“So much the better,” answered Tua cheerfully, “since ghosts have been good friends to us, for had it not been for them I should have been dead or shamed to-day.”
“That we shall find out at the end of the story,” said Asti, who was cross and weary, for the heat of the sun was great. “Meanwhile, follow on. There is nothing else to do.”
For hour after hour they walked, till at length towards evening, when they were almost exhausted, they struggled up a long rise of sand and rocks, and from the crest of it perceived a large walled town set in a green and fertile valley not very far beneath them. Towards this town Kepher, who marched at a distance in front, guided them till they reached a clump of trees on the outskirts of the cultivated land. Here he halted, and when they came up to him, led them among the trees.
“Now,” he said, “drop your veils and bide here, and if any should come to you, say that you are poor wandering players who rest. Also, if it pleases you, give me a small pearl off one of those strings, that I may go into the city, which is named Tat, and sell it to buy you food and a place to dwell in.”
“Take a string,” said Tua faintly.
“Nay, nay, Daughter, one will be enough, for in this town pearls are rare, and have a great value.”
So she gave him the gem, or rather let him take it from the silk, which he re-fastened very neatly for one who seemed to be almost blind, and strode off swiftly towards the town.
“Man or spirit, I wonder if we shall see him again?” said Asti.
Tua made no answer—she was too tired, but resting herself against the bole of a tree, fell into a doze. When she awoke again it was to see that the sun had sunk, and that before her stood the beggar Kepher, and with him two black men, each of whom led a saddled mule.
“Mount, Friends,” he said, “for I have found you a lodging.”
So they mounted, and were led to the gate of the city which at the word of Kepher was opened for them, and thence down a long street to a house built in a walled garden. Into this house they entered, the black men leading off the mules, to find that it was a well-furnished place with a table ready set in the ante-room, on which was food in plenty. They ate of it, all three of them, and when they had finished Kepher bade a woman who was waiting on them, lead them to their chamber, saying that he himself would sleep in the garden.
Thither then they went without more questions, and throwing themselves down upon beds which were prepared for them, were soon fast asleep.
TUA AND THE KING OF TAT
In the morning, after Tua and Asti had put on the clean robes that lay to their hands, and eaten, suddenly they looked up and perceived that Kepher, the ancient beggar of the desert, was in the room with them, though neither of them had heard or seen him enter.