The Shadow of the East (Chapter 8, page 1 of 24)


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Chapter 8

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.

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