The Sheik (Chapter 8, page 1 of 18)


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Chapter 8

Slowly and painfully, through waves of deadly nausea and with the
surging of deep waters in her ears, Diana struggled back to
consciousness. The agony in her head was excruciating, and her limbs
felt cramped and bruised. Recollection was dulled in bodily pain, and,
at first, thought was merged in physical suffering. But gradually the
fog cleared from her brain and memory supervened hesitatingly. She
remembered fragmentary incidents of what had gone before the oblivion
from which she had just emerged. Gaston, and the horror and resolution
in his eyes, the convulsive working of his mouth as he faced her at the
last moment. Her own dread--not of the death that was imminent, but
lest the mercy it offered should be snatched from her. Then before the
valet could effect his supreme devotion had come the hail of bullets,
and he had fallen against her, the blood that poured from his wounds
saturating her linen coat, and rolled over across her feet. She
remembered vaguely the wild figures hemming her in, but nothing more.

Her eyes were still shut; a leaden weight seemed fixed on them, and the
effort to open them was beyond her strength. "Gaston," she whispered
feebly, and stretched out her hand. But instead of his body or the dry
hot sand her fingers had expected to encounter they closed over soft
cushions, and with the shock she sat up with a jerk, her eyes staring
wide, but, sick and faint, she fell back again, her arm flung across
her face, shielding the light that pierced like daggers through her
throbbing eye-balls. For a while she lay still, fighting against the
weakness that overpowered her, and by degrees the horrible nausea
passed and the agony in her head abated, leaving only a dull ache. The
desire to know where she was and what had happened made her forget her
bruised body. She moved her arm slightly from before her eyes so that
she could see, and looked cautiously from under thick lashes, screened
by the sleeve of her coat. She was lying on a pile of cushions in one
corner of a small-tented apartment which was otherwise bare, except for
the rug that covered the floor. In the opposite corner of the tent an
Arab woman crouched over a little brazier, and the smell of native
coffee was heavy in the air. She closed her eyes again with a shudder.
The attempted devotion of Gaston had been useless. This must be the
camp of the robber Sheik, Ibraheim Omair.

She lay still, pressing closely down amongst the cushions, and
clenching the sleeve of her jacket between her teeth to stifle the
groan that rose to her lips. A lump came into her throat as she thought
of Gaston. In those last moments all inequality of rank had been swept
away in their common peril--they had been only a white man and a white
woman together in their extremity. She remembered how, when she had
pressed close to him, his hand had sought and gripped hers, conveying
courage and sympathy. All that he could do he had done, he had shielded
her body with his own, it must have been over his lifeless body that
they had taken her. He had proved his faithfulness, sacrificing his
life for his master's play-thing. Gaston was in all probability dead,
but she was alive, and she must husband her strength for her own needs.
She forced the threatening emotion down, and, with an effort,
controlled the violent shivering in her limbs, and sat up slowly,
looking at the Arab woman, who, hearing her move, turned to gaze at
her. Instantly Diana realised that there was no help or compassion to
be expected from her. She was a handsome woman, who must have been
pretty as a girl, but there was no sign of softness in her sullen face
and vindictive eyes. Instinctively Diana felt that the glowing menace
of the woman's expression was inspired by personal hatred, and that her
presence in the lent was objectionable to her. And the feeling gave a
necessary spur to the courage that was fast coming back to her. She
stared with all the haughtiness she could summon to her aid; she had
learned her own power among the natives of India the previous year, and
here in the desert there was only one Arab whose eyes did not fall
beneath hers, and presently with a muttered word the woman turned back
to her coffee-making.

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