The Sheik (Chapter 7, page 1 of 19)


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Chapter 7

Diana came into the living-room one morning about a week after the
arrival of the Vicomte de Saint Hubert. She had expected to find the
room empty, for the Sheik had risen at dawn and ridden away on one of
the distant expeditions that had become so frequent, and she thought
his friend had accompanied him, but as she parted the curtains between
the two rooms she saw the Frenchman sitting at the little writing-table
surrounded by papers and writing quickly, loose sheets of manuscript
littering the floor around him. It was the first time that they had
chanced to be alone, and she hesitated with a sudden shyness. But Saint
Hubert had heard the rustle of the curtain, and he sprang to his feet
with the courteous bow that proclaimed his nationality.

"Your pardon, Madame. Do I disturb you? Tell me if I am in the way. I
am afraid I have been very untidy," he added, laughing apologetically,
and looking at the heap of closely-written sheets strewing the rug.

Diana came forward slowly, a faint colour rising in her face. "I
thought you had gone with Monseigneur."

"I had some work to do--some notes that I wanted to transcribe before I
forgot myself what they meant; I write vilely. I have had a hard week,
too, so I begged a day off. I may stay? You are sure I do not disturb
you?"

His sympathetic eyes and the deference in his voice brought an
unexpected lump into her throat. She signed to him to resume his work
and passed out under the awning. Behind the tent the usual camp hubbub
filled the air. A knot of Arabs at a little distance were watching one
of the rough-riders schooling a young horse, noisily critical and
offering advice freely, undeterred by the indifference with which it
was received. Others lounged past engaged on the various duties
connected with the camp, with the Eastern disregard for time that
relegated till to-morrow everything that could possibly be neglected
to-day. Near her one of the older men, more rigid in his observances
than the generality of Ahmed Ben Hassan's followers, was placidly
absorbed in his devotions, prostrating himself and fulfilling his
ritual with the sublime lack of self-consciousness of the Mohammedan
devotee.

Outside his own tent the valet and Henri were sitting in the sun,
Gaston on an upturned bucket, cleaning a rifle, and his brother
stretched full length on the ground, idly flapping at the flies with
the duster with which he had been polishing the Vicomte's riding-boots.
Both men were talking rapidly with frequent little bursts of gay
laughter. The Persian hound was lying at their feet. He raised his head
as Diana appeared, and, rising, went to her slowly, rearing up against
her with a paw on each shoulder, making clumsy efforts to lick her
face, and she pushed him down with difficulty, stooping to kiss his
shaggy head.

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