“Irja!” he called. “Irja!” Which means, “Come back, come back!” And he called again and again as the stallion dropped from a gallop to a canter, a canter to a trot, then stopped dead; whinnied gently; wheeled sharply and stood stock-still.
“Irja, Sooltan!” came the cry. “Irja Sooltan!” And with the cry came the neighing of the mare.
The stallion lashed out, reared and stood still, ears pricked, silken mane and tail flying in the wind.
Then he answered, until the desert seemed filled with the calling of the noble beasts, as the girl sat with thudding heart and eyes fixed on the distant spot where fretted and fidgeted the mare ridden by the Arab.
Then something within her rebelled at this intrusion upon her privacy, causing her to be suddenly stricken with anger and confusion.
“Take me to the tents, Sooltan!” she cried, turning to look back. “Take—but—why—oh! what an escape—a mirage—a——”
But the rest was lost in the sudden bound of el-Sooltan as he raced in obedience to his master’s call.
The man waited until they were within a mile of him; then he wheeled the mare and took her back along her tracks, urging her to her topmost speed. Swiftly she fled and swiftly pursued Sooltan, the man not once turning in his seat.
And as they neared the outskirts of the oasis of Heliopolis Hugh Carden Ali urged the mare so that she gained upon the stallion, and beckoned to his groom, who had run hot-foot from the Obelisk to the edge of the desert with fear in his heart for the beast but not one whit for the girl. And he caught the shouted order as his master passed him at full speed, and ran out, shouting in his turn to the stallion.
El-Sooltan, connecting the sayis with the bucketsful of water he stood so badly in need of, stopped short, nearly unseating Damaris with the suddenness of his decision and then with the hand of the groom upon his heaving flank trotted docilely back to the Obelisk, where Wellington, risking curvature of the spine, turned himself into a canine picture of ecstatic welcome.
“To-morrow at the same hour,” said Damaris, feeding the stallion with sugar, “he will know me better.”
“Ma sha-Allah!” murmured the servant to himself, praising the courage of this bit of a woman.
“Bikhatirkum,” she said gently, as she moved off in the car.
“Ma’a-s-salamah ya sitti,” answered the delighted, astounded man as he salaamed almost to the ground before such unexpected graciousness.
“Give me that man that is not
and I will wear him in my heart’s core. . . .”
In his blindness and obstinacy and hurt Ben Kelham carried out his intention and went after lion, the report of which, for all he knew, might have been the outcome of some fellah’s vision of a tame pussy mixed up with the nocturnal habits of the lion-headed goddess Sekhet, who, so tradition avers, prowls about ruins by the light o’ the moon, seeking whom she may devour.