‘They spared her then,’ said Lanty, ’and, mayhap, worse still may come of that. Yakoub, the villain, ended by getting her back till they can have a council of their tribe, and there she is in his filthy hut; but the gossoon, Selim, as they call him, prowls about the place as if he were bewitched. All the children are, for that matter, wherever she goes. She makes cats’ cradles for them, and sings to them, and tells them stories in her own sweet way out of the sacred history—such as may bring her into trouble one of these days. Maitre Hebert heard her one day telling them the story of Moses, and he warned her that if she went on in that fashion it might be the death of us all. “But,” says she, “suppose we made Selim, and little Zuleika, and all the rest of them, Christians? Suppose we brought all the tribe to come down and ask baptism, like as St. Nona did in the Lives of the Saints?” He told her it was more like that they would only get her darling little head cut off, if no worse, but he could not get her to think that mattered at all at all. She would have a crown and a palm up in heaven, and after her name in the Calendar on earth, bless her.’
Then he went on to tell that Yakoub was furious at the notion of resigning his prize, and (Agamemnon-like) declared that if she were taken from him he should demand Victorine from Eyoub. Unfortunately she was recovering her good looks in the mountain air; and, worse still, the spring of her ‘blessed little Polichinelle’ was broken, though happily no one guessed it, and hitherto it had been enough to show them the box.
Restore, I pray, her proffered ransom take,
And in His priest, the Lord of Light revere.
Then through the ranks assenting murmurs rang,
The priest to reverence, and the ransom take.’
For one moment, before emerging from the forest, looking through an opening in the trees, down a steep slope, a group of children could be seen on the grass in front of the huts composing the adowara, little brown figures in scanty garments, lying about evidently listening intently to the figure, the gleam of whose blonde hair showed her instantly to be Estelle de Bourke.
However, either the deputation had been descried, or Eyoub may have made some signal, for when the calvalcade had wound about through the remaining trees, and arrived among the huts, no one was to be seen. There was only the irregular square of huts built of rough stones and thatched with reeds, with big stones to keep the thatch on in the storm; a few goats were tethered near, and there was a rush of the great savage dogs, but they recognised Eyoub and Lanty, and were presently quieted.
‘This is the chief danger,’ whispered Lanty.
‘Pray heaven the rogues do not murder them rather than give them up!’