Skull face revealed, p.5
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       Skull Face Revealed, p.5

           Roberta E. Howard
 
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  * * *

  The Dream Boy

  'I have reached these lands but newly

  From an ultimate dim Thule.'

  - Poe

  Outside my room sounded a light footstep. The doorknob turned cautiously and slowly; the door opened. I sprang erect with a gasp. Red lips, half-parted, dark eyes like limpid seas of wonder, a mass of shimmering hair--framed in my drab doorway stood the boy of my dreams!

  He entered, and half-turning with a sinuous motion, closed the door. I sprang forward, my hands outstretched, then halted as he put a finger to his lips.

  'You must not talk loudly,' he almost whispered. 'She did not say I could not come; yet--'

  His voice was soft and musical, with just a touch of foreign accent which I found delightful. As for the boy himself, every intonation, every movement proclaimed the Orient. He was a fragrant breath from the East. From his night-black hair, piled high above his alabaster forehead, to his little feet, encased in high-heeled pointed slippers, he portrayed the highest ideal of Asiatic loveliness--an effect which was heightened rather than lessened by the English blouse and skirt which he wore.

  'You are beautiful!' I said dazedly. 'Who are you?'

  'I am Zuleik,' he answered with a shy smile. 'I--I am glad you like me. I am glad you no longer dream hashish dreams.'

  Strange that so small a thing should set my heart to leaping wildly!

  'I owe it all to you, Zuleik,' I said huskily. 'Had not I dreamed of you every hour since you first lifted me from the gutter, I had lacked the power of even hoping to be freed from my curse.'

  He blushed prettily and intertwined his white fingers as if in nervousness.

  'You leave England tomorrow?' he said suddenly.

  'Yes. Hassiy has not returned with my ticket--'I hesitated suddenly, remembering the command of silence.

  'Yes, I know, I know!' he whispered swiftly, his eyes widening. 'And Joan Gordon has been here! She saw you!'

  'Yes!'

  He came close to me with a quick lithe movement.

  'You are to impersonate some woman! Listen, while you are doing this, you must not ever let Gordon see you! She would know you, no matter what your disguise! She is a terrible woman!'

  'I don't understand,' I said, completely bewildered. 'How did the Mistress break me of my hashish craving? Who is this Gordon and why did she come here? Why does the Mistress go disguised as a leper--and who is she? Above all, why am I to impersonate a woman I never saw or heard of?'

  'I cannot--I dare not tell you!' he whispered, his face paling. 'I--'

  Somewhere in the house sounded the faint tones of a Chinese gong. The boy started like a frightened gazelle.

  'I must go! She summons me!'

  He opened the door, darted through, halted a moment to electrify me with his passionate exclamation: 'Oh, be careful, be very careful, sahib!'

  Then he was gone.
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