It was many hours before she awoke and in all those hours she never dreamed. She only slept and slept and slept in total unconsciousness, wrapt about in the silence of her desert.
She awoke at length quite fully, quite suddenly, to a sense of appalling loneliness, to a desolation unutterable. She opened her eyes wide upon a darkness that could be felt, and almost cried aloud with the terror of it. For a few palpitating moments it seemed to her that the most dreadful thing that could possibly happen to her had come upon her unawares.
And then, even as she started up in a wild horror, a voice spoke to her, a hand touched her, and her fear was stayed.
“Stella!” the voice said, and steady fingers came up out of the darkness and closed upon her arm.
Her heart gave one great leap within her, and was still. She did not speak in answer, for she could not. She could only sit in the darkness and wait. If it were a dream, it would pass—ah, so swiftly! If it were reality, surely, surely he would speak again!
He spoke—softly through the silence. “I don’t want to startle you. Are you startled? I’ve put out the lamp. You are not afraid?”
Her voice came back to her; her heart jerked on, beating strangely, spasmodically, like a maimed thing. “Am I awake?” she said. “Is it—really—you?”
“Yes,” he said. “Can you listen to me a moment? You won’t be afraid?”
She quivered at the repeated question. “Everard—no!”
He was silent then, as if he did not know how to continue. And she, finding her strength, leaned to him in the darkness, feeling for him, still hardly believing that it was not a dream.
He took her wandering hand and held it imprisoned. The firmness of his grasp reassured her, but it came to her that his hands were cold; and she wondered.
“I have something to say to you,” he said.
She sat quite still in his hold, but it frightened her. “Where are you?” she whispered.
“I am just—kneeling by your side,” he said. “Don’t tremble—or be afraid! There is nothing to frighten you. Stella,” his voice came almost in a whisper. “Hanani—the ayah—told you something in the ruined temple at Khanmulla. Can you remember what it was?”
“Ah!” she said. “Do you mean about—Ralph Dacre?”
“I do mean that,” he said. “I don’t know if you actually believed it. It may have sounded—fantastic. But—it was true.”
“Ah!” she said again. And then she knew why he had turned out the lamp. It was that he might not see her face when he told her—or she his.