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PETER PLAYS A PART
"Stop," said Peter from the shadow of the doorway, "I fear this
business, Inez, and I do not understand why it is needful. Why cannot
you say what you have to say here?"
"Are you mad?" she answered almost fiercely through her veil. "Do you
think that it can be any pleasure for me to seem to make love to a stone
shaped like a man, for whom I care nothing at all--except as a friend?"
she added quickly. "I tell you, Senor Peter, that if you do not do as I
tell you, you will never hear what I have to say, for I shall be held to
have failed in my business, and within a few minutes shall vanish from
you for ever--to my death perhaps; but what does that matter to you?
Choose now, and quickly, for I cannot stand thus for long."
"I obey you, God forgive me!" said the distraught Peter from the
darkness of the doorway; "but must I really----?"
"Yes, you must," she answered with energy, "and some would not think
that so great a penance."
Then she lifted the corner of her veil coyly and, peeping out beneath
it, called in a soft, clear voice, "Oh! forgive me, dear friend, if I
have run too fast for you, forgetting that you are still so very weak.
Here, lean upon me; I am frail, but it may serve." And she passed up the
steps again, to reappear in another moment with Peter's hand resting on
"Be careful of these steps," she said, "they are so slippery"--a
statement to which Peter, whose pale face had grown suddenly red,
murmured a hearty assent. "Do not be afraid," she went on in her
flute-like voice; "this is the secret garden, where none can hear words,
however sweet, and none can see even a caress, no, not the most jealous
woman. That is why in old days it was called the Sultana's Chamber, for
there at the end of it was where she bathed in the summer season. What
say you of spies? Oh! yes, in the palace there are many, but to look
towards this place, even for the Guardian of the Women, was always
death. Here there are no witnesses, save the flowers and the birds."
As she spoke thus they reached the central path, and passed up it
slowly, Peter's hand still upon the shoulder of Inez, and her white arm
about him, while she looked up into his eyes.
"Bend closer over me," she whispered, "for truly your face is like that
of a wooden saint," and he bent. "Now," she went on, "listen. Your lady
lives, and is well--kiss me on the lips, please, that news is worth it.
If you shut your eyes you can imagine that I am she."
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