E.M. Hull.

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A Novel

by E. M. HULL



"Are you coming in to watch the dancing, Lady Conway?"

"I most decidedly am not. I thoroughly disapprove of the expedition of
which this dance is the inauguration. I consider that even by
contemplating such a tour alone into the desert with no chaperon or
attendant of her own sex, with only native camel drivers and servants,
Diana Mayo is behaving with a recklessness and impropriety that is
calculated to cast a slur not only on her own reputation, but also on
the prestige of her country. I blush to think of it. We English cannot
be too careful of our behavior abroad. No opportunity is slight enough
for our continental neighbours to cast stones, and this opportunity is
very far from being slight. It is the maddest piece of unprincipled
folly I have ever heard of."

"Oh, come, Lady Conway! It's not quite so bad as all that. It is
certainly unconventional and - er - probably not quite wise, but remember
Miss Mayo's unusual upbringing - - "

"I am not forgetting her unusual upbringing," interrupted Lady Conway.
"It has been deplorable. But nothing can excuse this scandalous
escapade. I knew her mother years ago, and I took it upon myself to
expostulate both with Diana and her brother, but Sir Aubrey is hedged
around with an egotistical complacency that would defy a pickaxe to
penetrate. According to him a Mayo is beyond criticism, and his
sister's reputation her own to deal with. The girl herself seemed,
frankly, not to understand the seriousness of her position, and was
very flippant and not a little rude. I wash my hands of the whole
affair, and will certainly not countenance to-night's entertainment by
appearing at it. I have already warned the manager that if the noise is
kept up beyond a reasonable hour I shall leave the hotel to-morrow."
And, drawing her wrap around her with a little shudder, Lady Conway
stalked majestically across the wide verandah of the Biskra Hotel.

The two men left standing by the open French window that led into the
hotel ballroom looked at each other and smiled.

"Some peroration," said one with a marked American accent. "That's the
way scandal's made, I guess."

"Scandal be hanged! There's never been a breath of scandal attached to
Diana Mayo's name. I've known the child since she was a baby. Rum
little cuss she was, too. Confound that old woman! She would wreck the
reputation of the Archangel Gabriel if he came down to earth, let alone
that of a mere human girl."

"Not a very human girl," laughed the American. "She was sure meant for
a boy and changed at the last moment. She looks like a boy in
petticoats, a damned pretty boy - and a damned haughty one," he added,
chuckling. "I overheard her this morning, in the garden, making
mincemeat of a French officer."

The Englishman laughed.

"Been making love to her, I expect. A thing she does not understand and
won't tolerate. She's the coldest little fish in the world, without an
idea in her head beyond sport and travel. Clever, though, and plucky as
they are made. I don't think she knows the meaning of the word fear."

"There's a queer streak in the family, isn't there? I heard somebody
yapping about it the other night. Father was mad and blew his brains
out, so I was told."

The Englishman shrugged his shoulders.

"You can call it mad, if you like," he said slowly. "I live near the
Mayos' in England, and happen to know the story. Sir John Mayo was
passionately devoted to his wife; after twenty years of married life
they were still lovers. Then this girl was born, and the mother died.
Two hours afterwards her husband shot himself, leaving the baby in the
sole care of her brother, who was just nineteen, and as lazy and as
selfish then as he is now. The problem of bringing up a girl child was
too much trouble to be solved, so he settled the difficulty by treating
her as if she was a boy. The result is what you see."

They moved nearer to the open window, looking into the brilliantly lit
ballroom, already filled with gaily chattering people. On a slightly
raised platform at one end of the room the host and hostess were
receiving their guests. The brother and sister were singularly unlike.
Sir Aubrey Mayo was very tall and thin, the pallor of his face
accentuated by the blackness of his smoothly brushed hair and heavy
black moustache. His attitude was a mixture of well-bred courtesy and
languid boredom. He seemed too tired even to keep the single eye-glass
that he wore in position, for it dropped continually. By contrast the
girl at his side appeared vividly alive. She was only of medium height
and very slender, standing erect with the easy, vigorous carriage of an
athletic boy, her small head poised proudly. Her scornful mouth and
firm chin showed plainly an obstinate determination, and her deep blue
eyes were unusually clear and steady. The long, curling black lashes
that shaded her eyes and the dark eyebrows were a foil to the thick
crop of loose, red-gold curls that she wore short, clubbed about her

"The result is worth seeing," said the American admiringly, referring
to his companion's last remark.

A third and younger man joined them.

"Hallo, Arbuthnot. You're late. The divinity is ten deep in would-be
partners already."

A dull red crept into the young man's face, and he jerked his head

"I got waylaid by Lady Conway - poisonous old woman! She had a great
deal to say on the subject of Miss Mayo and her trip. She ought to be
gagged. I thought she was going on talking all night, so I fairly
bolted in the end. All the same, I agree with her on one point. Why
can't that lazy ass Mayo go with his sister?"

Nobody seemed to be able to give an answer. The band had begun playing,
and the floor was covered with laughing, talking couples.

Sir Aubrey Mayo had moved away, and his sister was left standing with
several men, who waited, programme in hand, but she waved them away
with a little smile and a resolute shake of her head.

"Things seem to be getting a hustle on," said the American.

"Are you going to try your luck?" asked the elder of the two

The American bit the end off a cigar with a little smile.

"I sure am not. The haughty young lady turned me down as a dancer very
early in our acquaintance. I don't blame her," he added, with a rueful
laugh, "but her extreme candour still rankles. She told me quite
plainly that she had no use for an American who could neither ride nor
dance. I did intimate to her, very gently, that there were a few little
openings in the States for men beside cattle-punching and cabaret
dancing, but she froze me with a look, and I faded away. No, Sir
Egotistical Complacency will be having some bridge later on, which will
suit me much better. He's not a bad chap underneath if you can swallow
his peculiarities, and he's a sportsman. I like to play with him. He
doesn't care a durn if he wins or loses."

"It doesn't matter when you have a banking account the size of his,"
said Arbuthnot. "Personally, I find dancing more amusing and less
expensive. I shall go and take my chance with our hostess."

His eyes turned rather eagerly towards the end of the room where the
girl was standing alone, straight and slim, the light from an
electrolier gilding the thick bright curls framing her beautiful,
haughty little face. She was staring down at the dancers with an absent
expression in her eyes, as if her thoughts were far away from the
crowded ballroom.

The American pushed Arbuthnot forward with a little laugh.

"Run along, foolish moth, and get your poor little wings singed. When
the cruel fair has done trampling on you I'll come right along and mop
up the remains. If, on the other hand, your temerity meets with the
success it deserves, we can celebrate suitably later on." And, linking
his arm in his friend's, he drew him away to the card-room.

Arbuthnot went through the window and worked slowly round the room,
hugging the wall, evading dancers, and threading his way through groups
of chattering men and women of all nationalities. He came at last to
the raised dais on which Diana Mayo was still standing, and climbed up
the few steps to her side.

"This is luck, Miss Mayo," he said, with an assurance that he was far
from feeling. "Am I really fortunate enough to find you without a

She turned to him slowly, with a little crease growing between her
arched eyebrows, as if his coming were inopportune and she resented the
interruption to her thoughts, and then she smiled quite frankly.

"I said I would not dance until everybody was started," she said rather
doubtfully, looking over the crowded floor.

"They are all dancing. You've done your duty nobly. Don't miss this
ripping tune," he urged persuasively.

She hesitated, tapping her programme-pencil against her teeth.

"I refused a lot of men," she said, with a grimace. Then she laughed
suddenly. "Come along, then. I am noted for my bad manners. This will
only be one extra sin."

Arbuthnot danced well, but with the girl in his arms he seemed suddenly
tongue-tied. They swung round the room several times, then halted
simultaneously beside an open window and went out into the garden of
the hotel, sitting down on a wicker seat under a gaudy Japanese hanging
lantern. The band was still playing, and for the moment the garden was
empty, lit faintly by coloured lanterns, festooned from the palm trees,
and twinkling lights outlining the winding paths.

Arbuthnot leaned forward, his hands clasped between his knees.

"I think you are the most perfect dancer I have ever met," he said a
little breathlessly.

Miss Mayo looked at him seriously, without a trace of

"It is very easy to dance if you have a musical ear, and if you have
been in the habit of making your body do what you want. So few people
seem to be trained to make their limbs obey them. Mine have had to do
as they were told since I was a small child," she answered calmly.

The unexpectedness of the reply acted as a silencer on Arbuthnot for a
few minutes, and the girl beside him seemed in no hurry to break the
silence. The dance was over and the empty garden was thronged for a
little time. Then the dancers drifted back into the hotel as the band
started again.

"It's rather jolly here in the garden," Arbuthnot said tentatively. His
heart was pounding with unusual rapidity, and his eyes, that he kept
fixed on his own clasped hands, had a hungry look growing in them.

"You mean that, you want to sit out this dance with me?" she said with
a boyish directness that somewhat nonplussed him.

"Yes," he stammered rather foolishly.

She held her programme up to the light of the lantern. "I promised this
one to Arthur Conway. We quarrel every time we meet. I cannot think why
he asked me; he disapproves of me even more than his mother does - such
an interfering old lady. He will be overjoyed to be let off. And I
don't want to dance to-night. I am looking forward so tremendously to
to-morrow. I shall stay and talk to you, but you must give me a
cigarette to keep me in a good temper."

His hand shook a little as he held the match for her. "Are you really
determined to go through with this tour?"

She stared at him in surprise. "Why not? My arrangements have been made
some time. Why should I change my mind at the last moment?"

"Why does your brother let you go alone? Why doesn't he go with you?
Oh, I haven't any right to ask, but I do ask," he broke out vehemently.

She shrugged her shoulders with a little laugh. "We fell out, Aubrey
and I. He wanted to go to America. I wanted a trip into the desert. We
quarrelled for two whole days and half one night, and then we
compromised. I should have my desert tour, and Aubrey should go to New
York; and to mark his brotherly appreciation of my gracious promise to
follow him to the States without fail at the end of a month he has
consented to grace my caravan for the first stage, and dismiss me on my
way with his blessing. It annoyed him so enormously that he could not
order me to go with him, this being the first time in our wanderings
that our inclinations have not jumped in the same direction. I came of
age a few months ago, and, in future, I can do as I please. Not that I
have ever done anything else," she conceded, with another laugh,
"because Aubrey's ways have been my ways until now."

"But for the sake of one month! What difference could it make to him?"
he asked in astonishment.

"That's Aubrey," replied Miss Mayo drily.

"It isn't safe," persisted Arbuthnot.

She flicked the ash from her cigarette carelessly. "I don't agree with
you. I don't know why everybody is making such a fuss about it. Plenty
of other women have travelled in much wilder country than this desert."

He looked at her curiously. She seemed to be totally unaware that it
was her youth and her beauty that made all the danger of the
expedition. He fell back on the easier excuse.

"There seems to be unrest amongst some of the tribes. There have been a
lot of rumours lately," he said seriously.

She made a little movement of impatience. "Oh, that's what they always
tell you when they want to put obstacles in your way. The authorities
have already dangled that bogey in front of me. I asked for facts and
they only gave me generalities. I asked definitely if they had any
power to stop me. They said they had not, but strongly advised me not
to make the attempt. I said I should go, unless the French Government
arrested me.... Why not? I am not afraid. I don't admit that there is
anything to be afraid of. I don't believe a word about the tribes being
restless. Arabs are always moving about, aren't they? I have an
excellent caravan leader, whom even the authorities vouch for, and I
shall be armed. I am perfectly able to take care of myself. I can shoot
straight and I am used to camping. Besides, I have given my word to
Aubrey to be in Oran in a month, and I can't get very far away in that

There was an obstinate ring in her voice, and when she stopped speaking
he sat silent, consumed with anxiety, obsessed with the loveliness of
her, and tormented with the desire to tell her so. Then he turned to
her suddenly, and his face was very white. "Miss Mayo - Diana - put off
this trip only for a little, and give me the right to go with you. I
love you. I want you for my wife more than anything on earth. I shan't
always be a penniless subaltern. One of these days I shall be able to
give you a position that is worthy of you; no, nothing could be that,
but one at least that I am not ashamed to offer to you. We've been very
good friends; you know all about me. I'll give my whole life to make
you happy. The world has been a different place to me since you came
into it. I can't get away from you. You are in my thoughts night and
day. I love you; I want you. My God, Diana! Beauty like yours drives a
man mad!"

"Is beauty all that a man wants in his wife?" she asked, with a kind of
cold wonder in her voice. "Brains and a sound body seem much more
sensible requirements to me."

"But when a woman has all three, as you have, Diana," he whispered
ardently, his hands closing over the slim ones lying in her lap.

But with a strength that seemed impossible for their smallness she
disengaged them from his grasp. "Please stop. I am sorry. We have been
good friends, and it has never occurred to me that there could be
anything beyond that. I never thought that you might love me. I never
thought of you in that way at all, I don't understand it. When God made
me He omitted to give me a heart. I have never loved any one in my
life. My brother and I have tolerated each other, but there has never
been any affection between us. Would it be likely? Put yourself in
Aubrey's place. Imagine a young man of nineteen, with a cold, reserved
nature, being burdened with the care of a baby sister, thrust into his
hands unwanted and unexpected. Was it likely that he would have any
affection for me? I never wanted it. I was born with the same cold
nature as his. I was brought up as a boy, my training was hard. Emotion
and affection have been barred out of my life. I simply don't know what
they mean. I don't want to know. I am very content with my life as it
is. Marriage for a woman means the end of independence, that is,
marriage with a man who is a man, in spite of all that the most modern
woman may say. I have never obeyed any one in my life; I do not wish to
try the experiment. I am very sorry to have hurt you. You've been a
splendid pal, but that side of life does not exist for me. If I had
thought for one moment that my friendship was going to hurt you I need
not have let you become so intimate, but I did not think, because it is
a subject that I never think of. A man to me is just a companion with
whom I ride or shoot or fish; a pal, a comrade, and that's just all
there is to it. God made me a woman. Why, only He knows."

Her quiet, even voice stopped. There had been a tone of cold sincerity
in it that Arbuthnot could not help but recognise. She meant everything
that she said. She said no more than the truth. Her reputation for
complete indifference to admiration and her unvarying attitude towards
men were as well known as her dauntless courage and obstinate
determination. With Sir Aubrey Mayo she behaved like a younger brother,
and as such entertained his friends. She was popular with everybody,
even with the mothers of marriageable daughters, for, in spite of her
wealth and beauty, her notorious peculiarities made her negligible as a
rival to plainer and less well-dowered girls.

Arbuthnot sat in silence. It was hardly likely, he thought bitterly,
that he should succeed where other and better men had failed. He had
been a fool to succumb to the temptation that had been too hard for him
to resist. He knew her well enough to know beforehand what her answer
would be. The very real fear for her safety that the thought of the
coming expedition gave him, her nearness in the mystery of the Eastern
night, the lights, the music, had all combined to rush to his lips
words that in a saner moment would never have passed them. He loved
her, he would love her always, but he knew that his love was as
hopeless as it was undying. But it was men who were men whom she wanted
for her friends, so he must take his medicine like a man.

"May I still be the pal, Diana?" he said quietly.

She looked at him a moment, but in the dim light of the hanging
lanterns his eyes were steady under hers, and she held out her hand
frankly. "Gladly," she said candidly. "I have hosts of acquaintances,
but very few friends. We are always travelling, Aubrey and I, and we
never seem to have time to make friends. We rarely stay as long in one
place as we have stayed in Biskra. In England they call us very bad
neighbours, we are so seldom there. We generally go home for three
months in the winter for the hunting, but the rest of the year we
wander on the face of the globe."

He held her slender fingers gripped in his for a moment, smothering an
insane desire to press them to his lips, which he knew would be fatal
to the newly accorded friendship, and then let them go. Miss Mayo
continued sitting quietly beside him. She was in no way disturbed by
what had happened. She had taken him literally at his word, and was
treating him as the pal he had asked to be. It no more occurred to her
that she might relieve him of her society than it occurred to her that
her continued presence might be distressing to him. She was totally
unembarrassed and completely un-self-conscious. And as they sat silent,
her thoughts far away in the desert, and his full of vain longings and
regrets, a man's low voice rose in the stillness of the night. "_Pale
hands I loved beside the Shalimar. Where are you now? Who lies beneath
your spell_?" he sang in a passionate, vibrating baritone. He was
singing in English, and yet the almost indefinite slurring from note to
note was strangely un-English. Diana Mayo leaned forward, her head
raised, listening intently, with shining eyes. The voice seemed to come
from the dark shadows at the end of the garden, or it might have been
further away out in the road beyond the cactus hedge. The singer sang
slowly, his voice lingering caressingly on the words; the last verse
dying away softly and clearly, almost imperceptibly fading into

For a moment there was utter stillness, then Diana lay back with a
little sigh. "The Kashmiri Song. It makes me think of India. I heard a
man sing it in Kashmere last year, but not like that. What a wonderful
voice! I wonder who it is?"

Arbuthnot looked at her curiously, surprised at the sudden ring of
interest in her tone, and the sudden animation of her face.

"You say you have no emotion in your nature, and yet that unknown man's
singing has stirred you deeply. How do you reconcile the two?" he
asked, almost angrily.

"Is an appreciation of the beautiful emotion?" she challenged, with
uplifted eyes. "Surely not. Music, art, nature, everything beautiful
appeals to me. But there is nothing emotional in that. It is only that
I prefer beautiful things to ugly ones. For that reason even pretty
clothes appeal to me," she added, laughing.

"You are the best-dressed woman in Biskra," he acceded. "But is not
that a concession to the womanly feelings that you despise?"

"Not at all. To take an interest in one's clothes is not an exclusively
feminine vice. I like pretty dresses. I admit to spending some time in
thinking of colour schemes to go with my horrible hair, but I assure
you that my dressmaker has an easier life than Aubrey's tailor."

She sat silent, hoping that the singer might not have gone, but there
was no sound except a cicada chirping near her. She swung round in her
chair, looking in the direction from which it came. "Listen to him.
Jolly little chap! They are the first things I listen for when I get to
Port Said. They mean the East to me."

"Maddening little beasts!" said Arbuthnot irritably.

"They are going to be very friendly little beasts to me during the next
four weeks.... You don't know what this trip means to me. I like wild
places. The happiest times of my life have been spent camping in
America and India, and I have always wanted the desert more than either
of them. It is going to be a month of pure joy. I am going to be
enormously happy."

She stood up with a little laugh of intense pleasure, and half turned,
waiting for Arbuthnot. He got up reluctantly and stood silent beside
her for a few moments. "Diana, I wish you'd let me kiss you, just
once," he broke out miserably.

She looked up swiftly with a glint of anger in her eyes, and shook her
head. "No. That's not in the compact. I have never been kissed in my
life. It is one of the things that I do not understand." Her voice was
almost fierce.

She moved leisurely towards the hotel, and he paced beside her
wondering if he had forfeited her friendship by his outburst, but on
the verandah she halted and spoke in the frank tone of camaraderie in
which she had always addressed him. "Shall I see you in the morning?"

He understood. There was to be no more reference to what had passed
between them. The offer of friendship held, but only on her own terms.
He pulled himself together.

"Yes. We have arranged an escort of about a dozen of us to ride the
first few miles with you, to give you a proper send-off."

She made a laughing gesture of protest. "It will certainly need four
weeks of solitude to counteract the conceit I shall acquire," she said
lightly, as she passed into the ballroom.

A few hours later Diana came into her bedroom, and, switching on the
electric lights, tossed her gloves and programme into a chair. The room
was empty, for her maid had had a _vertige_ at the suggestion that
she should accompany her mistress into the desert, and had been sent
back to Paris to await Diana's return. She had left during the day, to
take most of the heavy luggage with her.

Diana stood in the middle of the room and looked at the preparations
for the early start next morning with a little smile of satisfaction.
Everything was _en train_; the final arrangements had all been
concluded some days before. The camel caravan with the camp equipment
was due to leave Biskra a few hours before the time fixed for the Mayos
to start with Mustafa Ali, the reputable guide whom the French
authorities had reluctantly recommended. The two big suit-cases that

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