Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Soldier of the Legion
Author: Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920, Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933
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 "A Soldier of the Legion" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A Soldier of the Legion


BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHORS

CAR OF DESTINY

THE CHAPERON

GOLDEN SILENCE

GUESTS OF HERCULES

HEATHER MOON

IT HAPPENED IN EGYPT

LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER

LORD LOVELAND DISCOVERS AMERICA

MOTOR MAID

MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR

PORT OF ADVENTURE

PRINCESS VIRGINIA

ROSEMARY IN SEARCH OF A FATHER

SET IN SILVER



A Soldier of the Legion

BY
C.N. & A.M. Williamson


GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & CO.
1914



_Copyright, 1914, by_

C.N. & A.M. WILLIAMSON

_All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian_



TO
THE LEGION



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                          PAGE

I. The Telegram                                                     3

II. The Blow                                                       15

III. The Last Act of "Girls' Love"                                 34

IV. The Upper Berth                                                45

V. The Night of Storms                                             58

VI. The News                                                       71

VII. Sir Knight                                                    80

VIII. On the Station Platform                                      95

IX. The Colonel of the Legion                                     106

X. The Voice of the Legion                                        117

XI. Four Eyes                                                     132

XII. No. 1033                                                     143

XIII. The Agha's Rose                                             148

XIV. Two on the Roof                                              163

XV. The Secret Link                                               173

XVI. The Beetle                                                   189

XVII. The Mission                                                 203

XVIII. Gone                                                       223

XIX. What Happened at Dawn                                        228

XX. The Beauty Doctor                                             242

XXI. The Eleventh Hour                                            254

XXII. The Heart of Max                                            263

XXIII. "Where the Strange Roads Go Down"                          278

XXIV. The Mad Music                                               285

XXV. Corporal St. George, Deserter                                294

XXVI. Sanda's Wedding Night                                       302

XXVII. The Only Friend                                            317

XXVIII. Sanda Speaks                                              332

XXIX. Out of the Dream, a Plan                                    346

XXX. The Play of Cross Purposes                                   351

XXXI. The Gift                                                    368



A Soldier of the Legion



CHAPTER I

THE TELEGRAM


It was the great ball of the season at Fort Ellsworth. For a special
reason it had begun unusually late; but, though the eighth dance was on,
the great event of the evening had not happened yet. Until that should
happen, the rest, charming though it might be, was a mere curtain-raiser
to keep men amused before the first act of the play.

The band of the --th was playing the "Merry Widow" waltz, still a
favourite at the fort, and only one of the officers was not dancing. All
the others--young, middle-aged, and even elderly--were gliding more or
less gracefully, more or less happily, over the waxed floor of the big,
white-walled, flag-draped hall where Fort Ellsworth had its concerts,
theatricals, small hops, and big balls. Encircled by their uniformed
arms were the wives and sisters of brother officers, ladies whom they
saw every day, or girls from the adjacent town of Omallaha, whom they
could see nearly every day if they took the trouble. Some of the girls
were pretty and pleasant. They all danced well, and wore their newest
frocks from Chicago, New York, and even, in certain brilliant cases,
from Paris. But--there was a heart-breaking "but". Each army woman,
each visiting girl from Omallaha knew that at any minute her star might
be eclipsed, put out, as the stars at dawn are extinguished by the
rising sun. Each one knew, too, that the sun must be at the brink of the
horizon, because it was half-past eleven, and it took more than twenty
minutes to motor to Ellsworth from Omallaha. Besides, Max Doran, who
used to love the "Merry Widow" waltz, was not dancing. He stood near the
door pretending to talk to an old man who had chaperoned a daughter from
town to the ball; but in reality he was lying in wait, ready to pounce.

It was a wonder that he hadn't gone to meet her; but perhaps she had
refused his escort. A more effective entrance might be made by a
dazzling vision alone (the "stage aunt" did not count) than with a man,
even the show young man of the garrison.

The show young man talked jerkily about the weather, with his eyes on
the door. They were laughing eyes of a brilliant blue, and accounted for
a good deal where girls were concerned; but not all. There were other
things--other advantages he had, which made it seem quite remarkable
that a rather dull Western fort like Ellsworth should possess him. His
family was high up in the "Four Hundred" in New York. He had as much
money as, with all his boyish extravagances and wild generosity, he knew
what to do with. He was exceedingly good to look at, in the dark, thin,
curiously Latin style to which he seemed to have no right. He was a
rather popular hero in the --th, for his polo, a sport which he had
introduced and made possible at Fort Ellsworth, and for his boxing, his
fencing, and his marksmanship. He had been graduated fourth in his
class at West Point three years before, so that he might have chosen the
engineers or artillery; but the cavalry was what he preferred; and here
he was at old Fort Ellsworth, enjoying life hugely and so well helping
others to enjoy life that every one liked him, no one was jealous or
grudged him what he had.

There he stood, this "show young man," well-groomed and smart in his
full-dress uniform of second lieutenant of cavalry, the stripes and
splashes of yellow suiting his dark skin: a slim, erect figure, not very
tall, but a soldier every inch of him, though the wide-apart blue eyes
gave the square-chinned face a boyish air of wistfulness, even when he
smiled his delightfully childlike, charming smile. Girls glanced at him
as they swung past in their partners' arms, noticing how tense was the
look on the brown face, and how the straight eyebrows--even blacker than
the smooth dark hair--were drawn together in expectant concentration.

Suddenly the door opened. The curtain-raiser was over. The drama of the
evening was about to begin.

It seemed wonderful that the band could keep presence of mind to go on
playing the "Merry Widow," instead of stopping short with a gasp and
crash of instruments, to start again with the "Tango Trance," _her_
dance in "Girls' Love."

She flashed into the ballroom like a dazzling fairy thing, all white and
gold and glitter. Because she knew that--so to speak--the curtain would
ring up for her entrance, and not an instant before, in the fondness of
her heart for young officers she had not even delayed long enough to
change the dress she wore as the Contessa Gaëta in the third act of
"Girls' Love." The musical comedy had been written for her. In it she
had made her first almost startling success two years ago in London,
where, according to the newspapers, all young men worth their salt, from
dukes down to draymen, had fallen in love with her. She had captured New
York, too, and now she and her company were rousing enthusiasm and
coining money on their tour of the larger Western cities.

The Gaëta dress looked as if it were made of a million dewdrops turned
to diamonds and sprinkled over a lacy spider-web; the web swathing the
tall and wandlike figure of Miss Billie Brookton in a way to show that
she had all the delicate perfections of a Tanagra statuette.

Despite the distraction of her entrance, followed by that of the little
gray lady engaged as her aunt, the musicians had the self-control to go
on with their "Merry Widowing," irrelevant as it now seemed. The dancers
went on dancing, also, though the dreaded dimness of extinction had
fallen upon even the brightest, prettiest girls, who tried to look
particularly rapturous in order to prove that nothing had happened. They
felt their partners' interest suddenly withdrawn from them and focussed
upon the radiance at the door. No use ignoring that Radiance, even if
one had in self-defence to pretend that it didn't matter much, and
wasn't so marvellously dazzling after all!

"There goes Mr. Doran to welcome her--of course!" said an Omallaha girl
lately back from New York. "I wonder if they really are engaged?"

"Why shouldn't they be?" her partner generously wanted to know. (He was
married.)

"Well, for one thing, she doesn't seem the sort of woman who'd care to
give up her career. She's so self-conscious that she must be selfish,
and then--she's older than he is."

"Good heavens, no! She doesn't look nineteen!"

"On the stage."

"Or off, either."

"Anyhow, some people in New York who know her awfully well told me that
she'd never see twenty-nine again. An actress of twenty-nine who can't
look nineteen had better go into a convent! Though, when you notice, her
mouth and eyes are hard, aren't they? What _would_ Max Doran's wonderful
mother say if her son married Billie Brookton?"

"Miss Brookton's father was a clergyman in Virginia. She told me so
herself," said the married partner.

"She _would_---- Oh, I don't mean to be catty. But she must have a
background that's a contrast--like that aunt of hers. I don't believe
she'd want to marry for years yet--a man who'd make her leave the stage.
She has the air of expecting the limelight to follow her everywhere
through life, and I'm sure Max Doran's gorgeous mother wouldn't let her
daughter-in-law go on acting, even if Max didn't mind."

"Max would mind. He'd never stand it," Max's brother officer informed
the girl who had been to New York. "Though he's so simple in his manner,
he's proud, I guess. But whether she's nineteen or twenty-nine, I don't
see how Billie could do better than take Max Doran, unless she could
snap up an English duke. And they say there aren't any unmarried ones
going at present. She'd be an addition to this post as a bride, wouldn't
she?"

"Ye-es," answered the girl, giving wonderful dramatic value to her
pause.

Just then the reign of the "Merry Widow" came to an end, and as soon
after as could be, the "Tango Trance" began. The band had practised it
in Miss Brookton's honour; and it had been ordered as the first dance
after her arrival. The aunt sat down, and Billie Brookton began
"tangoing" with Max Doran. They were a beautiful couple to watch; but of
course people had to keep up the farce of dancing, too. This was not,
after all, a theatre. One was supposed to have come for something else
than to stare at Billie Brookton without paying for a place.

"Your pearls," she whispered, as she and Doran danced the tango
together, taking graceful steps which she had taught him during the
fortnight they had known each other. "How do they look?"

"Glorious on _you_!" he answered. "And the ring has come. I telegraphed,
you know. It's what you wanted. I was able to get it, I'm happy to say.
Oh, Billie, can it be possible that I shall have you for mine--all mine?
It seems too wonderful to be true."

"I've promised, haven't I?" She laughed half under her breath, a pretty,
tinkling laugh. "Honour bright, Max dear, you're the first man I ever
said 'yes' to. I hope I shan't be sorry!"

"I won't let you be sorry," whispered Max. "I'll do everything to make
you so happy you'll forget the theatre."

"If anything or anybody could make me do that, it would be you," she
answered, under cover of the music. "I believe you must be very
fascinating, or else I--but never mind---- Now let's stop dancing and
you'll show me the ring. I'm engaged for the next--and I can't wait till
you and I have another together."

Max took her to sit down at an end of the room uninfested by chaperons.
No one at all was there. He had the ring in some pocket, and, by dint of
sitting with his "back to the audience," hoped to go through the sacred
ceremony without being spied upon. The ring Billie had asked for was a
famous blue diamond, of almost as deep a violet as a star-sapphire, and
full of strange, rainbow gleams. It had belonged to a celebrated actress
who had married an Englishman of title, and on her death it had been
advertised for sale. Billie Brookton, who "adored" jewels, and whose
birthstone conveniently was the diamond, had been "dying for it." "She
was not superstitious," she said, "about dead people's things." Now the
blue diamond, with a square emerald on either side, and set in a band of
platinum, was hers. She took it between thumb and finger to watch the
sparks that came and went, deep under the sea-like surface of blue. As
she looked at the ring, Doran looked at her eyelashes.

Never, he thought, could any other woman since the world began have had
such eyelashes. They were extraordinarily long and thick, golden brown,
and black at the tips. The Omallaha girl who had been to New York
thought that Billie Brookton herself had had more to do than heaven in
the painting of those curled-up tips. But such a suggestion would have
been received with contempt by Max Doran, who at the threshold of
twenty-five considered himself a judge of eyelashes. (He was not; nor of
a woman's complexion; but believing in himself and in Billie, he was
happy.) Miss Brookton had a complexion nearly as white, and it seemed to
him--more luminous, more ethereal, than the string of pearls he had
given her a month in advance of her birthday. She said it would be her
twenty-third, and Max had been incredulous in the nicest way. He would
have supposed her to be nineteen at the most, if she had not been so
frank.

"Now, if you've looked at the ring enough _off_ your finger, will you
let me put it on?" he begged. "I'll make a wish--a good wish: that you
shall never grow tired of your bargain. For it _is_ a bargain, isn't it?
From the minute this ring is on your finger you're engaged to me."

"What will your beautiful mother say?" asked Billie, hanging back
daintily, and doing charming things with her eyelashes.

"Oh, she'll be surprised at first," Max had to admit. "You see, she's so
young herself and such a great beauty, it must be hard for her to
realize she's got a son who has grown up to be a man. I used to think
she was the most exquisite creature on earth, but now----"

His words broke off, and he looked up from the gleaming line of
gold-and-black lashes. An orderly had come quickly and almost
noiselessly to him. "For you, Lieutenant," the man announced with a
salute, holding out a telegram.

"May I?" murmured Doran, and perfunctorily opened the envelope.

Billie went on gazing at the ring. She was faintly annoyed at the delay,
for she was anxious to see how the blue diamond would look on her
finger, and Max had asked to wish it on. The lights in the stone were so
fascinating, however, that for an instant she forgot the interruption.
Then, sensitive to all that was dramatic, something in the quality of
Max Doran's silence struck her. She felt suddenly surrounded by a
chilling atmosphere which seemed to shut her and Max away from the
dancers, away from music and life, as if a thick glass case had been let
down over them both. She glanced up quickly. No wonder she had felt so
cold. Doran's face looked frozen. His eyes were still fixed on the
telegram, though there had been time for him to read it over and over
again. He was so lost in the news it had brought that he had forgotten
even her--forgotten her in the moment when she had been consenting to a
formal engagement, she, the illusive, the vainly desired one, run after
just to the foot of her unclimbable mountain by the nimblest, the
richest, everywhere!

Her small soul was stirred to resentment. She wanted to punish Max Doran
for daring to neglect her at such a time, even for a few seconds; but a
half-angry, half-frightened study of the dark, absorbed face changed her
mood. No man could look like that unless something awful had happened.

What, that was awful, could happen to Max Doran? Why, he could lose all
his money!

Billie's heart leaped, and then seemed to fall back heavily in the
lovely bosom sheathed like a lily with a film of sparkling dew. Would he
ever speak? She could not wait. Besides, it was right to be sympathetic.
"Max, what is it--_dear_ Max?" she whispered in the honey-sweet voice of
Gaëta in "Girls' Love."

He started, and waked up. "It's my mother. She's been hurt," he said.
"My God, I must go at once!"

Almost, Billie sighed out her intense relief in words; but she had just
presence of mind and self-control enough to hold them back. Gently she
took the telegram from him, and he let her do it. Meanwhile, however,
she had slipped the ring on to her own finger--but not the engaged
finger. Evidently this was no time for an announcement, or
congratulations and sensations. But it was just as well to have the blue
diamond safe on one's hand, even if it were the right hand instead of
the left.

       *       *       *       *       *

"'Your mother dangerously injured in motor accident,'" she read.
"'Asking to see you. Come without delay. Reeves.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, how very sad!" breathed Billie. "How awful if she should be
_disfigured_! But I do hope not."

Doran did not remember to thank his love for her solicitude. He got up,
not frozen now, but a little dazed. It occurred to Billie that he had
never looked so handsome, so much a man. She felt that he was gathering
himself together. "I'll telephone to Omallaha for a special train to
connect with the limited at Chicago," he said. "By the time I can see
the Colonel and get off it ought to be ready. Yes, I ought to catch the
limited that way. It's awful to leave you like this, but I must. I'll
take you to your aunt, and--who's got the next dance with you?"

"Major Naylor," she answered, slightly injured, for not ten minutes ago
he had been looking at her card. He ought to have remembered every name
on it and in the right order.

"Well, he'll come to you in a minute. Trust him not to lose a second!
And--you'll write to me?"

"Of course; you'll wire as soon as you can, how your mother is--and
everything? On Monday I shall be back in Chicago."

"I'll wire the moment I can," Max assured her. "You know the address in
New York?"

"Oh, yes, everybody knows the beautiful Mrs. Doran's address. I'll write
or telegraph _every_ day. My heart will be with you."

He squeezed her hand so desperately that she could have screamed with
pain from the pressure of the blue diamond. But with touching
self-control she only smiled a strained, sympathetic little smile. And
Max had forgotten all about the ring!

"Thank you, my beautiful one, my angel," he said. And Billie's large
brown eyes (so effective with her delicate dark brows and rippling
yellow hair) gave him a lovely look. She had been called many things by
many adoring men, but perhaps never before an "angel." Max Doran was
very young, in some ways even younger than his years. "Good-bye," she
murmured. "But no--not 'good-bye.' That's a terrible word. _Au revoir._
You'll come to me when you can, I know. I shall be in Chicago a
fortnight. But if you can't leave Mrs. Doran, why, in six weeks I shall
be in New York."

"Don't speak of six weeks!" he exclaimed. "It's like six years. I _must_
see you before that. But--my mother is before everything just now."

They bade each other farewell with their eyes. Then he took her to Mrs.
Liddell, the small gray aunt, and hardly was Billie seated when Major
Naylor dashed up to claim her for Gaëta's waltz in the first act of
"Girls' Love."

After that, things happened quickly with Max Doran. He seemed to dream
them, and was still in the dream, tearing toward Chicago in a special
train whose wheels rushed through the night in tune with that first-act
music from "Girls' Love."



CHAPTER II

THE BLOW


The name that signed the telegram was that of Mrs. Doran's lawyer and
man of business. It was that also of Max Doran's old-time chum, Grant
Reeves, Edwin Reeves' son. And when Max stepped out of the limited in
the Grand Central Station of New York, among the first faces he saw were
those of the two Reeveses, who had come to meet him. He shook hands with
both, warmly and gratefully with Grant. He had never been able really to
like his friend's father. But it was to him he turned with the question:
"How is she?"

The elder, tall, thin, clean-shaven, with carrot-red hair turning gray,
had prominent red eyebrows over pale, intelligent eyes that winked
often, owing to some weakness of the lids, which had lost most of their
lashes. This disfigurement he concealed as well as he could with rimless
_pince-nez_, which some people said were not necessary as an aid to
eyesight. They were an aid to vanity, however; and the care Edwin Reeves
bestowed on his clothes suggested that he was a vain as well as a clever
man.

The son was a young and notably good-looking copy of his father, whose
partner in business he had lately become. They were singularly alike
except in colouring, for Grant was brown-haired and brown-eyed, with
plenty of curled-back lashes which gave him an alert look.

Both men started forward at the sight of Max, Grant striding ahead of
Edwin and grasping Max's hand, "I _had_ to come, old chap," he said,
with a pleasant though slightly affected accent meant to be English. "I
wanted just to shake hands and tell you how I felt."

"Thank you, Grant," said Max. "Is she--is there hope?"

"Oh, there's always hope, you know; isn't there, governor?"

Grant Reeves appealed to his father, who had joined them. "Who can tell?
She's wonderful."

Edwin Reeves took the hand Max held out, and then did nothing with it,
in the aloof, impersonal way that had always irritated Max, and made him
want to fling away the unresponsive fingers. Now, however, for the first
time in his life he did not notice. He was lost in his desire for and
fear of the verdict.

"It would only be cruel to raise his hopes," the father answered the
son. "The doctors (there are four) say it's a miracle she's kept alive
till now. Sheer will-power. She's living to see you."

Max was dumb, his throat constricted. And then, there was nothing to
say. Something deep down in him--something he could not bear to
hear--was asking why she should suddenly _care_ so much? She had never
cared before, never really cared, though in his intense admiration of
her, almost amounting to worship, he had fought to make himself believe
that she did love him as other mothers loved their sons. Yet his heart
knew the truth: that she had become more and more indifferent as he
grew up from a small boy into a young man. Since he went to West Point
they had spent very little time together, though they were always on
affectionate terms. She had never spoken a disagreeable word to him,
never given him a cross look. Only--there had been nothing of the mother
about her. She had treated him like a nice visiting boy who must be
entertained, even fascinated, and then gently got rid of when he began
to be a bore. In his first term at West Point she had sailed for Europe,
and stopped there for two years. When he was graduated she had gone
again, and stayed another year. They had met only once since he had been
stationed at Fort Ellsworth: last Christmas, when he had run on to New
York and surprised her. She had been in great beauty, looking not a day
over thirty. And now--Max could not make it seem true. But, at least,
she wanted him. Max clutched at the thought with passion, and scarcely
heard Grant saying that he must hurry on to the office; he had come only
for a word and a handshake: it was better that the governor alone should
go with dear old Max to the house.

Mrs. Doran's town automobile was waiting with a solemn chauffeur and
footman who bent their eyes reverently, not to look the stricken young
soldier in the face. Max had a sick thrill as he saw the smart blue
monster, with its row of glittering glass eyes; it had been his
Christmas present to his mother by request. When the telegram told him
briefly that she had been hurt in a motor accident, he had thought with
agony that it might have been in the car he had given. He was thankful
that it had not been so. That would have seemed too horrible--as if he
had killed her. Now he would hear how it had really happened. Every
nerve was tense as if he were awaiting an operation without anesthetics.

There were not many blocks to go from the Grand Central to the Fifth
Avenue home of the Dorans, an old house which had been remodelled and
made magnificent by Max's father to receive his bride. In less than ten
minutes the blue automobile had slipped through all the traffic and
reached its destination; but many questions can be asked and answered in
eight minutes. Between the moment of starting, and the moment when Max's
one hastily packed suitcase was being carried up to the door, he had
heard the whole story. The fated car had been a friend's car. There had
been a collision. The two automobiles had turned over. For half an hour
she had lain crushed under the weight of the motor before she could be
got out. Her back was broken, and she had been horribly burnt. Even if
she could have lived--which was impossible--she would have been
shockingly disfigured. Edwin Reeves had been with her once, for a few
minutes: she had wanted to speak to him about certain things, matters of
business, and the doctors, who never left her, had stopped giving her
opiates on purpose. From the first she had said that she must be kept
alive till Max could come, and that no matter what she had to suffer her
mind must be clear for a talk with him. After that, nothing mattered.
She wanted to die and be out of her misery. When Mr. Reeves had been
taken into her room her face had been covered with a white veil, and Max
must prepare himself to be received in the same way. It was better that
he should know this beforehand and be spared a shock.

Never to see that beautiful face again in this world! Max felt like one
dead and galvanized as he walked into the house and was received by a
doctor--some great specialist whose name he had heard, but whom he had
never chanced to meet. Not once did his thoughts rush back to Billie
Brookton, and the night when he had meant to put on her finger the blue
diamond in the platinum ring. Billie was in another world, a world a
million miles away, as following the doctor Max walked softly into his
mother's room.

There he had once more that insistent feeling of unreality. The gay room
with its shell-pink melting into yellow and orange looked so unsuited to
any condition but joy that it was impossible to believe tragedy had
stalked in uninvited. Even with the morning light shut out by the drawn
yellow curtains, and the electricity turned on in the flower or
gauze-shaded lamps, it looked a place dedicated to the joy of life and
beauty. But when, with a physical effort, Max turned his eyes to the
bed, copied from one where Marie Antoinette had slept, he saw that which
seemed to throw a pall of crape over the fantastic golden harmonies. A
figure lay there, very straight, very flat and long under the coverlet
pulled high over the breast. Even the hands were hidden: and over the
face was spread a white veil of chiffon, folded double, so that no gleam
of eye, no feature could even be guessed at.

Until that moment, Max had kept his self-control. But at sight of that
piteous form, and remembering the radiant face framed with great bunches
of red-gold hair, which he had kissed good-bye, in this very bed not
three months ago, the dam which had held back the flood of anguish
broke. It was as if his heart had turned to water. Tears sprang from his
eyes, and the strength went out of his knees. It was all he could do not
to fall at the side of the bed and to sob out his mother's name, telling
her that he would give his life a hundred times for hers if that could
be, or that he would go out of the world with her rather than she should
go alone. But something came to his help and kept him outwardly calm
save for a slight choking in the throat as he said softly, standing by
the bedside, "Dearest, I am here."

"At last," came a faint murmur from under the double veil.

Max thought, with a sharp stab of pain, that he would not have
recognized the voice if he had not known that it was his mother's. It
sounded like the voice of a little, frail, very old woman; whereas Rose
Doran had been a creature of glorious physique, looking and feeling at
least fifteen years younger than her age.

"I started the minute I had the telegram," Max said, wanting to make
sure that she realized his love, his frantic haste to reach her. "It has
seemed a hundred years! Darling, if I could bear this for you. If----"

"Please, don't," the little whining voice under the veil fretfully cut
him short. "I can't see very well. Has the doctor gone out?"

"Yes, dearest. We're alone."

"I'm glad. There isn't much time, and I've got a story to tell you. I
ought to call it a confession."

That swept Max's forced calmness away. "A confession from you to me!" he
cried out, horrified. "Never! Darling One, whatever it is I don't want
to hear it--I don't need to hear it, I know---- Rest. Be at peace. Just
let us love each other."

"You don't know what you are talking about." The veiled voice grew
shrill. "You only do harm trying to stop me. You'll kill me if you do."

"Forgive me, dear." Max controlled himself again. "I'll not say another
word. I----"

"Then don't--don't! I want to go on--to the end. I'd rather you sat
down. I can see you standing there. It's like a black shadow between me
and the light, accusing--no, don't speak! It needn't accuse. You
wouldn't have had the life you've had, if--but I mustn't begin like
that. Where are you now? Are you near enough to hear all I say? I can't
raise my voice."

"I'm sitting down, close by the bed. I can hear the least whisper," Max
assured her. He sat with his head bowed, his hands gripping the arms of
the chair. This seemed unbearable, to spend the last minutes of her life
hearing some confession! It was not right, from a mother to a son. But
he must yield.

"I don't know how long I can stand it--the pain, I mean," she moaned.
"So I can't try and break things gently to you, for fear--I have to stop
in the midst. I'm not your mother, Max, and Jack wasn't your father. But
he thought he was. He never knew. And he loved you. I didn't. I never
could. You see--I _did_ know. You must have wondered sometimes. I saw
you wondered; I suppose you never guessed, even though I always told you
to call me Rose, or anything you liked, except mother?"

She was waiting for him to answer; and he did answer, though it was as
if she had thrown him over a precipice, and he were hanging by some
branch which would let him crash down in an instant to the bottom of an
unknown abyss.

"No, I never guessed." Queer how quiet, how utterly expressionless his
voice was! He heard it in faraway surprise.

"I used to be afraid at first that Jack would guess, you were so unlike
either of us, so dark, so--so _Latin_. But he said you were a throw-back
to his Celtic ancestors. There were French and Irish ones hundreds of
years ago, you know. He never suspected. Everything happened just as I
hoped it would--just as I wanted it to. But I didn't realize how I
should feel about it if I were going to die. The minute I came to myself
after--the accident, it rushed over me. Not the very first thought. That
was about myself. I wanted to know if my looks were gone. When they had
to say yes, I was glad--thankful--I could die. I'd have poisoned or
starved myself rather than live on. But no need of that. I think I could
let myself slip away any minute now. I'm just--holding on. For something
told me--I have a feeling that Jack himself came, and has been here ever
since, knowing all I had done and willing me to tell the truth. I
struggled a little against it, for why shouldn't you go on being happy?
Nothing was _your_ fault. But it was borne in on me that I must give you
the chance to choose for yourself, and--_another_. That's why Jack has
come, perhaps. She is his daughter."

"There was a girl, our child. But--you can't understand unless I tell
you the story. I shall have strength. I feel I shall now--to get
through with it. Perhaps Jack will help. He was the one human being I
ever loved better than myself. That was real love! What I did was partly
for his sake, I'm honestly sure of that. He wouldn't have let me do it.
But it made him happy, not knowing----

"You've been told over and over how you were born in France, when Jack
and I had the Château de la Tour, on the Loire. That was true--the one
true thing. But you weren't born in the château. It wasn't for nothing
that you learned French almost as easily as you breathed--and Latin,
too. I suppose things like that are in people's blood. You are French.
If I had left you where you were, you would have grown up Maxime
Delatour. Delatour was your real father's name; he came originally of
the de la Tours, but his branch of the family had gone down, somehow.
Even the name was spelled differently, in the common way. But they lived
in the same neighbourhood--that is how it all came about."

She paused, and gave a sigh like a faint moan. But Max was silent. He
could spare her nothing. She must go on to the end--if the end were
death. For there was somebody else, somewhere, who had to be put in his
place--the place he had thought was his.

"It was really because I loved Jack--too much," the veiled woman still
fretfully excused herself. "I should have been nobody, except for my
looks. He married me for my looks, because I was strong and tall and
fine, as a girl should be. He thought I could give him a splendid heir.
You know how things are arranged in this family. The property goes from
father to son, or a daughter, if there's no son. But they all pray for
sons. The Dorans want to carry on the name they're so proud of--just as
you have been proud! The wife of a Doran's important only if she's
beautiful, or if she has a son. I wanted to be important for both
reasons. Oh, how I wanted it!

"Jack took me to England for our honeymoon, and then to France. We
hadn't been in Paris long before I knew I was going to have a child.
Jack was so happy! He was sure it would be a boy--the most gorgeous boy
ever born. How I remember the day I told him, and he said that! But all
the time I had the presentiment it would be a girl. I felt guilty,
miserable, when Jack talked about the baby.... The doctors said it would
be safer for me not to have a sea voyage, so we decided to stop in
France till after the child came. We stayed in Paris at first, and Jack
and I used to go to the Louvre to see beautiful pictures and
statues--for the 'sake of the boy.'

"When the Salon opened we went there, and I saw a painting every one was
talking about--by a new artist. It was called 'Bella Donna,' just a
woman's head and shoulders. Max, _she was like me_! But she was
horrible, wicked--somehow deformed, though you couldn't see how. You
only felt it. And besides being like me, she was like a lynx. There was
one in the Zoo in London, with just her expression. Jack and I saw it
together, and he laughed, and said now he knew who my first ancestress
was. He didn't say anything about my looking like 'Bella Donna,' but I
knew he must have thought it. He got me away from the picture as soon as
he could, but I couldn't forget. The lynx-face, with the yellow eyes
and red hair like mine, haunted me. I began to dream of my child being
born like that--a girl, deformed in the horrid, mysterious way that you
could only feel. I could never go to sleep again on a night after the
dream. I suppose I looked pale; and he worried, and the doctors advised
the country. We had some friends who'd just come back from the Loire,
and they told us about a wonderful château there that was to be rented
furnished. It belonged to an old family named de la Tour, who had lost
their money. They had a romantic, tragic sort of history that interested
us, especially Jack, so we went to see the place. There were vineyards
badly cultivated, and a forest, and some shooting, too; and we took it
for a few months. But we hadn't been there many weeks when a telegram
came to Jack from Edwin Reeves. Edwin acted for him even then. It was
important, on account of some business, for Jack to go home. He would
have answered that it was impossible, but I said, why not go? I was
safe, and he could be back in a month or five weeks. I had old Anne
Wickham with me, and she'd been my nurse when I was a little girl, you
know, and my maid afterward, till she died. You can remember her."

Max could. As a very tiny boy he had been almost afraid of old Anne
Wickham, because his nurse was afraid of her: also because she had
glared at him critically, mercilessly, with her great eyes in dark
hollows, never smiling kindly, as other people did, but seeming to
search for some fault in him. Now, suddenly, he understood this gloomy
riddle of his childhood.

Rose Doran, beneath her veil, did not wait for any answer, or wish for
one. She hurried on, only stopping now and then to sigh out her
restlessness and pain, making Max bite his lip and quiver as if under
the lash.

"We had a Paris doctor engaged, and a trained nurse," she said. "They
were to come weeks before I expected my baby. I don't know how much Jack
was to pay for the doctor--thousands of dollars; and Jack thought to be
back in a month before, at latest. But one day I caught my foot going
downstairs, and fell. We had to send for the village doctor in a hurry,
and Anne had to remember all she knew about nursing. The child was a
seven months' baby--a girl. And she had a face like mine, and like
'Bella Donna,' and like a lynx. There was just that look of deformity I
had dreamed--mysterious and dreadful. I hated the creature. I couldn't
feel she was mine and Jack's. She was like some changeling in an old
witch tale. I couldn't bear it! I knew that I'd rather die than have
Jack see that wicked elf after all his hopes. I told the doctor so. I
threatened to kill myself. I don't know if I meant it. But he thought I
did. He was a young man. I frightened him. While he was trying to
comfort me an idea flashed into my head. It seemed to shoot in, like an
arrow. I begged the doctor to find me a boy baby whose mother would take
the girl and a lot of money. I said I would give him ten thousand
dollars for himself, too, if he could manage it secretly, so no one but
he and Anne Wickham and I need ever know. At first he kept exclaiming,
and wouldn't listen. But I cried, and partly by working on his feelings
and partly with the bribe that was a fortune to such a man, I persuaded
him. Anne helped. She would have done anything for me. And she knew the
Dorans. She knew Jack could never feel the same to me, as the mother of
that impish girl.

"The doctor knew about a young woman who had just had a child--a boy.
He'd helped bring it into the world a night or two before. She was the
wife of a private soldier who'd been ordered off to Algeria somewhere.
They'd been married secretly. If she had money she would have followed
him. But they were very poor. The man was mixed up with the romance of
the de la Tours; he belonged to the branch of the family that had gone
down. They were called Delatour, but every one knew their history. The
doctor thought the girl would do anything for the money I'd offer--and
to get to Algeria. He managed the whole thing for me, and certified that
my child was a boy. He even went to Paris and sold my pearls and a
diamond tiara and necklace, and lots of other things, worth ever so many
thousands more than I'd promised to pay him and Madame Delatour. You
see, I hadn't any great sums of money by me, so I was forced to sell
things. And afterward I had to pretend that my jewels were stolen from a
train while we were in the dining-car; otherwise Jack would have
wondered why I never wore them. I was thankful the night you were
brought to me. I hadn't any remorse then, about sending the other baby
away. I told you she didn't seem mine. She seemed hardly human. But I
was frightened because you were so dark. You had quantities of black
hair. I didn't even try to love you. Only I felt you were very valuable.
So did Anne. And when Jack came hurrying back to me on the doctor's
telegram, he was pleased with you. He called you in joke his 'little
Frenchman.' He didn't dream it was all truth! And he didn't mind your
being called Max. You'd already been baptized Maxime, after the soldier;
and his wife made just that one condition: that the name should be kept.

"I told Jack I'd always loved the name of Max, so he loved it, too; and
though you had other names given to you--the ones we planned
beforehand--nothing fitted the 'little Frenchman' so well as Max. That's
all the story. At first Anne and I used to be afraid of blackmail,
either from the Delatour woman (who went off at once, before she was
really strong enough to travel) or from the doctor, who hurried her away
as much for his sake as for hers, lest it should be found out by some
neighbour that her boy had been changed for a girl. Luckily for us,
though, people avoided her. They didn't believe she was really married.
But the doctor said she was. And he turned out to be honest. He never
tried to get more money out of me. Neither did the woman. His name was
Paul Lefebre, and the village was Latour. I've never heard anything from
them or about them since Jack and I and you and Anne left the Château de
la Tour, when you were six weeks old. I didn't wish to hear. I wanted to
forget, as if it had all been a bad dream. Only Anne's eyes wouldn't let
me. They seemed to know too much. I couldn't help being glad when she
was dead, though she'd been so faithful. But when Jack died in that
dreadful, sudden way, then for the first time I felt remorse--horrible
remorse, for a while.... I thought he was taken from me by God as a
punishment--the one human being I'd ever loved dearly! And I got
insomnia, because his spirit seemed to be near, looking at me, knowing
everything. But the feeling passed. I suppose I'm not deep enough to
feel anything for long. I lived down the remorse. And it was fortunate
for me I had a child; otherwise all but a little money would have gone
to the Reynold Dorans. You've been good to me, Max, and I've liked you
very well. I've tried not to think about the past. But when I did think,
I said to myself that you had nothing to complain of. What a different
life it would have been for you, with your own people. And even as it
is, you needn't give up anything unless you choose. If Jack were alive
I'd never have told, even dying. But he's gone, and I shall be--soon. So
far as I'm concerned I don't care which way you choose: whether you
write to Doctor Lefebre or not. Only for the sake of the name--Jack's
name--don't let there be a scandal if you decide to try and find the
girl. Maybe you can't find her. She may be dead. Then it needn't go
against your conscience to let things stay as they are. The Reynold
Dorans have heaps of money."

"That isn't the question exactly," said Max. "Whatever happens, I
haven't the right--but never mind.... I don't want to trouble you, God
knows. I can see partly how you must have felt about the baby, and about
fath--I mean, about the whole thing. It isn't for me to blame--I--thank
you for telling me. Somehow I must manage--to make things straight,
without injuring fath--without injuring the name." His voice broke a
little. John Doran had died under an operation when Max was ten, but he
had adored his father, and still adored his memory. There had been great
love between the big, quiet sportsman and the mercurial, hot-headed,
enthusiastic little boy whom Jack Doran had spoiled and called "Frenchy"
for a pet name. After more than fourteen years, he could hear the kind
voice now, clearly as ever. "Hullo, Frenchy! how are things with you
to-day?" used to be the morning greeting.

How were things with him to-day?...

Max had heard the story with a stolidity which seemed to himself
extraordinary; for excepting the shiver of physical pain which shook him
at each sigh of suffering from under the veil, he had felt nothing,
absolutely nothing, until the voice of dead Jack Doran seemed to call to
him out of darkness.

"He wasn't my father," came the stabbing reminder; but the love which
had been could never be taken away. "I must do what you would want me to
do," Max answered the call. In his heart he knew what that thing was. He
must give everything up. He ought to look for the girl and for his own
parents, if they lived. The daughter of John Doran must have what was
hers.

As he thought this, Rose spoke again, more slowly now, since the story
was told, and there was no longer any haste. "Remember, nobody knows yet
but you and me, Max," she said. "Not even Edwin Reeves. All he knows is
that I had something to say to you. If he tried to guess what it was, he
must have guessed something very different from this. Why not find out
where _she_ is, if you can, and somehow contrive to give her money or
send it anonymously--enough to make her rich; and let the rest go as it
is? I told you just now that I didn't care much either way, and I don't,
for myself, because I shall be out of it all, and because I know you
loved Jack too well not to be careful for his sake, what you do. But I
care more for your sake than I thought I cared at first. You're so
quiet, I know I've struck you hard. Almost--I wish I hadn't told."

"I don't," answered Max with an effort. "And you mustn't. It was the
only thing."

And yet, even as he spoke, he was conscious of wishing that she had not
told. Some women, having done what she had done for the love of a man
and for their own vanity, would have gone out of the world in
silence--still for the love of the man, and for their own vanity. Vanity
had been the ruling passion of Rose Doran's life. Max had realized it
before. Yet something in the end had been stronger than vanity, and had
beaten it down. He wondered dimly what the thing was. Perhaps fear, lest
soon, on the other side of the dark valley, she should have to meet
reproach in the only eyes she had ever loved. And she needed help in
crossing--Jack Doran's help. Maybe this was her way of reaching out for
it. She had told the truth; and she seemed to think that was enough. She
advised Max to leave things as they were, after all. And he was tempted
to obey.

No longer was he stunned by the blow that had fallen. He felt the pain
of it now, and faced the future consequences. He stood to lose
everything: his career, for Max had his vanity, too; and without the
Doran name and the Doran money he could not remain in the army.

If he resolved to hand over all that was his to the girl, he must go
away, must leave the country.

He would have to think of some scheme by which the girl could get her
rights, and the world could be left in ignorance of Rose Doran's fraud.
To accomplish this, he must sacrifice himself utterly. He must disappear
and be forgotten by his friends--a penniless man, without a country. And
Billie Brookton would be lost to him.

Strange, this was his first conscious thought of her since he had
stepped out of the train, almost his first since leaving her at Fort
Ellsworth. He was half shocked at his forgetfulness of such a jewel, so
nearly his, the jewel so many other men wanted. He wanted her, too,
desperately, now that the clouds had parted for an instant to remind him
of the bright world where she lived--the world of his past.

"You're so deadly still!" Rose murmured. "Are you thinking hard things
of me?"

"No, never that," Max said.

"How are you going to decide? Shall you take my advice, keep your place
in this world, and give her money, if you find her? And most likely you
never can. It's such a long time ago." Rose's voice dragged. It was very
small and weak, very tired.

"It's your advice for me to do that?" Max asked, almost incredulously.
"And yet--she's your own child, _his_ child."

"Not the child of our souls. You'll see what I mean, if you ever see
her. Think it over--a few minutes, and then tell me. I feel--somehow I
should like to know, before going. Wake me--in ten minutes. I think I
could sleep--till then. Such a rest, since I told you! No pain."

"Oughtn't I to call the doctor?" Max half rose from his chair by the
bedside.

"No, no. I want nothing--except to sleep--for ten minutes. Can you
decide--in ten minutes?"

"Yes."

"You promise to wake me then?"

"Yes," Max said again.

For ten minutes there was silence in the room, save for a little sound
of crackling wood in the open fire that Rose had always loved.

Max had decided, and the time had come to keep his promise. He must
speak, to wake the sleeper. But he did not know what to call her. She
said that she had never loved him as a son. She must always have felt
irritated when he dared to address her as "Dearest"--he, the little
French _bourgeois_. She would hate it now.

"Rose!" he whispered. Then a little louder, "Rose!"

She did not answer.

He would not have to tell her his decision. But perhaps she knew.



CHAPTER III

THE LAST ACT OF "GIRLS' LOVE"


The wail of grief that echoed through New York for Rose Doran, suddenly
snatched from life in the prime of her beauty, sounded in the ears of
Max a warning note. Her memory must not be smirched. And then again came
the temptation. As she lay dying he had decided what to do. But now that
she was dead, now that letters and telegrams by the hundred, and visits
of sympathy, and columns in the newspapers, were making him realize more
and more her place in the world she had left, and the height of the
pedestal on which the Doran family stood, the question repeated itself
insistently: Why not reconsider?

Max had thought from time to time that he knew what temptation was; but
now he saw that he had never known. His safeguard used to be in calling
up his father's image to stand by him, in listening for the tones of a
beloved voice which had the power to calm his hot temper, or hold him
back from some impetuous act of which he would have been ashamed later.
He had seemed to hear the voice as Rose slept her last sleep, under her
white veil, but later it was silent. It left him to himself, and
sometimes he was even persuaded that it joined with the voice of Rose,
whispering that siren word, "Reconsider."

Jack Doran had loved Rose. Perhaps on the other side of the valley he
had forgiven her, and wished above all other things that her memory
should remain bright. If Max reconsidered, it would all be easy. No one
would be surprised if he took long leave and went abroad. No one would
think it strange or suspicious if a girl "Cousin" should later appear on
the scene: a Miss Doran of whom no one had ever heard, who had been
educated abroad, and who, because she had lost her parents, was to take
up life in America. Or maybe it needn't even come to that, in case he
found the girl. She might be married. She might prefer to remain where
she was, with plenty of money from her distant relations, the Dorans, of
whose existence she would be informed for the first time. There would be
no difficulty in arranging this. The one real difficulty was that Max's
soul would be in prison. The bars would be of gold, and he would have in
his cell everything to make him and his friends think it a palace. But
it would be a prison cell, all the same, for ever and ever; and at night
when he and his soul were alone together, looking into each other's
eyes, he would know that from behind the door he had locked upon himself
there was no escape.

There were moments, and whole hours together, when he said with a kind
of sudden rage against the responsibility thrown on him, "I'll take
Rose's advice--the last words she ever spoke." But then, in some still
depth far under the turmoil of his tempted spirit, he knew that his
first decision was the only one possible for honour or even for
happiness. And the day after the funeral he made it irrevocable by
telling Edwin Reeves a wild story that had come to him in a strange
moment of something like exaltation. It had come as he stood bareheaded
by the grave where Rose had just been laid to sleep beside Jack Doran;
and in that moment a lie for their sakes seemed nobler than the truth
that would hurt them. More and more, as he thought of it on his way back
to the house which had once been "home," and as the possibilities
developed in his mind, with elaborations of the tale, this lie appealed
to his chivalry. Everybody might hear it without fear that Jack or Rose
would be blamed. That was the great advantage. There need be no
whisperings and mysteries. And once the tale was told, there would be no
going back from it.

The story which fixed his imagination and inspired him to martyrdom
might have made a plot for some old-fashioned melodrama, but Max began
to realize that there was nothing in fiction so incredible as the things
which happen in life: things one reads about any day in newspapers, yet
which in a novel would be laughed at by critics. He would say to Edwin
Reeves that, shortly before her death, Rose had learned through the
dying confession of a Frenchwoman who had nursed her in childbirth that
her girl baby had been changed for a boy, born about the same time to a
relative of the nurse; that hearing this story she had intended to write
Max, and ask him to go to France to prove or disprove its truth, but
that she had been struck down before summoning courage to break the
news. Edwin Reeves would then understand Rose's anxiety to see Max; and
he would keep the secret, at least until the girl was found. As for what
ought to be done in the case of not finding her, or learning without
doubt that she was dead, Max thought he might take the lawyer's advice
as a friend of the Dorans, as a legal man, and as a man of the world.
Perhaps, if in Edwin Reeves's judgment silence would in that event be
justified, Max might accept this verdict.

There was that one grain of hope for the future--if it could be called
hope. But there was another person besides Edwin Reeves and Edwin
Reeves's son (Max's best friend of old days) who must be told at once
how little claim he had to the Doran name and fortune. That person was
Billie Brookton.

Max had dimly expected opposition from Edwin Reeves, whose advice might
be what Rose Doran's had been: to give money, and let everything remain
as it had been. It was somewhat to his surprise that the lawyer, after
listening in silence, agreed that there was just one thing to do, if the
girl still lived. Grant (who was with him in their private office by
Max's wish), though more demonstrative, more openly sympathetic, held
the same opinion.

Max ought to have been glad of this encouragement, but somehow, shaming
himself for it, he felt a dull sense of injury, especially where Grant
was concerned. Grant exclaimed that it was horribly hard lines, and that
old Max was the splendid fellow everybody had always believed him to be.
Lots of chaps would have been mean, and stuck to the name and money,
though of course no honourable man could do that. Grant quite saw how
Max felt, and would have to act in the same way himself, no matter what
it cost. If the truth had to come out, every one would say he'd behaved
like a hero--that was one comfort; but, as Edwin Reeves reminded them
both, Max might be rewarded for his noble resolve by learning that there
was no need to make the sensational story public. If the girl had died
or could not be found, it would be--in Mr. Reeves's opinion--foolishly
quixotic to rouse sleeping dogs, and ruin himself, to put money in the
pockets of the Reynold Dorans, who had more than they wanted already.

"You'll feel like getting leave to run over to France, I suppose," said
the lawyer, "though of course the search might be made for you if you
prefer."

"I prefer to go myself," Max decided quietly.

"Why not let me go with you?" Grant suggested, with a certain eagerness
which it seemed to Max he tried to suppress, rather than to show as a
proof of friendship. "The governor could spare me for a while, I expect,
and it wouldn't be quite such a gloomy errand as if you were alone. I'd
be glad to do it for you, dear old boy, honestly I would."

Yes, he would be glad. Max saw that. And instead of feeling drawn nearer
to Grant Reeves, he felt suddenly miles away. They had drifted apart
since Max had joined his regiment in the West and Grant had become a
partner with his father. Now Max told himself that he had never known
Grant: that as men they were so far from one another he could really
never know him; and he wondered at the impulse which had made him wish
Grant to hear the story with Edwin.

"But suppose it's all true and you find the girl over on the other side
somewhere?" Grant went on, when Max had answered that the search might
be long, and it would be better for him to make it alone. "What will
you do? Hadn't my mother better fetch her? Mother's over in Paris now,
you know, so it would be less trouble. You mightn't want to bring her
back yourself, unless, of course----"

"Unless--what?" Max wanted to know.

"Well, you're not related to the girl, and you're about the same age.
She'll naturally look upon you as a hero, a deliverer, and all that, if
she's a normal woman. If it were in a book instead of real life, the end
would be----"

"Different from what it will be with us," Max cut him short. "Don't
let's speak or think of anything like that."

"It only occurred to me," Grant excused himself mildly, "that
if--nothing like that _did_ happen, you mightn't want to come back to
this country yourself, for a while. It's a queer sort of case. And you
see you went through West Point and got your lieutenancy as Max Doran.
If you weren't Max Doran, but somebody else, I wonder what they would do
about----"

"I shouldn't give them the trouble of doing anything," said Max quietly.
"I'd resign from the army. But there'll be other doors open, I hope. I
don't mean to fade out of existence because I'm not a Doran or a fellow
with money. I'll try and make something out of another name."

"And you'll succeed, of course," Edwin Reeves assured him. "I suppose it
was in Grant's mind that if this extraordinary story proved to be true,
and you should give up your name and your fortune to John and Rose
Doran's daughter, why you would in a way be giving up your country,
too. You say that the confession Mrs. Doran received was from a
Frenchwoman: that this person took the child of a relative, and
exchanged it for the Doran baby. If we are to believe that, it makes you
of French blood as well as French birth. Grant supposed, perhaps, that
this fact might change your point of view."

Max had not thought of it, and resented the suggestion which the two
seemed to be making: that he would no longer have the right to consider
himself an American. "But I don't feel French," he exclaimed. "I don't
see how I ever can."

"Yet you speak French almost like a Frenchman," said Grant. "We used to
tease you about it in school. Do you remember?"

Did he remember? And Jack Doran had called him "Frenchy." Always, it
seemed, he had been marching blindly toward this moment.

Nothing was settled at the end of the talk, except that the secret was
to be kept for the present. And Max learned that Rose had made an
informal will, leaving him all her jewellery, with the request that it
should be valued by experts and sold, he taking the money to "use as he
thought fit." She had made this will years ago, it seemed, directly
after Jack Doran's death, while her conscience was awake. Max guessed
what had been in her mind. She had wanted him to have something of his
own, in case he ever lost his supposed heritage. He was grateful to her
because, not loving him, she had nevertheless thought of his welfare and
tried to provide for it. Mr. Reeves knew something about the value of
Rose's jewels. She had not had many, he reminded Max. Once, soon after
her marriage, and while she was still abroad, all her wedding presents
and gifts from her husband had been stolen in a train journey. Since
then, she seemed to have picked up the idea that a beautiful woman ought
not to let herself be outshone by her own jewels. She had cared for
dress more than for jewellery, and, with the exception of a rope of
pearls, her ornaments had not been worth a great deal. Still, they ought
to sell for at least twelve or fifteen thousand dollars, counting
everything, and two or three rather particularly fine rings which Jack
had given her.

"I think she must have meant me to except those from the things to be
sold," said Max. "She would have known I'd never let them go."

His first impulse after that interview with the Reeveses was to dash out
West and see Billie, to tell her that something had happened which might
make a great difference in his circumstances, and to give her back her
freedom. But when he had stopped to think, he said to himself that it
wouldn't be fair to go. Face to face, it would be hard for Billie to
take him at his word, and he did not want to make it hard. Instead, he
wrote, telling her that he was getting leave to go abroad on important
business--business on which the whole future would depend. Perhaps
(owing to circumstances which couldn't be explained yet, till he learned
more about them himself) he might be a poor man instead of a rich one.
Meanwhile, she mustn't consider herself bound. Later, when he knew what
awaited him, if things righted themselves he would come to her again,
and ask what he had asked before. In any case, he would explain.

It was rather a good letter, the version which Max finally let stand,
after having torn up half a dozen partly covered sheets of paper. His
love was there for the girl to see, and he could not help feeling that,
possibly--just possibly--she might write or even telegraph, saying, "I
refuse to be set free."

While he waited, he engaged his passage to Cherbourg on a ship that was
to sail at the end of the week. That would give Billie's answer time to
come. Or--just madly supposing she cared enough to have an understudy
play her part for a few days--it would allow time for a wonderful
surprise, and the greatest proof of love a girl could give a man.

There was no telegram, but the day before he was to sail an envelope
with Billie Brookton's pretty scrawl on it was put into his hand. He
opened it carefully, because it seemed sacrilege to tear what she had
touched, or break the purple seal, with the two bees on it, which she
used instead of initials or a monogram. The perfume which came from the
paper was her own special perfume, named in honour of her success and
popularity--"Girls' Love." Max remembered Billie's telling him once that
it cost "outsiders" five dollars an ounce, because there were amber and
lots of wonderful, mysterious things in it; but _she_ got it for
nothing.

"How good, how noble you are!" were her first words; and Max's heart
leaped. This divine creature, who could have her pick of men, was going
to say ... but as his eyes travelled fast from line to line, the beating
of his heart slowed down.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come back to me when this horrible business trouble is over, and ask me
again, as you say you will. You'll find me waiting, oh, _so_
impatiently! for I _do_ love you. Whatever happens, Max--dear, handsome
Max--you will be the one great romance of my life. I can never forget
you, or those blue eyes of yours, the day you told me you cared. They
will haunt me always. Oh, how I wish I were rich enough for both of us,
so that we might be happy, even in case of the worst, and you lose your
money! But I don't know how to keep the wretched stuff when I have it.
And though I make a lot now, I'm not strong, and who knows how long my
vogue may last? We poor actress girls, who depend on our health and the
fickle public, have to think of these sordid things. It is, oh, _so_ sad
for us! No woman who hasn't known the struggle herself can realize. Do
hurry back, with good news for both, and save me from a _dreadful_ man
who is persecuting me to marry him. I met him in such an odd way the
last time I was here in Chicago, but I didn't tell you the story of the
adventure, because it would only have worried you. Besides, you made me
forget every one and everything--you did truly, Max! But he frightens me
now, he is so fearfully rich, and so strong and insisting; and somehow
he's got round auntie. She's so silly; she thinks you oughtn't to have
left me as you did, though of course you had to. _I_ understood, if she
doesn't. She's only a foolish old lady, but she does fuss so about this
man! If you don't rescue me, he may be my fate. I _feel_ it. Dear Max, I
wait for you. I want you.

BILLIE.

"P.S. _Please wire when you know_."

As he read the letter through for the second time, he could hear through
the open window of his room a woman's voice singing one of Gaëta's
songs, the one most popular: "Forever--never! Who knows?"

The words mingled themselves with the words of the letter: "Come back.
Bring good news. Forever--never! Who knows?" And the song was from the
last act of "Girls' Love."



CHAPTER IV

THE UPPER BERTH


When he had learned at the village of La Tour that Doctor Lefebre had
left the place long ago, to practise in Paris, Max went there, and found
Lefebre without difficulty. He was now, at fifty, a well-known man,
still young looking, but with a somewhat melancholy face, and the long
eyelids that mean Jewish ancestry. When he had listened to Max's story
he said, with a thoughtful smile: "Do you see, it is to you I owe my
success? I have never repented what I did for Madame. Still less do I
repent now, having met you. I gained advantages for myself that I could
not otherwise have had; and to-day proves that I gave them to one who
Has known how to profit by every gift. The _other_--the girl--would not
have known how. There was something strange about the child, something
not right, not normal. I have often wondered what she has become. But it
is better for you not to think of her. Fate has shut a door between you
two. Don't open it. That is the advice, Monsieur, of the man who brought
you into this very extraordinary world."

Max thanked him, but answered that, for good or ill, he had made up his
mind. Doctor Lefebre shrugged his shoulders with an air of resigned
regret, and told what little he knew of the Delatours since he had sent
the young woman off to Algeria with the baby. The first thing he had
heard was four or five years after, when he paid a visit to La Tour, and
was told that Maxime Delatour had left the army and settled permanently
in Algeria. Then, no more news for several years, until one day a letter
had been forwarded to him in Paris from his old address at La Tour. It
was from Madame Delatour, dated "Hotel Pension Delatour, Alger," asking
guardedly if he would tell her where she might write to the American
lady whose child had been born at the château. "The lady who had been
kind to her and her baby." She would like to send news of little
Josephine, in whom the lady might still take an interest. Madame
Delatour had added in a postscript that she and her husband were keeping
a small hotel in Algiers, which they had taken with "some money that had
come to them," but were not doing as well as they could wish. Doctor
Lefebre, feeling sure that she meant to make trouble, had not answered
the letter; but even had he answered, he could only have said that Mrs.
Doran lived in New York. He knew no more himself, and had never tried to
find out. Since then he had heard nothing of the Delatour family.

That same night Max left Paris for Marseilles, and the next morning he
was on board the _General Morel_ starting for Algiers. For the first
time in his life he had to think of economy: for though Rose's legacy
had amounted to something over fifteen thousand dollars, already it was
nearly disposed of. He determined never again to touch a Doran dollar
for his own personal use, unless he discovered that the rightful owner
was dead. He had left Fort Ellsworth owing a good deal here and there;
for tradesmen were slow about sending bills to such a valuable customer.
Now, however, he felt that he must pay his debts with the money that was
his own; and settling them would make an immense hole in his small
inheritance. There, for instance, were the pearls and the ring he had
bought for Billie Brookton. Their cost alone was nine thousand dollars,
and even if Billie should offer to give them back, he meant to ask her
to keep them for remembrance. But she would not offer. He would never
have admitted to himself that he knew she would not; yet, since
receiving her letter, he had known. If he had by and by to tell Billie
that he was to be a poor man, she would make some charming excuse for
not sending back his presents. Or else she would not refer to them at
all. Whatever the future might bring, it seemed to Max that he had lost
youth's bright vision of romance. There was no such girl in the world as
the girl he had dreamed. The letter had shown him that--the one letter
he had ever had from Billie Brookton.

After his talk with Doctor Lefebre the change in his life became for Max
more intimately real than it had been before. The fact that he was
travelling second-class, though an insignificant thing in itself,
brought it home to him in a curious, irritating way. He felt that he
must be a weak, spoiled creature, not worthy to call himself a soldier,
because little, unfamiliar shabbinesses and inconveniences disgusted
him. He remembered how he had revelled in his one trip abroad with Rose
and some friends of theirs the year before he went to West Point. They
had motored from Paris to the Riviera, and stayed in Nice. Then they
had come back to Marseilles, and had taken the best cabins on board a
great liner, for Egypt. What fun he and the other boy of the party had
had! He felt now that, however things turned out, the fun of life was
over.

If the girl, Josephine Delatour, lived, he would have to leave the army;
that was clear. Grant Reeves had shown him why. And it would be hard,
for he loved soldiering. He could think willingly of no other profession
or even business. Yet somewhere, somehow, he would have to begin at the
bottom and work up. Besides, there were his real parents to be thought
of, if they were still alive. Max felt that perhaps he was hard--or
worse still, snobbish--not to feel any instinctive affection for them.
His mother had sold him, in order that she might have money to go to her
husband, whom she loved so much better than her child. Well, at least
she had a heart! That was something. And if the pair still kept a little
hotel, what of that? Was he such a mean wretch as to be ashamed because
he was the son of a small hotel-keeper? Max began spying out in himself
his faults and weaknesses, which, while he was happy and fortunate, he
had never suspected. And now and then he caught the words running
through his mind: "If only she is dead, the whole thing will be no more
than a bad dream." What a cad he was! he thought. And even if she were
dead, nothing could ever be as it had been. Jack Doran was not his
father, and he would have no right to anything that had been Jack's, not
even his love. If he kept the money it would not make him happy. He
could never be happy again.

It was in this mood that he went on board the _General Morel_, the
oldest and worst-built ship of her line. She was carrying a crowd of
second-class passengers for Algiers, and the worried stewards had no
time to attend to him. He found his own cabin, by the number on his
ticket, groping through a long, dark corridor, which smelt of food and
bilge water. The stateroom was as gloomy as the passage leading to it,
and he congratulated himself that at least he had the lower berth.

His roommate, however, had been in before him, and either through
ignorance or impudence had annexed Max's bunk for himself. On the
roughly laundered coverlet was a miniature brown kitbag, conspicuously
new looking. It had been carelessly left open, or had sprung open of
itself, being too tightly packed, and as Max prepared to change its
place, muttering, "Cheek of the fellow!" he could not help seeing two
photographs in silver frames lying on top of the bag's other contents.
Both portraits were of men. One was an officer in the uniform of the
French army, with the typical soldier look which gives likeness and kin
to fighting men in all races of the world. The other photograph Max
recognized at a glance as that of Richard Stanton, the explorer.

Queer, Max thought, as he lifted the bag, open as it was, to the upper
berth. Queer, that some little _bourgeois_ Frenchman, journeying
second-class from Marseilles to Algiers, should have as a treasure in
his hand-baggage the portrait of a celebrated and extremely pugnacious
Englishman who had got the newspapers down on him two or three years ago
for a wild interview he had given against the _entente cordiale_. Max
remembered it and the talk about it in the officers' mess at Fort
Ellsworth, just after he joined his regiment. However, the Frenchman's
photographs were his own business; and Max relented not at all toward
the cheeky brute because he had a portrait of the great Richard Stanton
in his bag. This was the sort of thing one had to expect when one
travelled second-class! A few weeks before he would have thought it
impossible as well as disgusting to bunk with a stranger whom he had
never seen; but as he said to himself, with a shrug of the shoulders
which tried to be Spartan, "Misfortune makes strange bedfellows." Max
was disciplining himself to put up with hardships of all sorts which
would probably become a part of everyday life. His own hand-luggage, a
suitcase with his name marked on it, had been dumped down by some
steward in the corridor, and he carried it into the stateroom himself,
pushing it far under the lower berth with a rather vicious kick. As rain
was falling in torrents, and a bitter wind blowing, he kept on his heavy
overcoat, and went out of the cabin leaving no trace of his ownership
there except the hidden suitcase. Perhaps on that kick which had sent it
out of sight the shaping of Max Doran's whole future life depended.

On the damp deck and in the dingy "salle" of the second-class Max
wondered, with stifled repulsion, which among the fat Germans,
hook-nosed Algerian Jews, dignified Arab merchants, and common-looking
Frenchmen, was to share his ridiculously small cabin. Most of them
appeared to be half sick already, in fearful anticipation of the rocking
they were doomed to get in the ancient tub once she steamed out of the
harbour and into the face of the gale. In the "gang," as he called it,
there was visible but one person in what Max Doran had been accustomed
to think of as his own "rank." That person was a girl, and despite the
gloom which shut him into himself, he glanced at her now and then with
curiosity. It seemed unaccountable that such a girl should be travelling
apparently alone, and especially second-class.

The first thing that caught his attention was the colour of her hair as
she stood with her back to him, on deck. She was wrapped in a long, dark
blue coat, with well-cut lines which showed the youthfulness of her
tall, slim figure, as tall and slim as Billie Brookton's, but more
alertly erect, more boyish. On her head was a small, close-fitting toque
of the same dark blue as her coat; and between this cap and the
turned-up collar bunched out a thick roll of yellow hair. It was not as
yellow as Billie's, yet at first glance it reminded him of hers, with a
sick longing for lost beauty and romance. Seeing the delicate figure,
cloaked in the same blue which Billie affected for travelling, he
thought what it would be like to have the girl with the yellow hair
turn, to show Billie's face radiant with love for him, to hear her
flutey voice cry: "Max, I couldn't bear it without you! Forget what I
said in that horrid letter. I didn't mean a word of it. I've given up
everything to be your wife. Take me!"

Soon the girl did turn from the rain blowing into her face, and that
face was of an entirely different type from Billie's. Seeing it, after
that attack upon his imagination, was a sharp relief to Max. Still he
did not lose interest. The girl's hair was not so yellow where it grew
on her head and framed the rather thin oval of her face, as in the
thick-rolled mass behind, golden still with childhood's gold. Except for
her tall slenderness she was not in the least like Billie Brookton; and
she would have no great pretension to beauty had it not been for a pair
of long, gray, thick-lashed eyes which looked out softly and sweetly on
the world. Her nose was too small and her mouth too large, but the
delicate cutting of the nostrils and the bow of the coral-pink upper lip
had fascination and a sensitiveness that was somehow pathetic. She held
her head high, on a long and lovely throat, which gave her a look of
courage, but a forced courage, not the christening gift of godmother
nature. That sort of girl, Max reflected, was meant to be cherished and
taken care of. And why was she not taken care of? He wondered if she had
run away from home, in her dainty prettiness, to be jostled by this
unappreciative, second-class crowd? She was brave enough, though,
despite her look of flower-delicacy, to stop on deck long after the ship
had steamed out from the comparatively quiet, rock-bound harbour, and
plunged into the tossing sea. At last a big wave drove the girl away,
and Max did not see her again until dinner time. He came late and
reluctantly into the close-smelling dining-saloon, and found her already
seated at the long table. Her place was nearly opposite his, and as he
sat down she looked up with a quick, interested look which had girlish
curiosity in it, and a complete lack of self-consciousness that was
perhaps characteristic. Evidently, as he had separated her in his mind
from the rabble, wondering about her, so she had separated him and
wondered also. She was too far away for Max to speak, even if he had
dared; but a moment later a big man who squeezed himself in between
table and revolving chair, next to the girl, made an excuse to ask for
the salt, and begin a conversation. He did this in a matter-of-fact,
bourgeois way, however, which not even a prude or a snob could think
offensive. And apparently the girl was far from being a prude or a snob.
She answered with a soft, girlish charm of manner which gave the
impression that she was generously kind of heart. Then something that
the man said made her flush up and start with surprise.

From that moment on the two were absorbed in each other. Could it be,
Max asked himself, that the big, rough fellow and the daintily bred girl
had found an acquaintance in common? There seemed to be a gulf between
them as wide as the world, yet evidently they had hit upon some subject
which interested them both. Through the clatter of dishes Max caught
words, or fragments of sentences, all spoken in French. The man had a
common accent, but the girl's was charming. She had a peculiarly sweet,
soft voice, that somehow matched the sweetness and softness of the long,
straight-lashed eyes under the low, level brows, so delicately yet
clearly pencilled. Max guessed at first that she was English; then from
some slight inflection of tone, wondered if she were Irish instead. It
was a name which sounded like "Sidi-bel-Abbés" that made the girl start
and blush, and turn to her neighbour with sudden interest. Again and
again they mentioned "Sidi-bel-Abbés," which meant nothing for Max until
he heard the girl say "La Legion Etrangére." Immediately the
recollection of a book he had read flashed into Max's brain. Why, yes,
of course, Sidi-bel-Abbés was a place in Algeria, the headquarters of
the Foreign Legion, that mysterious band of men without a country, in
whom men of all countries are interested. What was there in the subject
of the Foreign Legion to attract such a girl? Could she be going alone
to Sidi-bel-Abbés, hoping to find some lost relative--a brother,
perhaps? She asked the man eager questions, which Max could not hear,
but the big fellow shook his bullet-shaped head. Evidently he had little
information to give on the subject which specially appealed to her; but
there were others on which he held forth volubly; and though the girl's
attention flagged sometimes, she could have been no more gracious in her
manner to the common fellow if he had been an exiled king. "_La Boxe_"
were the words which Max began to hear repeated, and a boxer was what
the man looked like: a second or third rate professional. Max wished
that he could catch what was being said, for boxing was one of his own
accomplishments. He boxed so well that once, before he was twenty-one,
he had knocked out his master, an ex-lightweight champion, in three
rounds. Since then he had kept up his practice, and the sporting set
among the officers at Fort Ellsworth had been proud of their Max Doran.

Every moment the weather grew worse, and one after another the few
second-class passengers who had dared to risk dining faded away. At
last, about halfway through the badly served meal, the girl got up with
a wan little smile for her talkative neighbour, and went out, keeping
her balance by catching at the back of a chair now and then. The
bullet-headed man soon followed, charging at the open door like a bull,
as a wave dropped the floor under his feet. But Max, priding himself on
his qualities as a sailor, managed to sit through the meagre dessert.

The girl was not visible on the rain-swept deck, or in the gloomy
reading-room, where Max glanced over old French papers until his optic
nerves sent imperative messages of protest to his brain. Then he strayed
on deck again, finding excuse after excuse to keep out of his cabin,
where no doubt a seasick roommate was by this time wallowing and
guzzling. At last, however, his swimming head begged for a pillow, no
matter how hard, and in desperation he went below. He found the cabin
door on the hook, and the faded curtain of cretonne drawn across. There
was one comfort, at least: the wretch liked air. Max hoped the fellow
had gone to sleep, in which case there might be some chance of rest.
Gently he unhooked the door and fastened it again in the same manner. A
little light flittered through the thin curtain, enabling Max to grope
his way about the tiny stateroom, and he determined not to rouse his
companion by switching on the electricity.

It had occurred to him, on his way to the cabin, that he might find his
berth usurped by a prostrate form, as in the afternoon by a bag. But his
first peering glance through the dimness reassured him on this point.
The owner of the bag had taken the hint, and stowed himself in his own
bunk. Max could just make out a huddled shape under bedclothes which had
been drawn high for warmth. Then he knelt down to grope for the suitcase
which he had pushed far under his own berth. Seeking it in the
semi-darkness, a wave sent him sprawling. He heard from somewhere a
shrill crash of glass, a sudden babble of excited voices, and decided it
would not be worth while to undress unless the storm should abate. He
scrambled up, and thankfully flung himself, just as he was, on to his
bunk. In the wild confusion of squeaking, straining planks, the thump of
waves against the porthole, the demon-shrieks of infuriated wind, and
the shouts and running to and fro of sailors overhead, it seemed
impossible that any human being could sleep. Yet the creature overhead
was mercifully quiet; and suddenly slumber fell upon Max, shutting out
thought and sound. For a while he slept heavily; but by and by dreams
came and lifted the curtain of unconsciousness, stirring him to
restlessness. It seemed that he had lived through years since New York,
and that everything had long ago been decided for him, one way or the
other, though his dulled brain kept the secret. He knew only that he was
at Sidi-bel-Abbés--Sidi-bel-Abbés. How he had got there, and what he was
doing, he could not tell. It ought to be a town, but it was not. There
were no houses nor buildings of any kind in this strange Sidi-bel-Abbés.
He could see only waves of yellow sand, billowing and moving all around
him like sea waves; and it was sea as well as desert. Suddenly one of
the waves rolled away, to show a small white tent, almost like a covered
boat. A voice was calling to him from it, and he struggled to get near,
falling and stumbling among the yellow waves. Then abruptly he started
back. It was Billie Brookton's voice. Instead of being glad to hear it,
he was bitterly, bleakly disappointed, and felt chilled to the heart
with cold. Surprised at his own despair, he waked up, with a great
start, just in time to brace his feet against the bottom of the berth
and save himself from being thrown out by a shuddering bound of the
ship. From overhead he heard a sigh of pain or weariness, and the top
berth creaked with some movement of its occupant. "The beast's awake!"
thought Max, resentfully. "Now for ructions! No more hope of sleep for
me, I suppose."

But all was still again, except for a faint rustling as if the pillow
were being turned over. At the same instant something long and supple,
like a thick, silky rope, slid down from above. He could see it in the
dim light as it fell and brushed his hand protruding, palm uppermost,
over the edge of the bunk. Quite mechanically he shut his fingers on the
thing, to prevent its dropping to the floor, and, to his amazement, it
felt to the touch like a woman's hair. His hand was full of it--a great,
satin-soft curl it seemed to be. Only, it _couldn't_ be that, of course!
Maybe he was half dreaming still. He opened his fingers and let the
stuff go. But instead of falling to the floor, the long rope swayed
gently back and forth with the rocking of the ship. It _was_ hair! A
wonderful plait of hair, attached to a woman's head. A woman was lying
there in the upper berth.



CHAPTER V

THE NIGHT OF STORMS


A Woman! But how was it possible that there should be a woman in his
cabin? There must have been some unthinkable mistake, and he felt
confident that it was not he who had made it. He had looked carefully at
the number over the door, comparing it with the number on his ticket.
But, after all, what did it matter? It was too late now to apportion
blame. She was there. And what hair she had! When she stood up it must
fall far below her knees.

"What shall I do?" thought Max. "Shall I lie still until she goes to
sleep again, and then sneak out into the _salle_? If she doesn't see my
suitcase she need never know I've been in the room."

And, after all, it came back to that, whether he had mistaken the cabin,
or she. If he had left his suitcase in plain sight, marked "Lieutenant
Max Doran, --th Cavalry, Fort Ellsworth," the woman would have rung for
a steward, and the error would somehow have been adjusted.

Four or five minutes passed, and silence reigned in the berth overhead.
Max sat up cautiously, lest his bunk should squeak, and had begun still
more cautiously to emerge from it, when there came a sudden vicious
lurch of the ship. He was flung out, but seized the berth-curtain, as
the _General Morel_ awkwardly wallowed, and staggered to his feet, just
in time to save the occupant of the upper berth from flying across the
room. With a cry, she fell on to his shoulder, and he held her up with
one hand, still grasping the curtain with the other. The long plait of
hair and a smooth bare arm were round his neck. A face was close to his,
and he could feel warm, quick breaths on his cheek.

"Don't be frightened," he heard himself soothe her with deceitful calm.
"It'll be all right in a minute. I won't let you fall."

Even as he spoke, it occurred to Max that possibly she didn't understand
English. The thought had hardly time to pass through his mind, however,
when she answered him in English in a shocked whisper, trying vainly to
draw away:

"But--it's a man!--in my cabin!"

"I'm awfully sorry," said Max. "There's been some mistake. Better let me
hold you a few seconds more, till the ship's steadier. Then I'll lift
you down to the lower berth. You see, I thought it was my cabin."

"Oh," she exclaimed; and he felt a quiver run through the bare arm. Her
hair, which showered over his face and twined intricately round his
neck, had a faint, flowery perfume. "As soon as I get you down, and make
you comfortable, I'll go," he hurried on. "There, now, I think things
are quieting for the moment. We must have had two waves following one
another quicker than the rest. Let go your hold on the berth, and I'll
take you out."

He felt her relax obediently; and slipping one arm under her shoulder,
the other under her knees, he lifted a burden which proved to be light,
from the upper berth, to bestow it in safety, far back against the wall
in the bunk underneath.

"Oh, thank you," was breathed out with a sigh of relief. "You're very
kind--and so strong! But I feel dreadfully ill. I hope I'm not going to
faint."

"I'll get you some brandy," said Max, bethinking himself of a certain
silver flask in his suitcase, a prize as it happened, won as an amateur
of _la boxe_.

To his horror she made no answer.

"Jove!" he muttered. "She's gone off--and no wonder. It's awful!"

He began to be flurried, for his own head was not too clear. "She may be
flung to the floor while I'm groping around for that suitcase of mine,
if she's fainted, and can't save herself when the next wave comes," he
thought. "That won't do. I'll have to light up, and wall her in with the
bedding from the top bunk, so she can't easily be pitched out."

Hesitating a little, not quite sure about the propriety of the necessary
revelation, he nevertheless switched on the electricity. After the dusk
which had turned everything shadow-gray, the little stateroom appeared
to be brilliantly illuminated. In his berth lay the girl he had seen on
deck and at dinner.

Max was not completely taken by surprise, as he would have been had he
seen the vision before hearing her voice. As she clung round his neck,
she had spoken only brokenly and in a whisper, but from the first words
he had felt instinctively sure of his companion's identity.

If she had been delicately pale before, now she was deathly white, so
white that Max, who had never before seen a woman faint, felt a stab of
fear. What if she had a weak heart? What if she were dead?

She wore a dressing-gown of a white woollen material, inexpensive
perhaps, but classic in its soft foldings around the slender body; and
the thought flitted through Max's head that she was like a slim Greek
statue, come alive; or perhaps Galatea, disappointed with the world,
turning back to marble.

All the while he, with unsteady hands, unlocked and opened his bag,
fumbling among its contents for the flask, she lay still, without a
quiver of the eyelids. She did not even seem to breathe. But perhaps
girls were like that when they fainted! Max didn't know. He wanted to
listen for the beating of her heart, but dared not. He would try the
brandy, and if that did not bring her to herself, he would ring and ask
for the ship's doctor. But--could he do that? How could he explain to
any one their being together in this cabin?

Hastily he poured a little brandy from the flask into the tiny cup which
screwed on like a cover. The pitching and tossing made it hard not to
spill the fluid over the upturned face--that would have been
sacrilege!--but with an adroitness born of desperation he contrived to
pour a few drops between the parted lips. Apparently they produced no
effect; but another cautious experiment was rewarded by a gasp and a
slight quivering of the white throat. On one knee by the side of the
berth, Max slipped an arm under the pillow, thus lifting the girl's head
a little, that she might not choke. As he did this she swallowed
convulsively, and opening her eyes wide, looked straight into his.

"Thank heaven!" exclaimed Max. "You frightened me."

She smiled at him, their faces not far apart, her wonderful hair
trailing past his breast. Yet in his anxiety and relief Max had lost all
sense of strangeness in the situation. Drawing long, slow breaths, she
seemed purposefully to be gaining strength to speak. "It's nothing--to
faint," she murmured. "I used to, often. And I feel so ill."

"Have you any one on board whom I could call?" Max asked.

"Nobody," she sighed. "I'm all alone. I--surely this cabin is 65?"

"I think it's 63. But no matter," Max answered hurriedly. "Don't bother
about that now. I----"

"When I came in first this morning, I rang for a stewardess to ask if
there was to be any one with me," the girl went on, a faint colour
beginning to paint her white cheeks and lips with the palest rose. "But
nobody answered the bell. There was no luggage here, and I thought I
must be by myself. But afterward a stewardess or some one put my bag off
this bed on to the upper one so I dared not take the lower berth. I put
the door on the hook, to get air; but when I heard somebody come in, I
never dreamed it might be a man."

"Of course not," Max agreed. "And I--when I saw a form in the dim light,
lying up there--I never thought of its being a woman. I can't tell you
how sorry I am to have seemed such a brute. But----"

"After all, it's a fortunate thing for me you were here," the girl
comforted him. "If you hadn't been, I should have fallen out of the top
berth and perhaps killed myself. I should hate to die now. I want so
much to see my father in Africa, and--and--somebody else. I think you
must have saved my life."

"I should be so happy to think that," Max answered warmly. "I haven't as
pleasant an errand in Africa as you have. But whatever happens, I shall
be thankful that I came, and on this ship. I was wondering to-day if I
were glad or sorry to have been born. But if I was born to save a girl
from harm, it was worth while, of course, just for that and nothing
else. Now, if you're feeling pretty well again, I'd better go." Gently
he drew his arm out from under the pillow, thus laying down the head he
had supported.

The girl turned, resting her cheek on her hand--a frail little hand,
soft-looking as that of a child--and gazed at Max wistfully.

"I suppose you'll think it's dreadful of me," she faltered, "but--I wish
you _needn't_ go. I've never been on the real sea before since I was a
baby: only getting from England to Ireland the shortest way, and on the
Channel. This is the first storm I've seen. I never thought I was a
coward. I don't like even women to be cowards. I adore bravery in men,
and that's why I--but no matter! I don't know if I'm afraid exactly, but
it's a dreadful feeling to be alone, without any one to care whether you
drown or not, at night on a horrible old ship, in the raging waves. The
sea's like some fierce, hungry animal, waiting its chance to eat us up."

"It won't get the chance," Max returned cheerfully. He was standing
now, and she was looking up at him from the hard little pillow lately
pressed by his own head. "I shouldn't wonder if the old tub has gone
through lots of worse gales than this."

"It's comforting to hear you say so, and to have a human being to talk
to, in the stormy night," sighed the girl. "I feel better. But if you
go--and--where _will_ you go?"

"There are plenty of places," Max answered her with vague optimism.

Just then the _General Morel_ gave a leap, poised on the top of some
wall of water, quivered, hesitated, and jumped from the height into a
gulf. Max held the girl firmly in the berth, or she would have been
pitched on to the floor. Involuntarily she grasped his arm, and let it
go only when the wallowing ship subsided.

"That was awful!" she whispered. "It makes one feel as if one were
dying. I can't be alone! Don't leave me!"

"Not unless you wish me to go," Max said with great gentleness.

"Oh, I don't--I can't! Except that you must be so miserably
uncomfortable."

"I'm not; and it's the finest compliment and the greatest honour I've
ever had in my life," Max stammered, "that you should ask me to--that it
should be a comfort to you, my staying."

"But you are the kind of man women know they can trust," the girl
apologized for herself. "You see, one can _tell_. Besides, from the way
you speak, I think you must be an American. I've heard they're always
good to women. I saw you on deck, and afterward at dinner. I thought
then there was something that rang _true_ about you. I said 'That man is
one of the few unselfish ones. He would sacrifice himself utterly for
others.' A look you have about the eyes told me that."

"I'm not being unselfish now," Max broke out impulsively; then, fearing
he had said an indiscreet thing, he hurried on to something less
personal. "How would it be," he suggested in a studiously commonplace
tone, "if I should make myself comfortable sitting on my suitcase, just
near enough to your berth to keep you from falling out in case another
of those monsters hit the ship? You could go to sleep, and know you were
safe, because I'd be watching."

"How good you are!" said the girl. "But I don't want to sleep, thank
you. I don't feel faint now. I believe you've given me some of your
strength."

"That's the brandy," said Max, very matter of fact. "Have a few drops
more? You can't have swallowed half a teaspoonful----"

"Do you think, if I took a little, it would make me warm? I'm so icy
cold."

"Yes, it ought to send a glow through your body." He poured another
teaspoonful into the miniature silver cup, and supported the pillow
again, that she need not lift her head. Then he took the two blankets
off the upper berth, and wrapped them round the girl, tucking them
cozily in at the side of the bed and under her feet.

"If you were my brother," she said, "you couldn't be kinder to me. Have
you ever had a woman to take care of--a mother, or a sister, perhaps?"

"I never had a sister," Max answered. "But when I was a boy I loved to
look after my mother."

"And now, is she dead?"

"Now she's dead."

"My mother," the girl volunteered, "died when I was born. That made my
father hate the thought of me, because he worshipped her, and it must
have seemed my fault that she was lost to him. I haven't seen my father
since I was a little girl. But I'm going to him now. I've practically
run away from the aunts he put me to live with; and I'd hardly any
money, so I was obliged to travel all the way second-class."

"That's exactly what I thought!" ejaculated Max.

"Did you think about _me_, too?" she asked, interest in their talk
helping her to forget the rolling of the ship.

"Yes, I thought about you--of course."

"That I'd run away?"

"Well, you were so different from the rest, it was queer to see you in
the second-class."

"But so are you--different from the rest. Yet you're in the
second-class."

"I'm hard up," exclaimed Max, smiling.

"You, too! How strange that we, of all the others, should come together
like this. It is as if it were somehow meant to be, isn't it? As if we
were intended to do something for each other in future. I wish I _could_
do something for you, to pay you for to-night."

"I don't need pay." Max smiled again, almost happily. "It's you who are
being good to me. I was feeling horribly down on my luck."

"I'm sorry. But it's helped you to help me. I understand that. Do you
know, I believe you are one whose greatest pleasure is in doing things
for those not as strong as yourself."

"I never noticed that in my character," laughed Max.

"Yet there's something which tells me I'm right. I think you would, for
that reason, make a good soldier. My father is a soldier. He's stationed
at a place called Sidi-bel-Abbés."

"But that's where the Foreign Legion is, isn't it?" The words slipped
out.

"He's colonel of the First Regiment. Oh, I believe it's half dread of
what he'll say to me, that makes me so ill and nervous to-night. The
only two men in the world I love are so strong, so--so almost terrible,
that I'm like a little wreath of spray dashed against the rocks of their
nature. They don't even know I'm there!"

Suddenly Max seemed to see the two framed photographs in the open bag:
an officer in French uniform, and Richard Stanton, the explorer, the man
of fire and steel said to be without mercy for himself or others. Max
felt ashamed, as if inadvertently he had stumbled upon a secret. "Strong
men should be the tenderest to women," he reminded her.

"Yes, on principle. But when they want to live their own lives, and
women interfere? What then? Could one expect them to be kind and
gentle?"

"A man worth his salt couldn't be harsh to a woman he loved."

"But if he didn't love her? I'm thinking of two men I know. And just
now, more of my father than--than the other. I've got no one to advise
me. I wonder if you would, a little? You're a man, and--and I can't
help wondering if you're not a soldier. Don't think I ask from
curiosity. And don't tell me if you'd rather not. But you see, if you
_are_ one, it would help, because you could understand better how a
soldier would feel about things."

"I have been a soldier," Max said. There was no reason why he should
keep back the truth from this little girl for whom he was playing
watchdog: the little girl who thought him as kind as a brother! "But I'm
afraid I don't know much about women."

"The soldier I'm thinking about--my father--doesn't want to have
anything to do with women. My mother spoiled him for others. I believe
their love story must be the saddest in the whole world. But tell me, if
you were old, as _he_ is, nearly fifty, and you had a daughter you
didn't love--though you'd been kind about money and all that--what would
you say if she suddenly appeared from another country, and said she'd
come to live with you?"

"By Jove!" exclaimed Max. "Is that what you're going to do?"

"Yes. You think my father will have a right to be angry with me, and
perhaps send me back?"

"I don't know about the right," said Max, "but soldiers get used to
discipline, you see. And a colonel of a regiment is always obeyed. He
might find it inconvenient if a girl suddenly turned up."

"But that's my only hope!" she pleaded. "Surprising my father. Anyhow, I
simply _can't_ go back to my aunts. I have some in Dublin--they were my
mother's aunts, too: and some in Paris--aunts of my father. That makes
them my great-aunts, doesn't it? Perhaps they're harder for young people
to live with than _plain_ aunts, who aren't great. I shall be twenty-one
in a few weeks and free to choose my own life if my father won't have
me. I'm not brave, but I'm always trying to be brave! I can engage as a
governess or something, in Algeria, if the worst comes to the worst."

"I don't believe your father would let you do that. _I_ wouldn't in his
place."

"After all, you're very young to judge what he would do, even though you
_are_ a soldier!" exclaimed the girl, determined not to be thwarted. "I
must take my chance with him. I shall go to Sidi-bel-Abbés. If there's a
train, I'll start to-morrow night. And you, what are you going to do?
Shall you stop long in Algiers?"

"That depends," answered Max, "on my finding a woman I've come to search
for."

The girl was gazing at him with the deepest interest. "You have come to
Algiers to find a woman," she murmured, "and I, to find a man. Do
you--oh, don't think me impertinent--do you _love_ the woman?"

"No," said Max. "I've never seen her." And then, the power of the storm
and the night, and their strange, dreamlike intimacy, made him add: "I
love a woman whom I may never see again."

"And I," said the girl, "love a man I haven't seen since I was a child.
Let's wish each other happiness."

"I wish you happiness," echoed Max.

"And I you. I shall often think of you, even if we never meet after
to-morrow. But I hope we shall! I believe we shall." She shut her eyes
suddenly, and lay still for so long that Max was afraid she might have
fainted again.

"Are you all right?" he asked anxiously, bending toward her from his low
seat on the suitcase.

She opened her eyes with a slight start, as if she had waked, half
dazed, from some unfinished dream.

"Oh, yes," she said. "I was making a picture, in a way I have. I was
wondering what would happen to us, in our different paths, and trying to
see. One of my aunts says it is 'Celtic' to do that. I saw you in a
great waste-place, like a desert. And then--_I_ was there, too. We were
together--all alone. Perhaps, although I didn't know it, I'd really
fallen asleep."

"Perhaps," agreed Max, and a vague thrill ran through him. He, too, had
dreamed of desert as he lay in the lower berth, and she, overhead, had
dreamed a desert dream, each unknown to the other. "Try to go to sleep
again."

She closed her eyes, and presently he thought that she slept. Once or
twice she waked with the heave and jolt of a great wave, always to find
her watchdog at hand.

But at last, when with the dawn the storm lulled, Max noiselessly
switched off the light and went out.



CHAPTER VI

THE NEWS


It was after breakfast when they met once more, on a wet deck, in bleak
sunshine.

"I waked up in broad daylight and found you and your suitcase gone,"
said the girl. "Oh, how guilty I felt! And then to discover that, just
as you thought, the cabin _was_ 63, not 65. What became of you?"

"I was all right," replied Max evasively. "I got a place to rest and
wash."

"In 65?"

"No, not there."

"Why, was there a woman in that cabin, _too_?"

Max laughed. It was good to have some one to laugh with. "I didn't dare
look," he confessed. "And I didn't care to wander about explaining
myself and my belongings to suspicious stewards."

They walked up and down the deck, shoulder to shoulder, like old
comrades. Last night there had been so many matters more pressing and
more important, that they had forgotten such trifles as names. Now they
introduced themselves to each other, though Max had an instant's
hesitation before calling himself Doran. To-morrow, or even to-day, he
might learn that which would part him forever from the name and all that
had endeared and adorned it for him.

"Do you know what I've been calling you?" the girl asked, half ashamed,
half shyly friendly, "'St. George.' Because you came and saved me from
the dragon of the sea that I was afraid of. And that was appropriate,
because St. George is my patron saint. I was born on his day, and one of
my names is Georgette, in honour of him, and of my father, who is
Georges: Colonel Georges DeLisle. My French aunts call me Georgette, for
him. My Irish aunts call me 'Sanda,' for my mother, who was Corisande,
and I like being 'Sanda' best."

She was frank about herself, as if to reward Max for his St. George-like
vigil, telling him details of her life in Ireland and France, and how it
had come about that Richard Stanton, her father's friend, had informally
acted as her guardian when she was a child. Somehow, finding her so
simple and outspoken, so kindly interested in him, Max could not bear,
on his part, to build up a wall of reserve. He gave the name that had
always been his: and though he did not tell her the whole story of his
quest, he said that he was in search of a person to whom, if found, all
that had been his would belong. "But you needn't pity me," he added
quickly. "I'm used to the idea now. I shall lose some things by being
poor, but I shall gain others."

She gave him a long look, seeing that he wanted no sympathy in words,
and that it would jar on him if she tried to offer it. "Yes, you'll gain
others," she echoed. "It must be splendid to be a man. I wonder--if
things go as you think--will you stay and seek your fortune in Algeria?"

Seek his fortune in Algeria! Max could not answer for a second or two.
Again he seemed to hear Grant Reeves's rather affected voice speaking
far off as if in a gramophone: "Perhaps you won't want to come back to
America."

When Grant had said that, Max had resolved almost fiercely that nothing
on earth should keep him from going back as quickly as possible. If
Grant or Edwin Reeves had calmly advised his seeking a new fortune in
remote Algeria, he would have flung away the proposition with passion;
but when Sanda DeLisle quietly made the suggestion, it was different.
America lay behind him in the far distance, where the sun sets. His face
was turned to the east, and Algeria was near. The girl whom he had been
able to help and protect was near, also. And she would be in Algeria. If
he hurried home to America he would never see her again. Not that that
ought to matter much! They were ships passing each other in the night.
Yet--they had exchanged signals. Max had a queer feeling that they
belonged to each other, and that, if it were not for her, he would be
hideously, desperately homesick at this moment, almost homesick enough
to turn coward and go back with his errand not done. Curiously enough,
he felt, too, that she had somewhat the same feeling about him. Silently
they were helping each other through a crisis.

"I hadn't thought of staying in Algeria," he answered her at last. "I
don't suppose I shall stay. But--I don't know. Just now my future's
hidden behind a big cloud."

"Like mine!" cried Sanda DeLisle. "Does it comfort you at all to know
there's some one here, close to your side, who's walking in the dark,
exactly as you are?"

It was the thought that had hovered, dim and wordless, in his own mind.
"Yes, it does comfort me," he said. "Though I ought to be sorry that
things aren't clear for you. They will be, though, I hope, before long."

"And for you," she added. "I wish we could exchange experiences when
we've found out what's going to become of us. I wish you were going on
to Sidi-bel-Abbés."

"I wish I were," Max said, and he did actually wish it.

"Will you write and tell me what happens to you?" she rather timidly
asked.

"I should like to. It's good of you to care."

"It's not good, but I _do_ care. How could I help it, after all you've
done for me?"

"You'll never know what it was to me to have the chance. And will you
write what your father's verdict is? If you should be going back,
perhaps I----"

"Oh, I shall not be going back!" the girl cried, with sharp decision.
"But I'll write. And I shall never forget. If men disappoint me--though
I hope, oh, _so_ much, they will not--I shall remember one loyal friend
I have made. After last night and to-day, we couldn't be _less_ than
friends, could we? even though we never hear from each other again."

"Thank you for saying that. I feel it, too, more than you can," Max
assured her. "But since we're to be friends, will you let me help you
all I can, and see you again on shore, before we go our separate ways?
Let me find out about your train, and take you to it, and so on; and
perhaps you'll dine with me, if there's time before you start."

"How good you are!" She gave him one of those soft, sweet glances,
which, unlike Billie Brookton's lovely looks, were prompted by no
conscious desire to charm. "But you will be so busy with your own
affairs!"

"Not too busy for that. I don't suppose it will be very difficult to get
at what I've come for. I shall soon know--one way or the other. I may
have to go on somewhere else, but one day won't matter. I can give
myself a little indulgence, if it's for the last time."

So they settled it. Max was to be "St. George" and keep off dragons for
a few hours more.

The _General Morel_ was supposed to do the distance between Marseilles
and Algiers in twenty-four hours, but on this trip she had an unusually
good excuse to be late. The storm had delayed her, and every one was
thankful that it was only half-past three when the ship steamed into the
old "pirate city's" splendid harbour.

Max Doran and Sanda DeLisle stood together watching the Atlas mountains
turning from violet blue to golden green, and the clustered pearls on
hill and shore transform themselves into white domes. The two landed
together, also, and Sanda let Max go with her in a big motor omnibus to
the Hotel Saint George, the hotel of her patron saint, whose name Max
remembered well because of postcards picturing its beautiful terrace and
garden, sent him long ago by Rose when he was a cadet at West Point.
They discovered that the first train in which Sanda could leave for
Sidi-bel-Abbés would start at nine o'clock that evening, so the proposed
dinner became possible; and Sanda, by the advice of Max, took a room at
the hotel for the rest of the day, inviting him to have tea with her on
the terrace at five, if he were free to come back.

He waited until the girl had disappeared with a porter and her
hand-luggage, and then inquired of the concierge whether the
Hotel-Pension Delatour still existed. He put the question carelessly, as
though it meant nothing to him, adding, as the man paused to think, that
he had looked in vain for the name in the guide-book.

"Ah, I remember now, sir," said the concierge. "There used to be a hotel
of that name, close to the old town--the Kasbah; quite a little place,
for _commercants_, and people like that. Why, yes, to be sure! But the
name has been changed, five or six years ago it must be. I think it is
the Hotel-Pension Schreiber now."

"Oh, and what became of Delatour?" Max heard himself ask, still in that
carefully careless tone which seemed to his ears almost too well done.

"I'm not sure, sir, but I rather think he died. Yes, now I recall
reading something in _La Depeche Algerienne_, at the time. He'd been a
brave soldier, and won several medals. There was a paragraph, yes, with
a mention of his family. He came from the aristocracy, it said. Perhaps
that's why he didn't turn out a good man of business. Or maybe he drank
too much or took to drugs. These old retired soldiers who've seen hard
fighting in the South often turn that way."

"Did he leave a widow and children?" Max went on, his throat rather dry.

"That I can't tell you, sir; but Delatour's successor might know. I
could send there, if----"

"Thank you. I'll go myself," said Max.

The concierge advised a cab, although there was of course the tram which
would take him close to the Hotel Schreiber, and then he could inquire
his way. Max chose the tram. He had thought it not unfair to pay the
expenses of his quest for the Doran heiress with Doran money, since he
had little left that he could call his own. But he had not spent an
extra dollar on luxuries; and after a journey from New York to Paris,
Paris to Algiers, second-class, a tram as a climax seemed more suitable
than a cab.

Where the Arab town--old and secret, and glimmering pale as a whited
sepulchre--huddled away from contact with Europe, a narrow street ran
like a bridge connecting West with East, to-day with yesterday. Near the
entrance to this street, where it started from a fine open _place_ of
great shops and cafés, the Hotel Schreiber stood humbly squeezed in
between two dull buildings as shabby as itself.

"In a few minutes I shall know," Max said to himself, as he walked into
a cheaply tiled, dingy hall, smelling of cabbage-soup and beer.

Commercial travellers' sample boxes and trunks were piled in the dim
corners, and a fat, white little man behind a window labelled "Bureau"
glanced up from some calculations, with keen interest in a traveller who
for once looked uncommercial.

His eyes glazed again when he understood that Monsieur wished only to
make inquiries, not to engage a room. He was civil, however, and glib in
French with a South-German accent. Madame Delatour had sold her interest
in the hotel to him, Anton Schreiber. Unfortunately there had been a
mortgage. The widow was left badly off, and broken-hearted at her
husband's death. With what little money she had, she had gone to Oran,
and through official influence had obtained a concession for a small
tobacconist business, selling also postcards and stamps. She ought to
have done well, for there were many soldiers in Oran. They all wanted
tobacco for themselves and postcards for their friends. But Madame lost
interest in life when she lost Delatour--a fine fellow, well spoken of,
though never strong since some fever he had contracted in the far South.
A friend in Oran had written Schreiber the last news of poor Madame
Delatour. That broken heart had failed. She had died suddenly about two
years ago, and the girl (yes, there was a daughter, a strange young
person) had been engaged through the influence of Schreiber's Oran
friends, to assist the proprietor of the Hotel Splendide at
Sidi-bel-Abbés. She was, Schreiber believed, still there, in the
position of secretary; unless she'd lately married. It was some months
since he'd heard.

Sidi-bel-Abbés.... Home of the Foreign Legion; home perhaps, of Sanda
DeLisle!...

       *       *       *       *       *

It was all over, then. The blow had fallen, and Max thought that he must
be stunned by it, for he felt nothing, except a curious thrill which
came with the news that he must go to Sidi-bel-Abbés. The Arab name rang
in his ears like the sound of bells--fateful bells that chime at
midnight for birth or death. It seemed to him that Something had always
been waiting, hidden behind a corner of life, calling him to
Sidi-bel-Abbés, calling for good or evil, for sorrow or happiness, who
could tell? but calling. And his whole past, with its fun and popularity
and gay adventure, its one unfinished love story, its one tragic
episode, had been a long road leading him on toward this day--and
Sidi-bel-Abbés.

The temptation to go back, to forget his mission, a temptation which had
come to life many times after it had first been "scotched, not killed,"
did not now lift its head. Max had found out within less than an hour
after landing that which would make him penniless and nameless; yet his
most pressing wish seemed to be to get back in time for his appointment
with Sanda DeLisle, and tell her that he, too, was going to
Sidi-bel-Abbés.



CHAPTER VII

SIR KNIGHT


Max hurried back to the St. George, knowing that he would be late, and
arrived somewhat breathless on the terrace, at a quarter-past five. Miss
DeLisle would forgive him when he explained. And he would explain! He
was half minded to tell everything to the one human being within four
thousand miles who cared.

It was March, and the height of the season in Algiers. Many people were
having tea on the flower-draped terrace framed by a garden of orange
trees and palms, and cypresses rising like burnt-out torches against the
blue fire of the African sky. Max's eyes searched eagerly among the
groups of pretty women in white and pale colours for a slim figure in a
dark blue travelling dress. Sanda had said that she would come out to
take a table and wait for him; but he walked slowly along without
seeing, even in the distance, a girl alone. Suddenly, however, he caught
sight of a dark blue toque and a mass of hair under it, that glittered
like molten gold in the afternoon sun. Yes, there she was, sitting with
her back to him, and close to a gateway of rose-turned marble pillars
taken from the fountain court of some old Arab palace. But--she was not
alone. A man was with her. She was leaning toward him, and he toward
her, their elbows on the little table that stood between them.

The man sat facing Max, who recognized him instantly from many newspaper
portraits he had seen--and the photograph in Sanda's bag. It was Richard
Stanton, _poseur_ and adventurer, his enemies said, follower and
namesake of Richard Burton: first white man to enter Thibet; discoverer
of a pigmy tribe in Central Africa, and--the one-time guardian of Sanda
DeLisle.

Max had thought vaguely of the explorer as a man who must be growing
old. But now he saw that Stanton was not old. His face had that look of
eternal youth which a statue has; as if it could never have been
younger, and ought never to be older. It was a square face, vividly
vital, with a massive jaw and a high, square forehead. The large eyes
were square, too; very wide open, and of that light yet burning blue
which means the spirit of mad adventure or even fanaticism. The skin was
tanned to a deep copper-red that made the eyes appear curiously pale in
contrast; but the top of the forehead, just where the curling brown hair
grew crisply up, was very white.

The man had thrown himself so completely into his conversation with the
girl, that Max, drawing nearer, could stare if he chose without danger
of attracting Stanton's attention. He did stare, taking in every detail
of the virile, roughly cut features which Rodin might have modelled, and
of the strong, heavy figure with its muscular throat and somewhat
stooping shoulders. Richard Stanton was not handsome; he was rather
ugly, Max thought, until a brief, flashing smile lit up the sunburnt
face for a second. But it was in any case a personality of intense
magnetic power. Even an enemy must say of Stanton: "Here is a man." He
looked cut out to be a hero of adventure, a soldier of fortune, and in
some sleeping depth of Max's nature a hitherto unknown emotion stirred.
He did not analyse it, but it made him realize that he was lonely and
unhappy, uninterestingly young; and that he was a person of no
importance. He had come hurrying back to the hotel, anxious to explain
why he was late; but now he saw--or imagined that he saw--even from
Sanda's back, her complete forgetfulness of him. He might have been far
later, and she would not have known or cared. Perhaps she would be glad
if he had not come at all.

Max had until lately been subconsciously aware (though it was nothing to
be proud of!) that he was rather an important personage in the eyes of
the world. He had been a petted child, and flattered and flirted with as
a cadet and a young officer, one of the richest and best looking at his
post. Suddenly he stood face to face with the fact that he had no longer
a world of his own. He was an outsider, a nobody, not wanted here nor
anywhere. If he could have stolen away without danger of rudeness to
Sanda, he would have gone and left her to Stanton, even though by so
doing he lost his chance of seeing her again. But there was the danger
that, after all, she had not quite forgotten him, and that she might be
taking it for granted that he would keep his appointment. He decided not
to interrupt the eager conversation at this moment, but to hover near,
in case Miss DeLisle looked around as if thinking of him. He hardly
expected her to do so, until the talk flagged, but perhaps some subtle
thought-transference was like a reminding touch on her shoulder. She
turned her head and saw Max Doran. For an instant she gazed at him half
dazedly, as if wondering why he should be there. Her face was so
transfigured that she was no longer the same girl; therefore it did not
seem strange that she should have forgotten so small a thing as an
invitation to tea given to a chance acquaintance. Instead of being pale
and delicately pretty, she was a glowing, radiant beauty. Her dilated
eyes were almost black, her cheeks carnation, her smiling lips not coral
pink, but coral red. She made charming little gestures which turned her
instantly into a French girl. "Oh, Mr. Doran!" she exclaimed. "Here is
Mr. Stanton. Only think, he's staying in this hotel, and we found each
other by accident! I came out here and he walked past. He didn't know
me--it's such ages since I saw him--till I spoke."

Max had felt obliged to draw near, at her call, and to stand listening
to her explanation; but it was clear that to Stanton he was irrelevant.
The explorer had spread a folded map on the table. It was at that they
had been looking, and as Sanda talked to the newcomer, Stanton's eyes
returned to the map again. Max must have been dull of comprehension
indeed if he had not realized that he was wanted by neither. The girl
followed up her little preamble by introducing her new friend to her old
one, and the explorer half rose from his chair, bowing pleasantly
enough, though absent-mindedly; but there was nothing for Max to do save
to excuse himself. He apologised by saying that his business would keep
him occupied for the rest of the afternoon, and that he must forego the
pleasure of having tea with Miss DeLisle. The expression of the girl's
face as she said that she was very sorry contradicted her words. She was
evidently enchanted to have Stanton to herself, and Max departed,
smiling bitterly as he thought of his impatience to give her the news.
This was what all her pretty professions of friendship amounted to in
the end! He had been a fool to believe that they meant anything more
than momentary politeness. She had not referred to his invitation for
dinner, so had probably forgotten it in the flush of excitement at
meeting her hero. It seemed cruel to recall it to her memory, as by this
time no doubt Stanton and she were planning to spend the evening
together, up to the last moment. Still, the situation was difficult, as
she might remember and consider it an engagement. Max decided at last to
send a card up to her room, where she would find it when her tête à tête
with Stanton was over. He scribbled a few words in pencil, saying that
his business would be over in an hour; that if Miss DeLisle cared to see
him he would be delighted; but she must not consider herself in any way
bound. He did not even mention the fact which a little while ago he had
been eager to tell: that he was going to Sidi-bel-Abbés. Perhaps, as
Stanton was a friend of Colonel DeLisle's, he, too, was on his way
there, in which case Max would lurk in the background. The card, in an
envelope, he gave to the concierge, and then went gloomily out to walk
and think things over. Passing the terrace he could not resist glancing
at the table nearest the marble pillars. The two still sat there,
absorbed in each other, their heads bent over the map. Stanton looked up
as if in surprise when a waiter appeared with a tray. They had
apparently asked for tea, and then forgotten the order.

During that hour of absence Max Doran passed some of the worst moments
of his life. He lived over again his anguish at Rose's death; heard
again her confession which, like a sharp knife, with one stroke had cut
him loose from ties of love; and gazed ahead into a future swept bare of
all old friendships, luxuries, and pleasures. His "business," of which
he had made much to Miss DeLisle, consisted solely in walking down the
Mustapha hill from the garden of the Hotel St. George to the small
white-painted post-office, and there sending off two telegrams. One was
to Edwin Reeves: the other was the message for which Billie Brookton had
thriftily asked in her special postscript. "Have lost everything," he
wrote firmly. "Will explain in letter following and ask you to treat it
in confidence. Good-bye, I hope you may be happy always. Max."

As he paid for the telegrams he wondered that the framing of Billie's
did not turn one more screw of the rack which tortured heart and brain,
but he felt no new wrench in the act of giving up the girl whom all men
wanted. She seemed strangely remote, as if there had never been any
chance of her belonging to him. Max had something like a sensation of
guilt because he could not call up a picture of her, traced with the
sharp clarity of an etching. In thinking of Billie, he had merely an
impressionist portrait: golden hair, wonderful lashes, and a sudden
upward look from large, dark eyes, set in a face of pearly whiteness.
Because Sanda DeLisle was somewhat of the same type, having yellow-brown
hair, and a small, fair face, her image would push itself in front of
that other far more beautiful image; far more beautiful at least, save
in the one moment of glowing radiance which had illumined Sanda, as a
rose--light within might illumine a pale lily. No woman on earth could
have been more beautiful than she, at that instant; but the magic fire
had been kindled by, and for, another man; and if Max had not already
guessed, it would have revealed her whole secret.

The impression was so vivid that it clouded everything else, just as a
white light focussed upon one figure on the stage dims all others there.
He thought of himself, and what he should do with life after his mission
was finished; whether he should take the name of Delatour, which was
rightfully his, or choose a new one; yet suddenly, in the midst of some
pressing question, he would forget to search for the answer, as Sanda
DeLisle's transfigured face seemed to shine on him out of darkness.

He stayed away from the hotel for precisely an hour, and then,
returning, asked at the desk of the concierge whether there were a
message for him. Yes, there was a letter. Max took it, thinking that
this was perhaps the last time he should ever see the name of Doran on
an envelope addressed to him. The direction had been scrawled in haste,
evidently, but even so, the handwriting had grace and character. Its
delicacy, combined with a certain firmness and impulsive dash, expressed
to Max the personality of the writer. The letter was of course from Miss
DeLisle; a short note asking if he would look for her on the terrace at
six-thirty. She would be alone then. Max glanced at the hall clock. It
wanted only three minutes of the half hour, and he went out at once.
The scene on the terrace was very different from what it had been an
hour ago. It might have been "set" for another act, was the fancy that
flashed through the young man's mind. The hyacinth-pink of the
sunset-sky was now faintly silvered with moonlight. All the gay groups
of tea-drinking people had disappeared. Many of the crowding chairs had
been taken away from the little tables and pushed back against the
irregular wall of the house. The floor was being slowly inlaid with
strips of shadow-ebony and moon-silver. Even the perfume of the flowers
seemed changed. Those which had some quality of mystery and sensuous
sadness in their scent had prevailed over the others.

At first Max saw no one, and supposed that Miss DeLisle had not yet come
to keep the appointment; but as he slowly paced the length of the
terrace, he discerned, standing on the farther side of the
pillar-gateway, a figure that paused close to the carved balustrade and
looked out over the garden. There was a suggestion of weariness and
discouragement in the pose, and though the form had Sanda's tall
slimness he could hardly believe it to be hers, until passing through
the gateway he had come quite close to her. She turned at the sound of
footsteps; and in the rose-and-silver twilight he could see that her
eyes were full of tears.

Somehow it struck him as characteristic of the girl that she should not
try to pretend she had not been crying. He could scarcely imagine her
being self-conscious enough to pretend anything.

"Is it half-past six already?" she asked, in a very little voice, almost
like that of a child who had been punished. "I'm glad you've come. Will
you forgive me?"

"Forgive you for what?" Max asked, though he guessed what she meant, and
added hastily, "I'm sure there's nothing to forgive."

"Yes, there is," she insisted; "you know that as well as I do. But you
will forgive me, because--because I think you must have _understood_. I
was not myself at all."

Max hesitated and stammered. He did not dare admit how well he had
understood, though it seemed a moment for speaking clear truths, here in
this wonderful garden which they two had to themselves, with the magic
light of sunset and moonrise shining into their souls.

"You needn't be afraid of shaming me," the girl went on. "I felt that
you understood everything, so we can talk now, when I've come back a
little to myself. I didn't mind your seeing, then, because everything
seemed unimportant except--_just him_, and my being there with him. And
I don't mind even now, because there's so much that's the same in my
life and yours. I feel (as I felt before I was carried out of myself)
that we've drifted together at a time when we can help each other. You
can forgive me for being selfish and thoughtless to you, because I was
at a great moment of my life, and you realized it. Didn't you?"

"Yes," said Max.

"I've always adored him. He was the one I meant, of course, when I told
you about caring for somebody," Sanda confessed. "You see, my father has
never let me love him, in a personal sort of way. He has held me off,
though I hope it's going to be different when he sees me. Sir Knight
(that's what I always called Richard, ever since I was small) was very
kind whenever he had time. He didn't mind my worshipping him. He never
wrote, because he was too busy; but when he came home from his wonderful
expeditions and adventures, he generally had some present for me. I've
always followed him as far as I could, through the newspapers, and--I
_knew_ he was somewhere in Algeria now. I'm afraid--that's partly what
made my wish to come so--terribly, irresistibly strong. I didn't quite
realize that, until I saw him. Honestly, I thought it was because I
couldn't live with my aunts any longer, and because I wanted so much to
win my father before it was too late. But meeting Richard here,
unexpectedly, when I imagined him somewhere in the South, showed me--the
truth about myself. I'd been so anxious for you to come back, and to
hear all that had happened to you; but meeting him put everything else
out of my head!"

"It was natural," said Max. "You wouldn't be human if it hadn't."

"I think it was _in_human. For when I remembered--other things, I didn't
seem to care. I was--_glad_ when you said you had business and couldn't
stay to tea. I hoped you'd forget that you'd asked me to dinner, because
I wanted so much to have it with Sir Knight--with Richard. I thought
he'd be sure to invite me, and take me to the train afterward. I was
going to apologize to you as well as I could; but even if you'd been
hurt, I was ready to sacrifice you for him."

"Please don't punish yourself by confessing to me," Max broke in.
"Indeed it's not necessary. I----"

"I'm not doing it to punish myself," Sanda exclaimed. "I've _been_
punished--oh, sickeningly punished!--already. I'm confessing to you
because--I want our friendship to go on as if I hadn't done anything
ungrateful and cruel to spoil it. I'm trying to atone."

"You've done that a thousand times over," Max comforted her, feeling
that he ought to be comforted at the same time, yet aware that it was
not so. He began to realize that he was boyishly jealous of the great
man whose blaze of glory had made his poor rushlight of friendship
flicker into nothingness.

"Then if I have atoned, tell me quickly your news," said the girl.

"The news is, that I haven't any past which belongs to me--and God knows
whether I've a future." Max gave lightness to the sombre words with a
laugh.

"Then the worst has happened to you?"

"One might call it that." Still he managed to laugh.

"Are you very miserable?"

"I don't know. I haven't had time to think."

"Don't take time--yet. Stay with me, as we planned before--before----"

"But Mr. Stanton? Aren't you----"

"No, I'm not. He left me fifteen minutes after you went. I shan't see
him again."

"Not at the train?"

"No, not anywhere. You see, he has such important things to do, he
hasn't time to bother much with--with a person he still thinks of as a
little girl. Why, I told you, he would hardly have known me if I hadn't
spoken to him! He's going away to-morrow, leaving for Touggourt. There
are all sorts of exciting preparations to make for a tremendous
expedition he means to undertake, though it will be months before he can
be ready to start. He can think of nothing else just now. Oh, it was
only 'How do you do?' and 'Good-bye' between us, I assure you, over
there at the little tea-table I'd been keeping for you and me."

"It didn't look like anything so superficial," Max found himself trying
once more to console her. "I'm sure it must really have meant a lot to
him, meeting you. I could see even in the one glance I had, how absorbed
he was----"

"Yes, in his map! He was pointing out his route to me, after Touggourt.
He's chosen Touggourt for his starting-place, because the railway has
just been brought as far as there. And there's a man in Touggourt--an
old Arab explorer--he wants to persuade to go with him if he's strong
enough. He--and some other Arab Richard came to Algiers to see, are the
only two men alive, apparently, who firmly believe in the Lost Oasis
that Sir Knight means to try to find, when he can get his caravan
together, and start across the desert early next autumn after the hot
weather."

"The Lost Oasis? I never heard of it," said Max. "Is there really such a
place somewhere?"

"Richard doesn't know. He only believes in it; and says nearly every one
thinks he's insane. But you must have heard--I thought every one had
heard the old legend about a Lost Oasis--lost for thousands of years?"

"I'm afraid not. I haven't any desert lore." As Max made this answer,
last night's dream came back, rising for an instant before his eyes
like a shimmering picture, a monochrome of ochre-yellow. Then it faded,
and he saw again the silver sky behind darkening pines, plumed
date-palms, the delicate fringe of pepper trees, and black columns of
towering cypress.

"All mine has come from Sir Knight: stories he's told me and books he's
given me. Long ago he talked about the Lost Oasis. I thought of it as a
thrilling fairy story. But he believes it may exist, somewhere far, far
east, beyond walls of mountains and shifting sand-dunes, between the
Sahara and the Libyan deserts."

"Wouldn't other explorers have found it, if it were there?"

"Lots have tried, and been lost themselves: or else they've given up
hope, after terrible privations, and have struggled back to their
starting-place. But Richard says he has pledged himself to succeed where
the rest have failed, or else to die. It was awful to hear him say
that--and to see the look in his eyes."

"He's done some wonderful things," Max said, trying to speak with
enthusiasm.

"Yes; but this seems different, and more terrifying than any of his
other adventures, because in them he had men for his worst enemies. This
time his enemy will be nature. And its venturing into the
unknown--almost like trying to find the way to another world. Everybody
knew there was a Thibet and a Central Africa, and what the dangers would
be like there; but no one knows anything of this place--if it is a
place."

"What's the story that makes Mr. Stanton feel the thing is worth
risking?" Max asked.

"The story is, that there's a blank in Egyptian history which could be
filled up and accounted for, if a great mass of people had moved away
and begun a new civilization somewhere, safe from all the enemies who
had disturbed them and stolen their treasure."

"Splendid story! But it sounds as much of a fable as any other myth,
doesn't it?"

"It might, if there hadn't been other stories of lost oases which have
proved to be true."

"I never heard of them," Max confessed his ignorance.

"Nor I, except from Sir Knight. He says that only lately people have
found several oases south of Tripoli, which were talked about before in
the same legendary way as this one he's going to search for. Only a few
people know about them now: but they _are_ known. And they're inhabited
by Jews who fled by tribes from the Romans when Solomon's Temple was
destroyed, in the reign of the Emperor Titus. They never trade, except
with each other, but have everything they need in their hidden
dwelling-places. They speak the ancient language that was spoken in
Palestine all those centuries ago, and wear the same costume, and keep
to the same laws. That's why Sir Knight thinks the greater Lost Oasis
may exist, having been even better hidden than those. There was a famous
explorer named Rholf who believed that he'd found traces of a way to it,
but he lost them again. And there were Caillaud and Cat, and other names
he spoke of to-day, that I've forgotten. I wish, though, that he were
not going--or else that I could go with him, in the way I used to plan
when I was small." The girl paused and sighed.

"What way?"

"Oh, it was only nonsense--silly, romantic nonsense, that I'd got out of
books. I used to make up stories about myself joining Sir Knight on some
expedition, dressed as a boy, and he not recognizing me." She laughed a
little. "I constantly saved his life, of course! But now we won't talk
of him any more. You and I will make up a story about _ourselves_. We're
alone on a desert island, and we have to find food and shelter, and be
as comfortable and as happy as we can. In the story, you have cause to
hate me, but you don't, because you're generous. So you forage for game
and fruit, and help me to escape. Which means, if you've really forgiven
my horridness, that you'll take pity on me and ask me to dine with you
before you put me into my train as you promised."

"I will do all that," said Max, almost eagerly. "And if you'll let me
I'll go with you in the train to Sidi-bel-Abbés."

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I couldn't consent to such a sacrifice."

"I must go either by your train or another."

"Why--why?"

"I've found out that the woman I came to search for is not only alive,
but living at Sidi-bel-Abbés."

"It's Fate!" the girl half whispered. "But _what_ Fate? What does it all
mean?"

"I've been asking myself that question," Max said, "and I can't find an
answer--yet."



CHAPTER VIII

ON THE STATION PLATFORM


They dined together in a glass-fronted restaurant opening out on to the
terrace, and Sanda was sweet, but absent-minded. Max could guess where
her thoughts were, and almost hated Stanton. How could the man let some
wretched engagement, with a few French officers, keep him from this poor
little girl who adored him? How could Stanton let her go alone to meet
her unnatural father (it was thus that Max thought of Colonel DeLisle)
when as her one-time guardian he might have taken her to Sidi-bel-Abbés
himself, and persuaded his old friend, DeLisle, to be lenient. All that
Max had heard against the explorer came back to him, and he was ready to
believe Stanton the cruel and selfish egoist that gossip sketched him.
Poor Sanda!

Miss DeLisle had meant to finish her long journey as she had begun it,
second-class; but Max persuaded the girl to let him take for her a
first-class ticket, with _coupé lit_, in a compartment for women, as far
as the station where at dawn they must change for Sidi-bel-Abbés. She
was surprised at the smallness of the price, but did not suspect that
she owed her new friend anything more substantial than gratitude for all
the trouble he had taken for her comfort.

Max himself went second-class, packed in with seven men who would have
thought opening the window a symptom of insanity.

One of the seven was the man with whom Sanda DeLisle had chatted on
board the _General Morel_ at dinner. He was the hero of the compartment,
for he was going to Sidi-bel-Abbés to fight a boxing match with the
champion of the Legion, a soldier named Pelle. Four of the travellers
(three men of Algiers and a youth of Sidi-bel-Abbés) were accompanying
the French boxer, having met him at the ship.

Dozing and waking, Max heard excited talk of _la boxe_ and the coming
event. He was vaguely interested, for he had been the champion boxer of
his regiment--a hundred years ago!--but he was too weary in body and
mind to care much about a match at Sidi-bel-Abbés. When he was not
trying to sleep, he was mentally composing a letter to his colonel, with
discreet explanations, and a justification of his forthcoming immediate
resignation from the army: or else a written explanation of his farewell
to Billie, following up the telegram; or thinking out business
directions to Edwin Reeves. Suddenly, however, as he was dully wondering
how best to send the heiress to New York without going back himself, a
name spoken almost in his ear had the blinding effect of a searchlight
upon his brain.

"La petite Josephine Delatour," said the young man who lived at
Bel-Abbés. He was evidently answering some question which Max had not
caught.

"The handsomest, would you call her?" disputed a commercial traveller,
who also knew the town. "Ah, _that_, no! she is too strange, too
bizarre."

"But her strangeness is her charm, _mon ami_! She has eyes of topaz,
like those of a young panther. If she were not bizarre, would she--a
little nobody at all--be strong enough to draw the smart young officers
after her? There are girls in Bel-Abbés, daughters of rich merchants,
who are jealous of the secretary at the Hotel Splendide. Before she
came, it was only the officers of high rank who messed there. Now it is
also the lieutenants. It is not the food, but Mademoiselle Josephine who
attracts!"

"Once upon a time she thought me and my comrades good enough for a
flirtation," said the commercial traveller. "But she looks higher in
these days, especially since her namesake in the Spahis joined his
regiment at Bel-Abbés. She told me they had found out that they were
cousins."

"The lieutenant doesn't go about boasting of the relationship," laughed
the youth from Bel-Abbés. "He comes to my father's café, which is the
best in the town, as you well know. If any one speaks to him of _la
petite_, he laughs: and it is a laugh she would not like."

Max's ears tingled. He felt as if he were eavesdropping. He wished to
hear more, though at the same time it seemed that he had no right to
listen. Luckily or unluckily, the boxer broke in and changed the
subject.

Early in the morning, passengers for Sidi-bel-Abbés had to descend from
the train going on to Oran, and take a slow one, on a branch line. It
was a very slow one, indeed, and it was also late, so that it would be
nearly midday and the hour for _dejeuner_ when they reached their
destination. Max saw himself inquiring for Mademoiselle Delatour just at
the moment when the admirers of her topaz eyes were assembling for
their meal. He did not like the prospect; but said nothing of his own
worries to Sanda, whom he joined on changing trains. Now the meeting
with her father was so near, she had to hold her courage with both
hands. She had realized for the first time that she would not know where
to look for Colonel DeLisle. He might be in barracks. She could hardly
go to him there. He would perhaps be angry, should a girl arrive,
announcing herself as his daughter, at the house where he had rooms. The
third alternative was the Hotel Splendide, where he took his meals. He
might already be there when she reached Sidi-bel-Abbés. What a place for
a first meeting! Max agreed, sympathetically. It seemed that everything
at Sidi-bel-Abbés must happen at the Hotel Splendide!

"If you could only be with me and help, as you have helped me all
along!" she sighed. "Though of course you can't. If Sir Knight had
come---- But I couldn't easily explain _you_ to my father. At least, not
just at present."

Max saw this, even more clearly than she saw it. It would indeed be
difficult for a strange new daughter to explain in a few brief words a
still more strange young man to such a person as Colonel DeLisle. If he
were to be introduced or even mentioned at all, Max felt that it would
have to be later, and must depend on the word of the redoubtable
colonel. He suggested to Sanda as discreetly as he could that he would
keep out of her way at the hotel, unless she summoned him. But, he
added, he would have to be there for a short time at all events, because
his business was taking him precisely to the Hotel Splendide.

"The person you're looking for is staying there?" asked Sanda.

"She's the secretary of the hotel." Max hesitated an instant, then,
realizing from the words he had overheard how conspicuous a character
Josephine Delatour evidently was, he thought best to tell Sanda
something more of his story than he had told her yet. He sketched the
version, vindicating his foster-mother, which he had given to Billie
Brookton and the Reeveses--a version which all the world at home would,
he believed, soon hear.

"So that is it?" said Sanda. "You're giving up everything to this girl.
Do you think she will take it?"

"I wish I were as sure of what I shall do next as I am sure of that,"
laughed Max. If there had ever been any doubt in his mind as to
Josephine's attitude, it had vanished while listening to the talk of her
in the train.

"I know what you ought to do next," Sanda said. "You ought to be what
you have been--a soldier."

"I shall always be, at heart, I think," Max confessed. "But soldier life
is over for me, so far as I can see ahead."

"I wonder----" she began eagerly, then stopped abruptly.

"You wonder--what?"

"I daren't say it."

"Please dare."

"I mustn't. It would be wrong. I might be horribly sorry afterward. And
yet----"

She silenced herself with a little gasp. He urged her no more, but
stared almost unseeingly out of the window at the roofed farmhouses, and
the yellow hills, like reclaimed desert, with bright patches of
cultivation, and a far, floating background of the blue Thesala
mountains.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sidi-bel-Abbés at last! and the train slowing down along the platform of
an insignificant station, which might have been in the South of France,
save for a few burnoused Arabs. There was a green glimpse of olives and
palms, and taller plane trees, under a serene sky; and in the distance
the high fortified walls of yellow and dark gray stone, which ringed in
the northernmost stronghold of the Foreign Legion.

"Sidi-bel-Abbés!" a deep voice shouted musically from one end of the
platform to the other, as the train came in; and the name thrilled
through Max Doran's veins as it had not ceased to thrill since
yesterday. More strongly than ever he had the impression that some great
things would happen to him here, or begin to happen, and carry him on
elsewhere, beyond those yellow hills. Deep down in him excitement
stirred in the dark, like a dazed traveller up before the dawn, groping
for the door through which he must pass to begin his journey. All the
more quietly, however, because of what he secretly felt, Max took
Sanda's bag and his own, and gave her a hand for the high step from the
train to platform. There they became units in a crowd strange to see at
a little provincial station; a crowd to be met at few other places in
the world.

The French boxer was not the only guest of importance this train brought
to Sidi-bel-Abbés. At the far end of the platform, where the first-class
carriages had stopped, a group of officers in full dress were collected
round a man who wore civilian clothes awkwardly, as an old soldier
wears them. There was the sensationally splendid costume of the Spahis;
scarlet cloak and full trousers; the beautiful pale blue of the
Chasseurs d'Afrique, and a plainer uniform which Max guessed to be that
of the Foreign Legion. The boxer had his committee _de réception_ also;
a dozen or more dark, fat, loud-talking proprietors of cafés, or
tradefolk keen on "_le sport_." These, and the lounging Arabs, might
have interested strangers to Sidi-bel-Abbés, if there had been nothing
better worth attention. But owing to the lateness of the train, it had
come in almost simultaneously with another made up of windowless wagons
for men, horses or freight, which had not yet discharged its load. Out
from the wide doorway of the long car labelled "_32 hommes, 6 chevaux_,"
was streaming an extraordinary procession; tall, bearded men with the
high cheek-bones and sad, wide-apart eyes of the Slav: a blond,
round-cheeked boy whose shy yet stolid face could only have been bred in
Germany, or Alsace; sharp-featured, rat-eyed fellows who might have been
collected at Montmartre or in a Marseilles slum; others who were
nondescripts of no complexion and no expression; waifs from anywhere; a
brown-skinned Spaniard and an Italian or two; a Negro with the
sophisticated look of a New York "darkee"; a melancholy, hooded Arab,
and a fierce-faced Moor; types utterly at variance, yet with one
likeness which bound them together like a convict's chain: weariness and
stains of long, hard travelling, which thrust the few well-dressed men
down to the level of the shabbiest. Some were almost middle aged; some
were youths hardly yet at the regulation enlistment age of eighteen; a
few one might take for broken-down gentlemen; more who looked like
workmen out of a job, and one or two unmistakably old soldiers,
eager-eyed as lost dogs who had found their way home: a strange
gathering of individuals to find stumbling out of a freight train at a
country station of a French colony; but this was Sidi-bel-Abbés,
headquarters of _La Legion Etrangére_: and as the tired, dirty men
tumbled out on to the platform, everybody stared openly as a corporal
with a high képi, a buttoned-back blue overcoat, and loose, red trousers
tucked into military boots, formed the crew into lines of four.

Even the officers at the end of the platform gazed at the soiled
scarecrows who had to be made into soldiers: for this being
Sidi-bel-Abbés, there was no difficulty in guessing that the
twenty-eight or thirty men of six or seven nations were recruits of the
Legion of Foreigners. The draggled throng was quietly indicated to the
visitor in civilian clothes, who nodded appreciatively and then turned
away. But the boxer's brigade explained the unfortunate wretches so
loudly and unflatteringly to their guest that haggard faces flushed and
quivering lips stiffened; while at the gateway of exit, a motionless row
of non-commissioned officers, watching for deserters, regarded "_les
bleus_" critically, yet indifferently.

Max, whose quick imagination made him almost painfully sensitive for
others, felt hot and sorry for the men herded together by misfortune. He
had read sensational stories of the Foreign Legion, and found himself
hypnotized into looking for brutal jowls of escaped murderers, or faces
of pallid aristocrats in torn evening clothes, splashed with blood.
Among these men of mystery or sorrow there were, however, few startling
types which caught the eye. But one man--young, tall, straight as an
arrow--running the gauntlet of jokes and stares with fierce, repressed
defiance, turned suddenly to look at Max and Sanda.

Where to place him in life, Max could not tell. He might be prince or
peasant by birth, since prince and peasant are akin at heart, and ever
remote from the middle-classes as from Martians. He wore a soft, gray
felt hat, smeared with coal-dust from the engine. The collar of his
dusty black overcoat was turned up; it actually looked like an evening
coat. His trousers were black too, and Max had an impression of patent
leather shoes glittering through dust. But these details were only
accessories to the picture, and interesting because of the wearer's
face. It was dark as that of a Spaniard from Andalusia, with the high,
proud features of an Indian. It had been clean-shaven a few days ago;
and from two haggard hollows a pair of wild black eyes flashed one
glance at Max--the only man who had not seemed to stare. Face and look
were unforgettable. It seemed to Max that some appeal had been flung to
him. He could hardly keep himself from striding after the tall figure,
to ask: "What is it you want me to do?" And Sanda also had been
impressed. He heard her murmur under her breath, "Poor man! What
wonderful eyes!"

Nobody moved from the platform until the corporal had called the roll of
names--German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arab--and had marched
his batch of recruits briskly through the guarded gate. Max would have
hurried Sanda out directly behind them, before the crowd could secure
all the queer, old-fashioned cabs which were waiting, but at that moment
the smart group of officers moved forward. Having shown their guest one
of the sights of Sidi-bel-Abbés, they evidently expected to take
precedence of the townspeople, who gave no sign of disputing their
right. Max, following the example of others and resisting an impulse to
salute, stood back with his companion to let the uniforms pass. Sanda,
pink with excitement, was as usual all unconscious of self, and vividly
interested both in recruits and officers. The latter, especially the
young ones, were equally interested in the pretty, well-dressed girl, a
stranger in Sidi-bel-Abbés and the one woman on the platform.

Max saw the polite but admiring glances, and would have liked to draw
her further away. He bent down to whisper a suggestion, but Sanda did
not hear. Her face, her whole personality, had undergone one of those
swift changes characteristic of her.

With a fluttering cry, she started forward, then stepped nervously back,
and, stumbling against Max's foot, would have fallen if he had not
caught her.

All his attention was for her, yet, with his eyes on the girl, he
suddenly became conscious that something had happened among the
officers. One man had stopped abruptly just in front of Sanda, while
others were going through the gate, hurrying on as if tactfully desirous
to get themselves out of the way. A voice murmured "Mon Dieu!" and
having steadied Sanda, Max saw standing close to them a small, rather
dapper man with a lined brown face, a very square, smooth-shaven jaw,
long gray eyes, short gray hair, and the neat slimness of a West Point
cadet. He had on his sleeve the five gold stripes signifying a colonel's
rank, and was decorated with several medals.

Instantly Max understood the situation. The one thing that ought _not_
to have happened, had happened.



CHAPTER IX

THE COLONEL OF THE LEGION


All Sanda's anxiously laid plans were swept away in the wind of emotion.
She and the father she had meant to win with loving diplomacy had
stumbled upon each other crudely in a railway station. The dear
resemblance upon which she had founded her best hope had struck Colonel
DeLisle like a blow over the heart.

The dapper little officer, with the figure of a boy and the face of a
tragic mask, stared straight at the girl, with the look of one who meets
a ghost in daylight. "My God! who are you?" he faltered, in French. The
words seemed to speak themselves against his will.

Sanda was deathly pale. But she caught at her courage as a soldier
grasps his flag: "I am--Corisande, your daughter," she answered in that
small, sweet voice of a child with which she had begged Max to pardon
her, yesterday. And she too spoke in French. "My father, forgive me if
I've done wrong to come to you like this. But I was so unhappy. I wanted
so much to see you. And I've travelled such a long way!"

For an instant the man still stared at her in silence. He had the air of
listening for a voice within a voice, as one listens through the sound
of running water for its tune. Max, who must now unfortunately be
explained and accounted for in spite of every difficulty, found a
strange likeness between the middle-aged soldier and the young girl. It
was in the eyes: long, gray, haunted with thoughts and dreams. If Sanda
DeLisle ever had to become acquainted with sorrow her eyes would be like
her father's.

The pause was but for a second or two, though it was full of suspense
for the girl, and even for Max, who forgot himself in anxiety for her.
The hardness of straining after self-control melted to sudden beauty, as
Max had seen Sanda's face transfigured. Never again, it seemed to
him--no matter what Colonel DeLisle's actions might be--could he believe
him to be cruel or cold.

"Ma petite," DeLisle said, with a quiver in his voice that echoed up
from heartstrings swept by some spirit hand. "Can it be true? You have
come--across half the world, to me?"

"Oh, father, yes, it is true. And always I've wanted to come." Sanda's
voice caressed him. No man could have resisted her then. "You're not
angry?"

"Mon Dieu, no, I'm not angry, though my life is not the life for a girl.
I only--for a moment I thought I saw----"

"I know, I guessed," Sanda gently filled up his pause. "Since I began
growing into a woman every one told me I was like--her. But I wouldn't
send you a photograph. For years I've planned to surprise you--and make
you _care_ a little, if I could."

"Care!" he echoed, a look as of anguish passing over his face like the
shadow of a cloud; then leaving it clear, though sad with the habitual
sadness which had scored its many lines. "You have surprised me,
indeed. But----" He stopped abruptly, and apparently for the first time
noticed the young man standing near. Stiffening slightly, Colonel
DeLisle looked keenly at Max, his eyes trying to solve the new puzzle.
"But--my daughter, you have come to me with----"

"Only a friend," Sanda broke in desperately, blushing up to her bright
hair. "A kind friend, Mr. Doran, an American who had to travel to
Sidi-bel-Abbés on business of his own, and who's been more good to me
than I can describe. I want him to let me tell you all about him, and
then you will understand."

"I thank you in advance, Monsieur," said Colonel DeLisle, unbending
again, and a faint--a very faint--twinkle brightening his eyes, at the
thought of the error he had nearly made, and because of Doran's blush at
being mistaken for an unwelcome son-in-law.

"I've done nothing, Monsieur le Colonel," stammered Max. "I had to come.
I have business with a person at the Hotel Splendide. It is Mademoiselle
who is kind to me in saying----"

"Could he not take me to the hotel to wait for you?" Sanda cut in. "I
shouldn't have interrupted you in such a place as this, and at such a
time, my father, if I could have helped doing so, even though I
recognized your face from the old photograph that is my treasure. But
acting on impulse is my greatest fault, the aunts all say. And when I
saw you I cried out before I stopped to think. Then I drew back, but it
was too late. I have taken you from some duty."

"I came officially with my comrades to meet General Sauvanne, who is
visiting our Algerian garrisons," said DeLisle. He glanced again at Max,
giving him one of those soldier looks which long experience has taught
to penetrate flesh and bone and brain down to a man's hidden self. "It
is true that I have no right to excuse myself for my own private
affairs." He hesitated, almost imperceptibly, then turned to Max. "Add
to your past kindness by taking my daughter to the hotel, Monsieur,
where in my name she will engage a room for herself--since,
unfortunately, I have no home to offer her. I will go with you both to a
cab, and then return to duty. My child, I will see you again before
_dejeuner_."

Max's quick mind promptly comprehended the full meaning of Colonel
DeLisle's seemingly unconventional decision. Not only was he being made
friendly use of, in a complicated situation, but Sanda's father wished
all who had seen the girl arrive with a man to know once for all that
the man had his official approval. Soon Sanda's relationship to the
Colonel of the First Regiment of the Foreign Legion would be known, and
there must be no stupid gossip regarding the scene at the station. As
they passed the other officers and their guests (who for these few
dramatic moments had discreetly awaited developments, outside the
platform gate), Colonel DeLisle lingered an instant to murmur; "It is my
daughter, who has come unexpectedly. A young friend whom I can trust to
see her to the hotel will take her there, and I am at your service when
I have put them into a cab."

"What do you think?" cried Sanda, as the rickety vehicle rattled them
toward the nearest gate of the walled town. "Have I failed with him--or
have I succeeded?"

"Succeeded," Max answered. "Don't you feel it?"

"I hoped it. Oh, Mr. Doran, I am going to love him!"

"I don't wonder," Max said. "I'm sure he's worth it."

"Yet I saw by your look when I spoke of him before, that you were
thinking him heartless."

"I had no right to think anything."

"I gave you the right, by confiding in you. But I didn't confide enough,
to do my father justice. I knew he wasn't heartless, though he couldn't
bear the sight of me when I was a baby, and put me out of his life. He
has always said that a soldier's life was not for a young girl to share.
I knew he had a heart, _because_ of that, not in spite of it. It was
that he loved my mother so desperately, and I'd robbed him of her. Now
you've seen him, you must let me tell you a little----"

"Would he wish it?"

"Yes, if he knew why, and if he knew you, and what you are going through
at this time. He fell in love with my mother at first sight in Paris,
and she with him. He was on leave, and she was there with her parents
from Ireland. He'd never meant to marry, but he was swept off his feet.
Mother's people wouldn't hear of it. They took her home in a hurry, and
tried to make her marry some one else. She nearly did--because they were
stronger than she. She wrote father a letter of good-bye, to his post in
the southern desert, where he was stationed then. He supposed, when he
read the letter, that she was already married when he got it. But
suddenly she appeared--as unexpectedly as I appeared to-day. She'd run
away from home, because she couldn't live without him. Oh, how well I
understand her! Think of the joy! It was like waking from a dreadful
dream for both of them. They were going to be married at once, though
mother was half dead with fatigue and excitement after her long, hurried
journey; but on their wedding eve she was taken ill, and became
delirious. It was typhoid fever. She had got it somehow on the journey.
She had come without stopping to rest, from Dublin to Touggourt, where
father was stationed. They say it's wild there even now. It was far
wilder then, more than twenty-one years ago. He nursed mother himself,
scarcely eating or sleeping: not taking off his clothes for weeks. One
of his aunts--my great-aunt--told me the story. It came to her from a
friend of father's. He never spoke of it. For three months mother wasn't
out of danger. Father was her nurse, her doctor, not her husband. But at
last she was well again. They had their honeymoon in a tent in the
desert. She loved the desert, then--or thought she did. Afterward,
though, she changed, for I was coming, and she was ill again. By that
time they were stationed still farther south. She grew so homesick for
the north that my father got leave. They started to travel by easy
stages through the desert, with a small caravan. Their hope was to reach
Algiers, and to get to France long before the baby should come; but the
heat grew suddenly terrible, and one day they were caught in a fearful
sandstorm. My mother was terrified. I was born two months before the
time. That same night she died, while the storm was still raging; and
before she went, she begged my father to promise, whatever happened, not
to leave her body buried in the desert. He did promise. And then began
his martyrdom. The caravan could not march fast because of me. A negro
woman who'd come as mother's maid took care of me as well as she could,
and fed me on condensed milk. Strange I should have lived.... My father
had his men make for my mother's body a case of many tins, which they
spread open and soldered together, with lead from bullets they melted.
In the next oasis they cut down a palm tree and hollowed out the trunk
for a coffin. They sealed up the tin case in it, and the coffin
travelled on the camel mother had ridden when she was alive, in one of
those beautiful hooded bassourahs you must have seen in pictures. At
night the coffin rested in my father's tent, and he lay beside it as he
had lain beside my mother when she lived, and they were happy. Because
she'd been a Catholic, and because she'd always hated the dark, father
burned candles on the coffin always till dawn; and the men who loved him
looked for wild flowers in the desert to lay upon it. He had forty days,
and forty nights, marching through the desert with the dead body of his
love, before they came to the railway. Then he took mother to France,
and left me with his two aunts there. Now do you wonder he never loved
me, or wanted to have me with him?"

"No, perhaps not," said Max. Deep sadness had fallen upon him. He was in
the desert with the man beside whose agony his own trial was as nothing.
All the world seemed to be full of sorrow and pain sharper than his own
personal pain. And as the girl asked her question and he answered it,
their cab passed the procession of recruits for the Foreign Legion,
tramping along between tall plane trees toward the town gate.

Once again a pair of tortured black eyes looked at Max, who winced as
the thick yellow dust from the wheels enveloped the marching men.

"Will you let me tell my father your story, as I have told you his?"
Sanda asked.

"Do as you think best," he said.

In another moment the cab had rolled past a few gardens and villas, a
green plateau and a moat, and passed through a great gateway. Overhead,
carved in the stone, were the words "Porte d'Oran," and the date, 1855.
Once, when the town was young, the gates had been kept tightly closed,
and through the loopholes in the stout, stone wall (the old part yellow,
the newer part gray) guns had been fired at besieging Arabs, the tribe
of the Beni Amer, who had worshipped at the shrine of the dead Saint,
Sidi-bel-Abbés. But all that was past long ago. No hope of fighting for
the Legionnaires, save over the frontier in Morocco, or far away in the
South! The shrine of Sidi-bel-Abbés stood neglected in the Arab
graveyard. Even the meaning of the name, once sacred to his followers,
was well-nigh forgotten; and all that was Arab in Sidi-bel-Abbés had
been relegated to the _Village Négre_, strictly forbidden as Blue
Beard's Room of Secrets, to the Soldiers of the Legion.

Inside the wall everything was modern and French, except for a few
trudging or labouring Arabs in white, or in gray burnouses of camel's
hair made in Morocco. As the daughter of the Legion's colonel drove
humbly in her shabby cab to the Hotel Splendide, she felt vaguely
depressed and disappointed in the town which she expected to be her
home. She had fancied that it would be very eastern, with mosques and
bazaars, and perhaps surrounded with desert; but there was no desert
within many miles; and there was only one minaret rising in the
distance, like a long white finger to mark the beginning of the _Village
Négre_. Instead of bazaars, there were new French shops and a sinister
predominance of drinking places of all sorts: a few "smart" cafés, with
marble-topped tables on the pavement, but mostly dull dens, appealing to
the poorest and most desperate. The town was like a Maltese cross in
shape, the arms of the cross being wide streets, each leading to a gate
in the fortifications; Porte d'Oran, Porte de Tlemcen, Porte de
Mascarra, and Porte de Daya; and the one great charm of the place seemed
to be in its trees; giant planes which made arbours across the streets,
giving a look of dreaming peace, despite the rattle of wheels on roughly
set paving-stones.

There were middle-aged buildings, low and small and dun-coloured,
exactly like those of every other French-Algerian settlement, but big
new blocks of glittering white gave an air of almost ostentatious
prosperity to the place. There was even an attempt at gayety in the
ornamentation, yet there appeared to be nothing attractive to tourists,
save the Foreign Legion, which gave mystery and romance to all that
would otherwise have been banal. Noise was everywhere, loud, shrill,
insistent; rumbling, shrieking, rattling, roaring. Huge wagons, loaded
with purple-stained cases of Algerian wine, bumping over the stones;
strings of bells wound round the great horns of horses' collars jingling
like sleigh-bells in winter; whips in the hands of fierce-eyed carters
cracking round the heads of large, sad mules; hooters of automobiles
and immense motor diligences blaring; men shouting at animals; animals
barking or braying, snorting or clucking at men; unseen soldiers
marching to music; a town clock sweetly chiming the hour, and, above
all, rising like spray from the ocean of din, high voices of Arabs
chaffering, disputing, arguing. This was the "Arabian Night's Paradise"
that Sanda had dreamed of!

Presently the cab passed a great town clock with four faces (one for
each of the four diverging streets) and drew up before a flat-faced
building with the name "Hotel Splendide" stretching across its dim,
yellow front. Inside a big, open doorway, stairs went steeply up, past
piles of commercial travellers' show trunks, and an Arab bootblack who
clamoured for custom. At the top Max Doran and his charge came into a
hall, whence a bare-looking restaurant and several other rooms opened
out. On a gigantic hatrack like a withered tree hung coats and hats in
dark bunches, brightened with a few military coats and gold-braided
caps. As Max and Sanda appeared, an officer--youngish, dark,
sharp-featured, with a small waxed moustache and near-sighted black
eyes--turned hastily away from a window, and with a stride added his cap
and cloak to the hatrack's burden. He had an almost childishly guilty
air of not wishing to be caught at something. And what that something
was, Max Doran guessed with a queer constriction of the throat as he
looked through the window. This opened into a dim room, which was
labelled "Bureau," and framed the head and bust of a young woman.

Such light as there was in the hall fell full upon her short, white
face, into her slanting yellow eyes and on to the elaborately dressed
red hair. She had been smiling at the officer, but on the interruption
of the strangers' entrance she frowned with annoyance. It was the frank,
animal annoyance of a beautiful young lynx, teased by having a piece of
meat snatched away. The eyes were clear in colour as a dark topaz, and
full of topaz light. This was remarkable; but their real strangeness lay
in expression. They seemed not unintelligent, but devoid of all human
experience. They gazed at the newcomers from the little window of the
bureau, as an animal gazes from the bars of its cage, looking at the
eyes which regard it, not into them; near yet remote; a creature of
another species.

The girl appeared to be well-shaped enough, though her strong white
throat was short, and the hands which lay on the wide window ledge were
as small as a child's. Yet like a shadow thrown on the wall behind her
was a lurking impression of deformity of body and mind, a spirit cast
out of her, to point at something veiled. If there could have lingered
in the mind of Max a grain of doubt concerning Rose Doran's confession,
it was burnt up in a moment; for the girl was an Aubrey Beardsley
caricature of Rose. No need to ask if this were Mademoiselle Delatour.
He knew. And this lieutenant in the uniform of the Spahis was the
"namesake" of whom the men had talked in the train.



CHAPTER X

THE VOICE OF THE LEGION


It was all far worse even than Max had expected; and the next few days
were a nightmare. The resemblance between the girl and her mother--once
his mother, whom he had as a boy adored--made the effect more gruesome.

Josephine Delatour was coarse minded and sly, inordinately vain, caring
for nothing in life except the admiration of such men as she had met and
mistaken for gentlemen. Her way of receiving the news of her change of
fortune disgusted Max, sickened him so utterly that he could not bear to
think of her reigning in Jack Doran's house. She was torn between
pleasure in the prospect of being rich, and suspicious that there was a
plot to kidnap her, like the heroine of a sensational novel. She did not
want to go to America. She wanted to stay in Sidi-bel-Abbés and triumph
over all the women who had snubbed her. She boasted of her admirers, and
hinted that even without money she could marry any one of a dozen young
officers. But the one for whom she seemed really to care--if it were in
her to care for any one except herself--was the namesake of whom Max had
heard laughing hints.

At the time it had not occurred to him that the name of the alleged
"cousin" must be Delatour; but so it was though the dark young man with
the waxed moustache spelled his name differently, in the more
aristocratic way, with three syllables. When Josephine boasted that,
though he was from a great family, with a castle on the River Loire, he
called himself her cousin, Max realized that the Lieutenant of Spahis
must be a son or nephew of the de la Tour from whom Rose and Jack had
taken the château. So far, however, was Max Doran from being elated by
this tie of blood, that he mentally dubbed his relative a cad. It was
all he could do to persuade Josephine not to tell Raoul de la Tour that
she had come into money, and a name as aristocratic as his own--in fact,
that she was qualifying as a heroine of romance. Only by appealing to
the crude sense of drama the girl had in her could she be prevented from
stupidly throwing out bait to fortune-hunters. But having wired again to
Edwin Reeves, and hearing that Mrs. Reeves, already in Paris, had
started for Algiers, a plan occurred to Max. He advised Josephine, if
she thought that de la Tour cared for her, to tell him that she was
giving up work in the Hotel Splendide; also that she was leaving
Sidi-bel-Abbés forever; and then see what he would say. What he did say
was such a blow to the girl's vanity that, when she was sure he had no
intention of marrying a poor secretary, she flung the dazzling truth at
his face. Repentant, he tried to turn his late insults into honest
lovemaking; but the temper of the lynx was roused. Never having deeply
loved the man, she took pleasure in using her claws on him. In taunting
him with what he might have had, however, she let the identity of the
newsbringer leak out.

De la Tour then warned her passionately against _le jeune aventurier
Americain_, and almost frightened the girl into disbelieving the whole
story. But proofs were forthcoming, and with the landlord's wife, who
enjoyed sharing a borrowed halo, Josephine Delatour--or Josephine
Doran--went to Algiers to await Mrs. Reeves's arrival. Meanwhile, with
the money she procured from Max, the girl planned to buy herself a
trousseau, and eventually departed, rejoicing in her lover's
discomfiture. Whether or no this attitude were safe with such a man
remained to be seen. As for Max--the messenger who had brought the
tidings--since he showed no desire to flirt with her, Josephine saw no
reason to be interested in him. Besides, she could hardly believe that
he was not somehow to blame for having kept what ought to have been hers
for his own all these years. She had not loved her supposed father and
mother, who had interfered with her pleasure, disapproving of what they
called her extravagance and frivolity.... There was no grief to the girl
in learning that the Delatours were not her parents.

Nor did it seem to Josephine that gratitude was due Max for resigning in
her favour. She was greedily ready to grab everything, without thanks,
just as her lynx-prototype would snatch a piece of meat, if it could get
it, from another lynx. She grudged the years of luxury and pleasure
which she ought to have had; and could she have realized that she had
made of Lieutenant de la Tour an enemy for Max Doran, she would have
been glad. It was right that two men should quarrel over a woman.

While he was arranging Josephine's affairs, Max saw nothing of Sanda
and Colonel DeLisle. He had thought it best to take up his quarters at
another hotel, and his only communication with them was by letter. He
wrote Sanda that when his business was finished he would make up his
mind what to do; but in any case he hoped that he might be allowed to
bid her and Colonel DeLisle farewell. In answer, came an invitation from
the Colonel to see the Salle d'Honneur of the Legion, the famous gallery
where records of its heroes were kept. "That is," (Sanda said, writing
for her father) "if you are interested in the Legion."

"If he were interested in the Legion!" Already he was obsessed by
thoughts of it. Sidi-bel-Abbés, which at first had struck him as being a
dull provincial town, now seemed the only place where he could have
lived through his dark hours. Elsewhere he would have felt surrounded by
a gay and happy world in which a man with his back to the wall had no
place. Here at Sidi-bel-Abbés was the home of men with their backs to
the wall. The very town itself had been created by such men, and for
them. For generations desperate men, sad men, starving men, of all
countries--men who had lost everything but life and strength--had been
turning their faces toward Sidi-bel-Abbés, their sole luggage the secret
sorrow which, once the _Legion_ had taken them, was no one's business
but their own.

Max Doran could not go into the street without meeting at least a dozen
men in the Legion's uniform, who seemed akin to him because of the look
in their eyes; the look of those cut off from what had once meant life
and love. What they were enduring was unknown to him, but he was somehow
at home among them. And the day Josephine went away, before he had yet
made up his mind to the next step, for the first time he heard the music
of the Legion's band.

It was in the afternoon, and he had strolled outside the Porte de
Tlemcen into the public gardens for the music, only because he had an
hour to pass before his appointment in the Salle d'Honneur. In winter
the band played in the Place Carnot, but on this soft day of early
spring the concert was announced for the gardens beloved by the people
of Sidi-bel-Abbés. They were beautiful, but to Max it seemed the beauty
of sadness; and even there, outside the wall which dead Legionnaires had
built, everything spoke of the Legion. Men of the Legion had planted
many of the tall trees of the cloistral avenue, whose columnar trunks
were darkly draped with ivy. Men of the Legion swept dead leaves from
the paths, as they swept away old memories. Men of the Legion walked in
the gray shadow of the planes, as they walked in the shadows of life.
Men of the Legion rested on the rough wooden benches, staring absently
at mourning plumes of cypresses, or white waterfalls that fleeted by
like lost opportunities. Yes, despite the flowers in the myrtle borders
it was a place of sadness, and of a mournful silence until the musicians
brought their instruments into the curious bandstand formed of growing
trees. Then it seemed to Max that he heard the Legion speak in a great
and wonderful voice.

As by studying a hive one feels the mysterious governing spirit, so he
felt the spirit of the Legion in its music, its restlessness, its
longings, its passions, and its ambitions, uttered and cried to heaven
in prayers and curses. As individuals the men were dumb, guarding their
secrets, striving to forget; and it was as if this smothered fire,
seeking outlet, had sprung from heart to heart, kindling and massing all
together in a vast, white-hot furnace. The music opened the doors of
this furnace, and the flames roared upward to the sky. In the dazzling
light of that strange fire, secrets could be read, if the eyes that saw
were not blinded. Bitterness and joy were there to see, and the blending
of all passions through which men ruin their lives, and need to remake
their souls. Yes, that was the Legion's call. Men came to it, in the
hope of remaking their souls. With his own drowned in the music of pain
and regeneration, Max went to the Salle d'Honneur to meet Colonel
DeLisle.

He knew where to find it, next to the barracks; a small, low building of
the same dull yellow, set back in a little garden with a few palms and
flowerbeds. Inside the gate was a red, blue, and white sentry box. But
Max entered unchallenged, because at the door of the house stood the
colonel, who came down a step to meet him. "Monsieur Doran!" he
exclaimed cordially, holding out his hand.

"Will you still offer me your hand, sir," Max asked wistfully, though he
smiled, "even if I've no name any more, and no country that I can claim?
Mademoiselle DeLisle has told you?"

"She has told me," echoed the elder man, shaking the younger's hand with
extra warmth. "I congratulate you on the chance of making a name for
yourself. I think from what I hear, and can judge, that you will do so,
in whatever path you choose. Have you chosen yet?"

"Not yet," Max confessed. "Neither a name nor the way to make it. Nor
the country most likely to make it in."

"As for that"--and Colonel DeLisle smiled--"we of the Legion are more
used to men without names and without countries than to those who have
them. Not that your case is allied to theirs. Shall we go in? I want to
thank you, as I've not been able to do yet, for your chivalrous
behaviour to my daughter. She has told me all about that, too--_all_.
And I had a feeling that this room, in which our Legion commemorates
honourable deeds, would be a place where you and I might talk."

As he spoke he led Max into a short corridor, at the end of which hung a
large frame containing portraits and many names of men and battles with
the crest of _la Legion Etrangére_ at the top. Pushing open a door at
the right, DeLisle made way for his guest. "Here are all the relics that
are to us men of the First Regiment most sacred," he said. And as he
passed in, he saluted a flag preciously guarded in a long glass case:
the flag of the regiment decorated with the Cross of the Legion of
Honour on an historic occasion of great bravery. An answering thrill
shot through Max's veins, for in them ran soldier blood. Involuntarily
he, too, saluted the flag and its cross. Colonel DeLisle gave him a
quick look, but made no comment.

Two out of the four walls were covered with portraits of men in uniforms
ancient and modern; paintings, engravings, photographs; and the
decorations were strange weapons, and torn, faded banners which had
helped the Legion to make history. There were drums and weird idols,
too, and monstrous masks and great fans from Tonkin and Madagascar, and
relics of fighting in Mexico. On the long table lay albums of
photographs, and upon either side were ranged chairs as if for officers
to sit in council.

"Whenever we wish to do a guest honour, we bring him here," said the
colonel. "We are not rich, and have nothing better to offer; except,
perhaps, our music."

"I have already heard the music," answered Max. "I shall never forget
it. And I shall never forget this room."

"Such music wakes the hearts of men, and helps inspire them to heroic
acts like these." Colonel DeLisle waved his hand toward some of the
pictures which showed soldiers fighting the Legion's most historic
battles. "I am rather proud of our music and our men. This room, too,
and the things in it--most of all the flag. My daughter has spent hours
in the Salle d'Honneur looking over our records. Presently she will join
us. But I wanted to thank you before she came. Corisande is a child,
knowing little of the world and its ways. Some men in your place would
have misunderstood her--in the unusual circumstances. But you did not.
You proved yourself a friend in need for my little girl, on her strange
journey to me. I wish in return there might be some way in which I could
show myself a friend to you. Can you think of any such way?"

The voice was earnest and very kind. A great reaction from his first
prejudice against the speaker swept over Max. Beneath this one voice
which questioned him and waited for an answer, he heard as a deep,
thrilling undertone the voice of the Legion which had called to him
through the music to come and share its bath of fire. A sudden purpose
awoke in Max Doran, and he knew then that it had been in the background
of his mind for days, waiting for some word to wake it. Now the word had
come. All his blood seemed to rush from heart to head, and he grew
giddy: yet he spoke steadily enough.

"I have thought of a way, Colonel DeLisle!"

"I am glad. You have only to tell me."

"Accept me as one of your men. Let me join the Legion."

"Mon Dieu!" The Legion's colonel was taken completely by surprise. Max
had thought he might perhaps have expected the request, but evidently it
was not so. The dapper little figure straightened itself. And from his
place beside his adored flag, Colonel DeLisle gazed across to the other
side where, close also to the flag, stood the young man he had wished to
serve. Max met his eyes, flushed and eager and, it seemed, pathetically
young. There was dead silence for an instant. Then DeLisle spoke in a
changed tone: "Do you mean this? Have you thought of what you are
saying?"

"I do mean it," Max replied. "I believe I have thought of it ever since
I saw those men of all countries getting out of the train to join the
Legion. I felt the call they had felt. But it is stronger to-day. I know
now what I want. In the Salle D'Honneur of the Legion I decide on my
career."

"Decide!" the other repeated. "No, not that, yet! You have got this idea
into your head because you are romantic. You think you are ruined and
that the future doesn't matter. You will find it does. This is no place
for poetry and romance--my God, no! It's a fiery furnace. In barracks we
should burn the romance out of you in twenty-four hours."

"If I've got more in me than any man who loves adventure ought to have,
then I want it burned out," said Max.

"Adventures will cost you less elsewhere," almost sneered DeLisle.

"I don't ask to get them cheap," Max still insisted. "Though I've got
nothing to pay with, except myself, my blood, and flesh, and muscles."

"That's good coin," exclaimed the elder, warming again. "Yet we can't
take it. You may think you know what you mean. But you don't know what
the Legion means. I do. I've had nearly twenty years of it."

"You love it?"

"Yes, it is my life. But--I have to remind you, I entered it as an
officer. There is all the difference."

"At least I should be a soldier. I know what a soldier's hardships are."

"Ah, not in the Legion!"

"It can't kill me."

"It might."

"Let it, then. I'll die learning to be a man."

DeLisle looked at his companion intently. "I think," he said, "you are a
man."

"No, sir, I'm not," Max contradicted him abruptly. "I used to hope I
might pass muster as men go. But these last days I've been finding
myself out. I've been down in hell, and I shouldn't have got there if I
were a man. I'm a self-indulgent, pining, and whining boy, thinking of
nothing but myself, and not knowing whether I've done right or wrong. If
the Legion can't teach me what's white and what's black, nothing can."

The colonel of the Legion laughed a queer, short laugh. "That is true,"
he said. "I take back those words of mine about poetry and romance.
You've got the right point of view, after all. And you are the kind of
man the Legion wants, the born soldier, lover of adventure for
adventure's sake. You would come to us not because you have anything to
hide, or because you prefer barracks in France to prison at home, or
because some woman has thrown you over," (just there his keen eyes saw
the young man wince, and he hurried on without a pause) "but because
we've made some history, we of the Legion, and you would like a chance
to make some for yourself, under this"--and he pointed to the flag whose
folds hung between them--"_Valeur et Discipline!_ That's the Legion's
motto, for the Legion itself must be _Dieu et Patrie_ for most of its
sons. I've done my duty as a friend in warning you to go where life is
easier. As colonel of the First Regiment, I welcome you, if you
sincerely wish to come into the Legion. Only----"

"Only what, sir?"

"My daughter! She wanted me to help you. She'll think I've hindered,
instead."

"No, Colonel. She hoped I'd join the Legion."

DeLisle looked surprised. "What reason have you for supposing that?"

"Interpreting a thing she said, or, rather, a thing she wanted to say,
but was afraid to say for fear I might blame her some day in the
future."

"She, knowing nothing of the Legion, recommended you to join? That is
strange."

"She knew a little of me and my circumstances. I'd been a soldier, and
there seemed only one convenient way for a man without a name or country
to start and become a soldier again. Miss DeLisle saw that."

"You're talking of me?" inquired Sanda's voice at the half-open door.
Both men sprang to open it for her. As she came into the Salle
d'Honneur, she seemed to bring with her into this room, sacred to dead
heroes of all lands, the sweetness of spring flowers to lay on distant
graves. And as she stepped over the threshold, like a young soldier she
saluted the flag.

"I have just said to Colonel DeLisle that you would approve of my
joining the Legion," Max explained. "Have I told him the truth?"

The girl looked anxiously from one man to the other. She was rather pale
and subdued, as if life pressed hardly even upon her. "You guessed what
I wouldn't let myself say in the train the other day!" she exclaimed.
"But--you _haven't_ joined, have you?"

"Not yet, or I shouldn't be here. The Salle d'Honneur is for common
soldiers only when they're dead, I presume."

"But you could become an officer some day, couldn't he, father?"

"Yes," replied Colonel DeLisle. "Every soldier of the Legion has his
chance. And our friend is French, I think, from what you've told me of
his confidences to you. That gives an extra chance to rise.
France--rightly or wrongly, but like all mothers--favours her own sons.
Besides, he has been a soldier, which puts him at once ahead of the
others."

"I shouldn't trade on that! I'd rather begin on a level with other men,
not ahead of them," Max said hastily. "My object would be not to teach,
but to learn--to cure myself of my faults----"

The colonel drew a deep breath, like a sigh. "We do cure men sometimes,
men far more desperate, men with souls far more sick than yours. There's
that to be said for us."

"His soul isn't sick at all!" Sanda cried out, in defence of her friend.

"Perhaps he thinks it is." Colonel DeLisle looked at Max as he had
looked after those chance words of his about a woman.

"_Do_ you think that, Mr. Doran?" the girl questioned incredulously. "I
shall be disappointed if you do."

"Don't be disappointed. I do not think my soul is sick. I want to see
how strong it can be, and my body, too. But you mustn't call me 'Mr.
Doran' now, please. It isn't my name any more. Colonel DeLisle, may I
ask your daughter to choose a name for a new soldier of the Legion? It
will be the last favour, for I understand perfectly that after I've
joined the regiment, as a private soldier, you can be my friends only at
heart. Socially, all intercourse must end."

"Oh, no, it wouldn't be so," Sanda cried out impulsively, though the old
officer was silent. "It wouldn't, if I were not going away."

"You are going away?" Max was conscious of a faint chill. He would have
found some comfort in the thought that his brave little travelling
companion was near, even though he seldom saw and never spoke to her.

"Not home to the aunts! I told you I'd never go back to live with them,
and my father wouldn't send me. But there's to be a long march---- Oh,
have I said what I oughtn't? Why? Since he _must_ know if he joins?
Anyhow, I can't stay here many days longer--I mean, for the present. I'm
to be sent to a wonderful place. It will be a great romance."

"Sanda, it is irrelevant to talk of that now," Colonel DeLisle reminded
his daughter.

"Forgive me! I forgot, father. May I--name the new soldier, and wish him
joy?"

DeLisle laughed rather bitterly. "'Joy' isn't precisely the word. If he
hoped for it, he would soon be disillusioned. You may give him a name,
if he wishes it. But let me also give him a few words of advice.
Monsieur Doran----"

"St. George!" broke in Sanda. "That is to be his name. I christen him,
close to the flag. Soldier, saint, slayer of dragons." She did not add
"my patron saint," but Max remembered, and was grateful.

"Soldier Saint George, then," DeLisle began again, smiling, "this is my
advice as your friend and well-wisher: again, I say, why should you not
take advantages you have fairly earned? My men are wonderful soldiers. I
suppose in the world there can be none braver, few so brave; for they
nearly all come to heal or hide some secret wound that makes them
desperate or careless of life. They are glorious soldiers, these
foreigners of ours! But at the beginning you will see them at their
worst in the dulness of barrack life. There are all sorts and
conditions, from the lowest to the highest. You may happen to be among
some of the lowest. Why not start where you are entitled to start? When,
in being recruited, you are asked to state your profession, you're at
liberty to say what you choose. No statement as to name, age, country,
or occupation is disputed in the Legion. But once more, let me advise
you, if you write yourself down "Soldier," things can be made
comparatively easy for you."

"I thank you, sir, and I will take your advice in everything else. But I
don't want things made easy."

"You may regret your obstinacy."

"Oh, father," pleaded Sanda, "wouldn't you be the very one to do the
same thing?"

"In his place," said Colonel DeLisle, shrugging his shoulders, "I
suppose I should do what he does. What _I_ might do, isn't the question,
however. But I've said enough.... Now I have to get back to barracks.
For you, Sanda, this must be 'good-bye,' I fear, to the friend of your
journey."

"My friend for always," the girl amended, holding out her hand to Max.
"And I'd rather say 'Au revoir' than 'Good-bye'; we shall meet
again--away in the desert, perhaps."

She caught her father's warning eye and stopped. "Good-bye,
then--Soldier of the Legion."

"If he doesn't change his mind," muttered DeLisle. "There's still time."

Max looked from the girl to the flag in its glass case.

"I shall not change my mind," he said.



CHAPTER XI

FOUR EYES


Beyond the barracks of the Legion, going toward the Porte de Tlemcen,
and opposite the drill-ground and cavalry barracks of the Spahis, there
is a sign: _Bureau de Recrutement_.

Early in the morning after taking his resolution, Max walked down the
narrow, lane-like way which led off from the Rue de Tlemcen and the long
front wall of the Legion's barracks, and found the door indicated by the
sign.

In a bare office room, furnished with a table and a few benches, sat a
corporal, busily writing. He looked up, surprised to see such a visitor
as Max, and was at some trouble to hide his amazement on hearing that
this well-dressed young man, evidently a gentleman, wished to enlist in
the Legion. Opening off the outer room, with its white-washed walls and
display of posters tempting to recruits, was another office, the _Bureau
du Commandant de Recrutement_, and there Max was received by a
lieutenant, older than most of the men of that rank in the English or
American armies. Something in his manner made Max wonder if the officer
had been told of him and his intention by Colonel DeLisle. At first he
put only the perfunctory questions which a man entering the wide-open
gate of the Legion may answer as he chooses. But when in its turn came
an inquiry as to the recruit's profession, the officer looked at Max
sharply yet with sympathy.

"No profession," was the answer; a true one, for Max's resignation had
already taken effect.

"At present, but--in the past?" the lieutenant encouraged him kindly.
"If you have military experience, you can rise quickly in the Legion."

For good or ill, Max stuck to yesterday's resolve, knowing that he might
be weak enough to regret it, and anxious therefore to make it
irrevocable. "I have done some military service," he explained, "enough
to help me learn my duties as a soldier quickly."

"Ah, well, no more on that subject, then!" and the lieutenant sighed
audibly. "Yet it is a pity, especially as you are of French birth and
parentage, though brought up in America. Your chance of promotion
would--but let us hope that by good luck something may happen to give
you the chance in any case. Who knows but both your countries may be
proud of you some day? Is there--nothing you would care to tell me about
yourself that might enable me to advise you later?"

"Nothing with which it is necessary to trouble you, my Lieutenant."

"_Bien!_ It remains then only for you to be examined by the _medecin
major_. You have nothing to fear from his report. _Au contraire!_"

In an adjoining room two men were already waiting the arrival of the
doctor, who was due in a few minutes. One, evidently a Frenchman, with a
dark, dissipated face, volunteered the information that he was a
chauffeur, whose master had discharged him without notice on account of
an "unavoidable accident" at a small town within walking distance of
Sidi-bel Abbés. The other, a blond boy who looked not a day over
sixteen, announced that he was an Alsatian who had come to Algeria as a
waiter in a restaurant car, on purpose to join the Legion, and escape
military service as a German. "I shall serve my five years, and become a
French subject," he said joyously. "Take hold of my arm. Not bad, is it,
for biceps? For what age would you take me?"

"Seventeen," replied Max, adding a year to his real guess.

But it was not enough. The girlish face blushed up to the lint-coloured
hair, cut _en brosse_. "I call myself eighteen," said the child. "Don't
you think the doctor will believe me when he feels my muscle?"

"I think he'll give you the benefit of the doubt," Max assured him,
smiling.

"No trouble about _my_ age!" exulted the chauffeur. "I am twenty-seven."

He looked ten years older. But a recruit for the Legion may take the age
as well as the name he likes best, provided the _medecin major_ be not
too critical.

Both his companions were keenly curious concerning Max, and considered
themselves aggrieved that, after their frankness, he should choose to be
reserved. They put this down to pride. But the Legion would take it out
of him! All men were equal there. They had heard that among other
things.

Before the stream of questions had run dry through lack of
encouragement, the door was thrown open, and in walked the doctor, a
big, jovial man, accompanied by the middle-aged lieutenant who had shown
interest in Max, and a weary-faced clerk plunged in gloom by a bad cold
in the head. As they entered, the two officers looked at Max, and
glanced quickly at each other. They had evidently been speaking of him.
But his examination was left till the last. The chauffeur of
"twenty-seven" and the waiter of "eighteen" were passed as physically
fit--_bon pour le service_: and then came the turn of the third recruit,
whose pale blue silk underclothing brought a slight twinkle to the eye
of the jolly _medecin major_. Max wished that it had occurred to him to
buy something cheaper and less noticeable. But it was too late to think
of that now. At all events, he was grateful for the tact and
consideration which had given him the last turn.

"Magnifique!" exclaimed the doctor, when he had pinched and pounded Max,
sounded heart and lungs, and squeezed his biceps. "Here we have an
athlete." And he exchanged another glance with the lieutenant.

The clerk scribbled industriously and sadly in his book, as Max dressed
himself again; and the ordeal was over. When the third recruit of the
day had been given a paper, first to read, and then to sign with his new
name, his contract for five years to serve the Republic of France was
made and completed. Maxime St. George was a soldier of the Legion.

He, with the ex-chauffeur and the ex-waiter, was marched by a corporal
through a small side gate into the barrack square; and the guard,
sitting on a bench by the guardhouse, honoured the newcomers with a
stare. The chauffeur and the waiter got no more than a passing glance,
but all eyes, especially those of the sergeant of the guard, focussed on
Max. Apparently it was not every day that the little gate beside the
great gate opened for a gentleman recruit. Max realized again that he
was conspicuous, and resigned himself to the inevitable. This was the
last time he need suffer. In a few minutes the uniform of the Legion
would make him a unit among other units, and there would be nothing to
single him out from the rest. He would no longer have even a name that
mattered. In losing his individuality he would become a number. But for
a moment he felt like a new arrival in a Zoo: an animal of some rare
species which drew the interest of spectators away from luckier beasts
of commoner sorts.

The trio of recruits stood together in an unhappy group, awaiting orders
from the regimental offices; and the news of their advent must have run
ahead of them with magic speed, swiftly as news travels in the desert,
for everywhere along the front of the yellow buildings surrounding the
square, windows flew open, heads of soldiers peered out, and voices
shouted eagerly: "_Voilà les bleus!_" There were only three newcomers,
and the arrival of recruits in the barrack square was an everyday
spectacle; but something to gaze at was better than nothing at all. Men
in fatigue uniform of spotless white, their waists wound round with wide
blue sashes, came running up to see the sight, before _les bleus_ should
be marched away and lose their value as objects of interest by donning
soldier clothes. Max recalled the day of his début at West Point, a
humble, modest "Pleb." This huge, gravelled courtyard, surrounded on
three sides by tall, many-windowed barracks, and shut away from the Rue
de Tlemcen by high iron railings, had no resemblance to the cadets'
barracks of gray stone; but the emotions of the "Pleb" and of the
recruit to the Legion were curiously alike. The same thought presented
itself to the soldier that had wisely counselled the new cadet. "I must
take it all as it comes, and keep my temper unless some one insults me.
Then--well, I'll have to make myself respected now or never."

"_Les bleus! Voilà les bleus!_" was the cry from every quarter: and
discipline not being the order of the moment for Legionnaires off duty,
young soldiers and old soldiers gathered round, making such remarks as
occurred to them, witty or ribald. _Les bleus_ were fair game.

As a schoolboy, Max had read in some book that, in the time of Napoleon
First, French recruits had been nicknamed "les bleus" because of the
asphyxiating high collars which had empurpled their faces with a
suffusion of blood. Little had he dreamed in committing that fact to
memory that one day the name would be applied to him! Thinking thus, he
smiled between amusement and bitterness; but the smile died as a voice
whispered in his ear: "For God's sake don't sell your clothes to the
Jews. Keep them for me. I'll get hold of them somehow."

The voice spoke in French. Max turned quickly, and could not resist a
slight start at seeing close to his, the face which had seized his
attention days ago in the railway station.

The man who had then been dressed in dusty black was now a soldier of
the Legion, in white fatigue uniform, like all the rest: but the dark
face and night-black eyes had the same arresting, tragic appeal. After
this whisper, the Legionnaire drew back, his look asking for an answer
by nod or shake of the head. Max caught the idea instantly. "By jove!
the fellow has made up his mind to desert already!" he thought. "Why? He
hasn't the air of a slacker."

There was no language he could choose in this group made up from a dozen
countries, which might not be understood by one or all. The only thing
was to trust to the other's quickness of comprehension, as the speaker
had trusted to his. He held out his hand, exclaiming: "_C'est vous, mon
ami! Quel chance!_"

The ruse was understood. His handclasp was returned with meaning. Every
one supposed that _le bleu_ of four days ago and _le bleu_ of to-day
were old acquaintances who had found each other unexpectedly.

There was no chance for private speech. A quick fire of interrogation
volleyed at the three recruits, especially at Max. "Are you French? Are
you German? Are you from Switzerland--Alsace--Belgium--Italy--England?"
Questions spattered round the newcomers like a rain of bullets, in as
many languages as the countries named, and Max amused himself by
answering in the same, whenever he was able.

"How many tongues have you stowed in that fly-trap of yours, my child?"
inquired a thin, elderly Legionnaire with a long nose and clever,
twinkling eyes. No nation but Holland could have produced that face, and
it was unnecessary that the speaker should introduce himself as a
Dutchman. "Fourteen years have I served France in the Legion. I have
been to Madagascar and Tonkin. Everywhere I have found myself the
champion of languages, which is only natural, for I was translator in
the State Department at home--a long while ago. But if you can speak
eleven you will get the championship over me. I have only as many
tongues as I have fingers."

"You beat me by six," laughed Max, and the jealous frown faded.

"Encore un champion!" gayly announced the round-faced youth who had
jocosely asked Max if he were a Belgian. "Voilà notre joli heros,
Pelle."

"Quatro oyos" ("Four Eyes") added a Spaniard. "Papa van Loo can beat you
with his tongue; Four Eyes beats with his fists."

Sauntering toward _les bleus_, with the manner of a big dog who deigns
to visit a little one, came a man of average height but immense girth.
His great beardless face was so hideous, so startling, that Max gaped at
him rudely, lost in horror. Nose and lips had been partly cut away. The
teeth and gums showed in a ghastly, perpetual grin. But as if this were
not enough to single him out among a thousand, a pair of black,
red-rimmed eyes had been tattooed on the large forehead, just above a
bushy, auburn line overhanging the eyes which nature had pushed deeply
in between protruding cheek and frontal bones.

"Good heavens!" Max blurted out aloud; and the Dutchman cackled with
laughter. "You're no Frenchman, boy!" he loudly asserted in English.
"Now we've got at your own jargon. Go away, Mister Pelle, you're
frightening our British baby. Or is it Yankee?"

An angry answer jumped to the tip of Max's tongue, but he bit it back.
So this living corpse was Pelle, the champion boxer of the Legion, who
would fight the Frenchman!

The new recruit was ashamed of the sick spasm of disgust that closed his
throat. He felt that it was a sign of raw youth and amateurishness, as
when a medical student faints at first sight of the dissecting table. He
feared that his face had betrayed him to these soldiers, many of whom
had hardened their nerves on battlefields. Somehow he must justify
himself, and force respect from the men who greeted Van Loo's cheap wit
with an appreciative roar.

Pelle was the only one who did not laugh. He came lumbering along in
silence as if he had not heard; but Max saw that the boxer was aiming
straight for him. The newly christened St. George stood still, waiting
to see what the dragon would do. Within three feet of the recruit the
hero of the Legion came to a stop and looked the slim figure in civilian
clothes slowly over from head to foot, as Goliath may sarcastically have
studied the points of David. The whole group was hypnotized, enchanted,
each man in white praying that it might be five minutes yet before the
corporal returned to shepherd his three lambs. Much can happen in five
minutes. Battles can be won or lost! and at anything Pelle might do,
under provocation, the powers that were would wink. Not an officer below
the colonel but had money on the match which was to come off in the
barrack square to-morrow.

All four eyes of Quatro Oyos seemed to stare at the insignificant shrimp
of a recruit. Max had but two eyes with which to return the compliment,
but he made the most of them. Pelle was not only hideous: he was
formidable. The big square head and ravaged face were set on a strong
throat. Chest and shoulders were immense, the arms too long, the
slightly bowed legs too short. Up went a sledgehammer hand, coated with
red hair, to scratch the heavy jowl contemplatively, and Max thought of
a gorilla.

"So you don't think I'm pretty, eh?" the boxer challenged him, and Max
started with surprise at sound of the Cockney accent, which came with a
hissing sound from the defaced mouth. Pelle was an Englishman!

The start was misunderstood, not only by the champion of the Legion, but
by the surrounding Legionnaires, who tittered.

"Sorry if I was rude," remarked Max, with an air of nonchalance, to show
that he was ready for anything.

"That's no way to apologize," said Pelle. "Don't look at me like that.
You'll have to learn better manners in the Legion."

"A cat may look at a king," retorted the recruit. "And as for manners, I
won't ask you to teach them to me."

"Why, you damned little Yankee spy, do you want to be pinched between my
thumb and finger as if you was a flea?" bellowed the boxer.

"Try it, and you'll find the flea can bite before he's pinched," said
Max. His heart was thumping, for despite his knowledge of _la boxe_ he
knew that he might be pounded into a jelly in another minute. This man
was a heavyweight. He was a lightweight. But whatever happened he would
show himself game; and at that instant nothing else seemed much to
matter.

Somewhat to his surprise, Pelle burst out laughing. "Hark to the
bantam!" he exclaimed in French--execrable French, but a proof that he
was no newcomer in the Legion. "If you weren't a newspaper spy, my
chicken, I'd let you off for your cheek. But we have heard all about
you. Lieutenant de la Tour of the Spahis knows. He's told every one. It
doesn't take long for news to get to the Legion. I'm going to teach you
not to write lies about us for your damned papers. We get enough from
Germany. So I shall make chicken jelly of you. See!"

"All right. Come on!" said Max, more cheerfully than he felt. For his
one chance was in his youth and the method he had learned from the
lightweight champion of the world.

A ring formed on the instant, to screen as well as to see the spectacle.
Here would be no rounds timed by an official, no seconds to encourage or
revive their men. The encounter, such as it was, would be primitive and
savage, asking no quarter and giving none. But Max felt that his whole
future in the Legion depended on its issue.



CHAPTER XII

NO. 1033


For a second the contestants eyed each other.

A strange hush seemed to fall upon all, a situation always present in
affairs of this kind. It was noticeable to Max. "It might well be said
that a calm always preceded a storm," Max reflected, and then he heard a
voice speak close to his ear.

He dared not turn his head for fear of a sudden onslaught by his
antagonist, but even as low as the tone was, he recognized the voice--it
was the same voice that had begged him stealthily for his civilian
clothes!

"Beware of his foot," said the voice. "He's English, but he fights
French fashion with la savate."

Max had not expected the savate from an Englishman, and he was very glad
of the warning.

It flashed through his brain just what the terrible savate could
accomplish--a lightning-like kick landing on the jaw of an adversary,
being much more crushing and damaging than the hardest punch.

The warning came just in time, for he had only a brief chance to steady
himself when Four Eyes rushed at him like a maddened bull.

As he neared Max he let go two terrific swings, first with his left and
then with his right hand, but his smaller opponent side-stepped with
the nimbleness of a cat, and Pelle rushed by two or three steps before
he could stop.

At once he turned with a lithe movement, surprisingly graceful for a
body so big, and made ready as though to once more swing his two
flail-like fists.

Again did Max set himself to dodge Pelle's punches, but instead of
letting his two hands fly, one after the other, he bent his huge body
back from the waist, and at the same time shot his right foot upward
toward the other's face.

It was a fearful kick, and had it landed on Max's jaw it would have
ended the fight then and there, indeed, if it did not break his neck.
But that whispered warning about the savate was Max's salvation.

With a quick backward jerk of his head he saved himself--just barely
saved himself--and the big foot shot harmlessly up into the air, Pelle
almost losing his balance in the unsuccessful effort.

Before the latter could really regain his footing Max stepped in and,
with left and right, landed full on his opponent's face, the last of the
two punches coming flush on the nose with smashing force. It rocked the
amazed Pelle back on his heels.

Moreover, the surprise at the force of the blow was not greater than the
surprise at the sudden knowledge of the fact that the "Yankee Spy" was
no bungling amateur, but that he had all the ear-marks of a skilled
professional.

Well, he could not be fooled again, and on top of this thought came a
heavy grunt as Max again stepped in and swung a swift right hook to his
stomach and then jumped out of harm's way.

This blow took Pelle's wind and he began to dance around on his toes
with the lightness of thistledown, despite his discomfiture, while all
the time he watched the clever Max between half-closed eyes, waiting for
another chance to deliver that awful kick where it would surely put the
other out of business.

Now and then the big man would try an occasional swing at his elusive
opponent, but it was more of an attempt to cover up his real intention
rather than to land effectively. Well he knew that his best and quickest
chance to end the fight lay in his ability to kick the other man
insensible, and so he tried to fool and disarm Max by a bluff attack.

In this manner they danced about each other for a short space; the
American, apparently whenever he chose, stepped in and landed left and
right on the other's jaw with a sound like the crack of a whip.

There was a snap to Max's punches, a snap that stung and made an
impression, and so while the big man almost exploded with fury at the
gruelling he had to go through as his graceful adversary jumped in and
out and banged him, he still nursed his best blow--the murderous
kick!--holding it in reserve until the right moment.

Finally, in the course of Max's punishing onslaught, in which he was
leaping in and out with unceasing agility, he--stumbled! This was just
what Pelle was waiting for, and then, like the fillip of a spring-board,
the heavy boot went toward Max's head!

Though he saw it start, and though he swung his head back, Max could not
escape it altogether, and it grazed his chin. For an instant the barrack
yard and the white-clad ring of men swam before his eyes. It seemed as
though an iron bolt had entered his chin and gone through the top of his
head, but he did not quite lose all presence of mind, though he did bend
away from the other until he almost fell on his own back.

Pelle saw his advantage and, with a yelp of joy, jumped forward and
swung his other foot. As he did so reason returned to Max and with it
came a blind rage at the other's unfairness.

With the quickness of a panther, and with the strength of ten men, he
swung his slim body sideways and then bent forward to let go a vicious
right-hand swing--flush to the other's jaw!

The kick missed Max--missed him by a hair--but the punch landed, landed
with every ounce of bone and muscle behind it that Max had in his body.

Down crashed the champion on the back of his skull, with a thud amid a
spatter of gravel!

For an instant the huge form lay still, while the ring of Legionnaires
remained petrified. Suddenly the group realized that the fighting cock
had been beaten by the bantam.

Then, with visions of "cellule" for every one concerned, four or five
men sprang to pick up the champion. As they got him to his feet, blood
poured from his swollen and disfigured nose. Coming slowly to himself,
Pelle wiped it away dazedly with the back of a hairy hand, anxious, even
in semi-consciousness, to preserve the purity of his uniform, sacred in
the Legion.

Max stood his ground, rather expecting to be attacked in revenge by some
of Pelle's angry allies; and the man who had warned him to beware of "la
savate" took a step nearer him. But both were new to the Legion
Etrangére, and did not yet know the true spirit of the regiment.

Only admiring looks were turned upon the astonished young conqueror, who
was rather surprised at his own easy victory. As Pelle came to himself
in his friends' arms, the big fellow staggered forward, holding out a
bloodstained paw.



CHAPTER XIII

THE AGHA'S ROSE


Sanda did not know, and would not know for many days, the news of
Sidi-bel-Abbés, for she had started on a long journey, to the "wonderful
place" of which she would have spoken to Max had she not been warned by
her father's word and look that the story was "irrelevant."

If Sanda had tried to tell the tale of that "romance" at which she had
hinted in the Salle d'Honneur, she would have had to begin far back in
time when, after his wife's death, Georges DeLisle had by his own
request been transferred to the Legion. His first big fight had been in
helping the Agha of Djazerta against a raid of Touaregs, the veiled men
of the South, brigands then and always. Since those days, DeLisle and
Ben Râana, the great desert chief, had been friends. More than once they
had given each other aid and counsel. When Ben Râana came north with
other Caids, bidden to the Governor's ball in Algiers, he paid DeLisle a
visit. Each year at the season of date-gathering he sent the colonel of
the Legion a present of the honey-sweet, amber-clear fruit for which the
oasis of Djazerta was famous; and the officer sent to the Agha a parcel
of French books, or some new invention in the shape of a clock, such as
Arabs love. Now he was sending his daughter.

The way of it was this: just before Sanda's surprise arrival, the Agha
of Djazerta, chief of the Ouled-Mendil, had written a confidential
letter to Colonel DeLisle. He had a young daughter whom he adored.
Foolishly (he began to think) he had let her learn French, and allowed
her to read French novels. These books had made the girl discontented
with her cloistered life. Being the only child, and always rather
delicate, perhaps she had been too much spoiled. Greater freedom than
she had could not be granted; but seeing her sad Ben Râana had asked
himself what he could do for her happiness. Before long she would marry,
of course; but it had occurred to him that meanwhile it might be well if
a companion could be found who would be a safe friend for a girl of
Ourïeda's position and religion. Did Colonel DeLisle know of any young
gentlewoman, English or French, who would be willing to come to
Djazerta? She must be educated and accomplished, but above all
trustworthy; one who would not try to make Ourïeda wish for a life that
could never be hers: one who would not attempt to unsettle the child's
religious beliefs. In writing this letter Ben Râana had shown a naïf
sort of conceit in his own broad-mindedness, which would have been
rather comic if it had not been pathetic. But to DeLisle it was only
pathetic, because, European though he was, he knew the hidden romance of
the Agha's life: his worship of a beautiful Spanish wife who had died
years ago, and for love of whom he had vowed never to take into his
harem any other woman, although he had no son. His nearest male relative
was a nephew, to whom DeLisle imagined that some day Ourïeda would be
married, though the young man was at least a dozen years older than
she.

When the letter came, Colonel DeLisle knew of no such person as Ben
Râana asked for; but he had not answered yet when Sanda unexpectedly
appeared. Hardly had he recovered from the first shock of his surprise
when he remembered the great march soon to be undertaken--a march
ostensibly for maneuvers, but in reality to punish a band of desert
raiders, and later, men of the Legion were to begin the laying of a new
road in the far south, even beyond Djazerta. There would be no long rest
for the colonel of the First Regiment for many months, consequently he
would be unable to keep Sanda with him. She did not want to go back to
France or Ireland, so she was told about the Agha of Djazerta and the
sixteen-year-old girl, Ourïeda, whose Arab name meant "Little Rose."

Next to staying at the headquarters of the Foreign Legion with its
colonel, Sanda liked the idea of going into the desert and living for a
while the life of an Arab woman with the daughter of a great chief of
the south. The more she thought of it, the more it appealed to her.
Besides, when her father pointed out Djazerta on the map, and not more
than twenty kilometres away the _douar_, or tribal encampment under the
rule of Ben Râana, she noticed that they seemed to be scarcely a hundred
kilometres distant from Touggourt. Probably Richard Stanton would be
spending many days or even weeks at Touggourt before he set off across
vast desert spaces searching for the Lost Oasis. So the girl said to
Colonel DeLisle that, since she could not at present stay with him, she
would like beyond everything else such a romantic adventure as a visit
to the Agha's house.

The one objection was that, if she went at all, she must start at once,
because there was at the moment a great chance for her to travel well
chaperoned. A captain of the Chasseurs d'Afrique had just been ordered
from Sidi-bel-Abbés to Touggourt, and was leaving at once with his wife.
They could take Sanda with them: and at Touggourt Ben Râana would have
his friend's daughter met by an escort and several women servants. It
was an opportunity not to miss; though otherwise Colonel DeLisle might
have kept the girl with him for a fortnight longer.

Sanda would have liked to bid Max good-bye, or if that were not
possible, to write him a letter. But DeLisle said it "would not do." Not
that the newly enlisted soldier would misunderstand: but--he would
realize why he heard nothing more from his colonel's daughter. She need
not fear that he would be hurt. So Sanda could send only a thought
message to her friend, and perhaps it reached him in a dream, for the
night of her departure--knowing nothing of it--he was back again in the
dim cabin of the _General Morel_ gazing through the dusk at a long,
swinging plait of gold-brown hair.

Sanda, with Captain Amaranthe and his wife, travelled to Oran, thence to
Biskra, and from Biskra on the newly finished railway line to Touggourt.
It was there that, twenty-two years ago, the beautiful Irish girl who
had run away from home to her soldier lover, joined Georges DeLisle and
married him. Sanda thought of that, and thought again also that in a few
months more Richard Stanton would come to Touggourt for the getting
together of his caravan. These two thoughts transformed the wild desert
town with its palms, and tombs of murdered sultans, and its frame of
golden dunes into a magical city of romance. She felt that some great
thing ought to happen to her there. It was not enough that Touggourt
should give her a first glimpse of the true Sahara. She wanted it to
give her more. Nor was it enough that she should be met there by an
escort of Bedouins with a chief's nephew at their head, and negro women
to be her servants, and a white camel of purest breed for her to ride,
she being hidden like an Arab princess in a red-curtained bassourah. All
this was wonderful, and thrilling as an Eastern story of the Middle
Ages; but it meant nothing to her heart. And something deep down in her
expected more of Touggourt even than this. She told herself that a place
with such associations owed more to a child of Georges DeLisle and Sanda
De Lisle; and even when she and her cavalcade started away from the
great oasis city, winding southward among the dunes, she still had the
conviction that some day, before very long, Touggourt would pay its
debt.

Ben Râana had done what he could to honour Colonel DeLisle through his
daughter. He had sent a fine caravan to fetch the girl to Djazerta, and
according to the ideas of desert travellers, no luxury was lacking for
her comfort. His half-sister's son, Sidi Tahar Ben Hadj, had under him
some of the best men of the Agha's _goum_, and there were a pair of
giant, ink-black eunuchs to guard the guest and her two negresses.
Silky-soft rugs from Persia lined her bassourah on the side where she
would sit, the balance being kept on the other by her luggage wrapped
in bundles; and the whole was curtained with sumptuous _djerbi_, striped
in rainbow tints. Over the _djerbi_, to protect her from the sun, or
wind and blowing sand, were hung heavy rugs made by the women of the
Djebel Amour mountains, the red and blue folds ornamented by long
strands and woollen tassels of kaleidoscopic colours. Sanda's camel
(like that of Ben Hadj and the one which carried the two negresses) was
a _mehari_, an animal of race, as superior to ordinary beasts of burden
as an eagle is nobler than a domestic fowl. There was a musician among
the camel-drivers, chosen especially--so said Ben Hadj--because he knew
and could sing a hundred famous songs of love and war. Also he was
master of the Arab flute, and the räita, "Muezzin of Satan," strange
instrument of the wicked voice that can cry down all other voices.

Lest the men should misunderstand and think lightly of the Agha's guest,
his nephew did not look upon Sanda's face after the hour of meeting her
at Touggourt, in the presence of her friends, until he had brought the
girl to his uncle's house, three days later. She was waited upon only by
the women and the two black giants who rode behind the white camels: and
altogether Sidi Tahar Ben Hadj was in his actions an example of that
Arab chivalry about which Sanda had read. Nevertheless she was not able
to like him.

For one thing, though he had a fine bearing and a good enough figure (so
far as she could tell in his flowing robes and burnous), in looks he was
no hero of romance, but a disappointingly ugly man. Ourïeda, the Agha's
daughter, was only sixteen, and Tahar was supposed to be no more than a
dozen years her elder, but he appeared nearer forty than twenty-eight.
He had suffered from smallpox, which had marred his large features and
destroyed the sight of one eye. It had turned white and looked, thought
Sanda, like the eye of a boiled fish. He wore a short black beard that,
although thick, showed the shape of a heavy jaw; and his wide-open,
quivering nostrils gave him the look of a bad-tempered horse. Although
he could speak French, he seemed to the girl singularly alien and
remote. Sanda wondered if he had a wife, or wives, and pitied any Arab
woman unfortunate enough to be shut up in his harem.

On the third morning the great dunes were left behind, and the
bassourahs no longer swayed like towers in a rotary earthquake with the
movements of the camels. Far away across a flat expanse of golden sand,
silvered by saltpetre, a long, low cloud--blue-green as a peacock's
tail--trailed on the horizon. It was the oasis of Djazerta, with its
thousands of date palms.

At first the vision seemed to float behind a veil of sparkling gauze,
unreal as a mirage; but toward noon it brightened and sharpened in
outline, until at last the tall trees took individual form, bunches of
unripe dates beneath their spread fan of plumes hanging down like
immense yellow fists at the end of limp, thin arms cased in
orange-coloured gloves.

There was a _chott_, or dried desert lake, glistening white and livid
blue, full of ghostly reflections, to cross; but once on the other side
all the poetic romance of fairy gardens and magic mirrors vanished. The
vast oasis rose out of earthy sand and cracked mud; and the houses
piled together beyond it were no longer cubes of molten gold, but
squalid, primitive buildings of sun-dried brick crowding each other for
shade and protection, their only beauty in general effect and bizarre
outline.

"Am I to live in one of those mud hovels?" Sanda wondered. She was not
disheartened even by this thought, for the novelty of the whole
experience had keyed her up to enjoy any adventure; still it was a
relief to go swaying past the huddled town, and to stop before a high,
white-washed wall with a small tower on each side of a great gate. Over
the top of the wall Sanda could see the flat roof of a large, low house,
not yellow like the others, but pearly white as the two or three
minarets that gleamed above the fringe of palms.

Somebody must have been watching from one of the squat towers by the
gate--each of which had a loophole-window looking out over the caravan
way--for even before the head man of the cavalcade could reach the shut
portals of faded gray palm-wood, both gates were thrown open, and a
dozen men in white rushed out. They uttered shouts of joy at sight of
Sidi Tahar Ben Hadj, as though he had been absent for months instead of
a few days, and some of the oldest brown faces bent to kiss his
shoulders or elbows.

Sanda saw a bare courtyard paved only with hard-packed, yellow sand; and
the long front of the house with its few small windows looked
unsympathetic and unattractive. The girl felt disappointed. She had
imagined a picturesque house, a sort of "Kubla Khan" palace in the
desert; and she had expected that perhaps Ourïeda and her father, the
Agha, would come ceremoniously out through a vast arched doorway to
welcome her. But here there was not even the arched entrance of her
fancy, only two small doors set as far as possible from one another in
the blank façade. Sanda's _mehari_ was led in front of the eastern door,
which was pulled ajar in a secretive way. One of the big negroes helped
her out of the bassourah as usual, when he had forced the white camel to
its knees; and to her surprise the other black man made of his long
white burnous a kind of screen behind which she might pass without being
seen. The women servants--already out of their bassourah--came hurrying
along to join her, silver bracelets a-jingle, chattering encouragement
in Arab, scarcely a word of which could Sanda understand.

Inside the house was a queer kind of vestibule, evidently intended for
defence, with a jutting screen of wall behind the door, and then a
passage with a sharp turn in it, and seats along the sides. A very old,
withered negro let them in; and still it seemed to the girl an
unfriendly greeting for her father's daughter, one who had come so far.
But in a minute more she gave a little cry of pleasure, and suddenly
understood the mystery. This part of the house was the harem, secret and
sacred to the women, since the very meaning of the word "harem" is
"hidden."

She had been ushered through a long, dim corridor, with a sheen of pink
and purple tiles halfway up the white wall to the dark wood of a roughly
carved ceiling, and instead of coming into a room at the end, she walked
unexpectedly into a large fountain court, bright with the crystal
brightness of spraying water and the colour of flowers, shaded with
orange trees whose blossoms poured out perfume.

Perhaps it was not such a wonderful place really, for the house walls
were only of sun-dried sand-brick, white-washed till they gleamed like
snow in sunlight; and the wooden balustrades of the narrow balcony that
jutted out from the upper story were but roughly carved in stars and
crescents, and painted brown to represent cedarwood. Yet it was a
picture. The stem of the octagonal tiled fountain was of time-worn,
creamy marble; the white house was draped with cascades of wistaria, and
pale pink bougainvillea; underneath the shadow of the overhanging
balcony ran wall-seats covered and backed with charming old tiles of
blue and white "ribbon" design; on them were spread white woollen,
black-striped rugs delicately woven by Kabyle women; Tuareg cushions of
stamped leather, and pillows of brilliant purple and gold brocade silk.
Though no grass carpeted the earthy sand, there were beds of gorgeous
flowers under the orange and magnolia trees that patterned the yellow
sand with lacy shadow, and a girl like an Arabian Nights' princess
stopped feeding a tame gazelle and a troop of doves, to come forward
shyly at sight of Sanda. She was the soul of the picture for the moment.
Sanda did not even see that there were other women in it. Nothing
counted except the girl. Everything else was a mere background or a
frame.

There was but a second of silence before words came to either, yet that
instant impressed upon Sanda so sharply, so clearly, every detail of
Ourïeda's fantastic beauty, that if she had never seen the girl again,
she could by closing her eyes have called up the vision.

The oval face was so fair and purely chiselled that it seemed Greek
rather than Arab. The golden-brown eyes were large and full of dazzling
light as the sun streamed into them under the curve of their heavy black
lashes. But though they were bright they were very sad, keeping their
infinite melancholy while the red lips smiled--the sad, far-off gaze of
a desert creature caged. So long were the lashes that they curled up
almost to the low-drawn brows which drooped toward the temples; and that
droop of the eyebrows, with the peculiar fineness of the aquiline nose
and the downward curve of the very short upper lip, gave a fatal and
tragic look to the ivory face framed in dark hair. On either side its
delicate oval fell a thick brown braid, not black, but with a glint of
red where the light struck; and though Ourïeda's hair was not so long as
Sanda's, the two plaits lying over the shoulders and following the line
of the young bust fell below the waist. The girl wore a loose robe of
coral-red silk, low in the neck, and belted in with a soft,
violet-coloured sash. Over this dress was a gandourah of golden gauze
with rose and purple glints in its woof; and a stiff, gold scarf was
wound loosely round the dark head. The colours blazed like flaming
jewels in the African sunshine. As the Agha's daughter moved forward
smiling her sad little smile, there came with her a waft of perfume like
the fragrance of lilies; and the tinkling of bracelets on slender
wrists, the clash of anklets on silk-clad ankles, was like a musical
accompaniment, a faintly played _leit motif_. Perhaps Ourïeda had
dressed herself in all she had that was most beautiful in honour of her
guest.

As usual, Sanda forgot herself with the first thrill of excitement. In
her admiration she did not realize that the other girl was
self-conscious, a little frightened, a little anxious, and even
distrustful. It would have seemed incredible to Sanda DeLisle that any
one on earth, even an inmate of a harem, could possibly be afraid of
her.

She held out both hands impulsively, exclaiming in French: "Oh, are you
Ourïeda? But you are beautiful as a princess in a fairy story. You are
worth coming all this long way to see!"

Then the Arab girl's smile changed, and for an instant was radiant,
unclouded by any thought of sadness. She took Sanda's little gloved
hands, and, pressing them affectionately, bent forward to kiss her guest
on both cheeks. Her lips were soft and cool as flower petals, though the
day was hot, and the scent of lilies swept over Sanda in a fragrant
wave. As she kissed the stranger, Ourïeda made little birdlike sucking
sounds, in the fashion of Arab women when they would show honour to a
favoured friend. First she kissed Sanda's right cheek, the right side of
the body being nobler because the White Angel walks always on the right,
jotting down in his book every good deed done; then she kissed the left
cheek, since it is at the left side of man or woman that the wicked
Black Angel stalks, tempting to evil acts, and hastily recording them
before they can be repented.

"Why, you are as young as I am, and white and gold as the little young
moon, and very, very sweet, like honey!" cried the girl, in French as
good as Sanda's, though with the throaty, thrushlike notes that
Spaniards and Arabs put into every language. "I am glad, oh, _really_
glad, that you have come to be with me! Now I see you I know I was
foolish to be afraid."

Sanda laughed as they stood holding each other's hands and looking into
each other's eyes. "Afraid of me?" she echoed. "Oh, you couldn't have
been afraid of _me_!"

"But I was," said Ourïeda. "I was afraid until this minute."

"Why?" asked Sanda. "Did you fancy I might be big and old and cross,
perhaps with stick-out teeth and spectacles, like Englishwomen in French
caricatures?"

Ourïeda shook her head, still gazing at her guest as if she would read
the soul whose experiences had been so different from her own. "No, I
have never seen any French caricatures," she answered. "I hardly know
what they are. And I did not think you would be old, because the Agha,
my father, told me you were but a baby when he first knew your father,
the Colonel DeLisle. Still, I did not understand that you would look as
young as I do, or that you would have a face like a white flower, and
eyes with truth shining in them, as our wise women say it shines up like
a star out of darkness from the bottom of a well."

"In my country they say the very same thing about truth and a well,"
returned Sanda, blushing faintly under the oddly compelling gaze of the
sad young eyes. "But do tell me why you felt afraid, if you didn't think
I should be old and disagreeable?"

Suddenly the other's face changed. A queer look of extraordinary
eagerness, almost of slyness, transformed it, chasing away something of
its soft beauty. "Hush!" she said, "we can't talk of such things now.
Some time soon, perhaps! I forgot we were not alone. I must introduce
you to my Aunt Mabrouka, my father's widowed half-sister, who"--and her
voice hardened--"is like a second mother to me."

She stepped back, and an elderly woman, who had stood in the background
awaiting her turn (though far from humbly, to judge by the flashing of
her eyes), moved forward to welcome the Roumia--the foreigner.

Then for the first time Sanda realized that Ourïeda, the soul of the
picture, was not the only human figure in it besides herself. Lella[1]
Mabrouka was a personality, too, and if she had been a woman of some
progressive country, marching with the times, most probably she would
have been among the Suffragists. She would have made a handsome man, and
indeed looked rather like a stout, short man of middle age, disguised as
an inmate of his own harem. She was dressed in white, Arab mourning,
considered unlucky for women who have not lost some relative by death,
and her square, wrinkled face, the colour of bronze, was dark and harsh
in contrast. If she had not been partly screened by a great flowering
pomegranate bush as she sat in her white dress against the white house
wall, Sanda would have seen her on entering the court; but it was
hopeless to try and appease the lady's scarcely stifled vexation with
apologies or explanations. Lella Mabrouka, being of an older generation,
had not troubled to learn French, and could understand only a few words
which her naturally quick mind had assorted in hearing the Agha talk
with his daughter. Ourïeda acted as interpreter for the politeness of
her aunt and guest, but Sanda could not help realizing that all was not
well between the two. A tall old negress (introduced by the girl as a
beloved nurse), a woman of haggard yet noble face, stood dutifully
behind Lella Mabrouka, but stabbed the broad white back with keen,
suspicious glances that softened into love as her great eyes turned to
the "Little Rose."

[Footnote 1: Lella, _lady_.]

Honey could be no sweeter than the words of welcome translated by
Ourïeda, and when Sanda's answers had been put into Arabic, Lella
Mabrouka received them graciously. Soon aunt and niece and servant were
all chattering and smiling, offering coffee and fruit, and assuring the
Roumia that her host was eagerly awaiting permission to meet her. Yet
Sanda could not rid herself of the impression that some hidden drama was
being secretly played in this fountain court of sunshine and flowers.



CHAPTER XIV

TWO ON THE ROOF


"Come up on the roof with me, and I will tell you that thing I have been
waiting to tell you," said Ourïeda. "Aunt Mabrouka will not follow us
there, because she hates going up the narrow stairs with the high steps.
Besides, she will perhaps think I really want to show you the sunset."

Sanda had been in the Agha's house for three days, and always since the
first evening a fierce simoon had been hurling the hot sand against the
shut windows like spray from a wild golden sea. It had not been possible
to sit in the fountain court of the harem, the hidden garden of the
women, protected though it was by four high walls. Sanda and Ourïeda had
scarcely been alone together for more than a few minutes at a time, and
even if they had been, Ourïeda would not have spoken. As she said, she
had been waiting. Sanda had felt, during the three days, that she was
being watched and studied, not only by Lella Mabrouka, but by the girl.
Their eyes were always on her; and though Sanda DeLisle was very young,
and had never tried consciously to become a student of human character,
it seemed to her, in these new and strange conditions of life which
sharpened her powers of discernment, that she could dimly read what the
brains behind the eyes were thinking.

Lella Mabrouka's eyes, though old (as age is counted with Arab women)
were beady-bright and keen as a hawk's, yet she was clever enough to
veil thought by wearing the expressionless mask of an idol in the
presence of the girls. Sanda had to pierce that veil; and she felt as if
from behind it a hostile thing peered out, spying for treachery in the
new inmate of the house, hoping rather than fearing to find it, and
ready to pounce if a chance came. The stealthy watcher seemed to be
saying, "What are you here for, daughter of Christian dogs? You must
have some scheme in your head to defeat our hopes and wishes; but if you
have, I'll find out what it is, and break it--break you, too, if need
be."

No sinister thing looked out from the eyes of Ourïeda, but something
infinitely sad and wistful kept repeating: "Can I trust you? Oh, I think
so, I believe so, more and more. But it is so desperately important to
be certain. I must wait a little while yet."

Always, through the countless inquiries of Lella Mabrouka and the girl
about France and England (Ireland meant nothing to them) and Sanda's
bringing up, and the life of women in Europe, the visitor was conscious
of the real questions in their souls. But on the third day the feverish
anxiety had burnt itself out behind Ourïeda's topaz-brown eyes. They
were eager still, but clear, and her wistful smile was no longer
strained. Whatever the burden was that she hid, she had decided to beg
Sanda's help in carrying or getting rid of it. And instinctively
realizing this, Sanda ceased to feel that the Arab girl was of an
entirely different world from hers, remote as a creature of another
planet. The Agha's daughter was transformed in the eyes of her guest.
From a mere picturesque figure in a vivid fairy tale, she became
pathetically, poignantly human. Sanda began to hear the call of another
soul yearning to have her soul as its friend, and all that was warm and
impulsive in her responded. A thrill of expectation stirred in her veins
when, on the evening of the third day, after the wind had died a sudden,
swift death, Ourïeda whispered the real reason for going up to the roof.

Sanda had been looking forward to mounting those narrow stairs (with the
steep steps which Lella Mabrouka hated), because Ourïeda had several
times spoken of the view far away to the dunes, and the wonderful
colours of sunrise and sunset, when the sky flowered like a hanging
garden. Perhaps the Arab girl had been cleverly "working up" to this
moment, so that the suggestion, made instantly after the death of the
simoon, might seem natural to her aunt. In any case it was as Ourïeda
had hoped. Lella Mabrouka did not follow the girls.

When they came out on the flat white expanse of roof, Sanda gave a cry
of surprised admiration. She had known it would be beautiful up there,
to see so far over the desert, but the real picture was more wonderful
than her imagination could have painted. The sun had just dropped behind
the waving line of dunes and dragged the fierce wind with him like a
tiger in leash. All the world was magically still after the constant
purring and roaring of the new-conquered beast. The voice of the Muezzin
chanting the sunset call to prayer--the prayer of _Moghreb_--seemed only
to emphasize the vast silence. Up from the shimmering gold of the
western sky, behind the gold of the dunes, slowly moved along separate
spears of flame-bright rose, like the fingers of a gigantic Hand of
Fatma spread across the sapphire heaven to bless her father's people.
From this flaming sign in the west poured a pink radiance as of falling
rubies. The wonderful light rained over the marble whiteness of the
distant mosque--the great mosque of Djazerta--and fired the whole mass
of the piled oasis-town behind its dark line of palms. The light
showered roses over the girls' heads and dresses, stained the snow of
the roof, with its low, bubbling domes, and streaming eastward turned
flat plain and far billowing dune into a sea of flame.

Sanda's spirit worshipped the incredible beauty of the scene, and then
flew northward to the two men whom she loved. She thought of her father,
and wondered where Richard Stanton was at that moment. Then Max Doran's
face came between her and the man she had named "Sir Knight." She
remembered her dream of herself and Max in the desert, and was vexed
because she had not dreamed the same dream about Stanton instead.

"How wonderful it is here!" she half whispered, and Ourïeda answered
impatiently:

"Yes, it is wonderful; but don't let us talk of it, or even think of it
any more, because I have so much to say to you, and Aunt Mabrouka will
send to call us if my father comes. Besides, we can see this on any
night when the wind does not blow."

She had in her hand a large silk handkerchief tied in the form of a bag;
and sitting down on the low, queerly battlemented wall which protected
the flat roof, she untied and opened the bundle on her lap. It was full
of yellow grain, and she gave Sanda a handful. "That's for the doves,"
she said. "They will know somehow that we are here, and presently they
will come. If Aunt Mabrouka sends her own woman, Taous, up to listen and
spy on us she will find us feeding the doves."

"But why should Lella Mabrouka do such a thing?" Sanda ventured to ask,
taking the grain, and seating herself beside Ourïeda.

"You will understand that, and a great many other things, when I have
told you what I am going to tell," answered the "Little Rose." "From
books my father has let me read, and from things you have said, I have
seen that Roumia girls are not like us, even in their thoughts. Perhaps
you are thinking now that I am very sly; and so I am, but not because I
love slyness. It is only because I have to be subtle in self-defence
against those who are older and wiser than I am. Everything in our lives
makes us women stealthy as cats. It is not our fault. At least, it is
not mine. Some women--some girls--may enjoy the excitement, but not I.
Perhaps I am different from others, because I have the blood of Europe
in my veins. My father's mother was Sicilian. My own mother was Spanish.
And he, my father, is an enlightened man, with broader views and more
knowledge of the world than most Caids of the south. They all pride
themselves on knowing a little French in these days, he tells me, and
some have even made visits to Paris once in their lives. But you know
already what he is."

"Yes, he is a magnificent man," Sanda agreed, "even greater than I
expected from what my father said of him."

She had met the Agha only once, for a ceremonious half-hour on the
evening of her arrival at his house, when he had begged permission as of
a visiting princess to see and welcome her; yet this punctiliousness was
not neglect, but Arab courtesy; and Ben Râana had talked to her of the
world in general and Paris in particular, in French, which, though
somewhat stilted and guttural, was curiously Parisian in wording and
expression. He was one of the handsomest men she had ever seen, scarcely
darker in colour than many Frenchmen of the Midi, and marvellously
dignified, with his long black beard, his great, sad eyes whose
overhanging line of brow almost met above the eagle nose, and the
magnificent gray, silver embroidered burnous worn in the guest's honour.
He had appeared to Sanda years younger than the widowed Mabrouka; and
though she was a dark, withered likeness of him, it was not surprising
to learn that Lella Mabrouka was only a half-sister of the Agha, born of
an Arab mother.

"You know he has had but one wife, my own mother," Ourïeda said proudly.
"That is considered almost a sin in our religion, yet he could never
bring himself to look with love on any woman, after her, nor to give her
a rival, even for the sake of having a son. I adore him for that--how
could I help it, since he says I am her image?--and for letting me learn
things Arab girls of the south are seldom taught, in order that I may
have something of her cleverness that held his love, as her beauty won
it. Yet, if he had married a second wife when my mother died, and she
had given him a son, my life would be happier now."

"How can that be?" asked Sanda. "I couldn't love my father in the way I
do if he had put somebody else in my mother's place, and spoiled all the
beautiful romance."

"My father's romance with my mother was like a strange poem, for she was
the daughter of Catholic Spanish people, who had an orange plantation
near Blida, and wished her to enter a convent. But my father rode by
with some French officers and saw her on her way to church. That one
look decided their whole lives. Yes, it would have been a pity to spoil
their romance; yet, keeping its poetry is spoiling mine."

"You mean your Aunt Mabrouka. But a stepmother might be worse."

"No, it isn't only Aunt Mabrouka I am thinking of. It is her son, who is
my father's heir because he has no son of his own. My father is very
enlightened in many ways, but in others he is as narrow and hard as the
rest of our people, who hold to their old customs more firmly than they
hold to life. My father intends me for the wife of Si Tahar, who met and
brought you to our house."

Sanda could not keep back a little gasp of dismay. "Oh, no! it's not
possible!" she cried. "You're so beautiful, and so fair. He's
so--so----"

"Hideous. Don't be afraid to say the word to me. I love you for it. But
because Tahar's not deformed from birth, and the strength and beauty of
the line isn't threatened, his looks make no difference to my father. To
him it seems far more important that I should be the wife of the heir,
so that money and land need not be divided after his death, than that I
should love my husband before my marriage. You see, that can hardly
ever happen to a girl of our race and religion. If Tahar were not my
cousin I should never even have seen him, nor he me. And if I had not
seen him, it would perhaps be a little better, for there would be the
excitement and mystery of the unknown. We are brought up to expect that;
and if already I hadn't learned to dislike Tahar for his own sake and
his mother's, I should be no worse off than other girls--except for one
thing: _the great thing of my life_."

Her voice fell lower than before, and her companion on the wall had to
bend close to catch the whisper. "What is that thing?" Sanda dropped the
words into a frightened pause, while Ourïeda's glance went quickly to
the well of the staircase.

"It is what I came here to tell you about," the Arab girl answered. "I
forced myself to wait, but now I am sure of you as if you were my own
sister. We are going to open our hearts to each other. Do you know what
it is to have a man in your life--a man who is not father or brother,
and yet is of great importance to you; so great that you think of him by
day and dream of him by night?"

"Yes, there are two such men in my life," Sanda replied; and was
surprised at herself that she should have said two. More truly there was
only one man, not counting her father, who had a place in her thoughts.

"Two men!" Ourïeda echoed, looking shocked. "But how can there be two?"

Sanda felt herself blushing and ashamed before the woman of another
race. She tried to explain, though it was difficult, because she had
given the answer without stopping to think: indeed, it had almost
spoken itself. "I fancy I said that because you asked me about dreams,"
she apologized. "The man who has been my hero all my life--and always
will be, I suppose, though he doesn't care for me and thinks of me as a
child--I can't dream of, for some strange reason. He's seldom out of my
thoughts by day for very long, I believe; but the other--I hardly know
why I mentioned him!--is only a friend, and quite a new friend. He's
nothing to me at all, really, though I'm interested in him because of
the strange way we met and were thrown together. But the odd thing is, I
dream of him--often."

"The women of my people say it is the man you dream of who has touched
your soul," Ourïeda said thoughtfully.

"That's a very poetical idea, but I'm sure it isn't true!" Sanda
exclaimed. "Now tell me about yourself, because if Lella Mabrouka should
send----"

"Yes, I am, oh, so anxious to tell you! But what you said about the man
of your thoughts and the man of your dreams was very queer, and made me
forget for an instant. I am glad you love some one, for that will help
you to understand me, and by and by you will tell me more. Already I can
see that you must be almost as unhappy as I am, because you say the one
you care for doesn't care for you. That must be terrible, but you are
free, and perhaps some day you can make him care. As for me, if I am not
saved soon, I shall be married to Tahar and lost forever."

"But surely your father, who loves you so dearly, won't actually force
you to marry against your will?"

"He will expect me to obey, and I shall have to obey or--kill myself.
Rather that, only--oh, Sanda, I am a coward! At the last minute my
courage might fail. The one thing my father would promise was that I
should be left as I am till my seventeenth birthday. That very day is
fixed for the beginning of the marriage feast. We shall have a whole
week of rejoicing. Think of the horror of it for me! I had a year of
hope when he made the promise. Now I have less than six months. And in
all that time nothing has happened."

Sanda saw by the girl's look and guessed by the quiver of her voice that
she was not speaking vaguely. There was something in particular which
she had been praying for, counting upon from day to day. And that thing
had not happened.



CHAPTER XV

THE SECRET LINK


The Hand of Fatma was gone from the sky. Ruby had turned to amethyst,
amethyst to the gray-blue of star sapphire, and the red fire of the
dunes had burned out to an ashen pallor. The change had come suddenly
while the girls talked; and when Sanda realized it, she shivered a
little, with a touch of superstition she had learned from her two Irish
aunts. All this cold whiteness after the jewelled blaze of colour was
like the death of youth and hope. She pushed the thought away hastily,
telling herself it had come only because Ourïeda had threatened to put
an end to her own life rather than marry Tahar; yet it would not go far
away. Like a vaguely visible, ghostly shape it seemed to stand behind
the Arab girl as she talked on, telling the story of her childhood and a
love that had grown with her growth.

There was another cousin, it appeared, the son of her mother's sister.
He was all Spanish. There was not a drop of Arab blood in his veins,
unless it came through Saracen ancestors in the days when Moorish kings
reigned over Andalusia.

"You know, now you've been with us even these few days," Ourïeda said,
"that the harem of an Arab Caïd isn't a nest of wives, as people in
Europe who have never seen one suppose! My father has laughed when he
told me Christians believed that. Now, Aunt Mabrouka and I and our
servants are the only women in my father's harem; but when I was a
little girl, before my mother died--I can just remember her--besides my
mother herself there was her sister, whose Spanish husband had been
drowned at sea. An Arab man thinks it a disgrace if any women related
even distantly to him or his wife are thrown on the world to make their
own living. It could never happen with an Arab woman if she were
respectable. And even though my mother's sister was Spanish and a
Christian, my father offered her and her boy a home. Already his own
sister, Aunt Mabrouka, had come to stay with us, and had brought her son
Tahar. Neither of the boys lived in the harem of course, for they were
old enough to be in the men's part of the house, and have men for their
servants; but they came every day to see their mothers. Even then,
though I was a tiny child, I hated Tahar--and loved Manöel Valdez. Tahar
had had smallpox, and looked just as he looks now, only worse, because
he has a bad chin that his beard hides; and Manöel was handsome. Oh, you
can't imagine how handsome Manöel was! He was like the ideal all girls,
even Arab girls, must dream of, I think. I can see him now--as plainly
as I see you in this sad, pale light that comes up from the desert at
night."

"Is it long since you parted?" Sanda asked quickly, to put away that
persistent thought of trouble.

"We parted more than once, because when our two mothers died, one after
another, of the same sickness--typhoid fever--Manöel was sent away to
school. He's nine years older than I am--twenty-five now; a little more
than three years younger than Tahar. My father sent him to the
university in Algiers, because, you see, he was Christian--or, rather,
he was nothing at all then; he had not settled to any belief. Tahar was
like Aunt Mabrouka, very religious, and did not care much to study,
except the Koran and a little French. He went once to Paris, but he
didn't stay long. He said he was homesick. Oh, he is clever in his way!
He has known how to make himself necessary to my father."

"And Manöel Valdez?" asked Sanda.

"My father loved him when he was a boy, because he was of the same blood
as my mother. Although Aunt Mabrouka was jealous even then--for she
ruled in the house after my mother's death--she couldn't prejudice my
father's mind against Manöel, hard as she tried. Manöel was free to come
here when he liked, for his holidays, or to the _douar_ if we were
there; and he loved life under the great tent. He had a wonderful voice,
and he could sing our Arab songs as no one else ever could. Father
wished him to be a lawyer, and gave money for his education, because we
Arabs often need lawyers who understand us. But Manöel cared more for
music than anything else--except for me. When I was eight and he was
seventeen I told him I meant to marry him when I grew up, and he said he
would wait for me. I suppose he was only joking then; but the thought of
him and the love of him in my heart made me begin to grow into a woman
sooner than if I had had only the thoughts of a child. It was like the
sun opening a flower bud. When he was away I felt hardly alive. When he
came back from Spain to our house or to our tent in the _douar_ I
lived--lived every minute! It was three years ago, when I was thirteen,
that he began to love me as a woman. I shall never forget the day he
told me! I was not _hadjaba_ yet. Do you know what that means? I was
considered to be a child still, and I could go out with my aunt to the
baths, or with one of our servants, unveiled. I was not shut up in the
house as I am now. But in my heart I was a woman, because of Manöel. And
when he came home after nearly a year in Seville and other parts of
Spain he felt and saw the difference in me. We were in the _douar_, and
life was free and beautiful. For three months Manöel and I kept our
secret. He said he would do anything to have me for his wife. He would
even become Mohammedan, since religion meant little to him, and love
everything. He had no money of his own, but he had been told that he
could make a fortune with his voice, singing in opera, and he had been
taking lessons without telling my father. A Frenchman--is "impresario"
the right word?--was having his voice trained, and by and by Manöel
would pay him back out of his earnings. We used to call ourselves
"engaged," as girls and men in Europe are engaged to each other in
secret. But one day, soon after my thirteenth birthday, Aunt Mabrouka,
who must have begun to suspect and spy on us, overheard us talking. She
told my father. At first he wouldn't believe her, but he surprised me
into confessing. I should never have been so stupid, only, from what he
said, I thought he already knew everything. After all, it was so little!
Just words of love, and some dear kisses! He suspected there was more;
and if I hadn't made him understand, he might have killed Manöel, and
me, too. But even as it was, my father and Aunt Mabrouka hurried me from
the _douar_ in the night, before Manöel knew that anything had happened.
I was brought here; and never since have I been outside this garden
without a veil. It was months before I went out at all. And Manöel was
sent away, cursed by my father for ingratitude and treachery, warned
never to come again near Djazerta or the _douar_ as long as he lived,
unless he wished for my death as well as his."

"Have you never seen him since?" Sanda asked, her heart beating fast
with the rush of the story as Ourïeda had told it.

"Yes, he has seen me, and I have seen him. But we have not spoken,
except in letters. For a whole year I heard nothing. Yet I never lost
faith. I seemed to feel Manöel thinking of me, calling me, far away
across the desert. I knew that we should meet in life or death. At last,
one Friday two years ago--Friday, you know, is the women's day for
visiting the graves of loved ones--I saw Manöel. He was dressed like a
beggar. His face was stained dark brown, and nearly hidden by the hood
of a ragged burnous. But I recognized the eyes. They looked into mine. I
realized that he must have been waiting for me to pass with Aunt
Mabrouka. He knew of course that whenever possible we went on Friday to
the cemetery. I almost fainted with joy; but Allah gave me presence of
mind, and strength to hide my feelings. You have noticed how sharp Aunt
Mabrouka is. It's the great ambition of her life to see the daughter of
the Agha married to her son. Never for one moment has she trusted me
since she spied out the truth about Manöel. That Friday, though, I
thwarted her. Oh, it was good to know that Manöel was near! I hardly
dared to hope for more than just seeing him; but he remembered that my
old nurse had a grandson in my father's _goum_, a fine rider, who first
taught him--Manöel--to sit on a horse. Through my nurse and Ali ben
Sliman I got letters from Manöel. He told me he had begun to sing in
opera, and that if I would wait for him two--or at most three--years, he
would have enough money saved to give me a life in Europe worthy of a
prince's daughter, such as I am. He would organize some plan to steal me
from home, if there were no chance of winning my father's consent, and
he was sure it could be done with great bribes for many people, and
relays of _Maharis_ and horses to get us through the dune-country. I
sent word that I would wait for him three years, all the years of my
life! But that was before I knew my father meant me to marry Tahar.

"Not long after Manöel came to stay in Djazerta, disguised as a
wandering beggar of Touggourt, my father told me what was in his mind. I
feel sure Aunt Mabrouka suspected from my happier looks that I was
hearing from Manöel, for she persuaded my father that I was ill. She
shut me up and gave me medicine; and I was so afraid Manöel might be
discovered and murdered, that I sent him word to go away at once, not
even to write me again. He obeyed for my sake, not knowing what might
happen to me if he refused, but by word of mouth came the message that
he would always be working for our happiness. Well I guessed what he
meant! Yet when my father told me about Tahar, all my faith in Manöel
could not keep me brave. My father is splendid, but he will stop at
nothing with those who go against him. At first he said I must be
married when I was sixteen, but I reminded him that seventeen was my
mother's age when he took her; and I begged him, "for luck," to let me
wait. I dared not warn Manöel, lest they should have laid a trap,
expecting me to write him about my marriage. I waited for months, and
then it was too late, for Ali ben Sliman was away. I dared trust no one
else; and so it is not yet a year ago that I sent a letter to an old
address Manöel had left with Ali. I told him all that had happened, and
I said, if I were to be saved it must be before my seventeenth birthday,
the end of September. After that I should be dead--or else Tahar's wife.
Since then, not hearing, I have sent two more letters to the same
address, for I have no other. But no answer has come. Now Ali has died
of fever, and I can never write to Manöel again unless--unless----"

"Unless what?" breathed Sanda.

"Unless you can manage to help me. _Would_ you, if you could?"

"Yes," answered the other girl, without hesitating. "I'm a guest in the
Agha's house, and I've eaten his salt, so it's hateful to work against
him. But, some day, surely he'll be thankful to a friend who saves you
from Si Tahar. I'll do anything I can. Yet I'm only a girl like
yourself. What is there I _can_ do? Have you thought?"

"_If_ I have thought!" echoed Ourïeda. "I have thought of nothing else,
for weeks and weeks, long before you came. I begged my father to find me
a companion of my own age, not an Arab girl, but a European, to teach
me things and make me clever like my mother. He believed I was pining
with ennui; and because he had put real happiness out of my life, he was
willing to console me as well as he could in some easy way. In spite of
Aunt Mabrouka, who may have guessed what was in my mind, he trusts you
completely, because you are your father's daughter."

"Ah, that's the dreadful part! To betray such a trust!" exclaimed Sanda.

"But after all, I am going to ask so little of you, not a hard thing at
all," Ourïeda pleaded, frightened at the effect of her own words. "It is
a thing only a trusted guest, a woman of the Roumia, could possibly do,
yet it's very simple. And when the time comes to do it, you need only
shut your eyes."

"Tell me what you mean," said Sanda anxiously.

"Every letter you write--not to your father, because he might ask
questions, but to a friend--leave the envelope open, and turn your back,
or go out of the room. Then don't look into the letter again, or notice
if it seems thicker than before, but fasten it up tightly and seal the
envelope with wax. Will you do that?"

"Yes," said Sanda, rather miserably. "To save you I will do that."

"You have friends in France who would post a letter if they found it
enclosed in one of yours, without explanations?"

"I have friends who would do that, perhaps, but to make it more sure I
will explain. It would not save my conscience to let you slip a letter
into an open envelope, and pretend to myself that I knew nothing about
it; because I _would_ know, and I think I'd almost rather be
hypocritical with other people than with myself."

"I told you," exclaimed Ourïeda, "that Roumia girls were different from
us even in their secret thoughts! But you will love me, won't you,
although you think I am stealthy and sly? I need your love and help!"

"I love you, or I shouldn't have promised what I have just promised
now," Sanda assured her.

"But if there were still more--something harder and more
dangerous--would you love me enough to do that thing too?"

"Do you mean something in particular that you have in your mind, or----"

"Yes, oh, yes! I mean something in particular."

"Will you tell me what it is?"

"I am half afraid."

"Don't be afraid. Tell me!"

"Hush!" whispered Ourïeda. "Don't you hear some one on the
stairs--coming up softly? I must tell you another time. Laugh! Laugh out
aloud! Call to the doves!"

The two girls began to chatter together like children. And their young
voices tinkling out in laughter sounded pitifully small in the immensity
of the night-bleached desert.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far away in the north where colonist farmers had long ago conquered the
desert there was music that evening at Sidi-bel-Abbés, headquarters of
the Foreign Legion. The soul of the Legion was speaking in its
tragic-sweet voice, and the Place Carnot was full of soldiers
sauntering singly or in pairs, mostly silent, as if to hear their own
heart-secrets cried aloud by telltale 'cellos and flutes and violins.

The townsfolk were there, too; and when the band played some selection
especially to their liking they buzzed approval. It was only the
Legionnaires who talked little, and in tones almost humbly suppressed.
Once, years ago, they had violently asserted their right to promenade
the Place Carnot, and enjoy the music of their own famous band, when
local authority would insolently have banished them; but now the boon
was won, they were subdued in manner, as if they had never smashed
chairs and wrecked bandstand in fierce protest against _bourgeois_
tyranny. Immaculate in every detail of their uniform as though each man
had his own servant, these soldiers who spent half their so-called
leisure in scrubbing clothes, polishing steel and brass, and varnishing
leather, had nevertheless a piteously dejected bearing whenever they
passed pretty, well-dressed young women. They knew that, whatever they
might once have been, as Foreign Legion men on pay of five centimes a
day they were in the eyes of Bel-Abbés girls hopeless ineligibles,
poverty-stricken social outcasts, the black sheep of the world. It was
to vie with each other and to make the Legion far outshine Chasseurs and
Spahis that they sacrificed two thirds of their spare time in the cause
of smartness, not because even the handsomest and youngest cherished any
hope of catching a woman's approving eye.

Just at the moment, however, there was an exception to the depressing
rule. The prettiest girls, French, Spanish, and Algerian-born, all
condescended to glance at the _bleu_ who had "knocked out" the former
champion of the Legion, and, taking his place in the match with the
Marseillais, had kept the championship for the First _Regiment
Etrangére_. Since the day more than a week ago when the barrack-yard of
the Legion had been the scene of the great fight--officers looking on in
the front ranks of the invited crowd, and soldiers hanging out of
dormitory windows--every one in Sidi-bel-Abbés had learned to know the
hero by sight; and a blackened eye, a bruised cheek-bone, and a swelled
lip (the unbecoming badges of his triumph) made recognition easy. But
the Legion was proud of St. George. Not a man, least of all Four Eyes,
grudged him his success, such "luck" as had never fallen to any mere
recruit within the memory of the oldest Legionnaires, unless in the
battlefield, where all are equal.

Max realized fully what this "luck" had done for him, and was aware that
eyes turned his way; but, far from being proud, he was half-ashamed of
his conspicuousness, fearing that Colonel DeLisle might disapprove.
Also, he knew that the small, brief blaze of his notoriety would die out
like the flame of a candle. A week or two more and the "little tin god"
would go down off his wheels. If he meant to be somebody in the Legion
he would have to work as he had never worked in all his life.

With him in the Place Carnot was the Spaniard who had begged for his
civilian clothes. They were in the same company and of the same age.
From the first glance (given and taken when one man was a recruit and
the other did not yet dream of becoming one) something had drawn the two
together. Then had come the incident of the clothing; and Max had felt
himself an unwilling partner in the other's secret. Later, without
exchanging confidences (since "ask no questions, I'll tell you no lies,"
is a good general rule in the Legion), they drifted into a tacit kind of
comradeship, Max admiring the Spaniard, the Spaniard trusting Max.

To-night they walked together in silence, or speaking seldom, like the
other Legionnaires, and listening to the music. Suddenly the Spaniard
stopped, muttering some word under his breath, and Max saw through the
dusk that the olive face had gone ashy pale. "What's the matter, Garcia?
Are you ill?" he asked.

The other did not answer. He stood stock still, staring almost stupidly
straight before him.

Max linked an arm in his. "What's wrong? Garcia! What's wrong with you?"
he repeated.

The Spaniard started. "I beg your pardon," he stammered, dazed. "I
didn't realize you were--speaking--to me."

Instantly Max guessed that "Juan Garcia," the name appearing with the
"_numero matricule_" over the bed of _le bleu_, was as new as his place
in the Legion, and as fictitious as the alleged profession of _garcon
d'hôtel_ which accounted cleverly for the recruit's stained evening
clothes.

"I only asked you what was wrong, what made you stop so suddenly?" Max
explained.

"It was that thing the band is playing now," said the Spaniard. "Strange
they should have it here already! It is out of the new African opera by
Saltenet, "La Naïlia," produced for the first time ten days ago--a trial
performance at Marseilles, and on now at the Opera Comique in Paris.
Good heavens! Another world, and yet these extraordinary men are playing
that song here already--_my_ song!"

"Your song?" involuntarily Max echoed the words.

"My song. If a certain letter hadn't come to me on the night of the last
rehearsal but one, and if we hadn't been in Marseilles, rehearsing, I
shouldn't be here to-night. I should be in Paris, perhaps coming on to
the stage at this moment, where I suppose my understudy is grimacing
like the conceited monkey he is."

"By jove!" was all that Max could find to say. But he put several
emotions into the two words: astonishment, warm sympathy, and some sort
of friendly understanding.

"You wonder why I tell you this?" Garcia challenged him.

Max answered quietly: "No, I don't wonder. Perhaps you feel it does you
good to speak. It's strange music!--stirs one up, somehow--makes one
think of things. And I suppose you trust me? You can. But don't go any
farther unless you're sure you want to."

"I do want to!" burst out the Spaniard. "I've wanted to from the
first--since you helped me about the clothes. Only you're a reserved
fellow yourself. I didn't care to have you think me a gusher. You
guessed why I begged for the clothes?"

"I didn't let myself dwell on it too much."

"You must have guessed. Of course I mean to desert the first chance I
get."

"It's a beastly risk. Did you see that awful photograph the colonel told
the non-coms to pass around for us to look at, as a warning against
desertion?"

"The poor wretch they found in the desert, across the Moroccan border,
the man who ran away from Bel Abbés before we came? Yes, I saw the
picture. Ghastly! And to think it's the women who mutilate men like
that! But I shan't try to escape by way of Morocco. The danger I'll run
is only from being caught and sent to the penal battalion--the awful
'Batt d'Aff.' It's a bad enough danger, for I might as well be dead as
in prison--better, for I'd be out of misery. But I must run the risk. I
enlisted in the Legion for its protection in getting to Africa, because
I was in danger of arrest. And you know the Legion, once it's got a man,
won't give him up to the police unless he's a murderer. I'm not that,
though I came near it. Even while I signed for five years' service, I
knew I should have to desert the minute I could hope to get away. I
shall wait now till the big march begins, and get as far south as the
rest of you go, in my direction--the direction I want. Then I shall cut
away."

"God help you!" said Max.

"Maybe He will, though I'm a man of no religion. Is love the next best
thing? Everything I've done so far, and what I have to do, is for love.
Does that make you think me a fool?"

"No."

"I have to save a girl from being given to a man who isn't fit to kiss
her little embroidered shoes--bless them! To save her from him--or from
suicide. The letter told me she would rather die than marry him. That's
why I'm not in Paris to-night. There'd been other letters before; she
said in the one which reached me at the theatre--reached me in the
midst of rehearsal--thank God--if there is a God--I still have till the
end of September. The crisis won't come till then, on her seventeenth
birthday. But what is five months and a half to a man handicapped as I
am? Caught in a trap, and with hardly any money, just when I had a
fortune almost in my grasp!"

"I can lend you a little," said Max. "I've a few hundred dollars left."
He laughed. "It seems a lot here! These poor chaps look on me as a
millionaire, a sort of prince, because I've got something behind the
daily five centimes--some dollars to buy decent tobacco for my friends
and myself, and pay fellows to do my washing and so on--fellows wild
with joy to do it! Jove! It makes me feel a brute to think what a few
sous mean to them, gentlemen, some of 'em, who've lived a more luxurious
life than I have--and----"

"Maybe that's why they're here: because they lived too luxuriously--on
other people's money. Tell me, St. George, did you ever hear the name of
Manöel Valdez?"

Max thought for an instant. "Valdez? Let me see ... how ... I know, a
singer! He sang last winter in New York, in something or other, a small
part, and I wasn't there, but I saw great notices. I remember now. Why,
you're----"

"Yes. You're right. Don't be afraid to speak. I asked for it."

"Then you _are_----"

"Manöel Valdez. Saltenet, the man who wrote 'La Naïlia,' wrote the man's
part for me, because he thought I could sing it, and because I
understand Arab music as maybe no other European does. I was brought up
in the desert. The girl I love is a daughter of the desert. God! How
that music they're playing makes me hear her call me, far away from
behind her ocean of dunes! There's a secret link binding our souls
together. Nothing can keep them apart. Saltenet was my benefactor. He
has done everything for me. He would have made my fortune--after I'd
made his; but that's human nature! And twelve nights ago I nearly killed
him because he wouldn't let me go when that girl called--my desert
princess! He vowed he'd have me arrested--anything to stop me. And he
tried to hold me by force. I knocked him down in his own private room at
the theatre where we were rehearsing, and then I had to make sure he
wasn't dead, for his blood was on my hands, my sleeves, my shirt front.
It was only concussion of the brain, but I hoped it would keep him
still, until I'd got well away. That afternoon an officer I knew had
happened to mention before me that a lot of men were being shipped off
to Oran for the Foreign Legion. I remembered. It was as if some voice
reminded me. Africa was my goal, but I'd next to no money. I thought,
why shouldn't France pay? Well, here I am! Now you know why I must
desert. Wouldn't you do the same in my place? Have you got it in you, I
wonder, to sacrifice everything in life for a woman?"

Max thought for a moment before risking a reply. Then he answered
slowly: "I--almost believe I have. But who knows?"

"Some day you will know," said Manöel Valdez, looking away toward the
desert.



CHAPTER XVI

THE BEETLE


When Max had served four months in the Foreign Legion he felt older by
four years. He looked older, too. There were faintly sketched lines
round his mouth and eyes, and that indefinable expression which lies
deep down in eyes which have seen life and death at grip: a Legion look.

In some ways he had been a boy when he took his sudden resolve in the
Salle d'Honneur to prove what the Legion could do for a nature he
himself doubted. Now he was no longer a boy. He realized that, though he
had never found time to study the success of his experiment, and had no
idea that it was being studied day after day by his colonel. Had he
guessed, some dark hours might have been brightened by gleams of hope,
for in spite of his luck in the Legion there were times when Max felt
himself abandoned, a creature of as small consequence to any heart on
earth as a half-drowned fly. A more conceited man would have been
happier, but Max had not joined the Legion with the object of finding
happiness, and one who was watching believed that it would be good for
him to wait.

Max and Manöel Valdez (alias Garcia) had looked forward to the great
march, already vaguely talked of when they joined. But it had not been
a march for marching's sake: its real purpose was more grave. A band of
Arab thieves and murderers on the border of the M'zab country had to be
caught and punished. No recruits were taken: disappointment for Max and
despair for Valdez. He had hoped everything from that chance, and, in
his rage at losing it, made a dash for liberty from Sidi-bel-Abbés. He
got no farther than the outskirts, the forbidden _Village Négre_, where
he risked a night visit in search of the man bribed to hide a certain
precious bundle. Fortunately he was arrested before securing it, for had
he been trapped with civilian clothes not even his marvellous voice (the
talk of the garrison since it had been heard in the soldier's theatre)
could have saved him from the fate of caught deserters: the penal
battalion for months, if not a year; death, perhaps, from fever or
hardship. As it was, he escaped with the penalty for a night visit to
the Arab quarter: eight days _cellule_. But the clothes were safe. He
would try again. Nothing on earth, he said, should keep him from trying
again; because he might as well be a "Zephir" in the dreaded "Batt
d'Aff," if he could not answer the cry for help he seemed always to hear
from across the desert.

Since his first failure and imprisonment nearly four months had passed,
and he had tried again and failed in the same way. The second time his
sentence was twice as long; but before it was over the _medecin major_
sent him into hospital. He came out emaciated, sullen, dangerous, caring
for nothing, not even to sing. Max yearned over him, but could do
nothing except say, "It isn't too late yet. Maybe, if we brace up, we'll
be taken on the big march that they talk of for the first of September.
Even then there'll be time."

He said "we," because it was more comforting to Valdez that their names
should be bracketed together as friends; but as Legionnaires they were
already far apart. Max had never been censured, had never seen the
inside of the prison building (that low-roofed, sinister building that
runs along the walls of the barrack-yard). He was in the school of
corporals. Soon he would wear on his blue sleeve the coveted red woollen
stripe. Garcia, on the contrary, was constantly falling into trouble. He
had even drunk too much, once or twice, in the hope of drowning trouble,
as Legionnaires do. The September march to the south was ostensibly for
road-laying; but there was again a rumour of other important work to be
done. The great secret society of the Senussi threatened trouble through
a new leader who had arisen, a young man of the far south called the
"Deliverer." And when there was prospect of fighting in the desert or
elsewhere for the Legion, recruits--even those who had served for six
months--were seldom taken if a long list of black marks stood against
their names. Max feared that there was little hope for Valdez, though he
meant to do what he could to help. And he found it strange that he, a
born soldier as he knew himself to be, should think of tacitly aiding
another to desert, no matter on what pretext. At home in the same
position it could not have been so; but in the Foreign Legion recruits
talked freely, even before old Legionnaires to whom the Legion was
mother and father and country. There was no fear of betrayal. The whole
point of view seemed different. If a man felt that he had borne all he
could, and was desperate enough to risk death by starvation or worse,
why let him go with his comrades' blessing--and his blood on his own
head! If he had money he might get through. If not, he was lost; but
that, too, was his own business.

March was bitterly cold in wind-swept Sidi-bel-Abbés. April was mild;
May warm; June hot; July and August a furnace, but Legionnaires drank no
less of the heavy, red Algerian wine than before the summer heat
engulfed them. Max had heard men say jokingly or solemnly of each other,
"He has the _cafard_." Vaguely he knew that _cafard_ was French for
beetle, or cockroach; that soldiers who habitually mixed absinthe and
other strong drinks with their cheap but beloved _litre_ were often
affected with a strange madness which betrayed itself in weird ways, and
that this special madness was familiarly named _le cafard_. When the hot
wave arrived he saw for himself what the terrible insect could do in a
man's brain.

In the canteen it was bad enough on pay nights--so called "the Legion's
holidays"--but there reigned Madame la Cantiniere, young, good looking,
a respected queen, who would go on march with the Legion in her cart,
and who must at all times to a certain extent be obeyed. But in dim
side-streets of the town, far from the lights of the smart, out-of-doors
cafés, were _casse croutes_ kept by Spaniards who cared nothing for the
fate of Legionnaires when they had spent their last sou. The _cafard_
grew and prospered there. He tickled men's gray matter and kneaded it in
his microscopic claws. There his victims fought each other, for no
reason which they could explain afterward, or mutilated themselves,
tearing off an ear, or tattooing a face with some design to rival Four
Eyes; or they sold parts of their uniforms to buy a little more drink,
or tried to blow out their brains, or the brains of some one else.
Afterward, if they survived, they went to prison; but if it could be
proved that they were indeed suffering from _cafard_, they got off with
light sentences.

Officers of the Legion old enough to have won a few medals seemed to
respect the _cafard_ and make allowances for his deadly work. If the men
did not survive, they--what was left of them--went to the cemetery to
rest under small black crosses marked with name and number, their only
mourners the great cypresses which sighed with every breath of wind from
the mountains.

One August night of blazing heat and moonlight Max could not sleep.
There had been a scene in the dormitory which had got every man out of
bed, but an hour after the tired soldiers were dead to the world
again--all save Max, who felt as if a white fire like the moonlight was
raging in his brain.

He lay still, as though he were gagged and bound, lest a sigh, or a
rustle in turning over--as he longed to turn--might waken a neighbour.
The hours set apart for the Legion's repose were sacred, so profoundly
sacred that any man who made the least noise at night or during the
afternoon siesta was given good cause to regret his awkwardness. The
most inveterate snorers were cured, or half killed; and to-night, in
this great room with its double row of beds, the trained silence of the
sleepers seemed unnatural, almost terrible, especially after the horror
that had broken it. Max had never before felt the oppression of this
deathlike stillness. Usually he slept as the rest slept; but now, weary
as he was, he resigned himself to lie staring through the slow hours,
till the orderly's call, "_Au jus!_" should rouse the men to swallow
their coffee before reveille.

The dormitory, white with moonlight streaming through curtainless open
windows, seemed to Max like a mausoleum. He could see the still, flat
forms, uncovered and prone on their narrow beds, like carven figures of
soldiers on tombs. He alone was alive among a company of statues. The
men could not be human to sleep so soon and so soundly after the thing
that had happened!

In his hot brain the scene repeated itself constantly in bright, moving
pictures. He had been rather miserable before going to bed, and had
longed for forgetfulness. Sleep had brought its balm, but suddenly he
had started awake to see a man bending over him, a dark shape with
lifted arms that fumbled along the shelf above the bed. On that shelf
was the famous _paquetage_ of the Legionnaire; all his belongings,
underclothes, and uniforms, built into the wonderful, artistic structure
which Four Eyes had shown his pet how to make. A thief was searching
among the neat layers of the _paquetage_ for money: every one knew that
St. George had money, for he was continually lending or giving it away.
This one meant to save him the trouble by taking it. Max felt suddenly
sick. He had thought all his comrades true to him. It was a blow to find
that some one wished to steal the little he had left, though he had
grudged no gift.

Just as Max waked the thief satisfied himself that the well-known wallet
was not hidden in the _paquetage_, and stooped lower to peer at the
sleeper's face before feeling under the pillow. His eyes and Max's
wide-open eyes met. In a flash Max recognized the man. He was of another
company, and had risked much to steal into the dormitory of the Tenth.
The fellow must be desperate! A wave of mingled pity and loathing rushed
over Max. Fearing consequences for the wretch, should any one wake, he
would mercifully have motioned him off in silence; but the warning
gesture was misunderstood. The thief started back, expecting a blow,
stumbled against the nearest bed, roused Four Eyes, and in a second the
whole room was in an uproar.

The full moon lit the intruder's face as if with a white ray from a
police lantern. Pelle and a dozen others recognized the man from the
Eleventh, who could have but one midnight errand in the sleeping-room of
the Tenth: the errand of a thief. Like wolves they leaped on him,
snapping and growling, swearing the strange oaths of the Legion.
Bayonets flashed in the moonlight; blood spouted red, for a soldier of
the Legion may "decorate" himself with a comrade's belt, or bit of
equipment, if another has annexed his: that is legitimate, even _chic_;
but money or food he must not steal if he would live. It is the Legion's
law.

All was over inside two minutes. The guard, hearing shouts, rushed in
and stoically bore away a limp, bloodstained bundle to the hospital.
Nobody blamed the men. Nobody pitied the bundle--except Max, whose first
experience it was of the Legion's swift justice. But nothing, not even
exciting prospects of a march, can be allowed to spoil the Legion's
rest; and so it was that in half an hour the raging avengers had become
once more stone figures carved on narrow tombs in a moonlit mausoleum.

For the first and only time since he had joined Max thoroughly hated the
Legion and wished wildly that he had never come near Sidi-bel-Abbés. Yet
did he wish that? If he had not come he would not have met Colonel
DeLisle, his beau ideal of a man and a soldier. He would be a boy again,
it seemed, with his eyes shut in the face of life. And he would miss his
sweetest memory of Sanda: that hour in the Salle d'Honneur of the
Legion, when she had christened him St. George and called him "her
soldier." But after all, of what use to him could be his acquaintance
with the Legion's colonel? There was a gulf between them now. And would
it not be as well or better to forget that little episode of friendship
with the colonel's daughter? She had probably forgotten it by this time.
And a Legionnaire has no business with women, even as friends. Besides,
Max was in a mood to doubt all friendship. He had had a letter that
day--his first letter from any one in four months--telling him that
Grant Reeves had married Josephine Doran.

Of course, Grant had a right to marry Josephine; but not to write until
the wedding day was safely over--as if he had been afraid Max would try
to stop it--and then to confess how he had come with his mother to meet
Josephine at Algiers! That was secret and unfriendly, even treacherous.
Max remembered very well how Grant had proposed accompanying Mrs.
Reeves, and he--Max--had rather impetuously vetoed the arrangement,
saying it was unnecessary, and guessing instinctively the budding idea
in Grant's mind. It was clear now that Grant had never abandoned it,
that he had from the first planned a campaign to win the heiress before
any other man had a chance with her, and that he had carried out the
scheme with never a hitch. The letter, written on the eve of the
wedding, had been three weeks on the way. Grant (the only person except
Edwin Reeves to whom Max had revealed himself as Maxime St. George,
Number 1033, in the Tenth Company, First Regiment of the Foreign Legion)
wrote that he was telling nobody where his friend was, or what he had
done. "The day will surely come, dear boy," Grant said--and Max could
almost hear his voice speaking--"when you will wish to blot out these
pages from your book of life. I want to make it easy for you to do so;
and I advise you to keep your present resolve: confide in none of your
pals. They might not be as discreet as the governor and I."

"He's glad I'm out of the way," thought Max. "He wants me to be
forgotten by every one, and he wants to forget me himself. If I were on
the spot, poor, and hustling to get on somehow or other in business, it
might worry him a little to be seen spending money that used to be
mine."

Perhaps it was morbid to attribute these motives to Grant Reeves, who
had once been his friend, but he did attribute them; and conscious that
he was actually encouraging morbid thoughts, Max wondered if he, too,
were getting the _cafard_, the madness of the Legion? Lying there, the
only waking one among the sleepers, fear of unseen, mysterious things,
the fear that sometimes attacks a brave man in the night, leaped at him
out of the shadows. He could almost feel the sharp little claws of the
dreaded beetle scratching in his brain. Yes, he'd been a fool to join
the Legion, and to hand over Jack Doran's house and fortune to Grant
Reeves! It was impossible that Grant had married Josephine for love. He
had simply taken her with the money, and he meant to have the spending
of it.

In the letter, Grant said that they planned to alter the old Doran house
and "bring it up to date." It was he, Grant, who had all the ideas,
apparently. Josephine was letting him do as he pleased. What should she
know about such matters? If she could have all the dresses and jewels
and fur she wanted, Grant would be allowed to go his own way with other
things. He was clever enough to understand that, and to manage
Josephine.

With the letter Grant had posted a bundle of Sunday newspapers and
illustrated magazines, such a bundle of old news as one sends to an
invalid in hospital. Max had glanced through some of the papers before
going to bed, looking with a sad, far-off sort of interest at portraits
of people whose names he knew. There had been a page of "America's most
beautiful actresses" in one Sunday supplement, and among them, of
course, was Billie Brookton. No such page would be complete without her!
It was a new photograph that Max had never seen. The smiling face, head
drooped slightly in order to give Billie's celebrated upward look from
under level brows, had the place of honour in the middle of the page.
And a paragraph beneath announced that Billie would leave the stage on
her marriage with "Millionaire Jeff Houston, of Chicago."

No doubt Houston was the man she had mentioned in her last letter. Round
her neck, in the picture, Max thought he recognized his pearls, and on
the pretty hand, raised to play with a rope of bigger pearls--"Millionaire
Houston's" perhaps--was the ring Max had given her the night when the
telegram came. The photograph, which was large and clearly reproduced,
showed the curiously shaped stone on the middle finger of Billie's left
hand. A large round pearl adorned the finger on which Max had once hoped
she might wear the blue diamond, a pearl so conspicuous that the original
of the picture appeared to display it purposely. "Millionaire Houston"
would be flattered; and that was what Billie Brookton wanted. As for what
Max Doran might think if he saw the portrait, why should she care? For
her, he was numbered with the dead.

Max was no longer in love with Billie. The shock of Rose Doran's
terrible accident, the story she had to tell, and her death, had chilled
the fire of what he thought was love. The letter of farewell had put it
out. But the scar of the burn sometimes hurts. To-night was one of those
times; and Max believed that his disappointment in Billie had had its
influence in driving him to the Legion. She stood now as a type of what
was mercenary, calculating, and false in womankind, just as (almost
unknown to himself) Sanda DeLisle stood for what was gentle, yet brave
and true. He felt that Billie Brookton had made him hard, with a
hardness that was not good; and that not only she, but all those he had
cared for most in his old life, had deceived and tricked or at best
forgotten him. Lying in his narrow bunk, Max lifted his head and let
his eyes wander over the faces of his comrades, turned to gray stone by
the moonlight. Not one which was not sad, except that of the Alsatian
who had joined on the day of his own recruitment. The boy was smiling in
some dream and looked like a child, but a sickly child, for the heat and
the severe marching drill for _les bleus_ were telling upon him. Faces
of twenty different types, faces which by day masked their secrets with
sullenness, defiance, or stolidity, could hide nothing in sleep, but
fell into lines of sadness that gave a strange family resemblance to the
stone soldiers on the tombs. Saddest of all, after Manöel Valdez,
perhaps, was the wrecked visage of Pelle, whose own particular _cafard_
had been leading him a merry dance the last few days.

To Sidi-bel-Abbés, with a letter of introduction to the colonel, had
come an old officer of the British army, a man of distinction. Pelle, as
an Englishman and an ex-soldier, had been honoured by being appointed
his guide. The two had recognized one another. Pelle had served under
the officer years ago. The encounter had been too much for Quatro Oyos:
that, and the money the general gave him at parting. Remembrance of past
days was the enemy in the Legion. Four Eyes had been half drunk ever
since, and had escaped prison only by a miracle. That, however, was
nothing new for him. He had been corporal twice and sergeant once; each
time he had been "broke" because of drink. In spite of all, he had stuck
to the Legion. There was no other place for him on earth. The Legion was
his country now--his only country and his only home. His medals he had
asked Max to keep till he "settled down again." They mustn't go to the
places where the _cafard_ would take him. They mustn't risk disgrace
through things which the _cafard_ might make him do. He looked like the
ruin of a man in the revealing moonshine. But to-morrow he would be a
soldier again till night came, and sooner or later he would pull himself
together--more or less. The medals he had won and his love of sport were
his incentives. Yet there were other men who had no medals and no
special incentives, and to-night Max felt himself down on a level with
those.

"What incentive have I?" he asked, in a flash of furious rebellion
against fate, conscious yet not caring that such thoughts spawned the
beetle in the brain. Five years of this life to look forward to!--the
life he had pledged himself to live. The officers did their best. It was
_vieux style_ nowadays for an officer of the Legion to be cruel. But try
as they might to break the sameness of barrack life by changing the
order of drill and exercise--fencing one day, boxing the next, then
gymnastics, target-practice, marching, skirmishing, learning first aid
to the wounded, giving all the variety possible, the monotony was
heart-breaking, as Colonel DeLisle had warned him it would be. And a
great march, when a march meant the chance of a fight, didn't always
come in the way of a young soldier, even one whose conduct was
unsmirched by any stain. Max did not know yet whether he would be taken
on the march that all the garrison was talking of. To-night the beetle
in his brain tried to make him think he would not be taken. There was no
luck any more for him! And as for his corporal's stripe, if he got it
soon, what a pathetic prize for a man who had been a lieutenant in the
--th Cavalry, the crack cavalry regiment of the United States Army!

Oh, better not to think of future or past! Better not to think at all,
perhaps, but do as some of the other men did when they wanted to forget
even as they had been forgotten: take the few pleasures in their reach,
do the very things he had been prig enough to warn Valdez not to do! Let
the beetle burrow, as a counter-irritant!

"Soldier St. George--my soldier!" a girl's voice seemed to encourage
him.

Max heard it through the scratching of the beetle in his brain.

Sanda! Yes, Sanda might care a little, a very little, when she had time
to think of him--Sanda, who loved another man, but had promised to be
his friend. He thought of her eyes as they had looked at him that day in
the Salle d'Honneur. He thought of her hair, her long, soft hair....

"She'd be sorry if I let go," he said to himself. "Jove! I _won't_! I'll
fight this down. And if I'm taken on the march----"

He fell suddenly asleep, thinking of Sanda's hair, her long, soft hair.

And the moonlight turned him also into a stone soldier on a tomb.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MISSION


It is the darkest hour that comes before the dawn. Next day Soldier St.
George became Corporal St. George, and felt more pleasure in the bit of
red wool on his sleeve than Lieutenant Max Doran would have thought
possible.

It was Four Eyes who brought him the news, a week later, that his name
was among those who would go on "the great march." Four Eyes was somehow
invariably the first one to hear everything, good news or bad. Life was
not so black after all. There need be no past for a Legionnaire, but
there might be a future. None of the men knew for certain when the start
was to be made, but it would be soon, and the barracks of the Legion
seethed with excitement. Even those who were not going could talk of
nothing else. They swore that there was no doubt of the business to be
done. The newly risen leader of the Senussi had summoned large bands of
the sect to the village, El Gadhari, of which he was sheikh, calling
upon them ostensibly to celebrate a certain feast. Close to this village
was one of the most important Senussi monasteries. Tribes were moving
all through the south, apparently with no warlike intention; but the
Deliverer was dangerous. Just such a leader as he--even to the gray eyes
and the horseshoe on his forehead--had been prophesied for this time of
the world. The Legion would march. And it would maneuver in the desert,
in the neighbourhood of El Gadhari. If the warning were enough--there
would be no fighting; but the Legion hoped it might not be enough. To be
the regiment ordered to give this warning was in itself an honour, for
wherever work is hardest there the Legion goes. The Legion must sustain
its reputation, such as it is! Desperate men, bad men, let them be
called by civilians in times of peace, but give them fighting and they
are the glorious soldiers who never turn back, who, even when they fall
in death, fall forward as they rush upon the enemy. All the world knew
that of them, and they knew it of themselves. They knew, also, that when
the moment of starting came men of Sidi-bel-Abbés who drew away from
them in the streets and the Place Carnot would take off their hats as
the Legion went by. It would be "Vive la Legion!" then.

With each day of burning heat the excitement grew more feverish. Surely
this morning, or this night, the order would come! The soldiers whistled
as they polished their accoutrements, whistled half beneath their breath
the "March of the Legion" which the band is forbidden to play in
garrison. Quarrels were forgotten. Men who had not spoken to each other
for weeks grinned in each other's faces and offered one another their
cheap but treasured cigarettes.

Almost every one seemed to be happy except Garcia. He was among those
who would not be taken on the march--he, who craved and needed to go, as
did no other man in the Legion! Max feared Garcia meant to kill himself
the night when he lost hope, and would not let him go out alone to walk
in the darkness. "I don't want to ask if you have any plans," he said.
"But there's one thing I do ask: share with me the money I've got left.
You may need it. I shan't. And if you'll take it, that'll be proof that
you think as much of me as I do of you."

Garcia took it, from the wallet which a man now lying in the hospital
had tried to empty the other night. Then Max knew for certain what the
queer light in Manöel's eyes meant. He could not help a rejoicing thrill
in the other's desperate courage which no obstacle had crushed.

That same night, when the two had separated (St. George reassured, and
believing that Garcia had use for his life after all), Max met Colonel
DeLisle face to face, for the first time alone and unofficially since
they had parted in the Salle d'Honneur. The colonel was walking
unaccompanied, in the street not far from the little garden of the
officers' club, where the band was to give a concert, and returning
Max's quick salute he turned to call him back.

"Good evening, Corporal! I should like to speak with you a minute!"
DeLisle cried out cheerfully in English. Max's heart gave a bound.
Surely never could the word "Corporal" have sounded so like fine music
in a poor, non-commissioned officer's ears!

He wheeled, pale with pleasure that his beau ideal should wish to speak
with him, and in English, the language they had used when they were
still social equals. "My Colonel!" he stammered.

"I want to congratulate you on your quick promotion," said DeLisle. "It
has come to you in spite of your resolution to take no advantage in the
beginning over your comrades. I congratulate you on that, too, and on
keeping it, now it has turned out so well. I hoped and believed it would
be so, though I advised you for your good."

"I know that, my Colonel," answered Max, determined not to presume in
speech or act upon his superior officer's kindness. "I knew it then."

"It may seem a pitifully small step up," DeLisle went on, "but it's the
first reward the Legion can give a soldier. There will be others. I
shall have to congratulate you again before long, I'm sure. Meanwhile, I
have a message for you." He paused for an instant, slightly hesitating,
perhaps. "It is from my daughter. She is in the south, visiting the
daughter of an Agha who is very loyal to France as a servant, very loyal
to me as a friend. Because of the march last spring, and again this one,
now coming (which I expected for this time, and on which I must go
myself), I could not have a young girl like Sanda living in
Sidi-bel-Abbés. She is happy and interested where she is, and she has
not forgotten you. In more than one letter she has wished to be
remembered to you, if possible. To-night, Corporal, it _is_ possible,
and I'm glad to give the message."

"I thank you for it, my Colonel," Max said, half ashamed of the deep
feeling which his voice betrayed. "I--wish I might be able to thank Miss
DeLisle. It is a great deal to me that she should remember me--my----"

"Your chivalry? It would be impossible to forget," DeLisle took him up
crisply. Then he dismissed the subject, as Max felt. "Tell me," he went
on in the same cheerful tone in which he had called out "Corporal!" "Are
you happy to escape the caserne, and get away to the desert?"

Suddenly a wild idea sprang into Max's head. Desperately, not daring to
let himself stop and think, he spoke. "I should be happy, my Colonel,
but for one thing. Have I your permission to tell you what it is?"

"Yes," said DeLisle. "If I can help you in the matter, I will."

"My Colonel, it's in your power to do me a favour I would repay you for
with my life if necessary, though"--and Max began to stammer
again--"that would be at your service in any case. The best friend I
have made in the regiment would give his soul to go on this march. I
know he hasn't always behaved as a soldier ought, but he's as brave as
he is hot tempered and reckless. If it could be reconsidered----"

"You mean Garcia?" broke in Colonel DeLisle sharply.

Max was astonished. Instantly he saw that the colonel must have been
watching his career. He might have guessed as much from the reward of
merit just given him--friendly congratulations and Sanda's message, a
thousand times more valued for the delay; and he had begun to realize
that he had never been abandoned, never forgotten. But the colonel's
knowledge of his friendship with Garcia brought the thrilling truth
home, almost with a shock.

"Yes, my Colonel--Garcia," he replied.

"Well, I can make no promise," said DeLisle, speaking now more in the
tone of an officer with a subordinate, yet showing that he was not
vexed. "But--I should like you to go away happy, Corporal. I'll look
into the affair of your friend, and after that--we shall see.
Good-night."

Again the salute was exchanged, and the colonel was gone, turning in at
the garden gate of the _Cercle Militaire_. The meeting, and all that had
passed, seemed like a waking dream. Max could hardly believe it had
happened, that Sanda had sent him a message, that her father had given
it, and that he, scarcely more than a _bleu_, had dared to speak for
Manöel Valdez.

That day it proved not to be a dream, for Garcia learned officially that
he was to go with his comrades. Max hardly knew whether or not it would
be wise to explain how the miracle had come to pass, but there was a
reason why he wished to tell. When the truth was out, and Valdez ready
to worship his friend, Max said: "I did it before I stopped to think; if
I _had_ stopped, I don't know--for you see, in a way, this makes me a
traitor to the colonel. I begged him for a favour and he granted it.
_Yet you and I understand what your going means._ I've been asking him
for your chance to--well, we won't put it in words! Only, for God's
sake, try to think of some other way to do what you've got to do!"

"Even you admit that I _have_ got to do it!" Valdez argued. "To save a
woman--it's to save her life, you know."

"I know," said Max. "But there may be some other way than this one in
your mind."

"If there is, I'll take it. And now I can give you back your money."

"No! You'll need every _sou_ if----"

"You're the best friend a man ever had!" cried the Spaniard.

At midnight the alarm they were all waiting for sounded, and though it
was expected at any hour, it came as a surprise.

"_Aux armes!_" rang out the call of the bugle from the barrack-yard and
waked the stone soldiers to instant life. The flat, carved figures sat
up on their narrow tombs in the moonlight, then sprang to their feet.
There was no need or thought of discipline with that glorious alarm
sounding in their ears! The men yelled with joy and roared from
dormitory to dormitory in the wonderful Legion language made up of
chosen bits from every other language of the world.

"Faites les sacs. En tenue de campagne d'Afrique!" bawled excited
corporals. Everything had to be done in about ten minutes; and though
all soldiers knew the programme thoroughly, and young soldiers had gone
through it in drill a hundred times, the real thing was somehow
different. Men stumbled over each other and forgot what to do first.
Corporals swore and threatened; but to an onlooker the work of packing
would have seemed to go by magic. At the end of the ten minutes the
barrack-yard was full of men lined up, ready for marching, and soldiers
of all nations thanked their gods for finding that the cartridges served
out to them from the magazine were not blank ones. They had all
protested their certainty that this march was for business; and when
they had heard that their colonel was going with them they had been
doubly sure; yet in their hearts they had anxiously admitted that it
was guesswork. Now these blessed cartridges packed full of the right
stuff put an end to furtive doubts.

As the companies formed up, the "Legion's March" was played, and the
young soldiers who had never heard it, unless whistled _sotto voce_ by
old Legionnaires, felt the thrill of its tempestuous strains in the
marrow of their bones.

Nowadays the great marches of the Foreign Legion are not what they once
were, unless for government maneuvers. When there is need of haste the
Legion goes by the railway the Legion has helped to lay; and only at the
end of the line begins the real business for which the Legion lives. For
the Legion is meant for the hardest marching (with the heaviest kits in
the world) as well as the fiercest fighting; and when the Legion marches
through the desert, it is "_marcher ou mourir_."

The cry of the bugles reached the ears of the heaviest sleepers in town;
for those who knew the Legion and the Legion's music knew that the
soldiers were off for a great march, or that wild air would not be
played. Windows flew up and heads looked down as the soldiers tramping
the bright moonlit street went to the railway station. So the "lucky
ones" of the Legion passed out of Sidi-bel-Abbés, some of them never to
return. And perhaps that was lucky, too, for it's as well for a
Legionnaire to rest in the desert as under one of the little black
crosses behind the wall of cypresses in the Legion's burial ground.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had to go by the new railway line to Touggourt, as Sanda DeLisle
had gone, but instead of travelling by passenger train, the soldiers
went as Max had seen the batch of recruits from Oran arrive at
Bel-Abbés: in wagons which could be used for freight or France's human
merchandise: "_32 hommes_, _6 cheveaux_." After Touggourt their way
would diverge from Sanda's. There was no chance for Colonel DeLisle to
go and see his daughter, but in a letter he had told her the date of his
arrival in the oasis town and the hope he had--a hope almost a
certainty--of hearing from his girl there, or having a message of love
to take with him on the long march, warmed his heart. It was very
strange, almost horrible, to remember how he had felt toward his
daughter until the day she came to him, in the image of his dead love,
at Sidi-bel-Abbés. He had not wanted to see her. He had even felt that
he could not bear to see her. Unjust and brutal as it was, he had never
been able to banish the thought that, if it had not been for her, his
wife might have been with him through the years. Sanda had cost him the
happiness of his life.

He had easily persuaded himself that in any case, even if he had wanted
her with him, for her sake it was far better not. Such an existence as
his was not for a young woman to share, even after she had passed the
schoolgirl age. It had seemed to DeLisle that the only place for Sanda
was with her aunts, and passing half her time in France, half in
Ireland, gave the girl a chance to see something of the world. She was
not poor, for she had her mother's money; and because he wished to
contribute something toward his daughter's keep, rather than because she
needed it, he always paid for her education and her board. What she had
of her own, from her mother, must be saved for her _dot_ when she
married; and half unconsciously he had hoped that she would marry early.

After he saw her--the lovely young thing who had run away to him, as her
mother had--all that had been changed in an instant. His heart was at
her little feet, as it had been at the feet of the first Sanda, whose
copy she was.

His time for the next few months was so mapped out that he could not
have the girl with him for more than the first few days of joy, for she
could not be left in Sidi-bel-Abbés while he was away on duty. He had
done the best he could for his daughter by giving her a romantic taste
of desert life in the house of a tried friend whom he believed he might
trust; but he thought tenderly and constantly of _la petite_, and of
future days when they might be together--if he came back alive from
those "maneuvers" near El Gadhari. Approaching Touggourt, the first
scene of his life's great love tragedy, he could hardly wait for the
letter he hoped for from Sanda. He expected another event, also the
pleasure of meeting Richard Stanton, whom he had not seen for years, and
who would be, he knew, at Touggourt, getting together a caravan for that
"mad expedition" (as every one called it) in search of the Lost Oasis.
But if Stanton had cared as much for his old friend as in past days, he
had protested, he would have given a day or two to go out of his way and
visit the Colonel of the Foreign Legion at its headquarters. He had not
done that, and though DeLisle told himself that he was not hurt, his
enthusiasm at the thought of the meeting was slightly dampened. He
looked forward more keenly to Sanda's letter than to an encounter with
his erratic friend. It was good to have something heart-warming to hope
for in a place so poignantly associated with the past.

There was plenty for the Legionnaires to do in Touggourt. Having come by
rail, their first camp was made in the flat space of desert between the
big oasis town and the dunes. They were to stay only a few hours, for
the first stage of their march would begin long before sun-up, and most
of their leisure was to be spent in sleep. Yet somehow there was time
for a look at the sights of the place. One of these was a large Arab
café on the outskirts of the town where the trampled sand of the streets
became a vast, flowing wave of gold. Four Eyes had been in Touggourt
more than once, having marched all the way from Bel-Abbés, long before
the railway was begun or thought of. He urged Max to come into the low
white building where at dusk the räita and the tomtom had begun to
scream and throb.

"Prettiest dancing girls of the Sahara," he said, "and a fellow there I
used to know in Bel-Abbés--in the Chasseurs--has just told me there's a
great show for to-night."

There were several cafés in Sidi-bel-Abbés, where the proprietors
engaged Arab girls to dance, but Max, who had paid one visit, in
curiosity, thought the women disgusting and the dancing dull. He said
that he had no faith in the Touggourt attractions, and would rather take
a stroll.

"You don't know what you're talking about!" Four Eyes scouted his
objections. "Haven't you heard the scandal about this Stanton, the
exploring man, who's here--our colonel's old pal?"

"No, I've heard that Stanton's at Touggourt. But I've heard no scandal,"
answered Max. "What has he got to do with the dancing girls?"

As he spoke, it was as if he saw Stanton sitting with Sanda DeLisle at
one of the little tea-tables on the terrace of the Hotel St. George at
Algiers; the square, resolute, red-tanned face, and the big, square blue
eyes, burning with aggressive vitality.

"Everything to do with one of them," said Four Eyes. "That's the
scandal. Seems Stanton's been playing the fool. They say he's half mad,
anyhow, about a lot of things--always was, but it is a bit worse since a
touch o' the sun he had a year or two ago. He's off his head about an
Ouled Nail--don't know whether she came here because of him, or whether
he picked her up at Touggourt, but the story is, he could o' got away
before now, with his bloomin' caravan, on that d----d fool expedition of
his you read of in the papers, only he couldn't bring himself to leave
this Ahmara, or whatever her crack-jaw name is. The chap that was
talkin' to me says she's the handsomest creature you'd see in a
lifetime, an' she's going to dance to-night to spite Stanton."

"To spite him?" Max repeated, not understanding.

"Yes, you d----d young greenhorn! Anybody'd know _you_ was new to
Africa! These girls, when they get to be celebrated for their looks or
any other reason, won't dance in public as a general thing. They leave
that to the common ones, who need to do something to attract. Anyhow,
Stanton wouldn't have let this Ahmara dance in a café before a crowd of
nomads from the desert. She lives with the dancing lot, because there's
some law or other about that for these girls, but that's all, till
to-night. There's been a row, my old pal told me, because Stanton gives
my lady the tip not to come near or pretend to know him while his friend
the colonel is here. She's in such a beast of a rage she's announced to
the owner of the café that she'll dance to-night; and I bet every man in
Touggourt except Stanton and DeLisle'll be there. You'll come, won't
you?"

"Yes, I'll come," said Max. He was ashamed of himself for so readily
believing the scandal about Stanton, yet he did believe it. Stanton had
struck him as the type of man who would stop at nothing he wanted to do.
And Max was ashamed, also, because he felt an involuntary rush of
pleasure in thinking evil of Stanton. He knew what that meant. He had
been jealous of Stanton at Algiers, and he supposed he was mean enough
to be jealous of him still. If Sanda knew the truth, would she be
disgusted and cease to care for her hero, her "Sir Knight?" Max
wondered. But perhaps she would only be sad, and forgive him in her
heart. Girls were often very strange about such things. Max, however,
could not forgive Stanton for ignoring the exquisite blossom of love
that might be his, and grasping instead some wild scarlet flower of the
desert not fit to be touched by a hand that had pressed Sanda's little
fingers. He did not know whether or not to be equally ashamed of the
curiosity which made him say to Pelle that he would see the dancer; but
he yielded to it.

Already the great bare café was filling up. In the dim yellow light of
lamps that hung from the ceiling, or branched out from the smoky,
white-washed walls, the throng of dark men in white burnouses, crowding
the long benches or sitting on the floor, was like a company of ghosts.
Their shadows waved fantastically along the walls as they strode
noiselessly in, wild as spirits dancing to the voice of their master
Satan, the seductive räita. At one end of the room sat the musicians,
all giant negroes, the scars and tattoo marks on their sweating black
faces giving them a villainous look in the wavering light. They were
playing the bendir, the tomtom, the Arab flute, as well as the räita;
but the räita laughed the other music down.

This café was celebrated for the youth and beauty of its dancers, and
one after another delicate little sad-faced girls, almost children,
danced and waved gracefully their thin arms tinkling with silver
bracelets, but the ever-increasing crowd of Arabs and French officers
and soldiers (tourists there were none at that time of year) scarcely
troubled to look at the dainty figures. They were waiting, eager-eyed.
If Max had not known beforehand that something was expected, he would
have guessed it. At last she came, the great desert dancer said to be
the most beautiful Ouled Nail of her generation.

Max did not see how or whence she arrived, but he heard the rustling and
indrawing of breaths that heralded her coming. And then she was there,
in the square left open for the dancing. All the light in the room
seemed to focus upon her, so did she scintillate from head to foot with
spangles. Even he felt a throb of excitement as the tall, erect figure
stood in the space between the benches, eying the audience from under a
long veil of green tissue almost covered with sparkling bits of gold and
silver. On her head she wore a high golden crown, and under the green
veil fell a long square shawl of some material which seemed woven
entirely of gold. Her dress was scarlet as poppy petals, and she
appeared to be draped in many layers of thin stuff that flashed out
metallic gleams. For a long moment she stood motionless. Then, when she
had made her effect, suddenly she threw up her veil. Winding it around
her arm, she snatched it off her head, and paused again, unsmiling,
statue-still, except for her immense dark eyes, encircled with kohl,
which darted glances of pride and defiance round the silent room.
Perhaps she was looking for some one whom she half expected might be
there. Max felt the long-lashed eyes fix themselves on him. Then,
receiving no response, they passed on and shot a fiery challenge into
the eyes of a young caid in a gold-embroidered black cloak, who bent
forward from his carpeted bench in a dream of admiration.

She was perfect in her way, a living statue of pale bronze, with the
eyes of a young tigress and the mouth of a passionate child. The gold
crown, secured with a scarf of glittering gauze, the rows of golden
coins that hung from her looped black braids over her bosom and down to
the huge golden buckle at her loosely belted waist, gave her the look of
an idol come to life and escaped from some shrine of an eastern temple.
As she moved, to begin the promised dance, she exhaled from her body and
hair and floating draperies strange, intoxicating perfumes which seemed
to change with her motions--perfumes of sandalwood and ambergris and
attar-of-rose.

For the first time Max understood the meaning of the Ouled Nail dance.
This child-woman of the desert, with her wicked eyes and sweet mouth,
made it a pantomime of love in its first timid beginnings, its fears and
hesitations, its final self-abandon and rapture. Ahmara was a dangerous
rival for a daughter of Europe with such a man as Richard Stanton.

When she had danced once, she refused to indulge the audience again, but
staring scorn at the company, accepted a cup of coffee from the handsome
young caid in the black mantle. She sat beside him with a fierce air of
bravado, and ignored every one else, as though the dimly lit room in
which her spangles flamed was empty save for their two selves. So she
would have sat by Max if he had given back glance for glance; but he
pushed his way out quickly when Ahmara's dance was over, and drew in
long, deep breaths of desert air, sweet with wild thyme, before he dared
let himself even think of Sanda. Sanda, who loved Stanton--with this
recompense!

As he walked back to camp, to take what rest he could before the early
start, he met a sergeant of his company, a tall Russian, supposed to be
a Nihilist, who had saved himself from Siberia by finding sanctuary in
the Legion.

"I have sent two men to look for you," he said. "The colonel wants you.
Go to his tent at once."

Max went, and at the tent door met Richard Stanton coming out. Max
recognized his figure rather than his features, for the light was at his
back. It shone into the Legionnaire's face as he stepped aside to let
the explorer pass, but Stanton's eyes rested on the corporal of the
Legion without interest or recognition. The colonel had just bidden him
good-bye, and he strode away with long, nervous strides. "Will he go to
the café and see Ahmara with the caid?" The thought flashed through
Max's mind, but he had no time to finish it. Colonel DeLisle was calling
him into the tent.

The only light was a lantern with a candle in it; yet saluting, Max saw
at once that the colonel's face was troubled.

"Have I done anything I oughtn't to have done?" he questioned himself
anxiously, but the first words reassured as much as they surprised him.

"Corporal St. George, I sent for you because you are the only one among
my men of whom I can ask the favour I'm going to ask."

"A favour--from me to you, my Colonel?" Max echoed, astonished.

"Yes. You asked me for one the other night, and I granted it because it
was easy, but this is different. This is very hard. If you do the thing,
you will lose the march and the fight which we may come in for at the
end. Is there anything that could make up to you for such a sacrifice?"

"But, my Colonel," answered Max, "you have only to give me your orders,
and whatever they may be I shall be happy to carry them out." He spoke
firmly, yet he could not hide the fact that this was a blow. He had
looked forward to the march, hard as it might be, and to the excitement
at the end as a thirsty man looks forward to a draught of water.

"But I am not going to give you any orders," said DeLisle. "It would not
be fair or right. This is a private matter. I have just received a
letter from my daughter with rather bad news. I told you she was
staying in the house of one of the great chiefs of the south, a friend
of years' standing, who has a daughter of her age. I needn't give you
details, but Sanda has unfortunately offended this man in perhaps the
one way an Arab, no matter how enlightened, cannot forgive. From what
she tells me I can't wholly blame him for his anger, but--it's
impossible for her to stop longer in his house. Not that she's in
danger--no! that's incredible, Ben Râana being the man he is. An Arab's
ideas of hospitality would prevent his offering to send a guest away, no
matter how much he might want to be rid of her. Yet I can't endure the
thought of asking him for a caravan and guard after what seems to have
happened. You realize that it is impossible for me to go myself. My duty
is with my regiment. Once before, you watched over my daughter on a
journey--watched over her as a brother might watch over a sister. That
is why I ask, as a favour from one man to another, whether you would be
willing to go to the Agha's house and escort my daughter here to
Touggourt. I know how much I am exacting of a born soldier like
yourself."

"My Colonel, you are conferring on me the Cross of the Legion of
Honour!" Max cried out impulsively.

"Then you accept?"

"I implore you to accept _me_ for the service."

"But do you thoroughly understand what it means? We go on without you.
It will be hopeless for you to follow us. I give you eight days' leave,
which will be ample time for the engaging of a small caravan--three or
four good men and the wife of one to act as servant to my
daughter--going to Ben Râana's place at Djazerta, arriving again at
Touggourt, and returning to Bel-Abbés. I shall have to send you back
there, you see. There's nothing else to do."

"I understand, my Colonel. But though I'm sorry to lose the experience,
I'd rather be able to do this for you and for Mademoiselle DeLisle than
anything else."

"Thank you. That's settled then, except details. We'll arrange them at
once, for you must get off to-morrow as soon as possible after our
start. Another man must be appointed in your place, Corporal. At
Sidi-bel-Abbés you shall have special work while we are gone. There
hasn't been much time for thinking since I got the news, but I have
thought that out. At first, I may as well tell you, my idea was to ask
Stanton to put off his expedition and go to Ben Râana's. But--something
I heard to-night turned me against that plan. I should like to have
another man with you out of the regiment in case of trouble. Not that
there can be trouble! But I shouldn't feel justified in asking for a
second volunteer. All the men are so keen! It's bad enough to send one
away on a private matter of my own, and----"

In his flush of excitement the soldier interrupted his colonel.

"Sir, I know of one! My friend would be glad to go with me!"

"You speak of Garcia again?"

"Yes, my Colonel."

"Are you sure of him?"

"I am sure."

"Very well. Talk to him then. Come back to me afterward, and I'll give
you all instructions."

The name of the Agha and the name of the place where he lived were
ringing through Max's head. Ben Râana--Djazerta!

The father of the girl Manöel Valdez loved and must save was the Agha of
Djazerta. Now Valdez need not desert!



CHAPTER VIII

GONE


There was keen curiosity and even jealousy concerning the errand which
suddenly separated Corporal St. George and his chum Juan Garcia from the
march of the Legion. None of their late comrades knew why they had gone
or where, unless it were Four Eyes, who swaggered about looking
secretively wise.

"I told St. George," said he to such young men of the Tenth as were
admitted to the honour of speech with the ex-champion, "I told St.
George to fire first at an Arab's face if he got any fighting. That's
the way! The Arab ain't prepared, and he's scared blue for fear of his
head bein' busted off his body. If that happens only his head goes to
Paradise and can't have any fun. Nobody but old Legionnaires who've seen
a lot of service have got that tip."

Because of Four Eyes' hints the story went round that St. George and
Garcia had been sent off on special reconnaissance duty. And the Legion
marched as only the Legion can, with its heavy kit, its wonderful tricks
to cure footsore feet, its fierce individual desire to bear more fatigue
than is human to endure, its wild gayety, its moods of sullen brooding.
For a while it expected to see St. George and Garcia appear as suddenly
and mysteriously as they had disappeared. But they did not come back.
And days and nights passed by; so at last, as the Legion drew nearer to
El Gadhari, the absent pair were talked of no more. There was much to
think of and to suffer, and it was not strange if they were
half-forgotten except by two men: one who knew the secret and one who
pretended to know: Colonel DeLisle and Four Eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Corporal St. George arrived at the oasis town of Djazerta he had
with him in his small caravan no other man in the uniform of the Legion.
He had only camel-drivers in white or brown burnouses, nomads who live
in tents, and whose womenfolk go unveiled without losing the respect of
men. They had come from the black tents outside Touggourt, all but one,
who joined the party after it had started, following on a fast camel. He
was a dark-faced man like the rest, and wore such garments as the others
wore, only less shabby than theirs, and none but the leader knew him or
why he had come. The Arab fashion of covering the body heavily, and
especially of protecting the mouth in days of heat as well as cold, was
observed religiously by this tall, grave person. The one woman of the
band, Khadra, wife of the chief camel-driver, wondered if the stranger
had any disfigurement; but her husband smiled a superior smile,
remarking that women have room in their minds only for curiosity about
what can never concern them. As for the newcomer, he was as other men,
though not as pleasant a companion as some. According to his own
account, he had been born in Djazerta, though he had lived in many
places and learned French and Spanish in order to make money as an
interpreter.

When the caravan reached Djazerta they found the oasis town indulging in
festivities because of the marriage of the Agha's daughter. The
customary week of feasting and rejoicing was at its height, but, to the
disappointment of every one, the bride and all the Agha's family had in
the midst of the celebrations suddenly gone out to the _douar_, the
desert encampment of the tribe over which Ben Râana ruled as chief. This
was unprecedented for the wedding of great personages that the end of
the entertainment should take place in the _douar_; but it was said that
the bride was ill with over-excitement, and rather than put off the
marriage, her father had decided to try the effect of desert air.

This was the news which was told to Max at the Agha's gates after his
forced march from Touggourt. It was translated for him into French by
his interpreter, the dark-faced man who covered his mouth even more
closely than did the dwellers in the black tents near Touggourt; for
Max, though he had studied Arabic of nights in the Legion's library, and
taken lessons from Garcia, could not yet understand the desert dialects
when spoken quickly. An interpreter was a real necessity for him on a
desert journey with Arabs to command, and as the two talked together
outside the open gate in the high white wall, discussing the situation,
neither the Agha's men nor any man of the caravan could understand a
word. The language they used was a mystery. French, English,
Spanish--all were jargons to these people of the southern desert.

"At the _douar_!" Max repeated. "Where is it?"

"Not twenty miles away," answered Manöel, keeping all feeling out of his
voice, as an interpreter should. "But it's between here and Touggourt.
Not exactly on the way, still we could have reached it by taking a
détour of a few kilometres off the caravan track and saved hours,
precious hours."

"Never mind," said Max, worried though he was because of the delay that
meant something to him, if not as much as to Manöel. "Never mind. We
shall be in time yet. They say the festivities are only half over. That
means she isn't married. Buck up! I know this is a shock; but it isn't a
surprise that the wedding feast should be on. You've been expecting
that. You've even been afraid it might be all over."

"But something has happened, or they wouldn't have taken her away,"
Manöel said.

"Perhaps she tried to escape," Max suggested. "Would it be harder for
her to do that at the _douar_ than here?"

"In a way, yes. Here she might be hidden for a while in some house of
the village: it's a rabbit warren, as you can see. Whereas, round the
_douar_ lies the desert open to all eyes. Still, it's easier to get out
of a tent than a house."

"Well, let's be off and see for ourselves, instead of guessing,"
proposed his friend with an air of cheerfulness. Manöel knew the errand
which had brought Corporal St. George (and incidentally himself) to
Djazerta at this eleventh hour, but Max and he had never spoken together
of Colonel DeLisle's daughter Sanda except casually, as Ourïeda's guest.
Manöel, his thoughts centred upon his own affairs, had no idea that
Mademoiselle DeLisle was personally of importance in St. George's life.
If he had seen that Max was anxious, he would have taken the anxiety for
sympathy with him, or else the nervousness of a keen soldier who had
only eight days' leave and small provision for delays.

Having finished their discussion, they politely refused an invitation,
in the absent Agha's name, to spend the night in his guest house, and
started out to retrace some kilometres of the track they had just
travelled. This, thought the Agha's head gatekeeper, was a foolish
decision, no matter how pressing might be the soldier's business with
Ben Râana, for already it was past sunset, and there was no moon. These
men were strangers, and could not know their way to the _douar_ except
as it was described to them. But what could one expect? Their leader was
a Roumi, a Christian dog, and all such were fools in the eyes of God's
children who knew that the lesson of life was patience.



CHAPTER XIX

WHAT HAPPENED AT DAWN


Sanda DeLisle's short life had not been brilliantly happy. She had known
the ache of feeling herself unwanted by the only two human beings of
paramount importance in her world: her almost unknown father, and her
adored "Sir Knight" and hero Richard Stanton. But never for more than a
few hours of concentrated pain, like those at Algiers, had she suffered
for herself as she suffered for Ourïeda.

The "Little Rose," defenceless against the men who had power over her
fate (as all Arab women are defenceless, unless they choose death
instead of life), appealed to the latent motherhood that slept in the
heart of Sanda, as in the heart of every normal girl: appealed to the
romance in her: appealed to the sympathy born of her own love for
Stanton, which seemed as hopeless as Ourïeda's love for Manöel Valdez.
Would Manöel come in answer to one of those secretly sent letters? Would
anything happen to save Ourïeda from Tahar? The girl brought up to be a
Roman Catholic prayed to the Blessed Virgin. The girl brought up to be a
Mohammedan prayed to Allah. And the prayers of both, ascending from
different altars, like smoke of incense in a Christian church and in a
mosque, rose toward the same heaven. Yet no help came; and the summer
days slipped by, until at last it was September, the month fixed for the
wedding.

With the subtlety and soft cowardice of Mussulman women, young or old,
Ourïeda said no word to her father of her loathing for Tahar. When Sanda
begged her to tell him at least so much of the truth and trust to his
love, the girl replied always dully and hopelessly in the same way: it
would be useless. He was very fond of her, for her dead mother's sake
and her own. But the fire of youth had died down in his heart. He had
forgotten how he felt when love was the greatest thing on earth.
Besides, his own wife had been the exception to all womanhood, in his
eyes. The child she had left had been his dear plaything, his
consolation. Now he counted upon her to fulfil the ambitions of his
life, thwarted so far, because she had been a daughter. To have his
nephew, his heir by law, become the father of his grandsons, was his
best hope now, and nothing except Ourïeda's death or Tahar's death would
make him give it up.

"My dear nurse Embarka would kill Tahar for me if she could get at him,"
the "Little Rose" said one day, calmly. "That would end my trouble, but
she cannot reach him, and there is no one she can trust among those who
cook or serve food in the men's part of our house."

Sanda was struck with horror, but Ourïeda could not at first even
understand why she was shocked. "If a viper were ready to strike you or
one you loved, would you think harm of killing it?" she asked. "Tahar is
venomous as a viper. I should give thanks to Allah if he were dead, no
matter how he died. But since Allah does not will his death, I must pray
for courage to die myself rather than be false to Manöel, who has
perhaps himself gone to Paradise, since he does not answer when I call;
and if a woman can have a soul, I may belong to him there."

Sanda had forgiven her, realizing if not understanding fully the
difference between a heart of the East and a heart of the West, and
loving the Arab girl with unabated love. Up to the hour when Ben Râana
came into the garden of the harem and bade his daughter praise Allah
because her wedding day was at hand, Sanda hoped, and begged Ourïeda to
hope, that "something might happen." But even to her that seemed the
end, for the girl listened with meekness and offered no objection except
that the hot weather had stolen her strength: she was not well.

"Let the excitement of being a bride bring back thy health, like wine in
thy veins, Little Rose," said the Agha, speaking in French out of
compliment to the guest, and to show her that there was no family secret
under discussion which she might not share.

"It is not exciting to marry my cousin Tahar," Ourïeda sighed rather
than protested. "He is an ugly man, dreadful for a girl to look upon as
her husband."

"Thou makest me feel that thine aunt is right when she tells me I was
wrong ever to let thee look upon him or any man except thy father," the
Agha answered quickly, with a sudden light behind the darkness of his
eyes like the flash of a sword in the night. Sanda, knowing what she
knew, guessed at a hidden meaning in the words. He was remembering
Manöel, and wishing his daughter to see that he had never for a moment
forgotten the thing that had passed. The Agha, despite his eagle face,
had been invariably so gentle when with the women of his household, and
had seemed so cultured, so instructed in all the tenets of the twentieth
century, that Sanda had sometimes wondered if his daughter were not
needlessly afraid of him. But the unsheathing of that sword of light
convinced her of Ourïeda's wisdom. The girl knew her father. If she
dared to urge any further her dislike of Tahar he would believe it was
because of Manöel, and hurry rather than delay the wedding. Illness was
the only possible plea, and even to that Ben Râana seemed to attach
little importance. Marriage meant change and new interests. It should be
a tonic for a Rose drooping in the garden of her father's harem.

"Thou seest for thyself that it is no use to plead," whispered Ourïeda
when her father had gone, and Leila Mabrouka and her woman, Taous, on
the overhanging balcony, were loudly discussing details of the feast.
"Now, at last, is the time to tell the thing I waited to tell, till the
worst should come: the thing thou couldst do for me, which would be even
harder to do, and take more courage--oh! far more courage!--than leaving
the letters open."

The look in Ourïeda's eyes of topaz brown was more tragic, more
strangely fatal than Sanda had ever seen it yet, even on the roof in the
sunset when the story of Manöel had been told. The heart of her friend
felt like a clock that is running down. She was afraid to know the thing
which Ourïeda wanted her to do; yet she must know--and make up her mind.
It seemed as if there were nothing she could refuse, still----

"What is it you mean?" she whispered back, the two heads leaning
together over a frame of bright embroidery in Ourïeda's lap, and the
tinkle of the fountain drowning the soft voices, even if the chatter at
the door of Leila Mabrouka's room above had not covered the secret
words.

"When I said there was a thing I would ask, if the worst came," Ourïeda
repeated, "I meant one of two things. If thou wilt do either, they are
for thee to choose between. But thou wilt think them both terrible, and
my only hope is that thou lovest me."

"You know I do," Sanda breathed.

"Enough to do what I am too poor a coward to do for myself, and Embarka
has refused to do?"

"Not--oh, no, no, you can't mean----"

"Yes, thou hast guessed. No one need ever suspect. I would think of a
way. I've thought of one already. There'd be no pain for me. And yet--I
suppose because I am young and my blood runs hot in my veins, I fear--I
am sure--I couldn't, when the moment came, do it myself."

"Even for you, I can't be a murderess," Sanda said miserably, almost
apologetically.

"It is thy strange Christian superstition which makes thee call it that.
It would be our fate; and thou couldst go away and be happy, feeling
thou hadst saved me from life which is worse than death sometimes.
Still, if thou wilt not, there is the other thing. Will thou help me to
escape?"

"Oh, yes!" cried Sanda.

"Wait till thou hast heard my plan. Maybe thou wilt change thy mind."

"I feel sure I shan't change it."

"But the plan may make thee hate me, and think I am cruel and selfish,
caring for no one except myself. Besides, there will be lies to tell;
and I know thou dost not like lies, though to me they seem no harm if
they are to do good in the end."

"Tell me the plan."

Ourïeda told it, while overhead on the balcony her Aunt
Mabrouka--Tahar's mother--chatted of the merchants in Djazerta who sold
silks from Tunis and perfumes from Algiers.

The plan was very hateful, very dangerous and treacherous. But--it was
to save Ourïeda. The Arab girl proposed to Sanda that she should pretend
to have a letter from Colonel DeLisle calling her back at once to
Sidi-bel-Abbés, not giving her even time to wait for the wedding. Ben
Râana would reluctantly consent to her going: he would give her an
escort--not Tahar, because Tahar must stay for his marriage--but some
trustworthy men of his _goum_, and good camels. On the camel prepared
for her would be of course a bassourah with heavy curtains: probably the
one in which she had already travelled. It went also without saying that
Sanda would make the journey in Arab dress, such as she had worn during
her visit. Ourïeda would pretend to be ill with grief because her friend
must leave her at such a time; already she had prepared the Agha's mind
by complaining of weakness. She would take to her bed and refuse to see
any one but her nurse, Embarka. Lella Mabrouka, glad to be rid of the
Roumia girl (of whom, beneath her politeness, she had always
disapproved), and hating illness, would gladly keep out of the way for
two or three days, while the wedding preparations went on. It would be
easy, or almost easy, if no accident happened, Ourïeda argued, for her
to go away veiled and swathed in the bassourah, while Sanda lay in bed
in a darkened room. At Touggourt the veiled lady would be met by that
Captain Amaranthe and his wife of whom Sanda had spoken: they must be
written to immediately and told to expect Mademoiselle DeLisle. Then
trouble might come, if they suspected, but perhaps they would not, if
Sanda wrote that she had been ill with influenza and had nearly lost her
voice. They might send her off by train, guessing nothing, or, if they
did guess, she must throw herself on Madame Amaranthe's mercy. No woman
with a heart would give her up! And if the plan succeeded, instead of
going to Sidi-bel-Abbés she would go to Oran where she could find a ship
that would take her to Marseilles. Her jewels (some which had been her
mother's, and many new ones given by her father) would pay the expenses
and keep her in France, hidden from Ben Râana and beyond his power,
until perhaps Manöel found her through advertisements she would put into
all the French papers.

As for Sanda, the result for her when the trick was discovered (as it
ought not to be until Ourïeda had got out of Algeria) would be simple.
She was the daughter of Ben Râana's friend, a soldier of importance in
the eyes of France. Colonel DeLisle had entrusted her to the Agha's
care, and she could not be punished as though she were an Arab woman. If
Embarka or any member of Ben Râana's household so betrayed him and his
dearest hopes the right revenge would be death, and no one outside would
ever hear what had been done, for tragedies of the harem are sacred. To
Mademoiselle DeLisle, however, her host could do nothing, except send
her with a safe escort out of his home. And that would be her one
desire.

At first it seemed to Sanda that she could not do what Ourïeda asked.
With tears she said no, they must think of some other way. And the
Little Rose did not argue or plead. She answered only that she had
thought, and there was no other way but the one which Sanda had refused.
Then she was silent, and the light died out of her eyes, leaving them
dull, almost glazed, as if her soul, that had been gazing through the
windows, had gone to some dark sepulchre of hope.

It was because of this silence and this look that Sanda changed her
mind, after one day and night, all of which she spent--vainly--in trying
to find another plan. A letter did come from her father, as she and
Ourïeda had hoped it might (Colonel DeLisle, while still at
Sidi-bel-Abbés, found time to scribble off a few lines to his girl for
each camel post that travelled through the dunes from Touggourt to
Djazerta), and in sickness of heart Sanda pretended that she was wanted
"at home." The Agha was grieved and astonished, but, great Arab
gentleman that he was, would have cut out his tongue rather than
question his guest when no information was volunteered. He asked only if
she had been in all ways kindly treated in his house; and when with
swimming eyes she answered "yes," it was enough. The caravan was
prepared to take her to Touggourt, where she would be met by her former
travelling companions, Captain Amaranthe and his wife; and the Agha
assured her that only the marriage--an event unlucky to
postpone--prevented him from sending his nephew as before, or going
himself as her escort.

The start was to be made very early in the morning, before dawn, in
order that the caravan might rest during the two hours of greatest heat
without shortening the day's march; and this was in the girl's favour.
Sanda had said farewell to Lella Mabrouka the night before, that the
lady need not wake before her usual hour: but not only did she wake; she
rose, very quietly, and saw Embarka tiptoeing along the balcony from
Sanda's room to Ourïeda's with the new gandourah and extra thick veil
she herself had given the guest to travel in. When Embarka was out of
the way Lella Mabrouka, in her night robe, pattered softly to Sanda's
closed door and knocked. No answer. She peeped in and saw the room
empty.

Sanda might have gone to bid Ourïeda good-bye at the last minute: that
would be natural; and it was the last minute, because the sky was
changing its night purple for the gray of dawn, and from the distant
courtyard Lella Mabrouka had heard some time ago the grunting of the
camels. (She was a light sleeper always: and afterward she told Ben
Râana and Tahar that Allah had doubtless sent some messenger to touch
her shoulder at this hour of fate.) She had had no definite suspicions
until that moment, except that she was always vaguely suspicious of the
girls' confidences; but suddenly an idea leaped into her mind, the
suggestion of just such a trick as she herself would have been subtle
enough to play. If the Roumia went to the room of her friend to disturb
her (though Ourïeda had been ailing for days), why did she not go
already dressed, by Embarka's help, for the start, since it was time to
set out, and the Agha must be waiting in the courtyard to bid Allah
speed his guest? There might be a simple and innocent reason for what
struck Lella Mabrouka as mysterious, but she determined to find out.
With suddenness she flung open the door of Ourïeda's room (which
Embarka, believing Lella Mabrouka safely asleep, had not locked), and by
the light of a French lamp she saw the old nurse draping Ourïeda in the
Roumia's veil. In Ourïeda's green and gold bed from Tunis lay Sanda in a
nightdress of Ourïeda's with her head wrapped up as Ourïeda's was often
wrapped by Embarka as a cure for headache.

Instantly the whole plot was clear to the mother of Tahar. She saw how
Ourïeda had meant to go, and how Sanda would have kept her place,
guarded from intrusion by the old nurse, until the fugitive was safely
out of reach.

Ourïeda, quick of mind as the older and more experienced woman,
explained without waiting to be asked that she and her dearest Sanda had
exchanged clothing, just for a moment, according to the old Arab
superstition that garments changed between those who love have the power
of giving some quality of the owner to the friend. Sanda said nothing at
all, knowing that she would but make matters worse by speaking. When she
understood what the story was to be (she had given hours of each day
during the past months to learning Arabic) she sat up in bed and begun
unwrapping her head as if to prepare for the journey, now that time
pressed, and she must again put on her own things. But if she had had
the slightest hope that Lella Mabrouka might be deceived by Ourïeda's
plausible excuse, the cold glint of black eyes staring at her in the
lamplight would have stabbed it to death.

A woman of Europe, burning with rage like Mabrouka's, might have blurted
out fierce reproaches or insults; but the woman of the harem did not
even put her discovery into words. She looked at Ourïeda and the Roumia,
and said quietly: "It was a charming idea to wear each other's clothes
so that each might have something of the other in her heart forever.
Already I can see a likeness. But do not hurry to change now. I came to
say that for a reason, to be explained later, the caravan cannot start
to-day. Our Little White Moon will light our sky for a time longer. Come
with me, Embarka, I have work for thee. These dear children may have the
pleasure of dressing each other."

Ashy pale under her bronze skin, Embarka obeyed without protest,
throwing one look at her beloved mistress as she followed Lella Mabrouka
to her fate. Her great, dilated eyes said: "Good-bye forever, oh, thou
whom I love, and for whom I have given myself without regret."

When they were left alone the girls fell into each other's arms as if
for protection against some terrible fate coming swiftly to destroy
them. Though the September dawn had in it the warmth of summer, they
shivered as they clung together.

"It is all over!" Ourïeda said. "Allah is against me."

"What will happen?" asked Sanda, a horror of the unknown upon her.

"Nothing to thee. Do not be afraid."

"I'm not afraid for myself. I am thinking of you."

"For me this is the end."

"You don't mean--surely your father will not----"

"He will not take my life. He will take from me his love. And I shall be
watched every instant till I have been given to Tahar. I shall not even
have a chance to kill myself--unless I do it now."

"Ourïeda! No--there's hope still. Who can tell----"

But Ourïeda did not hear. Suddenly she tore herself free from Sanda's
arms, and running to one of the carved cedarwood doors in the white wall
of the bedroom, opened a little cupboard. There, fumbling among perfumed
parcels, rolled as Arab women roll their garments, she snatched from a
bundle of silk a small stiletto with a jewelled handle. Sanda had seen
it before, and had been bidden to admire its rough, square emeralds and
queerly shaped pearls. The thing had belonged to Ourïeda's mother, and
had been given to the daughter by the Agha on her sixteenth birthday,
nearly a year ago. Ben Râana's Spanish wife had worn it in her dark
hair; but Ben Râana's daughter, even from the first, had thought of it
for another purpose. Last night, when Embarka had packed the jewels
among Sanda's things for the secret journey, Ourïeda had kept out the
stiletto in case of failure. Now it was ready to her hand, and before
Sanda could reach her the point of its thin blade pressed the flesh over
the heart. But the pin prick of pain as the skin broke was too sharp a
prophecy of anguish for the petted child who knew herself physically a
coward. She gave a cry, dropped the stiletto as if the handle had burnt
her, and, stumbling against the girl who tried to hold her up, fell in a
limp heap on the floor.

There was no time to hide the stiletto, even if Sanda had thought to do
so, before Taous, Lella Mabrouka's woman, came quietly into the room. No
doubt Mabrouka had meant to send her, but had not told the girls,
because she wished her servant to surprise them. Gathering up Ourïeda,
who had fainted, or seemed to faint, the negress's bright eyes spied the
dagger. Freeing one hand as easily as if Ourïeda's weight had been that
of a baby, she took the weapon and slipped it into her dress. Whether
she meant to show the dagger to her mistress, or to keep it for herself,
who could say?

Sanda would not leave Ourïeda when the girl had been laid on the bed by
Taous, but presently, after half an hour's absence, Lella Mabrouka
returned. "Thou mayest go now," said the formidable woman. "We who love
and understand her will restore our Rose with her name's perfume, which
has the power of bringing back lost senses. Have no fear for her health,
Little Moon. All will be well with our sweet bride. Dress thyself, not
for a journey, but for a visit from my brother, the Agha, who will do
himself the honour of calling upon thee when thou art ready to descend
to our reception-room. Thou being a Roumia, with customs different to
ours, may receive him alone, otherwise I would leave our Little Rose to
Taous, and go with thee."

Despite the unbroken courtesy of Mabrouka's manner, or all the more
because of its frozen calm, Sanda was sick with a deadly fear. She was
not afraid that the Agha would do her bodily harm, but the whole world
seemed to have come to an end because of her treachery. She did not know
how she could meet his eyes, those eyes of an eagle, after what she had
tried to do. She was afraid he would question her about what she knew of
Ourïeda's secrets, and though she resolved that nothing should make her
speak, her heart seemed turning to water.



CHAPTER XX

THE BEAUTY DOCTOR


"If my father were only here!" Sanda said as she went down to the great
room of state where the ladies of the Agha's harem received their few
visitors. And then she thought of Maxime St. George, her soldier. She
recalled the night when she had been afraid of the storm, and he had sat
by her through the long hours. Somehow, she did not know why, it helped
a little to remember that.

Ben Râana, graver and sterner than she had seen him, was waiting in the
early dawn which struck out bleak lights from the dangling prisms of the
big French chandeliers--the ugly chandeliers of which Lella Mabrouka was
proud. He asked no questions; and somehow that seemed worse than the
ordeal for which Sanda had braced herself. The Agha's voice, politely
speaking French, was studiously gentle, but icy contempt was in his dark
eyes when they were not deliberately turned from the trusted guest who
had betrayed him. He said he had summoned her to announce, with regret,
that, owing to the illness of the man appointed as conductor of the
caravan, it would not be able to start for some time. At present there
was no other person equally trustworthy who could be spared. "I am
responsible to thy father for thy safety," he added. "And though we poor
Arabs are behind these modern times in many ways, we would die rather
than betray a trust."

That was a stroke well aimed under the roses of courtesy, and Sanda
could but receive it in silence. She had supposed when Lella Mabrouka
spoke of the caravan not going that it was only a threat. Her
expectation was to be sent out of the house at once, in disgrace, and
though her soul yearned over Ourïeda, all that was timid in her pined to
go. It was surprising--if anything could surprise her then--to hear that
she must remain.

"Almost surely I shan't be allowed to see Ourïeda again, and if I can't
help her any more I might as well beg father to send for me at once,"
she told herself, when Ben Râana, formally taking leave of her, with
hand on forehead and heart, had gone. She went slowly and miserably to
her own room to await developments, and while she waited, hastily wrote
the message to Colonel DeLisle which three days later found him at
Touggourt.

In writing, she feared that her letter might never be allowed to reach
her father; but she wronged Ben Râana. He had spoken no more than the
truth (though he spoke to hurt) in saying he would rather die than
betray a trust. At that time he still kept his calmness, because the
plot arranged by the two girls had not succeeded. His daughter was still
safe under his own roof, and it was not an unexpected blow to him that
she should have wished to escape from Tahar. He knew in his heart that
Ourïeda was more to blame than Sanda, and seeing shame on the young,
pale face of the Roumia he had no fear of anything George DeLisle's
daughter might report to her father. Her letter went by the courier, as
all her other letters had gone. Mabrouka's advice to keep it back, or
at least to steam the envelope open and see what was inside, was scorned
by Ben Râana; and to Sanda's astonishment she was actually sent for to
visit Ourïeda.

This was in the afternoon of the day whose dawn had seen the girls'
defeat. Ourïeda was in bed, and Taous sat by the open door with an
embroidery frame. But Taous understood neither French nor English. In
exchange for the lessons Ourïeda gave Sanda in Arabic, Sanda had given
lessons in English; therefore, lest Aunt Mabrouka might be listening,
and lest she might have picked up more French than she cared to confess,
the two girls chose the language of which Ourïeda had learned to
understand more than she could speak.

"How thankful I am to see you, dearest!" cried Sanda. "Didn't you think,
after what your aunt said, that I should be sent away this morning?
Would you have dreamed, even if I stayed, that we should be allowed to
meet and talk like this?"

Ourïeda answered, slowly and brokenly, that she had not believed Sanda
would be permitted to go. Aunt Mabrouka had not stopped to reflect when
she had made that threat, or else she had hoped to part them, and to
make Ourïeda believe Sanda had gone. "You see," the girl explained in
her halting English, "they--my father and my aunt--shall have too much
of the fear to let you go till after all is finished."

"Finished?"

"When the marrying has been over thou canst go. Then it too late. My
father shall be sure, thee and me, we know where M---- is, that our plan
was for him. I say no, but he not believe. That is for why they keep
thee here, so thou not tell M---- things about me. But my father, he
shall not be mean and little in his mind like my aunt. He not listen to
the words she speak when she say not let us meet together. My father
know very well now we shall be finded out, it is the end for us. He not
have fear for what we do if some person shall watch to see I not kill
myself."

"What has become of poor Embarka?" Sanda asked.

Ourïeda shook her head, unutterable sadness in her eyes. "I think never
shall I know that in this world."

Ill, without feigning, as the girl was, the wedding was to be hurried
on. The original idea had been for the week of wedding festivities to
begin on the girl's seventeenth birthday; but now Ben Râana said that,
in promising his daughter the delay she asked for, he had always
intended to begin the week before and give the bride to the bridegroom
on the anniversary of her birth.

Ourïeda no longer pleaded. She had given up hope, and resigned herself
with the deadly calmness of resignation which only women of the
Mussulman faith can feel. It was clear that her will was not as Allah's
will. And women came not on earth for happiness. It was not sure that
they even had souls.

"Allah has appointed that I marry my cousin Tahar," she said to Sanda,
"and I shall marry him, because I have not another stiletto nor any
poison, and I am always watched so that, even if I had the courage, I
could not throw myself down from the roof. But afterward--I am not sure
yet what I shall do. All I know is that I shall never be a wife to
Tahar. Something will happen to one of us. It may be to me, or it may
be to him. But something _must_ happen."

The Agha himself had caused to be built at Djazerta a _hammam_ copied in
miniature after a fine Moorish bath in Algiers, at which he bathed when
he went north to attend the governor's yearly ball. All Arab brides of
high rank or low must go through great ceremonies of the bath in the
week of the wedding feast, and no exception could be made in Ourïeda's
case. The privacy of the _hammam_ was secured for the Agha's daughter by
hiring it for a day, and no one was to be admitted to the women's part
of the bath except the few ladies who had enough social importance to
expect invitations. That Lella Mabrouka and Sanda would be there was a
matter of course; and, besides them, there were the wives and daughters
of two or three sheikhs and caids, all of whom Sanda already knew by
sight, as they had paid ceremonious visits to the great man's harem
since her arrival at Djazerta.

The Agha had a carriage, large, old-fashioned, and musty-smelling, but
lined with gold-stamped crimson silk from Tunis. It could be used only
between his house and the town, or to reach the oasis just beyond, for
there was nowhere else to go; but, drawn by stalwart mules in Spanish
harness, for years it had taken the ladies of his household to the baths
and back. Lella Mabrouka and Taous (both veiled, though they had passed
the age of attractiveness when hiding the face is obligatory) chaperoned
the bride and her friend, the coachman and his assistant being fat and
elderly eunuchs.

At the doorway of the domed building, the only new one in Djazerta,
there was much stately fuss of screening the ladies as they left the
seclusion of the carriage. Then came a long, tiled corridor, which
opened into a room under the dome of the _hammam_, and there the party
was met not only by bowing female attendants, but by the guests, who had
arrived early to welcome them. Ourïeda was received with pretty cries
and childlike, excited chattering, not only by her girl friends, but the
older women. All were undressed, ready for the bath, or they could not
have followed the bride to the hot rooms; and that was the object and
pleasure of the visit. Every one shrieked compliments as the clothing of
the Agha's daughter was delicately removed by the beaming negresses; and
gifts of gold-spangled bonbons, wonderfully iced cakes, crystallized
fruit, flowers, gilded bottles of concentrated perfume, mother-o'-pearl
and tortoise boxes, gaudy silk handkerchiefs made in Paris for Algerian
markets, and little silver fetiches were presented to the bride. She
thanked the givers charmingly, though in a manner so subdued and with a
face so grave that the visitors would have been astonished had not Lella
Mabrouka explained that she had been ill with an attack of fever.

From hot room to hotter room the women trooped, resting, when they felt
inclined, upon mattings spread on marble, while the bride, the queen of
the occasion, was given a divan. They ate sweets and drank pink sherbet
or syrup-sweet coffee, and, instead of being bathed by one of the
attendants, Ourïeda was waited upon by a great personage who came to
Djazerta only for the weddings of the highest. Originally she was from
Tunis, where her profession is a fine art; but having been superseded
there she had moved to Algiers, then to Touggourt; and thence the Agha
had summoned her for his daughter. She was Zakia, _la hennena_, a
skilled beautifier of women; and she had been sent for, some days in
advance of the great occasion, in order (being past her youth) to
recover from the fatigue of the journey. None of the young girls had
ever seen her, and exclaiming with joy they fingered her scented pastes
and powders.

This bridal bath ceremony, being more intricate than any ordinary bath,
took a long time, and when it was over, and Ourïeda a perfumed statue of
ivory, the cooling-room was entered for the dyeing of the bride's hair.
The girl's face showed how she disliked the process; but it being an
unwritten law that the hair of an Arab bride must be coloured with
_sabgha_, she submitted. After the first shudder she sat with downcast
eyes, looking indifferent, for nothing mattered to her now. Since Manöel
would never see it again, and perhaps it would soon lie deep under earth
in a coffin, she cared very little after all that the long hair he had
thought beautiful must lose its lovely sheen for fashion's sake.

Now and then, as she worked, Zakia stooped over her victim, bringing her
old, peering face close to the bowed face of the girl to make sure the
dye did not touch it. Sanda, who had been grudgingly granted a thin
muslin robe for the bath because of her strange Roumia ideas of baring
the face and covering the body, noticed these bendings of _la hennena_,
but thought nothing of them until she happened to catch a new expression
in Ourïeda's eyes. Suddenly the gloom of hopelessness had gone out of
them: and it could not be that this was the effect of the compliments
rained upon her in chorus by the guests, for until that instant the most
fantastic praise of hair, features, and figure had not extorted a smile.
What could the woman have said to give back in an instant the girl's
lost bloom and sparkle? Sanda wondered. It was like a miracle. But it
lasted only for a moment. Then it seemed that by an effort Ourïeda
masked herself once more with tragedy. She turned one of her slow, sad
glances toward her aunt; and Sanda was sure she looked relieved on
seeing Lella Mabrouka absorbed in talk with the plump wife of a caid.

According to custom in great houses of the south, _la hennena_ was
escorted, after the women's fête at the _hammam_, to the home of the
bride, where she was to spend the remainder of the festive week in
heightening the girl's beauty. She was given the guest-room of the
harem, second in importance to that occupied by Colonel DeLisle's
daughter. This, as it happened, was nearer to Ourïeda's room than
Sanda's or even Lella Mabrouka's; and as, during the two days that
followed, Zakia was almost constantly occupied in blanching the bride's
ivory skin with almond paste, staining her fingers red as coral with a
decoction of henna and cochineal, and saturating her hair and body with
a famous permanent perfume, sometimes Lella Mabrouka and Taous ventured
to leave the two girls chaperoned only by _la hennena_. That was because
neither had seen the sudden light in Ourïeda's eyes after the face of
Zakia had approached hers at the _hammam_.

For the first day there was no solution of the mystery for Sanda, who
had waited to hear she knew not what. But at last, in a room littered
with pastes and perfume bottles, and lighted by the traditional long
candles wound with coloured ribbon, Ourïeda spoke, in Arabic, that the
_hennena_ might not be hurt.

"Zakia says I may tell thee our secret," she said. "At first she was
afraid, but now she sees that she may trust thee as I do. Didst thou
guess there was a secret?"

"Yes," answered Sanda.

"I thought so! Well, it is this: At the _hammam_ is employed a cousin of
Embarka's. I feared never to hear of Embarka again; but my father is
more enlightened than I thought. He might have ordered her death, and
the eunuchs would have obeyed, and no one would ever have known. Yet he
did no more than send her away, giving her no time even to pack that
which was hers. He did not care what became of her, being sure that she
could never again enter our house. But he did not know of the cousin in
the _hammam_. And perhaps he did not stop to think that I might have
given Embarka jewels for helping me. She would have helped without
payment, because she loved me. But I wished to reward her. She hid the
things in her clothing; and when she was turned out she still thought of
me, not of herself. She knew I would go to the _hammam_ before my
marriage, and that Zakia had been sent for to bathe me and make me
beautiful. So she gave her cousin there a present, and all the rest of
the jewels she gave to Zakia, for a promise Zakia made. Nothing has
Embarka kept of all my gifts. It was like her! The rest is easy now. I
shall never again know happiness, but neither shall I know the shame of
giving myself to a man I hate when heart and soul belong to one I
love."

"Can _la hennena_ help you to escape?" Sanda wanted to know.

"From Tahar, yes. Here is the way," Ourïeda answered. And she held out
for Sanda to see a tiny pearl-studded gold box, one of many quaint
ornaments on a chain the girl always wore round her neck. She had
explained the meaning or contents of each fetich long ago, and Sanda
knew all about the sacred eye from Egypt, the white coral horn to ward
off evil, the silver and emerald case with a text from the Koran blessed
by a great saint or marabout, and the pearl-crusted gold box containing
a lock of hair certified to be that of Fatma Zora, the Prophet's
favourite daughter.

"I have put the hair with the text," said Ourïeda. "Look, in its place
this tiny bottle of white powder. Canst thou guess what it is for?"

The blood rushed to Sanda's face, then back to her heart. But she did
not answer. She only looked at Ourïeda: a wide-eyed, fascinated look.

"Thou hast guessed," the Agha's daughter said in a very little voice
like a child's. "But I shall not use it if, when I have told him how I
hate him, he consents to let me alone. If he is a fool, why, he brings
his fate on himself. This is for his lips, if they try to touch mine."

"But," Sanda gasped; "you would be a----"

"I know the word in thy mind. It is 'murderess.' Yet my conscience would
be clear. It would be for the sake of my love--to keep true to my
promise at any cost. And the cost might be my life. They would find
out; they would know how he died. This is no coward's act like smiling
at a man and giving him each day powdered glass or chopped hair of a
leopard in his food, which many of our women do, to kill and leave no
trace. If I break, I pay."

As she spoke the door opened and Lella Mabrouka came swiftly into the
room, fierce-eyed as a tigress whose cub is threatened. She was
tight-lipped and silent, but her eyes spoke, and all three knew that she
had listened. Such words as she had missed her quick wit had caught and
patched together. Ourïeda's wish to propitiate Zakia by not seeming to
talk secrets before her had undone them both. But it was too late for
regrets, and even for lies.

Lella Mabrouka clapped her hands, and Taous came, to be told in a tense
voice that the Agha must be summoned. Then Mabrouka turned to the
Roumia.

"Go, thou! This has nothing to do with thee," was all she said.

Sanda glanced at her friend, and an answering glance bade her obey. She
rose and went out, along the balcony to the door of her own room. This
she left open, thinking with a fast-beating heart that if there were any
cry she would run back, no matter what they might do to her. But there
was no cry, no sound of any kind, only the cooing of doves which had
flown down into the fountain court, hoping Ourïeda might throw them
corn.

The custom of the house was for the three ladies to take their meals
together in a room where occasionally, as a great honour, the Agha dined
with them. That evening a tray of food was brought to Sanda with polite
regrets from Lella Mabrouka because she and her niece were too
indisposed by the hot weather to forsake the shelter of their rooms.
Politeness, always politeness, with these Arabs of high birth and
manners! thought the Irish-French girl in a passionate revolt against
the curtain of silk velvet softly let down between her and the secrets
of Ben Râana's harem. This time it might be, she said to herself, that
politeness covered tragedy. But the same night she received another
message from Mabrouka. It was merely to say that, the air of Djazerta
not being healthful at this time of year, the Agha had decided, for his
daughter's sake, to finish the week of the wedding feast out in the
desert, at the _douar_.



CHAPTER XXI

THE ELEVENTH HOUR


When Max, at the head of his small caravan, came in sight of the Agha's
_douar_, it was almost noon, and the desert, shimmering with heat, was
motionless, as if under enchantment. They had travelled through the
night, after learning that Ben Râana and his family had gone from
Djazerta, with intervals of rest no longer than those allowed to the
Legion on march. What they saw was a giant tent as large as a circus
tent in a village of America or Europe surrounded at a distance by an
army of little tents, black and dirty brown, so flat and low that they
were like huge bats with outstretched wings resting on the sand. The
great tent of the chief with its high roof, its vast spread of white,
red, and amber striped cloth of close-woven camel's hair, rose nobly
above all the others, as a mosque rises above a crowd of prostrate
worshippers at prayer. For background, there was a clump of trees; for
here, in the far southern desert, just outside a waving welter of dunes,
lay a region of _dayas_, where a wilderness of sand and tumbled stones
was brightened by green hollows half full of gurgling water.

Never before had Max seen a _douar_ of importance, the desert dwelling
of a desert chief. But Manöel had been here before; and the
camel-drivers, if they had not visited this _douar_, were familiar with
others. Max alone wondered at the great tent, whose many different
compartments sheltered the Agha, his whole family, and servants brought
from Djazerta. As the caravan wound nearer to watching eyes, another
tent, not so big, but new and brilliant of colour, separated itself from
the vast bulk of the _tente sultane_.

"What is that?" Max asked Manöel, who rode beside him as interpreter,
his dark-stained face almost covered by the white folds of his woollen
hood, the fire of his young eyes dimmed and aged by a pair of cheap,
silver-rimmed spectacles such as elderly Arabs wear.

"The Agha must have ordered that new tent to be set up for Tahar,"
Manöel answered gruffly; and Max guessed from the sharpening of his tone
and the brevity of his explanation that this was the desert dwelling
appointed for the bridegroom when he should take his bride.

In the boldness of their plan lay its hope of success; for though Ben
Râana's suspicions were on the alert he would not expect the banished
lover to ride brazenly up to his tent, side by side with a soldier
messenger from Colonel DeLisle. There was an instant of suspense after
the corporal on leave and his Arab interpreter were received by the Agha
in a reception-room whose walls were red woollen draperies; but it was
scarcely longer than a heartbeat. Ben Râana had just come out from
another room beyond, where, the curtains falling apart, several guests
in the high turbans of desert dignitaries could be seen seated on
cushions and waited upon by Soudanese men who were serving a meal.

The Agha scarcely glanced at Max's companion, the dark, spectacled Arab,
but announcing in French that no interpreter would be needed, he clapped
his hands to summon a servant. One of the black men lifted the red
curtains higher and came in, received instructions as to the
interpreter's entertainment, and led him away. Max could hardly keep
back a sigh of relief, for that had been a bad moment. Now it was over,
and with it his personal responsibility in his friend's adventure. It
had been agreed between them that Colonel DeLisle's messenger to Ben
Râana should have no further hand in the plot against the Agha. The rest
was for Manöel alone, unless at the end help should be necessary (and
possible) for Ourïeda's rescue.

Max delivered a letter from DeLisle, and the Agha read it slowly
through. Then he raised his eyes and fixed them upon the Legionnaire as
if wondering how far he might be in his colonel's confidence.

"My friend has sent thee to escort his daughter to Sidi-bel-Abbés," Ben
Râana said thoughtfully. "Although he cannot be there himself, he
believes the northern climate will be better for her health at this time
of year. Perhaps he is right; though my daughter, whom she has visited,
would have been delighted as a married woman to keep Mademoiselle
DeLisle with her. However, my friend's will is as Allah's will. It must
be done. The day after to-morrow my daughter's wedding feast will be
over and she will go to her husband's tent. Remain here quietly till
then as my guest. Thy interpreter and the persons of thy caravan shall
be well cared for, I promise thee, by my household. When my daughter
leaves me the daughter of my friend shall go in peace at the same hour,
in thy charge."

As he spoke his eyes remained on the messenger's face, watching for any
change of expression, and noting the flush that mounted through the
soldier-tan.

"I am very sorry," said Max, "but Colonel DeLisle has given me only
short leave. There was just enough time to get me to Djazerta, from
Touggourt, and to do the journey comfortably to Sidi-bel-Abbés. He is a
prompt man, as you know. He thinks and acts quickly. It didn't occur to
him that there need be any great delay. Already there has been a day
lost returning from Djazerta, where I heard that you were at your
_douar_. A day and a half here, much as I should like to be your guest,
would mean overstaying my leave. That, you will see, is impossible."

"If it is impossible, I fear that thou must go from here with thy
mission unfulfilled and without Mademoiselle," replied the Agha,
irritatingly calm. "For on my side it is impossible to let her go before
my daughter is--_safely_ married."

He smiled as he spoke, but the pause and the emphasis on a certain word
were deliberate. Max was meant to understand it, in case DeLisle had
confided in him. If not, it did not matter; he would realize that he had
had his ultimatum. Max did realize this, and, after a stunned second,
accepted the inevitable.

"I'll write to Sidi-bel-Abbés and explain. It's all I can do," was the
thought which ran through his head as he politely informed the Agha that
he would, at any cost, wait for Mademoiselle DeLisle.

"May I see her and deliver in person a letter I have from her father?"
he asked.

But Ben Râana regretted that this might not be until all was ready for
the start, which must be made in the evening after the end of the
marriage feast, unless Corporal St. George preferred to wait till the
morning after. The customs of a country must be respected by those
sojourning in that country; and the Arab ladies visiting the _douar_
would be scandalized if a young girl were allowed to speak with a
strange man. There was nothing for it but submission, and Max submitted,
inwardly raging. He wrote explanations to the officer left in charge at
Sidi-bel-Abbés, the man to whom he must report; but no letter could
reach DeLisle for many weeks.

He was entertained as the Agha's guest, being introduced to Tahar Ben
Hadj and several caids invited for the bridegroom's part of the
festivities. There was much feasting, with music and strange dances in
Tahar's tent at night, and outside, fantasia for the _douar_ in honour
of the wedding; sheep roasted whole, and "powder play." What was going
on in the bride's half of her father's great tent Max did not know, but
he fancied that, above the beating of Tahar's tomtoms and the wild
singing of an imported Arab tenor, he could hear soft, distant wailings
of the ghesbah and the shrill "You--you--you!" of excited women. He
wondered if Sanda knew that he had come to take her away, and whether
Manöel had contrived to send a message to the bride.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same night Khadra Bent Djellab, the woman who had travelled from
Touggourt to return as Sanda's attendant, came from the camp of the
caravan asking if she might see her new mistress. All was hurry and
confusion in the women's part of the _tente sultane_, for a great feast
was going on which would last through most of the night. The excited
servants told Khadra that she must go, and come again to the tent in the
morning; but just then the music for a dance of love began, and Khadra
begged so hard to stay that she was allowed to stand with the servants.
She had never seen Sanda DeLisle, but she had been told by the
interpreter ("an order from the master," said he, slipping a five-franc
piece into her hand) that there would be no other Roumia in the company.
When Khadra caught sight of a golden-brown head, uncovered among the
heads wrapped in coloured silks or gauze, she cautiously edged nearer
it, behind the double rank of serving-women. All were absorbed in
staring at the dancing-girl, a celebrity who had been brought from an
oasis town farther south. She had arrived at Djazerta and had travelled
to the _douar_ when the family hastily flitted; but this was the night
of her best dance. Nobody remembered Khadra. When she was close behind
Sanda she pretended to drop a big silk handkerchief, such as Arab women
love. Squatting down to pick it up, she contrived to thrust into a small
white hand hanging over an edge of the divan a ball of crumpled paper,
and gently shut the fingers over it. A few months, or even weeks, ago
Sanda would have started at the touch and looked round. But her long
stay among Arab women, and the drama of the last eight days, had
schooled her to self-control. Instantly she realized that some new plot
was on, and that she was to be mixed up in it. She was deadly sick of
plotting, but she loved Ourïeda, and had advised her not to give up hope
until the last minute. Perhaps something unexpected might come to pass.
With that soft, secret touch on her hand, and the feel of the paper in
her palm, she knew that her prophecy was being fulfilled.

Not far away sat the bride, raised high above the rest of the company on
a kind of throne made of carved wood, painted red and thickly gilded. It
had served generations of brides in the Agha's family, and had been
brought out from Djazerta. Sanda glanced up from the divan of cushions
on which she and the other women guests reclined to see if Ourïeda was
looking her way. But the girl's great eyes were fixed and introspective.

When Sanda was sure that Lella Mabrouka and Taous, her spy, were both
intent on the figure posturing in the cleared space in the centre of the
room, she cautiously unfolded the ball of paper. Holding it on her lap,
half hidden by the frame of her hands, she saw a fine, clear black
writing, a writing new to her. The words--French words--seemed to spring
to her eyes:

   "Tell Ourïeda that I am here. She will know who. Perhaps you know
   also. There is only one thing to do. She must go, when the time
   comes, to Tahar's tent, but let her have no fear. At night, when her
   bridegroom should come to her, I will come instead and take her away.
   No one will know till the morning after, so we shall have a long
   start. For a while I will hide her in a house at Djazerta, where I
   have friends who will keep us safe until the search is over. No one
   will think of the town. All will believe that we have joined you and
   the caravan which your father has sent in charge of Corporal St.
   George. It is with him I have come, for I, too, am a Legionnaire. I
   hope to see St. George and explain my latest plans, but already he
   knows that I shall try and reach Spain or Italy. There I can make
   myself known without fear of capture and imprisonment. I can get
   engagements and money. If anything prevents my seeing St. George
   again, after I have started, show him this, or let him know what I
   have said.

   M.V."

Sanda's cheeks, which had been pale, brightened to carnation as she
read; but the dancer held all eyes. The girl crumpled up the letter and
palmed it again, wondering how to show it to Ourïeda, for they had not
once been allowed a moment alone in each other's company since the scene
with _la hennena_. Not that Sanda was suspected of a hand in that
affair, but she might have a hand in another plot. The thing was,
politely and kindly, to keep her a prisoner until after Ourïeda had gone
to her husband. Then Tahar could protect his property; and once an Arab
girl is married, she is seldom asked to elope, even by the bravest and
most enterprising of lovers. Some pretext must be thought of for the
giving of Manöel's letter. But what--what?

The answer was not long in coming. After the dance all the women, with
the exception of the throned, bejewelled bride, sprang or scrambled up
from their cushions to congratulate the celebrity. Some of them
testified their admiration by offering her rings, anklets, or little
gilded bottles of attar-of-rose which they had been holding in their
handkerchiefs; and even Aunt Mabrouka's sharp eyes did not see Sanda
slip the ball of paper into Ourïeda's hand when passing the throne to
give a gold brooch to the favourite.

The bride herself was forgotten for a few minutes. Every one was
caressing the dancer, patting her much-ringed hands, or touching her
bracelets and counting the almost countless gold coins of her head
ornaments and necklace. When Sanda dared glance across the crowd toward
Ourïeda she saw by the look in her eyes that the girl had read the
letter.



CHAPTER XXII

THE HEART OF MAX


Max had resigned himself days ago to Juan Garcia's desertion from the
Legion, since the girl must be saved. But he was far from happy about
his own position. The danger was that the day when he was due to report
himself at Sidi-bel-Abbés would come and he would be absent. His letter
of explanation ought to have arrived by that time, but it might be
considered the trick of a deserter. And even when he appeared, the news
of Garcia's desertion from his caravan must be told. The loss of a man
would be a black mark against him, and he would probably forfeit the
stripe on which he had been congratulated by the colonel.

There was consolation in the thought of seeing Sanda again, and the
certainty that she would "stand up" for him; but he did not realize just
how much that consolation would mean, until, after the delay of a day
and a half, word came that Mademoiselle DeLisle was ready to leave her
friend. The caravan had been assembled and waiting for the last hour,
and Max knew that the bride must have gone to her husband's tent. The
music had been wilder than before, the women's cries of joy louder and
more triumphant; and while he had been examining the trappings of
Sanda's camel a procession had gone by carrying aloft several big boxes
draped with brocade and cloth-of-gold: the bride's luggage on its way to
her new home. The feasting in the _tente sultane_ would continue all
that night, as on other nights; but Ourïeda and Tahar would be left
quietly in the tent of the bridegroom, alone until after dawn, when
Tahar would steal away and the girl's women friends would rush in to
wish her joy. That would be the hour, Max told himself, when all would
be found out, and the chase would begin. He had seen Manöel once since
the last details of the plot to rescue Ourïeda had been settled. He knew
that Manöel had sent a letter to her through Sanda, to whom it had been
given; but he was not sure if Sanda had been warned of the part she
would have to play.

It was of this, more than the personality of Sanda herself, that he
thought, as he waited, expecting her to come out from the Agha's tent.
But instead, she came from another direction, and he did not recognize
the slim figure in Arab dress until the well-remembered voice spoke
through the white veil:

"It is--my Soldier St. George!" Sanda cried in English, and a thrill ran
through the young man's blood. He forgot all about himself, his risks
and his perplexities, and nothing seemed to matter except that Sanda
DeLisle had come back into his life--the girl whose long, soft hair
brushed his face in dreams, the girl who had saved his belief in
womanhood and raised up for him, in his black need, a new ideal.

A tall negro woman, whose forehead was a strip of ebony, whose eyes were
beads of jet above her snowy veil, accompanied Mademoiselle DeLisle, and
the two had arrived from the bridegroom's tent, where doubtless Sanda
had been bidding the bride good-bye. Max realized that her attendant
would be shocked if he should offer to shake hands with the girl, so he
only bowed, and answered hastily in English that he was glad--glad to
see her again--glad to have the honour of being her guide. Khadra was
brought forward, and Sanda spoke a few words to her in Arabic. Then the
girl was helped into her bassourah, luggage being brought out by eunuchs
from the Agha's tent and packed in to balance the other side. Only when
the Roumia had retired behind the blue and red and purple curtains did
Ben Râana appear to wish his friend's daughter and messenger the
blessing of Allah on their journey. The caravan started, and it was not
until after the _douar_, with its green _daya_ and background of trees,
was dim in the distance that Sanda's curtains parted. Max, riding the
only horse in the party, saw the trembling of the rainbow-coloured
stuff, and glanced up, expectant. He found that his heart and all his
pulses were hammering, and as the girl's gold-brown head appeared, her
veil thrown off, something seemed to leap in his breast, something that
gave a bound like that of a great fish on a hook. She looked down and
smiled at him rather sadly, yet more sweetly it seemed to Max than any
other woman had ever smiled. He had not realized or remembered how
beautiful she was. Why, it was the most exquisite face in the world! An
angel's face, yet the face of a human girl. He adored it as a man may
adore an angel, and he loved it as a man loves a woman. A great and
irresistible tide of love rushed over him. What a fool, what a young,
simple fool he had been to think that he had ever loved Billie
Brookton! That seemed hundreds of years ago, in another incarnation,
when he had been undeveloped, when his soul had been asleep. His soul
was awake now! Something had awakened it; life in the Legion, perhaps,
for that had begun to show him his own capabilities; or else love
itself, which had been waiting to say: "I am here, now and forever."

Max was almost afraid to look at Sanda lest she should read through his
eyes the words written on his heart. But then he remembered in a flash
her love for Stanton, which would blind her to such feelings in other
men. He felt sick for an instant in his hopelessness. Wherever he
turned, whatever he did, happiness seemed never to be for him.

"You don't know how glad I am to see you!" the girl explained. "I've
thought of you so often and--" she was going to add impulsively--"and
dreamed about you, too!" but she remembered the Arab saying which
Ourïeda had told her: that when a woman dreams of a man, that is the man
she loves. It was a silly saying, and untrue; yet she kept back the
words in a queer sort of loyalty to Stanton--Stanton, who neither
thought nor dreamed of her.

"I was so thankful when I heard my father had sent for me," she quickly
went on. "I heard about it only through _that letter_--you know the one
I mean."

"Yes, I know," said Max. "I felt they didn't mean to tell you till the
last minute, though I could see no reason why. I--I was more than glad
and proud to be the one to come."

He was not hoping unselfishly that Colonel DeLisle mightn't have told in
his letter how the great march and the expected fight had been
sacrificed for her sake. He was not hoping this, because in his sudden
awakening to love he had forgotten the march. He was thinking of Sanda
and the wild happiness that would turn to pain in memory of being with
her for days in the desert. If, when he reached Sidi-bel-Abbés, he were
blamed for the delay, and punished by losing his stripe, or even by
prison, it would be nothing, or almost a joy, because he would be
suffering for her.

"It was only to-day they gave me father's letter, which you brought,"
Sanda was saying. "It was short, written in a hurry, in answer to one I
sent begging him to take me away. Yet he mentioned one thing: that he
didn't order you, but only asked if you were willing, to come. And he
told me what you answered. I can never thank you, but I do appreciate
it--_all_!"

"It was my selfishness," answered Max. "I said that the colonel was
giving me the Cross of the Legion of Honour. I felt that, then. I feel
it a lot more now." There was more truth in this than he wished her to
guess.

"You are the _realest_ friend!" cried Sanda. "Why, do you know, now I
come to think of it, unless I count my father, you are the only real
friend I have in the world?"

"You forget Mr. Stanton!" Max reminded her, without intending to be
cruel.

She blushed, and Max hated himself as if he had brought the colour to
her face with a blow.

"No," she answered quietly. "I never forget him. But you understand,
because I told you everything, that in my heart I can't call him my
friend. _He_ doesn't care enough, and _I_--care too much."

"Forgive me!" Max begged. "All the same I know he must care. He wouldn't
be human not to."

"He isn't human! He's superhuman!" She laughed, to cover her pain of
humiliation. "I suppose--long ago--he has started out on his wonderful
mission. I keep thinking of him travelling on and on through the desert,
and I pray he may be safe, and succeed in finding the Lost Oasis he
believes in. He told me in Algiers that to find it would crown his
life."

"He hadn't started when I left Touggourt," Max said rather dryly.

"What--he was still there? Then my father must have seen him. How
strange! He didn't refer to him at all."

"You mentioned that the colonel wrote in a hurry." Max hinted at this
explanation to comfort her, but he guessed why DeLisle had not been in a
mood to speak of Stanton to his daughter. "There is a reason," he had
said, "why I don't want to ask Stanton to put off starting and go to
Djazerta." And Max, having seen the dancer, Ahmara, had known without
telling what the reason was.

"Do you think Richard may be there when we get to Touggourt?" she asked,
shamefaced, yet not able to resist putting the question.

"I think it's very likely." Max tried to keep his tone at reassuring
level, though he hoped devoutly that Stanton might be gone. He could not
bear to think of his seeing Sanda again after the Ahmara episode. With a
man of Stanton's strange, erratic nature and wild impulses, who could
be sure whether--but Max would not let the thought finish in his mind.

Sanda suddenly dropped the subject. Whether this was because she saw
that Max disliked it, or whether she had no more to say, he could not
guess.

"Tell me about yourself, now," she said. "My father has told me some
things in letters, but I long to know from you if I made a mistake in
wanting you to try the Legion."

"You made no mistake. It's one of the things I have to thank you
for--one of several very great things," said Max.

"What _other_ things? I can't think of one unless you thank me for
having a splendid father."

"That's one thing."

"Are there more?"

"Yes."

"Tell me, please. Anyway, the greatest, or I shan't believe in any."

Max was silent for an instant. Then he said in a voice so low she could
hardly hear it, bending down from her bassourah, "For giving me back my
faith in women."

"I? But you hadn't lost it."

"I was in danger of losing it, with most of my mental and moral baggage.
Through you--I've kept the lot."

"That's the most beautiful thing ever said to me. And it does me so much
good after all I've gone through and been blamed for!"

"Who's dared to blame you for anything?"

"I asked you to tell me about yourself. When you have done that I'll
tell you things that have happened here, things concerning Manöel
Valdez and Ourïeda--poor darling Ourïeda, whom I ought to be thinking of
every instant! And so I am, only I can't help being happy to get
away--with you."

There was sweet pain in hearing those last words, and the emphasis the
caressing girl-voice gave. Max hurried through a vague list of such
events as seemed fit for Sanda's ears. They were not many, since he did
not count his fights among the mentionable ones. He told her, with more
detail, about his acquaintance with Valdez, whose face she had remarked
at the railway station at Sidi-bel-Abbés; and then claimed her promise.
She must tell him, if she would (with a sudden drop from the happy way
of Max Doran with women to the humbler way of Max St. George,
Legionnaire), what she had gone through in the Agha's house.

She began by asking a question. "Didn't you think it queer that no one
but a servant came out to see me off?"

"I did a little, but I put it down to Arab manners."

"It was because I left in disgrace. Oh! no one was ever rude! They were
polite always. It was like being stuffed with too much honey. And I
don't mean Ourïeda, of course. Ourïeda's a darling. I'd do anything for
her. I've proved that! Did my father give you any idea why he had to
send for me in a hurry, though he has to leave me alone--or rather in
charge of people I don't know--at Bel-Abbés? He must have told you
something, as he asked such a sacrifice."

"He needn't have told me anything at all. But he took me into his
confidence--it was like him--far enough to say the Agha was offended
somehow, and you were anxious to leave."

"I should think the Agha _was_ offended! I tried to help Ourïeda to
escape, even though she hadn't heard from her Manöel. She had lots of
jewels, and thought she might get to France. We failed in our attempt,
and after that we were never alone together, though they--her father and
aunt--didn't want me to go till she was married. The idea at first
was--when I arrived, I mean--that my visit shouldn't end till father
came back. They meant me to stop on with Ourïeda, as she and her husband
would live at her old home at Djazerta. The last plot wasn't mine. It
was got up by an old nurse they'd sent away, and a weird woman, a kind
of Arab beauty-doctor. But all the same they were afraid of me. They
longed to have me gone, yet, for their own superstitious, secretive
reasons, they were afraid to let me go. As I _had_ to stay so long, I'd
rather have stopped a little longer, so as to know what becomes of
Ourïeda. They made me say good-bye to her in Tahar's tent, where she is
waiting, all dressed up like a doll, till the hour at night when her
husband chooses to come to her. Instead, we hope---- But I can hardly
bear it, not to know! Shall we _ever_ know?"

"It may be a long time before Manöel can send us any word," said Max.
"But we shall hear, I suppose, about Tahar."

"Oh, Manöel doesn't mean to _kill_ him, does he? Ourïeda said he
wouldn't do that! But Arab women are so strange, so different from us, I
don't believe she'd care much if he did; except that if he were a
murderer they could seize him, even in another country--Spain, where
they both hope to go when they can get out of Djazerta."

"Manöel wouldn't care much, either, except for that same reason," Max
admitted. "But he does care for that. He intends only to surprise and
stun Tahar. He doesn't want his life with Ourïeda spoiled, for he'll be
a public character, you know, if he succeeds in escaping from Algeria.
He'll be a great singer. He can take back his own name."

"Why not France?" Sanda wanted to know. "Surely France would be better
for a singer than Spain, or even Italy?"

"Perhaps, but, you see, he has had to desert from the Legion. In France
he could be brought back to Algeria to the penal battalion."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that!"

"It was--a hateful necessity, his deserting."

Sanda looked at him anxiously. "Will it make trouble for you?"

"Possibly. I hoped it needn't happen. But it had to. There was no other
way in the end."

"How he must love Ourïeda, to risk all that for her sake!"

"He risked a great deal more."

"What--but, oh, yes, you told me! The way he came into the Legion, and
all that. I wonder--I wonder if there are many men in the world who
would do as much for a woman?"

"I think so," said Max quietly. "You don't count the cost very much when
you are in love."

He was to remember that speech before many days.

"They're wonderful, men like that!" Sanda murmured. "And there's more
risk to come, for Ourïeda and himself. A little for us, too, isn't
there?"

"Not for you, please God! And very little for any of us. But I see you
know what Manöel expects to happen."

"Oh, yes, that they'll run after us, thinking that he has followed with
Ourïeda, to join our caravan. I do hope the Agha will send his men after
us, for that will make us sure those two have got away. If we hear
sounds of pursuit we'll hurry on quickly. Then the chase will have
farther to go back, and Manöel and Ourïeda will gain time. The more
ground we can cover before we're come up with by the Agha's camels,
who'll be superior to ours, the better it will be, won't it?"

"Yes, for if the Agha lets Djazerta alone, Manöel may contrive to slip
out of the town sooner than he dared hope, well disguised, in a caravan
of strangers not of Ben Râana's tribe. In that case the Agha of Djazerta
would have no right to search among the women. And Manöel's splendid at
disguise. His actor's training has taught him that."

"I feel now that he _will_ get Ourïeda out of the country. They've
suffered too much and dared too much to fail in the end."

"I hope so; I think so," Max answered. But he knew that in real life
stories did sometimes end badly. His own, for instance. He could see no
happy ending for that.

They pushed on as fast as the animals could go when a long march and not
a mere spurt of speed was before them. Through the mysterious sapphire
darkness of the desert night the padding feet of the camels strode
noiselessly over the hard sand. Sanda asked Max to offer extra pay to
the men if they would put up with an abbreviated rest. Only three hours
they paused to sleep; and then, in the dusk before dawn, when all living
things are as shadows, the camels were wakened to snarl with rage while
their burdens were ruthlessly strapped on again. As Max gave Sanda a cup
of hot coffee (which he had made for her, as Legionnaires make it,
strong and black) she said, shivering a little, "Do you think they'll
have found Tahar yet if--if----"

"Hardly yet! Not till daylight," answered Max. "Are you cold? These
desert nights can be bitter, even in summer. Won't you let me put
something more around you?"

"No, thanks. It's only excitement that makes me shiver. I'm thinking of
Ourïeda and Manöel. I've been thinking of them instead of sleeping. But
I'm not tired. I feel all keyed up; as if something wonderful were going
to happen to me, too."

Something wonderful was happening to Max. But she had no idea of that.
She would never know, he thought.

All day they journeyed on, save for a short halt at noon, and Max was
happy. He tried to recall and quote to himself a verse of Tennyson's
"Maud"--"Let come what come may; What matter if I go mad, I shall have
had my day!" He was having his day--just that one day more, because on
the next they would come to Touggourt, and if Stanton were there he
would spoil everything.

At night they went on till late, as before; but the camel-men said that
the animals must have a longer rest. Luckily it did not matter now if
they were caught. If Manöel and Ourïeda had escaped they had had a long
start. A little after midnight the vast silence of the sand-ocean was
broken with cries and shoutings of men. The Arabs, not knowing of the
expected raid, stumbled up from their beds of bagging and ran to protect
the camels; but Max, who had not undressed, walked out from the little
camp to meet a cavalcade of men.

Ben Râana himself rode in advance, mounted on a swift-running camel. In
the blue gloom where the stars were night lights Max recognized the long
black beard of the Agha flowing over his white cloak. None rode near
him. Tahar was not there. Max took that as a good sign.

"Who are you?" demanded the uniformed Legionnaire in his halting Arabic.
"In the name of France, I demand your business."

Ben Râana, recognizing him also, impatiently answered in French, "And I
demand my daughter!"

"Your daughter? Ah, I see! It is the Agha of Djazerta. But what can we
know of your daughter? We left her being married."

"I think thou knowest well," Ben Râana cut him short furiously, "that
her marriage was not consummated. I cherished a viper in my bosom when I
entertained in my house the child of George DeLisle. She has deceived
me, and helped my daughter to deceive."

"I cannot hear Mademoiselle DeLisle spoken of in that way, even by my
colonel's friend, sir," said Max. "If your daughter has run away----"

"If! Thou knowest well that she has run away with her lover, who has
half murdered the man who should by now be her husband. Thou knowest
and Mademoiselle knows!"

"You are mistaken," broke in Max, not troubling to hide his anger. "If
you think your daughter----"

"I think she is here! But thou canst not protect her from me. Try, and
thou and every man with thee shall perish."

"Search our camp," said Max.

As he spoke, Sanda appeared at the door of the mean little tent hired
for her at Touggourt. From the shelter of the bassourah, close by on the
sand, Khadra peeped out. The search was made quickly and almost without
words. If the power of France had not been behind the soldier and the
girl whom Ben Râana now hated, he would have reverted--"enlightened" man
as he was--to primitive methods. He would have killed the pair with his
own hand, while the men of his _goum_ put the Arabs to death, and all
could have been buried under the sand save the camels, which would have
been led back to Djazerta. But France was mighty and far reaching, and
he and his tribe would have to pay too high for such indulgence.

When he was sure that Ourïeda and Manöel Valdez were not concealed in
the camp, with cold apologies and farewells he turned with his men and
rode off toward the south--a band of shadows in the night. The visit had
been like a dream, the desert dream that Sanda had had of Max, Max of
Sanda. Yet dimly it seemed to both that these dreams had meant more than
this. The girl let her "Soldier St. George" warm her small, icy hands,
and comfort her with soothing words.

"You were _not_ treacherous," he said. "You did exactly right. You
deserve happiness for helping to make that girl happy. And you'll have
it! You must! You shall! I couldn't stand your not being happy."

"Already it's to-day," she half whispered, "to-day that we come to
Touggourt. The greatest thing in my father's life happened there. I
thought of that when I passed through before, and wondered what would
happen to me. Nothing happened. But--_what about to-day_?"

"May it be something very good," Max said steadily. But his heart was
heavy, as in his hands her own grew warm.



CHAPTER XXIII

"WHERE THE STRANGE ROADS GO DOWN"


Shadows of evening flowed over the desert like blue water out of whose
depths rose the golden crowns of the dunes. The caravan had still some
miles of sand billows between them and Touggourt, when suddenly a faint
thrill of sound, which might have been the waking dream of a tired
brain, or a trick of wind, a sound scarcely louder than heart-throbs,
grew definite and distinct: the distant beating of African drums, the
shriek of räitas, and the sighing of ghesbahs. The Arabs on their camels
came crowding round Max, who led the caravan, riding beside Sanda's
mehari.

"Sidi," said their leader, "this music is not of earth, for Touggourt is
too distant for us to hear aught from there. It is the devil. It comes
from under the dunes. Such music we have heard in the haunted desert
where the great caravan was buried beneath the sands, but here it is the
first time, and it is a warning of evil. Something terrible is about to
happen. What shall we do--stop here and pray, though the sunset prayer
is past, or go on?"

"Go on, of course," ordered Max. "As for the music, it must be that the
wind brings it from Touggourt."

"It is not possible, Sidi," the camel-man, husband of Khadra, persisted.
"Besides, there is no great feastday at this time, not even a wedding
or a circumcision, or we should have heard before we started away that
it was to be. Such playing, if from the hands of man, would mean some
great event."

Even as he spoke the music grew louder and wilder. Max hurried the
caravan on as fast as it could go among the sand billows, fearing that
the Arabs' superstition might cause a stampede. With every stride of the
camels' long, four-jointed legs, the music swelled; and at the crest of
a higher dune than any they had climbed, Sanda, leaning out of her
bassourah, gave a cry.

"A caravan--oh! but a huge caravan like an army," she exclaimed, "or
like a troop of ghosts. What if--what if it should be Sir Knight just
starting away?"

"I think it is he," Max answered heavily. "I think it must be Stanton
getting off."

"We shall meet him. I can wish him good-bye and Godspeed! Soldier" (this
was the name she had given Max), "it does seem as if heaven must have
timed our coming and his going for this moment."

"Or the devil," Max amended bitterly in his heart. But aloud he said
nothing. He knew that if he had spoken Sanda would not have heard him
then.

"Let's hurry on," she begged, "and meet him--and surprise him. He can't
be angry. He must be glad for father's sake, if not for mine. Oh! come,
Soldier, come, or I will go alone!"

The man whose duty it was to guide her camel had dropped behind, as had
often happened before at her wish and Max's order, for the mehari was a
well-trained and gentle beast, knowing by instinct the right thing to
do. Now Sanda leaned far out and touched him on the neck. Squatting in
the way of camels brought up among dunes, he slid down the side of a big
golden billow, sending up a spray of sand as he descended. Below lay a
valley, where the blue dusk poured in its tide; and marching through the
azure flood a train of dark forms advanced rhythmically, as if moving to
the music which they had outstripped. It was a long procession of men
and camels bearing heavy loads, so long that the end of it had not yet
come into sight behind the next sand billow; but at its head a man rode
on a horse, alone, with no one at his side. Already it was too dark to
see his face, but Max knew who it was. He _felt_ the man's identity with
an instinct as unerring as Sanda's.

Also he longed to hasten after her and catch up with the running camel,
as he could easily do, for his horse, though more delicate and not as
enduring, could go faster. But, though Sanda had cried "Come!" he held
back. She had hardly known what she said. She did not want him to be
with her when she met Stanton; and if he--Max--wished to be there, it
was a morbid wish. Whether Stanton were kind or unkind to the girl, he,
the outsider, would suffer more than he need let himself suffer, since
he was not needed and would only be in the way. Riding slowly and
keeping back the men of his own little caravan, who wished to dash
forward now their superstitious fears were put to flight, Max saw
Stanton rein up his horse as the mehari, bearing a woman's bassourah,
loped toward him; saw him stop in surprise, and then, no doubt
recognizing the face framed by the curtains, jump off his horse and
stride forward through the silky mesh of sand holding out his arms. The
next instant he had the girl in them, was lifting her down without
waiting for the camel to kneel, for she had sprung to him as if from the
crest of a breaking wave; and Max bit back an oath as he had to see
Ahmara's lover crush Sanda DeLisle against his breast.

It was only for an instant, perhaps, but for Max it was a red-hot
eternity. He forgot his resolution to efface himself, and whipped his
horse forward. By the time he had reached the two figures in the sand,
however, the big, square-shouldered man in khaki and the slim girl in
white had a little space between them. Stanton had released Sanda from
his arms and set her on her feet; but he held both the little white
hands in his brown ones; and now that Max was near he could see a look
on the square sunburnt face which might have won any woman, even if she
had not been his in heart already. Max himself was thrilled by it. He
realized as he had realized in Algiers, but a thousand times more
keenly, the vital, compelling magnetism of the man.

No need for Sanda to wonder whether "Sir Knight" would be glad to see
her! He was glad, brutally glad it seemed to Max, as the lion might be
glad after long, lonely ways to chance upon his young and willing mate.

"Curse him! How dare he look at her like that, after Ahmara!" thought
Max. His blood sang in his ears like the wicked voice of the räita
following the caravan. All that was in him of primitive man yearned to
dash between the two and snatch Sanda from Stanton. But the soldier in
him, which discipline and modern conventions had made, held him back.
Sanda was Mademoiselle DeLisle, the daughter of his colonel. He who had
been Max Doran was now nobody save Maxime St. George, a little corporal
in the Foreign Legion, with hardly enough money left to buy cigarettes.
Ahmara had been an episode. Now the episode was over, and in all
probability Sanda, like most women, would have forgiven it if she knew.
She was happy in Stanton's overmastering look. She did not feel it an
insult, or dream that the devouring flame in the blue eyes was only a
spurt of new fire in the ashes of a burnt-out passion.

She must be mistaking it for love, and her heart must be shaken to
ecstasy by the surprise and joy of the miracle. Max knew that if he
rudely rode up to them in this, Sanda's great moment, nothing he could
say or do would really part them, even if he were cad enough to speak of
Ahmara, the dancer. Sanda would not believe, or else she would not care;
and always, for the rest of her life, she would hate him. He pulled up
his horse as he thought, and sat as though he were in chains. He was,
according to his reckoning, out of earshot, but Stanton's deep baritone
had the carrying power of a 'cello. Max heard it say in a tone to reach
a woman's heart: "Child! You come to me like a white dove. God bless
you! I needed you. I don't know whether I can let you go."

Slowly Max turned his horse's head, and still more slowly rode back to
the caravan which he had halted fifty feet away. For an instant he hoped
against hope that Sanda would hear the sound of his going, that she
would look after him and call. But deep down in himself he knew that no
girl in her place, feeling as she felt, would have heard a cannon-shot.
He explained to the astonished men that this was the great explorer, the
Sidi who found new countries where no other white men had ever been,
and the young Roumia lady had known him ever since she was a child. The
Sidi was starting out on a dangerous expedition, and it was well that
chance had brought them together, for now the daughter of the explorer's
oldest friend could bid him good-bye. They must wait until the farewell
had been given, then they would go on again.

The camel-men assented politely, without comment. But Max heard Khadra
say to her husband, "It is the Sidi who loved Ahmara. One would think he
had forgotten her now. Or is it that he tries this way to forget?"

Max wished angrily that his ears were less quick, and that he had not
such a useless facility for picking up words out of every _patois_.

Half an hour passed, and the blue shadows deepened to purple. It was
night, and Touggourt miles away. Still the two were talking, and the
darkness had closed around them like the curtains of a tent. They had
halted not only the little caravan returning from the south, but the
great caravan starting for the far southeast. Nothing was of importance
to Stanton and Sanda except each other and themselves. Max hated
Stanton, yet was fascinated by the thought of him: virile, magnetic,
compelling; a man among men; greater than his fellows, as the great
stars above, flaming into life, were brighter than their dim brothers.

The music, which still throbbed and screamed its notes of passion in the
desert, seemed to be beating in Max's brain. A horrible irritation
possessed him like a devil. He could have yelled as a man might yell in
the extremity of physical torture. If only that music would stop!

When he had almost reached the limit of endurance there came a soft
padding of feet in the sand and a murmur of voices. Then he saw Stanton
walking toward him with the girl. Sanda called to him timidly, yet with
a quiver of excitement in her voice:

"Monsieur St. George, mon ami!"

Not "Soldier" now! That phase was over. Max got off his horse and walked
to meet the pair.

"You know each other," Sanda said. "I introduced you last March in
Algiers. And perhaps you met again here in Touggourt with my father, not
many days ago. I've told Mr. Stanton all about you now, mon ami; he
knows how good you have been. He knows how I--confided things to you I
never told to anybody else. Do you remember, Monsieur St. George, my
saying how, when I was small, I used to long to run away dressed like a
boy, and go on a desert journey with Richard Stanton? Well, my wish has
come true! Not about the boy's clothes, but--_I am going with him_! He
has asked me to be his wife, and I have said 'yes.'"



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MAD MUSIC


Max was struck dumb by the shock. He had expected nothing so devastating
as this. What to do he knew not, yet something he must do. If he had not
loved the girl, it would have been easier. There would have been no fear
then that he might think of himself and not of her. Yet she had been put
under his charge by Colonel DeLisle. He was responsible for her welfare
and her safety. Ought he to constitute himself her guardian and stand
between her and this man? On the other hand, could he attempt playing
out a farce of guardianship--he, almost a stranger, and a boy compared
to Stanton, who had been, according to Sanda, informally her guardian
when she was a little girl? Max stammered a few words, not knowing what
he said, or whether he were speaking sense, but Stanton paid him the
compliment of treating him like a reasonable man. Suddenly Max became
conscious that the explorer was deliberately focussing upon him all the
intense magnetism which had won adherents to the wildest schemes.

"I understand exactly what you are thinking about me," Stanton said.
"You must feel I am mad or a brute to want this child to go with me
across the desert, to share the fate all Europe is prophesying."

"It's glory to share it," broke in Sanda, in a voice like a harp. "Do I
care what happens to me if I can be with you?"

Stanton laughed a delightful laugh.

"She _is_ a child--an infatuated child! But shouldn't I be more--or
less--than a man, if I could let such a stroke of luck pass by me? You
see, she wants to go."

"_He_ knows I love you, and have loved you all my life," said Sanda. "I
told him in Algiers when I was so miserable, thinking that I should
never see you again, and that you didn't care."

"Of course I cared," Stanton contradicted her warmly; yet there was a
difference in his tone. To Max's ears, it did not ring true. "Seeing a
grown-up Sanda, when I'd always kept in my mind's eye a little girl,
bowled me over. I made excuses to get away in a hurry, didn't I? It was
the bravest thing I ever did. I knew I wasn't a marble statue. But it
was another thing keeping my head in broad daylight on the terrace of a
hotel, with a lot of dressed-up creatures coming and going, from what it
is here in the desert at night, with that mad music playing me away into
the unknown, and a girl like Sanda flashing down like a falling star."

"The star fell into your arms, and you saved it from extinction," she
finished for him, laughing a little gurgling laugh of ecstasy.

"I caught it on its way somewhere else! But how can I let it go when it
wants to shine for me? How can I be _expected_ to let it go? I ask you
that, St. George!"

Racked with an anguish of jealousy, Max felt, nevertheless, a queer
stirring of sympathy for the man; and struggling against it, he knew
Stanton's conquering fascination. He knew, also, that nothing he could
do or say would prevent Sanda from going with her hero. However, he
stammered a protest.

"But--but I don't see what's to be done," he said, "Mademoiselle
DeLisle's father, my colonel, ordered me to take her to Sidi-bel-Abbés."

"Not ordered; asked!" the girl cut in with an unfairness that hurt.

"All the blame is mine," Stanton assured him with a warm friendliness of
manner. "My shoulders are broad enough to bear it. And you know, St.
George, your colonel and I are old friends. If he were here he'd give
his consent, I think, after he'd got over his first surprise. I believe
as his proxy you'll do the same, when you've taken a little time to
reflect."

"Why, of course he will!" cried Sanda, sweet and repentant. "He knows
that this is my one chance of happiness in life. Everything looked so
gray in the future. I was going to Sidi-bel-Abbés to be with strangers
till my father came. And even at best, though he loves me, I am a burden
and a worry to him. Then, suddenly, comes this glorious joy! My Knight,
my one Sir Knight, wants me, and cares! If I knew I were going straight
to death, I'd go just the same, and just as joyously."

"We both realized what was in our hearts, and what must happen, when she
looked out between her curtains like the Blessed Damozel, and I took her
out of her bassourah and held her in my arms. That settled our fate,"
said Stanton, attractively boyish and eager in the warmth of his
passion. It was genuine passion. There was no doubting that, but lit in
an instant, like a burnt wick still warm from a flame blown out. How
long would it last? How clear and true a light would it give? Max did
not know how much of his doubt of Stanton was jealousy, how much regard
for Sanda's happiness.

"To think this should come to me at Touggourt, where my father's
happiness came to him!" Sanda murmured rapturously, as Max stood silent.
"It is Fate, indeed!"

"Listen to the music of Africa," said Stanton. "The players followed us
for 'luck.' What luck they've brought! Child, I was feeling lonely and
sad. I almost had a presentiment that my luck was out. What a fool! All
the strength and courage I've ever had you've given back to me with
yourself!"

"I could die of happiness to hear you say that!" Sanda answered. "You
see how it is, my friend, my dear, kind soldier? God has timed my coming
here to give me this wonderful gift! You wouldn't rob me of it if you
could, would you?"

"Not if it's for your happiness," Max heard something that was only half
himself answer. "But"--and he turned on Stanton--"how do you propose to
marry her--here?"

The other hesitated for an instant, then replied briskly, as if he had
calculated everything in detail. This was characteristic of him, to map
out a plan of campaign as he went along, as fast as he drew breath for
the rushing words. Often he had made his greatest impressions, his
greatest successes, in this wild way.

"Why, _you_ will pitch your camp here for the night, instead of marching
on to Touggourt," he said. "I camp here, too. My expedition is delayed
for one day more, but what does that matter after a hundred delays?
Heavens! I've had to wait for tents a beast of a Jew contracted to give
me and didn't. I've waited to test water-skins. I've waited for new
camel-men when old ones failed me. Haven't I a right to wait a few hours
for a companion--a wife? The first thing in the morning we'll have the
priest out from Touggourt. Sanda's Catholic. He'll marry us and we'll
start on together."

"Couldn't we," the girl rather timidly ventured the suggestion,
"couldn't we go to Touggourt? There must be a church there if there's a
priest, and I--I'd like to be married in a church."

"My darling child! The priest shall consecrate a tent, or a bit of the
desert," Stanton answered with decision, which, she must have realized,
would be useless to combat. "He'll do it all right! Marriage ceremonies
are performed by Catholic priests in houses, you know, if the man or the
woman is ill; deathbed marriages, and--but don't let us talk of such
things! I know I can make him do this when I show him how impossible it
would be for us to go back to Touggourt. Why, the men I've got together,
mostly blacks, would take it for a bad omen if I left the escort
stranded here in the desert the first day out! Half of them would bolt.
I'd have the whole work to do over again. You see that, don't you?"

Sanda did see; and even Max admitted to himself that the excuse was
plausible. Yet he suspected another reason behind the one alleged.
Stanton was afraid of things Sanda might hear in Touggourt; perhaps he
feared some more active peril.

"I thought," Max dared to argue, "that it took days arranging the legal
part of a marriage? You're an Englishman, Mr. Stanton, and Colonel
DeLisle's daughter's a French subject, though she is half British. You
may find difficulties."

"Damn difficulties!" exclaimed Stanton, all his savage impatience of
opposition breaking out at last. "Don't you say so, Sanda? When a man
and woman need each other's companionship in lonely places outside the
world, is the world's red tape going to make a barrier between them? My
God, no! Sanda, if your church will give you to me, and send us into the
desert with its blessing, is it, or is it not, enough for you? If not,
you're not the girl I want. You're not my woman."

"If you love me, I _am_ 'your woman,'" said Sanda.

"You hear her?" Stanton asked. "If it's enough for her, I suppose it's
enough for you, St. George?"

Through the blue dusk two blue eyes stared into Max's face. They put a
question without words. "Have you any reason of your own for wanting to
keep her from me?"

"Will it be enough for Colonel DeLisle?" Max persisted.

"I promised to shoulder all responsibility with him," repeated Stanton.

"And father would be the last man in the world to spoil two lives for a
convention," Sanda added. "Do you remember his love story that I told
you?"

Did Max remember? It was not a story to forget, that tragic tale of love
and death in the desert. Must the story of the daughter be tragic, too?
A great fear for the girl was in his heart. He believed that he could
think of her alone, now, apart from selfishness. Realizing her worship
of Stanton, had her fate lain in his hands he would have placed it in
those of the other man could he have been half sure they would be
tender. But her fate was in her own keeping. He could do no more than
beg, for DeLisle's sake, that they would wait for the wedding until
Stanton came back from his expedition. Even as he spoke, it seemed
strange and almost absurd that he should be urging legal formalities
upon any one, especially a man like Stanton, almost old enough to be his
father. What, after all, did law matter in the desert if two people
loved each other? And as Stanton said--patient and pleasant again after
his outburst--they could have all the legal business, to make things
straight in the silly eyes of the silly world, when they won through to
Egypt, under English law.

The matter settled itself exactly as it would have settled itself had
Max stormed protests for an hour. Sanda was to be married by the
Catholic priest from Touggourt, as early in the morning as he could be
fetched. The great caravan and the little caravan halted for the night.
Stanton harangued his escort in their own various dialects, for there
was no obscure lingo of Africa which he did not know, and this knowledge
gave him much of his power over the black or brown men. The news he
told, explaining the delay, was received with wild shouts of amused
approval. Stanton was allowing some of his head men to travel with their
wives, it being their concern, not his, if the women died and rotted in
the desert. It was his concern only to be popular as a leader on this
expedition for which it had been hard to get recruits. It was fair that
he, too, should have a wife if he wanted one, and the men cared as
little what became of the white girl they had not seen as Stanton cared
about the fate of their strapping females.

The mad music of the tomtoms and räitas played as Max, with his own
hands, set up Sanda's little tent. "For the last time," he said to
himself. "To-morrow night her tent will be Stanton's."

He felt physically sick as he thought of leaving her in the desert with
that man, whom they called mad, and going on alone to report at
Sidi-bel-Abbés, days after his leave had expired. Now that Sanda was
staying behind, his best excuse was taken from him. He could hear
himself making futile-sounding explanations, but keeping Mademoiselle
DeLisle's name in the background. None save a man present at the scene
he had gone through could possibly pardon him for abandoning his charge.
After all, however, what did it matter? He did not care what became of
him, even if his punishment were to be years in the African penal
battalion, the awful _Bat d'Aff_, a sentence of death in life. "Perhaps
I deserve it," he said. "I don't know!" All he did know was that he
would give his life for Sanda. Yet it seemed that he could do nothing.

When all was quiet he went to his tent and threw himself down just
inside the entrance with the flap up. Lying thus, he could see Sanda's
tent not far away, dim in the starlit night. He could not see her, nor
did he wish to. But he knew she was sitting in the doorway with Stanton
at her feet. Max did not mean to spy; but he was afraid for her, of
Stanton, while that music played. At last he heard her lover in going
call out "good night," then it was no longer necessary to play sentinel,
but though Sanda had slipped inside her tent, perhaps to dream of
to-morrow, it seemed to Max that there were no drugs in the world strong
enough to give him sleep. He supposed, vaguely, that if a priest
consented to marry the girl to Stanton, after the wedding and the start
of the explorer's caravan, he, Max, would board the first train he could
catch on the new railway, and go to "take his medicine" at
Sidi-bel-Abbés.

Before dawn, when Stanton came to tell Sanda that he was off for
Touggourt to fetch the priest, no alternative had yet presented itself
to Max's mind, and he was still indifferent to his own future. But when
Stanton had been gone for half an hour, and a faint primrose coloured
flame had begun to quiver along the billowy horizon in the east, he
heard a soft voice call his name, almost in a whisper.

"Soldier St. George!" it said.

Max sprang up, fully dressed as he was, and went out of his tent. Sanda
was standing near, a vague shape of glimmering white.



CHAPTER XXV

CORPORAL ST. GEORGE, DESERTER


"Is anything the matter?" he asked. A wild hope was in his heart that
she might wish to tell him she had changed her mind. The joy of that
hope snatched his breath away. But her first words put it to flight.

"No, nothing is the matter, except that I've been thinking about you. I
could hardly wait to ask you some things. But I _had_ to wait till
morning. It is morning now that Richard is up and has gone, even though
it isn't quite light. And it's better to talk before he comes back.
There'll be--so much happening then---- You're all dressed! You didn't
go to bed."

"No, I didn't want to sleep," said Max.

"I haven't slept, either. I didn't try to sleep! I'm so happy for
myself, but I'm not _all_ happy. I'm anxious about you. I see that I've
been horribly, hatefully selfish--a beast!"

"Don't! I won't hear you say such things."

"You mustn't try and put me off. Will you promise by--by your love for
my father--and your friendship for me, to answer truly the questions I
ask?"

"All I can answer."

"If you don't answer, I shall know what your silence means. _Mon ami_,
you made a great sacrifice for me. You gave up your march to take me
safely to Bel-Abbés. You had only eight days' leave to do it in. I know,
because my father said so in his letter. But I, thinking always of
myself, gave no thought to that. You lost time coming back from Djazerta
to the _douar_. Now I've kept you another night. Is there a train
to-morrow going out of Touggourt?"

"I think so," said Max warily, beginning to guess the trend of her
questions.

"What time does it start?"

"I don't know precisely."

"In the morning or at night?"

"I really can't tell."

"You mean you won't. But that _does_ tell me, all the same. It goes in
the morning. Soldier, I've made you late. I see now you've been very
anxious all the time about overstaying your leave, but you wouldn't
speak because it was for my sake."

"I've written to the officer in command at Sidi-bel-Abbés, explaining.
It will be all right."

"It won't! You're keeping the truth from me. I see by your face. You've
overstayed your leave already. I calculated it out last night. Even as
it is, you are a day late."

"What of it? There's nothing to worry about."

"Do you suppose I can be a soldier's daughter and not have learned
anything about army life? Soldier, much as I'd want you to stand by me
if it could be right for you, it isn't right, and you must go! Go now,
and be in time for that train this morning. One day late won't be so
bad. But there won't be another train till Monday. By _diligence_, it's
two days to Biskra. That means--oh! go, my friend! Go, and forgive me!
Let us say good-bye now!"

"Not for the world," Max answered. "Not if they'd have me shot at
Bel-Abbés, instead of putting me into _cellule_ for a few days at worst.
Nothing would induce me to leave you until"--he choked a little on the
words--"until you're married."

"_Cellule_" she echoed. "You, in _cellule_! And your corporal's stripe?
You'll lose it!"

"What if I do? I value it more for--for something Colonel DeLisle said
than for itself."

"I know you were an officer in your American army at home. To be a
corporal must seem laughable to you. And yet, the stripe is more than
just a mere stripe. It's an emblem."

"I didn't mean you to think that I don't value it! I do! But I value
other things more."

Day was quickening to life; Sanda's wedding day. In the wan light that
bleached the desert they looked at each other, their faces pale. Max
could not take his eyes from hers. She held them, and he felt her
drawing from them the truth his lips refused to speak.

"You are like a man going to his death," she sobbed. "Oh, what have I
done? It will be something worse, a thousand times worse, than
_cellule_. _Mon Dieu!_ I know what they do to men of the Legion when
they've deserted--even if they come back. I implore you to go away now.
Do you want me to beg you on my knees?"

"For God's sake, Mademoiselle DeLisle!"

"Then will you go?"

"No! I told you nothing could make me leave you till--after it's over.
What would be the use anyhow, even if I would go? If they're going to
call me a deserter, I'm that already."

"Ah!" she hid her face in her hands, shivering with sobs. "_I've_ made
you a deserter. I've ruined you! Your career my father hoped for! If he
were at Bel-Abbés he'd save you. But he's far away in the desert." The
girl lifted her face and brushed away the tears. "Soldier, _if you don't
go now, don't go at all_! Don't offer yourself up to punishment for what
is not your fault, but mine, the fault of your colonel's daughter. Stay
with me--stay with us! Keep the trust my father gave you, watching over
me. Will you do that? _Will_ you, instead of going back straight to
prison and spoiling your life? Join us and help us to find the Lost
Oasis."

The young man's blood rushed to his head. He could not speak. He could
only look at her.

"You say that already you've made yourself a deserter," she went on.
"Then desert to us, I wanted you to join the Legion, and you did join;
so I've called you '_my soldier_.' Now I want you not to go back to the
Legion. It would be a horrible injustice for you to be punished as you
would be. I couldn't be happy even with Richard, thinking of you in
prison."

"The world is a prison, if it comes to that!" laughed Max.

"For some people. Not for a man like you! Besides, some of the cells in
the world's prison are so much more terrible than others. Come with us,
and by and by, if we live, we shall reach Egypt. There you'll be free,
as Manöel Valdez will be free outside Algeria and France."

"My colonel's daughter asks me to do this?" Max muttered, half under his
breath.

"Yes, _because_ I am his daughter as well as your friend. Do you think
he'd like you to go back to Sidi-bel-Abbés under a cloud, with him far
away, not able to speak for you? I know as well as if you'd told me
that, if they tried you by court-martial at Oran, you wouldn't defend
yourself as you would if my father had _ordered_ you to give up the
march, instead of _asking_ you to go on a private errand for him with
your friend. Because he did an irregular thing and trouble has come of
it, don't I know you'd suffer rather than let details be dragged from
you which might injure my father's record as an officer?"

"His record is far above being injured."

"Is any officer's? From things I've heard, I'm afraid not! Once I told
you that you were one of those men who think too little of themselves
and sacrifice themselves for others. I only felt it then. I know it now.
I'm so much better acquainted with you, my Soldier! You promised, if you
answered my questions, to answer them truly. Would you explain in a
court-martial that my father took you off duty, and told you, whatever
happened, to look after me?"

"I have already explained in a letter to the deputy commanding officer.
Probably the colonel has explained, too--more or less, as much as
necessary."

"I don't believe father would have thought it necessary to say much
about me. He's old fashioned in his ideas of women and girls. And, you
see, he had no reason to dream that anything could go wrong. He supposed
that you would arrive on time. How much did you explain in your
letter?"

"I said I had been unavoidably delayed in finishing my official errand."

"What would you say if you were court-martialled for losing Manöel and
being five days late yourself?"

"I don't know. It would depend on the questions."

"Would you answer in any way that might do harm to my father, or would
you sacrifice yourself again for him and for me?"

"It wouldn't be a sacrifice."

"Do you think you could save yourself from prison?"

"Perhaps not, but I shouldn't care."

"_I'd_ care. It would break my happiness. Father couldn't tell you, as I
do, to join us, but I know enough about his interest in you to be sure
that in his heart he would wish it, rather than come back to
Sidi-bel-Abbés and find you in the _Bat d'Aff_. I've heard all about
that, you see."

Max was silent for a moment, thinking, and Sanda watched his face in the
growing light. It was haggard and set for a face so young, but there was
still in the eyes, which stared unseeingly across the desert, the warm,
generous light that had once convinced her of the man's heroic capacity
for self-sacrifice. "He is one who always gives," she thought. And
something within her said that Stanton was not of those. He was one born
not to give, but to take. Yet how glad every one must be, as she was, to
give to him!

Max was greatly surprised and deeply touched by Sanda's care for him at
such a time. And he was almost bewildered by the strange answer that
had come to his self-questioning. He had felt a passionate reluctance to
leave her with Stanton, not only because he himself loved and wanted
her, but because her marriage was to be only half a marriage, and
because Stanton was what he was. If the man tired of her, if he found
her too delicate for the trials she would have to endure, the girl's
life in the desert would be terribly hard. Max dared not think what it
might be. He had felt that it would tear his heart out to see her going
unprotected except by that fanatic, to be swallowed up by the merciless
mystery of the desert. But because she had decided to go, and because
she thought she had need of no one in the world except Stanton, Max had
made up his mind that he must stand by and let her go. Now, suddenly, it
was different. She wanted him as well as Stanton. True, it was only
because she wished to save him, but she would be grieved if he refused.
What if he should accept--that is, if Stanton were of the same mind as
Sanda--and let them both suppose that his motive in joining them was to
keep out of prison? He knew that his true reason would be other than
that if he went. But searching his soul, he saw there no wrong to
Stanton's wife. He would not go with that pair of lovers for his own
pleasure, and no suffering he could endure, even in the _Bat d'Aff_,
would be equal to seeing Sanda day after day, night after night, when
she had given herself to Stanton. All he wanted was to be near her if he
were needed. He could never justify himself to Colonel DeLisle or to any
one else in the world by telling the truth; but because it was the
truth, in his own eyes perhaps he might be justified.

"Have you thought long enough?" Sanda asked. "Can't you decide, and save
my happiness?"

Save her happiness!...

"I have decided," Max said. "If Mr. Stanton will let a deserter join his
caravan I will go."



CHAPTER XXVI

SANDA'S WEDDING NIGHT


What arguments the explorer used none save himself and the priest from
Touggourt would ever know. But the priest came and married Sanda to
Stanton according to the rites of the Catholic Church. In his eyes, as
in the eyes of the girl, it was enough; for was she not, in the sight of
heaven, a wife?

Stanton professed himself not only glad, but thankful, to have Max as a
recruit for his expedition. He agreed with Sanda that it would be
Quixotic, in the circumstances, to go back to Sidi-bel-Abbés.

"You'd be a damn fool, my boy," he said emphatically, "to go and offer
yourself a lamb for the sacrifice!" It did not occur to him that Max was
offering himself on the altar of another temple of sacrifice. He thought
the young man was "jolly lucky" to escape from the mess he had tumbled
into and get the chance of a glorious adventure with Richard Stanton. It
had been a blow and even a humiliation to the explorer that all the
Europeans he had asked to accompany him had refused, either on the spot,
or after deliberation. He believed in himself and his vision so
completely, and had snatched so many successes out of the jaws of
disaster, that it was galling not to be believed in by others, in this,
the crowning venture of his life. If he could find the Lost Oasis he
would be the most famous man in the world, or so he put it to himself;
and any European with him would share the glory. It had been almost
maddening to combat vainly, for once in his career, the objections and
sneers of skeptics.

People had said that if no European, not even a doctor, would join him
in his "mad mission," he would be forced to give it up. But he had found
a fierce satisfaction in disappointing them and in showing the world
that he, unaided, could carry through a project which daunted all who
heard of it. He had triumphed over immense obstacles in getting together
his caravan, for Arabs and Soudanese had been superstitiously depressed
by the fact that the mighty Stanton could persuade no man of his own
race to believe in the Lost Oasis. It was only his unique force of
character that had made the expedition possible at last; that and his
knowledge of medicine, even of "white and black" magic, his mastery of
desert dialects, his eloquence in the language of those who hesitated,
working them up to his own pitch of enthusiasm by descriptions of what
he believed the Lost Oasis to be: a land of milk and honey, with wives
and treasure enough for all, even the humblest. Napoleon, the greatest
general of the French, had wished to search for the Lost Oasis, marching
from Tripolitania to Egypt, but had abandoned the undertaking because of
other duties, not because he ceased to believe. The golden flower of the
desert had been left for Stanton and his band to pluck. Threats,
persuasion, bribes, had collected for him a formidable force. If he had
lingered at Touggourt, after getting the necessary men together, no one
had dared to suggest in his hearing that it was because a desert
dancing-woman was beautiful. He had always had weighty reasons to
allege, even to himself: the stores were not satisfactory; the oil
provided was not good; camels fell ill and substitutes had to be got; he
was obliged to wait for corn to be ground into the African substitute
for macaroni; Winchester rifles and ammunition promised for his fighting
men did not turn up till long after the date specified in his contract.
But now he was off on the great adventure; and, gloriously sure that all
credit would be his, he was sincerely glad to have Max as a follower,
humble yet congenial.

His meeting with Sanda seemed to Stanton a good omen. Since Ahmara had
deserted him in a fury, because of the humiliation put upon her during
DeLisle's visit, he had been in a black rage. Days had been lost in
searching for her, because she had disappeared. He had dreamed at night
of choking the dancer's life out, and shooting the man who had stolen
her from him, for he had no doubt of the form her revenge had taken. In
the end, he had decided to put her from his mind, persuading himself
that he was sick to death of the tigress-woman whom he had thought of
carrying with him on the long desert march. Still, he had been sad and
thwarted, and the music of the tomtoms and räitas, instead of tributes
to his triumph, had been like voices mocking at his failure. Then Sanda
had magically appeared in the desert: fair and sweet as the moon in
contrast with the parching sun. He had held out his arms on the impulse
and she had fallen into them. Her youth, her white beauty in the blue
night, lit a flame in him, and he fanned it greedily. It was good to
know that he was young enough still to light another fire so soon on
half-cold ashes. He revelled in making himself believe that he loved the
girl. He respected and admired himself for it, and he drank in eagerly
the story she told him in whispers, at the door of her tent in the
night: the story of childish, hopeless hero-worship for her "Sir
Knight." He was so confident of her adoring love that jealousy of Max
would have seemed absurd, though Max was twenty-six and Stanton twenty
years older. If it had occurred to him that Max might be romantically in
love with Sanda, the idea would not have displeased him or made him
hesitate to take the younger man as a member of his escort. There was a
cruel streak running through Stanton's nature which even Sanda dimly
realized, though it did not diminish her love. There were moods when he
enjoyed seeing pain and inflicting it; and there were stories told of
things he had done in such moods: stories told in whispers; tales of
whipping black men to death when they had been caught deserting from his
caravans; tales of striking down insubordinates and leaving them
unconscious to die in the desert. It would have amused Stanton, if the
idea had presented itself, to think of a love-sick young man helplessly
watching him teach an uninstructed young girl the art of becoming a
woman. But the idea did not present itself. He was too deeply absorbed
in himself, and in trying to think how infinitely superior was a white
dove like Sanda to a creature of the Ahmara type. He wished savagely
that Ahmara might hear--when it was too late--of his marriage within a
few days after their parting.

When the wedding ceremony was over the caravan started on at once, in
order to reach, not too late, a certain small oasis on the route where
Stanton wished to camp on his marriage night. He described the place
glowingly to Max. There was no town there, he said, only a few tents
belonging to the chief of a neighbour tribe to Ben Râana's. The men
there guarded an artesian well whose water spouted up like a fountain.
Though the oasis was small, its palms were unusually beautiful, and the
group of tall trees with their spreading branches was like a green
temple set in the midst of the desert. Altogether, Stanton remarked, it
was an ideal spot for the beginning of a honeymoon. His eyes were more
brilliant than ever as he spoke, and Max turned his head away not to see
the other man's face, because the look on it made him want to kill
Stanton. The martyrdom he knew awaited him had already begun.

Before starting into the unknown Max bought from the leader of his own
camel-men some garments which Khadra had washed for her husband at Ben
Râana's _douar_. They were to be ready for his return to Touggourt, and
were still as clean as the brackish water of the desert could make them.
Dressed as an Arab, Max made a parcel of his uniform with its treasured
red stripes of a corporal; and having addressed it for the post, paid
the camel-driver to send it off for him from Touggourt to
Sidi-bel-Abbés. The unpardonable sin of a deserting Legionnaire is to
rob France of the uniform lent him for his soldiering. But returning her
property to the Republic, Max sent no letter of regret or apology. He
was a deserter, and to excuse himself for deserting would be an insult
to the Legion. Nobody except DeLisle could possibly understand, and Max
did not mean to offer explanations, even to his colonel. If in his heart
Sanda's father could ever secretly pardon a deserter, it must be of his
own accord, not because of what that deserter had to say on his own
behalf.

Out of the little caravan Max had to discharge, Stanton kept the mehari
with the bassourah which Sanda had ridden during the journey from Ben
Râana's _douar_. It was, he said, laughing, a present direct from
Providence to his bride, since not without delay could he have provided
her with anything so comfortable for travelling. The finely bred camel
and many other animals of the escort might fail or die en route, but
there were places on the way where others could be got, as well as men
to replenish vacancies made by deaths. Stanton was too old an explorer
not to have calculated each step of the way, as far as any white man's
story or black man's rumour described it. And he talked stoically of the
depletion of his ranks. It was only his own failure or death which
appeared to be for him incredible.

Stanton rode all day at the head of the caravan, with Sanda, on her
mehari, looking down at him, "like the Blessed Damozel" as he had said,
between her curtains. Max, on a strong pony which Stanton had bought as
an "understudy" for his own horse, kept far in the rear. The desert had
been beautiful for him yesterday. It was hideous to-day. He thought it
must always be hideous after this. They saw the new moon for the first
time that afternoon. Sanda, lost in a dream of happiness, pointed it out
to Stanton, but he was vexed because they caught a glimpse of it over
the left shoulder. It was a bad sign, he said, and Sanda laughed at him
for being superstitious. As if anything could be a bad sign for them on
_that day_!

"Little White Moon," Ourïeda and the other Arab women had called her at
Djazerta. Stanton said it was just the name for her, when she told him.
The girl was perfectly happy now that Max was rescued. She had no
regrets, no cares; for, though she dearly loved her father, it would
have been long before she saw him again even if she had gone to
Sidi-bel-Abbés; and she knew he had hated the necessity for leaving her
there without him. She believed it would be a great relief to such a
keen soldier as he was not to be burdened with a girl. Often she felt it
had been wrong and selfish of her to run away from the aunts and throw
herself upon his mercy. Their few weeks together, learning to know and
love each other, had been delicious, but the future might have been
difficult if she had stayed.

Surely her father would be glad to have her married to his friend, and,
even if there were dangers to be feared in the unknown desert, why,
Colonel DeLisle was a soldier, and she was a soldier's daughter.

She wrote a letter to her father and gave it to the priest who had
married her. Some day it must reach its destination, and there were
things in it which would make Colonel DeLisle happy. Sanda believed
there would be tender romance for him, as for her, in the thought of the
marriage near Touggourt, where his love had come to him from half across
the world.

Not a rap did the girl care for the hardships in front of her. She
laughed and thought it a great adventure that she had no "trousseau,"
but only the few clothes which were wearable after her long visit to
Djazerta. And if they were never to find the Lost Oasis, or if they
themselves were to be lost, she would go forth with the same untroubled
heart.

The crescent moon had dropped behind the horizon, like a bracelet in the
sea, before they came in sight of the oasis where they were to spend the
wedding night; but the sky glittered with encrusting stars that spread a
silver background for the tall, dark palms. As the caravan descended
into a wide valley between dunes, Max heard Stanton's voice shouting to
him. He rode forward to the side of the "Chief," as the explorer was
called by his men.

"Like a good chap, gallop ahead with my fellows and see that our tent is
set up in the best place," said Stanton in his deep, pleasant voice. "I
should like Sanda to find it all ready when she gets there. Have it put
where my wife would think it prettiest; you'll know the right place;
place you'd choose yourself if it was _your_ honeymoon!"

There was no conscious malice in the words, but they cut like a lash in
a raw wound. Max had the impulse to strike his horse with the whip, but
he was ashamed of it and stroked the animal's neck instead, as with a
word he urged it on.

"I must watch myself if this isn't to turn me into a beast," he thought.
"It shan't, or I'll be worse than useless to her. She shan't fall
between two brutes."

Stanton had already selected the men who were to pitch his bridal tent,
and Max rode ahead with them and their loaded camels. He chose a spot
between a miniature palm grove separated from the main oasis and the
artesian well, far enough from the gushing water for its bubbling to be
heard through canvas walls soothingly, like the music of a fountain.

Fortunately for the comfort of the unprepared-for bride, Stanton was a
man who "did himself well" when he could, though he had always been
ready to face hardship if necessary. He had not considered it necessary
to stint himself when starting on this expedition, although, later on,
he would be quite ready to throw luxuries away as encumbrances. There
were cushions and thick rugs and fine linen and soft blankets. There was
also some folding furniture; and one object which revealed itself among
the rugs at first surprised, then unpleasantly enlightened, Max. It was
a rather large mirror with a gilded French frame, such as Arab women
admire. For himself, Stanton would have had a shaving-glass a foot
square, and the gaudy ornament made Max's blood boil. Stanton had
certainly brought it for a woman: Ahmara. Before the quarrel, then, he
had intended to take her with him! It was only by a chance that he had
gathered a fair white lily instead of a desert poppy.

Max would have liked to break the mirror, but, instead, he saw that it
was safely hung on one of the tent-hooks and supported by a brightly
painted Moorish chest.

As he stepped out of the tent when all was finished and ready for the
bride--even to a vase of orange blossoms brought by the priest from
Touggourt--the caravan, which had been moving slowly at the last, had
not yet arrived. Two elderly Arabs hovered near, however, the men who
lived in the oasis to guard the well and the date palms in season. As
Max spoke to them in his laboured Arabic he saw in the distance the
form of a woman. Standing as she did, in the open ground with no trees
between her and the far silver horizon, she was a noble and commanding
figure, slender and tall like a daughter of the palms. She was for Max
no more than a graceful silhouette, majestically poised, for he could
not see her face, or even be sure that the effect of crown and plumes on
her high-held head was not a trick of shadow. Indeed it seemed probable
that it was a mere illusion, for crowns and waving plumes were worn by
desert dancers, and it did not appear likely that a wife or daughter of
the well-guardians should be so adorned.

As he exchanged elaborate compliments with the Arabs the woman's figure
vanished and he thought no more of it, for Sanda and Stanton were
arriving. Max turned away his eyes as Stanton took the bride out of her
bassourah and half carried her toward their tent without waiting to
thank the man who had placed it. Max busied himself feverishly in
superintending the arrangements of the camp, which Stanton had asked him
as his "lieutenant" to undertake that night.

The kneeling camels were tethered in long lines. No zareba would be
raised, for there would be many a long march before the caravan reached
perilous country. Here a fire could be built, for there was no danger in
showing smoke and raising a rose-red glow against the silver. The
unveiled women, whom Stanton had diplomatically allowed to accompany
their husbands, began to cook supper for the men; couscous and coffee
and thin, ash-baked bread. It was a long time since Stanton had taken
Sanda to the tent under the little grove of palms, but he had given no
orders yet for food to be prepared. Max thought it unlikely that he
should be asked to eat with them, but if he were invited he intended to
refuse. In spite of himself, he could not help glancing now and then
toward the tent. The door-flaps had not been let down, but there was no
light inside. Turning involuntarily that way, as iron turns to a magnet,
at last he saw a man and woman come out of the tent. But the woman was
not Sanda!

Max realized this with a shock. He saw both figures for an instant
painted in blue-black against the light, khaki-coloured canvas. The
woman was very tall, as tall as Stanton, and on her head was something
high, like a crown set with plumes. Stanton led her away, walking
quickly. They went toward the low, black tents of the guardians of the
oasis.

Max stood still with a curious sensation of being dazed after a stunning
blow half forgotten. How long he remained without moving he could not
have told. His eyes had not followed the two figures very far. They
returned to the tent and focussed there in anguish. Some scene there
must have been between those three. He was not surprised when, after a
short time--or a long time, he did not know which--Sanda appeared. He
wondered if his soul had called her, and she was coming in answer to the
call.

She hesitated at first, as if not sure where to go. Then catching sight
of him at a distance, with the light of the fire ruddy on his face, she
began to run. Almost instantly, however, she stopped, paused for a
second or two, and it seemed to Max that she swayed a little as if she
might fall. He started toward her with great strides; but he had not
taken more than three or four when he saw that she was walking slowly
but steadily straight toward him. He felt then, with a mysterious but
complete certainty, that she wished him to go no farther, but to wait.
He stopped, and in a moment she was by his side. She did not speak, but
stood with her head drooping. Max could not see her face. After the
first eagerly questioning glance he turned his eyes away. She did not
wish him to look at her or break the silence. He held his tongue, but he
was afraid she might hear the pounding of his heart and his breath
coming and going. If she did she would guess that he knew something
which, perhaps, she did not mean to let him know. At last, however, he
could bear the strain no longer; besides, Stanton might come back. If
there were anything he could do for her, if she wanted him to take her
away--God! how his blood sang at the thought of it!--there was no more
time to waste.

His tone sounded flat and ineffectual in his own ears as he spoke. The
effort to keep it down to calmness made it almost absurd, as it would
have been to mention the weather in that tingling instant. He asked
simply: "Is there something--something I can do?"

"No," she said. "Nothing, thank you. Nothing any one can do."

The voice was not like the voice of Sanda, which Max had once compared
in his mind to the ripple of a brook steeped in sunshine. It was thin
and weak, almost like the voice of a little, broken old woman. But,
praise heaven, she was young, so very young that she would live this
down, and, some day, almost forget. If she would let him take her back
to Sidi-bel-Abbés after all! This marriage by a priest without sanction
of the law need not stand. She was not a wife yet, but a girl, oh! thank
God for that! It was not too late. If only he could say these things to
her. But it seemed that he must stand like a block of wood and wait for
her to point the way.

"Are you--perhaps you're homesick?" he dared to give her a cue.

"Homesick?" Her voice broke and, instead of being like an old woman's,
it was like a little child's. "Yes, that's it, I'm homesick! And--and I
think I'm not very well. I want my father, I want him so much!"

The heart of the man who was not her father yearned toward the girl.

"Shall I take you back?" he panted. "We're not far past Touggourt.
To-morrow it will be too late, but now--now----"

"Now it's already too late. Oh, Soldier! to have yesterday again!"

He did not ask her what she meant. He did not need to ask.

"It can be yesterday for you," he urged.

"No. Yesterday I was Sanda DeLisle. To-day I'm Sanda Stanton. Nothing
can change that."

"If you're unhappy your father can change it. You see, it's only the
church that----"

"_Only_ the church!"

"Forgive me. But the law would say----"

"It doesn't matter to me what the law would say. It's the thing what you
don't think matters that matters entirely to me. And even if it were
so--even if I were--unhappy instead of only homesick, and somehow ill, I
wouldn't go back if I could. I've written to my father. And that priest
from Touggourt will have told the Amaranthes. Every one knows. It would
be a disgrace to----"

"No! Not to you."

"I think it would. And to Richard. I have taken him by storm and almost
forced him to marry me. I would die and be left alone in the desert
rather than disgrace him in the world's eyes just when he's starting out
on the crowning expedition of his life."

"Who put such an idea into your head that you'd taken him by storm,
that----"

"Never mind. It is in my head, and it's true. I know it. Soldier, I'm
glad, oh, _so_ glad, that you're here! Will you help me?"

"You know I will," Max said, his heart bursting. If he had needed
payment for what he had done, he had it in full measure. She was glad he
was with her!

"Well, I've told you that I'm ill. It's my head--it aches horribly. I
hardly know what I'm doing or saying. I _can't_ be--in that tent
to-night!"

"You shall have mine," Max assured her quickly. "It's a good little
tent, got for the French doctor Stanton was telling us about, who
decided at the last minute not to come."

"Oh, thank you a thousand times. But you?"

"I shall rig up something splendid. They've got more tents than they
know what to do with. Several men fell out after Stanton had bought his
supplies."

"You _are_ good. Could I go to your tent now?"

"Of course. I'll take you there, and fetch your luggage myself. But
you're sure you won't go back while there's time?"

"Sure."

"If you're ill you can't ride on with the caravan."

"I shall be better to-morrow. God will help me, and you will help me,
too. I shall be able to go on for a while. Maybe it need not be for
long. People die in the desert. I've always thought it a beautiful
death. When you promise to marry a person it's for better or worse. And
I've never said I was not _happy_, Soldier! Only a little homesick and
tired."

"Come with me to my tent," Max said, realizing that all his persuasions
would be in vain. "Come quietly now, and I'll explain to--to Stanton."

"He knows I feel ill," she answered. "I told him. He will understand."



CHAPTER XXVII

THE ONLY FRIEND


When Stanton returned to his tent and found it empty he went out quickly
again and called for St. George.

This was one of the few possibilities of which Max had not thought. He
had imagined Stanton remaining sullenly in his tent as if nothing had
happened, or searching for Sanda and ordering, perhaps even forcing, her
to go back with him. In that eventuality, and that only, Max intended to
interfere. One side of his nature, the violent and uncontrolled side,
which every real man has in him, wanted to "smash" Stanton; yearned for
an excuse perhaps even to kill him and rid Sanda forever of a brute, no
matter what the consequences to himself. But the side of him where
common sense had taken refuge wished to keep neutral for Sanda's sake,
in order to watch over her and protect her through everything. When he
heard Stanton's call he was not far from the tent he had lent Sanda.
She, and everything of hers which she could need for the night, was
already there, but she had not lighted the candle he had given her. The
little khaki-coloured tent was an inconspicuous object in sand of the
same colour. Making an excuse of settling a dispute between two camels
which disturbed the peace, Max had kept near the tent, and intended,
unobtrusively, to play sentinel all night.

He answered the "Chief's" call on the instant, braced for any emergency.

"St. George, do you know where my wife is?" Stanton asked.

"She told me she felt ill, and that you wouldn't object to my lending
her my tent," answered Max promptly.

"I felt sure she'd go to _you_," said Stanton, without the signs of
anger Max expected. Then still greater was the younger man's surprise
when the elder laughed. It was a slightly embarrassed laugh, but not
ill-natured. "What else did she tell you?" Stanton wanted to know.

"She _told_ me--nothing else." To save his life, Max could not resist
that telltale emphasis which flung a challenge.

Stanton laughed again and thrust his hands deep into his pockets.

"I see you've drawn your own conclusions. Fact is, St. George, I'm in a
deuce of a damned scrape, and the only bit of luck is having a sensible
chap of my own colour, a friend of both sides, a gentleman and a soldier
like you, to talk it out with. You'd like to help, wouldn't you, for the
father's sake if not the daughter's?"

"Yes," said Max, after a hair's breadth of hesitation. He was so taken
aback by Stanton's attitude that he feared the other man might be
drawing him out in some subtle way detrimental to Sanda.

"I was sure you would. Well! I'm going to tell you the facts.

"You're a man of the world, I expect, or you wouldn't have found your
way into the Legion. Before I had any idea of marriage I thought of
carrying along a--companion, only an Arab dancing-girl, but I'd take my
oath there hasn't been a more fascinating creature since Cleopatra. A
gorgeous woman! No man on earth--not if he were an emperor or king--but
would lose his head over her, if she tried to make him. No treachery to
Sanda in the plan. The child didn't enter into my calculations then. It
struck me, after I'd asked you to see to my tent, you might spot
something--from that mirror."

"I did," Max admitted.

"Oh, well, anyhow, to make a long story short, the girl flew into one of
those black rages of the petted dancer men have made a damned fuss over,
and she disappeared. Lucky for Sanda! If Ahmara'd been with me I'd have
had to see Mademoiselle wend her way to Touggourt with you. But as it
was, in all good faith, I let myself go--one of my impulses that carry
me along. I attribute most of my success in life to impulses;
inspirations I call them. I honestly thought this was one, and that it
would make for my happiness. But by jove, St. George, when I took Sanda
into my tent an hour ago if there wasn't Ahmara waiting for me!"

He stopped an instant, as if expecting Max to speak, but when only dull
silence answered he hurried on.

"She hadn't got the news of my marriage. She wanted to give me a
pleasant surprise by forgiving me, and coming out here secretly, ahead
of the caravan, to hide in my tent. Her arms were round my neck before I
knew what was up--and the smell of '_ambre_' that's always in that long
hair of hers--God, what hair!--was in my nose. Unfortunately Sanda had
been picking up Arabic; so she understood some things Ahmara blurted out
before I could stop her. She got on to the fact that there'd been a
row--a sort of lover's quarrel--and if it hadn't been for a
misunderstanding, Ahmara would have started out with me in her
place--_practically_ in her place. No need to tell you more except that
Sanda and I had a few words, after she'd refused to see the situation in
the right light. I was sure she'd appeal to you. I am glad you thought
of offering her your tent. I shall leave her to stew in her own juice
to-night, and come slowly to her senses. She's too fond of me not to do
that before long."

"When you've sent that woman away to-morrow----" Max began. But Stanton
cut him short.

"I shan't send her away to-morrow."

"What? You----"

"Sanda had the childish impudence to tell me to-night that nothing could
ever make any difference between us after what had passed. Perhaps it
was partly my fault, for I lost my head for a minute when she accused me
of tricking her into marrying me, or words to that effect. I'm afraid I
said she had forced _me_ into it--thrown herself at me--taken me
unawares--something of that sort. In a way it's true. Heart caught in
the rebound! But I wouldn't have been cad enough to throw it up to her
if she hadn't said things so silly that a saint would have been wild.
The girl vows she won't live with me as my wife. Well, I shall hold
Ahmara as a threat over her head till she sees the error of her ways.
It's the one thing to do, as I look at it. Besides, if I try to pack
Ahmara back to Touggourt she'll screech like a hen with her head cut
off. I won't be made a laughing stock before my men, at the start,
before I've shown them what sort of a leader they've got. Ahmara comes
from the south. If Sanda decides to behave herself I'll drop the dancer
at her own place, _en route_. Meanwhile, I'll have time for bargaining
over her with my wife, and Ahmara can travel with the other women.
Several men with their wives have agreed to go only part of the way and
get new fellows to join when they leave. That's the only way to shed
Ahmara without trouble, as she's landed herself on me. And that's the
way I'll take--as I said, if Sanda behaves herself."

"And if--not? I suppose you'll send--Mrs. Stanton back?"

"Damnation, I can't do that, St. George, and you know it. It would mean
a duel with her father, and all the world would be down on me just at
the time I'm bidding highest for its applause. If Sanda travels with me,
whether she lives with me or not, she'll keep her mouth shut. She's that
kind of girl. Don't you, as her friend--or anyhow, her father's
friend--know her well enough to understand that?"

"I may think I'd know what _she'd_ do," Max flung back at the other.
"But God knows what _I'd_ do if you insulted Mademoiselle DeLisle--Mrs.
Stanton, I mean--by keeping that woman in the caravan. I believe I'd
kill you!"

Stanton stared. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed, in a change of mood, looking
suddenly like a great helpless schoolboy arraigned, "I thought I was
talking to a friend. I was asking your advice, and you turn on me like a
tiger. See here, St. George, if you're going to bite the hand I offer,
_you'd_ better be the one to go."

Max was staggered. He had made a false move. He could not go. Now, more
than ever, a thousand times more, Sanda needed a friend, and he was the
only one within reach. Perhaps he could not always help, but he could at
least keep near. Only these unexpected confidences from Stanton could
have made him so lose grip upon himself; and it must not happen again.

"I've just given you my advice," Max reminded the other more quietly.

"I can't take it."

"Then don't. We'll leave it at that."

"I ask no better. Do you want to go or stay?"

"I want to stay."

"Very well, then. I need a man like you, and I want you to stay, if
you'll mind your own business."

"I will," Max promised fervently.

But as to what his business was, there might be different opinions.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the long days passed and the caravan toiled on through dunes and
alkali deserts and strange, hidden mountainlands, it was hard to keep
before his eyes the best way of "minding his own business"--the best way
for Sanda. That which was highest in him prayed for peace between her
and Stanton. That which was lowest wished for war. And it was war. Not
loud, open warfare, but a silent battle never ceasing; and the one hope
left in Sanda's heart for her own future was death in the desert. She
had determined to go on, and she would go on; but blinding, blessed suns
of noon might strike her dead; she might take some malarial fever in the
swampy, saltpetre deserts through which the caravan must travel. There
were also scorpions and vipers. These things she had heard of as among
the minor perils of Stanton's expedition, and there were many more
formidable, of course, such as Touaregs and Tibbu brigands. She made Max
swear that, if they were attacked, and there were danger for the women,
he would shoot her with his own hand. That would not be a bad solution.
And there were others. Her father had said that nearly all experts
prophesied annihilation for Stanton and his men.

Sanda did not "behave herself." Nothing less than force could have
dragged her to Stanton's tent, and the man openly found consolation with
Ahmara; at first, perhaps, partly in defiance, but, as time went on,
because such love as he had to give was for the "most fascinating
creature since Cleopatra." For the men of the caravan there was nothing
very startling in this arrangement. The law of their religion and
country gave each of them four wives, if he could afford to keep them.
Ahmara, darkly beautiful and bejewelled, condescended to travel with the
other women of her race, but when the camp was made she moved about
proudly, like an eastern queen, and went wherever it was her will to go.
Sometimes she passed nearer than was necessary to Sanda's tent, and
turning her crowned head on its full round throat let her long eyes
dwell on the rival who ignored her existence.

The life she had undertaken would have been impossible for Sanda without
Max. If he had not been there, a self-appointed watchdog, Ahmara would
certainly have insulted Stanton's white bride, or might even have
attempted to kill her. But Ahmara was afraid of Max St. George. She had
caught a murderous glint in his eye more than once, and knew that if she
crossed a certain dead line which that look defined he would not
hesitate to deal with her as with a wildcat.

As for Sanda, if she ever thought that Ahmara might stab her some night
when Max was off guard, she told herself that she did not care. She
longed for death as the one way out of the cage into which she had
foolishly flown, and would have prayed for it, if such a prayer were not
to her mind sacrilegious. She was too young to realize that to wish is
to pray. Sanda was always hoping that something might happen to put an
end to everything for her. She disregarded precautions which others took
against sunstroke. If there came up a sandstorm she stole away and faced
it while the rest sheltered, longing to be overwhelmed and blotted out
of existence. But it seemed extraordinarily difficult to die. And then,
there was always Max. Unfailingly he was on the spot to ward off danger,
or to save her from the effects of what he called her "carelessness,"
though he must have guessed the meaning underneath alleged imprudences.

Sanda never confided in Max, yet she was aware that he could not help
knowing why she refused to live with Stanton. She could not bear to
speak of her humiliation, and Max would have cut his tongue out rather
than let slip a word concerning it after his first vain appeal.

As time went on and the caravan advanced on its march across the desert,
Stanton ignored the presence of Sanda as she ignored Ahmara's. She ate
and slept in her own tent, which had been Max's. He it was who saw that
she had good food and filtered water. Wherever fruit could be got, by
fair means or foul, there was some for her, whether others had it or
not. Max made coffee and tea for Sanda. He tended the camel she rode in
order that it might be strong and in good health. When the caravan came
into the country of the Touaregs he rode near her day by day, and at
night lay as close to her tent as he dared. Sometimes he noticed that
Stanton eyed him cynically when he performed unostentatious services for
Sanda, but outwardly the only two white men were on civil terms. Stanton
even seemed glad of Max's companionship, and discussed routes and
prospects with him, asking his advice sometimes; and once, when the
explorer was attacked by a Soudanese maddened by the sun and Stanton's
brutality, Max struck up the black man's weapon; almost before he knew
what he was doing he had saved the life of Sanda's husband.

"Why did I do it?" he asked himself afterward. Yet he knew some strange
"kink" in his nature would compel him to do the same thing again under
like circumstances.

Stanton, at his best, was an ideal leader of men. Many a forlorn hope he
had led and brought to success through sheer self-confidence and belief
in his star. But whether the failure of his mad marriage had disturbed
his faith in his own persistent luck, or whether Ahmara's influence made
for degeneration, in any case, a blight seemed to have fallen on the
once great man's mentality. It had been a boast of his that, though he
drank freely when "resting on his laurels" in Europe, he was strong
enough to "swear off" at any moment. He had accustomed himself to taking
tea and water only in blazing African heat; and since the serious
illness that followed his sunstroke he had been forbidden to touch
alcohol anywhere, in any circumstances. For a time he had been
frightened into obedience to doctors' orders; but gradually he had
drifted back into old habits; and after his quarrel with Ahmara at
Touggourt he found oblivion in much Scotch whisky, his favourite drink.

Perhaps if all had gone well with Stanton, if Ahmara had not come again
into his life and lost him Sanda's childlike worship, he might have
pulled himself together after the starting of the caravan. But, as it
was, there were black thoughts to be chased away, and the simplest
receipt for replacing them with bright ones was to fill his head with
fumes of whisky.

When Sanda, riding behind her curtains, or shrinking in her tent, heard
Stanton cursing the negro porters, and roaring profane abuse at the
camels and camel-drivers, she did not know that he was drunk; but the
men knew, and, being sober by religion, ceased to respect him. Among
themselves, they began to question the wisdom of his orders, and suspect
him of treachery toward themselves. Losing faith in the leader, they
lost faith in the wonderful hidden oasis he sought, the oasis peopled by
rich Egyptians who had vanished into the desert to escape persecution
after the Sixth Dynasty. Arabs and negroes said it must be true after
all that the "Chief" was mad, and they had been mad to trust themselves
to him, or to believe in the mysterious city lost beyond unexplored
mountains and shifting dunes which were but shrouds for dead men. He was
either deliberately leading them all to death, for the insane pleasure
of it, or else he had some plan for making his own fortune by selling
his escort as slaves. Men began to desert whenever they came to an
attractive stopping-place where there was food and water. They feigned
illness, or fled in the night with their camels into the vastness of the
desert, their faces turned once more to the west. For soon, if they
stayed, they would pass beyond the zone of known oases, into the
terrible land of mystery, charted by no man, a land where it was said
the sun had dried up all the springs of water. So the caravan dwindled
as slowly, painfully it moved toward the east; and even while he hated
him, Max was sometimes moved to pity for the harassed leader. Stanton
grew haggard as the desert closed in round him and his disaffected
followers; but there were days when, instead of sympathizing
reluctantly, Max cursed the explorer for a brute, and cursed himself for
saving the brute's life. There were days when Stanton shot or whipped a
Soudanese for an impudent word, or ordered a forced march because Sanda
had sent to beg respite for some wretch struck down with fever whom she
was nursing.

As the men lost faith in Stanton and his vision of the Lost Oasis they
attached themselves fanatically to the wife of their Chief, the "Little
White Moon," who seldom spoke to her husband save to defend one of their
number from his fits of anger, and who, with her golden hair and her
skin of snow that the fierce sun could not darken, was like the shining
angel who walks at the right hand of a good Mohammedan. They saw no
wrong in Ahmara's presence; but she was haughty and high-tempered, and
took part against them with Stanton. The whisper ran that the
dancing-woman had brought bad luck to the expedition for so long as she
was with the caravan; whereas, if fortune were to come, it would come
through the white girl who nursed the sick and had a smile or a kind
word for the humblest porter. This whisper reached Ahmara's ears through
the wives of the camel-drivers, and at first she was anxious to keep it
from Stanton lest it should prejudice him and put into his head the idea
of leaving her at one of the far apart oasis towns where the caravan
took supplies. But the more she turned over the thought in her
unenlightened mind, the more impossible it seemed to her that Stanton
would give her up. Besides, he was very brave, even braver than the
great chiefs of her own race, for they feared unseen things and omens,
whereas he laughed at their superstition. She used every art of the
professional charmer upon Stanton for the next few days, while she asked
herself whether to tell what she had learnt, or not to tell, were wiser.

When she was convinced that she had made herself more indispensable than
ever, Ahmara put the story into the form that seemed to her very good.
She said that nothing which passed in the caravan could escape her,
because the life of the leader was her life. She wished to be for him
like a lighted candle set at the door of his tent, the flame her spirit,
which felt each breath of evil threatening his safety. The men who hated
the Chief for his power or because he had punished them hated her also
because she was true to him as the blood that beat in his heart.

"Those who are cowards and find the greatness of thy adventures too
great for them, now they have tasted hardship, mutter in secret against
thee," Ahmara said. "There are some who mean to band together and refuse
to follow thee past the last-known oasis which is marked on thy maps.
They say, that from what they have heard, thou art indeed mad to think
that a caravan can live in unknown deserts where there is no water. Once
they believed in thee so firmly if thou hadst told them thou couldst
cause water to spout from dry sand they would have taken thy word for
truth. But now the white girl, who is too proud to be thy wife because
thy faithful one followed thee into the desert, has bewitched the men.
They think she is a _marabouta_, a saint endowed with magic power, and
that her spirit is stronger than thine. They will offer themselves to
_her_ man, when we come to the place where the known way ends, if he
will promise to lead them straight to Egypt, without wandering across
the open desert to seek thy Lost Oasis."

"Her man!" echoed Stanton, the blood suffusing his already bloodshot
eyes as in an instant it reddens those of an angry St. Bernard. "What do
you mean?"

"Thou knowest without my telling, my Chief. The man whose idol she is.
There is but one man--the man who watches over her by day and night, and
makes himself her slave."

"You're a fool, Ahmara," Stanton said roughly. "Don't you suppose I've
got sense enough to see why you want to put such ideas into my head?
You're jealous of my wife. St. George and she are nothing to each other.
As for the men, like as not they growl in your hearing because they hope
you'll repeat their nonsense to me and give me a fright. That's all
there is in it."

"I know thou art a lion and fearest nothing," Ahmara meekly answered.
But next day she saw that Stanton watched Max.

On the following night they came to the oasis of which she had spoken.
It was called Dardaï, and lay between two danger-zones. The first of
these--danger from man--was practically passed at Dardaï, Stanton
calculated, and knew that he had been lucky to bring his caravan through
the land of the Touaregs (which he had risked rather than face almost
certain death along the shorter, more northern way of Tripolitania) with
only a few thefts from marauders and no loss of life by violence.
Perhaps the formidable size of the caravan and the arms it carried had
been its protection, rather than the repute of its leader; but Stanton
took the credit to himself. He told himself that, after all, he had
triumphed over difficulties as no other man in his place could have
done. It was monstrous and incredible that the spirit of the caravan
should have turned against him. He said this over and over, but in his
heart he knew that he had lost prestige through faults in his own
nature, and because of mistakes he had made ever since the bad
beginning. He knew that, although he had brought his followers through
the first danger-zone without too many accidents, the second zone, the
uncharted zone of Libyan desert which stretched before them now, had ten
times more of danger in it than the zone of danger from men. Whisky
could not chase away his gloom that night when he had come to camp from
the house of the sheikh who had entertained him at dinner in the
village, and to whom he had given valuable presents in exchange for help
expected. But if the liquor could not cheer him, it made him conscious
of his own bulldog tenacity.

"I'll show the ungrateful devils who is master," he thought as he
looked out from his tent door to the glow of the fire round which his
men had been watching some naked male dancers of Dardaï. The dancers had
gone, but the watchers had not yet moved. They were talking together
more quietly than usual, in groups. Stanton wondered what they were
saying; and he stared, frowning, over their heads toward the east, where
lay the Libyan desert. They were practically out of the Sahara now.

As he gazed, Ahmara came flitting across a moonlit space of sand that
lay like a silver lake between the tent and the rest of the camp.

"Thou art back, O master of my heart, from thy visit to the sheikh," she
said. "Did it pass off well?"

"Well enough," Stanton answered mechanically. For the moment he was
indifferent to Ahmara, though her strange face was tragically beautiful.
In the pale light the figure of Max St. George became suddenly visible
to him. It moved out from behind the tents and walked over to the fire.
Stanton, on a quick impulse, called out to Max harshly:

"Come here, St. George! I want you; hurry up!"

Ahmara slipped behind Stanton, who took a step forward, and, as he
forgot her, she darted into his tent.



CHAPTER XXVIII

SANDA SPEAKS


It was Max's policy, for Sanda's sake, never to give Stanton a pretext
to send him away. He kept his temper under provocations almost
intolerable; and now he obeyed the truculent summons.

"What do you want?" he asked stiffly when he had come near enough to
speak in an ordinary tone.

"I'll tell you inside my tent," the explorer answered, stalking in first
and leaving his guest to follow. Stanton was somewhat surprised to see
Ahmara sitting on her feet, her ringed hands on her knees, her crowned
head thrown back against the canvas wall; but on the whole, he was not
sorry that she was there. She might be useful. He only smiled
sarcastically when, at sight of her, Max stopped on the threshold.

"Don't be afraid to come in," Stanton laughed; "the lady won't mind."

"But _I_ do," Max returned, with the curt politeness of tone which
irritated Stanton. "I'll stand here if you please."

"All right. My orders won't take long to give. I want you to go to your
friend's tent with a message from me."

"My friend's tent?" Max's eyes sent out a spark in the dull yellow
light.

"My wife's tent, then, if you think the name's more appropriate. I
believe she's likely to favour you as a messenger, and she hasn't gone
to bed, for her tent's lit up. Tell her from me, I find it subversive of
discipline in this caravan for a woman to set her will up against the
leader and live apart from her husband. Entirely for that reason and not
because I want anything to do with her, after the way I've been treated,
I've made up my mind that she and I must live together like other
married people. I wish the change to be made with the knowledge of the
whole caravan. Go and tell her to come here; and then give my orders to
Mahmoud and Zaid to bring anything over she may need."

If eyes could kill, Stanton would have dropped like a felled ox. But Max
would not give him the satisfaction of a blow or even of a word. With a
look of disgust such as he might have thrown at a wallowing drunkard in
a gutter, St. George turned his back on the explorer and walked away.
Before he could escape out of earshot, however, the Chief was bawling
instructions to Ahmara.

"Since that fellow is above taking a message, go you, and deliver it,"
roared Stanton, repeating in Arabic the orders flung at Max. "Her
ladyship knows enough of your language to understand. Say to her, if she
isn't at my tent door in ten minutes I'll fetch her. She won't like
that."

Max had not meant to go near Sanda, but fearing insult for her from the
Arab woman, he changed his mind, and put himself between Ahmara and
Sanda's tent. As the tall figure in its full white robes came floating
toward him in the moonlight, he blocked the way. But the dancer did not
try to pass. She paused and whispered sharply: "Thinkest thou I want the
girl to go to him? No, I'd kill her sooner. But he is watching. Let me
only tell her to beware of him. If she is out of her tent when he
searches, what can he do? And by to-morrow night I shall have had time
to make him change his mind."

"You shan't speak to Mrs. Stanton if I can help it," said Max. "Besides,
I won't trust you near her. You're a she-devil and capable of anything."

"Speak to her at the door thyself, if thou art afraid my breath will
wither thy frail flower," Ahmara sneered. "Tell her to escape quickly
into the shadows of the oasis, for the master will not care to lose his
dignity in hunting her. As for thee, thou canst run to guard her from
harm, as thou hast done before when she wandered, and I will carry word
to the Chief that the White Moon refuses to shine for him. In ten
minutes he will set out to fetch her, according to his word; but when he
finds her tent empty he will return to his own with Ahmara, I promise
thee, to plan some way of punishment. Shelter thy flower from that also
if thou canst, for it may not be to my interest to counsel thee then, as
it is now."

Max turned from the dancer without replying, and she hovered near while
he spoke at the door of Sanda's tent, within which the light had now
gone out.

"Mrs. Stanton!" he called in a low voice. "Mrs. Stanton!"

Sanda did not answer; and he called for the third time, raising his
voice slightly, yet not enough for Stanton to hear at his distance.

Still all was silence inside the tent, though it was not five minutes
since the light had been extinguished, and Sanda could hardly have
fallen asleep. Could she have heard what he and Ahmara were saying? He
wondered. It was just possible, for he had stepped close to the tent in
barring the dancer away from it. If Sanda had heard hurrying footsteps
and voices she might have peeped through the canvas flaps; and having
made an aperture, it would have been easy to catch a few words of
Ahmara's excited whispers.

"Perhaps she took the hint and has gone," Max thought; and an instant
later assured himself that she had done so, for the pegs at the back of
the tent had been pulled out of the sand. The bird had flown, but Max
feared that it might only be from one danger to another. In spite of the
friendly reception given to the caravan at Dardaï, a young woman
straying from camp into the oasis would not be safe for an instant if
seen; and in the desert beyond Sanda might be terrified by jackals or
hyenas. Bending down Max saw, among the larger tracks made by himself
and the men who had helped him pitch the tent, small footprints in the
sand: marks of little shoes which could have been worn by nobody but
Sanda. The toes had pressed in deeply, while the heelprints were
invisible after the first three or four. As soon as she was out of the
tent, Sanda had started to run. She had gone away from the direction of
the dying fire, in front of which the men of the caravan still squatted,
and had taken the track that led toward the oasis. There was a narrow
strip of desert to be crossed, and then a sudden descent over rocks,
down to an _oued_ or river-bed, which gave water to the mud village high
up on the other side. This was the way the oasis dwellers had taken
after a visit of curiosity to the camp; and as the night was bright and
not cold, some might still be lingering in the _oued_, bathing their
feet in the little stream of running water among the smooth, round
stones. Max followed the footprints, but lost them on the rocks, and
would have passed Sanda if a voice had not called him softly.

The girl had found a seat for herself in deep shadow on a small plateau
between two jutting masses of sandstone.

"I saw you," she said as he stopped. "I wondered if you would come and
look for me."

"Weren't you sure?" he asked. "When I found the tent-pegs up, I knew
you'd gone; and I followed the footprints, because it's not safe for you
to be out in the night alone."

"Safer than in my tent, if he----" she began breathlessly, then checked
herself in haste. She was silent for a minute, looking up at Max, who
had come to a stand on the edge of her little platform. Then, for the
first time since she had begged him to join the caravan instead of going
back to Bel-Abbés, she broke down and cried bitterly.

"What am I to do, Soldier?" she sobbed. "You know--I never told you
anything, but--you _know_ how it is with me?"

"I know," said Max.

"I've been always hoping I should die somehow, and--and that would make
an end," the girl wept. "Other people have died since we have started:
three strong men and a woman, one from a viper's bite and the others
with fever. But I can't die! Soldier, you never _let_ me die!"

"I don't mean to!" Max tried to force a ring of cheerfulness into his
voice, though black despair filled his heart. "You've got to live
for--your father."

"I hope I shall never see him again!" she cried sharply. "He'd know the
instant he looked into my eyes that I was unhappy. I couldn't bear it.
Oh, Soldier, if only I had let you take me back when you begged to, even
as late as that morning--before Father Dupré came out from Touggourt.
But it makes things worse to think of that now--of what might have
been!"

"Let's think of what will be, when we get through to Egypt," Max
encouraged her.

"I don't want to get through. The rest of you, yes, but not I! Soldier,
what am I to do if he tries to make--if he won't let me go on living
alone?"

"He _shall_ let you," said Max between his teeth.

"You mean that you--but that would be the worst thing of all, if you
quarrelled with him about me. You've been so wonderful. Don't you think
I've seen?"

Max's heart leaped. What had she seen? His love, or only the acts it
prompted?

"Don't be afraid, that's all," he said. His voice shook a little. As her
face leaned out of the shadow looking up to him, lily-pale under the
moon, he feared her sweetness in the night, feared that it might break
down such strength as he had and make him betray his secret. How he
would hate himself afterward, if in a mad moment he blurted out his love
for this poor child who so needed a faithful friend! In terror of
himself he hurried on. "Better let me take you back now," he suggested
almost harshly. "You can't stay here all night."

"Why can't I?"

"Because--it's best not. I'll walk with you as far as the camels, and
then drop behind--not too far off to be at hand if--anything disturbs
you. Did you hear all that woman said to me?"

"About his looking into my tent and then going back to his own--that
she'd promise he _should_ go back? Yes, I listened before I ran away.
Those were the last words I waited for."

Max was glad she had not overheard the threat of future punishment.

"Well, then, your tent will be safe."

"Safe?" she echoed. "Safe from him--from my _hero_! What fools girls can
be! But perhaps there was never one so foolish as I. It seems æons since
I was that person--that happy, silly person. Well! It doesn't bear
thinking of, much less talking about; and I never did talk before, did
I? We'll go back, since you say we must. But not to my tent. I'd rather
sit by the fire all night, if the men have gone when we get there. After
dawn I can rest, as we're not to travel to-morrow."

She held out both hands to be helped up from her low seat, and Max
fought down the impulse to crush the slender white creature against his
breast. Slowly they walked back over the rocks and through the
moon-white sand, until they could see not only the glow of the fire, but
the smouldering remnants of palm-trunks. Dark, squatting figures were
still silhouetted against the ruddy light, and Sanda paused to consider
what she should do. She stopped Max also, with a hand on his arm.

"It's a wonderful picture, or would be if one were happy!" she muttered;
and then Max could feel some sudden new emotion thrill through her
body. She started, or shivered, and the fingers lying lightly on his
coat-sleeve tightened.

"What is it?" he asked, but got no answer. The girl was standing with
slightly lifted face, her eyes closed, as if behind the shut lids she
saw some vision.

"Sanda!" he breathed. It was the first time he had called her by that
name, though always in his thoughts she was Sanda. "You're frightening
me!"

"Hush!" she said. "I'm remembering a dream; you and I in the desert
together, and you saving me from some danger, I never found out what,
because I woke up too soon. Just now it was as if a voice told me this
was the place of the dream."

What caused Max to tear his eyes from the rapt, white face of the girl
at that instant, and look at the sand, he did not know. But he seemed
compelled to look. Something moved, close to Sanda's feet; something
thin and long and very flat, like a piece of rope pulled quickly toward
her by an unseen hand. Max did not stop to wonder what it was. He
swooped on it and seized the viper's neck between his thumb and finger
and snapped its spine before it had time to strike Sanda's ankle with
its poisoned fang. But not before it had time to strike him.

The keen pin-prick caught him in the ball of the thumb. It did not hurt
much, but Max knew it meant death if the poison found a vein; and he did
not want to die and leave Sanda alone with Stanton. Flinging the dead
viper off, he whipped the knife in his belt from its sheath, and with
its sharp blade slit through the skin deep into the flesh. A slight
giddiness mounted like the fumes from a stale wine-vat to his head as
he cut down to the bone and hacked off a bleeding slice of his right
hand, then cauterized the wound with the flame of a match; but he was
hardly conscious of the pain in the desperate desire to save a life
necessary to Sanda. It was of her he thought then, not of himself at all
as an entity wishing to live for its own pleasure or profit; and he was
dimly conscious, as the blood spurted from his hand, of hoping that
Sanda did not see. He would have told her not to look, but the need to
act was too pressing to give time for words. Neither he nor she had
uttered a sound since his dash for the viper had shaken her clinging
fingers from his arm; and it was only when the poisoned flesh and the
burnt match had been flung after the dead snake that Max could glance at
the girl.

When he did turn his eyes to her, it was with scared apology. He was
afraid he had made her faint if she had seen that sight; luckily,
though, blood wasn't quite so horrid by moonlight as by day.

"I'm sorry!" he stammered. But the words died on his lips. She was
looking straight at him with a wonderful, transfiguring look. Many
fleeting expressions he had seen on that face of his adoration, but
never anything like this. He did not dare to think he could read it, and
yet--yet----

"Have you given your life for me this time?" she asked, in a strange,
deadly quiet tone.

"No, no. I shall be all right now I've got rid of the poison," he
answered. "I'll bind my hand up with this handkerchief----"

"I'll bind it," she cut him short; and taking the handkerchief from him
she tore it quickly into strips. Then with practised skill she bandaged
the wound. "That must do till we get to my tent," she told him. "There
I've lint and real bandages that I use for the men when they hurt
themselves, and I'll sponge your hand with disinfectant. But, my
Soldier, my poor Soldier, how can I bear it if you leave me? You won't,
will you?"

"Not if I can possibly help it," said Max.

"How soon can we be sure that you've cut all the poison out?"

"In a few minutes, I think."

"And if you haven't, it's--death?"

"I can't let myself die," Max exclaimed.

"It's for my sake you care like that, I know!" Sanda said. "And _I_
can't let you die--anyhow, without telling you something first. Does the
poison, if you've got it in you, kill very quickly?"

"It does, rather," Max admitted, still apologetically, because he could
not bear to have Sanda suffer for him. "But it's a painless sort of an
end, not a bad one, if it wasn't for--for----"

"For leaving me alone. I understand. And because you may have to--very
soon, though I pray not--I shall tell you what I never would have told
you except for this. Only, if you get well, you must promise not to
speak of it to me--nor even to seem to remember; and truly to forget, if
you can."

"I promise," Max said.

"It's this: I know you care for me, Max, and I care for you, too,
dearly, dearly. All the love I had ready for Richard flowed away from
him, like a river whose course had been changed in a night by a
tremendous shock of earthquake. Gradually it turned toward you. You won
it. You deserve it. I should be a wretch--I shouldn't be natural if I
didn't love you! That's all I had to tell. I couldn't let you go without
knowing. And if you do go, I shall follow you soon, because I couldn't
live through a day more of my awful life without you."

"Now I _know_ that I can't die!" Max's voice rang out. "If there was
poison in my blood, it's killed with the joy of what you've said to me."

"Joy!" Sanda echoed. "There can be no joy for us in loving each other,
only sorrow."

"There's joy in love itself," said Max. "Just in knowing."

"Though we're never to speak of it again?"

"Even though we're never to speak of it again."

So they came to Sanda's tent; and Stanton, sitting in his open doorway,
saw them arrive together. With great strides he crossed the strip of
desert between the two tents, and thrust his red face close to the
blanched face of Max. His eyes spoke the ugly thing that was in his mind
before his lips could utter it. But Sanda gave him no time for words
that would be unforgivable.

"I had gone to the river," she said, with a hint of pride and command in
her voice that Max had never heard from her. It forbade doubt and rang
clear with courage. "Monsieur St. George was afraid for me, and came to
bring me back. On the way he killed a viper that would have bitten me,
and was bitten himself. He has cut out the flesh round the wound and
cauterized it; and he will live, please God, with care and rest."

Taken aback by the challenging air of one who usually shrank from him,
Stanton was silenced. Sanda's words and manner carried conviction; and
even before she spoke he had failed in goading himself to believe evil.
Drunk, he had for the moment lost all instincts of a gentleman; but,
though somehow the impulse to insult Sanda was beaten down, the wish to
punish her survived. Max's wound and the fever sure to follow, if he
lived, gave Stanton a chance for revenge on both together, which
appealed to the cruelty in him. Besides, it offered the brutal opening
he wanted to show his authority over the sullenly mutinous men.

"Sorry, but St. George will have to do the best he can without rest,"
Stanton announced harshly. "We start at four-thirty. It is to be a
surprise call."

"But we were to stop till to-morrow and refit!" Sanda protested in
horror.

"I've changed my mind. We don't need to refit. In five hours we shall be
on the march."

"No!" cried Sanda. "You want to kill my only friend, but you shall not.
You know that rest is his one chance, and you'd take it away. I won't
have it so. He stays here, and I stay with him."

"Stay and be damned," Stanton bawled.

The men sitting by the distant fire heard the angry roar, and some
jumped to their feet, expecting an alarm.

"Stay and be damned, and may the vultures pick the flesh off your
lover's bones, while the sheikh takes you to his harem. He's welcome to
you," Stanton finished.

Before the words were out Max leaped at the Chief's throat. All the
advantage of youth was his, against the other's bulk; but as he sprang
Ahmara bounded on him from behind, winding her arms around his body and
throwing on him all her weight. It made him stagger, and, snatching up
the heavy campstool on which he had been sitting, Stanton struck Max
with it on the head. Weakened already by the anguish in the torn nerves
of his hand (most painful centre for a wound in all the body), Max fell
like a log, and lay unconscious while Ahmara wriggled herself free.

"He asked for that, and now he's got it," said Stanton, panting. "Serve
him right, and nobody will blame me if he's dead. But he isn't, no fear!
Fellows like him belong to the leopard tribe, and have as many lives as
a cat. Good girl, Ahmara, many thanks."

And without another glance toward Max, beside whom Sanda was on her
knees, Stanton threw the campstool into the tent and yelled to the men
by the fire. He called the names of two who were his special servants,
but most of the band followed, knowing from the roar of rage and the one
sharp cry in a woman's voice that something important had happened.

Stanton was glad when he saw the dark crowd troop toward him, though in
his first flush of excitement he had not thought to summon every one.

"Come on, all of you!" he shouted. "Now halt! You see the man lying
there--at my feet, where he belongs. He was my trusted lieutenant, but
he took too much upon himself. I knocked him down for insubordination.
He doesn't go farther with the caravan. And we start in five hours. Zaid
and Mahmoud, put this carrion out of my sight. I've shown you all what
happens when black or white men disobey my orders."

No one came forward. From her knees beside Max Sanda rose up slim and
straight and stood facing the Arabs and negroes.

"Men," she cried to them, "I've done my best for you. I've defended you,
when I could, from injustice. When you have been sick with fevers or
with wounds I have nursed you. Now my father's friend, and my friend,
who to-night has saved my life, lies wounded. If you leave him, you
leave me, too, for I stay as his nurse. What do you decide?"

Stanton was on her in two strides. Seizing her arm he twisted it with a
savage wrench and flung her tottering behind him. The pain forced a cry
from the girl, and Ahmara laughed. That was more than the men could
stand, for to them Sanda was always the White Angel, Ahmara the Black;
and over there by the fire they had discussed a deputation to Stanton,
announcing that, since starting, they had heard too much evil of the
haunted Libyan desert to dare venture across its waterless wastes. The
spirit of mutiny was in them, having smouldered and flashed up,
smouldered and flamed again at Stanton's cruelty. This was too much! The
spark was fired. A Senegalese whom Sanda had cured of a scorpion bite--a
black giant to whom Max had lent his camel when Stanton would have left
him in the desert--leaped like a tiger on the Chief. Steel flashed under
the moon, and Stanton fell back without a groan, striking the hard sand
and staining it red.

For an instant there was silence. Then burst forth a wild shout of hate
and joy....



CHAPTER XXIX

OUT OF THE DREAM, A PLAN


Stanton was dead, hacked in pieces by the men he had cursed and beaten.
Ahmara had fled to Dardaï to live as she could by her beauty; and the
murderers, taking with them, in a rage of haste and terror, camels,
water, and provisions, had disappeared. The caravan of the great
explorer had vanished like a mirage; and the Lost Oasis lay hidden
forever from despoiling eyes and hands in the uncharted Libyan desert.

At dawn Sanda sat beside Max in his tent, where two of the few men who
remained had carried him. Through the hideous hours he had lain as one
dead. But light, touching his eyelids, waked him with a shuddering
start.

"You!" he whispered. "Safe! I've had horrible dreams."

"Only dreams," she soothed him.

"How pale you are!" He stared at her, still half dazed.

"Perhaps it's the light."

"No, it's not the light. I remember now.... What happened after
he--I----"

"I'll tell you when you're stronger."

"I'm strong enough for anything. Only a little odd in my head."

"And your poor wounded hand? I bathed it and bandaged it again, and you
never knew."

"Queer! I thought if I were dead I should have known if you touched me!"
He spoke more to himself than to Sanda, and she did not answer. His
eyelids drooped, and presently he slept again. Hours later, when he
woke, she was still there. It seemed to the girl that the world had
fallen to pieces, leaving only her and this man in the ruins. All around
them lay the vast desert. To go back whence they had come was
impossible. To go on seemed equally impossible. There was nowhere to go.
But they were together. She knew that nothing could part them now, not
life, and even less death, yet she could see no future. Everything had
come to a standstill, and their souls might as well be out of their
bodies. It would be so much simpler!

She gave Max tea that she had made; and when she had looked at his hand
and bandaged it again, she told him all that had happened. How the
Senegalese, whose brother Stanton had shot for pilfering, a month ago,
had stabbed Stanton in the breast, and fifty others in blood-madness had
rushed to finish his work. How Ahmara had run shrieking to the village,
and the men, still in madness, had stolen the camels and gone off into
the desert; not the murderers only, but their friends who saw that it
was well to disappear, that it might never be known who were the men
that saw Richard Stanton die.

Two months and more ago, when the caravan left Touggourt, there were
over a hundred men who marched with it. Between that time and reaching
Dardaï thirty had deserted, and a few had died. Now all had flown
except a dozen of the oldest and most responsible who refused to be
carried away by their comrades' vague fear of reprisals. Just these
twelve were left with fifteen camels and a small store of arms and
provisions. There was money also, untouched in Stanton's tent, and some
bales of European rugs, clocks, and musical boxes, which the explorer
had brought as gifts for native rulers. The question pressed: what was
to be done? Sanda could find no answer; but Max had two. They might turn
back and go the way they had come. Or they might go on, not trying to
cross the Libyan desert in the direction of Assouan, as Stanton had
hoped to do, but skirting southward by a longer route where the desert
was charted and oases existed. After a journey of seventy or eighty days
they might hope to find their way through Kordofan to Omdurman, and then
across the Nile to civilized Khartoum. It was this idea that the leading
mutineers, frightened by tales of the terrible Libyan desert, had meant
to suggest to Stanton; and if he refused their intention had been to
desert. The murder, Max felt sure, had not been premeditated; but he did
not believe that it was regretted.

"I will not go back to Touggourt," Sanda said, when he had described to
her the two plans.

"Why? Because you are thinking of me?" he asked.

"Partly that. But it would be as bad for me as for you, now, if you were
to be arrested as a deserter. And besides," Sanda went on hurriedly,
determined to show him it was for her sake more than his that she
objected, "I've suffered so much I couldn't go again along that Via
Dolorosa. I want to get away from the very thought of it. New scenes
will be better. How many miles must we journey to Omdurman and
Khartoum?"

"Nearly a thousand," Max confessed.

"More than we've come with our great caravan! It's not possible."

"It must be possible!" said Max. "We'll make it possible."

"Surely such a thing has never been done!"

"Maybe not, but we'll do it. I feel now that I have the strength of a
hundred men in myself."

"You haven't even the strength of one. We must stay here till you are
stronger." Yet she shivered and grew cold at the thought of staying on,
even with Max, close to the grave the men had dug for Stanton in the
sand.

"I shall be better travelling," Max urged. He would not tell Sanda, but
he felt it unsafe to stay long near Dardaï with so few men. The sheikh
had been hospitable to Stanton, but things were different now. Ahmara
would tell about the money and the boxes and bales full of presents. The
temptation virtuously to punish those who were left, for the fate of the
explorer, would be too great, and the excuse too good.

"We shall have to get off after the heat of the day," Max insisted.
"I've lain here long enough, for, you see, I must be leader now for you.
I must talk to the men and tell them what we've decided."

"How _little_ we are in this great desert, to talk of 'deciding,'" the
girl exclaimed. "It is the desert that will decide. But--you will be
with me always ... as in my dream!"

"And mine," Max added.

Then followed day upon day of the desert dream. Some days were evil and
some were good, but none could ever be forgotten. The man and the girl
whose dreams had come true never spoke of the future, though waking or
sleeping the thought was seldom out of their minds.

"I _can't_ give her up now, whatever happens," Max said to himself
sometimes. Yet he did not see how he should be able, in justice to the
girl, to keep her. In British territory he would be safe from arrest as
a deserter from the Legion. But the very thought of himself as a
deserter was torture from which he could never escape. He regretted
nothing. What he had done he would do again if he had it to do, even in
ignorance of the reward--her love. But he remembered how he had tried to
puzzle out some other way for Valdez, and how impossible it would have
seemed then, that he should ever follow Manöel's example. He loved
Colonel DeLisle and he had loved the Legion with all its tragedies, and
been proud of his place in it. He looked upon himself as a man
disgraced, and did not see how he should ever be able to make a position
in the world worthy to be shared by Sanda. Besides, it would be
disastrous for Colonel DeLisle, as an official, if his daughter should
marry a deserter. That was one of the things that "would not do." Yet
Sanda loved the deserter, and fate had bound them together. The spirit
of the desert was making them one. Max did not know that out of Sanda's
dreams had been born a plan.



CHAPTER XXX

THE PLAY OF CROSS PURPOSES


When Max St. George, with seven emaciated Arabs and five dilapidated
camels, crawled into Omdurman, bringing Richard Stanton's young widow,
their arrival made a sensation for all Egypt. Later, in Khartoum, when
the history of the murder and the subsequent march of nine hundred miles
came out, it became a sensation for Europe and America.

Rumours had run ahead of the little party, from Kordofan, birthland of
the terrible Mahdi; but the whole story was patched together from
disjointed bits only, when the caravan arrived in civilization. Very
little was got out of the fever-stricken, haggard young man who
(according to Mrs. Stanton) was the hero of the great adventure,
impossible to have been carried through for a single day without him. It
was Sanda who told the tale, told it voluntarily, even eagerly, to every
one who questioned her. She could not give Max St. George--that
mysterious young man who apparently had no country and no past--enough
praise to satisfy her gratitude. There had been terrible sandstorms in
which they would have given themselves up for lost if it had not been
for his energy and courage. Once they had strayed a long way off their
track and nearly starved and died of thirst before they could find an
oasis they had aimed for and renew exhausted supplies. But Max St.
George's spirit had never flagged even after the mosquito-ridden swamp
where he had caught a touch of malarial fever. Through his presence of
mind and military skill the party had been saved from extinction in a
surprise attack by a band of desert marauders twice their number. Every
night he had protected the little camp by forming round it a hollow
square of camels and baggage, and keeping a sentinel posted, generally
himself. It was through these precautions they had been able to
withstand the surprise and drive the robbers off with the loss only of a
few men and some of the camels. They had fought and conquered the enemy
under a flag of the Legion, a miniature copy given by Colonel DeLisle to
his daughter. There had not been one desertion from their ranks, except
by death, and all was owing--Sanda said--to the spirit Max St. George
had infused into his followers. He insisted that the latter were the
only heroes, if any, and the Arabs from far-off Touggourt enjoyed such
fame as they had associated with the delights of a paradise reserved for
warriors. But of himself Max St. George would not talk; and people said
to each other, "Who is this young fellow who was the only white man with
Stanton? He seems at home in every language. Where did he come from?"

Nobody could tell. Not a soul knew what his past had been. But as for
his future, it seemed not unlikely that it might be limited on this
earth; for having finished his mission, and taken Mrs. Stanton as far as
Cairo on her way back to Algeria, he succumbed to the fever he had
resisted ferociously while his services were needed. When there was
nothing to do he relaxed a little and the flame in his blood burned
unchecked.

Mrs. Stanton's exhibition of gratitude, however, was admirable in the
eyes of the world focussed upon her. If Richard Stanton had not been a
magnificent man, celebrated for his successes with women, and having the
added attraction of fame as an explorer, people might have suggested
that the widow's remaining in Cairo to nurse St. George was not entirely
disinterested. But as it was, nobody said disagreeable things about the
beautiful, pale young creature, and the haggard skeleton of a man who
had pioneered her safely through the Sahara and Libyan deserts.

It was as much because of her beauty, which gave a glamour of almost
classic romance to the wild business, as because of Stanton's reputation
and the amazing madness of his last venture, that newspapers all over
the civilized world gave columns to the story. Somehow, snapshots of Max
St. George, as well as several of Sanda, had been snatched by
enterprising journalists before St. George fell ill in Cairo. These were
telegraphed for and bought by newspapers of England, Spain, Italy,
France, America, Algeria, and even Germany, which had not loved Stanton.
The next thing that happened was the report in Algerian papers that Max
St. George, "_le jeune homme de mystère_," was a missing soldier of the
Legion, who had deserted from an important mission to join Stanton's
caravan. Sensation everywhere! Paragraphs reminding the public of a
curious fact: that young Mrs. Stanton was the daughter of the colonel of
the Legion. Strange if she had not known from the first that the recruit
to her husband's expedition was a deserter from her father's regiment.
And what a situation for the colonel himself! His daughter protected
during a long desert journey of incalculable peril by a man whom it
would be her father's duty to have arrested and court-martialled if he
were on French soil.

Journalists argued the delicate question, whether, in the circumstances,
it would be possible for Colonel DeLisle to do anything officially
toward obtaining a pardon for St. George--whose name probably was not
St. George, since no man wore anything so obvious as his own name in the
Foreign Legion. Retired officers wrote letters to the papers and pointed
out that for DeLisle to work in St. George's favour, simply because
accident had enabled the deserter to aid a member of his colonel's
family, would be inadmissible. If St. George were the right sort of man
and soldier he would not expect or wish it. As a matter of fact, he did
neither; but then, at the time, he was in a physical state which
precluded conscious wishes and expectations. He did not know or care
what happened; though sometimes, in intervals of seeing marvellous
mirages of the Lost Oasis, and fighting robbers, or prescribing for sick
camels, he appeared vaguely to recognize the face of his nurse; not the
professional, but the amateur. "Sanda, Sanda!" he would mutter, or cry
out aloud; but as fortunately no one knew that Mrs. Stanton, _née_
Corisande DeLisle, was called "Sanda" by those who loved her, the doctor
and the professional nurse supposed he was babbling about the sand of
the desert. He had certainly had a distressing amount of it!

Max would have been immensely interested if he could have known at this
time of three persons in different parts of the world who were working
for him in different ways. There was Manöel Valdez in Rome, where he had
arrived with Ourïeda by way of Tunis and Sicily, instead of getting to
Spain according to his earlier plan. Manöel, singing with magnificent
success in grand opera, proclaimed himself Juan Garcia, a
fellow-deserter with St. George, in order to gild St. George's escapade
with glory. Not only did he talk to every one, and permit his
fascinating Spanish-Arab bride to talk, but he let himself be
interviewed by newspapers. Perhaps all this was a good advertisement in
a way; but he was making a _succes fou_, and did not need advertisement.
Genuinely and sincerely he was baring his heart and bringing his wife
into the garish limelight because of his passionate gratitude to Max St.
George.

The interview was copied everywhere, and Sanda read it in Cairo,
learning for the first time not only many generous acts of St. George of
which she had never heard, but gathering details of Ourïeda's escape
with Valdez, at which till then she had merely been able to guess. The
entire plot of Manöel's love drama, from the first grim scene of
stunning the prospective bridegroom on the way to his unwilling bride,
to the escape from the _douar_ in the quiet hours when Tahar was
supposed to be left alone with the "Agha's Rose," on to the hiding at
Djazerta, and stealing away in disguise with a caravan while the hunt
took another direction, all had played itself out according to his plan.
Valdez attributed the whole success to St. George's help, advice, and
gifts of money, down to the last franc in his possession. And now Manöel
began to pay the debt he owed, by calling on the world's sympathy for
the deserter, who might not set foot on French soil without being
arrested. Thus the singer's golden voice was raised for Max in Italy. In
Algeria old "Four Eyes" was working for him like the demon that he
looked; having returned with his colonel and comrades to Sidi-bel-Abbés
after the long march and a satisfactory fight with the "Deliverer," he
soon received news of the lost one. With roars of derision he refused to
believe in the little "corporal's" voluntary desertion, and from the
first moment began to agitate. What! punish a hero for his heroism?
That, in Four Eyes' vilely profane opinion, expressed with elaborate
expletives in the Legion's own choicest vernacular, was what it would
amount to if St. George were branded "deserter." Precisely why Max had
joined Stanton's caravan instead of returning to Sidi-bel-Abbés, perhaps
a few days late, Four Eyes was not certain; but there was no one better
instructed than he in pretending to know things he merely conjectured.
He had seen Ahmara, the dancer, and had told Max the scandal connecting
her with the explorer. "What more natural than that a soldier of the
Legion should, for his colonel's sake, sacrifice his whole career to
protect the daughter from such a husband as Stanton? No doubt the boy
knew that Stanton meant to take Ahmara with him, and had left everything
to stand between the girl and such a pair."

In his own picturesque and lurid language Four Eyes presented these
conjectures of his as if they were facts; and to do him justice he
believed in them. Also, he took pains to rake up every old tale of
cruelty, vanity, or lust that had been told in the past about Richard
Stanton, and embroider them. Beside the satyr figure which he flaunted
like a dummy Guy Fawkes, Max St. George shone a pure young martyr. Never
had old Four Eyes enjoyed such popularity among the townfolk of
Sidi-bel-Abbés as in these days, and he had the satisfaction of seeing
veiled allusions to his anecdotes in newspapers when he could afford to
buy or was able to steal them. On the strength of his triumph he got up
among his fellow Legionnaires a petition for the pardon and
reinstatement of Corporal St. George. Not a man refused to sign, for
even those who might have hesitated would not have done so long under
the basilisk stare of the ex-champion of boxing.

"Sign, or I'll smash you to a jelly," was his remark to one recruit who
had not heard enough of St. George or Four Eyes to dash his name on
paper the instant he saw a pen.

While the petition was growing Colonel DeLisle (who gave no sign that he
had heard of it) obtained ten days' leave, the first he had asked for in
many years, and took ship for Algiers to Alexandria to see his daughter.
But that did not discourage Four Eyes; on the contrary, "The Old Man
doesn't want to be in it, see?" said Pelle. "It ain't for him, in the
circus, to do the trick; it's for us, _ses enfants!_ And damn all four
of my eyes, we'll _do_ it, if we have to mutiny as our comrades once did
before us, when they made big history in the Legion."

The third person who, unasked, took an active interest in Max St.
George's affairs was, of all people on earth, the last whom he or any
one else would have expected to meddle with them. This was Billie
Brookton, married to her Chicago millionaire, and trying, tooth and
nail, with the aid of his money, to break into the inner fastnesses of
New York and Newport's Four Hundred. It was all because of a certain
resistance to her efforts that suddenly, out of revenge and not through
love, she took up Max's cause. The powder train was--unwittingly--laid
months before by Josephine Doran-Reeves, as she preferred to call
herself after her marriage with the son of the Dorans' lawyer. Neither
she nor Grant--who had taken the name of Doran-Reeves also--liked to
think or talk of the man who had disappeared. On consideration, the
Reeveses, father and son, had decided not to make public the story of
Josephine's birth which Max had given to them. They feared that his
great sacrifice would create too much sympathy for Max and rouse
indignation against Josephine and her husband for accepting it, allowing
the martyr to disappear, penniless, into space. At first they said
nothing at all about him, merely giving out that Josephine Doran was a
distant relative who had been brought to the Doran house on Rose's
death; but all sorts of inconvenient questions began to be asked about
Max Doran, into whose house and fortune the strange-looking,
half-beautiful, half-terrible, red-haired girl had suddenly,
inexplicably stepped.

Max's friends in society and the army did not let him pass into oblivion
without a word; therefore some sort of story had to eventually be told
to silence tongues, and, still worse, newspapers. Grant was singularly
good at making up stories, and always had been since, as a boy, he had
unobtrusively contrived to throw blame off his own shoulders on to those
of Max if they were in a scrape together.

Half a lie, nicely mixed with a few truths, makes a concoction that the
public swallows readily. Max was too young, and had been too much away
from New York, to be greatly missed there, despite Rose Doran's
popularity; and when such an interesting and handsome couple as Grant
and Josephine Doran-Reeves began entertaining gorgeously in the
renovated Doran house, the ex-lieutenant of cavalry was forgotten
comparatively soon. It seemed, according to reluctant admissions made at
last by Grant and Josephine to their acquaintances, that Max had had
secret reasons for resigning his commission in the army and vanishing
into space. It was his own wish to give up the old house to Josephine,
his "distant cousin from France," and in saying this they carefully gave
the impression that he had been well paid. Nobody dreamed that the money
Mr. and Mrs. Grant Doran-Reeves spent in such charming ways had once
belonged to Max. He was supposed to have "come a cropper" somehow, as so
many young men did, and to have disappeared with everything he had, out
of the country, for his country's good. When people realized that there
was a secret, perhaps a disgraceful one, many were sorry for poor Grant
and Josephine, mixed up in it through no fault of their own; and the
name of Max Doran was dropped from conversation whenever his innocent
relatives were within hearing distance. Then, by and by, it was
practically dropped altogether, because it had passed out of
recollection.

This was the state of affairs when the beautiful Billie (Mrs. Jeff
Houston) arrived, covered with diamonds and pearls (the best of the
latter were Max's), to storm social New York. She had already won its
heart as an actress, but as a respectable married woman who had left
the stage and connected herself by marriage with a sausage-maker she was
a different "proposition."

"You ought to know some woman in the smart set," advised a friend in the
half-smart set who had received favours from Billie, and had not been
able to give the right sort of return. "Oh, of course, you do know a lot
of the men, but they're worse than no use to you now. It must be a
woman, 'way high up at the top.'"

Billie racked her brains, and thought of Josephine Doran-Reeves.
Josephine was "way up at the top," because she was a Doran and very
rich, and so queer that she amused the most bored people, whether she
meant to or not. Unfortunately, Billie did not know her, but the next
best thing, surely, was to have known Max Doran.

Billie had made capital out of Max in the shape of a famous blue diamond
and a string of uniquely fine pearls, and her idea had been that she had
got all there was to be got from him. In fact, she had not mentioned
this little love-idyll even to her husband. Suddenly, however, she
remembered that they two had been dear, dear friends--perfectly platonic
friends, of course--and she felt justified in writing a sweet letter to
Josephine asking tactfully for news of Max. She put her point
charmingly, and begged that she might be allowed to call on dear Mrs.
Doran-Reeves, to chat cozily about "that darling boy," or would Mrs.
Doran-Reeves rather come and have tea with her one day, any day, at the
Plaza Hotel? She was staying there until the house her husband had
bought for her (quite near the Doran house) should be out of the
decorator's hands.

But the last thing that appealed to Josephine was the thought of a cozy
chat about "that darling boy" Max. Besides, the moment was a bad one
with her. Captain de la Tour had got long leave and come to America, she
did not know why at first, and had been inclined to feel rather
flattered, if slightly frightened. But soon she found out. He had come
to blackmail her. There were some silly letters she had written when
they were in the thick of their flirtation at Sidi-bel-Abbés, and the
height of her ambition had been to marry a French officer, no matter how
poor. Captain de la Tour had kept those letters.

He did not threaten to show them to Grant Doran-Reeves. He judged the
other man by himself and realized that, having married a girl for her
money, Grant would not throw her over, or even hurt her feelings, while
she still had it.

What Captain de la Tour proposed was to sell the letters and tell the
romantic story of Mrs. Doran-Reeves's life in a little Algerian hotel if
she did not buy up the whole secret and his estates in France at the
same time. For the two together he asked only the ridiculously small
price of three hundred thousand francs--sixty thousand dollars.

Josephine had raged, for Grant, even more than she, hated to spend money
where a show could not be made with it. But Captain de la Tour was
rather insistent and got on her nerves. In an hysterical fit, therefore,
she made a clean breast of the story to her husband. When she had
described to him as well as she could what was in the letters, and what
a Bohemian sort of life she had led in Bel-Abbés, Grant decided that it
would be romantic as well as sensible to buy the Château de la Tour.
Josephine had actually been born there; and they could either keep the
place or sell it when it had been improved a bit and made famous by a
few choice house-parties.

So the Doran-Reeveses bought the château and got back the letters, and
hoped that Captain de la Tour would take himself and his ill-gotten
gains out of the United States. But he lingered, looking out for an
American heiress, while Josephine existed in a state of constant
irritation, fearing some new demand or an indiscretion. And it was just
at this time that she received Mrs. Jeff Houston's letter. Naturally it
gave her great pleasure to snub some one, especially a woman prettier
than herself. She took no notice of Billie's appeal, and when Mrs.
Houston, hoping somehow that it had not reached its destination, spoke
to her sweetly one night at the opera, Josephine was rude before some of
the "best people" in New York.

After that, Billie said to every one that Mrs. Doran-Reeves was insane
as well as deformed; but that "cut no ice," as Jeff Houston remarked,
and when the snapshot of Max St. George, deserter from the Foreign
Legion, appeared with the newspaper story of Sanda Stanton, Billie did
what Jeff described as "falling over herself" to get to the office of
_Town Tales_.

She told nothing damaging to the late Miss Brookton in mentioning Max
Doran, and of him she spoke with friendly enthusiasm. He had been _so_
good, so kind to her, and so different from many young men who were good
to actresses. It broke her heart to think of his fate, for there was no
doubt that Max St. George, the Legionnaire, and Max Doran were one.
Billie told how, to her certain knowledge, Max had sacrificed himself
for Josephine Doran, who (for some reason he was too noble to reveal,
but it had to do with a secret of ancestry) seemed to him the rightful
heiress.

Penniless, Max had been forced to resign from an expensive regiment,
where he lived expensively. He had done this for Josephine's sake,
though he had loved his career better than anything else in the world.
And then, last of all, he had effaced himself rather than accept pity or
favours. He had enlisted in the Foreign Legion, and now he had further
shown the nobility of his nature by the very way in which he had fallen
into disgrace. But what did the Doran-Reeveses do, though they owed
everything to him? They told lies and ignored his existence. Mrs. Jeff
Houston said that she felt it her duty as Max Doran's only faithful
friend to bring this injustice to public notice.

_Town Tales_ was delighted to help her do this, because she was Billie
Brookton, a celebrity, and because it was "good copy." Other
papers--many other papers--took up the hue and cry which _Town Tales_
started; and the Doran-Reeveses' life became not as agreeable as it had
been.

They defended themselves to friends and enemies and newspaper men, and
thought of suing _Town Tales_ for libel, but were dissuaded from doing
so by old Mr. Reeves. Then it occurred to Josephine to let every one
know that, though she was being cruelly maligned, she wished, as a proof
of her admiration for Max's desert exploits, to present him with all her
French property, the magnificent old vineyard-surrounded Château de la
Tour, where he could cultivate grapes and make his fortune.

The papers pointed out that this was something like sending coals to
Newcastle, as St. George, alias Doran, was debarred from entering France
unless he wanted to go to prison. But Josephine and Grant quickly
retorted that the recipient of their bounty need not live in France in
order to benefit. He could sell or let the Château de la Tour through
some agent.

Not an echo of all this play of cross purposes reached Max at the
nursing home in Cairo, where he had been carried by Sanda's orders after
breaking down. But Sanda, who took in a dozen papers to see what they
had to say about the "deserter," read what was going on at New York as
well as in Rome and at Sidi-bel-Abbés. She saw that Max had been
presented with estates in France by the woman who had taken everything
and given nothing; and because of queer things Max had let drop in his
delirium she understood more of the past than he would have revealed of
his own free will. For one thing, she learnt that a certain Jack and
Rose Doran had had a child born to them at the Château de la Tour. This
enabled her to put other things together in her mind, and loving Max as
she did, she saw no harm in thus using her wits, while she respected him
with all her heart for not telling the secret. Besides, she had met
Captain de la Tour in Sidi-bel-Abbés, and she had guessed that it was
partly because of him and one or two others like him that her father had
sent her to the Agha's rather than leave her at Bel-Abbés alone.

"It would be the most wonderful sort of poetic justice," she reflected,
sitting at Max's bedside one day while he slept, "if the old place of
his ancestors should come back to him at last."

This thought reminded her of her plan. Not that she ever forgot it; but
she had to put it into the background of her mind until she was sure
that Max was going to get well. Until then, she could not and would not
leave him. But at last she was sure; and she was waiting only to find
out if her father could help; or if not, till his leave was over and she
was left to act for herself without compromising the Legion's colonel.

If Sanda had loved her father in their days together at Bel-Abbés, she
loved him a thousand times more in those few days of his visit at Cairo.
He forgave her without being asked for leaving him "in the lurch," as
she repentantly called it, and letting herself be carried away by
Stanton. "You thought you loved him, my darling," DeLisle said. "And I
could forgive anything to love."

It was in his arms, with her face buried on his breast, that she told
what her marriage had been, and then came the confession (for it seemed
to her a confession, though she was not ashamed of it, but proud) about
Max.

"He didn't speak one word of love to me," the girl said. "He tried not
even to let his eyes speak. But they did, sometimes, in spite of him.
And no man could possibly endure or do for a woman the things he endured
and did for me, every one of those terrible days, if he didn't love her.
So when I was afraid he might die from the viper's bite, I wanted him to
have one happy moment in this world to remember in the next. I told him
that I cared, and he kissed my hand and looked at me. That's all,
except just a word or two that I keep too sacredly to tell even you. And
afterward when Richard was dead, and Max and I were alone in the desert,
save for a few Arabs, he never again referred to that night, or spoke of
our love. I was sure it was only because we were alone and I depended on
him. But after those weeks and months of facing death together, it seems
that we belong to each other, he and I. Nothing must part us--nothing."

She was half afraid her father might remind her of the situation which
had arisen between Max as a deserter and himself as colonel of the
regiment from which Max had deserted.

But Colonel DeLisle did not say this or anything like it. He knew that
love was the greatest thing in the world for his daughter, as it had
been for him, and he could not cheat her out of it. He was sad because
it seemed to him that in honour he could do nothing for this deserter
who had done everything for him--nothing, that is, save give him his
daughter, and abandon what remained of his own career by resigning his
commission. As colonel of the Legion, his child could not be allowed to
marry a deserter, a fugitive who dare not enter France. As for him,
DeLisle, though the Legion was much to him, Sanda was more. But she said
she and Max would not take happiness at that price. They must think of
some other way. And the other way was the plan.

When the colonel returned to Algeria and his regiment Max had not yet
gained enough strength to be seen and thanked for what he had done, even
if DeLisle had found it compatible with his official duty to say to a
deserter what was in his heart to say to Sanda's hero. And perhaps,
Sanda thought, it was as well that they did not meet just then.
Irrevocable things might have been spoken between them.

The day after her father's ship sailed for Algiers she took another that
went from Port Said to Marseilles. From Marseilles she travelled to
Paris, which was familiar ground to her. What she did there gave a new
fillip to the Stanton-DeLisle-St. George sensation, though at the same
time it put an extinguisher on all discussions: a blow to those retired
officers who liked writing to the papers.

Lest what the papers said should be prematurely seen by the
convalescent's eyes, however, Sanda hurried back to Egypt.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE GIFT


Max was sitting up in a reclining chair, for the first time, on the day
of Sanda's return to Cairo.

He knew that she had gone to France on business of some sort, but he had
no idea what it was. It did not occur to him that it might have to do
with his affairs. Probably (he thought) it was connected with Stanton,
who had left money, and who had "geographical investments," as he called
them, all over the world, in France, perhaps, among other places. But
somehow Max could not imagine Sanda accepting money for herself that
came from Stanton, even if it were legally hers.

Although Max was still weak, he had begun to think urgently,
insistently, about the future. All the objections that Colonel DeLisle
could see to the marriage of Sanda Stanton with the deserter St. George,
the deserter St. George saw, and many more. It was caddish to think of
marrying her, and monstrous to think of giving her up. His anxious
thoughts toiled round and round in a vicious circle whence there seemed
no way out.

In the morning the doctor came in and laid down on the table, with his
hat, gloves, and stick, a newspaper. As he examined his patient, the
nurse picked up the journal and began to glance quickly from column to
column in order to have absorbed the news by the time the doctor wanted
her services--or his paper. Suddenly, not being possessed of great
self-control except in professional emergencies, she gave vent to a
shrill little squeak of excitement.

Max and the doctor both turned their heads; and when the latter saw his
newspaper open in the young woman's hand, he guessed instantly what had
excited her. He anathematized himself for putting the paper where she
could get at it; for without doubt Mrs. Stanton would want to tell the
great news herself. She must not be defrauded of the pleasure, for she
would certainly make a point of getting back for a "look at the patient"
to-day or to-morrow. If to-day, she might appear at any minute, for a P.
& O. boat-train had arrived at Cairo late the night before, Doctor
Taylor had heard, and it was now nine-thirty in the morning--not too
early to expect her.

Nurse Yorke must not blurt out the tidings in her common way! But how to
stop her without arousing St. George's curiosity?

"Oh, I suppose you've got hold of the advertisement of that sale I told
you of," he said, glaring over the top of Max's head.

"Why! I've found----" the nurse began briskly, but withered under Doctor
Taylor's forbidding gaze.

"I knew nothing else could have excited you so much," he went on
masterfully, still hypnotizing her with his eyes, until even a duller
woman would have grasped his meaning. But maybe he wanted to read out
the news himself? Nurse Yorke handed him the paper.

"Perhaps Mr. St. George will be interested in the advertisement of this
sale," she suggested, with a coy emphasis which made Doctor Taylor want
to smother the well-meaning creature with a pillow.

"We'll let Mrs. Stanton read it to him when she comes," he said
waspishly; and at that moment Mrs. Stanton came.

They both knew her knock, and Nurse Yorke flew to open the door.

She had a smile and a word for them, and then went straight to Max. "How
splendid! You're sitting up," she said. "This is worth travelling fast
for, if there were nothing else. But there is. There's something next
best to your getting well." Then she caught sight of the open paper in
the nurse's hand. "Have you--has any one been telling you--or reading
you to-day's news?" she asked, breathless.

"Nurse Yorke was just beginning to read something about a sale, I
think," Max answered, hardly knowing what he said because his eyes were
upon her--this girl of girls, this pearl of pearls, whom honour was
forcing him to give up, and at the same time bidding him to keep. He
thought that he had never seen her so lovely as to-day, in the simple
travelling dress and hat all of black, yet not mourning. There was a
look of heaven in her eyes, and they seemed to say that this heaven was
for him. Could he refuse it? He gave her back look for look; and neither
he nor she knew what they said when Doctor Taylor invited Nurse Yorke to
go with him into the next room and examine the chart.

"Are you glad I'm back?" Sanda asked, drawing a chair close up to the
_chaise longue_.

"Glad? You're worth all the doctor's medicines and tonics. I'm well
now!"

"Aren't you dying to hear my news?"

"It's such wonderful news that you've come, I can't think of anything
else," Max assured her, gazing at her hair, her eyes, her mouth--her
sweet, sweet mouth.

"All the same I'm going to tell you," Sanda insisted, panting a little
over her heartbeats. "My news is not about a 'sale,' it's about a
_gift_. Yet I think it's the very same news Nurse Yorke almost read you.
Oh, I should have been thwarted, cheated, if she had! This is for _me_
to tell you, my Soldier, me, and no one else, for the gift is to me, for
you. The President of the French Republic has given it to me for Max St.
George of the Tenth Company, First Regiment of the Legion; Max St.
George, owner of the Château de la Tour, home of his far-off
ancestors--where he and his Sanda will go some day together when he's
tired of soldiering--and Sanda's father, Max's grateful colonel, will
visit them. And that wonderful old Four Eyes, who has almost worked the
Legion into a mutiny for the Soldier's sake, will live with them, if he
can ever bear to leave the Legion. Now, can't you guess what the
President's gift is?"

"Not--not pardon?" Max's lips formed the words which he could not speak
aloud. But it was as if Sanda heard.

"Pardon, and a lieutenant's commission in the Legion."

"Sanda!"

All the worship of a man's heart and soul were in that name as it broke
from him with a sob.

"My Soldier!" she answered, in his arms. And then they spoke no more;
for again they were living through in that minute all the long months of
agony and bliss in the desert, when their dream had been coming true.

       *       *       *       *       *

Four months later Max left his bride to go with a French, English, and
Russian contingent of the Legion to fight with the Allies in France, in
the War of the World.

Sanda waits, and prays--and hopes.

THE END

THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS GARDEN CITY, N.Y.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Soldier of the Legion" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home