The Sheik (Chapter 9, page 1 of 13)


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Chapter 9

It was evening when Diana opened drowsy and heavy eyes, a bitter taste
in her mouth from the effects of the drug that Saint Hubert had given
her. Everything had been laid out in readiness for her waking with the
little touches that were characteristic of Zilah's handiwork, but the
Arab girl herself was not visible. The lamp was lighted, and Diana
turned her head languidly, still half confused, to look at the clock
beside her. The tiny chime sounded seven times, and with a rush of
recollection she leaped up. More than twelve hours since she had knelt
beside him after drinking the coffee that Raoul had given her. She
guessed what he had done and tried to be grateful, but the thought of
what might have happened during the twelve hours she had lain like a
log was horrible. She dressed with feverish haste and went into the
outer room. It was filled with Arabs, many of whom she did not
recognise, and she knew that they must belong to the reinforcements
that Ahmed Ben Hassan had sent for. Two, who seemed from their
appearance to be petty chiefs, were talking in low tones to Saint
Hubert, who looked worn and tired. The rest were grouped silently about
the divan, looking at the still-unconscious Sheik. The restlessness and
delirium of the morning had passed and been succeeded by a death-like
stupor. Nearest to him stood Yusef, his usual swaggering self-assurance
changed into an attitude of deepest dejection, and his eyes, that were
fixed on Ahmed Ben Hassan's face, were like those of a whipped dog.

Gradually the tent emptied until only Yusef was left, and at last,
reluctantly, he too went, stopping at the entrance to speak to Saint
Hubert, who had just taken leave of the two headmen.

The Vicomte came back, bringing a chair for Diana, and put her into it
with gentle masterfulness. "Sit down," he said almost gruffly. "You
look like a ghost."

She looked up at him reproachfully. "You drugged that coffee, Raoul. If
he had died to-day while I was asleep I don't think I could ever have
forgiven you."

"My dear child," he said gravely, "you don't know how near you were to
collapse. If I had not made you sleep I should have had three patients
on my hands instead of two."

"I am very ungrateful," she murmured, with a tremulous little smile.

Saint Hubert brought a chair for himself and dropped into it wearily.
He felt very tired, the strain of the past twenty-four hours had been
tremendous. He had a very real fear that was fast growing into a
conviction that his skill was going to prove unequal to save his
friend's life, and beside that anxiety and his physical fatigue he had
fought a bitter fight with himself all day, tearing out of his heart
the envy and jealousy that filled it, and locking away his love as a
secret treasure to be hidden for always. His devotion to Ahmed Ben
Hassan had survived the greatest test that could be imposed upon it,
and had emerged from the trial strengthened and refined, with every
trace of self obliterated. It had been the hardest struggle of his
life, but it was over now, and all the bitterness had passed, leaving
only a passionate desire for Diana's happiness that outweighed every
other thought. One spark of comfort remained. He would not be quite
useless. His help and sympathy would be necessary to her, and even for
that he was grateful.

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