The Sheik (Chapter 3, page 2 of 19)


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Chapter 3

It was midday when she awoke again. This time she was not alone. A
young Arab girl was sitting on the rug beside her looking at her with
soft brown eyes of absorbed interest As Diana sat up she rose to her
feet, salaaming, with a timid smile.

"I am Zilah, to wait on Madame," she said shyly in stumbling French,
holding out a wrap that Diana recognised with wonder as her own. She
looked behind her. Her suit-cases were lying near her, open, partially
unpacked. The missing baggage camels had been captured first, then. She
was at least to be allowed the use of her own belongings. A gleam of
anger shot into her tired eyes and she swung round with a sharp
question; but the Arab girl shook her head uncomprehendingly, drawing
back with frightened eyes; and to all further questions she remained
silent, with down-drooping mouth like a scared child. She was little
more. She evidently only half understood what was said to her and could
give no answer to what she did understand, and turned away with obvious
relief when Diana stopped speaking. She went across the tent and pulled
aside a curtain leading into a bathroom that was as big and far better
equipped than the one that Diana had had in the Indian tent, and which,
up to now, had seemed the last word in comfort and luxury. Though the
girl's knowledge of French was limited her hands were deft enough, but
her ignorance of the intricacies of a European woman's toilette was
very apparent, and constantly provoked in her a girlish giggle that
changed hurriedly to a startled gravity when Diana looked at her.
Laughter was very far from Diana, but she could not help smiling now
and again at her funny mistakes.

The girl, with her big, wondering eyes, her shy, hesitating French and
childish curiosity, in some indefinable way gave back to Diana the
self-control that had slipped from her. Her pride reasserted itself,
rigidly suppressing any sign of feeling or emotion that could be
noticed by the gentle, inquisitive eyes fixed on her.

The hot bath that took the soreness out of her limbs brought back the
colour to her face and lips. She even tubbed her head, rubbing the
glistening curls dry with fierce vigour, striving to rid herself of the
contamination that seemed to have saturated her. Yet the robes against
which they had been pressed were spotless, and the hands that had held
her were fastidiously clean, even to the well-kept nails.

She came back into the bedroom to find Zilah on her knees poring over
her scanty but diverse wardrobe with bewilderment, fingering the
evening dresses with shy hands, and finally submitting tentatively to
Diana the tweed skirt that had been packed with her other things for
the journey when Oran should be reached. But Diana put it aside, and
pointed to the riding clothes she had worn the previous day. In them
she felt more able to face what might be before her, the associations
connected with them seemed to give her moral strength, in them she
would feel herself again--Diana the boy, not the shivering piece of
womanhood that had been born with tears and agony last night. She bit
her lip as she stamped her foot down into the long boot.

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