"In the morning," he said in conclusion, "I take Mr. Brockelsby home in a cab and get the two hundred dollars."
"Alas, alas!" said Achmed mournfully, his great liquid brown eyes resting sorrowfully upon Mr. Middleton. "What a corrupting effect the haste to get rich has upon American youth. My friend, it cannot be that you intend to take the two hundred dollars?"
"But I find old Brock, don't I?'
"That is precisely what you do not do. You know where he is. You put him there. How can you say you found him?"
"All right, I won't do it," said Mr. Middleton, abashed at Achmed's reproof, a reproof his conscience told him was eminently deserved.
"I thank Allah," said the prince, "that I am an Arab and not an American. The fortunes of my line, its glories, were not won in the vulgar pursuits of trade, in the chicanery of business, in the shady paths of speculation, in the questionable manipulation of stocks and bonds. It was not thus that the ancient houses of the nobility of Europe and the Orient built up their honorable fortunes. Never did the men of my house parley with their consciences, never did they strike a truce with their knightly instincts in order to gain gold. Ah, no, no," mused the prince, looking pensively up at the gaily decorated ceiling as he reflected upon the glories of his line; "it was in the noble profession of arms, the illustrious practice of warfare that we won our honorable possessions. At the sacking of Medina, the third prince of our house gained a goodly treasure of gold and precious stones, and founded our fortune. In warfare with the Wahabees, we acquired countless herds and the territories for them to roam upon. By descents across the Red Sea into the realms of the Abyssinians, we took hundreds of slaves. From the Dey of Aden we acquired one hundred thousand sequins as the price of peace. In the sacking of the cities of Hedjaz and Yemen and even the dominions of Oman, did we gallantly gain in the perilous and honorable pursuit of war further store of treasure. Ah, those were brave days, those days of old, those knightly days of old! Faugh, I am out of tune with this vile commercial country and this vile commercial age."
The prince arose as he uttered these last words and in his rhapsody forgetting the presence of Mr. Middleton, without a farewell he stalked through the great apartment, absentmindedly, though gracefully twirling a pair of pearl gray gloves in the long sensitive fingers of his left hand. A little hush fell upon the brilliant assemblage and many a bright eye dwelt admiringly upon the elegant person, so elegantly attired, of the urbane and accomplished prince of the tribe of Al-Yam.
For some time Mr. Middleton sat plunged in abstraction, toying with the three kinds of dessert he had ordered, as he meditated upon the words of the emir. At last rousing himself, he had finished the marrons glacees and was about to begin upon a Nesselrode pudding, when he heard himself addressed, and looking up saw before him a young woman of an exceedingly prepossessing appearance. She was richly dressed with a quiet elegance that bespoke her a person of good taste. Laughing, roguish eyes illuminated a piquant face in which were to be seen good sense, ingenuousness and kindness, mingled with self-reliance and determination. Mr. Middleton knew not whether to admire her most for the beautiful proportions of her figure, the loveliness of her face, or the fine mental qualities of which her countenance gave evidence. With a delightful frankness in which there was no hint of real or pretended embarrassment, she said:
"Pray pardon this intrusion on the part of a total stranger. I have particular reasons for desiring to know the name and station of the gentleman who left you a short time ago, and knowing no one else to ask, have resolved to throw myself upon your good nature. I will ask of you not to require the reasons of me, assuring you that they are perhaps not entirely unconnected with the welfare of this gentleman. I observed from your manner toward one another that you were acquaintances and that it was no chance conversation between strangers. He is, I take it, an Italian."
Without pausing to reflect that the emir might not be at all pleased to have this young woman know of his identity, Mr. Middleton exclaimed hastily and with a gesture of expostulation:
"Oh, no! He is not a Dago," and then after a pause he remarked impressively, "He is an Arab," and then after a still longer pause, he said still more impressively, "He is the Emir Achmed Ben Daoud, hereditary prince of the tribe of Al-Yam, which ranges on the borders of that fertile and smiling region of Arabia known as Yemen, or Arabia the Happy."
"He is not a Dago!" said the young woman, clasping her hands with delighted fervor.
"He is not a Dago!" said another voice, and Mr. Middleton became aware that at his back stood a second young woman scarcely less charming than the first. "He is not a Dago!" she repeated, scarcely less delighted than the first.
Mr. Middleton arose and assumed an attitude which was at once indicative of proper deference toward his fair questioners and enabled him the better to feast his entranced eyes upon them. Moreover, on all sides he observed that people were looking at them and he needed no one to tell him that his conversation with these two daughters of the aristocracy was causing the assemblage to regard him as an individual of social importance. He gave the emir's address upon Clark Street and after dwelling some time upon his graces of person and mind, related how it was that this Eastern potentate was resident in the city of Chicago in a comparatively humble capacity.
"His brother is shut up in a vermillion tower."
"Vermillion, did you say?" breathlessly asked the first young lady.
"Oh, how romantic!" exclaimed the second young lady. "A tower of vermillion! Is he good looking, like this one? Do you suppose he will come here? Oh, Mildred, I must meet him. And the imam of Oman is going to give the vermillion tower to the brother, when he is released. We could send one of papa's whalebacks after it. What a lovely house on Prairie Avenue it would make. 'The Towers,' we would call it. No, 'Vermillion Towers.' How lovely it would sound on a card, 'Wednesdays, Vermillion Towers.' We must get him out. Can't we do it?"
"If it were in this country," said Mr. Middleton, "I would engage to get him out. I would secure a writ of habeas corpus, or devise other means to speedily release him. But unfortunately, I am not admitted to practice in the dominions of Oman. But I do not pity the young man. One could well be willing to suffer incarceration in a tower of vermillion, if he knew he were an object of solicitude to one so fair as yourself. One could wear the gyves and shackles of the most terrible tyranny almost in happiness, if he knew that such lovely eyes grew moist over his fate and such beauteous lips trembled when they told the tale of his imprisonment."
Now such gallant speeches were all very well in the days of knee-breeches and periwigs, but in this age and in Chicago, they are an anachronism and the two young ladies started as if they had suddenly observed that Mr. Middleton had on a low-cut vest, or his trousers were two years behind the times, and somewhat curtly and coolly making their adieus, they sailed rapidly away, leaving Mr. Middleton—who was not the most obtuse mortal in the world—to savagely fill with large pieces of banana pie the orifice whence had lately issued the words which had cut short his colloquy with the two beauties. He deeply regretted that in his association with Prince Achmed he had fallen into a flowery and Oriental manner of speech and resolved henceforth to eschew such fashion of discourse.
The clocks were solemnly tolling the hour of midnight when Mr. Augustus Alfonso Brockelsby rubbed his eyes and sat up in the revolving chair in the main office of his suite. Mr. Middleton was standing near, hastily putting away a razor. A warm odor lay on the still air of the room.
"Hello, isn't it daylight yet?" asked Mr. Brockelsby. The hot cakes that had but lately been applied to his shaven crown, seemed to have dispelled the fogs of intoxication and he was master of himself.
"It is twelve o'clock," said Mr. Middleton.
"Twelve! Why, it was three when I left the banquet table. Twelve!"
"Twelve," said Mr. Middleton, pointing gravely to the clock on the desk.
"It—is—twelve. Don't tell me it is the day after."
"I am compelled to do so. You were at the banquet of the Sons of Andrew Jackson's Wars, twenty-four hours ago."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Mr. Brockelsby, thrusting his hands through his hair, or rather making the motion of doing so. "Great Scott!" he repeated, "I am bald-headed. What the devil have I been into? Where the devil have I been?"
"I found you here this morning. Your wife has been here."
"Oh, lord! Oh, lord! What did she say when she saw me dead to the world—and bald-headed?"
"She did not see you. I had concealed you."
"Good boy, good boy."
"She offered me two hundred dollars reward to bring you home," and Mr. Middleton related all that Mrs. Brockelsby had said.
"It would be all off when she saw me bald-headed. What the devil wouldn't she suspect? I don't know. I would say I didn't know where I had been. That would certainly sound fishy. It would sound like a preposterous excuse to cover up something pretty questionable. People don't go out in good society and get their heads shaved. She's pretty independent and uppish now. She said the next time she knew of me cutting up any didoes, she would get a divorce. She comes into two hundred thousand from her grandfather's estate in six months and she's pretty independent. Say, my boy, can't you take a check for the money she wants? She's going to Washington to-morrow. Tell her I went out of town and sent the money. I will go out of town. But the boys will see my bald head. Where do you suppose I was? What sort of crowd was I with? I must have a wig. You must get it for me. The boys would josh me to death, and if the story got to my wife it would be all off. I'll go to Battle Creek and get a new lot of hair started."
Mr. Middleton sat down and wrote busily for a moment. He handed a sheet of paper to Mr. Brockelsby.
"What's this? You resign? You're not going to help me out?"
"I am no longer in your employ. I will undertake to do all you ask of me for a proper compensation, say one hundred and fifty a day for two days."
"What?" screamed Mr. Brockelsby. "This is robbery, extortion, blackmail."
"It is what you often charge yourself. Very well. Get your own wig and be seen on the streets going after it. Leave your wife to wonder why I do not come to report what progress is made in the search for you and to start a rigorous investigation herself. I am under no obligations not to ease her worry, to calm her disturbed mind by telling her I have found you. She'll be hot foot after you then."
"She'd spot the wig at once. It would fool others, but not her. She'd see I had been jagged. You've got me foul. I'll have to accede to your terms. You'll not give me away?"
"Sir, I would not, in this, my first employment as an independent attorney, be so derelict to professional honor, as to betray the secrets of my client. We have chosen to call this three hundred dollars—a check for which you will give me in advance—payment for the services I am about to perform. In reality, I consider it only part of what you owe for the miserably underpaid services of the past three years."
As Mr. Middleton wended his way homeward, it was with some melancholy that he recalled how, on previous occasions when good fortune had added to his stock of wealth, he had rejoiced in it because he saw his dreams of marriage with the young lady of Englewood approaching realization more and more. But now they had drifted apart. Not once had he seen her since that fatal night. On several evenings he had made the journey to Englewood and walked up and down before her house, but not so much as her shadow on the curtain had he seen. Let her make the first move toward a reconciliation. If she expected him to do so after her treatment of him, she was sadly mistaken.
The Adventure of Achmed Ben Daoud.
Being curious to hear of the young ladies who had inquired concerning the emir in the restaurant, and to learn what their connection with that prince might be, Mr. Middleton repaired to the bazaar on Clark Street on the succeeding night. But the emir was not in. Mesrour apparently having experienced one of those curious mental lesions not unknown in the annals of medicine, where a linguist loses all memory of one or more of the languages he speaks, while retaining full command of the others—Mesrour having experienced such a lesion, which had, at least temporarily, deprived him of his command of the English language, Mr. Middleton was unable to learn anything that he desired to know, until bethinking himself of the fact that alcohol loosens the thought centers and that by its agency Mesrour's atrophied brain cells might be stimulated, revivified, and the coma dispelled, he made certain signs intelligible to all races of men in every part of the world and took the blackamore into a neighboring saloon, where, after regaling him with several beers, he learned that only an hour before an elegant turnout containing two young women, beautiful as houris, had called for the emir and taken him away.
"He done tole me that if I tole anybody whar he was gwine, he'd bowstring me and feed mah flesh to the dawgs."
Mr. Middleton shuddered as he heard this threat, so characteristically Oriental.
"Where was he going?" he inquired with an air of profound indifference and irrelevance, signalling for another bottle of beer.
The blackamore silently drank the beer, a gin fizz, and two Scotch high-balls, his countenance the while bearing evidence that he was struggling with a recalcitrant memory.
"'Deed, I doan' know, suh," said Mesrour finally. "He never done tole me."
Though Mr. Middleton called three times during the next week, he did not find the emir in. Nor could Mesrour give any information concerning his master's whereabouts. However, in the society news of the Sunday papers, appeared at the head of several lists of persons attendant upon functions, one A. B. D. Alyam, and this individual was included among those at a small dinner given by Misses Mildred and Gladys Decatur. As Mildred was the name of one of the young ladies who had accosted him in the restaurant, Mr. Middleton felt quite certain that this A. B. D. Alyam was none other than Achmed Ben Daoud, emir of the tribe of Al-Yam.
On the tenth day, Mesrour informed Mr. Middleton that the emir had left word to make an appointment with him for seven o'clock on the following evening, at which time Mr. Middleton came, to find the accomplished prince sitting at a small desk made in Grand Rapids, Michigan, engaged in the composition of a note which he was inscribing upon delicate blue stationery with a gold mounted fountain pen. Arising somewhat abruptly and offering his hand at an elevation in continuity of the extension of his shoulder, the emir begged the indulgence of a few moments and resumed his writing. He was arrayed in a black frock coat and gray trousers and encircling his brow was a moist red line that told of a silk hat but lately doffed. "Give the gentleman a cup of tea," said he to Mesrour, looking up from the note, which now completed, he was perusing with an air that indicated satisfaction with its chirography, orthography, and literary style. At last, placing it in an envelope and affixing thereto a seal, he turned and ordering Mesrour to give Mr. Middleton another cup of tea, he lighted a cigarette and began as follows:
"This is the last time you will see me here. My lease expires to-morrow and my experience as a retail merchant, in fact, as any sort of merchant, is over. On this, the last evening that we shall meet in the old familiar way, the story I have to relate to your indulgent ears is of some adventures of my own, adventures which have had their final culmination in a manner most delightful to me, and in which consummation you have been an agent. Indeed, but for your friendship I should not now be the happy man I am. Without further consuming time by a preamble which the progress of the tale will render unnecessary, I will proceed.
"Last summer, I spent a portion of the heated term at Green Lake, Wisconsin. I know that sentiment in this city is somewhat unequally divided upon the question of the comparative charms of Green Lake and Lake Geneva and that the former resort has not acquired a vogue equal to that of the latter, but I must say I greatly prefer Green Lake. I have never been at Lake Geneva, it is true, but nevertheless, I prefer Green Lake.
"The hotel where I stayed was very well filled and the manager was enjoying a highly prosperous season. Yet though there were so many people there I made no acquaintances in the first week of my sojourn. Nor in the second week did I come to know more than three or four, and they but slightly. I was, in truth, treated somewhat as an object of suspicion, the cause of which I could not at first imagine. I was newer to this country and its customs and costumes there a year ago. Previous to starting for the lake, I had purchased of a firm of clothiers farther up this street, Poppenheimer and Pappenheimer, a full outfit for all occasions and sports incident upon a vacation at a fashionable resort. I had not then learned that one can seldom make a more fatal mistake than to allow a clothier or tailor to choose for you. It is true that these gentry have in stock what persons of refinement demand, but they also have fabrics and garments bizarre in color and cut, in which they revel and carry for apparently no other reason than the delectation of their own perverted taste, since they seldom or never sell them. But at times they light upon some one whose ignorance or easy-going disposition makes him a prey, and they send him forth an example of what they call a well-dressed man. More execrably dressed men than Poppenheimer and Pappenheimer and most of the other parties in the clothing business, are seldom to be found in other walks of life. In my ignorance of American customs, I entrusted myself to their hands with the result that my garments were exaggerated in pattern and style and altogether unsuited to my dark complexion and slim figure. But in the wearing of these garments I aggravated the original sartorial offence into a sartorial crime. With my golf trousers and white ducks I wore a derby hat. For nearly a week I wore with a shirt waist a pair of very broad blue silk suspenders embroidered in red. All at once I awoke to a realization that the others did not wear their clothes as I did and set myself to imitate them with the result that my clothes were at least worn correctly. The mischief was largely done, however, before this reform, and nothing I could do would alter the cut and fabric.
"My clothes were not the only drawbacks to my making acquaintances. I was entirely debarred from a participation in the sports of the place. I knew nothing of golf. A son of the desert, I could no more swim than fly, and so far from being able to sail a boat, I cannot even manage a pair of oars. I could only watch the others indulge in their divertissements, a lonely and wistful outsider.
"Yet despite all this, I could perceive that I was not without interest to the young ladies. Partially as an object of amusement at first, but not entirely that, even at first, for the sympathetic eyes of some of them betrayed a gentle compassion.
"Among the twenty or so young ladies at our hotel, were two who would attract the attention and excite the admiration of any assemblage, two sisters from Chicago, beautiful as houris. In face and figure I have never seen their equal. Their cheeks were like the roses of Shiraz, their teeth like the pearls of Ormuz, their eyes like the eyes of gazelles of Hedjaz. Before beholding these damosels, I had never realized what love was, but at last I knew, I fell violently in love with them both. Never in my wildest moments had I thought to fall in love with a daughter of the Franks. Nor had I contemplated an extended stay in this land, and before my departure from Arabia I had begun to negotiate for the formation of a harem to be in readiness against my return.
"But I soon began to entertain all these thoughts and to dally with the idea of changing my religion, abhorrent as that idea was. At first I had been comforted by the thought that I was in love with both girls in orthodox Moslem style. But reflecting that I could never have both, that they would never come to me, that I must go to them, becoming renegade to my creed, I tried to decide which I loved best. I came to a decision without any extended thinking. I was in love with Miss Mildred, the elder of the two sisters Decatur, daughters of one of Chicago's wealthy men, and this question settled, there remained the stupendous difficulty of winning her. For I did not even possess the right to lift my hat to these young ladies. My affair certainly appeared quite hopeless.
"In the last week of August, an Italian and his wife encamped upon the south shore of the lake with a small menagerie, if a camel, a bear, and two monkeys can be dignified by so large a title. He was accustomed to make the rounds of the hotels and cottages on alternate days, one day mounted on the dromedary and strumming an Oriental lute, on the others playing a Basque bagpipe while his bear danced, or proceeding with hand-organ and monkeys. He had been a soldier in the Italian colony of Massowah on the Red Sea, where he had acquired the dromedary—which was the most gigantic one I have ever seen—and a smattering of Arabic. English he had none, his wife serving as his interpreter in that tongue.
"The sight of the camel was balm to my eyes. Not only was it agreeable to me to see one of that race of animals so characteristic of my native land, but here at last was a form of recreation opened to me. I hired the camel on the days when the Italian was not using him and went flying about all over the country. Little did I suspect that I thereby became associated with the Italian in the minds of the public and that presently they began to believe that I, too, was an Italian and the real owner of the menagerie, employing Baldissano to manage it for me while I lived at my ease at the hotel. I was heard conversing with the Italian, and of course nobody suspected that I was talking to him in Arabic. It was a tongue unknown to them all and they chose to consider it Italian. Moreover, one Ashton Hanks, a member of the Chicago board of trade, at the hotel for the season, had said to the menagerie, jerking his thumb interrogatively at me, as I was busied in the background with the camel, 'Italiano? Italiano?' To which Baldissano replied, 'Si, signor,' meaning 'yes,' thinking of course that Hanks meant him. 'Boss? Padrone?' said Hanks again, and again the answer was, 'Si, signor.'
"So here I was, made out to be an Italian and the owner of a miserable little menagerie which I employed a minion to direct, while myself posing as a man of substance and elegant leisure. Here I was, already proven a person of atrocious taste in dress, clearly proclaimed of no social standing, of unknown and suspicious antecedents, a vulgarian pretender and interloper. But of course I didn't know this at the time.
"I was riding past the front of the hotel on the camel one day at a little before the noon hour, when I beheld her whom I loved overcome by keen distress and as she was talking rather loudly, I could not but be privy to what she said.
"'Oh, dear,' she exclaimed, clasping her hands in great worriment, 'what shall I do, what shall I do! Here I am, invited to go on a sail and fish-fry on Mr. Gannett's yacht, and I have no white yachting shoes to wear with my white yachting dress. I've just got to wear that dress, for I brought only two yachting dresses and the blue one is at the laundry. I thought I put a pair of white shoes in my trunk, but I didn't; I haven't time to send to Ripon for a pair. I won't wear black shoes with that dress. But how will I get white ones?'
"'Through my agency,' said I from where I sat on the back of the camel.
"'Oh,' said she, with a little start at my unexpected intrusion, her face lighting with a sudden hope, nevertheless. 'Were you going to Ripon and will you be back before one-thirty? Are you perfectly willing to do this errand for me?'
"'I am going to Ripon,' I said, 'and nothing will please me more than to execute any commission you may entrust to me. This good steed will carry me the six miles and back before it is time to sail. They seldom sail on the time set, I have observed.'
"She brought me a patent-leather dancing shoe to indicate the desired size, and away I went, secured the shoes, and turned homeward. While skirting a large hill that arises athwart the sky to the westward of the city of Ripon, I was startled by a weird, portentous, moaning cry from my mount. Ah, its import was only too well known to me. Full many a time had I heard it in the desert. It was the cry by which the camels give warning of the coming of a storm. While yet the eye and ear of man can detect no signs whatever of the impending outburst of nature's forces and the earth is bathed in the smiles of the sky, the camels, by some subtle, unerring instinct, prognosticate the storm.
"I looked over the whole firmament. Not a cloud in sight. A soft zephyr and a mellow sun glowing genially through a slight autumnal haze. Not a sign of a storm, but the camel had spoken. I dismounted at once. I undid the package of shoes. From my pocket I took a small square bit of stone of the cubical contents of a small pea. It was cut from the side of the cave where Mohammed rested during the Hegira, or flight of Mohammed, with which date we begin our calendar. This bit of stone was reputed to be an efficacious amulet against dangers of storms, and also a charm against suddenly falling in love. I placed it in the toe of the right shoe. Unbeknownst to her, Mildred would be protected against these dangers. I could not hope to dissuade her from the voyage by telling her of the camel's forewarning. Ashton Hanks was to be one of the yachting party and he had shown evidences of a tender regard for her. Retying the package, it was not long before I had placed it in the hands of Mildred. With a most winsome smile she thanked me and ran in to don the new purchases.
"The boat set sail and I watched it glide westward over the sparkling waves, toward the lower end of the lake, watching for an hour until it had slipped behind some point and was lost to sight. Then I scanned the heavens to see if the storm I knew must come would break before it was time for the yachting party to return. Low on the northern horizon clouds were mustering, their heads barely discernible above the rim of the world. But for the camel's warning I would not have seen them. The storm was surely coming. By six o'clock, or thereabouts, it would burst. The party was to have its fish-fry at six, at some point on the south shore. On the south shore would be the wreck, if wreck there was to be.
"With no definite plan, no definite purpose, save to be near my love in the threatening peril, I set out for the south shore. By water, it is from a mile and a half to three miles across Green Lake. By land, it is many times farther. From road to road of those parallel with the major axis of the lake, it is four miles at the narrowest, and it is three miles from the end of the lake before you reach the first north and south road connecting the parallels. Ten miles, then, after you leave the end of the lake on the side where the hotels are, before you are at the end on the other side. And then thirteen miles of shore.
"So what with the distance and the time I had spent watching the shallop that contained my love pass from my field of vision the afternoon had far waned when I had reached the opposite shore, and when I had descended to the beach at a point where I had thought I might command the most extensive view and discover the yacht, if it had begun to make its way homeward, the light of day had given place to twilight. But not the twilight of imminent night, the twilight of the coming tempest. For the brewing of a fearful storm had now some time been apparent. A hush lay on the land. A candle flame would have shot straight upward. Nature waited, silently cowering.
"To the northward advanced, in serried columns of black, the beetling clouds that were turning the day into night, the distant booming of aerial artillery thundering forth the preluding cannonade of the charge. Higher and higher into the firmament shot the front of the advancing ranks in twisting curls of inky smoke, yet all the while the mass dropped nearer and nearer to the earth and the light of day departed, save where low down in the west a band of pale gold lay against the horizon, color and nothing more, as unglowing as a yellow streak in a painted sunset. Against this weird, cold light, I saw a naked mast, and then a sail went creaking up and I heard voices. They had been shortening sail. By some unspent impulse of the vanished wind, or the impact of the waves still rolling heavily and glassily from a recent blow, the yacht was still progressing and came moving past me fifty or sixty feet from shore.
"I heard the voices of women expressing terror, begging the men to do something. Danger that comes in the dark is far more fearsome than danger which comes in the light. I heard the men explaining the impossibility of getting ashore. For two miles on this coast, a line of low, but unscalable cliffs rose sheer from the water's edge, overhanging it, in fact, for the waves had eaten several feet into the base of the cliffs. To get out and stand in front of these cliffs was to court death. The waves of the coming storm would either beat a man to death against the rocks, or drown him, for the water was four feet deep at the edge of the cliffs and the waves would wash over his head. For two miles, I have said, there was a line of cliffs on this coast, for two miles save just where I stood, the only break, a narrow rift which, coinciding with a section line, was the end of a road coming down to the water. They could not see this rift in the dusk, perhaps were ignorant of its existence and so not looking for it.
"The voices I had heard were all unfamiliar and it was not until the yacht had drifted past me that I was apprised it was indeed the craft I sought by hearing the voice of Mildred saying, with an assumed jocularity that could not hide the note of fear:
"'What will I do? All the other girls have a man to save them. I am the extra girl.'
"I drove my long-legged steed into the water after the boat none too soon, for the whistling of a premonitory gust filled the air. Quickly through the water strode the camel, and, with his lariat in my hand, I plumped down upon the stern overhang just as the mainsail went slatting back and forth across the boat and everybody was ducking his head. In the confusion, nobody observed my arrival.
"'She's coming about,' cried the voice of the skipper, Gannett. 'A few of these gusts would get us far enough across to be out of danger from the main storm.'
"But she did not come about. I could feel the camel tugging at the lariat as the swerving of the boat jerked him along, but presently the strain ceased, for the boat lay wallowing as before. Again a fitful gust, again the slatting of the sail, the skipper put his helm down hard, the boat put her nose into the wind, hung there, and fell back.
"'She won't mind her helm!'
"'She won't come about!'
"'She acts as if she were towing something, were tied to something!'
"'What's that big rock behind there? Who the devil is this? And how the devil did he get here?'
"In the midst of these excited and alarmed exclamations came the solemn, portentous voice of the camel tolling out in the unnatural night the tocsin of the approaching hurricane.
"'It's the Dago!' cried Gannett, examining me by the fleeting flash of a match. 'It's his damned camel towing behind that won't let us come about. Pitch him overboard!'
"'Oh, save me!' appealed Mildred.
"There she had been, sitting just in front of me and I hadn't known it was she. It was not strange that she had faith that I who had arrived could also depart.
"'Selim,' I called, pulling the camel to the boat. I had never had a name for him before, but it was high time he had one, so now I named him. 'Selim,' and there the faithful beast was and with Mildred in my arms, I scrambled on to his back and urged him toward the rift in the wall of cliff.
"As if I had spurned it with my foot, the boat sprang away behind us, a sudden rushing blast filling her sails and laying her almost over, and then she was out of our sight, into the teeth of the tempest, yelling, screaming, howling with a hundred voices as it darted from the sky and laid flat the waves and then hurled them up in a mass of stinging spray.
"In fond anticipation, I had dwelt upon the homeward ride with Mildred. A-camelback, I was, as it were, upon my native heath, master of myself, assured, and at ease. I had planned to tell her of my love, plead my cause with Oriental fervor and imagery, but before we reached shore the tempest was so loud that she could not have heard me unless I had shouted, and I had no mind to bawl my love. Worse still, when once we were going across the wind and later into it, I could not open my mouth at all. We reached the hotel and on its lee side I lifted her down to the topmost of the piazza steps. I determined not be delayed longer. If ever there was to be a propitious occasion, it was now when I had rescued her from encompassing peril. I retained hold of her hand. She gave me a glance in which was at least gratitude, and I dared hope, something more, and I was about to make my declaration, when she made a little step, her right foot almost sunk under her and she gave an agonized cry and hobbling, limping, hopping on one foot, passed from me across the piazza to the stairs leading to the second story, whither she ascended upon her hands and knees.
"That wretched stone from the cavern where Mahommed slept in the Hegira! How many times during the day had she wanted to take her shoe off? She would ascertain the cause of her torment, she would lay it to me. It had indeed been an amulet against sudden love. I was the man whose love it had forefended.
"'Gannett's yacht went down and all aboard of her were drowned,' said one of the bellboys to me. 'Everybody in the hotel is feeling dreadful.'
"'How do you know they are drowned?'
"'Everybody in the hotel says so. I don't know how they found out.'
"'What's that at the pier?' said I.
"The lights at the end of the pier shone against a white expanse of sail and there was a yacht slowly making a landing.
"Someone came and stood for a moment in an open window above me and there floated out the voice of one of the sisters Decatur, but which one, I could not tell. Their voices were much alike and I had not heard either of them speak very often.
"'Do you think that one ought to marry a person who rescues her from death, when he happens to be a Dago and cheap circus man into the bargain? I certainly do not.'
"Which one was it? Which one was it? Imagine my feelings, torn with doubt, perplexity, and sorrow. Was it Mildred, replying scornfully to some opinion of her sister, or was it the sister taking Mildred to task for saying she wished or ought to marry me? How was I to know? Could I run the risk of asking the girls themselves?"
The emir paused, and it was plain to be seen from the workings of his countenance that once more he was living over this unhappy episode.
"I can well imagine your feelings and sympathize with them," said Mr. Middleton. "There you sat in the encircling darkness, asking yourself with no hope of an answer, 'Was it Mildred? Was it her sister? Was it Mildred contemptuously repudiating the idea of marriage with me, or the sister haughtily scoffing at some sentiments just professed by Mildred? But I should not have spent too long a time asking how I was to know. I should put the matter to the test and had it out with Mildred, Miss Mildred, I should say."
The emir looked steadily at Mr. Middleton. There was surprise, annoyance, perhaps even vexation in his gaze. With incisive tones, he said:
"How could you so mistake me? Ours is a line whose lineage goes back twelve hundred years, a noble and unsullied line. Could I, sir, think of making my wife, making a princess of my race, a woman who could entertain the thought of stooping to marry a Dago cheap circus man? Suppose I had gone to Mildred and had asked her if she had expressed herself of such a demeaning declaration? Suppose she had said, 'Yes,' then there I would have been, compromised, caught in an entanglement from which as a man of honor, I could not withdraw. The only thing to do was to keep silence. The risk was too great, I resolved to leave on the morrow. For the first time did I learn that I was believed to be a Dago and the proprietor of the little menagerie. This strengthened my resolve to leave.
"I left. Your happy encounter with the young ladies in the restaurant changed all. They learned from you that I was their social equal. They looked me up and apologized for their apparent lack of appreciation of my services and explained that they thought me a Dago circus man. I learned that neither of them believed in a mesalliance, that the question I had heard was a rhetorical question merely, one not expecting an answer, much used by orators to express a strong negation of the sentiments apparently contained in the question. But I have not yet learned which girl it was who asked the question. It is entirely immaterial and I don't think I shall try to find out, even after I am married, for of course you have surmised I am to be married, to be married to Mildred."
"Yes, another American heiress marries a foreign nobleman," said Mr. Middleton, with a bitterness that did not escape the emir.
"Permit me to correct a popular fallacy," said the emir. "Nothing could be more erroneous than the prevalent idea that American girls marry foreign noblemen because attracted by the glitter of rank, holding their own plain republican citizens in despite. Sir, it takes a title to make a foreigner equal to American men in the eyes of American women. A British knight may compete with the American mister, but when you cross the channel, nothing less than a count will do in a Frenchman, a baron in the line of a German, while, for a Russian to receive any consideration, he must be a prince.
"And now," said the emir, "my little establishment here being about to be broken up, I am going to ask you to accept certain of my effects which for sundry reasons I cannot take with me to my new abode. My jewels, hangings, and costumes, my wife will like, of course. But as she is opposed to smoking, there are six narghilehs and four chibouques which I will never use again. As I am about to unite with the Presbyterian church this coming Sunday, it might cause my wife some disquietude and fear of backsliding, were I to retain possession of my eight copies of the Koran. She may be wise there," said the emir with a sigh. "If perchance you should embrace the true faith and thereby make compensation for the loss of a member occasioned by my withdrawal——"
"That would not even matters up," interrupted Mr. Middleton, "for I am not a Presbyterian, but a Methodist."
"Oh," said the emir. "Well, there are five small whips of rhinoceros hide and two gags. My wife will not wish me to keep those, nor a crystal casket containing twenty-seven varieties of poisons. Then there are other things that you might have use for and I have not. I have sent for a cab and Mesrour will stow the things in it."
At that moment the cab was heard without and Mesrour began to load it with the gifts of the emir. At length he ceased his carrying and stood looking expectantly. With an air of embarrassment, and clearing his throat hesitatingly, the emir addressed Mr. Middleton.
"There is one last thing I am going to ask you to take. I cannot call it a gift. I can look upon your acceptance of it in no other light than a very great service. Some time ago, when marriage in this country was something too remote to be even dreamed of, I sent home for an odalisque."
The emir paused and looked obliquely at Mr. Middleton, as if to observe the effect of this announcement. That excellent young man had not the faintest idea what an odalisque might be, but he had ever made it a point when strange and unknown terms came up, to wait for subsequent conversation to enlighten him directly or by inference as to their meaning. In this way he saved the trouble of asking questions and, avoiding the reputation of being inquisitive and curious, gained that of being well informed upon and conversant with a wide range of subjects. So he looked understandingly at the emir and remarking approvingly, "good eye," the emir continued, much encouraged.
"To a lonely man such as I then was, the thought of having an odalisque about, was very comforting. Lonely as I then was, an odalisque would have afforded a great deal of company."
"That's right," said Mr. Middleton. "Why, even cats are company. The summer I was eighteen, everybody in our family went out to my grandfather's in Massachusetts, and I stayed home and took care of the house. I tell you, I'd been pretty lonely if it hadn't been for our two cats."
"But now I am going to be married and my wife would not think of tolerating an odalisque about the house. She simply would not have it. The odalisque arrived last night, and I am in a great quandary. I could not think of turning the poor creature out perhaps to starve."
"That's right," said Mr. Middleton. "Some persons desiring to dispose of a cat, will carry it off somewhere and drop it, thinking that more humane than drowning it. But I say, always drown a cat, if you wish to get rid of it."
"Now I have thought that you, being without a wife to object, might take this burden off my hands. I will hand you a sum sufficient for maintenance during a considerable period and doubtless you can, as time goes on, find someone else who wants an odalisque, or discover some other way of disposal, in case you tire——"
"Send her along," said Mr. Middleton, cordially and heartily. "If worst comes to worst, there's an old fellow I know who sells parrots and cockatoos and marmosets, and perhaps he'd like an odalisque."
"I will send her," said the emir.
"So it's a she," quoth Mr. Middleton to himself. He had used the feminine in the broad way that it is applied indefinitely to ships, railways trains, political parties etc., etc., with no thought of fitting a fact.
"I will give you fifteen hundred dollars for her maintenance. Having brought her so far, I feel a responsibility——"
"But that is such a large sum. I really wouldn't need so much——"
"That is none too large," rejoined the emir. "I wish her to be treated well and I believe you will do it. At first, she will not understand anything you say to her, of course, but she will soon learn what you mean. The tone, as much as the words, enlightens, and I think you will have very little trouble in managing her."
"Is there a cage?" hazarded Mr. Middleton, "or won't I need one?"
"Lock her in a room, if you are afraid she will run away, though such a fear is groundless. Or if you wish to punish her, the rhinoceros whips would do better than a cage. A cage is so large and I could never see any advantage in it. But you will probably never have occasion to use even a whip. You will have but this one odalisque. Had you two or three, they might get to quarreling among themselves and you might have use for a whip. But toward you, she will be all gentleness, all submission."
Mr. Middleton and the emir then turned to the counting and accounting of the fifteen hundred dollars, and so occupied, the lawyer missed seeing Mesrour pass with the odalisque and did not know she had been put in the hack until the emir had so apprised him.
"She is in a big coffee sack," said the emir. "The meshes of the fabric are sufficiently open to afford her ample facility for breathing, and yet she can't get out. Then, too, it will simplify matters when you get to your lodgings. You will not have to lead her and urge her, frightened and bewildered by so much moving about, but pack her upon your back in the bag and carry her to your room with little trouble.
"And now," continued the emir, grasping Mr. Middleton's hands warmly, "for the last time do I give you God-speed from this door. I will not disguise my belief that our intimacy has in a measure come to an end. As a married man, I shall not be so free as I have been. I am no longer in need of seeking out knowledge of strange adventures. The tyrannical imam of Oman, who imprisoned my brother, is dead, and his successor, commiserating the poor youth's sorrows, has not only liberated him, but given him the vermillion edifice of his incarceration. This my brother intends to transmute into gold, for he has hit upon the happy expedient of grinding it up into a face powder, a rouge, beautiful in tint and harmless in composition, for the rock was quarried in one of the most salubrious locations upon the upper waters of the great river Euphrates. I trust I shall sometimes see you at our place, where I am sure I shall be joined in welcoming you by Mrs.—Mrs.—well, to tell the truth," said the emir in some slight confusion, "I don't know what her name will be, for it is obviously out of the question to call her Mrs. Achmed Ben Daoud, and she objects to the tribal designation of Alyam, which I had temporarily adopted for convenience's sake, as ineuphonious."
"Sir, friend and benefactor, guiding lamp of my life, instructor of my youth and moral exemplar," said Mr. Middleton, in the emotion of the moment allowing his speech an Oriental warmth which the cold self-consciousness of the Puritan would have forbade, had he been addressing a fellow American, "I cannot tell you the advantages that have flowed from my acquaintance with you. It was indeed the turning point of my life. The pleasure I will leave untouched upon, as I must alike on the present occasion, the profits. Let me briefly state that they foot up to $3760. A full accounting of how they accrued, would consume the rest of the night, and so it must be good-bye."
As Mr. Middleton looked back for the last time upon that hospitable doorway, he saw the gigantic figure of Mesrour silhouetted against the dim glow beyond and there solemnly boomed on the night air, the Arabic salutation, "Salaam aleikoom."
What Befell Mr. Middleton Because of the Eighth and Last Gift of the Emir.
Getting into the hack and settling into the sole remaining vacant space Mesrour had left in loading the vehicle with the emir's gifts, Mr. Middleton was so preoccupied by a gloomy dejection as he reflected that a most agreeable, not to say inspiring and educating, intimacy was at last ended, that he reached his lodgings and had begun to unload his new possessions, before he thought of the odalisque. There lay the coffee sack lengthwise on the front seat and partially reclining against the side of the carriage. He was greatly surprised at the size of the unknown creature and began to surmise that it was an anthropoid ape, though before his speculations had ranged from parrots through dogs to domesticated leopards. Leaving the coffee sack until the last, he gingerly seized the slack of the top of the bag and proceeded to pull it upon his shoulders, taking care to avoid holding the creature where it could kick or struggle effectually, for despite all the emir had told him of the gentleness of the odalisque, he was resolved to take no chances. Whatever the creature was, she had slid down, forming a limp lump at the end of the bag, when he charily deposited it on the floor and turned to consult his dictionary before untying it. He was going to know what the creature was before he dealt with her further, a creature so large as that.
Odalisque. A slave or concubine in a Mohammedan harem!!
Mr. Middleton tore at the string by which the bag was tied, full of the keenest self-reproach. The uncomfortable position during the long ride, the worse position in which she now lay. The knots refused to budge and snatching a knife, with a mighty slashing, he ripped the bag all away and disclosed the slender form of a woman crouched, huddled, collapsed, face downward, head upon her knees. Turning her over and supporting her against his breast in a sitting posture, Mr. Middleton looked upon the most loveliness, unhappiness, and helplessness he had ever beheld.
For a moment his heart almost stopped as he looked into the still face, but he saw the bosom faintly flutter, slow tears oozed out from under the long lashes of the closed lids, and the cupid's bow mouth gave little twitches of misery and hopelessness. With what exquisite emotions was he filled as he looked down upon the head pillowed upon his breast, with what sentiments of anger, with what noble chivalry!
A Moslem woman. A Moslem woman, who even in the best estate of her sex as free and a wife, goes to her grave like a dog, with no hope of a life beyond, unless her husband amid the joys of Paradise should turn his thoughts back to earth and wish for her there among his houris. But this poor sweet flower had not even this faint expectation, for she was no wife nor could be, slave of a Mohammedan harem. No rights in this world nor the next. Not even the attenuated rights which law and custom gave the free woman. No sustaining dream of a divine recompense for the unmerited unhappiness of this existence. A slave, a harem slave, wanted only when she smiled, was gay, and beautiful; who must weep alone and in silence, in silence, with never a sympathetic shoulder to weep upon after they sold her from her mother's side. Tied in a bag, going she knew not whither, thrown in a carriage like so much carrion, in these indignities she only wept in silence, for her lord, the man, must not be discomposed. Like the timorous, helpless wild things of the woods whose joys and sorrows must ever be voiceless lest the bloody tyrants of their domain come, who even in the crunch of death hold silence in their weak struggles, this poor young thing bore her sufferings mutely, for her lord, the man, must not be discomposed, choking her very breath lest a sob escape. Mr. Middleton, in a certain illuminating instinct which belongs to women but only occasionally comes to some men, saw all this in a flash without any pondering and turning over and reflecting and comparing, and he said to himself under his breath, not eloquently, but well, as there came home to him the heinousness of that abhorrant social system dependent upon the religious system of the Prophet of Mecca, "Damn the emir and Mohammed and the whole damned Mohammedan business, kit and boodle!"
In this imprecation there was a piece of grave injustice which Mr. Middleton would not have allowed himself in calmer mood, for the emir was about to become a member of one of the largest and most fashionable Presbyterian congregations in the city and ought not to have been included in an anathema of Moslemry and condemned for anything he upheld while in the benighted condition of Mohammedanism.
Mr. Middleton continuing to gaze, as who could not, upon that beautiful unhappy face, suddenly he imprinted upon the quivering lips a kiss in which was the tender sympathy of a mother, the heartening encouragement of a friend, and the ardent passion of a lover. The odalisque opened her lovely hazel eyes and seeing corroboration of all the touch of the kiss had told her, as she looked into eyes that brimmed with tears like hers, upon lips that quivered like hers, she let loose the flood gates of her woes in a torrent of sobs and tears, and throwing herself upon his shoulders, poured out her long pent sorrows in a good cry.
It was only a summer shower and the sun soon shone. She did not weep long. Too filled with wonder and surpassing delight was this daughter of the Orient in her first experience with the chivalry of the Occident. She must needs look again at this man whose eyes had welled full in compassion for her. She would court again his light and soothing caresses, his gentle ministrations, so different from the brutal pawing of the male animals of her own race, the moiety with souls. Ah, how poignantly sweet, how amazing, that which to her American sisters was the usual, the commonplace, the everyday!
She raised her head. Her tears no longer flowed, but her lips still quivered, in a pleading little smile; and her bosom still fluttered, in a shy and doubting joy, and in her mind floated a half-formed prayer that the genii whose craft had woven this rapturous dream, would not too soon dispel it.
Mr. Middleton gazed at her. He had never seen a face like that, so perfectly oval; never such vermillion as showed under the dusk of her cheeks and stained the lips, narrow, but full. What wondrous eyes were those, so large and lustrous, illumining features whose basal lines of classic regularity were softly tempered into a fluent contour. A circlet of gold coins bound her brow, shining in bright relief against the luxuriant masses of chestnut hair. A delicate and slender figure had she, yet well cushioned with flesh and no bones stood out in her bare neck.
Moved not by his own discomfort on the hard floor, but by the possible discomfort of the odalisque, Mr. Middleton at length raised her and conducted her to a red plush sofa obtained by the landlady for soap wrappers and a sum of money, which having turned green in places and therefore become no longer suitable for a station in the parlor, had been placed in this room a few days before. Upon this imposing article of furniture the two sat down, and though at first Mr. Middleton did no more than place his arm gently and reassuringly about the girl's waist and hold her hand lightly, in the natural evolution, progression, and sequence of events, following the rules of contiguity and approach—rhetorical rules, but not so here—before long the cheek of the fair Arab lay against that of the son of Wisconsin and her arm was about his neck and every little while she uttered a little sigh of complete, of unalloyed content. What had been yesterday, what might be to-morrow, she was now happy. As for Mr. Middleton, what a stream of delicious thoughts, delicious for the most part because of their unselfishness and warm generosity, flowed through his head. What a joy it would be to make happy the path of this girl who had been so unhappy, to lay devotion at the feet of her who had never dreamed there was such a thing in the world, to bind himself the slave of her who had been a slave.
Then, too, he luxuriated in the simple, elementary joy of possession and the less elementary joy of possession of new things, whether new hats, new clothes, new books, new horses, new houses, or new girls, and which is the cause why so many of us have new girls and new beaux. And when he looked ahead and saw only one logical termination of the episode, he swelled with a pride that was honest and unselfish, as he thought how all would look and admire as he passed with this lovely woman, his wife.
He could have sat thus the whole night through, but the girl must be tired, worn by the sufferings of this day and many before. He motioned toward the bed and indicated by pantomime that she should go to it. She would have descended to her knees and with her damask lips brushed the dust from his shoes, if she had thought he wished it, but she knew not what he meant by his gesturing and sat bewildered in eager and anxious willingness. So arranging the bed for her occupancy, he took her in his arms and bore her to it and dropped her in. The riotous blushes chased each other across her cheeks as she lay there with eyes closed, so sweet, so helpless, so alone.
For a little season he stood there gazing, gloating, enravished, like to hug himself in the keen titillation of his ecstasy and this was not all because this lovely being was his, but because he was hers.
Glancing about the room preliminarily to leaving, and wondering what further was to be done for the girl's comfort and peace of mind, he bethought him of an ancient tale he had once read. In this narration, fate having made it unavoidable that a noble lord should pass the night in a castle tower with a fair dame of high degree and there being but one bed in the apartment, he had placed a naked sword in the middle of the bed between them and so they passed the night, guarded and menaced by the falchion, for the nonce become the symbol of bright honor and cold virtue. Mr. Middleton had often wondered why the knight did not sleep on the floor, or outside the door, as he himself now intended doing. But it occurred to him that some such symbol might reassure the Arab damosel and having no sword, he drew one of the large pistols the emir had given him and approached the bed to lay it there.
The girl's eyes had now opened and Mr. Middleton started as he beheld her face. Once more the hunted, helpless look it had worn when first he had looked on it. But more. Such an utter fear and sickening unto death. But not fear, terror for herself. Fear for the death of an ideal, a fear caused by her misinterpretation of his intent with the pistol. It had not been real, it had not been real. He was as other men, the men of her world and all the world was alike and life not worth living. With a finesse he had not suspected he possessed, he laid the pistol on a pile of legal papers on a table at the bed's head, a pile whose sheets a suddenly entering breeze was whirling about the room. How obvious it was he had brought the pistol for a paper weight. Once more the girl was smiling as he drew the clothes over her, all dressed as she was, and kissing shut her drowsy eyes, he left her in her virginal couch.
On the mat before the door in the hallway without, he disposed himself as comfortably as he could. With due regard for the romantic proprieties, he tried to keep within the bounds of the mat. But it was too short, his curled up position too uncomfortable, and so he overflowed it and could scarcely be said to be sleeping on the mat. It was too late to arouse the landlady and although he was there by choice, it could not have been otherwise.
After snatches of broken sleep, after dreams waking and dreams sleeping, which were all alike and of one thing and indistinguishable, he was at length fully awake at a little before six and aware of an odor of tobacco smoke. Applying his nose to the crack of the door, he finally became convinced that it came from his room. Wondering what it could possibly mean, and accordingly opening the door, opening it so slowly and gradually that the odalisque could have ample time to seek the cover of the bed clothes, he stepped in.
There sat the odalisque on the edge of the bed, fully dressed, puffing away at his big meerschaum, blowing clouds that filled the room. On the table lay an empty cigarette box that had been full the night before. This had not belonged to Mr. Middleton, who was not a cigarette smoker and despised the practice, but had been forgotten by Chauncy Stackelberg on a recent visit. The fingers of her right hand were stained yellow, not by the cigarettes of that one box, but the unnumbered cigarettes of years. Mr. Middleton had not noticed these fingers the night before, but had been absorbed by her face, and this as beautiful, as piquant, as bewitching as before, looked up at him, the lips puckered, waiting, longing.
He stood there, stock-still, stern, troubled, dismayed.
She moved over, where she sat on the edge of the bed, with mute invitation, and Mr. Middleton continuing to stand and stare, she moved again and yet again, until she was against the headboard. And still he did not sit beside her, thinking all the time of the young lady of Englewood whose pure Puritan lips never had been and never could be defiled by cigarettes and tobacco. The young lady of Englewood, the young lady of Englewood, what a jewel of women was she and what a fool he had been and how unkind and inconsiderate! Recalled by a little snuffle from the odalisque, he saw the puckered lips were relaxing sorrowfully and fearing the girl would cry, he hastily sat down beside her and put his right arm about her. But he did not take the shapely hand that now laid down the meerschaum, and though her head fell on his shoulder and her breath came and went with his, he did not kiss her, for that breath was laden with tobacco. Nor did his fingers stray through those masses of silken hair, for he was sure they were full of the fumes of tobacco. There with his arm about the soft, uncorsetted form of that glorious beauty, her own white forearm smooth and cool about his neck, he was thinking of the young lady of Englewood.
Poor odalisque! Why cannot he speak to you and tell you? You would wash away those yellow stains with your own blood, if you thought he wished it. Forego tobacco? Why, you would cease to inhale the breath of life itself, for his sake.
Out of the grave came all the dead Puritan ancestors of Mr. Middleton, a long procession back to Massachusetts Bay. The elders of Salem who had ordained that a man should not smoke within five miles of a house, the lawgivers who had prescribed the small number, brief length, and sad color of ribbons a woman might wear and who forbade a man to kiss his wife on Sunday, all these righteous and uncomfortable folk stirred in Mr. Middleton's blood and obsessed him.
Fatima, Nouronhor, or whatever your name might be, my fair Moslem, why did fate throw you in with a Puritan? Yet I wot that had it been one from a strain of later importation from Europe, you had not been so safe there last night. The Puritans may be disagreeable, but they are safe, safe.
Part of this Mr. Middleton was saying over and over to himself—the latter part. The Puritans are safe. The young lady of Englewood was safe. She was good, she was beautiful, too, in her calm, sweet, Puritan way. He must see her at once, he would go—— A sigh, not altogether of content, absolute and complete, recalled to him the woman pressed against his side. She must be taken care of, disposed of. Asylum? No. Factory? No, no. Theater, museum? No, no, no. He would find some man to marry her. There must be someone, lots of men, in fact, who would marry a girl so lovely, who needn't find out she smoked until after marriage, or who would not care anyway. All this might take time. He would be as expeditious as possible, however. He called Mrs. Leschinger, the landlady, and entrusting the girl to her care, departed to visit a matrimonial agency he knew of.
He looked over the list of eligibles. He read their misspelled, crabbedly written letters. There was not one in the lot to whom a man of conscience could entrust the Moslem flower, even if she did smoke.
"There is apparently not one man of education or refinement in the whole lot," exclaimed Mr. Middleton.
"That's about right," said the president of the agency. "Between you and I, there ain't many people of refinement who would go at marrying in that way. You don't know what a lot of jays and rubes I have to deal with. Often I threaten to retire. But occasionally a real gentleman or lady does register in our agency. Object, fun or matrimony. Now I have one client that is all right, all right except in one particular. He is a man of thirty-five or six, fine looking, has a nice house and five thousand dollars a year clear and sure. But he's stone deaf. He wants a young and handsome girl. Now I could get him fifty dozen homely young women, or pretty ones that weren't chickens any longer, real pretty and refined, but you see a real handsome young girl sort of figures her chances of marrying are good, that she may catch a man who can hear worth as much as this Crayburn, which ain't a whole lot, or that if she does marry a poor young chap, he'll have as much as Crayburn does when he is as old as Crayburn. Now I'm so sure you'll only have your trouble for your pains, that I won't charge you anything for his address and a letter of introduction. I don't believe you have got a girl who will suit, for if you have, she won't take Crayburn. Here's his picture."
Mr. Middleton looked upon the photograph of a man who seemed to be possessed of some of the best qualities of manhood. It was true that there was a slight suspicion of weakness in the face, but above all it was kindly and sympathetic.
"A good looking man," said Mr. Middleton.
"Smart man, too," said the matrimonial agent. "He graduated from the university in Evanston and was a lawyer and a good one, until a friend fired off one of those big duck guns in his ear for a joke."
Taking the odalisque with him in a cab, Mr. Middleton was off for the residence of Mr. Crayburn.
"Will she have me?" asked Mr. Crayburn, when he had read Mr. Middleton's hastily penciled account of the main facts of his connection with the fair Moslem, wherein for brevity's sake he had omitted any mention of the fifteen hundred dollars the emir had given him for assuming charge of her.
"Of course," wrote Mr. Middleton.
"I never saw a more beautiful woman," exclaimed Mr. Crayburn. "By the way, have you noticed any predilections, habits, wants, it would be well for me to know about?"
"She smokes," wrote Mr. Middleton, not knowing why he wrote it, and wishing like the devil that he hadn't the moment he had.
"All Oriental women smoke. I will ask her not to as soon as she learns English."
Mr. Middleton was amazed to think that such a simple solution had not occurred to him. But he was glad it was so, for he had not been unscathed by Cupid's darts there last night and he might not now be about to visit the young lady of Englewood.
"Your fee," said Mr. Crayburn.
Mr. Middleton had not thought of this. He looked about at the handsomely furnished room. He thought of the five thousand dollars a year and the very much smaller income he could offer the young lady of Englewood. He thought of these things and other things. He thought of the young lady of Englewood; of the odalisque, toward whom he occupied the position of what is known in law as next friend. She sat behind him, out of his sight, but he saw her, saw her as he saw her for the first time, when, ripping the bag away, she lay there in her piteous, appealing helplessness.
"There is no fee. The maiden even has a dowry of fifteen hundred dollars. Please invest it in her name. Oh, sir, treat her kindly."
"Treat her kindly!" exclaimed the deaf man with emotion. "He would be a hound who could ill treat one so helpless and friendless, a stranger in a strange land, whose very beauty would be her undoing, were she without a protector."
Much relieved, Mr. Middleton prepared to depart and the odalisque saw she was not to be included in his departure. She noted the luxurious appointments of the house, so different from the threadbare and seedy furnishings of Mr. Middleton's one lone room, but rather a thousand times would she have been there. A tumult of yearning and love filled her heart, but beyond the slow tears in her eyes and the trembling lips, no one could have guessed it. Once more she was a Moslem slave, sold by the man whom last night she had thought——She bowed to kismet and strangled her feelings as she had so many times before. And so after a shake of the hand, Mr. Middleton left her, left her to learn as the idol of Mr. Crayburn's life, with every whim gratified, that the first American she had known was but one of millions.
Away toward Englewood hastened Mr. Middleton, reasoning with himself in a somewhat casuistical manner. His conscience smote him as he thought of the previous night. But what else could anybody have done? Deprived of the power of communicating by the means of words, he had by caresses assuaged her grief and stilled her fears and now it was too plain he had made her love him and he had left her in desolation. But heigho! what was the use of repining over spilled milk and nicotined fingers that another man and good would care for, and he himself had not been unscathed by Cupid's darts there the night before.
The young lady of Englewood was just putting on her hat to go out and was standing before the mirror in the hallway. Mr. Middleton had never called at that hour of the day. For months he had not called at all and she never expected that he would again. So without any apprehension at all, she was wearing one of the green silk shirt waists she had made from the Turkish trousers he had given her, and had just got her hat placed to suit her, when there he was!
She turned, blushing furiously. Whether it was the confusion caused her by being discovered in this shirt waist, or the joy of seeing him again and the complete surrender, she made in this joy, so delectable and unexpected and which was not unmixed with a little fear that if he went away this time, he would never come back again, never! whether it was these things or what not, she made no struggle at all as Mr. Middleton threw his arms about her, threw them about her as if she were to rescue him from some fate, and though he said nothing intelligible for some time, but kissed her lips, cheeks, and nose, which latter she had been at pains to powder against the hot sun then prevailing, she made no resistance at all and breathed an audible "yes," when he uttered a few incoherent remarks which might be interpreted as a proposal of marriage.
Here let us leave him, for all else would be anti-climax to this supreme moment of his life. Here let us leave him where I wish every deserving bachelor may some day be: in the arms of an honest and loving woman who is his affianced wife.