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HOME > Classical Novels > The Last Egyptian > CHAPTER XII. NEPHTHYS.
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Kāra’s plans were now maturing excellently, save in one particular. He did not wish to acquire a fondness for the girl who was his proposed victim, yet from the first she had cast a powerful spell over him, which all his secret struggles failed to remove. Waking or sleeping, her face was always before him, nor could he banish it even when engaged in play with her father at the club.

The Egyptian was shrewd enough to recognize danger in this extraordinary condition, and it caused him much uneasiness.

Finally, during a wakeful night, he thought of a means of escape.

“Tadros,” said he to his dragoman in the morning, “go to Fedah and fetch Nephthys here. I have an empty harem at present; she shall be its first occupant.”

Even the dragoman was surprised. He had begun to look upon his master as one affecting the manners and customs of the Europeans rather than the followers of the lax Muslim faith; but his face showed his pleasure at receiving the command.

“Most certainly, my prince,” said he, with alacrity. “I will take the first train to Fedah, and the beauty shall be in your harem within three days.”{133}

Kāra caught the tone and the look.

“On second thought, Tadros,” he said, gravely, “I will send Ebbek in your place. I may need your services here in Cairo.”

“Ebbek! that doddering old Arab! He will never do at all,” cried the dragoman, blusteringly. “I alone know Fedah, and I alone know how to deal with S?ra, and how to bring her fat daughter to you in safety. It is I who will go!”

“Send Ebbek to me.”

“Not so; I will go myself to Fedah.”

“Am I the master, Tadros?”

“You think so, because you are rich. If I knew of the tombs you are plundering, it is I who would be the master!”

“You are in great danger, my poor dragoman.”

Tadros, who had been glaring defiantly upon the other, dropped his eyes before the cold look of Kāra.

“Besides, some one must pay old S?ra the two hundred and fifty piastres due her,” he muttered, somewhat confused. “It was the contract, and she will not let the girl come unless she has the money.”

“Send Ebbek to me.”

The dragoman obeyed. He did not like Kāra’s manner. He might, in truth, be in danger if he persisted in protesting. No one was so deep as he in his master’s confidence. But what did he know? Merely enough to cause him to fear.{134}

Ebbek performed the mission properly. He not only paid S?ra her due, but gave her five gold pieces into the bargain, by his master’s instructions; and he brought the girl, closely veiled, to Cairo and delivered her to Kāra’s housekeeper.

The rooms of the harem had been swept and prepared. They were very luxurious, even for Cairo, and Nephthys was awed by the splendor of the apartments to be devoted to her use. Her dark, serious eyes, glorious as those attributed to the houris of Paradise, wandered about the rooms as she sank upon a divan, too dazed to think or speak.

Neither faculty was a strong point with Nephthys, however. Meekly she had obeyed the summons from the master who had purchased her. She did not try to consider what that summons might mean to her. What use? It was her fate. Perhaps at times she had dimly expected such a change. Kāra had once mentioned to her mother the possibility of his sending for her; but she had not dwelt upon the matter at all.

In the same listless manner that she had carried water from the Nile and worked at the loom she followed old Ebbek to Cairo, leaving her mother to gloat over her store of gold.

The journey across the river was a new experience to her—the journey by railway was wonderful; but she showed no interest. The great eyes calmly saw all, but the brain was not active enough to wonder. She had heard of such things and knew that they{135} existed. Now she saw them—saw marvelous Cairo, with its thousand domes and minarets, its shifting kaleidoscope of street scenes, its brilliant costumes and weird clamor—and the medley of it all dulled her senses.

In a way she was really amused; but the amusement was only sensual. This costume was more gorgeous than the braided jacket of Tadros the dragoman, she observed; that house was better than the one old Hatatcha had lived in. But beyond this vague comparison, the sights were all outside her personal participation in them. The part she herself was playing on the world’s great stage, the uncertainty of her immediate future, the reason why this tall, gray-bearded Arab was escorting her to Cairo, were all things she failed to consider.

So it was that on her entry into Kāra’s splendid harem the girl could not at first understand that the luxury surrounding her was prepared for her especial use. Had she comprehended this fact, she would still have been unable to imagine why.

She rested upon the cushions and gazed stupidly, yet with childish intentness, at the rich draperies and rugs, the gilded tables and chairs, the marble statuary and the tinkling perfumed fountain in the corner, as if fearing the vision would presently dissolve and she would awake from a dream.

She had brought a bundle under her dark blue shawl, a bundle containing her cotton tunic, the spangled robe{136} and the wreath of artificial flowers. The blue beads Kāra had once given her were around her neck—all but one, which she had carefully removed and given to S?ra her mother for an amulet.

She scarcely noticed when the old hag who acted as Kāra’s housekeeper tossed her precious bundle scornfully into a corner and began to disrobe her. The shawl, the black cotton dress, the coarse undergown, were one by one removed, and then the flat-bottomed home-made shoes.

When she was nude, the hag led her to an adjoining chamber, where her bath was prepared. Nephthys wondered, but did not speak. Neither did old Tilga, the housekeeper. She saw that the girl needed a scrubbing rather than a bath, and gave it to her much as if she were washing a child.

Afterward, when the fat, soft skin was dried, and annointed, and properly perfumed, Tilga led Nephthys to the robing-room, and dressed her in underclothing of silken gauze and a marvelous gown that was fastened with a girdle of cloth of gold. Pink stockings were drawn snugly over her chubby legs, and pink satin slippers, with silver bead-work, adorned her feet.

Then Tilga dressed the girl’s magnificent hair, placing a jeweled butterfly against its lustrous coils.

When Nephthys was led before a great mirror, she could scarcely believe the image reflected therein was her own. But the woman in her was at last aroused.
Image unavailble: She smiled at herself, then laughed—shyly at first, now with genuine deli............
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