From an ultimate dim Thule."
Outside my room sounded a light footstep. The doorknob turned cautiously and slowly; the door opened. I sprang erect with a gasp. Red lips, half-parted, dark eyes like limpid seas of wonder, a mass of shimmering hair--framed in my drab doorway stood the girl of my dreams!
She entered, and half-turning with a sinuous motion, closed the door. I sprang forward, my hands outstretched, then halted as she put a finger to her lips.
"You must not talk loudly," she almost whispered. "He did not say I could not come; yet--"
Her voice was soft and musical, with just a touch of foreign accent which I found delightful. As for the girl herself, every intonation, every movement proclaimed the Orient. She was a fragrant breath from the East. From her night-black hair, piled high above her alabaster forehead, to her little feet, encased in high-heeled pointed slippers, she portrayed the highest ideal of Asiatic loveliness--an effect which was heightened rather than lessened by the English blouse and skirt which she wore.
"You are beautiful!" I said dazedly. "Who are you?"
"I am Zuleika," she answered with a shy smile. "I--I am glad you like me. I am glad you no longer dream hashish dreams."
Strange that so small a thing should set my heart to leaping wildly!
"I owe it all to you, Zuleika," I said huskily. "Had not I dreamed of you every hour since you first lifted me from the gutter, I had lacked the power of even hoping to be freed from my curse."
She blushed prettily and intertwined her white fingers as if in nervousness.
"You leave England tomorrow?" she said suddenly.
"Yes. Hassim has not returned with my ticket--" I hesitated suddenly, remembering the command of silence.
"Yes, I know, I know!" she whispered swiftly, her eyes widening. "And John Gordon has been here! He saw you!"
She came close to me with a quick lithe movement.
"You are to impersonate some man! Listen, while you are doing this, you must not ever let Gordon see you! He would know you, no matter what your disguise! He is a terrible man!"
"I don't understand," I said, completely bewildered. "How did the Master break me of my hashish craving? Who is this Gordon and why did he come here? Why does the Master go disguised as a leper--and who is he? Above all, why am I to impersonate a man I never saw or heard of?"
"I cannot--I dare not tell you!" she whispered, her face paling. "I--"
Somewhere in the house sounded the faint tones of a Chinese gong. The girl started like a frightened gazelle.
"I must go! He summons me!"
She opened the door, darted through, halted a moment to electrify me with her passionate exclamation: "Oh, be careful, be very careful, sahib!"
Then she was gone.