Where was I? Not in a house. But for my condition of absolute calm, owing to skilful treatment, open air, and physical robustness, the scene would have been of a kind to scatter the busy little workmen setting up the fabric of my wits. A lighted oil-cup stood on a tripod in the middle of a tent-roof, and over it the creased neck and chin of a tall old woman, splendid in age, reddened vividly; her black eyes and grey brows, and greyishblack hair fell away in a dusk of their own. I thought her marvellous. Something she held in her hands that sent a thin steam between her and the light. Outside, in the A cutting of the tent’s threshold, a heavy-coloured sunset hung upon dark land. My pillow meantime lifted me gently at a regular measure, and it was with untroubled wonder that I came to the knowledge of a human heart beating within it. So soft could only be feminine; so firm still young. The bosom was Kiomi’s. A girl sidled at the opening of the tent, peeping in, and from a mufed rattle of subpectoral thunder discharged at her in quick heated snaps, I knew Kiomi’s voice. After an altercation of their monotonous gipsy undertones, the girl dropped and crouched outside.
It was morning when I woke next, stronger, and aching worse. I was lying in the air, and she who served for nurse, pillow, parasol, and bank of herbage, had her arms round beneath mine cherishingly, all the fingers outspread and flat on me, just as they had been when I went to sleep.
‘Now, you be quiet.’
‘Can I stand up a minute or two?’
‘No, and you won’t talk.’
I submitted. This was our duel all day: she slipped from me only twice, and when she did the girl took her place.
I began to think of Bulsted and Riversley.
‘Kiomi, how long have I been here?’
’You ‘ll be twice as long as you’ve been.’
‘A couple of days?’
‘More like a dozen.’
‘Just tell me what happened.’
‘Ghm-m-m,’ she growled admonishingly.
Reflecting on it, I felt sure there must have been searching parties over the heath.
‘Kiomi, I say, how was it they missed me?’
She struck at once on my thought.
‘How did you cheat them?’
‘I didn’t tie a handkercher across their eyes.’
‘You half smothered me once, in the combe.’
‘You go to sleep.’
‘Have you been doctor?’
The growling tigerish ‘Ghm-m-m’ constrained me to take it for a lullaby.
‘Kiomi, why the deuce did your people attack me?’ She repeated the sound resembling that which sometimes issues from the vent of a mine; but I insisted upon her answering.
’I ‘ll put you down and be off,’ she threatened.
‘Brute of a girl! I hate you!’
‘Tell me who found me.’
‘I shan’t. You shut your peepers.’