hands laid casually near to their weapons: an elaborate revolver in the case of the leader, long curving knives for the other two.

“Yes,” she replied, laconically.

“And you too hope to get rich from this quest?”

“No. I shall be paid for the job I do.”

“And is that all?”

“That is all.”

“It is written, then. Your quest interests me [turning his attention back to me]. You have little equipment for a Frank – two horses, a rifle, a few blankets, food. How do you hope to survive till you find your destination?”

“I do not need much.”

“No. We, however, need a good deal. We need food for our horses, ammunition for our guns, and gold for our wives. And how are we to get those things in the desert?”

“Not by robbing others.”

He scowled. “My father was a hajji, and told me that it was my duty to resist the infidel at all times, in all places. I do not rob, or steal, except in fair fight. And yet, my men must eat. I have a good mind to help you find your treasure to the north.”

“It is very far. It will take much time.”

“Not so far, I think, as you say. Nor do I fear that it will take so long as you say. You will have an incentive, you see. But we can be your guides from now on …”

He signalled to his two men, who moved over to stand in front of my companion. Their knives were out, and their faces were grinning.

“No,” I cried. “You don’t understand …” and, because I could think of no other way to safeguard her from immediate death, “This is my woman.”

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