“The plague?” repeated the girl absently. She was thinking what a hideous creature that great Nubian was. Then, more vividly, “The plague?”
“You have fear?” said the negligent voice.
Arlee nodded frankly. “Oh, yes, I should be terribly afraid of it,” she averred. “Aren’t you?” And then she reflected, as she saw the inscrutable smile playing about the older woman’s lips, that she must be witnessing that fatalistic apathy of the East that she had read about.
But there was nothing apathetic about the Captain. He followed on the very heels of the announcement, his sword clanking, his spurs jingling, as he bounded up the stairs and hurried through the long, dim drawing-room toward them.
“You have heard?” he cried in English as they came to meet him. “You have heard?”
“Of the plague!” Arlee answered, wondering at his agitation. “Yes, your sister just told me. Is it really the plague?”
“So say those damned doctors—pardon, but they are such imbeciles!” He made an angry gesture with his clenched hand. His face was tense and excited. “They say so. And there is another sick ... Dieu, what a misfortune! Truly, there was illness about us, a little, but who thought——”
“I shall run back to my hotel,” said Arlee lightly, “before I catch one of your germs.”
“To the hotel—a thousand pardons, but that is the thing forbidden.” The young man made a gesture, with empty palms outspread, eloquent of rebellion and despair. “Those doctors—those pig English—they have set a quarantine upon us!”
A SORRY GUEST
“A quarantine?” said Arlee Beecher, in a perfectly flat little voice.
Again the young man exercised his power of gesture, his dark eyes seeming to plead his own helpless desire to mitigate his words.
“Truly a quarantine. It is tyranny, but what can one do? They will hear nothing—they set their guard and it is finished—bien simple. We are their prisoners.”
“Prisoners?” Her mind appeared but a hollow echo of his words. Her heart was dropping, dropping sickishly, into unending space. Then meaning stabbed her like a dentist’s needle, and a pandemonium of incredulity and revolt clamored through every nerve in her body. “Why you can’t mean—I’m going back to the hotel this instant! I haven’t seen your servant!”
“That is nothing to them. They have no reason—heads of pigs! No one must leave or they shoot—the tyrants, the imbecile tyrants! But their day will not be forever—Islam will not endure——”
It was of no moment to Arlee Beecher what Islam would not endure. Her heart was galloping now like a runaway horse, but her voice rang with quick reaction from that first sickening shock.
“What nonsense,” she said positively. “They wouldn’t shoot me. Why didn’t you call me when the English doctor was here. I could have explained then. But now—now I had better telephone, I suppose. Either to the doctor or the English ambassador—or the American consul. I’ll make them understand in a jiffy. Where is your telephone, please?”