Hugh Carden’s mother looked down at her from the back of her camel, on which had been fixed the padded seat which is perhaps the most comfortable of all saddles.
Wellington, with the book between his teeth, sat next her, firmly secured by a rope through the steel ring in his spiked collar to the back of the seat.
“Take him, your grace,” had urged Jane Coop, whose own heart was nigh to breaking at being left behind. “Take him; he’ll find her if we should happen to have made a mistake. Missie calling you, Wellington. Take the book to Missie; she wants it.”
And the dog had obediently picked up the book in his teeth and waddled in the wake of the search-party.
Maria Hobson stood close beside her mistress; the indifferent fellaheen stood some little way apart. They, too, have long since become accustomed to the vagaries of the great white races.
“Let me go alone, dear. He is my son!”
The mother had pleaded for the sake of her first-born, and the old woman, understanding, had given way.
“Goodbye, dear. I will wait for you here. Hobson will look after me. Besides, as long as we save her good name, what matters anything else? Thank God for the moon, Jill. You will easily follow the track of the two horses. Give them both my love, and tell them I’m waiting. Au revoir.”
She stood and watched the camel slither across the desert at that animal’s almost incredible speed; then turned, sat down on the edge of her litter, took out her bejewelled Louis XV snuff-box, rasped a match on the sole of her crimson shoe, and lit a Three Castles with her eyes on the track left by the hoofs of two horses.
Just an hour before they arrived, Ben Kelham had started from the Gate of To-morrow to find his school-mate, Hugh Carden Ali, at his Tents of Purple and of Gold.
“Sweet is true love tho’
given in vain, in vain;
And sweet is death who puts an end to pain.”
Hugh Carden Ali, quite still and strangely unwelcoming, stood just inside his tent; as Ben Kelham flung himself off his horse; neither did he put out his hand to take the outstretched one of his old school-fellow.
Pretending not to notice the seeming lapse in courtesy, Kelham turned to hitch his horse, only to find that that product of the bazaar had cleared for the horizon.
It were wise when out in the desert, if your horse is not desert-trained, to hang on to the bridle until you have hobbled or hitched your steed, lest peradventure the vultures, at a discreet distance, should assemble about you later, as you lie raving upon the sands, only waiting until your ravings cease altogether, to approach quite near to you.
That the omission was intentional never crossed his mind. He remembered his friend’s religion and the strictness with which he adhered to its tenets, and thought that perhaps the shaking of a fellow-creature’s hand was forbidden at certain hours.