A great silence fell; the silence of two strong men who for one moment had broken through the barbed-wire of convention, to be their natural selves; the silence heralding the birth of a new day.
There was no sound, as the hands of Fate pointed to the full hour.
It all happened and was over even as the hour struck.
There was a shout from both men as the tawny shape leapt out of the night through the opening of the tent; the crashing report of Ben Kelham’s revolver as he fired; the coughing of the wounded lioness as, spitting blood, she recoiled to spring; a ringing shout from Hugh Carden Ali as he flung himself in front of his friend just as he fired, and the great brute, with a mighty roar, turned and disappeared into the night whence she had come.
There was a look of great wonder on the face of Hugh Carden Ali as he stood looking beyond his friend; then he suddenly turned in the direction of Mecca.
Slowly he raised his hand to his turban, whilst a look of ineffable peace swept across his face and stayed, as a little red stain like a crimson rose showed just above his heart.
The answer to the roll-call rang out across the desert he had loved so well, and was carried by the breeze of dawn up through the stars to the Head Master whose justice and mercy take no account of race.
Then the old Harrovian crashed face downward, dead.
“Millions of spiritual creatures
walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.”
“Spirits that live throughout
Vital in every part. . . .”
The light from the silver lamp shone down upon the water in the crystal basin and upon the girl’s red head as she crouched upon her knees against the leather curtain.
Well might she crouch, well might she have put dust upon her head as do the Easterns in their grief and shame; well might her voice have wailed out across the desert in sorrow for the young life broken by the careless fingers of her heedless youth.
But she knelt without movement, with her face in her hands, the hands which had so lightly played pitch-and-toss with a man’s heart and a man’s life, and prayed desperately, silently, for forgiveness.
Let it be granted her on account of her years, for youth is ever blind, and the young are ever selfish, giving never a thought to the years they must spend, when, grey-haired and wise, they will try to repair with their shaking old hands, the tatters and rents they had made in their thoughtless, grasping youth.
Strange it is that the old in years, in sorrow and knowledge, will sit darning the rents and patching the bad places with their trembling hands, as their wise old heads nod and their dear old mouths murmur a prayer, and yet be unable to teach the young how to keep the fabric of life whole, or safeguard it with the lavender of love and good-will pressed between its folds.