The Sea-Hawk HTML version

Sheik Mat
Under the inquisitive gaping stare of all about them stood Rosamund and Sakr-el-Bahr
regarding each other in silence for a little spell after the Basha's departure. The very
galley-slaves, stirred from their habitual lethargy by happenings so curious and unusual,
craned their sinewy necks to peer at them with a flicker of interest in their dull, weary
Sakr-el-Bahr's feelings as he considered Rosamunds's white face in the fading light were
most oddly conflicting. Dismay at what had befallen and some anxious dread of what
must follow were leavened by a certain measure of relief.
He realized that in no case could her concealment have continued long. Eleven mortal
hours had she spent in the cramped and almost suffocating space of that pannier, in which
he had intended to do no more than carry her aboard. The uneasiness which had been
occasioned him by the impossibility to deliver her from that close confinement when
Asad had announced his resolve to accompany them upon that voyage, had steadily been
increasing as hour succeeded hour, and still he found no way to release her from a
situation in which sooner or later, when the limits of her endurance were reached, her
presence must be betrayed. This release which he could not have contrived had been
contrived for him by the suspicions and malice of Marzak. That was the one grain of
consolation in the present peril--to himself who mattered nothing and to her, who
mattered all. Adversity had taught him to prize benefits however slight and to confront
perils however overwhelming. So he hugged the present slender benefit, and resolutely
braced himself to deal with the situation as he found it, taking the fullest advantage of the
hesitancy which his words had sown in the heart of the Basha. He hugged, too, the
thought that as things had fallen out, from being oppressor and oppressed, Rosamund and
he were become fellows in misfortune, sharing now a common peril. He found it a sweet
thought to dwell on. Therefore was it that he faintly smiled as he looked into Rosamund's
white, strained face.
That smile evoked from her the question that had been burdening her mind.
"What now? What now?" she asked huskily, and held out appealing hands to him.
"Now," said he coolly, "let us be thankful that you are delivered from quarters destructive
both to comfort and to dignity. Let me lead you to those I had prepared for you, which
you would have occupied long since but for the ill-timed coming of Asad. Come." And
he waved an inviting hand towards the gangway leading to the poop.
She shrank back at that, for there on the poop sat Asad under his awning with Marzak,
Biskaine, and his other officers in attendance.
"Come," he repeated, "there is naught to fear so that you keep a bold countenance. For
the moment it is Sheik Mat--check to the king."