Then, side by side, they crossed to where the man stood watching, with nails driven into the palms of his hands and tears in his sorrowing eyes.
Touaa wagged her tail once, Iouaa drove his head fiercely against the clenched hand, it was their only way of asking what had happened to make Him sleep so very soundly.
And Ben Kelham bent down and, putting his hand under their mighty jaws, lifted their heads so that their sorrowful eyes looked into his, and slowly shook his head. And they turned and walked close against each other to the outside of the tent, and there they sat upon their haunches and lifted their heads and howled.
Three times the despairing cry, the Last Post of the faithful friends, rang out across the plain; then they turned and walked slowly back, close together, and, separating at the foot, went up to the head of the couch and sat down upon their haunches one on each side of Him; immovable; as though carved by grief out of stone.
Ben Kelham, with the one thought of shutting the tragic picture, if only for a moment, from his eyes; of hiding his grief if only from the great dogs, blindly pulled back the curtain and stumbled into the silent room of prayer lit by a silver lamp.
He stood staring down at the water with which his friend had so lately prepared himself for the hour of prayer; he stooped to pick up the white handkerchief he had evidently dropped.
And he stood and stared and stared as he turned the little lace-trimmed square over and over in his hand. It was wringing wet, it smelt faintly of the perfume the girl he loved had always used; it had her initials woven in one corner.
“My God!” he whispered, as he looked round the little room; then crossed to the spot near the curtain where the sand had been disturbed, and then followed the prints of small feet across the floor to the further side.
“My God!” he repeated. “I understand.” He turned his head and looked back at the curtain which divided him from his friend. “Carden, old fellow, I understand what you gave your life to make me understand.” And his heart beat with a great love and a greater gratitude as he parted the curtain and went out into the desert. He did not once turn to look back, else might he have seen a speck on the horizon, moving at the incredible speed with which a camel can race as it slithers across the sands.
“In Rama was there a voice heard
. . .
Rachel weeping for her children, and would not
be comforted, because they were not.”
ST. MATTHEW, II.
As she called to her son from her high seat upon the camel the woman was the only living thing to be seen in the desert. In her simplicity, her colouring, her solitude, she was biblical; she might have been a woman of the Old Testament asking for succour or sanctuary at the tent of Abraham pitched between Beth-el and Hai; she might have been a woman fleeing from the wrath of Moses, who gave unto sin its strength when, out of sheer solicitude for the soul-welfare of the masses, he made laws about things to which in the innocence of their hearts they had, up till then, never given two thoughts.