He got the impression of peculiar and sudden relief in her eyes, as if the problem had solved itself.
"Wants to get me off the scene!" he told himself.
She stopped further uneasy speculation on his part by bringing her sketch across and plunging into technical details about it. He was a sound critic and was beguiled into an enthusiastic discourse on architecture. She listened and argued and discussed points with flattering deference, until the sun was low and vast and crimson in the west.
Then she casually remarked, "You needn't go now, surely?"
He started up. "I'd completely forgotten my little call. Sorry, dear, to leave you even for an hour. Etiquette's extremely stiff on these small formalities; better go, I think. "Bye, old lady, don't go wandering about."
"Thank heaven, he's gone!" Merle thrust her drawings into a portfolio, put on a hat, scrutinized her pale face in her compact-mirror, applied lipstick and rouge with an artist's hand, and walked down the hill path.
At its junction with the dusty road, a tall black-clad figure joined her.
"You are punctual, Mademoiselle! That is well, for we must be there before sunset."
It seemed an interminable walk to her as they dived and twisted through a labyrinth of courtyards, flights of steps, and overshadowed narrow streets. She followed her silent guide closely. It would be unpleasant to lose even such a grim protector as EI Shabur. She shrank from the filthy whining beggars with their rags and sores, from the bold evil faces of the young men who stood to stare at her. Even the children revolted her—pale unhealthy abnormal little creatures that they were.
The sheykh hurried on through the old town with its towering fort-like houses to newer Siwa. Here the dwellings were only of two or three stories with open roofs that looked like great stone boxes shoved hastily together in irregular blocks.
El Shabur looked at the sun, then turned to his companion with such malice in his black eyes that she shrank from him.
"He is here."
She looked up at the house-front with its tiny windows and fought back the premonition of horror that made her throat dry and her heart beat heavily. She despised her weakness. Inside this sinister house, behind one of those dark slits of windows, Gunnar was waiting for her.
Why he'd not come to her, why she must visit him secretly with El Shabur, she refused to ask herself. She loved him. She was going to be with him. The rest did not count at all.
She followed her guide through a low entrance door, stumbled up a narrow dark stairway, caught glimpses of bare, untenanted, low-ceilinged rooms. El Shabur opened a door at the top of the house, drew back with a flash of white teeth. She stooped to enter the low doorway.
There was no answer in words, but from the shadows a figure limped, his face and head cut and bleeding, so gaunt, so shadow-like too, that she cried out again.
"Oh! Oh, my dear!"
He took her in his arms. She clasped him, drew his head down to hers, kissed the gray tortured face with passionate love and pity.
"Gunnar, I am here with you! Look at me! What is it?—tell me, darling, let me help you!"
His eyes met hers in such bitter despair and longing that she clutched him to her again, pressing her face against his shoul-