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Burning Sands

Arthur E. P. Brome Weigall

  Produced by Darleen Dove, Roger Frank, and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  *Burning Sands*


  Arthur Weigall

  Author ofMadeline of the Desert, Etc.

  Illustrated With Scenes From The PhotoplayA Paramount PictureDirected by George Melford

  Grosset & DunlapPublishers New York

  Made in the United States of America

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

  Printed in U. S. A.




  The music ceased. For a full minute the many dancers stood as the dancehad left them, stranded, so to speak, upon the polished floor of theballroom, clapping their white-gloved hands in what seemed to be anappeal to the tired musicians to release them from their awkwardsituation. The _chef d'orchestre_ rose from his chair and shook hishead, pointing to the beads of moisture upon his sallow forehead. Two orthree couples, more merciful than their companions, turned and walkedaway; and therewith the whole company ceased their vain clapping, and,as though awakened from an hypnotic seizure, hastened to jam themselvesinto the heated, chattering mass which moved out of the brilliantlylighted room and dispersed into the shadows of the halls and passagesbeyond.

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

  "You seem to be enjoying yourself, my dear," she said, taking hold ofthe girl's hand. "But you mustn't get overtired in this heat. Waitanother month, until the weather is cool, and then you can dance allnight."

  "Oh, but I don't feel it at all," Lady Muriel replied, looking with milddisdain at her partner's somewhat limp collar. "Father warned me thatOctober in Cairo would be an ordeal, but so far I've simply loved it."

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

  "You've only been in Egypt twenty-four hours," Lady Smith-Everedreminded her. "You must be careful."

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

  Her good-looking little partner, Rupert Helsingham, ran his fingeraround the inside of his collar, and adjusted his eyeglass. "Let's goand sit on the veranda," he suggested.

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

  "A charming girl!" remarked the stout chaperone, turning her heavilypowdered face to her companions.

  "She is beautiful," said Madam Pappadoulopolos, an expansive,black-eyed, black-haired, black-moustached, black-robed figure, wife ofthe Greek Consul-General.

  "She has the sort of monkey-beauty of all the Blairs," declared Mrs.Froscombe, the gaunt but romantic wife of the British Adviser to theMinistry of Irrigation. She spoke authoritatively. She had recentlypurchased a richly illustrated volume dealing with the history of thateminent family.

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

  "Indeed yes," Madam Pappadoulopolos assented, warmly.

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

  "Thank you, Gladys dear," said Lady Smith-Evered, smiling coldly at herfriend's averted face.

  Muriel Blair's type of beauty was in a way monkey-like, if so ludicrousa term can be employed in a laudatory sense to describe a face of greatcharm. She was of about the average height; her head was gracefully setupon her excellent neck and shoulders; and there was a sort of airydignity in her carriage and step. Her enemies called her sullen attimes, and named her Moody Muriel; her friends, on the contrary,described her as a personification of the spirit of Youth; while herfeminine intimates said that, except for her dislike of the cold, shemight have earned her living as a sculptor's model.

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

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

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

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

  "I wonder what's happened to my father," said Muriel, breaking thesilence engendered by Rupert's reflections. "I haven't seen him sincethe how-d'you-doing business."

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

  "He's working in his study," her companion replied, pointing to the wingof the house which went to form the angle wherein they were sitting. "Healways dictates his telegrams at this time: he says he feels morebenevolent after dinner. He'll come into the ballroom presently, and saythe correct thing to the correct people. He's a paragon of tact, and, Ican tell you, tact is needed here in Cairo! There's such a mixture ofnationalities to deal with. What languages do you speak?"

  "Only French," she replied.

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

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

  "I'll give you a golden rule to start with," he answered. "Be verygracious to all foreigners, because every little politeness helps theinternational situation, but behave how you like to English people,because their social aspirations require them to speak of you as _dear_Lady Muriel, however fiercely they burn with resentment."

  Muriel smiled. She had a really fascinating smile, and her teeth wereworthy of the great care she gave to them. "And how must I treat anEgyptian--I mean an Egyptian gentleman?" she enquired.

  "There isn't such a thing," he laughed, having very insular ideas as tothe meaning of the word.

  "Well, a Prince or a Pasha or whatever they're called?"

  "O, that's simple enough. If his colour is anything lighter than blackcoffee, ask him if he's a Frenchman. He will protest vehemently, and cry'Mais non!--je suis Egyptien.' But he'll love you for ever all thesame."

  Muriel gazed before her into the mystery of the garden. For a briefmoment she had the feeling that their conversation was at variance withtheir surroundings, that the sweet night and the moon and the statelytrees were bidding them be silent. But the thought was gone almostbefore it was recorded.

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

  Roses grew in profusion at the edges of the drive, and the gentlenight-wind brought their fragrance to her nostrils; while to her earscame the rustling of the trees, the ringing tramp of the sentry's heavyboots, and the subdued chatter of the resting dancers to whom this partof the veranda was forbidden. In the clear Egyptian atmosphere so strongwas the moonlight that every detail of the scene was almost as apparentas it would have been at high noon; and, between the houses on theopposite side of the square, her vision travelled out over the ranges ofwhite buildings which gradually rose towards the towering Citadel andthe hills of the desert beyond. Here and there a minaret pierced thesky, so slender that its stability seemed a marvel of balance; andcountless domes and cupolas gleamed like great pearls in the silverylight.

  She was about to ask a further languid question of her partner in regardto the ways of Cairene society when her attention was attracted by theappearance of a man wearing a slouch hat, who came suddenly into viewbeyond the bars of the gates and was at once accosted by the Scotchsentry. He looked something of a ruffian, and the sentry seemed to beacting correctly in barring the way with his rifle held in both handsacross his bare knees.

  A rapid argument followed, the exact words of which she could not quitecatch; but it was evident that the Scotchman was not going to admit anysuspicious character or possible anarchist on to the premises until hehad consulted with the native policeman who was to be seen hurryingacross the square. On the other hand the intruder appeared to be in ahurry, and his voice had clearly to be controlled as he explained to thezealous guardian of the gate that he had business at the Residency. Butthe sentry was obdurately silent, and the voice of the speaker, inconsequence, increased in volume.

  "Now don't be silly," Muriel heard him say, "or I'll take your gun awayfrom you."

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

  "No," he said. "We can't be seen here behind these flower-pots: let'swatch what happens."

  The newcomer made a sudden forward movement; the sentry assumed anattitude as though about to bayonet him, or to pretend to do so; therewas a rapid scuffle; and a moment later the rifle was twisted out of itsowner's brawny hands.

  The soldier uttered an oath, stepped back a pace, and like a lion, leaptupon his assailant. There was a confused movement; the rifle droppedwith a clatter upon the pavement; and the Scotchman seized about themiddle in a grip such as he was unlikely ever to have experiencedbefore, turned an amazingly unexpected somersault, landing, like a clownat the circus, in a sitting position in which he appeared to be staringopen-mouthed at the beauties of a thousand dazzling stars.

  Thereupon the ruffian quietly picked up the rifle, opened the gate, shutit behind him, and walked up the drive; while the Egyptian policeman ranto the soldier's assistance, blowing the while upon his whistle with allthe wind God had given him.

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

  "Gi' me ma rifle," he said, hoarsely. It was evident that he was tryingto collect his wits; and his attitude was that of a wrestler looking foran opening.

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

  "Gi' me ma rifle," repeated the Scot, in injured tones, warily circlingaround his cool opponent.

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

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

  With an air of complete unconcern he gave the rifle back to the abashedsentry; and, putting his hand on Helsingham's shoulder, strolled towardsthe veranda.

  "I've ridden in at top speed," he said, and Muriel noticed that hisvoice was deep and quiet, and that there was a trace of an Americanaccent. "A hundred and fifty miles in under three days. Pretty goodgoing, considering how bad the tracks are up there." He jerked his thumbin the direction of the western desert.

  "The Great Man will be very pleased," the other replied. 'The Great Man'was the designation generally used by the diplomatic staff in speakingof Lord Blair.

  As they ascended the steps Daniel Lane cast a pair of searching blueeyes upon the resplendent figure of the girl in the chair. In the sheenof the moon her dress, of flimsy material, seemed to array her as itwere in a mist; and the diamonds about her throat and in her hair--forshe was wearing family jewels--gleamed like magic points of light.

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

  "A dance," Rupert Helsingham replied, stiffly, "in honour of LadyMuriel's arrival. But let me introduce you."

  He turned to
the girl, and effected the introduction. "Mr. Lane," hesaid, "is one of your father's most trusted friends. I don't know whatwe should do sometimes without his counsel and advice. He knows thenative mind inside out."

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

  "I think we've met before," she ventured.

  "Yes, I fancy we have," he replied. "Use'n't you to wear your hair intwo fat pigtails?"

  "Four years ago," she laughed.

  "Then I guess it was four years ago that we met," he said; and withoutfurther remark he turned to Rupert Helsingham, asking whether and whenhe might see Lord Blair. "I was going to ring at the side door there,"he explained, pointing to the door behind them which led directly intothe corridor before the Great Man's study. "That's my usual way in: I'veno use for the main entrance and the footman."

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

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

  "If Lady Muriel will excuse me, I'll go and find out if his Lordship cansee you at once," said Helsingham, in his most official tone of voice. Asentry after all is a sentry, not an acrobat; and if people will wearthe garments of a tramp, they must take the consequences.

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

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

  The remark which at length she made, however, was foolish, and unworthyof her: she knew this before the words had passed her lips. "You seem tofind the garden very interesting," she said.

  He turned round slowly, a whimsical smile upon his face. "Very," heanswered; and then, after an embarrassing pause, "I haven't seen anyroses for six months: I'm revelling in them."

  "Do you live in the desert?" she asked.

  "Yes, most of my time. It's a fine free life."

  "Oh, one can be free anywhere," she replied. She felt an indefinabledesire to be contrary.

  "Nonsense!" he answered, abruptly. "You don't call yourself free, doyou, in those diamonds and those absurd shoes?"

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

  "Lord Blair will see you at once," he said.

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

  "A very odd fellow," remarked Helsingham, when they were alone oncemore. "His manners are atrocious; but what can one expect from a man whospends his life in the desert?"

  "What makes him live there?" she asked.

  He shrugged his shoulders. "Being a crank, I suppose. He's studyingBedouin manners and customs, or something. He's a great Arabic scholar."

  "He made me feel rather uncomfortable," she said, as she rose from herchair and laid her fingers on her partner's arm.

  "Yes, he's boorish," he replied, smoothing his sleek, dark hair with hisdisengaged hand.

  "It isn't that, quite," she corrected him, her eyebrows puckering. "Buthe made me feel that I was of no importance whatsoever, and, being awoman, I resented it. He brushed me aside, like the sentry."

  "He was probably shy," her companion suggested, for conciliation was his_metier_. "And of course he must have been tired after that long ride."

  "No," she said, as they entered the ballroom, "I don't think he was inthe least bit shy; and, as for being tired, could anything make a man ofthat kind tired? He looks like a Hercules, or a Samson, or somethingunconquerable of that sort."

  Rupert Helsingham glanced quickly at her. There was a tone in her voicewhich suggested that their visitor's personality had at once imposeditself on her mind. Women, he understood, were often attracted bymasculine strength and brutality. He had known cases where an assumptionof prehistoric manners had been eminently successful in the seduction ofthe weaker sex, painfully more successful, indeed, than had been his ownwell-bred dalliance with romance.

  A school-friend had told him once that no girl could resist the man whotook her by the throat, or pulled back her head by the hair, or, betterstill, who picked her up in his arms and bit her in the neck. Hewondered whether Lady Muriel was heavy, and, with a sort of timorousaudacity, he asked himself whether she would be likely to enjoy beingbitten. He would have to be careful of Daniel Lane: he did not want anyrivals.

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

  "Rupert, my dear," said the General's wife, "do be an angel and bring ussome ices."

  "What a willing little fellow he is," murmured Mrs. Froscombe, as hehurried away on his errand, and there was a tone of derision in hervoice.

  "He's always very helpful," Lady Smith-Evered retorted, somewhatsharply, for he was her pet.

  "I think he's a dear," said Muriel. "Nice manners are a tremendousasset. I hate churlishness."

  "I think you seldom meet with churlishness in Englishmen," remarkedMadam Pappadoulopolos. Her husband had told her to flatter the Englishwhenever she could.

  Muriel laughed. "I don't know so much about that," she replied. "On theveranda just now I met an Englishman who, to say the least, was notexactly courteous."

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

  "A certain Daniel Lane," she replied.

  Lady Smith-Evered gave a gesture of impatience. "Oh, _that_ man!" sheexclaimed. "He's in Cairo again, is he? He's an absolute outsider."

  "What is he?--What's he do?" Muriel asked, desiring further particulars.

  "Ah! That's the mystery," said Lady Smith-Evered, with a look ofprofound knowing. "Incidentally, my dear, he is said to keep a harim ofBedouin women somewhere out in the desert. I shouldn't be surprised ifevery night he beat them all soundly and sent them where the rhymesays."

  She laughed nastily, and Muriel made a grimace.