MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.

As the dragoman approached Sĕra’s hut he paused upon the threshold to
observe the scene within, hesitating, as he remembered that it was
because of his own reckless conduct that the Nile girl had been stripped
of her beautiful gowns and jewels and sent home from Cairo scorned and
repudiated.

Her humiliation and despair had haunted him ever since.

But now he found her seated meekly at the well-worn loom, casting the
shuttle back and forth with the same mechanical lassitude she had
exhibited of old. The discolored black dress, open at the breast and
much patched and torn, was her sole garment. Even the blue beads were
again about her neck.

But the eyes she turned toward Tadros were different, somehow. Their
former velvety depths were veiled with a dull film, while the smoothness
of her brow was marred by the wrinkles of a sullen frown.

After a moment, however, she seemed to recognize the dragoman, and rose
from her place with a sudden eager look and flushed cheeks.

“You have come for me again?” she asked.

“No,” answered Tadros, casting himself upon a settle. He felt abashed
without knowing why he should entertain such a feeling–abashed and
sorrowful, in spite of his habitual egotism and selfish disregard of
others.

Nephthys leaned back and resumed her weaving. The film covered her eyes
again. She paid no further attention to her mother’s guest.

Sĕra, however, was voluble and indignant.

“That Kāra,” she hissed, “is a viper–a crocodile–a low, infamous
deceiver! He is worse than an Arab. Henf! If I had him here I would
stamp him into the dust. Why did he spurn my beautiful daughter from his
harem? Tell me, then!”

“Merely because Nephthys and I, being old friends, wished to converse at
times of you and our acquaintances at Fedah. Why should we not gossip
and smoke a cigarette together? Once I owned her myself.”

“True. You were a fool to sell her.”

“Still, you must not forget that Nephthys has had an experience,” he
resumed, more lightly. “For a time she was a queen, splendid and
magnificent beyond compare in her robes of satin and her sparkling
jewels. Ah, it is not every girl who enjoys such luxury, even for a
brief season! Let her be content.”

“Content!” screamed old Sĕra, shrilly; “it has ruined her. She is no
longer happy in the old home, and when she speaks, which is but seldom,
it is only to curse Kāra. Look at her! Is she now fat and beautiful as
before? No. If the poor child lives long enough, she will die a
skeleton!”

“Allah forbid!” exclaimed Tadros, hastily. “But if she expects to be
taken back again, her case is hopeless. I am sure Kāra will never relent
or restore her to favor. He is a poor judge of a woman. But I,” slapping
his chest proudly, “I will take Nephthys to myself; and while I do not
promise to robe her as gorgeously as did Kāra, she shall become fat
again, and have her silks and ornaments the same as before.”

“And the cigarettes?”

“Of course.”

He drew a box of the coveted cigarettes from his pocket and tossed it
toward her. Sĕra lighted one eagerly and gave the box to Nephthys. After
staring at it blankly for a moment the girl seemed to understand. She
took a cigarette and lighted it from the one her mother was smoking. A
smile of childish enjoyment slowly spread over her face, and she left
her loom and came and sat upon Tadros’ knee.

“I expect Kāra in Fedah presently,” remarked the dragoman. “But he must
not know that I am here. We have had a falling-out. I quarreled with
him, and he threatens me.”

“Never fear,” said Sĕra, calmly. “I can hide you in the cavity in the
rear wall, which the royal one knows nothing of. There you will be safe
until he goes away.”

“Very good!” he replied.

“When will Kāra come?” asked the woman, “and why does he visit Fedah
again?”

“I expect him to-night or to-morrow. Why he comes I do not know.”

“Perhaps to pray beside Hatatcha’s mummy.”

“Where is that?” he asked, quickly.

“I cannot discover,” she returned. “Often I have examined their
dwelling, but no secret door can I find anywhere. The tomb must be in
the hills–or perhaps in the desert. There is an oasis where the dwarf
Sebbet lives. He was known to be one of Hatatcha’s most devoted
followers.”

“True,” said the dragoman, thoughtfully.

“The tomb must be in Sebbet’s oasis. Once Kāra stole old Nikko’s donkey
and rode there.”

“Was that the last time we came here?” questioned Tadros.

“No; it was when Hatatcha died.”

“Then the tomb is not in the oasis. I am sure it is quite near Fedah.
But listen, my Sĕra; if I agree to take Nephthys and provide for her,
you must help me when Kāra comes.”

“I have promised to hide you in the old wall,” she replied. “Can I do
more than that?”

“Yes. You must go at once to the hill and watch for the royal one’s
coming. Your eyes are sharp, even though you are old. He will come from
the Nile–either across the river or from the north, on a boat that
smokes and has no sails. As soon as you discover him you will hurry here
to me, and that will give us time to prepare for Kāra. Will you do this
for me?”

“May I have the box of cigarettes to take with me?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will do your bidding.”

She went away to the hill at once, leaving Tadros with Nephthys; but the
girl had already forgotten his presence and was staring straight before
her with lusterless eyes.

The dragoman sighed.

“It is very unfortunate,” he murmured, examining her critically, “but it
is doubtless true, nevertheless–she is getting thin.”