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Title: Burning Sands
Author: Weigall, Arthur, 1880-1934
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 "Burning Sands" ***

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    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]



Burning Sands

By

Arthur Weigall

Author of
Madeline of the Desert, Etc.


Illustrated With Scenes From The Photoplay
A Paramount Picture
Directed by George Melford


Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers   New York

Made in the United States of America



Copyright, 1921.
By Dodd, Mead And Company, Inc.

Printed in U. S. A.



Contents


  · CHAPTER I—A STUDY IN BEHAVIOUR
  · CHAPTER II—THE FREEDOM OF THE DESERT
  · CHAPTER III—THE WORLD AND THE FLESH
  · CHAPTER IV—A JACKAL IN A VILLAGE
  · CHAPTER V—FAMILY AFFAIRS
  · CHAPTER VI—TOWARDS THE SUNSET
  · CHAPTER VII—THE DESERT AND THE CITY
  · CHAPTER VIII—THE ACCOMPLICE
  · CHAPTER IX—ON THE NILE
  · CHAPTER X—“FOR TOMORROW WE DIE”
  · CHAPTER XI—THE OASIS IN THE DESERT
  · CHAPTER XII—THE HELPMATE
  · CHAPTER XIII—THE NEW LIFE
  · CHAPTER XIV—THE COURT PHILOSOPHER
  · CHAPTER XV—A BALL AT THE GENERAL’S
  · CHAPTER XVI—AT CHRISTMASTIDE
  · CHAPTER XVII—DESTINY
  · CHAPTER XVIII—MAN AND WOMAN
  · CHAPTER XIX—THE SEEDS OF SORROW
  · CHAPTER XX—PRIVATE INTERESTS
  · CHAPTER XXI—THE CLASH
  · CHAPTER XXII—THE CALL OF THE DESERT
  · CHAPTER XXIII—THE NATURE OF WOMEN
  · CHAPTER XXIV—THE GREAT ADVENTURE
  · CHAPTER XXV—BREAKING LOOSE
  · CHAPTER XXVI—THE STOLEN HOUR
  · CHAPTER XXVII—THE FLIGHT
  · CHAPTER XXVIII—THE SURPRISING FORTNIGHT
  · CHAPTER XXIX—IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH
  · CHAPTER XXX—THE REVOLT
  · CHAPTER XXXI—PAYING THE PRICE
  · CHAPTER XXXII—THINKING THINGS OVER
  · CHAPTER XXXIII—THE RETURN



CHAPTER I—A STUDY IN BEHAVIOUR


The music ceased. For a full minute the many dancers stood as the dance
had left them, stranded, so to speak, upon the polished floor of the
ballroom, clapping their white-gloved hands in what seemed to be an
appeal to the tired musicians to release them from their awkward
situation. The _chef d’orchestre_ rose from his chair and shook his
head, pointing to the beads of moisture upon his sallow forehead. Two or
three couples, more merciful than their companions, turned and walked
away; and therewith the whole company ceased their vain clapping, and,
as though awakened from an hypnotic seizure, hastened to jam themselves
into the heated, chattering mass which moved out of the brilliantly
lighted room and dispersed into the shadows of the halls and passages
beyond.

Lady Muriel Blair, to all appearances the only cool young person in the
throng, led her perspiring partner towards a group of elderly women who
sat fanning themselves near an open window, beyond which the palms could
be seen redundant in the light of the moon. An enormous-bosomed matron,
wearing a diamond tiara upon her dyed brown hair, and a rope of pearls
about her naked pink shoulders, turned to her as she approached, and
smiled upon her in a patronizing manner. She was the wife of Sir Henry
Smith-Evered, Commander-in-chief of the British Forces in Egypt; and her
smile was highly valued in Cairo society.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself, my dear,” she said, taking hold of
the girl’s hand. “But you mustn’t get overtired in this heat. Wait
another month, until the weather is cool, and then you can dance all
night.”

“Oh, but I don’t feel it at all,” Lady Muriel replied, looking with mild
disdain at her partner’s somewhat limp collar. “Father warned me that
October in Cairo would be an ordeal, but so far I’ve simply loved it.”

Her voice had that very slight suggestion of husky tiredness in it which
has a certain fascination. With her it was habitual.

“You’ve only been in Egypt twenty-four hours,” Lady Smith-Evered
reminded her. “You must be careful.”

“Careful!” the girl muttered, with laughing scorn. “I hate the word.”

Her good-looking little partner, Rupert Helsingham, ran his finger
around the inside of his collar, and adjusted his eyeglass. “Let’s go
and sit on the veranda,” he suggested.

Lady Muriel turned an eye of mocking enquiry upon the General’s lady,
who was her official chaperone (though the office had little, if any,
meaning); for, in a strange country and in a diplomatic atmosphere, it
was as well, she thought, to ascertain the proprieties. Lady
Smith-Evered, aware of dear little Rupert’s strict regard on all
occasions for his own reputation, nodded acquiescence; and therewith the
young couple sauntered out of the room.

“A charming girl!” remarked the stout chaperone, turning her heavily
powdered face to her companions.

“She is beautiful,” said Madam Pappadoulopolos, an expansive,
black-eyed, black-haired, black-moustached, black-robed figure, wife of
the Greek Consul-General.

“She has the sort of monkey-beauty of all the Blairs,” declared Mrs.
Froscombe, the gaunt but romantic wife of the British Adviser to the
Ministry of Irrigation. She spoke authoritatively. She had recently
purchased a richly illustrated volume dealing with the history of that
eminent family.

“It is a great responsibility for Lord Blair,” said Lady Smith-Evered.
“Now that poor Lady Blair has been dead for over a year, he felt that he
ought not to leave his only daughter, his only child, with her relations
in England any longer; and, of course, it is very right that she should
take her place as mistress here at the Residency, though I could really
have acted as hostess for him perfectly well.”

“Indeed yes,” Madam Pappadoulopolos assented, warmly.

“You have a genius for _that_ sort of thing,” murmured Mrs. Froscombe,
staring out of the window at the moonlit garden.

“Thank you, Gladys dear,” said Lady Smith-Evered, smiling coldly at her
friend’s averted face.

Muriel Blair’s type of beauty was in a way monkey-like, if so ludicrous
a term can be employed in a laudatory sense to describe a face of great
charm. She was of about the average height; her head was gracefully set
upon her excellent neck and shoulders; and there was a sort of airy
dignity in her carriage and step. Her enemies called her sullen at
times, and named her Moody Muriel; her friends, on the contrary,
described her as a personification of the spirit of Youth; while her
feminine intimates said that, except for her dislike of the cold, she
might have earned her living as a sculptor’s model.

She possessed a much to be envied mane of rather coarse brown hair which
she wore coiled high upon her head; and her skin was that of a brunette,
though there was some nice colour in her cheeks. Her eyes were good, and
she had the habit of staring at her friends, sometimes, in a manner
which seemed to indicate a fortuitous mimicry of childlike and
incredulous questioning.

It was perhaps the tilt of her small nose and an occasional setting of
her jaw which caused her undoubted beauty to be called monkey-like; or
possibly it was the occasional defiance of her brown eyes, or the
puckering of her eyebrows, or sometimes the sudden and whimsical grimace
which she made when she was displeased.

As she seated herself now in the moonlight and leant back in the basket
chair, Rupert Helsingham looked at her with admiration; and in the
depths of his worldly little twenty-five-year-old mind he anticipated
with pleasurably audacious hopes a season tinctured with romance. He
held the position of Oriental Secretary at the Residency, and was
considered to be a rising young man, something of an Arabic scholar, and
an expert on points of native etiquette. She was his chief’s daughter,
and heiress to the Blair estates. Every day they would meet; and
probably, since she was rather adorable, he would fall in love with her,
and perhaps she with him. It was a charming prospect.

His father had recently been created Baron Helsingham of Singleton. The
old gentleman was the first of an ancient race of village squires who
had ever performed any public service or received any royal recognition;
and now he, the son and heir, might very possibly make the first notable
matrimonial alliance of his line.

“I wonder what’s happened to my father,” said Muriel, breaking the
silence engendered by Rupert’s reflections. “I haven’t seen him since
the how-d’you-doing business.”

His whereabouts was only of casual interest to her, for she regarded him
with no particular love, nor, indeed, did she know him at all
intimately. His duties had taken him abroad a great deal during her
childhood, while her education had kept her in England; and for the last
three or four years he had passed almost entirely out of her scheme of
things.

“He’s working in his study,” her companion replied, pointing to the wing
of the house which went to form the angle wherein they were sitting. “He
always dictates his telegrams at this time: he says he feels more
benevolent after dinner. He’ll come into the ballroom presently, and say
the correct thing to the correct people. He’s a paragon of tact, and, I
can tell you, tact is needed here in Cairo! There’s such a mixture of
nationalities to deal with. What languages do you speak?”

“Only French,” she replied.

“Good!” he laughed. “Speak French to everybody: especially to those who
are not French. It makes them think that you think them cosmopolitan.
Everybody wants to be thought cosmopolitan in a little place like this:
it indicates that they have had the money to travel.”

“I shall look to you for guidance,” said Muriel, opening her mouth to
yawn, and shutting it again as though remembering her manners.

“I’ll give you a golden rule to start with,” he answered. “Be very
gracious to all foreigners, because every little politeness helps the
international situation, but behave how you like to English people,
because their social aspirations require them to speak of you as _dear_
Lady Muriel, however fiercely they burn with resentment.”

Muriel smiled. She had a really fascinating smile, and her teeth were
worthy of the great care she gave to them. “And how must I treat an
Egyptian—I mean an Egyptian gentleman?” she enquired.

“There isn’t such a thing,” he laughed, having very insular ideas as to
the meaning of the word.

“Well, a Prince or a Pasha or whatever they’re called?”

“O, that’s simple enough. If his colour is anything lighter than black
coffee, ask him if he’s a Frenchman. He will protest vehemently, and cry
‘Mais non!—je suis Egyptien.’ But he’ll love you for ever all the same.”

Muriel gazed before her into the mystery of the garden. For a brief
moment she had the feeling that their conversation was at variance with
their surroundings, that the sweet night and the moon and the stately
trees were bidding them be silent. But the thought was gone almost
before it was recorded.

From where she sat she looked across one side of the short circular
entrance-drive, and behind the acacias and slender palms, which grew
close up to the veranda, she could see the high white wall of the
garden, whereon the purple bougainvillea clustered. Through the ornate
bars of the great front gates she watched the regular passage to and fro
of the kilted sentry, the moonlight gleaming upon the bayonet fixed to
his rifle. Beyond, there was an open lamp-lit square, in the middle of
which a jet of sparkling water shot up from a marble fountain.

Roses grew in profusion at the edges of the drive, and the gentle
night-wind brought their fragrance to her nostrils; while to her ears
came the rustling of the trees, the ringing tramp of the sentry’s heavy
boots, and the subdued chatter of the resting dancers to whom this part
of the veranda was forbidden. In the clear Egyptian atmosphere so strong
was the moonlight that every detail of the scene was almost as apparent
as it would have been at high noon; and, between the houses on the
opposite side of the square, her vision travelled out over the ranges of
white buildings which gradually rose towards the towering Citadel and
the hills of the desert beyond. Here and there a minaret pierced the
sky, so slender that its stability seemed a marvel of balance; and
countless domes and cupolas gleamed like great pearls in the silvery
light.

She was about to ask a further languid question of her partner in regard
to the ways of Cairene society when her attention was attracted by the
appearance of a man wearing a slouch hat, who came suddenly into view
beyond the bars of the gates and was at once accosted by the Scotch
sentry. He looked something of a ruffian, and the sentry seemed to be
acting correctly in barring the way with his rifle held in both hands
across his bare knees.

A rapid argument followed, the exact words of which she could not quite
catch; but it was evident that the Scotchman was not going to admit any
suspicious character or possible anarchist on to the premises until he
had consulted with the native policeman who was to be seen hurrying
across the square. On the other hand the intruder appeared to be in a
hurry, and his voice had clearly to be controlled as he explained to the
zealous guardian of the gate that he had business at the Residency. But
the sentry was obdurately silent, and the voice of the speaker, in
consequence, increased in volume.

“Now don’t be silly,” Muriel heard him say, “or I’ll take your gun away
from you.”

At this she laughed outright, and, turning to her companion, suggested
that he should go and find out what was the trouble; but he shook his
head.

“No,” he said. “We can’t be seen here behind these flower-pots: let’s
watch what happens.”

The newcomer made a sudden forward movement; the sentry assumed an
attitude as though about to bayonet him, or to pretend to do so; there
was a rapid scuffle; and a moment later the rifle was twisted out of its
owner’s brawny hands.

The soldier uttered an oath, stepped back a pace, and like a lion, leapt
upon his assailant. There was a confused movement; the rifle dropped
with a clatter upon the pavement; and the Scotchman seized about the
middle in a grip such as he was unlikely ever to have experienced
before, turned an amazingly unexpected somersault, landing, like a clown
at the circus, in a sitting position in which he appeared to be staring
open-mouthed at the beauties of a thousand dazzling stars.

Thereupon the ruffian quietly picked up the rifle, opened the gate, shut
it behind him, and walked up the drive; while the Egyptian policeman ran
to the soldier’s assistance, blowing the while upon his whistle with all
the wind God had given him.

The dazed sentry scrambled to his feet, and, with a curious crouching
gait, suggestive of the ring, followed the intruder into the drive.

“Gi’ me ma rifle,” he said, hoarsely. It was evident that he was trying
to collect his wits; and his attitude was that of a wrestler looking for
an opening.

The ruffian stood still, and in voluble Arabic ordered the policeman to
stop his noise, at which the bewildered native, as though impressed by
the peremptory words, obediently took the whistle out of his mouth and
stood irresolute.

“Gi’ me ma rifle,” repeated the Scot, in injured tones, warily circling
around his cool opponent.

Rupert Helsingham suddenly got up from his chair. “Why,” he exclaimed,
“it’s Daniel Lane! Excuse me a moment.”

He hurried down the steps of the veranda; and, with breathless interest,
Muriel watched the two men shake hands, the one a small dapper ballroom
figure, the other a large, muscular brigand, a mighty man from the
wilds. He wore a battered, broad-brimmed felt hat, an old jacket of thin
tweed, and grey flannel trousers which sagged at the knees and were
rolled up above a pair of heavy brown boots, covered with dust.

With an air of complete unconcern he gave the rifle back to the abashed
sentry; and, putting his hand on Helsingham’s shoulder, strolled towards
the veranda.

“I’ve ridden in at top speed,” he said, and Muriel noticed that his
voice was deep and quiet, and that there was a trace of an American
accent. “A hundred and fifty miles in under three days. Pretty good
going, considering how bad the tracks are up there.” He jerked his thumb
in the direction of the western desert.

“The Great Man will be very pleased,” the other replied. ‘The Great Man’
was the designation generally used by the diplomatic staff in speaking
of Lord Blair.

As they ascended the steps Daniel Lane cast a pair of searching blue
eyes upon the resplendent figure of the girl in the chair. In the sheen
of the moon her dress, of flimsy material, seemed to array her as it
were in a mist; and the diamonds about her throat and in her hair—for
she was wearing family jewels—gleamed like magic points of light.

“Got a party on?” he asked, with somewhat disconcerting directness.

“A dance,” Rupert Helsingham replied, stiffly, “in honour of Lady
Muriel’s arrival. But let me introduce you.”

He turned to the girl, and effected the introduction. “Mr. Lane,” he
said, “is one of your father’s most trusted friends. I don’t know what
we should do sometimes without his counsel and advice. He knows the
native mind inside out.”

Now that the man had removed his hat, Lady Muriel felt sure that she had
seen him before, but where, she could not recall. The face was
unforgettable. The broad forehead from which the rough mud-coloured hair
was thrown back; the heavy brows which screened the steady blue eyes;
the bronzed skin; the white, regular teeth—these features she had looked
at across a drawing-room somewhere. His bulk and figure, too, were not
of the kind to be forgotten easily: the powerful neck, the great
shoulders, the mighty chest, the strong hands, were all familiar to her.

“I think we’ve met before,” she ventured.

“Yes, I fancy we have,” he replied. “Use’n’t you to wear your hair in
two fat pigtails?”

“Four years ago,” she laughed.

“Then I guess it was four years ago that we met,” he said; and without
further remark he turned to Rupert Helsingham, asking whether and when
he might see Lord Blair. “I was going to ring at the side door there,”
he explained, pointing to the door behind them which led directly into
the corridor before the Great Man’s study. “That’s my usual way in: I’ve
no use for the main entrance and the footman.”

“And not much real use for sentries, either,” Muriel laughed.

“The lad only did his duty,” he answered good-humouredly, pointing to
his rough clothes; “but somehow things like fixed bayonets always make
me impatient. I must try to get over it.”

“If Lady Muriel will excuse me, I’ll go and find out if his Lordship can
see you at once,” said Helsingham, in his most official tone of voice. A
sentry after all is a sentry, not an acrobat; and if people will wear
the garments of a tramp, they must take the consequences.

Daniel Lane thrust his hands into his pockets, and stared out into the
garden; while Muriel, left alone with him, was aware of a feeling of
awkwardness and a consequent sense of annoyance. His broad back was
turned to her—if not wholly, certainly sufficiently to suggest a lack of
deference, a lack, almost, of consciousness of her presence.

A minute or two passed. She hoped that her polite little partner would
quickly return to take her back to the ballroom, in which the music had
again begun. She felt stupid and curiously tongue-tied. She wanted to
make some remark, if only as a reminder to him of his manners.

The remark which at length she made, however, was foolish, and unworthy
of her: she knew this before the words had passed her lips. “You seem to
find the garden very interesting,” she said.

He turned round slowly, a whimsical smile upon his face. “Very,” he
answered; and then, after an embarrassing pause, “I haven’t seen any
roses for six months: I’m revelling in them.”

“Do you live in the desert?” she asked.

“Yes, most of my time. It’s a fine free life.”

“Oh, one can be free anywhere,” she replied. She felt an indefinable
desire to be contrary.

“Nonsense!” he answered, abruptly. “You don’t call yourself free, do
you, in those diamonds and those absurd shoes?”

He turned again to the garden and breathed in the scent of the roses,
with head thrown back. To Lady Muriel’s joy Rupert Helsingham returned
at this moment, followed by a footman.

“Lord Blair will see you at once,” he said.

The girl gave a sigh of relief which she hoped Mr. Lane would observe;
but in this she was disappointed, for, with a nod to her partner and a
good-natured bow to herself, he strode away.

“A very odd fellow,” remarked Helsingham, when they were alone once
more. “His manners are atrocious; but what can one expect from a man who
spends his life in the desert?”

“What makes him live there?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Being a crank, I suppose. He’s studying
Bedouin manners and customs, or something. He’s a great Arabic scholar.”

“He made me feel rather uncomfortable,” she said, as she rose from her
chair and laid her fingers on her partner’s arm.

“Yes, he’s boorish,” he replied, smoothing his sleek, dark hair with his
disengaged hand.

“It isn’t that, quite,” she corrected him, her eyebrows puckering. “But
he made me feel that I was of no importance whatsoever, and, being a
woman, I resented it. He brushed me aside, like the sentry.”

“He was probably shy,” her companion suggested, for conciliation was his
_métier_. “And of course he must have been tired after that long ride.”

“No,” she said, as they entered the ballroom, “I don’t think he was in
the least bit shy; and, as for being tired, could anything make a man of
that kind tired? He looks like a Hercules, or a Samson, or something
unconquerable of that sort.”

Rupert Helsingham glanced quickly at her. There was a tone in her voice
which suggested that their visitor’s personality had at once imposed
itself on her mind. Women, he understood, were often attracted by
masculine strength and brutality. He had known cases where an assumption
of prehistoric manners had been eminently successful in the seduction of
the weaker sex, painfully more successful, indeed, than had been his own
well-bred dalliance with romance.

A school-friend had told him once that no girl could resist the man who
took her by the throat, or pulled back her head by the hair, or, better
still, who picked her up in his arms and bit her in the neck. He
wondered whether Lady Muriel was heavy, and, with a sort of timorous
audacity, he asked himself whether she would be likely to enjoy being
bitten. He would have to be careful of Daniel Lane: he did not want any
rivals.

She led him across to the three elderly ladies. He was her partner also
for the present dance; but Muriel, throwing herself into a chair beside
Lady Smith-Evered, told him that she would prefer not to take the floor.
He glanced at the forbidding aspect of the three, and admired what he
presumed to be her self-sacrifice in the interests of diplomacy.

“Rupert, my dear,” said the General’s wife, “do be an angel and bring us
some ices.”

“What a willing little fellow he is,” murmured Mrs. Froscombe, as he
hurried away on his errand, and there was a tone of derision in her
voice.

“He’s always very helpful,” Lady Smith-Evered retorted, somewhat
sharply, for he was her pet.

“I think he’s a dear,” said Muriel. “Nice manners are a tremendous
asset. I hate churlishness.”

“I think you seldom meet with churlishness in Englishmen,” remarked
Madam Pappadoulopolos. Her husband had told her to flatter the English
whenever she could.

Muriel laughed. “I don’t know so much about that,” she replied. “On the
veranda just now I met an Englishman who, to say the least, was not
exactly courteous.”

“Oh, who was that?” asked her chaperone, with interest.

“A certain Daniel Lane,” she replied.

Lady Smith-Evered gave a gesture of impatience. “Oh, _that_ man!” she
exclaimed. “He’s in Cairo again, is he? He’s an absolute outsider.”

“What is he?—What’s he do?” Muriel asked, desiring further particulars.

“Ah! That’s the mystery,” said Lady Smith-Evered, with a look of
profound knowing. “Incidentally, my dear, he is said to keep a harîm of
Bedouin women somewhere out in the desert. I shouldn’t be surprised if
every night he beat them all soundly and sent them where the rhyme
says.”

She laughed nastily, and Muriel made a grimace.



CHAPTER II—THE FREEDOM OF THE DESERT


Lord Blair rose from his chair as the door opened, and removed from his
thin, furtive nose a pair of large horn-rimmed spectacles which he
always wore when quite alone in his study.

“Come in, come in, my dear Mr. Lane,” he exclaimed, taking a few blithe
steps forward and shaking his visitor warmly by the hand. “I’m very
well, thank you, very well indeed, and so are you, I see. That’s right,
that’s good,—splendid! Dear me, what physique! What a picture of health!
How did you get here so quickly?—do take a seat, do be seated. Yes, yes,
to be sure! Have a cigar? Now, where did I put my cigars?”

He pushed a leather arm-chair around, so that it faced his own desk
chair, and began at once to hunt for his cigar-box, lifting and
replacing stacks of papers and books, glancing rapidly, like some sort
of rodent, around the room, and then again searching under his papers.

“Thanks,” said Daniel Lane, “I’ll smoke my pipe, if it won’t make you
sick.”

“Tut, tut!” Lord Blair laughed, extending his delicate hands in a
comprehensive gesture. “I sometimes smoke a pipe myself: I enjoy it. A
good, honest, English smoke! Dear me, where _are_ my cigars?”

Lord Blair was a little man of somewhat remarkable
appearance—remarkable, that is to say, when considered in relation to
his historic name and excellent diplomatic record. In a company of
elderly club waiters he would, on superficial observation, have passed
unnoticed. He bore very little resemblance to his daughter; and, in
fact, he was often disposed to believe his late wife’s declaration, made
whenever she desired to taunt him, that Muriel was no child of his. Lady
Blair had had many lovers; and it is notorious that twenty odd years ago
in Mayfair there was an exceptionally violent epidemic of adultery.

He himself had thin auburn hair, now nearly grey, neatly parted in the
middle; nervous, quick-moving brown eyes; closely cut ‘mutton-chop’
whiskers; an otherwise clean-shaven, sharp-featured face; and a wide
mouth, furnished with two somewhat apparent rows of false teeth. His
smile was kindly and gracious, and his expression, in spite of a certain
vigilance, mild.

The evening dress which he was now wearing was noteworthy in four
particulars: his collar was so big for him that one might suppose that,
in moments of danger, his head totally disappeared into it; his bow-tie
was exceptionally wide and large; his links and studs were, as such
things go, enormous; and the legs of his trousers were cut so tightly as
to be bordering on the comic. In other respects there was nothing
striking in his appearance, except, perhaps, a general cleanliness,
almost a fastidiousness, especially to be noticed in the polished
surface of his chin and jaw, and in his carefully manicured
finger-nails.

Daniel Lane pulled out his pipe and began to fill it from a worn old
pouch. “Please don’t bother about cigars,” he said, as Lord Blair
extended his hand towards the bell. “Tell me why you sent for me. Your
letter was brought over from El Homra by a nigger corporal of your
precious frontier-patrol, who nearly lamed his camel in trying to do the
thirty miles in under four hours. My Bedouin friends thought at the very
least that the King of England was dying and wished to give me his
blessing.”

“Dear, dear!—it was not so urgent as all that,” his Lordship replied. “I
told them to mark the letter ”Express,“ but I trust, I do trust, the
message itself was not peremptory.”

“Not at all,” the other replied. “I was mighty glad of an excuse to come
into Cairo; I wanted to do some shopping; and there was another reason
also. A young cousin of mine—in the Guards—has come to Cairo, with his
regiment, and I ought to see him about some family business. I should
probably have let it slide if you hadn’t sent for me. Tell me, what’s
your trouble?”

“Ah, that’s the point!—you always come to the point quickly. It’s
capital, capital!” Lord Blair leaned forward and tapped his friend’s
knee with a sort of affection. “I don’t know where I should be without
your advice, Mr. Lane—Daniel: may I call you Daniel?”

“Sure,” said Daniel, laconically.

“When I came here two years ago, my predecessor said to me ‘When in
doubt, send for Daniel Lane.’ Do you remember how worried, indeed how
shaken—yes, I may say shaken—I was by the Michael Pasha affair? How you
laughed! Dear me, you were positively rude to me; and how right you
were! Personally I should have had him deported: it never occurred to me
to convert him into a friend.”

His visitor smiled. “‘Bind a brave enemy with the chains of
absolution,’” he said.

“Yes, yes, very true,” replied Lord Blair, still hunting about for the
cigars. “Very true, very daring: a policy for brave men.” He started
into rigidity, as though at a sudden thought: one might have supposed
that he had recollected where he had put the cigars. “Daniel!” he
exclaimed, “you bring with you an air of the mediæval! That’s it! One
always forgets that Egypt is mediæval.”

Daniel blew a cloud of oriental tobacco-smoke through his nostrils, at
which his host frenziedly renewed his search for the less pungent
cigars. “About this business you want to ask my advice upon ...?” he
asked.

“Ah yes, you must be tired,” his Lordship murmured. “You want to go to
bed after your long ride. Let me put you up here. I’ll ring and have a
room prepared.”

“No thanks,” said Daniel, firmly. “I’ve left my kit at the Orient Hotel.
But fire away, and I’ll give you my opinion either at once or in the
morning.”

Lord Blair laid his thin fingers upon a document, and handed it to his
friend. “Read that,” he said, and therewith leaned back in his chair,
his dark eyes glancing anxiously about the room.

The document was written in Arabic, and beneath the flowing script a
secretary had pencilled an English translation. “The translation is
appended,” remarked his Lordship, as Daniel bent forward to study the
paper in the light of the electric reading-lamp.

“I prefer the original,” he replied, with a smile, “I don’t trust
translations: they lose the spirit.”

For some considerable time there was silence. Suddenly Lord Blair rose
from his chair, and hurried across to a cupboard, from which he returned
bearing in triumph the missing cigars. He proffered them to his visitor,
who, without raising his eyes, took one, smelt it, and put it in his
breast pocket.

At length, through a cloud of smoke, Daniel looked up. “The man’s a
fool,” he said, and laid the paper back upon the table.

“You think I ought to refuse?” asked Lord Blair.

“No, procrastinate. That’s the basis of diplomacy, isn’t it?”

The document in question was a request made by the Egyptian Minister of
War that the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the desert should be brought
under the Conscription Act, from which, until now, they had been exempt.

“I ventured to ask you to come in,” said his Lordship, “because I am
sure, indeed I know, you have the interests of these rascals at heart. I
thought you would wish to be consulted; and at the same time I felt that
you would be able to tell me just what the consequences would be of any
action of this kind.”

Daniel nodded. “Yes, I can tell you the consequences,” he answered. “If
you conscribe them, they will evade the law by all possible means, and
you will turn honest men into law-breakers.”

“But, as you see, he suggests that it will bring the benefits of
discipline into their lives,” Lord Blair argued. “And if some of them
escape across the frontiers into Arabia or Tripoli, it will be, surely
it will be, no great loss to Egypt.”

Daniel spread out his hands. “What is military discipline?” he asked.
“Good Lord!—d’you think the Bedouin will be better men for having learnt
to form fours and present arms? Will barrack life in dirty cities bring
them some mystic benefit which they have missed in the open spaces of
the clean desert? Don’t you realize that it is just their freedom from
the taint of what we call civilization that gives them their particular
good qualities? Why is it that the man of the desert is faithful and
honourable and truthful? Because time and money and power and ambition
and success and cunning are nothing to him. Because he is not herded
with other men.”

He leant forward earnestly. “Lord Blair,” he said, and his voice was
grave, “hasn’t the thought ever come to you that we civilized people,
with our rules and regulations, our etiquette and our conventions, have
built up a structure which screens us from the face of the sun?”

“Ah, yes, indeed, my dear Daniel,” he replied. “Back to the land: the
simple life: Fresh Air Fund—a capital sentiment. But, you know, I am
very anxious, most anxious, not to offend this particular minister—most
anxious.”

His visitor relapsed into silence, and the volume of smoke which issued
from his mouth was some indication that he had much to say which he
preferred to leave unsaid.

At length he took the pipe from between his teeth. “You had better fix
your frontiers first,” he declared. “There’ll be a fine old row if
Egyptian patrols blunder into foreign territory. There’s your chance for
procrastination. Send out a commission to settle the desert frontiers
definitely. That’ll keep you all wrangling comfortably for five years.”

“Ah!—that is an idea, a very good idea,” replied Lord Blair, bringing
the tips of the fingers of one hand against those of the other sharply
and repeatedly.

“Write to the minister,” Daniel went on, “and tell him you don’t
altogether agree with him, but that you will consent to the preliminary
step of fixing the frontiers. Before that’s accomplished you may both be
dead.”

“I trust not, I trust not,” murmured Lord Blair.

“Or retired,” said his friend; and his Lordship nodded his thanks for
the correction.

It was not long before Daniel rose to take his departure. “Oh, by the
way,” he said, with a broad smile, “I have one little favor to ask
you....”

“Certainly, certainly,” responded Lord Blair warmly. “Anything I can do,
I’m sure—anything. You have put me under a great obligation by coming so
promptly to my aid in this matter.”

“Well, will you be so good as to walk as far as your front gate with me?
There’s something I want to show you.”

Lord Blair, somewhat mystified, accompanied him on to the veranda; and
here they chanced upon Lady Muriel again taking the air with Rupert
Helsingham who was once more her partner. The couple were strolling
towards them as they came out of the house.

Daniel made for the steps. “What I want you to see is over here,” he
said, pointing to the gateway.

“One moment,” Lord Blair interjected, taking hold of his arm. “I want to
introduce you to my daughter.”

He called Muriel to him, who replied somewhat coldly that she had
already met Mr. Lane.

“Really?” exclaimed his Lordship. “Splendid, capital!”

“Yes,” said Daniel, taking his pipe out of his mouth, “when she was
quite a kid; but I’m blest if I know where it was.”

He was standing again almost with his back to Muriel, his pipe between
his teeth, and once more a sense of annoyance entered her mind. She
would have liked to pinch him, but for all she knew he might turn round
and fling her into the middle of the drive. She racked her brains for
something to say, something which would show him that she was not to be
ignored in this fashion.

“Ah,” she exclaimed suddenly, “now I remember. It was in the Highlands
that we met. You came over to tea with us: I was staying with my cousin
the Duchess of Strathness.”

Daniel scratched his head. “I’m so bad at names,” he said. “What’s she
like?”

Lord Blair uttered a sudden guffaw, but Muriel did not treat the matter
so lightly. A man with gentlemanly instincts, she thought to herself,
would at any rate _pretend_ he remembered.

“Oh, why bother to think it out?” she answered, her foot ominously
tapping the floor. “It’s of no consequence.”

“None,” Daniel replied, looking at her with his steady laughing eyes.
“You’re still you, and I’m still I.... But I did like your pigtails.”

Muriel turned to her partner, who stood anxiously fiddling with his
eyeglass. “Come along,” she said; “let’s go back. The music’s begun
again.”

She nodded with decided coolness to Daniel, and turned away. He gazed
after her in silence for a moment; then he put his hand on her father’s
arm, and gently propelled him towards the gates.

As they walked down the drive in the moonlight, the sentry peered at
them through the iron bars, and, recognizing Lord Blair, suddenly
presented arms, becoming thereat a very passable imitation of a waxwork
figure.

Lord Blair put his arm in Daniel’s. “What is it you wanted to show me?”
he asked, as they passed through the gate and stood upon the pavement
outside.

“A good soldier,” said Daniel, indicating the sentry, whose face assumed
an expression of mingled anxiety and astonishment. “I wanted to call
your attention to this lad. Do you think you could put in a word for him
to his colonel? I was very much struck this evening with the way in
which he dealt with a ruffianly tramp who apparently wanted to get into
the grounds. He showed great self-restraint combined with determination
and devotion to duty.” There was not the trace of a smile upon his face.

Lord Blair turned to the rigid Scotchman, whose mouth had fallen open.
“What’s your name, my man?” he asked.

“John Macdonald, me Lord,” he answered unsteadily.

“Now, will you make a note of it?” said Daniel. “And if you get a
chance, recommend him for his soldierly conduct. Or, better still, send
him a little present as a mark of your regard.”

“Certainly, certainly,” replied Lord Blair, still somewhat puzzled.

“Thanks, that’s all,” said Daniel. “Good-night.”

“Will you come to luncheon tomorrow?” Lord Blair asked, as they shook
hands. “I will then show you the draft of my reply to the Minister of
War.”

“Thank you,” Daniel answered, knocking the ashes from his pipe. “I’ll be
delighted, if it isn’t a party. I haven’t got any respectable clothes
with me.”

“Tut, tut!” murmured his Lordship. “Come in anything you like.” And with
that he patted his friend on the arm, and hastened with little tripping
steps back to the house.

Daniel put his hands in his pockets and faced the sentry, who was once
more standing at ease. “John Macdonald,” he said, “is the account
square?”

The Scotchman looked at him with a twinkle in his eye. “Ye mus’ na’
speak tae th’ sentry on duty,” he answered.

Daniel uttered a chuckle, and walked off across the square.



CHAPTER III—THE WORLD AND THE FLESH


When a man, in the heyday of his manhood, voluntarily lives the life of
a monk or hermit, his friends suppose him to be either religious,
defective, or possessed of a secret mistress. Now, nobody supposed
Daniel Lane to be religious, for he seldom put his foot inside a church:
and people seem to be agreed that religion is, as it were, black kid
gloves, handed out with the hymnbooks and, like them, “not to be taken
away.” Nor did anybody think him abnormal, for a figure more sane, more
healthy, or more robust in its unqualified manhood, could not easily be
conjured before the imagination.

Hence the rumour had arisen in Cairo that the daughters of the Bedouin
were not strangers to him; but actually, like most rumours, this was
entirely incorrect. He did, in very truth, live the life of a celibate
in his desert home; and if this manner of existence chanced to be in
accord with his ideas of bachelorhood, it was certainly in conformity
with the nature of his surroundings. Some men are not attracted by a
diet of onions, or by a skin-polish of castor oil.

When he had been commissioned by a well-known scientific institute to
make a thorough study of the manners, customs, and folk-lore of the
Bedouin tribes of the Egyptian desert, he had entered upon his task in
the manner of one dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge; and he found in
the life he was called upon to lead the opportunity for the practice of
those precepts of the philosophers which, in spite of his impulsive
nature, had ever appealed to him in principle during the course of his
wide reading.

Almost unwittingly he had cultivated the infinite joys of a mind free
from care, free from the desires of the flesh; and, with no apparent,
or, at any rate, no great effort, he had established in himself a
condition of undisturbed equanimity, by virtue of which he could smile
benevolently at the frantic efforts of his fellow men and women to make
life amusing. To him his existence in the desert was a continuous
pleasure, for the great secret of human life had been revealed to
him—that a mind at peace in itself is happiness.

But here in Cairo circumstances were different; and as he walked from
the Residency through the moonlit streets to the Orient Hotel his
thoughts were by no means tranquil. He did not feel any very noticeable
fatigue after his long ride; for a series of recent expeditions through
the desert had hardened him to such a point that the hundred and fifty
miles which he had covered in the last three days had in no way strained
his always astonishing physical resources. His senses were alert and
active, and, indeed, were near to a riotous invasion of the placid
palace of his mind, where his soul was wont to sit enthroned above the
clamour of his mighty body.

He took the road which led him past the Semiramis Hotel, and through its
brilliantly illuminated windows he could see the richly dressed throng
of visitors, and could hear the strains of the orchestra which was
playing selections from a popular musical comedy. He turned his head
away, and gazed across the Nile which lay on his other hand; but here
too the lights of the gay city glittered and were reflected in the
water, while from a dahabiyah moored against the opposite bank there
came the sound of tambourines and the rhythmic beating of the feet of
native dancers.

In the main streets of the city the light of the lamps seemed strangely
bright to his unaccustomed eyes; and the great square in front of the
Orient Hotel presented an animated scene. Crowds of people were here
streaming out of the Opera House, and carriages and automobiles were
moving in all directions. The trees of the Esbekieh gardens were
illuminated by the neighbouring arc lamps, and rich clusters of exotic
flowers hung down towards the dazzling globes. The cafés on the other
side of the square were crowded, and hundreds of small tables, standing
in the open, were occupied by the native and continental inhabitants of
the city. The murmur of many voices and the continuous rattle of dice
upon the marble table-tops could be heard above the many sounds of the
traffic; and somewhere a Neapolitan orchestra was playing a lilting
tune.

The terrace and façade of the hotel were illuminated by numerous rows of
small electric globes, and as Daniel ascended the steps to the
brilliantly lighted main entrance he was met by a throng of men and
women in evening dress pouring out on to the terrace. Evidently the
weekly ball was in progress, and the couples were emerging into the cool
night air to rest for a few brief moments from their exertions.

For some time he wandered about the hotel, furtively watching the
dancers; but in his rough clothes he did not feel quite at his ease, and
he was conscious that many pairs of eyes looked at him from time to time
with wonder, while those of the hall-porter and the waiters, so he
thought, expressed frank disapproval, if not disgust. He had no wish,
however, to retire to his room; for the music of the orchestra would
undoubtedly prevent sleep for yet some time to come. Moreover, he felt
excited and disturbed by the brilliant scenes around him; and the
seclusion of his desert home seemed very far away.

At length he found a seat upon a sofa at the end of a passage near the
American Bar, where, except during the intervals between the dances, he
was more or less alone; and here he settled himself down to enjoy the
cigar which he had pocketed at the Residency. He wanted to be quiet; his
mind was disturbed by his sudden incursion into the world, and he was
aware of a number of emotions which he had not experienced for many
months.

Suddenly the swinging doors of the Bar were burst open and a red-headed
young man, muffled in an overcoat, sprang through and darted down the
passage. He was clutching at a lady’s gold bag; and for a moment Daniel
supposed him to be a thief. An instant later, however, he was followed
by a girl, wearing an evening cloak and a large black hat, who called
after him in broken English, telling him to behave himself. At this the
man paused, tossed the bag to her, and, with a wave of his hand,
disappeared round the corner.

The bag fell at Daniel’s feet. He therefore stooped down, and, picking
it up, returned it to her.

“A silly boy—that one,” she smiled. “He like always the rag.”

“I nearly shot him for a thief,” said Daniel, placing his hand
significantly upon his hip-pocket, where he still carried the revolver
which had accompanied him on his journey.

The girl fixed her large dark eyes upon him in amazement. “Mais non!”
she exclaimed. “He has the red hair: he like joking and running about.”

She sat herself down beside him, and made a pretence to touch his
hip-pocket.

“Why you carry a pistol?” she asked.

Daniel looked at her with mild amusement. Her profession was evident,
but it did not shock him.

“Because I’m a wild man,” he answered, with a smile.

“You not live in Cairo?” she queried.

“No fear!” he replied.

There was silence for some moments, while Daniel, smoking his cigar,
endeavoured to ignore her existence. Once or twice she looked
expectantly at him: it was evident that she could not quite classify
him. Then she rose to her feet, and, with a little friendly nod to him,
walked towards the swinging doors.

Daniel suddenly felt lonely, felt that he would like to have somebody to
talk to, felt that he could keep any situation within bounds, felt that
he did not much mind whether he could do so or not. He took the cigar
out of his mouth, forming an instant resolution: “Hi!” he called out.

She turned round. “Why you call me ‘Hi’?” she asked. “I’m Lizette.”

“I beg your pardon,” he answered, gravely. “Will you have supper with
me, Lizette?”

“Have you got enough money?” she asked.

“Plenty,” he laughed. “Shall we have supper here?”

She shook her head, “Oh, no,” she replied frankly. “The Manager not like
me, because I’m not good girl. Everybody know Lizette—very bad, very
wicked girl. Everybody are shocked for Lizette.”

“I’m not shocked,” said Daniel. “I like your face. You look truthful.”

He got up, and followed her into the bar, and, crossing it, made for the
street-entrance.

“You give me supper at Berto’s?” she said, putting her hand lightly upon
his arm, and looking up at him, as they stood upon the pavement outside.

“Anywhere you like,” he answered; and thus it came about that a few
minutes later he found himself seated before her at a small table in a
quiet restaurant. She was decidedly attractive. Her grey eyes were
tender and sympathetic; the expression of her mouth was kindly; and her
dark hair, which was drawn down over her ears, was soft and alluring.
She was wearing a low-necked black-velvet dress, and her slender throat
and shoulders by contrast seemed to be very white.

Her broken English, however, was her chiefest charm; and Daniel listened
with pleasure as she talked away, candidly answering his somewhat direct
questions in regard to her early life and adventures. She hailed
originally, she told him, from Marseilles; but when her widowed mother
had died she had found herself at the age of seventeen, alone and
penniless. She had got into bad company, and at length had been advised
by a well-meaning young British guardsman, on his way to Egypt, to ply
her trade in Cairo. Here she had become a great favourite with his
particular battalion, and in fact, was so monopolized by them that when
she was seen in the company of a civilian her action was said to be “by
kind permission of the Colonel and officers” of the regiment in
question.

“Good Lord, what a life!” said Daniel.

“But what else can a girl do,” she asked, “after the little first
mistake, eh? I get plenty good food; I not work eight hours, ten hours,
every day to get thirty francs the week; I not live in the little top
one room and cry: no, I have the beautiful _appartements au premier
étage_, and I laugh always—plenty friends, plenty dresses, plenty sun.”

At a table at the other side of the room, Daniel had noticed, while she
was talking, a heavy-jowled, red-faced young officer who was seated
alone, and whose sullen eyes appeared to be fixed upon him. The girl’s
back was turned to this man; but presently she observed that her
companion was not paying attention to her remarks, and, wondering what
had attracted his attention, she looked behind her. Immediately she
uttered a little angry exclamation, and made an impatient shrug with her
shoulders.

“That is a beast,” she said.

“He’s drunk, I think,” Daniel remarked. “Is he a friend of yours?”

She made a gesture of denial. “He hate me because I not let him come
home with me ever.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because he very cruel pig-man. He beat his dog. I see him beat his
dog.”

They rose presently to leave the restaurant, and as they did so the
objectionable officer floundered unsteadily to his feet, and placed
himself across the doorway. As in the case of most men of gigantic
physical strength, Daniel’s nature was gentle, and wanting in all
bellicose tendencies; and, moreover, he had already once that evening
used his muscles in a manner which did not conform to his principles. He
therefore made an attempt to take no notice of the obstruction; but
finding the way entirely barred, he was obliged to request the man to
stand aside. The officer, however, stood his ground stolidly.

Daniel raised his voice very slightly. “Will you kindly get out of the
way,” he said.

For answer the man shot out his hand, and made an ineffectual grab at
the girl’s arm. She darted aside, and by a quick manœuvre slipped out
through the glass doorway, standing thereafter in the entrance passage,
watching the two men with an expression of anger in her alert eyes.

It was now Daniel’s turn to bar the way, whereat his opponent thrust his
red face forward and uttered a string of oaths, his fists clenched.

“I don’t stand any nonsense from a damned civilian,” he roared. “Let me
pass, or I’ll put my fist through your face.”

Suddenly Daniel’s self-control for the second time deserted him. He
blushed with shame for his countryman; he burnt with indignation at the
arrogance of this product of a militaristic age; he felt like an
exasperated schoolmaster dealing with a bully. With a quick movement he
gripped the man’s raised arm, and seizing with his other hand the collar
of his tunic, shook him so that his head was bumped violently against
the wall behind him.

“I don’t believe in violence,” he said, shaking him till the teeth
rattled in his head, “or I’d really hurt you. I don’t believe in it.”

In his tremendous grip the wretched man was, in spite of his bulk, as
entirely powerless as the sentry at the Residency had been. His eyes
grew round and frightened: he had never before come up against strength
such as Daniel possessed.

“Let me go,” he gasped.

“Shut your mouth, or you’ll bite your tongue,” said Daniel, a grim smile
upon his face, as he administered another shattering shake. Then with a
contemptuous movement he flung him backwards, so that he fell to the
floor at the feet of an amazed waiter who had hurried across the room.

Daniel turned upon his heel, and, taking the girl’s arm, conducted her
out of the building. She appeared to be too enthralled by the
discomfiture of her enemy to utter a word.

An empty taxi-cab was passing, and this he hailed.

“Where d’you want to go to?” he asked.

She gave him her address. “You are coming home with me?” she asked.
“Please do.” Her expression was eloquent.

“I’ll drive you as far as your door,” he replied.

“But...?” There was a question in her eyes.

He sat himself down beside her, and she put her arm in his, looking up
into his face with admiration.

“I never see a one so strong,” she whispered, with a kind of awe. “I
think you very great man, very to be loved.”

Daniel laughed ironically, “Oh, yes, of course you’re filled with
admiration because you’ve seen me handle a poor drunken fellow-creature
roughly. My girl, that is not the thing for which you should admire a
man. I’m ashamed of myself.”

“Ashamed?” she exclaimed, incredulously.

“Yes,” he answered, shortly. “D’you think I’m proud that I can master
any man in a fair fight? What I want to be able to do is to master
_myself_!”

There was silence between them, but he was aware that she did not take
her eyes from him. At length he turned and looked at her and, seeing the
admiration in her face, laughed aloud.

“Why you laugh?” she asked.

“I’m laughing at you women,” he answered. “How you love a little show of
muscle! Good God, we might be living in the year one!”

“I not understand,” she said.

“No, I don’t suppose you do,” he answered. “But here we are: is this
where you live?”

They had stopped before some large buildings in the vicinity of the main
station. She nodded her head.

“Please don’t go away,” she said.

“No,” he answered. “I’ve had enough of the world, the flesh, and the
devil for one day. I guess we’ll meet again some time or other. Good
night, my girl; and thank you for your company.”

She held her hand in his. “Thank you,” she said, “for fighting that
pig-man, Barthampton.”

“Barthampton? Lord Barthampton?” he repeated. “Was that the man?”

She nodded. “Why?” she asked, as he uttered a low whistle.

“Gee!” he laughed. “He’s my own cousin.”



CHAPTER IV—A JACKAL IN A VILLAGE


Tired after the dance, Lady Muriel stayed upstairs next day until the
luncheon hour. The long windows of her room led out on to a balcony
which, being on the west side of the house, remained in the shade for
most of the morning; and here in a comfortable basket chair, she lay
back idly glancing at the week-old magazines and illustrated papers
which the mail had just brought from England. While the sun was not yet
high in the heavens the shadow cast by the house was broad enough to
mitigate to the eyes the glare of the Egyptian day; and every now and
then she laid down her literature to gaze at the brilliant scene before
her.

The grounds of the Residency, with the rare flowering trees and imported
varieties of palm, the masses of variegated flowers and the fresh-sown
lawns of vivid grass, looked like well-kept Botanical Gardens, and
appealed more to her cultivated tastes than to the original emotions of
her nature. It was all very elegant and civilized and pleasing, and
seemed correspondent to the charming new garment—all silk and lace and
ribbons—which she was wearing, and to the fashionable literature which
she was reading. She, the balcony, the garden, and the deep blue sky
might have been a picture on the cover of a society journal.

But when she raised her eyes, and looked over the Nile, which flowed
past the white terrace at the bottom of the lawn, and allowed her gaze
to rest upon the long line of the distant desert on the opposite bank,
the aspect of things, outward and inward, was altered; and momentarily
she felt the play of disused or wholly novel sensations lightly touching
upon her heart.

So far she was delighted with her experience of Egypt. She enjoyed the
heat; she was charmed by the somewhat luxurious life at the Residency;
and the deference paid to her as the Great Man’s daughter amused and
pleased her. At the dance the previous night she had met half a dozen
very possible young officers; and the secretaries whom she saw every day
were pleasant enough, little Rupert Helsingham being quite amusing. That
afternoon she was going to ride with him, which would be jolly....

There was, however, one small and almost insignificant source of unease
in her mind, one little blot upon the enjoyment of the last two or three
days. A ruffianly fellow had treated her in a manner bordering on
rudeness, and in his presence she had felt stupid. He had shown at first
complete indifference to her, and later he had spoken with a sort of
easy familiarity which suggested a long experience in dealing with her
sex, but no ability to discriminate between the bondwoman and the free.
And she had behaved as a bondwoman.

The recollection caused her now to tap her foot angrily upon the tiled
floor, and to draw the delicate line of her eyebrows into a puckered
frown. The thought which lay at the root of her discomfort was this: she
had pretended that their previous meeting had been at the house of the
Duchess of Strathness simply because she had been lashed into a desire
to assert her own standing in response to his lack of respect. The
Duchess was her most exalted relative: she was a Royal Princess who had
married the Duke, and the Duke was cousin to her mother. She knew quite
well that she had not met Mr. Lane there: she had uttered the words
before her nicer instincts had had time to prevail.

She had said it in self-defence—to make an impression; and his reply,
whether he had meant it as a snub or not, had stung her. “I’m so bad at
names: what’s she like?” Her Royal Highness Princess Augusta Maria,
Duchess of Strathness! Of course it was a snub; and she had deserved it.
He couldn’t have made a more shattering reply: he couldn’t have said
more plainly to her “Now, no airs with me, please!—to me you are just
you.”

The recollection of the incident was unpleasant; it made her feel small.
She had behaved no better than the servants and shopkeepers who delight
to speak in familiar terms of duchesses and dukes. However!... she did
not suppose that she would see the man again: he belonged to the desert,
not to Cairo; and with this consolation, she dismissed the matter from
her mind.

When at last she descended the stairs at the sound of the gong, she came
upon General Smith-Evered, who had called to see Lord Blair upon some
matter of business, and was just stumping across the hall on his way
out. He was a very martial little man. He greeted her with jocularity
tempered by deference; he kissed her hand in what he believed to be a
very charming old-world manner; he told her what a radiant vision she
made as she walked down the great staircase in her pretty summer dress;
he described himself as a bluff old soldier fairly bowled over by her
youthful grace; and he slapped his leggings with his cane and gloves and
kissed his fingers to England, home and beauty.

Muriel knew the type well—in real life, on the stage, and in the comic
papers; nevertheless, she felt pleased with the rotund compliments, and
there was a pleasurable sense of well-being in her mind as she entered
the drawing-room. Here the sun-blinds shaded the long French windows,
and the light in the room was so subdued that she did not observe at
once that she was not alone. She had paused to rearrange a vase of
flowers which stood upon a small table, when a movement behind her
caused her to turn; and she found herself face to face with Daniel Lane,
who had just risen from the sofa.

“Good morning!” he said, gravely looking at her with his deep-set blue
eyes.

Her heart sank: she felt like a schoolgirl in the presence of a master
who had lately punished her. “Oh, good morning,” she answered, but she
did not offer him her hand.

She turned again to the flowers. “Are you waiting to see my father?” she
asked, as she aimlessly withdrew a rose from the bunch and inserted it
again at another angle.

“I’ve come to lunch,” he said. “I’m early, I suppose. My watch is
busted.”

Deeper sank her heart. “No, you’re not early,” she replied, “the gong’s
gone.”

“Good!” he exclaimed; “then you haven’t got a party. I was shy about my
clothes.”

He was wearing the same clothes in which she had seen him the night
before, except that he appeared to have a clean collar and shirt, his
hair was carefully combed back, and he had evidently visited a barber.

“Do sit down,” she said.

“Thanks,” he answered, and remained where he was, his hands deep in the
pockets of his jacket, and his eyes fixed upon her.

There was an awkward pause, awkward, that is to say, to Muriel, who
could not for the life of her think what to talk about.

“Will you smoke a cigarette?” she asked, handing him the box as a
preliminary to an escape from the room.

He took it from her unthinkingly, and, without opening it, put it down
upon a table.

“I’ve remembered where it was we met,” he remarked suddenly, as she
moved towards the door.

“Really?” There was a note of assumed indifference in her voice; and, as
she turned and came back to him, she made a desperate attempt to emulate
the cucumber. She felt that there was a challenge in his words, in face
of which she could not honourably run away.

“Yes,” he said. “It was at Eastbourne, at your school. I came down to
see your head mistress, who was a friend of mine; and they let you come
into the drawing-room to tea.”

A wave of recollection passed over her mind. “Of course,” she exclaimed,
“that was it.”

They had let her, they had _allowed_ her, to come into the drawing-room
to have the honour of making his acquaintance! She paused: the scene of
their meeting developed in her mind. A girl had rushed into the
schoolroom where she was reading, and had told her that she and one or
two others were to go into the drawing-room to make themselves polite to
this man, who was described as a great scholar and explorer. She had
gone in shyly, and had shaken hands with him, and he had stared at her
and, later, had turned his back on her; and, after he had gone, the
headmistress had commended her manners as having been quiet, ladylike,
and respectful. Respectful!

He was smiling at her when she looked up at him once more. “You were
wrong about it being at your cousin’s,” he said.

Muriel felt as though she had been smacked. “Oh, I only suggested that,”
she replied, witheringly, “to help you out. I didn’t really suppose that
you knew her.”

“I know very few people,” he answered, unmoved. “I can’t afford the
time. Life is such a ‘brief candle’ that a man has to choose one of its
two pleasures—sociability or study: he can’t enjoy both.”

She looked at him curiously. He must have a tough hide, she thought, to
be unruffled by a remark so biting as that she had made. For a moment
she stared straight at him, her hand resting on her hip. Then she caught
sight of herself in the great mirror against the wall, and her hand
slipped hastily from its resting-place: her attitude had been that of a
common Spanish dancing-girl. Her eyes fell before his.

“I’ll go and find the others,” she said, and turned from him.

As she did so Lord Blair hurried into the room. He was wearing a
hot-weather suit of some sort of drab-coloured silk, straight from the
laundry, where, one might have supposed, the trousers had been
accidentally shrunk. His stiff and spacious collar, and his expansive
tie, folded in the four-in-hand manner and fastened with a large gold
pin, detracted from the sense of coolness suggested by his suit; but a
rose in his buttonhole gave a comfortable touch of nature to an
otherwise artificial figure.

“Ah, good morning, Muriel dear,” he exclaimed, giving her cheek a
friendly but quite unaffectionate kiss. “You’ve had a lazy morning, eh?
Feel the heat, no doubt. Yes? No? Ah, that’s good, that’s capital! Good
morning Mr. Lane, or Daniel, I should say, since you permit it. I hope
Muriel has been amusing you.”

“She has,” said Daniel, and Muriel blushed.

Rupert Helsingham entered the room; and, when he had made his
salutations, Muriel turned to him with relief, strolling with him across
to the windows through which the warm scented air of the garden drifted,
bringing with it the drone of the flies and the incessant rustle of the
palms.

“Please see that I don’t sit next to that horrible man at lunch,” she
whispered.

“There’s no choice,” he answered. “The four of us are alone today.”

“Shall we go in?” said Lord Blair, nodding vigorously to Muriel; and the
three men followed her into the dining-room.

The meal proved to be less of an ordeal than she had expected. Their
visitor talked at first almost exclusively to his host, who showed him,
and discussed, the draft of his reply to the Minister of War; and Muriel
made herself quite entrancing to Rupert Helsingham. Under ordinary
circumstances she was, in spite of occasional lapses into bored silence,
a quick and witty talker; one who speedily established a sympathetic
connection with the person with whom she was conversing; and her
laughter was frequent and infectious. It was only this Daniel Lane who
had such a disturbing effect upon her equanimity; but here, at the
opposite side of a large table, she seemed to be out of range of his
influence, and she rejoiced in her unimpaired power to captivate the
little Diplomatic secretary.

“I am going to call you Rupert at once,” she said to him; and, breaking
in on the opposite conversation, “Father,” she demanded, “d’you mind if
I call this man by his Christian name? Everybody seems to.”

Lord Blair laughed, holding out his hands in a gesture which indicated
that he took no responsibility, and turned to Daniel. “Do you think I
ought to let her?” he asked.

To Muriel his remark could hardly have been more unfortunate, and a
momentary frown gathered upon her face.

“I think it’s a good idea,” replied Daniel, looking quietly at her.
“Then if you quarrel you can revert to ‘Mr. Helsingham’ with telling
effect.”

Muriel made a slight movement, not far removed from a toss of her head,
and, without giving any reply, continued her conversation to Rupert.

The meal was nearly finished when she became aware that her friend was
not paying full attention to her remarks, but was listening to Daniel
Lane, whose tongue a glass of wine had loosened, and who was speaking in
a low vibrating voice, describing some phases of his life in the desert.
At this she, too, began to listen, at first with some irritation, but
soon with genuine interest. She had supposed him to be more or less
monosyllabic, and she was astonished at his command of languages.

As she fixed her eyes upon him he glanced at her for a moment, and there
was a pause in his words. For the first time he was conscious of a look
of friendship in her face; and his heart responded to the expression.
The pause was hardly noticeable, but to him it was as though something
of importance had happened; and when he turned again to continue to
address himself to his host, there was a warm impulse behind his words.
Muriel thereafter made no further remark to Rupert; but leaning her
elbow upon the table, and fingering some grapes, gave her undivided
attention to the speaker.

“It’s always a matter of surprise to me,” he was saying, “that people
don’t come out more often into the desert. You all sit here in this
garden of Egypt, this little strip of fertile land on the banks of the
Nile, and you look up at the great wall of the hills to east and west;
but you don’t ever seem to think of climbing over and running away into
the wonderful country beyond.”

Was it, he asked, that they were afraid of the roads that led
nowhere-in-particular, and the tracks that wandered like meandering
dreams? Why, those were the best kind of roads, because they merely took
your feet wherever your heart suggested—to shady places where you could
sprawl on the cool sand; or up to rocks where the sun beat on you and
the invigorating wind blew on your face; or down to wells of good water
where you could drink your fill and take your rest in the shade of the
tamarisks; or along echoing valleys where there was always an
interesting turning just ahead; or into the flat plains where the mirage
receded before you.

“You soon grow desert-wise,” he said: “you can’t get lost; and at last
the tracks will always bring you to some Abraham’s tent, and he’ll lift
up his eyes and see you, and come running to you to bid you welcome. And
there’s bread for you, and honey, and curds, and camel’s milk, and maybe
venison; and tobacco; and quiet, courteous talk far into the night,
under the stars; and perhaps a boy’s full-throated song.... I can’t
think how you can live your crabbed life here in Cairo, when there’s all
that vast liberty so near at hand.”

Muriel sipped her coffee, and listened, with a kind of excitement. His
voice had some quality in it which seemed to arouse a response deep in
the unfrequented places of her mind. It was as though she saw with her
own eyes the scenes which he was describing. With him she ascended the
bridlepath over the wall of the hills, and ran laughing down into the
valleys beyond, the wind in her face and the sun at her back; with him
she went sliding down the golden drifts of sand, or sprang from rock to
rock along the course of forgotten torrents; and with him she sat at the
camp fire and listened to the far-off cry of the little jackals.

He told of warm moonlight nights spent in the open, when the drowsy eye
looks up at the Milky Way, and the mind drifts into sleep, rocked, as it
were, in a cradle slung between the planets. He spoke of the first sweet
vision of the opalescent dawn, when sleep ends in quiet wakefulness,
without a middle period of stupor; and of the rising sun over the low
horizon, when every pebble casts a liquid blue shadow and the shallowest
footprints in the sand look like little pools of water.

He told of blazing days; of long journeys across hills and plains; of
the drumming of the pads of the camels upon the hard tracks; of deep,
shadowed gorges, and precipices touched only at the summit by the glare
of the sun; of the endless waves of the sand drifts, their sharp ridges
seen against the sky, like gold against blue enamel; of flaming sunsets,
and mysterious dusks, when, by creeping over the top of a hillock, one
might look down at ghostly gazelle drinking from a pool, and might
listen to the sucking in of the water.

And more especially he spoke of the freedom of the desert. “Ah, there’s
liberty for you!” he exclaimed, and his eyes seemed to be alight with
his enthusiasm. “That’s the life for a man! There are no clocks out
there, no miserable appointments to keep, no laying of foolish
foundation stones, or inspecting of sweating troops, no diplomatic
speeches, no wordy documents signifying nothing. Out there the men that
you meet speak the truth openly, and do all that they have to do without
cunning, and without fuss or frills. If you are wandering and hungry
they give you shelter and feed you; if they like you they treat you as a
brother; and when they wish to kill you they tell you so, and give you
four-and-twenty hours in which to quit. They are free men, and to them
all men have the status of the free; all partake, so to speak, of the
liberty of the desert.”

He stopped rather abruptly: it was as though suddenly he had become
conscious that he had engaged the attention of the company, and was
abashed.

“You make me quite restless,” said Lord Blair, as they rose from the
table. “Some day you will find me, even conservative me, setting out
into that happy playground beyond the horizon. Aha! I grow lyrical,
too!”

“I’ve stayed too long,” said Daniel. “I must say good-bye at once. I
have a lot of shopping to do, and I told my men to meet me with the
camels at five o’clock at Mena House.”

“What!—are you going back at once?” exclaimed Rupert Helsingham,
adjusting his eyeglass.

“Yes, I’ve had enough of Cairo,” he laughed. “I feel like a fish out of
water here, or rather, I feel like a jackal that has ventured into a
village and must make tracks over the wall and away. I’ve stolen a
square meal and I’m off again.”

He stood at the door smiling at them. He seemed now to radiate
imperturbable and rather disconcerting happiness: it was as though he
regarded life as a quiet, good-natured comedy, and the friends before
him as participators in the fun. His talking about the desert had, as it
were, softened his uncouthness, and had made him of a sudden
surprisingly intelligible.

“I’m immensely obliged to you for coming,” said Lord Blair, warmly
clasping his hand. “In fact I can’t tell you how highly I value your
advice and friendship.”

Muriel held out her hand. She saw this man in a new light, and her
hostility was temporarily checked. His words had aroused in her a number
of perplexing sensations: it was like tasting a new fruit, in part
sweet, in part bitter.

“I’ve enjoyed listening to you,” she said, frankly.

“I’ve enjoyed talking to you,” he replied, his voice sinking, but his
eyes fixed powerfully upon her.

There was something dominating in his manner which again caused her to
be perverse. “I thought you were talking to my father,” she answered
casually.

“No,” he said, “I was speaking to _you_.”



CHAPTER V—FAMILY AFFAIRS


Daniel Lane left the Residency with curiously mixed feelings; and as he
made his way through the sun-scorched streets, he found some difficulty
in bringing his thoughts to bear upon the afternoon’s business. He felt
that he had talked too much: it was almost as though he had faithlessly
given away secrets that were sacred. Lord Blair and young Helsingham
were hardly possessed of ears in which to repeat the confidences of the
desert; and as for Lady Muriel, he was not in a position to say whether
she had received his words with real understanding or not.

He had enjoyed his luncheon, and he was obliged to confess to himself
that dainty dishes and a handsome table were by no means to be despised.
On the other hand, he had been conscious of an artificiality, a sort of
pose in much that was said or done at the Residency. His long absences
from his countrymen had made him rather critical, and seemed now to
reveal what might otherwise have passed undetected.

On the previous evening Muriel Blair had appeared to him—in her diamonds
and frills and high-heeled shoes—to constitute as artificial a picture
as could well be imagined; and he was disconcerted by the fact that
nevertheless she had looked delightful. And today he had overheard
fragments of her conversation with Rupert Helsingham, and had been
alternately charmed and distressed by the manner in which they exhibited
to one another their familiarity with all that was thought to represent
modern culture and refinement of taste. It had seemed to be such empty
wit; and yet the effect was often, as though by accident, quite close to
the truth.

“Epstein is plain-spoken by implication”; ... “dear Augustus John! He’s
a striking instance of the power of matter over mind”; ... “I always
enjoy the Russian dancers: they are so stupid”; ... “the trouble with
English Art is that it is so Scotch”; ... and so forth.

It was the wit of a certain section of London society, and it troubled
him because it was restless and superficial; and he did not want to find
an attractive girl, such as Muriel Blair, to be a kind of dragon-fly of
a summer’s day. He would like to take her right out of her environment;
and yet—oh, he could not be bothered with her!

With an effort he collected his thoughts, and, standing still at the
street corner, studied his notebook and his watch. The first thing to be
done was to go to find his cousin, to whom he had already sent a note
saying that he would call upon him in the early afternoon, a time of day
when at this season of the year most reasonable people remained within
doors. He had long dreaded the visit to this unknown relative; and now
after the tussle of the previous night, he felt keenly the awkwardness
of the situation. However, the painful family duty could not be shirked,
and the sooner it was over the better.

He turned off to his left, and walked quickly over to the barracks,
which were not far distant; and at the gates he enquired his way to the
officers’ quarters.

“Who d’you want to see, mate?” said a young corporal who sat in the
shadow of the archway, picking his teeth.

Daniel told him.

“Oh, ’im!” chuckled the soldier. “Are you the man from Kodak’s? I ’eard
him a-cursin’ and a-swearin’ this morning when ’e smashed ’is camera.
Just ’ere, it was. ’E’ll give you ’Ell!—’e says the strap broke. It’s
always somebody else’s fault with ’is Lordship.”

Daniel smiled. “A bit impatient like, is he?” he asked. He saw no point
in explaining his identity.

“Impatient!” laughed the corporal. “Twice already ’e’s sent for the
whole shop. You’ll catch it, mate, I warn yer!”

Daniel followed the direction indicated to him, and crossing the flaming
compound, soon reached the entrance of his cousin’s rooms. Here a
soldier-servant took in his name, and, quickly returning, ushered him
through the inner doorway.

Lord Barthampton had risen from his chair, and was standing in what
appeared to be interested expectation of the meeting with his unknown
relation. His tunic was unfastened, and his collarless shirt was open at
the neck, revealing a pink, hairy chest. His heavy red face was damp
with perspiration, and it was evident that he was feeling the effects of
a large luncheon. He had a big lighted cigar in his hand, and on a table
beside him there were glasses, a decanter, and a syphon. The _Sporting
Times_ and _Referee_ lay on the floor at his feet.

As Daniel appeared in the doorway his manner suddenly changed, and his
bloodshot blue eyes opened wide under frowning eyebrows. He slowly
replaced the cigar in his mouth and thrust his hands into his pockets.

“What d’you want?” he muttered.

“Well, Cousin Charles ...” said Daniel. He held out his hand, but Lord
Barthampton made no responding movement.

“So _you_ are Daniel, are you!” he ejaculated. “I might have guessed it.
I’d heard that you were a sort of prize-fighting vagabond. What d’you
want to see me for?”

“First of all,” the visitor replied, “to say I’m sorry about last night.
I didn’t know till afterwards who you were.”

His cousin grunted like a pig. “You took an unfair advantage of me,” he
said. “You could see I was a bit tight. In England we don’t think it’s
sporting to knock a man down when he’s full of whiskey; but you
Americans don’t seem to know....”

Daniel smiled. “I’m English too, you know.”

“Yes, in a way I suppose you are,” he grumbled, dropping into an
arm-chair. “We’re both Lanes; but your mother was a Yankee, and you’ve
spent half your life over there. You had no right to hit me.”

“I didn’t hit you,” said Daniel, with a broad smile. “I only shook you;
and I’ll do it again if you don’t offer me a chair.”

Charles Barthampton stared at him, and, taking the cigar out of his
mouth, blew a cloud of smoke from between his lips. “There’s a chair
behind you,” he replied, rudely. “You can sit in it if it doesn’t make
you stay too long.”

Daniel fetched the chair, and, placing it immediately in front of his
cousin, sat himself down. “This is a bad start, cousin,” he said. “I’ve
told you I’m sorry; but you know quite well it was your own fault.”

“I tell you I was tight,” he answered petulantly. “And besides, what
right had you to be with Lizette? She belongs to the regiment.”

“She was good enough to have supper with me,” Daniel answered, and there
was an unmistakable menace in his voice. “Please leave her out of the
question.”

Lord Barthampton laughed. “I suppose you feel a bit struck on her this
morning.”

Daniel suddenly rose to his feet; and his cousin, startled by the look
in his face, sprang from his chair, and placed his hand on the bell on
the wall behind him.

“Sit down, _Cousin_ Daniel,” he sneered, “or I’ll ring the bell and have
you thrown out by the guard.”

Daniel shrugged his shoulders, and resumed his seat. “There’s nothing to
be timid about,” he replied, “if you’re careful what you say. I tell you
again I apologize for my part in last night’s affair: I’m always ashamed
of myself when I’m rough with anybody. I’ve come here to talk about
family business, so you’d better sit down too.”

He pulled out his pipe, and began to fill it, while Charles Barthampton,
with an awkward air of unconcern, sat heavily down once more.

“Family business, is it?” he growled. “I suppose you’re going to claim
some money or something. Well, your name was mentioned in my father’s
will, if you want to know, but he didn’t leave you anything.”

“He sent me a copy of the will last year, just before he died,” Daniel
answered, unmoved.

His cousin glanced quickly at him. “Did he really?” he remarked. “That
was odd, as he left you nothing; but he was a bit strange always. I
don’t see what it had got to do with you, though. Your father, his
brother, died years ago, didn’t he? And your mother hardly knew him.”

Daniel lit his pipe. “You forget,” he said, “that your father and I had
a couple of months shooting together on the Peace River, three or four
years ago, while you were in India. We became good friends, and I saw
him in England afterwards.”

Lord Barthampton nodded, and was silent. He puffed viciously at his
cigar; then, as though deciding that there might be some call for
diplomacy, he pointed to the table. “Have a drink?” he said.

“No, thanks,” his visitor answered.

“Well, what the Hell _do_ you want?” He was becoming exasperated.

Daniel looked gravely at him. “I want you to turn over a new leaf,” he
said. “Now that you’ve inherited the property, and now that you’re head
of the family, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities.”

“That’s my own business, not yours,” muttered his cousin, again grunting
loudly.

“No, it’s my affair, too,” Daniel answered. “You’re not married; you
have no son. As things stand at present I’m the next of kin. I’m your
heir.”

The other uttered a short laugh. “Oh, I see,” he scoffed. “You’re
banking on my drinking myself to death, or something, before I can
become a proud father, eh? You wanted to have a look at me: and I
suppose you’re disappointed to find I’m in the pink. You’d rather fancy
yourself as Daniel Lane, Earl of Barthampton.” He made a gesture of
contempt. “A pretty sight you’d make in the House of Lords! I wonder
they even let you into the barracks!”

Daniel laughed with genuine amusement. “They thought I’d come to mend
your camera.”

Lord Barthampton suddenly leapt to his feet. “God!” he exclaimed. “Where
the Hell is that man?” He rang the bell furiously. “Why the blasted Hell
don’t they come when I send for them?”

“Are you in a hurry to have it mended?” asked Daniel mildly.

“Of course I am!” snapped his cousin.

“Then why didn’t you take it round to the shop, yourself, instead of
going into tantrums like a baby?”

His Lordship stood stock still, and stared at Daniel, like an infuriated
bull. “I wish to God I knew why you were sitting here in my room!” he
roared. “Why don’t you go?”

There was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” he snorted.

The knock was repeated.

“Come in, confound you!” he shouted, and thereat a soldier entered. “Are
you deaf? Send somebody over to the camera place at once, and tell them
that if they don’t attend to my orders I’ll break every damned thing in
the shop. D’you hear?”

“In other words,” said Daniel, turning to the soldier, “say Lord
Barthampton presents his compliments, and would be very grateful if they
would hustle a bit.”

His cousin turned on him as the soldier, prompted by natural tact,
speedily left the room. “Will you kindly mind your own business!” he
snapped.

“How Lord Barthampton behaves _is_ my business,” Daniel answered
sternly. “Now, sit down there,” he added peremptorily, “and listen to
me.”

The infuriated man stood where he was, breathing hard and biting at his
cigar.

“Sit down, I said!” Daniel repeated; and now there was a ring of command
in his voice at which the other started. He evidently had not forgotten
last night.

“Oh, very well,” he replied, and flung himself into his chair.

Daniel leant forward and drew a long, type-written letter from his
pocket. “This,” he said, “is a copy of your father’s last letter to me.”

“If he promised you any money,” the other interjected, “you won’t get
it.”

Daniel took no notice. “I won’t trouble you with the first pages of the
letter,” he remarked. “They just tell an old man’s disappointment in his
son, and his fears that you will not only ruin yourself, but also sully
the name and squander the estate. ‘Now, Daniel,’ he writes, ‘I am going
to put the matter entirely into your hands, and to rely on your honour
to carry out my wishes. In spite of my son’s shortcomings I love him for
his mother’s sake, and it is my earnest desire that he should be a
worthy representative of our line. If, however, you find that he is
hopelessly going to the bad, I herewith place the documentary evidence
in your hands by means of which you can turn him out in favour of
yourself.’”

“What’s he mean?” exclaimed his cousin, half rising from his chair.
“It’s forgery—it’s a trick or something!” His voice was unsteady.

Daniel, pipe in mouth, continued quietly to read: “‘I regret to say
that, as these papers will show, my son was born out of wedlock. You are
aware, no doubt, that I met my wife in South Africa, when I had a farm
there, some years before I even expected to come into the title; but,
except you and I, no living person knows that Charles was born six
months before our marriage. I now leave the secret entirely in your
discretion, knowing that you will only reveal it if you feel that I
should wish you to do so.’”

“It’s a lie!” shouted Lord Barthampton. “It’s blackmail!”

“No,” said Daniel. “There’s no getting over it. The documents are all in
order. You’re only Lord Barthampton on sufferance.”

His cousin sank back in his chair. His cigar had gone out, and he flung
it on the ground. Then he leant forward and rested his head in his
hands, scratching his red ear with one finger. In this attitude he
appeared fat, unpleasant, and altogether devoid of dignity.

At length he looked up, sullenly, with a sort of cunning in his face.
“How much do you want for those papers?” he asked.

Daniel sucked at his pipe for a few moments. “I want rather a stiff
price,” he declared at length.

“What?” said his cousin, in a dull voice.

Daniel fixed his eyes upon him. “Your reformation,” he said.

“Oh, go to Hell!” was the reply, and Daniel rather liked him for it. He
felt uncomfortable in a mentorial rôle.

“Look here,” he said, “let’s understand what your father meant.”

Charles Barthampton got up and mixed himself a whiskey-and-soda. “If
that letter’s genuine,” he muttered, “there’s no understanding him.”

“Oh, yes, it’s simple enough,” replied Daniel. “You are his son, whether
you’re legitimate or not; and he didn’t want to have your name, or his,
or especially your mother’s, dragged through the mud by letting out his
secret. So he wished you to inherit. But at the same time, he had a very
Spartan sense of duty; and, as he was good enough to trust me, he
thought I would act as a bit of a brake on you, if you knew that I could
have you fired out if you didn’t behave yourself.”

“A dirty trick!” the other grunted, pacing up and down the room, his
fists clenched, and much of the colour gone from his face. He swung
round on his heel, and stared at Daniel with fierce, bloodshot eyes.
“Oh, it’ll be easy enough for you to find a pretext for outing me. I can
see already I’m done for. You’ve only got to say the word, but, by God!
if you do turn me out”—he shook his fist in his cousin’s face—“I’ll send
a bullet through you.”

Daniel put his hand to his hip-pocket, from which the butt of his
revolver protruded. “I’m not a bad shot myself,” he replied.

“Oh, really!” Barthampton ejaculated, with an explosive splutter, and,
darting to the table, he pulled open a drawer and dived his hand into
it.

Instantly Daniel whipped out his revolver and covered him. “Stand back
from that table!” he called out, and there was something very terrible
in his voice.

His cousin’s hand fell to his side, and he took a pace back. Still
covering him, and not taking his eyes from him, Daniel leaned over the
table and felt for the revolver which lay there. Having found it, he
slipped it into the pocket of his jacket.

“Now don’t behave like a damned fool,” he said. “Understand me: I am not
going to turn you out. I haven’t the slightest wish to do so. I don’t
want the beastly estates, and I much prefer to be plain Daniel Lane. By
law I’m Lord Barthampton, not you; but by something that’s above law, I
mean fair-play, you are your father’s son and the heir he wanted. And
nothing short of your utter damn-foolery will ever make me turn you out.
D’you understand? But, mind you,” and his voice resumed its gravity,
“you’ve got to turn over a new leaf. You’ve got to give up your drink
and your pig ways, and your gambling, and your tantrums, and your women.
You’ve got to be a considerate landlord to your tenants, and a good
citizen, and a credit to your country, and your regiment, and your
family. And you’ve got to live within your income, and give generously
to the poor. D’you hear me?—give generously to the poor. We shan’t see
much of each other, but from time to time I’ll look you up, and I shall
be surprised if I don’t find a great improvement in you.”

Lord Barthampton stood in front of him, staring at him as at a ghost. He
was visibly trembling, and his face had lost its colour. Very nearly he
had been a murderer. He appeared to be on the verge of collapse.

“D’you mean what you say?” he whispered. “How can I trust you?” His
mouth was so dry that his tongue clicked as he spoke.

“Your father trusted me,” Daniel replied, and held out his hand.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


Very slowly his cousin responded, and a cold, trembling, clammy hand was
placed in his own.

“Very well, then, good-bye, Cousin Charles. I’m off to the desert now. I
don’t know when we’ll meet again.”

He took his cousin’s revolver from his pocket and, putting it back in
the place where he had found it, closed the drawer. “May I take one of
your cigars?” he asked. His pipe had gone out.

“Y-yes, of course,” the wretched man replied, still standing like one in
a dream.

Daniel took the cigar, lit it, and, turning round, walked out of the
room.

In the blazing sunlight outside he paused and stared across the dazzling
open space, which, towards the west, led down to the Nile. A scorching
wind beat in his face, and blew the dust of his footsteps towards the
building which he had left. “Phew!” he whispered. “Thus goes ten
thousand pounds a year and a peerage!”

He gazed across the river to the shimmering line of the desert which
could be seen in the distance between the palms, and held out his hands
towards it.



CHAPTER VI—TOWARDS THE SUNSET


During the warm weather an afternoon siesta is habitual to the residents
in Egypt, and Muriel at once lent her support to the custom with
undisguised approval. This was but her third day in Cairo, yet, as soon
as Daniel Lane had taken his departure, she went up to her room as
though to the manner born, and slipped off her dress.

The bed looked cool and inviting, and a mass of white roses upon a table
beside her pillow spread a gentle fragrance through the room; but this
she thoughtlessly dissipated by lighting a Turkish cigarette. She did
not particularly want to smoke, but she felt that the little gold-tipped
cigarette was in keeping with her state of dainty semi-undress, with her
somewhat exotic surroundings, and with the French novel which she had
selected as an inducement to sleep.

Anybody peeping at her through the keyhole as she lay upon the rose-bud
coverlet, bare arms and silk-stockinged legs asprawl, would have been
hard put to it to decide whether here rested the girlish chastity of
English tradition or the naughtiness of French fiction; for nowadays,
when the one has had the hardihood at last to claim its share of the
habiliments of the other, appearances are astonishingly deceptive.
Actually, however, Muriel was but an innocent production of that form of
upbringing which, while encouraging independence of action, accustoms
the minds to the standards of the seraglio.

She had moved freely in the segment of London society which patronizes
Covent Garden, hobnobs with the stage, and becomes ecstatic over the
latest painter, sculptor, poet, or dancer. She had been shown all the
little vices and failings of the world in their most attractive guise;
and for her special edification the ancient virtues had been rendered
even more seemingly ridiculous than the virtuous themselves had made
them. Obediently she had laid her thoughtless tribute at the altar of
the alluring goddess of today; and she had been shown the correct
posture of obeisance that was to be made to the World, the Flesh, and
the Devil.

She had been taught, if she had not actually mastered, all the short
cuts to that appearance of culture which is so highly appraised; and, in
matters of taste and form, she had been shown how to be bizarre without
being crude, audacious without being vulgar. She knew just what to say
about men of letters, and what books to leave lying about the room; and
in regard to politics, the church, and sport, she had been shown how to
lump the three together under the one heading of “Tradition.”

It was now three years since this part of her education had begun; and
yet she had passed through the school with a surprisingly unsullied
mind. Like most pupils of her age, she was, of course, in complete
outward subjection to Mistress Fashion; but a spirit of mutiny still
plotted in the dark chambers of her heart.

She had not yet altogether stupefied herself into that chronic semblance
of light-heartedness which passes for happiness; and there were moments
when in inward revolt she sent her entire circle of friends to blazes.
At such times she was vaguely aware that, in some subtle manner, she was
in bondage; but so carefully had she been trained to wear her golden
chains with grace that the fleeting consciousness of their presence
induced little more than an extra yawn or two, and a more luxurious
enjoyment of any opportunity to kick up her heels.

As she lay now upon the bed, she was not conscious of any lack of
freedom in her life, and yet she was profoundly happy to be out here in
Egypt, where the day’s routine was not so hide-bound as it was in
England.

The drone of the flies and the plaintive cry of the circling kites, the
incessant cawing of the crows in the garden, and the occasional song of
the boatmen on the Nile, soon lulled her to sleep; and it was four
o’clock before she arose to dress herself for her ride with Rupert
Helsingham. When she descended the stairs half an hour later, she was
wearing a new riding-habit of white linen and a wide-brimmed felt hat in
which she was conscious of appearing at her best.

Rupert, too, who awaited her at the tea-table in the drawing-room, was
aware of his own becoming costume; and the spurs upon his highly
polished boots clicked more frequently than was necessary. He was
certainly good-looking, if somewhat undersized.

“I’ve told them to meet us with the horses on the other side of the
water,” he said. “We’ll go across in the launch, which will save a long
round by the bridge.”

After a hasty cup of tea, therefore, they walked through the garden to
the landing-steps, and were soon speeding over the river in the glare of
the afternoon sun, the cloudless heavens above them and the
swift-flowing waters of the ancient Nile shining beneath.

They landed amidst the cool shade of the palms on the opposite bank,
near a road along which many native carriages and English dogcarts were
passing to and fro, this being the fashionable hour for taking the air;
and many curious eyes were turned upon the immaculate couple as they
mounted their horses, for the white launch with its little Union Jack at
the stern, and the scarlet livery of the native attendants, revealed
their identity, and Lady Muriel’s charms had already become a topic of
general conversation.

“Which way would you like to go?” asked Rupert. “By the native roads
across the fields, or straight along the main road out to Mena House?”

Muriel looked quickly at him. “Mena House?” she said. “Isn’t that on the
edge of the desert, where Mr. Lane said he was starting from?”

Her companion nodded. “Yes,” he answered. “We would probably run into
him. Shall we go the other way?”

Muriel drew rein for a moment. She would like to take her first view
over that garden wall of which Daniel Lane had spoken, and it might be
interesting to watch him ride away towards the setting sun. She might
even have an opportunity of firing a parting shot at him—something about
his rumoured harîm of Bedouin women to whom he seemed so anxious to
return. She would like to hurt him.

“No, let’s go to Mena House,” she answered at length, and she gave as
her reason her anxiety to see the Pyramids which stand on the edge of
the desert, dominating the well-known Mena House Hotel.

Rupert looked at his watch. “It’s nearly five,” he remarked, without any
particular reason. He was not thinking of the hour of Daniel Lane’s
departure.

But Muriel was thinking of it, and, for answer, she urged her horse
forward.

“I enjoy a good long gallop, don’t you?” she said, as they turned into
the avenue of acacias which runs in a fine straight line out to the
desert, flanked by a riding-track of soft earth.

“It’s a bit hot for anything strenuous, isn’t it?” he suggested. He
wanted to ride quietly and talk to her as they went.

For some distance they trotted in silence, but at length Muriel
shortened her rein. “Come in!” she laughed, and therewith she gave her
restless Arab a touch with her heel, and instantly was off and away in a
cloud of dust, as though she and her horse had been discharged in one
piece from some monstrous gun.

Rupert swore peevishly, and followed in her wake, presently overtaking
her and galloping by her side. The tree-trunks on either hand seemed to
whirl past them, and the foliage, which met overhead, formed a sort of
tunnel pierced at one side by stabbing shafts of dazzling sunlight. The
effect was blinding, and soon Rupert, an excellent horseman, began to
feel as though he were the maddened villain of some flickering film of
the Wild West, whose career had soon to end in a frightful tumble.

“Isn’t it lovely?” shouted Muriel, ecstatically. Her blood seemed to be
boiling in her veins; she glowed like a fiery immortal being, full of
tremendous excitement and enthusiasm. This was life!—this was youth! She
dragged her hat over her eyes, regardless of her own appearance,
regardless of the hat’s. She felt entirely crazy, and presumably her
horse felt the same, for not for a moment did he slacken his thundering
speed. The warm wind whistled in her ears; occasional roadside villas
appeared to whirl past almost as soon as they were sighted; an
automobile, full of gesticulating Egyptians, raced them and had
difficulty in beating them; the electric tram from the Pyramids to Cairo
appeared to leap past them with wildly clanging bell; she caught sudden
glimpses of peasant carts and an occasional smart carriage, astonished
brown faces and smiling white ones. Her hair began to come down.

At last her horse had had enough, and his gallop decreased to a trot,
his trot to a walk. Her companion turned a laughing red face to her. He
had caught the infection of her spirits, and, like her, was conscious of
a burning sense of youth and strength. The perspiration was streaming
down his cheeks.

“Phew!” he exclaimed, and recklessly mopped his forehead with a coloured
silk handkerchief intended only for a breast-pocket ornament. “D’you
often get taken like that?”

Muriel laughed excitedly, and, twisting the reins around her arm, pulled
off her hat, thereby letting loose a tumbling mass of brown hair, which
fell about her shoulders. Then, handing the hat to Rupert to hold, she
raised her hands and coiled up the hair on to her head again, fastening
it with the few remaining hairpins.

Rupert uttered an ordinary, vulgar whistle. He, too, had been galloped
into naturalness. “By Jove!” he cried. “You have got glorious hair!”

Muriel settled her hat upon her head once more, and picked up her reins.

“I’ll let it down properly for you some day,” she said. At that moment
she would have stood on her head, had anybody dared her to do so. A law
should be passed prohibiting women from galloping.

“I’ll kiss you if you do,” replied Rupert. The law should, perhaps,
include young men as well.

He was startled at his audacity; but Muriel was not in a mental
condition to do otherwise than laugh.

Thus they arrived, like two flushed children, at the end of the road,
the hotel on their right, the mighty Pyramids rising up like hand-made
mountains on their left, backed by the descending sun. In front of them
stretched the desert—a ridge of white and yellow shelving rocks, and
great shadowed slopes of sand mounting to the clear sky. Southwards, at
the foot of the hills, stood a native village, the clustered white
houses and dignified groups of palms reflected in the still waters of
the inundation which, at this time of the year, cover the surrounding
fields.

Outside the hotel several Bedouin dragomans sauntered about or sat
smoking and chatting; and a few camels and donkeys, saddled in readiness
for hire, stood tethered near by.

Muriel hardly glanced at the Pyramids: they had been visible to her
through the trees during most of the ride, and they were just as she had
pictured them. But the Bedouin in their flowing silks, the betasselled
camels, and the background of the desert made a picture which delighted
her eyes.

“What’s the time?” she asked. “I wonder if he has gone.”

It was some seconds before Rupert took her meaning: he had forgotten
about Daniel Lane. He looked at his watch: it was half-past five.

“I’ll ask some of these fellows if they’ve seen him,” he said, perhaps a
little put out. A shadow had fallen upon the gay opening scene of his
romance.

He rode forward, and soon elicited the information that “the Englishman
who came in from the desert” had but a few minutes ago gone up the hill
to the rocky plateau above, where his camels were awaiting him.

“We’ve missed him,” he said, returning to her. “He’s just gone.”

“Well, let’s ride after him,” she answered, and without further remark
she trotted up the short, winding road which led on to the higher
ground. Rupert followed her, musing upon the inscrutable ways of women.

The road lay in the shadow of the hillside, but as they reached the
summit they came into the full glare of the setting sun which was now
nearing the distant horizon. On their left the Pyramids towered up into
the blazing sky, but before them the rock-strewn plateau lay open and
vast, and over it the wind blew warm and mysterious.

Muriel arched her hand above her eyes and looked about her.

“There he is!” she cried at length, directing her companion to a little
group in a sandy hollow about a hundred yards distant, and therewith
they both trotted forward.

Daniel Lane was about to mount his camel as they approached. Muriel
waved her hand to him, whereat he pulled off his well-worn hat and
laughed aloud.

“That’s odd!” he said. “I had a sort of feeling you’d come.”

Muriel stared at him, and her responding smile died upon her lips.

“We rode in this direction quite at random,” said she, coldly. “I don’t
yet know one way from another.”

“Well, you’ve found your way to the desert quickly enough,” he replied.
“You know there are some people who seem to be drawn towards it at
once.”

Muriel glanced about her. “I think it looks a horrid place,” she said,
which was entirely untruthful. “I don’t feel at all drawn to it.”

She turned to Rupert Helsingham. He was slowly riding round the four
camels which crouched, grunting, on the sand, in charge of two lean and
wild-looking men of the desert, whose appearance was strikingly
different from that of the Bedouin of the Pyramids, grown prosperous in
their profession as guides and dragomans to the sightseers. Three of the
camels were saddled, the seat in each case being covered by a rough
sheepskin, and having on either side a coarsely embroidered bag
containing food, while a rifle and two water-bottles were slung across
the back. The fourth camel, which was to be led by one of the riders,
was lightly laden with stores and various purchases made in Cairo, and
two small water-skins depended at its sides.

“I travel light, you see,” said Daniel, as Rupert returned to them.

“Yes, you couldn’t otherwise have come in at the pace you did,” he
answered. “Are you going back at the same rate?”

Daniel laughed. “Oh, no,” he said. “I shall travel in easy stages,
taking five or six days probably—as long as the food lasts, in fact. We
can pick up water at the wells, and if we shoot anything we can take it
still slower.”

Muriel looked curiously at him. “Then why were you in such a hurry to be
off?” she asked.

“One night in a Cairo hotel is enough for me,” he answered. “I’m
starting now so as to get ten or fifteen miles away by bedtime, where I
can sleep peacefully on the clean sand, away from mosquitoes and bad
smells and noise. And then we can just saunter. So long as we plan to
reach a water-hole every two days, there’s nothing to hurry us.”

He turned towards the sunset and breathed in the pure air with evident
satisfaction. “It’s splendid to think there’s all that empty space in
front of one!” he exclaimed. “In a few minutes now I shall be swallowed
up in it! Gee! I’ll think of you tonight, my girl, in your stuffy
bedroom; and you can envy me lying under God’s heaven, talking with my
two good friends here about cities and slavery and civilization and
things, till we yawn ourselves to sleep.”

Muriel’s interest in him began to revive. “It sounds wonderful,” she
said, doubtfully.

The sun had sunk behind the low line of the horizon when at length
Daniel bid good-bye and mounted his camel. Rupert, who was impatient to
be back, had already turned his horse’s head and was slowly moving away
as the four camels, snarling and complaining in their wonted manner,
rose upon their long legs, lifting their riders high above the ground;
but Muriel remained for a moment or two, curbing her restless horse,
while Daniel looked down at her from his lofty seat.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting you,” he said. “I’m afraid you think I’m very rude
and rough. I don’t mean to be, only—”

“Only what?” she asked, as he paused.

“Yes?” She was all attention now.

“Only when I meet a girl like you—”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, and there came a look of great earnestness
into his eyes. “There’s so much you’ve got to unlearn, my dear.”

He struck his camel lightly with his stick, and trotted away. Then,
turning in his saddle, he put his hand to his mouth and called out to
her: “Why don’t you break loose?”

Muriel made a gesture indicating that she did not understand, but his
head was again averted, and he did not look round. She watched him, as,
followed by the men, he slid silently away into the barren vastness of
the desert. He seemed to be riding straight into the glory of the
sunset.

Then she wheeled her horse around, and cantered after her companion. Far
off in front of her now the city was spread out amongst its trees and
luxuriant fields. From the high ground she looked down on distant roofs
of palaces and mansions, domes and cupolas, minarets and towers, and the
lights began to twinkle in the windows along the embankment of the Nile.
It looked like an enticing magic City of Happiness; and she glanced over
her shoulder with a sudden wave of terror at the darkening immensity of
the desert behind.



CHAPTER VII—THE DESERT AND THE CITY


Daniel’s mind was not at ease as he rode through the gathering darkness.
His thoughts had been shaken out of their habitual tranquillity by his
few hours in the city, and he had the feeling that he had turned his
back upon a picture which he would have liked a little longer to
contemplate, that he had shut a book in which he would have preferred to
read yet another chapter. But when the moon rose and cast its early
mystery upon the empty wilderness around him, a greater calm fell upon
him, and he began to appreciate once more that sense of detachment from
the restless doings of the world which is the particular gift of the
desert.

For two hours or more he rode in silence, and ever as he passed deeper
into the great void before him his musing mind contemplated with
increasing serenity the events of the last night and day. Out here in
this everlasting calm he could smile at the little agitations which had
beset him in Cairo, and could observe their triviality. Here the
strident call of flesh and blood was hushed, and the equable balance of
mind and body was able to be resumed. No wonder, he thought to himself
that the monks of old had hidden themselves in the wilderness: they had
discovered a blessed equanimity, and a consequent happiness not to be
found in the busy thoroughfares of the city.

At length he called a halt in a rugged valley, through which a stream
had flowed in bygone ages. Its bed of fine shingle and sand made a soft
and pliable resting-place; and here he ate his evening meal, lying back
upon his sheepskin thereafter, smoking his pipe and talking to his
friends, until sleep came to him.

On the following day they rode no more than five-and-twenty miles,
taking a course somewhat more roundabout than that of their outward
journey, and it was mid-afternoon when they reached the water-hole at
which the night was to be spent. Riding round a bend in a precipitous
valley, Daniel, who was some distance ahead of his retainers, suddenly
found himself looking down upon the rocky hollow in which lay the little
pool of water, so blue in its setting of mellow sun-bathed rocks that it
seemed even deeper in tone than the sky it reflected. Here grew the
greenest reeds and rushes, and, mirrored in the water, there was a
delicate tamarisk whose soft foliage swayed in the breeze as though
setting the time to the nodding dance of the reeds.

Sitting beside the pool a little girl was tending a few goats whose
bleating came merrily to his ears on the wind. She had not heard the
soft pads of his approaching camel, and he was almost upon her before
she looked up. With a cry of surprise she fled down the valley, and
suddenly, from amidst the shadows of the boulders, a grey-bearded son of
the desert stepped forth into the sunlight, an ancient broadsword in his
hands, and a ragged cloak of many colours thrown over his shoulders.

Daniel dismounted from his camel, and exchanged greetings with the
patriarch, while the little girl hid herself behind the man’s thin brown
legs, and the goats leaped upon the rocks to stare at the stranger from
a safe distance.

“Never fear, little one,” said the old man as he patted the child’s
head. “This is only an Englishman. There are many such: they harm not.”

The old goatherd, and two of his grandsons, who presently made their
appearance, proved to be related to families in the Oasis of El Hamrân
where Daniel resided; and the talk during the evening meal was all of
mutual acquaintances, of the movements of various groups of Bedouin, of
camping-grounds and water-holes.

A woman and the little girl, her daughter, sat amidst the rocks in the
background as they talked, and Daniel observed that the child was
nursing a primitive doll made of three sticks and a piece of rag, and
that at length she fell asleep with this poor proxy held close in her
brown arms. Later in the evening, therefore, in the light of the moon,
he fashioned a very much more convincing article out of sticks, string,
and a handkerchief; and with his fountain-pen he outlined an audacious
face, which, with a few combings from his sheepskin in the place of
hair, gave an appearance of striking and awful reality to the figure.

The goatherds encouraged his efforts with excited laughter, and when, at
last, the doll was finished, he walked over to the sleeping girl and
placed it in her arms.

On the third day they made good going, passing across a range of low
hills, and descending into a wide plain where they disturbed a herd of
gazelle, which went galloping off at their approach and were lost in the
haze of the distance.

So they journeyed in easy stages; and day by day Daniel more fully
resumed that jovial, contented mind which is the basis of happiness. The
benign influence of sun and breeze and open space was upon him once
more, and his heart was filled as it were with laughter. Riding ever
westward, he seemed to be following the course of the sun; and each
evening, as it passed down behind the horizon ahead, it marked
tomorrow’s track, as though bidding him come deeper, ever deeper, into
the merry freedom of the desert. He whistled a tune to himself as he
rode through echoing valleys; he sang at the top of his voice as, far
ahead of his men, he passed over the hills, and viewed the great vistas
before him; and as he drew near to the oasis which was his destination,
and observed once again the presence of birds and the tracks of jackals,
he urged his camel forward with many an endearing and persuasive word.

Now he met with goatherds and camelherds who were his friends, and
merrily he called his greetings to them; now he knew the lie of the
country, and noted the places where, from time to time, he had camped or
rested in the shade at noon when he had been out hunting gazelle, or
tracking the jackals to their lairs, by way of exercise. Now the west
wind brought the faint scent of the cultivated land to his sensitive
nostrils, and his camel lifted its head to snuff at the breeze.

At last, in a golden sunset, amidst the chattering of innumerable
sparrows, he descended from the barren hills into the dense palm groves
of the Oasis of El Hamrân, from whose shadows the white-robed figures of
the Bedouin emerged to greet him.

An all-pervading peace enfolded him, and his short visit to civilized
life seemed like a dream that was fading from his memory. The city
beside the Nile had become a thing of unreality, and he had awakened, as
it were, to the happy sunshine of life’s placid day, and was eager to be
once more at his work.

Yet, in far-away Cairo, there were five minds at least which retained a
vivid recollection of his brief incursion into the city. There was Lord
Barthampton, who, for forty-eight hours after Daniel’s departure, had
lain in a drunken stupor which, for form’s sake, was termed a touch of
the sun; and who, thereafter, had forsworn all intoxicating liquor, and
had resumed his place at the mess in the sullen silence of one who has
returned unwillingly to the fold.

There was Lizette, who had wept a little, and for a little while had
bemoaned her lot, and who, later, had gone, as was her wont, to the
Franciscan Church, and had said her beads and had prayed that one day
she might meet again the mighty man who had sent the pig Barthampton so
beautifully sprawling upon the floor.

There was Lord Blair, who had received an effusive reply from the
gratified Minister of War, and, thereat, had schemed and plotted to
bring the wise Daniel within closer reach of the Residency. There was
Rupert Helsingham, who, ever since the ride to Mena House, had been
filled with matrimonial dreams and fears of rivalry, and had racked his
brains to decide upon a course of action which should give him
opportunities of displaying those brutal tendencies of manhood which
seemed to be so successful with the opposite sex.

And lastly, there was Muriel, who had aroused Rupert’s jealousy by
talking from time to time about Daniel, with a sort of defiance in her
voice which could almost be mistaken for awe.

It was inevitable that she and Charles Barthampton should meet: it was
only strange that they had not met before in London. On the same evening
upon which Daniel had arrived at his home in El Hamrân, his cousin was a
guest at dinner at the Residency, where he found himself seated next to
Muriel. The latter had been taken into dinner by one of the Egyptian
princes, an elegant personage who had lived most of his life in Vienna,
Paris, and Monte Carlo, and whose contempt for the English was only
equalled by his scorn of the Egyptians. He was an authority on modern
French art; and when Muriel, in a frenzy of tact, had rushed the
conversation again and again into that province, and had exhausted all
that she knew by rote upon the subject, she was glad of an opportunity
to turn in the opposite direction and address herself to Barthampton.

He, on his part, had taken in the daughter of the French Consul-General,
who was much more interested in Rupert Helsingham upon her other hand;
and, being thus left alone to play with his toast and sip his wine, he
had turned to Muriel with relief.

“I can’t talk to this French girl,” he whispered. “She doesn’t
understand English, and my French isn’t exactly ladylike.”

“Well, do you know anything about French art?” she asked, hopefully.
“I’m sitting next to a connoisseur, and I’ve run dry.”

“French art?” he laughed. “Rather! I’ve got a collection of
postcards—I’ve framed some of them; and I take _La Vie Parisienne_
regularly.”

Muriel sighed. “No, I’m afraid that won’t help,” she said.

“Well, try him on English art,” he suggested. “Good stuff, you
know—Landseer and Leighton and Alma-Tadema.”

“No,” said Muriel gravely, “he’s very modern.”

“Oh, modern, is he? Then what about Kirchner? Or Cecil Aldin?—but I
don’t suppose he knows a fox from a hound.” He leaned forward and stared
at the Prince. “Queer little devil, isn’t he, what? Doesn’t look much
like a nigger.”

“Why should he?” Muriel asked. “The Royal house is Albanian—pure
Turkish.”

“Oh, I lump them all together,” he answered, with a gesture of his red
hand. “Quaint country, Egypt, isn’t it? What d’you think of it?”

“So far, I like it immensely,” she replied. “But I shouldn’t think it
was an interesting place for a soldier. What do your men think of it?”

“I don’t know: I’ve never asked ’em,” he replied. “Not much, I shouldn’t
think. There are not enough housemaids to go round, and the beer’s
atrocious. I can’t think why we’re not kept in London; after all, we’re
the Guards. They ought to leave the dirty work to the ordinary regiments
of the line. I don’t see why we should be made to sweat out here. It’s
these Radicals: they never can mind their own business.”

“Father and I are Radicals, you know,” she smiled. “And our forebears
were Whigs before us.”

“Beg pardon,” he said, with a grunt. “I’d forgotten my history lessons.
We Lanes were always Tories.”

Muriel glanced at him quickly. “Oh, I’d quite forgotten,” she said, with
interest. “Of course, you’re a Lane. I wonder if you’re any relation to
a certain Daniel Lane?”

Lord Barthampton’s face fell. “How d’you come to know Daniel Lane?” he
asked, as he busied himself with his food.

“I met him the other day,” she answered. “He’s a friend of my father’s.
Oh, yes, I remember now: he said he had a relation out here in the
Guards.”

“Yes,” he replied, with his mouth full. “He’s a cousin; but I hardly
know him. He’s spent much of his life in the States.”

“Tell me about him,” she said. She was all interest.

“I don’t know anything to tell you,” he answered, casually. “He’s a
crank—lives with the niggers in the desert or something. Looks like a
tramp.”

“He’s very clever, isn’t he? My father thinks the world of him.”

Lord Barthampton noisily threw down his knife and fork. “There’s not
much love lost between him and me,” he said, and relapsed into silence;
while Muriel, seeing that she had touched upon a sore subject, took the
opportunity to resume her conversation with her partner.

Late that evening, after the guests had departed, Muriel, prompted by a
sense of duty, found herself in the library, bidding a motherly
good-night to her father, who was smoking a final cigar, and was
standing before the empty fireplace, his hands under his coattails in
unconscious retention of the habits of other days.

“By the way,” she said, “did you know that Lord Barthampton was Daniel
Lane’s cousin?”

“You don’t say so!” he exclaimed. “Well, well! I had no idea.”

He opened a bookcase, and lifting out _Burke’s Peerage_, turned over its
pages with evident interest. After a few moment’s study, he uttered a
little ejaculation.

“Dear me, dear me!” he remarked. “Daniel is not only his cousin, but his
heir presumptive.” He stroked his chin, and carried the bulky volume
nearer to the light. “Hm! Well, well—to be sure!” he muttered.

He laid the book down, and clasping his hands behind his back, walked to
and fro across the room, while Muriel turned to glance at the family
record.

As she looked up once more, her father paused, his head on one side, his
fingers stroking his jaw. “Now, if that lout were to die ...” he mused.

“D’you mean Mr. Lane?” asked Muriel innocently.

“No, no! Tut, tut!” exclaimed her father, pinching the lobe of her ear,
and then, as though afraid of giving offence, patting her cheek instead.
“Daniel Lane is not a lout! I was referring to his cousin. If Daniel
were to inherit—”

“If he were to inherit,” Muriel put in, as he paused, “there’d be a
panic in the House of Lords—peers hiding under benches, Lord Chancellor
flung into gallery, Archbishop popped into waste-paper basket—”

Lord Blair raised his delicate hand in protest: his thoughts were more
serious. “You know,” he said, “that man is wasting himself in the
desert. I wish I could persuade him to accept some official position in
Cairo. I should like to push him into prominence—oblige him, force him,
to take an active part in the government of this country.”

An expression almost of sadness came into his face. “I sometimes feel,”
he went on, “that we diplomatists, products of the Foreign Office, are
totally unfitted to rule a mediæval country such as this. Look at me,
Muriel; am I the romantic figure to impress the native mind? Egypt does
not want diplomacy; she wants physical strength combined with
philosophy—she wants a man who is a mighty hunter before the Lord, a
giant, a hero out of a legend.”

“Oh, father dear,” Muriel replied, “everybody says you are the ideal
ruler.” She felt sorry for him: he seemed such an insignificant little
figure, so fussy, so well-meaning, and just now so modest.

“No,” he continued, “I don’t understand the native mind; I must confess,
I don’t understand it. And I sometimes think that I am not serving the
best interests of England. I want my country to be respected, Muriel; I
have such vast ambition for England. I want our manhood to be seen to
the best advantage, so that the natives may say: ‘Since we are to be
ruled, let us be glad that we are ruled by _men_.’”

Muriel put her hands upon his shoulders. For the first time she really
liked him. “I think you’re splendid, father,” she said.

“Now, if Daniel Lane took his position in society,” he mused, “if, for
instance, he were Lord Barthampton, there would be no difficulty. I
could push him forward, and in a few years he would be old enough to
succeed me here at the Residency. A little more care about his
appearance, perhaps—”

“And a little less rudeness,” said Muriel.

“No, he is not rude,” Lord Blair corrected her. “He is only
unceremonious.”

There was a tap at the door, and Rupert entered. He was the only one of
the Secretaries who lived on the premises.

“I’m just off to bed,” he said. “Is there anything you want me to do,
sir?”

Lord Blair looked at him, as though waking from a dream. “Let me see,
yes, there was something I was going to ask you to do. What was it, now?
Dear, dear! How bad my memory is! Ah, yes, I have it! A letter: I want
you to acknowledge it formally, the first thing in the morning. It’s on
my study table. No, you could not find it in all that litter. I must
really have a grand tidying-up, I must indeed. One moment: I’ll get it
for you.”

He hurried from the room, in short, nervous steps, and, as he
disappeared, Rupert turned to Muriel. “By Jove!” he exclaimed. “You do
look beautiful tonight. I could hardly take my eyes off you all the
evening.”

Muriel smiled happily. “I’m glad you think so. I thought I looked a
sight; and Prince What’s-his-name was evidently bored with me.”

“On the contrary,” he answered, “he told me he thought you were
charming, and such a connoisseur.”

“Of what,” she asked brightly.

“Of the art of the Stone Age, he said. I don’t know what he meant.”

Muriel flushed. “The little beast!” she cried, angrily. “He was trying
to be rude.”

“Rude, was he?” said Rupert, viciously. He assumed a fighting attitude,
and, when Muriel had frankly explained the insinuation of the remark, he
set his teeth and made a determined attempt to appear grim.

“He’ll get one in the jaw, if he doesn’t look out,” he muttered.

Lord Blair re-entered the room, carrying the letter (for some unknown
reason) extended in his thumb and first finger as though it smelt. He
paused on seeing Rupert’s simulation of pugilism, and looked at him
critically, as it were measuring the young man’s capacities in that
arena. Then he shook his head sadly, and handed him the letter.

When Rupert had left them, Lord Blair turned to his daughter.
“Undersized,” he murmured, “sadly undersized.”

“Oh, not so very,” said Muriel, divining his thoughts. “And, any way,
he’s a good-looking boy, and his manners are charming. I’m growing very
fond of Rupert.”

Lord Blair glanced at her quickly.



CHAPTER VIII—THE ACCOMPLICE


Undoubtedly the ancients were quite right in regarding youth as a kind
of fever, an intermittent sickness lasting from puberty to middle age.
In Egypt this particular illness is rampant: everybody who is not old
feels youthful, and the actually youthful have hours of violent
delirium.

As the weather, in the last days of October, became cooler and more
stimulating, Lady Muriel began to experience a series of startling
sensations. She felt excited, and her mind turned itself to a heated
study of the romantic possibilities of existence at the Residency. She
had always been told that a young woman’s life was divided into two
distinct ages, the first being a period filled with romantic episodes
and terminated by marriage, and the second being a period crowded with
very serious love affairs and only curtailed by age or the divorce
court.

So far she could safely say that she had only been in love three times.
Once at Eastbourne, during her school-days, she had fallen into a divine
frenzy over a curate, who had been a rugger blue at Oxford, and who, in
a certain brief and desperate sofa-episode, had apparently mistaken her
for the football with which he was touching down a try, but who, a
moment later, had recovered his feet and had staggered out into the
night calling upon God for mercy upon a married man. She had nursed her
bruises and had sorrowed for him for many days, ardently desiring to
poison his wife and all her babies, but his sudden appointment to a
far-away living had closed the story.

A year later she fell in love with a Russian singer who, at the time,
was being heavily lionized in London; but, as luck would have it, she
met three of his mistresses in one day, and the fright sobered her.

The third episode had been much more prosaic. The man was merely a young
Member of Parliament who made his overtures in the most approved style,
and might have succeeded in capturing her, had it not been discovered on
the day the engagement was to be announced that he had borrowed money on
the strength of the coming alliance. In this case she had not grieved
for long: indeed, when she happened to see him a week later she had
already sufficiently recovered to observe that his eyes were set too
close together, his teeth were like a rabbit’s, his hands too hairy, his
head not hairy enough, and his legs bandy.

That was a year ago, and since then she had been entirely heart-whole.
Now, however, the starry Egyptian nights, the sun-bathed days, the
multitude of officers, officials, and diplomats whose acquaintance she
was making, and the general court paid to her, both as a charming woman
and as the Great Man’s daughter, were beginning to stimulate her senses.

One morning, at the beginning of November, as she sat up in her bed,
playing with her toes, the thought came strongly to her that her season
in Egypt ought to be graced by some exceptional romance. Here was the
setting for the play; here was the heroine; but where was the hero? It
was true that Rupert Helsingham, of whom she had grown quite fond, was
becoming daily more bold; but he had ever an eye on her father, on whom
depended his budding career. In her exposed position whatever romance
came to her would have to be conducted on very correct lines; and would
probably be expected to end in marriage; but she did not want to be
married. Indeed, the thought appalled her. She vastly preferred the idea
of a great sorrow, a heartbreaking parting under the stars, a life-long
devotion to a sad, sweet memory. But that a man should walk nightly into
her bedroom in his striped pyjamas was a horrible thought.

Pensively she gazed at her toes, upon which a shaft of the morning
sunlight was striking. They were pretty toes. A man’s feet usually had
corns on them. No, she had little wish for a bare-footed romance: the
hero she pictured would make love in his boots, and tragedy should
descend before the hour came to take them off.

Everything pointed to a clandestine affair—something in a garden, with
the scent of roses in it; or in a boat floating down the Nile, very
placid and mysterious; or far away in the desert....

In the desert! The thought brought back to her mind the parting words of
Daniel Lane. “Why don’t you break loose?” Several times she had wondered
what he had meant: whether he were suggesting a breaking away from the
routine of her life, or whether he were advising her to run amuck in a
moral sense. The latter, it seemed to her, was the more probable,
judging by his reputation; but this was not a form of entertainment that
appealed to her. She did not mind playing with fire, but she had no wish
at all to be burnt. Her education had trained her to think lightly of
the chastity of others, but so far it had not injured her own natural
continence.

Getting out of bed she stood for a few moments in the middle of the
room, staring through the open window at the distant line of the desert.
Yes, the desert would be a wonderful setting for a romance; and yet even
there she would not seem to be quite alone, quite unobserved. In her
mind the whole of those vast spaces belonged, somehow, to Daniel Lane.
She would feel his disturbing influence there: his head would rise from
behind a rock, and his quiet eyes would stare mockingly at her and her
lover, whoever he might be. He might even stroll forward, pick up the
wretched Romeo, with a yawn throw him over the cliffs, seat himself by
her side instead, and light his pipe. And if she protested he might
whistle up half a dozen cut-throat Bedouin and peg her to the ground for
the jackals to sniff at till he was ready to put her in his harîm.

She laughed nervously to herself as she went to her bath; and her
thoughts turned again to the possibilities of the garden and the Nile,
and once more the difficulties of her position were manifest. Female
accomplices are required in romance: she had none. There was her maid,
Ada, a large Scotchwoman, who would play the part about as nimbly as a
hobbled cow. Lady Smith-Evered was not to be trusted with secrets, even
if she were able to be flattered into acquiescence. There was no other
woman in Cairo with whom she was at all well acquainted as yet, and none
that gave promise of the paradoxical but necessary combination of
self-effacement and presence of mind.

What she required was the friendship of a young married woman without
stain and without scruple. Then there would be some hope that the season
would not be entirely barren of romance, and, when she returned to
England in the spring, she would not be in the painful necessity of
having to invent confidences for the ears of her girl friends.

There is, however, an ancient and once very popular Egyptian god who
seems to have survived to the present day, if one may judge by the
strange events which take place in the land of the Pharaohs. By the
Greeks he was called Pan-Who-is-Within-Hearing; and he must certainly
have been sitting in the bathroom. For no sooner had Muriel dressed and
come downstairs than the accomplice walked straight into the house.

Muriel had just entered the drawing-room by one door when a footman
threw open the opposite door and announced “Mr. and Mrs. Benifett
Bindane.”

A moment later a plump, square-shouldered young woman hurried into the
room and flung herself into Muriel’s arms. “Muriel—you darling!” she
cried, and “Kate—my dear!” cried Muriel, as they kissed one another
affectionately.

Mrs. Bindane beckoned to the middle-aged man who had followed her into
the room. “This person is my husband,” she said. “I think you saw him
when he was courting me.”

He came forward and gave Muriel a limp hand. He was very tall, and
appeared to be invertebrate; he had watery blue eyes, thin yellow hair,
a long, white, clean-shaven face, and a wet mouth which was seldom, if
ever, shut.

“Benifett, my dear,” said his capable, handsome wife, “say something
polite to the lady.”

“How-de-do,” he murmured, staring at her awkwardly.

“Yes, I think we did meet once, didn’t we?” said Muriel.

Mrs. Bindane intervened. “Yes, don’t you remember? At the pictures, when
we were keeping company. We got wed at our chapel ten days ago—such a
to-do as you never saw! And afterwards a real beano at the Fried Fish
Shop: beer by the barrel, and port too! And Pa gave me away, in his
evening dress, red handkerchief and all!”

Such was her peculiar and characteristic way of referring to the fact
that she had introduced Muriel to her fiancé one night at Covent Garden,
and that she had been married to him at St. Margaret’s, Westminster,
where she had been given away by her father, Lord Voycey, a reception
being later held at her paternal home in Berkeley Square.

“I didn’t know you were coming out here,” said Muriel. “It’s splendid.”

“We only decided on Egypt at the last minute,” explained Mr. Bindane.
“Kate was so anxious to go up the Nile.”

“It’s a blinkin’ fine river, I’m told,” remarked his wife, at which he
smiled reprovingly.

Her friend’s language was notorious, though actually she seldom
approached an oath except in mimicry. She was a woman of
five-and-twenty, and for seven years she had delighted London with her
pretended vulgarity. Her husband, on the other hand, was more or less
unknown to the metropolis, though, as the inheritor from his father of
an enormous fortune, his name had lately been heard in Mayfair, while in
the City it was well known. People said he was a fool; and everybody
supposed that the eccentric Kate had married him for his money. As a
matter of fact, she had married him for love.

“Where are you staying?” Muriel asked.

“We’ve got a little paddle-wheeled steamer on the river,” he replied.
“We arrived last night.”

“And of course we came round to see you at once,” said Kate. “Benifett’s
rather a snob, you know: loves lords and ladies. So do I. How’s your
pa?”

“Oh, just the same as always,” Muriel answered. “I don’t seem to see
much of him.”

“People say he’s rather a success at running this ’ere country,” the
other remarked. “Personally, I detest the man: I think he’s neglected
you shamefully all your life.”

“Oh, father’s all right,” said Muriel. “I’m very fond of him.”

“Rot!” muttered her friend.

For some time they exchanged their news, and Muriel gave some account of
the quiet life she had spent since her arrival.

“Any decent men?” Mrs. Bindane asked. “What about little Rupert
Helsingham?”

“Oh, d’you know him?”

“Lord! yes. He stayed with us once when he and I were kiddies. I saw him
when he was on leave last summer: he’s grown into a handsome little
fellow.”

She asked if he were on the premises, and whether she might see him. In
reply, Muriel rang the bell, and sent a message to the office where
Rupert usually spent his mornings in interviewing native dignitaries.

“Here’s a friend of yours,” she said to him as he came into the room,
and there ensued a rapid exchange of merry greetings.

“This is what I’ve married,” remarked Mrs. Bindane, taking her husband’s
hand in hers and delivering it into Rupert’s friendly grasp.

“How-de-do,” said Mr. Bindane, looking down from his great height at the
dapper little man before him.

“Glad to meet you, sir,” said Rupert, looking up at the limp figure,
which gave the appearance of being about to fall to pieces at any
moment.

“His father’s a lord, dear,” whispered Mrs. Bindane to her husband, in a
hoarse aside.

“You’re just as impossible as ever, Kate,” laughed Rupert.

“It’s my common blood,” said she. “One of my ancestors married his cook:
she was the woman who cooked that surfeit of lampreys King John died
of.”

“Is Lord Blair in?” Mr. Bindane asked, very suddenly.

Mrs. Bindane turned sharply and stared at him. “Now _what_ has Lord
Blair to do with you, Benifett?” she asked in surprise. “I didn’t know
you knew him.”

Her husband flapped a loose hand. “I’ve met his Lordship,” he said.

“_His Lordship_,” mimicked the impossible Kate, giving a nod of
simulated awe. “Rupert, my lad, go and tell the boss he’s wanted in the
shop.”

“I’d like to see him,” murmured Mr. Bindane, quite unmoved.

“Well, I never!” said his wife.

“I’ll go and see if he’s busy,” Rupert volunteered.

“Thanks,” droned Mr. Bindane, his mouth dropping more widely open than
usual.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


“Well, you have got some nerve!” exclaimed his wife.

Rupert went out of the room, and sought the Great Man in his study.

“What is it, what is it?” Lord Blair muttered with some irritation,
looking up from a mass of disordered papers.

“Oh, sorry, sir,” said Rupert. “I didn’t know you were busy. There’s
somebody here who wants to see you.”

“I can’t see anybody—no, nobody,” Lord Blair expostulated. “What’s he
want? Who is he?”

“A Mr. Bindane. He’s in the drawing-room with Lady Muriel.”

Lord Blair sat up briskly. “Benifett Bindane?” he asked, sharply.

Rupert nodded, and thereat the Great Man jumped to his feet.

“Where is he?” he exclaimed. “Show him in at once. Dear me, dear me! How
fortunate! I had no idea he was in Egypt. No, I’ll come into the
drawing-room.”

He hurried past Rupert, and hastened across the corridor.

“How d’you do, my dear sir, how d’you do,” he exclaimed, as he tripped
into the room and wrung his visitor’s feeble hand.

“My wife,” said Mr. Bindane, bowing towards his startled spouse.

Lord Blair took her hand in both his own. “An old friend!” he cried.
“Capital, capital! We were reading about your marriage the other day.
Splendid!” And he beamed from one to the other. Then, turning again to
Mr. Bindane, “You’ve come to see for yourself, eh?” he exclaimed. “Very
wise, very wise indeed.”

“It’s a pleasure trip,” the other replied; “our honeymoon, you know.”

“Of course, yes,” muttered Lord Blair. “Business and pleasure!”

“Business?” muttered Mrs. Bindane. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.
What a dark horse you are, Benifett.” And she abused him roundly in that
absurd mimicry of the dialect of the slums which was habitual with her.

Muriel looked vacant. Her thoughts were racing ahead. Here was the
desired accomplice, married to a rich fool who was evidently on the best
of terms with her father. They had a private steamer on the Nile. Could
anything be better, more secluded, more romantic? All she had to do was
to find her Romeo.



CHAPTER IX—ON THE NILE


Muriel was not slow to spy out the possibilities of her friend’s
steamer. Her father, she soon discovered, was glad enough that she
should make herself agreeable to the Bindanes; for, as he explained to
her at some length, Mr. Bindane was at that time engaged in raising an
enormous sum of money for agricultural investment in the western oases
of Egypt, and it was of great importance that the luxurious
river-steamer and the Residency should be on intimate terms.

For years Lord Blair and his predecessors had endeavoured in vain to
interest the financial world in the mineral products and rich soil of
the chain of oases which spreads across the desert between Egypt and
Tripoli. But nobody, least of all the Government, would yet trust their
money in an outlying territory so recently explored and opened up. Then
Benifett Bindane had wandered into the Foreign Office, when Lord Blair
was on leave in England, and had remarked laconically that he would
raise the necessary millions.

At first he had hardly been taken seriously, for he looked such a fool.
Later it was thought that because he looked such a fool it might be
worth while to help him to part with his money; and finally it was
discovered that he was not such a fool as he looked. The money he
proposed to find was to be mostly other people’s, those other people
being likely to be persuaded by the fact that the money would appear to
be mostly his own. He had promised to send somebody out to Egypt to
investigate, and now, quietly and without any apparent pretext other
than that of his honeymoon, he had come himself.

Three or four days after the Bindanes’ arrival a thirty hours’ excursion
up the river was planned, the party consisting of the bridal couple,
Lady Muriel, Lady Smith-Evered, Rupert Helsingham, and Professor Hyley,
the Egyptologist. The Pyramid of Meidûm, some fifty miles upstream from
Cairo, was the objective; and it was proposed to start at noon, to moor
for the night near the village of Meidûm, to ride over to the ruins on
the following morning, and to make the return journey to Cairo during
the afternoon and evening.

Muriel boarded the steamer when the time came with keen interest hidden
under a casual exterior. For her it was to be a sort of trial run: she
was going to study the romantic possibilities of the Nile. If the trip
provided opportunities for Rupert Helsingham to make love to her, in
which direction his recent actions had begun to point, she would try to
arrange further excursions, perhaps with him, perhaps in other company.

The professor was a neat and natty little man, with prominent teeth and
wistful eyes, a eunuch’s voice and pretty manners; and an hour had not
passed before it was apparent that the General’s lady had taken him to
her bosom. He examined an antique scarab ring upon her finger, and told
her to what dynasty it was to be dated; he showed her a somewhat similar
ring upon his own finger, and said it was not so good nor so old a
specimen as hers; he remarked what a fine old English soldier the
General was, and he sighed to think how few were left of that breed; he
poked delicate and kindly fun at the younger hostesses of Cairo, and
compared their social efforts with those of the elder generation, so
admirably represented by the lady to whom he was speaking. Lady
Smith-Evered thought him a dear little man, a designation the first two
words of which were certainly applicable.

“They just love each other, don’t they!” Rupert whispered to Muriel.

“Yes,” she replied. “I think that disposes of my chaperone.”

She made the remark with evident satisfaction, and Rupert glanced
quickly at her. His heart was beating fast.

“You seem glad,” he said.

Muriel shrugged her shoulders.

The afternoon was hot, and as the party lounged on deck the glare of the
sunlight upon the mirror of the water was dazzling. Mr. Bindane put on a
pair of blue spectacles, and presently gave vent to a series of
hay-feverish sneezes.

“Good God!” exclaimed his wife. “Look at what I’ve married!” She seized
his unresisting arm.

“Come, Benifett, let’s go and lie down in the cabin.”

“A good idea,” said Lady Smith-Evered, thankfully following her hostess
below. “I shall go to my cabin too.”

“I think forty winks for me, also,” the Professor presently remarked,
feeling himself to be _de trop_.

“Are you going to have a siesta?” asked Rupert, looking at Muriel with
fervour in his eyes.

“Not unless I fall off to sleep in this comfy chair,” she answered. “In
that case, you must promise to wake me if my mouth drops open. Pull up
your chair close to mine, and tell me the story of your life.”

Rupert stood up, and, taking off his coat, rolled back his
shirt-sleeves, revealing a pair of well-made blue-veined arms. The
leather belt which held up his white flannel trousers was pulled in
tightly, and Muriel did not fail to admire the slimness of his waist as
he settled himself in the long deck-chair at her side.

They were screened from the sun by an Arabic awning of many colours, and
their eyes looked out across the oily surface of the water to the
luxuriant river bank which seemed to pass before them like an unfolding
picture, now revealing the open fields, now a village basking in the
sunlight, now groups of palms and cedars in the deep shadows of which
the peasants rested with their flocks, and now a native villa with
mysterious latticed shutters and silent walled gardens. Every hundred
yards or so there was a _sakieh_, by which the water was raised from the
river into the irrigation channels; and as each came into sight the
creaking of the great wooden cogwheel, and the song of the half-naked
boy who drove his patient ox round and round, drifted to their ears,
drowsily and with plaintive monotony.

Neither Muriel nor Rupert talked much, but their sleepy proximity
engendered a quiet sympathy between them more potent than any words. Her
hands lay idly in her lap; and presently, with a lazy movement, he
extended his arm and let it fall across hers, so that his hand rested
upon her hand. She turned slightly and smiled at him, but she did not
move. Their two heads, each upon its cushion, drooped closer together.
Muriel’s eyes closed, and, with a sense of gentle happiness pervading
her mind, she fell asleep.

When she woke up, a quarter of an hour later, she knew that Rupert had
just kissed her: she still felt the touch of his lips. She did not
resent it; it was not unexpected. But somehow she felt that she was no
longer carrying out an experiment. The handsome young man beside her,
after these few weeks of probation, had managed, somehow, to step into
the sanctuary of her heart, and had seated himself audaciously upon the
throne which had stood vacant these many months.

She sat up in her chair and passed her hands across her eyes. Then she
turned, and, with a smile upon her lips, looked steadily at her
companion.

“You kissed me,” she said. She spoke in a tone almost of awe.

“Yes,” he answered, and his voice failed him. He turned his eyes to the
bank of the river and clenched his teeth. He felt very uncomfortable.

“Why?” she asked. Her face was very close to his, and his hand was about
her wrist.

“Because I love you, Muriel,” he whispered; and the hoarseness of his
voice would have seemed comical to her had she been in a normal
condition.

Suddenly he put his arm about her shoulder and pulled her down to him,
so that her head lay upon his breast and her hair touched his face. She
did not resist; the drowsy warmth of the afternoon, the Oriental beauty
of their surroundings, and the still unevaporated magic of that great
enchanter, Sleep, held her powerless.

Again and again he kissed her—kissed her mouth and her eyes, her
forehead and her cheeks, her throat and her hair; and with each touch of
his lips the fires of her womanhood leaped up within her, so that in
these few moments the whole course of her life, so it seemed to her, was
changed, and new directions, new vistas, were revealed in intense
illumination.

At last, dazed and flushed, she released herself from his hold and stood
before him, her fingers clasping and unclasping themselves, her eyes
wild and yet tender in their wildness.

“Rupert!” she gasped. “O Rupert!”

Suddenly she turned and ran to the companionway, and the next moment had
disappeared.

Rupert sprang from his chair, and banged his fist into the palm of his
other hand. “Gad!” he cried aloud, and there was exultation in his
voice. He walked the length of the deck, with his hands in his pockets;
then he sat down, and immediately got up again. His knees seemed to be
trembling under him. He wondered whether that was a symptom of love, and
decided that it was not. No he was not in love; he was just excited. And
no wonder! Muriel was one of the great heiresses of England, and one of
the most charming girls on the market, so to speak; and he had
practically got her! Well, perhaps he was in love: her kisses were
wonderful; the feeling of closeness to her was exquisite! How delighted
his father would be! “Lady Muriel Helsingham,” and, in time to come,
“Lady Helsingham of Singleton!” And all that money!

He lit a cigarette, puffed frenziedly at it, and threw it into the
river. Then he, too, went below.

Muriel’s cabin was opposite his own, and at the door he paused and
listened. He thought he heard her sigh, and his heart heat faster. She
was madly in love with him! Why hadn’t he acted sooner? His
school-friend had been perfectly right: a man has only got to take his
courage in both hands and attack a woman forcibly, and she succumbs.

He went into his cabin and shut the door briskly. He sat down on the
edge of the narrow bed, and stared critically at himself in the mirror
opposite. He was quite good-looking. He wondered how Lord Blair would
take it. After all, it was not a bad match for his daughter: he was the
son and heir of a Peer of the Realm, and his father had a very nice
little estate.

In the cabin opposite, Muriel, likewise, sat upon the edge of her bed.
She had been crying, and there were still tears in her eyes. Surely, she
thought, this must be love that had come to her, though sudden and
unexpected had been its advent. She was profoundly stirred, and
wonderingly she recalled every moment of the experience through which
she had just passed. It had been so sweet; his eyes had looked into hers
so tenderly; his lips had aroused something so mighty within her. Of
course she would marry him if he asked her; but she was so selfish, so
stupid, and he was so clever. Everybody loved him: perhaps he would
quickly grow tired of her....

At tea-time she could not look at him. She talked at random to the
others, and as they all sat afterwards on deck watching the sun go down,
she still kept aloof from him. Later, in dressing for dinner, she
exacted particular care from her maid; and she was thankful that she had
brought her most becoming dress with her.

“My dear, you look a dream!” exclaimed Kate Bindane as she came into the
dining-room. “A dam’ sight too beautiful for my liking! I’ll have to
keep my old man out of your way, or you’ll make him feel all of a
twitter. As it is, I see him eyeing you all the time. He’s a dark horse,
is Benifett: you never know what he’s up to.”

And certainly during dinner his watery eyes were fixed upon her from
time to time with disconcerting directness. A glass or two of champagne
helped her to overcome a feeling of shyness in relation to Rupert, and
soon she became conscious of a growing excitement. She wondered what
would happen before the evening was over, and alternately she longed for
the meal to come to an end, and was dismayed to find it advancing so
quickly. She talked feverishly, and, indeed, Lady Smith-Evered once felt
it her duty to make signs to the butler to refrain from filling the
girl’s glass. Muriel, however, observed the signal, and laughed aloud.

“Am I talking too fast or something?” she asked, holding up her empty
glass to the hesitating butler.

“No, it’s only that wine is not very good for one in this climate,”
whispered Lady Smith-Evered, her expression hinting at strange things.

“It can’t hurt her,” said Mr. Bindane, yet he drank only water himself.

As they went up on deck for their coffee, Muriel felt her face burning
and her heart thumping; and when Rupert stood at her side and
surreptitiously touched her hand she experienced so wondrous a thrill of
emotion that she forgot what she was saying at the moment to Professor
Hyley, and their conversation—something about ancient Egyptian
gods—completely broke down.

Owing to some engine-trouble earlier in the day the steamer had not
nearly reached its destination; and now, for the sake of the passengers’
comfort, it was travelling quietly and at a much reduced pace. The night
was warm, windless, and intensely dark, for the waning moon had not yet
risen; but the stars were brilliant, and the Milky Way stretched across
the heavens like a band of ghostly silver.

As soon as the coffee cups were removed Mr. Bindane proposed the
inevitable game of bridge, and therewith their host and hostess, Lady
Smith-Evered, and the Professor descended to the saloon, Muriel and
Rupert remaining on deck—by the tacit and tactful arrangement of Kate
Bindane, who seemed to anticipate their inclinations.

“There’s a nice little cosy corner at the stern,” she whispered to
Rupert, and gave him a friendly dig in the ribs. Fortunately Muriel was
out of earshot.

To the stern, therefore, he led his companion when at length they were
left alone, and here on a comfortable sofa they seated themselves. Nor
did he allow many moments to pass before he attempted to resume the
intimacy of the afternoon. Muriel, however, was self-conscious, and as
he kissed her she gently thrust him away from her.

“Don’t,” she muttered. “Please don’t, Rupert, dear.”

There was a tone of anguish in her voice, for at the dawn of love a
woman feels terror such as no man can understand. Instinctively, and
without definite reasoning, she dreads the consequences of her actions;
and whereas a man’s new love is glorious with the exultation of careless
conquest, a woman’s is tender with the vision of uncomprehended pain to
be. At the lightest touch of a new lover’s lips she catches sight of her
whole destiny; and where a man rejoices, a woman quakes.

Rupert was abashed, and, releasing her from his grasp, stared before him
into the darkness, while Muriel waited for him to make her quake again:
it was a wonderful sensation.

“Why shouldn’t I kiss you, Muriel?” he asked. “You love me, you know you
do.” He turned to her, and his face came close to hers. “You do love me,
don’t you?”

For answer she ran her fingers through his hair and looked long at him.
In the dim light he could see that she was searching his face as though
endeavouring to find in it the assurance her womanhood required. He
hoped that her hands were not untidying him beyond quick repair: he very
much disliked having his hair ruffled.

Again he put his arms about her, and now she did not resist. Her eyes
closed, and as in a dream she gave herself up to the emotion of the
moment. In some miraculous manner it seemed to her Rupert had developed,
and his arms that now enfolded her were suddenly endowed with celestial
strength. It was as though by loving her he had identified himself with
a force far greater than his own; and even the broken words which he
uttered seemed to have a more profound meaning. She forgot that she had
read such words in many a short story, many a novel; they sounded
beautiful to her; they came to her ears with all the enchantment of
things never before spoken in the whole history of the world.

“O Rupert,” she murmured, “do I mean all that to you?”

“You mean heaven and hell to me, Muriel,” he said, dramatically.

For a considerable time—though time to her stood still—they sat together
in the darkness, closely held in one another’s arms, his cheek and his
lips pressed against her bare shoulder and neck; and as the moments
passed the intoxication of love began to bewilder him as it had already
overwhelmed her. Her skin was so warm, so soft, so alluring, and the
surge of her breath was so entrancing!

Suddenly they became conscious of the sound of much shouting amongst the
native crew, and at the same time the drone of the paddle-wheels ceased.
Rupert raised his head, and his hands began instinctively to tidy his
hair and to arrange his disordered tie.

“We must have arrived,” he said. “The others will be coming up on deck:
we’d better move.”

He stood up, and Muriel sank back into the corner of the sofa, her arm
across her eyes. For some moments she seemed to be unable to bring her
mind down from the heights of her dream; and Rupert watched her with
anxiety, hoping that she would speedily master herself.

“Come,” he said. “Let’s walk along the deck.”

Very slowly she rose to her feet, and, with a sigh, put her arm in his.

The steamer had evidently reached its destination, and the captain’s
bell incessantly rang his orders to the engine-room, while the hurried
tread of bare feet could be heard on the bridge above them as they came
into the soft light amidships. On one side the bank of the river could
be discerned in the darkness, still some thirty or forty feet distant;
on the other the open water stretched, reflecting the innumerable stars.
To this latter side Rupert led her, and, leaning his back against the
railing above the now silent paddle-wheel, he held his hand out to her
as she stood before him.

“Muriel,” he whispered, when fervently he had kissed her fingers, “will
you be my wife?”

She drew in her breath sharply, and her hands clasped themselves against
her breast. She had been waiting for these words, but now when she heard
them they frightened her. Somehow in the light of the electric lamps her
dream in the darkness had faded, and there was a sense of cooler reality
in her mind, a kind of reaction. Why should she say ‘Yes’ at once? Ought
she not to try him yet a little while before she gave herself to him?
She remembered that until today she had not known that she loved him:
perhaps it was all an illusion, created by the Nile.

He saw the look in her face, and as he leaned back heavily against the
railing his heart sank within him. Was she only playing with him? Did
she only feel for him what he felt for her?

“Well?” he asked, and his hands were clenched upon the iron rail.

She did not answer. She stood staring at him with fixed eyes, and as she
did so a sensation of annoyance passed across his mind.

“Ah!” he muttered. “You don’t love me. You’re only amusing yourself with
me.”

“Rupert!” she exclaimed.

Seeing that his tactics were correct, he allowed his anger to develop.
He made a dramatic gesture and flung himself back against the railing.
At the same moment the paddle-wheel beneath him began suddenly to
revolve, as the captain manœuvred the ship towards the shore. There was
a slight lurch; Rupert uttered an exclamation; he seemed to sway away
from her; and, heels over head, he fell into the churning water.

Muriel sprang forward. In the half-light she saw the soles of his shoes
disappear as the black water swallowed him; then a dripping, writhing
form was lifted on a blade of the paddle and tossed into the air. She
saw his horrified eyes and his spread fingers. She heard him shriek....

“Help!” she screamed, and, screaming, she rushed across the deck. “Help!
Help!”



CHAPTER X—“FOR TOMORROW WE DIE”


Amidst the wildest clamour the rowing-boat was launched, and two
red-jerseyed native sailors took the oars, while a third, shouting and
gesticulating, stood at the tiller holding up a hurricane-lamp. Just as
they pushed off, Professor Hyley, carrying another lantern, tumbled into
the stern; and, in the unreasoning excitement of the moment, called out
“Mr. Helsingham, Mr. Helsingham! Hi, hi! Mr. Helsingham!” in a piping
voice which sounded through the darkness like that of a lost soul.

The pandemonium upon the steamer was appalling. The jabbering native
sailors ran aimlessly to and fro, flinging ropes and buoys into the
river from the vessel’s stern; while the Egyptian captain, completely
losing his head, rang and bawled orders down to the engine-room, as a
result of which the paddle-wheels churned up the water, now this way,
now that. Lady Smith-Evered and Mr. Bindane leant over the rail,
shouting instructions to Professor Hyley as the boat dropped into the
distance.

Muriel and Kate Bindane stood together in agonized silence. There was
nothing to be done; for there was not a second rowing-boat, nor were
there any available lamps or buoys. Their eyes were fixed upon the two
points of light drifting astern, and on the illuminated figures of the
searchers. And now the misshapen moon, in its last quarter, crept out
from behind the horizon, as though curious to know what all the pother
was about, but too disdainful to throw any light upon the scene.

At length there were renewed shouts from the boat, and much splashing of
the oars; and presently it was apparent that the men were lifting
something out of the ink-black water. A few minutes of horrible suspense
ensued as the searchers returned; and at last, in a dazed condition,
Muriel watched them raise the limp, dripping form out of the boat and
lay it on the deck.

Mr. Bindane’s servant, Dixon, knew something about the method of
resuscitation to be employed in such cases; and, with the aid of Muriel
and Professor Hyley, the sodden clothes were removed from the upper part
of the prostrate figure, and the bare white arms were worked to and fro.
Brandy in a teaspoon was forced between the blue lips by Kate Bindane,
who sent her helpless and apparently callous husband off with the
weeping Lady Smith-Evered to fetch blankets and the one hot-water bottle
which chanced to be available.

Their efforts, however, were all in vain. With the tears flowing from
her eyes, Muriel rose from the puddle of water in which she had been
kneeling, and stood clinging to Kate’s arm.

“He’s dead,” she sobbed. “He’s been dead all the time;” and a shudder
almost of repulsion shook her.

She dried her tears and tried hard to pull herself together: she felt
that this undefined feeling of disgust was unworthy of any woman, and
was altogether despicable in one who had been so lately clasped in
Rupert’s arms. She wanted to run away, and that primitive instinct which
produces in the mind the nameless horror of a dead body was strong upon
her. Yet, bracing herself, she resisted the sensation of nausea, and
stood staring down at the prostrate figure before her, vividly
illuminated in the glare of the electric light.

His mouth, from which the water oozed, was slightly open, and a pale,
swollen tongue protruded somewhat from between his lips. His eyes were
closed, and wet strands of dark hair were plastered over his forehead.
His bare neck and shoulders looked thin and poor; and damp wisps of hair
covered his chest. The soaked, black trousers clung to his legs; and his
ill-shapen toes, from which the socks and shoes had been removed, were
ghastly in their greenish whiteness as they rested upon the hot-water
bottle.

Suddenly she swayed, and the lights seemed to grow dim. She heard Kate
Bindane call out sharply for the brandy, and she was dimly conscious
that she was being led away by her maid, Ada. Her perceptions, however,
were not clear again until she aroused herself to find that she was
lying upon her bed in her cabin, and that Mr. Bindane was standing at
the door, staring down at her with his mouth open.

She sat up quickly. “Did I faint?” she said, as the horror of
remembrance came upon her once more.

“No,” he answered. “You were only a bit giddy. You must try to sleep:
we’re all going to try to. We shall be back in Cairo before sunrise.”

“Where is he?” she asked, pressing her fingers to her pale face.

“On the sofa at the end of the deck,” he said.

She sprang to her feet. “No, no!” she cried. “Not there—please not
there!”

She buried her face in her hands; and Benifett Bindane, disliking
hysteria, hurried away to the saloon, where he played Patience by
himself until the small hours; while his wife, Kate, wedging herself
into Muriel’s narrow bed, comforted her friend until dozing sleep fell
upon them.

The next two or three days were like a nightmare. An impenetrable gloom
seemed to rest upon the Residency; and, although the body lay in the
mortuary of a neighbouring hospital, it was as though the presence of
death were actually in the house.

The funeral came almost as a relief; and when the imposing ceremony was
at an end, she felt as though the weight were beginning to be lifted
from her heart. For the first time since the tragedy she was able to
speak of it with calmness.

“You know, father dear,” she said, “Rupert and I came to mean a very
great deal to one another in these few weeks that we’ve been together.”

He glanced at her timidly, and patted her hand.

“Yes,” he answered, “I have eyes, Muriel.”

She turned and looked at him with a little smile of confidence. “We were
going to be married,” she said.

He started violently. “What!” he exclaimed. “Well, well, we must see
about that.”

“It’s no good seeing about it, father,” she corrected him, feeling an
hysterical desire to laugh; “he’s dead.”

“The poor boy, the poor boy!” he murmured. “Such a capital fellow.”

“It was just after he had proposed to me that he fell overboard,” she
told him.

“Dear me, dear me!” he sighed. “And you had accepted him? I suppose the
shock.... How very, very sad!—He just fell backwards.”

Awkwardly, but with great tenderness, he put his arm about her. “You
must forget all about it,” he whispered. “You must have a good time.”

“It was so ghastly,” she said. “You see, when he asked me to be his
wife, I didn’t say ‘yes.’”

“Of course not, of course not,” he murmured. “Very proper, I’m sure.”

“But he thought I was only playing with him,” she faltered. “He was so
angry, so hurt. And then the paddle-wheel started with a jerk, and he
overbalanced.”

“Ah, my dear,” he answered, “the course of true love never runs
smoothly. An ancient saw, but a very true one! But you are young: you
will soon get over it. You must throw yourself into your duties as
hostess at the Residency; and, in the first place, I want you to help me
in a little scheme I have in mind.”

Muriel guessed what was coming, and her feelings were peculiarly
diversified.

“I want to persuade Daniel Lane to accept some official position,” he
said. “Of course I can’t offer him the mere Oriental Secretaryship which
poor dear Rupert has left vacant; but I think its scope and importance
could be greatly extended, amplified, and he might be tempted.”

“I doubt it,” Muriel replied. She did not know quite what to say.

“I shall write to him at once,” Lord Blair went on, nodding archly at
her. “I shall say how whole-heartedly you second my proposal.”

Muriel stiffened. “O, no, _please_,” she answered, quickly, and the
colour mounted to her face. “Please leave me out of it; Mr. Lane and I
have nothing in common. I hardly know him, and much of what I do know I
dislike.”

Her father’s face fell. There is no telling how far his scheming mind
had advanced into the future, nor what plans he was forming for the
well-being of his only child. It may only be stated with certainty that
he had a very great admiration for Daniel, and that he was not blind to
the fact that the object of this admiration was heir-presumptive to a
man who, by common report, was drinking himself to death.

To Muriel, however, the prospect of having the masterful Mr. Lane
actually on the premises was disturbing in the extreme, and, during the
ensuing days, added not a little to her mental distress.

She greatly missed Rupert’s entertaining company; and although, as the
days passed, she realized that his death was not as shattering a blow to
her as she had thought, the remembrance of their brief romance often
brought the tears to her eyes. Yet even as she wiped them away she was
conscious that her sorrows were aroused rather by the tragedy itself
than by her own heart’s desolation. It is true that her emotions had
been deeply stirred by his passion; but gradually the fires, lighted for
so brief a moment, died down, and she was obliged to admit that her
heart was not broken.

But if the romantic effect of the sad affair was proved in these few
days to be less severe than she had at first supposed, there was another
aspect of the matter which had a very profound bearing upon her mental
attitude. The sudden termination of Rupert’s career had set her thinking
about life in a way that she had never thought before. If death were
always so near at hand, if so simple an accident so quickly put out the
little lamp of existence, ought one not to concentrate all the forces of
the human constitution upon the enjoyment of each passing hour?

She stood off from herself as an artist stands back from his picture,
and she saw that she was but a shadow amongst shadows, a speck of vapour
passing across time’s fixed stare, having no substance of which one
could say, “this at least will remain.” Today she was here; tomorrow she
would be dissolved and gone.

To Kate Bindane she confessed all that had occurred on that fatal night.
“I don’t want to be romantic,” she told her. “I don’t want to make more
of the thing than there was really in it. But his death means more to me
than it does to any of you others. I can’t forget the sight of the soles
of his shoes disappearing into that black water. It’s as though I’d seen
Death himself swallow him up. I had always thought of Death as a sort of
unknown country where one goes to; but in this case I saw it come for
him and swallow him. I saw it as an ink-black monster; it snapped him
up, and spit out the limp shell of him, but kept the essence of him in
its stomach. And it’s waiting to snap up you and me. It’s close at hand,
always close at hand....”

She shuddered as she spoke; and her friend, putting her strong arm
around her, found difficulty in soothing her.

“Well, perhaps,” she replied, “it was an act of Providence to save you
from a mistaken marriage.”

“O, but he loved me,” said Muriel, “and I should have come to love him
entirely. He was so sweet, so good-natured.”

“Perhaps there’s something better in store for you, old girl.”

Muriel shook her head. “No,” she answered, “there’s nothing much but
Death for any of us. It all comes to that in the end: it all leads just
to Death.”

“Well, then, let’s eat, drink, and be merry,” said her friend.

“Yes,” Muriel replied, with conviction. “That’s what I’m going to do.
Omar Khayyam was right: I’ve been reading him again.”

“He was a wise old bird,” Kate Bindane commented. “Wasn’t he the fellow
who said something about a bottle of claret and a hunk of
bread-and-butter in the desert? I’ve always thought it a fine conception
of bliss.”

Muriel clasped her hands together, and looked up with youthful fervour.
“Yes,” she replied, “and he said ‘Ah, make the most of what we yet may
spend, Before we too into the dust descend,’ and ‘Ah, fill the cup:—what
boots it to repeat how time is slipping underneath our feet.’”

“Yes,” said Kate, “I always remember that line by thinking of boots and
slippers and feet.”

Muriel was speaking with too much earnestness to give heed to her
friend’s lack of poetic reverence. “Life’s so short,” she went on, “that
I’m going to make the most of it. I’m going to have my fling, Kate. I’m
going to be merry.”

“Right-o!” said Kate. “I’m with you, old bean.”



CHAPTER XI—THE OASIS IN THE DESERT


Upon a day towards the end of November, Daniel Lane was seated upon the
clean sand of the outer courtyard of the little mosque which stood at
the southern end of the Oasis of El Hamrân. It was the hour of noon, and
the shadow cast by the small, squat minaret behind him extended no
further than his white canvas shoes, as he leaned his back against the
unbaked bricks, and stared before him across the glaring enclosure to
the palm-groves outside the open gateway.

In spite of the heat of the sun, the blue shadow in which he rested
still afforded a pleasant coolness; and clad in a somewhat frayed tennis
shirt, open at the neck, and a pair of well-worn grey flannel trousers,
held up by a stout leather belt, his figure gave the appearance of such
comfort and ease that his lazy reluctance to rise and go home to his
midday meal was understandable.

Five Bedouin Arabs who had been laughing and talking with him, were now
standing a few yards distant at the whitewashed door of the mosque, and
were engaged in removing their red shoes before entering the sacred
building; while, at the same time, they were conversing together in
undertones, as though discussing some matter of importance.

Daniel sprawled to his feet, and, pulling his hat over his eyes, walked
towards the whitewashed gateway which gleamed with dazzling brilliance
against the deep blue of the sky and the green of the palms; but as he
moved away his Bedouin friends hastened to him across the hot sand, and
one of the number, the white-bearded Sheikh Ali, the headman of the
Oasis, laid a hand upon his arm.

“My friend,” he faltered, speaking in the liquid-sounding Arabic of the
western desert, “there is something I would say to you.” He seemed to
hesitate.

“He is wise who listens to the wise,” Daniel replied, taking hold of the
Sheikh’s hand, in the native manner of friends.

The old man smiled. “The Prophet has written: ‘Seek wisdom even if it
were only to be found in China’,” he said.

Daniel looked into the kindly and, indeed, saintly face with perplexity.
He was wondering what was to come; and, raising his arms, he clasped his
two hands at the back of his neck, an attitude he was wont to assume
when he was puzzled.

The four others, who had been hovering shyly at a little distance, came
forward; and the Sheikh, as though emboldened by their support, bared
his heart without much further preamble. He pointed out, as Daniel well
knew, that there was a feud of many years standing in the Oasis, between
the family of the speaker and that of a former Sheikh who had been
dispossessed of his office. The quarrel had become almost traditional;
and though, up till now, no very serious incident had occurred, there
was a growing danger that a brawl might take place in which somebody
might be shot, and that thus the feud might become an endless vendetta
with its reciprocal crimes of violence.

Stripped of its pious and flowery decorations, the proposition put
forward by the Sheikh was of the simplest character. He proposed that
the Englishman should act as judge and mediator between the two
families, and should hold a court at which the whole trouble should be
ventilated; and so insistent was he that Daniel was obliged to
acquiesce.

“Praise be to God!” exclaimed the old man, when at length he had
received the definite answer he desired; and with many pious
ejaculations of gratitude he and his friends turned to enter the mosque,
while Daniel passed out through the gateway into the rustling palm-grove
beyond.

His way led him for four or five hundred yards through the shade of the
thickly growing trees—a dusty shade, pierced by innumerable little
shafts of sunlight; but presently he came out once more under the
dazzling sky, and, bearing off to the left, mounted a rugged path which
ascended the sloping side of a sandy hill, till, reaching the summit, it
passed over level ground towards his house which stood upon a spur of
rock overlooking the Oasis.

Two years ago, when he had come to reside at El Hamrân to make, for the
Institute which had commissioned him, a study of the manners and customs
of the Bedouin, he had here found the abandoned ruins of an ancient
Coptic monastery, dating from the days when Christianity was still the
religion of the Egyptians; and he had established himself in their
shelter, and later had rebuilt some of the rooms, so that now his place
of abode had come to be a much-loved desert home, where month after
month was passed in quiet study, and the days slipped by in placid
contentment.

From the windows of his rooms he could look down over the whole extent
of the dreamy little Oasis, with its sun-baked palm-groves, some three
miles in length and half a mile in breadth, its houses and tents, its
dozen wells, its few acres of tilled ground, and its miniature mosque.
All these lay in a kind of basin, surrounded by the cliffs and low hills
of the vast desert; and from his vantage-point he could look over the
swaying green sea of the massed palm-tops to the barren plateau around
about, and on a clear day he could just discern, far away to the east,
the first of the ranges of the hills which rose between his isolated
home and the far-off valley of the Nile.

At the ruined gateway of his dwelling he was met by his three yellow
dogs who had been with him since they were puppies, and were fairly
well-mannered considering their low pariah breed; and while he was
playing with them, his servant, Hussein, came out to tell him that his
luncheon was served. Therewith he crossed the courtyard of the old
monastery, with its shattered row of cells to right and left, and its
still lofty walls of unbaked bricks, and entered the large refectory
which he had caused to be roofed over with palm-beams and dried
cornstalks spread in a loose thatch, and which now served as a kind of
entrance hall to his apartments. Upon its plastered walls some of the
ancient frescoes were still visible; and here and there a Coptic
inscription in dim red paint recorded the names of pious sentiments of
long forgotten monks; while over the ruined doorway there was an
indistinct figure of St. Michael, the patron saint of the place, whose
pale eyes and smudged lips seemed to look down on him with faded and
vacant mirth.

A rebuilt doorway in the right-hand wall led into his whitewashed living
room, at the northeast end of which two large casements framed the
splendid view over the Oasis and the desert.

In a corner of the room, on a small table, a simple but not uninviting
meal was spread upon a spotless tablecloth. Fresh poultry and eggs were
always plentiful in the Oasis; and on the store-room shelves there was a
large and varied supply of preserved foods, and even delicacies, which
had been brought over some months ago in a train of camels from Cairo.

Daniel sat down to his meal with good appetite; and as he munched his
food in silence his gaze travelled round the airy room and brought back
to his heart a glow of pleasant contentment. After all, what could the
outside world give him in exchange for the peace and comfort of his
desert home? Here he had the intellectual companionship of his books and
his work, the simple friendship of courteous, good-hearted men, who had
come to regard him as a kind of teacher, and the devotion of three
well-meaning, if somewhat degenerate, yellow dogs. Here the brilliant
sun, and the splendid north wind, which blew continuously from the
distant Mediterranean across the great intervening spaces of clean
desert, brought vigour and health to his body and a kind of laughing
enthusiasm to his brain. Here he could amuse himself by long rambling
walks in the freedom of the empty desert, or, with his gun, could make
exciting expeditions in search of gazelle. Here, on the flat roof at the
top of one of the ancient towers of the monastery, he slept each night
under the blazing stars, lying in his comfortable camp-bed, breathing
the purest air in all the world, and gazing up into the vault of the
heavens, till the calm sleep of a child descended upon him. And here
from golden sunrise to golden sunset the days slipped by, each brought
to perfection by that greatest of all human blessings, an untroubled
mind.

He rose from the table, and, lighting his pipe, sank luxuriously into a
deck-chair, a book of the poems of Hafiz in his hand, a cup of Turkish
coffee by his side, his feet resting crossed upon a wooden stool, and
the cry of the hawks and the drone of the bees making music in his ears.

The barking of the dogs outside, followed by a knock at the door,
aroused him; and his servant entered the room. “Sir,” he said, “a
soldier of the Frontier Patrol has ridden in from El Homra, bringing a
letter for your Excellency.”

Daniel threw down his book, and, making a broad gesture with his hands,
looked up at the smiling Hussein with a frowning pretence of anger.

“Curses upon his father!” he thundered. “Will his confounded masters
never leave me in peace? Bring him in to me.”

A few moments later a smart, khaki-clad negro was shown into the room,
who saluted in military fashion, and produced a sealed envelope from the
breast pocket of his tunic.

Daniel saw at a glance that the letter was from Lord Blair, as he had
expected. He opened it with misgiving, and read it through without any
apparent change of expression, though it was noticeable that the pipe in
his mouth was allowed to go out. Then he slowly folded the sheets, and,
thrusting them into his pocket, rose from his chair.

“I cannot give you my answer until tomorrow morning,” he said to the
messenger. “Go now and look after your camel, while Hussein prepares
food for you; and in the morning you may carry back my reply.”

As soon as he was alone once more, he pulled the letter from his pocket,
and spreading it out upon the window-sill, stood bending over it, with
wrinkled brows and brooding eyes, his elbows resting upon the sill and
his head in his hands.

    MY DEAR DANIEL,

    You will be surprised to hear from me again so soon, and you
    will, I dare say, think me something of a nuisance. I am sorry
    to say that a sad calamity has befallen us. Poor young Rupert
    Helsingham was accidentally drowned in the Nile not many days
    after you returned to the desert; and we have all been very much
    cut up, especially my daughter, Muriel, in whose presence the
    tragedy occurred. You will recollect that Helsingham held the
    position here of Oriental Secretary; and it now falls to me to
    fill the vacancy. I have therefore decided greatly to extend the
    functions of the post and to offer it to you; and I shall esteem
    myself fortunate if you decide to accept it. As I am very
    anxious to increase by every means the respect in which the
    holder of the position should be held by the native population,
    I would propose to recommend you to His Majesty’s Government for
    early elevation to Knighthood, an honour which your scholarly
    attainments and your services to the Residency fully deserve. I
    trust, my dear Daniel, that you will give me the reply that I
    desire; and I am sure you will know what a personal pleasure it
    will be both to me and to my daughter to have you at the
    Residency.

    Yours very sincerely,

    BLAIR.

After reading through the letter two or three times, he stood for some
minutes staring before him with unseeing eyes. His first impulse had
been to reject the invitation on the instant, for he detested
officialdom and all its ways; and the thought of connecting himself with
the social life of the Residency was horrifying. But now, against his
inclinations, he obliged himself to consider the proposition with an
open mind.

To some extent it might be said that his work in the Oasis was finished:
his notebooks contained an enormous mass of information. Yet he was loth
to consider that his task was accomplished. El Hamrân and its
inhabitants, and especially the saintly and benevolent Sheikh Ali, had
become very dear to him; and the detachment from the world made an
appeal to his nature which was very strong. His occasional journeys to
Cairo were always disturbing to the peace of his mind; and how then
could he expect to be happy in close daily contact with all that
produced unrest?

There was this girl Muriel Blair, who, against his reason, had made some
sort of impression upon him which was hard to eradicate. He had tried
his best, even to the point of rudeness, to ignore her; and yet he had
found himself interested in her welfare, and, on his return journey to
the Oasis, he had given more thought to her than he supposed she
deserved. And now he had to confess that Lord Blair’s reference to her
in his letter had aroused the response it was intended to arouse.

During the whole afternoon he turned the matter over in his mind, and at
sunset he went out for a rambling walk into the desert behind his house;
nor did he return until his mind was made up.

As he entered his gateway in the gathering darkness, he was met by the
Sheikh, who had come to discuss further the subject which he had opened
that morning.

Daniel led him into his lamp-lit sitting-room, and bade him be seated;
but when the old man began to discuss the merits of his case and those
of his enemy, his host held up his hand.

“I would first ask your advice upon my own affairs,” he said. “My heart
is sad tonight, my father.”

“Let me share your sorrow,” the Sheikh replied, with simple sincerity.

“My father,” said Daniel, “you have told me that long years ago you
resided for some years in Cairo and other great cities.”

The Sheikh nodded his head. “It is so,” he replied.

“Were you happy there?”

“My son, I was young.”

“I mean,” said Daniel, “do you believe that happiness is to be found in
cities?”

The old man raised his hand and moved it from side to side. “No,” he
answered, “not happiness—only pleasure. Why do you ask?”

“Because I received a letter today....”

“I saw the messenger,” said the Sheikh.

“I have been offered a position of some importance in Cairo. My friends
want me to leave El Hamrân, and to live in Egypt.”

Sheikh Ali uttered an exclamation of distress. “What is your reply?” he
asked.

“Advise me, my father,” Daniel answered.

The Sheikh leant forward and silently examined his red leather shoes.
For some moments no word was spoken. At length he looked up, and his
hand stroked his white beard. “What use is it for me to advise you?” he
said. “Your decision is already made. You will leave us; but it is not
the glory of office which attracts you, nor yet the call of your duty
which bids you depart.”

“What then is it?” Daniel asked.

“My friend,” he answered, after a pause, “no son of Adam, having
strength and vitality such as yours, and enjoying the springtime of
life, can remain a _dervish_, an ascetic. It is true that you care
little for the world, that you do not desire fine clothes, nor wealth,
nor possessions. Yet you are man, and man looks for his mate. You go to
choose for yourself a wife.”

Daniel smiled. “You are mistaken,” he answered. “I shall not marry for
some years to come.”

The Sheikh shook his head. “No man knows the secrets of his own heart,”
he replied, “yet his friend may read them like a book written in a fair
hand. I say again, you go to choose for yourself a wife.”

The ready denial was checked upon Daniel’s lips. For a moment he paused,
and it seemed to him that a sidelight had been flashed upon the workings
of his brain: then he dismissed the thought as being something very
nearly fantastic.

“No,” he said, “I am going because I believe it to be my duty. My
country needs me.”

The Sheikh made a gesture which seemed to indicate the uselessness of
argument. “It is not good for a man to live alone,” he answered, with a
sigh. “Some day, perhaps, you will return to us, bringing with you your
wife.”

Daniel smiled again, but there was sadness in his face. “El Hamrân is my
wife,” he said. “When I go, my heart will remain here.”

“When will your Excellency leave?” the Sheikh asked, becoming suddenly a
man of action.

“In a few days” the other answered; “as soon as this matter of feud is
set to rights.” And therewith he turned the conversation into that
channel.

In the night as he lay upon his bed upon the tower-top, gazing up into
the immensity of the heavens, he repeated to himself, almost with
derision, the words of the Sheikh: “You go to choose for yourself a
wife.” It was absurd, and yet somehow the thought made a way for itself
amongst the crowded places of his mind. To choose for himself a wife...!

“Good Lord!” he muttered; “what a horrible idea!”



CHAPTER XII—THE HELPMATE


Daniel was drying himself after his bath early next morning when Hussein
came to tell him that the soldier of the Frontier Patrol craved
permission to ask whether the reply was ready, as he was anxious to
start back as early as possible, so as not to delay the messenger who
wished to leave for Cairo at noon.

He therefore fastened a towel around his waist, and, striding into the
adjoining room, scribbled his answer on a half-sheet of paper.

“Excuse scrawl,” he wrote, “but am having my bath, and the messenger,
whom I’ve kept all night, can’t wait any longer. All right, I’ll turn up
within a week or so and take on the job you so flatteringly offer. No
knighthood, please. D. L.”

He thrust the sheet into an envelope, and with a broad smile addressed
it: “The Rt. Hon. The Earl Blair of Hartlestone, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., etc.;
His Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner and Minister Plenipotentiary.”
He felt that, since he was now to be a respectable member of society, he
ought to accustom himself at once to the world’s accepted ways, even
though they seemed to him to belong to the realm of comic opera.
High-sounding titles always made him laugh. He could not explain it: it
was just a clear sense of actuality, a looking at things as they are and
not as ceremony presents them.

Now that his mind was made up, and Lord Blair’s invitation accepted, he
felt no longer troubled; and, his reply having been dispatched, he set
about packing his belongings and rounding off his affairs with the
greatest equanimity.

To his great regret, however, he failed to bring the matter of the feud
to a successful conclusion. The chief members of the family opposed to
Sheikh Ali would not be reconciled; and all that Daniel’s eloquence and
persuasion could accomplish was an agreement to maintain the _status
quo_ during the Sheikh’s lifetime. But as the old man was already
bending under the weight of years, and as his hopes were concentrated
upon the succession of his son, Ibrahîm, this compromise was not very
satisfactory.

Daniel’s departure was the cause of much regret in the Oasis, for he had
come to be regarded by the inhabitants as a loyal and helpful friend,
one who was full of wisdom and benevolence, and who could doctor both
their souls and their bodies. But in the case of Sheikh Ali the parting
was the occasion of deep sorrow; and the old man endeavoured on these
last days to pour into his ears all the good advice he could command.

“This is my parting gift,” said Daniel to him, when at length the hour
of setting out had arrived. “I give you my promise that when you go to
rest with your fathers, I will support with all my might the candidature
of your son, Ibrahîm, for the office of Sheikh.”

The old man spread his arms wide. “God be praised!” he cried. “Now _am_
I at peace, my dear.”

A crowd of natives followed his caravan for some distance, the men
firing their guns in the air and shouting words of encouragement and
blessing to him; and when at last the desert hills had swallowed him, he
felt that he had set behind him a phase of his life the happiness of
which he could never hope to enjoy again.

The journey was accomplished at a moderate speed, and on the fifth
morning, soon after sunrise, they sighted the Pyramids in the distance
ahead of them, backed by the green belt of the Nile valley. The early
sun now struck full in their eyes; and Daniel, turning down the brim of
his hat, did not often look far in advance of his camel’s nose until he
was within some two miles of the Pyramids.

As he jogged along at the head of his caravan, his three yellow dogs
trotting after him, his thoughts began to be coloured by a gentle
excitement; and, for the first time, the future seemed to him to hold a
variety of interesting possibilities.

After all, he said to himself, a man should rise above his surroundings;
and indeed his philosophy would be proved a mere pretence if his
happiness were dependent upon circumstances. Why should he dread the
restlessness of Cairene life? If there were to be unease it would arise
from within, not from without; and the citadel of his soul, of his
individuality, would hardly be a fortress worth holding if the clamour
of the world outside should be able to arouse an answering and
traitorous disturbance within. Even in Cairo he would remain master of
himself: one can be free anywhere.

“One can be free anywhere” ... Why, those were the words used by Muriel
Blair when he had first met her; and he had laughed at them. Well,
certainly she had not appeared to be very free as she sat there in the
moonlight, with the diamonds sparkling around her throat. She did not
know what freedom was: she was a product of the social conventions. He
wondered whether she had taken his advice and had endeavoured to break
loose from them.

He was aroused from his reverie by the sound of horses’ hoofs, and,
looking up, he saw a man and two women approaching him at a fast trot.
Behind them were the Pyramids, and in the far distance the minarets and
domes of the great city rose into the splendour of the sunlight from
above the opalescent mist of the morning, backed by the shadows of the
eastern hills. The air now in the first days of December was cool and
sharp; and there was a sparkle in the sunshine which only this time of
day enjoys.

The picture was exquisite, and for a moment his eyes rested upon it
entranced. Then he turned his attention to the three figures coming
towards him, and, with sudden excitement, he recognized the foremost of
the three as Lady Muriel.

She reined in her horse and waved her hand. “I guessed it was you,” she
cried.

Without waiting for his camel to kneel, Daniel slid from the high saddle
and dropped to the ground.

“Why, what are you doing out here at this time of day?” he asked her,
as, leading his camel behind him, he hastened to her side and grasped
her hand. “I’m mighty glad to see you.”

She turned to her companions, Mr. and Mrs. Benifett Bindane, and
introduced them to Daniel. She had been spending the night at Mena House
Hotel, she explained, where the Bindanes were staying, and the fresh
morning air having aroused her before sunrise, she had had an early
breakfast and had come out for a canter over the desert.

“I spotted you a long way off,” she said. “I knew you by your hat, if it
is a hat.” Somehow she did not feel so shy of him as at their meeting at
the Residency.

“I guess I’m going to shock you all in Cairo with that hat,” he laughed.
“It’s an old friend, and old friends are best.”

“Am I an old friend?” she asked.

“Pretty old,” he answered. “I’ve known you for four years, you must
remember.”

She told him that her father was not expecting his arrival for some
days, and that she feared no room had yet been prepared for him.

“But I’m not going to stay in the house,” he answered quickly. “You
didn’t think I’d come and live in the town, did you?”

Muriel felt somewhat relieved. Even if the feelings of ease in his
society which at the moment she was experiencing were to last, she had
no particular wish to have him always about the house, nor present at
every meal.

“Well, where are you going to live?” she asked.

He glanced around him. They were standing upon a level area of hard
sand, in the shadow of a spur of rock which formed the head of a low
ridge. The broken surface of the desert was spread out to their gaze to
north, east and west; but the rocks shut off the view towards the south.
The caravan had strayed considerably from the beaten track; and the sand
hereabouts was smooth and unmarked, except by their own footprints and
by those of the desert larks which were now singing high overhead.

“Where am I going to live?” he repeated, suddenly coming to a decision,
in his impulsive way. “Why right here where we stand. It shall be my
home: just where I shook hands with you.”

Muriel glanced at him, wondering whether his words contained any deep
significance; but, by his smiling face, she judged that they did not.

He looked about him with interest. “It couldn’t be bettered,” he
exclaimed. “It’s a good mile-and-a-half back from the Pyramids, and well
out of the way of people. I’ll ride in to Mena House on my camel every
morning, and take the tram into Cairo from there.”

Mr. Bindane stared at him open-mouthed.

“Rather far away, isn’t it?” he commented. “A bit lonely at nights.”

Daniel laughed. “I suppose there’s something wrong with me,” he
answered. “I’m always happiest alone.”

Kate Bindane picked up her reins. “I think that’s the bird, Benifett, my
love,” she remarked, “in fact the screeching peacock.”

Her husband looked blankly at her.

“‘The bird’,” Kate explained; “a theatrical term indicating peremptory
dismissal.”

By this time the train of camels was within fifty yards of them; and
Daniel called out to his men to halt. His servant Hussein came forward,
and took charge of his camel.

“I’ll pitch my camp at once,” he said to Muriel. “Then I can go and
announce myself to your father this afternoon.”

Acting on an impulse, a desire to establish friendly relations at the
outset, Muriel dismounted from her horse. “Do let me stay and help you,”
she suggested.

“Sure,” said Daniel. He called to one of his men to hold her horse.

Muriel turned and explained the situation to her friend Kate.

“The man’s practically going to live with us,” she whispered: “I’d
better make friends.”

“Oh, rot!” said Kate. “He’s a picturesque lunatic, and you’re a bit mad
yourself, and it’s a lovely day, and you’ve got nothing to do, and you
know you look a dream in that riding kit.” She turned to her husband.
“Come along, Benifett; her ladyship’s going to spend the day with the
gent from the Wild West.”

Muriel laughed. “I’ll ride back to the hotel soon,” she said.

“No hurry, old sport,” replied Kate; and, after a few polite remarks to
Daniel, she and her pliant husband trotted away.

Muriel at once began to survey the surroundings. She clambered up the
sand drift to the top of the spur of rock, and there, in the fresh
morning breeze, she stood with her hand shading her eyes, gazing over
the undulating spaces of the desert. She felt like a child beginning a
holiday at the seaside and investigating the possibilities of the sands.

The brisk morning air, the brilliant sunshine, the blue sky in which a
few little puffs of white cloud were floating, the golden desert with
its patches of strongly contrasted shadow, the distant green of the Nile
valley, the far-away minarets of the city, the singing of the larks, the
excited barkings of the three dogs, and the shouts of the camel-men:
these sights and sounds seemed to be full of vivid life.

The shadow of her recent sorrow was quite removed from her mind; and
though her furious attempts at gaiety of late had been sadly
unsuccessful, this morning she felt that the world still contained
wonderful possibilities of adventure, and it must be admitted that her
fidelity to the memory of Rupert Helsingham was already indeterminate.

She turned and watched Daniel as he helped in the work of unloading the
camels. He had taken off his coat, and his shirt sleeves were rolled
back from his mighty arms. He was wearing a shabby old pair of riding
breeches and gaiters; and the butt of his heavy revolver protruded from
his hip pocket. His wide-brimmed hat was pulled over his bronzed face,
and his pipe was in his mouth. He appeared to be lifting enormous loads
with incredible ease; and just now he had set all his Bedouin laughing
by walking off unceremoniously with a huge bundle of tenting, in the
ropes of which one of the natives had become entangled, thereby dragging
the astonished man across the sand as a puppy might be dragged at the
end of a string.

Presently he came towards her, beckoning to her; and she slid down the
sandy slope to meet him.

“Look here,” he said, “this’ll be a long job. I wish you’d let me send
your horse away: I’ll be wanting the man who’s holding him soon.”

Muriel felt abashed, and something of her old hostility returned to her.

“I’d better go,” she said. “I’m in your way.”

“No,” he answered quickly “I don’t want you to go. I like you to be
here—very much indeed.”

His obvious sincerity appeased her. He fetched a notebook and pencil
from the pocket of his coat, and handed them to her.

“I’ll send your horse back to the hotel,” he said. “Please write a note
to your friends.”

“What d’you want me to say?” she asked, taking the writing materials
from him, her eyes curiously wide open, and having in them that
characteristic expression of assumed and mischievous innocence.

“Say this,” he replied, and, with mock obedience, she wrote at his
dictation: “Mr. Lane insists on my working. Please ’phone to my father
that he has arrived, and that I will bring him to the Residency for tea.
I’ll look in at the hotel in the early afternoon.”

“Anything else?” she asked with a laugh. “Won’t you send a few
directions to my maid to pack my things, and order a car to take us into
Cairo?”

“Yes,” he replied, without a smile. “You’d better add that.”

As she was writing he turned to the man who was holding her horse, and
gave him his instructions; then, having handed him the note, he sent him
galloping off.

“Now what?” asked Muriel. Unaccountably, her heart was beating fast.

“Now take your coat off, and come and help,” he said.

For a moment she hesitated, and a sensation very much like fear took
hold of her; but, recollecting that he was nothing more than her
father’s new diplomatic Secretary, she gave herself up to the enticement
of the free and sparkling desert.

“Come on then,” she answered; “let’s get at it.” And pulling off her
long white linen coat, she tossed it aside, with her gloves and crop,
and rolled up the sleeves of her silk shirt.

Daniel looked gravely at her as she stood before him in her well-cut
white breeches and brown top-boots; and for the first time Muriel could
see admiration in his eyes. She was feeling reckless, and her boyish
costume did not disconcert her: she was quite aware that her figure had
nothing of that ungainliness about the hips and knees which so often
makes the hunting-field a place of mirth.

He wisely offered no comment upon her appearance, much as he liked the
graceful freedom and vigour which it suggested; and together they
hastened over to the camels, Muriel pretending, as they went, to spit on
her hands.

For a couple of hours they worked with the Bedouin: erecting the tents
at the foot of the spur of rock; laying down the grass mats over the
level floors of sand; unpacking the kitchen utensils, the enamel jugs
and basins, the plates and dishes; setting up the camp bed and
collapsible tables and chairs; arranging the books in the portable
bookcase; and folding up the towels and blankets in the useful
camel-boxes, or lockers, of which there was a good supply.

Muriel threw herself into the work with energy; and indeed she thought
it one of the best games she had ever played. She hastened to and fro,
laden with pots and pans; she crawled about on her hands and knees,
banging away at doubtful pegs, or scooping up the sand around the
skirting of the tents; she sorted out and arranged the tins and bottles
of food and drink; and she helped to heap up stones and sand to make a
sort of kennel for the dogs.

Her labours gave her little time for conversation, and indeed a great
part of Daniel’s remarks had the nature of somewhat peremptory orders
and instructions. When she dropped a glass bottle of jam, and smashed
it, he scolded her not altogether in jest; and she was quite relieved to
find that he did not make her lick it up, but, on the contrary, took
care that she did not cut her fingers. And when she tripped over one of
the tent-ropes and fell flat on her face he actually tempered his
reproofs with kindly enquiries after her general health, and dusted her
down with the greatest care. Every now and then, however, they had short
opportunities of exchanging their news; and she then gave him a few of
the less compromising details of the recent tragedy, at which he showed
genuine and undisguised distress. But she had no inclination to cast a
shadow on the morning’s strenuous enjoyment; and she did not linger on
that sad subject.

“This is just like a game of Indians or something,” she said, as she sat
herself upon a packing case to rest.

“Yes,” he answered, looking down at her with amusement. “That’s the
funny thing: life is generally lived on such rigid lines that when one
comes down to actuality it seems like pretence.”

He opened a tin of biscuits and a bottle of aerated water, and fetched a
couple of tin mugs from the kitchen-tent; and, thus refreshed, they
continued their work until midday.

By this time the camp was spick and span; and the three tents which
served as dining-room, bedroom, and study, looked alluringly
comfortable. They were decorated inside in the usual Arab manner, with
bold designs and inscriptions cut out in bright coloured cotton-cloth
stitched to the canvas; and the camp-chairs of green sail-cloth, the
grass matting, and the plain wooden lockers, gave an appearance of clean
and cool comfort which rejoiced Daniel’s heart. The kitchen, and the
smaller tent which was to shelter his servant at night, both stood
somewhat apart, tucked away behind a projecting arm of the rock.

“What are you going to do with your camels and men?” Muriel asked, as
she stood in the sunlight, regarding her handiwork with satisfaction.

“One of the camels belongs to me,” he replied, “and its duties will be
to take me to and from Mena House every day, and to fetch water from the
well. My servant Hussein is going to remain with me; and his brother—the
lean fellow with the squint—will look after the camel. All the rest of
the bunch will be off back to the desert tomorrow morning, the lucky
devils.”

Muriel looked at him questioningly. “Why ‘lucky’?” she asked. “Are you
sick of your fellow countrymen already?”

He corrected himself quickly. “No,” he said; “I spoke without thought.
As a matter of fact, I’m mighty glad to be here, thanks to you.”

“O, have I made any difference?” she queried, with an air of innocence.

He put his hands into his pockets, and, sucking at his pipe, regarded
her thoughtfully. “Yes,” he said at length, “I think you’ve made all the
difference.” And then, as though afraid that his words might be thought
to bear a romantic interpretation, he added: “You’ve made the place look
fine.”

Hussein now served an excellent little luncheon consisting of particular
delicacies from the store-cupboard, washed down with refreshing
lime-juice and soda; and Muriel did full justice to the meal. When she
had devoured everything within sight, like a hungry schoolgirl, she
yawned loudly; and Daniel, without further question, arranged some
blankets on the floor at the side of the tent, and covered them with the
sheepskin from his saddle.

She stared at him anxiously. “What’s that for?” she asked.

“For you to sleep on,” he said. “I’m going out to see about the men, and
you’d better take the opportunity for a siesta. You look half asleep
already.”

“I think I’d better not,” she replied. “We ought to be going soon.”

“Do what I tell you,” he commanded, pointing to the sheepskin; and,
being indeed sleepy, she obeyed without further argument.

“Comfy?” he asked, as she lay down.

“Gorgeous,” she answered drowsily, and shut her eyes. When she opened
them again a few moments later he had already left the tent; and, with a
sigh of supreme happiness, she settled herself down to her repose.

Half an hour later Daniel looked into the tent and found her fast
asleep. She was lying upon her back with her legs crossed, and one arm
behind her head; and frankly he admitted to himself that she made a most
delightful picture.

He went away again, and busied himself for half an hour in changing his
clothes and having something of a wash. He routed out quite a
respectable suit of grey flannels, and a white stock for his neck; and
thus arrayed, he returned to the sleeper.

She lay now upon her side, her cheek resting on her two hands, her knees
drawn up; and he confessed to himself that she looked adorable. He did
not take his eyes from her for a full minute.

He went out for a walk, and surveyed with satisfaction the position
which he had chosen for his camp; and it was half past three when he
returned once more to Muriel.

This time she was lying on her back, with one knee raised, one arm
across her breast, and the other flung out upon the floor. He sat
himself down in the entrance of the tent, and lit his pipe. He did not
look at her; for suddenly some door in his heart had opened, revealing a
vista of thought which was new to him. The girl upon the sheepskin was
no longer merely a charming picture: she was a woman sleeping in his
tent after her labours in the camp. She was his companion, his mate,
tired out with helping him. She was Eve, and he was Adam: and lo!—the
desert was become the Garden of Paradise.

He got up from his chair with a start, and uttered an exclamation of
dismay. His thoughts were riotous, mutinous, foolish: he had no business
to think of her like that. He knew nothing about her—nothing, except
that she did not belong truly to his system of life. Her little show of
vigorous, outdoor activity was a pretence on her part, a mere
experiment, a new experience filling an idle day. She was not a child of
the open desert: she was a daughter of that busy, dressed up, painted
old harlot, the World. Presently she would go back to her stuffy rooms
and trim gardens, her dinner-parties and balls, her diamonds and frocks
and frills, her conventions and mockeries of life.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


When he turned to her again she had opened her eyes, and was looking at
him in dazed wonderment. She sat up with a start, and the colour flushed
into her face. Then she threw her head back and laughed happily.

“It’s nothing to laugh about,” he said, gloomily. “It’s nearly
tea-time.”

She jumped to her feet, and began arranging her hair, which was falling
down. “Why didn’t you wake me, man?” she asked.

“I was too busy,” he replied.

He spoke roughly, and she thought he was angry with her. “I slept like a
log,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no good being sorry,” he exclaimed. “The mischief’s done.”

“What d’you mean?” she asked, perplexed.

He did not answer. “I’ll go and get the camels,” he said. “Ever ridden a
camel?”

She shook her head.

“Well, that’ll wake you up all right,” he laughed, and therewith left
the tent.

She thought him very ungracious, after all the work she had done for
him. “I suppose he wanted me to clean his boots,” she muttered.



CHAPTER XIII—THE NEW LIFE


Perched on the make-shift saddle of a baggage-camel at an apparently
break-neck height above the ground, Muriel still had the feeling that
she was playing an elaborate game as she jogged along beside Daniel’s
taller and more magnificent beast, with its gaily coloured tassels and
trappings, and its rich white sheepskin upon which its rider was seated.
Behind them rode a black-bearded son of the desert, with a white
_bernous_ over his head, silver-mounted pistols stuck into his sash, and
a rifle slung over his shoulders. Daniel was holding her guiding-rope,
and her two hands were therefore free, as she bounced up and down, to
cling on to the sides of the saddle—a circumstance for which she was
grateful, although it caused her to feel like a captive being led into
slavery.

At the gate of the hotel her companion’s camel knelt at a word from him,
and he dismounted; but in her own case her less accustomed mount was not
so easily induced to go down on its knees, and startled by its antics,
she recklessly slid from the saddle and hung for a moment at its side,
her legs kicking about in the air. A moment later she tumbled into
Daniel’s arms, and presently found herself deposited, like a piece of
baggage, upon the doorstep, in front of Mrs. Bindane, who happened to be
standing in the entrance bullying the hall porter.

“Hullo,” said Kate, casually, “the washing’s come home.”

Muriel felt herself all over carefully, as though to make sure that her
anatomy was still reasonably complete, and then, linking her arm in that
of her friend, described to her the day’s strenuous events; while
Daniel, feeling that his presence was not required during these
confidences, went over to his attendant to give him his instructions.

“My dear,” said Muriel enthusiastically, “we’ve made a lovely camp out
there. It’s like a story out of the _Arabian Nights_.”

Kate Bindane looked at her suspiciously. “Well, you be careful of those
stories,” she said. “They generally need a lot of expurgation before
they’re fit for family reading. Isn’t this the man you told me kept a
harîm in the desert?”

“So they say,” she answered. “Anyway he’s evidently given it up.”

“He’ll soon collect another,” her friend replied. “I expect that’s the
Grand Chief Eunuch he’s talking to now.”

“Did you get my note?” asked Muriel, anxious to change the subject.

“Yes,” she smiled, “and your esteemed orders received the prompt
attention of our Mr. Bindane, who ’phoned your papa, and ordered the
car, and made himself quite useful.”

After the tragic death of Rupert Helsingham, four weeks ago, Kate
Bindane had taken a gloomy aversion to their steamer, and had persuaded
her husband to get rid of it, and to come out to this hotel on the edge
of the desert. Muriel had, on more than one occasion, spent the night
here with them in their comfortable suite of rooms; and now as she said
“good-bye,” she made arrangements for future meetings and visits, while
Daniel, in a spasm of hospitality, suggested that they should make use
of his camp as an occasional halting-place.

“During the day, while I’m at work in Cairo,” he said, “you can make use
of my tents. I’ll tell my servant to look after you.”

Kate Bindane laughed. “O, come now,” she answered, “that’s driving your
birds right over my gun. It makes shooting too easy.”

Daniel was perplexed. “What d’you mean?” he asked, as he seated himself
beside Muriel in the car.

“Well,” said Mrs. Bindane, “you’ve got the reputation of being a bit
short with your fellow men; but to say you’ll be glad to entertain us
provided that you yourself are not there is the limit.”

Muriel turned to Daniel. “She’s only joking,” she assured him; “that’s
her way.”

Kate uttered an exclamation. “Oh, you little swine!” she said to Muriel.
“You’re on _his_ side now!”

“No, I’m not,” Muriel protested, hastily, and the colour came into her
face.

Daniel looked from one to the other. “I don’t know what you’re talking
about,” he said. “I’m all at sea.”

The car moved away, and Muriel sat back in her corner luxuriously. She
was very tired, and her feet ached. She was happy to find that she no
longer felt awkward in this man’s presence, and that her feminine
intuition had not deserted her, for she seemed to have learned the trick
of managing him. It was only necessary to make herself useful to him, to
roll her sleeves up and show a little muscle, and his antagonism
evaporated. He was prehistoric—that was all; and yet she could not
associate the idea of brutality with him. No, she had not quite
classified him; but at any rate she realized that she had probably been
wrong in regarding him as being contemptuous of her sex. He was only
contemptuous of uselessness.

She glanced at him as he sat in silence by her side, and she noticed
that his expression had become grave, and even sad.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You look unhappy.”

He aroused himself, and smiled; but his eyes were troubled.

“Yes, I feel a bit blue,” he said. “I suppose it’s the thought of my new
job.”

“I’m rather surprised,” she commented, “that you have taken it on. Why
did you?”

He shrugged his massive shoulders. “I thought it was my duty,” he said.
“You see I happen to speak Arabic as fluently as I speak English, and
I’ve made a study of the native mind. I understand these fellows and
they understand me; and Egypt just now is craving for understanding.”

“You’ve got a lot to live up to,” she told him. “My father thinks you
are going to be the saving of the country. I’m always hearing your
praises sung.”

He looked gravely at her. “You call to my mind,” he said, “the prayer of
Abu-Bakr, the first Khalif. When he heard that people were praising him,
he used to say something like this: ‘O God, Thou knowest me better than
I know myself, and I know myself better than other people know me. Make
me, I pray Thee, better than they suppose, and forgive me what they know
not.’”

Therewith he relapsed into silence once more; and Muriel, feeling that
there was a sort of momentousness in this hour of his entrance into the
political arena, held her peace. There was in her mind a sense of pride
at the part she was playing in a great event. She felt that she was, as
it were, a sharer in a diplomatic secret; it was almost as though she,
too, were serving a great cause. Suddenly the things which made up her
social life seemed to become insignificant, and her existence took on a
larger aspect.

As they drove up to the door of the Residency, she turned to him as
though he were an old friend. “I’m awfully glad my father is going to
have you with him,” she said. “I feel a sort of personal interest in it
all.”

Daniel’s reply was interrupted by Lord Blair’s appearance on the steps.
He had heard the car drive up to the door, and had hastened out to greet
the newcomer.

“Welcome, my dear Daniel,” he exclaimed, holding out his arms as though
he were going to embrace his friend. “This is splendid, capital!”

The two men shook hands, and as they did so, Lord Blair winced as though
his fingers had been crunched in a man-trap. For some minutes thereafter
he held his right hand loosely in his left, bending the joints carefully
to and fro, under the pretence of fiddling with his rings. Even after
they had entered the drawing-room and Muriel was dispensing the tea, he
was still clenching and unclenching his fist, and bending and
straightening his first finger as though surreptitiously beckoning to
somebody.

Muriel told her father of her morning’s work, and described with
enthusiasm the camp in the desert.

“I’m very sorry,” he answered, turning to Daniel, “very sorry indeed,
that you are not going to live here in the house, but I bow to your
wishes. You must consider yourself entirely free; and indeed I know we
shall lose you if you are not your own master.”

“Oh no,” Daniel replied, “I’m quite prepared to follow a routine. I’ll
work here all the morning, talking to your native callers, and I’ll do
the correspondence at the camp in the evenings.”

“That will be admirable,” said Lord Blair; and presently, when tea was
over, he led Daniel away to his study.

“And now,” he said, when they were seated, “let us discuss the question
of your salary....”

Daniel interrupted him. “Oh, don’t bother about that. I’ll take whatever
the position carries—I don’t suppose it’s much, as it’s a Foreign Office
job. I’ve got a small income of my own, you know; and my tastes are
simple. Get me as much as you reasonably can, of course; but don’t worry
about it.”

Presently Lord Blair spoke of the question of Knighthood, and attempted
to persuade him to reconsider his decision; but Daniel was obdurate, and
very reluctantly his chief abandoned the project.

“Let me follow my own instincts,” said Daniel. “From the native point of
view your adviser on Oriental matters does not need that sort of thing.”

“Don’t you think he does?” asked Lord Blair, rather doubtfully.

“Certainly not. If you’ll let me, I shall turn out all the fine English
office furniture from my official room: the desk, and the red leather
chairs, and the pictures. They’re all right for a governor, but not for
the—what shall I say?—the court philosopher, as I intend to be. I want
plain bare walls, bare floors with just a rug or two, and a few chairs.
No books, or papers, or maps, or calendars, or clocks.”

“As you wish, my dear Daniel: I rely on you,” said Lord Blair.

“You see,” he continued, “what English pro-consuls in the East so often
lack is the go-between, the man who tries to get at the native soul, so
to speak. You, as governor, must represent the might and the justice of
England; but I must be the voice saying ‘Don’t be afraid: we shall not
outrage your religion or your philosophies or your traditions.’ Now I
can’t be that if I’m sitting at an American desk, with an eyeglass in my
eye, and a stenographer tapping away beside me, and a large office clock
ticking on the wall. I should be so unconvincing. Do you see what I
mean?”

“Quite, quite,” Lord Blair answered. “I dare say you are right.”

His face, however, belied anything of conviction that he attempted to
put into the words. He did not want Daniel to orientalize himself to any
marked extent: he wished him to take his place in the English and
Continental society of the Residency. He had great ambitions for him,
and the idea of training him ultimately to occupy his own exalted
position was developing rapidly in his mind. He dreaded anything in the
nature of eccentricity: he had the characteristic British dislike of the
crank. Yet he could not imagine Daniel as ever becoming unbalanced, for
a kind of equilibrium and stability were apparent in all his actions.

On the other hand, the idea of the new Oriental Secretary adopting the
rôle of philosopher appealed to him; he saw the force of it; for his
experiences in the East had made him realize that if a white man is to
gain the confidence of a brown race he must be, in both senses of the
words, capable of a brown study.

When Daniel returned to the drawing-room to say “good-bye” to Muriel and
to thank her, it was already dark outside, and the room was brilliantly
illuminated by a number of somewhat inadequately shaded electric globes.
There were five or six people in the room; and he paused for a moment in
the doorway, wondering whether he would give offence by beating an
immediate retreat. He was paying very careful regard to his behaviour,
however; and when Muriel called out to him, he was obliged to enter.

“I’m going now,” he said to her, approaching the sofa where she was
seated. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’” He looked neither to right
nor left.

Lady Muriel turned to a very smartly dressed woman who was seated beside
her on the sofa, and introduced Daniel. His hands were, at the moment,
clasped behind his back, and he bowed to her with great gravity. She
held out her hand, but, seeing that he had considered the more formal
bow sufficient to the occasion, withdrew it again. He thought that
perhaps he had been stiff, and at once held out his tanned and muscular
paw, but finding that it was too late, thrust it into his coat pocket,
at the moment when, for the second time, she offered her fingers. He
snatched his hand out of his pocket, but simultaneously she withdrew
hers again.

Muriel laughed nervously, but Daniel faced the situation frankly.

“I’m sure I don’t know whether I’m supposed to shake hands or not,” he
said. “What do people do in society?”

“Which ever you like,” the lady murmured, with a titter of laughter.

“That’s no good,” he answered, “unless you do what the other fellow’s
going to do. Anyway,” he added, bending forward and very deliberately
taking hold of her irresolute hand, “how d’you do?”

He glanced about him, and observed that the others were watching him
with mild amusement. Near him was Sir Frank Lestrange, the First
Secretary, whom he had met before—a fair-haired, clean-shaven man of
some forty years of age, whose rigid formality seemed incapable of
disturbance. Daniel shook him warmly by the hand, but for all the
impression he made he might have been greeting a tailor’s dummy.

Near the window he saw Lady Smith-Evered, talking to a pale young
Guardsman, who appeared to be in immediate need of a tonic. He went over
to her, and made his salutations with cordiality, for a year ago he had
made her acquaintance at the Residency, and he had a vague recollection
that she had taken offence at something or other he had said. He held
out his hand, but once more his pocket became its sudden place of refuge
as she bowed with all the stiffness that her undulating figure
permitted, and, with no more than a glance in his direction, turned to
continue her conversation with the Guardsman.

In another part of the room an elderly man with sleek, grey hair was
talking to a heavy matron whose respectable cloth dress looked as though
it had been made for her by a builder of club-room furniture. Daniel
thought he recognized the man, and took a few steps towards him, but,
deciding that he was mistaken, turned on his heel and, narrowly avoiding
a collision with a small table, returned to Muriel.

The curious thing was that though these situations were embarrassing, he
did not appear awkward. Muriel observed this remarkable fact, and
wondered at it. He was certainly out of place in a drawing-room, she
thought, but he was not therefore out of countenance; and his
_sang-froid_ seemed to deserve a more friendly treatment than it was
receiving. She therefore got up as he approached her, and in a very
audible voice asked him if he would let her help him to arrange his
official quarters on the morrow.

He thanked her, and then, lowering his voice, asked her if she could
explain Lady Smith-Evered’s very marked hostility.

“Why, don’t you know?” Muriel whispered. “She told me all about it: she
said you had run down the Army once when you were talking to her last
year.”

“Nonsense,” said Daniel, “I’m sure I never did.”

Muriel nodded. “Yes, you did. She said you spoke of the officers of her
pet regiment as men who looked as though they’d been through the ranks.”

“But I meant that as a compliment,” he answered. “I meant they looked as
though they weren’t afraid of hard work. Had she any other complaints?”

“No, I think that was her only grievance.”

Before she could stop him, he turned and walked straight across the room
to Lady Smith-Evered, and came to a halt immediately in front of her.

“I was just asking Lady Muriel how I had offended you,” he said, with
disconcerting directness; “and she tells me it was because you thought I
had disparaged some of our soldier friends.”

The General’s lady flushed. He saw the red glow creep up from her neck
to her face, under the thick powder, and her eyes gleamed menacingly;
but she only inclined her head.

“I want to apologize,” he went on. “I’m most awfully sorry: my remarks
were stupid, and I think I must have been trying to say something
bright. Will you please forgive me?”

The flush deepened. “I’m glad you apologize,” she said, and she glanced
at the Guardsman beside her, as though to bid him take notice of what
she supposed to be the discomfiture of the offender.

“I’m very glad that you accept my apology,” he said, and with a bow he
left her.

“What on earth did you say?” asked Muriel, when he had returned to her.

“I apologized,” he answered, quietly.

“Ate humble pie?” she queried, with a touch of disdain.

“I had hurt her feelings: I’m always sorry to annoy anybody,” he
replied.

“Well,” she remarked, “I think you’ve rather annoyed _me_ now, by
climbing down like that.” She did not feel that humility suited him, and
she was conscious of a sense of disappointment.

“My good girl,” he whispered, “you’ve got a lot to learn from the
philosophers. You must let me put you through a course of reading.”

Her disappointment flamed into anger at his words, and she responded
coldly to his adieux. When he had left the room she sat down once more
upon the sofa, and in the few moments of silence which followed, she
experienced a variety of sensations. She felt as though he were the
schoolmaster again who had scolded her; she felt abashed and did not
know why; she felt angry with him, and, after their happy hours
together, her displeasure fell like a destructive hand upon the day’s
edifice; she felt that they belonged to different worlds, and that it
was hopeless to attempt to understand him; she felt that she was right
and he was wrong, and yet there was a doubt at the back of her mind as
to whether the opposite might not somehow be the case.



CHAPTER XIV—THE COURT PHILOSOPHER


In the West an interest in Philosophy is considered to be an indication
of eccentricity; and the thought brings before the imagination some
long-haired and ancient professor, detached from the active world,
wandering around a college quadrangle, his hands folded, and his face
upturned to the sky as though averted from the stains of spilt food upon
his breast. In the East, however, the Philosopher is held in high
honour; and his vocation calls to mind a thousand tranquil figures each
of whom has been the power behind an Oriental throne.

Daniel Lane was a philosopher by inclination and by education, and his
great common sense was the definite consequence of careful reasoning.

He believed that Right was an unconquerable force which needed no
display of manners or sounding of trumpets to signal its movement; and
so long as he did not offend against the laws formulated by his
philosophy, he did not look for difficulties or defeat.

Nor was he a man who could be terrorized by any threats; and though Lord
Blair had warned him that assassination was a likely end to a political
career in Cairo, he was not in the slightest degree troubled by the
thought. Very reluctantly he consented to profit by the activities of
the Secret Service; and he determined to dispense with their aid as soon
as he had made himself acquainted with the ramifications of native
intrigue.

He began his work at the Residency, therefore, without trepidation; and
on the first morning of his official employment he inaugurated a
procedure which before nightfall was the talk of many in the native
quarter.

In a secluded corner of the garden, at the end of a short terrace at the
edge of the Nile, there was a luxuriant group of palms, in the shade of
which stood a marble bench of Arabic design, built in a half-circle upon
a base of Damascus tiles. A mass of shrubs and prolific rose bushes shut
it off from the main grounds; while from passing boats it was screened
by a low parapet covered by a wild tangle of flowering creepers. This
sheltered and peaceful alcove was promptly appropriated by Daniel, and
in this setting he made his appearance in the political life of Cairo.

His first visitor was a wealthy, silk-robed land-owner from Upper Egypt,
who desired to lay certain complaints before the British authorities, in
regard to the hostile actions of a native inspector of Irrigation. The
man had been shown into the waiting-room in the Residency, where he had
been filled with anxiety by the ticking of the typewriters in the
adjoining room, the constant ringing of telephone bells, and the hurried
passage to and fro of clerks and liveried servants. He had wondered
whether he knew sufficient English to make himself understood without
the aid of an interpreter, and whether, if the interpreter’s services
were required, he would have to give him very handsome _backshish_ to
render his tongue persuasive.

Therefore, when he was led presently across the lawn to the sunny
terrace beside the Nile, where he came upon a mild and quiet figure who
stood smoking his pipe, and idly tossing pebbles into the placid waters,
and who now greeted him in the benevolent language of the Koran, his
agitation left him upon the moment, and with it went the need of
cunning. He stated his case frankly, as he strolled to and fro with
Daniel in the sunlight, and he blessed God and his Prophet that the
interview which he had dreaded so long in anticipation should prove so
undisturbing in actuality.

Daniel next found himself seated upon the marble bench with a
caravan-master who had failed through the ordinary channels to obtain
redress for the illegal seizure of certain goods at the Tripolitan
frontier; and this personage’s amazement at the Englishman’s knowledge
of the desert routes was profound.

Later, a deputation of sheikhs from Dongola was received in the shade of
the rustling palms: grave, anxious men who had come to speak of the
disaffection of certain neighbouring tribes, and to express their own
loyalty, which was somewhat in doubt.

At the close of the interview, while he was warning them against revolt,
Daniel happened to notice a bundle of stout wooden faggots lying near by
in readiness for use as supports for some young trees which had recently
been planted. He went across to them, and selecting one of them, carried
it back to his seat upon the bench; and presently, turning to the
sheikhs, he asked if any man amongst them could break such a faggot
across his knees.

The youngest member of the deputation, a magnificent specimen of negroid
humanity, took the faggot in his brown hands, and strained his muscles
in the attempt to break it, but without success. His colleagues, older
men, made no trial of their lesser strength, but were satisfied to
declare the task to be impossible.

Daniel rose and took it from them, and a moment later flung it to the
ground in two halves. “That faggot,” he said, quietly resuming his seat,
“may be likened to the land of Dongola, which is to be the strong
support of the fruit-bearing tree of the Sudan. But if it fail in its
useful duty, it may thus be broken asunder by hands more powerful than
yours, and be cast into the flames.”

To the native mind a demonstration of this kind was more potent than any
words, and the deputation of sheikhs left the alcove, carrying with them
a tale which would be told to their children’s children.

As they retreated across the lawn towards the entrance, Daniel suddenly
caught sight of Muriel, whose face peered out from amongst the rose
bushes, as though she were looking to see if he were alone.

“Hullo!” he called out; “what are you doing here?”

“Spying on you,” she answered, coming out into the open, her arms full
of roses which she had been picking.

“That’s very wrong of you,” he said.

“Well, you’ve taken possession of my particular corner,” she laughed,
“and I always get my roses from here.”

“I’m sorry,” he replied as they seated themselves upon the marble bench.
“I though you slacked about upstairs until midday.”

She looked at him squarely. “You’ve got a wrong idea about me
altogether,” she declared. “It’s true I don’t spend my mornings in
smashing up Government property.... By the way, why did you break that
wooden stake across your knee?”

He laughed quietly. “It was a parable: it represented a certain province
of the Soudan, and its possible fate at England’s hands.”

She thought it out. “I wonder what would have happened,” she mused, “if
you’d found that you couldn’t break it. I suppose in that case you would
have said it represented England.”

“No,” he answered, “I should have been in a bad fix, and it would have
served me right for showing off. But I don’t often attempt what I don’t
think I can do. It’s a bad thing to fumble about with anything that’s
beyond one, like a dog with an uncrackable bone.”

“Somebody ought to have invented a proverb,” she said, “like ‘Don’t
worry what you can’t bite.’ But, you know, you’re fumbling about with me
very badly.”

“Would you rather I bit clean through you right away?” he asked.
“Supposing I said I thought I had smashed you open already...?”

“I’d pity your strange delusion,” she answered, and they both laughed,
though Muriel did not feel hilarious.

“Well, supposing I just said I thought I _could_ do so, and was going to
try?”

“I’d reply: ‘Any thing, so long as you don’t worry me.’”

Again they laughed, and this time Muriel did so with more sincerity, for
she felt that she had answered him well.

He took a rose from the bunch in her hands, and smelt it thoughtfully.
“Yes, I’m going to try,” he said at length. “I’m going to understand
you, and then make you understand yourself. I’m going to show you
yourself.”

“You’re a busy man,” she answered, at once estranged; “you’d better not
take on any new job.”

“It’s worth while, I think,” he replied.

There was something in his voice which changed the tone of their
conversation, and arrested the development of her hostile feelings. The
flippancy of their words died away, and a new seriousness, a salient
eventfulness, took its place. Suddenly Muriel was filled with longing to
be understood, to be laid bare mentally both to him and to herself. She
felt solitary and her heart cried out for the enlightenment of
friendship; yet she did not dare to make an intimate of this man, whose
treatment of her sex did not seem to be conspicuously delicate.
Nevertheless the inadequacy, the inutility of her method of life was
very forcibly presented to her, and she seemed to be beating at the bars
of her cage. There was something so flat and unprofitable in all that
she had done, and the desire was urgent in her to realize herself and
expand.

“O, I want to be taught,” she exclaimed, “I want to be taught....” She
checked herself, and was silent.

He looked at her in surprise, for she uttered the words with intensity,
and it was clear that she meant them; but it was not clear that they
were prompted by more than a passing emotion, for presently she began to
talk about the lighter things of her life, and she spoke of the various
events in prospect which would keep her from brooding. The greater part
of each day for the next week or so was already filled; and Muriel spoke
of these coming events as though they were dispensations granted to her
by a benevolent Fortune for her heart’s comfort.

“I’ve come to the conclusion,” she said, “that the only way to be happy
is to be surrounded by amusing people, so that there is no opportunity
for thinking about oneself.”

He shook his head. “No, you’re wrong. Your happiness must come from
within, from the contentment and fullness of your own mind. The Buddha
once said ‘Let us dwell free from yearning, among men who are anxious’;
and there is an anonymous Oriental poem which says something about the
lost paradise being hidden, really, in the human breast. My good girl,”
he exclaimed, warming to his subject, “don’t you realize that what you
can get from this restless world of ‘society’ you live in is only
pleasure, not happiness, and even at that it doesn’t last. You are like
a punctured wheel: so long as people are pumping you up, you seem to be
all right, but when they leave you alone you go flat, because your inner
tube isn’t sound. You ought to be alone in the desert for a bit: it
would do you all the good in the world.”

Muriel looked at him questioningly. “Were you alone in the desert?” she
asked. There had come into her mind a vision of that harîm of which she
had heard tell.

“Well, I wasn’t exactly alone ...,” he replied; for he had many friends
among the natives.

His answer gave fresh colour to her thoughts, and a sense of annoyance
crept over her.

“It seems to me,” she remarked, “that I ought to remind you of the
Biblical saying, ‘Physician, heal thyself.’”

She got up, and, with a little nod to him, strolled back to the
rose-bushes. He watched her as she added fresh blooms to the bunch she
was carrying; and he noticed how the sunlight caught her hair and made
it beautiful. He would have liked to have gone after her and taken her
in his arms.

Presently he returned to the house, and, finding that there were no more
native visitors, went to talk over serious matters of policy with the
regular Secretaries.

He remained to luncheon at the Residency, and at the table Lord Blair
enquired eagerly as to whether he had found his first morning’s work
interesting, and appeared to be relieved to hear that such was the case.

Muriel joined in the conversation. “I was eavesdropping behind the
bushes,” she said, “and I can say with confidence that Mr. Lane enjoyed
it all thoroughly, especially the part where he smashed up the
gardener’s work of weeks.” Therewith she related the incident of the
wooden stake, but in her narrative the faggot became an immense
tree-trunk.

Lord Blair rubbed his hands. “That’s the sort of thing!” he exclaimed.
“Dear me, dear me!—what strength you have, Daniel!”

“Yes,” said Muriel, “his mere presence would make the dullest party
piquant. One has only to recollect that if he were suddenly to get out
of control, every person in the vicinity would run the risk of being
banged into a boneless emulsion....”

She broke off with a laugh, and Daniel smiled affably. Somehow, in spite
of his Herculean proportions, he was not a man one would associate with
violence.

After luncheon, Daniel spent some time in talking to Lord Blair in
regard to native affairs; and it was already half past three when he
left the Great Man’s study, and walked across the hall to the main
entrance. Here he encountered Lady Muriel, who was just going off upon
her visit to the bazaars. She was about to step into a very new and
luxurious automobile, which Mrs. de Courcy Cavilland, wife of the
Colonel of the Dragoons, had recently purchased to the honour of the
regiment and to the dismay of her husband. This lady, a small fluffy
woman, with innocent blue eyes and sharp little teeth, was making
gushing remarks to Muriel as Daniel appeared at the head of the steps;
and three young Dragoon officers were standing behind her, like nice
little dogs awaiting their turn to go through their tricks. Actually
they were excellent fellows, but in the presence of their colonel’s
wife, they bore little resemblance to the fire-eating cavalrymen of
tradition; and Daniel, as he looked down upon them from the top of the
steps, wondered which was the more disastrous influence in a
regiment—that of the colonel’s wife upon the younger officers, or that
of the younger officers upon the colonel’s wife.

He felt a sort of gloomy interest in the group before him; and, as his
presence seemed to be unnoticed, he leaned against the jamb of the door,
hat in hand, watching the scene through a recurrent haze of
tobacco-smoke.

“I suggest,” Mrs. Cavilland was saying to Muriel whose back was turned
to him, “that we drive up the Mousky, and go first to the scent bazaar.
Willie Purdett, here, wants to buy some scent for his mother—Lady Mary,
you know. And then I must go to the brass bazaar: I promised dear Lady
Agatha Lawer I’d get her one of those tea-tray things. She so hates
going to the bazaars herself: she says they’re so smelly. Personally, I
simply love the East....”

Muriel took her seat in the car, and as she did so she caught sight of
Daniel.

“Hullo!” she exclaimed, “I thought you’d gone.”

He took his pipe out of his mouth, and told her he was just going.

Muriel introduced him to Mrs. Cavilland, who stared at him with disdain,
casting a withering glance upon the disreputable hat he was holding in
one hand, and upon the pipe in the other. She then turned away as though
the sight were unbearable.

“Mr. Lane is a cousin of your friend Charles Barthampton,” Muriel told
her; and thereat her manner changed with surprising suddenness, for the
British peerage was as meat and drink to her.

“Why, of course,” she answered, “I can see the likeness now;” and she
glanced with surprise at the mischievous smile—almost a wink—which
Muriel directed at him. “You’re new to Cairo?” she added. ”You must come
and see me: I’m always at home on Tuesdays.“

“Yes,” said Muriel, “that will be very nice for him: he loves
tea-parties, don’t you, Daniel dear?”

Daniel looked at her curiously. His Christian name sounded strange from
her lips, and he wondered why she had used it now for the first time.
Her expression suggested that there was a private joke between them, and
the intimacy pleased him.

“Yes, Muriel dear,” he replied, gravely, and Muriel gasped; “but you
needn’t blurt out my secret.” He turned to Mrs. Cavilland as though to
explain. “I’m rather addicted to tea-drinking and quiet gossip,” he
said.

Mrs. Cavilland thought him somewhat forward, but she excused it in one
who was so well-connected. “We tear each other to pieces on Tuesdays,”
she laughed.

He did not reply. He was still wondering why his name, Daniel, should
have sounded so pleasant to his ears, and why the expression of silent
understanding on Muriel’s face should have stirred him so subtly. It was
as though their friendship had taken a leap forward.

He stepped to the side of the car, and put his hand on Muriel’s arm.
“Don’t get too tired,” he said, “or you won’t enjoy your dance tonight.”

“Are you coming?” Mrs. Cavilland asked him.

“No,” he answered, “I have a previous engagement with a lady in the
desert.”

“Who?” asked Muriel, quickly. She was taken off her guard.

“A very dear friend,” he replied. “Her name is Sleep.”



CHAPTER XV—A BALL AT THE GENERAL’S


Lady Smith-Evered’s dance was a social event of much importance, and
those members of the English community who were not invited had perforce
to regard themselves as outside the ranks of the elect: a fact which led
that night to much moodiness on the part of ambitious young women who
wandered about their creditable little flats and houses, hating their
mediocre husbands. On the other hand, those to whom invitations had come
somewhat unexpectedly, vied with one another in their efforts to
indicate that their presence at the General’s house was to be regarded
as a matter of course; and herein, perhaps, lay the explanation of those
curious demonstrations of nonchalance which were so frequently to be
observed—the careless attitudes, the friendly words to the servants
behind the supper buffet, the assumed knowledge of the plan of the house
and garden, and the casual remarks to host and hostess.

Muriel, of course, was the outstanding figure of the ball: not so much
because of her looks, for there were many well-favoured young women in
the ballroom, nor because of her charming frock, for the beginning of
the winter season in Cairo is notable for a general display of recent
purchases; but rather because she was her father’s daughter, and, as his
heiress, one of the most frequent victims of the familiarities of the
London Press.

She paid little attention, however, to the many pairs of eyes which
scrutinized her; for she had come here to enjoy herself, and her dancing
program was full.

As an opening to the ball, she danced with the General; but her efforts
to avoid having her toes trodden upon caused her to indulge in such
antics that she speedily manœuvred him to a convenient sofa, where he
puffed and blew until the military band had ceased and again renewed its
conscientious din.

There are few noises so dispiriting as a British military band’s
rendering of American ragtime; but, as has already been stated, Muriel
was determined to enjoy herself, and, save for an occasional desire to
sandbag the conductor, she was entirely untroubled by ill-humoured
thoughts as her elegant partners swung her around the room, or led her
out to rest in the illuminated garden, where a hundred gaily coloured
Chinese lanterns dispelled the mystic sorrow of the moonlight.

After some two or three hours of dancing, however, she began to grow
weary; and when something went wrong temporarily with the suspender
which held up one of her stockings, she was glad enough to come to rest
in the supper-room. Here she seated herself next to her hostess, who was
just forming a big party at a little table, and who was jovially
endeavouring to pretend that there was much fun to be derived from
jamming oneself into the smallest possible space and eating with one
hand.

Lady Smith-Evered, having swallowed during the evening quite a lot of
champagne, was in a talkative and even confidential mood. On several
occasions she nudged Muriel, and whispered loudly to her from behind her
fan, calling her attention to the General, who, at a neighbouring table,
was flirting resolutely with Kate Bindane.

“He’s such a Lothario,” she whispered: “I’m quite thankful he’s growing
old; though, mind you, he doesn’t often show signs of age yet.” She
laughed hoarsely, and turned her eyes upwards with a nod to express
admiration for his virility.

Muriel, as she looked at her, conceived a violent horror of old age; and
inwardly she prayed that in her own case she would know when to abandon
the thoughts which only Youth can make beautiful.

“Women used to be mad about him,” Lady Smith-Evered went on presently,
still speaking in husky asides, “but I don’t think he was unfaithful to
me, except, perhaps, when he was in India.” She munched her
lobster-salad in silence for a few moments. “One can’t blame him for
that, poor dear,” she mused at length. “Men will be men—especially in
that climate...!”

Muriel turned away in shame, and at once caught the eye of Lord
Barthampton, who was one of the party. He was staring at her from the
opposite side of the table.

“Lady Muriel,” he said, raising his glass to her, “Your very good
health. Cheerio!”

Muriel thanked him, and busied herself in prodding at the food upon her
plate which was a full arm’s length away from her.

“Do let me feed you,” said the good-looking youth who was sitting beside
her, and who had managed to ram himself closer to the table.

He picked up her plate, and, screwing himself round on his chair,
presented a morsel on the end of the fork to her lips. The intimate
operation delighted him, and as he repeated it, Muriel observed the
excitement in his face. It is a most dangerous thing to feed a woman: it
arouses the dormant instincts of the Pliocene Age.

Lady Smith-Evered patted her hand archly. “You mustn’t let him do that,”
she whispered. “That’s the way doves begin. And look at Charles
Barthampton: he’s madly jealous.”

“Jealous?—Why?” asked Muriel, glancing at Lord Barthampton, who was
scowling at her across the table.

“My dear, haven’t you eyes? Can’t you see that he is making a dead set
at you?”

“Oh, nonsense,” said Muriel, a little crossly. “I’ve only met him once
or twice, and this evening I’ve had half a dance with him.”

Lady Smith-Evered smiled knowingly. “He’s a very eligible young man,”
she purred.

“He drinks,” Muriel remarked, shortly.

“Oh, but he has turned over a new leaf,” her hostess replied. “Didn’t
you notice he drank your health in soda-water just now? He’s a very good
sort. What a difference there is between him and that extraordinary
cousin of his!”

“There is, indeed,” Muriel answered, with feeling.

The youth beside her had abandoned his attempts to feed her, and was
excitedly filling his own mouth with good things, women and food being
associated ideas in his pristine young mind.

“Did you notice how he apologized to me?” Lady Smith-Evered remarked.

“Who?” asked Muriel. Her thoughts were wandering.

“Mr. Lane,” she answered. “It was a great triumph.”

“Who for? You, or Mr. Lane?” Muriel’s heart beat as she asked the
question, for it was meant to be a blow in defence of the man she was
beginning to regard as her good friend.

Lady Smith-Evered was too befogged to divine her meaning. “It was a
triumph for me,” she declared. “People generally find it better to be in
my good books.” She made a menacing gesture to the company at large; and
three or four young officers, not quite catching her words, but judging
by her expression that she was demanding their approbation, nodded their
heads wisely. “But of course he’s not quite right in his head,” she went
on. “He has lived alone in the desert too much. Why, my dear, do you
know what I saw him doing yesterday in the street?”

“What?” asked Muriel, at once alert.

“It was just outside the Residency,” she said. “I was talking to him,
when a donkey, left alone in a native vegetable cart, got its leg over
the shaft and started kicking. Well!... He lifted the creature clean off
the ground, got its leg back between the shafts, and then took hold of
its ear and whispered into it: ‘Oh, you absurd ridiculous ass!’ It
sounded quite uncanny.”

Lord Barthampton got up ponderously from his seat and came round the
table to Muriel. “The music’s started again,” he said. “It’s our dance,
isn’t it? Are you ready?”

Muriel rose, somewhat relieved to take her departure from the
supper-table. As she did so her hostess again nudged her heavily.

“Just look at the General!” she whispered.

Kate Bindane turned round, and, catching Muriel’s eye, burst out
laughing; while the General, finding his wife’s gaze fixed upon him, put
his hand playfully over his face.

“What’s the joke?” Muriel asked.

“Sir Henry is telling risky stories,” replied Kate.

“It’s all right, my dear,” said the General, waving his hand to his
wife. “It’s only the one about the little boy and the Sunday school
teacher.”

Lady Smith-Evered laughed huskily. “I’m glad it’s no worse,” she
declared. “Henry, you must behave yourself.”

“She’s egging me on,” he replied, slapping his thigh.

“Now then, now then!” exclaimed Kate, “none o’ your sauce.”

Muriel put her hand on Lord Barthampton’s arm, and turned away. She was
feeling an indefinable sense of disgust; and she was glad to merge once
more into the revolving mass of dancers, and to allow the brazen music
to beat the thoughts out of her brain. Her partner did not speak. He was
turning over in his mind the possibilities of future happiness, and the
effort absorbed his attention, so that his dancing, never of a high
standard, became atrocious.

The only solution of his perplexing problem was for him to marry a rich
wife: then, if Daniel were to reveal the secret of his birth, he would
not suffer a knock-out blow. He would lose his title and the fortune
which went with it, but he would have refeathered his nest, and all
would be well. And the partner with whom he was now dancing was an
heiress, and a jolly fine girl into the bargain.

He was making praiseworthy efforts to check the downward course of his
career, and ever since his interview with his cousin, he had been on the
water-waggon; but, even though his reform were complete, was Daniel to
be trusted not to dispossess him? He doubted it: the temptation would be
too great. What a dirty trick his father had played him! But he wasn’t
so easily floored: he would obtain another fortune by marriage, and then
he could tell Cousin Daniel to go to hell.

“You’re looking very glum,” said Muriel, as they wandered out,
presently, into the garden.

Lord Barthampton braced himself. “Yes, I _am_ a bit down in the mouth,
little woman,” he murmured. “You know, even we soldier fellows get the
hump sometimes—sort of lonely.”

Muriel glanced at him apprehensively. She saw at once that the moonlight
and the lanterns had had an instant effect upon him, and she presumed
that he would now become sentimental. Self-pity is the token of a fool,
and her feminine intuition told her that, since he was worse than a
fool, he would probably picture himself as a stern, silent Englishman of
heroic mould bravely battling against a deep and poetic loneliness.

She sighed sweetly, for there was always something of the rogue in her.
“Yes, I understand,” she whispered, and she pressed her fingers
sympathetically upon his arm.

His line of attack seemed to be justified, and he developed it with
ardour. “Sometimes a chap comes to the end of his tether,” he went on,
but paused again and squared his shoulders. “However, one’s got to keep
a stiff upper lip, eh? We’re out here, far from home, just to do our
duty, so we mustn’t grouse. We have to keep the old flag flying.”

“The dear old flag,” said Muriel fervently, feeling rather a beast thus
to play up to him, but excusing herself on the grounds of curiosity as
to what he would say next.

“Sometimes it’s hard, though,” he confessed, “and I’m afraid I’ve been
reduced more than once to the whisky bottle and baccarat and bad
company. Ah! I know that sounds weak,” he exclaimed, as she uttered a
little squeak of distress, “but you don’t know the temptations of a
lonely man, with nothing to do, cursed with wealth....”

“O, but I can guess,” she replied, intoning her words as though she were
speaking Shakespearian lines. “Sunday afternoons, leaning over the
parapet, with nothing to do but spit in the river—why shouldn’t you join
in a game of chance, instead of going to church? I can quite understand
it.”

He looked at her in astonishment, wondering if she were pulling his leg;
but in the moonlight he saw only a sympathetic girl, gazing into the
distance with an expression of saintly purity.

“It’s worse than that,” he sighed. “A man has temptations that you
couldn’t understand, little woman. What he wants is the pure friendship
of a girl.”

“An English girl,” she murmured, with fervour.

He bent forward and looked into her eyes. “Lady Muriel,” he said, “will
you be a friend to me? Will you be my little English rose?”

“Lord Barthampton ...” she began, wondering how she could terminate a
jest of which she was already tiring.

He checked her. “Please call me ‘Charles,’” he begged.

The music began again in the ballroom, and Muriel rose with alacrity.
“Come,” she said, dramatically. “Let us go back to the gay and frivolous
world.”

“Right-o!” he exclaimed, brightly, inadvertently changing his tone now
that the desired impression seemed to have been made.

As they entered the house they encountered Lord Blair, who had looked in
at the dance for the purpose of demonstrating the perfect agreement
between the diplomatic and the military services, for it so happened
that his own policy and that of the General disagreed on every occasion
and on every essential point. He was standing in the hall, having just
made a parade of the ballroom with his hostess, and the latter was now
talking to him, calling him “George” for the benefit of the guests who
happened to be within earshot.

As the girl and her partner approached, Lady Smith-Evered whispered that
Lord Barthampton seemed very attracted to Muriel; and she repeated her
assertion that he was a very eligible young man.

At this, however, a frown gathered upon Lord Blair’s forehead, and he
made a deprecating gesture with his thin hand. He had other plans for
his daughter which, if not yet mature, were already in train; and, it
must be confessed, he wished Barthampton an early and comfortable
demise.

Muriel presently wandered off with her chaperone, Lady Smith-Evered; and
Lord Blair thereupon suggested that her late partner should come with
him into the smoking-room for a quiet cigar. The heavy-jowled young man
was inwardly astonished at the mark of consideration, and the thought
entered his slow-working mind that Lady Muriel’s father was taking an
anticipatory interest in him.

The smoking-room not being open to the ordinary guests, the two men
found themselves alone in it; and Lord Blair at once took up his stand,
as was his wont, upon the hearthrug, and made his customary pretence of
warming a certain part of his anatomy before the empty grate. Lord
Barthampton, meanwhile, seated himself upon the arm of a neighbouring
chair, and lit the cigar which had been proffered to him.

“I’m afraid I shall never persuade your cousin Daniel to come to these
sort of functions,” the elder man remarked, after a few casual
references had been made to the evening’s entertainment.

“No, he’s a queer fellow,” the other responded, shortly.

“I have the greatest admiration for him,” Lord Blair declared. “Tell me,
is he not your heir presumptive?” His words indicated only a polite
interest.

“Yes,” said Barthampton, puffing heavily at his cigar, and shifting his
legs. “But, of course, I shall marry soon—when I find the right
girl....”

“Of course, of course,” Lord Blair replied. “Very right, very proper.
But ...” he paused, “there is no hurry, is there?”

“I’d like to have a son and heir,” the other responded. “You see there’s
a good deal of property involved. Luckily, I need not marry for money:
I’ve got plenty.” He was anxious to announce his eligibility.

“Well,” said Lord Blair, speaking out of the blacker depths of his
scheming mind, “take my advice, my dear fellow, and don’t marry yet
awhile. ‘Marry in haste and repent at leisure,’ you know—a very true
adage. You have a long life before you ... plenty of time, plenty, to
make your choice with care.”

“Yes, I’m pretty healthy,” he answered; and Lord Blair looked at him
critically, hoping that he was mistaken.

“Does the climate agree with you out here?” he asked, hopefully.

“Well, I can’t say I exactly enjoyed the summer,” Lord Barthampton
laughed. “A heavy fellow like me feels the heat.”

Lord Blair’s spirits rose. “A little tightness, perhaps, at the back of
the head, eh?” His thoughts were running on the possibilities of
apoplexy.

“No,” he answered, “but I’m always in such a devil of a sweat.”

“Yes, yes, very natural, I’m sure,” Lord Blair murmured. “And a little
short of breath sometimes, I dare say?”

The younger man stared at him warily. He was wondering whether the
questions were those of a prospective father-in-law; and he decided that
it was his policy to show as clean a bill of health as possible.

“Oh, I’m as sound as a bell,” he laughed.

Lord Blair’s face fell. If apoplexy were unlikely to carry him off,
perhaps there was some hope of kidney-trouble: there were ominous
pouches under the young man’s eyes.

“Some people,” he said, “find that they suffer out here from pains in
the small of the back—stabbing pains, you know, with a sensation of
burning....”

“Do they, now?” the other replied, quite interested. “No, I can’t say I
ever felt ’em.”

Again Lord Blair’s hopes were dashed to the ground. He knew, however,
that Barthampton was a heavy drinker, and he introduced the subject with
manifest interest, and with a disregard of principle which sorely
troubled him.

“Doctors sometimes advise abstemiousness out here,” he said, “but
personally I think a little stimulant is a good thing.”

Lord Barthampton warmed to him. “So do I,” he replied heartily. “Still,
for the present I’m absolutely on the water-waggon.”

“Dear, dear!” muttered Lord Blair, fidgetting openly. “Dear me!—dear me!
That’s a little drastic, isn’t it?—a little unnecessary?”

“I don’t suppose I’ll keep it up for long,” was the reply.

“No, why should you?” Lord Blair commented, and the younger man thought
him very broad-minded.

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of the General, in
search of a quiet corner for a smoke, and Lord Blair, much dispirited,
presently made his way back to the ballroom, and thence home to bed. His
daughter, however, remained till past three o’clock in the morning, and
at last was one of the little group of enthusiasts which kept up the
revels to the accompaniment of amateur efforts on the piano, after the
weary band had dispersed.

She traversed the short distance back to the Residency under the
protection of Lord Barthampton; who had managed by sheer obstinacy to
obtain this office for himself; and as she said “good-night,” to him
upon the doorstep, he held her hand in his somewhat longer than was
necessary.

“I shall always remember tonight,” he said, “as the first time I have
really got to know you.”

“Will you?” she replied, feebly, not finding any appropriate comment.

“Yes,” he answered. “Good-night, little woman. Think kindly of your
lonely friend.” He came closer to her. “If ever you hear anything
against me from Cousin Daniel, take it with a pinch of salt.”

“Oh, I always rely on my own judgment,” she answered; and with that she
passed into the house.



CHAPTER XVI—AT CHRISTMASTIDE


During the ensuing two or three weeks Daniel was absorbed in the
organization of his work, and it was not until the festivities of
Christmas interrupted his routine, that he was able to look about him
and take his bearings. He had found the work extremely interesting, and
already he could see some indications that his point of view was being
adopted in the general policy of the Residency, while in specific cases
Lord Blair accepted his advice with very little hesitation.

In this atmosphere of confidence Daniel thrived and his labours
prospered. He was amused by his new insight into the Egyptian mind; and
he enjoyed his frequent rambles through those quarters of the city which
are unknown to the European visitor. Already he had native friends in
all parts of Cairo—from scavengers to Pashas; and in many of the bazaars
he was now greeted as a guest by the hospitable merchants. He did not
find any great difficulty in avoiding the more tedious of the social
functions at the Residency: and the early mornings and the evenings were
spent in tranquillity at his camp or in the surrounding desert.

Sometimes, returning from his duties soon after luncheon, he would fill
his pockets with biscuits and his water-bottle with cold tea, and,
mounting his camel, would ride for two hours or more into the desert,
until as the last light of day faded from the sky he would reach some
sheltered drift of sand or bed of shingle amongst the rocks; and here he
would refresh himself and take his rest, mental and physical, in the
vast solitude, until the blackness of the night enveloped him. Then,
under the glistening heavens, he would ride slowly home again, guiding
himself by the stars, and dreaming his way through the witchery of the
darkness, until the distant lights of his camp, with the promise of
supper and bed, brought him down from the dim regions of everlasting
quiescence to the pleasant things of the body, so that he would press
forward in a final rush through the night, the sharp air of the Egyptian
winter beating in his face, the planets swinging above him, and the
obscure jackal-track slipping like a trail of vapour beneath the soft
pads of his camel.

He slept by night upon the top of the spur of rock above his tents; and
here on his camp bed, under the warm blankets, he would lie absorbed in
the splendour of the stars until sleep carried him outside the range of
astronomy. As the first shafts of the morning sun struck upon him from
above the eastern horizon, he would cast the blankets from him, and,
full of the joy of vigorous life, would clamber down to his camp, there
to bathe and dress himself in the keen air of the morning, and to devour
his breakfast in the brilliant sunshine at the door of his tent.

Here in his beloved desert any anxieties which the day might bring were
wholly banished from his brain; and each morning he took up his duties
with a mind purged and washed clean of the dust of yesterday, enlivened
by healthy sleep and vigorous exercise, and, above all, renewed in its
unity with the everlasting Wisdom. It was as though his mighty hands
were clasped in the mightier hands of that Spirit which dwells in the
world’s open spaces; and, if he strayed during his work into tangled
paths of disquietude, he stepped back, as it were, with the descending
sun into the grasp of the unfailing Friend.

In one particular there was especial need of this refreshment and
renewal; for his thoughts were often disturbed in regard to his
friendship with Lady Muriel. He was sufficiently frank with himself to
realize that as the days passed he was growing more interested in her,
and at the same time he was well aware that any such interest was likely
to lead to discordance and unrest; for her method of life so greatly
differed from his own.

Muriel was having what she called “a good time”; and the argument “eat,
drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” was ever ready upon her lips.
There was a sort of defiance in her attitude to Daniel, and sometimes as
she set out upon some new chase of amusement she seemed to be daring him
to stop her.

On a certain evening in Christmas-week this challenge had been
particularly evident. He had stayed on at the Residency until past seven
o’clock, for there had been an attempted assassination of one of the
native ministers, and Daniel had at once set himself to get to the
bottom of the trouble; and when at last he was crossing the hall on his
way out, he had come upon Muriel descending the staircase, dressed for a
dinner-party and dance which was being given at Mena House that evening.
Her luxurious automobile was standing at the door, and she had, of
course, offered to give him a lift.

Sitting by her side under the electric light in the car, he had been
more than ever conscious of the dissimilarity of their views of life. It
was not that he disapproved of her enjoyments, but rather that he
regretted the absence of all attempt on her part to get below the
surface of things. She was satisfied by her pursuit of the pleasures of
what is called Society; and the trouble was that she had caused him to
be dissatisfied with his own more profound search after happiness.

In his rough clothes he had seemed to be so far removed from this
exquisite dainty girl beside him, around whose white throat the pearls
glistened, and from whose gold-tasseled cloak of blue velvet there came
the faint scent of the lotus; and the disturbing fact had been this—that
he had been intoxicated by the fragrance of her, and the touch of her
arm against his. He had wanted to command her to abandon her friends and
to follow him into the desert; and suddenly he had been aware that the
expression in her eyes was one of disdain for the hardihood that he
loved.

As they had driven up to the gates of the hotel he had called her
attention to his camel which awaited him at the roadside, in charge of a
silent native, who now raised his hand to his dazzled eyes as the
headlights of the car fell upon him.

“Now confess,” she had said, “that you would rather be coming with me
into the comfort of the hotel than bumping off on that great beast into
the cold bleak desert.”

“I confess I would rather be with you tonight than alone,” he answered,
“but not in the hotel. I don’t like noise and clatter and stuffiness.”

She had looked at him with a smile as the door of the car was opened by
a liveried servant. “I wonder,” she mused, “why you play at being a
hermit. You are not a hermit at heart.” She made a gesture with her arms
which was full of enticement. “Don’t you ever hear the world calling
you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered, gravely, “I hear it calling now; and I am shutting
my ears, because I know that it has nothing worth having to offer me.”

“If you happen to be here at midnight,” she said, “I dare say I shall be
wanting a breath of air.”

The words had thrilled in his ears, and as she disappeared into the
lighted hall of the hotel he had stood for a moment irresolute. If he
were to ride down from the desert at midnight, she would stroll with him
for a few moments amongst the palms, and who could say what advancement
in their relationship would take place? But in so doing would he not be
but offering her material for new amusement?

He had ridden, then, in silence to his camp; and at his usual hour he
had gone to his bed beneath the stars; and though he was awake at
midnight he had not stirred from beneath his blankets.

That was three days ago; and now Christmas was passed, with its
church-service which he had attended together with the whole diplomatic
staff, and its heavy luncheon thereafter, at which he had been one of
twenty guests. Already, today, he had resumed the routine of his work;
but the short interruption had given him time to look about him, and his
bearings troubled him with their threat of dangers ahead.

Muriel, on her part, had felt herself snubbed that night when he failed
to take advantage of the midnight hour. She had slipped out on to the
veranda of the hotel and had waited for him, thereby missing a dance and
inconveniencing at least one partner. She had suggested the meeting
experimentally, to see what might be his attitude towards her; for she
could not decide whether he were fond of her or merely interested in her
as a case of needing reformation. And when he failed to turn up at the
trysting-hour, her foot tapped angrily upon the tiles of the veranda;
and at length she had gone indoors again with her head in the air but
her heart in the depths.

She was undoubtedly attracted to him, but she was also very decidedly
afraid of him. Sometimes it was as though he were suggesting to her that
she should abandon the luxuries and the little frivolities which she so
much enjoyed, and should trail after him into the desert, the Lord knows
where, and cook his food for him, and dress in a sheepskin, and sleep on
the hard sand with a rock for a pillow.

One of the most serious aspects of the matter was that her father was
very obviously attempting to throw her and Daniel Lane together. At
first she had supposed that Lord Blair desired her to come under his
influence for its philosophical value; but during the last few days
certain things that had been said led her to the amazing conclusion that
her father regarded him in the light of a possible son-in-law.

She utterly failed to picture this man in the rôle of husband: she could
imagine him as a companion or even as a lover, but as a husband never!
Husbands were people in top-hats, black coats, and stripey trousers,
with whom one went to St. Margaret’s, Westminster, and then to
somebody’s villa on the Riviera, “kindly lent,” etc.; they had a lot of
old family servants who sniffed at you and said that such-and-such
wasn’t his lordship’s custom; they wanted sons and heirs, and, if you
failed to provide them, they cynically made you try again; they
developed money troubles sooner or later, and cut down your expenses at
the moment when you wanted to rebuild the ballroom; as the years passed
they became coldly courteous or hotly ill-tempered; and finally you were
either divorced or else laid by their crumbling side in the family
vault, in the sure and certain hope—thank God—that there were no
marriages in heaven.

But Daniel Lane was not of this autocratic class; nor could she picture
him living in England. If he succeeded to the Barthampton earldom he
would make an appalling mess of it; if he had to wear London clothes he
would look a sight; and if he shared the conjugal bed, it would probably
be on the roof or in the shrubbery, with gnats and things biting your
nose or an icy wind blowing around your legs.

She noticed her father’s strategic dispositions one morning just after
Christmas, when Charles Barthampton called to take her to a military
review. She went into the study to tell him of her proposed absence; but
Lord Blair put his foot down, saying to her that if she attended this
particular function she ought to do so in the company of a civilian, so
as to avoid inter-regimental jealousies: a palpable excuse which did not
bear scrutiny. He suggested that Daniel Lane should go with her; and
before Lord Barthampton could escape, his cousin was sent for, and
Muriel went off into the garden in annoyance, leaving the three men
together in the hall. Lord Blair thereupon tripped back to his study,
bidding Daniel offer his cousin refreshment in the library.

Lord Barthampton, however, was scowling with anger, and would have taken
his departure immediately. But Daniel took him by the arm in a grip
which, though friendly, was one of iron, and, forcing him into a chair,
handed him a cigar.

“Have a whisky-and-soda?” he then suggested.

“No,” his cousin grunted. “I’m a teetotaller, damn you.”

Daniel chuckled. “Good for you,” he laughed. “Have some barley water?”

At this Lord Barthampton scrambled to his feet, but Daniel gently pushed
him back into the chair.

“I want to have a talk with you,” he said. “I want to tell you how glad
I am to see that you are pulling yourself together. You look a different
man already.”

His cousin glared at him warily from under his heavy brows. “Yes,” he
replied, “I’m not going to give you any excuse for turning me out. When
you do so, you’ll have to do it against my father’s wishes and
intentions; and I hope he’ll come back from the grave and haunt you.”

He spoke with dramatic gloom, and Daniel could not help being sorry for
him.

“Oh, don’t worry yourself,” he assured him. “As long as you behave
yourself decently, you’re quite safe.”

“I doubt it,” the other muttered, despondently.

“I heard the other day,” said Daniel, “from one of your brother officers
that you’d sworn off cards too.”

Charles Barthampton puffed viciously at his cigar. “I suppose you’ll rob
me of all my fun before I’m through with you. Hadn’t you better ask me
whether I’ve joined the Y.M.C.A., and regularly say my prayers?”

“No, I’ll leave that to you,” Daniel answered with a smile. “But there’s
one thing I should like to ask you: have you taken any steps yet to give
anything to the poor?”

His cousin shook his head.

“Well, hurry up and do so,” said Daniel.

Once more Lord Barthampton rose from his chair, and this time to his
relief, he was not pushed back again. “I’m late for the show,” he
grumbled, “and anyway it’s no fun staying here, being put through my
paces. You’ve got all the cards, and the game’s in your hands. It makes
me sick.”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Daniel replied, and he spoke with sincerity. “But
don’t worry yourself. You’re going on fine.”

With that he let him go.

Upon the following day, Lord Blair again acted in a manner which showed
the movement of his thoughts. Muriel was going out to lunch at Mena
House, and Daniel suggested that she and the Bindanes should ride over
to his camp to tea. Lord Blair appeared to be delighted at the proposal,
and gave it such hearty support that Muriel was constrained to accept
the invitation.

Thus it came about, that soon after four o’clock Daniel was helping his
three visitors to dismount from the hired camels which had jolted them
over the desert to his tents; and no sooner had the attendant camel-men
taken charge of the animals, than he found himself smilingly following
in his friends’ wake as Muriel began enthusiastically to conduct them
around the camp, as though she were its proprietress.

She pointed out the various lockers and revealed their contents with
pride; she showed how this table folded up, or how that chair could be
converted into a bed; she called attention to the portable book-shelf,
and held up for inspection some of the volumes which she had arranged;
she introduced the three yellow dogs, and explained the merits of the
kennel she had built for them.

In her interest and pride in the work of her hands there was a complete
absence of self-consciousness; and the situation engendered so warm a
sense of intimacy that she found herself calling Daniel by his Christian
name, as though this had long been her habit.

When tea had been drunk and the sun was setting, Kate Bindane took her
husband by the arm and suggested a stroll. At this, however, Muriel’s
mind returned to the conventions, and she intimated her desire to
accompany them. But Kate, profiting by Daniel’s momentary absence with
Benifett Bindane, argued the point with her.

“You stay with Mr. Lane, old girl,” she said. “He wants to be with you,
I’m sure; and any way I want to be alone with Benifett. Damn it, we’re
on our honeymoon!”

There was a touch of wistfulness in her friend’s jocular words; and
Muriel had seen enough of their married life to be understanding. Kate
Bindane had a romantic heart under her uncompromising exterior; and her
cold-blooded husband, to whom she was obviously devoted, must have
played the lover about as ardently as a jellyfish. But out here in the
solitude, the glory of the setting sun might infuse a little warmth into
his veins, and might lift his thoughts above those schemes of commercial
enterprise which seemed to constitute his sole interest in Egypt.

The two couples therefore separated for a while; and Muriel strolled
with Daniel to a cluster of rocks, amidst which they presently seated
themselves upon the slope of a sand-drift, facing towards the south and
west. Before them, framed between the great boulders of sun-browned
limestone, the desert stretched out to the purple hills in the distance;
and above the hills the glory of the cloud-flecked western sky was
spread like a vision of the Isles of the Blessed.

The evening was warm and windless, and no sound came to their ears
except the occasional twitter of an early bat, and the far-off wail of a
circling kestrel. It was as though some magical leap through time had
been accomplished, whereby they two had alighted upon the earth in an
age before the advent of man and beast, or after the last trump had left
the planet again desolate. Yet there was no sense of death in these
rock-strewn spaces, but rather a pulse of sleeping nature which held the
reiterated promise of life. The sand upon which they lay was warm and
golden, and the rocks about them were not cold nor dead to the touch.

Muriel lay upon the slope, her hands behind her head; and Daniel,
sitting beside her, and looking down at her with his calm blue eyes, had
the sunset as his aureola, so that he put her in mind of some figure by
Bonozzo Gozzoli painted against gold. His massive head and shoulders
seemed to tower above her like those of a rugged presence rising out of
the rocks and sand of the wilderness; and she noticed for the first time
that his face was reminiscent of Watts’ “Samson,” a picture which had
always delighted her.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


Neither she nor he found any need of words, and for some time there was
almost complete silence between them, so that one might have supposed
the spell of the desert to have bewitched them. His hands idly played
with the sand; and, as the grains ran between his fingers, she seemed to
feel the memories of all her days slipping from her, until only this one
little moment of the present remained.

“Well?” she asked at last, and there was the question of all the ages in
her eyes.

“No man can escape his destiny,” he replied; but the words did not seem
to be detached: rather they were the conclusion of a mute analysis to
which they had both contributed.

Again there fell a silence between them, a silence, however, so filled
with unspoken words that in it their relationship grew immeasurably more
close. The glory of the sunset began to fade, and the veil of the
twilight descended gently about them; but in their hearts it was dawn,
and the sunrise was very near.

At length he arose and stretched his arms to their full extent. Muriel
gazed up at him, wondering how he would choose to seal the compact
which, so it seemed, had been made between them in this period of their
silence. Suddenly she was conscious that her heart was beating fast, and
its throbbing brought her back from her dream.

She sat up, and looked at him for a moment with fear in her eyes; for it
was as though she had spoken words in the depths of her being which her
tongue would have been too reticent to utter.

Daniel clasped his hands behind the back of his head, and stood watching
her, a whimsical smile on his face. His expression was one of
perplexity, almost of amusement at the incomprehensibility of Fate.

“Come,” he said, “we had better be going, Muriel, my dear.”

He took her hand in his and raised her to her feet.

“Yes, Daniel, we had better be going,” she replied.

She linked her arm in his; and thus they walked slowly back to the
tents, he looking down at her, and she looking up at him, and around
them the vast spaces of the desert already dim with the coming of night.



CHAPTER XVII—DESTINY


Upon the following morning, before eleven o’clock, Muriel installed
herself in a hammock slung from the lower branches of a shady sycamore,
some yards distant from the rose-bushes and shrubs which screened her
favourite alcove, now appropriated by Daniel. She had brought with her
from the house a handful of fashion-papers and illustrated journals, but
these she did not read as, with one foot touching the ground, she swung
herself gently to and fro. She looked up through the tracery of the
foliage to the brilliant blue of the sky, and her mind was too occupied
with her thoughts to give its attention to the latest manner in which
the women of Paris, London, and New York were adorning their nakedness.

Little shafts of sunlight, like fiery rods, pierced through the cool
blue shadow wherein she lay; and beyond the protection of the heavy
foliage the lawn of newly-sown grass gleamed in the radiance of the
morning. The faithful northwest wind, which almost daily blows over the
desert from the Mediterranean, was gently rustling the greenery
overhead, and rattling the hard leaves of the palms; and she could hear
the cry of the circling kites above her, though she could only see these
scavengers of the air when they swooped and tumbled down, as though in
play, to snatch at any edible fragments floating upon the surface of the
Nile.

All around her she was aware of the joy of existence, flashing out like
laughter and vibrating like song. The water sprinkled upon the lawn by
the garden hose seemed to be making merry in the sunshine; a black and
grey cow lurching across the grass seemed to be overcome with hilarity;
the palm-leaves swaying in the breeze might have been shaking with
mirth; and the babbling of the river as it swirled past the terrace was
like an endless lyric of well-being.

Muriel was too happily content to indulge in any profound self-analysis;
but vaguely she was conscious that her life had entered upon a new
phase, and shamelessly she asked herself whether the guiding hand were
love. She had realized for some time that Rupert Helsingham had made a
spurious impression upon her heart, and during the recent weeks of
amusement she had come to wonder how it was that he had aroused any
emotion in her, except that caused by his tragic death.

Now, however, she was aglow with buoyant happiness, and she had a
persistent feeling that all was well with her. Yesterday, on her return
from Daniel’s camp, she had spoken to Kate Bindane of this sense of
well-being, and her friend’s reply had set her laughing.

“My dear,” Kate had said, “I’m sure I don’t want to mess up your bright
picture of things; but in my opinion, look at it as you will, the joy of
life is always some sort of an itch and the scratching of it.”

But today Muriel felt that the definition was false. Her happiness was
intangible, and all that she could say with certainty was that it was
the result of her little time of silence yesterday in the desert.

It had been so quiet and gentle, so entirely opposite to the prehistoric
rough-and-tumble which might have been expected. Her thoughts went back
to the incident of the curate at Eastbourne, who had banged her about on
the sofa, and would have rolled her on the floor, had not the ten
commandments suddenly affrighted him. She thought, too, of Rupert and
his impassioned kisses: he had left red marks on her shoulder.

But Daniel had been so silent, so tender, and withal so genuine. He had
seemed to be part of the vast sky and desert around him, enfolding her,
and harming her not. Yet with a twist of his hand he could have killed
her.

In the distance she heard the murmur of his voice as he talked to his
native visitors in the alcove; and she had a curious feeling that his
proximity was protective. She was no longer afraid, or even shy of him.

Presently, across the lawn, she saw him dismissing three silk-robed
Egyptians; and, when they had taken their departure, he waved his hand
to her before returning once more behind the screen of roses and trees.
The signal was like the caress of an old friend, and by it her happiness
was enhanced.

A few minutes later she watched another caller being piloted by a native
servant across the lawn to the alcove. He was a young _effendi_ wearing
European clothes and the usual red _tarboush_ or fez—an unhealthy little
man, who paused once to cough and to spit unpleasantly.

Lazily she watched the servant return to the house, and she hoped that
Daniel was finding his new visitor interesting.

She closed her eyes, and sleep was stealing upon her when suddenly she
was startled into full consciousness by the sharp crack of a
pistol-shot. She sprang out of the hammock and stood for a moment
staring about her, her heart beating.

The sound had come from the direction of the alcove, but now all was
silent once more. Evidently nobody in the house had heard the shot; and
she might have thought it to have been an illusion of sleep, had it not
been for the manifest excitement of the birds which had risen from the
branches of the trees around.

Almost without definite thought she hastened across the lawn, and
paused, listening, near the rose bushes. A whimpering sound of moaning
came to her ears; and at this she ran forward impulsively, and, a moment
later, came to a sudden halt upon the secluded terrace.

Before her, upon the flagstones, crouched the figure of the young
Egyptian. He was holding his right wrist in his left hand, and was
staring up, with open mouth, at Daniel who stood over him, fingering a
revolver which now he slipped quietly into his pocket as he caught sight
of her.

“Go away, Muriel!” he exclaimed in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

The Egyptian struggled to his feet, but Daniel caught him by the arm and
half dragged him to the marble bench.

“What’s happened?” she cried. “I heard a shot.”

“Did anybody else hear it?” he asked, so sharply that his voice startled
her.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.

“Good,” he said. “This young man’s revolver went off by mistake: that’s
all. Please go away.”

“O Daniel!” she cried, realizing the truth. “He tried to kill you!”

“Hush!” he whispered, impatiently. “Here, help me to tie up his wrist:
I’ve broken it, I think.”

The Egyptian rocked himself to and fro, making no resistance as Daniel
took hold of his injured arm, talking to him the while in Arabic, as
though bidding him have no fear. With the would-be assassin’s
handkerchief he bound up the injured wrist, while Muriel gave all the
assistance of which her trembling fingers were capable; and then, with
his own large handkerchief he improvised a sling, never ceasing
meanwhile to soothe the man with soft words of sympathetic
consideration, as though he had been a doctor called in to attend the
victim of an accident.

When the bandaging had been accomplished, he turned to Muriel. “Now
please go away, Muriel dear,” he said, “and thanks very much for your
help. Remember, not a word about this to anybody at all.”

He smiled at her reassuringly, and obliged her to take her departure,
again cautioning her to keep the incident secret. She walked across the
lawn to the house, dazed and anxious; and thus she went up to her room,
where, looking into the mirror, she was surprised to observe the
paleness of her face.

Meanwhile Daniel sat upon the bench beside the Egyptian, smoking his
pipe, and waiting for him to recover his composure. The incident had
been so foolish, and the attempt upon his life so bungled, that he felt
nothing but pity for the wretched man who, he presumed, had believed
himself to be performing a patriotic act.

The Secret Service Agents had fully warned him of possible danger, and
he had spotted this youth as a suspicious character as soon as he had
entered the alcove. The man had been trembling visibly, and when his
unsteady hand had fumbled in his pocket, Daniel had gripped his wrist on
the instant that the revolver came into sight. The bullet had struck the
balustrade and had gone singing into the river, while the weapon had
fallen with a clatter upon the pavement.

Daniel had experienced no alarm, and now he felt no anger. He was
determined, however, to get to the root of the plot; and it seemed to
him far wiser to take action here and now, than to await a judicial
enquiry.

As soon, therefore, as his assailant had ceased his moaning and his
monotonous rocking to and fro, Daniel took him by his left arm, and led
him across the lawn and round to the front gates of the Residency. Here
he hailed one of the little open carriages from the stand at the other
side of the square, and, helping the Egyptian into it, told the coachman
to drive to the nearest hospital.

In the consulting room he explained to the doctor that the man was a
friend of his who had injured his wrist by a fall; and soon the mischief
was rectified and the arm put into splints.

Daniel then announced his intention of seeing him back to his house; but
at this the man aroused himself from the silent stupor into which he had
fallen, and vehemently protested.

“You cannot come with me,” he declared. “By God, I shall give no
address.”

Daniel had been told by his agents an address at which a certain group
of malcontents were known to meet; and, chancing the man’s connection
with this fraternity, he now named the house to the driver. The
_effendi_ immediately sank back into the corner of the carriage with a
look of terror upon his face which indicated clearly enough that the
surmise had been correct.

“Do not fear,” said Daniel to him, “I mean you no harm. If God is
willing I shall meet some of your friends, and we shall be able to talk
over this matter.”

Once during the journey, when their carriage had come to a momentary
standstill, in the crowded Mousky, Daniel observed a certain tension in
his companion’s attitude which indicated that he was contemplating
flight; and he was prepared, therefore, when the man made a sudden leap
forward.

“Ass!” he exclaimed, pulling him down on to the seat. The meaning of the
expression in Arabic is much the same as it is in English.

For the rest of the way Daniel kept an eye upon the injured man; but the
sharp twinge of pain consequent upon his attempted flight had led him
once more to prefer a condition of fatalistic apathy, and he made no
second effort to escape.

A turning off the Mousky brought them into a winding native street,
where a few low-class Greeks were the only European pedestrians to be
observed in the crowd of Orientals; and at last the driver steered his
carriage into a quiet alley, and pulled up before the arched doorway of
a whitewashed house, the upper storeys of which projected outwards until
they abutted those of the buildings on the opposite side.

Daniel assisted the Egyptian to alight, and, as they passed through the
archway into the stone-flagged hall beyond, where the light was dim,
warned him against treachery.

“I still have your loaded revolver in my pocket,” he reminded him. “I
have come to speak to your friends, and if they are here you must lead
me to them.”

For a moment the man hesitated, but Daniel accelerated matters by
clapping his hands loudly, which is the Egyptian method of summoning a
servant; and thereupon a door was opened at the head of the crazy flight
of wooden stairs, and an untidy figure of a man in a blue-cotton shirt
appeared before them.

“Are the others here?” asked Daniel, seeing that his companion was
recognized.

“Upstairs,” the man answered, shortly, pointing to the gallery above
him, and therewith returned whence he came, his slouching attitude
displaying all the indifference of which the untrained Egyptian servant
is so eminently capable.

“Lead the way,” said Daniel to his companion, who, recognizing the
_Kismet al Allah_, the destiny of God, obeyed without protest, mounting
the stairs in silence.

As they neared the shut door which had been indicated to them, the
Egyptian was overcome with a fit of coughing, the rasping sound of which
echoed through the house; and, as though the sound had been recognized,
the door before them was immediately opened, and the pock-marked face
and red _tarboush_ of another young native _effendi_ appeared.

“What’s this?” he exclaimed in astonishment, pointing to his friend’s
injured arm. Then, seeing the Englishman, he checked himself warily.

Daniel took a step forward. “I have brought him back to you,” he said,
affably. “He is hurt.”

A moment later they were inside the room, and Daniel was fingering the
trigger of the revolver in his pocket, as he glanced from one to another
of the five men confronting him. They had risen to their feet, and were
standing in attitudes of manifest nervousness. They had evidently been
disturbed at their midday meal, for it was now a little past noon: three
or four dishes of food stood upon the floor, and the mouths of at least
two of the men were full. The smell of garlic and stale tobacco smoke
pervaded the room; and a shaft of sunlight striking through the window
revealed a mass of flies hovering and buzzing around a plate of
something which appeared to be cold minced meat.

“Peace be unto you!” said Daniel, using the Islamic salutation; and the
men muttered the customary response, as though by force of habit.

Daniel stood with his back to the door which he had closed behind. “I
ask your forgiveness for my intrusion,” he said, still speaking in
Arabic, “but I thought the matter urgent. This morning this gentleman
came to the Residency, where I have the honour of being employed, and
fired the revolver at me which I am now holding in my pocket. But it
pleased God to spare my life, and I immediately came to ask you why you
wished my death. You know the words of the Prophet: ‘Man is a building
erected by God, and he who destroys the building of God shall himself be
destroyed.’”

The injured man had collapsed upon a stiff bench which stood against the
wall, and was now rocking himself to and fro once more, the tears of
pain and exasperation streaming down his face.

“He is in great pain,” said Daniel, “for I am sorry to say I have broken
his wrist. I took him to the hospital, and the bones are set; but he
will require much care. I think you would do well to give him something
to eat.”

One of the Egyptians, less concerned with his own interests than the
others, fetched a cup of water, and held it to the sufferer’s lips; but
his companions still stood like startled sheep, eyeing their muscular
visitor with undisguised dismay. They were all young men—students,
perhaps, or clerks in minor employ; and it was evident that they were
entirely nonplussed, for they answered not a word.

“My object in coming here,” Daniel continued, “is simply to learn from
you the cause of your anger. You must be feeling something very deeply
to resort to assassination; but why should you desire to murder _me_? I
am the only person who can help you.”

He assured them of his desire to understand their point of view, and
gradually he was able to break down their anxious reserve, so that
presently they spoke to him with a certain amount of freedom, and they
heard, probably for the first time, the English attitude expounded in
terms of idealism. They were fanatical young men whose patriotism was
nothing more than dislike of the foreigner, which, indeed, is a large
part of all patriotism; and though Daniel made little attempt to argue
with them he was able very soon to establish more or less sympathetic
relations with his would-be murderers, and perhaps to convince them that
bloodshed is foolish.

The situation had a piquancy which amused him vastly; and when,
presently, he unloaded the revolver and handed it back to the melancholy
figure upon the divan, he could not refrain from laughter, in which, to
his surprise, the others joined.

“Cheer up, O son of complaint!” he said. “You ought to be praising God
that you are not about to be hanged.” Then, turning to the others, he
told them how glad he was that they found cause for mirth in the
situation. “Are we not all like the pieces upon a chessboard?” he asked.
“But do we realize that God is playing both sides of the game? Remember
the words of the Koran: ‘They plotted, and God plotted; and God is the
best of plotters.’ Now let us laugh and give thanks that no blood has
been spilt, for it is precious stuff; and finally let us agree to forget
the incident. So far as I am concerned it is _khalâs khâlas_—absolutely
closed; and on your part, if you have further cause for hostility, come
to the Residency and ask for me, but do not bring your revolvers with
you or I shall give you no coffee.”

He arrived back at the Residency somewhat late for luncheon, and his
high spirits were such that Muriel stared at him in amazement. When the
meal was finished she took him aside, as the others left the room, and
asked where he had been.

“I took my murderer home,” he explained, “and made friends with his
fellow-assassins, and we all had a good laugh together. It seemed to be
the best way of settling the matter.”

“O Daniel,” she whispered, “you’re either a hero or else you’re crazy.”

“No,” he answered, “I’m just a philosopher—that is to say, one who sees
the comic side of life.”

“There’s not much comedy about the attempted murder of one’s best
friend,” she answered.

His face became serious and his eyes sought hers. “Am I your best
friend?” he asked.

She turned from him and stared out of the window. They were alone in the
room, and he put his hand upon her shoulder, as she nodded her head in
silence.

Suddenly he observed that her eyes were full of tears, and at this his
heart seemed for a moment to stop beating.

“Muriel,” he whispered, but his voice failed him.

She looked round at him, and smiled; and that which was destined to
happen happened all in a moment. His arms enfolded her, and, bending
down, he kissed her with the passion of revelation—fervently,
exultantly, joyously.



CHAPTER XVIII—MAN AND WOMAN


On the following morning Daniel received a message from Lord Blair
asking him to come into the study, and he presumed that the question of
his relationship to Muriel was to be discussed, for in his present state
of upheaval he could hardly imagine that there was anything else in the
world to talk about. He was deeply troubled in his mind, for he felt
that this fever of love which had kept him awake half the night, and
which hourly was growing more intense, was a menace to his happiness and
to hers. A thousand times he had told himself that their two lives were
incompatible, and yet their unity was now to him the vital object of his
existence. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Lord Blair received him with a whimsical smile, and waved him to a chair
as though formally introducing him to it. “Sit down, my dear Daniel,” he
said. “I want to know if you can throw any light upon this extraordinary
letter which was delivered here this morning, by hand.”

He held up a large pink envelope inscribed in green ink, and handed it
across the table; and, while Daniel examined it, he sat watching him
benevolently, the tips of his thin fingers pressed together.

The document was written in English, and the wandering handwriting was
not unlike that of a child. The address upon the envelope was arresting
in its simplicity. “His Excel. The Lord’s Deputy,” it read.

“Frank Lestrange opened it,” said Lord Blair; “for he presumed that the
‘Lord’ referred to was myself and not the Almighty, and that the
‘Deputy’ indicated a secretary. But the letter itself was an enigma to
him, and the enclosure a mystery.”

He held up a carefully folded pocket-handkerchief which the envelope had
contained, and Daniel glanced at it with sudden recognition.

The document was as follows:

    Dear sir we are sorry one assassnated you yesterday because you
    came to us and we see you for the brave gentilman and the
    Egyptian rispect the Chivalry herewith please find and oblige

    Your Wishwellers.

“Well?” asked Lord Blair.

Daniel burst out laughing. “Oh, what children they are!” he exclaimed.
“I think that if we all packed up and went home, and sent out half a
dozen schoolmasters in our place, the Egyptian question would be
solved.”

“Why?—what is the meaning of the letter?” asked his lordship.

“I’d much rather not tell you,” Daniel replied.

“But I must insist,” said Lord Blair. “I must indeed insist.”

Daniel felt awkward: the story was so silly. “It was nothing much,” he
explained. “A wretched boy came here yesterday to kill me, and in taking
his revolver away from him I unfortunately broke his wrist. So I made a
sling with my handkerchief and took him to the doctor. He was in great
pain, poor chap.” He paused and reread the letter.

“Go on with the story,” said Lord Blair. “‘This is very serious, very
serious indeed.”

“Oh, no, it’s not,” replied Daniel. “I guessed where he came from and
took him home, and had a talk to the whole gang of them. They were all
very young and very ardent. But there’s nothing more to hear from them
now. Poor lads!—I think they were mighty glad the bullet went wide.”

“D’you mean to say you bearded them in their den?”

“Yes; luckily I found them assembled at their dinner.”

Lord Blair sat back in his chair and toyed with a paper-knife, while
Daniel gave him a few more details of the occurrence. There was a
curious expression on his face as he listened, and his dark eyes seemed
to be shining very brightly. When the brief tale was finished, he rose
to his feet, and made a flitting expedition to the window; drummed on
the pane; and then, coming round in front of his friend, put his hands
upon his broad shoulders.

“My dear fellow ...” he said, and hesitated. Then: “Dear me, dear me,
Daniel.” Suddenly he drew himself up, and, thrusting forward a stiff
arm, grasped the other’s hand and wrung it shyly but fiercely.

Daniel looked at him in surprise, for he appeared to be battling with
some powerful emotion; and, feeling that the situation no longer
required his presence, he rose to go.

Lord Blair stopped him. “Wait,” he said; “there is another matter about
which I want to speak to you.”

Daniel guessed what was coming, and waited with impatience for Lord
Blair to open the subject. It seemed to him that his relationship to
Muriel was the only thing worth discussing. But the Great Man’s thoughts
were still occupied with the tale which Daniel had unfolded, and for
some time he continued to ask questions and to make ejaculatory
comments.

At length, however, an awkward silence and some signs of nervousness
indicated that the all-important subject was about to be introduced; but
Lord Blair, as was his wont, circled round the outskirts of the matter
for some time, speaking of his advancing years and of a father’s duty to
his only child.

Daniel was impatient to get to grips. “I take it,” he said, interrupting
him, “that you want to ask me what my intentions are in regard to Lady
Muriel.”

Lord Blair smiled nervously. “Or shall we say,” he suggested, “that I
want to know what Muriel’s intentions are in regard to you. I have
noticed the growing intimacy between you, and you will perhaps have
observed that I have not discouraged it. But today, it is my duty to
tell you, I saw you ... er ... ahem ... I saw you kiss one another good
morning.”

Lord Blair, having thus delivered himself, sat back in his chair, his
eyes fixed upon the younger man.

“Yes, that’s so,” the latter replied; “and I wish to Heaven you’d tell
me what is to be done about it. I am afraid I have got to tell you that
I love Muriel.” He leant forward and knitted his brows. “I’m sunk,” he
groaned, running his hand through his hair. “It’s no good fighting
against it any longer.”

Lord Blair drummed his fingers on the table. “Dear me, dear me!” he
muttered. “And what does Muriel say about it?”

“I haven’t asked her,” Daniel replied. “I suppose she believes she cares
for me, too; but that’s just the trouble: I’ve been wondering all night
whether she knows her own mind. You see we are so totally unsuited to
one another.”

“What makes you say that?” Lord Blair asked, obviously pained.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I’m a serious-minded sort of
fellow, and Muriel seems to enjoy all this Society business which I
detest.”

“She is young,” was the reply.

“And then I’m a comparatively penniless nobody, and I’ve heard her
described as one of the most eligible young women in England.”

“Tut, tut,” Lord Blair ejaculated. “It is true that she will inherit
whatever I am able to leave; but an alliance between the Lanes and the
Blairs does not seem to me to be open to criticism. After all, our
respective names have figured side by side in many pages of English
history.”

Daniel did not wish to pursue this aspect of the matter. He wanted
Muriel, but he wished her to be sure of her love before he bound her to
him by a formal engagement: this summed up his attitude in a single
sentence. He therefore discussed the question along these lines; but it
was apparent that he was labouring under great mental and emotional
stress. He begged Lord Blair not to influence his daughter in one
direction or the other, but to leave the solution of the problem in the
hands of Providence.

“I just want her to feel,” he explained, “that I am an intimate chum of
hers; and then if the thing carries us both off our feet, why we’ll come
to you and say we want to get married. If not—well, I’m not going to
bind her unless it’s clear she is as head over ears in love with me as I
am now with her.”

“You may lose her,” said Lord Blair, shaking his head wisely.

“If that is going to be at any time likely,” Daniel answered, “I would
rather it happened now than after we are married.”

When the interview was at an end Lord Blair sat for some time in deep
thought. He was somewhat disappointed that Daniel was not more
impetuous, and he saw no reason why Muriel should be treated with such
careful consideration, lest she should make a mistake and suffer for it
later. He regarded his daughter as decidedly flighty, and, since she was
his heiress, he wanted to see her married as soon as possible to the man
of his choice, a man of strong will who would keep her well in hand: but
that, to his surprise, was just what the mighty Daniel seemed
disinclined to do.

Lord Blair did not believe in a man pandering to the whims of the woman
he loved: his own experience had been too devastating for that. He would
have liked to have heard Daniel say to him: “Your daughter wants
mastering: I will take her in hand, and turn her into a dutiful wife and
a God-fearing mother of your Blair-Lane grandsons.” But instead of this
he had said in effect: “Since I shall always want her, if she wants me
she can have me when she wants;” and this seemed a poor policy,
bordering on self-abnegation.

Muriel’s own attitude was interesting. During this and the day following
she waited breathlessly for a proposal of marriage, and when none was
forthcoming, she decided that she would give him one week and then lose
her temper. But the week went by, and nothing happened, except that
their intimacy grew and their eyes sought one another more frequently.

His work kept him very busy, but daily he found some moment in which he
could be alone with her; and at these times he put his arms about her
and looked into her face with such tenderness in his eyes that she could
have cried. He seemed to be searching her heart, to be trying to assure
himself of her love; and when he kissed her he appeared to restrain the
passion which she knew was consuming him.

Once he came so near to a definite offer of marriage that she held her
breath. Yet what he said was but this: “Life is short, and there is no
time for a mistake. Think, Muriel, think!—You and I will soon have to
make a decision which cannot be altered. Think of all those things in my
method of life which you don’t like or don’t understand. Because the
choice is close at hand.”

And in her bedroom, in the darkness of the night, she had thought; but
her thoughts had travelled in circles, leading her nowhere. Perhaps, she
said to herself, he wished to hint that there were ugly aspects of his
life which she ought to take into consideration: perhaps he was
referring to those Bedouin women who were said to have been his
mistresses in the desert; or perhaps his frequent visits to the bazaars
and to native houses were not entirely dictated by the needs of his
work. She knew that women of the poorer classes often came to see him at
the Residency; and the stories which had come to her ears of his
goodness to widows and destitute paupers might have their origin in less
worthy circumstances than was supposed. It looked as though his
conscience were smiting him.

He had said to her: “The woman who loves me must give up much.” Was he
suggesting, she wondered, that she should defy the conventions and fly
with him into the desert? Perhaps he had no thought of marriage: he only
wanted her to ride beside him over the limitless wilderness, and to
sleep with him under the stars. His words might be interpreted as
meaning that since one day they would grow tired of one another and he
would leave her to fish for herself, she ought to consider carefully
whether the adventure were worth while. But, no: that could hardly be
his meaning, though his refraining from a definite proposal of marriage
was suspicious.

Another matter greatly puzzled her. He did not seem to be jealous of her
familiarity with other men; and though during the last few days she had
rather enjoyed the novel experience of asking his permission, more or
less, when she was going out on what she termed a “joy-ride,” she had
observed that he assumed no authority over her. He appeared to be quite
indifferent to her exits from, and interested only by her entries on to,
the stage of life.

Daniel, as a matter of fact, was determined to eradicate all those
fierce feelings of jealousy which shamefully he was aware she had
aroused in him. The green-eyed monster was a prehistoric beast,
unfitting the fair pastures of a philosopher’s mind; and he would have
none of it. He believed passionately in freedom; and he was resolved to
regard love not as a prison but as a sphere of unbounded liberty—for man
and woman alike.

He was wroth with himself when he wished to break the heads of the young
men who hovered around her. He had not believed himself capable of such
disturbances; and his control was exerted to so much purpose that Muriel
mistook it for indifference.

Fortunately he was usually back in the solitude of his camp by
mid-afternoon, and he did not have to watch Muriel setting out for her
almost nightly dinners, dances, or opera-parties; and when, next day,
she used to relate her adventures, he would oblige himself to show
amusement and interest, though only black unrest could have been found
in his heart. He was impatient for the time when she should grow weary
of her amusements, and thus show that her heart was full of sweeter
interest, but he had no wish to force her to leave all, as it were, and
come to him.

Muriel, on her part, was increasingly annoyed at his apparent
indifference; and matters reached a crisis one afternoon at the end of
the first week in January. An expedition to the ancient necropolis of
Sakkâra had been arranged, the party consisting of Muriel, Daniel, Mr.
and Mrs. Bindane, and John Dregge, one of the younger Secretaries at the
Residency. The Tombs of Sakkâra stand at the edge of the desert, some
ten miles south of Mena House; and the excursion was made on horseback,
servants having been sent on ahead to prepare tea at the little
rest-house in the necropolis.

During the outward journey Benifett Bindane rode close to Daniel,
cross-questioning him in regard to the possibilities of agricultural
development in the Oases. He had decided to make a journey at the end of
February through the great chain of these oases; and Lord Blair, who, as
has been said, was keenly interested in the project, had already begun
to make arrangements for the expedition. Daniel was surprised to find
that Mr. Bindane had fully grasped all the essentials of the scheme,
and, in spite of his lethargic appearance, seemed to be making himself
master of the facts.

The subject was very interesting to both men, and Kate Bindane, who rode
with them, put in some shrewd observations; but meanwhile Lady Muriel
was left to ride ahead with John Dregge, and their two horses could be
seen moving close abreast, while Muriel’s laughter frequently floated
back to them with the suggestion that she was enjoying herself
thoroughly.

This, however, was not the fact. She did not like her companion, who was
a very proper young man with a sallow face, side whiskers in the Byronic
style, a button of a mouth, and small, watchful eyes.

She was growing decidedly cross—“turning nasty” as they say; and though
she laughed loudly so that Daniel should hear, she made two or three
remarks to Mr. Dregge which were neither kind nor clever. The three
o’clock sun was extremely hot, the glare was intense, and her horse—a
borrowed one—had an objectionable habit of ambling when she wished him
to trot and of walking when she attempted to correct the amble.

When at last their destination was reached, and all five of them were
together again, she would not so much as look in Daniel’s direction. Tea
was served at a tressel-table on the veranda of the rest-house, an
island of cool shadow in the golden sea of sand; but Muriel enjoyed
neither the meal nor the view. Nor did she give any great attention to
the beauties of the sculptured tombs and mausoleum which they
subsequently visited; and she felt only impatience when Daniel spoke
with enthusiasm of the grace of the ancient figures.

“We haven’t advanced much in these thousands of years, have we?” he said
to her.

“No,” she answered, “and judging by the progress made in the last ten
days, it’ll be many thousands of years more before anything happens.”

Daniel glanced quickly at her, with an inward chuckle, but she turned
from him with her head in the air.

The return journey was begun some time after the sun had set, and
complete darkness descended upon them while they were still two or three
miles from the hotel. Daniel now rode beside Muriel; and the others
having pushed ahead, they presently found themselves completely alone,
moving through the indigo of the night like two phantom riders wandering
over the uninhabited plains of the moon.

The air was cold, and sharp; and the stars gleamed overhead, so
numberless, so vivid, that the tremendous sky was densely spangled and
jewelled, in brilliance unknown to the western eye. It is only in clear,
dry air such as this that one actually sees the heavens as a vault, an
inverted bowl of deep royal blue, with the Milky Way arched across like
a vaporous white rainbow, and the greater stars and planets standing out
in bold patterns amidst the glittering atoms powdered over the whole
amazing area.

The pathway was obscure, and Daniel had to guide himself by the great
Pyramids which were silhouetted on the horizon against the stars; but
riding became altogether dangerous while yet there was over a mile to
go, and he proposed that they should dismount and lead their stumbling
horses.

Muriel followed his lead without protest; and Daniel, taking hold of her
arm with one hand, and leading the horses with the other, piloted her
slowly over the rough ground. He was very tenderly solicitous, anxiously
enquiring whether she were cold or tired; and she, stirred by the marvel
of the night, very largely forgot her anger. This trudging through the
intense darkness was having an extraordinary effect upon her mind: she
began to feel that her safety, indeed her very existence, depended upon
the giant of the desert who held her arm so firmly.

“I’m glad you’re with me,” she said to him. “I should be frightened with
anybody else.”

“Frightened?” he asked. “But don’t you feel, as I do, that the desert at
night is protective? Down there in the inhabited lands there are robbers
and murderers of body or mind; but up here I’m in my own kingdom: I go
wherever I like, do whatever I like, and there’s nobody to disturb me
and nobody I disturb except a shy little jackal or two.”

Presently Muriel paused. “Wait a minute,” she said. “My boot has got
some sand in it.”

She sat down upon the ground and pulled it off; while Daniel, being in
no hurry to return to the world, tethered the horses by rolling a small
boulder on to the trailing ends of the reins. This done, he came to her,
and, sitting beside her, helped her to put on the boot once more.

She was tired physically, and tired also of being angry. The astonishing
solitude caused her heart, as it were, to go to him for companionship.
Here in this tremendous silence, in this enveloping obscurity, she
seemed to belong to him, to be his property.

He put his arms about her. “Why have you been so unfriendly to me
today?” he asked, reproachfully.

She leaned her head back, and her hand went up around his neck. “Because
I love you, Daniel,” she whispered.

She drew him down to her. At that moment she had no morals: she had
shaken the conventions from her like so many pieces of useless armour.
Her education had ever taught her to put small value upon such methods
of protection; and now, with a mental shrug, they fell wholly from her.
She wished only to be his, body and soul: here couched in the lap of
this great Mother Earth, and in the presence of the starry host of
heaven.

For a moment Daniel held her tightly within his arms; and the tempest of
his passion carried him forward to the brink of heedless disaster. But
mentally, as well as physically, he was a mighty man; and now his
philosophic training in control did not fail him.

Roughly he threw her arms from him, and, rising to his feet, gripped her
wrist. “Get up,” he commanded her. “For God’s sake get up!”

He dragged her up to him, and his fingers must have left bruises upon
her arm.

“O Daniel,” she murmured, and in her abandonment there was almost
laughter in her words, and almost tears. “I’m yours—yours to do what you
like with. You can put me in your harîm if you want to.”

He turned from her, and fetched the horses. “Fool, fool!” said his body
to his mind. “Again, misunderstanding the meaning of life, you have
robbed me.” “Be silent, rebel,” said his mind to his body. “Give me time
to see if her passion be love.” “Is there any difference?” sneered his
body; and his mind replied, “Had I not thought so, you should have had
your way.”



CHAPTER XIX—THE SEEDS OF SORROW


During the ensuing fortnight circumstances were not favourable to the
development of their romance. Daniel was closely occupied with the
settling of certain political difficulties which had cropped up; and
Muriel, on her part, found herself much occupied with the social
functions of the Residency which, in the month of January, are always
very exacting.

But if there were few opportunities for the tender intimacy of love,
there was now the compensation of a very sweet understanding between
them. There was no need, so it seemed, for a formal betrothal: the
engagement was mutually assumed, and, though no binding words had been
spoken, Lord Blair did not have to ask again what were their intentions.

Muriel was, of course, a little disturbed at Daniel’s refusal to allow a
definite announcement to be made, or even an irrevocable word to be
spoken between them; but actually his attitude was quite understandable.
He was keenly aware that his method of life was somewhat peculiar, and
he was modest enough to regard himself as a thoroughly undesirable
husband.

Muriel had told him all about the Rupert Helsingham affair, and, with
some degree of correctness, he had attributed it to the enchantment of
the Nile. He had realized, too, that in his own case his most intimate
moments with her had occurred under exceptionally romantic
circumstances; and though he was too deeply in love thus to explain away
her emotions, he could not blind himself to the possibility that their
origin was less profound than their intensity suggested.

He was determined not to bind her yet awhile; for, he argued to himself,
if the miracle had happened, if really she had found in him her eternal
partner, time would prove the fact to them; but if she had been building
her love on the deceptive foundations of romantic passion, nothing but
ultimate misery would come of the immediate exchange of mutual vows.

Being a philosopher, he did not judge love’s day by the tempest of its
passion: indeed, he mistrusted such storms as a frequent cause of
disastrous miscalculation. But Muriel, being woman pure and simple—if
ever there could be a woman of her upbringing either pure or simple—did
not analyse her feelings nor mistrust them. She knew only that Daniel
hung like a thunderstorm over the meadows of her heart, and she waited
in breathless, headaching silence for his lightnings and his torrents to
descend upon her.

There was one aspect of the matter, however, which troubled him. Muriel,
he recognized, belonged to a section of English society which was very
lax in its morals; and he knew quite well that, in the darkness of the
desert on the memorable night of their return from Sakkâra, she had been
entirely carried away by her love. The fact did not disturb him in
itself, for he was a believer in instinct, and his judgment was not
influenced by the conventions. If she really loved him, and if they had
mutually taken one another for a life-partnership, no marriage ceremony
would make the compact in his eyes more binding, and her desire at once
to identify her life irrevocably with that of the chosen one would be
comprehended and condoned by him.

But there was the fear at the back of his mind lest she had entered upon
the adventure lightly. He knew too much about the ways of Mayfair:
perhaps, indeed, his abhorrence of all that that name stood for was
exaggerated. Her upbringing, therefore, caused him anxiety: not, be it
understood, because of her possible willingness to break the traditional
law, but because she might be willing to break it lightly. He hated
himself for doubting her; but she was a child of Society, a daughter of
the Old Harlot, and no member of her particular branch of that family
was above suspicion.

One day, yearning for an hour alone with her, he asked her to come out
to his camp on the following evening. She was to dine with the Bindanes
at Mena House, and he suggested that he should call for her after
dinner, when the young moon would be low in the heavens, and that they
should ride out to his tents and talk for a little while.

Muriel fell in with the scheme readily enough; but there was something
in her manner and in the expression of her face which indicated that she
took the step with deliberation, fully conscious of all that it might
involve. And, in actual fact, she did not care what happened. She only
wanted to belong to him, to feel that she was in his power and he in
hers.

But on the next morning she awoke with a bad cold in her head, and she
was obliged to take to her bed. One cannot be really romantic with one’s
nose running, and any of love’s most wonderful situations may be ruined
by a sneeze.

A few days later, when she was more or less recovered, Daniel told her
how disappointed he had been that the arrangement had fallen through.

“I expect it was my guardian angel,” she whispered, with a laugh. “I had
made up my mind to come; and I suppose the angel read my thoughts, and
said ‘You’d better not,’ and sprinkled a handful of germs over me.”

Daniel was startled. “Why, you don’t think that I...?” He paused. Men
are seldom so plain-spoken as women, and seldom face facts so
deliberately.

On the following afternoon he was obliged to go to the railway station
to pay his farewell respects to a native dignitary on his departure for
England upon a commercial mission; and, while walking back through the
Levantine shopping quarter, he came upon Lizette who, as he now
recollected, lived in this part of the city.

He had not seen her since that night, three and a half months ago, when
he had taken her out to supper at Berto’s; and he was distressed to
observe the change that had taken place in her. She was looking thin and
haggard, and her eyes were like the melancholy eyes of a sick dog.

She glanced at him as she approached and a quick smile of pleasure came
into her face; but the etiquette which is always observed in the best
circles on such occasions prevented her from showing recognition of a
client in a public place. (Money-lenders and dentists follow much the
same code.)

Daniel, however, knew nothing about such rules of polite conduct. If
Lizette were good enough to talk to in a restaurant she ought to be good
enough to salute in the street. He therefore pulled off his hat as she
passed, and, pausing, bid her good day.

“I believe you’ve forgotten me,” he declared.

“Forgotten?—no!” she exclaimed. “I not ever forget that pig Barthampton
jeté par terre.”

“I’m sorry that’s what you remember me by,” he answered, seriously.

“I remember many things,” she said. “But now you are so great, so
important: one say you are like the Wazîr of Egypt. I astonish me that
you speak here in the street. Lizette belong to the night, and to the
American Bar.”

She spoke with bitterness, and Daniel was sorry for her. She looked ill;
and the afternoon sun seemed to disintegrate the bloom of the powder
upon her face.

“You’re not looking very well,” he commented. “Is there anything the
matter?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “The matter is here,” she answered, tapping
her heart.

“In love?” he asked.

“No, not love,” she replied, with sudden intensity. “Hate, hate!”

He shook his head. “That’s bad. Whom do you hate?”

“Men,” she said.

There was tragedy in her face; and Daniel, in his simple wisdom, guessed
that what she needed was the friendship of a man who had no ulterior
motive. He looked along the street, and, seeing that there was a large
French café on the opposite side, asked her whether she would care to go
in there and have coffee with him.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


She hesitated for a moment; but when he had explained that he had no
more than half an hour to spare, and that he could not employ the time
better than by talking to her, she crossed the street with him and
entered the café.

“Now tell me what your trouble is,” he said, when they were sipping
their coffee at a table in the almost deserted saloon.

“O, it is nothing,” she replied. “I suppose I am ill. I have—how do you
say?—the ’ump, eh? If I had the courage I should suicide myself; but the
priest he tell me that the little devils in hell are men, and the angels
in heaven are men: so you see I cannot escape from men.”

“Oh, men are not so bad,” he told her. “You, of course, see them under
rather startling circumstances; and, if I may say so, you can’t always
judge of what a man is by looking at a subaltern in the Guards.”

She laughed. “But they tell me they are the élite of England.”

“Yes, poor lads,” he answered; “but it’s not their fault that they think
so: it’s due to other men being so bashful.”

Almost as he spoke a young officer walked past the café, under the
awnings, with an expression on his face which suggested that he detected
a very unpleasant smell in the world. He glanced into the saloon, and,
seeing Lizette, looked quickly in the other direction.

“That is one of them,” she said. “He come to me every Sunday after
Church.”

Daniel turned his eyes to her, and there was pity and horror in them.
“Ah, my girl, no wonder you hate us,” he declared. “If I were you, I’d
try not to speak to a man for, say, six months.”

“But how to live?” she asked. “I must get the money to live.”

She moved her head from side to side in despair; and Daniel, searching
his brains for a solution of the problem, stared out into the sun-bathed
street, his brows puckered, his fingers combing back his unruly hair.

“Gee!” he muttered. “You’re in a fix! Hav’n’t you got any relations in
Marseilles?”

She nodded, but without animation. “There is my brother
Georges-Antoine....”

“Does he know how you earn your living?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “He think I make the hat.”

“How much money have you saved?” he enquired.

She shook her head. “None.”

“Well, look here,” he said. “I’ll pay your fare back to France, if
you’ll go.”

She stared at him incredulously. “Why you say that?” she asked.

“Because I hate to see a girl like you behaving like a filthy beast,” he
answered sternly. “Oh, why were you such a fool as to start this life?”

“It begin,” she sighed, “it begin so sweet. I was very young; and the
man he love me so much. He was the real amant-passioné—what you do not
know in England. He used to kiss me until my head went round and round;
and I was like a mad one when he came into the room. Never in my life
again or before was I so drunken by a man....”

Daniel watched her as she told the story of her youthful love, and he
saw her eyes grow drowsy and full of memories.

“You must have been very happy,” he said at length.

“Yes, I was happy,” she answered, “but I paid for the happiness with
tears and weeping and bitterness.”

“Why?—did he desert you?”

Her voice, which had grown so tender and so near to a whisper, became
light and clear in tone once more. “No,” she said, with an almost
flippant gesture of the hand, “he died. He had the—how do you say?—the
gall-stones.”

Daniel finished his coffee, pensively. The tale, and especially its
ending, had a sound of stark and terrible truth about it.

“Then what happened?” he asked.

“Oh, then I was a good girl for half a year, perhaps; but presently when
another man made the love to me, I say to myself: ‘If once, then why not
twice?’ He was a soldier, big, very strong like you.” She looked at him
closely. “Yes, he were very like you; and I thought in my heart, ‘I love
him because he is so brave, and I am like a little bird in his hands.’”
She laughed. “Oh, I knew he was a man à bonne fortunes. He had many
girls; but in love all women are like the Orientals, is it not?—and I
was content to have my day, like the new one in the harîm of the
Egyptian pasha here....”

Daniel suddenly clenched the fingers of his hand which rested upon the
table. Muriel’s words came into his mind: “You can put me in your harîm
if you want to.” They rang in his ears again, and his heart seemed to
stand still in fear.

The murmur of Lizette’s voice continued, and he listened in terror now
as she told of her second love.

“Then one night,” she was saying, “we walked together on the road by the
sea, the Chemin de la Corniche, you know; and the beautiful stars were
in the sky, and there were little lights across the water on the islands
of Ratonneau and Pomegne. And I was so tired, and I sat down on the
rocks by the sea, and we were all alone....”

Daniel stopped her with a sudden movement of his hand. “I know, I know,”
he said. “Don’t tell me!”

“O, I soon forgot my love,” she laughed, thinking that the intensity
with which he spoke denoted his concern for her sorrows. “A few months,
a few weeks, perhaps, and it was finish. Then some one else, and some
one else, and some one else....”

He rose from the table, sick at heart. “I must be going,” he said. “If
you will accept my offer, write to me at the Residency, and I’ll send
you the money for you to go to your brother.”

She looked at his troubled face with a question in her eyes. “I think
you not like me,” she sighed. “I think you have the disgust.”

He shook his head. “No,” he answered, “I think you were not much
different from other women at first.”

“And afterwards?”

“I suppose one’s feelings soon get blunted,” he replied; “and you had
need of money.”

She assumed an expression, an attitude, not far removed from dignity.
“Thank you for being—how you say? _fair_ to me,” she said.

He paid his bill, and walked out of the café into the blaze of the
afternoon sun; but between him and its brilliance the shadow of doubt
had descended. “I am not the first of Muriel’s lovers,” he groaned in
his heart. “How do I know that I am the last?”

He walked through the city, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, by reason
of the clamour in his mind; but as he came down to the river, he raised
his eyes and stared out into the west, where the sun was descending
towards the far-off hills of the wilderness.

He stood stock still, and his lips moved. “Oh, peace of mind!” he was
whispering. “Will you never come down to me here in the valley? Must I
go up into the desert to find you once more?”



CHAPTER XX—PRIVATE INTERESTS


When Benifett Bindane found himself writing “February 1st” upon his
letters, he suddenly became the victim of a violent fit of energy. Time
was passing, and not much progress had been made with his great scheme
for the floating of the Egyptian Oases Development Company. By nature he
was indolent, and he had thoroughly enjoyed his three months basking in
the Egyptian sun. It was always a great pleasure to him to sit in the
warmest corner of a veranda, to glance at the _Financial News_, and then
to stare in front of him with an empty countenance and a mind full of
wonderful commercial schemes.

He had the habit of thinking in millions; and his brain, in many ways so
deficient, was capable of visualizing an extraordinarily prolonged
repetition of the figure “o” at the end of any sum in pounds sterling.

He had quickly made himself master of all the available information in
regard to the territory in question, but there were a great many points
on which he desired enlightenment before he made his projected grand
tour through the Oases at the end of this month. He wished to go there
fully primed, so that he should not fail to take note of all those
matters on which personal observation might prove to be of value; but
now the calendar had awakened him to the fact of the days’ rapid
passage, and he was obliged to make a serious effort to put some
stiffening into the loose fabric of his bones and brain.

In the secret council-chamber of his mind he had decided that Daniel
Lane was the one man really essential to the project, and it was his
main object now to enlist his services. He wondered what was the lowest
high salary that would tempt him; and he thought out many very fantastic
schemes for getting him away from the Residency. Lady Muriel was the
real obstacle; for Kate had kept him informed as to the progress of her
friend’s love affair, and he realized that as matters now stood there
would be the utmost difficulty in persuading Daniel to abandon his
present post. Steps, however, in the desired direction ought to be
taken; and at any rate there would be no harm in ascertaining the
possibilities of the matter.

He therefore telephoned to Lord Blair asking for an immediate interview;
and as the clock struck noon he was being ushered into the Great Man’s
presence.

Lord Blair received him in a very businesslike manner. A large map of
the Oases was spread upon the writing-table, entirely covering the
chronic litter of papers heaped thereon, and, indeed, covering the
greater part of his lordship himself as he sat in his desk-chair; while
upon a side-table there were numerous chorographic memoranda, and a
variety of type-written reports made upon the subject the last few
years.

Lord Blair opened the proceedings by describing to his visitor the
arrangements which had already been made for the forthcoming tour.

“The camels and camping-equipment are bespoken,” he said; “perhaps you
would like to see the list of articles to be supplied.”

He lifted the map, and dived his head under it in search of the
document, while Benifett Bindane stared vacantly at the folds of the
large sheet which rose and fell, like pantomime waves, as Lord Blair
moved about under it.

At length the long type-written inventory was found, and for some
minutes Mr. Bindane stared at it with dull, watery eyes. He might have
been thought to have gone off into a trance; and Lord Blair had begun to
fidget when at last the list was handed back.

“Please add ‘one tea-tray’ and ‘one toasting-fork,’” said Mr. Bindane.
“That’s all that is omitted, I think.”

Lord Blair was profoundly impressed; but his rising enthusiasm was
somewhat damped when presently his visitor broached the subject which
was uppermost in his mind.

“There are certain points about which I wish to be informed,” said Mr.
Bindane, “before I go out to the Oases.” He drew a piece of paper from
his pocketbook. “Here they are. Do you think it would be possible for
Mr. Lane to give me his help?”

“Mr. Lane?” queried Lord Blair. “Why?”

“Because I think Mr. Lane’s advice is essential to the scheme,” replied
Mr. Bindane.

Lord Blair spread out his hands. “Oh, but I don’t think he can be spared
just now,” he protested.

“I thought I understood you to tell me,” said the other, “that the
political situation was extremely quiet just at present. I was hoping
you might let Mr. Lane turn his attention now to the Oases.”

“My dear sir,” Lord Blair replied, leaning back in his chair, “the quiet
times that we are having, that we are enjoying, are very largely due to
Daniel Lane. His influence with the natives is extraordinary, quite
phenomenal.”

“Yes, I know,” Mr. Bindane replied, his face devoid of expression. “That
is why I want him for the scheme.”

Lord Blair leaned forward. “I don’t quite follow. Do I understand you to
mean that you want him to be associated definitely with the enterprise?”

Benifett Bindane’s mouth fell open more loosely than usual, and for a
second or two he stared vacantly before him. “Yes,” he answered, at
length. “I want him to be our General Manager.”

Lord Blair started. “Tut, tut!” he ejaculated, “By the time the company
is floated I expect Daniel Lane will have made himself altogether
indispensable to his Majesty’s Government here at the Residency.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. “I was counting on his support,”
said Mr. Bindane, presently. “Without it I don’t know whether I would be
inclined to find the necessary capital.”

Lord Blair instantly accepted the challenge. “Then the project will have
to be shelved,” he replied, sharply: and when he spoke sharply there was
no doubt about his being the “Great Man.”

Benifett Bindane, however, appeared to be entirely unmoved. “I don’t
think Mr. Lane is as happy now as he was when he lived in the desert,”
he mused.

Lord Blair rose to his feet. “Please regard his services as unavailable,
quite unavailable, for this project,” he said deliberately, “except in
an occasional advisory capacity.”

Mr. Bindane had also risen, and now the two stood facing one another.
Outwardly the trim, eager little man and the tall, lifeless figure
before him might have appeared to the eye to be friendly enough; but a
reader of hearts would have detected in them two opposing forces arrayed
for battle, the one having in mind the extension of the prestige of
England, the other the increase of his private fortune.

Meanwhile, in the library, another of life’s little plays was being
enacted.

Lord Barthampton had come to the Residency to invite Lady Muriel to a
picnic on the following day, and she had just disappointed him by saying
that she was already engaged. He had arrived with such a flourish,
spanking up to the door in his high dogcart, his little “tiger” leaping
to the cob’s head as he pulled up, and the morning sunshine sparkling on
the harness and the varnished woodwork; and now, after waiting a very
long time in the rather severe library, Lady Muriel had come in and had
told him that every moment of her time was booked up apparently for
weeks to come.

“I never seem to get the chance to say half a dozen words to you,” he
grunted, feeling thoroughly put out. “You women are all so mad about
having a good time that you can’t spare a moment for us lonely fellows.”

Muriel was quite concerned at his depression, and asked him whether he
would have a glass of port or a whiskey-and-soda.

“No, I will not,” he said, with a gloomy laugh. “I’m on the water-waggon
for your sake, and you don’t even say you’re glad.”

“O, but I am,” she answered. “I’m awfully glad. I think you’ve shown
true British grit. You’re one of the old Bulldog Breed, and, when once
you’ve set your jaw, nothing can get the better of you.”

Somehow she could not help pulling this man’s leg; and she spoke to him
in this strain the more readily in that he evidently appreciated the
language of what she called the Submerged Male.

“God knows it’s been a struggle,” he said: and, turning away from her,
he stared out of the window.

“How did you get into all those bad habits?” she asked, looking at him
with interest.

“Oh, India, I suppose,” he replied, with a shrug. “When one’s east of
Suez, and the memsahibs have all gone home....”

She stopped him with a gesture. There were limits to the game of
leg-pulling; and if he were going to become Anglo-Indian in his phrases,
the jest would be intolerable.

“I’m so sorry I can’t come to your picnic,” she said, checking the drift
of the conversation. “I’d come if I possibly could, but I’ve got to
attend a meeting.”

“A meeting?” he asked, in astonishment. “That sounds a funny thing for
you to be doing.”

“I’m honorary President of a fund for helping poor European children in
Egypt,” she explained. “It’s a very worthy object, I believe.”

He seized his opportunity. “Yes, we’ve all got to help the unfortunate,
hav’n’t we?” he said. “I do all too little myself—just a yearly
donation.”

Muriel was impressed, and questioned him.

“Yes,” he told her, “I always try to give between £500 and £1,000 a year
to the poor.”

“I call that very fine of you,” she declared, warming to him
immediately.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” he answered. “I’m blessed with abundance, you know;
and I like to practise what I preach. I’m not like _some_ fellows I
could mention—full of high principles in public, and full of sins in
secret.”

“Who are you thinking of, specially?” she asked, noticing the marked
inflection in his words.

He hesitated. “Well, Cousin Daniel, for example.”

“Oh, Daniel’s all right,” she replied.

“I don’t know so much about that,” he laughed. “There are some things
you couldn’t understand, little woman. But ... well, there are some
pretty tough female devils in the Cairo underworld; and Master Daniel
has been seen more than once in low cafés and places with a girl who’s
known as the ‘worst woman in Egypt’—the famous Lizette: but I don’t
suppose you’ve heard of her.”

The words were like a knife in Muriel’s heart. So people were right,
then, about Daniel’s disreputable character.

“Oh, that’s all past,” she replied, hardly knowing what she said.

“No, it isn’t,” he answered. “Only the day before yesterday one of my
brother-officers saw him with her. And I saw him myself dining with her
not so long ago—in fact I tried to separate them. I admit it was only
for the honour of our family that I interfered. He was drunk, I think,
and wanted to fight me.”

Muriel stared at him with round, frightened eyes; but Lord Barthampton
had shot his arrow, and now desired only to make his escape.

“I must be going,” he said, nervously. “I oughtn’t to have told you
that: it slipped out.”

He could see plainly enough that she was grievously wounded; and his
conscience certainly smote him, though it smote with a gentle forgiving
hand.

She turned away from him with tears in her eyes; and he, feeling
decidedly awkward, bade her “good-bye,” and hastened out of the room.

In the hall he came upon Benifett Bindane, who was also making towards
the front door. The two malefactors greeted one another; and Mr. Bindane
being, as Kate had said, “very fond of lords,” attached himself to the
younger man with evident pleasure.

“That’s a smart turn-out,” he remarked, as they came out of the house
into the glare of the sunshine.

“Give you a lift?” asked Lord Barthampton. “Anywhere you like.”

“Thanks,” the other replied. “I’m going to the Turf Club.”

“Right-o!” said his friend. “In you get. Hold her head, damn you, you
little black monkey!” he shouted to the diminutive groom. “Now
then!—_imshee riglak!_”—which he believed to be Arabic.

They drove off at a rattling pace, presently scattering the native
traffic in the open square outside the Kars-el-Nil barracks, and nearly
unseating a venerable sheikh from his slow-moving donkey.

“Why don’t you get out of the way!” shouted Lord Barthampton, turning a
red face to the mild brown wrinkles of the clinging rider. “Lord! these
niggers make me impatient.”

“Yes,” said his companion, who always disliked a show of temper, “I
notice that it’s only the English resident officials who have learned to
be patient with them.”

Arrived at the Turf Club, Lord Barthampton accepted Mr. Bindane’s
invitation to refresh himself with dry ginger-ale; for, during the
drive, a good idea (with him something of a rarity) had come into his
head. He had suddenly recollected that Kate Bindane was Lady Muriel’s
bosom friend; and it had occurred to him that if he could obtain the
sympathy of the husband, the wife might plead his cause. It would be
better not to say very much: he would adopt the manner which, he felt
sure, was natural to him, namely that of the stern, silent Englishman.

He therefore lowered his brows as he entered the club, and looked with
frowning melancholy upon the groups of laughing and chattering young men
about him.

“God, what a noise!” he muttered as he sank into a seat.

Mr. Bindane stared vacantly around, and waving a flapper-like hand to a
passing waiter, ordered the ginger-ale as though he were totally
indifferent as to whether he ever got it or not.

“I’m feeling a bit blue today,” said Lord Barthampton, leaning back
gloomily in his chair.

“What’s the matter?” asked his friend.

“I’m in love,” was the short reply.

Mr. Bindane was mildly interested. “Who with?” he asked.

“Lady Muriel,” the other replied, between his clenched teeth. He was
anxious to convey an impression of sorrow sternly controlled.

“A very charming young lady,” said Mr. Bindane, “and my wife’s best
friend.”

“Yes, that’s why I’m telling you,” replied Lord Barthampton, looking
knowingly at him. “I’ve been wondering if you could get her to put in a
word for me.”

“I’ll see,” said Benifett Bindane.

“Thanks awfully,” answered his companion.

That was all. There was no more said upon the subject; but Charles
Barthampton felt that the brief and pointed conversation had been very
British and straightforward. There had been no mincing of matters; what
he had said had been short and soldierly, as man to man.

When he was once more alone, Mr. Bindane lay for awhile loosely in the
deep red-leather chair. His open mouth, his vacant eyes, the perpetual
pallor of his face, and his crumpled attitude of collapse, might have
led an observer to suppose that he had passed quietly away. He was,
however, merely absorbed in a series of interesting thoughts. He was
thinking that a possible engagement between Lady Muriel and Lord
Barthampton would probably have the effect of sending Daniel Lane back
to the desert in despair. He was thinking what a great deal of tact
would be needed in buying up the land of the Oases from the natives, as
he intended ultimately to do. He was thinking how very tactful Daniel
Lane was said to be; and how wasted, commercially, he seemed to be at
the Residency.



CHAPTER XXI—THE CLASH


During the next three days Muriel flung herself into her social
engagements with desperation. She wanted to prevent herself from
thinking about Daniel, for her attitude towards him baffled her and put
her out of conceit with herself. She was violently jealous of this
Lizette, whoever she might be; but, somehow her jealousy did not
estrange her from her lover. All the more passionately she wanted Daniel
to belong to her: she wanted to step into his life, to drive all else
out, and to take possession of him. It is true that she meant to hurt
him, to punish him; but, even while being angry with him, she knew that
she would ultimately forgive him.

Had her training been other than that of the typical young woman of the
world, she would probably have regarded her relationship to him as at an
end; but she had been brought up to the idea that men have to be
indulged in their little peccadillos and excused for their excesses, and
now, somewhat to her own annoyance, she found herself exonerating him.
She was hurt, she was offended, she was jealous, she was disgusted; but
she was not completely estranged. She declared to herself with her lips
that she could never feel the same to him again; but her heart, by its
very sorrows, gave the lie to her passionate mutterings.

She did not have many opportunities of speaking to him during these
three days, and she shunned the beginning of what she knew was going to
be a serious quarrel. But on the fourth day circumstances threw them
together: and then the trouble began.

They had both accepted an invitation to luncheon with Colonel and Mrs.
Cavilland; and, Muriel’s presence being the social feature of the
occasion, she did not feel that she ought to disappoint her hostess. Nor
could she avoid driving to the house in Daniel’s company; and it was
only the shortness of the distance that prevented some sort of an
outburst.

As it was, she was distant and preoccupied, and Daniel looked at her
every now and then, wondering what could be the matter.

Lady Smith-Evered was one of the guests; and the question as to whether
the Colonel should take her or Lady Muriel as his partner must have been
the subject of much discussion. It had evidently been decided, however,
that the daughter of Lord Blair took precedence of the wife of Sir Henry
Smith-Evered; and Colonel Cavilland therefore led the former into the
dining-room, and to Daniel fell the duty of giving his arm to the
latter.

Lady Smith-Evered plainly showed her indignation at this outrage by a
mere colonel of Dragoons upon the martial dignity of the
Commander-in-Chief; and for much of the meal she hardly spoke a word.
Daniel was thus left to look about him; and he observed how gaily Muriel
laughed and joked with her partner, and with Captain Purdett upon her
other hand.

Snatches of her conversation came to his ears; and he was conscious, as
ever, that the things she said in public had no relation to those meant
for his private hearing. When she was alone with him she spoke with
frankness and sincerity; but to other people she seemed to be striving
after an effect, and just now, somehow, he would have liked to have
shaken her, even though she made him laugh.

The colonel was talking about the recent discovery at Alexandria of a
Greek papyrus, extracts from which had appeared in translation in the
Egyptian Gazette.

“It’s a treatise on love,” Colonel Cavilland was saying. “The Greeks
were specialists on that subject.”

“Oh, I thought they were general practitioners,” Muriel replied, and was
rewarded with a burst of laughter.

He spoke of the passages quoted as being very charming, direct, and
simple; and Muriel remarked that she had always thought of the Greeks as
wicked old men who sat on cold marble and made hot epigrams.

“But in this case,” he laughed, “the author seems to have been a poor
shepherd.”

“Then no wonder his views were peculiar,” said she. “‘Poverty makes us
acquainted with strange bedfellows,’ they say.”

The colonel glanced at her apprehensively, but Muriel’s face seemed to
show perfect innocence. “Oh, well, for that matter,” she added,
musingly, “I suppose wealth does, too.”

Her host’s breath appeared to be taken away by her audacity. He was not
used to the style of chatter current in what are called “smart” circles.
He caught Daniel’s eye, and, seeing that he had been listening, winked
at him; but Daniel turned quickly away, and made another abortive
attempt to engage Lady Smith-Evered in conversation.

Mrs. Cavilland observed his difficulties, and helped him to enter the
gaieties at her end of the table; but here, again, he felt himself to be
out of harmony with the laughter, and he began to think himself a very
surly fellow.

Mrs. Cavilland was amusing her neighbours by making fun of the wives of
the minor officials in Cairo; and she was clever enough to rend them so
gently that her feline claws were hardly to be observed, her victims
seeming, as it were, to fall to pieces of their own accord.

“What a cat I am!” she laughed. “Mr. Lane, I can see your disapproving
eye on me.”

Lady Smith-Evered leant forward. “Mr. Lane disapproves of everything
English,” she said. “He prefers natives.”

“Oh, it’s not as bad as that,” Daniel replied, with a smile. “I’ve got
the greatest admiration for my countrymen in the rough....”

He checked himself. He felt that he was being a boor. He wanted to add:
“but I detest the ways of this politely infamous thing called Society.”

It was Muriel, strangely enough, who came to his rescue. “Oh, don’t take
any notice of him,” she said, speaking across the table. “That’s only
his fun.”

If she spoke with bitterness she concealed the fact; and Mrs. Cavilland,
knowing that he had lived much of his life in America, presumed that his
form of drollery must be of that kind to which English people are
notoriously obtuse. She did not wish to be thought slow in the uptake,
and she therefore laughed merrily, declaring that he was “a perfect
scream,” which so tickled Daniel that he, too, smiled.

There was to be a garden party at the Residency that afternoon, which,
owing to the anticipated presence of a number of native dignitaries, he
would be obliged to attend. As soon as luncheon was finished, therefore,
he whispered to Muriel, suggesting that they should leave early, and
thus have a little time together before the afternoon’s function.

“I _must_ have an hour alone with you, Muriel,” he said. “I’m feeling
all on edge.”

Muriel shook her head. “Can’t be done,” she answered casually. “I’ve
promised Willie Purdett I’d go for a spin with him in his new car.”

“Well, tell him you’ve changed your mind,” he said, deliberately. “I
want you.”

“I’m afraid you’re too late, my dear,” replied Muriel, and turned away
from him.

Later, at the garden party he watched her as she moved about the lawn;
and he seemed to be unusually sensitive to the number of young men who
hovered around her. His philosophy had wholly deserted him, and his mind
was disturbed and miserable.

Once he joined a group in which she was the principal figure; and again
he was distressed by the tone of her remarks. It was almost as though
she were trying to offend his ear.

Somebody had said “The good die young,” but Daniel had not heard the
earlier part of the conversation; and Muriel replied, “Yes, dullness is
the most deadly thing on earth, and the most contagious.”

He did not wait to hear more: he turned his back on her and walked away,
his heart heavy within him. He was utterly out of tune with her.

That evening she was to dine with the Bindanes at Mena House and to
spend the night with them, so as to be ready for an early start next
morning upon an all-day excursion into the desert. It was to be a large
and elegant picnic; and Daniel had been glad to be able to make his work
an excuse for not joining the party.

Soon after dark, therefore, he found himself driving out to the Pyramids
with Muriel and her maid; and on reaching the hotel he asked her to come
into the garden for the half-hour before the first gong would ring.

“Oh, it’s so dark out there,” she replied. “I want to have a talk to
you, too. Couldn’t we find a corner in the lounge?”

“No,” he said, “it’s stuffy inside.”

He took her arm, and led her towards the dense group of trees which
surrounded the tennis court. She did not resist. This state of veiled
hostility was intolerable, and she welcomed the thought of a pitched
battle with him.

The night was moonless; and the hot south wind which had been blowing
during the day had dropped, leaving the upper air so filled with a hazy
dust that the stars were dim. The darkness, when they had passed out of
the range of the hotel lights, was intense; and it was with difficulty
that they found their way to a bench upon the lawn, under the blackness
of the overhanging foliage.

Here they seated themselves in silence; and, though they were close to
one another, each could feel, rather than see, the presence of the
other. The distant clanging of the tram-car bells, and an occasional
grumble of an automobile, reminded them that civilization was not far
removed; but here in the obscurity all was hushed, and there was a sense
of detachment from the busy ways of mankind which was accentuated by the
ominous hooting of an owl and by the gentle rustle of the trees, as the
leaves were stirred by the dying wind.

“Well?” said Muriel.

“Well?” he replied. “Let’s have it out.”

“Oh, then you know there’s something wrong.”

“I know you have been trying to hurt me for the past two or three days,”
he answered.

He put his hand upon hers as it rested on her knee, and drew her towards
him; but she resisted the movement, and he noticed that her fingers,
which pushed his own away, were cold.

“Tell me,” he said. “What has been the matter? You have made me very
unhappy.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” she answered. “Only ...”

“Only what?”

“I don’t think you know what love is,” she murmured, and her voice was
so low that her words were almost lost in the darkness.

“But that is just what I was going to say to you,” he replied.

She uttered a little laugh. “It seems that we shall always interpret
things differently,” she said.

She turned to him, and in the obscurity his face seemed strange to her.
She could not construct the features, nor supply the well-known lines
now lost in the shadow. She saw only the great forehead, faintly white,
and the upper part of his cheeks; but his eyes were hidden in two deep
cavities of blackness, and all expression was extinguished.

“There will always be these misunderstandings,” he told her, “so long as
you are tied to this sort of social life.”

“I prefer it to the underworld,” she answered, and her heart beat, for
she was launching her attack.

“What d’you mean by the ‘underworld’?” he asked.

“The world that Lizette belongs to,” she replied.

She had said it!—she had hurled her lightning, and now she waited for
the roll of the thunder. But there was no cracking of the heavens: only
silence; and, as she waited, she could feel the beating of her pulse in
her throat.

At last he spoke, and his voice was quiet and clear.

“Please tell me exactly what Cousin Charles has said about Lizette.”

She turned quickly on him. “Why should you think it was Charles
Barthampton who told me?”

“Because I was with Lizette the day I first met him,” he answered.

“Then you don’t deny it?”

“Deny it?” he repeated, with scorn in his voice. “Why on earth should I
deny it?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “A man generally denies that sort of thing
to the girl he wants to marry,” she said.

“That only shows how little you understand me,” he replied, and there
was despair in his words.

“O, I understand you well enough,” she answered, bitterly. “You are just
like all men. But what I can’t understand is how you could be going
about with that woman at the same time that you were making love to me.”

Again he was silent. It seemed that he had to turn her words over in his
mind before their significance was clear.

“You mean,” he said at length, “that if I had told you Lizette was an
old flame of mine now set aside, you would have condoned it?”

“Women have to forgive a great deal in the men they love,” she answered.

“You mean,” he went on, ruthlessly, “that you think me capable of coming
to you with that woman’s kisses on my lips?”

It was she, now, who was silent for a while. “I’ve got to think you
capable of it,” she said at last. “You were with her only a few days
ago.”

“Yes,” he answered. “I was with her, as you say, a few days ago. Well?”

She moved restlessly in her seat. “That’s not the way to ask my
forgiveness,” she said.

Suddenly his shadowy bulk seemed to loom up above her. He gripped her
wrist with his left hand, and drew her towards him; while the fingers of
his right hand laid themselves upon her throat. His face came close to
hers.

“How dare you!” he whispered. “How dare you think of me like that? D’you
mean to say that if all this were true, if I were living with that
woman, you would be prepared to forgive me?”

She did not speak. “Answer me!” he cried, and his arms crushed her to
him.

“I don’t know,” she gasped. “I only know I love you, Daniel.”

He loosed his hold upon her. “Oh, you’re tainted,” he exclaimed.
“Intrigues, jealousies, deceptions, quarrels, reconciliations—they’re
all part of your scheme of life. I suppose you revel in them, just as
you revel in the latest divorce case at your gossiping tea-parties, and
the latest dresses from Paris, and the latest dancing craze, and the
latest thing in erotic pictures or sensuous music....”

Muriel put her hands over her ears. “I won’t listen!” she cried. “You
don’t know what you’re saying.”

He stood in front of her, his hands driven into the pockets of his coat.
His massive head and shoulders shut out the misty stars, and as she
looked up at him he appeared to her as a black and vaporous elemental
risen from the ancient soil of Egypt.

It was evident that he was trying to control his anger; and when he
spoke again his voice was quiet and restrained.

“I’m afraid I must seem to you very rude,” he said, “but when one is
speaking out of the pit of despair the words one utters are black words.
These last few days I’ve been seeing you with critical eyes: watching
you, listening to you. And the result is ...”

“What?” she asked, as he paused.

“I realize more and more how I dislike all this fooling with the surface
of things—surface emotions, surface wit, surface honesty. I can’t get
down to the real You: the veneer is so thick. All that I have seen and
heard belongs to the superficial. I’m beginning to think there’s nothing
real or solid under it all. The things you say are clever empty things;
the things you do....”

She rose to her feet and faced him—a shadow confronting a shadow.

“We seem to be getting further away all the time from the original point
of contention,” she said, her voice rising. “I suppose that is what is
called ‘confusing the issue.’ It is rather clever. But please try to
remember that I am accusing you of deceit and disgusting duplicity. I am
accusing you of being with a woman whom even your obnoxious cousin
couldn’t stand seeing you with, so that he had to try to separate you.”

“Oh, he said that, did he?” Daniel’s tone was apathetic.

“Do you deny it?” she asked, quickly.

“No,” he answered. “If you believe the story, it has served its
purpose.”

“How can I not believe it?” she cried. “You don’t deny it.”

“Why should I deny it?” he demanded. “It is not a compromise with you I
am looking for: I am looking for your trust.”

“Trust!” she scoffed. “You come to me and whisper to me of your
wonderful desert, and the wonderful times we shall have there together;
you tell me that I am your mate, your sweetheart; your chosen one: and
all the time you are carrying on a liaison with a wretched woman in a
back street.”

“Yes,” he answered, “and, believing that, you decide to have it out with
me and then make it up. Oh, you sicken me! If I were to tell you the
whole thing were nonsense, you wouldn’t believe me. You might even be
disappointed. The tale would have been found to have no point: it
wouldn’t be up to the standard of the stuff you read in your French
novels.”

Muriel sat down upon the bench once more, and her hands fell listlessly
to her sides. “I don’t think there’s any use in talking,” she murmured.

“No, none,” he answered. “I shall never get to the real you until you
cut loose from all this. We belong at present to different worlds. I’m
all at sea when I try to look at things from your point of view.”

“Very well, then,” she said. “Please take me back to the hotel. I shall
be late for dinner.”

There was a complete silence between them as they made their way through
the trees and along the gravel path towards the strongly-illuminated
veranda. Through open doors the lounge could be seen, and here groups of
visitors were gathering in readiness for dinner. The chatter of voices
and little gusts of laughter came to their ears as they approached; and
an elegant young man at the piano was lazily fingering the notes of
Georges Hüe’s haunting _J’ai pleuré en rêve_.

Daniel paused at the steps of the veranda, but Muriel walked on, and,
without turning her head, passed into the house. He stood for a moment,
after she had gone, staring into the brightly lit room with dazed
uncomprehending eyes: then he turned towards the desert, and presently
was engulfed in the night.



CHAPTER XXII—THE CALL OF THE DESERT


As soon as Daniel arrived at the Residency next morning he sent a
message to Lord Blair, asking that he might see him. He had hardly slept
at all during the night, and his haggard face showed the ravages of his
emotion.

Lying on his bed upon the rocks above his camp, he had striven to
examine the entire situation with an impartial mind; and he would not
admit that his philosophy had failed him. His reason strove to assert
itself, and to quell the tumult of his tortured heart; and again and
again he reminded himself that there was no such thing as sorrow of the
soul. It was only his body that was miserable; and could he but manage
to identify himself with the spiritual aspect of his entity, the pain of
the material world would be forgotten in the serenity of his spirit.
This was a first principle of his philosophy; and yet it seemed now to
be utterly beyond his attainment.

“I could not believe in a merciful God,” he thought to himself, “unless
I believed that He had placed within the reach of every man the means to
overcome sorrow. Therefore the means must be at hand, if only I can take
hold of them.”

And again: “My reason, my soul, is unconquerable. It stands above my
miserable body. If only I can look at this disaster with the calm eyes
of the spirit, I shall get the victory over the wretched torment of my
heart.”

In itself the actual quarrel with Muriel had presented no insuperable
obstacle to their relationship. Had the trouble been an isolated
incident, it would not have been difficult for them to have kissed and
made friends; but Daniel realized that the differences between them had
been growing for some time, and for many days now it had seemed clear to
him that Muriel was too chained in the prison of her class ever to
understand the freedom of the desert. He despaired of her; yet he loved
her so deeply that their estrangement was, beyond all words, terrible to
him.

While he waited in his room for Lord Blair’s reply, he paced to and fro;
and in his weary brain the battle which had raged all night came ever
nearer to a definite issue.

“I must get away from it all,” he kept saying to himself. “I must go
back to the desert, for only there shall I find peace.”

At length a servant came to him, saying that Lord Blair would receive
him; and thereat he betook himself to the Great Man’s study, his
impulsive mind made up on the instant and eager to meet his destiny.

“Why, what is the matter, Daniel?” Lord Blair asked, as he entered the
room. “You looked troubled.”

“I am more than troubled,” said Daniel. “I’m in despair. It’s about
Muriel: I’m afraid we’ve had a definite quarrel.”

Lord Blair wiggled in his chair, apparently with annoyance, though
possibly with nothing more than an itch.

“Ah—a lovers’ tiff ...,” he commented; but Daniel stopped him with a
gesture.

“No, it’s a total estrangement,” he said, fiercely. “It’s been growing
gradually, and now there’s nothing to be done. I’ve come to give you my
resignation. I’m going back to El Hamrân.”

Lord Blair suddenly sat back in his chair, his eyes fixed on his friend,
the tips of his fingers touching the edge of the table as though some
movement had been arrested. “My dear Daniel,” he said at last, and he
spoke sharply, “control yourself! This is an absurd situation.”

“Oh yes, I know,” Daniel replied, “you think I’m just a fool in love,
who’s going off in a huff. No, that’s not it. I want to go because I’ve
lost my happiness since I’ve been in Cairo: I’m utterly out of tune with
the people I meet. Why, yesterday at the Cavillands’ I could feel myself
being a boor and a bore. I couldn’t laugh.... Yes, that’s it; since I’ve
been amongst all these witty people I’ve forgotten how to laugh. Good
God!—I hav’n’t smiled for weeks. Out there in the desert, when my mind
was at peace, I was always full of laughter; I was always chuckling to
myself, just from sheer light-heartedness or whatever you like to call
it. But here my heart’s in my boots, and I’m blue all day long. I can’t
even whistle.”

“I think—indeed, I am sure—you are taking things too seriously,” said
Lord Blair.

“You’re right,” Daniel answered, quickly, interrupting him. “The gay
life makes me painfully serious; this fashionable stuff fills me with
gloom. It’s all this blasted chase after amusement, this immense
preoccupation with the surface of things, that gives me the hump. You
see, to my way of thinking, light-heartedness only comes from a tranquil
sort of mind. It’s something deep inside oneself; one doesn’t get it
from outside—though, on the other hand, outside things do certainly
obscure one’s inner vision. Real happiness—not just pleasure—seems to be
absolutely essential to life and to all human relations. It’s the key to
diplomacy. You’ve got to see the fun of things, you’ve got to bubble
inside with happiness before you can really govern or be governed.
You’ve got to be the exact opposite of sinister, and nearly the opposite
of solemn, before you can get any punch into your dealings with your
fellow men, don’t you think? And how, in God’s name, can one be happy
unless there is the right mental atmosphere of truth, and sincerity, and
trust, and benevolence, and broad understanding?”

He spoke with intensity, and the movement of his hands added expression
to his words.

“But do you realize,” said Lord Blair, “what an immense, what an
unqualified success your work here has been? And now you would throw it
all up just because a chit of a girl has annoyed you.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Daniel replied. “I might have been able to
ignore all this miserable Society business; but when Muriel and I grew
fond of one another I was drawn into it. And then, gradually, I began to
see that that was her world. At first I hoped she would be the buffer
between me and that world, and a non-conductor, so to speak, but I find
that she transmits the shocks to me direct.”

He told Lord Blair something of the more tangible trouble between them,
but he would not reveal all the bitter yearning of his heart. He might
have said “I love her, I want her to be wholly mine, I want her to come
over to my way of thinking so that I can show her where real happiness
is to be found.” He might have said “I am distracted by her, and I want
to go away to forget her dear eyes, and the touch of her lips, and the
intoxication of her personality.” But on these matters he was silent.

As he talked his mind was filled with a passionate desire for the peace
of the desert. He was like a monk, longing for the refuge of his quiet
monastery walls; and he seemed to hear in his heart the gentle voice of
the wilderness calling to him to come back into the sweet smiling
solitude, away from the sorrows of the superficial world.

“I must go back to El Hamrân,” he said. “I beg you not to stop me.”

Lord Blair looked at him with pity. He was in the presence of an emotion
which he could not altogether understand, but the reality of which was
very apparent. “There must be no question,” he said, “of your
resignation. Go away for a time, if you wish, but you mustn’t play the
deserter.”

An idea had suddenly come into his head, and he turned to Daniel with
relief in his anxious eyes. “Now listen to me,” he said. “Go back to El
Hamrân: I can send you there on business.”

He hunted about amongst his papers, and presently produced the
memorandum which Benifett Bindane had handed to him. “Here are some
matters upon which Mr. Bindane desires information before he starts his
tour of the Oases in three or four weeks’ time. You can send your
answers in to him on his arrival at El Homra; and after that you can
wait at El Hamrân in case he comes there. After that I won’t hurry you
to return: I can give you leave of absence. And then, when your mind is
more settled you can come back here. The winter season will be over, and
what you call ‘Society’ will have left the country for the summer.”

Daniel fell in with the suggestion gladly. “You are very patient with
me,” he said. “I don’t deserve it: I feel I’m being very cranky.”

“I don’t want to lose you,” the elder man replied, and his sincerity was
apparent. But he was much startled when Daniel asked if he might leave
at once.

“Today?” he exclaimed, in surprise.

“Yes, now,” said Daniel, emphatically. “There are practically no
outstanding matters. I can put Lestrange wise about everything in ten
minutes.”

Lord Blair looked at him, curiously. “Muriel won’t be back from Mena
House until this evening,” he said. “Don’t you want to see her before
you go?”

“No,” he replied, quickly and decisively, rising to go, “I have nothing
to say to her.”

Lord Blair sighed as they walked to the door. “Daniel,” he said, “all
this is a great blow to me.”

Thus it came about that an hour after Daniel had arrived at the
Residency he was on his way back to the desert, his teeth set, and his
brain occupied, by force of will, with his plans. He did not dare to
look into the future: he was going, as a sick man goes to an operation,
to find by a path of pain the health of mind that he had lost. Perhaps
he would return to the Residency; perhaps he would not; but for the
present it was of paramount importance that he should master his
complaint, and regain the power to see clearly, the power to work
happily, the power to laugh.

By mid-afternoon his camp was struck, and he was ready to depart. A
camel-owner in the village of Kafr-el-Harâm, near the Pyramids, had
supplied the necessary camels and men at a moment’s notice, hastened by
the enthusiasm of Hussein and his brother, both overjoyed at the good
fortune which was to take them so suddenly back to their home. Some of
the tents and the unnecessary articles of furniture had been stored in
the village at the house of a native friend; and the remainder were
packed upon the camels.

As the afternoon shadows were lengthening the start was made. The
camels, grumbling and complaining, lurched to their feet; the three
dogs, barking with excitement, ran in circles around the company; and
Daniel, swinging into his saddle, took his place at the head of the
caravan. In single file, and at a slow trot, they moved away westwards,
their long shadows stretching out behind them; and soon they had
disappeared into the waste of sand and rocks, golden in the light of the
descending sun.

An hour later the picnic party, coming back from a point to the south,
rode towards the Pyramids. Muriel had been very silent all day; but
Kate, who was in her confidence, had helped her to conceal her
depression, and now was riding by her side, a little removed from the
others. The desert had had a soothing influence upon the raw wound which
the quarrel of the previous day had inflicted; and Muriel was already
somewhat happier in her mind.

“Don’t you worry, old girl,” said Kate. “Men have got to be managed, and
you’ll soon put things ship-shape in the morning.”

“But the morning is so far off,” Muriel replied, pathetically.

She did not altogether understand what the trouble was about. Daniel had
attacked her so suddenly, just when she had been wholly engaged in
attacking him. So far as she could make out, he had been angry with her
because she had made a fuss about his relationship with Lizette. “I
suppose,” she thought to herself, “he thinks a woman oughtn’t to
question a man’s movements, or know anything about what he is doing when
he is not with her. It doesn’t seem fair somehow....”

She did not in the least realize that Daniel’s hostility had been
aroused by her belief that there was anything between him and Lizette,
and by her readiness, in spite of that belief, to overlook his supposed
deception as soon as she had vented her feelings by a brief show of
temper. She felt that he had been harsh, and rather brazen about the
whole thing; and yet, so greatly did she yearn for his love, she was
prepared to forgive even his brutality.

She turned to her companion. “I don’t think I can wait till the
morning,” she said. “I’m going to ride over to his camp now, and say I’m
sorry. It’s only a mile out of the way, and I’ll be home almost as soon
as you.”

Kate was sympathetic. “Go on, then,” she replied. “I’ll hint to the
others that you’ve got a stomach-ache or something, and have ridden on.
And let me see more colour in that old mug of yours when you get back.”

She leant forward in her saddle, and struck her companion’s horse with
her cane, so that he went off at a gallop across the sand.

Bearing off to the left, Muriel soon described the head of rock which
overlooked the camp; but approaching it thus from the south she knew
that the tents would not come into view until she had rounded this
ridge.

She had no idea what she was going to say. She thought only that she
would go into his tent, where she would probably find him writing at his
table; and she would put her arms about him, and tell him that she could
not live under his displeasure.

At last she reached the rocks; and, as she rode round them, she drew up
her reins and prepared to dismount. Then, with horrible suddenness, the
truth was, as it were flung at her. Where she had thought to see the
tents, there was only a patch of broken-up sand, a few bits of paper and
straw, and innumerable footprints.

She uttered a little cry of dismay, and, with wide, frightened eyes,
gazed about her. The footprints of the camels passed in a thin line out
to the west, and she could see them winding away into the silent desert.



CHAPTER XXIII—THE NATURE OF WOMEN


Kate Bindane had just gone up to her room and was standing there alone,
examining herself disapprovingly in the long mirror, when Muriel
staggered in, her face white, her knees giving way.

“Kate!” she cried. “He’s gone!”

She threw herself down on the floor in front of a low arm-chair, and
spreading her arms across its seat, buried her face in them.

Her friend stood perfectly still for a few moments, staring down at her
in amazement. She had never before seen Muriel give way to uncontrolled
grief in this manner; and she was frightened by the terrible rasping of
her muffled sobs, and by the convulsive heaving of her shoulders. She
did not know what to do, and her hands hesitated uncertainly between the
whiskey-bottle standing on a shelf and the smelling-salts upon the
dressing-table near to it.

At last, discarding the stimulants, she knelt down by her friend’s side,
and put her strong arm around her. The tears had come into her own eyes,
and as she patted Muriel’s shoulder, she fumbled for her handkerchief
with her disengaged hand.

“Hush, hush, my darling!” she whispered. “Tell me what has happened.”

“He’s gone,” Muriel sobbed. “The camp’s gone. I saw the track of his
camels leading away into the desert.”

She could say no more, and for a considerable time continued her
passionate weeping.

At length she raised her head. “There are only some bits of paper and
things left,” she moaned; and therewith she returned to her bitter
tears.

Kate rose to her feet. “I am going to ’phone your father,” she said,
“and ask him what has happened.”

She gave Muriel an encouraging pat, and hastened into the adjoining
sitting-room, where a telephone was affixed to the wall. A few minutes
later she was speaking to Lord Blair, asking him the reason of Daniel’s
departure.

“We’ve just seen the deserted site of his camp,” she said, “and poor
Muriel is in floods of tears.”

“Dear, dear!” came the reply. “Poor girl! Tell her Daniel has only gone
away for a short time. I have had to send him to the Oases on business,
that’s all.”

“Rather sudden, wasn’t it?” queried Kate.

Lord Blair coughed. “Daniel is always very prompt to act, when action
has to be taken,” he said.

“Didn’t he leave any note or message for Muriel?”

“No, none,” was the reply. “He went away in a great hurry. Am I to
expect Muriel back to dinner?”

“With her eyes bunged up?” exclaimed Kate, impatiently. “Of course not.
I’ll send her back to you in the morning. Hav’n’t you anything to say to
comfort her?”

There was a pause. “Yes,” he replied at length, “tell her I’ve just seen
Ada going upstairs with two bandboxes. She says they are new
night-dresses from Maison Duprez.”

Kate uttered a contemptuous grunt. “That’s the last thing to tell her!”
she exclaimed. “Good-night.”

She slammed down the receiver, and, going back to her bedroom, repeated
to Muriel her father’s explanation of Daniel’s departure. This brought
some comfort into the girl’s forlorn heart; and a second outburst of
tears, which occurred an hour or so later, was due more to a kind of
self-pity, perhaps, than to despair.

“It’s so unkind of him,” she cried, “to go off without even saying
good-bye, or leaving a note.”

“But from what I gather,” Kate replied, “he doesn’t think you really
care much about him.”

“Ah, I do, I do,” Muriel wailed, wringing her hands.

“Well, you know,” Kate commented, somewhat brutally, “seeing how you’ve
been carrying on this last month, I shouldn’t have said myself that you
were really stuck on him.”

“You don’t understand,” Muriel moaned. “I wanted to be properly engaged
to him, but he wouldn’t hear of it—I told you at the time. I don’t
believe he ever wanted to marry me at all,” she exclaimed, passionately.
“I believe he only wanted me to run away with him.”

Suddenly she looked up, with a curious light in her face. “I wonder....”
She paused. She recalled the words he had said when he first knew her:
“Why don’t you break loose?” And then last night he had said: “I shall
never get to the real you until you cut loose from all this.” Could it
be that the manner of his going away was meant to be a sort of silent
gesture, a beckoning to her to follow?

She was so absorbed in her thoughts that her tears dried upon her face;
and presently Kate was able to induce her to make somewhat more than a
pretence of tasting the little dinner which had been sent up to them.

Later in the evening, when Benifett Bindane had come upstairs, and when
Muriel had gone to her own room, Kate told her husband that she would
sleep that night with her friend.

“As you wish, my dear,” he answered pleasantly. “You must help her to
get over this business. She’ll soon live it down, I expect.”

Kate looked annoyed. “You needn’t be so damned cheerful about it,” she
said. “I sometimes think you haven’t got a heart at all.”

He sat down loosely, and stared at her for some moments, as though about
to make a profound remark.

“Spit it out,” said Kate encouragingly.

“I was just thinking,” he droned, “that I shall probably get Lane as our
General Manager after all.”

She turned upon him. “Oh, you cold-blooded brute! It’s always business
first with you. I suppose you’re hoping he’ll never want to come back to
Cairo.”

“Well,” he mused, “he evidently feels that life in the Oases suits him
better.”

“Ugh!” his wife ejaculated. “I suppose you think he’ll be content to be
a sort of pasha out there, with his harîm of Bedouin women; raking in a
fat salary from your precious Company, and fleecing the natives to fill
your pockets. It’s a pretty picture!”


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


“Well, it isn’t a prettier picture,” he answered, “to think of a fine
man like that messing about Cairo, wasting his time at dinner parties
and dances on a wretched Foreign Office pittance.”

Kate did not continue the discussion, and it was not long before she
went to her friend’s room, where, entering quietly, she found Muriel
standing in her nightdress at the western window, her bare arms resting
on the high sill, and her gaze fixed upon the obscurity of the desert
which lay black and desolate under the stars. The window was open, and
the drifting night-wind stirred the mass of her dark hair which fell
about her shoulders.

She turned quickly as she heard the footstep, and Kate was dismayed at
the pallor of her face.

“I can’t make him out,” Muriel said. “I can’t make him out. Right out
there somewhere, in that blackness, he is smoking his pipe and stroking
his dogs and yawning himself to sleep. And yet he must know that I’m
here, calling to him and crying to him.”

She stretched out her arms, her fists clenched. “O God!” she muttered,
“Let me understand him, let me see what’s in his mind.”

Kate drew the curtain across the window, as though she would shut out
the dark menace of the desert, and drew her friend towards the bed.

“It’ll all come out in the wash, old girl,” she choked. “You’re not the
only woman who finds her man incomprehensible sometimes.”

She looked at Muriel and Muriel at her; and suddenly, like two children,
they put their heads each upon the other’s shoulder, and sobbed as
though their hearts would break.

When Muriel returned next morning to the Residency, she went up to her
own sitting-room at once; and presently she sent a message down to her
father, who was at work in his study, asking him to come to her as soon
as he had a few minutes to spare: nor was it long before he came
tripping into the room.

It was evident that he felt the situation to be somewhat awkward; for
his remarks began on a piping note of jocularity, and so rapidly
descended the scale to one of profound melancholy that Muriel was
reminded of a gramophone running down.

“Father,” she said presently, “I want you to tell me exactly what Daniel
said about me before he left. I suppose he told you that we had had a
quarrel.”

Lord Blair seemed puzzled, and he raised his hands in a gesture
indicating his lack of grasp of the essential points in Daniel’s recent
tirade.

“Yes, he told me about the little tiff; but I really don’t know whether
I apprehend his meaning exactly. He was very much upset, very
overwrought. It seems, if I have understood him aright, that he finds
fault with you because you are rather—what shall I say?—rather given to
the superficialities of our civilization. He would prefer you _in puris
naturalibus_”—he corrected himself—”that is to say metaphorically
speaking. He said that ‘the fashionable world,’ as he called it, filled
him with gloom, gave him the ... ah ... hump, I think he said; and he
was disappointed to find that you associated yourself so fully with the
frivolities of society, and were so foreign to the liberties, the
sincerities, of more primitive conditions. I don’t know whether I am
making myself clear.“

“Perfectly,” said Muriel. “I suppose he would have preferred to see me
turning head over heels in the desert _in puris_ ...
what-you-said-_ibus_.”

“I take it,” Lord Blair explained, “that he was referring to your
mental, not your physical attitude.”

“Oh, quite so,” replied Muriel; and she burst out laughing, but her
laughter was very close to tears.

Lord Blair patted her cheek. “Ah, Muriel,” he said, his manner again
becoming serious, “you mustn’t lose Daniel. I would rather that he were
your husband than any man living.”

“But I don’t think he wants to be my husband, or anybody’s husband,” she
replied.

“He is deeply in love with you,” her father told her.

“That’s another matter,” said she; and Lord Blair glanced at her in
perplexity.

He was not altogether sorry that events had taken their present course;
for it seemed to him that this temporary disunion would have a salutary
effect on his daughter’s character. He could see clearly the faults of
which Daniel complained; and he could not help thinking that this
forceful show of disgust on her lover’s part would be instrumental in
arousing her to the more serious things of life. It would be a lesson to
her which would serve to fit her to be the wife of a man of genuine
sincerity.

Moreover, in the case of Daniel, his sudden return to El Hamrân, with
his heart left behind him here at the Residency, would probably dispel,
once and for all, that haunting dream of his desert paradise which
otherwise would always cause him to be restless in Cairo. This time, if
he were made of flesh and blood, he would find the desert intolerable,
and in a few weeks he would probably be lured back to civilization by
the call of his manhood.

That Daniel should marry Muriel, and take up his permanent position at
the Residency, was his most ardent hope; and as the present events had
occurred he had fitted them each into place in his growing plan of
action.

In brief, his scheme was as follows. At the end of the month he himself
would have to go up to the Sudan on his annual tour of inspection; and
about the same time the Bindanes would be going to the Oases. He had
expected to take his daughter with him to the Sudan, but, instead, he
would send her with the Bindanes, and thus she would be in a position to
effect a reconciliation with Daniel on his own ground, so to speak.
Hardy Muriel on camel-back in the desert would be more likely to win him
than dainty Muriel in the ballroom; and Lord Blair, priding himself on
his strategy, had almost come to believe that his sending Daniel off to
El Hamrân had been a definite move in his game, made with the object of
bringing about this romantic meeting in the desert.

He rubbed his hands together now as he prepared to tell Muriel of his
plan, so far as she ought to know it.

“Now, my dear,” he said to her, “you must not fret. I have a little
scheme in my mind, of which I think you will approve. I am going to try
to arrange for you to go out to the Oases with our friends; and thus you
will be able to see Daniel for a day or two, and, if so you wish, you
will be able to make it up with him.”

He stood back from her, and beamed upon her, his hands raised as though
he were beating time to a visionary orchestra. But as he saw the
expression in her eyes his face fell, and his hands sank to his side. He
looked at her in dismay, and the thought came into his mind that she was
undoubtedly a Blair; for, like all the Blairs in a temper, she resembled
a beautiful monkey. Her eyebrows were knitted, her eyes were round and
wide open, her lips were pursed, and her jaw was set. He had never
realized before how very attractive she was.

“Do you suppose,” she said, slowly and distinctly, “that I shall again
put myself in a position to be snubbed? Do you think I would lower
myself to go out to him in the desert and ask his forgiveness? No! If he
wants me he can come back and ask _my_ forgiveness.”

He watched her anxiously as she turned haughtily away. Then he shrugged
his shoulders. “You both seem determined to lose one another,” he
remarked; and presently, like a man who has no time to waste, he stepped
back to the door and opened it.

“I never want to see him again,” said Muriel over her shoulder.

Lord Blair did not answer, but, shutting the door with a snap, left her
to her bitter reflections.

Five minutes later a message was brought up from Lady Smith-Evered, who
had called to consult her in regard to a proposed picnic; and Muriel
therefore went downstairs to the drawing-room. There she found her
imposing visitor seated upon the sofa behind a great bunch of pink
peonies which stood in a vase upon a low table. She had evidently been
walking in the hot sun, and her face, in spite of its powder, was itself
extraordinarily suggestive of a pink peony in full bloom, so that,
appearing as it seemed to do from amongst these showy flowers, it was
like a burlesque of caricature of the works of nature.

“Good morning, my dear: forgive my getting up,” she said to Muriel.
“Your sofa is lower than I expected.”

Muriel sat down beside her. “I think Daniel Lane must have broken the
springs,” she answered. “He always used to fling himself into that
corner when he had a fit of laziness.”

Lady Smith-Evered glanced at her. “Why d’you say he ‘used to’? Doesn’t
he do it now?”

“He’s gone,” said Muriel. “Didn’t you know?”

“Gone?”

Muriel told her how Lord Blair had sent him off on a mission to the
Oases. Her voice betrayed no trace of feeling as she explained away his
sudden departure.

“Well, my dear,” said Lady Smith-Evered, “I know you and he quite like
each other, but I must say I can’t understand it. I’m relieved to hear
he has gone. I don’t trust him in regard to women.”

Muriel uttered a short laugh. “One might say the same of any man,” she
replied.

Lady Smith-Evered looked at her curiously. “I wonder what’s the real
reason of his being sent off so suddenly,” she remarked, a crafty
expression coming into her face. “His going on a mission is probably
only eyewash.”

Muriel shrank before her prying eyes, and a feeling of anger was
awakened in her; but she only shrugged her shoulders.

“I wonder if your father has been wise enough just to dismiss him in
this way,” Lady Smith-Evered mused. “I’ll find out: yes, I’ll get to the
bottom of it.”

The expression of inquisitive, self-complacent cunning in the woman’s
face, and her actual blindness to the real facts of the matter, combined
to arouse in Muriel an uncontrollable hostility.

“Oh, you needn’t bother to find out,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand
the real reason.”

“Ah, then there _is_ a secret: I thought as much,” she replied, with a
knowing smile. “There’s always a secret about the movements of such men
as Mr. Lane.”

“Yes,” answered Muriel, suddenly seeing red, as the saying is; “absolute
frankness and absolute honesty must always seem fishy to those who can’t
conceive what such things mean. If you want to know, Daniel Lane has
gone away because he was fed up with the rotten life we lead here in
Cairo. The sham of it all sickened him. He has gone away to escape from
the pretences and the hatefulness and the pettiness of people like you
and me. He’s gone to get some fresh air: he was being suffocated here.”

Lady Smith-Evered stared at her in blank astonishment, and the pinkness
of her face turned to a deeper red. “Oh, that’s what he has told you, is
it?” she scoffed. “He must think you very gullible.”

Muriel rose from the sofa, and faced her visitor with blazing eyes. “I
said you wouldn’t be able to understand,” she exclaimed. “There’s no
mystery about it: he was just frankly disgusted, and off he went. But
he’ll come back one day, when the hot weather begins and we’ve all gone
home. Then he and Father will be able to get on with their work, with
England’s work, without being distracted by fussy little interruptions
from women like you and me....”

Lady Smith-Evered managed to raise herself with some dignity from the
sofa. “I wanted to speak to you about plans,” she said, stiffly; “but
that can wait now till another day. I don’t know what is the matter with
you, but I know we shall quarrel if I remain. I don’t care to be spoken
to as you are speaking to me.”

Her large bosom was heaving threateningly, and Muriel was abashed.

“I’m sorry,” she answered, the light of battle dying in her eyes.

Lady Smith-Evered took her departure without many more words, and
thereon Muriel went directly up to her room again, her heart aching
within her. Here at the open window she stood staring out across the
lawn to the translucent Nile. A native boat, with huge bellying sails,
was making its way slowly up stream; and she could hear the wailing song
of the blue-gowned youth at the rudder. Away in the distance the
Pyramids marked the edge of the placid desert, now bathed in sunlight;
and above, the cloudless sky stretched in tranquil splendour.

She was ashamed of herself, ashamed of her inconsistency. Her mind was
confused, but in its confusion she was conscious of one clear thought,
namely that Daniel would have rebuked her for her show of temper. “Look
away over there at the quiet desert,” he would have said. “Do you see
how it is smiling at you for your angry thought and for that flush in
your face? You won’t get at the root of things by raising your little
voice in protest.”

“O Daniel, Daniel,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears, “you
oughtn’t to have left me here alone. You oughtn’t, you oughtn’t.”

And some time later, still staring out of the window, she said: “Did you
go away because you wanted me to follow you? Must I humiliate myself and
come to you? O Daniel, my darling, how I hate you!”



CHAPTER XXIV—THE GREAT ADVENTURE


As the days passed, and the Bindanes’ departure for the Oases drew near,
Muriel’s rather feeble resolution not to accompany them steadily
weakened. Lord Blair had done his best to alter her decision, and the
Great Man could be a clever strategist: his daughter, indeed, would have
had little chance of opposing his wishes successfully in this matter
even had she battled against him with a whole heart, but in the
vacillating condition to which love had brought her she had no chance at
all.

“Don’t be a dam’ fool,” Kate Bindane said to her one morning at the
Residency. “What’s the good of moping about outside the ropes like a
heavyweight with a stomach-ache? You know you’re fed up with everybody
here: Gor’ blimy!—why don’t you swallow your maidenly pride, and put on
the gloves, and have three rounds with Fate? It’s better to be counted
out than never to have boxed at all. Tennyson.”

Thus it came about that at the end of February, when Lord Blair took the
train southwards upon his journey to the Sudan, Lady Muriel set out
westwards as a member of the Bindanes’ elaborate caravan. The start was
made one morning from Mena House, and so great was the general confusion
and hullabaloo that Muriel’s thoughts did not begin to clarify
themselves until a ride of two hours had brought them to the rocky
valley wherein they halted to eat their luncheon.

Here, seating herself upon the rocks at the foot of the cliff, she
shaded her eyes with her hand, and surveyed the animated scene with
amused interest. There was Kate, in a white coat and skirt, and a
sun-helmet, stumping over the sand to cure the “pins-and-needles” from
which she was suffering; her husband, in a grey flannel suit and a
green-veiled helmet, was still seated upon his camel as though he had
forgotten to dismount; his man, Dixon, rather fat and red, and wearing
his new gaiters apparently back to front, was hastening to his master’s
assistance; and the two imposing native dragomans, in silks all aflutter
in the wind, were shouting unnecessary orders to the Egyptian cook and
_sofragi_ to hasten the luncheon.

A few yards down the valley a khaki-clad Egyptian police-officer,
wearing his red _tarboush_, or fez, at a rakish angle, was giving
instructions to his four negro troopers; a fat native gentleman from the
Ministry of Agriculture was mopping his forehead as he stood beside his
grumbling camel, and the Egyptian secretary to the party, a dapper youth
with mud-coloured complexion and coal-black eyes, had just thrown
himself down in the shade and had removed the _tarboush_ from his
close-cropped head, in conscious defiance of local etiquette.

The baggage camels, carrying the camp equipment, the stores, and the
tanks of water, were lurching at a walking pace along the valley, led by
blue-robed camel-men, under the orders of the caravan-master, a
grey-bearded Arab who rode sleepily at the head of the line. These were
not to halt at the midday hour, but, pushing ahead, they would be
overtaken later in the day by the swifter riding-camels; and Muriel
watched them now as they slowly jogged along the little-used track
between the yellow cliffs, the brilliant sun striking down upon them
from a deep blue sky in which compact little bundles of snow-white cloud
went scudding past.

There was a boisterous breeze blowing, and the tingling glow of the sun
and wind upon her cheeks, as she sat perched high upon the rocks, seemed
to match the exhilaration of her heart. The morning’s ride had shaken
her brain free from the heavy gloom of the last three weeks; and already
the shining open spaces of the desert had produced their effect upon
her, so that she felt as though her mind had had a cold bath.

It was good to be up and doing; it was good to be setting out upon this
adventure, the ambiguousness of which seemed every moment to be growing
less disconcerting; it was good to be in this great playground where the
rules of her life’s schoolroom were mainly in abeyance. Up here in these
splendid spaces it would not matter if she pulled her skirt off, or let
her hair down, or turned a cartwheel, or stood on her head. Already she
was whistling loudly, and throwing fragments of stone into the valley
before her, in the manner of a child upon the seashore; and all her
love-sick sorrows of yesterday seemed to have vanished in the exaltation
of youth and youth’s well-being.

She watched the servants, in the distance at the other side of the
valley, spreading the picnic luncheon on a white tablecloth laid upon a
shaded patch of sand; and when at length the meal appeared to be ready,
she took a flying leap down from the rock where she had been sitting,
and landed sprawling upon the sand-drift below. The sensation pleased
her, and, clambering up the rocks once more, she repeated the jump, this
time arriving with a considerable thud upon her back, and sliding down
the drift with her legs in the air.

She hopped across the valley, rubbing herself, and was presently joined
by the Bindanes.

“I feel about twelve years old,” she told them; and indeed at the moment
she did not look much more than that age. “The desert is having an
extraordinary effect on me.”

“But we’re only ten or twelve miles into it so far,” said the practical
Kate. “You wait another week....”

“If I go on at this rate,” Muriel laughed, “I’ll be in arms by the time
we reach the Oases.”

“I wonder whose,” muttered Kate, with a smile; but her friend’s face at
once became serious. It was a jarring note, and it nearly ruined the
joviality of the picnic.

The afternoon ride carried them another fifteen miles; and towards
sunset they came to a halt in the midst of a wide flat plain of sand,
across which a winding ribbon of stunted tamarisks and sparse vegetation
marked the bed of a primeval river now reduced to a mere subterranean
infiltration. In the far distance on all sides the low hills hemmed them
in, like a rugged wall encircling a sacred and enchanted area.

The tents were pitched amongst the low-growing bushes in the dry,
shingly bed of the stream; and the hobbled camels were turned loose to
crop such twigs and grasses as they found edible. Muriel, meanwhile,
wandered away into the open desert; and presently, like warm sand, and
resting her chin on her hands, watched the sun go down behind the purple
hills.

For some time the excitements of the day, and the physical exhilaration
produced by her long ride in the sun and wind, held her from thought.
But at length the dreamlike silence of the wilderness, the amazing sense
of isolation from the outside world, began to release her mind from the
captivity of the flesh, so that becoming one with the immensity of
nature, her spirit drifted out into the sunset with the freedom of light
or air.

The little deeds of all her yesterdays appeared suddenly insignificant
to her, and she began to feel that life, and the happiness of life, was
something far greater than she had supposed. She wondered why she had
been troubled with regard to Daniel: he was just an expression of
nature, as she was: and here, in the solitude he so dearly loved, she
seemed to understand for the first time his scorn of the intricacies of
modern civilization. Here all was so simple, so devoid of complexities,
that she laughed aloud. It was only her wits, the mere fringe of her
mind, which had veiled her spirit from his spirit; but now she had
shaken herself loose from these ornamentations of life, and stood as it
were, revealed like a lost fragment dropped at last into place in the
great design.

She rose to her feet at length, with a sense of light-heartedness such
as she had never before known; and, returning to the camp in the
gathering dusk, she looked with amused pity at Benifett Bindane who sat
in a deck-chair reading the _Financial News_ by the light of a
glass-protected candle.

“Just look at him!” said Kate, who, herself, had been admiring the
sunset. “Isn’t it pitiful?”

Mr. Bindane laid the paper down, and stared at his wife with
uncomprehending eyes.

“The market is showing a good deal of weakness in Home Rails,” he said
to his wife; “but your South Africans are all buoyant enough, so you
needn’t worry.”

“Worry!” exclaimed Kate, contemptuously, and turned from him to the
fading light in the west.

“I’m glad I bought those Nitrates,” he went on, addressing the back of
her neck; “they’re improving, so far as one can tell from the closing
quotations given here.”

He held the newspaper out, but she struck at it viciously with her hand.

“Oh, for God’s sake shut up!” she cried. “It’s money, money, money all
the time with you.”

“I was speaking,” he said, very slowly, and as though he had been hurt,
“of stock I had bought for you, my dear.”

Kate turned to him, and her friend observed that her face softened, as
though at the thought that in his own way he was showing his affection
for her. But the picture was, nevertheless, pathetic; and the
recollection passed through Muriel’s mind, in sudden illumination, that
Daniel was entirely free from financial interests. So long as he earned
a reasonable living he never seemed to trouble himself about money.

Next morning they were in the saddle by eight o’clock, while yet the sun
was low in the heavens and the air cold and sharp. Crossing the wide
plain in which they had camped, they passed into the echoing valleys
amongst the hills; and for the next three days they made their way
through rugged and broken country, now mounting some eminence whence
they surveyed a wide prospect in which range behind range of rugged
peaks was revealed to them, now losing themselves in the intricate
valleys, where they rode in the blue shadow of the cliffs, and where the
sound of their voices and their laughter was flung back at them from the
walls of rock.

Each night they camped beside some water-hole or well, known by name to
their guides, but which to them seemed to be a deserted and unvisited
place, frequented only by the unseen gazelle whose footprints were
marked upon the sand. It was cold here in the high ground, and they were
glad of all the blankets which they had brought; but in the mornings the
sun soon warmed them, and by noon they were glad to take their rest in
the shade.

It was in the afternoon of the fifth day of their journey that,
descending from the higher level, they came into sight of the little
Oasis of El Homra, set like an emerald in the golden bowl of the desert.
Muriel was riding beside Kate Bindane when, emerging from the maze of
the hills, they first looked down into this wide basin in the centre of
which the Oasis was situated; and both she and her friend uttered a cry
of delight.

In the case of Muriel the ejaculation was a response to the grandeur of
the scene; but in that of her friend the exclamation was one of devout
thankfulness that the outward journey was nearing its end. Being heavily
built and somewhat stout Kate had suffered very much more severely from
the long-protracted jolting than she had been willing to admit; and
there were many very sore places upon her body which caused the thought
of much further exercise of this kind to be intolerable.

“You won’t catch me coming out here again,” she declared, “until the
Company has built its light railway. Five days of blinkin’
torture!—that’s what it’s been. And to think that five hours by train
would have done it...!”

Muriel looked at her in dismay. “I’d much rather not think we were so
near Cairo as that,” she answered. “The whole pleasure of the thing is
that we’re so cut off from civilization.”

Kate groaned. “Well, I’m glad to say I’ve brought a bit of civilization
with me in the shape of a pot of ointment and a roll of lint.”

Her further remarks, however, were checked by her efforts to pull in her
camel; for the west wind had brought to its nostrils the scent of
vegetation, and its pace had suddenly increased.

Muriel turned in her saddle as her own beast hurried forward, and waved
her hand excitedly to Mr. Bindane, who was holding on to his pommels
with both hands, his head wobbling, and his body swaying.

As they neared their destination the police officer overtook her, and
directed her towards the south end of the Oasis, where, a little removed
from the palm-groves, some whitewashed buildings were clustered
together. He explained that these formed the headquarters of the
Frontier Patrol, near which their camp would be pitched; and soon he had
galloped ahead, followed by one of his troopers, to herald their
arrival.

The sun was setting when at last the party dismounted within the walled
compound of the outpost; and it was dark before the baggage caravan came
creaking and grunting into the circle of light cast by the lanterns of
the police. Kate and her husband had at once gone into the bare-walled
room which had been placed at their disposal; but Muriel, who was
experiencing an extraordinary sense of activity, went out with the
dragoman to supervise the erection of the tents in the open desert some
little distance from the buildings.

For some time she lent a hand to the work, but at length she sat herself
down upon a derelict packing-case, and watched the figures moving to and
fro, now lit up by the flickering light of the lanterns, now passing
again into the darkness.

The evening was warm, for the month of March had begun; and there was
not that sharp tingle in the air which had been experienced up in the
high ground they had lately traversed. On her one hand there were the
dark palm-groves, their branches silhouetted against the brilliant
stars: she could hear the rustling of the leaves, and there came to her
ears, also, the sound of a flute, the notes rising and falling in
plaintive inconsequence like babbling water in a forest at night. On her
other hand the open desert lay obscure and mysterious, the darkness made
more intense by contrast with the flicker of the lanterns and the light
issuing from the open doorways of the adjacent buildings.

It was so strange to feel that she was separated from El Hamrân, and
from the man she loved, by no more than thirty miles—an easy day’s ride
to the southwest; and her heart was restless as she realized that Mr.
Bindane proposed to make an extended tour of the northern Oases before
getting into touch with Daniel. It seemed to her that she could not
tolerate another day of absence from him; and a wild thought entered her
mind that she would give her friends the slip next morning and ride
alone to El Hamrân. It was, indeed, the thought of such an escapade
which sent her presently hurrying back to the light of the outpost, as
though in flight from the mad suggestions of the starlit spaces about
her.

The evening meal was served in the room where Mr. and Mrs. Bindane had
settled themselves; and it was still early when they went to their
tents. Muriel was already yawning loudly, as she helped Kate to doctor
herself; and no sooner was she alone than she crawled into bed, and, in
spite of the barking of the dogs, the lowing of the cattle, and the
braying of a donkey; fell instantly asleep.

On the following morning Benifett Bindane displayed unwonted briskness,
and, after an early breakfast, set out with the native officials to make
a tour of inspection of the Oasis. His plan was to continue his journey
next day to the large Oasis of El Arâbah, to the northwest, where he
would spend the night. Then, returning to El Homra, where they were at
present, he would ride northwards on a tour which would occupy twelve or
thirteen days; and that being accomplished, he would, if necessary,
visit El Hamrân where Daniel was staying, though he had now received the
latter’s very full reply to the questions on which he had desired
information.

When he got back to the camp, however, after his first day’s work, he
found that his wife and Lady Muriel had made certain plans of their own,
consequent upon Kate’s abrasions. They had decided to remain where they
were while Mr. Bindane paid his short visit to El Arâbah; and it was
hoped that on his return his wife would be sufficiently recovered to go
north with him on his longer trip.

He received the news with apparent indifference, merely remarking that
he would take with him on this short trip only one servant and one tent,
leaving the remainder of the camp where it was, under the care of the
two dragomans. The Bedouin of the Oases were a peaceful, law-abiding
people; and the two ladies would be as safe here, he well knew, as they
would be in an English village at home.

That night, after Muriel had gone to her bed, Kate Bindane took her
husband into her confidence.

“I don’t know what’s going on in Muriel’s head,” she told him, “but it
seems to me that she’s about the most love-sick creature I’ve ever
struck. She won’t even look in any other direction except the southwest,
because that’s where her Daniel is.”

A slight expression of interest came into her husband’s blank face. He
was sitting in his striped pyjamas on the side of his bed, scratching
himself dreamily; but now he paused and his arms fell loosely upon his
pointed knees. “I thought,” he said, “she had got over all that. She has
been jolly enough all the way here.”

“Yes,” answered Kate, “but now that she’s within a day’s ride of her
young man, she seems to have come over all funny-like. I can’t make her
out.” She waited a moment. “Wouldn’t it be possible for us to go to El
Hamrân before we make the northern trip?” she asked, poking the wick of
the candle, absently, with the stump of a match.

Her husband shook his head. “No,” he replied. “The plans are all fixed.
And, you see, I don’t suppose Mr. Lane will give me more than a couple
of days of his time just now; and I’d rather have it at the end of my
tour, when I know what I’m talking about, than now when I hav’n’t yet
seen the lie of the land. I want to be able to come to him with a
definite offer.”

He relapsed into silence for some time, resuming his leisurely
scratching; but at length he surprised his wife by asking a further
question as to Muriel’s state of mind.

“Why, Benifett,” she said, smiling upon him, “you seem quite interested.
You know, I believe you’re rather a sport, after all.”

He looked at her with his mouth open. “Oh, it’s a recognized maxim of
the commercial world,” he answered: “‘Make yourself a party to the love
affairs of your business friends.’”

“But Muriel isn’t a business friend,” said Kate.

“No,” he replied, “but her father is.” And with that enigmatical remark,
he blew out the candle.

At sunrise next day he was up and about; and an hour later he had
assembled his party for the start upon their journey. Kate and Muriel
watched them as they filed out of the compound in front of the police
buildings, in the brilliant light of the morning.

“Tomorrow evening, probably,” called Mr. Bindane, waving his hand to
them; and, “No hurry,” replied Kate, casually: “we’ll be quite all
right.”

With that he moved away, riding with the fat Egyptian from the Ministry
of Agriculture. Behind him followed the police-officer and the native
secretary, and after them went their servants and baggage camels.

As the cavalcade passed out of sight behind the palm-trees, Kate turned
to her friend. “Now for a quiet time with the ointment pot,” she
laughed; but her words were checked as she observed the surprising
expression on Muriel’s face. “Why, what’s the matter?” she exclaimed.

Muriel caught hold of her arm. “Kate,” she said, “I’m going to shock
you. I’m going to Daniel.”

Mrs. Bindane stood perfectly still, her hands upon her hips in the
manner of a fishwife. “What the Hell d’you mean?” she asked.

Muriel confronted her, the monkey expression suddenly developing upon
her face—her jaw set, her eyes wide open. “I’m going to leave you,
Kate,” she said. “I made up my mind in the night. I can’t bear it
another moment: I’m going to start at once.”

“Don’t be a damned fool,” her friend ejaculated, angrily.

Muriel shrugged her shoulders. “I shall take my dragoman with me,” she
went on. “He knows all the roads hereabouts. I shall be quite safe. I’m
going to Daniel for a fortnight: I’ve thought it all out, and I know now
that’s what he’s been wanting me to do. You’ll find me at El Hamrân when
you come there—if you do come, and, if not, I’ll join you here.”

“But, my good idiot,” cried her friend, “there’ll be the most awful
scandal! What d’you think Benifett will say?”

“I’ll leave that for you to find out,” she answered. “I don’t see Master
Benifett changing his plans for anybody. You can say I was ill, and
therefore went off to Daniel so that I shouldn’t spoil your trip or
delay you. Father need never know, and I’m sure Benifett won’t give me
away. Not that a scandal isn’t just what he wants. Doesn’t he want to
oblige Daniel to remain here in the Oases?—Oh, but I know what I’m
doing. Daniel never wanted to marry me: he wanted me to run away with
him.”

“Yes, but where are you going to run to?”

“To seed,” Muriel replied, with a little laugh. “I can’t help it. He’s
won: I can’t stay away from him. I’m going to have this fortnight with
him, if I hang for it!”

“Oh, you’re mad!” exclaimed Kate, and, clutching hold of Muriel’s arm,
she led her into her tent.

Here they argued the matter to and fro; but it was apparent from the
first that the thing was irrevocably sealed, and that all the details of
the plan had been thought out so as to prevent the adventure becoming
public.

“Very possibly there’ll be no scandal at all,” said Muriel; “the natives
can be bribed not to tell. I shall come back with you to Cairo when you
return there, and who is going to give me away?”

“But what is a fortnight?” asked Kate, in despair. “Good God!—what is a
fortnight, when it means even the _possible_ ruin of your whole life?”

“I can’t look so far ahead,” Muriel replied. “I only know I want him
now. And I’m going to him, Kate; I’m going to the man I love, the man
who loves me!”

She ran out of the tent, calling to her dragoman, Mustafa, who appeared
at once from the domestic quarters. He received the news without
perturbation.

“Yes, my leddy,” he said. “I varry pleased. My wife’s brother him live
at El Hamrân. Thirty mile’—it is nudding: five, six hours riding; and
the road him varry good, varry straight.”

She told him to get two camels ready at once, to fill the water-bottles,
collect a few eatables, and—to hold his tongue. “I have to take some
important papers over to Mr. Lane,” she said, and he smiled at the lie.

Her large dressing-case was already packed; but, returning to her tent,
she opened it to put into it her little revolver, which, for the fun of
the thing, she had purchased in Cairo. This done, she went back to Kate,
who received her in cold silence.

“Oh, Kate,” she cried, “don’t be beastly to me. I’m only going to do the
sort of thing that’s been done by most of the girls we know. It’s human
nature, Kate. When you love a man and feel you absolutely can’t live
without him, you’ve got to surrender to him and do what he wants; and I
know now that this is what he’s been asking me to do all along.” She put
her arms about her neck, and kissed her.

Kate looked at her sorrowfully, and her face softened. “Muriel, you
blinkin’ idiot,” she said, “I don’t know what’ll come of this, but
whatever happens, old bean, I’m with you.”



CHAPTER XXV—BREAKING LOOSE


The road, or rather camel-track, from El Homra to El Hamrân passes
across a wide plain of comparatively flat sand, which looks like the bed
of a vast lake from which the waters have been drained off. It is a huge
hollow separated by high ground from the smaller basin in which the
former oasis is situated. Ranges of hills form the boundaries of this
area, those to the east being high and many-peaked, the others low and
undulating; and from one side of the plain to the other must be
something like twenty miles. There are three wells between the two
oases, the second being practically in the centre of the plain, and
marking the half-way point of the journey.

Muriel and her dragoman reached this well at about one o’clock, when the
sun was almost directly overhead and the glare intense. It was a deep
pool not more than a dozen feet from side to side; but in the clear
water the blue of the sky was so vividly reflected that Muriel, as she
stood staring down into it, had the impression that the earth was flat
and that she was looking through a hole into further spaces of empty air
beneath.

A few yards distant there were some tamarisks, providing a little patch
of shade, almost as blue as the sky and water; and a stone’s throw away
there was a hillock of sand upon which grew a few low and dusty bushes.
With these exceptions there was no vegetation to be seen, and the sand
stretched out in all directions, barren and dazzling, until the surface
was lost in vaporous mirage, so that the far-off hills looked like
islands floating above the haze.

She called her dragoman to her. “Mustafa,” she said, “I’m going to
bathe. You must go and sit behind that hillock over there, and you
mustn’t move till I tell you you may.”

Servants in the East are ever accustomed to be told to take themselves
off in this fashion, when their native mistresses desire to amuse
themselves; and he now received his orders from the daughter of the
foreign ruler of Egypt without surprise. He quickly filled the
water-bottles from the pool, and, telling her that he would prepare the
luncheon on the other side of the hillock, walked off across the sand.

As soon as she was alone, Muriel divested herself of her clothes in the
shelter of the tamarisks, and plunged into the cool water. Never in her
life had she felt so boisterously, recklessly happy; never before had
she realized how cramped her existence had been. Here in these empty
spaces of the world she was like a child with all the delights of the
open garden to herself; and presently she would slip into the next
garden and greet there her playmate.

As she splashed in the water she learned for the first time the
wonderful sensation of bathing without the weight of a costume about her
limbs; and her thoughts flashed back with disdain to those elegant days
at fashionable seaside resorts where she had almost feared to let the
waves wet her dainty bathing-dress, and where she had been aware of
opera glasses levelled upon her as she walked sedately into the sea.

From side to side of the little pool she swam, tossing the water into
the air in showers of sparkling drops; and, presently, when, clambering
back on to the sand, she stood with arms stretched out to the sunlight,
she felt that at last she knew the meaning of life.

The hot sun dried her body, without much need of the aid of her
handkerchief; and when she was dressed she hastened with a wonderful
appetite to her luncheon. Mustafa, being a well-trained dragoman, did
not trouble her with his presence; and she was thus able to make very
frank inroads into the tongue and sweet-pickles, the biscuits and the
jam, which he had provided. And after the meal she lay back in the
shade, against the slope of the sand, and slept for half an hour in
profound content.

She awoke with the conviction that at last all was well with her. It
seemed to her that what Daniel had all along desired was that she should
renounce “the World,” as he called it, and come to him; and now, in
these last few days, she had realized that this was no renunciation at
all. He had been perfectly right: a life in the open was the only life
for Youth; and here, not in the cities, real happiness was to be found.

All he had asked of her was to break loose from her conventional
existence, and to come to him; and now she knew how incomprehensible her
reluctance must have seemed to him. He had been holding out to her the
free joys of her youth: he had been saying to her, “Come and be my
playmate and my dear companion,” and when she had refused, he had gone
off by himself, bidding her follow him if at last she should shake
herself free of her imaginary bonds. How stupid to him, how vulgar, must
have been her wish for a correct betrothal!—no wonder he had given up in
dismay.

Such thoughts occupied her brain during the afternoon as she trotted
exultantly, and with wild and reckless freedom from all restraint,
towards El Hamrân; but very different were the thoughts in the mind of
Daniel Lane, as, all unaware of her proximity, he sat peacefully in his
room, putting the finishing touches to his interrupted study of the
customs of the Bedouin of the Oases.

In a manner it might be said that he was content. He had fought a
terrible battle with himself during these five-and-twenty days since he
had left Cairo, and his mighty spirit had won the victory over his
mutinous body. Like a monk abandoning the pleasures of the world, he had
crushed within him the one passionate episode of his continent life.

Throughout his strenuous manhood he had put away from him the call of
the flesh: he had mastered his body, and had subordinated all other
interests to those of his work. In a sense he had lived the life of an
ascetic, save that he had not actually mortified his body. He had
governed and controlled his physical instincts, but he had found no need
to break them with rods. In perfect health, in perfect physical fitness,
he had passed his days, filled with that deep, laughing happiness which
comes from a quiet mind. His gigantic muscles were ever ruled by his
mighty reason; and serene, smiling tranquillity had been his reward.

It was only since Muriel had come into his life that he had known any
disturbance; for she was practically the first woman with whom he had
ever been on intimate terms. And when she had failed him he had beaten
out the very thought of her from his riotous heart, and had fled to the
placid sanctuary of the desert, there to recover his equanimity.

To him she had seemed to be tainted by her contact with that section of
society whose artificiality he so heartily disliked. These people paid
outward court to the conventions of life, but in secret they treated in
the lightest manner the very bases upon which these conventions were
founded. Being satisfied with the surface of things, they lived their
lives in turmoil and called it pleasure; nor had they any idea of that
deeper happiness which comes from contact with fundamental truth and
simplicity.

And Muriel had been as blind as the blindest of them. She only played
with life—skimmed over the surface, snatching at such pleasures as lay
to hand.

If she had turned her back on her dances and her parties, and had come
to him and had said, “Take me into the desert for ever,” he would have
believed in her love, and nothing could have held them apart; but,
whether correctly or incorrectly he knew not, he had had the impression
that she had wished to fill but an idle hour with the sweets of love,
just as, so it seemed to him, all fair women of Mayfair were wont to do.

Therefore he had come back to the clear and open spaces of the desert;
and here, in the ruined monastery which for so long had been his home,
he had sought and found once more his peace of mind. In a few weeks’
time he would return to Cairo; but in future he would arrange to receive
his Egyptian visitors away from the Residency, at some house in the
native quarter where he could work without distraction.

As he sat writing in his shirt-sleeves at his table near the window and
the sun was descending towards the horizon, his attention was attracted
by the barking of his dogs, and he wondered whether some native from the
village had come to see him. He was concerned just now in regard to the
growing quarrel between the two main families of the Oasis, and visits
were frequently paid to him by persons connected with the great feud.

The barking, however, presently ceased abruptly, and therewith he went
on with his work. The room was large, and the loud chattering of the
sparrows in the palms outside the window prevented him from hearing the
opening of the door behind him. He was not aware that his servant,
Hussein, had entered, agog with excitement; nor did he see Muriel, who,
followed him, as she waved him out of the room, and shut the door behind
her.

It was only when she was close to him that he heard the footstep and
looked around.

He sprang to his feet. “Muriel!” he exclaimed, as he stared at her in
astonishment.

She did not speak. She ran to him, and, throwing her hands around his
neck, was lifted from the ground in his arms. For a few moments she did
nothing but kiss him—she rained kisses on his mouth and his bewildered
face in a very frenzy of love, so that he gasped. Then her hands,
slipping from behind his neck, passed over his forehead and his cheeks,
and through his hair, patting him and stroking him; while her hat fell
off, unnoticed, and her feet dangled above the ground, vainly seeking
for foothold in the vicinity of his shins.

At last, having been lowered to the ground, she stood before him, her
hands held in his, her face flushed, her hair falling down.

“Oh, my darling,” she cried, “I couldn’t live without you any longer.
I’ve broken loose: I’ve run away and come to you.”

And, as his arms went about her once more, nigh crushing the breath out
of her, she shut her eyes and received his answering kisses in
passionate glorious silence.



CHAPTER XXVI—THE STOLEN HOUR


She had come to him! Impelled by her love she had come to him! That was
the jubilant thought in Daniel’s rejoicing heart. At last she had turned
her back upon the amusements and pleasures of the old life, finding them
altogether unsatisfying now, and she had come to him! She loved him, and
she had given up all to come to him! No longer was romance to be
sandwiched in between race-meetings and dances, between “At Homes” and
opera-parties: she had renounced the whole thing, and had come to him!

“How did you manage it?” he said, looking at her with admiration in his
eyes.

“Oh, it was quite simple,” she laughed. “There was nothing extraordinary
in my joining the Bindanes on their trip; and then ...”

She told him how she had waited until Mr. Bindane was out of the way,
and had then made a bolt for it.

“But what is the next step?” he asked. “What about the future?”

“Oh, man,” she cried, “don’t talk about the future—that can wait till
you have time to think.”

The words may have had no particular significance, but to Daniel they
seemed to be the most wonderful he had ever heard. They meant to him
that she trusted him, that she placed her future in his hands, that she
gave herself unreservedly to him. She left it to him to think out what
he was going to do with her....

He looked at her with deep gratitude in his face; for she had, as it
were, crowned him as lord of their destinies and enthroned him upon the
very pinnacle of eventuality.

He could not take his eyes from her as she stood at the window, the
reflected light of the sunset in her face, her well-proportioned figure
seeming to be more vigorous, more athletic, than he had known it before.
Her smile, always brilliant, was now intoxicating to him; and her eyes
were filled with such tenderness that he could find no adequate response
to their appeal. It was as though his kisses and his words of love were
all insufficient to this great hour; and, with inward, joyous laughter,
he found himself baffled in his search for means of expression.

He lifted her up in his arms, and kissed her throat and her shoulders
and her knees. He lowered her to her feet again, and, with his arm about
her, walked half-way across the room and back. He buried his face in her
hair; held her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers one by one; he
sat her in a deck-chair, and, kneeling before her, laid his head for a
moment upon her lap.

She was his, she belonged to him!—the thought went coursing through his
brain in headlong career, breaking down his reserve, overthrowing the
walls of the citadel of his being.

At last, forcing himself down from the heights to the practicalities, he
went to the door and shouted for tea; but Hussein, who, like most loyal
Egyptian servants, regarded himself, with due deference, as _ibn el
bêt_, “son of the house,” or “one of the family” as we should say, had
thrown himself whole-heartedly into his master’s excitement, and had
already prepared the tea and had opened the choicest tin of biscuits in
the store-cupboard.

Muriel was hungry after her long ride; but she had so much to say, and
the interruptions induced by their love were so frequent, that the meal
occupied a great deal of time. She told him of the journey from Egypt,
and of the wonders of the desert which had been revealed to her; she
spoke of the bath that day in the pool at the roadside; she described
her sensations of increasing happiness and well-being as day by day the
old routine of her life had slipped further from her; and she talked
with enthusiasm of the beauties of El Hamrân as she had approached it
just now from the high ground.

“I spotted this old ruin of yours from miles away,” she said, “and we
skirted along the high ground on this side of the Oasis until we came
without a single wrong turning to your door.”

She went to the window, and, standing there with her arm linked in his,
gazed in silence over the shimmering sea of the tree-tops. Upon the near
side the shadow of the cliffs was spread, and the foliage seemed here to
be tinged with cobalt and purple; but on the far side the mellow light
of the vanishing sun still bathed the green of the leaves with a
tincture of gold and copper.

The chirping of thousands of sparrows, as they gathered themselves in
the branches to roost, filled the air with clamorous sound; and at the
foot of the cliff, just below the window, a string of camels went by,
the foremost being ridden by a small boy, dressed in a single garment of
blue cotton, who was exultantly carolling a native song in a
full-throated voice which, with its chucks and gurgles, seemed to be an
imitation of the nightingale.

“What is he singing about?” Muriel asked. “He’s nearly bursting with
it.”

“It is a part of the story of Leila and her lover Majnûn,” Daniel
explained, after listening for a few moments; “the part where the Sultan
sees Leila, and tells Majnûn that he doesn’t think she is anything to
write home about; and Majnûn says: ‘O King, if you could only see her
from the window of Majnûn’s eyes, the miracle of her beauty would be
made known to you.’”

The boy’s voice passed into the distance; and Muriel stood gazing in
front of her in silence, while the golden light faded from the palms as
the sun went down.

At length she turned to Daniel, asking him to show her over his house;
and, arm in arm, therefore, they went out of the airy, whitewashed
living-room, coming presently to the old monks’ refectory, with its
roofing of dried cornstalks, and so to the servants’ quarters and the
kitchen, and thence to the ruined tower at the top of which Daniel was
wont to sleep. They ascended this tower together, and from its summit
Muriel could see the whole extent of the building; and, in a rapid
passage of thought, she realized with inward satisfaction that the story
of his harîm was a fabrication.

The view from here was magnificent. In the west, above the rugged line
of the dark hills, the sunset was revealed to her in sudden,
overpowering splendour. To the east the Oasis lay in cool shadow; and
here and there a thin wisp of smoke rose into the air. Beyond lay the
silent desert, and the far-off ranges of pink and mauve hills; and above
them the sky was turquoise, fading into grey-blue. The wind had dropped,
and now the chattering of the sparrows was ceasing, so that there seemed
to be an increasing hush upon all things.

The foliage of the palms screened from sight any movement of human life
in the Oasis; and Muriel had the feeling that she and Daniel stood quite
alone in this vast setting, like two little sparks of vibrant energy
dropped down from the hand of Fate in an empty, motionless world.

She looked up at him as he stood before her, his rough grey shirt thrown
open at the neck, his sleeves rolled back from his bronzed arms, and his
white trousers held up by an old sash of faded red and yellow silk
knotted about his waist. He looked down at her, dressed in her silk
sweater, and the same white serge skirt with the little stripe of grey
in it which she had been wearing that afternoon at Sakkâra. And as their
eyes met they both laughed, like two playmates of childhood who had
quarrelled, and whose quarrel was now forgotten.

Presently he led her down the stairs again and across the outer kitchen
yard. Here her dragoman, Mustafa, was waiting to take his orders; and he
now asked permission to ride over to the house of his brother-in-law,
which was situated at the far end of the Oasis, and there to spend the
night; and this Muriel at once gave him.

“Where are the camels?” she asked; and in reply he pointed to a shed
built against the outer wall of the monastery near the entrance. Here,
also, were the three yellow dogs, who, knowing her well, came now to her
with the fawning attitudes and uncertainly wagging tails of the real
pariah breed.

Hussein was lighting the lamps in the living-room when they returned;
and he paused to ask whether the evening meal should be served at the
usual hour. Daniel referred him to Muriel. “Any time you like,” she
answered, smiling happily at Daniel, as though even the arranging of
such trivial details were a matter of delight. “I want a bath first, if
I can have one.”

At this Daniel suddenly laughed. “Gee!” he exclaimed, “I’d forgotten to
fix up a bedroom for you.” He scratched his head. “Now where on earth am
I to put you?”

There was a small whitewashed chamber—originally a monk’s cell—opening
off the refectory. This, Daniel used as his dressing-room, and in it
stood his large tin foot-bath. He now told his servant, therefore, to
set up the spare camp-bed in that room, to prepare the bath, and to
remove his own belongings to the chamber at the base of the tower below
the stairs.

“You won’t be nervous alone there, will you?” he asked her, and she
shook her head. “If you feel lonely or frightened, you’ve only got to
slip round to my tower and shout to me, or come up the stairs and wake
me up.”

To Muriel there seemed to be a wonderful intimacy in his words, and she
pictured herself creeping up the dark staircase in the night, and
standing by her lover’s bedside under the stars, whispering to him that
she could not sleep.

Hussein was not long in carrying out his instructions, and soon he came
back to announce that the bath was ready. Therewith, Daniel took Muriel
to this room, which looked exceedingly clean and comfortable in the
lamplight. Towels and jugs of hot and cold water stood upon the
grass-matted floor beside the bath-tub; the camp-bed had been made up in
one corner; and Muriel’s dressing-case stood upon a chair near a table
above which a looking-glass was hung. In place of a door a grass mat was
suspended across the entrance; and the unglazed window, looking
westwards on to the open desert, was fitted with rough wooden shutters
now standing open to the warm night.

Daniel was loathe to leave her even for this little while, and he stood
with his arm about her while she unfastened her dressing-case. He helped
her to lay out her brushes and toilet utensils; and there was a peculiar
and very tender sense of intimate companionship as she handed him her
slippers to place beside the bed and her nightdress to lay upon the
pillow. He made no attempt to go when she began to take the hairpins
from her hair; and, when it fell about her shoulders, he took her in his
arms once more, calling her by so many loving names that her brain
seemed to be singing with them, and she could feel her riotous heart
beating as it were in her throat.

At last he left her, and went to his own improvised dressing-room, to
put on more presentable clothes; but when he was ready, and she had not
yet made her reappearance, he went back to her doorway and spoke to her
through the screen of the grass-matting.

She told him he might enter, and he found her sitting before the mirror
fastening up her hair. She was dressed now in a kind of kimono; and he
seized her bare white arms, which were raised above her head, kissing
them fervently.

When at length her toilet was finished, he led her back to the
living-room, where soon the evening meal was served at a small table
upon which two candles burned at either side of a bowl of wild flowers
hastily picked in the fields, where, at this time of the year, they grow
in great abundance; and never in all their lives had either of them felt
so completely happy. Through the open window the stars glinted in the
wonderful sky, like amazing jewels sprinkled upon velvet; and the dimly
lit room, with its series of shadowy domes, seemed to be a magical
banquet-hall, its walls of alabaster and its flooring of marble. It was
somewhat bare of furniture, for many things had been left behind at the
Pyramids; but its very bareness enhanced its Oriental effect and added
to its enchantment.

Hussein had prepared a very excellent meal, not sparing the
store-cupboard; and he had opened a particularly large fiasco of Italian
red-wine to grace the occasion. He had donned a clean white garment,
held in at the waist by a crimson sash; and as he noiselessly entered or
left the room he seemed to Muriel to have taken to himself the nature of
a geni out of a tale of the _Arabian Nights_.

When at last the meal was finished, and cleared away, and she and Daniel
were seated in the deck chairs at the open window to drink their coffee,
Muriel felt that the whole world of actuality had slid from her, leaving
her enthroned with her lover in a palace of glorious dream; and when,
out of the darkness of the palm-groves below, there came to their ears
the distant and wandering sound of a flute, played by some unseen
goatherd passing homewards with his flock, the magic of the desert was
almost overpowering in the measure of its enchantment. She was
bewildered and intoxicated by it; and in Daniel’s eyes she found, too, a
light of love such as she had never seen there before.

The hours passed unnoticed, for time had ceased to be; and it was
already late when at last Daniel arose, and stood looking down at her
with a smile upon his face. “Well,” he said, with a sigh, “I didn’t
think anything would induce me to return to Cairo so soon; but now....
When shall we start?”

Muriel looked at him in surprise. “O Daniel,” she whispered, “there’s no
hurry, is there? The Bindanes won’t be going back for a fortnight.”

Her low voice set his heart beating for a moment, but he did not take
the real significance of her words.

“Well,” he said. “I suppose it will be all right for you to be here for
a day or two; and then we can ride straight to Cairo and be married by
special licence or whatever they call it.” He lifted her fingers to his
lips. “Oh, darling, in less than a week you’ll be my wife!”

Muriel stared at him, wide-eyed. It was as though she had suddenly
awakened from a dream. “Oh, but the family will be horrified,” she said.
“Everybody will expect a proper wedding in London: after we get home—in
May or June. You’ll have to make that concession to the world, my
darling.”

Daniel laughed. “Yes, but what about our compromising situation, here?”
he asked. “Don’t you see, my sweet, what I mean? Your bolting from the
Bindanes is to me a sort of sacred and wonderful thing that you have
done, because you’ve put your fate irrevocably in my hands. To my way of
thinking we are already married, because you have openly abandoned
everything and come to me; but I’m not going to give anybody the chance
to question our acts. We belong to each other, and the quicker the
position is regularized, so to speak, the better.”

“But who is to find out?” she said. “If I stay with you till the
Bindanes come, nobody will hear of it in Cairo.”

He looked quickly at her, his brows drawn together. “What d’you mean?”
he asked, as though he could not follow the workings of her mind.

She laughed. “I mean, I’ve arranged it all,” she answered. “Kate is to
say I was ill, and that I came to you so as not to be a nuisance to
them. She can prevent her husband ever giving me away, and I should
think you could manage the others, or at any rate keep them from talking
until we’re married.”

He did not answer, but his eyes were fixed upon her. She got up from
their chair, and put her hands about his neck. “This is to be our
wonderful fortnight, darling,” she whispered. “It is to be our secret.”

He lifted her arms from his shoulders, holding her wrists. “I don’t
understand,” he said, and his voice was hard.

She looked at him with wonder. She could not comprehend what was
troubling him. “Darling, what’s the matter?” she asked, in dismay. “What
I mean is that I’ve done what you always wanted me to do: I’ve broken
loose; only I’ve chosen my opportunity, and arranged it so that people
won’t talk.”

Still he did not take his eyes from her; but he removed his hand from
her wrist. “You mean,” he said very slowly, “that you will return with
the Bindanes, and finish up the Cairo season?”

“Well,” she answered, “I’ve got all sorts of more or less official
engagements, you know.”

“This is to be just a stolen fortnight?” he asked, and she was
frightened by the stern tones of his voice.

She nodded, and again her arms sought his shoulders. But he stepped back
quickly from her, and his hand passed across has forehead.

“You are going to cover up your tracks with a pack of lies,” he said,
his breath sounding like that of one in pain. “And then you are going
back to your dances and your parties, pretending nothing has happened.”

“Oh, you don’t understand,” she cried. “I’ve given myself to you, body
and soul.”

“Yes,” he scoffed, his voice rising. “You’ve given yourself to me for a
fortnight. A sneaking fortnight that you think nobody will ever hear
about. A fortnight sandwiched in between the middle and the end of the
Cairo season, to fill up the blank time while your father is away.”

“But I never want to go back,” she answered, her voice trembling.

“If that is true,” he said, “why have you arranged everything for your
return? You’ve given yourself to me, you say! Yes, for a stolen
fortnight, as you call it yourself: it is to be just an underhand little
intrigue. Good God!—and I believed you had given up everything for your
love’s sake; and now I find you’ve given up nothing. You’ve taken all
the necessary steps to prevent your action being decisive, to make your
return to society perfectly easy. And I thought you had burnt your
boats!”

She faced him angrily. “Oh, you’re incomprehensible,” she exclaimed.
“You let me see in every possible way that you want me to give myself to
you and to follow you into the desert; you let me understand that this
is what you expect of a woman; you knew that I had heard about your
affairs with the Bedouin women here; you didn’t seem to mind my having
heard about Lizette: and then, when I accept your point of view and come
to you, you tell me I’ve done wrong.”

“What on earth are you saying?” he cried. “What do you mean about
Bedouin women? I have never had any relations whatsoever with native
women in my life—never. And as for Lizette, I didn’t tell at the time,
because I wanted you to trust me of your own accord; but I will tell you
now. I’ve only spoken to her twice in my life. Once we had supper
together, and once we had coffee together in a restaurant. That is the
beginning and the end of my relationship with her. Do you mean to say
that thinking me a sort of libertine, you have come out to live with me
here as my mistress for a fortnight? Is that what you mean?”

She did not reply. She sat down on a cane chair near the table, and
twisted her handkerchief to and fro with her fingers. The expression on
her pale face revealed the black despair of her heart.

“Answer me!” he said, sharply.

“I have no answer,” she replied. “I thought you wanted me, I thought you
loved me.”

He turned from her, sick at heart. It seemed now to him that his worst
fears were realized: he could almost have called her “Harlot.” In no
wise had she abandoned the world and run to him, defying the conventions
because she desired to be his mate. She had merely planned a secret
love-affair: she had just slipped out of the ballroom, so to speak, to
enjoy an amorous interlude, and she would be back amongst the dancers
once more before anybody had missed her. This sort of clandestine,
cunningly arranged affair was an insult to the whole idea of union: it
was an intrigue out of a French novel.

He looked at her once more as she sat at the table, and, in his
revulsion of feeling, he thought her kimono gaudy. The expression on her
face was angry, almost sullen.

“I think you must be mad,” she said. “In Cairo you wouldn’t be publicly
engaged to me, and you made me understand quite clearly that it wasn’t
our actual marriage you were thinking about: you wanted me to run away
with you. You always jibbed at the thought of marriage, and were silent
about it; but you talked freely enough about our life together. You made
it quite clear that you regarded morals with contempt; and now, you
suddenly have scruples, and pretend that you are shocked at my having
taken steps to prevent a scandal which would hurt my father’s
reputation.”

“If you were afraid of a scandal,” he answered, quickly, “why did you
come at all? When you arrived this afternoon I thought you had left that
question to me, and were ready to get married at once, which was the
only way to avoid hurting your father—unless I had sent you back this
very night to Kate Bindane. No, you weren’t afraid of a scandal: you
arranged it all too cleverly for there to be much risk.”

“I was prepared to marry you,” she said, “if you really wanted
marriage.”

“And if I didn’t,” he replied, “you were prepared to live with me for a
fortnight. Oh, you make me ashamed!”

“I wanted to save you from these other women,” she protested.

“I tell you there never were any other women,” he answered. “I’m not a
man out of one of your horrible novels.”

“I don’t know what you are driving at,” she exclaimed. “Anyway I won’t
be played fast and loose with like this. I shall go back to my friends
tomorrow, and I hope I shall never see you again.”

Suddenly her voice broke, and throwing her arms out across the table,
she laid her head upon them, and cried bitterly.

Daniel did not move. His heart was hardened against her, and he told
himself that her tears were but one of the wiles of her sex.

“No,” he said at length, coming suddenly to a decision, “you shall not
go back tomorrow. You have come here for a fortnight, and have made
arrangements for your visit to be secret. You say there is no fear of a
scandal such as would hurt your father. Very well then, you shall stay
here a fortnight whether you want to or not. I propose that we get to
know each other: we’ve had enough misunderstandings. You have
misunderstood everything I have ever said to you: it has all been warped
and twisted by your miserable society attitude of mind.”

“I shall never understand you,” she answered, raising her head, and
drying her eyes with the back of her hand. “This is quite final. You’ve
insulted me and humiliated me. I might have known that that was what
you’d do.”

“Very well,” he said, “I think you had better go to your room now.
Remember, you are going to stay here for the full fortnight.”

“I shall do no such thing,” she declared, facing him defiantly.

He gripped hold of her wrist. “Do you want me to have to lock you up?”
he asked; and she quailed before the authority of his voice.

He went across to the door and opened it. Outside, upon the floor, a
hurricane lamp was burning; and this he picked up.

“Here’s a lamp,” he said, “and here are matches. Now go to bed.”

She took them from him in silence, and slowly walked out of the room.

He watched her as she passed across the refectory, the light from her
lantern casting her swaying shadow in huge size upon the ruinous walls.
Then he shut the door, and sitting down at the table, buried his face in
his hands.



CHAPTER XXVII—THE FLIGHT


For a long time Daniel lay awake upon his bed at the top of the tower,
while his thoughts passed through a number of recurrent phases. More
than once he felt that he had made a mountain out of a molehill; but
this attitude of mind was dismissed by the recollection that, whether
Muriel truly loved him or not, she had come to him “on the sly,” and, by
planning this surreptitious interlude (for she had meant it to be no
more than that) she had invested their relationship with that very
atmosphere of intrigue which he so strongly resented.

He saw in her action the influence of that small section of London
society which he abhorred, wherein the women appeared to him to be
secret courtesans who would neither abide by the traditional law nor
openly flout it; and he was determined either to eradicate that
influence or to lose Muriel. He was not entirely clear in his mind as to
what he was going to do with her in the Oasis for this fortnight; but of
this he was sure, that she needed a lesson, and that he was going to
take her in hand, remorselessly, whatever might be the consequences.

The moon, in the last quarter, rose above the far-off hills while yet he
was wearily thinking, and realizing thus that daybreak was not more than
two hours distant, he obliged himself by force of will, to compose his
mind for sleep. In this he was successful and presently he fell into a
deep slumber from which it would have been difficult to wake him.

Meanwhile, Muriel had also watched the dim light of the rising moon as
it slowly spread over the desert. She had slept for two or three hours—a
miserable sleep of exhaustion; but when she was awakened by the hooting
of an owl outside the window, she lit her lamp and made no further
attempt at repose.

Her one idea was to get away from Daniel and to go back to Kate Bindane,
who would still be alone at El Homra until the end of the coming day.
She did not want to wait until daybreak, for if Daniel were awake he
would perhaps try to stop her; and now the slight illumination given by
the moon encouraged her to make her immediate escape. She could hardly
miss the road: all she had to do was to mount her camel and ride
straight ahead.

Hastily she put on her clothes, and soon she had crept out into the
refectory, carrying her heavy dressing-case in her hand. She had slipped
her revolver into one of the pockets of her skirt, and in the other she
had placed a packet of chocolate unused on the previous day, while her
water-bottle was slung across her shoulder.

Her heart was beating, and she was frightened at the prospect of the
long journey alone, but there was no practicable way of getting into
touch with her dragoman, and she was obliged, therefore, to steel
herself for the adventure.

By a stroke of good luck she found the three dogs wandering about the
refectory, and they were thus not startled into barking: they followed
her with wagging tails as she made her way to the camel-shed outside.
There were no doors to open, nor bolts or bars to unfasten; and she
could hear the servants snoring at the other end of the building.

Creeping into the shed, lantern in hand, she found her camel and
Daniel’s kneeling side by side upon the sand, dreamily chewing the cud,
and, having learned the tricks of the stable during her journey from
Cairo, she quickly slipped a rope around the bent knee-joint of the
foreleg of her own beast, thus preventing it from rising.

The saddle was heavy, and was furnished with a number of confusing
straps; but, after a somewhat prolonged struggle, she managed at length
to adjust it, and to tie her dressing-case on to the back pommel. Then,
removing the tether, she held the nose-rope in one hand, and prodded the
unwilling beast with her toe until it floundered to its legs, snarling
and complaining as is the habit of the breed.

Leading it out into the open she buckled the girth in a fashion, but for
some minutes she failed to make the creature kneel so as to allow her to
climb into the saddle. She tugged at the nose-rope, and tapped its legs
with her crop, but presently she was obliged to desist, owing to her
fear that its whining grumbles would be heard.

She was in despair and was very near to tears, when suddenly she
recollected that the native makes a certain noise in the roof of his
mouth, like the rolling of a German _ch_, when he wishes his camel to
kneel; and no sooner had she imitated this sound than the creature went
down on its knees with the utmost docility. She clambered into the
saddle with a sigh of relief, and a moment later was trotting silently
northwards while the dogs stared at her in mild surprise as they stood
in the light of the lantern which she had left burning at the doorway of
the shed.

The soft pads made little sound as she passed under the outer walls of
the monastery, and, looking up at the tower, she saw no signs of
movement, for Daniel was fast asleep. Nor was there any indication of
human life in the Oasis below her as she trotted along the cliff-tops,
but the sporadic barking of the village dogs much alarmed her.

The day was now breaking in the east, while the moon also gave a certain
amount of light; and she therefore found the track with ease, and in
less than half an hour had left the Oasis behind and was heading out
into the open desert across the high ground.

The excitement of her escape had prevented her from thinking of her
actual sorrow, and now she was too nervous, too overawed by her
surroundings, to be conscious of more than a general horror. A six
hours’ ride across an absolutely uninhabited and lifeless stretch of
country, with nothing but a packet of chocolate for sustenance, was
likely to be a physical ordeal; and already she knew that the nervous
strain was going to be very great.

As has been said, there were three wells upon the route, and the nearest
of these, some six miles from the Oasis, she reached within the hour.
The sun being now well above the horizon, she did not halt; for she
realized that Daniel, on his tower top, would already have been awakened
by its rays, and would perhaps be even now in pursuit.

This, in fact, was the case. When he had descended from the tower he had
quickly discovered her flight, and had sent Hussein scuttling into the
stable, while he himself put on a shirt and a pair of trousers and
slipped his bare feet into the old canvas shoes which lay to hand.

Snatching his water-bottle and a tin of biscuits from the living-room,
and pocketing his pipe and pouch, he ran through the refectory like a
charging bull, sprang on to his camel, and was off and away before his
servant had recovered from his first astonishment.

“_Walla kilma!_” he shouted to the staring Hussein, which means “Not a
word!” And the loyal native thereupon went back to the kitchen,
muttering to himself ”His Excellency has gone hunting,“ as though to
convince himself of the veracity of the statement, which, after all, was
not very far removed from the truth.

As Daniel raced along in the sparkling sunshine he could detect here and
there the marks of Muriel’s camel upon the tracks before him, and he
knew that, at the pace at which he was travelling, he would have the
chance of overtaking her before she had accomplished half the journey
back to El Homra; for he had not been long asleep, and her departure
could not have taken place earlier without attracting his attention. He
therefore settled down to a protracted and pounding chase, and in the
brisk morning air his steed did not fail to show its mettle.

He was travelling at twice Muriel’s pace, and he caught sight of her,
and she of him, as he descended from the high ground into the wide plain
which lay between the two oases. She was over a mile ahead of him, a
mere speck, like a little fly crawling across a vast brazen dish, and a
considerable time passed before he had come close enough to observe her
movements.

He saw her now urging her camel forward, beating it with her crop. Her
hat had been discarded, and her hair had fallen down and was being
tossed out behind her by the north wind like a fluttering banner.

She turned to glance at him, and he saw her flushed face, as again she
belaboured her tired beast. He was about to call out to her when
suddenly her camel stumbled. The loosely buckled girth gave way, and the
saddle slipped over to one side. For a moment she clutched on to it,
while her camel went round in a circle as though about to overbalance
and fall on top of her. Then she slid to the ground, fell on her hands
and knees, picked herself up, and set off running like a maniac, while
the startled camel went staggering off to one side.

Daniel did not slacken his pace, and in a few moments he was close upon
her heels.

“Stop!” he called, coming to a halt. “It’s no good running like that!”

For answer she suddenly swung round and faced him, panting and
distracted. Her hand dived into her pocket, and issued again holding her
revolver. He saw the sunlight flash upon it as she pointed it at him.

His camel was well trained, and he did not wait to tether it. Vaulting
from the saddle he walked rapidly towards her, regardless of the menace
of the weapon which covered him.

“Don’t dare to come any nearer,” she gasped, “or I’ll shoot you, you
brute!”

He stretched out his arms. “Very well, shoot!” he said. “Good God! D’you
think I value my life now?”

He saw her fingers press the trigger. There was a flash, a sharp report,
and the bullet went singing past his ear, not close enough, perhaps, to
suggest that she had taken aim at him, but not so distant that he could
ignore it. He ran at her, therefore, and grasped her wrist, so that the
revolver fell to the ground. Instantly she flung herself upon her knees
and grabbed at it with her left hand, but he dragged her back by her
arm, pulling her to her feet.

“You beast!” she exclaimed. “Leave me alone!” and she struck at him with
her free hand. Her eyes were flashing, and her hair was tossed about her
shoulders.

He put his arm about her, holding her as in a vice, and, stooping, he
picked up and pocketed her revolver.

“Now sit down there,” he said, lowering her on to the sand, “and get
your breath.”

She saw that there was no use in resisting, and she sat, therefore,
glaring up at him as he stood before her.

He turned his head and glanced at the camels, and as he did so she
stretched out her foot and kicked his shins.

“Ough!” he exclaimed. “Don’t do that—it hurts!”

“Oh, I wish we were near Cairo,” she cried. “I’d turn the servants on to
you and have you whipped. Go and fetch my camel!”

“Yes,” he answered, “I’m just going to. And don’t you start running away
again, or I’ll not be so gentle with you when I catch you.”

He hastened across the desert, and, without any difficulty, caught
Muriel’s wandering and tired animal, and readjusted the saddle. Soon he
had tethered it beside his own; and coming back to her, he sat himself
down a yard or two away from her, and lit his pipe.

“Say when you’re ready to start back,” he said, stretching himself out
and resting his head upon his elbow.

“I’m not coming back with you,” she replied. “I’m going back to El
Homra.”

“No, you’re not,” he told her. “You’re going to stay with me for this
fortnight you’ve so carefully planned.”

She scrambled to her feet, her fists clenched. “If you try to force me
to come with you,” she burst out, “I shall ... I shall _bite_ you.”

He also stood up. “Now look here,” he said. “Understand me: you’re going
back with me, whether you like it or not. And if you struggle I shall
tie you up. Now, come along quietly.”

He caught hold of her wrist, and led her towards the camels.

“Take your hand off my arm!” she gasped. “You’ve got me in your power
now, but you just wait till my father hears of this. He’ll have you
hounded out of Egypt.”

He did not reply, but releasing her, left her to climb into the saddle.

“Go and get my crop,” she said. “I dropped it somewhere here.”

“Very well,” he replied, “but, remember, if you ride off while my back
is turned, I’ll come after you and tie your hands behind your back.”

Muriel wriggled furiously in her seat, but she knew that it was useless
to attempt to escape. Presently Daniel found her crop and brought it
back to her. Then he mounted his camel, and the two of them rode off
southwards side by side.

“We shall come across your hat soon,” he said. “Be on the lookout for
it. You’ll get sunstroke without it, in spite of all that mass of hair.”

She uttered something like a growl as she jogged along beside him over
the blazing sand.



CHAPTER XXVIII—THE SURPRISING FORTNIGHT


It was mid-morning when they reached the house, and Daniel advised
Muriel to go at once to her room, whither Hussein presently brought
refreshments and cans of water for the bath.

“Send Mustafa to me,” she said to him, but, understanding no English,
and grasping only the name of the dragoman, he pointed towards the
Oasis, indicating by signs that the man had not yet returned.

At this she went to the door of her room and called out sharply “Mr.
Lane!”

Daniel, who at the moment had just ducked his head in a pail of water,
came into the refectory drying his hair with a towel.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Anything I can do for you?”

“Where’s my dragoman?” she asked, suspiciously.

“_I_ don’t know,” he replied. “I haven’t touched him.”

Hussein volunteered the information that Mustafa had not yet returned,
and Daniel translated the statement into English.

“Well, when he comes,” she said, “please send him to me at once.”

“No,” he replied, very decisively, “I’m going to send him straight off
to El Homra before he hears of our little trouble this morning. I can
trust Hussein to say nothing in the village, but Mustafa I don’t know
very well.”

She turned angrily to him. “You do like bullying women, don’t you!” she
sneered.

He looked at her with steady, serene eyes, “You won’t need a dragoman
for a fortnight,” he remarked. “He may as well make himself useful to
the Bindanes.”

With that he went back to his ablutions, and when, half an hour later,
Mustafa made his appearance, Daniel immediately sent him off on his long
journey, telling him to convey his compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Bindane
and to say that her Ladyship was in the best of health, and would come
back to them on the thirteenth day from now.

This done, he called Hussein to him and spoke to him somewhat after this
manner: “Her Excellency,” he said, “desires to go back to her friends,
but I believe I shall be carrying out the wishes of her father by
obliging her to remain here. You will therefore take her camel and mine
into the village, so that she cannot get at them; and you will notify me
at once if she leaves the house. Otherwise you are to treat her with the
deference due to her high rank; and I think it will be best to make no
mention of what I have told you to your friends.”

Hussein bowed, and at once went off to find a suitable stable for the
camels.

When luncheon was announced a couple of hours later Muriel came into the
living-room, carrying herself with dignity.

“Am I obliged to eat my meals with you?” she asked.

“It will be more convenient,” he replied.

“I shall probably be sick,” she muttered.

“You’ll get used to it,” he answered; and therewith they sat down at the
table.

The meal was eaten in a distressing silence, broken only by Daniel’s
polite profferring of salt, pepper, and the like, and by his pressing
but vain invitations to her to eat a little more of this or that dish.
When at length they rose from the table, he advised her to go to her
room to rest. “You must be very tired,” he said, “after getting up so
early, and all that excitement.”

“I’ll lie down,” she replied, “but I don’t suppose I shall sleep. The
very fact of being anywhere near you disgusts me too much to allow me to
go to sleep.”

“You must try to master that feeling,” he said, with perfect
seriousness. “It hurts nobody but yourself. I can quite understand your
being angry; but I think Al Ghazzali, the Muslim philosopher, put the
matter in a nutshell when he said: ‘God loves those who swallow down
their anger, and not those who have no anger at all.’ It only makes you
yourself miserable to be in a temper; but try to say to yourself that
you won’t let me be of such importance in your life as to have the power
to upset you. You ought to say: ‘Nothing that this fellow does can shake
my equanimity: he has absolutely no power over my inner self.’ If you
can really say that to yourself you’ll sleep all right. There’ll be some
tea going at half-past four.”

She stared at him freezingly and went out of the room, while Daniel
quietly settled down to his writing, refusing to allow himself any
further thoughts in regard to her.

At tea-time he told her that he wanted her to come down into the Oasis
with him. “It will take your thoughts off yourself,” he said.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I prefer to stay here in my prison. I wish
you’d realize that your society is obnoxious to me. I hate the sight of
you.”

“I quite understand that,” he said, “but, all the same, I want you to
come, please.”

“If I refuse,” she retorted, “I suppose you’ll drag me down by the
hair?”

“No.” he replied, “not by your hair: only by your hand.”

She was too tired to put up any resistance, and soon they left the house
together, descending by the rough path down the cliffs to the lower
level, where the shadow lay deep.

Presently they entered the forest of palms, wherein, here and there
stood a mud-brick hut or cluster of huts, upon the flat roofs of which
the goats and chickens ran about, and sometimes a dog looked down at
them and barked.

The shadow of the cliffs extended for some distance, like a blue veil,
but further ahead the sun still struck down upon the Oasis, and the
mellow light, seen between the tree-trunks and foliage, was made so rich
by contrast with the cool tones of the shadowed foreground that Muriel
was constrained to remark on its beauty. Pigeons fluttered to and fro
amongst the trees, those close at hand being white as snow, but those in
the sunlit distance appearing to flash before the eyes like gilded birds
of a fairy tale.

Soon they passed out of the shadow, and now the sunlight was sprinkled
upon them from between the rustling palm-branches overhead, and the dust
of their footsteps was like a haze of powdered gold. Before them, in a
clearing, a number of rough buildings, some of them whitewashed,
encircled an open space of sun-baked ground wherein a number of natives
sauntered to and fro. Here there were a few stalls, sheltered by tenting
or tattered fragments of brown camel-cloth: grain being on sale at one
of them; at another, basket-work; at another, pottery.

The loiterers and salesmen greeted Daniel with polite salaams, and to
some of them he spoke a few words; but they were too well-mannered, or
perhaps too indifferent, to show any particular interest in Muriel, and
even when she paused to pat the shaven head of a little naked urchin,
and to give him a piastre, there were few curious eyes upon her. The
villagers seemed to be dawdling through a peaceful dream, unruffled by
the ardours and eagerness to which the Westerner is accustomed; and
Muriel had the feeling that she had come into a lull in the breeze of
life, as when a sailing boat is becalmed and the sails flap idly. Even
the tempest in her heart was quietened, and the warmth of the evening
caused her to feel a languor that was temporarily almost serene.

Daniel led her across the open ground to a lane between the ramshackle
buildings on the far side. Here, at a crazy-looking door, he paused.

“I want you just to shake hands with an old man,” he said. “He acted as
guide years ago to one of your father’s predecessors.”

“There’s no need to say who I am, is there?” she asked, a little
anxiously.

He smiled. “Your dragoman will have spread the news already.”

“I told him not to,” she answered.

Daniel made a gesture of impatience. “We must try to correct that,” he
said. “Secrecy is very unpleasant, though it is sometimes necessary.
You’ll find it always best to be frank when you can.”

In response to his knocking the door was opened by a small, smirking
boy, and they entered a little yard, wherein a clean cow, several
emaciated hens, and a couple of goats wandered about in front of a
two-roomed house, the rear wall of which appeared to be about to
collapse. Here a dim-eyed old man sat upon a native bedstead of split
palm-branches, engaged in hunting for fleas in his cloak, and, as his
gnarled old fingers plucked at the folds, his grey-bearded mouth was
pursed and pushed forward in the manner of a monkey.

He rose, creaking, to his feet as he caught sight of his visitors, and,
tottering forward, grasped Daniel’s extended hand, who then introduced
him to Muriel.

Daniel spoke to him in Arabic, and presently, turning to his companion,
asked her to say something to the old man.

“What shall I say?” Muriel enquired.

“He is very old,” Daniel replied. “Wish that God’s face may shine upon
him. Say you hope the evening of his life may be full of peace and
blessedness.”

“Yes, tell him that,” she answered.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“Oh, make up something for me,” she replied.

“No,” he answered, severely. “Please take your thoughts from yourself,
and concentrate them on this old fellow. Think what is the best thing
you can wish him. Think hard.”

Muriel glanced at him in surprise, while her host turned his fading eyes
to Daniel, asking what she was saying.

“She is trying to think what is the most blessed wish she can make for
you,” he replied, speaking in Arabic; and the old man beamed upon her.

Muriel made an effort, and, taking his horny hand in hers, told him that
she hoped he would keep his health and that his affairs would prosper.
With an eye on his cloak, she wanted to add that she hoped he would have
good hunting, but she restrained herself.

Daniel translated the words into the native tongue, and, after a brief
conversation, they took their departure.

As they walked down the lane Muriel asked him, freezingly, why he had so
particularly wished her to make herself polite to the old man.

“I had no reason,” he answered, “except that I wanted you to think of
him and not of yourself.”

“Why?” she asked with increasing ill-humor. “Am I usually selfish?”

“You have been trained to think first of yourself,” he answered, with
disconcerting candour, “though by nature you are not really selfish at
all. During this fortnight I want you to think mostly of other people.”

She had no time to reply before Daniel stopped at another and larger
door, which he pushed open without a preliminary knock. Here, in a shed,
two camels and a donkey stood feeding from a trough.

“This,” he told her, “is my hospital for sick animals. Both these camels
have saddle-sores, as you see, and the old moke foaled the other day,
but the youngster died. She is very depressed about it.”

Muriel was interested, and patted the donkey affectionately, while
Daniel, stepping on to an inverted box, examined the camels’ sores.

“Just hand me that bottle over there,” he said. “It’s my patent mixture
of carbolic and lamp-oil. It keeps the flies off, and heals up the sores
mighty quick.”

Muriel haughtily gave him the bottle, and watched him as he poured a few
drops on to the wounds. Her attention was presently attracted by a board
nailed to the wall, upon which an inscription was written in large,
flowing Arabic characters.

“What does that say?” she asked, forgetting for the moment that she was
not really desirous of holding any communication with him.

“It is a quotation from the Koran,” he told her. “I wrote it and stuck
it up for a lesson to these people. It reads ‘The _Prophet_ has written:
There is no _beast_ on earth, nor bird that flieth, but the same is a
people like unto you, and unto God shall they return.’”

“I like that,” she said.

He fetched a broom from the corner of the shed and held it out to her.
“Would you mind just sweeping the ground a bit while I clean up the
troughs?” he asked. “The native attendant is off duty today.”

He busied himself with his work, and Muriel, making a grimace, did as
she was bid. It was less awkward than standing still, and the cause was
good though the job unpleasant.

They walked home in silence through the gathering dusk. Daniel offered
her his hand to help her up the steep path which ascended the cliff to
his house, but she frigidly refused it; and when, presently, she
stumbled and nearly fell, she scrambled to her feet once more in
surprisingly quick time, as though to avoid his proffered aid.

Later she sat down to the evening meal without uttering a word, and the
silence was extremely oppressive.

“Look here,” Daniel broke out at last, “I don’t know what you feel about
it, but for my own part I rather object to this silence.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” she replied.

“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “I will do the talking. I shall choose a
subject and talk about it: you can listen if you want to.”

Therewith he gave her an account of the Bedouin tribes of this part of
the desert, how they had come to settle there, how he had recovered a
part of their history from the old tales and ballads which he had
recorded; and he told her something of their curious laws and customs.

Muriel’s face did not betray any interest whatsoever, but Daniel
persevered courageously until the meal was finished.

“You can stay in this room and read a book if you like,” he said to her,
as they rose from the table.

Muriel looked at him coldly. “Thank you,” she replied, with an emphasis
which she hoped was withering, “I prefer to go to my room. Good-night!”
And with that she took her departure.

The day had seemed intolerably long to her, and her smouldering anger
had flamed up within her at frequent intervals. She realized that Daniel
was playing the schoolmaster to her, and she was determined not to
knuckle under to him. If he had decided to keep her a prisoner here for
the full fortnight, she would do her best to make him thoroughly
uncomfortable. His cool, impersonal attitude annoyed her; she was amazed
that a man who but yesterday was branding her with his burning kisses
could be today so entirely detached from emotion, and she flushed at the
insult of it.

Her only consolation lay in the thought that he was injuring himself by
his behaviour. She would now never be even so much as a sister to
him—not even so much as a friend. When she had escaped from this
horrible place she would go to England, and soon, no doubt, she would
marry a nice, ordinary man, with sleek hair and a tooth-brush moustache
and long, thin legs; and as she came out of the church after the
marriage ceremony she would catch sight of Daniel in the crowd and would
smile contemptuously at him....

She was very tired, and many minutes had not passed before she abandoned
the pretence of reading the anthology of English verse which Daniel had
placed in her room on the previous evening, nor was it long before she
fell into a deep and dreamless sleep which held her as it were entombed
until Hussein caused her resurrection by bringing in the bath-water in
the morning.

The cool breeze and the sparkling air brought a certain feeling of
well-being into her heart; but the meeting with Daniel at the breakfast
table was a wretched business, and was made all the more distasteful by
his evident good health and the morning freshness of his mind.

“I hope you are feeling fit,” he said to her. “We have a busy morning
before us.”

That he was not speaking in jest was proved by the event. Soon after
breakfast he took her down to the house of Sheikh Ali, and introduced
her to the old man and his son Ibrahîm. Thereafter the four of them
walked over to the open ground outside the mosque, where a large number
of men and camels were gathered, while on the outskirts of the area many
women and children stood in the shade of the palms. Daniel explained to
her that a large number of the chief men of the El Hamrân were setting
out upon the long journey to the far-off Oasis of El Khargeh, where
there was to be a great gathering of the tribes. Sheikh Ali himself was
too old and too feeble to go with the caravan, and his eldest son,
Ibrahîm, was remaining with him; but his younger sons and most of his
male relatives and adherents were going.

She watched the animated scene with interest, and the hubbub came to her
ears with the wonder of novelty—the women uttering their strange,
whinnying cries in token of their grief at parting with their husbands;
the white-bearded old Sheikh embracing his sons, like a Biblical picture
come to life; the diversely robed figures steering their camels in
circles and firing their rifles in the air; the barking of innumerable
dogs skulking amongst the palms; and over all the brilliant sunshine and
the deep blue of the sky.

She and Daniel shook hands with a very large number of men, and, as she
walked homewards after the caravan had departed, she had a confused
memory of smiling bearded faces, dark eyes, and many-coloured robes
fluttering in the wind.

After sundown he took her down to the village, armed with pots of
ointment, to help him to doctor the eyes of two little grandchildren of
the Sheikh, who were suffering from ophthalmia, and whose sight his
daily ministrations were saving. And in the evening he continued his
writing, leaving her to read a book until, with many yawns, she betook
herself to her room.

This day was typical of all the others in that surprising fortnight.
Quietly and impersonally he led her through her duties, obliging her to
make herself useful in a score of different ways. Now he set her to the
task of classifying his photographs and notes; now he sent her down to
the animals’ hospital to doctor the camels’ sores; now he asked her to
massage the sprained ankle of a small girl who had been brought to the
house for treatment; now he made her grace with her presence a village
wedding festival; and now he dispatched her with milk and eggs to the
hovel of a blind old woman who lived on her neighbours’ charity.

In the afternoons he would take her for painfully long tramps over the
desert, for the good of her health as he told her; and when the silence
became oppressive he would talk to her, whether she listened or no,
about the nature of the birds they saw or whose footprints were marked
upon the sand, about the geological formation of the country, about the
jackals and their habits, and so forth. During their meals together he
attempted, cold-bloodedly, to enlighten her on many subjects, and
sometimes he would talk philosophy to her, endeavouring to give her a
new standpoint on certain age-old themes, but “You do like preaching,
don’t you?” was the kind of response he received.

Sitting opposite to him at the table, it seemed to him that she carried
herself with great dignity; and he had to admit that, under the
circumstances, she was a great deal more self-possessed and high-mettled
than he had expected her to be. She stood up to him, so to speak, and
there were times at which he had the feeling, though he did not show it,
that he was behaving like a boor.

On one occasion in particular he was conscious of having been put to
rights by her. He had been talking about the sincerity of Islâm, and had
said how wise the Prophet was to refuse to organize a priesthood,
preferring to leave the faith in the hands of the laity.

“It is so different from the empty ceremonials of our own religion,” he
said. “It seems to me that the Church’s idea of the imitation of Christ
is generally a burlesque in bad taste.”

“In every walk of life,” she replied, “there are men who make an outward
hash of their inner ideals. You, for example, have great ideas as to
what women should be; but in actual fact you make a terrible mess of
your dealings with them.”

“I wonder,” he mused. It was as though he had been chastised.

She did not continue the argument. That was, to Daniel, the baffling
thing about her: she was growing so quiet now that she was in his power.
She performed the tasks he set her almost in silence, and he could never
tell whether she were learning her lesson or whether she were treating
him with contempt as a man who lacked sympathetic understanding.

In her silence he seemed to find the quiet suggestion that she knew
already all he wished to teach her; and there were moments when he felt
that he had estranged himself needlessly from her. At such times he was
obliged to remind himself that she had deliberately treated his love as
a romantic adventure, and such treatment had had to be dealt with
drastically. It was better that it should die outright than live to
bring misery to them both; and with this thought he steeled his heart.

Thus the days passed by—days of brilliant sunshine and warm, mysterious
nights, of active toil and healthy sleep; days meant for love and
companionship, but turned down, one after the other, in cold antagonism
and frigid reticence. Sometimes in the evening, after she had gone to
her room, he would sit with his head buried in his hands, calling
himself a fool and loathing his rôle of schoolmaster; and more than once
there was a black hour of despair when, had she come to him, she would
have been astonished to see his huge arms spread out across the table
and his head sunk upon his mighty breast.



CHAPTER XXIX—IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH


By the middle of March Muriel’s enforced residence at El Hamrân was
drawing to a close. Already she had been with Daniel for eleven or
twelve days, and he had kept her so busy that the time had passed
rapidly. These days had been like a fantastic dream to her, and she
could hardly believe in the reality of her actions. The whole situation
was absurd; and yet, notwithstanding her artificial outward stiffness
and her actual inward rebellion, she was conscious that her experience
had not been unprofitable.

In spite of Daniel’s hectoring and churlish manners—for so she thought
them—she felt that she had seen something of life as it is lived under
primitive conditions which otherwise she would never have known. She had
even experienced, latterly, a pleasant sense of calm while she had been
carrying out her duties: it was almost as though being under orders were
a satisfactory condition—now and then. And as to her physical health,
she was obliged to admit that she had never before felt so thoroughly
fit.

Her attitude to her monitor was one of unbending hostility, but now no
longer of furious anger. She was not afraid of him, but very decidedly
she did not feel the contempt for him which she endeavoured to show. She
regarded him as a man of difficult and contrary character, but she now
realized that she had greatly misjudged his outlook upon life. She had
thought that in regard to women he was a prurient savage: she now knew
that he was a high-principled and rather fastidious celibate.

Undoubtedly he had taught her the lesson of her life, but she was
certainly not going to grasp his hand and thank him kindly on that
account. He had built up a barrier between them which would remain a
fixture for all time, and, though her heart often ached, she was far too
estranged from him to think of any future intimacy whatsoever between
them.

Only in one respect, in these days of their life together, did she feel
drawn towards him. He had an indefinably benevolent and humorous
attitude towards life, of which she was daily more conscious. It was
something which could not be described, but on more than one occasion it
nearly served to break down the wall of ice within in which she had
enclosed herself. Sometimes it would be merely that he stopped in his
walk to make an absurd remark to a passing cow or to a wandering goat;
sometimes it would be the way in which he played with his dogs; or
sometimes it was his manner to the native children which would cause her
to unbend towards him. It was as though he had a private joke with every
living creature. It was too quiet to be termed joviality: it was in no
wise rollicking. It was a subtle droll and whimsical good-nature; it
seemed almost as if, conscious of his own great strength, he were saying
“Bless your little heart!” to all things weaker than he.

One morning, just as they were finishing a silent breakfast, Hussein
entered the room, and delivered himself of a few rapid words in the
Arabic tongue, which so much upset Daniel that he rose to his feet and
paced up and down the floor in great perturbation.

“Anything wrong?” asked Muriel, temporarily unfreezing.

“Yes; very bad news,” he replied. “Old Sheikh Ali is very ill. It sounds
like pneumonia. I must go down to him at once.”

He snatched up his hat, and, without taking any further notice of
Muriel, hurried out of the room. Sheikh Ali was a man whom he loved and
respected, and the possible death of his friend was so great a sorrow to
him that his mind was filled full of darkness, like a room in which the
blinds have suddenly been pulled down. And the condition in which he
found the old man confirmed his worst fears; and presently, in deep
anxiety, he hastened back to the house to procure the necessaries for
his proper nursing.

“Will you come with me,” he said to Muriel, “and help me to look after
him?”

She hesitated. “I am not much good as a nurse,” she demurred, “but I’ll
do what I can.”

“Thank you,” he replied, and the words were uttered with genuine
gratitude.

Daniel knew something of the rudiments of medical science, and he was
aware that there was very little to be done in a case of pneumonia
except to keep the patient warm and to maintain his strength. When he
returned, therefore, to the Sheikh’s house with Muriel, he was carrying
with him a small oil stove with which to warm the sick-room at night,
and a pillow in its clean white cover was thrust under his arm, while
Muriel held a basket containing a number of articles from the
store-cupboard and medicine-chest.

The house, a whitewashed building of two storeys, stood amongst the
palms, not more than three or four hundred yards distant from the
monastery. As they approached it they heard the sound of wailing in the
women’s quarters, and at this Daniel uttered an exclamation of disgust.

“Oh, these women!” he muttered. “We mustn’t let them do that. Wait a
minute.”

He went to the side door and knocked upon it. An old negress, a servant
of the house, opened the door, her eyes red with weeping, and her
withered breast bare.

“The Sheikh is dying, the Sheikh is dying!” she wailed, as Daniel
questioned her.

He put his hand on her shoulder. “Go and tell them,” he said, “that if I
hear another sound of weeping I shall send somebody to beat you all with
a stick. Do you not know the saying of the Prophet: ‘Trust in God, but
tether the camel’? If God has decreed that your camel shall run away it
will certainly run away, but nevertheless you must do your part in
preventing it. If the Sheikh is going to die he will die; but until he
is dead you must do all you can to tether him to life. Let me hear no
more sounds of mourning until the breath has left his body. In my
country we say ‘While there is life there is hope.’ Go now and hope—hope
in silence.”

He pushed her back into the house and returned to Muriel.


    [Illustration: A SCENE FROM THE PHOTOPLAY—BURNING SANDS]


They found the Sheikh lying upon a couch in the whitewashed upper room,
into which the sun struck through the open casements. He was propped up
upon the hard square pillows taken from an ordinary native divan, and
his laboured breathing sounded ominously in their ears. His son Ibrahîm,
a grave, black-bearded man of middle age, stood by his side, drumming
the fist of one hand into the palm of the other in his great distress.

“See,” said Daniel, speaking to the patient in Arabic, “I have brought
her Excellency to nurse you. Let me put this soft pillow under your
head; and, look, here is a stove to keep off the chill of night. In two
or three days, my father, we shall bring you back to health.”

The old man shook his head. “No, my dear,” he whispered, “I am going to
my God. God has said, ‘I am a hidden treasure. I have made man that he
might find Me!’ I go now to find Him.”

Daniel knelt down by his side, and, taking the thin hand in his,
remained silent for some moments, his eyes shut, his brows knitted.
Muriel watched him in surprise. It was evident that he was praying; and
she had never before seen anybody pray, though in church she had known
people go through the correct postures and outward formalities of
prayer.

Presently he rose to his feet, and at once became businesslike and
practical. He took the patient’s temperature; dexterously pinned the
native shawl about him; arranged the pillows under his head; opened a
bottle of meat-extract and administered a little of its contents; and,
sending for milk and eggs, made Muriel go out on the rickety landing to
beat up the eggs into the milk.

When she returned with the beverage she found that he and Ibrahîm had
fastened grass matting across the windows to check the glare of the sun,
and now were standing in the subdued light talking in quiet cheerful
tones to the sick man.

Presently Daniel turned to her. “I think the best thing you can do,” he
said, “is to sit beside him and fan away the flies when you see them
bothering him.”

He handed her a fly-whisk, and placed a small stool beside the couch;
and here she sat herself, while her patient closed his eyes and drowsed
in some degree of comfort.

They went back to the house for luncheon, and during the meal Daniel
told her of the troubles which might ensue in the Oasis if the Sheikh
were to die. He spoke of the feud between the sick man’s family and that
of their rivals; and he explained how Sheikh Ali desired to be succeeded
in his office as headman by his son Ibrahîm, and that there was a danger
of the other party taking advantage of the absence of so many of the
Sheikh’s adherents, who had gone to El Khargeh.

“If Sheikh Ali dies,” he pointed out, “the other faction may carry out a
_coup_, and establish their candidate in power while all these men are
away. That would be a disaster; for the man they wish to set up is a
crook, if ever there was one. He would be just the sort of fellow to
play into Benifett Bindane’s hands and sell himself to the Company.”

“But,” said Muriel in surprise, “aren’t you in favour of this Company?”

“No,” he answered. “I have come to the conclusion that it is not in the
best interests of the natives. They are happier as they are, for their
products are sufficient to their needs, and are pretty evenly
distributed. I don’t trust these Stock Exchange fellows: they’ll exploit
the Oasis to fill their own pockets. That’s what I’m going to tell your
father when I get back to Cairo.”

“Poor Mr. Bindane!” Muriel smiled. “He has set his heart on this
business.”

In the afternoon they returned to the sick-room, where she made herself
very useful, and showed a remarkable aptitude for nursing; and the sun
was setting before they came back to the house once more. Muriel was
very tired by now, and as soon as the evening meal was over Daniel
advised her to go to bed.

“What about yourself?” she asked.

“Oh, I’ll go back to him for a bit,” he answered, but he would not
accept her proffered help.

She therefore went early to her room and soon fell asleep, nor did she
awake again until Hussein aroused her at sunrise with his clattering
preparations for her bath.

She found herself alone at breakfast, and it was explained to her by
signs that Daniel was with Sheikh Ali. Presently, therefore, she went
down to the sick man’s house, a little ashamed of herself for not having
risen earlier.

As she entered the upper room she caught sight of Daniel’s face, and its
expression of weary sorrow checked her. He was seated beside the couch,
his hand on the patient’s pulse, his eyes fixed upon the old man, who
lay panting for breath, the beads of perspiration upon his wrinkled
forehead.

“Is there anything I can do?” she whispered.

He raised his head and gazed at her: she had never seen him look so
haggard before. “No,” he answered, “he is beyond human aid. It’s only a
question of minutes now.”

“I ought to have come to help you sooner,” she said. “How long have you
been here?”

“All night,” he replied. “I couldn’t leave my _friend_, could I?” There
was something in the inflection of his voice which very much touched
her.

The Sheikh turned his head slightly, and Daniel bent forward to catch
the laboured words.

“Ibrahîm,” he whispered.

Muriel understood, and, at a nod from Daniel, went out of the room to
find the dying man’s son, whom she had seen at the doorway of the house,
on her arrival, kneeling upon the praying-carpet, his hands extended
towards the East. He had just risen to his feet as she came now to him,
and she made signs to him to go upstairs.

When she entered the sick room once more she saw the younger man
kneeling beside his father’s couch. Daniel was holding the feeble old
hand, so that it rested upon Ibrahîm’s turbaned head. She heard and
seemed almost to understand the whispered words of the old man’s
blessing, and presently, to her surprise, she observed the tears start
from Daniel’s eyes, and their quick brushing away, with the back of his
hand. She had not thought him capable of tears.

Then suddenly she saw the dying man raise himself; she saw Daniel and
Ibrahîm leaning forward to support him. She heard the rattling of his
breath, and she recognized the words that he uttered as those of the
Moslem formula which Daniel had more than once repeated to her: “I
testify that there is no God but God....” They came rolling now from his
lips with passionate energy: it was as though the sum of his whole life
were being expressed in these guttural, rhyming sounds. But the
declaration remained unfinished. The voice ceased upon the name of
Allah, the mouth dropped open, and the patriarchal head fell back.

Muriel had only once before stood at a deathbed; and later, as she
walked back to the monastery, she compared the scene of her mother’s
death with that from which she had just come.

In the one case there had been the big four-poster bed, with its
hangings of embroidered velvet; the sombre room, lit by a shaded bedside
lamp and by the flickering of the fire in the wide Tudor grate; the
tapestried walls with their designs of dim huntsmen pursuing phantom
deer through the time-worn twilight of forgotten forests; the faded
Jacobean painting upon the ceiling, representing the fat back-view of a
reclining Venus and the fat front-view of naked Cupid. There had been
the pompous family doctor and the frigid specialist in their black frock
coats, and in the bed, between the embroidered sheets, her mother had
lain inert, her dyed hair, tidy to the end, framing her carefully
powdered face.

“Come here, my dear,” she had whispered to Muriel. “Tell me, do you
believe in a God?”

“Yes, I think I do,” she had replied.

“Well, I don’t,” was her mother’s reply; and those were almost her last
words.

And, in contrast, there was this patriarchal scene in the bare,
whitewashed room, the sun beating upon the grass matting, the palms
rustling outside, and the flies droning: the old, saintly face of the
dying man, his withered hand laid upon the head of his beloved son, and
the fervent affirmation of his faith in God upon his lips.

Muriel was in a very subdued and reflective mood when she returned, and
as she stood at the window of the living-room, listening to the wailing
of the mourners in the distance, she wondered how best she could show
her sympathy with Daniel in his loss, without in other respects
unbending to him. He relieved her of the difficulty, however, when he
came in; for he showed no outward signs of his grief, and seemed in no
wise to be asking for her condolence. He spoke of the beauty of the
Sheikh’s life, and of the serenity of his death; and when Muriel made
some remark in regard to the sadness of the event he quietly corrected
her.

“Death,” he said, “is not a calamity when a man has reached old age. It
is like the ripeness of corn, as Marcus Aurelius says, when the soul
drops out of the husk almost of its own accord. It is a natural action,
just as birth is. It is only we who are left behind who are
unhappy—because we have lost a friend; and as for that, why, I am not
going to let my loss make me wretched.”

“That sounds extremely selfish,” she remarked, coldly.

“No,” he answered, “sorrow is selfish, not happiness. There’s never any
use in pulling a long face.”



CHAPTER XXX—THE REVOLT


The funeral took place next morning, as is the native custom, and it was
during the great gathering of the Sheikh’s friends that the adherents of
the opposing faction made their feared _coup_. The event, and its
serious consequences for Muriel and Daniel, was upon them so quickly
that there was no time for preparation or retreat.

Muriel had not gone to the funeral, and she was sitting quietly writing
in the living-room when Daniel flung open the door.

“Quick!” he said. “Get ready to start at once. Leave your dressing-case:
you just want your water-bottle and a tin or two of food from the
cupboard. We’ve got to ride like the wind. I’m just going to get the
camels.”

She stared at him in amazement as he hastened away, and thought how
extremely inconsiderate he was; but the realization that her
extraordinary fortnight with him was now at an end led her to obey his
instructions with alacrity. She was soon ready, but for some time she
waited impatiently for his reappearance.

At last he came in, this time slowly and with careful serenity.

“I’m afraid the journey’s off,” he said.

Muriel was angry, and she tapped her foot sharply on the floor. “Oh,
you’re impossible!” she exclaimed. “I’m all ready to start, and now you
say you’re not going.”

He looked at her gravely and steadily for a moment, and then very calmly
he told her what had occurred. While Ibrahîm and those of his adherents
who had not gone to El Khargeh were attending the funeral, the rival
faction had seized every camel and donkey in the Oasis, for of the
former more than half the number owned by the inhabitants had gone with
the caravan. They had disarmed the village _ghaffirs_, or guards, they
had proclaimed their own chief as Sheikh of the Oasis, and they had
picketed every track leading out into the desert and to the lands
beyond.

Daniel had found his and Muriel’s camel gone from the stable, and he had
encountered a group of “enemy” leaders who had informed him that he
would not be permitted to communicate with the outside world for several
days.

“Their idea,” he explained, lighting his pipe, “is to get their man
firmly established in power before the police hear of it, and then it
will be a _fait accompli_. It is to be a peaceful revolution, without
bloodshed if possible; but I don’t suppose they will hesitate to shoot
anybody who tries to get away. So, you see, we’re caught.”

Muriel received the news calmly. According to the time-table the
Bindanes would return to El Homra tomorrow or the next day, and then, if
she had not made her reappearance, they would probably send her dragoman
and a trooper or two to fetch her. But Daniel pointed out that three
days might elapse before these men arrived, and two weeks before the
authorities in Egypt could give instructions. Moreover, their coming
might lead to an awkward situation for himself and her.

“You see, they know that I will support Ibrahîm’s claim,” he said,
puffing quietly at his pipe, “for I promised his father I would do so;
and if an unfortunate accident could account for you and me, it would be
all the better for them. Supposing, for example, you and I were found to
have gone out hunting, and to have lost our way, and to have fallen over
a cliff or something of that kind, there would be nobody much to uphold
Ibrahîm against a rival already established in office.”

Daniel did not take his eyes from hers as he put this aspect of the
matter before her. It was as though he were testing her nerve; or
perhaps it was that he thought candour best in regard to a contingency
the possibility of which would doubtless occur to her.

“It seems to me,” she said presently, “that human nature is much the
same all the world over. You were rather intolerant of the intrigues of
Cairo; but rivalries and disputes evidently go on in the desert too. I’m
very disappointed.”

“So am I,” he replied, with disarming candour. “The only thing to be
said for it is that it has been done pretty openly and boldly.”

“What do you intend to do?” she asked. She was remarkably calm.

“I’m going to slip away after dark,” he replied, with a smile, “and walk
to El Homra.”

“It’s thirty miles,” she said. “And supposing you get shot or
caught...?”

“You can come too, if you like,” he replied. He might have added that
this actually was his intention.

She remained silent for some moments, her face a little flushed, her
fingers drumming on the table. In spite of her self-control he could see
that she realized the danger. “Yes,” she said at length, “I’ll come
too.”

He smiled broadly. She caught sight of his strong white teeth, in which
the stem of his pipe was gripped.

“I don’t see anything to smile about,” she remarked.

He did not answer. In his mind there was an astonishing sense of
exultation. He had had no idea that she would show such quiet pluck: he
had hardly dared to think, as he put the graver possibilities of their
situation before her, that she would receive the news without a tremor.
But now, suddenly, his heart was crying out within him: “This is my
mate; this is the woman who will dare all with me”; and he laughed to
think of their present absurd relationship. He did not realize how deep
was their estrangement.

After the midday meal he sent her to her room to rest, and, pocketing
his revolver, went down into the village. Here all was quiet, but he
observed that small groups of the revolters were moving to and fro, some
of them carrying their antiquated firearms. Ibrahîm, he was told, was
more or less a prisoner in his own house, and he thought it politic to
make no attempt to visit him.

“Time will show,” he said to an adherent of the usurper, “whether your
master is worthy to be Sheikh”; and that was as far as he would commit
himself.

At tea-time he returned to the monastery, and now he gave full
instructions to Hussein. The latter was to go to bed as usual that
night, and was to take no part in the events of the darkness. He was to
call his master an hour after sunrise, and if it chanced that he failed
to find him, he was to take what steps he chose to report the
disappearance and exonerate himself from blame.

It was not until after nightfall that any outward signs of their
dangerous situation were to be observed. Daniel found then that three
armed natives were loitering outside the ruined walls, and, in answer to
his enquiries as to their business, they told him amiably that they were
there to prevent him leaving the Oasis.

“But how can I leave it without a camel?” he asked. “In the morning you
must tell your master that the two camels must be brought back to me.
They must be here before midday.” His voice was peremptory, and the
natives salaamed respectfully.

It was at about an hour before midnight that, from the top of his tower,
he took a final survey of his surroundings. There was a young moon in
the heavens, and by its pale light he observed the figure of one of the
guards reclining on the sand, his back against the wall, directly
beneath the window of Muriel’s room. The other two, as he had previously
noticed, were seated in a more or less comatose state at the entrance of
the monastery, at which point they no doubt presumed that reason
required them to remain.

He descended stealthily from the tower, and, feeling his way through the
dark refectory, found Muriel seated, ready, upon her bed. In silence she
rose to her feet, and thereupon Daniel gathered up the bedclothes in his
arms and crept with them to the window. She did not know what he was
about to do, but presently she saw him crouching upon the sill, his
figure silhouetted against the sky.

Suddenly, with a flutter of the blankets, he disappeared, and from
outside she heard a series of muffled sounds. Darting to the window, she
saw him struggling with what appeared to be a furiously animated bundle
of bedclothes from which two kicking brown legs protruded; and, a moment
later, this bundle was lifted from the ground.

“Quick!” he whispered, looking up at her, and thereupon she crawled
through the window and jumped on to the soft sand outside.

Daniel, clasping his burden, with the head pressed against his breast,
told her to pick up the man’s rifle and to put it through the window on
to her bed. When she had done so he at once set off at a run towards the
open desert, and Muriel followed him, her heart wildly beating. A
distance of not more than fifty yards separated them from some clusters
of rock which would shelter them from sight, and soon they were
scrambling over the rough ground in temporary immunity from detection.

Here Daniel paused to rearrange his struggling captive, who was in grave
danger of suffocation, and, having warned him that a single sound would
mean instant death, he lifted him across his shoulder, with the blankets
more loosely thrown over his head, and again broke into a jog-trot.

When about a quarter of a mile had been covered they descended into a
shallow ravine, with which Daniel was well acquainted; and here, being
screened from the Oasis, he set down his burden, cautiously removing the
bedclothes from the perspiring and anxious face. The man’s eyes were
wide with fear as he found himself looking into the muzzle of a
revolver; but his captor smilingly reassured him, promising him that no
harm would come to him if he but walked ahead in complete silence.

“I am afraid,” he said in Arabic, “that you are about to have a somewhat
lengthy walk.”

“Where are we going?” the man asked.

“To El Homra,” Daniel replied casually.

“_Ya salaam!_” exclaimed the man, in an awed whisper. In our language
the expression may be rendered “Oh, lor’!”

The ravine led them to the northwest, and they must have covered nearly
two miles before Daniel deemed it safe to bear off more to the north,
over the higher ground. The going was easy, for the surface of the rocks
was smooth, and the light of the moon sufficient to prevent stumbling;
and an hour’s walking brought them to a point at which they could
without risk move to the east, so as to pick up the track leading to El
Homra. This they found at length without any difficulty, and they now
judged themselves to be beyond the pickets, being already two or three
miles distant from the near end of the Oasis.

The first danger was now past, and Daniel therefore began to discuss
with Muriel their chances of success.

“We must have come six or seven miles,” he said. “I suppose you are
pretty tired?”

“No,” she answered, “I can keep up for some time yet. You’ve taken me
for some pretty long walks during the last fortnight: it was good
training.”

“Well, say when you’re done,” he said, “and I’ll carry you.”

“Thanks,” she replied stiffly, “I’m not a child.”

They walked on in silence, three ghostly figures stalking through the
dim light of a dream.

“I suppose,” said Daniel presently, “that they’ll not miss us until well
after sunrise, if then; so I think our chances are fairly rosy. It all
depends on your feet, my girl.”

With the extra mileage due to their detour, the distance to the half-way
pool would be about eighteen miles or so; and it was obvious to Daniel
that Muriel would not be able to stand more than twelve or fourteen. He
therefore glanced anxiously at her every now and then as they pushed
forward across the great open plain which lay between the two oases; and
at length he noticed that she was limping.

It was nearly four o’clock in the morning, and they were still some four
or five miles distant from the pool, when Daniel suddenly took hold of
her arm.

“Now I’m going to carry you,” he said.

She did not protest. For some time she had been hobbling forward in a
kind of nightmare, her feet sore and burning, her knees feeble, and her
brain fevered. The moon had now set, but the stars gave sufficient light
for them to see the straight track beneath them. She hardly realized
what he was doing as he lifted her from the ground, putting one of his
great arms about her shoulders and the other under her knees. In a
confused manner she was aware of a feeling of annoyance at her weakness;
but presently, nevertheless, her head dropped upon his shoulder. She did
not sleep, but she was certainly not awake.

When at last she recovered full consciousness she found to her infinite
surprise that the day was breaking, and that Daniel was in the act of
depositing her upon the sand at the edge of the half-way pool.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. “How far have you carried me, man?”

“About five miles,” he said, rubbing his stiff arms. “Now for a bit of a
rest.”

She was wide awake again, and to her great relief she found that her
feet were no longer burning. Their wretched captive, however, was
entirely exhausted, and was stretched upon his stomach, drinking
greedily from the pool.

Daniel himself did not show any marked signs of fatigue. A walk of
eighteen miles was nothing to him, and the burden of Muriel’s weight was
not intolerable to a man of his colossal strength.

When half an hour later, they resumed their journey the sun was rising
above the distant hills. They walked off alone, for Daniel had extracted
an inviolable promise from their captive to rest where he was until noon
before setting out on his return journey; and he had given the man a few
biscuits and a slice or two of meat to keep him going. Both Muriel and
Daniel had bathed their feet in the pool, and having eaten a square meal
they fared forth once more with some degree of vigour.

As the sun increased in power, however, this sense of freshness
vanished, and but five miles had been covered when Daniel was obliged
once more to take his companion in his arms, in spite of her valiant
protests. This time he set her upon his shoulder, clasping her about the
legs, and every mile or two he varied the position.

From the pool to the hills which divided the plain from El Homra was,
roughly, ten miles, and when at last they mounted, at about ten o’clock,
on to the high ground, Daniel was already feeling the strain. For the
next couple of miles Muriel limped along by his side; and now their
practical immunity from capture permitted them to take an occasional
rest in the shade of the rocks.

The last three miles of the journey were very exhausting to them both,
for it was now noon, and the sun was intensely hot. Their water-bottles
were nearly empty and their provisions were all gone; but the sight of
the Oasis in the distance served to keep up their courage.

Muriel, much against her inclinations, had now to be carried almost
continuously, but Daniel would not listen to her repeated requests that
he would leave her while he went on to fetch help. He still feared a
possible pursuit, for even so near to their goal they were travelling
through uninhabited and utterly isolated country. He set his teeth,
therefore, and carried her forward, now on this shoulder, now on that,
now upon his back, and now, as originally, in his arms. He was aching
from head to toe, and his feet felt like burning coals of fire, while
the perspiration issued from every pore.

“Gee!” he said, as he set her down a mile from their destination, “this
has been some walk!”

He took her in his arms again, and set out upon the last lap. The
buildings of the police headquarters were now clearly visible against
the palms, and near them stood the tents which told them that the
Bindanes had returned from the north.

Muriel looked up at his haggard face. “I’m ashamed of myself for being
so feeble,” she said. “It is very humiliating for me to have to be
carried by _you_, of all people.”

For answer he suddenly bent her head down and kissed her.

Muriel uttered an exclamation. “Put me down!” she cried. “How dare you!”

Again he kissed her, holding her up in his arms as her legs kicked at
his hip. She freed her hand and pressed it into his face.

“If you do that,” he laughed, “I’ll drop you.”

“How dare you!” she repeated. “Oh, you brute!”

He threw his head back, and looked up at the sun from under the brim of
his battered old hat. “It’s been an extraordinary fortnight,” he panted,
as though he were addressing the heavens.

Muriel did not answer, but she was breathing hard as he looked down into
her face once more, and her eyes were wide with anger.

“I’ve learned a lot about you,” he said, “during these days; and I guess
you’re worth winning, after all.”

“In that case,” she replied furiously, “I guess you’ll be sorry that
you’ve lost me.”

“Have I lost you, Muriel?” he asked.

“You have,” she replied, shortly and decisively. “What else did you
expect, after the way you have insulted and bullied me? You’ve lost me
for ever.”

The intensity with which she spoke silenced him; and thus they came
stumbling into the camp.



CHAPTER XXXI—PAYING THE PRICE


“Kate!—where are you?” Muriel called, as she stood in the blazing sun in
the midst of the silent camp.

Daniel had deposited her here, and was now hastening, in a last spurt of
energy, towards the police headquarters, intent on gathering a force to
return with him to El Hamrân.

“Good Lord!—it’s Muriel,” came a voice from one of the tents, and Kate
Bindane ran out into the sunlight, shading her eyes with her hand.

She slapped Muriel lustily on the back, and led her to an empty tent,
where she put her arms about her and kissed her. “My word!—you’re
looking tired!” she laughed. “Have you had a wonderful time?”

“Lovely,” said Muriel, sitting down upon the camp bed.

“Where are your camels?—where’s Daniel?” Kate asked, somewhat
bewildered.

“Oh, we walked back,” Muriel answered, with a casual gesture. “I’m
feeling quite tired.” She began to laugh hysterically.

“D’you mean to say he made you walk?” her friend asked, incredulously.

“There wasn’t much choice,” she replied. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, get me
something to drink, something long—miles long, and cold. I’ll tell you
all about it presently.”

Kate hurried away to find refreshments, and as she crossed the hot sand
once more, carrying an assortment of bottles, she encountered Daniel
coming back with the local police officer. He pulled off his hat and
shook hands with her, rapidly.

“How d’you do,” he said. “Have you got a spare tent where I can have an
hour’s sleep?”

Kate stared at him. “You seem very pleased to see me,” she laughed.
“You’re bubbling over with news, aren’t you?”

“So sorry,” he replied. “Muriel will tell you: there’s been a bit of
trouble at El Hamrân. I’m going back there with the police presently.
Can I doss down in here?” He pointed to the tent behind him; and, hardly
waiting for her reply, walked into it, telling the officer to arouse him
in an hour’s time.

Kate shrugged her shoulders, and went back to Muriel, whom she found
pulling off her boots and stockings.

“Muriel, what’s happened?” she asked. “Daniel says he’s going back to El
Hamrân with the police in an hour’s time.”

Muriel looked up, her face flushed. “Oh, the man’s mad!” she declared.
“He’s fagged out. He carried me half the way.”

Rapidly she told her friend of the trouble in the Oasis and of their
escape, while Kate, uttering ejaculations of awe, plied her with
refreshment and helped her to pull off some of her clothes. Muriel was
far too exhausted to give a very intelligible account of their
adventures; and while yet Kate was fussing around, dabbing her feet with
eau de cologne, and rubbing her legs, she suddenly fell off to sleep.

Benifett Bindane listened, later, to his wife’s version of the story
with marked interest.

“Well,” he said, at length, “that settles our plans for us. We’ll start
back for Cairo tomorrow.” He looked at his wife curiously. “I wonder
what Lord Blair will say to it all,” he mused.

“He must never know that Muriel wasn’t with us,” said Kate.

“That’s impossible,” he replied. “I shall have to tell him the truth.”

“Benifett!” exclaimed his wife, staring at him in horror. “You’re not
going to give her away, are you?”

His mouth hung open for some moments. “I’ve been thinking it over,” he
said, at length, “and it seems to me that Lord Blair will have to be
told. If it leaked out, and we were found to have lied to him, there’d
be no hope of doing business with him in the future.”

“Business!” Kate snorted. “Oh, man alive, is business the only thing in
life?” She turned away in disgust.

“No,” he answered, “it’s not the only thing, but it happens to be my
hobby, Kate, as you knew quite well when you married me. And I may as
well say now, that I am very hurt at the way you sneer at what is meat
and drink to me. I hope you’ll think that over.”

He looked very nearly pathetic as he spoke; and his wife was
sufficiently touched by his dejection to turn an angry scene into one of
affectionate conciliation.

“P’r’aps you’re right,” she said; and presently they went out together
to see what was happening to Daniel.

They found him just emerging from the tent where he had slept. It was
evident that he was still thoroughly tired; but a group of troopers and
their camels outside the police buildings indicated that, nevertheless,
an immediate start was to be made.

He was munching biscuits as he shook hands with Mr. Bindane. “I’m sorry
I can’t stay,” he said. “I’ve got to set this business to rights at
once. But I dare say we’ll meet in Cairo before you leave for England.
Good-bye!” He held out his hand, but Kate checked him.

“I’ll go and see if Muriel is awake,” she said.

“No, never mind,” Daniel answered, with his mouth full. “I won’t disturb
her. Please tell her I’m coming to Cairo within a month from now.”

He waved his hand to them, and hurried away; and presently they saw him
mount his camel and ride away southwards, followed by half a dozen
troopers, their rifles slung across their shoulders.

“Well, I’m blowed!” muttered Kate.

“It seems to me it’s business first with him, too,” remarked Mr.
Bindane, looking vacantly before him.

“Oh, rot!” replied his wife. “From what Muriel says it appears that he
had promised the old Sheikh that his son should hold office after him;
and he’s going to keep his word.”

That night Muriel confessed the whole truth to her friend, only exacting
the promise that she would not tell of her humiliation to Benifett. She
related the events without emotion, her voice steady and the expression
of her face calm. It was as though she were telling the story of some
other woman in whom she felt no personal interest. It was as though
Daniel had now passed entirely out of her life.

“I’m going to marry the first man who proposes to me,” she said, setting
her jaw.

“Well, you’ll have to look sharp about it,” Kate replied. “He’s coming
to carry you off by the hair in a month’s time, and don’t you forget
it.”

Muriel put out her hand quickly, and touched her friend’s arm. “No, you
don’t understand him,” she said. “He’s not a bit that sort of man....”

She checked herself, feeling that she had no desire to be inveigled into
discussing his character.

Next morning, soon after breakfast, the start was made on the return
journey to the Nile. Muriel, after a long sleep, was quite recovered
from her fatigue; but she did not feel happy, and the wide vistas of the
desert did not make the same appeal to her as on the outward journey.
She felt herself to be very much older, very much more subdued; and
there was, as it were, a veil between her eyes and the beauty of the
wilderness.

Moreover, she was very self-conscious. It seemed to her that she had
lost caste; and, now that all the alarums and excursions were over, she
was not a little dismayed at the affront she had put upon the
conventions. Benifett Bindane’s attitude to her was non-committal, but
in his evasion of the subject of her adventures he displayed an
awkwardness which she found almost insulting.

And then the natives.... She felt as though many pairs of eyes were upon
her, and more than once it seemed to her that she was not being treated
with the same deference as formerly.

Once, when her camel had lagged behind the others, she found herself
riding beside the Egyptian secretary of the expedition, a young man who
evidently regarded his personal appearance with favour; and it seemed to
her that he turned his dark eyes upon her with a boldness which she had
not previously observed.

But the most galling experience was provided by her dragoman, Mustafa,
who took the opportunity to speak to her on the day of their departure,
when she was sitting alone, waiting for the picnic luncheon to be
served.

“I hope my leddy was varry happy at El Hamrân,” he said, grinning at her
boldly.

“Thank you, yes,” she answered, fiddling with her shoe.

“Mistair Lane he varry nice gentleman,” he went on; and then, leaning
forward, he lowered his voice. “Mustafa know the beesness: he say
nudding; he keep varry quiet, my leddy. No talk ’bout El Hamrân....”

“What d’you mean?” she exclaimed angrily, but he only smiled at her, and
salaamed.

It was disgusting, and she felt a cold shiver creep down her spine, as
she hastened across to the others.

As she jogged along, day after day, towards Cairo her thoughts were
given more and more to the subject of her coming return to her father.
What was she going to say to him? It had all seemed so easy before: she
had thought that there would be no difficulty in concocting a plausible
story. But now the idea of inventing a pack of lies revolted her; and as
they drew ever nearer to the Nile there grew steadily in her mind a
determination to tell him the truth.

Daniel, it seemed to her, had deliberately left her to extricate
herself; and at the thought her heart was filled with renewed anger
against him. Yet had she not told him that her plans were all laid to
prevent gossip, to prevent her father’s name being injured? He probably
supposed that there would be no scandal; and, after all, why should
there be? A little talk in the native quarter, perhaps, that would be
all. But these lies she would have to tell her father! They hung over
her like a menacing storm.

Yet if she told the truth, what then? Daniel’s reputation would suffer
as much as hers: she wondered whether he had realized this fact, when he
had obliged her to stay with him for the full fortnight.

Yes, she would tell the truth. It would be a ghastly ordeal, that hour
when she would have to face her father; but it would be better than
lies, and shufflings, and the crooked ways of which she had seen so much
amongst the women she had known in her life.

Suddenly the realization came to her that her character was not such as
theirs, that it took no delight in intrigue; and upon that disclosure
there followed a new understanding of Daniel’s attitude to her when she
had told him of her arrangements for their secret fortnight.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, almost speaking aloud in the surprise of
her sudden shame. “What a sneaking little liar I must have seemed to
him!”

At last one day, in the blaze of noon, they descended from the desert
and dismounted from their camels at the gates of Mena House Hotel. Now,
towards the end of March, the days were growing hot, and Muriel
appreciated to the full the cool halls and shaded rooms of the hotel,
and at luncheon the ice which tinkled in her glass seemed to be a very
gift of the gods.

Amongst her letters, addressed to the care of Mr. Bindane, she found one
from her father, written from the White Nile; and her heart leaped with
sudden relief when she read in it that he had decided to extend his tour
through the Sudan, and would not be back in Cairo for another three
weeks. He suggested to her that she should invite the Bindanes to stay
at the Residency, so that Kate could be with her, thereby relieving Lady
Smith-Evered of the responsibility of upholding the conventions by her
otherwise unnecessary presence; or else that she should remain at Mena
House with them until his return.

She therefore put the two alternatives to her friends, and, though Kate
was all for remaining where they were, her husband could not resist the
aristocratic enticement of the Residency. Next day, therefore, they made
their adieux to the desert and drove into Cairo. Muriel’s relief at not
having yet to face her father had raised her spirits; and for the first
time for many days she appeared once more to be vivacious and conscious
of the enjoyments of life.

All went well for a week or more. Muriel entertained her guests at the
Residency with painstaking care; and every day had its list of
engagements. Indeed she was glad of the task, for, now that her life had
resumed its unadventurous course, she could not keep her mind from
thinking over the events of the last few months, although her
recollections brought her nothing but searchings of heart.

Towards Daniel she maintained an attitude of estrangement. Though her
eyes had been opened to her own shortcomings, and she was no longer so
sure of herself as to be able to censure him without qualification, yet
she wanted to assert herself, and to show him that she was mistress of
her own destiny; and, like a spectator of her own life, she almost hoped
that she would find herself belonging to some other man by the time that
Daniel returned, so that she would be able to say, “There now!—you’ve
lost me, you see.”

The bombshell fell unexpectedly. One morning Lady Smith-Evered came over
to the Residency soon after breakfast, and asked Muriel if she might see
her alone. She had been dining with them only the night before, and
Muriel did not, therefore, anticipate any serious trouble.

They went into the library together, and no sooner was the door shut
than the elder woman sat herself down in the desk chair, and cleared her
throat as though she were about to make a speech.

“Now Muriel,” she began, “I want you to tell me the truth, please. I
have acted more or less as your chaperone throughout the winter, and I’m
sure you can trust me to do what is right. I want you to give me a
direct answer to a direct question: did you or did you not spend a
fortnight alone with Mr. Lane in the Oases?”

For a moment Muriel’s head was in a whirl, and she felt the colour
mounting to her cheeks, as she hesitated to face the sudden crisis.
Then, fortifying herself to meet the situation with candour, she looked
at her questioner straight in the face.

“Tell me, first,” she replied, “the story you have heard.”

Lady Smith-Evered shrugged her shoulders. “I see no reason why I should
not. My maid told me late last night that she had heard it from our
native cook, who had heard it in the bazaars. The story was simply that
you left the Bindanes and went to stay with that man. I thought the best
thing I could do, and the General agreed, was to come and ask you
straight.”

“Thank you,” Muriel replied. “Yes, it’s perfectly true.”

Lady Smith-Evered threw up her fat hands. “My dear girl!—what on earth
made you do such a foolhardy thing? You might have known the natives
would talk. Of course I guessed you were in love with him, otherwise you
would never have been so rude to me as you were that day when I asked
you why he had left the Residency so suddenly. But I never dreamed that
things had gone so far. Supposing you have a baby...?”

An expression of amazed indignation came into Muriel’s eyes, and for a
few moments she was absolutely dumb. It was as though she had had a lump
of mud flung straight at her face; and at first she experienced only
burning resentment and blinding anger. Then, suddenly, she saw things as
they were: the thought had never come to her until now in all its
crudeness, its stark nakedness.

“How can you suggest such a thing?” she answered at last, lamely, her
indignation strengthening her voice but not her wits.

“You must have been mad,” said Lady Smith-Evered. “And at your age, too!
It was more than naughtiness: it was downright folly. And as for the
man, he deserves to be thrashed.”

“But you don’t understand,” Muriel gasped. “There was no intimacy of any
kind.”

Her visitor moved impatiently on her chair. “Oh, don’t tell me such
fibs,” she exclaimed. “My dear Muriel, I am a woman of the world. I only
want to help you.”

Her words only served to accentuate the girl’s alarm.

“But it’s true,” she cried. “I swear to you there was nothing of that
kind between us.”

Lady Smith-Evered stared at her. “You can’t expect me or anybody else to
believe that. Why, the man is a notorious bad character in regard to
women.”

“No, he’s not,” she answered. “He may be a brute in other ways, but all
this rot about his Bedouin harîm is just the silly talk of Cairo. I’m
not going to beg you to believe me. I’m just telling you the truth; and
if you don’t think it’s the truth you can go to ...”

She checked herself suddenly.

“But what are we to do?” said the elder woman, spreading out her hands.
“I’m not a prude; but the whole thing is shocking in a country like
this. How are we to prevent it ever coming to your father’s ears?”

“I’m going to tell him as soon as he comes back,” Muriel replied.

“Oh, you’re incorrigible,” exclaimed Lady Smith-Evered, angrily. “You
hav’n’t got the sense even to know when to hold your tongue.” She rose
to her feet and paced up and down the room. “What’s to be done? Will you
please tell me what’s to be done?”

“Nothing much,” Muriel answered. She was becoming calmer now. She saw
herself in a new light, and her humiliation was extreme. Lady
Smith-Evered belonged to that world which Daniel had tried to teach her
to despise; and in this woman’s eyes she appeared merely as a foolish,
naughty girl, whose rash actions had to be covered up by some sort of
lie. She would have infinitely preferred it if she had been instantly
ostracized and cut.

“Of course,” Lady Smith-Evered went on, “I shall tell my maid that the
whole thing is nonsense; and it’s just possible that the story will go
no further. But you ought to be ashamed of yourself for taking such
risks. And I have no words to express what I feel about Mr. Lane.”

“Oh, please leave him out of it,” Muriel exclaimed. “He never asked me
to come, or knew I was coming.”

Lady Smith-Evered sniffed. “He knows his own power over women,” she
said.

Muriel turned upon her fiercely. “I tell you he is in no way to blame.”

Her visitor bowed. “I respect you for trying to defend him,” she
answered. “We women always defend the men we love.”

“But I don’t love him,” she cried. “I hate the sight of him.”

Lady Smith-Evered spread out her hands again, evidently baffled. “That
makes it all the worse,” she said. “Romance is whitewash for the
sepulchres of passion: it makes these things presentable; but if you say
the affair was not prompted by love, then I absolutely fail to
understand you. It sounds unnatural, indecent.”

She moved towards the door. “I’ll do my best to hush it up,” she
concluded; “but the sooner you get married to some nice easy-going
Englishman the better. These sort of things are more _comme il faut_
after marriage, my dear.”

And with that she left the room.



CHAPTER XXXII—THINKING THINGS OVER


Benifett Bindane was seated on the front verandah of the Residency one
afternoon, when Lord Barthampton drove up to the door in his high
dogcart. He rose from his chair, and going to the steps, shook hands
with the younger man somewhat less limply than was his wont.

“Is Lady Muriel in?” asked the visitor.

Mr. Bindane shook his head. “I’m afraid not; but I think she’ll be home
to tea. Come in and have a drink.”

He led him into the library, and rang the bell. “What will you have?” he
asked. “A whiskey and soda?”

“Thanks,” Lord Barthampton replied. “I’ve given up the temperance stunt.
I think one needs something with a punch in it now that the weather’s
getting hot.”

A servant entered the room, and Mr. Bindane, playing the host with
relish, ordered the refreshments.

Charles Barthampton had seen Muriel more than once since her return from
the desert, and now he had come with the determination to make her a
proposal of marriage. He was nervous, therefore, and soon he was helping
himself liberally from the decanter and with marked moderation from the
syphon. While doing so he thought he observed the older man’s eye upon
him, and felt that candour would not here come amiss.

“I’m fortifying myself,” he laughed, holding up his glass. “Fact is, I’m
going to pop the question this afternoon.”

Mr. Bindane nodded slowly, with seeming abstraction, and his lordship
decided that a little drama ought to be added to his words.

“Yes,” he said, bracing his shoulders bravely, “this suspense is too
much for me; so I’m going to rattle the dice with Fate, and win all or
lose all at a single throw. What d’you think of my chances?”

“Not much,” replied Mr. Bindane, gloomily. “Lady Muriel is a difficult
sort of girl. Still, she may be suffering from a reaction: you may catch
her on the rebound.”

The words slipped from him without intention; but as soon as they were
spoken he realized that he would either have to explain them or cover
them up as best he could.

“How d’you mean?” came the inevitable question, and Mr. Bindane’s brains
were immediately set rapidly to work. He knew that Lord Barthampton was
running after the girl’s fortune: such a chase seemed a very natural
thing to his business mind; and he did not suppose that the suitor would
be deterred by hearing that the lady’s hand had already been given
temporarily to another.

“Well,” he replied, “you know, of course, that she was by way of being
in love with your cousin a short time ago.”

His visitor scowled. “No, I didn’t know that,” he muttered. “Confound
the fellow!—he’s always getting in my way. I wish he’d stay in the
desert, and not come back.”

“Yes, so do I,” Mr. Bindane remarked. “I want him to live out there, and
manage this Company I’m trying to launch. Frankly, that is why I wish
you success. At present it is Lady Muriel who attracts him to Cairo; and
if by any chance she should marry him, my plans would be spoilt.”

“Oh, I see,” said the other, a look of cunning coming into his red face.
“So we both want the same thing.”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Bindane. The conspiracy interested him, the more so
because he felt that he was acting in the best interests of Daniel, for
whom he had conceived an unbounded admiration. He thought that he was
wasted at the Residency: there was no money in his present work,
whereas, if he entered the proposed Company’s employment, he might rise
to great wealth. Nor would he ever be happy in Cairo, certainly not if
he were tied to Lady Muriel: she was not the right wife for him. She was
too flighty, and this escapade of hers in the desert stamped her as a
woman of loose morals, who would bring only sorrow to a man of Daniel
Lane’s temperament.

Lord Barthampton leaned forward. “Did she see much of him in the Oases?”
he asked.

Mr. Bindane hesitated. He did not like to give the secret away; yet he
felt that if this burly and rather unscrupulous young man were in
possession of the facts, he might terrorize Lady Muriel into marrying
him. Then Cairo would cease to have any attraction for Daniel Lane. “She
saw a great deal of him,” he replied at length.

“Why, was he with your party?”

Mr. Bindane’s lips moved flabbily, but he did not speak.

“I thought you told me the other day that he wasn’t with you,” Lord
Barthampton added.

“Yes, that’s so,” the other answered. “He wasn’t.”

His visitor got up suddenly from his chair. “Do you mean that _she_ was
with _him_?” he asked, incredulously.

“That is a secret,” Mr. Bindane replied, a little scared, but at the
same time calming himself with the assurance that he was acting for the
best.

Lord Barthampton paced the floor, chewing his lips, his heavy brows
knitted. “I see,” he said, at length. “And you think that it will help
me if I hold this piece of information over her head.”

Mr. Bindane’s blank expression indicated that nothing of the kind had
entered his head—in fact, that nothing of any kind had ever entered it.
“You could have heard it from the natives,” he said. “They all know she
was at El Hamrân while we went north. If I hadn’t let it slip out like
this, no doubt you would have heard it from somebody else in time.”

“No doubt,” the other answered, and he drained his glass once more.

Benifett Bindane also rose from his chair. He was alarmed, and the
qualms of conscience were upon him. “Of course it was just an escapade,”
he murmured. “I don’t suppose there was anything wrong in it.”

“Well, I won’t use the information, unless I’ve got to,” said Lord
Barthampton.

As they issued from the library, they heard the sound of an automobile
driving up to the door. “That’s probably her,” Mr. Bindane remarked.
“You’d better go and wait in the drawing-room, and I’ll make myself
scarce.”

He patted the young man on the shoulders and hurried up the stairs to
his room, while Charles Barthampton, nervously tidying himself, went
into the drawing-room, where a footman was arranging the tea-table.

He had not long to wait. In a few minutes Muriel entered, and, seeing
him, held out her hand.

“Hullo!” she said. “You here again?”

“I don’t seem to be able to keep away from you for long,” he sighed.
“Can I see you alone?”

Muriel glanced at him quickly. There was an expression of ludicrous
agony upon his face, and she knew full well what he had come to say to
her. “Let’s have tea, first,” she answered. “It will fortify us.”

He stared anxiously at her, but all further preliminary remarks were
checked by the entrance of Kate Bindane; and soon two or three callers
were ushered in.

It was a long time before he managed successfully to outstay the other
visitors; but at length he found himself alone with Muriel. The removal
of the tea-tray caused another interruption; and he refrained with
difficulty from cursing aloud when the footman again entered to switch
on the lights.

At last, however, the moment for his declaration arrived, and Muriel
settled herself down upon the cushions of the sofa to hear him, as
though she were preparing to listen to a recital upon the grand piano.
“Now tell me,” she said, “what it is that you want to say to me.”

He was standing in front of her, the fingers of his hand scratching his
ear. He cleared his throat. “Well, it’s like this,” he began. “Ever
since I’ve known you I’ve felt that there was something lacking in my
life....”

“I was wondering how you’d begin,” she said, interrupting him.

He flushed, and hastened on with his prepared speech. “Even soldiers,
you know, long for the comforts of home. I suppose every Englishman
likes to think of his own fireside....”

“Not in this weather, surely,” she put in, again interrupting him.

He hurried on. “... With the woman he loves, seated before him, after
the day’s toil is over.”

“Are you proposing to me?” she asked, wishing mercifully to cut him
short.

“Well, yes, I am,” he answered, with a deep sigh. “Ah, don’t be cruel to
me. You know that I love you. I’m quite well off: I can give you a
fairly comfortable time of it.”

“Yes, but they say you have led a very wild life,” she told him. “You
said yourself that you drank.”

“I’ve sown my wild oats, little woman,” he sighed.

“But drink is such a dreadful thing,” she murmured. “I wonder your
conscience hasn’t pricked you. Or are you one of those people who have
no conscience, only a religion?”

Without waiting to reply he returned to the speech which he had
memorized, and drew a picture of his English home: the snow on the
ground at Noël, the bells of the little church ringing, the Yule log,
and his tenants singing carols to them as they dined in the great hall.
It reminded Muriel of a Christmas-card—something with sparkling stuff
powdered over it, and “Hark, the herald angels sing” printed in the
corner.

Lord Barthampton, however, was very much touched by his own eloquence;
and, coming close to her, he held out his hands. “Will you?” he said,
brokenly.

“I must have time to think,” she answered. “This is so sudden.” Then,
with deep seriousness, she added: “Yes, I want to think it over.”

“Well, I’m going off to the Fayoum tomorrow to shoot,” he told her. “May
I come for my answer in three days from now?”

“Very well,” she replied.

He seized her hand in his, and pressed it fervently to his lips. Then,
as though overcome with emotion, he whispered, “God bless you, little
woman,” and, turning, walked slowly out of the room.



CHAPTER XXXIII—THE RETURN


Daniel’s work at El Hamrân was soon accomplished. When he returned there
with the police, he was not empowered to use the aid of the law further
than to restore order, to release the camels which had been seized, and
to liberate Ibrahîm from his illegal semi-captivity. The officer in
command of the troopers, however, was aware that the messengers who had
been dispatched at top speed to Cairo would bring back instructions to
him to act in accordance with the Englishman’s dispositions; and thus
Ibrahîm had been recognized already as Sheikh by the time that the
official confirmation of his appointment arrived, and when the men who
had made the journey to El Khargeh returned home, the abortive revolt
was a thing of the past.

Daniel, however, was unable to reconcile the two parties, and the feud
thereafter continued its tedious course, though now in a more
underground manner. He was disappointed in the failure of his attempts
at conciliation, and was disgusted at the bickerings and the petty
insults exchanged between the one faction and the other. The
tranquillity of the desert had been rudely disturbed.

It was, thus, with a feeling of relief that he packed up his belongings
once more, and turned his face towards Cairo. It was now the middle of
April, and he crossed the desert in a blaze of burning sunshine, but his
mind was so much occupied with his thoughts that he took little notice
of his surroundings. The shimmer of heat rising from the sand, the haze
of the distances, and the red dusk of the warm evenings, seemed but to
carry his sad heart into the region of speculation; and, at nights, the
stars and the crescent of the new moon lifted him into a sphere in which
his brain worked with terrible clarity.

He saw his life spread out before his inward consciousness like a tale
written in a fair hand upon an open scroll, wherein his mistakes and his
shortcomings were inscribed in bolder letters, very apparent to the eye.
It seemed to him that his attitude towards Muriel, towards humanity, had
been illiberal, too one-sided. There had been need of so much greater
tolerance: he had been too inclined to be impulsive, to jump to a
conclusion.

In teaching Muriel the lesson that the love between a man and a woman
should be a thing of frankness and permanence, not snatched at in
secret, nor lightly conceived, he had learned as much as he had taught.
He had found in her all manner of qualities to which he had paid
insufficient regard—dignity, control, bravery in face of danger, and
courage to act according to the dictates of her heart.

He saw now that while she had walked the pathways of that world which he
had despised, he had taken refuge, like a coward, in the desert; yet
she, in spite of the pitfalls and the sloughs which he had shunned, was
not at heart contaminated. She had honestly believed that he had wished
her to come to him in the desert, and she had obeyed him. A less
impulsive man would have treated her mistake gently, and with more
understanding, as being something for which her lax education and not
her brave heart was to blame.

In an agony of mind he asked himself whether he had really lost her. He
would go to her; he would make her look right into his mind, so that she
should see how greatly he had need of her. But would she have pity on
him?

Would she have pity on him?... Suddenly an essential aspect of the
relationship of man and woman flashed before him. Man, mighty man, was
but a lonely, blundering wanderer, a weak thing, a dweller in the
desert, seeking where to lay his head. With all his strength, with all
his masterful handling of events, man was yet a vagabond in the world,
until he had found his mate; and woman, in spite of the greater sway of
her thoughtless instincts, held for him the keys, as it were, of his
heart’s home. From the summit of her weakness she could look down upon
his strength, and could smile at his struggle to surmount the obstacles
which he had placed in his own path. In the loneliness of his soul she
could look down and pity him, and take him to her breast, and heal his
wounds.

Over and over again he asked himself whether she would turn from him
when he came to her now, or whether she would forgive and be forgiven.
He was feeling mentally and physically tired, yet he found no respite
from his dark thoughts as he jogged along; and when at last he came into
sight of Cairo and the Pyramids he was nigh exhausted by his anxiety to
know what was to be his fate.

He reached his old camping-ground at about three o’clock in the
afternoon, and in a short time one of the tents had been erected,
wherein he was able to have a wash and a change of clothes. He then left
his retainers to pitch the other tents and to arrange the camp, and,
mounting his camel once more, rode to Mena House, where he boarded the
electric tram for Cairo.

Weary though he was, he was desperately impatient to find Muriel and to
get this matter settled at once. Nothing else was of the slightest
importance.

At the terminus of the tramway he jumped into a carriage, calling to the
coachman to drive “like the wind” to the Residency; and, arrived there,
he handed to the _bowab_ at the gate a generous sum, telling him to keep
the driver waiting for a good half-hour before paying him off, so that
the sweating horses should have a rest after their exertions.

In the hall he asked a footman whether Lord Blair were in, and was
surprised to hear that he had not yet returned from the Sudan. Lady
Muriel, he was told, was in the garden with Lord Barthampton: the man
thought that they were in the alcove beside the river. Mr. and Mrs.
Bindane were out driving, and the Secretaries had all gone home.

Daniel hastened through the house, and out by the door at the back. His
legs were aching, but he went down the stone steps of the terrace two at
a time, and hurried across the lawn, his heart full of foreboding. He
could not understand why Muriel should be entertaining his cousin.

At the rose bushes which screened the alcove, however, he paused; for
the thought came to him with renewed terror that he might be an
unwelcome visitor.

But, even as he came to a halt, he heard his cousin’s voice, and for a
moment he could not help playing the eavesdropper.

“Yes,” he was saying, “you’ll have to marry me, or I shall tell all I
know, and then there’ll be a fine old scandal. Come on, now, give me a
kiss.”

Daniel did not wait to hear more, but ran round the bushes on to the
terrace beyond. At a glance he took in the situation. Lord Barthampton,
his back turned to him, was endeavouring to take Muriel in his arms; and
from behind the screen of his burly form, the girl’s figure was partly
visible, struggling to escape.

Daniel leaped forward and grasped him by the scruff of the neck,
flinging him aside so that he staggered across the terrace. He saw
Muriel’s wide frightened eyes; and hardly realizing what he was doing,
he put his arm about her.

She, too, forgot her relationship to him: she only knew that he had
intervened between her and a half-drunken bully; and she clung to him,
clung desperately, her hands clutching at his coat.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Daniel exclaimed, angrily staring at his
cousin, who seemed to be about to spring upon him.

“What the Hell do you want here?” Lord Barthampton roared, his face
scarlet.

Muriel pointed her finger at the furious man. “You’d better go,” she
said. “Go and tell everybody whatever you like—I don’t care.” She turned
to her protector. “There’s a lot of gossip about my having stayed at El
Hamrân.”

Daniel stared from one to the other. “Well, and what is your answer to
it?” he asked her, and, waiting for her reply, he seemed to hold his
breath.

“I hav’n’t denied it,” she said, looking at him full in the face.

He uttered an exclamation, a sort of suppressed shout of joy. “Good for
you!” he cried; and, forgetting all else, he snatched off his battered
hat and flung it up into the air. Catching it again, he turned to his
cousin. “I take it,” he said, “that you are trying to blackmail Lady
Muriel. Is that it?”

“I have asked her to be my wife,” he answered, his fists clenched, “and
it’s no damned business of yours.”

“Well,” said Daniel, “you’ve got your answer now, so you’d better go.”

Lord Barthampton was trembling with passion; he was beside himself.
“Yes, I’ll go,” he shouted, “and you’ll very soon find, dear Cousin
Daniel, that you and Lady Muriel will be cut by all Cairo, and Lord
Blair will have to leave the country. I know enough to ruin the lot of
you.”

Daniel looked at him steadily. “Don’t forget that I know something about
you, too,” he replied; “and if you do what you say you’re going to do, I
shall not consider you worthy to hold your present position any longer.
And you’ve been drinking again, too: you’re half drunk now.”

“Very well then, dispossess me, you swine!” his cousin blurted out,
coming close to him and shaking his fist so menacingly that Muriel took
fresh hold upon Daniel’s coat. “Take the title and the money, and be
damned to you! I’d rather be a penniless bastard than the smug pillar of
society you’re trying to make of me. Good God!—I’ve stood enough from
you, you pious hypocrite.”

Daniel laughed aloud. “Don’t be a fool,” he said. “I’ve told you that so
long as you behave yourself you’re quite safe. It surely isn’t so
difficult as all that to be a gentleman.”

With a snort, Lord Barthampton lurched round, and, without another word,
took his departure.

Muriel stepped back. “I don’t know what I’m clinging on to you like that
for,” she said, with a smile. “What on earth does he mean about your
taking his title and his money?”

“Oh, I’ll explain later,” he answered, rather listlessly. “It’s only
that by law I ought to have inherited when his father died, not he. It’s
a great joke, because, you see, he thinks I’ll dispossess him if he
misbehaves himself; but, of course, really he’d have to go altogether to
the dogs before I’d do such a thing. I don’t want the bother of being a
peer, and I would be hopeless with a lot of money.”

Muriel looked up at him with wonder in her face. Quietly and naturally
she linked her arm in his, “I’ve been wanting so much to be beastly to
you, Daniel,” she said, and her voice was husky; “but it’s no good, my
dear. When a man like Charles Barthampton curses you and tells you to
take his money, and you simply laugh and say you don’t want it, what
chance have _I_ got of upsetting this disgusting unworldliness of yours?
I should only hurt myself, not you.”

“No, you’re wrong there,” he answered. “You will hurt me more than I can
bear, _more than I can bear_, Muriel, if you keep up this quarrel any
longer. I don’t feel that I can stand it.”

There was a weariness in his voice which startled her, and, looking at
him, she saw an expression in his eyes which made an instant and
overwhelming appeal to her.

“Somehow,” he said, speaking hardly above a whisper, “I feel that all
these misunderstandings are so superficial. D’you know, I believe that
if you were to remain implacable I should simply collapse. I’ve never
felt such a thing before in my whole life.”

It was the first time she had ever heard him speak in this way, and all
her woman’s heart responded. “Oh, my dear,” she answered, putting her
arm about his neck, “it’s no good pretending that we don’t belong to one
another, is it?”

He looked at her with joy in his face, and led her towards the marble
seat under the palms. “We’ve got a great deal to tell each other,” he
said.

They had, indeed, so much to tell that the sun went down behind the
Pyramids while yet they were talking, and the dusk gathered about them.

At length they arose and walked back to the house; but now they were
laughing like two children, and as they crossed the lawn their arms were
still linked together.

Kate Bindane, having returned from her drive, was standing at the
drawing-room window as they approached the house.

“Great Scott!” she exclaimed, turning to her husband. “Come here,
Benifett: just look at that!”

He arose from his chair, laying aside the _Financial News_ which he had
been reading; but he gave no more than a single glance through the open
window. Then he returned to his newspaper, and looked at it with
listless eyes and open mouth.

Two days later a telegram was received saying that Lord Blair would
arrive from the south by special train on the following morning at ten
A.M.

Soon after breakfast next day, therefore, Daniel presented himself at
the Residency to take Muriel to the station. He was dressed in a suit of
grey flannels; and as he crossed the hall, he was carrying his now
famous old felt hat in one hand and his pipe in the other.

Here, to his dismay, he came upon Sir Frank Lestrange and John Dregge,
both dressed as though they were about to attend a London wedding, and
carrying their gloves and silk hats in their hands.

“Great Scott!” he exclaimed. “What on earth are you rigged out like that
for?”

“We’re going to the station,” replied Lestrange, somewhat stiffly.
“Aren’t you coming too?”

“Sure,” said Daniel.

“I’m afraid you’ll be rather out of the picture,” remarked the
punctilious Mr. Dregge, and he uttered a short laugh. “Two of the
Princes, and most of the Ministers and Advisers will be there, not to
mention the General in full war-paint.”

“Gee!” muttered Daniel. “In this hot weather, too! I guess I’ll look the
only sane person on the platform.”

John Dregge glanced at his companion, and he at him, as Daniel, waving
his hat to them, went towards the dining-room to find Muriel; but they
were too startled even to exchange glances when, at the door of that
room, the Great Man’s daughter made her appearance, and stood on tiptoe,
holding up her face to be kissed by Daniel.

The scene at the railway-station, half an hour later, was very
disconcerting to a man so recently come from the wilds; but Daniel
either managed somehow to conceal his embarrassment or felt none at all.
Upon the platform the inevitable piece of red carpet was spread, and
under the draped British and Egyptian flags several frock-coated
celebrities were standing, the Europeans wearing silk hats, the
Egyptians the more becoming red _tarboushes_. A guard of honour of
British and native troops was drawn up near the iron palings; and at
intervals down the whole length of the platform stood brown-skinned
policemen, their hands looking curiously farcical in white cotton
gloves.

Muriel’s cool pink dress, her shady hat, and her parasol, gave by
contrast a remarkable appearance of discomfort and heat to the assembled
males; and Daniel appeared to be the only man present who could turn his
head or swing his limbs with ease. Strange to say, his unceremonious
clothes were inappropriate only in European eyes. The native mind
regarded them as perfectly suitable to one who was already recognized as
a kind of court philosopher: a Mohammedan holding a similar office would
probably have been garbed in the coarse robe of a _derwîsh_. It was thus
noteworthy that while the Westerners regarded him askance, the Orientals
greeted him with particular respect, so that even John Dregge presently
began to walk beside him and to converse with him—in marked contrast to
his earlier attitude of distant disdain.

At length the white, dusty train panted into the station; and the
black-faced engine-driver, by means of a desperate struggle with the
breaks, managed to manœuvre the entrance of the saloon to a reasonable
proximity to the red carpet.

“Now for the little surprise for Father,” said Muriel, and suddenly she
linked her arm in Daniel’s, allowing her hand to rest upon his own.

Lord Blair, hat in hand, stepped on to the platform, and, at a sharp
word of command, the guard of honour presented arms.

He did not seem to see the crowd of waiting dignitaries: he stared at
Muriel and Daniel, a wide smile revealing the two even rows of his false
teeth.

“Dear me, dear me!” he exclaimed, kissing his daughter’s cheek. “My dear
Muriel! How are you, Daniel? This is capital, capital! You two, arm in
arm....”

“Yes, Father,” Muriel laughed, “we’re going to be married, ... please.”

“Aha!” chuckled Lord Blair. “I knew it, I knew it! A little bird told
me. Well, well!—I’m delighted. A Lane and a Blair: capital, splendid!”

Frank Lestrange stepped forward anxiously glancing at the native
Princes. “Their Highnesses, sir, ...” he whispered.

“Ah, yes, to be sure,” said Lord Blair, turning to them, and holding out
his hand. “I beg you to excuse me for speaking first to my daughter and
my future son-in-law.”


THE END



Transcriber’s Note


Spelling and punctuation inaccuracies were silently corrected.

Archaic and variable spelling is preserved.

The author’s punctuation style is preserved.

Hyphenation has been made consistent.





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