“I stood by the Nile,” said Paaker, casting down his eyes and drawing lines with his whip through the wool of the cabin rug. “The water was still, and I saw Nefert standing on the farther bank, and beckoning to me. I called to her, and she stepped on the water, which bore her up as if it were this carpet. She went over the water dry-foot as if it were the stony wilderness. A wonderful sight! She came nearer to me, and nearer, and already I had tried to take her hand, when she ducked under like a swan. I went into the water to seize her, and when she came up again I clasped her in my arms; but then the strangest thing happened—she flowed away, she dissolved like the snow on the Syrian hills, when you take it in your hand, and yet it was not the same, for her hair turned to water-lilies, and her eyes to blue fishes that swam away merrily, and her lips to twigs of coral that sank at once, and from her body grew a crocodile, with a head like Mena, that laughed and gnashed its teeth at me. Then I was seized with blind fury; I threw myself upon him with a drawn sword, he fastened his teeth in my flesh, I pierced his throat with my weapon; the Nile was dark with our streaming blood, and so we fought and fought—it lasted an eternity—till I awoke.”
Paaker drew a deep breath as he ceased speaking; as if his wild dream tormented him again.
The dwarf had listened with eager attention, but several minutes passed before he spoke.
“A strange dream,” he said, “but the interpretation as to the future is not hard to find. Nefert is striving to reach thee, she longs to be thine, but if thou dost fancy that she is already in thy grasp she will elude thee; thy hopes will melt like ice, slip away like sand, if thou dost not know how to put the crocodile out of the way.”
At this moment the boat struck the landing-place. The pioneer started up, and cried, “We have reached the end!”
“We have reached the end,” echoed the little man with meaning. “There is only a narrow bridge to step over.”
When they both stood on the shore, the dwarf said,
“I have to thank thee for thy hospitality, and when I can serve thee command me.”
“Come here,” cried the pioneer, and drew Nemu away with him under the shade of a sycamore veiled in the half light of the departing sun.
“What do you mean by a bridge which we must step over? I do not understand the flowers of speech, and desire plain language.”
The dwarf reflected for a moment; and then asked, “Shall I say nakedly and openly what I mean, and will you not be angry?”
“Mena is the crocodile. Put him out of the world, and you will have passed the bridge; then Nefert will be thine—if thou wilt listen to me.”
“What shall I do?”
“Put the charioteer out of the world.”
Paaker’s gesture seemed to convey that that was a thing that had long been decided on, and he turned his face, for a good omen, so that the rising moon should be on his right hand.