Voices sounded below; footsteps hurried; a door slammed. Then feet upon the stairs, and a hand at the door. Arlee struggled to her feet in sudden terror; the candle was out and the room was in darkness. Outside a gale was blowing. The door opened, but the figure which hurried in was not the one her fright anticipated.
It was the old woman again, bustling with haste. She brought more candles for the table, and then a tray with a bottle and glasses and dishes covered with napkins. Then she bestowed her attention to Arlee, bringing her a mirror and a comb from the hamper she had left upon the floor, and a cloth thick with powder. Then Arlee was sure.
She stood rigid a moment, listening to that low buzz of voices from below, then desperately she shook out her tangled hair and combed it back from her hot face. It was still damp from the water that had been dashed upon her, and as she knotted it swiftly, soft strands of it broke away and hung in wet, childish tendrils. She brushed some powder on her face; she bit her bloodless lips, and stared into the glass, to see a wan and big-eyed girl staring back affrighted.
Then the door opened, and desperately calling on her courage, Arlee heard the Captain speaking her name and saw his smiling face advancing through the shadows.
“A thousand greetings, Mademoiselle. Ah, I am glad to see you.” A strained emotion quivered through the false assurance of his tone.
She stood very straight and tense before him, a childishly small figure there in the dusk, the blowing candles making strange play of light and shadow over her. Steadily she answered, “And I am very glad to see you, Captain Kerissen.”
“And I am glad that you are glad.” But his ear had caught the hardness of her voice, for answering irony was in his. Some devil of delay and disappointment seemed to enter into him, for his face, as she saw it now in his advancing, struck fright into her. The four fingers of his right hand were wrapped in a bandage and he extended his left to her, murmuring an apology. “A slight accident, you see.”
“There is so much I do not see that I do not feel like shaking hands,” gave back Arlee. “Captain Kerissen, this is too strange a situation to be maintained. You must end it.”
“It is a very delightful situation,” he returned blandly, looking about with dancing eyes. “To be again your host, even in so poor a place as this old house of the Sheik—and the place has its possibilities, Mademoiselle. It is romantic. Your window overlooks that desert you were so anxious to see. The sunsets——”
“Captain Kerissen, I must say that you use a very strange way to keep me your guest!”
“I might respond that any way was justifiable so that it kept you a guest.... But you wrong me. Did I not bring you safely out from that quarantine, as you besought me?” His smile was mockery itself.