when?"
"We do in our lives many things we have said to ourselves we never shall do. And we often do them just at the times when we have thought they will be impossible to do."
"But you make plans beforehand."
"Yes. Have you made a plan about the Loulia?"
She felt now that he had, and she felt that, like a fly in a web, she was enmeshed in his plan.
Another orange-coloured sail! Would she ever sail to the south in the Loulia?
"Will you not taste this jelly made of rose-leaves?"
Without touching the ground with his hands, he rose to his feet and stood by the table.
"Yes. Give me a little, but only a little."
He drew from one of his pockets a small silver knife, and, with a gentle but strong precision, thrust it into the rose-coloured sweetmeat and carefully detached a piece. Then he took the piece in his brown fingers and handed it to Mrs. Armine—who had been watching him with a deep attention, the attention a woman gives only to all the actions, however slight, of a man whose body makes a tremendous appeal to hers. She took it from him and put it into her mouth.
As she ate it, she shut her eyes.
"And now tell me—have you made a plan about the Loulia?" she said.
His face, as he looked at her, was a refusal to reply, and so it was not a denial.
"Live for the day as it comes," he said, "and do not think about to-morrow."
"That is my philosophy. But when you are thinking about to-morrow?"
Again she thought of Hamza, and she seemed to see those two, Baroudi and Hamza, starting together on the great pilgrimage. From it, perhaps made more believing or more fanatical, they had returned—to step into her life.
"Do you know," she said, "that either you, or something in Egypt, is—is—"
"What?" he asked, with apparent indifference.
"Is having an absurd effect upon me."
She laughed, with difficulty, frowned, sighed, while he steadily watched her. At that moment something within her was struggling, like a little, anxious, active creature, striving fiercely, minute though it was, to escape out of a trap. It seemed to her that it was the introduction of Hamza into her life by Baroudi that was furtively distressing her.
"I always do live for the day as it comes," she continued. "In English there's a saying, 'Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow—'"
"'To-morrow we die.'"
"Are you frightened of death?" he said.
There was an open contempt in his voice.
A light that she had never seen in them before shone in his eyes. Only from the torches of fatalism does such a light sometimes beacon out, showing an edge of the soul. It was gone almost before she had time to see it.
"Among men I may talk of such things," he said, "but not with women. Do you like the leaves of the roses?"
He held his knife ready above the sweetmeat.
"No; I don't want any more. I don't like it very much. The taste of it is rather sickly. Sit down, Baroudi."
She made a gesture towards the floor. He obeyed it, and squatted down. She had meant to "get at" this man. Well, she had accidentally got at something in him. He was apparently of the type of those Moslems who are ready to rush upon cold steel in order to attain a sensual Paradise.
Her languor, her dreaming mood in the bright silence of this garden of oranges on the edge of the Nile—they were leaving her now. The shaduf man cried again, and again she remembered a night of her youth, again she remembered "Aida," and the uprising of her nature. She had been punished for that uprising—she did not believe by a God, who educates, but by the world, which despises. Could she be punished again? It was strange that though for years she had defied the world's opinion, since she had married again she had again begun, almost without being aware of it, to tend secretly towards desire of conciliating it. Perhaps that was ungovernable tradition returning to its work within her. To-day she felt, in her middle life, something of what she had felt then in her youth. When she had met for the first time at the opera the man for whom afterwards she had ruined herself, his fierce attraction had fallen upon her like a great blow struck by a determined hand. It had not stunned her to stupidity; it had roused her to feverish life. Now, after years, she was struck another blow, and again the feverish life leaped up within her. But between the two blows what great stretches of experience, and all the lost good opinion of the world! In the deep silence of the orange-garden just then premonition whispered to her. She longed for the renewed cry of the fellah to drown that sinister voice, but when it came, distant, yet loud, down the alley between the trees, it seemed to her like premonition's voice, suddenly raised in menace against her. And she seemed to hear behind it, and very far away, the world which had been her world once more crying shame upon her. Then for a moment she was afraid of herself, as if she stood away from her own evil, and looked at it, and saw, with a wonder mingled with horror, how capable it was.
Would she again set out to earn a punishment?
But how could she be punished again? The world had surely done its worst, and so lost its power over her. The arm that had wielded the lash had wielded it surely to the limit of strength. There could be nothing more to be afraid of.
And then—Nigel stood before the eyes of her mind.
In the exquisite peace of this garden at the edge of the Nile a storm was surging up within her. And Baroudi sat there at her feet, impassive, immobile, with his still, luminous eyes always steadily regarding her.
"My husband will soon be coming back!" she said, abruptly.
"And I shall soon be going up the river to Armant, and from Armant to Esneh, and from Esneh to Kom Ombos and Aswan."
She felt as if she heard life escaping from her into the regions of the south, and a coldness of dread encompassed her.
"There is a girl at Aswan who is like the full moon," murmured Baroudi.
She realized his absolute liberty, and a heat as of fire swept over the cold. But she only said, with a smile:
"Why don't you sail for Aswan to-night?"
"There is time," he answered. "She will not leave Aswan until I choose for her to go."
"And are there full moons at Armant, and Esneh, and Kom Ombos?"
She seemed to be lightly laughing at him.
"At Esneh—no; at Kom Ombos—no."
A sharpness had crept into her lazy voice.
"There are French at Armant, and where the French come the little women come."
She remembered the pretty little rooms on the Loulia. He possessed a floating house—a floating freedom. At that moment she hated the dahabeeyah. She wished it would strike on a rock in the Nile and go to pieces. But he would be floating up the river into the golden south, while she travelled northwards to a tent in the Fayyum! She could hardly keep her body still in her chair. She picked up one of the silver boxes, and tightened her fingers round it.
"Will you take a little more of the rose-leaf jelly?" he asked.
She dropped the box. It made a dry sound as it struck the table.
"I must stay at Armant some days. I have to look after my sugar interests there."
"Oh—sugar!" she exclaimed. "My husband may think you do nothing but look after your affairs, but you mustn't suppose a woman—"
"I knew from the first you loved pleasure."
She took up the fan again.
"From the first? When was that?"
"On the Hohenzollern, of course."
"And I—I knew—I knew—"
He paused, smiling at her.
"What did you know?"
"Oh, I can understand something of women—when they permit me. And on the Hohenzollern you permitted me. Did you not?"
"I never spoke to you alone."
"It was not necessary. It was not at all necessary."
"Of course, I know that."
She was burning—her whole body was burning—with retrospective jealousy, and as she looked at him the flame seemed to be fanned, to give out more heat, to scorch her, sear her, more terribly. A man like this, an Eastern, utterly untrammelled, with no public opinion—and at this moment England, in her thought of it, seemed full of public opinion; Puritan England—to condemn him or restrain him, in this climate what must his life have been? And what would his life be? Something in her shrieked out against his freedom. She felt within her a pain that was almost intolerable; the pain of a no longer young, but forcible, woman, who was still brimful of life, and who was fiercely and physically jealous of a young man over whom she had no rights at all. Ah, if only she were twenty years younger! But—even now! She leaned her arms carelessly on the table, and managed to glance into the lid of the boite de beaute which he had given her. The expression in the eyes that looked into hers from the lid startled her. Where was her experience? She was ashamed of herself. Crudity was all very well with this man, but—there were limits. She must not pass them without meaning to do so, without knowing she was doing so. And she had not lived her life since her divorce without discovering that the greatest faux pas a jealous woman can take is to show her jealousy. Husbands of other women had proved that to her up to the hilt, when she had been their refuge.
"Of course! You know much of men."
He spoke with a quiet assurance as of one in complete possession of her past. For the first time the question, "Has he heard of the famous Mrs. Chepstow? Does he—know?" flashed through her mind. It was possible. For he had been in Europe, to Paris. And he could read English, and perhaps had read many English papers.
"Did you ever hear of some one called 'Bella Donna'?" she said, slowly.
Her voice sounded careless, but her eyes were watching him closely.
"Bella Donna! But any beautiful woman may be that."
"Did you ever hear of Mrs. Chepstow?"
He stared at her, then added:
"Who is it. Does she come to Cairo in the winter?"
She felt certain he had not heard, and was not sure that she was glad. Her sort of fame might perhaps have attracted him. She wondered and longed to know. She longed to ask him many questions about his thoughts of women. But of course he would not tell her the truth. And men hate to be questioned by women.
"Does she come to Cairo?" he repeated.
"She was there once."
"You are Bella Donna," he said.
"You had to say that."
"Yes, but it is true. You are Bella Donna, but you are not donna onesta."
She did not resent the remark, which was made with an almost naive gravity and directness. She was quite sure that Baroudi would never appreciate a woman because she was honest. Again she longed to hint at her notoriety, at the evil reputation she had acquired, which yet was a sort of fame.
"In—in Europe they often call me Bella Donna," she said.
"They are right. I shall call you Bella Donna here, beside the Nile."
He said it negligently, but something in her rejoiced. Nevertheless, she said, she could not help saying:
"And the full moon?"
"What about her?"
"Is she Bella Donna?"
He half closed his eyes and looked down.
"I don't ask you if she is donna onesta."
He replied: "She is sixteen, and she is a dancing-girl."
"I understand," she said, with an effort.
She shut her lips tightly and was silent, thinking of Nigel's return, of her departure with him to the Fayyum, while this man, on his luxurious floating home, went on towards the south. She had resolved to live for the day. But when does any jealous woman live for the day? Jealousy hurls itself into the past and into the future, demanding of the one what was and of the other what will be. And—the canvas of a tent would enfold her, would make her prison walls! Why, why had she tied herself? A month ago, and she was utterly free. She could have gone to the south on the Loulia. Her whole body tingled, revolting against the yoke with which her will had burdened it. But when she spoke again her voice was lazy and calm?
"I suppose you won't stay on the Nile for ever?"
Again her fingers closed mechanically on one of the boxes.
"But no! I shall have to go back to Assiut, and then to Cairo and Alexandria, the Delta, too."
"And the Fayyum? Haven't you property there? Isn't it one of the richest districts in Egypt?"
He looked at her and smiled, slightly pouting his thick lips.
"Even if I could go to the Fayyum, I don't think it would be much good," he answered.
He had no scruple in stripping her bare of subterfuge.
"I meant that your advice on Egyptian agriculture might be valuable to my husband," she retorted, with composure.
Something in his glance, in his tone, seemed suddenly to brace her, to restore her.
"Ah! that is true. Mr. Armeen would take my advice. In some ways he is not so very English."
"Then it would be kind to come to the Fayyum and to give him the benefit of your advice."
He leaned towards her, and said:
"Bella Donna is not so very subtle!"
"You think subtlety so necessary?" she asked, with a light tinge of irony. "I really don't see why."
His eyes narrowed till they were only slits through which gleamed a yellowish light.
"When is your French maid going?" he asked.
She moved, and sat looking at him for a minute without replying. Had he read her thought of the morning?
"My maid!" she said at length. "What do you mean? Why should she go?"
"When is she going?" he repeated.
The brigand had suddenly reappeared in him.
"What an absurd idea! I can't possibly get on without a maid."
She still acted a careless surprise. An obscure voice within her—a voice that she scarcely recognized, whispered to her, "Resist!"
"When is she going?" he said once more, as if he had not heard her.
The man who was working by the shaduf cried out no more. No more did Mrs. Armine see, at the end of the long and narrow alley, behind the fretwork of shining, pointed leaves, the lateen sails go by. And the withdrawal of the crying voices and of the gliding sails seemed to leave this orange-garden at the very end of the world. The golden peace of the noon wrapped it as in a garment, the hem of which was wrought in geranium-red, in shining green, and in yellow turning to gold. But in this peace she was conscious of the need to struggle if she would dwell in safety. Soft seemed this garment that was falling gently about her. But was it not really deadly as a shirt of Nessus, the poison of which would penetrate her limbs, would creep into her very soul?
It was, perhaps, a little thing, this question of the going, or not, of her maid, but she felt that if she resisted his will in this matter she would win a decisive battle, obtain security from a danger impending, whereas if she yielded in this she would be yielding the whole of her will to his.
"I won't yield!" she said to herself.
And then she looked at the brigand beside her, and something within her, that seemed to be the core of her womanhood, longed intensely to yield.
She had wished to get rid of Marie. Quite without prompting she had decided that very morning to send Marie away. Then how unreasonable it would be to refuse to do it just because he, too, wished the girl to go!
"Why do you want her to go?" she asked slowly, with her eyes upon him. "How can it matter to you whether my maid goes or stays?"
He only looked at her, opened his eyes widely, and laughed. He took another cigarette, lit it, and laughed again quietly, but with surely a real enjoyment of her pretence of ignorance, of her transparent hypocrisy. Nevertheless, she persisted.
"I can't see what such a thing can possibly have to do with you, or why it should interest you at all."
"I will find you a better maid."
"Hamza—perhaps?" she said.
"And why not Hamza?"
He looked at her, and was silent. And again she felt a sensation of fear. There was something deadly about the praying donkey-boy.
"When is that girl going?"
Mrs. Armine opened her lips to say, "She is not going at all." They said:
"I intend to get rid of her within the next few days. I always intended to get rid of her."
"She isn't really a good maid. She doesn't understand my ways."
"Or she understands them too well," said Baroudi calmly, "When she is gone, I shall burn the alum upon the coals and give it to be eaten by a dog that is black. That girl has the evil eye."
In the lodge in the garden of oranges, when the noon-tide was past and the land lay in the very centre of the gaze of the sun, Baroudi offered to Mrs. Armine an Egyptian dinner, or El-Ghada, served on a round tray of shining gold, which was set upon a low stool cased with tortoise-shell and ornamented with many small squares of mother-of-pearl. When she and Baroudi came into the room where they were to eat, the tray was already in its place, set out with white silk napkins, with rounds of yellow bread, and with limes cut into slices. The walls were hung with silks of shimmering green, and dull gold, and deep and sultry red. Upon the floor were strewn some more of the marvellous rugs, of which Baroudi seemed to have an unlimited supply. Round the room was the usual deep divan. Incense burned in a corner. Through a large window space, from which the hanging shutters were partially pushed back, Mrs. Armine saw a vista of motionless orange-trees.
She sat down on a pile of silken cushions which had been laid for her on the rugs. As she arranged her skirt and settled herself, from an earthen drum just outside the house and an arghool there came a crude sound of native music, to which almost immediately added itself a high and quavering voice, singing:
"Doos ya' lellee! Doos ya' lellee!"
At the same moment Aiyoub came into the room, without noise, and handed to Baroudi, who was sitting opposite to Mrs. Armine, with his left knee touching the rug and his right knee raised with his napkin laid over it, a basin of hammered brass with a cover, and a brass jug. Baroudi held forth his hands, and Aiyoub poured water upon them, which disappeared into the basin through holes pierced in the cover. Then, making a cup of his hands turned upwards, Baroudi received more water into it, conveyed it to his mouth, rinsed his mouth elaborately, and spat out the water upon the cover of the basin. Aiyoub carried away the basin and jug, Baroudi dried his hands on his napkin, and then muttered a word. It was "Bi-smi-llah!" but Mrs. Armine did not know that. She sat quite still, for a moment unseen, unthought of; she listened to the quavering voice, to the beaten drum and arghool, she smelt the incense, and she felt like one at a doorway peering in at an unknown world.
Almost immediately Aiyoub came back, and they began the meal, which was perpetually accompanied by the music. Aiyoub offered a red soup, a Kaw-ur-meh—meat stewed in a rich gravy with little onions—leaves of the vine containing a delicious sort of forcemeat, cucumbers in milk, some small birds pierced with silver skewers, spinach, and fried wheat flour mingled with honey. She was given a knife and fork and a spoon, all made of silver, and the plates were of silver, which did not harmonize well with the golden tray. Baroudi used only his fingers and pieces of bread in eating.
Mrs. Armine was hungry, and ate heartily. She knew nothing about Eastern cooking, but she was a gourmet, and realized that Baroudi's cook was an accomplished artist in his own line. During the meal she was offered nothing to drink, but directly it was over Aiyoub brought to her a beautiful cup of gold or gilded silver—she did not know which—and poured into it with ceremonial solemnity a small quantity of some liquid.
"What is it?" she asked Baroudi.
"Drink!" he replied.
She lifted the cup to her lips and drank a draught of water.
"Oh!" she said, with an intonation of surprised disappointment.
"Lish rub el Moyeh en Nil awadeh!" he said.
"What does that mean?"
"'Who drinks Nile water must return.'"
She smiled, lifted the cup again to her lips, and drank the last drop of water.
"Nile water! I understand."
"And now you will have some sherbet."
He spoke to Aiyoub in Arabic. Aiyoub took away the cup, brought a tall, delicate glass, and having thrown over his right arm an elaborately embroidered napkin, poured into it from a narrow vase of china a liquid the colour of which was a soft and velvety green.
"Is this really sherbet?" Mrs. Armine asked.
"Sherbet made of violets."
"How is it made?"
By crushing the flowers of violets, making them into a preserve with sugar, and boiling them for a long time.
Aiyoub stayed by her while she drank, and when she had finished he offered her the embroidered napkin. She touched it with her lips.
"Do you like it?"
"It is very strange. But everything here is strange."
Aiyoub brought once more to his master the basin with the cover and the jug, and Baroudi washed his hands and rinsed his mouth as at the beginning of the meal. After this ceremony he again muttered a word or words, rose to his feet, took Mrs. Armine's left hand with his right, and led her to the divan. Aiyoub brought coffee, lifted the golden tray from its stool, set the coffee on a smaller tray upon the stool close to the divan, and went out, carrying the golden tray very carefully. As he vanished, the music outside ceased with an abruptness, a lack of finality, that were startling to an European. The almost thrilling silence that succeeded was broken by a bird singing somewhere among the orange-trees. It was answered by another bird.
"They are singing the praises of God," said Baroudi, in a deep and slow voice, and as if he were speaking to himself.
She gazed at him in wonder. He looked at her with sombre eyes.
"You do not know these things."
Suddenly she felt like an ignorant and stupid child, like one unworthy of knowledge.
He sipped his coffee. He was now sitting in European fashion beside her on the divan, and his posture made it more difficult for her to accept his strange mentality; for he looked like a tremendously robust, yet very lithe and extremely handsome and determined young man, who might belong to a race of Southern Europe. Even with the tarbush upon his head his appearance was not unmistakably Eastern.
And this man, evidently quite seriously, talked to her about the birds singing to each other the praises of God.
"You ought to be differently dressed," she said.
"In Egyptian clothes, not English flannels."
"Some day you shall see me like that," he said, reassuringly. "I often wear the kuftan at night upon the Loulia."
"At night upon the Loulia! Then how on earth can I see you in it?"
She spoke with a sudden sharp irritation. To-day her marriage with Nigel seemed to her like a sword suspended above her, which would presently descend upon her, striking her to earth with all her capacity for happiness unused.
"You will see me with the drawers of linen, the sudeyree, the kuftan, the gibbeh—or, as says my father, jubbeh—and the turban on my head. Only you must wait a little. But women do not like to wait for a pleasure. They are always in a hurry."
The cool egoism with which he accepted and commented on her admiration roused in her, not anger, but a sort of almost wondering respect. It seemed part of his strength. He lifted his eyebrows, threw back his head, showing his magnificent throat, and with the gesture that she had noticed in the garden of the Villa Androud thrust two fingers inside his low, soft collar, and kept them there while he added:
"They are like children, and must be treated as children. But they can be very clever, too, when they want to trick. I know that. They can be as cunning as foxes, and as light-footed and swift as gazelles. But all that they do and all that they are is just for men. Women are made for men, and they know it so well that it is only about men that they think. I tell you that."
"No doubt it is true," she said, smilingly accepting his assertions.
"Women will run even after the Chinese shadow of a man if they are not shut close behind the grilles."
Mrs. Armine laughed outright.
"And so you Easterns generally keep them there."
"Well, and are we not wise? Are we not much wiser than the Mr. Armeens of Europe?"
His unexpected introduction of Nigel's name gave her a little shock, and the bad taste of it for an instant distressed even her tarnished breeding. But the sensation vanished directly as she remembered his Eastern birth.
"And you?" she said. "Would you never trust a woman?"
"Never," he calmly returned. "All women are alike. If they see the Chinese shadow, they must run after it. They cannot help themselves."
"You seem to forget that men are for ever running after the Chinese shadows of women," she retorted.
"She thought of her own life, of how she had been worshipped and pursued, not pour le bon motif, but still—"
She would like him to know about all that.
"Men do that to please women, as to please a child you give it a sand lizard tied to a string. Put the string into its hand and the child is happy. So it is with a woman. Only she wants not the string, but the edge of a kuftan."
It seemed to Mrs. Armine, as she listened to Baroudi, that she was permanently deposed from the place she had for long been accustomed to occupy. He tacitly demanded and accepted her admiration instead of giving her his. And yet—he had serenaded her on the Nile that first evening of her coming. He had bought Hamza and Ibrahim. He had desired and tried to effect the swift departure of Nigel. He had decreed that Marie must go. And the Nile water—with how much intention he had given it her to drink! And he had plans for the future. They seemed gathering about her silently, softly, like clouds changing the aspect of her world.
She had not turned that glove inside out yet.
She felt that she must alter her tactics, assert herself more strongly, escape from the modest position he seemed to be deliberately placing her in. Where was her pride, even of a courtesan?
She lifted her coffee-cup, emptied it, put it down, and began to pull on one of her long white gloves. Baroudi went on calmly smoking. She picked up the second glove. He sharply clapped his hands. Aiyoub entered, Baroudi spoke to him in Nubian, and he swiftly disappeared. Mrs. Armine pulled on the second glove.
"Now I must go home," she said.
She moved to get up, but her movement was arrested by the furtive entrance of a thin man clad in what looked to her like a bit of sacking, with naked arms, chest, legs, and feet, and a narrow, pointed head, completely shaved in front and garnished at the back with a mane of greasy black hair, which fell down upon his shoulders. In his hand, which was almost black, he held a short stick of palm-wood, and with an air of extravagant mystery, mingled with cunning, he crept round the room close to the walls, alternately whistling and clucking, bending his head, as if peering at the floor, then lifting it to gaze up at the ceiling. He had shot a keen glance at Mrs. Armine as he came in, but he seemed at once to forget her, and to be wholly intent upon his inexplicable occupation.
After moving several times in this manner round the room, he stopped short, almost like a dog pointing, then drew from inside his coarse garment a wrinkled receptacle of discoloured leather with a widely-opened mouth, cried out some words in a loud, fierce voice, leaped upwards, and succeeded in striking the ceiling with his stick.
A long serpent fell down into the bag.
Mrs. Armine uttered a cry of surprise, but not of alarm. She was not afraid of snakes. The darweesh went creeping about as before, presently called out some more words, and struck at the wall. A second serpent fell into the bag, or seemed to fall into it, from some concealed place among the silken draperies. Again he crept about, called, struck, and received another reptile. Then a little dark-eyed boy ran in, salaaming, and the darweesh and the boy, to the accompaniment of wild music played outside, went through a performance of snake-charming and jugglery familiar enough in the East, yet, it seems, eternally interesting to Easterns, and fascinating to many travellers. When it was over the little boy salaamed and ran out, but the music, which was whining and intense, still went on, and the darweesh advanced, holding his bag of snakes, and stood still before Mrs. Armine. For the first time he fixed his cunning and ferocious eyes, which were suffused with blood, steadily upon her, as if he desired to hypnotize her, or to inspire her with deadly fear. She returned his gaze steadily and calmly, and held out her hand towards the bag, indicating by a gesture that she wished to handle the serpents. The darweesh, still staring at her, and very slowly, put the bag close to her, holding it under her breast. A curious musty smell, like the scent of something terribly old, came to her nostrils. She hesitated for a moment, then deliberately pulled off her gloves, put them on the divan, stood up, and plunged her right hand into the bag, at the same time shutting her eyes. She shut them to enjoy with the utmost keenness a sensation entirely new.
Her hand encountered a dry and writhing life, closed upon it firmly but gently, drew it out and towards her. Then she opened her eyes, and saw that she had taken from the dark a serpent that was black with markings of a dull orange colour. It twisted itself in her hand, as if trying to escape, but as she held it firmly it presently became quieter, lifted itself, reared up its flat head, and seemed to regard her with its feverish and guilty eyes, which were like the eyes of something consciously criminal that must always be unrepentant. She looked at those eyes, and she felt a strong sympathy for the creature, and no sense of fear at all. Slowly she brought it nearer to her, nearer, nearer, till it wavered out from her hand and attained her body.
The darweesh always stood before her, but the expression in his eyes had changed, was no longer hypnotic and terrible, but rather deeply observant. Baroudi sat quite still upon the divan. He looked from Mrs. Armine to the serpent, then looked again at her. And she, feeling these two men absolutely concentrated upon her, was happy and at ease. Swiftly the serpent wound itself about her, and, clinging to her waist, thrust forth the upper part of its body towards the darweesh, shooting out its ribbon of a tongue, which quivered like something frail in a draught of wind. It lowered and raised itself several times, rhythmically, as if in an effort to obey the whining music and to indulge in a dancing movement. Then, as a long shrill note was held, it again reared itself up, till its head was level with Mrs. Armine's ear, and remained there quivering, and turning itself slowly from side to side with a flexibility that was abominable and sickening. The music ceased. There was a moment's pause. Then, with a fierce movement that seemed expressive of a jealousy which could no longer be contained, the darweesh seized the snake about two inches below its head, and tore it away from Mrs. Armine. The terrible look had returned to his face with an added fire that beaconed a revengeful intention. Pressing his thumb hard upon the reptile's back, he seemed to fall into a frenzy. He several times growled on a deep note, bowed back and forth, tossing his mane of greasy hair over his face and away from it, depressed his body, then violently drew it up to its full height, while his bare feet executed a sort of crude dance. Then, wrought up apparently to a pitch of fanatical fury, he bent his head, opened his mouth, from which came beads of foam, and bit off the serpent's head. Casting away its body, which still seemed writhing with life, he made a sound of munching, working his jaws extravagantly, shot forth his head towards Mrs. Armine, gaped to show her his mouth was empty, lifted his bag from the floor and rushed noiselessly from the room. She stood looking at the headless body of the reptile which lay on the rug at her feet.
"Take it away!" she said to Baroudi.
He picked it up, went to the window, and threw it out into the orange-garden. Then he came back and stood beside her.
"Horrible brute!" she said.
She spoke angrily. When the darweesh had attacked the serpent she had felt herself attacked, and the killing of it had seemed to her an outrage committed upon herself. Even now that he was gone and the headless body was flung away, she could not rid herself of this sensation. She was full of an intimate sense of fury that longed to be assuaged.
"How could you let the brute do that?" she exclaimed, turning upon Baroudi. "How could you sit there and allow such a hateful thing?"
"But he came here to do it. He is one of the Saadeeyeh."
"He was going to do it even if I hadn't taken the serpent?"
"I don't believe that. He did it because he was angry with the serpent for not hurting me, for letting me take it."
"As you please," he said. "What does it matter?"
She glanced at him, and sat down. The expression in his eyes soothed her, the new look that she could read. Had it been called up by her courage with the serpent? She wondered if, by her impulsive action, she had grasped something in him which till now had seemed to elude her. Nevertheless, although her mood was changing, the sense of personal outrage had not completely died out of her.
"There really are other serpent eaters?" she asked.
"Of course. Saadees."
"And that man is one? But he hated my taking the serpent."
"But I did not hate it."
More strongly she felt that she had grasped something in him which had eluded her till now.
"Sit there for a minute quietly," he said, with a gentleness that, though far less boyish, recalled to her mind the smiling gentleness of Ibrahim. "And I will give you a new pleasure, and all your anger will go from you as the waves go from the Nile when the breeze has died away."
"What is it?"
His eyes were full of a sort of happy cunning like a child's.
"Sit there and you will know."
He went out of the room, and came back in a moment carrying a good-sized box carefully wrapped in silver paper. She began to think that he was going to give her another present, perhaps some wonderful jewel. But he undid the silver paper cautiously, opened a red-leather case, and displayed a musical box. After placing it tenderly upon the coffee-table, he bent down and set it going. There was a click, a slight buzzing, and then upon Mrs. Armine's enraptured ears there fell the strains of an old air from a forgotten opera of Auber's, "Come o'er the Moonlit Sea!"
The change from the Saadee's atmosphere of savage fanaticism to this mild and tinkling insipidity threw Mrs. Armine's nerves off their balance.
"Oh, Baroudi!" she said.
Her lips began to tremble. She turned away her head. The effort not to betray her almost hysterical amusement, which was combined with an intense desire to pet this great, robust child, almost suffocated her. There was a click. The music stopped.
"Wait a moment!" she heard him say.
And his voice sounded grave, like an intensely appreciative child's.
Click! "Parigi, O Cara!"
Mrs. Armine governed herself, drew breath, and once more turned towards Baroudi. On his strong, bold face there was the delighted expression of a boy. She looked, looked at him, and all her half-tender amusement died away, and again, as in the Villa Androud, she was encompassed by fear. The immense contrasts in this man, combined with his superb physique, made him to her irresistibly fascinating. In him there was a complete novelty to appeal to her jaded appetites, rendered capricious and uneasy by years of so-called pleasure. A few minutes ago, when he had spoken of death, he had been a mysterious and cruel fatalist. Now he was a deliciously absurd child, but a child with the frame of a splendid man.
The musical box clicked. "Salve Dimora."
"Do you feel better?" he asked her.
"I bought it in Naples."
He lifted the box in his strong brown hands, and held it nearer to her. Nothing in his face betrayed any suspicion that she could be amused in an ironical sense. It was obvious that he supposed her to be as happily impressed as he was.
"You hear it better now."
She nodded again. Then:
"Hold it close to my ear," she said, in a whisper, keeping her eyes upon him.
He obeyed. Once his hand touched her ear, and she felt its warm dryness, and she sighed.
"Salve Dimora" ceased.
"Another!" she said.
And she said, "Another!" and "Another!" until the box's repertoire was finished, and then she made him turn on once more, "Come o'er the Moonlit Sea!"
Her gloves lay on the divan beside her, and she did not draw them on again. She did not even pick them up till the heat of the sun's rays was declining, and the musical box had long been silent.
"I must go," she said at last.
She put her hands up to her disordered hair.
"Indeed I must."
She looked at her watch and started up.
"It's horribly late. Where is Ibrahim?"
Ibrahim's smiling face was seen at the window.
"The donkey, Ibrahim! I want the donkey at once!"
"All what you want you must have."
He nodded his head, as if agreeing passively with himself, and looked on the ground.
"Hamza he ready. Hamza very good donkey-boy."
"That's right. I am coming," she said.
Ibrahim saluted, still smiling, and disappeared. Mrs. Armine walked to the window and looked out.
It was already the time of sunset, and the unearthly radiance of the magical hour in this land of atmospheric magic began to fall upon the little isolated house, upon the great garden of oranges by which it was encircled. The dry earth of the alleys glowed gently; the narrow trunks of the trees became delicately mysterious; the leaves and the treasure they guarded seemed, in their perfect stillness, to be full of secret promises. Still the birds that dwelled among them were singing to each other softly the praises of God.
Mrs. Armine looked out, listened to the birds, while the sun went down in the west she could not see. And now Magrib was over, and the first time of the Moslem's prayer was come.
She wished she need not go, wished it so keenly, so fiercely, that she was startled by her own desire almost as if it had been a spectre rising suddenly to confront her. She longed to remain in this lodge in the wilderness, to be overtaken by the night of the African stars in the Villa of the Night of Gold. Now she heard again the far-away voice of the fellah by the shaduf, warning her surely to go. Or was it not, perhaps, telling her to stay? It was strange how that old, dead passion, which had metamorphosed her life, returned to her mind in this land. In its shackles at first she had struggled. But at last she had abandoned herself, she had become its prisoner. She had become its slave. Then she was young. She was able to realize how far more terrible must be the fate of such a slave who is young no longer. Again the fellah cried to her from the Nile, and now it seemed to her that his voice was certainly warning her that she must withdraw herself, while yet there was time, from the hands of El-Islam—while yet there was time!
She had been so concentrated upon herself and her own fears and desires that, though part of her had been surely thinking of Baroudi, part of her had forgotten his existence near her. As a factor in her life she had been, perhaps, considering him, but not as a man in the room behind her. The outside world, with its garden of dreaming trees, its gleaming and dying lights, its voices of birds, and more distant voice from the Nile, had subtly possessed her, though it had not given her peace. For when passion, even of no high and ideal kind, begins to stir in a nature, it rouses not only the bodily powers, but powers more strange and remote—powers perhaps seldom used, or for long quite disregarded; faculties connected with beauty that is not of man; with odours, with lights, and with voices that have no yearning for man, but that man takes to his inner sanctuary, as his special possession, in those moments when he is most completely alive.
But now into this outer world came an intruder to break a spell, yet to heighten for the watcher at the window fascination and terror. As the fellah's voice died away, and Mrs. Armine moved, with an intention surely of flight from dangerous and inexorable hands, Hamza appeared at a short distance from her among the orange-trees. He spread a garment upon the earth, folded his hands before him, then placed them upon his thighs, inclined himself, and prayed. And as he made his first inclination of humble worship in the little room behind her Mrs. Armine heard a low murmuring, almost like the sound of bees in sultry weather. She turned, and saw Baroudi praying, on a prayer-rug with a niche woven in it, which was duly set towards Mecca.
She, the unbeliever, was encompassed by prayer. And something within her told her that the moment for flight already lay behind her, that she had let it go by unheeded, that the hands which already had touched her would not relax their grasp until—what?
She did not answer that question.
But when the fellah cried out once more in the distance, it seemed to her that she heard a savage triumph in his voice.
A week later Mrs. Armine received a telegram from Cairo:
"Starting to-night, arrive to-morrow morning. Love—Nigel."
She had been expecting such a message; she had known that it must come; yet when Hassan brought it into the garden, where she was sitting at the moment, she felt as if she had been struck. Hassan waited calmly beside her till, with an almost violent gesture, she showed him there was no answer. When he had gone she sat for a moment with the telegram on her knees; then she cried out for Ibrahim. He heard her voice, and came, with his sauntering gait, moving slowly among the rose-trees.
"I've a telegram from Cairo," she said.
She took up the paper and showed it to him.
"My lord Arminigel—he is comin' back?"
"That is very good noos, very nice noos indeed," said Ibrahim, with an air of sleepy satisfaction.
"He starts to-night, and will be here with the express to-morrow morning."
"This is a most bootiful business!" said Ibrahim, blandly. "My lord he has been away so long he will be glad to see us again."
She looked at him, but he did not look at her. Turning a flower in his white teeth, he was gazing towards the river, with an unruffled composure which she felt almost as a rebuke. But why should it matter to him? Baroudi had paid him. Nigel paid him. He had no reason to be upset.
"When he comes," she said, "he will take me away to the Fayyum."
"Yes. The Fayyum is very nice place, very good place indeed. There is everythin' there; there is jackal, pidgin, duck, lots and lots of sugar-cane; there is water, there is palm-trees; there is everythin' what any one him want."
"Ah!" she said.
She got up, with a nervously violent movement.
"What's the good of all that to you?" she said. "You're not going with us to the Fayyum, I suppose."
He said nothing.
"Are you?" she exclaimed.
"You are coming. How do you know? Has Mr. Armine told you?"
"My lord, he tell me nothin', but I comin' with you, and Hamza him comin' too."
"Hamza is coming?"
She was conscious of a sensation of relief that was yet mingled with a faint feeling of dread.
"Why—why should Hamza come with us?" she asked.
"To be your donkey-boy. Hamza he very good donkey-boy."
"I don't know—I am not sure whether I shall want Hamza in the Fayyum."
Ibrahim looked at her with a smiling face.
"In the Fayyum you will never find good donkey-boy, my lady, but you will do always what you like. If you not like to take Hamza, Hamza very sad, very cryin' indeed, but Hamza he stay here. You do always what you think."
When he had finished speaking, she knew that Hamza would accompany them; she knew that Baroudi had ordered that Hamza was to come.
"We will see later on," she said, as if she had a will in this matter.
She looked at her watch.
"It's time to start."
"The felucca him ready," remarked Ibrahim. "This night the Loulia sailin'; this night the Loulia he go to Armant."
Mrs. Armine frowned. Armant—Esneh—Kom Ombos—and then Aswan! The arbitrariness of her nature was going to be scourged with scorpions by fate, it seemed. How was she to endure that scourging? But—there was to-day. When was she going to learn really to live for the day? What a fool she was! Still frowning, and without saying another word, she went upstairs quickly to dress.
It was past midnight when she returned to the villa. There was no moon; wind was blowing fiercely, lashing the Nile into waves that were edged with foam, and whirling grains of sand stripped away from the desert over the prairies and gardens of Luxor. The stars were blotted out, and the night was cold and intensely dark. She held on tightly to Ibrahim's arm as she struggled up the bank from the river, and almost felt her way to the house, from which only two lights gleamed faintly. The French windows of the drawing-room were locked, and they went round the house to the front door. As Ibrahim put up his hand to ring the bell, a sudden fear came to Mrs. Armine. Suppose Nigel had started earlier from Cairo than he had intended? Suppose he had returned and was then in the house? She caught Ibrahim's hand. He said something which was carried away and lost to her in the wind. She dropped his hand; he rang, and in a moment the door was opened by Hassan.
"Ask him if—if anything has happened, if there is any message, anything for me!" she said to Ibrahim directly she was in the house.
Ibrahim spoke to Hassan in Arabic.
"My lady, he says there is nothin'."
"Very well. I'll go to bed. Good night, Ibrahim."
And she went upstairs.
When she was in her bedroom she shut the door and sat down just as she was, with a veil over her face, the collar of her dust-coat turned up, her shining hair dishevelled by the angry hands of the gale. A lamp was burning on the dressing-table, upon which, very oddly arranged, stood a number of silver things, brushes, bottles, boxes, which were usually in the dressing-room. They were set out in a sort of elaborate and very fantastic pattern, which recalled to her sharply a fact. She had no longer a maid. She had got rid of Marie, who had left Luxor on the previous day, neither tearful nor, apparently, angry, but looking sharp, greedy, and half-admiringly inquisitive to the very last. Mrs. Armine had come to her two days before holding an open letter from Nigel, and had announced to her his decision that a lady's maid in the Fayyum would be an impossibility, and that Marie would have to be left behind, for the time, at Luxor. And then had followed a little scene admirably played by the two women; Mrs. Armine deploring the apparent necessity of their separation, but without undue feeling or any exaggeration; Marie regretting "monsieur's" determination to carry "une dame si delicate, si fine" into "un monde si terrible, si sauvage," but at the same time indicating, with a sly intention and the most admirably submissive nuances, the impossibility of her keeping house in the villa alone with a group of Nubians. Both women had really enjoyed themselves, as talent must when exercising itself with perfect adroitness. Mrs. Armine had regretted Marie's decision, while at the same time applauding her maidenly delicatesse, and had presently, by chance, discovered that several charming purchases from Paris were no good to her, that two or three remarkably attractive gowns made her look "like nothing at all," and that, as she was going to the Fayyum, she "couldn't be bothered with" some hats that were, as Marie had often said, "plus chic que le diable!" Then a wonderful "character" had been written out, signed, and had changed hands, with an exceedingly generous cheque. Certain carelessly delivered promises had been made which Marie knew would be kept. She had given a permanent address in France, and the curtain had slowly fallen. Ah, the pity of it that there had been no audience! But talent, like genius, should be its own consolation and reward.
So now Hassan arranged Mrs. Armine's "things." She was thankful that Marie had gone, yet she felt utterly lost without a maid. Never, since she was a young girl, had she been accustomed to do anything for herself that a good maid could do for her. And there was not a woman-servant in the house. She was tired, she was terribly strung up; her nerves were all on edge; her heart was aflame with a jealousy which, she knew too well, was destined to be fanned and not to be assuaged in the days that lay before her. And she felt profoundly depressed. It was awful to come home in such a condition in the dead of the night, and to be deprived of all one's comforts. When she saw those silver things all laid out wrongly, the brushes pointing this way and that, the combs fixed in them with the teeth upwards, the bottles of perfume laid on their sides instead of standing erect, the powder-boxes upside down, she felt ready to cry her eyes out. And no one to take away her hat, to loosen and brush her hair, to get her out of her gown, to unlace her shoes! And Nigel at nine o'clock to-morrow!
The wind roared outside. One of the hanging wooden shutters that protected the windows had got loose, and was now, at short intervals, striking against the wall with a violent sound that suggested to her a malefactor trying to break in. She knew what caused the reiterated noise; she knew she could probably stop it by opening the window for a moment and putting out her hand. And yet she felt afraid to do this, afraid to put out her hand into the windy darkness, lest it should be grasped by another hand. She was full of nervous fears.
As she sat there, she could scarcely believe she was in Egypt. The roaring of the wind suggested some bleak and Northern clime. The shutter crashed against the wall. At last she could bear the noise no longer, and she got up, went out on to the landing, and called out: "Ibrahim!"
There was no answer. The lights were out. She felt afraid of the yawning darkness.
"Ibrahim! Ibrahim!" she cried.
She heard the sough of drapery, and a soft and striding step. Somebody was coming quickly. She drew back into her room, and Ibrahim appeared.
"My lady, what you want?"
She pointed to the window.
"The shutter—it's got loose. Can you fasten it? It's making such an awful noise. I shan't be able to sleep all night."
He opened the window. The wind rushed in. The lamp flared up and went out.
For two or three minutes Mrs. Armine heard nothing but the noise of the wind, which seemed to have taken entire possession of the chamber, and she felt as if she were its prey and the prey of the darkness. Something that was like hysteria seized upon her, a desperate terror of fate and the unknown. In the wind and in the darkness she had a grievous sensation of helplessness and of doom, of being lost for ever to happiness and light. And when the wind was shut out, when a match grated, a little glow leaped up, and Ibrahim, looking strangely tall and vast in the black woollen abayeh which he had put on as a protection against the cold, was partially revealed, she sprang towards him with a feeling of unutterable relief.
"Oh, Ibrahim, what an awful night! I'm afraid of it!" she said.
Deftly he lit the lamp; then he turned to her and stared.
"My lady, you are all white, like the lotus what Rameses him carry."
She had laid her hand on his arm. Now she let it drop, sat down on the sofa, unpinned her hat and veil, and threw them down on the floor.
"It's the storm. I hate the sound of wind at night."
"The ginnee him ride in the wind," said Ibrahim, very seriously.
"The ginnee! What is that?"
"Bad spirit. Him come to do harm. Him bin in the room to-night."
They looked at each other in silence. Then Mrs. Armine said:
"Is the shutter quite safe now?"
"Then good night, Ibrahim."
"Good night, my lady."
He went over to the door.
"Suttinly the ginnee him bin in the room to-night," he said, solemnly.
She tried to smile at this absurdity, but her lips refused to obey her will.
"Who should he come for?" she asked.
"I dunno. P'raps he come to meet my Lord Arminigel. It is bad night to-night. Mohammed him die to-night. Him die on the night from Sunday Monday."
He drooped morosely and went out, softly closing the door behind him.
As soon as he had gone Mrs. Armine undressed, leaving her clothes scattered pell-mell all over the room, and got into her bed. She kept the lamp burning. She was afraid of the dark, and she knew she would not sleep. Although she laughed at Egyptian superstition, as she glanced about the room she was half unconsciously looking for the shadowy form of a ginnee. All night the wind roared, and all night she lay awake, wondering, fearing, planning, imagining, in terror of the future, yet calling upon her adroitness, her strong fund of resolution, to shape it as she willed.