“Good evening,” he said huskily.
“I knew,” she murmured, “I knew the gods were not so cruel. Oh man of my need,” she cried, stretching out her arms to him, “oh heaven-sent, I see you only as a dark outline against the light of your room. But I know you. Your name is Noaks, isn’t it? Dobson is mine. I am your Warden’s grand-daughter. I am faint and foot-sore. I have ranged this desert city in search of—of YOU. Let me hear from your own lips that you love me. Tell me in your own words—” She broke off with a little scream, and did not stand with forefinger pointed at him, gazing, gasping.
“Listen, Miss Dobson,” he stammered, writhing under what he took to be the lash of her irony. “Give me time to explain. You see me here—”
“Hush,” she cried, “man of my greater, my deeper and nobler need! Oh hush, ideal which not consciously I was out for to-night—ideal vouchsafed to me by a crowning mercy! I sought a lover, I find a master. I sought but a live youth, was blind to what his survival would betoken. Oh master, you think me light and wicked. You stare coldly down at me through your spectacles, whose glint I faintly discern now that the moon peeps forth. You would be readier to forgive me the havoc I have wrought if you could for the life of you understand what charm your friends found in me. You marvel, as at the skull of Helen of Troy. No, you don’t think me hideous: you simply think me plain. There was a time when I thought YOU plain—you whose face, now that the moon shines full on it, is seen to be of a beauty that is flawless without being insipid. Oh that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek! You shudder at the notion of such contact. My voice grates on you. You try to silence me with frantic though exquisite gestures, and with noises inarticulate but divine. I bow to your will, master. Chasten me with your tongue.”
“I am not what you think me,” gibbered Noaks. “I was not afraid to die for you. I love you. I was on my way to the river this afternoon, but I—I tripped and sprained my ankle, and—and jarred my spine. They carried me back here. I am still very weak. I can’t put my foot to the ground. As soon as I can—”
Just then Zuleika heard a little sharp sound which, for the fraction of an instant, before she knew it to be a clink of metal on the pavement, she thought was the breaking of the heart within her. Looking quickly down, she heard a shrill girlish laugh aloft. Looking quickly up, she descried at the unlit window above her lover’s a face which she remembered as that of the land-lady’s daughter.
“Find it, Miss Dobson,” laughed the girl. “Crawl for it. It can’t have rolled far, and it’s the only engagement-ring you’ll get from HIM,” she said, pointing to the livid face twisted painfully up at her from the lower window. “Grovel for it, Miss Dobson. Ask him to step down and help you. Oh, he can! That was all lies about his spine and ankle. Afraid, that’s what he was—I see it all now—afraid of the water. I wish you’d found him as I did—skulking behind the curtain. Oh, you’re welcome to him.”
“Don’t listen,” Noaks cried down. “Don’t listen to that person. I admit I have trifled with her affections. This is her revenge—these wicked untruths—these—these—”