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"Eat," he bade her at last. "You will need strength and courage, and neither is possible to a fasting body."
She shook her head. Despite her long fast, food was repellent. Anxiety was thrusting her heart up into her throat to choke her.
"I cannot eat," she answered him. "To what end? Strength and courage cannot avail me now."
"Never believe that," he said. "I have undertaken to deliver you alive from the perils into which I have brought you, and I shall keep my word."
So resolute was his tone that she looked up at him, and found his bearing equally resolute and confident.
"Surely," she cried, "all chance of escape is lost to me."
"Never count it lost whilst I am living," he replied. She considered him a moment, and there was the faintest smile on her lips.
"Do you think that you will live long now?" she asked him.
"Just as long as God pleases," he replied quite coolly. "What is written is written. So that I live long enough to deliver you, then...why, then, faith I shall have lived long enough."
Her head sank. She clasped and unclasped the hands in her lap. She shivered slightly.
"I think we are both doomed," she said in a dull voice. "For if you die, I have your dagger still, remember. I shall not survive you."
He took a sudden step forward, his eyes gleaming, a faint flush glowing through the tan of his cheeks. Then he checked. Fool! How could he so have misread her meaning even for a moment? Were not its exact limits abundantly plain, even without the words which she added a moment later?
"God will forgive me if I am driven to it--if I choose the easier way of honour; for honour, sir," she added, clearly for his benefit, "is ever the easier way, believe me."
"I know," he replied contritely. "I would to God I had followed it."
He paused there, as if hoping that his expression of penitence might evoke some answer from her, might spur her to vouchsafe him some word of forgiveness. Seeing that she continued, mute and absorbed, he sighed heavily, and turned to other matters.
"Here you will find all that you can require," he said. "Should you lack aught you have but to beat your hands together, one or the other of my slaves will come to you. If you address them in French they will understand you. I would I could have brought a woman to minister to you, but that was impossible, as you'll perceive." He stepped to the entrance.
"You are leaving me?" she questioned him in sudden alarm.
"Naturally. But be sure that I shall be very near at hand. And meanwhile be no less sure that you have no cause for immediate fear. At least, matters are no worse than when you were in the pannier. Indeed, much better, for some measure of ease and comfort is now possible to you. So be of good heart; eat and rest. God guard you! I shall return soon after sunrise."
Outside on the poop-deck he found Asad alone now with Marzak under the awning. Night had fallen, the great crescent lanterns on the stern rail were alight and cast a lurid glow along the vessel's length, picking out the shadowy forms and gleaming faintly on the naked backs of the slaves in their serried ranks along the benches, many of them bowed already in attitudes of uneasy slumber. Another lantern swung from the mainmast, and yet another from the poop-rail for the Basha's convenience. Overhead the clustering stars glittered in a cloudless sky of deepest purple. The wind had fallen entirely, and the world was wrapped in stillness broken only by the faint rustling break of waves upon the beach at the cove's end.
Sakr-el-Bahr crossed to Asad's side, and begged for a word alone with him.
"I am alone," said the Basha curtly.
"Marzak is nothing, then," said Sakr-el-Bahr. "I have long suspected it."
Marzak showed his teeth and growled inarticulately, whilst the Basha, taken aback by the ease reflected in the captain's careless, mocking words, could but quote a line of the Koran with which Fenzileh of late had often nauseated him.
"A man's son is the partner of his soul. I have no secrets from Marzak. Speak, then, before him, or else be silent and depart."
"He may be the partner of thy soul, Asad," replied the corsair with his bold mockery, "but I give thanks to Allah he is not the partner of mine. And what I have to say in some sense concerns my soul."
"I thank thee," cut in Marzak, "for the justice of thy words. To be the partner of thy soul were to be an infidel unbelieving dog."
"Thy tongue, 0 Marzak, is like thine archery," said Sakr-el-Bahr.
"Ay--in that it pierces treachery," was the swift retort.
"Nay- in that it aims at what it cannot hit. Now, Allah, pardon me! Shall I grow angry at such words as thine? Hath not the One proven full oft that he who calls me infidel dog is a liar predestined to the Pit? Are such victories as mine over the fleets of the unbelievers vouchsafed by Allah to an infidel? Foolish blasphemer, teach thy tongue better ways lest the All-wise strike thee dumb."
"Peace!" growled Asad. "Thine arrogance is out of season."
"Haply so," said Sakr-el-Bahr, with a laugh. "And my good sense, too, it seems. Since thou wilt retain beside thee this partner of thy soul, I must speak before him. Have I thy leave to sit?"
Lest such leave should be denied him he dropped forthwith to the vacant place beside Asad and tucked his legs under him.
"Lord," he said, "there is a rift dividing us who should be united for the glory of Islam."
"It is of thy making, Sakr-el-Bahr," was the sullen answer, "and it is for thee to mend it."
"To that end do I desire thine ear. The cause of this rift is yonder." And he jerked his thumb backward over his shoulder towards the poop-house. "If we remove that cause, of a surety the rift itself will vanish, and all will be well again between us."
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The Sea-Hawk -by- Rafael Sabatini