Bes, the monstrous keeper of the lions, had become prime favourite with the men, and the neighbourhood had resounded with the roars of the brutes at night as they fought for their food.
Also was there something savage in the way the women visitors had fingered and touched everything, and had visited every corner of the building. They were fat or thin, plain or passably good-looking; they were all hideously poor, and in their heads they had the echo of the gibes their menfolk had cast at them, when, returning with empty pockets, they had boasted of great conquests.
Which boasting the sillies had believed, thinking, as all women think, that their own particular male has been specially favoured of the gods and is therefore an Adonis in the eyes of every other woman.
There was an indefinite air of trouble in that quarter of the bazaar which increased with the heat of the day. Household matters were neglected, whilst the women foregathered to talk; words were few, but gestures were quick and expressive; the servants, wondering at the absence of the Ethiopian, grumbled as they worked; they had been paid no wages in their mistress’s absence, and were on the verge of mutiny.
Brave words! When they knew that they would fall flat upon their faces at the first swish of her satin robes.
They waited all the day, and no definite word came of the woman’s return. They waited until the stars twinkled and they still waited with the terrible patience of the East. Why they waited they could not have told you. They dared not set upon her if she passed in her litter; she wielded too great a power through her beauty and wealth for that; but as the hours passed, they moved softly to and fro, as moves the wretched beast in his cage at feeding-time, whilst a look of cunning allied to cruelty shone in the soft brown eyes.
It only required a spark to start the conflagration.
“And the dogs shall eat Jezebel
. . . and
there shall be none to bury her.”
The station was bathed blood-red in the after-glow of the wonderful sunset, which, being a daily occurrence, is hardly ever noticed by the winter visitors in Cairo; a star or two twinkled in the pale grey hem of the coat of many colours which Day was offering to Night, as the evening breeze lifted the edges of the veils and blew refreshingly around a woman who descended awkwardly from a native cart and limped her way across the station yard. The porter trundling Ben Kelham’s luggage caught her by the shoulder and likening her to the cross-eyed offspring of a clumsy she-camel, flung her to one side. Rage incarnate glared from her eyes, bitter vituperation flowed from behind the yashmak, until, noticing that a swashbuckling member of the native police was making his menacing way towards her, she quieted down and limped to where she saw, standing, the station porter of Shepheard’s Hotel.