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Title: Zarah the Cruel
Author: Conquest, Joan
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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ZARAH THE CRUEL


      *      *      *      *      *      *

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

    DESERT LOVE
    LEONIE OF THE JUNGLE
    THE HAWK OF EGYPT

      *      *      *      *      *      *


ZARAH THE CRUEL

by

JOAN CONQUEST

Author of “Desert Love,” “Leonie of the Jungle,”
“The Hawk of Egypt.”



New York
The Macaulay Company

Copyright, 1923, by
The Macaulay Company

Printed in the U. S. A.



    TO

    BETTY C—— OF C——

    TO WHOM I AM INDEBTED FOR
    SO MUCH OF THIS BOOK



ZARAH THE CRUEL



PROLOGUE

    “_Narrower than the ear of a needle._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


The Holy Man, motionless, gaunt, his eyes filled with the peace of Allah,
the one and only God, stood afar off, outlined against the moonlight,
watching two horsemen fleeing for their lives across the desert.

Pursued by a band of Arabs which hunted them for murder done in the far,
fair City of Damascus and had hunted them throughout the Peninsula,
they headed for the Mountains of Death towering in the limitless sands
of the burning desert and cut off from the world by the silvery belt of
quicksands which surround them completely.

Uninhabited by beast or human being within the memory of man and the
memory of his fathers, and his fathers’ fathers, yet did the wandering
story-teller, as he flitted from town to village, from Bedouin camp to
verdant oasis, make song or story of the legend which has clung to the
pile of volcanic rock throughout the centuries.

A story which either moved the listener to shouts of derisive,
unbelieving laughter or held him still, lost in wonderment and dreams.

A legend recounted in this day of grace by the Arabian story-teller to
Bedouins, sitting entranced under the stars or the moon, yet which had
been inscribed upon a highly decorated vellum by the Holy Palladius in
the fifth century of our Lord, which record of early holy church was
lost in the burning and sacking of a famous library in the more Christian
times of the last ten turbulent years.

The story of a miraculous light, which, so read the vellum, led the Holy
Fathers across the sands of death, over which they did most safely pass,
to find within the mountains the further miracle of fresh, sparkling
water, palm groves of luscious _kholas_ dates, stretches of _durra_ and
grass, coarse enough to be woven into shirts, with which to replace, in
the passing of the years, the shirts of hair which covered the attenuated
bodies of the thirty-odd early Christian Fathers.

There, within the secret oasis, so went the legend, the holy men who
fled the temptations and persecutions of the world and sought safety and
salvation in penance and pilgrimage, built a monastery to the glory of
God, and there, so it was to be supposed, they must have died, with the
exception of one, who, following the casting of lots, had been sent forth
from the miraculous oasis upon a mission to acquaint the Holy Palladius
of the community’s whereabouts.

The vellum had witnessed the Holy Father’s safe arrival at his journey’s
end, but of his return to the Sanctuary, as was the poetical name given
the place by the renowned Palladius, there had been no mention.

A fair legend to endure throughout the passing of the centuries, a sweet
story in a land of thirst and death and dire privation, a tantalizing
word-picture to those who knew the shifting sands to be impassable.

The Holy Man pondered upon the legend as he watched the horsemen tearing
towards the quicksands and certain death, then, with the beads of Mecca
slipping between his fingers, turned and continued his pilgrimage due
south, the south where the wind blows hottest and the sands burn the
sandal from off even holy feet.

And Mohammed-Abd, accused of the murder of a wealthy, flint-hearted
usurer in the fair, far City of Damascus, turned to the handsome youth
who, loving him as a brother, had helped him to escape, so far, from the
vengeance of the flint-hearted usurer’s relatives.

“The mare faileth, Boy of the Wondrous Eyes! I fear a spear or a bullet
shall find its home in her body, or in mine, before she reaches yonder
mass of rocks.”

Yussuf laughed and turned in his seat and looked back, shading the
beautiful, almond-shaped, long-lashed eyes which had earned him his
nickname and had got him into more trouble even than usually befalls a
handsome youth in the Arabian Peninsula.

“There is the length of many spears yet between us, brother. Lie upon
the neck of Lulah, the mare, so that the wind of her great speed be not
counted against her. The swiftest mare in all Nejd, yet in endurance of
but little count. Behold is there a light at the foot of the mountains
moving this way and that way? Perchance ’tis one who lives amongst the
rocks and who watches with intent to succour us. Allah be praised that
the sands lie flat under our horses’ feet, though by the wool! would He
be thrice praised if, in His mercy and compassion, He were to twist the
feet of the horses which follow us and so break their riders’ necks.”

The mountains seemed within spear-length, the quicksands showed one with
the desert, silvery, smooth, when the mare stumbled just as a bullet
whistled past, singeing the streaming mane.

She was up on her dainty, unshod feet upon the instant, racing for safety
with the last effort of her gallant heart, when Mohammed-Abd turned and
yelled defiance at his pursuers.

“_Ista’jil!_” he yelled, “_Ista’jil!_”

Everyday words, which merely mean “make haste,” but destined to become a
battle cry which, in after years, struck terror in the hearts of those
who heard it, from Oman to Hajaz.

In reply came a volley of firing, mixed with derisive and insulting
words, lost in the din of shouting and hoofs upon the sand.

“Follow me, brother!” shouted Yussuf, as he pressed his mare with his
knees.

Ahead a greenish light danced this way and that, backwards and forwards,
and to it Yussuf rode his mare, with Mohammed-Abd close upon his heels.

They followed the will-o’-the-wispish light formed by the gas floating
above the quicksands, mixing with the wind when it blew from the south,
and fled upon the narrow path over which it danced. A path formed
perchance by the top of some mountain chain thrusting through the desert;
hidden throughout the centuries by the inch or so, not more, of sand
which overlapped it from the treacherous, seething, ever-moving sea of
death; a way to safety discovered to the Holy Fathers and the fugitives
before the law by Allah the merciful, the one and only God.

Over it they passed safely, with, if they had but known it, barely the
breadth of a hand to spare, upon either side of the exhausted mare; they
slipped from the saddle and pulled the panting beasts back into the
shadows just as, with much triumphant shouting and firing of rifles, the
pursuing Arabs, riding in a straight line, plunged, yelling, screaming,
down into the quicksands’ suffocating depths.

The miracle of the fifth century had been explained at last.

An hour later, when the stars shone down upon a scene of perfect peace,
Yussuf laughed and pulled at the spear hurled by an Arab in one last
effort of revenge before sinking to his death.

It did not move. Stuck fast between two rocks it remained for all time, a
sign to mark the commencement of the only means of communication between
the Sanctuary and the pitiless, burning desert.

“Methinks we are no better off, brother. If, by the grace of Allah, we
find again the hidden path by which we crossed this sea of death, yet
have we neither drop of water nor date-stone left with which to stifle
the pangs of hunger and thirst, of which we surely die if we move not
from this ledge of rock.”

He looked up to the top width of a great V which cleft the mountains
half-way down the side, and from the narrowest point of which there
seemed to stretch a path to where the spear marked the beginning of the
secret path.

Then he stretched his hand and touched the rock behind the spear, and
with finger upon cracked lips softly called Mohammed-Abd, who came
quickly upon tiptoe.

“Let us go warily, brother, yet let us go in search of those who inhabit
the heart of the mountains, so that they help us in our need.”

They passed their fingers over the rough cross hacked in the rock as a
sign of his return by the Christian who, in the fifth century, had been
sent upon a mission to the Holy Palladius; then, hobbling the mares,
crept in the shadows from rock to rock, up the path leading to the
narrowest point of the great cleft, which made the one opening in the
mountains, slitting them to a spot midway between the foot and crest.

Famished and almost crazed with thirst, the two men hid in blackest
shadow, listening for a sound, peering for a sight of those who had
marked the way up with rough crosses cut upon the rocks; then, alert,
apprehensive, stopping to listen at every yard, crept noiselessly to the
opening of the cleft. Through it they passed like shadows, and on down
a steeper, broader path to a great plateau, on the edge of which they
stopped, staring in amazement.

“A mirage!” whispered Mohammed-Abd in hoarse tones, then, crouching, ran
across the plateau and fell upon his knees and to his full length upon
the bank of a sparkling, rushing river.

Whence came the unknown, miraculous water? It flowed from the eastern
side of the mountains; it twisted in the shape of a big S in the middle
of the fertile plain; it disappeared through a narrow cleft in the
western side with the thundering, rushing sound of water falling into
space.

The waters of the Wadi Hanifa which flow through Woshim and Ared more or
less abundantly, according to the season, have so far not been traced
after they disappear in the fertile district of Yemama. Do they flow
below the surface to the Persian Gulf? or on into the terrible desert,
to be absorbed in the ever greedy sand? Are these the waters which show
above ground for a few blessed yards in the secret heart of the Mountains
of Death, cut off by the quicksands from the needy sons of the desert who
depend upon the scanty, brackish water of deep wells, and vapours carried
uncertainly on certain winds from the Persian Gulf, and which are lost
once they pass above the _hamads_, those red-hot, dust-laden, scorching,
terrible limestone plains?

Or does a subterranean river flow through the bowels of some chain of
mountains stretching below the surface of the Peninsula from sea to sea,
wrapped in the desert sand?

Maybe!

And may not the short mountain ranges dotted throughout Arabia’s deserts
be the topmost peaks of that great hidden chain, and the miraculous
waters hidden in the Mountains of Death be part of that lost river,
escaping through its prison walls in the one spot where the rocks have
been worn, during the centuries, by the rush and the fret of the waters
below and the wind and the storm above?

Fantastic theory. And yet who knows? Who will ever know?

But there it is, and doubtlessly there it always will be, forming an
inaccessible oasis, with sweet water and groves of date palms, and
stretches of wheat and barley descended from the grain sown from the
Holy Fathers’ scanty store centuries ago; a quiet spot, with cotton
shrubs and vines, coffee plants and _durra_, climbing gentle slopes
covered in rich, coarse grass, and herbs and flowers of every kind which
spring from the seeds blown upon the wind or carried by the birds which
swarm where water is to be found.

“No mirage, brother,” whispered Yussuf. “Yet must we go warily, with eyes
in our heads and hands upon our weapons, for methinks the inhabitants
hide and spy upon us from the rocks, waiting the fortunate moment to fall
upon us.”

He passed his hand over the first of a short flight of steps leading
down to the water and worn smooth by the passage of holy feet. “By the
marks upon the steps there is much going and coming, and a good harvest
about us. Food for the eating and for the drinking, water, the beverage
prescribed for man by Mohammed the prophet of Allah, the one and only
God.” He touched the amulet of good luck which hung about his neck and
lay quite still, his hand upon his friend’s arm, looking about him
in the shadows and up at the birds of all sizes which, disturbed by
the intrusion, flew distractedly in every direction. “Stay thou here,
brother. I will drink a while, then will I go and fetch thee dates, and
if I meet the inhabitants of this corner of Paradise, set in the midst of
suffering, will ask of them hospitality—if they be friendly—or the way
back across the hidden path by which we entered if they prove otherwise,
quickening their tongues, if there be hesitation, with this.”

He loosened the broad, crooked dagger in his cummerbund, and, descending
the rough steps, threw himself down to drink until he came wellnigh
to bursting. Replete, he rose and walked apart some feet and looked
around him and stood amazed, overcome by a strange awe, then, beckoning
Mohammed-Abd who drank at the river’s edge, crept like a shadow across
the plateau and up a steep flight of steps made by the laying of
boulders one upon the other.

The ruins of the monastery, which had been hidden from the fugitives by a
great mass of jutting rock which swept down almost to the water’s edge,
lay silent, forsaken, upon the natural terraces of the mountainside. In
the strong black-and-white shadow and moonlight the rough walls showed
no sign of the devastating hand of time, and hid the remains of roofs
which, from want of repair, had at last caved in and fallen upon the
rock floors. The windows of the cells, thirty in all, showed like black
patches painted upon a grey background; thirty doorways gaped desolate;
the dust of ages covered stones worn by the passing to and fro of bare
feet, some more, some less, according to the span of years allotted to
each holy man.

How had the holy men worked? How had they built to the glory of God with
no other implements than their hands and the strength of their muscles
and their vows?

The walls of the cells, the chapel and the refectory were two feet thick
and built of pieces of granite of various sizes, fitted together in
rough, mosaic fashion; they had stood throughout the centuries just as
they had been put together, without loss of a single stone, just as the
trunks of palms, rough-hewn by patience and sharpened stones, had stood,
in ones or in columns, to support the roofs composed of other trunks of
palms, laid crosswise and covered in laced leaves.

Later was discovered a place, high upon the mountainside, to the edge
of which boulders, both great and small, had evidently been pushed and
hurled to the rocks below, to be smashed to bits, out of which bits
doubtlessly had been picked the pieces necessary to the task of building.

How many years had it taken to build the chapel? How much strength to
carry the square slab, which had formed the altar, up the mountainside
and to prop it upon four supports? How much patience to build up the
pointed _façade_ and to pluck out the stones from the middle until a
clear cross, formed by space, showed against the blazing sky or the
star-studded velvet of the night?

Why had they built? For joy? For penance? The latter probably, for the
buildings, which spread terrace above terrace, must have far outreached
the need of the holy men.

For many minutes Yussuf stood staring up at this mystery of the desert,
and then, slowly, step by step, pulled by the strength of the unknown,
halting to listen, hastening to gain the shadows, climbed the rough steps
and reached the chapel door.

He stood staring down at the floor littered with stones and across to the
altar, before which lay a skull, gleaming in a shaft of moonlight. Making
the sign to scare away evil spirits, he stepped across the holy place,
though not for a king’s ransom would he have touched the white bones of
Father Augustine, the last of the holy men, who had laid himself down to
die before the altar, upon which had been roughly chipped a cross.

“Christians!” whispered Yussuf, slipping the rosary of Mecca between his
fingers. “Infidels!”

Like a great cat he crept out of the place and up the steps leading to
the thirty cells, where, upon the stone floors, showed the marks made
by the holy men who had fled the world and the luxury of soft beds. He
climbed yet twelve steps more to the refectory, where thirty stones, more
or less flat, stood in the circle the holy men had formed for meals or
recreation; and up again to other buildings, both great and small, built
to what purpose it will never be known; then fled the silent, deserted
place, slipping, stumbling down the steps to the plateau, where waited
his friend.

Side by side, warily, noiselessly, they climbed to the tombs, high
up upon the western flank, natural caves, upon the floors of which
twenty-nine holy men slept the long sleep, each underneath a mound of
stone.

They lay there now, for all that is known, waiting for the last trump to
call them back across the quicksands of time.

They sleep peacefully, undisturbed, for ruthless, savage as were the
men who ultimately threw in their lot with Mohammed-Abd, criminals and
outlaws every one, from every province and every tribe in the Peninsula,
yet they respected the solemnity of that Christian burial ground and left
the sleeping forms in peace.

And just as the first sunbeam slid over the mountaintops, filling the
rocky bowl with golden light, the two men adopted the place as home.

An impregnable stronghold; a natural fortress in a waste place; a land of
dates and water, upon which a man or many men could subsist for lack of
better or more tasty nutriment; a citadel surrounded by a sea of death,
yet connected with _terra firma_ by a path of rock, which as a foundation
cannot be bettered.

“ ... for if we have safely followed in the path of the thirty who sleep
yonder,” argued Mohammed-Abd, looking up to the tombs in the rocks bathed
in the glory of the sunrise; “why should not yet another thirty, fleeing
before the law, and even thrice times thirty, come safely through the
hungry sands? If two horses escaped the death, why should not two camels,
with their feet as big and soft as the heart of one who leans unduly
to the affections, cross that path, and, with violent lamentations and
much urging, make their way down yon rocky road? And if two, why should
not thirty of their brothers and sisters follow as safely, with thirty
Nejdeen stallions and mares, as nimble as goats upon their dainty feet,
behind them? And are we so weak that we could not carry sheep and goats,
in young, across our saddle bows, so that they multiply in this place of
plenty?” He looked up and around, stretching wide his arms. “Is there not
place for man and beast and many of each? And are we not, O my brother,
bidden by the Great Prophet to succour those in distress, are we not?”

In such-wise did Mohammed-Abd, the ambitious outlaw, with Yussuf as his
right hand, become the head of as daring a gang of brigands as had ever
swept the highways of the desert.

And all went well with him, his harvests yielding abundantly, his wealth
accumulating, his people and cattle waxing fat and multiplying throughout
the years, until he took unto himself a wife, who died on bearing him a
daughter.



CHAPTER I

    “_From the afternoon it will appear if the night will be
    clear._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Zarah the Cruel leaned on the wall which surrounded the chapel of the
monastery, built by early Christians in the fifth century, and looked
down at two dogs fighting upon the plateau near the water’s edge.

Twenty years had passed since Sheikh Mohammed-Abd, so called by his men,
who adored him, had adopted the natural stronghold in a desert waste
as home, naming it the Sanctuary, unwitting that he poached upon the
poetical tendencies of the long dead Holy Palladius; fifteen years since
he had taken to wife Mercedes, the beautiful Spaniard, the arrogant
daughter of an impoverished Spanish grandee, who, made prisoner as she
journeyed on business bent across the Arabian Peninsula in the company
of her high-born and feckless father, had condescended to marry the
notorious robber-sheikh in exchange for the liberty of her progenitor and
the safe conduct of himself and his retinue out of the country. She had
condescended to marry him, but in the secret places of her passionate,
adventurous heart she had come most truly to love him, so that the years
preceding the birth of their daughter had been years of happiness; years
in which, although the raids upon caravans and peoples had been as fierce
and bloody as before, the lot of the prisoners had been considerably
lightened, until those who had not the wherewithal to pay the ransom
demanded had come to sing as they set about their tasks of herding
cattle, tending harvests, or working to strengthen and beautify the ruins
upon the mountainside. Those who had the means, or friends altruistic
enough to raise the ransom, had paid it and taken their departure with a
distinct feeling of regret in their hearts.

Many had thrown in their lot with the outlawed chief, whilst the
physically undesirable had been liberated at once and sent packing on the
homeward track, so that harmony had reigned in the strange place and the
welfare of the brotherhood had increased a hundredfold.

Three years later Mercedes died, leaving in her stead a woman-child,
upon whom the Sheikh poured out the adoration of his stricken heart. A
strange, quiet woman-child, who had neither cried nor laughed as she had
lain in her father’s arms, staring past him out of tawny, opalescent eyes.

And as she grew, beautiful, cruel, and as relentless as the desert to
which she belonged, so did unrest and fear and passion grow in the
erstwhile happy community, until women ran and seized their children so
that her shadow should not fall upon them, prisoners shrank at sight or
sound of her, and the men, hating her in their hearts yet hypnotized by
her beauty and her great daring, whispered amongst themselves as they
questioned the one, the other, as to the next whim or new punishment her
ungovernable temperament would invent.

For an Arabian she was well educated. Vain as a peacock, she forced
herself, loathing it the while, to take advantage of every opportunity of
learning which presented itself, solely with the object of shining before
the men, who, with, the exception of one nicknamed the Patriarch, were as
illiterate as most Arabs are.

A learned Armenian, a Spaniard and a Frenchman, made prisoners through
an injudicious display of wealth, had each had the sentence of heavy
ransom commuted to that of two years’ instruction to the Sheikh’s almost
ungovernable daughter.

The Jew had taught her to read and to write whilst thoroughly
appreciating his robber-host’s hearty hospitality; the Spaniard had
taught her his language and the dances of his country whilst enjoying
the wild life he had led between lessons; the Frenchman had taught her
his language and the use of the foils, and had asked for her hand in
marriage, to be thoroughly surprised at a blunt refusal.

She read everything she could get hold of, lining the reconstructed
walls of two cells, which had once echoed the prayers and witnessed the
austerities of the holy monks, with books brought by caravan from the
port of Jiddah. She could eat quite nicely with a knife and fork and
manipulate a finger napkin with some dexterity, but showed a preference
for her fingers—which she wiped upon the carpet or by digging them into
the hot sand—and her splendid white teeth for the process of separating
meat from bone.

From her father she undoubtedly came by her magnificent horsemanship and
surpassing skill in the use of weapons of self-defence.

He delighted in her physical training, spending hours with her either in
a room which had been fitted up as a gymnasium after the counselling of
the Frenchman; or on the plateau, pitting her skill with spear, rifle
and revolver against that of youths of her own age; or away in the
desert riding with the magnificent horses for which he had become famous
throughout the Peninsula.

Trained to a hair, with a ripple of muscle under the velvety, creamy
skin which the sun barely bronzed, she could, at last, throw an unbroken
horse with any of her father’s followers, or ride it bare-back out into
the mystery of the terrible desert, heedless of its efforts to dismount
her, driving it farther and farther with little golden spurs until, with
its pride shattered and its heart almost broken, she would race it back,
utterly spent, to the shade of the mountains.

She joined the enthusiastic men in the sports they got up amongst
themselves to pass the monotony of leisure hours, or hunted with them for
the sheer joy of killing, laughing with delight when she brought down
ostrich or gazelle, firing at carrion for the sole purpose of keeping her
hand in, leaving the birds to die where they fell.

Born and bred in the heat of the tropics, which hastens the physical
development of both sexes in the Eastern races, she was almost full grown
upon her twelfth birthday. She inherited the beauty of her mother, save
for the colour of her hair, which rioted over her head in short curls and
flamed like the setting sun, and the colour of her eyes, which shone like
a topaz in the moonlight or as the storm-whipped desert, according to the
violence or moderation of her mood. Through the Andalusian strain in her
mixed blood she had come by her perfect hands and feet and teeth, and to
the same source was she a thousand times indebted for the grace of her
movements and gait and the assurance of her pose.

Her father’s tenacity was abnormally developed in her. It had helped him
to cling to life in the first turbulent years in the desolate Sanctuary;
it helped her to beat down his almost indomitable will over matters both
great and small, until, save for an occasional outburst of authority, he
was as wax in her slender hands. Of his great-heartedness, his charity
towards the needy—for whom he so often robbed the wealthy, with much
violence and bloodshed—his justice and understanding, she had not one
particle in her heart of stone, as she had not a glimmer of the humour
and tenderness which had served to balance her mother’s arrogance and
passionate nature.

In her, the crossing of the races, exaggerating the defects, minimizing
the merits of her parentage, had resulted in a terrible streak of cruelty
which roused a fierce hatred in heart of man and beast.

Virile, ambitious, relentless, she was cursed from birth by the strength
of her dual nationality.

Driven, beaten, horses did her bidding, but had never been known to
answer to her call; dogs hated her instinctively, but feared her not one
bit; her arm still showed, would always show, the marks of Rādi’s teeth
when, from an incredible distance, the greyhound bitch leapt upon her to
revenge the death, by drowning, of one pup which had angered the girl by
its continual whimpering. For her life she dared not visit the kennels
unattended.

She had tried, but had failed to bring about the fall of Yussuf of the
Wondrous Eyes, who loved the Sheikh as a brother, and would have laid
down his life for him if he had so desired.

She hated him for his beauty, for his indifference towards her, for
the love he inspired in animals—Rādi, the famous greyhound; Lulah, the
fastest mare; Fahm, the priceless dromedary, were all his.

Allah! how she hated him!

He responded to her hate with a hate transcending that of his own dog,
the maddened bitch; he had hated her blindly from the very beginning—for
causing the death of the woman who had brought such happiness to his
friend; for usurping her place and his place in the Sheikh’s heart;
for her cruelty, her tyranny, her utter disregard of the happiness and
welfare of others.

He set himself to thwart the child in every possible way and upon every
possible occasion—craftily, so that none should point to him as the
author of the contretemps which so strangely and so frequently befell her.

From the day she could understand until the dawn of her tenth birthday
misfortune after misfortune fell upon her, until those who met her,
covertly made the gesture, used all the world over, to avert the evil
eye; whilst the Sheikh tore his beard in secret as he tried to elucidate
the mysteries of the dead mare, the broken spears, the disappearance,
almost within sight of the Sanctuary, of an entire caravan laden with
gifts for her, and other calamities which had befallen his offspring, in
whom, blinded as unfortunately are so many doting parents, he saw no
fault.

But when the sun rose on the anniversary of Zarah’s tenth year of life,
Yussuf’s hate, as is the wont of unbridled passions, turned back upon
him, whilst tragedy followed close upon his heel as he wended his way to
the Hall of Judgment by one of the many paths he had made, in his love
of solitude, amongst the rocks. Mohammed-Abd looked up at the handsome
face and smiled into the wondrous eyes which looked down into his in such
splendid friendliness and bade him sit beside him on the carpet, upon
which were spread gifts of gold and silver, ivory and glass and silk, to
celebrate the festival.

“Zarah would ride thy mare Lulah in the _gazu_ this night, little
brother. Behold would she be well mounted when gaining the title of
_Hadeeyah_ by leading the men to the attack, even as did Ayesha, the wife
of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, the one and only God.”

“She would ride Lulah?” replied Yussuf slowly, ignoring the girl
entirely, intentionally, so as to rouse her anger. “Lulah, descendant of
the mare that brought thee safely across the path so many moons ago?”

As it happened, Zarah did not mind if she rode mare or stallion in her
first raid upon a caravan which had been reported as travelling, heavily
laden, towards Hutah.

Foiled, up to that very moment, in all her efforts to break or bend the
man she hated with all her heart, she was making one last effort to
triumph over him.

Incapable of understanding the friendship between the men,
under-estimating Yussuf’s strength of character, believing, in her
colossal vanity, that he was merely the victim of a petty jealousy roused
by her beauty and her power over the Sheikh, she had decided to make her
request before her father upon a day when, so she thought, no one would
dare refuse her anything.

“Yea! little brother,” replied Mohammed-Abd, “the fastest mare in all
Arabia!”

Knowing nothing whatever about fortune telling, and merely to plague the
girl, Yussuf, slowly and with an irritating nonchalance, drew certain
signs upon the floor, then spoke, as Fate, who held the strings by which
they were hobbled to their destinies, dictated.

“I see Lulah flying across the desert sands,” he whispered, “at dawn,
with death upon her back. She flees for her life, with hate, revenge,
hard upon her heels. She stumbles, there is ... nay! I see no more. ’Tis
hidden in the mists of time. But death, death with a crown of red above
her snow-white face, rode her, with hate upon her heels.”

He looked across at Zarah, who, ridden with superstition, and totally
unaware that he was fooling her, leant far back upon her cushions, one
hand extended, with fingers spread against disaster, the other clutching
an amulet of good luck hanging about her neck.

He smiled at her terror and shrugged his shoulders, spreading his hands,
palm uppermost, as though to protest against such signs of weakness. The
action, the look in the wonderful eyes, acted as a spur upon the girl,
goading her to maddest wrath. With a mighty effort she controlled herself
and leaned far forward, eyes blazing, her lips drawn back in a snarl of
hate.

“What has death to do with me?” she cried. “Verily dost thou croak like a
bird of prey. I say that I will ride Lulah, the black mare, _thy_ mare,
as far as anything in the Sanctuary can be thine, who art but a servant.
Hearest thou? I ride Lulah, the black mare!”

“Behold! have I ears to hear thy words, and eyes to see thy face
distorted in anger! Yet I say that thou shalt _not_ ride the mare.”

The men who sat in the body of the hall smoking or drinking coffee whilst
listening to the dispute, nudged each other at the sudden, tense silence
which fell between the two.

“A golden piece, Bowlegs, to the dagger in thy belt that trouble befalls
before the coffee grows cold within the cups,” whispered the Patriarch,
whose benign exterior covered a heart given entirely to gambling.

Bowlegs, who had gained his unpoetical sobriquet on account of his lower
limbs, which had become almost circular through his infantile desire
to run before he could crawl, laid his dagger on the carpet beside the
golden piece.

“Nay! Not to-day. Fall the trouble will between the two who love each
other as love the cat and dog, but not upon the tiger-cub’s day of
festival—hist—she speaks.”

“And why shall I not ride the black mare?”

Zarah spoke slowly, clearly, whilst the Sheikh looked from the one to the
other in grief and anxiety.

“Because she is in foal!”

It was a lie, the girl knew it was a lie, the Sheikh knew it was a lie,
as he leaned forward and tried to catch her hand.

He was too late.

“Liar!” she screamed. “Accursed liar!” she screamed again, as she seized
a heavy, cut-glass bowl and hurled it in Yussuf’s face, against which
it smashed to pieces, cutting it to ribbons, a thousand needle-pointed
splinters of glass putting out for ever the light of the wondrous eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_The box went in search of the lid until it met with
    it._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

The mistaken love of friends saved him, though would it have been far
kinder to have let him close his blinded eyes in the last long sleep,
from which he would perchance have wakened with a clearer vision and a
better understanding.

“The will of Allah? Does our brother live or die? Speak quickly lest I
pinch thy windpipe ’twixt thumb and finger.”

Some many days later the renowned herbalist procured from Hutah, in
the Hareek Oasis, by the simple process of kidnapping, and brought,
blindfolded, by swiftest camel to the curing of the sick man, looked up
at Al-Asad, the gigantic Nubian.

“He lives,” replied the wizened old man, gently removing the Nubian’s
slender fingers from about his scraggy throat. “But would have died long
ere my advent if it had not been for the tender ministrations of yon
woman Namlah and her son, smitten with dumbness.”

Al-Asad nodded as he looked to where Namlah, the busy, who had tended the
sick man day and night, stretched out pieces of soft white muslin to dry,
with the help of her son.

“Aye, verily has she a heart made for mothering. Two apples has she, one
for each eye. Two sons, though which one she loves the most we do not
know. The one who is gifted with speech and is slow of wit, or the dumb
one with a mind like yonder sparkling water? Hey! Namlah! thou busy ant,
wilt give thy boy to the herbalist so that he acquires much learning in
medicine?”

Namlah clutched her dumb boy to her heart.

“I will kill him, or her, who takes one of mine from me!” she shrilled,
taking off the amulet of good luck from about her own neck to hang it
round her son’s. “The jewels, the fair name, yea! even the eyes canst
thou take from a woman, but her manchild, never!”

She spat in the direction of the dwelling where slept the girl upon
whom she waited sometimes as body-woman, whereupon the Nubian laughed
good-naturedly, bidding her keep a hold upon her tongue.

“Yea! but verily,” said the unsuspecting herbalist, “does the Sheikh’s
daughter need a whip across her shoulders.”

“And thou thy tongue pulled forth by the roots!”

Al-Asad, who loved the Sheikh’s daughter with all the strength of his
fierce nature, made an ineffectual grab at the terrified old man as he
shot like a rabbit down the rocky path; then laughed and looked up to
where the girl slept, and fell a-dreaming of the day when, now that
Yussuf was out of the running, he might perchance, by right of force,
step into the Sheikh’s shoes upon his death, to rule the leaderless men
and to wed the fatherless daughter.

The wounds healed, the fever abated, yet for many days, feigning
weakness, tended by the dumb youth whom he christened “His Eyes,” Yussuf
lay planning revenge for his loss of sight.

Distraught with pain, unable to control his thoughts in the agony of his
wounds, he finally decided to leave it to time, which did not mean that
he murmured _Kismet_ in the quiet watches of the everlasting night which
had fallen upon him.

The Oriental submits uncomplainingly to sickness, misfortune and death,
but he sees to it that his revenge is of his own fashioning and one that
will, if possible, descend unto the furthest generation.

He left his sick bed a seemingly humble, repentant, and forgiving soul,
blaming himself for the disaster and promising to make amends for past
misdemeanour—seemingly; for not for one single moment of the dreary days
and pain-filled, sleepless nights did the thought of revenge leave his
tortured mind. Bereft of the joys of hunting and the daily thrills which
make part of a marauder’s life, he wandered by day, ever guarded by “His
Eyes,” around and about the buildings of the monastery and over the rocks
amongst which they had been built; at night he lay, until the coming of
the dawn he could not see, thinking, planning, discarding, to think and
plan again.

The second sight of the blind, through touch and auditory nerve, came to
him swiftly, until, at length, sure-footed as a goat, he passed where no
other would have dared to place a foot; of a truth, there did not seem to
be rock, or precipice, or height round, through, or over, which he could
not lead one safely; nor human whom he could not designate by the sound
of his, or her, footfall on sand or rock.

It approached the uncanny even in the blind, bringing with it a certain
respect from others, who, thinking him possessed of a _djinn_ or evil
spirit of the desert, left him alone, with the exception of Mohammed-Abd
and the half-caste Nubian, who loved him only one whit less than they
loved the girl who had blinded him.

Refusing all aid, even that of “His Eyes,” he passed days in discovering
and establishing the exact position of the narrow path which stretched
through the quicksands up to the foot of the mountain. Day after day,
night after night, in the cool of sunrise or sunset, in the peace of
star or moonlight, or in the noonday heat, he followed the edge of the
quicksands upon his knees, feeling and digging, until one noon his
slender fingers found that for which they searched. He turned his face
to the sun, and, sure-footed as a goat, picked his way, step by step,
backwards, feeling, feeling with his toes, across the quaking bog to the
spear stuck fast between two rocks.

There he passed the blazing hours, registering the location of the path
by the lay of the sun upon the rocks and his mutilated face; and never
once, afterwards, did he fail by day to find his way, unaided, either
going out or coming in, across the narrow way.

He crossed to the desert at night upon the back of either one or the
other of the two animals he loved to ride, and which, with the help of
“His Eyes” and much patience, he trained to negotiate the path without
fear and without help of guiding hand or knee.

During the training, Lulah, spoilt and sensitive, had wellnigh lost
her life more times than could be numbered; whereas Fahm, the black
dromedary, ambled indifferently across the dangerous path as though its
great, cushioned feet trod the desert sands.

A magnificent beast, this black _hejeen_ of Oman.

Brainless as a sheep, swift as the wind, as enduring as it was
obstinate, it was worth the price of many blood-red rubies on account of
its colour, and had fallen to Yussuf as his share of the spoil resultant
upon a sanguinary and none too successful attack upon a caravan of camels
belonging to the great Sheikh Hahmed, the Camel King.

And with it all he waited, patiently and with the Oriental’s fatalism,
throughout the years, for his revenge upon Zarah the Arabian.

Subtle, crafty, determined that by his hand alone should punishment fall
upon her, he had argued with and beseeched the Sheikh and his fellow-men
to spare her. Even upon the night of the disaster had he whispered,
between the cut lips held together by the hour in Namlah’s tender
fingers—had whispered in urgent entreaty, until the men, crowding about
his couch, thinking him crazed with fever, touched their foreheads as
they looked at each other and made oath upon the beard of the Prophet to
do so.

They had thought him crazed with fever then, thereafter they ever thought
him slightly mad.

They would touch their foreheads when he spoke gently of the girl, and
would shake their heads when he questioned them closely about the suitors
who, afire with the tales of her beauty and her wealth, came themselves
or sent emissaries laden with gifts, piled high on camel back, to ask her
hand in marriage.

They thought him slightly mad, whereas, if they could but have seen into
his sane and cunning mind, they would have understood that his interest
in the girl’s marriage had root in a great fear that he would so be
cheated of his revenge.

But Zarah, exceeding proud of the European blood in her veins, had no
wish to wed at an age when European girls were still at school, neither
had she the slightest intention of becoming one of the four wives which
Mohammed the Prophet in his wisdom, knowing the weakness of character
and want of self-control in man, allotted unto the male sex. So that
Yussuf sighed in relief as each suitor, blindfolded, was led back across
the path by which, blindfolded, he had come, and, laden with gifts, set
upon the homeward track.

Actively, he knew he could do nothing in revenge until Fate whispered in
his ear, but in a hundred ways, a hundred times a day, he made the girl’s
life a burden to her.

He refused to cover his face, which was no fit sight for man or woman,
and took to haunting her, craftily withal, so that it seemed that by mere
chance his shadow fell so often upon the path she trod.

She had no escape from him.

If she passed in a crowd he picked out her footfall; when the place was
full of the sound of the neighing of horses and the barking of dogs, he
could hear her coming, and, quick and silent as a beast of prey, sliding,
slipping, holding by his hands, would reach the spot where, knowing the
turns and twists of every path, he knew that she must pass; he would
stand or sit without movement, staring at her out of sightless orbits,
whilst she, believing him ignorant of her presence, would pass swiftly,
silently, with averted head and fingers spread against misfortune.

He stood close behind her in the shadows, wrapped in the Bedouin cloak,
as she leaned on the wall watching the fight between the dogs, one of
which had been accepted as a gift by the rejected suitor who, at that
moment, made his adieux to the Sheikh in the Hall of Judgment.

In the depths of the girl’s startling eyes shone a merciless light; an
amused smile curved the beautiful, scarlet mouth; she clapped her hands
covered in jewels, and, jogged by Fate, laughed aloud at the despair of
the groom who had allowed the dogs to escape from the kennels.

Jaw locked in jaw, bleeding, exhausted, the dogs were fighting to the
death, but they sprang apart when the sound of the girl’s laughter was
brought to them on the evening breeze and crouched, glaring upwards,
ruffs on end, growling, the anger of the moment forgotten in their hatred
of the woman.

Furious at the dogs’ display of hatred in front of the attendant,
consumed with a desire to punish them, Zarah turned to run up the steps
leading to the Hall of Judgment where were stacked the weapons of defence.

“Thy spear!” she shouted to a youth who came towards her from the men’s
quarters.

She seized it from him and leapt upon the wall, standing straight and
beautiful, her white draperies blown against her by the evening breeze.
She paid no attention to the shouting of the groom; instead, she took
careful aim and laughed as the spear, flashing like silver in the sun
rays, sped downwards and buried itself in the flank of the greyhound
which had been accepted as a gift by her father’s guest.

Her vanity appeased, she turned away, neither did she look back as she
mounted the steps to her own dwelling.

Had she but glanced over her shoulder she might have taken a warning from
the terrible look of satisfaction on blind Yussuf’s face.

“‘The little bird preens the breast, while the sportsman sets his net.’”
He laughed to himself as he muttered the proverb, and passed on into the
shadows and out of sight.



CHAPTER II

    “_If thou wert to see my luck, thou wouldst trample it
    underfoot._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Insolently indifferent Zarah stood, some hours later, in the Hall of
Judgment waiting for the verdict to be passed.

In outraging her father’s hospitality by killing the dog accepted as
a gift by the guest beneath his roof, she had committed the one sin
unforgivable to the Arab.

The hospitality of the Arab to-day is as great and as genuine as in the
days of Ishmael and Joktan—of either the one or the other he is supposed
to be the direct descendant.

Three days is the prescribed limit to the Arab’s bounteousness on behalf
of the stranger within the gates, though, if the guest’s company prove
agreeable it will doubtlessly be offered for a period extending over
weeks, or months, or even years. In any case, however, the three days’
limit is never strictly adhered to, even if there be but little sympathy
between host and guest, and once the latter has eaten an Arab’s salt
he can count himself as absolutely safe for roof and sustenance, until
courtesy or necessity bids him to move on. The Arab may hate the very
sight of his guest and loathe his habits and disagree entirely with his
views on life, but, whilst aching to see his back, will patiently bear
with him and offer him of his best; he may be longing to know whence his
guest came and whither he goes, but not a question will he ask if the
stranger should not see fit to enlighten him as to his movements; and a
traveller can most assuredly feel at ease about his precious life and
belongings as long as he is under an Arab’s roof—as guest.

An Arab will give his life for you if you have broken bread with him,
and under the same conditions he will not touch a button or a biscuit
belonging to you, even though he may be wellnigh starving and dressed in
rags himself.

The Emeer, or ruler, of one of the Wahhabee provinces had come in
person, though secretly, to ask for the hand of the girl, the fame of
whose beauty had been spread throughout the Peninsula by prisoners
who had worked or paid their way back to freedom. He had not come
straightforwardly, because, even in Arabia, the powers that be,
however insignificant, do not openly deal with outlaws. His offer to
include Zarah amongst his wives and to give her all that she might
wish for—within reason—had been refused, not because he already had
three wives and various lesser lights of the harem, who were known to
fight between themselves like cats, or because he was of middle age and
inclined to rotundity, but just because Zarah already had everything
she could wish for, within reason and without, and had no intention of
marrying without love.

He had proffered his gifts and had accepted his host’s in return, and his
eyes had glistened at the sight of the slender beauty of the greyhound
which, within an hour of his departure, had been killed by his host’s
daughter.

The Sheikh had many greyhounds; in fact, a pair had been substituted for
the one killed, but that was not the point; the dead dog having been
accepted had become the guest’s property, therefore it had also become
sacred in the eyes of the host and the host’s family and servants.

The severest sentence, ofttimes that of death, is passed upon those who
break the Arab’s law of hospitality, so that Zarah stood, beautiful,
insolent, alone, in the Hall of Judgment waiting to hear what punishment
the two, so deeply wounded in their pride, would mete out to her.

And as she stood, knowing the power of her beauty, therefore fearing
naught, she looked indolently round the room, once a monk’s refectory,
and thought in her greedy heart of how it would be decorated to enhance
her power when once she reigned supreme.

The Sheikh’s taste was rather primitive and inclined more to the useful
than to the ornamental. Prisoners had worked upon the rock floor until
the surface had been made smooth, and upon it had been thrown skins of
the small, ferocious tiger, the panther, the Nejd wolf, and other wild
beasts of the Peninsula, with rugs woven from camel’s hair, patterned in
different colours.

Great brass bowls, full of water, stood upon the thirty stools of stone,
once used by the holy men as seats, now ranged against the walls upon
which hung weapons of every sort, calibre and age, either honestly bought
in towns or lifted in a raid. Lances or throwing spears, heavy and light,
swords, knives, daggers ornamented with every conceivable device, and
firearms of most genuine antiquity, even match-lock or flint-guns, which,
however, should not be treated with contempt when in the hands of the
Bedouin. He is a splendid marksman, no matter what the age of the weapon
he may handle.

The Sheikh and his men were magnificently armed, wealth and craft having
procured them their hearts’ delight in the shape of the most up-to-date
rifles and revolvers, which they loved a good deal more than their wives
and almost as much as their sons.

The two men sat on cushions upon a dais at the end of the hall, the
guest, in the place of honour upon the Sheikh’s left hand, looking
down, perplexed, uneasy, at the beautiful girl who stood so superbly
indifferent just below them.

She had dressed for the occasion.

A _Banian_ or Indian merchant, taken prisoner one time, had introduced
and taught the men’s wives and daughters how to manipulate the _sari_.
Zarah had learned from them and had acquired a knack of winding yards
upon yards of stuff about her slender person, as far down as her ankles
and back again to her lissom waist, where she stuffed the ends in. She
had wrapped yards of some glittering, yellow material around her this
day, tightly enough to outline her superb figure but not to impede her
movements as she walked upon her toes and from her hips in a manner
insolent beyond words. Her beautiful arms and neck were bare, her small
feet shod in golden sandals; she wore no jewels and looked young and
innocent and altogether harmless until she looked up and sideways into
the guest’s eyes.

She sighed a little and clasped her hands just above her heart of flint
and looked down again, well content, believing that the love-stricken man
would be on her side whatever punishment her outraged father should feel
inclined to pass upon her in his terrible wrath.

“My heart is broken, my pride shattered, the law of my fathers’ fathers
set at naught by thee, O my daughter!” said the Sheikh quietly, as
he sat, torn between a desire to pass the sentence of death upon the
offender and a longing to spare the daughter he loved so much. “Know’st
thou that if my men were to sit in judgment upon thee that they would
drive thee out into the desert to die of hunger and thirst for what thou
hast done to this my guest?”

Zarah bent her head and stood with hands clasped upon her breast, a
figure of contrition; and it was as well the deluded men were unable
to see the look in her eyes or the twitching of the fingers which were
aching to steal to a very small but very workmanlike automatic she
invariably carried in her girdle.

“I am at a loss, my daughter. I would not humiliate thee before my men,
who will one day serve under thy ruling because, as the proverb says,
‘Him who makes chaff of himself the cows will eat.’”

He paused as the guest murmured, “_El hamdoo l’illahy_,” which is the
correct response to the proverb and is translated, “Thanks be to God,
that is not _my_ weakness.”

There was not a sound as Zarah stood watching the men, nor movement as
the men watched her from under half-closed lids, the guest with thoughts
of her beauty, the father with fear as to which way his tiger-daughter
would spring.

“Never has a father been so outraged in his honour as I by thee, O Zarah;
never has a guest been so outraged as mine in all the history of the
race.” The Sheikh plucked at his beard as he spoke, a sure sign of anger,
though his soft voice was not raised one tone by the wrath which surged
within him. “I know not how my guest will look upon that which I am about
to propose, nay! nor if I dare to darken the honour of his house by my
proposition.”

He looked towards the Emeer, who looked back at him, then sat silent,
watching the girl who swayed a little upon her feet like some golden lily
in the wind.

“Wilt thou O my guest of whom I crave pardon for the insult put upon thee
by my child,” said the Sheikh at last, “wilt thou take her now, bereft of
all dignity, as wife, to serve their Excellencies thy wives as handmaiden
until the stain upon her honour and my honour be wiped out?”

There was no doubt as in what direction the tiger-daughter would
literally spring.

She sprang straight forward, eyes blazing, face distorted with rage,
looking from one man to the other and back as, without waiting to see how
the Emeer would take the suggestion, she flung a proverb of protest at
him.

“Nay! Nay! Nay!” she screamed. “‘My meat and his meat cannot be cooked in
the same pot!’”

“Peace, daughter!” said the Sheikh sharply, “lest I drive thee myself
out into the desert to die. All that is mine is my guest’s, my bread, my
horses, my wealth and _thou_, if he will deign to look upon thee.”

He spoke with the Oriental’s habitual extravagance of speech, but, under
the agony of the blow dealt his pride by his daughter, with the firm
intention of giving all he possessed to the insulted man if by so doing
he could obliterate the stain upon his own name. “Wilt have her, with
jewels and horses and cattle and slaves, O my guest?”

The Emeer slowly shook his shaven turbaned head.

The offer was tempting indeed, but the brief insight into the girl’s
character, allied to the memory of the warring factions already
established in his house, had decided him.

He was getting on in years, with a liking for peace, good food and long
hours of sleep; his line was firmly established, his fortune big enough
to buy or hire maidens for the song or the dance.

Why run the risk, he had argued to himself during the altercation
between his host and the girl, of keeping a caged tiger which, in all
probability, would maul the household if let loose, when tame cats, using
their claws only upon each other, could be kept safely at large?

“‘More just than a balance’ art thou, O my brother” he quoted, stroking
his beard, “but not for one thousand _woebe_ filled with gold pieces and
precious stones would I of her.”

In her fury at the man’s indifference and the insult to her beauty, Zarah
brought her punishment upon herself.

“Thou wouldst not of _me_!” she stormed, as she stepped back and threw
out her arms. “Of _me_! _Thou_, with thy beard thinning upon thy ageing
face and thy person rounded as a mosque beneath thy belt.” She laughed
shrilly, looking like some trapped, wild beast, with her flashing yellow
eyes and perfect teeth. “Look to thy black slaves for thy cooking, to thy
withered wives for dance and song. I have the blood of the whites in me,
I——”

“’Tis a pity,” said the Emeer, making a gesture of resignation before the
verbal storm which hurtled about his head. “Yea! ’tis a pity that thou
dost not go to thy mother’s people and so rid our race of one who does it
no honour!”

“Ah!” softly exclaimed Sheikh Mohammed-Abd, as he let slip the rosary
of Mecca between his fingers. “Well said, O my guest! Thou showest the
way, thou hold’st a torch to lighten my feet in the darkness; through thy
words of wisdom shall peace fall upon my dwelling for a space and the
whip upon the shoulders of she who has disgraced me.”

The men sat silent, the amber mouthpieces of the _nagilehs_ between their
lips, whilst Zarah, utterly undaunted, filled in the time by smoking
innumerable cigarettes with her back turned to the dais, which childish
and uncontrolled action caused the Emeer to smile in his thinning beard.

The Arab delights in deliberation and procrastination, and it is wise to
let him talk round and round his subject or, if it please him better, to
sit for long moments, even to the length of an hour, communing with his
thoughts.

“Yea,” gently said the Sheikh at the end of twenty minutes’ hard
thinking, “it is ordained. Thou, Zarah, O my daughter, shalt go to the
big school in Cairo where attend the daughters of the whites who sojourn
for a while in Egypt, and there shalt thou learn the manners and customs
of thy mother’s people.”

If he had proposed strangling the girl on the spot she could not have
shown more horror.

“Thou wilt send me to Cairo,” she cried, flinging round, “_me_, who must
one day, even at thy death, rule in thy stead. Nay! Make not the sign
against the evil day, for die thou _must_. Thou art mad, O my father,
nearing thy dotage or distraught or sick of a fever. What can they do,
these white folk, to make me more than I am? Can they enhance my beauty
by their ugly raiment? Or teach me anything that I do not know about
horses or the dance, or soften my voice by teaching me their language,
which sounds like the hissing of snakes caught in a basket; can they?”

“Nay! they cannot!” indifferently replied the Sheikh, who was as easy
to move as a pyramid once his mind was set upon a project. “But they
can teach thee to eat even as did thy mother and less like a dog with a
bone between its teeth; also can they drive home the duty of a daughter
towards her father’s guests. For two years shalt thou sojourn amongst the
stranger, then will I marry thee to whomsoever I will, if perchance there
be a man who will look with favour upon one who has so dishonoured the
name of her father.”

The Emeer, who was thoroughly enjoying the taming of the beautiful shrew,
nodded his head in approval, whereupon the girl’s hand slipped to her
girdle. She was mad with rage, ripe for direst mischief, ready to kill
through the workings of her untutored mind, but she reckoned without the
Sheikh, who had not ruled a band of outlaws for nothing.

As her hand slipped to her girdle he sprang, and, catching her by the
wrist, flung her to the floor, wrenching the pistol from her fingers,
whilst the Emeer sat unmoved, nodding his turbaned head.

She was on her feet in an instant, breathless, undaunted, magnificent in
her fury.

“O _thou_,” she cried, “who thinkest that a woman can be quelled by
threats. Thou canst not even keep me by thy side. I leave this place for
ever to-night, taking with me the men who, in their youth and strength,
love _me_, leaving thee the grey-beards and women and children. O! thou
fool, thou _fool_!”

She turned and ran swiftly across the hall as the Sheikh clapped his
hands; she stopped dead as two gigantic Abyssinian slaves suddenly
appeared in the doorway to inquire their master’s bidding.

“Let loose the greyhounds for the night!” curtly commanded the Sheikh.

The slaves pressed the pink palms of their dusky hands against their
foreheads and turned to go.

With a mighty effort Zarah played for her position as future ruler of the
two servants, and won.

“Bring me first my body-women—here—at once!”

The two slaves stood like graven images for an infinitesimal fraction of
a second, whilst she looked them full in the eyes, then they bowed to the
very ground before her and departed—to do her bidding.



CHAPTER III

    “_Suspicious, treacherous, remote from good works._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


Neither storms of tears nor threats of suicide having proved potent
enough to alter the Sheikh’s decision, Zarah, with as good a grace as she
could muster, had acknowledged a temporary defeat and resigned herself
to a visit of two years’ duration to the well-known school for young
European ladies over the age of fifteen in Cairo.

The school, exclusive, expensive, was looked upon more as a home from
home, where distracted mothers could deposit the offspring they had not
had the sense to leave behind in cooler climes; as an establishment where
angles could be rounded and manners polished rather than a seminary where
such dull things as grammar and arithmetic could be learned.

The Misses Cruikshanks had spent the hours they should have passed in the
_siesta_ in threshing out the question of introducing a pupil of mixed
parentage into the society of the pure-bred, if somewhat insipid, young
women entrusted to their charge.

“We have made it our strictest rule, Jane. Europeans _only_!”

“We have, Amelia, and Maria Oporto, the dull little Portuguese, is almost
as swarthy and dense as the new scullery-maid who is a mixture of Arab
and Abyssinian!” had countered Jane, who kept the books and knew to a
_piastre_ what the new wing, with the gymnasium, was going to cost.

“We may lose our entire connexion if we break it, Jane.”

“Not if we emphasize the title of her maternal grandfather. Remember,
he was a Spanish nobleman. Besides, look at the terms offered. No
interference from the father, who is evidently a person of great position
in Arabia, fees for two years which will come to as much, if not more,
than the fees for all the pupils put together for three years, and extra
for holidays if we will keep her with us.”

“Of course, we might make enough to buy a cottage in Cornwall and retire,
if we took the plunge, Jane.”

“We might, if you think we could exchange _this_ for east winds and grey
skies.”

They had both turned and looked out through the open window to the
intense blueness of the sky, the glare of the sun, and the green of the
palms tossing in the light breeze.

The school stood in the European quarter, within a stone’s throw of the
_Midan_ where the young ladies, whose parents could afford the extra
course in riding, exercised and worried their riding master’s patience
and their mounts to fiddle-strings before breakfast twice a week.

All the joyous or irritating noises, according to your mood, of a big
Egyptian city had come to the spinsters’ ears as they had sat, uncertain,
weighing the pros and cons of the problem.

“If we break the rule just this once—and after all she is half Spanish—we
might be able to go round the world before retiring,” had tempted Jane,
who hadn’t the slightest intention of giving up work until she dropped
dead between the shafts of enterprise.

“And I dare say she will be a dear, gentle, little soul, with big brown
eyes and pretty ways,” had replied Amelia, surrendering unconditionally.

The “gentle little soul” swept down upon Jane and Amelia Cruikshanks like
a tornado, leaving a trail of wreckage in her path.

She duly arrived at midday, on camelback, alone, surrounded by an
armed escort, with half a dozen snarling dromedaries, laden with gifts,
bringing up the rear.

A shouting, delighted crowd from the streets surged into the school
grounds in the wake of the dromedaries, trampling down the sparse flowers
and the cherished grass; the girls refused to move from the windows in
response to the bell for tiffin, and screamed with delight when the
boot-boy inadvertently opened the door of a cage containing six black and
white monkeys and allowed them to escape into the house.

Having sworn some unprintable oaths and lain her whip smartly across the
shoulders of the camel driver who had not shown himself over-deft in
getting her camel’s legs tucked under, Zarah swept regally into the cool
hall. She made a startling picture in blazing magenta satin embroidered
in gold, as she greeted the Misses Cruikshanks. They quaked visibly
at the knee—at least Amelia did—whilst the armed escort, in concert
with the school servants, packed the hall with bales of silk, boxes of
sweetmeats, cages of birds, trays of jewels, and exquisite pots in brass
and earthenware. Amelia trotted forward in greeting, and nearly swooned
under the overpowering scent which emanated from the new pupil’s raiment,
whilst Jane eyed her from veiled head to dainty sandal and, being an
infallible judge of character by dint of sheer practice, set her mouth.
Her heart, heavy through the school-books which had shown a distinct
deficit, had been considerably lightened when the Sheikh had paid her in
advance half the fees due for the taming of his child; and she had not
the slightest intention of refunding that thrice-blessed sum, even if she
had to emulate Job for a period of two years, whilst breaking in the girl
committed to her care.

“I’m here and I’m hungry!” said Zarah, in French, in response to Miss
Amelia’s greeting, who thereupon withdrew her hand with a hurt look in
her gentle, blue eyes.

“Are you?” decisively replied Jane, who adored the sister she ruled.
“Then you’d better come and join the other girls at tiffin after you’ve
washed your hands.”

Zarah walked slowly across to the insignificant looking little woman,
with the snap in the blue eyes and the kink in the reddish hair, and
smiled.

“Behold! we are sisters in command. I rule men, you women. It will, I
think, O Sister, rest with you if I stay or no!”

“You’re staying!” flatly replied Jane Cruikshanks. “Come and wash your
hands.”

“I wash them after food.”

“You wash them before, here. Come!”

Half a moment’s hesitation and Zarah turned to follow the one person who
was ultimately to win her respect, if not her affection.

“I will first command my men to depart.”

The girls hung out of every window, the servants peeked round the corners
of the house, a still greater crowd collected to watch beautiful,
disdainful Zarah when she appeared at the door and raised her right hand
as a sign of dismissal to the armed escort.

A firework display could hardly have been more entrancing to the native
onlookers than the escort’s departure.

With a shout the men flung themselves into their saddles, pulled their
horses until they reared, fired a salvo of farewell, and tore through
the gates like a cyclone, homeward bound; upon which Miss Amelia, who
believed in doing her duty against the most appalling odds, trotted out
to fetch the girl in.

“My dear!” she said sweetly, “I’m afraid the rice will be somewhat
heavy if you delay much longer, oh! and look, they have forgotten the
dromedaries!”

“They are a gift from the Sheikh, my father,” replied Zarah, as she bent
low before the astounded little school mistress. “To the honoured head
of the house in which his daughter is to dwell!”

“Quite so, my dear, quite so. I’m delighted with the pets. Come with me!”
replied Miss Amelia, who could always be depended upon to rise to any
occasion, and who secretly returned thanks that the great Sheikh had not
seen fit to send six oxen as well.

The heads of the house withdrew, after the usual introduction of the new
pupil to the older ones had taken place and a little speech of welcome
been made by Helen Raynor, the head of the school. She was the girls’
ideal, before whose shrine they offered the incense of their girlish
hero-worship, and was leaving next day to act as secretary to her
grandfather who, an expert in the sinking of wells, was known all the
world over as Egypt’s Water Finder.

Zarah, accustomed to cushions on the floor, sat down uncomfortably on a
chair at the end of the table and finally drew her feet up under her, to
the delight of the girls who surreptitiously nudged each other until they
met the reproachful eyes of Helen Raynor, their best-beloved and model in
all things.

They gasped when Zarah, whose thoughts were anywhere but on the doings of
the moment, took a handful of rice from the bowl passed down the line,
and stuffed a fair quantity between her teeth with her jewelled, hennaed
fingers, which she proceeded to wipe forthwith on the table-cloth; but
when she made use of her beautiful teeth to tear the meat from the
drumstick of the emaciated fowl which followed the rice, then Maria
Oporto, whose own methods of mastication were unduly audible and left
much to be desired, burst into a peal of uncontrollable laughter.

The laughter did not last long, for the simple reason that, with unerring
aim and almost as though she handled a loaded stick, Zarah flung the
chicken bone full in Maria Oporto’s swarthy face, hitting her straight
across the mouth; whereupon, taking no notice of Helen Raynor, as lovely
in her golden hair and blue eyes and exquisite skin as was Zarah in her
dusky beauty, when she rose to quell the tumult which broke out at the
table, Maria Oporto, in floods of tears, subsided on the floor.

“Girls!” Helen cried above the uproar that ensued, “do remember what is
expected of us towards a new boarder, and play up for the courtesy of the
house; at present, you are being simply vulgar.” There fell a complete
silence. “It’s ten to one if any of us were lunching with the friends of
our new companion that they would find our habits unusual, not to say
strange.”

She smiled across at Zarah, who sat sullenly, without a smile, victim
of a sudden, violent jealousy of the other girl’s charm and beauty and
breeding.

Yet might all have gone well if Maria Oporto had not lifted her swarthy
face, stained with a mixture of gravy and tears, above the edge of the
table.

“Yes!” she shrilled at Zarah in execrable Spanish, “and it’s a pity Helen
Raynor’s going away to-morrow or you might have learned how to behave
from her. She’s wonderful, and beautiful, and the dearest darling in the
whole world, but you will never, never, _never_ be anything like her, you
couldn’t, you’re a savage, that’s what you are, a _savage_!”

Followed a strangely dramatic scene.

Zarah, daughter of the desert, gifted with the Eastern’s prophetic
powers, rose slowly to her feet, gripping the back of her chair with one
hand as she pointed at the English girl with the other.

“I do not know who you are, English girl,” she said in French, “nor
whence you came or where you go, but our paths have crossed at the place
appointed by Fate, and they will cross and recross, and you will hold
what I desire, and I will wrest it from you.” Her great eyes, the colour
of the desert sand, opened wide as she leant forward in the shuttered
room, staring far beyond Helen Raynor and far beyond the room and the
garden wall outside, into the future. She spoke quietly, as though to
herself, and the girls and Jane Cruikshanks, who stood unnoticed in the
doorway, shivered slightly as they listened. “I know not what I have to
learn from you unless it is pain, English girl; I know not what it is
that you hold and I desire, for behold! I see myself upon the topmost
peak of a high mountain and you as dust beneath my feet. And I see steps,
and coming up the steps one who turns his face from me to you so that I
see naught but a scar upon his forehead. I can see no more. I—I——”

She backed from the table and stood against the wall, unconsciously
dramatic under the power of the gift of prophecy, which had come to her
with her father’s blood, then turned and left the room.

Jane Cruikshanks, who had never been known to miss an opportunity,
immediately stepped forward and poured the cold water of common sense
and reasoning upon the conflagration of immature romance which flared
in the twenty young hearts around the dining-room table: explained and
suggested things, until the girls declared themselves as only too willing
to co-operate in the task of civilizing the new arrival.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_Sometimes love has been planted by one glance alone._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.

It proved no easy matter.

Stifled in the narrow confines of the best bedroom, Zarah smashed the
windows on the first night and plumped her mattress on the verandah, and,
waking at dawn, as was her custom in her mountain home, sprang at the
gardener, who gazed enraptured upon the sleeping beauty, causing him to
fall backwards down the steps and twist an ankle; upon which disaster,
and in an effort to stop his vociferous lamentations, she dashed into
her bedroom, and, through the broken window, flung a bag of gold at him,
which, catching him in the chest, caused him to forget the hurt to his
ankle and to fall upon his knees with his face turned towards Mecca in
thanksgiving for the unexpected stroke of good fortune.

Undisciplined, uncontrolled, miserable through want of occupation and
interest in those about her, she simply refused to work or to obey in any
way, until silver streaks appeared in Amelia Cruikshanks’ mousey, scanty
hair.

The first day after her arrival she flung her entire silken wardrobe on
the ground and her magnificent jewellery on the top, and stamped on it
all when the maid came to tidy the litter, then cursed the terrified
menial until she fled the room and rushed to the distracted maiden
sisters to give notice.

When Amelia Cruikshanks, greatly fearing, approached the new pupil with
a cotton skirt and blouse and necessary under-garments, and gently
intimated that they would become her better than the heavily embroidered
silks and satins and jewellery she wore, she tore the offending articles
to ribbons and wound herself from neck to heel in something scarlet and
of a great daring. She boxed the servants’ ears with one hand and loaded
them with gifts with the other, until their time was fully occupied in
running to give notice and running back to retract it. She smoked in bed
and all over the house, and trailed into class heavily scented, laden
with jewels, beautiful, arrogant, scornful, to sit cross-legged upon the
floor watching the girls from under her heavily fringed lids. The third
day after her arrival she lounged into the room where Signor Enrico was
essaying to find a golden thread among a British damsel’s throaty vocal
chords, and, seizing a guitar from the wall, sang a passionate Arabian
love song in her glorious contralto until the whole house crept to the
door to listen and the professor tore his hair in rapture.

She sat up o’ nights for the best part of the first week brooding upon
the incident of the chicken bone and the insult with which Maria Oporto’s
derisive words had scorched her memory. So deeply did she resent the
incident, for so long did she brood, that she ended by hating the very
memory of Helen Raynor and her beauty and her influence over the house.

It is not wise to jest with the Arab, but it is absolutely fatal to hold
him up to ridicule. He will revenge the pleasantry at his expense sooner
or later, even if he has to wait for years or even a lifetime; even if he
has to leave this world with the task unaccomplished, handing it down as
a heritage to his children.

“_Savage!_” she said, as she watched the sunset on the first night of her
arrival. “_Savage!_ I will make that toad-faced daughter of a cross-eyed
she-camel eat her words mixed with bitterness before we part. I will make
them, all of them, the pale-faced daughters, the plank-bodied elders, the
miserable servants, acknowledge _me_ as queen in this barren dwelling
before my two years of prison are spent. I will make them forget the
English girl as though she had never been, and when I meet her again,
the haughty, contemptuous, Helen Raynor-r-r, for it is written that we
shall meet, I will make her wish that death had smitten her before the
crossing of our paths. By ——” She swore a mighty oath as the sun slipped
behind the far horizon; she repeated it at every sunset, and she kept it,
spurred to its fulfillment by Jane Cruikshanks, who tumbled to the one
way of making the girl walk upon the road which stretched in the contrary
direction to that primrose path of dalliance upon which she desired to
travel.

“Wait, my dear Amelia!” Jane said at the end of the first two tempestuous
months as she brushed her crisp hair, whilst Amelia voiced the
desirability of returning the girl to her father. “She is learning
slowly, but she is learning; I can see a difference already, although she
_is_ too proud to confess to room for improvement. When we find something
to _really_ interest her, _then_ we shall be secure. I told her she
was not quick enough to learn English. What is the result? She already
speaks a few words. I tell her she is too clumsily built to wear European
clothes. What do we see, or, rather, what do we not see? She wears a
riding corset, many sizes too big for her it is true, but she wears it,
also shoes with heels as high as the Great Pyramid. I repeat, we have but
to find something that will really interest her and she will not want to
leave us.”

The riding lessons proved the cure for the homesickness which overwhelmed
the Sheikh’s daughter.

She went out one morning to watch the riding-master put six of the girls,
and the hacks they rode more or less intelligently, through their paces,
and stayed to make rings round the man and to terrify the girls by the
marvellous stunts she performed on the master’s horse. She sent a courier
for her own stallion, a pure white, pure bred Nejdee, to receive instead
six mares which she presented to the Misses Cruikshanks as a gift from
her father, with the intimation that he made himself responsible for
their upkeep and stable fees.

She established a class of her own for special riding lessons, to which
she invited a chosen few; she secretly trained the least gentle of the
mares to buck and rear at the word “Oporto”; she lured Maria Oporto on
to the beast’s back and put the girl through half an hour which nearly
proved her end.

“It’s a pity you can’t stick on!” she cried scornfully when the
Portuguese fell at her feet in a sitting position and with a most
resounding thud. “You might learn to ride if you did. The mare’s
wonderful and beautiful and the dearest darling in the world, but you’ll
never, never, _never_ ride, you couldn’t, you’re a sack of potatoes,
that’s what you are, a sack of potatoes.”

The first shoot of the poisonous weed of revenge rooted in her heart.

Little by little she changed outwardly, until Amelia and Jane Cruikshanks
came to look upon her as one of their best pupils, plus a millionaire in
the way of a father.

“How beautifully she sits, and walks, and behaves at table,” said Amelia
to Jane as they watched Zarah in the grounds one morning in the middle of
her last term. “What a credit to us when she goes with the elder girls to
a theatre or a dance. How attractive to the opposite sex——”

“And yet, how dignified, almost scornful!”

“How beautiful in her European clothes, and how sweetly obedient in
wearing them and in only smoking three times a day, and then in the
seclusion of her bedroom.”

“Yes! But I am glad we allowed her to wear her native dress every morning
when she rides by herself on the Midan before anyone is about. One cannot
be too severe with an opening little heart like hers.”

“We shall be simply lost without her—how quick she is in her studies—how
generous——”

“Yes, indeed. Did you know that she found little Cissie Jenkins in tears
this morning and gave her a silver bracelet and a big box of Turkish
delight to comfort her?”

She hadn’t.

She had struck the child for no cause whatever, in a sudden flash
of the cruelty which had earned her her nickname, even amongst her
father’s savage followers, and which deep down, lay dormant, fierce and
terrible, under the veneer of breeding with which the deluded little
school-mistresses had plastered her. She had bribed the child to silence
with gifts, whilst longing to strike the podgy little face again; she
craved for the end of the term when she could tear the stifling European
clothes from her, eat with her fingers, sit cross-legged, and smoke all
day long if she so pleased.

One thing she had learned in her sojourn amongst the whites, which,
for a time, was to enable her to establish herself as a very ruler of
uncivilized men.

She had learnt the rudiments of self-control.

Where she had leapt blindly under the lash of her ungovernable temper,
she now waited, giving her crafty brain time to work; where she had once
stormed and raved, she now shrugged her shoulders and smiled with a “I
will give you my answer later. I must have time to think.”

Admired for her beauty, envied for her brilliance, liked for the
seemingly generous way in which she flung money to beggars and gifts to
all and sundry, yet she had failed to take Helen Raynor’s place in the
hearts of those who had known her, so that she cherished an incredible
hatred for the girl who had done her no harm whatever.

She stood on the verandah this morning, an hour before breakfast, waiting
for her _syce_ to bring her mare, staring across the grounds towards
the Midan where guests of the Hotel Savoy also waited for their horses;
stared without seeing them or Fate crouching under the cactus hedge which
separated the school grounds from the Midan.

She was almost at the zenith of her beauty, which, in the East, buds,
blossoms, and fades almost in the passing of an hour; she was infinitely
good to look upon, as thought the gardener who had gazed upon her the
first night of her arrival, as he peered in admiration at her from behind
a clump of shrubs this day—her last in the school if she had but known it.

She wore satin trousers so voluminous that they hung like a skirt when
she did not move; a full short-sleeved chiffon vest under a black velvet
bolero, sandals on her feet, a scarlet belt about her slim waist and an
orange-coloured flower in her rebellious curls.

As she stood waiting, she idly compared the men who had come as suitors
for her hand to her mountain home just over two years ago, with the
European men she had met in her short excursions into the world under the
wing of a schoolmate’s mother, stationed in Cairo.

She smiled and shrugged her shoulders and reached for a pomegranate into
which, knowing herself to be alone, she drove her teeth in none too
dainty a manner.

“Love,” she said, as she laughed. “What have I, who will one day rule, to
do with men? If love is to come to me, to me it will come. ‘Thy beloved
is the object that thou lovest, were it even a monkey.’” She laughed
again as she quoted the Arabian proverb. “_Kismet!_ let love come to me,
I will even conquer love!”

She spread her fingers against the Arab’s belief in the ill-luck of even
numbers as a clock struck six, and ran to the top of the steps at the
sound of shouting from the Midan.

Shouting and a scream and the thunder of a horse’s hoofs. She clapped
her hands in delight at the sound, knowing that a horse, with the bit
between its teeth, was heading straight for the cactus hedge and trouble;
thrilled from head to foot, and ran down the steps towards the spot
where, her desert-trained ear told her, the horse was making for; raised
herself on tiptoe and laughed aloud at the sight of the terrified,
riderless beast racing towards her.

“Blind and mad with fear,” she thought as she stood waiting.

Terror is just the one thing that will take a horse over a cactus hedge
with its dagger points as strong as steel; on ordinary occasions you may
use your spurs or your whip or try coaxing or deception, only to find
that your horse will rear or plunge or roll or stand stock still, shaking
with fear, rather than approach within yards of the deadly barrier.

Terrified by a newspaper which had been blown into its face by the
breeze, Bustard, thoroughbred stallion and Ralph Trenchard’s favorite
mount, had broken from his _syce_ and made for the open, heedless of the
prickly fence which stretched between the white thing that had jumped
from the ground and struck him across the eyes, and liberty.

Tucking his hindquarters well under, he cleared the hedge with a inch
to spare and landed magnificently by the side of the girl who, judging
to a nicety the infinitesimal pause which follows a landing, caught the
flowing mane and was into the saddle before the great beast had realized
that a human was anywhere near. Shouts of “_Wah-wah!_” and “By gad! well
done!” came from the Midan where the riders rode up to the hedge to see
what was happening, whilst those girls who were advanced enough in their
toilet tore from the school-house to witness this fresh escapade of the
Sheikh’s daughter.

Recognizing the stallion as a Nejdee, which, being translated, means
perfection in horseflesh, Zarah did not attempt to use the reins; she
rode with her knees, talking soothingly, calling the beautiful beast
by soft names in the language of his own country until, bit by bit, he
slackened from the runaway gallop to a canter, a canter to a trot, then
stopped dead a few yards away from the school gates.

Zarah looked over her shoulder and thrilled again; this time with a great
desire to show her power over horses to the onlookers, but especially to
her schoolmates, who seemed to think that life consisted of wearing the
right clothes and eating from the end of a fork.

She turned Bustard and took him at a canter to the place in the hedge
where the cactus was well hidden under a mass of creeper; she smiled
when, scenting mischief, he danced sideways and shook his handsome head,
and took him back over and over again, talking to him until at last he
stood quite still and tried to nibble the nearest leaf. By the same
token, if she had been by herself and wearing her golden spurs, she
would have raked the satiny sides with the needle points until she had
forced him over through sheer agony. Instead, aware of spectators, she
took him back to the far side of the grounds, turned him, called to him,
rode him at a thundering gallop at the hedge and lifted him magnificently
over, failing to notice what looked like an overhanging branch, but was
really a finger of Fate, which swept her out of the saddle and senseless
into Ralph Trenchard’s arms.

She opened her eyes and looked into the handsome face as he carried her
across the grounds. “You,” she said, raising her hand to touch a scar
upon his forehead, then smiled at the stirring of love in her heart. “I
knew you would come, for so it is written,” she whispered, and relapsed
into unconsciousness just as Jane Cruikshanks ran from the house,
followed by a stately Bedouin, who had been sent by the dying Sheikh to
fetch his daughter home.



CHAPTER IV

    “_Him who goodness will not mend, evil will not mend._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


Zarah stood at the point of the great V which cleft the outer ring of the
mountains, and from which started the path leading down to the plateau.

That the dying Sheikh’s daughter was expected there was no doubt, as
showed the bonfires upon the mountain’s highest peaks, streaking the
purple, starlit sky with orange flames; yet, save for the Arab who stood
patiently near the spear which marked the beginning of the hidden path,
with the camels which had brought them safely and at full speed across
the desert and the quicksands, there was neither sign of life nor shout
of greeting nor firing of rifles in salutation.

She looked back across the limitless, billowing desert, showing under
the stars like a great ocean of endless, unbroken waves frozen into
immobility as they surged from north to south, by some magician’s hand.
She laughed softly at the thought of the civilization she had dropped,
as one drops an outworn cloak from about the shoulders, and had left for
ever upon the outskirts of the great desert of which she was the child.
She looked ahead into the future and down the narrow path dividing her
from the dying man, over whose kingdom in the heart of the mountains she
would so shortly rule.

Giving no thought to her father in her utter selfishness, she laughed
aloud in sheer delight at the picture conjured up by her ambition,
laughed until the sweet, soft notes were flung against the rocks by the
hot wind from the south and carried through the cleft down to the open
space where they were thrown in echo, from this side to that side over
the sparkling waters until they broke and were lost in the baying of the
great dogs which, eyes red with hate and ruffs upstanding, fought to get
out of the kennels so as to reach the woman they hated.

She shivered at the sound, although the hot wind from the south enfolded
her like a blanket, and, suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to see some
living creature in the place of death and shadows, took a quick step
forward, then shrank behind a rock.

Upon a ledge, high up on the mountainside, to which it seemed that only a
goat could possibly have climbed, sat blind Yussuf, singing to himself:
“‘The corn passeth from hand to hand, but it cometh at last to the mill.’”

He sang the words of the proverb as he sat staring down at Zarah the
Cruel as though he had eyes in the scarred face with which to see her.

“It cometh at last to the mill! It cometh at last to the mill!”

He repeated the words over and over again whilst the rosary of Mecca
slipped between his sensitive fingers, and the girl, steeped in the
superstition of her race, spread hers in the gesture to ward off
misfortune and touched an amulet of good luck which hung about her neck.

Did he know she was there? Had he come, ironically, to welcome her and
to bid her hasten to her father’s side, as had bidden the man who had
awaited her at Hutah with swiftest camels? Or had he, dire figure of ill
omen, been set upon her path by Fate this night, when the scorching wind
blew from the south heralding the storm? There was no time to ponder the
question; there was only just time enough in which to register a vow to
lay some cunning trap into which the blind man should set his feet and
find his death as though by dire mischance. No! there was no time, for
she suddenly fathomed the meaning of the intense silence and stillness,
and, gathering her draperies about her, slipped as noiselessly as some
tiger cat under the ledge upon which the blind man sat, and down the
steep path.

She did not look up, she did not look back, else might she have seen the
face of Yussuf the blind turned in her direction, with the scarred mouth
twisted in a smile. She sped as quickly as the path would allow her,
spurred by the thought of the men who, gathered round their dying chief,
only waited for the failing heart to cease beating to acclaim one of
themselves as his successor in her place.

She knew full well the man who would be chosen if she failed to reach her
father in time. Even Al-Asad, half-caste, bloodthirsty, ambitious, as
physically powerful as the lion after which he had been named, outcast
from the Benoo-Harb tribe, but more through the fact that his father
had been a Nubian slave than for the crimes he had committed in the
light-heartedness of youth.

As she ran she conjured up a picture of the man who had taken blind
Yussuf’s place at her father’s right hand and who had dared to look at
her with something more than the respect due to the Sheikh’s daughter in
his handsome eyes.

There was no sign of any man as she fled across the plateau, neither—the
hour for sleep having come for the women and children—was there sound of
life, but a great light shone through the barred windows of the Hall of
Judgment far up on the mountainside. She raced up the steps and stood,
breathless, in the doorway, unseen by the men gathered about the man
whom they loved and who lay dying of the wounds received in the last
great fight with the Bedouins, who had fallen upon the brigands as they
peacefully returned, with much spoil, from raiding a caravan journeying
towards Oman.

Knowing the effect of mystery upon her race, she wrapped herself in her
great white cloak, pulled the veils about her face and a yashmak beneath
her eyes, which flashed with no soft light. She cursed beneath her breath
when the men rose and spoke together, looking towards Al-Asad, who
stared down at the Sheikh lying so quietly at his feet.

She had arrived too late; her father had died without blessing her and
proclaiming her his successor.

She cared nothing about the blessing, but she knew that without the
proclamation she stood no earthly chance against the claim Al-Asad would
enforce through sheer brute force.

Superstition helped her in her need.

She believed that the soul lingered in the body for three days after the
heart had ceased to beat, and she acted unhesitatingly, fearlessly, upon
the belief.

She bent and picked up a lance lying upon the ground, and raised it above
her head just as, without seeing her in the shadows, the men moved in a
body towards Al-Asad.

She pitted her indomitable will against the mighty power of death, she
flung it across the space which divided her from her father, and, for a
fraction of time, pulled him back to the world he had loved exceeding
well.

“Hail! father!” she shouted.

“Hail! father!” she shouted again as the men turned swiftly in her
direction, then moved hastily backwards when the right hand of the man
whom they supposed dead, moved.

Motionless from fear, they stared at, without recognizing, Zarah as she
stood, tall and straight, in the shadows, wrapped in white from head to
foot, her eyes half closed under the supreme effort she was making, her
right hand raised, holding a spear ready for throwing.

She bent a little forward as she made one last bid for power, and at the
sonorousness of her voice, which sounded like the calling of the evil one
in the mountains, the men touched the amulets around their necks.

“Hail! father!” she shouted once again, until her words seemed to beat
like wings against the walls, which had been built by holy hands. “Speak,
father, ere thou passeth on. Speak! Speak! Speak!”

Al-Asad, the lion-hearted, backed against the wall as the Sheikh, his
feet upon the edge of the world to come, slowly turned his head towards
his daughter; the others flung the end of their cloaks across their eyes,
touching their amulets. The girl stood quite still, her face dead white,
her nostrils pinched, her breath whistling between her closed teeth.

“Farewell, daughter. Rule wisely in my stead. Take only from those who
have more than is necessary for life. Lift up the fallen, help the needy,
spare not in charity towards my brother Yussuf, with whose safekeeping I
charge thee lest evil befall thee. Throw thou the spear ere I close my
eyes, as a sign that thou steppest into my shoes, O my daughter.”

The Sheikh’s words rang clear as a bell but as though from a long
distance; his eyes did not waver as the spear, thrown with unerring aim,
flashed across the room; he whispered “Mercedes,” and closed them for
ever as it buried itself in the cushions at his feet.

Zarah the Cruel had triumphed for a moment over death, but she had
caught the look of dismay on Al-Asad’s face and the stealthy movement of
the men’s hands towards their cummerbunds. Without hesitating, with no
intention of allowing a second to elapse before driving her victory home,
she passed slowly up the room towards the dais, unarmed, fearless in the
strength of her tremendous personality.

She took no notice of the men as, wrapped in her cloak and veils, she
slowly ascended the steps of the dais and knelt to kiss her father; she
looked down upon him for a moment, then taking a massive gold ring from
the first finger of his right hand, slipped it on her own, and rose to
her feet.

“’Tis she,” whispered Bowlegs. “’Tis Zarah the Cruel!”

“Nay, brother, it cannot be; she was a child bordering upon womanhood.
This is a woman grown, who is as the gazelle in her walk and as the
jasmine in her perfume. Maybe ’tis the spirit of her mother, who has come
to meet her lord, or perchance——”

They stopped speaking, and took a step nearer the centre of the dais as
Zarah played her trump card.

She dropped the veils from her head, the yashmak from before her face,
and the cloak from her shoulders, standing revealed in the garments she
had donned at Hutah in the oasis of Hareek.

She was ravenous from hunger and almost dead with fatigue, but she
stood without a tremor, glittering from head to foot in the jewels
which embroidered the voluminous orange-satin trousers, the golden,
travel-stained sandals, and the bolero, which allowed the satin skin to
show at the waist. Her face was white, her crimson mouth parted in a
slight smile; her yellow eyes passed slowly from one face to the other
and on to the next of those fierce, unscrupulous men, who watched her for
a while and then, with all the inconstancy of the Arab, reverted, with
the exception of Al-Asad, to their former allegiance as they succumbed to
the call of her beauty.

A sudden, tremendous shout of reception and of welcome went up:

“_Ahlan wasahlan! Ahlan wasahlan!_”

They shouted the words over and over again, until the women and children
wakened on the far side of the mountains and the birds, which inhabited
the secluded spot, rose twittering and screaming in clouds, to be whirled
this way and that way by the wind from the south, which seemed, in its
suffocating heat, to have swept across the open mouth of hell.

Slowly Zarah the beautiful, the relentless, raised her right hand, upon
which shone her father’s ring, above her head to quell the tumult, and,
as a great silence fell, stretched it out to the men, who, with the
exception of Al-Asad, rushed forward and, kneeling, touched her sandalled
foot, acknowledging her as chief.

She had won.

There was no tenderness, no love, in her eyes as she looked down upon
them, neither was there softness in her heart as she looked into the
future. She would rule the men with an iron hand and drive them with a
whip of steel, favouring those who did her bidding, treading beneath her
heel those who rebelled until she ground them in the dust. She would be
their _hadeeyah_, the woman to lead them into battle, even as had led
Ayesha, the wife of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, the one and only God;
she would make the mountain home a corner of paradise and her dwelling a
place of gold and precious stones, as a frame to her beauty.

“I stand in my father’s place, O men!” she cried. “I have taken the
reigns of government from the Sheikh’s fingers, which are locked in those
of death. Obey me and I will raise you to heights you—nay, not one of
you—have dreamed of; rebel, and I will set your bodies upon the highest
peak as food for vultures. I will go forth with you, lead you—nay, give
ear until I have come to the end of my words, for I will not speak again.
Yea! I will lead you forth and bring you back with gold and cattle and
fair women, until the fame of these rocks is spread from the north to the
south and from the east to the west. I will have none but the beautiful,
none but the brave, about me to do my bidding. I——”

She stopped short at a sound from the far end of the hall and raised her
head. Yussuf, blind, scarred, terrible to behold, stared back at her from
the shadows of the door, challenging her proud statement with his empty
orbits, repudiating her words without a sound or movement.

“ ... save for Yussuf the Blind,” she concluded slowly, as she raged
inwardly at the man’s temerity, “whom I must needs take to my heart in
obedience to my father’s dying wish.”

She gave no outward sign of the rage which swept her as she finished
speaking, but she looked round for someone upon whom to vent her wrath
and found him in Al-Asad, who leant against the wall, watching her from
out the corner of his eyes.

“Thou!” she said, her voice cutting across the silence like a whip.
“Whyfore standest thou when others kneel?”

“The lion does not flee before the gazelle!” replied Al-Asad, who had
loved her from the first moment he had seen her.

Zarah made a little motion of her hand which brought the men to their
feet, then beckoned Al-Asad, who walked slowly towards her and into the
trap she had set for him. She had more than one weapon in her armoury and
more than one form of punishment in her mind.

That the man loved her, in his savage way, she had always known; that
he had worked to succeed the dead Sheikh and thereby to force her
into becoming his own woman if she wished to rule, she had guessed
intuitively, and in a second of time had thought out a plan in which,
through his humiliation, she could revenge herself for the insult.

She was well above medium height, but seemed small beside Al-Asad as he
towered above her, mighty arms folded across his breast, looking down
upon her beauty.

He was a magnificent animal, with all an animal’s instincts and a dog’s
fidelity, but she feared him not a bit. She looked up at the handsome
face with the almost negroid lips and into the flashing eyes and down
into the heart, as childish as it was vain, and smiled and raised her
hand when he made a quick step forward.

“I am footsore,” she said softly. “I have cut my sandals upon the rocky
path.”

She may have heard the sharp intake of breath, but she took no notice
when the men turned, the one to the other, as Al-Asad knelt. His fingers
trembled in the tumult of his love for the beautiful woman as he
unfastened the knotted ribbons of her sandals, his heart leapt as he
bent and kissed the little foot, leaving his manhood in the dust beneath
it. He sprang to his feet, holding the golden sandal against his breast,
shrinking back against the wall at the men’s laughter, in which the woman
he loved joined.

“Neither does the gazelle fear the dead lion,” she mocked as he fled from
the hall out into the night and up to his dwelling upon the mountainside,
where he flung himself full length upon the ground with the golden sandal
against his lips.

“I love thee, love thee, love thee!” he whispered, “and will serve thee
to my last hour and with all my strength. If I cannot be thy king, thy
master, I will be thy slave. One day perchance, thou too wilt waken to
love and learn what suffering means.”

If he had but known, love had come to her, love for the white man,
causing her to suffer through the chafe of the chains which bound her.

Zarah watched the great figure as he fled past blind Yussuf and through
the doorway out into the night, then smiled, and stooping, lifted her
cloak and spread it across the dead Sheikh.

“I will sleep in the bed of my fathers,” she said curtly. “Bring me meat
and wine to my bedchamber. To-morrow I will commit my dead father to the
sands and will then make choice, amongst the slaves, for those who will
attend me both night and day. Obey me, and it will be well with all of
you; resist me, and your lives will be even darker than this night of
storm.”

The men, so long held upon the leash by the dead Sheikh, so long baffled
in their fierce desires, shouted their praises as they made a way for
her. She passed them without looking at them, glittering with jewels,
superb in her strength.

She climbed the steps leading to the dwelling wherein her father had
slept, and up to the roof, and, leaning on the balustrade, raised her
face to the sky which showed sullen and starless.

Great sandstorms do not sweep the deserts of Arabia bringing devastation
in their path, but the hot wind from the south will lift the topmost
layer of sand hundreds of feet into the air, where it hangs like a pall
across the heavens, causing men to hide their faces and cattle to flee
for shelter from the terrific heat which descends from it, scorching the
earth.

She walked to the corner of the roof from which, through the cleft in
the rocks, the red sands of the desert could be seen stretching in great
waves away to the south. She stared down and drew her hands across her
eyes, and stared again; drew back with a half-uttered cry of fear, then
moved forward, leaning far over the coping, looking down.

At the very edge of the quicksands and as far out across the great
waste as eye could see, white shapes danced, and whirled, and bowed,
retreating, advancing, whirling hand in hand, flinging their white
raiment up to the sky, which hung, like a dun-coloured ceiling, low down
above their caperings.

The scorching, sand-laden wind blew against her lips and through her hair
and seemed to press like a great bar of red-hot iron against the satin
skin which showed beneath her bodice, and yet she stood looking down,
watching the light flicker this way and that way over the quicksands, and
the ghostly forms running up in pairs, in ones, in twos, in files up and
down and over the sand-waves until they melted into the far distance.

She had heard the tale of the half-starved, half-witted, degenerate
races which are supposed to inhabit the mysterious, unexplored depths
of the great desert; living like lizards, worshipping the elements,
inter-marrying until brain and body are sapped of strength, and for the
first time she felt grateful for the ring of quaking sand which kept her
safe from robbers, beasts, and such foul creatures as those which danced
so merrily under the lowering sky.

She loved beauty, she loved strength, and watched with a shudder until
the last white figure, leaping and bounding, had followed its fellows
back to the unexplored regions of the desert, then knelt and bowed her
beautiful head almost to the ground.

But she knelt before the scorching flames of the love which had sprung up
in her heart for Ralph Trenchard as she had lain in his arms. Not for a
day, nor for an hour of a day, had he been out of her thoughts since the
morning of the accident. She lay awake at night thinking of the handsome
face bent down to hers; she thrilled at the thought of his arms about
her; she had thought of him unceasingly as she raced death to reach her
father; she had sworn by the beard of the Prophet, which being a soulless
woman she had no right to do, to bring him some day to her mountain home
and for ever to her feet.

She stretched out her arms and called him by name, scorched by the
hot wind which had twisted the sand into dancing shapes, sending them
capering and leaping this way and that way, in the cross-eddies from the
east, a ghostly phenomenon seen once in a lifetime, if that.

She ran to the side and looked out across the desert, which lay silent,
foreboding, empty, and shivered under a sudden premonition of evil.

“Where are you?” she cried, beating her hands upon the burning stones.
“Where are you? I love you, love you, love you, and I am calling you.”

There was no answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

At that very moment Ralph Trenchard rode into the holiday camp pitched by
Helen Raynor and her grandfather—Egypt’s Water Finder. They had pitched
it some fifty miles west of Ismailiah whilst they waited to start upon
an expedition into Arabia, which had for its object the discovery of
water hidden in the heart of a range of mountains, as described upon
vellum inscribed by the Holy Palladius.



CHAPTER V

    “_A rose issues from thorns._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


The desert looked like an immense mosque with vast purple dome inlaid
with silvery stars, spread with a carpet of many colours—grey, amethyst,
saffron, fawn—stretching to Eternity for the feet of worshippers
to tread. It held the peace of great spaces and the prayer of the
everlasting, and changed, in the twinkling of the stars, to the likeness
of a fairy meadow, in which flowers of every shape nodded and curtsied
and bowed to each other, as far as eye could see; flowers formed by the
light breeze which twisted and turned the sand into little spirals, until
the desert seemed covered with dancing, silvery poppies across which love
came as silently, as unexpectedly as it comes in country lanes or the
city’s crowded thoroughfares.

Helen Raynor looked over her shoulder towards the camp, pitched under the
isolated palms which formed the so-called oasis, and smiled at the sound
of her “boy’s” voice raised in what he termed a love song, but which had
all the monotonous ring of a long-drawn-out litany of personal woes.

She sat on a hummock of sand, dazzlingly fair in the starlight, with a
smile of content on her broad, humorous mouth, and the expectancy of
youth in her great, blue eyes, whilst the golden sand trickled between
her fingers as she counted the seconds of the hour in which love and
adventure were to come to her.

She thought lazily of the hot-weather months just passed, spent quite
happily in the big, old palace in Ismailiah bought by her grandfather
who, in his wanderings in the desert, had acquired some of the
attributes of the salamander and an unconscious thoughtlessness towards
the well-being of his neighbour.

Unattracted by the little she knew of the world, she had been intensely
grateful at the unconventional turn life had taken three years ago,
inaugurating a new mode of existence with vista of unknown lands and
good promise of great adventure. She had proved herself of the greatest
assistance to her irascible grandfather. There was no doubt about it,
that, although he seldom bit, he certainly barked furiously, or rather,
yapped without ceasing, driving others almost frantic through the
methodical working of a mind which teased the most infinitesimal detail
to shreds, wore him to fiddle-strings, led him from success to success
and caused his secretaries one after the other to fold their tents and to
steal away to less nerve-wracking fields of labour.

Since leaving school, Helen had firmly established herself as his
secretary and had accompanied him wherever he had been sent by the
Irrigation Department. She had made herself responsible for his creature
comforts, which almost amounted to nil, and the good conduct of the staff
which learned to adore her, with the exception of Pierre Lefort.

Half French, half native, he was of the worst type of Oriental. Eaten up
with the vanity of the superficially educated, but with a genuine, great
knowledge of the Arabian horse and the obstreperous camel, the young man
had managed to make himself seemingly indispensable to Sir Richard on his
expeditions. Helen became accustomed to great distances and solitude, and
her eyes gained the steadfast look of those who look upon the sky as the
roof of their dwelling, whilst her unfailing sense of humour invariably
brought her safely through the most trying ordeals.

Diplomatically feeling her way through the barbed wire entanglement of
her grandfather’s testiness, she gained a great influence over the
brilliant man and, knowing how he chafed against the authoritative
methods and manner of the government official, had dropped the suggestion
in his all-willing ear of taking a busman’s holiday—a holiday expedition
with the object of trying to find out the whereabouts of the legendary
water in the great Red Desert, the discovery of which had become almost
an obsession with him, since the day he had read the vellum inscribed by
the Holy Palladius.

They had spent the hot-weather months in getting ready for the
expedition, helped enthusiastically by every member of the staff
excepting Pierre Lefort who, loving the dregs of the European society
he frequented in the cities and the corners of the Bazaar to which he
rightly belonged, had made use of every means in his power to frustrate
their endeavours.

He had sworn to an epidemic amongst the camels and dromedaries in Arabia
proper, which was causing them to die by hundreds; to an absolute dearth
of camel drivers, owing to the terror the men had of the animals’
disease; to the truth of the terrible tales that had lately come to hand
of the activities of a notorious robber gang, led by a woman, which
swooped down from nowhere upon unwary travellers; that, in consequence of
this band of brigands, neither guide nor servant could be procured for
love or money on the other side, and that last, but not least, no man had
ever been known to penetrate, even a little way, into the empty desert
and to return alive.

Each of his objections had been met; the expedition, down to the smallest
detail, carefully mapped out; the date for the start fixed and the
camp pitched some fifty miles out of Ismailiah. Pierre Lefort would
doubtlessly, if sullenly, have accompanied the party for the sake of the
monetary gain, if he had not fallen a victim to the wiles of a dancer in
the Bazaar.

Had ensued a heated scene between him and Sir Richard which had ended by
the latter taking him by the collar of the coat and impelling him, none
too gently, back upon the road towards Ismailiah.

Since then a week had passed, which Sir Richard had spent in racing, as
fast as swiftest camel could take him, into Ismailiah, there to interview
men with a knowledge of camels and horses, and racing back to tell his
granddaughter of the blanks he had drawn.

There remained another fortnight in which to find someone endowed with
camel and horse sense, and Helen had just fled the camp after a trying
scene with her distracted and pessimistic relative.

“Grandads,” she had said, after the recital of the latest failure, “I
have an idea, although it’s only a faint-hope kind of idea.”

“Well!” had snapped Grandads, who was ready to take his ships of the
desert into almost any kind of a port to protect himself from the storm
of failure which threatened to burst.

“I think you are making a great mountain out of your mole-hill.”

“Meaning?”

“Lefort. There _are_ others who understand as much about horses as he
does. I do—for one—almost—and so does Abdul, who did all the spadework
under him. Let me be vet, with Abdul for head groom and——”

“Wh-a-a-t?” Sir Richard had sprung from his canvas chair with a bound
which would have done credit to a _jerboa_, or kangaroo rat. “_You!_ In
charge of the horses—you—and what do you know of camels, may I ask?”

“As much, dearest, as anybody, which amounts to nothing. If it’s sick, it
usually makes up its obstinate mind to die, so there’s no use worrying
about _that_; if you want to get an extra hour of work out of it, you
give it a most noisome lump of barley-meal and water, and add a cupful of
whisky if you want to make it waltz; if you want it to go to the right,
touch it on the left, and _vice versa_, and if it’s out on a non-stop
run, hang your coat over its head to pull it up. It will go for six days
in the summer and, I believe, ten in the winter without a drink, and is
warranted to eat everything it comes across; in fact, I saw Mahli making
breakfast off your oldest pair of night slippers this very morning.”

All that she had said was true. She was a magnificent horsewoman, and
there was mighty little she did not know about horses; in fact, up to
her fifteenth birthday she had unequally divided her time between her
lessons and her horses, to the decided detriment of the former; then,
upon the death of her mother, had entreated to be allowed to accompany
her grandfather to Egypt. He, unpractical in everything that did not
concern the finding of water in desert places, had consented, and, acting
upon some motherly soul’s advice, offered directly they had arrived in
Cairo, had pushed her promptly under the sheltering wings of the Misses
Cruikshanks.

But she might as well have pleaded with the Great Pyramid this night of
stars as she had sat, just outside the tent, with her beautiful head
against the canvas whilst her distracted kinsman had figuratively rent
his raiment in wrath.

“You!” he had cried. “What authority would _you_ have over the pack of
rapscallions who look after the shameless beasts called camels, any one
of which, in the eyes of the average Mohammedan, is of a hundred times
more value than a woman? I know all about woman’s rights in England, but
let me tell you that that means nothing, absolutely less than nothing
out here, where she is not even allowed to possess a soul of her own,
much less a vote. No! if I can’t find a man to fill the post, I will
resign myself to having failed, throw up my position in the Irrigation
Department, and take to bee-keeping in England.”

And Helen Raynor, who firmly believed that if a thing is to happen it
happens, and that nothing can prevent it from happening, also _vice
versa_, had ridden some miles out into the silence, where she had
hobbled her mare and sat down upon the hummock to think things over. She
sat facing the direction in which Ismailiah lay, sat quite still, until
the peacefulness of the desert seemed to enfold her and to wipe out the
memory of the past weeks, which had gone far to disturb the tranquillity
she so loved to bring into the daily life of the camp. She looked all
round in utter content and lifted her face to the stars and listened to
the great silence, unbroken now, even by the love song, then sat forward
and stared in the direction of Ismailiah.

Great is the solitude of the desert, with no sign of life in it at all;
haunting is its solitude when, in the far distance, a solitary figure
moves slowly across the limitless sands.

It is the most perfect illustration of the little span of life granted
each of us upon this earth.

Out of seeming nothing, remote, alone, the figure approaches, growing
clearer and clearer to the watching eye; maybe for a space he stops and
raises his head to the star-strewn sky, or maybe he passes on, heedless
of God’s thoughts about him; even if he stays it will be but for a brief
second before he continues his journey, growing dimmer and dimmer until
he passes out of sight, alone, into apparent nothingness.

Helen Raynor sat watching a solitary figure as it came slowly towards her
from a far distance, and pressed her hand upon her heart, troubled by the
biblical picture, the silence, the unknown.

So might Abraham have looked in his youth, or Job before affliction
fell upon him, or Boaz, or David, for the desert has not changed since
their days, nor has the camel learned to hasten its pace or to alter
the insolence of its gait. The night breeze died away suddenly and the
flowers born of it faded, leaving a path, marked in grey and silver as
though the tide had but just receded from it, for the passage of the
camel’s feet, which were suddenly urged to a swift trot by its rider,
who rode bare-headed and wrapped in a burnous.

When about a mile off Ralph Trenchard raised his hand above his head in
salutation to the figure he could see sitting on the hummock, and urged
his camel quicker still, then pulled it to a halt and sat and stared
at the girl, who looked like some silver statue under the light of the
stars; then slipped to the ground instead of bringing the beast to its
knees, hobbled it, dropped the white cloak, and followed the beckoning
finger of Love, whom he could not see for the beauty of the girl, along
the path which had been marked for him to tread even before the days of
Abraham.

And Helen Raynor rose and walked towards him, holding out her hand, so
that they neared each other and met yet again, as those who truly love
do meet down the ages, and will meet, until in perfect understanding
they become one perfect spirit which will not be divided even by the
short-lived dream of death.

“I seem to know you so well,” said Ralph Trenchard quietly.

“And I you. I have seen you—I recognize the scar across your temple.”
Helen Raynor pressed her hand against her forehead in an effort to
capture the elusive memory which had suddenly flitted through her mind.
“I cannot remember. I——”

“My name is Ralph Trenchard, and my business in Egypt one of pleasure. I
was riding out into the desert to be alone at sunrise.”

She shook her head and looked about her and up to the stars and into the
eyes of the man who had come to her out of the night, and yet not as a
stranger; and she looked frankly at the lean, handsome face with the
powerful jaw and humorous mouth, and smiled into the quiet grey eyes, and
made a movement with her hand towards the oasis.

“I cannot remember where I have seen you, but will you not come to our
camp and have some coffee? I would not keep you from your ride, but my
grandfather will, I am sure, be delighted to meet you. I am——”

“Of course!” broke in Ralph Trenchard, as he stooped to remove the hobble
from the mare, who danced sideways at the smell of camel which permeated
the new-comer. “You must be Miss Raynor. Everybody is talking about the
danger of the expedition you are starting out on; they don’t seem to see
the other side, the privilege of searching for something which has been
lost for centuries, the joy of adventuring into a new country.”

They walked across to the camel, which stretched its neck and made a
vicious snap at the mare, who immediately retaliated by lashing out at
the contemptuous face.

“Quiet, you brute!” said Ralph Trenchard, as he removed the hobble,
whereupon the said brute turned its hideous head and winked at him in
hearty friendliness. “There is one thing I really do pride myself upon,
Miss Raynor, though perhaps I ought not to, as it may only be the result
of a certain brotherhood in sheer mule-headed obstinacy which I share
with the quadruped.”

“And what is it?”

“The way I can manage camels. They seem absolutely to love me before my
face, whatever they feel behind my back. I can do almost anything I like
with them.”

Helen Raynor walked close up to him and laid her hand upon his sleeve.

“Tell me,” she said eagerly, “where are you going to after you leave
Egypt?”

“Well, I have been trying to make up my mind. I’m just down from Oxford,
and am having a look round the old places before settling down to manage
the estate which came to me when the dear old governor died a few months
ago. I was born out here, lived here until I was ten. My people were
stationed out here all over the place. Mother is buried in Khartoum. I
love the country, and speak the language like a native. I don’t mind
much where I go, but I do wish I could have one jolly good adventure
when I get there.”

“Come,” said Helen, her beautiful teeth flashing in a delighted smile,
“I’m more convinced than ever that my grandfather will be delighted to
meet you.”



CHAPTER VI

    “_Neither with thine eyes hast thou seen, nor with thine heart
    hast thou loved._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Zarah the Cruel leaned back in her ivory chair, staring unseeingly at
the men she ruled. She frowned and stretched her arms and played with
the crystal knobs until her jewelled fingers looked like the claws of
some great cat, whilst the men glanced at each other as they watched the
movement which, they knew, heralded the conception of some new idea or
plan in the girl’s masterly, unscrupulous brain.

She had reigned for a year in her father’s stead, and the tales of her
cruelty, her infamy and treachery had spread from Damascus to Hadramut,
from Oman to the Red Sea. In the days of her father the wealthy only had
been in danger of the gang’s predatory attacks; the humbler caravan had
been certain of a safe journey and a sure arrival at its destination;
the needy, just as sure of help in money or in kind from the man who
quietened his conscience by robbing the one to assist the other, whilst
keeping the best part of the spoil for himself and his men.

His daughter attacked all and sundry, and as much for the love of the
fight as in the hope of gain, meting out dire punishment to those who
fought to the last, and, if taken prisoner, lacked deep enough purse or
strong enough sinew to pay or work their way back to freedom.

With the exception of Yussuf the men obeyed her and literally fought for
the place of honour at her right hand when she led them to the attack.

The whole Peninsula rang with the tales of the mysterious, beautiful
woman of the desert. Women used her name as a bogy with which to frighten
their children, men looked at each other before they spoke of their
affairs and then said but little. Her spies were everywhere, from
Damascus to Cairo, from Jiddah to Bagdad, watching the movements and
learning the whereabouts of wealthy people. The cities made great effort
to discover the channels through which the almost legendary woman gained
her information, sending out spy to counter spy, with the result that
some were found in the holes and corners of the Bazaars at dawn, knifed
through the back, and others, who had been sent to find out the lay of
the land round and about the Sanctuary, buried up to their necks in the
sands, dead, with the letter Z cut upon their foreheads.

With a view to spreading reports of her beauty, her riches, and her
power, she allowed some of the prisoners to return to their homes
without payment of ransom; others disappeared leaving no trace, whilst
many, wholeheartedly, threw in their lot with the band, working as
grooms to the horses and dogs, as tenders to the cattle, as servants
or labourers, marrying the women who looked after the comforts of the
strange community; all of them happy in a freedom they could not have
realized elsewhere, yet terror-stricken by their mistress, who ordered
the severest punishments for the most trifling mistake.

Built in terraces as had been the ancient monastery, the servants’
quarters stretched up the eastern side of the mountains, hidden by the
jutting wall of rock from the western side where Zarah lived, alone. The
walls of the monastery remained, but the interior of the buildings had
been changed out of all recognition. Where once her father had lived,
with his friend Yussuf, in all the simplicity of those who belong to the
desert, the girl lived in barbaric luxury, the presence of Yussuf the
only cloud upon what seemed otherwise to be a clear horizon.

Of love she would have none.

Those who had succumbed to the tales of her beauty, her wealth and her
power, and who were willing to risk much through greed, sent emissaries,
laden with many gifts, to negotiate for her hand in marriage. They would
be met far out in the desert, and, blindfolded, led across the quicksands
and into the presence of the mysterious woman. She received them right
royally, fêted them, laughed at them in secret, and sent them back to
their masters, with her own gifts added to those she had rejected.

She did not attempt to conquer her love for Ralph Trenchard; she did not
want to; she hugged close the pain it caused her pride, and had sent
spies to Egypt in an endeavour to trace him. A report came that he had
landed at Port Said. After that, silence.

She was thinking of him as she lay back in the chair watching the men,
gathered at her command, in the Hall of Judgment. Upon the first of every
three months she called a council, with the object of making plans for
the months succeeding. Those of the men who could, hurried from every
part of the Peninsula to the gathering. A week of festival invariably
followed the great day, during which sports were held and much wine
drunk, in direct disobedience to the law laid down by Mohammed, the
Prophet of Allah the one and only God. Those of the men who could not
attend, and who were mostly those who had failed in the task set them,
sent in reports of their work by safe messenger.

The spy who had reported the arrival of Ralph Trenchard at Port Said had
not appeared in person, nor sent in further report, so that Zarah sat a
prey to a great anger, which increased every moment under the goad of
suspense and uncertainty, and craved for a victim upon which to vent
herself.

The business of the hour, with its reports and reprimands, suggestions,
punishments and rewards, had been concluded, and the men waited, eager
to draw out a programme for the week of festival; they looked at their
despotic ruler, raised above them on a dais, as she lay back in her chair
sullenly regarding them out of half-closed eyes; they murmured amongst
themselves but, under the spell of her beauty, murmured only.

She made an arresting Eastern picture outlined against an enormous fan of
peacocks’ feathers, which spread on each side and above her. It glowed
vividly against the south wall of the hall, which had been covered in
Byzantine gold leaf, outlined by an arabesque design carved out in rough
lumps of turquoise matrix, agate, jasper, onyx, and different coloured
marble.

Seven jewelled lamps, hanging above her head by golden chains, were
reflected in the polished surface of the huge dais hewn out of one great
block of black granite, up which she ascended by seven steps carved to
represent seven crouching lions.

Skins of wild beasts were thrown upon a mosaic floor which replaced the
rough stones laid down by the Holy Fathers. It had been set by skilled
Italian workmen, taken prisoners as they returned from Bagdad, where they
had been sent to set the famous mosaic floor in the house of the Eastern
potentate, who is almost as famous as his flooring.

The Italians had won back their freedom by promising to outrival the
beauty of this floor in Bagdad, and, having fulfilled the promise, had
returned, laden with gifts and well content, to their own country. The
pillars of palm trees had been removed and replaced by others of stone,
inlaid roughly with uncut turquoise matrix, jasper and agate, which
reflected the light of the jewelled lamps hanging from the roof. The flat
roof, which the dead Sheikh had considered good enough as a covering, had
been removed and replaced by another, vaulted, painted the colour of the
night sky and powdered with silvery stars. It showed misty, this night,
above the smoke of torches held above their heads by thirty prisoners who
stood upon the stools once used as seats by the Holy Fathers, pushed
back against the walls hung with curtains of purple velvet.

Informed that one movement meant instant death, prisoners awaiting
sentence would be ordered to hold lighted torches above their heads
whilst the Arabian girl sat discussing the events of the day or merely
idling away time watching the men wrestling or gambling, in which last
pastime she frequently joined.

Men meant nothing to her, but her overwhelming vanity caused her to
change her raiment many times a day and to smother herself in jewels.

This night her slender limbs showed through voluminous trousers made of
some semi-transparent material, woven by her women slaves, and caught at
the ankles by bands of gold inlaid with precious stones; her body, save
for breast-plates blazing in jewels, was bare, and showed like white
satin in the light of the torches and the lamps above her head; her hands
glittered with precious stones, her arms were bare, and a broad gold band
set in diamonds bound her head, confining the thick, red curls.

She sat alone, furious, tortured, her sandalled feet upon an ivory
footstool, her strange eyes flashing from one side of the hall to the
other in an endeavour to find an outlet for her wrath.

She scrutinized the twenty men and ten women of Damascus who had been
captured on their way to Bagdad with a precious load of steel weapons,
and smiled as she glanced from their leader, a fine old man with white
hair and beard and flowing robes, to the girl, his granddaughter, at
his side, and on to the young men and women who had gained a world-wide
reputation through their work of inlaying steel with gold.

With the fear of death, the one for the other, they had stood throughout
the whole evening, motionless, save when slaves replaced the burnt-out
torches; but a shiver swept them, and a smile of satisfaction lit the
faces of the men in the body of the hall when the old man swayed, then
crashed to the ground with a cry.

Zarah sat upright, her eyes gleaming, her jewels flashing, whilst the men
looked from her to the prostrate man and back.

“Get up!” she cried, too intent upon her enjoyment of the moment to
notice that her enemy Yussuf had entered the hall, standing, a menacing
figure, against the wall. “Get up!” she repeated, “lest I give orders to
have thee thrown from the rocks so that thou standest for eternity upon
thy head in the quicksands.”

A shout of laughter rang out at the words, and ceased as Zarah sprang up,
white with rage.

The old man’s granddaughter, flinging her torch to the far end of the
hall, where it fell at Yussuf’s feet, sprang to the floor and, kneeling,
gathered the old man into her arms.

“He shall not be touched! He shall not be touched!” she cried, looking
fearlessly up at Zarah, who stood at the edge of the dais, looking down.
“Shameless art thou, woman, in thy cruelty! Shameless in thy nakedness!
Shameless in all thy ways! If this old man, my father’s father, be thrown
from the rocks, then thou must throw me also, for naught but death shall
unclasp my arms from about him. Nay! thou shalt not touch him, thou shalt
_not_, I say.”

She bent down over the old man as Zarah ran down the steps and caught
her by the shoulder. The men gathered in a circle round the two women,
watching the one who shook with rage and the other who looked up
fearlessly, strong in her protecting love.

“Seize them, all of them!” commanded Zarah, “and——” She stopped dead
and looked towards the door, through which a man came, running at full
speed. Zarah turned and, mounting the steps, sat down in the ivory chair,
holding up her hand until silence reigned.

“Hither,” she said curtly, and watched the spy, who had reported upon
Ralph Trenchard’s doings, with no gentle look in her eyes as he hastened
across the floor.

“’Tis well indeed, O my brother, that thou hasteneth thy feet at last.
Perchance the delights of the great city prevented thee from keeping the
hour of council to which thou wast summoned.”

The man flung himself upon his knees before the dais, then sprang to his
feet.

“Thy servant tarried so as to bring good news.”

“Good news! ’Tis indeed well for thee that the news is good. Speak!”

“The white man with a scar upon his forehead is even now upon his
way—here!”

“_Here!_”

“Yea! Here! He crosses the water in the company of another man, white,
but of great age. They travel, O my mistress, they travel, O my brethren,
in search of the miraculous water which, so ’tis said, is hidden in the
heart of certain mountains in the Red Desert.”

Laughter rang out, in which Zarah joined, the sweet sound mingling
with the men’s deep voices as they shouted grim suggestions and coarse
pleasantries the one to the other.

Zarah leant forward, her eyes gleaming.

“They come alone, the two white men, in search of this miraculous water?”

“Nay, O mistress! They travel in a good company of men and camels, led by
a woman——”

“Led by a _woman_! O my brethren, is there one of thee in need of a wife
or yet another wife?”

Ribald laughter and obscene jest followed close upon her question.

“What is she like? this woman who dares lead men and camels across the
empty desert.”

“She is as the heavens at sunrise when the light wraps the world in
softest colouring. Her eyes are the blue of the night in which shines
the morning star, her mouth as the sun-kissed pomegranate, her teeth as
shimmering pearls. Her hair! The houris which wait in paradise to reward
the faithful have not such hair as she. It is as the web of the spider
gilded by the sunlight, as the corn glowing in the noonday sun, and, in
its waywardness, twineth about the heart of men as a child’s fingers
about the mother’s breast.”

The men secretly touched each other as they watched the effect of the
man’s words upon the woman who ruled them with no gentle hand. Thrones
built upon a foundation of consideration towards others are rocky enough
at any time, but there is absolutely no security for the monarch who uses
his sceptre as a stick with which to drive his subjects.

Zarah sat back in her chair, too primitive in her love to try to hide the
jealousy which consumed her.

“Who is she and what position does she hold in the expedition?”

“She rules men, O mistress, and is the granddaughter of the aged one.”

“His name?”

“It taketh a twisted tongue, O mistress, to pronounce it. I have essayed
and failed. He is a great Sheikh from _Inglistan_, the land where, ’tis
said, the heavens drop water without ceasing. His men are well armed; his
camels, over which devil-possessed animal the white man with a scar has a
strange control, are of the best; his men content, and averse to speech
with strangers. They have started; a great caravan awaits them at the
port of Jiddah; I hastened by swiftest camel to bring thee the news.”

Zarah sat silent for a moment, then called the names of six of her most
trusted and unscrupulous followers, and sharply ordered the hall to be
cleared for the space of one hour.

“And the Damascenes, mistress?” asked Al-Asad, who had mounted the dais
at his mistress’s call and stood, gigantic, powerful, behind her, ready
to do her bidding.

Zarah frowned.

Jealousy might torture, but hope and an abnormal vanity lay as balm upon
the wounds. She had no time for the trivial occupation of finding a
punishment befitting the crime of the prisoners. She had called her six
most trusted servants with a view to making plans for the capture of the
entire party, headed by the beautiful woman with the unpronounceable name.

Time pressed.

Let her but make a prisoner of the white man who had held her in his
arms, subject him to her wiles, her beauty, and surround him with all the
evidence of her great wealth, then what would she have to fear of any
woman where love was concerned!

“Al-Asad!”

He knelt and touched her foot.

“They beg their freedom, those thirty fools. Their freedom they shall
have! Lead them safely over the path, then whip them out into the desert
to find their way back across the road by which they came. The desert is
free to all—to man as well as to beasts of prey and carrion birds. They
have asked for liberty and naught else; bid them begone with empty hands.”

But there was no fear in the heart of the girl who had leapt to aid the
old man when he fell; she ran forward to the very foot of the dais and
called down curses upon the woman above her, cursed her until the hall
rang with the terrible words and the superstitious men drew back in fear.

“ ... and thou shalt be driven into the desert, O woman without heart,”
she ended, “and death shall find thee bereft of power and love. Thou
shalt leave thy beauty to the jackals and the scorpions shall nest in
thine eyes and thy hair.” A speck of foam appeared at the corners of
her mouth as she prophesied with the vision of the East. “I see thee
pursuing, I see thee pursued, I see dogs upon thy track, and one, whose
light cometh from within to lighten his darkness, hard upon thy heels,
hunting thee. I——”

She laughed shrilly, pointing at Zarah, who made a quick movement of the
hand. Al-Asad sprang down and, seizing the girl by the throat, hurled her
backwards, whilst the rest of the prisoners, with hope eternal to spur
them, ran from one to the other, until at last, with the girl and the old
man in the centre, they marched boldly from the hall, with the gigantic
half-caste harrying them in the rear.

Whispered words fell upon the ears of Almana, the gentle Damascene, as
she paused to allow those in front to pass through the door out into the
night. She turned for a moment and looked up into Yussuf’s blinded face
as he stood near her in the shadows.

“Put thy trust in Allah and hasten not. Journey westward and stop and
wait. He will save thee and thine.”

He had caught the sound of the girl’s voice as she passed, encouraging
the old man, and risked his life to tell her of the help that awaits
those who put their trust in a higher power.

She whispered her thanks as she passed on, and in such wise did love come
to Yussuf, the blind, and Almana, the Damascene.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zarah sat in council with all her men; the women and children and
servants slept, so that there were no eyes to watch, nor ears to hear
Yussuf as he passed silently amongst the rocks to the paddock where the
camels were herded at night, hobbled or tied to posts to prevent them
from fighting, as is the custom of the brutes when together in great
numbers.

He passed his hands over the animals, choosing three, then crossed to a
shed in which were piled the “_ghakeet_” and “_shedad_” the saddles used
for riding or baggage camels, with water skins and sacks of dates, the
emergency rations required by an Arab for a sudden journey.

Surely Allah, the one and only God, watched over him and listened to his
prayers when, later, he walked unhesitatingly across the narrow path of
rock, leading the first of three beasts, which followed, grumbling and
snarling, but obediently, from fear, and guided them by the sound of
voices to the Damascenes.

Almana ran to meet him when he rode towards them out of the night, and
led him to her grandfather, who rose and blessed him.

“Come with us, my son, for surely yon place in the mountains is the
dwelling-place of devils. Come with us to Damascus.”

“I will come one day when my task is accomplished, and that will be in
the time appointed, O father,” replied Yussuf, raising his head and
turning towards the East as the wind of dawn swept his face.

The Damascenes lifted their voices in prayer, calling down blessings upon
him as he mounted his camel and rode away into the glory of the sunrise.

“How sad,” Almana whispered to her grandfather as they watched him moving
swiftly towards the mountains, and “His Eyes” who rode to meet him. “How
sad that he should be blind.”

“He is not blind, my daughter,” replied the old man, as he laid his hand
upon her head. “There are those who see by the light of the soul, and,
verily, our protector is numbered among them.”



CHAPTER VII

    “_If the moon be with thee thou need’st not mind about the
    stars._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


The desert is the cradle of love!

The love of God or the love of solitude, or the love which seeks its
soul-mate and finds it, in the immensity of the sands. There is no room
for doubt in the minds of those who love and who pass their days together
in the desert’s great spaces. If the love is that which endureth, which
floods cannot drown nor many waters quench, which looks ever towards the
horizon where the light is born heralding the day, then will the desert
be as a book filled with much wisdom; a book in which the handwriting is
visible only to those who radiate the love which sees the mountain peak
above the swirl of mist; the truth of the dream in which, blindly, we
stumble and fall, until enlightenment comes to us so that we rise once
more and reach the end of the road at last.

The desert is a background against which love blazes as a torch or shines
with the glimmer of the rushlight; a journey into it either fills the
mind with the wonder of God or overwhelms the traveller, when the novelty
has passed, with a crushing sense of boredom; the sunset, the sunrise,
and the stars are either the thoughts of the Creator, or merely a means
by which to mark the passing of the endless hours; whilst the stillness,
silence, and far horizon teach life’s wayfarers the stupendous lesson of
Eternity or fill the gregarious globe-trotter with a deep longing for the
noise and bustle of great cities.

For the westerner there are no half-way measures in the desert.

He may have been born in the glamour of the East and have lived the
best part of his life with the vast stretches of sand around him, and
yet have heard no voice calling in the noonday, nor seen the slender
hand beckoning in the shadows of dawn and dusk. He may come from the
counting-house upon holiday bent, with guide book in hand and passage
booked for the return journey to the city, yet see the spirit of the
desert, remote, mysterious, beckoning _him_ out of all the merry,
personally conducted crowd.

He will either follow the beckoning figure with hungry heart until he
falls, to die, clutching at its robes which slip ever from between his
fingers, or he will return to the counting-house to pass his life in a
great longing which will never be appeased.

In either case, he will have answered the call of the desert to his own
undoing.[1]

    [1] Instances have been known where Europeans have ridden out
    into the desert upon seeing it for the first time, and have not
    been seen or heard of since.

Helen Raynor and Ralph Trenchard sat looking out across the
Robaa-el-Khali, or Empty Desert, or the Red Desert, as it is called by
the Arabs on account of the colour of its sands.

She sat with her hand in his, watching the strange effect the wind from
the north has upon this desert, which rolls away to the horizon in great,
sandy ridges, and of which no one has explored the heart. When this wind
blows gently, it skims the surface of the great ridges and lifts the
topmost layer of the sand, carrying it down into the hollows and up on to
the crests for mile after mile, until the desert looks like an ocean of
great, glittering billows surging towards the distant horizon.

“The sky seems to be covered with a transparent, diamond-encrusted veil,”
whispered Helen, as she lifted her face to the moon, and smiled when the
man she loved drew her to him and kissed her.

“It is the effect of the sand in the air, beloved,” he whispered, “under
the moon which shines for all lovers.”

“Look at that wave out there”—she pointed to the east as she
spoke—“breaking into spray. How wonderful—how wonderful it all is, Ra!”

“I expect a big rock lies just there, beloved, if we could only see it,
so that the sand is blown against it and higher into the air. How I love
the name you have given me, dearest; it seems to belong to the country
where I found you waiting for me, all those months ago, alone, in the
desert, under a moon like this.”

“I really expect it was the same moon, Ra; it is only we who have moved,”
laughed Helen softly. “Yes, I think your nickname suits you; it’s strong,
with the strength of dead Egypt, like you, with your tremendous will
power which can even dominate the camel.”

They laughed as they talked of the long journey with its scenes and
contretemps, during which Ralph Trenchard had had to exercise every
bit of will power and every scrap of patience he possessed, so as to
triumph over the splendid camels which composed the caravan, and which
had aroused admiration and no little jealousy in the hearts of the
inhabitants of the different villages they had passed through, from the
Port of Jiddah to Hutah in the Oasis of Hareek.

“Do you remember when Mahli ate Grandad’s best tussore coat and pretended
to die, and then, suddenly, got to her feet and rushed at you, because
you offered Duria a whole lump of dates and took no notice of her in her
tantrums?”

“Sheer jealousy and greed, sweetheart. I believe no woman who loved
could be as jealous, or as vindictive, as a female camel in a rage. Look
straight ahead, beloved; can you see something moving through the waves?”

Helen sat forward and stared due south.

“Yes, I think—I do. Yes, it looks like mounted men.” She shivered
suddenly and turned and caught her lover by the arm. “Ra! I’m frightened.”

“Frightened! Dear heart, what at?”

“I don’t know—I don’t really know. I just felt a tremendous premonition
of danger. Ah! look, they’ve gone. I wonder who they were? So near us,
yet taking no notice of our big camp with its fires and its white tents.”

“Yes. I wonder!”

If only he had known it, they were the advance guard of a woman who was
to show him that there is no jealousy or vindictiveness to equal that of
a woman whose love is not returned.

They sat silently, looking out across the sandy ocean until they could no
longer see the phantom figures moving eastwards in the far distance; then
they talked of the journey behind them and the enterprise ahead.

To gain full control over the staff and, as much as is humanly possible,
over the animals, Ralph Trenchard had preceded Sir Richard and his
granddaughter, landing in Jiddah a month before them. Death by thirst,
exhaustion or violence being a recognized risk to be taken by those who
travel off the beaten track in Arabia, he had intensely disliked the idea
of Helen Raynor accompanying the expedition; had argued the question;
pointed out the dangers; emphasized the added responsibility her
safekeeping would entail, insisting upon the intense discomfort she would
have to endure, only to find himself up against the mule-headed obstinacy
for which Sir Richard was famous.

He had resigned himself to the inevitable at last and had discovered,
after one week spent in the company of the camels and their drivers, that
for nothing on earth would he undertake the excursion into the unknown,
unless she took it with him, riding at his side. He knew that love had
come to him that night when he had seen her sitting on a hummock of sand,
alone in the desert under the moon; he knew that that love had come to
possess him utterly when he had succumbed to the entreaties of Sir
Richard to join the expedition; but he had not known how much he really
loved her, or what she really meant to him, until he had been separated
from her for weeks.

He had counted the days, the hours, the minutes, and then, jubilantly,
thankfully, had rushed down to meet the boat Sir Richard had chartered,
as she docked, and happy beyond telling, had started out on the foolhardy
enterprise, with Helen at his side.

There is nothing so calculated to make life-long friends or sworn enemies
of two people, as a long journey on camels and surrounded by camels.
A trip into the desert on camelback for so much an hour, or day, is
vastly romantic, causing you to feel one with Pharaoh or Queen Hatshepu,
Abraham or Jezebel, according to your sex. It’s ten to one you write an
ode to the Sphinx or the Pyramids or the Voice of the Past as you sit on
the sand, smoking your Simon Artz; it’s certain that your camel driver
tots up the different items of your toilet in an endeavour to hit upon
the right amount of extra _baachseesch_ he may extract from you, whilst
wishing to goodness you’d get through with your foolishness and return to
your comfortable, or otherwise, hotel; but it’s an altogether different
thing when you make part of a caravan composed of the ill-mannered,
ill-natured brutes. No matter how well they are handled, or how far you
ride apart from their odorous bodies, you will never be able to count
upon a moment’s peace as long as they are likely to panic for nothing,
or fight for less, whilst filling the air with sounds that resemble the
emptying of gigantic, narrow-necked bottles, nests of angry snakes,
battalions of spitting cats, moans of incurable invalids and shrieks of
insufferable children.

They lie down or get up or refuse to move just as their hateful fancy
dictates; they follow obediently one behind another, if in a string,
or peacefully together, if in a herd, then stop dead and look on
indifferently, whilst one, for no apparent reason whatever, reduces the
patience of its driver to shreds and its pack to bits. Some drivers are
cautious and hobble the lot at night, others take the risk and hobble the
worst offenders; ’twere, however, wise to be cautious so as to prevent
one, suddenly possessed of the devil, from either clearing for the open
with the gifts you intend for your host upon its offensive back, or from
lifting the flap of your tent in the still watches of the night and,
whilst taking a survey of your heat-disturbed person, banqueting off your
boots.

If your temper is not of the sort that can come out unruffled from
ever-recurring and heated arguments with your companion and the
distracted drivers; if your looks cannot withstand the long moments
’twixt heat of sand and sun and wrath, as you sit perched above the
turmoil upon the back of your own thrice-accursed beast, then ’twere wise
to give the desert an extremely wide berth. Lay down the law to your
companion and he will learn to loathe the very sight of you; upbraid
the long-suffering driver and he will league himself with the camel to
spite you in every way; hit the camel so as to cause it pain, and you
will never again feel any security about the welfare of your person. You
won’t recognize that camel one or five or ten years hence as you saunter
through some Bazaar, but it will recognize you all right, and will meet
its teeth in the tenderest portion of your anatomy it can find, or, if it
gets the chance, will seize, worry, and throw you and deliver the _coup
de grâce_ of its long-waited-for revenge by rolling upon you until you
are an unrecognizable pulp.

Grin and bear with it all, and your servants and your camels, your
companion and your days, will not appear so insufferably obnoxious or so
outrageously long, in the land of the Pharaohs.

The caravan was a big one on account of the multitude of gifts Sir
Richard carried, with which to buy peace, if not plenty, as it journeyed
from Jiddah, skirting the territory sacred to the Holy City, down through
the mountainous, fertile district of Taif and southwards along the Wady
Dowasir, with its many villages, up to Hutah in the Oasis of Hareek,
where commences the Great Desert.

It is wise not to reckon altogether on gifts and a smattering of the
language and courtesy to get you safely to your destination in Arabia,
but, as they will take you many miles upon your journey, they should be
looked upon as the chief items on your list of necessities—especially the
last.

Helen Raynor and the man she had learned to love in the distracting,
ridiculous, mirth-provoking and aggravating incidents of the journey,
laughed, as they looked back to the storms they had weathered safely,
through love and a perfect sense of humour and comradeship, unwitting
of the news about themselves which had been conveyed, in the mysterious
manner of desert places, to Zarah the Cruel who had only waited to
attack, with as much patience as she could muster, until the caravan
should leave Hutah far behind and arrive at a certain spot between the
Hareek mountains and those of the Jebel Akhaf.

The north wind dropped suddenly whilst they talked in whispers, and with
it the veil of sand it had spread across the heavens, leaving the desert
desolate and formidable under the light of the full moon, save where the
camp fires flung red and orange flames and trails of smoke across the
silvery sheen.

“‘Even the grains of sand are numbered, neither can a sparrow fall unless
He knows it?’” Helen quoted to herself as she stared out across the
waste, then turned and put her hand in that of the man beside her who had
been watching her and wondering at the anxious look upon her face.

“I feel crushed under a great weight of responsibility, Ra,” she said,
speaking in a whisper induced by the fear that had suddenly fallen upon
her at the sight of the phantoms in the distance. “I do wish I hadn’t
suggested this hare-brained expedition to Grandad. I somehow never
thought it would mean such a big undertaking and perhaps, after all, the
water was only seen in a mirage by some exhausted pilgrims all those
centuries ago.”

Fearful for her, Ralph Trenchard fully agreed in his heart, but
contradicted her in an effort to reassure her.

“Oh! I don’t know, dearest. I don’t think you are in the least bit
responsible. Your grandfather has been set on discovering this water ever
since he read the document all those years ago, and if he hadn’t done it
this year he would have done it later, and then I shouldn’t have been
here to see you through, should I?”

“No, of course you wouldn’t!” replied the girl, as she looked up
into the handsome face. “If we hadn’t pitched our camp just outside
Ismailiah, which we shouldn’t have done if we had not been starting on
this adventure, you and I would not have met.” She touched the scar on
his temple as she spoke, the look of trouble deepening in her eyes. “You
laughed at me when I told you about the scene we had with Zarah, the
Arabian girl, at school, when she said she saw herself on a mountain peak
and me in the dust at her feet and a man with a scar upon his temple,
coming towards her. But, you see, she did meet you and recognize you, and
she came from somewhere about here, Ra, and I haven’t been able to get
her out of my thoughts since we left Hutah. She hated me, Ra, _hated_ me,
and, as you know, I believe in the power of thought.”

“So do I, beloved,” said Ralph Trenchard, putting his arms round her and
holding her very close to his heart. “But no bad thought, no hate, malice
or revenge can get through real, pure, everlasting love. It can rage, and
storm, and threaten outside and make a considerable noise and kick up a
tremendous amount of dust, but _it can’t touch the love inside a great
fortress of trust_.”

He laughed to reassure her as he watched the troubled look in the big,
blue eyes which shone like stars. “Not that I don’t also rely upon my
good right arm and trusty automatic when wandering in desert places.
Besides, you must remember that she was fairly senseless when she dropped
into my arms like an over-ripe plum from a tree, also, that the native is
as crammed full of tricks as a monkey, and that I haven’t set eyes on her
since.”

But the girl was not to be so easily pacified.

Gently submissive in the smaller events of everyday life, Helen Raynor
invariably carried through any project she considered worth while, with a
quiet determination which, when opposed, developed into sheer strength of
will; also, she had never been known to back out of a task she had been
set, however disagreeable.

“I can’t agree with you, Ra. I can’t help connecting her with the
mysterious woman the men are continually talking about; the one who
suddenly appears at the head of a gang of bandits, raids a caravan, and
disappears as suddenly into the unknown. Of course, if I had known about
this woman sooner nothing would have induced me to allow Grandad to
undertake the trip. I’m not worrying about myself, but I _am_ worrying
about the two people I love most on earth, you and him.” She shivered
uncontrollably as she looked out at the far horizon. “I hate this place,
and if he wasn’t so terribly obstinate I’d make him turn back, even now.
What is the finding of hidden water in a desert compared with the lives
of those I love so much?”

Ralph Trenchard rose and stretched his hands out to her.

“You are tired, darling, you do too much for our comfort, you never seem
to rest, and I don’t like you sitting here without a wrap. It’s hot
enough, goodness knows, but the wind from the north is not to be trifled
with.”

“Yes, I noticed that the men had their mouths covered after sunset.
Let’s go and talk to Grandad, the darling is worrying himself to death
because we got half a mile off our course to-day.” She looked up at Ralph
Trenchard. “How tall you are, how strong you look, Ra, I don’t think any
harm can come to me whilst you are near.”

He leaned and took her hands and pulled her up beside him. He stood over
six feet; she was well above the medium height, with her head well set
upon splendid shoulders. They seemed the embodiment of strength, with
their steady eyes, and quiet movements, and soft voices, as they stood
hand in hand alone under the great moon, little knowing that they would
shortly be called upon to make use of every atom of physical and mental
strength they possessed, so as to win through the terrible days ahead.

“I am strong, beloved, and so are you, and together we will overcome
every difficulty in our path.”

“Together,” said Helen softly; “yes, together we cannot fail, and even if
we were separated for a time we should still be together. Mentally and
spiritually we are so _one_ that no one and nothing can ever separate the
real us. I—what’s that?”

There had come the sharp report of a rifle from some spot far ahead
of them in the desert, followed immediately by the sound of a great
disturbance in the camp.

“Excellency! hasten thy footsteps,” cried a camel driver who ran to meet
them as they hurried towards the camp. “_Eblis_, the black devil, has
possessed the senses of his offspring, the camels. Hobbled, they essay to
flee back upon the path by which they have come; fallen, they fight where
they lay until the ground is not a fit sight for the eyes of our lady.
Hasten, Excellency; our master, full of wrath, calleth his Excellency’s
name, with much groaning of spirit.”

“My God!” exclaimed Ralph Trenchard a few minutes later as he stood
looking at the camels. “How ghastly!”

To rest both man and beast the camp had been pitched for a week near a
well sunk many years ago by Arabs, beneath a clump of palm trees which,
in its isolated fertility, they had recognized as the sure sign of water
somewhere beneath the surface.

The camels had been unloaded so that the packs could be more evenly
distributed and their backs attended to before starting on the last and
most trying lap of the expedition; they had lain contentedly sprawling,
or had stood as contentedly ruminating, as near the brackish well as they
could get, until fear had swept through the whole herd.

There is no explaining the fear which at any moment, in any place, will
suddenly grip this most unimaginative and most stupid of all beasts. In
the middle of a crowded thoroughfare, as when alone in the empty desert,
it will stop for no reason whatever and begin to shiver, with head
outstretched, eyes rolling, and forelegs planted wide as though to resist
the onslaught of some unseen enemy.

It is of no avail to kick or beat the terror-stricken creature, and
for the following reason it is most unwise to approach too near its
formidable mouth. It will stand and shiver until it comes to wellnigh
dropping to its knees, and then, with a sudden quick movement of the long
neck, will snap at something only visible to its eyes. The fear then
passes, and, demoniacal rage filling the vacuum created by the passing
of its fear, it will turn and savage the nearest object at hand, be it
man or fellow-beast or inanimate substance, until, its wrath appeased, it
proceeds calmly, indifferently upon its contemptuous way.

“Excellency! Excellency!” wailed Abdul, whose garments hung in shreds.
“Something which neither I nor my brethren could see walked amongst them
an hour ago. They became convulsed with fear of the unknown, Excellency,
and shook in their terror, until some fell to the ground, and, being
bound, remained there foaming at the mouth. Then, at the sound of firing,
_Eblis_ the devil entered their black hearts, and they fought, all of
them, those that lay upon the ground biting at the dust, those that stood
tearing the hair and flesh from each other’s back until the place runs
with blood, as your Excellency sees. I have done my best, but neither I
nor my brethren will take another step into this desert, which is the
abiding place of all evil.”

“I don’t blame them,” said Ralph Trenchard to himself, when, having given
orders for the tending of the wounded beasts, he went to report the
mutiny to Sir Richard.

“They won’t stir another yard, sir! at least, not forward, so we shall
have to retrace our steps.”

He rejoiced in his heart at the turn things had taken, without reckoning
with the old man’s wall-headed obstinacy or the cupidity of the native.

“Nonsense!” replied Sir Richard tersely, as he stalked off towards the
mutineers, to return triumphantly ten minutes later.

“We start when I said we’d start, my boy, in two days’ time, if the
weather clears and the camels are fit,” he said as he entered his tent.
“I’ve doubled their pay. Good night.”

Ralph Trenchard walked to his own tent and beckoned Abdul.

“ ... we are poor, very poor, Excellency,” the latter said, concluding
his apologia. “We could not withstand the money.”

“Well, I’m sorry you gave in, on account of her Excellency your mistress,
but it can’t be helped. Tell me—what did that rifle shot mean?”

Abdul spread his fingers to avert evil as he whispered:

“That was a mistake, Excellency, on the part of those whose eyes watch us
from afar.”

“Whose eyes?”

“Perchance those of the woman of mystery, of crime, of death.”

Ralph Trenchard looked over his shoulder towards the tent of the woman he
loved, then back at the man.

“Tell the men to have their rifles ready, I am coming to inspect them,”
he said abruptly, then turned away and stood looking out across the
desert.



CHAPTER VIII

    “_A person sat demanding from God the rise of morn—when morn
    rose he became blind._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


“I wish the stars could be seen,” Sir Richard said irritably, three
nights later, as he looked up at the sky, across which hung a heavy
purple cloud. Due to the intense heat, it obliterated the stars,
thereby trying the patience of the old man to the uttermost. “This
delay is simply abominable. To think, just to think, that this wind
has been blowing for nearly a week, clouding the sky and blotting out
the stars—the stars by which, if they could have been seen, I could
have proved, absolutely proved, that we are camped upon the exact spot,
between the mountains of Hareek and the Jebel Akhaf, from where the Holy
Fathers turned due south. We could have followed in their footsteps,
started to-night; think of it, could have started to-night, if only
this wind hadn’t blown. What? Try to find out what the firing meant the
other night? Nonsense, man, nonsense! We don’t want to go over all that
again. Some Arab, a solitary one. Sound carries for miles, miles in the
desert, the slightest sound. If you let a pin drop it could be almost
heard in Hutah. Absurd! The thing to do is to get _on_.” He spread out,
with an angry slap, the copy he had made of the vellum inscribed by the
Holy Palladius, and read out the Latin words by the light of an electric
torch. “It absolutely tallies,” he cried enthusiastically. “You see,
ab-so-lutely tallies! Another week, perhaps a little less, perhaps a
little more, and we should see the Sanctuary before us, if we could only
start!”

“But, Grandad,” interrupted Helen, who sat fanning herself with her
topee in an endeavour to bear with the terrible heat, which had encircled
her eyes with deep violet shadows and caused her collar bones to show
with undue prominence. “How can you be sure that that range of mountains
is the one in which the water is hidden? It seems to me to be too near
the beginning of the desert not to have been discovered before, if it is.
In fact, Abdul told me that his own brother had been within five miles of
it.”

“And why, when so close, did he not go closer still?”

“Because of the great barrier of evil the bad spirits, which live in the
mountains, have built to keep people away.”

“Exactly,” said the old man triumphantly. “We are not going to break
new ground, my dear child; we are going to break through the barrier of
superstition erected by the Arabs themselves, and which _alone_ has kept
them from the water of which they stand so badly in need in this terrible
spot.”

“It is rather appalling, I must say, without the camp fires,” said
Ralph Trenchard, who, in shorts and a silk shirt, wrestled unceasingly
with insects of all sizes and shapes which flew and crawled about them,
attracted by the light of the torch.

“However did those poor beggars get through without oils of lavender and
lemon, kerosene and smoke of sulphur to protect them from these brutes?”
He speared a spider as he spoke and flung it into the night, then took
Helen’s hand in both of his. “Why not turn in, dearest? You look tired
out, and we can’t move until the stars come out, either late to-night or
to-morrow night.”

She shook her head as she looked first at the sullen sky, then at the
huddled figures of the Arabs, sitting with their heads buried in their
burnous, and at the camels lying with their muzzles hidden in each
other’s sides. She put her finger to her lips and shook her head again,
as she glanced at her grandfather poring over the map, then at the
sentries who paced the four sides of the rough square.

The square was small and compact, with their Excellencies’ tents in
the middle, and the camels so stabled that there could be no confusion
between them and their drivers if danger should arise. To mark the four
sides of the square a tent had been pitched at each angle. In the shadow
of the one to the south a man lay with his ear to the ground. He lay like
one asleep or dead until the sentry turned, when he crawled upon his
belly back to the lines where, with the help of two others such as he,
he unhobbled certain camels and fastened them together by means of long
leather thongs buckled above the knee of the right forelegs, then let
them loose. It is an invention of Satan himself to create confusion in
a herd of camels, and has never been known to fail in the annals of the
turbulent Peninsula.

“Yes, why don’t you go and get some sleep, child?” said Sir Richard,
who paid no attention to the passing of the hours himself, having
acquired the Oriental’s gift of falling asleep when and where he wished.
“Two o’clock already! Dear me! How quickly time does pass when one is
pleasantly occupied!” He evicted something that crawled from the vicinity
of his neck and patted his granddaughter’s hand. “There’ll be plenty of
time for love-making, little one, when we get back to east winds and
frosts, so run along and take off your boots and comb your hair and
wheedle a basinful of water from Hassin. I don’t know what I should have
done without you, and I’m glad to think that there is a man _almost_ good
enough to look after you. Ah! I thought so. We’re in for a thunderstorm.
That accounts for the sky and this oppressiveness.”

He turned and looked due south, childishly pleased that he had caught the
distant rumbling before the others; then looked up at Ralph Trenchard,
who had leapt to his feet, jerking Helen up beside him.

“Do you hear it now? Of course, the storm may pass us by.”

“The storm’s not going to pass us by!” answered Ralph Trenchard sharply.
“That sound has nothing to do with thunder; it’s the sound of horses
galloping on sand. Remember I did my bit in Egypt and know what I’m
talking about, and they’re not far off either. Take Helen to your tent
and stay there, so that I can know where you are. Don’t leave it. Quick!
Oh, damn the fool!”

A sentry had fired into the pitchy darkness.

The Arab is inclined to impulsiveness with firearms when left to himself,
but he is a born fighter and a magnificent fighter when properly armed
and led. He will fight to the death for a cause, for a bet, for nothing
at all; he loves fighting, and does not own himself beaten until death
overtakes him or he is rendered incapable of movement through wounds.

The camp seethed.

Now that the danger was upon them the men were in high fettle at the
prospect of a fight. If they died—well, _kismet_! It would be because
their hour had come. If they lived, the great English Sheikh would
reward them bounteously for having so well defended her Excellency their
mistress. They were well armed, the ammunition plentiful, and the young
English Sheikh a man among men to lead them into battle. So they yelled
in response to the yelling of the distant enemy, and loosened their
knives and examined their rifles whilst calling upon the Prophet to allow
the battle to be long and bloody and the reward great.

The camp had not been caught unprepared, and all might have gone
exceeding well if it had not been for the half-dozen camels which the
spies had fastened together with leather thongs. Panic-stricken, they
rushed amongst the others standing helpless on account of the hobbles,
entangling them, binding them one to the other as they fought to get
free.

“Rifle all right, darling? And yours, sir?”

Ralph Trenchard paused for an instant at the tent, then ran to take his
place amongst the men who watched the magnificent picture before them,
withholding their fire by his orders.

A torch flared suddenly in the far distance, and another, and yet
another, until a line of orange flame swept across the sky towards the
camp, rising and falling at regular intervals as though borne upon the
crest of some gigantic wave.

From underneath the flaming line came the thunder of many hoofs and the
shouting of many men, invisible in the darkness. Then showed dimly the
shape of a white horse ridden by a woman, and behind her horses and men
sweeping down to the attack.

Glittering from head to foot with jewels, shouting with her men, Zarah
the Cruel, the mysterious woman of the desert, rode her favourite
stallion native-wise, guiding him with her knees, ripping his satiny
sides with golden spur to keep him a length ahead of those she led.

“_Ista’jil! Zarah! Ista’jil! Zarah!_”

The men shouted the battle-cry and the Arabian’s name unceasingly as they
drove their horses at full gallop over the billows of sand, holding aloft
their throwing spears, upon the points of which lighted torches flared.
Little cared she that the line of light made a splendid target for the
enemy hidden in the darkness; little cared she what happened to those
around her so long as tales of mystery and power about her were carried
throughout the Peninsula, across to Egypt, and up to Turkey and far away
to India.

She raised her spear when a volley from the camp brought men and
horses crashing to the ground, and turning to Al-Asad, who rode at her
right hand, shouted an order, which he repeated, whilst the men yelled
“_Wah! Wah!_” as they raised their spears and whirled them above their
heads, until the sky seemed full of great circles of fire and the earth
possessed of demons.

There came the crash of a second volley from the camp just as Al-Asad
raised his hand, and the spears, with flaming torch upon the points,
flashed like meteors in a semicircle through the air, to fall in the
centre of the camp.

“They surround us, Excellency!” shouted Abdul, who had left the
screaming, fighting camels to their fate so as to stand by the side of
the white man he had learned to love and respect during the long weeks
they had passed together. “Watch her, that thrice accursed daughter of
pigs; she makes the point from which her men deploy.”

As the men spread out on each side of her Zarah reined the stallion in,
holding him, rearing and plunging, upon one spot, seemingly indifferent
to the bullets which rained about her, spitting up the sand at the
animal’s feet, bringing her men and her horses to the ground. She laughed
aloud and raised her spear twice above her head as the tent to the north
caught fire, lighting up the smallest detail of the inferno. In the fire
and the smoke caused by the torches falling amongst the packs and tents
Ralph Trenchard and his men worked like demons to loosen the great water
skins, whilst the camels shrieked and fought and tore at each other in
their agony, as the spears hurled by the enemy were buried in their
sides or in the ground, or in the breasts of the Arabs who fought so
desperately for life.

“Have they no rifles?” yelled Trenchard.

“Yea, verily! But the daughter of swine would take the white people alive
for ransom,” yelled back Abdul. “We are surrounded, Excellency. To the
glory of Allah we die fighting.”

Trenchard gave one quick look over his shoulder towards the tent where,
outlined against the light of the fire, Sir Richard and Helen stood
shoulder to shoulder with smoking rifles in their hands. “Fire!” he
shouted, as Zarah raised her spear and threw it with unerring aim.

“Out knives and fight to the death!”

He yelled the order which transports the Arab to the seventh heaven of
delight as the spear buried itself in Sir Richard’s gallant old heart,
and the enemy moved suddenly and swiftly down upon them.

“Fall back and give no quarter!” he shouted again, unwitting in the din
and turmoil of a party of Bedouins which, attracted by the red glow in
the sky and the sound of firing, raced towards the scene of battle from
the west.

Shouting encouragement, firing until his rifle became too hot to hold,
Trenchard backed slowly towards Helen, who knelt clasping her grandfather
in her arms. Wounded, shouting, the men fell back slowly to form a square
round her Excellency the white woman, who had accounted for more than
one of the enemy and who, in her bravery, was to be ranked with the most
famous of _hadeeyahs_, even Ayesha, the wife of Mohammed the Prophet,
whilst the spy who had loosened the camels worked his way sideways until
he stood close behind the white man for whose capture alive a great
reward had been promised.

“Stand fast, men, they’re on us!” shouted Trenchard as, with a ringing
yell, the enemy charged, just as the six camels, their long leather
thongs burned through, shrieking and maddened with the agony of their
burns and wounds, rushed the gallant square.

“God have mercy upon us!” Helen cried as she sprang to her feet to watch
the terrible sight of horses and camels fighting to the death, making an
impassable wedge separating her from Ralph Trenchard.

Outlined against a background of orange light, they looked like mighty
prehistoric beasts as they reared and plunged, falling to their knees,
scrambling to their feet, shrieking as only horses and camels can
shriek, in pain and fear. Sick to the heart, she tried in vain to
catch a glimpse of the man she loved, whilst Zarah, with Al-Asad at her
side, rode round and round the camp, shouting the battle-cry, yelling
encouragement to those of her men who were left alive to fight.

Just for the moment Helen stood searching vainly for her lover, her ears
deaf to the din of the battle, her eyes blinded to the terrible sights,
then flung herself down beside the old man she loved so deeply. Where
she loved she had no fear, neither could any task be too hard for her
to undertake for the loved one’s welfare, so that she knelt beside Sir
Richard and gently drew out the spear which had pierced the gallant
heart. When she understood that it had for ever ceased to beat she
gathered him up into her strong arms and kissed his white hair. She held
him so, just for a little while, as her mind uncontrollably raced back
through the happy years spent with him; then she laid him down upon the
desert sand and, picking up her rifle, rose to her feet.

She was of those for whom great danger holds no terror. Thrice blessed
indeed are they upon whom that great tranquillity descends in the midst
of danger; who, steadied and exhilarated by peril, help those around them
by their unwavering calm.

She stood, with the dead man at her feet, waiting to help the living man
she loved as he fell back slowly towards her, fighting desperately.

Where the men met they fought without quarter, regardless of the
hammering hoofs, the tearing teeth, the foam and blood and welter of the
animals. Stripped to the waist, black with grime, fighting at such close
quarters that he could scarce tell friend from foe, Trenchard fought,
using the butt-end of his revolver, with Abdul by his side, whilst the
Bedouins approached nearer and nearer, unseen on account of the smoke,
unheard in the din.

“Thy wife!” shouted Zarah, leaning towards Al-Asad and pointing to Helen,
who stood alone with her back towards them, nauseated at the sight of
a bay mare and a wounded camel in death grips. The camel had reared and
flung itself upon the mare, meeting its teeth just below her ears, whilst
she, lashing out until great rents were torn in the dying camel’s belly,
tried vainly to free herself from the paralysis which crept over her
through the vice-like grip upon her spine.

“_Bism ’allah!_” yelled Al-Asad, as Helen raised her rifle. “Behold! is
she the maid to be the mother of sons? Let us take her to blind Yussuf as
his part of the spoil.” He yelled again in sheer admiration as a double
report rang out and the fighting beasts dropped; then rode down upon
Helen as she reloaded, and lifting her, swung her, fighting like a tiger,
across the saddle.

He laughed exultantly as he held her down, pressing her hands against her
neck with his left hand until she was almost suffocated, and her knees
down with his right hand, whilst his horse, guided by the pressure of his
knees, raced back to where Zarah waited, laughing and shouting remarks
which, fortunately, were not heard above the uproar.

“Behold, she is for thee—thy mate,” she cried; “and I—look
thou—look—look—behold _my_ mate, alone amongst wolves.” Al-Asad, who
could hear no word of what she said, looked to where she pointed, then
laughed savagely when she screamed in an agony of fear.

It happened in a second.

Flames suddenly burst from the tent to the east, leaping to the very sky,
against which, for one instant, Ralph Trenchard, with Abdul at his side,
stood out clearly.

Zarah leant forward, revolver in hand, and fired—too late. From out the
heap of dead and dying the spy had sprung, felling Ralph Trenchard to the
ground with a blow from the handle of a throwing knife behind the ear, to
fall himself with Abdul’s knife in his side.

Then friend and foe turned and, shoulder to shoulder, faced the onslaught
of the new terror which fell upon them out of the night, whilst Abdul
flung himself down upon the body of the white man he loved, and ripping
the cloak from a dead Arab, covered him and pulled him under the
sheltering bodies of two dead camels.

Zarah turned in her saddle and emptied her revolver into the group of
Bedouins who, lying upon their horses’ necks, raced down upon her; then
shouted to Al-Asad and, giving the stallion his head, fled for her
life. They did not skirt the camp; they rode right through it and over
everything they encountered in their path, heedless of the curses called
down upon them by the wounded they trampled underfoot. Out into the
coming dawn they sped, guided by the stars for which Sir Richard had so
ardently longed, with the limp body of the English girl as their sole
reward for the disastrous night.

       *       *       *       *       *

The stars went out and the sky lightened down in the east as the Bedouins
sat in a circle, taking counsel together.

The camels and horses that were fit for use stood hobbled, placidly
ruminating or fretting and fidgeting, near the spot where the west tent
had stood; the prisoners lay groaning on the ground, or sat, with the
fatalism of the East, awaiting their sentence.

The sky was covered, as far as eye could see, with vultures, whirling
and swooping, settling as near as they dare to the feast awaiting them,
or standing motionless until some noise or movement sent them flying in
flocks skywards, an offence against the glory of the heavens.

The unconscious form of Ralph Trenchard lay at the feet of the Bedouin
chief, whilst Abdul, by his side, craftily bargained for their lives.

“A man of much wealth thou hast seized, O my brother! A great sheikh in
a country where the towns are paved with gold, the bazaars are full of
jewels, and the streets of houris of the greatest beauty.”

“Perchance ’tis true; but how know we that he will give us of his wealth
once we have nursed him back to life and allowed him to depart from us?”

Abdul turned in the direction of Mecca and lifted his hand.

“By the beard of the Prophet I swear it, by the wind and the wool and
the honour of the Arab I swear it, knowing him of whom I speak. In the
name of my father and my father’s fathers I will stand as bond for this
man’s honour. My life for his word, O brother; and life is sweet, even
unto those who are born in lowliness. There is much wealth upon the backs
of the camels, for behold! the fire has but touched the covering. It is
thine in return for his life.”

“It is mine already, O brother!”

Abdul played his trump card.

“Yea, if thou darest to take it. If thou wilt listen to me it will be
thine without the fear of questioning from the king of the great white
race, who knows the movements of each one of his subjects and meteth out
death to those who slay his children or keep them prisoner. I am the
white man’s servant; let me but nurse him back to health, heal his wounds
and allay his fever so that he may start upon the quest of the white
woman he loves, and I will pour the tale of thy goodness into his ears in
such wise that peace and plenty will be thine for ever more. Is it not
written, brethren, ‘He is the chosen of the people who rejoices in the
welfare of others’?”

So it came about as it had been written that, after many hours the birds
of prey drew closer to the scene of tragedy, whilst Abdul, holding his
master gently in his arms, followed the Bedouins upon camelback as they
rode slowly away across the path by which they had so swiftly come.



CHAPTER IX

    “_The walls have ears._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Helen Raynor lay like a broken lily, asleep upon a divan piled with
cushions, in a great room built between two ledges of rock high up on the
mountainside.

The place was bare, save for rugs upon the floor and the cushions of
every colour of the rainbow, embroidered in gold, patterned in jewels,
and quite unfit for an invalid’s repose.

It was refreshingly cool in spite of being nearer the scorching sun than
any other part of the erstwhile monastery. A great slab of rock, many
feet in thickness, jutting from the mountainside, made a natural ceiling;
huge brass bowls full of water stood on the rock floor; the desert winds
of dawn and sunset blew in at the cross-shaped apertures which took the
place of windows in the east and west walls, built of pieces of stone
of all shapes and sizes, fitted together in mosaic fashion and two feet
thick; the door faced the cleft in the mountain ring, and through it
could be seen the limitless desert, a view of infinite peace.

An austere place, imbued with quiet strength, an eyrie of peace,
conjuring up pictures of abstinence and sacrifice, it stood as it had
been built all those centuries ago by the Holy Fathers for their prior,
connected with the plateau by a dizzy flight of steps leading straight
down to the water which Sir Richard had hoped to discover for the good of
mankind and his own satisfaction.

Namlah, the native woman, shivered as she sat outside on the edge of the
platform upon which the place had been built, but as much from the effect
her surroundings were having upon her as from the chill breeze of dawn.
She got to her feet, her many anklets jangling as she moved, and walked
to the edge of the rock ledge and looked down at the water and shivered
again and sighed.

Zarah the Cruel had made the biggest mistake of her life when, in a fit
of towering rage, she had set Namlah to tend and guard Helen Raynor. She
had thought to set a jailer at the girl’s door; she had placed a friend.
She had thought to take the body-woman’s thoughts away from her dead son
by piling still more work upon the bent shoulders; instead she gave her
hours in which to sit, to dream, to plan out some way in which to revenge
herself for the loss of her child.

Her son had not returned from the disastrous battle. He lay somewhere out
there in the desert. Her son was dead. And when, mad with grief, she had
flung herself at her mistress’s feet and begged to be allowed to go and
find him and bury him, she had been struck across the mouth and ordered
up to the dwelling where the prisoner lay, and threatened with still more
dire punishment if she told the white girl aught about the secrets of the
place.

And what could worse punishment mean but the death of the one son left
her? The dumb boy she loved even more than she had loved the one who had
not returned from battle; the boy who had been nicknamed “Yussuf’s Eyes,”
and who spoke by tapping with his slender fingers upon the blind man’s
arm, and almost as readily and clearly as if he used his silent tongue.

Grief and a great fear filled her heart.

What if Zarah the Merciless took this son? She touched an amulet of good
luck which hung about her neck and turned to draw an extra covering over
the prisoner left in her care.

“Beautiful! Beautiful!” she whispered, gently stroking the golden hair
she delighted to brush for the hour together, and which covered the
girl, like a veil, to her knees. “What will be thy fate in the hands of
the one who knows no mercy?” She spat as she spoke and sat down at the
foot of the divan. “Thou a slave who art a queen in beauty? Thou to obey
where thou hast ruled, to go when ordered, to come when bidden? Nay!
Allah protect thee and bring thee safely through that which awaits thee.
I love thee, white woman, for thy gentleness in thy distress. Not one
harsh word in the days when the fever ran high; not one black look in
these days when thy weakness is as that of the new-born lamb. Behold, is
this the time to replace about thy neck the amulet which fell from thy
strange clothing when I did take them from off thee, thou white flower?”
She searched in her voluminous robes and drew out a small golden locket
on a broken chain, and sat turning it over and over in her hand, fighting
a great temptation. She fingered the brass bracelets and the silver ring
she wore and rubbed the gold chain against her pock-marked cheek.

“The amulet, yea, that will I not keep, for fear I rob the white woman of
her birthright of happiness; but the chain, of what use is it to her? It
is thin and broken....” She twined it round her wrist, looking at it with
longing eyes, then, with a little sigh, unwound it and slipped it round
the girl’s neck and, knotting the broken ends, hid the locket under the
silken garment and ran out quickly on to the platform.

She sat just outside the door, indifferently watching the starlit sky
with twinkling eyes in a wry face.

“Behold, I love thee,” she whispered, “and would bring thee back to
health. Not alone because of my love for thee, but for that within me
which tells me that ‘the time approaches when a camel will crouch down
on the place of another camel.’” She rubbed her work-worn hands as she
quoted the proverb and pondered upon the happy day when the reigning
tyrant should be dethroned and someone with bowels of compassion should
be elected in her stead. She turned her sleek head and looked once again
at the girl, and fingered her brass bracelets and smiled, as she quoted
another proverb, until her perfect teeth flashed in the dusk. “‘He who
cannot reach to the bunch of grapes says of it, it is sour.’ Behold, I
think the golden chain would not have become my beauty.” She rose as
she spoke, laughing, with the childlike happiness of the Eastern who is
pleased, and crossed to a small recess, where she made great clatter
amongst many brass pots in the process of concocting a strong and savoury
broth.

She stood for a moment watching Helen, who had wakened at the noise and
lay looking out through the cleft in the mountains to the desert.

For three weeks, so far as she could judge, she had lain ’twixt fever and
stupor in the strange room, tended by a middle-aged native who put her
finger to her lips when questioned.

Three weeks of agonizing uncertainty as to the fate of those she loved,
in which in her delirium she had fought maddened men and beasts or sobbed
her heart out in the native’s arms. Twice she had crawled to the platform
and tried to descend the steps to reach her grandfather, whom she thought
to see standing upon the river bank. Not once had she been aware of Zarah
standing behind her as she lay on the bed, with a mocking smile on the
beautiful, cruel mouth and a look of uncertainty in the yellow eyes.

She had questioned the native woman, imploring her to give her news of
the caravan, promising her her heart’s desire if she could but obtain
authentic information about the man she loved. She had begged for her
clothes, and when they had been refused had tried to rise from her bed,
only to fall back, weak and exhausted from the fever which had resulted
from the horror and shock of the battle and the terrible ride, during
which, at the last, she had mercifully lost consciousness.

“Am I in the hands of Zarah, the mysterious woman of the desert?” she had
whispered to the native the first day her senses had come back to her.
“Has a white man been also taken prisoner? Is there any help for us?”

Namlah had looked furtively over her shoulder and had put her finger upon
her lips as she had whispered back:

“‘The provision of to-morrow belongs to to-morrow’ is a wise saying,
Excellency. Rest in peace whilst yet peace is with thee. ’Tis wise for
the hare to abide beneath ground when the hawk hovers, and for the lamb
to make no sound when the jackal prowls. ’Tis twice wise for the eyes
to be wide open and the mouth shut when those who are in power are
likewise in wrath.” She had bent over the girl as she had arranged the
cushions, and had whispered lower still: “Trust not the news of her
mouth, Excellency; it is as a well of poisoned water in which truth dies.
There is one here whose words are as pure gold, though his eyes are like
burned-out fires. When he brings news I will bring it thee. Thou may’st
trust me.” She had slipped the cotton garment from her back as she spoke.
“The marks of the whip that lashed my back are as naught compared to the
wounds of grief which the greed and tyranny of our mistress have caused
to cut deep into my heart.” She had stroked the girl’s hair and patted
her hand when she had cried out at the sight of the great scars, and had
waited upon her and nursed her, loving her the while.

“I waited for thee to waken, Excellency,” she whispered this hour before
the dawn. “Al-Asad has but just returned; he speaketh even now with Zarah
the Cruel.”

And having bathed Helen’s temples and wrists and fed her with much strong
broth, Namlah crept noiselessly down the steep steps to the broad terrace
where her mistress dwelt, and crouched, a shadow amongst shadows, under
the window made by the Holy Fathers centuries ago.

She stayed, crouched against the wall, listening to the voices of her
mistress and Al-Asad the Nubian. Unable to catch their words, she touched
the amulet at her neck and rose, inch by inch, until the top of her head
was on a level with the window’s lower edge.

“Of a truth wert thou cunning ...” she heard her mistress say, losing the
rest of the sentence in the peal of laughter that followed.

Complete silence fell, and the night air became the heavier for the
scents of musk, myrrh, attar and other such overpowering perfumes beloved
of the Oriental, which floated through the window. Namlah sniffed
appreciatively, then, too small to see above the window ledge, and with
curiosity rampant in her heart, crouched down again until she knelt
upon the rock, and felt around with slender, nimble fingers for the
wherewithal with which to raise herself the necessary inches that would
enable her to see into the room without being seen.

She found nothing, but, spurred by the sound of her mistress’s voice,
slipped out of her voluminous outer robe, rolled it into a bundle and
stood upon it, a wizened, dusky slip of an eavesdropper, in a coarse,
unembroidered _qamis_.

“‘A small date-stone props up the water jar,’” she quoted, as with one
brown eye she looked furtively into the room from the side of the window.

She drew her breath sharply. Simple in her wants, as are all the
natives of the serf-like class, she had never been able to get over the
astonishment she felt at the sight of the luxury with which her mistress
surrounded herself.

The rough stone walls built by the Holy Fathers and the uneven stone
floor had been covered with marble of the faintest green, cunningly
worked along the edges in a great scroll pattern of gold mosaic. The
scroll glittered in the light of four lamps hanging in the corners of the
immense room, reflecting all the colours of the rainbow in their crystal
chains and crystal drops. The drops and chains were reflected in a basin
of pink marble in the centre of the room, and in five huge mirrors
which the Arabian’s colossal vanity had caused her to place about. Gold
and silver fish swam monotonously round and round in the marble basin,
happily unconscious of the moment awaiting them when the woman would
catch them in her dainty, henna-stained fingers and throw them on to the
floor, for the mere pleasure of watching them die. The water for the
marble basin was changed every few hours by prisoners, who toiled up and
down the steep steps under the blazing sun and the lash of the overseer’s
whip, all of which doubtlessly added to the enjoyment Zarah felt when she
caught the fish in her merciless hands.

Persian carpets and countless cushions were spread upon the marble floor;
stools and tables inlaid with ivory, gold and jewels stood upon them,
also bowls of sweetmeats, trays of fruit and great vases of perfumed
water, in all the profusion so dear to the heart of the wealthy Eastern.
Two black and white monkeys chased each other all over the place,
in and out of doors leading to other smaller rooms, which served as
dressing-room and wardrobes, and up and down a slender steel staircase
which reached to a platform built right across the north end of the
room. The platform was two yards broad, the back made by the marble of
the wall, the front protected by a fine broad-meshed gold netting which
opened in the middle and swung back like a door. Covered with silken
perfumed sheets, piled with cushions and hung with orange-coloured satin
curtains, it was but a somewhat exaggerated replica of many Oriental
beds, which are raised from the ground for the sake of coolness and also
protection from that which crawls by night.

Inside the golden cage, with the slender steps safely drawn up from
the floor, Zarah would lie o’ nights, either watching the dim shape of
her lion cub as it prowled this way and that, or sleeping with the
untroubled conscience of the heartless, or dreaming waking dreams of the
man she had learned to love in the space of a few moments.

The lion cub, with neither teeth nor claws drawn, and which was a good
deal nearer adolescence than a European would have considered healthy in
a pet of that category, padded awkwardly backwards and forwards behind a
divan upon which his mistress lay this night whilst listening to Al-Asad
the half-caste, who, just returned from seeking information concerning
the white man, sat cross-legged on the floor beside her.

“Tell me once again, O Asad, all that thou didst learn concerning the
white man when, as one fleeing for his life, thou didst crave shelter in
the Bedouin camp.”

Al-Asad frowned as he looked at the woman whom he served in love and
who had had no word of praise for the arduous undertaking he had so
successfully accomplished. He loathed himself for the love which so
weakened him, causing him to tremble at her frown and almost to prostrate
himself at her small feet when she gave him a smile. Longing to drive a
knife through her heart to end it all, he held tight clasped instead the
golden tassel of the cushion upon which she lay.

“Words repeated are but waste of time, but, as I have told thee, O woman,
the old white man lies buried deep in the sands, safe from the birds and
beasts of prey, who have left but the bones and tattered raiment of man
and beast to mark where the ill-fated battle was fought. The young white
man, even the one about whom thou art besotted in love, lives, being
taken prisoner, with one Abdul, by the accursed Bedouins who fell upon
us. He is likewise recovered from a great fever which befell him from
the blow dealt him, O Zarah, in the midst of the fight, and the blow of
a hoof upon the forehead which struck him as he lay upon the ground. He
has been nigh dead of this fever, fighting in his delirium, calling ever
loudly upon the woman’s name I cannot remember, shouting aloud his love
for her.”

“Thou dullard,” broke in Zarah furiously. “Art as of little learning as
the Bedouins who give him shelter for their own ends? Make yet another
effort, even if thy tongue be too big for thy mouth, which is not over
small.”

Al-Asad shook his head, taking no notice of the gibe at the expense of
his negroid blood. “I cannot, O woman. Yet should I know it again if I
but heard it. To pronounce it, must the mouth be opened and the word
dropped out without movement of the lips.”

Zarah twisted herself round upon her elbows until her face was on a level
with the man’s.

“Helen!” she said quietly, and sat upright, clasping her hands about her
knees, when the Nubian laughed and nodded his head.

“So,” she said slowly, “he loves her! Yet has she said no word of him,
neither wears she his likeness upon her breast, which, O Asad, is a
sickly habit of those who love in northern climes. I have sat with her,
watched over her in her fever, yet has she said no word of him, neither
found I aught in her garments when I searched them, and the ring that is
upon her finger is but a trifle from the bazaar.”

That Helen’s engagement ring happened to be a scarab inscribed with words
of power, and worth a great price, she was not to know.

“Namlah, the body-woman who tends her, has she found naught?”

Zarah laughed as she turned and looked at the stars through the window,
outside which stood a dusky slip of an eavesdropper.

“Oh, she, the fool, she thinks of naught but the wounds upon her back and
the failure of her son to return from the battle. In her stupidity is she
the safest of all to wait upon the white girl? Yet how can I make use of
this Helen, who has vexed my spirit since first we met? How can I pay
back the laughs and torments of her companions at that thrice accursed
school if she does _not_ love this man?”

“He loves her, O Zarah!” guilelessly remarked the Nubian, who was finding
rare balm for his own wound in the hurt of his mistress.

Zarah flung herself round and struck at the handsome, stolid face
with the loaded whip she kept handy in case of an emergency with her
four-footed pet.

“Thou fool!” she stormed. “Keep thy mouth closed upon such words. What
knowest thou of the ways of white men and women? They travel together
with as much freedom as though they were brother and sister; they dance
in each other’s arms; they go to the festival together, returning alone
at the rising of the sun; they ride and drive and work together, yet are
they but friends, there being naught of love between them. Thinkest thou
that the man would look twice upon yon woman, who is the colour of a
garment which has hung overlong in the sun, if I were at his side, dost
thou?”

In her wrath she looked like one of the restless birds of vivid plumage
which sang or moved incessantly in the golden cages standing against
the walls; but Al-Asad wisely refrained from answering the question, as
he glanced at them and thought of the joy some men find in the homely
sparrow.

“Let the white woman, with a name like a drop of water which droppeth
from a spout, write unto the white man and bid him hasten to her to
deliver her from danger. If he loves her he will speed upon the wings
of love, as I would speed if danger should threaten thee, woman of a
thousand beauties.”

“Oh, thou!” contemptuously replied Zarah, as she pulled the ears of the
lion cub which sprawled at her feet. “Nay, thy words are as empty of
wisdom as the pod of the bean that is in the pot. Thou knowest not the
white race. It weeps over a hurt done to a beast; it bares its breast to
receive the spear thrown at another; it will suffer torture, yea, even
death, to shield a brother from harm.”

She sat for a long moment, then looked sideways into the man’s eyes and
smiled until he waxed faint with love.

“A light shines, O Asad of the lion heart. I will go, when she waketh
from her sleep, and make friends with her and work upon her feelings
of friendliness for one who sojourned with her in the thrice accursed
school. She will then bid the white man hither to join in the circle of
friendliness, and then——” She laughed softly as she opened her hand and
closed the fingers slowly.

“And then, Zarah, thou merciless one, what then?”

“Then will I replace her in the heart of the man I love and give her to
thee, as wife or what thou wilt, so that in thy sons the blackness of thy
blood may be equalled by the whiteness of hers, and her days be passed in
one long torment through the different colouring of her offspring.”

But Al-Asad was in no wise inclined to her way of thinking, and said
so in blunt, crude words. He made no movement as he told her of the
love which consumed him; he did not raise his musical voice one tone
as he described the heaven of his days when near her and the hell when
separated from her, even for a few hours; he repeated the story of his
love stubbornly, quietly, over and over again, and made no sign of his
hurt when she laughed aloud in merriment.

“Behold, O Asad!” she cried as she laughed. “Behold, art thou as perverse
as the mule and as blind to thine own advancement as is Yussuf—that
thrice accursed thorn in my side—to the sun in his path. A beauteous
maid, white as ivory, gentle as the breeze of dawn, awaits thee but a
few steps higher upon the mountainside, and yet dost thou sit, like a
graven image of despair, within the shadow of one whose love is given
elsewhere.”

“Love!” repeated the half-caste slowly. “Thou and love! ’Twere enough
to make the mountains split with laughter to hear thee! Let us cease
this foolish talk. I love thee, Zarah, and will have none other woman
but thee; but I love thee so well that, rather than see thee suffer the
torment I suffer, I would bring thee thy heart’s desire and find in thy
happiness my happiness and death!”

“How sayest thou, little cat?” Zarah turned lazily on her side as she
spoke to the lion cub. “Wouldst bring a mate to thy love because she
would have none of thee, or wouldst break her will or her neck so as to
prove thyself her master?”

Namlah gasped and Asad leant quickly forward when, with a low growl
of pleasure, the great cat sprang upon the divan and stood across its
mistress, kneading the silken cover into strips.

“Learn thy lesson from the four-footed beast,” cried Zarah sharply, as
she struck the animal across the eyes with the whip until it leapt from
the divan and slunk across the room, where it crouched in a corner with
lashing tail and blazing eyes. “The lesson which teaches the slave that
there is a line beyond which his foot may not go.”

But Al-Asad was taking no notice of the lesson he was being taught. From
under half-closed lids he was watching something round outside the window
which, to the best of his knowledge, had not been there when he had
sat down upon the floor, something which he mistook for Yussuf’s head,
knowing the hatred which existed between him and his mistress.

“Let us cease this foolish talk,” he repeated as he rose slowly to
his feet, his heart hot with anger at the thought of the spy. “Let us
instead”—he lowered his voice to the merest whisper as he spoke—“let us
visit the woman who is to be the bait in the trap into which the white
man will place his feet.”

He was at the door with one mighty bound, and out to the wall which
showed bare in the starlight. He stood listening for the faintest sound.

None came.

Namlah lay flat on her face upon the steps, her dusky slip of a body and
saffron-coloured _qamis_ one with the shadows.

But she was making noise enough with her beloved brass pots to disturb
the invalid or to waken the dead as her dreaded mistress, followed by the
gigantic half-caste, entered the room in which the prisoner lay, looking
out towards the desert where she had lost those she loved so dearly.



CHAPTER X

    “_Sweet of tongue but of distant beneficence._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


“Zarah! It is—it is you! Then it _was_ you!”

Helen raised herself on her elbow and stared at the bewildering picture
which suddenly appeared in the doorway, blotting out the peace of the
coming dawn and the far-stretching desert.

Wrapped from head to foot in a great cloak of orange satin, the Arabian
stood outlined against the purple sky, with the Nubian behind her, whilst
Namlah, hidden behind her pots and pans in the recess, cursed beneath her
breath with all the Oriental’s volubility.

The terrified body-woman had lain flat on her face upon the steps until
certain that she had not been discovered, then, as the sky had lightened,
had crept like some gigantic spider up the steps and into the room where
the white girl lay. She had barely had the time to whisper a warning and
to run noiselessly across to the recess and hide herself when they heard
her mistress’s voice speaking softly to the Nubian as they, too, mounted
the steps.

Zarah did not hesitate. She determined upon a plan of action even as she
caught the unconquerable look in the girl’s bewildered face.

Here was no weakling to be bullied into submission, no poor spirit to be
tyrannized, no faltering feet to be whipped along a certain road; rather
was it a case for duplicity and cunning, with flowers and green boughs
to cover the dug pit into which, misled, betrayed, Helen Raynor would
ultimately fall.

With a little cry she ran across to the divan, flung herself on her
knees and seized Helen’s hand with a world of innocence and entreaty in
her strange eyes.

“Helen R-raynor-r!” She spoke the sweetest broken English in the world,
her r’s rolling like little drums. “Ze fr-r-ien’ of my youz! Can you
under-r-stan’? Can I beg for your-r for-r-give-e-ness for ze ter-r-ible
mistake?”

She gave Helen no time to grant it or not. She launched out on the most
plausible explanation of the disastrous battle that a crafty mind could
possibly have invented on the spur of the moment. “I could not hold my
men; I could not make zem hear-r or-r under-r-stan’ in ze noise of ze
fight zat we had not foun’ ze r-r-right enemy.” She flung her arms up
above her head, which she then proceeded to bow to the ground. “By ze
gr-r-ace of Allah”—she raised her face and right hand to the ceiling, a
veritable picture of piety—“zey did hear-r my or-r-der not to fir-r-e so
zat you, dear-r fr-rien’ of my happy schooldays, was not kill-ed. Ah!
Zose ozer bar-r-bar-rians zat kill-ed ze old Englishman wiz ze white
hair-r, zay were ze ones we——”

“My grandfather! But he was killed by a spear through the heart, a spear
thrown by one of your men. The others came up from behind!”

In spite of the reputation for lying and every kind of deception that the
Arabian had gained at school, Helen had almost allowed herself to believe
the plausible tale told in the guileless voice.

But, her suspicions aroused by the last barefaced untruth, she drew away
as far as the divan would allow from the supplicating figure with the
sorrow-laden eyes.

But as well try to catch an ostrich on the run as Zarah in a falsehood.

She rose to her feet, a superb figure of sorrowful indignation, and threw
out her hands as best she could for the cloak she had wrapped round
herself in an effort to hide the scantiness of her attire, then sat down
on the foot of the divan, facing her enemy.

“Helen R-ray-nor-r! You believe zat of my men, mine, over-r whom I
r-reign as queen? Ze bar-r-bar-rians sur-r-rounded us, zey thr-r-rew ze
spear-r fr-rom behind my men. Zen I give ze or-r-der to Al-Asad, who is
my bodyguar-r-d.” She pointed to the Nubian, who stood just outside the
door, watching the rocks in the hope of seeing Yussuf pass amongst them.
“I tell him to save _you_ from ze savage Bedouins.”

“But why me alone?” Helen drew the silken coverlet about her and got to
a sitting position on the edge of the divan, whilst Namlah watched the
battle of wills between the beautiful women from the recess, which was
just behind Zarah’s back.

Zarah leapt at the chance of firmly establishing her lie. “But zer-r-e
was no one else to save. Ze old one, your-r gr-ran’fazer-r, was dead.”

“No, no, no!” Helen sat forward in her intense excitement, her eyes
shining, her hands clenched. “There was another Englishman with us,
someone you know, Zarah. Think of it, someone you have met!”

“_Me!_ I have met! A fr-r-rien’ of yours and mine! I do not
under-r-stan’!”

Quickly, breathlessly, Helen reminded her of the day she had fallen from
her horse into Ralph Trenchard’s arms.

“You remember! Oh, you must remember! He told me all about you; said how
magnificently you rode. Oh, and when he heard about the mysterious woman
of the desert, he said he thought it might be you, because you had told
him that you came from somewhere about here and had asked him to pay your
father a visit. Didn’t you see him? Don’t you know where he is? And _are_
you the wonderful woman everyone talks about?”

Zarah clapped her hands in childlike enjoyment.

“I just r-remember-r him,” she cried gleefully, whilst longing to
choke the life out of the girl in front of her. “And he was wiz you?
Then wher-r-e is he? We sear-r-ched after-r-wards for our-r men upon
ze battlefield, but saw nozing of ze old man, nor-r his bones, nor-r
his clothes, and nozing of—of ze ozer. I mean zer was no tr-r-ace of
any ozer. I know!” She clapped her hands and laughed. “We saw marks
leading back to Hareek. He is escaped, taking wiz him ze body of your-r
gr-r-an’fazer-r, and is waiting for you, to know wher-r-e you ar-r-e, to
come and fetch you.”

“Perhaps! Perhaps you are right!” quietly replied Helen, her eyes fixed
on the clasped fingers, which showed white at the joints under the
pressure of the Arabian’s emotion. “Yes, perhaps you are right.” She
smiled gently and nodded her head, whilst she asked herself if Zarah’s
intense solicitude could possibly arise out of friendship for herself.
She decided that it did not when, on turning her head, she found the eyes
of the handsome native fixed upon her. She frowned and drew the silken
coverlet more closely about her in an instinctive desire to protect
herself from the feeling of uneasiness and evil which had suddenly fallen
upon her, and sighed with unconfessed relief when the sunrays tipped over
the edge of the mountains and shone through the open door. “Tell me,” she
said quickly, “why did you go out to fight those Bedouins? What harm had
they done that they should be shot down, speared, massacred by a force
far superior to their own? What right had you to take their lives?”

It is most injudicious to ask such pertinent questions in the uncivilized
places of the world, and it was well for Helen that she could not see the
rage in the other’s heart at her daring.

“_Aï-aï-aï!_”

The cry of the mourner rose to high heaven as Zarah smote her breast,
causing the doves and pheasants and other birds to rise in flocks, and
the women near the water’s edge to look up from the business of the hour.

“Behold!” lied she brazenly. “Even some moons ago zose bar-r-bar-r-ians
lay in wait for some of my people as zey r-ret-urned fr-r-om Hutah. Ze
men zey killed, ze women and ze little, little child-r-ren zey took away
wiz zem. Am I not ze mozer of my people? Could I r-refuse my men when zey
cr-ried to be r-revenged? Ah, fr-r-ien’ of my happy schooldays, ze ways
of ze deser-r-t a-r-r-e not ze ways of ze city. Let us not talk of zings
so sad. Listen! I have some idea. Do you r-r-emember how Miss Jane used
to scold when we said zat?”

She did not give Helen time to say if she did or did not remember, but
turned her head and said something in his own dialect to the Nubian. He
raised his hand and walked to the edge of the platform, as unwitting as
his mistress of Namlah the body-woman, who stood in the doorway of the
recess, gesticulating violently and shaking her head.

Helen looked at her quietly and then turned and looked out through the
doorway, wondering what Zarah could have said to awaken such perturbation
in Namlah’s heart.

“What is the great idea, Zarah?”

Zarah smiled bewitchingly, her teeth flashing, her eyes as soft as a
gazelle’s. “I will r-r-repeat ze invitation to ze Englishman—ah, I cannot
pr-r-o-nounce ze name—zrough you. You will wr-r-ite him a letter to ask
him to come to stay for ze little time and to take you back wiz him—yes?
You will write, will you not, my dear fr-r-ien’?”

Love, the master-key to all problems between woman and woman, unlocked
the door which hid the secret workings of Zarah’s mind from Helen. The
request explained Namlah’s agitation. Zarah had evidently told the Nubian
about the letter of invitation.

“How will you send the letter?”

It seemed a trusty messenger would deliver the letter at Hutah and would
wait to act as escort to the Englishman on the return journey through the
desert.

“But Ralph Trenchard may be ill, or he may not be able to come.” Helen
watched the other’s face intently as she spoke. “The messenger can
escort me to Hutah instead of taking the letter.”

“No woman is safe unar-r-med, and not even ar-r-med, alone in ze
deser-r-t wiz a man. Be r-reasonable, little English r-r-ose, and
wr-r-ite ze little letter.”

“_You_ could take me with an escort to Hutah, Zarah.”

Zarah humbly touched her forehead, and threw out her hands as she raged
inwardly at the other’s obstinacy.

“I am ze mozer of my people. Zey mour-r-n, zey weep in zeir-r sor-r-row.
I cannot leave zem even for a little, little while.”

“You liar!” said Helen to herself, thoroughly aware at last of the trap
which had been laid for the man she loved.

There was no sign whatever in the women’s faces of the strength of the
passions in their hearts.

Zarah smiled the gentle smile of propitiation as she played for the
fierce love which had possessed her for so long, repressing the hate and
jealousy which urged her to call the half-caste and bid him fling the
girl down to the rocks beneath.

In the depths of Helen’s eyes lay the confident smile and the look of
strength of those who can bear all, risk all, defy all, for love’s sake.

Fell a little pause as the sun ray crept along the floor, flooding the
room with light, making a golden halo round Helen’s head.

“You do as I ask?” The question fell so gently in the quiet place.

Helen leant forward and looked straight into her enemy’s eyes as she
answered slowly:

“_No! I will not write that letter!_”

Fell another silence, in which, whilst exercising the little control
she was capable of, Zarah traced the embroidery upon the pillow and
worked her cunning mind, and Helen sat still and silent, wondering what
the answer to her refusal would be. Love made her brave, love made her
ready for sacrifice, but she shivered involuntarily as she remembered the
tales she had heard of the Arabian’s cruelty, rage and treachery, both at
school and after.

Perfectly healthy in mind and body, she shuddered at the thought
of mental or physical pain for others, did everything in her power
to alleviate it, made every effort to avert it from them. She felt
intuitively that danger threatened the man she loved, and she longed to
ask the Arabian the meaning of her mocking smile as she lazily traced the
embroidery with a hennaed finger.

Zarah was trying to come to a decision.

She had methods which, though hardly civilized, were extremely
efficacious in bending the most obstreperous person to her way of
thinking; she had also a fair knowledge of the Briton’s stubbornness and
excessive altruism.

For some unknown reason Helen had suddenly become afraid for Ralph
Trenchard. Why? She did not love him, because she neither blushed nor
cast down her eyes when she mentioned his name, nor did she wear his
portrait, after the sickly manner of her race, about her person.

Zarah loved the Englishman with all the violent, uncontrolled passion of
her parentage, but her hatred for the calm English girl was almost as
deep and as violent as that love, and to it was added a seething desire
for revenge—revenge for her looks, her breeding, her gentle ways, but,
above all, for the intolerable _camaraderie_ which evidently existed
between her and the white man.

If only she had known any sign of love, then would the revenge have been
easy and subtle and of a surpassing cruelty, but her interest in the man
seemed to be that of a friend and no more.

In fact, she seemed only to be interested in her surroundings, in the
distant view of the red desert rolling in great billows as far as eye
could see, and the golden sunshine which filled the room with its light
and warmth. She watched Helen stretch slowly, shrug the over-warm
coverlet from her shoulders and pull the cushions into a more comfortable
position behind her shoulders; then, with the lightning quickness of
a hawk, she leant suddenly forward and wrenched at a locket which had
slipped from the silken garment Helen wore.

She sat quite still, staring at the portrait she held of the man she
loved, then she gave a little sigh of intense satisfaction and laughed
gently as she looked across at Helen, who stared in amazement and
stretched out her hand.

“What an extraordinary thing,” she said simply; “it must have got caught
and been hidden all the time in the coverlet. I thought I had lost it
that terrible night of fighting. Please give it me.”

Zarah twisted the broken chain round her finger and swung it to and fro.
She laughed like the girl she ought to have been and playfully shook her
head. She could afford to be charming and frank; in fact, to prepare the
first step upon the road of revenge she would have to pretend to tease
her old schoolmate, so as to allay her suspicions.

Yes! she could well afford to wait, for had she not the white man and
the white girl in her power? Would she not be able to draw him into her
net and put her in the dust at her feet through the little golden locket
which swung on her finger?

“I will keep it for a little while, Helen R-r-aynor-r, my dear-r
fr-r-ien’, jus’ for a souvenir of ze ol’ days. My dwelling is your-r-s.
I am sorry you will not be able to get away jus’ yet”—she laughed gently
so as to disguise the threat held in the words—“but I am ze mozer of
my people an’ cannot leave zem, an’ it is not safe for-r a young an’
beautiful woman to be in ze deser-r-t alone wiz an Ar-r-ab. You will
wait a little until I am fr-r-ee? You will bathe, you will join in ze
spor-r-ts an’ watch my happy people at zeir wor-r-k in zeir homes? I
have many books. You will also r-r-ide wiz me or wiz an escort in ze
deser-r-t. Yes?”

She laughed softly at the glint in Helen’s eyes, born of a suddenly
conceived plan of escape.

“Someone will show you, perhaps, ze way out an’ ze way in of my deser-r-t
home. Zat you cannot lear-r-n by your-r-self because it is sur-r-rounded
wiz ze quicksands, in which lie dead ze hundr-r-eds of men an’ beasts.”

“Ah! tell me again, tell me about the quicksands which have, of course,
kept the water hidden all this long time. Tell me all about it so that,
when I get back to Bagdad, I can write to the papers and prove to the
people, who laughed at Grandad, that his theory was correct.”

Helen spoke quickly, her fear momentarily allayed by the thought of
being able to vindicate her grandfather. Almost deceived by the other’s
friendliness into believing that she was solicitous for her welfare, she
smiled across at Zarah.

Fully determined that the white girl should remain a life-long prisoner,
either dead or alive, in the mountains, Zarah recounted the romantic
history of the strange place, whilst Al-Asad sat lost in dreams and
Namlah gently rubbed her foot, which had become afflicted with cramp
caused by her squatting position behind the pots and pans.

Zarah spoke well, her melodious, deep voice filling the room, the jewels
sparkling on her hands as she moved them in graceful, dramatic gesture.
She recounted humorous incident, and laughed; tragic, and drew her hand
across her dry eyes; she was hypocrisy incarnate as she revelled in the
cunningly thought-out revenge she had decided to take upon her prisoner.

“A wonder-r place, is it not, Helena? Unique in ze wor-r-ld. You do
wr-r-ong in not sending ze invitation to our-r fr-r-ien’. I would zank
him for-r saving me fr-r-om death in my schooldays. But if you will not,
you will not, and as you will not, zen must I give you a bodyguar-r-d to
keep you safe until I take you back to him?”

“I don’t want a bodyguard, Zarah. As long as I have your permission to
run about all over the place....”

“But zat is it, ze place is ver-r-y big an’ full of danger-r-ous places.”
Zarah had no intention of letting the girl make friends with any of
her people, and rose as she spoke and crossed to the door. “I will ask
Al-Asad to r-r-recommend someone to look after you, to chaper-r-ron you,
as you say.”

Al-Asad got to his feet when his mistress called him.

“I have them in my hand,” she said, so quietly that Namlah strained her
ears in vain. “We will descend and speak upon it, but I will not that she
makes friends amongst my people; find thou, therefore, someone to be ever
upon her heels.”

“Nay, woman, leave her free so that we find out the workings of her
mind through her actions and through the tongues of those with whom she
speaks. Warn her body-woman, even the ever-busy Namlah, that her life
depends upon the life of the white woman and——”

Helen, who had been watching the magnificent couple, wondered what the
sudden, heavy frown on Zarah’s face portended, and instinctively moved
back when she swept into the room.

“Where-r-re is your-r ser-r-vant?” she asked abruptly. “Why is she not
attending you? Wher-r-e does zis Namlah hide her-r-self, zat woman with a
face like a gr-r-avel path?”

Helen smiled up at the Arabian and drew her hand across her hair, pushing
it back as a sign to the pock-marked woman who stood, quaking with fear
and with hands clasped in the doorway of the recess, to hide herself.

“She went down just as you came up. I wonder you didn’t pass her on the
steps. I always like my linen washed at dawn, it smells so much the
sweeter. She will be up in quite a little while to get my early cup of
tea ready.”

Helen lied quietly, quickly, bravely, to save the little servant, and
sighed with relief when Zarah swept out on to the platform in great
wrath. “Namlah!” she called, the mountains echoing the sweetness of her
voice. “Namlah! Namlah! _ta al huna! ta al huna!_” and turned back into
the room when Namlah did not come.

“She hides somewhere, listening to our speech, the lynx-eyed, fox-eared
daughter of pigs,” she stormed in Arabic, taking a step towards the
recess. She was half-way across the room and Namlah half dead with
terror, when Helen gave a piercing cry.

The lion-cub, roaming about as was its wont at dawn, had heard its
mistress’s voice and, bounding up the steps, had hurled itself into the
room and on to Helen’s divan. After her one cry of fear, she lay quite
still, whilst the tawny beast, with lashing tail, sniffed at her neck,
then with a low growl flung itself off the divan and hurled itself at
Zarah’s feet.

“A strange place zis, Helena, wiz st-r-range customs an’ str-r-ange
pets,” said Zarah casually, holding out her hand at arm’s length, over
which the lion-cub jumped.

“But is that lion safe?”

“So far-r-r, yes! When it is not, zen we kill it; zose zat do not obey do
not live long her-r-e. I am sleepy. I will go down an’ you will dine wiz
me to-night—yes? Au revoir! Zink of all I say an’ be wise, zat woman can
wait.”

She walked slowly out of the room, taking no notice of Al-Asad.

He came to the doorway and looked in upon the beautiful white girl and
frowned as he turned away.

“‘The butcher is not startled by the multiplicity of sheep.’” He quoted
the proverb as he watched the woman who had no compassion for her
victims, the woman he loved, descending the steps, then followed her, her
willing slave, even to the bringing about of her heart’s desire.



CHAPTER XI

    “_The hole which he made opened into a granary._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


She did not dine with the Arabian that night nor any other night, and
when, one evening, some seven days later, completely restored to health,
she walked out to the edge of the platform to ascertain the cause of the
shouting of men, barking of dogs, and occasional firing of rifles, Namlah
crept up behind and urged her to go in.

“Orders have come. Her Excellency is to remain inside her chamber until
other orders come giving her her freedom.”

“But what is it all about?” inquired Helen, as she reluctantly entered
her room.

Namlah spat, or, rather, made a sound as though she spat, before replying.

“Zarah the Merciless makes an excursion into the Robaa-el-Khali.” She
pointed towards the cleft through which the desert in the starlight
showed like the face of a veiled woman. “Allah grant that she remain
there, a food for vultures, as have remained so many. She is a liar, a
thief, a murderess. Allah guide the knife through her black heart.”

A spirit of rebellion, of adventure, of recklessness, showed in Helen’s
eyes as she questioned the little woman who had repeated all she had
heard the night she had spied through the window and had so urgently
counselled silence and watchfulness and patience.

“Yea! Excellency! she leads the men. The men and beasts laden with
provision and water and ammunition wherewith to make a camp between this
and the scene of the fighting have departed these many hours. Ah! she is
as cunning as the jackal. She relies not upon chance. She has always a
place of refuge to fall back on if the fight goes against her, or if the
men are in need of food for themselves or their guns. How long she will
be gone? I know not; maybe a few hours, a night, a week—who knows?”

“The Nubian, has he gone too?”

Namlah laughed shrilly.

“Ha! the knotter of shoe-strings, the eater of dust, behold he has gone
these may days upon some secret journey. He held conclave of great length
with the woman who rules us with a rod fashioned in the nethermost
_Jahannam_. They sat under the starlight so that I could not approach,
Excellency; they spoke softly so that I could not catch their words from
the rock behind which I lay concealed.”

She smiled up into Helen’s face when, under the strain of the suspense in
which she had lived for the last ten days, she took the servant by the
shoulders and shook her none too gently.

“I can’t bear it much longer, Namlah!” she said in her pretty, broken
Arabic. “I can’t bear the uncertainty, I can’t bear the silence, the
waiting, with nothing to do to kill the terrible hours. I simply cannot
bear it. For danger to myself I do not fear, I do not care. Cannot I find
the way out so that I can escape? Can I not?”

There was no one in sight, there was certainly no one within hearing, up
there in the eyrie so near the stars, but the little woman ran first to
the right and then to the left and then into the room before she sidled
up to Helen and whispered.

Is not intrigue as the breath of life in the East?

“Her Excellency must take exercise, must walk under the stars to-night
whilst _she_ is abroad.” She spread her fingers wide and down in the
direction of the path leading across the quicksands. “Her Excellency must
walk, even if it be amongst the rocks where the shadows lie blackest.”

Helen looked intently at the little woman, who gazed out of the doorway
with an air of seraphic innocence.

“I could not find my way down there, Namlah! I should fall or get lost
or——”

Namlah trotted to the door and stood with her hand shading her eyes,
looking out towards the desert.

“Yet is there one, Excellency, who without eyes walketh safely amongst
the rocks. One without eyes, but with much wisdom upon his tongue and
goodness in his heart, who walketh ever without fear in the great
darkness; one who yearneth to help those whose backs have suffered from
the whip or whose hearts have suffered from the power wielded by that
daughter of _Shaitan_!” She crept close to Helen and whispered in her
ear: “One who likewise craveth to hurt, to wound, to kill, in revenge.”

Helen shivered at the hate in the little woman’s voice, but she
understood. She had learned the history of the blind man from Namlah;
once when, restless and unable to sleep through anxiety, she had walked
out on to the platform she had seen him in the grey light of the dawn,
standing midway on the steps, his face raised to her abode; once Namlah
had lain a few flowers on the silken coverlet, had whispered, “patience
brings victory to the blind and the prisoner,” and had retired to her
pots and pans with finger on lips.

The body-woman walked to the edge of the platform and beckoned to the
white girl she loved, and pointed to a silvery cloud of sand far out in
the desert.

“Yonder she rides,” she whispered. “May the sand choke her! May the
scorpion sting her heel! May....” She smiled up at Helen and shrugged
her scarred shoulders in the expressive Eastern way. “But of the luck of
such, Excellency, is it written, ‘throw him into the river and he will
rise with a fish in his mouth.’ Yet will her turn come; the tide cannot
remain at the full, the sun must set. Behold! I descend to the river,
whilst the men and women make merry in her absence, to fetch water for
her Excellency’s bath, leaving her alone, to walk amongst the rocks, in
the protection of Allah!”

Helen watched the little woman descend the steep steps, balancing a great
earthenware jar skilfully upon her head; noticed that she stopped for a
moment near one gigantic boulder which lay to the right of the steps;
listened to her singing as she made the rest of the descent down to the
water, which looked like a ribbon of silver run through a purple velvet
curtain, then entered the room, which was really a prison cell, pulled a
sheet of dark blue silk from her bed, and ran out on to the ledge.

She did not hesitate.

That the woman might be a spy did not once enter her head, and if it had,
under the strength of her love and her anxiety, she would doubtlessly
have thrown caution to the soft night wind and risked her life in an
endeavour to find out if there was not some way of escape by which she
could return to the man she loved.

Her own clothes, cleansed and pressed by Namlah’s busy fingers, had been
returned to her, so that she stood, a beautiful picture of an English
girl, in the strangest of strange surroundings, looking down into the
shadows out of which, she prayed, help might come to her.

Afraid of her outline against the sky, fearful of dislodging some stone
to send it clattering down the steps, she wrapped the blue sheet round
herself and descended slowly, carefully, pausing to listen, standing to
peer into the ink-black shadows on every side, and down to the plateau
where, by the light of torches and of fires, she could see men and women
passing to and fro.

She had almost reached the great boulder, when she stopped and drew the
dark silk still tighter and peered about uneasily, as she tried to locate
a soft hissing sound which came from some spot quite near to her.

Through bitter experience she had learned the ways of Arabia’s scorpions,
centipedes, wasps and flies; had fled in terror from the one and only
_aboo hanekein_ she had encountered, a fat, poisonous brute of a spider
with formidable pincers, and wrestled vainly against the great variety
of ants which the Peninsula offers; of locusts she had but the slightest
acquaintance, and of the deadly vipers, the _Rukla_ and the _Afar_, which
abound in rocks she had only been warned that afternoon.

Yet for fear of someone mounting the steps she dared not remain where she
was, and had just decided to risk the few yards which would bring her to
the boulder, when once more she caught the hissing sound.

And then from sheer relief she almost laughed.

“_Sit!_” whispered Yussuf from the shadows. “_Ya Sit! Sit!_”

She crept forward and round the boulder to where stood the blind man, who
had been perfectly aware of her noiseless descent. She did not shrink
at the terrible face, twisted and scarred, which looked down upon her;
rather did her heart go out to the maimed man as she laid her hand upon
his arm and called him by name.

“I trust you, Yussuf,” she said simply, which is quite one of the best
ways of winning the heart of an embittered man.

“Her Excellency _can_ trust me!” whispered Yussuf as he salaamed. “Namlah
and I are brother and sister in affliction. I have lost the light of
these mine eyes, she has lost the light of her life, her son, in the
grievous battle. To ease our hurts we seek to help thee, gracious lady,
so that upon her return the woman who rules us may find ashes in the
taste of her victory and gall in the wine of her success. The plans are
laid, have been laid this long while. I will carry her Excellency over
the secret path and out into the desert, then will I return for Namlah
and the camels, which are hidden and waiting these many hours, the
swiftest and most docile _hejeen_ in the stables.”

“Now? At once?” asked Helen, trembling with excitement. “But how can you
guide us across the desert?”

“Thy servant rides by the wind.” He lifted his sightless face to the
star-strewn sky and smiled. “’Tis from the east, _Sit_. Let it blow
in our faces, and we go towards the east until the sun sets after the
passing of two days, then we go north upon the path to Hutāh, passing the
field of the battle where the accursed offspring of the devil lifted the
white woman.”

Overpowered with gratitude, almost speechless with amazement as the
weight of her fear was lifted from her, Helen trembled, under the shock
of the sudden realization of her hopes and, desirous that he should share
in her happiness, caught the man’s hand in entreaty.

“You will come with us? You will let me and his Excellency, the man I am
going to marry, look after you, make you happy, make you forget, you and
Namlah?” She laughed softly, aglow with love and hope. “Gratitude is a
small, a very small, word, Yussuf, and it cannot express what I would say
in thanks.”

Yussuf smiled as he shook his head. Such words were rare in his ears; of
such brotherly love, excepting for that in his own heart, he had had no
knowledge.

“I will take thee, _Sit_, to within sight of the oasis, then must I
return. My task is not finished, will not be finished, until the spirit
of Zarah the Cruel has returned to the _Jahannam_ from which it came. We
must hasten by a path known only to me. I will lift her Excellency over
the rough places and carry her safely across the parts where danger lies.
The way is open, the night is clear, we——”

He stopped abruptly at the sound of voices raised in anger, and feeling
for Helen, gripped her tight about the wrist.

Namlah’s voice seemed to rise in a screaming crescendo, in ratio to the
steps she climbed, accompanied or followed by someone upon whom she
poured out the vials of her wrath.

“Nay! thou wine-bibber,” she shrilled. “What if thy mistress did place
the safekeeping of the white woman in thy useless hands? Nay! thou shalt
not push me to the side of this accursed path so that thy legs, which may
Allah strike with numbness, may carry thee with speed to the post thou
didst forget in thy drunkenness. Keep thou behind me, lest I break the
jar upon thy empty head and waste the precious water upon thy unclean
body, which is fit carrion for the birds of prey. What sayest thou? Thou
wouldst but look upon the white woman? So that thou mayst see her with
thine own eyes? Verily shalt thou, if thou canst see for the wine with
which thou hast filled thy vile and accursed body.”

Yussuf lifted Helen bodily into his arms.

“‘If thou seest a wall inclining, run from under it.’” He quoted the
proverb as he carried her swiftly up the mountainside by a steep short
cut, as sure-footed as a goat, as certain of his path as if he had eyes.
“It is not the hour, but let her Excellency remember that Yussuf is her
servant in all things.” He put her gently on her feet upon a ledge from
which she could climb to the platform. “Remember, too, that when the hour
does strike, then will Yussuf strike also. ‘Patience brings victory to
the blind and to the prisoner.’”

A few moments later Helen stood just inside the doorway, listening to the
violent altercation upon the steps.

There came the crash of a breaking jar, torrents of execration and
imprecation, then silence, and, in spite of her disappointment, she
smiled as she watched Namlah, slowly and with much dignity, climbing the
steps, with a dripping wet individual in the rear.

“Seest thou the white woman with thine own eyes? Yea! Then sit thou
there, thou dog!” cried Namlah at the top of her voice. “Nay, upon the
second step. Wouldst force thy company upon thy betters? And may Allah
strike thee with cold for having forgotten thy duty to thy mistress, so
that thou diest of palsy before the dawn.”

There was a twinkle of laughter in the depths of the brown eyes as she
combed the prisoner’s golden hair.

Is not intrigue as the breath of life to the Oriental?

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_He swims in a span of water._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

At that very hour Al-Asad, disguised as a holy man, sat in the camp of
the Bedouins who had befriended Ralph Trenchard.

True, the holy man’s body was somewhat well covered, as though he had not
unduly deprived himself of food in the ecstasy of his religion, and his
feet in fairly good trim, considering the length of the pilgrimage he was
making on foot to Mecca; also, upon close inspection, might the rents in
his one garment be attributed to a blunt knife rather than to time.

But there are many kinds of holy men criss-crossing desert places,
depending entirely upon the charity of chance-met Arabs for sustenance
and the will of Allah for a safe arrival at their journey’s end. The
tattered handkerchief fluttering from the end of the staff can be traced
by the keen-eyed, approaching or retreating, for miles in the desert’s
clear atmosphere, and heartbeats never fail to quicken at the chance
encounter with the solitary human who wends his way across the burning
sands, alone with his God.

As to others, so to Ralph Trenchard, sitting outside his tent, came that
feeling of great respect which the sudden appearance of these mystics
arouses in those who have the wherewithal to allay their hunger, and a
place upon which to lay their heads at night; and with the respect, a
great curiosity to read the secrets of a mind which allows so emaciated
a body to endure and survive days of endless wandering and starvation
and nights under heaven’s starlit roof. Al-Asad sat motionless, his eyes
fixed upon space, whilst his stomach rebelled against the rice in the
wooden bowl at his feet, and his whole being longed to get back to the
spot, in the far distance, where he had hobbled his well-laden camel.

Fearful of news of his search being transmitted through space to the ears
of those he sought, he had been forced to act up to his disguise and to
travel many weary, sandy miles on foot to various Bedouin camps, and to
eat many bowls of insipid rice, washed down his gasping throat with muddy
coffee, whilst abstracting the news he wanted from his unsuspicious host
by subtle questioning.

He had rejoiced to the innermost part of his being when, whilst humbly
asking alms from the Bedouin chief, he had seen Ralph Trenchard out of
the corner of his eye.

His quest was at an end. He had but to get into communication in some way
with the white man and arouse his interest, then leave the rest to the
foolishness of a race which, as his mistress had told him, taught its men
to look upon women as an almost sacred charge. He rose, and with hands
uplifted turned to the four quarters of the globe, his keen eyes sweeping
the camp for sign of the lynx-eyed Abdul, whilst the Bedouins drew back
out of respect for his holiness.

On catching sight of the servant at the back of his master’s tent,
Al-Asad squatted upon his haunches and muttered to himself, letting the
beads of Mecca run swiftly through his fingers whilst his crafty mind
searched for the best way to start the business without arousing the
servant’s suspicions.

He scraped up the last handful of rice, being careful not to leave one
single grain, and forced it down his rebelling throat, then rose and
crossed slowly to a black patch of shadow, in which he sat himself, well
aware that the eyes of the whole camp, especially those of the white man,
were upon him. He sat motionless for awhile as though in thanksgiving for
the nauseating meal, then made a gesture, upon which, with little cries
and great jostling, the whole camp, men, women and many children, crowded
about him, then, with the chief in the centre, sat themselves down in a
semicircle at the respectful distance demanded by the holy one’s piety.

Ralph Trenchard strolled to the extreme end of the right side of the
semicircle. He was wholly restored to health, a prey to intense anxiety,
and upon the eve of his departure for Hutah, where he intended calling
upon the aid of the entire Peninsula for the recovery of Helen, and
felt thankful for anything which might serve to distract his tormented
mind. Abdul gave a final look round his master’s tent, which consisted
of camel-skins thrown over four upright poles, and ran quickly to his
master’s side.

He had done his best to dissuade his master from the rash proceeding
of trying to discover her Excellency’s whereabouts, had preached the
doctrine of fatalism as known in the East, and had at last resigned
himself to the inevitable and sworn, in the secret places of his faithful
heart, to stick to the white man through thick and thin.

The visit of a holy man creates a welcome diversion in a camp where
meals of dates, muddy coffee, and, if luck is in, a sickly mess of
boiled camel flesh as _pièce de résistance_ form the only break in the
long, monotonous hours when fighting is not toward; the advent of a holy
man who deigned to open his lips except in prayer was to be reckoned a
miracle.

Abdul moved close to Ralph Trenchard at the holy one’s first words.

“Are any of thy children wounded, O my Son?” The words came faint and
slow, as though spoken by one who had almost lost the power of speech. “I
have with me an ointment of great power.” Al-Asad searched amongst his
rags and produced an alabaster pot, which had once contained rouge and
had been bought by Zarah in Cairo, but which now reeked to high heaven
of rancid camel fat mixed with aniseed.

“Nay! Father!” replied the chief, whilst his children whispered amongst
themselves. “Those that were wounded are healed, those that were sick are
recovered. Whyfore asketh thou? How knowest thou that they have been in
battle?”

Al-Asad barely suppressed a chuckle as he pressed the lid down upon the
distressing concoction and stored it once more about his person. He made
no answer. He sat motionless, as though lost in meditation, until Ralph
Trenchard could have fallen upon and shaken him back to a consciousness
of his surroundings.

“A moon ago I prayed upon the site of a great battle, O my Son!” murmured
Al-Asad slowly, after some long while and as though he had but just
heard the question. “There was naught but bones and this.” He once more
searched amongst his rags and looked at some object, which he did not
disclose to view, and took no notice of a quickly suppressed movement at
the right end of the circle as Abdul gripped Ralph Trenchard by the arm.
“I have asked those I have met upon my path if they knew aught about that
combat. Nay, my Son! interrupt me not, the hour is slipping into eternity
and I must be gone.” The chief, who had been anxious to tell what _he_
knew of the fight from personal experience, bowed in obedience and spread
his hands. “It was a fight between white men and the woman of whose
dire deeds the desert rings. All were killed but a white woman, who,
grievously wounded and nigh unto death, was made prisoner and taken to
the mountains known as the Sanctuary, which lie but a day’s journey and
a night’s journey to the south of the spot where they fought, and where
dwells the woman of evil repute.”

He rose as he spoke, standing a dim and arresting figure in the shadows,
and stretched out his hand.

“This I perceived glittering in the sun, midway between the mountains
and the battlefield, upon a path marked in the sand by the swift passing
of two camels. It is of too great a value for one who lives upon the
words of the Prophet of Allah, the one and only God. Perchance wilt thou,
my son, take it in return for thy charity to the humble pilgrim.”

He placed the locket in the chief’s hands, and in the scramble of the
entire camp to get a better view of the gift, crept behind the tent
and disappeared into the night, where, once sure that he was beyond
the chief’s range of vision, he emulated the ostrich in speed until he
reached the spot where he had left his well-laden camel.



CHAPTER XII

    “_This is not the bishop’s square._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Abdul removed the locust from his bowl, laid it on one side with three of
its brethren for future consumption, and looked at Ralph Trenchard, who
sat, eating his evening meal, some yards away. Then he wet his finger and
held it up, frowned, looked across the red sand ridges and over to the
scene of the disastrous battle, and shook his head.

“Bad!” he said, removing yet another locust from his shoulder. “Bad
locust, bad wind from the east, bad omen of death.” He spread his fingers
against the power of dead bones and, a victim of superstition, twisted
himself round from north to south as he sat. “All bad for the beginning
of a second journey into this bad desert.”

He placed an iron plate, spread with camel fat, to heat upon the top of
the up-to-date brazier, which was the joy of his life, spread a thin
layer of dough made of _durra_ upon it, and whilst waiting for it to
brown, prepared the five large, dark locusts for frying, praying inwardly
that his master would reject the succulent savoury.

“Five!” he commented, as he salted the insects and rolled them up in the
thin, buttered cake. “Praise be to Allah that we have one good omen.
_Aï!_ Six, nay, seven.” He plucked two more from his skirts, and, fearful
of finding the eighth, which would bring the ill-luck of an even number,
ran swiftly across to his master with his offering.

For two reasons Ralph Trenchard turned the savoury over with his fork. He
had just finished an excellently cooked meal of a highly spiced variety
of the ubiquitous _samh_ broth, and as highly spiced and as excellently
cooked partridge, and a handful of dates; also had he become extremely
suspicious of any fresh addition to the larder and of any new culinary
effort on the part of his servant.

He refused the crisp, well-browned roll at first, then, thinking it only
kind to reward the man for his devotion, bit off an end and finished the
lot.

“Topping, Abdul! I’ll have one every day. What’s it made of?”

Abdul hid his hands in his sleeves as he lied with the ease which comes
from long practice.

“Little bits of meat and fat and vegetables fried in butter, Excellency.
The servant is rewarded by the light of pleasure in his master’s eye.”

Ralph Trenchard rose and shook himself.

“We’d better be starting, Abdul,” he said, flicking a locust from his
sleeve. “The journey of a day and the journey of a night, that means the
journey of two nights as we cannot travel in the sun, and then—and then
I shall know, I shall be certain. And look here, my friend, don’t you go
cooking any of these disgusting beasts and serving them up as fried dates
or something.”

He plucked one of the disgusting beasts from his shirt sleeve and flung
it away, then looked at his servant, who stood motionless, a cloud of
despondency dimming the habitually merry countenance.

“Well? And what’s the matter now? Have the camels stampeded or the
water-skins burst?”

Abdul suddenly knelt and touched the ground with his forehead.

“Give ear unto thy servant, O master! Hasten not the journey, linger yet
one more night and yet one more day. The omens are not propitious for
the starting. We are surrounded by death, by the bones of our brethren.
The east blows the wind from her mouth and from the north comes a puff
of breath, so that the wind will blow slantwise towards the west and the
south.”

“Well? Why not? As long as it doesn’t blow straight from the south like a
furnace, I should say that we ought to be jolly well pleased.”

Abdul gathered three locusts from the ground, stored them surreptitiously
in his voluminous sleeve, and rose to his feet, then walked close up to
Ralph Trenchard, salaamed, and clasped his hands in fervent beseeching.

“These few disgusting beasts, O Excellency, are the forerunners, maybe,
of a great storm of many disgusting beasts, which in time of stress or
famine are thankfully eaten by the Arab and the camel. If the wind were
otherwise set, Excellency, if it were but the locust wind from the east
unto the west, then would I cry haste, haste, so that we should pass on
and leave the storm behind. But, Excellency, the puff of breath from the
north will cause the disgusting beasts to follow us even southwards, so
that we are like to drown in a sea of crawling, disgusting beasts, or to
flee before them into the heart of the bad desert, there to be fallen
upon by the evil spirits which dwell therein. Excellency, the omens are
bad. The locust is bad, the wind is bad, likewise the bones, and”—he
paused to allow the dread of the last and worst omen to sink thoroughly
into the white man’s mind—“and the servant’s camel has pulled the amulet
of good luck from about the neck of the master’s camel and”—followed
another pause for the same good purpose—“has eaten it!”

Ralph Trenchard laughed heartily, being one of the thrice blessed few who
are absolutely free from the faintest trace of superstition, the greatest
curse of modern days.

“Look here, Abdul.” He put his hand on the faithful man’s shoulder and
turned him in the direction of the south. “Not so very far ahead, in an
almost straight line from here, is the range of mountains in which the
woman Zarah dwells....” Abdul spat with vindictive vigour in a southward
direction. “That woman has knowledge of her Excellency, who is to be
my wife....” Abdul, remembering the holy man’s statement about her
Excellency’s health, spread his fingers westward in the direction of the
bones glistening on the battlefield. “And if you think locusts or bones
or amulet-eating camels can prevent me from starting when I said we would
start, and that is in an hour’s time, then are you thrice mistaken....”
Abdul pushed one of the disgusting beasts, afflicted with an inclination
to stray, back into his sleeve. “And I should advise you, my son, to
heave those thoughts out of your mind or you’ll have us wading up to our
necks in locusts, or the bones getting up and following us, or the camels
bursting from an overdose of good luck. Besides, remember your prophecy
about the holy man, who, you said, was a bad holy man. He hasn’t brought
us bad luck so far. You were mistaken, and you were, and you _are_,
afraid and....”

There was a limit to Abdul’s capacity for holding his tongue. He made
finger gestures towards the four quarters of the globe, then shook his
fist in the direction where lay the Bedouin camp which they had left
behind many days ago.

“Mistaken! O master! Mistaken! Why did the holy man run, run like the
ostrich, so that the marks of his holy feet showed hardly upon the soft
sand? Why did I, thy servant, find the footmarks of a camel far out in
the desert just where the feet of the holy man made no more marks upon
the sand?”

“I expect someone was waiting to give him a lift, Abdul.”

“Then why not lift him to the gate of the Bedouin camp, O my master?”

Ralph Trenchard took his servant by the shoulder and turned him in the
direction where lay the camels.

“I expect he didn’t want the others to know that he was living in the lap
of luxury, my son. Go and eat, because I am coming to overhaul everything
and see that all is shipshape before we start on the last bit of the
journey, at the end of which this uncertainty will be lifted from me.”

In spite of its pleasantry, Abdul recognized the one tone in his master’s
voice which always caused him to obey with alacrity.

He salaamed and departed to do his master’s bidding, gathering a good
sleeveful of locusts as he went, and sat, making finger gestures towards
the east and returning thanks to Allah for the tasty addition to the
meal, while the disgusting beasts browned nicely upon the iron plate
spread with camel fat.

But a few hours later he turned in his saddle, then raised his hands to
the heavens, which showed black as with thunder towards the east.

“May Allah burn them with the fire of His wrath! May His right hand crush
the life from them! May He speak words of anger so that they are swept
from the white man’s path.”

From his seat upon the first of seven camels he looked at Ralph
Trenchard, who rode at his side, and back along the six beasts which,
fastened muzzle to scrimpy tail by rope, had leisurely followed each
other up and down the great ridges, whilst the menacing cloud spread
rapidly across the sky.

Ralph Trenchard turned and looked back.

“I am sorry I have been the cause of your getting into this frightful
danger, Abdul,” he said quietly. “Still, I have been in tighter corners
than this and won out, so we won’t despair. You see, the swarm may pass
well over our heads as there is nothing green for it to settle on within
miles. Besides, if we had stayed where we were it would have been the
same thing. We haven’t got so very far from the camp. Still, I’m sorry,
and I....”

The rest of the sentence was jerked from him as his camel stumbled to its
knees, half rose, fell, and with an infuriated scream got to its feet
with the curious back jump exclusive to a fallen camel. They proceeded
in silence for almost a quarter of a mile, when there came a shout from
Abdul which was lost in a chorus of shrieks and groans and lamentations
from the string, as the middle camel crashed, pulling its brother behind
to its knees by the rope attached to its halter, and its sister in front
to a sitting position by the rope attached to her skimpy tail, until at
last the seven beasts sprawled upon the ground.

Ralph Trenchard followed Abdul’s pointing finger. Lost in his thoughts
and without looking at the ground over which he travelled, he had passed
up and down the ridges which were soon to end in a great flat space. He
looked down now, and shuddered at the sight. A thin layer of brown and
crawling locusts lay upon the sands as far as eye could see—a terrible,
living sheet of slipperiness upon which no biped or quadruped could
hope to remain upright for long. He did not hesitate. He shook out the
feet-long leather thong of the camel-whip and flicked the sides of the
nearest fallen camel, against which was already forming a drift of
locusts. And as the camel tried to rise he flicked the others, whilst
Abdul alternately shouted encouragement and prayed to Allah. And when at
last the beasts had been forced to their feet, to stand indifferent and
contemptuous, he took his camel slowly across to where Abdul sat upon
the leader and looked him in the face, whilst locusts, hurled by the
ever-increasing wind, rattled like hailstones upon his topee, and caught
and clung and crawled over his shirt and breeches and over his servant’s
robes.

“You must decide, Abdul,” he said quietly. “You belong to the desert.
You have seen a locust storm many times. Do we go forward or back, or
do we stay here and wait, praying that it will pass before we die of
suffocation?”

Abdul did not hesitate. Already the insects had covered the camels’ feet
and were clinging in bunches to their sides; already the camels were
moaning like children in pain, a sure sign that fear utterly possessed
them and that panic pressed them close.

“We will move forward. And will his Excellency fasten his shirt lest the
disgusting beasts crawl about his person. We are in the hands of Allah,
O my master, and we must follow the path marked out for us, even if it
be spread with a carpet of locusts. The heart of the storm has not yet
reached us. Kismet! it is the will of Allah. Forward, my master, for that
way the future always lies.”

Inch by inch, with the leather-thonged whip curling backwards and
forwards over the string, and Abdul alternately shouting encouragement,
praying to Allah, and calling upon the aid of the great Prophet, the
camels climbed the next ridge, which rose high above its fellows owing
to a mass of volcanic rock beneath it, whilst the locust cloud spread
across the heavens. With its forefeet just over the edge on the downward
steep descent, Ralph Trenchard’s camel slipped, threw him clear over its
head down to the bottom of the dip, then followed in a series of terrible
somersaults, to collapse at the bottom with a broken neck.

“Don’t get down, Abdul! For God’s sake, don’t get down!” shouted Ralph
Trenchard as he scrambled to his feet just as the seven in a string,
well back on their haunches, slid down safely to the bottom, the ridge
meanwhile growing higher and higher as the locusts piled upon it. “I’ll
cut you loose and take the second camel; it’s got two water-skins.
You’ve got to take one—we’ll fix it on somehow.” He hacked at the rope
which fastened Abdul’s camel to the second, then cut through the rope
connecting the second and third; unfastened the water-skins, pulled the
pack off the second camel, wrenched the saddle from the dead beast, and
handed it up to Abdul, who threw it across the other camel’s back.

“Jam the brute against the side, Abdul, I’m going underneath. Tight,
that’s it, don’t let it move. That’s it. Fling the off-strap further
over. My God! That’s it! I’ve done it. Keep him jammed, I’m getting the
water-skins on. Oh! my God! one’s burst; one of those fiends has driven
its teeth into it. Fasten this one to your saddle—d’you hear what I say?
fasten it—I’ve got my water-bottle and—you’ll get the whip across your
back if you don’t—I’m going to tighten the strap—jam him still, I’m
coming out—you can give me a leg up—I—my....” Abdul bent and hauled him
up as he crept from under the camel’s belly and almost threw him into the
saddle.

“Come! Master, come! hasten! The camels fight, they are mad with fear;
they kill all they see when mad. Nay, master, be not so mad thyself.
What matter if they be bound together? They are but camels, and thou, O
master, art a son of God! Turn thy camel, Excellency.”

But the camels would not turn. True, they backed in their fear of the
other five, which, fastened together, shrieked and fought, tore and
snarled, as they vainly tried to climb out of the dip in which the stream
of locusts was rising inch by inch; but get them round they could not,
however hard they pulled at their cast-iron mouths and struck them on the
off shoulder.

Then Abdul yelled and tore off his outer cloak, sitting breathless, in
voluminous drawers and vest, ready for the onslaught. The five camels,
hopelessly fastened together, had straightened themselves out. The first,
clean mad with fear, had seen two of its own kind standing quietly a
little way ahead. For a second it stood quite still, excepting for its
head, which swung from side to side, with great eyes rolling and long
tongue hanging from the foam-flecked mouth, then it shrieked, shrieked
as only a camel can, and charged, dragging the others, which rocked from
side to side. They slipped and fell, and scrambled to their feet under
the spur of the terrible teeth which met in the hindquarters and the
agony of the ropes which lashed muzzle and tail together.

The foremost saw the open space on the waiting camel’s off-side and made
for it, blindly, drew level with Abdul and swung its head viciously
sideways, to find itself enveloped in the man’s coat. Followed a
frightful scene, in which it stood quite still, lost in the darkness
which had suddenly overtaken it, whilst the other four rushed backwards
and forwards and swung themselves round until they jammed in a fighting
circle.

“Quick, master! Now! Follow! Allah protect thee in this corner of
_Jahamman_! Fear at last moves my Satan-possessed beast; may Allah cause
it to burn in the nethermost pit!” The faithful man leant over and
gripped the halter and wrenched Ralph Trenchard’s camel round as his own
turned. “We will go apace! We will....”

His words were lost in the screaming of the five camels, as the foremost,
freed of the cloak, suddenly charged up the side of the ridge. Up, up,
almost to the top, pulling its companions after it, up to the edge
where the locusts lay thick, then down, over and over, with its fellow
prisoners fighting, struggling, screaming, back to the bottom of the dip,
where ’tis wise to leave them to the mercy of Allah.

The two men urged their camels swiftly from the terrible sight, whilst
with a soft _phit-phit-phit_ the locusts fell upon each other with the
sound of raindrops upon glass. The sky was black with them; they swept
above their heads with the whistling sound of a tropical hail storm.

“We will stay here, master, if it be the will of Allah! We will throw
the disgusting beasts out as they fill in the space about us. Thou art
white and I am black, yet are we brothers in distress and in the sight of
Allah.”

Ralph Trenchard held out his hand, which Abdul just touched as he
salaamed.

But it was not the will of Allah that they should remain to die,
perhaps of suffocation, in the dip filled with locusts; it was His will,
perchance, that they should make a last fight for life, which is good
when filled with love, love of the woman, love of the master, love of the
brother and friend.

Abdul turned for one moment to secure the water-skins more firmly upon
his saddle, when his camel stampeded, rushing blindly ahead for no good
reason, as is the custom of the brutes. Followed by Ralph Trenchard’s, it
turned sharply and scrambled to the top of the ridge, where the men bent
double to save their faces from the driving locust rain.

“Master!”

Ralph Trenchard heard his servant’s voice as his camel turned and fled
along the top of the ridge until it was swallowed up in the locust storm.
“Abdul!” he called, covering his face with his arm. “God keep....” He
beat the insects off his shoulders, beat them off as they piled thickly
behind him on the saddle, paused for a moment in the ghastly work as a
faint “Allah!” came to him from somewhere out of the dark, then beat
at the horrible things which crawled all over him with a sickening
scratching of their scaly bodies. The camel, crazed with the things which
covered it as with a coat of mail, slid, shrieking, down the side of the
ridge and scrambled up the farther side, and down and up the next, and
yet the next. Ralph Trenchard, with his feet crossed round the pommel
of his saddle, bent his head to his knees and rode for mile after mile,
clutching the tufts of coarse hair upon the camel’s shoulder, whilst the
locusts piled up on his back and neck.

Why should he try to stop the camel? Why should he get down? Why should
he not go on and on for ever riding, riding through an endless desert
of swarming, crawling, creeping locusts, which stretched across the
heavens and the earth from north to south, from east to wrest? Was it
not the will of Allah? Was not ...? Up he went and down, hanging on to
the coarse hair just above the camel’s shoulders, up and down, and then
on and on, evenly, smoothly, whilst the locusts whistled like a tropical
hailstorm and the sky lighted way down in the east as the great curtain
of insects swept towards and away to the west.

And he went on and on, shuddering under the feeling of the locusts
crawling over him when they had long since taken flight, leaving him and
his camel free; on and on through the journey of the scorching day which
followed the journey of the night, and still onward in the way which
was to lead him to certain knowledge of the girl he loved; on and on,
with his head bent to his knees and his hands clutching the coarse hair,
mercifully unconscious at last.

On and on, until a range of mountains showed faintly in the far distance
and the sun went down behind it, just as, many miles away, two Arabs,
journeying towards the Oasis of Hareek, drew Abdul out from under his
dead camel and, finding that he breathed, straightened the broken leg
between improvised splints, and placed him gently upon the third camel,
which carried all their worldly belongings.



CHAPTER XIII

    “_Under every downhanging head dwells a thousand
    mischiefs._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Namlah had been superseded.

No suspicion whatever attached to her, but, whether her curses had been
too potent or the blow of the water-jar too much for him, the man who had
partaken of much good red wine the night of Helen’s attempted escape had
died.

That, in connexion with certain gossip concerning Namlah’s friendship
and enthusiastic praise of the white woman, decided Zarah. She sent her
packing, without warning, and in her stead put a villainously ugly, surly
negress incapable of speech, much less of a kind thought or deed, who
proceeded to follow the prisoner at a distance wherever she went, thereby
rendering speech with blind Yussuf impossible.

Knowing that Helen must pass the great rock on her way down to the river
to bathe, as was her custom just after sunrise, Yussuf sat himself down
in its shadow the morning after Namlah’s dismissal, with intent to tell
the prisoner the reason for the change in the body-woman and to warn her
to be on her guard. He lifted his head at the sound of her footsteps,
then frowned, though no one else could possibly have discerned the other
almost noiseless tread made by bare feet, one of which pressed the ground
more heavily than the other.

Judging correctly the distance between the two women, he put his finger
to his lips and whispered “_A’ti balak_” as he salaamed.

Be careful!

The change in her body-woman, combined with Yussuf’s warning, caused
Helen’s anxiety to increase, until her days became a burden of suspense
and her nights a nightmare of troubled dreams in which she saw her lover
lying dead or wounded in the desert or a prisoner in the hands of some
lawless tribe.

She would not allow herself to think of her position nor of her future,
but she made a vow in the depths of her valiant heart that, no matter
what was in store for her, no matter how the Arabian might cajole or
threaten, she would not show a sign of the anxiety which consumed her,
nor write a word of the letter which she knew would bring her lover, if
he lived, hot-foot, to her.

Then Zarah, who had not given up hopes of getting the letter from the
girl and who waited for the return of Al-Asad from his quest, showed
herself suddenly friendly, and Helen gladly responded to her invitations,
to visit the kennels and the stables and the rest of the erstwhile
monastery.

True, she had been forbidden to wander amongst the rocks or to climb to
the beginning of the cleft or to ride either horse or camel; true, also,
that the surly negress followed her wherever she went, so that, in spite
of the extra liberty, she felt herself more closely guarded and more
carefully watched than ever. Still, the days passed more quickly and her
friends amongst the dogs and their grooms became almost too numerous to
be counted.

Upon her first visit to the kennels, unaccompanied by Zarah, the head
groom, who worshipped the dogs, reluctantly offered her the whip without
which his mistress would not enter the door when upon her visits of
inspection.

“What for?” asked Helen, as she looked over his shoulder to where the
famous greyhounds and the dogs of Billi stood watching her.

“Out of fear, Excellency; they may be dangerous.”

“Fear of what?”

The head groom did not reply, but spread his fingers in a gesture against
the evil memory of the woman the dogs hated, and rushed to save Helen
from them when, barking and leaping, they threw themselves upon her in
instant friendliness in response to her call.

In the days following she visited the kennels upon every possible
occasion, until even Rādi, the bitch, fawned at her feet in love and the
grooms ran to greet her at the kennel door.

Through the order forbidding her to ride, the grooms of the horse and
camel stables became smitten of a grievous jealousy as they listened to
the tales of the white woman’s graciousness recounted to them by the head
groom of the kennels.

“Dogs! Yea! perchance she has knowledge of the dog, but _ride!_ pah! O
brother, what knows she of the Nejdee? What would she avail against the
vagaries of the desert horse?”

“Wilt thou make a bet, O my brother?”

Which is a perfectly absurd question to ask an Arab, who will gamble with
his last coffee bean if he has nothing of more value in hand.

The bet spread, dividing the camp into two factions which were ready to
fight over it upon the slightest provocation. The grooms of the stables
were backed by their friends; the grooms of the kennels had an equal
following; they all showed a catholic and reckless taste in stakes, which
ranged from marriageable daughters, through money, jewellery and weapons,
down to emaciated poultry.

News of the bet came to Zarah’s ears the day upon which Al-Asad returned
with the report that Ralph Trenchard was safe, had started for the
Sanctuary accompanied by one Abdul, and had been sighted near the scene
of the battle, which meant that he was but a day’s journey behind.

She cursed in her heart that interest in Helen should have been aroused
at such an inauspicious moment, then instantly, little knowing that
the girl’s horsemanship equalled, even surpassed, her own, conceived
a diabolically cunning plan by which she could bring about her death
before Ralph Trenchard’s arrival, and without, withal, arousing suspicion
amongst the men.

Helen wanted to ride, the men wanted her to ride; well, ride she should,
and to her death.

Lulah, the black mare, had been pronounced untamable. Descendant of the
mare who had brought the Sheikh to safety, likewise descendant of the
mare who had been the cause of Yussuf’s blindness, she was as black of
temper as she was of coat.

Three people out of the whole camp had been able to ride her the entire
length of the plateau.

Zarah, Bowlegs, and the Patriarch.

Not one of the others who had taken the risk even of trying to mount
her had escaped injury. Each one had been thrown, considering himself
lucky if he escaped with slight concussion; there had been broken bones
a-plenty and one broken neck.

That made the beginning and end of the plan.

If Helen succeeded in getting across the saddle she would of necessity
be thrown; she must be. She might break her neck, in which case all the
trouble would be over; or she might be stunned, in which case she would
look like dead, which would serve as well.

Brigands do not worry themselves overmuch about such details as
heartbeats; scruples do not exist in a jealous woman’s heart.

Neither was there time to lose.

She sent for the head groom of the stables.

“Lulah the Black, mistress?” The man raised a face of consternation as
Zarah finished speaking. “Mistress, she is not fit; she is as wild as a
bird on the wing; she is possessed of the devil. One of thy slaves even
now lies sick of the meeting of her teeth in his shoulder.”

Zarah put an end to his protestations by the simple method of smiting him
across the mouth.

“And I will saddle her with my own hands upon the day of sport to-morrow,
O my son, and thou shalt hold her near me until I give the signal.
Likewise shalt thou and others make a pretence of mounting her, a
pretence only. And see that thou makest no mistake, lest thou beareth the
burden of my litter for a space.”

The morrow came, bringing a horseman who carried the news of the
disappearance of the white man and his servant in the locust storm.

In her rage against Fate Zarah decided to countermand the sports; then,
fearful of angering her men and aching to find an object upon which to
vent her fury and the agony of as big a love as she was capable, once
more changed her mind and decided to carry out the programme.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_Beaten—but to-day beater._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

“The shadow of the great locust storm has fallen upon Zarah the
Beautiful!” whispered Bowlegs to Yussuf’s Eyes as they watched the sports
with all the enthusiasm and delight of the Arab’s heart, which upon
occasion can be so childlike. The dumb youth nodded his head and smiled
and tapped a description of Zarah’s face upon his blind friend’s arm,
whereupon Yussuf laughed loudly and long and rubbed his slender hands
together at the thought of the Arabian girl’s discontent.

She reclined in her litter this late afternoon, swung upon the shoulders
of four prisoners, her face as black as thunder; she flung herself
irritably from side to side, and used her whip smartly upon the backs of
the men—who had stood in the sun for an hour or so—when, by shifting the
litter, they tried to alleviate the pain of the wounds it made in their
shoulders.

It was her favourite form of punishment for trivial offences, and she
kept Al-Asad, the muscular half-caste, close at hand, so that he should
be in readiness to take the place of the first one of the four who should
collapse under the combined torture of the heat and the weight of the
jewel-encrusted ivory litter. She had no reason to use the whip upon his
back. His mighty muscle made nothing of the weight; his negroid blood
withstood the heat of the sun; his abnormal love caused him to find joy
in the task, blinding him to the smiles, rendering him deaf to the titter
which the humiliation of his task invariably drew from his friends, who
loved the mighty man and grieved over his insensate passion.

She was surrounded by slaves who cast terrified glances at her wrathful
countenance as they performed their various tasks. At her head two
Abyssinian maidens, nude save for the scarlet sashes which girt them
about the middle, stood upon low pedestals like glistening black
statues of Venus, fanning her with fans of snow-white ostrich feathers;
boys, slim, dark-eyed, with slender hands and feet, offered her cool
drinks, sweetmeats and fruits upon trays of beaten silver; girls, slim,
dark-eyed, with slender hands and feet, threw perfumed water into the air.

Helen sat some way off upon a pile of cushions in the shade of a rock,
making a sharp contrast in her dilapidated but well-built Shantung
breeches and knee-length coat with the Arabian’s almost barbaric
splendour; and many a glance was cast at her from the serried ranks of
men, who looked with interest upon the beautiful white prisoner, about
whom Namlah had, most unwisely, ecstatically and so unceasingly talked.

That morning had come the invitation to witness the sports, to which she
had responded with alacrity, to find herself, of a sudden, the object of
interest to many hundreds of men, and a prey to uneasiness at the sight
of Zarah’s mocking smile and the memory of Yussuf’s whispered warning.

Her hair shone like gold against the dark rock background. She laughed at
the men’s encounters in the “_Jerzed_,” and clapped her hands at their
marvellous dexterity with spear and rifle and revolver; but she kept her
eyes away from the spot where the four bare-headed men underwent torture
in the terrific heat of the sun.

She had begged Zarah to spare them; she had entreated with clasped hands,
and with pitying eyes had lain her handkerchief upon the nearest wounded
shoulder, which is a foolish thing for a beautiful girl to do when she
is the prisoner of a beautiful woman famed for her cruelty throughout a
land which is not exactly noted for the gentleness of its methods. She
had retired to the pile of cushions and had sat down with eyes averted
from the terrible picture of the beautiful, insolent woman who had
imperiously bidden her to mind her own business, and had brought her whip
down sharply upon the backs of the two front, undersized, under-nourished
Armenians.

She sat quite by herself, so that she could not ask the meaning of the
mighty shout which went up when Zarah raised her right hand, sparkling
with jewels in the sun. The men in the back rows pushed towards the
front, and those in front pushed their ambitious brethren back with
oaths, so that a pitched battle seemed imminent, in which some part of
the grievances, not only of the seats but also of the stables and the
kennels, might be settled.

Peace fell with a great suddenness when Zarah sat forward and beckoned
Al-Asad. She looked at the warring factions for a long moment, during
which they sat as though carved out of the mountainside; then she smiled
slowly and nodded her head and raised her right hand twice, upon which
the men awoke once more, as from a trance, and yelled.

Helen rose to her feet and clapped her hands, heedless of the eyes which
flashed from her to Lulah, the black, superb Nejdee mare, as she was led
forward, seemingly with as much wickedness in her as a lamb. The men
nudged each other and took on fresh bets with the neighbouring enemy
as they remarked upon the stirrups swinging from the wisp of a native
saddle. “Stirrups!” ejaculated a groom of the stables to one of the
kennels. “And thou say’st that the white woman _rides_?”

“The _Inglizi_ ride not without stirrups!”

“Then they ride not at all!”

“With or without stirrups, O brother, thou knowest that that black
she-devil Lulah is not to be ridden; yet will I make thee a bet of this,
my silver-handled knife, against the silver ring of no value upon thy
finger that yon white woman rides the Satan-possessed mare.”

The two men placed the stakes at their feet just as, with a short run,
one of the stable grooms flung himself into the saddle, and fell off
the other side as the mare reared, jerking the head groom, who held the
halter, off his feet.

Then ran men from all sides, eager, from sheer love of horses and of
sport, to try and dominate the beautiful creature that lashed out on
every side, squealing with what they thought to be anger, and what Helen
knew to be pain. And slowly, inch by inch, the litter tipped to one side
as one of the undersized, under-nourished Armenians succumbed to the
agony of his hurt, until Zarah, white with rage and cursing volubly,
stepped hurriedly out as the other three dumped the litter just as their
companion fell. She did not wait, so great was her rage, to upbraid them;
instead, longing to hurt, to kill, in her wrath, she walked straight up
to Helen, who stood watching the mare pawing the ground.

“You say you can r-r-ride anyzing, Helena, my dear-r-r school fr-rien’,”
she said sweetly, standing slender and straight, at the English girl’s
side, whilst the men broke ranks and rushed across the plateau so as to
overhear the conversation.

“So I can, Zarah. But you know there’s something wrong with that mare.
It’s not all nerves.”

“She has never-r-r been r-r-ridden befor-r-e, Miss Veter-r-inar-r-y,
that’s all zat is ze matter wiz her-r-r. Why do you not have a tr-r-y?”

“Why not indeed? I had a bucking waler at home once, which was miles
worse than that mare. Tell the men to stand clear, and tell the one
holding her to turn her head from me. I don’t want her broadside on.”

Final and terrific betting took place as the men heard their mistress
issue the last orders and rushed back to their places; then complete
silence fell as Helen walked towards the mare, then bent to adjust a
strap on her riding-boot. She looked back suddenly at Zarah and caught
the expression of her face, and bent and adjusted yet again the strap
upon her boot.

She could not interpret the Arabian’s mocking smile, but she understood,
in a lightning flash of intuition, that she was to uphold her country’s
reputation for riding in the eyes of the finest horsemen in the world,
and, great horsewoman that she was, became suddenly lost to everything
outside a fierce determination to do her country credit.

“My last goat to thy new shoes,” a groom of the kennels whispered
feverishly to his neighbour at the sight of Helen’s laughing face as she
backed a yard or so; he nearly broke the neighbour’s arm in the terrific
grip he gave it when Helen ran, caught the mane, vaulted into the saddle,
and throwing her left leg over the beautiful black head, slipped to the
ground on the off-side just before the beast reared with a scream.

“_Wah! wah!_” yelled the men. “_Wah! wah!_” and rose to their feet and
fought each other in their great excitement.

“Allah gives us the victory!” yelled a groom of the stables. “If she
cannot even sit a horse, how can she ride? Hasten, O my brother, with a
cushion upon which this white woman may rest safely upon the earth!”

“‘Advice given in the midst of a crowd is loathsome,’” quoted brother,
his hand upon his knife, which he forgot to draw as he watched Helen. She
stood talking to the mare; she beckoned a child with a tray of dates,
and took a handful and held them out. The mare stretched her beautiful
head and sniffed at them, then nibbled them, showing the red depths of
her nostrils; then, when Helen gave a pull at the saddle, lashed out and
flung herself sideways.

“I thought so,” said Helen.

For quite ten minutes she stood talking to the mare, until the men began
to fidget and grumble and Zarah to laugh; then she spoke sharply to the
groom who held the rope halter.

“Hold on tight, I am going to take the saddle off.”

Zarah made a quick step forward as Helen patted the satiny flank, working
her hands towards the heavy buckle. There came a yell from everyone as
she seized it and hung on to it until it was undone, just as the groom
hung on to the rope halter, despite the slashing hoofs and the mare’s
violent efforts to be rid of these people who so tormented her.

Helen whipped the light saddle off the mare’s blood-stained back and held
it up, turning it first to Zarah, who laughed, and then to the men, who
literally howled execrations.

“You brutes!” she cried. “You cowardly brutes! Look! The point of a nail,
which pricked the mare each time the saddle was touched. Come here.” The
head groom ran forward, salaaming, protesting that he knew nothing about
it all, speaking the truth, for a wonder. “You say you did not saddle
the mare. Then why don’t you look after the men under you? Take it!” She
flung the wisp of a saddle full in the man’s face, so that the buckle cut
his cheek, upon which the place resounded with shouts of joy and peals of
laughter, which stopped when she raised her hand.

“I ride her bare-back,” she cried, and smiled at the men when, with the
Arab’s proverbial inconstancy, they yelled encouragement.

She stood patting the mare, stroking the quivering back, lightly touching
the superficial wound until the animal became accustomed to pressure on
the spot; then she took the halter and trotted the beautiful beast down
the full length of the plateau, whilst the men sighed with joy at the
sight.

“A babe can lead a horse,” scoffed the equivalent of a British
stable-lad; “let us wait until she essays to scramble to the back, even
as a monkey scrambles up a pole.”

But Helen had no intention of emulating the monkey; she intended riding
that mare if she died in the attempt. She took the beautiful creature
round the full circle, caused by the men sitting in a ring, at a trot,
then at a gentle canter, then caught the mane and vaulted across the bare
back.

“_Now_, God,” cried Helen, “help me _now_!”

Which was her somewhat unusual prayer in time of stress.

The spectators held their breath as the mare bucked madly in an effort
to dislodge the girl; then they yelled again and again as she reared and
bucked and flung her heels up until Helen leant against the satiny back.

It was a magnificent exhibition of horsemanship, but the men scattered
like chaff before the wind when Lulah the Black suddenly made a dash
through them straight for the river edge; and they shouted bets one to
the other upon the white woman’s chance of life and death as she almost
shot over the mare’s head when she stopped suddenly on the very brink,
with slender forelegs wide spread; then wheeled and raced back to the
arena, where she bucked to the far end, then wheeled and broke into a
furious gallop, which strenuous exercise lasted for some considerable
time, until it changed to a canter, then subsided to a trot, when the
men, carried out of themselves with enthusiasm, rushed and surrounded the
pair.

Zarah, with a face like a night of storm, had just beckoned Al-Asad to
order him to quell the humiliating tumult, when the sentry from the cleft
in the rocks came running down the narrow path.

“It is a solitary rider, O mistress,” he panted as he fell at Zarah’s
feet, “upon a far-spent camel. He hangs over upon his own knees, he
guided not the beast, which even now flounders deep in the sands of
death. But the space of three of thy servant’s hands to the west, O Great
One, and the camel stood safely upon the hidden path. I cannot see the
face of the rider, but his raiment is that of the white race, and I ran
to tell thee, O mistress, as thou didst command me.”

Zarah gave an order to Al-Asad and beckoned the head groom of the
stables, who stood at a distance nursing his wounded cheek.

“The stallion, Abyad, on the instant,” she said sharply.

The man ran at uttermost speed to the stables, whilst Zarah, taking no
notice of Helen, walked swiftly to the beginning of the narrow path
leading up to the cleft, as Al-Asad strode through the men, hurling them
roughly to each side, until he reached the mare.

“Behold, O white woman,” he said curtly, “thou art to return to thy nest
near the skies and to remain within until thy mistress sends for thee.
The black woman with the gait of a lame hen will keep guard over thee,
and if thou dost attempt to walk out, even upon the narrow way outside
the door, then——”

The men whispered amongst themselves as Helen slipped from the mare’s
back and walked slowly to the steep steps, being far too wise either to
notice the peremptoriness of the Nubian’s manner or to attempt to disobey
Zarah’s orders.

She climbed up and up to her nest near the sky, where the surly negress
awaited her, whilst the men followed the Nubian as he ran to overtake his
mistress, who drove her stallion as fast as he could scramble up the
steep mountain path.

It was a wonderful sight to witness, and one that, in spite of her
brutality and cruelty, endeared her to her men.

She rode her favorite Nejdee, a white stallion of purest breed, standing
fifteen hands, which is a height never exceeded in this perfect horse.
She rode him without saddle or stirrup, and barely lifted the halter-rope
which, with the Nejdee, always takes the place of bit, guiding him by
knees and voice, urging him on, as she rode to save the man she loved.

The stallion slithered and scrambled like a goat down the other side of
the spot where the spear, thrown at the Arabian girl’s father, stuck fast
in a cleft between two rocks, whilst the men fought each other for the
best point of vantage from which they could watch either the sinking of
the camel and its rider, who looked as one dead, or his rescue by the
indomitable woman who ruled them.

And all were too intent upon the sport of the moment to notice a faint
movement amongst the rocks to the east, where the shadows were heaviest.

“It _is_ a white man, and the camel’s belly sinketh in the sand,”
whispered Namlah to Yussuf. “She, our mistress, and may the hyenas pick
her bones, rides out to save him.”

“May he be saved,” whispered back the blind man, “and may she make her
bed to-night in the depths of the sands in his stead. Linger thou, O
Namlah, until we know the will of Allah, the one and only God, concerning
this white man; then must thou flee, lest thy absence from amongst the
women be noticed.”

As Namlah said, the camel lay upon the quicksands, screaming with fear,
struggling and fighting, biting at the sands which were slowly sucking
it down, whilst Ralph Trenchard sat with his head on his knees, which,
holding the peak of the saddle in a deadly cramp, had prevented him from
falling in the last stretch of the waterless journey through hours of
burning sun.

The stallion stood near the spear, shivering in the fear of the death
he knew to surround him. He had crossed the path more times than his
mistress could remember, and he knew that he would have to cross in the
end, driven by the agony of the golden spurs in his sides, just as he
always crossed in the end, no matter how strenuously he resisted. But he
stood and shivered and rolled his gentle eyes until a sharp jab brought
him to his hind feet, then another, which sent him dancing, curvetting
down the path. His long silvery mane and tail blew out in the evening
breeze like silken streamers, his dainty, polished hoofs flashed in
the red light of the setting sun, and he pricked his small ears at the
screams of the camel, as he went down the path and turned, spurred by the
beautiful, relentless woman until they faced the rocks.

Zarah’s eyes were wonderful to behold as she leant far over and touched
Ralph Trenchard on the shoulder. They were tender and sweet and fearless,
until into them shot an agonizing look of terror as she clutched the
stallion’s silvery mane and leant farther over still and caught the man’s
hair in her fingers and pulled back his head and looked down into the
terrible face with the closed eyes.

Then she grasped his collar with her right hand and pulled on the
rope-halter with her left, as she dug the spurs into the stallion’s sides
so that he reared and backed until, for fear of falling over onto the
camel, she had perforce to let go her hold on the man who sat stiffly,
with his head on his knees, as the camel sank inch by inch to its death.

She sat back, with an agony of horror stamped on her face, which was
beautiful under the power of her love, and sent a ringing cry over to the
men gathered to watch the fight.

“_Bil-’ajal_, Asad,” she called. “_Bil-’ajal! bil-’ajal!_”

Al-Asad leapt from the rock to the hidden path and raced to his
mistress’s bidding, swiftly, surely, heedless of the death which awaited
him on the first false step, eager to help the woman he loved, even in
the task of rescuing the man to whom she had given her heart.

“Give me space, O mistress!” he cried, as he stood with one foot upon the
path and the other upon the back of the camel’s saddle and gripped Ralph
Trenchard round the waist. “Nearer, O mistress, and place the stallion’s
silver hair within my hand.” The shouts of the men rang out over the
desert as they watched the desperate fight, as the Nubian put out all his
mighty strength and pulled just as Zarah drove in the golden spurs until
the stallion reared. “Thy dagger, O mistress,” he cried, as he let go his
hold upon the mane and sprang back upon the path. “The white man’s knees
break under the strain.” He seized the razor-edged, jewelled dagger and
stood once more with his foot on the back of the camel’s saddle and bent
and felt in the sands, which pulled at his hands and arms as he sawed at
the girth.

He sawed through the girth on both sides and cut the ropes, and holding
the jewelled dagger between his teeth, bent and took hold of the saddle
as the sands rose to the level where the animal’s mangy tail began. He
had a few minutes in which to perform the mighty deed, and Namlah gripped
Yussuf’s hand and the men made the wildest, maddest bets upon the outcome
of the struggle.

He placed both hands under the back of the saddle and tipped it forward;
it was free; then gripped the back pommel and the front pommel and looked
up at the woman he loved.

“Back, O mistress! Back, lest I break the stallion’s legs!”

The muscles of his back and chest and arms rippled, then tautened, then
stood out in great knots.

He lifted the saddle a few inches and let it fall back and shifted his
slender hands; lifted it higher and higher until it rested for a second
upon his bent knees; then, to the sound of the men’s mighty shouting,
made one superhuman effort and, just as the sands touched his feet, with
a great swing of the shoulders flung the saddle and the senseless rider
to safety upon the narrow path.



CHAPTER XIV

    “_A greater liar than Moseylama._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Three weeks passed, in which the Arabian nursed Ralph Trenchard until the
fever, brought on by exhaustion, thirst and terrific heat, had left him,
and left him very sane and not unduly weak, and very full of gratitude
to the beautiful girl whom he seemed to have seen at his bedside day and
night, and who seemed to have changed her dress a hundred times, if she
had changed it once.

The nerve-racking jangle of her bracelets and anklets and the
overwhelming strength of her perfume drove him wellnigh crazy at
times, but, remembering what he would learn from her upon his complete
recovery, he stuffed the ends of the silk sheets into his ears and held
his nostrils forcibly between thumb and finger under cover of the same
luxurious bed-spread.

Truly once or twice he grievously feared for his reason.

He wakened one night to see a remarkably handsome and muscular man, clad
in naught but a loin-cloth, sitting motionless in the middle of the floor
with what looked like a woman’s sandal pressed to his heart; and right
strange and idiotic did he look, too, when he placed the sandal upon the
floor and proceeded to press his forehead upon it. Then, two or three,
or maybe more, nights following—for he had completely lost all sense of
time—he wakened to see nothing less than a lion rolling blithely upon its
back not two yards from him, which, having rolled awhile, proceeded to
gambol playfully about the room, then slouched to the doorway, through
which it disappeared for good. When he turned slowly upon his bed to see
what else might be in store for him, he saw the face of the beautiful
girl looking down upon him from a spot ’twixt floor and ceiling as though
suspended in mid-air.

He laughed when, the delirium passed, these strange occurrences were
explained to him by Zarah, who, just because he felt too uncertain for
the moment about past events to question her about Helen, allowed herself
to be deluded into the belief that he had forgotten the tale Al-Asad had
told when he visited the Bedouin camp disguised as a holy man. Then this
evening he sent the youth who waited upon him to ask her to come to him.

She came quickly, Zarah the beautiful, the tender, the pitiful, Zarah
the most perfect hypocrite and liar, and sat at his feet upon the floor,
appropriately clothed in black and silver, with the lower part of her
lovely face semi-hidden by a yashmak, over which her beautiful eyes gazed
into his with an expression which would have deceived even the astutest
old Holy Father.

“Where is Helen Raynor?”

He asked the question abruptly, taking her unawares.

She had intended telling him—if he should remember the Nubian’s
story—that Helen had returned to Hutah under escort and had perished in
the locust storm, but the abrupt question took her off her guard.

“She is dead and buried in the quicksands,” she lied instantly,
uncontrollably, infinitely unwisely, without giving a thought to the
far-reaching effects of the lie.

“Dead! My God! When? How?”

Seeing the terrible mistake she had made, seeing no way out of it, she
backed the lie, planning in a flash to give a slight foundation to the
disastrous mistake by getting rid of the girl that very night. She laid
her henna-tipped, jewelled hand upon Ralph Trenchard’s and told him the
sad story of Helen Raynor’s death, and mopped her melting, dry eyes with
the corner of the silken sheet as she answered his horrified questions.

“ ... yes! I made a gr-r-reat effort to save her-r, my dear-r
schoolmate,” she said, “but, alas! _kismet_, Allah had decr-r-r-eed
other-r-wise....” Her arms showed like creamy-yellow ivory as she raised
them dutifully above her downcast head in a gesture that showed off her
alluring figure to perfection. “ ... Nay! dear-r Helena said no wor-rd,
she just _died_. Wher-r-re? Oh! in a bed. Yes! here in the mountain
dwelling. By the mercy of Mohammed the Pr-r-ophet did she die, so zat
her face should be a beautiful memor-r-y to her fr-r-ien’s, even if I,
Zarah ...” She struck her breast with a beautiful gesture of resignation,
but not hard enough to mark it, even in her intense grief. “ ... Yea!
even if I, Zarah, shall have to car-r-y the dr-r-readful picture of it,
all br-r-oken, before my eyes until ze day when death shall claim me
also.” When Ralph Trenchard shivered in absolute horror, she shivered
also, perhaps out of sympathy for him, perhaps to impress the thought of
the English girl’s face upon him—who knows? Then she got up and trailed
across the floor to a table laden with drinks of divers sweetness and
coolness.

He looked at the exquisite picture she made, and, longing to hear more
about the girl he loved, stretched out his hand; and she looked at him
with the love of all women in her glorious eyes, and walked back to him
swiftly and with all the grace of her Spanish mother, carrying a tray
with glasses of frothing sherbet, which he did not want or touch.

“Thou art indeed a man,” she said softly in Arabic, as she placed the
tray on a stool, ensconced herself cross-legged upon the divan, and leant
towards him as she lit her cigarette, so that he was almost suffocated
with the pungency of her perfume. “Yea! verily amongst my subjects, who
are of a truth somewhat misshapen about the legs from overmuch bestriding
of the Nejdee, thou art indeed a man!”

She sat and looked at him with all her love in her eyes, whilst he sat
and wished that in some way he could express his gratitude for all she
had done for Helen. But when, after much searching in those portions of
her raiment which looked as though they might be large enough to conceal
a minute pocket, she showed him Helen’s wrist-watch upon her palm, then
he moved close to her and crushed her hand in both of his until he almost
broke her fingers, as she told him how Helen had given it to her in
memory of old times.

“ ... I give it to you,” she said at last.

It was a sacrifice.

Smothered in jewels as she was, yet, with the delight some Orientals have
in the purloined object, she coveted that looted watch more than all her
rubies, emeralds, pearls and diamonds put together in a heap.

He sat for a long time with the tragic, lying, little token in his hand,
then turned and looked into the doe-like eyes, which looked fearlessly
back into his.

“And this is all? You have nothing else, no little thing, a handkerchief,
a hair-pin, anything, no matter how trivial, that belonged to your old
school friend?”

Zarah shook her beautiful head and sighed as she lied once more with the
ease of long-established custom, and the certainty of being able before
long to give some foundation to the lie.

“Nozing! No little zing! We bur-r-ried her-r, as I have told you, in
her-r cloze. She was not beautiful to look upon. _Aï, aï_, she was not
pr-r-etty in ze gr-r-eat sleep, so we bur-r-ied her-r-r deep, deep in ze
comfor-r-ting sands, which tell no tales.”

She rose once more as she spoke and trailed across the marble floor to
the door.

Perchance she wished to study astronomy or, perchance, to draw a
comparison between the beauty of those who live in luxury and the
disfigurement of those who die in battle. Whatever her intent, she
certainly made a striking picture as she leaned against the lintel,
wrapped in a sheath of black and silver.

Ralph Trenchard stared at her, his eyes wandering from the red curls to
the small feet in silver sandals.

She knew his eyes to be upon her, and turned slowly sideways and sighed
as she raised her bare arms above her head so that their creamy whiteness
shone against the purple background of the sky; she sighed again and
pressed her hands upon the spot where by rights her heart should have
been, whilst her melting eyes showed fine specimens of the tears of the
crocodile as she inwardly asked herself if, in the whole world, there was
to be found anything quite so slow as an Englishman.

And he sat and gazed and gazed at the exquisite figure, in which he
saw the golden head and the broad shoulders, the slender waist and the
polished riding-boots, of the girl to whom he had given the gold watch he
held in his hand.

He sat quite still for a long time, stunned with horror, then, quite
unconscious of what he did, caused the beautiful Arabian to totally lose
her bearings, so that fear, jealousy and love linked hands in her heart
and drove her down the road of tragedy which had been marked out for her
through the ages.

Saying nothing, he smiled at her and held out his hand, so that,
completely on the wrong tack, she ran to him, the silver embroidery
glittering in response to her fast-beating heart; then he kissed her hand
in gratitude, which was just about the most idiotic thing he could have
done, and, considering all things, spoke words of equal idiocy into her
willing ear.

“You will come and talk to me to-morrow, will you not?” By talk he meant
talk of Helen, but how on earth was the Arabian to know that? “You will?
Thank you so much, so very much!” He stopped; then, in his craving to
regain his strength so as to get away from the horror of the place where
Helen lay dead, hidden from him for ever in the ghastly sands, misled
the Arabian entirely. “Can I walk about the camp? Can I have a horse or a
camel or something to ride in the desert so as to get really strong?”

“Ride with me?”

She barely whispered the words.

“Rather! If you have the time to spare. It would be awfully kind of you.
Then we could talk about the school you were at and everything.”

By which he meant Helen’s schooldays and Helen’s illness and Helen’s
death; but how was the Arabian, blinded by love and vanity, to know that,
especially as out of sheer gratitude he held her hand in both of his
whilst he talked.

He took her to the steps and watched her descend, then turned and flung
himself upon the divan with the watch against his lips, whilst Zarah the
Cruel, wide awake to the danger of his walking amongst her men whilst
Helen remained in the camp, climbed the narrow path to the building where
dwelt the girl he thought to be dead.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_May her envier stumble over her hair._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

She had told Ralph Trenchard that the girl was dead, when not only was
she alive, but a person of some consequence in the camp through the
thrice cursed episode of the black mare.

Knowing nothing about constancy and honour and about as much about the
question of nationality in marriage, she was firmly convinced that in
time the white man, forgetting Helen, would succumb to her beauty and
marry her.

But before that thrice blessed day, even before he left his dwelling
to walk with her in the camp as he had just suggested, the girl must
disappear so that the unlucky lie should have a slight foundation of
truth, as have so many falsehoods in the East when sifted to the bottom.

Once the girl was dead she would rely upon her own power over her own
people to prevent the real facts of the case from reaching his ears.

The first thing was to find a way of ridding herself of the girl who
stood as an obstacle in that path of peace and love which ended in the
white man’s heart, but, above all, a way which would cause no comment
amongst the men. The way was shown her, startlingly clear and simple,
within the hour.

She cursed herself, the lie, fate and the black mare as she climbed the
steep steps to Helen’s prison.

If only she had not saved the girl in the first place, if only, in the
second, she had not so foolishly allowed Helen to win the men’s hearts
by her magnificent horsemanship, if only she had not lied. If it had not
been for that thrice cursed episode with Lulah, the mare, she would not
have hesitated an hour ridding herself of the girl, either by sending her
back to civilization under escort or by some more drastic method.

Up till then the white girl had meant nothing more than a prisoner to the
men, and the disappearance of a prisoner, even one of the white race,
would have been no subject of comment amongst them. As it was she could
do nothing.

The Nubian reported that the men constantly talked about Helen; exercised
their best horses in the hope that she would one day ride out in the
desert with them, either to hunt ostrich with cheetahs or to lead them
to the attack on some caravan or company of Bedouins. They had taken to
standing at the foot of the steep steps to gamble upon the chance of
seeing her come out upon the platform, whilst gossip ran high as to the
relationship between her and the white man whom the half-caste had saved
from the sands of death.

So that she cursed herself over and over again for the lie she had told
Ralph.

She lied by nature and by habit; in fact, she found it easier and a good
deal more enjoyable to lie than to tell the truth, but she had lied
without giving herself time to look at the result of this particular lie
from every point of view.

The surly negress, with the gait of a lame hen, rose from her squatting
position as her dire mistress passed up the steps, and retired still
farther into the shadows, where she occupied herself in the pleasant and
stimulating, if not too elegant, task of chewing _Kaat_ as a relaxation
from the dull work of spying upon the gentle white girl.

Zarah stood for a moment and looked through the doorway at Helen. She sat
upon a pile of cushions, reading by the light of a silver lamp hanging
from the ceiling.

Certain that the negress had replaced Namlah for the purpose of carrying
reports about her, she had made up her mind that nothing but reports of
normal behaviour should be carried.

She woefully missed the peace and austerity of the other dwelling, also
the view of the desert through the cleft, and of the plateau with the
rushing, sparkling river; but she made no sign, neither did she complain
about the heat, which was so much greater, nor about the clutter of
Persian rugs, cushions and tables, which only served to intensify it. She
had been told that her old dwelling-place had been required for certain
prisoners, and that on their account she had been forbidden to walk
outside. Not a word of which she believed.

Certain that eyes continually watched her, she forced herself to read;
constantly on the lookout for danger, she smiled upon and spoke gently
to the surly negress, who would not open her lips or respond in any way
to her friendly advances. She was putting up a plucky fight against
loneliness and anxiety. But it was not likely that Zarah should
understand the moral strength which sustained the English girl in the
long, weary days of silence and confinement. It would have suited the
Arabian better to have seen her crying her eyes out, or pacing the floor
in agitation; anything, in fact, rather than sitting quietly reading; so
that she made a quick gesture of impatience, upon which Helen looked up,
shut her book with a snap, and sprang to her feet.

“Zarah!” she cried. “It’s ages since I’ve seen you. You haven’t been
near me since I was moved from my old place. Have you got rid of the bad
prisoners? I am so tired of being cooped up in here!”

Zarah sat down on a pile of cushions and lit a cigarette, as an answer to
her difficulties flashed across her mind at Helen’s words.

“You want to walk? You do not like being a pr-r-isoner-r your-r-self. You
ar-r-e no pr-r-isoner. You must not go acr-r-oss ze plateau, but ozerwise
ze place is all your-r-s.”

As one could not move out of the place without crossing the plateau, the
all-ness seemed to be limited to the building and a small space behind,
surrounded by towering rocks at which even the goats looked askance.

Helen knew it, and suddenly changed the subject. She wanted to get leave
to wander about the place as she used to do; she wanted to find the
secret path and to speak to Namlah; she wanted desperately to escape, but
she knew Zarah’s astuteness and had a faint conception of her intense
hatred for herself; so went warily in her demand for a little more
liberty and changed the subject.

“I wonder what this building was used for?” she said, slowly passing her
finger over a roughly carved stone panel, tracing the outline of a fish,
some kind of a waterfowl and a cross, carved in the centre of a disc in
the fifth century by the Holy Fathers. “The age almost makes me creep,
and I often wonder if the dead fathers come back at night to walk about
their old home.”

Zarah sprang to her feet in a positive whirlwind of gestures against
spirits.

“You br-ring ze bad luck upon your-r-self and ze place, Helena. Nozing
comes her-re or-r leaves her-r-e without my per-r-mission.”

Helen seized the opportunity and crossed quickly to where Zarah stood,
marvelling at her beauty.

“Zarah,” she said sweetly, “_when_ are you going to find the time to
take me to Hutah. I do so want to get back. Do you know what I’ve been
thinking?” Zarah shook her head as she looked at Helen, raging inwardly
at the English girl’s beauty, especially the golden hair, which, for
coolness sake, hung in two great plaits to her knees. “You come with me
and stay with me on a return visit, and together we will try and find
out what has become of Ralph Trenchard, because I am sure he is alive. I
should know if he wasn’t, I am sure I should.”

Zarah turned abruptly away, swinging her cloak about her so that her
mouth was hidden. She wanted to laugh, and she wanted to strike the
English girl for the possessive way in which she always spoke of the sick
man, whom she, Zarah, had nursed so assiduously for days and nights;
also could she willingly have killed her on the spot for the almost
irreparable mistake she had caused her to make by lying about her death.

Helen saw nothing of the girl’s fury; she had bent to pick up a box of
chocolates, whilst the surly negress watched her through the doorway and
inelegantly wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Have a sweet, Zarah,” Helen said gently, offering the box, “and then be
really nice and take me for a walk. I shall die if I don’t get a scramble
amongst the rocks.”

“Wher-r-e do you want to go?” Zarah asked, as she zealously filled her
mouth with the sweetmeats the surly negress coveted.

“I do so want to see the spear which was flung at your father, and
then”—Helen laughed so that her request should not be taken too
seriously—“then couldn’t we walk across the wonderful hidden path to the
desert, then walk back? I’ll pin your train up if you’ve got a safety
pin. You _are_ beautiful, Zarah; I can’t think why you haven’t been
married years ago.”

Zarah whirled round on her like a tiger-cat. In her violent jealousy she
thought the other sneered at her; in her littleness of mind she failed to
catch the ring of honest admiration in the girl’s voice.

“Mar-r-ried!” she shrilled. “I am going to be mar-r-ried soon, and you
won’t be her-r-e to see the cer-r-emony. Oh, do go away!” She pushed
Helen roughly on one side when she put out her hand in congratulation.
“We Ar-r-rabians do not expand over-r ze idea of mar-r-riage as you
English do.” She walked to the door as she added insolently, “We have no
old maids, and I am younger zan you,” then clapped her hands and called
the surly negress shrilly, angrily.

“Methinks a whip upon the soles would hasten thy feet,” she cried
furiously, as the woman ran forward and flung herself face downwards.
“Thou three-footed jackal, get up!” She struck the woman in the face
when she opened her mouth, from which no coherent sound came, owing to
her tongue having been split in her youth for misdemeanour, and struck
again, until Helen caught her by the shoulder and flung her on one side,
whereupon the negress fell on her knees, bowed her head to the ground and
kissed the Arabian’s feet.

“You stop that, Zarah!”

The words sounded like the crack of a whip as the two beautiful girls
faced each other over the crouching woman.

“She’s dumb, and I never knew it! It’s awful!”

“You fool!” replied the Arabian. “Her husband beats her after every meal,
and sometimes between. Get up!” She kicked the woman, who leapt to her
feet and stood shivering with bent head.

“The white woman has a desire for exercise after her long confinement
owing to the unruliness of the prisoners. Dost hear, thou fool? She
wishes to walk across the path of peril even to the far side. It is
dangerous, and I have tried to prevail against her. One step too far, as
thou knowest, and she passes into the keeping of Allah, the one and only
God. Watch thou and pray to Allah for her safe return.”

The negress watched them walk slowly along the narrow path until they
were out of sight; then, with all the cunning of her race in her rolling
eyes, and all a child’s glee at its naughtiness, crept back to the room,
and, sidling along the wall, grabbed a handful of French chocolates. If
she had waited one instant longer she might have seen a hidden figure
crawl away between the rocks as silently as a snake.

Blind Yussuf went quickly amongst the rocks, as at home and as sure of
his footing in his blindness as any goat. He crept through incredibly
small places, swinging himself hand over hand at a height where no person
with vision would have dared to have even moved, arrived at the cleft,
thanks to the short cut, ahead of the girls, dropped like a cat from rock
to rock, then, slipping like a shadow between the boulders, sat down in
the shadow near the thrown spear.

He listened to the girls’ voices as they made their way down the steep
incline. “‘A mouth that prays, a hand that kills.’” He drew a finger down
the scars upon his face as he quoted the proverb and sat like an image of
Fate as the girls stopped quite close to him at the beginning of the path.

“It is quite hard, you see,” said Zarah, as she bent and drove her
fingers through a few inches of the wet sand. “It is not quite three of
your yards wide.”

“But how wonderful!” Helen bent and dug her fingers in, then moved them
along sideways until her whole hand disappeared into soft, wet, warm sand
which pulled it gently. “How dreadful!” Then she laughed. She had found
her way to the secret path and learned its secret. “I tell you what! You
lead the way out, Zarah, then we’ll turn and I’ll tread in our footsteps
and lead you back.”

Zarah laughed also, suddenly, shrilly.

The way showed clear. The end was in sight! Upon the return journey she
had but to push Helen gently and all the difficulties arising out of the
accursed lie would be over.

She made a step and put her sandalled foot upon the path, then turned her
head and stood quite still, her face convulsed with fury.

Like some great guardian spirit Blind Yussuf stood just behind Helen.

“It is not wise, O mistress,” he said gently, “to venture upon the
perilous path this night of strong wind. It bloweth from the west unto
the east, so that the wayfarer is like to be blown into the sands of
death. It is not wise, O mistress, and thanks be to Allah that I heard
voices as I passed and followed with great swiftness. Nay, verily it is
not wise.”

He spoke gently, his great cloak hanging motionless in the still night,
and salaamed to the ground when the Arabian, without a word, beckoned to
the bewildered Helen and swiftly retraced her steps.

Back in her prison, Helen walked out to the space behind the dwelling to
think over matters as the moon rose over the edge of the mountains. She
looked up when a stone rattled down the side to her feet.

Upon a ledge to which a goat would have hardly dared to climb sat Yussuf.
He put his fingers to his lips as he looked down at the girl he could
not see but whom he had recognized by her footstep. “_A ti balak_,” he
whispered, then rose and swung himself from rock to rock by the way he
had come, whilst Helen stood looking up until he disappeared, frozen
with fear for his safety; then, more determined than ever, through his
warning, to try and find a means of escape, turned and entered her
dwelling, just as Zarah entered hers and summoned Al-Asad.



CHAPTER XV

    “_A rose fell to the lot of a monkey._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Zarah and Al-Asad sat in consultation.

Two beautiful beings in whom cunning stood for brain and nether
millstones for hearts—where others were concerned.

To enhance her beauty in the eyes of the white man, who looked upon her
but indifferently, the Arabian had worn a transparent _yashmak_, dyed her
finger tips, plastered her person with as many jewels as she could fasten
on to her garments, and walked like a cat on hot bricks or a mannequin
or a Spaniard. In the presence of the Nubian, who loved her with all
the might of his half-savage soul, she sat cross-legged on a pile of
cushions, smoking endless cigarettes, wound in a wrapping of silk,
which she kept in its place by tucking the ends in, and with her bare
feet thrust into heelless slippers. She was far more beautiful in her
simplicity than in her most extravagant apparel, if she had only known
it, and a furnace would have but mildly described the tumult of love
which she aroused in her magnificent slave.

An hour had passed since she had hastily summoned him on her return from
her meeting with her blind enemy at the beginning of the secret path—an
hour in which they had talked and suggested and yet had failed to find a
way out of the difficulty which had arisen out of her lie.

“Thinkest thou, O Al-Asad, that the blind one _knew_?”

“I know not, mistress,” he said slowly. “Perchance ’tis Fate who guides
his feet continually across thy path, or maybe the wind of chance. Yet
can we do nothing.”

He touched an amulet of good luck at his neck; the Arabian made a circle
in the air with her fingers.

“May the spirit of my father, who placed the safekeeping of the blind one
in my hands, remain peacefully in Paradise.”

They got up solemnly, turned from left to right three times, and sat down
again.

The heathens!

When _will_ they learn to touch wood or to turn the whole chair or couch
round three times, with themselves, as do their Christian and more
civilized brethren!

“Thou dost worry overmuch, woman, about this white girl. She is but a fly
to be blown from the rim of thy cup of happiness and good fortune. A word
to thy slave and he pinches the fly between his thumb and finger.”

He illustrated his words, his splendid teeth flashing as he laughed, then
ducked his handsome head so as to avoid the back-hander dealt him by the
woman he worshipped.

“Thou fool!” she replied shortly. “Where findest thou the sense to drink
when thou art thirsty or to eat when thou art empty? Have I not told thee
that the white man believes the white woman to be dead, yea, buried in
the sands, as she would verily have been buried this night if the thrice
accursed blind one had not yet again crossed my path. If the white man
who has, through the accursed foolishness of my tongue, been told that
the girl is dead, speaks with one who tells him that she is alive, what
then? Thou dullard! Canst thou not see a glimmer of light? Behold, art
thou blinder than the blind one, thou imbecile offspring of foolish
parents!” She got up and crossed to the door, from which nothing could be
seen but the stars above great walls of rock, whilst the Nubian rose and
followed her noiselessly.

Standing close to her, girt in his loin cloth, he towered above her. He
bent his head so that the scented curls touched his lips, and gently
stroked the silken wrapper with his slender fingers, whilst his heart
almost broke in the love he had for her.

He would have starved for her, endured torture for her, died for her; he
was her rightful mate; she was his woman out of all the world; yet she
hankered for the grapes which hung well beyond the reach of her crossbred
hands, and he forgot his manhood in the fear of losing the little—which
was yet so much—she gave him. He worked so hard to gain the barest word
of gratitude; he found such joy in lying across the threshold o’ nights
to keep her safe; he suffered such hell through jealousy; yet in his
loyalty, in his desire to bring her happiness, he had not once thought of
removing the white man from his own path. The white woman, yea, why not?
What difference would one soulless woman more or less make in this world
already overstocked with soulless women? Once she was removed and the
woman of his heart’s desire married to the man she loved—and did Allah
in His wisdom ever know of such a tangle—then he would ride out into the
desert and die, or, better still, become chief of a band with which to
harry the white man when he ventured across the quicksands.

Primitive reasoning, but not too bad for one who could neither read nor
write, and whose idea of God was a vasty, corporeal deity who offered
sweetmeats with one hand and struck one for taking them with the other.

He laughed as he spoke, on the spur of his primitive reasoning, and
stroked the soft silk which wrapped his rightful mate.

“Mistress!”

At a certain tone in his voice with which she was unacquainted she turned
her head and looked over her shoulder and up at him sideways, so that her
yellow eyes gleamed through half-closed lids, just as gleamed the eyes
of the wellnigh adolescent lion cub watching them from a corner of the
luxurious room.

“Mistress, it were well if I broke the neck of the white woman within
the hour, and fastening her dead body upon some horse, sent them
floundering into the sands of death. Then will I spread a tale of the
white woman’s betrayal of thy hospitality, and how she stole thy horse
and attempted to escape, so——”

He laughed as she turned upon him in anger, then bent and looked down
into her beautiful, furious eyes with a look she did not understand, but
which caused her to draw back a pace.

“Behold, are thy words as bright as a rusty sword and thy reasoning as
sharp as the blunt edge,” she cried. “The white woman has found favour in
the eyes of thy brethren, thou fool! Thinkest thou that when they hear
of her death that their lamentations will not reach to the mountaintops,
yea, and to the ears of the white man, so that he turns upon me in rage?
Behold, are the wits of the deaf boy who waits upon the white man like
two-edged daggers compared to thine, O Al-Asad of the camel head!”

Al-Asad of the camel head made no sign of the storm caused within him
by the nearness of the woman and her contemptuous words. He stood quite
still, the perfume of her hair in his nostrils, the silk of her garment
in his hands.

“Thou makest a pond of a raindrop, woman,” he answered. “What are my
brethren but children, pleased to-day at a smile, angered to-morrow at a
word? Make great promise of feasting and fighting, and their love belongs
to the giver of food and promoter of battle; laugh at them, mock them,
make sport of their words and their raiment and their countenance, and
they kill without a word.”

Zarah put her little hands against his chest and pushed him away, and
looked at him sideways as she crossed to the couch, and looked at him
again when he did not follow, and beckoned him with a backward movement
of the head, which showed him the beauty of her throat as he leant
against the lintel and looked at her, and laughed at the simplicity of
the plan that was formulating in his mind.

Dying of thirst, he stretched for the cup even if there was but a drop of
water left; starving, he swept the very floor for a crust; destitute, he
demanded the smallest coin as price for the way he had found for removing
the obstacle from the Arabian girl’s path. When she beckoned he crossed
to her and sat down, but not upon the floor at her feet. He sat beside
her, close to her, and looked at her so that she shrank away.

“Shelter is given to the camel, meat to the dog, water to the horse at
the end of a day of toil,” he said slowly. “What reward will be given
this slave if he removes the cloud from before the sun of his mistress’s
happiness?”

“Thou! A reward given unto thee?” She could hardly have shown more
astonishment if he had asked for the heaped-up contents of her jewel
safe. “My father gave thee shelter when thou didst flee from the wrath of
those who desired thy life, dates when thy bones pierced thy skin, water
when thou wast wellnigh dead from thirst. A reward? Behold, the whip
across thy mouth will be thy reward for thy daring, thou mongrel!”

She had worked herself into a rare rage, and flung herself to the far
end of the couch, so that an end of the silken wrapper became untucked;
and she beat upon the cushions with clenched fists, thereby causing the
loosened garment to slip yet lower still, until it exposed the splendid
shoulders, which looked the more bewitching in that they were half draped.

Alas! that it be so hard a task to drill into the heads of women the
simple truth that, where _décollétage_ is concerned, a hint is far more
potent than a whole hard fact.

“A reward for thee?” she repeated. “For thee?”

“Yea, a date, a drop of water....” He paused, then rose and walked to the
door and looked up at the stars and laughed at the thought of the gift
he would pluck from paradise. “Yea, a date for the camel and water for
the horse, but a kiss—one kiss—from thy mouth, which is as a red flower
fashioned in rubies and set with pearls which are thy teeth. Nay, fling
not thyself upon thy slave, for he could break thee with one hand. The
camel works not without reward, the horse dies without water, thy slave
will not reveal his plan without the promise of that which he craves.”

“But the camel and the horse fulfil their tasks,” said Zarah sweetly,
slowly, baiting her trap, into which the simple barbarian would
ultimately fall. “The reward comes afterwards, O Al-Asad, when the heat
of the day is o’er and the peace of the night falleth apace. Come!”

She held out her hand and he ran to her, ran as swiftly as a deer, as
noiselessly as the lion watching them out of tawny, half-closed eyes, and
knelt at her feet and encircled her with his arms without touching her
withal.

“Thou wilt—thou wilt—when my plan is unfolded—my tale is told—thou wilt?”

Zarah the liar, the hypocrite, the merciless, smiled gently as she looked
down into the handsome face so near her own, nodded her head as she
listened, and pushed away the encircling arms as she rose to her feet and
moved a few steps.

It was such a simple plan and such an effective plan for getting her out
of her quandary, and the reward was such a simple one to grant—a solitary
kiss, a thing of nothing, a sound, a fleeting second of rapture to him;
yet she vowed in her treacherous heart that no man but the man she loved
should hold her in his arms or other lips than his touch her beautiful,
lying mouth.

“Yea, verily, ’tis a good plan and easy,” she said, watching him out
of the corner of her eyes. “Thou wilt spread tales of this white
woman’s ingratitude and of her mocking of our sisters, so that the men,
infuriated, fall upon her and kill her, not this night, but upon the
night of feasting.”

“Yea, mistress, upon the night of feasting, so that the women, occupied
in the task of cooking, know nothing of her death, and knowing nothing,
will say nothing. Mistress,” he ended in a whisper, “is it not a good
plan and simple?”

Forgetting the Arabian proverb which teaches that “a spark can fire the
whole quarter,” counting upon her power over the man, forgetting also
that he was human even if he were a slave, she laughed mockingly as she
answered: “Verily is it simple, and methinks that the little toil is not
worthy of so great reward!”

He crossed the room in one bound and swept her, fighting desperately,
into his arm. He crushed her down upon his heart and laughed at her
when she met her teeth in his forearm until the blood ran, and caught
her hands in one of his and held her beautiful head pressed against his
shoulder with his arm and kissed her scented hair; then flung her upon
the divan and, laughing, turned to meet the lion as it sprang.

He caught it in mid-air, grasping its throat with his left hand, and with
a lightning sideways movement gripped its hind legs just at the joint
with his right.

The beast’s front paws just reached his chest and tore it with great
claws until the blood streamed; it roared and choked and moaned as,
holding it at arm’s length as it struggled and fought, the gigantic man
bent the head back to meet the feet of the hind legs, which he as slowly
bent over the back to meet the head.

Zarah stood upon tiptoe, eyes blazing, hands clasped, insult forgotten in
the wonderful feat of strength, of which even she did not think the man
was capable.

“_Wah! Wah!_” she cried, a very child of the desert, as she watched the
animal fighting for its life. “_Wah! Wah!_” she cried again, clapping her
hands when Al-Asad, the magnificent half-caste, met the lion’s feet and
head with a hardly perceptible effort, and at the little click which was
all that announced the end, flung the carcass at the woman’s feet and
walked towards the door.

“Al-Asad! Thy wounds!”

He turned and looked at the beautiful woman who, carried out of herself
by the intoxication of the moment, held out her arms to him, then down at
the mark of her teeth upon his arm.

“My wound, O woman, is thy seal upon me, which I shall carry to the day
when Allah, the one and only God, shall bid me leave this maze which we
call life. I go to work upon my plan, so that the desire of thy heart is
granted thee.” He paused for one moment with his hand upon the curtain
and took his revenge for all the bitterness of the past. “I have kissed
thy hair, I have held thee upon my heart, I have bruised thee. Go to the
white man an thou wilt; he will find thee marked by another man. I will
have nothing, not even one kiss from thee, until of thy own free will
thou givest it me.”

He was gone, leaving her staring at the curtain. She laughed, laughed
at the thought of the white man’s love which awaited her, laughed at
the memory of the just fled hour, and raised her hands to call her
body-woman; then turned her head and listened.

From somewhere outside amongst the rocks came the sound of a man singing.

Over and over again he sang the Arabian proverb mockingly, sweetly.

“‘They wooed her and she resisted; they left her, and she fell in love.’”

Over and over again the Nubian sang the words in his golden tenor voice
as he made his way to the men’s quarters.

Then she clapped her hands sharply, threw herself on the couch, and
sought for the photograph of Ralph Trenchard, which she wore upon her
heart in Helen Raynor’s golden locket.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_The fire of more than one war has been kindled by a single
    word._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

The firelight shone on Al-Asad as he stood in the centre of an admiring
circle. His bronzed skin glistened and his perfect teeth flashed and the
blood upon his chest showed dark as he moved lightly upon his feet in
describing the fight with the lion.

He had got the men interested and pleased and curious, and it would
require but a very slight effort to get them angry.

Their splendid teeth flashed as they laughed and shouted encouragement,
and their shadows danced as they answered the Nubian’s every movement.
They stretched out their hands and brought them slowly together, and bent
this way and that way as they breathed heavily, in unconscious imitation
of the half-caste, as is the way of the Oriental when deeply interested
in a story.

“_Wah! Wah!_” they yelled. “What then? What then?”

They shouted with laughter, gleefully, joyously, and exchanged remarks
which were better left unprinted, when a youth ran forward and touched
Al-Asad’s arm.

“Now, O brother, tell us the tale of the tiger-cat. The lion is dead;
didst thou perchance also draw the tiger-cat’s teeth and claws, _after_
they had mauled thy flesh?”

The youth wrapped his great cloak tight about himself and, copying
Zarah’s walk, strolled back to his place, where he stood looking over
his shoulder at the Nubian from half-closed eyes. The men roared with
laughter and yelled encouragement and suggestion until the mountains
echoed and re-echoed to the sound.

Al-Asad took advantage of the opening.

He sprang at the youth, caught him, tightly wrapped in the great white
cloak, held him easily above his head in spite of his struggles, then,
still holding him horizontally, swung him round and round, with much the
same movement as one uses in swinging clubs, plumped him on his feet,
shook him like a rat, and flung him like a sack of _durra_ back to his
place, whilst the men roared with delight.

“I break thy neck, O brother, and the neck of any who dares to make mock
of Zarah the Beautiful. She is a woman, but is she not the child of our
dead chief? Did she not give us shelter when we fled from the wrath of
the pursuers? Food when our bones wellnigh pierced the skin? Water when
we thirsted? Then....”

“’Tis well said, O Lionheart, verily is thy speech of gold....”

“Does she not reward us when the toil is done?” continued Al-Asad, taking
no notice of the unseemly interruption. “When the heat of the day is
o’er and the peace of the night falleth apace.” He glanced down at the
mark upon his arm, well pleased at the effect his flowing, if borrowed,
rhetoric was having upon his unsuspecting audience. “Shall we not be
grateful? Shall we not show her our gratitude? Shall we not—shall we not
help her against her enemies—even as she helped us in our need?”

He had the men in the hollow of his hand.

Their knives flashed as they leapt to their feet, their voices sounded
like thunder as they shouted in execration, cursed in volume, and
clamoured to be led against the foe.

Al-Asad gave them no time to collect their senses scattered by their
desire for battle, murder and revenge. He hit whilst their wrath was at
white heat, raining blows upon their pride and ultrasensitiveness. He
seized the white cloak from the one nearest and wrapped it about him, and
cleared a space by the strength of his good right arm.

“Her enemy, my brethren, and thine, is a woman, nay! give ear for a
while. Our mistress, with a desire to help her white prisoner—yea!
even she—sat with her anon, whilst I sat without the curtain, unseen
by either of them. Before Allah, they were as night and day, sun and
moon, in their beauty. Yea! and I will see that thou speakest not again
in this life, my brother, if thou essayest once more to open thy mouth,
which is as wide and ugly as the storm-swept desert. And, behold! this
is what mine eyes saw and mine ears heard. She mocked, this white
she-devil, mocked the people of the desert, walked like thee, brother,
this wise”—with all the aptitude of the negro, he bowed his legs and
rolled as he walked towards Bowlegs, the finest horseman in the Nejd—“and
sat crosswise upon the cushions and rode like thee, little one”—he
laughed and pointed at a youth who was noted for his ungainly seat upon
horseback—“and made mock of our women as they draw water for her bath
or grind the _durra_ for her bread.” He imitated the surly negress with
the gait of a lame hen, he also gave the quick movements of Namlah the
Ant, then ran and barred the way as the men made a sudden, ugly rush. It
was touch and go if he held them or if they overpowered him and, in one
blinding moment of fury, rushed and killed Helen, thereby rousing the
sleeping women and children and undoing all his cunning work. He laughed,
laughed long and loud, until the place rang, laughed until, suspicious of
being fooled, they hesitated and stopped.

Then he beckoned them and, squatting upon his haunches, spoke to them in
whispers, thereby imparting a feeling of mystery to the tale he recounted
of Zarah’s lie, which they thoroughly appreciated, and her dilemma, which
they laughed at right heartily.

But he had reckoned without the love of gambling with which the Eastern
is obsessed.

The Patriarch, who looked for all the world like Abraham at his most
benevolent, and who was the hardest rider to hounds, or, rather, into
battle, and the most inveterate gambler in Arabia, held up his hand, upon
which the rest of the inveterate gamblers nudged each other with the
_mijan_, the small stick the Bedouin usually carries, and felt for their
counters or dice or whatever they fancied most in games of chance.

“Thou sayest, O Asad, mighty of muscle and clear of understanding, that
our mistress desires the death of the white woman, so that there shall be
a portion of truth in the tale she has told the white man of the death of
this white woman, who still lives.”

Al-Asad nodded. He was loth to see his plans go awry, but he would have
been still more loth to lose the chance of an hour’s gambling.

“_We_ say that for her mocking this white woman shall die this night,
_thou_ sayest she must live until the night of the great feasting
which our mistress prepareth for us, so that in the sounds of singing
and dancing her passing shall be unnoticed by the women, who, were it
otherwise, might prattle about her death. I will play thee for her death!
Choose thou the game.”

Came a positive roar, which brought Helen upsitting upon her bed, as each
man shouted to his neighbour, and Al-Asad drew from out his loin-cloth
a set of cherished dice, whilst Yussuf drew nearer the fire with his
counters in his hand.

Logs were thrown on the fires, so that orange, red and yellow flames
shot skywards, against which the infuriated, excited men stood out in
startling relief as they gesticulated and laughed and cursed; bets were
laid against the time of Helen Raynor’s death, and the particular kind of
death she should die for her breaking of the great law of hospitality,
with side bets upon every conceivable trifle which by the wildest stretch
of the most prolific Oriental imagination could be possibly connected
with the case.

“Thou Yussuf!” shouted Bowlegs, as he walked towards the blind man with
the roll of a sailing ship in the Bay. “My eldest daughter—who is as fair
favoured as an ostrich without feathers—against thy spavined mare that
the white woman dies upon the night of the feast.”

Yussuf leaned forward so that the firelight shone upon his terrible face
whilst the men gathered about the two, forgetting their own concerns, for
the moment, in the interest they always took in the doings and sayings of
the afflicted man.

“I prefer the gentle company of my spavined mare, though she be
useless for the chase or the battle, O my brother, but I will lay my
jewel-encrusted _nagileh_ against a handful of dates that the white woman
dies to-night. This woman without compassion, this breaker of the Arab’s
law. I have suffered much, my brethren, but to the death I uphold our
mistress against one who abuses her. For is it not written, ‘A well from
which thou drinkest, throw not a stone in it’?” Yussuf was playing to the
gallery and throwing sand across his brethren’s vision, whilst praying
secretly to Allah the Compassionate and the Merciful to hold the scales
of justice well balanced between the two women.

The benevolent looking Patriarch, who had more death notches in his
favourite spear than any man in the Peninsula, once more held up his
hand. He stroked his flowing white beard as he looked at Al-Asad, who sat
with no sign of his inner perturbation upon his handsome face, whilst at
the top of his voice Yussuf cursed the white woman in her past, present
and future, as well as in her morals, looks and ancestry.

“So it has been arranged, O my children,” said the Patriarch, who looked
as though he should have been patting the heads of the third or fourth
generation clustering about his knees instead of gambling on a woman’s
death. “If our brother Al-Asad throws the dice so that three sixes fall
upwards at the same time, then the thrice-accursed woman dies upon the
night of feasting and banqueting. If Fate decrees that I throw these
three figures of the same value at the same time, _kismet_, ’tis the will
of Allah that she dies to-night. Throw, my son!”

Al-Asad shook the dice between his slender hands and tossed them high
into the air. The men backed as the ivory squares fell amongst them and
made way for the Patriarch and Al-Asad to examine them.

The Patriarch raised his hands, Al-Asad laughed softly, the men howled in
disappointment.

The half-caste had thrown three sixes.

In one brief second the chances of a whole night of gambling, to be
followed by the exhilarating task of putting an offender to death, had
been wiped out, yet by the decision of the dice did those uneducated,
semi-savage, grievously disappointed men abide.

True, they turned in the direction of the dwelling wherein Helen slept
and fingered their knives, but more from the rancour aroused by her
insult than with any intention of disputing the untoward ending to what
might have been such an enjoyable night.

The Patriarch looked at them and grieved for their disappointment, as
much as for his own, and walked to a little distance, where he lifted his
benign countenance to the stars as he worked his wits, which in their
cunning could have given points to a monkey; then he turned and spread
wide his arms, looking for all the world as though he had stepped out
of a picture by some old master, and called his sons so that they ran
to him, like the children they really were, in spite of their ferocious
appearance and still more ferocious deeds.

“Al-Asad the Lion of nimble wit saith that ’twere wise to allow our
mistress to wed this white man—for a space. Allah alone wots of this
power which drives the white to the dark, the fat to the lean, the
well-favoured to the ill-favoured, and which causes more trouble than the
rat in the corn or the viper on the hearth.”

“And the tiger-cat to meet its teeth in the flesh of the slave,”
shrilled the youth who had been swung like a club, but who had revived
sufficiently to gamble with the best.

The men, restored to good humour by the promise in the old man’s voice,
shouted with laughter as they aimed friendly blows at the Nubian, who
stood close to the Patriarch’s side.

“My son!” said the old man as he stroked his beard, which was about his
one possession he would not have staked against fortune. “I will play
thee for the death of the white man. If I throw three sixes he dies this
night, if thou throwest three sixes then he takes Zarah the Gentle as
wife for the length of six moons, after which he dies so that thou mayest
take his place at her side. And may Allah show thee the path through the
maze of love which spreads about thee and her and the white man.”

Helen, sitting on the edge of her bed, covered her ears with her hands at
the savagery in the shouts of the men, whilst Yussuf strode forward with
his counters in his hand.

“My spavined mare against a bowl of rice cooked by thy daughter—and
may her cooking be better favoured than is her face—that the white
man—and may his soul be as black in _Jehannam_ as his skin is white on
earth—dieth this dawn in the stead of the thrice accursed white woman,”
he cried, whilst praying secretly and fervently to Allah the Merciful to
strike the Patriarch dead.

They threw the dice unavailingly till dawn, whilst the elder women,
wakened by the gentle method of applying the foot to their slumbering
persons, rose and made coffee for their lords, half of whom, at the last
throw of the dice, were to find themselves minus coffee beans, daughters,
horses, weapons or _piastres_.

The sky shone like an opal in the east, the birds sang, the smoke of the
fires in the women’s quarter clung like mist against the mountainside
as Al-Asad shook the dice in his hands and flung them up to the flaming
heavens.

The men backed as the ivory squares fell amongst them, and made way for
the Patriarch and the Nubian to examine the result.

The Patriarch raised his hands, Al-Asad laughed, the men shouted with
laughter and smote him friendly-wise, hip and thigh.

He had thrown three sixes.

And half an hour later Helen, little recking how near she and the man
she loved had been to death, stood just inside her door, watching the
magnificent sight of the shouting, laughing men as they rode their horses
up the steep incline on their way to a gallop across the desert.

Her eyes were full of perplexity, her heart beat heavily in an
unaccountable fear, but, determined that the spy should have naught to
tell her mistress, she let drop the curtain and stretched herself upon
her bed.

Al-Asad ran up the steps to his mistress’s dwelling and entered her room.

She watched him from under her arm as she lay upon the divan and smiled
at the mastery of the man’s bearing, then looked up at him out of sleepy,
opalescent eyes as he knelt beside her so that his face was on a level
with hers.

“He is thine, woman. The white man is thine for a space. I, Al-Asad the
slave, have given him unto thee. I have worked well for thee, mistress, I
have worked well for thee!”

He rose as he spoke and swept her into his arms, and laughed down at her
as she struggled desperately.

Then he kissed her scented hair, and held her down upon his heart so that
she could not move.

“I give thee the white man! For a spell! I, thy mate!”

He crushed her until she lay as still as death in his arms, then flung
her on the cushions and ran out of the dwelling and down the steps to
the stables, where he led out his mare, and, without saddle or bridle or
harness whatever, leapt across her back and rode her, shouting with the
joy of life, up the steep path and out to the desert he loved.



CHAPTER XVI

    “_It is an hour’s poison._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


If Ralph Trenchard had been a guest instead of a prisoner, if he had
been the men’s blood-brother in crime instead of an intruder likely, for
a space, to become their leader by marriage through the love-madness of
the Sheikh’s daughter, more solicitude could not have been shown for his
amusement and welfare in the days which preceded the great feast at which
he was to be tricked or publicly coerced into a betrothal with Zarah.

As a rider and a shot, he had won the men’s hearts; as a foreigner who
menaced the peace of the community, he stood in hourly danger of his
life, if he had but known it.

He did not know.

With his thoughts given entirely to the memory of the girl he loved,
lacking, through her death, the spur necessary to send him hot-foot
back upon the road to civilization, he had unquestioningly accepted the
explanation Zarah had given him of the mistake her men had made, and
which had ended in the disastrous battle, and had set himself to live but
for the passing day. He had longed for adventure, he had found adventure,
and when the novelty passed off and the salt of hunting with cheetahs,
racing across the moonlit desert, pitting his skill with rifle and horse
against the finest riders and shots in the world, lost its savour, then
he would make tracks for his own land, where the fare, if somewhat
lacking in spice, is figuratively and literally less calculated to upset
the digestion.

Having forgotten the European half of Zarah’s parentage, and lacking
woman’s intuition and keener psychological perception, he put her
almost extravagant hospitality down to friendliness arising out of her
friendship with Helen and her meeting with him in the past, just as he
put the men’s apparent friendliness down to the perfect and world-famed
hospitality of the Arab. He failed to grasp the fact that their intense
interest in the sports arose from an almost savage determination to
beat him, or to notice the ring of triumph in their shouting, or the
bitterness in their eyes when either they triumphed or failed against him.

He came to look forward to his daily meeting with the men in the company
of their mistress, well content, in his British detestation of all
outward show of feeling, to hide his grievous hurt under a cloak of
seeming indifference.

It was an adventure, and would end, as all adventure must, if a taste of
salt is to be left on Life’s palate.

He loathed the luxury of his dwelling, and longed to ask the meaning of
many things, amongst them the cause of the dogs’ hatred for the Arabian
woman and of the empty sockets in the face of the man he encountered so
often on his path, but with whom he had not spoken.

But believing that his adventure must soon end, and knowing the
Oriental’s dislike of investigation into what concerns him privately, he
asked no questions, in which he showed his wisdom; truth, in an answer
to a straight question, being about as rare in the East as moss in the
desert. He rode and bathed and hunted and ate and slept whilst waiting
for something to fix his departure, ignorant of the fact that Helen,
watched closely day and night, a prey to an overwhelming, secret fear,
bravely endured the discomforts of her restricted life on the far side of
the jutting rock wall he could see from his door.

He had almost forgotten Zarah’s criminal reputation; had grown accustomed
to her continual presence and well-meant, if tiresome, ministrations. He
thought that the day of sport and night of feasting and dancing had been
arranged to celebrate her union with the handsome Nubian, against whom he
had found himself so often pitted in the sports.

He turned to look for Al-Asad as he raced at Zarah’s side across the
desert at the head of a hundred men and, carried out of himself at
the magnificent sight, shouted as he rode, taking no more notice than
they did of the extraordinary appearance of the sky to the south-east,
mistaking the distant phenomenon for a part of the sunset, which was
making a blazing, fiery furnace of the sky in the west.

Zarah and Ralph Trenchard headed fifty men, who, their white cloaks
streaming behind them in the evening breeze, shouted and laughed as they
rode, separated by the Patriarch, Al-Asad and Bowlegs from fifty of their
brethren, who, their white cloaks streaming behind them in the evening
breeze, shouted and laughed as they urged their _hejeen_, or dromedaries,
to their swiftest pace.

To mix camels and horses in a hunt, or at any other time, is a dire and
foolish and fruitless task, giving rise to pitched battles between the
beasts and broken heads amongst their riders. But Zarah’s men looked
forward to the inevitable fight which decided the question of the horse
or the camel’s precedence over the secret path at the end of a day’s
hunting; it gave them all such a chance of paying off bad debts and old
scores and such an appetite for the meal prepared for them by their
patient, downtrodden womenfolk.

Al-Asad sang at the top of his golden tenor voice as he guided his
magnificent dromedary from Oman with his feet, and with his spear prodded
the cheetahs, with which they had been hunting, between the bars of the
specially made cage strapped on the back of the dromedary he led. Bowlegs
led another dromedary, upon whose _shedad_ or baggage saddle were piled
the gazelle, ostrich and bunches of kangaroo-rat which constituted the
not particularly good bag for a day’s hunting in the desert.

The Patriarch, looking as must Moses have looked if he bestrode a camel
in rounding up the trapesing tribes of Israel, rode between the two men,
with whom he conversed as best he could for the laughter and shouts of
the men and the rumblings of the camels.

He looked at Ralph Trenchard and Zarah as they rode together just ahead
and shook his head.

“’Tis best for the horse to mate with the mare and the white with the
white,” he said, “for the mule is but a beast of burden, to which is
apportioned a grievous fare of blows, and the half-caste is but a thing
of scorn even to the pure-bred donkey-boy of the cities.”

Al-Asad stopped his singing and stared towards the west, as Bowlegs made
answer as best he could for the sounds which proceeded from his camel’s
throat and which denoted fear.

“Yea, oh, father,” he shouted in gasps. “What afflicts this evil beast?
The half-caste is of no account, as we have lately learned through the
death of the great Sheikh Hamed’s first born by his white wife. Methinks
danger threatens, for, behold, this thrice accursed child of sin trembles
as he runs. And the offspring of yon two would have the blood of three
countries in its veins, so ’twere well to fell the tree before it bears
fruit. And may Allah, in His mercy, give me a camel in paradise in the
stead of this bag of shivers I now bestride.”

Al-Asad shaded his eyes from the glare of the evening sky and pointed
towards the west.

“What seest thou yonder? A string of ostrich, a fleeing herd of gazelle,
or Yussuf hunting with his dogs?”

The Patriarch, with eyes like a hawk, looked in the direction and laughed.

“’Tis Blind Yussuf with ‘His Eyes,’ followed by his dogs. They fly like
the wind towards the mountains. From whence do they come and for what
reason do they fly like the wind?”

Al-Asad made a trumpet of his hands and sent a call ringing across the
miles of desert sand, upon which Ralph Trenchard, whose horse was in a
sweat of terror, turned and looked at him and in the direction in which
Zarah was also looking.

Yussuf had evidently heard the call.

Against the strangely angry-looking sky he stood out in black silhouette,
with a team of dogs racing like the wind at his side, and the dumb youth,
pillion-wise, behind him.

A strange couple truly, the one with the sight, the other with the
speech, rendering each other service, until, when together, they each
spoke and saw with the other’s vision and tongue.

They rode together now, and the youth pointed backwards and then
forwards, and they stayed not their flight for a moment; neither did they
try to change their course so as to approach their mistress.

Al-Asad looked behind to where the youth pointed and gave a shout of
fear, upon which strange sound Zarah and Ralph Trenchard and the entire
body of men looked back and, in a desperate effort, tried to check their
beasts.

They might as well have tried to stop a runaway engine as horses and
camels fleeing before the dread _simoom_ which advanced slowly behind
them like some great, evil, purple giant or monster of the underworld.

The _simoom_!

A column of poisonous gas, twin of the cyclone, with naught in common
with the _sirocco_; a slowly moving column, whipping the air into gusts,
as violent and hot as though blown straight out of the mouth of hell;
a phenomenon peculiar to the tropics’ desert places, falling upon the
desert wayfarer, over him and gone, in the passing of two or three
minutes if he happens to be favoured by the gods, in fifteen if ill-luck
dogs his path.

A terrible, writhing, twisting scourge of scorching air, with a centre
as calm as a lake under a summer’s sky and as full of poison as a
scandal-monger’s tongue. If the wayfarer should not be mounted upon some
four-footed beast, endowed with such speed and endurance as will carry
him out of its range, then there is only one course left, and that is for
him to lay flat upon the ground, to cover his head, to scrape a hole in
the sand into which to bury his face, and to hang on to his breath and
commend his spirit to his Maker, until the fell monster has passed over
him and proceeded upon its death-dealing way.

Zarah was not a leader of men, or the mother of her children, or a child
of the desert for nothing.

She turned and raised her right hand, and smiled at her men when they
shouted and closed in a ring about her, the horses on her right, the
camels on her left, whilst Al-Asad urged his dromedary to her side
and caught her mare’s halter, so that she rode between him and Ralph
Trenchard.

“It’s almost certain death,” she shouted to Ralph Trenchard as he pressed
his horse against her mare as they tore like the wind in the direction of
the mountains they could not even see. “Almost certain death if we cannot
outride it. The horses are——” She gave a sharp cry as a great puff of
scorching wind blew over them, then shouted to Al-Asad.

“Those on horses are to follow me, twenty yards ahead; they are to turn
with me and ride back on the camels to stop their flight. When they meet
they are to fling their cloaks over the camels’ heads. The camels are to
be got to their knees; those who ride horses are to dismount and to let
them go.” She was magnificent in her courage and beautiful in her seeming
solicitude for her men, whereas, if only the truth had been known, she
was merely revelling in the fight against almost overwhelming odds.

She turned to Ralph Trenchard and held out her hand as she swept forward
at the head of the fifty horsemen, who rode with their knees, holding
their cloaks in their hands.

“Turn!” she cried, though her words were drowned in the thunder of the
gallop and the moaning of the wind, which blew like a furnace from the
purple cloud close upon their heels. “Fight them back, fight them. Follow
me!”

The terrified horses were turned almost in a line and, headed by Zarah,
with Ralph Trenchard and Al-Asad on either side, charged the camels.

The impact was terrific.

The two lines of huge beasts met with a crash, which sounded to Ralph
Trenchard like the splitting of rocks, as the fifty horsemen fought the
camels back and to a standstill, flinging their cloaks over their heads.

“Dismount!” shouted Zarah, as she rode from end to end, whilst, swaying
and bending, the column of poison gas crept slowly across the sands. “Let
the horses go! Get the camels down! Dismount for your lives!”

She swung from the saddle and fought her way amongst the seething beasts
to where Ralph Trenchard helped to force the camels down by kicks and
blows upon the knees.

“Thy heavy boot,” she gasped; “bring that camel down, then lie beside it,
and—and——”

She swayed and choked as a blast of poisonous wind blew right across
them, then staggered closer to Ralph Trenchard as, choking, gasping, he
brought the camel to the ground with the heel of his heavy riding-boot
upon its knees, and fell. He fell beside Zarah, his arm across her.

Holding his breath for one perilous moment, he lifted his head and looked
about him.

The camels lay humped together, their long necks stretched upon the
ground, their muzzles buried in the sands; the men lay alongside, their
heads pushed under the beasts’ heaving flanks, their faces wrapped in
their cloaks and pressed into the sand. Far out in the desert, tails and
manes flying in the scorching wind, the horses fled, close together, as
though pursued by a thousand devils. The sound of their hoofs upon the
sand came faintly, like distant thunder, to be lost in the moaning of
the dread _simoom_ as it advanced slowly, writhing, bending, flinging its
purple draperies heavenward like some gigantic dancer seen in nightmare.

It was a pillar of horror against the night sky, in front of which fled
life, in the wake of which lay a path of death.

Then Ralph Trenchard, with heart hammering, blood thundering in his ears,
and brain beating as though it must break the skull, struggled to his
knees. The world, like a molten mass of red-hot lead, seemed to weigh
upon his shoulders; a band of white-hot iron to encircle his chest; a
sponge soaked with boiling water to lay upon his face as he struggled to
get out of his coat.

He fell forward upon his hands, the sweat pouring down his agonized
face; he raised himself and with a mighty effort pulled his coat off.
The fringe of the air eddies lifted the loose ends of the men’s cloaks
and tore at the coat he grasped between his teeth as he pressed close
to the Arabian girl, who lay motionless on the ground. He laid himself
down close beside her, so close that his cheek touched hers and lifting
her head, with infinite pain spread the coat upon the ground and wrapped
it about her head and his own head, even as the men had wrapped their
cloaks, and held the edges tight as the full weight of the _simoom’s_
poison-filled centre passed over them.

Favoured of the gods, they lay for two minutes under the scorching
weight—two minutes in which the camel, driven mad by the cheetahs which
fought with frenzy in their cage upon its back, scrambled to its feet and
fled into the centre of the _simoom_, there to drop dead; a few seconds
in which it seemed to the men that great steamrollers of red-hot steel
passed backwards and forwards over them, as they prayed to Allah the
Merciful, and held their breath for an eternity of time which was counted
in one hundred and twenty ticks of the watch upon the white man’s wrist.

They lay long after the pillar of horror had passed, incapable of
movement, their heads pressed under the heaving flanks of the camels,
which lay there motionless, and were quite capable of lying there, in
their camel-headed foolishness, until another _simoom_ should overtake
them.

The desert stretched peacefully under the glittering stars when Al-Asad
stirred, pulled the cloak from about his head and his head from under the
camel’s flank. He stretched his aching limbs and felt his throbbing head,
laughing huskily as he kicked the nearest camel into a consciousness
of life and lifted his nearest unconscious neighbour and propped him
against the camel’s back. He sat for awhile filling his lungs with the
desert air, then rose stiffly and crossed to where Ralph Trenchard and
the Arabian girl lay side by side as still as death. He fingered his
dagger as he looked at the white man, then laughed and shook his head
and removed the coat from about their heads and twined his slender hands
in the woman’s hair, then removed Ralph Trenchard’s arm from about her
shoulders and lifted her up against his heart.

“Mine!” he said gently, then laughed softly as he looked at the men and
camels lying as though dead, and, with the touch of perversity which
came, perhaps, from the mixing of the blood in his veins, bent and laid
Zarah in Ralph Trenchard’s arms just as he regained his senses and,
struggling to his knees, lifted her out of pure solicitude against his
shoulder. There was nothing, however, to tell her that his arms had been
placed about her simply out of anxiety for her well-being and not in
love, so that when she opened her eyes and looked up into his handsome
face, bent down so near her own, she naturally concluded that the game
was almost won.

She looked at Al-Asad with eyes devoid of expression, but got to her feet
at the smile in his and sat down upon the camel nearest to her.

“Kick them, Al-Asad, all of them, men and beasts, to see if there are
any alive,” she said curtly, anxious to be rid of him, and sat and
indifferently watched the efforts of men and camels as they struggled
back to life, and merely nodded at the Nubian when he reported that one
man and two dromedaries would not respond to his drubbing.

She had fought for her men’s lives when danger threatened, but rather for
the love of gaining a victory over so dire a foe than for any anxiety she
felt for them, and now, thirsty, hungry, alive but uncomfortable, she
did not care one _piastre_ if they or the camels struggled back to life
or remained where they were to die. She wanted to get back to her own
dwelling; she wanted to ride there alone with the white man who had held
her in his arms, at least, so she thought, sheltering her from death; she
frowned as the men swayed drunkenly upon their feet, laughing stupidly as
they staggered amongst the camels.

“Asad!” she cried sharply, showing how little she understood of the
white man’s character by so shamelessly exposing her want of pity and
consideration for others. “Bring two camels, thine for our guest and yon
for me. Thou canst return with one or two or more of thy brethren upon
one _hejeen_, clustered like bees about a honey-pot if——”

She stopped and got to her feet and laid her hand on Ralph Trenchard’s
arm.

“Camels!” she said briefly.

There was no sound, neither was there anything in the desert to be seen.

“I think you’re mistaken,” replied Ralph Trenchard. He spoke tersely,
his admiration for the girl’s courage suddenly turned to a great dislike
through her callous behaviour towards the visibly suffering men. “By
Jove! you’re right, though!”

Headed by Yussuf, with “His Eyes” pillion-wise behind him, fifty men
mounted on camels and leading fifty more camels suddenly appeared out of
the shadows in the far distance.

Zarah frowned and cursed under her breath at being thwarted in her
intention of riding back to the Sanctuary alone with Ralph Trenchard.

“Splendid man, Yussuf,” he said, watching the approaching camels.
“Absolutely devoted to you. I suppose he raced home in front of that
poisonous pestilence so as to get you a relay of camels and emergency
rations and remedies. You’re lucky to have anybody like that about you,
don’t you think?”

Zarah did not answer. She crossed to Al-Asad, thereby giving Yussuf the
opportunity he wanted and Ralph Trenchard the surprise of his life.

Guided by “His Eyes,” the blind man brought his camel to a halt within a
foot or so of where the white man stood, whilst the fifty brace of camels
deployed in a semicircle behind him.

He bent down and searched with his hand until he touched Ralph
Trenchard’s shoulder; then he bent lower still.

“Helena!” he whispered, and pressed his hand down hard as Ralph Trenchard
started.

“Helena!” he repeated, put his finger to his lips, straightened himself
and rode, with much shouting, towards Zarah, followed by fifty brace of
grunting camels.



CHAPTER XVII

    “_It may be fire; on the morrow it will be ashes._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


From dawn till dusk the day of festival had been passed in brief,
light-hearted excursions into the desert, sports, and those infantile
amusements so dear to the complex Oriental mind, during all of which
Zarah had walked amongst her men with Ralph Trenchard at her side.

Anticipating the great feast which would be spread for them an hour after
sunset, the men refrained from eating more than a handful of dates,
whilst drinking innumerable cups of black coffee, so that they moved
about restlessly during the day, walking lightly and talking excitedly,
with eyes which shone like polished stones.

They chased each other like goats over the rocks, wrestled friendly-wise
like boys, inspected the cooking-pots and worried, almost to death, the
patient, downtrodden womenfolk, whose only share of the entertainment
would be the scraps left over from the feast.

So mercurial became the atmosphere towards sunset that the men roared
with laughter when, laden with a bowl of spicy stew, of which the chief
ingredients were kangaroo-rat and rice, the fourth wife of Bowlegs
slipped on the steps and immersed herself in the succulent mess. They
picked her up and, in all fun, threw her into the river, and stripped
and dived in after her, fighting each other for the privilege of saving
her, before she disappeared into the cavern through which the river
raced. They fought each other light-heartedly. They looked upon Zarah
the Beautiful more in the light of a trust from the dead Sheikh whom
they had loved than their real leader. Superstition and animal magnetism
bound them to her more than anything else, and they saw no harm in her
marrying the white prisoner for a space, so long as there should be
nothing permanent in the union.

Everything had been arranged for a happy ending to the day.

After the feast Zarah and her white lover would appear, followed by one
of the many bands of the _Ghowazy-Barameke_, which are formed from a
certain tribe of hereditary prostitutes who wander through city, town and
village and from oasis to oasis.

Following that diversion, the Patriarch would arise, clothed in new
raiment, to acquaint the white man of the honour which the community
intended to confer upon him, incidentally allowing him to understand
that, if he liked, he could choose death in preference to tying a
tiger-cat to his hearthrug.

Not that they thought he would for one moment.

They knew of the long hours the two had spent together far into the
night; of the rides _à deux_ they had taken in the desert at sunrise,
sunset, and in the light o’ the moon; had seen him clasping the girl to
his heart after the passing of the poisonous pestilence only seven days
ago, and, quite naturally, had put their own construction upon it all.

Who wouldn’t?

And knowing as much about the Western mind as their mistress, were just
as completely at sea as she.

Having seen nothing of Helen since the night when Al-Asad had whipped
them into fury with the tales of her ingratitude and mocking, and with
other and more interesting things than her death upon their minds, they
had ceased to think about her; in fact, if it had not been for the hatred
of their womenfolk, which had been roused by the Nubian’s tales of her
mocking of them, some of them would have quite willingly sent her back to
Hutah. They were too well-fed, too secure, for hate or love to endure.
They worried about nothing, yet a certain restlessness and incertitude
caused them to press about Ralph Trenchard when he walked, most
friendly-wise, amongst them this day of festival; to lightly finger his
clothes, to brush against him and to look at him in the strange, unseeing
manner of the Oriental, lost in contemplation.

So mercurial became the atmosphere after the feasting in the great Hall,
where the men filled the vacuum caused by abstinence with highly spiced
viands and wines forbidden by the Prophet, that it required but a spark
to set their minds ablaze.

Replete, they lay upon the floor chiding and tormenting the elder and
more ugly of the women, who ran amongst them with braziers and coffee or
with bowls of water for the washing of hands, whilst the younger ones
sped hither-thither in the task of clearing away the _débris_ of the
feast before the advent of the mistress they so sorely dreaded.

Al-Asad sat cross-legged upon the floor near the steps leading up to the
dais. Nude, save for the loin-cloth, he looked a giant amongst the men
who, barefooted or sandalled, with black or striped kerchief round the
head, lounged in the long shirt, open to the waist and bound about the
middle by the leather thong, universally worn by the Arab. The Patriarch,
wrapped in a cloak which added much to his dignity, sat upon a pile of
cushions near the first of the columns. Blind Yussuf sat upon the floor
against the wall, with “His Eyes” beside him.

Following upon the blind man’s whisper of Helen’s name one whole long
week ago, the subsequent and strange behaviour of “His Eyes” had given
Ralph Trenchard cause to think.

The dumb youth would touch him upon the arm to attract his attention,
then touch his face and point insistently at the rock wall behind which
Helen lived, and, illiterate, as are most Arabs, would shake his head
when offered pencil and paper.

He had tried vainly by sign to acquaint the white man of the white
woman’s presence in the camp, a piece of self-constituted diplomacy which
would have much displeased Yussuf.

The mercurial atmosphere had affected Ralph Trenchard.

True, he had not subsisted upon a handful of dates and unlimited cups
of strong coffee throughout the day, but Yussuf’s whispered word, the
youth’s strange pantomime, a certain watchfulness he noticed amongst the
men, and an extraordinary solicitude for his comfort and welfare on the
part of Zarah, had wellnigh brought him to the limit of endurance during
the past week. The novelty had worn off, the salt had lost its savour,
and he had determined, poor, unsuspecting soul, as he waited to make his
way to the great Hall to witness the dancing, to start for Hutah within
the next ten days.

In one word, everyone was on tenter-hooks this festive eve, and as ready
to fly at each other’s throat as any two wild beasts of the desert. The
rock-pigeons, sparrows, hoopoes and other birds which abounded in this
watered sanctuary in a desert waste rose in clouds at the ringing shouts
of laughter and ribald jokes with which the men greeted Zarah’s herald,
the camp jester, in the misshapen form of a dwarf holding a veritable
tangle of black and white monkeys. Following him came four handsome
youths carrying gigantic circular fans of peacock feathers, and after
them fifteen little maids—who ought to have been abed—with bowls of
perfumed water, which they sprinkled on the floor.

Then the men sprang to their feet and shouted, until Helen, alone,
desperate from the solitude of the last terrible week, ran to her door,
only to be pushed back, and none too gently, by the surly negress, who
longed inordinately to be with her sisters as they devoured the remains
of the great feast.

Zarah entered alone, her immense jewel-encrusted train sweeping like
a flood over Yussuf’s feet as he crept stealthily along the wall and
slipped through the door into the night.

For an instant she stopped so that the men should fully take in the
beautiful picture she made against the flaring orange lining of her train.

Her limbs showed snow-white through the transparent voluminous trousers,
her body, bare save for the glittering breast-plates and jewelled bands
which held it, shone like ivory, whilst she seemed to tower, even amongst
her men, owing to the mass of black and orange osprey which sprang from
the centre of her jewelled head-dress.

Fifteen little boys—who too ought to have been abed—spread wide her train
as she walked slowly over the wonderful mosaic floor, with all the grace
of her Andalusian mother, between the rows of shouting men. She stayed
for one moment as she drew level with the Nubian standing like a giant,
and, under the impulse of her innate cruelty, looked at him sweetly from
half-closed eyes.

He raised his hands to his forehead, so that a mark made by pearly teeth
showed upon his arm, and looked at her from head to foot and smiled as
the crimson swept her face. Then he gathered the full burden of her train
into his arms and followed her up the seven steps and spread it wide as
she sat down in the ivory chair, then knelt and kissed her knees and her
golden-sandalled feet.

She leant back and watched the thirty children climb on to the stone
stools, upon which had sat the thirty Holy Fathers centuries ago, and
looked down at the hawklike, eager men who watched her, and up to the
star-strewn, vaulted ceiling, from which hung silver lamps which drew
lustre from her jewels and her eyes and the precious stones glittering in
the columns.

Against the golden background of the Byzantine wall, with the great fans
moving slowly above her head, she was barbaric in her beauty, and not
for one moment did she or the men doubt that the white man had fallen a
victim to her enchantment.

She rose when Ralph Trenchard stood in the doorway looking across the
hall in bewilderment, and, holding out her hands, descended the steps,
her great glittering train spread out behind her like an enormous fan.
She walked slowly, whilst the men whispered remarks, which were better
left unprinted, the one to the other, and the fifteen mites leapt from
the stools, upon which had stood the prisoners from Damascus, and ran to
lift her train as she turned with her hand in Ralph Trenchard’s.

He looked at her from head to foot. He gazed at the superb figure, the
jewels, the beautiful face, the crimson-tipped fingers, and, with all the
perversity of the human, was suddenly overwhelmed with a longing for just
one glimpse of the girl he had loved, in her riding kit, with her sweet,
laughing, fair face turned up to the light of the stars.

“Thank God,” he said to himself as he walked up the steps by the side of
the beautiful Arabian. “Thank heaven this is the end of this awful time,
and I shall soon be riding back along the road I came with her, my Helen.”

He looked down at the men, to find their eyes fixed upon him, and
wondered vaguely at the feeling of tension that pervaded the place; then
forgot all about it at the sound of a drum outside the great door.

With great shouting and to the shrilling of reed pipes and the throbbing
of drums the dancers burst through the doorway. They had been enticed
across the desert by the biggest fee they had ever been offered in the
whole of their vagrant life, and had thoroughly enjoyed the blindfolding
and their mysterious entry into the strange camp where they had been so
lavishly entertained.

Men and women, youths and girls, virile, joyous, burned deep brown by the
sun and the storm, with the knowledge of life in their flashing eyes, the
love of adventure in their hearts and the call of great spaces in their
vagabond blood, they stood quite still for a moment and then moved.

They danced to the sound of the drum, the shrilling of reed pipes, the
clapping of hands, the beating of bare feet. They danced in groups, in
pairs; one, thin as a lath, supple as a snake, danced by herself, driving
the men wellnigh mad, so that the silver lamps swung to their shouting
until she dropped in a heap at the foot of the dais. They sang as they
danced, until the echoes of the wild Arabian love songs and battle
songs beat against the star-strewn, vaulted ceiling; they laughed and
clapped their hands in joy, and swayed and rocked to a great moaning;
they advanced to the foot of the dais, caring little, in the power of
their ancestry, which stretches back beyond the days of the Pharaohs, for
the imperious woman who sprang from Allah knew where, or the man who,
handsome as he was, came from a foreign land.

They danced for two hours. Danced to earn their huge fee, to amuse, to
entertain, to end in dancing for the sheer love of it.

In and out of the columns and amongst the men went their slender bare
feet to the flashing of knives, the clash of cymbals and the call of the
Arabian love songs. They met, they parted, they met again; whilst the
girl as thin as a lath, as supple as a snake, sprang up and stood upon
one spot, moving only from her waist upwards.

And as suddenly as they had come, as suddenly they departed, to the
rolling of the drums and the reed pipes’ sweet shrilling, whilst some of
the men crossed to the door to watch them descend the steps, and others
got up and moved about, restless under the excitation of the nerves
invariably caused by the _Ghowazy-Barameke_.

Followed a certain time set apart for the drinking of wines forbidden
by the Prophet, the eating of the sweetmeats and the lighting of
hubble-bubbles and cigarettes.

“You like it?” said Zarah, so softly, as Ralph Trenchard lit her
cigarette. He bent to catch her words, then drew his great ivory chair
nearer still and leaned towards her as he talked, upon which actions the
men who watched put their own construction.

“As gentle as the new-born tiger cub,” quoted Bowlegs as he helped
himself in right lordly fashion from the heaped-up tray offered him by
his third wife, who, being childless, filled the post of drudge to the
entire Bowleg family.

“As placid as the surface of the sands of death,” replied his neighbour
as he looked at Zarah and winked at Bowlegs. “Allah grant we split not
our sides with laughter when the claws of the tiger cub draw blood.”

“Or when he slips up to his neck in the sands of her displeasure.”

“What of the white woman? Has aught been prepared for her passing to
Paradise or _Johannam_?”

By spitting with vigour Bowlegs managed to interrupt the speaker.

“My heart is loth to send so fair a maid upon so long a journey. All
women are cats, longing to sharpen their claws upon each other. Let us
send her upon the road to Hutah, and so trick the gentle Zarah.”

“Nay....”

“Yea....”

Followed a heated _sotto voce_ discussion, with interludes of gambling
instigated by the Patriarch, who had grown a-weary of his new raiment, in
which he found it difficult to find the dice and counters. The gambling
spread right through the hall; the men were quiet, watching Zarah as she
played every note in the scale of woman’s charm to enthral the man at her
side, whilst he, thinking of Helen, replied mechanically to her questions.

And Helen, pale, with great shadows round her eyes, sat on her couch
with her hands clasped in a desperate effort to keep herself well under
control. For a week she had not been allowed outside the front of her
building, nor had she seen Zarah or caught a sign of Yussuf amongst the
rocks which towered around the little clearing behind.

When she had moved to the door or the windows she had met the negress,
who had pushed her back, and none too gently, whilst making sounds of
anger in her throat. Her food had become scanty and badly cooked; her
books had been taken one by one; she had been made to understand that to
bathe in the river, ride, or visit the dogs, which had learned to love
her, was forbidden.

When the shouts of laughter which greeted the dwarf with his tangle of
monkeys rang through the night air, she jumped from the couch and ran out
into the clearing at the back, whereupon, to her everlasting undoing, the
negress shifted her ungainly person into the direct centre of the doorway
in the front of the building and lost herself in a great disgruntlement,
whilst chewing the fragrant “_kaat_.”

Helen stopped dead in the middle of the clearing and pressed her hands
upon her mouth.

Swinging hand over hand, dropping noiselessly from rock to rock, came
Yussuf down the mountainside, with “His Eyes” upon his shoulders.

Fifteen feet above her they stood, side by side, upon a narrow ledge,
then, after a few whispered words, leapt like panthers and landed like
great cats upon the sand of the clearing. Noiselessly they crossed to
Helen, who stood, speechless, against the wall. In the merest whisper
Yussuf asked her a question and repeated the answer to “His Eyes.”

There was no sound as the youth crept to the door and peered in, nor
when, with his back to the wall and his dagger between his teeth, he
stole round the room, his eyes fixed on the surly negress lost in her
great disgruntlement. Neither did she make other sound than a little sigh
when, struck by Fate from behind, she fell forward into Eternity with her
mouth full of _kaat_.

“Quick, Excellency!” said Yussuf, when Helen cried out at the terrible
scene. “There is no time to lose upon sympathy. That stroke of the dagger
did but remove one who was but a little better than a beast and a little
less evil than she who blinded me. Spill not thy heart’s blood for such,
but hasten, in the name of Allah, hasten to the white man, who even now
is in the hands of the she-devil and my brethren, who know not what they
do.”

“White man! What white man?”

Helen walked close to Yussuf and stared up into his sightless face.

“White man!” she whispered, her face ashen through the tumult of her
heart. “What white man? In God’s name, in the name of Allah, tell me! Is
it—is it——”

Yussuf caught her and shook her as she reeled up against him.

“Thou art brave, white woman; be not a coward _now_, when thy man waits
for thee, surrounded by those who, inflamed with forbidden wine, will
strike him down for a misplaced word. It is this wise. In the few words
time and Fate allow me——”

Helen turned to “His Eyes,” who stood beside her, smiling and nodding his
head, whilst the blind man talked. Then she placed her hand in Yussuf’s.

“ ... rush not in, Excellency,” finished Yussuf as they moved towards
the door. “Listen to the words of the old man with the white hair and
venerable beard. Wait until the thoughts of my brethren are fixed upon
the white man, then—_then_ do as Allah the Merciful bids thee, and may
His blessing rest upon thee and thine throughout all time. I shall be
within the Hall, likewise ‘Mine Eyes,’ when he has well hid the body of
yon slave and has finished the task I have set him.”

Yussuf’s sandalled feet made no sound, the noise of Helen’s boots upon
the rocks was deadened by the shouting from above as they sped like deer
up the steep, deserted steps to the doorway of the Hall of Judgment.
With finger upon lips Yussuf slipped in unnoticed, leaving Helen in the
shadows, staring across the great chamber to the dais, where sat Zarah,
in all her barbaric loveliness, with Ralph Trenchard beside her.



CHAPTER XVIII

    “_Upon every misfortune another misfortune._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


A straight, clear path stretched from her to the man she loved.

The end of the room near the door was empty, the men having pressed
forward towards the dais so as to watch the white man’s face when the
proposition, which would amount to an order, backed by a threat, should
be made to him. They stood on each side, close together, leaving a path
the width of the dais, their eyes over-bright and their fingers straying
towards the dagger—which the Arab ever carries—in their cummerbunds.

Zarah sat leaning slightly forward, her face white under the tension of
the moment, her jewelled fingers playing with the crystal knobs of the
ivory chair. She sat in a sea of flaming orange, jewel-encrusted satin,
the fans blowing the ospreys of her head-dress, as they swung the silver
lamps above her head.

Ralph Trenchard, sensing that something out of the ordinary was afoot,
sat right forward, alert, watchful, his eyes following the movements
of the men as they walked restlessly to and fro, or stood talking with
overmuch gesture.

He turned once and looked at Zarah, who sat divided from him by the
glistening folds of her train. He looked at her steadily, trying to find
the answer to the riddle of the hour, and caught his breath when she
stretched out her hand and laid it on his and whispered, “I love you.” He
sat staring at her, stunned by the sudden realization of his blindness
and his crass stupidity, then looked down at the Nubian, who, arms
folded, stood looking up at him, a world of hate and mockery in his face.

The hate in the man’s eyes, the love in the woman’s voice, the sense of
pending danger, the unaccountable expectation in his heart.

Love, hate? Turmoil, peace? Life, death?

Which?

He lifted his head and looked straight across to the doorway. It showed
black, with a background of purple, strewn with stars, and he sighed,
unaccountably disappointed, and watched the benign Patriarch move slowly
forward until he stood in front of the dais.

As he moved Helen moved forward and hid behind the velvet curtain hanging
to one side of the door, and made another quick movement when the man she
loved unknowingly looked straight at her, then stood quite still when
Yussuf, without turning, raised his hand.

The Patriarch had begun to speak.

He bowed himself to the ground before Zarah, then stood upright,
reminding Ralph Trenchard of a picture of Elijah he had loved to look
at in the family Bible on account of the ravens with loaves of bread
in their beaks, little recking in his baby understanding that the word
raven stood for a certain village, or tribe of people, in the holy one’s
environs.

The Patriarch’s fine voice and sonorous words rang through the building,
causing the men to press closer still, and the Nubian to look up at
Zarah. She looked down at him with a mocking smile, and then at the
venerable old man, and lastly at Ralph Trenchard, who sat in amazement,
looking from one to the other.

Happily Helen’s sharp cry was drowned in the Patriarch’s sonorous words
as he offered the Arabian girl’s hand in marriage, with her wealth in
cash, jewels, horses, camel and cattle, to the Englishman; happily
everyone was too enthralled at the sight of the Englishman’s amazed face
to look back to the doorway where she stood, her eyes flashing in a great
anger, her heart beating heavily with fear.

Ralph Trenchard held up his hand.

The baying of the dogs from the kennels could be heard in the
silence that fell, whilst the men tugged at each other’s sleeves and
surreptitiously made bets upon his answer to the proposition.

He repeated the Patriarch’s proposal word for word, then turned to Zarah,
speaking slowly, so that all should understand.

“Have I understood correctly? Yon old man, who, he says, stands to you in
place of a father, proposes that I—I, an Englishman, a foreigner, should
marry you, an Arabian and a Mohammedan. That I should live here with you
and help you rule these fine men of yours, who could learn nothing from
me. That I should give up my country, for which I fought, my people whom
I love, to become one of a nation whose blood is not my blood, nor ways
my ways. Is that so?”

Zarah’s hands lay still on the crystal knobs of her ivory chair as she
answered, a dull crimson slowly flushing her face:

“Verily,” she replied, holding up her hand to ensure silence. “It is
as you say. It is our custom in Arabia, though of a truth it is not
customary for the maid to be present at the bargaining.”

She laughed suddenly, sweetly, and held out her hands, whilst her words
beat like hammers upon Helen’s brain. “For me, he who stands to me as
father offers you my hand in marriage, with my wealth, my people, my
horses, all I possess, asking naught of you in return. I have the blood
of Europe in my veins, I have learned the customs and the speech of the
white races, even of my mother’s race. I am not ill-favoured, nor too
much wanting in wit. I——” Her voice changed as the song of the summer
breeze might change to the warning of the coming storm. “I wait for your
answer before my men, who desire naught but my happiness and, with mine,
their own.”

At the veiled threat in the last words Ralph Trenchard turned and looked
at the men, his dominant jaw out-thrust, his mouth a line of steel.

So this was the meaning of the feasting, the watchfulness, the tension,
the solicitude.

The horror of it all.

Love in the place of friendliness, the love of a despotic woman who had
never in her life been denied or thwarted; a veiled threat as lining to
the mantle of hospitality which had been thrown about him; a life-long
captivity, or even death, for his freedom if he stood true to his love
for Helen.

Captivity!

He shuddered involuntarily at the thought of some of the prisoners he had
seen working under the lash of the overseer’s whip.

Death!

He smiled.

A few steps across the no man’s land stretching between the now and the
hereafter and he would see Helen waiting for him, her lovely, fair face
alight with the love of all eternity.

A great silence fell as he rose, followed by a sound like the wind as the
men whispered amongst themselves.

“A fitting mate for the tiger-cat, a fitting sire for the whelps, if it
were not for his blood.”

“Yea, verily,” answered Bowlegs. “’Tis a rare beauty in a man and the
stature of a giant.”

“He and the Lion would be well matched in a fight.”

Bowlegs would have spat in derision if he had dared.

“A mouse in the Lion’s maw, brother. I lay thee my shirt of silk to thy
sandals that the Lion would break him in——”

The whispering stopped when Ralph Trenchard raised his hand, whilst the
Patriarch, by force of habit, searched for the counters in the folds of
his new raiment.

“The honour you do me is very great, very great. I cannot find words
to thank you. But——” Ralph Trenchard looked down at Zarah, who rose
slowly, a lovely glittering thing full of apprehension and a rising
anger. She looked him straight in the eyes without a word, and at the
relentlessness which shone in hers he subconsciously wondered what kind
of death by torture she would mete out to him in return for his loyalty
to Helen.

“But——?”

The word dropped from her lips like the first thunder drop heralding
the coming storm, and Helen, a great light blazing in her eyes, stepped
forward and stopped as Yussuf held her back by a movement of his hand.

“But,” continued Ralph Trenchard slowly, very slowly, so that every word
could be clearly heard throughout the hall, “the honour, the great honour
I must refuse, because——”

“Because——?”

Under the impulse of a great excitement the men moved forward in a body,
then stopped.

There was not a sound to break the terrible silence, not a movement
except for the jewels which flashed as they rose and fell above the
Arabian girl’s heart and the fans which swung the silver lamps and
stirred the black and orange osprey of her head-dress.

She stood like a statue of terrible wrath, outraged in her pride before
her men. Like a cobra about to strike she waited motionless to pay back
that insult a hundredfold.

“Because——?” she repeated.

“Because,” Ralph Trenchard said slowly, clearly, “because I love the
memory of the white woman who died amongst you, too much to give a
thought of love elsewhere.”

Helen’s ringing, joyous cry was lost in the men’s shouting and the sharp
sound of their daggers as they whipped them from the sheath, and her
scream of rage was lost in their shouts of laughter when Zarah, lifting
her hand, smote the white man across the mouth.

Then she ran, oblivious of the roar of amazement, up the clear path which
stretched between her and her lover.

“Ra!” she cried as she ran, with arms outstretched. “Ra! I’m here! I’m
coming to you, Ra! Come to me!”

She ran to him as he leapt from the dais; she was in his arms and he had
folded her close and kissed her before Zarah had time to give an order to
the men, who stood motionless with astonishment.

A moment of utter silence, then the storm broke.

“Separate them!”

The order, given to the Nubian, cracked like a whip as Zarah, white with
passion, sank slowly into the ivory chair.

“Seize the white man!”

She flung her order to a young Arab whilst the Nubian struggled to wrench
Ralph Trenchard’s arms from about Helen.

“Drive them in!”

The young Arab turned the dagger he held in each hand and drove the blunt
handle hard down on to the ribs just above Ralph Trenchard’s waist, and
jerked him roughly back when his arms slackened under the shock and
agonizing pain.

There was a moment’s breathless silence.

Helen stood perfectly still, her elbows held from behind by Al-Asad, her
face, radiant with love, turned towards Ralph Trenchard, who sickened at
the sight of the Nubian’s glistening skin so near the girl he adored. He
knew that they were in a desperate plight, the tightest corner any two
could have got into, but he was not giving the Arabian the satisfaction
of seeing a sign of his dismay in his face, and he worshipped Helen for
her outward calm, though his whole being revolted at the Nubian’s close
proximity to her.

He knew he had only to make a certain movement to fling off the man who
held his elbows from behind, but before he made it he wanted to find a
way to make the half-caste loosen his hold of Helen.

And the way came to him as he looked at Al-Asad, who stood staring down
at Helen’s golden hair with an indescribable look on his face.

“You, Al-Asad,” he said slowly, pronouncing each word so that it sounded
clearly in the hall, “you nigger, let go of the white woman. In our
country we do not allow the black——”

He rid himself with a lightning movement from the hands which held him
and sprang and caught the Nubian, who, hurling Helen back against the
dais, leapt at the man who had so direly insulted him.

There came one tremendous yell as the men rushed to form a ring, then
a very babel of voices as they laid their last _qamis_ and their last
_piastre_ upon the outcome of the struggle between the two men who stood
locked in a mighty grip.

“My shirt of silk to thy sandals,” yelled Bowlegs, “that the foreigner is
crushed like a mouse in the Lion’s maw.”

“Taken, O thou little one with legs like the full moon,” yelled his
neighbour, who had learnt a thing or two in the fine art of wrestling
when he had fought so magnificently for the whites. “The white man will
use our brother as a cloth with which to wipe the marks of thy misshapen
feet from the ground. Bulk counts not against knowledge.”

Bowlegs spat as he glanced at Ralph Trenchard, who, trained to a hair,
stood well over six feet, yet looked like a stripling beside the gigantic
Nubian, who overtopped him by inches.

The men’s attention was diverted for one moment when Helen ran up the
steps of the dais, and they held their breath in sheer delight when the
Arabian rose from her chair to confront her.

The two girls were about the same height, both of an amazing beauty, and
they both loved the same man, who was likely to have his neck broken
within the next few minutes.

What more could they desire as an evening’s entertainment?

“Will you take a bet, Zarah?”

The lamps seemed likely to spill their oil as they swung to the men’s
shouting.

“Take it! Take it!” they yelled. “Take it, Zarah the Beautiful. Let it
not be said that an infidel could show thee a path.”

“The stakes?”

“Ralph Trenchard’s life against my locket, which hangs around your neck!”

“They are both mine!”

“The locket is _mine_, his life is _God’s_, in your keeping for a little
while.”

“You, Helen R-r-aynor, you sign his death warrant? He cannot win against
my slave!”

“Will you take the bet?”

The Arabian unfastened the chain and, laughing, flung the locket at
Helen’s feet as the two men moved.

The Nubian put forth all the strength of his mighty muscle. Ralph
Trenchard, one of the finest exponents of jiu-jitsu to be found anywhere,
took advantage of the movement to slip his hand an inch or two, and to
move his foot an inch or so. For a second he stood quite still, then, as
the Nubian moved, with a movement too quick and too fine to be described,
lifted the gigantic man and flung him so that he struck his head against
the dais and lay still at his mistress’s feet.

In the uproar which followed Helen was down the steps like a bird, and,
laughing happily in her complete misunderstanding of the Oriental mind,
was in her lover’s arms.

“His life!” she cried, looking over her shoulder towards Zarah. “His
life! I’ve won! I’ve won!” then flung her arms round him and held him
close at sight of the fury in the Arabian’s face, whilst the men pressed
upon them, their hands outstretched, waiting for the order which they
knew must come.

“Separate them!”

Helen’s hair came down about her like a mantle as hands, only too
willing, dragged her away from the man she loved, and Ralph’s silk shirt
ripped to the waist as he fought desperately for her until overpowered by
numbers.

Zarah stood half-way down the steps, looking like some great bird with
her train spread out behind her, the ospreys blowing this way and that
above her death white face with its half-shut tawny eyes and crimson
mouth. She stood looking from the one to the other evilly as she planned
a torture for the two which might, in some little way, ease the torture
of her own heart.

She had given her word to spare the white man’s life, and as it had
been given before some hundred witnesses, her word she had to keep, but
she would make of that life such a hell that the white girl would wish,
before she had finished with both of them, that death had overtaken her
and her lover in the battle.

In the intense excitement of the moment no notice was taken of Yussuf as
he crept quietly through the doorway from behind the curtain where he had
been sitting, nor of the clamour from the kennels, which a few moments
later rent the peace of the night.

“Bring them here, both of them, to my feet. Hold them apart! Thou dog!
Who told thee to strike the white man?” Zarah pointed at a pock-marked
youth who had pushed Ralph Trenchard forward by the shoulder in an
exuberance engendered by the uproar so dear to the Arab’s heart. “’Tis
well for thee that it is a day of festival, else would ten strokes of the
whip have been paid thee for thy presumption.”

The youth shrank back behind a pillar, whilst Zarah looked from one to
another of the men, dominating them all by her unconquerable will and her
magnetic beauty.

She had but to smile and to speak to them as her beloved children and the
prisoners would be free to go where they pleased; to say one word for the
hall to be emptied; to raise her hand for the prisoners to die on the
spot.

She was supreme in her command, superb in her beauty, but as she looked
at the English girl she knew she was beaten.

She could see the love in Ralph Trenchard’s eyes as he looked across at
Helen, who stood smiling, dishevelled, with her golden hair in a cloud
around her over-thin, death-white face; and she knew that in his love
for Helen, the love she herself craved for and had failed to inspire, he
would fight to the death to save her from harm.

Death!

Even as the word flashed into her mind, the youth whom Al-Asad had
whirled like a club and shaken like a sack of _durra_ for mimicking his
mistress sprang forward.

In the Arab’s supreme callousness towards his brother’s feelings he used
the Nubian’s limp body as the first step as he ran up the steps of the
dais and knelt at Zarah’s feet.

“Her death, mistress!” he shouted, his eyes blazing at the thought of the
white girl’s insult towards his womenfolk. “Behold, she mocks thee and
the women who tend and serve her. She mocks them this wise.”

He sprang back, landing, with the Arab’s supreme callousness towards his
brother’s feelings, full upon the Nubian’s back, so that, the last ounce
of breath being expelled forcibly from his lungs, he lay limper than
ever. Followed a mimicry of Helen’s supposed mimicry of Namlah the busy
and the surly negress, until the men shouted with laughter and yelled
with appreciation, whilst Zarah looked down without a smile and Helen
looked on in amazement.

She understood at last, and tried in her indignation to free herself, and
failing, shouted her denial of the untruth.

“It is a lie! It is a lie! I could not, would not——”

As the youth spat in her direction, and the men, their pride once more
ablaze at the thought of the insult offered their own women, cursed and
yelled, Ralph Trenchard, with an effort beyond all telling, broke from
his captors and sprang straight at the youth who had spat.

“You swine! You filthy swine!” he cried, and with a fist like a flail
caught the spitter full on the point, smashing his jaw, whereupon the men
yelled “_Wah! Wah!_” and at a sign from their mistress, shouting with
joy, flung themselves upon Ralph Trenchard and held him fast.

“Pass not the sentence of death upon him this night, mistress,” suddenly
cried Bowlegs, waddling forward. “He has grievously insulted thee, as
has the white woman, but let him live for a space and under the eyes
of Al-Asad teach us his cunning tricks, for, behold! if ’twere but a
question of muscle even could I pinch his life out ’twixt thumb and
finger. After we have learned the tricks, then——”

A shout of appreciation followed hot upon his words of wisdom. Helen in
despair fought to free herself so as to protect her lover, whereupon
Zarah looked slowly in her direction.

“And the woman?”

“Kill her! Sink her in the sands of death! Give her to the dogs! Drive
her out into the Empty Desert!”

Zarah shook her head at the suggestions shouted by men who are taught in
their religion that woman is devoid of soul, and therefore to be looked
upon either as a plaything or a drudge, or the potential bearer of sons,
and, in any case, far below the level of the horse at her very best.

“Death is but a closing of the eyes in sleep.” Zarah translated the line
she had learned at school. “And I would keep her wide-eyed in life,
working as work the women she has mocked.” She caught the horror in Ralph
Trenchard’s eyes as he looked from her to Helen, who stood mute, her
heart aglow at the thought of her lover’s safety for the moment. Lost to
all thought of self, she but half understood Zarah’s words, and looked
questioningly from the men to her and back.

“Yea! Ralph Tr-r-enchar-r-d!” said Zarah slowly, pouring the balm of
revenge into her smarting wounds. “To work as my servant, to wait upon
me, to serve me, even as thou shalt work under the ruling of that fool,
who would even now be dead if it were not for the thickness of his
skull.” She held up her hand as the men shouted. “Has the white man
aught to say, the man who changes his coat to the wind? The white woman
at dawn, the Arabian at noon, the white woman at dusk, and Allah knows
which in the watches of the night!”

“You liar! You despicable coward! There isn’t a word of truth in what you
say, you _liar_!”

Helen’s words, forcible, if somewhat lacking in diplomacy considering her
position, rang through the room, and Yussuf, standing hidden just outside
the door, raised the electric torch he held as a sign to “His Eyes”
standing outside the kennels deserted by the grooms, who, against orders,
had crept to the feast _en bloc_, instead of in shifts. Yussuf, who knew
his brethren backward and looked upon them as children, had planned the
death of the Arabian and the escape of the whites as a _grand finale_ to
the day’s festivities.

For the last half-hour the dogs, headed by Rādi the bitch, had been
driven to the point of madness by “His Eyes,” who had drawn one of
Zarah’s sandals across the bars of the kennels, inciting them to a very
lust to kill.

Yussuf had planned everything, but had forgotten to take into
consideration the extraordinary trait in the character of the white races
which urges them to give their life for their brother at the slightest
provocation. He raised his hand to flash the signal, then dropped it to
listen to Ralph Trenchard speaking.

“There is a proverb in England,” he was saying slowly, so that everyone
should understand, “which says, ‘One man can take a horse to the water,
but ten cannot make him drink.’ You will never make the girl, who will
one day be my wife, wait upon you as a servant, neither will you make me
work under your half-caste lover.”

Which words were also lacking in diplomacy, taking everything into
consideration.

A great silence fell. The men thought that Zarah had been rather badly
cornered; she waited out of sheer dramatic instinct. Then she laughed,
laughed until the hall was full of the sweet sound, as she turned and
sank into her chair.

She had the prisoners in the hollow of her hand, and not one whit of
their punishment would she spare them.

She put her exquisite, golden-sandalled foot upon the ivory footstool,
and looked at Helen.

“Loosen the white woman!”

She spoke curtly, and the men holding Helen sprang back.

“I would remove my sandals, Helen R-r-aynor-r! Come and loosen them!”

Helen smiled and shook her head. Torture would not force her to save her
life by humiliating the white races.

“You will not? Remember you are a prisoner, my prisoner, and that the
power of life and death and punishment is in my hands!” Zarah leant right
forward and looked into the steady blue eyes, whilst the men, knowing
their mistress’s cunning, pressed forward. “You will not, you say?”

“No! I will not!”

Zarah sat up, her hand pointing at Ralph Trenchard, her eyes half closed
in the strength of her terrible cruelty.

“I will make you, and I will make him in like manner if he refuses to
obey.” She paused for a moment, and then spoke sharply. “Take the white
man out, and whip him till he drops. Stop!”

She had won.

Yet as she leant back slowly she felt no triumph as she watched Helen
swing round to the man who fought to get free.

Helen laughed, laughed good humouredly, splendidly, with all the pluck of
her race, as she spoke to the man she was fighting for.

“Why should I not unfasten the very pretty sandal, Ra? Why should you be
made to suffer, if my very capable fingers can undo the gold laces of
my lady’s footwear? Don’t get angry, Ra, it’s a great waste of energy;
besides, you know I always do exactly as I please.”

Yussuf listened to the men’s exclamations and laughter, to the sound of
Helen’s feet mounting the steps, then flashed his torch three times.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_The world is a mirror; show thyself in it, and it will
    reflect thy image._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

Helen looked over her shoulder at her lover and smiled without a trace of
bitterness, then turned and looked straight into the Arabian’s eyes.

For a long moment the two girls looked at each other, until, unable to
bear the contempt in the steady blue eyes, the Arabian lowered hers, and
pointed to her sandal, then lifted her head sharply as Helen knelt.

Pushing Helen to one side, Zarah sprang to her feet and walked quickly
to the top of the steps and stood staring at the doorway, through which
could be seen the star-strewn sky and through which could be heard the
baying of dogs in full cry.

Her face was white as death, her eyes wide in fear; her hands pressed
down upon her heart as she backed away from the savage sound, until she
stood upon her train, which swept around her like a shell.

The men stood facing the doorway, whispering to each other. They had
hunted too often with the dogs; they knew every sound of their voices
too well not to know that they were hard on the scent of whatever they
were so strangely hunting at this hour of the night, when they were never
allowed to be at large.

Bowlegs, who loved the dogs almost as much as he loved his horses, under
a strange excitement which had fallen upon him as well as on the other
men, spoke to Helen, whom he knew to be so beloved of the dogs.

“They cross the plateau in a pack, hot on the trail, ah! they have lost.
Canst hear Rādi the bitch, the finest in the kennels? They near the
water’s edge! Hearken to the echo thrown by the rock above the cavern!
They have found. Ah! hunt they the devil? Or is’t a pack of _djinns_
hunting the dead from the quicksands? Tell——”

A man came running from the doorway, his eyes full of fear, his dagger in
his hand. He ran up to the foot of the dais and stood half turned towards
the door, to which he pointed frantically, and shouted up to Helen.

“They come, they come, the greyhounds and the dogs of Billi. They mount
the steps; their eyes shine in the dark; they are mad with rage; death
hunts with them——” He turned and looked at Zarah, who stood like a pillar
of stone, wrapped in her train.

She did not seem to count in this moment of great danger.

Helen, knowing the dogs’ inexplicable hatred of their mistress, turned
and looked at her, the contempt in her eyes deepening to scorn as she saw
the frozen look of fear in the Arabian’s eyes.

“The dogs have got out,” she said sharply. “Look! your men are running
before them. Look! Wake up and do something. Order the doors to be shut
or they’ll be in. Quick, Zarah!”

The Arabian took no notice. Lost in one of the visions which swept down
upon her at times, she was looking into the future.

She stood stark with terror, her eyes wide and glassy, her crimson lips
drawn back from her teeth, which chattered like gourds rattled by the
wind. She shook from head to foot, and put out her hand and tried to
speak as the dogs suddenly gave tongue.

She clutched at her throat and pointed to the door, and Helen, who did
not understand, turned away from the picture of abject fear and held
out her arms to her lover, who stood a prisoner in the hands of men who
showed great signs of uneasiness as they looked at their mistress and
then at the door.

Then Helen stamped her foot and shouted, so that the men who stood near
the door turned towards her, then impeded each other in their haste as
they tried to obey her.

“Shut the door!” she cried. “Keep them out! Quick! they’re almost at the
top! Shut it! You’re too——”

Her words were lost in a piercing scream from Zarah as she ran back and
back until she reached the wall. She flung her arms out and fought,
fought the imaginary dogs which in her strange vision she saw leaping
upon her. She fought desperately, a wonderful picture against the
glittering Byzantine wall, fought nothing but her imagination or the
shadows thrown by Fate. Then she screamed and screamed and, covering
herself in her train, crouched down, as the whole pack of greyhounds and
the hunting dogs of Billi tore through the doorway.

“Ra!” cried Helen. “Ra! come to me! They’re after her. She’ll be torn to
pieces before our eyes, Ra!”

The men holding Ralph Trenchard backed before the onslaught of the great
dogs; he seized the opportunity and leaped for the steps, gaining the top
just in time.

“My God!” he cried, as he watched the beautiful creatures tear across the
floor. “If they leap to the top, sweetheart, we’re done; they’re too mad
to recognize us.” He put his arm round her and kissed her on the mouth.
“Darling! we shall win through, never you fear; keep a brave heart,
beloved, and remember that I love you.”

Helen whispered as she put her hand in his: “And remember that I love you
and that Yussuf is our friend.”

They had no time for more, the dogs were on them. Ralph Trenchard caught
the splendid bitch and flung her back as she reached the top of the
steps. He caught her again and yet again as she returned to the charge,
meeting her teeth in the younger dogs who tried to outdo her or to pass
her on the steps, whilst the dogs of Billi leapt and leapt and leapt
again to reach the top of the dais, where crouched the woman they hated
so deeply in their canine hearts.

Yussuf’s “Eyes” had over-reached himself in letting out the entire pack.

They were jammed too close together to get up the steps or for any single
one to be able to get the necessary run which might have allowed the
strongest to leap to the top. They baulked each other; they fought each
other; they rushed the dais in a wedge and fell back and fought each
other where they fell, until the place seemed a mass of maddened dogs.

The scent of the woman they hated was strong in their fine noses; she was
there just above their heads, just out of reach of their mighty, snapping
jaws. They rushed the steps when the bitch fell back, exhausted, and
fought the man who held them at the top. He knelt upon the top step and
caught them by the neck and threw them headlong back and down amongst
those who rushed behind; whilst those far back in the middle of the hall
flung themselves upon those in front, which turned and fought them, then
turned again and strove to reach the steps.

Helen knelt beside her lover ready to help, and the men stood far back
against the wall making bets upon the outcome of it all, watching the
stupendous picture, full of admiration for the white people, who had
tackled the situation without hesitation, whilst the grooms flung
themselves into the seething mass of dogs and fought to dominate them.

And the dogs far back in the hall, who fought to get forward, flung
themselves on the men against the wall and on the grooms, then, losing
the woman’s scent in the male garments, sat back and howled and barked
and fought each other, until the place was like a corner of hell let
loose.

Rādi the bitch, in one last effort of revenge, made a sudden rush and
making a spring-board of the Nubian’s body, with a wonderful leap, which
brought shouts of approval from the men, landed on the top of the dais at
Helen’s side.

With the Arabian’s scent strong in her pointed nose, she rushed to where
she crouched and turned and ripped Helen’s coat as the girl flung
herself sideways and caught her by the neck, calling to her, hanging on
to her with both hands. The bitch recognized the voice she had learned to
obey in love, and turned suddenly and thrust her muzzle into Helen’s neck
and hands, just as the head groom shouted from the body of the hall.

“Whistle, Excellency,” he shouted. “The madness is past. They obey.
Whistle to them, then with thy hand upon the bitch’s neck, I beseech thee
to lead the way to the kennels.”

“Yea! Excellency!” yelled the different men from the kennels and the
stables, as they stood holding on to a struggling dog with each hand.
“They will follow thy whistle, loving thee.”

Helen laughed as she led Rādi to the top step, looking like “Diana of the
Uplands” in a strange setting as the splendid greyhound strained to get
down to her companions.

She gave a long, low whistle, upon which every dog fought as frenziedly
to get to her in love as they had fought to get to the Arabian in hate.

“Hold them!” she cried. “I will whistle them back to the kennels.”

Which words were heard and taken up by a child standing outside in the
shadows, and passed on to the women, who, with a hate in their hearts
even greater than that of the dogs for the Arabian, had crept from their
quarters and half-way up the steps to the Hall of Judgment.

The hate of these docile creatures for the white girl, planted and
fostered by the men who had been so led astray by Al-Asad, was most
truly to be feared a hundred times more than the instinctive hate of the
dogs for the Arabian. They had done their best to please this foreigner,
cooking for her, mending her clothes, fetching and carrying for her and
waiting upon her; when their men had come back raving of her beauty and
her horsemanship, the meek, downtrodden souls, who had lost their looks
and their figures through hard work and overmuch child-bearing, had said
no word, but when they had heard the tales of the beautiful white girl’s
mimicry of their efforts to please her, then they had vowed to themselves
to be revenged upon her and at the first opportunity.

The news of the dogs’ escape had reached them. The opportunity had
arrived, and perhaps a double opportunity for revenge, for why should the
dogs not pull both the women down so that they should be quit of their
dreaded mistress and the foreigner.

When the child passed on Helen’s words they crept swiftly down the steps
and up to the kennels, and hid themselves amongst the rocks to wait just
a little longer.

“No! don’t come with me, beloved,” Helen said, as she stood on the top of
the dais steps pressed close to her lover’s side, with the dogs leaping
and barking at her feet. “A love such as ours must come right in the end,
and I don’t believe she meant what she said.”

In which she was mistaken, as she was to learn.

“Then, until we meet again, dear heart! I don’t like you doing this,
somehow.”

“She wouldn’t let us be together, Ra! It’s wiser not to make her _really_
angry!”

He held her close, and kissed her, and watched her run down the steps
into the middle of the dogs, which nearly knocked her down in their
exuberance; and watched her laughing, calling, whistling, as she ran down
the hall, followed by them all, whilst the men, who were but children
in their wrath and very good-tempered children when left alone, shouted
their admiration.

She turned at the door, beautiful, radiant, and held out her arms.

“Ra!” she called. “Ra! beloved!” and disappeared into the night, the
rocks echoing the barking of the dogs.

The men rushed to the door and out on to the broad ledge to watch the
wonderful picture.

Down the steps and over the plateau and up the other side to the kennels
she fled like Diana, preceded by the dogs and followed by the kennel
grooms, who called the blessings of Allah upon her as they ran.

Her voice calling to the dogs came faintly on the soft night breeze; they
heard her whistle; there fell a silence. Then were heard the shrill cries
of many hate-filled women.

The clamour grew louder and louder and ended in prolonged, insufferable
peals of laughter.

Silence.

Sick with horror, Ralph Trenchard took a step down and stopped.

Al-Asad sat on the bottom step, looking up.

His handsome face was drawn in pain, his lips pulled back from his
splendid teeth. He sat crouched, still, looking up out of eyes filled
with hate.

Ralph Trenchard swung round to the woman. She stood against the wall, a
slender, silent figure, love and hate shining from her half-closed eyes.

He did not hesitate, he leapt clear of the dais to save the girl he loved
from what the insufferable peals of laughter, which echoed in his ears,
portended.

He had got half-way down the hall, when, upon a sign from the Arabian
woman, hands caught him and held him, whilst a golden sound of laughter
came from Zarah as she stood, a thing of love and hate, against the
glittering Byzantine wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Fear not, my children,” whispered Yussuf to “His Eyes” and Namlah the
Busy some time later as they talked over the failure of their plans
within the last few hours. “Even as the pounding of many grains of wheat
goes to the making of bread, so is life learnt in many lessons. Dawn
breaketh. To revenge the loss of thy son, my daughter, thy speech, my
son, and mine eyes, we will bring about the downfall of the accursed
woman. The proverb says ‘Three persons if they unite against a town will
ruin it.’”



CHAPTER XIX

    “_Before the clouds appeared the rain came upon me._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


Two months had passed in which Zarah had absolutely failed to break her
prisoners’ indomitable spirit; two months in which her passion for the
white man and her hate for the white girl had grown deeper and fiercer.

With the density of some women, she clung with an extraordinary and
ridiculous tenacity to the belief that, if she only threatened or cajoled
enough and held her rival up plainly enough to ridicule or contempt, she
would ultimately win Ralph Trenchard’s love.

Also did fear urge her to force or cajole him into becoming her husband.

She knew her own men were blown like cotton threads before every passing
gust of their facile emotions, and that their suddenly aroused hatred of
Ralph Trenchard had given place to genuine admiration; by that she had
come to realize she had no real hold over them and that, where they had
obeyed her father, the Sheikh, through genuine love, they merely obeyed
her because it pleased them so to do.

She was just their nominal head. She pleased their sense of beauty, and
they almost worshipped her for her courage in raids, but they were too
well fed, too sure of an unfailing supply of the necessities of life, too
secure against intrusion and interference to wish to relieve her of the
reins of government with its attendant burdens.

If they had formed one of the itinerant groups of Bedouins which have to
literally fight for their existence as they flee across the desert, she
knew they would not have tolerated her for a day.

True, they made no effort to run counter to her orders and to ameliorate
the white man’s position. They considered the rough hut he lived in on
the far side of the plateau, and the rough food sent him, quite good
enough for any infidel; but they greeted him with friendly shouts when he
arrived to teach them his tricks of cunning, and did their best to beat
him at his own game.

If it had not been for his overwhelming anxiety for the future and for
Helen, whom he knew, by hearsay, to be a very slave to the tyrannical
Arabian, Ralph Trenchard would not have complained of his life or his
treatment. True, he hated the half-caste, who did his best to humiliate
him in the eyes of the men and, in a moment of forgetfulness in the early
days, had forcibly rebelled against his constant espionage and irritating
presence. He had been instantly cured of the spirit of rebellion by the
sight which, with a mocking laugh, the Nubian had pointed out to him, of
Helen, kneeling by the river surrounded by jeering women, as she washed
the Arabian’s linen.

“And worse will happen, thou infidel, if thou dar’st disobey my
mistress’s commands. Mohammed the Prophet of Allah decreed in his
understanding that unto the faithful should be four wives given, neither
did he in his wisdom say aught against an infidel wife being of the four.
Nay! in thine eyes I see the lust to kill. The life of the white woman
pays forfeit for my life; thy life if the white woman essays to shorten
the days of Zarah the Beautiful.”

For fear of something worse than death befalling the beautiful, splendid
girl he loved, he dared do nothing. For every word, for every act of
rebellion on his part, some task even more menial than those she daily
performed would be forced upon her; for any attempt he might make upon
the Nubian’s life, to assuage his own outraged feelings, her life would
be taken.

And there seemed no possible way out.

Not only did the Nubian dog his footsteps, but Yussuf, upon whom he had
counted in his heart of hearts, had failed him, and without his help
nothing could be done, no communication with Helen effected, no plans for
escape made.

He saw Yussuf every day seated amongst the men gathered to learn the
arts of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and of all the little crowd he seemed
to be the only one who still cherished his hatred for the infidel. He
spat with vigour when the white man passed, and at other times shouted
various abusive or ribald remarks, whilst urging his brethren to down the
unbeliever in the tests of strength and cunning, for the glory of Allah
the one and only God.

His days were most humiliatingly mapped out for him by the Nubian.

There seemed to be no satisfying the men’s craving to master the
rudiments of wrestling.

From two hours after sunrise until the first moment of the great noonday
heat they milled and boxed, with intervals of single-stick and jiu-jitsu,
in which they invariably forgot instructions, lost their self-control and
temper, and almost broke each other’s legs, arms, heads or backs.

The afternoons were passed in the heavy, unrefreshing sleep induced by
great heat; from the moment the sun slipped down behind the topmost
mountain peaks, throwing deep shadows across the plateau, they were at it
again until the hour of the one big meal of the day, which takes place
about two hours after sunset.

The best part of the night they passed in gambling, story telling,
singing, or tearing over the desert on horseback, Ralph Trenchard
accompanying them, invariably shadowed by the Nubian.

To his intense relief, Zarah left him entirely alone for the first month.
Fully aware that he was surrounded by spies, he gave no sign of the
rage which swept him each time he caught sight of Helen following the
Arabian, fanning her or holding an umbrella over her; or descending the
steps to the river with a great earthenware vessel on her shoulder, which
she would fill for the tyrant’s bath and carry up the steep steps to her
dwelling.

Zarah had passed the month in trying to break Helen’s splendid spirit,
ignorant of the strength which real love gives to those who, either
through physical weakness or untoward circumstances, are at the
mercy of those moral cowards who take advantage of their distress or
defencelessness. Cowards who, amongst the educated and the ignorant,
the clergy, the laity, in the highest profession or in trade, place
themselves morally on the level of the man who kicks his dog or hits his
opponent when he is down.

She made no impression on the English girl.

Strong in her love, certain that her prayers for help would be answered,
she endured all things.

She waited on the Arabian hand and foot, climbed the ladder to the golden
cage, wherein Zarah lay during the _siesta_, with coffee, sherbet, or
whatever she desired, and descended and climbed again with ever the
sweetest smile in her steady, blue eyes. She brushed and combed the red
curls until her arms ached; carried and fetched and read aloud and looked
after the birds; fanned the woman, fetched water from the river for her
bath, washed the silken garments, and waited upon her at meals, without a
murmur on her lips or a shadow in her eyes.

She spoke to no one, but through the gossiping of the women learned that
the body of the surly negress had not been discovered, and that Zarah,
owing to a certain spirit of insubordination that had lately swept
through the camp, had not dared to punish the grooms of the kennels for
their gross carelessness.

She was continually surrounded by the women, who, ignorant of the lies
told them, jeered at and laughed at her and did everything in their power
to make her tasks even yet more distasteful. When away from Zarah her
every movement was spied upon and reported.

She slept in a hut in which tools had been stored during the alterations
to the building, rough and infinitely uncomfortable, but a very haven of
refuge at the end of the day when she returned, to fling herself on her
knees and pray for strength and patience.

If only she had known it, spies watched her at her prayers, noting the
look of peace which followed quickly upon them, and the content with
which she stretched herself upon the bed composed of rugs flung upon the
sand; watched her asleep and at her toilette, and ran to make report on
all things, especially upon the delight she seemed to take in combing her
masses of beautiful hair and in her bath in the river long before the
dawn.

And when a rough hand shook Helen out of her sleep and ordered her to
Zarah’s presence, it seemed that God had turned a deaf ear to her prayers
and that fear must, after all, dominate her splendid courage.

It was long after midnight when, with a heavily beating heart, she
entered the luxurious room.

Two Abyssinian women, nude save for a short petticoat which stopped
above the knees, stood behind the divan upon which Zarah lay smoking a
_naghileh_. She lay and looked at Helen without a word, hating her for
the ethereal look, which heightened her beauty and had come to her in her
days of toil and privation.

“I am told,” she said after a while in Arabic, “that the hut you sleep
in is not clean, that your habits are not the cleanly habits of the
Mohammedan, that your hair has not escaped contamination from the
disorder in your hut; therefore——”

When Helen interrupted her quickly, she looked back at the tittering
black women and laughed.

“How can you say such a thing! I am perfectly clean, my clothes are
in holes through being washed on the stones, my hair....” To her own
undoing and yet, if she had but known it, as an answer to her prayers
for help, she undid the great golden plaits and shook the rippling mass
out over her shoulders, holding long strands at arm’s length until even
the negresses exclaimed at the glory of its sheen. “My hair is combed and
brushed every day and washed once a week; it is perfectly clean!”

Zarah laughed as she puffed at her hubble-bubble, inhaling the fumes
of the tobacco of Oman, which is calculated to absolutely stun the
uninitiated in its gunpowder strength.

“Anyway, I do not like these tales of uncleanliness to be spread amongst
my women, Helen R-r-aynor-r,” she said curtly at last. “I therefore have
decided to keep you beneath my eyes. You will sleep in my room, on a mat,
you will bathe under the supervision of this slave here, who will now cut
your hair off so that you are clean.”

“I’ll kill her if she touches me!” Helen cried sharply, and, gathering
the glory of her hair round about her, ran to a table upon which lay an
ornamented but most workmanlike dagger. She loved her glorious, naturally
curling hair, looking upon it, with her beautiful teeth, as the greatest
asset with which nature had endowed her. Her lover loved it, and had
often told her that she had ensnared his heart in its golden mesh.
Forgetting her impossible position as prisoner and the utter futility of
any effort at resistance, determined to fight for the glorious mantle
which covered her to her knees, she picked up the dagger as the two
gigantic women approached her.

“I’ll kill the first one of you who touches me!”

Zarah laughed and raised her hand.

“Go and find Al-Asad and bid him bind the white man and bring him here.
_Stop!_”

Helen had thrown out her hands in surrender.

Even her hair would she willingly sacrifice in her great love, everything
she would sacrifice except her honour, and that she knew was safe in a
place abounding with deep precipices and paths where the foothold was
precarious.

Save for her tightly locked hands, she made no sign when the beautiful
mass lay about her feet; in fact, with an almost superhuman effort of
courage, she refrained from touching her shorn head, and leant down
instead and picked up a handful of hair, which looked like a great skein
of golden silk.

“It’s a pity to waste it, Zarah,” she said gently. “Why not stuff a
pillow with it?”

The Arabian bit hard on the amber mouthpiece of the _naghileh_. With her
short hair curling round her face, Helen looked like an exquisite girl
of fifteen, defenceless, helpless, and calculated to inspire pity in the
heart of almost any man.

“Call Namlah!” She lashed the Abyssinian across the thigh when she had
to repeat the order. “Art deaf or bereft of the use of thy limbs, thou
fool!” she screamed, seizing the dagger from her belt and throwing it
after the rapidly retreating negress, missing her shoulder by an inch as
she emulated the speed of the ostrich through the doorway.

Namlah, upon whom Helen had counted in her heart of hearts, had failed
her, and without her help nothing could be done, no communication with
Ralph effected, no plans for escape made.

Of all the crowd of women who jeered and laughed at her she seemed to be
the one who cherished the greatest hatred for her. She spat with vigour
when the white girl passed, and at other times shouted various abusive
and ribald remarks, urging the women to see that the unbeliever performed
her menial tasks thoroughly, so as to enhance the glory of Allah the one
and only God.

She ran in and prostrated herself before her dread mistress, then pulled
the masses of hair roughly from under Helen’s feet and tossed it this way
and that as though it were the hair of goat or camel.

“A kerchief for thy head, O great mistress, could I weave, or a plaited
girdle set with pearls, though ’twere wellnigh sacrilege for the middle
of the believer to be bound by the hair of the infidel. Behold the
infidel looks even like the skull of one dead, with her face like unbaked
bread and her head like unto the wing of the ostrich plucked of its
feathers.”

With instructions to make what she could of the silky burden which filled
both her arms, she spat or, rather, for fear of her mistress’s humour,
made the sound of vigorous spitting in Helen’s direction, and vanished
through the doorway.

Helen lay on the floor that night, her beautiful shorn head resting on
her arm, and poured out her heart in gratitude that Zarah had not seen
fit to shave it completely.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_What is in the cauldron is taken out with the kitchen
    spoon._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

    “_A thousand raps at the door but no salute or invitation from
    within._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

During the night, in the passing of a second, for no apparent reason and
with all the Arab’s lamentable instability, Zarah grew suddenly tired of
baiting her prisoner, and, with the extraordinary density of the woman in
love, decided to make one last endeavour to break down Ralph Trenchard’s
resistance.

She could not understand, and she would never be able to get it into
a mind narrowed by self-love, that one might as well try to stem the
Niagara Falls with straw or hold a _must_ elephant on a daisy-chain as to
influence the invincible love of soul-mates.

She decided she would offer Ralph Trenchard Helen’s liberty. She would
offer to give up her mountain home, her freedom, her power. She would
offer herself as his servant, his slave, to cook for him, to wait upon
him, anything to keep him by her side, no matter if he returned her love
or not, as long as he lived near her; and if that failed, as a last
resource would use the despicable lever of the lowest type of coward.

To gain her end she would threaten to commit suicide. So the night
following the cutting of Helen’s hair, which was also the night preceding
a tournament, in which the men were to show how much they had learned of
the art of pugilism, she attired herself in great splendour and summoned
Ralph Trenchard to her presence. Helen, surrounded by women who gossiped,
knelt at the river edge rubbing silken garments on a stone, with Namlah
mocking and jeering beside her when the Abyssinian, sent to fetch Ralph
Trenchard, shouted her errand as she passed. Helen shrank back when
Namlah suddenly sprang at her and wrenched the silken garment from her
hand.

“Thou fool!” Namlah shrilled as she knelt. “This wise, and this and this.
The soap? Or hast thou eaten it in thy imbecility?” She leant across
Helen and snatched at the soap, which slid into the water, then rung the
garment as though it were the neck of an offending hen as she whispered:
“Give me a message for the white man. Zarah offers him thy freedom for
his love.” Down came the garment on the stone as though she essayed to
soften the tough carcass of some female Methuselah of the poultry world
as she screamed at the top of her voice: “Wilt thou never learn? Did
Allah in his wisdom not teach thee even how to wash a garment? Take it
and try, lest I smite thee with it!” She flung the silken remnant at
Helen, who, eyes alight, caught it in both hands and crashed it on the
rocks until one half followed the soap into the water, whereupon Namlah
leant across her and gripped her wrists.

“Fool! This wise, and this and this!”

The women crowded round to watch Namlah swinging Helen’s arms like
flails.

“Tell him,” whispered Helen as she beat her best, “that—— Nay, Namlah,
thou tearest out my arms. Behold, I can do no more.” She fell forward
with the woman underneath, and in the confusion whispered her message.
“Tell him I prefer death to my freedom at such a price,” and shrank back,
for the benefit of the onlookers, when Namlah, flinging all that was left
of the washing item in her face, ran off, with much cursing, up the path
to where Yussuf waited in the shadows.

And hope sprang up in Ralph Trenchard’s heart as he climbed the steps in
answer to Zarah’s summons, followed by the Nubian at some distance.

Suddenly, and with a most amazing clumsiness, Yussuf walked out from
behind the great boulder straight into his arms.

“Sorry!” said Trenchard shortly, as he tried to free himself from the
grasp of the infuriated Arab. “You came out so——”

“Hast no thoughts for others?” shouted Yussuf at the top of his voice.
“Thine ear,” he whispered, whilst he shook Ralph Trenchard violently.
“Zarah will offer thee thy white woman’s freedom for thy love. The white
woman prefers death to freedom without thee. She loves thee. Nay,” he
suddenly yelled, “wouldst push a blind man to his death?” The two seemed
locked in anger as Al-Asad raced up the path. “A message,” he whispered.
“Shake me in anger. Give me a message for thy woman—give me a message.”

The Nubian was close upon them.

Trenchard grasped the blind man and shook him.

“Tell her to stand fast and to fear nothing,” he whispered, then shouted
angrily. “How can I hear thy noiseless feet on the——” He reeled as Yussuf
hurled him backwards and continued to climb the steps, whilst the blind
man filled the night air with curses.

Zarah was quite alone.

The Nubian, under orders, sat down upon the steps to await developments.

He was well content to wait.

He had gauged the white man’s strength of resistance and had no fear that
he would become entangled in the beautiful Arabian’s wiles. He smiled
as he crept, as noiselessly as a great cat, to the platform before the
door and stretched himself flat upon it, the blackest spot in the black
shadows, to listen to the woman he loved pleading for the love of one who
loved another.

Lost to all sense of shame as are those women who have not learned the
meaning of self-control and self-sacrifice, Zarah pleaded with Ralph
Trenchard for his continued presence by her side. Pleaded for his company
and his comradeship so that she might enjoy the shadow of his great good
looks and actual presence whilst keeping the substance of his love from
her rival.

She had made the greatest mistake in her toilette.

None too over-dressed at the best of times, she had a startlingly
undressed appearance as she stood like a beautiful exotic flower beside
the Englishman.

She had not—how could she in the name of decency?—discarded a single
garment, but had donned the most transparent outfit in her wardrobe.

Her feet were bare and jewelled, as were her arms, her hands, her waist.
The trousers, worn by most Arabian women, were voluminous in their
transparent folds, her body shone through a jewelled vest which fitted
her like her skin.

Trenchard looked at her from head to foot, and with the perverseness of
the human mind immediately thought of the picture Helen had made as she
stood beside her grandfather in the desperate battle; and he backed a
pace before the Arabian’s semi-nudity, whilst the Nubian buried his face
in his arm to stifle his cry of longing.

“I love thee,” Zarah was saying softly, looking up at the man she loved
with love-filled eyes. “I love thee, R-ralph Tr-r-enchar-r-d. I have
loved thee ever since I lay against thy heart so many, many moons ago.
I will give up my home, my people, I will name Al-Asad as ruler in my
stead, I will follow thee upon the path of thy choice, to the country
that should please thee. I will wait upon thee, serve thee, devote myself
to thee, if thou wilt give up the other woman. I love thee.”

“I have already told you, Zarah, that I do not love you, could never love
you.” Ralph Trenchard, loathing the scene, spoke curtly, and stepped
back quickly as Zarah flung herself at his feet. “Do get up,” he added
in English, as he tried to loosen her grasp upon his knees. “If only
you knew how we English loathe scenes like this, and what we think of
hysterical, unbalanced people!”

She sat back on her heels, lifting her hands in supplication.

“I offer you Helen R-raynor-r’s freedom if you will stay with me. I do
not want to keep her. Let her go back to her own country. She is young;
she will forget; she does not know what love is. Besides, I fear my
slave. He is handsome; he, too, is young; he wishes to take a wife. I
will send Helena safely away from him if you will stay with me.”

Trenchard showed no sign of the horror of the fate in store for Helen; he
spoke quite calmly, slowly, almost indifferently.

“You will not gain anything if you hurt Helen. If she dies I die; if you
try to harm her she will find a means of killing herself, and I shall
kill myself. Not because of my love for her—our kind of love is higher
than suicide, it endures—but only so that you shall find no pleasure in
her death.”

He pulled her hands apart and stepped back as she sprang to her feet.
She failed to understand that, living or dead, she was no more to the
man than one of the birds in its cage, and played what she mistakenly
believed to be her trump card.

“Then I will kill _myself_, R-r-alph Tr-renchar-r-d.” She choked with
rage, the r’s in the English words rolling like little drums. “And you
will never forget that upon your head will lie the death of a woman,
never be able to wipe out the picture of my broken body lying amongst
the rocks.” She ran close up to him, shaking with the unseemly rage of
the uncontrolled woman. “I go to my death.” She pointed through the
doorway, striking a most dramatic attitude, whilst watching for a sign of
interest in her proceedings in the man’s indifferent face. “To my death!”
she screamed as she saw none, and fled through the doorway, missing the
astounded Nubian by an inch.

She stopped upon the edge of the very steep incline and listened for the
sound of footsteps hastening to her rescue. At the absence of all sound
she looked over her shoulder, to see Ralph Trenchard, with his back to
her, lighting a cigarette. She tore back into the room with the last
shred of her restraint gone and swung him round by the arm.

“Oh, you didn’t do it?” He looked her straight in the eyes. “We have
women like you in England, never very young or very pretty, who, verging
upon the sere and yellow, and with nothing to fill their days or occupy
their minds, try to coerce the people they love by threats of suicide.
They never get what they want, either. The slightest chain frets love,
real love, you know. You can’t inspire love just because you keep the
person _you_ love, but who doesn’t love _you_, in the same house with
you. You can’t hold love by cooking or serving. Love, real love, will
thrive on a crust offered by the one loved, but will sicken at the sight
of a basket of sweetmeats offered by anyone else.” He had no intention
of giving her the slightest cause to hope by offering her any sympathy
in her tantrums. He added coldly, cruelly, as he turned from her: “It’s
rather a pity these silly, hysterical women don’t carry out their threat
of suicide; the world would be no loser by their death.”

He backed before her as she burst into a torrent of reproach which ended
in a storm of abuse.

“ ... Go!” she screamed at the highest pitch of the Arabian voice, which
is none too sweet in wrath. “To-morrow at the tournament I will decide
what is best to be done with this white woman who is not fit to mingle
with my women and children. Yea, even, owing to her dislike of water have
we cut her hair so that——”

She screamed and struck at Ralph Trenchard as he caught her by the wrist
and pulled her roughly to him.

“What did you say? You’ve cut off Helen’s hair? All that wonderful golden
mass! You have dared to do that? Speak, can’t you!”

He flung her on the divan as she laughed and clapped her hands at the
sight of his horror-stricken face, and laughed again at the plan for
revenge which flashed into her mind.

“So I have prevailed in making you feel, R-ralph Tr-r-enchar-r-d,” she
shouted after him as he left the room and ran down the steps, followed by
the amazed Nubian.

She ran to the door and laughed until the mountains echoed and re-echoed
to the sound, then turned and flung herself on the floor, where she gave
way to the violent hysterics of the uncontrolled, jealous woman.



CHAPTER XX

    “_Tyrannical, cheating, of ill omen._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


The overpowering heat of the day had given place to the lesser heat
of early evening as the sun sank behind the western edge of the
mountain ring. The interior of the ring looked like the inside of some
rough-edged, painted flower-pot, with grey, purple, blue-black foundation
and sides of green and richest reds and browns, melting to saffron,
topaz, amethyst and rose, crowned by great peaks which seemed to flicker
in the terrific heat radiated by the sun-scorched rock. Little golden,
pink and crimson clouds, faintly stirred by the blessed evening breeze,
sailed serenely across a sky of deepest blue which stretched, a gorgeous
canopy, above the heads of the men seated on the ground or up the gentle
incline rising from the plateau.

Those opposite the steps down which Zarah would have to pass sat with
knees to chin, placidly chewing _kaat_ or smoking red or black _sebel_
and longer pipes with big, open bowl.

Those to the north and south of the steps sat sidewise, also contentedly
chewing or smoking, with eyes fixed upon the steep path.

There was no laughing, no gambling, no betting upon the outcome of
the different sporting items in the tournament for which they had
foregathered. They were strangely quiet, with a certain expectancy in
their eyes and a vast amount of meaning in their expressive gestures as
they commented upon and argued about the tales the Nubian had spread
anent their mistress’s strange behaviour of the night before.

“_Bism ’allah!_ upon the very edge, with one eye upon the running water
into which the Lion thought she desired to throw herself, and one eye
upon the white man, who, by the wool! is a man of strong heart, even if
he be an infidel.”

Bowlegs laughed as he stretched his circular limbs and pressed himself
against his neighbour so as to make room for Yussuf as he came towards
them, led by “His Eyes,” down the path made for him through the serried
ranks.

“Welcome, brother, thou true believer in the shaven crown,” cried the
handsome youth who had been swung like a club, and who had not followed
the precepts of the Prophet to the extent of shaving his head. “Hast
heard that the white woman, who holdeth the heart of the man who loveth
her and who is loved of the beautiful Zarah, and may Allah guide their
footsteps in the crookedness of their paths——” As he spoke he pushed his
way between Bowlegs and Yussuf, and as he looked up into the mutilated
face, touched the blind man gently. “Hast heard that the tiger-cat, in
her rage, has caused the head of the white woman to be shaven so that, if
she were lost in the Robaa-el-Khali, the ostrich might even wish to brood
upon it as her egg?”

The men shouted in ribald mirth as they bandied jokes, mostly unprintable
in their Oriental flavour.

“Yea, and shaven after the setting of the sun,” said the Patriarch
bitterly, whilst every man in earshot touched his favourite lucky amulet
or made the finger gesture against ill-luck. “Behold, will Zarah’s
mocking of Fate surely bring catastrophe upon the camp, for what but
misfortune can follow the shaving of a crown after the setting of the
sun?”

The fine sons of one of the most superstition-ridden races in the world
performed divers tricks to placate the fury of the false god of ill-luck
they had raised up in their minds, then continued in their merriment.

“Who has seen the shaven head?”

“No eyes have seen the head, O brother, but mine own eyes have seen
Namlah the Busy, seated like a bee in the heart of a golden flower,
weaving a kerchief from the infidel’s wondrous hair.”

Bowlegs shouted with laughter.

“Yea! verily! a kerchief to replace the gentle Zarah’s garments, torn
asunder ’twixt her teeth and fingers in her wrath at the white man’s
coldness.”

“Or to wipe the tiger-cat’s face, which, wet with tears and hot with
anger, was like an over-ripe fruit of the _doom_ tree, fallen upon the
sand!”

“Or to remove the dust from her chamber, wrecked like unto a house swept
by the hurricane, with feathers of many fowl, liberated from the burst
cushions, clinging to the silken curtains and her hair.”

Prodded by Fate, the handsome youth turned and laid his hand on Yussuf’s
arm whilst the men crowded closer yet to listen to their conversation.

“O brother,” he said laughingly, “thou who hast suffered, thou who even
now dost pass sleepless nights of pain, wilt thou not in thy goodness, to
quieten the agony of the tiger-cat’s gentle heart, give unto her a few
drops of the sweet water prescribed thee by yon old herbalist for sleep?”

Yussuf smiled as best he could for the distortion of his mouth, as he
searched in his cummerbund and pulled out a flask, filled with the strong
narcotic he took to still the throbbing of his torn nerves when the wind
blew from the north.

“’Tis overpowerful, little brother. A drop too little and she wakes from
her sleep like a tigress bereft of her cubs; a drop too much and she
wakes not at all.”

“Twenty drops and what....”

The voice from behind was stilled suddenly as the men rose quickly and
stood staring up to the platform outside Zarah’s dwelling.

Zarah stood looking down.

She stood almost upon the spot from where some years ago she had hurled
her spear at the fighting dogs, and, killing the one intended for a gift
to her father’s guest, had followed the decree of Fate, who had tangled
her life’s thread with those of her white prisoners.

“Zarah is a very queen of loveliness!”

“Yea! with hair like the setting sun!”

The hawk-eyed men with the superb sight of those who live in the clear
atmosphere of great spaces criticized in detail the Arabian’s garments,
which at such a distance would have shown as a white blur to the eyes of
the westerner, accustomed as he is to an horizon bounded by walls and a
sky ever limited by chimney-pots or partially obliterated by smoke or fog.

“The white man tarries! Would that the Lion were here to tell once again
of the calmness of his face in the storm of yester-night.”

“Perchance does his heart fail at the thought of the maiden’s shaven
crown.”

“Likewise does she tarry, fearful perchance of beholding her lover’s eyes
empty of love light.”

“‘She gave her the vinegar to drink on the wings of flies.’” Yussuf
touched his sad face as he quoted the proverb. “Verily were the words
of wisdom written to describe the refinement of the tortures our thrice
gentle mistress meteth out to her prisoners.”

There was not a movement, not a whisper from the men when Zarah turned
and lifted her hand, but there came a great cry from hundreds of throats
as Helen appeared in the doorway, followed by the two gigantic Abyssinian
women.

“Hast seen the shaven crown, brother?”

The handsome youth turned to Yussuf, who stood with his sightless face
raised to the skies.

“Nay, blind one,” he replied quietly, all the merriment gone from his
face. “I have seen the white woman. She stands behind the dread Zarah,
her golden hair, even the length of thy longest finger, twining about
her head like a crown of flowers upon a young acacia tree. She is like
an orchard of choice fruit in her beauty. Yea! like an orchard of
pomegranates and peaches, and as the gentle incline of the rocks where
the evening sun kisseth the oranges and apricots and luscious fig. If
it were not that she is of a race of infidels, likewise cursed with a
spirit of mockery and a lack of gratitude, I would e’en woo her in the
shadows of the night and make of her _my_ woman.” He moved forward, drawn
by Helen’s radiant beauty, as she descended the steps fanning Zarah with
a circular, painted fan of dried palm leaves.

The men stood as though spellbound at the sight of the two beautiful
girls.

They forgot the tournament, their wrath, their merriment; they stood
speechless, staring, then moved forward in a body as Zarah reached the
bottom step and made a way for her up to where an ebony chair, inlaid
with gold, stood upon a carpet of many colours.

The expression of Zarah’s sullen face was almost as black as the shadows
spreading half-way up the mountains; her heavy brows were bent above her
strange eyes; her crimson mouth set in a line which boded no good to
those who might thwart her.

A chance word, an indiscreet gesture, would be spark enough to start the
conflagration, and Fate, close to Helen Raynor, stood ready to fire the
Arabian’s raging jealousy as Ralph Trenchard, followed by the Nubian,
walked slowly from the men’s quarters towards them.

There was not a sound and scarcely a movement in the vast throng of men
as they stood looking from one to the other of the three who, even in the
desert, made the seemingly inevitable love triangle. And so enthralled
were they, and so oblivious were the three who composed the triangle
to their surroundings, that no notice was taken of the downtrodden,
docile women who, headed by Namlah, and imbued with the spirit of
insubordination which was sweeping the camp, also with a fierce desire
to see the white woman’s shaven head, crept in ones and twos from behind
the rock buttress which hid their quarters from the greater part of the
plateau.

They stole along the river edge, behind their men, who were too engrossed
in the picture before them even to bet, let alone to notice the doings of
their womenkind.

They crept up behind the gigantic Abyssinian women who stood behind
Zarah’s chair, and turned and looked at them as a couple of Yemen
buffaloes might turn to inspect an ant heap.

The radiance of the blazing sky seemed to fill the mountain ring for a
moment as Ralph Trenchard passed down the path made for him by the men,
and stood suddenly clear of them, and exactly opposite Helen as she
fanned the Arabian.

The mountains echoed Helen’s name as he called to her, holding out his
arms, and her cry of joy as she flung the circular fan with pointed edges
sideways, so that by mischance it caught in the Arabian’s hair, and ran
to her lover.

The rocks echoed Zarah’s screams of wrath and pain and her sharp order
to the Abyssinians, and the downtrodden women’s screams of hate, as they
swept round the chair headed by Namlah, and cut Helen off.

Zarah shrieked in agony as the fan pulled her head down to one side,
scratching her face and her shoulder, and beat the arms of the chair and
the Abyssinians’ glistening bodies as they tried their best to relieve
her whilst she fought like a wild cat, with her eyes fixed on the fight
which was taking place in front of her.

The women were trying to prevent Helen from reaching her lover, and the
men were endeavouring, and none too gently, to push the women on one
side, so that the white man they had come to admire and like might meet
the woman of his heart. They did it for the sport of the thing, and to
assert their authority over their women; also, in their heart of hearts
was there a certain amount of admiration for Helen’s beauty and courage.

The women who had come to titter and jeer at Helen’s bald head were
consumed with wrath at their disappointment and fought their men tooth
and nail, taking advantage of the scrum to pay off many an old score and
avenge many a lash of the whip or tongue. The men, amused at first, then
astounded, then really angry at this sudden exhibition of women’s rights,
slapped their own particular womenfolk with the flat of their hand, then
smote them smartly with the _mihjan_, and finally shook them violently
until their sleek heads seemed like to leave their shoulders and their
beautiful teeth to break in their chattering.

Ralph Trenchard stood at the back of the men who slapped and shook and
cursed; Helen stood, looking towards him, towering above the dusky little
women like a young acacia tree in the bush.

In spite of the peril in which they knew themselves to stand, they
smiled across and called messages to each other, which were lost in the
universal torrents of abuse and vociferous yelling, interspersed with
screams and sounds of slapping and tearing.

Namlah, wedged on the outer circle of the maelstrom, fought like a fury
to get at Helen, screaming abuse, hurling her fighting sisters from her
path in the excess of her seeming rage, whilst Yussuf, led by “His Eyes,”
rattled his staff on the shins of the gentler sex as he strove to reach
Namlah.

Bowlegs brought about their meeting.

Aided by the mighty muscle of his legs, he leapt free of the shrieking
sisterhood high into the air and, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a
hawk and a field mouse, pounced upon his second and obese wife, whom he
had spied fighting with the best in much torn raiment.

The tremendous impact from above flung her backwards against Namlah, who
in her turn was flung backwards against Yussuf.

Proceeded a pretty passage of arms and tongues between these two, during
which the blind man slipped a silver bottle down the front of Namlah’s
torn _qamis_ whilst she belaboured him, and “Yussuf’s Eyes” rained blows
upon his mother’s back.

“_Aï! aï! aï!_” she wailed, as she rolled the flask in the top part
of her torn petticoat. “Would’st tear the very _tannurah_ from my
limbs, thou wifeless, childless, breaker of the Prophet’s law? Push me
forward—ha! thou would’st push me forward, thou rascal son of mine, even
unto the first line of my fighting sisters. Well, push, push hard, so
that I leave the mark of my nails upon the white girl’s face!”

Helen turned at the sound of the woman’s voice and raised herself on
tiptoe the better to see, and caught the look in the dusky little woman’s
twinkling eye, which in no wise responded to the wrath of her voice and
gestures.

“Yea! white woman,” she shrieked, “come nearer to me, or let me come
nearer unto thee, if thou art not afraid. I will show thee what manner of
woman it is thou did’st mimic and mock.”

“Afraid,” cried Helen, forcing a way through the men. “Afraid! Come to me
and——”

She reeled back as Namlah flung herself upon her, pushed by her son, who
pulled the blind man after him, whilst the men who were not actually
engaged in taming their shrews surged round them, shouting in delight.

Namlah landed right on Helen’s chest, to which she clung as a woodpecker
to a tree trunk.

“Take this! Ten drops this night before she sleeps—then wait in the
shadows,” she whispered; then shrieked: “Ha! thou infidel. I would tear
out thine eyes, I——”

“Yussuf’s Eyes” suddenly and forcibly pinched the underpart of his
mother’s arm, upon which she yelled, let go her hold on Helen and leapt
at him, then slid meekly to earth and tried to cover her face with her
torn veil, which she spread out to arm’s length as Helen hid the silver
flask in her belt.

The sun had set, leaving the sky in a tumult of violent colouring,
through which, in a small patch of deepest blue, shone one great star.
Helen looked up to the banners of gold and red and orange, the curtains
of saffron, the trails of rose and wispy bands of grey, then looked
across at Zarah, who walked slowly towards her, blood trickling down her
scratched cheek. Her eyes flamed in her white face, which showed over the
top of the dead black satin cloak she had wrapped round her like a skin;
and Ralph Trenchard, who saw the menace in her sombre eyes and the cruel
twist to her mouth, seized the men nearest him and threw them on one side
as he raced to get to Helen before the Arabian could reach her.

He was a second too late.

Even as he touched her one of the gigantic Abyssinian women reached
her and, lifting her like a straw, carried her to where Zarah stood
insolently, contemptuously watching the scene, whilst Yussuf stepped in
front of him and pushed him back as “His Eyes” got tangled up in his feet.

“For God’s sake get out of my way, you fool!” Trenchard shouted, and
lifted the dumb youth by the neck of his _jubbah_ and dropped him as
Yussuf rushed blindly at him, guided by his voice.

“To-night, when the dog barks thrice,” he whispered, then shouted: “Harm
not ‘Mine Eyes’ lest I stray from the right path so that——”

He stopped and turned as Helen’s voice came clearly through the night air.

“Don’t worry about me, Ra! I’m all right; no one can harm me,” she cried;
then stepped back quickly as Zarah turned on her and, seizing her by the
wrist, pulled her forward.

Held by Yussuf, who whispered without ceasing, Trenchard stood in the
centre of a semicircle of men and women with the Patriarch at the end
nearest Zarah and Helen, and Namlah, in a most indecorous and dishevelled
state, at the other.

The two beautiful girls stood exactly opposite the man they loved, with
the gigantic negresses close behind.

“Move not—have patience until the dog barks thrice to-night—make no
effort to help—all is well—Allah watches over thee and thine in thy
need—nay! make no sign—nothing can be done to her until the morrow.”

Yussuf whispered without ceasing, whilst, sick to the heart at the menace
in the air, Ralph Trenchard stood waiting, with what patience he could
command.

Zarah raised her hand and, fully aware of the backing she would get from
the women, began to speak.

“I am speaking for my children,” she cried, “the children this white
woman has mocked and derided, and for whom she has not had one word of
thanks, not one little feeling of gratitude.”

“_Na’am, na’am!_” wailed Namlah in full acquiescence.

“For myself I do not mind that she strikes me until the blood runs, but
my children I will protect!”

“_Akhkh!_” wailed Namlah, crouching on the ground and beating her breast
with much vigour.

“And I will punish those who hurt my children. Yea! I will make of _them_
a sport, a mock. The white man—nay, Al-Asad, come thou to me—the white
man I bear no ill will, for he has worked well among my sons.” She put
her hand upon the Nubian’s arm when he ran across to her, and smiled up
into his handsome face as she shook her head. “I am mistress here; thou
shalt not touch the white man. For the white woman....” She looked at
Helen, who looked at her, then across to Ralph Trenchard, who stood with
Yussuf’s hand upon his arm and “His Eyes” at his feet. “For the white
woman who has derided my children I do now place her amongst them as
their servant, and to humiliate her even as she has humiliated them, do
order the Abyssinian Aswad to shave her head this instant, before us all,
so that she appears not before mankind without——”

Her words were drowned in the scream which burst uncontrollably from
Helen, and the shout from her lover as he flung himself towards her, only
to be tripped by the dumb youth at his feet.

“Ra! Ra!” cried Helen, clutching her lovely curls in both hands. “For
God’s sake save me, Ra; don’t let them do it, don’t, don’t——” She turned
and struck the negress across the face as the Abyssinian caught her by
the arm, and struck again and again as Ralph Trenchard tore at the arms
of the youth who clung to him like a leech. Helen made no other sound as
she wrenched herself free from the woman who held her, nor when, filled
with the desire to kill, she flung herself upon Zarah.

The Arabian stepped back quickly and laughed, laughed until the place
rang with the sound, then flung off her mantle and drove her dagger down
on to Helen’s heart just as the Patriarch sprang and caught her hand.

Helen turned and ran towards her lover, and struck at Namlah, who
suddenly caught her by the knees and held her, screaming abuse.

The men and women stood silent, looking from one to the other of the
three principals in the love drama, then turned their attention to the
Patriarch, who by that time was speaking.

He made a magnificent picture as he imposed his will upon the furious
woman for the welfare of his brethren.

“In the days of thy father the Sheikh, my daughter,” he said, “no blood
was spilled, no punishment proclaimed, after the setting of the sun. If
thou desirest the death of this woman, then must thou wait until sunrise.
Neither shalt thou bring misfortune upon this camp by shaving a head
after the setting of the sun; that also must thou order to be done after
its rising.”

“_Wah! wah!_” yelled the men, and smote the women who dared to differ.

“And for fear of the wrath of these women, who should have the whip laid
across them for their unseemly behaviour, keep thou the white woman in
thy chamber to-night.”

“Yea!” cried Yussuf, walking forward, led by “His Eyes,” until he stood
exactly opposite the Arabian, who withdrew a pace before his terrible
appearance. “And in the name of thy father, O Zarah, and for fear of
the Nubian’s wrath being vented upon him before the rising of the sun,
I claim the watching of the white man this night. Fear not that he
sleeps over-sweetly in my care.” He turned and spat in Ralph Trenchard’s
direction, then, led by “His Eyes,” strode towards him and seized him by
the arm. “Thou infidel,” he cried savagely, “thou and thy white woman!”

Zarah raised her hand.

“The women to the cooking, the men to the eating, the morrow for the
punishment.” She turned and looked at Ralph Trenchard, her eyes filled
with a terrible jealousy. “Look upon thy white woman for the last time,
for, behold! the morrow thou shalt be taken back across the desert by
the road by which thou didst come unto her. She shall work here amongst
my people, with her shaven head for a space, then will I send her to the
slave market, where her white skin will fetch a great price. Get thou up,
Helen R-r-aynor-r!”

She pointed up the steps.

Helen turned and held out her arms.

“Ra! Beloved! I love you!”

The Arabian struck down her arms as Yussuf pulled Ralph Trenchard back.

“Come thou with me, thou infidel!” he cried.

“Get thou up, Helen R-r-aynor-r,” commanded the Arabian.

The stars blazed in the sky as the women scuttled back to their quarters
and the men talked together.

“Behold, has my acacia tree no luck!” said the handsome youth.

“As saith the proverb of those whose luck changeth not,” replied Bowlegs,
as he shook his fist after his retreating, obese and second wife. “‘The
misfortune either falls upon the camel or upon the camel driver or upon
the owner of the camel.’ Ha! wouldst show me what thou hast learned from
the white man?”

He caught the Arab who had sprung at him in a friendly desire to show his
pugilistic skill, tossed him on one side like a bundle of clothes, and
shouted defiance to the whole camp.

So that the tournament, if somewhat impromptu and lacking a referee, took
place after all and lasted well into the night.



CHAPTER XXI

    “_At the close of night the cries are heard._”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Yussuf, with his back against the door of Ralph Trenchard’s hut, lifted
his face to the star-bestrewn sky.

He waited.

He waited for the striking of his hour of revenge, which had been fixed
by Fate in the beginning of Time; he waited imperturbably for Allah, in
His compassion and wisdom, to remove the Nubian, who sat cross-legged and
contemplative and to all appearances absolutely unmovable by his side.

Al-Asad sat leaning slightly forward, looking into the shadows with
dreamy, half-shut eyes, then turned his head and listened as though,
above the distant noise of the men’s shouting and laughter, some sound
had reached his ears.

“Camels!” he said softly. “Camels going out. Methought our brothers were
having their fill of wrestling?”

Yussuf also had heard the sound of a dromedary grunting its disapproval
as it made the steep ascent, but no sign of his inner perturbation showed
on his placid, mutilated face.

“Zarah the Merciless makes ready for the white man’s journey into the
desert to-morrow. Our brethren of the stables even now revile her shadow,
for instead of loading the dromedaries with water skins and provender,
they would try their strength against Bowlegs, who, in his vanity, swears
by the wind that no man can excel him in the games taught by the white
man.”

Al-Asad laughed scornfully as he rose to his feet, swallowing the bait
which hung from the line Fate dangled in front of him for his removal.

“Bowlegs!” He spoke in infinite scorn as he pulled himself up to his full
height, and laughed again as he caused the muscle to ripple up and down
his arms. “’Twere well to show the little man with legs even as round
as thy turban that there _is_ one who can spike him upon his finger.
Thinkest thou, Yussuf, that the white maid will lose her golden covering
at the rising of the sun? ’Twere a pity to my mind to mutilate such
beauty in a woman, even if she be sent to the slave market to ease the
tiger-cat’s jealousy.”

Yussuf pulled at his hubble-bubble, making no sign of his longing to
accelerate his companion’s departure.

“Methinks the beautiful Zarah spoke in haste and in anger. Perchance she
is tired of her white playthings and yearns for a master.”

“Thinkest thou, who hast learned much wisdom in thy blindness, that she
will come to love me?” Al-Asad asked eagerly.

“Yea! she loves thee even now. Thou art her real mate. The great
tiger-cats mate with one another, my son, and were it not wise to stay
here, for fear that thou art bested by Bowlegs, and that the news of thy
defeat is carried to her.”

He showed no sign of his intense satisfaction when the Nubian, primed
with a desire to reduce Bowlegs to shreds, ran, laughing, down the path.

Strong in the fatalism of the East, Yussuf sat on, pulling calmly at his
hubble-bubble, waiting for the striking of his hour, and made no answer
to a slight hissing sound which came from behind the rocks. Instead, he
rose slowly and pushed open the door of the hut, and, with the Oriental’s
love of elaborate detail where intrigue is concerned, shouted at Ralph
Trenchard:

“Thou infidel, thou white dog, sleepest thou? Hast thou no bowels of
compassion for the white woman? Dost thou leave her here to work as a
slave, without an ache in thy heart of stone?”

Ralph Trenchard sprang up and crossed the hut quickly at the blind man’s
beckoning finger.

“‘Mine Eyes’ waits without to lead you by the hidden path to where the
dromedaries stand,” Yussuf whispered. “Nay, speak not, tarry not, there
is little time to spare. The dromedaries must be but specks upon the
horizon when the men cease their games to seek their slumber.”

Trenchard wrapped himself in the _burnous_ Yussuf offered him and
followed him to the door, where they stood for a moment in the shadows,
listening to the shouts of the men, which came startlingly clear on the
night air.

“Bowlegs fights with the Lion,” whispered Yussuf. “Now is the moment
chosen by Allah for the escape. ‘Mine Eyes’ will lead you to the
dromedaries, and I will go to fetch her Excellency, to carry her over the
dangerous places and down the steep path to where love and happiness will
await her.”

“But if the Arabian does not sleep? How then?”

“Then must you go to her and break her neck to save your own woman. What
is she, this daughter of two races? We tire of her. If she dies he who
will govern in her stead will be chosen by the casting of lots. Hasten,
Excellency, for we know not at what hour the medicine of sleep was
administered unto the tiger-cat. Also do the women, who hate the white
woman and who are the yeast wherewith this trouble has been fermented,
rise early to be about the business of the new day.”

Trenchard, wrapped in the _burnous_, followed Yussuf as he made his way
without hesitation to the spot where “His Eyes” sat in the shadows.

Yussuf whispered the dumb youth’s name and questioned him, and nodded
his head in satisfaction when the youth, in the code they had invented,
tapped the answers to the questions upon his friend’s arm.

“All is ready, Excellency.” Yussuf spoke as calmly as if he discussed
a pleasure trip to the nearest oasis. “Namlah waits at the edge of the
sands of death. The camels are well laden with water and bread for many
days. They are the swiftest in Arabia, renowned from Hadramut to Oman.
Bred in Oman, they will need no drink for ten days if there is none to
spare. Namlah accompanies you, and——”

“And you, Yussuf? You’re coming with us; we can’t leave you behind to
face the racket. You have _got_ to come. ‘Your Eyes’ can’t let his mother
go without him.”

Yussuf smiled and shook his head and laid his hand upon the dumb youth’s
shoulder, who also smiled and shook his head.

“Excellency, not for ten thousand golden _lira_ would I be away from the
camp when the tiger-cat learns of the flight. A piece of news for you,
white man, who comprehends not the guile of this woman of mixed blood.
Did you think she had tired of you? Nay! by the beard she loves you even
a hundred times more for your refusal of her love. She sends you to
Hareek after the rising of the sun, only to follow you and to beguile you
in the solitude of the Red Desert. There is no leech that clings so close
to its victim as a woman to the one she loves but who does not return
that love. There is no trick she will not descend to, no lie she will not
utter, no promise she will not make, with no intent to keep, to gain her
end. This is the commencement of my revenge—the end, Excellency, will be
the death of her who blinded me. I have waited for this revenge these
many years, even from the moment when the sun faded from my sight. I and
‘Mine Eyes’ will follow you, and if we do not overtake you by the noon,
then place yourself in Namlah’s keeping. She is of the desert born.” He
raised his right hand and turned his sightless face to the skies. “May
Allah guide you, and keep you, and bring you to everlasting peace.”

Trenchard stood for a moment to watch the blind man make his almost
miraculous way through the rocks which skirted the west end of the
plateau, then turned and followed the dumb youth, who smiled and nodded
his head in his delight at the trick which was being played upon the
Arabian. And Namlah rose from where she sat in the shadows thrown by
three dromedaries hobbled at the commencement of the hidden path across
the quicksands, and pressed her hand against her forehead in humble
salutation and smiled up at her son, and laughed softly in the delight
she also felt at the way the beautiful Zarah was being duped. Within the
hour she might have to give her life in her fight for the liberty she
had lost some many years back when captured in the desert, or she might
lose it in saving that of the white woman she had grown to love; but with
all the Oriental’s fatalism, she had resigned herself to liberty or to
recapture, to life or death. Allah had decided the result in the womb of
Time.

_Kismet!_

Yussuf’s Eyes pressed the back of his hand against his forehead, then
bent and touched Ralph Trenchard’s foot as a sign that he was willing
to serve the white man to the end, whilst Namlah, smiling all over her
homely face, translated the gestures the dumb boy made as he tried to
make Trenchard understand.

“He says, Excellency, that before the sun is above our heads at noon he
will have guided the Blind One to you upon the path we shall have made
across the desert. He loves you for your gentleness and strength, O man
of the great white race, and prays you to succour Yussuf if aught should
befall him before he reaches the great City of Damascus, which is his
home and my home.”

Trenchard raised his right hand and made his oath after the manner of the
Arabs.

“Before my God, who is thy God, I swear to make myself responsible for
the comfort, welfare and happiness of the three who have so befriended
me and mine. I swear that my descendants, unto the farthest generation,
shall befriend thy descendants, so that in some small way I shall pay my
debt of gratitude.” He smiled down at the enraptured little woman. “Let
us sit awhile whilst we wait. Come, Namlah, tell me of the life thou wilt
lead in Damascus with thy people.”

The stillness of the night was broken by the grumbling of the
dromedaries, the distant shouts of the men, and the body-woman’s
whispered words as she told him of the house she would buy or rent in the
Bazaar, with rugs upon the floor and many brass pots and pans of her own,
filled with milk and butter from her own kine.

“ ... and when her Excellency returns to Arabia, then will Namlah wait
upon her,” she said, smiling at the thought, being sure, with the
fatalist’s conviction, of a happy ending to the flight. “Then will her
golden hair once more glisten like the silk in the sun which makes of
the Bazaar a paradise.” She paused for a moment as she drew out a packet
wrapped in a cloth. “We have gifts which perchance his Excellency in his
goodness will allow his humble servants to present to the _Sit_ upon her
marriage as a token of the gratitude the servants have in their hearts
for the gentleness of the white people.”

Trenchard took the packet, removed the cloth, and looked at the exquisite
golden kerchief.

“By Jove! what a beautiful thing,” he exclaimed.

Namlah smiled and nodded her sleek head at his genuine admiration.

“It is woven of her Excellency’s hair!”

“Helen’s hair!” He turned to Yussuf’s Eyes as the youth pressed something
hard and heavy into his hands, speaking by gesture, which his mother
translated.

His fine teeth gleamed and his beautiful eyes flashed as he watched
Trenchard remove the wrapping from the heavy object.

“However did you get this?” Trenchard cried, as he delightedly turned
his own automatic over in his hand and released the full clip.

“The mistress, and may Allah guide a bullet to her black heart, commanded
the Patriarch, who is the oldest amongst us and possessed of a very devil
of gaming, to guard the weapon of death for your departure, Excellency.
The old one, bereft of his last _piastre_ and of the very _qamis_ from
about his shrunken old body, did lose the weapon in a bet to my son when
you did wrestle with and overthrow the Nubian.”

Trenchard tried to express his delight at the gifts, upon which, with all
the Arab’s genuine and world-famed hospitality, the two natives offered
him all they possessed.

“My son,” whispered Namlah, “will live with me in the Bazaar, yea!
and with us will sojourn Yussuf, his friend. The blind one will sit
peacefully in the sun until he find a wife to take pity upon him, whilst
‘His Eyes,’ even my son, will sell the steel of Damascus inlaid with gold
to the faithful and to the infidel. Our home will be humble, O white
man, but our food and our drink, our raiment and our couch, will be for
you and her Excellency if your Excellencies should see fit to honour our
humble dwelling and I——” She stopped suddenly and held up her hand as she
listened to the sound of a dog barking.

It barked angrily, at which sound the little woman shook her head.

“Verily, ’tis a dog!” she whispered. “When the blind one shall have
carried her Excellency safely by the steep and dangerous path, which is
midway between here and where Zarah the Merciless sleeps, then will he
bark thrice, and in all the kennels there is not one who can say if it be
a dog which barks or Yussuf. Methinks, he is over long upon the road.”
She clasped her hands together upon her faithful heart. “Has mischance
befallen them? Does your Excellency think that mischance causeth him to
tarry thus?”

Mischance did not cause Yussuf to tarry. Seated in the shadows beneath
the window through which Namlah had spied upon the Arabian and Al-Asad,
he waited calmly for the moment of his revenge.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was utter silence and stillness inside the building. No sound of
voice or movement gave Yussuf any indication as to what had taken place
in the last hour, neither in his blindness had he any means by which to
find out if the Arabian slept or if she lay awake upon the divan watching
the stars through the doorway.

He sat as immovable as the Fate to which, as an Arab, he was resigned,
and he made no movement when Zarah’s mocking laugh suddenly broke the
silence.

Helen sat on the floor with her back against the wall, the light from the
lamp shining on the golden curls which were to be shaven on the morrow.

A shaven crown!

The Hindoo widow! The vision of bald pate seen in the Mirror ’twixt
the curtains of the hair-dresser’s cubicle! The asvogel sitting
disconsolately on its perch in the Zoological Gardens.

She shivered as the pictures flashed across her mind.

Zarah, lying like a tiger behind the golden bars of her elevated bed,
laughed when Helen suddenly clasped her head in uncontrollable horror,
twisting her fingers in her curls, and she laughed again when the white
girl sprang to her feet and stood looking up with the world of rebellion
in her eyes.

“Do you remember my vision, Helen, dear school-friend?” she said
mockingly in Arabic, “when I saw you in the dust at my feet and the white
man coming towards me? Verily will you be in the dust to-morrow, and so
covered therewith that my children will walk upon you and cleanse their
feet and sandals upon your raiment. You fool!” She slid her feet over
the edge and stood upright upon the fourth step, straight, slender and
very beautiful; then, balancing herself upon her precarious foothold
with outstretched arms, descended slowly and walked to where Helen stood
against the wall. She laughed as she looked at Helen’s golden curls.

“I hate you, Helen R-r-aynor-r. I hated you the first time I say you in
Cairo, when you tried to show your superior breeding to the contemptible
half-caste.”

“I did not.”

“_You_, whose grandfather was of a caste of water carriers, whilst my
father’s fathers dwelt in the shadow of the Great Pharaohs and my mother
at the Court of Spain. The white man shall see you with your shaven
crown; then, when the picture of your bald head is set for eternity in
his mind, so that, waking or sleeping, he will laugh at the thought of
you, I will ride out to meet him in the desert, to sit with him under the
moon, to talk with him until dawn, to sing to him until his eyes close in
dreams of my beauty. You fool, to pit yourself against me!”

Helen smiled as she looked at the Arabian from head to foot. She was sick
with fear of the morrow, and sick with disappointment at the absence
of all sign of help, but she smiled with the indomitable spirit of the
splendid race from which she sprang. She took no notice of Zarah when
she stretched herself upon a divan in a corner of the room, nor of the
body-women when they passed her, laughing derisively and making signs
of contempt with their expressive fingers. She watched them descend the
steps, and involuntarily listened to the jokes they bandied amongst
themselves about the ceremony of shaving, which would take place at the
waking of their mistress at the rising of the sun; then sat down with her
back to the wall, hoping against hope for a sound or a sight of Namlah or
Yussuf.

As there could be no doubt as to Zarah’s intention of carrying out her
threat, the situation was desperate; and the help promised seemed so
vague, hanging upon the chance that the Arabian would ask for sherbet or
coffee before she went to sleep—if she went to sleep.

She was just as capable of staying awake the whole night, smoking her
_naghileh_ or countless cigarettes without touching food or coffee, as
she was of sleeping, without stirring, until dawn.

And if she called for coffee and drank it, drugged, and slept, what then?

What could Namlah, a humble slave, do, even if she connived with Yussuf,
to further their escape?

“Bring me sherbet instantly!”

Yussuf made no movement as the words came to him through the window.
Helen’s heart beat heavily as she prayed for help in her hour of great
need.

“_Now_, God, help me _now_,” she whispered, as she rose slowly and
crossed the room to the corner where she prepared the drinks or messes
of sweetmeats the Arabian consumed frequently in the night. With her
back to her tormentor she pulled the flask which contained the drug from
inside her belt and unscrewed the tight-fitting top, and with steady hand
dropped ten drops into the golden goblet which Zarah loved on account of
its barbaric jewelled stem.

“In the name of Allah, was a snail included in your parentage, or are
your fingers as heavy as your wits? You will fetch but a poor price with
your clumsiness and shaven crown. Hasten, or by the Prophet’s beard I
will lower your price still further by marking your shoulders with the
whip.”

Helen slowly crossed the room, carrying the tray with the goblet, filled
to the brim with sweet, frothing drink, and offered it to the Arabian,
who sat up suddenly, making a quick, savage gesture with both her hands.

“Do you think such arrogance suits a slave? Kneel!”

The prisoner’s fate trembled in the balance as for one brief second
Helen, consumed with a desire to fling the goblet in the beautiful,
mocking face, grasped its jewelled stem; then, remembering that the
victorious or disastrous ending of the attempt to escape depended
entirely upon her, she knelt and, stirring the sherbet with an ivory
spoon, offered the tray on uplifted hands.

To keep her kneeling Zarah drank slowly, whilst Helen half closed her
eyes under the agony of her suspense. There was no sign in her face of
her terror when, with but a drain to drink, Zarah sniffed at the goblet,
scowled and flung it to the farther end of the room, thereby drinking one
drop too little of the drug.

“Have you not yet learned how to mix so simple a drink as this?” she
raved, inelegantly wiping her beautiful mouth with the back of her hand.
“Were it not that my women taste all that you touch and replace all you
have touched every hour, and likewise that none but my women approach you
or have speech with you, I would swear by the Prophet that you had put
something in my cup. Bring me coffee, hot and strong, in the big bowl.
Hasten, lest I summon the black women to teach you the real meaning of
speed.”

Helen’s heart sank.

She had no idea of the potency of the drug or the time required for it
to take effect, but she knew the stimulating effect black coffee had on
the Arabian, and how, once she had drunk a bowlful of it, she would pass
a sleepless night, reading or smoking or roaming about the camp, paying
surprise visits to the kennels and her people’s quarters.

She spent long precious minutes in fanning the brazier, which burned
brightly behind a screen, casting fleeting glances towards the divan to
see if the Arabian showed any sign of somnolence.

Zarah sat cross-legged, looking through the doorway at the stars, and
showing as much sign of sleep as an angry cat. She turned and frowned
at Helen when she clattered various brass pots and pans, making a great
to-do, so as to waste still more precious moments over the intricate
process of brewing the sickly, sweet Arabian coffee.

“Bring the coffee!” Zarah shouted suddenly, swinging her feet to the
floor and half rising from the cushions.

Helen placed the brass pot, the porcelain bowl, and a smaller bowl of
scented water upon the silver tray, looked over her shoulder at the
Arabian and caught her breath.

Zarah yawned, widely, heavily.

The whole future depended upon the next five minutes—her future, the
future of the man she loved.

Another few moments and Zarah the Cruel might be asleep. Yet what excuse
could she make for wasting those precious moments? Everything was ready
on the tray; it would take but a moment to cross the floor, and another
five, perhaps ten, for the strong, hot, black coffee to be drunk and to
react against the drug, and then farewell to all hope of escape.

“Must I come and fetch it myself?”

Helen moved forward, carrying the tray. Zarah glared at her, and yawned
until it seemed her scarlet mouth could not bear the strain.

“The coffee,” she said slowly, and rubbed her eyes, just as Helen, with a
sharp cry, twisted her foot sideways, pretended to recover her footing,
and let fall the tray and its contents with a loud clatter to the floor.

Zarah sprang to her feet with a shout of rage which ended in a yawn,
staggered forward a step or two, swung sideways and fell back across the
divan, where she lay peacefully, sound asleep.

Helen lay perfectly still, so as not to attract the Arabian’s attention
in any way; then, assured that she slept soundly, gathered herself up and
stole across to the divan.

“Oh, Yussuf, if you were only here!” she said as she stood looking down
at the sleeping girl, wondering what step she should take next; then
turned to look out at the night sky.

Outlined against the sky, Yussuf stood in the doorway.

She ran to him and touched his arm, whereupon he smiled as best he could
for the distortion of his mouth and put his hands to his forehead, lips
and heart.

“She sleeps, Yussuf, soundly. I gave her ten drops!”

Helen whispered the words, though she might have safely shouted them
aloud for all the effect they would have had on Zarah.

“Does she lie at ease, Excellency? If not, stretch her forth as though
she passed the night in natural sleep. Let nothing cause her fret and
thereby hasten her waking.”

Helen crossed to the divan and looked down at the merciless girl who had
no pity for man or beast. She lay full length in the exquisite raiment
she had worn for the tournament, her face half hidden in her arm, smiling
like a child in her sleep. Helen watched her for a moment, then drew a
satin coverlet over the Arabian’s feet, glanced round the room, moved
slowly round the walls blowing out the lamps which hung from silver
sconces, and returned to Yussuf.

“I will carry your Excellency down the steep unused path, for fear that
some of those who wrestle with each other might see you. Come! I will
lead you to where your lover waits, even I, blind Yussuf.”

Helen put her hand in his and looked back at the woman who had tried
her best to humble her to the dust and failed. She touched her curls
and smiled involuntarily at the thought that neither the daily round of
menial tasks nor the threat of death had frightened her as had the threat
to shave her head.

“I shall never be able to thank you, Yussuf,” she said, as he lifted her
into his arms and carried her across the broad ledge upon which the Holy
Fathers had built the dwelling-place.

“Put your arms about my neck, Excellency, for in times of stress must
custom and thought of race vanish. I will hold you on my left arm; my
right hand knoweth every jutting rock, my feet every stone upon this
path. Shut your eyes, Excellency, for they say that one with vision
would not dare to tread this road. We must hasten, for who knows if the
tiger-cat will not waken ’neath the urging of her hate-filled mind? Your
arm about my neck and your heart full of courage until the waning of
the morning star, when you and your lover will be far upon the road to
freedom and happiness.”

Helen did not shut her eyes, and until the end of her life she never
forgot the descent.

Certain of every inch of the path, rendered as sure-footed as a goat
through the blindness which had uprooted the dread spectre of fear from
his mind, feeling with his feet, clinging with his hand, climbing,
scrambling, dropping safely upon the narrowest foothold, Yussuf carried
Helen safely by the hidden and almost unnegotiable path to where the
dromedaries lay in the shadows.

Just once he stopped to give the pre-arranged signal.

“The _Sit_, Excellency,” he said briefly, as Trenchard sprang towards him
and took Helen into his arms.

“Helen! My beloved! You at last!”

He let her slip to her feet and crushed her up against his heart whilst
the Arabs busied themselves with the camels’ packs.

“Dearest,” whispered Helen, as she lifted her radiant face to his, “I
began to think I should never see you again.”

“We must hasten, Excellencies. Life stretches before you full of hours
of happiness; these moments are fraught with danger. ‘Mine Eyes’ and I
will follow you or not, as wills Allah, the one and only God of mercy and
compassion. I will lead her Excellency’s camel across the hidden path,
‘Mine Eyes’ will lead yours, your Excellency; Namlah, desert born, will
ride her own, wilt thou not, sister?”

Namlah laughed softly.

She was helping her son to tighten knots and to fasten the loads upon the
camels’ backs still more securely.

“Yea, brother, that will I. I would cross the desert on foot to escape
from the claws of the tiger-cat. All is ready, Excellency. A water-skin
each, and much bread and many luscious dates, coffee and the wherewithal
to make many cups. A tent for the noonday heat. To the north-east, and
then due north, his Excellency says, and may Allah guide our feet and thy
feet, O blind brother, to liberty and peace!”

Trenchard and Helen made one last effort to induce Yussuf and “His Eyes”
to join them.

“Now’s your chance, Yussuf. It seems so much like running away to leave
you to face the row by yourself.”

“Come with us, Yussuf.” Helen laid her hand on the blind man’s arm as
she spoke. “You and ‘Your Eyes.’” She laid her other hand on the dumb
youth’s arm, standing linked to them in a friendship that was to endure a
lifetime.

“Excellencies,” replied Yussuf, “before Allah I would rather pass my life
in prison than miss the tiger-cat’s rage when she finds you gone. Behold,
the calmness of the white people when in the midst of danger has won our
hearts and will pass as history down the generations. Not by word or sign
have you shown fear or anger, thereby, with the mercy of Allah, winning
your way to freedom. Nor,” he added with a smile, “do the white people
waste overmuch time in rejoicing or protestations of affection.”

“Have a little patience, Yussuf,” said Helen, as she righted herself
after having swayed backwards and forwards and bent this way and that
in answer to the movement of the camel as it lurched to its feet with
considerable lamentation and sounds of wrath. “Wait until we come out to
Damascus to visit you, then we will all rejoice together, won’t we, Ra?”

“Rather!” said Ralph Trenchard, as he leant over and took Helen’s hand
and kissed it, then let it go as Yussuf led her camel forward, having
found his direction by turning his face to the night wind as he touched
the spear.

“Not a word, Excellencies,” he said when the three camels stood in a line
upon the narrow path, upon each side of which lay a terrible death. “The
wind plays strange tricks with sound from this spot, carrying at times
the spoken word from the quicksands to the rocks, which increase it a
hundredfold, until the camp is filled with whispering. Allah grant that
the dogs do not bark and waken the tiger-cat until dawn, and that my
brothers cease not their games until I am seated once more without the
empty hut.”

Helen turned and smiled at her lover, and leant sideways and waved her
hand to the devoted body-woman, who, in her placidity, looked as though
she were embarking upon a picnic instead of a dash for liberty across the
desert. The mountains towered behind them, grim and menacing, the desert
stretched, silvery and peaceful under the stars, the quicksands lay on
each side of their hidden path, still and treacherous.

Yussuf walked ahead, leading Helen’s camel, “His Eyes” followed, Namlah
came last, looking as must have looked Ruth or Naomi or any other woman
of the Scriptures.

The great beasts, as they stepped off the hidden path on to the safety of
the desert sands, were urged into line with Namlah between Helen and her
lover.

“Namlah will ride three paces in front, Excellency,” said Yussuf. “Ride
at fullest speed until the first ray of the sun breaks through the clouds
of night, keeping the great star behind the right shoulder; then guide
yourself by the sun as I have instructed you, and may Allah have you and
yours in His keeping. I and ‘Mine Eyes’ will overtake you if it is the
will of Allah, whose Prophet is Mohammed.”

The camels moved forward slowly; then, gathering speed, sped across the
desert.

Yussuf and “His Eyes” waited at the beginning of the path until the faint
sound made by the beasts’ huge feet upon the sand died away altogether,
then turned and, Yussuf leading, retraced their steps across the hidden
path.

“Allah guide them, little brother, for behold, my heart is soft towards
those white people of great courage. Go thou and pit thy strength against
that of the half-caste lion, so that his suspicions are not aroused,
whilst I sit here to await the awakening of Zarah the Beautiful.”

He sat cross-legged before the door of the empty hut, from which, if he
had had eyes, he could have seen the tombs of the Holy Fathers. He sat
calmly, patiently, resigned to Fate, until, as the sky lightened way down
in the east, a dog, then another, and then a many began to bark.

They barked without ceasing, whilst the grooms stirred in their sleep and
the voices and laughter of the men died down as they stopped to listen to
the noise.

Knowing that the barking of dogs never failed to waken Zarah, Yussuf
raised his sightless face to the heavens and offered a prayer of
thanksgiving.

The hour of his revenge was at hand.



CHAPTER XXII

    “_Everyman—and his own care!_”—ARABIC PROVERB.


Zarah stretched her arms above her head, yawned, listened for a moment
to the barking of the dogs, then, struck with a premonition of impending
disaster, awoke to her surroundings, struggled to a sitting position, and
stared up at the unlit lamps and round the room in amazement.

Save for the faint light of the coming dawn, the place was in darkness
and strangely still.

Who had blown out the lights? Where was Helen? What was the meaning of
the dogs’ unrest at this hour, when they usually slept? Why was she
weighed down with such an oppressive drowsiness?

She roused herself, swaying to her feet, stood for a moment bemused, then
staggered forward and crashed into a great brass bowl filled with many
fruits. It fell with a clatter, arousing her from the strange lethargy
which seemed to cause the room to spin about her and to dull her active
brain.

She stood watching the oranges and pomegranates, figs, apricots and
peaches roll this way and that across the marble floor, then called for
Helen.

Helen!

She shouted the name savagely, under the whip of her premonition, shouted
it until the vaulted roof rang with her cries, shouted it until the
echoes gave back the call.

Helen! Helen! Helen! a mocking voice seemed to shout back from the
shadows.

In a flash enlightenment came to her, and with it the blindest rage that
ever entered woman’s heart.

There could be but one reason for the dark desertion of the room and for
the unanswered call. In some way the girl she hated, the man she desired,
had communicated with each other, had outwitted her. How? When? Where?
Oh, of what avail to lose time in asking useless questions when, even at
that moment, they might be on their way to freedom and love? She stood in
the centre of the faintly lighted room, then laughed until the ugly sound
beat against the walls. She laughed with sheer rage at the thought of how
she, Zarah the Cruel, the most beautiful woman in Asia, the woman who had
never been thwarted or foiled, had at last been circumvented by Helen.
Helen Raynor, the fool English girl, the slow-witted, the dense, the
hopelessly dull, as she had described her when holding her up to ridicule
to her women slaves.

Her slaves!

In a moment her trend of thought changed, and with it, replacing even
her rage, came a violent desire to revenge herself on everyone who had
connived at or participated in the prisoners’ escape.

Yussuf! Namlah!

She seized the metal rod and smote the huge brass gong as the two names
leapt to her mind. Her men were gathered together on the plateau, with
Yussuf and the dumb boy whom he loved in their midst. She would summon
the two who had been thorns in her flesh since the death of the Sheikh
and wring a confession from them.

Left by her father in her care!

In the name of Allah what mattered a promise more or less when it had to
do with those who had put humiliation after humiliation upon her? She
would see to it that they and the white people were rendered dumb and
blind in death by the time she had wiped out all the insults they had
heaped her with.

Her women!

They slept peacefully in their quarters with Namlah in their midst. She
would summon them all and wring a confession from her. She had treated
the body-woman, who had shown such strong affection for the white girl,
with a strange leniency, merely replacing her, upon the spies’ report,
by the surly negress who had so unaccountably disappeared upon the night
when the dogs had rushed the hall. _She_ should learn what awaited a
slave and a prisoner who dared plot against the master.

She smote the gong to awaken the entire camp and to summon her
attendants, smote it without ceasing.

Lost to all sense of reasoning through her overpowering rage, she flung
herself upon the divan and sat looking out to the desert through the
cleft in the mountains, planning her revenge upon them all.

The Red Desert, the Empty Desert, the forcing-ground of hate, revenge,
despair, the burial place of love and hope and life.

The great waste places of the Arabian Peninsula, swept by the tribes of
Ad, Tasim and Jadis, devastated by the hordes which inundated it in the
early days when the Holy Fathers, in penance, built the very building in
which the desert-born girl sat; ruled by African kings, allied to the
Roman and Byzantine Empires, coveted, conquered, beaten, yet as ready
to-day to rise in revolt against oppression and to hurl itself against
the enemy as it was ready to fling itself victoriously against the mighty
Roman generals.

Immense tracts of sand across which, pursuing or pursued, passed those
countless legions, leaving, save for the footprints of Solomon’s mighty
Yeminite Queen and Mohammed, the greatest Prophet the world has known
since the advent of the gentle Nazarene, but little mark upon the path
of time; desolate plains under which those who, through the centuries,
have laid its fair cities waste, sleep in death amongst the ruins and
treasures and secrets of cities, kingdoms and dynasties of which the
names alone remain; silent, mysterious oceans of sand above which,
wheeling, calling, sailing on outstretched wing at dawn, at noon, at
dusk, drift the vultures from north to south, from east to west, as
they have drifted and called since the day every grain of the sands was
numbered.

Revengeful, relentless, restless, the Great Desert knows no peace nor
rest nor shade. It sweeps flat that which it piled high but yesterday,
and upon its surface, stretching like an Eastern carpet, blows its sands
to the height of hills, to sweep them flat again. It kills with thirst,
it slays with hunger and exhaustion; it leaves but little trace of those
who dare to pass its desolate boundaries. Bones of fugitives, of the
hapless, the luckless, bones of birds and beasts, covered feet deep with
sand at dawn, uncovered by the dread _shelook_ to dance to the blowing
of its scorching breath at noon, mark out a path across its desolation
under the star-strewn, peaceful sky. High-born and low-caste, criminal
and holy man, friend and enemy, there is nothing to tell who they were in
life nor in what manner death came to them. Vultures follow jackal and
hyena; settle for a while and rise again to drift from north to south,
from east to west; the wind of chance wafts the tattered, blood-stained
kerchief across the desert to the feet of the holy man who has watched
it, the only thing to move, dancing this way and that across the plain
towards him; he ties it as a pennant to his staff and continues, with
a prayer for the soul of the dead, upon his pilgrimage; the Bedouin,
starving upon a handful of stringy _sihanee_ dates and a cup of brackish
water, searches amongst the bones and offers the desert victim’s purse
and amulets and weapons in exchange or sale to those he may encounter
upon his journey to the nearest oasis.

A fitting place indeed in which to hide all trace of the Arabian’s
vengeance upon the white people. Let them fly for their lives, they would
but leave their bodies to the vultures and the wind and the starving
Bedouin, when her men had done with them.

Her men!

Since the sinking of the last moon her spies had brought reports of
discontent amongst them. They had become restless and rebellious under
the inactivity she imposed upon them during her fleeting but violent
obsession for the white man.

Within the hour she would once more lead them across the sands under the
light of the dying night and the coming dawn. With her they should hunt
the fugitives down, and with spear or rifle wipe out the cause of their
unrest and anger.

Born of the desert, bred in its scorching heat, Zarah made one with it
in her relentless cruelty. In it she had found her joy and, what counted
more to her than all, her greatest triumphs with her men. Through it
love, the love which is passion, the only love of which she was capable,
had come to her; in it, in years to come, death would find her.

Death!

She laughed aloud as she listened to the sound of her people calling to
each other as they hastened from their quarters to obey her summons.

Death would come, as it must come to all, but not until she had repaired
the mistake she had made in endeavouring to place the white man at the
head of her small but turbulent kingdom; not until she had ruled for many
years; not until she had wiped the memory of the white people who had
tricked her from the minds of her subjects, whom she would link closer
still by her union with one of themselves.

With all the instability and inconstancy of the Arab blood in her veins
her passion for the white man passed, burned out in the fire of the wrath
that consumed her.

Let the white people die. Let the slight ripple they had made upon the
sea of her exuberant, triumphant life be wiped out, so that peace might
once more reign in the Sanctuary.

Death!

With her plan of revenge in her mind she looked across at her throwing
spears hanging upon the wall, then laughed as she caught sight of herself
in one of the many long mirrors her intense vanity had caused her to
place about the room.

As she crossed the floor she made the gesture with her fingers, used by
the superstitious all the world over, against the thought of death which
filled her mind, then took her favourite spear from the wall. Damascus
steel, inlaid with gold, with razor edges to the slender, needle-pointed
blade. She smiled as the thought of the day, those years ago, when with
it she had transfixed the greyhound accepted as a gift by her father’s
guest.

“Death!” she cried, as she stood, a magnificent figure of youth, with the
spear raised and poised for throwing. “Nay, revenge upon those who try
to humiliate me. I will gather my men together and will promise gold,
horses, women, what they will, to those who overtake and bring back to
me, alive or dead, the prisoners who have escaped. Love! I in love with
any man, be he white or black or of mixed blood! Nay, by the beard of
the Prophet I love naught but power. Let them flee into the desert,
even until the sun is risen, so that Helen R-raynor-r’s countenance be
blistered and as roundly swelled as yon knob of wood, the which, to see
if my hand hath not lost its cunning, I will pierce with the spear.”

She ran back a space, caught her foot in a rug, staggered, and, in an
effort to recover her balance, involuntarily flung the spear.

She stood for a moment petrified with horror, then screamed and screamed
until the place rang.

Thrown off her balance, she had flung the spear straight at the mirror.
As she stood it transfixed her reflection through the heart.

Hundreds of torches flared below, where her men stood looking up,
watching the women as, with exclamations of fear, they ran to answer the
dreaded summons of the gong.

“By the beard,” said Bowlegs to Yussuf’s Eyes, “something is amiss.”

A shout went up as Zarah appeared, wrapped in her great riding cloak,
spear in hand. “She leads us to battle, little brother who cannot speak.”
Bowlegs turned, laughing as he spoke, and stared in amazement. The dumb
youth was not there, but in his place towered the gigantic Nubian.

“Verily to battle or the hunt, brother,” said Al-Asad. “Battle methinks,
for of a truth the woman I love seems in no patient mood. Ha! canst hear?
She calleth for Namlah! Ha! she smites the Abyssinian across the mouth.
The tiger-cat! Yet do I love her the more for her cruelty. Her small hand
is like a flower petal blown against the rock when, in her childlike
wrath, she smites me. I could pinch the breath from her throat, which is
like unto the jewelled column in yon hall, ’twixt thumb and finger, yet
love I to anger her so that her little hand shall smite me. Ha! Harken!
She calleth for the blind one, for Yussuf. Look, brother! Is she not as
the wind from the south in her wrath?”

Zarah faced her terrified women slaves, amongst whom Namlah was not to be
found.

“Search for the white woman, you black dogs!” She smote the Abyssinian
across the face as she spoke. “Find her and bring her to me. Namlah will
you find with her. Search, all of you, and hasten, lest I drive you
down to the sands of death.” The women turned and fled down the steps,
touching their amulets, praying to Allah, whispering the one to the other.

“Whither, my heart’s delight? Whither in such haste, with thy beautiful
countenance distraught with fear?”

Bowlegs’ second wife tore herself from his detaining grasp and ran as
fast as her weight would allow her, and literally for her life. “We run
in search of the white woman, who is not to be found, and Namlah, who——”
The rest of her words were lost as she disappeared in the throng of her
panting sisters.

“Oh! ho!” said Bowlegs. “Now find we the kernel in the nut. The beautiful
Zarah calleth for Yussuf.” He turned and scanned the band of laughing,
interested men. “Behold are the blind and the dumb ones not to be seen.
Let me hide in thy shadow, O Lion, lest thy mate-to-be scratches out mine
eyes as she passes.”

Al-Asad took no notice. He stood watching the beautiful Arabian as she
ran down the steps. The men made a passage for her, and closed in behind
and around her as she passed between them, wrapped in her riding cloak.

“Yussuf!” she said sharply. “Where is he? Thou who standeth above thy
fellows, seeth thou him?” She laid her hand on Al-Asad’s arm as she spoke
and looked up into his eyes, which were alight with love. “Is he here?”

The wind blew her cloak against him. Starving for love, he caught it and
held it crushed in his hand, and stood looking down at her, his eyes full
of worship, whilst the men, intuitive as are all Orientals, watched the
little scene, pressing close upon each other.

“Her veritable mate,” whispered one. “Seeth thou that his right hand
holds her cloak?”

“Yea! I bear no malice towards the white man, but ’twere well to send him
with the white woman back to the country where the white race is bred,”
answered the Patriarch.

“Seest thou Yussuf?”

“Yussuf guards the white man, O Zarah!” said Al-Asad slowly.

“Bring him and the white man. Hasten, thou——” She pointed with her spear
at a youngster, who, terrified, turned and ran towards the men’s quarters.

“My amulet for a death in battle, against thine for many sons amongst
thy children,” whispered the Patriarch, “that the lad finds neither the
blind one, nor the dumb one, nor the white man?”

The gamblers slipped their amulets from about their necks.

“Thinkest thou that they have escaped, O Father?”

“Nay, that I know not, but the bitch that so hateth our woman ruler
turned from her meat and howled thrice at the moon! Naught but death can
follow the sign! From fear of disaster amongst the dogs, she has been
separated from her companions and placed by herself for the night in the
small kennel amongst the rocks.”

“_Aï, Aï!_” whispered his companion, spreading his fingers against
disaster. “Behold! the lad returneth with a face like troubled waters.”

The lad flung himself at Zarah’s feet, speechless from terror.

“Speak! Where are they?”

Zarah kicked him as he lay, and turned and half raised her spear in the
direction from which had come a murmuring.

“The dwelling of the white man is empty, O mistress! Neither is the blind
one nor the dumb one to be found for the searching.”

“Make a way for yon black dog!”

Zarah’s voice, high pitched in fury, rose above the men’s. They pushed
each other back as the gigantic negress came running lightly, and smote
her playfully upon her broad shoulders as she passed amongst them, up
to where her mistress and the Nubian stood. Almost as tall as Al-Asad,
she made a superb picture as she stood, thoroughbred and perfect in
form, beside the two half-castes. Arrogant in her breeding, aware of the
rebellion seething in the camp, she eyed them insolently as she revenged
herself for the blows her mistress had rained upon her since she had been
bought in the slave market.

“Thy prisoners have escaped, O Zarah!” she said slowly, contemptuously.
“The white man has fled with the white woman. Black stallion with black
mare, white stallion with white mare, and Allah’s curse upon the foal of
different colouring.”

She turned her back upon the Arabian, and walked away with the insolent
gait of the thoroughbred negro.

Speechless with rage, Zarah raised her spear, then, in a flash, realized
that she no longer had the power to move her men to the madness of hate
or to the lust of battle. They stood between her and the negress, but
she kept her spear raised as she made a mighty effort to regain her hold
over them. She stepped back and shouted the battle-cry with which she had
been wont to gather the men for a foray into the desert or about her in
battle. The words were echoed a thousand times from the mountains, but
not from one throat of the men about her; she called aloud her promise of
horses, gold or women as a reward for the capture of the prisoners; she
drove a way between the men until she stood upon the outer edge of the
throng, then once more she shouted the battle-cry, until the women, who
had been watching, ran and hid amongst the rocks and some of the younger
men felt stealthily for their knives.

“Is there not one among you who dare face the white man?”

A voice from the centre of the throng quoted an Arab proverb, a voice
with a mocking note in its clear tones:

“‘It is written upon the cucumber leaf,’ O Zarah, ‘that from a house from
which thou eatest thou shalt not pray for its destruction.’”

The Patriarch, with Bowlegs at his side, pushed his way to the front.
“The white man, my daughter, we will not for master,” he said, “but for
his patience and his strength, yea! and his love for his own woman, we
love him as a brother. Behold has he lived and eaten like a dog in yon
hut and worked amongst us, to teach us his tricks of skill, with no word
of complaint upon his lips. Nay! let him be, with his own woman. Their
ways are not our ways, and their lives are in the keeping of Allah the
one and only God. Likewise let the friend of thy father with his dumb
friend be gone upon their own business. They irk the Sanctuary with their
infirmities, as does the busy Namlah with her wailings for her lost son.”

But Zarah had long since passed the stage of sane reasoning. She was
white with fury as she faced these men, who would not move hand or foot
to help her in her need and looked at her with laughter in the depths of
their mocking eyes.

“_Thou!_”

Her voice trembled with rage as she looked across to Al-Asad, who stood
surrounded by men.

He shook his head.

“Thou art my woman!” he said simply, “and if I cannot have thee, thinkest
thou that I would strive to bring back one thou lovest and who has
escaped?”

“Thou fool! Bring him back dead, slung across thy shoulders——”

“Nay! I love him as a brother, let him go!”

“Then will I bring him back myself!”

The men looked at each other as she laughed shrilly and turned and ran
across the plateau towards the stables, and gripped the Nubian as he made
a movement to follow her.

“Let her be,” said the Patriarch. “She but makes mock of thee. What can a
woman armed with a spear do against those who are fully armed? She will
hide amongst the rocks until hunger drives her forth, then will we wed
her to thee, O brother, or carry her to the sands of death, for we tire
of her moods and would find her a master.”

But Zarah was in no vein for trickery.

Desperation had swept her completely off her course towards the whirlpool
of impulsiveness, into which the hot-headed flounder, to struggle, sink
and drown.

A moment’s thought, a whole-hearted surrender to her subjects’ wishes, a
joke at her own expense, a laugh, and she might even then have won back
her hold upon the men who, as all Arabs, were swayed by the emotions of
the moment and as easily placated as they were easily roused.

Her love had passed; the mockery in her men’s eyes, the insolence in the
black slave’s words, signalled her defeat; the future, bereft of power,
loomed cold and barren, yet, in the smart of the wound dealt her colossal
vanity, she gave no thought to aught but swift, sure revenge upon those
who had been the chief cause of her downfall.

The grooms of the stables standing half-way down the slight incline,
devoured by curiosity, fled at sight of her, and rushed to their quarters
at the back of the buildings.

She paid no attention.

Time pressed, and she required but a halter-rope with which to guide
Lulah, the fastest mare in all Arabia, across the desert. There was no
necessity for questioning; the fresh tracks of the camels or horses
ridden by the fugitives would show plainly on the sand in the light of
the coming day. In the agony of her humiliation she gave no thought to
weapons; all she wanted was to find the white man with his woman, to get
within spear range, and then to leave the rest to Allah the Merciful and
Compassionate.

Terrified at the gleam of the white cloak, Lulah backed across the loose
box, then lashed out until it seemed she must break the partition with
her dainty, unshod hoofs. Her beautiful, soft eyes rolled as she backed
into the corner, and she jerked her head, lifting Zarah from the ground,
when the Arabian caught her by the halter-rope; she stood quite still for
a moment, snuffing at the cloak, then suddenly rushed for the open door
and bolted, slipping, sliding, with the girl running at her side, down
the passage between the stalls, through the outer door, and out on to the
broad ledge upon which the stables had been built.

She reared when Zarah vaulted to her back, then, exhilarated by the dawn
and under the pressure of the girl’s knees, danced sideways towards the
edge, whilst the men, who watched the splendid picture, held Al-Asad
forcibly, and Yussuf’s Eyes peeping from behind the rock which hid them,
tapped an answer to the blind man’s question.

The black mare reared until struck between the ears, when she crashed to
her feet, slipped them over the edge, tried to regain her foothold, then,
under her own impetus and the pressure of the girl’s knees, who was too
savagely impatient to pull the beautiful beast back to the made track,
slithered like a goat down the path from the stables to where it joined
the upward track which led to the cleft.

Zarah took her up the steep incline at a terrific rush, and pulled her
at the top until she reared again. For one instant they stood sharply
outlined against the night sky in which the morning breeze blew out the
stars one by one, then vanished, as the battle-cry, mocking, challenging,
rang through the air down to the men standing close together upon the
plateau.

“His Eyes,” who watched, turned and tapped a message upon his blind
friend’s arm.

“To the kennels?” answered Yussuf. “Yea, verily will we hasten whilst our
brothers and sisters gossip of the flight. Zarah the Merciful will have
no time in which to spy the swiftest dromedary in Arabia hidden behind
the rocks.” He raised his right hand as he spoke. “By the honour of the
Arab, when I have finished with her who plucked the light from my eyes,
behold will her laughter be ‘as the laughter of the nut when cracked
between two stones’!”

He laughed savagely as he quoted the proverb, staring down at the boy he
could not see, then took his hand and, without faltering, passed quickly
along a path he had made for himself between the rocks up to the kennels,
deserted for the moment by the grooms, who had rushed to talk over the
doings of the past hour with the distracted grooms of the stables.

“Allah keep her tongue still!” whispered Yussuf as “His Eyes” opened the
door of the isolated kennel amongst the rocks and softly whistled the
bitch. Whimpering with delight, the beautiful creature flung herself upon
the men whom she had so often followed across the desert. She loved them.
They had petted her when in disgrace, and had fed her with bones between
the regulation and none too satisfying meals. Yussuf’s hour of revenge
had struck. Vengeance for the loss of his eyes, for the mutilation of his
once handsome face, for the humiliations which had deftly been heaped
upon him throughout the years by the woman who had failed to recognize
the intensity of his hate for her.

For just such a moment had he longed and prayed, for just such a moment
had he fostered the hate of the bitch, who, only on account of her
unblemished pedigree and for the gentleness of her ways to all but the
Arabian, had not been destroyed long since. For years she had followed
the scent of one of the Arabian’s discarded sandals which “His Eyes” had
trailed upon a string across the desert, mile upon mile, to be rewarded
at the end by some dainty fastened to a staff, thrust into the sand, for
which she had been taught to leap and fight.

She knew the way down the narrow path to the spear stuck fast between the
two rocks, and had never forgotten the severe lessons which had taught
her to keep silent until well out in the desert; she whimpered softly and
thrust her muzzle into Yussuf’s hand as he passed quickly to the rock
which marked the beginning of the path leading up to the cleft.

“They gamble, thou sayest, ‘Mine Eyes,’ seated upon the ground, with the
Lion, a prisoner, in their midst. Then bending low will we make our way
to the cleft, praying to Allah to bind their eyes to the dice until we
can be no longer seen. How light is it? As light as the feathers upon a
pigeon’s breast? Then must we hasten!”

Bent double, they crept up the steep path to the cleft, through which
Yussuf passed, just as the first sunbeam shot from behind the edge of the
world, and a great shout rang out from the plateau.

Al-Asad, chafing against the restraint put upon him and longing for the
woman he loved, turned to look up at the cleft through which she must
pass upon her return.

Outlined against the sky he saw the disappearing figure of the blind
man, whom he knew hated the woman he loved with a bitterness beyond
description; upon the near side he saw, waiting to pass, Yussuf’s Eyes,
holding the bitch who hated the Arabian with a hatred which equalled that
of the blind man.

The men leapt to their feet at Al-Asad’s cry and flung themselves upon
him, then fell back when, making a bugle of his slender hands, he sent
the battle-cry ringing over the mountain tops out to the desert.

At the sight of the bitch he had divined the revenge Yussuf the blind had
planned; he sent the battle-cry to reach the woman he loved, so that she
should know that help was coming.

Again and again he called, until the birds rose twittering and screaming
in flocks and flew towards the sunrise, whilst Yussuf whistled to the
bitch trotting at the dromedary’s heels, as the great beast, under the
urging of the dumb youth, passed across the hidden path at a desperate,
dangerous speed.

The women rushed from their quarters at the sound of the battle-cry,
which invariably heralded the death of one or more of their menfolk, and
beat their breasts as they watched the men, headed by the Nubian, running
towards the stables.

“_Aï! Aï! Aï!_”

The lamentation rose to high heaven as they watched the Nubian take his
stallion at a terrific pace down the short cut to the path. They screamed
when the magnificent beast fell and rolled to the bottom, where he
scrambled to his feet and limped forward a foot or so, whilst Al-Asad,
without hesitating, sped to meet the men as they tore like the whirlwind
down the made track. He caught the rope-halter of one who outdistanced
the rest, and, putting out all his almost superhuman strength, stopped
the horse dead in its tracks and hurled it back on its haunches. Clinging
to the mane with his left hand, he lifted the rider with his right, flung
him to the ground, bent and snatched the spear from his hand, and ran at
the stallion’s side up to the end of the path, where he vaulted across
its back and disappeared through the cleft with a challenging cry.

Afraid of the Arab who lay stunned across their path, the foremost horses
stopped dead in their headlong career, bringing the others up against
them in a struggling mass, so that much time was lost as the men tried
to straighten out the confusion made by the horses jamming on the narrow
path as each struggled to free itself from its neighbour, whilst they
slipped and reared and fell.

The rim of the sun had just shown above the horizon; the Nubian was a
speck in the far distance; of Yussuf and “His Eyes” and the Arabian there
was no sign in the shadows which still shrouded the vast ocean of sand,
when, headed by the Patriarch, with much shouting and firing of rifles,
the whole band, riding at full speed, swept across the desert.



CHAPTER XXIII

    “_Remove the gates of thy stable to another side._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.


An ominous dawning.

Misty, silvery shadows fleeing before the coming light left no mark upon
the Crimson Desert, which stretched to the east and west a desolate
unbroken plain, to the north and south in motionless, blood-red waves of
sand. Sunrays, yellow, orange, red, spread like gigantic searchlights
across the sky from behind a mass of clouds which the west wind had
driven eastward and piled low down upon the horizon.

Copper-coloured masses against a background of green and rose and dun,
concealing the end or the beginning of an arch of clouds, which flared,
a signal of disaster, a pennant of death, blood-red, high across the
sapphire firmament, where one great star still defied its enemy—the dawn.

Over the empty plain, under the ominous arc, straight towards the
stupendous sunrise fled the three camels, leaving a dead-black trail
stretching back as far as eye could see.

Namlah the body-woman glanced over her shoulder at the Morning Star and
touched the amulet of good luck which hung about her neck. She looked
round at the ill-omened sky and back over the miles across which the huge
beasts had raced, at the almost incredible speed to which the camel can
attain when urged to its greatest effort. Scarcely a word had the riders
said since the sky had lightened when, wondering if the alarm had been
given in the camp, they had turned to see if Yussuf overtook or if Zarah
pursued them through the misty, silvery shadows.

Ralph and Helen rode side by side, their dromedaries almost touching, as
they raced death for their lives, their liberty, their love. Namlah, the
desert born, rode ahead, steering her course unerringly by the great star.

She glanced back at Helen’s face, showing death white in the shadows of
the passing night and distressed at the signs of a great fatigue, anxious
to advise, to help, touched her camel upon the right shoulder, so that
it turned to the right in a wide circle, whilst its companions, ignoring
or totally unconscious of their leader’s change of route, and utterly
lacking in imagination, reasoning power or sense of any kind, forged
ahead on a non-stop run.

Once more her keen eyes swept the vast plain which lay behind and across
which, like a band of jet on damask cloth, showed the path made by the
camels in their flight. She made no sound as she shaded her eyes and
stared and stared into the far distance, but touched the amulet for good
luck which hung at her own neck and, leaning far forward, touched the
amulet which had been fastened in a tuft of hair on the camel’s left
shoulder, thereby guaranteeing its safe arrival at the journey’s end.

“‘O thou who troublest thyself about the care of others, to whom hast
thou left thine own cares?’” She muttered the proverb, then prayed to
Allah as she smote the camel so that it finished the half circle and
formed up with its companions, which utterly ignored its return.

“What is it, Namlah?”

Helen leant sideways as she spoke to the body-servant, in whose eyes she
had seen the light of a great fear, then turned and looked back in the
direction in which the woman pointed. She turned to her lover and pointed
back along the path by which they had come, to where, hardly discernible
and as a mere speck in the far distance, something moved.

“We’re followed, Ra!” she cried, leaning towards him and stretching out
her hand.

“I know we are, sweetheart. I’ve known it for some time. Let’s hope it’s
Yussuf.” He smiled at Namlah and shouted across to her. “We’ll put up a
good fight, little sister, if they overtake us, and I swear they shall
never take you two women alive.”

“_Kismet!_ Excellency,” cried Namlah. “Perchance ’tis the blind one
riding to join us, though verily there is but Lulah who could overtake
these three beasts, the swiftest in Njed, and the black mare Yussuf does
not ride. I pray thee let me have speech with Zarah if ’tis she, before
death claims either the one or the other of us, likewise, if so be it is
the will of Allah, allow me to approach the tyrant.”

She spat as she made her request, and guided her camel close to Helen’s
and prayed to Allah, with frequent interludes of cursing, as they fled
like the wind towards the spot whence they would turn due north and, if
Allah the Merciful answered the prayers of the body-woman, would overtake
a caravan journeying towards Oman or Hareek.

“’Tis the birds of prey, Excellency,” she said later, “calling as they
ever call at dawn. Perchance from the heavens the eagles and the vultures
spy food with which to break their fast.”

Helen looked up at the sky, across which drifted and wheeled vultures,
eagles, hawks, and shook her head and smiled at the dusky little woman
who lied to allay her fears.

“Nay! Namlah, it is a voice, it is—listen!”

Faintly but clearly the cry came to them upon the morning wind. Helen
looked at her lover, and Namlah bent and touched the amulet upon the
camel’s shoulder so as to hide her eyes. The battle-cry, derisive,
challenging, even at a great distance, left no doubt as to who pursued
them.

But Namlah was of the desert, with the eyes of a hawk and the tenacity of
those whose daily life is one long fight against the greatest odds. She
shaded her eyes suddenly and stared ahead. She pointed and laughed and
kicked her camel vigorously.

But there was no sign of living thing in all the desert to Ralph and
Helen when they looked to where she pointed.

“I see nothing, Namlah.”

“Yonder, Excellency! See you not a band of men moving many, many miles
away. Allah! their backs are towards us. They go from us.” She turned
in her saddle and shook her fist at the speck in the far distance, then
put her hand to her ear. “Allah! ’tis verily a horse! Faster! Faster!
Excellencies, urge the camels, they but crawl, urge them, for in yon band
of men, be they robbers or starving Bedouins, lies our salvation.”

Infinitesimal spots upon the desert, which, ridged and wrinkled, lay like
the outstretched hand of Fate, they urged the dromedaries until they fled
to outstrip the wind, under the sky of violent colouring.

“Allah! open their eyes that they see us! Open their ears that they hear
us! Excellency! Excellency! is there no way by which to turn their heads
towards us!” Her words were lost in the rush of the tremendous speed, but
Helen, understanding the expressive gestures, turned and shouted to her
lover.

The camels paid no heed when the desert rang with the double report of
Trenchard’s revolver, but Abdul, who journeyed in the company of the
Bedouins who had succoured him, in the hope of learning news of his
white master in Hareek, turned in his saddle and looked back, whilst
Zarah, oblivious of the strain she was putting upon the mare, shouted the
battle-cry derisively when the firing shattered the desert stillness and
drove the beautiful creature at full speed over the sands, urging her
with needle-pointed spear.

Nor did she look back, else might she have seen Fate pressing hard upon
her heels.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_On the day of victory no fatigue is felt._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

Like a darker shadow amongst the shadows thrown upon the desert from
the ill-omened sky, Rādi the bitch, the swiftest greyhound whelped in
Hasa, loped alongside the dromedary ridden by Yussuf, with “His Eyes,”
pillion-wise, behind him. She barely left a mark upon the sands so
lightly did she run, perplexed, upon a track which held but the common
scent of horse and camel. True, she ran in the wake of Lulah, her stable
friend, but of enemy there was no trace; therefore of what avail to spend
her strength in chasing shadows by the light of the rising sun?

“His Eyes” frowned when she broke away, and like an arrow from a bow set
off hard upon the scent of something which had crossed the path after
Lulah the mare.

“She has no interest, brother.” He tapped his message upon the blind
man’s shoulder. “Even now she turns to follow the scent of some small
beast of no account. Give me the sandal of Zarah the Cruel, so that she
holds in her fine nose the scent of the woman of whom as yet we see no
sign, but whom we hunt to the death.”

Yussuf sent a long, low call ringing across the sands, and Rādi, with
every muscle in her gaunt body trained to a hair, without checking her
speed, spun round upon her hind feet and tore back in answer to it. She
ran at an angle to overtake the black dromedary, whose price was above
that of many rubies, and recognizing the object dangled just out of
reach, leapt at the sandal, missing it by an inch; then, as trained to
do, on touching the ground turned in a circle to the right and at the
top of her terrific speed, still at an angle, tore towards the dromedary
and launched herself straight upon its back. Catching her by the throat,
the dumb youth held her back, whilst, with claws clinging to the tufts
of hair upon the dromedary’s haunches, the bitch fought to reach the
sandal, the scent of which drove her to a veritable madness of hate and
filled her with a lust to kill. She had it between her teeth when firing
suddenly shattered the desert stillness, and she fought like a fury to
keep it, until “His Eyes,” putting out all his strength, hurled her to
the ground and, clasping Yussuf round the waist, leaned far sideways and
stared ahead. In his excitement he snatched the _mihjan_ from the blind
man’s hand and, leaning backward, smote the dromedary upon the fleshy
part of its hind leg above the knee, the tenderest spot of its tough
anatomy, so that with a scream of rage it increased its pace seemingly a
hundredfold and tore like a hurricane of wrath upon the path, at the far
end of which “His Eyes” at last discerned a moving figure.

“_Bism ’allah!_” yelled Yussuf, answering the message tapped upon his
shoulder. “Allah the Merciful delivereth the tyrant into our hands. The
mare faileth, sayeth thou; the marks of her hoofs show ever deeper in
the sand. Whence came the firing? From Zarah the Cruel or from our white
brother who fleeth with the women before her vengeance? Nay! Nay! Knowest
thou so little? Can’st not discern the difference ’twixt a pistol and a
rifle? Allah strike her hand so that it is useless, and strike the mare
dead so that the woman falls to the hound, who hates her even as I hate
her in my blindness.”

He leaned down and called to the greyhound, exciting her with words as
he pointed ahead, until, sensing an enemy at last, she shot in front of
the dromedary. Then, sitting erect, he lifted his mutilated face to the
flaming heavens and chanted verses from the Korān to the honour of Allah
the one and only God, Who delivered the enemy into his hands:

    “_Flight shall not profit you if ye fly from death or from
    slaughter, and if it would, yet shall ye not enjoy this world
    but a little!_”

    “_Who is he who shall defend you against God, if He is pleased
    to bring evil on you?_”

    “_O Lord, give her the double of our punishment; and curse her
    with a heavy curse!_”

The sonorous words range out on the stillness, barely broken by the
padding of the dromedary’s cushioned feet upon the sand, then he stopped
suddenly, alert, apprehensive.

His hearing, sharpened by his blindness, had caught the sound of the
drumming of a horse’s hoofs upon the sand many miles behind.

“Look once more behind, little brother, methought ’twould not be long
before her lover rode in pursuit. Ha! thou seest one riding like a leaf
before the wind. By the beard! ’tis the Lion riding to find his mate!
Allah smite that which he bestrides so that no harm befalls him.” He
turned round in the saddle and stared back along the path he could not
see. “Seest thou aught else behind the Lion, little brother? Far behind?
Thou seest naught! Yet is there a sound of thunder in mine ears, even the
sound of the hoofs of many horses tearing like the hurricane towards us.”

He listened for a moment, then turned again and stared unseeingly in
front towards the figure of the woman who had blinded him. He smiled as
best he could for the distortion of his mouth and threw back his head.

Zarah looked back, at last, as the challenge of the battle-cry came
to her on the wind, and, recognizing that speed alone would save her
from the death which hunted her down, drove her spear into the mare’s
hindquarters.

The exhausted beast, ridden without mercy, her satiny coat dripping, her
chest asmother with foam, bounded forward under the agony of the goad,
crossed her feet, stumbled, flinging Zarah over her head as she crashed
to her knees, then, up before the Arabian could rise, turned and fled
into the desert towards the east, where the sun showed above the clouds.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_One hour for thy love, one hour for thy Lord._”—ARABIC
    PROVERB.

A mighty picture made Al-Asad and the stallion as they rode in the race
to outstrip death. To aid the magnificent beast as it tore across the
plain the Nubian lay close to its satin neck, guiding with knees and
hand, coaxing and urging with his voice as it fled _ventre à terre_,
silken mane and tail flying like banners in the wind.

There was naught but vision to tell him if he gained upon the dog or
not, and even in that he dare not put his trust. For how was he to tell
if the figures before him, the camel with its two riders, the dog ahead,
the girl upon the black mare still farther off, and the three camels,
mere dots upon the horizon, became gradually clearer because the stallion
lessened the distance between itself and them or because the light made
all things clearer as the sun rose from behind the clouds?

He did not count Yussuf nor the dumb youth in the race for Zarah’s life.
A great brotherly love existed between them, protecting them from harm
one from the other; nor did he blame the blind man for taking his revenge
by setting the bitch to hunt the girl down.

In his wild heart and simple mind love, hate and revenge were
inextricably interwoven in the web of life, circumstance alone deciding
which should triumph in the end.

He would overtake them easily and pass them with a friendly shout, as he
rapidly lessened the distance which separated him from love and freedom.

His plan was of the simplest.

He would lift the woman he loved into his arms and ride away with her
to some distant part of the desert. There he would gather the fiercest
outlaws to him, and with them raid the country until his name should
become a byword in the land, whilst his riches should accumulate so that
his woman’s happiness should be great. He smiled as he rode with the
dreams in his heart and his eyes upon the greyhound and the spear loose
in his hand.

He knew that the Bedouins, who had seen Rādi hunting across the desert,
had come to swear by her endurance and resistance, and to boast to the
stranger within the land of how she hunted the night through without
water or food or rest.

Likewise she held an unbroken record.

She had never failed to kill.

He looked down at Lulah’s hoof-prints and called to the stallion as
he caressed the glossy neck. The mare’s hoof-prints showed deeper and
deeper, and in two places where she had crossed her feet under the strain
of a great fatigue. For speed she was renowned throughout the Peninsula,
but in endurance the lowest hireling from the bazaar could beat her.

And behind her ran the greyhound which had never been known to fail in a
kill.

He felt the stallion’s pace increase as he stroked the glossy neck; then,
clutching the silvery mane, he swung, head down, listening to a sound
which had come to him along the sand even above the pounding of the
stallion’s hoofs. He swung himself erect and turned and looked along the
path marked out by those who fled and those who pursued.

Led by the Patriarch, the men of the Sanctuary, stretched out in a line
across the horizon, raced towards him. They rode with the lance at rest,
and shouted as they rode, until the heavens were filled with the sound of
their voices and the thunder of their horses’ hoofs.

There was no help to be sought of them.

They rode in the joy of the hunt, in the hope of a kill, just as they had
ridden to the attack upon the white man’s camp, led by the woman who had
revolted them at last with her tyranny, and who, in the secret places of
their inconstant hearts, they hoped would die rather than the white man
and the white woman who fled before her.

Then Fate jerked the strings which hobbled them all to their destiny.

Al-Asad, riding with his eyes upon the greyhound, looked up and ahead
when Yussuf’s challenging cry came to him on the wind. Breathlessly he
watched for an instant of time, then sat back and raised his spear as the
mare stumbled and flung Zarah to the ground. In an unconscious effort
to catch the mare he pulled the stallion to the left, then pressed the
beast hard with his right knee, bringing it back to the path, and touched
its neck with the tip of the needle-pointed spear, so that it leaped
forward under the unexpected goad and hurled itself on the track of the
greyhound, which tore like the wind to where the girl stood.

The half-caste just glanced at Yussuf and “His Eyes” as their dromedary
suddenly left the path and sped away across the desert. He knew the
dromedary was being driven along a circuitous route by which it would
ultimately join up with the white people; he knew that Yussuf felt sure
of his revenge and had left the end to the will of Allah; he felt no
hatred in his heart as he looked after them, fleeing to the safety which
was their birthright; he felt no anger as he raised his spear above his
head, so that it glittered in the risen sun, and shouted the battle-cry
as he drove the stallion to the rescue of the girl who stood alone, so
far away, facing him and the greyhound who had never failed to kill.

He turned for an instant to look at the men who followed hard upon his
track, magnificent in his desperate need, his face alight with the glow
of battle. He raised his spear in answer to the Patriarch, who raised his
in salutation, and raised it again in greeting to the men, his friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

    “_A day which is not thine do not reckon it as of thy
    life._”—ARABIC PROVERB.

With the fatalism of the Arab, Zarah stood watching the race between the
greyhound and the man who loved her.

She had glanced at the black dromedary carrying Blind Yussuf and “His
Eyes” to freedom; she had looked at the magnificent sight of the men she
had ruled so tyrannically as they deployed so that they should encircle
her when they reached her; she did not turn to look in the direction
taken by the girl she hated and the man she had loved passionately and
for so brief a time.

Yet did hate outweigh the danger of the hour.

“By Allah,” she cried, lifting her spear, “if I live I will lead my men
upon them and trample them and those who help them under foot. Yea, by
the honour of the Arab I swear, if I throw the spear so that it pierces
the heart of yon cursed dog, that not one of them shall be left alive
within the hour.”

She dropped her white cloak from her shoulders and stepped clear,
weighing the slender spear as she measured the lessening distance between
the stallion and the greyhound. Her heart quickened not one beat, nor did
the slightest shadow of fear show in the tawny eyes. She did not despair
as the bitch seemed to gain upon the stallion; she did not hope as the
thunder of the stallion’s hoofs sounded clearer and clearer every moment.

She was alone in her hour of desperate need, and only upon the strength
and skill of her right hand and the judgment of her eye could she depend
for life if the Nubian failed to reach her in time.

Yet even when that life trembled in the balance she could not refrain
from tormenting the man who had been her willing, humble slave from the
moment his eyes had first met hers, and who alone raced to help her in
her peril.

She held out her arms towards him and called his name and smiled, even
though she could almost see the red gleam of hate in the greyhound’s
eyes, so near was the revengeful beast.

“Al-Asad!” she called. “Al-Asad!”

Her voice sounded like a peal of bells in the desert stillness, her
beauty flamed like the sky above, her courage was superb as she measured
the distance between herself and the maddened greyhound.

Then she leant forward and screamed, screamed till the echo of the
terrible sound carried to Yussuf’s ears, so that he turned and looked
back in the direction of the girl he could not see.

Death was upon her; death with a crown of red above its snow-white face;
the death Yussuf had prophesied when she had struck him blind.

She ran back so that the white cloak stretched between; she looked round
and up, up to the sun which was her birthright, forward to the closing
of her day. She flung out her arms, her hands, fingers widespread as
though to clutch the last moments of the life she loved so well. Life was
nigh spent; she stood within the shadows of Eternity; but, true to her
father’s race, true to the relentless desert to which she belonged, she
would die fighting.

She shouted the battle-cry as she raised her spear.

“_Ista ’jil! Ista ’jil! Ista ’jil!_”

The desperate, defiant words were carried across the sands as she flung
the spear, flung it as Rādi the bitch, increasing her speed in a last
desperate effort to revenge her pup, changed her course by a few inches,
so that the spear barely grazed the shoulder as it flew past and buried
itself in the sands.

Then fear came to Zarah the Cruel, not the fear of death, but fear of an
ignominious end in the eyes of her men.

“Kill me, Al-Asad! Kill me!”

She called desperately to the Nubian as she caught the bitch by the
throat as she leapt upon her.

“Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!”

The terrible cry rang in the Nubian’s ears as, misjudging his strength,
he hurled the spear even as the greyhound leapt.

He shouted with triumph as the greyhound fell back dead, then flung
himself from the stallion as he swept past at full speed and threw
himself upon the girl he loved as she lay still.

The point of the spear which had killed the greyhound had buried itself
in Zarah’s heart.

He did not hear the shouting of the men as they swept down upon him from
every side; he did not seem to see the sun in the heavens as he knelt and
drew the weapon free; he did not hear the call of life as he lifted the
girl and held her against his heart.

“Zarah,” he whispered softly, holding her gently on his arm. “I love
thee! No kiss have I wrested from thee awake. Behold, is it for me to
snatch one from thee in sleep?” He turned her face to his shoulder and
touched her hair gently, winding one curl about his slender fingers. “I
love thee, mate of mine. I hunger for thee, I thirst for thee. Yea, by
the wind of dawn I cannot live without thee. Behold, is there a smile
lurking in the corner of thy mouth, and thine eyes, like unto clear water
winding across the sands, laugh at me between thy lashes. Thou art gone
but a space before me across Life’s desert, and I hold the hem of thy
garment in my hands so that thou canst not escape me. I hear thee calling
me in the wind, I see thee beckoning me ’neath the sun.” He bent and
kissed her hair, then looked up to the sun, to the heavens, to that which
awaited him.

He raised his spear above his head and smiled.

The men, racing towards him in a great circle, raised their spears
and shouted a salutation as they pulled their horses back upon their
haunches. He shifted the girl a little upon his left arm, then threw back
his head and shouted the battle-cry, shouted until the desert rang with
the triumphant cry, as the men, divining his intention, charged down upon
him.

He shook the spear above his head and laughed.

“Zarah! My woman! Zarah, I follow thee!”

He shouted the words, shouted with joy, then drove the spear deep down
into his faithful heart.



EPILOGUE


The Holy Man, motionless, gaunt, his eyes filled with the peace of Allah,
the one and only God, stood afar off, outlined against the blazing sky.

He looked to the north, where had passed a party of Bedouins with a white
man and a white woman in their midst—a white woman with eyes like stars
of happiness and hair like unto a golden flower.

He looked to the east, where passed a body of men, driving their horses
at greatest speed as they rode silently, swiftly, into the unknown, with
the lance at rest.

Leaderless they rode, a black line across the limitless, relentless
desert, their spear points glittering in the sun.

They faded into the distance, they were gone.

To the south lay the Holy Man’s path, the south where the wind blows
hottest, where the sands burn the sandal from off even holy feet, which
search salvation in distress throughout the years.

“_And deliver them from evil._”

He leant upon his staff, older by some score years than when he stood to
watch two horsemen fleeing for their lives across the desert. The beads
of Mecca slipped between his fingers as he bent to read the inscription
from the Korān which the Patriarch had roughly scratched with spear point
upon the sand.

He lifted up his voice in the wilderness above the spot where Zarah the
Arabian, wrapped in her great white cloak, lay upon Al-Asad’s heart,
asleep beneath the sands of the desert to which they both belonged:

    “_For whomsoever thou shalt deliver from evil on that day on
    him wilt thou have mercy; and this will be great salvation._”

The wind from the south carried the sonorous word from the Korān up to
heaven as the Holy Man passed on the one solitary figure moving in the
relentless desert, the forcing-ground of hate and fear and revenge, the
burial place of love and hope and peace, above which the birds of prey
wheeled and called as they drifted to the north and the south, the east
and the west, as they have drifted since the day every grain of sand was
numbered.





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