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"And it is really Sir Everard who holds that," Millard amended.
"I see." Sears nodded, and again came that gray glint from between narrowed lids. "I'll play that up in the films; that's the dramatic point." "And Fehmy Pasha, down in Cairo, with his agitation for Egyptian independence, is another dramatic point," Millard said drily. Then he followed it by an apology just a shade too hasty and obvious. "Excuse me, Vansittart; I did n't mean-"
Hamid rose, waving the apology aside with a flashing smile.
"My dear chap, don't mention it. Of course everybody knows that the old boy is my cousin on my mother's side. But it is the father, fortunately, who determines one's nationality. Besides, there's Sir Everard, you know."
There was always Sir Everard; Millard found himself pondering that when later he was summoned to the general's quarters, and noted anew the ascetic barrenness of the room, the ascetic barrenness of the man himself, like some bronze statue. The narrow cot and ebony crucifix contributed much to his reputation. He looked like a Covenanter, sternly chaste in a creed that permitted him to send wave after wave of living men to be torn by high explosives.
"Close the door, Mr. Millard," the general began as the other approached. "Wireless despatches have just arrived. They are at it again down in Egypt. Fehmy Pasha has escaped to the Bayouda, there is a general strike on all the railroads, and part of the Nile line has been destroyed."
Quickly Millard visualized that situation, hitting upon its salient point.
"Then that means no supplies for a while, sir; Khartum has no surplus to send us."
"It means more than that, Mr. Millard." The general rose, striding restlessly to the window, speaking half to that glimpse of wan vastness beyond the walls. "These things are known out there.
How, we can't find out; but they are known, and it means that for our enemies the next week or so will be their time, while we are cut off."
"But these Southern emirs are loyal, sir," Millard objected. "At least, so Vansittart reports."
"Ah, yes, Hamid." Sir Everard's severity softened at the name. He murmured on, mostly to himself: "I'm glad I got him away from that mess down in Cairo-young, ambitious, his mother's people. And there's no knowing what Fehmy might have offered him."
So those rumors about Hamid had been true, Millard saw. He understood why Sir Everard had interfered on the fellow's behalf, bringing him South in an unofficial, personal sort of way. If this bronze general had a human spot in him, it was for this son of that Vansittart who had explored the Mayembe country with him back in the eighties. Tom Vansittart had remained in Egypt after that; had rather "gone country," in fact, marrying a pasha's widow and becoming something of a pasha himself. He was gone now, and only Hamid, "old Tom's boy," remained to link Sir Everard with that friend of his youth.
The general turned, recovering his usual military staccato.
"The despatches confirm the sending of this American photographer; but, all the same, see that he has no
communication with the men. These Yankees are apt to have strange ideas." There was nothing to trace the connection, but Millard instantly concluded that Hamid Vansittart had just been with the general, for he was perpetually mounting the tower steps in his noiseless grace. As no one else in Koom Katia, he had Sir Everard's ear, and seemingly the ear of the Sudan as well; that was what made him valuable. Millard wondered at his own decision to warn Sears that any more questions had better be asked of himself.
It was that, together with a vague idea of "keeping an eye on the fellow," which caused Millard to stop at the particular sweat-box assigned to Sears's use, an oven-like place opposite the gaping blackness of the arched gate. A single lamp made a half-dimness, and in a corner the motion-picture camera, set up on its tripod and adorned with weird trappings of mechanism, loomed like some heathenish image.
Perched cross-legged on the cot, Sears regarded his visitor with a touch of impudent understanding.
"Come to look me over?" he drawled. It was so nearly the truth that Millard found himself obliged to smile.
can you do that when I am not in the story?" the story?" He frowned. "And how can I be in the story when I'm making the films?"
"I think you will find that this is something more than a mere movingpicture drama," Millard objected.
"One never knows how a thing is going to turn out until one sees it on the screen," Sears replied.
The fellow's point of view seemed unshakable. It lay upon Millard's mind as he sought his own quarters, sitting long in the silence, which was broken only by the challenges of the sentries as the officer of the night went his rounds.
For days the Koom Katia occupation dragged on, a round of military monotony amid sun, sand, and sweat. Isolated in his half limbo as the sole civilian, Sears went about such work as he could find.
As Hamid Vansittart had said, it was difficult to put the place into pictures. It persisted in remaining just a background, a splendid stage without adequate drama. Now and then some emir came drifting in from the edges of the papyrus marshes about the Nile, or from where the plain
"Partly, perhaps; but I wanted to dipped down toward the untouched give you some advice."
There was a minute of scrutiny, a silent, open measuring of man for man; then Sears nodded in a certain satisfaction.
"All right; I'll take it. Shoot."
"Be careful what you say, that 's all. These are ticklish times, and people are suspicious, and I don't want to have to put you under arrest.
"Arrest me?" Sears seemed to have difficulty in understanding that. "How
stretches round Lake Rudolph. Hawkfaced old chieftains, their fingers on the very pulse of African politics, they would stalk up to pay their respects to "Boultbee of Batanza," filling the forecourt with the color and unwashed stench of their retinues. With the camera hidden in his doorway as a concession to Moslem prejudices, Sears would grind steadily away at the crank, commanding the sweep of courtyard between yellow walls and
the angle of the tower stairway down which the general would come.
It was one morning when golden light and level shadow brought a false effect of coolness that Millard found Sears photographing the empty archway. He often did that, catching it as a semicircle of dead blackness in the glaring, sun-lit wall.
"That arch seems to fascinate you,' Millard said casually as he paused at the other's door.
"This place is so darn shut in," Sears answered, with a glance at the walls about them. "I've got a hunch these pictures may need a hole in them. That 's what I said a hole," he went on at Millard's look of inquiry. "That black arch won't register at all. It will stay as it was, a sensitive spot with nothing on it."
"Then what?" asked Millard.
A shade of impatience crept into Sears's voice that the other could not see what was plain to himself.
"When you go to the movies, do you ever see anybody walk on or off the screen through a wall? They go and come through doors, don't they?" he demanded, with a look of dislike for the whole place. "All these damn' walls; but if you 've got a hole, you never know what may come in by itthere's somebody coming now."
Through the arch rang an echo of footsteps, rapid, light, and careless; then came a paler glimmer against the shadow, and then Hamid Vansittart appeared.
He stopped as he came into the sunlight, staring casually across to where they stood in the concealment of Sears's doorway. Obviously, he had not seen them, and the faint grind of the cameracrank struck on Millard's ears as almost a treachery. It seemed unfair
to catch the fellow so unawares, his face unfixed for that inexorably recording lens. It was probably merely some trick of shadow, or a reflex from the preoccupation plainly written on Hamid's ivory face, but, lacking his usual smile and vividness of expression, there was something almost sinister. Never had his Egyptian blood showed so plainly as in that off-guard moment. Then he turned and walked rapidly back again, lost in the dark arch.
Leisurely capping the lens, Sears grunted in satisfaction.
"I've been laying for that guy; he's the only one who does n't want his map to go on the screen."
"It is important that he should not be known-his secret-service disguises and all that," Millard explained.
"Well, that's the way to get them," Sears replied, nodding, "when they don't know they are being taken."
"How often have you got me that way?" asked Millard, laughing, and the other turned a cool glance toward him. "I 'got' you the first time I saw you." A queer sort of duck, Millard decided as he walked on; but the things he said had a way of sticking like slivers in one's memory. Those people coming on and off the screen, for instance-Millard had never considered that before. There was something a bit ghastly in it when one came to think it over, people walking out through those pictured doors to nothing at all.
He passed out through the arch to struggle with the daily problem of the inadequate transport from the railhead. head. Hamid was there, lounging in the shade, and Millard hailed him.
"Hello, Vansittart. Back again?" "For an hour or two. I am off to the wells of El Kebar this afternoon."
Hamid came closer, sinking his voice to a more cautious note. "There is some deviltry hatching over there."
It was probably of that that Hamid had been thinking as he came under the arch, Millard decided; but for some reason, which seemed principally no reason at all, he forbore to tell the other of Sears's photographing him. Then Vansittart grinned in frank confession.
"To tell the truth, I'm hurrying off a bit; you 're going to have a regular visitation to-morrow. Sheik Djemal from Haifa, most frightful swell in his way, travels with all the trimmings, including his favorite dancing girl."
"I have heard of him," said Millard. He had almost said that he had heard of him as some connection of that pestilent Fehmy Pasha, but he caught himself in time. There was no need to make Vansittart's position any harder; he was enough between the millstones of East and West as it was.
"By the way," the other went on in a note of warning, "don't let that American protégé of yours get up to any tricks with his camera while old Djemal is about. He'd consider it a sacrilege to be photographed, and raise the very deuce."
"That is for the general to say," Millard answered. "And I hardly see why you call him my protégé."
"You seem a bit thick with him." Hamid laughed. "Pray for me over at El Kebar; I go as a blind beggar, with nothing between me and nature but a suit of brown dye."
A quirk of the muscles, and Hamid's lithe body sank in on itself in a grotesque distortion as he sketched a limping step or two; then he straightened up and passed on, smiling and debonair, already alight with his new adventure.
So they thought he was too intimate with this camera chap, Millard reflected as he watched the other depart. Perhaps he had better draw off a bit; this isolated world of Koom Katia was virulent of gossip, its worst sin to be suspected of an idea that went an inch beyond the accepted formulæ.
Despite Vansittart's warning, Sears was ordered to make the films of Sheik Djemal's visit next day. The sheik was too important, his submission too much of a diplomatic feather in Sir Everard's cap, to be permitted to pass unrecorded. He came riding in at the head of his multi-colored mob with banner, shouts, and drums, and behind a screen of palm-branches Sears cranked steadily away. It was there that Millard joined him, snatching a moment's respite from the wearisome round of coffee, compliments, and cigarettes.
"Who is the doll on the donkey?" Sears asked.
She was coming in just then, her musicians in attendance, a girl probably from the hill country up toward Abyssinia, slimly supple, warm brown in color, her feet and hands reddened with henna, her eyes and lips heavy with paint, under a cloud of hair. There was something biblical about her as she passed by on her gray mount; and looking at her, one caught a glimpse of those strange women of the eye-for-an-eye days-Judith, Aholibah, pulsing in the warm darkness beneath the palms.
"Some sort of Sudanese Salome,' Millard answered. Millard answered. "She will dance
later to entertain Sir Everard." "Then fix it so she 'll dance against that wall, close to the arch."
"Still sticking to your hole," said