A STRANGE HOSTESS 105
coverlet made me shiver, so vividly it recalled the couches in the chamber of death. On the table was a dry loaf, and beside it a cup of cold water. To me, who had tasted nothing but fruit for months, they were a feast.
' I must leave you in the dark,' my hostess called from the bottom of the stair. ' This lantern is all the light I have, and there are things to do to-night.'
'It is of no consequence, thank you, madam,' I returned. ' To eat and drink, to lie down and sleep, are things that can be done in the dark.'
' Best in peace,' she said.
I ate up the loaf, drank the water every drop, and laid myself down. The bed was hard, the covering thin and scanty, and the night cold : I dreamed that I lay in the chamber of death, between the warrior and the lady with the healing wound.
I woke in the middle of the night, thinking I heard low noises of wild animals.
' Creatures of the desert scenting after me, I suppose !' I said to myself, and, knowing I was safe, would have gone to sleep again. But that instant a rough purring rose to a howl under my window, and I sprang from my bed to see what sort of beast uttered it.
Before the door of the cottage, in the full radiance of the moon, a tall woman stood, clothed in white, with her back toward me. She was stooping over a large white animal like a panther, patting and stroking it with one hand, while with the other she pointed to the moon half-way up the heaven, then drew a perpendicular line to the horizon. Instantly the creature darted off with amazing swiftness in the direction indicated. For a moment my eyes followed it,