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Chapter 2

  • THE weakest part of a man's armour is the strongest, otherwise ordinar_ortals would lack the gratifying knowledge that even great men are guilty o_oing foolish things. Without doubt Prince Abdul Agiz was one of the astutes_ubjects of the Ruler of Turkey, but Gryde, who had already formed hi_cquaintance, had discovered the weak. spot and laid his plans accordingly.
  • The poetic vein in Abdul Agiz' nature rendered him extremely susceptible wher_he fair sex were concerned. On a previous occasion he had enjoyed th_dvantage of a two years' residence in England, so that he was no stranger t_ur language and customs. Nor had he been here on his present mission lon_efore Cora Coventry had caught his critical eye. And when Gryde offered a_ntroduction, he accepted the offer eagerly.
  • The evening appointed, Gryde called round at the hotel for his friend. Severa_imes already had he been in the Prince's private room. He knew where th_recious robe lay concealed and how jealously it was guarded by Abdul Agiz'
  • suite. The latter received Gryde with effusion.
  • "You promised to tell me something about a certain charming lady," he said.
  • "O, yes—about Mrs. Coventry. She is not a widow, as you seem to imagine. He_usband is a distinguished Oriental scholar and diplomatist who is now on hi_ay home from the East; indeed, he may arrive at any time. Next week I coul_ardly have promised you the privilege I have managed to secure for you to- night."
  • "Then the lady probably is acquainted with the East as well."
  • "By no means," Gryde replied. "For some reason or another she detests al_ention of it. And yet, strange to say, her favourite servant is a Persia_ith only a limited knowledge of English. You may get a chance to convers_ith her. There she is."
  • By this time the cab had been dismissed, and Gryde and his companion wer_tanding amongst the flowers and ferns in Cora Coventry's vestibule. At th_ame moment a typical Eastern figure crossed the floor and disappeared.
  • "It makes one feel quite homely," Abdul Agiz muttered.
  • In the dimly-lighted drawing-room Cora received them. Abdul was conscious o_ome white dazzling dream floating around a pair of great liquid eyes tha_eemed to set him gasping and helpless for the time. Cora took possession o_is soul and played with it like a toy. Gryde said little—his chair was _tall, he was watching a play of his own writing. This snake and bird busines_leased him.
  • Then they went into dinner. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say that when Abdu_as pressed to take wine he did so. Subsequently he had no recollection o_oing anything of the kind. It was all part of the same poetic dream.
  • Cora rose at length. Abdul's dark eyes followed her rapturously. He remaine_n a kind of daze, till Gryde suggested a move to the drawing-room. Her_igarettes and coffee after Abdul's own heart awaited them. There was only on_rease in the glorious roseleaf; it seemed to the Oriental that Gryde wa_uperfluous.
  • Almost before Abdul could formulate this thought a servant entered bearin_pon a tray a telegram, which he handed to Gryde. The latter read with _esture of annoyance.
  • "I am afraid I shall have to leave you," he said. "My message is mos_eremptory."
  • Figments of the condemnatory side of the Koran came to Abdul's lips. Then h_olled in the lap of Paradise again as Cora bade him stay. Why should he g_ecause Gryde was called away? she asked. Gryde echoed the sentiment.
  • Then followed the most dreamy, delightful hour Abdul Agiz had ever passed i_is life. He made no attempt to stem the stream of fascination; on th_ontrary, he lay down and allowed it to flow over him.
  • Cora put forth all her powers. Her claims were silken; but then beauty lead_s by a single hair. Abdul never quite realised himself till he felt the coo_ight breeze on his face as he turned homeward.
  • He had promised to do something. What was it? The dream began to slowl_isentangle itself from its rosy intricate folds. How wonderfully seductiv_he music had been! What marvellous eyes Cora had!
  • O, yes, Abdul had it at last. He promised to aid and abet Cora in a delightfu_scapade. She was going alone and incognito on Thursday to a fancy dress bal_t Covent Garden. Abdul had received minute instructions as to what she wa_oing to wear. She would go unmasked, and then—
  • A look from the luminous eyes filled the hiatus. Would Abdul try and be there?
  • Might dogs defile the grave of his revered grandmother if he failed. To put i_lainly, no lunatic on the right side of Bedlam was ever more helplessly los_n love than Abdul at that moment. There was a lightness in his head, _trange elasticity of limb. The stars seem to bend and whisper of Cora to him.
  • A day with her was worth a cycle of Cathay—or any other place for the matte_f that. Constantinople and the Sultan's wrath, the doom of failure receded i_he roseate mist.
  • "Will I not be there!" Abdul murmured. "Will I not! Surely such a creatur_ever drew the breath of life… and I am not without experience. To kiss thos_ips… I suppose they have been kissed. Who knows but what I—but that i_onsense. I exist merely till Thursday—till then a clod, a vegetable."
  • All of which goes to prove that Abdul Agiz was very far gone indeed.
  • * * * * *
  • A thousand lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men. Very seldom had Coven_arden presented a more brilliant and attractive appearance—a trifle shoddy, perhaps, if analysed, but it does not do to be hypercritical in such matters.
  • Nathless, the band was perfection, a great proportion of the dresses strikin_nd original. Well-known faces looked from the boxes, a few society people o_he floor leavened the lump. Half in shadow, a tall, graceful figure in black, with startling white splashes on her dress, stood as if waiting for someone.
  • Her features were partially concealed in a lace shawl. A vivid smile gav_xpression to the scarlet lips.
  • Presently there passed by her a slightly almond-eyed foreigner. He, too, seemed on the look-out for someone. He started as he saw the magpie figure.
  • Despite his outward calm he thrilled to his finger tips.
  • "You?" he whispered, tentatively.
  • Cora laughed. With a caressing gesture she slipped her fingers under Abdul'_rm.
  • "I thought you had forsaken me," she whispered. "Shall we dance?"
  • But, alas! in this respect Abdul's education had been neglected. Still, s_ong as Cora graciously inclined to palmy seclusion and tender confidence, i_attered little. Abdul was annoyed presently to find it supper-time. He begge_or another few minutes, but Cora was obdurate.
  • "I am mortal," she said, flashing her teeth in a brilliant smile, "and you ar_nsatiable. Come! I will give you a little time afterwards, and perhaps—"
  • Abdul understood, or thought he did, which came to the same thing. The honie_reasure of the scarlet lips might yet be his. As for the supper, it was _ere frittering away of golden moments. Cora chattered idly, Abdul listening.
  • "Is not this delightful?" she said. "Gather your- Ah!"
  • The words seemed to be frozen on her lips, her eyes filled with terror. Som_erson or thing there seemed to fascinate Cora.
  • "What is it?" Abdul asked.
  • "Ah! You see that man, the big man with the stern face supping alone by th_ide of that oleander, yonder? Don't stare, _look_."
  • "I see the man. Why should you be afraid of him?"
  • "For the best of all possible reasons. He is my husband."
  • Abdul started. The climax bid fair to be a dramatic one.
  • "Your husband has returned unexpectedly," he said lamely.
  • "O, yes. That is one of his virtues, you understand. If Jasper was to discove_ had visited a place like this alone he would kill me. And yet he mus_uspect something. You cannot possibly imagine how jealous he is. And he know_his dress."
  • "We can escape by yonder door. Then I could get you a conveyance of—"
  • "And perhaps meet one of his spies in the entrance. One never knows. Jealous_mounts to a disease with my husband. But we must get out of this."
  • Trembling in every limb, Cora rose and hurried from the supper room, Abdu_ollowing. A brief backward glance proved the fact that the jealous one ha_oticed nothing. In a secluded corner, the darker for the contrast with th_rilliant arcs beyond, Cora sat shivering.
  • "What can I do for you?" Abdul asked.
  • "Hush!" Cora replied sharply, "I am thinking. I begin to see a way. You have _ervant somewhere. I know you never go far without one."
  • "My faithful Assan is even now down in the portico."
  • "Then bring him up at once. There will be no attempt made to prevent you, an_hen I can show you a way to save me. Go!"
  • Abdul turned away. He came back presently, Assan following behind.
  • "I am going to send your servant for a disguise," Cora explained, "only h_nderstands no English and I can write no Turkish. Is it not providential tha_ou can do it for me? You have a pencil and tablet? Good! Now write."
  • Cora proceeded to dictate as follows:
  • "There is a plot on foot to deprive me of my most valued possession. Yo_nderstand. Ask no questions, but give bearer _the_ case at once. It is on th_econd shelf in the safe in my room. I shall be with you as soon as I can."
  • "That is all?" Abdul asked.
  • "It is quite sufficient," Cora said significantly. "Had I not you to do thi_or me I know not what might have happened. Give me the paper, quick!"
  • She snatched it from Abdul's hands and placed it in those of the messenger.
  • Then she bent and whispered a word or two in the latter's ear in his ow_anguage. They were all the Turkish she knew, but they had been carefull_ehearsed
  • "To jour master's hotel, to Ben Ali at once," she said. "Go, slave!"
  • Abdul did not catch the words. He did not seek to detain his servant, bu_uffered him to go instanter. He was to return to the same spot.
  • "You are no longer frightened?" Abdul asked.
  • "Not now. You understand that I see my way clear. My husband may deem me to b_ere, but when my disguise comes I could pass him boldly if I saw hi_earching for me as I passed. And but for you, there would have been n_scape."
  • "What are you going to give me for a reward?" Abdul asked.
  • Cora held her head back with a caressing smile. Three-quarters of an hour ha_assed, and it was high time the messenger returned. Then Cora's eyes lighte_s she detected Assan threading his way through the glittering kaleidoscope.
  • "We are a commercial people," she said, "and pay by results. You can send i_our bill, and then—call for payment. Ah, here he is!"
  • Assan came forward, carrying a flat, shabby-looking case in his hand. Cor_natched the case from the messenger and bade him begone. A minute later th_ase was open, and the tiny recess filled with yards of some wonderfu_iaphanous fabric.
  • "This is not mine," Cora cried. "What has the fool done?"
  • Abdul was not slow to grasp the mystery.
  • "I know," he said, in thick, agitated tones. "He made a mistake; he did no_nderstand the address from you. He took the letter written by me to m_ubordinate, and the latter has sent me—Cleopatra's Robe. After all, th_istake was a natural one. Give it me; give it up at once, I say."
  • Cora laughed defiantly. She had already wound the priceless stuff around he_n sinuous folds like that of a snake.
  • "I will not," she said. "Touch me and I will bring the hoard down upon you.
  • You dare to threaten me when my very life, my reputation, is in danger!"
  • "But my master, the Sultan!"
  • "A fig for your master. O, I know what this is—-I read the papers. Personally, I would not give a penny a yard for it. All the same, it is going to keep m_afe till I reach the portico. You fool, follow me and all will be well."
  • Abdul followed hopelessly. Like a flash of light, Cora made her way to th_ortico.
  • "Call me a cab," she said to Abdul; "then take one yourself, and drive of_irst. Tell the man to put you down by the corner near my house. I will do th_ame, and then I will return your gaudy rag. Give me the case."
  • Abdul obeyed. The next twenty minutes were singularly unhappy ones He woul_ave been more unhappy still could he have been in the same cab with Cora an_atched her movements.
  • First of all she took from the bosom of her dress the facsimile of th_leopatra Robe as supplied to her by Gryde. This she proceeded to place in th_ase. Then the real treasure was folded up and securely hidden where the cop_ad come from. When Abdul joined Cora she handed the box to him with a smile.
  • "There!" she said, "nothing to make such a fuss about, after all. I have t_hank you for a perfect disguise, despite yourself. And I shall be obliged i_ou will open the box under this lamp, and make sure I have not robbed you."
  • One glance satisfied Abdul. When he looked up again Cora was a fleetin_hadow.
  • "Stop!" he cried. "When shall I see you again? I cannot—"
  • But the dull bang of a street-door was the one chilly response.
  • * * * * *
  • "There!" Cora was remarking a little later, as she sat opposite Gryde. "Wh_hall say I have not fulfilled your instructions to the letter? You have tha_riceless relic, and Abdul has gone off quite easy in his mind. If it is foun_ut?"
  • "It will not be found out," Gryde said calmly. "The imitation is to_arvellous for anyone but an expert. Abdul will return home to be bowstrung i_onsequence of the failure of his mission, and the robe will be placed in th_reasury for perhaps the next century to come. And, after all, the trick was _ery simple one."
  • "But the triumph of the Persian Government in the recovery of—"
  • "There will be no triumph. The Oriental nature is not like ours. The mer_ossession of the thing will suffice, without boasting of it. There is a dea_f miserly secretiveness in your Eastern type of man."
  • "You will make a deal of money out of it?" Cora asked.
  • "About half a million," Gryde responded, "unless those people save unnecessar_rouble by cutting my throat as a settlement in full. But they will find m_uite prepared for that kind of thing."
  • "You are a wonderful man," Cora said, admiringly.
  • Gryde smiled as he rose to go.
  • "Really I am," he said. "And now I must take myself off, for fear of coming i_ontact with the jealous husband. Good-night, Cora!"
  • "Good-night! But I shall see you again to-morrow?"
  • "I fear not," said Gryde. "I start early on my way for Teheran. But before _o I shall not fail to send you your share of the plunder."