She stood as it were on the edge of the vortex, untouched, unafraid, beyond it all since that awful devouring flame had flared and gone out. She even wondered if it had killed her, so terribly aloof was she, so totally distinct from the pandemonium that raged around her. It had the vividness and the curious lack of all physical feeling of a nightmare. And yet through all her numbness she knew that she was waiting for someone—someone who was dead like herself.
She had not seen either Bernard or Tommy in that blinding moment on the verandah. Doubtless they were fighting in that raging blackness in front of her. She fancied once that she heard her brother’s voice laughing as she had sometimes heard him laugh on the polo-ground when he had executed a difficult stroke. Immediately before her, a Titanic struggle was going on. She could not see it, for the light in the room behind had been extinguished also, but the dreadful sound of it made her think for a fleeting second of a great bull-stag being pulled down by a score of leaping, wide-jawed hounds.
And then very suddenly she herself was caught—caught from behind, dragged backwards off her feet. She cried out in a wild horror, but in a second she was silenced. Some thick material that had a heavy native scent about it—such a scent as she remembered vaguely to hang about Hanani the ayah—was thrust over her face and head muffling all outcry. Muscular arms gripped her with a fierce and ruthless mastery, and as they lifted and bore her away the nightmare was blotted from her brain as if it had never been. She sank into oblivion....
THE DESERT OF ASHES
Was it night? Was it morning? She could not tell. She opened her eyes to a weird and incomprehensible twilight, to the gurgling sound of water, the booming croak of a frog.
At first she thought that she was dreaming, that presently these vague impressions would fade from her consciousness, and she would awake to normal things, to the sunlight beating across the verandah, to the cheery call of Everard’s saice in the compound, and the tramp of impatient hoofs. And Everard himself would rise up from her side, and stoop and kiss her before he went.
She began to wait for his kiss, first in genuine expectation, later with a semi-conscious tricking of the imagination. Never once had he left her without that kiss.
But she waited in vain, and as she waited the current of her thoughts grew gradually clearer. She began to remember the happenings of the night. It dawned upon her slowly and terribly that Everard was dead.
When that memory came to her, her brain seemed to stand still. There was no passing on from that. Everard had been shot in the jungle—just as she had always known he would be. He had ridden on in spite of it. She pictured his grim endurance with shrinking vividness. He had ridden on to Major Ralston’s bungalow and had collapsed there,—collapsed and died before they could help him. Clearly before her inner vision rose the scene,—Everard sinking down, broken and inert, all the indomitable strength of him shattered at last, the steady courage quenched.