The Writing on the Wall
THE WRITING ON THE WALL.
BY RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
IMMEN Pasha's dinner was given to Miss Page, although it was ostensibly in honor of the British Minister, whose wife sat on Immen's right, and tested that Oriental's composed politeness greatly. But at times he would turn to Miss Page, and she would murmur with him in French, and he would have his reward. The condition upon which Miss Page had come to the dinner was that it should be an Oriental one throughout, and so the table was accordingly of silver, and each strange sticky course was served in a golden bowl, and each fork and bore a ruby and a diamond in its handle.
"Diamonds and rubies are my jewels," Immen explained simply, as one would say, "Blue and yellow are my racing colors," or that such a sentence was the motto of his family.
A native orchestra played from a balcony of heavily carved wood that stretched across one end of the room, and behind a lattice beneath it shone the bright eyes of Immen's wife, who was polite]y supposed to have already departed for Alexandria, but who in reality was looking with wonder and misgivings upon the bold women, with naked faces and shoulders, who sat at her husband's side, and talked to him without waiting for him to give them leave.
Miss Page and her family had been spending the winter in Cairo, and were to leave in the week. The hot weather, or what passes for hot weather in Cairo, had arrived, and the last of Cook's dahabeahs was hurrying back down the Nile, and a few of the court had already gone to Alexandria, and in two weeks the Khedive would follow. It had been a delightful winter, and Helen Page had enjoyed it in what was to her a new way. She had reached that stage when everything in life has found its true value. There was for her no more marking up or marking down. If it would not sell for that, it should not leave her; or if it cost so much, it was not worth seeking after, and she let it go. She still enjoyed dances and functions; but the dances had to be very well done,and the functions had to come in the natural order of things. She knew what bored her and what amused her, and she knew the worth of a cabinet minister's conversation and the value of a few words from royalty, and of a day with her brother hunting for bargains in the bazars. She had arrived.
She left the officers of the Army of Occupation to her sister, who was just out, and of that age when the man who leads the cotillion was of much more immediate importance than the gentleman with the star on his coat who could tell her sister when the Italians would move over the Alps, or the tall senators in Washington who related such amusing stories, and who told things to Helen of such importance that she would sit with her eyes cast down, so that people might not see how interested she was. That might be worth while to Helen, but to her sister the young English officers on polo ponies, and the rides to the ostrich farm, and golf at the base of the pyramids, were much more entertaining. So it happened occasionally when Helen and her good-looking brother were treasure-hunting on the Mouski that they would have to jump out of tho way of a yelling outrunner in black and gold, aud see their sister roll by seated high in a cart, with an Arabian pony in the shafts and an English subaltern at her side.
Once when this happened her brother looked after the cart with a smile, and said, indulgently, and with that tolerance for youth which only a Harvard Junior can feel,
"Wouldn't you like to be as young as that, Helen?"
His sister exclaimed, indignantly: "Well, upon my word. And how old do you suppose I am?"
"I don't know," the brother answered, unabashed. "The last time I asked you, you were nineteen. That was years ago."
"Only four years. Does that make me so very old?"
"But you've seen such a lot, and you've been around so much, and all that," he argued. "That's what makes people old. Helen, don't you ever intend to get married?"
"Never," said the sister. "I am going to live with you, and keep you from falling in love with a nicer girl than myself, and we will promise each other never to marry, but just to go about like this always, and explore places and have adventures."
Young Page laughed indulgently. "Very well," he said. He had had hopes at one time that his sister would take a fancy to his roommate, who played next to him on the football eleven; hut that gentleman had never really appreciated her, although he had once said that her photograph was the finest thing he had ever seen. He used to stand in front of it when he was filling his pipe and survey it critically, with his head on one side, and Page had considered this a very good sign. It was after this that the announcement in the papers of his sister's engagement to a young English duke had made her brother wonder if that perhaps would not be oven a better thing for him, as it would give him such grand opportunities for shooting over his brother-in-law's preserves. And from that time on, he rather discouraged his roommate in cherishing secret hopes.
He had not heard of the young Englishman lately, so he inquired jocosely, and with what he considered rare discretion and subtlety, "If you were to marry a duke, Helen, would I shall call you just plain Helen, or would you make me say 'Your Grace,' as the servants do?'
Helen stopped, ankle-deep in, the mud of the bazars, and surveyed him with such evident amusement that he laughed in some embarrassment. "You could never truthfully call me 'plain Helen,' Ted," she said, "and you will never have the chance to call me the other thing."
"Oh!" said her brother, meekly, "that's how it is, is it?"
"Yes, that's how it is," his sister echoed.
The man who sat on Miss Page's left at Immen Pasha's dinner was Prince Panine, the Russian First Secretary. He had known Miss Page in Washington when he was an attaché of the Russian legation there, and had been bold enough to ask her to marry him. When she declined to do so he took it hardly, and said unpleasant things about her, which, in time, came back to her. She bore him no ill will for this; but he did not appeal to her as a delightful dinner companion.
It was different with the Russian, for it was his pride that had been hurt by her refusal rather than his heart, and he thought this the sweet moment of his revenge. He now could show the woman who had refused him when he was an insignificant attaché that it was the prospective head of a powerful and noble Russian family and a possible ambassador that she had overlooked.
He felt the value of the situation keenly. It inspired him as a good part inspires the actor, and he smiled at his own thoughts, and twisted his pointed beard, and bridled and bowed his head like a pretty woman. Miss Page at first did not notice him at all. She was intent on what Immen was telling her of some extravagance of Ismail Pasha's, in whose cabinet he had served: but when he had ceased, and turned with a sigh to the English matron, Miss Page moved in her chair, and surveyed Panine with smiling good-nature.
"It is very nice to see you again," she said, comfortably; "but they tell me, Prince, that you are such a dangerous personage now. I am really rather afraid of you."
The Russian bowed his head, and smiled grimly. "You did not find me dangerous once," he said.
But she looked past him, and continued as though he had not spoken. "I never thought you would take the service so seriously," she wont on. "Why, you will be a minister very soon now, will you not?"
Panine looked at her sternly, as though he was in doubt as to her being serious. "Some one has told you?" he asked, frowning.
"No," she said, lightly. "But it is about time, is it not? What were you in Washington? Second Secretary, I think?"
"It is not a matter of years," the Russian, answered, stiffly; "at least it is not so with some men. It is true I am still a secretary, but our chief has been away, and—what is it that you have for a proverb—'when the cat's away the mice'—eh?" He lifted his eyebrows, and then glanced quickly up and down the length of the table, as though to give her the impression that he was fearful of having been overheard. Miss Page did not apparently notice this by-play. She laughed, and then interrupted herself to listen to something that was being said across the table before she answered him.
"So," she said, "you have been plotting and conspiring again, have you, and we are to have a crisis; You are all just alike." She laughed indulgently. "It is so absurd," she said.
Panine's frown was quite genuine now. "Ah, so," he said, with mocking politeness, "you think it absurd? Yes," he added; "you are quite right. It is nothing, just a game, and, as you say, quite absurd-quite absurd. You relieve me," he added. "I had feared perhaps you had learned something. Even the most experienced in our service is sometimes indiscreet, when it is a beautiful woman to whom he talks."
Her eyes closed for an instant, which was a trick they had when she was annoyed or bored, and she turned to Immen with a smile. The Russian sipped deeply from his glass and scowled. He felt that he was not making that sort of an impression which the situation should have called forth, The girl did not yet seem to appreciate what she had given up.
Miss Page turned to him again. "We are to have a most amusing evening," she said; "did you know Immen is going to have Bannerman in to do his tricks for us."
"Yes. Have you over seen him?"
Panine answered, in the tone of one who is tolerant of the amusements of others, that he had seen the fellow once when he had performed before the King of Greece. "He made us all look rather ridiculous and undignified," he said. "I do not think that I like the court jester of modern times."
"You must be very careful," Miss Page laughed, "or he will read all of your secrets, and then we will know what mischief you have been—"
"I beg your pardon!" interrupted the Russian, quickly. He gave her a warning glance, "They will hear you," he explained.
The girl tossed her head with a shrug of impatience. "Quelle pose!" she said. "Why are you not amusing, as you used to be? Are you always mysterious now; And when are you Russians going to embrace France; and how soon will your fleet be in the Bosporus; and do you still draw little maps of Constantinople on the backs of your visiting-cards? Oh, it is such an old, old story!"
"Just as you say," replied Panine, without showing any sense of injury. "It is an old story; it is like the shepherdboy who kept calling that the wolf was coming—is it not?"
"Exactly," consented the girl, "except that the Russian specimen of wolf never comes."
Panine smiled and nodded his head, "Do you know something, Miss Page?" he said. "You should have been in a secret service. You should have been a diplomat."
"I don't think I like that," said the girl, slowly, "though you probably meant that I should. Why?"
"Because the methods you adopt in finding out what you wish to know are the ones which will make you sure to learn. Make little of another's secret, Miss Page. or of another's knowledge, and he is sure to tell you what he knows, because he is piqued, and wishes to show you how important it is or how important he is."
"My dear Prince," said the girl, patiently, "I have not the least desire to know your secrets, I have no 'methods,' I am quite innocent of trying to find out anything. You do yourself entirely too much honor. Even if you had a secret, it would make me most uncomfortable if I thought you had it about you, and especially if I imagined you intended to let it escape."
"You treat me this way," said the Russian, quickly, and lowering his voice, "because you still, even now look at me as a boy. You think in the last five years that I am doing nothing; that I am still copying despatches and translating reports. But that is past. I send despatches myself now, and in a short time my government and every government will know that I have not been idle. What I am doing now will be the talk of the whole diplomatic world."
The man leaned forward and poured out his words in a low and intense whisper. He was mortified and his pride cut to the heart at the coldness of the woman beside him. Had she begged for his confidence he could have withheld it easily, as his caution would have taken alarm at her entreaties; but her silent indifference to him and to what he knew was of momentous importance piqued and unnerved him. He was sure she was discreet; it was the one quality that every man and woman unhesitatingly allowed to her: and more than that, she was very beautiful, A man will tell a discreet woman a great deal, and when she has added to this virtue great beauty, he is liable to tell her everything, unless she stops him.
"There are those here at this table," continued Panine, with his eyes bent on his plate, "who are in danger. In a week, in a day, the crisis at which you laugh will come, and some of those who are here to-night will not dine with us again."
Miss Page considered that it was now quite time for him to stop. "I had no idea you were serious," she said, haughtily. "Who gave you the right to confide in me?" She turned for relief to Immen, but he was deep in conversation with his neighbor, so she became silent, and interested herself in the dish before her. "Do you know what this is?" she asked Panine, in a lighter tone. "I have been studying very hard since I have been here, but I never seem to learn the names of anything useful."
Panine was biting at his finger-nail. He had worked himself up into a fever of excitement. For months his thoughts had been on one theme, and in working out what was to be for him a great coup, which was to place him at the head of a legation and cover his coat with French and Russian orders. He could think of nothing else, and he could not not contain himself.
"You know the situation here," he went on, anxiously, as though she had not previously checked him. "It is three to one, if you went less with your English friends, and saw more of us, you would feel loss confident, you would have less of their arrogance and intolerance of the enemy. It is not wise to despise the enemy. What would you think if the Dual Control, which is not a Dual Control, should be revived, but with this important difference, that it should be France and Russia, and not France and England, who are to guide the future of these Egyptians?"
Miss Page glanced with a smile down the table to where the English Consul-General sat, large, broad-shouldered, and aggressive-looking even over his sweetmeats. He caught her eye, and smiled pleasantly.
"That is not a very thrilling idea," she said. "It seems to me it has been in the air for some time. Not that I follow politics at all," she added, quickly, "but every one knows that; it is certainly not new."
"The idea, no; but the carrying out of it, yes," said the Russian. He leaned forward and towards her quickly, and before she could draw her head away had whispered to her a few words in English, which was the safest tongue he could have used in that company. Then he drew back, his eyes brilliant with triumph and excitement, and noted the effect of his words.
The girl's face had paled, and her eyes were wide open, as though she had seen something that shocked her, and she even made a movement as though she would push back her chair and leave the table. But as the color came to her cheeks her self-possession returned to her, and she bent her body forward and said across the table to one of the English women opposite: "I hear you are going to sail with us next week. That will be very nice. I hope it will be smooth between here and Brindisi."
Panine exclaimed under his breath, and whispered something between his fingers as he twisted them in his pointed beard.
There were many people at the reception which followed the dinner; wise-looking judges of the Mixed Courts and their wives and native princes, secretaries of the many diplomatic agencies, and an abundance of scarlet mess-jackets on officers of the Army of Occupation. They outshone even the women in the brilliancy of their apparel, with their broad bands of gold braid and rows of tiny brass buttons. They outshone the men, too, in the ruddy tan of their faces, burned by the sun of the Soudan and roughened by the the sand of the desert. They were a handsome, arrogant-looking group; some with the fez, which seemed strangely out of place on their yellow hair, and which showed that they served the Khedive, and others with strips of tiny ribbons across their breasts, to show that they had served the Queen, and each of these Englishmen moved about with the uneasy, self-assertive air of one who knows that he is welcomed through necessity, and only because he holds his place in the society about him by force of arms.
Bannerman, the English mind-reader, busied himself in selecting a committee, and the others seated themselves on the divans around the room, and discussed the self-possessed young woman with the yellow-dyed hair who served as the mind-reader's assistant, and to whom be referred as "my ward." They all agreed that he was certainly very clever, and as an entertainer a decided relief after the amateur musicians of doubtful talent who had been forced upon them at other houses.
Bannerman showed how some one else had stabbed the Austrian Minister in the back with a paper-knife, after first having discovered it hidden in a pot of palms in the garden. And his assistant, at his command, described rings and coins and pocket-pieces held up before her blindfolded eyes. Then Bannerman read the numbers on an English bank-note, chalking them out on a blackboard,and rearranged groups and tableaux which had been previously stage-managed and separated during his absence from the room. He was extremely easy and clever, and smiled an offensively humble smile as each exhibition was rewarded by enthusiastic approbation. Nothing quite so out of the common had been given them during the season. Magicians they had in plenty; they could be found on the terrace of Shepheard's any afternoon, but there was something almost uncanny in the successes of this English adventurer, which was slightly spoiled by his self-assurance, by the rows of medals on his coat, and the barbarous jewels on his short fat fingers.
Hoffmeyer Bey, a German in the Egyptian service, took it very seriously.
"I should like to ask you, sir," he demanded, as though the mind-reader were on trial, and gazing at him grimly through round spectacles, "whether you claim to will the young lady to say what these articles are which you hold up, or whether you claim to communicate with her by thought-transference."
Some of the subalterns nudged each other and grinned at this. They did not know how the trick was done, but they did know that it was a trick. You could not impose on them.
"I should answer that, sir, in this way," said the showman, glibly. "I should say that it is an exhibition of both will-power and of thought-transference. You observe, ladies and gentlemen, that I do not even approach my assistant, so that it is not muscle-reading I depend upon, which is a very different thing from mind-reading, and which necessitates actual contact. I see whatever it is that you wish described. My mind is working in sympathy with my ward's, and I will her to tell of what I am thinking. If 1 did not keep my mind on the object, she could give no description of it whatsoever."
Colonel Royce raised his finger. "Eh—could she give a description of it if you merely thought of it, but didn't say anything?" he demanded.
Miss Page, who was sitting at Immen's side in a far corner, smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "Why don't they let the poor man alone?" she said, "It is a very good trick, and is all the more amusing because wo think it is not a trick, Why insist on seeing the wheels go round?"
"Oh, he will explain," said the old Pasha, smiling. "C'est sou métier. He has been asked these same questions before. He is quite prepared for them, and in a contest of argument I imagine the fakir would be more than a match for our military friend. The Colonel, they tell me, is more at home in a saddle than in a salon."
"The best test I could possibly submit to you," said Bannerman, "and one which would show you that there is no collusion between myself and my assistant, is one that I call 'The writing on the wall.' I will take any one you please to select as my subject, and make him or her write a sentence on this blackboard in a language which he or she does not understand. I will not dictate what the subject writes. I simply claim to be able to make him write it in a language which he does not know. If I can do this, you must admit that I have the power to will another to read what is in my mind, just as I am able to read what is in his mind, I think that is the just conclusion, I act in the test simply as a translator. The subject thinks of a sentence or phrase, and I translate it in my own mind, and force him by willpower alone to write it in a language with which he is absolutely unfamiliar. All I ask is that I may be allowed to blindfold whoever assists me in this, in order that he may not have his attention distracted, and to be allowed to hold his hand,"
"Will you please say that all over again?" commanded Colonel Royce.
Bannerman explained his test once more, and there was a general murmur of incredulity and of whispered persiflage on the part of the subalterns.
"If he can make you write three words in correct French, Ted," said his younger sister, "I'll believe he's a spook."
The English Minister turned to his American confrère with a smile, "That sounds rather interesting," he said. "How will he do it?"
The American was silting with his lips puckered and with his eyes half closed. "I was just trying' to think," he said, doubtfully. "Of course it is a trick. I don't believe in thought-transference myself. He either moves his assistant's hand, and makes him think that he is doing it himself when he is not, or the assistant does what the little boy did. There is no other way."
"What did the little boy do? Is that an American story?" said the Englishman, smiling.
"Oh, the little boy lied," explained the Consul-General.
Bannerman stood in the centre of the room weighing a broad silly scarf in his hands. "There is too much light for my purpose," he said; "it prevents my concentrating my thoughts. Would you mind having two or three of those lamps placed outside,if you please? Thank you."
The lamps were carried out, and the room was now left in an appropriate half-light, which came mysteriously from under red globes. There was an interested silence. Bannerman stood weighing the handkerchief in the palms of his hands and glancing slowly around the surrounding rows of faces. His eyes rested finally on the further corner where Helen Page sat in an alcove, with the English woman who was to sail with her the week following. They were whispering together busily, and Immen Pasha had turned his shoulder to them so that they might speak the more freely. Bannerman walked directly towards them without speaking or making any sound, but as he came forward, Miss Page turned her head sharply, and looked at him inquiringly as though he had already addressed her. He stood immediately before her and bowed.
"Will you be so good as to assist me in this?" he asked. He bowed again, smiling as ho did so, with so assured an air that Immen rose and placed himself between them.
"No," he answered for her. "You must ask some one else."
"I should be very much gratified if this young lady would assist me," said the adventurer, earnestly, but in so low a tone that those at the other end of the room could hear nothing. "I am quite confident I could succeed with her. It is a most difficult experiment."
Miss Page shook her head slightly. "Thank you, no," she said.
She turned to her friend and began speaking with her again as though nothing had interrupted them. The mind-reader made no second effort to address her, neither did he move away, but stood perfectly still, looking at her curiously and fixedly. The girl stopped as though some one had touched her to attract her attention, and, looking up, met the eyes of the mind-reader fixed upon hers. The man took courage from the silence in the room, which showed him that his choice had been a popular one, and that the girl whose money and beauty and brains had in their different fashion interested different people was a personage of whom they wished to see more in a new part. Even Immen himself stood aside now; he, too, was curious to see how she would acquit herself.
"Come," said the man in a low tone. The girl stared at him in surprise and drew back.
She turned to Immen. "What does he want with me?" she said.
"It is nothing, madam," answered Bannerman, quickly, before the older man could speak to her: "merely to write a sentence on the blackboard. Anything that comes into your head, and I shall will you to write it in any language I please."
The girl's face wore a troubled, puzzled look, and instead of turning her eyes away, she continued staring at the man as though she were trying to recollect whether she had ever seen him before.
He drew away from her slowly, and with his eyes still fixed on hers. "You will assist me," he said. And this time it was not in a tone of inquiry that he spoke but of command.
The girl rose suddenly, and stood uncertainly, looking around the room as though to test its feeling toward her. She saw the English Minister (as that Consul-General was called by courtesy) smiling at her encouragingly, she saw Panine in a doorway, posed against the red curtains, scowling to himself, and she saw her brother and sister, surrounded by a full staff of scarlet jackets, enjoying her discomfiture. She took a step back as though to resume her place in the alcove but the mind-reader put out his hand, and she, to the surprise of all, took it, staring at him as she did so, as though to read in his face how he had been able to make her give it him.
"You understand French, of course," the man said, in a low tone, but the room was so still now that every one could hear. The girl nodded, without taking her eyes from his. "And Italian—yes; and German—yes; and a little Spanish—perhaps—yes—no? Is that all?" The girl nodded again. "Very good. You shall write in Arabic."
The Egyptians and the English looked at each other and smiled, but the tone of the man was so full of confidence that their faces filled again with intent interest. Carefully and deftly Bannerman drew the silk scarf across the girl's forehead, hut she raised her hands and unwound it and dropped it on the floor.
"I will not be blindfolded," she said. "I can keep my eyes closed without it."
"Humph!" commented a subaltern. He made a grimace as though he had tasted something unpleasant.
"What is it?" asked the next man. "Did you see a ghost?"
"Yes; an enlisted man we shot in Burmah. He did that same thing. It reminded me of it."
"She does take it rather seriously," whispered the other.
The blackboard hung like a curtain at one end of the room. There was no light near it, and it formed a black background against which Helen Page's figure and head stood out, distinctly. She was a very beautiful woman, with great masses of black hair, which she wore back from her forehead. Her face was lovely rather than classic, and typically American in its frank confidence of her own innocence and of others towards her, and in its cleverness. She wore a gown of black satin covered with tiny-glittering spangles, that lifted her figure closely, leaving her arms and shoulders bare. It was a most unusual gown, and strongly suggestive of things theatrical, like a Columbine in mourning, or the wicked fairy who rises through a trap in the pantomime. On another woman it would have been bold, but on her it only made the face above it appear more lovely and innocent by contrast. It was as incongruous as a girl's face in a suit of armor.
But the costume fitted the moment with peculiar appropriateness, and as the girl raised her bare arm to write, she looked like a blind prophetess, or a beautiful witch who might transform them all into four-footed animals. She appeared so well standing in outline against the background, with the lights playing over the spangles, that both the men and the women present were more intent upon her than upon what she was about to do. Bannerman congratulated himself on his good fortune. He was enough of a showman to feel the effect she had produced, and, like a clever stage-manager, left to her the centre of the stage, while he kept his own person in the background of the picture. "Are you ready?" he asked.
The girl's left arm hung straight at her side, with the palm turned out, so that the tips of her fingers touched those of the mind-reader as he stood with bowed head behind her. Miss Page moved her right hand slightly in assent.
And then, as though some subtle contact had been established between them by which the two individual minds moved in common, her right arm raised itself, and she began to grope across the board with a piece of chalk as though to find the starting-point. Her hand stopped high above her head, and the chalk scratched on the board and left behind it a queer jumble of Arabic figures. The arm rested in mid-air, and the girl's face, with the eyes still closed, bowed itself, as though she were listening and waiting for further instruction.
Bannerman glanced past her to the writing on the board. He turned his face to the audience, without losing his hold on the girl's finger-tips, and translated aloud, "His Excellency—" There wore many present entitled to that prefix, and several who had already recognized it as it was written out before them. There was no question but that the sentence, so far, was in the most correct Arabic.
"He has established what he claims to do already," whispered Hoffmeyer Bey to Bannerman's ward. The girl nodded her head. Her lips were parted, and she was breathing quickly.
The chalk moved again, hesitated, and stopped. The mind-reader read over to himself what was written. There was a strange look on his face which told nothing, but there was something deprecatory in his tone as he said aloud, "His Excellency the British Minister—"
There was a movement in the surrounding circle as though they had each felt that the affair had taken, on a more intimate and personal complexion. And though each assured himself that what was to follow was but a compliment from the English showman to the English lord, there was something so uneasy in the manner of the mind-reader that the fancy of each took alarm, and the interest of all became deeply engaged.
The girl still stood trancelike and with bowed head, while her arm moved across the black surface of the board, but in the bearing of the mind-reader there was the dismay of one who finds the matter in hand growing beyond his control, and with this there was the touch of fear. It was in a tone so low that it barely penetrated the length of the room that he read the broken phrase which followed—"visits the opera to-morrow night—" he said.
As ho pronounced these words there was a sudden movement in the circle about him, coming from no one person, and yet so apparent in its significance that each looked furtively at his neighbor, and then dropped his eyes, or turned them anxiously towards the blackboard. Bannerman raised his body, and straightened himself as though he was about to speak further, but the scratching and tapping of the chalk upon the board interrupted him, and he dropped his head. It was as though he did not wish to see the completion of his work.
The voice of the young American Minister from the back of the room broke the tense stillness of the moment. He gave a long indrawn sigh of appreciation. "Mene, Mone, Tekel, Upharsin," he quoted, mockingly.
"Silence!" Holfmeyer Bey commanded, half rising from the divan. And the silence he commanded answered him. The air of the room seemed charged with electricity. It was as though every one present wore part of a huge battery; but no one moved. The scratching on the board ceased. The girl's arm dropped to her side, and the chalk fell and broke upon the floor. Bannernian raised his eyes and read the completed phrase in a voice in which fear and a certain exultation were strangely blended.
"His Excellency the British Minister," he translated, "visits the opera to-morrow night at the risk of his life." His voice died away as though afraid of its own daring, and there was complete stillness.
Then Immen Pasha stepped quickly into the centre of the room. "Bring back those lights," he commanded. He strode hastily to where the mind-reader stood, picking up the scarf Miss Page had dropped upon the floor as he did so, and drawing it across the surface of the board.
Miss Page opened her eyes, and closed them again as though they were heavy with sleep. She shivered slightly like one awakening, and ran her left hand up and down her other arm. Immen Pasha's movements as he swept the board caused her to raise her head, and her interest seemed to awaken. "Oh, how curious!" she said. "Did I write that?"
The sound of her voice seemed to set free a spell that had been put upon the room, and there was a sudden chorus of nervous laughter and of general exclamation, above which could be heard the voice of the British Minister, saying: "No; he was before my time; but I remember Maskelyne and Cook at their place in Piccadilly, and they were most amusing. They used to—"
The boyish faces of the English subalterns had grown masklike and expressionless. They unconsciously drew together in little groups of red, and discovering this, instantly parted again. The diplomats were smiling and chattering volubly; the native Egyptians alone maintained their placidity of manner. Immen Pasha pushed his way hurriedly to the side of the English Minister's wife.
"There is a supper," he said, bowing gravely. "It has been awaiting us some time. Will you allow me?"
The English woman smiled distantly, and fluttered her fan. "It is so late," she said, "I am afraid wo shall have to ask you to let us go."
Through the open windows of the street below could be heard the voices of the servants calling for the British Minister's carriage, and it seemed to be for all an alarming signal of departure. So hastily did they make their adieux that it seemed as though, each one feared to be left among the last.
Young Page overtook Prince Panine as the latter was hurrying on towards the Khedival Club. "Going my way, Panine?" he asked. "I say," he went on, "what a shame it broke up so soon! Immen had a fine supper for us, and I am hungry. Helen and that mind reading chap spoiled the whole evening between them."
Panine turned his head and surveyed his young companion in the darkness. "Yes," he said, "between them they spoiled several things."