Read PART I: CHAPTER XIV of There was a King in Egypt , free online book, by Norma Lorimer, on ReadCentral.com.

When Michael entered the sitting-room of the hut, Millicent Mervill was reading one of Freddy’s French novels. There had been plenty of time for her to powder herself and cool down and settle to her liking her dainty person. She looked as fresh and cool and pink as a bough of apple-blossom.

She greeted Michael with a charming mixture of friendliness and discretion. She had brought a friend up the valley, to see all that tourists had to see. He had been put into her hands by a letter of introduction from friends in America. They had seen all that her health would allow her to see, on such a hot day. She had noticed their camp in passing up the valley and could not resist visiting it on her way back. Might she ask for an hour’s rest from the sun? Her friend was going to call back for her on the return journey.

“I knew you wouldn’t mind,” she said. “And I’m not going to stop your work, or bother you.”

“I’m not busy,” Michael said “at least, not for the moment.” His eyes avoided Millicent’s, which seemed to him bluer than usual; but his voice was less cold. His first greeting had been curt and almost impatient. Millicent was evidently wiser and less difficult; she was the same Millicent who had behaved so delightfully at the Pyramids. When she was like that he was glad to be nice to her; he was almost pleased to see her.

As their conversation continued it was mostly about the tomb and its great importance a subconscious thought that she had come to the hut for some reason which she was not divulging forced itself more and more strongly on Michael. He became convinced of it; she seemed so unusually contented and satisfied with the plan of confining her visit to a short rest in the hut and their conversation to “the things of Egyptology,” that even Michael was suspicious. She was “douce comme un lupin blanc,” as she expressed it to herself later on. Her usual insistence had vanished. She treated Michael as a friend, with the proper touch of intimacy. This was when they were alone.

When Margaret came into the room, she hardened. Naturally Margaret invited her to stay for lunch. She was Michael’s friend.

“It is always a very light meal with us,” she said. “But such as it is, you are welcome to share it.”

“Freddy likes his proper meal at night,” Michael said.

“Thanks ever so much,” Millicent said; she had noticed the coldness of Margaret’s voice. “I’d love to stay that’s to say, if it won’t really be giving you any trouble you’re looking fagged.” She turned to Michael. “What have you been doing with her?” Millicent spoke as if she really cared. “You’re too young for such tired eyes, for these lines,” she touched Meg’s eyes and pulled open the corners. Meg’s shrinking gave her satisfaction. “Don’t let Egypt ruin your looks, my dear a woman is only half a woman when her beauty fades; she’s only a woman in the eyes of one half of mankind while it lasts.”

“Do you think so?” Meg said. “I dare say you’re right, but when one is quite young one never stops to consider these things. As you get older, I suppose you do.”

The hit went home; the girl had claws.

“We are only as young as we look, are we not? These few weeks have ragged you to pieces.”

“I don’t mind,” said Meg. “It’s been well worth it. You may as well get ten years into ten weeks as ten weeks into ten years. I’ve been gobbling up life, years and years of new experiences and sensations in these last few weeks.” Meg meant no more than her words would have conveyed to any sweet-minded woman, but Millicent Mervill put her own interpretation on them. Margaret was no mean fencer; she could hit back as well as parry strokes.

“You’ve certainly said good-bye to conventions, my dear. I admire you for taking your life into your own hands.” The blue eyes searched Margaret’s; they spoke of a hundred things which made Margaret long to throw the tumbler which she was placing on the table at her golden head. Margaret was neither ignorant nor a fool; Millicent’s eyes explained her meaning.

“One has to say good-bye to conventions in the desert nothing can be too simple here. That’s why Western fashions look so grotesque, our ideas of becoming garments so ludicrous.”

Meg had ignored the innuendoes. Her eyes rested on Millicent’s absurd shoes and fashionably-cut white serge coat and skirt a charming suit, but out of place in the hut.

“Is your brother still here?” Millicent asked the question with a beautiful insouciance. She was perfectly well aware that he was personally superintending the excavation of the tomb. Her words were meant to annoy.

“Here?” Meg said. “In the hut at this moment, do you mean? No he is busy.” Meg’s eyes flashed with anger.

Michael was silently enjoying the battle of words and eyes which was taking place between the two women. The very atmosphere was charged with antagonism. He was delighted to find that Margaret held her own.

“No I meant, is he still in the valley, or are you two alone here? How deliciously romantic!” Millicent sighed. The sigh was more suggestive than her words.

“My brother is in the tomb at this moment,” Meg said. “You seem to have very extraordinary ideas of the ways of excavators” she had flushed to the roots of her hair “of the behaviour of ordinary English people.”

“What was the desert made for, but freedom, my dear? If one can’t live in this valley as one wants to, where can one, I should like to know?”

“We are living as we like,” Meg said. “Your ideas of freedom may not be mine. Our interests lie apart our ideas of enjoyment are, as far as I can understand, poles apart.”

“A foolish waste of time, my dear, that’s all I can say. May I smoke?”

Michael handed her a box of cigarettes; he noticed the exquisite refinement of her hands as she picked out a cigarette, her brightly-polished nails. “Thanks, dear,” she said, as she lit the cigarette from the match which he held out to her the “dear” was for Meg’s benefit; for as their eyes met hers were full of genuine fun and mischief.

“I must tease her,” she said, in a low whisper; Meg had gone to the end of the room. “I love shocking those dark eyes I enjoy making her hate me. It’s only fun.”

Meg’s heart was beating. How dared she call Michael “dear”? How dared she intrude herself uninvited upon their simple life? Her beauty, her foolish feminine clothes, angered her. She hated Millicent’s fine skin, which was, even in the desert heat, as poreless as a baby’s. It was a wonderful skin for a grown person, let alone for a woman of Millicent Mervill’s age. Meg thought of the dried mummy’s lips. One day that pure soft flesh, which held the tints of a field daisy, would be more revolting to look at if it were unearthed than the skin of the three-thousand-year-old queen. If Meg had possessed a wishing-ring, it would not have taken long to effect the inevitable change.

The impudence of the woman maddened her. She knew that she could not, even if she had wished to, behave as she did. Millicent did exactly as she liked, as the impulse of the minute suggested.

Meg wondered how she had passed the time while they were at the tomb. Had she examined any private object in the hut? Had she interviewed the servants? She was quite capable of doing it.

She heard her whisper to Mike. Her own sensitiveness now drove her out of the hut; if they wished to speak in whispers, let them speak. She stood sullenly outside the door.

Why did not some strong man strangle women like Millicent Mervill? Why had not she herself the courage to tell her what she thought of her? Probably Millicent would only smile and show her perfect teeth they always made Meg furious, because they were even better than her own, and hers were, so she thought, her strongest asset and say, “Poor girl! You are a little overtired”; or she would say, “You have so much to make you happy, dear, and I have so little. Don’t be unkind I only long for sympathy.”

Millicent’s moments of self-pity were mean and contemptible and yet they were effective.

The only thing to do was to leave the two alone, to trust Michael and go about her business.

Presently she heard Michael say: “Well, I’ll leave you to rest until lunch-time I can’t idle while Freddy is working like a nigger. You’ll be all right, I know, with your book and a cigarette.”

Margaret slipped round to the back of the hut; she did not want to speak to Michael; she was thankful that he had left Mrs. Mervill, but his voice had been too kind, too nice. Meg did not know what she would have liked him to do, what he could have done otherwise. She only knew that the niceness of his voice annoyed her.

When the overseer’s whistle for the workmen to “down picks and spades” sounded and the time was ripe for Freddy to appear, Margaret sauntered off to meet him. When she saw him coming she hurried towards him. How she loved him!

When they met she said, “That cat Mrs. Mervill is here. Oh, Freddy, I hate her!”

Freddy laughed. Millicent Mervill, with her extreme modernity and virile passions, was so far removed from the thought of the tomb, from the brown mummy, whose golden ribbons he had been examining; his sister’s annoyance was so utterly unlike her mood of the earlier morning! He had never seen Meg so moved as she had been in the tomb. He felt a little relieved that a very human and irritating influence had suddenly thrust itself across her path. Meg was getting too enthralled in Egypt. These thoughts flashed through his mind.

“Good old Meg,” he said tenderly. “The fighting Lampton’s roused, is it?”

“Yes,” Meg said. “I am roused. She’s so insolent, Freddy.”

“What?” he said, stopping her before she got further. “Insolent? to whom?”

“To . . .” Meg hesitated. “To life,” she said abruptly. “She says things that I could hit her for saying. Freddy, do squash her! she suggests something nasty with every word she utters.”

“I’ll try and flirt with her won’t that do?”

“No, don’t, Freddy!” Fear clutched at Meg’s heart; the woman in her trembled for her brother. Millicent was so fair, so tempting; Freddy was young and, Meg thought, ignorant of the wiles of women.

“You’d rather I did than Mike?” Freddy’s eyes laughed as he watched the blush rise to his sister’s cheeks. It made her extraordinarily attractive indeed, fighting seemed to suit Meg. He pinched her arm; they were close pals, tried chums. “I know your secret, Meg I’ve had eyes for other things than the tomb!”

“Do you mind, Freddy?” Meg slipped her arm through her brother’s; her eyes shone with happiness.

Freddy pressed her arm close to his side. Meg loved him for it. “If I’d minded I shouldn’t have let things go so far, should I? I could have packed you off home.”

“You’ve been a darling, Freddy, and I’m so happy! I never knew anything could be so perfect. I sound silly, don’t I?”

“No. Mike’s one of the very best, Meg. But you’ll have to look after him a bit.” Freddy’s voice was graver.

“How do you mean, Freddy?” Meg at once thought of Mrs. Mervill. Freddy read her thoughts in her voice.

“I don’t mean in that way rather not! He’s as straight as a die. I mean, you’ll have to help him to walk on his two legs, Meg stop him standing on his head, make him practical.”

“I love him for it, Freddy.”

“But it doesn’t pay. We’re of this world and we’ve got to live in this world. Mike’s always trying to get beyond it, to get into touch with the other side. It’s no good meddling with that sort of thing, it always has a disastrous effect on the human mind and human happiness, which proves to me that we’re not intended to know or to get in touch with those who have left us. It’s unwise to give up one’s thoughts to the supernatural.”

“Perhaps it is,” Meg said, “but why should we be contented to stand still about all that sort of thing, while we leap ahead in science and material progress and everything else? Mike thinks the true understanding is coming, the darkness we have lived in is passing away.”

“He may be right,” Freddy said. “But for your happiness, Meg, I wish he’d chuck it. The ‘sublime truth of spiritualism’ he talks about, and the ’God-ruled world-state’ the one’s dangerous to his bodily welfare, the other’s the Utopian dream of failures. I don’t want you to marry a failure, old girl. I want you to have the sort of life you’re fitted for.”

“People must be what they are, Freddy, and failure isn’t a failure if it’s done its bit. Rome wasn’t built in a day, or the union of Italy achieved without broken hearts modern Italy had its failures, its Utopian dreamers, long before Garibaldi’s triumphant thousand marched into Rome.”

“That’s true, only one never wants a failure to be a member of one’s own family. I don’t want a dreamer for a brother-in-law, Meg not for your husband.”

“The Lamptons always want to come in with the victorious legions,” Meg said. They were nearing the hut. “It seems as if the real victors in life were what we call the failures, the pioneers of truth.”

“I’m awfully glad, anyway, Meg. Mike’s a lucky chap and you’re a lucky girl. You know, I think the world of Mike!”

“We aren’t engaged, Freddy.”

“Oh, aren’t you?” He looked at her with laughing eyes. “What do you call it, then? An understanding? Or are you just ‘walking out’ like ’Arry and ’Arriet?”

Meg laughed happily. “We love each other we’ve not got beyond that yet. I suppose we’re just ‘walking out.’”

“You’ve told each other about the loving?” Freddy’s kindness was bringing something like tears to Margaret’s eyes.

“Yes. Michael didn’t mean to it . . .” she paused.

“Oh, I know! The usual thing. Things seem to be going on all right.” He laughed. “It mustn’t run too smoothly.”

“Don’t laugh, Freddy. Michael thought you would think it cheek he won’t allow me to consider myself bound to him.” She laughed deliriously. “The dear boy wants me to feel free to change my mind, because he’s ‘a drifter,’ because he thinks he isn’t a good enough match for your sister. Your sister, Freddy, comes right above mere Meg.”

“I see,” Freddy said. “Then I’m not to speak about it yet, am I? Just tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

“Not yet, Freddy not while that odious woman is here, at any rate.”

“All right, I’ll wait. Only I’d rather like to see her face when I congratulated Mike.”

“Ought you to congratulate Mike? I’m your sister isn’t it the other way on? Shouldn’t you congratulate me?”

They were close to the door of the hut; Meg lingered.

“He’s the luckiest man I know. I wish he had a sister just like you. Of course he’s to be congratulated! And now I must go and make myself beautiful.” His eyes smiled their brightest. “I bet you I could cut Mike out with the fair Millicent if I set my mind to it.”

In the sunlight Freddy looked irresistible, with his violet eyes, shaded by his thick lashes, his crisp hair, as sunny and fair as a boy’s. Meg knew that he was a much better-looking man than Mike indeed, he would have been too good-looking if his figure had not been all that it was, if there had been the slightest touch of the feminine about him. There was not. Yet in spite of his good looks and astonishing colouring, Meg was right in her consciousness that for women there was more magnetic attraction in Mike’s mobile plainness, in his sensitive, irregular features. When the two men were talking together, the senses and eyes of women would be drawn to the plain man.

During lunch Millicent Mervill was very good. She was interested in hearing about the tomb and, Freddy thought, wonderfully intelligent upon the subject. She was, as he expressed it, as clever as a monkey. What little knowledge she had she used to the utmost advantage, to its extreme limit. All her intellectual goods she displayed in her shop window. She had a telling way of saying, “I am completely ignorant upon this or that subject,” suggestive of the fact that she really did know a great deal about many other things. She seldom “gave herself away.”

Freddy came to the conclusion that she was so quick that it was quite impossible to discover what she really did or did not know or grasp, and, as he said to Mike afterwards, “What she did not know, she will set about knowing when she gets home. That brain won’t rest still under ignorance, or let Meg know what it doesn’t know.”

The description of the fine effigy of the queen thrilled her; her appetite for details was insatiable. There was plenty to talk about, so conversation did not flag and personal topics were avoided.

Freddy thought that she was nicer than she had ever been before and even prettier. He enjoyed his lunch; it certainly was a change to have a beautiful woman, who was not his sister, and who did her best to make herself attractive, lunching with them in their desert home. After his tremendous efforts of the last three or four days her presence was pleasing. Even the modern clothes and aggressively-manicured finger-nails gave him healthy sensations. His manhood enjoyed her super-femininity.

The little room palpitated with life, the antagonism of the two women was a thing he could feel. He felt it as surely as he had felt the hot air of the tomb. Freddy enjoyed looking at his sister; her combative mood vitalized her.

Her dark hair, so soft and abundant, looked tempting to touch, after the dragged and matted “something” which clung to the skull of the mummy.

Nothing in the room was intrinsically worth a couple of shillings. The seat on which Michael was sitting had been made out of empty boxes; they had been converted into a very presentable armchair by the ingenuity of Mohammed Ali. Yet the atmosphere of the hut was human and domesticated, the two women sweet and fragrant.

And so it was not difficult for Freddy to respond to his fair guest’s pleasant chatter. She made him laugh heartily more than once, and he was ready for a good laugh. He was braced by her quick wit and humorous way of looking at things.

Meg was doing her best to appear happy; she was really getting angrier and angrier every minute with the woman who was so thoroughly enjoying herself; angry because Freddy, like all other men, was being deceived by her, because he was obviously thinking her very excellent company which she was. He was no doubt already wondering why she, Meg, hated her so whole-heartedly. Freddy had seldom mentioned Millicent to his sister; he had kept his own counsel. The Lamptons were silent men, whose appreciation of women like Millicent never led them astray in the choosing of their wives.

Michael had given Millicent his first vivid impressions of the tomb in a very “Mik-ish” manner. He described Freddy, strikingly distinguishable in his white flannels, greedily picking up jewels and gold and bits of blue faience and stowing them away into boxes by the light of an electric torch.

“A tomb burglar if ever you saw one! I shall never forget the sight.”

“There’s lots of work for you, Meg, to-night,” Freddy said. “There’s an awful lot of things to sort and clean beautiful things.”

“How exciting!” Millicent said. “Can you keep any of the small things? They’d stick to my fingers, I feel sure.”

“No,” Freddy said. “Not unless you are a thief. They aren’t ours I’m only entrusted with the finding of them.”

Millicent made a face of dissatisfaction, as she felt for something which she wore fastened to the long gold chain which was hanging from her neck.

“I wonder if you will pronounce this genuine or a fake? Do you remember, Mike, our buying it?” She ran her fingers along the chain. The genuine antique or fake was not on it; it was missing. She felt again. No; there was nothing on the chain.

“Oh, I’ve lost it!” she said. “My precious eye of Horus, Mike. I wouldn’t have lost it for the world!” Her tone conveyed his understanding of the personal value which she attached to the amulet.

“What was it?” Freddy said. “Can’t we get another? If you bought it, it was probably a fake.”

“A new one would never be the same Mike gave me the one I’ve lost” she purposely used Michael’s intimate name “while we were staying at Luxor. It has been my ‘heaven-sent gift’” (the ancients’ name for the amulet, which represented the right eye of Horus).

They all looked to see if the amulet had been dropped in the room, if it was under the table. But it was nowhere to be found; the eye of Horus was concealing itself.

“It was probably only a fake,” Freddy said, “if you bought it in Luxor. I’ll try and get a genuine one for you for ages and ages they were the commonest of all amulets, judging by the number we find. Almost every ancient Egyptian must have worn one. It was the all-seeing eye, the protecting light.”

“The moon was the left eye of Horus and the sun was the right isn’t that so?” Millicent asked.

“Roughly speaking, but the eye of Horus is a complicated subject. It’s not just the evil or good eye of Italy, by any means. The eye of Horus is the eye of Heaven, Shakespeare’s ‘Heaven’s eye,’ but it’s when it gets identified with Ra that the complication comes in. The sacred eye is the eye of Heaven, or Ra. Poets, ancient and modern, have sung of it, from the time of Job to the days of Shakespeare. But there was also the evil eye, the one we hear so much about in Southern Italy.”

“Tell me about that. I always like the naughty stories. I’ve never grown up in that respect. The evil eye is more interesting to me than the eye of Heaven. I knew a woman in Italy who was selling lace; she let a friend of mine buy all she wanted from her at the most absurdly cheap prices you can imagine. When the lady of the house we were staying in, who had allowed the woman to call and bring her lace, asked her why she had sold the lace to a stranger at a price for which she had refused to part with it to her, she simply threw up her eyes and said, ’Ma, Signora, what could I do? She had the evil eye if I had not given it to her, what terrible misfortunes she could have brought to me!’”

“I remember seeing a crowded tramcar in Rome empty itself in a moment when a well-known Prince, who was supposed to have the evil eye, got into it,” Michael said.

“A common expression for a woman in ancient Egypt was stav-ar-ban, which meant ‘she who turns away the evil eye,’” Freddy said.

“Then the Egyptians believed in the evil eye, as apart from the sacred eye of Ra?” Millicent said. “What a universal belief it seems to have been! One meets with it all over the world.”

“Wasn’t there a book found in the ancient library of the temple of Dendereh which told all about the turning away of the evil eye?” Mike asked.

“I believe so,” Freddy said. “But I’ve never seen it.”

Millicent was still fingering her empty chain. “I feel lost without my eye,” she said to Mike, who had answered her persistent gaze. “You bought it for me after that long, long day we spent together in the desert behind Karnak. Do you remember that Coptic convent” she made a face of disgust “and the amusement of the nuns at my blue eyes, and all the dreadful dogs? You bought the eye from the old man who looked as if he had lived inside a pyramid all his life.” She turned to Margaret. “It was a wonderful day, and we behaved like children in the desert, didn’t we, Mike?”

Meg managed to hide her annoyance, but something hurt inside her probably her bowels of wrath.

“It was a lovely day, I remember. The Coptic convent looked like a collection of beehives huddled together in the desert. You wouldn’t go inside it because you were afraid of the fleas, and I wasn’t allowed to go in because I was a man.”

“I’d had enough of Coptic churches. Have you ever been in the early Christian churches in Cairo?” she asked Margaret.

“No, but I’ve heard about them.”

“Well, I have, and all I can say is that if the early Christians in Rome were as dirty as the survivors of the Church of St. Mark are in Cairo, I don’t wonder at the pagans. I wasn’t going to risk the monastery after the appalling filth of their churches, dirty pigs!”

At that precise moment Mohammed Ali brought in the coffee. It was served in the native fashion, in small enamelled brass bowls, on a brass tray. When he handed the tray to Mrs. Mervill he pointed to a small object lying beside her cup.

“Lady, I find antika all safe.”

Millicent’s heart beat more quickly; a little deeper rose warmed her cheeks. She picked up the eye of blue faience from the brass tray with well-assumed delight. Margaret’s dark eyes were resting on her. She felt them.

“Thank you,” she said to Mohammed Ali. “I’m so glad.” Her hand shook a little as she lifted her cup. “Heaven’s eye is not withdrawn,” she said gaily to Michael.

“Where did you find it, Mohammed?” Michael asked the question innocently.

Mohammed Ali’s eyes met Mrs. Mervill’s. In them he saw the promise of a handsome baksheesh.

“When lady get off donkey, chain it catch on the saddle.”

A slight sigh escaped from Millicent’s lips; Mohammed was worthy of his race.

“Oh, yes! How stupid of me not to remember! I quite forgot that my chain caught as I dismounted. I never thought of looking to see if I had lost anything.”

Meg knew that Millicent Mervill was lying and she knew that Mohammed knew that she was lying. She also knew Mohammed well enough to know that if she chose, she could buy him back again from Millicent. Mohammed handled the truth very carelessly; it was still his unshakable policy to secure as much money as he could and give as much pleasure as he could to the person who gave him the most. His Eastern knowledge of human nature told him that Margaret would not be likely to seek to buy his secret. He might, perhaps, tell her the truth when Mrs. Mervill had gone away, because he sincerely liked her, but as far as bribery or corruption was concerned, he must rest content with what Mrs. Mervill thought a sufficient reward for his intelligence and silence.

Margaret had felt pretty certain that Millicent’s curiosity had not remained contented with the inspection of the public sitting-room. As she watched her trembling hand and noted the blush on her cheeks, she felt that her suspicions were not unjust. Instinctively her mind flew to her diary; it was lying on a table in her room. She had kept it very faithfully over since her arrival in the valley. It was an intensely intimate, human document. It was a record of all her impressions and of her life in the valley, and of every incident which had happened in relation to her friendship with Michael. If Millicent had read any of it, she must have seen into her very soul. Margaret’s whole being writhed at the thought of the thing. She had taken the precaution to write it in French so that she could leave the book unlocked in her bedroom. None of the house “boys” could read French; Millicent, of course, both spoke and read it fluently.

As Meg thought of this, the cruel laying bare of her inner woman to the woman she hated, a hot blush dyed her cheeks; she felt giddy.

Millicent noticed the blush. Her eyes rested upon Meg’s until Meg was compelled to raise hers. Then the two women looked into each other’s souls. Their unspoken thoughts were plainly read by each other.

It was Millicent who triumphed. No shame made her eyes drop; no fear weakened their challenge. They boldly said, “You see, I know, I have learnt. You are not all that you look. I have discovered the other woman.”

With extraordinary clearness Margaret visualized Millicent’s delicate fingers turning over the pages of her diary. She could see her eyes gloating over its secret passages. She could feel Millicent’s beautiful presence filling her plain little bedroom, which would never be the same again. Her delicate fragrance, which was no stronger than the subtle perfume of English wild flowers, was probably lingering in it still. Meg felt herself clumsily big and masculine beside her, for Millicent never allowed you to forget that, above all things, she was a woman, that in her companionship with men she was not of the same sex.

When the eye of Horus was once more, with Freddy’s assistance, securely fastened on to the gold chain, and the coffee had been drunk and cigarettes were being indulged in, Mrs. Mervill’s American friend appeared at the hut.

He was a very agreeable and cultured man. His chief interest in things Egyptian was centred in the subject of ancient festivals. When he was smoking with the party, a really interesting discussion took place between the three men. Mr. Harben, the newcomer, had been particularly interested in the “intoxication festivals” held in honour of the goddess Hathor at Dendereh.

Michael naturally had read more upon the subject of the festival of Isis. At her festival the “Songs of Isis” were sung in the temples of Osiris by two virgins. These festivals were held for five days at the sowing season every year. These “songs of Isis,” of course, related to the destruction of Osiris by Set and the eventual reconstruction of his body by his wife Isis and her sister goddess Nephthys. In other words, it was the festival of the triumph of light over darkness, the power of righteousness over evil, the oldest of all battles.

During the discussion Millicent Mervill was at her best. She was intellectually curious and excitable. The festival of Isis bored her; she did not care for or believe in the inevitable triumph of light over darkness. With her evil flourished like a green bay-tree, while righteousness was its own reward and a very dull one. She was religious, after the conventional fashion of the people with whom she consorted; she enjoyed going to a church where there was good music or an audacious preacher to be heard. But she never wanted to be better than she was; her wants were for the further satisfaction of her material enjoyments on this earth.

But the Bacchanalian festivals of Hathor had interested her and aroused her curiosity, from the very first time that she had seen the figures of the dancing-girls, so realistically carved on the walls of the temple of Dendereh. She had read all that she could lay her hands on relating to the subject, which consisted only of such portions of the papyrus as the translators have seen fit to give to the general public. Her American friend had gone further. He was not only interested in the Bacchanalian dances, but in Egyptian festivals generally.

Both Margaret and Millicent became silent as the discussion proceeded and for the time being their animosity was forgotten; they found themselves for once sympathetic listeners and good companions. Michael was pleased.

As the discussion gradually soared above their understanding, they talked of things between themselves.

Time flew pleasantly, so much so that Margaret felt a little regret when at last Millicent and her friend said good-bye. She had almost forgotten her ugly suspicions about Millicent, who had been very charming and simple. She wished that she had not spoken so hastily to Freddy about her. Her conscience pricked her.

Later on, as the trio, Michael, Freddy, and Margaret, watched their two guests depart, very different thoughts filled their minds. Michael was hoping that a new phase in the acquaintance between the two women had begun, that Meg would now hold out a helping hand of sympathy to Millicent. Meg was wondering if Freddy thought that she had been unjust and horrid, just because Millicent was beautiful and a cleverer woman than herself. Freddy had obviously enjoyed her unexpected visit.

“Your fair friend paid us this honour, Mike, for some reason best known to herself,” he said. “Some reason she has not divulged, I wonder what it was? There is always a hidden reason in what she does.”

“Curiosity,” said Michael, carelessly. “She wanted to see how excavators live and to find out for herself what we were doing.”

“I guess so!” Freddy said, significantly. “Find out for herself that was just it.” He laughed. “I wonder how much she did find out?” Freddy clapped his hand on Mike’s shoulder as he spoke. “I didn’t give you away, old chap!”

Michael faced him squarely. So Freddy knew!

“Has Meg told you?” His voice was anxious.

“Told me? Do you suppose I’m blind?” Freddy spoke with such frank sympathy and pleasure that from his voice more than his words Michael took heart.

“It’s awful cheek on my part.”

“Yes, ‘awful cheek,’” Freddy said. “Considering Meg’s just the one and only Meg in the world.” He took Meg’s brown hand in his such a different hand from Millicent’s! and placed it on the top of Michael’s and held it there. “Bless you, my children!” he said. “I feel like a heavy father. And I’ve nothing more to say, except that I’m jolly glad, and I congratulate you both.”

Meg’s eyes were shining. Freddy was so boyish and yet so much her elder brother. How she loved him!

“Thanks, old chap,” Michael said. “I suppose Meg’s told you all about it? I mean, how I’m not going to let her bind herself to me? We love each other, and I forgot and told her I did.”

Freddy laughed. “If something better than you, you old drifter, turns up, she’s to be free to take him. Of course, something will!”

“Yes,” Michael said. “Or if . . .” he paused.

“If you prove too unpractical for a husband, you old humbug, I’m to cancel the engagement!”

Meg linked her arm in her brother’s. “I’m quite practical, enough for us both,” she said. “The Lampton common sense wants leavening. We never rise to heights, Freddy we’re solid dough.”

“We manage to get down into the bowels of the earth, which helps a bit, if we can’t soar very high.”

All three laughed. Freddy meant the tomb, of course.

Freddy was smoking a cigarette. His eyes were following the two donkeys which were taking Millicent and her friend down the valley. They looked like white insects in the distance; they had travelled rapidly, as donkeys will travel on their homeward journey.

“The fair Millicent! and, by Jove, she is fair!” Freddy said, meditatively, “didn’t come here to find out your engagement don’t imagine so. She managed to carry away some information more difficult to obtain than that.” He laughed and quoted the old saying, “Love, like light, cannot be hid. What a pity she isn’t all as nice as the nice parts of her, or as nice as she is pretty!”

“I always think she looks so nice to eat,” Margaret said.

“I think she looks so nice to kiss,” Freddy said laughingly. “If that American hadn’t been there, I’d have taken her off for a walk, and then I could have told you, Mike, what it was like.”

Meg blushed to the roots of her hair. Her brother’s words recalled the ball at Assuan. She knew that Michael knew what it was like.

Freddy saw Meg’s blush and wondered what it meant. He turned and left the lovers to enjoy a few moments’ uninterrupted bliss and to discuss the day’s events.

Their bliss consisted in standing together, silently watching the two figures on the white donkeys disappear into the valley below. When the last trace of them had vanished and the desert and the sky composed their world, Meg gave a sigh of relief. Perfect content was expressed in her attitude and silence, a long silence, too sacred to be broken rashly. The sun was brilliant, the distance before them immense, compelling.

As Meg gazed and gazed, her heart became more and more full of happiness. The world was a wonderful mother; she had only to trust, to believe, to love, to have happiness showered upon her.

“In a book I was reading the other day, Mike,” she said, “the heroine remarked that looking into a great distance always made her long to be better than she was. How true it is at least, with me. I knew what she meant, instantly. I feel it now, don’t you?”

“That’s why town-life is so bad for us,” he said. “Our vision never gets beyond the traffic, beyond the progress of commerce. I’ve often thought the same thing. Distances are sublime.”

“The distances in the desert make me feel far more like that than any other distances. The desert has taught me so much it is a wonderful mother.”

Michael’s eyes answered her.

“Looking at that distance makes me wish I hadn’t been so wicked in my heart about Mrs. Mervill. I was bursting with hate of her, Mike I longed to hurt her as she always hurts me!”

“You behaved splendidly! I knew it was an awful trial to you. You knew I understood, Meg?”

“It was a trial,” Meg said, “but why am I so little when I am put to the test, and why do I feel so big, so far above such contemptible things, when I look at a distance like that?”

“Because you’re a darling, human woman, Meg.” Michael’s arms went round her. “Because there would be no merit in our victories if the battles were quite easy.”

“I suppose not, but for your belief in me, Mike, I want to be as big as the biggest thoughts I’ve got, and I’m only as small as my meanest.”

“You are the mistress of my happiness, Meg.”

Meg’s eyes shone with understanding, while his words called up the figure and the bright rays of Akhnaton.

“Freddy said that I am to act as a curb on your unpractical tendencies, Mike. I felt very deceitful. He doesn’t know how much I’ve aided and abetted them.”

“He never imagined that he’d a practical mystic for a sister, did he?”

“Never,” Meg said.

“But that’s what you are, dearest a practical mystic. You are a woman with two sides to your nature the intensely practical and the subconsciously mystic. Egypt has developed the mystic half your Lampton forbears are responsible for the other.”

“The Lampton half of me keeps my two feet firmly planted on the earth, Mike.”

“The mystic half loves this silly drifter.” He pressed her to him.

“The practical half says, come back to the hut and help Freddy.”

And so they went.