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Ahmed was lean and deceptive to the eye. Like many Hindus, he appeared anemic; and yet the burdens the man could put on his back and carry almost indefinitely would have killed many a white man who boasted of his strength. On half a loaf of black bread and a soldier’s canteen of water he could travel for two days. He could go without sleep for forty-eight hours, and when he slept he could sleep anywhere, on the moment.
Filling his saddle-bags with three days’ rations, two canteens of water, he set off on a hagin, or racing camel, for Allaha, three hundred miles inland as the crow flies. It was his intention to ride straight down to the desert and across this to Colonel Hare’s camp, if such a thing now existed. A dromedary in good condition can make from sixty to eighty miles a day; and the beast Ahmed had engaged was of Arab blood. In four days he expected to reach the camp. If Winnie had not yet arrived, he would take the road, meet her, warn her of the dangers which she was about to face, and convey her to the sea-port. If it was too late, he would send the camel back with a trusted messenger to the colonel, to advise him.
They watched him depart in a cloud of dust, and then played the most enervating game in existence—that of waiting; for they had decided to wait till they heard from Ahmed before they moved.
Four nights later, when Ahmed arrived at the bungalow, he found conditions as usual. For reasons best known to himself Umballa had not disturbed anything. In fact, he had always had the coming of the younger sister in mind and left the bungalow and camp untouched, so as not to alarm her.
She had not yet arrived. So Ahmed flung himself down upon his cotton rug, telling the keepers not to disturb him; he would be able to wake himself when the time came. But Ahmed had overrated his powers; he was getting along in years; and it was noon of the next day when a hand shook him by the shoulder and he awoke to witness the arrival of Winnie and her woman companion.
For the first time in many years Ahmed cursed his prophet. He that had had time to warn the child, had slept like the sloth of Ceylon!
He went directly to the point. He told her briefly what had happened. He had not the least doubt that Umballa was already aware of her arrival. She must remain hidden in the go-down of the bungalow; her maid also. That night, if Umballa or his men failed to appear, he would lead her off to safety. But there was no hope of stealing away in the daytime. In his heart, however, he entertained no hope; and like the good general he was, he despatched the messenger and camel to the sea. The father and daughter were fated to return.
Ahmed had reckoned shrewdly. Umballa appeared later in the day and demanded the daughter of Colonel Hare. Backed as he was by numerous soldiers, Ahmed resigned himself to the inevitable. They found Winnie and her maid (whom later they sent to the frontier and abandoned) and took them to the palace.