Here he paused, swaying drunkenly.
Strange! The very same mirage presented itself to his eyes—blue sails, turquoise sea, feathery palms, white houses.
"By God!" he croaked. "Mirages—they don't last, this way! That's real—that's real water, by the living God!"
Up from dark profundities of tortured memory arose the cry of Xenophon's bold Greeks when, after their long torment, they had of a sudden fronted blue water. At sight of the little British consular station of Batn el Hayil, on the Gulf of Farsan:
"Thalassa!" he cried. "Thalassa, thalassa!" (The sea, the sea!)
THE GREATER TREASURE
New York, months later.
Spring had long departed—the spring of the year in which the Eagle of the Air had flung itself aloft from the Palisades, freighted with such vast hopes.
Summer was past and gone. The sparkling wine of autumn had already begun to bubble in the cup of the year.
Sunset, as when this tale began. Sunset, bronzing the observatory of Niss'rosh, on top of the huge skyscraper.
Two of the Legionaries—a woman and a man—were watching that sunset from the western windows of that room where first had been conceived the wonder-flight which had spelled death for so many a stout heart.
You could see great changes had come upon the man, as he paced slowly up and down the singular room, hands deep in the pockets of his riding-trousers. His hair was grayer, for one thing, his face leaner; a certain sinewy strength had come to him that had not been there before.
Some marks of suffering still remained on him, that not all of life could take away. His eyes looked deeper and more wise, his mouth more human in its smile. That he had learned to smile, at all, meant much. And the look in his eyes, as he glanced at the woman, meant vastly more. Yes, this man had learned infinitely much.
From a big, bamboo Chinese chair the woman was watching him.
Her eyes were musing, reminiscent. Her riding-costume well became her; and by the flush on her cheek you might have guessed they had both just come in from a long gallop together.
The costume gave her a kind of boyish charm; yet she remained entirely feminine. A kind of bronze mist seemed to envelop her head, as the dull-tawny sunset light fell on her from those broad windows. Near her riding-crop stood a Hindu incense-holder, with joss-sticks burning. As she took one of these and twirled it contemplatively, the blue-gray vapor spiraling upward was no more dreamy than her eyes.
"The invincible Orient!" she said, all at once. "It absorbs everything and gives back nothing. And we thought, we hoped, we might conquer part of it! Well—no—that's not done."
The man stopped his slow pacing, sat on the edge of the table and drummed with his fingers on the teak.
"Not at the first attempt, anyhow," said he, after a little thought. "I think, though, another time—but there's no use dreaming. Of course, it's not the treasure I'm thinking about. That was just a detail. It's the men. Good men!"
She peered into the incense-smoke, as if exorcising the powers of darkness.
"They're not dead, not all of them!" she exclaimed with conviction.
"I wish I could believe you!"
"But you must believe me! Something tells me some of our good chaps are still alive. All of them perhaps."
"Impossible!" He shook his head. "Even if they escaped the explosion, the Jannati Shahr devils must have massacred them." He shuddered slightly. "That's the worst of it. Death is all right. But the crucifixion, and all—"
"Cold reason paints a cruel picture, I admit," the woman answered, laying a hand on the man's. "But you know—a woman's intuition. I don't believe as you do. And the major—and that rumor we got from old Nasr ed Din, the Hejaz rug-merchant down on Hester Street, how about that?"
"Yes, I know. But—"
"How could a rumor like that come through, about a big, white-skinned, red-haired Ajam slave held by that tribe near Jeddah? How could it, unless there were some truth back of it?"
"He wandered away into the desert, quite insane. It's not impossible he might have been captured. By Allah!" And the man struck the table hard. "If I really believed Nasr ed Din—"
"I'd go again, if I died for it!"
"The pronoun's wrong. We'd go!"
"Yes, we!" He took her hand. "We'd trail that rumor down and have Bohannan out of there, and the others too, if—but no, no, the thing's impossible!"
"Nothing is impossible, I tell you, in the East. And haven't we had miracles enough? After we were judged pirates and condemned to die, by the International Aero Tribunal, wasn't it a miracle about that pardon? That immunity, for your vibratory secrets that have revolutionized the defensive tactics of the League's air-forces?"
She smiled up at him, through the vapor. "It's the impossible that happens, these days! The soul within me tells me some of our chaps are still alive, out there!"
She waved her smoky wand toward the large-scale map of Arabia on the wall.
"But Rrisa," said he. "About the others, there's no sense of guilt. I feel, though, like a murderer about Rrisa."
"Rrisa still lives!"
He shook his head.
"The incense tells me." She insisted. "My heart tells me!"
"Allah make it so! But even if he is dead, he died like the others—a man!"
"In pursuit of an ideal. We all had that, a dream and an ideal."
"Yes. It wasn't the treasure, of course," he mused. "It wasn't material things. It was adventure. Well—you and I have had that, at all events. And they had it too. They and we—all of us—we changed the course of history for more than two hundred million human beings. And as for you and me—"
He turned, looking at the map. Then he got up from the table, went to that map and laid a hand on the vast, blank expanse across which was printed only "Ruba el Khali"—the Empty Abodes.
"It would wreck the whole structure of civilization if we told," said he. The woman put back the incense-stick into its holder, got up and came to stand beside him. "Imagine the horrible, vulture-like scramble of capitalism to exploit that dyke of gold! There'd be expeditions, pools, combines, wars—we'd have the blood of uncounted thousands on our heads!
"It's not the treacherous El Barr people I'm thinking of. If they perished, as they would to the last man defending their gold, all well and good. But in case any of our men are still alive there, they'd be butchered. And then, the destruction of gold as a medium of exchange, by its gross plenty, would wreck the world with panics. And the greatest catastrophe of history would lie on our shoulders. That is why—"
"Why the secret must remain here," she said, touching her breast.
"But!" he exclaimed, and turned and took a pencil from the table.
In a bold hand he wrote, across the blank white spaces of the map, these characters in Arabic:
"Nac'hna arivna!" he exclaimed. "'We know!'"
A long silence followed. Both, with deep memories, were peering at those words, as the light slowly faded in the west over the Palisades. The man was first to speak.
"This secret is ours," said he. "I have another, that even you don't know!"
"You have kept something from—me?"
"Only until I have quite dared tell you."
"It isn't the mere, simple thing itself. It's the symbolism back of it. Maybe even now I'm premature in telling you. But, somehow—"
He hesitated. This man of action, hard, determined, strong, seemed afraid.
"Somehow," he added, "you and I-have come so near to each other-and tonight, here in this room where it all started, we have seemed to understand each other so well, through the revocation of the past, that—yes, I'll show you—"
He thrust a hand into his breast-pocket and brought out a small leather sack. Startled, she looked at it as he drew open the cord. He took from the sack a wondrous thing, luminous with nacreous hues.
"The Great Pearl Star," she cried. "Kaukab el Durri!"
"Yes, the Great Pearl Star, itself!"
She looked in silence. Then she reached out a hand and touched it, as if unbelieving.
"Why, you never told me!"
"I had a reason."
"And—through all that inferno, when every ounce had to be considered—"
"I was keeping this for—you."
There were tears in her eyes as he laid a hand on her shoulder.
"For you," he repeated. "It was mine, but it is mine no longer. This crown-jewel of Islam is yours, now—if you will have it."
"If I will have it!" she whispered. "There's only one thing in this whole world I more dearly long for!"
"I am offering you that, too," said the man, in a trembling voice. "I knew nothing of it, nothing whatever, until I came to understand what a woman really could be. I fought against it—and lost.
"It came to me not sought after and welcomed, but storming over the ramparts of my soul. Yes, I fought love—and lost."
"I understand that, too," she said.
"I put the Great Pearl Star in my breast, sacred to you. I said to myself: 'If we ever live through this, and I feel worthy to give this gem to her, I'll ask her to complete it.'"
"To complete it?"
"Yes. You see, one pearl was missing. The most wonderful of all. Now, as I clasp this necklace round your throat, the Great Pearl Star is completed."
"Ah, but I do! The missing pearl of great price-you are that pearl. In giving the Great Pearl Star to you, I make it whole."
"And I give it back to you, completed!"
Her head lay on his heart. His lips were on her hair.
"Completion," he whispered. "Peace, to the troubled heart. Peace, after the night that life has been to me. Peace, till the dawn!"
"'Peace,'" she said, in the line of the ancient Arabic poem. "'Peace, until the coming of the stars.'"
"'Peace,'" he breathed. "'It is peace until the rising of the day!'"