The Sheik (Chapter 6, page 1 of 22)


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Chapter 6

Diana was sitting on the divan in the living-room of the tent lingering
over her petit dejeuner, a cup of coffee poised in one hand and
her bright head bent over a magazine on her knee. It was a French
periodical of fairly recent date, left a few days before by a Dutchman
who was touring through the desert, and who had asked a night's
hospitality. Diana had not seen him, and it was not until the traveller
had been served with dinner in his own tent that the Sheik had sent the
usual flowery message conveying what, though wrapped in honeyed words,
amounted practically to a command that he should come to drink coffee
and let himself be seen.

Only native servants had been in attendance,
and it was an Arab untinged by any Western influence who had received
him, talking only Arabic, which the Dutchman spoke fluently, and
placing at his disposal himself, his servants and all his belongings
with the perfunctory Oriental insincerity which the traveller knew
meant nothing and accepted at its own value, returning to the usual set
phrases the customary answers that were expected of him. Once or twice
as they talked a woman's subdued voice had reached the Dutchman's ears
from behind the thick curtains, but he knew too much to let any
expression betray him, and he smiled grimly to himself at the thought
of the change that an indiscreet question would bring to the stern face
of his grave and impassive host. He was an elderly man with a tender
heart, and he wondered speculatively what the girl in the next room
would have to pay for her own indiscretion in allowing her voice to be
heard. He left the next morning early without seeing the Sheik again,
escorted for some little distance by Yusef and a few men.

Diana read eagerly. Anything fresh to read was precious. She looked
like a slender boy in the soft riding-shirt and smart-cut breeches, one
slim foot in a long brown boot drawn up under her, and the other
swinging idly against the side of the divan. She finished her coffee
hastily, and, lighting a cigarette, leaned back with a sigh of content
over the magazine.

Two months had slipped away since her mad flight, since her dash for
freedom that had ended in tragedy for the beautiful Silver Star and so
unexpectedly for herself. Weeks of vivid happiness that had been mixed
with poignant suffering, for the perfect joy of being with him was
marred by the passionate longing for his love. Even her surroundings
had taken on a new aspect, her happiness coloured everything. The
Eastern luxury of the tent and its appointments no longer seemed
theatrical, but the natural setting of the magnificent specimen of
manhood who surrounded himself by all the display dear to the heart of
the native. How much was for his own pleasure and how much was for the
sake of his followers she had never been able to determine. The
beauties and attractions of the desert had multiplied a hundred times.
The wild tribesmen, with their primitive ways and savagery, had ceased
to disgust her, and the free life with its constant exercise and simple
routine was becoming indefinitely dear to her. The camp had been moved
several times--always towards the south--and each change had been a
source of greater interest.

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