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HOME > Classical Novels > The Last Egyptian > CHAPTER X. LORD CROMER’S RECEPTION.
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CHAPTER X. LORD CROMER’S RECEPTION.
It was but natural that Lord Cromer, with his intense loyalty to the home Government, should endeavor to show every honor to the latest recipients of Her Majesty’s favor. He gave a splendid dinner to Lord Roane and his family, which was followed by a reception attended by nearly every important personage then in Cairo.

At the dinner Gerald Winston was introduced to Aneth Consinor, and had the good fortune to be selected to escort her to the table. She won the big Englishman with the first glance from her clear, innocent eyes, and he was delighted to find that she conversed easily and with intelligence upon the themes that most interested him.

Winston knew something of the reputation of Lord Roane at home, and remembered not only his intrigue with the Egyptian princess in his youth, but the gossip of many more recent escapades that were distinctly unsavory. He had also heard whispers concerning his son, the viscount, that served to cast more or less discredit upon a name already sadly tarnished; but no one could look into Aneth’s candid eyes without being convinced that she was innocent of the sins of her fathers. Winston exonerated her at once of any{113} possible contamination from such sources, rejoicing exultantly that the English maiden was unconscious of the smirch of her environments. However, as he listened to the girl’s bright chatter, an incongruous thought struck him and made him frown involuntarily. He remembered that she was a cousin—on the left hand, to be sure, but no less an unrecognized second cousin—to that dirty Egyptian whom he had lately discovered under the palms of Fedah, and who had since, by an astonishing evolution, become Prince Kāra. Lord Roane was grandfather to them both. It was not Aneth’s fault—perhaps she would never know of the illicit relationship; but his own knowledge of the fact rendered him uneasy for her sake, and he began to wish she had never been allowed to set foot in Egypt.

But here she was, and apparently very happy and contented by his side.

“Perhaps I am wrong in my estimate of Cleopatra,” she was saying; “but the inscriptions on the temple at Dendera seem to prove her to have been religious and high-minded to a degree. Perhaps it is Shakespeare’s romance of Antony and Cleopatra that has poisoned our minds as to the character of a noble woman.”

“Have you been to Dendera?” he asked; “and can you read the inscriptions?”

“I have penetrated into Egypt no farther than Cairo, Mr. Winston,” she responded, with a laugh; “therefore my acquaintance with the temples is confined to what I have read. But at my school was a teacher{114} passionately fond of Egyptology, and around her she gathered a group of girls whom she inspired with a similar love for the subject. We have read everything we could procure that might assist us in our studies, and—don’t laugh, sir!—I can even write hieroglyphics a bit myself.”

“That is quite simple,” said he, smiling; “but can you decipher and translate the sign language?”

“No; so many individual signs mean so many different things, and it is so impossible to decide whether the inscription begins to read from right to left, or in the middle, or up or down!”

“That may well puzzle more experienced heads than yours, Miss Consinor,” said he. “Indeed, I know of but one man living who reads the hieroglyphics unerringly.”

“And who is that?” she asked, with eager interest.

He bit his lip, blaming himself for the thoughtless slip of his tongue. Nothing should induce him to mention Kāra by name to this girl.

“A native whom I recently met,” he answered, evasively. “But tell me, are you not going to make the Nile trip?”

“I hope so, when my grandfather has time to take me; but he says his new duties will require all his present attention, and unfortunately they are connected with the new works in the Delta rather than with upper Egypt.” She glanced across at Lord Roane, who was conversing lightly with two high dignitaries, and his{115} eyes followed hers. “But won’t you tell me something of your own experiences in the Nile country?” she asked. “I am told you are a very great discoverer, and have lately unearthed a number of priceless ancient papyri.”

“They are interesting,” returned Winston, modestly, “but not so extraordinary as to deserve your comment. Indeed, Miss Consinor, although I have been many years in Egypt, engaged in quiet explorations, I cannot claim to have added much to the vast treasures that have been accumulated.”

“But His Grace the Khedive has made you a Bey,” she persisted.

He laughed frankly and without affectation.

“The Khedive has this cheerful way of rewarding those who will spend their money to make his ancient domain famous,” he replied. “Beys are as plentiful in Egypt as are counts in France.”

“But you have made some discoveries, I am sure. The wonderful papyri, for instance—where did you find them?”

“I bought them, Miss Consinor, with good English money.”

She appeared disappointed, but brightened a moment later.

“At least it was you who discovered and excavated the birth-house at Kom Ombos. I have read your article concerning it in the Saturday Review.”

“Then you know all about it,” said he. “But see; nearly opposite us is the great Maspero himself—the{116} man who has done more for Egypt than all the rest of us combined. Does he not look the savant? Let me tell you something of his most important work.”

Here was a subject he could talk on fluently and with fervor, and she listened as attentively as he could desire.

After dinner they repaired to the great hall of the palace, to participate in the reception. Lord Cromer was soon gracefully greeting his guests and presenting them to Lord Roane, Viscount Consinor and the Honorable Aneth Consinor.

Gerald Winston, standing at a distance from the group, gave an involuntary shiver as he saw Prince Kāra brought forward and presented.

Lord Roane greeted the Egyptian with the same cordiality he had bestowed uniformly upon his host’s other guests. Why should he not? Only Winston, silently observant in the background, knew their relationship—except Kāra. Yes; Kāra knew, for he had said so that day beneath the palms of Fedah. But now his demeanor was grave and courteous, and his countenance composed and inscrutable.

Aneth smiled upon the handsome native as he passed slowly on to give place to others.

Kāra, who now affected European dress, wore the conventional evening costume; but he was distinguished by the massive and curious chain that hung from his neck, as well as by a unique gem that he wore upon a finger of his left hand. It had no real color, yet it{117} attracted every eye as surely as if it possessed a subtile magnetism that was irresistible. No one saw it in the same aspect, for one declared it blue, another gray, a third brown ............
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