The Sheik (Chapter 10, page 1 of 20)


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Chapter 10

The night grew hotter and the atmosphere more oppressive. Wrapped in a
thin silk kimono Diana lay very still on the outside of the wide couch
in the inner room, propped high with pillows that the shaded light of
the little reading-lamp beside her might fall on the book she held, but
she was not reading.

It was Raoul's latest book, that he had brought with him, but she could
not concentrate her mind on it, and it lay idle on her knee--while her
thoughts were far away. It was three months since the night that Saint
Hubert had almost given up hope of being able to save the Sheik's
life--a night that had been followed by days of suspense that had
reduced Diana to a weary-eyed shadow of her former vigorous self, and
had left marks on Raoul that would never be effaced. But thanks to his
great strength and splendid constitution the Sheik had rallied and
after the first few weeks convalescence had been rapid. When the
terrible fear that he might die was past it had been a wonderful
happiness to wait on him. With the determination to live for the
moment, to which she had forced herself, she had banished everything
from her mind but the joy of being near him and of being necessary to
him. It had been a very silent service, for he would lie for hours with
closed eyes without speaking, and something that she could not master
kept her tongue-tied in his presence when they were alone. Only once he
had referred to the raid. As she bent over him to do some small office
his fingers closed feebly round her wrist and his eyes, with a
searching apprehension in them, looked into hers for the first time
since the night when she had fled from his curses.

"Was it--in time?" he whispered slowly, and as she nodded with crimson
cheeks and lowered eyes he turned his head away without another word,
but a shudder that he was too weak to control shook him.

But the happiness of ministering to him passed very swiftly. As he grew
stronger he managed so that she was rarely alone with him, and he
insisted on her riding twice every day, sometimes with Saint Hubert,
sometimes with Henri, coolly avowing a preference for his own society
or that of Gaston, who was beginning to get about again. Later, too, he
was much occupied with headmen who came in from the different camps,
and as the days passed she found herself more and more excluded from
the intimacy that had been so precious. She was thrown much into the
society of Raoul de Saint Hubert. All that they had gone through
together had drawn them very closely to each other, and Diana often
wondered what her girlhood would have been like if it had been spent
under his guardianship instead of that of Sir Aubrey Mayo. The sisterly
affection she had never given her own brother she gave to him, and,
with the firm hold over himself that he had never again slackened, the
Vicomte accepted the role of elder brother which she unconsciously
imposed on him.

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