"In a camp everything is left unguarded, and nothing goes astray. If you, clothed in fine linen and arrayed in jewels, were to enter the tent of some half-starving Arab, and ask of him hospitality, he would share his last few coffee beans with you, and give you his couch, if by chance he was possessed of such a luxury, and speed you on your way the morrow, and believe me, you would not find a ribbon missing from your attire, even though you had left him without the wherewith to make his beloved coffee."
The girl laughed, for she really cared not a rap either way, and was only arguing for the sake of drawing the man out, having found argument the best and simplest method of breaking through the Eastern reserve, up against which she had more than once found herself during the last few days.
"Well! I call that splitting hairs. I really can't say I see that the persecution of Ishmael makes stealing different from stealing; to my mind, taking sugar from a bowl that is not yours, and diamonds that are not yours from a safe, are one and the same thing, as both ornamental and necessary booty belong to someone else."
"And yet," replied the Eastern, "in the West a man who cheats at cards is damned everlastingly, but a nation is acclaimed who takes the land with all its wealth from some wretched, half-educated native; takes it by force of arms or diplomacy, which, nine times out of ten, means trickery. Yes! Acclaimed with such adjectives as valiant, strong, beneficent, applauded to the skies, whilst reams are written anent the glorious, victorious campaign. Victorious! Allah! When the nation goes out with artillery and unlimited forces to meet a handful of men, whose strength lies in a spear, and pride in some dozen flintlocks, which have been sold to the benighted heathen for solid gold or shining lengths of purest ivory.
"Besides, the Arab requires 'what he gains,' as is his way of expressing himself. No people on earth endure such hardships as this my people; never enough to eat, burnt in the summer, frozen in the winter, buried in sand, tortured with thirst, fleeing from place to place, never at peace, yet always happy in his miserable tent.
"For the gazu or raid on caravan or camp, which will yield booty of horse, or camel, or women—well! that is in the blood, and both sides are prepared. If you or they should have the better horses, or the better cunning, both of which we of the East so dearly love, one can hardly be expected to sympathise with those who lose from want of forethought."
And as he spoke, he raised a light spear, which he held in his hand, and drove it through one edge of the tent flap which covered the entrance, deep into the sand.
"That is a sign that I am coming back, and believe me, the worst of Arabs would pass this way and seeing the sign would leave my belongings unmolested. Yes! even if many moons passed, until the skins had rotted, and the sands had covered the rotted remains."
After which explanation, Jill remained silent for a space, and then approached her camel, feeling that the rapping of her knuckles, however slight, had been quite unwarranted, for her sympathy in human beings and their feelings was great, and the understanding which kept her from wounding the sensibilities of those humans even greater.
Her wish to draw out the man had caused her figurative feet to make a faux pas, in fact she felt that her pedestal had tilted ever so slightly, causing the drapery of decency, and courtesy, to swing aside for one moment, exposing a particle of clay upon the ivory of her beautiful feet to the eyes of the man whose outlook on life was so broad, whose principles were so stern, and whose people she had so rudely criticised. Therefore she was dissatisfied with herself. Though, if she had known it, the man looked upon her with the same solicitude and tenderness, as you or I would look upon the babe, who, in its first efforts to get from table to chair, pulls the table-cloth about its unsteady little feet.
Also sensing that the woman he loved was troubled, there was no gladness in the heart of the Arab, so that, in his anxiety to remove the pebble from the path, he approached her, as she stood with skirt lifted in readiness to mount her recumbent camel, whereupon she looked up at the grave face and apologised truly and sweetly, and by her sweet and humble act, causing the man of the East to marvel at her strength, and to salaam deeply before her as he accounted himself as the sand beneath her little feet.
"Now wait a moment!" laughed Jill, whose worries disappeared beneath the warmth of her happy nature with the vanishing celerity of the dew beneath the sun. "I am going to try my hand with the camels. I really have a good deal of influence over animals—domesticated ones, I mean——— Oh! Yes! I suppose they are, but of course in England we don't have them hanging around as we do horses and dogs, you know. I don't like cats, however—I simply can't stand the way they look past and through you, at the spirits I always think, which we humans cannot see standing beside us.
"I had one once, I found her in the picture gallery one night, who positively made me creep. She would get up suddenly from the fire and go sidling and wriggling across the room in the most absurd fashion, purring and simply confused with delight, to rub herself up and down the empty air, and by the way her tail was flattened down and then shot up again, I was positive she was being stroked. She almost lived in the picture gallery, sitting staring at the pictures of an ancestor of mine, who had the most frightful reputation.
"The worst of it all was that the whole village began to suffer from catalepsy as Dads said, and then it all got into the newspapers, and occult societies camped at the gates, water diviners drilled on the lawns, the Merry Harvester was filled with 'ologists hailing from this country, and some genuine catamaniacs, until I had the bright idea of fastening a placard on the gates to say that the cat was dead, though she had suddenly disappeared the night the picture of the ancestress fell, owing honestly to a faulty plug in the wall. Now! let me try and see if my knowledge of the Arabian tongue is good enough to be understood by the camel."
Lowering her voice a tone, she suddenly cried "Get up!"
Whereupon the animal rose clumsily to its feet, as the girl, laughing aloud, clung to the man's arm.
"Oh," she cried, "did you ever know anything so funny, though why, I am sure I can't say—fancy a camel obeying me."
"Get down!" she suddenly ordered in her sweet, broken Arabic, at which the camel knelt, leaving the Arab astounded, for the beautiful, lazy woman of the East troubles not her soul in the training of beasts, nor has she any command over them.
Having mounted and got the three animals to their feet, Jill laughed delightedly, announcing her intention of starting the trio and leading them for a short space, to which the man, craving to satisfy the slightest wish, consented, fastening the pack camel to the off-side of Jill's beast, so that she should be in the middle, upon which they started off triumphantly, leaving the tent to the stars and moon.
For an hour they travelled over the sand, covered in patches with low shrubs, and broken here and there by sand dunes, until Jill suddenly stopped her chattering and pointed.
"There's a caravan or something over there, and we seem to be heading straight for it—it's—yes—it's a tent under some palms—why! Yes—no! yes it is—oh, it's our tent—how can it be our tent when we have been going straight ahead all the time, haven't we?"
Without the glimmer of a smile, the Arab shook his head.
"We have been describing a circle ever since we started."
"But no!" argued the girl, who was half mortified, half ready to laugh, "there is no left rein, and I left the right one hanging———"
"Yes, but quite unconsciously you kicked your camel with your left foot when we were some way from the tent—you didn't notice, but she immediately began to turn to the left; after that, you patted her continually on the left side, and camels, who, from pure stupidity or hereditary instinct, will go straight on to eternity untouched, are trained to turn in the direction of the side touched by hand, foot, or whip; the single rein is of very little use, and hardly ever used by a native, for once a camel bolts, nothing will stop him, excepting a cloth flung over his head, or the birth of some passing fancy in his head, which serves to divert the evil tenor of his benighted brain. And I defy anyone unused to the desert and its markings to know if they are really going straight or in a circle, and you were too taken up to notice the stars. Try again! Keep that red star straight ahead, those two close together, just behind your right shoulder, and you will unfailingly reach the so-called mountain, in the shadow of which we shall find our tent."
And the maker of sweet music bowed low from afar, and salaamed with fervour, when, just before the hour of dawn, three camels came to a halt, and knelt on the word of command of this veiled woman, who spoke his language sweetly, but as a stranger.
Few have or ever will make use of the route which the Arab was explaining by means of a sharp stick and a flat stretch of sand. And in truth 'twere wise to leave it to those who are born of the desert, for even if ignoring the danger signals of her cumbersome covering, the body, the soul should urge the would-be traveller to tread the unknown path, he will, if he sets foot thereon, find the discomforts out of all proportion to the interesting dangers.
'Twere best to eschew it, keeping to the normal route of boat or rail; even if the soul of the desert, wrapt in mystic garments, stands with plump, henna-tipped, beckoning forefinger; for she is but a lying jade, outcome of some digestive upheaval; the spirit of the sand, the scorpions and the stars, beckoning to but the very few, and baring herself to none; though the wind may lift her robes of saffron, brown and purple, revealing for one sharp second the figure slim to gauntness, and blow the thick, coarse black hair from before her face, exposing those eyes of different colouring, and flaming mouth, luring to kisses, which will steep the mind in intoxication, and rasp the lips with stinging particles of burning sand. No! take rather the boat from the round ring, which the Arab drew in the sand, christening it Ismailiah; whereupon Jill got up from her place in the moon, and crossing over to the man, crouched down beside him, the better to view the map, taking it for an offering of prayer, when the sweetness of her breath, and the savour of her perfume, assailing the man's nostrils, he suddenly raised his hands to the starry heavens, praying to Allah to give him strength.
The stick starting from the ring christened Ismailiah turned slightly to the West and continued in a line which curved at every inch.
"I haven't the vaguest idea where we are," remarked Jill, as she took a proffered cigarette, and proceeded to blow smoke rings in the still night, from a mouth contracted until it looked like one of those little leather jug purses, whilst her head, thrown back, showed the beauty of her bare throat. Are we going towards Cairo?"
"Nay, woman! Having crossed the fertile land, outcome of the fresh water canal at Ismailiah, we continued to the West for a space, and then came South, winding in and out so as to miss the higher hills and sand dunes.
"To-morrow we pass through the mountains of the Jebel Aweibid range, and find the Haj road, which, glory to Allah, will be free of pilgrims until next moon. That road we will follow as far as the fertility of Airud, passing that spot afar off, as even in this month caravans will congregate there; then crossing the canal a space higher than Suez, where crowds embark and disembark, we will pick up the Haj road on the far side, making use of it to pass through the Jebel Rabah range, leaving it, once through, to strike to the East, and find our way at last to the peace of my own habitation."
Upon which explanation Jill sat back on her heels, and wrinkled her brow.
"But surely the easiest way would have been by boat to Suez!"
"True, O! woman, whose eyes ringed with the shadows of fatigue are as blue flowers growing in the mountain's purple shade. I pondered long before I made decision in my choice of roads. Upon the one we traverse, you could but meet fatigue, and in this month, but few travellers upon the way that leads to Mecca.
"Upon the boat you would have met many of your land, friends maybe, who perchance would have turned upon you the eyes of suspicion, the shoulder cold with disdainful convention, whilst their tongue, more poisonous even than the forked tip of the cerastes cornutus, might, nay, would, have striven to corrupt your mind with a festering mass of doubt and suspicion and misgiving. Therefore have I brought you on this journey, which is so much longer, and is likely to kill you with fatigue. Verily, for behold the half is not yet accomplished."
Jill, who had unconsciously taken the sharp stick from the Arab, and had also, unconsciously, been drawing monstrous beasts in the sand, lifted her head and made a slight grimace.
"Oh! but you will kill me, you will really! And to think that I thought you lived quite near Cairo! Where are we going really?"
And Hahmed, overcome by an almost irresistible longing to take the girl in his arms and hold her close against all dangers and discomforts, suddenly rose to his feet, standing towering over her, and when she held out both her hands, asking to be helped up, leant down and raised her as lightly as though she were of thistle's down.
Then there came about one of those pauses which sometimes do come to pass between man and woman, a pause in which, as there is no midway, either much is won or lost.
As still as a mouse, Jill lay in his arms, until he very gently set her upon her feet; and though a little ripple akin to disappointment disturbed the smooth surface of her content, she said "Thank you," and smiled sweetly into the grave face which showed no sign of a pulse disturbed by a thudding heart. And then Jill sat down again upon her cushions, drawing her knees up under her chin and clasping them with her hands, and the shadow of the man falling upon her, left her well content, and still more content did she feel when he stretched himself full length beside her and continued speaking.
"Where are we going? Oh woman, who has placed her hand in mine, we journey to my own country, unto the desert of Arabia, until we shall come to the place which was mine, but now is yours. Although, verily, it is unworthy of your eyes, you will bear with it for a few moons, until a habitation worthy of your beauty is erected. Nay, as oasis, it is not over large, but it is fertile beyond thought. Many have essayed to steal it by force of arms, or buy it, but I prevailed through the magic of much wealth and the virtue of patience. I bought it bit by bit from those who owned it, and now they rent it from me—I did not want their money, but I desired to make the ground productive and the people happy.
"The grain plains require good workmen, also my date groves, my paddocks, and stables for camels and horses. The fruit and vegetables and other produce, which were once mine and now are yours, are cultivated and tended by some hundreds of especially trained men, who, with their wives and numerous offspring, live in the shadow of the acacia, loving, quarrelling, hating, dying, but always happy. My own habitation is in the shade of the palms, removed from the unseemly wailing of children and barking of dogs, and as I have told you, no woman has placed foot therein, save for the hunchback. Verily the flat oasis is unique in the desert annals, and to bring unto perfection requires but a son to take on the work, when these mine hands are clasped in the handshake of death."
But those very hands showed no sign of their master's desire to close them upon those clasped whitely round the girl's knees, neither did his voice portray the desire of possession raging within him as he continued speaking.
"If later you should desire to travel, then shall the boats, the cars which were mine, but are now yours, be at your disposal, so that in comfort shall your journey be made, wiping out the bitter memory of this your first."
But there was no doubt about it that Jill was suffering acutely from a cumulative fatigue, engendered by the unaccustomed mode of travelling, the intense heat through which she essayed to sleep during the day, the biting cold at night, when the temperature fell many degrees, as is its agonising wont in that part of the world, the strain of the mind as it valiantly essayed to accustom itself to the new way of everything; but above all, the inability to change her under raiment, which, strive against it as she would, managed to conceal particles of sand and insects, which, though they did not bite, crawled most successfully and irritatingly.
So that as in a dream she passed down the Haj road to the water, with a vague recollection of a few wayfarers and beggars squatting on the roadside, many men who salaamed with fervour at the water's edge; a boat, a quick passage, and more of those who salaamed, and a three days' rest, when the tents were pitched on the near side of the mountains. Three days in which she slept, and slept, and slept, rising to bathe and eat, grateful to the man who spoke only when she asked a question, and who, though sign of servant there was none, forestalled her every unuttered wish. Then followed they the Haj road through the mountains and left it to take a line in the Eastern direction, which they also followed until the hour when the Arab called his camels to a halt, and pointing straight ahead, exclaimed:
"Behold, woman, your land!"
Upon which Jill strained her eyes in vain, for her untrained sight revealed nothing but sand, and yet more sand.
"Yonder lies the oasis, O! woman of the West, and beneath the star of happiness the dwelling which will serve to throw a shadow upon your path in the heat of the day, and from the roof of which you may watch the changing of the moon; and learn the way of the Eastern stars, whilst listening to the million voices of the desert night."
The girl made no reply, neither did she turn to look at the man.
There was no sound, save for an occasional grunt of satisfaction from one or other of the beasts, who sensed their home and the termination of their labour.
There was nothing to break the silence, and nothing to break the never-ending stretches of sand, as the two, caught in the inevitable fingers of Fate, sat motionless, looking ahead beyond the oasis, beyond the stars, to the moment when the first wind blew a particle of sand to find its mate, with which to multiply and form the desert, the birthplace and burial ground of so many; whilst gnarled hands playing with Life's shuttlecock drew a golden thread to a brown, proceeding to weave them in and out with the blood-red silk of the pomegranate, the orange of the setting sun, the silver of the rising moon, and the purples of the bougainvillaea, until upon the background of dull greys and saffrons appeared an amazing pattern of that which is called Love.
And suddenly the girl looked up into the man's face, and stretching out her hand spake softly, calling upon him by name, so that his heart quaked within him, and his being was suffused with love.
"Hahmed! O! Hahmed! Is it happiness?"
And Hahmed the Arab, raising his right hand, called heaven to witness.
"As Allah is above us, O woman, it is happiness. Glory be to Him Whose prophet is Mohammed."
The most poisonous snake in Egypt.
Little by little the face of the desert began to change, just as changes the face of a fainted woman, which, drawn and grey and pinched about the mouth, starts to relax and fill out and to colour faintly, when life begins to return to the limp form. Rough shrubs grew in patches, giving way to rough grass growing about the roots of short trees. A clump of palms and then another, a mimosa tree scenting the air from its diminutive yellow lanterns, and then great stretches of land, some light with the grain silvered by the waning moon, some dark from the plough's drastic hand, undivided by hedge or wall, yet as evenly marked out as a chess-board, reminding Jill of a very great patchwork quilt held together by some invisible feather-stitching.
Her questions fell like rain, and in them the man seemed to find great joy. That was an artesian well, and this a grove of Tailik dates. Yes! the rivulet which would sing her to sleep on its way through the sand was a very bounteous spring, more precious than gold or jewels, holding only a second place to Allah, Whose prophet is Mohammed, in the esteem of the fellaheen, but being a playful spring, almost disappearing at one moment to gush out the next, artesian wells had been made so that the oasis should not depend solely upon her caprices, though, be it confessed, she had bubbled and laughed her way contentedly through many years, and had even deigned to widen into a diminutive lake, which lay between the principal dwelling-place, which contained the sleeping apartments and living rooms of the master, and the house which had been built on the same principle for the innumerable guests, and the quarters, hidden from view by a belt of palms, in which such servants as were necessary to the well-being of the house cooked and worked and entertained such wayfarers as were of their own station.
Many figures had seemingly sprung from nowhere at the sound of the padded feet, which were only prevented from breaking into a swift trot by the voice of the man who guided them.
These figures had salaamed deeply, and lifted up their hands to the starry heavens as though to call down a blessing upon the heads of those who passed, but they had not approached until the Arab suddenly cried aloud a name, whereupon a figure, standing apart, had sped quickly forward, salaamed, listened to his master's words, and had sped away as silently as a panther, as swiftly as a deer.
"Your runner, O! woman, who, after your slave, is the swiftest in all Asia and Africa. If ever you would speak with me, and I were perchance afar off, bid that man to your presence, give him your message in script or word of mouth, and say but, 'Thy master—Cairo,' or wherever I might sojourn, and he will find me, over desert sands or mountain range; he would die for me, and therefore he would die for you.
"We approach the grounds around your dwelling, may it find favour in your eyes."
Gradually the grass had deepened and softened, until like a velvet carpet it lay spread. Great groves of dates threw ink-black shadows, slender palms with feathery heads swayed slightly in the dawn-coming wind, when suddenly of their own accord the camels stopped.
To right and left as far as the dim light allowed, Jill saw what looked to her like an impenetrable wall.
"This is the dividing line, a high wall with its nakedness covered in creepers, which separates your dwelling from the land upon which common feet may tread. No one can pass without the permission of Mustapha, the blackest of all black negroes; no one can leave, not even my guests, unless they are accompanied by some one of the servants of my house. Thus will you be safe in the care of black Mustapha, even if I should be called to a distance from which I cannot guard you from harm. Enter, O! woman, and may the blessing of Allah fall upon you, even as the petals of the purple flower will fall upon your head."
And they fell in showers from the purple bougainvillaea which trailed its length over the wrought arch above the gate, of which one half swung back by the hand of the biggest, blackest man ever dreamed of in nightmarious slumber.
"Master! Master!" cried the product of Africa, and, prostrating himself, flung the desert sand upon his woolly pate; then rising, ran towards the man who owned him, lifting the black cloak to his huge mouth through which scintillated white, unblemished ivories.
The Arab stretched out his hand, and laying it upon the girl's cloak spake but one word, upon which the negro once more prostrated himself before Jill's camel, covering his already sandy hair with yet more glistening particles, murmuring something unintelligible, until a sharp word brought him to his feet, whereupon he backed towards the gates, flinging them wide apart, falling upon his knees as the camels stalked disdainfully through the opening.
Through a long avenue of trees they passed, the trunks twisted into uncouth shapes, the heads of long spear-shaped leaves glistening as though drenched in dew, the roots buried in masses of flowering shrubs, behind all of which showed an occasional glint of distant water.
The camels made their sedate way across a great plain of grass, stretching without a break from the avenue up to a belt of palms, before which they stopped, swayed a moment, grunting disapprovingly in chorus, and knelt.
"Your journey's end is here, and even though it should prove the last effort of your will to combat the fatigue which surely crushes your slight form, yet will I ask you to give me your hand so that I may lead you to your dwelling, as by the will of Allah I will lead you slowly or quickly to that which we call happiness."
And as he spoke the Arab slipped from his camel, to stand tall and straight beside the little figure enveloped from head to foot in a long dark veil, from out of the folds of which stretched a little hand, pulling the flimsy covering from the lower part of the face.
"Nay, that you must not do, for behold! although you see them not the tenders of my camels hover around, waiting till we have passed on to fall upon those three beasts and lead them to their stables. Come!"
The silence was intense between the two as Jill, with her hand in that of the Arab, passed slowly over the grass up to a long, low, two-storeyed house which, with two wings, made a quadrangle round a great court, in the middle of which splashed a fountain. A multitude of figures stood absolutely motionless under the palms surrounding the house, who, even as the two passed, with one accord, called aloud as they raised their right hands to heaven:
"Allah—Jal-Jelalah!" which, being translated, means: "Praise to God the Almighty!" disappearing on a sign from their master as he turned to explain to Jill that this being his first visit in six months, his servants, with twenty-four weeks of grievances and domestic feud upon their minds, and a near prospect of being able to unburden themselves, were doubtlessly delighted to see their master.
Jill passed into the house too dazed to notice much of her surroundings, heard the swish of silk curtains closing behind her, and stood alone in a most exquisite room.
Six lamps, hung from the ceiling by bronze chains, threw a shaded light upon the soft-toned Persian rugs covering the floor; a divan piled high with silken cushions of every shade of mauve, covered with silken sheets, and smothered in the white folds of a mosquito net, stood against the far wall; there were small inlaid tables, piles of cushions, and a dressing-table glittering with crystal and silver in the light of the lamps, and a small fire which flung out sweet resinous odours from the burning logs; stretching right across one wall, a low cupboard showed gleaming satins and soft silks behind its open doors, and through an archway of fretted cedar-wood she saw a Roman bath of tiles, into which you enter by descending shallow steps, and over which hung a lamp with glass shade of many colours. Little white tables smothered in towels and bottles and little pots stood about, and across a low seat was thrown a garment of shimmering gold and silver cobwebby tissue. Dusty, tired Jill stretched out her arms, opened the cupboard doors wider, and inspected the garments therein one by one.
And she frowned.
A net had been spun in which she had been caught, her silly ears had listened to an absurd tale, she had stretched out a greedy hand to pluck an unknown fruit to find it bitter; in one brief word she had been fooled. Whereupon she pulled back the silken curtain, of the door with a vicious rasp, which seemed to have spread to her voice when she called aloud. The curtain swung back as the Arab entered, murmuring the Eastern prayer of greeting, and though furious, and therefore ripe to cut and hurt with woman's weapon, the tongue, the girl stood still and silent for a moment, instinctively feeling that tale or no tale, net or no, the great man before her was master here, though no one would have guessed at her momentary weakness as she flung open the cupboard doors to their widest, and taking an armful of soft feminine attire, held them out for the inspection of the grave Arab, whilst her voice rang through the room, giving exactly the same impression of trouble as does the wind which, springing from nowhere, usually precedes the storm.
"You said no woman save an old peasant had ever placed foot within this house. If so, what do these Eastern things mean?" holding out as she spoke a feminine something which seemed to be composed of sea-form, and pearls.
"For myself I only see a few bedroom wraps, and—and a garment in—in the bathroom."
And her heart suddenly stopped a beat, and then made the blank up by multiplying the next, for she had seen the man's face as he had taken the offending garment, and tearing it across and again across, dropped it at his feet, before he moved slowly towards her across the dividing space to take her two hands in his, holding them against his breast in a clasp that hurt.
"Listen," he said. "I shall speak this once and never again! Listen!" For a moment the quiet voice stopped, so that the gentle cracking of the burning logs could alone be heard above the heavy thud of the girl's heart, which to her ears sounded like thunder of the surf at dawn. "You are mine, mine, do you understand? You are no silly child, you knew what you were doing when you came with me, neither am I a man, for man or woman to play with. And now I have you, as Allah is above us, I will never let you go, for although the oasis and the camels and horses are yours, you will find no soul to lead the beast across the sands so covered with the bleaching bones of those who have gone astray. Oh! be not afraid," for the little face beneath his was white. "You are mistress here. You need but draw the curtain and no one will enter, no one until you clap your hands and call them by name. You will forgive the lowly room which entours you, and the unseemly garments which in haste I ordered, guessing at what you might require. Tomorrow you shall order what you will, and your slaves shall bring all from the great cities at the greatest speed, for as I have said, a dwelling worthy of your beauty shall be erected before many moons have sped. I will leave you, for doubtless you would remove your dust-laden raiment. I will send your slave, who even now is returning thanks to Allah in that I have found her worthy to wait upon you, and who also prepares some dishes for your refreshment. You are not hungry, and you do not wish her presence! Then shall she not disturb you."
And Jill found herself alone, upon which she took stock of herself in a long mirror which stretched from floor to ceiling, and hurriedly removed her outer garments.
It was a very beautiful girl who stood by the fire listening to the intense silence which precedes the dawn. The golden shimmering garment fell from her shoulders in soft folds, clinging here and there as though it loved the beautiful form it covered; her feet slipped in and out of the golden mules, in which, try as she would, she could not walk; her hair fell in two great plaits far below her knees; she was perfumed with the perfumes of Egypt, than which there is no more to say.
And she was afraid.
There was absolutely no sound, save for the fall of a charred log which sounded like a pistol shot, the rustle of her raiment, which sounded like the incoming tide of some invisible sea, and the quick intake of her breath, which might have meant unadulterated terror, and—did.
She shivered slightly, for of a sudden she saw a woman's face in a corner unreached by the light of the lamp. A long brown hand drew back the coarse hair, which curled and tangled under a veil, black brows frowned down on great eyes, which looked at her steadily, but the mouth, crimson as blood, parted in a smile wonderful to behold in its understanding, as Jill called softly:
"Speak, woman! who are you?"
But when the silence remained unbroken, and the girl, rushing swiftly across the room, touched just ordinary wood, she looked quickly round for escape; then hesitating, raised her hands and clapped them softly; raised them again when the silence remained unbroken, dropped them and once more shook with terror, which was really fatigue, when a something rustled behind, being in truth the catching of her garment on the fretted edge of a table; then once more she clapped her hands as she whispered, so low that the words hardly seemed to carry beyond the firelight:
Whereupon there was a faint rustle, the swinging to and fro of the curtain door, and the man stood before her. Not a sound broke the stillness, not a movement caused a flicker to the name of the shaded hanging lamp, which, just above the girl's head, threw down the light on the radiance of her hair, and the wonder of her body which the diaphanous garment half concealed and half revealed.
Not a sign on the Arab's face, this dweller of the desert, whose forefathers in wonderment had watched the ways of wisdom with which Solomon in all his glory had ruled more than one fair and obstreperous woman among the scented Eastern sands.
Face to face they stood, whilst the racing blood fled from the girl's face down to the finger-tips of her contradictory hands. The hands she knew so well, the square back, the square finger-tips, the long, square, high-mooned, deeply laid nail. Hands which, coming to her down the centuries through Quaker and through Puritan, were calling to her to stand firm and hold the scales well-balanced, whilst the soft, rounded palm, hidden in the golden fringe of her garment, and the over-sensitive finger-tips, with little nerve-filled cushions at the end of each, clamoured aloud for beauty and sweetness, tenderness and mastery, as the great man, with the beads of Allah slipping noiselessly through his fingers, reading the girl's thoughts as though they were written on the wall, marked and watched with sombre eyes in the breathless silence of the coming dawn.
Slowly the girl raised her eyes and scanned the man, from the snow-white turban on the dark head, the softness of the silken shirt, showing through the long, open, orange satin front of the voluminous coat, which reached almost to the ankles, leaving exposed the trousers of softest white linen, fastened close above the leather shoes, whilst quite subconsciously she wondered what he would look like in European evening dress.
Slowly she stretched out her long thin arms, until they almost touched the golden embroidery on the coat, as slowly she turned her hands, and looked at the glittering nails, the hands she knew and feared so much, and turning them back again, with a little smile drew a finger-tip over the hills and valleys of the palms. Higher still, until the pink and scented palms were on a line with the man's stern mouth, whilst a sigh, faint as the passing of a fly's wing, left his lips, as taking the little hands in his, he drew the girl closer yet.
"Behold, you are beautiful, O! woman, whom I would take to wife. You start! Why! For what manner of man have you taken me? Did you think that being an Arab means being without honour? Nay! When my eyes fell upon you standing in the sun, I knew that my heart had found its desire, that the woman who for all these years had, invisible to others, walked beside me in my waking hours, and hovered near me in my dreams, had come to life; that before me, if Allah willed, stood my wife and the mother of my children. I know that the English race, from lack of sun perchance, love not in a moment with a love that can outlast eternity. I do not ask you if you love me, only that you will be my wife, honouring me above all men, delighting me with such moments as you can give me.
"Listen, O! woman. I ask of you nothing until you shall love me. You shall draw the curtains of your apartment, and until you call me, you shall go undisturbed. When you shall call me—then—ah!" and his voice sank to infinite depths of tenderness as he drew her to him—"then you will be all mine—all—lily of the night you are now—rose of the morning you will be then, and I—I will wear that rose upon my heart. You are even as a necklace of rich jewels, O! my beloved. Your eyes are the turquoise, your teeth are the white pearls, even as the ravishing marks upon your face, and may be upon that part of your body upon which my eyes may not rest, are as black pearls of the rarest. Your lips are redder than rubies, and your fingers are of ivory.
"And one day shall that necklace be placed in my hands, and not alone the necklace, but the white alabaster pillar of your body, from your feet like lotus flowers, to the golden rain of your hair, shall you be mine.
"And you shall not make me wait too long, for behold, I love you. Allah! how I love you—-as only we men of the desert love. Allah help me," and holding the girl in the bend of his left arm, so that she felt the racing of his heart, he raised his eyes and right hand to Heaven. "Allah! God of all, give me this rose soon!"
For one long moment the girl was still, with face as white as death, and great eyes troubled even as the ocean when swept by gusts of wind; for to the very depths of her stirred her heritage of tremendous passions, untouched, unknown, whilst that which is in all women, from queen to coster, coming down from the day when they were slaves, that which urges them to cry aloud, "Master! Master!" upon their bended knees, stirred not at all; so that even as her eyes, so was her soul troubled, knowing that love had not yet laid hand to draw the curtains from about her womanhood.
Freeing herself gently, she moved towards the fire, trailing the golden raiment after her so that it pulled against the beauty of her body. For a moment she stood unconsciously silhouetted against the wall, virginal in her whiteness and her slimness, and yet, in her build alone, giving such promise of greater beauty, in the maturity of love.
Slowly, whilst her mind worked, she traced the blue vein from her wrist up her forearm, up until the finger stopped suddenly, upon a tiny mark tattooed just above the elbow.
A faint shadow of incomprehension swept across the man's face, for from nowhere, in one brief instant, a little wind, laden with straying particles of fear, distrust and memories, swept between the two, as the girl's voice, biting in its coldness, searing great scars upon the Arab's raging, storming, totally hidden pride, let fall slowly, cruelly, light-spoken, mocking words of French.
"Please tell me my woman's name, so that I may call her, for I would disrobe, being overcome by a great desire to—sleep!"
Moles are considered a great beauty among the Egyptian races.
The sun in a great red-gold ball was slipping behind the sharp edge of sand which like a steel wire marked the far horizon, the sky resembling some gorgeous Eastern mantle stretched red and orange and purple from the West, fastened by one enormous scintillating diamond star to the pink, grey, fawn and faintest heliotrope shroud which the dying day was wrapping around her in the East.
Terrific had been the heat throughout the month, wilting the palms, drawing iridescent vapours from the diminished stream, making the very sand too hot even for native feet.
The green reed blinds sheltering the great balcony room, and over which, in the heat of the day, trickled a continuous stream of water, were drawn up to allow the sunset breeze to pass right through the long two-storeyed building which, the essence of coolness, comfort, and beauty, in the past months by the efforts of countless skilled workmen, hailing from every conceivable corner of Asia and Egypt, and regardless of expense and labour, had been built for one beautiful English girl, who, in a moment of ever regretted contrariness, had refused to participate in the planning and devising of the work, thereby shutting herself off from that most fascinating pastime, house-building; leaving everything down to the minutest details to the imagination, ingenuity, and inventive genius of the Arab. For months she had listened to the monotonous chant of the men at work, the tap of hammer, swish of saw, and dull thud of machinery, and also to the grunting and grumbling of the camels who, in great caravans from every point of the compass, had complainingly brought their burdens of riches.
The groves of great date palms around her temporary abode had prevented her from seeing the outcome of all the noise, her misplaced pride or temper, or whatever you will, likewise preventing her from inquiring as to the progress made from the Arab, who, at her bidding, would come and sit with her, talking gravely upon absolutely indifferent subjects, neither showing by word or gesture if she were any more to him than the rug beneath his feet.
Just a mouth ago, when the moon was at the full, Jill had made what she whimsically called the moon-light flitting.
Veiled closely, she had put her hand into that of the man, and confidingly walked with him through the pitch blackness of the palm groves, and out into the moon-filled space beyond the lake, until they reached and stopped before a heavy iron door let into a massive wall, the top of which bore a crown of flashing, razor-edged, needle-pointed steel blades.
"The treasure of the world will be safe behind those walls, for behold, there are but two golden keys with which to open the door, one is yours the other mine. To Mustapha has been confided the safe-keeping of the walls, and with it power to kill whoever should approach within ten yards without your permit."
And the girl turned quickly as the door swung to softly, with the scarcely perceptible click of a lock, and then moved forward with as much indifference as she could muster on the spur of the moment, feeling the eyes of the Arab upon her. Gardens stretched before her with groves, and arbours, and every device conceivable for throwing shade upon her path. The stream, bending in an S, rippled and laughed its way under the little bridges; fountains splashed, seats of marble, seats of scented wood, little tables, silken awnings and screens, hanging lanterns of many colours, and swinging hammocks made of the place a fairyland; until suddenly, as she turned the last curve of the stream, she saw the marble building, built as it were by the waving of a magic wand, glistening in the silver light.
Imagine four buildings about the height of Buckingham Palace, without the attic windows, or whatever they represent, built to form a square of snow-white gleaming marble, with verandahs built out and supported by fairy marble pillars, so as to throw the lower rooms into complete shade; more fairy pillars springing from the upper side of the verandahs to support the wide edge of the roof, and so make a great covered-in balcony to the second floor.
The French windows, divided by columns of different coloured marble, terminated in perfect arches, studded with great lumps of uncut amethyst, turquoise matrix, and blocks of quartz in which dully gleamed the yellow of gold, reminding Jill somewhat of the outer decorations of a shop she had once seen in the Nevski Prospekt, the owner of which, dealing in objets d'arts, and precious bibelots of jade and sich, had quite successfully thought out the novel and expensive advertising method of plastering the front of his shop with chunks of the precious metal with which the bibelots were made. The drops of a myriad slender fountain jets, caught in the light of the hanging lanterns, sparkled and flashed like handfuls of precious stones, and an almost overpowering perfume filled the air from flowers only half-asleep.
A great gate of silver and bronze opened silently to admit them to the inner courtyard, only the rolling, glistening eyeballs of Mustapha, the eunuch, showing that there was any life whatever in the massive black hulk standing within the shadow.
Just for a moment the girl stood absolutely motionless, and then turned sharply as a noiseless shape stole past her, and purring loudly rose on its hind feet and laid its velvety paws upon the Arab's shoulder, dropping back in a crouching position as Jill, exclaiming softly, involuntarily stepped forward and laid her hand protectingly upon the man's arms.
It takes a long time to write, but hardly a second had passed before the great animal, snarling viciously, shot out its velvety paw, plus a row of steel-strong claws, and ripped the girl's cloak open from neck to knee. And then indeed did black Mustapha rise to the occasion, and in his master's esteem, as also without a sound he shot out an ebony black arm, gnarled and knotted like any centuries old bough of oak, terminating in an ebony black hand, which could have easily been divided between four normal men, and still left a bit over, and picking up the fighting, clawing animal by the neck, held it lightly at arm's length, whilst awaiting dumbly his master's order.
"Kill it," said Hahmed briefly.
And whilst Jill pinched herself to see if she was really there or no, the eunuch, with joy-filled eye, and teeth glistening in a smile of utter satisfaction, gently tightened his grip on the velvety, tawny throat.
There was a stifled growl, a click, and the dead animal was laid at the girl's slender feet.
"My favourite hunting cheetah, O! woman! Behold, Mustapha, shalt thou spread the news of its untimely end as a warning to all those who, by sign of hand or word of mouth or thought of brain, should desire to do harm to thy mistress. And even shall thou tell me how yon dead beast came to be prowling in the seclusion of thy mistress's abode."
Great beads of perspiration broke out on the face and neck of the scared man, as he salaamed deeply before his master, and knelt to beat his forehead upon the ground before the woman.
"Behold, O! master! And may Allah grant me years of life within the blessing of thy shadow. A slave returning from the exercising and feeding of four, O! master, of thy hunting cheetahs, came to me this noon full of idle curiosity. Behold, I spoke with him outside the open gate, and perchance yon dead brute crept in unnoticed, whilst I pointed out the evil of his ways and those of his ancestors; also, perchance fatigued and full of meat, the animal lay down and slept until she heard the tread of thy honoured footsteps; perchance also thy slave, fatigued and also full of meat, passing the hours in slumber, troubled not to count the animals in his care."
For one moment there was silence as the Arab stood looking at the trembling man, then Jill, laying her little hand gently upon the satin sleeve of him whom she loved, whispered softly:
"A boon, O! Hahmed! I know—I feel that you are planning the death of this wretched man. I ask his life!"
By this time Mustapha was prone upon his face, piling imaginary dust from the spotless mosaic pavement upon his woolly pate, scrambling to his shaking knees on a word from his master.
"Get to thy feet and make obeisance to thy mistress, who in her manifold bounty has saved this time thy worthless life. For behold, I had planned to give my people a holiday in which to see thee whipped round the wall of thy mistress's dwelling, until thou had died; then would thy black skin have been ripped from thy worthless carcass, and pinned to the ground before the camel paddock, so that in their goings in and coming out they would have befouled what remained of thee uneaten by the vultures."
And taking Jill's hand he crossed the square, leaving the eunuch absolutely gibbering with relief.
Through a massive iron door they passed into the house, Jill exclaiming softly at the beauty of the place. Room after room they traversed until they came to a standstill before a satin curtain. Hahmed lifted it and Jill entered a great room, the floor of which was of pink marble, covered in Persian rugs, their colouring softened in the passing of many, oh! many moons; the walls panelled in soft brocade, and great mirrors reflecting the simplicity of the exquisite hangings, the tint of flowers, the statuary gleaming half hidden in the corners, the great chairs, the piles of cushions, and the swinging lamps suspended from the ceiling by silver chains.
"I will explain, O! woman, how this house has been built, though verily would I have had your help in these past months, for how was I to know in what or which your desires lay.
"Behold, the rooms upon the level of the ground are rooms for your repasts, and rooms for receiving your guests; above are the rooms for your slumber, and your toilet, for the bathing of your white body, and for your entertainment. In the latter you will find all that appertains to music, to the dance, to the study of books, to the flash of the needle. Above again are the rooms open to the breezes of the night, screened by light screens to enable you, unveiled, to look out upon the world, and yet keep you hidden from the curious eyes of your many slaves who, under the rule of black Mustapha, live within the walls and near to hand to do your slightest bidding, but hidden until you call so as not to disturb you by their unseemly presence. They may not die within the wall, neither may they give birth therein, still less may they make merry without your permission. The slightest breach of your laws will see them flogged to death and cast out into the desert sand. One suite of rooms is pink, and one white, and one is palest heliotrope, and yet another black, and there are many others. May it find favour in your eyes. If perchance it pleases not, then shall it be razed to the ground, and rebuilt upon your design."
And Jill had walked through a building such as she had not dreamed of in her wildest fantasies, and having very sweetly thanked the Arab, had clapped her hands, and being of perverse mood, had indifferently bidden him good night, and entered the rose pink sleeping-room where the couch had been designed by love, and the colouring reflected by the great mirrors by passion; to slip from out her perfumed raiment, and step down into the pink marble Roman bath and hide beneath the rose-tinted waters, the rose-tinted glory of her perfect body.
And just as the dead cheetah was laid at Jill's feet, a huge bull dog, with a face like a gargoyle to be seen on the Western transept of Notre-Dame, and a chest like a steel safe, supported on legs which had given way under the weight, walked across from Sir John Wetherbourne, Bart., of Bourne Manor, and other delectable mansions, to lay his snuffling, stertorous self at the feet of his mistress, the Honourable Mary Bingham, pronounced Beam, in whose sanctum sat the man on the bleak November evening, and of whom he had just asked advice.
People always asked advice of Mary, she was of that kind. On this occasion she sat looking across at the man she loved, and had always loved, just as he loved and had always loved her, since the days they had more or less successfully followed the hounds on fat ponies. She sat meditatively twisting a heavy signet ring up and down her little finger. The finger, the one which advises the world of the fact that some man in it has singled you out of the ruck as being fit for the honour of wifehood, was unadorned, showing neither the jewels which betoken the drawn-up contract, nor the pure gold which denotes the contract fulfilled. Those two had grown up in the knowledge that they would some time marry, though never a word had been uttered, and being sure and certain of each other, they had never worried, or forced the pace. And then Jill had disappeared! Gone was their pal, their little sister whom they had petted and spoiled from the day she too had appeared on a fat pony, gone without a trace, leaving these two honest souls, in a sudden unnecessary burst of altruism, to come to a mutual, unspoken understanding that their love must be laid aside in folds of soft tissue, that they must turn the key upon their treasure, until such time as definite news of the lost girl should allow them to bring it out with decency, and deck it with orange blossom. And worry having entered upon them, they both suddenly discovered that uncertainty is a never-failing aperitif, and they both hungered for a care-free hour like unto those they had carelessly let slip.
Foolish perhaps, but they loved Jill, making of themselves brother and sister; hurt to the quick when after the debacle she had sweetly declined all offers of help, and worried to death when she had started out on the hare-brained scheme of earning her own living off her own bat.
Mary Bingham was one of those delightful women peculiar to England, restful to look at, restful to know. Her thick, glossy brown hair was coiled neatly in plaits, no matter what the fashion; her skin, devoid of powder, did not shine, even on the hottest day; her smile was a benison, and her teeth and horsemanship perfect.
Her clothes? Well, she was tailor-made, which means that near a horse she beat other women to a frazzle, but on a parquet floor, covered with dainty, wispy, fox-trotting damsels, she showed up like a double magenta-coloured dahlia in a bed of anemones.
Jack Wetherbourne was of the same comfortable and honest type, and they loved each other in a tailor-made way; one of those tailor-mades of the best tweed, which, cut without distinctive style, is warranted with an occasional visit to the cleaners to last out its wearer; a garment you can always reply on, and be sure of finding ready for use, no matter how long you have kept it hidden in your old oak chest, or your three-ply wardrobe, or whatever kind of cupboard you may have managed to make out of your life. Although no word of love had ever passed between them, you would have sworn they had been married for years, as they sat on each side of the fire; Mary in a black demi-toilette, cut low at the neck, which does not mean decollete by any means, but which does invariably spell dowdiness, and Jack Wetherbourne with his chin in his hand, and a distinct frown on his usually undisturbed countenance.
A great fire crackled in the old-fashioned grate, the flames jumping from one bit of wood to another, throwing shadows through the comfortable room, and drawing dull lustre from the highly polished floor and Jacobean furniture. It was an extraordinarily restful room for a woman, for with the exception of a few hunting pictures in heavy frames on the wall, a few hunting trophies on solid tables, some books and a big box of chocolates, there were no feminine fripperies, no photographs, nothing with a ribbon attachment, no bits of silver and egg-shell china.
Oh! But the room was typical of the Honourable Mary Bingham, into whose capable hands had slipped the reins controlling the big estate bounded on one side by that of the man opposite her.
"There is only one more thing I can suggest," said the deep, clear voice, "and that is that you go over to Egypt yourself. Who knows if you might not pick up a clue. Detectives have failed, though I think we made a mistake in employing English ones, they hardly seem tactful or subtle enough for the East."
Certainly one would have hardly applied either adjective to Detective John Gibbs, who, bull-necked and blustering, had pushed and bullied his way through Egypt's principal cities in search of Jill.
"How like Jill not to have sent us a line," remarked Jack Wetherbourne for the hundredth time as he lit a cigarette.
"Oh, but as I have said before, she may have had sunstroke, and lost her memory, or have been stolen and put away in a harem. She's not dead, that's certain, because she had her hand told before she left on her last trip, and she's to live to over eighty."
"That's splendid," was Wetherbourne's serious answer to a serious statement, as he rose on the entry of Lady Bingham, who, having at the same moment finished her knitting wool and the short commons of consecutive thought of which she was capable, had meandered in on gossip bent, looking quickly and furtively from one to the other for signs of an understanding which would join the estates in matrimony, a pact upon which her heart was set. And seeing none, she sat down with an irritated rustle, which gathered in intensity until it developed into a storm of expostulating petulance when she heard of the proposed programme.
On the stroke of eleven Mary got up and walked down the broad staircase, and through the great hall, and out on to the steps beside the very splendid man beside her, and they stood under the moon, whilst a nightingale bubbled for a moment, and yet they were silent.
"Dear old girl," said Jack Wetherbourne, as he pushed open the little gate in the wall which divided their lands, and waved his hand in the direction of the old Tudor house.
"Dear old Jack," murmured Mary as her capable hand reached for a chocolate as she sat on the window-seat and waited until she heard the faint click of the gate, upon which she waved her handkerchief.
Prosaic sayings, prosaic doings, but those three prosaic words meant as much, and a good deal more to them, than the most exquisite poetical outburst, written or uttered, since the world began, might mean to us.
By degrees Jill had become accustomed to the habits of the East, sleeping peacefully upon the cushion-laden perfumed divan, sitting upon cushions beside the snow-white napery spread upon the floor for meals, eating the curiously attractive Eastern dishes without a single pang for eggs and bacon and golden marmalade, revelling in her Eastern garments, from the ethereal under raiment to the soft loose trousers clasped above her slender ankles by jewel-studded anklets, delighting in the flowing cloaks and veils and over-robes and short jackets of every conceivable texture, shape, and colour, passing hours in designing wondrous garments, which in an incredibly short time she would find in the scented cupboards of her dressing-rooms.
Then would she attire herself therein, and stand before her mirror laughing in genuine amusement at the perfect Eastern picture reflected, and drawing the veil over her sunny head, and the yashmak to beneath her eyes, and a cloak about her body, would summon the Arab to her presence.
Which shows that knowing nothing whatever about the Eastern character, she merely added a hundredfold to her attractions, for if there is one thing a man of the East has brought to perfection, it is his enjoyment of procrastinating in his love-making, passing hours and days and weeks, even months in touching the edge of the cup, until the moment comes when, raising it to his lips, he drains it to the last drop.
To keep herself physically fit she had found strenuous recreation in two ways. Firstly, she had made known that her wish was to learn something of the dancing of the East, whereupon for a sum which would have made Pavlova's slender feet tingle in astonishment, the finest dancer in all Egypt and Asia had, for many months, taken up her abode in the beautiful house especially built for honoured guests just without the wall.
The supple, passionate Eastern woman found it in her soul to love the slender white girl who laughed aloud in glee, and showed such amazing aptitude in learning the A.B.C. of this language, especially reserved in the East for the portrayal of the history of love and all its kin. Presents were showered upon the teacher who, with the craft of the Oriental mind, in some cases forbore to fully explain the meaning of certain gestures, so that unintentionally a veritable lightning flash of passion blazed about Jill's head one night, when with the innocent desire of showing the Arab how well she was progressing in the art, she suddenly stood up before him and made a slight movement of her body, holding the slender white arms rigidly to her side, whilst her small, rose-tinted right foot tapped the ground impatiently.
"Allah!" had suddenly exclaimed the Arab, as he had seized her arms and pulled her towards him. "You would mock me, make fun of me, you woman of ice!
"How dare you make me see a picture of you in—ah! but I cannot speak of it in words, suffice that one day I will—Allah! you—you dare to mock me with a picture of that which you refuse me———!"
"I haven't the faintest idea of what you are talking about," had replied a very ruffled Jill, as with golden anklets softly clinking she withdrew to a distance. "If that is the effect of my dancing I will never dance for you, never!"
"But, woman, do you mean to tell me that you have no idea of the translation put upon your movements?"
"Evidently not," haughtily replied the inwardly laughing girl.
"That you do not know the movement you made just now meant that in the dimness of the night I—oh! I cannot tell you, but I swear before Allah that I—I, Hahmed, who have known no woman, will teach you the translation of every movement of all that you have learned."
Whereupon Jill, having seated herself upon the stuffed head of an enormous lion skin, murmured "soit," and proceeded to light a cigarette.
Her second and favourite pastime was riding, and, in as few words as possible, so that my book shall not ramble to unseemly length, I will tell you how the fame of her horsemanship had come to be spoken of, even in the almost untrodden corners of Asia and Egypt.
The whim seizing her, she would bid the Arab to her presence, sometimes to her evening repast, sometimes to sweet coffee and still sweeter music, sometimes to wander on foot or on camel-back through the oasis, to the desert stretching like a great sea beyond, and still beyond.
Everything, as you will note if you have the patience to get through to the end of this book, happened to Jill in the light of the full moon. On this night in question, clad all in black, with the moonbeams striking rays from the silver embroidered on her veil, and the anklets above her little feet, she seemed small and fragile, altogether desirable, and infinitely to be protected to the man beside her on the edge of the sand. Still more so when she waxed ecstatic with delight on the approach of two horses, one bay ridden by a man clothed from head to foot in white burnous, and a led mare as white as the man's raiment.
"Hahmed! O! Hahmed! Stop them!" had she cried, forgetting the ice out of which she had elected to hack herself a pedestal. "Oh, you beauty, you priceless thing!" she continued, when the mare, whinnying gently, rubbed its muzzle on her shoulder; whereupon she took the rein from the servant who had dismounted, and led the beast up and down.
Perfect she stood, the Breeze of the Desert, with her flowing tail high set, her streaming mane, the little ears so close together as to almost touch, her great chest, and dainty hoofs which scarcely deigned to touch the sand.
Bit and bridle she had none, her sole harness consisting of a halter with a leather rein on the right side, and a rug upon her back hardly kept in place by a loose girth. It seemed that she was of the Al Hamsa, which, being translated, means being a direct descendant of one of the five great mares of the time of Mohammed; also she was a two-year-old and playful but not over friendly, therefore was it astounding to see her as she listened to the girl's musical voice, and showed no fretfulness at the touch of a strange hand.
And then there was a quick run, a cry, and a rush of tearing hoofs! For Jill, in the twinkling of a star, had let fall the enveloping cloak, standing for one second like some exotic bit of statuary in her black billowing satin trousers and infinitesimal coatee over a silver-spangled frothy vest, her great eyes dancing with glee over the face veil. She had swiftly backed a few yards, and before either man or horse had guessed her intention, with a quick run and a full grasp of the great mane had swung herself into the native saddle, and was away over the desert to wherever the horse listed. Neither was there a second lost before the bay was racing after the mare; and Jill, riding with the loose seat of the native, turned and waved hilariously to Hahmed as he tore like the wind beside her, shouting something she could not distinguish in the rush of the air past her face.
Half-frightened, half-maddened by her own tremendous pace, the Breeze of the Desert laid herself out to beat all speed records.
Mile after mile flew under her dainty feet, whilst Jill by little cries urged her still faster yet, the all-enduring bay keeping alongside without any apparent effort, until at last the Arab, leaning forward, struck the mare lightly upon the left side of the neck, whereupon without slackening speed she turned instinctively in that direction, turning a little each time she felt the light touch, until Jill at last perceived the outline of the oasis and the figure of the Arab servant standing with folded arms awaiting the return of his beloved horses or not, as should be the will of Allah; being, however, shaken from his native calm when this woman when some hundreds of yards from him in a straight line, without stopping the speed of the racing horse, suddenly slipped from the saddle, remaining upon her feet without a tremor, whilst the "Breeze" stopped of her own free-will within a few feet of her attendant.
"And our master whom Allah protect," as recounted the native afterwards to an astonished, almost unbelieving bevy of listeners, "bringing his horse in a circle, suddenly picked up that woman rider. Yea! I tell thee, thou disbelieving son of a different coloured horse, a woman-rider, even she for whom the palace has been built; and swinging her across the saddle so that her feet, as small as thine are big, thou grandchild of a reptile with poisonous tongue, as I say her little feet hung down on one side, and her head, and may Allah protect me from the wrath of my master if I say that it was as the sun in all its glory, hanging down on the other, dashed into the night with her, but where it is not meet for me to know."
The "where," as it happened, being Jill's palace, in which, lying full length upon a white divan, with a small brazier of sweet smelling incense sending up spirals of blue haze around her dishevelled head, and an ivory tray laden with coffee and sweetmeats at her side, she promised never to run the risk of getting lost in the desert again, on condition that the Breeze of the Desert became her own property, and that she could ride untroubled whenever and wherever she liked; cheerfully promising also to have made a habit, or rather riding-dress, which, would combine the utility of the West with the protective covering properties of the East. After which she got to her feet, standing the very essence of youth and strength in the soft glow of the lamps, smiled into the Arab's stern face with a look in the great eyes which caused his mouth to tighten like a steel trap, clapped her hands and disappeared through a curtain-shrouded door without even looking back.
The recounting of which true episode has taken me from the evening when the sun had just slipped behind the edge of sand.
Jill sat motionless in a corner of her beautiful room, with a pucker of dissatisfaction on her forehead.
Jill, the girl who only a few moons back had taken the reins of her life into her own hands, and had tangled them into a knot which her henna-tipped fingers seemed unable to unravel. English books, magazines, papers lay on tables, the latest music was stacked on a grand piano, great flowering plants filling the air with heavy scent stood in every corner, the pearls around her neck were worth a king's ransom, the sweetmeats on a filigree stand looked like uncut jewels; in fact everything a woman could want was there, and yet not enough to erase the tiny pucker.
Months ago she had played for her freedom and lost.
This exquisite building had been built for her, horses were hers, and camels; jewels were literally flung at her feet.
She clapped her hands and soft-footed natives ran to do her bidding, flowers and fruit came daily from the oasis, sweetmeats and books each day from the nearest city. Her smallest whim, even to the mere passing of a shadow of a wish, was fulfilled, and yet———
A few months ago her mocking words had swung to the silken curtains of her chamber, and since then she had been alone.
Verily, there were no restrictions and no barriers, but the yellow sand stretched away to the East and away to the West, and obedience in the oasis was bred from love and her twin sister fear.
True, the girl had but to bid the Arab to her presence and the curtain would swing back.
But upon the threshold he would stand, or upon the floor he would seat himself, motionless, with a face as expressionless as stone.
By no movement, word or sign, could she find out if she was any more to him than the wooden beads which ceaselessly passed between his fingers.
Nothing showed her if he remembered the first night, when for a moment the man had broken through the inherited reserve of centuries. Had it been merely the East clamouring for the out-of-reach, longed-for West? Perhaps! Just a passing moment, as quickly forgotten, and against which forgetfulness the woman in her rebelled.
It had even come to her to lie awake during the night following the days in which the man had been away from his beloved oasis. The swift rush of naked feet, taking her as swiftly to the roof, where peeping between the carved marble she would look upon a distant scene, which could well have illustrated some Eastern fable.
Either the great camel would stalk slowly, solemnly out of the night, kneeling at a word; or a pure bred Arabian horse would rush swiftly through the palm belt, its speed unchecked as its master threw himself from the saddle.
She could even distinguish a murmured conversation between the eunuch and his master, guessing that he was inquiring as to her welfare, and issuing orders for her comfort, before passing out of sight to his own dwelling, she imagined, though she would rather have died than have asked one question of those around her.
She craved for the nights when he would send to inquire if she would ride, often from sheer contrariness denying herself the exercise she longed for.
In fact, feeling the mystery of love germinating within her, she showed herself rebellious and contrary, and infinitely sweet, surpassing in all things the ways of women; who, since the beginning of all time, have plagued the man into whose keeping their heart is slowly but surely slipping.
And as the shadows fell, so did the pucker of discontent deepen, and a tiny blue-grey marmoset sprang to the top of the piano, chattering shrilly, when a book swished viciously across the floor, and a diminutive gazelle, standing on reed-pipe legs, blinked its soft eyes, and whisked its apology of a tail when a henna-tipped finger tapped its soft nose over sharply, before the girl clapped her hands to summon her body-woman, who, as silently as a wraith, slipped into the room.
"Light all the lamps and come and tell me the news."
The little woman obeyed, and came to kneel beside the girl, gazing up at the fair white face with positive worship in her eyes.
"Great is the news, O! mistress."
The words were sharp, and the faintest shadow of a smile glinted for a moment in the native's eyes.
"Behold, O! beautiful flower! Unto us, the slaves of our great master, under whose feet we are but as dust, it has been told that he upon whom may Allah's greatest blessings fall, is about to take unto himself a wife."
Silence! Save for a little breath indrawn too quickly.
"Well, proceed with the wonderful news!" The words were icy, but a smile flickered for a moment across the native's face, and was gone.
"Behold has he, the greatest man in Egypt and Arabia, before whom all are but shadows, and unto whom is offered the love and respect of all those who live within the bounty of his great heart, yea! behold has he deigned to look upon Amanreh, the thirteen year old daughter of Sheikh el Hoatassin, second only in wealth and prowess to our own master. Fair is she and young, in very truth meet to wed with him who rules us with a hand of iron, bound in thongs of softest velvet.
"Beautiful, yes! beautiful as the day at dawn, and straight as yon marble pillar, and as delicately tinted, rounded as the bursting lotus bud, and fit to carry the honour of bearing her master's children! In a few moons it———!"
The word cracked like a whip through the scented room, but as the little hunchback crept swiftly through the curtains, the smile passed from the eyes to the mouth, as softly she whispered to herself:
"It is well done!"
Out on to the balcony and back, this way, that way, to and fro, paced Jill in her black room. Black skins lay upon the black marble floor, black satin cushions upon the skins. Curtains of scented leather, as soft and supple as satin, hung before the doors let into the walls of black carved wood.
A long couch of ebony, untouched by silver or by gold, stood under one of the gigantic black marble statues, which represented an Ethiopian slave or some wild beast, holding in hand or mouth a lamp with shade of flaming orange, the one touch of colour in the whole room.
There was no sound save for the occasional crackle of resinous log burning in a brazier placed in a far corner, before which Jill suddenly crouched, shivering, though the night was warm. Weary was she from want of sleep, weary was her heart from loneliness, weary her mouth, laden with unuttered words of the great love, which, day by day, hour by hour, yea! even from the moment she had turned to find her fate behind her, had been growing and expanding until naught was left of her but love and fear. For fear had been her companion in the hours of the night, which she had passed in restless pacing upon the balcony.
For two of these restless hours she had put on and discarded the garments within her cupboards, until she had found that which she desired. And an hour she had spent likewise in the adorning of her beauty, before she stood satisfied in front of her mirror. The voluminous trousers of softest black fabric, hardly revealing the exquisite whiteness of her perfect limbs, were caught by heavy golden anklets above the little feet, with henna-tipped toes and reddened heel.
Her bare waist shone like a strip of creamy satin above the belt and stomacher of black leather encrusted in black pearls, her arms were bare, also the supple back and glistening shoulders, but the rounded glory of her breasts was hidden by a covering of soft interlaced ribbon, sewn with pearls. Her hair wound round and round her head, and, fastened by great combs, shone like a golden globe, and over it she had thrown a flimsy veil, and around her a swinging cloak.
There was no touch of paint upon her face, nor did she, with the exception of her anklets, wear loose jewels, or the ornaments which cause that nerve-breaking clatter so beloved by the Eastern woman, and so superlatively irritating to the Western ear. In fact she was the most ravishing picture of delight imaginable, her first shyness and awkwardness of her unaccustomed attire having long since vanished, though, be it confessed, that until this night she had never intended that human eye should rest upon her loveliness.
But the earth of discontent and the waters of loneliness make fertile soil for the seeds of fear, even if those seeds be planted by the hand of a misshapen slave; but a little smile and a sigh of satisfaction had been the outcome of a prolonged scrutiny in a mirror, before which she had stood whilst quoting certain words which ran thusly:
"Beautiful as the dawn, rounded as the bursting lotus bud." And then she had shrugged her glistening shoulders and frowned, and smiled again, before stretching her long arms towards the silken curtains which, though she knew it not, gently blew against the figure of a man, who, prone upon his face, clenched his fingers in the soft stuff, striving to quieten the mad beating of his heart at the sound of the footsteps or the rustle of the raiment of the woman he loved, yea, and desired.
"Hahmed! Oh, Hahmed!"
As faint as the rose of the breaking dawn, as tender as the notes of a cooing dove calling gently to its mate, as soft as the touch of a flower-petal the words drifted through the curtain. With a whispered cry to Allah, his God, the man was upon his feet. With the strength of the oriental, which has its root in patience and its flower in achievement in all that appertains to love, he had uncomplainingly waited through month succeeding month, making no effort to further his cause by either word or movement, content to leave the outcome to the Fate which had inscribed upon the unending, non-beginning rolls of eternity the moment when that voice should break across the desert place in which lay his seed of love.
A rustle of the curtain, and he stood before the woman who loved and desired him, until her soul waxed faint within her.
For a space they stood, the light from one great lamp striking down upon the little veil-wrapped figure and the man in flaming orange cloak over soft satin trousers and vest of black, one huge diamond blazing in the turban upon his dark head.
Silently Jill pointed to a chair carved out of ebony, the ends of the arms representing the snarling face of some wild beast, with great fangs of ivory, and staring ruby eyes flashing in the lamplight.
As silently Hahmed sat down, never once removing his eyes from the girl who stood motionless upon a black panther skin, looking back over her half-turned shoulder at him for whom she was bidding against the unknown. Have you ever watched a rosebud unfold in the warmth of the sun, each petal quivering, widening, until the intoxicating scent of the flower goes to your head like wine as you faintly perceive the rose heart within?
In just such a way did Jill unfold her treasures to the Arab, sitting as some carven image in the shadow. The veil from her head slipped to the ground, leaving exposed her white face with its crimson mouth and shadow-laden eyes; slowly the cloak dropped from her shoulders, so that the whiteness of her skin blazed suddenly in the black marble room. For one long moment she stood before her master in the strength of her virginal beauty, and even as a faint sigh broke the stillness, she moved.
Do not imagine for one moment that she copied the strenuous movements of Salome as understood at the Palace Theatre, London, or the disgusting contortions of certain orientals born in Montmartre, and favoured by the denizens of Paris.
Of very truth she moved not her lower limbs at all, though her exquisite body swayed as if by a passing breeze, her little hands elaborating that which the body originated, the tiny feet punctuating the love story of both.
By one slight movement of her right arm she had told the man she loved him, by half-arrested gestures, a little shrug, an infinitesimal undulation of her body, a faint tapping of the left foot or the right, she described the delights of love, she who knew nothing, to him who knowing all, had denied himself all.
Heaven alone knows if she really understood that which she described; be that as it may, the man rose to his feet as she turned with outstretched arms towards him, moving almost imperceptibly from the waist, telling him that which her lips would not utter, until suddenly with a great cry he sprang towards her, and sweeping her into his arms, tore the coverings from her breasts, until indeed like a lotus-bud she lay silent upon his heart. For one second he stood, and then he raised her above his head upon his outstretched hands, so that the great pins fell from her head and the perfumed hair like golden rain about his shoulders, then he flung her upon the bed of cushions and stood above her with blazing eyes and dilated, quivering nostrils.
And then he knelt beside her, covering her gleaming nakedness with the cloak, and spoke softly in the Eastern tongue.
"I leave you, woman, to go and give orders for your journey to Cairo. There shall you become my wife, my woman, for behold, I will no longer wait.
"Let not your thoughts dwell upon caprice or tricks of woman, for if you say me nay, yet will I make you my wife, and force you unto me. But you will not gainsay me, for behold you love me, so rest upon your bed for the three weeks which must pass before the caravan is ready for the journey, so that in health and strength and surpassing loveliness you will come to me."
And having knelt to kiss the rosy feet, he withdrew from the presence of his beloved, and the English girl turned on her face and sobbed, and then, gathering her cloak around her so as to hide the dishevelment of her raiment, passed to the roof above to hold conclave with the stars.
It seems wellnigh impossible that an English maid could look with such equanimity upon the prospect of marriage with a man, an Eastern, of whom she knew nothing outside the tales and anecdotes recounted to her of his exploits and prowess, the which stood good to rival even the adventures of Haroun al Raschid.
As if an English girl, you will say, could ever dream of such a thing—a girl brought up in England's best society!
True! brought up within a wall of convention, with her ears for ever filled with the everlasting tag, "It's not done, you know," that shibboleth which for stultifying all original effort surpasses even the mythical but revered sway of Mrs. Grundy. A girl whose brain, and originality, and deep passions, must under the said circumstances and environment inevitably culminate in the same silver-haired, pink-cheeked, grandchildren-adoring old lady, who sees the regulation ending in England of the brilliant girl, just as she sees the end of the girl whose brain registers the fact that the seaside is a place to be visited only in August; whose originality finds vent in the different coloured ribbons with which she adorns her dogs and her lingerie; whose passions—oh well! who bothers about the little placid stream flowing without a ripple between the mud flats of that drear country habit?
No doubt about it, if money troubles had not given her the opportunity for which she had always craved, Jill would have finally metamorphosed her brilliant self into that dear old dame who is as beloved and ubiquitous and uniform as the penny bun. But seeing her chance she had clutched at it with eager out-stretched hands, and in all these months she had not had one single regret, or one moment of longing for peaceful, grey-tinted England, or the friends with whom she had visited and hunted and done the hundred and one trivial things wealthy beautiful girls are accustomed to do in England, and who in her case had continued their social career without breaking their hearts or engagements on account of the monetary debacle of their one time companion. Her instinct had not failed her in regard to the man who, without consulting her in any way, was even at that hour starting forth to arrange their marriage, and she troubled not her head with the thought of what might have happened to her if her instinct had failed her, though the chances are that rather than have even the outer petals of her womanhood bruised by the closing of a trap into which she might have placed her feet, she would have sent the vessel of her soul afloat down the great wide river ending in the ocean of eternity.
She was that most interesting and most rare cross-bred result of the elusive something, be it soul, imagination, or ecstasy which had turned a woman ancestress, created for the great honour of bearing children, into the nun, whose maternal instincts had feigned find solace in the marble or plaster child-image, and even that out of reach of those hands which should have trembled over swaddling clothes; and that passion for love and light which had driven the dancing wayward feet of a Belle Marquise ancestress from love to love, until they had come to a standstill before Madame la Guillotine, who bothered not herself with those two minute extremities.
So that on waking after sweet slumber, Jill kissed the misshapen slave upon the cheek and told her the news, whereupon the dusky little woman raised her eyes and hands heavenwards, gibbering like a monkey, albeit she had just left an excited coterie of serving folk who, in the mysterious native way, had become acquainted with the news of the impending function without the uttering of one word from those most interested in an event which would mean fulfilment of dreams to more than one of those who had, for months past, pondered and commented on the strangeness of their master's love-affair.
And Jill in the softest pink raiment sat like the perfect heart of a perfect rose in the scented coolness of the pink chamber, and passed the days designing garments of which it is useless to give a description, seeing that the womenfolk in Northern climes have only two notes on which to ring the changes of their wardrobe; the long, shroud-looking thing in silk or crepe de Chine or good honest nainsook, picked out in different coloured ribbons, or the romance killing, stove-pipe giving effect of the masculine pyjama.
From camel back Jill had watched the departure of the first caravan of swiftest camels, laden with gifts on their way to Cairo. The jangling of bells, the musical cries of the drivers, and the roaring and grumbling of the beasts, causing her to laugh aloud from sheer happiness; whilst the natives, many of whom had not seen the mystery woman their master was about to take to wife, fumbled with the packs so as to get a good look at the little figure, who, Allah! had intercourse with the man before the wedding.
"And may the blessings of Allah fall upon her, for it is not for us to inquire into the strange ways of our master upon whom may the sun shine, and beside whose path may a stream of purest water for ever run for long years has he lived alone, knowing no woman; may she whom he hath chosen be fruitful, bearing many sons, so that our children may live in the blessed shadow of our master's children for generation after generation."
That was the outlook of the happy oasis upon the most untoward proceedings, for in the East the betrothed child passes her life in the seclusion of her family until the very moment of the wedding, the man depending absolutely upon the words of his mother or female relatives as to the appearance and character of his future partner.
On the second day started, another caravan of camels, laden with the household goods with which the wealthy Eastern always travels, yet more caravans following, carrying the wherewithal of the enormous retinue with which Hahmed the Arab saw fit to surround his bride; the ensuing days passing in the preparation of the greatest caravan of all, that which was to take Jill to the place where, steam up, the great white yacht at the water's edge was waiting.
Hahmed and Jill were on the broad balcony the night before the start, the Arab lying at the feet of the woman sitting in an ebony chair covered with cushions of every shade of purple, with the faint haze of incense about her little head, and the light of a great love in the softness of her eyes.
Holding the hem of her cloak in his hands he made love to her by words alone, for in all the time since their first meeting, his hands had not held hers, neither had their lips met; but the music of his words served to send the blood surging to her face, then to draw it back to her heart, leaving her as white as the crescent moon above her.
"Tell me, O! Hahmed," she suddenly exclaimed softly, after a long silence, "will not your people think it strange that I, a bride, should have lived these many months with you? Will they believe that I am pure, will they not think harm of me, throwing your good name in shadow?"
The man raised himself so that his face was on a level with hers as he laid one hand upon her chair.
"Woman, I speak not in pride when I say that I, Hahmed the Arabian, have never sought and never desired the opinion of those about me. I do as my heart inclineth, let that suffice. Were I a poorer man these things could not be, but with my wealth I have bought my freedom, loosening the iron shackles of convention from about my feet with a key of gold. Wealth can accomplish all things.
"This oasis is mine because I was the only bidder with wealth enough to pay the exorbitant prices demanded, other oases are mine, and villages and tracts of rich lands. Also the respect of my neighbours, also are their tongues tied on account of my riches.
"I live for years without wife, or woman or child, they say no word.
"I marry a Christian and a white woman, and they will say no word; that she is my wife will suffice them, though doubtless whispers in the harems will not be all sweet, seeing that for years the quarry has eluded the traps laid by the henna-tipped fingers of relentless hunters and huntresses. Wealth! It buys peace and freedom, O! woman, so let not your thoughts disturb you. You will be the greatest woman in all Egypt and Arabia—but listen, some one sings the bridal song, which has come down to us unchanged from the time of the great Sesostris."
The love-song broke the stillness of the desert night with the suddenness and sweetness of the nightingale's call in the depths of an English garden, laden with the perfume of June roses.
So softly as to be hardly distinguished from a whisper, the wonderful voice called—called again and stopped, whilst the stars seemed to gather closer until the sky hung as a canopy of softest purple velvet picked out in silver lightings over the heads of those who listened to the call of love, and from very ecstasy were still.
Again, and yet again, the voice cried aloud to its hearts desire, rising like incense from some hidden spot in the village, twining among the feathery leaves of the palms to drop like golden rain upon the heart of some maiden, who doubtless sat upon her roof-top, modestly veiled if in company of friends or relations, but otherwise, I am positively certain, might be found peeking over the top of the balustrade as have peeked the hearts' desires from the beginning of all time.
Jill's face was white as death, as she too sat motionless, listening to the love-song, whilst her great eyes blazing like the stars above watched the man at her feet.
Closely veiled was she, for this was the eve of her wedding journey to Cairo, also had the spirit of perversity prevailed within her for the last month, causing her to resemble the coldness, warmth, eastiness, sweetness, and general warpiness of the English climate, sparkling one day with the dew-drop-on-the-grass-freshness of an early summer morning, to hang the next as passing heavy on the hand as the November fog upon the new hat brim; veering within twelve hours to the sharpness of the East wind, which braces skin and temper to cracking point, and to make up for it all, for one whole hour in the twenty-four, resembling the exquisite moment of the June morning, in which you find the first half-open rose upon the bush just outside your breakfast-room.
She was consumed with love of the man who lay at her feet, with the hem of her rose-satin veil against his lips, and her heart had melted within her as the love-song thrilled; and sobbed, and cried its love through the night; melted until she suddenly leant forward and stretching out her hand laid it for one moment on the man's dark head, whereupon he rose to his knees so that the dark beauty of his face was on a level with hers, the tale in his eyes causing her heavy white lids to close, whilst speechless she lay back among her satin cushions.
"Woman! O! woman! The touch of your hand is like the first breeze after the scorching heat of the day, and yet must I await your word before the love that consumes me may throw aside its coverings to stand in the perfumed freshness of the wind which maketh the delight of the desert dawn.
"Together we have watched the goings out of the caravans on their way to Cairo, laden with gifts and all that is necessary for the feasting of those who are invited to attend the marriage of one who, by the wonder of Allah's bounty, has been allowed to gather the glory of his harvest. In your graciousness you have troubled your heart with misgivings as to the outcome of a marriage between a Mohammedan and a Christian, and I have answered you that there are many such marriages in the East, of which great happiness has been the outcome, though not such happiness as shall well forth from the union of our love."
And the man rose to his feet, standing straight as a pine against the fretted wood-work of the balcony, and the girl watching him from under the half-closed lids, suddenly tearing the veil from before her face, sprang also to her feet, and stood against him with her face upraised, so that the glory of her red mouth came to the level of his shoulder, and the thudding of her heart caused the diamonds on the embroidery of her vest to flash in the starlight, and the perfume of her skin to scent the night air.
And the man bent down until it seemed that their lips must meet in this their first kiss, but instead he withdrew one pace, though the agony of love drew all blood from his face, until it shone palely in the gloom.
"Yea, woman, you love me, else would not your eyes be suffused with the pain of unsatisfied longing! Yet have I not said that until you come to me, and whisper, 'Hahmed, I love you!' until that moment I will not in love touch even the fairness of your hand, though as Allah is above us it taxes my strength to the uttermost shred.
"Perchance I am foolish, missing the untold and unknown delights of wooing the woman of my heart, but in such wise am I built. I will have all the fruit at the plucking or none, for where is the delight of the sweetest peach if the stem, the leaves, the bloom have been bruised by much handling.
"One day, nay in the stillness of one night shall I hear you call me—then, ah! Allah!"
The voice stopped suddenly, though the man made no other sign, when the girl before him, beside herself with anger which springs from love denied, suddenly struck him full upon the mouth, and then shaking from head to foot, with rage, and love, and fear, broke the deadly silence.
"Nay, man! In that you are mistaken, for you shall never hear my voice calling you in love. That may become the woman of your land, but not the woman from the West. I will marry you, for I will not bring derision upon a man who has treated me with such courtesy and gentleness. But love! Nay! better far buy some beautiful Circassian upon our wedding-trip, for surely you shall never hear my voice upraised in love!"
And gathering her swirling draperies about her, she made to depart, knowing that she had spoken hastily, making vows she could not keep for the very love she denied. Her hand was upon the silken hangings of her door when she was swung round by the shoulder to face the very essence of cold rage.
"So, woman, you are one of those who have ever hidden an inner chamber of perversity, for surely had I thought to have come to the end of your store of moods and whims. Listen! By striking me across the face you have but made my love the greater, but as Allah is above me, I will make you pay, as you say in your far cold country. You will come to me one day, because such love as ours is not to be denied, and when you come, for that blow I will bruise your lips until the red blood starts from them, and I will bruise your body until marks of black show upon its startling fairness, but above all will I bruise your soul with unsatisfied longings, and unrequited desires, until you lie half dead at my feet; then only will I take you in my arms and carry you to the secret chamber, which Fate has prepared somewhere for the fulfilment of my love."
And as the love-song died on the night, Jill passed slowly into the inner chamber, failing to see the man kneel to kiss the rug impressed by the passage of her little feet.
The Rolls Royce containing representatives of the Savoy and Shepherds in the shapes of beautifully gowned, handsome, placid, somewhat dull, the Honourable Mary Bingham, pronounced Beam, her friend Diana Lytham, and the rotund personalities of Sir Timothy and Lady Sarah Ann Gruntham, drew up behind the menacing hand of a policeman alongside a limousine containing representatives of Shepherds and the Savoy in the shapes of two rotund-to-be daughters and one thin son of the race of Gruntham, and the Honourable Mary's faded mother, who were all racing home in the search of cool baths, or cooler drinks, or a few moments' repose in a darkened room in which to forget the stifling half hours of a series of social functions, given in honour of Cairo's most festive week of the season, before starting on a dressing campaign against the depredations made upon the skin by flies, heat, sand, wind, and cosmetics.