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HISTORY OF CYPRUS

Mallock W. H. The Thereshold of a new life 

5

of her as Mrs. Falkland. Her greeting was of the kindest, and, with a thoughtfulness which I fully appreciated, she told me that in the dining-room she had ordered some luncheon to be awaiting me. We went there. It was a room on the ground floor opening on the cloisters. It was lofty, if somewhat narrow. It was spanned by a pointed arch, which helped to sustain the bare beams of the ceiling. The walls, covered with a smooth pinkish plaster, gave the scene an aspect of non- European simplicity, whilst a sparkle of plate on the side-board and on the table at once betrayed the presence of European comfort and luxury. It was a pleasant, piquant mixture, and produced a strange. sense in me of conditions untried hitherto and altogether mysterious.
My repast over I was taken to the rooms above. The stairs led to a sort of lofty hall, shaped like the letter L, directly over the cloisters. Its stone floor was strewn with Oriental rugs; its bare plastered wiills were hung with Oriental embroideries, and here and there were some small tables and ottomans. Out of this opened the drawing-room and various bedrooms my own amongst the number. My portmanteaus, I found, were by this time duly in their places ; and my hostess left me to arrange myself after my dusty journey. I resolved, whilst annoying myself over the troubles of unpacking, to engage Scotty for my servant during my stay in the island a contingency which, I believe, he foresaw from the first himself. By the time I had shaved and dressed it was already five o'clock, and the dim blue twilight without was falling rapidly over everything. As I emerged and approached the drawing-room, I was surprised by a babble of voices, and on entering I found Mrs. Falkland entertaining a large tea-party. The high room, roofed with dark open rafters, was full of shadow, despite some glimmering lamps; and the forms and faces of the company were all mysterious and uncertain. I was never able to identify a single member of it afterwards, but they all must have belonged to the English colony of officials, to whom Mrs. Falkland was at home on periodical occasions. I listened in silence to the conversation round me, and never had I listened to any with a more singular flavour. The dozen or so of visitors, it seemed, were of all ages girls, old ladies, and youngish and middle-aged men. Some of them talked of practising hymns for the church, others of hunting, of races, of last year's picnics, and the glories of a possible ball. In many respects, no doubt, it was just what might be heard any day in the outskirts of any provincial town in England ; but the names of the places mentioned and certain pieces of slang, as if in a mad dream, were all of them metamorphosed into Greek. It was like a dialogue from Homer entangled with a dialogue from Miss Austen's novels. There was something inexpressibly grotesque in the idea of a curate who had lost his copy of ' Hymns Ancient and Modern ' at Paphos, and in hearing a young lady date some delightful memory as ' the time when Mr. Button was so ridiculous on Olympus.'
Amused as I was, I confess I was somehow mortified at the thought of Mr. Button profaning these august localities. I felt that his presence would act on the ghosts of the gorgeous past, as a crosshandled sword is supposed to act on the devil. But as soon as his friends were gone he slipped away from my memory ; and a sense of surrounding strangeness once more took possession of me. Now that the room was quiet, I was introduced to my hostess's -daughter, and before long her father, Colonel Falkland, entered. I learnt presently that I was not the only guest, but that a young professor from Cambridge, with his wife from Girton, 'were also staying in the house, being in Cyprus to superintend some excavations. They had just come in, 1 laving been out at their work all day, and I did not see them till dinner time. We assembled at eight o'clock, and our conventional evening coats showed curiously amongst our semi-barbarous surround! Our way to the dining-room lay through the open cloisters ; and faint odours of the East touched our nostrils as we passed.

The dinner was the work of an excellent Scotch cook ; but it derived a charming and unmistakable local flavour from the early vegetables and the woodcock, from the strong Cyprian wine, from the fine preserved apricots, and from the pale Oriental sweetmeats. The conversation, though very different from that of the afternoon tea-drinkers, was saturated, like theirs, with a local flavour also. Mr. Adam, as I will call the young professor, discussed, in a tone of placid academic refinement, which came to my ears like an echo of an Oxford common-room, the various spots where it might be desirable to excavate, and the various objects which had been unearthed already. Strange names of unknown places and people men called Demetrius and Georgos, and places called Paraskevi and Morphou buzzed in my ears like a sort of unintelligible

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