As the guards closed about him he tottered and would have fallen save that they caught him roughly and pressed to a door, half carrying him, and he did not resist. But as speech was renewed another voice broke the murmur, and with great amazement St. George knew that this was Olivia’s voice.
“No,” she cried—but half as if she distrusted her own strange impulse, “let him stay—let him stay.”
St. George saw the prince’s look question her. He himself was unable to account for her unexpected intercession, and so, one would have said, was Olivia. She looked up at the prince almost fearfully, and down the length of the listening table, and back to the old man whose eyes were upon her face.
“He is an old man, your Highness,” St. George heard her saying, “let him stay.”
Prince Tabnit, who gave a curious impression of doing everything that he did in obedience to inertia rather than in its defiance, indicated some command to the puzzled guards, and they led old Malakh to a stone bench not far from the dais, and there he sank down, looking about him without surprise.
“It is well,” he said simply, “Malakh has come.”
While St. George was marveling—but not that the old man spoke the English, for in Yaque it was not surprising to find the very madmen speaking one’s own tongue—Balator explained the man.
“He is a poor mad creature,” Balator said. “He walks the streets of Med saying ‘Melek, Melek,’ which is to say, ‘king,’ and so he is seeking the king. But he is mad, and they say that he always weeps, and therefore they pretend to believe that he says ‘Malakh,’ which is to say ‘salt.’ And they call him that for his tears. Doubtless the princess does not understand. Her Highness has a tender heart.”
St. George was silent. The incident was trivial, but Olivia had never seemed so near.
Sometimes in the world of commonplace there comes an extreme hour which one afterward remembers with “Could that have been I? But could it have been I who did that?” And one finds it in one’s heart to be certain that it was not one’s self, but some one else—some one very near, some one who is always sharing one’s own consciousness and inexplicably mixing with one’s moments. “Perhaps,” St. George would have said, “there is some such person who is nearly, but not quite, I myself. And if there is, it was he and not I who was at that banquet!” It was one of the hours which seem to have been made with no echo. It was; and then passed into other ways, and one remembered only a brightness. For example, St. George listened to what Balator said, and he heard with utmost understanding, and with the frequent pleasure of wonder, and was now and then exquisitely amused as one is amused in dreams. But even as he listened, if he tried to remember the last thing that was said, and the next to the last thing, he found that these had escaped him; and as he rose from the table he