A minute passed away.
“This is the thing that is mine!” A blinding exultation ran through his brain and flesh. “Better this than the ‘trust’ of fools and infidels! No question here of ‘faith.’ Here I know! I know that this thing that is mine has not been bandied about by the eyes of all the men in the world. I know that this perfume has never been breathed by the passers in the street. I know that it has been treasured from the beginning in a secret place—against this moment—for me. This bud has come to its opening in a hidden garden; no man has ever looked upon it; no man will ever look upon it. None but I.”
He roused himself. He moved nearer, consumed with the craving and exquisite curiosity of the new. He stood before the dais and gazed into the unwavering eyes. As he gazed, as his sight forgot the grotesque doll painting of the face around those eyes, something queer began to come over him. A confusion. Something bothering. A kind of fright.
“Thou!” he breathed.
Her icy stillness endured. Not once did her dilated pupils waver from the straight line. Not once did her bosom lift with breath.
“Thou! It is thou, then, O runner on the housetops by night!”
The fright of his soul grew deeper, and suddenly it went out. And in its place there came a black calm. The eyes before him remained transfixed in the space beyond his shoulder. But by and by the painted lips stirred once.
“Nekaf!... I am afraid!”
Habib turned away and went out of the house.
In the house of bel-Kalfate the Jewess danced, still, even in voluptuous motion, a white drift of disdain. The music eddied under the rayed awning. Raillery and laughter were magnified. More than a little bokha, the forbidden liquor distilled of figs, had been consumed in secret. Eyes gleamed; lips hung.... Alone in the thronged court on the dais, the host and the notary, the caid, the cadi, and the cousin from the south continued to converse in measured tones, holding their coffee cups in their palms.
“It comes to me, on thought,” pronounced bel-Kalfate, inclining his head toward the notary with an air of courtly deprecation—“it comes to me that thou hast been defrauded. For what is a trifle of ten thousand douros of silver as against the rarest jewel (I am certain, sidi) that has ever crowned the sex which thou mayest perhaps forgive me for mentioning?”
And in the same tone, with the same gesture, Hadji Daoud replied: “Nay, master and friend, by the Beard of the Prophet, but I should repay thee the half. For that is a treasure for a sultan’s daughter, and this fillette of mine (forgive me) is of no great beauty or worth ——”
“In saying that, Sidi Hadji, thou sayest a thing which is at odds with half the truth.”
They were startled at the voice of Habib coming from behind their backs.