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 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
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 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 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 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 and the next one green. But all agreed
that it had a strange, fascinating gleam, and declared that it radiated
tiny tongues of flame.

It was the stone Kāra had picked from the burial case of Ahtka-Rā.

Later in the evening the Egyptian found opportunity for a short
conversation with Aneth, who was plainly attracted by this
distinguished-appearing native. He found her curious concerning the
chain of the kings, and proudly explained it to her, reading some of the
inscriptions upon the links.

“Some time,” said he, “it will give me pleasure to go over all the links
with you, for in them is condensed the history of the great kings of the
early dynasties. There is not another such record in existence.”

“I can well believe it,” replied the girl. “You must honor me with a
call, Prince Kāra, for I am an ardent Egyptologist, although a very
ignorant one.”

“I thank you,” said Kāra, bowing low; “I shall esteem it a privilege to
enlighten you so far as I am able. My country has a wonderful history,
and much of it is not yet printed in books.”

Shortly after this he left the reception, although many of the ladies
would have been delighted to lionize him. He had become known in the
capital as the last of the descendants of the ancient kings of Egypt;
and while more than one was skeptical of the truth of this statement,
its corroboration by the natives who knew of his lineage, the wide
advertisement given his claims by Tadros, the dragoman, and the enormous
wealth the Prince was reputed to possess, all contributed to render him
a most interesting figure in Cairoene society. It is certain that had he
cared to remain at Lord Cromer’s reception, he would have met with no
lack of attention; but his object in attending was now accomplished, and
he left the assemblage and found his carriage awaiting him in the
driveway.

“Home!” said he, in Coptic, and his dragoman nodded cheerfully and
sprang upon the box. The journey was made in moody silence.

Meantime Winston rejoined Aneth and found her a seat in a quiet corner,
where they could converse undisturbed. He had watched Kāra uneasily
while the Egyptian was addressing the English girl, and now inwardly
resolved to counteract any favorable impression the native prince might
have made upon her unsophisticated mind.

Why he should interest himself so strangely in this young woman he could
not have explained. Many a fair maid had smiled upon Gerald Winston
without causing his heart to beat one jot the faster. Nay, they had at
times even practiced their arts to win him, for the bluff, good-looking
young Englishman was wealthy enough to be regarded a good catch. But the
society of fashionable ladies was sure to weary him in time, and here
in Egypt he met only butterflies from England and America, or the
coarse-featured, stolid native women, who had no power to interest any
European of intelligence.

But Aneth Consinor seemed different from all the others. Not because she
was fresh and sweet and girlish, for he had seen nice girls before; not
that she was beautiful, because many women possess that enviable gift;
not that she was gracious and intelligent, with a fascinating charm of
manner, although that counts for much in winning men’s hearts. Perhaps,
after all, it was her sincerity and the lights that lay in the clear
depths of her wonderful eyes that formed her chief attraction. The eyes,
he remembered, had impressed him at first, and they were destined to
retain their power over him to the last.

And the strangest thing of all, it occurred to him, as he sat pleasantly
chatting with her, was the fact that she was Lord Roane’s granddaughter
and the child of Lord Consinor. A remark that Kāra had once made flashed
across his mind: “The father, giving so little to his progeny, can
scarce contaminate it, whatever he may chance to be.” Perhaps this was
more logical than he had hitherto cared to believe.

Aneth mentioned Prince Kāra presently, and asked whether he knew him.

“Yes,” he answered; “it was I who discovered him. Kāra is one of my few
finds.”

“And where was he discovered?” she asked, amused at his tone.

“In a mud village on the Nile bank, clothed in rags and coated with
dirt. But he was very intelligent, for he had been educated by a clever
relative who had once lived in the world; and, in some way, he and his
people had access to an ancient hoarded treasure, so that the man was
rich without knowing how to utilize his wealth. I purchased his
treasure–or a part of it, at least–and brought him to Cairo. He was
observant and quick to adapt himself to his new surroundings. He sold
more treasure, I have since learned, and visited Paris and London. In
six months the dirty Nile dweller has become a man of the world, and
society accepted him because he is rich and talented.”

“How curious!” she exclaimed. “And is he, indeed, a descendant of the
ancient kings?”

“So I believe–on his mother’s side, for the Egyptians trace their
descent only from their mothers. Yet they are so inconsistent that it is
of their fathers they boast. The Egyptian women have usually been poor
creatures, listless and unintelligent. In this they differ from the
women of almost every other semi-tropical country.”

“They must have been different in the olden times,” said the girl,
gravely; “for it is not likely that the first real civilization of the
world sprang from a stupid race. And think for how many centuries these
poor creatures have been enslaved and trodden into the dust. I am
inclined to think the contempt with which the Saracens regarded women
is responsible for their present condition in Egypt. Have you found none
of them clever or womanly, as we understand the latter term?”

He thought of Hatatcha.

“There are doubtless a few exceptions, even in these days,” he answered.
“And you are right about ancient women having had their place in
Egyptian history. Besides poor Cleopatra, whom you so bravely defended
at dinner, there was Queen Hatasu, you know; and Nitocris, Hatshepset
and others who rendered themselves immortal. Have you visited our museum
yet?”

“Only for a glance around; but that glance was enough to fill me with
awe and wonder. I mean to devote many days to the study of its
treasures.”

“Let me go with you,” he begged. “It would please me to watch your eager
enjoyment of the things I know so well. And I can help you a little.”

“You are very good, indeed,” said the girl, delighted at the suggestion.
“We will go to-morrow afternoon, if you can spare the time.”

“May I call for you?” he asked.

“If you please. I will be ready at one o’clock, for I must take full
advantage of my opportunity.”

So he went home filled with elation at the promise of to-morrow. And
never before had Gerald Winston given a thought to a woman after leaving
her presence.

To-night he dreamed, and the dream was of Aneth.