30 Chapter 30
She went to the dressing table with lagging feet and stared resentfully at the white face and haggard eyes that looked back at her from the mirror. It was like the face of a stranger. Kiba's words came back to her with an irony that was horrible. Tonight she did not dress to please herself. Her face was set, her eyes almost black with rage, but behind the rage there was lurking apprehension. She started at every sound that came from the adjoining room. Her fingers, wet with perspiration, seemed almost unable to fulfil their task. She hated him, she hated herself, she hated her beauty that had brought this horror upon her. She would have rebelled if she had dared, but instinctively she hurried—fear had already driven her so far. But when she was ready she did not move from the table beside which she stood. Fear had forced her to haste, but her still struggling pride would not permit her to obey her fear any further. She raised her eyes to the glass again, glowering angrily at the pale reflection, and the old obstinacy mingled with the new pain that filled them. Must she endure his mocking glance with chalk-like cheeks and eyes like a beaten hound? Had she not even courage enough left to hide the fear that filled her with self-contempt? The wave of anger that went through her rushed the colour into her face and she leaned nearer the glass with a little murmur of satisfaction that stopped abruptly as her fingers gripped the edge of the table, and she continued staring into the mirror not at her own face, but at the white robes that appeared behind her head, blotting out the limited view she had had of the room.
The Chief was standing behind her. He had come with the peculiar noiseless tread that she had noticed before. He swung her round to look at her and she writhed under his eyes of admiration, straining from him as far as his grip allowed. Holding her with one hand he took her chin in the other and tilted her face up to his with a little smile. "Don't look so frightened. I don't want anything more deadly than some soap and water. Surely even a Suna may be allowed to wash his hands?"
His mocking voice and his taunt of fear stung her, but she would not answer and, with a laugh and a shrug, he lot her go, picking up a razor from the table and lounging into the bathroom.
With crimson cheeks Hana fled into the outer room. His manner could not have been more casual if she had been his wife a dozen years. She waited for him in a tumult of emotions, but with the advent of Yashamaru and dinner he returned to the attitude of dispassionate, courteous host that he had assumed when he first came in. He was a few minutes late, and apologised gravely as he sat down opposite her. He maintained the attitude throughout dinner, and conscious of the watching manservant Hana made herself reply to his easy conversation.
He talked mainly of the desert and the sport that it offered, as if he had studied her tastes and chosen the topic to please her. He spoke well; what he said was interesting, and showed complete knowledge of the subject, and at any other time Hana would have listened fascinated and absorbed, but now the soft, slow, cultured voice only seemed to add to the incongruity of the situation. The role of willing guest that he was forcing upon her was almost more than she could play, and the necessity of sitting still and responding was taxing her endurance to the utmost. And all the time she was aware acutely of his constant surveillance. Reluctantly her own furtive glance was drawn frequently to his face, and always his dark fierce eyes were watching her with a steadiness that racked her nerves, till she was reminded irresistibly of an exhibition that she had seen in a circus in some country she had visited in the past, where a lion tamer had concluded an unusually daring performance by dining in the lions' cage, surrounded by savage snarling brutes very different from the sleepy half-drugged creatures ordinarily shown. Interested in the animals, she had gone behind with Kiba after the performance, and while fondling some tiny lion cubs that had been brought for her to see had chatted with the tamer, a girl little older than herself. She had been somewhat unapproachable until she had realised from Hana's friendly manner that her questions were prompted by real interest and not mere curiosity, and had unbent with surprising swiftness, accepting Hana's proffered cigarettes and taking her to see her special lions, who were boxed for the night. Hana had wandered up and down before the narrow cages, looking at the big brutes still restless from the show, rubbing her cheek on the soft little round head of the cub she was holding in her arms, smiling at its sleepy rasping purr.
"Are you ever afraid?" she had asked suddenly—"not of the ordinary performance, but of that last act, when you dine all alone with them?"
The girl shrugged her shoulders, blowing a little cloud of smoke into the cub's face, and her eyes had met Hana's slowly over his little yellow body. "One does not taste very much," she had said drily.