TUA FINDS HER LOVER
Rames it was without a doubt; Rames grown older and stern and sad of face, but still Rames, and no other man, and oh! their eyes swam and their hearts beat at the sight of him.
“Say, shall we declare ourselves?” asked Asti.
“Nay,” answered Tua, “not here and now. He would not believe, and we cannot unveil before all these men. Also, first I desire to learn more. Let him pass.”
Rames rode on till he came opposite to where the two women sat on their white camels beneath a tree, when something seemed to attract his gaze to them. He looked once carelessly and turned his head away. He looked a second time, and again turned his head, though more slowly. He looked a third time, and his eyes remained fixed upon those two veiled women seated on their camels beneath the trees. Then, as though acting upon some impulse, he pulled upon his horse’s bit, and rode up to them.
“Who are you, Stranger Ladies,” he asked, “who own such fine camels?”
Tua bowed her head that the folds of her veil might hide her shape, but Asti answered in a feigned voice:
“Sir, both of us are merchants, and one is a harper and a singer. We have travelled hither up the Nile to the Golden City because we understand that in Napata pearls are rare, and such we have to sell. Also we were told that the new King of this city loved good singing, and my companion, who sings and harps, learned her art in Egypt, even at Thebes the holy. But who are you, Sir, that question us?”
“Lady,” answered Rames, “I am an Egyptian who holds this town on behalf of the Queen of Egypt whom once I knew. Or perhaps I should say that I hold it on behalf of the Pharaoh of Egypt, since my spies tell me that the Star of Amen has taken Abi, Prince of Memphis, to husband, although they add that he finds her a masterful wife,” and he laughed bitterly.
“Sir,” replied Asti, “it is long since we left holy Thebes, some years indeed, and we know nothing of these things, who ply our trade from place to place. But if you are the governor of this town, show us, we pray you, as countrywomen of yours, where we may lodge in safety, and at your leisure this afternoon permit that we exhibit our pearls before you, and when that is done, and you have bought or refused them, as you may wish, that my companion should sing to you some of the ancient songs of Egypt.”
“Ladies,” answered Rames, “I am a soldier who would rather buy swords than pearls. Also, as it chances, I am a man who dwells alone, one in whose household no women can be found. Yet because you are of my country, or by Amen I know not why! I grant you your request. I go out to exercise this company in the arts of war, but after sundown you shall come to my palace, and I will see your wares and hear your songs. Till then, farewell. Officer,” he added to a captain who had followed him, “take these Egyptians and their camels and give them a lodging in the guest-house, where they will not be molested, and at sundown bring them to me.”