Slowly she moved back after her hostess, who had pushed back a panel in one wall, and Arlee stepped beside her within the tiny, balcony-like enclosure the panel had revealed, one side of which was a wooden lace-work of fine screening, permitting one to see but not be seen. Pressing her face against the grill, Arlee found she was looking down into a long and spacious hall, lined with delicate columns bearing beautiful, pointed arches, and brilliant with old gilding and inlay.
This was the colonnade which she had seen forming one side of the court; it was the hall of banquets, she was told, and connected this wing of the palace, the haremlik, with the selamlik, the men’s wing, across the way. Here in old times the lord of the palace gave his feasts, and this nook had been built for some favorite to view the revels.
Arlee stared down into the great empty hall with an involuntary quickening of the breath. How desolate it was, but how beautiful in its desolation! What strange revels had taken place there to the notes of wild music, what girls had danced, what voices had shouted, what moods had been indulged! She thought of the men who had made merry there ... and then she thought of the women, generations of women, who had stood where she was standing, pressing their young faces against the grill, their bright eyes peering, peering down. She felt their soft little silken ghosts all about her, their bangles clinking, their perfumes enveloping her sense—lovely little painted dolls, their mimic passions helpless in their hearts....
Dreaming, she turned and in silence retraced her way after her hostess, loitering by the window in the anteroom to watch a veiled girl drawing water at the old well in the center, an old well rich in arabesques.
How much happier, thought Arlee, were these serving maids in the freedom of their poverty than the cloistered aristocrats behind their darkened windows. She wondered if that strange figure beside her, half Moslem, half modern, envied the little maid the saucy jest which she flung at a bare-footed boy idling beside a dozing white donkey. As she watched the old-world quiet of the picture was broken. Some one, the doorkeeper, she thought, from his vivid robes and yellow shoes, came running across the court, shouting something at the girl which sent her flying to the house, her jar forgotten, and another man, an enormous Nubian with blue Turkish bloomers, short red jacket and a red fez, hurried across the court toward the haremlik.
The lady stepped toward the screening and called down; the man stopped, raised his head, and shouted back a jargon of excited gutturals, waving his arms in vehement gesturing. His mistress interrupted with a brief question, then with another, then nodding her head indifferently to herself, she called down an order, apparently, and turned away.
“One of our servants is dead,” she murmured to Arlee in explanation. “They say now it is the plague.”