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

“Let’s begin where we left off yesterday, Mike,” Millicent said.

They had finished their lunch and were sitting in the desert watching the “common or garden” day’s idleness of the inhabitants of a Bedouin camp. The tents were huddled together under the shade of some feathery-leaved palm-trees, a typical desert homestead.

They had made a short excursion from the site of their own camp, for the sick man’s condition had necessitated their halting for at least one whole day.

Subtly conscious of the fact that Satan finds some mischief even in the desert for idle hands to do, Michael had suggested a picnic to a small oasis which lay to the west of their route. Millicent and her dragoman and her servants still formed a part of his camp; her splendid supply of food and medicines was so valuable for the saint that Michael’s silent consent to her presence had been given. Again he was drifting.

“Let us return to where we left off yesterday,” referred to her suggestion of the evening before that they should tell each other of the most English thing they could imagine, things seen in England as in comparison to things seen in Egypt.

It was a typically Eastern scene which lay before them the yellow sands of the Arabian desert, the dark palm-trees and the picturesque Bedouins idling under the shelter of the palms. Not one of the group was occupied. Some goats and a great number of naked children were lying about on the sand. The purple shadows of the palm-trees intensified the bareness of the sunny desert.

One little figure, with a very protruding stomach, and a very large white metal disc on her dark chest for her only article of attire, suddenly appeared in front of them. Silently she had risen up out of the hot sand at their feet. Her big eyes stared at the two strange beings whom she had been brave enough to approach. When Millicent spoke to her she screamed and flew back to her mother’s side. The woman looked like a man, clean-limbed and as tanned as leather. Her tent was supported by two sticks; to enter it she had to bend almost double.

The naked child had appeared so suddenly and it had run away so swiftly, that Millicent laughed like a child. It really was a delicious bit of nature. The metal disc shone like a small sun.

“What a ’tummy’!” she said. Her laughter was contagious. “Just like a baby blackbird’s before it has got its feathers. And that big silver disc! like the family plate on the family chest.”

“It’s protection from all evil, poor wee mite.”

“What a filthy-looking hovel,” Millicent said. “Worse than a gipsy-tent in England.”

“And yet it’s a home,” Michael said. “And there are no more passionate lovers of home than these tent-women, or more hospitable people.”

“Do these date-trees bear fruit?” Millicent asked the practical question irrelevantly. Her mind was charged with new interests, while her eyes looked at the soaring trees. The tent-dwellers interested her. She would like to have questioned them about all sorts of intimate subjects.

“Rather! These people pay taxes, too.”

“Really? Isn’t there any spot on the globe where people can just live as they like, where they can get away from income-tax and authorities?”

“I don’t know if the Bedouins pay any tent-taxes, but I suppose that if they didn’t aspire to owning date-palms, they could live in the arid desert without paying anybody anything. It’s the old, old, unchanging subject water.”

Millicent lapsed into silence. Her chin was resting on her hands; she was lying face downwards on the sand. Michael was resting beside her. Hassan and the few servants they had taken with them to attend to their picnic-lunch were fast asleep. The camels and mules made a picturesque note in the distance. On Millicent’s camel a pale blue sheepskin rug covered the fine saddle; it looked like a patch of the heavens dropped down to earth.

“I know what is the most English thing I can think of,” she said, “the most English thing compared to all this Easternness how I adore it, Mike!”

“The English thing you’ve thought of, or the Easternness?”

“Oh, the Easternness. England’s placid and fat and bountiful, but all this throbbing emptiness !”

“Tell me your English scene,” he said. Something in Millicent’s eyes drove him into speech. He, too, knew the throbbing silence, the solitude that thunders, the emptiness that is full of passion.

“Well, first look at that tent and at those lazy, straight, brown-limbed women they are just a bit of nature. Summer and winter, autumn and spring, will never change the scene. Look at that ocean of sand, and the moving heat, passing like a wave over the desert. Take off your blue glasses, Mike, and dare to look at the sun. Face your great God Aton look Him in the face.”

Michael was silent, but he took off his blue glasses. He was no eagle; his eyes shrank from the world of blinding, unlimited light.

“Now visualize a wee robin ‘flirting,’ as Wells says, across a green English lawn.”

The suggestion called up a thousand memories. A cloud of home-sickness dimmed the brightness of the sun. Michael could see a green, green lawn and the figure of his mother busy at her flower-beds; the robin’s flirting was growing bolder; it was peeping up into her very face! The smell of moisture came to his nostrils.

“Nothing is more English than an English robin, Mike! In the autumn, when it comes near the house, what a darling it is so well-turned-out, so fearless of humans!”

“Nothing,” Mike said, “unless it’s my mother herself, in her gardening gloves, cutting off the dead heads from the rose-beds.”

“But she’s Irish!”

“Well, I meant British. When you said things seen in England I visualized my robin in Ireland, juicy, green, luscious Ireland!”

“Tell me about Ireland,” Millicent said lightly. As she spoke, she made a hole in the sand; she pushed her hand and wrist into it her gloves were off. She drove it in still further, until her elbow only was above the sand; her arm was buried in the desert.

“Take care of sand-flies,” Michael said. Millicent’s sleeve was rolled up.

“Are there any here? I’ve not been troubled with them.”

“No, probably not they are the plague of Upper Egypt.”

“They were awful at Assuan. It’s awfully hot, Michael!” Millicent referred to the sand. She withdrew her arm. “Give me your hand just feel it.” She pulled up his sleeve and took his hand. She held it in her own and thrust it into the hot, soft sand. With her free hand she pulled up her own sleeve and Michael’s so as to allow their arms to sink still further into the sand; they were bare to the elbow. Her wrist and the palm of her hand were pressed close to Michael’s. Suddenly her hand ceased boring; she remained still, her soft fingers embracing Michael’s. Her eyes sought his. He read their invitation.

“It’s only our hands, Michael let them rest.” Her fingers tightened round his as she spoke; her eyes challenged him. At the challenge his pulses leapt, his hand ceased to resist. For two days he had been playing with fire. In the wilderness that surrounded them what waters would quench its leaping flames?

Millicent’s soft arm lay with his; it was human and caressing. Then a fear came to him, born of a sudden intense hatred. She was such a little thing. He could strangle her, crush her to atoms. That was the way to put an end to it all.

The next moment Millicent was alarmed, terribly frightened. She was in Michael’s arms. He was crushing her, crushing her to atoms. It was not a lover’s embrace; it was the mad fury of a roused mystic. Would he crush her until he killed her?

“Don’t, Mike, you’ll choke me! You are choking me now. Do you want to kill me?”

“I could,” he said. “And I’d like to!” He flung her from him on the soft sand. “Go away,” he said. “Leave me and my camp for good and all!” His words were broken, mere breathless ejaculations. His eyes made a coward of the reckless woman, but she collected her quick wits.

She lay where he had flung her. She was not hurt or even stunned, but she knew that if she lay there in the position in which he had flung her, presently he would come to her and ask her if he had been too brutal. She traded on his tenderness to women, his horror of inflicting pain.

She lay motionless, the blue sky above her, the yellow sands stretching to the far-off horizon. She had tempted him willingly, deliberately. Something had compelled her to test her power. Her annoyance at his apparent indifference to her presence had become too poignant to hide any longer. Anger was exhausting her nerves. She was conscious that she had burnt her boats, that her tactics were at fault.

Michael did not look at her. He was conscious of nothing in the world but an unbearable contempt for his own manhood. Why had he not driven her away long before this? Why had he silently acquiesced to her companionship?

Despising her as he did, why was she able to lower him in his own eyes? Why did he tolerate her? Why had she any qualities which appealed to him? Why, oh why was she just what she was? He hated her at the moment, but he hated himself still more. When they got back to the camp he would tell Hassan that their ways must lie apart. And now, at this very instant, he would go and tell her that she must leave; he must have it out with her.

He went to her and stooped over her. “Millicent,” he said, “I want to speak to you.”

“Yes, Mike.”

“Get up and look at me. I want you to listen.”

Still Millicent lay perfectly motionless. “I am listening.”

He knelt down beside her. “Have I hurt you?”

A little groan was all her answer. Michael turned her face to his. His hands were on her shoulders. She winced.

“Have I hurt you? I am sorry. I was too rough.”

Millicent raised herself to her knees. Her face was tense, agonized. She put her hands up to her head and held it.

Michael thought he heard a sob. Shame or pain convulsed her body; she rocked herself backwards and forwards.

“I am sorry I was so brutal,” he said. “But you deserved it. I had to do it. I always have to be unkind you are so foolish.”

Still Millicent wept. She removed her hands and gazed at him with wet, mournful eyes. Michael put his arm round her and tried to raise her.

“You were very naughty why were you so naughty?”

One of his arms was supporting her as she struggled to her feet. The next instant Millicent swung herself nimbly round and flung herself on his breast. He was helpless. Her hands were clasped behind his head.

“You wanted to kill me, Mike.” Her fingers slipped round his throat. “And now I should like to kill you, yes, kill you! Strangle you and leave your austere, ascetic body for the vultures to enjoy!”

Mike tried to shake her off, to unclasp her hands. She was as strong as a young leopard.

“I would,” she said. “For I hate you and despise you!

“Then leave me,” he said. “I wish to God you would!”

“Ah, but I won’t!” The cry came from Millicent savagely. “I won’t leave you, not until my will has subjected yours! Before I leave your camp you will have been my lover mystic, aesthetic, dreamer, drifter!”

“Never!” Michael said. “Never, never that!”

Still Millicent clung to him. Her angry words blew her hot breath over his cheeks.

“You are not altogether the ascetic or the saint you appear to be. You have scorned my love. I will break your will. I will humble you in your own fine estimation of yourself. When I take it into my head to do a thing, I generally accomplish it.”

Michael disengaged her hands with a tremendous wrench. If he hurt her thumbs he could not help it. He held her from him at arm’s length and shook her, shook her as though she was a naughty child in a paroxysm of passion which had to be subdued by extreme severity.

“You little devil!” he said. “You’ll leave my camp at once, this very day! I’ve had more than enough of you!”

Millicent’s eyes, as unflinching as Michael’s, laughed triumphantly.

“What about my food and medicine for your sick man, your valuable guide to the hidden treasure? You can’t afford to let him slip through your hands!”

Michael’s eyes dropped. He had allowed Millicent to remain unquestioned, even willingly, as a member of his expedition, since the sick man was in need of the delicate food and medicine her equipment contained.

As his eyes dropped, he asked her what she knew about the hidden treasure. He had only told her about the tomb of Akhnaton; he had particularly refrained from mentioning the Pharaoh’s hidden store.

“How did I get to know all I wanted to know?” She glanced at him tauntingly. “It wasn’t quite all my love for you, dear man! Perhaps I, too, wished to pick up some of the jewels in King Solomon’s Mines!”

“I never mentioned them to you what do you know about them?”

“What about the precious jewel in the saint’s ear the oriental amethyst, the ninth jewel in the high priest’s breast-plate, as mentioned in Exodus, ’and the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst’?” Millicent trilled off the text laughingly.

“You have stooped to spying,” he said. “You have an eavesdropper in your camp?”

“’Verily those who do deeds of real goodness shall drink of a cup tempered with camphor’! Well, is it tempered enough, Michael?” She laughed mockingly, derisively. “Was the deed pure goodness? Was this fanatic not the ‘favoured of God’ who was to lead you to Akhnaton’s treasure?”

“Go!” he cried. “I have heard enough!”

“And take all my provisions and medicines with me!”

“We must do the best we can for him without your luxuries, if you have no mercy, no heart for the suffering.”

“And how are you going to get rid of me?”

“You are going. I don’t know how, but you’re going.”

“What if I refuse to go?”

“You won’t.”

Millicent laughed.

“You won’t,” he repeated. “You must go. You can’t stay.”

“And why?”

“Because. . . .” Michael hesitated. “Because . . . you know . . . you know why . . . you know, what you have just said.”

“Because you are afraid you will end by being my lover?”

“No. Because I wish to be free of spies and hindrances.”

“Then I do hinder? You know my spying has not hurt you!” Her eyes glowed.

Michael gazed sternly into them. He never lied. With him the truth was instinctive, masterful; it was the keynote of his religion. “Yes,” he said. “You are a spiritual hindrance. I am a human man you are a sensual woman. You have determined to do everything in your power to keep me ever mindful of the fact. Because I love Margaret Lampton and I do not love you, you have determined to make me unworthy of her, you have trapped me and tricked me and followed me into the wilderness.”

“You must admit I managed that part of the job very neatly.” Millicent’s words were brave, but a little fear had crept into her heart. Michael was in no mood for trifling. Her game was lost.

“How did you do it?” he said. His hands tightened; they held her shoulders. The gentle aesthete was a furious Celt. He wished that it was a man with whom he was dealing.

Still Millicent was brave, her voice scornful. “Baksheesh the moving finger in the East.”

“You contemptible creature!” he said. “Who did you pay?”

“That would be telling.”

“I know it would,” he said. “And you are going to tell me.” He held her with painful firmness.

Millicent’s courage gave way. Michael’s eyes alarmed her. Something in them warned her that, once roused, he was a dangerous man to trifle with. There is not an immeasurable distance between the mystic and the madman. The pressure of his fingers on her shoulders warned her of his strength; his thumb was like a turnscrew.

“Who did you pay?” he asked. “Tell me, or you will regret it.” His grasp became an agony.

“Mohammed Ali,” Millicent murmured. “He showed me Margaret’s diary.”

Michael groaned. “You little beast!” he cried. “You mean little beast!”

Millicent burst into a flood of weeping. She knew that it was her only chance, a woman’s deadliest weapon with such a man. “I loved you so! Oh, Mike, I loved you so! Can’t you understand? Is there no humanity in you? Is your nature so devoid of passion, of human love, that you can’t understand the mad heights and the depths it can lead you to? I have never been given the chance of rising to the heights.”

Mike heard her sobs. He saw her beautiful body convulsed with anguish. The real woman was there at his feet, a weak creature, whose love for himself had driven her to do these deeds he despised. He felt that he was in a manner to blame; for him she had sunk to this degradation.

“I am so ashamed, Mike, but for days my shame has been drowned in anger. I followed you and trapped you and spied upon you.” She looked up pleadingly. “And I’d do it all over again, even worse, Mike, I know I would, even though I am despicable in my own eyes.”

“Don’t!” he said. “It has become a madness with you, an obsession.”

“Love is a madness,” she said. “It is an obsession. It is devouring me. No one can judge of its power until they have felt it.”

He sat down beside her. “Millicent,” he said gently, “have you ever thought of praying, of asking for help?” He paused. “You poor, poor soul, have you ever in your life tried to reach your higher self, to get away from all this?”

“No, never.” The words came frankly. “First let me enjoy this human love, Michael.” Her eyes pleaded. “Then I may try to be as you are, but not till then.”

“It would be no enjoyment,” he said. “Only a hideous mockery, a wilful lowering of your better self.”

“Not of my better self, Mike not really. I might rise to higher things afterwards, with that one beautiful memory to help me, an Eden in the desert.” Her voice was humble; her eyes swam with tears a beautiful Magdalen.

“Poor little soul!” he said. “Poor little Millicent!”

“Yes, Mike, poor little soul, poor lonely soul!”

“I wish I could do something to help you, show you that there is a higher, stronger support than any poor love of mine.”

“But I don’t want it at least, not now. It doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t want it, for if I tried to be better, I’d have to try to kill my desire for you, and even if it gives me no happiness, I’d rather have it than kill it. I couldn’t relinquish it. It would be giving up the only thing I have of you my poor, unwanted wanting of you.”

“What can I say? What can I do?” Michael was in despair. “How can I help you?”

This humble, tearful Millicent made him wretched. He felt guilty and unkind. He was the innocent cause of her unhappiness. It was not possible to be human and remain untouched by her passion for himself. Yet he knew that he must not allow her to know that, or how his heart ached for her. Her spiritual loneliness horrified him. She had absolutely nothing to turn to, nothing to rely upon. Her religious observances were mere conventional occupations. And yet mixed up in the woman there was a mental quality very rare and sympathetic, a strange fitful brilliance, extremely pleasing. Once or twice on their journey she had expressed the peculiar quality of the scenery in words which were not far off prose poems. It had puzzled him to know how her intellectual refinement could dwell in the same temple as her low characteristics.

“I don’t know, Mike.” Her voice was very gentle. “I don’t see how you can help me.”

“I can pray,” he said. “I will pray. Perhaps that is where I have been to blame. I have left you out of my prayers.”

Millicent looked at him. Her eyes questioned.

“I have thought only of myself, my own safety, the keeping of my thoughts pure and true to Meg, my fight for self-control.”

“Oh, Mike!” Millicent’s voice was crushed, envious.

“I should have tried to help you as well. We can all help each other by prayers and thoughts and beliefs, belief in the kingdom of God which is in us. I behaved as if you were not divine, Millicent.”

“I’m not. How can I be divine? I am absolutely worldly I’ve no wish for your divine love!”

“Divinity is in you,” he said. “It is yours, you cannot get away from it.” He paused. “You were ashamed just now that was the light which cannot be put out. Now, every day, I will try to be less selfish, I will pray for you. Prayer will help to bring you into the light. Soon you will begin to peep into the kingdom of God which is in you. You will see how wonderful it is. Love will hold out its arms to you from every passing cloud, from every comer of the wilderness. I am to blame, for I only tried to banish you, instead of helping you. I must begin to-day. We must all help each other by our thoughts as well as by our actions. Do you understand? I, who ought to have known better, have failed.”

Millicent took his hand and raised it to her lips. “Why should God have so blessed Margaret Lampton?” she said. “She is your ’guarded lady,’ as Hassan would say.”

“When you know her better, you will see that it is not Meg, but I, who have been blessed, I who have reason to be thankful. Margaret’s thoughts constantly reach me; they have helped me over and over again.”

“Will you forgive me, Mike?”

“Of course I will,” he said. “Else how could I help you?”

“It’s your very goodness I love, Michael. I realize that. And yet how horribly I have tried to spoil it!”

“We are going to start afresh, we understand each other.” He looked at her with sincere eyes. “Isn’t that so? Do you want me for your friend, Millicent?”

“More than anything in the world . . . except . . .” she paused. “. . . except . . .”

His eyes held hers; they became stern. “We have settled all that. You know now that it can never be, and if I am to be your friend, you must forget all that you have ever said.”

“Yes, yes the crumbs, Mike, they are sweeter than nothing.”

“My help,” he said, “and sympathy that is what I can give you.”

“And may I remain in your camp for a little time?”

“No.” His voice was firm. “We must part. But that will make no difference. I will help you, I promise. I can help you as Margaret helps me.”

Millicent made no demur. It was useless. “Will the saint be well enough to travel to-morrow, do you think?”

“I don’t know. His headache was better this morning. If he can retain some food, he may soon pick up.”

“And you will go on to Akhnaton’s tomb?” Millicent did not refer to the buried treasure.

“Whenever he is better.” Michael looked at his watch. “We had better be going back,” he said. “I want to make preparations.”

“And I am to return to civilization!”

Michael did not answer. He called Hassan. “We are ready, Hassan,” he said.

In a short time they were off.

Before mounting her camel Millicent said: “Thank you, Michael. I don’t deserve your kindness.”

On their homeward journey Michael’s heart held many a prayer. He was no longer merely to turn this woman out of his thoughts, to thrust her behind him, a thing of Satan. He was to help her. He was to help her until such a time as she could help herself. He was to bring her mind to the consciousness of the truth. He was to reveal to her, by his prayers, what Akhnaton taught his people that God is happiness, God is beauty, God is Love.