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Title: Six Women
Author: Cross, Victoria, 1868-1952
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Six Women" ***

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 Six Women


 By
 VICTORIA CROSS


 NEW YORK
 MITCHELL KENNERLEY


       *       *       *       *       *

     _BY VICTORIA CROSS_

     LIFE'S SHOP WINDOW
     ANNA LOMBARD
     SIX WOMEN
     SIX CHAPTERS OF A MAN'S LIFE
     THE WOMAN WHO DIDN'T
     TO-MORROW?
     PAULA
     A GIRL OF THE KLONDIKE
     THE RELIGION OF EVELYN HASTINGS
     LIFE OF MY HEART

       *       *       *       *       *


     DEDICATED TO
     H.M.G. AND E.F.C.
     AND OUR MEMORIES OF THE EAST.



SIX WOMEN



I

CHAPTER I


Listless and despondent, feeling that he hated everything in life,
Hamilton walked slowly down the street. The air was heavy, and the
sun beat down furiously on the yellow cotton awnings stretched over
his head. Clouds of dust rose in the roadway as the white bullocks
shuffled along, drawing their creaking wooden carts, and swarms of
flies buzzed noisily in the yellow, dusty sunshine. Hamilton went
on aimlessly; he was hot, he was tired, his eyes and head ached, he
was thirsty; but all these disagreeable sensations were nothing
beside the intense mental nausea that filled him, a nausea of life.
It rose up in and pervaded him, uncontrollable as a physical
malady. In vain he called upon his philosophy; he had practised it
so long that it was worn out. Like an old mantle from the
shoulders, it fell from him in rags, and he was glad. He felt he
hated his philosophy only less than he hated life--hated, yet
desired as the man hates a mistress he covets, and has never yet
possessed. "Never had anything, never done anything, never felt
anything decent yet," he mused.

He was an exceptionally handsome and attractive individual, and
though in reality forty years of age, he had the figure, the look,
and air of twenty-eight. Masses of black hair, without a white
thread, waved above a beautifully-cut and modelled face, of which
the clear bronze skin, with its warm colour in the cheeks, was not
the least striking feature. He was about six feet or a little over
in height, and had a wonderfully lithe, well-knit figure, and a
carriage full of grace and dignity. A bright, charming smile that
came easily to his face, and an air of absolute unconsciousness of
his own good looks, completed the armoury of weapons Venus had
endowed him with for breaking hearts. But Hamilton neglected his
vocation: he broke none. He got up early, and slaved away at his
duties for the Indian Civil Government in his office all day, and
went to bed dead tired at night, with nothing but a dreary
consciousness of duty done and more duty waiting for him the
following day, as a sleeping companion.

Hamilton's life had been ruined by an early and an unsuccessful
marriage. At twenty, when full of the early, divine fires of life,
he had married a girl of his own age and rank, dazzled by the
beauty she then, in his eyes, possessed, and in that amazing
blindness to character that make women view men with wondering
contempt. His blindness, however, ended with the ceremony. On his
wedding-night the woman, who, it must be admitted, had acted her
part of loving submissiveness, of gentle devotion, admirably,
mocked at him and his genuine, ardent passion.

How well he had always remembered her words to him as they stood
face to face in the chilly whiteness of an English bridal chamber
in midwinter! "It's no use, dear, I don't want any of this sort of
thing. It seems to me coarse and stupid, and I don't want the
bother of a dozen babies. I married because I wanted the position
of a married woman, and a nice presentable man to go about with in
society. Besides, things were not satisfactory at home, and I
wanted a man to keep me, and all that. But I don't see why you
should get into such a state of mind about it. I will keep house,
and be perfectly good and amiable, and we can go about together, of
course; only I want to keep my own room."

And how well he remembered her as she stood there, shattering his
life with her cold, light words--a tall, slim girl, in her white
dinner dress! She had been very fair then, with a quantity of soft
flaxen hair, which shortly after she had taken to dyeing--a thing
he had always hated. She had a small, heart-shaped face, so light
in colour as to suggest anæmia, with a high, thin nose, of which
the nostrils were excessively pinched together, a short upper lip,
and a thick, quite colourless mouth, small when closed, when she
laughed opening wide far back to her throat, showing, as it seemed,
an infinite quantity of long, narrow, white, wolf-like teeth.

How hideous she had suddenly appeared to him in those moments, seen
through the dark waves of passion she rolled back upon him! In the
hot, rosy glow she had deliberately conjured up before his eyes of
love and love returned he had thought her beautiful. Now, as she
took the veil from her mean, base mind, it fell also from her
beauty, and he saw her ugly, as she really was, body and soul.
Stunned and amazed, loathing his own folly, his own blindness,
condemning these more than he did her cruelty, Hamilton had
listened in silence while she revealed herself. When the first
shock was over, he had set himself to talk and reason with her.
Naturally intensely kind and sympathetic, it was easy for him to
see another's view, to put himself in another's place. He blamed
himself at once, more than her, for the position he now found
himself in. And patiently he tried to understand it, to find the
clue, if possible, to remedy it. He reasoned long and gently with
her, but she, knowing well the generous nature she had to deal
with, yielded not an inch. Hamilton was not the man to use force or
violence. The passions of the body, divested of their soul, were
nothing to him. On that night she struck down within him all desire
for or interest in her. He left her at last, and withdrew to
another room, where he sat through the remaining hours of the
night, looking into the face of his future.

Shortly after, he had left for India, the corpse of dead passion
within his breast. He made a confident of no one, told no one of
his secret burden, remitted half his pay regularly to his wife with
that obedience to custom and duty as the world sees it, with that
quiet dutifulness that is so astounding to the onlooker, but
characteristic of so many Englishmen, and threw himself into his
work, avoiding women and personal relations with them.

Such a life as this invariably calls down the anger of Venus, and
Hamilton had worn out by now the patience of the goddess.

The tragedy of Euripides' Hippolytus is called a myth, but that
same tragedy is played out over and over again, year by year, in
all time, and is as true now as it was then. The slighted goddess
takes her revenge at last. As he walked on, the sound of some
tom-toms dulled by distance came to his ears. He hesitated at a
crossing where a side alley led down towards the bazaar, then
without thought or intention walked down the turning, the music
growing louder as he advanced.

It came from a house some way lower down, before the open door of
which hung a large white sheet with scarlet letters on it. Hamilton
glanced up and read on it, "Dancing girls from the Deccan.
Admission, six annas. Walk in." He stared dully at it till the red
letters danced in the fierce, torrid sunlight, and the flies,
finding him standing motionless, came thickly round his face. A
puff of hot wind blew down the street, bringing the dust: it lifted
a corner of the sheet and turned it back from the doorway. Within
looked cool and dark. The entry was a square of darkness. He was
tired of the sun, the heat, the noise, the dust and the flies. With
no thought other than seeking for shelter, he stepped behind the
sheet and was in the darkness; a turnstile barred his way: on the
top of it he laid down his six annas, his eyes too full of the
yellow glare of the outside to see whom he paid: he felt the
turnstile yield, and stumbled on in the obscurity. A hand pushed
him between two curtains. Then he found himself in a low square
room, and could see about him again by the subdued light of oil
lamps fixed against the wall. At one end was the small stage, its
scarlet curtain now down; in front a row of tin lamps, primitive
footlights, and the rest of the room was filled with rows of empty
chairs. Mechanically and without interest, Hamilton went forward
and seated himself in the first of these rows. The tom-toms had
ceased: there was quiet, an interval of rest presumably for the
dancers. It was far cooler than outside, and Hamilton breathed a
sigh of relief as he sank into his seat. The dimness of the light,
the quiet, the coolness all pleased him: he had not known till he
sat down how tired he was. He might have sat there a quarter of an
hour, his mind in that state of hopeless blank that supervenes on
overmuch unsatisfactory thinking, when suddenly the tom-toms
started up again with a terrific rattle, and the scarlet curtain
was somewhat spasmodically jerked up, displaying a semicircle of
girls seated on European chairs facing the tin lamps. Two of the
seven were African girls, with the woolly hair and jet black skin
of their race; they were seated one at each end of the semicircle,
dressed in short scarlet skirts, standing out from their waist in
English ballet-girl fashion, the upper part of their bodies bare,
except for the masses of coloured glass necklaces covering their
breast from throat to waist. The next pair of girls seemed to
represent Spanish dancers, and were in ankle-long black and yellow
dresses, little yellow caps with bells depending from them sat in
amongst their masses of black hair, and they held languidly to
their sides their tambourines and castenets. Next on the chairs sat
two strictly Eastern dancers in transparent pale green gauzy
clothing held into waist and each ankle by jeweled bands. Their
pale ivory bodies shone through the filmy green muslin as the moon
shines clearly in green water, and the jewels blazed like stars
with red and blue fires at each movement of their limbs. Their
heads were crowned simply with white clematis, and the glory of
their straight-featured Circassian faces, together with the
unrivalled contours of softly moulded throat and breast and perfect
limbs, veiled only so much as a light mist may veil, would have
taken the breath away of the most inveterate frequenter of the
Alhambra and Empire in dull old England. Hamilton drew in his
breath with a little start as he first saw the semicircle, but it
was not on the Circassians that his eyes were fixed, but on the
very centre figure of that beautiful half-moon. Set in the centre,
she seemed to be considered the pearl amongst them, as indeed she
was. The mist that enveloped her was not pale green as the veils of
the other two, but white, and the beautiful perfect form that it
enclosed was of a warmer, brighter tint than theirs.

The white films of the drapery fell from the base of her throat,
leaving her arms quite bare, but softly clinging to breast and
flanks, till a gold band resting on her hips confined it closely,
and depressed in the centre, was fastened by a single enormous
ruby, the one spot of blood-red colour upon her. Beneath the
sloping belt of gold fell her loose Turkish trousers of gleaming
white, transparent tissue, clasped at the ankles by bands of gold.
On her feet were little Turkish slippers, on her brow--nothing, but
the crown of her radiant youth and beauty. Hamilton, gazing at it
across the footlights, thought he had never seen, either pictured
or in the flesh, a face so beautiful, so full of the beauty, the
goodness, the power and wonder of life.

The sight thrilled him. Like the power of electricity, its power
began to run along his veins, heating them, stirring them, calling
upon nerve and muscle and sense to wake up. He looked, and life
itself seemed to stream into him through his eyes. The girl's face
was a well-rounded oval, supported on the round, perfect column of
her throat; the eyes seemed pools of blackness that had caught all
the splendour and the radiance of a thousand Eastern nights. The
fires of many stars, the whole brilliance of the purple nights of
Asia were mirrored in them. Above them rose the dark, arching span
of the eyebrows on the soft warm-tinted forehead, cut in one line
of severest beauty with the delicate nose. Beneath, the curling
lips were like the flowers of the pomegranate, a living, vivid
scarlet, and the rounded chin had the contour and bloom of the
nectarine.

She smiled faintly as she met the fixed gaze of Hamilton's eyes
across the footlights--such an innocent, merry little smile it
seemed, not the mechanical contortions one buys with pieces of
silver. Hamilton's blood seemed to catch light at it and flame all
over his body. He sat upright in his seat: gone were his fatigue,
his thirst, his eye-ache. His frame felt no more discomfort: his
whole soul rushed to his eyes, and sat there watching. In some men
their physical constitution is so closely knitted to the mental,
that the slightest shock to either instantly vibrates through the
other and works its effect equally on both. Hamilton was of this
order, and his body responded, instantly now, to the joy and
interest born suddenly in his mind.

A moment after the curtain was rolled up, a huge negro, dressed in
a fancy dress of scarlet, and with a high cap of the same colour on
his head, came on from the side. In his hand he carried a small
dog-whip, and as he cracked it all the girls stood up. Hamilton
sickened as he looked at him: an indefinable feeling of horror came
over him as this man stalked about the stage. He pointed with his
whip to the two African girls at the end of the semicircle, and
they came forward, while the rest sat down. A horrid uneasy feeling
of discomfort grew up in Hamilton, similar to that which a lover of
animals feels, when called upon to witness performing dogs, and all
the fear and anxiety pent up in their fast-beating little hearts is
communicated to himself. He watched the girls' faces keenly as the
negro went round and placed himself behind the middle chair of the
semicircle, while the two Africans danced. Hamilton hardly noticed
their dance, a curious barbaric performance that would have been
alarming to the British matron, but was neither new nor interesting
to Hamilton. He kept his eyes fixed on the white-clothed girl in
the centre, and the sinister figure behind her chair. She seemed
calm and indifferent, and when the negro put his hand on her
shoulder looked up and listened to his words without fear or
repulsion. Hamilton, keenly alive, with every sense alert, sat in
his chair, a prey to the new and delightful feeling, not known for
years, of interest.

Yes, he was interested, and the energetic sense of loathing for
the negro proved it. The music, loud and strident--an ordinary
Italian piano-organ having been introduced amongst the Oriental
instruments--banged on, and then abruptly came to a stop when the
negro cracked his whip. The two African women resumed their chairs,
there was some applause, and a good many small coins fell on the
stage from the hands of the audience. The second pair of girls
rose, came forward and commenced to dance, the organ playing some
appropriate Spanish airs. After these, the two Indian girls who
gave the usual _dance de ventre_ to a lively Italian air on the
organ. Then, at last, _she_ rose from her chair and approached the
footlights. The organ ceased playing, only the Indian music
continued: wild sensual music, imitating at intervals the cries of
passion.

To this accompaniment the girl danced.

Had any British matrons been present we must hope they would have
walked out, yet, to the eye of the artist, there was nothing coarse
or offending, simply a most beautiful harmony of motion. The girl's
beauty, her grace and youth, and the slight lissomness of all her
body lent to the dance a poetry, a refinement it would not have
possessed with another exponent.

Moreover, though there was a certain ardour in her looks and
gestures, in the way she yielded her limbs and body to the
influence of the music, yet there was also a gay innocence, a
bright naïve irresponsibility in it that contrasted strongly with
the sinister intention underlying all the movements of the other
two Indian dancers. At the end of the dance Hamilton took a rupee
from his pocket and threw it across the tin lamps towards her feet.
She picked it up smiling, though she left the other coins which
fell on the stage untouched, and went back to her chair.

After her dance, the great negro came forward and did a turn of his
own. Hamilton looked away. What was this man to the little circle?
he wondered. He could not keep his mind off that one query? Were
they his slaves? willing or unwilling? did they constitute his
harem? or were they paid, independent workers? His mind was made up
to get speech with this one girl, at least, that evening. This
delightful feeling of interest, this pleasure, even this keen
disgust, all were so welcome to him in the dreary mental state of
indifference that had become his habit, that he welcomed them
eagerly, and could not let them go. Beyond this there was rising
within him, suddenly and overwhelmingly, the force of Life,
indignant at the long repression it had been subjected to. Man may
be a civilized being, accustomed to the artificial restraints and
laws he has laid upon himself, but there remains within him still
that primitive nature that knows nothing, and never will learn
anything of those laws, and which leaps up suddenly after years of
its prison-life in overpowering revolt, and says, "Joy is my
birthright. I will have it!"

This moment is the crisis of most lives. It was with Hamilton now,
and it seemed suddenly to him that twenty years of fidelity to an
unloved, unloving woman was enough. The debt contracted at the
altar twenty years before had been paid off. The promise, given
under a misunderstanding to one who had wilfully deceived him, was
wiped out. It was a marvel to him in those moments how it had held
him so long.

Hamilton had one of those keen, brilliant minds that make their
decisions quickly, and rarely regret them. He took his resolution
now. That prisoner in revolt within him should be free; he would
strike off the fetters he had worn too long and vainly. He was
before the open book of Life, at that page where he had stood so
long. With a firm decisive hand he would take the new page, and
turn it over. That last page, on which his wife's name was written
large, was completely done with, closed.

The old joyous spirit, the keen eagerness for love and joy and
life, the Pagan's gay rejoicing in it, that had been such a marked
feature of his disposition before his marriage, came back to him,
rushed through him, refilled him.

His marriage, with its disillusionment, had crushed it out of him
for a time, and, with that same decisiveness that marked him now,
he had turned over the pages of youthful dreams and joys and loves,
and opened the next page of work, of strenuous endeavour, of a
hard, rigid observance of fidelity to the vows he had taken. And
for a time work and its rewards, effort and its returns, a hard,
practical life in the world amongst men, had held him. That now
was no longer to be all to him.

His life, and such joy as it might hold for him, was to be his own
again. The joy of the decisions filled him, elated him. He felt as
if his mind had sudden wings, and could lift him with it to the
roof.

Such a decision, when it comes, seems to oneself, as it seemed to
Hamilton now, a sudden thing. It has the force and shock of a
revelation, but it is not really sudden. The great rebellion nearly
all natures--certainly some, and these usually the greatest and
best--feel at the absence of joy in their lives had been gradually
growing within him, gathering a little strength each day. It is
only the climax of such feelings that is sudden--the awakening of
the mind to their presence. The growth has been going on day by
day, week by week, unmeasured, unreckoned with.

Immediately the curtain fell, Hamilton left his seat and went
up to a door, reached by a few steps, on the level of the
footlights, and at the left side of them. No one hindered him.
The rest of the audience were going out. He pushed the door,
which yielded readily, and he passed through. A narrow,
white-washed, lath-and-plaster passage opened before him, at the
end of which he saw a tin lamp burning against the wall and heard
voices.

The passage led into a three-cornered room, where he found some of
the dancers and an old woman who was huddled up on a straw mat in
the corner. The negro was not there. The girls stood about idly;
some were changing their clothes. They did not seem to heed his
presence, except the one he was seeking, who came straight towards
him. As she moved across the dirty, littered room, her limbs under
their transparent covering moved, and her head was carried with the
air of an empress. "Will the Sahib come with me?" she said in a
low, soft tone. She raised her eyes to his face. They were wide,
enquiring, like the deer's brought face to face with the hunter in
the green thickets.

The other girls glanced towards him, and some smiles were
exchanged, but no one approached him. They seemed to understand he
was there only for the star of the troupe. Hamilton looked down
into those glorious midnight eyes fixed upon him, and a faint
colour came into his cheek.

"I will come wherever you lead," he answered in Hindustani. These
surroundings were horrible, but the shade of them did not seem to
dim her charm.

The scent in the air was disagreeable. Tawdry spangles and false
jewels lay about on the tumble-down settees. From behind little
doors that opened from the walls round came the sound of men's
voices.

"Let the Sahib come this way, then," she answered, and turned
towards one of the small doors in the wall. This took them into
another tiny, musty-smelling passage that wound about like the run
of a rabbit warren, only wide enough for one to pass along at a
time, and the strips of lath were so low overhead that Hamilton
bent his neck involuntarily to avoid them.

At a door in the side of this she stopped and pushed it open; the
little run way wound on beyond in the darkness.

Hamilton followed her into the sloping-roofed, lath-and-plaster
pent-house that had been run up between the back of the stage and
the wall of the building. Native lamps were hooked into the wall,
and their light showed the garish ugliness of it all--the hastily
whitewashed walls, the scraps of ragged, dirty, scarlet cloth hung
here and there over a bulge or stain in the plaster: the boarded
floor, uneven and cracked: the bed against the wall, not too clean
looking, its dingy curtains not quite concealing the dingier
pillows; the broken chair on which a basin stood, placed on two
grey-looking towels; another chair with the back rails knocked out
leaning against the wall.

He threw his gaze round it in a moment's rapid survey, then he
pressed to the rickety, uneven door and shot the bolt.

The girl stood in the middle of the room, an exquisitely lovely
figure. She regarded him with wide, innocent eyes. Hamilton felt
all the blood alight in his veins; it seemed to him he could hear
his pulses beating. Never in his life before had joy and passion
met within him to stir him as they did now, but in natures where
there is a strong, deep strain of intellectuality the body never
quite conquers the mind, the light of the intellect never quite
goes down, however strong the sea, however high the waves of
animal passion on which it rides; and now Hamilton felt the great
appeal to his brain as well as to his senses that the girl's beauty
made.

He went up to her. She looked at him with an intense admiration,
almost worship in her eyes. A man at such moments looks, as Nature
intended he should, his very best, and Hamilton's face, of a noble
and splendid type, lighted now by the keenest animation, held her
gaze.

"Tell me," he said in a low tone, for footsteps passed on the
creaking boards, and gibbering voices and laughter could be heard
outside, "tell me, what is that man to you? Do you belong to him,
all of you?"

"That...? He is not a man, he is a ... nothing," replied the girl,
looking up with calm, glorious eyes. "He can do no harm ... nor
good."

Hamilton drew a quick breath.

"You dance like this every evening, and then choose someone in the
audience in this way?" he questioned, slipping his hand round her
neck and looking down at her, a half-amused sadness coming into his
eyes.

The girl shook her head with a quick negation.

"No, I have only been here a few days--a week, I think. Did you
notice that old woman as we came through here? I belong to her; she
taught me to dance. She brought me here, and I dance for the
Nothing, but I have never taken any one like this before. The other
girls do, every night, but each night the Nothing said to me, 'No
one here to-night, good enough. Wait till an English Sahib comes.'"

Hamilton listened with a paling cheek; his breath came and went
faintly; he hardly seemed to draw it; he put his next question very
gently, watching her open brow and proud, fearless eyes.

"Do you know nothing of men at all, then?"

"Nothing, Sahib, nothing," she answered, falling on her knees
suddenly at his feet, and raising her hands towards him. "This will
be my bridal night with the Sahib. The Nothing told me to please
you, to do all you told me. What shall I do? how shall I please
you?"

Hamilton looked down upon her: his brain seemed whirling; the
pulses along his veins beat heavily; new worlds, new vistas of life
seemed opening before him as he looked at her, so beautiful in her
first youth, in her unclouded innocence, full, it is true, of
Oriental passion, with a certain Oriental absence of shame, but
untouched, able to be his, and his only.

Before he could speak again, or collect his thoughts that the
girl's words had scattered, her soft voice went on:

"Surely the Sahib is a god, not a man. I have seen the men across
the footlights: there were none like the Sahib. I said to my
mother, 'I do not like men, I do not want them; what shall I do?'
And my mother said, 'There is no hurry, my child; we will wait till
a rich Sahib comes.' But you are not a man, you must be a god, you
are so beautiful; and I am the slave of the Sahib, for ever and
ever."

She looked up at him, great lights seemed to have been lighted in
the midnight pools of her eyes, the curved lips parted a little,
showing the perfect, even teeth; the rounded, warm-hued cheeks
glowed; the lids of her eyes lifted as those of a person looking
out into a new world.

Hamilton stood looking at her, and two great seas of conflicting
emotions swept into his brain, and under their tumult he remained
irresolute. Mere instincts and nature, the common impulse of the
male to take his pleasure whenever offered, prompted him to draw
her to his breast and let her learn the great joy of life in his
arms; but some higher feeling held him back: the knowledge that the
first way in which a woman learns these things colours her whole
after estimation of them, restrained him.

Here he saw, suddenly, there was new ground for Love to build
himself a habitation upon. Should it be but a rude shanty, loosely
constructed of Desire? Was it not rather such a fair and lovely
site that it was worthy a perfect temple, built and finished with
delicate care?

This flower of wonderful bloom he had found by chance in such a
poor, rough garden, was it not better to carry it gently to some
sheltered spot, to transplant and keep it for his own, rather than
just tear at it with a careless touch in passing by?

Hamilton had the brain of the artist and the poet; things touched
him less by their reality than by that strange halo imagination
throws round them.

The sound of some shuffling steps in the passage outside, a lurch
as of some drunken and unsteady figure, some whispered words, and
then a burst of ribald laughter just outside the door, decided him.
No: her wedding night should not be here. Keen in his sympathy with
women, Hamilton knew how often that night recurs to a woman's
thoughts, and should its memories always bring back to her this
loathsome shed, these hideous sounds?

A repulsion so great filled him that it swept back his desire for
the moment. A great eagerness to get her away unharmed, unsoiled
from such a place, filled him. Already she seemed to be part of
himself, to be a possession he must guard. His heart was empty and
hungry: by means of her beauty and this strange unexpected
innocence she had so suddenly revealed to him, she had leapt into
it, made it her own. He sat down on the mean, dingy bed, and drew
her warm, supple body into his arms: she stood within their circle
submissively, quivering with pleasure. His touch was very gentle
and reverent, for he was a man who knew the value of essentials;
his brain was keen enough to go down to them and judge of them,
undeterred and unhindered and undeceived by externals, by
fictitious emblems. He saw here that he was in the presence of a
tender, youthful, unformed mind of complete innocence, and the
abhorrent surroundings affected that essential not at all.

A married woman in his own rank, with her dozen lovers and her
knowledge of evil, high in the favour of the world, could never
have had from him the same reverence that he gave to this
dancing-girl of the Deccan, who in the world's eyes was but a
creature put under his feet for him to trample on.

"Would you like to leave all these people and come to live only
with me? dance only for me?" he said softly, looking into those
great wondering eyes fixed in awe upon his face.

"Would you like to have a house to yourself, and a garden full of
flowers, and stay there with me alone?"

The girl clasped her hands joyously, smile after smile rippled
over the brilliant face.

"Oh, Sahib, it would be paradise! If I can stay with the Sahib, I
shall be happy anywhere. I am the slave of the Sahib. If he but use
me as the mat before his door to walk upon, I shall be content."

Hamilton shivered. He drew her a little closer. "Hush! I do not
like to hear you say those things. You shall come to me and sleep
in my arms, but not to-night. Love is a very great thing: it will
be a great thing with us, and it must not be thought of lightly, do
you see? Will you stay here and think of me only till I come again?
Think of your bridal night with me, dream of me till I come back
for you?"

"The Sahib's will is my law; but even if I wished, I could think of
nothing else but him till I see him again," she responded, her eyes
fixed upon his face. Hamilton gazed upon her. She made such a
lovely picture standing there: he thought he had never seen beauty
so perfect, so exquisitely fresh. The soft transparent tunic did
not conceal it, only lightly veiled its bloom. Her breasts, rounded
and firm, stood out as a statue's. They seemed to express the
vigour of her buoyant youth: they had never known artificial
support, and needed none. The waist was naturally slight, the hips
also, the straight supple limbs and round arms were the most
richly-modelled parts, perhaps, of the whole perfect form.

Hamilton slipped his arm down to her yielding waist and drew her
closer. Then he bent his head and kissed the wonderfully-carved and
glowing mouth. With a little cry of joy the girl threw both arms
about his neck and kissed him back with a wealth of fervour in her
lips, pressing her soft bosom against his in all the natural,
unrestrained ardour of a first and new-found love.

"Sahib, Sahib! do not leave me long. Come and take me away soon! I
am all yours! No other shall see me till you come again."

Hamilton was satisfied. He raised his head, his whole ardent nature
aflame.

"Dear little girl, let us go then to the old woman, and perhaps I
can pay her enough to make her take you away from here, and keep
you safe till I can come for you."

"Come, Sahib, come!" she answered, joyfully drawing out of his
arms and running across the room; she unbolted the door and pulled
it open, nearly causing the old woman who was crouched just
outside, and apparently leaning against it, to roll into the room.

"Saidie, Saidie! you have no respect for me," she grumbled, getting
on her feet with some difficulty. Hamilton came up, and helped to
balance her as she stood.

"Your Saidie pleases me very much," he said, drawing out a
pocket-book. "I want to take her away from here altogether. How
much do you ask for her?"

The old woman's beady-black eyes twinkled and gleamed, and fixed on
the pocket-book.

"It is not possible, Sahib," she said in a grumbling tone, "for me
to part with her and her services. A girl like that with her
beauty, her dancing, her singing! She will earn gold every night.
Let the Sahib come here each evening if he will and take his turn
with the rest. For a girl like that to go to one man alone is waste
and folly."

The colour mounted to Hamilton's face. His brows contracted.

"What I have to say is this," he answered sternly and briefly, "I
want this girl, and if you take her with you to some place of
safety for to-night, I will come to-morrow or the next day and give
you 2000 rupees for her--no more and no less. I have spoken."

"Two thousand rupees!" replied shrilly the old woman, "for Saidie,
the star of the dancers, and not yet fifteen! No, Sahib, no! a
Parsee will give more than that for a half hour with her."

Hamilton caught the old creature by her skinny arm:

"You waste your words talking to me," he said. "I am a police
magistrate, and I can have your whole place here closed, and all of
you put in prison, if I choose. The girl is willing to come with
me, and I will take her and pay you well for her. You have her
ready for me to-morrow night, or you go to prison--which you
please." The old woman shivered at the word magistrate, and fell
trembling on her knees.

"Let the Sahib have mercy! That great black brute will kill me if
the police come here. I take Saidie to my house, the Sahib comes
there when he will. He pays, he has her. It is all finished."

She spread out her thin black hands in a shaking gesture of
finality, and then fell forward and kissed Hamilton's boots after
the complimentary but embarrassing manner of natives. Hamilton drew
back a little. He was angered that Saidie should be witness,
auditor of all this. She stood silent, passive, gazing at the hot,
angry colour mounting to his face. He bent forward and dragged the
old woman up by her arms.

"Take this for yourself now," he said, putting a hundred-rupee note
into her hand, "and make no more difficulty. Take every care of
Saidie, and you will have your two thousand rupees very shortly."

The old woman seized the note, and began to mumble blessings on
Hamilton, which he cut short: "Give me the name of your street and
the house where you live, that I may find you easily," he said, and
noted down the directions she gave him. Then he turned to the girl
and put his arm round her neck.

"Dear Saidie! I trust to you. Remember it is your innocence, your
virtue, I love more than your beauty. Do not dance nor let anyone
see you till I come again."

He kissed her on the lips as she promised him. The soft, warm form
thrilled against him as their lips met. Then with a mental wrench
he turned and went out of the room and quickly down the dark
passage.

At the end his way was barred by the immense form of the negro.

"Something for me, master; do not forget me! I keep the pretty
things here for the gentlemen to see."

Hamilton drew back with loathing. Then he reflected--it was better,
perhaps, to keep all smooth.

He dived into his pockets and found a roll of small notes, which he
pushed into the negro's hand. The man bowed and let him pass, and
Hamilton went on out into the street.

It was evening now. The calm, lovely golden light of an Indian
evening fell all around him as he walked rapidly back to his
bungalow. As he entered it, how different he felt from the man who
had left it that morning! How light his footstep, how bright and
keen the tone of his voice! It quite surprised himself as he called
out to his butler that he was ready for dinner. Then he bounded up
to his room humming. His very muscles were of quite a different
texture seemingly now from an hour or two ago! How the blood flew
about joyously in his body! Dear Venus! she makes us pay generally,
but who can cavil at the glorious gifts she gives? As soon as his
dinner was disposed of, and all his other servants had retired from
the room, Hamilton called his butler, Pir Bakhs, to him, and held a
long conference with that intelligent and trustworthy individual.
Hamilton was one of those men that by reason of his strikingly good
looks, his charm of manner, his consideration for others, and his
complete control over himself that never allowed him to be betrayed
into an unjust word or action was greatly liked by every one, and
simply worshipped by his servants and all those in any way in a
position dependent on him.

When to-night Pir Bakhs was honoured by his confidence, the
servant's whole will and all his keen energies rose with delight
to serve his master. After he had listened in silence to
Hamilton's wishes, he proceeded to make himself master of the whole
scheme, detail by detail.

"The Sahib wishes a very beautiful bungalow far out, away from the
city? I know of one house across the desert; my cousin was butler
there. The Sahib went away to England, and the bungalow is to be
let furnished. Have I the Sahib's permission to go down to bazaar,
see my cousin to-night? I make all arrangements. I go to-morrow
morning; I get cook and all other servants. I stay there and make
all ready for the Sahib to-morrow evening."

Hamilton smiled at the man's eagerness to serve him. He knew well
that secretly in his heart his Mahommedan butler had always
deplored the severely monastic style in which he had lived, the
absence of women in his master's bungalow, the emptiness of his
arms that should have had to bear his master's children, and that
he now was ready to welcome heartily his master's reformation.

"Could you really do all that, Pir Bakhs?" he asked; "and can you
assure me that the house is a good one, and has the compound been
well kept up?"

"The house is about the same as this, but not quite so large. It is
in the oasis of Deira, across the desert. The Sahib knows how well
the palms grow there. My cousin tells me the compound is very
large; the Sahib there kept four malis;[1] very fine garden, many
English roses there."

[Footnote 1: Gardeners.]

"English roses I do not care for, Pir Bakhs," returned Hamilton
with a melancholy smile. "The roses of the East are far fairer to
me."

The butler bowed with his hand to his forehead. He took his
master's speech as a gracious compliment to his country.

"Everything grow there," he answered, spreading out his hands:
"pomegranates, bamboo, mangoes, bananas, sago palm, cocoanut palm,
magnolia--everything. I go to-morrow, I engage malis; I have all
ready for the Sahib."

"Very well, I trust you with it all. I shall keep on this house
just as it is, and leave most of the servants here. You and your
wives must come out with me, and you engage any other necessary
servants and hire any extra furniture you want."

"The Sahib is very good to his servant," returned the butler, his
face lighting up joyfully. "When will the Sahib shed the light of
his countenance on the bungalow?"

"I will try to run out to see it, to-morrow, after office hours,"
replied Hamilton, "if you will have all ready by then. I shall look
over it, and return to dine here as usual. Then about ten or later,
I will come over and bring your new mistress out with me. You must
have a good supper waiting for us. Take over all the linen and
plate you may want, but see that enough is left in this house so
that I can entertain the English Sahibs here if I want to, and let
my riding camel be well fed early. I shall use him for coming and
going. That's all, I think."

The butler bowed, and retired radiant with joyous importance, and
Hamilton sat on alone by the table thinking. The blood ran at high
tide along his veins, his eyes glowed, looking into space. Life, he
thought, what a joyous thing it was when it stretched out its hands
full of gifts!



CHAPTER II


The following afternoon, directly his work at the office was
finished, he went out to the oasis in the desert to look at his new
possession, his bungalow in the palms.

The moment he saw it peeping out from amongst them, and surrounded
by roses, he expressed himself satisfied, and named the place
Saied-i-stan, or the place of happiness.

The butler met him there; he was bursting with self-importance.

"You leave everything to me, Sahib--everything. I know all the
Sahib wants. He shall have all. Let him come, ten o'clock, nine
o'clock, no matter when; all quite ready. I am here. I have
everything waiting for the Sahib."

Hamilton smiled and praised him, and went back to the station; took
a pretence of dinner and a hurried cup of coffee, and then went
down into the bazaar with the precious bit of paper containing the
directions to Saidie's dwelling-place in his breast pocket.

He found the house at last, and, going in at the doorless
entrance, climbed patiently the wooden stairs that ran straight up
from it in complete darkness. On the topmost landing--a frail
wooden structure that creaked beneath his feet--he paused, and
rapped twice on the door opposite him.

His heart beat rapidly as he stood there; the blood seemed flying
through it. All the strength of his vigorous body seemed gathering
itself together within him, all the fire of his keen, hungry brain
leapt up, and waiting there in the dark on the narrow landing he
knew the joy of life.

The door was opened. In a moment his eye swept round the interior
of the high windowless room. The floor was bare, with mats here and
there, and in the centre stood a flat pan of charcoal, glowing
under a closed and steaming cooking-pot. At one end a coarse chick,
suspended from a wooden bar, dropped its long lines to the floor,
and behind this, on some cushions, sat Saidie with another of the
dancing-girls.

The old woman who had opened the door, salaamed, touching the floor
with her forehead as Hamilton walked in, and then securely shut and
fastened the door behind him. Saidie rose and looked through the
shimmering lines of the chick at him as he entered.

Very handsome the tall commanding figure looked in the mean, bare
room: the long neck and well-modelled head, with its black,
close-cut hair, stood out a noble relief against the colourless
wall, and the clear brown skin, with the warm tint of quick blood
in it that showed above the English collar, arrested the girl's
eyes with a keen thrill of joy. Looking at him, she felt rushing
through her the passionate delight that self-surrender to such a
man would be. Without waiting to be summoned, she parted the lines
of the chick, came out from them, and fell on her knees at his
feet.

The heat in the shut-up room was very great, and she was wearing
only a straight white muslin tunic, through which all the soft
beauty of her form could be seen, as an English face is seen
through a veil. Her hair was looped back from her brows and tied
simply with a piece of green ribbon, as an English girl's might
have been, and flowed in its thick, black glossy waves to her
waist.

Hamilton bent over her and raised her in his arms, feeling in that
moment, though the whole universe were reeling and rocking round
him to its ruin, he would care nothing while he pressed that soft
breast to his.

The old woman sat down cross-legged by the charcoal, and began to
fan it.

The other girl behind the chick looked out curiously, but her eyes
never noted the strength and beauty of Hamilton's figure, nor the
bright glow in the oval cheek: she looked to see if he wore rings
on his fingers, and tried to catch sight of the links in his cuffs
to see if they were silver or gold.

Saidie had the divine gift of passion: all the fire of the gods in
her veins. Zenobie had none, and Saidie's joy now was something she
could not understand.

"Have you come to take me away, now at once?" Saidie murmured in a
soft, passionate whisper close to his ear, and the accent of joy
and delight went quivering down through the deepest recesses of the
man's being.

"Yes: are you ready to come with me?" Needless question! put only
for the supreme pleasure of listening to its answer.

"Oh, more than ready," whispered the soft voice back. "How shall
the slave explain her longing to her lord?"

Zenobie had come round the chick, while they stood by the door, and
drawn forward the one little low wooden stool that they possessed.
She came up now, and pulled at Saidie's sleeve.

"Let the Sahib be seated," she said reprovingly, and Saidie let her
arms slip from his neck and drew him forward to the stool by the
charcoal pan.

With some difficulty Hamilton drew up his long legs and seated
himself cautiously on the small seat; Saidie and Zenobie sat
cross-legged on the ground close to his feet. The old woman ceased
to fan the fire; the bright red glow of the coals fell softly on
the strong, noble beauty of the man's face, and Saidie, looking up
to it, sat speechless, her bosom heaving, her lips parted, her dark
eyes full of mysterious fires, melting, swimming, behind their veil
of lashes.

Zenobie watched her with curiosity: what did she feel for this
infidel who wore no rings and only silver in his cuffs?

Hamilton, as soon as he was seated, drew out his pocket-book--old
and worn, for he spent little on himself--and opened it.

The old woman sat up. Zenobie's eyes gleamed: the business was
going to commence. Only Saidie did not stir nor move her eyes from
his face.

"Two thousand rupees was the price agreed upon; here it is," he
said, taking out a thick bundle of notes that occupied the whole
inside of the poor, limp pocket-book; and as the old woman
stretched out a skinny claw for them and began to slowly count
them, he turned his gaze away, on to the upturned face of the girl
watching him with sensual adoration.

The old woman counted through the notes, and then securely tied
them into the end of her chudda.

"The sum is the due sum, well counted," she said, looking up; "and
when will my lord take his slave?"

"To-night," Hamilton replied briefly, but not without a swift
enquiring glance into the girl's eyes. Though he had bought and
paid for her, he could not get out of the Western knack of
considering that the girl's desires had to be consulted.

The old woman raised her hands in affected horror.

"To-night! But she is not well clothed, she is not bathed and
anointed; the bridal robes are not prepared. My lord, it cannot
be!"

Hamilton looked at Saidie; she crept to his side and put her head
on his breast.

"Yes, to-night, take me to-night," she murmured eagerly; he smiled,
and put his arm around her.

"The bridal clothes are of no consequence," he answered decisively.
"My camel waits below. I will take her to-night."

"She has no shoes," objected the old woman. "She cannot descend the
stairs."

"I will carry her down," replied Hamilton, and, springing up from
the little stool, he stooped over the lovely form at his feet,
raising her into his arms, close to his breast. Saidie clung to his
neck with a little cry of pleasure, her bare, warm-tinted feet hung
over his arm.

The old woman gasped: Zenobie laughed. The Englishman looked so
big, so immensely strong. The weight of Saidie, tall and
well-developed as she was, seemed as nothing to him.

"Zenobie, will you hold the lamp at the doorway, that he may see
his way?" Saidie cried out, slipping off a thin gold circlet she
wore on her arm, and letting it drop into the other's hands.

"Farewell, Zenobie; may you be always as happy as I am now."

Zenobie caught the bracelet and ran to the wall, unhooked the lamp
that hung there, and came to the door.

"Farewell, my mother," Saidie said, as they turned to it.

"Farewell, my daughter; be submissive to the Sahib, and obey him in
all things."

The door was opened, and by the dim, uncertain light of Zenobie's
lamp, Hamilton, clasping his warm, living burden, went slowly and
heavily down the bending stairs, feeling the life brimming in every
vein.

Outside, in the tranquil splendour of the starry Eastern night,
knelt the camel, peacefully awaiting its lord, and as Hamilton
approached it with his burden, it turned its head and large, liquid
eyes upon him with a gurgle of pleasure.

"The camel loves Hamilton Sahib," murmured the girl, as he set her
on the soft red cloth laid over the animal's back, which formed the
only saddle. He took his own place in front of her.

"Hold to my belt firmly," he told her, gathering into his hand the
light rein. "Are you ready for him to rise?"

He felt her little, soft hands glide in between his belt and waist.

"Yes, I am quite ready," she answered, and at a word of
encouragement, the great beast rose with its slow, stately swing to
its feet, and Hamilton guided it towards the Meidan. The soft, hot
air stirred against their faces as they moved through the night.

Nothing could present a more lovely picture than the bungalow that
evening. A low, white house, looking in the moonlight as if built
of marble, surrounded by masses of palms which threw a delicate
tracery of shadow upon it and drooped their beautiful, fan-like,
feathery branches over it, between it and the jewelled sky.

A light verandah ran around the lower of the two stories,
completely covered by the white, star-like bloom of the jessamine
that poured forth floods of fragrance like incense on the hot,
still air, and a giant pink magnolia rioted over the wide porch of
lattice-work. Within it was brightly lighted, and a warm glow from
shaded lamps came out from each window, stealing softly through the
veil of scented jessamine and falling on the masses of pink roses
surrounding the house.

The deep peace, the sweet scent in the silence, the kiss of the
moonlight and the starlight on the sleeping flowers, the exquisite
form of the shadows on the white wall, filled Hamilton with
pleasure: each sense seemed subtly ministered to; he felt as if
invisible spirits round him were feeding him with ambrosia.

He turned round to Saidie as the camel slowly and majestically
entered the compound gate, and saw her clearly framed in the soft
silver light; all this wondrous beauty round them seemed to be to
her beauty but as the harmonies that in an opera float round the
central air. And she smiled as he turned upon her.

"How do you like your new house, Saidie?" he said, half laughing as
he leant back to her.

"Surely it is Paradise, Sahib," she murmured back in awestruck
tones.

Within the door waited the servants to welcome them in a double
line, and as Saidie entered, they fell flat with their faces on the
floor. She passed through the prostrate row saluting them, and on
to the foot of the stairs. The ayah that the butler had engaged
rose and followed her mistress upstairs, where she was ushered into
her bath and dressing-room; while the butler, swelling with
importance and joyous pride, led Hamilton to the large room he had
prepared as a bedroom on the first floor. As they went in Hamilton
gave a murmur of approval very dear to the man's heart, as he heard
it, standing respectfully by the door.

The room was large, and two windows, draped with curtains, stood
open to the soft night.

The bed in the centre of the room was one of the wide Indian
charpais which are unrivalled for comfort, and glimmered softly
white beneath its filmy mosquito curtains in the lamplight shed by
four handsome rose-shaded lamps. Small tables stood everywhere,
bearing vases of fresh flowers, roses, and stephanotis; a rich,
deep rose-coloured carpet spread all over the floor, with only a
small border of chetai visible round the walls; and two easy-chairs
of the same colour and numerous smaller ones piled up with cushions
completed the equipment of the room. The air was full of scent, and
the scheme of colour in the room perfect. Nothing but rose and
white was allowed to meet the eye. The flowers were selected with
this view, and the great bowls of roses all blushed the same
glorious tint through the snowy whiteness of the stephanotis.

The room suggested, in its softly-lighted glow of pink and white, a
bridal chamber.

Hamilton turned to his servant with a pleased smile on his
handsome, animated face.

"You are an artist, Pir Bakhs, and a sort of magician, to do all
this in twelve hours."

Pir Bakhs bowed and salaamed by the door, his well-formed polished
face wreathed in many smiles.

Downstairs the girl was already waiting for her lord, bathed, and
with her long hair shaken out and brushed after the dust of the
desert ride, and looped back from her forehead by a fresh green
ribbon. She did not sit down, but stood waiting.

This room showed the same care as the upper one, and the table was
laid out with Hamilton's plate and glass and four beautiful
epergnes held the flowers.

Natives are artists, particularly in colour arrangements; the whole
colour scheme here was white and green, and any table in Belgravia
would have had hard work to equal this one. Saidie stood looking at
it, and the servants, already ranged by the sideboard, stood with
their eyes on the ground, yet conscious of her wonderful beauty,
and pleased by it in the same way that they would have felt pride
and pleasure in the beauty and good condition of a new horse or
camel acquired by their master.

After a few minutes Hamilton came down. He had put on his evening
clothes as they had been laid out for him by the bearer, and
looked radiant as he entered.

Saidie gave a little cry as she saw him. His present dress, well
cut and close-fitting, showed his splendid figure to greater
advantage than the loose suit she had seen him in hitherto. His
long neck carried his fine, spirited head erect, and the masses of
thick, black hair, with just the least wave in it, shone in the
lamplight. His well-cut face, with its gay animation and charming,
debonair, unaffected expression, made a kingly and perfect picture
to the girl's dazzled eyes.

As they took their places and their soup was served, she could not
detach her gaze from his face.

He laughed as he looked at her.

"Come, you must be hungry. Take your soup while it's hot; don't
waste your time looking at me."

"Sahib, I cannot help looking at you. You are so wonderful to me!
Please give me leave to. I do not want any soup."

Hamilton, who by this time had finished his own, leant back in his
chair and laughed again, looking at her with eyes blazing with
mirth and passion. This innocent, genuine admiration was very
pleasing to him in its flattery; this worship offered to himself,
rather than his gifts, was something new to him, and the girl's
beauty sent all the fires of life in quick streams through his
frame as he looked on it. He was alive for the first time in his
existence, and filled with a surprised happiness as great as the
girl's. He was as virgin to joy as she was to love. "You are the
dearest little girl I ever knew," he said; "but if you won't take
soup, you must eat fish. Yes, I positively refuse you my permission
to look at me till you have finished that whole plate."

Saidie dropped her eyes to her fish very submissively at this,
while Hamilton himself filled her glass.

"Have you ever tasted wine?" he asked. "This is champagne; drink
it, and tell me what you think of it."

"All my people are Mahommedans; we do not drink wine," Saidie
replied, taking up the glass and sipping from it.

"Perhaps you won't like it," he suggested, watching her.

"If the Sahib gives it to me I shall like it," replied Saidie,
smiling at him over the delicate golden glass: it threw its light
upwards into her great gleaming eyes, and Hamilton kissed the
little hand that put the glass gently down on the table again.

Next after the fish came game and joints, course after course, more
food in that one meal than Saidie was accustomed to see for many
people for a week. Her own appetite was soon satisfied, and she sat
for the most part gazing at Hamilton, with her hands tightly locked
together in her lap: such a nervous delight filled her, such a
strange joy in knowing herself to be alive, to be possessed of a
beautiful body that by reason of its beauty was worthy the caresses
of a man like this; such a pure rapture animated every fibre, to
realise that it was in her power to give pleasure to him. With such
feelings as these no faintest hint of humiliation or degradation
could mingle. Saidie felt only that superb and joyous pride that
Nature originally intended the female to have in her surrender to
the male.

Her very breath seemed to flutter softly with joyous trepidation
and excitement as it passed over her lips. That she was to be his,
held in his arms, admitted to his embrace, seemed to her to be the
crown of her life, an honour given by special divine favour.

So must Rhea Sylvia have felt praying before her Vestal altar when
Mars first appeared to her startled eyes.

And Hamilton, with his keen, sensitive temperament, saw into her
mind clearly, and was fully aware of all this fervent adoration,
this intense passionate worship springing within her; and an
immense tenderness and reverence grew up within him, enclosing all
his passion as the crystal vessel encloses the crimson wine.

That she would not in her present state have shrunk or flinched
from a knife, if only his hand held it while it wounded her, he
knew quite well, and this wonderful voluntary self-sacrifice which
is the soul of all female passion appealed to him as a very holy
thing.

He knew that constantly this adoring love was poured out by women
for men, that almost every virgin heart beats with this same
worship as the first pain of love enters it, but ah! for how short
a time! How quickly the man tears open those eyes that would so
willingly be closed to his vileness! how soon come the infidelity,
the lies and the meanness, the trickery and the treachery! How
assiduously the man teaches the woman who loves him that there is
nothing in him worthy of adoration, not even admiration, not even
decent respect! How little confidence, how little credence she soon
gives to his word that was once so sacred to her! How in her heart,
though her lips say nothing, is that once rapturous worship changed
into a measureless contempt!

Men persistently teach women that they must not expect the best
from them, but the lowest. And the women cry in pain as they see
the white mantle of their love trampled upon and dragged in the
mire of lies and falseness, and they take it back from the base
hands and burn it in the fires kindled in their outraged hearts.
Something of this flashed through Hamilton's brain as he met the
adoring trust and love in the girl's eyes, and an unspoken vow
formed itself within him that he would not deceive and betray it,
that his lips should not lie to her, that to the end he would be to
her as she now saw him in the glamour of those first hours.

When he had tempted her to every sweet and bon-bon on the table,
and made her drink all the wine he thought good for her, he sent
the servants away, and they remained alone together in the
dining-room with their coffee before them. He put his arm round
her, and drawing her out of her own chair, took her on to his knees
and pressed her head down on his shoulder.

"Are you not tired with that long ride on the camel?" he asked.

"No, Sahib, I am not tired."

The soft weight of her body pressed upon him; her lids drooped over
her eyes as her head leaned against his neck.

"I think you are tired and very sleepy," he repeated, pinching the
glowing arm in its transparent muslin sleeve.

"If the Sahib says so, I must be," responded Saidie quite simply.

"Come, then, and sleep," he said in her ear, and they went
upstairs.

Saidie gave a little cry of delight as they entered together the
rose-filled room, and beyond its soft shaded lights she saw the
great flashing planets in the dark sky.

"This is a different and a better home for love than we had last
night," said Hamilton softly, as he closed the door.

A great peace reigned all round them. Within and without the
bungalow there was no sound. The lights burned steadily and
subdued, the sweet scent of the flowers hung in the air like a
silent benediction upon them.

He put his arm round her, and felt her tremble excessively as his
hand unfastened the clasp of her tunic. He stopped, surprised.

"Why do you tremble so? Are you afraid of me?" he asked, looking
down upon her, all the tenderness and strength of a great passion
in his eyes.

"No, no," she returned passionately, "I tremble because great waves
of happiness rush over me at your touch. I cannot tell you what I
feel, Sahib; the love and happiness within me is breaking me into
fragments."

"Then you must break in my arms," he murmured back softly, drawing
her into his embrace, "so that I shall not lose even one of them."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning a flood of sunlight rushing into the room through
the open windows, bringing with it the gay chatter of birds, roused
the lovers. Hamilton opened his eyes first, and, lifting his head
from the pillow, looked down upon Saidie still asleep beside him.
In the rich mellow light of the room her loveliness glowed under
his eyes like a jewel held in the sun. He hardly drew his breath,
looking down upon her. Her heavy hair, full of deep purplish
shades, and with the wave in it not unusual in the Asiatic, was
pushed off the pale, pure bronze of the forehead, on which were
drawn so perfectly the long-sweeping Oriental brows. The nose,
delicately straight, with its proud high-arched nostrils, and the
tiny upper lip, led the eye on to the finely-carved Eastern mouth,
of which the lips now were softly, firmly folded in repose. How
exquisitely Nature had fashioned those lips, putting more elaborate
work in those lines and curves of that one feature than in the
whole of an ordinary English face. Hamilton hung over her, filled
with a passion of tenderness, watching the gentle breath move
softly the warm column of bronze throat and raise the soft, full
breast.

Passion, in its highest phase, is indeed the supreme gift of the
gods. In giving it to a mortal for once they forget their envy: for
once they raise him to their level; for that once they grant him
divinity.

Hamilton now marvelled at himself. The whole fruit of his forty
years of life--all that accomplished work, success, wealth,
rewarded worth, satisfied ambition, all the pleasures his youth,
his health and strength, and powers had always brought him, crushed
together--could not equal this: the charm and ecstasy with which he
gazed down on this warm beauty of the flesh beside him.

And yet he knew that it was not really in that flesh, not even in
that beauty, that lay the delight. It was in himself, in his own
intense desire, and the gratification of it, that the joy had
birth; and if the gods give not this desire, no matter what else
they give, it is useless.

The girl might have been as lovely, Hamilton himself, and all the
circumstances the same, yet waking thus he might have been but the
ordinary poor, cold, clay-like mortal a man usually is. But the
great desire for this beauty that had flamed up within him, now in
its possession, gave him that fervour and fire, those wings to his
soul, that seemed to make him divine. It was for him one of those
moments for which men live a life-time, as he indeed had done, but
they repay him when they come. To some, they come never. To these
life must indeed be dark.

Suddenly the girl opened her eyes; the fire in his bent upon her
seemed to electrify and thrill her into life, and with a little
murmur of delight she stretched up her rounded arms to him.

At breakfast Hamilton regretted he should have to leave her all
day; what would she do?

"You must not think of it, Sahib," she answered. "Have I not the
garden? I shall be quite happy. I shall sing all day long to the
flowers about my lord, and count the minutes till he comes back."

The office did not attract Hamilton at all that day, yet he felt it
was better to attend there as usual, to make no break in his usual
routine.

Scandal there was sure to be, sooner or later, about his
desert-bungalow, but at least it was better not to give to the
scandal-mongers the power to say he had neglected his duties. Yet
he lingered over his departure, and took her many times into his
arms to kiss her before he went, keeping his impatient Arab waiting
at the door. He would not use the camel again this morning, but
left it resting in its corner of the compound beneath the palms.

After Hamilton had gone, Saidie stepped through the long window
into the verandah, full of green light, completely shaded as it was
by the giant convolvulus that spread all over it. The chetai
crushed softly under her feet, and she went on slowly to the end
where it opened to the compound. Here she stood for a moment gazing
into the wilderness of beauty of mingled sun and shade before her.

Against the dazzling blue of the sky the branches of the palms
stood out in gleaming gold, throwing their light shade over the
masses of crimson and white and yellow roses that rioted together
beneath. Groves of the feathery bamboo drooped their delicate
stems in the fervent, sweet-scented heat, over the white,
thick-lipped lilies, from one to other of which passed languidly
on velvet wings great purple butterflies.

The pomegranate trees made a fine parade of their small, exquisite
scarlet flowers, and pushed them upwards into the sparkling
sunlight through the veils of white starry blossoms of the
jessamine that climbed over and trailed from every tree in the
compound.

The girl went forward dreaming. How completely, superbly happy she
was! And she had nothing but the gifts of Nature, such as she, the
kindly one, gives to the gay bird swinging on the bough, the
butterfly on the flower, the deer springing on the hills: health
and youth, beauty and love.

These only were hers; nothing that man ordinarily strives
for--neither wealth nor fame, fine houses, costly garments, jewels,
slaves, power; none of these were hers. Over her body hung simply a
muslin tunic worth a few annas; of the garden in which she stood
not a flower belonged to her, no weight of jewels lay on her happy
heart. She had no name; she was only a dancing-girl from the
Deccan. With the animals she shared that wonderful kingdom of joy
that they possess: their food and mate secured, their vigorous
health bounding in their limbs, their beauty radiant in their
perfect bodies.

Are they not the Lords of Creation in the sense that they are lords
of joy? Man is the slave of the earth, doomed by his own vile lusts
to bondage of the most dismal kind. All of those gifts that Nature
gives, and from which alone can be drawn happiness, he tramples
beneath his feet, putting his neck under the yoke of ceaseless
toil, striving for things which in the end bring neither peace nor
joy.

All within the compound under the reign of Nature rejoiced. The
parroquets swung on the trees, and the butterflies floated from the
marble whiteness of the lily's cloisters to the deep, warm recesses
of the rose, and the dancing-girl walked singing through the
sparkling, scented air thinking of her lord.

Hamilton, speeding down the dusty, burning road to his office in
the native city, felt a strange bounding of his heart as his
thoughts clung to the low, white bungalow amongst the palms
outside the station, and all that it held for him.

He went through his work that day with a wonderful energy, born of
the new life within him. Nothing fatigued, nothing worried him. The
court-house air did not oppress him. He heard the pleadings and
made his decisions with ease and promptitude. His patience,
gentleness, his clearness and force of brain were wonderful. The
whole electricity of his body was satisfied: the man was perfectly
well and perfectly happy. Who cannot work under such conditions? In
the evening his horse was brought round, and with a wild leaping of
the heart he swung himself into the saddle. The animal felt
instantly the elation of his master, and at once broke into a
canter; as this was not checked, he threw up his lovely head, and
as Hamilton turned across the plain, let himself go in a long
gallop towards where the palms glowed living gold against the
rose-hued sky.

Hamilton had hardly passed through the white chick into the
interior of the house before he heard the sound of bare feet upon
the matting, and through the soft magnolia-scented, pinky gloom of
the room, shaded from the sunset light, Saidie came and fell at his
knees, taking his dusty hands and kissing them.

Hamilton lifted her up, and held her a little from him, that he
might feast his eyes on the delicate beautiful carving of the lips,
and on the great velvet eyes, soft, round throat, and breasts
swelling so warmly lovely under the transparent gauze.

Then he crushed her up in his arms close to his breast, and carried
her to their own room with the golden and green chicks all round
it, where the servants did not come without a summons. The garland
she had twisted on her head smelt sweetly of roses, and the masses
of her silky hair of sandal-wood; her soft lips, that knew so well
instinctively the art of kissing, were on his; the warm, tender
arms clasped his neck. All the way that he carried her she murmured
little words of passion in his ear.

After dinner the servants carried chairs for them into the
verandah, with a small table laden with drinks and sweetmeats, that
they might sit and watch the moon rising behind the palms in the
compound, and see the hot silver light pour slowly through their
exquisite branches and foliage.

"How did you amuse yourself all day?" he asked her as she sat on
his knee, his arm round the flexible, supple waist pulsating under
the silky web of her tunic.

"I was so happy. I had so much to do, so much to think of," she
answered, gazing back into his eyes bent upon her, and eagerly
drawing in their fire. "I wandered in the compound and made garland
after garland, then I sang to my rabab and practised my dancing. In
the heat I went in and slept on my lord's bed dreaming of him--ah!
how I dreamt of him!" She broke off sighing, and those sighs fanned
the blazing fires in the man's veins.

"You were quite contented, then, with your day?"

"How could I not be contented when I had my lord to think about,
his love of last night, his love of the coming night?"

Hamilton sighed and smiled at the same time.

"English wives need more than that to make them content," he
answered.

"English wives," repeated Saidie, with her laugh like the sound of
a golden bell; "what do they know of love?"

"Not much certainly, I think," replied Hamilton.

For a moment the vision of a thin blonde face, with its expression
of sour discontent, rose before him. What had he not given that
woman--what had she not demanded? Extravagant clothes to deck out
her tall lean body, a carriage to drive her here and there, a
mansion to live in, all the money he could gain by constant
work--these things she demanded because she was his wife, and he
had given them, and yet she was always discontented, simply because
she was one of those women who do not know desire nor the delight
of it. This one had nothing but that divine gift, and it made all
her life joy.

"Dance for me now in the cool," murmured Hamilton in the little
fine curved ear with the rose-bud just over it.

Saidie slipped off his knee, and fastening the little gilt link at
her neck more securely, drew her soft filmy garment more closely to
her, and commenced to dance before him in the screened verandah,
with the hot moonlight, filtered through the delicate tracery; of
innumerable leaves falling on her smooth, warm-tinted body.

To please him, to please him, her lord, her owner, her king: it was
the one passion in her thoughts, and it flowed through every limb
and muscle, glowed in her eyes, quivered on her parted lips, and
made each movement a miracle of sweet sinuous grace.

The soft, hot night passed minute by minute, the scents of a
thousand flowers mingled together in the still violet air. Some
white night-moths came and fluttered round the exquisite form on
whose rounded contours the light played so softly, and Hamilton lay
back in his chair, silent, absorbed, hardly drawing his breath
through his lungs, shaken by the nervous beating of his heart.
Motionless he lay there, almost breathless, for the wine of life
was in all his veins, mounting to his head, intoxicating him.

"I am very tired; may I stop now?" came at last in a low murmur
from the curved lips so sweetly smiling at him, and the whole soft
body drooped like a flower with fatigue. Hamilton opened his arms
wide. She saw how the fresh colour glowed in the handsome cheek,
how his splendid neck swelled as the red deer's in November, how
the dark eyes blazed upon her.

"Come to me," he commanded, and she flew to his arms as the
love-bird flies upward to her mate in the pomegranate tree.



CHAPTER III


For three months Hamilton and Saidie lived in the white bungalow in
the palms, and drank of the wine of life together, and were happy
in the overwhelming intoxication it gives.

For three months Saidie lived there, never going beyond the
precincts of the house and the palace of flowers that was the
compound.

Why should she leave them? What had she to gain by going out into
the dusty way? What had she to seek? Her garden of Eden, her
Paradise, was here. She was too wise to go beyond its limits.

Pedlars and merchants of all sorts brought their best and richest
wares to her, and Hamilton sat by her in the verandah, commanding
her to buy all that pleased her, though she protested she needed
nothing.

Jewels for her neck, and gold anklets and bracelets, and robes and
sweetmeats were laid out before her. Only the best of the bazaar
was brought, and of this again only the best was chosen. And when
Hamilton was not there she walked from room to room singing,
clothed in purple silken gauze, with his jewels blazing on her
breast, his kisses still burning on her lips. Then she would take
her rabab and play to the listening flowers, or practise her
dancing, the source of his pleasure, or lie in the noonday heat on
the edge of the bubbling spring that rose up in the moss under the
boughain-villia and look towards the East and dream of his
home-coming. What did she want more?

Hamilton now lived the enchanted life of one who is wholly absorbed
in a secret passion. He was wise--more wise than men generally
are--and made no effort to parade his treasure. This wonderful
exotic, this flower of happiness, that bloomed so vividly in the
dark, secluded recesses of his heart, how did he know that the
destructive heat and light of publicity might not fade and sear
its marvellous petals? He told no one of his life; took no one out
into the desert with him, to the bungalow among the palms.

He was away a great deal. His work and certain social duties
claimed a large part of his day, and during all that time he had to
leave her alone with her flowers, but this gave him no anxiety. It
was not a dangerous experiment, as it always is to leave a European
woman alone. He knew that Saidie, the Oriental, would spend the
whole time dreaming of him, longing for him, singing to the flowers
of him, talking to her women-attendants of him, filling the whole
garden and house with his image till the longed-for moment of his
return.

And to Hamilton, full of unspoiled life and vigour, this security,
this certainty of her complete fidelity was a wondrous charm.

Unlike a man of jaded passions, who requires his love to be
constantly stimulated by the fear of imminent loss, Hamilton, full
of unused strength, and thirsty after the joy of life, now that the
cup was offered him, drank of it naturally and with ecstasy,
needing no salt and bitter olives of jealousy between the
draughts.

For years he had longed for love and happiness: at last he had
found both, and with simple, uncavilling thankfulness he clasped
them to his breast and held them there, content.

Saturday and Sunday were their great days. Hamilton left the office
at two on Saturday afternoon, and was back at the bungalow by five.

They went to bed early that night, and rose on the Sunday morning
with the first glimmer of dawn. Everything would be prepared
overnight for a day's excursion and picnic in the desert, which
Saidie particularly delighted in.

The great brown camel, fat and sleek like all Hamilton's animals,
and with an enormous weight of rich hair on his supple neck, would
be kneeling waiting for them below in the dewy compound, while the
early tender light stole softly through the palms; and they would
mount and go swinging out through the great open spaces of the
desert, full of delicate white light, towards the sister-oasis of
Dirampir, where masses of cocoanut palms grew round a set of
springs, and waved their branches joyfully as they drew in the salt
nourishment of the air from the amethystine sea not fifty miles
distant.

Into the shelter of these palms they would come as the first great
golden wave of light from the climbing sun broke over the desert,
and, descending from the camel, walk about in the groves by the
spring, and select a place for boiling their kettle and having
their breakfast. The long ride in the keen air of the morning gave
them great appetites, and they enjoyed it in the whole joyous
beauty of the scene round them. The palm branches over them grew
gold against the laughing blue of the sky, a thousand shafts of
sunlight pierced through the fan-like tracery, the golden orioles
at play darted, chasing each other from bough to bough, the spring
bubbled its cool musical notes beside them, and the sense of the
blighting heat of the ravening desert round them seemed to
accentuate the beauty of the peace and shade in the oasis.

Saidie enjoyed these days beyond everything, and would sit singing
at the foot of a palm, weaving a garland of white clematis for
Hamilton's handsome head as it rested on her lap.

No English people ever came to the oasis; as a matter of fact, the
English generally do avoid the best and most beautiful spots in or
near an Indian station; but the place was greatly beloved by the
natives who came there to doze and dream, play, sing, and weave
garlands in the usual harmless manner in which a native takes his
pleasure. Looking at them standing or sitting in their harmonious
groups against a background of golden light and delicate shade,
Hamilton often thought how well this scene compared with that of
the Britisher taking a holiday--Hampstead Heath, for instance, with
its noisy drunkenness, its spirit of hateful spite, its ill-used
animals, its loathsome language. The Oriental endeavours to enjoy
himself, and his method is generally peaceful and poetic: the
singing of songs, the weaving of garlands, and the letting alone of
others. The Briton's idea of enjoying himself is extremely simple;
it consists solely in annoying his neighbours.

To see a handsome English Sahib here was to the habitual
frequenters of the oasis something rather remarkable, but these
people are early taught the custody of the eyes and to mind their
own business. Therefore Hamilton and Saidie were not troubled by
offensive stares, or in any other way. All there were free,
gathered to enjoy themselves, each man in his own way; and the
natives in their gay colours added to the beauty, without
disturbing the peace of the scene, much as the bright-plumaged
birds that flitted from tree to tree absorbed in their own affairs.

How Hamilton enjoyed those long, calm, golden hours--the golden
hours of Asia, so full of the enchantment of rich light and colour,
soft beauty before the eyes, sweet scent of the jessamine in the
nostrils, the warbling of birds, and Saidie's love songs in his
ears!

Not till the glorious rose of the sunset diffused itself softly in
the luminous sky, and all the desert round them grew pink, and the
shadows of the palms long in the oasis, and the great planets above
them burst blazing into view into the still rose-hued sky, did they
rise from the side of the spring and begin to think of their
homeward ride. And what a delight it was that night ride home
through the majestic silence of the desert, where their own hearts'
beating and the soft footfall of the camel were the only sounds!
the wild flash of planet and star, and sometimes the soft glimmer
of the rising moon, their only light! Eros, the god of passion,
seated with them on the camel, their only companion!

To Saidie, cradled in his arms, looking upwards to his face above
her, its beauty distinct in the soft light, feeling his heart
beating against her side, it seemed as if her happiness was too
great for the human frame to bear, as if it must dissolve, melt
into nothingness, against his breast, and her spirit pass into the
great desert solitudes, dispersed, almost annihilated, in the agony
and ecstasy of love.

Week after week passed lightly by in their brilliant setting, the
hours on their winged feet danced by, and these two lived
independent of all the world, wrapped up in their own intimate joy.

One morning, just as he was about to leave the bungalow, he heard
Saidie's voice calling him back. He turned and saw her smiling
face hanging over the stair-rail above him. He remounted the
stairs, and she drew him into their room. Her face was radiant, her
eyes blazed with light as she looked at him.

"I have something to tell you, Sahib! I could not let you go
without saying it. Only think! is not Allah good to me? I am to be
the mother of the Sahib's child," and she fell on her knees,
kissing his hands in a passion of joy. Hamilton stood for the
moment silent. He was startled, unprepared for her words, unused to
the wild joy with which the Oriental woman hails a coming life.

Her message carried a certain shock to him: it augured change; and
his happiness had been so perfect, so absolute, what would change,
any change, even if wrought by the divine Hand itself, mean to him
but loss?

Saidie, terrified at his silence, looked up at him wildly.

"What have I done? Is not my lord pleased?" Her accent was one of
the acutest fear.

Hamilton bent down and raised her to his breast.

"Dearest one, light of my soul, how could I not be pleased?" and
he kissed her many times on the lips, and on the soft upper arm
that pressed his throat, and on her neck, till even she was
satisfied.

"Come and sit with me for a moment that I may tell you all," she
said. Hamilton sat beside her on the bed, and she told him many
things that an Englishwoman would never say, nor would it enter
into her mind to conceive them.

Hamilton was greatly moved as he sat listening. The wonderful
imagery, the vivid language in which she clothed her pure joyous
thoughts appealed to his own poetic, artistic habit of mind.

On his way across the desert to the city, Hamilton pondered deeply
over the news and the girl's unaffected joy. Since all those
whispered confidences poured into his ear while they sat side by
side on the bed, the throb of jealousy he had first felt at her
words had passed away. Saidie had made it so clear to him that her
joy was not so great at being the mother of a child as that she was
to be the mother of _his_ child, and similarly Hamilton felt in
all his being a curious thrill at the thought that his child was
hers, that this new life was created in and of her life that had
become so infinitely dear to him.

He was glad now that his wife had refused to have a child. The
bitter pain he had felt then, those years ago, how little he had
thought it was to be the parent of this present joy. Now the woman
he loved as he had loved no other would be the one to bear his
child. Still the thought of the suffering the mother would go
through depressed his sensitive mind, and the idea of the risk to
her life that came suddenly into his brain made him turn white to
the lips as he rode in the hot sunlight. Such intense happiness as
he had known for the last three months can turn a brave man into a
coward. For a moment he faced the horrid thought that had come to
him--Saidie dead! And the whole brilliant plain, laughing sky, and
dancing sunlight and waving palms became black to him. To go back
to that dreary existence of nothingness of his former life, after
once having known the delight that this bright, eager, ardent
love, these delicate little clinging hands had made for him, would
be impossible.

"No," he murmured to himself, "if she goes, then it's a snuff out
for me too. I have never cared for life except as she has made it
for me."

And the cloud rolled off him a little as he met the idea of his own
death. Besides, Saidie had declared so positively that she could
come to no harm, that it would all be pure delight, that pain and
suffering could not exist for her in such a matter since she would
be all joy in making him this gift, that gradually he grew calmer
as he thought over her words.

"But I didn't want any change," he burst out a little later,
talking to the still golden air round him. "Confound it! I was
perfectly happy. How impossible it is to keep anything as it is in
this world! All our actions drag in upon us their consequences so
fast! There is no getting away from this horrible change, no
enjoying one's happiness peacefully when one has obtained it."

When he arrived at his office in the city he found that a far
heavier cloud had arisen on his horizon than that created by
Saidie's words. The English mail was in, and a long thin envelope,
impressed with a much-hated handwriting, faced him on the top of
the pile of his correspondence as he entered.

He picked it up and opened it.

     "DEAR FRANK,--You often used to invite me to come to India,
     and I have really at last made up my mind to. I am coming out
     by next month's boat to stay with you for a time. I have been
     very much run down in health lately, and my doctor says a
     sea-voyage and six months in India will be first-rate for me.
     I hope you have a nice comfortable house and good servants.
       --Yours affectionately, JANE."

Hamilton stared at the letter savagely as he put it down before him
on the table, a sort of grim smile breaking slowly over his face.
He felt convinced that in some way his wife had learned of his
new-found happiness, and that had given birth to her sudden desire
to visit India after twenty years of persistent refusal to do so.
He sat motionless for a long time, then stretched out his hand for
an English telegraph form and wrote on it--

     "Regret unable to receive you now. Defer visit. FRANK."

He did not for one moment think that his wife would obey his
injunction, or that his wire would have the least effect on her;
but he wished to have a good ground to stand on when she arrived,
and he declined to receive her. His teeth set for a moment as he
thought of the interview.

"This is a sort of wind-up day of my happiness," he muttered, as he
took his place at the office table. "Well, I suppose no one could
expect such pleasure as I have had these last three months to
continue; but, whatever happens, Saidie and I will stick together."
He sat musing for a moment, staring with unseeing eyes at the pile
of work in front of him.

"Saidie, my Saidie! I shall never part from her; therefore I can
never part from my happiness." He smiled a little at the play on
the words, and then commenced his day's labours.

That evening, when he returned, Saidie noticed at once the
depression in his usually gay, bright manner. When they were alone
at dinner she laid her hand on his.

"What has darkened the light of my lord's countenance?" she asked
softly.

Hamilton drew from his pocket his wife's letter, and laid it beside
her plate.

"Can you read that, Saidie? If so, you will know all about it."

The girl leaned one elbow on the table and bent over the letter,
studying it. She had been trying hard to improve herself in the
language, of which she knew already something, and with Oriental
quickness, had acquired much in the past three months. She made out
the sense now easily enough.

"This lady is a wife of yours?" she said quickly, with a swift
upward glance at him, when she had finished reading the letter.

Hamilton laughed a little.

"She was my wife till I saw you, Saidie. No one is my wife now, nor
ever will be, but you."

A soft glow of supreme pleasure and pride lighted up Saidie's great
lustrous eyes. She bent her head and put her soft lips to his
hand.

"Have you forbidden this wife to come to you?" she asked after a
minute.

"Yes, I have; but she will come all the same. English wives think
it foolish to obey their husbands."

He laughed sardonically, and Saidie looked bewildered and
horrified.

       *       *       *       *       *

A month later, a long, lean woman sat in a deck chair on board an
Indian liner as it crossed the enchanted waters of the Indian
Ocean. Enchanted, for surely it is some magician's touch that makes
these waters such a rich and glorious blue! How they roll so
gently, full of majestic beauty, crested with sunlight, under the
ships they carry so lightly! How the gold light leaps over them,
how the azure sky above laughs down to their tranquil mirror! how
the gleaming flying-fish rise in their glinting cloud, whirl over
them, and then softly disappear into their mysterious embrace!

The long, lean woman saw none of the magic round her. Her dull,
boiled-looking eyes gazed through the soft sunlight without seeing
it. In her lap lay a thin foreign letter and a telegram, together
with a copy of "Anna Lombard" that she was reading with the
strongest disapproval. She picked up the letter and glanced through
it again, though she knew it nearly by heart, especially one
passage:

     "Your husband is leading such a life here! He has built a
     wonderful white marble palace in the desert for an Egyptian
     dancing-girl. They say it's a sort of Antony and Cleopatra
     over again, and she goes about loaded with jewels and golden
     chains. I don't know if you are getting your allowance
     regularly, but I should think your husband is pretty well
     ruining himself. I never saw a man so changed. He used to be
     so melancholy, but now he is as bright as possible, and looks
     so well and handsome. I hear the woman is expecting a child,
     and they are both as pleased as they can be. I hear all about
     it, as our cook's cousin is sister to the ayah your husband
     hired for the woman, and my ayah gets it all from our cook. I
     really should, my dear, come out and look into the matter, as
     after a time he will probably want to stop sending home his
     pay."

The thin sheet fell into the woman's lap again, and she seemed to
ponder deeply. Then she read Hamilton telegram again--

"Regret unable to receive you now. Defer visit," and a disagreeable
laugh broke from her thick, colourless lips.

"I will go out and see her first," she thought, smoothing down with
a large, bony hand the folds of her rather prim white cambric
dress. She was a very stupid woman, and not a passionate one;
therefore the agony of pain of a loving, jealous wife was quite
unknown to her. But she was malignant, as such people usually are.
She loved making other people uncomfortable in a general way, and
taking away from them anything she could that they valued. She also
felt a peculiar curiosity such as those who cannot feel passion
themselves have usually about the intense happiness it gives to
others. The picture of this other woman, who had found joy
apparently in the arms she herself years ago had thrust aside,
interested her profoundly. She told herself that this Egyptian
loved Hamilton's money, but some instinct within her held her back
from believing this.

The little bit about the child went deeply into her mind. It
rested there like an arrow-head, and her thoughts grew round it.
When the ship came into port a week or two later, Mrs. Hamilton
was one of the first passengers to land, and after careful
enquiries and well-bestowed tips she was expeditiously conveyed
by ticker-gharry[1] and sedan chair across the desert to the
bungalow at Deira. She was considerably pleased on seeing that
the white marble palace resolved itself into an ordinary white
bungalow, but the garden, was unutterably lovely, and, as she saw
in a moment, represented something quite unusual in cost and
care.

[Footnote 1: Hired carriage.]

It was just high noon when she arrived, and she thankfully escaped
from the suffocating heat and glare of the desert into the cool
shaded hall, and gave her card with a throb of spiteful elation to
the butler.

The Oriental servant read the name, and hurried with the card to
his mistress's room. On hearing of the arrival of the Mem-Sahib,
Saidie descended from the upper room, where she had been lying in
the noonday heat, and, pushing aside the great golden chick that
swung before the drawing-room entrance, went in.

Her dress was of the most exquisite Indian muslin that Hamilton
could obtain, heavily and wonderfully embroidered in gold, and
peacocks' eyes of vivid deep blue and green; her feet were bare,
for Hamilton, in his revolt from English ways, had kept up Oriental
traditions as far as possible in the clothing of his new mistress,
and weighty anklets of solid gold gleamed beneath the border of her
skirt. Round the perfect column of her neck, full and stately as
the red deer's, were twisted great strings of pearls, throwing
their pale irridescent greenish hue onto the velvet skin. Above the
splendour of her dress rose the regal and lovely face, its delicate
carving and the marvel of its dark, flashing, enquiring eyes
vividly striking in the clear mellow light of the room.

Mrs. Hamilton, dressed in a plain, grey alpaca dress, rather hot
and dusty after her long drive, sat on one of the low divans
awaiting her. As Saidie entered, the glory of her youth and beauty
struck upon the seated woman like a heavy blow, under which she
started to her feet and stood for a second, involuntarily
shrinking.

"Salaam, be seated," murmured Saidie, indicating a fauteuil near
the one on which she sank herself.

Mrs. Hamilton came forward, her hands closing and unclosing
spasmodically in their grey silk gloves, and sat down again, her
eyes riveted on the other's face.

"Do you know who I am?" she said at last in a stifled voice.

Saidie smiled faintly; one of those liquid, lingering smiles that
made Hamilton's heaven.

"Yes, I know; you are Mem Sahib Hamilton, the first, the old
wife.".

Saidie, according to her own Eastern ideas, was in the position of
a superior receiving an unfortunate inferior. She was the latest
acquired--the darling, the reigning queen--confronted with the poor
cast-off, old, unattractive first wife; and being of a nature
equally noble as the type of her beauty, she felt it incumbent on
her, in such a situation, to treat the unfortunate with every
consideration, gentleness, and tenderness.

The British matron's views of the relative positions of first and
subsequent wives differs, however, from Saidie's, and Mrs.
Hamilton's face grew purple as she heard Saidie's answer, and some
faint comprehension of Saidie's view was borne in upon her.

"Where is my husband?" she demanded fiercely.

"The Sahib is in the city to-day," returned Saidie calmly. How
odious they were, these Englishwomen, with their short skirts and
big boots, and red, hot faces, with great black straw houses over
them, and their curt manners, and the impertinent way they spoke of
their lords!

"When will he be back?" pursued the other, sharply.

Saidie glanced towards the clock.

"In a few hours; perhaps more. He returns at sunset."

"And what do you do all day, shut up by yourself?" questioned her
visitor, with a sort of contemptuous surprise.

"I think of him," returned Saidie, quite simply, with a sort of
proud pleasure that made the Englishwoman stare incredulously.

"Silly little fool!" she ejaculated, with a harsh, disdainful
laugh.

"Does he give you all those things, and dress you up like that?"
she added, staring at the pearls on Saidie's neck.

"He has given me everything I have," she replied, seriously.

That Hamilton was wasting his substance on another went home far
more keenly to his lawful wife than that he was wasting his love on
the same. She got up, and went close to the girl, with a face of
fury.

"They are all mine! I should like to drag them off you! Do you
understand that an Englishman's money belongs to his wife, and _I_
am his wife? You! What are you? He belongs to me, and, whatever you
may think, I can take him from you. By our laws he must come back
to me."

Saidie rose and faced the angry woman unmoved.

"No law on earth can make a man stay with a woman he does not
love," she said calmly, "nor take him from one he does. You must
know little, or you would know that love is stronger than all law.
I give you leave to withdraw. Salaam."

And she herself moved slowly backwards towards the hanging chick,
passed through it, and was gone, leaving the Englishwoman alone in
the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three hours later Hamilton, sitting in his own private office,
surrounded with papers, started suddenly as he heard a well-known
and hated voice say, outside the door.

"Thanks, I'll go in myself."

The next minute the door had opened and his wife stood before him.
He sat in silence, regarding her.

"Well, Frank, I suppose you were expecting me? You saw the boat
came in, doubtless. You don't look particularly pleased to see me!"

There was only one chair in the room, and Hamilton remained seated.
His wife stood in front of him.

"I do not know of any reason why I should be pleased, do you?" he
said calmly, gazing at her with eyes full of concentrated
hostility.

"No, considering you've got that black woman up at your house, I
don't suppose you do want your wife back very badly; but I've come
to stay, my dear fellow, some time, so you've got to make the best
of it."

"You will not stay with me," returned Hamilton quietly. His face
was very white, his eyes had become black as they looked at her.
One hand played idly with a paper-knife on his table.

"And a nice scandal there'll be when I go to stay at the hotel
here, and it's known I'm your wife, and you are living out in the
desert with a woman from the bazaar!"

"The fear of scandal has long since ceased to regulate my life,"
answered Hamilton calmly. "Be good enough to make your interview
short; I have a great deal of work to-day."

"You are a devil!" replied the woman, white, too, now with impotent
rage, "to desert your own wife for that filthy native woman. I--"

But Hamilton had sprung to his feet; his face was blazing; he
seized his wife's wrists in both hands.

"Be quiet," he said, in a low tone of such fury that she cowered
beneath it. "One word more and I shall _kill_ you; do you
understand?"

Then he raised one hand and brought it down on his gong. Instantly
two stalwart, bronze giants, his chuprassis, entered the room and
stood by the door.

"Take this woman out, and keep her out," he said to them. "Never
let her in again. She annoys me."

The chuprassis put their hands to their foreheads, and then
impassively approached the Englishwoman. She looked at her husband
wildly as they took her arms.

"Frank! you will not surely--" she expostulated. "Your own wife!"
and she struggled to release her arms.

Hamilton waved his hand, and the natives forced her to the door.
For a moment she seemed inclined to scream and struggle. Then her
face changed. A look of intense malevolence came over it. She
walked between the men quietly to the door. As she passed through
it, she looked back.

"You and she shall regret this," she said. Then the door shut, and
Hamilton was alone.

He sat down, collapsed in his chair. Oh, how could he free himself
from this millstone at his neck? What relief could he gain
anywhere? To what power appeal? He could keep her out of his house,
out of his office, but not out of his life. She had come here with
the deliberate intention of wrecking that, and she would succeed
probably, for she would have the blind, hideous force of
conventional morality on her side. She would destroy his life--that
life till lately so valueless to him; that dreary stretch made
barren so many years by her hateful influence, but which, in spite
of it, at Saidie's touch, had now bloomed into a garden of flowers.
The thought of Saidie strengthened him. It was true that his wife
would probably succeed in breaking up his life here from the
conventional and social point of view, and he would be obliged most
likely to give up his appointment; but he had a small independent
income, and on that he and Saidie could still live together. They
would go to Ceylon or to Malabar. Perhaps also he could make money
otherwise than officially. Wherever he went his wife would probably
pursue him, intent on making his life a misery. Still, Fortune
might favour him; he and Saidie might in time reach some corner of
the world where their remorseless tracker would lose trace of them.
Perhaps to go to England at once and obtain a legal separation
would be the best plan, but then it was winter in England now, and
he could not with advantage take Saidie to England in winter, for
fear his exotic Eastern flower would fade in the northern winds.

His thoughts wandered from point to point, and the minutes passed
unheeded. His papers lay untouched, scattered on the floor. The
chuprassi brought in from time to time a note, laid it on the table
and withdrew. Hamilton noticed nothing; he sat still, thinking.

Meanwhile Mrs. Hamilton had been driven to the hotel, where she
engaged very modest quarters and ordered luncheon. While waiting
for this she went out into the balcony before her windows, and
looked with gloomy eyes into the sunny, laughing splendour of the
Eastern afternoon. At the side of the hotel was a luxuriant garden,
and the palms and sycamores growing there threw a light shade into
the sunny street just below her window; the sky overhead stretched
its eternal Eastern blue, and the pigeons wheeled joyfully in and
out the eaves in the clear sparkling air, or descended to the pools
in the garden to bathe, with incessant cooing. Up and down the
road passed the white bullocks with their laden carts, and the
gaily-dressed Turkish sweet-meat sellers went by crooning out songs
descriptive of their wares, pausing under the shade of the garden
to look up at the English Mem-Sahib in the balcony. She leant her
arms on the rail, and looked out on the gay scene with unseeing
eyes. "Beast!" she muttered at intervals, and her hard-lined face
crimsoned and paled by turns.

When her luncheon came in she returned to the room, took off her
hat and looked in the glass. The narrow, selfish, petty emotions of
twenty years were written all over her face in deep, hideous lines.
The mass of yellow hair, newly-dyed, looked glaringly youthful and
incongruous above it.

Burning with a sense of malevolent discontent and misery, she
turned from the glass and hurried through her luncheon, then
ordered it to be cleared away and writing materials to be brought
in, and set herself with grim feverishness to the concoction of a
long letter to the Commissioner. In it Hamilton's twenty years of
patient fidelity, through which time he had regularly transmitted
to her half his pay year by year were naturally not mentioned; her
own refusal to live with him, her incessant demands for more money,
her extravagance, her long, whining letters to him, her debts, her
own life in town were, of course, also suppressed. In the letter
she figured as the ardent, tender, anxious wife, arriving to find
her abandoned husband wasting his substance on a black mistress.
The visit to the cruel tyrant in his office was long dwelt on, and
the whole closed with a pathetic appeal to the Commissioner to use
his influence to restore her dearest boy to her arms. It was not a
bad letter from the artist's and the liar's standpoint, and she
read it through with a glow of satisfaction, sealed it up with a
baleful smile of triumph, and then sounded the gong.

"Take this at once to the Commissioner Sahib," she said, handing
the note to the servant, "and let me have some tea; also you can
order me a carriage. I shall want to drive afterwards."

When the tea came, she thoroughly enjoyed it after her virtuous
labours, and in the cool of the evening drove out to see the city.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening at dinner, seated at their table, laden with flowers,
with the light from the heavy Burmese silver lamps falling on her
lovely glowing face, and round bangle-laden arms, Saidie told
Hamilton of the visit of the white Mem-Sahib. His face darkened and
his lips set.

"So she came here, did she? Did she frighten you? attempt to hurt
you?"

"Oh, no," returned Saidie; "not at all. Naturally she is very hurt,
very sorry; no wonder she longs after the Sahib, and wishes to be
taken back to his harem. I was very sorry for her. It is quite
natural she should be jealous, of course," and Saidie rested one
soft, silken skinned elbow on the table and leaned across the
flowers, and her half-filled wine-glass, looking with tender liquid
eyes earnestly at the face of her lord.

"The Sahib is so wonderful, so beautiful, so far above other men,"
she murmured, gazing upon him. "It is no wonder she is unhappy."

Hamilton smiled a little, looking back at her. He had indeed a
singularly handsome face, with its straight, noble features and
warm colour, and as he smiled the breast of the Eastern girl
heaved; her heart seemed to rush out to him.

"Ah, Saidie! you do not understand English wives," he said gently,
with a curious melancholy in his voice. "Love and worship such as
you give me they think shameful and shocking. To love a man for
himself, for his face, for his body is degrading. They are so pure,
they love him only for his purse. They tell him to take his passion
to dancing-girls like you. They hate to bear him children. They
like to live in his house, be clothed at his expense, ride in his
carriage, but they care little to sleep in his arms."

Saidie regarded him steadfastly, with eyes ever growing wider as
she listened.

"I do not understand ..." she murmured at last, clasping both soft,
supple hands across her breast, as if trying to mould herself into
this new belief; "it is so hard to comprehend.... Surely it must
be right to love one's lord, to bear him sons, to please him, to
make him happy every hour, every minute of the day and night."

"Right?" returned Hamilton passionately, getting up from his seat
and coming over to her. "Of course it is right! love such as yours
is a divine gift to man, straight from the hands of God." He leaned
his burning hands heavily on the delicately-moulded shoulders,
looking down into her upturned face. How exquisite it was! its fine
straight nose, its marvellously-carved mouth and short upper lip,
its round, full chin, and midnight eyes beneath their great
arching, sweeping brows!

"That woman is a fiend, one of the unnatural creatures our wretched
European civilisation has made only to destroy the lives of men.
Don't let us speak of her! never let us think of her! She is
nothing to me. You are my world, my all. If she drives us away from
here, there are other parts of the world for us. Separate us she
never shall. Come! why should we waste our time even mentioning her
name. Come with me into our garden. Darling! darling!"

He stooped over her, and on her lips pressed those kisses so long
refused, uncared for by one woman, so priceless to this one, and
almost lifted Saidie from the chair. She laughed the sweet low
laughter of the Oriental woman, and went with him eagerly towards
the verandah, and out into the compound where the roses slept in
the warm silver light.

       *       *       *       *       *

For two days nothing happened. Hamilton went as usual to his office
for the day. At four he left, and, mounting his camel, went into
the desert to the oasis in the palms.

On the third day he received a summons from the Commissioner, and
went up to his house in the afternoon. His heart seethed with rage
within him, but except for an unusual pallor in the clear warm
skin, his face showed nothing as he entered the large, imposing
drawing-room.

The Commissioner was a short, pompous little man, rather
overshadowed by his grim raw-boned wife, and had under her strict
guidance and training developed a stern admiration for conventional
virtue, particularly in regard to conjugal relations. He rose and
bowed as Hamilton entered, but did not offer to shake hands.
Hamilton waited, erect, silent.

"Sit down, Mr. Hamilton." Hamilton sat down. "Er--I--ah--have
received what I may term a painful--yes, a very painful
communication, and er--I may say at once it refers to you and your
concerns in a most distressing manner--most distressing."

The Commissioner coughed and waited. Hamilton remained silent. The
Commissioner fidgeted, crossed his knees, uncrossed them again,
then turned on him suddenly. The Indian climate is trying to the
temper; it means many pegs, and small control of the passions.

"Damn you, sir!" he broke out fiercely. "What the devil do you mean
by keeping a black woman in your house, and sending your wife to
the hotel here?"

He was purple and furious; in his hand he crushed Mrs. Hamilton's
beautiful composition.

"She tells me you called in natives to throw her out of your
office: it's disgraceful! Upon my word it is; it's scandalous! And
you sent her to the hotel! I never heard of such a thing!"

"Mrs. Hamilton came out uninvited, in defiance of my express
wishes, and on her arrival I told her she could not stay with me,"
returned Hamilton quietly. "Whether she went to the hotel or not, I
don't know."

"But your wife, damn it all, your wife, has a right to stay with
you if she chooses; naturally she would come to you, and you can't
turn her out in this way."

"She has long ago forfeited all rights as my wife," replied
Hamilton calmly, in a low tone, with so much weight in it that the
Commissioner looked at him keenly.

"Why don't you get a divorce or a separation then?" he asked
abruptly. "Do the thing decently--not have her out like this, and
make a scandal all over the station."

"I know of no grounds for a divorce," returned Hamilton. "There are
many ways of breaking the marriage vows other than infidelity. I
married Mrs. Hamilton twenty years ago, and for those twenty years
she has practically refused to live with me. For twenty years I
have remitted half my income to her every year. During that time I
have many times asked her to join me here, sought a reconciliation
always to be refused. Recently I found another interest; the moment
my wife discovered this, she came out with the sole purpose of
annoying me. I have come to the conclusion that twenty years'
fidelity to a woman without reward is enough. I shall not alter my
life now to suit Mrs. Hamilton."

The Commissioner was silent. He was quite sure Hamilton was
speaking the truth, and in reality, in the absence of Mrs.
Commissioner, he felt all his sympathies go with him. But his
wife's careful training and his official position put other words
than his mind dictated into his mouth.

"Well, well," he said at last, "we can't go into all that. You and
your wife must arrange your matters somehow between you. But there
can't be a scandal like this going on. You, a married man, living
with a native woman, and your wife out here at the hotel! Something
must be done to make things look all right--must be done," and he
knitted his brows, looking crossly at Hamilton from under them.

Hamilton shrugged his shoulders.

"You'd better give up this native woman," snapped the
Commissioner.

Hamilton smiled. His was such an expressive face, it told more
clearly the feelings than most impassive English faces, and there
was that in the smile that held the Commissioner's gaze; and the
two men sat staring at each other in silence.

After some moments the Commissioner spoke again but his tone was
different.

"Hamilton, you know we all have to make sacrifices to our official
position, to public opinion, to social usage. Ah! what a Moloch
that is that we've created, it devours our best. Yes ... a Moloch!"
he muttered half to himself, gazing on the floor.

"Still, it's there, and we all suffer equally in turn. I know what
it is myself. I have been through it all." He stopped, gazing
fixedly at the beautiful crimson roses in the pattern of his Wilton
carpet. What visions swept before him of gleaming eyes and sweeping
brows, ruthlessly blotted out by a large, raw-boned figure and face
of aggressive chastity. "I am sorry for you, but there it is;
whatever the rights of the case, you can't make a scandal like
this."

"I am ready to resign my post if necessary," returned Hamilton; "I
have enough to live on without my pay."

The Commissioner started, and looked at him.

"Is she so handsome as that?" he asked in a low tone, leaning a
little forward. Mrs. Commissioner was not there, and he was
forgetting officialdom.

Hamilton hesitated a moment. Then he drew from his pocket a
photograph, taken by himself, of Saidie standing amongst her
flowers.

The beautiful Eastern face, the lovely, youthful, sinuous figure,
veiled in its slight, transparent drapery, taken by an artist and a
lover in the clear, actinic Indian light, made an exquisite work of
art. It lay in the hand of the Commissioner, and he gazed on it,
remembering his long-past youth.

After a long time Hamilton broke the silence.

"Now, you know," he said at last, "why I am ready to resign my post
rather than resign _that_; and it is not only her beauty that
charms me, it is her devotion, her love.... Do you know, white or
black, superior or inferior, these two women are not to be
mentioned in one breath. The one you see there is a woman, the
other is a fiend."

The Commissioner tried to look shocked, but failed; the smooth card
still lay in his hand, the lovely image impressed on it smiled up
at him.

"I don't know but what you are right," he muttered savagely as he
handed it back to Hamilton. "These wives, damn 'em, seem to have no
other mission but to make a man uncomfortable."

He got up and began to pace the room. He seemed to have forgotten
Hamilton and the official _rôle_ he himself had started to play. He
seemed absorbed in his own thoughts--perhaps memories. Hamilton sat
still, gazing at the card.

Half-an-hour later the interview came to an end. Hamilton went away
to his office with a light heart, and a smile on his lips. The
Commissioner had given him some of his own reminiscences, and
Hamilton had sympathised. The two men had drifted insensibly onto
common ground, and the Commissioner finally had promised to help
Hamilton as far as he could. Hamilton was pleased. That he had
merely been twisting a piece of straw, that would be bent into
quite another shape when Mrs. Commissioner took it in hand, did not
for the moment occur to him. That night Saidie danced for him in
the moonlight, and afterwards ran from him swiftly, playing at
hide-and-seek amongst the roses laughing, inviting his pursuit. In
and out behind the great clumps of boughain-villia gleamed the
lovely form, with hair unbound falling like a mantle to the waist.
Through the pomegranate bushes the laughing face looked out at him,
then swiftly vanished as he approached, and next a laugh and a
flash of warm skin drew him to the bed of lilies where he overtook
her, and they fell laughing on the mossy bank together. Wearied
with dancing and running and laughter, she sank into his arms
gladly, as Eve in the garden of Eden.

"Let us sleep here," she murmured, looking up to the palm branches
over them defined against the lustrous sky.

"See how the lilies sleep round us!"

And that night they slept out in the moonlight.



CHAPTER IV


A month had gone by, and during that month, except for the time he
was with Saidie in the bungalow, Hamilton, had he been less of a
philosopher, would have been extremely uncomfortable.

The Commissioner's wife had completely and entirely espoused the
cause of Mrs. Hamilton, and had insisted on her leaving the hotel
and coming to stay with her. Everywhere that the Commissioner's
wife went, riding or driving, Mrs. Hamilton accompanied her; and
whenever he met the two women, his wife threw him a mild,
reproachful glance of martyred virtue, while the Commissioner's
wife glared upon him in stony wrath.

Hamilton took no notice of either glance, but passed them as if
neither existed. The Commissioner looked miserably guilty whenever
he encountered Hamilton's amused, penetrating eyes, and avoided
him as much as possible. The Commissioner's house was completely
shut to him; he never approached it now except on official
business, and nearly every house in the station followed its
example. The story of Mrs. Hamilton's woes and wrongs had spread
all over the community, and proved a theme of delightful and
never-ending interest to all the ladies of the station. They were
unanimous in supporting her. Not one voice was raised in favour of
Hamilton. He was a monster, a heartless libertine, given over to
all sorts of terrible vices. Tales of the fearful doings in the
desert bungalow, where Hamilton and Saidie lived the gay, bright,
joyous life of two human beings, happily mated, as Nature intended
all things to be, spread over the station, and the stony stare of
the women upon Hamilton, when they met him, mingled insensibly with
a shrinking horror that greatly amused him.

Nobody spoke to him except in his business capacity. Every one
avoided him. He was practically ostracised. Mrs. Hamilton, on the
other hand, went everywhere, and thoroughly enjoyed herself in the
_rôle_ of gentle forgiving martyr that she played to perfection.
Being plain and unattractive to men, she was thoroughly popular
with the women, and they were never tired of condoling with her on
having such a brute of a husband. What more natural, poor dear!
than that she should refuse to live with him in India, if the
climate did not suit her? So unreasonable of him to expect it! The
question of a family, too! why, what woman was there now who did
not hate to have her figure spoiled, and object to be always in the
sick-room and nursery? So natural that she did not wish those
disagreeable passionate relationships: a man could not expect that
sort of thing from his wife! And then the money, too! she had never
had more than half his income all these twenty years! It seemed to
them that she had been wonderfully good and resigned.

Such was the talk at the afternoon teas, and the married men at the
club, coached by their wives, and being in the position of the fox
who had lost his brush, and wished no other fox to retain his,
condemned Hamilton quite as freely.

"It was beastly rough on his wife," they agreed, "to set up a
black dancing-girl under her eyes."

Hamilton cared not at all for the social life of the station, and
was greatly relieved by not having invitations to give or to
answer. All that he regretted was the ultimate resignation of his
post, which, he foresaw, would be the result of all this scandal
sooner or later.

Saidie, with Oriental quickness, had soon grasped the whole
situation, and had flung herself at his feet in a passion of tears,
begging him to send her away or to kill her rather than let her
presence make him unhappy. Hamilton had some difficulty in turning
her mind from the resolve to kill herself by way of serving him;
and it was only his solemn oath to her that she was the one single
joy and happiness of his life, that with her in his arms he cared
about nothing else, that if he lost her his life was at an end,
which pacified and at last convinced her.

Another month went by, and Mrs. Hamilton began to tire of her
position. She felt she was not making Hamilton half unhappy enough.
She had had but one idea, and that was to separate him from Saidie,
and in this she had failed. He had not even been turned out of his
post. He had been expelled from the social life of the station; but
she knew he would not feel that, that he would only welcome the
greater leisure he had to spend in his Eden with _her_. To play the
martyr for a time had been interesting, but its pleasure was
beginning to wane; moreover, she could not stay permanently with
the Commissioner's wife. She grew restless: she must carry out her
plan somehow. When Hamilton's life was completely wrecked, she
would be ready to return to England--not till then; and she lay
awake at nights grinding her long, narrow, wolf-like teeth together
as she thought of Hamilton in the desert bungalow.

One morning, after a nearly sleepless night, she got up and looked
critically at her face in the glass. Old and haggard as usual it
looked; but to-day, in addition to age and care, a specially evil
determination sat upon it.

"Life is practically done with," she thought, looking at it. "I
have only this one thing to care about now, and I'll do it somehow
before I go. If I can't enjoy my life, he shan't enjoy his."

She turned from the glass, and commenced dressing. The evil look
deepened on her face from minute to minute, and the word "Beast!"
came at intervals through her teeth.

Outside the window of her charming room all was waking in the
joyous dawn of the East. Long shadows lay across the velvet green
slopes of the Commissioner's lawn as the sun rose behind the
majestic palms that shaded it; floods of golden light were rippling
softly over roses and stephanotis, opening bud after bud to the
azure above them; the gay call of the birds rang through the clear
morning air; the perroquets swung in ecstasy on the bamboo
branches, crying out shrill comments on each other's toilet. The
scent of a thousand blossoms rose up like some magic influence,
stealing through the sparkling sunlight into the room, and played
round the thin face of the woman within, but it could make no
message clear to her. Every sense of hers had long been sealed to
all joy by hate.

At breakfast she announced her intention of leaving India by the
following mail, and not all the kind pressure brought to bear upon
her by the Commissioner's wife could induce her to postpone her
departure. She was gentle, calm, and resigned in manner, as usual,
excessively grateful for all they had done for her, and the
kindness shown her. She spoke very sweetly of her husband, told
them how she had hoped by coming out to induce him to leave the
evil life he was leading; but she saw now that these things lay in
higher hands than hers, and she felt all she could do was to pray
and hope for him in silence.

"Why don't you divorce him?" broke in the Commissioner abruptly and
quickly, anxious to get it out before his wife could stop him. He
tugged violently at his moustache, waiting for her answer. If she
would do that, he was thinking, what a relief for that poor devil
Hamilton!

"Divorce him?" returned Mrs. Hamilton resignedly. "Never! It is a
wife's duty to submit to whatever cross Providence lays upon her,
but divorce seems to me only the resource of abandoned women."

The Commissioner's wife nodded her head in majestic approval. The
Commissioner got up abruptly, breakfast being concluded. He said
nothing, but his mental ejaculation was, "Old hag! knows she
couldn't get any one else, nor half such a handsome allowance!"

The day for Mrs. Hamilton's departure came, and on its morning
Hamilton found a note from her on his office desk. He took it up
and opened it with a feeling of repulsion.

     "DEAR FRANK,--I am leaving by the noon boat for England. They
     seem to have altered their time of sailing to twelve instead
     of seven P.M.

     "I am sorry my visit here has caused you trouble. Do not be
     too hard on me. I am leaving now, and do not intend to worry
     you again. You must lead your own life until, perhaps, some
     day you wish to return to me. You will find me ready to
     welcome you. Good-bye, and forgive any pain I have caused
     you.--Your affectionate wife,
                                   JANE."

Hamilton read this note with amazement, and a sense of its falsity
swept over him, as if a wind had risen from the paper and struck
his face. But as men too often do, he tried to thrust away his
first true instincts, and replace their warning with a lumbering
reason. He sat deep in thought, gazing at the table before him. If
it were true, if she were really going, if she really meant
good-bye, what a relief! But it was impossible, unless, indeed, she
had accomplished her plan, and had heard that he had been, or was
about to be dismissed from his post.

This seemed to throw a light upon the matter, and with the idea of
finding confirmation of this in some of the other letters awaiting
him, he started to go through them. It was a heavy post-bag, and
gave him much to attend to. He went through the letters, but found
nothing relative to himself in them, and settled down to his work.
Twelve, one, and two passed, and he looked up at the clock,
wondering if she were really gone. He seemed to have no inclination
for lunch, so he worked on without leaving the office, and only
rose to clear his desk when it was time to leave for the day.
To-morrow he would learn definitely what passengers the out-going
boat had carried. He would not stay this evening to find out. He
felt ill, listless; he only wanted to be back with Saidie in the
restful shade of the palms.

As he rode across the desert that evening an indefinable depression
hung over him. Never since he had found Saidie had that melancholy,
once so natural, come back to him. Her spirit, whether she were
absent or present, seemed always with him--a gay, bright, beautiful
vision ever before his eyes, giving him the feeling that he was
looking always into sunlight. But to-night there seemed emptiness,
gloom about him.

"It's the weather," he muttered, and looked upward to the curious
sky. It was gold, gleaming gold; but close to the horizon lay two
bright purple bars, like lines of writing in the West: the prophecy
of a storm, and the heat seemed to hang in the air that not a
faintest breath moved.

Swiftly and evenly the great camel bore him, its well-beloved
master, over the rippling sand towards the palms in the golden
west, but the approaching night travelled faster than they, and it
was quite dark, with a sullen heavy darkness, before they reached
the bungalow. It seemed very quiet, with an indefinable sense of
stillness in the garden and wide hall. Neither Saidie nor any
servant came to meet him, and it was quite dark: no lamp had been
lighted. With a sudden throb of terror in his heart, Hamilton
paused and called "Saidie."

There was no response, no sound. Striking a match, Hamilton
deliberately lit a lamp. Some great evil was upon him, and with a
curious calmness he went forward to meet it. He went upstairs and
pushed open the door of their bedroom, shielding the light with his
hand and seeking first with his eyes the bed. Saidie lay there: the
exquisite form, in its transparent purple gauze, lay composed upon
the bed, a little to one side. The glorious hair, unbound, rippled
in a dark river to the floor; the head rested sideways as in sleep,
upon the pillow. In silence Hamilton approached; near the bed his
foot slid suddenly; he looked down; there was a tiny lake of
scarlet blood, blackening at its edges, blood on the wooden
bedstead side, blood on the purple muslin over the perfect breasts.
Hamilton, his body growing rigid, put out his hand to her forehead;
it was cold. He set down the lamp and turned her face towards it,
putting his arm under her head. Her lips were stone colour, the
lids were closed over the eyes; the face was the face of death.

In those moments Hamilton realized that his own life was over.
Saidie was dead--murdered. The world then was simply no more for
him. All was finished: he himself was a dead man. Only one thing
remained, one duty for him. To avenge her! Then utter rest and
blackness. He looked round thinking. The room was quite empty,
undisturbed. The great pearls on Saidie's neck were untouched. They
gleamed gently in the pale light from his lamp. No robber, no
outsider had been here. Then, in the darkened room, leapt up before
him the truth: a white, blonde face seemed looking at him from the
walls--the thick pale lips, the half-closed sinister eyes, the lean
long figure of his wife rose before him.

"But she was to leave by the morning's boat," he muttered. Then
... a thought struck him. He withdrew his arm gently from the
passive head, lighted another lamp, putting it on a bracket in the
wall, and left the room, descending to the vacant hall. He went to
the verandah and called to his servants. They came, a trembling
crowd, with upraised hands, and fell flat before him, weeping and
striking their heads on the ground.

"It is not our fault, Light of Heaven, Father of the Poor, the
Mem-Sahib came--the white Mem-Sahib. We are poor men; we have no
fault at all."

Hamilton listened for a moment to the storm of words and protesting
cries. Then he raised his hand and there was silence, but for a
sound of rising wind without and the sobbing of the natives.

"Pir Bakhs," he said to the head of them all, the butler, "tell me
all you know. Your mistress is dead. Who is responsible?"

The butler came forward and fell at his master's feet with clasped
hands.

"Lord of the Earth, I know nothing but this. At five all was quiet
in the house, and our mistress sat in the garden singing. Then
came to the door two runners with a palanquin. They asked to see
our mistress. I said wait. I went to the garden. I said the white
Mem-Sahib has come in a palanquin. My mistress said, 'I will see
her.' She went to the drawing-room, and the white Mem-Sahib came
in, and they drank tea together. Your servant is a poor man, and he
saw no more till the runners went away with the palanquin. So we
said, 'The white Mem-Sahib has gone,' and my mistress said to me
she felt drowsy and must sleep, and went upstairs to the Light of
Heaven's room and shut the door. And your servant was laying the
table in your honour's dining-room a little later, and he went to
close the jillmills,[1] for the wind was rising, and your servant
saw through the jillmill the white Mem-Sahib again getting into her
palanquin that had appeared once more at the back, and the runners
ran with it very fast into the desert; then your servant ran out to
ask the other servants why the white Mem-Sahib had come back, and
the ayah met him at the door and said she had found our mistress
killed in her room; and your honour's servant is a poor man, and
has wept ever since."

[Footnote 1: Wooden shutters.]

Hamilton listened in perfect silence. The man's face was lined with
grief, the tears rolled in streams down his livid cheeks. A wail
went up from the other servants at his words. Hamilton and his
mistress were their idols, and his grief was very real to
themselves.

Hamilton stretched out his hand to the trembling man with a benign
gesture.

"Pir Bakhs, I believe you. You have served me many years, and never
lied to me. This is another's work, not yours. Be at peace. You
have no fault."

The butler wept louder, and the others wailed with him, calling
upon Heaven to bless their master and avenge their mistress.

Hamilton turned from them to the dark dining-room, which he crossed
to the hall; through this he walked in the darkness as a blind man
walks, to the entrance.

He tore the wood-work door open, wrenching it from its hinges, and
looked out into the night. A dust-storm was raging in the desert
beyond the compound, and its stinging blasts of wind, laden with
sand, drove heavily over the exquisite masses of bloom, the
glorious and delicate scented blossoms of the garden. It tore off
the flowers remorselessly, and even for the moment he stood there,
a rain of thin, white, shredded petals was flung into his face. The
branches of the trees groaned and whined in the thick darkness, the
swish of broken and bent bamboo came from all sides, the roar of
the dust driven through the foliage filled his ears. The garden,
the beautiful, sheltered garden, scene of their delights, was being
ruthlessly destroyed, even as his life had been; it was expiring in
agony, even as he would shortly expire: to-morrow it would be
desolate, a shattered wreck under the dust, even as he, in a little
while--But something should be done first.

Leaving the doorway open, letting the dust-laden wind tear
shrieking through the silent house, he plunged into the roaring
darkness. He took the centre path that led straight to the compound
gate. The unhappy bushes and tortured branches of the trees, bent
and twisted by the onrushing wind, lashed his face and body as he
went down the path. He did not feel their stinging blows. On, on to
the desert he went blindly but steadily in the thick darkness.

When he got beyond the compound gate, out of the shelter of the
garden, the weight of the wind almost bore him down; but as he
faced its blast, his eyes saw, not so very far, out on the plain,
dull in the whirling mist, the dancing uncertain light of a carried
lantern. As the tiger darts forward on its prey, as the snake
springs to the attack, Hamilton leapt forward into the wall of wind
that faced him and ran at the dancing light.

Choked with sand, blinded, suffocated and breathless, but full of
power to kill, he was on it at last, and flung himself with sinewy
hands on the swaying, covered sedan chair, between the two bearers,
who, bewildered and helpless in the sudden storm, were groping
slowly across the plain. With a shriek they dropped the handles, as
Hamilton flung himself suddenly on the chair; the lantern fell into
the sand and went out. The natives, thinking the devil, the actual
spirit of the storm, had overtaken them, fled howling into the
blackness, their cries swallowed up like whispers in the roar of
the wind. As the chair struck the sand, the woman within thrust her
head with a cry through the open side. Hamilton seized it by the
neck. Out! out of the sedan chair, through the burst-open door, he
pulled the wretched creature by her head, and then flung her with
all his force upon the sand.

The raging wind swept past them in sheets of dust, bellowing as it
went. He knelt on her body; his hands ground into her neck. Through
the darkness he saw beneath him the thin, white oval of the face,
with its eyes bulging, starting out of the head, its lips writhing
in agony; two white hands beat helplessly in the black air beside
him. He looked hard into her eyes, bending down to her close, very
near, as his hands sank deeper into her neck, his fingers locked
more tightly round it. In a few seconds the light of the eyes went
out, the hands ceased to beat the air. Saidie was avenged. With a
laugh that rang out into the noise of the storm, the man got up
from the limp body and stood by it, in the echoing darkness. Then
he kicked it, so that it rolled over, and the sand came up in
waves eager to bury it.

In an hour woman, sedan chair, lantern would all be beneath a level
plain of sand.

He turned back towards the bungalow. "Saidie," he murmured, and the
storm-wind seemed to rave "Saidie!" "Saidie!" round him, to whirl
the name upwards to the dim stars, glimmering one here and there,
far off and veiled in the heavens. He went back; the wind helped
him. On its wings he seemed borne back to his house, through the
tortured garden, through the gaping doorway, over the shattered
door he passed, and then up the stairs to their room.

After the inferno of the desert the inside of the house seemed
quiet, and in their room the lamps burned steadily, but low. Their
oil was used up, their life, like his, was nearly done. The bed
stood there and on its calm white stillness lay Saidie, waiting for
him, for him alone, as always.

He went up to her and stood there.

"Saidie?" but she did not answer. He lay down beside her gently, so
as not to break her slumber, and then drew her to his breast. Ah
his treasure! his world! Surely now all was well since she was
safe in his arms! He did not feel the deathly coldness. There was a
whizzing in his brain where Nature had laid her finger on a vein,
and broken it that he might be released from sorrow and die.

"Saidie?" he murmured again as her breast pressed his, and put his
lips to hers.

As his life had first dawned in her kiss, so it went back now to
the lips that had given it, and in that kiss he died.



II


There was complete silence in the large room, filled with long,
wavering shadows that the flickering firelight chased over the
walls and amongst the gilt-edged tables.

Beyond the windows the dusk was gathering quickly in the wind-swept
street, beneath the leaden sky. From the pane nearest the fire a
side-light fell across a man's figure leaning against the corner of
the mantel-shelf. A ruddy glow from the hearth struck upon the silk
skirt of a girl leaning back in the easy-chair beneath the other
corner.

Her face is lost in the shadow.

He is a good-looking fellow, very. The high white collar that shows
up in the dusk is fastened round a long, well-set neck; the figure
in the blue serge suit is straight and pleasing, and the shoulders
erect and slim.

The girl's eyes, looking out of the shadow, take in these points,
and the pleasure they give her seems inextricably confused with
dull pain. Her gaze passes on to his face, and rests eagerly,
almost thirstily, upon it.

There is light enough still to show her its well-cut oval, spoiled
now by the haggard falling in of the cheeks, the lines in the
forehead, and the swellings beneath the eyes.

He shifts his position a little and glances through the window. His
eyes are full of irritation, and the girl knows it, though they are
turned from her. She gives a suppressed, inaudible sigh; his
attitude now brings out the impatient discontent on his mouth and
the rigid determination of the chin.

"I suppose you mean two people can live upon nothing?" His voice is
cold, even hostile, and he speaks apparently to the panes, but the
tones are well-bred and pleasing; and again the girl wonders dimly
which is the predominating sensation in her--pleasure or pain.

"No," she says, in rather a suffocated voice. "But I say, if either
person has enough, or the two together, it does not matter which
has it, or which has the most."

Silence, which her hesitating, timid voice breaks at last.

"Does it?"

"Yes, I think it does," he answered shortly. "The man must have
enough to support both, or he has no right to marry at all."

The girl's hands lock themselves together convulsively, unseen
behind her slight waist, laced so skilfully into the fashionable
bodice.

There is a hard decision in the incisive tones that does not belong
to the mere expression of a general theory--a cold authority and a
weight of personal conviction that turns the words into a statement
of rigid principle.

The girl feels almost dizzy, and she closes her hot eyelids
suddenly to shut out the line of that hard, obstinate chin.

"People's ideas on what is enough to support both vary so much,"
she says quietly, with well-bred indifference in her tone, while
her heart beats wildly as she waits for his next remark.

"Well, what would you consider enough yourself?" he says coldly,
after a slight pause, turning a little more towards her.

The red light glows steadily on her skirts, and he can see the
graceful outline of her knees under them, and one small foot upon
the hearthrug; the rest of the form is veiled in the shadow, except
one rounded line of a shoulder and the glint of light hair above.

He looks down at her, and there seems a sudden, nervous expansion
in his frame; outwardly there is not the faintest impatient
movement. He waits quietly for her reply.

The girl hesitates as she looks at him. To her, in her absorbing
love for the man before her, the question is an absurd mockery.

To reduce to a certain number of pounds this "enough," when for her
anything or nothing would be enough!

"I would rather starve to death in your arms than live another day
without you," is the current running under all her thoughts, and it
confuses them and makes it difficult for her to speak.

What shall she answer? To name a sum too small in his eyes will
be as great an error as to name one too large. He would only
think her a silly, sentimental girl, who knows nothing of what
she is talking about, and who has no knowledge and appreciation
of the responsibilities of life.

Besides, to name a very small income will be to conjure up before
his eyes the picture of a mean, pitiful, sordid existence, from
which she feels, with painful distinctness, he would turn with
disgust.

Poor? Yes, he has told her that he is poor, and she believes it;
but somehow--by contracting debt, probably--she thinks, as her
keen, observant eyes sweep over him, he manages at present to live
and dress as a gentleman.

Those well-cut suits, those patent shoes and expensive cigarettes;
these things, she feels instinctively, must be preserved for him,
or any form of life would lose its charm.

At the same time, she must mention something that is not hopelessly
beyond him. She recalls her own two hundred; surely, at the least,
he must be making one.

"I can hardly say," she murmured at last, "because personally I
think one can live on so very little; but I suppose most people
would say--well, about three hundred pounds a year."

"Oh! three hundred a year," he says, stretching out his hand for
the tea-cup on a low table beside him. The tea has grown cold in
the discussion of abstract questions. He takes the cup and sits
down deliberately in the corner of the couch opposite her, and
stirs the tea slowly.

"How much is that a week? Five pounds fifteen, isn't it? Well, now,
go on, see what you can make of it. Your house--the smallest--and
servants--"

"House and servants!" interrupts the girl, "but why have a house
and servants at all?"

"I don't know," he rejoins curtly, "because the girl generally
expects those things when she marries."

"Not all girls," she says, and one seems to hear the smile with
which she says it in her voice.

"You mean rooms?" he says quickly, with a gleam of pleasure
breaking for a moment across his face.

"Well--say rooms--you would want three--thirty shillings, I
suppose, at the least, and then another thirty for board. That
leaves two fifteen for everything else."

"Surely that's a good deal."

"Oh, I don't know; think of one's clothes," and Stephen stares
moodily into the fire, with a pricking recollection of a tailor's
bill for twenty odd in his drawer at home now.

Then, to remove the impression of selfish extravagance he feels he
may have given, he adds:

"And a man wants to give his wife some amusement, and three hundred
a year leaves nothing for that."

"Amusement!" the girl repeats, starting up and standing upright,
with one elbow just touching the mantelpiece, and the firelight
flooding her figure from the slim waist downwards. "What amusement
does a woman want if she is in love with the man she is living
with? The man himself is her amusement! To watch him when he is
occupied, to wait for him when he is away, to nurse him when he is
ill--that is her amusement: she does not want any other!"

Stephen stares at the flexible form, and listens to the words that
he would admire, only the cynical suspicion is in his mind that she
is talking for effect. His general habit was to consider all women
mercenary and untrustworthy. Deep in his heart--for he had a heart,
though contracted from want of use--lay a hungry desire to be
loved, really loved for himself; and the very keenness of the
longing, and the anxiety not to be deceived, lessened his powers of
penetration, and blinded him to the girl's character.

He laughs slightly. "You are taking a theatrical view of the whole
thing!"

"How do you mean?"

"Oh, well, that the wife really loves her husband and sticks to him
through everything, and they pass through unheard-of difficulties
together, and so on"; but he adds, with a faint yawn: "I've always
noticed that when the money goes the love disappears too. There's
no love where there's abject poverty."

"But three hundred a year is not abject poverty," answers the girl
in a quiet tone, not denying his theory for fear of being called
again theatrical.

"No," he admits. "Oh, it might do very well as long as there were
only two; but then, when there are children, it means a nurse, and
all sorts of expenses."

He says the words with a simplicity and directness that makes the
girl almost catch her breath. For these two were not on intimate
terms with each other, not even terms of intimate speaking.

Nothing had passed between them yet but the merest society phrases,
and before a certain quiet dinner one month back neither knew of
the other's existence. Since then some chance meetings on the
beach, the parade, the pier, a few long afternoon rows, between
then and now: these are the only nourishment the flame in either
breast has received--a flame kindled in a few long glances across
the dinner-table.

But this afternoon he has laid aside the customary phrases and
deliberately commenced the present conversation.

True, it is purely an abstract one--all theory and hypotheses. No
one could say otherwise if it were repeated. Not a personal word
has been uttered on either side; but the girl feels in the
determined tone of his voice, in the studied way he started it, in
the cold precision with which he follows it, that it is practically
a test conversation of herself, and that she is virtually passing
through an examination.

He has come this afternoon with a set of certain questions that he
means to put, to all of which her answers are received without
comment, and mentally noted down.

He neither repeats himself, nor presses a point, nor leaves out
anything on his mental list, nor allows any remark to lead away
from it.

He has also certain things he means to say, which he will say, as
he asks his questions, deliberately, one after the other; and then,
when he has heard and said all he intends, he will terminate the
conversation as decisively as he began it and go. The girl feels
all this, for her brain is as clear and keen as the glance of her
eyes.

She knows that he is testing her: that she stands upon trial before
him.

She has nothing to hide: only, that too great love and devotion,
that seems to swell and swell irrepressibly within her, and would
pour itself out in words to him, but that his tone, his manner,
his look keep it back absolutely, as a firm hand holds down the
rising cork upon the exuberant wine. And now, at this sentence
of his, her words fail her. They are strangers practically, that
is conventionally--quite strangers, she remembers confusedly--but
for this secret bond of passion, knit up between them, which both
can feel but both ignore.

The natural male in him, and the natural female in her, are
already, as it were, familiar, but the fashionable man and girl are
strangers still.

Then, now, how is she to say what she wishes to him? How can she
talk with this mere acquaintance upon this subject? The very word
"children" seems to scorch her lips. At the same time, familiarity
with him seems natural and unnatural; terrible, and yet simple.

Then, too, what are his views?

Will her next words shock him inexpressibly?

In her passionate, excitable brain, inflamed with love for the man,
the idea of maternity can merely present itself like an unwelcome,
grey-clad Quaker at a banquet.

She hesitates, choosing her words. She knows so little of the man
in front of her. His clothes, she sees, are of the newest cut, but
his notions may not be.

At last her soft, weak, timid voice breaks the pause.

"Do you think it necessary to have very large families?"

"No, I don't," he answers instantly with the energy and alacrity of
one who is glad to express his opinion. "No, I don't, not at all."

The girl's suspended breath is drawn again. Unlike himself in his
queries she presses her point home.

"Don't you think those marriages are the happiest where there are
no children?"

"Yes," he says decidedly, getting up and thrusting his hands into
his coat pockets. "Yes, I do--much the happiest."

There is silence. It is too dark for either to see the other's
expression. He stands irresolutely for a minute or two, and then
says with a disagreeable laugh:

"I should hate my own children! Fancy coming home and finding a lot
of children crying and screaming in the place."

To this the girl says nothing, and Stephen, after a minute's
reflection, softens his words.

"Besides, your wife's love, when she has children, is all given to
them."

"Yes," murmurs her well-bred voice. "Oh, yes, one is happier
without them."

Neither speak. They are agreed so far; there is a deep relief and
pleasure in the breast of each.

"Well," he says at last, rousing himself, "I must go. I shall be
late for dinner."

The girl leans down and stirs the fire into a leaping, yellow
blaze. It fills the room with light, and reveals them fully now to
each other.

She makes no effort to detain him, and they look at each other,
about to part.

The self-control of each is marvellous, and admirable for its mere
thoroughness and completeness.

He has large eyes, and they stare down at her haggardly, as he
stands facing her in the light. The hungry, hopeless look in those
eyes and the drawn lines in his face go to the girl's heart, and to
herself it seems literally melting into one warm flood of sympathy.

Ill! he looks ill and wretched, and she longs with a longing that
presses upon her, till it is like a physical agony, to give some
way to her feelings.

"Dearest, my dearest!" she is thinking, "if I might only tell
you--even a little--"

And Stephen stares at the soft face and warm lips, half-paralyzed
with desire to bend down and kiss them. How would a kiss be? how
would they--And so there is a momentary, barely perceptible pause,
filled with a painful intensity of feeling, to which neither gives
way one hair's breadth. Then he gives a curt laugh.

"We have discussed rather a difficult problem and not settled it,"
he says in a conventional tone.

"It seems to me quite simple," murmurs the girl, with a throat so
dry that the words are hardly audible.

He hears, but makes no reply beyond another slight laugh, as he
holds out his hand. The girl puts hers into it. There is a moderate
pressure only on either side, and then he goes out and shuts the
door, leaving the girl standing motionless--all the warm springs
in her heart frozen by his last cynical laugh.

Brookes finds his way down the stairs, through the unlighted hall,
and lets himself out in the chill October air.

He goes down the street feeling a confused sense of having
inflicted pain and left distress behind him, but his own sensation
of irritation, his own vexation and angry resentment against his
lot in life, all but obliterate it.

For some seconds he walks on with all his thoughts merged together
in a mere desperate and painful confusion. "Only a hundred a year!"
is his plainest, most bitter reflection. "Five-and-twenty, and only
earning a hundred a year!"

Brookes is not of a calm temperament. His nervous system is tensely
strung, and generally, owing to various incidental matters,
slightly out of tune, or at anyrate, feels so.

His circulation is rapid, every pulse beats strongly, and the blood
flows hotly in his veins.

His mental nature is of much the same order--passionate, excitable,
and impatient; but there is such a heavy curb-rein of control
perpetually upon it, that its three leading qualities jar inwardly
upon himself more than they show to outsiders.

Even now the confused, excited disorder in his brain is soon
regulated and calmed by his will, and as he walks on he lapses into
trying to recollect whether he has said all he meant to.

He concludes that he has, and a certain satisfaction comes over
him.

"Well, I have told her my views now," he reflects. "She sees what I
think, and what my principles are. She won't wonder that I say
nothing. I shall try for another post and a rise of salary, and
then--"

Stephen's character was a fine one in its way. The capacity for
self-command and self-denial was tremendous, his sense of honour
keen, his adherence to that which he conceived the right
inflexible, his will immutable; but of the subtler sweetness of
the human heart he had none.

Of sympathy, the divine [Greek: sym, pathos], _the suffering with_,
he had not the vaguest conception: of its faint and poor
reflections, pity and mercy, he had but a dim idea.

He stuck as well as he could to what he thought was the right
path, and as to the feelings of others, he could not be blamed for
not considering them, for he had never practically realized that
they had any.

In the present circumstances he had a few, fine, adamantine rules
for conduct, which he was going to steadfastly apply, and he
thought no more of the girl's feelings under them than one thinks
of the inanimate parcel one is cording with what one knows is good,
stout string.

In his eyes it was distinctly dishonourable for a man to engage a
girl to himself without a reasonably near prospect of marriage.

It was also decidedly ungentlemanly to propose to a girl if she had
money and you had none. Moreover, it was extremely selfish to
remove a girl from a comfortable position to a poorer one, though
she might positively swear she preferred it; and lastly, it was
unwise for various reasons, to be too amiable to the girl, or to
give any but the dimmest clue to your own feelings.

There was no telling--your feelings might change even--when you
have to wait so long--and then it was much better, _for the girl_,
that she should not be tied to you.

To visit the girl frequently, to hang about her to the amusement of
onlookers, to keep alive her passion by look and hint and innuendo,
to excite her by advances when he was in the humour, and studiously
repulse her when she made any, to act almost as if he were her
_fiancé_, and curtly resent it if she ever assumed he was more than
an ordinary friend--this line of action he saw no fault in. The
above were his views, and they were excellent, and if the girl
didn't understand them she might do the other thing.

Some weeks passed, and the man and the girl saw each other
constantly--three or four times in the week, perhaps more; and the
inward irritation grew intense, while their outward relations
remained unchanged.

There was a certain brutality that crept into the man's tones
occasionally when he addressed her, a certain savage irritability
in manner, that told the girl's keen intelligence something; some
involuntary sighs of hers as she sat near him, and an increasing
look of exhaustion on her face, that told him something. But that
was all.

There were no tender passages between them; none of the
conventional English flirting--matters were too serious, and the
nature of each too violent to permit of that. A little bitter,
more or less hostile, conversation passed between them on the
most trifling subjects in his long afternoon calls. A little
music would be attempted--that is, he would sing song after song,
while she accompanied him, but a song was rarely completed.
Generally, before or at the middle, he would seize the music in a
gust of irrepressible and barely-veiled irritability, and fling
it on the piano--yet they attempted the music with unwavering
persistence, and both rose to go to the instrument with mutual
alacrity.

There they were close to each other--so close that the warmth and
breath of their beings were interchanged. There in the pursuit of a
fallen sheet of music, his head bent down and touched hers. Once,
apparently to regain the leaf, his hand and arm leaned hard upon
her lap. One second, perhaps, no more; but the girl's whole
strained system seemed breaking up at the touch--her control
shattered, like machinery violently reversed.

The music leaf was replaced, but her hands had fallen nerveless
from the keys.

"It is hot. I can't go on playing. Put the window open, will you,
for me?"

Stephen walked to the window, raised it, and smiled into the dark.

That night it seemed to Stephen he could never force himself to
leave the girl. He prolonged the playing past all reasonable
limits, until May's sister laughingly reminded him that they were
only staying in seaside lodgings, and other occupants of the house
must be considered. Stephen reluctantly relinquished the friendly
piano, and then stood, with May's sweet figure beside him, and her
upraised face clear to the side vision of his eye, talking to her
sister.

At last, when every trifle is exhausted of which he can make
conversation, there comes a pause, a silence; he can think of
nothing more. He nerves himself, holds out his hand, and says,
"Good-night!"

May, influenced equally by the same indomitable aversion to be
separated from him, follows him outside the drawing-room, and
another pause is made on the stair. By this time a fresh stock of
chaff and light wit is ready in Stephen's brain, and he makes use
of anything and everything to procure him another moment at her
side; but of all the passion within him, of the ardent, impetuous
impulse towards her, nothing, not the faintest trace, shows.

A mere "Good-night!" ends their conversation at length, and the
girl did not re-enter the drawing-room, but passed straight up the
stairs to her own room.

"Does he care? Does he care or not?" she asked herself, walking
ceaselessly backwards and forwards. "If I only knew that he did!
This is killing me; and suppose, after all, he does not care!"

She almost reels in her walk, and then stretches her arms out on
her mantelpiece, and leans her head heavily upon them.

"So this is being in love!" she thinks, with a faint satirical
smile. "All this anxiety and pain and feeling of illness! Why, it
is as if poison had been poured through me."

Through the next day May lay pallid and silent on the couch,
without pretence of occupation, feeling too exhausted even to
respond to her sister's chaff and raillery.

It was only at dinner, when her brother-in-law informed his wife he
was sick of the place, and that nothing would induce him to stay
more than another week, that a stain of scarlet colour appeared in
May's cheeks and a terrified dilation in her eyes.

Her lids were lowered directly, and the blood receded again. She
made no remark, but at the close of dinner she excused herself, and
went upstairs alone.

Once in her room, she stripped off her dinner-dress and shoes, and
re-dressed in morning things. Her hands trembled so violently that
she could hardly fasten her bodice over the wildly-expanding bosom.

But her resolve was fixed. They were going in a week. To-morrow,
she knew, Stephen was leaving the place for a fortnight. She must
see him to-night.

When she is completely dressed, she pauses for a moment to choke
down the terrible physical excitement that seems to rob her of
breath and muscular power.

Then she passes downstairs quietly and goes out.

The night is still, cold, and dark.

May walks rapidly through the few streets that divide his house and
hers.

The few men she meets turn involuntarily to glance after the
splendid form that goes by them, and in her decisive walk, in the
eyes blind to them, they feel instinctively she is already owned,
mentally or actually, by some one other.

When she reaches Stephen's house, she learns he is in, and with a
great fear of him suddenly rushing over her, she sends word up to
him by the servant: Will he see her?

While she waits in the hall, her message is taken upstairs. May
leans against the wall, a terrible sick faintness, born of
excitement and hysteria, coming suddenly upon her.

There is a hall-chair, but her eyes are too darkened to see it; she
simply clings to the handle of the door, and lets her head sink
against the side of the passage.

Brookes is upstairs with his brother and two friends; they have
been playing cards, but a game is just over, and the men have got
up to stretch themselves.

Stephen himself is leaning back against the mantelpiece, as his
habit is, and yawning slightly. He has just been beaten, and he is
a man who can't play a losing game.

"No," his brother remarks. "I didn't know what the deuce 'Ladas'
meant till I looked it up; did you, Steve?"

"Oh, I should think every schoolboy would know that," is the curt
response, and at that moment the servant's knock comes at the door.

"Please, sir, there's a lady as wants to see you," the girl says
with a perceptible grin. "She said she wouldn't come up, and she's
waiting in the hall, sir."

There is a blank silence in the room. Brookes pales suddenly, and
his eyebrows, that habitually have a supercilious elevation, rise
still higher with annoyance.

He hesitates a single second, then, without a word in reply, he
crosses the room towards the door, and the servant retreats
hastily.

The men glance furtively at each other, but Stephen's devil of a
temper being well known, they forbear to laugh or even smile till
he is well out of the room. Brookes goes down the stairs with one
sentence only in his mind: Coming to my rooms, and making a fool
of me!

He is annoyed, intensely annoyed, and that is his sole feeling.

May is standing upright now in the centre of the hall under the
swinging lamp, and she watches him run lightly down the long flight
of stairs towards her with swimming eyes.

What is there in that figure of his that has so much influence on
her senses? More, perhaps, even than his face, do the lines of his
neck and shoulders and their carriage please her. All the pleasure
she can ever realise in life seems contained for her in that slim,
well-made frame, in its blue serge suit.

She makes one impetuous step forward, her whole form dominated,
impelled by the surge of ardent feelings within her, and holds out
one trembling, burning hand. Stephen, with a confused sense of its
being awfully bad form that she should be standing in his hall,
takes it in his right hand, feeling hastily for the lucifers with
his left.

"Er--come into the dining-room, won't you?" he says, with the
familiar, supercilious accent that with him is the expression of
suppressed annoyance and slight embarrassment.

He knows the rooms are unlet, and with gratitude for this
providential circumstance in his thoughts, and his heart beating
violently with sudden excitement now he is actually in her
presence, he turns the handle of the door and sets it wide open.

He strikes a match and holds it up, leaning back against the door,
for her to pass in before him.

As she does so, their two figures for one second almost touch each
other, and a sudden glow lights up in his veins. He feels it, and
it warns him instantly to summon his self-control. That before
everything.

The next moment he follows her into the room, lights the gas,
returns to the door, closes it, and then comes back towards the rug
where she is standing.

By this time his command is his own. His face is as calm as a mask.
His large eyes, somewhat bloodshot now from hours of smoking and a
sleepless night, rest upon her with cold enquiry.

She has seen them once, met them once, fixed, liquid, with
passionate longing upon hers; desperately she seeks in them now for
one gleam of the same light, but there is none. They and his face
are cloaked in a cold reserve. Sick, and with her heart beating to
suffocation, she says, as he waits for her to explain her presence:

"We are--going away."

Stephen's heart seems to contract at the words he had so often
dreaded to hear, heard at last.

His thoughts take a greyer hopelessness.

"Oh, really!" he says merely, the shock he feels only slightly
intensifying his habitual drawl. "Not immediately, I hope?"

Nothing to the nervous, excited, over-strained girl before him
could be more galling, more humiliating, more crushing than the
cold, conventional politeness of his tones and words.

This frightful fence of Society manner that he will put between
them--a slight, delicate defence, is as effectual as if he caused a
precipice by magic to yawn between them.

"No--not--not--quite immediately, but soon," she falters. "And it
seems as if I could not exist if--I--never see you."

There is a strained pause while they stand facing each other. He
is motionless; one hand rests in his pocket, the other hangs
nerveless at his side.

They look at each other. Each is thinking of the supreme
delight--even if momentary--the other's embrace could give if--but
the conditions in the respective minds are different--in his: "If I
thought it wise;" in hers: "If he only would."

"Well, we can write to each other," he says at last.

"Oh, but what are letters?" the girl says passionately; and then,
urged on hard by her love for him, her intuition of his love for
her, and her common-sense instinct not to throw away her life's
happiness for a misunderstanding or petty feeling of pride, she
adds: "You know--don't you?--that I care for you more than anything
else in the world."

Her tones are sharp with the intensity of feeling, and she
stretches both hands imploringly a little way towards him.

He sees them quiver and her face whiten, and the frightened appeal
increase in her pained eyes searching his face, and it is a
marvel--later, he marvels at it himself--how, with his own passion
keen and alive in him, he maintains his ground. But there is
something in the whole scene that jars upon him--something
theatrical that makes the thought flash upon him: Is it a got-up
thing?

This puts him on the defensive directly; besides, he resents her
coming to him in this way, and endeavouring to surprise from him
words he has already explained to her he is unwilling to say.

She is trying to rush him, he puts it to himself; and the thought
rouses all his own obstinacy and self-will.

When he chooses he will speak, and not before.

"It is very good of you to say so," he answers quietly, in a cold
formal tone, and the girl quivers as if he had struck her.

Now, in his lonely, sleepless nights, the misery on the white face
comes back and back to him in the darkness of his room, but then he
is blind to it.

In an annoyed mood to begin with, irritated beyond bearing by his
own helpless, ignominious position, as he fancies, he has no
perception left for his own danger of losing her.

And the man, who had lived till five-and-twenty, desiring real
love, and not knowing it, deliberately trampled upon it without
recognising what he did.

His words cut the girl terribly.

It seems impossible for the second that she can force herself to
speak again to him, but the terrible, irrepressible longing within
her nerves her for one more effort.

"Is that all you can tell me? Do you not care for me at all?"

He looks at her and hesitates. So modest, so appealing, so timid,
and yet so passionate! Surely this is genuine love for him. Why
thrust it back? But the thought recurs. No. She is rushing him; and
he declines to be rushed. Also a sort of half-embarrassment comes
over him, a nervous instinct to put off, ward off a scene in which
he will be called upon to demonstrate feelings he may not satisfy.

He laughs slightly, and says:

"Of course I do! I like you very much!"

The tones are slighting and contemptuous, enough so to convey
the polite warning: Don't go any further, and force me to be
positively rude to you.

Swayed by his strong physical passion, and blinded by the dogged
determination he has to remain master of it, he is absolutely
insensible of another's suffering.

Had the girl had greater experience with men, more hardihood and
less modesty; if she could have approached him, and taken his hands
and pressed them to her bosom; if she had had the courage to force
upon him the mysterious influence of physical contact, Stephen's
control would have melted in the kindled fire.

Words stir the brain, and through the brain, the senses; but with
some people it's a long way round.

Touch stirs the nerves, and its flame runs through the body like a
flying pain.

Stephen's physical nerves were far more sensitive than his brain,
and had the girl been a woman of the half-world, or even of the
world, she could have succeeded. But she was a girl; and her
modesty and innocence, the chastity of all her mental and physical
being, hung like dead weights upon her in the encounter.

His words, his tones, his glance simply paralyze her--not
figuratively, but positively. Her physical power to move towards
him, to make a further appeal to him, is gone. Speech is dried upon
her lips, wiped from them as a handkerchief passed over them might
take their moisture.

She looks at him, dumb, frenzied with the intense longing to throw
herself actually at his feet, but yet held back by some
irresistible power she cannot comprehend, any more than one can
comprehend the stifling, overpowering force in a nightmare.

It is the simple result of her life, her breeding, her virtue, her
character, her habits of control and reserve. She is the
fashionable, well-brought-up girl, with all her sensitive instincts
in revolt against forcing herself upon a man indifferent to her,
and full of an overwhelming instinctive timidity that her desire is
wild to break down and cannot.

She stares at him, lost in a sense of bitter pain. All her vigorous
life seems wrung with pain, and in that torture, in which every
nerve seems bruised and quivering, a faint smile twists at last the
pale, trembling lips. "You would have made a good vivisector!" she
says. Then, before he has time to answer, she turns the handle of
the door behind her, opens it and goes out.

A second after the street door closes, and Stephen stands on the
dining-room mat, looking down the empty hall. Thoroughly disturbed
and excited, with all his own passion surging heavily through his
blood, and her last sentence--that he does not understand any more
than he understands his own cruelty--ringing in his ears, he
hesitates a minute, and then re-enters the dining-room, shuts to
the door, and walks savagely up and down.

"Extraordinary girl!" he mutters. "What does she want? What can I
do? She knows I can say nothing at present, when I'm going into the
work-house myself! But what a splendid creature she is! Lots of
'go' in her. Well, I don't care. I'll have her one day; but there's
no use making a lot of talk about it now."

May walked away from his doorstep, no longer a sane human being,
responsible for its actions. The whole physical, nervous system,
weakened by months of self-control, and night following night of
sleeplessness, was hopelessly dislocated now.

The whole weight of her excited passion, flung back upon the
sensitive brain, turned it from its balance. It had been a
brilliant brain, and that very excitability that had lent its
brilliance was fatal to it now.

The hopeless passion ran like a corroding poison through the
inflammable tissue.

She had put the matter to the test, and found that truth of which
the mere possibility had been torture. He had absolutely rejected
her. "He could not care for me," she kept repeating, as the silent
air round her seemed full of his cold, short laughs.

His passion for her was dead. It had existed, surely--those looks
of his, the sudden violence of his touch when there was any excuse
for the slightest contact with her--or had it all been some curious
dream?

She could not tell now, but whether it had been or not, it was no
longer. To her that seemed the only explanation of his words and
tones. To the tender female nature the depth of brutality in the
passion of the male--that is, in fact, the very sign of it--remains
always an enigma.

After the scene just passed, it seemed to the girl impossible,
ludicrous, to suppose that Stephen loved her.

She had already made great allowance for him. She had a large share
of the gift of her sex--intuition; and she had understood more than
many women would have done, but to-night he had gone beyond the
limits of her imagination.

"No man would be so intensely unkind to a woman he cared for," she
argued. "For nothing, when there is no need."

She was not an unreasonable, nor selfish, nor silly girl. Had
Stephen told her he loved her, but that they must suppress their
passion, that she must wait, she would have obeyed him, and waited
months, years, gone down to her grave waiting, in patient fidelity
to him. Her qualities of control were as fine as his, and her
devotion to a man who loved her would have been limitless, but,
acting according to his views, Stephen had taken some trouble to
convince her he was not the man, and she was convinced.

And being convinced, the vision of her life without him seemed just
then a dismal waste, impossible to face.

In most of the actions of the human being, the physical state of
the person at the time is the principal factor, and May's whole
physical frame, violently over-strained, craved for rest--rest that
the excited brain could not give. Rest was the urgent demand
pressed by the breaking nervous system, and from these two
thoughts--rest, oblivion--grew the dangerous thought of Death.

"Sleep and forget! but I can't," she thought, "and if I do, there
is the horrible awakening;" and again her fatigue suggested all the
past sleepless nights, and the craving of the body urged the brain
to find better means of satisfying it, in the same way as the
appetite for food forces the brain to devise methods for procuring
it.

She walked on in a straight line from Stephen's house, and the road
happened to pass a post-office. May stopped and looked absently
through its lighted, notice-covered panes.

"Send him a few lines," she thought; "because I am so stupid, I
could not tell him enough, and then--"

She did not finish the sentence, but all beyond was blank peace.
She went in, bought a letter-card, and wrote:--

     "I could have loved you devotedly, intensely, had you wished
     it, but you have made it clear to-night that you do not want
     love--at any rate, not mine. I have discovered that I have
     courage enough to die, but not to live without you. I am going
     to the sea now, and in an hour we shall be separated for ever.
     I shall know nothing and you will care nothing, so it seems a
     good arrangement. My last thought will be of you, my last
     desire for you, my last breath your name."

She fastened it with an untrembling hand, passed out of the office,
posted it, and went straight down a side street to the parade.

The night was still, bound in a frosty silence. The temperature
sank momentarily, and the icy grip intensified in the air.
Overhead the sky was black, and glittered coldly with the winter
stars. Beside and behind her and before her not a living
creature's footstep broke the silence. The sea lay smooth, black,
and motionless on her left, like some huge sleeping monster.

She walked on rapidly: a glorious, vigorous, living, youthful
figure, full of that tremendous activity of brain and pulse and
blood, so valuable when there is a use for it, so dangerous when
thrown back upon itself.

"How I could have loved him, worshipped him, lived for him, had he
but wanted me!" is the one instinctive cry of her whole nature.

At the first easy descent to the beach she turns from the parade,
and goes down, passing without hesitation from the light down to
the moist darkness of the beach. To get away into oblivion, to
escape from this maddening sense of pain, to lose it, let it go
from her like a garment in the black water, is her only impelling
instinct.

She sees the glimmer of the water before her without a shudder. How
much dearer and more inviting it seems to her tired eyes than her
bed at home, where so many, many sleepless, anguished nights have
been spent! Here--rest and sleep, with no awakening to a grey and
barren to-morrow. The thought of Death is lost. Desire for the
cessation of pain is keener at its height than even the desire for
life.

She stumbles on the wet, black beach at the water's edge, and then
finds where it is slipping like oil over the sand.

She walks forward, and the chill of the water rises round her
ankles, then her knees, then her waist, and then she throws herself
face forwards on it, as she once thought to fling herself on his
breast.

In a half-drunken satisfaction she stretches her arms out in it and
commences to swim towards the horizon. "Like his arms!" she thinks,
as the water encircles her. "Like his lips!" she thinks, as it
presses on her throat. "And as cold as his nature."

       *       *       *       *       *

The following morning is calm and still--a perfect specimen of
wintry beauty. A light frost covers the ground and sparkles on the
trees.

There is a faint chill in the clear air, a tranquil calm on the
gently rising and falling sea and in the lucid sky.

The sunlight falling on Stephen's bed and across his sleeping face
shows a smile there, and his arm, lying on the coverlet--an arm
thinned by constant fever and night-sweats--rests, in his thoughts,
round her neck; that white neck so sweetly familiar in his dreams.

After a time he wakes and yawns, and turns his head heavily towards
the window; and farther as the happy unconsciousness of sleep
recedes from his face, and recollection and intelligence come back
to it, more clearly show the haggard lines, traced all over it, of
self-repression, seaming and marking it at five-and-twenty.

"Another day to be got through," he thinks merely, as Nature's most
precious gift--the light--pours glowing through the panes.

When half-an-hour later he opens his door to take in his boots, he
finds two letters with them, and at the sight of one his heart
beats hard.

The other is in the girl's handwriting, and he lays it on his
toilet-table, with the thought, "Asking me to go and see her, I
suppose," and turns to the other with a mad impatience.

This is evidently the official letter with reference to his
post--the post that means to him but this one thing: her
possession.

He bursts it open, and in less than two seconds his eye takes in
its news: he has the appointment.

The blood leaps over his face, and an exultant fire runs through
his frame and along his veins.

He replaces the letter quietly in its cover with but the slightest
tremor of his fingers.

Then he gets up from the bedside and stands in the middle of the
room, looking through the sparkling panes.

"I have her!" he is thinking. "Yes, by God! at last I have her!"

The day is glorified; life is transfigured.

Through his whole body mounts that boundless exhilaration of desire
on the point of satisfaction. Not momentary desire, easily and
recently awakened, but the long desire that has been goaded and
baited to fury through weeks and months of repression, and tempered
to a terrible acuteness in pain and suffering, like steel by flame.

And now triumph, and a delight beyond expression, bounds like an
electrified pulse throughout all his strong, vigorous frame.

The lines seem to fade from his face, the mouth relaxes, and then
he laughs, as he makes a step towards the window, flings it open,
and leans out into the keen air.

"At last I can speak out decently. No one could think I cared for
her money, or any of that rot now. How unexpected!--this morning!
Now I can tell her I'm free, independent! I am glad I waited--it
was much better. Far better, as I said, to be patient. Last night I
almost--and now I'm very glad I didn't."

He draws his head back, and turns to the glass to shave with a
light heart.

As he does so, he sees her letter again, and picks it up. "You
darling!" he thinks, "I'll make you understand all now."

Some miles westward of the pier, some fathoms deep, out of reach of
the quiet sunlight lying on the surface, tosses the girl's body,
senseless and pulseless, with all the million possibilities of
pleasure that filled those keen nerves and supple limbs gone out of
them for ever, and Stephen draws out her despairing letter of
eternal farewell, with a smile lighting up his handsome, pleasing
face.

"Yes, it was much better to wait," he murmurs, "I don't approve of
rushing things!"



III

CHAPTER I


It was morning on the Blue Nile. The turbulent blue river rolled
joyously between its banks, for it was high Nile, and a swift,
light breeze was blowing--the companion of the Dawn. The vault of
the sky seemed arched at a great height above the earth, springing
clearly, without any object to break the line from the horizon of
gold sand, and full of those white, filmy, light-filled gleaming
clouds that are one of the wonders and glories of Upper Egypt and
the Soudan. It was a morning and a scene to make a man's heart rise
high in his breast, and cry out, as his eyes turned from the
level-sanded desert floor, through sunlit space, to the vaulted
roof, "After all, the world is a good house to live in."

Slowly the strong yellow sunlight poured over the plain, the bank
and the river, gilding every ripple; and, as the light grew,
hundreds of delicate shapes--the forms of the ibis and flamingo
and crane, and other river-fowl--became visible, crowding down the
dark banks, with flapping of white and crimson wings, and
stretching of legs, and opening of beaks, rustling down, shaking
their feathers, to bathe and drink of the Blue River.

Wonderful light, and miraculous, gleaming, cloud-filled sky, and
wonderful birds preening their plumage and calling to each other,
and wonderful breeze-swept water, bluer than the bluest depths of
the Indian Ocean.

It was still so early that, in the whole stretch of rollicking,
tumbling, buoyant waters between bank and bank, only one piece of
river-craft could be seen. This pushed onward, cleaving through the
little billows in the teeth of the morning breeze. It was a tiny
naphtha launch--a horrid, fussy, smoking little thing, cutting
through breeze and water, and diffusing a scent of oil and greased
iron in the pure and radiant air. A white bird on the bank looked
at it, and rose with a startled note of alarm, and a flight of
lovely-salmon-coloured colleagues followed. The others merely
looked up and paused, with their wings wide stretched, and then
went on calmly with their toilets--they had seen it before.

In the launch, of which the whole centre was taken by the
naphtha-stove--the engine by courtesy--sat a young Englishman,
whose face had that frank, attractive look of one whose thoughts
are kindly, well disposed to all the world; and at stem and stern
stood, erect and silent, the white-clothed figure of a boy from
the Soudan. Lithe, graceful forms supported long necks and
straight-featured faces, black as if carved out of smooth ebony,
and contrasting strangely with the white turbans of stiff linen
twisted deftly into a high crest above the brows. Swiftly the
little boat ran on for a mile or two against wind, with its three
silent and motionless occupants; then one boy turned, and
pronounced solemnly the two words, "Mister, Omdurman!"

This was accompanied with a gracious wave of his hand towards the
bank, as he leant forward to stop the engine, and his companion
turned the boat to land.

Omdurman, as seen from the river level, looks like nothing but a
long streak of duller yellow on the real gold of the African sand.
Its tiny, square, flat-roofed mud-houses are not, with few
exceptions, higher than six feet, and there is nothing else save
them and their dreary, yellow-brown, muddy monotony in the whole
village: not a palm, not a flower, not one blade of grass, simply a
collection of low mud-houses, with trampled mud-paths between, and
here and there an open, brown, dusty square.

The stillness and heat of the day were settling down now: the first
wild, cool youth of the morning was past, and the Englishman felt
the heat of the desert rise from the ground and strike his face,
like the blow of a flail, as he stepped on land. He expected the
Soudanese boys to follow, as they generally did on similar
excursions--one to secure the boat and sit and wait beside it, and
the other to accompany himself, carry his tripod and camera, and
act as guide and general escort. To-day the boy stood in the boat,
and addressed him earnestly:

"Boat wanted by other misters: let us go back: take them. We make
much money; come again evening, take you home."

"But, you young ruffians, what am I to do out here alone? I don't
know the way, and I want you to carry my things," expostulated the
Englishman, vainly trying to adjust a pair of blue goggles over his
eyes, smarting already in the intolerable glare from the sand,
while striving not to let drop his camera, fiercely cuddled under
one arm, and its tripod of steel legs and an overcoat balanced on
the other.

The black remained for a moment impassive, statuesque, wrapped in
reflection. Then he brightened:

"Me know," he said, suddenly springing from the boat. "Me take you
my house. Sister show you the way: sister carry mister's things."

The Englishman stared for a moment into the eager, intelligent
face, strangely handsome, though in ebony. After all, do we not
think a well-carved table beautiful, although sometimes, even
because, it is in ebony? Then _he_ brightened:

"Very good; take me to your house, and let me see your sister," he
said good-humouredly; adding inwardly, "If she's anything like you,
she'll be the very thing for the camera."

They turned from the cool, rolling, billowy water inwards towards
the desert and the huts of Omdurman, and the heat rose up and
struck their cheeks each step they took.

       *       *       *       *       *

Merla stood that morning at her hut doorway looking out--out
towards the river she could not see, for the banks rise and the
desert falls slightly behind them. She stood on the threshold, and
the sun beat on her Eastern face, and showed it was very good. She
was sixteen, and, like her brothers who ran the naphtha launch for
the English, she was straight and erect, tall and lithe and supple,
with a wonderful stateliness and majesty of carriage, though she
had never been taught deportment nor attended physical culture
classes. Merla was beautiful, with the perfect beauty of line that
belongs to her race, and possessed the straight, high forehead, the
broad, calm brow that tells of its intelligence and nobility. She
knew, however, nothing of her own beauty. She never cared for
staring into the little squares of glass that the girls of the
village would buy in the market-place, nor coveted the long strings
of blue glass beads that the Bishareens brought in such numbers to
sell in Omdurman; nor did it specially please her to lay the beads
against her neck, and see them slide up and down on her smooth skin
as she breathed, though her companions would thus sit for hours
cross-legged before their little mirrors, breathing deep to note
how their beads rose and fell and glistened in the light.

Merla loved much better to steal out of the hut at night, when the
oil-lamp smoked against the mud wall and the air was heavy, into
the pure calm darkness of the desert, and gaze up at the stars, and
listen to the far-off tom-toms beating fitfully against the
stillness. And if ever any little coins came into her possession,
it seemed unkind to spend them on glass or beads when there was
always milk and oil needed in the house. And if, when these were
bought, there was any coin left, then her real luxury was to buy
food for the poor thin camel that lay at night in the mud-yard
behind their hut, and to go and feed it secretly in the starlight.
And she would press her hands into the soft fur of its neck as it
leant towards her, feeling that delight that springs from being
kind and loving, and being loved. The law of her life was love, a
law springing naturally in her mind, as the beauty and health in
her body. Her father, her mother, her brothers were all loved by
her; and, beyond these, the unfortunate camels and the donkeys
whose sides bled where the girths cut them as the careless
Englishmen rode them in and out of the village to and from the
Mahdi's tomb, and the lean, barking curs in the mud street that
seldom barked as she passed by. All these she loved and sympathised
with, though she had not been taught sympathy any more than she had
been taught grace.

This morning she was radiant and happy as she looked through the
quivering, yellow light that danced above the sand towards the
river. Last night she had fed the camel and caressed it, and she
had listened, half awe-struck, to the tom-toms in the distance. The
music had seemed to come to her ears with a new sound. The breeze
had blown from the river with a new kiss to her face. She was
growing into a woman, and the sap of life was rising fast and
vigorous within her, lifting her up with the boundless joy of life.
And as she looked, two white spots, a crested turban and a solar
topee, appeared over the edge of the bank, moving towards her.

"My sister!" said the Soudanese boy, with a regal air, when they
stood at the mudhouse door. And some instinct, as he was young and
foolish, made the Englishman drag off both goggles and solar topee
for a moment, and so Merla looked up and saw him with the sun
bright on his light Saxon hair and friendly blue eyes.

"Merla," went on the boy rapidly to his sister in his own tongue,
"this English mister from Khartoum must have a guide to Kerreree. I
go back to the boat: other Englishman want me. You go to Kerreree,
Show everything; carry black box for him--carry everything. Salaam,
Stanhope Mister."

And, without waiting for either assent or dissent, he swiftly, yet
without any loss of dignity or show of hurry, departed. Merla's
large eyes were downcast. She was a free woman, and came and went
unveiled, nor was it impossible for her to talk to the white
people, for her parents were poor and humble, and glad to make
piastres in any way they could. One of her sisters was a
water-carrier at the hotel in Khartoum, and she might be engaged
there also when she was older. But still she held her eyes down,
for she felt embarrassed and oppressed, and, besides, the topee and
the goggles had been replaced, and they spoilt the vision she had
seen first of the English face.

"Well, Merla, if that's your name, will you come with me?" the
Englishman said lightly. He knew the tongue well that her brothers
spoke, not in any of its refinement and subtlety, but in the
ordinary distorted way an Englishman usually speaks a foreign
tongue.

"I will ask if I may," she returned simply, in a low voice, and
drew back into the dark hut behind her. After a moment she
reappeared. "My mother and my brother have ordered it," she said
calmly. "I am ready."

Struck by the philosophic, impassive accent of her voice, and not
feeling at all flattered, the young man added in rather a nettled
tone:

"But I hope it's not disagreeable to you. You are willing to come?"

Then Merla looked at him steadily from under her calm,
widely-arching brows: "I am willing." A calm pride enwrapped all
her countenance, and it seemed as if she said it somewhat as a
victim might say, "I am willing," on being led to the altar of
sacrifice. Yet her eyes were radiant, and seemed to smile on him.

The young Englishman was puzzled, as young England mostly is by the
East, and, seeing this, the girl added, "Certainly I am willing; it
is fated I should go with you. Give me the black box."

But it goes against the grain of an Englishman to let a woman carry
his baggage, though he hires her to do it, and he held his camera
back from her.

"Take these," he said; "they are lighter," and he gave the little
tripod to her, and so they started down the mud sun-baked street
that leads through Omdurman to the desert, and out towards the
battle-ground of Kerreree. There were few people stirring; the men
had already started to their work in the fields by the Nile, or on
the river itself, and the women kept within the close darkness of
the huts mixing and baking meal for the evening's food. Merla
walked on swiftly and silently like a shadow at Stanhope's side
through the mud village, and then on into the silent heat of the
desert beyond. Here the fury of the sun was intense. The river was
out of sight, lying low between its banks. To infinite distance on
every side of them stretched the plain, and the soil here was not
golden sand, but curiously black, like powdered coal or lava. Not a
living thing moved near them; only, far away towards the horizon,
now and then passed a string of camels of some Bedouins travelling.
They walked on in silence. Stanhope found the walking heavy, as his
heeled boots sank into the loose, black soil, and it was difficult
to keep up with the swift, easy steps of the bare black feet beside
him. His duck suit was damp, and the line of flesh exposed between
cuff and glove on his wrist was burnt to a livid red already in the
smiting heat. Suddenly Merla's eyes fell on this, and she stopped.
Over her head she wore a loose veil of coarse white muslin. As she
stopped, she unwound this from her hair, and tore two strips from
it. Stanhope stopped too, well pleased at the pause.

"You burn your English skin; the flesh will come off," she said
gravely, and before he quite realised it, she had passed one of the
muslin strips round and tied it on his wrist. Stanhope's instinct
was to protest at once, but there was something in the girl's
earnestness and the tender interest with which she put the muslin
on his hand that checked him. Also the pain, whenever his sharp
cuff touched the seared skin, was unpleasant, and made him really
appreciate the improvised protection.

"Your pretty veil, Merla, you've torn it up for me," he remarked
regretfully as they started again. Merla glanced at him suddenly;
she said nothing, but the pride and joy in her eyes startled the
man beside her. He could find no more words, and silence fell
on them again till Merla roused him from a reverie by saying
indifferently:

"Look! that white heap there--bones, dead men, dead horses. This
side, white bones too; many dead here--many bones."

Stanhope looked round. Everywhere, scattered in heaps, shone the
white bones. They had come to the edge of the battlefield. Before
them rose the little hill of Teb-el-Surgham, crowned by its cairn
of black stones and rocks, surrounded by whitened bones and skulls,
from the summit of which the English watched the defeat of the
Khalifa's force. Stanhope cast his eyes over the dreary, black,
blood-soaked plain, on which there was no blade of grass, no plant,
no flower--only black rock and white bones, that shimmered together
in the torrid heat.

"Horrible! Merla, war is horrible! Come and sit down; I'm dead
tired. Let's sit down here against this rock and rest."

Stanhope threw himself down by one of the rocks at the base of the
hill, and leant back against it. The girl took her place on the
sand opposite him, with her feet tucked under her. Not far from
them lay a skull, turned upwards to the glaring sky.

"Will you let me photograph you?" he asked after a minute's gazing
at the rich dark beauty of the youthful face, "or is it against
your customs?"

"It is against our customs," Merla answered, her hands closing hard
on the tripod beside her. What terror it would mean for her to
stand before that great black box, and have that evil black eye
glare upon her for long seconds! She had seen her countrywomen flee
shrieking to their huts, when the Englishmen approached with their
black boxes.

"But you will do it for me, won't you?" answered Stanhope
persuasively, having set his heart on the picture.

"Yes, I will do it for you; it is right, if you wish it," she
answered steadily.

Stanhope accepted at once such a convenient theory, and sprang up
to fix the tripod and the camera in order, and the girl sat still
on the sand watching him, cold with terror in the burning air.

"Now, pick up that skull and hold it out in your hand, so. Yes,
that's right. Now, stand a little further back. Yes, that's
perfect."

There was no difficulty in getting her to pose. The natural
attitudes of her race are all perfect poses. And Merla stood
erect, facing the camera, with the emblem of death in her hand.

"Thank you; I am very much obliged! That'll be a first-rate
picture," he said gratefully when he had finished, and Merla sat
down with a strange swimming feeling of joy rushing over her.
Stanhope was some time fussing with his camera, and putting it back
in its case out of the light. Then he wanted lunch, and drew forth
a sandwich-case and a wine-flask. The girl would only eat very
little, and would not taste the wine. Stanhope, who was very hungry
and thirsty, ate all his sandwiches and drank all the wine, and
began to feel very bright, refreshed, and exhilarated.

"Do you know you are very beautiful?" he remarked, as he stretched
himself comfortably in the shade of the rock and gazed at her,
seated sedately on the sand in front of him.

"Beautiful?" she repeated slowly, reflectively, "am I? The white
camel that lives down by the market square is beautiful, and so was
the Mahdi's tomb."

"Well, you are more beautiful even than the white camel or the
Mahdi's tomb," returned Stanhope, laughing. "And what do you think
of me?" he added curiously. "Where do I come in the list? somewhere
close after the white camel, I hope."

Then, as she gazed at him steadfastly, without replying at all, he
felt rather piqued, and took off his blue glasses and squared his
fine shoulders against the rock.

"Oh, you!" said the girl softly at last, "You are like nothing on
earth, lord! You are like the sun when he first comes over the
plain, or the moon at night, when it floats, white and shining,
through the blue spaces!"

She sat sedately still, but her breast heaved under the straight,
white tunic: her eyes were full of soft fire: her voice was low,
and quivered with enthusiasm. Stanhope flushed scarlet. Confused
and startled, he stared into her eyes, and so they sat, silent,
gazing at each other.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same afternoon there was a big fair or bazaar in the trampled
mud square in the centre of the Soudanese village that lies higher
up the river at the back of Khartoum. The place was gay with colour
and crowded with moving figures. From long distances, from far-off
villages down and up the river, the natives had come in, either to
sell or to buy along the wide, dusty road that went out from either
side of the square, leading each way north and south. The mud-huts
stood all round the square, backed by some date-palms, for Khartoum
and the village behind it are more favoured with shade than
sun-baked Omdurman. And in the centre of the square stood or sat
the natives, buying and selling, chaffering and gesticulating. Some
were Bishareens, with straight forms and features, and black bodies
almost covered with long strings and chains of beads. They stood
about gracefully to be admired, with their wooly hair fluffed out
at right angles to their head, for the occasion. Some were
corn-merchants, sitting leisurely before a heap of golden grain
piled up loosely on the ground. Others stood by patiently with
their fowls or goats or camels, feeding them with green fodder; and
others had vivid scarlet rugs and carpets of native make spread out
on the uneven ground. And all day long the noise of the merchants,
and the cry of the fowls, and the groan of the camels, and the
dust of the square, and the smoke of the cooking fires went up from
the bazaar.

In one corner of it, on a square of blue carpet, spread beneath his
camel's nose, sat a merchant who had been observed to come early to
the fair. He appeared to be a man of some substance, for he was
clothed, and the camel kneeling beside him was fat and sleek, and
would easily make two of the thin camels of Khartoum. Opposite him,
sitting on his heels and holding out two lean hands to tend the
small fire that smoked between them, was another, obviously poorer,
from his smaller amount of dress and flesh.

"It is true: your Merla is the pearl of the desert. I have heard it
from my mother," observed the merchant reflectively. "Still, think,
my brother, a good riding camel that can be hired out to the
Englishmen every day for thirty piastres the day; in a short time
you will feed on goat's flesh, and wear boots, with all that
money."

The black eyes of the listener sparkled, but he objected shrewdly
enough.

"My daughter eats not as much as a camel, and the English want not
a camel every day."

The stranger, fat and comfortable-looking, with a certain amount of
opulent Oriental good looks, waved his hand with a lordly gesture.

"Let it not be said that Balloon is an oppressor of the poor. Give
me the pearl, and this knife shall go with the camel, also this
piece of blue carpet--a noble offer, my brother; where will you
find such another?"

He drew from his crimson sash a longish knife, keen-bladed, with
trueblue, Eastern steel, and having a good bone-handle, on which
the fingers clasped easily. The other took the knife and gazed at
it intently.

"'Tis but a poor thing," he said at last, indifferently thrusting
it into the cloths twisted round his waist. "Yet the camel and the
carpet may suit me, and, as you say, you need not the girl at
present, I will agree, as I am a poor man, and the poor are ever
under the heel of the rich. The girl shall be sent to your house on
your return."

"I go now northwards, and shall return by the full moon; disappoint
me not, Krino or it shall be evil for you."

"I disappoint no man," replied Krino calmly, taking over from the
other the string of the camel, and the fine beast turned its dark,
soft head, and looked with liquid eyes on its new owner.

The sky began to show an orange and crimson glow behind the palms,
and many cooking-fires now gleamed like spots of blood upon the
sand, and the figures still came and went, and talked and bartered,
for the goods were not nearly all sold, and the heaps of fine corn
were still high in many places, and the fair would go on to-morrow
and the next day. But Krino got up and took his way homeward,
exulting over his bargain, and leading the camel.

At the same hour, lower down the Nile, at Omdurman, the river lay
calm now, without a ripple, and bathed in gold; a stream of liquid
gold it seemed, asleep between its deep-green banks, and only now
and then did a white-sailed felucca glide by in the golden evening
light.

Two figures came down from the desert to the Nile out of the flat,
heated air of the plain to the divine freshness by the water.
Here, in the cool, golden light, they paused slow and reluctant to
part.

"Good-night, Merla! Are you unhappy that I must go?"

The girl raised her face, and looked at him with steadfast eyes.

"The sun gilds the black rock, but the rock cannot expect the sun
to stay. I am quite happy. Good-night!"

Another moment and the little launch had sprung out from the deep
shadowed bank on to the golden surface, and was steaming, amidst
the gold and rosy ripples, back to Khartoum.

When Merla reached the little enclosure of stamped clay round her
hut, she saw a new camel feeding there, and cried out for joy. She
ran to it and clasped her hands about its velvet neck, and called
to her father, as he sat smoking at the doorway, a dozen questions.
Where had it come from? Whose was it? But the old man only chuckled
and laughed, and would not answer.

"No, no," he thought, watching her with pride, as she played round
the camel, "let the maiden wait to know the joy in store for her
till the full moon; she is but a child."

Stanhope went that night to a dance at the palace at Khartoum, but
he was late in arriving, and seemed very dull and absent-minded
when he came, and flattered the women less than usual. "He used to
be such a nice boy when he first came here," they complained
amongst themselves, "but he was quite horrid to-night--he must be
in love," and they all laughed, for every one knew there was no one
in Khartoum to fall in love with except themselves, and he had not
led any one of them to suppose she was the favoured one.



CHAPTER II


The night was calm, and in the purple, star-filled sky the moon was
rising. It was at the full. The naphtha launch was on the river,
but it moved silently; current was with it, and the light airs
favourable, so there was no need of the engine; one single sail
carried the boat easily over the buoyant water. The stars and the
rising moon gleamed in the smooth, black ripples. Stanhope sat in
the boat thinking, wrapped in a cruel reverie.

He felt he had sailed the craft of his life too near the perilous
shore of unconventionality, and now he saw the rocks ahead of him
plainly, on which it would be torn in pieces. Yet how to turn back,
or move the helm to steer away from them?

"A month ago," he thought, as his eye caught the reflection of the
rising moon in the water, "when that moon was young, I was free.
Not a soul cared for me, whether I lived or died, and I cared for
no one." Now there was one, he knew, who lived upon his coming,
whose feet ran to meet him, whose eyes strained their vision to see
his first approach. And he, too; he was no longer free. His heart
went out to that other heart, beating for him alone so truly, so
faithfully, full of such unquestioning adoration and obedience, in
mud-walled sun-parched Omdurman.

When the launch touched the bank, he sprang out and walked swiftly
up to their usual meeting-place: the deserted mud enclosure of a
deserted hut--an unlovely meeting-place enough--but filled with the
sweet air of the desert night and the royal light of the stars.

"My lord looks weary to-night," said Merla softly, after they had
greeted each other, and had sat down side by side with their backs
to the low wall.

"Yes, I am tired with thinking. What is to be the end of this,
Merla? Where is our love drifting us to?"

"Why does my lord concern himself with that? We are in the hands of
Fate."

Stanhope moved impatiently.

"Our fate is what we make it."

"It is not wise to enquire about our fate," replied Merla, and he
saw her face grow grave with resolution in the dim light. "But I
can tell you, if you like, what it will be: when you are ready, you
will go back to your own people, your own life, and you will be
very happy."

"And you--?" asked Stanhope in a whisper.

"I shall then have lived my life. I shall die and be buried out
there," and she motioned to the desert. "I shall have given my lord
happiness for a time: think what delight, what honour!"

Stanhope shuddered.

"Don't, don't, I can't bear to hear you; do you ask nothing for
yourself from life?"

"Life has given me all now," returned Merla, with a proud smile on
her face.

"Why should we not go home to my land together?" said Stanhope
passionately, in that sudden revolt against the laws of custom that
stirs all humanity at times. "Why should I not take you to live
with me for always to be my wife? who would forbid me?"

Merla shook her head, and pressed hard on his hand lying beside her
on the sand.

"The sun cannot lift the black rock from the desert and take it to
dwell in the blue spaces; neither can the sun stay with the rock.
You are grieving for me; do not. I am quite happy. I accept what
must be. My life ends when you go."

For a wild moment it seemed to Stanhope that he must dare
everything and take her. After all, she was intelligent: she could
be educated. She was beautiful, youthful; and what a love she
poured out at his feet!--different in calibre, in nature,
different, from its root up, from any love he could hope to find
again--a love that asked absolutely nothing for itself, not even
the right to live, and yet would give its all unquestioningly,
unsparingly. It is not a toy to be thrown away lightly, and
Stanhope realised this.

"The blue spaces are cold and empty, Merla," he said, suddenly
catching her to his breast. "You must come with me."

"No, lord, it is impossible; you speak only for me," whispered
Merla, though she clasped his neck tightly. "You must go and live
happy, and I shall die happy; even in my grave I shall remember
your kisses."

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later, the moon was well up in the sky, though the light
was not yet brilliant, and they parted by the wall of the
cattle-byre with promises to meet on the morrow, and he turned and
left her standing in the shadow; but some instinct moved him, and
he returned and kissed her yet again, and said one more farewell;
then he took the narrow track leading down to the river, and Merla
knew that she must hasten home; for her father, who had been out in
the early evening, would be returning. Before she left she turned
back once more into the byre, and stood looking at the stars that
she had communed with so often: a great sadness fell on her
thoughts, a chill as after a final parting. As she turned to go,
her eyes fell on a grey patch on the byre floor--his coat! He had
left it behind. Merla gave a little laugh as she picked it up: the
parting seemed less final now. She would keep it till the morrow.
Would he want it? miss it? No, the night was so still and sultry;
and, throwing it over her arm, she passed onwards to her hut.

As she neared the enclosure, her heart beat rapidly. A light was
burning within the hut, and by the moonlight she saw the great
camel moving restlessly in the narrow space outside. Angry voices
reached her in sharp discussion--her father's and another. Just
inside the enclosure she paused and listened, trembling, uncertain
what this unusual clamour and strange voice might mean.

"I gave you my camel, my knife, and my carpet. Where is the Pearl I
was promised? Is not the moon at the full?"

Merla heard these words with a thrill passing through every fibre.
She knew her father had no pearl in his possession, but was not
her name "Pearl of the Desert"? Next there came some confused
murmur--seemingly words of apology--in her father's voice that she
could not catch, but the stranger interrupted angrily:

"Unhappy man! tricked seller, tricked buyer, would you know where
the Pearl is? would you know where your daughter hides? I have
heard that she has been seen with a stranger, a white-faced
stranger--I know not if he be a leper or an Englishman--" with a
bitter laugh, "but in either case I want her not. Come, give me my
knife, and I lead off my camel."

Merla's heart failed, for her father gave a shriek as he heard the
accusation, and a shower of oaths and imprecations came to her
shrinking ears. Nothing was clear any more; there was only clamour
and raving in the hut. But once she caught the words, "to the
river--does he go to the river?" and above all the storm of words
there was the awful sound of the sharpening of a knife.

Like a shadow, noiseless and silent, Merla crept swiftly, under the
shade of the camel's body, across the enclosure to the mud
partition behind which her youngest brother slept, and roused him.
"Nungoon!" she said breathlessly, gripping his shoulder, "take the
track to the river, and run for your life. You will overtake the
Englishman. Tell him this. 'Merla says: Run to the launch and get
off the land quickly, and never come back to Omdurman, or come with
a guard. They seek to kill you here.' Go, brother; run!"

The boy, startled from his sleep, gathered himself together and
rose. His sister, leaning over him with ashy face and fixed eyes,
seemed like Fate itself directing him. Moreover, Oriental youth is
accustomed to obey unquestioningly. Without a word, simply with a
sign of assent, he fled out of the enclosure, down the track to the
river.

Merla stepped back and out of the yard, and stood waiting, silent
as before; she had formed her resolution, and all fear was past.
The mats in front of the door were suddenly pushed aside, and a
streak of light fell across the yard, but it could not touch her,
sheltered by the wall. She saw her father rush out, wild-eyed, and
the long blade of the knife gleamed blue in the moonlight.

Then, as he dashed through the enclosure entrance, she moved her
feet suddenly, scraping the sand, and then fled, wrapped in
Stanhope's long light overcoat, up towards the desert, away from
the river. Krino, blinded, maddened by passion, glanced at the wall
whence came the scraping sound, and then, catching sight of a
flying form in English dress, plunged with a cry of triumph after
it. Merla fled like the wind along in the shadow of the wall,
keeping in the darkness, with her head down, fearing lest her bare
head or bare feet might betray her. But Krino's eyes were fixed on
the silvery grey of the English overcoat, and, blind to all else,
he raced on in the uncertain light with his eyes intent on the
shoulders between which he would plunge his knife. Up through the
heart of sleeping Omdurman, past silent huts and yellow walls that
gleamed pale in the moonlight, through the village to the desert,
hunted and hunter fled on, and Krino's heart rose in savage
triumph.

"Fool! he cannot escape me now; by the river--yes, but not in the
desert; he cannot escape."

And the desert was reached and entered, and still the two noiseless
shadows fled over the sand.

Merla's strength was failing: her sight was reeling; she could run
no more. Only the joy of knowing that each step led the enemy
farther from her loved one had supported her till now. Now he was
safe, he must be away on the friendly river. There had been ample
time. Not now would it be possible for Krino to reach the river
before her lover had embarked. It was well. All was well! And the
black sand spun round her in the moonlight, as she heard the hiss
of her father's breath behind her. She wavered. With a bound the
man threw himself forward. One stab, and the keen blade sank
through the flesh below the shoulder, driving her forward, and she
fell face downwards on the sand.

Blind still with fury, the Soudanese bent down, tore at the head to
drag it back that he might slash it from the body, and turned up
the face to the moonlight. Fixed in agony and triumph, it looked
back at him--the dead face of his daughter, the PEARL OF THE
DESERT.



IV


The last flare of the sunset was falling on the walls of Jerusalem,
staining them crimson, and flooding all the enchanting circle of
the hills that lie round the city with rosy light. Low down in one
of the depressions, where the long sun-rays could not reach, and
the olive-trees looked grey in the twilight, stood the grim, white
Monastery of the Holy Virgin. The air was sweet and cool here, far
from the pollution of the city, and the evening sky stretched fair
and radiant above the purple hills. Unbroken quiet reigned, and
only one thing in the landscape moved--the figure of a girl
ascending swiftly a narrow, stony road under the shadow of the
wall. She seemed burdened with many things that she was carrying,
and oppressed with some haunting fear, for she looked back
frequently, and then pressed on with redoubled speed. The stony
track brought her at last to the corner of the enclosure of
olive-trees belonging to the monastery; it branched here, one path
leading straight to the gates of the building, the other skirting
the olive-wood plantation, and then passing on out into the barren
hills and open country towards Jericho. The girl took the second
track, and here, under the friendly shade of the sheltering trees,
she walked more erect and easily. When she reached the farther
corner of the plantation she stopped and listened, gazing round
her. There was no sound, the light was failing, the hush deepening.
"Nicholas," she breathed in a clear whisper, leaning on the low
stone plantation wall, "are you there?" A rustling of some long
robe against bushes answered her--the olive branches were pushed
aside, and the figure of a Greek priest came from between them.
With a smile of intense joy on his face he leant over the wall, and
clasped the girl's two soft hands in his.

"Esther!" he whispered back, "you have come; you have decided then,
you are ready?"

"I am quite ready," answered the girl, pressing close to the wall
and lifting her face; the last gleam of gold light from the rising
ridge to the west touched it, and showed it was very fair. "If you
are sure it is right, if you have faith in Jehovah to lead us."

The priest's face, pale and emaciated, with the rapt look of the
visionary stamped upon it, lighted up suddenly with a new
exaltation.

"I am quite sure. Last night when I was praying, still in doubt,
before the great crucifix, I heard a voice from above saying:
'Nicholas, you are absolved from further prayer and penance here.
Go forth with the maiden you love and serve Me in the world. The
joy of human hearts singing to Me in grateful praise is more
pleasing to Me than these groans and tears and prayers. I have
created the blue sky and the laughing seas and the green hills; go
forth and see my works, and praise Me.'"

The Jewish girl had listened intently, her face as rapt as his
while he spoke, the fire of joy glowing in her eyes.

"Come, then, at once," she murmured in an ardent whisper, and
Nicholas stepped over the low boundary into the hill road, now
wrapped in darkness. Before them still glimmered dimly the white
outlines of the monastery behind the trees. The man stood
motionless, gazing at them, the girl's hand tightly clasped in his
and held against his breast.

"The agony, the misery I have suffered behind those walls," he
muttered, "for sixteen years!"

"It is over," murmured the girl; "come away to the hills; we have
no time to lose."

She stooped to gather up the objects in the road. "I have brought
you these things," she said confusedly, hardly audibly. "Change
into them quickly, and then follow me up the road. No, I will take
all the rest," she added, as he took the bundle of clothing she
gave him and stretched out his hand for the other smaller things.
"Hasten, Nicholas, it is so dangerous here!" With this parting
entreaty she went on up the road carrying the bundles.

After she had gone a little way she paused and listened--all was
quite still--the stars now showed fitfully in the deepening purple
of the sky, a little breeze blew gently up from the wilderness
towards Jerusalem. The girl sat down by the wall, with her back
against it, and her hands clasped round her knees. Her face had a
strange, wonderful beauty as she sat waiting, white-skinned and
softly-moulded, with resolute, dark eyebrows drawn straight across
the calm forehead. A few moments passed, and then Nicholas
approached; his flowing priest's robes were gone, the high,
straight, black hat of the order was no longer on his head: it was
bare, and the long uncut hair, as the Greeks wear it, was twisted
in two thick fair coils round his head. Esther sprang up,
untwisting a broad sash from her waist.

"Take this! No wait! let me twist it round your head--yes, so. Now
it looks like a Jewish turban. You have the robe and the hat with
you?--yes, bring them, bring them," and they hurried on, fleeing
away from the monastery. Esther knew a short track across the hills
which in a little while joins the great main road to Jericho, that
descends down and down through the bare rolling hills of the
wilderness to the fair plain of the Jordan and the shores of the
Dead Sea. For the first few miles they sped on in silence with
clasped hands, the night wind rushing against their faces, and no
sound coming to their ears but the occasional whine of the hungry
hyenas, prowling over the stony, starlit hills. In the man's breast
swelled an exaltation beyond all words: it lifted him up so, that
his feet seemed flying over the rugged ground without touching it;
the night-wind filled his veins with fire: his brain seemed alight
and glowing. For years past the bare stone walls of his monk's cell
had given him pictures painted by his fevered fancy of such a walk
as this through starlit, open spaces--a walk to life and freedom.
For years his hot, caged feet had paced the stone cell floor,
aching to pass the threshold; and for the last month ever since
from amongst the olive-trees he had seen the fair Jewish girl pass
by, a new vision had come upon those white-washed walls to add its
torture to the rest. Evening after evening he had stolen out at
sunset to see her pass, as she came and went from the little
cluster of Jewish houses on the ridge beyond the monastery and
watched the sunlight play upon her brows and hair. Could this
thing, so divinely beautiful, be the creation of the devil to
destroy men's souls? His reason revolted against it. If so, the
warm sunlight and radiant sky and air, the flowers and the purple
hills, his weary eyes strained out to must be also the devil's
work, for all these things were akin, and the woman passing amongst
them was but the masterpiece made by the same hand.

"Say," he had said wearily, one night, to a monk passing him like a
silent shadow on his way to his cell. "Is all the world the work of
the devil?"

"Nay, brother, what blasphemy!" returned the other, startled beyond
measure. "It is all the work of God" and Nicholas had passed into
his cell well pleased. And the next evening he had called softly to
the masterpiece of the Creator, as she went by, and the girl,
startled and fearful at first, had spoken a few words out of sheer
pity for the hungry, lonely soul looking out so wistfully at her;
and then how soon had come other meetings, the plan to escape--that
final vision which had seemed to justify him,--and now the flight!

"Will the boat be there! will they wait for us?" he asked eagerly,
as they walked swiftly on.

"Yes, I heard the boat was coming over from the Jewish Colony
beyond the Dead Sea, and I sent word down it was to take me in it
when it left again," the girl replied, "We shall get down there
to-morrow evening; we will go to old Solomon's house; he will let
us stay with him one night, and in the morning we must get down to
the shore and the boat."

Nicholas pressed her hand as they walked on. How wise she was, this
little Jewish girl! She had lived her short life in the world, and
knew her way about in it so well. And he, so much older, felt like
a child beside her, after all those long, deadening, numbing years
in the monastery.

Five miles more of the white, stony road were traversed, winding in
and out, but always descending between the barren desolate hills of
the wilderness, and then Esther said with a little sob in her
voice:

"We must stop here now and rest, I am so tired. I cannot go any
further to-night."

"Tired?" he echoed wonderingly. Could he ever feel tired now? His
feet seemed borne on wings. But he stopped, and bending over her,
lifted and carried her tenderly from the starlit road to a large
rock jutting out from the hillside. Here, in the shadow on the
farther side, they lay down, and the girl fell at once into the
deep sleep of utter bodily fatigue. The man lay open-eyed clasping
her to him, his brain on fire with freedom, listening with joy to
the cries of the wandering wild animals amongst the hills.

The following evening, late, they reached the plain. The wilderness
lay behind them, and in front, beyond the green darkness of the
trees, they knew the starlight was gleaming on the Dead Sea. The
heat down here was suffocating, and their weary feet moved on
slowly through the village--a collection of a few white flat-roofed
houses, which are all that now mark the spot where stood once the
rich, mighty city of Jericho. In the last house shone a light, and
Esther led Nicholas towards it.

Solomon was waiting for them, and had prepared for them his best
upper room--a little narrow apartment, with windows facing towards
the sea--where supper was laid, and opening from this a tiny
sleeping chamber. A swinging lamp hung over the centre table, and
Solomon's younger brother waited on them. Esther, with the dust of
the road washed from her skin, looked very fair, sitting under the
light of the lamp, her eyes glowing with the mysterious fires of
love and joy, and the two Jews sat listening to her eagerly as she
talked to them, telling them the news of her family and friends in
Jerusalem.

"If I could only go up to the city," sighed the younger man. "But I
cannot walk, and I have no horse," and he grew sullen and dejected
and said no more, while the elder continued to ask and be answered
a hundred questions about the life and doings of the city.

That night, past midnight, when the whole plain of Jericho lay
wrapped in a deep hush, and not one light gleamed in the darkness
of the village, a carriage drawn by two foam-covered horses
thundered down the last steep descent of the road from Jerusalem
into the village, and dashed through it straight to Solomon's
dwelling. Esther, asleep in the upper room, with Nicholas' head
pillowed on her shoulder, heard the clatter of wheels and awoke
suddenly, all her body growing rigid with terror.

"Nicholas, awake! they have followed us!" She sprang from the bed,
and opening the window noiselessly, looked out. The night was quite
dark, but by straining her eyes she could descry the form of a
covered carriage below, and two dark figures stood hammering on the
house-door. The sounds rang reverberating through the dwelling, and
disturbing the still, calm air without, laden with the scent of
myrtle and orange-flower. A window above opened, and the old Jew
looked out.

"Who knocks?" he called.

"Priests from Jerusalem, from the Monastery of the Holy Virgin. One
whom we seek is within; let us enter." Esther drew back into the
room, and saw Nicholas standing behind her, his face haggard with
despair. "Jehovah, then, is not with us."

Esther pressed his hand.

"Esther is with you," she murmured softly. "You shall not go back,
they shall not touch you. Give me your priest's clothing, and stay
here."

Before he could answer she had snatched up the garments and was
gone, fastening the door behind her. Outside on the stairway she
met old Solomon, coming slowly down to answer the imperative
summons from below.

"Delay all you can in admitting them," she whispered, then ran past
him, fleet of foot, up the stairs to the Jews' room--the door stood
open as Solomon had left it. She entered, and stood within in the
darkness.

"Hiram," she called softly, "you wished to go up to Jerusalem. Now
is your opportunity. Get up, put on these things, and the priests
will take you back in their carriage." She heard the man rise and
bound to the floor.

"Is that you, Esther? Have they sent from the monastery to take
Nicholas?"

"Yes," returned Esther in an agonised voice. "But you will not let
them take him? See, Hiram, they cannot hurt you; they will not
recognise you, nor suspect you here in the darkness, in the dress
of Nicholas. You need not speak. They will hasten you into the
carriage. To-morrow when they discover you, it will be too late for
them to overtake us. We shall be gone, and _you_ they will not
want. They cannot put you in their monastery. They must release
you, and you--will be at the gates of Jerusalem."

Her low voice, thrilled with her agony of fear and suspense: there
was the very soul of persuasion in it. As she pleaded in the
darkness, she heard the man breathing quickly, and shuffling his
feet on the floor. He was hesitating. He longed to go up to the
city, but this seemed a dangerous expedient. Yet it would serve
Esther, and she was very fair, and was of his own kindred. There
was a noise and clamour downstairs beneath them--the sound of the
slow unbarring of bolts, and angry voices without. Esther drew
nearer, and her voice grew sharp with fear:

"Hiram, as they are pushing you to the carriage, I will throw
myself into your arms, and you shall kiss me your last farewell, as
if you were Nicholas."

In the darkness she felt that the man stretched out his hand.

"Give me the clothes; I will go."

Esther threw them into his arms, and darted out, closing the door,
and hung over the stair-rail. There was no light, but she could
hear the heavy footsteps coming up. Nearer they came, and nearer,
stumbling, and Solomon's step behind, as he followed the priests,
grumbling and protesting. Now they were almost opposite the door of
the room where Nicholas crouched waiting.

"He is not here! he is not here!" wailed out Esther's voice
suddenly from above, and the priests hearing her, rushed up the
stairs to where she stood, passing by, forgotten, the door of the
lower room.

Rigid and tense she stood before the door as if guarding it, her
arms outstretched before it. The first priest pushed her roughly on
one side, the second opened the door, and beyond, dimly outlined
against the open window square, was visible the draped figure and
heavy hat of a priest. With a shout of triumph they darted forward,
and Esther gave a great cry of wild despair. The priests dragged
him out unresisting, and forced him down the stairs. No word came
from him. Solomon, leaning back against the wall to let them pass,
stretched out his hand to the weeping Esther; but she passed him,
crying and hurrying after her lover. Down in the passage the large
door stood wide, showing the waiting carriage in the dim starlight
of the sultry night. As they pushed him to the door, he suddenly
wrested himself free for an instant, and Esther rushed into his
arms.

"Oh, Nicholas, Nicholas! Good-bye!"

The priests seized her by the shoulder, wrenching her away, and one
hurled her with a fury of loathing back into the darkness of the
passage. Then they forced their prisoner forward, stumbling,
resisting, to the carriage. The door snapped to, the horses plunged
forward, and the carriage thundered away into the night. Esther
picked herself up from where she had fallen in the passage, and
bruised and trembling, but with a joyous smile, rushed up the
narrow stairway.

"Solomon!" she said, whispering in the old Jew's ear, "Hiram has
gone in the place of Nicholas! Nicholas is safe here. Oh, help us
to get to the sea!"

Solomon shook with laughter as he heard--for a Jew loves dearly a
clever ruse--and he stroked Esther's soft hair as she stood by him.

"Light us a lamp, and let us get away to the shore, that we can
embark and be away on the water at dawn, before they discover it
and return," Then she passed by him and entered the room where
Nicholas awaited her. Solomon trimmed a lamp and a lantern for
them, and put up some bread and meat for their journey, his
shoulders shaking with inward chuckles as he did so.

"Hiram a priest!" he repeated to himself; "that is a joke indeed,
and Esther, what a quick brain she has--a true daughter of Israel!"
and Esther was murmuring within to Nicholas:

"Jehovah has saved us. Now let us hasten down to the sea."

The next morning, when the dawn broke soft and rosy over the fair
plain of Jericho, the sea that is called the Dead Sea, yet seems,
in its glorious wealth of colour and sparkling brilliance to be
rather the emblem of Life, glowed and flashed like a huge sapphire
in the sun's rays, and at its calm edge, that meets the shore
without a ripple, swayed gently the ship of the pilgrims from the
Jewish Colony.

Nicholas and Esther sat side by side watching the pilgrims' oars
dip quietly in perfect rhythm as they sang. And the song of praise
went up through the golden air, and echoed back to the sunny,
silent strand vanishing behind them.



V


Dawn was breaking over the desert. Steadily the triumphant rose
spread upward in the pale opalescent sky, and broad waves of light
rippled slowly over the wide level plain. The little keen breeze of
the morning, the herald of the dawn that runs ever in front of its
chariot, stirred the branches of the palm trees by the Nile, and
played a moment idly with the flap of a tent door before it passed
onward. Here, some two miles away from cool Assouan, lying out in
the desert, was the Bishâreen encampment, and the last small tent
of the long line had its door open, and the flap of the awning
loose, with which the morning wind stopped to play.

Within, seated cross-legged on the scarlet rug and sheepskin which
formed their bed, were two girls braiding their hair before a tiny
square of glass, which each in turn held up for the other.

"How cold the morning is! How I hate to hear the wind shake the
door flaps," one said and shivered.

"Doolga, don't; you are holding the glass all crooked; I cannot see
myself. Why should you feel cold this morning of all others, when
Sheik Ilbrahim dar Awaz is coming to claim you?" returned the
other, and she laughed softly, with her slim fingers busy trying to
bind up and restrain her dusky cloud of hair.

How lovely she was, this young Bishâreen, who had looked on the
yearly fall of the Nile but fifteen times--lovely as the tall
slender palm of the oasis, or the gold light on the river at
sunset. Tall and straight, with the stately carriage and proud head
of her race; smooth and supple, with every limb faultlessly moulded
under the clear, lustrous skin.

"Silka, Silka! I cannot marry the Sheik. I am in terror of him.
Help me, save me!"

The little glass fell on the blanket between them. In the warm rose
glow now filling the tent, Doolga's face was ashen-coloured.
Awe-struck and startled Silka gazed wide-eyed upon her. For an
instant the two girls sat staring in silence into each other's
eyes. So much alike they were that one face seemed the reflection
of the other, only there was a bloom, a light, a sweetness on
Silka's that was missing in the other.

"Why?" she breathed after that first startled silence, "what is the
matter, Doolga? Tell me; tell me everything."

She drew nearer her sister, and put one arm round her. The pink
light from without, striking through the tent canvas, touched her
face, showing its delicately-cut, exquisite features and the tender
love filling the eyes.

"I hate the Sheik!" sobbed Doolga, putting down her head on the
other's soft bare shoulder; "I don't want him. I love _him_!"

And Silka felt that everything indeed was told. The incoherent,
inexplicable words were clear enough to her. She trembled all over,
and the two girls clung together in the little tent, while the
noise of a large encampment awakening grew about them outside.

Suddenly Doolga grew calm; she lifted her face, and Silka saw it
was grey, with great lines of anguish cut in it, and her heart
seemed to contract with pain, for she loved Doolga better than
anything she knew in the world, and Doolga's suffering was her
suffering.

"I thought, father thought you would be glad to marry the Sheik,"
she faltered.

"I cannot. I will throw myself into the Nile rather; Silka, help
me!"

"How can I?"

"_You_ marry the Sheik!" Doolga's eyes were alight with flame.
Something of the tiger's glare shone in them. She bent forward and
seized the other girl's wrists in a feverish grip. The clasp hurt
and burnt like fire. Silka drew back instinctively, paling with
surprise.

"I marry the Sheik?" she repeated, "but--"

"Yes, you _must_! Oh, Silka, you have always loved me: save me now.
I cannot. It will be death to me. I love--I love--" she hesitated;
then added, "so much. You love no one. Why not then the Sheik? Do
this for me. I will think of you, bless you always. Save me from
death; save me from the Nile!"

The burning words, uttered low, in that strange, strained voice she
hardly recognised, fell upon Silka like drops of molten lead. Her
sister seemed mad: her eyes started forward from her livid face:
her clasp on Silka's wrists gripped like iron. Silka's heart was
overwhelmed with pity and distress.

"How can I?" she murmured back, bewildered by the sudden revelation
of misery in the other--this other that had grown up with her,
played with her, slept with her side by side through the soft, hot
nights when they had lain counting the stars through a chink in the
tent. Side by side their bodies had nestled together, and side by
side their hearts had always been.

"You have but to unveil your face to the Sheik," returned the other
quickly, eagerly, almost furiously, "and he will take you instead
of me. Think, Silka! the head of the tribe, fifty camels, a
thousand goats--" She stopped in her eager outpour of persuasion.
Silka was looking at her straight from under her dark, level brows,
her lips curled in a sorrowful disdain.

"Have his riches any weight with you, Doolga? Why do you offer them
to me?" she said proudly.

"Because you are free: you do not love," impetuously returned the
other with glib, persistent vehemence. "I would marry the Sheik, I
would prize his flocks, his riches; but I love--I love--I cannot!"

"Whom do you love so much?" replied Silka sadly. "Why have you not
told me? Who is he?"

The girls were seated on the bed in one corner of the tent close
beside its stretched canvas wall. There was a little eyelet, a
square hole with a flap buttoned down over it, on a level with
their heads. At Silka's question Doolga turned to the canvas, and,
with an impatient movement, tore up the flap and looked out. The
plain was bathed in gold: above, the pure, pink glow still hung in
the limpid sky. The encampment was astir. The tents were open, and
little cooking fires, sending up their spirals of blue smoke were
dotted over the sand. At a few paces' distance from the main row of
tents, the camels, lying down, made a velvet-like patch of shade on
the gleaming gold of the sand, and herds of white goats stood near,
their silky coats flashing in the morning sunlight. Silka looked
out, too, over her sister's shoulder. She saw the burnished gold of
the plain and the luminous sky, and between these two a figure
that stood by a low brown tent, with the sunlight falling full on
its noble brow and the straight profile turned towards them. Doolga
wrung Silka's hand, that she still clutched, as they knelt side by
side on the sheepskin looking through the eyelet.

"That is he!" she said, and Silka's lips parted suddenly in a
little scream of pain.

"What is the matter?" asked Doolga roughly, drawing her back from
the aperture, and letting the flap fall.

"You hurt me," replied Silka. "Is that the one you love?" Her voice
sounded tremulous: her eyes, fixed on Doolga, seemed to widen with
increasing pain.

"Yes, that is he; that is Melun," answered Doolga softly. "Is he
not handsome, wonderful? Why do you stare so? Might not any girl
love him?"

A little smile played round Silka's lips.

"Yes, indeed, any girl might love him," she answered.

"But not as I do--no, never! Oh, Silka, I cannot tell you how I
love him. More than the Nile, more than the stars, more than we
have ever loved each other! I have met him often when I went to
draw water, and sometimes we have stayed together in the
palm-grove. I was so happy till father sold me to the Sheik; and
now I must part from Melun for ever! Do not make me, dear, darling
Silka; do not send me to the Nile!" She spoke with increasing
excitement, with passionate intensity. She was close to Silka, and
she laid one arm softly round her neck and put her face close to
hers. Such a beautiful oval face it was!--the face that Silka
loved: as she looked at it, her heart melted within her.

"See, dearest Silka," continued the other coaxingly, "you have
nothing to do but to unveil before the Sheik; you are just like me,
only a thousand times lovelier. He will not want me then, but you.
You can say to our father: As I am fairer than my sister, he will
give you two more camels. Father will be pleased with the camels,
and I shall be left free to marry Melun."

"But suppose I don't want to marry the Sheik either," said Silka,
slowly stroking the curls of the sheepskin as she looked down upon
it.

"But why should you not? he has flocks and herds; he will give you
necklets and bracelets, and a camel to ride, and take you to the
oasis? Why should you mind?"

"It is late, Doolga. Father will be returning soon. Go, fill your
urns at the well."

"But will you promise--?"

"I can promise nothing yet. Go, go, leave me, you must let me think
a little."

Doolga got up well satisfied. She knew Silka had never refused her
anything since they had first played as babies together in the
sand. Silka loved her. Silka had never denied her anything.

She took her large earthenware jar, poised it on her shoulder, and
went out of the tent into the hot light. Silka lay on the sheepskin
where her sister had left her, and turned her face to it, shaken
with a storm of feeling that convulsed her slender body from head
to foot. She heard none of the cheerful sounds of life stirring
round the tent; she heard only Doolga's threat of the Nile, her
passionate pleading for help. Her face was buried in the sheepskin,
yet she saw plainly in the wall of darkness before her eyeballs
the figure of the Bishâreen standing out against the pink light of
the morning sky. So it was Melun that Doolga loved! And to Melun
all her own passionate impulsive heart had been given through her
eyes. Had she not, morning after morning, gazed out through the
square eyelet to catch a glimpse of him as he came from his tent,
dressed in his snowy white linen tunic, and with countless strings
of coloured beads twisted round the firm column of his throat and
hanging from his arms? Melun, the necklace-seller of Assouan!
Melun, that the foreign tourists stopped to gaze after, as he
walked with slow and stately steps beneath the lebek trees on the
"boulvard" by the Nile. Young and straight and slender, with a
beautiful face and form, he never offered his wares for sale. He
simply stood and looked at the tourists, and they came and bought
largely. They came up to him with curious eyes to chaffer for his
blue-glass beads, and stare at his smooth, perfectly-moulded arms
and throat, at the wonderfully straight features, and the lofty
carriage of his head, at the thick hair, like fine, black wool,
that waved above his forehead and clustered round the nape of his
neck, interwoven with his brilliant blue beads. Ah! how she loved
Melun! how she had dreamed of the day when her elder sister,
happily married, she herself could go to her father and say, "Let
Melun, the necklace-seller, come to the tent and see my face." And
now, not for him, but for the old hard-visaged Sheik, she was asked
to unveil. "I cannot do it; no, I cannot," she muttered to herself,
and the thought of Melun came to her softly. "I have but to look at
him, and he must love me; he is mine." Did not her mirror tell her
this each morning? Had not her sister but now said the same? She
smiled to herself, and balm seemed poured through her. Then there
came another thought piercing her like a dagger. Melun is not mine,
but hers. She loves him; he loves her. They have met in the
palm-grove. Never, never, could she unveil for him now. He must
never see her. Though he loved her a thousand times, yet would
she never take him from Doolga. Doolga, bright, graceful, and
beautiful, the light of her eyes, the joy of the tent! could she
bear to see her brought through the door cold, motionless,
lifeless, killed by the embrace of the Nile?

When Doolga returned with the flush of warmth on her cheek and the
jar full of shimmering water on her shoulder, Silka was sitting
upright on the bed with dry, wide eyes. One glance at her told
Doolga that she herself was free, that the other would take up her
burden and bear it for her. She crossed over with a quick beautiful
movement, lithe, free, untamed.

"Darling Silka, you will consent? you will promise?"

"Do you meet him often in the palm-grove?" returned Silka; it was
now her eyes that were full of flame as she met her sister's.

"Why--Melun? Yes, whenever it was possible. To-night there will be
no moon; I was going, but why should you ask?" She bent forward
quickly, eagerly, some faint suspicion stirring in her.

"If I do this for you--if I save you--if I show myself to the
Sheik, then you must let me go to the palm-grove to-night."

Doolga fell back from her, surprise and terror and horror mingling
in her face. She clasped her small, soft hands together and wrung
them.

"Oh, Silka! you know, if he sees you, he will not look at me again;
he will not care."

Silka smiled a slow, painful smile.

"Do you not see?" she said in a whisper. "I shall go as you. Who
will know it is not you? Not Melun. He will be expecting you! he
has never seen me. I will not betray myself nor you, but this is my
condition. To-morrow I go in your stead to the Sheik; to-night, I
go in your stead to Melun."

Doolga stared at her, barely comprehending.

"But why--why?" she stammered in return.

"I go to the Sheik in your stead because I love you, and to Melun
in your stead because I love him," replied Silka firmly.

There was a smile in her eyes, but her lips were pale, compressed,
and sad. Doolga gazed at her in silence, both hands clasped tightly
now over her swelling breast. Astonishment, gratitude, mistrust,
and jealousy were all struggling together within it for mastery.

"You love Melun too?" she said at last. "Then why do you not take
him? One glance from you and he is yours."

"He was yours first," answered Silka miserably. "I cannot take him
from you."

"And you will marry the Sheik to save me?"

"Yes," replied Silka.

Then Doolga fell on her knees and thanked Silka and kissed her, and
Doolga's kisses were very sweet, and while those lips pressed hers
Silka forgot everything else in the world. At last Doolga said in a
sudden recrudescence of jealousy:

"In the grove to-night you will not--" and the rest was whispered.

"No," answered Silka; "I am the bride of the Sheik. You need fear
nothing. But I must see Melun; all my life long I shall feed on
your happiness. There will be nothing else for me. I shall live on
it. To do this I must have a vision of it before I go, and it will
stay by me for ever."

That afternoon the tent was gay with unrolled silks and scarlet
rugs, and coffee stood out in little porcelain cups upon the floor,
for the Sheik Ilbrahim had come to the final parley for his bride.
He sat before the coffee-cups on a black goat-skin, the pipe of
honour placed beside him. A grave, quiet man, with kind eyes, but
already far on in the winter of life. Opposite him sat his host,
the owner of the tent and father of the girls. Shrewd-eyed,
keen-faced, quietly he did his bargaining. Earlier in the day the
elder girl had laid the plan before him: herself for Melun, the
necklace-seller of Assouan, who owned neither camels nor goats, but
would pay well in silver straight from the hands of the tourists;
her younger sister for the Sheik, who would give doubtless two more
camels for her wonderful beauty. The father listened placidly. It
was not a bad bargain.

"But," he answered finally, "why should you not go to the Sheik now
for two camels and by and by another will come for your sister and
give four camels. Then shall I have had six for the two of you."

"But she may die," objected the ready Doolga, the keen-witted
daughter of her father. "Better secure the camels now, father."

"True, she may die, and the bargain be lost," mused the father,
and at last he spread out his hands with a gesture of conclusion.

"It is for the Sheik to decide," he said merely, and Doolga was
content. She knew beforehand what the Sheik would decide when he
saw her sister. Now the two girls sat clasped in each other's arms
behind a curtain hung across a corner of the tent, and waited
silently till they should be summoned.

"If she be fairer than your daughter Doolga," they heard the Sheik
say good-humouredly, "she must be fair indeed, and worth four
camels. Let me see her."

At those words Silka rose and stepped from behind the little
curtain. With timid steps she came forward to the centre of the
tent. A linen tunic clasped round the base of her throat fell
almost to her ankles, caught lightly in at the waist by a scarlet
cord; loose sleeves falling from the shoulder half-concealed her
rounded arms; but her lovely face, with its arching brows and
liquid eyes, looked out unveiled from her frame of cloudy hair, and
drew the Sheik's heart towards her. Wrapt in the enthusiasm of the
holiest of all loves, that of sister for sister, tense with the
ardour of her sacrifice, a light shone out from the tender soul
within that fired all her beauty, making it burn like the sun, and
intoxicate like wine.

Her father eyed her, and wished he had asked five camels.

The Sheik stretched out his right hand towards her.

"Are you pleased to come, my daughter, to the oasis of roses with
me?"

"My lord beholds his slave," answered Silka, and her eyes were full
of light, and her lips were curved in smiles.

"My camels, four of the best, will find their stable behind your
tent to-night," said the Sheik to her father, and he filled the cup
he had drunk from and handed it to the girl. Silka raised it to her
lips.

"Does it please my lord that he fetch me to-morrow, and leave me in
my father's tent to-night?"

The Sheik laughed good-naturedly, his eyes fixed on the pleading,
youthful face.

"It pleases me not to leave you; but if you ask me, little one, I
will not refuse. Let it be so."

As he spoke Silka drained the coffee-cup he had given her, and by
so doing bound herself to him henceforward.

There was no moon that night; it was dark with the darkness of the
desert, and the splendour of its million stars. As Silka came
softly from the tent she looked upwards; the wild heaving of her
bosom seemed repeated in that restless, pulsing light above. The
soft breath of the desert came to her; it whispered of Melun
waiting for her in the palm-grove. How happy she was! This was
life: one night of life was hers--no more. With the dawn came the
end. This was her first--her last--night of life, but how exquisite
it was! The voice of the desert sang in her ears, the light soft
sand caressed her flying feet. Within bounded her heart, buoyant
with leaping joy. Never had she realised the strength of her swift,
straight ankles--never till now the free, joyous power in her
supple limbs.

Before her rose the palm-grove, distinct in all its beauty of
feathery-topped trees, against the gorgeous starlit sky. By her
side gleamed now the line of the river, silver in the starlight;
smooth and lovely, studded with its fierce black rocks, flanked by
its orange sand, and here and there, on its edge in the radiant
darkness, rose a lofty palm lifting its swaying branches towards
the jewelled sky. Silka looked at the river curiously. Now she was
keenly alive; life was sharp and alert in every fibre, but it was
the last. This night of life was also a night of good-byes.
To-morrow she would look on the river again, but she would be dead
then--dead to joy and to love; it would only be Doolga who would be
living rich in both these gifts--gifts given by her. The thought
ran through her with a tumultuous gladness.

She entered the palm-grove and went straight to the tree that
Doolga had told her of, a withered palm. A figure sat at the foot
of the tree. The starlight gleamed on its white clothing. Silka's
feet stopped mechanically as she saw him; her heart beat so that
she could scarcely breathe; but he had caught sight of her, and
sprang to his feet and came towards her. How wonderful he was with
his fine head set on that long, firm throat, and how sweet the face
when his beautiful mouth broke into smiles as he saw her!

"Doolga!" he exclaimed, and then paused. She heard the little note
of wonder, of joy, in his voice, as she looked up at him in the
soft starlight, filtered through the palms. She was close to him,
and his voice, his presence was a new wonder to her.

"You are lovelier to-night than ever before. You have a new beauty,
what is it?" and he stretched out his arms passionately to her and
enfolded her in them close to his breast and kissed her. Then in
one moment did the rose of life, that unfolds slowly for most
mortals petal by petal, bloom suddenly for her whole and complete,
and fill her with its wild fragrance, overwhelming her senses. The
happiness of a hundred lives was compressed into that one perfect
moment when his lips touched hers, and she saw his face hang over
hers in the starlight, blazing with the fires of love.

"This then is life," she thought, as she put her arms round his
neck. "This is what I am giving to Doolga."

"Am I really more beautiful to-night than I have been?" she asked
presently, as they sat crouched close side by side at the foot of
the palm, looking towards the silver river.

"A thousand times!" he answered passionately. "I have never loved
you, never seen you as I do to-night."

"Then you must always remember me as you see me now. However Doolga
looks to you in the future, always remember this night, and how you
loved her then."

And he took her more closely into his arms, and pressed kisses on
her eyes, and told her in low murmured words of the tent he was
preparing for her, pitched where the cool breeze from the Nile
would reach them, and of the coming sunsets when she would sit
awaiting his return in the doorway, and of the still radiant hours
of the desert night which would pass over them full of delirious
joys; and the girl listened and lived out her life in those moments
against his heart. And ever as she listened, the thought of the
Sheik and his withered arms rose before her. Still it was Doolga's
future she looked into, the secrets of Doolga's happiness she
learned. As often as he murmured, "Doolga!" and caressed her, a
wave of joy passed through her.

Three hours before the dawn they parted, and with slow, sad steps
she returned to her father's tent. Her strength was spent. Life
and she had finally separated. Entering the tent with noiseless
feet, no sound disturbed the sleeping chief, and she crept to where
her sister sat up, wild-eyed and sleepless, on the bed.

"This he gave to Doolga," she said, with her lips pressed to
Doolga's ear, and passed over her head a necklace of faultless
beads of jade.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following day, when the last flare of the sunset lit up the sky
with flame, and the delicate branches of the palms of the oasis
showed before them tipped with gold, the Sheik Ilbrahim bent over
his bride sitting before him on the camel, decked out with gold
ornaments in her hair. He saw her smiling, and a glory that was not
of the sunset on her face.

"Of what is my beloved one thinking?" he asked her.

She looked up, but she did not see his face above her. She saw only
the tent where the wind from the Nile could come, and Doolga within
radiant with the joy she had given her.

"Of what should your slave be thinking, lord," she answered, "but
love and happiness?"



VI


It was evening. A sky of purest emerald, luminous, transparent, and
divinely calm, stretched over the city of Damascus, that lies in
its white glory, wrapped round by its mantle of foliage, in the
heart of the burning desert--unhurt, cool, invulnerable in the jaws
of the all-devouring desert sand. In the East, with the first cool
breath of evening comes a spirit of rejoicing: the heat and burden
of the day are over, and there is one hour of pure delight before
the darkness. This hour had come to Damascus: the roses lifted
their heads in the garden, the birds burst into joyous floods of
song, and the trees waved and spread their branches to the little
breeze that came rippling through the crystal air.

Almost on the confines of the city, where the belt of protecting
verdure grows thin and the gaunt face of the desert presses against
the city walls, rose the square, white dwelling of Ahmed Ali, and
his garden was the largest and most beautiful of the city. High
white walls enclosed it on every side, and from the broad,
travelled highway that ran beside it the dusty and wearied wayfarer
often lifted his eyes to the profusion of gay roses, the syringa,
and star-eyed jasmine that tumbled jubilantly over the edge, and
hung their scented wreaths far above his head. The tinkling of a
fountain could be heard within, and the mad rapture of song from
the birds in the evening, when the scent of the orange blossom
stole softly out on the radiant golden air. On the other side of
the garden was a grove of orange-trees. The rich, glossy, green
foliage rose in dark masses above the high wall, and some
inquisitive, encroaching boughs stretched over and occasionally
dropped their golden fruit into Ahmed's garden. On the inside of
the old, moss-grown wall were numerous buttresses, and in these
angles and corners, sheltered from any breeze, the roses and the
small fruit-trees fairly rioted together, blending their masses of
pink and white bloom.

On this evening, when the sky shone like one sheet of purest
mother-of-pearl, green and rose and faint purple, the garden was
very still; the only sound was the murmur of the falling water, the
coo of some white doves in a pear-tree, and a very light step
pacing on the tiny narrow path that wound its way round the whole
garden amongst the rose-bushes and lemon-trees.

Dilama, the youngest of the ladies of the harem, was walking in the
garden with her white veil thrown back and a smile on her small,
red, curling lips. She stooped here and there to gather a flower
whenever a bud or blossom of particular beauty caught her eye, and
fastened now one against her thick brown hair, and now one or two
upon the rich-embroidered muslin that covered the upper part of her
bosom. She was intensely happy: in the spring at Damascus, at
seventeen and in love, who would not be happy? The fires of youth
and love and joy burned in her flesh and danced in her veins and
shone in her eyes, and she sang and smiled to herself as she
gathered the flowers. She was a Druze woman, and gifted with the
wonderful beauty that Nature has showered on the women of Syria.
Skins that the most perfect Saxon skin of milk and rose can
scarcely rival are wedded to eyes of Eastern midnight and brown
tresses filled with shining lights of red and gold. She had been
born in the fierce, barren mountains lying behind Beirut, and at
eight years old had drifted--part of the spoils of a raid--into the
keeping of Ahmed Ali, the richest landowner and merchant of
Damascus. He was a Turk, of pure Turkish blood, and with the large,
generous heart and the kindly nature of the Turk. All the life that
owed him allegiance, that was supported by his hand, was happy and
well cared for--from the magnificent black horses, ignorant of whip
and spur, that filled his stables, and the dogs that lay peacefully
about in his palace, to the beauties of the harem, who tripped
about gaily singing and laughing in their cool halls and shaded
garden. Where the Turk rules there is usually peace, for his nature
is pacific, and in the palace of Ahmed there was joy and peace and
love and pleasure in abundance. There were seven ladies of the
harem, including Dilama, and six of these were happy wives of
Ahmed. Each had one or more sons, handsome, large-eyed, sedate
little Mohammedans, who were being trained by Turkish mothers in
all sorts of gentle ways and manners--in thought and care for
others, in courtesy and kindness; and who were very different in
their childish work and play from the brawling, selfish, cruel
little monsters that European children of the same age mostly are.
But Dilama was not yet Ahmed's wife; she loved him most truly and
deeply as an affectionate daughter. For who could not love Ahmed?
There was a charm in his stately beauty of face and figure, in the
kind musical voice, in the eyes so large and dark and gentle, that
was irresistible. But to Dilama he was something far above her: her
king, her lord indeed, for whom she would lay down life itself
without question, but not the man to whom her ardent simple nature
had turned for love. Ahmed had not sought her. When first she came
to his palace she had been too young except for him to treat as
a pretty child, and the relationship of father and daughter
then established had never yet been broken in upon. And the
light-hearted, sunny-natured Druze girl had taken life just as she
found it, regarding herself as Ahmed's daughter, and rejoicing in
her home of love and beauty she ceased to remember that one day he
would inevitably claim her as his wife, and that that day must be
the beginning or the end of happiness just as she prepared for it.
But she did not prepare for it, she ignored it: flitting like some
golden butterfly through the pleasant hours, and growing fairer
every day, so that the harem women looked at her with a little
sinking of the heart yet no ill-will, and said amongst themselves,
"Surely Ahmed must choose her soon." But Ahmed loved at that time
with his whole soul a Turkish woman, and she was to give him
shortly a second child, and for fear of disturbing her peace of
mind Ahmed remained in the Selamlik, and would not visit his other
wives, nor send for Dilama, though his eyes, like the others, noted
her growing beauty day by day.

"I will wait in patience," he thought, looking out one morning at
sunrise, and watching Dilama playing with the white doves on the
basin edge of the fountain. "I will wait till Buldoula is well and
strong again. She would fret now, and think I was forgetting her in
a new love if I call Dilama to me yet. I will wait till her second
son is born, and then in her joy and pride she will not be jealous
of the new wife."

So he waited, but in the game of love he that waits is ever the
loser. That night, when the moon was rising over the white and deep
green of Damascus, Dilama walked, humming to herself, in the
garden, full of a great leaping desire, born of her youth and fine
health and the breath of the May night, to love and be loved.
Suddenly, when she came to the corner, under the drooping boughs of
the grove without the garden, an orange fell, and, just escaping
her head struck her heavily on her bosom. With a great shock she
stood still, looking up, and there, on the summit of the high wall,
amid the green boughs, was a man sitting, leaning over down towards
her, with fiery eyes looking upon her from under a dark green
turban.

"It is death to be here," she whispered, her face pallid in the
moonlight, "do not stay;" yet her whole being leapt up with hope
that he would disobey. The man laughed softly.

"It is life to look on you," he said merely, and to her terrified
joy and horrified delight he slid down between the lemon-trees and
the wall, and stood before her in the angle it made, where two
buttresses jutting forward hid him from all view unless one stood
directly opposite.

Dilama shook from head to foot; in one fierce, sweeping rush,
love passed over and through her as she stood staring with wild
dilated eyes on the form before her. Tall, tall as Ahmed, with
all the grace and strength of youth, lithe and supple, with a
straight-lined, dark-browed face above a stately throat, and dark
kindling eyes, wells of living fire that called all her soul and
heart and womanhood into life.

"I have often watched you walking in the garden," he murmured,
gently taking in his, one nerveless hand. "I come from your village
in the hills, where you were taken from long ago. I am a Druze,"
and he threw his head higher, as the stag of the forest throws his
at the first note of the challenge. Dilama knew well that he was
of her own people. Infant memories, instinctive, implanted
consciousness told her this without the aid of Druze clothing, or
the short, gay dagger thrust into his waist-sash.

"I think you are not yet the wife of Ahmed Ali?" he went on, as
she simply trembled in silence, wave after wave of emotion passing
through her, striking her heart and choking her voice. "Tell me?"

Dilama shook her head, and a triumphant smile curved the handsome
lips before her.

"I knew it; you are mine," he said, in reply, and, bending over her
as she stood shrinking, on the verge of fainting, between terror
and wonder and joy, he kissed her on the lips, not roughly--even
gently--but with such a fire of life on his that it seemed to the
girl, in the destruction of all her usual feelings, in the havoc of
the new ones called in their place, that the actual moment of
dissolution had come.

That had been some three weeks ago, and now, on this soft, pearly
evening, she was waiting eagerly for the sky to deepen, and the
light of the stars to sharpen, and the orange to fall over the
wall. For the Druze had come many times, and no one had discovered
the lovers, screened by masses of roses in the buttress-sheltered
corner of the wall. In fact, for the last weeks no one had had time
or thought for anything but Buldoula, who lay sick within the
palace walls, and attendants waited anxiously or ran hither and
thither on various errands, and Ahmed was in the depths of anxiety;
and no one thought about Dilama or paid any attention to her, and
she was radiantly happy and self-engrossed, and came and went
between the garden and her own little chamber as she listed,
undisturbed. And this evening, as usual, she slipped unobserved
amongst the roses into the corner of the buttressed wall. A moment
after the boughs overhead parted, and the lithe Druze dropped down
noiselessly beside her. She put her gold braceleted arms round his
strong brown neck, and pressed her silken-covered bosom hard
against his rough cotton tunic. A great rush of rosy light flooded
all the sky for some minutes, then began to pale softly before the
approach of the lustrous purple dark.

In the palace a light behind one of the mushrabeared windows was
extinguished; there was the sound of the scurry of feet, and then a
long wail came out from the building, rending the pink-hued
twilight.

"Buldoula is dead!" remarked Dilama simply, as the lovers crouched
together between the wall and the roses. It meant nothing to her,
enclosed in the happy warmth of her lover's arms; death had no
meaning for her yet, hardly seventeen years' journey distant from
birth, and full of all the sap and great leaping fires of life.
Death was something so far away, so impossible to realise. It was
but a word to her--a casket enclosing nothing. Yet the death of
Buldoula was the embryo event in the womb of time from which was to
develop the whole tragedy of her own life.

"Buldoula is dead," she said again, carelessly, her rose-tipped
fingers smoothing the black sweeping arch of the man's brows.
"Perhaps her son is dead also. Ahmed will be very grieved--she was
going to bear her second son."

"Little dove! I must take you away to the mountains soon," said the
Druze, clasping her tighter to him. "Soon," he muttered again,
stooping down to look under the rose-boughs to the white-faced
house, now, with all its screened windows, dark. His words seemed
irrelevant, yet they were not. He had a keen prescience that the
death of the favourite of the harem might influence very quickly
Dilama's fate.

"Why not take me now, Murad? I want to see the mountains," and she
laid her little head, crowned by its masses of brown-gold hair, on
his warm breast.

"The caravan does not start for two weeks more," he answered
thoughtfully. "We must wait for it. It would be madness to try to
escape alone. We should be seen, noted, and tracked down. Think how
Ahmed will look for his treasure when he finds it stolen! But if
you are hidden in a bale of goods on a camel in the caravan, who
will suspect, who will know that the Druze has taken you? The whole
caravan of Druzes cannot be stopped because Ahmed has lost a wife!
No, in the caravan, with all the rest, we are safe. There is no
other way."

There was silence while the twilight deepened in the garden, and
the stars began to show above like flashing swords in the sky. In
the languor of love that knows no fear and has no cares, that
opiate of the soul, Dilama lay in his arms and sought his lips and
eyes, and asked no more about caravans and journeys and mountains,
drugged and heavy with love. In an hour when all was velvet
blackness beneath the wall, they kissed farewell. He scaled the
crumbling bricks, and regained the sheltering orange grove, and she
walked slowly back, drawing smooth her filmy veil, towards the
darkened palace.

Five days later at noontime, as Dilama was sitting in the garden
playing with the tame white doves by the fountain, one of the black
female slaves approached her. Dilama looked up questioningly,
holding a dove to her bosom.

"The lord is sorrowing within for his dead wife and dead son. He
has sent for you; go in, and lead him away from grief," and the
woman smiled and prostrated herself before Dilama, who shrank
instinctively away like a frightened child. But there is only one
law and one will in the harem, and she rose obediently, letting the
dove go, and stood ready to follow the slave. That meaning smile on
the woman's face filled her with an intuitive, instinctive,
undefined fear, and at the same instant there rushed over her the
realisation of the great happiness that same smile would have
brought her had there been no Murad, had she fled from that
rose-filled corner on that first evening--had she, in a word,
_waited_! This summons to the presence of their lord is what so
many of the harem slaves pine and long for through weary months,
and sometimes years. It came now to her, and it meant nothing but
vague fear and dread. She followed the slave with unelastic steps,
and her brain full of heavy thoughts; they passed the women's
apartments and went on to the Selamlik and to the room of Ahmed,
that looked out with unscreened windows into the cool, deep green
of the garden. The slave drew back at the door, holding a curtain
aside for the girl to enter. She went forward, the curtain fell
behind her, and she was alone with Ahmed.

He was sitting opposite on a low divan or couch, clothed from head
to foot in a deep blue robe, and with a turban of the same colour
twisted above his level brows--a kingly, majestic figure, and the
girl's heart beat and her eyelids fell as she crept slowly over the
floor towards him. At his feet she sank to her knees, and would
have put her forehead to the ground, but Ahmed bent forward, and
clasping both her arms lifted her on to the couch beside him.

"And you are the Druze child, Dilama?" he said gently, and leaning
a little back from her, surveyed her intently with dark lustrous
eyes. The girl felt swooning with terror; before his gaze her very
flesh seemed dissolving. It seemed as if her heart, her brain, with
the image of Murad stamped on them, would be laid bare to those
brilliant, searching eyes. What would he not know, suspect, find
out? What would he ask? demand of her? She could not ask herself.
Was this to be the end of his paternal relationship to her? the
beginning of a new one? She dared not lift her eyes lest he should
see their terror; the blood burnt in the surface of all her fair
skin, as if red-hot irons were pressed to it. And Ahmed, gazing
upon her with the pure noonday light, softened by the leafy screen
without pouring over her, drank in her fair Syrian beauty with
delight. The pale, rose-hued silken clothing she wore harmonised
with the ivory and rose of her round arms and throat and cheeks,
and threw up the masses of dark hair that fell beneath her veil to
her slender waist. Ahmed very gently unbound the snowy garment from
her head and stroked her hair lightly, watching the gold gleams in
its ripples as his hand passed over them. He saw her dismay,
confusion, even her terror, and noticed the quiver of her hands and
the irregular leap of her bosom, but these did not dismay him. He
was accustomed to be beloved even as he loved, and the women of the
harem who came to him in fear left him with happy confidence. He
affected now not to see her embarrassment, thinking it to be only
that, and said quietly, "And you have been happy, Dilama, in my
house?" The girl felt she must speak, though her throat seemed
closed and her tongue nerveless.

"Very happy," she faltered at last in a whisper.

"But you have been lonely, perhaps?" he asked. "Have the roses and
doves in the garden been companions enough for you? Have you not
been too much alone?"

In the heavy load of apprehension of intangible fear and horror
that seemed stifling her, a madness of longing came over the girl
to be free from her guilty secret, to have never known Murad. Now
she could have looked up fearless, full of expectant joy! She could
have loved this man; she knew it, now that she felt his love
approaching her: hope was dying within her that ever again would he
regard her simply as his daughter. She knew those tones of the
voice, she had heard them from Murad in the garden, but here the
voice was infinitely more refined, the sound of it exquisitely
musical; and now, that love for her was in it, it told her a new
secret, that she could have given love for love. She knew, though
her eyelids were down, how beautiful the face was that bent over
her: the straight, severe lines of it, the magnificent eyes and
brows burnt through her lids. Ah, why had he waited so long, or she
not waited longer?

Full of intolerable, irrepressible pain, she looked up at last
suddenly.

"Why did not my lord come into the garden, to the roses and doves
and--me?" she asked falteringly, her gaze held now irresistibly by
the dark orbs above her. Then, afraid of her own temerity, she
became white as death under his gaze.

But Ahmed was rather pleased by this first connected speech she
had made in the interview. It sounded to him like the tender
reproach of an amorous, expectant maiden, waiting eagerly for her
love, too long delayed. The under-meaning, the terrible regret for
irrevocable ill, naturally escaped him. He smiled, and put his arm
round her shoulders. "Well, it is not too late," he said, bending
over her. But the girl shrank from his arm, and he realised it
instantly. He was aware directly that there was some feeling in her
not quite fathomed nor understood. It puzzled him. He was far too
deep a thinker, far too refined a nature to treat his women as
inanimate toys to be used for his amusement, either with or without
their consent, as the chance might be. He knew them to be, and
treated them as, individual souls, with right of will and desire
equal to his own, and was too proud to accept the gift of the body
unless he had first conquered the will. But usually there was no
difficulty. Nature had gifted Ahmed with all the best treasures in
her jewel-box; beauty of face and form, strength and grace, charm
of voice and presence--everything needed to ensnare and delight
the senses, and he was accustomed to be loved, passionately adored,
and worshipped. He was naturally a connoisseur in such matters, and
knew well and easily the truth or dissembling in them. But here
there was neither: the girl shrank from him instinctively, and
seemed possessed by nothing but dumb, helpless fear that was
distressing to him. Yet not all distressing, for even in the best
of male natures there always remains some of the instinctive desire
of conquest, the delight in opposition, if not too prolonged, the
love of battle, the hope of victory; and to Ahmed, the invariably
successful lover, the resistance of this slight, rose-leaf creature
he could crush with one blow of his hand roused suddenly all the
primitive joy of the chase, the excitement of pursuit. Only, where
with some natures it would have been brutal and rapid, the end and
triumph assured, the prize the body; here it would be gentle and
dexterous, the end dependent on another, the prize the soul--the
soul, the will, the most difficult quarry to capture, as Ahmed
knew.

He let his arm slip from her shoulders, and rose and walked over
to the window, looking out for a moment into the delicious green
beyond. Dilama half-sat, half-crouched upon the divan, not daring
to stir, and watched him furtively.

Ahmed stood for a moment, and there was dead silence in the room.
Then he returned and came towards the couch, standing opposite it,
and looking down at her.

"Dilama, you seem very much afraid of me, and why is it? Look up
and speak to me. There is no need for fear. Do you think I have
called you here to force you to love me? There is no way of forcing
love. You are free to come and go to and from this room as you
will, but I am lonely and grieved, now Buldoula has been taken away
from me. I would like you to come here and play and sing to me, and
console me; will you?"

Dilama ventured to lift her eyes to the kingly figure before her,
and meeting the pained, dark eyes bent on her, and realising that
there was nothing, indeed, to make her fear but her own guilty
conscience, she burst suddenly into an uncontrollable passion of
weeping, and slipping from the couch fell sobbing at his feet.

Ahmed stooped and gathered her up in his arms, holding her to his
breast, and this time she did not shrink from him, but lay there
unresisting, crying violently. For a moment the clasp of his arm,
the touch of gentle sympathy, soothed and comforted her. For one
wild moment she longed to confide in him, to tell him the reality.
What would happen? Was it possible that Ahmed would pardon her, and
let her go to her own life, her own love and lover! No, it was not
possible--any other offence but this; theft or murder he could have
forgiven and sheltered, but this, no! Instinctively she knew and
felt it would not be possible to him--a Turk, free from prejudice
and superstition, liberal as he was--to forgive her crime. Death
for herself and Murad was the best she could expect. Ahmed's own
honour, the traditions of all his house, his great position would
make it impossible for him to let her pass from his, a Turk's harem
to a Druze lover. The thought whirled from her sick brain, leaving
all confused and hopeless as before, and her tears rained fast.
Ahmed smoothed her soft hair and kissed her forehead gently, as it
lay against his breast.

"Go and fetch your music, and sing to me," he whispered, as her
sobs ceased. "See how lovely the spring time is; it is no time for
tears, but for songs and--love." He murmured the last word very
softly and set her free. Without looking at him she slipped away to
the door in obedience to his command, and in a wild confusion of
feeling in which pleasure struggled with fear.

When she came back with her instrument, a small pear shaped guitar
in appearance, she was more composed. Her eyes were still red and
swollen, but the soft, elastic skin had already regained its
colouring. As she entered, soft bars of sunlight were falling
through the room, the window had been opened, and the song of the
birds came gaily through it. Ahmed had ordered coffee and
sweetmeats to be brought, and these now stood on a small inlaid
table before her, on whose glistening arabesques of mother of pearl
the sunbeams twinkled merrily. Ahmed's eyes lighted up with tender
pleasure as he saw her enter, and she noted it. He was still
sitting on the couch, and held in his hand a small green leather
case--the counterpart of hundreds to be seen in the jewellers'
windows in Paris. Dilama guessed at once it was some present for
her. Unconsciously the light, gay, butterfly nature of the girl
began to reassert itself in the knowledge that the final issue had
not to be met then; that there was respite for her, delay; and a
natural joy stirred in her looking across at Ahmed. It was
something, after all, to be queen of the harem, to be wooed in
gifts and smiles by its lord.

"Come here!" he said to her, and as she approached he opened the
case and took from it a bracelet, a limp band of gold with a clasp
of rubies and diamonds that flashed a thousand sparkling rays into
the astonished eyes of the girl, accustomed only to the dull, uncut
or poorly-cut gems of the East.

"How wonderful! Is it for me, really?" she exclaimed, as Ahmed took
her unresisting arm and clasped the bracelet round it above the
elbow, where it lent a new beauty to the flesh.

"Now, take some coffee, and then you shall play to me while I rest
and smoke," continued Ahmed, kissing her tenderly between the eyes,
as she gazed up gratefully to him, and though she flushed and
trembled, this time she did not shrink from him.

The coffee seemed more delicious than any that was served in the
haremlik, and the gold-tipped cigarettes and the jam, made out of
rose leaves, that Ahmed pressed upon her, delighted her senses and
helped to make her think less of the passing hour and Murad, who
would be waiting in stormy passion for her, in the angle of the
wall. "I can't help it; I can't help it!" she thought to herself as
she took up her instrument and bent over the strings to tune them,
while Ahmed stretched himself at full length on the divan to
listen, with a scarlet cushion supporting his regal head. She could
both sing and play well, for Ahmed loved music, and wisely
considered it a safe amusement--an outlet for superfluous passions
and unexpressed feelings--for the women of the harem. Instruments
were provided in plenty, and instruction and all encouragement
given to them to learn, and from her first day in the harem
Dilama's natural voice and talents had been noted and fostered.
This afternoon, at first she was timid, and sang and played
stiffly, carefully, with a great attention to notes and strings;
but slowly the calm and stillness of the beautiful sun-filled room,
the scented air floating in from the garden, the tense atmosphere
of passion about her, and the magic beauty of the face and form
opposite influenced her, grew upon her, wrapped her round, and she
began to sing passionately, ardently, with that abandonment,
without which all music is a hollow sound. Her glorious voice,
fresh, youthful, clear, and pure came rushing joyously over her
lips and filled the room. Her spirits rose as she realised the
power she was exerting. She felt a little impatient at the thought
of Murad. After all, she was a great lady, a lady of the harem of
Ahmed Ali, the richest Turk in Damascus. She was dressed in
delicate silks, and the jewels blazed on her arm. She was queen of
the harem, and the beloved of its lord. He was most desirable to
her and to all women, and, but for Murad, who seemed to stand like
a black shadow between, she would have lain upon his breast with
pure delight. She leant forward now, singing rapturously over the
instrument pressed close to her soft breast, while her rose-hued
fingers leapt among its strings; a transparent flush, delicate as
the tint of a shell, glowed in her cheeks; her large, dark eyes
looked straight at Ahmed, drawing in all the proud beauty of his
face; her hair lay soft and thick without its veil above her brows,
and one heavy tress fell forward over her shoulder to her knee.
Ahmed lay watching her, his eyes filled with sombre fires, his
whole soul listening to the song; and one other lay listening also,
and this was Murad, crouching in the shade of the orange-tree
plantation, catching with distended ears that flood of passionate
melody wafted to him over the still garden, from the window of
Ahmed's apartment, from the Selamlik.

When the song was finished, and the last notes had faltered softly
into silence, Ahmed rose from his divan and crossed to where she
sat. The room was full now of hot rosy light; the scent of the
orange flowers poured in through the windows; the girl's senses
grew confused and dizzy. Her cheeks were flaming with the
excitement and joy and effort and passion of her singing; her
eyelids were cast down, and beneath them her eyes watched, half in
terror, half in a strained delight, the blue Persian slippers
advancing silently over the matting on the floor towards her.

"Will Dilama stay with me to-night?"

The girl looked up, whitening to the lips, and slid to a kneeling
position. Terror at the thought of infidelity to Murad filled her;
he would infallibly find it out and avenge himself. Her face worked
convulsively; she stretched out her hands with a gesture of
despair.

"What my lord wills: I am the slave of his wishes."

Ahmed drew his level brows together, and for a moment lined the
serene beauty of his forehead. He gazed at her with a steady,
puzzled look, and at last a faint, half-quizzical smile relaxed his
lips. What could this strange idea, this whim be, so unlike all
Eastern maiden's usual fancies? He had not yet solved the riddle,
nor found the clue! he would do so, but in the meantime she must be
left her freedom. In all noble natures power brings with it a
terrible responsibility, and the habit of stern self-control and
long forbearance. Ahmed's complete power over the frightened piece
of humanity before him brought upon him the necessity practically
of surrender; for the Turk possesses one of the noblest and gentle
natures the human race can boast of. Ahmed remained silent for a
few seconds, and the girl gazed upon him with dilated, fascinated
eyes. She noted in a dazed way how the dark blue robe parted on his
breast and showed beneath a vest of gold silk, fastened a little to
the side by a single emerald; how the column of throat towered
above these, supporting the oval face and beautifully-modelled
chin, and above these again, and the commanding brows, shone
another solitary emerald between the folds of his turban on his
forehead.

Murad began to seem like a robber depriving her of all these
things. There is no fidelity in the body. Fidelity is a thing of
the mind, always at war with and striving to coerce those instincts
of the senses that are ever clamouring after the new and the
unknown. Nature is ever driving us on to seek new mates. The mind
with its trammels of affection, gratitude, pity, consideration, is
ever dragging us back and seeking to tie us to the old. Nature's
rule is fresh seasons, fresh mates, new hours, new loves. And he
who seeks fidelity must woo the mind, for the body cannot give it,
and knows not its laws.

After a minute's silence Ahmed stretched out his hand to her and
raised her to her feet. His face had lost its smiles and fire; it
was grave and sombre-looking now, but his voice was gentle as he
answered her:

"You are free to return to the haremlik," he said; "no one has any
power to coerce you. I wish you to come and go as you will." He
waved his hand towards the curtain with a gesture of dismissal, and
then turned away and rang a little silver bell on a table. The
black slave appeared--it seemed almost instantly--before the
curtain; while Dilama still stood, motionless, irresolute, with a
curious sense of disappointment, mingling with relief, stealing
over her. Ahmed beckoned the slave to him, and said something
in a low voice Dilama did not catch, but the last sentence she
overheard. "Send Soutouma to me," and without taking any further
notice of Dilama, Ahmed turned back towards the divan, threw
himself upon it, and drew the pipe-stand towards him.

The black slave, with a smile on her curving lips, motioned to
Dilama to precede her, and Dilama, with one look flung backward to
Ahmed's couch in the full sunlight of the window, passed under the
heavy blue curtain out into the passage. "Send Soutouma to me!" the
words went through her with a cutting feeling, as a knife dividing
her flesh.

Soutouma was next to Buldoula in age and rank--a fair beauty of the
harem, with soft, long, sunlit tresses, and a skin of snow.

"Yes, why not? why not?" asked Dilama wildly to herself as her feet
dragged along down the passage side by side with the grinning
black's. "I am a Druze girl: I belong to Murad and to the
mountains." But the insidious charm of Ahmed's personality worked
on all the pulses of her body; pulses that know not fidelity,
though her brain kept telling her that Murad would be waiting for
her in the garden. But that night Murad did not come. The garden
stood cool and fragrant, full of perfume and rosy light, full of
the music of birds and the tints of a thousand flowers--all the
invitations to love, but love itself was absent. Dilama searched
the garden from end to end, and walked in and out among the roses
by the buttressed wall, but the garden was empty and silent. She
was alone. Tired at last, and ready to cry with fatigue and
disappointment, she sat down by the red brick wall, leaning her
chin on her hand and gazing up towards the windows of the Selamlik,
which could only be seen in portions here and there through a leafy
screen of plane-tree branches. How still it was in the garden, and
how the scent of the orange flower weighed on the senses! How clear
the pink, transparent air!

Through that same lucid air, under the spreading plane-trees, and
through the great dim bazaars of the city, walked Murad that
evening with quick, hot feet, and the liquid coursing in his veins
seemed fire instead of blood. He went from Druze to Druze, wherever
he could find them, in their own homes, or sitting at a shady
corner of a street, where the tiny rush-bottomed stools are
gathered round the tea-stalls with their hissing brazen urns and
porcelain cups, or lounging in the bazaars, or at the marble
drinking-fountains. Wherever they were he found them, and spoke a
few hot, eager words to them, urging them to hurry forward their
preparations, and be ready to start with the caravan at the rising
of the full moon. Then, as the rosy light changed into violet dusk,
he went home to his low, yellow, square-roofed dwelling on the edge
of the desert, and sat there in his one unlighted room--sat there
gazing out with unseeing eyes into the lustrous Damascus night
beyond the open door, and with the fingers of his right hand
playing absently with the handle of his knife.

A week had passed over and Ahmed had not sent again for Dilama, nor
had Murad visited the garden, and to the Eastern girl it seemed as
if the world had stopped still. The hot, languid days, the gorgeous
nights with the blaze of the stars and the rapture of the
nightingales, filled her with madness that seemed insupportable.
She knew of no reason for Murad's desertion. She could find out
nothing. She did not dare to breathe a word to any one of the
anxiety, the wonder, the desperation that seemed choking her. What
had become of him? What had happened? Would he ever come again? And
as he appealed only to her senses, and he was not there, she ceased
to wish for him very much, but thought more of Ahmed and the
Selamlik that were close to her. For the mind and the imagination
love in absence and long after the absent one, but the senses are
stirred by proximity, and turn to the one who is nearest.

One evening, when the soft sky was a clear crimson and the full
moon rose a perfect disk of transparent silver, faint as yet in the
blood-red glow, Dilama felt as if she could exist no longer in the
still, even, unchanging peace of the women's apartments. The song
of the water without, the coo of the doves, the incessantly
repeated love-note of the mating sparrows, seemed to madden her
beyond endurance.

She lay face downwards on the soft carpet of her little
sleeping-chamber, and moaned unconsciously aloud, "Let me die! let
me die! I have lost favour with all men."

The black slave was sitting cross-legged just outside the curtain,
and when these slow, long drawn-out words came from the other side
a light gleamed in her shrewd, beady-black eyes. With one claw-like
hand she cautiously drew back a fold of the curtain, and peering in
saw the foremost lady of the harem lying prostrate, her face
pressed to the floor. She made no sound, but dropping the curtain
noiselessly, sidled slowly off down the dark passage leading to the
Selamlik. Ahmed was alone in his apartment when the slave appeared,
sitting on the broad window ledge gazing out from the window which
overlooked his grounds, and beyond them the white minarets and
shining cupolas of the city. He turned at the interruption, but his
face lighted up with pleasure as he recognised the women's
attendant, and he signed to her to approach.

"The Lady Dilama is weeping in her chamber, desiring my lord,"
announced the slave, with much bowing and prostration, but still
with that confidence which showed she knew how welcome the news
would be to her august listener. Ahmed rose, a fire of joy leaping
up suddenly within him.

"It is well," he said, in an even tone. "Let the Lady Dilama come
to me, and for yourself take this," and he dropped beside the
crouching heap of black back and shoulder a small velvet bag. The
slave grabbed it and put it in her breast, muttering a thousand
thanks and blessings, and withdrew.

Once outside, her lean black legs carried her swiftly back to
Dilama's room, where she pushed aside the curtain without ceremony.

"Come!" she said imperiously, "you are Ahmed Ali's chosen one; he
has sent for you. Put off that torn veil, and all that weeping. I
have new robes here for you."

Dilama, who had hurriedly gathered herself up at the slave's entry,
shrank away now into a corner of the room, white as death.

"Has he sent for me?" she asked breathlessly. "Commanded me? Oh,
must I go?"

The slave looked at her strangely. She had no suspicion of Dilama's
secret, and had no idea that her own misrepresentations were as
gross as they were. But she had no wish to be harsh or unkind to
this girl, who would be in a few hours queen of the harem. She was
puzzled. She drew near to Dilama's shrinking form, and peered into
her face.

"Yes, he _commands_," she said; "but is it possible you do not
wish to go to Ahmed? He is a king amongst men, and he loves you.
What better fate could there be than to lie on his breast, in his
arms? Is it not better than the ground to which you were crying
just now? Surely you will reward me well to-morrow?"

Dilama answered nothing. Long shivers were passing through her. It
was decided, then; she could no longer avoid her fate, and already
with that thought the Oriental calm of acceptance came to her.
Besides, where was Murad? She could not tell. Fate had taken him
from her, perhaps--the same Fate that gave her to Ahmed. She was
helpless. She had no choice but to obey. And the words of the
slave, accompanied by those piercing, meaning looks, inflamed her
senses. After that unbearable week of solitude the summons came to
her not all unwelcome, and the supreme thought of Ahmed himself
loomed up suddenly, bringing irresistible joy with it. A flame
passed over her cheeks; she caught the slave's skinny black hand
between her own rose-leaf palms.

"Yes, I will reward you," she murmured. "Dress me beautifully,
decorate me that I may find favour with Ahmed."

The slave laughed meaningly.

"Does the desert traveller burn and sigh after water, and then do
the springs of Damascus not find favour in his eyes?" she asked,
and laughed again as she approached Dilama, and began to undress
her. In a few minutes the whole of the haremlik was in a state of
pleasant excitement. The news of the dressing of the bride spread
into its furthest corners, and the women came to talk and jest, and
the servants fled hither and thither upon errands. Dilama was led
into the large general room, and there bathed from head to foot
with warm rose-water; while the others sat round and chatted
together, and admired her ivory skin, with the wild rose Syrian
bloom upon it, and her masses of gold-tinted chestnut hair. And the
black slave bathed and anointed and dressed her with the utmost
care and great self-importance, and sent the underslaves flying in
all directions, one to gather syringa, and other heavy-scented
blossoms from the garden, and another to fetch the jewels for her
neck; and as the attar of rose bottle was found to be empty, a
slave was sent with flying feet to the bazaar to purchase more; and
Dilama, excited and elated, surrounded by jest and laughter and
smiling faces, felt her youth leap up within her, and rejoice at
coming into its kingdom--love.

In the bazaar the slave sped to the perfume-seller, and, swelling
with the importance of his mission, stayed a moment to chatter with
the dealer.

"They are dressing a new bride for my master, and I must hasten
back," he gossiped, lounging on the merchant's little stall. "Ahmed
Ali awaits her in the Selamlik; I must be going. They say her
beauty is wonderful; she is not a Turk, but a Syrian from the
mountains by Beirut. I must hasten: they will be waiting."

"Yes, hasten on your way," returned the perfume-seller. He was a
Turk, dignified and gracious, and of no mind to listen to gossip
from the harem, of which it was little short of scandalous to speak
so publicly. He had other customers in his shop who could hear,
amongst them a black-browed Druze in a green turban, who was
waiting patiently his turn, and who seemed to listen intently to
this most improper gossip. The slave disappeared with flying feet
to catch up his wasted moments, but when the Turk turned to serve
the silent Druze, he, too, had vanished, and some white-turbaned
Arabs pressed forward in his place.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dilama in her lighted chamber, with her fresh young eyes a little
painted beneath their lids, and heavy gold chains about her soft
young throat, sat looking into the little French mirror of cheap
glass and gilt, and waiting for the attar of rose to be poured on
her shining hair.

At last the boy returned breathless, and the precious stuff was
poured on her hair and hands. Then she stood up radiant and the
women sighed and smiled by turns as she went out, preceded by the
old slave. A long narrow passage, lighted overhead by swinging
coloured lamps, divided the women's from the men's apartments, and
through this they passed noiselessly over the matting-covered
floor. At the end fell heavy curtains, concealing the door and some
steps. Here the slave left the girl, and Dilama went through the
curtains alone. She mounted the steps and passed through the door.
All was quite silent here, and the passage unlighted, except that
through a tiny window high up above her head a streak of moonlight
fell across her way. Dilama paused oppressed, she knew not by what
feeling. Only a short passage and another curtained door divided
her now from Ahmed's presence. Her breath came fast, her pulses
beat nervously, and her feet dragged; slowly and unwillingly she
crept onward, harassed by cold, vague fears. Before the door itself
she trembled, and her soft hands and wrists hardly availed to push
it open. It yielded slowly, and fell to behind her in silence.

The room was full of light; a silver blaze of moonlight illumined
it from end to end. The great windows, over which usually the
curtains were drawn, stood uncovered and wide open to the soft
Damascus air. The scent of roses and jessamine from the great man's
garden stole in with the silver light. The girl paused when just
over the threshold: she was cold and frightened, and her body
shook. Ahmed did not move or speak. He was sitting sideways to one
great window, with his head resting against the high back of the
one European chair that the room possessed. The light was so strong
that the rich, deep blue of the turban was distinctly visible in
it, but his face was in shadow. She could see, however, the noble
throat and pose of the shoulders as he sat waiting. The girl's
heart beat with a little sense of pleasure as she looked. Her feet
crept slowly a little farther into the room. A great tide of
pleasure was really just outside her heart, and would have rushed
in and overwhelmed it in waves of joy had she but opened her
heart's doors to it; but the shadow of Murad was on the bolts and
locks, and she felt afraid. The silence and great silver light in
the room oppressed her. Ahmed had not heard her enter, and had not
stirred nor looked at her. She crept a little closer. The beauty of
the majestic figure called her irresistibly. She drew closer. She
had passed one window now, and was near enough to see the jewels
flash on the slender hand that hung over the chair-arm, and the
glistening light on the embroidered Turkish slippers on his feet.
Shading her brow with one hand, Dilama came forward, fell at those
feet and kissed them. Still there was no movement, no sound. This
was so unlike Ahmed's way of treating his slaves, that the girl,
forgetting her fears, looked up in sheer surprise. Then her heart
seemed to stop suddenly, and then leap with excessive thuds of
horror against her breast. The face above her seemed carved in
stone, pale, bloodless, calm; it was set, as the girl realised in a
moment of terror and agony, in a repose that would never be broken.
The large, dark eyes, still open, gazed past her, sightless,
changeless. Fear, her fear of him, her awe, her oppressed terror
fell from her, giving way to an infinite regret, a sorrow, a sense
of loss that rushed over her, filling every cell, every atom of her
being. She, the unwilling, the reluctant, the slow-coming, the
grudging bride, now stood free. The bridegroom asked of her
nothing, demanded nothing, needed nothing, desired nothing.

The slave-girl neither shrieked nor fainted. A great, convulsive
sob tore itself from her trembling body as she rose from her knees
and bent over the sitting figure. Wildly she passed her soft,
shaking fingers across his brow, still warm, and round his throat,
seeking mechanically the wound; then her eyes fell on the gold silk
of his tunic, and just over the left breast she saw a little brown
patch, and on the left side of the chair the silver light gleamed
on a small, dark-red pool. He had been stabbed as he sat there,
waiting for her--stabbed from the back, and the dagger thrust
through to the little brown spot in the front of the tunic. And
through that tiny door his life had gone.

Lying at his feet, Dilama sobbed uncontrollably, rolling her head,
with its wonderful crown of flower-decked hair, and her pink-silk
clad body amongst the rugs on the floor. What was the worth or use
of anything now, silk or bridal attire, or beauty, or flower-decked
hair? Never would any of them now be mirrored in his eyes again.
Never could anything change that awful serenity, that implacable
silence, out of which she felt her own love, her own desire rush
upon her and devour her. Ahmed had been hers and she had shrunk
from him, and now all the blood in her body she would have given
willingly to replace that little scarlet stream that had borne away
his life.

As she lay there, weeping in an agony of despair, a dark shadow
suddenly grew in the window, and fell a black patch in the panel of
white light upon the floor. A lithe figure balanced a moment on the
ledge of the open window, then leapt with the silent elastic bound
of a cat into the room. Dilama sprang from the floor to her knees
with a smothered cry of terror.

"Murad! why have you come here?"

The Druze leant over her and caught her arm fiercely.

"To claim my own. It is not the first visit I have made to-night,
as you see," and as he dragged her up from her knees he indicated
the motionless figure beside them.

"You killed him!" she whispered, gazing up with dilated, terrified
eyes.

"Who should, if not I? Had he not taken my wife? Come, we must be
going."

With the nail-like grip on her arm, and the low, savage tones in
her ears, and the blazing eyes like a tiger's, inflamed with the
lust of murder above her, the girl felt sick and half-fainting with
fear and misery.

"He did not take me. I was always faithful, Murad. I love you.
I--" she stammered.

"It is well," returned Murad with a grim smile, "and these tears I
suppose are because I was too long absent? It is true I have been
some time: I had much to do, and then I knew I was quite safe, now
I had settled all accounts with him. Come! the caravan is ready;
the camels wait for you."

He dragged her towards the open square, the great square of the
window. Without, the night-flies and the moths danced in the silver
beams, the trees rose motionless and stately in the sultry air, the
gracious hours moved on with all the tranquil splendour of the
Oriental night. The girl threw her eyes over the sitting figure,
unmoved by all the strenuous passions fighting round it. Wildly, in
despairing agony, she stretched out her arms towards it in a vain,
unconscious passionate appeal.

The Druze struck them downwards, and gripping her unresisting body
more tightly, he leapt from the window to the slight wooden
staircase without, and, like a tiger with his prey, crept away
stealthily through the silver silence of the rose garden towards
the desert.





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