“You are dreadfully rude,” said Arlee clearly. “You don’t understand at all. I thought you knew better.”
“Ah, I know! Was I not in England and did I not hear men talk—yes, of sisters and wives with bold words and laughter? Not so of our ladies—they are sacred names not to be spoken by another.... But I do not wish to speak of these others of your race. I speak of you.”
“Really, I would rather you would not speak of me.”
“But I wish to tell you.” His voice was no louder; it was even lower, but it took on a note of authority. Arlee was silent, a chill creeping up about her heart—like a rising tide....
“You are a flower upon a height,” he said, and his tones were soft again and gently caressing, “laughing at others because you know you are so high above them, and so proud. The blue of the skies is in your eyes, and the gold of the sun in your hair. You have a beauty that is too bright to be endured—it burns a man’s heart like a flame.... It was never meant to shine in a common field. It must be guarded, revered, adored—a princess upon a height——”
“You have an Oriental imagination,” said Arlee Beecher, and prayed God her voice did not tremble. “I must ask you not to pay me such compliments while I am your guest.”
“No?... Why not?”
“Embarrassment is an emotion rare to find among your ladies—it is the dewy bloom upon your own perfect innocence.... Ah, I wish you spoke my language! I could tell you many things——”
“Your English is excellent,” said the white-faced girl. “Did you learn it at Oxford or before?”
He did not pause for such foolish questionings. “Why do you not wish me to tell you what you are?” he said reproachfully. “Is it because you doubt that I mean it?”
“Because I am not used to such compliments—and I would rather not hear them now. I am your guest and I am very tired. I must go in.”
It was very dark in the garden. And it was still and unutterably lonely. Only the stars burned above them in the heavens; only the light wind of the desert stirred. From the far distance the muffled beat of the tom-tom sounded. Surely, thought Arlee, surely she was dreaming.... This could not be Arlee Beecher, here with this man—this Turk.
“I must go in,” she repeated, with a heightening of assurance.
As he looked down at her for a moment that chill dread seemed to lay its icy hands on her very heart as she glimpsed something of the tumult within his eyes. She had a vision of him as a man capable of all, reckless, impassioned, poised upon the brink of some desperate plunge.... Then the hands of consequences seemed to lay compelling hold upon him; the fire was extinguished; the vision gone like a mirage. His eyes were friendly, his lips smiling, as he bowed to her, in deferential courtesy, to all appearances a gentleman of her world.