The terrible tension of those days in the palace was over—for the time, at least. She did not understand this new move, she had been bewildered ever since that early dawn, on Sunday, when the old woman and the eunuch had rushed her into the limousine, driven her swiftly through the empty streets to a landing place on the river beyond the bridge, and hurried her on board this little boat, an old dahabiyeh reconstructed and given a new engine.
The Captain had not appeared except for a brief interview in the vestibule where he had told her that the quarantine was prolonged and that he was going to try to escape out of Cairo where the authorities would not be aware, and would first try to smuggle her out of the city, too. She must do exactly as the old woman indicated and everything would be all right.
And she had said, “How exciting!” and “What fun!” with lips that smiled pluckily in apparent acceptance of this flimsy excuse.
She had connected this flight with the pandemonium she had heard in the palace the night before, and she guessed that in some way her presence there had become embarrassing for the Turk. Perhaps her friends had traced her! Perhaps Robert Falconer—for after all it would only be Robert Falconer’s flouted devotion, she thought, that would interest itself in her. He mistrusted Kerissen; he would suspect.
So hope rose high in her, and hopeful, too, was this new glimpse of freedom. Somewhere, soon, she thought confidently, the chance to escape would come. The old woman could not watch forever. The big eunuch was occupied with the boat. She could hear him now muttering angrily to the little brown boy at the engines, while over the sound of his muttering rose the rhythmic, unconcerned chant of two other boys marching up and down the narrow passageways of deck outside the little staterooms with a scrubbing brush under each left foot. “Allah Illeh Lessah,” they chanted monotonously, with a scrub of the brush at each emphasis. “Allah Illeh Lessah.”
“Allah help me,” thought Arlee Beecher.
All day Sunday she had sat there in that chair watching the pyramids, at first so sharp-cut against the cloudless blue, wane imperceptibly and fade from sight, watching the golden Mokattan Hills and the pearly tinted Tura range slip softly from the horizon and all the old landmarks of the Egypt that she knew disappear and be replaced by strange, new sights. Other pyramids showed like child’s toys upon the horizon; dense groves of palm trees appeared along the banks, then the banks grew higher and higher and upon them, silhouetted against the bright blue sky, showed a frieze-like procession of country folk driving camels or donkeys or bullocks.
All night long they had steamed, a search-light on the bow, and Arlee had lain in the little stateroom trying to sleep, but continually aware of the breathing of the old woman huddled outside against her door, of the soft thudding of bare feet about the deck, of the pulse of the engine, beating, beating steadily, and of quick, muffled commands, of reversals, grinding of chains as some treacherous shallow appeared ahead, then of the onward drive and the steady rhythmic progress again.