The Shadow of the East (Chapter 9, page 2 of 12)


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Chapter 9

Craven stared at it for a few moments in perplexity. Where had he seen it before? Struggling to recall what had happened prior to this curiously obscured awakening there dawned a dim recollection of shattering noise and tumult, of blood and death and fierce unbridled human passion, of a horde of wild-eyed dark-skinned men who surged and struggled round him--and of a yelling Arab on a fiery roan. Memory came in a flash. He gave a weak little croaking laugh. "You damned insubordinate little devil," he murmured, and drifted once more into unconsciousness. When he woke again it was with complete remembrance of everything that had passed. He felt ridiculously weak, but his head did not ache so badly and his mind was perfectly clear. Only of the time that had elapsed between the moment when he had gone down under the Arabs' charge and his awakening a little while ago he had no recollection. How long had he been unconscious? He found himself mildly puzzled, but without any great interest as yet. Plenty of time to find out about that and what had befallen Omar and Saïd. It was not that he did not care, but that, for the moment, he was too tired and listless to do more than lie still and endure his own discomfort. His side throbbed painfully and there was something curious about his left arm, a dead feeling of numbness that made him wonder whether it was there at all. He glanced down at it with sudden apprehension--he had no fancy for a maimed existence--and was relieved to find it still in place but bent stiffly across his chest wrapped in a multitude of bandages--broken, presumably. His eyes wandered with growing interest round the little tent where he lay. It was his own, from which he inferred that the fight must have gone in favour of Mukair Ibn Zarrarah's forces or he would never have been brought back here to it. He glanced from one familiar object to another with a drowsy feeling of contentment.

Presently he became aware that somebody had entered and turning his head he found Yoshio beside him eyeing him with a look in which solicitude, satisfaction, and a faint diffidence struggled for supremacy. Craven guessed the reason of his embarrassment, but he had no mind to refer to an order given, and disobeyed through overzealousness. That, too, could wait--or be forgotten. He contented himself with a single question. "How long?" he asked laconically. With equal brevity the Jap replied: "Two days," and postponed further inquiries by slipping a clinical thermometer into his master's mouth. He had always been useful in attending on minor camp accidents, and during the last two years in Central Africa he had picked up a certain amount of rough surgical knowledge which now stood him in good stead, and which he proceeded to put into practice with a gravity of demeanour that made Craven, in his weakened state, want to giggle hysterically. But he suppressed the inclination and held on to the thermometer until Yoshio solemnly removed it, studied it intently, and nodded approval. With the exact attention to detail that was his ruling passion he carefully rinsed the tiny glass instrument and returned it to its case before leaving the tent. He was back again in a few minutes with a bowl of steaming soup, and handling Craven as if he were a child, fed him with the gentleness of a woman. Then he busied himself about the room, tidying it and reducing its confusion to order.

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