“But he must say something—what is between you—what?” demanded the other impatiently.
Briefly, her shamed cheeks grateful for the shadows, Arlee told of that walk in the garden, of the flowers and the letter, the scene after dinner. And the other girl’s eyes grew wider and wider, and then finally she burst into a smothered little laugh.
“Oh, he is mad, that Hamdi!” she whispered. “He is a monster of vanity—’conquest of the spirit’—h’m, I comprehend. That young man has a pride beyond all sense. You dazzle him—he is in love again like a boy. And he must dazzle you. His pride demands a victory not of force alone.... Some men are like that.... Well, that is your chance!”
“Play with his vanity—fight his force with that!” said this strange initiator into terrible secrets. “He will believe anything of his fascinations—I know him. And if he is so mad for you that he dares all this trouble to have you here, then he is so mad that you can fool him and make him hold back in hopes to gain more from you. Make him think you are coming, as he wishes, heart and body, but still you would wait a little. So you gain time.... Oh, you must be careful! If he loses hope, if you anger him, why the game is over. But if you are careful you can gain a few days——”
“A few days,” said Arlee in a tense little voice.
“Well, that is something—since you hate him so!”
“Yes, that is something.” Arlee drew a shivering breath, her head drooping, her lashes on her cheeks. Then suddenly, amazingly, her chin came pluckily up, her soft lips set with desperate decision, her eyes turned on her counselor a look of flashing spirit. She was like some young wild thing at bay, harried, defiant, tensely defensive. Something of the pathos of her innocent presence there, in that evil palace, utterly alone, hopelessly defiant, penetrated for an instant the callous acceptances of the little dancer and her eyes softened with facile sympathy, but the impression dulled, and she only nodded her head encouragingly.
“Good! That is the way! Women can always act!” she murmured, slipping off the divan and drawing her fluttering robes about her. “But it is very late and I must go—it is not safe to stay so.”
“Where is your room? Could I get to you?”
“No—for you cannot open that panel on the inside—unless you can steal the key from him as I could not! My room—for this present, little one,” and her eyes laughed suddenly in challenge, “is up on the top—a little old room all alone. My doors are locked, but there is a panel in my room, too, a panel at the top of tiny stairs, and the lock on that panel is so old and rusty that a knife make it open. So I pushed it open and came down the tiny stairs that end out there in the passage way, and I opened your panel. Now I must steal back, but I shall come again, and we must plan.”
“But where does this secret passage go?” Arlee had followed over the bed, and held aside the heavy draperies while the little Baroff was pushing the panel softly and carefully open. Eagerly Arlee peered out into the darkness beyond. “Where does it go?” she repeated.