The summer is scarcely a good time
to visit Egypt, but Monty and his guests had a desire
to see even a little of the northern coast of Africa.
It was decided, therefore, that after Athens, the “Flitter”
should go south. The yacht had met them at Naples
after the automobile procession, a kind
of triumphal progress, was disbanded in
Florence, and they had taken a hurried survey of Rome.
By the middle of July the party was leaving the heat
of Egypt and finding it not half bad. New York
was not more than a month away as Brewster reckoned
time and distance, and there was still too much money
in the treasury. As September drew nearer he
got into the habit of frequently forgetting Swearengen
Jones until it was too late to retrace his steps.
He was coming to the “death struggle,”
as he termed it, and there was something rather terrorizing
in the fear that “the million might die hard.”
And so these last days and nights were glorious ones,
if one could have looked at them with unbiased, untroubled
eyes. But every member of his party was praying
for the day when the “Flitter” would be
well into the broad Atlantic and the worst over.
At Alexandria Brewster had letters to some Englishmen,
and in the few entertainments that he gave succeeded
once again in fairly outdoing Aladdin.
A sheik from the interior was a guest
at one of Monty’s entertainments. He was
a burly, hot-blooded fellow, with a densely-populated
harem, and he had been invited more as a curiosity
than as one to be honored. As he came aboard
the “Flitter,” Monty believed the invitation
was more than justified. Mohammed was superb,
and the women of the party made so much of him that
it was small wonder that his head was turned.
He fell desperately in love with Peggy Gray on sight,
and with all the composure of a potentate who had
never been crossed he sent for Brewster the next day
and told him to “send her around” and he
would marry her. Monty’s blood boiled furiously
for a minute or two, but he was quick to see the wisdom
of treating the proposition diplomatically. He
tried to make it plain to the sheik that Miss Gray
could not accept the honor he wished to confer upon
her, but it was not Mohammed’s custom to be
denied anything he asked for especially
anything feminine. He complacently announced
that he would come aboard that afternoon and talk
it over with Peggy.
Brewster looked the swarthy gentleman
over with unconcealed disgust in his eyes. The
mere thought of this ugly brute so much as touching
the hand of little Peggy Gray filled him with horror,
and yet there was something laughable in the situation.
He could not hide the smile that came with the mind
picture of Peggy listening to the avowal of the sheik.
The Arab misinterpreted this exhibition of mirth.
To him the grin indicated friendship and encouragement.
He wanted to give Brewster a ring as a pledge of affection,
but the American declined the offering, and also refused
to carry a bag of jewels to Peggy.
“I’ll let the old boy
come aboard just to see Peggy look a hole through
him,” he resolved. “No matter how
obnoxious it may be, it isn’t every girl who
can say an oriental potentate has asked her to marry
him. If this camel-herder gets disagreeable we
may tumble him into the sea for a change.”
With the best grace possible he invited
the sheik to come aboard and consult Miss Gray in
person. Mohammed was a good bit puzzled over the
intimation that it would be necessary for him to plead
for anything he had expressed a desire to possess.
Brewster confided the news to “Rip” Van
Winkle and “Subway” Smith, who had gone
ashore with him, and the trio agreed that it would
be good sport to let the royal proposal come as a
surprise to Peggy. Van Winkle returned to the
yacht at once, but his companions stayed ashore to
do some shopping. When they approached the “Flitter”
later on they observed an unusual commotion on deck.
Mohammed had not tarried long after
their departure. He gathered his train together,
selected a few costly presents that had been returned
from the harem and advanced on the boat without delay.
The captain of the “Flitter” stared long
and hard at the gaily bedecked launches and then called
to his first officer. Together they watched the
ceremonious approach. A couple of brown-faced
heralds came aboard first and announced the approach
of the mighty chief. Captain Perry went forward
to greet the sheik as he came over the side of the
ship, but he was brushed aside by the advance guards.
Half a hundred swarthy fellows crowded aboard and
then came the sheik, the personification of pomp and
“Where is she?” he asked
in his native tongue. The passengers were by
this time aware of the visitation, and began to straggle
on deck, filled with curiosity. “What the
devil do you mean by coming aboard in this manner?”
demanded the now irate Captain Perry, shoving a couple
of retainers out of his path and facing the beaming
suitor. An interpreter took a hand at this juncture
and the doughty captain finally was made to understand
the object of the visit. He laughed in the sheik’s
face and told the mate to call up a few jackies to
drive the “dagoes” off. “Rip”
Van Winkle interfered and peace was restored.
The cruise had changed “Rip” into a happier
and far more radiant creature, so it was only natural
that he should have shared the secret with Mary Valentine.
He had told the story of the sheik’s demand to
her as soon as he came aboard, and she had divulged
it to Peggy the instant “Rip” was out of
Brewster found the sheik sitting in
state on the upper deck impatiently awaiting the appearance
of his charmer. He did not know her name, but
he had tranquilly commanded “Rip” to produce
all of the women on board so that he might select
Peggy from among them. Van Winkle and Bragdon,
who now was in the secret, were preparing to march
the ladies past the ruler when Monty came up.
“Has he seen Peggy?” he asked of Van Winkle.
“Not yet. She is dressing for the occasion.”
“Well, wait and see what happens
to him when she gets over the first shock,”
Just then the sheik discovered Peggy,
who, pretty as a picture, drew near the strange group.
To her amazement two slaves rushed forward and obstructed
her passage long enough to beat their heads on the
deck a few times, after which they arose and tendered
two magnificent necklaces. She was prepared for
the proposal, but this action disconcerted her; she
gasped and looked about in perplexity. Her friends
were smiling broadly and the sheik had placed his hands
over his palpitating heart.
“Lothario has a pain,”
whispered “Rip” Van Winkle sympathetically,
and Brewster laughed. Peggy did not hesitate
an instant after hearing the laugh. She walked
straight toward the sheik. Her cheeks were pink
and her eyes were flashing dangerously. The persistent
brown slaves followed with the jewels, but she ignored
them completely. Brave as she intended to be,
she could not repress the shudder of repulsion that
went over her as she looked full upon this eager Arab.
Graceful and slender she stood before
the burly Mohammed, but his ardor was not cooled by
the presence of so many witnesses. With a thud
he dropped to his knees, wabbling for a moment in
the successful effort to maintain a poetic equilibrium.
Then he began pouring forth volumes of shattered French,
English and Arabic sentiment, accompanied by facial
contortions so intense that they were little less than
“Oh, joy of the sun supreme,
jewel of the only eye, hearken to the entreaty of
Mohammed.” It was more as if he were commanding
his troops in battle than pleading for the tender
compassion of a lady love. “I am come for
you, queen of the sea and earth and sky. My boats
are here, my camels there, and Mohammed promises you
a palace in the sun-lit hills if you will but let
him bask forever in the glory of your smile.”
All this was uttered in a mixture of tongues so atrocious
that “Subway” Smith afterward described
it as a salad. The retinue bowed impressively
and two or three graceless Americans applauded as vigorously
as if they were approving the actions of a well-drilled
comic opera chorus. Sailors were hanging in the
rigging, on the davits and over the deck house roof.
“Smile for the gentleman, Peggy,”
commanded Brewster delightedly. “He wants
to take a short bask.”
“You are very rude, Mr. Brewster,”
said Peggy, turning upon him coldly. Then to
the waiting, expectant sheik: “What is the
meaning of this eloquence?”
Mohammed looked bewildered for a moment
and then turned to the interpreter, who cleared up
the mystery surrounding her English. For the
next three or four minutes the air was filled with
the “Jewels of Africa,” “Star,”
“Sunlight,” “Queen,” “Heavenly
Joy,” “Pearl of the Desert,” and
other things in bad English, worse French, and perfect
Arabic. He was making promises that could not
be redeemed if he lived a thousand years. In
conclusion the gallant sheik drew a long breath, screwed
his face into a simpering grin and played his trump
card in unmistakable English. It sounded pathetically
like “You’re a peach.”
An indecorous roar went up from the
white spectators and a jacky in the rigging, suddenly
thinking of home, piped up with a bar or two from
“The Star Spangled Banner.”
Having accomplished what he considered
to be his part of the ceremony the sheik arose and
started toward his launch, coolly motioning for her
to follow. So far as he was concerned the matter
was closed. But Peggy, her heart thumping like
a trip-hammer, her eyes full of excitement, implored
him to stop for a moment.
“I appreciate this great honor,
but I have a request to make,” she said clearly.
Mohammed paused irresolutely and in some irritation.
“Here’s where the heathen
gets it among the beads,” whispered Monty to
Mrs. Dan, and he called out: “Captain Perry,
detail half a dozen men to pick up the beads that
are about to slip from his majesty’s neck.”