Heaped up in a corner of the place, amongst the straw and litter of the lair, lay the Burmese dacoit, his sinewy fingers embedded in the throat of the third and largest leopard—which was dead—whilst the creature’s gleaming fangs were buried in the tattered flesh of the man’s shoulder.
Upon the straw beside the two, her slim, bare arms outstretched and her head pillowed upon them, so that her rippling hair completely concealed her face, lay Karamaneh....
In a trice Barton leapt upon the great beast standing over Homopoulo, had him by the back of the neck and held him in his powerful hands whining with fear and helpless as a rat in the grip of a terrier. The second leopard fled into the inner lair.
So much I visualized in a flash; then all faded, and I knelt alone beside her whose life was my life, in a world grown suddenly empty and still.
Through long hours of agony I lived, hours contained within the span of seconds, the beloved head resting against my shoulder, whilst I searched for signs of life and dreaded to find ghastly wounds.... At first I could not credit the miracle; I could not receive the wondrous truth.
Karamaneh was quite uninjured and deep in drugged slumber!
“The leopards thought her dead,” whispered Smith brokenly, “and never touched her!”
THREE NIGHTS LATER
“Listen!” cried Sir Lionel Barton.
He stood upon the black rug before the massive, carven mantelpiece, a huge man in an appropriately huge setting.
I checked the words on my lips, and listened intently. Within Graywater Park all was still, for the hour was late. Outside, the rain was descending in a deluge, its continuous roar drowning any other sound that might have been discernible. Then, above it, I detected a noise that at first I found difficult to define.
“The howling of the leopards!” I suggested.
Sir Lionel shook his tawny head with impatience. Then, the sound growing louder, suddenly I knew it for what it was.
“Some one shouting!” I exclaimed—“some one who rides a galloping horse!”
“Coming here!” added Sir Lionel. “Hark! he is at the door!”
A bell rang furiously, again and again sending its brazen clangor echoing through the great apartments and passages of Graywater.
“There goes Kennedy.”
Above the sibilant roaring of the rain I could hear some one releasing heavy bolts and bars. The servants had long since retired, as also had Karamaneh; but Sir Lionel’s man remained wakeful and alert.
Sir Lionel made for the door, and I, standing up, was about to follow him, when Kennedy appeared, in his wake a bedraggled groom, hatless, and pale to the lips. His frightened eyes looked from face to face.
“Dr. Petrie?” he gasped interrogatively.
“Yes!” I said, a sudden dread assailing me. “What is it?”