The Shadow of the East (Chapter 9, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 9

Craven woke to a burning pain in his side, a racking headache and an intolerable thirst. It was not a sudden waking but a gradual dawning consciousness in which time and place as yet meant nothing, and only bodily suffering obtruded on a still partially clouded mind. Fragmentary waves of thought, disconnected and transitory, passed through his brain, leaving no permanent impression, and he made no effort to unravel them. Effort of any kind, mental or physical, seemed for the moment beyond him. He was too tired even to open his eyes, and lay with them closed, wondering feebly at the pain and discomfort of his whole body. He had the sensation of having been battered, he felt bruised from head to foot. Suffering was new to him. He had never been ill in his life, and in all his years of travel and hazardous adventure he had sustained only trivial injuries which had healed readily and been regarded as merely part of the day's work.

But now, as his mind grew clearer, he realised that some accident must have occurred to induce this pain and lassitude that made him lie like a log with throbbing head and powerless limbs. He pondered it, trying to pierce the fog that dulled his intellect. He had a subconscious impression of some strenuous adventure through which he had passed, but knowledge still hovered on the borderland of fancy and actuality. He had no recollection of the fight or of events preceding it. That he was Barry Craven he knew; but of where he had no idea--nor what his life had been. Of his personality there remained only his name, he was quite sure about that. And out of the past emerged only one clear memory--a woman's face. And yet as he dwelt on it the image of another woman's face rose beside it, mingling with and absorbing it until the two faces seemed strangely merged the one into the other, alike and yet wholly different. And the effort to disentangle them and keep them separate was greater than his tired brain could achieve, and made his head ache more violently. Confused, and with a sudden feeling of aversion, he stirred impatiently, and the sharp pain that shot through him brought him abruptly to a sense of his physical state and forced utterance of his greatest need. It had not hitherto occurred to him to wonder whether he were alone, or even where he was. But as he spoke an arm was slipped under him raising him slightly and a cup held to his lips. He drank eagerly and, as he was again lowered gently to the pillow, raised his eyes to the face of the man who bent over him, a puckered yellow face whose imperturbability for once had given place to patent anxiety.

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