Billy looked at Falconer. He admired the stolidity of that sandy-haired young man’s countenance. He envied the unrevealing blankness of his eyes.
“May I ask where she is stopping in Alexandria?” he persisted.
Mrs. Eversham shook her head. “She didn’t give any address—the best hotel, I suppose, whatever that is.”
“The Khedivial,” Falconer supplied.
“She just said to send her things to Cook’s and to write to her there and she would write when she came back. She had been expecting to meet those friends, the Maynards, later, but we had no idea that she was going to run off with them like this. It’s very upsetting.”
“We shall miss her,” said Clara Eversham suddenly, with a note of sincerity that made Billy warm to her a trifle. So he bestirred himself getting their after dinner coffee and remembered to send Mohammed for the cream for her, and listened with a show of attention to their interminable anecdotes and corrections. But his mind was off on the way to Alexandria....
Not a word of farewell. Of course, they had not exactly arrived, in those twenty-four hours, at a correspondence stage, but still she had made a positive engagement for that evening—and she had known he was trying to buy that berth. Only that morning she had listened to his account of his endeavors with a mischievous light in her blue eyes and a prankish smile edging her pink lips ... and she might, after that, have left just a line to tell him to cancel his arrangements.... But what could he expect from such a tricksy sprite of a girl? Only twenty-seven hours before he had seen her, flagrantly tardy, nonchalantly unrepentant, first mock and then annihilate the worthy and earnest young Englishman who had endeavored to correct her ways ... He had known then the volatile stuff that she was made of—and had succumbed to it!
But he had succumbed. On that point he was most disastrously certain. The memory of the young girl possessed him. Her beauty haunted him, that spring-like beauty with its enchanting youth and gaiety. And the spirit that animated that beauty, that young, blithe, innocently audacious spirit which looked out on the world with such sunnily trustful eyes, drew him with a golden cord.
* * * * *
He smoked many a pipe over it that night, his feet on the open window ledge, his eyes on the far-spreading flat roofs, the distant domes and minarets darkly silhouetted against the sky of softest, deepest blue. The stars were silver bright. They spangled the heaven with the radiance they never give to northern skies; they gleamed like bright, wild creatures on their unearthly revels.... It would be glorious camping in the desert on a night like this ... Heaven be praised, he had not bought that berth ... Alexandria ... the Maynards ... the desert ...
He knocked out the ashes from his last pipe and rose briskly. His decision was made, but its success was on the knees of the great god Luck.