An Echo in Egypt by Robert Smythe Hichens
That lustrous land of weary music and wild dancing, of reverend
tombs and pert Arabs, that Egypt of plagues and tourists, to whose
sandy bosom Society flocks, affects her visitors in many different
ways. Bellairs went to her under the fixed impression that he was a
cynic, and found that he was a romanticist. Very acute in mind, he had
long flattered himself on being unimpressionable; and he was much
inclined to think that to be insensitive was to be strong with the best
kind of strength. He loved to lay stress on all that was devil-may-care
in his character, and to put aside all that was prone to cling, or
weep, or wonder, or pray, and he fancied that if he cultivated one side
of his mind assiduously he could eliminate the other sides. In England,
in London, the process had seemed to be successful. But Egypt gave to
him illusions with both hands, and, against his will, he had to accept
them. Protests were unavailing, and soon he ceased to protest, and told
himself the horrid fact that he was a sentimentalist, perhaps even a
poet. Good heavens! a Bellairsa poet! His soldier ancestors seemed
forming a square and fixing bayonets to resist the charging notion. And
Instead of playing pool after dinner at night, Bellairs found
himself wandering, like Haroun Al Raschid, through the narrow ways of
Cairo, mixing with the natives, studying their loves, and drinking
their coffee. There were moments, retrograde moments, when he even
wished to wear their dress, to drape his long-limbed British form in a
flowing blue robe, and wrap his dark head in a bulging white turban. He
resisted this devil of an idea; but the fact that it had ever come to
him troubled him. And, partly to regain his manhood, his hard
scepticism, his contempt of outside, delicate influences, he went up
the Nileand succumbed utterly to fantasy and to old romance. I am no
longer Jack Bellairs, he told himself one day, as the steamer on which
he travelled neared Luxor on its way down the river from the First
CataractI am somebody else; some one who is touched by a sunset, and
responsive to a gleam of rose on the Libyan Mountains, some one who
dreams at night when the pipes wail under the palm-trees, some one who
feels that the great river has life, and that the desert owns a wistful
soul, and has a sweet armour with silence. Good-bye, Jack Bellairs! Go
home to EnglandI stay here.
And that evening he left the steamer, and took a room for a month at
the Luxor Hotel. And that evening he cast the skin of his former self,
and emerged, with fluttering wings, from the chrysalis of his identity.
He was a bachelor, aged twenty-eight, and he was travelling alone; so
there was no critical eye to mark the change in him, no chattering
tongue to express surprise at his pleasant abandonment to the follies
which make up the lives of sensitive artists and refined sensualists
who can differentiate between the promenade of the Empire, and the
garden of love. As he stepped out into the Arab-haunted village that
night, after dinner, Bellairs breathed a sigh of relief. For a month he
would let himself go. Where to? He bent his steps towards the river,
the Nile that is the pulsing blood in the veins of Egypt. Moored in the
shadow of its brown banks lay a string of bright-eyed dahabeeyahs. From
more than one of them came music. Bellairs, his cigarette his only
companion, strolled slowly along listening idly in a pleasant dream. A
woman's voice sang, asking Ninon what was her scheme of life. A man
beat out his soul at the feet of Medje. And, upon the deck of the
last dahabeeyah, a woman played a fantastic mazurka. Bellairs was fond
of music, and her performance was so clever, so full of nuances,
understanding, wild passion, that he stood still to remark it more
She has known many things, good and evil, he thought, as his mind
noted the intellect that spoke in the changes of time, the regret and
the gaiety that the touch demonstrated so surely and easily, as the
mood of the composition changed. The music ceased.
Betty, a woman's voice said, in English, but with a slight French
accent, I want to see the stars. This awning hides them. Come for a
Yes; I want to see the stars too, and the awning does hide them, a
girl's voice answered. Do let us take a little walk.
Bellairs smiled, as he said to himself, The first voice is the
voice of the musician, and the second voice seems to be its echo. He
was still standing on the bank when the two women stepped upon the
gangway to the shore and climbed to the narrow path.
As they passed him by they glanced at him rather curiously. One was
a woman of about thirty, dark, with a pale, strong-featured face. The
other was a fair, aristocratic-looking girl, not more than seventeen.
She is the echo, Bellairs thought. Rather a sweet one. Then, at
a distance, he followed them, and presently found them sitting together
in the garden of the Hotel. He sat down not far off. A man, whom he
knew slightly, spoke to them, and afterwards crossed to him.
That lady plays very cleverly, Bellairs said.
Mademoiselle Leroux, you meanyes. You know her?
Not at all. I only heard her from the river bank.
She is travelling with Lord Braydon. She is a great friend of Lady
Betty Lambe, his daughter.
That pretty girl?
Yes. Shall I introduce you?
I should be delighted.
A moment later Bellairs was sitting with the two ladies and talking
of Egypt. It seemed to him that they were the first nurses to dandle
his new baby-nature, this nature which Egypt had given to him, and
which only to-night he had definitely accepted. Perhaps this fact
quickly cemented their acquaintance. At any rate, a distinct friendship
began to walk in their conversation, and Bellairs found himself
listening to Mdlle. Leroux, and looking at Lady Betty, with a great
deal of interest and of admiration. Presently the former said:
I knew you would be introduced to us to-night.
Bellairs was surprised.
When? he asked.
When we passed you just now on the bank of the Nile.
I knew we should too, said Lady Betty.
You must be very intuitive, said Bellairs.
Women generally are, remarked Mdlle. Leroux.
Yes. Do your intuitions tell you whether our acquaintance will be
long and agreeable?
Perhapsbut I never prophesy.
Because I am always right.
Is that a valid reason for abstention?
I think so. For in this world those who look forward generally see
I cannot achieve a proper pessimism in Upper Egypt, Bellairs
* * * * *
A week later, Bellairs felt quite certain that there had never been
a period in his life when he had not known and talked with Mdlle.
Leroux and Lady Betty Lambe. Lord and Lady Braydon asked him to lunch
on the dahabeeyah almost every day, and he often strolled down to tea
without invitation. Then, in the afternoon, there were donkey
expeditions to Karnak, or across the river to the tombs of the kings,
to the desert villa of Monsieur Naville, to ancient Thebes, to the two
Colossi. Lord Braydon was consumptive and was spending the winter and
spring in Egypt. Lady Braydon seldom left his side, and so it happened
that Bellairs and his two acquaintances of the garden were often alone
together. Bellairs became deeply interested in them, and for a rather
peculiar reason. He was fascinated by the extraordinary sympathy that
existed between the two womenif Lady Betty could be called a woman
yet. Mdlle. Leroux had obtained so strong an influence over the girl
that she seemed to have grafted not only her mind, but her heart, her
apparatus of emotions and of affections, on to Lady Betty's. What the
former silently thought, the latter silently thought too, and when the
silence died in expression, they frequently spoke almost the same
sentence simultaneously. Sometimes Mdlle. Leroux would express some
feeling with vehemence to Bellairs when Lady Betty was out of hearing,
and an hour or two afterwards, with only a slightly fainter vehemence,
Lady Betty would express the same feeling. Indeed, these two women
seemed to have only one heart, one soul, between them, the heart and
soul that had originally been the sole property of the elder one.
You are very generous, said Bellairs one day to Mdlle. Leroux.
Why? she asked in surprise.
You give away things that most of us have only the power to keep.
What do you mean?
Some day, perhaps, I will tell you.
Clarice Leroux was tremendously impulsive, and she had taken an
immediate and strong liking to Bellairs. In this Lady Betty, as usual,
coincided. But when Clarice's liking passed through self-revelations,
confidences, towards a stronger feeling, it was rather strange to find
Lady Betty still treading in her footsteps, still ever succeeding her
in her attitudes of mind and of heart. Yet the inevitable double
flirtation, apparently expected and desired by the two women, was
strangely gilded by novelty; and, at first, Bellairs played as happily
with these two dual natures as a child plays with two doll
representatives of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. For, at first, he
possessed the child's power of detachment, and felt that he could at
any moment discard dolls for soldiers, or a Noah's Ark, and still keep
happiness in his lap. But most things have an inherent tendency to
become complicated if they are let alone and allowed to develop free
from definite guidance, and presently Bellairs became conscious of
advancing complications. His intellectual appreciation of a new
situation began to degenerate into a more emotional condition, which
disturbed and irritated him. It seemed that he was peering through the
bars of the gate that guards the garden of passion. Which of the two
women did he see in the garden?
He told himself that, having regard to the circumstances of the
case, he ought to see both of them. Unfortunately, a vision of that
kind never has been, and never will be, seen by a man. The temple in
which the idol sits always makes a difference in the nature of our
worship of the idol. Bellairs was forced to recognise this fact. And
the temple in which sat the idol of Lady Betty's nature attracted him
more than the temple in which sat the idol of Mdlle. Leroux's nature.
He came to this conclusion one afternoon at Karnak. They three were
hidden away in a stone nook of this great stone forest, enshrined from
the gaze of tourists by mighty rugged pillars, walled in by huge blocks
of antique masonry that threw cold shadows whence the lizards stole to
seek the sun. The blue sky was broken to their gaze by a narrow section
of what had been, doubtless, once a wide-spread roof. A silence of
endless ages hung around them in this haven fashioned by dead men and
Mdlle. Leroux had been boiling a kettle; and they sipped tea, and,
at first, did not talk. But tea unlooses the bonds of speech. After
their second cups they felt communicative.
One week gone out of my four, Bellairs said, and each will seem
shorter-lived than its forerunner.
You go in three weeks from now? said Mdlle. Leroux, with an uneven
intonation that betokened a sudden awakening to the finality of things.
Yes; at the end of January.
And we are here until nearly the end of March.
Yes, said Lady Betty; it will seem a very long time. February
will be eternal.
It is the shortest month in the year, Bellairs remarked.
Mdlle. Leroux looked at him sarcastically.
You English are so prosaic, she exclaimed. Any Frenchman would
That we were paying you a compliment.
Perhaps I did understand it, and preferred not to show my
comprehension; there is such a thing as modesty!
There issuch a thing as false modesty!
Exactly, remarked Lady Betty.
I will accept your compliment gladly, said Bellairs, looking at
Mine? asked Clarice Leroux.
Yes, Bellairs replied.
The consciousness that he cared very much more for such a pretty
meaning in Lady Betty than in Clarice Leroux led him then, for the
first time, to that Garden Gate. He looked at Lady Betty again with a
new feeling. She returned his gaze quietly. Then he turned his eyes to
those of Clarice. Hers were fixed upon him with a curious violence. He
had a momentary sensation, literally for the first time, that these two
women after all, had not one soul, one heart, between them. They did
not feel quite simultaneously. Lady Betty was always a step behind
Clarice. Yes, that was the difference between them. However quickly the
echo follows the voice that summons it, yet it must always follow.
Would Lady Betty never cease to follow? Bellairs found himself
wondering eagerly, for that afternoon a strange certainty came to him.
He knew, in a flash, that Clarice, if she did not already love him, was
on the verge of loving him. He knew now that he loved Lady Betty. But
she didn't love him yet, was not even quite close to loving him. Had
she been in Egypt alone, divorced from Clarice, Bellairs believed that
he would not have attracted her. He attracted her through Clarice,
because he attracted Clarice. Could he make her love him in the same
way? It would be a curious, subtle experiment to try to win one woman's
heart by winning another's: Bellairs silently decided to make it. All
the rest of that afternoon he talked to Clarice, showing to her the new
self that Egypt had given him, the poetry which had ousted the prose
inherited from a long line of ancestors, the sentiment of which he was
no longer ashamed now he felt it to be a weapon with which he might win
two hearts, the heart that contained another heart, as one conjurer's
box contains a hundred others.
* * * * *
I knew it when I first saw you, Clarice said. Directly I looked
at you that evening on the bank I knew it.
How strange, Bellairs answered.
And youdid you know it when you heard me playing?
That mazurka! Remember I am a man.
They were sitting in the garden. It was night. Very few people were
out, for a great Austrian pianist was playing in the public
drawing-room, and the little world of Luxor sat at his feet
relentlessly. They two could hear, mingling with a Polonaise of Chopin,
the throbbing of tom-toms in the dusty village, the faint and
suggestive cry of the pipes, which fill the soul at the same time with
desire, and regret for past desire killed by gratification. Bellairs
had been making love to Clarice, and she had told him that she loved
him. And he had kissed her and his kiss had been returned.
Will this kiss, too, have its echo? he thought; and his eyes
travelled towards the lighted windows of the drawing-room behind which
Lady Betty sat. He turned again to Clarice.
Do you believe in echoes? he asked.
That each thing we do in life, each word, each cry, each act, calls
into being, perhaps very soon, perhaps very late, a repetition?
From the same person?
Or from some other person.
What a curious idea. You think we cannot ever do anything without
finding an imitator! I don't like to imagine it. I don't fancy that
there can ever, in the history of the world, be an exact repetition of
our feeling, our doing, to-night.
Yet, there may be. Who knows?
I do. Instinct tells me there never can. There has never been,
never will be, any woman with a heart just like mine, given to a man
just in the same way as mine is given to you. Why should you think such
a hateful thing?
I don't know. It was only an idea that occurred to me.
And again he glanced towards the lighted windows.
The world is very full of echoes, he went on; our troubles are
But not our joys, our deepest joys. No, no, never!
There have always been lovers, and they all act in much the same
Hateful! Ah! why can't we invent some new mode of expression for
ourselvesyou and I?
Because we are human beings, and one network of tangled
You make me cry with anger, she said.
And when he looked, he saw that there were tears shining in her
At that moment a ghastly sensation of compunction swept over him.
What had he done? A deep wrong, the deepest wrong man can do. He had
made an experiment, as a scientist may make an experiment. He had
vivisected a soul, but the soul was yet ignorant of the fact. When it
knew, would it die? But then he told himself he had to do it. For he
loved passionately, and was certain that he could only gain the heart
he had not yet completely won by gaining this heart that he had
completely won. He had made an experiment. If it failed! But it could
not fail. All that Clarice said, all that she thought, all that she
desired, Betty said, thought, desired. After the necessary interval the
echo must follow the voice. And he smiled to himself.
Why do you smile like that? Clarice asked.
Becausebecause I thought I heard an echo, he replied. And then
they kissed again. He, with his eyes shut, forced his imagination to
tell him that the lips he pressed were the lips of Betty. She thought
only of the lips of love, that burn up all the recollections of the
lonely years, all the phantoms which dwell in the deserts through which
women pass to joyor to despair.
The Austrian pianist was exhausted. Even his long hair could no
longer sustain his failing energies. He expired magnificently, the
seventh rhapsody of Liszt serving as his bier. Lady Betty came out into
How unmusical you two are, she said; his playing was exquisite.
We heard finer music here, Clarice answered, as she got up to go
back to the dahabeeyahdid we not?
She turned to Bellairs. He was looking at Lady Betty and did not
hear. Clarice's cheek flushed angrily.
Come, Betty, she exclaimed. Good-night, Mr Bellairs.
Good-night, Mr Bellairs, echoed Lady Betty.
The two women moved away, and vanished down the narrow and dusty
avenue that leads to the bank of the Nile. Bellairs stood looking after
them. He was wondering why he loved Betty and did not love Clarice. It
seemed feeble to love an echo. Yet, the intonation of an echo is
sometimes exquisite in its trilling vagueness, its far-off, thrilling
beauty. And Bellairs fancied that if he once wakened Betty to passion
he would free her, in a moment, from her curious bondage, would give to
her the soul that Clarice must surely have crushed down and expelled,
replacing it with a replica of her own soul. And then he asked himself,
being analytically inclined that night, what he adored in Betty. Was it
merely her fresh young beauty? It could not be her nature; for that, at
present, was merely Clarice's, and he did not love the nature of
Clarice. Yet he felt it was something more than her beauty. When he had
made her love him he would know; for, when he had made her love him, he
would force her to be herself.
He watched the bats circling among the shadowy palms. How gentle the
air was. How sweet the stars looked. Bellairs thought of England that
was so far away. It seemed impossible that he could ever be in London
again, ever again assume a Piccadilly nature, and laugh at the folly of
having a romance. Yes, it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, in a
fortnight he must go. But he would take Betty's promise with him. He
was resolved on that. And then he left the silent garden to the bats,
and was soon between the mosquito curtains, dreaming.
* * * * *
Three days afterwards Clarice was prostrated with a nervous
headache. She could not bear to have any one in her cabin, and Lady
Betty sat on the deck of the Queen Hatasoo quite inconsolable.
Bellairs, arriving to pay his usual afternoon call, found her there.
Lord Braydon was out, sailing in a flat-bottomed boat far up the river
with Lady Braydon, so Lady Betty was quite desolate. She told Bellairs
And Clarice won't let me come near her, she exclaimed. A step on
the floor, the creak of the cabin door as I come in, tortures her. She
is all nerves. I hope I shan't have her headache presently.
Is it likely?
I often do. She seems to pass it on to me. I never had a headache
until I knew her. But, indeed, I never seemed to live, I never seemed
to know anything, be anything, until she came into my life.
I wish I had known you before you knew her, Bellairs said.
I don't knowperhaps to see if you were really so very different
from what you are now.
What were you like?
I can't rememberbut I was utterly different.
As she ceased speaking, Bellairs glanced over the rail to the river
bank. Two blue-robed donkey boys stood there trying to attract his
attention, and pointing significantly to their gaily-bedizened donkeys.
Shall we go for a ride? he said to Lady Betty. Just along the
river bank? Then we shall see Lord Braydon as he sails back. Mdlle.
Leroux won't miss you. Shall we go?
Betty hesitated. But she could do the invalid no good by staying. So
she assented. Bellairs helped her to the bank and placed her in the
smart red saddle. He motioned the boys to keep well in the rear, and
they started at a quick, tripping walk. As they went, a white face
appeared at a cabin window, staring after them, the face of Clarice,
who had with difficulty lifted her throbbing head from the pillow. She
watched the donkeys diminishing till they were black shadows moving
along against the sky, then she began to cry weakly, but only because
she was too ill to be with them. Her gift of prophecy failed her at
this critical juncture of her life, and she had no sense of a coming
disaster, as she lay back on her berth, and gave herself up once more
That evening Lord Braydon asked Bellairs to dine on the dahabeeyah,
and he accepted the invitation. Clarice was still in durance, having
entirely failed to pass her headache on to Lady Betty. After dinner
Lord Braydon went into the saloon to write a letter to England, and
Lady Betty and Bellairs had the deck to themselves. He was resolved to
put his fate to the touch; for, during the donkey ride, he had
discovered the change in Betty which he had so eagerly desired, the
change from warm friendship to a different feeling. The girl had not
acknowledged it. Bellairs had not asked her to do so; but he meant to.
Only the thought of his treachery to the woman lying in the cabin below
held him back, just for a moment, and prompted him to talk lightly of
indifferent things. But that treachery had been a necessary manoeuvre
in his campaign of happiness. He strove to dismiss it from his mind as
he leant forward in his chair, and led Lady Betty to the subject that
lay so near to his heart.
You love me? she said presently.
Yesdeeply. You are angry?
How can I be? No, noand yet
And yet, when you told me, I felt sad.
Bellairs looked keenly vexed, and she hastened to add:
Not because I amindifferent. No, no. I can't explain why the
feeling came. It was gone in a moment. And now
Now you are happy?
He caught her hand and she left it in his.
Yes, very happy.
Bellairs bent over her and kissed heras he lifted himself up a
white hand appeared on the rail of the companion that led from the
lower to the upper deck of the Hatasoo. Clarice wearily dragged
herself up. She was wrapped in a shawl and looked very ill. Betty ran
to help her.
I thought I must get a little air, she said feebly. How d'you do,
She sank down in a chair.
Bellairs felt like a man between two fires.
* * * * *
Two days later Lord Braydon gave his consent to his daughter's
engagement with Bellairs, and Lady Betty ran to tell Clarice. She had
not previously said a word to her friend of what had passed between her
and Bellairs. He had begged her to keep silence until he had spoken to
Lord Braydon, and she had promised and had kept her promise. But now
she rushed into the saloon where Clarice was playing Chopin, and,
throwing her arms round her friend, told her the great news. The body
of Clarice became rigid in her arms.
And the king has consented, Betty cried.
The king was her father.
Clarice, Clarice, isn't it wonderful?
Wonderful! I thought so when you told me. But already I begin to
doubt if it is.
To doubt, Clarice?
To doubt whether anything a man does is wonderful.
That was all Clarice said. Then she kissed Betty, and went on
playing Chopin feverishly, while Betty told, to the accompaniment of
the music, all that was in her heart.
And, she said at last, I love him, Clarice; I love him intensely.
I shall always love him.
Clarice played a final chord and got up.
Bellairs lunched on the dahabeeyah that day and Clarice met him as
usual. Her manner gave no sign of any mental disturbance. Perhaps it
was curiously calm. He wondered a little, but was too happy to wonder
much. Joy made him cruel, for nothing is so cruel as joy. Only he was
glad that Clarice had so much pride, for he thought now that in her
pride lay his safety. He no longer feared that she would condescend to
a scene, and he even thought that perhaps she did not feel so deeply as
he had supposed.
After all, he said to himself exultantly, there's no harm done. I
need not have been so conscience-stricken. What is a pretty speech and
a kiss to a woman who has lived, travelled over the world, read widely,
thought many things? Now, if I had treated Betty in such a way I should
be a blackguard. She could not have understood. She could only have
suffered. I will never hurt herBetty!
His nature was so full of her that it could no longer hold any
thought of Clarice. And for a little while, as Bellairs dived into
Betty's heart, he was astonished at the passion he found there, and
congratulated himself on having released her from bondage. Now, at
least, he was teaching her to be herself. He was killing the echo and
creating a voice, a beautiful, clear, radiant voice that would sing to
him, to him alone.
Betty has a great deal in her, he said to Clarice once.
Yesa great deal. Who put it there, do you think?
Who? Why, nobody. Surely you would not say that all you yourself
have ofof strength, originality, courage, was put into you by some
other man or woman.
No. I would not say that. But thenI am not Betty.
Bellairs felt irritated.
Please don't run Betty down, he exclaimed hastily.
I! I run down Betty! I don't think you understand what I feel about
Betty. She is the one perfect being I know. I worship her.
I am sure you do, he said, mollified. And you have done much for
her, perhaps too much.
I cannot tell thatyet, Clarice answered. Some day I may know
whether I have done very much, or very little.
Perhaps very soon.
Bellairs wondered what she meant, and wondered, too, why he had a
sudden sense of uneasiness.
It was a day or two after this conversation that a light cloud
seemed to float across his lover's happiness with Betty. He could not
tell the exact moment when it came, nor from what quarter it journeyed.
But he felt the obscuring of the sun and the lessening of the lovely
warmth of intimacy. He was chilled and alarmed, and at night, when he
was alone with Betty in the stern of the Hatasoo bidding her
good-bye, he could not refrain from saying:
Betty, is anything the matter?
The matter, Jack?
Yes. Are you quite happy to-day? Quite as happy as you were
I suppose soI believe so.
But she did not speak with a perfect conviction, and Bellairs was
more gravely troubled.
I am certain something is wrong, he persisted. I have done
something that has offended you, or said something stupid. What is it?
Do tell me.
I can't. There is nothing to tell. Really, there is not.
You would tell me if there was?
And you love me as much as ever?
He looked into her eyes, asking them mutely to tell him the truth.
And he thought their expression was strangely cold. The light had
surely faded out of them. He kissed her silently and went forward.
Clarice was standing there looking at the rising moon.
Good-night, he said, holding out his hand.
How grave you look, she answered, not seeing the hand.
The moonlight makes people look unnatural.
It does not reach the deck yet.
Good-night, he said again, and he went down the stairs.
She looked after him with a smile. When he had gone, she turned her
head and called.
Come here and sit with me. Let us watch the moon. Don't talk. I
want to thinkand to make you thinkas I do.
The cloud which Bellairs had fancied he noticed did not dissolve in
the night. It was not drawn up mysteriously into the sun to fade in
gold. On the contrary, next day he could no longer pretend to himself
that his anxiety as a lover rendered him foolishly self-conscious,
dangerously observant of the merest trifles. There really was a change
in Betty, and a change which grew. He became seriously alarmed. Could
it be possible that the ardent passion which she had displayed in the
first moments of their engagement was already subsiding as cynics say
passion subsides after marriage? Such a supposition seemed ridiculous.
The ardour which has never fulfilled itself is not liable to cool. And
Betty was a young girl who had not known love before. If she tired of
it after so short an experience of its delights, she could be nothing
less than a wholly unnatural and distorted being. And she was strangely
natural. Bellairs rode out alone with her along the built-up brown
roads into the desert, and tried to interest her, but she was
abstracted and seemed deep in thought. Often she didn't hear what he
was saying, and when she did hear and replied, her answers were short
and careless, and rather dismissed than encouraged the subject to which
they were applied. Bellairs, at last, gave up attempting to talk, and
from time to time stole a cautious glance at her pretty face. He
noticed that it wore a puzzled expression, as if she were turning over
something in her mind and could not come to a conclusion about it. She
did not look exactly sad, but merely grave and distrait. At length he
exclaimed, determined to rouse her into some sort of comradeship:
You never caught that headache, did you?
Clarice's, you mean? No.
Is it coming on now?
Oh, no. I feel perfectly well. What made you think it was?
You won't talk to me, and you look so preternaturally serious. I am
sure I have unwittingly offended you?
No, you haven't. You are just as you always are, better to me than
You deserve the best man in the world.
I already have the best woman.
You admire her very much.
Of course. I would give anything to be like her.
Bellairs hesitated a moment. Then he said with a slight, uneasy
But you are wonderfully like her.
Betty looked surprised.
I don't see how, she answered.
No, because we never see ourselves. But when I first knew you both,
I was immensely struck by the curious resemblance between you, in mind,
in the things you said, in the things you did, the people you liked.
We both liked you.
It would have been strange if we had both loved you! Betty said,
Bellairs laughed again, and gave his horse a cut with the whip. I
only wanted one to do that, he said, not quite truthfully. And, thank
God, I have got my desire.
Betty did not answer.
Haven't I? he persisted.
You know whether you have or not, she answered. How beautiful the
sunset is going to be to-night. Look at the light over Karnak.
She pointed towards the temple with her whip. Bellairs felt a
crawling despair that numbed him What did it all mean? Was he torturing
himself foolishly, or was this instinct which gnawed at his heart a
thing to be reckoned with? When he left Betty at the dahabeeyah, he
walked slowly, in the gathering shadows, along the path which skirts
the dingy temple of Luxor. This change in Betty was simply
inexplicable. In no way could he account for it. She had not the
definite, angry coldness of a girl who had made a dreadful mistake and
hated the man who had led her to make it. No; she seemed rather in a
state of mental transition. She was setting foot on some bridge, which,
Bellairs felt, led away from the shore on which she had been standing
with him. Was her first transport of love and joy a pretence? He could
not believe so. He knew it was genuine. That was the puzzle which he
could not put together. And then he tried to comfort himself by
thinking deliberately of the many moods that make the feminine mind so
full of April weather, of how they come and pass and are dead. All men
had suffered from them, especially all lovers. He could not expect to
be exemptonly, till now, Betty had seemed so utterly free from moods,
so steadily frank, eager, charming, responsive. Bellairs finally argued
himself into a condition of despair, during which he came to a resolve
of despair. He silently decided to seek a quiet interview with Clarice,
and ask her what was the matter with Betty. After all, there was no
reason why he should not take this step. Clarice had evidently not
cared deeply for him. Otherwise, she would not have accepted his
desertion with such truly agreeable fortitude. Theirs had been a
passing flirtationnothing more. And, indeed, their intimacy gave him
the right to consult her, while her close knowledge of Betty must
render her an infallible judge of any reasons which there might be to
render the latter's conduct intelligible.
* * * * *
Bellairs did not have to wait long before he put his resolve into
practice. That evening Betty, who had become more and more abstracted
and silent, got up soon after dinner, and said she was tired, and was
going to bed. Bellairs tried to get a moment with her alone, but she
frustrated the attempt by holding out her hand to him in public and
markedly bidding him good-night before Lord and Lady Braydon. When she
had disappeared, Bellairs sought Clarice, who was downstairs in the
saloon writing letters. Clarice looked up from the blotting-pad as he
I want to talk to you, he exclaimed abruptly.
I am writing letters.
Do give me a few minutes.
Very well, she said, pushing her paper away and laying down her
pen. What is it?
That's what I want to ask you. What has come over Betty? Is she
Betty! Has anything come over her?
Bellairs tapped his fingers impatiently on the table.
Don't tell me you haven't noticed the change, he said. Forgive me
for saying that I couldn't believe it if you did.
In that case I won't trouble myself to say it.
Ahyou have! Then what's the matter? Tell me.
Hush, don't speak so loud or the sailors will hear you, and Abdul
understands English. I did not say I knew the reason of this change.
You must. You are Betty's other self, or rather she
Was! Do you mean that she is not now?
Remember, she loves me.
Oh, and that makes a difference?
You have observed it?
Bellairs hesitated. He scarcely knew whether to reply in the
affirmative or the negative. He resolved upon a compromise.
There has hardly been time yet, he said; naturally, I expect that
Betty will place me before every one else.
Mdlle. Leroux's eyes flashed under the hanging lamp.
What we expect is not always what we get, she said significantly.
Bellairs flushed. He understood that she was alluding to his
treatment of her, but he preferred to ignore it, and went on:
Is Betty ill to-night?
Not at all.
Then what on earth is the matter? I ask you for a plain answer. I
think I deserve so much.
Men are always so deserving, she said with bitterness.
And women are always so exacting, he retorted. But please answer
I will first ask you another. If you reply frankly to me, I will
reply frankly to you.
She leaned her elbows on the table, supporting her face on the palms
of her upturned hands, and looked into his eyes.
Ask me, said Bellairs eagerly; I'll do anything if you'll only
explain Betty to me.
Why did you try to make me love you? Why did you make love to me?
Bellairs pushed back his chair and there was an awkward silence.
Clarice's question was very unexpected and very difficult to answer.
Well? she said, still with her eyes on his.
Is it any good our discussing this? he replied at length. It
meant nothing to you. It is over.
How do you know it meant nothing to me?
You have shown that by your conduct. You care nothing. I am
indifferent to you.
No, not indifferent, not at all.
What? You can't meanno, it is absurd!
What is absurd?
You can'tyou don't mean that you really have any feeling for me?
I do mean it!
Bellairs felt very uncomfortable. He scarcely knew what to do or
say. He fidgeted on his chair almost like a boy caught in a dishonest
We had really better not talk about it, he said.
Very well. Clarice reached out her hand for her pen and drew the
blotting-pad towards her.
But Betty? said Bellairs uneasily.
You have not answered my question. I shall not answer yours. She
dipped her pen in the ink and prepared to go on with her letter.
Bellairs grew desperate.
Look here, he said; you must tell me the reason of this change in
Betty. Now I know you don't care for me, you don't really love me.
No, I don't love you, she said quickly.
Well, then, since you say that, I will answer your question. I
tried to win your heart because I wanted to win Betty's!
What do you mean?
That Betty is practically youor was, your echo, in word, deed,
thought. Her mind, her heart, followed yours in everything. I loved
her, and I knew that if I made you like me very much she must follow
you in that feeling as in others. Since you don't love me, I can dare
to tell you this.
Clarice sat silent.
Are you angry? he asked.
Go on, she said.
That's all. Again a silence.
It was your fault in a way, Bellairs said awkwardly. You made
Betty your other self. Why did you not let her alone?
Can a strong nature help impressing itself on others?
Oh, I don't know. I'm no psychologist. Butyou must let Betty
alone now, he said.
Suppose I can't. Suppose this sympathy between us has got beyond my
I shall release Betty from this bondage to you, Bellairs said, my
You! Your love! Clarice said. And she burst into a laugh.
Bellairs suddenly leaned forward across the table.
I believe you hate me, he exclaimed.
She, on her part, leaned forward till her face was near his.
You're right, she whispered; I do hate you. Now you know what's
the matter with Betty.
For a moment Bellairs did not understand.
NowI know he repeated. I don'tAh! Comprehension flashed
You devil, he saidyou she-devil! Cursecurse you! Clarice
laughed again. Bellairs sprang up.
No, no, I won't believe it, he cried. I can't. The thing's
Is it? The pendulum of my heart has swung back from love to hate.
Betty's is following.
Wait, and you will see. Already she seems to care less for you. You
yourself have remarked it.
I have not, he said with violence.
To-morrow she will care less, and so lesslesstill she
Only waitand you will know. And now, good-night. I must really
write my letter. It is to my mother, and must go by to-morrow's mail.
She resumed her writing quietly. Bellairs watched her for a moment.
Then he strode out of the room, across the gangway, up the bank.
How dark the night was.
* * * * *
The explanation of Clarice struck Bellairs with a benumbing force.
In vain he argued to himself that it was not the true one, that no
heart could follow another as she said Betty's followed hers, that no
nature could merely for ever echo another's. Some furtive despair
lurking in his soul whispered that she had spoken the truth. An
appalling sense of utter impotence seized him, as it seizes a man who
fights with a shadow. But he resolved to fight. His whole life's
happiness hung on the issue.
On the following day he forced himself to be cheerful, gay,
talkative. He went early to the dahabeeyah, and proposed to Lord
Braydon a picnic to Thebes. Lord Braydon assented. A hamper was packed.
The boat was ordered. The little party assembled on the deck of the
Hatasoo for the start; Lady Braydon, in a wide hat and sweeping
grey veil, Clarice with her big white parasol lined with pale green,
Lord Braydon in his helmet, his eyes protected by enormous spectacles.
But where was Betty? Abdul, the dragoman, went to tell her that they
were going. She came, without her hat, or gloves, holding a palm leaf
fan in her hand.
I am not coming, she said.
Clarice glanced at Bellairs. He pressed his lips together and felt
that he was turning white underneath the tan the Egyptian sun rays had
painted on his cheeks. Lady Braydon protested.
What's the matter, Betty? she said. The donkeys are ordered and
waiting for us on the opposite bank. Why aren't you coming?
I have got a headache. I'm afraid of the sun to-day. All
persuasion was useless. They had to set out without her. Bellairs was
bitterly angry, bitterly afraid. He could scarcely make the necessary
effort to be polite and talkative, but Lord and Lady Braydon readily
excused his gloom, understanding his disappointment, and Clarice no
longer desired his conversation. That night he did not see Betty. She
was confined to her cabin and would see no one but Clarice. On the
following day Bellairs went very early to the dahabeeyah and asked for
her. Abdul took his message, and, after an interval, returned to him
with the following note:
DEAR MR BELLAIRS,I am very sorry I cannot see you this
morning, but I am still very unwell. I think the mental agony
I have been and am undergoing accounts for my condition. I
must tell you the truth. I cannot marry you. I mistook my
feeling for you. I honestly thought it love. I find it is only
friendship. Can you ever forgive me the pain I am causing you?
I cannot forgive myself. But I should do you a much greater
wrong by marrying you than by giving you up. I have told my
father and mother. See them if you like. We sail to-morrow
morning for Assouan.
Bellairs, crumpling this note in his hand, would have burst forth
into a passion of useless rage and despair, but Abdul's lustrous eyes
were fixed upon him. Abdul's dignified form calmly waited his pleasure.
Where is Lord Braydon? said Bellairs, I must see him.
His lordship is on the second deck, sir.
Take me to him.
The interview that followed only increased the despair of Bellairs.
Lord Braydon was most sympathetic, most courteously sorry, but he said
that his daughter's decision was absolutely irrevocable, and he could
not attempt to coerce her in such an important matter.
At any rate, I must see her before you sail, said Bellairs at
last. I think she owes me at least that one last debt.
I think so too, said Lord Braydon. Come at six. I will undertake
that you shall see her.
How Bellairs spent the intervening hours he could never remember. He
did not go back to the hotel; he must have wandered all day along the
river bank. Yet he felt neither the heat, nor any fatigue, nor any
hunger. At six o'clock he reached the dahabeeyah. Lady Betty was
sitting alone on the deck. She looked very pale and grave.
My father and mother and Clarice have gone up to the hotel, she
said. That Austrian is playing again this evening.
Is he? Bellairs answered. He sat down beside her and tried to take
her hand. But she would not let him.
No, she said. No, it's no use. I have made a ghastly mistake, but
I will not make another. Oh, forgive me, do forgive me!
How can I? If you will not try to love me my life is ruined.
Don't say that. It's no use to try to love. You know that. We must
just let ourselves alone. Love comes, or hate, just as God wills it. We
can only accept our fate.
As God wills, Bellairs said passionately; why do you say that,
when you know it is not true?
Not trueMr Bellairs!
Yes. If you echoed the will of God how could I blame you? We must
all do thatat least, when we are good. And those of us who are wicked
I suppose echo the Devil. But youwhat do you echo?
II echo no one. I don't understand you.
But you shall, before it is too late. Betty, be yourself.
Emancipate your soul. You are the echo of that woman, of Clarice. Don't
you see it? Don't you know it? You are her echoand she hates me!
Betty drew back from himshe was evidently alarmed.
Are you mad? she said. Why do you say such things to me? Clarice
and I love each other, it is true, but our real natures are totally
different. She does not hate you, nor do I. She has never said one word
against you to me. She has always told me how much she liked you. What
are you saying?
Iher echo! Why, thenthen if that were the case she must have
loved you, or thought she loved you. Do you dare to tell me that?
I do not say that, Bellairs answered hopelessly.
Of course not. The idea is so absurd. Clariceoh! how can you talk
like this? And if I am only an echo, as you call it, how can you say
you care for me, care for another woman's shadow? You do not love me.
I dowith all my heart.
And yet you say I am nothing, that I have not even a heart of my
own, that I love or hate at the will of another.
Forgive me, forgive me! I don't know what I say. I only know I love
Her face softened.
And you deserve to be loved, she said; but Iit is so
Suddenly Bellairs caught her in his arms.
You shall, he exclaimed, you shall. I will make you. But she
pushed him back with a strange strength, and her face hardened till he
scarcely recognised it.
Don't do thatdon't touch meor you'll make me hate you, she
Bellairs let her go. At that moment there was a step on the deck.
Clarice appeared. She did not seem to notice that anything was wrong.
Isn't it sad, Mr Bellairs, she said, we sail to-morrow. I love
Luxor. I can't bear to leave it.
Bellairs suddenly turned and hurried away. He could no longer trust
himself. There was blood before his eyes.
* * * * *
It was dawn. The Nile was smooth as a river of oil. Light mists
rolled upwards gently, discovering the rosy flanks of the Libyan
mountains to the sun. The sky began to glimmer with a dancing golden
heat. On the brown bank where the boats lie in the shadow a man stood
alone. His hands were tightly clenched. His lips worked silently. His
eyes were fixed in a stare. And away in the distance up river, a tiny
trail of smoke floated towards Luxor. It came from a steam tug that
drew a following dahabeeyah.
The Queen Hatasoo was on her voyage to Assouan.