“Kismet!” had said Jobad the guide when he had made the discovery at the water’s edge.
If the white folk could not keep count of themselves he was not going to draw their attention to the fact that one of the party was missing; he had not the slightest intention of providing an evening meal for the lion by offering to go in search of the pair. “Kismet!—Allah would watch over them!”
Hugh Carden Ali leapt to the saddle without touching the stirrups, then swung the girl as lightly as a leaf up into his arms.
Heedless of the extra burden of the slip of a girl who had mastered him in the desert and who lay so quietly against his master’s heart, the magnificent black beast stood stock-still, then suddenly shivered violently, just as the dogs of Billi, belly to ground, eyes blazing, ruffs on end, growled softly.
Hugh Carden pressed Damaris back against his shoulder and turned and looked in the direction whence had come that sound, paralysing if you do not happen to be armed.
From somewhere amongst the rocky wilderness of the hills, carried by the night-breeze, had come the hoarse coughing of a lion.
“Listen,” he said.
And as it came again, with shrieks of “Sabe! sabe!” the pea-green sayis leapt on the back of the terrified donkey, which, spurred by fear, disappeared like a streak down the hill just as the stallion, sweating with pure terror, reared and wheeled, then backed, with great eyes rolling and hoofs striking sparks from the stones.
Up he reared, until it seemed impossible that he should not fall backwards, crushing to death or hideously maiming the man who, encumbered with the girl upon his arm, could do little to calm the frightened beast, And well for them was it that Hugh Carden Ali, with his love and understanding of horses, knew that only to the sagacity of the animal could the safe negotiation of the dangerous descent down the hillside be left. He gave Sooltan his head.
There is no danger in it, goodness knows, when you bestride a diminutive donkey whose dainty little feet know every pebble on the route, but there is danger when an animal like Sooltan takes the Avenue of Sphinxes at a mad rush and slips and slithers and slides, under the impetus of his own weight, pace and terror, the rest of the way, even if he is as sure-footed as a goat.
* * * * * *
Later, when her beloved child wakened the night-porter, Jane Coop, blue with anxiety and cold, most unhygienically closed the window and thankfully padded off to her comfortable bed.
“Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that being nothing art everything! . . . . The mighty future is as nothing, being everything! the past is everything, being nothing!”
In spite of her tongue, which was somewhat unduly inclined to gossip, Lady Thistleton was a motherly old soul and had a great affection for Damaris.