But special trains do not grow like blackberries upon a side line in the East, so that many weary hours passed before they set out upon the return journey, which was rendered infinitely tedious by the never-ending mistakes which got them shunted into sidings to allow the ordinary trains to pass.
“The watchmen that went about
the city found
me; they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers
of the wall took away my veil from me.”
SONG OF SOLOMON.
The night before Ben Kelham’s return to Cairo, Zulannah sat on a pile of cushions, with her back to the crumbling plaster wall, in the filthy, smoke-filled hovel.
She had completely recovered, and save for the excruciating pain caused by the shrunken muscles when she moved, was as sound as a bell, and likely to live to a ripe old age, slave to her whilom servant, who sat on his heels, inhaling the fumes of the jewel-encrusted nargileh which his heart had always coveted.
It is useless writing about the hell through which the woman had lived from the moment she had returned to consciousness. Besides, there are some things which words cannot describe, and which in any case are best left alone, not even to the imagination.
She was absolutely in the power of the negroid brute. With the destruction of her beauty she had lost everything save what she had in the bank, and from the ever-growing heaps of little canvas bags in a corner and little piles of banknotes under the straw, she knew that some day that, too, must come to an end.
She had loved her jewels, loved the shimmering pearls and sparkling diamonds, and had found her greatest joy in dipping her hand into a leather bag filled with unset stones. How often had she sat in the luxury of her bedroom, revelling in the trickle of the rubies, sapphires and emeralds from between her fingers into her lap.
Even those she had lost.
The Milner safe stood open, showing empty shelves, and she shuddered yet at the memory of the frightful scene which had followed her refusal to open it.
She loved jewels; wanted them for their beauty; had fought the negro for them; but there was one thing she clung to even more, and that was life, so that when the huge hands had slowly, so very slowly pressed upon her neck, she had given in and setting the combination, had swung the door slowly back.
And Qatim, grey-green with fright, thinking that it had been worked by the power of a djinn or devil, had flung her out into the night, and having scraped a hole in the foetid earth under the straw, with fervent prayers to whatever he worshipped, had withdrawn the jewels, hidden them, and called the woman back.
Yes! she clung to life. Strange is it how we do, even when youth and beauty and health have passed from us. How, crippled and unlovely, twisted of temper or limb, with failing senses, in bath-chair, or propped on sticks, we hang on to the last thread, when surely we ought to be so thankful to snap it and be away to whatever our lives here have prepared for us over the border.