It Happened in Egypt
C. N. Williamson & A. M. Williamson
Part 3 out of 8
But what Rachel had said was evidently not for publication. Miss Guest
stopped her with a hand on hers, and a "_Dear_ Monny, please don't let
us think of it any more, if Antoun Effendi disapproves. Maybe it was a
silly idea, and we've plenty of amusing things to do every minute."
Monny was apparently contented to let the idea slip, and Brigit had
thought that, in the excitement of getting ready for the ball, she and
Rachel had really forgotten it. Then, before writing me, she had
overheard Rachel say to her friend, "It's for twelve o'clock sharp."
And Monny had answered, "Won't it be _great!_ Does Bedr think----" But
she had stopped short at sight of Brigit.
Even this did not suggest to Biddy a visit to a "hasheesh den," for
various other plans had been broached and discouraged by "Antoun." She
did not feel that, as she was not supposed to know his real status, she
could go "blabbing" to him; and fearing that mischief was on foot, she
had wished for me. When I didn't arrive, she soothed herself by
reflecting that, after all, she need only keep a sharp watch over Monny
when midnight drew near. None of the party intended to dance, and so it
would be easy, Brigit thought, to "have an eye upon the girls."
Monny had bought Oriental costumes for herself and Rachel. They were
rather conspicuous, luckily for Biddy's plan, for among the many
gorgeous dresses in the Casino she had no difficulty in tracking those
two. Until half past eleven, she told herself, she need not be on the
alert every instant; but therein had lain her mistake. Sir Marcus Lark
had appeared, dressed (more or less) as a Roman officer of the
Occupation days, he having heard Mrs. East remark that, "whatever
_anybody_ said, it was her favourite period." The lady, of course, had
not missed such an opportunity to appear as Cleopatra. She had brought
a costume with her from New York; and while Biddy "lost herself" in
watching the effect of this magnificence on Sir Marcus, the girls
Without alarming Mrs. East, Brigit had begun to search. She asked
everybody she knew in the ballroom if the girls had gone out, and
inquired in the cloakroom; but the two had been seen by nobody. It was
as if they had melted into air; and Brigit began to suspect that they
must have covered up their brilliant dresses with dominoes smuggled
into the Casino. Willis Bailey was at the ball, but he had developed a
flirtation with Miss Guest, and Biddy felt that he was not to be
trusted as a confidant. Perhaps, too, he had helped the girls to
disappear. It seemed cruel to frighten Mrs. East, when the scheme,
whatever it was, might be no more than an innocent freak; so Biddy said
nothing to Queen Cleopatra or her Roman attendant. She slipped across
the garden to the hotel, and sent an Arab messenger off in a taxi with
a note to the address "Antoun" had told her would find him. In less
than an hour he arrived, and when he had listened to her account of
what had happened, he said after a minute's reflection that the ladies
had almost surely gone with Bedr to some hasheesh den, or a place
masquerading as such. "Antoun" consoled Biddy as well as he could, by
saying that no harm would come to Miss Gilder or Miss Guest. Bedr would
know too well on which side his bread was buttered to take his clients
where insult or danger could reach them. Off "Antoun" went to look for
the missing ones though, and assured Biddy that she should have news as
soon as possible.
It was not till three o'clock that she had begun to be very anxious,
and had disturbed the harmony of Sir Marcus Lark's duet with Mrs. East.
Even then she would not have spoken had she not feared that the ball
would break up, and there would be no man to appeal to!
Sir Marcus had been inclined to smile at the notion of danger; but he,
like Anthony Fenton, was ignorant of any private qualms which troubled
Brigit O'Brien. She could not tell him who she was, and that she
considered herself far from being a "mascot" to her fellow-travellers.
If she had told, and added that she feared enemies who might for
certain reasons make a mistake in Monny's identity, he would have
laughed his hearty laugh, and said that such melodramatic things didn't
happen, even in Egypt.
"But _you_ know," Biddy appealed to me, "that melodramatic things
_have_ happened to me and those near me. I'm not even _sure_ that poor
Richard's death was natural, though I watched over him like a hawk in
those dreadful days when he was fearing every shadow, and we were
flitting from pillar to post, with Esmé. Through Richard two men were
electrocuted. He used to get threatening letters forwarded from place
to place, always signed with the same initials, and he wouldn't tell me
what they meant. It was because of them that he hid Esmé in a
convent-school before he died; for she was threatened as well as he. I,
too, for the matter of that! Not that the child or I had done the
organization any harm; but Esmé is of his blood, and they may have
thought I had more of their secrets than I really have. I've not used
the name of O'Brien for years now, and I've moved about so much that
sometimes I have felt I must be safe. Still, I ought perhaps not to
have gone to visit Esmé, though she wrote and begged me to, for special
reasons I needn't bother you with: a curious little love romance which
I fear must end badly. I didn't think of danger to Monny; but you see,
as I've told you, the convent isn't far from Monaco. I got off the
_Laconia_ there, to visit Esmé, and when I came on board again, Monny
and Mrs. East and Rachel came with me. They'd been in Italy and France,
and had picked up Miss Guest, who was only too enchanted to batten on
Monny's kindness and dollars. It was I who had engaged their
staterooms, on a cable from Monny, long before. And if there were a spy
anywhere, he might have the idea that I wanted to smuggle Esmé out of
her convent by a trick, and--"
"But almost every one must know Miss Gilder's face from her photographs
in newspapers," I broke in, on a stifled sob of Biddy's. "She couldn't
be mistaken for another girl, as an unimportant young person might."
"I'm not sure. Those photographs were snapshots, and very bad, as you
must know if you've ever seen any. Monny never gave a portrait of
herself to a newspaper, and it's years since they got hold of a good
one. Besides, if she weren't mistaken for Esmé O'Brien, that wretched
Bedr might have made up a plot to have her kidnapped for ransom. It was
the thing Monny's father was always afraid of--absurdly afraid of, I
_used_ to think."
"I think so still," I said. "Such things don't happen--anywhere, to a
"What about Raisuli in Tangier?" Biddy challenged me. "He used to
kidnap people whenever he liked. And so do lots of brigands."
"We haven't to do with brigands."
"Oh, what's in a name? And I wouldn't put _anything_ past that horrid
"As Anthony said to you, he knows which side his bread's buttered."
"But if he hopes some one will give him more butter for being wicked
than he can get from us for being good?"
"Let's not think of far-fetched contingencies, dear," said I. "Now
you've told me all, I will try to do something--"
"May I come in?" boomed a big voice at the door. "I knocked and nobody
answered, so I thought the room would be empty--"
Biddy dropped my hand like a hot potato. She had jumped up so quickly
from our sofa that Sir Marcus Lark's observant eyes could hardly have
seen us sitting there together.
"Of course, come in," she said. "Have you anything to tell? But I'll
call Mrs. East. She won't like you to begin without her."
Biddy darted off to an adjoining room, leaving me alone with my
"What do you think of this affair?" I wanted to know. "Well," said he,
"I can only judge other men by myself. If I had such a chance to appear
a hero in the eyes of a pretty woman as Fenton has, I'm afraid I'd be
tempted to take advantage of it, even if I had to play some trick to
make myself indispensable. Now you see in a nutshell what I think.
Captain Fenton will certainly rescue those young ladies from a trap if
he has to make the trap himself."
I was disgusted, and shrugged my shoulders. "You have a poor opinion of
Fenton," I said.
"On the contrary, I think very highly of his intelligence. I'm not
worrying about any one of the three, though don't mention it to Mrs.
East or Mrs. Jones that I said so. I've come to tell them that my men
have searched Cairo and found nothing. Not the police, you know; I
haven't applied to the police after all. I thought Fenton would be
furious. And anyhow it might make talk. But I've paid the best
dragomans in town to look sharp; and they know as much about this old
place as the police do, if not more. By the way, Lord Ernest, did
Corkran say anything to you about an intention to throw over his job on
"No. He said he was going to call on you, that's all."
"He did call. I was out--on this business, as it happens. He waited,
and I found him, making himself at home in my sitting-room--which I use
as a kind of office. I wish I knew how many of my letters and papers
he'd had time to read."
"Surely he wouldn't--"
"I shouldn't say 'surely' was the word. I'd gone out in a hurry and
left things scattered about--which isn't my habit. When I came back, it
struck me that my desk looked a bit tempting for a man with a retired
conscience. I was going to keep him on the _Candace_, rather than fuss,
because it wasn't so much his fault as mine that he was the wrong man
in the place. He couldn't do any harm in Jerusalem, it seemed. Let him
wail in the Jews' Wailing Place, if he'd any complaints, said I to
myself. I thought he was too keen on money to resign because his silly
pride was hurt. But to my surprise, he informed me that he'd come to
'hand in his papers,' as he called it. So much the worse for his pocket
and the better for mine! Only it struck me as d--d queer, considering
Corkran's character. I wanted to ask if he'd spit out any venom to
"Not a drop," said I. But I, too, thought it queer, considering
Corkran's character, and the fact that having resigned of his own free
will, he could hardly expect Lark to pay his way home. It even occurred
to me to wonder if the resignation were not a sudden thought of the
Colonel's. He had spoken several times of going on to Palestine, and
had mentioned the trip that morning. Had Sir Marcus said something
inadvertently, which had so piqued Corkran that he threw over his
appointment on the impulse? Or had he perhaps been dishonourable enough
to glance at a letter, in which Lark referred to him in terms
As I asked myself these questions, Mrs. East came in with Brigit, and
Sir Marcus forgot me. His face said "What a woman!" And anxiety was
becoming to Cleopatra. It gave to her that thrilling look which only
beautiful Jewesses or women of Latin race ever wear: a look of all the
tragedy and mystery of womanhood since Eve. "What news of _them_?" she
asked Sir Marcus, when she had given a ringed hand and an almond-eyed
glance to me.
"No news exactly," said the big man, "but I feel sure your niece and
her friend are safe--"
"My niece and her friend!" exclaimed Cleopatra, ungratefully frowning.
"Why do you say nothing of 'Antoun?' Does nobody care what becomes of
As she spoke, there was a knock at the door. One of the Arab servants
of the hotel announced that a man had a letter for Mrs. Jones.
"Mrs. Jones?" cried Biddy. "I am Mrs. Jones. Where's the letter?"
"That man not give it to us. He say he see you or not give it at all."
"Well, why didn't you send him up?"
"Arab mans not let in hotel, if peoples don't ask for them."
"An Arab! Not--not--is he a stranger?"
"Yes, Missis. Very low man. Never comed before."
"Bring him here--quick!"
Five minutes passed. We tried to talk, but could think of nothing to
say. Then the servant returned, ushering in a dwarfish Arab in a dirty
white turban, and the shabby black galabeah worn only by the poor who
cannot afford good materials and the bright colours loved by Egyptians.
"From Antoun Effendi?" asked Biddy, in excitement, as he held out a
piece of folded paper, not in an envelope.
The man shook his head. "He spik no English," explained the servant who
"_You_ talk to him," Biddy appealed to me, while Cleopatra told the
hotel footman that he might go. But I had no time to question the
messenger. Biddy cried out as she unfolded the paper. "Why, Duffer,
inside it's addressed to you! It says:
"'For Lord Ernest Borrow. To be opened by Mrs. Jones in his absence.'"
Within the outer wrapping was a second folded paper, of the same kind.
They looked like sheets torn from a notebook. And I saw that the
address, scrawled in pencil, was in Anthony's handwriting.
THE HOUSE OF THE CROCODILE
The letter had evidently been dashed off in a great hurry. It was short
and written in French, the language in which "Antoun" chose to talk
Give the bearer two hundred piastres and let him go. Don't try to make
him speak. I have promised this. Then quick to Jarvis Pasha and get him
to raid the House of the Crocodile. Question of hasheesh. We must be
smuggled out when arrests are made--also Bedr, to save scandal.
Not a word as to whether all were safe, or in danger! But I realized
that, for some reason, each instant had been of value. And each instant
was of value now.
Anthony was one who knew precisely what he wanted and why he wanted it.
I obeyed his instructions implicitly. Two hundred piastres went from my
pocket into the hand of the withered Arab, and he was allowed to take
his departure despite a burst of protest from my companions, who
naturally wished the man to be catechised. Once the door had shut
behind the bent blue back, I handed round the letter, which had to be
translated for Sir Marcus, who professed contempt for "foreign
Jarvis Pasha is at the head of the police, has been for many years, and
is the most interesting man in Egypt after the well-beloved "K."
Leaving Sir Marcus to go on with his task of consoling Mrs. East, I
dashed off in my waiting taxi with the Nubian of the silver earrings.
We drove to the Governorat, a big house in a square near what was once
known as the Guarded City, the very heart and birthspot of Cairo:
Masrel Kahira, the Martial, founded under the planet Mars.
I scribbled a line to Jarvis Pasha, and sent it to him in an envelope
with my card. This combination opened doors for me; and three minutes
later I was shaking hands with a tall, thin, white moustached,
hawk-featured Englishman who looked all muscle and bones and brain. Jarvis
Pasha being in the secret of "Antoun's" identity and business in Cairo,
simplified the explanation, and did away with the necessity for a
preface. All I had to tell was the brief story of the girls'
disappearance with Bedr el Gemály, and Fenton's following them into
space; then, how word had come after fourteen hours.
"The House of the Crocodile," Jarvis Pasha said, when he had taken and
read the letter. "H'm! Do you know anything about that house?"
"I know the old stories connected with it," I answered. "If it's
reputation to-day is as sinister as ever----."
"Not at all. Figuratively speaking it has been whitewashed. It's become
a show place--_a monument historique_. This is interesting information
which Fenton sends, but if it came from any one else, I should say he
had dreamed it. He may be giving us the chance of an important _coup_.
Wait a few minutes, and I'll have this thing attended to, Lord Ernest.
But you look upset. Is it that you haven't had lunch, or are you
worrying about the ladies?" "Both," I answered with a sickly grin. "Not
that I mind about lunch. I couldn't have eaten if I'd had the time."
"You haven't as much belief as I have, in your friend," remarked Jarvis
Pasha, "if you think he'd let them come to harm." "They're all in the
same box, apparently," I excused my lack of faith.
"Trust Fenton!" said the Head of the Police. "He was sharp enough to
find the needles in the haystack, and he's smart enough and strong
enough to take care of them when they're found."
On this, Jarvis Pasha went out and left me to my reflections, which
rushed to the House of the Crocodile. Every one who has read or heard
stories of native Cairo, knows the House of the Crocodile, in the
Street of the Sisters, and how, in the later days of Mohammed Ali,
people scarcely dared to name it aloud. The "Tiger" Defterdar Ahmed
built it, for that beautiful Tigress, Princess Zohra, favourite
daughter of Mohammed Ali, who married her off to the fierce soldier
when she became too troublesome at home. Zohra had loved a young Irish
officer who was murdered for her sake, and had no true affection to
give Ahmed or any other. She hated all men because of the murderer, her
own nephew, and vowed that since her love had cost the life of the one
who had her heart, others who dared to love her must pay the same
price. When Ahmed died suddenly, soon after the wedding, those who had
heard of Zohra's vow (and there were many in the harems) whispered
"poison." Never again did the Princess drive out to see the women she
knew; and those who had been her friends were sent away from the door
of the dead Ahmed's palace, over which he had suspended for "luck," a
huge crocodile killed in the far south. But Zohra was beautiful, with
strange eyes which drew love whether she asked for it or not; and
sometimes a small lattice would open in a bay of one of those windows
of wooden lace whose carving was known as mushrbiyeh work because
shirib, or sherbet, used to be placed there to cool. Out of the lattice
would look a wonderful face, as thinly veiled as the moon by a mist,
and then it would vanish so quickly that a man who saw, half believed
that he had dreamed. But the eyes of the dream seemed to call, and
could not be forgotten, any more than the song of a siren can cease to
echo in ears which once have heard.
After the beginning of Zohra's widowhood, the noblest and handsomest
youths of Cairo began mysteriously to disappear. They would be well and
happy one day, and the next they would be gone from the places that
knew them. By and by their bodies would be found in a canal; always the
same canal, near the water gate of the House of the Crocodile. Then the
vow of the Princess was remembered: but there was no English rule in
those days, and the police shut their ears and eyes where a daughter of
Mohammed Ali was concerned. Mothers and sisters of handsome young men
shuddered and begged those they loved never to pass through the dark
Street of the Sisters (Sharia el Benât) where the crocodile grinned
over the door, and the vision of a face looked down from a latticed
window. The women thought of the water gate at the back of the house;
the little children, who had heard secret words spoken, thought of the
crocodile, and ran crying past the house; but the handsome young men
thought only of the face, and each one said to himself, "She will not
make _me_ pay the price." Still, as years went on, bodies were seen in
the water from time to time, with a tiny purple spot over the heart to
show the curious that death had not come from drowning. And some, who
looked for lost ones, could not reclaim them from the canal, for bodies
were not always found. As time passed, it seemed to people who hurried
by the house in the narrow street, that the crocodile grew larger and
larger. It was said that it had been fed on the children of men Tiger
Ahmed had murdered in Sennaar.
None dared to say what they believed of Princess Zohra, but when, after
a long imprisonment by her nephew Abbas, in the House of the Crocodile,
she escaped to Constantinople, nobody would live where she had lived,
and the palace fell almost into ruin.
This was the story of the house where Monny Gilder and Rachel Guest and
Anthony Fenton were now. I had heard it talked about by our Arab
servants when I was a child, and had never forgotten, though scarcely
since then had I thought of the tale, until the remembered name and the
horrors attached to it jumped into my mind on reading Anthony's letter.
What had happened in the House of the Crocodile since Zohra's day, I
did not know; but because of the old story it seemed more sinister that
my friends should appeal for help from that place than from any other
I was not left long alone. Five minutes after Jarvis Pasha went out of
the room to "arrange things" according to Fenton's request, he sent me
a man with whiskey and soda, and biscuits. I drank gladly, and ate
rather than seem ungrateful. But there was a lump in my throat which
would stick there, I knew, until those three were away from the House
of the Crocodile. I was still crumbling biscuits when Jarvis Pasha came
"Well," he asked, "are you braced up now? If you'd like to be in this
business, you can. I'm sending a white superintendent with my police to
raid the house, on the strength of Fenton's letter to you, though until
now the place hasn't been suspected. As I said, it's been a 'show'
house, for some years--ground floor and first story in repair, just as
in Zohra's day--upper floors ruinous, and the public not admitted
there. If anything queer's going on, it must be in the forbidden part:
and the caretaker is mixed up in the show. A pity you felt bound to let
Fenton's messenger off! You can go with my superintendent, Allen, and
reach your friends as soon as my men do. Allen has instructions to let
Fenton and the ladies, if they're found there, slip away, and it's best
for you to be on the spot to save mistakes in identification. Also I've
ordered a closed arabeah to wait for you, as near as possible--my men
will show you where. You'll know it for certain by a red camellia on
the Arab driver's European coat. And by the way, take this Browning, in
case of an attack; which I don't anticipate."
As Jarvis Pasha spoke, he opened the door, and summoned in a brown
young Britisher wearing the tarboosh which denotes "Gyppy" officialdom.
Evidently Allen was prepared for me as I for him, and we started off
together on foot, for it seemed that our destination was not far away.
We walked swiftly through the crowded Mousky (once the fashionable part
of Cairo, before the tide flowed to the modern Isma'iliya quarter), and
after a few intricate turnings plunged into a still, twilight region.
The streets through which we passed were so narrow, and the old houses
so far overhung the path that the strip of sky at the top of the dark
canyon was a mere line of inlaid blue enamel flecked with gold. The
splendid mushrbiyeh windows thrust out toward each other big and little
bays, across the ten or twelve feet of distance which parted them, as
if to whisper secrets; yet the delicate wooden carvings skilfully hid
all that they wished to hide, and only suggested their secrets.
"Now we'll soon be coming to the House of the Crocodile," said Allen.
"By Jove, it's a joke on us, and a smart one, if it's been turned into
a hasheesh den, under our noses. But it must be something new, or we
should have got onto it. The Chief thinks already he can guess who's at
the bottom of the business and who has put the money up: a certain Bey,
in whose service the caretaker was--a rich old Johnny, very old
fashioned, who lives not far off in a beautiful house of the best
Cairene period. He's keen on antiquities, and has been of service to
the government in several ways, though he's a reformed smuggler; and
his only son, dead now, was a hopeless hashash; that's what they call
slaves of the hasheesh habit. I suppose you've read all about the
'Hashashseyn' of the Crusaders' days, whom we speak of as Assassins?
Well, ever since then the Hashasheyn have had a bad reputation; but
this old man I speak of has been pitied for his son's failings, which
he pretends to think a 'judgment for his own past, repented sins.' Now,
Lord Ernest, saunter, please, as if you were a tourist in my charge,
admiring the old doorways."
Two native workmen appeared in front of us, with pickaxes on their
shoulders. Stopping, they threw down their tools. One produced a cord
which he stretched across the street from house to house; and in the
middle he hung a small red flag. Then the pair began to pick in a
leisurely way at the surface of the road, and before we reached the
barrier, an Arab policeman stationed himself by the cord. Glancing
ahead, I saw that the farther end of the narrow lane was blocked in the
"This is one trick we have of doing our work quietly," said Allen. "It
always answers pretty well."
I said nothing, but used my eyes. Coming from nowhere apparently, there
were twenty men in the street. A few had crowbars in their hands.
Others, native policemen, carried the canes with which they control the
movements of the people. From the shaded doorway of a large house a
native sergeant of police stepped out as we approached, and saluted
Allen. Over the closed door, a large, dryly smiling, ancient crocodile
"Have our men come and taken their places?" asked my companion in
"Yes, Effendi," the sergeant answered. "All has been done according to
order. The back entrance which was the water gate before the old canal
was filled up, is surrounded, and the adjoining houses with which some
communication may have been established are watched. Not a rat could
have crawled out since we came, nor could one have gone in. To-day is
the feast of a saint, and these people have their excuse not to open
the house to visitors, for so it is with other show places. Look, it is
written up, that until to-morrow there is no admission." As the man
pointed to a card hanging from a hook, he and Allen smiled at the
cleverness of this pretext for closing the door. In English, French,
and Arabic, the reason was announced in neat print. Probably this was
not the first time the same excuse had been used in the same way.
"They must have taken alarm at something, and thought they were being
watched," Allen said to me. "That's why they've sported their oak. I
expect we shall make a haul, as--for everybody's sake concerned--they
wouldn't dare let their clients out, to fall into a trap. Yes, that's
why! Or else--"
He stopped, and I did not ask him to go on, for I knew that to ask
would be useless. Yet I guessed what he had meant to say, and why he
had stopped. He didn't wish to alarm me, but it was in his mind that
the house had teen closed because of something planned to happen
inside. And that something might be connected with my friends. We
should soon know!
My first thought was that we were to get through the door, by breaking
it in, or by forcing those on the other side to open for us. In an
instant, however, I realized that my idea was absurd. It would take an
hour to batter down that thick slab of old cedarwood, and Allen had
said that he wanted to do things quietly. No, the brown sergeant was
not here to open the door, but to see that it did not open unless for
Two of Allen's men were unfolding a curious ladder like a lattice,
which they made secure with screws when they had stretched it to full
length. Then, up it went to one of the beautiful mushrbiyeh windows
which, on the level of the story above the ground floor, bayed
graciously, overhanging the street. One man standing below held the
ladder firmly in place, while another, small and lithe as a monkey and
enjoying the task as a monkey might, ran up to the top that leaned
against the window. Evidently he was a skilled worker, for before I
knew what he would be at, he had with some small, sharp instrument,
prized out without breaking it, one of the sections of carved lattice.
This he tossed lightly down to a man who caught it, and as he and four
others after him slipped through the opening, the sergeant knocked on
the closed door, under the swinging form of the crocodile. Nobody
answered. But three minutes passed, and then suddenly there was the
sound of a falling bar, and a very old, very dark man, with a white
turban and a white beard, peeped out.
"Thieves!" he cried in Arabic. "Thieves break in at the windows!"
He was making the best of a bad business, I guessed, and hoped somehow
to justify himself to the police. But though he was gray with fright,
he forgot to look surprised.
My Arabic was not equal to the strain of catching all the gabble that
followed: the old man protesting that it was right to close the house
to-day; that if it were the police and not thieves who broke in, it was
unjust, it was cruel, and his son Mansoor, the caretaker, would appeal
to all the Powers. Before he had come to the end of his first breath,
he was hushed and handcuffed, and hustled away; and another man sprang
forward from behind the angle of a screen-wall inside the entrance. He
was young, and looked strong and fierce as an angry giant, but at sight
of Allen and the rest of us, he stopped as if we had shot him. Perhaps
he had not expected so many. In any case, he saw that there was nothing
he could hope to gain by violence or bluster. All he could do was to
protest as his father had done, that this visit was a violation of his
right to close the house on a holiday.
"Don't be a fool, Mansoor," said Allen, who evidently knew him. "You
understand very well that isn't why we are here. You've jot a hasheesh
den upstairs, above the public show rooms. A nice trick you thought
you'd played us, but you see you didn't bring it off."
By this time we were inside the house, having thrust the caretaker in
again, and passing the three tortuous screen walls of the entrance,
into a courtyard. Several young Arabs dressed as servants stood there,
large-eyed, and stricken at sight of their giant master held by four
policemen. But there was not a sign of our men who had crawled through
the window, and I was impatient to go where they had gone.
There was no sound of scuffling, no sound at all, except the crying of
some startled doves, and Mansoor's voice, swearing by the Prophet's
sacred beard that if anything were wrong he was not the one to blame.
There were those above him who must be obeyed or he and all that were
his would be put out of life; but I cared too little for him, or what
might become of him and his, to listen much. I looked up and saw at the
left of the courtyard, with its several closed doors, a short flight of
steps with a mounting-block, and a doorway leading to a winding
staircase. Round the court went a gallery, supported with old marble
pillars, and underneath on one side was a large recess, the takhtabosh,
raised slightly above the level of the courtyard, and having a row of
wooden benches round its three walls. Here the caretaker and his male
relatives and friends had evidently been smoking their nargilehs and
drinking coffee; our arrival had disturbed them in the midst.
Suddenly, into the frightened mourning of the doves, broke a sharp
sound of cracking wood. "Come along!" cried Allen. "They'll be past the
barrier in a minute!" And leaving Mansoor and the others to be dealt
with by subordinates, he led the way up the steep stairs, at a run.
We did not stop at the first story, the "show" part of the House of the
Crocodile; but catching a glimpse of a latticed balcony off the
landing, all lovely mushrbiyeh work, and a great room of Persian tiled
walls and coloured marble floor, beyond, we dashed up another flight of
stairs to the story above. These stairs were of common wood, and
somewhat out of repair. At the top was a door of carved cedarwood like
those below, but rough in execution, faded, and with here and there a
starpoint or triangle of the pattern missing, leaving a hole in the
thick wood. On this door was nailed a large card with the notice in
English, French, and Arabic, "Forbidden to the Public."
"What a grand idea to install a hasheesh den here!" I could not help
thinking as I followed at Allen's heels to the head of the stairs,
where two of his men worked with crowbars to prize open that
theatrically dilapidated door. Behind the pair who worked were the
others who had entered by the window below; and hardly had we taken our
places in the strange _queue_, when with a loud groan the door gave
way. The couple in front almost fell into a dark passage on the other
side, and my heart leaped, for I half expected to see them driven back
upon us by an attack with knives or pistols. But the dim vista seemed
to hold only silence and emptiness as I peered over men's shoulders;
and as we crowded in, Allen pushing ahead to take the lead, nothing
The passage was but a gallery, like that below, but instead of being
open, it was closed in with lattice of mushrbiyeh work, so that, though
those within could look through, it was as secret for those outside as
if it had been enclosed by a solid wall.
The darkness was patterned with light, like ebony thinly inlaid with
gold, for the afternoon sunlight trickled into the delicate loopholes
of the carvings, and we began to see what Enterprise had made of this
ruinous upper story. The floor had been dilapidated and unsafe; but new
boards had been placed over it, covered with Egyptian-made matting and
rugs to deaden sound and give an appearance of comfort. We walked
quickly along to the end where this closed gallery turned at right
angles, and there found another door, new and rough, evidently but
lately put up. It was not so strong as the old one; and it yielded in a
few minutes to the furious industry of our men with their crowbars.
They lifted the door from its broken hinges, leaning it against a wall;
and as we passed through, an Arab pulled aside a thick curtain which
filled in a doorway. He was evidently a servant, and seeing the police,
showed no sign of surprise, but only of a most humble resignation which
disclaimed responsibility and begged for mercy.
In silence the man was taken into custody; and Allen and I, with three
of the four policemen, passed into the region behind the portičre.
There, all was dusk, save for the faint light sifting down from a
carved wooden dome in the ceiling, partly curtained; and a dark lantern
flashed out a long revealing ray. The men ran to pull back heavy cloth
hangings which entirely covered the latticed windows, and would allow
lamps to be lit at night without being seen from street or courtyard.
Instantly sunshine pierced the carved interstices, and let us see what
Enterprise had done for his clients. We were in the antechamber of a
long, beautiful room. The old, coloured marble of the durkááh--the
lower level of floor nearest the entrance--had been repaired with new;
the dilapidations of a fountain were almost hidden by pink azaleas in
pots; the liwán, on the next level, had a good rug or two; and the
diwáán, at the farthest and highest end, was furnished with red-covered
mattresses and pillows. The low wall-benches of marble were set here
and there with glass bowls of roses and syringa; and tiny cedarwood
cupboards high in the tiled walls were open to show coffee cups,
tobacco jars, and pipes made of cocoanut shells with long stems of
Four men, who had apparently been lying on the mattresses, stood up and
faced us, not fiercely, but with something of the attendant's
resignation. Two were in European clothes, with the inevitable
tarboosh; and two, equally well dressed, were old fashioned and
picturesque in the long, silk gown and turban style which "Antoun" and
other lovers of the ancient ways affected. They were of the "Effendi
class," and might be merchants or professional persons. A turbaned man
with a black beard Allen knew, and greeted in Arabic, "Hussein Effendi!
Who would have thought to see you here!"
"Why not?" answered the other, with a melancholy smile and shrug of the
shoulders. "There is no harm, really, but only in the eyes of the
English. We are caught, and we cannot complain, for we have had true
delight: and we have known, since the alarm came last night, that we
might have to pay for our pleasure."
"So you had the alarm last night?" said Allen, looking as if there were
nothing surprising or puzzling in that.
"Yes, why should we not admit it now? Word came that a watch had been
set outside, both back and front, and none of us dared leave the house.
We consented to be locked in, though there is one in another room who
wished to get out and run the risk. That was not permitted, for the
sake of others; and to prevent him from taking his own way in spite of
prudence, we let ourselves be shut in, with only one attendant who took
through the holes in the door such little food as we needed. We had
begun to hope that it had been a false alarm, or, since no inquiries
seemed to have been made below, that the watchers had gone and would
not come again. We planned as soon as night fell to go to our homes;
but it was not to be. And if any are to blame, it is not those who come
to take pleasures provided for them, but rather they who cheat the
coastguard of the swift-running camels, and bring what is forbidden
"The blame will be rightfully apportioned," said Allen. "Meanwhile, I
am sorry to say, Hussein Effendi, that you and those in your company
are subject to the law. I must now leave you, and go farther to see
what others we have to deal with."
The four Effendis were politely left in charge of two policemen who
would have been equal to twice their number, and our one remaining man
went on with Allen and me.
"Your friends, and perhaps two or three who can afford to pay big
prices, will have had their smoke in private rooms," Allen explained.
"We can guess _who_ it was, who wanted to break out! There are probably
no more doors, only curtains, so we shall have no trouble. But don't
forget that, if anything unexpected should happen, you have a pistol.
Of course, you understand that it could be used only in an extreme
A curtained doorway led out from the diwáán into a small anteroom, and
there, on the floor, sat Bedr el Gemály, the picture of dejection. Had
I raised my voice in the next room, he would perhaps have ventured in
to see what I could do to help him; for now, at sight of me, he
scrambled up in shamefaced eagerness.
"Oh, my lordship!" he began to cackle. "Praise be to Allah you are
come! I was persuaded to bring the young ladies here. They would make
me do it. Yes, sir. It is not my fault. They pay me. I have to obey.
Then we get caught, like we was some rats. No fair to punish me. The
ladies all right. No harm come, except a little sick."
"If no harm has come, that's not due to you, but to a very different
man, as you well know," I said. And as I spoke, the man I had in my
mind appeared before my eyes. "Hullo!" I exclaimed, joyously.
Anthony's eyes and Allen's met; but I could not tell if they knew each
other, nor could I ask then. It was enough for Allen in any case,
however, that this magnificent Hadji was one of the friends for whom I
searched. He turned to Bedr. "You brought two ladies here, I
understand," he said quickly and sharply. "Then you must have
acquaintance with the place. For good reasons which have nothing to do
with you, I shall not arrest you, but you will have to report at the
Governorat inside the hour, or you will regret it. Do you know the way
out at the back of the house?"
"I do, gracious one," Bedr responded with businesslike promptness.
"Then take these gentlemen, and the ladies, whom I do not need to see,
out by that door, and you will all be allowed to go, because my men who
are there have seen Lord Ernest Borrow, and they have my instructions."
We waited for no more, but followed Anthony, who made a dash through
the further room, and into another. There, on a mattress, crouched two
forlorn figures, veiled as if in haste, and muffled in black satin
_habberahs_ such as Turkish ladies wear in the street.
"Lord Ernest! Oh, how glad I am!" cried one of these creatures, while
the other, less vital or more miserable, whimpered and gurgled a little
behind her veil.
"Come along, quick!" I said; and they came. Bedr led the way, thankful
to show himself of use. Anthony followed as if to protect or screen the
girls from sight. I brought up the rear, and so, scuttling through a
rabbit warren of little unfurnished, dilapidated rooms, we found a
narrow side staircase, and tumbled down it, anyhow, in dust and
dimness. Then two more staircases, and we were in a cellar which looked
as if it might once have been used as a prison. Up again, and rattling
at a chained door. Then out, into light and air, into the midst of a
group, which for an instant, closed threateningly round us. But the
sergeant I had seen was among the alert brown men. A glance, a gesture,
and we were allowed to pass, a youth running with us, to show the
promised carriage and the Arab driver with the red camellia. So it was
over, this adventure!
Yet was it over?
That remained to be seen. And remained also, to see what it meant, if
indeed there were a meaning underneath the surface.
THE NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON
"It seems too good to be true that it should end like this," said
She said it on the roof of Mena House, in the kiosk-room made of
mushrbiyeh work, which I had engaged for a little private dinner-party
that night. You see, it was the night of the full moon, the magic night
of the Sphinx-spell, which must not be wasted, no matter how tired you
may be or how many excitements you may have lived through.
Anthony and I had had our explanations. He had told me that one night
in a café, where he was spreading the news of his dream, he had heard
two men talking in low voices about the House of the Crocodile. The
word "hasheesh" had not been mentioned, but Anthony had imbibed a vague
impression of something secret, and had wondered, and been interested.
Then the matter had slipped his mind; but, summoned in the night from
the writing of letters, to advise Mrs. Jones, he had recalled Monny's
wish to visit a hasheesh den. He knew of none, but suspected the
existence of one or two. How to find out in a hurry? he had asked
himself. And with that, the remembrance of those few whispered words in
the café had come echoing back to his brain. He acted upon the
suggestion; went to the door of the swinging crocodile, knocked, and
knocked again; had the door opened to him as if in surprise by an
apparently sleepy man. Announced the motive of his coming as if it were
a foregone conclusion that hasheesh could be smoked in that house by
the initiated. His disguise was not suspected. It never was, when he
played the Egyptian; and when asked who had sent him, he had the
inspiration to utter the name of that Bey who had been Mansoor's
master. This gave him entrance. He was taken upstairs, passed through
the door "Forbidden to the Public"; and the first person he saw in the
long room as he entered, was Bedr smoking a gozeh, one of those
cocoanut, cane-stemmed pipes in which hasheesh is mingled with the
Persian tobacco called tumbák.
Bedr was accused of treachery, and defended himself. The ladies had
insisted. It was his place to obey. He had done no wrong in engaging a
carriage to wait outside the Ghezireh Palace gardens, and bringing his
employers to the best place in Cairo for the hasheesh smoking. The
ladies were safe and happy, in a private room where they had tried
their little experiment, and now they were sleeping. As soon as they
waked and felt like going home, he was ready to take them. It was for
Miss Gilder, not for Bedr, to beg pardon of her friends if they were
frightened. And all the time, it had seemed to Anthony, that the man
was expecting some one to arrive. He watched the doorway half eagerly,
half anxiously; when a servant came or went, he started, and betrayed
emotion which might have been disappointment or relief. But when
Anthony questioned him, he said, "I expect no one, Effendi. It is only
that I shall not be easy till we get the ladies home, now you tell me
their people are alarmed."
Just then, and before Anthony saw the girls, a servant had come running
in to say that there was an alarm. Something had happened in the
street, and the police were there. Mansoor feared that it was a ruse,
and that the house was being watched, back and front. Where the
forbidden thing is, no precaution can be too great. For their own
sakes, and Mansoor's sake, no one must go out, perhaps not till the
next night; but luckily a saint's day would give peace for the morrow,
and all doors could be shut without causing remark. The news that there
was no escape for many hours to come distressed no one apparently,
except "Antoun." He had gone to the door, and tried to open it, but
found that already it was locked on the other side. Then he knew that
it was useless to struggle, for he was unarmed, the door was thick, and
no one outside could hear if he shouted. He must use his wits; but
first he must make sure that the two girls were safe. He forced, rather
than induced Bedr to show him the room they had engaged--a small one,
closed only with a portičre, and looking over the court, down into the
open-fronted recess where Mansoor's family-life went on, like a watch
dog's in his kennel.
It was true, as Bedr had said; the girls slept on a cushioned mattress,
wrapped in black habberahs, their faces turned to the wall. As they
could not be taken out, Anthony did not wake them, but let them get, in
peace, their money's worth of dreaming. His next thought was to try and
bribe the Arab attendant to smuggle out a letter; but acceptable as a
bribe would have been, the man explained his helplessness to earn it,
at least for the time being. He could do nothing till one of his
fellow-servants came up from below, to pass the food for the imprisoned
smokers through a hole in the door, made purposely in case of just such
an emergency. Probably no one would appear till morning, for who would
be hungry before then? Even with the morning, it might be Mansoor
himself who would bring the food, and inquire again at the door if all
were well within. But if the noble Hadji wrote the letter, it should be
sent when opportunity arose. One of the servants below stairs, said the
man, was his father, who might during the next day be able to slip out
as if on some errand. Then he would perhaps take a letter, if he could
be sure of good pay, and that he would not be delivered up to the
police. So Anthony had written on a sheet torn from his notebook, and
made an envelope of another sheet. The address of the Ghezireh Palace
had helped the man to believe that no evil would reach his father; and
a "sweetener" in the shape of all Anthony's ready money had done the
rest. But evidently the old man had not succeeded in finding an excuse
for an errand until after the noon hour, and meanwhile time had seemed
long in the House of the Crocodile. When the girls waked, wanting to go
home, they were ill. They found the game not worth the candle--but
Anthony's presence had given them comfort. They were humble, and
remorseful; and Bedr was so conspicuously a worm that Monny consented
to his discharge. "It would take more time than we've got to make him
worth converting," she said to Rachel when the Armenian had carefully
laid all the blame of the expedition upon her shoulders.
Never were two runaway children more glad to be found and restored to
their anxious relatives than Monny Gilder and Rachel Guest. As for
Bedr, he took his dismissal, with a week's wages, submissively; but the
gravest question concerning him still lacked an answer. Had he merely
been officious and indiscreet in guiding the girls secretly to the
House of the Crocodile, and there procuring hasheesh to buy them
dreams, or had he wanted something to happen, in that house, which had
not happened? A certain amount of browbeating from "Antoun," and
bullying from me, dragged nothing out of him. And perhaps there was
nothing to be dragged. Perhaps it was through oversensitiveness that
Brigit and I dwelt suspiciously upon Bedr's motives, and asked each
other who it was he had expected at the House of the Crocodile. Even
Anthony did not accuse the Armenian of anything worse than slyness and
cowardice, according to him the two worst vices of a man; but he
volunteered to find out what mysterious night-disturbance in the street
had caused the sudden closing of the doors. It was Biddy's thought that
the person Bedr wished to meet might fortunately have been prevented by
this very disturbance from keeping his appointment, and Monny saved a
serious ending to her adventure. It began to seem rather a worry,
travelling with so important a young woman as Miss Gilder: and a vague
dread of the future hung over me, as it hung over Brigit, who loved the
girl. We felt, dimly, as if we had had a "warning," and did not yet
know how to profit by it. The atmosphere was charged with electricity,
as before an earthquake; and we felt that the affair of the hasheesh
den might be but a preface to some chapter yet unwritten. Still, it was
impossible not to forgive Monny her indiscretion. Indeed, she became so
honey-sweet and childlike in her desire to "make up" for what we had
suffered, that the difficulty was not to like her better.
She besought us to forget the episode. If we only _knew_ how sick she
and Rachel had been, we'd see why they never wanted to think of those
hours again! And when I chanced to mention that to-night would be full
moon--the night of nights when the Sphinx and the Ghizeh Pyramids held
their court--Monny begged to have the bad taste of her naughtiness
taken out of her mouth by a dinner at Mena House. We might dine early,
and plunge into the desert later, when the moon was high. Of course, I
proposed that all should be my guests--all except "Antoun" who, though
recognized as a gentleman of Egypt, was considered by Miss Gilder an
alien, not exactly on "dining terms." He was supposed to go home, "to
his own address." At eight-thirty he was to take a taxi to Mena House,
where he would arrive before nine, in time to help me organize my
I explained to Monny that, though we should dine privately, it would be
my duty to see that the _Candace_ people paid their respects to the
Sphinx, and gazed upon her as she ate moon-honey. If they missed this
sight, or if anything went wrong with their way of seeing it, I should
never be forgiven. But the much chastened Monny graciously "did not
mind." She thought it would be fun to watch the sheep-dog rounding up
his flock. Useless to explain to her the subtle social distinction
between a "Flock" and a "Set" (both with capitals)! To her, the blaze
of the Set's smartness was but the flicker of a penny dip. We could
drive the crowd on ahead, and look at _our_ moon when they were out of
So there's the explanation of Monny's presence in the mushrbiyeh kiosk
on the roof of Mena House, on the night following the great adventure,
which would have put most girls to bed with nervous prostration!
Part of our programme, to be sure, had failed; but it was not a part
which could interfere with my selfish enjoyment. Mrs. East had changed
her mind at the last moment, and had decided not to dine, although I
had invited Sir Marcus on purpose for her. According to Biddy,
Cleopatra had "something up her sleeve," something her excuse of
"seediness" was meant to cover. Maybe it was only a flirtatious wish to
disappoint Sir Marcus--maybe it was something more subtle. But it did
not matter much to anybody except Lark, who was obliged to put up with
Mrs. Jones in place of Mrs. East; for Rachel Guest and the sculptor,
whom we nicknamed "Bill Bailey" were to be paired off: and, urged by
Biddy, I intended to monopolize Monny.
I suppose there could scarcely be a more ideal room for an intimate
dinner-party on a moonlight night than that kiosk on the flat roof of
Mena House. Through the wide open doors, and the openwork walls like a
canopy of black lace lined with silver, the moonlight filtered,
sketching exquisite designs upon the white floor and bringing out
jewelled flecks of colour on the covering and cushions of the divans.
There was no electricity in this kiosk, and we aided the moonlight only
with red-shaded candles, and ruby domed "fairy lamps," the exact shade
of the crimson ramblers which decorated the table. For the corners by
the open doors, I had ordered pots of Madonna lilies, which gave up
their perfume to the moon, and looked, in the mingling radiance of rose
and silver, like hovering doves.
"Oh, I could hug and _kiss_ that moon!" sighed Monny, tall and fair in
her white dress as the lilies I had chosen for her.
I was relieved that the Man in the Moon has now been superseded by a
Gibson Girl; for Monny was beautiful at that moment as a vision met in
the secret garden which lies on the other side of sleep.
"And the stars," Monny said, as I watched her uplifted face, wondering
just how much I was in love with it, "the little stars high up at the
zenith twinkle like silver bees. Those that sit on the edge of the
horizon are huge and golden, like desert watch-fires. Oh, do you know,
Lord Ernest, if quite a dull, uninteresting man, or--or one that it
would be madness even to _think_ of--proposed to me on such a night, I
should _have_ to say yes. It would seem so prosaic and such a waste, of
moonlight, not to. Wouldn't you feel like that if you were a girl?"
"I'm sure I should," I replied with extraordinary sympathy. "I _do_
feel like it, even as a man. I warn you not to propose, or I shall snap
She laughed; but I was wondering if I were dull and uninteresting
enough to stand a chance. It seemed as if Providence were actually
_handing_ it to me. But just then Biddy and Sir Marcus came to the
doorway which so becomingly framed Monny's form and mine. Naturally
that put the idea out of my head; and two such opportunities don't come
to a man in a single night.
Dinner was not ready yet, and we sauntered about on the flat roof,
white as marble in the moonlight. The sky was milk--the desert, honey
--far off Cairo with its crowned citadel, pale opal veined with light,
and faintly streaked with misty greens and purples; the cultivated land
a deep indigo sea. The fantastically built hotel (in its ancient
beginnings the palace of a Pasha) was like a closely huddled group of
châlets, looked down on from its central roof. On the fringe of the
oasis-garden the cafés and curiosity-shops buzzed with life, and
glittered like lighted beehives. Outside the gateway, donkey-boys and
camel-men and drivers of sandcarts chattered. To-night, and on a few
moonlight nights to come they would reap their monthly harvest. They
were all ready to start off anywhere at a moment's notice; but apart
from them and their clamour, reposed a row of camels previously
engaged, free, therefore, to enjoy themselves until after dinner. As we
gazed down as if from a captive balloon, at the line of sitting forms,
they looked immense, like giant, newborn birds, with their huge
egg-shaped bodies and thin necks. Along the arboured road from Cairo,
flashed motor-car after motor-car, their lights winking in and out
between the dark trees, now blazing, now invisible, their occupants all
intent on doing the right thing: dining at Mena House, and seeing the
full moon feed honey to the Sphinx. Some, wishing to save time, or to
dine later in town, or to take a train, for somewhere, later, did not
turn in at the hotel gate, but swept past with siren shrieks, and tore
on, hoping to "rush" the steep hill to the Pyramid platform at top
speed. Only a few of the strongest succeeded, and, with a dash instead
of an ignominious crawl, triumphantly fanned their lights along the
base of that vast monument in which King Cheops vainly sought eternal
privacy. What would he say, we wondered, could he see the crowds of
tourists tearing out to pay him a call, on their way to the Sphinx?
Would he blight them with a curse, or would he remember pearly nights
of old, when his subjects assembled in multitudes for the feast of the
Goddess Neith when the moon was full, and all the white, brightly
painted houses along the Nile reflected their flowerlike illuminations
in the water? Anyhow (as Sir John Biddell would have said), this was
helping to keep his name before the public; and nothing could succeed
in vulgarizing his mountain of gold in its gleaming waves of desert,
under pulsing stars and creamy floods of moonlight.
Anthony had told me that the great "tip" was to go out while the less
instructed sightseers ate their dinner. Then, the desert was
comparatively empty; and, more important still, instead of having the
moon on her head, and her face in shadow, the Sphinx received its full
blaze in her farseeing eyes. Of this advice I meant to avail myself,
feeling vaguely guilty as I thought of the giver, who was absent from
the feast: Anthony Fenton, one of the finest young soldiers in Egypt,
who could be lionized in drawing-rooms at home if he would "stand for
it"! Anthony who, would he but accept the repentant overtures of that
tyrannical old prince, his maternal grandfather, might inherit a
fortune and a palace at Constantinople! Yet as Ahmed Antoun in his
green turban, he was "taboo" at our little party.
He was due later, however, and I rather expected to find him waiting
below, when I excused myself to descend to the Set. But I had not left
the roof when a note for Monny was brought up by an ebony person in
livery. I watched her as she read, one side of her face turned to
marble by the moon, the other stained rose by the red-shaded candles. I
thought that the rosy side grew more rosy as she finished the letter.
"There's a--message for you, Lord Ernest," she said. "Aunt Clara wants
me to tell you that 'Antoun' can't meet you at the hotel, because she
--changed her mind about not coming out, and sent for him. She felt
better, it seems, and got thinking what a pity it would be to miss the
full moon, so she suddenly remembered that 'Antoun' wasn't with us, and
decided to invite him. She writes in a hurry and didn't know where they
would dine, but says anyhow they'll meet us by the Sphinx between nine
"Where '_they'd_' dine!" echoed Sir Marcus, pricked to interest. "Was
she going to let Fe--I mean 'Antoun,' take her out to dinner?"
"Apparently she was," replied Monny, rather dryly.
"Why not?" asked Brigit. "He's perfectly splendid. And Mrs. East--not
that she isn't a young woman, of course--is old enough to go about
without a chaperon."
"If we're to meet them between nine and ten at the Sphinx," said Monny
briskly, "don't you think, Lord Ernest, you'd better hurry and get your
people off, so we can set out ourselves?"
"I'm going," I assured her. "But I thought we planned to give them a
long start, in hopes that they might be ready to come back by the time
"Oh, well," she said, "that will make it very late, won't it, and we
may miss Aunt Clara? Anyhow, lots of other creatures just as bad as
yours will be there, for we can't engage the desert like a private
That settled it. I dashed downstairs and sorted out my charges. They
had got themselves up in all kinds of costumes, for this "act." One man
had on a folding opera-hat, which he had thought just the right thing
for Egypt, as it was so easy to pack! Girls in evening dress; men young
and old in helmets and straw hats, ancient maidens, and fat married
ladies, in dust cloaks or ball gowns, climbed or leaped or scrambled
onto camels, with shrieks of joy or moans of horror: or else they
tumbled onto donkeys which bounded away before the riders were well on
their backs. And men, women, and animals were shouting, giggling,
groaning, gabbling, snarling, and squeaking; an extraordinary
procession to pay honour to the Pyramids and the lonely Sphinx.
We of the roof-party considered ourselves, figuratively speaking, above
camels, far above donkeys, and scornful of motor-cars, in which it was
irreverent to charge up to the Great Pyramid as if to the door of a
café. We walked, and Monny still lent herself to me; but she no longer
bubbled over with delight at everything. A subdued mood was upon her,
and her eyes looked sad, even anxious, in the translucent light which
was not so much like earthly moonlight as the beginning of sunrise in
some far, magic dreamland. She had the pathetic air of a spoiled child
who begins suddenly, if only vaguely, to realize that it cannot have
everything it wants in the world. And she merely smiled when I told her
how, to insure the peace of the desert, I had offered a prize of a
large blue scarab as big as a paperweight, for that member of the Set
who did not even say "Oh!" to the Sphinx. "Antoun" had "vetted" the
alleged scarab and pronounced it a modern forgery; but nobody else knew
that, and as a prize it was popular.
The sky had that clear pale blue of dawn, when day first realizes that,
though born of night, it is no longer night. Casseopeia's Chair and
Orion were being tossed about the burning heavens like golden furniture
out of a house on fire; and one great star-jewel had fallen on the apex
of cruel Khufu's Pyramid. I should have liked to believe it was Sirius,
the "lucky" star sacred to Isis and Hathor; but Monny's schoolgirl
knowledge of astronomy bereft me of that innocent pleasure. No wonder
that the ancient Egyptians, with such jewels in their blue treasure-house,
were famous astrologers and astronomers before the days when
Rameses' daughter found Moses in the bulrushes of Roda Island!
The stars spoke to us as we walked, soft-footed, through the sand; and
the pure wind of the desert spoke other words of the same language, the
language of the Universe and of Nature. Here and there yellow lights in
a distant camp flashed out like fireflies; far away across the
billowing sands, rocks bleached like bone gave an effect of surf on an
unseen shore; now and then a silent, swift-moving Arab stealing out of
shadow, might have been the White Woman who haunts the Sphinx, hurrying
to a fatal tryst: and the Great Pyramid seemed to float between desert
sand and cloudless sky like the golden palace of Aladdin being
transported through air by the Geni of the Lamp. There never was such
gold as this gold of sand and pyramids, under the moon! We said that it
was like condensed sun rays, so vivid, so bright, that the moon could
not steal its colour. Cloudlike white figures were running up Khufu's
geometric mountain; Arabs expecting money when they should come leaping
down, whole or in pieces. And the khaki uniforms of British soldiers
mounting or descending for their own stolid amusement, made the Pyramid
itself seem to be writhing, so like was the colour of the cloth to that
of the stone. No use being angry because the monument was crawling with
Tommies! The Pyramids were as much theirs as ours. And probably
Napoleon's soldiers spent their moonlit evenings in the same way; a
thought which somehow made the thing seem less intolerable.
We climbed to the vast platform of the Ghizeh Pyramids, and then
plunged into the billows of the desert, in quest of the Sphinx. Sir
Marcus was entitled to call himself the pioneer, but we needed no one
to show us the way. It was but too clearly indicated by the bands of
pilgrims, going or returning. And among the latter were those whom
Monny callously referred to as "poor Lord Ernest's crowd." Miss
Hassett-Bean and the Biddell girls made us linger, with sand trickling
over the tops of our shoes, while they poured into our ears their
impressions of the Sphinx. Miss H. B. thought that She (with a capital
S) was a combination of Goddess, Prophetess, and Mystery. Enid thought
she was like an Irish washerwoman making a face; and Elaine said she
was the image of their bulldog at home. Monny (after a sandy
introduction) listened to these verbal vandalisms in horrified silence.
I could see that she was exerting herself, for my sake, to be civil to
my charges (who were more interested in her than they had been in the
Sphinx), and that, if she could have done so without hurting their
feelings, she would have struck them dead. But my fears that their
mental suggestions might obsess her were baseless. She did not speak
when the golden billows parted to give us a first vision of the great
Mystery of the Desert. I had led Monny by a roundabout way, and instead
of seeing the Sphinx from the back, we came upon her face to face, as
she gazed with her wonderful, all-knowing eyes, straight into that
world beyond knowledge which lies somewhere east of the moon. Veiled by
the night in silver and blue, with a proud lift of the head, she faced
past and future, which were one for her, and the present, nothing. The
moon gave back for a few hours all her lost loveliness, of which men
had robbed her, seeming miraculously to restore the broken features,
whole and beautiful as they had been in her youth before history began.
It was as if in the moon's rays were silver hands, mending the marred
majesty, giving life to the eyes and to the haunting, secret smile. I
thought of the story of King Harmachis: how he dreamed that the Sphinx
came to him, saying that the sand pressed upon her, and she could not
breathe. Nobody since his day had for long left her buried!
"What does it mean to you?" I broke the silence to ask.
"I don't know," Monny said. "All I know is that she's more wonderful
than I expected, and as beautiful as the loveliest marble Venus of
Italy, though a thousand times greater--if one perfect thing can be
greater than another. She's so great that I don't think she can be
meant to be a woman--or even a man. She is like a _soul_ carved in
"All in a moment you have guessed the riddle!" I exclaimed, liking and
understanding the girl better than I had liked or understood her yet.
"I believe that's the secret of the Sphinx. The king who had this
stupendous idea, and caused it to be carried out, said to some inspired
sculptor, 'Make for me from the rock of the desert, a portrait, not of
me as I am seen by men, in my mortal part or Khat, for that can be
placed elsewhere; but an image of my real self, my soul or Ka, looking
past the small things of this world into eternity, which lies beyond
this desert and all deserts.' Then the sculptor made the Sphinx, and
gave it such grandeur, such mystery of countenance that instinctively
the souls of people recognized the _soul look_. You have a soul, and it
told you the secret. Only those who have no souls find the Sphinx heavy
or hideous, or utterly beyond their comprehension."
"Have I a soul?" Monny asked, dreamily. "Men I've known have told me I
haven't. Yet sometimes I've thought I felt it fluttering. And if I have
a soul, I shall find it in Egypt. Oh, I shall! Something--yes, the
Sphinx herself!--tells me that."
I was tempted to ask "What about a heart?" And then--in a violent
hurry, before anybody came--to mention my own, into which the moon
seemed pouring a little of the honey it had brought for the Sphinx. I
did feel that some one owed a moonlight proposal under the Sphinx's
nose (or the place where its nose had been) to such a girl as Monny.
Her Egyptian experience could never be perfect and complete unless she
were proposed to on the night of the full moon, with the Sphinx's
blessing; and as no better man was here to do it, I could not be
thought conceited if I took the duty upon myself. Besides, Brigit would
so thoroughly approve!
"Look here, Biddy, I mean Monny," I began hastily, "there's something I
want to tell you, something very important you ought to know, because
matters can't go on much longer as they are--"
"Is it something about 'Antoun'?" she broke in, with a little gasp, as
I paused for breath and courage. "If it is, maybe I know it already!"
Extraordinary, the relief I felt! I ought to have suffered a shock of
disappointment, because I couldn't possibly finish a proposal after
such an interruption. But instead, my spirits went up with a bound.
Probably, however, that was because her hint was a whip to my
curiosity. "_What_ do you know about 'Antoun'?" I asked.
Perhaps I forgot to lower my voice; or perhaps voices carry far across
desert-spaces, as across water. Anyhow the clear tones of Cleopatra
answered like an echo. "Antoun--Antoun! I hear Lord Ernest calling."
Biddy--dear little matchmaking Biddy--had managed Sir Marcus, Bill
Bailey and Rachel, as a circus rider manages three spirited white
horses at one time. The desert was her ring, and she had reined her
steeds to her will, keeping them out of my way and Monny's at all
costs, no matter whether they saw the Sphinx in back view or noseless
profile. But Mrs. East's principal occupation in life was not to get me
engaged to the Gilded Rose. And either she lost her presence of mind,
or else she was not so much enjoying her moonlight tęte-ŕ-tęte with
Fenton, that it was worth while to hide from us behind a sand dune.
The two emerged from a gulf of shadow, Anthony very splendid under the
moon, a true man of the desert. I thought I heard Monny draw in a
little sharp breath as she saw that noble incarnation of Egypt (so he
must have seemed, unless she knew the British reality of him) walking
Then up came the others, Sir Marcus impossible to restrain; and we all
talked together as people are expected to talk when they have come
thousands of miles to see these monuments of Egypt. Yes, yes!
Wonderful--incredible! Which do you find more impressive, the Sphinx or
the Pyramids? Isn't it a pity they let the temple between the paws
remain buried? And aren't the Pyramids just like Titanic, golden
beehives? And can't you simply _see_ the swarming builders, like bees
themselves, working for twenty years?
Thus we jabbered; and others, many others, appeared to dispute the
scene with us, to break the magic of the moonlight, and to puncture the
vast silence of the desert with their cooings and gurglings and
chatterings in German, English, Arabic, and every other language known
since the Tower of Babel. Arab guides lit up the Sphinx with flaring
magnesium, an impertinence that should have made hideous with hate the
insulted features, but instead turned them for a thrilling instant of
suspense into marble. Indeed, none of our petty vulgarities could jar
or even fret the majestic calm of the desert and the stone Mystery
among its billows. The Sphinx gazed above and past us all. She was like
some royal captive surrounded by a rabble mob, yet as undisturbed in
soul as though her puny, hooting tormentors had no existence. It was
not so much that she scorned us, as that she did not know we were
When we sorted ourselves out, to escape Sir Marcus, Cleopatra deigned
to make use of me, having first observed (with burning interest) that
Monny and Rachel were with Bailey, and that "Antoun" was pointing
things out to Brigit O'Brien, as it is Man's métier (in pictures and
advertisements) to point things out to Woman.
"It's been a wonderful evening," Mrs. East said. "It has made up for
everything I suffered last night. We brought dinner out into the
desert, in that smallest tea-basket, you know, and ate it together, he
and I--Antony and I. There! I may as well confess that's what I call
him to myself, for I've guessed your secret--and his. But don't be
afraid. I won't tell a soul. It's too romantic and fascinating for
words--or to put into words. He let me have my fortune told by an Arab
sand diviner, who came while we were at dinner. I can't repeat to you
what the fortune-teller said. But I feel as if I were living in a book.
Oh, if only I were writing it myself and could make everything happen
just as I want it to happen! Do you know one thing I would put into the
"No, I can't think," I said, rather anxiously.
"I would have _you_ propose to Monny."
"Oh--by Jove, Mrs. East!"
"Why--don't you admire her?"
"But of course. She's irresistible. Only she's so horribly rich. And
besides, she doesn't think of me in that way."
"You can't be sure. Now, Lord Ernest, I'm going to whisper you a
secret. I believe--I really do--that Monny would be _glad_ if you'd
propose. If I were in your place, if I _liked_ her, I would do so as
soon as possible. It might save her from humiliation--from a great
Being a duffer, I could only say once again, "By Jove!"
AN UNDERGROUND PROPOSAL
I didn't sleep much that night, for thinking of Monny; and when I did
sleep, I dreamed of her; tangled dreams, in which she was Monny Gilder
with Brigit O'Brien's eyes. Could it be possible that she liked me?
Mrs. East ought to know. I made up my mind that to-morrow I would begin
by feeling my way, but when to-morrow came I had no time to feel
anything which concerned my private affairs.
It seemed, or so I was told "for my own good" by Miss Hassett-Bean,
that the Candace people thought it "snobby" for me to have indulged in
a private dinner-party, and to have hustled them off in a drove to the
Sphinx while I went leisurely with my smart friends. They knew all
about the feast on the roof, and were of opinion that they ought to
have been there. Did I consider my American heiress better than they,
better even than the family of an ex-Lord Mayor? If I wished to make up
lost ground, I must devote myself to duty, and be nicer than ever to
This was one of the moments when I was tempted to throw over my job;
but I remembered the reward, and set myself once more to the earning of
it. For the next few days I scarcely saw Monny or Brigit, or even heard
what was happening to them--for they had "done" the principal sights of
Cairo, and I (at the head of the _Candace_ crowd) was "doing" them. As
if in a game of "Follow my Leader," I led the band from mosque to
mosque; not indeed visiting the whole two hundred and sixty-four, but
calling on the best ones. To begin with, I collected the Set on the
height of the Citadel, which commands all Cairo, the platform of the
Pyramids (not only the Ghizeh Pyramids but the sixty odd others, which
newcomers don't talk about): the tawny Mokattam Hills, and the silver-blue
serpent of the Nile. From this vantage place I pointed out the
things we had to see in the city spread out below us, so that on the
vaguest minds the picture might be painted in its entirety, before they
began to absorb details on that mosaic map which was Cairo. The tombs
of the Mamelukes, strangely shaped monuments, vague and white as
squatting ghosts; the graves of the Caliphs; the historic gates of
el-Kahira; and the many ancient mosques, whose minarets soared against the
blue like tall-stemmed flowers in a palace garden.
Mentally fortified by this bird's-eye view from the Citadel (of course,
I had to trot them up again for the sunset), my charges let themselves
be led from mosque to mosque, from tomb to tomb. Some, possessed with a
demoniac desire to get their money's worth of Egypt, were unable to
enjoy any sight, in their nervous dread of missing some other
spectacle, which people at home might ask them about. These strained
their wearied intelligences to see more than they possibly could at any
one moment, unless they had eyes all round their heads; and others, of
an even more irritating type, never lifted the few eyes they had from
the pages of guide-books. I liked better those who, like Monny, frankly
said that they didn't wish to have their minds tidied up, and be told a
string of things about Egypt. They just wanted to _feel_ the things,
and let them slowly soak in. And the nice, lazy, Southern Americans,
who said they were "tomb shy," and loitered about, betting from one to
six scarabs on the speed of fleas, or donkeys, while I whipped forth
for their tired companions a dull drove of facts fattened for their
Mosques and churches and tombs had to be visited, but did not appeal to
all tastes. The Bazaars did. So did the Zoo, more fascinating than any
other zoo, because each animal has its trick, or pet, or plaything.
As an excuse to see Monny and the rest of my friends, I got up a
moonlight digging expedition at Fustat, those great mounds of rubbish
and buried treasure near Egyptian Babylon where a city was burnt lest
it should fall into the hands of the Crusaders. Monny and her party
were invited to join us, and accepted the invitation, piloted by
"Antoun." And concerning this entertainment, I had an idea. Those who
choose to dig among these desert-like sandhills, between the Coptic
churches of Babylon and the tombs of the Mamelukes, may chance on
something of value, especially after a windstorm or a landslip: bits of
Persian pottery, fragments of iridescent glass, broken bracelets of
enamel, opaline beads, or tiny gods and goddesses. Why should I not
(thought I) apportion off to each member of the band his or her own
digging patch? This would save squabbling, and would provide an
opportunity for me to propose in a unique way to Monny.
Regarding the idea as an inspiration, I carried it out scientifically.
Helped by Anthony, after the sun had set and the mounds were deserted,
I staked out the most promising "claims," and marked each space with
the name of the "miner" for whom I intended it. In Monny's patch, near
the surface where she could not possibly miss it, I buried a letter
wrapped round a cow-eared head of Hathor which I had bought at the
Egyptian Museum-shop. Now, in justice to myself, I must tell you that
this letter was no common letter, such as any Tom, Dick, or Harry may
write to the Mary Jane Smith of the moment. It was a missive which cost
me midnight electricity and brain-strain; for not only must I appeal to
my lady, I must also suit an environment.
Monny had taken up the study of hieroglyphics, in order to appreciate
intelligently the tombs and temples of the Nile. She had bought books,
and was learning with the energy of a stenographer, to write and read.
She wrote out exercises, and submitted them for correction to "Antoun"
who, as an Egyptian, was to be considered an authority. "Of course,"
she explained to me, "one comes here thinking that all Egyptians
nowadays, even Copts, are Arabs. But _he_ says that Egyptians are as
Egyptian as they ever were, because Arab invasion has left little more
trace in their blood than the Romans left in the blood of the English.
It interests me _much_ more to feel when I'm in Egypt that I'm among
With this in my mind, I was convinced that a love letter in
hieroglyphics, unearthed by moonlight in the mounds of Fustat, would
The difficulty was that, though I could speak Arabic fairly well, I
hardly knew the difference between hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic
forms; but the limited symbols I was able to employ were so strong in
themselves that a few would go a long way: and if they were not as
correct as the sentiments they expressed, Monny was not herself a
mistress of hieroglyphic style. I could find no hieroglyphic suit in
which to clothe the name Ernest; but since I had become keeper of men,
mice, and morals in Sir Marcus Lark's floating zoo, Monny's craze for
Egyptianizing everything had suggested the nickname of Men-Kheper-Ră.
She sometimes called me Ră for short, therefore I now ventured to
divert to my own uses a sign and cartouche once the property of a "son
of the Sun," and King of Egypt:
[Illustration: "The Love Letter"]
Translation: Beautiful Queen, Star (of) My Heart (and) Soul. Give Me
(your) Love. Become My Wife (and) Goddess (for) Eternity.
I patted myself on the back, put the letter in the ground; and the
digging party was a wild success; but time passed on, and I had no
answer. What I expected was a reply in kind, an hieratic acceptance or
a demotic refusal; either one would be good practice for Monny. But not
a hieroglyph of any description came. I had to go on as if nothing had
happened. To be ignored was less tolerable than being refused. Monny's
silence began to get upon my nerves; and to make matters worse, there
was that desert trip hanging over my head. I knew even less about
organizing a desert trip than I knew about hieroglyphics; yet it had to
be done. As Sir Marcus said it was "up to me" to do it so well that
Cook would look sick. Anthony was absorbed in secret official duties
and open, unofficial duties. His was a great "thinking" part, and our
occupations kept us apart rather than brought us together. On the one
occasion when we were alone, he devoted four out of five minutes to
telling me what he had learned of the night disturbance in front of the
House of the Crocodile. "A Britisher of sorts" had come into the
street, guided by an Arab. There had been some dispute about payment,
and the Britisher had slapped the dragoman's face. This had been
followed, as he might have known it would, with a stab; a crowd had
assembled, and scattered before the police; the stabbed one had gone to
hospital, the stabber to prison. Altogether it was not surprising that
Mansoor, the suspicious caretaker, had feared a trap, and closed his
doors. Bedr el Gemály, now one of the great unemployed, had been seen
near the hospital where the injured man lay; but he had taken the alarm
and departed without inquiring for the invalid's health; or else his
being in that neighbourhood was a coincidence. The name of the man
knifed was Burke, and London was given as his address. He was between
thirty-five and forty, and according to the arrested dragoman was "not
a gentleman, but a tourist." His hurt was not severe: and as the Arab
had been exasperated by a blow, the punishment would not be excessive.
When at length I had seized the last remaining minute to put the
question, "Do you think Miss Gilder has found out who you really are?"
Fenton seemed astonished.
"I hadn't thought of it at all," he answered simply. "She's giving me
too many other things to think of."
"What kind of things?" I stealthily inquired.
"Oh,"--with an evasive air--"I don't know what to make of her yet. But
I haven't given up my silly scheme."
"What silly scheme?"
"Antoun" looked almost sulky. "Well, if you've forgotten, I won't
remind you. It's absurd; it's even brutal; and I'm ashamed of it. But I
stick to it."
THE DESERT DIARY BEGUN
I found out why Monny paid no attention to my buried letter. But the
way in which I found it out (and several other things at the same time)
is part of the desert trip.
I am not a man whose soul turns to diaries for consolation; but I did
keep up a bowing acquaintance with a notebook in Egypt--it helped me
with my lectures--and in the desert it relieved my feelings. Looking
over the desert pages, I'm tempted to give them as they stand:
_Black Friday_: Morning. The start's for Monday, and nothing done!
Could I develop symptoms of creeping paralysis, and throw the
responsibility on Anthony? But too late for that now; and he may have
to stay on in Cairo for a day or two. Why did I leave my peaceful home?
It's the lure of the Mountain of the Golden Pyramid. Last night before
I went to bed, read over my copy of Ferlini's letters, to gain courage.
Gained it for a little; but when I think of that desert I'm supposed to
turn into a happy playground for trippers, and not a tent hired or a
prune bought, or an egg laid, for all I know, I wish Anthony and I had
let Lark stick to our mountain.
This is Lark's fault anyhow. He sprang the thing on me. Said it would
be easy as falling off a log. Said Cairo was full of Arabs whose
mission in life was supplying tents and utensils for desert tours.
People would be charmed with simple life, and me as universal provider.
All I had to do was to supply cheap editions of "The Garden of Allah,"
and plenty of dates; and hint that it was considered vulgar in the Best
Circles to put on Pęche Melba airs in the desert. With a few
quotations, I should make them content with a loaf of bread, a cup of
wine, and Thing-um-Bob. Why, they'd be falling in love with each other
under the desert stars, and my principal occupation would be saying,
"Bless you, my children!"
Sounded neat; and I remembered that, according to Brigit, Monny wanted
the "desert to take her." Thought it might be useful if I were on in
that act. Abyssmal beast of a dragoman who lurks round Mena House
buoyed me up with false hopes. Said he had a fine outfit which he let,
and threw himself in as guide. Plenty of everything (including cheek)
for fifteen people, the exact number who have put down their names to
go. (Some girls and parents are staying for a ball at the Semiramis,
where I've tearfully persuaded the only soft-hearted officers I know to
dance with them--otherwise the lot would have been on my hands in the
desert.) Had so much to do yesterday taking the crowd to Matariyeh,
where the Holy Family hid in a hollow tree, that I had no time to look
at the Arab's outfit. Was inclined to save trouble and trust him, but
saw Anthony a minute last night; he urged me to inspect everything. Did
so early this morning. Rotten outfit: tents like old patchwork quilts,
pots and pans, etc., probably bought job lot from Noah when the Ark was
docked. Those keenest on desert "taking" them, will be mad as hatters
if it takes them in. Suppose I'll have to interview half the Arabs in
Cairo to-day. Wish I had a Ka or Ba or whatever you get for an astral
body in Egypt, and I could say to it, "Here, my dear chap, I trust you
to do this job while I stay in Cairo and rest my features." Then he'd
get the blame, and I'd disappear, never to be seen again. Or if he were
a Ka with Cook accomplishments, maybe he'd bring the thing off all
right, in which case I could turn up and take the credit and marry
Monny. Happy thought! Cook! Why shouldn't I sneak to Cook, and inquire
in a careless way if they publish any pamphlet on "How to Do a Desert
_Later_: Have been to Cook. No pamphlet, but a friend in need. Talk of
casting bread on the waters! In Rome I cast a crust which I didn't
want, and it's come back in Cairo with butter and sugar on it.
Must have been two years ago in Rome when a young chap wrote to me to
the Embassy. Said he'd been disappointed in getting work he'd come
abroad for, had seen my name, recognized it, was from my county; and
could I use him as a stenographer or anything? I couldn't; but I found
him some one who could; and forgot him till I saw him this morning a
fully fledged clerk at Cook's. Checking the impulse to fall on his
neatly striped blue and white bosom, I invited him to lunch; and as a
reward for what he calls "past and present favours," he had given me
new life. What I mean to say is, he's promised to provide me not only
with tents, but camels and camel-boys and a camp chef, and waiters and
washbowls and a desert dragoman, and thousands of things I'd never
thought of. It seems practically certain that since Napoleon no such
genius has been born as Slaney. Cleopatra would say that S. is the
reincarnation of Napoleon; but neither Cleopatra nor any one else
--above all, Sir Marcus Lark--is to know of his existence. Such is the
disinterested self-sacrifice of this buttered-and-sugared Crust, that
it will do everything for me, while keeping itself and the Organization
which controls it, completely in the background. The Organization is
too great to mind; and the Crust, alias T. Slaney, thinks itself too
Lark, Ltd., considers himself a budding rival of the firm of Cook; but
a deadly bud. If, however, Sir M. should come to hear that I had flown
for succour to the enemy's camp, I fear it would be all over with the
bargain for which Anthony and I are selling our souls. T. Slaney says
he never shall know. He guarantees that Cook labels and other telltale
marks shall be removed from everything, though time is short and there
is much to do. He will be the power behind the tents, and I will be in
them, absorbing all the credit.
_Saturday_: All _couleur de Rose_, thanks to Slaney. Should like to get
him canonized. Many less worthy men, now deceased, have been given the
right to put Saint before their names. He has handed me a list,
something less than a mile long, of articles which Biddy and I, as
children, used to call eaties and drinkies. He has told me where the
things can be bought, and has written a letter of introduction which
secures me "highest consideration and lowest prices." Also he has
suggested a medicine-chest, packs of cards, the newest games,
cigarettes suited to European and Arab tastes, picture post-cards of
desert scenes; ink, pens, and writing paper. "People forget everything
they want on these trips, but you mustn't," said he. I have acted on
all his suggestions, and feel as proud as if I had originated them
_Sunday:_ My precious friend Slaney has made a large collection of
Arabs, camels, tents, etc., and ordered everything, animate and
inanimate, to assemble in the neighbourhood of Mena House this
afternoon, in order to be inspected by me, and to be ready for a start
early to-morrow morning. We are to have a sandcart with a desert horse
for Cleopatra, who has tried a camel and found it wanting. I fancy she
thinks a sandcart the best modern substitute for a chariot; and at
worst, it ought to be as comfortable. Slaney has promised a yellow one
--cart, not horse. The horse, by request, is to be white. The other
ladies are having camels. I daren't think of Miss Hassett-Bean at the
end of the week. The men, also, will camel. There is, indeed, no
alternative between camelling and sandcarting--sandcarting not
recommended by the faculty but insisted upon by Cleopatra. Hope it will
work out all right; and am inclined to be optimistic. A week in the
desert and the flowery oasis of the Fayum, with the two most charming
women in Egypt! There will be others, but there's a man each, and more.
I shall have to look after Monny and Brigit, as Anthony is having his
hands full with Cleopatra lately, and, besides, he can't start with us.
Something keeps him in Cairo for two days more, and he will have to
join us near Tomieh.
_Sunday Evening:_ Back from Great Pyramid, where I went to inspect the
assembling army. Magnificent is the only word! The camels fine animals,
but Anthony has provided the three best, borrowing these aristocrats of
the camel world from Major Gunter of the Coast Guard. They have chased
hasheesh smugglers, and have seen desert fighting. Were snarling
horribly when I was introduced, but a snarl as superior to the common
snarls of baggage-camels as their legs are superior in shape. Biddy,
Monny, Mrs. East, and Rachel Guest were there with Sir M. and "Antoun,"
having been inside the pyramid and up to the top. Monny on her high
horse because "Antoun" says it will be better for the ladies to ride
the baggage-camels. The others take his word, meekly, but she persists,
and Anthony agrees to give her the camel he had meant to ride, the one
supposed to be the most spirited. When he joins us, he will have the
animal intended for her. When this bargain was struck between them I
thought his eyes looked dangerous, but she didn't notice or didn't
care. Fenton tells me he has dreamed again of the red-faced man with
the purple moustache. I laughed at his bugbear and flung Colonel
Corkran in his teeth. By the way, nothing has been heard of C. by any
of us since the day he handed in his resignation. Suppose he has gone
back to England in the sulks.
_Monday Night:_ I am writing in my tent, which is to be shared with
Anthony when he arrives. I feel years older than when we started this
morning. Middle age seems to have overtaken me. If I keep on at this
rate, shall be a centenarian by the time we get back to Cairo.
We made a splendid caravan at the start. Besides the train of camels
ridden by my party from the _Candace_ and Monny Gilder with her
satellites (it goes against the grain, though, to call a bright
particular star like Biddy a satellite), there were over thirty
gigantic beasts laden with our numerous bedroom, kitchen, luncheon, and
dinner-tents, tent-pegs, cooking-stove, food for humans, fodder for
animals, casks of water, mattresses, folding-beds, other tent
furniture, tourists' luggage, and so on. I was happy till after the
baggage-train had got away, each camel with its head roped to the tail
of the one ahead, all trailing off toward the distant Pyramids of
Sakkhara well in advance of us. Each camel looked like a house-moving.
On top of the kitchen-camel's load was perched the chęf, a singularly
withered old gentleman with black and blue complexion, clad in a vague,
flying blanket. (Has been Turkish-coffee man in Paris hotels.) Many
other negroid persons in white with large turbans; a few café au lait
Arabs; these all counted beforehand by Slaney, for me, and identified
as assistant-cooks, waiters, bed-makers, and camel-men, enough
apparently to stock a village. But we had one surprise at the moment of
starting in the form of a bright black child, clad in white, with a
white skull cap and a flat profile evidently copied from the Sphinx. I
don't know yet why this Baby Sphinx has come or who he is; but he rode
on the kitchen-camel's tail, hanging on by the bread (our bread!) which
was in a bag.
When this cavalcade had wound away, the camels making blue heart-shaped
tracks in the yellow sand, it was our turn to start. Not one of us
would have changed places with any old Egyptian king or queen, and we
did not feel vulgar for doing this trip in luxury, because ancient
royalties had done the same, and so do the great sheikhs of the desert
even now. As I put Cleopatra into the sandcart with its broad,
iron-rimmed wheels, she was recalling the days when she travelled with a
train of asses in order to have milk for her bath. I suggested a modern
condensed substitute, but the offer was not received in the spirit with
which it was made. Now to get the ladies on their camels, after which
we men would vault upon our animals, and wind away among billowing
dunes full of shadowy ripples and high lights, like cream-coloured
But just here arose the first small cloud in the blue. It was bigger
than a man's hand, for it was the exact size and shape of Miss
Hassett-Bean's hat. It was a largish hat of imitation Panama trimmed with
green veiling, just the hat for a post-card desert all pink sunset and no
wind. As she was about to mount the squatting camel, a breeze blew the
flap over her eyes. This prevented Miss H.B. from seeing that the camel
had turned its neck to look at her; and so, as she reached the saddle
and the hat blew up, lady and camel met face to face. It was a moment
of suspense, for neither liked the other at first sight. The camel
began to gurgle its throat in a threatening manner, and at the same
time to rise. Miss Hassett-Bean, staring into two quivering nostrils
shaped like badly made purses, shrieked, forgot whether she must first
bend forward or bend back, bent in the way she ought not to have bent,
and fell upon the sand. I don't quite see why I was to blame for this
result, but she _saw_, and said I ought to have warned her what a vile
creature a camel was. Nothing would induce her to try again. She would
go to any extreme rather than ride a beast with a snake for a neck, and
a nasty unsympathetic face full of green juice which it spit out at
you. She was used to being liked. She simply couldn't go about on a
thing which would never love her, and she wouldn't want it to if it
did. She would go home or else she would have a sandcart. All the
neighbouring sandcarts were engaged; but fortunately "Antoun Effendi"
appeared at that instant (he'd taxied out to see us off), and he
persuaded Cleopatra to let Miss Hassett-Bean drive with her. The desert
horse, feeling this extra weight, looked round almost as
unsympathetically as the camel had; but nobody paid the slightest
attention except his attendant, who was to lead him: a type of negro
"Nut," who had a snobbish habit of reddening his nails with henna.
By this time a crowd had assembled, kept in check by the tall,
blue-robed sheikh of the Pyramids. It consisted mostly of Arabs determined
to take our photographs or sell us scarabs--which Miss Hassett-Bean
refused on the ground that she disliked things off dead people. But on
the fringe lurked a few Europeans, amused to see so large a caravan
setting forth; and the men of our party, hitherto proud of their
curtained helmets and desert get-up, became self-conscious under a fire
"Hello, my Boy Scout!" I was hailed by Sir Marcus, arriving three
minutes behind Anthony, and on the same errand. This blow to my
self-esteem fell as I was leading Monny to the white camel which was hers
and should have been Anthony's. She laughed--I suppose she couldn't
help it. I couldn't myself, if it had been Harry Snell or Bill Bailey;
but as it was, my pride of khaki helmet, knickers, and puttees
collapsed like a burst balloon. I seemed to feel the calves of my legs
wither. It was in this mood that I had to put Monny on that coastguard
camel, while "Antoun" stood looking on. He did not offer to help the
girl, as their talk yesterday on the subject of baggage-camels versus
running camels had not conduced to officiousness.
Monny was in white: broad white helmet such as women wear, white suede
shoes, white silk stockings, and a lot of lacy, garden-party things
that showed frills when she flew, birdlike, onto the cushioned saddle.
"_That's_ the way to do it!" I heard her cry, exultantly--and what
happened next I can't say, for the white camel knocked me over as it
bounded up, jerking its nose rope from the leader's hand, and the next
thing I knew it was making for the horizon. I hadn't been on a camel
since I was four, if then, so it was useless to follow. But while I
stood spitting out sand, Anthony flung himself onto one of the swift
coastguard beasts, and was after her like a streak of four-legged
lightning. None of us had the nerve to continue our operations until, a
quarter of an hour later, they appeared from behind the Great Pyramid,
coming at a walk, "Antoun" holding the bridle of Monny's camel.
I saw by Fenton's face that he intended to make no suggestions, and I
guessed that he was practising his chosen method. If Miss Gilder wished
for anything she must ask for it, and ask for it humbly if she expected
to get it.
Her face, too, was a study. She was pale and even piteous. I thought
there were tears in the blue-gray eyes; and if I had been Anthony I
could not have hardened my heart. Pride or no pride, I should have
begged her to abandon this praiseworthy adventure, and deign to mount
the baggage brute. Not so Anthony. He led back the camel, with Monny
limply sitting on it, and when it had calmed down at sight of its
friends he retired into the background.
"How wonderful that you kept on, darling!" exclaimed Biddy.
"I didn't," said Monny. Then she turned to "Antoun," who remained on
his beast, in case of another emergency, or because he did not wish to
be looked down upon by her. He was rather glorious enthroned on his
camel, the only one of our party who was truly "in" the desert picture.
I didn't blame him for stopping up there on his sheepskin, eye to eye
with the girl.
For a moment Monny did not speak. She was evidently hesitating what to
do, but common sense and natural sweetness got the better of false
pride. "Antoun, you were right, and I was wrong," she admitted. "I said
yesterday that you were selfish, keeping the coastguard camels for
yourself and Lord Ernest and General Harlow, and giving us women the
baggage ones. Now I'm sorry. I was silly and hateful. I wouldn't ride
another fifty yards on this demon for fifty thousand dollars. He's
nearly broken my back, and if it hadn't been for you, he would quite
have done it. Please help me off, and put me on any old baggage thing
that nobody else wants."
Anthony's eyes lit for an instant, from satisfaction as a man, or from
Christian joy in her moral improvement. He sprang off his sky-scraping
camel, brought Monny's animal to its knees, helped her off, and
motioned to the Arab attendant of the Ugly Duckling of all the other
creatures. It gave the effect of being a cross between a camel and an
ostrich, and had been chosen by "Antoun" as his own mount, when he
surrendered the aristocrat to Monny.
"Oh, dearest, I can't have you ride that grasshopper!" cried Biddy.
"'Antoun' took it for himself very kindly because it's the worst. And I
don't care any more than he did. Give the thing to me, and take _my_
one, that dear creature with the blue bead necklace."
But Anthony answered for Monny. "Mademoiselle Gilder made a bargain
with me yesterday," he said. "If she failed in what _she_ wanted to do,
she was to do what _I_ wanted her to do. I think she will wish to keep
"I'm _sure_ I wish to," added Monny.
With a chastened, not to say shattered air, she curled herself up on
the sheepskin-covered cushion which was the ugly Duckling's saddle.
This time it was "Antoun" who settled her into place, with her feet
meekly crossed; and the caricature of a camel rose like a sofa at a
spiritualistic séance. Strange to say, however, when all were ready to
start, Monny appeared more comfortably lodged than any of the
camel-riding ladies; and the thought entered my mind that perhaps Anthony
had, with extreme subtlety, taken this roundabout way of benefitting
After this we got off with only a few minor mishaps. The one remaining
incident of note was the arrival on the scene, as we left it, of
another caravan--a small caravan consisting of two Europeans--a few
laden camels, and camel-boys marshalled by one dragoman. The dragoman
was Bedr el Gemály, and he smiled at us as affectionately as though we
had not driven him from us in disgrace.
"How forgiving Arabs are, even when they're not converted!" remarked
Rachel Guest, by whose side I happened to be riding.
"He isn't an Arab," said I. "He's an Armenian. And both are supposed to
be the reverse of forgiving. But he's found another job quickly, so he
can afford to let bygones be bygones."
"Oh, he would _anyway_!" Miss Guest exclaimed, warmly. "Poor fellow,
you've all done him a great injustice, but I'm thankful he's not going
to suffer for it. I wonder if he and his people are bound the same way
I feared that this was likely to be the case, as we were going the
conventional round, sticking--as one might say--to suburban desert, on
our way to the Fayum. But, as Monny observed the other night, we
couldn't engage the desert like a private sitting-room. I would,
however, have preferred sharing it with most people rather than Bedr
and his clients, though the two latter looked singularly harmless,
We went on more or less happily, though I noticed that whenever a camel
changed its walk for a trot, each one of the ladies reached back a
desperate hand to clutch the saddle and save her spine from the
bruising bump! bump! which smote the bone with every step. As for me,
that feeling of middle age began to creep on while my coast-guard camel
and I were getting acquainted. I tried to distract my thoughts from the
end of my spine, by concentrating them in admiration upon the scene.
There was the Sphinx welcoming us with an immense smile of benevolence,
as suitable to the sunshine as had been her mysterious solemnity to the
moonlight. There, far away to the left, the spire-crowned Citadel
floated in translucent azure. Its domes and minarets, and the long
serrated line of the Mokattam Hills were carved against the sky in the
yellow-rose of pink topaz. Shafts of light gave to jagged shapes and
terraces of rock on the low mountains an appearance of temples and
palaces, very noble and splendid, as must have been the first glimpse
of Ancient Egypt to desert-worn fugitives from famine in Palestine.
Between us and the Nile, hiding the sparkling water as we rode, went a
dark line of palms, purple, with glints of peacock-feather green, in
the distance. Hundreds of tiny birds flew up into the burning blue like
a black spray, and the sand was patterned by their feet, in designs
intricate as lace. Wherever lay a patch of white and yellow flowers or
of rough grass no bigger than a prayer rug, a lark soared from its nest
singing its jewel-song; and here and there a gentle hoopoo reared the
crown which rewarded it for guiding lost King Solomon and his starving
army to safety.
All this was beautiful; but I wondered painfully if Monny could be
happy in spite of the bumps, now that the desert was taking her.
Strange, how a disagreeable sensation constantly repeated at the end of
a mere bone can change a man's outlook on life! If Monny had come to my
camel-side and whispered, "I found your buried letter, oh, Men-Kheper-Ră.
Behold that bird now flying toward you. It is my Ba--my Heart or
Soul-bird carrying the gift of my love:" I should with difficulty have
prevented myself from snapping out, "Thanks very much; but, my good
girl, I'm in no mood to talk tommy-rot."
It was sympathy, kind, friendly sympathy I yearned for, not spoken in
words, but given from soft, sweet eyes, as little Biddy had given it
when I tore my hands and barked my shins birds'-nesting on the rocks a
hundred years ago.
I think we should have liked the excuse to stop and gaze at the ruinous
Pyramids of Abusir; but the dragoman-guide supplied by Slaney urged us
on to the great plateau of the Pyramids and Necropolis of Sakkara.
There, on the terrace of Marriette's House, we saw a crowd of Cook's
tourists from Bedrachen, and I had some moments of guilty fear lest my
Secret should leak out, as their dragoman rushed down and warmly
greeted ours. But in the throes of rolling off their camels for the
first time, the ever-wakeful suspicions of the Set were submerged under
physical emotions. It's an ill camel that bumps no one any good!
I was only too glad to lure my charges away from danger-zone; and
luckily it was so early that the influential ones who never lunched
until two "at home," gave the word, "Tombs before food." Girding up its
aching loins, the procession allowed itself to be led by me and my
dragoman down inclined planes into dark, mysteriously warm passages
where our lights were wandering red stars. Now and then a face would
start suddenly out of the gloom, haloed with candle-light: and in this
way, Biddy's flashed upon me, starry-eyed. "Oh, I'm glad to see you!"
she whispered. Bedr and his two tourists are here. I'm afraid!"
"My dear child," I said soothingly, but not as soothingly as if I
hadn't had toothache in the spine, "you may be afraid of Bedr, but
hardly of two stout Germans in check suits."
"Not if they _are_ Germans. But are they? Just now one of their candles
almost collided with mine, and his eyes stared so! Then they looked
over my head at Monny, who was behind me. And where she is now, heaven
"Nothing can happen to either of you here," I assured her. "And
probably our fuss about Bedr is much ado about nothing. We have no
"The man who stared at me over his candle has a scar on his forehead,"
said Biddy. "Maybe he got it in that row in front of the House of the
Crocodile. Maybe he is Burke, and has just come out of the hospital."
"Most likely he is Schmidt, and adorned himself with the wound in a
student duel," said I.
"It's too fresh-looking. He must be over thirty," she objected, but at
that moment Miss Hassett-Bean loomed into sight; and in the stuffy
atmosphere of the tomb felt the need of my arm to keep her from
We "did" the Pyramid of Unas, dilapidated without, secretively
beautiful within. We went from tomb to tomb, lingering long in the
labyrinthine Mansion of Mereruka who, ruddy and large as life, stepped
hospitably down in statue-form from his stela recess, to welcome us in
the name of himself and wife. Almost he seemed to wave his hands and
say, "Look at these nice pictures of me and my family and our ways of
life, painted on the walls--our servants, our dwarfs, our mountebanks
and acrobats, our flocks and herds. Sorry there's no refreshment at
present on my alabaster mastaba, or table of offerings, but you see I
didn't prepare for visitors outside my own immediate circle of Ka's and
Ba's. Still, as you _have_ come, make yourselves at home, and take pot
luck. I think when you've examined everything, you'll admit that you
haven't a Soul-House in Europe to touch mine which, if I do say it, is
the best thing this side of Thebes."
Next came the Tomb of Thi; but by this time, mural representations of
fish, flesh, and fruit began to be aggravating. It would be past two
before we could reach our luncheon-tent; and somehow it seemed less
desirable to feed after than before that sacred hour, though the custom
be sanctioned by royalty. "Another tomb to see before lunch?" groaned
Sir John Biddell, when the dragoman firmly insisted on the Apis
Mausoleum. "Oh, darn! _Need_ we? What? Where they buried _Bulls_? I'd
as soon see a slaughter house, on an empty stomach. Lady Biddell and I
will go sit in the shadow of our camels."
And they did; nor would they believe the twins' assertions that the
dark Mausoleum, with its cavernous rock chambers and granite vaults,
was the most impressive thing they had seen in Egypt. "You say that to
be aggravating, because we weren't there," I heard Lady Biddell snap,
over the grumbling of the camels.
The sky blazed down and the sand blazed up. The desert was white-hot,
with a silver whiteness hotter than gold, and the foreshortened shadows
were turquoise blue. It was heaven to arrive at a miniature oasis, and
see the open-fronted, awninged luncheon-tent reflected with its green
frame of palms, in a clear lagoon, thoughtfully left by the receding
Nile. At sight of this picture, my popularity went up with a bound. It
really was a lovely vision: the big tent lined with Egyptian appliqué
work in many colors, the porchlike roof extension supported by poles,
and in its shadow a white table loaded with good things and guarded by
Arab waiters waving beaded fly-whisks. As we lingered over our
chicken-salad, fruit, and cool drinks, and lazily watched our camels
munching bersím, all our first enthusiasm for these interesting beasts
streamed back. The ladies called them poor dears, and sweet things; and
the men marvelled at their calm endurance, or the number of their
Monny was gay and charming, and looked at me so kindly that I thought
she must mean to give a favorable answer to the buried letter. I
blessed Cleopatra for the "tip" she had given, though I wondered what
was the "humiliation" from which I could save her niece. "After all,"
said I, "the desert trip's going to pan out a success." But it must
have been about this time that the wind rose. It blew Miss Hassett-Bean's
hat up instead of down, and other hats off, when we had started
again--and it blew into our eyes grains of sand as large as able bodied
paving-stones. Also, as we passed through a picturesque mud-village
which ought to have pleased everybody, it blew into our noses smells
which Lady Biddell knew would give us plague. As if this were not
enough, the sandcart nearly turned over in a rut, and Miss Hassett-Bean
said that she must go home or be left to die in the desert. I had to
lead the little stallion before she would consent to go on, and
realized when I had ploughed through fifty yards of sand, that the
manicured snob of a leader was a thin brown hero. By the time I had had
a mile or two of this, the dark Pyramids of Dahshur were visible, and I
knew that our camp was to be pitched not far beyond. My first emotion
was pleasure; my second, panic.
What if Slaney had forgotten his promise to remove the Cook labels?
Since remounting Farag (only the coastguard camels had names; the
baggage-beasts smelt as sweet without) Monny and I had been bumping
along side by side, and she had just said, "If I tell you something,
you'll never breathe it to a soul, will you?" when I saw those
Pyramids, and was smitten with the fear of Cook.
"Never!" I vowed, torn between the desire to hear her secret, and to
dash ahead of the caravan into camp.
"It's about 'Antoun,'" Monny went on. "You know I said to you the other
night, that perhaps I knew something about him?"
We were within a few hundred yards of the Pyramids now. At any instant
the camp might burst into sight.
"You don't look interested!"
"But I am, awfully!"
"You're _sure_ you won't tell?"
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