The Sheik (Chapter 1, page 1 of 12)


 
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Chapter 1

"Are you coming in to watch the dancing, Lady Conway?"

"I most decidedly am not. I thoroughly disapprove of the expedition of
which this dance is the inauguration. I consider that even by
contemplating such a tour alone into the desert with no chaperon or
attendant of her own sex, with only native camel drivers and servants,
Diana Mayo is behaving with a recklessness and impropriety that is
calculated to cast a slur not only on her own reputation, but also on
the prestige of her country. I blush to think of it. We English cannot
be too careful of our behavior abroad. No opportunity is slight enough
for our continental neighbours to cast stones, and this opportunity is
very far from being slight. It is the maddest piece of unprincipled
folly I have ever heard of."

"Oh, come, Lady Conway! It's not quite so bad as all that. It is
certainly unconventional and--er--probably not quite wise, but remember
Miss Mayo's unusual upbringing----"

"I am not forgetting her unusual upbringing," interrupted Lady Conway.
"It has been deplorable. But nothing can excuse this scandalous
escapade. I knew her mother years ago, and I took it upon myself to
expostulate both with Diana and her brother, but Sir Aubrey is hedged
around with an egotistical complacency that would defy a pickaxe to
penetrate. According to him a Mayo is beyond criticism, and his
sister's reputation her own to deal with. The girl herself seemed,
frankly, not to understand the seriousness of her position, and was
very flippant and not a little rude. I wash my hands of the whole
affair, and will certainly not countenance to-night's entertainment by
appearing at it. I have already warned the manager that if the noise is
kept up beyond a reasonable hour I shall leave the hotel to-morrow."
And, drawing her wrap around her with a little shudder, Lady Conway
stalked majestically across the wide verandah of the Biskra Hotel.

The two men left standing by the open French window that led into the
hotel ballroom looked at each other and smiled.

"Some peroration," said one with a marked American accent. "That's the
way scandal's made, I guess."

"Scandal be hanged! There's never been a breath of scandal attached to
Diana Mayo's name. I've known the child since she was a baby. Rum
little cuss she was, too. Confound that old woman! She would wreck the
reputation of the Archangel Gabriel if he came down to earth, let alone
that of a mere human girl."

"Not a very human girl," laughed the American. "She was sure meant for
a boy and changed at the last moment. She looks like a boy in
petticoats, a damned pretty boy--and a damned haughty one," he added,
chuckling. "I overheard her this morning, in the garden, making
mincemeat of a French officer."

 
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