Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Shadow of the East by E. M. Hull

Part 4 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Which most people don't," he replied, bringing the car to a standstill
before the front door.

"Is Barry back from London?"

"Coming this afternoon. Thanks for the lift, David, you've been a
Good Samaritan this afternoon. I don't think I could have walked.
Goodbye--and please forget," she whispered.

He smile reassuringly and waved his hand as he restarted the car.

Calling to Mouston, who was rolling happily on the cool grass, she went
slowly into the house. With the poodle rushing round her she mounted
thoughtfully the wide stairs and turned down the corridor leading to the
studio. It seemed of all rooms the one best suited to her mood. She
wanted to be alone, beyond the reach of any chance caller, beyond the
possibility of interruption, and it was understood by all that in the
studio she must not be disturbed.

In the passage she met her maid and, giving her her hat and gloves,
ordered tea to be sent to her.

Mouston trotted on ahead into the room with the confident air of a
proprietor, fussily inspecting the contents with the usual canine
interest as if suspicious that some familiar article of furniture had
been removed during his absence and anxious to reassure himself that all
things were as he had left them. Then he curled up with a satisfied
grunt on the chesterfield beside which he knew tea would be placed.
Gillian looked about her with a sigh. The room, much as she loved it,
had never been the same to her since that December afternoon that seemed
so much longer than a bare eighteen months ago. The peace it had given
formerly was gone. Now there was associated with it always the memory of
bitter pain. She had never been able to recapture the old feeling of
freedom and happiness it had inspired. It was her refuge still, where
she came to wrestle with herself in solitude, where she sought
forgetfulness in long hours of work but it was no longer the antechamber
to a castle of dreams. There were no dreams left, only a crushing
numbling reality. She thought of her husband, and the question that was
always in her mind seemed to-day more than ever insistent. Why had he
married her? The reason he had given had been disproved by his
subsequent attitude. He had asked her to take pity on a lonely man--and
he had given her no opportunity. She had tried by every means in her
power to get nearer to him, to be to him what she thought he meant her
to be and all her endeavour had come to nothing. Had she tried enough,
done enough? Miserably she wondered would another have succeeded where
she had failed? And had she failed because, after all, the reason he had
given was no true reason? And suddenly, for the first time, in a vivid
flash of illuminating comprehension she seemed to realise the true
reason and the quixotic generosity that had prompted it. It was as if a
veil had been rudely torn from before her eyes. It explained much,
letting in an entirely new light upon many things that had puzzled her.
It placed her in a new position, changing her whole mental standpoint.
How could she have been so stupidly blind, so dense--how could she have
misunderstood? He had lied to her, a kindly noble lie, but a lie
notwithstanding--he had married her out of pity, to provide for her in
the lack of faith he had in her power to provide for herself. To him,
then, her dreams of independence had been only a childish ambition that
he judged unsubstantial, and in his dilemma he had conceived it his duty
to do what seemed to her now a thing intolerable. A burning wave of
shame went through her. She was humiliated to the very dust, crushed
with the sense of obligation. She was only another burden thrust upon
him by a man who had had no claim to his liberality. Her father--the
superman of her childish dreams! How had he dared? If love for him had
not died years before it would have died at that moment in the fierce
resentment that burned in her. But to the man who had so willingly
accepted such an imposition her heart went out in greater love and
deeper gratitude than she had yet known.

Yet, how, with this new knowledge searing her soul, could she ever face
him again? She longed to creep away and hide like a stricken animal--and
he was coming home to-day. Within a few hours she would have to meet
him, conscious at last of the full extent of her indebtedness and
conscious also of the impossibility of communicating her discovery. For
she knew that she could never bring herself to refer to it, and she knew
him well enough to be aware that any such reference was out of the
question. The gulf between them was too wide. The two days she had spent
alone at the Towers had seemed interminable, but with a revulsion of
feeling she wished now that his coming could be delayed. She shrank from
even the thought of seeing him. Though she called herself coward she
determined to postpone the meeting she dreaded until dinner, when the
presence of Forbes and a couple of footmen would brace her to meet the
situation and give her time to prepare for the later more difficult
hours when she would be alone with him. For he made a practice, rigidly
adhered to, of sitting with her in the evenings during the short time
she remained downstairs. He was punctilious in that courtesy as in all
other acts of consideration. His own bed-hour was very much later and
she often wondered what he did, what were his thoughts, alone in the
solitary study that was his refuge as the studio was hers.

But she had come almost to fear the evening hours they spent together,
the feeling of constraint was becoming more and more an embarrassment.
The last two weeks in Scotland had been more difficult than any
preceding them. Craven's restlessness had been more apparent, more
pronounced. And looking back on it now she wondered whether it was
association with the men with whom he had travelled and shot in distant
countries that was stirring in him more acutely the wander-hunger that
was in his blood. During the after dinner reminiscences in the Scotch
shooting lodge he had himself been curiously silent, but he had sat
listening with a kind of fierce intentness that to her anxious watching
eyes had been like the forced calm of a caged animal enduring captivity
with seeming resignation but cherishing always thoughts of escape.

It was then that her vague dread leaped suddenly into concrete fear. An
incident that had occurred a few days after the big game hunters had
left them had further disquieted her. On going to him for advice on some
domestic difficulty she had found him poring over a large map. He had
rolled it up at her approach and his manner had made it impossible for
her to express an interest that would otherwise have seemed natural.
With the reticence to which she had schooled herself she had made no
comment, but the thought of that rolled up hidden canvas and its
possible significance remained with her. It might mean only a renewed
interest in the scenes of past exploits--fervently she hoped it did. But
it might also mean the projection of new activities....

The arrival of a footman bringing tea put a period to her thoughts.
While the man arranged the simple necessaries that were more suited to
the studio than the elaborate display Forbes considered indispensable
downstairs, she crossed the room to an easel where stood a half-finished
picture. She looked at it critically. Was he right--was there, after
all, nothing in her work but the mediocre endeavour of an amateur? She
had been so confident, so sure. And the master in Paris who had taught
her--he also had been confident and sure. Yet as she studied the
uncompleted sketch before her she felt her confidence waver. It had not
satisfied her while she was working on it, it seemed now hopelessly and
utterly bad. With a heavy sigh she stared at it despondently, seeing in
it the failure of all her hopes. Then in quick recoil courage came
again. One piece of bad work did not constitute failure--she would not
admit failure. She had worked on it at a time of extreme depression,
when all the world had seemed black and hopeless, and the deplorable
result was due to lack of concentration. She had allowed her own
disturbed thoughts to intrude too vividly, and her wandering attention,
her unhappiness, had reacted disastrously on her work. It must be so. Her
own judgment she might have doubted, but the word of her teacher--no. She
_had_ to succeed, she had to justify herself, to justify de Myeres.
"_Travaillez, travaillez, et puis encore travaillez_," she murmured,
as she had heard him say a hundred times, and tore the sketch across
and across, tossing the pieces into a large wicker basket. With a little
shrug she turned to the tea table beside which Mouston was sitting up in
eager expectation, watching the dancing kettle lid with solemn brown
eyes. She made tea and then drew the dog close to her, hugging him with
almost passionate fervour. It was not a frequent event, but there were
times when her starved affections, craving outlet, were expended in
default of other medium upon the poodle who gave in return a devotion
that was entirely single-minded. Yoshio was still the only member of
the household who could touch him with impunity, and toward Craven his
attitude was a curious mixture of hatred and fear. To Mouston--her only
confidant--she whispered now the new projects she had formed during the
last two solitary days for a better understanding of the obscure mind
that had hitherto baffled her, for a further endeavour to break through
the barrier existing between them. To speak, if only to a dog, was relief
and she was too engrossed to notice the sound the poodle's quick ears
caught directly. With a growl he wrenched his head free of her arm and,
startled, she looked up expecting to see a servant.

She saw instead her husband. His unexpected appearance in a room he
habitually avoided robbed her, all unprepared to meet him as she was, of
the power of speech. White-lipped she stared at him, unable to formulate
even a conventional greeting, her heart beating rapidly as she watched
him cross the room. He, too, seemed to have no words, and she saw with
increased nervousness that his face was dark with obvious displeasure.
The silence that was fast becoming marked was broken by Mouston who with
another angry snarl leaped suddenly at Craven with jealous hostility, to
be caught up swiftly by a pair of powerful hands and flung into a far
corner, where he landed heavily with a shrill yelp of surprise and pain
that died away in a broken whimper as, cowed by the unlooked-for
retribution, he crawled under a big bureau that seemed to offer a safe

"Barry!" Gillian's exclamation of incredulous amazement made Craven
sensible that the punishment he had inflicted must seem to her
unnecessarily severe. She could not be expected to see into his mind,
could not possibly know the feeling of loathing inspired by the sight of
the poodle in her arms. He was jealous--of a dog and in no mood to curb
the temper that his jealousy roused.

"I am sorry," he said shortly. "I didn't mind him going for me, it's
perhaps natural that he should--but I hate to see you kiss the dam'
brute," he added with a sudden violence in his voice that braced her as
a more temperate explanation would not have done. To be deliberately
cruel to an animal, no matter how great the provocation, was unlike
Craven; she felt convinced that Mouston was not the primary cause of
his irritability. Something must have occurred previously to disturb
him--the business, perhaps, for which he had waited in London, and,
seeking her, the scene he had surprised had grated on fretted nerves.
He had never before commented on her affection for the dog who was her
shadow; he had never even remonstrated with her, as Peters had many
times, for spoiling him. His present attitude seemed therefore the more
inexplicable--but she realised the impossibility of remonstrance. The
dog had behaved badly and had suffered for his indiscretion; she could
not defend him--had she wanted to. And she did not want to. At the
moment Mouston hardly seemed to matter--nothing mattered but the
unbearable fact of Craven's displeasure. If she could have known the
real cause of that displeasure it would have made speech easier. She
feared to aggravate his mood but she knew some answer was expected of
her. Silence might be misconstrued.

With calmness she did not feel she forced her voice to steadiness.

"Most women make fools of themselves over some animal, _faute de
mieux,"_ she said lightly. "I only follow the crowd."

"Is it _faute de mieux_ with you?" The sharp rejoinder struck her like a
physical blow. Unable to trust herself, unable to check the quivering of
her lips, she turned away to get another cup and saucer from a near

"Answer me, Gillian," he said tensely. "Is it for want of something
better that you give so much affection to that cringing beast"--he
pointed to the poodle who was crawling abjectly on his stomach toward
her from the bureau where he had taken refuge--"is it a child that your
arms are wanting--not a dog?" His face was drawn, and he stared at her
with fierce hunger smouldering in his eyes. He was hurting himself
beyond belief--was he hurting her too? Could anything that he might say
touch her, stir her from the calm placidity that sometimes, in
contradiction to his own restlessness, was almost more than he could
tolerate? She had fulfilled the terms of their bargain faithfully,
apparently satisfied with its limitation. She appeared content with this
damnable life they were living. But a sudden impulse had come to him to
assure himself that his supposition was a true one, that the outward
content she manifested did not cover longings and desires that she
sought to hide. Yet how would it benefit either of them for him to wring
from her a secret to which he, by his own doing, had no right? In
winning her consent to this divided marriage he had already done her
injury enough--he need not make her life harder. And just now, in a
moment of ungovernable passion, he had said a brutal thing, a thing
beyond all forgiveness. His face grew more drawn as he moved nearer to

"Gillian, I asked you a question," he began unsteadily. She confronted
him swiftly. Her eyes were steady under his, though the pallor of her
face was ghastly.

"You are the one person who has no right to ask me that question,
Barry." There was no anger in her voice, there was not even reproach,
but a gentle dignity that almost unmanned him. He turned away with a
gesture of infinite regret.

"I beg your pardon," he said, in a strangled voice. "I was a cur--what I
said was damnable." He faced her again with sudden vehemence. "I wish to
God I had left you free. I had no right to marry you, to ruin your life
with my selfishness, to bar you from the love and children that should
have been yours. You might have met a man who would have given you both,
who would have given you the full happy life you ought to have. In my
cursed egoism I have done you almost the greatest injury a man can do a
woman. My God, I wonder you don't hate me!"

She forced back the words that rushed to her lips. She knew the danger
of an unconsidered answer, the danger of the whole situation. The
durability of their future life seemed to depend on her reply, its
continuance to hang on a slender thread that, perilously strained,
threatened momentarily to snap. She was fearful of precipitating the
crisis she had long realised was pending and which now seemed drawing to
a head. An unconsidered word, an intonation even, might bring about the
catastrophe she feared.

She sought for time, praying for inspiration to guide her. The waiting
tea table supplied her immediate want.

Mechanically she filled the cups and cut cake with deliberate precision
while her mind worked feverishly.

His distress weighed with her more than her own.

Positive as she now was of the true reason that had prompted him to
marry her she saw in his outburst only another chivalrous attempt to
hide that reason from her. He had purposely endeavoured to misrepresent
himself, and, understanding, a wave of passionate gratitude filled her.

Her love was clamouring for audible expression. If she could only speak!
If she could only break through the restrictions that hampered her, tell
him all that was in her heart, measure the force of her living love
against the phantom of that dead past that had killed in him all the joy
of life. But she could not speak. Pride kept her silent, and the
knowledge that she could not add to the burden he already bore the
embarrassment of an unsought love.

But something she must say, and that before he noticed the hesitation
that might rob her words of any worth. Only by refusing to attach an
undue value to the significance of what he had said could she arrest the
dangerous trend of the conversation and bring it to a safer level.

She sat down slowly, re-arranging the simple tray with ostentatious

"You didn't force me to marry you, Barry," she said quietly. "I knew
what I was doing, I realised the difficulties that might arise. But you
have nothing to reproach yourself with. You have been kind and
considerate in everything. I am enormously grateful to you--and I am
very content with my life. Please believe that. There is only one thing
that I could wish changed; you said that we were to be friends--and you
have let me be only a fair weather friend. Won't you let me sometimes
share and help in the difficulties, as well as in the pleasures? Your
interests, your obligations are so great--" she went on hurriedly, lest
he should think she was aiming at deeper, more personal concerns--"I
can't help knowing that there must be difficulties. If you would only
let me take my part--" She looked up, meeting his gloomy stare at last,
and a faint appeal crept into her eyes. "I'm not a child, Barry, to be
shown only the sunny side of life."

An indescribable expression flitted across his face, changing it

"I would never have you know the dark side," he said briefly, as he took
the cup she held out to him.

She was conscious that the tension, though lessened had not altogether
disappeared. There was in his manner a constraint that set her heart
throbbing painfully. She glanced furtively from time to time at his
stern worn face, and the weariness in his eyes brought a lump into her

He talked spasmodically, of friends whom he had seen in London, of a
hundred and one trivial matters, but of the business that had kept him
in town he said nothing and she wondered what had been in his mind when
he had departed from an established rule and deliberately sought her in
a room that he never entered. Had he come with any express intention,
any confidence that had been thwarted by Mouston's stupid behaviour? She
stifled a sigh of disappointment. He might never again be moved by the
same impulse.

With growing anxiety she noticed that his restlessness was greater even
than usual. Refusing a second cup of tea he lit a cigarette, pacing up
and down as he talked, his hands plunged deep in his pockets.

In one of the silences that punctuated his jerky periods he paused by a
little table on which lay a portfolio, and lifting it idly looked at the
sketches it contained. With a sudden look of apprehension Gillian started
and made a half movement as if to rise, then with a shrug she sank back
on the sofa, watching him intently. It was her private sketch book, and
there was in it one portrait in particular, his own, that she had no
wish for him to see. But remonstrance would only call attention to what
she hoped might pass unnoticed. Craven turned over the sketches slowly.
He had seen little of his wife's work since their marriage, she was
shy of submitting it to him, and with the policy of non-interference
he had adopted he had expressed no curiosity. He recognised many faces,
and, recognising, remembered wherein lay her special skill. He found
himself looking for characteristics that were known to him in the
portraits of the men and women he was studying. There was no attempt at
concealment--vices and virtues, liberality of mind, pettiness of soul
were set forth in naked truth. A sympathetic picture of Peters arrested
him, though the name written beneath it puzzled. He looked at the kindly
generous countenance with its friendly half-sad eyes and tender mouth
with a feeling of envy. He would have given years of his life to have
possessed the peace of mind that was manifested in the calm serenity of
his agent's face.

His lips tightened as he laid the sketch down. With his thoughts
lingering on the last portrait for a second or two he looked at the next
one absently. Then a stifled exclamation broke from him and he peered at
it closer. And, watching, Gillian drew a deep breath, clenching her
hands convulsively. He stood quite still for what seemed an eternity,
then came slowly across the room and stood directly in front of her. And
for the first time she was afraid of meeting his eyes.

"Do I look like--that?"

Her head drooped lower, her fingers twining and intertwining nervously,
and her dry lips almost refused their office.

"I have seen you like that," very slowly and almost inaudibly, but he
caught the reluctant admission.


She flinched from the loathing in his voice.

"I _am_ sorry--" she murmured faintly.

"Good God!" the profanity was wrung from him, but had he thought of it
he would have considered it justified, for the face at which he was
staring was the beautiful tormented face of a fallen angel. He looked
with a kind of horror at the hungry passionate eyes fierce with
unsatisfied longing, shadowed with terrible memory, tortured, hopeless;
at the set mouth, a straight grim line under the trim golden brown
moustache; at the bitterness and revolt expressed in all the deep cut
lines of the tragic face. He laid it down with a feeling of repulsion.
She saw him like that! The pain of it was intolerable.

He laughed with a harsh mirthlessness that made her quiver.

"It is a truer estimation of my character than the one you gave me a few
minutes ago," he said bitterly, "and you may thank heaven I am your
husband only in name. God keep you from a nearer acquaintance with me."
And turning on his heel he left her. Long after he had gone she sat on
motionless, her fingers picking mechanically at the chintz cover of the
sofa, staring into space with wide eyes brimming with tears. She knew it
was a cruel sketch, but she had never meant him to see it. It had taken
shape unconsciously under her hand, and while she hated it she had kept
it because of the remarkable likeness and because it was the only
picture she had of him.

The dreams of a better understanding seemed swept away by her own
thoughtlessness and folly. She had hurt him and she could never explain.
To refer to it, to try and make him understand, would do more harm than
good. With a pitiful sob she covered her face with her hands, and,
beside her, Mouston the pampered cringed and whimpered unheeded and

She had looked forward to his return with such high hopes and now they
lay shattered at her feet. During a brief hour that might have drawn
them nearer together they had contrived to hurt each other as it must
seem to both by deliberate intent. For herself she knew that she was
innocent of any such intention--but was he? He had never hurt her
before, even in his most difficult moods he had been to her unfailingly
kind and considerate. But to-day--shudderingly she wondered did it mark
a new era in their relations? And in miserable futile longing she wished
that this afternoon had never been.

After what had occurred the thought of facing him across a table during
an interminable dinner and sitting with him alone for the long hours of
a summer evening drove her to a state bordering on panic. She pushed the
thick hair off her forhead with a little gasp. It was cowardly--but she
could not, would not. Despising herself she crossed the room to the

At the Hermitage Peters was indulging in a well-earned rest after a long
hot day that had been both irksome and tiring. Wearing an old tweed coat
he lounged comfortably in a big chair, a couple of sleepy setters at his
feet, a foul and ancient pipe in full blast. The room, flooded with the
evening sun, was filled with a heterogeneous collection of books and
music manuscript, guns, fishing rods and whips. The homely room had
stamped on it the characteristics of its owner. It was a room to work
in, and equally a room in which to relax. The owner was now relaxing,
but the bodily rest he enjoyed did not extend to his mind, which was
very actively disturbed. His usually genial face was furrowed and he
sucked at the old pipe with an energy that enveloped him in a haze of
blue smoke. The ringing of the telephone in the opposite corner of the
room came as an unwelcome interruption. He glared at it resentfully,
disinclined to move, but at the second ring rose reluctantly with a
grunt of annoyance, pushing the drowsy setters to one side. He took down
the receiver with no undue haste and answered the call gruffly, but his
bored expression changed rapidly as he listened. The soft voice came
clearly but hesitatingly:

"Is that you, David? Could you come up to dinner--if--if you're not
going anywhere else--I've got a tiresome headache and it will be so
stupid for Barry. I don't want him to be dull the first evening at home.
So if you could--please, David--"

His face grew grim as he detected the quiver in the faltering indecisive
words, but he answered briskly.

"Of course I'll come. I'd love to," he said, with a cheeriness he was
far from feeling. He hung up the receiver with a heavy sigh. But he had
hardly moved when the telephone rang again sharply.

"Damn the thing!" he muttered irritably.

This time a very different voice, curt and uncompromising:

"--that you, Peter?--Yes!--Doing anything tonight?--Not?--Then for God's
sake come up to dinner." And then the receiver jammed down savagely.

With grimmer face Peters moved thoughtfully across the room and touched
a bell in the wall by the fireplace. His call was answered with the
usual promptness, and when he had given the necessary orders and the man
had gone he laid aside his pipe, tidied a few papers, and went slowly to
an adjoining room.

The Hermitage was properly the dower house of the Towers, but for the
last two generations had not been required as such. The room Peters now
entered had originally been the drawing room, but for the thirty years
he had lived in the house he had kept it as a music room. Panelled in
oak, with polished floor and innocent of hangings, the only furniture a
grand piano and a portrait, it was at once a sanctuary and a shrine. And
during those thirty years to only two people had he given the right of
entrance. To the woman whose portrait hung on the wall and, latterly, to
the girl who had succeeded her as mistress of Craven Towers. To this
room, to the portrait and the piano, he brought all his difficulties; it
was here he wrestled with the loneliness and sadness that the world had
never suspected. To-night he felt that only the peace that room
invariably brought would enable him to fulfil the task he had in hand.

* * * *

Craven was alone in the hall when he arrived, and it was not until the
gong sounded that Gillian made a tardy appearance, very pale but with a
feverish spot on either cheek. Peters' quick eye noticed the absence of
the black shadow that was always at her heels. "Where is the faithful
Mouston? Not in disgrace, surely--the paragon?" he teased, and was
disconcerted at the painful flush that overspread her face. But she
thrust her arm through his and forced a little laugh. "Mouston is
becoming rather incorrigible, I'm afraid I've spoiled him hopelessly.
I'll tell him you inquired, it will cheer him up, poor darling. He's
doing penance with a bone upstairs. Shall we go in--I'm famished."

But as dinner progressed she did not appear to be famished, for she ate
scarcely anything, but talked fitfully with jerky nervousness. Craven,
too, was at first almost entirely silent, and on Peters fell the main
burden of conversation, until by a direct question he managed to start
his host on a topic that was of interest to both and lasted until
Gillian left them.

In the drawing room, after she had finished her coffee, she opened the
piano and then subsided wearily on to the big sofa. The emotions of the
day and the effort of appearing at dinner had exhausted her, and in her
despondency the future had never seemed so black, so beset with
difficulties. While she was immeasurably thankful for Peters' presence
to-night she knew it was impossible for him to act continually as a
buffer between them. But from the problem of to-morrow, and innumerable
to-morrows, she turned with a fixed determination to live for the
moment. _A chaque jour suffit sa peine_.

She lay with relaxed muscles and closed eyes. It seemed a long
while before the men joined her. She wondered what they were talking
about--whether to Peters would be imparted the information that had
been withheld from her. For the feeling of a nearly impending calamity
was strong within her. When at last they came she looked with covert
anxiety from one to the other, but their faces told her nothing. For a
few minutes Peters lingered beside her chatting and then gravitated
toward the piano, as she had hoped he would. Arranging the heaped up
cushions more comfortably around her she gave herself up to the delight
of his music and it seemed to her that she had never heard him play so

Near her Craven was standing before the fern-filled fireplace, leaning
against the mantel, a cigarette drooping between his lips. From where
she lay she could watch him unperceived, for his own gaze was directed
through the open French window out on to the terrace, and she studied
his set handsome face with sorrowful attention. He appeared to be
thinking deeply, and, from his detached manner, heedless of the harmony
of sound that filled the room. But her supposition was soon rudely
shaken. Peters had paused in his playing. When a few moments later the
plaintive melody of an operatic air stole through the room she saw her
husband start violently, and the terrible pallor she had witnessed once
before sweep across his face. She clenched her teeth on her lip to keep
back the cry that rose, and breathlessly watched him stride across the
room and drop an arresting hand on Peters' shoulder. "For God's sake
don't play that damned thing!" she heard him say in a voice that was
almost unrecognisable. And then he passed out swiftly, into the garden.

A spasm of jealous agony shook her from head to foot. With quick
intuition she guessed that the air that was unknown to her must be
connected in some way with the sorrow that darkened his life, and the
spectre of the past she tried to forget seemed to rise and grin at her
triumphantly. She shivered. Would its power last until life ended? Would
it stand between them always, rivalling her, thwarting her every effort?

For a long time she dared not look at Peters, who had responded without
hesitation to Craven's unceremonious request, but when at length she
summoned courage to glance at him it seemed as if he had already
forgotten the interruption. His face wore the absent, almost spiritual
look that was usual when he was at the piano and his playing gave no
indication of either annoyance or surprise. She breathed a quick sigh of
relief and, slightly altering her position, lay where she could see the
solitary figure on the terrace. Erect by the stone ballustrade, his arms
folded across his chest, staring intently into the night as if his gaze
went far beyond the confines of the great park, he seemed to her a
symbol of incarnate loneliness, and her heart contracted at the thought
of the suffering and solitude she might not share. If he would only turn
to her! If she had only the right to go to him and plead her love, beg
the confidence she craved, and stand beside him in his sorrow! But he
stood alone, beyond her reach, even unaware of her longing.

The slow tears gathered thick in her eyes.

For long after the keyboard became an indistinguishable blur Peters
played on untiringly. But at last he rose, closed the piano and turned
on an electric lamp that stood near.

"Eleven o'clock," he exclaimed contritely. "Bless my soul, why didn't
you stop me! I forget the time when I'm playing. I've tired you out. Go
to bed, you pale child. I'm walking home, I'll see Barry on the terrace
as I pass."

She slid from the sofa and took his outstretched hands.

"Your playing never tires me!" she answered, with a little upward
glance. "You've magic at the ends of your fingers, David dear."

She went to the open window to watch him go, and presently saw him
reappear round the angle of the house and join Craven on the terrace.
They stood talking for a few minutes and then together descended the
long flight of stone steps to the rose garden, from which, by a short
cut through a little copse, could be reached the path that crossing the
park led to the Hermitage. It was the habit of Peters when he had been
dining at the big house to walk home thus and, as to-night, Craven
almost always accompanied him.

Gillian had long known her husband's propensity for night rambling and
she knew it might be hours before he returned. Was he angry with her
still that he had omitted the punctilious good-night he had never before
forgotten? Her lips quivered like a disappointed child's as she turned
back slowly into the room. But as she passed through the hall and
climbed the long stairs she knew in her heart that she had misjudged
him. He was not capable of petty retaliation. He had only forgotten--why
indeed should he remember? It was a small matter to him, he could not
know what it meant to her. In her bedroom she dismissed her maid and
went to an open window. She was very tired, but restless, and
disinclined for bed. Dropping down on the low seat she stared out over
the moonlit landscape. The repentant Mouston, abject at her continued
neglect, crawled from his basket and crept tentatively to her, and as
absently her hand went out to him gained courage and climbed up beside
her. Inch by inch he sidled nearer, and unrepulsed grew bolder until he
finally subsided with his head across her knees, whining his
satisfaction. Mechanically she caressed him until his shivering starting
body lay quiet under her soothing touch. The night was close and very
silent. No breath of wind came to stir the heavily leafed trees, no
sound broke the stillness. She listened vainly for the cry of an owl,
for the sharp alarm note of a pheasant to pierce the brooding hush that
seemed to have fallen even over nature. A coppery moon hung like a ball
of fire in the sky. At the far end of the terrace a group of tall trees
cast inky black shadows across the short smooth lawn and the white
tracery of the stone balustrade. The faint scent of jasmine drifted in
through the open window and she leaned forward eagerly to catch the
sweet intermittent perfume that brought back memories of the peaceful
courtyard of the convent school. A night of intense beauty, mysterious,
disturbing, called her compellingly. The restlessness that had assailed
her grew suddenly intolerable, and she glanced back into the spacious
room with a feeling of suffocation.

The four walls seemed closing in about her. She knew that the big white
bed would bring no rest, that she would toss in feverish misery until
the morning, and she turned with dread from the thought of the long
weary hours. Night after night she lay awake in loneliness and longing
until exhaustion brought fitful sleep that, dream-haunted, gave no

Sleep was impossible--the room that witnessed her nightly vigil a prison
house of dark sad thoughts. Her head throbbed with the heat; she craved
the space, the freshness of the moonlit garden.

Rousing the slumbering dog she went out on to the gallery and down the
staircase she had climbed so wearily an hour before. By the solitary
light still burning in the hall she knew that Craven had not yet
returned. Through the darkness of the drawing room she groped her way
until her outstretched hands touched shutters. Slipping the bar softly
and unlatching the window she passed out. For a moment she stood still,
breathing deeply, drinking in the beauty of the scene, exhilarated with
the sudden feeling of freedom that came to her. The silent garden,
beautiful always but more beautiful still in the mystery of the night,
appealed to her as never before. It was the same, yet wonderfully,
curiously unlike. A glamour hung over it, a certain settled peace that
soothed the tumult of her mind and calmed her nerves. Surrendering to
the charm of its almost unearthly loveliness she slowly paced the long
length of the terrace, the wondering Mouston pressing close beside her.

Then when her tired limbs could go no further she halted by the steps
and leant her arms on the coping of the balustrade. Cupping her chin in
her hands she looked down at the rose garden beneath her and smiled at
its quaint formality. Running parallel with the terrace on the one side
the three remaining sides were enclosed by a high yew hedge through
which a door, facing the terrace steps, led to a path that gave access
to the copse that was Peters' short cut. The shadow of the high dense
yew stretched far across the garden and she gazed dreamily into its
dusky depths, conjuring up the past, peopling the solitude about her
with forgotten ghosts who in the silks and satins of a bygone age had
walked those same flagged paths and talked and laughed and wept among
the roses. Poor lonely ghosts--were they lonelier than she?

The silence broke at last. Far off from the trees in the park an owl
called softly to its mate and the swift answering note seemed to mock
her desolation. Her whole being shuddered into one great soundless cry
of utter longing: "Barry! Oh, Barry, Barry!"

And as if in answer to her prayer she heard a sound that sent the quick
blood leaping to her heart.

In the deep shadow of the yew hedge the door that had opened shut with a
sudden clang. Her hands crept to her breast as she strained her eyes
into the darkness. Then the echo of a firm tread, and Craven's tall
figure emerged from the surrounding gloom. With fluttering breath she
watched him slowly cross the bright strip of moonlight lying athwart the
rose garden and mount the steps. Only when he reached the terrace did he
seem aware of her presence, and joined her with an exclamation of
surprise, "You--Gillian?"

"I couldn't sleep--it was so hot--the garden tempted me," she faltered,
in sudden fear lest he might think she spied on him. But the fascination
of the night was to Craven too natural to evoke comment. He lit a
cigarette and smoked in a silence she did not know how to break, and a
cold wave of chill foreboding passed over her as she waited with nervous
constraint for him to speak. He turned to her at last with a certain
deliberation and spoke with blunt directness.

"I have been asked to lead an expedition in Central Africa. It is partly
a hunting trip, partly a scientific mission. They have approached me
because I know the country, and because I am interested in tropical
diseases and am willing to defray a proportion of the expense which will
be necessarily heavy--I should gladly have done so in any case whether I
went with the party or not. The question of leading the expedition I
deferred as long as I could for obvious reasons.--I had not only myself
to consider. But I have been pressed to give a definite answer and have
agreed to go. There are plenty of other men who would do the job better
than myself but, as I said, I happen to know the locality and speak
several of the dialects, so my going may make things easier for them.
But that is not what has weighed with me most, it is you. Do you think I
don't know how completely I have failed you--how difficult your life is?
I do know. And because I know I am going. For I see no other way of
making your life even bearable for you. It has become impossible for us
to go on as we are--and the fault is mine, only mine. You have been an
angel of goodness and patience, you have done all that was humanly
possible for any woman to do, but circumstances were against us. I had
no right to ask you to make such a marriage. I cannot undo it. I cannot
give you your freedom, but I can by my absence make your life easier
than it has been. I have arranged everything with the lawyers in London
and with Peters, here to-night. If I do not return, for there are of
course risks, everything is left in your control--it is the only
satisfaction in my power. If I do return--God give me grace to be kinder
to you than I have been in the past."

The blow she had been waiting for had fallen at last, in fulfilment of
her premonition. In her heart she had always known it would come, but
its suddenness paralysed. She had nothing to say. Silently she stood
beside him, her hands tight-locked, numbed with a desperate fear. He
would go--and he would never return. It hammered in her brain, making
her want to shriek. She felt to the full her own powerlessness, nothing
she could say would turn him from his purpose. It was the end she had
always foreseen, the end of all her dreams, the end of everything but
sorrow and pain and loneliness unspeakable. And for him--danger and
possibly death. He had admitted risk, he had set his house in order.
From Craven it meant much. She had learned his complete disregard for
danger from the men who had stayed with them in Scotland; his
recklessness in the hunting field, which was a by-word in the county,
was already known to her. He set no value on his own life--what reason
was there to suppose that, in the mysterious land of sudden and terrible
death, he would take even ordinary precautions? Was he going with a
pre-conceived determination to end a life that had become unbearable?
In agony that seemed to rive her heart she closed her eyes lest he might
see in them the anguish she knew was there. How long a time was left to
her before the parting that would leave her desolate? "When do you go?"
The question burst from her, and Craven glanced at her keenly, trying to
read the colourless face that was like a still white mask. He fancied he
had caught a tremor in her voice, then he called himself a fool as he
noted the composure that seemed to argue indifference. Her calmness
stung while it strengthened him. Why should she care, he asked himself
bitterly. His going could mean to her only relief. And disappointment
made his own voice ring cold and distant. "Within the next few weeks.
The exact date is not yet fixed," he said evasively. Again she was
silent while he wondered what were her thoughts. Suddenly she turned to
him, words pouring out in stammering haste, "While you are away--may I
go to France--to Paris--to work? This life of idleness is killing me!"

He looked at her in amazement, startled at her passionate utterance,
dismayed at a suggestion he had never contemplated. To think of her at
the Towers, in the position he would have her fill, watched over by
Peters, was the only comfort he could take away with him. For a second
he meditated a refusal that seemed within his right, arbitrary though it
might be. But the promise he had made to leave her free stayed him. He
could not break that promise now. "As you please," he said, with forced
unconcern, "you are your own mistress. You can do whatever you wish."
And with a slight shrug he turned toward the house. She walked beside
him in a tumult of emotion. He would now never know the love she bore
him, the aching passion that throbbed like a living thing within her.
She could not speak, the gulf between them was too wide to bridge, and
he would leave her, thinking her indifferent, callous! Tears blinded her
as she stumbled through the dark drawing room. In the dimly lit hall,
standing at the foot of the staircase with his hand clenched on the oaken
rail, Craven watched with tortured eyes the slender drooping figure move
slowly upward, battling with himself, praying for strength to let her
go--for he knew that if she even turned her head his self-control would
shatter. It was weakening now and the sweat broke out in heavy drops on
his forehead as he strove to crush an insidious inward voice that bade
him forget the past and take what was his. "Only one life," it seemed to
shout in mocking derision, "live while you can, take what you can! What
is done, is done; only the present matters. Of what use is regret, of
what use an abstinence that mortifies yet feeds desire? Fool, fool to
set aside the chance of happiness!"

With a deep breath that was almost a groan he sprang forward. Then, in
deadly fear, he checked himself, and wrenching his eyes away from the
woman he craved fled out into the night.


In a little tent pitched in the midst of an Arab camp in the extreme
south of Southern Algeria Craven sat writing. A day of intense heat had
been succeeded by a night airless and suffocating, and he was wet with
perspiration that dripped from his forehead and formed in sticky pools
under his hand, making writing laborious and difficult, impossible
indeed except for the sheet of blotting paper on which his fingers
rested. His thin silk shirt, widely open at the throat, the sleeves
rolled up above his elbows, clung limply to his broad shoulders. A
multitude of tiny flies attracted by the light circled round the lamp
eddying in the heat of the flame, immolating themselves, and falling
thickly on the closely written sheets of paper that strewed the camp
table, smeared the still wet ink and clogged his pen. He swept them
away impatiently from time to time. Squatting on his heels in a corner,
his inscrutable yellow face damp and glistening, Yoshio was cleaning a
revolver with his usual thoroughness and precision. A ragged square of
canvas beside him held the implements necessary to his work, set out in
methodical order, and as he cleaned, and oiled and polished assiduously
without raising his eyes his deft fingers selected unerringly the tool
he required. The weapon appeared already speckless, but for some time
he continued to rub vigorously, handling it with almost affectionate
care as if loth to put it down; at last with a grunt of demur he
reluctantly laid aside the cloth he was using and wrapping the revolver
in a silk handkerchief slid it slowly into a leathern holster which his
care had kept soft and pliable. Placing it noiselessly on the ground
before him he turned his oblique gaze on Craven and watched him for a
moment or two intently. Assured at length that his master was too
absorbed in his own task to notice the doings of his servant he reached
his hand behind him and produced a second revolver, which he began to
clean more hurriedly, more superficially than the first, keeping the
while a wary eye on the stooping figure at the table. When that too was
finished to his satisfaction and restored to his hip pocket, a flicker
of almost childlike amusement crossed his usually immobile features and
he started operations with an air of fine unconsciousness upon one of a
couple of rifles that stood propped against the tent wall near him. Two
years of hardships and danger had left no mark upon him, the deadly
climate of the region through which he had passed had not impaired his
powerful physique, and disease that had ravaged the scientific mission
had left him, like Craven, unscathed. With no care beyond his master's
comfort, indifferent to fatigue and perils, the months spent in Central
Africa had been far more to his taste than the dull monotony of the
life at Craven Towers. But with his face turned, though indirectly,
toward home--the home of his adoption--Yoshio was still cheerful. For
him life held only one incentive--the man who had years before saved
his life in California. Where Craven was Yoshio was content.

Outside, the Arab camp was in an uproar. Groups of tribesmen passed the
tent continually, conversing eagerly, their raucous voices rising
shrill, shouting, arguing, in noisy excitement. The neighing of horses
came from near by and once a screaming stallion backed heavily against
the canvas wall where Yoshio was sitting, rousing the phlegmatic
Japanese to an unwonted ejaculation of wrath as he ducked and grabbed
into safety the remaining rifle before the animal was hauled clear with
a wealth of detailed Arabic expletives, and he grinned broadly when an
authoritative voice broke into the Arabs' clamour and a subsequent
sudden silence fell in the vicinity of the stranger's tent.

Regardless of the disturbance resounding from all quarters of the camp
Craven wrote on steadily for some time longer. Then with a short sigh
he shuffled the scattered sheets together, brushed clear the clinging
accumulation of scorched wings and tiny shrivelled bodies, and without
re-reading the closely written pages stuffed them into an envelope, and
having closed and directed it, leaned back with an exclamation of

The letter to Peters was finished but there remained still the more
difficult letter he had yet to address to his wife--a letter he dreaded
and yet longed to write. A letter which, reaching her after the death
he confidently expected and earnestly prayed for, would reveal to her
fully the secret of his past and the passion that had driven him,
unworthy, from her. For never during the two years of adventure and
peril had death seemed more imminent than now, and before he died he
would give himself this one satisfaction--he would break the silence of
years that had eaten like a canker into his soul. At last she would
know all he had never dared to tell her, all his hopeless love, all his
remorse and shame, all his passionate desire for her happiness.

Scores of times during the last two years he had attempted to write
such a letter and had as often refrained, but to-night his need was
imperative. It was his last chance. In the early hours of the dawn he
would ride with his Arab hosts on a punitive expedition from which he
had no intention of returning alive. Death that he had courted openly
since leaving England would surely be easy to find amid the warring
tribes with whom he had thrown in his lot. A curious smile lit his face
for an instant, then passed abruptly at the doubt that shook his
confidence. Would fate again refuse him release from a life that had
become more than ever intolerable?

Haunted as he was with the memory of O Hara San, tortured with longing
for the woman he had made his wife, the double burden had become too
heavy to bear. He had grasped at the opportunity offered by the
scientific mission. The dangerous nature of the country, the fever that
saturated its swamps and forests, was known to him and he had gone to
Africa courting a death that would free him and yet leave no stain on
the name borne by his wife. And the death that would free him would
free her too! The bitter justice of it made him set his teeth. For he
had left her his fortune and his great possessions unrestrictedly to
deal with as she would. Young, rich and free! Who would claim what he
had surrendered? Even now, after months of mental struggle, the thought
was torment.

But death that had laid a heavy toll on his companions had turned away
from him. Disease and disaster had dogged the mission from the outset.
The medical and scientific researches had proved satisfactory beyond
expectation, but the attendant loss of life had been terrible, and
himself utterly reckless and heedless of all precautions Craven had
watched tragedy after tragedy with envy he had been hardly able to
hide. Immune from the sudden and deadly fevers that had swept the camps
periodically with fatal results he had worked fearlessly and untiringly
among the stricken members of the mission and the fast dwindling army
of demoralised porters who had succumbed with alarming rapidity. With
the stolid Japanese always beside him he had wrestled entire nights and
days to save the expedition from extermination. And in the intervals of
nursing, and shepherding the unwilling carriers, he had ranged far and
wide in search of fresh food to supply the wants of the camp. The
danger he deliberately sought, with a rashness that had provoked open
comment, had miraculously evaded him. He had borne a charmed life. He
had snatched at every hazardous enterprise, he had exposed himself
consistently to risk until one evening shortly before the expedition
was due to start on the return march to civilization, when a chance
word spoken by the camp fire had brought home to him abruptly the
dependence of the remnant of the mission on him to bring them to the
coast in safety. By some strange dealing of fate it had been among the
non-scientific members of the expedition that mortality had ranged
highest; the big game hunters, though hardier and physically better
equipped than the students of the party for hardship and endurance had,
with the exception of Craven himself, been wiped out to a man. It had
been an unpremeditated remark uttered in all good faith with no
ulterior motive by a shuddering fever-stricken scientist writing up his
notes and diary by the light of the fire with trembling fingers that
could scarcely hold the fountain pen that moved laboriously driven by
an indomitable will. A grim jest, horrible in its significance, had
followed the startling utterance and Craven had looked with perplexity
at the shivering figure with its drawn yellow face from which a pair of
glittering eyes burned with an almost uncanny brilliance until the
meaning of the man's words slowly penetrated. But the true importance
of the suggestion once realised had aroused in him a full understanding
of the duty he owed to the men he had undertaken to lead. Of those who
could have convoyed the expedition on its homeward march only he
remained. Without him the survivors of the once large party might
eventually reach safety but it was made clear to him that night how
completely his companions relied on him for a quick return and for the
management of the train of porters whose frequent mutinies only Craven
seemed able to quell. He had sat far into the night, staring gloomily
into the blazing fire, smoking pipe after pipe, listening to the
multifarious noises of the forest--the sudden distant crash of falling
trees, the incessant hum of insect life, the long-drawn howl of beasts
of prey hovering on the outskirts of the camp, the soft whoo-whoo of an
owl whose cry brought vividly to his mind the cool fragrance of the
garden at Craven Towers and the nearer more ominous sounds of muffled
agony that came from a tent close beside him where yet another victim
of science was gasping his life away.

Hour after hour he sat thinking. There was no getting away from it--it
was only despicable that he had not himself recognised it earlier. The
narrow path of duty lay before him from which he might not turn aside
to ease the burden of a private grief. He was bound to the men who
trusted him. Honour demanded that he should forego the project he had
formed--until his obligation had been discharged. Loyalty to his
companions must come before every selfish consideration. After all it
was only a postponement, he reflected with a kind of grim satisfaction.
The residue of the mission once safely conducted to the coast his
responsibility would end and he would be free to pursue the course that
would liberate the woman he loved.

In the chill silence of the hour that precedes the dawn he had risen
cramped and shivering from his seat by the dying fire and too late then
to take the rest he had neglected, had roused Yoshio and started on the
usual foraging expedition that was his daily occupation. And from that
time he had been careful of a life which, though valueless to him, was
invaluable to his companions. From that time, too, the ill-luck that
had pursued them ceased. There had been no more deaths, no more
desertions from the already depleted train of carriers. The work had
gone forward with continuing success and, six months ago, after a
hazardous march through a hostile country, Craven had led the remnant
of the expedition safely to the coast. He had waited for some weeks at
the African port after the mission had returned to England, and then
embarking on a small trading steamer, had made his way northward to an
obscure station on the Moroccan seaboard, when by a leisurely and
indirect route he had slowly crossed the desert to the district where
he now was and which he had reached only a week ago. Twice before he
had visited the tribe as the guest of the Sheik Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's
younger son, an officer of Spahis whom he had met in Paris, and the
warm hospitality shown him had left a deep impression. A sudden
unaccountable impulse had led him to revisit a locality where he had
spent some of the happiest months of his life. He had conceived an
intense admiration and liking for the stern old Arab Chief and his two
utterly dissimilar sons; the elder a grave habitually silent man, who
clung to the old traditions with the rigid tenacity of the orthodox
Mohammedan, disdainful of the French jurisdiction under which he was
compelled to live, and occupied solely with the affairs of the tribe
and his beautiful and adored wife who reigned alone in his harem,
despite the fact that she had given him no child; the younger in total
contrast to his brother, a dashing ultra-modern young Arab as deeply
imbued with French tendencies as the conservative Omar was opposed to
them. The wealthy and powerful old Sheik, whose friendship had been
assiduously sought by the French Administration to ensure the
co-operation of a tribe that with its far reaching influence might have
proved a dangerous element in an unsettled district, shared in his
inmost heart the sentiments of his heir, but with a larger and more
discriminating wisdom saw the desirability of associating at least one
of his family with the Government he was obliged, though grudgingly and
half contemptuously, to acknowledge. He had hovered long between
prejudice and policy before he reluctantly gave his consent for Said to
be placed on the roll of the regiment of Spahis. And the unusual love
existing between the two brothers had survived a test that might have
proved too strong for its continuance; Omar, bowing to the decision of
the autocratic old Chief, had refrained even from comment, and Said,
despite his enthusiasm, had carefully avoided inflaming his brother's
deeply rooted hatred of the nation the younger man was proud to serve.
His easy-going nature adapted itself readily to the two wholly separate
lives he lived, and though secretly preferring the months spent with
his regiment he contrived to extract every possible enjoyment from the
periods of leave for which he returned to the tribe where, laying aside
the picturesque uniform his ardent soul rejoiced in and scrupulously
suppressing every indication of his Francophile inclinations he resumed
with consummate tact the somewhat invidious position of younger son of
the house.

The meeting of the young Spahi with Craven in Paris had led to the
discovery of similar tastes and ultimately to an intimate friendship.
Together in Algeria they had shot panther and Barbary sheep and
eventually Craven had been induced to visit the tribe, where he had
seen the true life of the desert that appealed strongly to his
unconventional wandering disposition. The heartiness of his reception
had been unqualified, even the taciturn Omar had unbent to the
representative of a nation he felt he could respect with no loss of
prestige. To Craven the weeks passed in the Arab camp had been a time
of uninterrupted enjoyment and a second visit had strengthened mutual
esteem. Situated on the extreme fringe of the Algerian frontier, in the
heart of a perpetually disturbed country, the element of danger
prevailing in the district was to Craven not the least of its
attractions. It had been a source of keen disappointment that during
both his visits there had been a cessation of the intertribal warfare
that was carried on in spite of the Government's endeavours to preserve
peace among the great desert families. For generations the tribe of
Mukair Ibn Zarrarah had been at feud with another powerful tribe which,
living further to the south and virtually beyond the suzerainty of the
nominal rulers of the country, harried the border continually. But,
aware of the growing power and resources of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, for
many years the marauders had avoided collision with him and confined
their attention to less dangerous adversaries. The apparent neglect of
his hereditary enemies had not, however, lessened the old Sheik's
precautions. With characteristic oriental distrust he maintained a
continual watch upon them and a well organized system of espionage kept
him conversant with all their movements. Often during his visits Craven
had listened to the stories of past encounters and in the fierce eager
faces around him he had read the deep longing for renewed hostilities
that animated the younger members of the tribe in particular and had
wondered what spark would eventually set ablaze the smouldering fires
of hatred and rivalry that had so long lain dormant. And it had been
really a subconscious presage of such an outbreak that had brought him
back to the camp of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah. His presentiment, the outcome
of earnest desire, had been fulfilled, and in its fulfilment attended
with horrible details which, had it not been already his intention,
would have driven him to beg a place in the ranks of the punitive force
that was preparing to avenge an outrage that involved the honour of the
tribe. A week ago he had arrived to find the camp seething with an
infuriated and passion-swayed people who bore no kind of resemblance to
the orderly well-disciplined tribesmen he had seen on his former
visits, and the daily arrival of reinforcements from outlying districts
had kept the tension strained and swelled the excitement that rioted
day and night.

In the barbaric sumptuousness of his big tent and with a calm dignity
that even tragedy could not shake the old Sheik had received him alone,
for the unhappy Omar was hidden in the desolate solitude of his
ravished harem. To the Englishman, before whom he could speak openly
the old man had revealed the whole terrible story with vivid dramatic
force and all the flowery eloquence of which he was master. It was a
tale of misplaced confidence and faithlessness that, detected and
punished with oriental severity, had led to swift and dastardly
revenge. A headman of the tribe whom both the Sheik and his elder son
trusted implicitly had proved guilty of grave indiscretion that
undetected might have seriously impaired the prestige of the ruling
house. Deposed from his headmanship, and deserted with characteristic
vacillation by the adherents on whom he counted, the delinquent had
fled to the camp of the rival tribe, with whom he had already been in
secret negotiation. This much Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's spies had
ascertained, but not in time to prevent the catastrophe that followed.
Plans thought to be known only to the Sheik and his son had been
disclosed to the marauding Chief, who had long sought an opportunity of
aiming an effectual blow at his hated rival, and on one of Omar's
periodical tours of inspection to the more remote encampments of the
large and scattered tribe, the little caravan had been surrounded by an
overwhelmingly superior force led by the hereditary enemy and the
renegade tribesman. Hemmed in around the litter of the dearly loved
young wife, from whom he rarely parted, Omar and his small bodyguard
had fought desperately, but the outcome had been inevitable from the
first. Outnumbered they had fallen one by one under the vigorous
onslaughts of the attacking party who, victorious, had retired
southward as quickly as they had come, carrying with them the beautiful
Safiya--the price of the traitor's treachery. Covered with wounds and
left for dead under a heap of dying followers Omar and two others had
alone survived, and with death in his heart the young man had lived
only for the hour when he might avenge his honour. Animated by the one
fierce desire that sustained him he had struggled back to life to
superintend the preparations for retaliation that should be both
decisive and final. To old injuries had been added this crowning
insult, and the tribe of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, roused to the highest
pitch of fury, were resolved to a man to exterminate or be
exterminated. The preparations had been almost completed when Craven
arrived at the camp, and tonight, for the first time, at a final war
council of all the principal headmen held in the Sheik's tent, he had
seen the stricken man and had hardly recognized in the gaunt attenuated
figure that only an inflexible will seemed to keep upright, the
handsome stalwart Arab who of all the tribe had most nearly approached
his own powerful physique. The frenzied despair in the dark flashing
eyes that met his struck an answering chord in his own heart and the
silent handclasp that passed between them seemed to ratify a common
desire. Here, too, was a man who for love of a woman sought death that
he might escape a life of terrible memory. A sudden sympathy born of
tacit understanding seemed to leap from one to the other, an affinity
of purpose that drew them strangely close together and brought to
Craven an odd sense of kinship that dispelled the difference he had
felt and enabled him to enter reservedly into the discussions that
followed. After this meeting he had gone back to his tent to make his
own final preparations with a feeling almost of exhilaration. To
Yoshio, more than usually stolid, he had given all necessary
instructions for the conveyance of his belongings to England.

Remained only the letter to his wife--a letter that seemed curiously
hard to begin. Pushing the writing materials from him he leant back
further in his chair, and searching in his pockets found and filled a
pipe with slow almost meticulous deliberation. Another search failed to
produce the match he required, and rising with a prolonged stretch he
bent over the table and lit his pipe at the lamp. Crossing the tent he
stood for a few moments in the doorway, but movements did not seem to
produce inspiration, and with an impatient shrug he returned to his
seat and sat staring gloomily at the blank sheet of paper before him.
The flaring light of the lamp illuminated his deeply tanned face and
lean muscular figure. In perfect physical condition and bronzed with
the African sun, he looked younger than when he had left England. At
that moment death and Barry Craven seemed very widely separated--and
yet in a few hours, he reflected with a curiosity that was oddly
impersonal, the vultures might be congregating round the body that was
now so strong and virile. "Handsome Barry Craven." He had heard a woman
say it in Lagos with a feeling of contemptuous amusement--a cynical
smile crossed his face as the remark recurred to him and he pictured
the loathing that would succeed admiration in the same woman's eyes if
she could see what would remain of him after the scavengers of the
desert had done their work. The thought gave him personally no feeling
of disgust. He had lived always too near to Nature to shrink from
contemplation of her merciless laws.

He filled another pipe and strove to collect his wandering thoughts,
but the power of definite expression seemed beyond him as there rose in
him with almost overwhelming force the terrible longing that never left
him--the craving to see her, to hear her voice. Of his own free will he
was putting away all that life could mean or hold for him, and in the
flood of natural reaction that set in he called himself a fool and
revolted at his self-imposed sentence. The old struggle recommenced,
the old temptation gripped him in all its bitterness, and never so
bitterly as to-night. In the revulsion of feeling that beset him it was
not death he shrank from but the thought of eternity--alone. Neither in
this world nor in the life everlasting would she be his, and in an
agony of longing his soul cried out in anguished loneliness. The
yearning for her grew intolerable, a burning physical ache that was
torture; but stronger far rose the finer nobler desire for the perfect
spiritual companionship that he would never know. By his own act it
would be denied him. By his own act he had made this hell in which he
lived, of his own making would be the hell of the hereafter. Always he
had recognised the justice of it, he did not attempt to deny the
justice of it now. But if it had been otherwise--if he had been free to
woo her, free to win her to his arms! It was not the least of his
punishment that, deep down in his heart, he had the firm conviction
that despite her assertions to the contrary, love was lying dormant in
her. And that love might have been his, would have been his, for the
strength and tenderness of his own passion would have compelled it. She
must have turned to him at last and in his love found happiness. And to
him her love would have been the crown of life--a life of exquisite joy
and beauty, a union of perfect and undivided sympathy. Together they
might have made the Towers a paradise on earth; together they might
have broken the curse of Craven; together they might have brought
happiness into the lives of many. And in the dream of what might have
been there came to him for the first time the longing for parenthood,
the desire for a child born of the woman he adored, a child who joining
in his tiny personality the essentials of each would be a tangible
proof of their mutual love, a child who would perpetuate the race he
sprang from. Craven's breath came fast with a new and tremendous
emotion. Then with terrible suddenness came a lightning flash of
recollection, a stabbing remembrance that laid his dream in pieces at
his feet. He heard again the low soft sobbing voice, "Are you not
glad?" He saw again O Hara San's pleading tear-filled eyes, felt again
her slender sorrow-shaken body trembling in his arms, and he bowed his
head on his hands in shuddering horror....

Numbed with the pain of memory and self-loathing he was unaware of the
renewal of noisy demonstration in the camp that to Yoshio's attentive
and interested ears pointed to the arrival of yet another adherent of
Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, an adherent of some special standing, judging from
the warmth of his reception. Moved by curiosity the Jap rose
noiselessly and passing unnoticed by his master vanished silently into
the night.

Some little while later the sound of a clear tenor voice calling to him
loudly by name sent Craven stumbling to his feet. He turned quickly
with outstretched hands to meet the tall young Arab, who burst
unceremoniously into the tent and flung himself upon him in boisterous
greeting. Gripped by a pair of muscular arms Craven submitted with an
Englishman's diffidence to the fervid oriental embrace that was
succeeded to his greater liking by a hearty and prolonged English
handshake and a storm of welcoming excited and almost incoherent
speech. "_C'est bien toi, mon vieux_! You are more welcome than you have
ever been--though I could wish you a thousand miles away, _mon ami_, but
of that, more, later. _Dame_, but I have ridden! As though the hosts of
Eblis were behind me. I was on leave when the messenger came for me--he
seems to have been peremptory in his demands, that same Selim.
Telegrams despatched to every likely place--one caught me fortunately
at Marseilles. Yes, I had been in Paris. I hastened to headquarters and
asked for long and indefinite leave on urgent private affairs, all the
lies I thought _mon colonel_ would swallow, but no word of war, _bien
entendu_! Praise be to _Allah_ they put no obstacle in my way and I left
at once. Since then I have ridden almost without stopping, night and
day. Two horses I have killed, the last lies dead of a broken heart
before my father's tent--you remember her?--my little Mimi, a chestnut
with a white star on her forehead, dear to me as the core of my heart.
For none but Omar would I have driven so, for I loved her, look you,
_mon ami_, as I could never love a woman. A woman! Bah! No woman in the
world was worth a toss of my Mimi's head. And I killed her, Craven.
Killed her who loved and trusted me, who never failed me. My little
Mimi! For the love of _Allah_ give me a whisky." And laughing and crying
together he collapsed with a groan on to Craven's bed but sat up again
immediately to gulp down the prohibited drink that was almost the last
in a nearly depleted flask.

"The Prophet never tasted whisky or he would not have forbidden it to
the true believer," he said with a boyish grin, as he handed back the
empty cup.

"Which you are not," commented Craven with a faint smile. "In the sense
you mean, no," replied Said, swinging his heels to the ground and
searching in the folds of his burnous for a cigarette, which he lit and
smoked for a few minutes thoughtfully. Then with all trace of his
former excitement gone he began to discuss soberly the exigency of the
moment, revealing a sound judgment and levelness of mind that appeared
incompatible with his seemingly careless and easy-going disposition.
It was a deeper studiously hidden side of his character that Craven had
guessed very early in their acquaintance.

He talked now with unconcealed seriousness of the gravity of the
situation. In the short time he had been with his father before seeking
his friend he had mastered the particulars of the projected expedition
and, with his European knowledge, had suggested and even--with a force
of personality he had never before displayed in the old Sheik's
presence--insisted on certain alterations which he detailed now for
Craven's benefit, who concurred heartily, for they were identical with
suggestions put forward by himself which had been rejected as
impossible innovations by the conservative headmen, and conscious of
his position as guest he had not pressed them. Then with a sudden
change of tone the young Arab turned to Craven in frowning inquiry.

"But you, mon cher, what are you doing in this affair? It was that I
meant when I said I wished you a thousand miles away. You are my
friend, the friend of all of us, but friendship does not demand that
you ride with us to-night. That you would offer--yes--it was only to be
expected. But that we should accept your offer--no! a hundred times no!
you are an Englishman, a big man in your own country, what have you to
do with the tribal warfare of minor Arab Chiefs--voyez vous, I have my
moments of modesty! If anything should happen--as happen it very likely
will--what will your paternal British Government say? It will only add
to my father's difficulties with our own over-lords." There was a laugh
in his eyes though his voice was serious. Craven brushed his objection
aside with an indifferent hand.

"The British Government will not distress itself about me," he said
dryly. "I am not of sufficient importance."

For a few moments the Arab sat silent, smoking rapidly, then he raised
his dark eyes tentatively to Craven's face.

"In Paris they told me you were married," he said slowly, and the
remark was in itself ample indication of his European tendencies.

Craven turned away with an abrupt movement and bent over the lamp to
light his pipe. "They told you the truth," he said, with a certain
reluctance, his face hidden by a cloud of smoke. "_Pourtant_, I ride with
you to-night." There was a note of brusque finality in his voice that
Said recognised, and he shrugged acquiescence as he lit another
cigarette. "It is almost certain death," he said, with nonchalant
oriental calm. But Craven did not answer and Said relapsed into a
silence that was protracted. From the midst of the blue haze
surrounding him, his earnest scrutiny hidden by the thick lashes that
curved downwards to his swarthy cheek, he gazed intently through
half-closed eyes at the friend whose presence he found for the first
time embarrassing. Fatalist though he was in all things that concerned
himself, western influence had bitten deep enough to make him realise
that the same doctrine did not extend to Craven. He recognised that
self-determination came more largely into the Englishman's creed than
into his own. Whether he himself lived or died was a matter of no great
moment. But with Craven it was otherwise and he had no liking for the
thought that should the morrow's venture go against them his friend's
blood would, virtually, be upon his hands! So far had his Francophile
tendencies taken him. And the more he dwelt upon the uncomfortable fact
the less he liked it. He turned his attention more directly upon the
man himself and he noted changes that surprised and disturbed him.
The stern weary looking face was not the careless smiling one he
remembered. The man he had known had been vividly alive, care-free
and animated; one who had jested alike at life and death with an
indifferent laugh, but one who though careless of danger even to the
extent of foolhardiness had never given any indication of a desire to
quit a life that was obviously easy and attractive. But this man was
different, grave and abrupt of speech, with an air of tired suffering,
and a grim purposefulness in his determination to ignore his friend's
warning that conveyed an impression of underlying sinister intent that
set the Arab wondering what sting had poisoned his life even to the
desire to sacrifice it. For the look on Craven's face was not new to
him, he had seen it before--on the face of a French officer in Algiers
who had subsequently taken his own life, and again this very evening
on the face of his brother Omar. The personalities of the three men
were widely different, but the expression of each was identical.
The deduction was simple and yet to him wholly inexplicable. A
woman--without doubt a woman! In the first two cases it was certainly
so, he seemed to know instinctively that here, too, he was not mistaken
in his supposition. A puzzled look crept into his fine dark eyes and a
cynical smile hovered round his mouth as he viewed these three dissimilar
men from the height of his own contemptuous indifference towards any and
every woman. It was a weakness he did not understand, a phase of life
that held no meaning for him at all. He had never bestowed a second
glance on any woman of his own race, the attentions of European women
in Paris and Algiers had been met with cold scorn that he masked with
racial gravity of demeanour or frank insolence according to
circumstances. For him women did not exist; he lived for his horses,
for his regiment and for sport. To his strangely cold nature the
influence that women exercised over other men was a thing
inconceivable--the houris of the paradise of his fathers' creed were to
him no incentive to enter the realms of the blessed. A character apart,
incomprehensible alike to the warm-blooded Frenchmen with whom he
associated and to his own passionate countrymen, he maintained his
peculiarity tranquilly, undisturbed by the banter of his friends and
the admonitions of his father, who in view of his heir's childlessness
regarded his younger son's temperament with growing uneasiness as the
years advanced.

The action of the French officer in Algiers had provoked in Said only
intolerant contempt but, as he realised tonight, contempt was not
possible in the cases of Craven and his brother. He pondered it with a
curious feeling of irritation. What was it after all, this emotion of
which he was ignorant--this compelling impulse that entered into a man
driving him beyond the power of endurance? It was past his
comprehension. And he wondered suddenly for the first time why he had
been made so different to the generality of men. But introspection was
foreign to him, he had not been in the habit of dissecting his own
personality and his thoughts turned quickly with greater interest to
the man who sat near him plunged like himself into silent reverie. And
as he looked he scowled with angry irritation. The Frenchman in Algiers
had not mattered, but Omar and Craven mattered very much. He resented
the suffering he did not understand--the termination of a friendship he
valued, for it was almost inevitable should Craven persist in his
decision and the loss of a brother who was dearer to him than he would
admit and whose death would mean a greater change in his own life than
he cared to contemplate. That through a woman this should be possible!
With hearty thoroughness and picturesque attention to detail he
silently cursed all women in general and two women in particular. For
the seriousness of the venture lay, at the moment, heavily upon him. He
was tired and his enthusiasm temporarily damped by the unexpected and
incomprehensible attitude of the two men by whom alone he permitted
himself to be influenced. But gradually his natural buoyancy reasserted
itself, and abandoning as insoluble the perplexing problem, he spoke
again eagerly of the impending meeting with his hereditary foes. For
half an hour they talked earnestly and then Said rose, announcing his
intention of getting a few hours sleep before the early start. But he
deferred his going, making one pretext after another for remaining,
walking about the little tent in undecided hesitation, plainly
embarrassed. Finally he swung toward Craven with a characteristic
gesture of his long arms.

"Can I say nothing to deter you from this expedition?"

"Nothing," replied Craven; "you always promised me a fight some day--do
you want to do me out of it now, you selfish devil?" he added with a
laugh, to which Said did not respond. With an inarticulate grunt he
moved toward the door, pausing as he went out to fling over his
shoulder: "I'll send you a burnous and the rest of the kit."

"A burnous--what for?"

"What for?" echoed Said, coming back into the tent, his eyes wide with
astonishment. "_Allah_! to wear, of course, _mon cher_. You can't go as
you are."

"Why not?"

The Arab rolled his eyes heavenward and waved his hands in protest as
he burst out vehemently: "Because they will take you for a Frenchman, a
spy, an agent of the Government, and they will finish you off even
before they turn their attention to us. They hate us, by the Koran! but
they hate a Frenchman worse. You wouldn't have the shadow of a chance."

Craven looked at him curiously for a few moments, and then he smiled.
"You're a good fellow, Said," he said quietly, taking the cigarette the
other offered, "but I'll go as I am, all the same. I'm not used to your
picturesque togs, they would only hamper me."

For a little while longer Said remained arguing and entreating by turns
and then went away suddenly in the middle of a sentence, and for a few
minutes Craven stood in the door of the tent watching his retreating
figure by the light of the newly risen moon with a smile that softened
his face incredibly.

Then he turned back into the tent and once more drew toward him the
writing materials.

The difficulty he had before felt had passed away. It seemed suddenly
quite easy to write and he wondered why it had appeared so impossible
earlier in the evening. Words, phrases, leaped to his mind, sentences
seemed to form themselves, and, with rapidly moving pen, he wrote
without faltering for the best part of an hour--all he had never dared
to say, more almost than he had ever dared to think. He did not spare
himself. The tragic history of O Hara San he gave in all its
pitifulness without attempting to extenuate or shield himself in any
way; he sketched frankly the girl's loneliness and childish ignorance,
his own casual and selfish acceptance of the sacrifice she made and the
terrible catastrophe that had brought him to abrupt and horrible
conviction of himself, and his subsequent determination to end the life
he had marred and wasted. He wrote of the coming of John Locke's letter
at the moment of his deepest abasement, and of the chance it had seemed
to offer; of her own entry into his life and the love for her that
almost from the first moment had sprung up within him.

In its entirety he laid bare the burning hopeless passion that consumed
him, the torturing longing that possessed him, and the knowledge of his
own unworthiness that had driven him from her that she might be free
with a freedom that would be at last absolute. But even in this letter
which tore down so completely the barrier between them he did not admit
to her the true reason of his marriage, he preferred to leave it
obscure as it had always been, even should the motive she might
attribute to him be the wrong one. He must chance that and the
impression it might leave with her. Her future life he alluded to very
briefly not caring to dwell on business that was already cut and dried,
but referring her to Peters who was fully instructed and on whose
advice and help she could count. He expressed no wish with regard to
Craven Towers and his other properties, leaving her free to dispose of
or retain them as she pleased. He shrank from suggesting in any way
that she benefited by his death.

He saw her before him as he wrote. It seemed almost as if the ardent
passionate wards were spoken to present listening ears, and as with
Peters' letter he did not reread the many closely written sheets. What
use? He did not wish to alter or amend anything he had said. He had
done, and a deeper peace came to him than he had known since those far
away days in Japan.

He called to Yoshio. Almost before the words had left his lips the man
was beside him. And as the Jap listened to the minute instructions
given him the light that had sprung to his eyes died out of them and
his face became if possible more than usually stolid and inscrutable.

"You quite understand?" said Craven in conclusion. "You will wait here
until it becomes evident that further waiting is useless. Then you are
to go straight back to England and give those letters into Mrs.
Craven's own hand."

With marked reluctance Yoshio slowly took up the two heavy packets and
fingered them for a time silently. Then with a sudden exclamation in
his own language he shook his head and pushed them back across the
table. "Going with master," he announced phlegmatically, and raised his
eyes with a glance that was at once provocative and stubborn. Craven
met his direct stare with a feeling of surprise. Only once before had
the docile Japanese asserted himself definitely and the memory of it
made anger now impossible. He pointed to the letters lying on the table
between them. "You have your orders," he said quietly, and cut short
further protests with a quick gesture of authority. "Do as you're told,
you obstinate little devil," he added, with a short laugh. And like a
chidden child Yoshio pocketed the letters sullenly. Stifling a yawn
Craven kicked off his boots and moved over to the bed with a glance at
his watch. He flung himself down, dressed as he was.

"Two hours, Yoshio--not a minute longer," he murmured drowsily, and
slept almost before his head touched the pillow.

For an hour or more, squatting motionless on his heels in the middle of
the tent, Yoshio watched him, his mask-like face expressionless, his
eyes fixed in an unwavering stare. Then he rose cautiously and glided
from the tent.

During the last two years Craven had become accustomed to snatching a
few hours of sleep when and how he could. He slept now deeply and
dreamlessly. And when the two hours were passed and Yoshio woke him he
sprang up, wide awake on the instant, refreshed by the short rest. In
silence that was no longer sullen the valet indicated a complete Arab
outfit he had brought back with him to the tent, but Craven waved it
aside with a smile at the thought of Said's pertinacity and finished
his dressing quickly. As he concluded his hasty preparations he found
time to wonder at his own frame of mind. He had an odd feeling of
aloofness that precluded even excitement. It was as if his spirit,
already freed, looked down from some immeasurable height with scant
interest upon the doings of a being who wore the earthly semblance of
himself but who mattered not at all. He seemed to be above and beyond
actualities. He heard himself repeating the instructions he had given
earlier to Yoshio, he found himself taking leave of the faithful little
Jap and wondering slightly at the man's apparent unconcern. But outside
the little tent the strange feeling left him suddenly as it had come.
The cool wind that an hour later would usher in the dawn blew about his
face dispelling the visionary sensation that had taken hold of him. He
drew a deep breath looking eagerly at the beauty of the moon-lit night,
feeling himself once more keenly alive, keenly excited at the prospect
of the coming venture.

Excitement was rife also in the camp and he made his way with
difficulty through the jostling throng of men and horses towards the
rallying point before the old Sheik's tent. The noise was deafening,
and trampling screaming horses wheeled and backed among the crowd
pressing around them. With shouts of acclamation a way was made for the
Englishman and he passed through the dense ranks to the open space
where Mukair Ibn Zarrarah with his two sons and a little group of
headmen were standing. They welcomed him with characteristic gravity
and Said proffered the inevitable cigarette with a reproachful glance
at his khaki clothing. For a few moments they conversed and then the
Sheik stepped forward with uplifted hand. The clamour of the people
gave way to a deep silence. In a short impassioned speech the old man
bade his tribe go forward in the name of the one God, Merciful and
Beneficent. And as his arm dropped to his side again a mighty shout
broke from the assembled multitude. _Allah! Allah!_ the fierce exultant
cry rose in a swelling volume of sound as the fighting men leaped to
their maddened horses dragging them back into orderly ranks from among
the press of onlookers and tossing their long guns in the air in
frenzied excitement. A magnificent black stallion was led up to Craven,
and the Sheik soothed the beautiful quivering creature, caressing his
shapely head with trembling nervy fingers. "He is my favourite, he will
carry you well," he murmured with a proud smile as he watched Craven
handling the spirited animal. Mounted Craven bent down and wrung Mukair
Ibn Zarrarah's hand and in another moment he found himself riding
between Omar and Said at the head of the troop as it moved off followed
by the ringing shouts of those who were left behind. He had a last
momentary glimpse of the old Sheik, a solitary upright figure of
pathetic dignity, standing before his tent, and then the camp seemed to
slide away behind them as the pace increased and they reached the edge
of the oasis and emerged on to the open desert. A few minutes more and
the fretting horses settled down into a steady gallop. The dense ranks
of tribesmen were silent at last, and only the rythmical thud of hoofs
sounded with a muffled beat against the soft shifting sand.

Craven felt himself in strange accordance with the men with whom he
rode. The love of hazardous adventure that was in his blood leaped into
activity and a keen fierce pleasure swept him at the thought of the
coming conflict. The death he sought was the death he had always hoped
for--the crashing clamour of the battlefield, the wild tumultuous
impact of contending forces, with the whining scream of flying bullets
in his ears. To die--and, dying, to atone!

"_Come to Me all ye who ... are heavy laden
and I will give you rest_."

Might that ineffable rest that was promised be even for him? Would his
deep repentance, the agony of spirit he had endured, be payment enough?
Eternal death--the everlasting hell of the Jehovah of the ancients! Not
that, merciful God, but the compassion of Christ:

"_He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out_."

On that terrible day in Yokohama that seemed so many weary years ago
Craven had laid his sin-stained soul in all sincerity and humbleness at
the feet of the Divine Redeemer, but with no thought or hope of
forgiveness. Always the necessity of personal atonement had remained
with him, without which by his reasoning there could be no salvation.
That offered, but not until then, he would trust in the compassion that
passed man's understanding. And to-night--to-day--he seemed nearer than
he had ever been to the fulfilment of his desire. The mental burden
that had lain like an actual crushing weight upon him seemed to slip
away into nothingness. A long deep sigh of wonderful relief escaped him
and he drew himself straighter in the saddle, a new peace dawning in
his eyes as he raised them to the starlit sky. Out of the past there
flashed into his mind the picture--forgotten since the days of
childhood--of Christian freed of his burden at the foot of the Cross,
as represented in the old copy of the "Pilgrim's Progress" over which
he had pored as a boy, enthralled by the quaint text which he had known
nearly by heart and fascinated by the curious illustrations that had
appealed to his young imagination.

The years rolled back, he saw himself again a little lad stretched on
the rug before the fire in the library at Craven Towers, the big book
propped open before him, studying with a child's love of the grotesque
the grisly picture of Apollyon whose hideous black-winged form had to
his boyish mind been the actual image of the devil, a tangible demon
whom he had longed to conquer like Christian armed with sword and
shield. The childish idea, a bodily adversary to contend with--it would
have been simpler. But the devil in a man's own heart, the insidious
inward prompting to sin that unrepelled grows imperceptibly stronger
and greater until the realisation of sin committed comes with horrible
suddenness! To Craven, as to many others, came the futile longing to
have his life to live again, to start afresh from the days of innocency
when he had hung, enraptured, over the woodcuts of the "Pilgrim's
Progress." He forced his thoughts back to the present. Death, not life,
lay before him. Instinctively he glanced at the man who rode at his
right hand. In the cold white moonlight the Arab's face was like a
piece of beautiful carved bronze, still and terrible in its fixed
intentness. Sitting his horse with evident difficulty, animated by mere
strength of will, his wasted frame rigidly upright, his sombre tragic
eyes peering steadfastly ahead, he seemed in his grim purposefulness
the very incarnation of avenging justice. And as Craven looked at him
covertly he wondered what lay hidden behind those set features, what of
hope, what of fear, what of despair was seething in the fierce heart of
the desert man. Of the dearly loved wife who had been ravished from him
there had come no further word, her fate was unknown. Had she died, or
did she still live--in shameful captivity, the slave of the renegade
who had made her the price of his treachery? What additional horror
still awaited the unhappy husband who rode to avenge her? With a slight
shudder Craven turned from the contemplation of a sorrow that seemed to
him even greater than his own and sought his left hand neighbour. With
a quick smile Said's eyes met his. With an easy swing of his graceful
body he drew his horse nearer to the spirited stallion Craven was
riding but did not speak. The ready flow of conversation that was
habitual had apparently forsaken him.

The young Arab's silence was welcome, Craven had himself no desire to
speak. The dawn wind was blowing cool against his forehead, soothing
him. The easy gallop of the horse between his knees, tractable and
steady now he was allowed free rein, was to him the height of physical
enjoyment. He would get from it what he could, he thought with a swift
smile of self mockery--the flesh still urged in contradiction to his
firm resolve. It was a blind country through which they were riding,
though seemingly level the ground rose and fell in a succession of long
undulating sweeps that made a wide outlook impossible. A regiment could
lie hidden in the hollows among the twisting deviating sandy hillocks
and be passed unnoticed. And as he topped each rise at the head of the
Arab troop Craven looked forward eagerly with unfailing interest. He
hardly knew for what he looked for their destination lay many miles
further southward and the possibility of unexpected attack had been
foreseen by Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, whose scouts had ranged the district
for weeks past, but the impression once aroused of an impending
something lingered persistently and fixed his attention.

From time to time the waiting scouts joined them, solitary horsemen
riding with reckless speed over the broken ground or slipping silently
from the shadow of a side track to make a brief report and then take
their place among the ranks of tribesmen. So far they told no more than
was already known. The wind blew keener as the dawn approached. Far in
the east the first faint pinky streaks were spreading across the sky,
overhead the twinkling stars paled one by one and vanished. The
atmosphere grew suddenly chill. The surrounding desert had before been
strangely silent, not so much as the wailing cry of a jackal had broken
the intense stillness, but now an even deeper hush, mysterious and
pregnant, closed down over the land. For the time all nature seemed to
hang in suspense, waiting, watching. To Craven the wonder of the dawn
was not new, he had seen if often in many countries, but it was a
marvel of which he never tired. And there was about this sunrise a
significance that had been attached to no other he had ever witnessed.
Eagerly he watched the faint flush brighten and intensify, the pale
streaks spread and widen into far flung bars of flaming gold and
crimson. Daylight came with startling suddenness and as the glowing
disc of the sun rose red above the horizon a horseman broke from the
galloping ranks, and spurring in advance of the troop, wheeled his
horse and dragged him to an abrupt standstill. Rising in his stirrups
he flung his arms in fervid ecstasy toward the heavens. Craven
recognised in him a young Mullah of fanatical tendencies who had been
particularly active in the camp during the preceding week. That the
opposing tribe was of a different sect, abhorred by the followers of
Mukair Ibn Zarrarah, had been an original cause of dissent between
them, and the priests had made good use of the opportunity of fanning
religious zeal.

The cavalcade came to a sudden halt, and as Craven with difficulty reined
in his own horse the sustained and penetrating cry of the muezzin rose
weirdly high and clear on the morning air, "_al-ilah-ilah_." The
arresting and solemn invocation had always had for Craven a peculiar
fascination, and as the last lingering notes died away it was not
purely from a motive of expediency that he followed the common impulse
and knelt among the prostrate Arabs. His creed differed from theirs but
he worshipped the same God as they, and in his heart he respected their
overt profession of faith.

As he rose from his knees he caught Said's eyes bent on him with a
curious look in them of interrogation that was at once faintly mocking
and yet sad. But the expression passed quickly into a boyish grin as he
waved an unlit cigarette toward the fiery young priest who had seized
the chance to embark on a passionate harangue.

"When prayer is ended disperse yourselves through the land as ye list,"
he murmured, with a flippant laugh at the perverted quotation. "The
holy man will preach till our tongues blacken with thirst." And he
turned to his brother to urge him to give the order to remount. Omar
was leaning against his horse, his tall figure sagging with fatigue. He
started violently as Said spoke to him, and, staggering, would have
fallen but for the strong arm slipped round him. And, watching Craven
saw with dismay a dark stain mar the whiteness of his robes where a
wound had broken out afresh, and he wondered whether the weakened body
would be able to respond to the urging of the resolute will that drove
it mercilessly, or, when almost within view, the fiercely longed for
revenge would yet be snatched from him.

But with an effort the Arab pulled himself together and, mounting,
painfully cut short the Mullah's eloquence and gave in a firm tone the
desired order.

The swift gallop southward was resumed.

The breeze dropped gradually and finally died away, but for an hour or
more the refreshing coolness lingered. Then as the sun rose higher and
gained in strength the air grew steadily warmer until the heat became
intense and Craven began to look eagerly for the oasis that was to be
their first halting place. In full daylight the landscape that by night
had seemed to possess an eerie charm developed a dull monotony. The
successive rise and fall of the land, always with its limited outlook,
became tedious, and the labyrinthine hillocks with their intricate
windings seemed to enclose them inextricably. But on reaching the
summit of a longer steeper incline that had perceptibly slowed the
galloping horses, he saw spread out before him a level tract of country
stretching far into the distance, with a faint blue smudge beyond of
the chain of hills that Said told him marked the boundary of the
territory that Mukair Ibn Zarrarah regarded as his own, the boundary,
too, of French jurisdiction. Through a defile in the hills lay the
enemy country.

The change was welcome to men and horses alike, the latter--aware with
unerring instinct of the nearness of water--of their own accord
increased their pace and thundering down the last long shifting slope
pressed forward eagerly toward the oasis that Craven judged to be
between two and three miles away. In the clear deceptive atmosphere it
appeared much nearer, and yet as they raced onward it seemed to come no
closer but rather to recede as though some malevolent demon of the
desert in wanton sport was conjuring it tantalizingly further and
further from them. The tall feathery palms, seen through the shimmering
heat haze, took an exaggerated height towering fantastically above the
scrub of bushy thorn trees.

Craven had even a moment's doubt whether the mirage-like oasis actually
existed or was merely a delusion bred of fancy and desire. But the
absurdity of the doubt came home to him as he looked again at the
outline of the distant hills--too conspicuous a landmark to allow of
any error on the part of his companions to whom the country was

The prospect of the welcome shade made him more sensitive to the
scorching strength of the sun that up till now he had endured without
more than a passing sensation of discomfort. He was inured to heat, but
to-day's heat was extraordinary, and even the Arabs were beginning to
show signs of distress. It was many hours since they started and the
pace had been killing. His mouth was parched and his eyeballs smarted
with the blinding glare. With the thirst that increased each moment the
last half mile seemed longer than all the preceding ride, and when the
oasis was at length reached he slipped from his sweating horse with an
exclamation of relief.

The Arabs crowded round the well and in a moment the little peaceful
spot was the scene of noisy confusion; men shouting, scrambling and
gesticulating, horses squealing, and above all the creaking whine of
the tackling over the well droning mournfully as the bucket rose and
fell. Said swung himself easily to the ground and held his brother's
plunging horse while he dismounted. For a few moments they conversed
together in a rapid undertone, and then the younger man turned to
Craven, a cloud on his handsome face. "Our communication has broken
down. Two scouts should have met us here," he said, with a hint of
anxiety in his voice. "It disconcerts our scheme for we counted on
their report. They may be late--it is hardly likely. They had ample
time. More probably they have been ambushed--the country is filled with
spies--in which event the advantage lies with the other side. They will
know that we have started, while we shall have no further information.
The two men who are missing were the only ones operating beyond the
border. The last scout who reported himself was in touch with them last
night. From them he learned that two days ago the enemy were forty
miles south of the hills yonder. We had hoped to catch them unawares,
but they may have got wind of our intentions and be nearer than we
expect. The curse of _Allah_ on them!" he added impatiently.

"What are you going to do?" asked Craven with a backward glance at the
dismounted tribesmen clustering round the well and busily employed in
making preparations for rest and food. Said beckoned to a passing Arab
and dispatched him with a hurried order. Then he turned again to
Craven. "The horses must rest though the men would go forward at a
word. I am sending two scouts to reconnoitre the defile and bring back
what information they can," he said. And as he spoke the two men he had
sent for appeared with disciplined promptness and reined in beside him.
Having received their brief instructions they started off in a cloud of
dust and sand at the usual headlong gallop. Said turned away
immediately and disappeared among the jostling crowd, but Craven
lingered at the edge of the oasis looking after the fast receding
horsemen who, crouched low in their saddles, their long white cloaks
swelling round them, were very literally carrying out their orders to
ride "swift as the messengers of Azrael." He had known them both on his
previous visits, though he had not recognised them in the dark hours of
the dawn when they joined the troop, and remembered them as two of the
most dare-devil and intrepid of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's followers. A
moment since they had grinned at him in cheery greeting, exhibiting
almost childlike pleasure when he had called them by name, and had set
off with an obeisance as deep to him as to their leader.

Incidents of those earlier visits flashed through his mind as he
watched them speeding across the glaring plain and a feeling almost of
regret came to him that it should be these two particular men who had
been selected for the hazardous mission. For he guessed that their
chance of return was slight. And yet hardly slighter than for the rest
of them! With a shrug he moved away slowly and sought the shadow of a
camel thorn. He lay on his back in the welcome patch of shade, his
helmet tilted over his eyes, drawing vigorously at a cigarette in the
vain hope of lessening the attentions of the swarms of tormenting flies
that buzzed about him, and waiting patiently for the desired water
before he swallowed the dark brown unsavoury mass of crushed dates
which, warm from his pocket and gritty with the sand that penetrated
everything, was the only food available. Said was still busy among the
throng of men and horses, but near him Omar sat plunged in gloomy
silence, his melancholy eyes fixed on the distant hills. He had
re-adjusted his robes, screening the ominous stain that revealed what
he wished to hide. His hands, which alone might have betrayed the emotion
surging under his outward passivity, were concealed in the folds of his
enveloping burnous. When the immediate wants of men and horses were
assuaged the prevailing clamour gave place to sudden quiet as the Arabs
lay down and, muffling their heads in their cloaks, seemed to fall
instantly asleep. His supervision ended, Said reappeared, and following
the example of his men was soon snoring peacefully. Craven rolled over
on his side, and lighting another cigarette settled himself more
comfortably on the warm ground. For a time he watched the solitary
sentinel sitting motionless on his horse at no great distance from the
oasis. Then a vulture winging its slow heavy way across the heavens
claimed his attention and he followed it with his eyes until it passed
beyond his vision. He was too lazy and too comfortable to turn his
head. He lay listening to the shrill hum of countless insect life,
smoking cigarette after cigarette till the ground around him was
littered with stubs and match ends. The hours passed slowly. When he
looked at the guard again the Arab was varying the monotony by walking
his horse to and fro, but he had not moved further into the desert. And
suddenly as Craven watched him he wheeled and galloped back toward the
camp. Craven started up on his arm, screening his eyes from the sun and
staring intently in the direction of the hills. But there was nothing
to be seen in the wide empty plain, and he sank down again with a smile
at his own impatience as the reason of the man's return occurred to
him. Reaching the oasis the Arab led his horse among the prostrate
sleepers and kicked a comrade into wakefulness to take his place. From
time to time the intense stillness was broken by a movement among the
horses, and once or twice a vicious scream came from a stallion
resenting the attentions of a restless neighbour. The slumbering Arabs
lay like sheeted figures of the dead save when some uneasy dreamer
rolled over with a smothered grunt into a different position. Craven
had begun to wonder how much longer the siesta would be protracted when
Omar rose stiffly, and going to his brother's side awoke him with a
hand on his shoulder. Said sat up blinking sleepily and then leaped
alertly to his feet. In a few minutes the oasis was once more filled
with noisy activity. But this time there was no confusion. The men
mounted quickly and the troop was reformed with the utmost dispatch.
The horses broke almost immediately into the long swinging gallop that
seemed to eat up the miles under their feet.

The fiercest heat of the day was passed. The haze that had hung
shimmering over the plain had cleared away and the hills they were
steadily nearing grew more clearly defined. Soon the conformation of
the range was easily discernible, the rocky surface breaking up into
innumerable gullies and ravines, the jagged ridges standing out clean
against the deep blue of the sky. Another mile and Said turned to him
with outstretched hand, pointing eagerly. "See, to the right, there, by
that shaft of rock that looks like a minaret, is the entrance to the
defile. It is well masked. It comes upon one suddenly. A stranger would
hardly find the opening until he was close upon it. In the dawn when
the shadows are black I have ridden past it myself once or twice and
had to--_Allah_! Selim--and alone!" he cried suddenly, and shot ahead of
his companions. The troop halted at Omar's shouted command, but Craven
galloped after his friend. He had caught sight of the horseman emerging
from the pass a moment after Said had seen him and the same thought had
leaped to the mind of each--the news on which so much depended might
still never reach them. The spy came on toward them slowly, his horse
reeling under him, and man and beast alike were nearly shot to pieces.
As Said drew alongside of them the wounded horse collapsed and the
dying man fell with him, unable to extricate himself. In a flash the
Arab Chief was on his feet, and with a tremendous effort pulled the
dead animal clear of his follower's crushed and quivering limbs.
Slipping an arm about him he raised him gently, and bending low to
catch the faint words he could scarcely hear, held him until the
fluttering whisper trailed into silence, and with a convulsive shudder
the man died in his arms.

Laying the corpse back on the sand he wiped his blood-stained hands on
the folds of his cloak, then swung into the saddle again and turned to
Craven, his eyes blazing with anger and excitement. "They were trapped
in the defile--ten against two--but Selim got through somehow to make
his reconnaissance, and they finished him off on the way back--though I
don't think he left many behind him! Either our plans have been
betrayed--or it may be merely a coincidence. Whichever it is they are
waiting for us yonder, on the other side of the hills. They have saved
us a day's journey--at the very least," he added with a short laugh
that was full of eager anticipation.

They waited until Omar and the troop joined them, and after a short
consultation with the headmen it was decided to press forward without
delay. Aware that but few hours of daylight remained, Craven deemed it
a foolhardy decision, but Omar was deeply stirred at the nearness
of the man who had wronged him--for Selim had managed to extract that
information from one of his opponents before killing him--and the
tribesmen were eager for immediate action. The horses, too, were fresh
enough, thanks to the mid-day rest. The troop moved on again, a guard
of fifty picked men slightly in advance of the main body.

At the foot of the hills they drew rein to reform for the defile only
admitted of three horses walking abreast, and as Craven waited for his
own turn to come to enter the narrow pass he looked curiously at the
bare rock face that rose almost perpendicularly out of the sand and
towered starkly above him. But he had no time for a lengthy inspection,
and in a few minutes, with Omar and Said on either hand, he guided his
horse round the jutting spur of rock that masked the opening and rode
into the sombre shade of the defile. The change was startling, and he
shivered with the sudden chill that seemed so much cooler by contrast
with the heat of the plain. Hemmed in by sheer sinister looking cliffs,
which were broken at intervals by lateral ravines, the tortuous track
led over rough slippery ground sprinkled with huge boulders that made
any pace beyond a walk impossible. The horses stumbled continually and
the necessity of keeping a sharp look-out for each succeeding obstacle
drove from Craven's mind everything but the matter in hand. He forgot
to wonder how near or how far from the other side of the hills lay the
opposing force, or whether they would have time to reform before being
attacked or be picked off by waiting marksmen as they emerged from the
pass without any possibility of putting up a fight. For himself it
didn't after all very much matter one way or the other, but it would be
hard luck, he reflected, if Omar did not get a chance at the renegade
and Said was shot before the encounter he was aching for--and broke off
to swear at his horse, which had stumbled badly for the sixth time.

Omar was riding a pace or two in advance, bending forward in the saddle
and occasionally swaying as if from weakness, his burning eyes filled
with an almost mystical light as if he saw some vision that, hidden
from the others, was revealed to him alone. The dark stain on his robe
had spread beyond concealment and he had not spoken since they entered
the defile. To Craven, who had never before traversed it, the pass was
baffling. He did not know its extent and he had no idea of the depth
of the hills. But soon a growing excitement on the part of Said made
him aware that the exit must be near and the continued silence argued
that the vanguard had got through unmolested. He slipped the button of
his holster and freed his revolver from the silk handkerchief in which
Yoshio had wrapped it.

A sharp turn to the right revealed the scene of the ambuscade, where in
one of the lateral openings Selim and his companion had been trapped.
The bodies of men and horses had been pulled clear of the track by the
advance guard as they went by a few minutes earlier. The old sheik's
horse showed the utmost repugnance to the grim pile of corpses,
snorting and rearing dangerously, and Craven wrestled with him for some
moments before he bounded suddenly past them with a clatter of hoofs
that sent the loose stones flying in all directions.

Another turn to the right, an equally sharp bend to the left, where the
track widened considerably, and they debouched abruptly into open

The vanguard was drawn up in order and their leader spurred to Omar's
side in eager haste to communicate what was patent to the eyes of all.
A little ripple of excitement went through Craven as he saw the dense
body of horsemen, still about two miles away, who were galloping
steadily towards them. It had come then. With a curious smile he bent
forward and patted the neck of his fretting horse, which was fidgeting
badly. The opposing force appeared to outnumber them considerably, but
he knew from Said that Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's men were better equipped
and better trained. It would be skill against brute force, though it
yet remained to be seen how far Omar's men would respond to their
training when put to the test. Would they be able to control their own
headstrong inclinations or would their zeal carry them away in defiance
of carefully rehearsed orders?

Word of the near presence of the enemy had been sent back to those who
were still moving up the pass, and so far discipline was holding good.
The men were pouring out from the yawning mouth of the file in a steady
stream, the horses crowded together as closely as possible, and as each
detachment arrived it reformed smartly under its own headman.

Watching the rapid approach of the hostile tribe, Craven wondered
whether there would be time for their own force to reassemble to enable
them to carry out the agreed tactics.

Already they were within half a mile. He had reined back to speak to
Omar, when a shout of exultation from Said, taken up by his followers
till the rocks above them echoed with the ringing cry, heralded the
arrival of the last party. There was no time to recapitulate orders or
to urge steadiness among the men. With almost no sign from Omar, or so
it seemed to Craven, with another deafening shout that drowned the
yelling of the enemy the whole force leaped forward simultaneously.
Craven's teeth clenched on his lip in sudden fear for Omar's plan of
attack, but a quick glance assured him that the madly galloping horses
were being kept in good formation, and that fast as was the pace the
right and left wing were, according to instructions, steadily opening
out and drawing forward in an extended line. The feeling of excitement
had left him, and, revolver in hand, he sat down firmer in the saddle
with no more emotion than if he were in the hunting field at home.

They were now close enough to distinguish faces--it would be an
almighty crash when it did come! It was surprising that up till now
there had been no shooting. Accustomed to the Arabs' usually reckless
expenditure of ammunition he had been prepared minutes ago for a hail
of bullets. And with the thought came a solitary whining scream past
his ear, and Said, close on his left, flung him a look of reproach and
shouted something of which he only caught the words, "Frenchman ...

But there was no time left to reply. Following rapidly on the single
shot a volley was poured in among them, but the shooting was inaccurate
and did very little damage. That it had been intended to break the
charge and cause confusion in the orderly ranks was apparent from the
further repeated volleys that, nearer, did more deadly execution than
the first one. But, bending low in their saddles, Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's
men swept on in obedience to Omar's command. His purpose was, by the
sheer strength of his onset, to cut through the opposing force with his
centre while the wings closed in on either side. To effect this he had
bidden his men ride as they had never ridden before and reserve their
fire till the last moment, when it would be most effectual. And the
swift silent onslaught seemed to be other than the enemy had expected,
for there were among them signs of hesitation, their advance was
checked, and the firing became wilder and more erratic. Omar and his
immediate companions appeared to bear charmed lives, bullets sang past
them, over and around them, and though here and there a man fell from
the saddle or a horse dropped suddenly, the main body raced on
unscathed, or with wounds they did not heed in the frenzy of the

The pace was terrific, and when at last Omar gave the signal for which
his men were waiting, the crackling reverberation of their rifles had
not died away when the impact came. But the shattering crash that
Craven had expected did not occur. Giving way before them and
scattering to right and left a break came in the ranks of the opposing
force, through which they drove like a living wedge. Then with fierce
yells of execration the enemy rallied and the next moment Craven found
himself in the midst of a confused melee where friends and foes were
almost indistinguishable. The thundering of horses' hoofs, the raucous
shouting of the Arabs, the rattle of musketry, combined in deafening
uproar. The air was dense with clouds of sand and smoke, heavy with the
reek of powder. He had lost sight of Omar, he tried to keep near to
Said, but in the throng of struggling men he was carried away, cut off
from his own party, hemmed in on every side, fighting alone. He had
forgotten his desire for death, his heart was leaping with a kind of
delirious happiness that found nothing but fierce enjoyment in the
scene around him. The stench in his nostrils of blood and sulphur
seemed to awaken memories of another existence when he had fought for
his life as he was doing now, unafraid, and caring little for the
outcome. He was shooting steadily, exulting in his markmanship with no
thought in his mind but the passionate wish to kill and kill, and he
laughed with almost horrible pleasure as he emptied his revolver at the
raving Arabs who surrounded him. Drunk with the blood lust of an
unremembered past for the moment he was only a savage like them. And to
the superstitious desert men he seemed possessed, and with sudden awe
they had begun to draw away from him when a further party galloped up
to reinforce them. Craven swung his horse to meet the new-comers and at
the same moment realised that he had no cartridges left. With another
reckless laugh he dashed his empty revolver in the face of the nearest
Arab and, wheeling, spurred forward in an attempt to break through the
circle round him. But he found retreat cut off. Three men bore down
upon him simultaneously with levelled rifles. He saw them fire, felt a
sharp searing as of a red hot wire through his side, and, reeling in

Book of the day: