Part 5 out of 8
"I glory in them, but I wouldn't have let them go if--"
"You've changed your mind, just because I gave Miss Gilder my Browning?
Honestly, Duffer, I don't think there's actual danger. But, anyhow,
don't you see, they _had_ to go, and they had to go alone. They would
have hated us and themselves and each other if they hadn't answered the
girl's appeal. And _we_ couldn't do the thing, unfortunately, as it
deals with the harem. If it can be done at all, it's woman's business.
These two are the right ones, as they felt bound to do it, and you and
I can but see them through, from the outside."
"IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED"
Now that we were thoroughly launched on this somewhat quixotic
adventure, I envied Anthony because his part in the drama kept him "in
the wings," within sight of the stage. He was to watch the house of
Rechid Bey, and if the rescue party of two did not appear after an
hour's absence, the true story of the affair and Mabel's appeal was to
be laid before the Inspector General of Upper Egypt--laid before him
not by "Ahmed Antoun Effendi," but by Captain Anthony Fenton,
officially on leave, secretly on a special mission for the British
My rôle, less exciting but perhaps no less important, was to play the
diplomat in beguiling the American Consul to stand by the wife of
Rechid Bey, if the attempt at rescue succeeded, or--if possible--even
if it failed.
"Antoun" accounted for his presence in front of Rechid Bey's high
garden wall, by attracting a crowd, and lecturing them in his character
of Hadji, while I dashed off in a jingling arabeah, to the American
Consulate. As in Cairo, my progress was one long adjuration of the
crowd by the driver, who would have revelled in conducting the car of
"Shemalak, ya welad!" ("To the left, oh, boy!"), or "Yeminick!" ("To
the right!"), he roared, while men dived and dipped under his horse's
prancing feet. A hawk flew by on my right side, and my right eyelid
twitched, as we neared the Consulate. In Egypt these were good omens.
Besides, there had been a red sunrise, which in the Nile country had
meant, since Egyptians superseded the prehistoric "new race," that Rã
had conquered his enemies, and stained the sky with their blood.
Therefore all should be well with me and the world; and it did seem as
if my hopes bade fair to be fulfilled, when in the Consul I recognized
a man I had been able to advise in a small official difficulty in my
early days at the Embassy in Rome. This was even more fortunate than
the case of Slaney. We shook hands warmly, and as soon as was decent, I
interrupted a flow of reminiscent gratitude by flooding Mr. James
Bronson with the story of Rechid Bey's unhappy American bride, Mabella
Hânem, ill treated as well as cruelly deceived, if her story were true.
He knew Rechid slightly, but the marriage was news to him. With
interest he listened to my account of the lonely little governess in
Paris, bewitched by the love-making of a handsome Turk as white as
herself. But when I asked for help, the Consul shook his head.
"Lord Ernest," he said, "there's nothing I'd like better than to pay my
debt by doing you some favour. But you're asking me the one thing
that's hardest, as you probably know. You understand as well as I do
that when a girl marries a man, she ceases to be a subject of her
native land. And to interfere with the inmate of a harem is just about
impossible. But I'll tell you what I will do for your sake. If you can
get the girl out of Rechid Bey's house--which, mind you, I doubt--you
may bring her to my wife, and we'll cook up some story about her being
a relative of mine. So she is, I guess, through Adam and Eve! If you
think she's been badly treated, we'll stand by her, once she's under
this roof (which means she'll be on American soil), through thick and
thin, whatever the consequences. I can't go farther, and I don't
believe you expected that I would."
I admitted that I had not, and thanked him for his promise.
By this time, I thought that Brigit and Monny might be on their way to
meet me at the Consulate, as arranged, escorted by "Antoun," and
perhaps bringing Mabel. Even the route they were to take was planned,
so that I could not miss them if I started.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bronson was to interest his wife in our protégée. Back I
flew, my ears deafened by more "Ya Welads," but though I met many
things and many creatures on the congested road, there was no arabeah
containing the desired ones. I made my driver slacken pace as we neared
the big, square pink house of Rechid Bey, set far back in its garden of
palms and impossible statues, on the bank of the Nile. No green turban
was in sight, and I wondered what could have happened, as we drove
slowly past the ponderous black gate-keeper, apparently half asleep on
his bench. There was nothing to do but crawl along at a snail's pace,
lest that droop of the crocodile-lids should be assumed for effect. I
went on, meaning to turn presently; but when the arabeah had taken me
beyond eyeshot of Rechid's gate-keeper, an Arab sacca, or water seller,
ran forward, striking his musical gong. From his brass jar, protected
by crimson-dyed horse hair to keep out dust, he offered a draught; and
his look said that he had something more for me than a drink of water.
I beckoned him close, stopping the arabeah; and under the tumbler he
handed up was a folded bit of paper. None save the water seller had
attention to spare for me just then, as a wedding procession was
approaching, with a crude but gorgeous curtained litter drawn by
camels, and a number of musicians with räitas, darabukas, the "key and
bottle," and other Eastern instruments which may have been ancestors of
the Highlanders' bagpipes. The street crowd followed, enchanted by the
plaintive, monotonous notes, grotesque to newcomers from the west, but
enthralling to those who have fallen under the spell of their
"Failure for the present, but Miss G. and Mrs. J. safe," Anthony had
scrawled in pencil. "Couldn't wait in front of R.'s house, but you'll
find us at an Arab restaurant to which the messenger will guide you.
All you have to do is to discharge your arabeah, and walk in the
direction the man takes, keeping your distance in case you're watched."
I obeyed instructions, and in the town of Asiut, far from the gardens
along the Nile front, I came to a house between the mosque of the
tallest minaret, and the great market whither Arabia as well as Egypt
sends her wares. It was a house of some pretension, though in a narrow
unpaved street, lined with humble native dwellings. I guessed that it
must have been built for a rich man who had died or failed in business,
but now a sign in Arabic announced that it was a restaurant. A nod from
the water seller told that I had reached the end of the journey. Nubian
servants salaamed in the big room where once the master of the house
had held receptions, and in a smaller room beyond I saw Antoun, Brigit,
and Monny. They were seated at a low table where no forks or knives or
even plates were laid. In the centre of the white cloth stood a large
dish of something sweet and rich-looking, from which everybody
pretended to eat; but at sight of me, Brigit and Monny began talking
together. They told me breathlessly how they had been informed by the
gatekeeper that "Mabella Hânem" was not well. Having insisted that they
were intimate friends whom she would desire to see, they had been
bidden to return in an hour. Reluctantly coming away, they had as soon
as was prudent been joined by Antoun. He had then taken them to the
bazaars, hoping to give them a glimpse of the shops before the Set
returned from the Tombs; but they had met Neill Sheridan, who had
something to tell. He had caught sight of Bedr running after the
carriage of a Turk strongly resembling Rechid Bey. The carriage had
stopped near the railway station; and after an instant's conversation
the horses had been turned to gallop off in the direction whence they
"Of course we were sure the Turk _was_ Rechid," said Monny, "so Antoun
Effendi thought we'd better go back to watch his house. When we got
there, it was too late, for already some time had passed since Mr.
Sheridan saw Bedr. Rechid's gate-man said that Mabella Hânem was
suddenly better, and had gone away with her husband. He could talk a
little French, so we understood perfectly--and, anyhow, you know I'm
studying Arabic. It's _so_ discouraging when Arabs answer me in Cockney
English, or say "Sure" in American! We believed the fellow, because it
seemed exactly what Wretched _would_ do--come back and grab Mabel away
at a minute's notice. So unfortunate about Neill Sheridan! Wretched was
idiotically jealous of him on the _Laconia_; and if he caught a glimpse
of him to-day he's certain to think Mr. Sheridan's here to try and see
Mabel. We tore to the railroad depot, but the train was just going out.
No doubt Rechid and his wife were both on it. Isn't it heartbreaking?"
I sat mute, thinking things over, but Anthony tried to give consolation
by saying that he still had some hope. He had found out that Rechid Bey
owned a sugar plantation, with a house on it, near Luxor. The train
which had left Asiut was bound for Luxor. In a very few days our boat
would land us there, and we would try our luck again.
"Not much doubt," Fenton added, speaking as always in French, "that
this is Bedr's revenge on us. He must have told Rechid that Miss Gilder
had mentioned his name saying she hoped he was leaving home. That hint
of danger would be enough for any Turk."
"It will be my fault, then," moaned Monny, "if he kills Mabel. He's
deceived and shut her up and tried to convert her. Worse than all, he
has another wife. The next step will be murder. Oh, how can we bear the
delay of going on to Luxor by boat! Hadn't we better take a train?
Better miss all the things we've come to Egypt to see, rather than
leave Mabel to her fate."
"Rechid isn't the sort to have her put out of the way,"! said Anthony.
"He's not a bad fellow, as such men go, and he's hardly had time to
tire of his conquest yet. According to his lights, he's right not to
allow any interference with his harem from Europeans. He was jealous on
board ship, of one or two men of your acquaintance, you've told me.
This attempted visit of yours will revive his interest in his wife,
inconveniently for us; but if I know his type it will die down again,
the minute he thinks he has covered his tracks. For a day or two he
will be a dragon. Then he'll begin to think we're discouraged, or that
we haven't found out about his sugar plantation, or that nothing more
than a visit to his wife was intended, and he'll turn his attention to
other things than watch-dogging. It's far better to go on by boat, and
make a dash when he's off guard again."
After a few arguments, we agreed with "Antoun," as we usually ended by
doing, and soothed our restlessness by visiting Mr. Bronson to tell him
of our disappointment. If it hadn't been for Monny, I think the Consul
would have taken the point of view that he was now "out" of the affair,
but Monny, sapphire-eyed with generous zeal, is rather irresistible.
Fired by her enthusiasm, as he had not been by my beguiling, he
volunteered to go to Luxor on two or three days' leave, with his wife,
to visit a Syrian friend who had often vainly invited them to his
villa, and arriving if possible about the time our boat was due. If we
succeeded in our quest, we might bring Mabel to them, and they would
smuggle her back to the American Consulate at Asiut.
Our great adventure thus postponed, we let the Nile-dream take us once
more; and though we had moments of impatience, the dream was too fair
to be resisted. Besides, we were all four dreaming it together. Poor
Cleopatra was the only one outside, for Rachel Guest was dreaming her
own dream, with an extremely practical side to it, unless Biddy and I
were mistaken. She wore Monny's clothes, and used her special perfume,
and took advantage of the same initials, to accept gifts of filmy
handkerchiefs and monogrammed bags and brushes. Also she had firmly
annexed most of the men on board who would, in normal states of mind,
have belonged to the Gilded Rose. But they all seemed to have gone mad
on the subject of Miss Guest. Even Harry Snell, who had been the
property of Enid Biddell on board the _Candace_, on the _Enchantress
Isis_ was gravitating Guest-ward, lured by that meek, mysterious
witchery which I was trying hard to understand.
We got past Sohâg, and the famous White and Red Coptic Monasteries
built by Saint Helena, without jarring notes of any sort in the
Nile-dream (save for the failure of our rescue plot): past Akhmin, which
Herodotus wrote of as Chemmis: past Girgah, where once stood ancient
This, that gave the first dynasty of kings to Egypt: but when we
arrived at Baliana to visit Abydos, between Enid Biddell and Harry
Snell I had an interlude of nightmare. It was Rachel's fault, but it
was I who had to suffer for her sins. I, who had engaged as Conductor
of the Set and found myself their Arbiter as well.
Other tourists on other boats do not see Abydos until the return trip;
but the aim of Sir Marcus was originality as well as "exclusiveness."
This was a special tour, and everything we were to do must be special.
Some passengers might wish to stay longer than others at Khartum, or
from there go up the White or Blue Nile after Big Game. Or they might
tire of the Nile, and wish to tear back to Cairo by train. Sir Marcus
was boldly outdoing his rivals by allowing clients to engage cabins for
"up Nile" only, instead of paying the return also: and they were not to
miss any temple because of this concession. "I consider it an
advertisement, and a cheap one," he had explained to me, in saying that
we were to visit at Abydos on our way south.
Beautiful smiling donkeys, adorned with beads and amulets, met us at
the boat-landing. We ought to have called it Al-Balyana, but we didn't.
We called it Baliana, and we pronounced Abydos according to our
education. We had a ride of an hour and a half from the boat to the
temple; and having sent off Cleopatra and Lady Biddell in a carriage,
my conscience was free, my heart light. The sun shone on tawny desert
hills, like lions creeping stealthily out from the horizon toward the
Nile to drink. There were sweet smells of unseen flowers, and herbs
such as ancient Egyptian doctors used, and I looked forward to keeping
my donkey near Biddy's. Of course I ought to have preferred Monny's,
but then, I could talk of Monny to Biddy, and we had had so many
subjects in common since childhood that it was restful to ride even the
most energetic donkey at the side of "Mrs. Jones." No sooner, however,
had I begun to urge my gray animal after her white one, than I was
called by Enid Biddell. "Oh, Lord Ernest! I _must_ speak to you!" she
pleaded so piteously that I couldn't pretend not to hear.
When we were ambling side by side, separated from the rest of the party
by a gleaming cloud of copper dust, a few long-haired, brown sheep,
some blue-eyed water buffalo, and a plague of little birds, Enid turned
upon me a pair of tear-wet eyes.
"Why, Miss Biddell, what is the matter--or is it a cold in your head?"
I asked anxiously.
"It's not a cold in my head," she confessed. "It's a dreadful, dreadful
pain in my heart. And you're the only one who can cure it."
For a fearful moment I thought that she was going to propose. One hears
of these awful visitations. But I need not have trembled.
"I feel as if I could say anything to you," she murmured. "You are so
understanding, and so sympathetic."
It was on the tip of my tongue to reply that it was my duty as
Conductor to be so, and that, if I succeeded, a mountain full of hidden
treasure might perhaps reward me. But just in time I realized that this
speech would not be tactful. Instead of speaking, I looked at her and
let her go on.
"It's Harry Snell," she said. "You have influence with him. He thinks
you such a great swell, he'd hate to do anything you would call
unworthy of a gentleman. He--he's making me so unhappy. He's done
--everything--to win my love and now--now he's gone over to that Miss
Guest." The donkey having begun inopportunely to trot, the words were
jolted out, one after another, like a shower of pebbles. And they fell
on my feelings like paving stones. She expected _me_ to do something
about it! Horrible! I should almost have preferred the proposal.
"My dear Miss Biddell," I soothed her in my best salad-oil voice,
cultivated at the Embassy, "you are much prettier than Miss Guest, and
you can win Snell back easily if you want him. Probably he's only
flirting, to make you jealous."
"It's me he was flirting with," she moaned. "But I _don't_ believe he
cares for Miss Guest. It's only a case of 'follow my leader,' because
other men like her so much. Nothing succeeds like success, you know.
And other men's admiration is the most becoming background a girl can
have. He told Mrs. Harlow it was haunting him, that Elaine and I would
get fat like our mother, and the men who married us would have to spend
dull years seeing us slowly grow into mother's likeness. Wasn't it
cruel? And we eat scarcely _anything_ except pickles on purpose to keep
thin. But that's only his excuse. It's the romance of the situation,
and the _secret_ that appeals to him."
"What secret?" I felt entitled to inquire.
"Why, the secret between those two girls, Miss Gilder and Miss Guest.
You _know_ what all the men believe about them, don't you? But of
course you do."
"But of course I don't."
"Why, that they've changed places, to deceive people, just as heiresses
and poor girls do in old-fashioned plays or books. They think Miss
Gilder (I mean the girl we _call_ Miss Gilder) is really the
school-teacher, and the one we call Miss Guest, and that all the men are
after, is Rosamond Gilder the cannon heiress."
"Whew!" I whistled, bumpily, as my donkey kept up with Enid's. "For
goodness' sake, what makes them think that?"
"I don't know exactly how the story started, but it seems _authentic_.
Have you known them long?"
"Only since Naples. But--"
"Then you can't be certain whether it's true or not?"
I paused, swallowing an answer. So _this_ was the explanation of the
Monny puzzle! Yet it was but the first word of another enigma. _Who_
was responsible for the wild story? There was more than met the eye--or
ear--in this. I could hardly believe that Monny would have chosen, or
Rachel dared, to start this rumour, though it might have amused the
real heiress, and suited the false one, to watch it run. I dared not
contradict it flatly, without consulting Brigit or the Gilded Rose
herself. It was not my business to be a spoil-sport, if there were
sport to spoil, no matter how sternly I might disapprove.
"In the matter of actual knowledge, I have very little about Miss
Gilder," I decided to reply, "except that she's charming enough and
pretty enough for any man to fall in love with, if she hadn't a penny.
As for Miss Guest"
"Miss Guest is a cat! And if _only_ you'll tell Harry Snell so, I'll
bless you all my life."
"Good gracious! I couldn't do that."
"I mean, tell him you think she isn't the heiress, that she's only what
she seems to be, and nothing mysterious or interesting. He'll believe
_you_! Why, she _can't_ have any money, or even a nice mind. She always
writes 'No,' with her finger on top of her cold cream at hotels, she
told me so herself. Not that it's any good with Arabs, they don't want
to steal cold cream. But such a trick would never occur to a rich girl,
would it? She grows vainer every day, too, till one can just see vanity
spouting from the top of her head. She intends to use this mistake
people are making about her, to bag a rich man like Harry Snell, or a
successful one with a big, growing reputation like Mr. Bailey the
American sculptor. You _will_ help me save Harry from her, and bring
him back to me, won't you? You're the only one he'll listen to. If you
don't speak, I shall simply jump overboard into the Nile, and Sir
Marcus Lark would _hate_ that."
"So should I, dear Miss Biddell," I assured her. "But what can I
possibly do in--in such a very intimate matter?"
"Why, you're a diplomat, aren't you? I thought they always knew what to
do. You make us all dance to your tune like puppets, and imagine we're
prancing about to please ourselves. Tell him he's breaking my heart."
"By Jove! You're not in earnest?"
"I am. Oh, he must come back! I thought on board the _Candace_ we were
as good as engaged. I--I submitted to his kisses, and now--"
"'Submitted' is a good word," I sneered to my inner self, but outwardly
I submitted a handkerchief to the lady, as she had lost hers in one of
the last donkey jolts, and ventured to insert sympathetically into a
pause a small suggestion. It was usual, I reminded Miss Biddell, if a
gentleman's intentions had to be asked, that the father did the asking.
This hint, however, fell flatter than a flounder; and all the way to
Abydos, most sacred temple of ancient Egypt, I was persecuted with Enid
Biddell's woes, when I should have been free to meditate upon the
tragic history of Isis and Osiris. It was here that the head of the
murdered god was buried, and perhaps his whole body, when the magic
secret of Thoth had enabled Isis to collect the fourteen separate
pieces Set had hidden. Many temples claimed the sacred body of Osiris,
ruler over departed spirits and Amenti, their dim dwelling place beyond
the western desert; Philae and Memphis among others; but it was Abydos
to which the Egyptians give their most reverent faith, as the true
burial place of the Beloved One. It was there they wished to lie when
they died and were mummied, in order to rest through eternity near the
relic of their most precious god. Thus a necropolis grew like a
poppy-garden of sleep, round the temple; and a city rose also. But even in
the long-ago time of Strabo, the city was reduced to a village, and all
traces of the shrine had vanished. The great white jewel of the
temples--temple of Seti I, and the temple of his son Rameses II--remain
to this day, however, with the Tablet of Ancestors which has helped in
the tracing of Egyptian history. Therefore is it that this treasure of
the Nile-desert is still a shrine for travellers from the four corners
of the earth.
After the long, straight road, and a high, sudden hill, we came face to
face with the marble-white columns of the outer court. If I had been
with Brigit or Monny, I could have run back into the past, hand in hand
with either, to see with my mind's eyes the white limestone palace of
Memnon, copied from the Labyrinth, standing above the city between the
canal and the desert. I should have peered into the depths of its
fountain; and with a hand shading my eyeballs from the sun I should
have gazed at the grove of Horus' sacred acanthus trees, dark against
the burning blue. I should have found the Royal tombs which Rameses
restored, grouped near the buried body of Osiris. But bad luck gave me
Enid Biddell for my companion. She would not let any one else come near
me, even had the Right Somebody wished to dispute my battered remains
with her. "Antoun Effendi" had the others hypnotized, and I wondered if
they noticed how like his boldly cut profile was to certain portraits
of the youthful Rameses carved on the glittering white walls. So
splendid were they that had I been a woman my spirit would have rushed
back along the sand-obliterated, devious paths of Egypt's history, to
find and fall at the feet of their original. But--there was Antoun,
much easier to get at, and perhaps better worth the gift of a woman's
heart than Rameses the Great with all his faults and cruelties!
Crowds of birds lived in interstices of the broken columns, and their
tiny faces peeped out like flowers growing among rocks, their eyes
bright and arresting as personal anecdotes in long, dull chapters of
history. They seemed to look at me, and sympathize, cocking their heads
on one side as if to say, "Poor, foolish, modern man, why don't you
make a virtue of necessity and get rid of this still more foolish
modern maid, by promising her anything she asks? Then you can go listen
to that princely looking person in the green turban, who might be
descended from the kings our ancestors used to behold. He does seem to
know something about the history of this place, on which _we_ are
authorities! The dragomans who bring crowds of tourists to our temple
and gabble nonsense, put us really off our feed. Peep, peep! Just hear
him tell about the staircase we're so proud of. Did _you_ know there
was a picture of it in the Book of The Dead, with Osiris standing at
the top, like a good host waiting to receive his guests? Well, then, if
you didn't, do anything you must to escape from that lovesick girl,
while there's time to hear a real scholar talk of 'Him who is at the
Head of the Staircase!' Peep, peep! Hurry up, or you'll lose it all,
you Silly. Of course, the real staircase is in Amenti, which your Roman
Catholics call Purgatory; and no doubt Osiris is standing on it to this
So I took the birds' advice, and promised Enid to have a "heart to
heart" talk with Harry Snell. Satisfied that she had got all that was
to be got out of me, she powdered her nose (in the same spirit that
David anointed his head) and attached herself to Rachel, in whose train
was the Desired One. Thus basely did I free myself to enjoy the society
of Biddy and Osiris, with lovely carved glimpses of Isis thrown in, to
say nothing of Seti I and Rameses II. Trying to push into the
background of my mind the nauseating thought of my vow and its
fulfillment, I helped Brigit and Monny take snapshots of King Seti
showing his son Rameses how to lasso, and also to catch by its tail the
most fascinating of bulls. They were on the wall, of course (Rameses
and Seti, I mean, not Brigit and Monny), but seemed so real they might
leap off at any instant; and so charmed was Monny with Rameses' braided
"lock of youth" that she resolved to try one over her left temple in
connection with an Egyptian Princess costume she was having made for
some future fancy-dress ball. "I can't take a grain of interest in any
one but Egyptian Princes and Princesses and their profiles," she
exclaimed; then blushed faintly and added, "I mean Princes and
Princesses of the _past_."
We got some good pictures of the temple of Seti, for Monny had an
apparatus for natural colour photography which gave sensational results
in ancient wall-paintings--when any one except Monny herself did the
taking. It was better still in the Seven Chapels, the holy of holies at
Abydos, and in the joy of my first colour photography I forgot the doom
ahead. Appropriately, the sword I had hung up over my own cranium
descended in the Necropolis, at that place of tombs called Umm
el-Ka'ab, "Mother of Pots." Nobody wanted to see the fragments of this
mother's pots, but I insisted on a brief visit, as important
discoveries have been made there, among the most important in Egypt. It
was a dreary place where Harry Snell strolled up and caught me alone,
gazing at a desolation of sandy hillocks, full of undiscovered
"Look here," said he. "You're supposed to know everything. Tell me why
they call seats outside shops in bazaars, and tombs of the Ancient
Empire by the same name: mastaba?"
I explained that mastaba was an Arab word meaning bench. Then,
realizing that it would be flying in the face of Providence not to get
the ordeal over while my blood was up, I spoke of Enid. Among the
shattered pots and yawning sepulchres, I racked up her broken heart and
blighted affections. I talked to Snell like a brother, and when he had
heard me through in silence, to the place where words and breath
failed, I thought that I had moved him. His eyes were downcast. I
fancied that I saw a mist as of tears, a man's slow tears. Then
suddenly he opened his eyelids wide, and glared--a glare stony as the
pots, and as the desert hills. "Borrow," he said, "I thought you were a
good fellow and a man of the world. I see now that you're a damned
With this he stalked off, and I could not run after him to bash his
head, because what he said was perfectly true. I was almost sorry that
evening, on board the boat, when he apologized and the Nile-dream went
on as if I hadn't broken it by being the sort of fool Snell had said
that I was.
In the dream were Nile cities, with crowding houses whose walls were
heightened by tier upon tier of rose-and-white pots, moulded in with
honey-coloured mud. There were stretches of sandy shore, and green
gloom of palm groves. There were domed tombs of saints, glittering like
snow-palaces in the sun. There were great golden mounds inlaid with
strips of paler gold picked out with ebony. There were sinister
hillsides cut into squarely by door-holes, leading to cave-dwellings.
There were always shadoofs, where giant soup-ladles everlastingly
dipped water and threw it out again, mounting up from level to level of
the brown, dyke-like shore. The wistful, musical wail of the men at the
wells was as near to the voice of Nature as the sighing of wind, or the
breaking of waves which has never ceased since the world began.
Sometimes the horizon was opal, sometimes it throbbed with azure fire,
or blazed ruby red, as the torch of sunset swept west and east before
the emerald darkness fell. When our _Enchantress_ landed, great flocks
of kites, like in form and wing to the sacred vulture of Egypt, flew to
welcome us with swoopings of wide purple wings. Their shadows on the
water were like passing spirits; and at night when the Nubian boatmen
danced, their feet thudding on the lower deck to the cry of the
darabukah, the Nile whispered of the past, with a tinkling whisper,
like the music of Hathor's sacred sistrum. Gyassas glided by, loaded
with pots like magic melons, long masts pointing as though they had
been wands in the hands of astrologers: and the reflection of the piled
pots as they moved gave vague glimpses as of sunken treasure.
Denderah meant work for Fenton. There had been trouble there, and
tourists had complained of insults. It was the Hadji's business to find
out whether natives or Europeans had been more to blame, and whether
there were wrongs to right, misunderstandings to adjust. But to the
rest of us, Denderah meant the sacred temple of Hathor, Goddess of
Love, in some ways one of the most beautiful of all the Nile temples;
though, being not much over two thousand years old (it was built upon
ruins more ancient than King Menes) archeologists like Neill Sheridan
class it as "late Ptolemaic," uninterestingly modern.
Mrs. East had been looking forward to the temple of Denderah more
eagerly than to any other, because she had read that on an outer wall
was carved the portrait of Cleopatra the Great. That of Cæsarion was
there also, as she must have known; but Cleopatra's son was never
referred to by her reincarnation, who chose to ignore the Cæsar
incident. Mrs. East had not yet deigned to mount a donkey, but to reach
the temple she must do so or walk, or sway in a dangerous looking
_chaise à porteur_. Rather than miss the joy of seeing herself on a
stone wall as others had had the privilege of seeing her for two
thousand years, she consented to accept as a seat a large gray animal,
tasselled with red to keep off flies and evil eyes. "Won't you ride
with me, Antoun Effendi?" she asked. "I'm afraid. This creature looks
as large as an elephant and as wild as a zebra. I feel _you_ could calm
him." But Antoun Effendi was not going to ride. He had other fish to
fry; and poor Cleopatra's luminous dark eyes were like overflowing
lakes, when he had politely excused himself on the plea of a pressing
engagement. I felt sure that she would have been kind to Sir Marcus if
at that moment he could have appeared from behind the picturesque group
of bead-necklace sellers, or emerged from one of the huge
bright-coloured baskets exposed for sale on a hill of brown-gold sand.
I don't know whether it made things better or worse that the gray
donkey should be named "Cleopatra," but it was evidently a blow when
the animal's white-robed attendant announced himself as Anthony.
"I can't and won't have the creature with me!" she murmured, as I
helped her to mount when she had pushed the boy aside. "Thank you, Lord
Ernest. You're very kind. But Antoun ought to have been here. Fancy
seeing _this_ temple, of all others, without an Anthony of any sort on
the horizon! A pity it isn't _your_ middle name! If you could spare
time to ride with me, that would be better than nothing!"
"I'll be delighted," I said hypocritically, for I had been dying to
talk with Brigit about the Monny and Rachel imbroglio which, as a
hard-worked Conductor, I had not since Abydos found a chance to discuss.
Besides, Biddy had whispered in passing that a letter just delivered at
Denderah, had brought exciting news of Esmé O'Brien: But I was sorry
for Cleopatra, and wondered whether I could manage after all to hint an
explanation of the hieroglyphic love-letter--that fatal letter of mine
which had stealthily made mischief between Mrs. East and Anthony. I
didn't quite see how the subject was to be broached: still, some way
might open. "I'm sorry about the middle name," I said. "But if I
assumed it--like a virtue which I have not--I should be the third
person connected with this trip, labelled the same fashion."
"Who is the second person?" she asked abruptly, as all the animals of
the party started to trot vivaciously through the blowing yellow sand.
"Sir Marcus. Surely you've heard that his 'A' stands for Antonius?"
"Good heavens!" she gasped: and I hardly knew whether it was the shock
of my news, or a jolt of the donkey which forced the exclamation.
Whatever it was, the emotion she felt bound her to silence after that
one outburst. She said not a word, and did not even groan or threaten
to fall off when both our beasts broke into a thumping gallop. In
silence we swept round that great bulk of rubbish heap, Roman and early
Christian, under which lies An, the town of the Column. Cleopatra did
not cry out when suddenly we came in sight of Hathor's temple, honey-gold
against the turquoise sky, and vast as some Wagnerian palace of
the gods. The tasselled donkey (or I) had given her cause to think. Or
perhaps she did not consider me worth talking to, as we approached the
temple toward which all her previous travelling had been a mere
pilgrimage. Still silently, when we had left our donkeys and were
following the crowd up the dromos (Harry Snell actually with Enid,
thanks to me and the wisdom of second thoughts), Cleopatra's eyes
wandered over the Hathor-headed columns with their clinging colour; and
over the portal with its brilliant mass of yellow, of dark Pompeian
red, and the green-blue sacred to Hathor, whom Horus loved
--Venus-Hathor, whose priestesses danced within these walls in Cleopatra's
day. "Oh, this red and this green-blue were my colours, I remember," she
murmured, and then hardly spoke when I walked with her in the gloom of
the temple itself--the rich gloom under heavily ornamented ceilings.
She wanted to save the portrait till the last, she announced, until
after she had seen everything else: and she didn't care _what_ Mr.
Sheridan said about her temple; it was wonderful. I tried to interest
her in the crocodiles, which had been detested and persecuted at
Denderah in the late Cleopatra's time as ardently as they were
worshipped at Crocodilopolis and other places. I joked about Old Egypt
having consisted of "crocs and non crocs," just as the inhabitants of
Florence had to be Guelphs or Ghibellines. I explained carefully the
geography of the place, or rather, "reminded" Cleopatra of it, adding
details of the canal which once led to Koptos, where the magic book of
the Wisdom of Thoth lay hidden under the Nile. I could not waken Mrs.
East from reverie to interest, as Antoun would have had the power to
do; but my vanity was not hurt. It was only my curiosity which
suffered, for I wanted desperately to know whether the donkey had
seriously jolted the lady's spine, or whether the news that Sir M. A.
Lark was Marcus Antonius, not a more obvious Marcus Aurelius, had fired
In any case I devoted myself to her while Monny and Brigit frolicked
with others; and I had a reward of a kind. When we had seen all the
halls and chambers, and the crypt with its carvings all fresh as if
made yesterday; when we had been on the roof where chanting priests had
once awaited the rising of Sirius; when I had taken her outside the
temple, where blowing columns of dusty sand rose like incense from
hidden altars of Hathor, we stood at last alone together, gazing up at
the figures of Cleopatra and her son. The wall on which they were
carved rose behind the Holy of Holies, where the golden statue of the
Goddess had been kept; but alas, the figures themselves! Alas! I knew
how Cleopatra must be feeling; and I dared not speak. Perhaps she was
even blushing: but I did not look. Instead, I gazed helplessly up at
that exposed, misshapen form, that flaccid chin.
"Thank heaven it's only _you_ who are with me!" breathed Mrs. East.
That was my reward. Or should I call it a punishment? Anyhow, it made
it easier for the insignificant person in question to unburden his
conscience about the hieroglyphic letter. I stammered it all out, on
the way back, apropos of the rubbish-heap which had been Tentyra. I let
it remind me of Fustât and our digging expedition. I had meant to
follow Mrs. East's advice and propose to Miss Gilder, I explained, but
Monny had not found my buried love-letter. What had become of it I--er
--had never been told. All I knew was that it hadn't come into Miss
Gilder's hands; and I should never have as much courage again.
"Oh!" Cleopatra exclaimed, with a curious light in her eyes, more like
relief than disappointment. "You really do want to marry my niece? You
delayed so, that I wondered. I wasn't sure, sometimes, if it were Monny
or--but I am on your side, Lord Ernest. It isn't too late yet _for any
of us_, perhaps. Trust in me. I'm going to help you."
I could have bitten my tongue out, though I had blundered with the best
intentions. "Mrs. East," I protested almost ferociously, "you mustn't
do anything. I said before I began, that I was going to tell you a
"I won't betray your confidence. But I _will_ help. I want to. It would
be a good thing for Monny to accept you, Lord Ernest, a very good thing
in more ways than one. Mrs. Jones wants it too, or did. I promise you,
I'll be discreet."
With that, we arrived in sight of the boat. Once more, necklaces and
scarabs and baskets were thrust under our noses. Anthony had returned
from his mysterious whisperings in cafés or mosques in the new town,
and was waiting for us. Cleopatra called him, with a note of gayety in
her voice, to help her off "the elephant." He came. I felt she was
going to hint to him that I was in love with Monny--hint to Brigit
Virtue may be its own reward, but it makes you very lonely!
I hadn't another easy moment for dreaming the Nile-dream. And we all
woke out of it when, with the pink dawn of a certain morning, we saw a
vast temple, repeated column for column, in the clear river, as in a
mirror of glass.
We were at Luxor; and somewhere not far off, Mabella Hânem was praying
THE ZONE OF FIRE
Just at the first moment of waking, when I was moved by my subconscious
self to roll out of my berth and bound to the cabin window, I forgot
that we had anything more active to do at Luxor than worship the glory
of sky and river and temples. I had room in my mind only for the
dream-beauty of that astounding picture, into the foreground of which I
seemed to have been thrust, so close upon my eyes loomed the line of
lotus columns. It was as if the ancient gods had poured a libation of
ruby wine from their zenith-dwelling into the translucent depths of the
Nile. Even the long colonnade of broken pillars was deep rose-red
against a pale rose sky, repeated again in deeper rose down in a magic
world beneath the pink crystal roof of shining water. Then, suddenly,
bright windows of sky behind the dark rose-columns flamed to the colour
of primroses, were shot with pansy purple, and cleared to the
transparent green of unflawed emerald. The thought came as I gazed at
the carved wonder (reflected flower for flower and line for line in the
still river) that here was illustrated in unearthly beauty the chief
religious legend of ancient Egypt. As each human soul was believed to
be a part of the World-Soul, Osiris, reunited with him beyond the
western desert, after death, so did these columns made by human hands
unite themselves at sunrise with the soul of the Nile, the life of
Egypt. I caught a glimpse as if in an illuminated parable, of the
Egyptian Cosmos, the Heavens, the Earth, the Depths, three separate
entities, yet forever one as is the Christian's Trinity. Almost I
expected to see the sun-boat of the gods steered slowly across the
river from the city of Kings, westward to the tombs of Kings; and the
little white-breasted birds, which promenaded the deck of our boat as
though it belonged to them, might have been Heart-birds from the world
of mummies across the Nile, escaped for a glimpse of Rameses' gayly
painted, mosaiced white palace with its carved brass balconies, its
climbing roses, its lake of lotuses and its river gardens. I was sure
that, if I told these tiny creatures that the Pharaohs and all their
glories had vanished off the earth except for a few bits in museums,
they would not believe the tale. I wasn't even sure I believed it
myself; and deliberately blotting out of sight the big modern hotels
and the low white line of shops away to the right of the temple, I
tried to see with the Ba-birds, eastern Thebes as it must have been in
the days of Rameses II. I pictured the temple before Cambyses the
Persian, and the great earthquake felled arches and pillars, obelisks
and kingly statues. I built up again the five-story houses of the
priests and nobles, glistening white, and fantastically painted in many
colours: I laid out lawns and flower beds, and set fountains playing.
Then, with a rumbling shock, a chasm many thousand years deep yawned
between me and ancient No, the City of Palaces:
It was the voice of Sir John Biddell which opened the ravine of time,
and let the Nile pour through it. He was on deck, in pyjamas and
overcoat, with General Harlow, holding forth on his favourite topic of
mummies--an appropriate subject for this neighbourhood of all others;
yet, I should have preferred silence.
Poor Sir John! He had been disappointed in Cairo because a villain had
not lurked behind each of the trees in the Esbekîya Gardens, and notes
tied with silken black hairs had not tumbled on his respectable bald
head from the mystery of latticed windows; but he was thoroughly
enjoying his Nile trip, and learning something every day to tell at
home. Lady Biddell had humiliated him twice, once by asking me if
"those old hieroglyphics were written in Arabic?" again by inquiring
whether the stone-barred temple windows had been "filled in once with
pretty stained glass?" But he had forgiven her because yesterday had
been their silver-wedding day, and he meant to buy her a present at
some curiosity-shop at Luxor. "A pity it isn't the wooden wedding," I
heard him say to General Harlow, "for I might give a handsome mummy-case.
I suppose silver will have to be Persian or Indian, unless I can
get hold of one of those old bracelets or discs the Egyptians used for
money: but that's too good to hope for."
It certainly was: though no doubt some industrious manufacturer of
antiques would cheerfully have made and dug up any amount on the site
of Rameses' palace, could he have known in time.
We were to have three days at Luxor--three days, when three months
would have been too little!--and the second attempt at abducting an
ill-used lady from the harem of her treacherous lord would take place
as soon as we could learn that our auxiliaries, the Bronsons, had
arrived. Until they were on the spot, even a success might prove an
anti-climax. Meanwhile I had plenty to do in playing my more obvious
part of Conductor, and arranging the last details of our excursion
programme. Every one had bundled out early to see the sunrise.
Consequently most members of the Set were cross or hungry, or both.
Nothing could be less suitable than to clamour for porridge on the
Nile, but they did it, and called for bacon, too, in a land where the
pig is an unclean animal. They were the same people who played "coon
can" and bridge on the deck at twilight, when moving figures on shore
were etched in black on silver, or against flaming wings of sunset, and
in gathering darkness the blue-robed shadoof-men who bent and rose
against gold-brown dykes, were like Persian enamels done on copper.
"Hundred gated" Thebes, the dwelling of Amen-Rã whom Greece adopted as
Jupiter-Amon, used to lie on both banks of the Nile; the east for the
living, the west for the dead and those who lived by catering for
I had arranged to take our people first round Luxor, making them
acquainted with the temple which had already introduced its reflection
to us. As for the town, they were capable of making themselves
acquainted with that, its hotels and curiosity-shops, when there was
nothing more important on hand. Next was to come Karnak, the "father of
temples," once connected with the younger temple at Luxor as if by a
long jewelled necklace of ram-headed sphinxes. And for those whose
brains and legs were intact, by evening I thought of a visit to the
thrilling temple of Mût. This last would be an adventure; for Mût,
goddess of matter, the Mother goddess, has apparently not taken kindly
to Moslem rule. Any disagreeable trick she, and her attendant black
statues of passion, fierce Sekhet, can play on a devout Mohammedan, are
meat and drink to her: but she can work her spells only after dusk,
therefore none save the bravest Arab will venture his head inside her
domain, past sunset. I was sure we could get no dragoman to go with us,
and equally sure that the adventure would be more popular for its spice
The second and third days I allotted to western Thebes, the city of the
dead: the tombs of the Kings, the tombs of the Queens and the Nobles;
then the Ramesseum, the "Musical Memnon" with his companion Colossus,
and the great temples wrapped in the ruddy fire of the western desert,
where Hathor receives the setting sun in outstretched arms.
As I was about to unfold these projects at breakfast, a telegram was
handed to me. I read it; and while bacon plates were being exchanged
for dishes of marmalade, I cudgelled my brain like a slave to make it
rearrange the whole programme without a hitch.
The American Consul wired from Asiut that he was detained by an
Important Personage, who wanted to know things about Egyptian Cotton
and its enemy the boll worm. But Mr. and Mrs. Bronson would arrive at
the Villa Sirius, Luxor, day after to-morrow, "ready for emergencies."
Of course, being Conductor of a tour, and next a man, I ought to have
put the interests of Sir Marcus and his "Lark Pie" (as we were called
by rival firms) ahead of personal concerns. I ought to have immolated
myself in the western Mummyland with the consciousness of duty done,
while on the eastern side of the Nile, Anthony Fenton and Monny Gilder
and Biddy played the live, modern game of kidnapping a lady. But I
determined to do nothing of the sort. I gazed at the telegram with the
air of committing to heart instructions from my superior officer; and
without sign of inward tremour, announced that we would explore the
wonders of the west before visiting those nearer at hand. The weather
being cool and the wind not too high (I said), it would be well to
seize this opportunity for the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings, an
expedition trying in heat or sand storms. To-morrow also would be
devoted to the west, and our third day would belong to Luxor and
Karnak. As a _bonne bouche_, I dangled the adventure of the Temple of
Mût, to sweeten the temper of grumblers: but there were no grumblers.
The Set listened calmly to my honeyed plausibilities; and the alarmed
stewards dared not betray their consternation at the lightning change.
No doubt they thought me mad, or worse, because a day in western Thebes
meant a picnic: magical apparition at the right moment, in a convenient
tomb, of smiling Arabs and Nubian men with baskets of food and iced
Somehow the trick had to be managed, however; for I must be in eastern
Thebes, alias Luxor, on the day when the Bronsons' presence would
render our second attempt at rescue feasible. I had to interview the
chêf--a formidable person--hypnotizing him and the stewards to work my
will, and above all, I had to make sure of boats and donkeys for the
party at short notice. Only by a miracle could all go well; but I set
my heart upon that miracle. "Antoun," hurriedly taken into my
confidence, volunteered to arrange about the boats, and the donkeys for
the other side. Fortunately there was no rival ahead of us; and with
juggling of plans and jingle of silver, Anthony's part was done. Just
at the moment when, by dint of bribes and adjurations I had induced
chêf and stewards to smile, Fenton dashed on board to cry "Victory!"
Somehow, less than an hour later than we should have started, we got
off in two big boats with white sails and brown rowers. The canvas did
its work in silent, bulging dignity; but the rowers exhausted
themselves by breathlessly imploring Allah to grant them strength, and
shouting extra prayers to some sailor-saint whose name was calculated
to pump dry the strongest lungs.
On the mystic western side, where once landed with pomp and pageant the
sun-boat of the gods, and the mourning boats of the dead, we scrambled
on shore with that ribald mirth which always made the Set feel it was
getting its money's worth of enjoyment. Many donkeys and a few
carriages awaited us: the whole equipment previously engaged for
to-morrow! and in opaline sunshine which stained with pale rose the Theban
hills and piled the shadows full of dark, dulled rubies, we started
across an emerald plain, kept ever verdant by Nile water. The touch of
comedy in the dream of beauty was the queer, mud-brick village of
Kurna, with its tomb dwellings of the poor, and immense mud vases
shaped like mushrooms, standing straight up on thick brown stems before
the crowded hovels. In each vase reposed sleeping babies, brooding
hens, dogs, rabbits, or any other live stock, mixed with such rubbish
as the family possessed: and the most ambitious mushrooms were
decorated with barbaric crenellations.
Almost as far as the Temple of Seti I flowed the green wave like a lake
in the desert, but beyond, to join the Sahara, rolled and billowed a
waste of rose-pink sand, shot with topaz light, and walled with
fantastic rocks, yellow and crimson, streaked with purple. In the heart
of each shadow, fire burned like dying coals in a mass of rosy ashes:
and the light over all was luminous as light on southern seas at
moonrise and sunset. Before our eyes seemed to float a diaphanous veil
of gilded gauze; and white robes and red sashes of donkey-boys,
animals' bead necklaces, and blue or green scarfs on girls' hats, were
like magical flowers blowing over the gold of the desert.
Everything blew: above all, sand blew. We found that out to our sorrow,
after we had seen the Temple of Kurna, with its noble columns, and its
fine fragment of roof, where squares of sky were let in like blocks of
lapis lazuli. I rushed here and there on donkey-back assuring people
that this was not _wind_ we felt: it was only a breeze. We could not
have a more favourable day for our excursion into this world of the
dead. Why, if we'd waited till to-morrow we might have met a _real_
wind, perhaps even Khamsin, alias Simoom, the terror of the desert. To
make Miss Hassett-Bean and Cleopatra forget the smarting of their eyes,
I told them what a true-sand-storm was like, and how its names in
Arabic, Turkish, and Persian all came from the fiend "Samiel," who
destroyed caravans, just as "devil" came from the Persian "div." _Our_
little breeze was from the east, which at Thebes in old days was
considered lucky. The west wind used to bear across the river evil
spirits disguised as sand-clouds. And these wicked ones had not far to
travel, because the Tuat, or Underworld, was a long narrow valley
parallel to Egypt, beginning on the west bank of the Nile. Red-haired
Set was ruler there, the god who had to be propitiated by having kings
named after him. But Rä, greater than he, could safely pass down the
dim river running through that world: could pass in his golden
sun-boat, guided by magic words of Thoth instead of oars or sails; and the
guardian hippopotamus (whom Greeks turned into the dog Cerberus) dared
not put out a paw.
Mrs. East remembered that Thebes was Tape in "her day," at which Miss
Hassett-Bean snorted: and when out came that familiar story about
Cleopatra making red hair fashionable, Miss Hassett-Bean stared coldly
at the lady's auburn waves. "I wonder if the queen got the colour at
her hairdresser's, as people do now?" she murmured. "I've read that
they had beauty-doctors in those days, and used arsenic for their
complexion, and all sorts of mixtures. Besides, I can't imagine
anything natural about Cleopatra, except the asp wanting to bite her!"
Upon this, Mrs. East retaliated by calling her companion Miss Bean
without the Hassett.
I shall always think of the Valley of the Tombs as a place of terror
and splendour, meant to be hidden from mortals by the spells of Thoth,
who circled the rock-houses of the dead with a zone of fire, as Wotan
hid Brunhilda, and decreed that they should be lost forever in the
blazing desert. Despite Thoth and his magic, men have burst through the
blazing belt and found in the gold-rose heart of the rocks, sacred
shrines the wise old god would have protected. They have found many but
not all: for in the breast of some one among Thoth's sleeping lions
which masquerade as rocks, may yet be discovered a tomb, better than
all those we know with their buried store of jewels, and their painted
walls like drapings of strange tapestry.
We broke through the zone of fire, and it pursued us with burning smoke
of sand, pink as powdered rubies. Always it was beautiful and terrible
as we rode in the blowing pink mist: and still it was beautiful and
terrible, when half dazed we slipped off donkeys or slid out of
carriages, to enter the tombs which the desert had vainly striven to
hide. It was hot and breathless in those underground chambers, scooped
out of solid rock thousands of years ago, that great kings and their
queens and families and friends might rest with their kas in eternal
privacy. Enid Biddell waited until Harry Snell happened to be exactly
behind her, and then fainted, with dexterity beyond praise. Cleopatra,
however, was in her element. She felt at home, and did not turn one of
those auburn hairs scorned by "Miss Bean," at sight of the royal
mummies lit up by electricity in their coffins. These gave the rest of
us a shock, our nerves being already in the condition of Aladdin's on
his way down to the Cave of Jewels. When the guardian of the Tomb of
Amenhetep (the king had several other names, which annoyed Sir John
Biddell) darkened the painted, royal chamber of death, and suddenly lit
up several white, sleeping faces, the ghostly dusk was alive with
little gasps. There lay Amenhetep himself, in a disproportionately
large sarcophagus of rose-red granite from Suan; and in companion
coffins were a woman and a girl, all three brilliantly illuminated.
They had the look of the light hurting their poor eyes, and being
outraged because, against their will, they were treated as if they had
been paintings by old masters.
The dreadful rumour ran that the woman was none other than the great
Queen Hatasu (never mind her more scientific names), her mummy never
having been found, or, at any rate, identified: and it was pitiful
seeing her so small and female, when in life she had wished to be
represented with a beard and the clothing of a man. Our dragoman, who
read English newspapers and whose idea of entertaining his crowd was to
make cheap jokes (just as his family doubtless manufactured cheap
scarabs), announced that Hatasu was the "first suffragette." But even
those who thought her downtrodden nephew, Thothmes III, justified in
erasing every trace of her existence wherever possible, did not smile
at this jest. In fact, having Antoun and me to refer to, the Set as a
whole sat upon the unfortunate dragoman, trying to talk him down in
tombs and temples, or ostentatiously reading Weigall, Maspero, Petrie,
Sladen, and Lorimer when he attempted to give them information. A few
with kinder intentions, however, interrupted his flow of historical
narrative by exclaiming, "Why, yes, of _course_!" "I thought so!" and
"Now I remember!" He revenged himself by advising everybody to buy
antiques from an extraordinary old gentleman, extremely like a
galvanized mummy. The antiques were extraordinary, too, so everybody
took the dragoman's advice, neglecting the other curiosity merchants of
the squatting row near the luncheon-tomb and the glorious three-tier
temple, in that vast copper cup of desert and cliff which is called Der
el-Bahari. The sale in mummied hawks, gilded rams' horns, broken tiles
with beetles flying out of the sun, boats of the gods, and gods
themselves, was brisk round this ancient gentleman, who advertised a
blue mummy-cap by wearing it on his bald pate, and seemed to possess as
many royal scarabs as a dressmaker has pins. Afterward I learned that
he was our dragoman's father; but I was loyal and did not tell.
It was a wonderful day, all the more wonderful perhaps because it left
in the mind a colourful confusion; pictures of painted tombs hidden
deep under red rock and drifted sand, tombs which we should perhaps
never reach again through their guarding zone of fire--tombs of kings
and queens and nobles forgotten through thousands of centuries save by
their kas and has, their friends and servants, painted or sculptured on
the walls with the sole purpose of caring for or entertaining them
Already we had ceased to remember which was which. And back on the
boat, in the hour of sunset, when dazzling tinsel and pale pink
cloud-flowers sailed over a lake of clear green sky, the Set argued
whether the King with the Horses, or the Queen with the Retroussé Nose
was in this or that tomb. Sir John Biddell recalled the fact that Egyptian
horses had been celebrated, and that it was "as swell a thing to be a
charioteer then as it was now to be a Vanderbilt with a coach and
four." As for a retroussé nose, it didn't matter _where_ it was, on a
tomb-wall or on a girl's face.
Monny thought differently. She and Biddy were glad that the sand and
rocks would still hide many secret treasures, while the world lasted.
It would be dreadful to think that everything was dug up, for tourists
to pry into, or to cart away to museums, and no mysteries left. As for
Mrs. East, she was doubtful whether to rejoice or grieve that
Cleopatra's mummy had not been found. If, however, it were like the
incised wall portrait at Denderah, it would be well that it should
share the fate of Alexander's body and remain lost forever.
The next day gave us another trip to the west of the Nile: not again in
the burning desert, but only as far as the Ramesseum, and then to see
the Colossi, seated side by side on their green carpet of meadow,
looking out past the centuries toward eternity.
We had a dance on board that night; and next morning it came out that
Rachel Guest, who had disappeared during a "turkey trot" and a "castle
walk," had got herself engaged to Bailey. I was not as pleased about
this event as was Enid Biddell, who now saw her "title clear" to Harry
Snell; for I had "bagged" Willis Bailey and Neill Sheridan for Sir
Marcus in order to gain Kudos for myself: but Biddy, appealed to,
consoled me by saying it served Bailey right if he were mercenary: and
that both men would have come in any case.
The third day was to be the Great Day for us, the day big with fate for
Mabella Hânem; and the first thing that happened was a letter sent by
hand from the Bronsons at the Villa Sirius. They had arrived. The
fireworks could begin.
THE OPENING DOOR
Not half an hour after the first word from Bronson, came another
hurried note. An unexpected obstacle had cropped up. So confident had
he and Mrs. Bronson been of their friends' cooperation, that rather
than put such important matters on paper, they had waited to explain by
word of mouth. The owner of the villa was a rich Syrian with a
French-American wife. He was a Copt in religion, hating Mohammedanism in
general and the father of Rechid Bey in particular. This had seemed to
the American Consul a providential combination: but to his disgust he
found that there had been a reconciliation between the families.
Dimitrius Nekean would not betray the Bransons' confidence, but he
could not allow his roof to be used as a shelter for Rechid's runaway
wife--no, not even if Rechid had three other wives in his harem.
Here was a situation! And as Monny remarked, in neat American slang, we
were "right up against it." She thought that, if Antoun and I "put our
heads together," maybe we could think of "some way out." So we did,
almost literally put our heads together across a table no bigger than a
handkerchief, in my cabin: and decided that the visit to Rechid Bey's
harem must be made by Brigit and Monny in the late afternoon. They must
time their departure from the house at about the hour when the Set
would arrive at the Temple of Mût. "Antoun" would be waiting for them,
and they would drive in a closed arabeah to the temple, where Mr. and
Mrs. Bronson would happen to be "sightseeing." If Mabella Hânem had
been rescued, she would then be put in charge of the American Consul,
whose very footprints created American soil around him as far as his
shoes could reach. Rechid would be unlikely to search at the Temple of
Mût, nor could he induce any Arab servant to accompany him there after
sundown. We would escort Mabel and her two protectors to the town, and
to the train for Cairo, Mr. Bronson promising to take the girl to
Alexandria, whence she could sail for "home."
It was the best plan we could think of in the circumstances, and Monny
approved it, though her patience was tried by having to wait through
nearly all of another day. Mabel must have begun to believe that we had
ignored her prayer and meant to do nothing. I argued that the girl
would believe we were working for her in our own way. I said, too, that
if Rechid were spying, his suspicions would be disarmed by seeing us go
the ordinary round of tourists. Every one came to Luxor. We had come,
leisurely, by river, and were sightseeing every moment. Even Bedr, if
he were on the spot, intending to finish his revenge as neatly as it
had been begun, could have noticed nothing suspicious in our actions.
The mention of Bedr in this connection seemed to startle Biddy, and I
was sorry I had let his name slip. But, as I had said, every one came
to Luxor. Bedr had with apparent frankness explained that he was
travelling up the Nile by rail with his two clients: and if that were
true, he would arrive at all our destinations in advance of us.
Probably it would depend on "the clients" whether they lingered at
Luxor long enough for us to run across them again.
"What are you afraid of," I asked Biddy when I had a chance with her
alone, "even if Bedr is a spy? Surely you kept your promise and left
that chamois-skin bag in a Cairo bank?"
"It wasn't a promise," she reminded me. "I only said I'd think about
it. Well, I did think about it, and I couldn't put it in a bank. I told
you it was the sort of thing one _doesn't_ put in banks."
"You didn't tell me what it was--I mean, what was in it besides money."
"No, I couldn't."
"Will you now?"
"Well, then, will you give it to me to keep till we get back to Cairo?"
"No, _indeed_! But Duffer dear, honestly and truly it isn't for myself
I'm afraid. You _know_ that, don't you?"
"Of course. Yet if people are believing that Monny Gilder is Rachel
Guest, a poor little school teacher, then no one who heard the gossip
would bother to risk kidnapping her for ransom. And, also, there'll be
no further danger of those you fear mistaking her for--"
"Oh, don't speak the name!"
"I wasn't going to. I was merely about to use the word 'another.'"
"Good Duffer! Yours is a consoling argument. Still, I never liked Bedr
or wanted him with us. And even now, there seems something mysterious
about Rachel thinking so much of him. As if there were a secret
arrangement between them, you know! I've never got over that, or
understood it a bit."
"He flattered Miss Guest, perhaps. She loves flattery. But she's made
her market now, and all through Monny's charity. She couldn't want to
do her benefactress harm."
"No-o, I suppose not. Unless it were to do herself good. Don't those
eyes of hers say to you that she'd sacrifice any one for herself?"
"I've been thinking more about a different pair of eyes. And there were
such a lot of men crowding round Rachel's--for some reason or other."
"_Now_ we know what the reason was--as she and Monny must have known
all along, since their joke together began. Oughtn't _you_ to tell Bill
Bailey the truth?"
"No, my dear girl, I must draw the line somewhere! I've gone about at
people's beck and call, telling other people disagreeable truths, till
I'm a physical and mental wreck. Bill Bailey knows all about statues,
with and without glass eyes. Let him find out for himself about a mere
"With cat's eyes." Biddy snapped.
If one triumph leads to another, Anthony could afford to be hopeful for
the ending of our stay at Luxor. He had not done as much sightseeing as
the rest of us, but when we had been asleep in our beds or berths,
dreaming of temples--or of each other--he had been out whispering and
listening, in places where his green turban opened doors and hearts. He
had traced the mysterious "trouble" to its source, and learned the
inner history of that regrettable incident which, like a dropped match,
had lit a fire hard to extinguish. A party of young men travelling with
a "bear leader" had laughed at some Arabs prostrating themselves to
pray, at that sacred moment, just after sunset, ordained by Mohammed
lest his people should appear to worship the orb itself. One of these
youths, fancying himself a mimic, had imitated the Moslems. They were
old men, unable to resent with violence what they thought an insult to
their religion; but they had told their sons, and the story had spread.
Later that night the joyous tourists with their near-sighted "bear
leader," had been attacked apparently without reason, on coming out of
a native café. Having forgotten the sunset prayer, they honestly
believed that they had been set upon by men to whom they had given no
provocation. They had uttered statements and complaints; and disgusted
with the "beastly natives" had pursued their journey up Nile, visiting
their grievances on the innocent, and making more mischief at each
stopping place. Murmured threats, with dark looks, insulting words and
jostlings of strangers by the inhabitants of Upper Nile villages, had
occasioned anxiety at the British Agency. It had proved impossible to
get at the truth, and the influence of the Young Nationalists had been
suggested. Our Hadji had now turned the green light of his sacred
turban upon obscurity, and those in power at Cairo would know how to
set about repairing damages. In spite of private anxieties, those which
I shared and others which I didn't share but suspected, I think Anthony
was happy on that third morning at Luxor. He must have been tired, for
much of his work had been night work, but he showed no fatigue. The
true soldier-look was in his eyes, the look I knew far better than the
new and strange expression which had said to me lately, "A woman has
come to be of importance in Anthony Fenton's life."
We spent our morning and a good part of the afternoon at Karnak,
lunching irreverently but agreeably in the shade of fallen pillars
Cambyses or the great earthquake had thrown down. Neill Sheridan, who
had been to California, likened the ruddy columns of the Great Hall to
the giant redwoods. He was enjoying Karnak because there was
practically nothing "modern and Ptolemaic about it," but I thought how
quickly he would lose this calmness of the student if some one blurted
out a word about our plan for that evening. According to Monny, he had
been "taken" with poor Mabella Hânem on board the Laconia--admiring her
so frankly that Rechid had banished his bride to her cabin. If Sheridan
regretted her, as a man regrets a woman vainly loved, he had confided
in no one, not even Monny, who had risked seeming to seek his society
in order to reach the secret of his heart. He had, however, been graver
in manner than at first, so said the girl, who had been much with him
before my appearance on the scene. Whether it was intuition, or sheer
love of romance which inclined her to the opinion, she believed that
Sheridan was unhappy. It would make things worse for Mabel (if our
scheme failed) were Neill Sheridan mixed up in the plot; therefore,
even impulsive Monny admitted the wisdom of keeping him out of it. But
I could see by the way she looked at him--almost pityingly--when he
discoursed of lotus and papyrus columns, how she was saying to herself:
"You poor fellow, if only you _knew_!"
The "thing" being to see the Temple of Luxor at sunset, we gave it the
afternoon, as if condescending to do it a favour. When I remembered how
I had meant to linger here week after week, I felt that I was paying a
big price for my share of the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid, making a
knock-about comedian of myself, rushing through halls of history
followed by a procession of tourists, as a comet tears past the best
worth seeing stars, obediently followed by its tail. Still, I had
Brigit and Monny as bright spots in the tail; and my old dreams of
Luxor had been empty of them.
These ideas were in my mind, while on donkeys and in arabeahs we dashed
as if our lives depended on speed, from the Temple of Karnak to the
Temple of Luxor, along the dusty white road trimmed with sphinxes. This
description was Enid Biddell's, she being happy and therefore
frivolous. She rode with Harry Snell, as queens may have ridden along
that way, guarding a captive prince who had been subdued forever.
Sunset illumined the world, as for a New Year's festival of Amen-Rã in
his ruby-studded boat of gold, when we were ready to leave the glorious
temple, and turn to the region of little bazaars and big hotels, fair
gardens, and girls with tennis rackets whose shape reminded our
Egypt-steeped minds of the key of life. Monny and Brigit had slipped away.
Their _real_ day was just beginning.
My heart was with them; Anthony's, too, and his work permitted him to
conduct _his_ heart along the way that they must take, while I had to
conduct the Set to the Winter Palace Hotel, and give them tea on the
When everybody was rested and had had enough strawberry tarts, view and
flirtation, we were to make for the Temple of Mût: and, having returned
at last to the _Enchantress Isis_, were to steam away just as tourist
boats and dahabeahs were lighting up along the shore. We were to dine
late, after starting, and anchor in some dark solitude, so as to enjoy
a peaceful, dogless night on the Nile. But--what would have happened to
Brigit and Monny before the sounding of that dinner gong?
What did happen at the beginning I must tell as best I can, because I
was not there, and can speak for myself only from the Temple of Mût.
When they stole almost secretly away from Karnak, they took an arabeah
which was waiting and drove to the sugar-plantation of Rechid Bey. This
place of his is not prepared for a lengthy or luxurious residence; but
as I have said, there is a house. There is also a small gatehouse, in a
somewhat neglected condition; but a gatekeeper was there: the usual
stout negro. Monny and Biddy were quivering with fear lest they should
be refused admission, as at Asiut: but this time their coachman was
Ahmed Antoun, carefully disguised as a common driver of an arabeah, a
rather exaggeratedly common driver perhaps, for his face and turban
were not as clean as the face and turban of a self-respecting Moslem
ought to be. He had been helped to play this trick by one of the secret
friends he had made in some café or other, the cousin of an uncle of a
brother of him who should have sat on the box seat. But the motive he
had alleged was not the real one. The two beating hearts in the arabeah
had confidence in him. If the gatekeeper tried to send them away,
Antoun would bribe him, or threaten him with black magic, or say some
strange word which would be for them as an "Open Sesame."
The fat creature at the gate had no French, but the driver of the
arabeah addressed him in Arabic, and translated his answers. Yes, the
great lady had come hither with her husband the Bey. Word should go to
her. It should be ascertained whether it was her pleasure to receive
these friends who had journeyed from a far country to pay her a visit.
Monny and Brigit sat in the arabeah to wait, but they dared not talk to
the dirty-faced driver, lest some spy should be on the watch, where
every group of flowering plants might have ears and eyes. Even if the
big gatekeeper came back with an excuse, as seemed too probable, there
was hope from Antoun's diplomacy; but the chances were two to one
against success. Rechid Bey had almost certainly been put upon his
guard by the revengeful Bedr who had shown himself all grinning
friendliness to us. Rechid might have tired of playing dragon, as
Antoun prophesied; yet it would be strange if he had not given
instructions that no European ladies were to visit his wife. Mabella
Hânem had been snatched in haste from Asiut, but if she were still in
Luxor with her husband, she and her women in the harem would be guarded
by eunuchs, as in the more ambitious villa which Rechid called his
I suppose Anthony, slouching on the box seat in his unattractive
disguise, must have been as much astonished as Monny and Brigit when
the gatekeeper returned with another big negro to say that the ladies
would be welcomed by Mabella Hânem. The two girls were wildly
delighted. Fenton's emotions were mixed. He wanted to save the American
bride from the consequences of her tragic mistake, but he cared more
for his friends' safety than for hers.
He knew that Monny and Brigit were brave, and that Monny had his
Browning, but the thought that she might need to use it could not have
made him comfortable on the box seat of his borrowed arabeah, outside
Rechid's gate. It was arranged that he should give Mabel's visitors one
hour, thus allowing for delays and emergencies; but if they did not
appear at the end of that time, he would dash off to tell the Luxor
police that two ladies were detained against their will in the house of
Once in charge of the chief eunuch, who had come to take them to the
harem, Brigit and Monny might almost as well have been deaf and dumb.
Brigit knew practically nothing of Arabic; and Monny, though she had
been vaguely studying since her arrival, had been too passionately
occupied with other things to give much time or attention to the
language of Egypt's invaders. Her blood was beating in her veins now,
and she could think of no words except "Imshi!" "Malish!" and
"Ma'salama!" These buzzed in her head, like persistent flies, as she
and Biddy followed their silent, white-robed and turbaned conductor
along a narrow pink path, toward a modern villa almost shrouded with
bougainvillia. And they were the last words she needed. She didn't want
to tell the ponderous negro to "get out." On the contrary, she wished
to be polite. So far from saying "no matter," everything mattered
intensely. And, unfortunately, it was not time yet to bid the creature
Behind the white house with its crimson embroidery of flowers, rose a
thick growth of tall sugar-cane, the shimmering green pale as beryl, in
the dreaming light which precedes sunset. The dark red of the
bougainvillia looked like streaming blood against such a background.
Though the villa appeared to be comparatively new, it was built
according to Turkish, not European ideas, as it might have been were
the owner a Copt instead of a Mohammedan. The building was in two
parts, entirely separating the _selamlik_ from the _haremlik_. The
latter was small and insignificant compared with the former, for this
was not a place prepared for family life: it was but a temporary
dwelling, where the master would more often come alone than with the
ladies of his harem.
The eunuch opened a door leading into the women's building, and Brigit
and Monny entered the same secretive sort of vestibule they must have
remembered in the House of the Crocodile. A screen-wall prevented them
from seeing what was beyond; and the dead silence frightened them a
little, so easy was it to make of this place a trap.
In the vestibule was a long, cheaply cushioned bench, the resting-place
of the women's custodian; and upon it lay spread open the eunuch's
well-used koran, which he had deserted to meet the visitors. Who had
given him the order to go, and why it had been given, the guests began
to ask themselves.
Beyond the screen-wall they entered an anteroom. Through a big window-door
they could look into a small, grassy court that served as a
garden: and opening from the anteroom was a second room much larger,
which also gave upon the garden court. At the door of this, the eunuch
bowed himself away; but an involuntary glance which Monny threw at him
over her shoulder showed that he was grinning. The grin died quickly as
a white flash of heat-lightning fades from a black night-sky: but
though the heavy face composed itself respectfully, there remained a
disquieting twinkle in the full-lidded eyes. It struck Monny that the
negro was amusing himself at the expense of the visitors, because of
something he knew which they did not know.
"We're not going to be allowed to see Mabel!" she thought, with a jump
of her pulses; and even when a negress, smiling invitingly, beckoned
her and Biddy into the large room whose three windows looked on the
garden, she still believed that they had been deceived. She did not,
however, speak out her conviction to Brigit. Nothing could be done yet.
They must wait and see what would happen.
The room was furnished in abominable taste, with cheap Trench
furniture, upholstered with blue brocade that clashed hideously with
the scarlet carpet. There were several sofas and chairs stiffly
arranged round the walls; but no tables, save low maidahs of carved
wood inlaid with pearl, such as they had seen in Cairo bazaars and
hotels. The windows were closed, and the air heavy, as in a room seldom
used. The two seated themselves close together, on one of the ugly
sofas facing a door through which the beckoning negress had gone out.
There was no sound except the harsh ticking of a huge, bulbous clock,
all gilding and flowers, which stood in a corner. Monny's and Brigit's
eyes met, with a question.
Who would open the door just closed? Would it be Mabel, or would Rechid
Bey stride in, to reproach or insult them?
"_Are you sure it's loaded_?" Biddy whispered.
No need for Monny to ask what she meant.
"Sure," she answered.
The handle of the door turned.
THE DRIVER OF AN ARABEAH
"Thank God!" cried Biddy, as a slim figure in a loose white robe framed
itself in the doorway.
With a sob, Mabel ran toward them, both hands held out, and in an
instant she was being hugged and kissed and cooed over.
"You've found me--you've come!" she cried. "I never dared think you
would, when _he_ rushed me away from Asiut. He said he would keep me
here all the rest of my life, to punish me for complaining to you."
"But how did he know?" Monny asked. "Did your sister-in-law tell him
about the letter?"
"I don't think so, unless he has made her confess. It was like this: He
was coming to his place here on business. I felt so thankful. It seemed
providential he should be away then, just when you were starting up
Nile. I was almost happy that morning, when suddenly he appeared again
and I was ordered to put on a habberah and yashmak, and travel with
him. Yeena, the woman who acts as my maid, had to get ready in a hurry,
too. The chief eunuch, a hateful hypocritical wretch, followed. Some
clothes have been sent to me since, but not many. At first I couldn't
guess what had happened, and _he_ was in such a fiendish temper I
daren't ask questions. It wasn't till after we arrived that he
explained. I'm sure he took pleasure in hurting me. He said that he
left home early the morning he was going to Luxor, because he meant to
stop and make a business call on the way to the depot, otherwise he
wouldn't have been able to rush home and fetch me as he did, and still
be in time to catch his train after the warning. It was some dragoman
you employed in Cairo, he told me, who had seen us getting off the
_Laconia_, and who ran after his carriage in the street, in Asiut. The
wicked creature warned him that you were all there, and that he'd heard
you say something which sounded as if there were a plot to get at me.
Just at that minute, by the worst of luck, Mr. Sheridan passed. You
know how foolish and cruel _he_ was about Mr. Sheridan on the ship.
Well, he hadn't forgotten. So he turned round and almost snatched me
out of the house, rather than I should be left in Asiut with him away."
"This is exactly what we thought must have happened!" exclaimed Monny.
"That beast, Bedr! And to think that Rachel and I wasted our time
trying to convert him! How I wish I hadn't let Aunt Clara engage him at
Alexandria! She thought he'd come from a man with her favourite name,
Antony: but she wouldn't have insisted if I hadn't encouraged her. I
feel as if this trouble were partly my fault. And if I hadn't been
thoughtless enough at Asiut to blurt out your husband's name--."
"You're not to blame for anything, dearest," Biddy tried to comfort
her. "It was your unfailing resolve to help, which has brought us
"You're both my good angels," said Mabel, "Oh, it's heavenly to see
you. But I can't understand why I'm allowed to, after all the threats
and punishments. I'm afraid I shall be made to pay somehow. He loves to
torture me--and he knows how. I believe he hates me, now he's begun to
realize that I'd give anything to leave him, that I don't consider
myself his wife."
"If he hates you, why isn't he willing to let you go?" Monny questioned
"Partly because he's very vain, and it would humiliate him. Partly
because he has no son yet, only that horrid little brown girl; and he's
set his heart on a boy who's to possess all the qualities and strength
of the West. No, he won't let me go!"
"Well, you'll do it in spite of him then," said Monny eagerly. "That's
what we're here for. We shall take you with us. You must say to your
servants that we've invited you to drive, and you've accepted. There's
nothing in that to make them suspect. Lots of Turkish ladies go driving
and motoring with European women, in Cairo. And you can have that fat
black man sit on the box seat, with--with our coachman, if it would
make things easier, taking him to guard you. He can be hustled or
bribed or something, when the right time comes to get rid of him, never
fear. Oh, it's going to be a glorious adventure, and at the end of it
you'll be free! Nobody could blame you, as the man has another wife."
Mabella Hânem shook her head. "You're splendid to plan this. But it's
too late. It was too late from the moment that dragoman warned--my
husband. Why you've been allowed to come into the house and talk with
me, I can't think, unless _he_ is watching and listening through a
hidden spyhole. There's sure to be _some_ secret reason in his head,
anyhow--a reason that's for _his_ good and not mine. And I shall not be
able to get out, if you do."
"_If_ we do!" echoed Biddy, a catch in her voice.
She glanced furtively at Monny. What had we all been dreaming of when
we let this beautiful girl run into danger? I know Biddy well enough to
be sure that her thought at that instant was for Monny Gilder, not
Brigit O'Brien. But the fear in her heart was vague, until the next
answer Mabel made--an answer that came almost with calmness; for
Mabella Hânem's whole being was concentrated upon herself, and her own
imbroglio. Everything else, everybody else--even these friends who were
risking much to help her--were secondary considerations.
"I don't suppose real harm will come to you. I don't see how he'd
_dare_. And yet--there may be something on foot. Three men had come
to-day, one who might be a dragoman, and two Europeans. They came
together. I saw them. And I haven't seen them go away. They're in the
men's part of the house--the _selâmlik_. They must be with my husband.
Perhaps there's only some business about the sugarcane. But--"
"Did you see the men distinctly?" Biddy asked, in a changed tone.
"Yes, quite distinctly, for they glanced up at the window where I was
peeping out. Of course they couldn't see me, through the wooden lattice
and the bougainvillia, but I had a good look at them. The dragoman
seemed to have one blind eye. Oh! I hadn't thought of _that_ before!
Can it be the man who gave the warning?"
"What were the Europeans like?" Biddy questioned, without answering.
"Were they wearing light tweed knickerbockers with big checks?"
"No, they were in dark clothes, not very noticeable."
"Had one a scar on his forehead?"
"Why, yes, I believe he had!"
The eyes of Brigit and Monny met: but there was none of that deadly
fear in the girl's, which Biddy was trying to keep out of hers. Even
now, it was hardly fear for herself. It was nearly all for Monny; but
Monny must not know, lest she should lose her nerve when it was needed
most. That idea of Brigit's, about Monny being mistaken for Esmé
O'Brien by members of the Organization O'Brien betrayed, had seemed
foolish and far fetched, although Esmé was hidden from her father's
enemies near Monaco, and it was at Monaco that Miss Gilder and Rachel
Guest and Mrs. East had joined Brigit on the _Laconia_. I had laughed
at the suggestion, and Biddy had been half-ashamed to make it. But now,
in this lonely house where she and the girl had been unexpectedly
welcomed, in this house where the master watched, entertaining three
strange men, the thought did not appear quite so foolish, quite so far
fetched. Indeed, Biddy marvelled why it had occurred to none of us that
one of the dangers to be run in rescuing Mabel might come through Bedr,
the same danger which had perhaps threatened in the House of the
Too late to think of this now! The fact remained that we had not
thought of it when there was time. Not even Biddy had felt certain that
there was a secret motive for taking the girls to the hasheesh den, or
that Bedr had been guilty of anything worse than indiscretion. His
warning to Rechid Bey we had put down to a petty desire for revenge, to
"pay us out" for his discharge. Though Biddy had never felt sure of his
new employers' German origin, and though she had had qualms at sight of
the party, following or arriving before us on our pilgrimage through
the desert and up the Nile, she had never associated their possible
designs with Rechid Bey's grudge against us. Yet how obvious that Bedr
should take advantage of it for his clients' sake, if those two men
were what she sometimes feared! Brigit had never spoken out to Monny
what was in her mind about Esmé O'Brien. She had known that Monny would
laugh, and perhaps say "What fun!" For the girl had invited Biddy to
Egypt "because she attracted adventures," and because Monny badly
needed a few, her life having been, up to the date of starting, a "kind
of fruit and flower piece in a neat frame." Now, perhaps Monny wouldn't
laugh; but it was not the time to speak of new dangers.
"Well, if your husband thinks that creatures like Bedr and his Germans
are going to help him stop us from getting out, or taking you out, he's
wrong," said Monny, stoutly. "Bedr's the most sickening coward, as
Rachel Guest and I have reason to remember. But I'm glad we know what
we have to expect, aren't you, Biddy?"
It was hard to answer, because the girl was in reality so far from
knowing what she might have to expect. Brigit tried to smile her reply,
as Monny began to tell Mabel something of their plan: about the friends
ready to rally round them, once they were in the carriage waiting
outside the gate; and about the motor coat and veiled hood which had
been brought for Mabel to put on, at a safe distance from the house.
"You'll have to start in your own things," the girl was saying,
"otherwise your servants would think it odd. Ring now, dear, for your
woman, and have her give you your habberah and yashmak."
"There are no bells," said Mabella Hânem, with her soft air of
obstinate hopelessness. "When I want Yeena, if she isn't in the room, I
clap my hands as hard as I can. But I tell you, it is no use. It is too
late." As she spoke, throwing up her arms and letting them fall with a
gesture of helpless despair, both Brigit and Monny felt that Islam had
already raised a barrier between them and this delicate creature it had
taken into its keeping. In the white wool robe she wore--the kind of
loose dressing gown affected by Turkish women--she looked more like a
Circassian than an American girl. Always she had seemed to her would-be
rescuers a charming doll, a feminine thing of exactly the type which
would appeal to a Turk, weary of dark beauties: her hair was so very
golden, her eyes so very big and blue, her lashes so very black, her
mouth so very red and small: but now she had become an odalisque.
Mabel's friends realized that she would do nothing to save herself.
They must do all.
Hesitating no longer, Monny struck her hands loudly together. Yeena did
not come. The girl clapped again, and yet again, till her palms
smarted, but nothing happened.
"Yeena is in it--whatever they mean to do," said Mabel. "She's had her
"Very well, then," Monny persisted, her eyes shining and her cheeks
carnation, "you must go without your wraps. Come along. Don't be
frightened. Isn't it better to risk something to get away than to stay
here alone when we're gone?"
The pretty doll, with a little moan, gave herself up to her friends.
Brigit as well as Monny realized that the moment had come. They must
take her while she was in this mood.
"Let me go ahead," said Monny, in a low, firm voice. "You know why."
Brigit did know why. Monny had Anthony's Browning, and she alone
understood the use of it. Yes, she must lead the way; yet Brigit longed
to fling herself in front, to make of her body a shield for the tall
white girl she had never so loved and admired. Biddy put Mabel in front
of her, and behind Monny, keeping her between them with two cold but
determined little hands on the shrinking shoulders, and so pushing her
along, protected front and rear, in the piteous procession.
Of course, if the door leading toward the house entrance had been
locked on the outside, there would have been the end of the endeavour,
for the moment: but it opened to Monny's hand, and all three went on
unchecked, until they came to the vestibule, where on the wall bench
they had seen the koran of the fat negro, awaiting his return.
They had come tiptoeing, and had made no more sound than prowling
kittens, yet he sat there facing the door, no longer heavy lidded, a
black mountain of lazy flesh, but alert, beady eyed, as if he had been
counting the minutes.
As they swept through the doorway, hoping to surprise him, the eunuch
jumped to his feet as lightly as a man of half his weight, and smiling
with pleasure in the excitement of an event to break monotony, he
blocked with his great bulk the aperture between wall and projecting
No wonder they had not needed to lock doors, with this giant for a
jailer, and a big Sudanese knife conspicuously showing in a belt under
his open galabeah! Rechid had perhaps wanted the white mouse in his
trap to feel the thrill of hope, and then the shock of disappointment.
He had counted completely on the guardian of his harem, but--though he
had chosen an American wife, he had not counted on the courage of
another type of American girl. The knife looked terrible; but it was
sheathed and tucked into a belt. Anthony's Browning was in Monny's
hand, and hidden only under her serge coat. Out it came, with a warning
click of the trigger. And with an astonished, frightened gurgle in his
throat the negro involuntarily fell back.
"Run!" Monny breathed, prisoning him where he stood, with the little
bright eye of the Browning cocked up at his face. She had to be obeyed
then, and they ran, the two of them, flashing past the black man,
touching his clothes as they squeezed by, yet he dared not put out a
detaining hand. When they were away--safe or not, she could not tell
--Monny still kept the pistol in position, but began slowly to turn, that
she too might pass the dragon, holding him at her mercy till the end.
Not a word of Arabic could she recall, but the Browning spoke for her,
a language understood without the trouble of learning, by all the sons
When she had backed through the doorway, the girl still faced toward
the inner vestibule, and it was well she did so, for scarcely was she
out of his sight before the black giant was after her, taking the
chance that she would have turned to run. But there was the resolute
young face, with eyes defying his; and there was the weapon ready to
blow out such brains as he had, if the hand on the knife moved. Again
he fell back, and then Monny did run, making the best use she had ever
made of those long limbs which gave her the air of a young Diana. She
ran until she had caught up with the other two, flying toward the
distant gate; for something told her that the negro would have hurried
to tell his master of the trick the women had played--preferring the
lash on his back perhaps, to a bullet through his head.
She was right, no doubt, to trust her instinct, for the eunuch did not
pursue, though his tale of failure was not needed. Rechid Bey had been
watching from a window of the selâmlik, as Mabel his wife had watched
when he received visitors. He did not wait for the negro's warning, but
dashed out of the house, followed and then passed by several long-robed
men in Arab dress. The faces of these were almost hidden by the loose
hoods which desert men pull over their heads in a high wind, but had
they been uncovered the women would not have seen them. The thing was
to escape, not to take note of the pursuers; and it was only Biddy,
looking over her shoulder for Monny, who even saw that they were
followed. She cried out to her friend to hurry, that some one was
coming, that they must get to the gate or all would be ended; then
feeling Mabel falter, she held her more tightly and ran the faster.
Rechid and his companions were shouting, not to the women, but to the
gatekeeper; and as the master's furious voice rang out, just in front
of the fugitive (all three together now), appeared the big form of the
man at the gate.
Monny did not know what to do; for in whichever direction she faced
with the Browning, she could be captured from the other. She might kill
the negro, and then turn to keep the pursuers back: but the thought of
killing a man sickened her. She had meant only to threaten, not to take
life. Suddenly she felt afraid of the Browning. She hesitated, in a
wild second of confusion, hating herself for failing her friends, yet
unable to decide or act: but hardly had the gatekeeper sprung in sight
than he went down, flat on his face, struck in the back of the neck by
the shabby fellow who had driven their carriage. "Go on!" the dirty-faced
Arab said in French. "There's some one else to drive you. I'll
follow. I'm armed."
The three sped by him, as he stood aside to let them pass, showing to
Monny a pistol which matched the one he had lent her. This consoled the
girl in obeying; for as "Antoun" had trusted her courage in this
adventure, so did she trust his, and his strength and wit against four
men or four dozen men, if need were.
There was the waiting arabeah, and there on the box was a much cleaner,
more self-respecting Arab to drive it than the soiled figure which had
left the horses and strayed into the garden. Afterwards they learned
that the new man was the "sister's cousin's uncle" of the Hadji's café
acquaintance. He had been engaged to stroll past in the road, stop,
speak, offer the gatekeeper a cigarette, drift into conversation, and
be ready to jump onto the box seat the instant Antoun left it. His
instructions included furious driving with the three ladies (once they
had bundled into the arabeah), to the Temple of Mût.
Rechid Bey had every right, according to his own point of view, to
resent the kidnapping of his wife, and to get her back in any way he
could, even if blood had to be spilt. But his companions--they who were
muffled in the cloaks and hoods to save their faces from the sharp
wind--had perhaps not the same right or interest. In any case, when
they saw that the women had a man, or men, to help them, and that so
helped they had passed from the privacy of the garden to the publicity
of the road, the three fell back. Publicity, it may be, did not please
them: or else, thinking to have only women to deal with, they were not
armed and did not like the look of the pistol. Rechid, evidently no
coward, or past feeling fear in rage at the failure of his counterplot,
ran on, wheezing slightly--he was fat for his age--toward the erect
Arab and the prostrate negro.
"Beast! devil!" he panted breathlessly, and cried out other words of
evil import in both Turkish and Arabic; threatening the silent man of
the pistol with death and things even worse. But before he had gone
far, the hooded men caught up with him, and surrounding, urged him
back. What they said, Anthony could not hear, or what he said in
return; but he thought they were proposing some plan which appealed to
Rechid's reason, for he showed signs of yielding. There was now no
longer anything to detain the protector of the ladies, for by this
time, he hoped and believed that their arabeah must be far on its way
toward the Temple of Mût, the meeting-place agreed upon. Accordingly,
he stepped over the unconscious gatekeeper, who lay with his nose in
the grass, and backed calmly out of the garden. Not far off, an arabeah
was crawling along the road, so slowly that one might have thought the
driver half asleep. But this supposition would have done him an
injustice. Dusk had fallen now, the purple dusk which drops like a
curtain just after the pageant of sunset is finished, yet the driver
was wide enough awake to pierce the purple with a pair of sharp eyes,
and recognize a figure expected. He whipped up his horse, and the dirty
Arab running to meet it, in a few seconds the latter was on the box
beside the coachman. Then the arabeah turned, and dashed wildly off
according to the custom of arabeahs, back in the direction whence it
had been crawling.
The two dark-faced men in the vehicle talked rapidly in low voices,
speaking the language not only of the country but the _patois_ of Luxor
itself. "Your brother passed you in his arabeah?"
"Yes, Hadji, he passed with the three European ladies you told me had
been in secret to visit their friend."
Then Anthony knew that Brigit and Monny had been able already to carry
out their plan of wrapping Mabella Hânem in one of their own cloaks.
This was well, and would save gossip, if the occupants of the arabeah
were stared at by passers by. And at the temple also it would be well,
for if possible the Set were to know nothing, now or later, of the
adventure. But though Anthony was glad of the news he had got from this
Arab ordered to meet him at the gate, he did not settle down
comfortably and say to himself: "Thank goodness, the thing is over."
Those men back there in the garden would not so easily have persuaded
Rechid Bey to let his wife go unpursued, if they had not offered some
alternative plan that could be carried out quickly.
Still, so far so good. Brigit and Monny had "won out," and secured the
prize, as Anthony had prophesied that they would do. They were on their
way to the temple, where I would be with the comfortable, commonplace
crowd from the _Enchantress Isis_, and where the American Consul and
his wife would just "happen" also to be wandering. Instead of driving
straight there himself, Anthony went with a friend to an obscure,
mud-built house in the village. When he came out of that house, his
brown-stained face was no longer disfigured with dirt. It was as
immaculate, as noble as the proudest Hadji's face should be, and above
it was wound the green turban. Ahmed Antoun Effendi's own dignified,
old-fashioned robes of the Egyptian gentleman flowed round his tall
figure, when once more he took his place in the waiting arabeah--this
time not on the box seat--and drove off at more furious speed than ever,
toward the Temple of Mût.
The Temple of Mût I think must always be mysterious even by day. That
night it was more than mysterious. It was sinister.
Darkness shut us in among the pillars and the black, lion-faced
statues. The least imaginative of my charges seemed to feel the
influence of the place. Not an Arab, not even the superior boat
dragoman, would come inside with us: because after the sun has set,
dethroned Sekhet comes into her own again. Strange stories are
whispered by Arabs, of the Temple of Mût, and of the ghostly, golden
dahabeah that, once a year, sails slowly by to a faint sound of music,
on the Sacred Lake. We had brought candles with us, protected by smoky
glass from the wind that swept down the avenue of broken Sphinxes
outside, and hissed like angry cats through the dark courts lined with
granite statues of the Cat-goddess. Yet despite the mystery, or because
of it, people seemed curiously happy. The spirit of the past, of Old
Egypt, touched them in the shadowy spaces of this ruined temple,
brushed them with its wings, and whispered half-heard words into their
ears. They talked to each other in low tones, as if not to miss the
whispers or the soft footfalls of unseen things; and they did not laugh
and make jokes, or ask silly questions, according to their irritating
I blessed this mood, for my nerves were jangled (more than ever after
the Bronsons unobtrusively appeared) waiting for Brigit and Monny to
come, wondering if they would come, or what we should do if they
didn't; because suddenly in this place of gloom and eloquent silence
all the clever little plans Anthony and I had made, in case of
accident, seemed futile. How could we have let those two walk alone
into a trap? I blamed myself, I blamed Anthony; and sometimes I gave
the wrong answers to Mrs. East, who walked with me, trying to keep out
of the way of the crowd.
She was anxious to talk of her niece, and to relate how she had been
singing my praises to Monny. "You mustn't be discouraged," she said.
"Never mind about the hieroglyphic letter. Oh, no, you needn't worry! I
haven't told her it was yours. Better let her think what she thought at
first. Did she _tell_ you what she thought? _Please_ answer me, Lord
Ernest! I don't mind your knowing--_now_--that I believed it was from
Antoun to me. Believing so, did no harm. Why should it, to me, or to
him? I soon guessed that there was a mistake somewhere--when he didn't
--didn't follow the letter up. I was not offended by the proposal as
Monny would have been--oh, not if she'd known it was _yours_, but if
she'd supposed Antoun was making love to her. Don't you see--you must
have seen, you're so quick and observant--that she's been caught by the
romance of him, just as she was afraid she might be by some thrilling
prince, when she came to Egypt. She's miserable. She's hating herself.
And you _won't_ save her though I've prepared her mind!"
"So _that's_ what you meant when you hinted that I could spare her
humiliation!" I said, half in laughter, half in bitterness, suddenly
able to concentrate my mind upon the talk. "Do you think a man would
want a girl to take him for such a reason, when she's caring for some
"But, if it would be impossible for her to marry the some one else?"
"Why should it be impossible?"
"She would think it impossible."
"Would she, if--" I checked myself, but Mrs. East understood instantly.
"If he has a secret," she said, "then none of us has a right to suggest
it to her. Every man for himself, Lord Ernest, in _love_! Antoun
Effendi has no reason too feel too kindly to Monny. You'll be robbing
your friend of _nothing_, if you speak to her. If he's in _love_ with
any one, it isn't my niece."
"At least it's not _you_. Perhaps it's Biddy after all!" my thoughts
"To care for Monny would be beneath his dignity, considering all that's
passed. And you can make _her_ happy, as well as yourself, by taking my
advice," Mrs. East went on. "Aren't you going to be sensible?"
Just then came a murmur expressing surprise or some other new emotion,
from one of the outer courts where the crowd wandered, Cleopatra having
lured me--yes, "lured" _is_ the word--into the sanctuary itself.
"Something has happened!" I said. "Let's go back, and see what it is."
"Perhaps Antoun has come!" Mrs. East caught me up eagerly. "He was
coming, wasn't he, when he'd finished his business? Or maybe it's only
Monny and Brigit."
"_Only_ Monny and Brigit!"
In the hope of seeing Antoun, Cleopatra turned her back upon the dreary
sanctuary not unwillingly, even though the burning question was left
unanswered. I hurried her through the dark passages which lay between
us and the courts, lighting our way with a glassed-in candle; and it
was all I could do not to cry out aloud "Thank heaven!" or "Hurrah!" or
something else that would have opened people's eyes, when I saw that
indeed, Brigit and Monny had arrived. It was Rachel Guest and Willis
Bailey who had hailed them from afar, as candlelights flashed across
their faces; and suddenly to my eyes the gloomy temple seemed to be
brilliantly illuminated. I don't know exactly how I contrived to leave
Cleopatra, and get to the newcomers; but I did get to them in less than
a minute. Perhaps I was a little rude to Mrs. East. I wasn't thinking
of that at the time, however, nor of her.
I separated the two I wanted from the others. Their faces radiated
excitement, but I was not sure if it meant success. I was sure only
that they had been through an ordeal and were feeling the reaction.
"You're safe!" I said, and shook hands with them feverishly. Then I
shook hands all over again.
"Safe, yes," Monny answered. "And Mabel--why don't you ask about her?
Oh, Lord Ernest, we've done it--we've done it--thanks to Antoun
Effendi! We should have failed at the last if it hadn't been for him.
Just look over there, at the Bronsons, and see if you can guess who it
is they're talking to?"
I looked and saw tall, thin Mr. Bronson, and short, plump Mrs. Bronson
trying to form a hollow square around a little figure in a long gray
coat of Biddy's, and a hood with a veil I remembered her wearing the
day we motored to Heliopolis. It seemed about a hundred years ago. I
had conducted so much and so violently since; but I was not too old to
remember Biddy's hood. What if Neill Sheridan, poking about alone with
a candle, could see through that veil?
"Triumph!" I exclaimed. "You're heroines!" (I didn't know then how true
were my own words.) "Was it a great adventure?"
"_Was it_, Biddy?" the girl asked, half shyly of her friend.
"So great that I can't talk about it," Brigit answered, and her eyes
implored mine not to ask questions. Also they said that she had things
to tell me--not now but by and by. Things for me alone. Biddy's eyes
could be wonderful.
"Where's Antoun Effendi?" Monny broke in, when I had taken Brigit's
hint, and was beginning to say that we must go and speak to the
"He hasn't come yet," I answered; and then her eyes, too, began to
"Not come yet? But--it's a long time. We found Mr. and Mrs. Bronson
outside, hoping for us to arrive, and we talked to them and introduced
Mabel, and explained things. They would have liked to go and take her
away quickly, but Biddy and I begged them not to. We said it would be
better to wait for the rest, and all the crowd to be together in case
of--trouble. Oh, we discussed everything, for ages--minutes and
minutes. I do think Antoun Effendi ought to be here, unless--"
I caught her up quickly. "Unless?"
"Well, you see, we left him inside Rechid's gate, where he'd just
knocked down a big negro, and was keeping back Rechid and _lots_ of
other men--anyhow three--with a pistol--not the one he lent me. He told
us to go, so we went."
He told them to go--so they went! A change, this, for the Gilded Rose.
She spoke at the moment like an obedient little girl.
"If he told you to go--it was all right, you may be sure," I said
encouragingly. But despite my faith in Anthony as a fighting man, I
felt--well, somewhat dismayed at the picture called up. "Rechid and
anyhow three men!" It was rather a large order. If with a wish I could
have sent every member of the Set back to their peaceful homes in
England and America, and thus rid myself of them in a second, they
would all have found themselves walking in at their respective front
I wished this wish, but having a mere smoking candle in my hand, and
not Aladdin's lamp, it didn't work. There they inconveniently remained
in the Temple of Mût, looking twice as large as life.
"What if I tell them they've seen everything?" I muttered. "They
haven't, but that's a detail. If I could rush 'em all back to the boat
--and you with them, of course, and get Mabella Hânem and the Bronsons
off safely, I could go look for Anth--for Antoun. Of course we were to
wait for him, but I don't like the picture you've painted--"
"Oh, _do_ look for him!" broke in Monny. "Leave us to take care of
ourselves. I'm sure we can. There are enough of us. And Mr. Bronson is
a _Consul_. Go and get the police."
"I can't leave you," I said. "Antoun would be the last one to forgive
me if I did that. But I'll start off the party, now. The arabeahs and
donkeys are waiting. Listen to the stentorian voice of the Conductor,
I tried to speak gayly; but the announcement, which I opened my mouth
to roar through the temple, was never made. There came instead, at that
instant, a rival roar from outside. Mine would have been the roar of a
sucking dove. This other was a wild bull roar of rage. What it was for,
who was making it, and whether it concerned us, we did not know; but it
was the sound of many voices, and flowing to us on the wind, driving
nearer out of distance, it was startling and caused the heart to miss a
Suddenly the thought sprang into my mind that this was like something
in a theatre. We were on the stage, in a play of Ancient Egypt, and a
mob of supers was yelling for our lives in the wings. They would pour
out upon the stage and attack us. Only the hero and heroine would be
saved. All the villains and other unnecessary people would be polished
Everybody had stopped talking. Involuntarily groups drew together. We
looked over our smoking candles, past the standing statues and the
fallen statues, away toward the columns of the temple entrance.
Mr. and Mrs. Bronson, and the girl in Biddy's veiled hood and cloak,
walked across the court and joined our party of three. Neill Sheridan
was at a distance. His prophetic soul told him nothing. "I hope that
fellow Rechid Bey hasn't worked up any trouble against us," the
American Consul from Asiut said in a low, somewhat worried tone.