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Title: The Desert Healer
Author: Hull, E. M. (Edith Maude)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                                  THE
                             DESERT HEALER
                                   BY
                               E. M. Hull
                         Author of “The Sheik”
                     McCLELLAND & STEWART, LIMITED
                  PUBLISHERS                   TORONTO



                        Copyright Canada 1923 by
                     McCLELLAND & STEWART, Limited

                           Printed in Canada
                 Press of The Hunter-Rose Co., Limited



                           THE DESERT HEALER



                               CHAPTER I


The slanting rays of the afternoon sun, unusually powerful for the time
of year, lay warmly on the southern slopes of a tiny spur of the Little
Atlas Mountains, glowing redly on the patches of bare earth and naked
rock cropping out between the scrubby undergrowth that straggled
sparsely up the hill-side, and flickering through the leaves of a clump
of olive trees huddled at its base where three horses stood tethered,
lazily switching at the troublesome flies with their long tails and
shifting their feet uneasily from time to time.

Ten miles away to the westward lay Blidah, Europeanised and noisy, but
here was the deep stillness and solitude—though not the arid
desolation—of the open desert. The silence was broken only by the
monotonous cooing of pigeons and the low murmur of voices.

At a little distance from the picketed horses, out in the full sunshine,
a man lay on his back on the soft ground apparently asleep, his hands
clasped under his head, his face almost hidden by a sun helmet beneath
the brim of which protruded grotesquely a disreputable age-black pipe
which even in sleep his teeth held firmly. There were amongst William
Chalmers’ patients and intimate acquaintances those who affirmed
positively that that foul old meerschaum—treasured relic of his
hospital days—ranked second in his affections only to the adored wife
who was sitting now near his recumbent figure. Alert and youthful
looking in spite of her grey hairs, she lounged comfortably against a
sun warmed rock talking animatedly yet softly to the third member of the
party, a well set up man of soldierly appearance who sprawled full
length at her feet. There was a certain definite resemblance between the
two, a similarity of speech and gesture, that proclaimed a near
relationship.

Mrs. Chalmers broke off in the middle of a sentence to flap her gauntlet
gloves at a swarm of persistent flies. “All the same, I think it’s
perfectly disgraceful that you are still a bachelor, Micky,” she said,
with emphatic cousinly candour, resuming an argument which had raged for
the last half hour. Major Meredith grinned with perfect good humour.

“Haven’t time for matrimony,” he answered lazily, “too busy watching our
wily brothers over the Border. And besides,” with a provocative sidelong
glance, “marriage is a lottery. We can’t all expect to have Bill’s
luck.”

Mrs. Chalmers wrinkled her nose at him disgustedly. “That’s a _cliché_,”
she said with fine scorn, ignoring the implied compliment, “it merely
means that you haven’t yet met the right woman. However—” she laughed
mischievously—“there’s still hope for you. A year at home after nearly
ten years of exile will probably make you change your mind. It’s a pity
you didn’t take your leave sooner, there were some charming girls here
last winter. Unfortunately this year’s sample is not recommendable,
there is scarcely a really nice girl in the place—always excepting
Marny Geradine, and she’s married already—poor child.”

“Why ‘poor child?’ ” asked the soldier, his cousin’s sudden change of
tone seeming to call for some comment. “Because—” Mrs. Chalmers paused
frowningly, “oh, well, you haven’t seen Lord Geradine or you wouldn’t
ask,” she went on soberly, “he’s been away on a shooting trip since
you’ve been here—and the air of Algiers has been consequently cleaner,”
she added with a little shiver.

Major Meredith hoisted his long limbs up into a sitting position. “A
case of a misfit marriage?” he suggested.

“Marriage!” echoed Mrs. Chalmers scornfully, “it isn’t a marriage, it’s
a crime. It makes my blood boil to think of it. And yet I hardly know
them. He’s impossible, and she is the shyest, most reserved young woman
I have ever met. I’d give a great deal to be able to help her, she seems
so lonely and there is tragedy staring at you out of her eyes. But of
course one can’t do anything. She isn’t the kind of person who makes
confidants. I’ve blundered in pretty often during my life when it hasn’t
been my business, but I simply shouldn’t dare to speak to Lady Geradine
of her affairs—though I am old enough to be her mother. Ugh! let’s talk
of something less revolting,” she said hastily, a trace of huskiness in
her voice. And for a time she sat silent, staring absently in front of
her with eyes that had become very wistful and tender. Then with a shrug
and a half sigh she turned again eagerly to her companion. “There is a
great deal that wants putting right in the world, Micky,” she said with
ungrammatical decisiveness, “but I’m not going to spoil a perfect
afternoon by moralising. It has been jolly, hasn’t it? I thought you
would like this little valley. So few people seem to know of it, no
special inducement to bring them here except peace and quietness which
most of the folk wintering in Algiers don’t seem particularly to hanker
after. We found it years ago and have camped here often, a haven of
refuge when life was especially strenuous or perplexing. It is sad to
think that it is our last visit and that in a few weeks we shall have
shaken the dust of Algeria off our feet. Five years, Micky, five years
that Bill has been marking time in this Back of Beyond because of my
stupid lungs. But they are all right now, thank God, and we are off to
America as soon as may be to investigate some new nerve treatment Bill
is interested in. And when he has picked the brains of his transatlantic
_confrères_ we shall come home to end our days in Harley Street in an
odour of sanctity and general stuffiness. Won’t London be simply horrid
after years of fresh air and open spaces? So, you see, you only just
caught us in time. If your leave had been delayed you would have missed
us, and I did want you to see our Algerian home. It’s been a hectic
fortnight, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I think we’ve
managed to show you all the sights of Algiers and its immediate
surroundings. But I do regret one thing—I wish you could have seen our
Mystery-man. He is quite a feature of the place. An Englishman who lives
like an Arab—you needn’t pull a face, Micky, I don’t mean that he has
‘gone native’ or anything horrid of that kind, he is _much_ too
dignified. But he lives in a sort of splendid isolation in the loveliest
villa in Mustapha, with a retinue like a Chief’s. And though he is
tremendously popular with the French officers and all the important
Sheiks who come into Algiers he pointedly avoids his fellow countrymen.
And he won’t speak to or even look at a woman! He wears Arab dress most
of the time and would pass for a native anywhere. He lives for months
together in the desert and descends on Algiers at irregular intervals.
One hears that he is in the town, and glimpses him occasionally stalking
along with his head in the air rather like a supercilious camel, or
riding like a hurricane through the streets in approved Arab style, but
that is all that the English community ever see of him. And he has
obviously heaps of money—and it’s a gorgeous villa. He might be such an
acquisition to the place, but, as it is, he is merely an intriguing
personality who is ‘wropt in mystery,’ as old Nannie used to say.
Needless to add that in a place like this, where we all discuss our
neighbours, he is the subject of endless speculation. But nobody really
knows anything about him.”

A faint chuckle came from behind Doctor Chalmers’ big helmet. “I’m sorry
to contradict you, Mollie, but that is not strictly accurate,” he said
sleepily. His wife sat up with a jerk. “Who knows?” she challenged.

“Well—I do, for one,” replied Doctor Chalmers coolly.

“_You_ know, Bill—and you’ve never said. How like a man! Really, you
are the most exasperating creatures on earth. Fancy having that pearl of
information up your sleeve—I’m getting mixed up in my metaphors, but
never mind—and withholding it from the partner of your joys and
sorrows. I shouldn’t have passed it on if it was a confidence, you know
that very well. But since you have admitted so much you can soothe my
outraged feelings by imparting a little more.”

Doctor Chalmers laughed and stretched lazily. “Can’t be done,” he
replied succinctly.

“Why not? I wouldn’t tell a soul, and Micky is only a bird of passage so
it can’t possibly matter what he hears. Don’t be tiresome, Bill,
expound.”

But the doctor shook his head. “My dear Mollie,” he expostulated,
fingering the old pipe tenderly, “a confidence is a confidence and I
can’t break it simply to satisfy your curiosity, natural though it may
be. And hasn’t the poor devil been discussed enough? How he lives and
what he chooses to do in the desert is, after all, entirely his own
affair—nobody else’s business.”

“But, Bill, one hears such queer stories—”

“Queer stories be hanged, m’dear. A silly lot of idiotic gossip, this
place is rotten with it. Some fool of a busybody starts a rumour without
a tithe of foundation to it and it’s all over the town as gospel truth
the next day. Carew’s mode of life, his antipathy to women, and his
obvious sympathy with the Arabs make him a bit peculiar. Just because
the poor chap has the bad taste to ignore your charming sex all the
women have got their knives into him. I bet the queer stories you speak
of emanate from your blessed feminine tea parties. Trust a woman to
invent a mystery—”

“But, Bill, he _is_ mysterious.”

“Rubbish, Mollie. He prefers to make his friends amongst the French and
he hates women—that’s the sum total of his crimes as far as I’m aware.
Peculiar, if you like, but certainly not mysterious. And as to the last
indictment—” the doctor laughed and winked unblushingly at Major
Meredith, “—personally I call him a sensible chap to mix only with his
own broader minded and more enlightened sex—_ouch!_” he grunted, as his
wife’s helmet landed with a thud on his chest.

“Bill, you’re horrid. Men gossip just as much as women.”

Doctor Chalmers returned her helmet with an ironical bow. “They may do,
my dear,” he said with sudden gravity, “but in Algiers it is not the men
who gossip about Carew. And for the short time we remain in this hot-bed
of intrigue you will oblige me by contradicting, on my authority, any
silly stories you may hear about him. He’s a friend of mine. I value his
friendship, and I won’t have him adversely discussed in my house.”

Mrs. Chalmers bowed her head to the unexpected storm she had raised.
“I’m sorry, dear,” she said contritely, “I didn’t know he was really a
friend. In all the years we’ve lived here you’ve hardly ever mentioned
him. I do think men are the queerest things,” she added in a puzzled
voice that made her companions laugh. Her husband rolled over and began
to fill his pipe. “There are still a few little secrets I keep from the
wife of my bosom,” he murmured teasingly, “but, seriously, Mollie, hands
off Carew.”

“Very well, dear,” she replied with surprising meekness. And for some
time she sat silent with knitted brows, poking the sand absently with
the handle of her whip. Then she spoke abruptly—“But there’s no smoke
without fire, Bill. There must be some foundation for the stories that
are told about him. He was divorced or something unpleasant of the kind,
wasn’t he?”

“He may have been,” replied the doctor indifferently, pressing the
tobacco down into the bowl of his pipe with a blunt thumb, “I don’t
know—and I’m afraid I don’t care. I take people as I find them, and
Gervas Carew is one of the whitest, cleanest men I have ever met.”

Major Meredith looked up with a sudden start.

“Gervas Carew,” he said quickly, “_Sir_ Gervas Carew?”

The doctor shrugged. “I believe so,” he said guardedly, “though he
doesn’t seem to have any use for the title. He drops it here in Algeria.
And if you have anything detrimental to say about him I’d rather not
hear it,” he added shortly, with a sudden flicker of anger in his sleepy
blue eyes.

But Major Meredith was obviously not listening.

“Gervas Carew—after all these years!” he ejaculated, “so your
Mystery-man, Mollie, turns out to be Gervas Carew. Gad, what a small
place the world is! Poor old Gervas—of all people!”

Mrs. Chalmers’ eyes danced with excitement. She laid an impatient hand
on her cousin’s shoulder, and shook him vigorously. “If you don’t say
something more explicit in a minute, Micky, I shall scream. It’s no good
sitting there looking as if you had seen a ghost and murmuring
tragically ‘poor old Gervas,’ you’ve simply got to explain. And if Bill
doesn’t want to listen he can go and saddle the horses. It’s time we
made a move anyhow.”

Meredith turned slowly and looked at her through narrowing eyelids.
“Give a dog a bad name, and hang him,” he said with a touch of contempt
in his voice. “From what you say, Mollie, Algiers appears to have been
hanging Gervas Carew pretty thoroughly and, as he was my best friend
once, I think it is up to me to explain. You needn’t go, Bill,” he added
hastily as the doctor heaved himself on to his feet with a smothered
word of profanity. “You’re seldom wrong in a diagnosis, old man, and you
haven’t made a mistake this time. It’s not a long story, nor,
unfortunately, an uncommon one. Carew and I were chums at Rugby, and
until I got my commission and went to India. When he was about
twenty-five, shortly after his father’s death and he had succeeded to
the title, he married. The girl, who was a few years younger than
himself, was the worst kind of Society production, artificial to her
finger tips. I stayed with them on my first home leave and hated her at
sight. But poor old Gervas was blindly in love. He worshipped the ground
she walked on. She was beautiful, of course, one of those
pale-complexioned, copper-haired women who are liable to sudden and
tremendous passion—but Gervas hadn’t touched her. Mentally and morally
he was miles above her. She was as incapable of appreciating the
fineness of his character as he was of suspecting the falseness of hers.
His love didn’t content her and, though she was clever enough to hide it
from him, she flirted shamelessly with every man who came to the house.
She craved for adulation. Anybody was fair game to her. She tried it on
with me before I’d been there half a day—but I hadn’t served five
years’ apprenticeship in India for nothing and she ended by hating me as
thoroughly as I hated her. Then the South African war broke out and I
did all I could to get to the front but they sent me back to the
Frontier. And Gervas, who had always wanted to be a soldier and had had
to content himself with the Yeomanry, was in the seventh heaven, poor
devil, and took a troop out to the Cape, largely composed of men off his
own estate. He was invalided back to England after nine months to find
that his wife had consoled herself in his absence with an Austrian
Count, of sorts, and had cleared out with the blighter, leaving a
delicate baby behind her. The child died the night Gervas reached home.
I heard what happened from a mutual friend. For a few weeks he was to
all intents and purposes out of his mind. He was in a very weak state
from his wound, and the double shock of his wife’s faithlessness and the
baby’s death—he was devoted to the little chap—was too much for him.
Then he took up life again, but he was utterly changed. He divorced the
woman that she might marry the man she had gone off with and six months
afterwards he disappeared.

“That’s ten or twelve years ago and I’ve never been able to get into
communication with him since. That’s Gervas Carew’s story, Mollie.

“I can’t give any explanation of his avoidance of English people except
that he was always a sensitive sort of chap. But I think that his
present attitude towards women, at any rate, is understandable. There
was one woman in the world for him—and she let him down.”

There was a long silence after the soldier stopped speaking. Mrs.
Chalmers sat very subdued, blinking away the tears that had risen in her
eyes.

“I wish I’d known before, Micky. I feel a beast,” she said at last with
regretful fervour.

“You might well,” growled her husband unsympathetically, and stalked
away to the horses.

Major Meredith prepared to follow, but lingered for a moment beside his
cousin who had also risen to her feet.

“I need hardly add that what I’ve told you is entirely between
ourselves, Mollie. I only wanted to put Carew right with you and Bill.
What the rest of Algiers chooses to think doesn’t matter a tinker’s
curse. I wish I could have seen the poor old chap, but as I’m off
tomorrow that is hardly probable. Still, I’ve located him, which is more
than I ever expected to do.”

Mrs. Chalmers followed him thoughtfully to the clump of olive trees
where the doctor with recovered good temper was busily saddling the
horses.

They mounted and moved off leisurely down the steep side of the hill,
picking a careful way between rocks and scrub and cactus bushes until
they reached a narrow track winding in and out at the foot of the
mountain a few feet above the bed of the tiny ravine that separated it
from the adjoining range.

The track was wide enough only for two to ride abreast and the doctor
forged ahead leaving his wife to follow with her cousin.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Mrs. Chalmers made no further reference to the story she had heard,
guessing that Meredith would not care to speak of it again, but chatted
instead of the neighbourhood through which they were passing.

“These hills are a maze,” she explained with a sweeping gesture of her
whip that effectually upset the hitherto irreproachable behaviour of the
horse she was riding. She reined him back with difficulty.

“I forgot I mustn’t do that. Captain André told me he couldn’t bear to
have a whip whiffled about his ears,” she said laughingly. “Some of the
gorges are wider than this, perfect camping grounds,” she continued,
after she had soothed her mount’s ruffled sensibilities. “Very often a
Sheik will camp here on his way to Algiers. Extraordinarily interesting
they are, especially the ones who come from the far south—the wildest
creatures, with hordes of fierce retainers who look as if they would
think nothing of murdering one just for the sheer fun of it. But they
are always very nice to us—they like the English. I am ashamed to say I
have learned very little Arabic but when we meet them I smile and say
‘Anglaise’ and they get quite excited and salaam and grin and chatter
like magpies. Then, again, we come here and may ride for miles and never
see a soul for days together.”

“That is what one thinks on the Frontier but the beggars are there all
the time, right enough,” said Meredith with a quick smile. “You will be
riding over a bit of country that you wouldn’t think could afford cover
for a cat and _ping_ goes a bullet past your head. If they weren’t such
thundering bad shots I, for one, should have been a goner years ago.” He
laughed light-heartedly, and Mrs. Chalmers glanced at him curiously,
marvelling, as she had marvelled frequently in the last fortnight, at
the hazardous life that is some men’s portion and the fatalistic
indifference it usually engenders. During his short visit she had
listened with wonder and amazement to her cousin’s reluctant account of
his work on the Border.

To Meredith it was the Great Game. Now, quite suddenly, she wondered
what it would mean to the woman he might make his wife.

“I don’t believe, after all, Micky, that men like you ought to marry,”
she said pensively. Meredith laughed at the patently regretful tone of
her voice, for her matchmaking proclivities were notorious.

“I’m quite sure of it,” he replied promptly, and unwillingly Mrs.
Chalmers was obliged to laugh with him.

But further conversation became for the time impossible. The rough track
they were following grew narrower and less perceptible until it suddenly
vanished altogether and the horses slithered and slipped down to the
rocky bed of the dry watercourse at the bottom of the defile. The pass
was bearing steadily towards the south and Doctor Chalmers who was some
little distance ahead of them had already disappeared from sight behind
a jutting angle of rock where the hill curved abruptly. Following in
single file they reached the sharp bend and rounding it close under the
stark cliff face, emerged into a wider, less rugged valley that
stretched on the one hand far up into the mountains and on the other led
to open country. A quarter of a mile away, at the entrance of the
valley, Doctor Chalmers was waiting for them. Scrambling out of the
river bed they spurred their horses, racing to join him, and as they
neared he turned in the saddle beckoning vigorously. “You’re in luck,
Micky,” he shouted, “there’s your man.” And following his pointing
finger they saw a small party of horsemen galloping towards the
mountains. The leader, who was riding slightly in advance of his escort,
was distinguished from his white-clad followers by an embroidered blue
cloth burnous that billowed round him in swelling folds. With a little
thrill of excitement Mrs. Chalmers glanced quickly at her cousin, and
decided for the second time that day that men were queer creatures. They
never did what one expected them to do. A little more than half-an-hour
ago Micky had expressed a great wish to meet again the friend of his
youth. The wish unexpectedly fulfilled, it was to be supposed that his
inward gratification would take some outward and visible form. He sat
instead motionless on his fretting horse, scowling at the approaching
horsemen, his underlip sucked in beneath his trim brown moustache, in
very obvious hesitation.

It was Doctor Chalmers who rode forward and waved his hand with a
welcoming shout. And for a moment it seemed as if his greeting was going
to pass unrecognised. The horsemen were nearly abreast of them, riding
at a tremendous pace, another moment they would have swept past. Then,
with a powerful jerk that sent the bright bay straight up into the air
spinning high on his hind legs, the leader checked his mount suddenly.
It was a common trick among the Arabs which Mrs. Chalmers had often
witnessed, but she never watched it without a quickening heartbeat, and
she gave a little sigh of relief now as the horse came down without the
ugly backward tremble she had seen once and dreaded to see again. She
was conscious of a feeling of extreme embarrassment at the near presence
of the man whose mysterious personality she had discussed freely with
her circle of acquaintances during the last five years, but who now
appeared to her in a new and totally different light. Her warm impulsive
heart had been touched by Micky Meredith’s story and a hot wave of
discomfort passed over her as she recollected the idle gossip she had
both countenanced and participated in. She determined to delay the
inevitable meeting with the much criticised Mystery-man until the first
greeting and explanations between the two old friends were over. Leaving
Meredith to go alone, she lingered behind under pretext of re-arranging
her habit, and for some minutes she bent over her perfectly adjusted
safety skirt pulling and patting it into further order while her fidgety
horse wheeled and backed impatiently at the forced stand. Then she rode
forward with unusual diffidence to join the three men who, dismounted,
were deep in conversation. They drew apart at her coming and Meredith
effected the necessary introduction.

In response to Mrs. Chalmers’ murmured greeting the tall
picturesque-looking man who had turned almost reluctantly towards her
replied briefly and bowed with grave, unsmiling aloofness that seemed
consistent with the Arab robes he wore so naturally. She had a swift
glimpse of a lean brown clean-shaven face, of a pair of dark blue sombre
eyes that did not quite meet her own, and then her husband’s genial
voice broke the threatening silence.

“Sir Gervas is camping in the neighborhood, Mollie. He wants Micky to
wait over until the later train. We shall have to push on as I promised
to be in Algiers early this evening,” he explained, preparing to
remount. “Your train leaves Blidah at eleven, Micky,” he added. “And,
Carew, the horse is André’s. See that he gets back all right to the
cavalry barracks, will you? Ready, Mollie? Then take hold of that beast
of yours. We shall have to run for it.”

As the Doctor and his wife cantered off, Meredith looked after their
retreating figures with a gleam of amusement in his eyes. Bill’s
diplomacy had been worthy of a greater cause. Then he turned to his
companion.

“That’s a dam’ good fellow,” he said emphatically, “one in a billion.”

But the silent man beside him did not at the moment seem inclined to
discuss Doctor Chalmers’ merits.

Nodding briefly he signed to his servants to bring up the spirited bay
that had been removed from the proximity of the other horses.

And as they rode along together Meredith tried in vain to trace in this
grave, taciturn individual some resemblance to the gay, happy-go-lucky
Gervas Carew of long ago. He wondered, if alone, he would have even
known him. Carew had apparently recognised him at once, but the
recognition was easy, for the passing years had made no great alteration
in him; while to Meredith the face of his old friend had become the face
of a stranger, hardened, remoulded almost, until even the contour seemed
different. Other changes too became gradually evident. The restless
impatience that Meredith remembered had given place to a calm
imperturbability that was more oriental than occidental. There was a
dignity and stateliness in his bearing that contrasted forcibly with his
former boyish impulsiveness. Of the old Gervas Carew there was clearly
nothing left, and the new Gervas seemed reluctant to reveal himself. The
threads, too, of the early acquaintance, broken for so long, were
curiously difficult to pick up but Micky Meredith, trained to waiting,
was content to let the matter take its course. Enough that a desire had
been shown for his company, the rest would follow.

Once only during the half-hour ride did Carew open his mouth. He turned
and looked critically at Meredith’s mount. “Shall we let them out?” he
said slowly, with a certain hesitation in his voice as if his
mother-tongue came unnaturally. “André’s horses have a reputation.”

And as they raced neck and neck towards the north over the broken
country that bordered the foothills they were skirting, Meredith found a
certain measure of satisfaction in the fact that one interest, at least,
had survived the general upheaval. Carew had always been a horseman and
a lover of horses. More than ever did he seem so now. And as the soldier
looked at the magnificent creature his companion was riding, and,
glancing behind him, found the escort thundering close at their heels,
he decided that it was not only the courteous cavalry captain at Blidah
whose stud must have a reputation in the country. It was one bond of
sympathy remaining, he reflected, and sat down to ride as he had rarely
ridden in his life.

His borrowed horse responded gallantly to the effort demanded of him,
but the pace was punishing and the animal’s satiny neck grew dark and
seamed with sweat as he strained to keep up with the bay that showed no
sign of distress and seemed to be rather checked than urged by his
rider. And with the perspiration pouring down his own face Meredith was
not sorry when a sudden curve in the hillside revealed a deserted fruit
farm with Carew’s camp scattered amongst the orange trees.

The big double tent of the owner was pitched at some distance from those
of its followers, lying in an open clearing where once the farm
buildings must have stood. And all about were horses and camels,
tethered or wandering at will, and a small army of Arabs languidly
fulfilling the various duties of the camp or squatting idly on their
heels engaged in endless argument.

But the return of the master roused his retainers to sudden and
spontaneous activity, and Meredith noted with a smile of approval the
evident signs of discipline and authority. Waiting grooms who had been
lounging near the big tent sprang to the horses’ heads and the soldier
slid out of the saddle with a grunt of relief and mopped his forehead
with a gaudy silk handkerchief. “Do you usually ride at that pace?” he
enquired, laughing.

Carew turned from fondling the big bay that was nozzling him
affectionately. “Pretty usually,” he answered, “it’s a bad habit one
catches in the desert. But I’ve always wanted to try Suliman against
that grey of André’s. He had him beaten from the start,” he added with a
faint smile, “come have a drink.” And he led the way under the
lance-propped awning into the cool dimness of the tent.

Meredith glanced about with interest. The costly but sparse furnishings
were almost entirely of the country; a small camp table and a solitary
deck chair, the sole concessions to European taste, looked incongruous
in conjunction with the low inlaid stools and gay brocaded silk mats
that were purely Arab. A wide divan, heaped with heavy cushions and
covered with a couple of leopard skins, stood in the centre of the room.
Looped back curtains of gold-embroidered silk hung before the entrance
to the sleeping apartment.

At first sight Meredith thought the tent empty. But as his eyes grew
accustomed to the soft light he saw, in a far corner, the slender figure
of a child sitting on the ground swaying gently to and fro, his handsome
little face upturned in rapt devotion as he crooned softly to himself
while the beads of a long rosary slipped through his small brown
fingers. The thick rugs on the floor deadened the sound of their
footsteps and for a moment the entrance of the two men passed unnoticed.
Then Carew moved and his foot struck sharply against a small brass bowl
that had fallen from a nearby stool. At the sound the lad stopped
swaying and sat rigid as if listening intently, his face turned eagerly
towards them. Then with a glad cry he tossed the rosary away and
scrambling to his feet came flying across the tent with outstretched
hands. A thick cushion that in its bright-hued covering appeared
perfectly obvious against the dark rug lay directly in his path but he
blundered straight into it and fell headlong before Carew could catch
him. And as Meredith watched the big man bending over the little
white-clad figure and saw the stern lines of his face change into a
wonderful tenderness, and heard the sudden gentleness of his voice as he
murmured in soft quick Arabic, he recollected with a feeling of acute
dismay the “queer stories” that Mollie Chalmers had referred to. Was
this, then, the solution of Carew’s protracted sojourns in the desert?
To the Anglo-Indian with his deep-rooted prejudices the supposition was
repulsive. It was to him little short of a crime. And yet was there not
perhaps an excuse? Sudden pity contended with repulsion as he remembered
Carew’s devotion to his tiny son, and the tragedy that had robbed him of
his child. Had the ardent desire for parenthood that had formerly been
so strong in him risen even against racial restrictions and the misogyny
with which he was now accredited?

Meredith was relieved when his disturbing thoughts were interrupted. The
boy was on his feet again, talking excitedly, but Carew silenced him
with a hand on his shoulder.

“There is a guest, Saba,” he said in French, “salute the English lord,
and go bid Hosein hasten with the cooling drink.”

Suddenly shy the boy moved forward, bending his supple little figure in
a deep salaam. Then drawing himself erect, he lifted his face to
Meredith’s with a curiously uncertain movement. And looking down into
the beautiful dark eyes raised to his the soldier saw the reason for
that hasty tumble and an involuntary exclamation escaped him. He looked
enquiringly at his host.

Carew nodded. “Yes, he’s blind,” he said in English, “but you needn’t
pity him. He has never known anything different and he is a thoroughly
happy little imp.” And drawing the boy to him with a quick caress he set
him with his face towards the door and watched him grope his way from
the tent.

Then, pulling forward the deck chair, he placed cigarettes beside his
guest. From behind a cloud of smoke Meredith spoke with obvious
constraint. “I’m awfully sorry—” he began awkwardly, and something in
his voice made Carew turn quickly to look at him. For a moment his
sombre eyes rested on the soldier’s embarrassed face, then he shook his
head with a grave smile that had in it a trace of bitterness.

“It’s not what you think,” he said evenly, “though I admit the thought
is natural. He is not mine—sometimes I wish to God he were. He’s only a
waif picked up in the desert, five or six hundred miles away in the
south, there. I found him six years ago, when I was helping to clean up
an Arab raid, lying across his dead mother’s body and whimpering like a
hungry kitten. He wasn’t more than a year old. I’ve had him ever since.
I don’t think I could get on without the little chap now. He’s an
interest, and fills up my time when I’m not otherwise occupied—fills it
pretty completely, too, for he is as sharp as a needle and, when the
mood takes him, as keen on mischief as any boy with the full use of his
eyes. But tell me about yourself. Are you still on the Frontier?”

And Meredith, keenly anxious to renew the old intimacy, let himself be
drawn and talked of his life on the Indian Border as he had never talked
of it before. Baldly and jerkily at first and then with increasing ease
he spoke of the years of arduous work that had claimed his whole time
and thought; of perilous journeys and months passed in disguise amongst
the savage northern tribes, of hairbreadth escapes and strange
experiences, of periods of so-called leave which to the man intent on
his job and absorbed in his occupation had only meant work in another
form.

For an hour or more his quiet voice went on until the lengthening
shadows deepened into blackness and the tent grew dark and obscure,
until Carew, sitting Arab fashion on the divan, was almost invisible and
only the glowing end of his cigarette revealed his presence. And
Meredith—the first plunge made—found him curiously easy to talk to,
curiously knowledgeable too. From one or two comments he let fall
Meredith was inclined to believe that the Watching Game was no new one
to him and the knowledge made his own tale less difficult to tell.

He stopped at last and groped for the matches on the stool beside him.
“That about let’s me out,” he said, as he lit a cigarette. Carew rose
and going to the tent door clapped his hands. “You’re doing a big work,
Micky,” he said as he came slowly through the gloom. “You’ll end on the
Indian Council if you don’t take care,” he added with almost the old
bantering note in his voice.

“If I don’t end with a bullet through my head, which is much more
probable,” replied Meredith with a quick laugh, blinking at the lighted
lamps that were being brought into the tent.

During the dinner that followed the conversation was mainly of Algeria.
But though Carew discussed the country and its conditions, its people
and the sport it afforded, of his own life there he said nothing.
Neither did he refer to the old days when their friendship had meant so
much to each. The past was evidently a sealed book that he had no
intention of reopening. A tentative remark hazarded by Meredith met with
no response and it was not until later when they were sitting out in the
darkness under the awning that the soldier put the question he had been
trying to ask all evening. They had sat for some time in silence,
smoking, looking across the moonlit plain, listening to the subdued
noises of the camp behind them and to the faint rhythmical thump of a
tom-tom far off amongst the orange trees. A tiny breeze drifting,
perfume laden, across their faces made Meredith think suddenly of the
scented gardens of Kashmere. He twisted in his chair to get a better
view of the starry heavens, and blurted out his question.

“Why didn’t you write, old man?”

For a long time there was no answer and he mentally kicked himself for a
blundering fool. Then Carew’s deep voice, deeper even than usual, came
out of the darkness. “I couldn’t. I tried once—but there seemed nothing
to say. I hoped you would understand.”

Meredith moved uncomfortably. “I was—damned sorry,” he muttered
gruffly. Carew lit a fresh cigarette slowly.

“You needn’t waste any sympathy on me, Micky,” he said with a sudden
hard laugh. “I was a fool once—but I learnt my lesson—thoroughly.”
There was another long silence. Then Meredith asked abruptly: “Why
Algeria?”

Carew shrugged. “I had to go somewhere. The house—its associations were
a hell I wasn’t strong enough to stand. So I played the coward’s part
and ran away. My people used to winter in Algiers when I was a boy. I
liked the country. It seemed the natural place to come to, somehow.” He
paused. When he spoke again it was in a voice that was new to Meredith.
“It’s a wonderful place, the desert, Micky,” he said dreamily, “it gets
you in the end—if you go far enough, and stay long enough. It’s got me
all right. I don’t suppose I shall ever leave it now. I come into
Algiers sometimes, but never for very long. Always I go back to it. It
holds me as nothing else has ever held me. The mystery of it, the charm
of it—always new, never the same, changing from day to day. And its
moods, my God, Micky, its moods! The peace of heaven one moment and the
fury of hell let loose the next. Cruel but beautiful, pitiless but
fascinating. And, somehow, one forgets the cruelty and only the beauty
remains—the beauty of its wonderful solitudes, its marvellous
emptiness.”

“And being there—what do you do?” Meredith had no wish to appear
inquisitive but for the last few minutes he had been trying,
unsuccessfully, to fit his old friend into the new setting that seemed
so incongruous. Gervas and solitude! To Meredith, remembering the
perpetual house parties at Royal Carew, the crowds of pleasure-seeking,
sport-loving men and women with whom the genial host of those old days
had surrounded himself, it appeared a thing incredible. And again he
asked with growing perplexity: “What do you do?” and wondered if Carew
would consign him to the devil. But the retort he half expected did not
ensue. “What do I do?” repeated Carew slowly. “That was the question I
asked myself when I came to Algeria, when I seemed to have come to the
end of everything—‘what shall I do.’ My first trip into the desert
settled that quickly enough. I had always been interested in the
Arabs—I spoke the language as early as I spoke English—but I only knew
the Arabs of the towns. So I went down into the south to see the real
life of the desert. I met some of the old Sheiks who used to come into
Algiers when I was a boy and who still remembered my father. They made
it easy for me and passed me on into districts where otherwise I could
never have penetrated, and I saw more than I had ever hoped to see. I
started my wanderings with no higher motive than curiosity—and a desire
to get away from my own thoughts. It had never occurred to me that up
till then I had led an utterly purposeless life, that not a soul in the
world was the better for my being in it. But out there in the desert the
crying need I found forced me to think, for the reckless waste of life
and the ghastly unnecessary suffering I saw appalled me. I knew that one
man alone could not do much—but he could do something. It didn’t take
me long to make up my mind. The old life was over. I wanted a new life
that wouldn’t give me time to think, that would give me opportunity to
help the people I had professed to be interested in. I went to Paris and
studied medicine, specializing in surgery, and took my degree.
Afterwards I put in six months with a man in Switzerland, a brute—but a
wizard with the knife, and then came back to Algeria. That’s what I do,
Micky.”

Meredith drew a deep breath. “And a dam’ fine thing, too,” he said
heartily. And reaching out a long arm he gripped the other’s shoulder
for a moment with a pressure that was painful. “So that’s what you do in
the desert when you vanish for months at a time, is it?” he said slowly,
with a curious expression of relief in his voice and a feeling of
self-disgust as he thought of the suspicions that had been forced upon
him earlier in the evening.

“It isn’t all plain sailing, I suppose?” he suggested.

“Far from it,” replied Carew, “but it depends on the district, of
course. Usually the beggars are grateful enough and I go pretty much
where I please. But they are a naturally suspicious people and there are
some places I can’t get into at any price. They think my work is a
pretext and that I am a spy of the Government.”

“And are you?”

“Officially, no. But sometimes I see and hear things I think the
Government should know—it’s a difficult country to administer—and at
times the Government make use of my knowledge. I have acted as
intermediary more than once in negotiations with some of the outlying
tribes where it would be impossible to send a regularly accredited Agent
without a regiment to back him up—and that usually ends in fighting
which the Government try to avoid. There’s unrest enough in the south
without stirring up any more trouble,” he added, turning to speak to a
tall, saturnine-looking Arab who had suddenly approached with a soft
murmur of apology.

The shrill sequel of a stallion and the trampling of hoofs made Meredith
realise the reason for the interruption.

“Time up?” he said regretfully, following Carew into the tent. “By jove,
it’s late!” he added, glancing at his watch, “can we get into Blidah by
eleven?”

“Not by the way the Chalmers brought you,” replied Carew with a faint
smile, buckling the clasp of the heavy burnous his servant folded about
his shoulders. The same escort that had ridden with him earlier in the
day was waiting but he dismissed them and alone the two men rode out
into the moonlit night. For a time they did not speak. Carew had
apparently reached the limit of his confidences and Meredith was in no
mood to break the silence. It had been a curious meeting, a curious
renewal of an old friendship, but the soldier was left with an
uncomfortable feeling of doubt whether it would not have been kinder if
no reminder of his early life had been brought to disturb the peace
that, seemingly, his old friend had found in the desert. His presence
must have vividly awakened in Carew memories of the past. For how much
did the past still count with him? Did he never regret the fine old
property in England where generations of Carews had lived since the days
of the Virgin Queen whose visit during a royal progress had given the
house its name? Meredith had many pleasant recollections of Royal Carew
and the thought of the stately house he had known so full of life and
happiness standing now empty and forlorn in the midst of its beautiful
park gave him a feeling of sadness.

“Will you never go back, Gervas?” he asked involuntarily.

“Go back—where?”

“To Royal Carew.”

Carew shook his head. “I told you I had done with the old life,” he said
rather wearily. “Royal Carew belongs to the past—and the past is dead.
And I couldn’t very well go back now, if I wanted to. I let my cousin
have the place. He is my heir, it would have come to him eventually. It
was better he should go there while he was still young enough to enjoy
it. It’s a damned poor game waiting for dead men’s shoes,” he added with
a short laugh.

They were galloping now over undulating country where the crests of the
gently swelling hillocks were almost as light as day and the tiny
intervening valleys lay like pools of dark, still water. As they reached
the summit of a rather larger hill than they had yet encountered, Carew
slackened speed with a word of warning.

“There is a deserted village in the valley,” he said, pointing down into
the darkness, “be careful how you go, it’s a confusing place at night.
And if anything happens—sit tight and leave the talking to me,” he
added significantly. And as he spurred the bay a half length in advance
Meredith saw his hand go to the silk shawl that was swathed about his
waist. A deserted village—but Carew was reaching for his revolver. With
a grin Meredith took a firmer grip of Captain André’s grey. He had
passed through similar deserted villages in India.

“Heave ahead,” he said cheerily, and followed his companion closely down
the long slope.

The valley was shallower than others they had traversed and here and
there a shaft of moonlight cut through the murky gloom. They were on the
village before Meredith realised its nearness, and as they threaded the
empty streets at a slow canter he looked keenly about him with a slight
feeling of pleasurable excitement. But no sound broke the stillness and
no furtive figures lurking among the ruined huts appeared to justify
Carew’s warning. Then the grey stumbled badly on a heap of rubble lying
across the road and until they were clear of the village he gave his
whole attention to his borrowed horse. But when they were speeding
across the plain once more with the lights of Blidah faint in the
distance he turned to Carew with a look of enquiry. “What might have
happened?” he asked curiously.

“Anything—murder, probably, if you had been alone.”

Meredith chuckled at the casual tone. “Healthy spot for a midnight
ride!”

“It saves three miles,” replied Carew calmly.

And Meredith flung back his head and laughed like a boy.



                               CHAPTER II


For a few moments after the train that was carrying Major Meredith back
to Algiers had pulled jerkily out of the station, Carew lingered on the
deserted ill-lit platform. Then, acknowledging with a curt nod the
half-caste stationmaster’s obsequious greeting, he strode leisurely to
where the horses were waiting in the care of a Kabyle lad he had picked
out from among the heterogeneous collection of loafers lounging before
the station entrance. He signed to the boy to follow him with Captain
André’s horse and trotted Suliman slowly towards the town. Entering by
the Es-Sebt Gate he turned in the direction of the cavalry barracks.
Despite the late hour the numberless cafés with their flaring gas lamps
and tawdry garishness were at their busiest. The pavements were
thronged, a ceaseless stream of cosmopolitan humanity; slow-moving,
dignified Arabs, servile and furtive-eyed Jews meekly giving place to
all who elbowed them, and eager, chattering Frenchmen—all jostling,
indiscriminately. Even the roadway was invaded, and bands of Zouaves
with interlocked arms reeled along regardless of the traffic, roaring
out the latest musical song with unmelodious vigour and shouting
questionable jibes at the passers by.

Tonight Blidah seemed to be _en fête_, noisier and more blatant than
usual. And to Carew, fresh from nearly a year in the desert, the scene
was distasteful. It was not new to him, years spent in Algeria had
familiarised him with the nightly aspect of the garrison towns, and he
was in no mood to be either interested or amused by what he saw. He had
no love for Blidah at the best of times and he had already been there
once before that day.

At the cavalry barracks he handed over Captain André’s grey to the
sleepy groom who was waiting and, dismissing the Kabyle lad, turned with
a sigh of relief in the direction of the Bab-el-Rabah. Passing through
the gateway he headed towards the east, intending to return by the same
route by which he had brought Major Meredith. Once clear of the town
Suliman broke of his own accord into the long, swinging gallop to which
he was accustomed and for a time Carew let him take his own pace. But
soon he checked him, drawing him into a reluctant walk. And as the bay
sidled and reared, snorting impatiently, his master bent forward in the
saddle and ran his hand caressingly over the glossy arched neck.
“Gently, gently, core of my heart,” he murmured in the language that
came more readily to his lips than his own, “there is no need for haste.
Tomorrow is also a day.” And pacing slowly forward through the quiet
night he set himself at last to face the torturing recollections of the
past that for years he had put resolutely out of his mind but which had
been cruelly awakened by the wholly unexpected advent of his old friend.
Inscrutable as the Arabs amongst whom he lived, he exhibited no outward
sign of agitation, but under the passivity that had become second nature
with him there was raging a bitter storm of anger and revolt against
fate that had thrown Micky Meredith across his path to shatter the
hard-won peace that had come to him in the desert. Meredith was bound up
with all he wished to forget, was the living reminder of the home and
happiness he had lost. His coming had reopened the wound that Carew had
thought healed forever. Memories, like stabs of actual pain, crowded in
upon him. The old struggle, the old bitterness he had conquered once was
overwhelming him again, shaking him to the very depths of his being. The
past he had resolved to forget rose up anew with terrible distinctness.
Royal Carew—and the woman he had loved! With the sweat of agony thick
on his forehead he lived again through the horror of that ghastly
homecoming. He saw again, clearly as though they stood before him, the
pitying, terrified faces of the old servants from whom he learned the
sordid story of his betrayal. He passed once more through the hours of
anguish when he had knelt in dumb, helpless misery beside the tiny cot
in the luxurious nursery and watched the death struggle of the child
whom, worse than motherless, he loved so passionately. The dark waters
of despair had closed over his head that night. Weak from the terrible
wound that had brought him back to England, crushed by the double
tragedy, he had longed and prayed for death. And when he had at last
found courage to go forward with what remained to him of life, it was as
a changed man, embittered out of any semblance to his former self. He
had divorced his wife that she might marry the man for whom she had left
him, and with grim justice, because she had been the mother of his son,
he had settled upon her an adequate fortune. But for the woman herself
he had no feeling left but loathing and contempt. She had deceived him,
lied to him. She had destroyed his faith, his trust. She had opened his
eyes at last to the unworthiness that had been patent to all but the
husband who worshipped her. She had killed his love—and with it had
died esteem and belief in the sex she represented. With her his ideal of
womanhood, pinnacled high with chivalrous regard, had shattered into
nothingness. Because of her he had become the cynical misogynist he was,
seeing in all women the one woman whose falseness had poisoned his life.
The thought of her stirred him now to nothing but a sense of cold
disgust.

But the memory of the little son who had died was a living force within
him. It had gone with him through all the years of loneliness and
disillusion, a grief as bitter now as on that first night of his
bereavement. Not for the woman, but for the child his starved heart
still yearned with passionate intensity. The tiny face was present with
him always, even yet he could remember the clinging touch of the fragile
baby fingers closing convulsively on his in that last moment of terrible
struggle. It was to try and deaden the pain of memory, to ease the
burden of his solitude, that he had kept the little waif of the desert.
And the blind boy in his helplessness and dependence had in some measure
filled the blank in his life. But tonight the remembrance of his loss
was heavy upon him. Even with the child Meredith was connected, for his
visit to Royal Carew had been made a few months after the birth of the
heir who had been born to such high hopes. Together the two men had
discussed in all solemnity the probable career of the sleepy scrap of
pink humanity who at that time had shown no sign of the delicacy which
had developed later.

And Royal Carew! For the first time in years he let his thoughts turn to
the beautiful property he had voluntarily surrendered and a wave of
intense home sickness passed over him. He crushed it down with a feeling
of contempt for his own weakness. Once it had seemed to him the fairest
place on God’s earth, he had loved every stick and stone of it. He loved
it still, but with his love was the remembrance of bitter pain that made
him shrink from ever seeing it again. Childless, it was for him
purposeless. If the child had lived—but the child was dead, and things
were better as they were. Regrets were useless. There was nothing to be
gained by harking back to what might have been. Carew’s lips tightened
and he forced his mind into another channel of thought. After all, it
had been no fault of Meredith’s. Carew had guessed the reason of the
soldier’s restrained manner at the moment of meeting and the knowledge
had added warmth to his own greeting. Pride had stirred him, that and a
vague idea of testing his own command over himself. Naturally
long-sighted he had seen and known Meredith even before Doctor Chalmers
had hailed him. Almost he had been tempted to pass by with no sign of
recognition. Then he had cursed himself for a coward and had reined in
Suliman with that sudden jerk that had made Mrs. Chalmers’ heart stand
still. And now was he glad or sorry for Meredith’s coming? It was a
question that in his present mood he found himself unable to answer. He
had no wish to further analyse his feelings. He had become unaccustomed
to self-consideration. For once he had relaxed the rigid control he
exercised over his own thoughts—and once was enough. During the years
of strenuous work in the desert he had succeeded in suppressing self,
and in that work he would endeavour to regain the contentment that was
all he had to hope for.

With a powerful effort of will he put away all thoughts of Meredith and
the memories he had awakened and, touching Suliman with his heel,
concentrated on the results of the difficult mission from which he was
now returning to Algiers.

It had been a delicate business, attended with considerable danger that
had not disturbed him, and subtle oriental intrigue, in dealing with
which Hosein’s help had been invaluable. The man had been Carew’s
body-servant and faithful companion for all the years he had lived in
Algeria. The son of his father’s old dragoman, Carew remembered him as a
singularly intelligent urchin, a year or two older than himself,
employed about the villa on Mustapha Superieur where the winters of his
own boyhood had been spent, and he had sought him out on his first
return to the country. He had never regretted it. Devoted and
singleminded in his service the Arab had been friend as well as servant
and a loyal cooperator in Carew’s chosen work. A wanderer by instinct,
it was not only in Algeria that Hosein had travelled and the green band
of the Mecca pilgrim that he wore gave him a prestige which had carried
his master and himself through some sufficiently awkward situations.
Carew had owed his life to him not once nor twice, and he knew that but
for Hosein’s watchfulness he would never have returned alive from this
last dangerous undertaking. The report he was carrying back to the
Governor in Algiers was due as much to Hosein as to himself. And the
Arab should not be the loser if he could help it, he thought with a
sudden rare smile.

Immersed in his thoughts he had taken little notice of his surroundings
and had not realised how far he had come on his homeward journey. A
whistling snort from Suliman and a sudden wild swerve that would have
unseated a less practised horseman brought him back abruptly to the
immediate present, and looking round sharply he saw that they had
arrived at the outskirts of the deserted village. Dragging his horse to
a standstill he looked keenly about him, but in spite of the brilliant
moonlight, he could see nothing moving. Yet Suliman was accustomed to
night work and it was unlike him to shy at shadows. The deserted village
had a bad reputation in the neighbourhood but Carew had never avoided it
on that account, he had a reputation himself that was sufficiently
widely known.

He glanced perfunctorily to right and left as he rode through the
winding, grass-grown street, but to all appearances, the place seemed
empty as it had been when he passed through it earlier in the evening.
He was nearing the last group of tumbled-down huts when the sound of a
piercing shriek breaking weirdly on the silence of the night sent
Suliman high on his heels in furious protest. Hauling him down, Carew
twisted in the saddle, listening intently. It came again, echoing from a
little lane that straggled from the main street, the wail of a woman’s
voice crying wildly in French for help. A woman—in such a place and at
such an hour! Carew’s compressed lips parted in a mirthless grin and he
relaxed his strained attention. What was a woman doing at midnight in
that village of ill repute? Some little fool, doubtless, who had tempted
providence too highly, paying the price of her folly! Well, let her pay.
In all probability she had brought it on herself—she could abide by the
consequences. It was no business of his, anyhow. Why should he, of all
men, interfere to help a woman in her need—what was a woman’s suffering
to him? His face was set and grimly hard as he soothed his plunging
horse and prepared to ride on. But as Suliman started forward the cry
was repeated with words that made Carew check him with an iron hand and
bring him, quivering to his haunches. Clear and distinct they came to
him—words of frenzied entreaty to a higher power than his, words in a
language he least expected to hear.

“_Help, help! oh, God, send help!_”

An Englishwoman! For a moment he battled with himself. Then with a
terrible oath he wrenched his horse’s head round savagely and drove him
down the little lane at a headlong gallop.

The lane was a cul-de-sac, the house he sought at the far end of it, for
there only did a dim light filtering through an unshuttered window show
any sign of habitation. Deep shadows masked the entrance and a few feet
short of it, in a patch of vivid moonlight, he pulled up and, leaping to
the ground, raced towards the hidden doorway. His foot was on the
crumbling step when out of the gloom three figures rose up to bar his
entrance and hurled themselves upon him. The attack was silent, and in
silence he met it. There was no time to reach for the revolver he had
neglected to draw. Straining, heaving, he wrestled in the darkness with
opponents whose faces he could not see, whose arms encircled him and
whose clutching sinewy hands tore murderously at his throat. A knife
pricked him and with a blind instinct he caught at and held the hand
that brandished it, crushing it in his strong fingers till he felt the
yielding bones crack and the weapon slipped to the ground with a faint
tinkle. In perfect physical condition, with steely muscles toughened by
years of strenuous and active life, he knew that singly he could have
matched any one of the men who were hemming him in, but against three
even his great strength was unavailing. Struggling to free his arms, he
gave back step by step as they pressed him closer in a continued silence
that was menacing by its very unusualness. Even the man whose hand he
had maimed had made no sound beyond a muffled growl. Only the shuffling
of feet on the dry ground, the panting, animal-like grunts of exertion
as they grappled with him, were audible. The rank stench of filthy,
sweat-drenched garments was pungent in his nostrils; hot, fetid breath
fanning his face gave him—accustomed though he was to the dirt and
squalor of the Arabs—a feeling of nausea that sent a shiver of disgust
through him. At last with a tremendous effort he wrenched himself free
and reeled back, gasping, into the patch of moonlight, his heart
pounding against his ribs, perspiration pouring from him. And as the
bright light struck across his face the men who had followed him swiftly
drew back with sudden indetermination, muttering amongst themselves. He
caught the words “El Hakim,” the title he bore amongst the desert
people, and almost before he realised it they had vanished into the
shadows of the neighbouring houses and he was alone. For a moment he
fought for breath, wiping the blinding moisture from his dripping face,
fumbling for the revolver in his waistcloth. Then another strangled cry
from within the lighted hut spurred him into action and he sprang
forward, flinging back the heavy burnous from his shoulders as he ran.
The rotting door crashed open under the sudden impact of his weight and
in the entrance he halted with levelled revolver. For a second only. His
eyes sweeping the tiny room met those of a gigantic, evil-faced Arab
who, startled at his appearance, had flung to the ground the woman who
struggled in his arms and turned to meet the intruder with a scowl of
murderous ferocity. A grim smile of recognition flickered across Carew’s
stern face. “_Thou_—dog?” he thundered, and leaped at him. For a moment
the Arab wavered, then a knife flashed in his hand. But with a quick
feint Carew dodged the sweeping blow and caught the upraised wrist in a
vice-like grip. With his revolver pressing into the man’s stomach he
forced him back slowly against the wall of the hut, his fingers
tightening their hold until the paralysed hand unclenched and the knife
clattered to the floor. Kicking it beyond reach, Carew backed a few
paces and, still keeping the Arab covered, turned his attention for the
first time to the woman he had come reluctantly to aid. Only a girl
apparently, her face almost childish in its strained, white piteousness,
she had dragged herself up from the floor and was standing rocking on
her feet in the middle of the room. He looked with a kind of cruel
deliberation on the slender, shaking limbs which, clothed in boyish
riding dress that intimately revealed their delicate beauty, would have
been the joy of an artist, but which filled him only with an acute
feeling of antagonism. The folly of it, the shameless, senseless folly
of it! A woman must be a fool and worse than a fool to expose herself
thus in a land of veiled femininity. His antagonism augmented and he
viewed unmoved the signs of terrible struggle through which she had
passed. That she had fought desperately was evidenced in the marks of
violent handling she bore, in the unbound hair that lay in curling
chestnut waves about her shoulders, in the tattered silk shirt that,
ripped from throat to waist, bared the soft whiteness of her heaving
breasts to the austere gaze bent so pitilessly on her. She seemed
unaware of Carew’s nearness. Panting for breath, her hands clenching and
unclenching mechanically, she stood like a driven animal at bay, her
eyes fixed on the Arab in a wild, unblinking stare. Carew broke the
silence abruptly with a blunt question addressed to her that was
brutally direct. He spoke in French that both could understand and
because he had no wish tonight to pass as other than an Arab himself.
The harsh voice roused her to a realisation of his presence. She started
violently, her hunted eyes turning slowly to him as if she dared not
lose sight of the sinister figure by the wall. For a few seconds she
stared at him uncomprehendingly, then her cheeks flamed suddenly as the
meaning of his words penetrated. Her lips quivered and she shrank back,
dragging the tangle of soft hair over her uncovered bosom with an
instinctive gesture of modesty. She tried to speak, but for some time no
words would come, then a wail of entreaty burst from her. “Take me away,
oh, for God’s sake take me away!” she cried, and buried her face in her
hands with a convulsive shudder.

He jerked his head impatiently. The life he had led for the last twelve
years had made him intolerant of convention, he had no intention of
allowing it to interfere now with the rough and ready justice he was
fully prepared to administer. He had no reason to hesitate. The Arab was
a well-known criminal, the abduction of an English visitor an offence
the Algerian Government could not in any sense condone.

“I will take you away when you have answered my question, Madame,” he
said coldly. “This is no time or place for false modesty. Does he go
free or—” he raised his revolver with a gesture that was unmistakable.
But the sharp cry of protest arrested him, and shuddering again she drew
further from him till she leant against the opposite wall, clinging to
it and hiding her face like a child fearful of some impending horror.
“No—no—not that,” she gasped, “let him go. You came—in time.” The
last words trailed into an almost inaudible whisper and with a little
moan she slipped to the floor as if the last remnant of her strength had
left her.

Indifferent to her distress he turned from her to the more pressing
matter of the Arab.

“What shame is this, O Abdul?” he said sternly, relapsing into Arabic.
Shuffling his feet the man glanced past him towards the open doorway
from which Carew’s tall figure effectually barred him. He knew that in
the few minutes that had passed he had been nearer to death than was
comfortable to contemplate. He had no desire to enter into a detailed
history of his offence, his sole wish at the moment was to remove
himself as speedily as might be from the proximity of the accusing eyes
fixed on him. True, a reprieve had been granted—but for how long?
Memories of past dealings with the man who stood before him made him
keep a wary eye on the revolver that Carew still held with unpleasant
suggestiveness.

“Shame indeed, O Sidi,” he whined with a cringing salaam, “had I known
that the _lalla_ was under thy protection. But is not my lord known
throughout all Algeria as one who deigns not to stoop his eyes to the
face of a woman?”

There was cunning mixed with curiosity in the swift upward glance that
met Carew’s frowning stare for an instant and then wavered to earth
again. The scowl on the Englishman’s face deepened.

“Yet would I have killed thee for what thou hast done tonight,” he said
quickly, “be very sure of that, O Abdul. But the _lalla_ has given thee
thy life. Give thanks—and go.”

He cut short the Arab’s glib protestations and hustled him towards the
door. But on the threshold the man paused irresolutely, with another
obsequious salaam.

“I have served my lord in the past,” he muttered sullenly, “for the sake
of that service will not my lord forget—tonight?”

Carew looked at him through narrowing eyelids.

“To suit thine own ends hast thou served me,” he said pointedly, “and
forgetfulness comes not readily to those who live with a sharp
reminder—as I shall live,” he added, stooping swiftly and catching up
the knife that lay near his foot. With a cold smile he thrust it into
his waistcloth and turned slowly back into the room. He did not trouble
to wait and watch the man off the premises. He had known Abdul el Dhib
for years and his knowledge made him confident that in the meantime he
was safe from any form of revenge from the human jackal on whose head
the Algerian Government had set a price. Usually his activities were
confined to more remote districts and Carew had been surprised to see
him so near to civilisation. But it was no part of his business to act
as a common police spy and he knew that Abdul had counted on the fact
when he had endeavoured to make terms with him. Remained the more
perplexing problem of the woman thrust, wholly undesired, on his hands.
She was still crouched on the dusty mud floor where she had fallen and
he went to her reluctantly.

She shivered at his touch, staggering to her feet with a swift glance of
apprehension round the room. Clutching the screening mass of curls about
her she passed a hand over her eyes as though clearing away the
remembrance of some horrible vision. She showed no fear of the tall
Arab-clad figure standing beside her, by some curious instinct she
seemed sensible that his presence constituted a protection and not a
menace. But equally she displayed no haste to explain the predicament in
which he had found her or to disclose her identity. Stunned by the
terrible experience through which she had passed, she appeared to be
only half conscious and incapable of any initiative. Carew, passionately
anxious to be quit of the whole business, was not inclined to beat about
the bush, but came to the point with characteristic directness.

“You come from Blidah, Madame?”

She looked at him blankly, her puzzled eyes still shadowy with pain, and
he repeated the question slower and more distinctly.

“Blidah—” she echoed vaguely. “Blidah? No—Algiers.”

A look of dismay crossed Carew’s face. Algiers was thirty miles away. He
could have taken her back to Blidah easily enough, but Algiers with
Suliman, who had already done a hard day’s work, carrying double—it was
out of the question. He jerked his head with a gesture of annoyance and
scowled thoughtfully, mentally cursing Abdul el Dhib and the woman
beside him with fine impartiality.

“Where in Algiers?” he asked shortly, by way of gaining time to think
out the awkward situation. But the girl was past all explanations.
“Algiers—” she repeated weakly and, reeling, would have fallen but for
the strong arm slipped round her. That settled it. Half fainting and
wholly unable to express herself she could give him no assistance and he
realised there was nothing for it but the expedient he least
desired—that of taking her to his own camp. His own camp—good God!
Antagonism grew into actual dislike as he glanced down at the slender
boyish figure leaning against him. With a grunt of disgust he half led,
half carried her out of the hut.

Suliman, trained to stand, was waiting in the patch of moonlight,
jerking the dangling bridle impatiently. Unhooking his heavy burnous
Carew rolled it into a long, soft pad and flung it across the horse’s
neck in front of the high-peaked saddle. Then he swung the girl up with
a curt “Hold on to his mane” and leaped up behind her, wondering what
would be the result of Suliman’s first excited plunge. But with
instinctive good grace the horse refrained from his usual display of
light-hearted exuberance and set off soberly at a slow canter to which
Carew held him. There were no signs of Abdul and his band of
cut-throats, no lurking shadows in the vicinity of the silent houses and
in a few minutes the village was behind them.

Carew rode with a tight rein and a watchful eye on the drooping little
figure in front of him. His own tall, muscular form was drawn up in the
saddle taut and rigid with repugnance at her nearness, every fibre in
his being revolting from the proximity of her woman’s body. The subtle
torture of it made him grit his teeth and thick, cold drops of moisture
gathered on his forehead. He raged at the necessity that had forced him
to a step that an hour ago he would have thought beyond the bounds of
possibility. And tonight of all nights, when his senses were already raw
and aching with the recollections of the past that had racked him almost
beyond bearing.

The calm to which he had schooled himself through years of
self-discipline and self-suppression had been swept away and he was
aghast at the tumult within him which seemed to be tearing down every
defence and barrier he had raised so strenuously.

The need of one fragile girl had caused him to break a resolution from
which he had sworn never to turn. And at the moment he could cheerfully
have thrown the fragile girl behind the clump of rocks they were passing
and washed his hands of the whole affair. Because she was English—it
was the sole reason for the action that had so surprised himself. Race
loyalty had, in an extreme moment, proved stronger than his
determination and her sex had been swamped in her nationality. But for
those few words in English he would have ridden on. The appeal coming in
another language had left him unmoved, but repeated in the mother-tongue
that had become almost foreign to him had stirred him powerfully, even
against his own inclination. But the call of the blood that had
triumphed so unexpectedly over him did not in any way mitigate the
constraint of his present situation. It was an embarrassment that grew
momentarily more acute and distasteful. He was impatient of every little
circumstance that augmented his discomfiture. His nerves on edge he
found cause for annoyance even in the slow pace at which he was
compelled to ride. It irked him as badly as it was irking Suliman who,
with his nose turned towards home, was snatching at his bit and
endeavouring to break into the usual gallop. The girl herself settled
the last problem. She had been drooping more and more over the horse’s
neck, clutching instinctively at the thick mane in which her fingers
were twined, but now without a word or sound she collapsed and fell back
in a dead faint.

With his face gone suddenly ghastly Carew lifted her until she lay
across his thighs, his left arm crooked about her shoulders, her
dishevelled little head pressing against his breast. God in heaven, it
only wanted this! Cursing savagely he drove his spurs with unwonted
cruelty into his horse’s sides and gave him his head. And in the wild
rush through the cool night that followed he tried to forget that he
carried a woman in his arms. But the slender little body, warm and
yielding against his own, was a reminder that obtruded too powerfully to
allow of forgetfulness. So had he carried his wife once after a minor
accident in the hunting field, and then, as now, a thick strand of
scented hair had blown across his face blinding him with its soft
fragrance. He tore it away with shaking fingers.

Impossible now to stem the flood of recollection. It was stronger than
his will to put it from him. More painful, more crushing even than
before it swept him with a force he was powerless to resist and he made
no further effort, surrendering his mind to its bitter memories while he
urged Suliman recklessly, careless whether he broke his neck and the
girl’s or not. And with a madness almost equal to his own, goaded by the
sharp spurs that Carew used so seldom the bay tore on at racing speed,
breasting the tiny hillocks and thundering down their gentle
declivities, taking rocks and pitfalls in his stride, as if tireless.
And when at last the open plain was reached he turned of his own accord
in the direction of the camp, hardly slackening his pace until he
arrived with a great slithering rush before the tent door. A couple of
grooms sprang forward, but the last spurt had been his final effort and
he made no attempt to evade them, standing with down-drooping head and
widely planted feet, breathing heavily and trembling with exhaustion.

Gathering the girl closer in his arms Carew slipped to the ground. To
Hosein, imperturbable even in the face of this unprecedented spectacle,
he vouchsafed only the curt explanation “Abdul el Dhib” and ordering
coffee to be brought to him carried his slight burden into the tent.

Prejudiced and angry he scowled down at her with fierce resentment as he
laid her among the silk cushions on the divan. That he had himself been
compelled to bring her here did not in any way lessen his anger or make
his task easier. But since she was here, helpless and dependent on him,
common humanity demanded that he should do all in his power to aid her.
Striving to sink the man in the doctor he endeavoured to regard her only
as a case and set to work to combat the prolonged fainting fit that
seemed to argue something more than a mere collapse from fear and
fatigue. And as his sombre eyes dwelt on her he found himself
reluctantly admitting the uncommon beauty of her face and form. But her
beauty made him no more kindly disposed towards her. A woman’s
beauty—the transient snare that lured trusting fools to their
undoing—what was it to him who had learned the vileness and hypocrisy
that lay beneath seeming outward loveliness? With a shrug of disdain he
raised her higher on the cushions.

And at last she stirred, the long, dark lashes that lay like a dusky
fringe on her pale cheek fluttering tremulously. And, as he bent over
her, two deep blue eyes looked suddenly into his, blankly at first, then
with quick apprehension that in turn gave place to dawning recognition.

The colour crept back slowly into her face and with a whispered enquiry
she struggled to sit up. But he pressed her back, slipping another
cushion under her head. “Lie still for a little while,” he said slowly,
“you fainted. I had to bring you to my camp. You are quite safe.”

The curious trust she had shown earlier was manifested again for she
obeyed him without protest, her rigid limbs relaxing against the soft
cushions. But the colour in her cheeks deepened as she glanced
wonderingly about the room and then at her own disordered appearance.

“I’ve never fainted before in my life,” she murmured, “I’m sorry to have
been so stupid—to have given so much trouble.” Then, all at once, her
lips quivered and with a sharp, dry sob she flung her arm across her
face. But the natural outburst of womanly weeping that Carew expected
did not follow, only, watching her, he saw from time to time spasms of
terrible shuddering shake her from head to foot.

The coffee that Hosein brought a few minutes later steadied her, and
when Carew turned to her again after giving his servant further orders
she staggered unsteadily to her feet with a half shy, half nervous
glance about the tent.

“You have been very kind—I don’t know how to thank you,” she said
hurriedly, “but I can’t trespass on your hospitality any longer. I—my
husband—oh, I _must_ get back—if—if you could lend me a horse—” But
even as she spoke she swayed giddily and caught at the divan for
support. Carew looked at her narrowly. “When did you eat last?” he asked
abruptly, ignoring her request. Her eyes closed wearily. “I don’t know,”
she faltered, “this morning, I think. A cup of coffee—before I left
home. Oh, it seems ten years ago!” she burst out shuddering.

It was a simple explanation of her exhaustion that had already occurred
to him, and for which he had provided. Want of food, combined with
reaction following a nerve-racking experience—small wonder she had
collapsed, he reflected.

“Algiers is thirty miles away,” he explained gravely, “you are not fit
to ride now. You must eat, and rest for a few hours before you attempt
to return.”

But she shook her head vehemently. “I couldn’t eat,” she panted, a
desperate urgency in her voice, “I couldn’t rest, I _mustn’t_ rest. I’ve
got to get back home. Oh, you don’t understand—but I must get back to
Algiers.” She was shaking with nervousness but Carew felt instinctively
that it was not of him she was afraid. And consequently who or what
inspired her fear was no business of his, though as he watched her
restlessly twisting the golden circlet that gleamed so incongruously on
her slim, boyish hand he made a shrewd guess at the cause of her
agitation. But that was her affair. He was concerned only with the need
of the moment.

“Be reasonable, Madame,” he said sharply, “I do not keep you to amuse
myself, but because you are not in a fit state at the moment to ride
thirty miles. Eat what my servant is bringing, rest for a couple of
hours, and then I will take you back to Algiers. If your—your friends
are anxious about you they must be anxious for a few hours longer.”

He spoke almost brutally and though she flinched from his tone she
seemed to realise the necessity of submitting to his decision. But her
distress was still obvious and he could see that she was fighting hard
to maintain the restraint she imposed upon herself. And grudgingly he
conceded admiration he was loath to accord. Usually courage of any kind
appealed to him, but, morbidly prejudiced, he was irritated now by the
unexpected moral courage she displayed. He did not want to admit it, did
not want to be forced to admire where he preferred to condemn, and he
turned away with a sudden rush of unreasonable anger. The entrance of
Hosein with the food he had ordered put a period to an awkward silence.
And when the man withdrew, Carew followed him out under the awning
leaving the girl alone, for it seemed to him that his presence must be
as distasteful to her as her own was to him. He detained the Arab for a
few moments to explain his further requirements, and then subsided into
the deck chair with a stifled yawn. Like Suliman, he had already put in
a hard day’s work and there were still thirty miles to ride before
sunrise. But he was used to turning night into day and inured to
fatigue, and it was mental rather than physical weariness that made him
relax in his chair with a heavy sigh. In spite of his efforts to control
his thoughts, his mind was in a ferment, and brain and body alike were
in a state of nervous tension that sapped his strength and left him at
the mercy of an overwhelming tide of long forgotten emotions. The strain
of the meeting with Micky Meredith had weakened him for the further
developments of the evening. He could still feel the soft weight of the
girl’s limp body in his arms, he brushed his hand across his face as
though the thick strand of hair was again smothering him with its soft
fragrance. Angry with himself, angry with her, he tried to forget
her—and found himself suddenly wondering who she was. Good Lord, as if
it mattered! Cursing under his breath he pitched his cigarette away and
went back into the tent.

The girl met his glance with a shy smile. “I was hungry, after all,” she
said, pointing to the empty tray, “and I’m so sleepy I can hardly keep
my eyes open.”

But determined to go no further than bare courtesy demanded he
vouchsafed only a brief nod to her tentative advance and led the way to
the inner room. She paused on the threshold, looking curiously at the
little sleeping apartment, then turned to him with a swift imploring
glance. “You won’t let me sleep too long?”

For a moment Carew’s gloomy eyes looked deeply into the troubled depths
of the blue ones fixed so earnestly on his, then: “The horses will be
ready in two hours,” he said curtly, and dropped the portiere into
place. For some time he paced the big tent restlessly, a prey to violent
agitation. He swore at himself angrily. What in God’s name was the
matter with him! Why did his thoughts, despite himself, keep turning to
the woman in the adjoining room? Woman! She was only a girl, little more
than a child in spite of the wedding ring that seemed to lie so uneasily
on her slim finger. Any woman or child, what did she matter to him. Once
safely back in Algiers she could go to the devil for all he cared.

Swinging on his heel he crossed the room and taking a medical book from
a small case by the door, flung himself on the divan to read until the
waiting time was over.

He was still reading when Hosein came back two hours later.

Laying the book aside with no particular haste he took a white burnous
his servant tendered him and went slowly towards the inner room,
scowling with annoyance and disinclination. Yet somebody had to wake the
girl and he could hardly relegate the job to Hosein. He swept the
curtains aside with an impatient jerk. She was still asleep, lying in an
attitude of unconscious grace, her face hidden in the mass of tangled
curls spread over the pillow. And from her his frowning gaze went
swiftly round the room as if the alien presence made him see it with new
eyes. His stern lips set more rigidly as he touched her shoulder. She
woke with a start and leaped to her feet with a sharp cry that changed
quickly to a nervous little laugh of embarrassment. “I was
dreaming—I—is it time?” she stammered, stifling a yawn and blinking
like a sleepy child. Sparing of speech he held out the white cloak. “The
night is cool,” he said briefly, and turned away too quickly to notice
the vivid blush that suffused her face.

At the door of the tent, under the awning, he found Hosein, who was to
accompany them, waiting for him and together they watched the three
black horses Carew had selected for the journey being walked to and fro
in the moonlight by the grooms.

And in an incredibly short space of time the girl joined them. The
enveloping burnous was clasped securely, hiding her tattered clothing,
and she seemed to have regained her self-possession for she was quite at
ease and looked about with eager curiosity at the scattered camp, and
then with even greater interest at the waiting horses. The stallion
Carew was to ride was almost unapproachable, wild-eyed and savage, held
with difficulty by the two men who clung to his head. But the mount he
had chosen for his unwelcome guest was a steadier, friendly beast that
nozzled her inquisitively as she went to him. She caught at his velvety
nose with a little cry of delight, “Oh, what a darling!” and rubbed her
cheek against his muzzle, crooning to him softly. Then before Carew
could aid her she was in the saddle, backing to make room for the
screaming fury that was demonstrating his own reluctance to be mounted
by every device known to his equine intelligence. But his rage was
futile and Carew was up in a flash. And for five minutes Marny Geradine,
who had ridden from babyhood, watched with breathless interest the
sharpest tussle she had ever seen between a horse and its rider, and
marvelled at the infinite patience of the man who sat the plunging,
frenzied brute like a centaur, handling him perfectly without exhibiting
the smallest trace of annoyance. His methods were not the cruel ones
which, for five miserable years, she had been compelled to witness, she
thought with sudden bitterness. And yet this man was an Arab in whom
cruelty might be excused.

Then as Carew wheeled alongside of her she put away the painful thoughts
that had risen in her mind and gave herself up to the delights of this
strange ride with this equally strange companion.

It was all like a dream, fantastic and unreal, but a dream that gave her
more happiness than she had known for years. The swift gallop through
the night, the cool wind blowing against her face, the easy movements of
the horse between her knees, were all sheer joy to her. She had no wish
to talk, even if the taciturn manner of the man beside her had not made
speech difficult. She wanted nothing but the pleasure of the moment, the
beauty of the moonlit scene and the charm of the wonderful solitude. For
her Algeria had been Algiers, she had not been asked to accompany her
husband on his occasional shooting expeditions, and she had wearied of
the town and its immediate surroundings. She had longed to go further
afield, to get right out into the desert, but she had been given no
opportunity and she had long since learned to suppress inclinations that
were ridiculed and never gratified. She craved for open spaces and the
lonely places of the earth, and she had been chained to towns or crowded
country houses and forced into a company whose society nauseated her;
she had dreamt of nights like this, of the silence and peace of the
wilderness, of solitary camps where she would sleep in happy
dreamlessness under the radiant stars—and the nights that were her
portion had been her chiefest torment. But this one night she could
revel in her dream come true and rejoice in the freedom that might never
again be hers. That she might have to pay, and perhaps pay hideously,
for what had occurred did not matter, almost she did not care. She had
suffered so much already that further suffering seemed almost inevitable
and she would not spoil the rare joy of this wonderful ride by
anticipating trouble. But even as she argued bravely with herself, she
blanched at the possible consequences of the terrible adventure that had
been no fault of her own. If when she reached the villa at Mustapha,
Clyde had already returned! She clenched her teeth on her quivering lip.
He had gone for a fortnight’s shooting and the fortnight would be up
tomorrow—today, she remembered with a sudden glance of apprehension at
the sky, where the pinky flush of dawn was already showing. He might be
back now! And if he were—what would her punishment be, what would she
have to endure from one who knew his strength and used it brutally, who
was cruel and merciless by nature as if he, too, were an Arab. Her mind
leapt to the man who had abducted her. When, at the close of an
appalling day, she had been brought to the hut in the deserted village,
when she had finally realised the sinister purpose intended against her,
the ghastly fear that had come to her, the paralysing sense of
helplessness she had felt as she struggled against the crushing arms
that held her, the horror of the relentless face thrust close to hers
quivering with lust and desire, was no new thing. So did Clyde look at
her, so did she shrink and sicken when he touched her. Were all men
alike—sensual brutes with no consideration or pity? One, at least, had
shown himself to be different—and he was an Arab! She turned and looked
at him curiously. By the light of the brilliant moon she studied the
lean, tanned face, wondering at its grave austerity. And as her gaze
lingered on the white seam of an old scar that ran diagonally across his
cheek above the curve of his square-cut jaw, she remembered suddenly
that the stern, sombre eyes that had looked into hers were blue. Were
there, then, blue-eyed Arabs, as there were blue-eyed Afghans? Who was
he? A personage of importance, obviously—the rich appointments of the
camp to which he had taken her, proved it. The embroidered cloth
burnous, the wide silk scarf swathed about the haick that shaded his
face, the scarlet leather boots he wore was the dress of a Chief. One of
the wealthy Sheiks from the far south, perhaps, coming into Algiers for
the Governor’s annual ball. Whoever he was, he had saved her honour, had
saved her from worse than death. And a sudden inexplicable desire came
to her to explain to this strange, taciturn Arab the situation in which
he had found her. She swung her horse nearer. “I oughtn’t to have ridden
alone,” she began jerkily. “I know that, but I was quite close to
Algiers—it seemed safe enough—and I had a reason for what I did. One
has to—be alone—sometimes. I didn’t think there could be any danger.
It all happened so suddenly—” she broke off, chilled with his silence,
wondering how she had found courage to speak to him at all, for his
frigid manner did not invite confidence. And his brief answer did not
tend to put her more at ease.

“It is always dangerous for a woman to ride alone in Algeria,” he said
gravely. It was his tone rather than the actual words that sent the hot
blood rushing to her face and reduced her to a silence that lasted until
they sighted the outskirts of Algiers. The dawn was brightening, already
the stars were paling and dying, one by one, and the red glow of the
rising sun was warming in the east.

With a sign to Hosein, Carew drew rein. “My servant will attend you,
Madame. I can go no further,” he said, abruptly, his eyes fixed on the
distant city. She sat for a moment without answering, then she looked up
quickly, her lips quivering, uncontrollably. “I don’t know what to
say—how to thank you—” He cut her short almost rudely. “I need no
thanks, Madame. Put the one deed against the other—and do not judge the
Arabs too harshly. They are as other men—no better, and perhaps no
worse.” She shook her head with a tremulous little smile, and for a time
she seemed to be struggling with herself. Then she flung her hand out
with an odd gesture of appeal. “If you won’t let me thank you, will you
let me be still further in your debt?” she said, unsteadily.

“As how?”

“The horse I rode,” she faltered, “I—I——my husband values him. Can
you help me get him back—and soon?”

Surprised that she should seek his aid in what was clearly a police
matter, Carew glanced at her with a gathering frown, but what he saw in
her eyes made him look away quickly.

“You shall have your horse, Madame. I pledge you my word,” he said,
shortly. A look of curious relief swept over her tense face.

“Then I shan’t worry about him—any more,” she said, with a shaky laugh.
And reigning her horse nearer, again she held out her hand. “Won’t you
tell me your name? I should like to know it, to remember it in—in—”
she choked back a rising sob. “_Please_,” she whispered.

He turned to her slowly, his eyes almost black in their sombre
intensity. “I have many names,” he replied, unwillingly, as though he
were forcing himself to speak.

“Then tell me one,” she pleaded, wistfully.

Still he hesitated, his square chin thrust out obstinately.

“I am called—El Hakim,” he said at last, reluctantly. And touching his
forehead in a perfunctory salaam, he wheeled his impatient horse and
spurred him into a headlong gallop.



                              CHAPTER III


For a few moments, Marny Geradine, fighting to keep her own mount to a
standstill, watched the fast retreating horseman until his tall, upright
figure was blurred by the rush of hot tears that filled her eyes. She
forced them back before they fell, the relief of tears was a luxury she
had learned to deny herself, and turning once more towards Algiers
cantered forward as slowly as her eager horse would permit. After all,
what was the use of hurrying, she thought with a kind of dreary
fatalism. If Clyde had already returned he would have arrived last
night, a few minutes extra delay now would make no difference. The
mischief would have been done. Nothing she could do would lessen his
anger, nothing she could say would convince him against his own
inclination. The true story of her terrible experience would find no
credence with him. And even all the truth she dare not tell him. The
latter part of the night’s adventure could never be divulged. The
strange Arab who rescued her, his hospitality, his chivalrous regard and
consideration would be beyond her husband’s comprehension. He was
incapable of understanding a temperament other than his own, he would
believe only the vile conclusion his own foul mind would leap at and
hold in spite of all denials. She could never tell him. Enough that his
return had found her absent, that she had lost a valuable horse for
which he had recently paid a large figure. True, she had been promised
that the horse would be returned, and the curious unaccountable faith
she had in the man who had made that promise did not waver in spite of
the seeming improbability of its fulfillment, but would his return even
satisfy Clyde for his temporary loss? A cold feeling of fear ran through
her, and then a wave of contemptuous anger at her own cowardice. She
could make no explanations and offer no excuses. She would have to be
silent as she always was silent rather than lie to shield herself from
his imputations. Whatever she did was wrong, no matter how hard she
tried to please him she always failed. She wondered, sometimes, how she
found courage to go on trying. It all seemed so utterly useless. She
pushed the heavy hair off her forehead with a bitter sigh. There wasn’t
much courage about her this morning, she thought. The exultation of that
wild swift gallop through the night had passed, the new strength that
had come to her had evaporated, leaving her utterly weary and sick at
heart. It would have settled so many difficulties if the Arab who had
abducted her had used with purpose the knife with which he had
threatened her the previous day. Death would mean release from a life
that was unbearable, and she was not afraid to die. Death was life—and
the life she led was death. All whom she loved, all who had ever loved
her—for Clyde’s gross passion was not love—were dead. All except
Ann—and how much longer would Ann be left to her? Clyde had so often
threatened that she must go. For Ann’s sake she must try and struggle
on. But if Ann was taken from her—the beautiful, tired little face grew
suddenly cold and set like a piece of carved white ivory and the
slender, drooping figure drew straighter in the saddle as she wrenched
her thoughts to the present. To get it over as soon as might be—to take
her medicine like a man. Despite her unhappiness, she smiled at the
recollection of the well remembered formula that in her childhood had
been her father’s invariable prelude to any correction he administered.
And the father who had died so long ago, who had idolised her as she had
idolised him, had never punished without reason. Clyde punished without
either reason or provocation. The thought goaded her. No matter what
form his anger took she would not give him the satisfaction he always
hoped for. She would not let him see the physical fear he inspired that
even her courageous spirit could not conquer. It would be worse for her
in the end for her apparent callousness infuriated him, but she would
rather break than bend, rather die than grovel at his feet which she
knew was his desire. Avoiding the main road which she was approaching,
she struck into a narrow bridle path that wound upward to the woods
behind Mustapha, from where she had easy access to the little door that
half hidden by flowering shrubs lay at the far end of the villa garden.
The courage she still clung to did not extend to braving the curiosity
of the gatekeeper at the main entrance. A turn in the track brought her
to the path that led down to the garden gate. She reined in and slid to
the ground. For a moment she stood still by the horse that had carried
her so well, her face pressed against his neck, her fingers caressing
the black muzzle thrust affectionately against her arm. Then she turned
and handed the bridle to Hosein who was waiting stolidly beside her.

“That is the villa,” she said, pointing downward, “will you tell your
master that he may know where to send my horse? It is called the Villa
des Ombres. You will not forget?”

The Arab’s dark eyes followed the direction of her hand. “It is known to
my lord,” he said gravely, “it is the villa of the Vicomte de Granier,
who is his friend.”

She smiled at the little piece of gratuitous information.

“Go, with God,” she murmured shyly in his own tongue. It was one of the
few sentences she had learned and as the man heard the stumbling words
his gloomy face lit up suddenly and he replied with a flow of soft quick
Arabic she could not understand. She watched him mount and, leading the
horse she had ridden, move slowly away, not, to her surprise, in the
direction from which they had come but along the winding bridle road
that led further up the hillside. The trees soon hid him from sight, and
with another weary sigh she turned and looked again on the Villa des
Ombres. White and dainty as a doll’s house, set in the loveliest garden
she had ever seen, surrounded by a high wall washed with palest yellow,
the name seemed singularly inappropriate, yet as she looked at it now
the significance of it struck her forcibly. For her it was indeed a
villa of shadows, dark, menacing shadows that crept nearer to her as she
hesitated beside the little path her feet had trodden so often. With a
quickening heart-beat she pulled herself together and went down to the
tiny doorway. Thick fronds of jasmine trailed across it and she put them
aside carefully while she hunted for the key. The door opened inwards
and she slipped through, closing it gently behind her, and stood for a
moment with all the length of the garden between her and the villa,
clutching the burnous closer round her, staring fixedly in the direction
of the house. The garden was deserted, it was too early even for the
gardeners who were not allowed to disturb by their chattering the
protracted slumbers of the English _milor_ who usually lay like a log
for hours after the sun had risen. There was no sign of life within the
villa. Everything was hushed and still, a brooding silence that
oppressed her overwrought nerves. The heavy cloying perfume of the
flowering shrubs brought a feeling of nausea that made her choke with
sudden breathlessness. Her heart was beating suffocatingly as she
started forward, moving slowly from tree to tree, instinctively taking
what cover they afforded. At first she hardly realised what she was
doing, then a blaze of anger went through her. She flung her shoulders
back defiantly. She was not a thief to creep stealthily into her own
house; whatever horrible construction Clyde might choose to put upon
what had happened, she had done nothing to be ashamed of. With head held
high and lips firmly compressed, she flung out from among the sheltering
wealth of foliage into the open and walked steadily towards the house.
It was a modern villa built in the French style, with all the rooms
communicating. The bedrooms were at the back, opening on to a veranda
which led to the garden. And to her own bedroom, the room she shared
with the brute who owned her, she went with dragging feet. Before the
open French window that gave access to the room, she came to a sudden
halt and her eyes swept the cool dim interior with one swift glance of
apprehension. Then she fell weakly against the window frame with a
strangled gasp of relief, trembling violently, conscious for the first
time of an overwhelming weariness that seemed to take from her every
atom of strength. The room appeared to be empty; the massive bed, its
silken curtains hanging from a gilt coronet fixed in the ceiling had not
been slept in.

But as she looked again, too tired to move, she saw what she had
overlooked at first, the tall gaunt figure of a woman, clothed in black,
kneeling beside a big armchair, her neat grey head bowed on her folded
arms. And as Marny bent forward eagerly there came to her ears the low
soft murmur of a voice raised in passionate prayer.

A faint smile flitted across her pale face.

“Ann,” she whispered.

With a wild cry the woman scrambled to her feet and rushed at her,
catching her in her arms with hungry fierceness.

“My lamb—my lamb—” she sobbed, and held her as if she never meant to
let her go. And yielding to the weakness that was growing on her, almost
happy for the moment in the shelter of the tender arms wrapped around
her, Marny laid her aching head on the shoulder of the woman who had
nursed her from babyhood. But the transient happiness passed quickly and
she freed herself with a single word of interrogation.

“Clyde?”

The old woman’s face hardened suddenly. “His lordship’s not back—thank
God,” she said, grimly. With an inward prayer of thankfulness Marny
dropped into a chair. The relief was tremendous, the respite more than
she had dared to hope for. As Clyde was not yet back then there was no
possibility of his arriving before the evening when she would have
strength again to meet him. But there was still one thing that had to be
arranged before he came. She put aside the trembling hands that were
fumbling at the clasp of the enveloping cloak.

“Tanner,” she said, hoarsely, “fetch Tanner. I must speak to him at
once.”

The woman made a gesture of protest. “Never mind Tanner, Miss Marny
dear,” she said, soothingly. “Tanner can wait. Let me put you cosily
into bed first and then I’ll tell him you are safe home. He’s close by
and won’t take any finding. Give him his due, he’s been nearly as
anxious as me, backwards and forwards between the house and the stables
since yesterday morning—and worrying more about you, my precious, I’m
bound to admit, than that nasty, vicious horse he’s so partic’lar
about,” she added, trying again to unfasten the burnous. Marny guessed
at the unspoken anxiety that made Ann’s fingers so unusually clumsy and
smiled reassuringly.

“You don’t understand,” she said, with gentle insistence, “I must see
him. Don’t fuss, Ann dear. I’m not hurt or damaged in any way, I’m only
desperately tired. But I can’t rest until I’ve spoken to Tanner. Bring
him here, and then you can coddle me to your heart’s content. But I
won’t move from this chair until I’ve seen him.”

“But, Miss Marny, it’s your bedroom,” exclaimed Ann in horrified
accents, “and you in that outlandish cloak and all, and your hair—”

“Oh, never mind my hair, you dear old propriety, and Tanner won’t
trouble his head about it being my bedroom. Do as I ask you, Ann, if you
love me,” said Marny, wearily. And muttering to herself Ann departed
grudgingly.

She returned almost immediately followed by an undersized, sharp-faced
man, who bore the marks of his calling stamped plainly upon him. Half
jockey, half groom, Cockney from the top of his bullet head to the tips
of his neat feet, he accepted the situation with the aplomb of his kind.

Saluting smartly, he waited for Lady Geradine to speak. And Marny who
liked and trusted the little man did not hesitate.

“I’ve lost The Caid, Tanner,” she said, bluntly. For a moment his
coolness forsook him. “_My Gawd!_” he breathed and stared at her in
frank dismay. Then he recovered himself quickly. “Did you take a toss,
m’lady, did ’e ’arm you, the vicious devil—begging your ladyship’s
pardon. Mrs. Ann and me, we’ve been cruel anxious,” he added with the
suspicion of a shake in his rasping voice. Marny smiled at him and shook
her head.

“I’m not hurt, thank you, Tanner. The chestnut was stolen. I ought not
to have taken him so far from Algiers. I forgot that he might be known,
might be a temptation to any Arab who knew his value—there are a lot of
desert men coming into the town just now. Anyhow he’s gone. I couldn’t
do anything alone. But I—I’ve given information about it and I’m almost
certain that he will be sent back. So you needn’t worry, Tanner. I’m
sure it will be all right. It was my fault entirely, it probably
wouldn’t have happened if I had taken you with me. But there is no good
in going back to that. I’ll explain to his lordship and—and please keep
near the stables, Tanner, in case the horse comes back today,” she
added, hastily, struggling to keep her voice steady. For a moment the
man hesitated, then with a quiet, “Very good, m’lady,” he jerked his
hand to his forehead and tip-toed from the room. Outside in the hall he
looked back over his shoulder at the closed door, his face working
oddly. “You’ll explain to ’is blooming lordship, will you m’lady? Gawd
almighty, we all know what that’ll mean! I’d a deal rather take the
blame meself—blast ’im!” he muttered, and strode off very far from
sharing his mistress’s optimism with regard to the stolen horse.

In the bedroom, Marny leant back wearily in the deep armchair, too tired
to move, wondering at her own confidence in the promise that had been
made to her, wondering at the man himself and at the strange feeling of
security she had felt in his presence.

Ann’s anxious voice roused her and rising with an effort she submitted
without further protest to the ministrations of her old nurse who
stripped the tattered clothing from her with exclamations of horror at
the sight of the bruises marring the whiteness of the delicate body she
worshipped.

She had seen, with almost murder in her heart, similar bruises before on
those slim young arms and knew them for what they were, the marks of a
man’s merciless fingers. But she made no comment while she bathed the
aching limbs, and brushed the tangled mop of curly hair, and finally
tucked up her charge in bed as if she were a child again. And until the
last drop of strong soup she brought was finished, and she had drawn the
jalousies over the open window, she refrained from asking the questions
that kept rising to her lips. But when everything she could think of for
her mistress’s comfort was done she slipped on to her knees by the
bedside and caught the girl’s hands in hers.

“Tell me, Miss Marny dear,” she pleaded, tremulously, “you can’t go
bottling things up inside of you forever. It will ease your mind to
speak—for once. There’s a lot more than you let out to Tanner, you that
came home in rags and bruised fit to break my heart. What did they do to
you, my precious? Where have you been all these weary hours that I’ve
been nearly out of my senses with fright—thinking you dead, or worse,
and dreading his lordship’d come back and find you gone, and all.”

And thankful for the opportunity of confiding fully once more in the
faithful old nurse who, until five years ago, had shared her every
secret, Marny told her. And Ann listened, as she had listened long ago
to the frank recital of childish escapades, in silence. Only the
trembling of her thin lips, the occasional tightening of her worn old
hand, betrayed the agitation she would not allow herself to voice. Miss
Marny had been through enough, had suffered enough for one day, she
wouldn’t want any more “scenes” now it was all safely over. She brushed
the hair tenderly from the damp white forehead and rose to her feet with
a long drawn breath. “It was bad enough—God be thanked it wasn’t
worse,” she said, softly. “I’d never have believed the day would come
when I’d feel a particle of gratitude toward an Arab—nasty, slinking,
treacherous creatures I’ve always thought them. That man of his
lordship’s—Malec—fair gives me the creeps. But I suppose there’s good
as well as bad amongst them, there must be by what you’ve told me. A
Christian gentleman couldn’t have done more, and there’s many who’d have
done less. What did you say his name was, Miss Marny?”

Marny turned drowsily, settling more comfortably into the pillows.

“He didn’t tell me his name,” she said, sleepily, “he said he was called
El Hakim.”

“And what might that mean?”

“It means a doctor, I think, but I didn’t know Arabs had doctors.
Perhaps he has something to do with the Spahis—he talked French very
well—perhaps he—” a big yawn swallowed the end of the sentence, and
Ann drew up the coverlet with a little admonishing pat. “Never you
bother your pretty head about him now, my lamb. Just go to sleep and
forget all about it. And heaven send the man’s as good as his word and
gets that dratted horse back,” she added, anxiously to herself as she
left the room.

It was late in the afternoon when she reluctantly aroused her mistress
and set down a dainty tea tray by the bedside.

“It’s four o’clock, Miss Marny, and there’s two eggs to your tea. I’ll
see you eat every bit of it,” she announced cheerfully, bustling about
the room and flinging back the shutters. Lady Geradine stretched
luxuriously and then sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “Oh,
Ann, what fun,” she said with a laugh the old woman had not heard for
years. “It’s like nursery days. Put heaps of cushions behind me and cut
off the tops of the eggs. I’m simply famishing.” Then she paused with a
square of toast half way to her mouth and the laughter died out of her
eyes.

“Has The Caid come back?”

Ann splashed the tea into the saucer at the sudden question.

“Not yet, dearie, but its only four o’clock—and the train doesn’t get
in until seven,” she said, inconsequently. Marny understood very well
the meaning of her somewhat obscure sentence, but she gave no sign of
understanding. It was part of the pitiful game she played that even Ann
received no confidences and was allowed to make no comment on the
treatment her husband meted out to her. Angry with herself for the words
that had escaped unintentionally, the old woman stole a penitent glance
at the girl who was her idol. But Marny was apparently only concerned
with the salting of her egg.

“The poor dear isn’t likely to come back by train,” she said lightly, as
if the horse alone occupied her mind.

Finishing her tea she slipped out of bed and into the wrapper Ann held
for her. Stretching out her arms she patted them tenderly, and then
raising them high above her head bent forward easily, sweeping her
finger-tips to the ground, and straightened again slowly with a laugh of
satisfaction.

“I’m as right as rain, Ann,” she said, reassuringly, “not a bit stiff.
I’ll dress for dinner now. I can’t be bothered to change again so soon.
Bring me that white teagown thing I got in Paris, it’s loose and cool.”

Too loose and too cool, thought Ann as she went with primly folded lips
to fetch the diaphanous little garment that had been made to Lord
Geradine’s order and which she herself considered neither fit nor decent
for her mistress to wear. A dress suitable in its sensuous appeal to the
women with whom the Viscount chose to associate, but degrading to the
innocent girl whom he had married. And when the final touches to Lady
Geradine’s toilet were completed, Ann stood back and surveyed her
handiwork with grim disapproval. And Marny, staring absently into the
long mirror, caught the expression in the stern old eyes fixed on her
and moved abruptly with a smothered sigh, the colour deepening in her
face. The dress was hateful and she loathed it, but in this as in
everything else, loyalty to her husband kept her lips closed. Even his
questionable taste must pass undiscussed. And discussion would make it
no easier to bear. She had to submit to it as she had to submit to the
man himself. She was not a free agent. Legally she was his wife,
actually she was a slave to be and do at the whim of a capricious and
tyrannical master.

In the early days of her married life, she had tried to rebel, and the
memory of those futile struggles was like a horrible nightmare, but the
passing years had taught her wisdom and given her strength to accept
what she revolted from and detested.

Slipping a long chain of uncut emeralds round her neck she went silently
out of the room. The drawing room she entered was more English than
French in its appointments, bright with gay coloured chintzes and
fragrant with masses of flowers banked in every available space. She
lingered by a tall basket filled with giant roses, inhaling their
delicate perfume and gathering the cool petals against her hot cheeks.
Then she moved slowly to glance at a porcelain clock ticking noisily on
the mantelpiece. Little more than an hour before Clyde might come and
her brief holiday would be over. He rarely left her for so long and the
days of respite had flown. With a shiver she lit a cigarette and began
to pace the narrow room, her thoughts travelling back over the last five
years of bitter misery to the day when, barely seventeen years of age, a
child in every sense, she had grown suddenly in the space of a few
agonising hours into womanhood, cruelly awakened to what it meant to be
Clyde Geradine’s wife. As he determined to continue so had he begun. The
disgust and loathing he inspired in her had never lessened. Herself
innately chaste, his gross coarseness and frank sensuality appalled her.
If he had even once shown that he had been moved by any higher
sentiment, had had any nobler thought beyond the purely physical
attraction she had for him she would have tried to make allowances. But
for him she was merely a perfectly made vigorous young animal by whom he
hoped, as he candidly told her, to get the heir on whom he had set his
heart. And with nothing to cling to, nothing to hope for, she felt only
degradation in her association with him. His moods were variable as his
temper was uncertain. He was made up of contradictions. Despite his own
infidelities, infidelities of which she was fully aware, despite the
fact that he deliberately paraded her beauty on every possible occasion,
he was possessed with an insensate jealousy. Faithless himself he placed
no trust in her faithfulness, and was suspicious of every mark of
admiration shown her. She was his, he insisted, as much his property as
any horse or dog in his stable, his to use as he would. His also, it
seemed, to abuse and torture by every subtle mental torment his cruel
nature could devise. And not mental only. It pleased him to know her
powerless against his strength, it pleased him when the mood was on him
to subject her to physical violence that his warped mind held to be
within his right. He had bought her, body and soul he had bought her,
and brutally he allowed her no possibility of ever forgetting the fact.

Motherless before she was old enough to know her loss, she had grown up
in a big rambling house in an isolated part of the west coast of
Ireland. The father she adored had died when she was twelve, leaving her
in care of her brother Denis, who was ten years her senior. Neighbours
were few and far between, their visits long since discouraged by the
lonely, broken-hearted man who had lived a life of seclusion since his
wife’s death. With no companions of her own age, with almost no
associates of her own rank, she had spent her days in the open, riding
and fishing, content with the limited life she led. Ann’s had been the
only womanly influence she had known, Ann who had been her mother’s
nurse and then her own.

And Denis, a ne’er-do-well with tastes and inclinations studiously
hidden during his father’s lifetime, had, on succeeding to his
inheritance, shaken the dust of Ireland off his feet to seek a more
exhilarating sphere of activity where he had successfully dissipated his
patrimony, and incidentally fallen under the influence and into the
power of Lord Geradine who was a past master in all the vices the
younger man emulated. Marny had never known the real truth of the whole
sordid story. She only knew that after years of absence Denis had
returned, changed almost beyond recognition, bringing with him a
stranger who had stayed for a fortnight in the house. She had hated the
big domineering Englishman at sight, instinctively repelled, and the
attention that almost from the first he had shown had terrified her.
Then he had gone, and a couple of months later Denis had reappeared,
more haggard, more careworn than before. He had told her a long rambling
tale, most of which she had not understood, and had ended with a wild
appeal to her to save his honour and the honour of the family she had
been taught from childhood to reverence. Only by her marriage with Lord
Geradine, it seemed, could the family name escape disgrace. And,
ignorant of what she did, carried away by Denis’ eloquence, passionately
jealous for the name that had gone untarnished for generations, she had
consented. She had been given no time for further reflection, and in
spite of Ann’s horrified remonstrances and pleadings she had been
married almost at once. That was five years ago. And for five years she
had endured a life of misery, in an alien environment, disillusioned and
shocked. Her husband’s hold over her brother—a hold she had never
comprehended and which had never been explained to her—was the means by
which he compelled her submission in everything. And consistently she
had done what she thought to be her duty, had striven to please him as
far as she was able and had been loyal to him who had never shown
loyalty to her.

Five years—only five years!

With a bitter sigh she sank wearily into a big chintz covered
Chesterfield. For a long time she lay thinking, almost dreaming, until
at last she awoke with a sudden sense of shock to the import of her
thoughts. The Arab who had saved her! She could see distinctly every
line of his tall, graceful figure, every feature of his grave, bronzed
face. She found herself wondering again at the cold austerity of his
expression, so different from the appraising glances of admiration
usually accorded her and which made her hate the beauty that inspired
them. He had not even appeared to know that she was beautiful. His
sombre eyes had rested on her with complete indifference, almost, so it
seemed to her, with dislike. Hyper-sensitive, she had been conscious
that his aid, his hospitality had been given unwillingly. She remembered
the curt impatient voice, “I do not keep you to please myself—” and
wondered why the fact of his indifference seemed so suddenly to hurt
her. If he had not been indifferent, if he had looked on her as other
men did, what would have been her fate? She would have escaped one
horrible peril only to fall into another as horrible. She had been
utterly in his power, utterly at his mercy—the mercy of an Arab. She
owed her honour to an Arab—and she did not even know his name! Why had
he evaded what was a perfectly natural question, why hidden his identity
under a sobriquet? Was he afraid that she would try to trace him, try to
force on him some tangible proof of the gratitude he had refused to
listen to? Her cheeks burned. What he had done was beyond payment. In
all probability she would never see him again. She would have to be
content with the meagre information he had given her, content with the
memory of a wonderful chivalry she had never thought to experience and
which had been a revelation. It was as though some healing power had
touched her, like the clean, wholesome breath of some purifying wind
penetrating the defiling atmosphere that surrounded her, opening her
eyes to a new conception of man’s attitude towards woman. The men she
had hitherto met had been uniformly alike in taste and inclination to
the husband who forced their society upon her. She shrank from them as
she shrank from him with a sense of shame that was unendurable.
Compelled to participate in a life she abhorred, she seemed to be on the
brink of some loathsome pit, choked with the fetid fumes of its foul
putrescence, steadily sinking downward into an abyss of horrible and
terrible darkness, her whole soul recoiling from the moral destruction
that appeared to loom inevitably ahead of her. What did her soul matter
to Clyde? It was only her body he wanted. It was only physical
admiration she saw in the eyes of his friends. Yesterday for the first
time she had met a man who had ignored her sex, whose gaze had not
lingered desirously on the fair exterior compelling a remembrance of her
womanhood, whose proximity had not moved her to hot discomfort, but had
given instead a sense of security and trust. With him she had felt
safe—safe and curiously unstrange. The hours spent in his tent, the
long ride through the night at his side, would never be effaced from her
memory. He had given her a glimpse of a finer, cleaner manhood than in
her unhappy experience she had ever known. In some undefinable way he
seemed to have restored the self-respect that year by year she had felt
being torn from her. And he was an Arab! An Arab. She whispered it
again, lying very still on the sofa, her fingers twining and untwining
restlessly about the emerald chain. What did his nationality matter—it
was the man himself who counted. The man who had shown her a nobler type
than she had ever met with, the man who had shown her that all strength
was not merciless, that all men did not look on women merely as their
natural prey. And as with this desert man, so must it be with many men
of her own race. Her brooding eyes darkened with sudden anguish, and she
flung on to her face burying her head in the silken cushions, fighting
the agony of misery and revolt that swept over her. Why had she been
destined for such a fate? Why had it been her lot to be thrown only
amongst those whose vileness debased the sacred image in which they were
made? Why had she been given no chance of the happiness that must be the
portion of luckier women than she? If it had been otherwise, if for her
marriage had meant not only physical union but a higher, holier
companionship of mind and spirit, how gladly would she have yielded to a
passion hallowed by love, to possession tempered by consideration. If
she could have loved and respected where now she only obeyed and
endured! A marriage such as hers was ignoble, degrading, horrible beyond
all thought. If she had known what it would mean, would she have had the
courage to face what she had done in ignorance? She sat up, pushing the
heavy hair off her forehead, staring into space with pain-filled eyes.
Yes, she would have done it again in spite of everything. Not for love
of Denis, she had never loved him—in childhood he had bullied her, in
girlhood he had neglected her, and on the threshold of her womanhood he
had made her pay the price of his infamy—but for love of the name and
family that meant so much to her. And because of that, because her
wretchedness was the result of her own willing sacrifice she must
struggle on as she had struggled all these five terrible years, beaten
and hopeless, but striving to fulfill her part of the marriage vows her
husband treated so lightly. But, oh, dear God, she had never known it
would be so hard! Harder now than ever. Why did her thoughts turn so
persistently to the man who had saved her? Why did the recollection of
his chivalry and generosity seem to make her feel so much more acutely
the misery of her life? Was it only the contrast to the man whose wife
she was? She hid her face in her hands with a sharp little cry of fear.
It was more than that. Quite suddenly she realised it—the full meaning
of what had happened to her, the full significance of the thoughts that
were crowding in her brain. She shivered, clasping her hands closer over
her eyes. Why, oh why had this come to her—had she not already enough
to bear! And if she had not been bound, if she were free, it would make
no difference. He was an Arab! Then her self-control gave way and she
fell back among the cushions, dry-eyed but shaking with emotion. “I
wouldn’t have cared,” she wailed, “I wouldn’t care what he was.”

But his indifference had been complete—and she was married! She wrung
her hands in an agony of shame and horror. She was married. She was
Clyde’s wife. To even think of another man was sin. She must tear from
her heart the image that in a few short hours had become so deeply
implanted. She would never see him again. With quivering lips she
whispered it, and writhed at the strange new sense of desolation that
came upon her. A companionship that had been so brief, a passing
stranger of an alien race whose name she did not even know—and yet the
world seemed suddenly empty. She pondered it, ashamed and vaguely
frightened. It was because she had trusted him, she thought with a
pitiful attempt at self-justification, and because she was tired and
overwrought. Unnerved, she had allowed his kindness to make too deep an
impression.

Later, when strength was given her again, she would forget—not him—but
the wickedness that filled her heart tonight. She moved listlessly on
the sofa, mentally exhausted, too tired almost to care that The Caid was
still missing, that very soon her husband might be returning and she
would have to make her lame explanation and face his inevitable wrath.
And for once, honesty compelled her to admit it, he would have good
cause for anger. The horse was valuable, and she had had no right to
take him so far from Algiers unattended. It was asking for trouble in a
land of horsemen who stole where they could not buy and who would
consider the theft of a noted stallion, that a foreigner purposed to
remove from the country, as an act of merit rather than otherwise. All
her young life she had ridden alone. But it would be useless to try and
explain to Clyde the overpowering desire for solitude that had driven
her out yesterday morning without the groom whose constant presence put
a period to her enjoyment and took from her all the pleasure of her
rides.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck seven. She hardly glanced at it. If
Clyde did come, the train would probably be late. It usually was. And
for nearly an hour more she lay still, striving to concentrate her tired
mind on trivialities, becoming momentarily drowsier as the room grew
darker. She was nearly asleep when the sound of a loud blustering voice
echoing from the hall sent her bolt upright on the sofa, her heart
beating violently, her wide eyes fixed apprehensively on the door.

She stumbled to her feet as he flung into the room, a tall heavily-built
man whose big frame seemed to almost fill the aperture as he stood for a
moment in the entrance peering for her in the dim light.

“What the devil are you sittin’ in the dark for?” The truculent tone
gave her the key to the mood in which he had returned and her heart beat
faster as she heard him fumbling at the electric switchboard by the
door. Then the room flashed into brilliance as he swept his hand
downward with an impatient jerk, and she blinked at the sudden glare of
light with a nervous little laugh.

Without waiting for an answer he strode towards her and caught her in
his arms with the rough masterfulness that was habitual with him. “Been
asleep—tired of waiting for me? You look like a baby with your hair all
ruffled and your cheeks the colour of a two-year-old,” he said, with a
short laugh of satisfaction, drawing her closer and bending to kiss her.
The hot breath fanning her face was rank with spirits and it took all
her resolution to suppress the repugnance his nearness caused her, and
meet the heavy eyes that glowed with sudden passion as he crushed his
mouth on hers. She was trembling when at last he released her but he did
not seem to notice her agitation. He laughed again, looking her slowly
up and down with the frank appraisement of a proprietor. “I wanted
that,” he remarked complacently, “a fortnight’s a bit too much without
your charmin’ society, my dear. You’ll come along too the next time. And
the trip wasn’t worth it. No decent heads worth speaking about, not a
sight nor smell of a panther, and that ass Malec mucked up the
arrangements as I knew he would—a rotten show from start to finish. And
the train was nearly an hour late getting into Algiers, waited an
infernal time at a potty little wayside station for some dam’ chief or
other to get aboard with most of his tribe. Thought we were going to be
there all night. Can’t think why they let the beggars travel by train.
I’m as hot as hell and my throat’s on fire. I want a drink and I want a
bath. Tell ’em to have dinner ready in half-an-hour.” And with a parting
curse at the inefficiency of the Algerian railway service he flung out
of the room as he had flung into it.

With her hand pressed tightly against the lips that were still quivering
from his kisses Marny stood struggling to regain her composure and
starting nervously as she listened to the angry bellowing that came from
her husband’s dressing room. But she drew a swift little breath of
relief at the thought that he obviously knew nothing as yet of The
Caid’s disappearance, that it was not any fault of hers but only the
non-success of the shooting trip that had annoyed him. If she could only
keep the disastrous knowledge from him until tomorrow—the horse might
be back by then. She smothered a sigh and, ringing the bell, gave the
order for dinner. His rough handling had further disarranged her ruffled
hair and while she smoothed it into order she stared at herself in the
mirror with hostile eyes.

He had made her a coward—would he end by making her a liar as well? But
at least she need not lie to herself. It was cowardice that made her
defer telling him the story of her mishap. It was cowardice that had
made her choose the hateful dress she was wearing tonight. She turned
away with a gesture of disgust and self scorn, and fell to pacing the
room until he joined her again.

During dinner her own silence passed unheeded while he launched into a
detailed and grumbling account of the expedition that had fallen far
short of his expectations. He cursed the country and its people and the
sporting facilities with equal impartiality and with a wealth of highly
coloured language that was peculiarly his own, breaking off frequently
to swear at the servants who were, notwithstanding, doing their work
quickly and well. She knew that he must have been drinking heavily
during the day, but his thirst seemed unquenchable and as she watched
him gulp down whisky after whisky, she wondered with a feeling of dread
what form the inevitable reaction would take. His rages were easier to
bear than the moods of maudlin sentimentality that sickened her.

Contrary to his usual custom he followed her into the drawing room when
dinner was finished, and lighting a cigar took up a commanding position
before the flower-filled fireplace with his hands thrust deep in the
pockets of his dinner jacket, watching her through half-veiled eyes
until coffee was brought.

“You’re dam’ pretty tonight, Marny,” he remarked condescendingly as he
took the fragile cup she held out to him. “I flatter myself that dress
was a stroke of genius,” he added, looking with no great favour at the
coffee he raised to his lips. A moment later cup and contents went
crashing into the flower pots behind him.

“Filth!” he ejaculated disgustedly, “if that chap can’t make decent
coffee he’ll have to go.” And consigning the cook to perdition he
lounged across the room to a chair and turning to the tray-laden table
beside him splashed neat cognac wrathfully into a glass. Marny put down
her own cup without answering. There was nothing wrong with the coffee,
it was perfectly made as usual, but expostulation was useless with Clyde
in his present humour. And he seemed to expect no comment. Swallowing
the brandy with slow enjoyment, he refilled the glass and, stretching
his long limbs lazily, turned to her with the question for which she had
been waiting all evening.

“Tanner been behaving—beasts all right?” he rapped, with a glance at
the clock on the mantlepiece. And fearful that, even at this late hour,
he might be meditating a visit to the stables, for the first time in her
life she lied, her fingers clutching at the soft cushions of the sofa
till they grew stiff and numb.

“Tanner has been exemplary. The horses are splendid,” she said with
forced easiness. And her answer apparently satisfied him for he grunted
approvingly and settled more comfortably into his chair. For some time
he did not speak, and she lay still striving to subdue the rapid beating
of her heart, acutely conscious of the searching eyes that rarely left
her face. But when the coffee tray had been removed he stirred
restlessly. “Any letters?”

Accustomed to doing for him what he was too lazy to do for himself, she
rose and fetched the pile of correspondence that had accumulated during
his absence, and, going back to the sofa, watched him tearing open and
throwing aside letter after letter until she could keep silent no
longer.

“Aren’t you going to the Club?”

He laughed shortly. “Not me,” he said, with a glance that made her
flinch. “You seem to forget I’ve been away for a fortnight. My wife’s
society is good enough for me tonight.”

With an involuntary tremor she turned her head that he might not see the
loathing she knew was written on her face, and picked up a novel with
shaking fingers. She had not expected that he would go to the Club, and
only a passionate longing to shorten the hours she must spend alone with
him made her propose it. Her lips trembled as she turned the pages of
the book mechanically, not reading but listening to his angry comments
on the letters that were evidently not pleasing to him. He flung the
last one from him with a snarl.

“That charming brother of yours is asking for trouble! Overrun his
allowance again and has the cheek to write and ask for a cheque by
return. I’ll see him in Hades first. I’ve warned him before the
allowance is ample and that I wouldn’t raise it by a single halfpenny.
Seems to think I’m made of money,” he added, kicking the letter
petulantly.

The book slipped to the floor as Marny sat up with a jerk, staring at
him uncomprehendingly.

“His allowance—Denis—I don’t understand,” she said slowly, with a
puzzled frown.

He looked at her with a curious smile. “Don’t you, my dear?” he said
unpleasantly. “Neither does Denis, apparently. No Irishman seems to
understand the value of money, and I suppose Denis is only conforming to
type when he fails to understand that the yearly allowance I make him
has got to last a year. He can whistle for what he wants now, I shan’t
give it to him.”

“But, Clyde, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she gasped, “the
allowance _you_ make him—why do you make Denis an allowance? Why can’t
he live on his own money?”

Lord Geradine smiled again.

“What money?” he drawled.

She jerked her head impatiently.

“His own money, the estate money, the rents of Castle Fergus. What
he—what we have always lived on. Why can’t he manage on that?”

“Because the Castle Fergus rents are paid to me,” replied her husband
shortly. She looked at him blankly, putting her hand to her head with a
gesture of bewilderment.

“To you,” she faltered, “the Castle Fergus rents are paid to you? But
why—what have you to do with Castle Fergus? Oh, Clyde, I don’t know
what you mean, truly I don’t.”

Lord Geradine heaved himself sideways in his chair and poured out a
whisky with slow deliberation. “You knew your brother was in a hole when
I married you,” he said at last, with a certain irritation in his voice.
She winced, and the blood rushed into her white face. “I knew that,” she
said shakily, “but I didn’t know it had anything to do with money. I
thought it was something—something horrible he had done,” she added
with a shiver, her voice breaking pitifully.

Geradine emptied the glass and pushed it from him with a hard laugh.
“The one sometimes follows from the other,” he said contemptuously, “it
was so with Denis. He ran through a very tidy fortune in an uncommonly
short space of time, and then he did what you are pleased to call
‘something horrible’. I don’t set up to be a model of virtue myself but
there are some things I jib at, and I’m damned if I’d soil my hands with
the dirty game he played. But he played it once too often when I came on
the scenes. He landed himself in the devil of a mess and jolly nearly
ended in jail. But for my own reasons that didn’t suit me, and he was
dam’ glad to take the terms I offered him. He wanted his liberty and
money enough to make it amusing—I wanted you. And there you have it,”
he concluded with brutal candour.

She sat quite still, looking at him fixedly her face colourless, trying
to realize the meaning of what he had told her. At the moment she hardly
knew which she hated most, the brother who had held his sister so
cheaply or the man who had been content to drive so shameful a bargain
to obtain what he wanted.

“He _sold_ me to you,” she said at last. And the scorn in her voice sent
him out of his chair with an oath that made her shudder, “Oh, for God’s
sake don’t make a tragedy out of it,” he cried angrily. “In any case
it’s ancient history. You knew that Denis had a reason for pressing our
marriage. I don’t know what fancy tale he told you, and I don’t care. We
are married and there’s an end of it. And there’s no earthly need to cut
up so rough about it. You didn’t do so badly for yourself, you blessed
little innocent—and I’m not complaining. Don’t be a little fool, Marny.
I mayn’t be a saint but I’m dam’ fond of you. I wanted you the first
minute I laid eyes on you, and I generally get what I want,” he added
with a complacent laugh, dropping down on the sofa beside her. Then his
voice changed as he slid his hand slowly up the soft cool arm under the
loose sleeve of her teagown. “I’ve been wanting you pretty badly this
last fortnight,” he whispered thickly, and flung his arms around her
with sudden violence. For a moment he held her, trembling and helpless
in his fierce embrace, and she felt the heavy beating of his heart as he
stared down at her with hot desire flaming in his red flecked eyes. Then
he laughed again, a laugh that made her want to shriek, that made every
nerve in her body quiver with passionate revolt, and pushed her from
him.

“Run along,” he said quickly, “and don’t keep me waiting the infernal
age you usually do. Tell that old woman to clear out in double quick
time if she values her place.”

Beyond the door, free from his watching eyes, she buried her face in her
hands with a groan of agony. For how many more years, oh, merciful God,
must she endure this life of horrible bondage? Would she never be
free—never escape from his brutality till death released her. If she
could only die—but she was too strong to die. Misery did not kill. She
would live—live until the beauty that was all he cared for faded, live
until he had drained from her the strength and vitality that had
attracted him. And afterwards? For her there was no afterwards, no hope,
no consolation. There was only the present with its difficulties and
suffering. The present! She started nervously. How long had she stood
there? With a convulsive shudder she went swiftly across the dim lit
hall.

And as she passed her husband’s dressing room the door opened suddenly
and she came face to face with his Arab valet. She had not seen the man
since his return and, forcing a smile to her trembling lips, she nodded
to him with the kindly greeting she gave invariably to every member of
the household. But as he turned to her the words died in an inarticulate
gasp and she halted abruptly, staring with horror at the terrible mark
that, stretching from forehead to chin, disfigured his face—a mark that
could only have been caused by the slashing cut of a powerfully driven
whip. “Malec—” she cried aghast. But with a quick salaam the man drew
back and, slipping past her, vanished down the passage with the lithe
noiselessness of his race. She stood as if turned to stone, breathing
heavily, her clenched hands pressed against her throbbing temples,
sickened by what she had seen. “How can he—oh, how can he?” she moaned.
Then with a backward glance of fearful apprehension she fled
panic-stricken to the door of her own room. But there, with a tremendous
effort of will, she regained her self command and went in quietly,
smiling with apparent naturalness as Ann turned from the open window to
meet her. The old woman’s face was radiant. She almost ran across the
room.

“Miss Marny, dear, it’s all right,” she breathed eagerly. “Tanner’s just
been in. The horse was brought back half an hour ago and he’s not a
penny the worse.”

For an instant Marny looked at her strangely. Then she sank into a chair
with a gasp of relief, and stretched out her hands tremblingly.

“Ann—oh, _Ann_!” she whispered.



                               CHAPTER IV


At the close of a hot afternoon, about three weeks after his return to
Algiers, Carew was sitting in the Governor General’s private room at the
Winter Palace.

Staring out of the window, a neglected cigarette drooping between his
lips, he was listening without attending to the faint strains of the
Zouave band echoing from the Place du Gouvernement, drumming absently
with his fingers on the table before him which was littered with maps
and plans and scattered typewritten sheets. For the best part of two
hours he had been repeating the story of his last journey, and the
hardly won concession for the benefit of an interested and detail-loving
representative of the Ministry of the Interior who was returning the
next day to Paris after an extensive and carefully shepherded tour
through the northern provinces of Algeria.

Carew’s mission successfully terminated and his report duly handed in to
headquarters, he had had no wish to be further identified with the
enterprise. He was glad to be of use to the Administration; anxious
always, when opportunity offered, to assist in promoting a better
understanding between the rulers of the country and its native part of
his life’s work. He was not inclined to magnify the importance of what
he did and he was actuated by no desire for personal gain or advantage.
He was content to give his help when it was required and let others take
the kudos. He worked solely for love of the country and admiration of
its administrators. The Governor General and the Commander-in-Chief,
both hard-working conscientious men who governed a difficult country
with tact and discretion, were his personal friends, and he considered
himself amply rewarded if his own endeavors in any way eased the burden
of their responsibilities.

But today, for the first time, he had yielded to the often expressed
wish of General Sanois—who administered the particular part of the
Sahara under discussion—that his really valuable aid should be more
intimately known to the home authorities.

The interview had passed off successfully. The illustrious visitor had
shown a wide knowledge of and a deep personal interest in the affairs of
the country which had gone far to lessen the instinctive feeling of
hostility with which the two men primarily responsible for its
well-being, had viewed his advent. He had listened carefully to Carew’s
story, gripping the major points of importance sanely and intelligently,
and had been loud in his approval of the work done. With Gallic courtesy
and enthusiasm he had congratulated all concerned, expressing his own
and his country’s indebtedness to the three men he addressed in a
felicitous little speech that hinted at much he did not say outright,
and, with a final interchange of compliments, had at last betaken
himself to his waiting carriage whither the Governor and General Sanois
had accompanied him.

And Carew, left for a few moments alone in the cool pleasant room, had
fallen into a profound reverie that was in no way connected with the
events of the afternoon.

The sound of approaching voices roused him and he turned reluctantly
from the window as the stout, smiling little Governor bustled in,
followed by his tall, grave-faced army colleague, and a slim,
delicate-looking youth who went silently to a desk in a far corner.

The Governor dropped into a chair with a little grunt, mopped his heated
forehead vigorously and beamed with evident satisfaction on his
companions.

“That’s over,” he remarked in a tone of relief. “I usually have a _crise
de nerfs_ after these visits. But this one was better than most, _Dieu
merci!_ Some of them—_oh, la! la!_” He broke off with a comical
grimace, flourishing his handkerchief expressively. Then with a shrug
and a gay laugh he tapped Carew’s knee confidentially with a podgy
forefinger.

“Everything goes _à merveille_, my dear Carew. Our friend is charmed
with all he has seen, has been pleased to compliment me on the state of
the country, and has swallowed all the extravagant demands of our good
Sanois here without turning a hair. Providing he remembers all he has
promised, providing his interest is as great as he represents, there
should be speedily allowed to us some alterations in administration we
have long asked for in vain. Our hands have been tied too tightly,
_voyez-vous_. He sees the necessity for loosening them somewhat. I am
not expecting the millennium—I have lived too long to expect anything
very much, particularly of politicians—but I am hopeful, decidedly
hopeful. If it were not so exhausting I might even allow myself to
become enthusiastic. But I gave up enthusiasms when I came to
Algeria—so very detrimental to the nerves.” Again he demonstrated
languidly with his handkerchief, and then patted his chest
significantly. “And some little decorations will probably follow,
_hein_? We need not attach too much importance to them, perhaps, but
they are pleasant to receive, oh, yes, decidedly very pleasant to
receive.”

“For me, I would rather receive the extra battery I asked for,” growled
the General.

The little Governor looked up at him with an expression of pained
protest. “Ah, you soldiers—you and your guns! Brute force, brute
force—that’s all you think of,” he murmured reprovingly. Then he smiled
again, waving his hands as though dismissing the unpleasant idea his
colleague’s words suggested.

“You will dine with me tonight,” he said genially, “both of you? We must
celebrate the occasion. And afterwards, perhaps, for an hour or two, the
opera? Not very amusing but—” he shrugged whimsically and offered Carew
his cigarette case.

For a few minutes longer they talked of the possibilities of the new
régime in prospect, and then the General rose to go with a vague
reference to a mass of correspondence awaiting his attention.

“Are you coming my way?” he asked, turning to the Englishman. But Carew
shook his head.

“I’ve an appointment in the Casbar this evening,” he said, shuffling
some papers together and slipping them into his breast pocket.

Sanois laughed grimly and looked up from the sword-belt he was buckling
with a suspicion of eagerness in his keen eyes. “It would be indiscreet
to ask with whom, I presume? You know more about the Casbar than I do,”
he said, almost grudgingly. “You’ve friends everywhere, Carew. Some of
them I’d like to lay my hands on,” he added meaningly.

Carew smiled faintly. “Possibly,” he said coolly, “but my ‘friends’ are
useful. And until they let me down I can’t very well help you to any
information you may want concerning them. That was agreed,” he added,
his voice hardening slightly.

“Word of an Englishman, eh?” said the General with another grim laugh,
and stalked off.

The Governor looked at the closing door with his smiling features
puckered up disapprovingly. “An excellent fellow, but blood
thirsty—very blood thirsty,” he murmured, with the least little touch
of regret in his voice as if he deprecated an attitude with which in
reality he thoroughly concurred.

But Carew’s thoughts were not concerned with the man who had just left
the room.

Crossing to the open window he stood for some time without speaking, his
hands plunged deep in his jacket pockets, scowling at the palms in the
garden beneath. And accustomed to his frequent and protracted silences
his host, pleasantly somnolent with the beat and tired with the
excitement of the day, made no attempt to force conversation. Stretched
comfortably in a capacious armchair he toyed idly with a cigarette and
sipped the vermouth his guest had declined, thoroughly content with
himself and the world at large, until Carew’s voice broke in suddenly on
thoughts that were lightly alternating between the happy results of the
afternoon’s interview and the gastronomic delights of the coming dinner.

“There is a compatriot of mine, a certain Viscount Geradine, who has de
Granier’s villa this winter—can you tell me anything about him?”

The cherubic little Governor looked vaguely embarrassed. “Nothing of
very much good, I am afraid,” he said slowly, “he is not, unfortunately,
an ornament to your usually so distinguished aristocracy. I personally
know very little of him. But one hears things—one hears things,” he
repeated uncomfortably.

For a moment Carew hesitated, then:

“As—what?” he asked bluntly. Surprised at the question, the Frenchman
shot him a look of undisguised astonishment. It was unlike Carew to be
curious about anybody, and in all the years he had known him he had
never heard him even refer to a member of the English community.

“Patrice knows more about these things than I do,” he fenced, lighting a
fresh cigarette with delicate precision. And turning to the pale youth
in the corner who seemed absorbed in his secretarial duties, he raised
his voice slightly.

“My good Patrice, can you tell us anything about the Englishman, Lord
Geradine, who is living at the Villa des Ombres?”

The young man looked up quickly with a laugh which showed that his
attention was not so wholly centered on his work as it appeared to be.

“I can tell you what happened _chez Fatima_ last night, _mon oncle_,” he
replied promptly, with a boyish grin that was faintly malicious. But the
Governor raised a plump white hand in horrified protest. “I beg of
you—no,” he said hurriedly. “Spare us the disgusting details, _mon
cher_. Generalities will be amply sufficient, amply sufficient.”

His nephew shrugged acquiescence. “As you will,” he said complacently,
“but it was amusing—oh, yes, distinctly amusing,” he mimicked, with the
assurance of a highly privileged individual. And for five minutes he
sketched with racy frankness the character and failings of the man who
had won for himself an unenviable reputation even in a not too
straight-laced society. It was an unsavoury revelation that provoked
little exclamations of disgust from the visibly distressed Governor, but
Carew listened with apparent indifference to the delinquencies of his
fellow-countryman. “—a drunkard and a bully,” concluded the attaché,
ticking off the final accusations on his fingers as if he were
tabulating them for a formal process. “And married,” he added with a
burst of indignation, “married, _imaginez-vous_, to a beautiful young
girl with the face of an angel—”

“Yes, yes, quite so,” interrupted his uncle dryly, “they usually are
married, _ces gens là_, to a beautiful young girl with the face of an
angel! But we are not discussing Lady Geradine, my good Patrice. Not a
pleasant character, I fear,” he added, turning deprecatingly to Carew as
if apologising for his nephew’s outspoken comments, “but rich, immensely
rich, I understand. If it is the question of a horse, perhaps—” he
suggested tentatively, as a probable reason for Carew’s inquiry suddenly
occurred to him. But Carew shook his head with a curt gesture of
disdain.

“I value my horses too highly to sell them to a man of that type,” he
said shortly, and took leave without vouchsafing any explanation of his
curiosity.

Outside in the Place du Gouvernement he glanced at his watch as he
turned his steps toward the native quarter. It was later than he had
imagined. He would have to hurry to keep his appointment and get back to
his own villa in time to dress for the dinner the Governor had planned
so gleefully. Heedless of the traffic, too familiar with the varied
types to even glance at the jostling crowd of cosmopolitan humanity
about him, he strode through the busy streets with a heavy scowl on his
face, immersed in his own thoughts. What on earth had made him ask the
Governor that idiotic question? What on earth did the fellow matter to
him! If the voluble young attaché’s story was true—and Patrice Lemaire
was a social butterfly who knew everybody and everything in Algiers—he
must be a pretty average blackguard. And if he were—what business was
it of his? It mattered not one particle to him if the tenant of de
Granier’s villa was a devil from hell or a saint from heaven. If the
girl had married a scoundrel it was her own look-out. It was of no
moment to him. He had no interest in either her or her husband. He had
been forced to help her in her exigency, but the affair was over and
done with—thank heaven.

Finished as far as he was concerned when he had been fortunate enough to
get her horse back, which he had done far sooner than he had expected.
It had been a stroke of luck, that second chance meeting with Abdul el
Dhib. Carew smiled despite himself as he remembered the wily horse
stealer’s discomforted curses when he reluctantly surrendered the stolen
stallion which he had already mentally disposed of at considerable
profit to a Sheik in the south who paid well and asked no questions. But
it had been touch and go, half-an-hour later and he would have missed
him. With what result? Quite suddenly he seemed to be looking into a
pair of wide, blue eyes, strained and dark with agonised terror, and he
flung his shoulders back angrily, cursing the trick of memory that had
brought the girl’s white face before him with vivid distinctness. For
years he had never consciously looked at a woman. Why did this woman’s
face haunt him so persistently? He had no wish to remember her, he hoped
never to see her again, but for the last three weeks the remembrance of
her had been a nightmare. The tranquillity of mind he had won after
years of mental struggle had been torn from him, first by the coming of
Micky Meredith and then by the circumstance that had flung this
unfortunate girl across his path. The quiet villa that for so long had
been his haven of rest seemed now neither restful nor solitary. It was
peopled by shadowy figures that crowded day and night upon his thoughts,
breaking habits that had become second nature and stirring him painfully
to the recollection of emotions he had long since deliberately cut out
of his life. He was in the grip of a tremendous revolt that acted
equally on mind and body. He seemed, for the second time in his forty
years, to be facing a crisis that was overwhelming. He tried to analyse
dispassionately the agitation of mind that had taken so strong a hold on
him, to probe honestly for the reason of the strange unrest that filled
him. But self-analysis brought him no nearer to an understanding of his
feelings, brought him no kind of alleviation.

And yet, in reality, there was only one solution, he argued doggedly as
he made his way through the narrow streets, a solution that was simple
enough, ample enough in all conscience—if he had only sense enough to
leave it at that. It was, it could only be, reaction from the sudden
awakening of the old pain, the old memories he had thought done with
forever. There was no other possible construction to put upon his state
of mind—he would allow no other construction. And yet, the humiliation
of it! That the chance meeting with an old friend should move him so
strongly; that he should be fool enough, weak enough to permit himself
to brood over the past he had buried so many years before. Had he not
even yet conquered the moral cowardice that in the early days of his
sorrow had driven him from England and made him avoid association with
his fellow countrymen rather than face the scandal that would always be
connected with his name. It had been rank cowardice. And he was a coward
still, it appeared, too cowardly even to be honest with himself.

His face hardened as a wave of self-disgust passed over him. And
wrenching his thoughts resolutely from the morbid introspection to which
he had given way he forced his attention to the immediate matter in
hand.

And as he plunged deeper into the heart of the Casbar he thought with a
slight feeling of amusement of General Sanois’ parting words for the
astute old Arab who awaited his coming was distinctly one of those
“friends” the General yearned to lay his hands on.

Turning from the steep street he was ascending, he entered a gloomy
alley of squalid, sinister-looking houses and walked slowly along the
narrow footway, counting the closed doors carefully as he went.

The house before which he eventually halted was, if possible, more
sinister, more wretched-looking than the rest, the cracked walls bulging
ominously in places and stained with leperous-like patches where the
plaster had fallen off, the twisted iron balcony that projected a few
feet above his head clinging by what seemed a miracle to the crumbling
fabric from which it threatened momentarily to detach itself. There was
no knocker on the nail-studded door, and the tiny grille was closed, but
Carew had not expected an open welcome and he was too well versed in the
ways of the Casbar to advertise his presence by any noisy demonstration.
Though apparently deserted, he knew that life was teeming behind the
seemingly empty walls. The whole street bore the same abandoned
tenantless appearance, but he was well aware that unseen peeping eyes
had followed his leisurely progress from the moment he had set foot on
the filthy cobble stones that were damp and reeking with undrained
refuse. He knew that he was expected, but it was not his custom to make
visits of ceremony to the Casbar in European dress, and, an unfamiliar
figure, in all likelihood, some minutes would elapse before the door
opened to receive him. It was probable that his coming was watched for
from behind the close lattice-work of the forlornly drooping little
balcony and he moved further out into the street that he might be more
plainly seen, lighting a cigarette as he set himself to wait until the
hidden watcher should satisfy himself of the visitor’s identity. And the
cigarette was smoked through before he heard the dull clank of heavy
bars being removed. Still with no show of haste he sauntered to the door
that opened narrowly to admit him and passed into gloom that became
absolute blackness as the faint light, filtering in from without, was
shut off by the closing of the entrance. Again he heard the rattle of
formidable bolts, then a hand touched his sleeve and he was led along an
interminable passage that curved and twisted tortuously. It was
impossible in the darkness to form any idea of the way he was being
conducted and with the frequent turnings he speedily lost all sense of
bearing. He only knew that the house he had entered was certainly not
the one in which he would eventually find himself. That the passage
occasionally widened into rooms was apparent for he could feel the
difference in the atmosphere, and his hand outstretched to the dank wall
beside him met from time to time with only space. But his silent guide
moved forward unhesitatingly with a sure step that made Carew wonder
suddenly if he was blind.

Dumb also, it would appear, for he made no answer to the one remark
addressed to him.

A doorkeeper who was a deaf mute and blind, a mysterious building which
was approached by devious ways and secret passages—Carew’s lips
twitched with amusement. To him the situation was sufficiently
ludicrous, though to one less sure of his welcome, less acquainted with
the way of the people, there might have been more than a suggestion of
unpleasantness in this curious reception. It was all so typically
eastern, so fraught with childish intrigue and suspicion. The wily old
Arab who, after years of absence, had ventured into Algiers again for
cogent reasons of his own was evidently taking no chances of a surprise
visit from the authorities who were presumably unaware of his return.
That he had come himself directly from the Palace and from the company
of General Sanois was a humorous coincidence that made Carew smile
again.

His eyes were just beginning to become accustomed to the darkness when
the guide’s fingers pressing on his arm brought him to a sudden stop and
he waited without moving while more bolts were removed and a tiny door
swung inward revealing a narrow winding staircase which was lit by a
solitary earthenware lamp placed in a niche in the wall. Seen by the dim
light his conductor proved to be a powerful negro of gigantic height,
blind as he had thought. And feeling more than ever that he had stepped
into an episode from the Arabian Nights, Carew followed him up the
staircase to a door that was covered with a curtain of matchless
embroidery. He was ushered into a room which, for sumptuousness of
furnishing and barbaric splendour, he had never seen equalled. The rugs
and hangings were priceless, the divans and mats gorgeous with vivid
colourings, and the many lamps of beaten silver, lit already, for the
daylight was excluded by thick curtains, were finer even than those
which hung in the mauresque hall of his own villa. The atmosphere was
stifling and heavy with the sweet pungent scent of incense.

Blinking at the sudden light he hesitated on the threshold for an
instant and then went forward to meet the superbly-dressed Arab who rose
quickly from a heap of cushions to greet him with unusually
demonstrative expressions of pleasure.

Their last meeting had been under very different circumstances,
circumstances attendant on the intertribal warfare that waged
perpetually between the belligerent Arabs of the far south. Travelling
in a district that was new to him, Carew had become involved in a bid
for supremacy between two powerful chiefs which had ended in victory for
the one who was now greeting him with such wealth of flowery
hyperbole—a victory that at the time it had seemed impossible he could
live to enjoy. In the course of his wanderings, Carew had seen many
appalling sights and had attended to wounds that appeared well-nigh
incurable, but never in the whole of his experience had he attempted to
restore a body so horribly mangled and broken. For weeks he had wrestled
to save the chief’s life and it had been mainly owing to his care,
though helped by a magnificent constitution and a passionate desire to
live, that the Sheik had eventually recovered to swear eternal
friendship with the man who had literally snatched him from the jaws of
death.

The mutual interchange of formal compliments and good-will was followed
by the customary coffee and sweet-meats, and cigarettes that were the
Sheik’s one lapse from strict orthodoxy and which he proffered with a
grave smile and a jest at his own expense. The conversation ranged over
many topics, and used though he was to the circumambient methods of the
oriental when any particular point is in view, Carew began to wonder
when the special subject which he understood was the main reason of his
visit would be approached. But when the Sheik at length abandoned
generalities and came with unexpected directness to the heart of the
matter he had dallied with so long, Carew listened to information that
coming from such a quarter, filled him with amazement. The man was no
friend to France, and out of favour with the Government, but he was
calmly imparting intelligence that would be very useful to the
Administration and for the moment Carew was nonplussed. Was the
surprising confidence for his ears alone or was he being used as an
intermediary to bring about a rapprochement between a refractory chief
and the rulers of the country? He put the question with his usual
bluntness.

“Is it thy wish that the Government should learn of this?”

The Sheik’s gem-laden fingers touched lightly first his forehead then
his breast.

“It is my wish that through _thee_ the Government should learn that
which they are too blind to see. Thus do I, in part, pay my debt,” he
answered, with a sudden gleam in his fierce old eyes. Carew nodded and
studied the glowing end of his cigarette thoughtfully for a few moments.

“And thou, O Sheik,” he said at last, “do I speak for thee to the
Government? The day is fortunate. Tonight I dine with His Excellency and
General Sanois—”

“May Allah burn them!” interposed the Sheik fervently, and spat frankly
and conclusively on to the priceless carpet. Carew laughed.

“And thy news?” he asked, rising to his feet after a glance at the watch
on his wrist and pulling his waistcoat down with a jerk.

“Use it—or withhold it, but speak no word of me. Am I their dog?”
replied the Sheik, with a flash of anger, as he prepared to take leave
of his guest.

But there was a constraint in his manner, a hint of something left
unsaid, that made him appear preoccupied as he accompanied Carew to the
head of the little winding staircase where the negro was still waiting.
And it was not until the elaborate farewells had been spoken and Carew
had started to descend that the old Arab gave utterance to what was in
his mind. Leaning forward he spoke in a swift undertone. “There was a
dweller in the wilderness who had a garden filled with rare
flowers—culled from the gardens of better men than he—a garden
overflowing with sweetness and delight. Yet was he not satisfied, for
his questioning eyes had glimpsed the beauty of a stranger blossom
brought from a far-off land, and he burned with desire to gather it for
his own. Chance gave him the prize he longed for—and chance wrested it
from him again. And now the fire of desire is quenched in the greater
fire of hatred and revenge. Take heed for that same gardener, my
friend,” he added meaningly, and turned away with a parting salaam.

Carew went on down the stairs with a faint smile at the oriental
ambiguity with which the veiled warning had been conveyed to him. Though
no name had been mentioned it was perfectly obvious who threatened him.
He had thwarted the desire of no other Arab. But as he followed the
negro again through the blackness of the winding passage he turned from
the thought of that particular Arab with a shrug of annoyance. Abdul el
Dhib was too intimately connected with what he wished to forget to allow
him to dwell on the possible results of the horse-thief’s threats.
Threatened men live long, and Abdul was in some ways wise in his
generation. There seemed no need to take the warning too seriously and,
besides, he was too deeply imbued with the fatalism he had learned in
the desert to dread death that was always more or less imminent in the
hazardous life he led. He had always held his life cheaply, there was no
reason now to go out of his way to take precautions that would probably
be unnecessary. He lived or he died as Allah willed—a comfortable creed
he found amply sufficient.

Dismissing Abdul from his mind his thoughts reverted to the other as
plausible but more clean-handed Arab he had just quitted. The
intelligence the Sheik had imparted ought, without question, to be
passed on to headquarters, and that as speedily as possible. Perhaps
tonight he would find opportunity to approach the General on the
subject—and Sanois; certain demands for the source of his information
were going to be the very devil to parry.

The return journey through the dismal cellars seemed shorter than the
first and Carew was not surprised when he was ushered into the outer
world again to find himself, as he had expected, in a totally different
street from that in which he had waited to gain admittance to the
sinister-looking house. But the locality was known to him and very soon
he was back in the rue Annibal, swinging quickly down the unusually
empty street. Preoccupied he rounded a sharp corner without noticing the
noisy clamour that ordinarily would have warned him of some special
excitement in progress and came suddenly upon a yelling crowd of ragged
youths and boys who fought and screamed and tore at each other as they
surged round some central object that was hidden from him. The noise was
deafening, the narrow roadway completely blocked, and Carew glanced at
his watch with a gathering frown. He was late enough already, he had no
mind to be further delayed by a band of young savages employed probably
in their usual amusement of torturing some unfortunate dumb animal that
had fallen into their clutches.

He was familiar with the callous cruelty of the Arabs, but familiarity
had not lessened the abhorrence with which he viewed this particular
pastime of the native youth. And the scowl on his face deepened as he
sought to find some way of passing the squalid rabble who had taken
possession of the footway. Argument was impossible, his voice would be
drowned in the shrill cries that filled the air. Action, prompt and
decisive, was the only expedient. Selecting a spot where the throng
seemed less dense he gripped two of the taller lads, who were engaged in
a private sparring match on the fringe of the crowd, and dashing their
heads together drove them before him a living wedge into the heart of
the press.

The unexpectedness of his attack made his task an easy one, and in the
sudden silence that ensued he cursed them fluently and with picturesque
attention to detail that left nothing to the imagination.

There were some who knew him by sight—he heard his Arab title uttered
warningly—for the rest he was a representative of law and order whose
coming put a period to their amusement. Before he had finished speaking
they had begun to slink away and in a few moments he was alone in the
again deserted street, looking down with a variety of feelings on the
slim girlish figure crouched on the filthy cobblestones at his feet.
Hatless, her white dress stained and crumpled, she seemed oblivious of
everything but the pitiful little cur whose mangled bloodstained head
lay on her knee. She was crooning to it softly, brushing the matted hair
from its fast glazing eyes and stroking the broken palpitating limbs
with tender caressing fingers. And when the tortured creature’s agony
was over and she had laid the little dead body gently aside she still
sat on motionless, shivering from time to time as she tried to wipe the
crimson stickiness from her fingers with a scrap of lawn that was
already a soaked red rag.

With a gesture of impatience Carew dropped his own larger and more
adequate handkerchief into her lap.

“It is unwise to meddle with these Arab _gamins_, Lady Geradine.” He
spoke curtly, his tone patiently disapproving, and at the sound of his
voice she started violently. For a moment she scarcely seemed to
breathe, then she stumbled to her feet looking up at him quickly and he
saw the sudden bewilderment that leaped into her eyes as they travelled
slowly over the length of his tall figure and then sought his face again
to linger on the tell-tale scar across his cheek that gave her the clue
to his identity.

“You are English,” she stammered, the colour rushing into her white
cheeks. “I thought—that night—you were an Arab.” Then she flung her
hands out to him with a little choking cry. “Oh, why didn’t you come
sooner,” she wailed, “it was horrible! That poor wee beastie—those
_devils_! You don’t know what they did—it nearly drove me mad—I can’t
bear to see an animal suffer—” she broke off with a shudder and for a
moment he thought she was going to faint and caught at her arm
instinctively. But she pulled herself together, moving away from him
slightly with a fleeting smile of acknowledgment.

“I’m all right, thanks, only it makes one—just a little bit—sick,” she
said jerkily, her hands busy with her loosened hair, and looking about
for her hat which had been torn from her in the scuffle. She spied it at
last wedged in the grating of a window and rescued it with a rueful
laugh that ended shakily. Brushing the dust marks from her tumbled dress
she turned again to Carew. He was waiting with the detached air of
aloofness she remembered so well and which sent a little chill through
her, making her feel that again he had been constrained to render a
service that was totally against his inclination.

“I seem to be fated to give you trouble,” she murmured shyly. But he did
not choose to notice her tentative reference to their first meeting.

“Are you alone?” he asked bluntly. “It is too late in the evening for
you to be in the Casbar without an escort.”

She flushed deeply at the undisguised reproof in his tone, and found
herself eagerly defending her imprudence as if she admitted his right to
censure and could not bear that he should put a wrong construction on
her actions.

“I know—but I didn’t realize how late it was. I was shopping, and after
I had sent my man home with the parcels I remembered a piece of
embroidery I wanted. I thought I could find it easily but I had to hunt
for it a long time. Then I forgot all about the time in watching the
people, and I wandered on until, finally, I lost myself. I was trying to
make my way back when—when I saw the dog. I suppose it was stupid of me
to attempt to do anything—but I just had to,” she concluded, with
sudden vehemence. A curious look she was unable to read flashed across
his face as he glanced from her to the wretched little body stiffening
on the cobbles, but he made no comment as he moved forward with an
almost imperceptible shrug. “I can find you a _fiacre_ in the rue
Randon,” he said coldly, as if his sole desire was to be rid of her
society at the earliest moment possible.

And chilled again by his brusque manner she walked beside him silently.
She was more shaken by the incident than she had realised, and for the
first time she began to wonder what would have happened if he had not
come. But he had come, and once again she was his debtor for a service
he rendered unwillingly. By no stretch of imagination could she deceive
herself into believing that, he was even interested, much less glad, at
seeing her again. Why did he so grudge the help he voluntarily offered?
And why had he let her think that he was an Arab? She looked at him
covertly, but after the first shy glance she had no hesitation in
continuing her scrutiny for he seemed as unaware of her regard as he was
negligent of her company. She realised it with a curiously bitter little
feeling of pain. Yet why should he be other than he was? She was only a
stranger, forced upon his notice by what he must consider as deliberate
acts of folly on her part. And yet it was not so. She had been
thoughtless, but on neither occasion had she willfully gone out of her
way to court either excitement or danger. The morning when she had
ridden alone it was an imperative desire for solitude that had made her
leave Tanner behind. And today the sight of the tortured dog had driven
all thoughts of herself out of her head. She had not stopped to think of
the possible consequences that might ensue when, carried away by horror
and pity, she had endeavoured to restrain the most fiendish cruelty she
had ever witnessed.

She stifled a sigh as she looked at him again, sure of his
preoccupation.

The change of dress seemed to alter him completely. In the well-fitting
blue serge suit that clung closely to his muscular figure he appeared
taller, slenderer than she had supposed; but he looked older, too, and
the gravity of face and demeanour that had seemed natural in an Arab
struck her even more forcibly now that she knew his true nationality.
The soft felt hat, pulled far forward over his eyes, shaded features
that to her looked sterner and more rigidly set than when she had first
seen them. It was a strong face, she decided, too strong, too hard
perhaps for absolute beauty but, clean cut, and bronzed as a native’s,
lean and healthy looking, it was a face that arrested and compelled
attention. Strength seemed the key note of his composition. His spare
frame appeared to be made up of only bone and muscle, his long slow
stride was springy and elastic, and he carried himself magnificently.
Again she found herself wondering who he was, wishing she might ask him,
but fearing the same rebuff she had met with before. And yet, if she
only knew his name! It would be something to remember, something to
cling to. And as the thought came she turned her head away hastily with
a feeling of acute and miserable shame, realising how completely he had
filled her mind during what had seemed to her the longest and most
unhappy weeks she had ever experienced. She had wrestled with herself,
striving to forget him, hoping that time would obliterate the image that
seemed to possess her every conscious moment. But this second meeting
had shattered the resolutions she had formed so bravely. She would
always remember, always care. The memory of him would go with her
through life—the memory of a man who was indifferent to her, whom
honour demanded that she should root out of her heart. Did love always
come like that, so suddenly, so irresistible, so unsought? Could she
have conquered it if she had really tried to do so from the first moment
of realization? She had tried. She had fought against it, shuddering
from what seemed to her a sin, praying desperately for strength to put
it from her. But her prayers had been unavailing and daily, hourly, the
love she could not deny had grown stronger and more insistent. Only in
the last three weeks had she come to know how starved her heart had
been. Love had entered very little into her life. Her father had loved
her but she was a child when he died, and since his death she had had no
outlet for the affection lying dormant in her. She had lived in the
open, a boy’s life rather than a girl’s, finding abundant happiness and
contentment in sport and outdoor pursuits. She had had no girlish dreams
of the possible lover who might some day come to win her heart, no
opportunity of filling her imagination with tales of sentiment and
romance. During the long winter evenings in the lonely house in Ireland
she had read much but the books that formed her father’s library were
books of travel and the histories of many countries. She had been
singularly innocent, singularly young. Then she had married, and
marriage had brought her not the joy and wonder of a man’s devotion but
the loathing of a man’s possession. All that was brutal, all that was
sordid and degrading in such a union she had learned with horror and
amazement. Forced to hide the revulsion that filled her, forced into a
mode of life that shocked her every sense of decency, she had steeled
herself to endure until she had come to look upon herself as a thing of
stone, a heartless, lifeless automaton. The hope of a child, that might
have been another woman’s salvation, had never touched her. She shrank
with abhorrence from the thought of possible motherhood. It would have
been the last drop in her cup of bitterness. In spite of the
disappointment and anger of her husband, who never ceased to reproach
her for failing to give him the heir he desired, she prayed God
passionately to spare her the shame of bringing into the world the
offspring of such a man. That through her his vices might be perpetuated
was a fear that never left her, a fear that year by year as she learned
more thoroughly her husband’s character and innate viciousness had grown
into an obsession. And now the dread that filled her continually had
become a thousand times more poignant, a thousand times more horrible
for the strange overwhelming emotion that had leaped into being that
awful night three weeks ago. Love she had never thought to know had come
to her—and come too late. Free, she could have loved him though he had
never turned to her; bound, to even think of him was disloyalty to the
man who had the right to claim her affection. The right to claim—but
when had he ever claimed it! When had he ever shown by look or word that
he even desired it? Her feelings were nothing to him, obedience was all
he demanded—slavish submission to his domination, absolute surrender to
his will, his caprices, and his inordinate passion. The pride he
displayed in her beauty was the same he exhibited for any animal his
wealth enabled him to acquire. The pride merely of arrogant ownership.
And as he treated his animals so did he treat her. And as they flinched
from him so did her whole soul recoil from his proximity. The last three
weeks had been purgatory. He had been more intolerant, more hard to
please, more insistent in his selfish demands than he had ever been. He
had also been drinking more heavily than usual with disastrous results
to his temper which had been felt by all the household. Malec, the Arab
valet, the scarcely healed cut across his face a burning, throbbing
reminder of his master’s heavy hand, went sullenly about his duties with
hatred in his half-veiled eyes, and Tanner was in open rebellion.

This evening for the first time since his return he had allowed her out
of his sight, and had given reluctant permission for the shopping
expedition to the Casbar. For two hours she had been free, free of the
suspicious eyes that watched her every movement, free of the hated
caresses that in his maudlin humour he showered on her. She shivered at
the thought of going back to him. With an unconscious movement she drew
nearer to the man who walked beside her, marvelling anew at the strange
feeling of security his presence brought her, marvelling that she should
feel so little astonishment at seeing him again.

It seemed perfectly natural that he should once more come to her aid. If
it had been Clyde instead—a spasm of pain crossed her face. Clyde would
only have been amused! She clenched her hands as she strove to stem the
tide of bitterness that rushed over her. Why must she torture herself
with making comparisons. The contrast between them was sufficiently
hideous without allowing herself to dwell on it. And she had no right to
dwell on it, no right to make comparisons. She was Clyde’s wife—Clyde’s
wife. The clenched hands tightened until the nails bit deeper into the
soft palms. Silence became impossible. She must speak, if only to turn
the current of her thoughts.

“I haven’t thanked you for sending back The Caid,” she said nervously,
forcing her voice to steadiness. They were passing down a narrow street
where grave-faced Arabs, lost apparently in contemplation, sat smoking
in the open doorways of their shops regarding the passers-by with
unconcerned aloofness, ostensibly disdainful of possible sales, yet
quick to notice all who came and went, for, watching them, Marny saw
with growing astonishment the frequent and profound salaams which
greeted her companion. As she spoke he had stopped to acknowledge the
salute of a venerable greybeard who lounged indolently amongst the fine
carpets and heterogeneous collection of brasswork and antique firearms
that formed his stock in trade. For a moment Carew paused to handle the
keen-edged Moorish dagger proffered to him with an accompanying murmur
that was barely audible, then shook his head smilingly as he returned
the weapon with a shrug of careless indifference and an equally
low-voiced rejoinder.

With complete unconcern the Arab tossed the knife aside and resumed his
pipe, and Carew turned again to Marny with a slight gesture of apology.

“I can recommend old Ibraheim, if you are interested in embroideries,
Lady Geradine. Most of his things are genuine, and he has seen you with
me—he won’t rob you too unmercifully,” he said, with the first smile he
had yet given her. “I was fortunate in finding your horse,” he
continued, raising his hand to fend from her the swaying head of a
heavily laden camel that lurched past with a snarling grunt of
ill-humour, “but, if you will permit me to say so, I strongly advise you
not to ride him again unattended. His worth and pedigree are well known,
and there are a number of Arabs in and about Algiers who are very averse
to valuable stallions being sold out of the country. It is only natural
when you come to think of it! I should hold the same view myself—were I
an Arab.”

“You are very like one.” The words escaped her involuntarily and she
glanced at him quickly, fearful that he would think her impertinent. But
he did not appear to resent the comparison and taking courage she
yielded to the longing that came over her to learn more of the man who
had come so strangely into her life.

“You have lived much amongst them?” she suggested diffidently. His curt
assent was not conducive to further questioning but her wistful interest
overcame her shyness.

“In the desert—the _real_ desert?” she asked eagerly.

“Yes, in the real desert,” he answered shortly, a slight frown gathering
on his face. And as if regretting the slight lapse from his former
rigidity of manner he seemed to draw once more into himself, cold and
unapproachable as he had been at first. And, flushing sensitively, Marny
relapsed into silence that lasted until they reached the rue Randon. A
passing victoria plying for hire rattled up in response to Carew’s
signal, and he had placed her in it almost before she realized that they
were clear of the Casbar.

For a moment she leant forward without speaking, looking at him as he
stood bareheaded on the pavement beside her. Then she thrust her hand
out to him with a brusque boyish gesture.

“Thank you—for all you’ve done,” she said shakily, her lips trembling
despite her efforts to keep them steady.

For the fraction of a second he hesitated, staring gloomily at the
little outstretched hand, then his tall figure stiffened suddenly and,
drawing back with a deep un-English bow, he signed to the Arab coachman
to drive on.



                               CHAPTER V


Without bestowing a second glance on either the carriage or its occupant
Carew jammed his hat down savagely over his eyes and leaped into another
cab that had drawn up expectantly beside him.

He leant back against the dusty cushions, his arms folded tightly across
his chest, scowling wrathfully at the busy streets. He had not seen the
look of hurt disappointment that flashed into the girl’s eyes when he
ignored her outstretched hand, nor heard the sharp sob that burst from
her trembling lips. He had been conscious only of the raging tumult of
his own feelings, of the intolerant anger that this second wholly
undesired meeting had provoked. It had been an effort to be even
civil—if indeed he had been civil at all, which he very much doubted.
How like a woman to forget one peril so readily and court further danger
without a moment’s consideration. Had the lesson of three weeks ago made
so little impression on her? The little fool—did she imagine that
Algiers was teeming with knights-errant seeking beauty in distress! His
fine lips curved contemptuously as he lit a cigarette and looked at his
watch with a deeper scowl. Though indifferent to his own meals he
disliked causing annoyance to others and the cheery little Governor was
a gourmet to whom a retarded dinner was a catastrophe. By now he should
have been starting for the Palace instead of toiling up the road to
Mustapha behind two extremely tired half-starved Arab hacks. It was
useless to urge the driver, the hill was steep and the miserable little
beasts were doing their best.

Stretching his long legs out more comfortably and pulling his hat
further over his eyes he settled himself to wait, his mind wandering
back to the desert he had so recently left but towards which his
thoughts were already turning eagerly. Time to complete his arrangements
for another protracted trip, to restock his depleted medical equipment,
and he could leave this confounded town again for the life he loved
best. A life of hardship and danger, but to him a life eminently worth
living. And in the end—far out amongst the sandy wastes, he hoped,
where the fierce sun would beat down scorchingly on the whispering
particles that would hold him in their shifting embrace, where the
jackals would wail their nightly chorus under the marvel of the eastern
stars—the requiem of the desert.

The desert! He drew a deep breath of heart-felt anticipation. It was
calling him more compellingly than it had ever done, bringing memories
of long hot rides beneath the burning sun, of the silver radiance of the
peaceful moonlit nights and the never failing glory of the dawn. He
smiled a little at his own enthusiasm. It was not all peace and beauty
and marvellous silence. There was battle and murder and sudden death,
cruelty that was inconceivable and suffering that made him set his teeth
as he thought of the needless agony he had witnessed more times than he
cared to remember. But despite its savagery he loved it. It was his
life. It was there he had found his chosen work, it was there he hoped
to die. Even the thought of it was soothing to him in his present mood,
and dreaming of it, he forgot the annoyance of the afternoon, forgot
everything but the irresistible charm it had for him.

The villa was reached at length, the sweating horses expending their
remaining reserve of strength in a final spurt of activity rushing the
last fifty yards of level ground under a storm of abuse from the Arab
driver who drew up at the nail-studded door, set in the enclosing wall,
with a self-satisfied grin that widened broadly as he caught the liberal
fee tossed to him. At the sound of the approaching wheels the door had
opened silently and Carew passed through and went swiftly along the
flower bordered pathway to the house. The single storied building was
the most beautiful in Mustapha Superieur. Built forty years before for
Carew’s delicate mother it was a miniature palace and stood in a garden
that rivalled even that of the Villa des Ombres. But, preoccupied, Carew
had tonight no eye for the beauty of either house or garden and he did
not linger as was his wont before entering the spacious mauresque hall
where Hosein was waiting for him in a state of visible agitation that
was foreign to his usual impassive demeanour.

“Praise be to Allah, my lord has returned,” he murmured, his gloomy eyes
lightening with evident relief. Carew stared at him for a moment in
puzzled astonishment, then he smiled a trifle grimly. Hosein too! This
was becoming monotonous. He was fully conversant with the rapidity with
which reports spread in a land of rumour and intrigue, but Abdul, who
had unorthodox proclivities, must have been drunk indeed to boast so
openly of his intentions.

“To Allah the praise,” he returned conventionally. Then he laughed and
shrugged indifferently. “ ‘The jackal howls where he dare not slay,’ ”
he quoted, adding over his shoulder as he moved away, “Telephone to the
Palace that I have been detained, that I beg His Excellency will not
wait for me. I will join him as quickly as possible.”

He crossed the open courtyard round which the house was built and
entered his bedroom, passing through to the dressing room beyond. There
he found the blind boy sitting on the floor, his hands folded in his
lap, his face turned towards the door with a look of strained attention.
As it opened he sprang to his feet and bounded forward impetuously. With
a word of warning Carew caught him and swung him high in his arms. “What
mischief to confess, O son of wickedness?” he teased, as he felt the
slender limbs trembling against him. But the time-honoured jest did not
provoke the peal of laughter he expected. Instead the little face was
grave and strangely set and Carew put him down with a quick caress.

“Who has troubled thee, Saba?” he asked quietly, moving across the room
to empty his pockets before changing. The boy followed him with
outstretched fumbling hands. “No man has troubled me,” he answered
slowly, “but, lord, my heart is sick within me. I dreamt a dream—an
evil dream. And, waking, the dream is with me still. There is danger,
lord, that threatens thee. In my dreams I saw clearly, but now I cannot
see—I cannot see—” he broke off with a sharp little wail of anguish. A
queer look crossed Carew’s face as his hands closed firmly over the tiny
fluttering fingers. It was not the first time that Saba had shown
himself to be possessed of an almost uncanny sensitiveness where the
safety of the man he worshipped was concerned. Ordinarily a happy,
healthy-minded child there was in him an odd streak of mysticism that
cropped up at rare intervals with curious results. On two previous
occasions he had had a presage of danger menacing his protector that
subsequent events had fully justified. Too familiar with the occultism
of the east to be sceptical Carew was not disposed to minimise the
importance of a warning that was identical with the plainer, more
substantial hints he had received that afternoon, but he was in no mind
to treat it with undue seriousness or show too great a credulity to the
nervous boy whose upturned sightless eyes were wet with tears. He
soothed him with the tenderness that marked his every dealing with him.
“Thou hast dreamt before,” he said gently, “and the danger has passed.
So will this danger pass—”

“If Allah wills.” The childish treble broke on a quivering sob and Carew
accepted the qualification of his assurance with a little smile. “All
things are with Allah,” he answered, “and it is written ‘seek not to
discover that which is hidden, for behold, when the day cometh all
things shall be revealed.’ And again, ‘no accident happeneth in the
earth, nor in your persons, but the same was entered in the book of our
decrees.’ ”

A deep sigh escaped the boy and he pressed his lips on the strong brown
hands clasped on his.

“So it is written—yet if thou die, I die,” he exclaimed passionately.

With wonderful gentleness Carew disengaged himself.

“Time to think of that when I die,” he said lightly. “Meanwhile I
live—and the French lord’s dinner grows cold while I chatter with a
dreamer of dreams,” he added, turning away to the dressing table.

He changed quickly, and flinging a black cloak over his evening clothes
paused irresolutely with his hand over a revolver that lay on the table.
He was not in the habit of carrying firearms in the town of Algiers but
tonight there seemed justification for so doing. He might have doubts as
to the truth of the warnings he had received but he would be a fool to
utterly ignore them.

Slipping the weapon into his hip pocket he left the room with a cheery
word to Saba, who was sitting mournfully amidst the discarded clothing
that littered the floor, and went out to his waiting carriage.

And as the spirited black horses drew him swiftly through the night his
thoughts were busy with the pathetic little figure left disconsolate in
the dressing room. If anything happened to him what would be the fate of
the blind boy whose whole life was bound up in his? It was a problem
that had often troubled him. He had made full provision for his
protege’s future and Hosein, while he lived, would serve him faithfully.
But Saba in his blindness and with his highly-strung mystical
temperament needed more than bodily comfort and faithful service. He
needed what apparently only Carew could give him. Without Carew he would
pine and droop like a delicate plant torn from the parent root from
which it draws its strength. For Saba’s sake, then it behooved him to
take precautions he would otherwise have neglected.

The town was quieter than it had been earlier in the evening and Carew’s
coachman, who was a noted whip, took full advantage of the empty
streets, driving with customary Arab recklessness but handling the
excited horses magnificently until, with a fine flourish, he drew them
foam-flecked to a standstill before the Palace.

The Governor, as Carew hoped, had taken him at his word. Dinner was in
full swing when he entered with apologies for his lateness and slipped
into the place reserved for him.

It was, in compliment to his known peculiarity, a strictly bachelor
entertainment, enlivened by the presence of Patrice Lemaire and another
equally light-hearted attache.

The Governor, hospitable to his finger tips and still pleasantly excited
with the success of the day’s work, was overflowing with good humour.
Even General Sanois had relaxed somewhat of his usual gravity and
condescended to occasional bursts of heavy pleasantry. But he was
obviously distrait and his spasmodic attempts at conversation were
punctuated by lengthy silences during which his eyes wandered frequently
to Carew who was sitting opposite to him. And towards the close of
dinner, when the Arab servants had left the room, he leaned forward with
a sudden remark that was fraught with more meaning than the actual words
implied.

“Your friends in the Casbar were exigent, it seems.”

But Carew, who knew him, was not to be drawn. General Sanois was usually
possessed of more knowledge than he was willing to admit, and his
seemingly inocuous questions were often actuated by a deliberate policy
and were rarely as guileless as they appeared. And tonight his thinly
veiled curiosity met with scant success. Carew had no intention of being
trapped into saying more than he wished to say, or of imparting what he
preferred to withhold. He met the General’s intent gaze with a tolerant
smile.

“Don’t jibe at my friends, _mon général_,” he replied. “As I said this
afternoon, they are useful. They serve you through me and they know
it—most of them. But I picked up one piece of information this evening
that will interest you—”

“Tomorrow,” interrupted the Governor hastily, “tomorrow, my dear Carew.
Business tonight is taboo. If our good Sanois once starts talking of his
eternal affairs he will talk all through the opera, and I shall behave
badly. Yes, badly, I warn you. I—” The remainder of his protest was
lost in the shout of laughter that burst from his irrepressible nephew.

“Latest news from Algeria,” chanted Lemaire in the shrill nasal tones of
the street newsvendor. “Regrettable scene witnessed last night at the
opera. Fracas in the Governor General’s box. His Excellency and the
Commander-in-Chief engaged in mortal combat in the presence of an
excited audience. The Governor not expected to recover. General Sanois
has fled to the desert and proclaimed himself ‘Emperor of the
Sahara’—My dear General, I offer my service as Aide-de-Camp. I’m bored
to extinction with writing Uncle Henri’s despatches,” he added with an
ironical bow, dodging the dinner napkin the Governor flung at his head.
And in the general laugh that followed they rose from the table.

They were late in reaching the opera house and the first act was in
progress when the Governor, a music lover at heart, tiptoed silently
into his box and settled himself attentively to listen to a work he had
already heard a score of times.

Carew, sitting on his left, drew his chair into the shadow of the heavy
side curtain and leant back to pursue his own thoughts which the
mediocre company on the stage failed to distract. The house was full,
one box only—that directly facing the Governor’s—being empty. Carew’s
gaze turned to the crowded seats with indifferent interest. It was more
than two years since he had last visited the garish little theatre; it
would probably be another two years before he was in it again, he
reflected, as his mind ranged back to the all absorbing topic of the new
expedition he was scheming. And now it seemed possible that his schemes
might meet with an unexpected check. The information he had promised
General Sanois at dinner, which he had gleaned that afternoon during his
interview with the old chief in the Casbar, had in a measure upset his
original calculations. It might mean a total change of plan. The needs
of the Government had not been included in his forthcoming trip. He had
purposed a tour that should be wholly devoted to his own work, and he
viewed with some dismay the possibility of further political activity.
He was a free lance, of course. He could take or reject any work offered
him, but the mere fact of his freedom seemed to make the sense of his
moral obligation more binding. He would have to go if it became really
necessary—devoutly he hoped that the necessity would not arise. He was
tired of intrigue and the endless palavers of political negotiations. He
was anxious to pursue his own vocation unhindered, and to travel where
inclination took him rather than follow a definite route in furtherance
of Government schemes. There was a district, far away in the southwest,
he had long wanted to visit. A district inhabited by a tribe he had
heard of but with whom he had never yet come in contact. His plans of
the last three weeks had centered more and more round this unknown
locality that seemed to promise everything he demanded in the way of
work and adventure. A strange and hostile people who guarded the secret
of their desert fastness with jealous activity, fiercely resenting not
only the advent of foreigners but also the encroachment of contiguous
tribes. The tales he had heard of the impregnable walled-in city—a
medieval survival if all the extraordinary stories anent it were
true—had fired him with a desire to penetrate its hidden mysteries, to
gain a footing amongst its prejudiced population. His calling had proved
a passport to other inhospitable tribes, he counted on it confidently to
win his admission to the secret City of Stones—the name by which it was
known to the nomads who avoided its vicinity. The thought of it moved
him deeply. Surely there was work for him within that rocky fortress
could he but once pass its closely guarded gateway. The call seemed
imperative, the call of suffering ignorant humanity whose misery he
longed to alleviate. The need must be great, and alone he could do so
little. Still even the little was worth his utmost endeavour, was worth
the hazardous experiment. He could but try, and trying, succeed or fail.

And as he meditated on the chances of the success he earnestly hoped
for, the little theatre with its crowded seats seemed to fade before his
eyes. He saw instead an endless stretch of undulating waste, sun
scorched and shimmering in the burning heat, and a caravan that wound
its tortuous length across the wavy ripples of the wind-whipped sand
labouring towards the mirage-like battlements of the secret city
towering grimly against the radiance of the western sky. The imagery was
strangely clear, singularly real. The gloomy pile stood out against his
mental vision with almost photographic distinctness, and as he gazed at
it wonderingly he seemed to feel between his knees the easy movements of
the big bay stallion, to hear the voices of the men who rode behind him,
the grunting protests of the lurching camels, the creak of
sweat-drenched saddles and the whispering murmur of the shifting sand.

The desert smell was pungent in his nostrils, his eyeballs ached with
the blinding glare . . . .

The burst of applause that greeted the fall of the curtain woke him
abruptly from his abstraction and he turned with a momentary feeling of
confusion to join in the general conversation that ensued. Would he ever
in reality come so near to the mysterious city as he had seemed to be in
imagination five minutes ago, he wondered, as he declined the Governor’s
invitation to smoke a cigarette in the corridor. He was still pondering
it when, left alone, he rose to stretch his legs, cramped with the
confined space. He made a noticeable figure standing in the front of the
box, a figure that attracted universal attention. But with the complete
unselfconsciousness that was so markedly a trait in his character he was
unaware of the interest he aroused. Incurious himself with regard to
others, and reserved even with his intimate friends, he had no knowledge
of the extravagant reports that for years had circulated about him, or
of the excitement caused tonight by his appearance at the opera. That he
was the subject of endless speculation, that he was the most discussed
personage in Algiers, had never entered his head. And now, absorbed in
his own thoughts, he was totally oblivious of the opera glasses and
lorgnettes turned in his direction.

But his wandering attention was caught at last by the arrival of late
comers in the opposite box—a man who stopped in the doorway to argue
noisily with the theatre attendant, and a slim white-robed girl who
moved slowly to the front of the box without heeding the stormy
altercation behind her. She stood looking down on the crowded seats with
a curious little air of detachment as if her thoughts were far away,
toying nervously with the long curling feathers of a huge ostrich fan,
her heavy sable cloak slipping from her shoulders. And with the same
strange irritation, the same wholly unreasonable anger he had felt
before Carew found himself staring at the pale sensitive face of the
woman from whom he had parted only a few hours ago. Was he never to be
free of her, never to be free of the haunting eyes he had striven for
three weeks to banish from his thoughts? Was the remainder of his peace
of mind to be wrecked by the continual remembrance of a woman he had no
desire to remember? Surely her very womanhood was sufficient reason for
forgetting her. He hated women. And in the intolerant antagonism that
filled him he felt that above all others he hated this particular woman
whose need had forced him to lay aside his prejudice and break the oath
he had sworn so many years ago. Young and beautiful, she was the
incarnation of all he distrusted and despised. His face darkened and he
made a movement to return to his seat. But something that was stronger
than his hatred stayed him. Despite himself his gaze lingered on the
slight girlish figure. And presently, as if drawn by some subtle
telepathic influence, she seemed to become aware of the compelling stare
fixed on her and slowly raised her head. For a second, across the width
of the theatre, her eyes met his. But though the quick blood flamed into
her face she gave no sign of recognition and turned, as from the
unwarrantable scrutiny of a total stranger, to the man who was with
her—the husband, Carew presumed, to whom she had alluded so briefly and
with such evident constraint on that first night of meeting. The husband
who doubtless knew nothing of the hours she had spent in his camp; who,
probably, also knew nothing of this evening’s incident in the rue
Annibal. His lips curled in a sneering smile and he turned with cynical
amusement to look at the heavy figure lounging beside her. But the smile
faded swiftly and his amusement gave place to a rush of feeling he did
not at the moment understand as his eyes ranged over Geradine’s massive
almost ape-like limbs and coarse sullen features. An odd look swept
across his face and he drew his breath in sharply. For the first time in
twelve years he felt pity for a woman. But he had no time to ponder it.
All thought of the girl was swamped in the wave of strange and terrible
emotion that was pouring over him, shaking him with a force he had never
before experienced—a sudden overwhelming sense of hostility that had
sprung into violent life within him at the sight of the man in the
opposite box, a fierce instinctive hatred such as he had never
conceived. The realisation of it staggered him. There was no reason for
it, he told himself angrily. It was preposterous, absurd. He had heard
of hatred at first sight, and laughed at it. But he did not laugh now as
he dragged his eyes from the face of the man he felt he hated from the
bottom of his soul. He was very far from laughter. He was conscious
instead of a feeling of fear—fear of himself, fear of the consequences
of the appalling forces which seemed suddenly let loose within him. He
had thought himself to be possessed of a perfect self-understanding. He
wondered now did he know anything about himself at all. Nothing, it
seemed. Nothing that had ever led him to imagine that some day, for no
apparent cause or reason, he would contemplate the destruction of an
utter stranger. For that was what it amounted to—the violent impulse
that was actuating him was a passionate desire to kill. God in heaven,
what had happened to him! Had his whole nature undergone some sudden and
horrible metamorphosis—had the wild life he had led in the desert been
influencing him unconsciously until at last he had himself succumbed to
the savagery and lawlessness of the people amongst whom he lived? What
devil was prompting him? His mission was to save life, not to destroy
it. True that during the course of his wanderings there had been
occasions when he had been forced to take life, but that was different.
He had killed in self-defence or in the defence of others, as he would
unhesitatingly kill again if need be, as he would without compunction
have killed Abdul el Dhib if it had proved necessary in the deserted
village three weeks ago. But there was a wide gulf between justifiable
homicide and murder. Murder! Perspiration gathered in icy drops on his
forehead as his rigid lips framed the word. Was he going mad! He knew
that he had never felt saner in his life. It was not madness that
possessed him but an inexplicable feeling of deadly enmity that was
almost overmastering in its intensity.

The atmosphere of the theatre seemed suddenly stifling. The blood beat
in his ears and with a sense of suffocation he brushed his hand before
his eyes trying to clear the bewildering mist that had risen before
them, blurring the crowded seats and the rapidly refilling orchestra. To
sit out the remainder of the opera seemed an impossibility, but to
surrender weakly to the impulse of the moment and leave the building was
equally impossible. Gripping himself he turned to go back to his seat.
But as he moved a hand was thrust through his arm and Patrice Lemaire’s
eager voice sounded close beside him, murmuring in his ear.

“Look, _monsieur_, in the opposite box. The compatriot of whom you
spoke—Lord Geradine, and his wife. Beauty and the beast, _hein_? _La!
la! quelle brute!_”

For a moment Carew stood motionless, then, with a tremendous effort he
forced himself to glance naturally in the direction indicated by the
interested attache. A glance of the briefest possible duration. Freeing
himself from the nervous clasp of the impressionable young Frenchman who
he knew would have had a great deal more to say had his auditor been
other than himself, Carew drew back with a shrug of assumed
indifference.

“As you say—a brute,” he said coldly, “for the rest, you are more
competent to judge than I.”

Lemaire accepted the retort with a little laugh of perfect good temper.

“Each to his taste, _monsieur_. For you—horses, and for me—the
ladies,” he replied gaily, and continued to stare with undisguised
admiration at the fair occupant of the opposite box until the entrance
of his uncle and General Sanois drove him to his own seat there to
evolve schemes, with his more sympathetic fellow attache, for obtaining
an introduction to the beautiful Englishwoman who reigned, for the
moment, supreme in his susceptible and fickle heart.

To Carew the time dragged out with maddening slowness. He envied Sanois
who, screened by the curtains as he was himself, was frankly nodding.
His whole body was still throbbing from the rush of extraordinary rage
that had swept him, his head was aching with the effort to understand
his own feelings, to find some sane and logical reason for the mental
disturbance that had seized upon him with such cataclysmic suddenness.
The whole thing was inexplicable, as inexplicable as the agitation of
mind that had possessed him for the last three weeks. Was there any
connection between them—was the one a corollary of the other? The
startling thought almost forced an exclamation from his lips and he
clenched his teeth as his eyes leaped involuntarily to the opposite box.
What possible connection could there be—what had he to do with either
of the strangely assorted couple who had each in their turn stirred him
so powerfully? Towards what was fate pushing him! He was conscious all
at once of a feeling of helplessness. Since the day that Micky Meredith
had come so unexpectedly, reviving memories of the bitter past,
everything seemed to be changed. He appeared to be no longer master of
himself. He seemed to have been plunged into a vortex of circumstances
over which he had no control, the end of which he could not see. The
sense of impotence was galling, and he repudiated it angrily. He was
damned if he was going to submit to any force of circumstance that ran
counter to his own inclination. And he was damned if he would take the
easy way out of the difficulty. Once before in his life he had played
the coward’s part and run away from a situation he was not morally
strong enough to meet. He could never, if he hoped to retain the least
shred of self-respect, do it again. And what, after all, was it he was
trying to evade? The problematical results of an extraordinary hatred
suddenly conceived for a total stranger, and the haunting recollection
of a woman’s face with which he had become obsessed—he, who hated
woman. Good Lord, what a fool! And reduced to the level of dispassionate
reasoning how futile it all seemed! It was time he got back to the
desert if this was the effect that civilization had on him. With a shrug
of self-contempt he turned for distraction to the stage he had hitherto
ignored. And until the close of the act he forced his attention to a
representation that appeared to him to be hardly more fantastic and
unreal than his own extravagant thoughts.

He welcomed the Governor’s decision to leave during the following
interval and followed him out of the box with a sigh of relief.

In the foyer, where His Excellency lingered for a few moments chatting
with his habitual courtesy to the director of the opera house, General
Sanois, whose policy was to strike while the iron was hot, seized on the
opportunity to draw Carew aside and ask point blank for the information
that had been promised during dinner. They were still talking when they
went out to the waiting carriages. The Governor paused with his foot on
the step of his victoria and beamed affectionately at the two tall men
towering beside him.

“You are going on to the Club—for a little game of bridge, perhaps?” he
enquired genially.

“The Club—yes. Bridge—no,” replied the General bluntly. “Carew and I
have some business to discuss.”

The Governor cast his eyes heavenwards. “Business at this time of
night—_grand Dieu_!” he ejaculated. “Cards I could understand, but
business—” he shook his head despairingly. “You are incorrigible—and
this good Carew who encourages you! Go and talk your business, my
friends. For me, I have had an exhausting day, a very exhausting day. I
shall go home to bed—at a reasonable hour for once in my life. It has
been a charming evening, a charming evening. My thanks to you both.” And
smiling and bowing he fluttered into the victoria and drove away.

As Carew’s carriage moved into place General Sanois, who had accepted
his offer of a lift, shot a glance of faint surprise at the two mounted
Arabs who were drawn up close behind it.

“You ride _en prince_, tonight, my friend,” he said, frankly curious.
And Carew who had himself only at that moment noticed the men, shrugged
with mingled amusement and annoyance. The idea of an escort would never
have occurred to him, but Hosein was evidently determined his master
should run no risk that forethought could prevent.

“It would seem so,” he replied curtly, “but you must blame Hosein, not
me, for this piece of theatrical nonsense.”

The General settled his angular frame into a corner of the carriage and
hitched his sword between his knees. “He probably has his reasons,” he
said, with a shrewd smile that left Carew wondering how much he knew and
how far his own steps were dogged by the secret police whose activities
extended over a wider district than was generally known. But he let the
comment pass unanswered. The General was his very good friend, but with
Sanois, friendship went by the board where the needs of the country were
concerned and even his most trusted agents were subjected to an
espionage that was all part of an elaborate and well-organized system.
He stuck at nothing to obtain information he wanted and maintained that
any means justified a desired end. That he was intrigued by Carew’s
visit to the Casbar today was obvious but he was restricted from openly
voicing his curiosity by a compact that had been agreed between them
years ago. Though he knew, and had good cause to know that Carew was
whole-heartedly attached to the land of his adoption, he knew also that
the Englishman was governed by scruples that debarred him from certain
lines of action. Tonight Carew felt convinced that the General was on
the track of something other than the information he had been promised
and, for his part, he was equally determined to disclose nothing but the
matter in hand. Though his host of the afternoon might have been guilty
of certain indiscretions that had put him out of favour with the
Government his own visit to the Casbar had been a purely personal
one—and it could rest at that.

The Military Club was full when they arrived and it was some time before
the two men could find a quiet corner in which to continue the
conversation they had begun in the foyer of the opera house.

Ordering coffee the General produced the map that seemed to live
permanently in the inside pocket of his tunic and spread it out on the
table between them. For an hour or more they talked uninterruptedly, and
when at last General Sanois pushed back his chair with a little grunt of
satisfaction, the club had emptied of all but a small number of
inveterate card players whose voices echoed fitfully from an adjoining
room.

“It is understood, then, that you will act for us,” he said, refolding
the map carefully into its creases, “if it becomes necessary.”

“If it becomes necessary—yes,” said Carew, reaching for his cloak, “but
I would prefer that you arranged this affair without my assistance. I
have a scheme of my own on hand, and I am anxious to get back to my
work.”

“You can do your work and ours at the same time.”

But Carew shook his head. “Not conscientiously,” he said as he rose to
go, “and besides, you want me to go south. I want to go west.”

The General glanced up with sudden interest from the notes he was
hastily scrawling in a bulky pocket-book. “The City of Stones?” he
suggested, with the suspicion of a chuckle in his voice.

“Yes, the City of Stones,” the other admitted slowly, “but how did you
know?”

The General laughed. “I didn’t know. I guessed. It is a sufficiently
impossible undertaking that would naturally appeal to you. I have been
wondering when you would attempt it.”

Carew made a gesture of dissent. “I don’t think it impossible.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” returned Sanois dryly, “but it is impossible for all
that. Many people have attempted to penetrate into that very intriguing
and mysterious city—it has been told me that the charming inhabitants
use their bones to form a unique and picturesque embellishment to their
battlements.”

Carew swung his heavy cloak over his shoulders. “They are welcome to my
bones,” he laughed, “the probable alternative being jackals.”

“And your men—and the little Saba?” drawled Sanois, drawing patterns
with his pencil on the marble-topped table.

Carew eyed him with a faint smile. Sanois’ solicitude was touching but
not convincing.

“How much for my men and Saba—and how much for your own schemes,
General?” he retorted. The General grinned frankly, as he hoisted
himself on to his feet. “_Touché!_” he said with a little bow, “but my
schemes are less mad than yours, my friend. In the meantime we can count
on you?”

“Only if it becomes absolutely necessary,” Carew replied again quickly.
And unwilling to risk a total refusal by premature argument Sanois
reserved his inducements for a future time. “We can talk of it again,”
he said pleasantly, and shook hands with even more than his usual
cordiality. To Carew the cool night air was a welcome relief after the
heated atmosphere of the club. The fresh wind blowing against his face
seemed to clear his brain and enabled him to think more calmly of the
disturbing incidents of the evening. But calm reflection did not
elucidate the extraordinary and violent hatred that had come to him. It
was as much beyond his power of comprehension as it was beyond his power
to ignore it. It seemed burnt into him. And the girl—he swore at
himself angrily. He had thought enough about the girl. What had he to do
with her or any other woman—he, who had cursed all women. Had he no
strength of mind, no strength of purpose left? He sneered in bitter self
mockery as the carriage stopped before the villa gateway.

Utterly weary of himself and the turmoil of his thoughts he walked up to
the house wondering how he was going to get through the remaining hours
of the night. Sleep in his present state of mind seemed out of the
question. It was not rest he wanted but hard physical exercise that in
bodily fatigue he might forget the mental upheaval that had assailed him
during these last three weeks of comparative inactivity. He paused at
the foot of the verandah steps, looking up at the star-lit sky, and the
drifting scent of orange blossom made him think with sudden regret of
the camp he had left amongst the hills near Blidah. What a night for a
ride! If he started now he could be there by dawn. For a few minutes he
played with the idea and then reluctantly put it from him. Despite his
whole inclination something seemed to be dragging him back, something
that made it impossible for him to leave Algiers.

With a heavy sigh he went slowly into the house.



                               CHAPTER VI


During the days that followed it became more and more borne in upon
Carew that his cherished dream of visiting the mysterious City of Stones
was doomed if not to failure certainly to indefinite postponement.
General Sanois, who had thrown himself heart and soul into the new
scheme for which Carew’s information had paved the way, was plying him
hard, pressing for his acceptance of the mission offered him. Carew’s
success in the past had made the General very sanguine of the outcome of
the present proposed embassage and very tolerant of the Englishman’s
lack of enthusiasm in a venture that presented far fewer difficulties
than others which had been negotiated and which, moreover, promised to
further the prestige of the military governor of the Sahara. By turns he
argued and expostulated, throwing forward every possible inducement to
secure his voluntary agent’s co-operation and losing no opportunity of
urging his insistent demands. To each and every objection Carew raised
he responded with an unusual flow of rhetoric that was wasted on his
silent and equally determined listener whose desire to return to his own
work he brushed aside as secondary to the needs of the country. Mounted
orderlies arrived at the villa at all hours of the day, and it seemed to
Carew that the telephone bell never ceased ringing. In despair at last
of obtaining the peace and quiet for which he longed, he had taken
Hosein and slipped away for a couple of days to the camp near Blidah.
Within a mile of his own camp he found the tents of a desert sheik who
was making a leisurely way to Algiers for the annual gathering of
chiefs.

The Arab was an old acquaintance whose hospitality Carew had enjoyed on
several occasions and an interchange of visits was both necessary and
advantageous. But it was not to listen to the querulous outpourings of a
chief with a perpetual grievance that he had fled from General Sanois’
importunity, and foiled in his purpose, he had set out alone this
morning an hour or so before the dawn to return to Algiers, leaving
Hosein to follow later in the day when he had completed some
arrangements in the camp.

But in spite of the tedious interruptions which the old sheik’s demands
on his time had made the two days had proved beneficial to him. Away
from Algiers he had in a measure conquered the agitation of mind that
had possessed him since the night he had rescued Lady Geradine from
Abdul el Dhib.

And it was of the frustrated horse-thief and his unfulfilled threat that
he was thinking as he drew Suliman to a standstill on the crest of a
hill, a few miles outside the town, to watch the glory of the sunrise
that was to him a never-failing pleasure.

Abdul had so far made no attempt to put his murderous intention into
practise and, still sceptical himself as to the real truth of the
warnings he had received, Carew would never have given him a second
thought but for the behaviour of his attendants whose continual and
obvious watchfulness was a constant reminder of the menace hanging over
him. Hosein was still anxious—there had been difficulty in persuading
him to remain behind at the camp this morning so loath was he to let his
master ride alone—and Saba was still unhappy, a pathetic little figure
of misery who clung to his protector refusing to be comforted. And daily
the revolver that Carew wore naturally thrust in the waistcloth of his
Arab dress sagged uncomfortably in the pocket of his serge jacket until
he laughed at himself for carrying it. Clad in the native robes he
preferred for the last two days he had forgotten it, but as he glanced
now around the little hillock on which he stood he pushed it further
into the silken folds of his embroidered shawl with a slight smile of
amusement. The locality was reminiscent. It was here, after leaving Lady
Geradine on the outskirts of Algiers, that he had chanced across Abdul
and forced him to reveal the whereabouts of the stolen horse. But the
smile passed quickly and his face clouded as his thoughts swung from the
recovered stallion to the girl who had ridden him. Since the night of
the opera he had not seen her but the memory of her was present with him
always. The intolerant anger she had once roused in him was gone and he
was at a loss to actually define the feeling he now felt towards her. It
was not interest, he told himself almost angrily, he had no interest in
her, no wish to think of her, and he fought against the perpetual
remembrance that never left him. Unable to combat what seemed to him a
veritable obsession he resented the deep impression she had made,
resented the humiliating breakdown of the will he had trained to obey
him. More than ever was he determined to get out of Algiers at the first
possible opportunity. He had come to hate the town and the disturbing
associations that would always be connected with it. The call of the
desert, the lure of the legendary City of Stones was urging him
powerfully as he sat with slackened reins looking dreamily at the golden
sunrise, cursing the half promise he had made to General Sanois. But he
had promised, or as good as promised, and facing his decision squarely
for the first time he knew that the City of Stones must wait. With a
little sigh of regret he searched for a cigarette in the folds of his
waistcloth as he watched the glowing disc of the sun rise higher in the
crimson flecked sky until the full light came with a sudden rush and the
distinct city stood out before him clear and distinct in every detail.
He scowled at it with sudden irritation and tightening his grip on the
bridle, turned Suliman in the direction of the little village of
Birmandreis. It was still very early. But for an occasional goatherd
stalking gravely at the head of his flock, he had seen no sign of human
life since he left the cross-country track he had taken from the camp
and joined the plane-bordered highway that led to the village. Too early
to return to the villa, he decided as he rode slowly along the well laid
road listening to the sharp clip clop of his horse’s hoofs and breathing
in the fragrance of the fresh morning air that was blowing against his
face. There was no need to hurry. Time enough this afternoon to see
Sanois and give him his long delayed answer. Until then he could forget
it.

Birmandreis was awake and stirring as he cantered through its miniature
square and headed in the direction of El Biar. A short distance beyond
the village he left the main road and turned down a narrow pathway in
search of a tiny Arab café that was known to him. The picturesque little
building, almost hidden by a wide spreading fig tree, was at this early
hour of the morning silent and apparently deserted, but the clatter of
hoofs and Carew’s shout produced a sleepy and yawning proprietor who
awoke into sudden and obsequious activity at the sight of this visitor.
Slipping Suliman’s bridle through a ring in the wall Carew sat on a
bench in the shadow of the fig tree while he waited for the Arab coffee
for which the place was famous. It was brought at length by the
half-caste _aubergist_ who hovered about his early guest with eager
loquaciousness. He had heard that his excellency had returned from the
desert, he had hoped before this to have seen him at the Café Meduse. He
trusted that the protracted journey had been propitious. Monsieur was
pleased to return to civilization? Monsieur was _not_ pleased! _Hélas!_
and yet Algiers was gay this season—fuller than it had been for many
years. Trade was good. For himself he had nothing to complain of, the
café prospered and the visitors, the English visitors in particular,
paid well—to Allah the praise!

Undeterred by Carew’s monosyllabic replies he rambled on half in French
half in Arabic discussing the district and the crops and the government
taxes with fine impartiality, but with due regard to his listener’s
well-known intimacy with the administrators of the country. But under
his seemingly careless manner there was a suggestion of uneasiness that
was very apparent. He moved restlessly as he talked, from time to time
glancing almost furtively about him, and once or twice it seemed as if
he were on the point of imparting some confidence that nearly reached
utterance but which died away in mumbled ambiguity before it was spoken.

But when Carew had paid his modest score and was once more in the saddle
the man appeared to come to a sudden decision. Pressing close up to the
restless horse he stooped down under pretence of tightening a loosened
girth, his fingers fumbling nervously at the scarlet leather straps.
“There is venom in the jackal’s bite, O Sidi,” he muttered in the
vernacular, pure Arab in his agitation, and drew back hastily as if
already repenting the words he had nerved himself to say. And Carew,
glancing down at his twitching face, knew that to question him would be
useless, so he made no sign of understanding but with a careless nod and
a perfunctory, “Go with God,” reined his horse back into the little lane
and held him, sidling and catching at his bit, to a walk until a bend in
the road hid them from the prying eyes that were doubtless watching from
behind the dense foliage of the fig tree. Then he gave Suliman his head
wondering, as the spirited creature broke into a headlong gallop, how
near to attempted assassination he had been during the last half hour.
That Abdul el Dhib, biding his time with oriental pertinacity, was
somewhere in the vicinity, seemed beyond all question. But why he risked
his rascally neck so near to Algiers or what were his relations with the
half-caste owner of the café Carew was at a loss to conjecture.
Sufficient that once again he had been warned and that the warning had
been given reluctantly and under stress of great personal fear. It spoke
volumes that the fellow had found courage to say what he had said.

With a muttered word of impatience Carew bent forward and ran his
fingers soothingly over Suliman’s glossy neck. Abdul was becoming a
nuisance, and he found himself almost wishing that the difference
between them could have been settled definitely once and for all at the
Café Meduse that morning. Half tempted to retrace his steps and force
the affair to an immediate conclusion he pulled up suddenly, turning in
the saddle to scan the road behind him. But what was the good! Abdul had
had his chance and for reasons of his own had neglected it. There was
nothing to be gained and probably a good deal to be risked by putting
temptation in his way a second time. After all, the quarrel was Abdul’s,
not his. Let Abdul then make the first move—if, indeed, he intended to
move at all. To Carew it seemed almost that his enemy had talked too
much to be really dangerous. Babblers were seldom doers, he reflected,
and dismissing the outlaw from his mind he rode on, leaving the road for
a rough mule track by which he could skirt El Biar and reach Bouzaréa
from where he meant to return to Mustapha.

Already the fresh morning wind had dropped and the day began to give
promise of great heat unusual for the time of year. But to Carew,
accustomed to the fierce sun of the desert, the warmth was welcome and,
more at peace within himself than he had been for weeks, he turned his
whole attention to the district through which he was riding, a district
known to him from boyhood but which he had not lately visited. The
intervening years seemed to drop away as he noted and recognised each
succeeding landmark. There was little change to be seen in the fruit
groves and vineyards he was passing and gradually he fell into a
reverie, leaving Suliman to choose his own way along the stony track.

Influenced by his surroundings he let himself dwell on early memories;
memories of the handsome brilliantly clever father who had given up a
public career of great promise to devote himself to the delicate wife
who was his idol; and memories of the beautiful fragile mother whose
influence, had she lived, might have made so great a difference in his
own life. With all the strength of his boyish heart he had adored her
and the memory of her had made him very tender with the wife who had
repaid his devotion with coldness and deceit. But with the tragic ending
of his own short married life he had closed his heart to the softening
influences of memory and in the drawing room of the villa, a room he
never entered, the portrait of his mother was veiled by heavy curtains
that for the last twelve years had never been drawn. Twelve years!
Twelve years of self-banishment and loneliness. At first it had been
little short of hell, there had been times when the temptation to end it
all had been almost overpowering, when only his strong will had kept him
from self-destruction. But now he could think of it calmly—except for
the one aching memory that never left him. Despite himself his thoughts
turned to the child he had lost, the little son in whom so many hopes
had been centered, and a passion of longing and regret filled him. If
only the boy had been left to him! A look of intense pain swept across
his face and his firm lips quivered as he tried to visualise the boy as
he might have been now, a lad of fourteen, on the threshold of manhood.
His son! God, how he wanted him still! And from the child of his body
who was lost to him his thoughts veered with sudden compassion to the
child of his adoption, the little Arab waif he had saved from death to
assuage his own loneliness, who was in his blindness and helplessness so
utterly dependent on him. Poor little dreamer of dreams, besieging Allah
hourly with prayers for the safety of the beloved protector who was all
his world, he too was longing for the desert, for the freer, wilder life
to which he had been born.

Carew’s mind leaped forward to the coming interview with General Sanois.
His promise given today, he would move heaven and earth to expedite
matters and get away from Algiers as soon as possible. A speedy
departure should be a _sine qua non_ of his acceptance.

With a little laugh he bent forward to ease his weight off Suliman as
the horse started to climb a steep ascent that led to the woods behind
Bouzaréa. The mule track was little used, rough and boulder strewn and
in places almost overgrown with cactus among which the stallion picked
his steps with careful precision born of experience. Carew let him take
his own way and sat with slackened rein as the big bay, straining and
heaving, breasted the last hundred yards of sharp incline, his powerful
muscles rippling against his rider’s knees. With a final effort, the
loose stones flying from under his heels, he reached the summit and
stood breathing deeply and whinnying in response to the caressing hand
laid on his sweat drenched neck. Then he moved slowly forward with
pricked ears and nervous gait along the track that had dwindled to a
narrow hardly perceptible path. Desert bred, to Suliman the dense silent
wood was a place of lurking unknown terror to which he had never become
accustomed and, snorting and starting, he evidenced now his disapproval
of a route that was highly distasteful to him. But wrapped in his own
thoughts and used to his horse’s moods Carew did not heed his
uneasiness. Like the district through which he had just passed the wood
was alive with memories, a favourite haunt of childhood where he had
roamed for hours at a time with Hosein as companion and playmate. Then
the wood had been a region of mystery and enchantment, peopled with the
malevolent djinns and horrible afreets that loomed so large in the
Arab’s creed and of whom he discoursed with all the fluency and
imagination of his race—tales to which the English boy, already deeply
imbued with the spirit of the country, listened half credulous, half
unbelieving but always interested, wriggling for sheer joy even when his
hair crisped on his head and he peered involuntarily into the depths of
the thick undergrowth for the monstrous shapes and fiery eyes that
Hosein’s eloquence made so real. Carew looked about him with an
eagerness that brought a smile to his lips. Near here there had been a
tiny clearing, always connected in his mind with a tale of especial
weirdness that had been Hosein’s masterpiece—a tale of necromancers and
demons, of beauty in distress, and the extravagant adventures of a
sultan’s son whose heroic exploits had transcended all human
possibility. How he had revelled in it, listening wide eyed and absorbed
to Hosein’s sing-song intonations. Here, so went the story, the
sorrowful princess, escaping from the enchanter who held her captive,
had met the wandering knight whom fate had sent to rescue her; here,
more beautiful than all the houris of paradise, sitting patiently upon
the ground and veiled in her night black hair she had waited for her
lover.

The old tale was running through his head as a sharp curve in the path
brought him to the entrance of the little clearing. Smaller it seemed
than when his boyish eyes had looked upon it, and robbed somehow of the
mystery that had been associated with it. To the man’s eyes now just an
ordinary glade in an ordinary wood.

But it was not the well remembered spot that held his attention. His
gaze was rivetted on a figure sitting, like the princess of the story,
motionless upon the ground at the foot of a gnarled cork oak. Not
swathed in shimmering eastern silks nor veiled in a cloud of dusky hair,
but clad in the close fitting boyish riding suit in which he had first
seen her she leant back comfortably against the tree, her bare head
resting on the crinkly bark, her arms wrapped round her updrawn knees,
whistling softly to a small green lizard palpitating on the moss beside
her. The tiny creature with swelling throat and languorous swaying head
was listening fascinated to the clear sweet trills charming it into
immobility. Suliman’s neat feet made no sound on the soft earth and the
girl was obviously unaware of the increase to her audience. To back his
horse silently and slip away before she noticed his presence was Carew’s
first impulse, but despite his every inclination something stayed him in
undecided hesitation. And the opportunity neglected he was given no
second chance. Resenting the tight grip on his mouth and the sudden
convulsive pressure of his rider’s knees Suliman, with a display of
temper that was unusual, bounded high on his hind legs snorting his
indignation. Submitting to the inevitable with the best grace he could
muster Carew dragged him down and swung to the ground, raising his hand
to his forehead in the graceful salute that was in accordance with his
Arab dress.

“Good morning, Lady Geradine.”

The lizard had fled but Marny had neither moved nor altered her
position. She responded to his greeting with a faint smile, her eyes
sweeping him frankly from head to foot as he stood, a picturesque
commanding-looking figure, leaning against his horse whose muzzle was
thrust contritely into his hand.

“Good morning—desert man.”

There was the least possible pause before the last two words and Carew’s
tanned face flushed dully. “My name’s Carew,” he said gruffly. She
nodded, looking at him with wide grave eyes and hunching her knees up
closer to her chin.

“I know,” she said, “Mrs. Chalmers told me before she left Algiers. You
are Sir Gervas Carew—and you hate women. Why did you do it?”

“Do what—” he asked, failing to grasp the context of her question.

“Why did you trouble to interfere that night near Blidah?” she said
quietly, but the quick blood sprang to her face as she spoke.

He was silent for a few moments then, with a slow shrug: “Because you
were English,” he answered tersely. She shook her head with a little
smile of amusement.

“But I’m not. Sure it’s Irish I am—glory be to God.” The brogue was
unmistakable and despite himself Carew’s grave face relaxed.

“It’s the same thing,” he said with indifference. But she negatived his
assertion with a scornful wave of the hand.

“Not to us,” she said laughingly. Then she grew grave again, looking at
him with undisguised interest. “Do you mean it, really?” she said with
deliberation. “Do you mean that if I had been an Arab or a Frenchwoman
you would have done—nothing?”

He nodded in silent assent.

“And because I was English, or you thought I was English, you set your
prejudice on one side and did what you did—just to satisfy your
_esprit-de-race_?”

“Yes.”

She looked away with an odd little laugh. “You are very refreshing.”

Carew scowled at the hint of mockery in her voice.

“How so?” he asked stiffly. But she laughed again and shook her head,
refusing to enlighten him. Then with a sudden change of manner she
turned to him again, eyeing him almost wistfully.

“You refused to shake hands with me—twice, Sir Gervas,” she said
slowly, flushing slightly, “and I cut you dead at the opera. Shall we
call quits—just for this morning—your prejudice against my rudeness?
Can’t you forget, just for once, that you are talking to one of the sex
you despise—I can’t help being a woman, I would much rather have been a
man—and tell me the things you know so well, the things that nobody I
meet with in Algiers seems to care about—the Arabs, the desert, and all
this wonderful country. Not the desert the tourists go to but the real
desert, far away in the south there,” she added eagerly, kneeling up
suddenly to point with unexpected precision towards the region of which
she spoke. Mechanically his eyes followed her outstretched hand. He was
trying to understand his own strange hesitation. It would have been easy
to excuse himself, alleging any plausible excuse that offered, and go as
he had come leaving her to the solitude he had interrupted. But he did
not want to go. The astounding truth came to him suddenly and his lips
curved in cynical self-scorn. What sort of a fool was he, what strength
of purpose had he that, professing to hate all women, he should
surrender to the charm of this one woman? And wherein lay the charms he
reluctantly admitted? Her beauty? He smiled more bitterly than
before—he had learnt the worthlessness of outward loveliness. Was it
then the diversity of mood she displayed? He glanced at her covertly as
she sat leaning against the cork tree, apparently indifferent to his
silence, her eyes fixed not on him but on the tips of her neat riding
boots, whistling as she had whistled to the lizard. A boyish graceful
figure, pulsing with life and health, bearing this morning no kind of
resemblance to the white-faced fainting girl he had carried in his arms
or the proud weary-looking woman he had seen at the opera. Which was the
real woman? And what was her present motive? Was it really a
disinterested and genuine desire to learn something of the real life of
the country that had led her to endeavour to detain him at her side—or
was she merely amusing herself at his expense, flattered at having
claimed the attention of a man known as a determined misogynist? His
face darkened and meditated refusal sprang to his lips. But the words
died away unspoken. Flight was tantamount to a confession of weakness
against which his pride rebelled. If she was playing with him—so much
the worse for her. If, on the other hand, she was sincere in the request
she had made—with a shrug he turned and led his horse to the further
side of the little clearing, tethering him with no show of haste to the
branch of a tree.

And as he went Marny Geradine’s eyes followed him with a look of
yearning sadness, and a deep sigh that was almost a sob escaped her.
What had she done! What right had she to intrude herself upon him? Why
add to her own unhappiness by prolonging an interview that would only
bring her further sorrow. The joy of seeing him, of speaking with him,
could lead to nothing but greater misery and regret. But the temptation
had been stronger than she could withstand. She loved him so. And what
harm could there be when his own indifference was so great! Why did he
hate women? Mrs. Chalmers’ information had not gone beyond the bare fact
and, herself reserved almost to fastidiousness, she had not sought to
probe the reason of his hatred. What, after all, did it matter? The
secrets of his past, if there were any secrets, were not her affair.
Enough for her that he was a man who had devoted his life to relieving
the suffering of the desert people amongst whom he lived. From the
doctor’s warm-hearted wife she had learned the significance of the title
by which he had called himself that night of terrible memory. So would
she have him—the ideal she would treasure in her heart, a man
magnificent in his singleness of purpose.

He came back to her slowly, his face inscrutable as the people whose
dress he wore, and sat down leisurely, Arab fashion, on the ground near
her. Taking her literally at her word and prompted by her eager
questions he found that speech was easier than he had anticipated. It
was a subject on which he was well qualified to speak, a subject that
lay very close to his heart, and gradually his attitude of barely
concealed hostility wore away and he talked as, weeks ago, he had talked
in his tent to Micky Meredith. But not of himself and his own work. Of
these he said nothing, speaking only of the desert and its nomad
inhabitants, of the charm and cruelty of the vast sandy wastes, of the
petty wars and feuds that raged perpetually amongst the savage and
belligerent tribes. His low even voice ran smoothly on, drawing no
fanciful picture but relating faithfully the things that were the things
he had himself seen, the life he had shared. While he dwelt on the
glamour and fascination of the desert wilds he spared her nothing of the
squalor and misery, the ghastly needless suffering that was bound up
inextricably with the scenes he depicted.

Eagerly she listened to him, happy with just the fact of his nearness,
enthralled by the story he told so graphically and which held her
spellbound. Her eyes fixed on the sunburnt face that was turned
persistently away from her, she was no longer in the little clearing or
even near to the Algiers that had proved so great a disappointment to
her. She was far away in the burning south, riding beside him over the
undulating sweeps of the restless sand, camping under the argent stars
and living the life of which she had dreamed—a life that with all its
savagery and primitive violence was yet cleaner than the one to which
she was condemned. To be with him there, far from the artificial
existence that sickened her, to live out her life beside him aiding him
in the work of which he would not speak and serving him with all the
strength of the love that was consuming her! She clenched her hands with
the pain of her own imagining. A dream that could never be realised.
There was no room for a woman’s love in the life he led. Alone, and
always alone, he would follow the course he had set himself, a solitary
dweller in the wilderness pitting his individual strength against the
pain and suffering he sought to minimise. And, bound, what would be her
loneliness when he rode for the last time out of her life leaving her to
a misery that would be greater even than she had known before?

A gasping sob escaped her and horrified at her lack of control she hid
her burning face in her hands. But to Carew her agitation seemed only
the natural consequence of the grim tale of ruthless Arab ferocity he
had just concluded.

“It is cruel, of course,” he said with a slow shrug, “but it is the way
of life the whole world over—the strong preying on the weak, the
eternal battle for existence, and a callousness that is born of
necessity. And Arabs are only children, as all men at heart are
children, fighting for what they want and often, from mere perversity,
for what they do not want.”

She nodded assent, not trusting her voice to answer him and furtively
brushing away the tears of which she was ashamed. And he too fell
silent, playing absently with a length of creeper he twined and retwined
between his long strong fingers, wondering at the interest she had
evinced, wondering at the ease with which he had spoken to her.

At last, through the silence that neither seemed able to break, came the
trampling of horses’ hoofs. He looked up with a start and leapt to his
feet, his hand reaching instinctively for the revolver in his
waistcloth. For himself he did not care, but if Abdul had tracked him
here what of the girl beside him? Alone he would have been content to
give his enemy the benefit of the doubt—but because of her he could
take no chances. He would have to shoot at sight, or be shot himself. He
moved quickly, screening her where she sat, and slid the heavy weapon
from its resting place. But the next moment he jerked it back with a
smothered ejaculation of relief. It was not Abdul el Dhib who rounded
the bend in the narrow path but a neat typically English little man
straddling with a jockey’s gait between the two horses he led. Only when
he turned to find Marny close at his elbows did Carew realise that his
face was wet with perspiration. With a gesture of impatience he brushed
his hand across his forehead but he did not vouchsafe any explanation.
She must have seen the revolver in his hand—explanations could wait.
And standing quietly beside him, she did not seem in any hurry to ask
but remained silent until the arrival of the groom. The little man
brought the horses to a stand with no sign of surprise at the sight of
the tall Arab-clad figure towering behind his mistress.

“Nine o’clock, m’lady,” he announced stolidly, and backed her horse into
position.

Marny laughed as she placed her foot in the stirrup Carew moved forward
to hold.

“Tanner is my timekeeper,” she explained, swinging easily into the
saddle, “he always has a watch, and I lose mine as fast as I buy them,”
she added, gathering up the reins and settling herself comfortably.

Carew patted the neck of her horse for a moment without answering, then
he looked up slowly and at sight of his face the laughter died out of
her eyes.

“Keep your man in sight when you come to the woods again, Lady
Geradine,” he said gravely. She looked at him questioningly.

“Do you mean it—seriously? I thought that so close to Algiers—”

“You were close to Algiers before, and I would not warn you if I did not
mean it seriously,” he interrupted with a touch of irritation in his
voice, and stepped back with a salaam that she felt to be almost a
dismissal. And it was without waiting to watch her ride away that he
strode across the clearing to his own horse. He had no intention of
accompanying her back to Algiers, he had outraged his principles
sufficiently for one morning he assured himself with a smile that was
not mirthful.

Nor did he feel inclined to return immediately to the villa.

During these last few weeks he had grown almost to hate it. He would go
on to Bouzaréa, telephone to Sanois and spend the rest of the day at the
little suburb with a French doctor of his acquaintance. Perhaps in
Morel’s laboratory he would be able to forget the unrest that this
morning’s meeting had revived so poignantly.

It was late in the afternoon when he rode into Algiers to keep the
appointment made over the telephone that morning.

At the moment General Sanois was living in barracks and Carew found him
in his private room sitting alone before a huge desk that was heaped
with a mass of papers. At his entrance the general rose and held out a
welcoming hand.

“Well,” he said eagerly, “you have decided?” and sank back into his
chair with a little exclamation of satisfaction as Carew nodded
affirmatively.

“You relieve me of a difficulty, _mon cher_,” he went on, pushing papers
and telephone on one side to make room for the map he spread out with
almost affectionate care. “I was at my wits’ end to find a substitute.
My own men are no use, an officer would never get past the frontier. And
the same applies to the accredited agents—those, that is to say, whom I
have at my disposal. Remains you. And I think I shall not be wrong in
saying that you will not fail,” he added confidently.

Carew smiled faintly at the implied compliment which he knew to be no
idle one but a genuine expression of opinion.

“I’ll do my best,” he said briefly, with a slight shrug of
embarrassment, “but I am not infallible,” he added, “and if I fail—”

“You will at least have had a charming excursion,” cut in Sanois
laughingly. “You will have broken new ground. You will probably have
found a new disease and we shall have to send an expensively equipped
medical mission to follow up your discovery, and you will end by costing
us the deuce and all of a lot of money. But that’s not my affair,” he
added, tapping the gold lace on his sleeve significantly, and turned
once more to the large scale map he had laid out.

Carew hitched the folds of his heavy burnous closer round him and drew
his chair nearer to the table.

“I am ready to start almost at once. My own preparations can be
concluded in a week. I am anxious to get out of Algiers, and if you keep
me waiting indefinitely—well, then, I can’t promise that when you want
me you will find me.” He smiled at Sanois’ whistle of dismay for there
had been an undertone of peremptoriness in his voice that the general
recognised.

“A week?” he said rather doubtfully. “You don’t give us much time, my
friend. It will take longer than a week to settle this affair. But I’ll
do what I can. And now to business.”

When the details of the expedition had been discussed in every
particular and Carew rose at last to go night had fallen. He refused the
general’s invitation to dine with the mess and found himself obliged to
repeat his refusal more than once before he reached the barrack yard.
Usually he was glad to accept the hospitality of the officers with whom
he was a frequent and popular guest but tonight he wanted to be alone.

Riding through the crowded streets Suliman occupied his exclusive
attention, but when the town had been left behind and the ascent to
Mustapha begun he let his thoughts range forward to the coming journey.
Regretfully he put away from him the temptation of the City of Stones.
It would have to be for another time. He was pledged to Sanois now and,
the general himself bound down to a promise, he had at last something
definite to go on. Not that there was much for him, personally, to
arrange. The change of route called for little alteration in the
preparations he had already made for an extended tour in the desert. And
the boy would go in either case. He had spent most of his young life in
the saddle and his apparently frail little body was capable of
astonishing endurance. To leave him behind would be to break his
heart—and Carew could not do without him. Tonight the air was strangely
soft, heavy with the scent of flowers, and a brooding silence that was
reminiscent of the solemn hush of the desert seemed to have closed down
over all nature. Not a tree moved, not a dog barked, and Carew had the
curious feeling that he was riding through a place of the dead. Amongst
the Arabs it was an omen of death, a sure and certain sign that for some
human soul the wings of Azrael were beating downward from the realms of
the blessed. For his? With a philosophical shrug he turned in the saddle
to look back at the newly risen moon, a crescent slip of silver in the
sky, and then sent Suliman flying in the direction of the villa.

The door of the wall was open, and Hosein, ghostlike in his white
draperies, emerged from the deep shadows of the entrance as Carew
dismounted. He took the horse in silence, still evidently nursing his
grievance of the morning, and half amused, half annoyed by his servant’s
tacit expression of disapproval Carew omitted his own customary greeting
and swinging on his heel walked up to the house.

In the Moorish hall, brilliantly lit by three large hanging lamps of
beaten silver, Saba was waiting. And as his sensitive ears caught the
almost imperceptible sound of soft leather against the marble pavement
he darted forward with a wild cry of joy and fell, laughing and sobbing
together, into the arms stretched out to catch him. Tossing him up on
his shoulder, Carew carried him, chattering with excitement, through the
jasmine scented courtyard to the big bedroom at the back of the house,
there to cope with a flow of endless questions which ceased not but
penetrated shrilly even to the distant bathroom. And standing beside the
dressing table, his slim fingers straying caressingly among the orderly
arranged toilet appointments, he was still talking when Carew came back
from his tub. Then the questions gave place to a detailed description of
his own small doings during the last three days and he rambled on
discoursively, while Carew changed into the fresh robes laid out for
him, carrying his listener through endless imaginary adventures and
concluding with the grave announcement that Derar, the fat butler, had
assuredly incurred the wrath of Allah for his wife had presented him
that morning with yet another unwelcome daughter “—which, as your
lordship knows, is the _fifth_,” he added with fine scorn.

And glad that for the moment the boy appeared to have forgotten his
fears, Carew let him talk and finally took him with him to the dining
room where, perched cross-legged on a cushion beside the table and made
happy with a plate of fruit and sweetmeats, he continued to chatter
throughout the formal dinner served by a dejected, tearful-looking Derar
and Hosein, who had recovered his accustomed serenity.

Though preferring the simplicity of camp life, Carew, in his town house,
followed early traditions and maintained a certain state and ceremony.
Many of the servants were old retainers, and Derar had been butler to
the late Sir Mark Carew. And the elderly survivor, conservative to the
backbone and highly endowed with a sense of his own importance, was
largely responsible for the continuance of the old régime that still
prevailed at the villa. And so it was that, even when he was alone,
Carew dined nightly in the huge room where the table seemed a tiny
island set in the midst of a vast marble sea. But this evening he had
glanced about him once or twice during the protracted meal with a
faintly puzzled look in his sombre eyes. What made the room tonight
appear so empty—so chill and lifeless? It was not the lack of guests
that troubled him, he was used to being alone, but a strange yearning
for something he was at a loss to define. Was it the preliminary
warnings of middle age that, urging a remembrance of his forty years,
had induced the unaccustomed feeling of lassitude and melancholy that
seemed to have taken hold of him? He almost laughed at the thought. For
some it might be the beginning of a gradual decline of force and
ability, but for himself, he had never felt fitter or stronger. It was
just Algiers, he told himself as he lingered over the cup of thick,
sweet coffee that had become as indispensable to him as to any native of
the country, Algiers—and a consciousness of intense and profound
boredom. Thank heaven it wouldn’t last much longer. Life on the march
was too strenuous to admit of ennui.

Calling to Saba he went to the study adjoining his bedroom and from
there out on to the wide verandah that overlooked the garden.

For a while he smoked in silence that was punctuated at intervals by the
blind boy’s fitful remarks to which he replied briefly with an
inattention that was not lost upon his small companion, for gradually
he, too, fell silent.

The night was very still. Directly before the verandah a broad streak of
moonlight stretching like a path of silver to the distant boundary wall
made blacker the darkness that enveloped the rest of the garden where
trees and flowering shrubs loomed large and fantastic in the murky
gloom. The heavy scent of flowers was almost overpowering, languorous
and sleep-inducing as the smell of incense. And the brooding hush that
Carew had noticed earlier in the evening seemed now even more
penetrating and intense. There was in the air a feeling of unnatural
suspense, a breathless sensation of expectancy like the deep hush that
precedes a storm. In the desert Carew would have known what it
portended, but here in Algiers he could not account for it. Was it
perhaps only his own imagination magnifying the quiet of an ordinary
evening into something that approached the abnormal? He was not given to
imagination, but he could not rid himself of the impression of a coming
calamity that momentarily made him more wide awake and alert. And with
the sense of waiting there came again the feeling of depression and
melancholy he had experienced during dinner. How empty and lonely the
house had seemed! He had never noticed it before. Why did he notice it
now? And as he pondered it there seemed to rise before him the semblance
of a figure standing in the brilliant strip of moonlight, a slender,
graceful figure whose boyish riding dress no longer moved him to
intolerant disgust. For an instant he stared with almost fear at the
delicate oval face that appeared so strangely close to his, looking
straight into the pain-filled haunting eyes that seemed to be tearing
the very heart out of him. Then a terrible oath broke from his rigid
lips and in the revulsion of feeling that swept over him he wrenched his
gaze away, cursing with bitter rage the day he had ever seen her. Not
her nor any other woman—so help him God!

A stifled whimper and a tiny hand slid tremblingly into his, made him
realise the passionate utterance that had been forced from him. He
caught the boy in his arms and soothed him with remorseful tenderness.
“Angry with thee—when am I ever angry with thee, thou little foolish
one?” he murmured gently in response to the sobbing question that came
muffled from the folds of his robes in which Saba’s head was buried.
Content with his answer the child lay still. And the clinging touch of
his fingers, the soft warm weight of his slim little body brought a
measure of consolation to the lonely man who held him.

For a long time Carew sat without moving, staring into the shadowy
garden. Save for the shrilling of a cicada in the grass near by the deep
silence was unbroken. And soon even the insect ceased its monotonous
chirp, abruptly as it had begun.

Carew had been up since before daybreak, and lulled by the intense quiet
and the heaviness of the night, he began to be aware that drowsiness was
stealing over him. He was almost asleep when the vague impression of a
distant sound, a curious slithering sound that ended in a faint thud,
penetrated to his only half conscious mind and roused him to sudden and
complete wakefulness. The noise seemed to have come from the further end
of the garden. Who was abroad in the garden at this time of night? As he
stared keen-eyed into the darkness his brain was working rapidly. He had
thought the child to be asleep, but from a slight movement in his arms
he knew that Saba too was awake and listening intently, as he himself
was listening. To get the boy away before the happening he believed
inevitable was his first care. Without altering his own position he slid
him silently behind his chair with a low breathed injunction to go. But
with a passionate gesture of refusal Saba clung to him and Carew was
obliged to use unwilling force to unclasp the slender fingers twined
desperately in his thick burnous.

“Go!” he whispered again peremptorily. And as the boy crept slowly away
he leant forward in his chair once more, waiting with braced muscles and
straining ears for any further sound that should betray his nocturnal
visitor’s whereabouts. But the few moments’ attention given to Saba had
been moments used by another to advantage. The attack came with
unexpected and noiseless suddenness, from a quarter he least expected,
and it was only his acute sense of smell that saved him. With the rank,
animal-like odour of the desert man reeking in his nostrils he leaped to
his feet, swerving as he turned. And his quick, instinctive movement
saved his life, for the driving knife thrust aimed at his heart failed
in its objective and glanced off his arm gashing it deeply. With a snarl
of rage el Dhib thrust again. And, his right hand temporarily numbed and
unable to draw the revolver at which his blood drenched fingers fumbled
nervelessly, Carew caught the swinging arm with his left hand and flung
his whole weight forward against his opponent. They fell with a crash,
the Arab undermost, and grappled in the darkness twisting and heaving
with straining limbs and labouring breath.

Crippled, Carew at first could do little more than retain his hold, but
as the numbness passed from his wounded arm he managed with a desperate
effort to jerk himself upward until his knees were pressing with
crushing force on Abdul’s chest and rigid forearm and, rolling sideways,
he tore the knife from the fingers that clung to it tenaciously. But the
manœuvre cost him the advantage he had gained. With a lithe panther-like
movement of his sinewy body the Arab slipped uppermost, his hands at the
other’s throat. And conscious that he was fighting for his life, Carew
put forward his utmost power to meet the strength he knew to be equal to
his own. Locked in a mortal embrace that seemed to admit of only one
ending they struggled with deadly purpose, writhing to and fro on the
floor of the verandah until a sidelong jerk from one of them sent them
over the edge and they rolled, still gripping fiercely, into the garden
beneath. The drop was a short one, but in falling Carew’s head struck
against the abutment of the marble stairway and for a moment he lay
stunned. And Abdul who had fallen on top of him was not able to complete
the work he had begun. Warned by the lights that flashed up in the
villa, unable to recover the knife he had lost, with a parting curse he
turned and ran for the shelter of the shadowy trees, doubling like a
hare as he sped across the strip of brilliant moonlight. And still dazed
from the blow on his head Carew staggered to his feet and stood staring
stupidly after him, swaying dizzily as he strove to think collectedly.
But as the flying figure almost reached the friendly darkness that would
cover his flight the momentary cloud lifted from Carew’s brain and he
wrenched the revolver from his waistband. Yet with his finger pressing
on the trigger he paused irresolute. Not at an unarmed man—not in the
back! That was _murder_—no matter how great the provocation. With a
smothered exclamation he dropped his arm to his side. But the screaming
whine of a bullet tearing past his head and a sharp crack behind him
told him that Hosein was troubled by no such scruples. And with mingled
feelings he watched Abdul el Dhib, caught at the moment he thought
himself safe, plunge forward on his face and lie twisting in the agony
of death.

When Carew reached him and lifting him with practised hands supported
him against his knee, the dying man’s eyes rolled upward to the grave
face bending over him and his contorted features relaxed in a grin of
ghastly amusement.

“This was ordained, lord,” he gasped painfully, a pinkish foam gathering
on his lips, “thou or I—and Allah has chosen. To Him the praise,” he
added mockingly, and choked his life away on the crimson tide that
poured from his mouth.



                              CHAPTER VII


Silence had settled again over the little oasis which an hour before had
been the scene of noisiest activity.

Scattered amongst the palms and thorn trees the debris of a camp
evidenced the passing of a caravan, and three or four miles away the
train of lurching camels with its escort of mounted Arabs was still
visible moving steadily over the rolling waste, heading for the south.
Seated cross-legged on the warm ground, idly dribbling sand through his
long, brown fingers, Carew watched it with a feeling of envy, longing
for the time when he could once more lead his own caravan towards the
heart of the great desert whither his thoughts turned perpetually.

But for the promise made to General Sanois he would already have left
Algiers. The small attraction the town had once had for him had vanished
completely in the mental disturbance that had dominated him during the
last few weeks. And Sanois’ preparations dragged interminably. Daily
Carew was tempted to put his half-laughing threat into execution and
abandon the whole enterprise. But the constant delays were no fault of
the General who was straining every nerve to complete his
arrangements—and Carew had given his word. There was nothing for it but
to wait with what patience he could muster.

Out of tune with himself and his surroundings he had gone for
distraction to Biskra to attend the annual race meeting, and for three
crowded days he had been able, partially, to forget the strange unrest
that beset him. But only partially. The little desert town, filled to
overflowing for the great event of the year, was too small for chance
meetings to be avoided and several times he had glimpsed Geradine,
blustering and insufferable there as in Algiers. But keeping closely to
his own circle of acquaintances Carew had escaped coming into contact
with the man for whom he had conceived a hatred that was inexplicable.
And in Biskra he had other interests besides the racing to engage his
attention. Amongst the Arab chiefs who poured into the town from far and
wide he had encountered many old friends. And it was in response to the
earnest request from one of them, the strangest Arab he had ever known,
that Carew had left Biskra early the previous day to ride with him the
first couple of stages of a journey that would take the sheik weeks to
accomplish.

It was long since they had met and the intervening years had brought
startling and unforeseen changes into the life of the man Carew
remembered as a light-hearted captain of Spahis who had been more
Frenchman than Arab in his tastes and inclinations.

Carew’s gaze turned musingly to the chief who lay stretched on the
ground beside him. Wrapped in his burnous, his face hidden in his arms,
he had slept, or seemed to sleep throughout the hour of the siesta and
not even the clamour and bustle of the departing caravan had roused him.
Carew had watched the breaking up of the camp with more than ordinary
interest. A headman had superintended the arrangements with precision
and despatch that savoured more of military methods than the usual
haphazard procedure prevalent among journeying Arabs; and the escort, of
whom a dozen or so remained at the further side of the oasis chatting
with Hosein, were all obviously fighting men, extraordinarily
disciplined and orderly.

Still in disgrace with the Administration for the wiping out of a
contiguous tribe ten years before, for what purpose had Said Ibn
Zarrarah, ex-captain of Spahis and paramount chief of a large district,
not only fostered the warlike instincts of a people with fighting
traditions behind them but endeavoured, apparently with success, to
engraft on them the European tactics he had himself learnt from the
rulers of the country? It was an intriguing question Carew had pondered
while his companion slept. In the old days France had had no more
devoted adherent than the dashing young Spahi. Was there now any
ulterior motive in the militarism he encouraged in his people, or was it
merely a means by which he sought to distract his mind from a life that
Carew knew to be uncongenial?

A younger son with no immediate prospect of succeeding to the leadership
of the tribe, with aspirations that had never found fulfillment in his
desert home, he had, on joining his regiment, become thoroughly
Gallicised, spending long periods of leave in Paris and unlike the
average semi-educated native assimilating only what was best in western
thought and culture. Unspoilt by the flattery and attention heaped on
him, notorious for his cold disregard of women, he had lived for his
regiment and the racing stable he maintained in France. The death of his
elder brother, killed in the raid that had put him out of favour with
the Government, had called him from the life he loved to assume the
cares and duties of a chieftainship he had never desired. Hotly
resenting the heavy censure of the authorities on an action that had
been misrepresented to them, and too proud to explain the necessity that
had forced his hand, he had severed all connections with the past and
had retired to his desert fastness to combat the suspicions of the
elders of his tribe who had distrusted him for his want of religious
zeal and for his adherence to the very people with whom he was in
disgrace.

The irony of the situation had not been lost on him and it had been a
certain satisfaction to prove conclusively his loyalty to his father’s
house. The Governor who had condemned his action had been superseded
shortly afterwards, but the chief of the Ibn Zarrarah had ignored the
change and made no effort towards reconciliation. His heart turned often
in secret to the France he had known and loved, he held aloof from his
old associates, keeping strictly to his own territory and immersing
himself in the affairs of his tribe. He had lived down the mistrust of
even the most conservative of his people, conforming outwardly to an
orthodoxy that gave him no inward consolation.

This year, for the first time in ten years, he had yielded to the long
suppressed desire to revisit the scene of former pleasures. In the old
days he had been a conspicuous and well-known figure at the annual race
meeting at Biskra, popular with Arab and Frenchman alike and famous for
his stud of magnificent horses. The visit just concluded had been made
under very different circumstances. Unrecognised and almost unremembered
he had kept entirely to the company of his own countrymen, a spectator
only where once he had been a moving spirit.

The experience had been fraught with more pain than pleasure. He was
human enough to feel the difference keenly, philosophical enough to be
contemptuous of his own bitterness. But all his philosophy could not
heal the ache in his heart or still the longings quickened by the sound
of the soft musical language he had spoken for years in preference to
his own.

And now when Carew bent forward and touched him with a half-laughing
“Ho, dreamer!” in the vernacular, he sat up with a jerk revealing dark
melancholy eyes that were not dulled with sleep but hard and bright with
concentrated thought. “For the love of God speak French,” he ejaculated.
“Oh, I know I’m a fool,” he went on with a half-defiant ring in his
voice, “a bigger fool than most—I always was. I was a fool to forget
that I was an Arab, to try and imagine myself a Frenchman. I was a fool,
when my brother Omair remained childless, not to realise that I might at
any time be called upon to give up all that made life pleasant for me.
And when he was killed I was a fool to do what I did. You know what
happened. I went to Algiers to make my _amende honorable_ for having
broken the peace of the border, and the Governor—that fat old Faidherbe
who was always trembling for his own skin—waited for no explanation but
lost his temper and cursed me. I was ‘an ingrate to be viewed with the
deepest suspicion,’ I was ‘a turbulent chief who was a menace to the
country.’ I was everything that was vile and contemptible and
dishonourable. I lost my own temper in the end and cursed him back until
I didn’t know how I got out of the Palace without being arrested. I left
Algiers within the hour and Faidherbe misrepresented the whole case to
the Ministry of the Interior, and I have been under suspicion ever
since. But what else could I do? I had to fight. I loved Omair. When it
came to the pinch I found that my love for him was greater than my love
for France. I fought to defend his honour, and what I did later I did to
avenge his death—do you blame me?”

His restless eyes swept upward in frowning enquiry and a momentary gleam
lit them as Carew shook his head.

“No! but France blames me, and it hurts—damnably. France—” his voice
softened suddenly—“what she meant to me once! I loved her, I love her
still—the more fool I! She is like a woman—fickle,
undependable—courting you today, spurning you tomorrow. But I cannot
hate her as I hate women though she has hurt me as women have hurt me.
Women! God’s curses on them!” he exclaimed violently. “I always detested
them, always avoided them, but they made me suffer despite myself. For
love of a woman Omair died. The love of a woman took from me my best
friend, an Englishman as you are, just when I needed him most. _Bon
Dieu_, how I loathe them!” He flung himself back on the sand with a
harsh laugh.

The confidence Carew had been expecting ever since they left Biskra had
come with a rush. Much of the story was known to him already. A garbled
account of the chief’s delinquencies had been given to him years ago in
Algiers, more he had learned from his numerous Arab friends. That there
were faults on both sides was evident, but it was clearly a case where
leniency might very well have been extended to a chief who had been one
of France’s warmest admirers. It had been the last blunder of a weak and
unscrupulous Governor whose term of office had been a series of
unfortunate happenings. To curry favour with the home authorities he had
screened his own hastiness and magnified the chief’s offence, forgetting
that his scapegoat had it in his power to retaliate in a way that would
have cost France much. The Ibn Zarrarah were a large and powerful tribe
whose sphere of influence was far reaching and, flushed at the moment
with victory, a revolt of more than ordinary magnitude might easily have
occurred. Their chief, seething under a sense of injustice, a very
little might have turned the scale in favour of rebellion—and wars of
suppression were expensive. And often Carew had wondered not at what
Said Ibn Zarrarah had done but at what he had left undone. But now as he
sat still raking the loose warm sand with his fingers he was thinking
more of the chief’s concluding words than of his grievance against the
French Government.

He looked again at the distant caravan, a mere smudge now on the
horizon. He had spent a day and a night with the Arab and his train of
followers and he had reason to know that one of those slow moving camels
carried the closely screened travelling box of the wife of the man who
had cursed all women as heartily and as passionately as ever he had done
himself.

“You loathe women—and yet you are married,” he said slowly, without
turning his head or altering the direction of his gaze.

The chief rolled over with a growl of angry impatience.

“For the sake of the tribe,” he flashed. “Do you think by any chance
that I did it to please myself! Do I do anything to please myself in
these days? I put it off as long as possible, but my people were
insistent—the house of Zarrarah had need of an heir.”

“And your wife—?” The involuntary question surprised Carew even more
than his listener. To an ordinary Arab the remark would have been beyond
the bounds of all etiquette and convention; to Said Ibn Zarrarah,
western in his ideas even with regard to the sex he despised, it was
curious only as coming from the man it did.

“She is happy with her child,” he said with a shrug of indifference, and
searched for a cigarette in the folds of his burnous. But despite his
outward show of unconcern it seemed as if his answer had scarcely
contented himself for his black brows were knitted gloomily and his face
almost sullen as he sat smoking in silence with his melancholy eyes
fixed on the boundless space before him. “Why should she not be happy?”
he burst out at length. “She has everything she asks for—the only
wonder is she asks so little. She has more liberty allowed her than the
average Arab woman—and is too rigid an Arab to make use of it. She is
alone in my harem, she has no rival to make her life miserable—and she
has borne a son to the house of Zarrarah.”

She had borne a son—the supreme desire of the eastern woman.

A shadow crossed Carew’s face as he turned and looked at his companion
curiously. “And is that no compensation to you? There are those who
would envy you your son, Sheik,” he said, with a touch of bitterness in
his voice. But his question went unanswered and he changed the
conversation abruptly.

“You were a fool to leave it to Faidherbe,” he said with friendly
candour. “You knew what he was, and the attitude he was likely to adopt.
You had your chance with the change of administration. His successor is
a very different type. He would at least have listened to your
explanations with an open mind. He would listen to them now if you chose
to make them. But the first move must come from you. You cannot expect
the Government to make overtures to one who is _suspect_. I heard the
story at the time, of course—Faidherbe’s version of it, that is to say.
But I could do nothing then. I was practically new to the country and I
was not—”

“You were not El Hakim—the eye of France,” cut in the chief with a
swift smile. Carew laughed.

“Is that what they call me? A blind eye, Sheik, where my friends are
concerned.” The chief nodded. “That I have also heard. And that is why
you are trusted—trusted as few men are in Algeria,” he added gravely.

And for a time he relapsed into silence and Carew waited for the
suggestion he preferred the other to make. He had a certain influence
now with the Government, he could pave the way for a reconciliation—if
Said Ibn Zarrarah really desired it. But did he desire it? It was clear
from what he had said that in spite of his very natural feeling of
resentment the chief nourished no schemes of revenge and had no thought
of turning the large forces at his command against the country he still
admired. But wounded in his deepest susceptibilities, embittered by
years of solitary brooding, would his pride allow him to make overtures
that must of necessity be humiliating and would require a certain moral
courage to perform? And his present position was a strong one, apart
from the injury to his feelings he had little to lose or gain either
way.

It was a problem the chief would have to decide for himself. In the
years that Carew had worked in the country he had learned to keep his
own counsel. He never interfered or gave gratuitous advice, and was
chary even of advising when asked. He had come to have a deep insight
into the workings of the native mind and he had long since realised the
value of neutrality. His rôle of intermediary was possible only so long
as his sympathies remained equally divided between the people of the
land and their foreign rulers.

And now he waited long for Said Ibn Zarrarah to speak, so long that more
than once he glanced covertly at the watch on his wrist. It was time,
and past the time, that the chief should start to overtake the caravan
that was now no longer distinguishable, and time that he himself set out
on the fifty mile ride back to Biskra. Travelling with no camping
impedimenta to hinder him he had reckoned on spending the night at a
tiny village that was known to him and which made a convenient halting
place. He would have to ride hard if the squalid little collection of
mud huts was to be reached before the light gave out. Not that either he
or Hosein minded a night spent supperless under the stars, but there
were the horses to be considered. There was, too, an odd feeling in the
air that he had only just realised. The heat that all day had been
intense was now suffocating. And as he raised his hand to brush away the
moisture lying thick on his forehead, it dawned on him that he had been
doing so frequently during the last hour. Instinctively his eyes swept
the horizon. There was nothing to break the uninterrupted view, and seen
through the shimmering haze that eddied from its surface, the wide
expanse of sand looked like the rolling waves of a vast leaden sea. A
sullen angry sea that seemed to heave and writhe as though straining to
let loose the tremendous forces lying dormant within its mighty bosom.
And far off to the southeast, where sky and sand met, a faint dark line
like an inky smudge caught Carew’s attention and sent him to his feet
with a sharp exclamation.

“You were better with your people, Sheik.”

At the sound of his voice the chief looked up with a start and sudden
anxiety flashed into his eyes as they followed the direction of the
other’s pointing finger. Then his gaze turned southward and for a moment
he stood peering intently as if striving to visualise the caravan that
had long since passed out of sight. Without moving he shouted to his men
and almost before the words died on his lips his horse was beside him
and he swung into the saddle.

Bending down he caught Carew’s outstretched hand in a grip that conveyed
much he did not utter.

“Some day I may ask you to speak for me,” he muttered hurriedly, and was
gone in a swirl of dust and sand.

For a minute or two Carew lingered, looking after him, then turned to
Hosein who was bringing up the horses. The man jerked his head towards
the east. “My lord has seen?” he murmured. Carew nodded. “It may pass,”
he said, running his fingers caressingly over Suliman’s neck before
gathering up the reins. But Hosein shook his head. “It will come,” he
asserted positively, “they know,” he added, pointing to the horses whose
nervous fidgeting and sweat-drenched coats evidenced uneasiness.

“Then in God’s name let it come,” replied Carew with a short laugh, “are
we children to fear a sandstorm?” And Hosein’s grim features relaxed in
an answering grin as he held his master’s stirrup for him to mount.

Riding, the air seemed less stagnant but the heat increased momentarily
and the deep silence of the desert was more strangely silent than usual.

The horses were racing, urged by instinct, and splashes of white foam
thrown back from Suliman’s champing jaws powdered Carew’s dark burnous
like flakes of snow.

But it was Said Ibn Zarrarah rather than the approaching sandstorm that
engaged his mind as he leant forward in the saddle to ease his weight
from the galloping horse. Said’s case was only one of thousands of
others, he reflected. East or west the problems of life were very
similar. The point of view might differ but the problems remained the
same. The eternal struggle between duty and inclination was not confined
only to the so-called civilized races but raged as fiercely here under
the burning African sun as in many more temperate climes. And Said Ibn
Zarrarah, trained from boyhood to despotism and self-indulgence, had
shown more moral courage than he himself had done. Surrendering to a
sense of obligation the Arab had gone back to the life he loathed and
assumed duties that were distasteful to him, while he, for a private
sorrow, had shirked the responsibilities that were his by inheritance.
It was a humiliating truth that was indisputable.

And from Said Ibn Zarrarah, Carew’s thoughts wandered to the young wife
who was waiting for the coming of the husband who had married her only
to satisfy the wishes of his people. It was a strange marriage even for
an Arab woman. Though treated evidently with unusual consideration, her
life must be a difficult one. Rigidly orthodox, as there was every
reason to suppose she was, her lord’s western tendencies and liberality
of thought would alone be sufficient cause for perplexity and
bewilderment. And solitary in a harem that was probably a marvel of
oriental sumptuousness, surrounded by everything that a woman could
desire, with no spoken wish ungratified, might she not still be longing
for more than the cold and empty symbols of a lavish generosity that was
prompted only by a sense of what was properly her due as the wife of a
powerful sheik? “She has everything she asks for—the only wonder is she
asks so little.” Unloved and perhaps yearning for the love denied her,
were her wants so few by reason of the one want that made all others
valueless to her? Said, with his magnificent physique and fine features,
was an arresting figure of a man who would appeal to any woman, more
particularly to one who could have had little or no opportunity of
seeing other men with whom to contrast him. Small wonder if the
girl-bride had fallen in love with her stalwart, handsome husband. And
he? Was love for her dawning in spite of his professed hatred of
women—was the mother of his son already more to him than he realised?
He was not as indifferent to her welfare as his words had seemed to
imply. He had gone unnecessarily out of his way to endeavour to
represent her as contented with her lot. That in itself was significant.
And the look that had leaped to his eyes when Carew drew his attention
to the threatening storm was certainly not anxiety on his own behalf.

What did the coming years hold for him and the woman he had married? The
woman—Carew checked his wandering thoughts with a bitter smile. What
had he to do with women and the love of women?

Jerking his head angrily he waved Hosein to his side, and as he turned
in the saddle a sudden gust of wind, scorching as the heat from an oven
door, struck against his face and a heavy peal of thunder crashed
through the intense stillness, reverberating sharply like the prolonged
rattling of artillery. For an instant the horses faltered, quivering and
snorting, then leaped forward racing neck and neck and, together, the
two men looked behind them. The inky smudge on the skyline was blacker
and more apparent than it had been, rolling swiftly up like a dense
impenetrable wall, and for the first time Carew realised the gloom that,
preoccupied, he had not noticed before. There seemed no possibility now
of escaping the storm that earlier he had thought would pass too far to
the south to touch them, and the prospects for the night should they
over-ride the tiny village in the darkness, were not cheering. But it
was all in the day’s work and he was accustomed to the vagaries of the
desert. And there was something in the thought of the approaching
struggle with the elements that stirred his blood and made him almost
welcome the physical discomfort that would inevitably ensue. It was
something tangible he could contend with, something he could do, and
doing, forget perhaps for a few hours the strange unrest that had laid
so strong a hold on him.

A vivid flash of lightning followed by another deafening roar of thunder
stemmed the current of his thoughts and concentrated all his attention
on his nervous mount. The pick of his stud, Suliman was the fastest
horse Carew had ever ridden, and today, fleeter than usual by reason of
his fear, it was difficult to restrain the headlong gallop that
threatened to carry him far beyond his companion.

Tightening his grip Carew leant forward soothing the terrified animal
with voice and hand. The gloom was increasing, the gusts of hot wind
more frequent and of longer duration, bringing with them now the
stinging whip of driving sand. There was a distant muttering like the
far off surge of waves beating against a rocky coast and suddenly the
sun went out, hidden by the racing clouds that swept across the heavens,
and with a tearing, whining scream the storm broke.

Reeling under the terrific impact of the wind that staggered even the
galloping horses, blinded with the swirling sand, the two men crouched
low in their saddles, wrestling with the flapping cloaks they strove to
draw closer about them, struggling to keep near to each other, their
voices lost in the roar of the tempest. The surrounding country was
obliterated and a thick darkness enveloped them. Between his knees Carew
could feel the great bay trembling and starting but the strain was eased
somewhat from his arms for the need of companionship had driven Suliman
close beside the horse Hosein was riding. It was pure chance now where
they would find themselves when the storm abated for the darkness and
the whirling clouds of sand obscured every landmark. But it was not a
matter with which Carew concerned himself. He had been through many
sandstorms, fiercer and more prolonged than this one was likely to be.
And here they were only catching the fringe of it. Further to the south
Said, with his slow moving camels and the burden of women on his hands,
was probably in a far worse case and would spend a more uncomfortable
night than they would. With a shrug he spat out a mouthful of sand and
dragged the heavy burnous higher about his face. The flying particles
stung like showers of spraying glass and the reins were rough and gritty
between his wet fingers. From time to time he shook off the clinging
accumulation but it gathered fast again filtering up his wide sleeves
and penetrating through his thick clothing till his whole body was
tingling and pricking. But in spite of the discomfort he was happier
than he had been for weeks. The fighting instinct in him leaped to meet
the fury of the storm. There was no time to think. He lived for the
moment, every nerve strained to the utmost, his sombre eyes glowing with
a curious look of pleasure, his knees thrust tight against his horse’s
ribs, his powerful limbs braced to resist the violent gusts that
threatened to tear him from the saddle. The fierce howling of the wind,
the savage pitilessness of the scene filled him with a strange
excitement, making him exult in his own physical strength, the strength
that had enabled him to pursue the wild and strenuous life he had made
his own. It was nature, capricious and changeful as he had learned to
know her—the nature he had turned to in his time of need, the nature he
would go back to with undiminished pleasure and confidence. A hard
mistress, cruel often, but alluring and compelling for her very
waywardness.

The storm had been raging for some time before the rain came, a heavy
tropical downpour that, unexpected as it was short lived, drenched the
men’s thick cloaks and caked the sand on the horse’s bodies. It passed
quickly and with its going the gloom lessened slightly and the wind
abated somewhat of its violence. But Carew placed no faith in the
temporary lull. It would blow again later, or he was very much mistaken,
and probably harder than before. Meanwhile it was an opportunity to push
on, to increase the pace of the horses, whose mad gallop had gradually
slackened while the storm was at its height. It was only nerves and the
strong wind that had slowed them down. They were capable of a good deal
yet in spite of the strain they had gone through. It was not such blind
going now but it was still impossible to distinguish any of the
outstanding features of the district and the village they were making
for could be easily passed within a stone’s throw and yet missed. And
night was falling rapidly. There was nothing for it but to carry on and
trust to luck.

For an hour they rode steadily, huddled in their dripping cloaks, silent
as they usually were when together. And the moment, to men even more
communicatively inclined than Carew and his taciturn servant, was not
conducive to conversation. The air was still impregnated with drifting
sand that sifted through to mouth and nostrils in spite of the close
drawn cloaks, and the wind made speech difficult. And furthermore, Carew
was succumbing to an intense and growing feeling of drowsiness. He had
not slept during the hour of the siesta at the oasis and he had been up
the greater part of the previous night attending to one of Said’s
followers who had taken an ugly toss from a stumbling camel. Suliman,
his panic subsided, had resumed his usual smooth gallop and his easy
movements were sleep inducing. More than once Carew found his
sand-rimmed eyes closing. It was Hosein who noticed the first indication
that luck had favoured them and that they were on the right track for
the village they had scarcely thought to find. A clump of withered palms
clustered beside a broken well that had been dry for years. Carew
recognised the mournful little spot with a half-somnolent feeling of
detachment and nodded sleepily in response to his servant’s exclamation.
And it was again Hosein who made the further discovery that drew from
him a second exclamation that effectually banished his master’s
drowsiness.

Almost hidden by the palm trees and the crumbling masonry of the well,
two riderless horses stood with dejected, down-drooping heads, ridden to
a standstill apparently for even Suliman’s angry squeal failed to
attract their attention. Motionless like creatures of bronze, their
backs to the driving sand, their dangling bridles flapping in the wind,
there was something singularly forlorn in their attitude. At sight of
them Carew scowled in momentary indecision. He had no wish to be
hampered with the care of two spent horses, but it was not a night to
pass even an animal in distress. With a word to Hosein, he swung Suliman
towards the little dead oasis. The weary beasts took no notice of their
approach and did not move as Carew drew rein beside them. A quick glance
about him and he slid suddenly out of the saddle. Near by lay an Arab,
face downwards on the ground, and a few steps away a powerfully built
European sat with his back propped against the broken wall of the well
nursing a heavy riding whip across his knees. His head was sunk between
his shoulders, his face hidden by the wide brim of the helmet pulled low
on his forehead. Rain-drenched and spattered with mud and sand that
caked his once immaculate boots and clung closely to the rough surface
of his tweed coat, he presented a sorry spectacle, but his plight had
evidently not impaired his power of speech for there came from his lips
a steady flow of uninterrupted blasphemy that sounded oddly in such a
place and at such a time.

Carew was no purist himself, but the unnecessary foulness of the words
that assailed his ears roused in him a feeling of disgust and he turned
abruptly to the prostrate Arab who seemed in more immediate need of
attention. But as he touched him the man rolled from under his hands and
stumbling to his feet, shrank away with upraised arm as though to ward
off a blow. His eyes were dazed but mingling with the pain in them there
was a look of deep hatred, and his bruised and bleeding mouth told their
own tale. The individual by the well was evidently a hard hitter as well
as a hard swearer. To Carew, the sullen, twitching features were vaguely
familiar and it was obvious, when after a few moments the Arab collected
himself sufficiently to speak, that he himself was recognised. But he
could not place him and the name that was reluctantly vouchsafed
conveyed nothing—he knew dozens of Arabs with the same designation.
More he could not ask. Whatever were his feelings on the subject he
could not interfere between master and servant. But his expression was
not pleasant and he was conscious of a rising anger as he swung on his
heel to go back to the well. He did not reach it. With slow clenching
hands he stood where he had turned staring at the man who was leisurely
coming towards him—the man he had been trying to avoid since the night,
weeks ago, of the opera. The sodden helmet was pushed back revealing
clearly, even in the dim light, the blotched, dissipated looking face
that had stirred him to so strange and deadly a hatred. And now, in
their close proximity, that strange hatred seemed to increase a
thousandfold and it was all Carew could do to preserve semblance of
passivity and conceal the boiling rage that filled him. It was like
nothing he had ever experienced in his life before. As on that night in
Algiers it was sweeping him with a force that was beyond all reason, all
explanation. He could not explain it. He could not conquer it. He could
only hope to retain the self-command that seemed perilously near to
breaking point, for again the same appalling desire to kill was pouring
over him. Aghast at the horrible impulse that was almost more than he
could resist he thrust his hands behind him to keep them from the weapon
that lay hidden in the folds of his waistcloth. And completely oblivious
of the storm of passion his presence had evoked, Geradine strode up to
him with the swaggering gait and overbearing demeanour that
characterised him always, but which was especially notable in his
dealings with any native, irrespective of rank. A native to him was a
native, an inferior creature little better than the beasts of the field,
to be dominated by fear and kept in his place. He stood now, his legs
planted widely apart, slapping his boot with his riding whip, surveying
Carew through insolent half-closed eyes.

“Look here—” he began, his tone a mixture of truculence and arrogant
condescension. “I’m in the devil of a mess. Came out from Biskra for a
day or two’s camping—missed my people in this infernal sandstorm—all
the fault of that fool there. What’ll you take to get me out of this
bally graveyard? My beasts are knocked up—yours look pretty fresh. Name
your price, and for heaven’s sake get a move on, I—oh, _damn_!” he
broke off with a petulant shrug of annoyance as Carew continued to stare
at him with a purposely blank face that was neither helpful nor
encouraging. For a few moments, imagining himself to be not understood,
he glared wrathfully at the supposed Arab, favouring him with a string
of personal epithets that were neither complimentary nor parliamentary.
And with contemptuous indifference Carew let him curse. If Geradine had
accepted him as an Arab, an Arab he would remain—but not an Arab to be
either browbeaten or bribed. He was not in a mood to make things easier
for the blustering bully who was working himself up into a state of
childish rage. He could alter his tone if he wanted assistance. Nor at
the moment was Carew very certain that his assistance would be
forthcoming. Why should he go out of his way to help a man he hated! To
be left in the predicament in which he was would be a salutary
experience that might have a chastening effect on one who was obviously
unused to opposition or discomfort in any shape or form. A few
privations would do him no harm. And if he died in the desert, which was
not in the least likely, his death would probably be a source of relief
rather than grief to his friends and relations. Quite suddenly Carew
thought of the wife of the man who was facing him. She certainly, if all
reports were true, would have no cause to lament a husband she evidently
went in dread of. But what was that to him! A surge of anger went
through him as his down-bent eyes swept upward to meet the insolent
stare fixed on him. The foul-mouthed brute! God, how he hated him!
Almost unconsciously he moved a step forward, and there was something
menacing in his expression that checked Geradine’s flow of language.

With a shade more civility in his tongue he began to repeat his demand
in halting French that was scarcely comprehensible. And with typical
Arab aloofness Carew waited for him to come to the end of his stumbling
explanations. But it was not on his account that he listened to him. It
was the need of the wretched servant and the two exhausted horses that
swayed him and moved him finally to a reluctant decision.

With a cold word of assent, and a curt gesture that sent the quick blood
rushing to the other’s face, he turned haughtily as though from an
inferior and walked back to the horses, leaving Geradine to stare after
him spluttering with rage, twisting and bending the pliable whip between
his coarse hands, in two minds whether to follow him or not. Curse the
dam’ nigger and his infernal cheek, looking at him as if he were dirt! A
bit above himself, that chap. That’s what came of treating natives as
the French did—equality, fraternity and the rest of it, by Gad! A
rotten country! Who did the supercilious beggar think he was talking to,
anyhow? A silly tourist to be impressed by his dam’ airs of superiority?
He was hanged if he would stick impudence from any Arab. Coming the free
son of the desert over _him_, was he? The blighter could go to blazes,
and his horses too for that matter. _He’d_ not truckle to any eternally
condemned son of a—But a freshening gust of wind that, sand laden,
whipped against his cheek with unpleasant suggestiveness cut short his
muttered imprecations and quashed his half-formed intention of revoking
his demand for assistance and relying on himself to get out of an
uncomfortable situation he was convinced was due entirely to the
muddle-headedness of his servant. Curse the fool—there hadn’t been a
job yet that he hadn’t mucked up! Recommended for his capabilities, by
jove! A well-trained valet and an efficient dragoman, was he? He’d be a
bit more trained and efficient when his present employer was done with
him. There was only one way of dealing with cattle of that kind, and
Malec wouldn’t be the first nigger he’d licked into shape, not by a long
way. But Malec could wait—he could deal with him later.

With a snarl that boded little good for the unfortunate valet Geradine
went with no show of haste to join the group of men and horses by the
well-head. Carew was already mounted, wrestling with Suliman who was
backing and rearing impatiently. He swung him round as the Viscount
approached.

“You can ride my servant’s horse,” he said in French, “yours can hardly
carry themselves. The men will have to walk.”

With a grunt which was certainly not an expression of courtesy Geradine
took the bridle Hosein offered him and climbed stiffly into the saddle.
His drenched condition and his resentment at the authoritative tone
addressed to him did not tend to improve either his manners or his
temper, and with characteristic pettiness he vented his ill-humour on
the object nearest at hand. The horse that had been lent to him was
plunging in furious protest at the raking spurs that were being used
with unnecessary violence and, losing command of himself, he slashed
savagely at the little shapely head with his whip. Twice the heavy thong
rose and fell, then a hand like steel closed on his wrist and it was
wrenched from him. And, turning with an oath, he found himself
confronted by a pair of blazing eyes in which he read not only rage but
a totally unexpected hatred that sent an odd sensation of cold rippling
down his spine. He flinched involuntarily, dragging his horse aside,
conscious for the first time in his life of a feeling of fear. But the
strange look that had startled him was gone in a flash and Carew’s face
was impassive as he reined his own horse back. “Your pardon, _monsieur_,
he is unused to a whip,” he said icily, and sent the offending weapon
spinning into the mouth of the empty well where it fell beyond recovery.
Speechless with fury Geradine glared at him, and then, his French too
limited to adequately express his feelings, let out a string of curses
in his own language which would have given him more pleasure had he
known them to be understood. But his hands were fully occupied with the
enraged mount and Carew had already ridden on. It was blowing again
steadily. Carew, sure now of his bearings, was heading more to the east
and the swirling sand was driving straight at them. Muffled in his
burnous, his face shielded somewhat by the close drawn haick, he felt it
less than Geradine did. But he had no sympathy to waste on the huddled
figure behind them with the exhausted horses. For them he was glad that
the village lay only a bare three miles away. And even three miles, over
rough uneven ground and against a strong wind, was a sufficiently
tedious tramp for men unused to walking and hampered by two jaded beasts
who required constant encouragement to induce them to move at all.
Progress was necessarily slow and more than once Geradine, impatient of
the snail’s pace at which they were proceeding, let out his fretting
horse and dashed on ahead. But ignorant of the way and not relishing the
prospect of losing sight of his companions in the growing darkness he
was forced each time to curb his impetuosity and wait for the others to
come up with him.

For a time he kept silence, but at last his annoyance found utterance.
“See here,” he exploded angrily, as Carew for the fifth time ranged
alongside without seeming to notice the temporary separation, “this
isn’t a bally funeral! For heaven’s sake push on a bit.” And as Carew
turned to him with an indifferent “_Plâit-il_?” he lost his temper
completely. “_Plus vite_, you silly ass,” he bellowed. “_Pas un
cortège_, _n’est-ce-pas_—confound you!”

For a moment Carew hesitated, his own temper rising dangerously. Then he
shrugged and raising his hand pointed behind him. “The men are walking,”
he said shortly, and wondered how long it would be before he was goaded
into retaliation. To profess ignorance of his mother tongue was easy, to
sit quietly under a storm of abuse and personal epithets was rather more
difficult. But he had brought it on himself, he had allowed Geradine to
think him an Arab and an Arab he would have to remain. To tardily admit
his nationality was impossible, it would only make Geradine feel that he
had been made a fool of and might probably lead to a quarrel that could
easily end disastrously. As it was, his mere presence was almost more
than Carew could endure. He had kept a firm hold over himself so far but
he knew that a very little more would shatter his self-control. He had
voluntarily decided on a certain line of action and he would have to go
on with it, if only for the sake of the wretched Arab. Left in the
lurch, Geradine would undoubtedly wreck his wrath on the servant who had
been already sufficiently manhandled. And again Carew racked his brains
to recollect where he had seen the man before. He rarely forgot faces
and now, for want of something better to engage his attention, he set
himself to discover why the dimly remembered features were familiar. It
flashed across him at length. De Granier’s man—taken on with the villa,
probably, poor devil. A fairly recent addition to the Frenchman’s
household, Malec had made no very definite impression on the guest he
had served but once. But having identified him Carew, casting back in
his mind, remembered that de Granier had spoken of him as a curious
character, responding to kindness, but sullen when corrected and quick
to take offence.

The change from the easy-going Frenchman to service with a brute like
Geradine must have been great, and Carew wondered suddenly what induced
him to remain with a master he obviously hated. High wages—or a more
sinister purpose?—He checked himself abruptly. He would be doing murder
by proxy, and rather enjoying it, if he let his thoughts race in this
fashion. His own incomprehensible hatred was deep enough without
allowing himself to dwell on another’s grievances. And for him there was
not even the excuse of a grievance. For no reason or cause whatsoever he
had hated Geradine at sight. With a shrug of perplexity he drew his
cloak closer round him and shook the stinging sand from his bridle hand.

The wind was gathering in force every minute and the light fading
rapidly. If it failed entirely and they missed the little village in the
darkness there was no other shelter available and Carew did not welcome
the thought of a night spent in the open with his present company. At
this slow pace the way seemed more like thirty miles than three. But he
could not increase it. Even kept to a walk, the horses had outpaced the
men and they were some distance behind. Deaf to Geradine’s snarl of
protest, Carew pulled up and waited until Hosein was alongside of him.
And as the man’s hand touched his stirrup the storm broke again with
redoubled fury and a tearing gust enveloped them in a cloud of blinding
sand. For a few moments the horses became almost unmanageable, wheeling
backs to the storm and crowding together in a plunging, kicking bunch.
They were pulled apart at last and the little party struggled on in the
teeth of the wind, choked with the driving particles and straining their
eyes through the gloom.

And complete darkness had fallen before they stumbled upon the squalid
little collection of mud huts that formed the village. Tenantless, it
seemed at first, for no lights shone from the tiny barred windows that
were blocked with rags to keep out the drifting sand. But Hosein,
despatched in quest of the headman, returned shortly with an elderly
Arab who, shrouded in a multitude of filthy coverings, salaamed
obsequiously in answer to Carew’s shouted enquiry and led them to a hut
a little distance away.

Only a hovel it was, but sheltering an amazingly large family—vague,
shadowy figures, sexless in their close drawn draperies, who shrank from
the vicinity of the strangers and slipped away stealthily into the night
with heads bent low and shoulders hunched against the sweeping wind as
the headman routed them out unceremoniously to give place to the
unexpected visitors. One room, the further portion screened for the use
of the women of the family, and indescribably dirty and comfortless. It
was nothing new to Carew, use had accustomed him to even greater squalor
than this, but Geradine’s disgust was evident as he stared about him
with curling lip, spitting the sand from his mouth and shaking it from
his clothing. Wet and angry, and in no mood to be further
inconvenienced, the sight of the horses vigorously propelled into the
hut through the narrow entrance moved him to noisy expostulation. With
frequent and profanatory lapses into English he managed to convey his
total disapproval of the shelter provided for him, which he described as
unfit even for pigs, and wrathfully announced his disinclination to
share the limited accommodation with “those dam’ brutes”—horses and
men-servants grouped impartially. His own tired beasts stood shivering
and listless but Suliman and Hosein’s horses were nervous of their
surroundings and for a short space pandemonium reigned in the hut and
his remonstrances passed unheeded. When he could hear himself speak
again he reiterated his demands loudly. But Carew, who was stooping to
unloosen Suliman’s girths, waved an indifferent hand towards the door
and intimated sharply that if he preferred the sandstorm he was at
liberty to remove himself, but that as far as he—Carew—was concerned
men and horses remained where they were until the weather conditions
improved.

Unused to opposition, and too selfish to think of anything but his own
comfort, the flat refusal was all that was needed to stir Geradine’s
smouldering rage to a white heat of fury. An ugly look swept across his
lowering face and he started forward with a threatening gesture. And for
a few seconds it seemed as if the open quarrel Carew had feared was now
inevitable. Tired and on edge, goaded by the other’s insolence and
overbearing manner, driven by his own hatred, nothing would have given
him greater pleasure than to respond to the provocation offered him.
Every instinct urged him to retaliate. He had done already all that
could be humanly expected of him, and for two hours he had borne
patiently with insults and abuse. He had done enough, and now his
patience had reached its limit. And it was Geradine, not he, who was
forcing the quarrel. Then why not give him what he asked for? By every
means in his power he had tried to avoid him—and fate had thrust them
together. Carew’s heart beat with a fierce exultant throb, and the
atmosphere of the little room seemed suddenly to become electric—alive
with naked passions—as the two men stared into each other’s eyes.
Behind them the Arabs, sensitive of the tension, were watching intently,
and Hosein was edging nearer to his master, his hand stealing to the
knife in his belt. Then with a tremendous effort Carew thrust from him
the temptation to which he had almost succumbed and swinging on his heel
without a word turned back to his horse. And checked, despite himself,
by a silence he did not understand, Geradine made no further protest,
but fell back with an inarticulate growl and crossing the room, dropped
down heavily on the cleanest spot he could find, as far removed from the
others as possible.

Lighting a cigar with difficulty, for his matches were wet, he smoked
sulkily until the horses were unsaddled. Then fumbling in the pocket of
his sodden coat he produced a good-sized flask and, gulping down the
remaining contents, shouted to the sullen-faced Arab—who was leaning
moodily against the wall beside the steaming horses—to bring him more
brandy. Apathetically, the man unstrapped the leathern holster from his
master’s saddle. And, following him, Carew saw the savage kick aimed at
him as Geradine snatched the second flask from his outstretched hand. To
the multifarious odours that filled the little room was added the reek
of raw spirit for the Viscount, whose hand was shaking, spilled as much
as he drank of the undiluted cognac with which he sought to quench an
unquenchable thirst. Even so, added to what he had previously taken, the
allowance was a generous one. But, beyond deepening the colour in his
already congested face and further dissatisfying him with his
environment, it seemed to make no difference to him for he cursed as
fluently and as intelligibly as before as he shivered closer into the
corner where he was sitting in a vain attempt to avoid the sweeping
draughts that whistled through innumerable cracks in the broken, mud
walls of the hut.

With growing hatred and disgust Carew listened to the uninterrupted flow
of filthy language, wishing passionately that Geradine’s hand had been
steadier. Dead drunk he would at least have been silent. Half tipsy and
vituperative he was intolerable. Was this what the girl listened to day
after day and night after night—Carew flung his wet cloak back with an
angry jerk, scowling at the sudden thought. It was no business of his,
no business of his, he whispered doggedly as he searched for a
cigarette. No business of his—but remembrance, stimulated, was easier
than forgetfulness and for long he stared sombrely at the wreathing
clouds of faint blue smoke that, curling upward in fantastic spirals,
seemed to frame the exquisite oval of a pale, pure face. When at last,
by sheer strength of will, he forced his mind back to the immediate
present, Geradine’s grumbling had ceased and he seemed to be asleep. The
men, too, were dozing, though Hosein’s hand moved mechanically each time
the restless Suliman stamped. The room was perceptibly darker, and
looking for the cause, Carew saw that one of the two little earthenware
lamps left by the routed family had burnt out and the other was
flickering feebly. He wondered if he also had been asleep. And listening
for the gusts of wind that before had shaken the crumbling building he
realised that the storm had passed. The atmosphere was stifling, and
going to the door he wrenched it open and went out into the night. There
the change was almost magical. Swept clean, the heavens were blazing
with stars and the desert lay calm and still in the soft, clear light of
a rising moon whose slanting beams shone silver on the sand. A peace and
silence that was gripping. To Carew, still seething with the hatred that
a little while since had almost mastered him, the marvellous beauty of
the night was like the touch of a healing hand and, watching it, for a
time he forgot even Geradine.

Behind him the tiny collection of huts straggled dark and mysterious in
the deep shadow of a great bare rock that, stark and solitary, rose out
of the level plain at some distance from the chain of mountains to which
it properly belonged. But he did not look at the sleeping village. It
was the desert that held him—the desert that with its silent voice was
whispering, enticing, as so often it had whispered and enticed before,
drawing him with the glamour of its hidden secrets. Caressingly his eyes
swept the moonlit plain. He was one with it now, a nomad for all time.
More than the stately house in England, more than the miniature palace
in Algiers, it was his home. For ten years he had lived in it. For ten
years, seeking to cure his own hurt, he had tried to bring relief to
others, fighting misery and disease, appalled by the magnitude of his
task and seeming to have accomplished so little. But even the little was
worth while. By even the little he was repaid. His toil had not been
altogether in vain. By God’s grace he had been enabled to do something,
and by God’s grace he would do still more. In the deep stillness of the
eastern night the sense of the Divine Presence was very near and, in all
humbleness, Carew prayed from his heart for strength to continue the
work that had become his life.

As he arose from his knees Hosein came to him, uneasy at his absence and
the unwilling bearer of a message.

“The English lord is hungry,” he announced briefly, with patent scorn in
his voice that Carew affected not to hear. The situation was already
sufficiently difficult without having to reprove his servant for a lapse
that was due entirely to Geradine’s own behaviour.

With a last glance at the shining stars he went reluctantly back to the
hut.

Half hidden in a haze of cigar smoke and aggressively wide awake
Geradine hailed his appearance with no more civility than before.

“Clear out those cursed beasts,” he shouted truculently. “I can’t sleep
in a damned stable! And get me something to eat. Something—to—eat.
_Quelque chose à manger, comprenez?_—you blasted fool!” he added,
pantomiming vigorously. The blood rolled in a dark wave to Carew’s face
but determined to keep his temper he swallowed the retort that sprang to
his lips and gave the required orders with apparent unconcern. But he
smiled inwardly as he watched the men lead the horses away. It was very
doubtful whether food of any kind would be procurable at this time of
night, and even if Hosein’s endeavours met with success it was not
likely that Geradine would appreciate the rough fare of the necessitous
little village. Nor, he was convinced, would the handful of crushed
dates he carried in his waistcloth prove any more acceptable.

And when at length Hosein returned with a bowl of curdled camel’s milk
he was not surprised that the Viscount, after one glance of mingled
dismay and repugnance, rejected both it and the unsavoury looking little
mass of sand covered fruit with a disgusted “Lord, what beastly muck!”
and retired into his corner with his hunger unsatisfied to curse himself
to sleep. He was still sleeping heavily when Carew woke with the dawn
and went out to find Hosein and the horses and make arrangements for
Geradine’s return to Biskra. It was not his intention that they should
ride together. His sole desire was to get away as quickly as possible
from the vicinity of the man he hated more vehemently than ever.

Last night he had controlled himself only by a super-human effort. This
morning he felt he could no longer trust himself. To escape the leave
taking that was otherwise unavoidable he did not go back to the hut
when, an hour later, he was ready for the road and had concluded his
interview with Malec and the headman of the village.

But as his foot was in the stirrup Geradine appeared, yawning sleepily,
and swinging his arms to get the stiffness out of them. Having wakened
for once without his customary morning headache he was in a better
temper than usual. Apparently oblivious of his incivility of the
previous evening he lounged forward with an air of condescending
geniality, prepared evidently to make himself agreeable. His shouted
greeting terminated in a loud laugh as he glanced at Carew, clean shaven
and immaculate as Hosein always contrived he should be, and then at his
own soiled clothing.

“You look smart enough, by Gad,” he said, fingering his rough chin
tenderly, “where the devil do you find water and a razor in this filthy
little hole? You’re off early—what’s your hurry? Oh, damn it, I forgot
you can’t speak English. Well, never mind, you’re a sportsman whatever
you are. I’d have been in the soup last night if you hadn’t come along.
Many thanks—dash it, I mean _très obligé, mille remerciments_—and all
the rest of it, don’t you know.” And with another laugh he thrust out
his hand.

But incited by the gentle pressure of his rider’s heel Suliman plunged
wildly and shot away leaving Geradine with his arm still outstretched,
half annoyed and half amused at Carew’s abrupt departure.

Proud as Lucifer, like every other potty little chief he had ever
met—but the beggar could ride, he reflected as he stood looking after
the galloping horsemen, and the man he had with him was worth a dozen of
the fool _he_ was landed with. And yawning again he turned back to the
hut and roared for the fool in question.



                              CHAPTER VIII


In her bedroom at the Villa des Ombres Marny Geradine was standing
before the open window staring out into the darkness. She stood very
still, her colourless face set like a mask of marble, her hands clasped
tightly behind her. Only the tempestuous rise and fall of her delicately
rounded bosom betrayed the inward tumult that was raging within her.
Five minutes ago she had dismissed a white faced and pleading Ann and
now, alone, she was facing a decision that took all her courage to
sustain.

It was the night of the Governor’s annual ball. By now she should have
been dressed. But the wonderful Paris creation that Geradine had
insisted on ordering specially for the occasion still lay in shimmering
folds on the _chaise longue_ and Marny had not changed from the simple
teagown in which she had dined.

She was not going to the ball. She was not going to submit again to the
open shame and humiliation that had been her portion throughout her
married life but which during the last few weeks had reached a
culminating point of horror. Her husband’s gross intemperance, his
notorious infidelities, his callous disregard for anything beyond his
own pleasure, had driven her at last to rebellion. She had reached the
end of her endurance. She knew that at home she must continue to suffer
the brutal treatment he meted out to her but she had resolved never to
appear in public with him again. How would he receive her decision? How
would she brave his anger? Why did she think only of his strength, of
the hectoring bullying voice she dreaded, of the merciless hands that
made her shrink in physical fear that was an agony? Intolerant of the
least opposition to his lightest wish what would he do to her! A shudder
of pure terror ran through her. If he would only come—as she knew he
would come to demand the reason of her lateness. Waiting was torture.

And yet when the door burst open and banged violently to again and she
heard his heavy step behind her the dread she had felt before was as
nothing to the paralysing fear that now rushed over her robbing her of
all power of movement.

She could have shrieked when his hands closed with crushing force on her
shoulders and he swung her round to face him. But she managed to control
herself and meet his furious stare courageously. He was in the
quarrelsome stage of semi-intoxication that of late had been his usual
state, drunk enough to be cruel and vindictive, sober enough to be
dangerous.

“Not dressed yet! What the hell have you been doing all this time?
You’re damnably late!”

She was used to being sworn at, she had come to feel that nothing he
could say could hurt her any more, and tonight it did not seem to matter
very much what he said.

She forced herself to answer him.

“I’m not going to the ball, Clyde.”

He glared at her in speechless anger, his hands slipping from her
shoulders, his dark red face flushing deeper, the veins on his forehead
standing out like whipcord.

“The devil you’re not! And why, might I ask?” he bellowed furiously.
Panic driven, the temptation to evade the issue she had raised, the
cowardly impulse to plead illness to allay his wrath was almost more
than she could suppress. But she fought back the words that rushed to
her lips and turned away with a little hopeless gesture.

“You know why,” she said in a low voice.

“I’m damned if I do!”

She turned to him swiftly.

“You know, Clyde,” she said steadily, “you know perfectly well why I
dread going out with you. You’ve known ever since we were married.”

“I know you’re a little fool,” he retorted angrily. “Look here, Marny,
I’ve had enough of this nonsense. You’ll go to this dam’ ball whether
you like it or not, just as you will go anywhere and everywhere I choose
you shall go. I’ll give you ten minutes to be ready—not a second more.
And you can keep your infernal objections to yourself in future. I’m not
going to be preached at by anybody, much less by you. Look sharp and
don’t keep me waiting any longer. Ten minutes—that’s your limit,” he
shouted and moved as if to leave the room. She shivered, her pale face
whiter than before, but her determination was stronger than her fear.

“It’s no use, Clyde. I’m not going,” she said slowly. And for the first
time he heard a ring of obstinacy in her voice. He swung back towards
her, staring at her for a moment incredulously, rocking slightly on his
feet, his big hands clenching as he worked himself up to a pitch of
passionate rage.

“You mean that?” he said thickly. Her dry lips almost refused their
office.

“Yes,” she whispered faintly.

“You deliberately disobey me?” She wrung her hands in sudden agony.
“I’ve always obeyed you, always done what you wished—but this—oh, I
can’t. I _can’t_!”

He towered over her, his bloodshot eyes menacing. “You can’t?” he
sneered. “I rather think you both can and will. There’s only one person
in this house who says ‘can’t’—and that’s me. You’ll do what you’re
told, now and always. Put on that dress—and God help you if you keep me
waiting!”

She lifted a quivering face of desperate appeal.

“Clyde—I—_Clyde_!” Her voice broke in a cry of terrible anguish as he
struck her, the whole weight of his powerful body behind the smashing
blow that sent her reeling across the room to fall with a sickening
crash on the parquet floor.

He looked down at her callously, his crimson face twitching, his big
frame shaking with passion. Then he walked slowly across the room and
sat down heavily on the bed, his smouldering eyes still fixed with a
look of cruel satisfaction on the prostrate little figure that lay so
still. He had no compunction for what he had done. She had come to the
wrong shop if she thought she was going to roughride him with any of her
silly notions. He would jolly well make it clear to her tonight that he
would brook no disobedience, no questioning of his habits, no thwarting
of his wishes. Damned little puritan—who shrank from his embraces as if
she were a ravished nun instead of a normal athletic young woman with
healthy red blood in her veins. He wanted a mate in his arms not a
beautiful piece of statuary whose reserve and coldness infuriated him.
She was his wife—and dam’ lucky to be so. She might have been on the
streets if it hadn’t been for him. If she wasn’t satisfied—well, he’d a
grievance himself if it came to that. They’d been married five years,
why the devil hadn’t she given him the heir he wanted? And lashing
himself to greater fury he waited, making no effort to aid her until she
regained consciousness. She stirred at last, moaning with pain, her
slender body convulsed with terrible shuddering. Dragging herself to her
feet she stood swaying giddily, her hands pressed on her throbbing
temple, her heavy eyes looking listlessly about her till they rested at
length on Geradine’s massive figure and into them there flashed suddenly
the horror of dawning remembrance. With a little choking sound she
turned and staggering a few steps fell into a chair before the dressing
table, burying her head in her arms amongst the costly appointments that
littered its shining surface, her shoulders shaking with hard tearless
sobs.

And as Geradine had watched her insensible so did he watch her now,
pitiless and unmoved. He had no use for half measures. If she had to be
taught a lesson it should be at least a thorough one. He lurched to his
feet and strode across the room, halting beside her with his arms folded
across his broad chest, his foot beating with angry impatience against
the floor. “How much longer are you going to keep me waiting?”

The harsh words jarred like a stab of actual pain and sick and faint she
raised her eyes to his. One look convinced her of his determination. He
meant it, oh, very well she knew he meant it! Too dazed, too broken to
oppose him further she knew that she would have to obey; that, cost her
what it might, she would have to dress and go with him. With a stifled
gasp of pain she struggled to her feet, her head reeling, and caught at
the table for support, pushing the heavy hair off her forehead and
wincing as her fingers touched her injured temple.

“If you will please go I will ring for my maid,” she muttered
indistinctly, choking back the hysterical sobs that rose in her throat.
“I’ll go when it suits me, and you’ll ring for no maid,” he said
sharply. “You’ll dress a dam’ sight quicker with me in the room. It
won’t be the first time I’ve valeted you, and it won’t be the last I’m
willing to bet. And I’m hanged if I’ll have that grim faced old harridan
you call your maid poking her nose in where she isn’t wanted. I’m about
fed up with her as it is. She’s not the kind of woman I want about you,
anyhow. She’ll have to go, and the sooner the better. You can pay her
her wages tomorrow and tell her to clear out by the first available
boat.”

“_Clyde!_” The sharp cry was wrung from her. And forgetting her pain,
her fear, everything but the heartless ultimatum he had launched at her
she sprang towards him, clutching at him with trembling hands, her face
working convulsively, pleading as she would not have stooped to plead
for herself.

“Clyde, Clyde, you don’t mean it, you _can’t_ mean it! You can’t send
her away, you couldn’t be so cruel. She’s old, I’m all she’s got, it
would kill her to leave me. And you promised—you promised me faithfully
I might keep her. It will break her heart. Oh, Clyde, be generous. Do
what I ask, just this once. If you let me keep her I’ll never oppose you
again. I’ll do anything you wish—I’ll be anything you wish—”

A sneering look of triumph crossed his face as he flung her from him.
“You’ll do as I wish without any bargains, my lady,” he said
significantly. “You’ve had your orders and there’s an end of the matter.
The thing’s finished. And might I remind you that the horses have
already been waiting an hour?”

That was apparently all that mattered to him. Of less value at the
moment than the pedigreed animals he prided, distress of mind, the pain
and weariness of her bruised and aching body was beyond his
consideration. A feeling of numbness came over her, a kind of frozen
apathy that seemed to turn her into a mere automaton, and without a word
she turned slowly to do his bidding. She had a curious impression that
the white-faced weary-looking woman reflected in her mirror was some
other than herself, that, divorced from her own body, she was watching
the suffering of a total stranger. And as she dressed with mechanical
haste only one thing was clear and instant with her—the consciousness
of menacing eyes that followed her every movement until their burning
stare became a veritable torment. But, throughout the process of her
toilet he spoke only once, a characteristic remark: “Put a bit o’ colour
on your face. You’re as white as a ghost.”

“I haven’t any,” she faltered.

“Haven’t—any? Good God!” he ejaculated and relapsed into silence. But
when she was dressed he came to her, and as his critical gaze travelled
slowly over her slim figure the heavy scowl smoothed from his face and
the old look of proprietory admiration crept back into his eyes. With
the quick change of mood that was so marked in him he caught her in his
arms with sudden passion. “Damn it all, Marny, what the devil do you
want to make me lose my temper for?” he grumbled petulantly. “Give me a
kiss, and don’t be such a little fool again.”

Sick with loathing but helpless against his strength perforce she lifted
her face to his. But unsatisfied he laughed with angry contempt. “Do you
call that a kiss? Gad, you’ve a lot to learn!” he said scornfully, and
crushed his mouth once more against her trembling lips. Then he let her
go and, swelling with the sense of his own magnanimity, hurried her with
heavy jocularity to the waiting carriage, there to soothe his ruffled
feelings with a cigar which he smoked in silence during the short drive
into Algiers.

And huddled in her own corner of the roomy victoria Marny leaned back
and rested her aching head against the cushions, staring before her with
fixed unseeing eyes.

During the five years that had been a physical as well as mental
martyrdom she had suffered much at her husband’s hands. In the furious
rages to which he was liable he had often hurt her cruelly but until
tonight he had never deliberately struck her. But it was not of his
brutality towards herself that Geradine’s wife was thinking now as the
carriage rolled swiftly along the deserted road. Her mind was filled
with only one thought. Ann! How to tell her. How to break to the
faithful old woman the fact that her lifelong service must end so
abruptly, so callously? Where would she go, what would she do? To face
the world again at seventy! Marny’s hands clenched in sudden anguish.
Would she even be allowed to help her if necessity arose? Herself she
was penniless, Castle Fergus had passed to Geradine and she was
dependent on him even for the very _sous_ she flung to the Arab beggars
who clustered round her carriage. How, after tonight, could she ever
appeal to him again. And yet, for Ann’s sake, she knew that she would
have to make that appeal and court not only his almost certain refusal
but the consequent anger that would assuredly be directed against
herself. Why was she such a craven, why did the thought of her own
miserable suffering obtrude when it was Ann, and only Ann, who mattered!

Her husband’s impatient voice roused her to the fact that the carriage
was at a standstill. Tonight, the gala night of the year, the Governor’s
palace was filled to overflowing, a scene of vivid animation, gorgeous
with oriental splendour, rioting with colour and echoing with a
confusion of voices laughing and chattering in a score of different
languages. The spacious rooms, flaming with lights and decorated with a
wealth of scented flowers, were crowded—a motley gathering of nearly
every race and creed moving in a never ceasing stream to the strains of
the crashing military band.

The gaudy costumes of the desert sheiks, the crimson burnouses of the
grave-faced Caids, the striking and picturesque uniforms of Spahis and
Zouaves made distinctive notes in the brilliant assembly that eclipsed
even the radiant hues of the marvellous toilettes of the French and
English ladies.

To Marny, dazzled by the light and deafened by the uproar, it seemed as
if she had stepped suddenly into pandemonium. For once she was even glad
of the nearness of her husband whose burly figure was an effectual
barrier against the press that thronged them as they moved slowly
towards the low dais where the Governor, heated and weary with
handshaking but beaming with happiness and hospitality, stood amongst a
group of highly placed officials and European consuls. Near him General
Sanois, less obviously enjoying himself, was deep in conversation with a
tall and venerable-looking Caid. And at the foot of the dais was
clustered a little group of sheiks from the far south, gazing about them
with calm aloofness but keenly alive to every detail and circumstance of
the evening’s entertainment.

There were many curious glances that followed and many eager tongues
that discussed the tardy appearance of the two important English guests
as they made their slow passage across the room, and the Governor whose
twinkling eyes were roving constantly in quest of new faces was quick to
notice their arrival. Punctilious to a nicety he stepped forward to
greet them with a deference that was due to Geradine’s rank and to the
beauty of his wife. But as she responded to his gallant and happy little
speech of welcome Marny’s voice faltered slightly and her pale face
flushed with a wave of beautiful colour, for near her in the little
group of desert men beside the dais she saw Carew standing clad like
them in native robes but distinguished by the dark blue burnous he
affected. And Geradine, whose French was as limited as was the
Governor’s English, while replying somewhat laboriously to his host’s
courtesies had also noticed the tall Arab-clad figure and grasped
eagerly at the chance of cutting short a conversation that bored him
infinitely.

“I’m hanged if that isn’t my friend of the sandstorm,” he exclaimed, and
waved pointedly at Carew who, unwilling to add to the public attention
already aroused, came forward reluctantly and submitted to a boisterous
greeting. With a loud laugh Geradine turned again to the visibly
astonished Governor. “Seems a decent sort of chap,” he said
condescendingly. “Pulled me out of no end of a hole in the desert a week
or two ago. Introduce him to my wife, will you? She’s interested in the
natives. And, Marny,” he added, his own slight interest already
evaporating, “you speak the lingo better than I do, say something civil
to the fellow—only for heaven’s sake remember he’s a Mohammedan and
don’t put your foot into it and enquire for his wife and family. And
when you’re tired of him His Excellency will find you partners if you
want to dance. I’m off to get a drink.” And with a careless nod he swung
on his heel in search of the nearest buffet.

His graceless incivility was no more than much that Marny had been
called upon frequently to endure but tonight his boorishness was almost
more than she could bear. His mistake with regard to Carew though
regrettable was a perfectly natural one, but his cavalier treatment of
the courteous little Frenchman was unpardonable. Scarlet with shame and
confusion she could find no words to break the awkward silence that
ensued. But the Governor, whose saving sense of humour was fortunately
greater than his feeling of mortification, plunged nobly into the breach
and made the best of the embarrassing situation in which he found
himself. “Madame,” he stammered, with twitching lips, “I—I have the
honour to present to you Monsieur Carew—a compatriot of your own,” and
fled to hide his secret enjoyment of a contretemps he found exquisitely
amusing. Carew the woman hater—and he had just introduced him to the
most beautiful woman in Algiers. _Bon Dieu, quelle comédie!_ But to
Marny it was no comedy. Miserable and tongue-tied, giddy with pain, she
tried vainly to collect herself, to formulate some adequate excuse that
should cover her husband’s blunder and lessen the resentment she was
sure the man beside her must feel at being publicly forced into an
action that was totally against his universally known principles. Would
he blame her for being the cause, though the unwitting cause, of his
present predicament? Would he too leave her in this crowded room, the
cynosure of curious eyes, to find her way alone to the group of English
dowagers with whom she had the slightest acquaintance? Super-sensitive
and innately shy the very thought of it made her shrink. The few seconds
that had passed since the Governor’s hurried departure seemed magnified
into hours. Angry at her own gaucherie she had nerved herself to make
some halting apology when the opening bars of a waltz rising above the
din of conversation occasioned a general rush for partners and in the
comparative quiet that followed she heard the deep soft voice that had
become so dear to her speaking with the slow hesitancy she had noticed
before.

“You are looking very tired, Lady Geradine. Shall I take you out of this
babel?”

And almost before she realised it she found herself walking beside him
down the length of the long room, piloted skilfully between the dancing
couples who already filled the floor. Once or twice he paused to
exchange a nod and a passing word with a uniformed officer or an
isolated group of Arabs, but she hardly noticed these slight
interruptions and at length they reached the rapidly emptying entrance
hall. Crossing it he turned down a short corridor that opened into a
little winter garden where chairs were placed amongst palms and banks of
tropical plants. At the moment the place was deserted. And quiet and
dimly lit to Marny it seemed a haven of refuge after the glare and noise
of the crowded reception rooms. With a feeling of relief she followed
him to a fern-screened couch at the further end of the conservatory and
sank into the low seat, stripping the long gloves from her hands and
closing her eyes wearily. And looking down at her Carew saw her face
convulsed with a sudden spasm of pain.

He was still inwardly raging at the incident of a few minutes ago, still
seething with the strange hatred that had laid so strong a hold upon
him—hatred that, aggravated by Geradine’s discourteous and overbearing
manner, seemed tonight to have reached its culminant pitch. It was with
difficulty that he had controlled himself just now in the ballroom. But
something had restrained him, something—more impellent even than his
desire to avoid a collision that could only have ended in a public
fracas—that had risen up within him at the sight of the girl’s strained
face. And as he looked at her now with his black brows drawn together in
a heavy scowl he was still wondering at the impulse that had come to him
to shield her, still trying vainly to understand his own motive in
bringing her here. What had prompted him?

Was it anger or pleasure or only pity he felt as he stared again at the
little drooping figure? A curious expression crept into his sombre eyes.
What a child she looked—what a weary white-faced child!

“You ought to be at home and in bed,” he said, almost roughly. “Can I
get you anything—champagne or a cup of coffee?”

She glanced up with a start.

“No, please, it’s nothing. Only a headache,” she stammered. “I don’t
know what’s the matter with me tonight,” she added with a shaky laugh.
“I’m not given to headaches. I’m as strong as a horse, really.” But as
she uttered her valiant little boast her voice broke and she looked
away, twisting her gloves nervously between her hands. He could see that
she was struggling with herself but he made no attempt to forestall the
explanation he guessed was coming and waited, still standing, for her to
speak. She turned to him at last, her troubled gaze not reaching his
face but lingering on the picturesque details of his Arab dress.

“Sir Gervas—I’m sorry—that stupid blunder—” she faltered. Then
suddenly her eyes met his and words came tumbling out in breathless
haste. “—but you were with him that night in the desert, you let him
think you were an Arab. He couldn’t possibly know you were English, that
you could understand—”

“Do you think I mind being taken for an Arab?” he interrupted, pulling
his heavy cloak closer round him and sitting down beside her. “It was a
perfectly natural mistake and not worth a moment’s consideration,
certainly not worth the value of a pair of gloves,” he added with a
faint smile. And reaching out he drew them deliberately from between her
twitching fingers. His voice was extraordinarily gentle but there was in
it an underlying note of finality that made further apology impossible,
and with a little sigh she relapsed into silence.

For a time she watched him smoothing the creases from the crumpled
gloves, wondering at his unexpected presence.

“I didn’t think you would be here tonight,” she said at length. “You
don’t really like—this sort of thing, do you?” she added, with a vague
movement of her hand towards the distant ballroom.

“Loathe it,” he answered promptly, moving slightly to face her and
settling his long limbs more comfortably into the corner of the sofa.
“But I make a point of coming to this particular function if I happen to
be in Algiers. I meet old friends.”

“Desert friends?”

He nodded assent to the eager question.

“Is that why you wear Arab dress?”

“Partly,” he shrugged, “they would hardly know me in European clothes.
But principally because I prefer it.”

“As you prefer to speak Arabic or French, rather than English?” she
hazarded.

“How do you know?”

She flushed under his stare and looked away with an odd little smile.

“When you talk you stop sometimes as if you were searching for a word,”
she said, rather hesitatingly, “and the other day, in the Bouzaréa
woods, half the time you were speaking in French.”

“I have scarcely spoken English for twelve years,” he said shortly. Then
as if to cover the slight piece of personal information he had let slip
he added:

“There is no longer any need for you to restrict your rides, Lady
Geradine. The woods are safe enough now.”

She turned to him swiftly. “What do you mean?” she said with sudden
breathlessness. And as she listened to his bald unvarnished account of
the end of Abdul el Dhib the colour that had risen to her face died out
of it leaving her white to the lips. She was shivering when he finished,
her hands clenching and unclenching in her lap. “And it was because of
me—because of what you did for me that night,” she burst out
passionately. “Oh, I never thought, I never guessed the risk you were
taking! And you knew all the time! It was he you meant when you warned
me not to ride alone. It was he you thought was coming that morning in
the woods when Tanner brought the horses, and that very night—oh, if he
had killed you, it would have been _my_ fault! And I—I—” She pulled
herself up sharply, aghast at the sound of her own voice, at the
confession that had been almost wrung from her. A wave of burning colour
suffused her face and tingling with shame she averted it hastily,
veiling her eyes with the thick dark lashes that swept downward to her
cheek—but not before he had seen the look that flashed into them, a
look that sent the blood racing madly through his veins and made his
heart leap with sudden violence. For a moment he sat rigid, stunned with
self-realisation, the hands that were clasped around his knee tightening
slowly until the knuckles shone white through the tanned skin. Then with
a tremendous effort he mastered himself.

“Nobody’s fault but my own, I’m afraid,” he said with forced lightness.
“I knew the man I was dealing with. I have good friends in Algiers who
gave me warnings in plenty and because I chose to ignore them what
happened was due to my carelessness.”

“It still doesn’t lessen my obligation,” she said in a stifled voice.
But his quiet tone, his imperturbable manner was fast restoring her own
self-possession. Indifferent himself, why should he guess the true cause
of her agitation? Perhaps what had seemed so blatant to her had escaped
him, and he had seen in her outburst only a natural womanly distress for
the danger of a man who had risked his life on her behalf. And the
formal courtesy of his next words further reassured her. “There was
never any obligation,” he said quietly. “I merely did what anybody else
would have done under the circumstances.” And abruptly he changed the
conversation to the recent race meeting at Biskra. Convinced that he had
not divined her secret, her feeling of self-consciousness and restraint
wore gradually away and only the joy of his companionship remained. She
would get from it what she could, she would live for the moment and its
transient happiness and leave to the future the misery and loneliness
that was going to be so much harder to bear than it had ever been.
Enough that she was with him and that she loved him, loved him as she
had never thought it possible to love. A love that should be her secret
strength in the bitter years to come.

Silence fell between them again. And content to wait until he should
choose to speak she sat very still beside him, watching him covertly as
he leant back with his hands clasped behind his head, his half-shut eyes
staring straight before him as if he saw more than the ferns and fairy
lights at which he was looking. Tonight his face seemed graver, sterner
than she had ever seen it. A tragic face it appeared to her, a face that
bore the deep-cut marks of sorrow and disappointment. And she wondered,
with a dull pain in her heart, what had been the tragedy that had driven
him to the solitary wilds of the desert. She knew nothing of his
history, his name and the nature of his work amongst the Arabs were all
that Mrs. Chalmers had confided, and she had no means of ever knowing. A
being apart, a type that had been a revelation, he would pass out of her
life, abruptly as he had come into it, to forget her in the greater
interest of his chosen vocation. It was strange to think of him as a
doctor, living a life of arduous toil and terrible risk. Into what
savage and lonely places must he go to wrestle with the pain and
suffering he sought to alleviate. El Hakim—the desert healer! And she,
who loved him, would have no knowledge of his achievements, would never
know the final happening that would terminate that life of noble and
self-sacrificing endeavour. In the pitiless years that stretched so
barrenly ahead she would have only a memory to cling to, a memory that
would be at once her consolation and her pain. Into the tender, brooding
eyes fixed on him there came a look of mingled pride and anguish. He
would never know, thank God he would never know! But if he had cared, if
she had brought sorrow to him—she caught her trembling lip fiercely
between her teeth and began with fumbling haste to draw on the long
gloves he had laid on the sofa between them.

“Oughtn’t we to be going back to the other room?”

He turned his head slowly.

“There’s plenty of time,” he said lazily, “they are still dancing.”

“But your desert friends—”

“—can wait,” he said succinctly. And dreading the noisy ballroom, too
tired and too utterly indifferent at the moment to care if she was
outraging the proprieties Marny did not press the matter. The quiet
conservatory, the restfulness and courage she seemed to derive from the
mere presence of the man beside her were giving her strength to meet the
ordeal that still lay before her, the ugly scene that invariably
terminated Geradine’s so-called nights of amusement. It would happen
tonight, as it always happened, and she would have to go through with
it. For how many more years? She thrust the thought from her and turned
again to Carew. But before she could speak the peaceful little winter
garden was invaded. Not a dancing couple seeking for a solitary spot in
which to continue a flirtation begun in the ballroom but two men who,
deeming the place empty, did not trouble to modulate their voices as
they took possession of a wicker seat a few feet away from the
fern-hidden sofa.

“And this _soi-disant countess_—this copper-haired goddess you are
raving about—” the words were uttered in fluent French but with a rough
Slavonic accent.

“_Soi-disant!_ I have it from her own lips,” interrupted an indignant
voice that Carew recognised as belonging to Patrice Lemaire.

“Possibly,” was the caustic rejoinder, “but not necessarily correct for
all that. An Austrian, you say, from Vienna? The wife of a Count Sach
who held a court appointment, and who abused her infamously—and now,
since his death, a lady of independent means who travels through Europe
trying to forget her unhappy past?”

“That is what I said. Do you doubt it?”

“Your word, no. But the lady’s—yes.”

“Why?”

“You forget, my friend, that I am also of Vienna. I have no recollection
of a Count Sach who held a court appointment, or of the lady who styles
herself Countess Sach. And she is no more Austrian than you are,
Lemaire. From her accent I should judge her to be English.”

“English? Bah! She doesn’t speak a word of the language.”

“She was speaking it very fluently half-an-hour ago with the _grand
Anglais_ who is drinking himself tipsy in the buffet.”

“With Geradine—that _beast_! _Bon Dieu_, she said the very sight of him
revolted her!”

“She will probably find the contents of his pocketbook less revolting,
my credulous young friend. _Une femme de moeurs légères_, or I’m very
much mistaken.”

And listening to the cynical laugh that followed, Marny wondered
bitterly what more of shame and humiliation was yet in store for her. At
the first mention of her husband she had been startled into a quick
involuntary movement but a strong arm had held her back in her seat and
cool, steady fingers had closed warningly over her ice-cold hands.
Wrestling with her own misery, she was scarcely conscious of Lemaire’s
furious protest or of the stormy altercation that ensued, and when at
last the sound of the men’s angry voices died away as they took their
dispute elsewhere it was some time before she realised that her hands
still lay in Carew’s firm grasp. She disengaged them silently. There was
nothing to say, nothing that either of them could say. They had
overheard what was not intended for them to hear. And the Austrian’s
insinuations were very likely true. Geradine had spoken more than once
of the beautiful Viennese who had recently dawned on Algiers society
with no introductions but with an audacity of manner that had served her
amply instead. That his acquaintance had probably developed into a more
intimate relationship was no matter for surprise to the wife who was
fully aware of his flagrant infidelities. It was only one more insult
added to the many indignities he had put upon her, one more humiliation
to bear—and ignore.

But if she was to retain any kind of hold over herself she must end at
once the brief companionship that had given her so much happiness. The
proximity of the man beside her, the sense of his unspoken sympathy, the
sudden realisation of the sensuous appeal of her surroundings with its
dim obscurity and intoxicating odour of languorous-scented flowers was
filling her with an overwhelming fear of herself. She dared not stay
with him, dared not give way to the emotion which, growing momentarily
greater, seemed to be robbing her of all strength. The exalted feeling
that before had made her glad that only she should suffer was weakening
in the natural, human longing for the love that would never be hers. If
she could but tell him, could feel if only for once the clasp of his
arms around her, the touch of his lips on hers! She shivered. What was
she thinking—what shameless thing had she become? And trembling with
the very madness of her own wild thoughts she rose quickly to her feet,
her face coldly set, her voice tuned to level indifference.

“I am quite rested now, Sir Gervas. Shall we go back to the ballroom?”
Moving away as she spoke she gave him no option but to follow her, and
an incoming stream of people put a period to anything but trivial speech
between them.

In the central hall, crowded so as to make progress almost an
impossibility, an artillery colonel caught at Carew’s arm in passing.
“When you have time, _mon cher_,” he said hurriedly. “His Excellency is
asking for you. He is in the White Salon with Sanois and the chief of
the Ben Ezra.”

Marny glanced contritely at her escort. How long since he had taken her
out of the crowded ballroom, how long had she trespassed on his time?

“I am afraid I have monopolised you very selfishly,” she murmured shyly,
“You must have so many friends.”

But her faltering words seemed to be lost in the din of voices, for he
made no answer and his attention appeared to be wholly engaged in
fending from her the jostling press which surged around them. And five
minutes later he had left her with the British Consul’s wife and was
retracing his steps to join the informal conference that was taking
place in the White Salon.

He did not go back to the public rooms and the end of the evening found
him still sitting in the Governor’s study with Sanois and a few of the
more Gallicized chiefs. And for some time after the sheiks had retired
he lingered chatting with the general, delaying as long as possible the
moment when he must face alone the shattering self-understanding that
had come to him.

The chiming of a deep-toned clock warned him at length of the lateness
of the hour and he had risen reluctantly to his feet when Patrice
Lemaire burst into the room. The boy’s usually smiling face was flushed
with anger and he flung himself into a chair with an explosion of wrath
that did not tend to make more comprehensible the rambling sentences he
let fall. That somebody had gone home early and defrauded him of the
dances she had promised; that somebody else, name witheld, was a vile
calumniator; and that there had been a “beastly scene,” which he did not
particularise, was all he would vouchsafe. And unable to get anything
more definite from him the elder man soon left him to nurse his
grievances in solitude.

There were still a few guests wandering about the hall waiting for
carriages that were delayed, and a harassed attache seized upon Carew to
beg a lift for an elderly Frenchman who was forlornly contemplating a
weary walk back to his hotel at Mustapha.

Only when he had dropped his talkative companion was Carew able to give
full sway to his own thoughts, and when he reached the villa he walked
up the flagged path too absorbed to notice the shafts of light filtering
through the closed jalousies of the big front room which, though kept in
scrupulous orderliness, had never been used since his mother’s death.

He passed into the Mauresque hall and was moving slowly in the direction
of his own rooms when Hosein, emerging from a shadowy corner, glided
forward to intercept him.

“The _lalla_,” he murmured hesitatingly, his hands sweeping upward to
his forehead in a quick salaam.

His master faced him swiftly.

“The lalla—?” he repeated sharply.

The big Arab nodded.

“The _lalla_ who awaits my lord,” he said softly.

For a moment Carew’s heart seemed to stand still and under the deep tan
his face went suddenly white. She had come to him—God in heaven, she
had come to him! Hosein’s tall figure was wavering curiously before him
as he forced a question in a voice he did not recognise for his own.

“Where?”

“In the salon, lord,” replied Hosein and gave way with another deep
salaam. And the whispering swish-swish of his robes had died away before
Carew moved.

“In the salon—” He started violently. She had come to him—and he—.
His face was rigid as he went towards the painted door.

It yielded to his touch and swung to noiselessly behind him, too
noiselessly to be heard by her who, at the further end of the room, was
standing before the portrait from which she had stripped the curtains
that had veiled it for so many years. She was humming a little song, a
frankly indecent song of the boulevards, her copper-crowned head thrown
back, her gleaming shoulders twitching from time to time with a petulant
movement of impatience.

And behind her, leaning against the portiere in which his hands were
clenched, Carew stood as if turned to stone staring—staring—not at the
slender, girlish form he had hoped and yet dreaded to see, but at the
tall sinuously graceful figure of the woman who had been his wife. His
wife—that brazen thing of shame, half naked in a dress whose audacity
revolted him! Fool, fool to have thought his own mad longing
possible!—to have thought that _she_—He wrenched his thoughts from
her. And the other? Why had he not guessed, why had nothing warned him
when he sat listening in the little winter garden to the angry protests
of Patrice Lemaire and the caustic comments of the Austrian who “was
also of Vienna!” And yet, how could he have known, how imagine that she
could ever come into his life again. And why had she come? To dupe him
once more, to try and make of him again the same besotted fool who had
loved her with the blind ardour of a man’s first passion? That love was
dead, killed by her own duplicity. Between them was an unbridgeable
gulf—and the memory of a tiny fragile child abandoned with callous
indifference. A rush of cold rage filled him and with blazing eyes he
swept across the room.

His soft-booted feet made no sound on the thick rugs and still
unconscious of his presence the woman broke off her song with a yawn and
a flippant remark addressed to the portrait, and turned to find him at
her elbow. For what seemed an eternity they stared at each other, her
eyes but little below the level of his, then she turned away with an odd
little strangled sound that might have been either a sob or a laugh.

“Why are you here?” His deep voice was hard as steel and she raised her
head slowly and looked at him, a look in which there was latent
admiration, wonder, and an underlying suggestion of cunning curiously
blended. “I saw you at the ball. They told me you were going back to the
desert. I had to come,” she faltered.

“Why?” His face was devoid of all expression as he flung the single word
at her. With a lithe, almost feline movement of her graceful body that
was undisguisedly alluring she swayed nearer, her eyes all languorous
appeal, her hands outstretched towards him. “I came because I could not
stay away,” she whispered, her voice a subtle caress,
“because—because—oh, Gervas, can’t you understand? I had to
come—because—I—love you, because I have always loved you—in spite of
what I did. And I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t think, I didn’t
realise, he swept me off my feet. And then when it was too late—too
late”—her arms were round his neck, her palpitating limbs pressed close
to his—“can you guess what I suffered, can you guess what my life has
been! Gervas, you loved me once, for the sake of that love forgive me
now, forgive—”

Throughout her amazing declaration he had stood like a rock, his face
averted. But as her voice died away in a trembling whisper he turned his
head quickly, too quickly for the comfort of the woman who clung to him
with passionate fervidness for in the eyes that dropped almost instantly
under his searching gaze he read, not the love and contrition her words
implied, but a look of hard, eager cupidity. The look of a gambler who
watches a last and desperate throw. It was not a tardy desire for his
forgiveness but some other motive which as yet he did not understand
that had driven her to seek a reconciliation with the man who had once
been clay in her hands. Though his heart was dead to her, almost he had
pitied her, almost he had believed her. The sobbing pleading voice, the
absolute abandon with which she had flung herself upon him had been a
wonderful piece of acting. She played her part with a skill and
eloquence that, but for that last fatal slip, had almost convinced him.
But self-convicted she stood for what she was, a consummate mistress of
deceit—a liar as she had always been. To how many others had she made
that same glib appeal? To how many others had she tendered the charms
she so lavishly displayed? The hateful thought leaped unbidden to his
mind as he looked at her with a kind of horror, fastidiously conscious
of the deterioration that was so visibly apparent in her. The beautiful
face so close to his was exquisite as he remembered it, but he seemed to
see it suddenly with new eyes—the face of a woman lost to every sense
of morality. To what had she sunk during the years since she had left
him? What had she become—she who had been his wife, who had been the
mother of his son! “_Une femme de moeurs légères._” The Austrian’s
sneering voice seemed to echo hideously through the silent room and with
a shudder he unclasped her fingers and put her from him.

“I could have forgiven you—anything,” he said slowly, “but the child—”
his voice broke despite him and a look of bitter pain convulsed his
face—“the child you left to die alone—and you knew he was dying—”

“It’s a lie,” she cried shrilly. “I didn’t know.”

He raised his hand with a gesture that silenced her.

“It is the truth,” he said with accusing sternness. “Do you think there
was nobody to tell me? The doctor, the nurses, everybody but you, his
mother, knew that he couldn’t live. And you left him. My God, you left
him!”

She flung him a glance of furious anger, “You always cared for him more
than me,” she sneered, and for a moment she braved him audaciously with
heaving bosom and quivering lips. Then she flinched under his steady
eyes and shrinking from him flung herself face downwards on a sofa and
broke into a storm of tears. Tears of rage and mortification. With a
feeling of suffocation he turned away, not troubling to refute the taunt
she knew as well as he to be untrue. The room that was redolent with
memories of the noble woman who had lived in it seemed suddenly fouled
and contaminated. And heartsick and shaken by the scene he had gone
through he crossed to a window and flinging back the jalousies, leant
against the framework, staring unseeingly out into the night, struggling
to regain the self-control that had almost left him. He was all at sea,
striving to solve the problem of the woman who lay sobbing on the sofa
behind him. That the life she had chosen had ended in disaster was
beyond all question. What she had become was too obvious to be mistaken.
It was written plainly on her face for all to see. But what had brought
her to such a pass, what had induced the moral _débâcle_ that was so
apparent? What desperate strait had driven her to the course she had
adopted tonight? It was not for love of him she had taken such a step
nor did she want his love. What then did she want that she had come to
him like any common courtesan seeking by purely physical enticement to
regain the old ascendancy she had had over him? There seemed only one
possible solution. And yet, remembering the liberal settlement he had
made on her, he wondered how even that was possible. With a deep sigh he
pulled himself together and went slowly back to her.

“Why did you come to me tonight, Elinor?”

She was still lying prone among the silken cushions, but at the sound of
his voice she sat up, shivering as though the room were cold, her hands
clutching at the soft pillows of the sofa.

“I told you,” she said sullenly.

He made a gesture of impatience.

“Oh, for God’s sake don’t tell me any lies,” he said wearily. “You never
cared for me, you don’t care for me now. Tell me the truth. For only the
truth will help either of us tonight. Why did you come?”

For a second her eyes met his then she looked away and a wave of burning
colour swamped the delicate pink and white of her painted cheeks.
“Because I’m at the end of my tether—because I’m broke,” she said with
a reckless laugh that made him wince.

“And the money I settled on you?” he said slowly, hating the necessity
that forced him to speak of it.

“Gone—long since. Did you think I could live on that?” she flashed
contemptuously.

With an effort he restrained himself. What use to point out to her that
what she regarded as a pittance would have kept an ordinary family in
luxury.

“Then what you want is money—just money?” he said, his voice as
contemptuous as her own.

“I must live,” she retorted.

“And how have you lived?” he said heavily. The colour rose again to her
face. “What is that to you?” she muttered.

“Nothing—in one sense. If I am to finance you again—everything,” he
said curtly. “But I must have details. Without them I will do nothing.”
He paused for a minute, fighting his abhorrence of the whole situation.

“You call yourself the Countess Sach. It is not the name of the man for
whom you left me. Is he dead?”

“I don’t know—I left him,” she answered, very low.

“Why?”

“We quarrelled. I left him,” she repeated monotonously.

“Did he marry you?”

“No. I—I told you. We quarrelled,” there was a touch of asperity in her
fretful voice.

“Did he want to marry you? Was the rupture your fault or his?” For a
long time there was no answer then a whispered “Mine” came to him almost
inaudibly.

“And the Count Sach?”

“There is no Count Sach.”

He turned away with a shrug of hopeless perplexity. He had learned all
he cared to know. To force from her the whole story of those sordid
years was beyond him. It would do no good to either. She had followed of
her own free will the broad path that leads to destruction and she had
proved to him again tonight her utter unworthiness. Heartless and
without shame, she wanted nothing from him but the means of continuing
the life she had deliberately chosen. He had provided for her once, by
no argument or reasoning was she entitled to his further bounty. In no
sense was he responsible for her. In no sense? With his black brows
drawn together in the heavy scowl that was so characteristic, he paced
from end to end of the long room, wrestling with himself. And on the
sofa where she sat immovable the woman watched the passing and repassing
of the tall, stately figure, with glittering eyes that were hard with
doubt and fear. What would he do? And gradually the thought came to her
that if she could ever have loved any one, she might have loved this
man. Not as he was in those old days at Royal Carew, but as he was now.
How he had changed! And as she looked at the stern set face that was so
different from what she remembered, a sudden feeling of fear ran through
her. If he would only speak, only stop that monotonous pacing, only do
something to end this horrible waiting.

He came to her at last and she stumbled to her feet to meet him. He
spoke swiftly, in a voice that was hoarse and strained. He would settle
nothing on her, but because she had been his wife, because of the child
she had borne him, he would make her an allowance to be paid quarterly
through his solicitors. He made no conditions but he warned her that
under no circumstances would the allowance ever be increased.

With averted head and tightly compressed lips she listened to him in
silence and when he finished speaking she made no comment and gave him
no thanks. And no further word was spoken between them until she left
the villa in his carriage, driven by Hosein whose silent tongue could be
depended upon. And as the sound of the wheels died away, Carew went back
into the house. His face was drawn and gray and his usually elastic step
dragged as he passed slowly through the empty halls and across the
moonlit courtyard to his own rooms at the back of the house and from
there out on to the verandah. For an instant he stood, his haggard eyes
upraised to the starry brilliance of the sky, then with a groan that
seemed to almost burst his heart, he dropped into a chair and buried his
face in his hands.



                               CHAPTER IX


The first pale streaks of dawn were stealing across the sky before Carew
stirred from the chair into which he had dropped two hours before to
face the knowledge that had come to him in that tense moment of
self-understanding in the little winter garden at the Palace. Stunned by
the realisation of his own feelings, racked by the painful scene
following his return to the villa, at first concrete thought had been
impossible. His whole ability to will and do, his whole mental and
physical being seemed crushed under a weight of sorrow that for the time
was paralysing. He felt numbed, conscious only of the suffering that,
clogging his brain, reacted on his body leaving him inert and lifeless.

But gradually his mind cleared and he was able to think more calmly. He
loved. For the second time in his life he loved. And yet it seemed to
him that only now did he know the depths of his own heart, only now did
he comprehend what true devotion could really mean. The love of his
early manhood, the love he had given the woman who had been his wife,
was not comparable with this overmastering passion that had come to him
in his maturity. If he had loved then as he loved now not even the
tragedy of twelve years ago could kill that love. And the greater,
deeper, more wonderful emotion he had only just realised was as the dust
of ashes in his mouth. There was no joy, no hope in this new love. There
was only the pain of renunciation and the bitter knowledge that he had
brought sorrow to her for whose sake he would gladly die rather than
even a shadow should cross her path. For that she also loved him he knew
beyond all doubt. He had read it in her eyes, he had heard it in the
anguished tones of her voice when the thought of his peril had driven
her to self betrayal as she listened to his story of the finish of Abdul
el Dhib. The pain that was his was hers also. The thought was torment.
Had she not already enough to bear without this additional burden of a
love that could never be satisfied, that would bring her only grief and
the torturing remembrance of what might have been? What did his own
suffering matter compared with the fact that because of him she too must
suffer? It would have been better, a thousand times better, if he had
never returned from that last hazardous expedition that had ended in the
meeting in the deserted village by Blidah. And yet, to his fatalistic
reasoning, that same meeting had seemed a thing ordained; but for his
coming she must have experienced a fate too horrible even to
contemplate. It was almost as if he had been deliberately guided in the
choice of road he had taken, as if he had been led to her by some
inscrutable ruling of providence. And though at the time he had raged at
the necessity that had forced him to help her, though his whole soul had
revolted from his self-imposed task, he knew now that love had leaped
into being when he had carried her to his camp, and that it was love
struggling for recognition that had caused the misery and mental
upheaval of the succeeding weeks. But only tonight had he realised it,
only tonight had he awakened to a full understanding of the almost
unbelievable thing that had happened to him. And how or when during
their brief meetings she had come to care for him he did not know, nor
would he ever know. He only knew that for some strange inexplicable
reason she had given him her love, that though she would never be his he
would carry through life the knowledge that her heart was in his
keeping. And the knowledge humbled him. How could she care! What could
she see in him, a man nearly twice her age who, until tonight, had
treated her with scant civility, that she should stoop to bestow on him
the priceless treasure of her love. But what did it matter—enough that
she did care and that he would have to be content with just the fact of
her caring. Content! Good God, was the intolerable ache that filled him,
the mad longing that possessed him, contentment! He would never be
content. The mere knowledge of their love was not enough. He wanted her,
above his very hope of heaven he wanted her. The barriers of defense he
had raised about himself were torn away at last. The dead heart that had
lain cold and lifeless within him was alive once more. Passion swept,
and seething with jealousy he made no effort to stem the elemental
impulses that seemed suddenly let loose and for a time only the
primitive man in him existed urging his desperate need until even murder
seemed justifiable to obtain her—the murder of the one who stood
between him and what he wanted. Geradine! His fingers curled and
tightened as though they were about the throat of the man he hated with
all the force of his being. That strange hatred was no longer
incomprehensible, and the thought that had so appalled him the night at
the opera he viewed now with cold dispassion. What was the life of such
a brute compared with her happiness and well-being! Was it murder to rid
the earth of such scum, to free her from the tyranny that was killing
her, body and soul? Murder! A terrible smile flitted across his face.
For her sake he could do even that. Nothing mattered but her necessity.
Beside that justice, honour, the man-made laws of society seemed to fade
into utter insignificance. And the laws of God—was he to trample them
under foot as well? If it must be. He was willing to risk even his soul
to save her from further suffering. But was there need for such a
drastic measure—was there no easier way to follow? Was there not the
way that others had taken—the way that would free her from a life of
bondage, that would give him his heart’s desire? What was scruple to
stand between them? They had only one life to live—and she loved him.
She would come to him—_if_ he made her. And for her own sake he would
make her—for her sake, or for the sake of his own lust?

“_But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her
hath committed adultery with her already in his heart!_”

He started to his feet with a smothered groan. It was as if he saw the
words in letters of fire, blazing accusingly before his tired eyes. A
shudder passed over him and something seemed to snap suddenly in his
brain dispelling the madness of the last few moments and leaving him
aghast at the horror of his own thoughts. She was not for him to covet.
He had no right to love her, no right to think of her as he was thinking
now—yearning for her, desiring her with all the strength of his
manhood. Strength! What strength was left to him who had foresworn
himself, who had turned from his lofty ideals and yielded to a passion
that was ignoble! Conscience-smitten he saw himself as he was, fallen
from his high estate, crashed from his pinnacle of self-righteous
exaltation. It was repetition of history wherein his rôle was horribly
reversed. He was no better in intention than the man he had reviled
twelve years ago. The sin he had condemned was now his sin. He craved
another man’s wife, craved her with an intensity that had almost swamped
his sense of right and wrong. And she? A dull flush crept over his
tanned face. In his mind he had degraded and abased her, had dragged her
down to the sordid level of his own carnal desires. Was his love so vile
that he must think only of his bodily need? Was physical possession
merely the dominating factor of that love? Had the years spent in the
desert, the years of self-imposed abstinence, brutalised him so
completely that he was incapable of higher, purer sentiment? Did she
mean so little to him? Deep down in his heart he knew that she did not,
knew that his love was a greater, finer thing than that. It was only the
passionate impulse of the moment, the crushing sense of abnegation that
made him weak, that made him want her as he was wanting her now—for his
own, for that wonderful mating of soul and body that might have been
theirs. To take her from the life she loathed to the freer, wilder life
he had made his own; to know her safe and happy in his love; to watch
the awakening of new hope and peace that would chase the sorrow from her
tragic eyes; to be to her what she would be to him—comrade and helper,
lover and friend, a partnership made perfect by their mutual love. It
was what might have been. But now only a dream of joy that was
unattainable, a vision of heaven that made the bitter certainty of its
unfulfilment a foretaste of hell. God, how he longed for her! Marny,
Marny! With a strangled sob he buried his face in his hands. . . .

It was long before he stirred to move slowly with cramped limbs and
aching head to the edge of the verandah where he leant wearily against
the pillar that supported the green tiled roof, staring with haggard
eyes across the garden at the brightening dawn—a dawn that for once
gave him no pleasure.

It was over and done with—the wonderful glimpse of happiness that could
never be. There was only one road to follow, the lonely road that had
been his for so many years, but lonelier, more desolate now than it ever
had been. For her sake and for the sake of what honour was left to him
he must go, and go at once. Back to the desert, back to the work he had
chosen. Alone—and he must go without seeing her again. He dared not see
her. His confidence in himself was gone. And yet how could he go, how
could he leave her knowing what her life would be, knowing what she must
still endure and suffer at the hands of the drunken bully who possessed
her. Geradine, whose name was a by-word, whose brutality and viciousness
was discussed by all Algiers, whose behaviour to his girl wife was
openly hinted at! Was he to leave her at the mercy of such a man? Even
that he must do. She was not his—she was Geradine’s wife. Geradine’s
wife—God help her. And his daily, hourly torment would be to know her
so. Far from her, powerless to help her, he would have to live with the
thought of her continual agony and sorrow. Merciful God, would he be
able to bear it!

Made almost tangible by his longing she seemed to come to him where he
stood, as once before he had seemed to see her in a strip of brilliant
moonlight, and he stretched out his arms hungrily, whispering her name
with shaking lips till the mental picture faded and, muffling his face
in this thick burnous, he yielded to an agony that was greater than he
had ever known. The sky was aflame, the garden resounding with the early
songs of birds when he at last regained self-control. But he was blind
and deaf to the beauty and harmony about him as he lingered for a few
moments striving to bring something like order into the chaos of his
thoughts. He was going back to the camp near Blidah, a camp that would
be poignantly painful to him with the recollections it would induce. He
would see her at every turn, the big tent that had sheltered her would
be a perpetual reminder, dominated by the memory of her presence. Even
the locality would be hateful to him, but to go further was impossible
while Sanois’ arrangements were still incomplete. There was no other
course for him to take, no other way by which he could effectually
prevent any further meeting between them. With a little shiver he turned
and went heavily into the house. The study was rank with the fumes of
the lamps that had burnt out during the night, and he passed quickly
through to his bedroom beyond.

As he entered it the door on the further side of the room opened and
Hosein came in with his usual noiseless tread. He offered no explanation
for his appearance at an unusual hour and Carew asked for none, but
knowing the man he was positive that the big Arab, on his return to the
villa, had spent the remainder of the night in the adjoining dressing
room watching and waiting for his master’s coming. Though his gloomy
face was, if possible, more gloomy than usual, his mere presence was a
relief, and the customary stolidity with which he received his
unexpected orders made the giving of them easier. Only a quicker
service, a gentler handling of the garments tossed to him denoted an
understanding that was more profound than Carew even guessed at. He was
packing suit cases and holdalls with methodical deftness when Carew came
back from his bath. Taught by years of experience, he knew even better
than his master what was required for the protracted journeys in the
desert which were to him infinitely preferable to the life in Algiers,
and he took a certain pride in his work which was this morning
especially noticeable. His face had lightened somewhat and he was
patently pleased to be preparing for the road again. Of necessity Hosein
was fully aware of the political significance of the forthcoming
expedition, he knew also that it was the General Sanois who was
responsible for the delay that had kept them so long in Algiers, and
watching him as he moved swiftly and silently about the room Carew
wondered in what degree his servant connected his hasty departure with
the episode of last night. Distasteful as was the thought it was better
so than that even Hosein should have an inkling of the real truth.

The valet had already acquainted the household with the altered
arrangements and in the study, besides the coffee and rolls that were
waiting for him, Carew found Derar full of importance and weighed down
with account books and the necessary business devolving on himself that
his master’s absence would entail. And while he ate, Carew wrestled with
his elderly servitor’s endless questions and reiterated demands for
instructions with the patience he had learned in dealing with the native
mind. It was useless to remind Derar that the orders he gave were in
every particular similar to those given many times before, that there
was to be no departure from established precedent but that the villa was
to be run on the same lines that always prevailed while he was away.

Pessimistically inclined, Derar, as always, prepared for the worst. And
Carew, by this time writing cheques and orders at his desk, found
himself constrained to smile more than once at the gloomy anticipations
that were pronounced with melancholy fervour and interlarded with
lengthy passages from the Koran. He listened quietly to the old man’s
garrulous outpourings in which lamentations on his departure and pious
invocations for his welfare were inextricably jumbled with household
needs and requirements.

But the strain on his already overstrained nerves was greater than he
expected and when at last Derar, still somewhat tearful but armed with
plenary powers that made him swell with pride, finally salaamed himself
out of the room, Carew scribbled a few lines to General Sanois and then
leant back in his chair with a feeling of mental exhaustion. His mind
made up to leave Algiers the time that must elapse before his actual
departure hung heavily upon him. He glanced at the clock on his desk. It
would be half-an-hour or more before his men would be ready and,
depressed and restless as he was, the minutes seemed to drag with
maddening slowness.

To relieve the tedium of waiting he went out into the garden. Some
little distance from the house, amongst a grove of orange trees, he
found Saba. Squatting on the ground, his nervous little body clad only
in a gay striped gandhera, a fez perched rakishly on his small sleek
head, the boy was chattering eagerly to a tiny monkey that was clinging
to his shoulder. He was too absorbed in his newly acquired pet to notice
Carew’s almost noiseless approach and it was the monkey that twittering
shrilly with alarm made him realise he was no longer alone. He scrambled
to his feet, his blind eyes turning uncertainly from side to side until
Carew called to him when he darted forward, loosening his hold on the
monkey which fled dismayed up into the branches of the nearest tree.

The confidant of all the servants, Saba was already in full possession
of the new orders given to the household, and before Carew could speak
he was assailed with a torrent of excited questions that were hurled at
him to an accompaniment of joyous squeaks and prancings. The child’s
pleasure was so obvious that Carew almost wavered in his decision to
leave him at the villa with Hosein who was remaining a few days longer
in Algiers to finish the preparations for the journey into the desert.
But his crying need for solitude made the thought of even Saba’s
companionship unendurable, and very gently he explained his wishes. The
boy’s radiant little face clouded as he listened, but trained to
obedience he did not voice his disappointment and very soon he was
laughing again, childishly eager at the prospect of the journey and
speculating on the probable number of days Hosein would require to
complete his arrangements. And at the end of half-an-hour Carew left him
playing contentedly with his recovered monkey and happy in the assurance
that the separation should be a brief one.

The score of men who had come into Algiers from the camp were already
collected when Carew returned to the house, and the narrow road that ran
past the villa was blocked with horses whose riders, still dismounted,
were exchanging raucous and voluble badinage with the small army of
household servants assembled to watch the departure. Standing a little
apart from the noisy throng, reserved and taciturn as was his wont,
Hosein was holding Suliman, restraining with difficulty the spirited
animal’s manifest impatience.

Carew’s appearance occasioned a sudden silence among his followers and
the escort leapt to their horses while he himself mounted with less
haste and lingered for a few moments to give Hosein some final
directions. The actual moment come he would have given all he possessed
to be able to remain in the town he had been longing weeks to leave. It
took all his resolution to persevere in the course he had determined and
give the men the signal for which they were waiting. At the head of his
little troop he rode away with unaccustomed slowness and with a feeling
of reluctance that grew momentarily greater as each stride of the big
bay carried him further from the villa. He knew now what the house
wanted, why it had seemed so empty and desolate, and the knowledge was
an added pang to the bitterness that filled him. If his dream had been
possible; if he could have seen her in reality, as he visualised her in
his mind, the mistress of his home bringing life and happiness to the
chill and formal rooms her presence would enrich and beautify; if the
end of the journey he contemplated could have meant a return to her—Was
it strength or weakness that was driving him from her now? Again he
wrestled with the temptation of a few hours ago, a temptation that was
fiercer, more gripping even that it had been before. Her pitiful
helplessness seemed to make his flight the act of a craven. Of what use
were the physical powers with which he was endowed if his strength could
not save her from the life of misery to which she was condemned.
Geradine’s lack of control, the almost demoniacal rages that resulted
from his intemperance, was common talk. Thick drops of moisture gathered
on his face as he remembered the man’s huge bulk and pictured her in the
grip of those coarse, ape-like hands. To what lengths had he gone in the
past—what devilish torture would he yet inflict on the tender little
body Carew yearned to hold in his arms. His face was drawn with agony as
he swept the cold sweat from his forehead.

The road he was following led past de Granier’s villa and ran parallel
with the densely wooded hillside that shadowed its grounds. A sudden
impulse came to him to look on the house that held the woman he
loved—an impulse that was a species of subtle self-torture which even
to himself seemed incomprehensible and to which tie yielded with a
feeling of contempt. Pulling Suliman up sharply he swung to the ground
and flinging the reins to the Arab he beckoned forward bade his escort
ride on and wait for him beyond the villa. Standing where he had
dismounted he watched them pass, and the last couple were some distance
from him before he turned to the hillside where a tiny path wound upward
between the close growing trees. A few minutes’ stiff climb and then the
path curved abruptly to the left from whence it extended more or less
levelly in the same direction as the road that lay some fifty or sixty
feet below. His pace slackened as he neared the crossway track that led
down to the garden entrance of the Villa des Ombres, and in a revulsion
of feeling he cursed the weakness that had brought him there. But having
come thus far he was unwilling to retrace his steps and, jerking his
shoulders back with a characteristic gesture of impatience, he moved
slowly forward with noiseless tread along the winding path that curved
and twisted round the boles of the big trees. Their great girth
obstructed anything but a limited view beyond them and made only a few
yards of the way visible at a time.

It was still very early. Save for the birds twittering amongst the trees
and the long strings of woolly caterpillars joined one behind the other
pursuing their patient and meandering course over the rough ground, the
hillside appeared to be deserted. But as Carew rounded the trunk of an
exceptionally large tree, the jutting roots of which made necessary a
more than usually wide detour, he came to a sudden halt with a quick
intake of the breath that was almost a groan. With clenching hands and
madly racing heart he stared at the girlish figure lying huddled amongst
the undergrowth almost at his feet. Her face was hidden and she lay very
still, so still that a terrible thought came to him parching his mouth
and blanching his face under the deep tan. He tried to whisper her name
but no sound issued from his stiff lips and unable to speak, unable to
move, time was a thing forgotten while he struggled with the paralysing
fear that held him motionless.

He never knew how long it was before she stirred, before the faint echo
of a smothered sob allayed the dread that had taken hold of him and
lessened the strangling grip that seemed clutching at his throat. But
still he did not move. He would not go. He had tried to play the
game—and the game had turned against him. He had wrestled with himself
to no purpose. Fate had played into his hand and the meeting he had
sought to escape was now unavoidable. The sight of her prostrate in an
abandonment of grief had shattered all his strength—he could not leave
her like this. Not trusting himself to touch her he waited with an
almost bursting heart for her to realise his presence—and as once
before in the opera house, so now did she seem gradually to become aware
of the steady stare fixed on her. With a shuddering sigh she sat up
slowly, turning her head towards him. And the deathly pallor of her
face, the look of frozen misery in her tragic black-rimmed eyes sent a
rush of savage rage through him that almost choked him. God, what must
she have suffered to look like that! He sought for words but his own
suffering held him speechless.

It was she who spoke first. She had looked at him almost unknowingly,
then a wave of colour rushed into her pale cheeks to recede as quickly
leaving them whiter than before. Stumbling to her feet she stood before
him, swaying like a reed, struggling to regain her composure, striving
to formulate the conventional greeting her trembling lips could scarcely
utter. “Sir Gervas—” He guessed rather than heard the fluttering
whisper. But before he could answer, before he could wrench his gaze
from the pain-filled eyes that were wavering under his, he saw her
stiffen suddenly and shrink from him with a backward glance of fearful
apprehension. “What—who—” she muttered hoarsely. And, listening, he
too heard the sound that had startled her—the deep murmur of men’s
voices raised in heated altercation that came echoing up the hillside
from the roadway beneath them. The voices of his own men, as he knew.
But what did she think? And the anger and hatred that was seething
within him flamed anew into all but uncontrollable fury as he watched
her leaning white-lipped and shivering against the trunk of the giant
cork tree and wondered how long it would be before that delicate
organism and highly strung nervous system finally succumbed to the
brutal treatment that was slowly but steadily reducing her to a physical
and mental wreck. His hands clenched with the horrible pain of his own
helplessness. But with a supreme effort he mastered himself, stifling
the words that sprang to his lips and forcing his voice to naturalness
as he answered her reassuringly. “It’s only my men—arguing as usual,
the noisy devils.”

She looked at him strangely.

“Your men—” she repeated dully. And pulling herself erect she turned
abruptly and walked unsteadily to the edge of the steep descent. Through
the intervening trees she could see them clustered at the foot of the
hill. His men—the lucky ones who were fortunate enough to share his
life! A feeling of bitter envy came to her and she watched them through
a mist of tears. Picked men, men chosen for their loyalty and endurance.
Fierce sons of the desert these—differing altogether, even to her
unpractised eyes, from the Arabs she had seen lounging about
Algiers—and mounted on magnificent horses which they sat superbly. A
fit escort for the man who would lead them. What did this unusual
following portend? In Algiers, for she had seen him many more times than
he knew, he always rode alone. Was this the end at last, the time she
had looked forward to with dread—the time when he would ride out of her
life forever? Her lips quivered. Never to see him again, never to hear
the beloved voice whose low, soft intonations would ring in her ears
while life lasted, never to know again the restfulness and strength his
presence brought her! How could she bear it, oh, dear God, how could she
bear the desolation and misery that would be hers! Her trembling hands
crept upward to her breast, clenching convulsively over the heart that
was aching and throbbing with a pain that was intolerable. She must
know, though knowledge meant the agony of death.

Shuddering she turned and went slowly back to him. A cigarette between
his lips, he was leaning against the tree where she had leant, his face
an impassive mask that baffled her. Was the fleeting glimpse of a
totally different expression she had seemed to see in his eyes a few
minutes ago only the effect of her own overstrained imagination? Was she
such a fool that she could have thought for one moment of wild sweet
happiness, that her love and longing could have begotten his love? His
indifference seemed complete—the parting was nothing to him. How could
it be otherwise—it was only she who cared, only she whose heart was
breaking, only she who would be left comfortless and alone.

The restraint she imposed on herself made her voice cold and hard as she
uttered the question she nerved herself to ask.

“You are going away?”

“Yes.”

Despite herself she winced at the brief syllable of assent that was
voiced in a tone as cold and as hard as her own.

“Back to the desert?”

“Yes.”

“For good?”

“For good,” he answered firmly. She turned from him quickly to hide the
tears that blinded her. But a strangled sob she had not the strength to
restrain betrayed her. Almost inaudible it was but he heard it.

“_Marny!_” The cry was wrung from him. And the next moment she was in
his arms, clinging to him despairingly, weeping as he had not believed
it possible for a woman to weep. Unmanned by her sudden breakdown,
aghast at the terrible sobs that seemed to be tearing the slender little
body to pieces, he strained her to him with passionate strength. “Marny,
Marny, for God’s sake—don’t cry like that. Your tears are torturing
me.” But conscious only of the shelter of his arms, too weak to struggle
against the feelings she had so long suppressed, she was powerless to
check the storm of emotion that overwhelmed her. Lying inert against
him, her face hidden in his robes, she sobbed her heart out on his till
the violence of her grief terrified him and he caught her closer,
bending his tall head till his cheek was resting on her tumbled hair,
whispering words of love and entreaty.

“Have pity on me, child, you are breaking my heart. Do you think I can
bear to see you weep—Marny, my love, my love.”

Her arm slid up and round his neck. “Oh, let me cry,” she moaned, “for
five years I’ve had to be a thing of stone. If I don’t cry now I shall
go mad.” A spasm swept across his face and his own eyes were dim as he
ceased to urge her, waiting patiently till the tempest of her tears
should pass. And gradually the tearing sobs ceased and she regained
control of herself. Exhausted and ashamed, not daring to meet his eyes,
almost dreading the sound of his voice, she clung to him in silence,
wishing passionately that her life could end, thus, in his arms.

And to Carew the close contact of her trembling limbs was a mingled
rapture and pain that was agony. His face buried in her fragrant hair,
he prayed desperately for strength to leave her, for strength to meet
the parting that must come.

Still holding her he raised her head with gentle force. Her eyes were
closed, the thick, dark lashes lying wet on her tear-stained cheek, and
the hungry longing to touch them with his lips was almost more than he
could withstand.

“Won’t you look at me, Marny? Am I never to see your dear eyes again?”
he murmured huskily.

A tremor passed through her and for a moment she did not respond. Then
the dusky lashes fluttered faintly and slowly the heavy lids unclosed.
For long they looked, staring as though into each other’s souls, and
against her tender breasts she felt the violent beating of his heart.

A quivering sigh escaped her. “Gervas—oh, Gervas, Gervas,” she
whispered, and lifted her face to his. The sadness in his eyes deepened
into anguish and his firm mouth trembled as he shook his head.

“I mustn’t kiss you, dear. Your lips are his—not mine, God help me. I
haven’t even the right to touch you. I’m a cur to hold you in my arms
like this, but I can’t let you go—not yet, not yet, my darling.” His
voice broke, and insensibly his arm tightened round her, crushing her to
him with a force of which he was unaware. She turned her head with a
little sob. “How could we know that this would come to us—how could we
know that we would care,” she cried. “I never thought you loved me. I
thought it was only I who—who—” She clenched her teeth on her lip,
fighting the sobs that were rising in her throat. “Oh, why was it you
that came that night near Blidah!” she burst out passionately. “What did
my life matter? And I—I who would die for you, I’ve brought you
unhappiness. Gervas, why don’t you hate me!”

“I thought I did—once,” he answered with a twisted smile, and brushed
the shining hair tenderly from off her forehead.

Physical pain had been forgotten in the mental agony that swamped her
but now, remembering, too late she tried to stop him and he had seen the
ugly wound on her white brow before her flying hand reached his. A sharp
exclamation broke from him. “What have you done to yourself? _My God,
has he dared_—” His face was ghastly and the look in his blazing eyes
terrified her. Fearful of the consequences of his anger, fearful of she
knew not what, she lied to shield the husband who had struck her.

“No—no—” she panted. “I slipped—I slipped in my room last night.”

Love and intuition told him that she was lying and he put her from him
with a groan of helpless misery. And free of his supporting arm she slid
to the ground for her limbs were trembling under her. He sat down near
her, staring gloomily before him, wondering how he could bring himself
to leave her, tortured with what he had seen and cursing the man whom,
more than ever, he longed to kill.

Her sorrowful eyes never left his stern, set face and at last she could
bear the silence no longer. Her hand stole out timidly and touched his.
“What are we going to do?” She waited long for his answer, so long that
she wondered if he had heard the faint whisper, and her trembling
fingers tightened on his arm. “Gervas, speak to me,” she entreated.

“What is there for me to say,” he answered, and his voice was harsh with
the effort speech cost him. “There is nothing to do but the one hard
thing that is left to us. We have got to forget that this morning has
ever been. We have got to forget everything but the fact that you are
bound, that you are not free to come to me. If there was some other way,
if I could have taken you—” He tore his eyes from her face and leaped
to his feet. “But there is no other way,” he cried with sudden violence.
“I can’t take you. You’ve got to forget, and forgive me—if you can.”

She buried her face in her hands.

“Forget!” she wailed. “Will you forget?”

“Not in this life nor in the life to come,” he whispered swiftly.

With a sob that wrung his heart she flung out her arms appealing. “I
can’t bear it, Gervas, I can’t live without you.”

He caught the outstretched hands in his and drew her to her feet.

“Don’t make it harder for me, dear. God knows it’s hard enough,” he said
unsteadily. “I love you. I want you—more than anything in heaven and
earth I want you—but I’ve got to leave you. Help me to do the right
thing, Marny. Help me to go, now, while I have the strength.” But with a
broken little cry she clung to him, her eyes beseeching.

“I can’t, I can’t! I’m not strong like you. I can’t let you go yet—not
altogether—not back to the desert. Stay—only stay till we leave,” she
pleaded, “it won’t be long, only a few weeks—”

“My dear, what help will it be if I do stay?” he said wearily. “It will
only make it harder for both of us.” But frantically she urged him.
“Please, please,” she entreated. “Oh, I can’t explain—I don’t know what
I feel myself—but there seems to be something awful coming nearer and
nearer to me and I’m frightened—_I’m frightened_. If I could know you
were in Algiers it would make it easier—I shouldn’t feel so—alone.
Gervas, if you love me stay till we go.”

If he loved her! He clenched his hands to keep them from her and turned
away with a heavy sigh. “Must I prove my love?” he said sadly. A sob
broke from her. Did he think she doubted? Why was she such a coward as
to ask this thing of him! Humbly she went to him begging his forgiveness
but with a quick gesture of distress he stopped her.

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said gently, “there can be no
misunderstanding possible between us, dear. If it will help you, if my
being in Algiers will make it easier for you, I will stay until you go.
But more I cannot do. This has got to be the end, Marny. We’ve got to
say goodbye to each other. I mustn’t see you again—I daren’t see you
again.”

A deadly faintness came over her. Numbly she felt him take her hands and
hold them crushed against his face. And through the surging in her ears
she heard his voice, far off and muffled as though coming from some
great distance.

“My dear, my dear—God keep you, now and always.”

And then she knew that he was gone. She struggled to move, to conquer
the inertia that seemed rooting her to the ground. Only to see him
again—to catch one last glimpse—

Tears were raining down her face as she stumbled to the edge of the
little path and, screened by the trees, looked down on the roadway
beneath. With her hands pressed over her lips to stifle the sobs that
were choking her she watched him standing beside his men till the little
troop vanished in a cloud of dust along the Blidah road and, left alone,
he leaped on to his own horse and sent him at a reckless gallop in the
opposite direction. Then a merciful blackness came over her and she fell
senseless amongst the tangled ferns.

                 *        *        *        *        *

There followed a week that for Carew was a period of uninterrupted
suffering, suffering that seemed to grow more acute, more unbearable
with each succeeding day. With nothing to look forward to, with no hope
to ease the burden of his loneliness and longing, with the bitter
knowledge burning into him that barely half-a-mile away in her prison
house of misery she too was suffering, he struggled through days that
seemed endless and nights that were torment.

Seeking for distraction, for anything that would occupy his enforced
leisure and turn the trend of his thoughts, he offered his services to
Morel and toiled in the scientist’s laboratory from early morning till
late in the evening, endeavouring by hard work to deaden the pain that
never left him. During the long hours of self-imposed labour he strove
to banish her from his mind, to concentrate solely on the experiments
that at any other time would have claimed his whole attention. But the
remembrance of her was with him continually. While he carried out
Morel’s instructions with mechanical precision he seemed to feel her
presence close beside him, to see clearly before his eyes the piteous
tear-stained face that would always haunt him, and through the stillness
of the silent workroom he could almost hear the sobbing tones of her
anguished voice. “Gervas, I can’t live without you!” And he had left
her, left her to Geradine’s mercy. If, in the grip of this tremendous
passion that had come to him so strangely, he had sought to entice her
from a husband who cared, or from one who—though indifferent—still
treated her with ordinary decency and respect, he would have known his
offence to be unforgivable. But chained as she was to a beast like
Geradine, the marks of whose brutality he had himself seen on her
delicate face, was there not excuse for his love, for the raging
temptation that still assailed him to take her from a life of martyrdom
and give her the happiness that was her youth’s prerogative? How had she
come to be the wife of that drunken, hectoring bully—what unthinkable
ordering could have linked her life with his? Impossible that she could
ever have loved him. Surely the mere brute strength of the man could not
have attracted her, inducing her to a step she had lived to rue. Five
years, she had said. Five years ago she must have been only a child—she
was little more now. What circumstances or what tragedy had thrust an
immature girl into the keeping of such a profligate! And what had those
five years meant to her! As the days dragged slowly by and he applied
himself to the work to which he forced his wandering attention he
wrestled with a problem he could not hope to solve, racking himself with
the thought of what she must have endured and would still have to
endure.

But it was the nights he dreaded most. The nights when, waking from
fitful sleep that, dream-haunted, gave him no rest, he stared wide-eyed
into the darkness murmuring her name, aching for her, till the pain of
it drove him out into the garden there to tramp the dark tree-bordered
alleys and star-lit stretches of grass until bodily fatigue brought him
back to the house to toss wakefully and watch for the dawn when he could
start for the early morning rides that were his only alleviation. It was
in the lonely hours of the night that the thought of her suffering was
strongest with him. It was then that his fevered mind, unchecked in his
solitude, became the prey of ghastly imaginings until, half mad with his
own thoughts, he almost yielded to the temptings of the insidious inward
voice that bade him forego honor and take the happiness he had
sacrificed. Was he to stand aside while her youth and health were
wrecked? Was she to be offered up on the altar of his conscience? Must
she be the victim of his scruple? “She would have gone with you—she
would have gone with you that morning—” Night after night the mocking
voice rang in his ears, and night after night he fought the same fight
in anguish of soul, battling with the promptings of his heart.

Then came a day when a telephone message from Morel, who had received an
urgent summons to Paris, put a stop to the work at the laboratory and
left him to face inactivity he viewed with dismay. In no mood for the
society of either General Sanois or the officers at the barracks,
resolved to run no chance of a further meeting with the woman he had
determined never to see again, he passed the long hours of the morning,
sitting on the verandah with a medical book in his hand which he did not
read, and in restless wandering about the lovely garden whose loveliness
was lost on him.

Utterly weary of himself, for the first time in days, he would have
welcomed the companionship of Saba. But the blind boy was at the camp
near Blidah whither he had been despatched when Carew had decided to
remain on in Algiers. The day seemed interminable.

Worn out with sleepless nights he slept heavily for the greater part of
the afternoon and was awakened with difficulty by Hosein in time for the
solitary dinner he thought would never end. Afterwards, ordering coffee
to be brought to him, he strolled through the silent halls and empty
rooms back to the verandah where he had spent most of the day.

The night was singularly dark but the darkness agreed with his own
gloomy thoughts and after he had finished his coffee he extinguished the
reading lamp on the table near him and sat for a long time staring
fixedly into blackness.

Inaction became at last impossible. He had sat for two hours and his
limbs were cramped and his head throbbing for need of physical exercise.
Two more hours and he would be ready to blow his brains out, he
reflected with a dreary laugh. Going to his bedroom he changed quickly
into Arab dress and left the house unseen.

Beyond the door in the wall he hesitated frowning. Then with a shrug and
a muttered oath he turned in the direction of de Granier’s villa. To
torture himself by gazing on the house was not to see her, he argued. By
no reasoning could he be said to be breaking the resolution he had made.
The road was free to him as to any other. And what chance was there of
seeing her at this time of night! Jerking his heavy cloak back he
stopped to light a cigarette and then strode on with the slow step to
which flowing robes had accustomed him.

For a time it appeared as if no other midnight wanderers were abroad,
but as he neared the high enclosing wall of the Villa des Ombres his
quick ears caught the sound of hurrying, stumbling feet and the raucous
intonations of a voice he recognised. Instinctively he shrank into the
deeper shadow of the wall as Tanner, the English groom, reeled past him
with words that seemed to turn the blood in his veins to ice. “The
swine, the swine—the blasted swine! ’E’ll do ’er in, by Gawd, ’e will!
_Christ_, ’ow she screamed—and the damned door locked so as I couldn’t
get in! And ’im mad drunk—the beast! My Gawd, my Gawd, what’ll I do?
I’ll ’ear them screams till I die!” And sobbing and blaspheming in
impotent rage the little man tore on and vanished into the night.

But towards the house from which the groom had fled, Carew was racing
with a deadly fear knocking at his heart. The gates were open and,
panic-driven, he dashed along the carriage drive and up the steps of the
villa hurling himself against the door which, unbarred, gave way before
him. In the dimly-lit entrance hall he stumbled and almost fell headlong
over the prostrate figure of an Arab who moaned and writhed on the
marble floor. Callous to everything but the one ghastly fear that
gripped him, Carew kicked his feet clear of the man’s robes and shook
him roughly. But the fiercely uttered question died on his lips as a
piercing shriek rang through the silent house. A shriek that was
followed by others so terrible, so frenzied, that for a moment he reeled
under the horror of them. And with the agonizing screams was mingled the
sound of a man’s raving and other more pregnant sounds that drove Carew
to the verge of madness. With a groan he leaped to the door of the room
where was the woman he loved, but, locked from within, it resisted his
furious onslaught and, as well acquainted with the villa as he was with
his own, he knew that to force in was impossible. Desperately he
wrenched at the handle, then a sudden thought came that sent him flying
down the corridor. There was another door leading into the drawing room,
a secret door that, flush with the wall and hidden by curtains, was
possibly unknown to the tenants who had rented the house. Reaching the
ante-room with which it communicated and tearing aside the embroidered
hangings he flung his whole weight against the fragile panels, crashing
through into the room beyond. One sweeping glance sufficed him. Dragging
his eyes from the battered little body stretched almost at his feet he
crouched for an instant, stiffening like a wild beast preparing to
spring, his face the face of a madman.

And startled by his sudden appearance, too blind with passion to
recognise the man who had gone through the sandstorm with him, Geradine
saw in the tall, robed figure facing him only an unknown Arab who had
dared to force a violent entrance into his house and he flung forward
with a savage snarl, brandishing the heavy hunting crop with which he
had flogged his wife into insensibility.

“You damned nigger,” he bellowed. “What the hell—”

But with the sound of his voice Carew sprang, his clenched fist driving
straight at the other’s mouth. For a second Geradine staggered, then
with a roar of mingled pain and fury he slashed with the crop at Carew’s
face. But the blow fell short and the next moment two powerful arms
closed round him. Though strong above the average, his life of
intemperance had unfitted him for any protracted struggle and tonight,
wearied already by his outburst of savagery and not sober enough to use
with advantage what strength he had, he was helpless in the grip of the
muscular hands that seemed to be crushing the life out of him. Choked
with the strangling hold on his throat he was almost unconscious when
the clutching fingers slid suddenly to his arm and he was forced to his
knees.

And with the whip that was still wet with her blood Carew avenged the
woman who lay so deathly still beside him. Maddened with the thought of
her suffering, he wielded the heavy weapon till Geradine’s coat and
shirt were torn to ribbons, crimson stained and sticky, till his moans
became fainter and finally died away, till his own arm grew tired with
the punishment he inflicted. Only then did he fling the whip from him.
Scarcely glancing at the inert figure sprawled face downwards on the
floor, indifferent whether he had killed him or not, he turned slowly to
that other pitiful little figure and, hardly conscious of what he did,
tore the burnous from his shoulders, and wrapping it round her lifted
her into his arms and carried her away.

The hall was empty as he passed through it. But he was oblivious of the
apparently deserted house, oblivious of everything but the slight burden
he held. As if in a dream, his mind almost a blank, he followed
mechanically the road by which he had come half an hour before. And not
until he had reached his own villa, until, led by instinct rather than
definite reasoning, he found himself in his own bedroom, did the
dream-like feelings pass and he awoke to realize what he had done. But
that could wait. At the moment only she mattered.

Laying her on the bed he stripped the blood-wet silken rags from her
lacerated shoulders, wincing in agony as they clung to the delicate
broken flesh his trembling lips covered with passionate kisses. But he
was doctor as well as lover and, forcing his shaking fingers to
steadiness, he bathed the cruel wounds with tender skill, doing all that
was possible for her comfort before he dropped to his knees to wait till
she should regain consciousness. And when at last she stirred it was
some time before recognition dawned in the dazed eyes that were gazing
blankly into his. But the sudden joy that filled them faded swiftly into
a look of terrible fear.

With a cry that greyed his face she flung herself into his arms.

“Don’t let him get me! Don’t—let—him—get me,” she shrieked, again and
again, till the horror of it was more than he could bear and he crushed
her face against him to stifle the sounds he knew would ring in his ears
while life lasted.

“Hush, hush,” he whispered, almost fiercely. “It’s done—it’s finished.
He will never touch you again. You need never see him again. Lie still
and rest. There’s not a soul who knows where you are but me.” And even
in the extremity of her terror his voice had power to soothe her and she
relaxed in his arms with a shuddering sob. For a long time he held her
silently, fighting the biggest battle of his life, striving to subdue
self, to think only for her. But her nearness made thought impossible
and at last, in despair, he sought to rise. She clung to him with a
murmur of entreaty.

“Let me go, dear,” he muttered. “I’ve got to think—I’ve got to think
what is best to do.” And tenderly he put aside her trembling hands.

Fear fled back into her eyes as she watched him cross the room to the
open window, and slipping from the bed she waited for what seemed an
eternity, shaking with weakness, afraid to question him, afraid for the
moment of the man himself.

And when at length he spoke, in a voice that was almost unrecognisable,
he did not look at her. “I can get you out of Algiers—that is easy. But
to whom shall I take you? Where are your people?”

For a moment she stared in dazed unbelief, then with a pitiful sob, she
staggered nearer to him. “Gervas, don’t you love me—don’t you want me?”

His face was anguished as he flung towards her. “Want you? _My God!_” he
groaned, “but it’s not what I want that matters. It is you I am thinking
of. You are Geradine’s wife—I can’t take you. I can’t dishonour you. I
can’t drag you through the mud—”

“Mud!” she echoed, with a terrible laugh, “what mud could you drag me
through that would be worse than the mud that has choked me for five
ghastly years? Gervas, Gervas, I’ve come to the end. I can’t fight any
more. I can’t bear any more. I’ve no one to turn to—no people—no
friends. There’s nobody in all the world who can help me—but you. If
you won’t save me I will kill myself. I swear it. Oh, Gervas, have pity!
Take me away. I’m safe only with you. I’ll be your servant—your
slave—anything you will—only save me, save me! If I see him again I
shall go mad—_mad_—” She was at his feet, clasping his knees, her
upturned face wild and distorted with terror. And as he swept her up
into his arms with a gasp of horrified protest and looked into her
frenzied eyes, he knew that she was very near to madness now. But still
he hesitated.

“You know what it will mean if I take you with me into the desert?”

“I know, I know,” she sobbed, “it will mean heaven and rest and joy
unspeakable. And I—who have lived in _hell_! Oh, Gervas, give me the
chance of happiness!”

It was not what he meant, but he saw that she was past understanding.
Only by keeping her could he avert the mental breakdown which was
imminent. To save her reason he must do that for which his heart was
clamouring, that which he had determined never to do.

And in the light that leaped involuntarily to his eyes she read his
answer even before he stooped his lips to her trembling mouth.



                               CHAPTER X


Very early in the morning, in the dark hour that precedes the dawn,
Marny Geradine rode out from Algiers in the guise of an Arab boy, her
slender figure concealed in the voluminous folds of a long white
burnous, her fair face hidden by the haick that was pulled far forward
over her brow. Beside her Hosein was riding with a wary eye on her
horse, ready at any moment to catch the bridle should the nervous
strength that was supporting her fail suddenly. A few paces ahead of
them, Carew, in the dark blue burnous he affected, was hardly
distinguishable in the gloom. Trembling with bodily weakness and the
still lingering fear she could not conquer, she strained her eyes to
keep him in sight. Only with him near her was she safe. On him and on
his strength she was utterly dependent, for she had no longer any
strength of her own. The courageous spirit that had sustained her for so
long was broken at last, and spent in mind and body her only hope was in
him. He had sworn that she was safe, that he had passed unrecognised
through the Villa des Ombres, that he had brought her unseen to his own
house. But the words that had soothed her as he held her in his strong
embrace seemed to lose power when he was absent. He had been obliged to
leave her almost at once and the touch of his first kiss was still warm
on her lips when he had hurried away to make the arrangements for which
so little time was available. He had bade her rest, but nerve racked and
overwrought, rest had been impossible as she lay starting and shivering
at every noise that echoed through the strange house. Like a terrified
child that requires repeated and audible consolation, she longed for the
sound of his voice, for the tangible comfort of his shielding arms.

And now as she rode through the deserted streets of the sleeping suburb,
fear for herself was mingled with a new and terrible fear for him. She
had as yet no knowledge of what had passed in the Villa des Ombres after
she had lost consciousness and she was obsessed with the thought of her
husband. She saw him in every shadow, the very sound of the horses’ feet
seemed to her excited fancy like hurrying pursuing footsteps. She hated
herself for her want of confidence. At the bottom of her heart she knew
that her trust in Carew was implicit, that it was only her overstrained
nerves that made her shiver with dread, that turned her sick each time
her horse quickened his pace or swerved from some object that only he
could see. She tried to fight against her weakness, to believe that her
disguise was complete, but she knew that she would have no peace until
the town was left behind, until, the open country reached, she could
abandon the rôle of attendant and ride beside the man to whom she had
given herself and gain fresh strength and courage from his nearness. And
from time to time unconsciously she strove to lessen the distance
between them, checking her horse again with a sharp little sigh as she
heard Hosein’s voice “_Doucement, doucement_” repeated warningly.

The way seemed never ending.

To avoid passing the Villa des Ombres a wide detour was necessary and
Marny began to think they would never win clear of the tree-lined
avenues and succession of silent villas that appeared to extend
indefinitely.

There were few abroad at this early hour, but the occasional passing of
some chance pedestrian made her shrink within the folds of the
enveloping burnous, wild eyed with apprehension and faint with the heavy
beating of her tired heart. And once the sound of galloping hoofs behind
them came near to shattering what little self-control was left to her
and with a choking cry she drove her horse against Hosein’s, clutching
frantically at the man’s arm and reeling weakly in the saddle. But it
was only an Arab, wraith-like in the darkness and immersed in his own
concerns, who tore by at breakneck speed on a raking chestnut that
squealed an angry defiance at the other horses as he clattered past. She
recovered herself with a feeling of shame for her own cowardice,
wondering miserably if she would ever regain the strength and nerve that
five years of crushing experience had slowly sapped from her. Once she
had not known what it meant to be tired or afraid. Weariness and pain to
her had been merely terms, without meaning, without significance. But in
those five years she had learnt a bitter lesson. Physically and mentally
she had suffered until suffering had become the dominant factor in her
existence, until she had wondered how far endurance went, how long
before her burden would become heavier than she could bear. And now,
still dazed with the horror of the last few hours, she could hardly
believe in the fact of her deliverance. Was it really over, the life of
pain that had transformed her from a happy carefree child into a
sorrowful disillusioned woman who had prayed for death to release her
from bondage that was intolerable. And death had been very near to her
last night. She had realised it when, seeking to prevent what she knew
to be an injustice, she had thrown herself between her husband and the
wretched Arab valet and Geradine, mad with drink and rage, had turned to
wreak on her the same punishment he had inflicted on his servant. His
face had been the face of a devil, distorted almost beyond recognition,
and in his glittering red flecked eyes she had read her fate.
Temporarily insane he was past knowing what he did and, helpless against
his strength, she was well aware now that but for the coming of Carew
the ghastly scene must have ended in tragedy, that body or brain must
have succumbed to the fury of his passion. Never while she lived would
she forget. Still close to hers she seemed to see that savage bestial
face, the staring bloodshot eyes blazing with merciless ferocity, her
lacerated shoulders still quivered as if they shrank again under the
cruel blows that had rained on her till consciousness fled. The
brutality of years had reached culmination when, with words whose
foulness had scorched her soul, he had beaten her like a dog. That was
what she had been! His dog—kicked or caressed as the mood took him. A
thing of no account. His chattel—sold to him like a slave in an eastern
market, taken by him merely to satisfy his basest instincts.
Shudderingly she tried to banish thought, to put him from her mind, but
her shaken brain was beyond control and over and over again she lived
through the cruelty of the years that were past until every nerve in her
aching body seemed strained to breaking point.

Trembling from head to foot and bathed in perspiration she wondered if
the horror of it would ever leave her, if all her remaining life was to
be a nightmare of hideous recollection.

Drooping with fatigue, her wet hands slipping on the bridle she grasped
mechanically, she prayed desperately for the open country that meant
freedom and happiness. And gradually, yielding to the physical pain that
was swamping all other feeling, she ceased to notice the locality
through which they were passing and she had almost drifted into
unconsciousness when the sound of the voice she had longed for roused
her to the fact that at last the town was left behind. Slowly she raised
her head to meet the grave eyes that looked searchingly into hers. And
at sight of her face Carew reined nearer, and she felt his cool strong
fingers close with practised touch about her wrist.

“Can you hold out a bit longer, dear? We’re rather close to Algiers
yet,” he said. And the tender anxiety of his voice made her set her
teeth to keep back the sob that rose in her throat, a sob of joy and
wonder at the consideration to which she was so unused. She drew herself
straighter in the saddle and smiled at him bravely.

“I’m all right,” she gasped, “if—if I can ride beside you,” she added,
faintly. His lips tightened as he eyed her doubtfully. Then without
answering he wheeled Suliman towards the south.

The movements of her horse were easy, and away from the metalled roads
the slow canter at which they rode was less jarring, but it took all her
resolution to maintain the upright carriage she had adopted and hide
from him the weakness that was steadily overcoming her. The nervous
strength that had upheld her at first was slipping from her fast now
that the immediate fear of discovery was past, and in the reaction of
relief she feared the collapse that was threatening momentarily. She
pulled the haick closer about her face that he might not see the
moisture lying thick on her forehead and rode on with compressed lips
fighting the spells of faintness that made her head reel and the
surrounding landscape appear to waver in curious undulations before her
eyes.

The dawn was brightening. Already it was light enough to see distinctly,
and despite her fatigue, Marny looked with interest on a district that
was new to her.

For some time still their way led past farms and fruit gardens, but of
human life they saw little. And the few field workers and goatherds they
met were absorbed in their own affairs and paid no heed to their
passing, or at most bestowed on them a perfunctory salaam that was due
to Carew’s supposed rank. He looked like a chief, she thought with a
strange new feeling of pride. It was difficult seeing him thus to
remember that he was an Englishman. To her he would always be an Arab, a
man of the open, a desert dweller. And in the sandy wastes of the great
wilderness towards which her thoughts had turned so longingly she would
live with him the wild free life of her dreams, a life that might prove
hard and dangerous but a life that would be made sweet by his love and
companionship. If only she need not have come to him like this! If only
he had found her in the time of her unfettered girlhood when he could
have taken her unstained and without dishonour! But over their love now
hung the shadow of disgrace. And it was for her sake that he had done
what would be held up to him as a reproach. For her sake—He heard the
strangled sob she tried to smother and winced, his eyes sweeping the
horizon impatiently. He knew that she had almost reached the limit of
her endurance and his arms were aching to hold her, to ease the pain of
her weary little body against his own strong limbs, but while the
scattered farms still stretched about them he dared not risk the chance
of passing observation. Neither, because of her weakness, did he dare to
quicken their slow pace—an unaccustomed pace at which Suliman was
fretting and protesting, rearing from time to time as he tried to break
into the usual gallop.

But at length the last outlying vineyard was passed, and screened by the
rising ground of the foothills they were approaching, precaution was no
longer necessary. With a sigh of relief Carew swung his horse close to
hers and, bending sideways, lifted her easily out of the saddle. She
yielded without demur, relaxing against him with a moan of utter
exhaustion. He knew that she was crying, but he knew also that the tears
which hurt him so poignantly were necessary to relieve the excited brain
that had gone so perilously near to destruction and he made no attempt
to check them. Tightening his arm about her he gave Suliman his head.
And with a snort of pleasure the big bay leaped forward, free to go his
own pace at last, galloping as he had galloped when once before he had
carried double. The memory of that midnight ride came to Carew as he
glanced down at the girl he held before him. With what different
feelings he had carried her then! How he had revolted at her proximity,
hating the slight burden that was now so precious. Every moment had been
torture. Now, in the ecstasy that filled him, he wished that the way
were longer, that the moment might never come when he would have to
waken from his dream ride of almost unbelievable happiness and face the
stern realities of the difficult course that lay before them. For an
instant his sombre eyes grew stern and brooding, then he thrust the
thought of the future from him. There was time, and enough to think of
that. Now he could only think of her. His face grew very tender, very
pitiful as he looked at her. Poor little tired child, bruised and broken
with appalling experience—would even his love, great as it was,
compensate for the suffering that had wrecked her young life? All that
was best in him rose up as he caught her closer with a stifled whisper.
That he might never fail her, that she might never regret the step she
had taken, never regret the faith she had in him, was the prayer that
burst from his innermost soul—a prayer that was deeper, more fervent
than any he had ever uttered in his life.

But as the bay tore on with long swinging strides that were the
perfection of movement, Carew put from him everything but the joy of the
moment. After the enforced stay in a town he had come to loathe, after
the tedious days of comparative inactivity made hideous by mental
struggle, he felt like a man released from prison. Behind him lay all he
wished to forget. Before him lay a new life, new happiness, new hope. He
could hardly realise yet what it meant to him. No longer alone, with
something more than his work to live for, he seemed to see the world
suddenly with new eyes—a world of new wonder, a world transformed and
beautified. Eagerly he looked at the brightening sky. The dawn had
almost come, a dawn that was to him symbolical.

A feeling of exultation came over him. The wild rush through the air,
the cool wind blowing against his face, was like an intoxicant stirring
him as it always stirred him, and today more powerfully than ever
before. For did he not hold in his arms his heart’s desire—was not the
woman he had craved his at last! With a quick fierce laugh he drove his
knees into Suliman’s ribs and swung him round to face the open hillside.
Gallantly the horse attacked the steep incline, but the gradient was
punishing and gradually his pace slackened till it dropped to a walk
and, picking his steps carefully amongst the scrub and boulders, he
wound his way laboriously up the twisting track till he reached the
summit to stand with heaving sides and wide distended nostrils.

And at the same moment the sun rose clear of the banking clouds of gold
and crimson, and the full light came with startling suddenness revealing
all the wild beauty of the desolate hills. A scene of more than ordinary
grandeur, or so it seemed to the man whose heart was throbbing with a
passion that almost frightened him and whose whole sensitive being was
thrilling and responding to the radiant glory of this most marvellous
sunrise he had ever witnessed. Behind them Hosein was on his knees
absorbed in rapt devotion, and alone with her he viewed the advent of
the new day, the new life that they would live together. The reins
dropped loose on Suliman’s neck as he raised her high in his arms till
their lips met and her shy eyes fell under the ardour of his burning
kiss. A kiss that with its hungry passion, its complete possessiveness
awoke her to a fuller realisation of the step she had taken.

She was trembling when at last he released her, her quivering face
scarlet with shame. Miserably she stared at him, struggling to free
herself.

“Let me go,” she moaned. “I hadn’t any right to ask you—I hadn’t any
right to make it difficult for you.” But in her piteous eyes he read the
despair that gave the lie to her stumbling sobbing words.

“You _want_ to go—back to him?” he said, slowly. And he was answered in
the sharp cry that burst from her as she shuddered closer into his arms,
clinging to him with all her feeble strength. With a soft little laugh
of triumph he kissed her again and turned in the saddle to shout to
Hosein who had finished his prayers and was waiting discreetly in the
background with no sign of his inward astonishment visible in his
imperturbable face. That the master he worshipped had been stricken with
sudden madness was to him the only possible explanation for the
departure from established principle, that in his years of service he
had become thoroughly acquainted with. Shrewdly observant he had seen
and wondered at the gradual change that had come over Carew since the
night when he had amazed his retainers by bringing a woman to the camp
from which women had always been religiously excluded. And now that same
woman was lying across his saddle, a willing captive to the man who was
bending over her with a face that was transfigured. That his master had
no right to her, that she was the wife of the foreign Sidi who had made
himself so notorious in Algiers, were matters of indifference to Hosein.
It was no business of his. If his lord had at last found happiness—who
was he to judge him! He had been mad with that same madness himself
once—

As he ranged alongside leading the spare horse, Marny tried to raise
herself.

“I’m rested now—let me ride,” she murmured. But Carew saw her face
contract with the pain that movement caused her, and shook his head.
“You are not fit to ride. Lie still and rest,” he said, decisively.

“But you can’t carry me all the way, I’m so heavy—” she objected,
faintly.

“Heavy!” he laughed, “about as heavy as an extra carbine.”

And following his swift glance she noticed for the first time the
leathern holster that projected beyond his knee. The sight of it
reminded her of the hazardous life that would be hers and made her rebel
against the weakness that seemed to make her so unfit a companion for
him.

“Let me try,” she pleaded. But he shook his head again.

“Do as you’re told my dear,” he said, with a smile that softened the
peremptoriness of his tone. “You’re worn out, and you are on the
highroad to fever unless you take things easily. I can’t have you
knocking up out in the desert. You’ll want all your strength where we’re
going.”

Where were they going? She wondered without caring. She knew nothing of
his plans. She was content to go where he took her, content to follow
where he led. She had given her life into his keeping, she was satisfied
to leave to him the ordering of that life. With a tired sigh she dropped
her head on his breast, thankful for the support of the strong arm
crooked about her, yielding to the strength that was so strangely
gentle.

A drowsiness she did not attempt to combat stole over her as she lay
with closed eyes listening to the murmur of the two men’s voices. They
were speaking in Arabic which she did not understand, but it seemed to
her that Carew was giving certain orders to which his servant responded
with his usual brevity. Then there was silence and dreamily she became
aware that Hosein had left them and that they were alone on the top of
the sun warmed hill. Dead with sleep she felt Carew’s arm tighten round
her, heard without fully comprehending his explanation that he had sent
the Arab on to prepare the camp for their coming, and slept as his lips
touched hers.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It was late in the afternoon when she woke. Still heavy and confused
with sleep, at first she was conscious only of the feeling of bodily
comfort that enveloped her. Her tired limbs were at rest and she lay
propped against soft cushions that eased the dull ache of her wounded
shoulders. With a little sigh of physical content, she nestled deeper
into the silken pillows, inhaling the faint oriental perfume that clung
about them, wondering vaguely when Ann would come to waken her. Ann? Ann
would never come to her again! Ann was gone, the victim of petty spite
and tyranny. And she—With a strangled cry she started up, trembling
violently, staring around her in bewilderment. Then remembrance came
with a rush, and sobbing with relief she sank back on the cushions of
the wide divan where once before she had slept with such curious
confidence.

Wonderingly she looked about the room, at the simple but costly Arab
furnishings, at the well stocked gun rack that stood near the couch on
which she was lying, at the litter of masculine belongings that with
their suggestion of intimacy served to bring home to her even more fully
than before the significance of what she had done. His room! The hot
blood flamed into her cheeks and she hid her face in the pillows,
whispering his name, shivering with a new sweet fear and joy that made
her long for him and yet shrink from even the thought of his coming.

How long since he had brought her here? How long since she had fallen
asleep in his arms on the top of the sun-bathed hill? The room was
perceptibly darker when at last she raised her head and sat up,
listening for some sound to penetrate from the adjoining room that
should assure her of his nearness. But she heard only the distant hum of
the scattered camp—the shrill squeal of an angry stallion, the doleful
long-drawn bray of a donkey and, near at hand, the monotonous creak and
whine of some unknown piece of mechanism whose use she could not guess.
Strange, unfamiliar noises that yet seemed so oddly familiar, like the
faint echoes of a far-off memory urging the remembrance of another long
forgotten life when she had lived and loved in close proximity to the
sounds that now thrilled her with vague wonderings. Did love ever
die—was this passion that had overwhelmed her so suddenly only the
reawakening of a love that had been born in bygone ages? Had she loved
him then! Had he too lived in that remote past that seemed struggling
for recognition? Had their wandering souls, long desolate and alone
triumphed over the barrier that separated them to converge once more and
know again the transient rapture of earthly happiness?

With a tremulous smile she slipped from the couch and went slowly to the
little dressing table at the further end of the room. Curiously she
stared at herself in the tiny mirror, frowning at the weary white face
she saw reflected.

The close-drawn haick had been removed and, tumbled by the heavy
head-dress, her hair lay loose in curling waves about her shoulders. The
colour crept into her cheeks again as she strove to roll it up into
something approaching order. And as she wrestled with the few pins that
remained to her, two hands placed suddenly on her shoulders made her
start violently. “Must you hide it all away? It was very pretty as it
was.” There was a new note in his voice, a new hint of definite
ownership in his manner as he coolly unloosened the soft coils she had
hastily bound up and drew her to him. But she dared not meet his look
and, surrendering to his arms, she hid her face against him in an agony
of shyness.

With a tender word of expostulation he slipped his hand under her chin
and raised her head. His ardent love was crying out for expression but
the shamed piteousness of her eyes checked the passionate words that
rushed to his lips. What was his love worth if self came before
consideration? He stooped his cheek to hers.

“Do you think I don’t understand,” he murmured, “do you think I don’t
realise how—strange it is? But you can’t be shy with me, dear. Only
remember that I love you, that I’d give my life to keep you happy. I’ll
do all I can to make it easy for you—” But even as he spoke the
restraint he imposed on himself slipped for a moment and he crushed her
to him conclusively. “Child, child, if you knew how I have longed for
you! If you knew what it means to me to hold you in my arms—_here_—to
know that you are mine, mine, utterly. Marny—” He pulled himself up
sharply with a gesture of compunction, his hands dropping to his sides.

“Forgive me, dear,” he said, gently, “I didn’t mean to be rough with
you—I wouldn’t hurt you for the world.”

The tears that were so near the surface welled into her eyes and she
looked at him strangely.

“Rough?” she whispered, slowly. “I wonder if you know what roughness
means—I wonder if you could hurt me if you tried!” Then her face
contracted suddenly and her hands went out to him in shuddering appeal.
“Keep me from remembering!” she cried, wildly, “help me to blot out the
past. I can’t tell even you. I want to forget—everything—everything
but your love. Oh, my Desert Healer, you heal others, heal me too! Make
me strong again—strong and fit to share your life, to be your
helper—Don’t let me think! Oh, Gervas, don’t—let—me—think!”

The look he had dreaded to see again was back in her eyes and her whole
body was shaking as she clung to him with all her shyness forgotten in
the greater mental distress that made her seek his help and consolation.
With almost womanly tenderness he soothed her, holding her till the
nervous trembling passed and she lay still in his arms.

“It’s over,” he said, at last, “over and done with. It’s a new life
we’ve begun together, dearest. A new life that will bring you health and
strength and, God helping me, a greater joy than we have ever known. The
desert will heal you, Marny, as it healed me years ago. Shut your mind
to the past. Think only of the future—and of our happiness.”

A bitter sob escaped her.

“We haven’t any right to be happy,” she moaned. He did not answer but
she felt him stiffen suddenly and her eyes leaped to his with a new fear
dawning in them.

“Gervas—” she gasped, “what will you do—if he won’t divorce me? Oh,
you don’t know him as I do, you don’t know of what he is capable. He
would do it just to feel that his power was over me still, just to keep
me bound, just to hurt us. Gervas, if I can never be free, if I can
never be your wife—what then?”

A shadow passed over his face as he looked down at her.

“Will the price of our happiness be too big for you to pay, Marny—or is
it me that you doubt?” he asked, slowly.

“_Gervas_—” But his kisses stopped her frantic protestations and there
was only love and pity in his eyes as he gathered her closer. “You will
always be my wife—as you are my wife to me, now. Nothing can ever alter
that. Nothing shall ever come between us. God knows how you’ve suffered,
and He can judge me for what I have done when the time comes. But while
I live you’re mine and no power on earth shall take you from me.” His
deep voice was vibrant with passion and for a moment the fierce pressure
of his arms was pain. Then as if ashamed of his own display of feeling
he put her from him.

“I’m a brute,” he exclaimed, remorsefully. “Come and eat, you pale
child. I hadn’t the heart to wake you before, you were sleeping so
soundly.”

Shyness fell on her again as he led her into the adjoining room. And
throughout the meal that followed she was very silent, eating
mechanically what was put before her and studiously avoiding his eyes as
from time to time she glanced with furtive curiosity about the big tent.

His heart ached for her as he watched her with an intentness he was
careful to conceal. He was longing to help her, longing to make easier
the difficult situation which he knew she was only now realising in its
entirety, fearful of augmenting her constraint by any word or gesture
that should emphasise the new relationship between them. Love made it
easy for him to guess her thoughts. With fine intuition he understood
perfectly the struggle that complete realisation must have awakened in
her mind. Though she loved him, though she had given herself to him,
still he knew that she must be shrinking sensitively from the
consequences of her own act. His arms had been a refuge she had turned
to in her need, but they were the arms of the man who loved her and
here, in his tent, she must be facing the hard fact of her obligation,
facing the payment of her freedom—a payment that only love could make
endurable. More than ever did his own love clamour for utterance but he
gripped himself resolutely, playing the part of impassive host with
almost cold courtesy while he attended to her wants and keeping the
conversation strictly to trivialities, and trivial conversation was not
easy. They knew so little the one of the other. He had as yet no
knowledge of her tastes, no knowledge of her interests. In spite of the
love that had swept them both off their feet they were, to all intents
and purposes, strangers to each other, and further hindered by her shy
reserve a common meeting ground was difficult to find.

But when the short twilight had faded and the lamps were lit in the
tent, when Hosein had come and gone for the last time leaving them
alone, he found it impossible to maintain the detached attitude he had
adopted, impossible to avoid reference to certain subjects that must of
necessity be discussed between them. The sense of their aloneness, the
intimacy of the moment, was stirring him deeply and the sight of her
lying amongst the heaped up cushions of the divan, lovelier than he had
ever seen her, infinitely pathetic as she seemed in her utter dependence
on him, was an appeal that was too strong to be resisted and his heart
was beating furiously as he went to her.

And affected no less than he, her breath came fast and her shy eyes met
his for only a moment as she moved to make place for him. Sitting down
beside her he caught her slim hands up to his lips. Then, still holding
them in his firm grasp, he crashed through the faint barrier that had
risen between them and spoke with unreserved frankness of the future and
the life that they would share together. And afterwards, because he
believed that only by mutual confidence and trust could their love be
perfected, he broke the silence of years and told her the story of his
life, the tragedy that had wrecked his early manhood and driven him to a
self-imposed exile, and of the consolation he had found in the work that
had become so dear to him. And his own confidence ended, he drew from
her, bit by bit, the history of her girlhood and pitiful marriage. But
of what she had suffered at the hands of the brute to whom her brother
had sold her she would say nothing.

“You know,” she whispered, with quivering lips, “you saw—the morning
after the Governor’s ball. I can’t speak of it. It hurts me.” For a
moment he held her closely, his eyes blazing as once before she had seen
them blaze, then he rose abruptly and striding across the room flung
back the closed entrance flap and stood in the open doorway staring out
into the night.

She twisted on the divan to watch him, wondering what chain of thought
her words had set in motion, wondering if he was vexed at her reticence.
But he gave no explanation of his hasty movement, and after a time he
came back slowly, his face inscrutable as she had ever known it, and
squatted, Arab fashion, on a pile of cushions near her. Lighting a
cigarette, for a while he talked fitfully, his brief remarks punctuated
by lengthy silences she did not know how to break. And as the evening
wore on he grew more and more distrait until finally he ceased to speak
at all, sitting motionless with his eyes fixed on the rug, smoking
cigarette after cigarette.

She knew that it was late. The tom-toms and pipes, that earlier in the
evening had resounded from the men’s quarters, had long since died away.
She was conscious of a silence that could be almost felt, she found
herself straining her ears to catch some sound that should moderate the
deep quiet that was reminiscent of long ago nights in Ireland. But for
once there was peace amongst the picketed horses and not even the wail
of a jackal came to break the intense stillness. It was as if all the
world slept and only she was awake—she and the man to whom she must
soon yield the final proof of her love and surrender. She slid her arm
across her burning face and shrank closer against the silken pillows,
shivering uncontrollably, torn with the conflict that raged within her.
She loved him, with her whole being she loved him—madly, utterly. To
give him all he demanded would be joy beyond expression—but, oh, dear
God, why must their love be stained with sin! Last night he had loved
her well enough to let her go—and her coward body had driven her to
plead with him until his renunciation became impossible. It was she who
was responsible. It was her sin, not his—and let her be the only one to
pay. Passionately she prayed it, clenching her teeth to smother the
sounds of agony that rose in her throat. Weak with emotion, vaguely
frightened by his continued abstraction, she was aching for the clasp of
his arms, hungering for his kisses, longing for the comfort and
reassurance of his voice. Of what was he thinking as he sat motionless,
scowling heavily as he stared into space, no longer even smoking. Was it
the remembrance of the early sorrow of which he had told her that made
his face so stern and sad? A swift spasm of jealousy shook her. But she
crushed it down, her tender brooding eyes growing misty with tears. What
need had she to be jealous! The past was over—and his love was hers. He
had proved it beyond all doubt. And he had done so much already, it was
foolish to expect that every moment of his time could be given to her.
He had other matters beside herself to engage his attention, matters
that now, because of her, must necessarily have become more complex. It
was only natural that he should be pre-occupied and silent. She must be
content to wait. He would turn to her again in his own good time.

And when at last he stirred and rose with swift noiselessness to his
feet, she was lying so still that he thought she was asleep. For a
moment he bent over her, his hands reaching out to the little recumbent
body, his strong limbs shaking with the fierce tide of emotion that was
pouring over him, his passionate eyes aflame with love and longing.
Hungrily he gazed at the woman he had taken for his own. Why did he
hesitate? Was she not his, his of her own free will, his to give him all
he asked! Of what use to refrain? Who, after what he had done, would
believe that he had spared her! And if her fears were justified, if she
failed to win release—what would either of them have gained? If not
tonight—then sooner or later, for he would never let her go. Wife or
mistress, whichever it was to be, he would keep her while the breath of
life was in him. Lower and lower he bent till the warm sweet nearness of
her, the faint intoxicating perfume of her fragrant hair, and his own
desperate need combining shattered the last remnant of his self-control
and he swept her up into his arms, straining her to his heaving chest,
raining kisses on her lips, her eyes, her palpitating throat, till,
panting and exhausted with the force of his ardent embrace, her head
fell back against his shoulder and he carried her white-lipped and
trembling towards the inner room. But as he reached the screening
curtains that barred his impetuous way he came to a sudden halt and the
quivering eagerness of his face gave way to a look of doubt and bitter
misery. Yearningly he stared into her frightened eyes, then with a
gasping sob he slid her slowly to her feet and pushed her gently through
the silken hangings. “Go—for God’s sake go,” he muttered, and wrenched
the curtain into place.

Not yet! Not while there still remained a chance that he might take her
without dishonour. What the world would not believe was yet possible to
him who loved her. Until he was sure, beyond all doubt, that she could
never be legally free to marry him he would hold her unscathed, unsoiled
by his passion. And, Merciful God, how long would that be? How long
would he be able to hold out! He was pledged to Sanois and he had sworn
to take her with him. Was he strong enough to withstand the temptation
of long months spent in close proximity, riding day after day at her
side under the burning sun, sleeping night after night with only a frail
curtain between them? He did not know. He only knew that tonight his
strength was gone and that he dared not stay beside her. The calm
radiance of the star-lit sky, the deep stillness of the night mocked his
as he fled from the tent he did not trust himself to look back on. A
night of mystical beauty, redolent with the subtle odours of the east,
languorous and heavy scented—a night for love and the fulfillment of
desire.

With a groan he swept his hand across his eyes, wrestling with physical
agony that was intolerable, cursing the scruple that kept him from her,
cursing the man who stood between them. The blood was beating in his
ears and his brain was on fire as he stumbled through the shadowy
darkness of the little valley, striving to subdue the longing that
possessed him, striving to banish the torturing thought of her nearness.
Blind to the road he was taking, he saw only the sweet pale face that
had flushed to the touch of his burning kisses, saw only the tempting
beauty of the slender loveliness he craved. Was she asleep, as he prayed
with all his soul she might be—or was she too awake, longing for him as
he was longing for her, suffering as he was suffering? Just now she had
trembled in his arms and he had seen the fear that leaped to her
flickering eyes, but she had made no effort to repulse him, had made no
plea for release. Instead she had clung to him. And it seemed to him
that he could still feel the touch of her fingers, ice-cold and shaking
against his, still feel the rapid beating of her heart, the tumultuous
rise and fall of her delicate bosom as he carried her swiftly across the
room. She had been willing, and he—He flung out his hands with a bitter
cry and dropped like a log, burying his head in his arms.

Hour after hour he lay motionless on the soft warm sand, too passion
swept to sleep, till at last the raging fever that consumed him abated,
and he knew that, for the time being, his victory over himself was
complete.

But there was no peace in his mind. There was another decision that had
to be made before the stars faded and the sun rose on a new day—a
decision he knew in his heart was already determined. By acceding to the
frenzied appeal of the woman he loved, in his endeavour to save her from
further suffering, he had done a thing unpardonable. That did not
trouble him. He did not regret it, he would never regret it. Her
happiness was the only thing that weighed with him. Last night her need,
and only her need, had been his sole consideration. Mad with fear she
had implored him to take her from Algiers and, trembling for her reason,
he had consented. But tonight his thoughts were centered on the husband
from whom he had taken her. He would never give her up—but he would
steal no man’s wife in secret. He was going back to Algiers—going back
to face the man he had wronged. And what would be the outcome of that
interview? No matter what Geradine had done—she was his wife. No matter
what she had suffered at his hands—he was her husband. No extenuating
circumstances could gloss over the hard indisputable fact or lessen his
own culpableness.

What would Geradine do?

Carew rose deliberately to his feet with a harsh mirthless laugh. He
knew what he would do himself if the position were reversed, what he
would unhesitatingly have done twelve years ago if the opportunity had
been given him. And if Geradine shot him like a dog, as he deserved to
be shot, what would become of the girl who trusted to him? To stay—and
forfeit his own self-respect. To go—knowing that he might never return.
Heavens above, what a choice! But there was no other way thinkable. His
mind was fixed, and the rest lay with Geradine. Would the cur who had
stooped to strike a woman fight to regain possession of her, fight to
avenge his honour? If he only would—by God, if he only would! The
breath hissed through Carew’s set teeth and his strong hands clenched in
fierce anticipation as his mind leaped forward to the coming meeting.
The primitive man in him was uppermost as he thought with curious
pleasure of Geradine’s huge proportions and powerful limbs. There was
not much to choose between them. True he had thrashed him last night,
but the man had been drunk. Heaven send that he was sober this time!

With a strange smile he swung on his heel and strode back to the
sleeping camp.

But as he neared the tent his swift pace lessened and his sombre eyes
were dull with pain as he passed under the lance-propped awning into the
empty living room. How could he leave her to wait alone until he came
again—or did not come! What would be the effect of those long-drawn
hours of suspense on the nervous brain that was already dangerously
overstrained and excited? His stern lips quivered as he parted the
curtains and felt his way to the long low couch that was only dimly
visible.

His tentative whisper was answered by a stifled sob, and out of the
darkness two soft bare arms came tremblingly to close about his neck and
drew his head down to the pillow that was wet with her tears. That she
had wept bitterly was evident, and shaken by the distress his resolution
almost failed. But he crushed the momentary weakness that came over him.
“My dear, my dear,” he murmured, huskily, “have I made you weep so soon?
Have I failed you tonight of all nights when you needed me most? Did you
think I didn’t care—that I didn’t want you! Do you think it was easy
for me to go from the heaven of your arms to a hell of loneliness under
those cursed stars? God knows it was hard—as hard as it is for me to
say what I’ve got to say to you now.” And with characteristic directness
he told her plainly the course he had decided.

At first she did not seem to understand, then as she grasped the meaning
of his words a cry of terror burst from her. “You can’t go—you can’t,
you can’t. Oh, Gervas, stay with me, don’t leave me! If you go you’ll
never come back and I—” she shuddered, horribly, and her frenzied voice
sank to an agonised whisper. “He’ll kill you. _Gervas, he’ll kill you!_”

“Pray God, I don’t kill him,” he retorted, grimly, and with gentle force
he unloosened the tightly clasped arms that were locked about his neck.
“I’ve got to go, dear,” he said, steadily, “it’s the only thing I can
do.” And unable to bear the sound of her passionate weeping he turned
away. But with a wail of anguish she leaped to her feet, striving with
all her strength to hold him.

“Gervas, Gervas, don’t leave me like that—tell me you love me, tell me
you’ll come back to me—”

For a long moment his lips clung to hers, then he laid her on the bed.
“You know I love you, Marny,” he answered, “it is because I love you
that I am going back to Algiers.” There was a note of intense sadness in
his voice that made her bury her face in the pillow to stifle the sobs
that were fast growing beyond control, but there was also in it a ring
of finality that made further pleading impossible. Nothing she could say
would move him. His will was stronger than hers and she knew that,
despite the love and consideration that henceforward would make
possession so different, she had but exchanged one master for another.

When she raised her head again she was alone and she started up,
trembling with dread, listening till her ears ached that she might hear
the last sound of his voice. But there was only silence in the adjoining
room and, driven by an irresistible impulse, she fled through the
communicating curtains. The loose entrance flap was only partially
closed and, screened by the looped-back draperies she waited scarcely
breathing, straining her eyes through the gloom, praying that she might
see him once more.

And when he came it was only a momentary glimpse, a fleeting impression
of two shadowy horsemen who flashed past the tent to vanish in the
darkness beyond as though they had never been, and sobbingly she
stumbled back to the inner room, flinging herself in a passion of tears
on the bed where she had wept throughout the lonely hours of the night.
She did not question his action, it was enough for her that he had done
what he thought best. And there was no bitterness in her grief.
Selfless, she did not think of herself. It was only of him she was
thinking, only for him she was agonising. The brutal strength she knew
by terrible experience, the savage unbridled nature she had learned so
thoroughly—what would he do? What ghastly tragedy would ensue from the
meeting of these two men so strangely opposite, so strangely linked by a
common desire? Tortured by horrible imaginings, mad with fear, she
writhed in mental anguish that took from her all power of reasoning, and
tossing to and fro on the soft bed that still gave no rest to her aching
limbs, she wept until she had no more tears, until exhausted she fell
asleep.

It was mid-day before she woke. The room was filled with light, hot with
the vertical rays of the sun blazing down on the roof of the tent.
Slipping from the bed she stood for a moment holding her throbbing head
between her hands, then moved languidly towards the dressing table. At
the further end of the room she found a little bathroom, Spartan-like in
its appointments but containing all that was needful and half-an-hour
later, bathed and refreshed, she went listlessly into the living room.

As she came through the curtain, Hosein, who was squatting on his heels
by the doorway, rose to his feet with a deep salaam. And listening to
his low-voiced inquiry whether it was her pleasure to eat, she wondered
how long he had been waiting there, wondered what lay behind his
inscrutable face and suave deferential manner. She had learned from
Carew last night of his Arab servant’s devotion, and of the confidence
that existed between them, and his presence now gave her a curious
feeling of reassurance. She knew without being told that Carew must have
left her in his keeping, knew also that Hosein must be perfectly aware
of the reason of his master’s absence, and his calm demeanour and
untroubled expression seemed insensibly to soothe her own agitation of
mind. But when the meal which had appeared with almost magical quickness
was finished, when Hosein had gone again and she was alone once more,
the temporary courage that had come to her faded as new doubts and fears
crowded in upon her more overwhelmingly than before. How could she rest!
How could she bear the torture of long hours of waiting—waiting that
might never end!

And mingling with the present agony came the memory of past suffering.
Why had the way of life been made so difficult for her? To what end the
misery she had endured? Was it that through sorrow and pain she might
attain to a greater perfection hereafter? Her lips quivered. The goal
had been too high for her endeavour. Her faith had not been strong
enough to trust only in the Divine Comforter. In her despair she had
turned to earthly consolation, and the clamouring of her starved heart
had driven her into the arms of the man who loved her. And stronger than
she, he had striven to save her from the consequences of her weakness.
But she had tempted him—tempted him with her fear, tempted him with her
threat of suicide. Why didn’t he hate her for the vile despicable thing
she was! Gervas! Gervas! Cold and shivering, tortured with suspense,
unconscious of the passing hours, she huddled on the divan, hoping,
despairing, until concrete thought became at last impossible, until all
her senses seemed merged into one dominant perception as she lay
listening, listening for the soft thud of galloping hoofs.

And in the end, it was no actual sound that roused her, but an
instinctive intuition, an indefinite something penetrating to her brain
that sent her flying with shaking limbs and palpitating heart to the
open doorway.

The sun was setting and every detail of the rosy-tinged landscape stood
out in sharp and clear relief. But her wild dilated eyes saw nothing of
the peaceful beauty of her surroundings as she waited, sick with
apprehension for the moment that should determine her fate.

The camp was curiously silent. There was no sign of life, nothing to
impede her view except the odd blur that came over her eyes at
intervals. How long she stood there she never knew. One thought only
held her motionless, one question that her pallid lips repeated
monotonously. Which—which?

And then, quite suddenly, she _knew_—knew even before the three swift
moving horses swept into sight from behind the angle of jutting rocks
that framed the entrance to the little valley. Faint with the shock of
relief she clung to the curtains for support, watching them gallop
towards the tent as though the hounds of hell were at their heels. Why
were there three? Only one attendant had gone with him. And the horseman
who rode so closely behind was no Arab. Her heart seemed to miss a beat
as she recognised the slim little figure whose crouching seat in the
saddle was so familiar to her. Oh, God, what had happened! Why was
Tanner with him!

But she had no time for reflection. She saw the foam flecked black
horse, savage and intractable still in spite of the punishing ride, race
to the very entrance of the tent; saw his rider drag him, screaming and
fighting, to a standstill. Then as Carew leaped to the ground, an
overmastering panic seized her and she shrank back into the room wide
eyed and trembling.

He came through the doorway slowly, reeling slightly as he walked, and
took her into his arms without a word. His face was grey with dust and
fatigue and there was a strangeness in his manner that forced utterance
from her.

“Geradine—” The fearful whisper was barely audible, but he heard it and
his arms tightened round her with a quick convulsive movement.

“Dead,” he said tensely.

She did not flinch from him but her face went ghastly and a terrible
shudder passed through her.

“Not you, oh, Gervas, not you?” she breathed, imploringly.

His tired eyes looked into hers with infinite tenderness, infinite
understanding.

“No, thank God, it was not I,” he said quietly. “Malec killed him. They
killed each other. Tanner found them when he went back to the house
early the next morning. The other servants had cleared out—the place
was empty. I can’t tell you any more, dear. It’s too—beastly.”

She was leaning weakly against him, her face hidden in his robes,
shivering from head to foot. And as he broke off abruptly, she shuddered
closer to him, clutching at his burnous with shaking fingers.

“Was it my fault—was it _our_ fault?” she gasped, with a ring of horror
in her voice.

“No,” he answered, almost violently, “it was his own fault. He brought
it on himself. But he’s dead, poor devil, and God knows I haven’t the
right to judge him.”

He held her silently for a moment, then the strained rigidity of his
features relaxed and a great gladness dawned in his eyes as he stooped
his tall head to the soft curls lying on his breast.

“Marny,” he whispered, impellently, “Marny—my wife!” And with a little
cry that was love and trust and joy unutterable, she lifted her tear wet
face and yielded her lips to his.



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.





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