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rather than at the base of the Pyramids. Tea was a joyous festival, with much laughter, gossip, and cigarettes in the hall. If you objected to tobacco, you enjoyed your cup in the drawing-room.
The Countess came down the broad stairway with some slight degree of hesitation, as if she feared the multitude of inquiring eyes about to be turned upon her. A tall gentleman, who happened to be passing, looked at her, then paused and actually appeared to be waiting for her. He spoke with a half-laughing diffidence that almost amounted to a stutter, as he fumbled with his eyeglass.
“Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, I believe we are by way of being related to each other. My name is Warlingham.”
The lady stopped on the lower step, and a look of startled annoyance came for a moment into her eyes. There was a note of indifference, but nevertheless of inquiry, in her voice when at last she said:
“Yes. I think I was not mistaken when I ventured to suggest that our families are connected.”
“Very remotely, I fear."
"I am told that the kinship of cousinship extends to the forty-second degree,” replied his Lordship, with that depreciatory, audible smile of his which gave him the air of a bashful boy making his first venture towards conversation, although he must have been well past his fortieth year.
The lady laughed nervously.
"I think that when the kinship reaches the forties, the adjective remote becomes justified,” she said.
"Possibly. Still, as like clings to like, remoteness has affinity for remoteness; and we are so remote from Eng
land that I venture to claim our distant relationship as warrant for my escorting you to a tea-table."
The lady descended the remaining step. Her awkwardness at the unexpected encounter vanished, and they walked together down the hall, at that moment thronged with tea-drinkers. Every one of the small tables was occupied, but Lord Warlingham guided his fair cousin towards a couple of wicker chairs that were empty, although a lone man sat at the table beside them. Lord Warlingham seemed the most popular person in the assembly; women smiled at him as he passed, and men nodded in cheerful comradeship.
In a low voice, his Lordship said to his companion, quite with the confidential manner of an old acquaintance:
“Do you care to be introduced to people, or would you rather not?”
"Oh, I don't mind in the least, if they are nice people.” "Is the recluse to become a woman of fashion ?"
"For the time being, at least,” replied the Countess, with a slight laugh.
The lone man, when the two approached, rose hastily as if to leave the table to them, but the genial Warlingham begged him to resume his place. Turning to his cousin, he said:
“May I introduce to you Mr. Sanderstead, C.E., F.R.G.S., and so forth, with more letters after his name than there are in it? Lady Croydon.”
Sanderstead murmured something as he bowed, his dark face flushing as if he resented the flippancy of the introducer. The lady, noticing his gaunt appearance and tanned cheeks, thought that he was likely one of those newly returned from the finished war; but as they all sat
down at the wicker table, Warlingham rattled on and explained.
"Sanderstead and I represent the two opposite poles of human existence. He has just completed the great Nile dams, and is down here to learn what the ancient and honourable Pyramids have to say about it. I represent the useless but ornamental Pyramid, while he represents the useful but unbeautiful dam. He is the ant, I am the grasshopper. He is the bee, and I am—"
“The honeysuckle,” broke in the engineer.
“Thanks. I was going to say the butterfly, but I accept the amendment as adding a modern and musical touch.”
The Countess seemed to understand intuitively that Sanderstead did not quite relish his Lordship’s frivolous badinage, so she turned the direction of the conversation, saying to the latter:
"I supposed, from an item in the newspaper, that you were residing in Cairo this season."
“Yes; but I left there to get out of the rush that has taken place because of the ceremonies at Assouan. Still, this spot is actually Cairo. The Pyramids occupy the relative position with regard to the chief city of Egypt that the Crystal Palace holds with respect to London.”
"Really? I hope you haven't fireworks every Thursday night."
“Dear lady, we have fireworks every day from a blazing sun.”
“And have you come here to avoid the rush?" she asked of Sanderstead.
"Practically, yes. But not the social rush dreaded by Warlingham. The rush of Nile water has been in my
ears this long time past, and I am resting in the eternal silence of the Pyramids."
“How romantic !” exclaimed the Countess.
"Indeed, madam, it is nothing of the sort," put forth his Lordship. "Sanderstead is troubled with the affliction that haunts the criminal. He flees from the scene of his crime. He has throttled Father Nile and has extinguished the roar that for centuries broke the stillness of the desert. He found a joyous, ambulating, laughing cataract-life embodied in a dancing torrent; he has left in its place a graveyard of motionless waters. Not to put too fine a point upon it, Sanderstead is a murderer."
The engineer smiled grimly, but made no comment on the other's rhapsody.
“Aren't you going up for the opening ceremony?" asked the girl, turning to Sanderstead.
"No. The work is done, and that leaves me free for a short time. Now is the opportunity for the ornamental personages, as our friend called them, to take a hand and make speeches. I have beeen urging Warlingham to go, and almost persuaded him; for he cannot work, so he should not be ashamed to do the ornamental.”
"Ah! persuasion was possible yesterday; it is out of the question to-day," said Warlingham, in a low voice, with a speaking glance at his handsome companion. She, however, took no notice of either tone or look, but asked with candor apparently innocent:
"Why not to-day? Isn't there plenty of time?"
“If it is a question of money, Warlingham, I can help you out. I was paid off, you know," said the engineer.
This was an unkind remark, because his Lordship was well known to be in constant lack of the necessity named;
so Warlingham flushed slightly and replied with some asperity:
“Thanks, dear boy; but why should I wish to see that curse of so-called modern progress you have placed on a noble river?"
"I didn't curse it, I merely dammed it,” replied Sanderstead.
The Countess rose.
"The Pyramids have been waiting a long time for me,” she said. “I am going out to view them in the afternoon light."
"It will be a case of age before beauty," said his Lordship, also rising. “May I accompany the beauty to the age?"
Sanderstead, also standing, took his share of the smile with which the lady favoured both; but apparently remembering the adage about three being too many, so far as company is concerned, he sat down again when they had taken their departure, muttering to himself:
"A case of beauty and the beast, I should say," which showed he was already envious of the nobleman's good fortune.
Lord Warlingham made the most of his opportunity. When we reach forty, we know what we want, and lose no time in schoolboy dalliance. He was charmingly urbane, qualified by a slight tinge of sentimentality, and was wide enough awake to see that he made a favorable impression. He regretted that he had not looked up this delightful, if very distant, relative long since, and he resolved to visit Cairo next day and learn something definite regarding her income, even if he had to cable for the information to his legal advisers in London. They would