“Assiout,” whispered the one-eyed man as Billy reached him. “Assiout. That one goes to Assiout on the night express.”
“My ticket? Got a ticket for me?”
Upturned palms bespoke the absence of ticket and the Arab’s deep regret. “The price was much. I waited——”
Billy was off. There was no chance of his getting past that stolid guard without a ticket and he charged toward the seller’s window, where a line of natives was forming for another train.
“Siut!” he shouted over their heads, and scattering silver and smiles and apologies he crowded past the motley line to the window and fairly snatched the miles of green ticket from the Copt’s quick fingers.
He was the last man through the gate, and as he darted through the clicking of compartment doors was heard with the parting cries of the guards and the shouts of dragomans and porters. It was a train de luxe where the sleeping sections had long been reserved, but to accommodate the crowded travel ordinary compartment cars had been added at the last minute, and it was at one of these that Billy grasped, as the wheels were moving faster and faster. A gold piece caused a guard to unlock the first compartment door, although it said, “Dames Seules,” and “Ladies Only” in large letters.
It was not a corridor train and the compartment was already filled, and as Billy wormed his way, not into the nearest corner, for that was not yielded to him, but into the modicum of space accorded between two stout and glaringly grudging matrons, he became aware from the hostile stares that his entrance had not been solitary.
Between his legs the Imp was coiling.
“I made a sneak with you,” the boy whispered. “I say I your dragoman, sir. You will be glad. You need such bright boy in Assiout.”
Billy thought it highly probable that he would. But the ladies neither needed nor desired him now, and ringed in by feminine disgust the two scorned intruders sat silent hour after hour while the train went rushing south through the increasing darkness of the night.
THE HIDDEN GIRL
Hour after hour the little boat held its steady course; hour after hour the distant banks flowed past in changing scenes. Forward on the narrow deck a girl sat in a lounge chair beneath a striped awning and gazed out over the water. Squatting in the shade behind her an old woman stared up out of half-closed eyes with pupils as keen and bright under their puckered lids as the eyes of a watching hawk.
No disturbing consciousness of this incessant scrutiny muffled the serenity of the girl’s appearance. Her hands lax in her lap, her blue eyes quietly intent upon the view, she lay back in her chair with as much confident unconcern as she might have shown in an opera box. As a matter of incredulous fact she was feeling incredulously at ease.