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HOME > Classical Novels > The Last Egyptian > CHAPTER XXI. LOTUS-EATERS AND CROCODILES.
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CHAPTER XXI. LOTUS-EATERS AND CROCODILES.
If in all the realm of travel there is a voyage that is absolutely ideal, it is the trip up the Nile. The constant change of scene, varying with every bend in the river; the shifting lights, the gentle ripple of the waters, the distant songs and shouts of the native boatmen; the outlines of the Libyan hills by moonlight and the rocky wastes of desert, dotted with gorgeous crimson and yellow cacti, by day; the sunsets that paint the cloudless Egyptian skies with entrancing splendor, and the silhouettes of donkey and camel trains above the high embankment at twilight; these, taken in connection with the care-free, lotus-eating existence of the voyager, leave an impression so vivid and sweet and altogether satisfactory that no other experience in the whole world of travel can compare with or ever efface it from one’s memory.

Aneth believed the dragoman’s assertion that Prince Kāra had been generous at last and released her from her promise. Neither Winston nor Mrs. Everingham dared vouch for the dragoman’s statements; but they remained silent while Tadros, unabashed, explained that his master was whimsical and erratic, but very kind-hearted and considerate, and incapable of wronging any one in any way.{238}

“As for Lord Roane, miss,” he said, confidentially, “there is no doubt he did an imprudent thing, which vexed my master, who has a high sense of honor; so he frightened my lord, to teach him to be more careful in the future. But never had he the slightest idea of exposing him to public infamy, I assure you. Kāra has told me so himself.”

The dragoman derived much satisfaction from these inventions, especially as he noticed how implicitly Aneth believed them, and how they operated to cheer her spirits and render her content with her novel and delightful surroundings. Everyone on board was devoted to the girl, and, under the genial influences of the voyage, she recovered, to an extent, her old brightness and vivacity. There was no harm now in blushing happily at the love-light in Gerald’s eyes, and her three companions were those she loved best in all the world. Her recent cares and heartaches seemed all to have been left behind in Cairo, and she could look forward to many weeks of keen enjoyment.

She was sorry, however, that she had misjudged Prince Kāra, and promised herself to implore his pardon immediately on her return to Cairo.

Gerald and Mrs. Everingham, while they did not disabuse Aneth’s mind, were a trifle uneasy at the growing audacity of the dragoman’s statements, and warned him to be more careful. After the girl had regained her health and self-possession, they would explain to her the truth of the matter and discredit{239} Tadros freely; at present they were content to note her bright eyes and the roses creeping back to her cheeks.

Lord Roane had wisely decided not to ask questions. From what he overheard he understood that Kāra was now befriending Aneth instead of persecuting her, and this being the case, his own danger was reduced to a minimum. He could not understand the Egyptian’s change of attitude in the least. If Kāra had intended merely to frighten him, he had succeeded admirably, and Roane told himself that the punishment he had already suffered through terror and despair was sufficient to expiate his long-forgotten sin against Hatatcha. But did Kāra think so? That was a question he could not answer, but he decided to defer all worries for the present at least.

Gerald Winston would have been less than human had he refrained from showing to Aneth, during these delightful days, how dearly he loved her and what happiness her companionship brought to him. The moonlit evenings on deck were sufficient to inspire the most bashful lover, and Gerald did not dare waste his golden opportunities. If he won Aneth at all, it must be on this trip, and under the spur of Mrs. Everingham’s counsel to be bold, he soon put his fate to the test and marveled at his success. The girl had suffered too much to trifle with her lover’s heart, and her consent was readily won. It was his intention that they be married while at Luxor or Aswan, there being English churches in both places and ample conveniences{240} for a proper conduct of the ceremony. Roane was fond of Winston, and offered no objection to a plan which would ensure Aneth’s happiness and which seemed to be defective only in its precipitancy.

The project pleased Aneth as much as it delighted her lover. In her days of misery, when she thought she had lost him forever, the full value of Gerald’s love had been so impressed upon her that she clung to him now, realizing that he represented the full measure of her future happiness; still, she experienced an uneasy sensation that any unnecessary delay might prove dangerous. Her contract with Kāra, moreover, had taught her to face the possibility of a sudden marriage, and what was a hateful ordeal then would now become a crown of triumph.

“Whenever you like, Gerald,” she said, “I will become your wife. I could never wish for other witnesses of my wedding than my dear grandfather and Mrs. Everingham; and happiness is such a precious thing and life so uncertain, that I have no desire to resist your proposal.”

“Thank you, my dear one,” he said, gravely.

“And I think I prefer Luxor to Aswan. It will be so romantic to be wed in the old Theban city, where the Egyptian princesses once made their home and where they lived and loved, will it not?”

“It shall be Luxor,” he declared.

That week was one of never-to-be-forgotten delight. Even Tadros wore a perpetual smile, although this{241} method of sweet communion between lovers was all new and amazing to him. He felt quite secure now for the first time since Kāra had asserted his power over the dragoman’s destinies, and wondered—the thing being so easy—why he had so long hesitated to break with his arrogant and imperious master. As the dahabeah lazily breasted the languid current of the river, Tadros idly wondered what Kāra was doing now, and could not forbear a laugh at the thought of the Egyptian’s anger and perplexity when he had discovered the flight of his proposed victims. Oh, well—Kāra had pitted his cunning against the dragoman’s intelligence! It was little wonder he was discomfited.

On the afternoon of the seventh day they steamed slowly past Beni-Hassan, their moderate progress being due to the fact that the boat tied up from every sunset to the next sunrise. Beni-Hassan was a picturesque village as viewed from the river, where its filth and stench were imperceptible, and the groups of splendid palms lent a dignity to the place that a closer inspection would prove undeserved.

Aneth, seated happily by Gerald’s side beneath the ample deck awning, admired the village greatly, and her lover promised to stop there on their return and give her an opportunity of visiting the famous tombs in the nearby hillside.

At twilight they anchored midway between Beni-Hassan and Antinoe, the boat lying motionless a few yards away from the east bank.{242}

The evenings are delightful in this part of Egypt, and it was midnight before the passengers aboard the dahabeah sought t............
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