Infomotions, Inc.The Garden of Allah / Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950



Author: Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950
Title: The Garden of Allah
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): androvsky; domini; batouch; desert; madame; sand; monsieur androvsky
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 198,622 words (longer than most) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 71 (easy)
Identifier: etext3637
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Title: The Garden Of Allah

Author: Robert Hichens

Release Date: April 11, 2006 [EBook #3637]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE GARDEN OF ALLAH ***




Produced by Dagny; John Bickers





THE GARDEN OF ALLAH

BY

ROBERT HICHENS


     PREPARER'S NOTE

     This text was prepared from an edition published by Grosset &
     Dunlap, New York. It was originally published in 1904.


     CONTENTS

     BOOK I.   PRELUDE
     BOOK II.  THE VOICE OF PRAYER
     BOOK III. THE GARDEN
     BOOK IV.  THE JOURNEY
     BOOK V.   THE REVELATION
     BOOK VI.  THE JOURNEY BACK




THE GARDEN OF ALLAH




BOOK I. PRELUDE



CHAPTER I

The fatigue caused by a rough sea journey, and, perhaps, the
consciousness that she would have to be dressed before dawn to catch the
train for Beni-Mora, prevented Domini Enfilden from sleeping. There was
deep silence in the Hotel de la Mer at Robertville. The French officers
who took their pension there had long since ascended the hill of Addouna
to the barracks. The cafes had closed their doors to the drinkers and
domino players. The lounging Arab boys had deserted the sandy Place de
la Marine. In their small and dusky bazaars the Israelites had reckoned
up the takings of the day, and curled themselves up in gaudy quilts
on their low divans to rest. Only two or three _gendarmes_ were still
about, and a few French and Spaniards at the Port, where, moored against
the wharf, lay the steamer _Le General Bertrand_, in which Domini had
arrived that evening from Marseilles.

In the hotel the fair and plump Italian waiter, who had drifted to North
Africa from Pisa, had swept up the crumbs from the two long tables
in the _salle-a-manger_, smoked a thin, dark cigar over a copy of the
_Depeche Algerienne_, put the paper down, scratched his blonde head, on
which the hair stood up in bristles, stared for a while at nothing in
the firm manner of weary men who are at the same time thoughtless and
depressed, and thrown himself on his narrow bed in the dusty corner of
the little room on the stairs near the front door. Madame, the landlady,
had laid aside her front and said her prayer to the Virgin. Monsieur,
the landlord, had muttered his last curse against the Jews and drunk
his last glass of rum. They snored like honest people recruiting their
strength for the morrow. In number two Suzanne Charpot, Domini's maid,
was dreaming of the Rue de Rivoli.

But Domini with wide-open eyes, was staring from her big, square pillow
at the red brick floor of her bedroom, on which stood various trunks
marked by the officials of the Douane. There were two windows in the
room looking out towards the Place de la Marine, below which lay the
station. Closed _persiennes_ of brownish-green, blistered wood protected
them. One of these windows was open. Yet the candle at Domini's bedside
burnt steadily. The night was warm and quiet, without wind.

As she lay there, Domini still felt the movement of the sea. The passage
had been a bad one. The ship, crammed with French recruits for the
African regiments, had pitched and rolled almost incessantly for
thirty-one hours, and Domini and most of the recruits had been ill.
Domini had had an inner cabin, with a skylight opening on to the lower
deck, and heard above the sound of the waves and winds their groans and
exclamations, rough laughter, and half-timid, half-defiant conversations
as she shook in her berth. At Marseilles she had seen them come on
board, one by one, dressed in every variety of poor costume, each one
looking anxiously around to see what the others were like, each one
carrying a mean yellow or black bag or a carefully-tied bundle. On the
wharf stood a Zouave, in tremendous red trousers and a fez, among great
heaps of dull brown woollen rugs. And as the recruits came hesitatingly
along he stopped them with a sharp word, examined the tickets they held
out, gave each one a rug, and pointed to the gangway that led from the
wharf to the vessel. Domini, then leaning over the rail of the upper
deck, had noticed the different expressions with which the recruits
looked at the Zouave. To all of them he was a phenomenon, a mystery of
Africa and of the new life for which they were embarking. He stood there
impudently and indifferently among the woollen rugs, his red fez pushed
well back on his short, black hair cut _en brosse_, his bronzed face
twisted into a grimace of fiery contempt, throwing, with his big and
muscular arms, rug after rug to the anxious young peasants who filed
before him. They all gazed at his legs in the billowing red trousers;
some like children regarding a Jack-in-the-box which had just sprung
up into view, others like ignorant, but superstitious, people who
had unexpectedly come upon a shrine by the wayside. One or two seemed
disposed to laugh nervously, as the very stupid laugh at anything
they see for the first time. But fear seized them. They refrained
convulsively and shambled on to the gangway, looking sideways, like
fowls, and holding their rugs awkwardly to their breasts with their
dirty, red hands.

To Domini there was something pitiful in the sight of all these lads,
uprooted from their homes in France, stumbling helplessly on board this
ship that was to convey them to Africa. They crowded together. Their
poor bundles and bags jostled one against the other. With their clumsy
boots they trod on each other's feet. And yet all were lonely strangers.
No two in the mob seemed to be acquaintances. And every lad, each in
his different way, was furtively on the defensive, uneasily wondering
whether some misfortune might not presently come to him from one of
these unknown neighbours.

A few of the recruits, as they came on board, looked up at Domini as she
leant over the rail; and in all the different coloured and shaped eyes
she thought she read a similar dread and nervous hope that things might
turn out pretty well for them in the new existence that had to be faced.
The Zouave, wholly careless or unconscious of the fact that he was
an incarnation of Africa to these raw peasants, who had never before
stirred beyond the provinces where they were born, went on taking
the tickets, and tossing the woollen rugs to the passing figures, and
pointing ferociously to the gangway. He got very tired of his task
towards the end, and showed his fatigue to the latest comers, shoving
their rugs into their arms with brusque violence. And when at length the
wharf was bare he spat on it, rubbed his short-fingered, sunburnt hands
down the sides of his blue jacket, and swaggered on board with the air
of a dutiful but injured man who longed to do harm in the world. By this
time the ship was about to cast off, and the recruits, ranged in line
along the bulwarks of the lower deck, were looking in silence towards
Marseilles, which, with its tangle of tall houses, its forest of masts,
its long, ugly factories and workshops, now represented to them the
whole of France. The bronchial hoot of the siren rose up menacingly.
Suddenly two Arabs, in dirty white burnouses and turbans bound with
cords of camel's hair, came running along the wharf. The siren hooted
again. The Arabs bounded over the gangway with grave faces. All the
recruits turned to examine them with a mixture of superiority and
deference, such as a schoolboy might display when observing the
agilities of a tiger. The ropes fell heavily from the posts of the
quay into the water, and were drawn up dripping by the sailors, and _Le
General Bertrand_ began to move out slowly among the motionless ships.

Domini, looking towards the land with the vague and yet inquiring glance
of those who are going out to sea, noticed the church of Notre dame de
la Garde, perched on its high hill, and dominating the noisy city,
the harbour, the cold, grey squadrons of the rocks and Monte Cristo's
dungeon. At the time she hardly knew it, but now, as she lay in bed in
the silent inn, she remembered that, keeping her eyes upon the church,
she had murmured a confused prayer to the Blessed Virgin for the
recruits. What was the prayer? She could scarcely recall it. A woman's
petition, perhaps, against the temptations that beset men shifting for
themselves in far-off and dangerous countries; a woman's cry to a woman
to watch over all those who wander.

When the land faded, and the white sea rose, less romantic
considerations took possession of her. She wished to sleep, and drank a
dose of a drug. It did not act completely, but only numbed her senses.
Through the long hours she lay in the dark cabin, looking at the faint
radiance that penetrated through the glass shutters of the skylight.
The recruits, humanised and drawn together by misery, were becoming
acquainted. The incessant murmur of their voices dropped down to her,
with the sound of the waves, and of the mysterious cries and creaking
shudders that go through labouring ships. And all these noises seemed to
her hoarse and pathetic, suggestive, too, of danger.

When they reached the African shore, and saw the lights of houses
twinkling upon the hills, the pale recruits were marshalled on the white
road by Zouaves, who met them from the barracks of Robertville. Already
they looked older than they had looked when they embarked. Domini saw
them march away up the hill. They still clung to their bags and bundles.
Some of them, lifting shaky voices, tried to sing in chorus. One of
the Zouaves angrily shouted to them to be quiet. They obeyed, and
disappeared heavily into the shadows, staring about them anxiously at
the feathery palms that clustered in this new and dark country, and at
the shrouded figures of Arabs who met them on the way.

The red brick floor was heaving gently, Domini thought. She found
herself wondering how the cane chair by the small wardrobe kept its
footing, and why the cracked china basin in the iron washstand, painted
bright yellow, did not stir and rattle. Her dressing-bag was open. She
could see the silver backs and tops of the brushes and bottles in it
gleaming. They made her think suddenly of England. She had no idea why.
But it was too warm for England. There, in the autumn time, an open
window would let in a cold air, probably a biting blast. The wooden
shutter would be shaking. There would be, perhaps, a sound of rain. And
Domini found herself vaguely pitying England and the people mewed up in
it for the winter. Yet how many winters she had spent there, dreaming of
liberty and doing dreary things--things without savour, without meaning,
without salvation for brain or soul. Her mind was still dulled to a
certain extent by the narcotic she had taken. She was a strong and
active woman, with long limbs and well-knit muscles, a clever fencer,
a tireless swimmer, a fine horsewoman. But to-night she felt almost
neurotic, like one of the weak or dissipated sisterhood for whom "rest
cures" are invented, and by whom bland doctors live. That heaving red
floor continually emphasised for her her present feebleness. She hated
feebleness. So she blew out the candle and, with misplaced energy,
strove resolutely to sleep. Possibly her resolution defeated its object.
She continued in a condition of dull and heavy wakefulness till the
darkness became intolerable to her. In it she saw perpetually the long
procession of the pale recruits winding up the hill of Addouna with
their bags and bundles, like spectres on a way of dreams. Finally she
resolved to accept a sleepless night. She lit her candle again and saw
that the brick floor was no longer heaving. Two of the books that
she called her "bed-books" lay within easy reach of her hand. One was
Newman's _Dream of Gerontius_, the other a volume of the Badminton
Library. She chose the former and began to read.

Towards two o'clock she heard a long-continued rustling. At first she
supposed that her tired brain was still playing her tricks. But the
rustling continued and grew louder. It sounded like a noise coming from
something very wide, and spread out as a veil over an immense surface.
She got up, walked across the floor to the open window and unfastened
the _persiennes_. Heavy rain was falling. The night was very black,
and smelt rich and damp, as if it held in its arms strange offerings--a
merchandise altogether foreign, tropical and alluring. As she stood
there, face to face with a wonder that she could not see, Domini forgot
Newman. She felt the brave companionship of mystery. In it she divined
the beating pulses, the hot, surging blood of freedom.

She wanted freedom, a wide horizon, the great winds, the great sun, the
terrible spaces, the glowing, shimmering radiance, the hot, entrancing
moons and bloomy, purple nights of Africa. She wanted the nomad's fires
and the acid voices of the Kabyle dogs. She wanted the roar of the
tom-toms, the dash of the cymbals, the rattle of the negroes' castanets,
the fluttering, painted figures of the dancers. She wanted--more than
she could express, more than she knew. It was there, want, aching in
her heart, as she drew into her nostrils this strange and wealthy
atmosphere.

When Domini returned to her bed she found it impossible to read any more
Newman. The rain and the scents coming up out of the hidden earth of
Africa had carried her mind away, as if on a magic carpet. She was
content now to lie awake in the dark.

Domini was thirty-two, unmarried, and in a singularly independent--some
might have thought a singularly lonely--situation. Her father, Lord
Rens, had recently died, leaving Domini, who was his only child, a
large fortune. His life had been a curious and a tragic one. Lady Rens,
Domini's mother, had been a great beauty of the gipsy type, the daughter
of a Hungarian mother and of Sir Henry Arlworth, one of the most
prominent and ardent English Catholics of his day. A son of his became a
priest, and a famous preacher and writer on religious subjects. Another
child, a daughter, took the veil. Lady Rens, who was not clever,
although she was at one time almost universally considered to have the
face of a muse, shared in the family ardour for the Church, but was far
too fond of the world to leave it. While she was very young she met Lord
Rens, a Lifeguardsman of twenty-six, who called himself a Protestant,
but who was really quite happy without any faith. He fell madly in love
with her and, in order to marry her, became a Catholic, and even a very
devout one, aiding his wife's Church by every means in his power, giving
large sums to Catholic charities, and working, with almost fiery zeal,
for the spread of Catholicism in England.

Unfortunately, his new faith was founded only on love for a human being,
and when Lady Rens, who was intensely passionate and impulsive, suddenly
threw all her principles to the winds, and ran away with a Hungarian
musician, who had made a furor one season in London by his magnificent
violin-playing, her husband, stricken in his soul, and also wounded
almost to the death in his pride, abandoned abruptly the religion of the
woman who had converted and betrayed him.

Domini was nineteen, and had recently been presented at Court when the
scandal of her mother's escapade shook the town, and changed her father
in a day from one of the happiest to one of the most cynical, embittered
and despairing of men. She, who had been brought up by both her parents
as a Catholic, who had from her earliest years been earnestly educated
in the beauties of religion, was now exposed to the almost frantic
persuasions of a father who, hating all that he had formerly loved,
abandoning all that, influenced by his faithless wife, he had formerly
clung to, wished to carry his daughter with him into his new and most
miserable way of life. But Domini, who, with much of her mother's dark
beauty, had inherited much of her quick vehemence and passion, was also
gifted with brains, and with a certain largeness of temperament and
clearness of insight which Lady Rens lacked. Even when she was still
quivering under the shock and shame of her mother's guilt and her own
solitude, Domini was unable to share her father's intensely egoistic
view of the religion of the culprit. She could not be persuaded that the
faith in which she had been brought up was proved to be a sham because
one of its professors, whom she had above all others loved and trusted,
had broken away from its teachings and defied her own belief. She would
not secede with her father; but remained in the Church of the mother she
was never to see again, and this in spite of extraordinary and dogged
efforts on the part of Lord Rens to pervert her to his own Atheism. His
mind had been so warped by the agony of his heart that he had come to
feel as if by tearing his only child from the religion he had been led
to by the greatest sinner he had known, he would be, in some degree at
least, purifying his life tarnished by his wife's conduct, raising again
a little way the pride she had trampled in the dust.

Her uncle, Father Arlworth, helped Domini by his support and counsel in
this critical period of her life, and Lord Rens in time ceased from the
endeavour to carry his child with him as companion in his tragic journey
from love and belief to hatred and denial. He turned to the violent
occupations of despair, and the last years of his life were hideous
enough, as the world knew and Domini sometimes suspected. But though
Domini had resisted him she was not unmoved or wholly uninfluenced by
her mother's desertion and its effect upon her father. She remained a
Catholic, but she gradually ceased from being a devout one. Although
she had seemed to stand firm she had in truth been shaken, if not in
her belief, in a more precious thing--her love. She complied with the
ordinances, but felt little of the inner beauty of her faith. The effort
she had made in withstanding her father's assault upon it had exhausted
her. Though she had had the strength to triumph, at the moment, a
partial and secret collapse was the price she had afterwards to pay.
Father Arlworth, who had a subtle understanding of human nature, noticed
that Domini was changed and slightly hardened by the tragedy she had
known, and was not surprised or shocked. Nor did he attempt to force
her character back into its former way of beauty. He knew that to do
so would be dangerous, that Domini's nature required peace in which to
become absolutely normal once again after the shock it had sustained.

When Domini was twenty-one he died, and her safest guide, the one who
understood her best, went from her. The years passed. She lived with her
embittered father; and drifted into the unthinking worldliness of the
life of her order. Her home was far from ideal. Yet she would not marry.
The wreck of her parents' domestic life had rendered her mistrustful of
human relations. She had seen something of the terror of love, and could
not, like other women, regard it as safety and as sweetness. So she put
it from her, and strove to fill her life with all those lesser things
which men and women grasp, as the Chinese grasp the opium pipe, those
things which lull our comprehension of realities to sleep.

When Lord Rens died, still blaspheming, and without any of the
consolations of religion, Domini felt the imperious need of change. She
did not grieve actively for the dead man. In his last years they had
been very far apart, and his death relieved her from the perpetual
contemplation of a tragedy. Lord Rens had grown to regard his daughter
almost with enmity in his enmity against her mother's religion, which
was hers. She had come to think of him rather with pity than with love.
Yet his death was a shock to her. When he could speak no more, but only
lie still, she remembered suddenly just what he had been before her
mother's flight. The succeeding period, long though it had been and
ugly, was blotted out. She wept for the poor, broken life now ended,
and was afraid for his future in the other world. His departure into the
unknown roused her abruptly to a clear conception of how his action and
her mother's had affected her own character. As she stood by his bed
she wondered what she might have been if her mother had been true, her
father happy, to the end. Then she felt afraid of herself, recognising
partially, and for the first time, how all these years had seen her long
indifference. She felt self-conscious too, ignorant of the real meaning
of life, and as if she had always been, and still remained, rather a
complicated piece of mechanism than a woman. A desolate enervation of
spirit descended upon her, a sort of bitter, and yet dull, perplexity.
She began to wonder what she was, capable of what, of how much good or
evil, and to feel sure that she did not know, had never known or tried
to find out. Once, in this state of mind, she went to confession. She
came away feeling that she had just joined with the priest in a farce.
How can a woman who knows nothing about herself make anything but a
worthless confession? she thought. To say what you have done is not
always to say what you are. And only what you are matters eternally.

Presently, still in this perplexity of spirit, she left England with
only her maid as companion. After a short tour in the south of Europe,
with which she was too familiar, she crossed the sea to Africa, which
she had never seen. Her destination was Beni-Mora. She had chosen it
because she liked its name, because she saw on the map that it was an
oasis in the Sahara Desert, because she knew it was small, quiet, yet
face to face with an immensity of which she had often dreamed. Idly she
fancied that perhaps in the sunny solitude of Beni-Mora, far from
all the friends and reminiscences of her old life, she might learn to
understand herself. How? She did not know. She did not seek to know.
Here was a vague pilgrimage, as many pilgrimages are in this world--the
journey of the searcher who knew not what she sought. And so now she lay
in the dark, and heard the rustle of the warm African rain, and smelt
the perfumes rising from the ground, and felt that the unknown was very
near her--the unknown with all its blessed possibilities of change.



CHAPTER II

Long before dawn the Italian waiter rolled off his little bed, put a cap
on his head, and knocked at Domini's and at Suzanne Charpot's doors.

It was still dark, and still raining, when the two women came out to get
into the carriage that was to take them to the station. The place de la
Marine was a sea of mud, brown and sticky as nougat. Wet palms dripped
by the railing near a desolate kiosk painted green and blue. The sky was
grey and low. Curtains of tarpaulin were let down on each side of the
carriage, and the coachman, who looked like a Maltese, and wore a round
cap edged with pale yellow fur, was muffled up to the ears. Suzanne's
round, white face was puffy with fatigue, and her dark eyes, generally
good-natured and hopeful, were dreary, and squinted slightly, as she
tipped the Italian waiter, and handed her mistress's dressing-bag and
rug into the carriage. The waiter stood an the discoloured step, yawning
from ear to ear. Even the tip could not excite him. Before the carriage
started he had gone into the hotel and banged the door. The horses
trotted quickly through the mud, descending the hill. One of the
tarpaulin curtains had been left unbuttoned by the coachman. It flapped
to and fro, and when its movement was outward Domini could catch
short glimpses of mud, of glistening palm-leaves with yellow stems, of
gas-lamps, and of something that was like an extended grey nothingness.
This was the sea. Twice she saw Arabs trudging along, holding their
skirts up in a bunch sideways, and showing legs bare beyond the knees.
Hoods hid their faces. They appeared to be agitated by the weather,
and to be continually trying to plant their naked feet in dry places.
Suzanne, who sat opposite to Domini, had her eyes shut. If she had not
from time to time passed her tongue quickly over her full, pale lips she
would have looked like a dead thing. The coquettish angle at which her
little black hat was set on her head seemed absurdly inappropriate
to the occasion and her mood. It suggested a hat being worn at some
festival. Her black, gloved hands were tightly twisted together in her
lap, and she allowed her plump body to wag quite loosely with the motion
of the carriage, making no attempt at resistance. She had really the
appearance of a corpse sitting up. The tarpaulin flapped monotonously.
The coachman cried out in the dimness to his horses like a bird,
prolonging his call drearily, and then violently cracking his whip.
Domini kept her eyes fixed on the loose tarpaulin, so that she might not
miss one of the wet visions it discovered by its reiterated movement.
She had not slept at all, and felt as if there was a gritty dryness
close behind her eyes. She also felt very alert and enduring, but not
in the least natural. Had some extraordinary event occurred; had the
carriage, for instance, rolled over the edge of the road into the sea,
she was convinced that she could not have managed to be either surprised
or alarmed, If anyone had asked her whether she was tired she would
certainly have answered "No."

Like her mother, Domini was of a gipsy type. She stood five feet ten,
had thick, almost coarse and wavy black hair that was parted in the
middle of her small head, dark, almond-shaped, heavy-lidded eyes, and a
clear, warmly-white skin, unflecked with colour. She never flushed under
the influence of excitement or emotion. Her forehead was broad and low.
Her eyebrows were long and level, thicker than most women's. The shape
of her face was oval, with a straight, short nose, a short, but rather
prominent and round chin, and a very expressive mouth, not very small,
slightly depressed at the corners, with perfect teeth, and red lips
that were unusually flexible. Her figure was remarkably athletic, with
shoulders that were broad in a woman, and a naturally small waist. Her
hands and feet were also small. She walked splendidly, like a Syrian,
but without his defiant insolence. In her face, when it was in repose,
there was usually an expression of still indifference, some thought of
opposition. She looked her age, and had never used a powderpuff in her
life. She could smile easily and easily become animated, and in her
animation there was often fire, as in her calmness there was sometimes
cloud. Timid people were generally disconcerted by her appearance, and
her manner did not always reassure them. Her obvious physical strength
had something surprising in it, and woke wonder as to how it had been,
or might be, used. Even when her eyes were shut she looked singularly
wakeful.

Domini and Suzanne got to the station of Robertville much too early.
The large hall in which they had to wait was miserably lit, blank and
decidedly cold. The ticket-office was on the left, and the room was
divided into two parts by a broad, low counter, on which the heavy
luggage was placed before being weighed by two unshaven and hulking men
in blue smocks. Three or four Arab touts, in excessively shabby European
clothes and turbans, surrounded Domini with offers of assistance. One,
the dirtiest of the group, with a gaping eye-socket, in which there
was no eye, succeeded by his passionate volubility and impudence in
attaching himself to her in a sort of official capacity. He spoke
fluent, but faulty, French, which attracted Suzanne, and, being
abnormally muscular and active, in an amazingly short time got hold
of all their boxes and bags and ranged them on the counter. He then
indulged in a dramatic performance, which he apparently considered
likely to rouse into life and attention the two unshaven men in smocks,
who were smoking cigarettes, and staring vaguely at the metal sheet on
which the luggage was placed to be weighed. Suzanne remained expectantly
in attendance, and Domini, having nothing to do, and seeing no bench to
rest on, walked slowly up and down the hall near the entrance.

It was now half-past four in the morning, and in the air Domini fancied
that she felt the cold breath of the coming dawn. Beyond the opening of
the station, as she passed and repassed in her slow and aimless walk,
she saw the soaking tarpaulin curtains of the carriage she had just left
glistening in the faint lamp-light. After a few minutes the Arabs she
had noticed on the road entered. Their brown, slipperless feet were
caked with sticky mud, and directly they found themselves under shelter
in a dry place they dropped the robes they had been holding up, and,
bending down, began to flick it off on to the floor with their delicate
fingers. They did this with extraordinary care and precision, rubbed the
soles of their feet repeatedly against the boards, and then put on their
yellow slippers and threw back the hoods which had been drawn over their
heads.

A few French passengers straggled in, yawning and looking irritable.
The touts surrounded them, with noisy offers of assistance. The men in
smocks still continued to smoke and to stare at the metal sheet on the
floor. Although the luggage now extended in quite a long line upon the
counter they paid no attention to it, or to the violent and reiterated
cries of the Arabs who stood behind it, anxious to earn a tip by getting
it weighed and registered quickly. Apparently they were wrapped in
savage dreams. At length a light shone through the small opening of the
ticket-office, the men in smocks stirred and threw down their cigarette
stumps, and the few travellers pressed forward against the counter,
and pointed to their boxes with their sticks and hands. Suzanne Charpot
assumed an expression of attentive suspicion, and Domini ceased
from walking up and down. Several of the recruits came in hastily,
accompanied by two Zouaves. They were wet, and looked dazed and tired
out. Grasping their bags and bundles they went towards the platform. A
train glided slowly in, gleaming faintly with lights. Domini's trunks
were slammed down on the weighing machine, and Suzanne, drawing out her
purse, took her stand before the shining hole of the ticket-office.

In the wet darkness there rose up a sound like a child calling out an
insulting remark. This was followed immediately by the piping of a horn.
With a jerk the train started, passed one by one the station lamps, and,
with a steady jangling and rattling, drew out into the shrouded country.
Domini was in a wretchedly-lit carriage with three Frenchmen, facing
the door which opened on to the platform. The man opposite to her was
enormously fat, with a coal-black beard growing up to his eyes. He wore
black gloves and trousers, a huge black cloth hat, and a thick black
cloak with a black buckle near the throat. His eyes were shut, and his
large, heavy head drooped forward. Domini wondered if he was travelling
to the funeral of some relative. The two other men, one of whom looked
like a commercial traveller, kept shifting their feet upon the hot-water
tins that lay on the floor, clearing their throats and sighing loudly.
One of them coughed, let down the window, spat, drew the window up, sat
sideways, put his legs suddenly up on the seat and groaned. The train
rattled more harshly, and shook from side to side as it got up speed.
Rain streamed down the window-panes, through which it was impossible to
see anything.

Domini still felt alert, but an overpowering sensation of dreariness had
come to her. She did not attribute this sensation to fatigue. She did
not try to analyse it. She only felt as if she had never seen or heard
anything that was not cheerless, as if she had never known anything that
was not either sad, or odd, or inexplicable. What did she remember? A
train of trifles that seemed to have been enough to fill all her life;
the arrival of the nervous and badly-dressed recruits at the wharf,
their embarkation, their last staring and pathetic look at France,
the stormy voyage, the sordid illness of almost everyone on board, the
approach long after sundown to the small and unknown town, of which it
was impossible to see anything clearly, the marshalling of the recruits
pale with sickness, their pitiful attempt at cheerful singing, angrily
checked by the Zouaves in charge of them, their departure up the hill
carrying their poor belongings, the sleepless night, the sound of the
rain falling, the scents rising from the unseen earth. The tap of the
Italian waiter at the door, the damp drive to the station, the long wait
there, the sneering signal, followed by the piping horn, the jerking and
rattling of the carriage, the dim light within it falling upon the stout
Frenchman in his mourning, the streaming water upon the window-panes.
These few sights, sounds, sensations were like the story of a life to
Domini just then, were more, were like the whole of life; always
dull noise, strange, flitting, pale faces, and an unknown region
that remained perpeturally invisible, and that must surely be ugly or
terrible.

The train stopped frequently at lonely little stations. Domini looked
out, letting down the window for a moment. At each station she saw a
tiny house with a peaked roof, a wooden railing dividing the platform
from the country road, mud, grass bending beneath the weight of
water-drops, and tall, dripping, shaggy eucalyptus trees. Sometimes the
station-master's children peered at the train with curious eyes, and
depressed-looking Arabs, carefully wrapped up, their mouths and chins
covered by folds of linen, got in and out slowly.

Once Domini saw two women, in thin, floating white dresses and spangled
veils, hurrying by like ghosts in the dark. Heavy silver ornaments
jangled on their ankles, above their black slippers splashed with mud.
Their sombre eyes stared out from circles of Kohl, and, with stained,
claret-coloured hands, whose nails were bright red, they clasped their
light and bridal raiment to their prominent breasts. They were escorted
by a gigantic man, almost black, with a zigzag scar across the left
side of his face, who wore a shining brown burnous over a grey woollen
jacket. He pushed the two women into the train as if he were pushing
bales, and got in after them, showing enormous bare legs, with calves
that stuck out like lumps of iron.

The darkness began to fade, and presently, as the grey light grew slowly
stronger, the rain ceased, and it was possible to see through the glass
of the carriage window.

The country began to discover itself, as if timidly, to Domini's eyes.
She had recently noticed that the train was going very slowly, and she
could now see why. They were mounting a steep incline. The rich, damp
earth of the plains beyond Robertville, with its rank grass, its moist
ploughland and groves of eucalyptus, was already left behind. The train
was crawling in a cup of the hills, grey, sterile and abandoned,
without roads or houses, without a single tree. Small, grey-green bushes
flourished here and there on tiny humps of earth, but they seemed rather
to emphasise than to diminish the aspect of poverty presented by the
soil, over which the dawn, rising from the wet arms of night, shed a
cold and reticent illumination. By a gash in the rounded hills, where
the earth was brownish yellow, a flock of goats with flapping ears
tripped slowly, followed by two Arab boys in rags. One of the boys was
playing upon a pipe coverd with red arabesques. Domini heard two or
three bars of the melody. They were ineffably wild and bird-like,
very clear and sweet. They seemed to her to match exactly the pure and
ascetic light cast by the dawn over these bare, grey hills, and they
stirred her abruptly from the depressed lassitude in which the dreary
chances of recent travel had drowned her. She began, with a certain
faint excitement, to realise that these low, round-backed hills were
Africa, that she was leaving behind the sea, so many of whose waves
swept along European shores, that somewhere, beyond the broken and near
horizon line toward which the train was creeping, lay the great desert,
her destination, with its pale sands and desolate cities, its sunburnt
tribes of workers, its robbers, warriors and priests, its ethereal
mysteries of mirage, its tragic splendours of colour, of tempest and
of heat. A sense of a wider world than the compressed world into which
physical fatigue had decoyed her woke in her brain and heart. The little
Arab, playing carelessly upon his pipe with the red arabesques, was soon
invisible among his goats beside the dry water-course that was probably
the limit of his journeying, but Domini felt that like a musician at the
head of a procession he had played her bravely forward into the dawn and
Africa.

At Ah-Souf Domini changed into another train and had the carriage to
herself. The recruits had reached their destination. Hers was a longer
pilgramage and still towards the sun. She could not afterwards remember
what she thought about during this part of her journey. Subsequent
events so coloured all her memories of Africa that every fold of its
sun-dried soil was endowed in her mind with the significance of a living
thing. Every palm beside a well, every stunted vine and clambering
flower upon an _auberge_ wall, every form of hill and silhouette of
shadow, became in her heart intense with the beauty and the pathos she
used, as a child, to think must lie beyond the sunset.

And so she forgot.

A strange sense of leaving all things behind had stolen over her. She
was really fatigued by travel and by want of sleep, but she did not
know it. Lying back in her seat, with her head against the dirty white
covering of the shaking carriage, she watched the great change that was
coming over the land.

It seemed as if God were putting forth His hand to withdraw gradually
all things of His creation, all the furniture He had put into the great
Palace of the world; as if He meant to leave it empty and utterly naked.

So Domini thought.

First He took the rich and shaggy grass, and all the little flowers
that bloomed modestly in it. Then He drew away the orange groves, the
oleander and the apricot trees, the faithful eucalyptus with its pale
stems and tressy foliage, the sweet waters that fertilised the soil,
making it soft and brown where the plough seamed it into furrows, the
tufted plants and giant reeds that crowd where water is. And still,
as the train ran on, His gifts were fewer. At last even the palms
were gone, and the Barbary fig displayed no longer among the crumbling
boulders its tortured strength, and the pale and fantastic evolutions
of its unnatural foliage. Stones lay everywhere upon the pale yellow or
grey-brown earth. Crystals glittered in the sun like shallow jewels, and
far away, under clouds that were dark and feathery, appeared hard and
relentless mountains, which looked as if they were made of iron carved
into horrible and jagged shapes. Where they fell into ravines they
became black. Their swelling bosses and flanks, sharp sometimes as
the spines of animals, were steel coloured. Their summits were purple,
deepening where the clouds came down to ebony.

Journeying towards these terrible fastnesses were caravans on which
Domini looked with a heavy and lethargic interest. Many Kabyles, fairer
than she was, moved slowly on foot towards their rock villages.

Over the withered earth they went towards the distant mountains and the
clouds. The sun was hidden. The wind continued to rise. Sand found its
way in through the carriage windows. The mountains, as Domini saw them
more clearly, looked more gloomy, more unearthly. There was something
unnatural in their hard outlines, in the rigid mystery of their
innumerable clefts. That all these people should be journeying towards
them was pathetic, and grieved the imagination.

The wind seemed so cold, now the sun was hidden, that she had drawn both
the windows up and thrown a rug over her. She put her feet up on the
opposite seat, and half closed her eyes. But she still turned them
towards the glass on her left, and watched. It seemed to her
quite impossible that this shaking and slowly moving train had any
destination. The desolation of the country had become so absolute that
she could not conceive of anything but still greater desolation lying
beyond. She had no feeling that she was merely traversing a tract of
sterility. Her sensation was that she had passed the boundary of the
world God had created, and come into some other place, upon which He had
never looked and of which He had no knowledge.

Abruptly she felt as if her father had entered into some such region
when he forced his way out of his religion. And in this region he had
died. She had stood on the verge of it by his deathbed. Now she was in
it.

There were no Arabs journeying now. No tents huddled among the low
bushes. The last sign of vegetation was obliterated. The earth rose and
fell in a series of humps and depressions, interspersed with piles of
rock. Every shade of yellow and of brown mingled and flowed away towards
the foot of the mountains. Here and there dry water-courses showed their
teeth. Their crumbling banks were like the rind of an orange. Little
birds, the hue of the earth, with tufted crests, tripped jauntily among
the stones, fluttered for a few yards and alighted, with an air of
strained alertness, as if their minute bodies were full of trembling
wires. They were the only living things Domini could see.

She thought again of her father. In some such region as this his soul
must surely be wandering, far away from God.

She let down the glass.

The wind was really cold and blowing gustily. She drank it in as if
she were tasting a new wine, and she was conscious at once that she
had never before breathed such air. There was a wonderful, a startling
flavour in it, the flavour of gigantic spaces and of rolling leagues of
emptiness. Neither among mountains nor upon the sea had she ever found
an atmosphere so fiercely pure, clean and lively with unutterable
freedom. She leaned out to it, shutting her eyes. And now that she saw
nothing her palate savoured it more intensely. The thought of her father
fled from her. All detailed thoughts, all the minutia of the mind were
swept away. She was bracing herself to an encounter with something
gigantic, something unshackled, the being from whose lips this wonderful
breath flowed.

When two lovers kiss their breath mingles, and, if they really love,
each is conscious that in the breath of the loved one is the loved one's
soul, coming forth from the temple of the body through the temple door.
As Domini leaned out, seeing nothing, she was conscious that in this
breath she drank there was a soul, and it seemed to her that it was the
soul which flames in the centre of things, and beyond. She could not
think any longer of her father as an outcast because he had abandoned a
religion. For all religions were surely here, marching side by side, and
behind them, background to them, there was something far greater than
any religion. Was it snow or fire? Was it the lawlessness of that which
has made laws, or the calm of that which has brought passion into being?
Greater love than is in any creed, or greater freedom than is in any
human liberty? Domini only felt that if she had ever been a slave at
this moment she would have died of joy, realising the boundless freedom
that circles this little earth.

"Thank God for it!" she murmured aloud.

Her own words woke her to a consciousness of ordinary things--or made
her sleep to the eternal.

She closed the window and sat down.

A little later the sun came out again, and the various shades of yellow
and of orange that played over the wrinkled earth deepened and glowed.
Domini had sunk into a lethargy so complete that, though not asleep, she
was scarcely aware of the sun. She was dreaming of liberty.

Presently the train slackened and stopped. She heard a loud chattering
of many voices and looked out. The sun was now shining brilliantly,
and she saw a station crowded with Arabs in white burnouses, who were
vociferously greeting friends in the train, were offering enormous
oranges for sale to the passengers, or were walking up and down gazing
curiously into the carriages, with the unblinking determination and
indifference to a return of scrutiny which she had already noticed and
thought animal. A guard came up, told her the place was El-Akbara, and
that the train would stay there ten minutes to wait for the train from
Beni-Mora. She decided to get out and stretch her cramped limbs. On
the platform she found Suzanne, looking like a person who had just been
slapped. One side of the maid's face was flushed and covered with a
faint tracery of tiny lines. The other was greyish white. Sleep hung
in her eyes, over which the lids drooped as if they were partially
paralysed. Her fingers were yellow from peeling an orange, and her smart
little hat was cocked on one side. There were grains of sand on her
black gown, and when she saw her mistress she at once began to
compress her lips, and to assume the expression of obstinate patience
characteristic of properly-brought-up servants who find themselves
travelling far from home in outlandish places.

"Have you been asleep, Suzanne?"

"No, Mam'zelle."

"You've had an orange?"

"I couldn't get it down, Mam'zelle."

"Would you like to see if you can get a cup of coffee here?"

"No, thank you, Mam'zelle. I couldn't touch this Arab stuff."

"We shall soon be there now."

Suzanne made all her naturally small features look much smaller, glanced
down at her skirt, and suddenly began to shake the grains of sand from
it in an outraged manner, at the same time extending her left foot. Two
or three young Arabs came up and stood, staring, round her. Their eyes
were magnificent, and gravely observant. Suzanne went on shaking and
patting her skirt, and Domini walked away down the platform, wondering
what a French maid's mind was like. Suzanne's certainly had its
limitations. It was evident that she was horrified by the sight of bare
legs. Why?

As Domini walked along the platform among the fruit-sellers, the guides,
the turbaned porters with their badges, the staring children and the
ragged wanderers who thronged about the train, she thought of the desert
to which she was now so near. It lay, she knew, beyond the terrific
wall of rock that faced her. But she could see no opening. The towering
summits of the cliffs, jagged as the teeth of a wolf, broke crudely upon
the serene purity of the sky. Somewhere, concealed in the darkness of
the gorge at their feet, was the mouth from which had poured forth that
wonderful breath, quivering with freedom and with unearthly things. The
sun was already declining, and the light it cast becoming softened and
romantic. Soon there would be evening in the desert. Then there would
be night. And she would be there in the night with all things that the
desert holds.

A train of camels was passing on the white road that descended into the
shadow of the gorge. Some savage-looking men accompanied them, crying
continually, "Oosh! Oosh!" They disappeared, desert-men with their
desert-beasts, bound no doubt on some tremendous journey through the
regions of the sun. Where would they at last unlade the groaning camels?
Domini saw them in the midst of dunes red with the dying fires of the
west. And their shadows lay along the sands like weary things reposing.

She started when a low voice spoke to her in French, and, turning round,
saw a tall Arab boy, magnificently dressed in pale blue cloth trousers,
a Zouave jacket braided with gold, and a fez, standing near her. She was
struck by the colour of his skin, which was faint as the colour of _cafe
au lait_, and by the contrast between his huge bulk and his languid,
almost effeminate, demeanour. As she turned he smiled at her calmly, and
lifted one hand toward the wall of rock.

"Madame has seen the desert?" he asked.

"Never," answered Domini.

"It is the garden of oblivion," he said, still in a low voice, and
speaking with a delicate refinement that was almost mincing. "In the
desert one forgets everything; even the little heart one loves, and the
desire of one's own soul."

"How can that be?" asked Domini.

"Shal-lah. It is the will of God. One remembers nothing any more."

His eyes were fixed upon the gigantic pinnacles of the rocks. There was
something fanatical and highly imaginative in their gaze.

"What is your name?" Domini asked.

"Batouch, Madame. You are going to Beni-Mora?"

"Yes, Batouch."

"I too. To-night, under the mimosa trees, I shall compose a poem. It
will be addressed to Irena, the dancing-girl. She is like the little
moon when it first comes up above the palm trees."

Just then the train from Beni-Mora ran into the station, and Domini
turned to seek her carriage. As she was coming to it she noticed, with
the pang of the selfish traveller who wishes to be undisturbed, that
a tall man, attended by an Arab porter holding a green bag, was at the
door of it and was evidently about to get in. He glanced round as Domini
came up, half drew back rather awkwardly as if to allow her to precede
him, then suddenly sprang in before her. The Arab lifted in the bag,
and the man, endeavouring hastily to thrust some money into his hand,
dropped the coin, which fell down between the step of the carriage
and the platform. The Arab immediately made a greedy dive after it,
interposing his body between Domini and the train; and she was obliged
to stand waiting while he looked for it, grubbing frantically in
the earth with his brown fingers, and uttering muffled exclamations,
apparently of rage. Meanwhile, the tall man had put the green bag up
on the rack, gone quickly to the far side of the carriage, and sat down
looking out of the window.

Domini was struck by the mixture of indecision and blundering haste
which he had shown, and by his impoliteness. Evidently he was not a
gentleman, she thought, or he would surely have obeyed his first impulse
and allowed her to get into the train before him. It seemed, too, as
if he were determined to be discourteous, for he sat with his shoulder
deliberately turned towards the door, and made no attempt to get his
Arab out of the way, although the train was just about to start. Domini
was very tired, and she began to feel angry with him, contemptuous too.
The Arab could not find the money, and the little horn now piped its
warning of departure. It was absolutely necessary for her to get in at
once if she did not mean to stay at El-Akbara. She tried to pass the
grovelling Arab, but as she did so he suddenly sprang up, jumped on
to the step of the carriage, and, thrusting his body half through the
doorway, began to address a torrent of Arabic to the passenger within.
The horn sounded again, and the carriage jerked backwards preparatory to
starting on its way to Beni-Mora.

Domini caught hold of the short European jacket the Arab was wearing,
and said in French:

"You must let me get in at once. The train is going."

The man, however, intent on replacing the coin he had lost, took no
notice of her, but went on vociferating and gesticulating. The traveller
said something in Arabic. Domini was now very angry. She gripped the
jacket, exerted all her force, and pulled the Arab violently from the
door. He alighted on the platform beside her and nearly fell. Before he
had recovered himself she sprang up into the train, which began to
move at that very moment. As she got in, the man who had caused all the
bother was leaning forward with a bit of silver in his hand, looking as
if he were about to leave his seat. Domini cast a glance of contempt at
him, and he turned quickly to the window again and stared out, at the
same time putting the coin back into his pocket. A dull flush rose on
his cheek, but he attempted no apology, and did not even offer to fasten
the lower handle of the door.

"What a boor!" Domini thought as she bent out of the window to do it.

When she turned from the door, after securing the handle, she found the
carriage full of a pale twilight. The train was stealing into the gorge,
following the caravan of camels which she had seen disappearing. She
paid no more attention to her companion, and her feeling of acute
irritation against him died away for the moment. The towering cliffs
cast mighty shadows, the darkness deepened, the train, quickening its
speed, seemed straining forward into the arms of night. There was a
chill in the air. Domini drank it into her lungs again, and again
was startled, stirred, by the life and the mentality of it. She was
conscious of receiving it with passion, as if, indeed, she held her lips
to a mouth and drank some being's very nature into hers. She forgot her
recent vexation and the man who had caused it. She forgot everything in
mere sensation. She had no time to ask, "Whither am I going?" She felt
like one borne upon a wave, seaward, to the wonder, to the danger,
perhaps, of a murmuring unknown. The rocks leaned forward; their teeth
were fastened in the sky; they enclosed the train, banishing the sun and
the world from all the lives within it. She caught a fleeting glimpse of
rushing waters far beneath her; of crumbling banks, covered with debris
like the banks of a disused quarry; of shattered boulders, grouped in a
wild disorder, as if they had been vomited forth from some underworld
or cast headlong from the sky; of the flying shapes of fruit trees,
mulberries and apricot trees, oleanders and palms; of dull yellow walls
guarding pools the colour of absinthe, imperturbable and still. A strong
impression of increasing cold and darkness grew in her, and the noises
of the train became hollow, and seemed to be expanding, as if they were
striving to press through the impending rocks and find an outlet
into space; failing, they rose angrily, violently, in Domini's ears,
protesting, wrangling, shouting, declaiming. The darkness became like
the darkness of a nightmare. All the trees vanished, as if they fled in
fear. The rocks closed in as if to crush the train. There was a moment
in which Domini shut her eyes, like one expectant of a tremendous blow
that cannot be avoided.

She opened them to a flood of gold, out of which the face of a man
looked, like a face looking out of the heart of the sun.



CHAPTER III

It flashed upon her with the desert, with the burning heaps of carnation
and orange-coloured rocks, with the first sand wilderness, the first
brown villages glowing in the late radiance of the afternoon like carven
things of bronze, the first oasis of palms, deep green as a wave of the
sea and moving like a wave, the first wonder of Sahara warmth and Sahara
distance. She passed through the golden door into the blue country, and
saw this face, and, for a moment, moved by the exalted sensation of a
magical change in all her world, she looked at it simply as a new sight
presented, with the sun, the mighty rocks, the hard, blind villages, and
the dense trees, to her eyes, and connected it with nothing. It was part
of this strange and glorious desert region to her. That was all, for a
moment.

In the play of untempered golden light the face seemed pale. It was
narrow, rather long, with marked and prominent features, a nose with a
high bridge, a mouth with straight, red lips, and a powerful chin. The
eyes were hazel, almost yellow, with curious markings of a darker shade
in the yellow, dark centres that looked black, and dark outer circles.
The eyelashes were very long, the eyebrows thick and strongly curved.
The forehead was high, and swelled out slightly above the temples. There
was no hair on the face, which was closely shaved. Near the mouth were
two faint lines that made Domini think of physical suffering, and also
of mediaeval knights. Despite the glory of the sunshine there seemed to
be a shadow falling across the face.

This was all that Domini noticed before the spell of change and the
abrupt glory was broken, and she knew that she was staring into the face
of the man who had behaved so rudely at the station of El-Akbara. The
knowledge gave her a definite shock, and she thought that her expression
must have changed abruptly, for a dull flush rose on the stranger's thin
cheeks and mounted to his rugged forehead. He glanced out of the window
and moved his hands uneasily. Domini noticed that they scarcely tallied
with his face. Though scrupulously clean, they looked like the hands of
a labourer, hard, broad, and brown. Even his wrists, and a small section
of his left forearm, which showed as he lifted his left hand from one
knee to the other, were heavily tinted by the sun. The spaces between
the fingers were wide, as they usually are in hands accustomed to
grasping implements, but the fingers themselves were rather delicate and
artistic.

Domini observed this swiftly. Then she saw that her neighbour was
unpleasantly conscious of her observation. This vexed her vaguely,
perhaps because even so trifling a circumstance was like a thin link
between them. She snapped it by ceasing to look at or think of him. The
window was down. A delicate and warm breeze drifted in, coming from
the thickets of the palms. In flashing out of the darkness of the gorge
Domini had had the sensation of passing into a new world and a new
atmosphere. The sensation stayed with her now that she was no longer
dreaming or giving the reins to her imagination, but was calmly herself.
Against the terrible rampart of rock the winds beat across the land of
the Tell. But they die there frustrated. And the rains journey thither
and fail, sinking into the absinthe-coloured pools of the gorge. And the
snows and even the clouds stop, exhausted in their pilgrimage. The gorge
is not their goal, but it is their grave, and the desert never sees
their burial. So Domini's first sense of casting away the known
remained, and even grew, but now strongly and quietly. It was well
founded, she thought. For she looked out of the carriage window towards
the barrier she was leaving, and saw that on this side, guarding the
desert from the world that is not desert, it was pink in the evening
light, deepening here and there to rose colour, whereas on the far side
it had a rainy hue as of rocks in England. And there was a lustre of
gold in the hills, tints of glowing bronze slashed with a red line as
the heart of a wound, but recalling the heart of a flower. The folds of
the earth glistened. There was flame down there in the river bed. The
wreckage of the land, the broken fragments, gleamed as if braided with
precious things. Everywhere the salt crystals sparkled with the violence
of diamonds. Everywhere there was a strength of colour that hurled
itself to the gaze, unabashed and almost savage, the colour of summer
that never ceases, of heat that seldom dies, in a land where there is no
autumn and seldom a flitting cold.

Down on the road near the village there were people; old men playing
the "lady's game" with stones set in squares of sand, women peeping from
flat roofs and doorways, children driving goats. A man, like a fair and
beautiful Christ, with long hair and a curling beard, beat on the ground
with a staff and howled some tuneless notes. He was dressed in red and
green. No one heeded him. A distant sound of the beating of drums rose
in the air, mingled with piercing cries uttered by a nasal voice. And
as if below it, like the orchestral accompaniment of a dramatic
solo, hummed many blending noises; faint calls of labourers in the
palm-gardens and of women at the wells; chatter of children in dusky
courts sheltered with reeds and pale-stemmed grasses; dim pipings of
homeward-coming shepherds drowned, with their pattering charges, in the
golden vapours of the west; soft twitterings of birds beyond brown walls
in green seclusions; dull barking of guard dogs; mutter of camel drivers
to their velvet-footed beasts.

The caravan which Domini had seen descending into the gorge reappeared,
moving deliberately along the desert road towards the south. A
watch-tower peeped above the palms. Doves were circling round it. Many
of them were white. They flew like ivory things above this tower of
glowing bronze, which slept at the foot of the pink rocks. On the left
rose a mass of blood-red earth and stone. Slanting rays of the sun
struck it, and it glowed mysteriously like a mighty jewel.

As Domini leaned out of the window, and the salt crystals sparkled to
her eyes, and the palms swayed languidly above the waters, and the rose
and mauve of the hills, the red and orange of the earth, streamed by
in the flames of the sun before the passing train like a barbaric
procession, to the sound of the hidden drums, the cry of the hidden
priest, and all the whispering melodies of these strange and unknown
lives, tears started into her eyes. The entrance into this land of flame
and colour, through its narrow and terrific portal, stirred her almost
beyond her present strength. The glory of this world mounted to her
heart, oppressing it. The embrace of Nature was so violent that it
crushed her. She felt like a little fly that had sought to wing its
way to the sun and, at a million miles' distance from it, was being
shrivelled by its heat. When all the voices of the village fainted
away she was glad, although she strained her ears to hear their fading
echoes. Suddenly she knew that she was very tired, so tired that
emotions acted upon her as physical exertion acts upon an exhausted man.
She sat down and shut her eyes. For a long time she stayed with her eyes
shut, but she knew that on the windows strange lights were glittering,
that the carriage was slowly filling with the ineffable splendours of
the west. Long afterwards she often wondered whether she endowed the
sunset of that day with supernatural glories because she was so tired.
Perhaps the salt mountain of El-Alia did not really sparkle like the
celestial mountains in the visions of the saints. Perhaps the long chain
of the Aures did not really look as if all its narrow clefts had been
powdered with the soft and bloomy leaves of unearthly violets, and
the desert was not cloudy in the distance towards the Zibans with the
magical blue she thought she saw there, a blue neither of sky nor sea,
but like the hue at the edge of a flame in the heart of a wood fire. She
often wondered, but she never knew.

The sound of a movement made her look up. Her companion was changing his
place and going to the other side of the compartment. He walked softly,
no doubt with the desire not to disturb Domini. His back was towards her
for an instant, and she noticed that he was a powerful man, though
very thin, and that his gait was heavy. It made her think again of his
labourer's hands, and she began to wonder idly what was his rank and
what he did. He sat down in the far corner on the same side as herself
and stared out of his window, crossing his legs. He wore large boots
with square toes, clumsy and unfashionable, but comfortable and good for
walking in. His clothes had obviously been made by a French tailor.
The stuff of them was grey and woolly, and they were cut tighter to
the figure than English clothes generally are. He had on a black silk
necktie, and a soft brown travelling hat dented in the middle. By the
way in which he looked out of the window, Domini judged that he, too,
was seeing the desert for the first time. There was something almost
passionately attentive in his attitude, something of strained eagerness
in that part of his face which she could see from where she was
sitting. His cheek was not pale, as she had thought at first, but brown,
obviously burnt by the sun of Africa. But she felt that underneath the
sunburn there was pallor. She fancied he might be a painter, and was
noting all the extraordinary colour effects with the definiteness of a
man who meant, perhaps, to reproduce them on canvas.

The light, which had now the peculiar, almost supernatural softness
and limpidity of light falling at evening from a declining sun in a hot
country, came full upon him, and brightened his hair. Domini saw that it
was brown with some chestnut in it, thick, and cut extremely short, as
if his head had recently been shaved. She felt convinced that he was not
French. He might be an Austrian, perhaps, or a Russian from the south of
Russia. He remained motionless in that attitude of profound observation.
It suggested great force not merely of body, but also of mind, an almost
abnormal concentration upon the thing observed. This was a man who
could surely shut out the whole world to look at a grain of sand, if he
thought it beautiful or interesting.

They were near Beni-Mora now. Its palms appeared far off, and in the
midst of them a snow-white tower. The Sahara lay beyond and around it,
rolling away from the foot of low, brown hills, that looked as if
they had been covered with a soft powder of bronze. A long spur of
rose-coloured mountains stretched away towards the south. The sun was
very near his setting. Small, red clouds floated in the western quarter
of the sky, and the far desert was becoming mysteriously dim and blue,
like a remote sea. Here and there thin wreaths of smoke ascended from
it, and lights glittered in it, like earth-bound stars.

Domini had never before understood how strangely, how strenuously,
colour can at moments appeal to the imagination. In this pageant of the
East she saw arise the naked soul of Africa; no faded, gentle thing,
fearful of being seen, fearful of being known and understood; but a
phenomenon vital, bold and gorgeous, like the sound of a trumpet pealing
a great _reveille_. As she looked on this flaming land laid fearlessly
bare before her, disdaining the clothing of grass, plant and flower, of
stream and tree, displaying itself with an almost brazen _insouciance_,
confident in its spacious power, and in its golden pride, her heart
leaped up as if in answer to a deliberate appeal. The fatigue in her
died. She responded to this _reveille_ like a young warrior who, so
soon as he is wakened, stretches out his hand for his sword. The sunset
flamed on her clear, white cheeks, giving them its hue of life. And
her nature flamed to meet it. In the huge spaces of the Sahara her soul
seemed to hear the footsteps of Freedom treading towards the south.
And all her dull perplexities, all her bitterness of _ennui_, all her
questionings and doubts, were swept away on the keen desert wind
into the endless plains. She had come from her last confession asking
herself, "What am I?" She had felt infinitely small confronted with the
pettiness of modern, civilised life in a narrow, crowded world. Now she
did not torture herself with any questions, for she knew that something
large, something capable, something perhaps even noble, rose up within
her to greet all this nobility, all this mighty frankness and fierce,
undressed sincerity of nature. This desert and this sun would be her
comrades, and she was not afraid of them.

Without being aware of it she breathed out a great sigh, feeling the
necessity of liberating her joy of spirit, of letting the body, however
inadequately and absurdly, make some demonstration in response to the
secret stirring of the soul. The man in the far corner of the carriage
turned and looked at her. When she heard this movement Domini remembered
her irritation against him at El-Akbara. In this splendid moment the
feeling seemed to her so paltry and contemptible that she had a lively
impulse to make amends for the angry look she had cast at him. Possibly,
had she been quite normal, she would have checked such an impulse. The
voice of conventionality would have made itself heard. But Domini could
act vigorously, and quite carelessly, when she was moved. And she was
deeply moved now, and longed to lavish the humanity, the sympathy and
ardour that were quick in her. In answer to the stranger's movement she
turned towards him, opening her lips to speak to him. Afterwards she
never knew what she meant to say, whether, if she had spoken, the words
would have been French or English. For she did not speak.

The man's face was illuminated by the setting sun as he sat half round
on his seat, leaning with his right hand palm downwards on the cushions.
The light glittered on his short hair. He had pushed back his soft hat,
and exposed his high, rugged forehead to the air, and his brown left
hand gripped the top of the carriage door. The large, knotted veins
on it, the stretched sinews, were very perceptible. The hand looked
violent. Domini's eyes fell on it as she turned. The impulse to speak
began to fail, and when she glanced up at the man's face she no longer
felt it at all. For, despite the glory of the sunset on him, there
seemed to be a cold shadow in his eyes. The faint lines near his
mouth looked deeper than before, and now suggested most powerfully the
dreariness, the harshness of long-continued suffering. The mouth itself
was compressed and grim, and the man's whole expression was fierce and
startling as the expression of a criminal bracing himself to endure
inevitable detection. So crude and piercing indeed was this mask
confronting her that Domini started and was inclined to shudder. For
a minute the man's eyes held hers, and she thought she saw in them
unfathomable depths of misery or of wickedness. She hardly knew which.
Sorrow was like crime, and crime like the sheer desolation of grief to
her just then. And she thought of the outer darkness spoken of in the
Bible. It came before her in the sunset. Her father was in it, and this
stranger stood by him. The thing was as vital, and fled as swiftly as a
hallucination in a madman's brain.

Domini looked down. All the triumph died out in her, all the exquisite
consciousness of the freedom, the colour, the bigness of life. For there
was a black spot on the sun--humanity, God's mistake in the great plan
of Creation. And the shadow cast by humanity tempered, even surely
conquered, the light. She wondered whether she would always feel the
cold of the sunless places in the golden dominion of the sun.

The man had dropped his eyes too. His hand fell from the door to his
knee. He did not move till the train ran into Beni-Mora, and the eager
faces of countless Arabs stared in upon them from the scorched field of
manoeuvres where Spahis were exercising in the gathering twilight.



CHAPTER IV

Having given her luggage ticket to a porter, Domini passed out of the
station followed by Suzanne, who looked and walked like an exhausted
marionette. Batouch, who had emerged from a third-class compartment
before the train stopped, followed them closely, and as they reached the
jostling crowd of Arabs which swarmed on the roadway he joined them with
the air of a proprietor.

"Which is Madame's hotel?"

Domini looked round.

"Ah, Batouch!"

Suzanne jumped as if her string had been sharply pulled, and cast a
glance of dreary suspicion upon the poet. She looked at his legs, then
upwards.

He wore white socks which almost met his pantaloons. Scarcely more than
an inch of pale brown skin was visible. The gold buttons of his jacket
glittered brightly. His blue robe floated majestically from his broad
shoulders, and the large tassel of his fez fell coquettishly towards
his left ear, above which was set a pale blue flower with a woolly green
leaf.

Suzanne was slightly reassured by the flower and the bright buttons.
She felt that they needed a protector in this mob of shouting brown and
black men, who clamoured about them like savages, exposing bare legs and
arms, even bare chests, in a most barbarous manner.

"We are going to the Hotel du Desert," Domini continued. "Is it far?"

"Only a few minutes, Madame."

"I shall like to walk there."

Suzanne collapsed. Her bones became as wax with apprehension. She saw
herself toiling over leagues of sand towards some nameless hovel.

"Suzanne, you can get into the omnibus and take the handbags."

At the sweet word omnibus a ray of hope stole into the maid's heart, and
when a nicely-dressed man, in a long blue coat and indubitable trousers,
assisted her politely into a vehicle which was unmistakable she almost
wept for joy.

Meanwhile Domini, escorted serenely by the poet, walked towards the long
gardens of Beni-Mora. She passed over a wooden bridge. White dust was
flying from the road, along which many of the Arab aristocracy were
indolently strolling, carrying lightly in their hands small red roses or
sprigs of pink geranium. In their white robes they looked, she thought,
like monks, though the cigarettes many of them were smoking fought
against the illusion. Some of them were dressed like Batouch in
pale-coloured cloth. They held each other's hands loosely as they
sauntered along, chattering in soft contralto voices. Two or three were
attended by servants, who walked a pace or two behind them on the left.
These were members of great families, rulers of tribes, men who had
influence over the Sahara people. One, a shortish man with a coal-black
beard, moved so majestically that he seemed almost a giant. His face was
very pale. On one of his small, almost white, hands glittered a diamond
ring. A boy with a long, hooked nose strolled gravely near him, wearing
brown kid gloves and a turban spangled with gold.

"That is the Kaid of Tonga, Madame," whispered Batouch, looking at the
pale man reverently. "He is here _en permission_."

"How white he is."

"They tried to poison him. Ever since he is ill inside. That is his
brother. The brown gloves are very chic."

A light carriage rolled rapidly by them in a white mist of dust. It was
drawn by a pair of white mules, who whisked their long tails as they
trotted briskly, urged on by a cracking whip. A big boy with heavy brown
eyes was the coachman. By his side sat a very tall young negro with a
humorous pointed nose, dressed in primrose yellow. He grinned at Batouch
out of the mist, which accentuated the coal-black hue of his whimsical,
happy face.

"That is the Agha's son with Mabrouk."

They turned aside from the road and came into a long tunnel formed by
mimosa trees that met above a broad path. To right and left were other
little paths branching among the trunks of fruit trees and the narrow
twigs of many bushes that grew luxuriantly. Between sandy brown banks,
carefully flattened and beaten hard by the spades of Arab gardeners,
glided streams of opaque water that were guided from the desert by a
system of dams. The Kaid's mill watched over them and the great wall
of the fort. In the tunnel the light was very delicate and tinged with
green. The noise of the water flowing was just audible. A few Arabs were
sitting on benches in dreamy attitudes, with their heelless slippers
hanging from the toes of their bare feet. Beyond the entrance of the
tunnel Domini could see two horsemen galloping at a tremendous pace into
the desert. Their red cloaks streamed out over the sloping quarters of
their horses, which devoured the earth as if in a frenzy of emulation.
They disappeared into the last glories of the sun, which still lingered
on the plain and blazed among the summits of the red mountains.

All the contrasts of this land were exquisite to Domini and, in some
mysterious way, suggested eternal things; whispering through colour,
gleam, and shadow, through the pattern of leaf and rock, through the
air, now fresh, now tenderly warm and perfumed, through the silence that
hung like a filmy cloud in the golden heaven.

She and Batouch entered the tunnel, passing at once into definite
evening. The quiet of these gardens was delicious, and was only
interrupted now and then by the sound of wheels upon the road as a
carriage rolled by to some house which was hidden in the distance of the
oasis. The seated Arabs scarcely disturbed it by their murmured talk.
Many of them indeed said nothing, but rested like lotus-eaters in
graceful attitudes, with hanging hands, and eyes, soft as the eyes of
gazelles, that regarded the shadowy paths and creeping waters with a
grave serenity born of the inmost spirit of idleness.

But Batouch loved to talk, and soon began a languid monologue.

He told Domini that he had been in Paris, where he had been the guest of
a French poet who adored the East; that he himself was "instructed," and
not like other Arabs; that he smoked the hashish and could sing the love
songs of the Sahara; that he had travelled far in the desert, to Souf
and to Ouargla beyond the ramparts of the Dunes; that he composed
verses in the night when the uninstructed, the brawlers, the drinkers of
absinthe and the domino players were sleeping or wasting their time
in the darkness over the pastimes of the lewd, when the sybarites
were sweating under the smoky arches of the Moorish baths, and the
_marechale_ of the dancing-girls sat in her flat-roofed house guarding
the jewels and the amulets of her gay confederation. These verses were
written both in Arabic and in French, and the poet of Paris and his
friends had found them beautiful as the dawn, and as the palm trees of
Ourlana by the Artesian wells. All the girls of the Ouled Nails were
celebrated in these poems--Aishoush and Irena, Fatma and Baali. In them
also were enshrined legends of the venerable marabouts who slept in the
Paradise of Allah, and tales of the great warriors who had fought above
the rocky precipices of Constantine and far off among the sands of
the South. They told the stories of the Koulouglis, whose mothers were
Moorish slaves, and romances in which figured the dark-skinned Beni
M'Zab and the freed negroes who had fled away from the lands in the very
heart of the sun.

All this information, not wholly devoid of a naive egoism, Batouch
poured forth gently and melodiously as they walked through the twilight
in the tunnel. And Domini was quite content to listen. The strange names
the poet mentioned, his liquid pronunciation of them, his allusions
to wild events that had happened long ago in desert places, and to the
lives of priests of his old religion, of fanatics, and girls who rode
on camels caparisoned in red to the dancing-houses of Sahara cities--all
these things cradled her humour at this moment and seemed to plant her,
like a mimosa tree, deep down in this sand garden of the sun.

She had forgotten her bitter sensation in the railway carriage when it
was recalled to her mind by an incident that clashed with her present
mood.

Steps sounded on the path behind them, going faster than they were, and
presently Domini saw her fellow-traveller striding along, accompanied
by a young Arab who was carrying the green bag. The stranger was looking
straight before him down the tunnel, and he went by swiftly. But his
guide had something to say to Batouch, and altered his pace to keep
beside them for a moment. He was a very thin, lithe, skittish-looking
youth, apparently about twenty-three years old, with a chocolate-brown
skin, high cheek bones, long, almond-shaped eyes twinkling with
dissipated humour, and a large mouth that smiled showing pointed white
teeth. A straggling black moustache sprouted on his upper lip, and long
coarse strands of jet-black hair escaped from under the front of a fez
that was pushed back on his small head. His neck was thin and long, and
his hands were wonderfully delicate and expressive, with rosy and quite
perfect nails. When he laughed he had a habit of throwing his head
forward and tucking in his chin, letting the tassel of his fez fall over
his temple to left or right. He was dressed in white with a burnous,
and had a many-coloured piece of silk with frayed edges wound about his
waist, which was as slim as a young girl's.

He spoke to Batouch with intense vivacity in Arabic, at the same
time shooting glances half-obsequious, half-impudent, wholly and even
preternaturally keen and intelligent at Domini. Batouch replied with the
dignified languor that seemed peculiar to him. The colloquy continued
for two or three minutes. Domini thought it sounded like a quarrel, but
she was not accustomed to Arabs' talk. Meanwhile, the stranger in front
had slackened his pace, and was obviously lingering for his neglectful
guide. Once or twice he nearly stopped, and made a movement as if to
turn round. But he checked it and went on slowly. His guide spoke more
and more vehemently, and suddenly, tucking in his chin and displaying
his rows of big and dazzling teeth, burst into a gay and boyish laugh,
at the same time shaking his head rapidly. Then he shot one last sly
look at Domini and hurried on, airily swinging the green bag to and fro.
His arms had tiny bones, but they were evidently strong, and he walked
with the light ease of a young animal. After he had gone he turned his
head once and stared full at Domini. She could not help laughing at the
vanity and consciousness of his expression. It was childish. Yet there
was something ruthless and wicked in it too. As he came up to the
stranger the latter looked round, said something to him, and then
hastened forward. Domini was struck by the difference between their
gaits. For the stranger, although he was so strongly built and muscular,
walked rather heavily and awkwardly, with a peculiar shuffling motion
of his feet. She began to wonder how old he was. About thirty-five or
thirty-seven, she thought.

"That is Hadj," said Batouch in his soft, rich voice.

"Hadj?"

"Yes. He is my cousin. He lives in Beni-Mora, but he, too, has been in
Paris. He has been in prison too."

"What for?"

"Stabbing."

Batouch gave this piece of information with quiet indifference, and
continued

"He likes to laugh. He is lazy. He has earned a great deal of money, and
now he has none. To-night he is very gay, because he has a client."

"I see. Then he is a guide?"

"Many people in Beni-Mora are guides. But Hadj is always lucky in
getting the English."

"That man with him isn't English!" Domini exclaimed.

She had wondered what the traveller's nationality was, but it had never
occurred to her that it might be the same as her own.

"Yes, he is. And he is going to the Hotel du Desert. You and he are the
only English here, and almost the only travellers. It is too early for
many travellers yet. They fear the heat. And besides, few English come
here now. What a pity! They spend money, and like to see everything.
Hadj is very anxious to buy a costume at Tunis for the great _fete_ at
the end of Ramadan. It will cost fifty or sixty francs. He hopes the
Englishman is rich. But all the English are rich and generous."

Here Batouch looked steadily at Domini with his large, unconcerned eyes.

"This one speaks Arabic a little."

Domini made no reply. She was surprised by this piece of information.
There was something, she thought, essentially un-English about the
stranger. He was certainly not dressed by an English tailor. But it was
not only that which had caused her mistake. His whole air and look, his
manner of holding himself, of sitting, of walking--yes, especially of
walking--were surely foreign. Yet, when she came to think about it, she
could not say that they were characteristic of any other country. Idly
she had said to herself that the stranger might be an Austrian or a
Russian. But she had been thinking of his colouring. It happened that
two _attaches_ of those two nations, whom she had met frequently in
London, had hair of that shade of rather warm brown.

"He does not look like an Englishman," she said presently.

"He can talk in French and in Arabic, but Hadj says he is English."

"How should Hadj know?"

"Because he has the eyes of the jackal, and has been with many English.
We are getting near to the Catholic church, Madame. You will see it
through the trees. And there is Monsieur the Cure coming towards us. He
is coming from his house, which is near the hotel."

At some distance in the twilight of the tunnel Domini saw a black figure
in a soutane walking very slowly towards them. The stranger, who had
been covering the ground rapidly with his curious, shuffling stride,
was much nearer to it than they were, and, if he kept on at his
present pace, would soon pass it. But suddenly Domini saw him pause and
hesitate. He bent down and seemed to be doing something to his boot.
Hadj dropped the green bag, and was evidently about to kneel down, and
assist him when he lifted himself up abruptly and looked before him, as
if at the priest who was approaching, then turned sharply to the right
into a path which led out of the garden to the arcades of the Rue
Berthe. Hadj followed, gesticulating frantically, and volubly explaining
that the hotel was in the opposite direction. But the stranger did not
stop. He only glanced swiftly back over his shoulder once, and then
continued on his way.

"What a funny man that is!" said Batouch. "What does he want to do?"

Domini did not answer him, for the priest was just passing them, and she
saw the church to the left among the trees. It was a plain, unpretending
building, with a white wooden door set in an arch. Above the arch were
a small cross, two windows with rounded tops, a clock, and a white tower
with a pink roof. She looked at it, and at the priest, whose face was
dark and meditative, with lustrous, but sad, brown eyes. Yet she thought
of the stranger.

Her attention was beginning to be strongly fixed upon the unknown man.
His appearance and manner were so unusual that it was impossible not to
notice him.

"There is the hotel, Madame!" said Batouch.

Domini saw it standing at right angles to the church, facing the
gardens. A little way back from the church was the priest's house, a
white building shaded by date palms and pepper trees. As they drew near
the stranger reappeared under the arcade, above which was the terrace of
the hotel. He vanished through the big doorway, followed by Hadj.

While Suzanne was unpacking Domini came out on to the broad terrace
which ran along the whole length of the Hotel du Desert. Her bedroom
opened on to it in front, and at the back communicated with a small
salon. This salon opened on to a second and smaller terrace, from which
the desert could be seen beyond the palms. There seemed to be no guests
in the hotel. The verandah was deserted, and the peace of the soft
evening was profound. Against the white parapet a small, round table and
a cane armchair had been placed. A subdued patter of feet in slippers
came up the stairway, and an Arab servant appeared with a tea-tray.
He put it down on the table with the precise deftness which Domini had
already observed in the Arabs at Robertville, and swiftly vanished. She
sat down in the chair and poured out the tea, leaning her left arm on
the parapet.

Her head was very tired and her temples felt compressed. She was
thankful for the quiet round her. Any harsh voice would have been
intolerable to her just then. There were many sounds in the village, but
they were vague, and mingled, flowing together and composing one sound
that was soothing, the restrained and level voice of Life. It hummed in
Domini's ears as she sipped her tea, and gave an under-side of romance
to the peace. The light that floated in under the round arches of the
terrace was subdued. The sun had just gone down, and the bright colours
bloomed no more upon the mountains, which looked like silent monsters
that had lost the hue of youth and had suddenly become mysteriously old.
The evening star shone in a sky that still held on its Western border
some last pale glimmerings of day, and, at its signal, many dusky
wanderers folded their loose garments round them, slung their long guns
across their shoulders, and prepared to start on their journey, helped
by the cool night wind that blows in the desert when the sun departs.

Domini did not know of them, but she felt the near presence of the
desert, and the feeling quieted her nerves. She was thankful at this
moment that she was travelling without any woman friend and was not
persecuted by any sense of obligation. In her fatigue, to rest passive
in the midst of quiet, and soft light, calm in the belief, almost the
certainty, that this desert village contained no acquaintance to disturb
her, was to know all the joy she needed for the moment. She drank it
in dreamily. Liberty had always been her fetish. What woman had more
liberty than she had, here on this lonely verandah, with the shadowy
trees below?

The bell of the church near by chimed softly, and the familiar sound
fell strangely upon Domini's ears out here in Africa, reminding her of
many sorrows. Her religion was linked with terrible memories, with cruel
struggles, with hateful scenes of violence. Lord Rens had been a man of
passionate temperament. Strong in goodness when he had been led by love,
he had been equally strong in evil when hate had led him. Domini had
been forced to contemplate at close quarters the raw character of a
warped man, from whom circumstance had stripped all tenderness, nearly
all reticence. The terror of truth was known to her. She had shuddered
before it, but she had been obliged to watch it during many years. In
coming to Beni-Mora she had had a sort of vague, and almost childish,
feeling that she was putting the broad sea between herself and it. Yet
before she had started it had been buried in the grave. She never wished
to behold such truth again. She wanted to look upon some other truth
of life--the truth of beauty, of calm, of freedom. Lord Rens had always
been a slave, the slave of love, most of all when he was filled with
hatred, and Domini, influenced by his example, instinctively connected
love with a chain. Only the love a human being has for God seemed to her
sometimes the finest freedom; the movement of the soul upward into the
infinite obedient to the call of the great Liberator. The love of man
for woman, of woman for man, she thought of as imprisonment, bondage.
Was not her mother a slave to the man who had wrecked her life and
carried her spirit beyond the chance of heaven? Was not her father a
slave to her mother? She shrank definitely from the contemplation of
herself loving, with all the strength she suspected in her heart, a
human being. In her religion only she had felt in rare moments something
of love. And now here, in this tremendous and conquering land, she felt
a divine stirring in her love for Nature. For that afternoon Nature, so
often calm and meditative, or gently indifferent, as one too complete to
be aware of those who lack completeness, had impetuously summoned her
to worship, had ardently appealed to her for something more than a
temperate watchfulness or a sober admiration. There had been a most
definite demand made upon her. Even in her fatigue and in this dreamy
twilight she was conscious of a latent excitement that was not lulled to
sleep.

And as she sat there, while the darkness grew in the sky and spread
secretly along the sandy rills among the trees, she wondered how
much she held within her to give in answer to this cry to her of
self-confident Nature. Was it only a little? She did not know. Perhaps
she was too tired to know. But however much it was it must seem meagre.
What is even a woman's heart given to the desert or a woman's soul to
the sea? What is the worship of anyone to the sunset among the hills, or
to the wind that lifts all the clouds from before the face of the moon?

A chill stole over Domini. She felt like a very poor woman, who can
never know the joy of giving, because she does not possess even a mite.

The church bell chimed again among the palms. Domini heard voices quite
clearly below her under the arcade. A French cafe was installed there,
and two or three soldiers were taking their _aperitif_ before dinner
out in the air. They were talking of France, as people in exile talk of
their country, with the deliberateness that would conceal regret and the
child's instinctive affection for the mother. Their voices made Domini
think again of the recruits, and then, because of them, of Notre Dame de
la Garde, the mother of God, looking towards Africa. She remembered the
tragedy of her last confession. Would she be able to confess here to
the Father whom she had seen strolling in the tunnel? Would she learn to
know here what she really was?

How warm it was in the night, and how warmth, as it develops the
fecundity of the earth, develops also the possibilities in many men and
women. Despite her lassitude of body, which kept her motionless as an
idol in her chair, with her arm lying along the parapet of the verandah,
Domini felt as if a confused crowd of things indefinable, but violent,
was already stirring within her nature, as if this new climate was
calling armed men into being. Could she not hear the murmur of their
voices, the distant clashing of their weapons?

Without being aware of it she was dropping into sleep. The sound of a
footstep on the wooden floor of the verandah recalled her. It was at
some distance behind her. It crossed the verandah and stopped. She felt
quite certain that it was the step of her fellow-traveller, not because
she knew he was staying in the hotel, but rather because of the curious,
uneven heaviness of the tread.

What was he doing? Looking over the parapet into the fruit gardens,
where the white figures of the Arabs were flitting through the trees?

He was perfectly silent. Domini was now wide awake. The feeling of calm
serenity had left her. She was nervously troubled by this presence near
her, and swiftly recalled the few trifling incidents of the day which
had begun to delineate a character for her. They were, she found, all
unpleasant, all, at least, faintly disagreeable. Yet, in sum, what was
their meaning? The sketch they traced was so slight, so confused, that
it told little. The last incident was the strangest. And again she saw
the long and luminous pathway of the tunnel, flickering with light
and shade, carpeted with the pale reflections of the leaves and narrow
branches of the trees, the black figure of the priest far down it, and
the tall form of the stranger in an attitude of painful hesitation. Each
time she had seen him, apparently desirous of doing something definite,
hesitation had overtaken him. In his indecision there was something
horrible to her, something alarming.

She wished he was not standing behind her, and her discomfort increased.
She could still hear the voices of the soldiers in the cafe. Perhaps he
was listening to them. They sounded louder.

The speakers were getting up from their seats. There was a jingling of
spurs, a tramp of feet, and the voices died away. The church bell
chimed again. As it did so Domini heard heavy and uneven steps cross the
verandah hurriedly. An instant later she heard a window shut sharply.

"Suzanne!" she called.

Her maid appeared, yawning, with various parcels in her hands.

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

"I sha'n't go down to the _salle-a-manger_ to-night. Tell them to give
me some dinner in my _salon_."

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

"You did not see who was on the verandah just now?"

The maid looked surprised.

"I was in Mademoiselle's room."

"Yes. How near the church is."

"Mademoiselle will have no difficulty in getting to Mass. She will not
be obliged to go among all the Arabs."

Domini smiled.

"I have come here to be among the Arabs, Suzanne."

"The porter of the omnibus tells me they are dirty and very dangerous.
They carry knives, and their clothes are full of fleas."

"You will feel quite differently about them in the morning. Don't forget
about dinner."

"I will speak about it at once, Mademoiselle."

Suzanne disappeared, walking as one who suspects an ambush.

After dinner Domini went again to the verandah. She found Batouch there.
He had now folded a snow-white turban round his head, and looked like
a young high priest of some ornate religion. He suggested that Domini
should come out with him to visit the Rue des Ouled Nails and see the
strange dances of the Sahara. But she declined.

"Not to-night, Batouch. I must go to bed. I haven't slept for two
nights."

"But I do not sleep, Madame. In the night I compose verses. My brain is
alive. My heart is on fire."

"Yes, but I am not a poet. Besides, I may be here for a long time. I
shall have many evenings to see the dances."

The poet looked displeased.

"The gentleman is going," he said. "Hadj is at the door waiting for him
now. But Hadj is afraid when he enters the street of the dancers."

"Why?"

"There is a girl there who wishes to kill him. Her name is Aishoush. She
was sent away from Beni-Mora for six months, but she has come back, and
after all this time she still wishes to kill Hadj."

"What has he done to her?"

"He has not loved her. Yes, Hadj is afraid, but he will go with the
gentleman because he must earn money to buy a costume for the _fete_ of
Ramadan. I also wish to buy a new costume."

He looked at Domini with a dignified plaintiveness. His pose against
the pillar of the verandah was superb. Over his blue cloth jacket he
had thrown a thin white burnous, which hung round him in classic folds.
Domini could scarcely believe that so magnificent a creature was touting
for a franc. The idea certainly did occur to her, but she banished it.
For she was a novice in Africa.

"I am too tired to go out to-night," she said decisively.

"Good-night, Madame. I shall be here to-morrow morning at seven o'clock.
The dawn in the garden of the gazelles is like the flames of Paradise,
and you can see the Spahis galloping upon horses that are beautiful
as--"

"I shall not get up early to-morrow."

Batouch assumed an expression that was tragically submissive and turned
to go. Just then Suzanne appeared at the French window of her bedroom.
She started as she perceived the poet, who walked slowly past her to the
staircase, throwing his burnous back from his big shoulders, and stood
looking after him. Her eyes fixed themselves upon the section of bare
leg that was visible above his stockings white as the driven snow, and a
faintly sentimental expression mingled with their defiance and alarm.

Domini got up from her chair and leaned over the parapet. A streak
of yellow light from the doorway of the hotel lay upon the white road
below, and in a moment she saw two figures come out from beneath the
verandah and pause there. Hadj was one, the stranger was the other.
The stranger struck a match and tried to light a cigar, but failed. He
struck another match, and then another, but still the cigar would not
draw. Hadj looked at him with mischievous astonishment.

"If Monsieur will permit me--" he began.

But the stranger took the cigar hastily from his mouth and flung it
away.

"I don't want to smoke," Domini heard him say in French.

Then he walked away with Hadj into the darkness.

As they disappeared Domini heard a faint shrieking in the distance. It
was the music of the African hautboy.

The night was marvellously dry and warm. The thickly growing trees in
the garden scarcely moved. It was very still and very dark. Suzanne,
standing at her window, looked like a shadow in her black dress. Her
attitude was romantic. Perhaps the subtle influence of this Sahara
village was beginning to steal even over her obdurate spirit.

The hautboy went on crying. Its notes, though faint, were sharp and
piercing. Once more the church bell chimed among the date palms, and
the two musics, with their violently differing associations, clashing
together smote upon Domini's heart with a sense of trouble, almost of
tragedy. The pulses in her temples throbbed, and she clasped her hands
tightly together. That brief moment, in which she heard the duet of
those two voices, was one of the most interesting, yet also one of the
most painful she had ever known. The church bell was silent now, but the
hautboy did not cease. It was barbarous and provocative, shrill with a
persistent triumph.

Domini went to bed early, but she could not sleep. Just before midnight
she heard someone walking up and down on the verandah. The step was
heavy and shuffling. It came and went, came and went, without pause till
she was in a fever of uneasiness. Only when two chimed from the church
did it cease at last.

She whispered a prayer to Notre Dame de la Garde, The Blessed Virgin,
looking towards Africa. For the first time she felt the loneliness of
her situation and that she was far away.



CHAPTER V

Towards morning Domini slept. It was nearly eight o'clock when she
awoke. The room was full of soft light which told of the sun outside,
and she got up at once, put on a pair of slippers and opened the French
window on to the verandah. Already Beni-Mora was bathed in golden beams
and full of gentle activities. A flock of goats pattered by towards the
edge of the oasis. The Arab gardeners were lazily sweeping small leaves
from the narrow paths under the mimosa and pepper trees. Soldiers in
loose white suits, dark blue sashes and the fez, were hastening from
the Fort towards the market. A distant bugle rang out and the snarl of
camels was audible from the village. Domini stood on the verandah for
a moment, drinking in the desert air. It made her feel very pure and
clean, as if she had just bathed in clear water. She looked up at
the limpid sky, which seemed full of hope and of the power to grant
blessings, and she was glad that she had come to Beni-Mora. Her lonely
sensation of the previous night had gone. As she stood in the sun she
was conscious that she needed re-creation and that here she might find
it. The radiant sky, the warm sun and the freedom of the coming day and
of many coming desert days, filled her heart with an almost childish
sensation. She felt younger than she had felt for years, and even
foolishly innocent, like a puppy dog or a kitten. Her thick black hair,
unbound, fell in a veil round her strong, active body, and she had the
rare consciousness that behind that other more mysterious veil her soul
was to-day a less unfit companion for its mate than it had been since
her mother's sin.

Cleanliness--what a blessed condition that was, a condition to breed
bravery. In this early morning hour Beni-Mora looked magically clean.
Domini thought of the desperate dirt of London mornings, of the sooty
air brooding above black trees and greasy pavements. Surely it was
difficult to be clean of soul there. Here it would be easy. One would
tune one's lyre in accord with Nature and be as a singing palm tree
beside a water-spring. She took up a little vellum-bound book which she
had laid at night upon her dressing-table. It was _Of the Imitation of
Christ_, and she opened it at haphazard and glanced down on a sunlit
page. Her eyes fell on these words:

"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not
tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it is
not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it mounteth
upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosoever loveth knoweth the
cry of this voice."

The sunlight on the page of the little book was like the vivid flame
and the burning torch spoken of in it. Heat, light, a fierce vitality.
Domini had been weary so long, weary of soul, that she was almost
startled to find herself responding quickly to the sacred passion on the
page, to the bright beam that kissed it as twin kisses twin. She knelt
down to say her morning prayer, but all she could whisper was:

"O, God, renew me. O, God, renew me. Give me power to feel, keenly,
fiercely, even though I suffer. Let me wake. Let me feel. Let me be a
living thing once more. O, God, renew me, renew me!"

While she prayed she pressed her face so hard against her hands that
patches of red came upon her cheeks. And afterwards it seemed to her as
if her first real, passionate prayer in Beni-Mora had been almost like a
command to God. Was not such a fierce prayer perhaps a blasphemy?

She rose from that prayer to the first of her new days.

After breakfast she looked over the edge of the verandah and saw Batouch
and Hadj squatting together in the shadow of the trees below. They were
smoking cigarettes and talking eagerly. Their conversation, which was in
Arabic, sounded violent. The accented words were like blows. Domini had
not looked over the parapet for more than a minute before the two guides
saw her and rose smiling to their feet.

"I am waiting to show the village to Madame," said Batouch, coming out
softly into the road, while Hadj remained under the trees, exposing his
teeth in a sarcastic grin, which plainly enough conveyed to Domini his
pity for her sad mistake in not engaging him as her attendant.

Domini nodded, went back into her room and put on a shady hat. Suzanne
handed her a large parasol lined with green, and she descended the
stairs rather slowly. She was not sure whether she wanted a companion in
her first walk about Beni-Mora. There would be more savour of freedom in
solitude. Yet she had hardly the heart to dismiss Batouch, with all his
dignity and determination. She resolved to take him for a little while
and then to get rid of him on some pretext. Perhaps she would make some
purchases in the bazaars and send him to the hotel with them.

"Madame has slept well?" asked the poet as she emerged into the sun.

"Pretty well," she answered, nodding again to Hadj, whose grin became
more mischievous, and opening her parasol. "Where are we going?"

"Wherever Madame wishes. There is the market, the negro village, the
mosque, the casino, the statue of the Cardinal, the bazaars, the garden
of the Count Ferdinand Anteoni."

"A garden," said Domini. "Is it a beautiful one?"

Batouch was about to burst into a lyric ecstasy, but he checked himself
and said:

"Madame shall see for herself and tell me afterwards if in all Europe
there is one such garden."

"Oh, the English gardens are wonderful," she said, smiling at his
patriotic conceit.

"No doubt. Madame shall tell me, Madame shall tell me," he repeated with
imperturbable confidence.

"But first I wish to go for a moment into the church," she said. "Wait
for me here, Batouch."

She crossed the road, passed the modest, one-storied house of the
priest, and came to the church, which looked out on to the quiet
gardens. Before going up the steps and in at the door she paused for
a moment. There was something touching to her, as a Catholic, in this
symbol of her faith set thus far out in the midst of Islamism. The cross
was surely rather lonely, here, raised above the white-robed men to whom
it meant nothing. She was conscious that since she had come to this
land of another creed, and of another creed held with fanaticism, her
sentiment for her own religion, which in England for many years had been
but lukewarm, had suddenly gained in strength. She had an odd, almost
manly, sensation that it was her duty in Africa to stand up for her
faith, not blatantly in words to impress others, but perseveringly in
heart to satisfy herself. Sometimes she felt very protective. She
felt protective today as she looked at this humble building, which she
likened to one of the poor saints of the Thebaid, who dwelt afar in
desert places, and whose devotions were broken by the night-cries of
jackals and by the roar of ravenous beasts. With this feeling strong
upon her she pushed open the door and went in.

The interior was plain, even ugly. The walls were painted a hideous
drab. The stone floor was covered with small, hard, straw-bottomed
chairs and narrow wooden forms for the patient knees of worshippers.
In the front were two rows of private chairs, with velvet cushions of
various brilliant hues and velvet-covered rails. On the left was a high
stone pulpit. The altar, beyond its mean black and gold railing,
was dingy and forlorn. On it there was a tiny gold cross with a gold
statuette of Christ hanging, surmounted by a canopy with four pillars,
which looked as if made of some unwholesome sweetmeat. Long candles
of blue and gold and bouquets of dusty artificial flowers flanked it.
Behind it, in a round niche, stood a painted figure of Christ holding
a book. The two adjacent side chapels had domed roofs representing the
firmament. Beneath the pulpit stood a small harmonium. At the opposite
end of the church was a high gallery holding more chairs. The mean,
featureless windows were filled with glass half white, half staring red
dotted with yellow crosses. Round the walls were reliefs of the fourteen
stations of the Cross in white plaster on a gilt ground framed in grey
marble. From the roof hung vulgar glass chandeliers with ropes tied
with faded pink ribands. Several frightful plaster statues daubed
with scarlet and chocolate brown stood under the windows, which were
protected with brown woollen curtains. Close to the entrance were a
receptacle for holy water in the form of a shell, and a confessional of
stone flanked by boxes, one of which bore the words, "Graces obtenues,"
the other, "Demandes," and a card on which was printed, "Litanies en
honneur de Saint Antoine de Padoue."

There was nothing to please the eye, nothing to appeal to the senses.
There was not even the mystery which shrouds and softens, for the
sunshine streamed in through the white glass of the windows, revealing,
even emphasising, as if with deliberate cruelty, the cheap finery, the
tarnished velvet, the crude colours, the meretricious gestures and poses
of the plaster saints. Yet as Domini touched her forehead and breast
with holy water, and knelt for a moment on the stone floor, she was
conscious that this rather pitiful house of God moved her to an emotion
she had not felt in the great and beautiful churches to which she was
accustomed in England and on the Continent. Through the windows she saw
the outlines of palm leaves vibrating in the breeze; African fingers,
feeling, with a sort of fluttering suspicion, if not enmity, round the
heart of this intruding religion, which had wandered hither from some
distant place, and, stayed, confronting the burning glance of the
desert. Bold, little, humble church! Domini knew that she would love it.
But she did not know then how much.

She wandered round slowly with a grave face. Yet now and then, as she
stood by one of the plaster saints, she smiled. They were indeed strange
offerings at the shrine of Him who held this Africa in the hollow of His
hand, of Him who had ordered the pageant of the sun which she had seen
last night among the mountains. And presently she and this little church
in which she stood alone became pathetic in her thoughts, and even the
religion which the one came to profess in the other pathetic too. For
here, in Africa, she began to realise the wideness of the world, and
that many things must surely seem to the Creator what these plaster
saints seemed just then to her.

"Oh, how little, how little!" she whispered to herself. "Let me be
bigger! Oh, let me grow, and here, not only hereafter!"

The church door creaked. She turned her head and saw the priest whom she
had met in the tunnel entering. He came up to her at once, saluted her,
and said:

"I saw you from my window, Madame, and thought I would offer to show you
our little church here. We are very proud of it."

Domini liked his voice and his naive remark. His face, too, though
undistinguished, looked honest, kind, and pathetic, but with a pathos
that was unaffected and quite unconscious. The lower part of it was
hidden by a moustache and beard.

"Thank you," she answered. "I have been looking round already."

"You are a Catholic, Madame?"

"Yes."

The priest looked pleased. There was something childlike in the mobility
of his face.

"I am glad," he said simply. "We are not a rich community in Beni-Mora,
but we have been fortunate in bygone years. Our great Cardinal, the
Father of Africa, loved this place and cherished his children here."

"Cardinal Lavigerie?"

"Yes, Madame. His house is now a native hospital. His statue faces the
beginning of the great desert road, But we remember him and his spirit
is still among us."

The priest's eyes lit up as he spoke. The almost tragic expression of
his face changed to one of enthusiasm.

"He loved Africa, I believe," Domini said.

"His heart was here. And what he did! I was to have been one of his
_freres armes_, but my health prevented, and afterwards the association
was dissolved."

The sad expression returned to his face.

"There are many temptations in such a land and climate as this," he
said. "And men are weak. But there are still the White Fathers whom he
founded. Glorious men. They carry the Cross into the wildest places of
the world. The most fanatical Arabs respect the White Marabouts."

"You wish you were with them?"

"Yes, Madame. But my health only permits me to be a humble parish priest
here. Not all who desire to enter the most severe life can do so. If
it were otherwise I should long since have been a monk. The Cardinal
himself showed me that my duty lay in other paths."

He pointed out to Domini one or two things in the church which he
admired and thought worthy; the carving of the altar rail into grapes,
ears of corn, crosses, anchors; the white embroidered muslin that draped
the tabernacle; the statue of a bishop in a red and gold mitre holding a
staff and Bible, and another statue representing a saint with a languid
and consumptive expression stretching out a Bible, on the leaves of
which a tiny, smiling child was walking.

As they were about to leave the church he made Domini pause in front of
a painting of Saint Bruno dressed in a white monkish robe, beneath which
was written in gilt letters:

     "Saint Bruno ordonne a ses disciples
     De renoncer aux biens terrestres
     Pour acquerir les biens celestes."

The disciples stood around the saint in grotesque attitudes of pious
attention.

"That, I think, is very beautiful," he said. "Who could look at it
without feeling that the greatest act of man is renunciation?"

His dark eyes flamed. Just then a faint soprano bark came to them from
outside the church door, a very discreet and even humble, but at
the same time anxious, bark. The priest's face changed. The almost
passionate asceticism of it was replaced by a soft and gentle look.

"Bous-Bous wants me," he said, and he opened the door for Domini to pass
out.

A small white and yellow dog, very clean and well brushed, was sitting
on the step in an attentive attitude. Directly the priest appeared it
began to wag its short tail violently and to run round his feet, curving
its body into semi-circles. He bent down and patted it.

"My little companion, Madame," he said. "He was not with me yesterday,
as he was being washed."

Then he took off his hat and walked towards his house, accompanied by
Bous-Bous, who had suddenly assumed an air of conscious majesty, as of
one born to preside over the fate of an important personage.

Domini stood for a moment under the palm trees looking after them. There
was a steady shining in her eyes.

"Madame is a Catholic too?" asked Batouch, staring steadily at her.

Domini nodded. She did not want to discuss religion with an Arab minor
poet just then.

"Take me to the market," she said, mindful of her secret resolve to get
rid of her companion as soon as possible.

They set out across the gardens.

It was a celestial day. All the clear, untempered light of the world
seemed to have made its home in Beni-Mora. Yet the heat was not
excessive, for the glorious strength of the sun was robbed of its
terror, its possible brutality, by the bright and feathery dryness and
coolness of the airs. She stepped out briskly. Her body seemed suddenly
to become years younger, full of elasticity and radiant strength.

"Madame is very strong. Madame walks like a Bedouin."

Batouch's voice sounded seriously astonished, and Domini burst out
laughing.

"In England there are many strong women. But I shall grow stronger here.
I shall become a real Arab. This air gives me life."

They were just reaching the road when there was a clatter of hoofs, and
a Spahi, mounted on a slim white horse, galloped past at a tremendous
pace, holding his reins high above the red peak of his saddle and
staring up at the sun. Domini looked after him with critical admiration.

"You've got some good horses here," she said when the Spahi had
disappeared.

"Madame knows how to ride?"

She laughed again.

"I've ridden ever since I was a child."

"You can buy a fine horse here for sixteen pounds," remarked Batouch,
using the pronoun "tu," as is the custom of the Arabs.

"Find me a good horse, a horse with spirit, and I'll buy him," Domini
said. "I want to go far out in the desert, far away from everything."

"You must not go alone."

"Why not?"

"There are bandits in the desert."

"I'll take my revolver," Domini said carelessly. "But I will go alone."

They were in sight of the market now, and the hum of voices came to
them, with nasal cries, the whine of praying beggars, and the fierce
braying of donkeys. At the end of the small street in which they were
Domini saw a wide open space, in the centre of which stood a quantity
of pillars supporting a peaked roof. Round the sides of the square were
arcades swarming with Arabs, and under the central roof a mob of figures
came and went, as flies go and come on a piece of meat flung out into a
sunny place.

"What a quantity of people! Do they all live in Beni-Mora?" she asked.

"No, they come from all parts of the desert to sell and to buy. But most
of those who sell are Mozabites."

Little children in bright-coloured rags came dancing round Domini,
holding out their copper-coloured hands, and crying shrilly, "'Msee,
M'dame! 'Msee, M'dame!" A deformed man, who looked like a distorted
beetle, crept round her feet, gazing up at her with eyes that squinted
horribly, and roaring in an imperative voice some Arab formula in which
the words "Allah-el-Akbar" continually recurred. A tall negro, with a
long tuft of hair hanging from his shaven head, followed hard upon her
heels, rolling his bulging eyes, in which two yellow flames were caught,
and trying to engage her attention, though with what object she could
not imagine. From all directions tall men with naked arms and legs, and
fluttering white garments, came slowly towards her, staring intently at
her with lustrous eyes, whose expression seemed to denote rather a calm
and dignified appraisement than any vulgar curiosity. Boys, with the
whitest teeth she had ever beheld, and flowers above their well-shaped,
delicate ears, smiled up at her with engaging impudence. Her nostrils
were filled with a strange crowd of odours, which came from humanity
dressed in woollen garments, from fruits exposed for sale in rush
panniers, from round close bouquets of roses ringed with tight borders
of green leaves, from burning incense twigs, from raw meat, from amber
ornaments and strong perfumes in glass phials figured with gold attar of
rose, orange blossom, geranium and white lilac. In the shining heat of
the sun sounds, scents and movements mingled, and were almost painfully
vivid and full of meaning and animation. Never had a London mob on some
great _fete_ day seemed so significant and personal to Domini as this
little mob of desert people, come together for the bartering of beasts,
the buying of burnouses, weapons, skins and jewels, grain for their
camels, charms for their women, ripe glistening dates for the little
children at home in the brown earth houses.

As she made her way slowly through the press, pioneered by Batouch, who
forced a path with great play of his huge shoulders and mighty arms, she
was surprised to find how much at home she felt in the midst of these
fierce and uncivilised-looking people. She had no sense of shrinking
from their contact, no feeling of personal disgust at their touch. When
her eyes chanced to meet any of the bold, inquiring eyes around her she
was inclined to smile as if in recognition of these children of the sun,
who did not seem to her like strangers, despite the unknown language
that struggled fiercely in their throats. Nevertheless, she did not wish
to stay very long among them now. She was resolved to get a full and
delicately complete first impression of Beni-Mora, and to do that she
knew that she must detach herself from close human contact. She
desired the mind's bird's-eye view--a height, a watchtower and a little
solitude. So, when the eager Mozabite merchants called to her she did
not heed them, and even the busy patter of the informing Batouch fell
upon rather listless ears.

"I sha'n't stay here," she said to him. "But I'll buy some perfumes.
Where can I get them?"

A thin youth, brooding above a wooden tray close by, held up in his
delicate fingers a long bottle, sealed and furnished with a tiny label,
but Batouch shook his head.

"For perfumes you must go to Ahmeda, under the arcade."

They crossed a sunlit space and stood before a dark room, sunk lightly
below the level of the pathway in a deserted corner. Shadows congregated
here, and in the gloom Domini saw a bent white figure hunched against
the blackened wall, and heard an old voice murmuring like a drowsy bee.
The perfume-seller was immersed in the Koran, his back to the buying
world. Batouch was about to call upon him, when Domini checked the
exclamation with a quick gesture. For the first time the mystery that
coils like a great black serpent in the shining heart of the East
startled and fascinated her, a mystery in which indifference and
devotion mingle. The white figure swayed slowly to and fro, carrying
the dull, humming voice with it, and now she seemed to hear a far-away
fanaticism, the bourdon of a fatalism which she longed to understand.

"Ahmeda!"

Batouch shouted. His voice came like a stone from a catapult. The
merchant turned calmly and without haste, showing an aquiline face
covered with wrinkles, tufted with white hairs, lit by eyes that shone
with the cruel expressiveness of a falcon's. After a short colloquy in
Arabic he raised himself from his haunches, and came to the front of the
room, where there was a small wooden counter. He was smiling now with a
grace that was almost feminine.

"What perfume does Madame desire?" he said in French.

Domini gazed at him as at a deep mystery, but with the searching
directness characteristic of her, a fearlessness so absolute that it
embarrassed many people.

"Please give me something that is of the East--not violets, not lilac."

"Amber," said Batouch.

The merchant, still smiling, reached up to a shelf, showing an arm like
a brown twig, and took down a glass bottle covered with red and green
lines. He removed the stopper, made Domini take off her glove, touched
her bare hand with the stopper, then with his forefinger gently rubbed
the drop of perfume which had settled on her skin till it was slightly
red.

"Now, smell it," he commanded.

Domini obeyed. The perfume was faintly medicinal, but it filled her
brain with exotic visions. She shut her eyes. Yes, that was a voice of
Africa too. Oh! how far away she was from her old life and hollow days.
The magic carpet had been spread indeed, and she had been wafted into a
strange land where she had all to learn.

"Please give me some of that," she said.

The merchant poured the amber into a phial, where it lay like a thread
in the glass, weighed it in a scales and demanded a price. Batouch began
at once to argue with vehemence, but Domini stopped him.

"Pay him," she said, giving Batouch her purse.

The perfume-seller took the money with dignity, turned away, squatted
upon his haunches against the blackened wall, and picked up the
broad-leaved volume which lay upon the floor. He swayed gently and
rhythmically to and fro. Then once more the voice of the drowsy bee
hummed in the shadows. The worshipper and the Prophet stood before the
feet of Allah.

And the woman--she was set afar off, as woman is by white-robed men in
Africa.

"Now, Batouch, you can carry the perfume to the hotel and I will go to
that garden."

"Alone? Madame will never find it."

"I can ask the way."

"Impossible! I will escort Madame to the gate. There I will wait
for her. Monsieur the Count does not permit the Arabs to enter with
strangers."

"Very well," Domini said.

The seller of perfumes had led her towards a dream. She was not
combative, and she would be alone in the garden. As they walked towards
it in the sun, through narrow ways where idle Arabs lounged with happy
aimlessness, Batouch talked of Count Anteoni, the owner of the garden.

Evidently the Count was the great personage of Beni-Mora. Batouch spoke
of him with a convinced respect, describing him as fabulously rich,
fabulously generous to the Arabs.

"He never gives to the French, Madame, but when he is here each Friday,
upon our Sabbath, he comes to the gate with a bag of money in his hand,
and he gives five franc pieces to every Arab who is there."

"And what is he? French?"

"He is Italian; but he is always travelling, and he has made gardens
everywhere. He has three in Africa alone, and in one he keeps many
lions. When he travels he takes six Arabs with him. He loves only the
Arabs."

Domini began to feel interested in this wandering maker of gardens, who
was a pilgrim over the world like Monte Cristo.

"Is he young?" she asked.

"No."

"Married?"

"Oh, no! He is always alone. Sometimes he comes here and stays for three
months, and is never once seen outside the garden. And sometimes for a
year he never comes to Beni-Mora. But he is here now. Twenty Arabs
are always working in the garden, and at night ten Arabs with guns are
always awake, some in a tent inside the door and some among the trees.

"Then there is danger at night?"

"The garden touches the desert, and those who are in the desert without
arms are as birds in the air without wings."

They had come out from among the houses now into a broad, straight road,
bordered on the left by land that was under cultivation, by fruit trees,
and farther away by giant palms, between whose trunks could be seen
the stony reaches of the desert and spurs of grey-blue and faint
rose-coloured mountains. On the right was a shady garden with fountains
and stone benches, and beyond stood a huge white palace built in the
Moorish style, and terraced roofs and a high tower ornamented with green
and peacock-blue tiles. In the distance, among more palms, appeared a
number of low, flat huts of brown earth. The road, as far as the eyes
could see, stretched straight forward through enormous groves of palms,
whose feathery tops swayed gently in the light wind that blew from the
desert. Upon all things rained a flood of blue and gold. A blinding
radiance made all things glad.

"How glorious light is!" Domini exclaimed, as she looked down the road
to the point where its whiteness was lost in the moving ocean of the
trees.

Batouch assented without enthusiasm, having always lived in the light.

"As we return from the garden we will visit the tower," he said,
pointing to the Moorish palace. "It is a hotel, and is not yet open,
but I know the guardian. From the tower Madame will see the whole of
Beni-Mora. Here is the negro village."

They traversed its dusty alleys slowly. On the side where the low
brown dwellings threw shadows some of the inhabitants were dreaming or
chattering, wrapped in garments of gaudy cotton. Little girls in the
fiercest orange colour, with tattooed foreheads and leathern amulets,
darted to and fro, chasing each other and shrieking with laughter. Naked
babies, whose shaven heads made a warm resting-place for flies, stared
at Domini with a lustrous vacancy of expression. At the corners of the
alleys unveiled women squatted, grinding corn in primitive hand-mills,
or winding wool on wooden sticks. Their heads were covered with plaits
of imitation hair made of wool, in which barbaric silver ornaments were
fastened, and their black necks and arms jingled with chains and bangles
set with squares of red coral and large dull blue and green stones. Some
of them called boldly to Batouch, and he answered them with careless
impudence. The palm-wood door of one of the houses stood wide open, and
Domini looked in. She saw a dark space with floor and walls of earth,
a ceiling of palm and brushwood, a low divan of earth without mat or
covering of any kind.

"They have no furniture?" she asked Batouch.

"No. What do they want with it? They live out here in the sun and go in
to sleep."

Life simplified to this extent made her smile. Yet she looked at the
squatting figures in the gaudy cotton rags with a stirring of envy. The
memory of her long and complicated London years, filled with a multitude
of so-called pleasures which had never stifled the dull pain set up in
her heart by the rude shock of her mother's sin and its result, made
this naked, sunny, barbarous existence seem desirable. She stood for a
moment to watch two women sorting grain for cous-cous. Their guttural
laughter, their noisy talk, the quick and energetic movements of their
busy black hands, reminded her of children's gaiety. And Nature rose
before her in the sunshine, confronting artifice and the heavy languors
of modern life in cities. How had she been able to endure the yoke so
long?

"Will Madame take me to London with her when she returns?" said Batouch,
slyly.

"I am not going back to London for a very long time," she replied with
energy.

"You will stay here many weeks?"

"Months, perhaps. And perhaps I shall travel on into the desert. Yes, I
must do that."

"If we followed the white road into the desert, and went on and on for
many days, we should come at last to Tombouctou," said Batouch. "But
very likely we should be killed by the Touaregs. They are fierce and
they hate strangers."

"Would you be afraid to go?" Domini asked him, curiously.

"Why afraid?"

"Of being killed?"

He looked calmly surprised. "Why should I be afraid to die? All must
pass through that door. It does not matter whether it is to-day or
to-morrow."

"You have no fear of death, then?"

"Of course not. Have you, Madame?" He gazed at Domini with genuine
astonishment.

"I don't know," she answered.

And she wondered and could not tell.

"There is the Villa Anteoni."

Batouch lifted his hand and pointed. They had turned aside from the
way to Tombouctou, left the village behind them, and come into a narrow
track which ran parallel to the desert. The palm trees rustled on their
right, the green corn waved, the narrow cuttings in the earth gleamed
with shallow water. But on their other side was limitless sterility; the
wide, stony expanse of the great river bed, the Oued-Beni-Mora, then a
low earth cliff, and then the immense airy flats stretching away into
the shining regions of the sun. At some distance, raised on a dazzling
white wall above the desert in an unshaded place, Domini saw a narrow,
two-sided white house, with a flat roof and a few tiny loopholes instead
of windows. One side looked full upon the waterless river bed, the
other, at right angles to it, ran back towards a thicket of palms and
ended in an arcade of six open Moorish arches, through which the fierce
blue of the cloudless sky stared, making an almost theatrical effect.
Beyond, masses of trees were visible, looking almost black against the
intense, blinding pallor of wall, villa and arcade, the intense blue
above.

"What a strange house!" Domini said. "There are no windows."

"They are all on the other side, looking into the garden."

The villa fascinated Domini at once. The white Moorish arcade framing
bare, quivering blue, blue from the inmost heart of heaven, intense as
a great vehement cry, was beautiful as the arcade of a Geni's home in
Fairyland. Mystery hung about this dwelling, a mystery of light, not
darkness, secrets of flame and hidden things of golden meaning. She felt
almost like a child who is about to penetrate into the red land of the
winter fire, and she hastened her steps till she reached a tall white
gate set in an arch of wood, and surmounted with a white coat of arms
and two lions. Batouch struck on it with a white knocker and then began
to roll a cigarette.

"I will wait here for Madame."

Domini nodded. A leaf of wood was pulled back softly in the gate, and
she stepped into the garden and confronted a graceful young Arab dressed
in pale green, who saluted her respectfully and gently closed the door.

"May I walk about the garden a little?" she asked.

She did not look round her yet, for the Arab's face interested and even
charmed her. It was aristocratic, enchantingly indolent, like the
face of a happy lotus-eater. The great, lustrous eyes were tender as
a gazelle's and thoughtless as the eyes of a sleepy child. His
perfectly-shaped feet were bare on the shining sand. In one hand he held
a large red rose and in the other a half-smoked cigarette.

Domini could not kelp smiling at him as she put her question, and he
smiled contentedly back at her as he answered, in a low, level voice:

"You can go where you will. Shall I show you the paths?"

He lifted his hand and calmly smelt his red rose, keeping his great eyes
fixed upon her. Domini's wish to be alone had left her. This was surely
the geni of the garden, and his company would add to its mystery and
fragrance.

"You need not stay by the door?" she asked.

"No one will come. There is no one in Beni-Mora. And Hassan will stay."

He pointed with his rose to a little tent that was pitched close to the
gate beneath a pepper tree. In it Domini saw a brown boy curled up like
a dog and fast asleep. She began to feel as if she had eaten hashish.
The world seemed made for dreaming.

"Thank you, then."

And now for the first time she looked round to see whether Batouch had
implied the truth. Must the European gardens give way to this Eastern
garden, take a lower place with all their roses?

She stood on a great expanse of newly-raked smooth sand, rising in a
very gentle slope to a gigantic hedge of carefully trimmed evergreens,
which projected at the top, forming a roof and casting a pleasant shade
upon the sand. At intervals white benches were placed under this hedge.
To the right was the villa. She saw now that it was quite small. There
were two lines of windows--on the ground floor and the upper story. The
lower windows opened on to the sand, those above on to a verandah with
a white railing, which was gained by a white staircase outside the house
built beneath the arches of the arcade. The villa was most delicately
simple, but in this riot of blue and gold its ivory cleanliness, set
there upon the shining sand which was warm to the foot, made it look
magical to Domini. She thought she had never known before what spotless
purity was like.

"Those are the bedrooms," murmured the Arab at her side.

"There are only bedrooms?" she asked in surprise.

"The other rooms, the drawing-room of Monsieur the Count, the
dining-room, the smoking-room, the Moorish bath, the room of the little
dog, the kitchen and the rooms for the servants are in different parts
of the garden. There is the dining-room."

He pointed with his rose to a large white building, whose dazzling walls
showed here and there through the masses of trees to the left, where a
little raised sand-path with flattened, sloping sides wound away into a
maze of shadows diapered with gold.

"Let us go down that path," Domini said almost in a whisper.

The spell of the place was descending upon her. This was surely a home
of dreams, a haven where the sun came to lie down beneath the trees and
sleep.

"What is your name?" she added.

"Smain," replied the Arab. "I was born in this garden. My father,
Mohammed, was with Monsieur the Count."

He led the way over the sand, moving silently on his long, brown feet,
straight as a reed in a windless place. Domini followed, holding her
breath. Only sometimes she let her strong imagination play utterly at
its will. She let it go now as she and Smain turned into the golden
diapered shadows of the little path and came into the swaying mystery
of the trees. The longing for secrecy, for remoteness, for the beauty of
far away had sometimes haunted her, especially in the troubled moments
of her life. Her heart, oppressed, had overleaped the horizon line
in answer to a calling from hidden things beyond. Her emotions had
wandered, seeking the great distances in which the dim purple twilight
holds surely comfort for those who suffer. But she had never thought to
find any garden of peace that realised her dreams. Nevertheless, she was
already conscious that Smain with his rose was showing her the way to
her ideal, that her feet were set upon its pathway, that its legendary
trees were closing round her.

Behind the evergreen hedge she heard the liquid bubbling of a hidden
waterfall, and when they had left the untempered sunlight behind them
this murmur grew louder. It seemed as if the green gloom in which they
walked acted as a sounding-board to the delicious voice. The little
path wound on and on between two running rills of water, which slipped
incessantly away under the broad and yellow-tipped leaves of dwarf
palms, making a music so faint that it was more like a remembered sound
in the mind than one which slid upon the ear. On either hand towered a
jungle of trees brought to this home in the desert from all parts of the
world.

There were many unknown to Domini, but she recognised several varieties
of palms, acacias, gums, fig trees, chestnuts, poplars, false pepper
trees, the huge olive trees called Jamelons, white laurels, indiarubber
and cocoanut trees, bananas, bamboos, yuccas, many mimosas and
quantities of tall eucalyptus trees. Thickets of scarlet geranium flamed
in the twilight. The hibiscus lifted languidly its frail and rosy cup,
and the red gold oranges gleamed amid leaves that looked as if they had
been polished by an attentive fairy.

As she went with Smain farther into the recesses of the garden the voice
of the waterfall died away. No birds were singing. Domini thought that
perhaps they dared not sing lest they might wake the sun from its golden
reveries, but afterwards, when she knew the garden better, she often
heard them twittering with a subdued, yet happy, languor, as if joining
in a nocturn upon the edge of sleep. Under the trees the sand was
yellow, of a shade so voluptuously beautiful that she longed to touch
it with her bare feet like Smain. Here and there it rose in symmetrical
little pyramids, which hinted at absent gardeners, perhaps enjoying a
siesta.

Never before had she fully understood the enchantment of green, quite
realised how happy a choice was made on that day of Creation when it was
showered prodigally over the world. But now, as she walked secretly over
the yellow sand between the rills, following the floating green robe of
Smain, she rested her eyes, and her soul, on countless mingling shades
of the delicious colour; rough, furry green of geranium leaves, silver
green of olives, black green of distant palms from which the sun held
aloof, faded green of the eucalyptus, rich, emerald green of fan-shaped,
sunlit palms, hot, sultry green of bamboos, dull, drowsy green of
mulberry trees and brooding chestnuts. It was a choir of colours in one
colour, like a choir of boys all with treble voices singing to the sun.

Gold flickered everywhere, weaving patterns of enchantment, quivering,
vital patterns of burning beauty. Down the narrow, branching paths that
led to inner mysteries the light ran in and out, peeping between the
divided leaves of plants, gliding over the slippery edges of the palm
branches, trembling airily where the papyrus bent its antique head,
dancing among the big blades of sturdy grass that sprouted in tufts here
and there, resting languidly upon the glistening magnolias that were
besieged by somnolent bees. All the greens and all the golds of Creation
were surely met together in this profound retreat to prove the perfect
harmony of earth with sun.

And now, growing accustomed to the pervading silence, Domini began to
hear the tiny sounds that broke it. They came from the trees and
plants. The airs were always astir, helping the soft designs of Nature,
loosening a leaf from its stem and bearing it to the sand, striking a
berry from its place and causing it to drop at Domini's feet, giving a
faded geranium petal the courage to leave its more vivid companions
and resign itself to the loss of the place it could no longer fill with
beauty. Very delicate was the touch of the dying upon the yellow sand.
It increased the sense of pervading mystery and made Domini more deeply
conscious of the pulsing life of the garden.

"There is the room of the little dog," said Smain.

They had come out into a small open space, over which an immense
cocoanut tree presided. Low box hedges ran round two squares of grass
which were shadowed by date palms heavy with yellow fruit, and beneath
some leaning mulberry trees Domini saw a tiny white room with two glass
windows down to the ground. She went up to it and peeped in, smiling.

There, in a formal salon, with gilt chairs, oval, polished tables, faded
rugs and shining mirrors, sat a purple china dog with his tail curled
over his back sternly staring into vacancy. His expression and his
attitude were autocratic and determined, betokening a tyrannical nature,
and Domini peeped at him with precaution, holding herself very still
lest he should become aware of her presence and resent it.

"Monsieur the Count paid much money for the dog," murmured Smain. "He is
very valuable."

"How long has he been there?"

"For many years. He was there when I was born, and I have been married
twice and divorced twice."

Domini turned from the window and looked at Smain with astonishment. He
was smelling his rose like a dreamy child.

"You have been divorced twice?"

"Yes. Now I will show Madame the smoking-room."

They followed another of the innumerable alleys of the garden. This one
was very narrow and less densely roofed with trees than those they had
already traversed. Tall shrubs bent forward on either side of it, and
their small leaves almost meeting, were transformed by the radiant
sunbeams into tongues of pale fire, quivering, well nigh transparent.
As she approached them Domini could not resist the fancy that they would
burn her. A brown butterfly flitted forward between them and vanished
into the golden dream beyond.

"Oh, Smain, how you must love this garden!" she said.

A sort of ecstasy was waking within her. The pure air, the caressing
warmth, the enchanted stillness and privacy of this domain touched her
soul and body like the hands of a saint with power to bless her.

"I could live here for ever," she added, "without once wishing to go out
into the world."

Smain looked drowsily pleased.

"We are coming to the centre of the garden," he said, as they passed
over a palm-wood bridge beneath which a stream glided under the red
petals of geraniums.

The tongues of flame were left behind. Green darkness closed in upon
them and the sand beneath their feet looked blanched. The sense of
mystery increased, for the trees were enormous and grew densely here.
Pine needles lay upon the ground, and there was a stirring of sudden
wind far up above their heads in the tree-tops.

"This is the part of the garden that Monsieur the Count loves," said
Smain. "He comes here every day."

"What is that?" said Domini, suddenly stopping on the pale sand.

A thin and remote sound stole to them down the alley, clear and frail as
the note of a night bird.

"It is Larbi playing upon the flute. He is in love. That is why he plays
when he ought to be watering the flowers and raking out the sand."

The distant love-song of the flute seemed to Domini the last touch of
enchantment making this indeed a wonderland. She could not move, and
held up her hands to stay the feet of Smain, who was quite content
to wait. Never before had she heard any music that seemed to mean and
suggest so much to her as this African tune played by an enamoured
gardener. Queer and uncouth as it was, distorted with ornaments and
tricked out with abrupt runs, exquisitely unnecessary grace notes,
and sudden twitterings prolonged till a strange and frivolous Eternity
tripped in to banish Time, it grasped Domini's fancy and laid a spell
upon her imagination. For it sounded as naively sincere as the song of a
bird, and as if the heart from which it flowed were like the heart of
a child, a place of revelation, not of concealment. The sun made men
careless here. They opened their windows to it, and one could see into
the warm and glowing rooms. Domini looked at the gentle Arab youth
beside her, already twice married and twice divorced. She listened to
Larbi's unending song of love. And she said to herself, "These people,
uncivilised or not, at least live, and I have been dead all my life,
dead in life." That was horribly possible. She knew it as she felt the
enormously powerful spell of Africa descending upon her, enveloping
her quietly but irresistibly. The dream of this garden was quick with
a vague and yet fierce stirring of realities. There was a murmuring
of many small and distant voices, like the voices of innumerable tiny
things following restless activities in a deep forest. As she stood
there the last grain of European dust was lifted from Domini's soul. How
deeply it had been buried, and for how many years.

"The greatest act of man is the act of renunciation." She had just heard
those words. The eyes of the priest had flamed as he spoke them, and she
had caught the spark of his enthusiasm. But now another fire seemed lit
within her, and she found herself marvelling at such austerity. Was it
not a fanatical defiance flung into the face of the sun? She shrank from
her own thought, like one startled, and walked on softly in the green
darkness.

Larbi's flute became more distant. Again and again it repeated the same
queer little melody, changing the ornamentation at the fantasy of the
player. She looked for him among the trees but saw no one. He must be in
some very secret place. Smain touched her.

"Look!" he said, and his voice was very low.

He parted the branches of some palms with his delicate hands, and
Domini, peering between them, saw in a place of deep shadows an isolated
square room, whose white walls were almost entirely concealed by masses
of purple bougainvillea. It had a flat roof. In three of its sides were
large arched window-spaces without windows. In the fourth was a narrow
doorway without a door. Immense fig trees and palms and thickets of
bamboo towered around it and leaned above it. And it was circled by a
narrow riband of finely-raked sand.

"That is the smoking-room of Monsieur the Count," said Smain. "He spends
many hours there. Come and I will show the inside to Madame."

They turned to the left and went towards the room. The flute was close
to them now. "Larbi must be in there," Domini whispered to Smain, as a
person whispers in a church.

"No, he is among the trees beyond."

"But someone is there."

She pointed to the arched window-space nearest to them. A thin spiral of
blue-grey smoke curled through it and evaporated into the shadows of
the trees. After a moment it was followed gently and deliberately by
another.

"It is not Larbi. He would not go in there. It must be----"

He paused. A tall, middle-aged man had come to the doorway of the little
room and looked out into the garden with bright eyes.



CHAPTER VI

Domini drew back and glanced at Smain. She was not accustomed to feeling
intrusive, and the sudden sensation rendered her uneasy.

"It is Monsieur the Count," Smain said calmly and quite aloud.

The man in the doorway took off his soft hat, as if the words effected
an introduction between Domini and him.

"You were coming to see my little room, Madame?" he said in French. "If
I may show it to you I shall feel honoured."

The timbre of his voice was harsh and grating, yet it was a very
interesting, even a seductive, voice, and, Domini thought, peculiarly
full of vivid life, though not of energy. His manner at once banished
her momentary discomfort. There is a freemasonry between people born in
the same social world. By the way in which Count Anteoni took off his
hat and spoke she knew at once that all was right.

"Thank you, Monsieur," she answered. "I was told at the gate you gave
permission to travellers to visit your garden."

"Certainly."

He spoke a few words in fluent Arabic to Smain, who turned away and
disappeared among the trees.

"I hope you will allow me to accompany you through the rest of the
garden," he said, turning again to Domini. "It will give me great
pleasure."

"It is very kind of you."

The way in which the change of companion had been effected made it seem
a pleasant, inevitable courtesy, which neither implied nor demanded
anything.

"This is my little retreat," Count Anteoni continued, standing aside
from the doorway that Domini might enter.

She drew a long breath when she was within.

The floor was of fine sand, beaten flat and hard, and strewn with
Eastern rugs of faint and delicate hues, dim greens and faded rose
colours, grey-blues and misty topaz yellows. Round the white walls ran
broad divans, also white, covered with prayer rugs from Bagdad, and
large cushions, elaborately worked in dull gold and silver thread, with
patterns of ibises and flamingoes in flight. In the four angles of the
room stood four tiny smoking-tables of rough palm wood, holding
hammered ash-trays of bronze, green bronze torches for the lighting of
cigarettes, and vases of Chinese dragon china filled with velvety red
roses, gardenias and sprigs of orange blossom. Leather footstools,
covered with Tunisian thread-work, lay beside them. From the arches of
the window-spaces hung old Moorish lamps of copper, fitted with small
panes of dull jewelled glass, such as may be seen in venerable church
windows. In a round copper brazier, set on one of the window-seats,
incense twigs were drowsily burning and giving out thin, dwarf columns
of scented smoke. Through the archways and the narrow doorway the
dense walls of leafage were visible standing on guard about this airy
hermitage, and the hot purple blossoms of the bougainvillea shed a cloud
of colour through the bosky dimness.

And still the flute of Larbi showered soft, clear, whimsical music from
some hidden place close by.

Domini looked at her host, who was standing by the doorway, leaning one
arm against the ivory-white wall.

"This is my first day in Africa," she said simply. "You may imagine what
I think of your garden, what I feel in it. I needn't tell you. Indeed, I
am sure the travellers you so kindly let in must often have worried you
with their raptures."

"No," he answered, with a still gravity which yet suggested kindness,
"for I leave nearly always before the travellers come. That sounds a
little rude? But you would not be in Beni-Mora at this season, Madame,
if it could include you."

"I have come here for peace," Domini replied simply.

She said it because she felt as if it was already understood by her
companion.

Count Anteoni took down his arm from the white wall and pulled a branch
of the purple flowers slowly towards him through the doorway.

"There is peace--what is generally called so, at least--in Beni-Mora,"
he answered rather slowly and meditatively. "That is to say, there is
similarity of day with day, night with night. The sun shines untiringly
over the desert, and the desert always hints at peace."

He let the flowers go, and they sprang softly back, and hung quivering
in the space beyond his thin figure. Then he added:

"Perhaps one should not say more than that."

"No."

Domini sat down for a moment. She looked up at him with her direct eyes
and at the shaking flowers. The sound of Larbi's flute was always in her
ears.

"But may not one think, feel a little more?" she asked.

"Oh, why not? If one can, if one must? But how? Africa is as fierce and
full of meaning as a furnace, you know."

"Yes, I know--already," she replied.

His words expressed what she had already felt here in Beni-Mora,
surreptitiously and yet powerfully. He said it, and last night the
African hautboy had said it. Peace and a flame. Could they exist
together, blended, married?

"Africa seems to me to agree through contradiction," she added, smiling
a little, and touching the snowy wall with her right hand. "But then,
this is my first day."

"Mine was when I was a boy of sixteen."

"This garden wasn't here then?"

"No. I had it made. I came here with my mother. She spoilt me. She let
me have my whim."

"This garden is your boy's whim?"

"It was. Now it is a man's----"

He seemed to hesitate.

"Paradise," suggested Domini.

"I think I was going to say hiding-place."

There was no bitterness in his odd, ugly voice, yet surely the words
implied bitterness. The wounded, the fearful, the disappointed, the
condemned hide. Perhaps he remembered this, for he added rather quickly:

"I come here to be foolish, Madame, for I come here to think. This is my
special thinking place."

"How strange!" Domini exclaimed impulsively, and leaning forward on the
divan.

"Is it?"

"I only mean that already Beni-Mora has seemed to me the ideal place for
that."

"For thought?"

"For finding out interior truth."

Count Anteoni looked at her rather swiftly and searchingly. His eyes
were not large, but they were bright, and held none of the languor
so often seen in the eyes of his countrymen. His face was expressive
through its mobility rather than through its contours. The features were
small and refined, not noble, but unmistakably aristocratic. The nose
was sensitive, with wide nostrils. A long and straight moustache,
turning slightly grey, did not hide the mouth, which had unusually pale
lips. The ears were set very flat against the head, and were finely
shaped. The chin was pointed. The general look of the whole face was
tense, critical, conscious, but in the defiant rather than in the timid
sense. Such an expression belongs to men who would always be aware of
the thoughts and feelings of others concerning them, but who would throw
those thoughts and feelings off as decisively and energetically as a dog
shakes the waterdrops from its coat on emerging from a swim.

"And sending it forth, like Ishmael, to shift for itself in the desert,"
he said.

The odd remark sounded like neither statement nor question, merely like
the sudden exclamation of a mind at work.

"Will you allow me to take you through the rest of the garden, Madame?"
he added in a more formal voice.

"Thank you," said Domini, who had already got up, moved by the examining
look cast at her.

There was nothing in it to resent, and she had not resented it, but it
had recalled her to the consciousness that they were utter strangers to
each other.

As they came out on the pale riband of sand which circled the little
room Domini said:

"How wild and extraordinary that tune is!"

"Larbi's. I suppose it is, but no African music seems strange to me. I
was born on my father's estate, near Tunis. He was a Sicilian; but came
to North Africa each winter. I have always heard the tomtoms and the
pipes, and I know nearly all the desert songs of the nomads."

"This is a love-song, isn't it?"

"Yes. Larbi is always in love, they tell me. Each new dancer catches him
in her net. Happy Larbi!"

"Because he can love so easily?"

"Or unlove so easily. Look at him, Madame."

At a little distance, under a big banana tree, and half hidden by clumps
of scarlet geraniums, Domini saw a huge and very ugly Arab, with an
almost black skin, squatting on his heels, with a long yellow and red
flute between his thick lips. His eyes were bent down, and he did not
see them, but went on busily playing, drawing from his flute coquettish
phrases with his big and bony fingers.

"And I pay him so much a week all the year round for doing that," the
Count said.

His grating voice sounded kind and amused. They walked on, and Larbi's
tune died gradually away.

"Somehow I can't be angry with the follies and vices of the Arabs," the
Count continued. "I love them as they are; idle, absurdly amorous,
quick to shed blood, gay as children, whimsical as--well, Madame, were I
talking to a man I might dare to say pretty women."

"Why not?"

"I will, then. I glory in their ingrained contempt of civilisation.
But I like them to say their prayers five times in the day as it is
commanded, and no Arab who touches alcohol in defiance of the Prophet's
law sets foot in my garden."

There was a touch of harshness in his voice as he said the last words,
the sound of the autocrat. Somehow Domini liked it. This man had
convictions, and strong ones. That was certain. There was something
oddly unconventional in him which something in her responded to. He was
perfectly polite, and yet, she was quite sure, absolutely careless of
opinion. Certainly he was very much a man.

"It is pleasant, too," he resumed, after a slight pause, "to be
surrounded by absolutely thoughtless people with thoughtful faces and
mysterious eyes--wells without truth at the bottom of them."

She laughed.

"No one must think here but you!"

"I prefer to keep all the folly to myself. Is not that a grand
cocoanut?"

He pointed to a tree so tall that it seemed soaring to heaven.

"Yes, indeed. Like the one that presides over the purple dog."

"You have seen my fetish?"

"Smain showed him to me, with reverence."

"Oh, he is king here. The Arabs declare that on moonlight nights they
have heard him joining in the chorus of the Kabyle dogs."

"You speak almost as if you believed it."

"Well, I believe more here than I believe anywhere else. That is partly
why I come here."

"I can understand that--I mean believing much here."

"What! Already you feel the spell of Beni-Mora, the desert spell! Yes,
there is enchantment here--and so I never stay too long."

"For fear of what?"

Count Anteoni was walking easily beside her. He walked from the hips,
like many Sicilians, swaying very slightly, as if he liked to be aware
how supple his body still was. As Domini spoke he stopped. They were now
at a place where four paths joined, and could see four vistas of green
and gold, of magical sunlight and shadow.

"I scarcely know; of being carried who knows where--in mind or heart.
Oh, there is danger in Beni-Mora, Madame, there is danger. This
startling air is full of influences, of desert spirits."

He looked at her in a way she could not understand--but it made her
think of the perfume-seller in his little dark room, and of the sudden
sensation she had had that mystery coils, like a black serpent, in the
shining heart of the East.

"And now, Madame, which path shall we take? This one leads to my
drawing-room, that on the right to the Moorish bath."

"And that?"

"That one goes straight down to the wall that overlooks the Sahara."

"Please let us take it."

"The desert spirits are calling to you? But you are wise. What makes
this garden remarkable is not its arrangement, the number and variety of
its trees, but the fact that it lies flush with the Sahara--like a man's
thoughts of truth with Truth, perhaps."

He turned up the tail of the sentence and his harsh voice gave a little
grating crack.

"I don't believe they are so different from one another as the garden
and the desert."

She looked at him directly.

"It would be too ironical."

"But nothing is," the Count said.

"You have discovered that in this garden?"

"Ah, it is new to you, Madame!"

For the first time there was a sound of faint bitterness in his voice.

"One often discovers the saddest thing in the loveliest place," he
added. "There you begin to see the desert."

Far away, at the small orifice of the tunnel of trees down which they
were walking, appeared a glaring patch of fierce and quivering sunlight.

"I can only see the sun," Domini said.

"I know so well what it hides that I imagine I actually see the desert.
One loves one's kind, assiduous liar. Isn't it so?"

"The imagination? But perhaps I am not disposed to allow that it is a
liar."

"Who knows? You may be right."

He looked at her kindly with his bright eyes. It had not seem to strike
him that their conversation was curiously intimate, considering that
they were strangers to one another, that he did not even know her name.
Domini wondered suddenly how old he was. That look made him seem much
older than he had seemed before. There was such an expression in his
eyes as may sometimes be seen in eyes that look at a child who is
kissing a rag doll with deep and determined affection. "Kiss your doll!"
they seemed to say. "Put off the years when you must know that dolls can
never return a kiss."

"I begin to see the desert now," Domini said after a moment of silent
walking. "How wonderful it is!"

"Yes, it is. The most wonderful thing in Nature. You will think it much
more wonderful when you fancy you know it well."

"Fancy!"

"I don't think anyone can ever really know the desert. It is the thing
that keeps calling, and does not permit one to draw near."

"But then, one might learn to hate it."

"I don't think so. Truth does just the same, you know. And yet men keep
on trying to draw near."

"But sometimes they succeed."

"Do they? Not when they live in gardens."

He laughed for the first time since they had been together, and all his
face was covered with a network of little moving lines.

"One should never live in a garden, Madame."

"I will try to take your word for it, but the task will be difficult."

"Yes? More difficult, perhaps, when you see what lies beside my thoughts
of truth."

As he spoke they came out from the tunnel and were seized by the fierce
hands of the sun. It was within half an hour of noon, and the radiance
was blinding. Domini put up her parasol sharply, like one startled. She
stopped.

"But how tremendous!" she exclaimed.

Count Anteoni laughed again, and drew down the brim of his grey hat
over his eyes. The hand with which he did it was almost as burnt as an
Arab's.

"You are afraid of it?"

"No, no. But it startled me. We don't know the sun really in Europe."

"No. Not even in Southern Italy, not even in Sicily. It is fierce
there in summer, but it seems further away. Here it insists on the most
intense intimacy. If you can bear it we might sit down for a moment?"

"Please."

All along the edge of the garden, from the villa to the boundary of
Count Anteoni's domain, ran a straight high wall made of earth bricks
hardened by the sun and topped by a coping of palm wood painted white.
This wall was some eight feet high on the side next to the desert, but
the garden was raised in such a way that the inner side was merely a
low parapet running along the sand path. In this parapet were cut small
seats, like window-seats, in which one could rest and look full upon the
desert as from a little cliff. Domini sat down on one of them, and the
Count stood by her, resting one foot on the top of the wall and leaning
his right arm on his knee.

"There is the world on which I look for my hiding-place," he said. "A
vast world, isn't it?"

Domini nodded without speaking.

Immediately beneath them, in the narrow shadow of the wall, was a path
of earth and stones which turned off at the right at the end of the
garden into the oasis. Beyond lay the vast river bed, a chaos of hot
boulders bounded by ragged low earth cliffs, interspersed here and there
with small pools of gleaming water. These cliffs were yellow. From their
edge stretched the desert, as Eternity stretches from the edge of Time.
Only to the left was the immeasurable expanse intruded upon by a long
spur of mountains, which ran out boldly for some distance and then
stopped abruptly, conquered and abashed by the imperious flats. Beneath
the mountains were low, tent-like, cinnamon-coloured undulations, which
reminded Domini of those made by a shaken-out sheet, one smaller than
the other till they melted into the level. The summits of the most
distant mountains, which leaned away as if in fear of the desert, were
dark and mistily purple. Their flanks were iron grey at this hour,
flecked in the hollows with the faint mauve and pink which became
carnation colour when the sun set.

Domini scarcely looked at them. Till now she had always thought that
she loved mountains. The desert suddenly made them insignificant, almost
mean to her. She turned her eyes towards the flat spaces. It was in them
that majesty lay, mystery, power, and all deep and significant things.
In the midst of the river bed, and quite near, rose a round and squat
white tower with a small cupola. Beyond it, on the little cliff, was a
tangle of palms where a tiny oasis sheltered a few native huts. At an
immense distance, here and there, other oases showed as dark stains show
on the sea where there are hidden rocks. And still farther away, on all
hands, the desert seemed to curve up slightly like a shallow wine-hued
cup to the misty blue horizon line, which resembled a faintly seen and
mysterious tropical sea, so distant that its sultry murmur was lost in
the embrace of the intervening silence.

An Arab passed on the path below the wall. He did not see them. A white
dog with curling lips ran beside him. He was singing to himself in
a low, inward voice. He went on and turned towards the oasis, still
singing as he walked slowly.

"Do you know what he is singing?" the Count asked.

Domini shook her head. She was straining her ears to hear the melody as
long as possible.

"It is a desert song of the freed negroes of Touggourt--'No one but God
and I knows what is in my heart.'"

Domini lowered her parasol to conceal her face. In the distance she
could still hear the song, but it was dying away.

"Oh! what is going to happen to me here?" she thought.

Count Anteoni was looking away from her now across the desert. A strange
impulse rose up in her. She could not resist it. She put down her
parasol, exposing herself to the blinding sunlight, knelt down on the
hot sand, leaned her arms on the white parapet, put her chin in the
upturned palms of her hands and stared into the desert almost fiercely.

"No one but God and I knows what is in my heart," she thought. "But
that's not true, that's not true. For I don't know."

The last echo of the Arab's song fainted on the blazing air. Surely it
had changed now. Surely, as he turned into the shadows of the palms,
he was singing, "No one but God knows what is in my heart." Yes, he was
singing that. "No one but God--no one but God."

Count Anteoni looked down at her. She did not notice it, and he kept his
eyes on her for a moment. Then he turned to the desert again.

By degrees, as she watched, Domini became aware of many things
indicative of life, and of many lives in the tremendous expanse that
at first had seemed empty of all save sun and mystery. She saw low,
scattered tents, far-off columns of smoke rising. She saw a bird pass
across the blue and vanish towards the mountains. Black shapes appeared
among the tiny mounds of earth, crowned with dusty grass and dwarf
tamarisk bushes. She saw them move, like objects in a dream, slowly
through the shimmering gold. They were feeding camels, guarded by nomads
whom she could not see.

At first she persistently explored the distances, carried forcibly by an
_elan_ of her whole nature to the remotest points her eyes could reach.
Then she withdrew her gaze gradually, reluctantly, from the hidden
summoning lands, whose verges she had with difficulty gained, and
looked, at first with apprehension, upon the nearer regions. But her
apprehension died when she found that the desert transmutes what is
close as well as what is remote, suffuses even that which the hand
could almost touch with wonder, beauty, and the deepest, most strange
significance.

Quite near in the river bed she saw an Arab riding towards the desert
upon a prancing black horse. He mounted a steep bit of path and came out
on the flat ground at the cliff top. Then he set his horse at a gallop,
raising his bridle hand and striking his heels into the flanks of the
beast. And each of his movements, each of the movements of his horse,
was profoundly interesting, and held the attention of the onlooker in a
vice, as if the fates of worlds depended upon where he was carried and
how soon he reached his goal. A string of camels laden with wooden bales
met him on the way, and this chance encounter seemed to Domini fraught
with almost terrible possibilities. Why? She did not ask herself. Again
she sent her gaze further, to the black shapes moving stealthily among
the little mounds, to the spirals of smoke rising into the glimmering
air. Who guarded those camels? Who fed those distant fires? Who watched
beside them? It seemed of vital consequence to her that she should know.

Count Anteoni took out his watch and glanced at it.

"I am looking to see if it is nearly the hour of prayer," he said. "When
I am in Beni-Mora I usually come here then."

"You turn to the desert as the faithful turn towards Mecca?"

"Yes. I like to see men praying in the desert."

He spoke indifferently, but Domini felt suddenly sure that within
him there were depths of imagination, of tenderness, even perhaps of
mysticism.

"An atheist in the desert is unimaginable," he added. "In cathedrals
they may exist very likely, and even feel at home. I have seen
cathedrals in which I could believe I was one, but--how many human
beings can you see in the desert at this moment, Madame?"

Domini, still with her round chin in her hands, searched the blazing
region with her eyes. She saw three running figures with the train of
camels which was now descending into the river bed. In the shadow of the
low white tower two more were huddled, motionless. She looked away to
right and left, but saw only the shallow pools, the hot and gleaming
boulders, and beyond the yellow cliffs the brown huts peeping through
the palms. The horseman had disappeared.

"I can see five," she answered.

"Ah! you are not accustomed to the desert."

"There are more?"

"I could count up to a dozen. Which are yours?"

"The men with the camels and the men under that tower."

"There are four playing the _jeu des dames_ in the shadow of the cliff
opposite to us. There is one asleep under a red rock where the path
ascends into the desert. And there are two more just at the edge of the
little oasis--Filiash, as it is called. One is standing under a palm,
and one is pacing up and down."

"You must have splendid eyes."

"They are trained to the desert. But there are probably a score of Arabs
within sight whom I don't see."

"Oh! now I see the men at the edge of the oasis. How oddly that one is
moving. He goes up and down like a sailor on the quarter-deck."

"Yes, it is curious. And he is in the full blaze of the sun. That can't
be an Arab."

He drew a silver whistle from his waistcoat pocket, put it to his lips
and sounded a call. In a moment Smain same running lightly over the
sand. Count Anteoni said something to him in Arabic. He disappeared, and
speedily returned with a pair of field-glasses. While he was gone Domini
watched the two doll-like figures on the cliff in silence. One was
standing under a large isolated palm tree absolutely still, as Arabs
often stand. The other, at a short distance from him and full in the
sun, went to and fro, to and fro, always measuring the same space
of desert, and turning and returning at two given points which never
varied. He walked like a man hemmed in by walls, yet around him were the
infinite spaces. The effect was singularly unpleasant upon Domini. All
things in the desert, as she had already noticed, became almost
terribly significant, and this peculiar activity seemed full of some
extraordinary and even horrible meaning. She watched it with straining
eyes.

Count Anteoni took the glasses from Smain and looked through them,
adjusting them carefully to suit his sight.

"_Ecco!_" he said. "I was right. That man is not an Arab."

He moved the glasses and glanced at Domini.

"You are not the only traveller here, Madame."

He looked through the glasses again.

"I knew that," she said.

"Indeed?"

"There is one at my hotel."

"Possibly this is he. He makes me think of a caged tiger, who has been
so long in captivity that when you let him out he still imagines the
bars to be all round him. What was he like?"

All the time he was speaking he was staring intently through the
glasses. As Domini did not reply he removed them from his eyes and
glanced at her inquiringly.

"I am trying to think what he looked like," she said slowly. "But I feel
that I don't know. He was quite unlike any ordinary man."

"Would you care to see if you can recognise him? These are really
marvellous glasses."

Domini took them from him with some eagerness.

"Twist them about till they suit your eyes."

At first she could see nothing but a fierce yellow glare. She turned the
screw and gradually the desert came to her, startlingly distinct. The
boulders of the river bed were enormous. She could see the veins of
colour in them, a lizard running over one of them and disappearing into
a dark crevice, then the white tower and the Arabs beneath it. One was
an old man yawning; the other a boy. He rubbed the tip of his brown
nose, and she saw the henna stains upon his nails. She lifted the
glasses slowly and with precaution. The tower ran away. She came to the
low cliff, to the brown huts and the palms, passed them one by one,
and reached the last, which was separated from its companions. Under it
stood a tall Arab in a garment like a white night-shirt.

"He looks as if he had only one eye!" she exclaimed.

"The palm-tree man--yes."

She travelled cautiously away from him, keeping the glasses level.

"Ah!" she said on an indrawn breath.

As she spoke the thin, nasal cry of a distant voice broke upon her ears,
prolonging a strange call.

"The Mueddin," said Count Anteoni.

And he repeated in a low tone the words of the angel to the prophet: "Oh
thou that art covered arise . . . and magnify thy Lord; and purify thy
clothes, and depart from uncleanness."

The call died away and was renewed three times. The old man and the
boy beneath the tower turned their faces towards Mecca, fell upon their
knees and bowed their heads to the hot stones. The tall Arab under the
palm sank down swiftly. Domini kept the glasses at her eyes. Through
them, as in a sort of exaggerated vision, very far off, yet intensely
distinct, she saw the man with whom she had travelled in the train. He
went to and fro, to and fro on the burning ground till the fourth call
of the Mueddin died away. Then, as he approached the isolated palm tree
and saw the Arab beneath it fall to the earth and bow his long body in
prayer, he paused and stood still as if in contemplation. The glasses
were so powerful that it was possible to see the expressions on faces
even at that distance. The expression on the traveller's face was,
or seemed to be, at first one of profound attention. But this changed
swiftly as he watched the bowing figure, and was succeeded by a look of
uneasiness, then of fierce disgust, then--surely--of fear or horror. He
turned sharply away like a driven man, and hurried off along the cliff
edge in a striding walk, quickening his steps each moment till his
departure became a flight. He disappeared behind a projection of earth
where the path sank to the river bed.

Domini laid the glasses down on the wall and looked at Count Anteoni.

"You say an atheist in the desert is unimaginable?

"Isn't it true?"

"Has an atheist a hatred, a horror of prayer?"

"Chi lo sa? The devil shrank away from the lifted Cross."

"Because he knew how much that was true it symbolised."

"No doubt had it been otherwise he would have jeered, not cowered. But
why do you ask me this question, Madame?"

"I have just seen a man flee from the sight of prayer."

"Your fellow-traveller?"

"Yes. It was horrible."

She gave him back the glasses.

"They reveal that which should be hidden," she said.

Count Anteoni took the glasses slowly from her hands. As he bent to do
it he looked steadily at her, and she could not read the expression in
his eyes.

"The desert is full of truth. Is that what you mean?" he asked.

She made no reply. Count Anteoni stretched out his hand to the shining
expanse before them.

"The man who is afraid of prayer is unwise to set foot beyond the palm
trees," he said.

"Why unwise?"

He answered her very gravely.

"The Arabs have a saying: 'The desert is the garden of Allah.'"

* * * * *

Domini did not ascend the tower of the hotel that morning. She had seen
enough for the moment, and did not wish to disturb her impressions by
adding to them. So she walked back to the Hotel du Desert with Batouch.

Count Anteoni had said good-bye to her at the door of the garden, and
had begged her to come again whenever she liked, and to spend as many
hours there as she pleased.

"I shall take you at your word," she said frankly. "I feel that I may."

As they shook hands she gave him her card. He took out his. "By the
way," he said, "the big hotel you passed in coming here is mine. I
built it to prevent a more hideous one being built, and let it to the
proprietor. You might like to ascend the tower. The view at sundown is
incomparable. At present the hotel is shut, but the guardian will show
you everything if you give him my card."

He pencilled some words in Arabic on the back from right to left.

"You write Arabic, too?" Domini said, watching the forming of the pretty
curves with interest.

"Oh, yes; I am more than half African, though my father was a Sicilian
and my mother a Roman."

He gave her the card, took off his hat and bowed. When the tall white
door was softly shut by Smain, Domini felt rather like a new Eve
expelled from Paradise, without an Adam as a companion in exile.

"Well, Madame?" said Batouch. "Have I spoken the truth?"

"Yes. No European garden can be so beautiful as that. Now I am going
straight home."

She smiled to herself as she said the last word.

Outside the hotel they found Hadj looking ferocious. He exchanged some
words with Batouch, accompanying them with violent gestures. When he had
finished speaking he spat upon the ground.

"What is the matter with him?" Domini asked.

"The Monsieur who is staying here would not take him to-day, but went
into the desert alone. Hadj wishes that the nomads may cut his throat,
and that his flesh may be eaten by jackals. Hadj is sure that he is a
bad man and will come to a bad end."

"Because he does not want a guide every day! But neither shall I."

"Madame is quite different. I would give my life for Madame."

"Don't do that, but go this afternoon and find me a horse. I don't want
a quiet one, but something with devil, something that a Spahi would like
to ride."

The desert spirits were speaking to her body as well as to her mind. A
physical audacity was stirring in her, and she longed to give it vent.

"Madame is like the lion. She is afraid of nothing."

"You speak without knowing, Batouch. Don't come for me this afternoon,
but bring round a horse, if you can find one, to-morrow morning."

"This very evening I will--"

"No, Batouch. I said to-morrow morning."

She spoke with a quiet but inflexible decision which silenced him. Then
she gave him ten francs and went into the dark house, from which the
burning noonday sun was carefully excluded. She intended to rest after
_dejeuner_, and towards sunset to go to the big hotel and mount alone to
the summit of the tower.

It was half-past twelve, and a faint rattle of knives and forks from the
_salle-a-manger_ told her that _dejeuner_ was ready. She went upstairs,
washed her face and hands in cold water, stood still while Suzanne shook
the dust from her gown, and then descended to the public room. The keen
air had given her an appetite.

The _salle-a-manger_ was large and shady, and was filled with small
tables, at only three of which were people sitting. Four French officers
sat together at one. A small, fat, perspiring man of middle age,
probably a commercial traveller, who had eyes like a melancholy toad,
was at another, eating olives with anxious rapidity, and wiping his
forehead perpetually with a dirty white handkerchief. At the third was
the priest with whom Domini had spoken in the church. His napkin was
tucked under his beard, and he was drinking soup as he bent well over
his plate.

A young Arab waiter, with a thin, dissipated face, stood near the door
in bright yellow slippers. When Domini came in he stole forward to show
her to her table, making a soft, shuffling sound on the polished wooden
floor. The priest glanced up over his napkin, rose and bowed. The French
officers stared with an interest they were too chivalrous to attempt to
conceal. Only the fat little man was entirely unconcerned. He wiped his
forehead, stuck his fork deftly into an olive, and continued to look
like a melancholy toad entangled by fate in commercial pursuits.

Domini's table was by a window, across which green Venetian shutters
were drawn. It was at a considerable distance from the other guests, who
did not live in the house, but came there each day for their meals. Near
it she noticed a table laid for one person, and so arranged that if he
came to _dejeuner_ he would sit exactly opposite to her. She wondered
if it was for the man at whom she had just been looking through Count
Anteoni's field-glasses, the man who had fled from prayer in the "Garden
of Allah." As she glanced at the empty chair standing before the knives
and forks, and the white cloth, she was uncertain whether she wished it
to be filled by the traveller or not. She felt his presence in Beni-Mora
as a warring element. That she knew. She knew also that she had come
there to find peace, a great calm and remoteness in which she could at
last grow, develop, loose her true self from cramping bondage, come
to an understanding with herself, face her heart and soul, and--as it
were--look them in the eyes and know them for what they were, good
or evil. In the presence of this total stranger there was something
unpleasantly distracting which she could not and did not ignore,
something which roused her antagonism and which at the same time
compelled her attention. She had been conscious of it in the train,
conscious of it in the tunnel at twilight, at night in the hotel, and
once again in Count Anteoni's garden. This man intruded himself, no
doubt unconsciously, or even against his will, into her sight, her
thoughts, each time that she was on the point of giving herself to what
Count Anteoni called "the desert spirits." So it had been when the train
ran out of the tunnel into the blue country. So it had been again when
she leaned on the white wall and gazed out over the shining fastnesses
of the sun. He was there like an enemy, like something determined,
egoistical, that said to her, "You would look at the greatness of the
desert, at immensity, infinity, God!--Look at me." And she could
not turn her eyes away. Each time the man had, as if without effort,
conquered the great competing power, fastened her thoughts upon himself,
set her imagination working about his life, even made her heart beat
faster with some thrill of--what? Was it pity? Was it a faint horror?
She knew that to call the feeling merely repugnance would not be
sincere. The intensity, the vitality of the force shut up in a human
being almost angered her at this moment as she looked at the empty chair
and realised all that it had suddenly set at work. There was something
insolent in humanity as well as something divine, and just then she
felt the insolence more than the divinity. Terrifically greater, more
overpowering than man, the desert was yet also somehow less than man,
feebler, vaguer. Or else how could she have been grasped, moved, turned
to curiosity, surmise, almost to a sort of dread--all at the desert's
expense--by the distant moving figure seen through the glasses?

Yes, as she looked at the little white table and thought of all this,
Domini began to feel angry. But she was capable of effort, whether
mental or physical, and now she resolutely switched her mind off from
the antagonistic stranger and devoted her thoughts to the priest,
whose narrow back she saw down the room in the distance. As she ate
her fish--a mystery of the seas of Robertville--she imagined his quiet
existence in this remote place, sunny day succeeding sunny day, each
one surely so like its brother that life must become a sort of dream,
through which the voice of the church bell called melodiously and the
incense rising before the altar shed a drowsy perfume. How strange it
must be really to live in Beni-Mora, to have your house, your work
here, your friendships here, your duties here, perhaps here too the
tiny section of earth which would hold at the last your body. It must be
strange and monotonous, and yet surely rather sweet, rather safe.

The officers lifted their heads from their plates, the fat man stared,
the priest looked quietly up over his napkin, and the Arab waiter
slipped forward with attentive haste. For the swing door of the
_salle-a-manger_ at this moment was pushed open, and the traveller--so
Domini called him in her thoughts--entered and stood looking with
hesitation from one table to another.

Domini did not glance up. She knew who it was and kept her eyes
resolutely on her plate. She heard the Arab speak, a loud noise of stout
boots tramping over the wooden floor, and the creak of a chair receiving
a surely tired body. The traveller sat down heavily. She went on slowly
eating the large Robertville fish, which was like something between a
trout and a herring. When she had finished it she gazed straight before
her at the cloth, and strove to resume her thoughts of the priest's life
in Beni-Mora. But she could not. It seemed to her as if she were back
again in Count Anteoni's garden. She looked once more through the
glasses, and heard the four cries of the Mueddin, and saw the pacing
figure in the burning heat, the Arab bent in prayer, the one who watched
him, the flight. And she was indignant with herself for her strange
inability to govern her mind. It seemed to her a pitiful thing of which
she should be ashamed.

She heard the waiter set down a plate upon the traveller's table, and
then the noise of a liquid being poured into a glass. She could not keep
her eyes down any more. Besides, why should she? Beni-Mora was
breeding in her a self-consciousness--or a too acute consciousness of
others--that was unnatural in her. She had never been sensitive like
this in her former life, but the fierce African sun seemed now to have
thawed the ice of her indifference. She felt everything with almost
unpleasant acuteness. All her senses seemed to her sharpened. She
saw, she heard, as she had never seen and heard till now. Suddenly she
remembered her almost violent prayer--"Let me be alive! Let me feel!"
and she was aware that such a prayer might have an answer that would be
terrible.

Looking up thus with a kind of severe determination, she saw the man
again. He was eating and was not looking towards her, and she fancied
that his eyes were downcast with as much conscious resolution as hers
had been a moment before. He wore the same suit as he had worn in the
train, but now it was flecked with desert dust. She could not "place"
him at all. He was not of the small, fat man's order. They would have
nothing in common. With the French officers? She could not imagine how
he would be with them. The only other man in the room--the servant had
gone out for the moment--was the priest. He and the priest--they would
surely be antagonists. Had he not turned aside to avoid the priest in
the tunnel? Probably he was one of those many men who actively hate
the priesthood, to whom the soutane is anathema. Could he find pleasant
companionship with such a man as Count Anteoni, an original man, no
doubt, but also a cultivated and easy man of the world? She smiled
internally at the mere thought. Whatever this stranger might be she felt
that he was as far from being a man of the world as she was from being a
Cockney sempstress or a veiled favourite in a harem. She could not,
she found, imagine him easily at home with any type of human being with
which she was acquainted. Yet no doubt, like all men, he had somewhere
friends, relations, possibly even a wife, children.

No doubt--then why could she not believe it?

The man had finished his fish. He rested his broad, burnt hands on the
table on each side of his plate and looked at them steadily. Then he
turned his head and glanced sideways at the priest, who was behind him
to the right. Then he looked again at his hands. And Domini knew that
all the time he was thinking about her, as she was thinking about
him. She felt the violence of his thought like the violence of a hand
striking her.

The Arab waiter brought her some ragout of mutton and peas, and she
looked down again at her plate.

As she left the room after _dejeuner_ the priest again got up and
bowed. She stopped for a moment to speak to him. All the French officers
surveyed her tall, upright figure and broad, athletic shoulders with
intent admiration. Domini knew it and was indifferent. If a hundred
French soldiers had been staring at her critically she would not have
cared at all. She was not a shy woman and was in nowise uncomfortable
when many eyes were fixed upon her. So she stood and talked a little to
the priest about Count Anteoni and her pleasure in his garden. And
as she did so, feeling her present calm self-possession, she wondered
secretly at the wholly unnatural turmoil--she called it that,
exaggerating her feeling because it was unusual--in which she had been a
few minutes before as she sat at her table.

The priest spoke well of Count Anteoni.

"He is very generous," he said.

Then he paused, twisting his napkin, and added:

"But I never have any real intercourse with him, Madame. I believe he
comes here in search of solitude. He spends days and even weeks alone
shut up in his garden."

"Thinking," she said.

The priest looked slightly surprised.

"It would be difficult not to think, Madame, would it not?"

"Oh, yes. But Count Anteoni thinks rather as a Bashi-Bazouk fights, I
fancy."

She heard a chair creak in the distance and glanced over her shoulder.
The traveller had turned sideways. At once she bade the priest good-bye
and walked away and out through the swing door.

All the afternoon she rested. The silence was profound. Beni-Mora was
enjoying a siesta in the heat. Domini revelled in the stillness. The
fatigue of travel had quite gone from her now and she began to feel
strangely at home. Suzanne had arranged photographs, books, flowers in
the little salon, had put cushions here and there, and thrown pretty
coverings over the sofa and the two low chairs. The room had an air
of cosiness, of occupation. It was a room one could sit in without
restlessness, and Domini liked its simplicity, its bare wooden floor and
white walls. The sun made everything right here. Without the sun--but
she could not think of Beni-Mora without the sun.

She read on the verandah and dreamed, and the hours slipped quickly
away. No one came to disturb her. She heard no footsteps, no movements
of humanity in the house. Now and then the sound of voices floated up
to her from the gardens, mingling with the peculiar dry noise of palm
leaves stirring in a breeze. Or she heard the distant gallop of horses'
feet. The church bell chimed the hours and made her recall the previous
evening. Already it seemed far off in the past. She could scarcely
believe that she had not yet spent twenty-four hours in Beni-Mora. A
conviction came to her that she would be there for a long while, that
she would strike roots into this sunny place of peace. When she heard
the church bell now she thought of the interior of the church and of the
priest with an odd sort of familiar pleasure, as people in England often
think of the village church in which they have always been accustomed to
worship, and of the clergyman who ministers in it Sunday after Sunday.
Yet at moments she remembered her inward cry in Count Anteoni's garden,
"Oh, what is going to happen to me here?" And then she was dimly
conscious that Beni-Mora was the home of many things besides peace. It
held warring influences. At one moment it lulled her and she was like an
infant rocked in a cradle. At another moment it stirred her, and she
was a woman on the edge of mysterious possibilities. There must be
many individualities among the desert spirits of whom Count Anteoni
had spoken. Now one was with her and whispered to her, now another. She
fancied the light touch of their hands on hers, pulling gently at her,
as a child pulls you to take you to see a treasure. And their treasure
was surely far away, hidden in the distance of the desert sands.

As soon as the sun began to decline towards the west she put on her hat,
thrust the card Count Anteoni had given her into her glove and set out
towards the big hotel alone. She met Hadj as she walked down the arcade.
He wished to accompany her, and was evidently filled with treacherous
ideas of supplanting his friend Batouch, but she gave him a franc and
sent him away. The franc soothed him slightly, yet she could see that
his childish vanity was injured. There was a malicious gleam in
his long, narrow eyes as he looked after her. Yet there was genuine
admiration too. The Arab bows down instinctively before any dominating
spirit, and such a spirit in a foreign woman flashes in his eyes like
a bright flame. Physical strength, too, appeals to him with peculiar
force. Hadj tossed his head upwards, tucked in his chin, and muttered
some words in his brown throat as he noted the elastic grace with which
the rejecting foreign woman moved till she was out of his sight. And she
never looked back at him. That was a keen arrow in her quiver. He fell
into a deep reverie under the arcade and his face became suddenly like
the face of a sphinx.

Meanwhile Domini had forgotten him. She had turned to the left down a
small street in which some Indians and superior Arabs had bazaars.
One of the latter came out from the shadow of his hanging rugs and
embroideries as she passed, and, addressing her in a strange mixture
of incorrect French and English, begged her to come in and examine his
wares.

She shook her head, but could not help looking at him with interest.

He was the thinnest man she had ever seen, and moved and stood almost as
if he were boneless. The line of his delicate and yet arbitrary features
was fierce. His face was pitted with small-pox and marked by an old
wound, evidently made by a knife, which stretched from his left cheek to
his forehead, ending just over the left eyebrow. The expression of his
eyes was almost disgustingly intelligent. While they were fixed upon her
Domini felt as if her body were a glass box in which all her thoughts,
feelings, and desires were ranged for his inspection. In his demeanour
there was much that pleaded, but also something that commanded. His
fingers were unnaturally long and held a small bag, and he planted
himself right before her in the road.

"Madame, come in, venez avec moi. Venez--venez! I have much--I will
show--j'ai des choses extraordinaires! Tenez! Look!"

He untied the mouth of the bag. Domini looked into it, expecting to see
something precious--jewels perhaps. She saw only a quantity of sand,
laughed, and moved to go on. She thought the Arab was an impudent fellow
trying to make fun of her.

"No, no, Madame! Do not laugh! Ce sable est du desert. Il y a des
histoires la-dedans. Il y a l'histoire de Madame. Come bazaar! I will
read for Madame--what will be--what will become--I will read--I will
tell. Tenez!" He stared down into the bag and his face became suddenly
stern and fixed. "Deja je vois des choses dans la vie de Madame. Ah! Mon
Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu!"

"No, no," Domini said.

She had hesitated, but was now determined.

"I have no time to-day."

The man cast a quick and sly glance at her, then stared once more
into the bag. "Ah! Mon Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu!" he repeated. "The life to
come--the life of Madame--I see it in the bag!"

His face looked tortured. Domini walked on hurriedly. When she had
got to a little distance she glanced back. The man was standing in the
middle of the road and glaring into the bag. His voice came down the
street to her.

"Ah! Mon Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu! I see it--I see--je vois la vie de
Madame--Ah! Mon Dieu!"

There was an accent of dreadful suffering in his voice. It made Domini
shudder.

She passed the mouth of the dancers' street. At the corner there was
a large Cafe Maure, and here, on rugs laid by the side of the road,
numbers of Arabs were stretched, some sipping tea from glasses, some
playing dominoes, some conversing, some staring calmly into vacancy,
like animals drowned in a lethargic dream. A black boy ran by holding
a hammered brass tray on which were some small china cups filled with
thick coffee. Halfway up the street he met three unveiled women clad in
voluminous white dresses, with scarlet, yellow, and purple handkerchiefs
bound over their black hair. He stopped and the women took the cups with
their henna-tinted fingers. Two young Arabs joined them. There was a
scuffle. White lumps of sugar flew up into the air. Then there was a
babel of voices, a torrent of cries full of barbaric gaiety.

Before it had died out of Domini's ears she stood by the statue of
Cardinal Lavigerie. Rather militant than priestly, raised high on a
marble pedestal, it faced the long road which, melting at last into a
faint desert track, stretched away to Tombouctou. The mitre upon the
head was worn surely as if it were a helmet, the pastoral staff with its
double cross was grasped as if it were a sword. Upon the lower cross was
stretched a figure of the Christ in agony. And the Cardinal, gazing
with the eyes of an eagle out into the pathless wastes of sand that lay
beyond the palm trees, seemed, by his mere attitude, to cry to all the
myriad hordes of men the deep-bosomed Sahara mothered in her mystery and
silence, "Come unto the Church! Come unto me!"

He called men in from the desert. Domini fancied his voice echoing along
the sands till the worshippers of Allah and of his Prophet heard it like
a clarion in Tombouctou.

When she reached the great hotel the sun was just beginning to set. She
drew Count Anteoni's card from her glove and rang the bell. After a
long interval a magnificent man, with the features of an Arab but a skin
almost as black as a negro, opened the door.

"Can I go up the tower to see the sunset?" she asked, giving him the
card.

The man bowed low, escorted her through a long hall full of furniture
shrouded in coverings, up a staircase, along a corridor with numbered
rooms, up a second staircase and out upon a flat-terraced roof, from
which the tower soared high above the houses and palms of Beni-Mora, a
landmark visible half-a-day's journey out in the desert. A narrow spiral
stair inside the tower gained the summit.

"I'll go up alone," Domini said. "I shall stay some time and I would
rather not keep you."

She put some money into the Arab's hand. He looked pleased, yet doubtful
too for a moment. Then he seemed to banish his hesitation and, with a
deprecating smile, said something which she could not understand. She
nodded intelligently to get rid of him. Already, from the roof, she
caught sight of a great visionary panorama glowing with colour and
magic. She was impatient to climb still higher into the sky, to look
down on the world as an eagle does. So she turned away decisively and
mounted the dark, winding stair till she reached a door. She pushed it
open with some difficulty, and came out into the air at a dizzy height,
shutting the door forcibly behind her with an energetic movement of her
strong arms.

The top of the tower was small and square, and guarded by a white
parapet breast high. In the centre of it rose the outer walls and the
ceiling of the top of the staircase, which prevented a person standing
on one side of the tower from seeing anybody who was standing at the
opposite side. There was just sufficient space between parapet and
staircase wall for two people to pass with difficulty and manoeuvring.

But Domini was not concerned with such trivial details, as she would
have thought them had she thought of them. Directly she had shut the
little door and felt herself alone--alone as an eagle in the sky--she
took the step forward that brought her to the parapet, leaned her arms
on it, looked out and was lost in a passion of contemplation.

At first she did not discern any of the multitudinous minutiae in the
great evening vision beneath and around her. She only felt conscious of
depth, height, space, colour, mystery, calm. She did not measure. She
did not differentiate. She simply stood there, leaning lightly on
the snowy plaster work, and experienced something that she had never
experienced before, that she had never imagined. It was scarcely vivid;
for in everything that is vivid there seems to be something small, the
point to which wonders converge, the intense spark to which many fires
have given themselves as food, the drop which contains the murmuring
force of innumerable rivers. It was more than vivid. It was reliantly
dim, as is that pulse of life which is heard through and above the crash
of generations and centuries falling downwards into the abyss; that
persistent, enduring heart-beat, indifferent in its mystical regularity,
that ignores and triumphs, and never grows louder nor diminishes,
inexorably calm, inexorably steady, undefeated--more--utterly unaffected
by unnumbered millions of tragedies and deaths.

Many sounds rose from far down beneath the tower, but at first Domini
did not hear them. She was only aware of an immense, living silence, a
silence flowing beneath, around and above her in dumb, invisible waves.
Circles of rest and peace, cool and serene, widened as circles in a pool
towards the unseen limits of the satisfied world, limits lost in the
hidden regions beyond the misty, purple magic where sky and desert met.
And she felt as if her brain, ceaselessly at work from its birth,
her heart, unresting hitherto in a commotion of desires, her soul, an
eternal flutter of anxious, passionate wings, folded themselves together
gently like the petals of roses when a summer night comes into a garden.

She was not conscious that she breathed while she stood there. She
thought her bosom ceased to rise and fall. The very blood dreamed in her
veins as the light of evening dreamed in the blue.

She knew the Great Pause that seems to divide some human lives in two,
as the Great Gulf divided him who lay in Abraham's bosom from him who
was shrouded in the veil of fire.




BOOK II. THE VOICE OF PRAYER



CHAPTER VII

The music of things from below stole up through the ethereal spaces to
Domini without piercing her dream. But suddenly she started with a
sense of pain so acute that it shook her body and set the pulses in her
temples beating. She lifted her arms swiftly from the parapet and turned
her head. She had heard a little grating noise which seemed to be near
to her, enclosed with her on this height in the narrow space of the
tower. Slight as it was, and short--already she no longer heard it--it
had in an instant driven her out of Heaven, as if it had been an angel
with a flaming sword. She felt sure that there must be something alive
with her at the tower summit, something which by a sudden movement had
caused the little noise she had heard. What was it? When she turned her
head she could only see the outer wall of the staircase, a section of
the narrow white space which surrounded it, an angle of the parapet and
blue air.

She listened, holding her breath and closing her two hands on the
parapet, which was warm from the sun. Now, caught back to reality, she
could hear faintly the sounds from below in Beni-Mora. But they did not
concern her, and she wished to shut them out from her ears. What did
concern her was to know what was with her up in the sky. Had a bird
alighted on the parapet and startled her by scratching at the plaster
with its beak? Could a mouse have shuffled in the wall? Or was there a
human being up there hidden from her by the masonry?

This last supposition disturbed her almost absurdly for a moment. She
was inclined to walk quickly round to the opposite side of the tower,
but something stronger than her inclination, an imperious shyness, held
her motionless. She had been carried so far away from the world that
she felt unable to face the scrutiny of any world-bound creature. Having
been in the transparent region of magic it seemed to her as if her
secret, the great secret of the absolutely true, the naked personality
hidden in every human being, were set blazing in her eyes like some
torch borne in a procession, just for that moment. The moment past, she
could look anyone fearlessly in the face; but not now, not yet.

While she stood there, half turning round, she heard the sound again and
knew what caused it. A foot had shifted on the plaster floor. There was
someone else then looking out over the desert. A sudden idea struck her.
Probably it was Count Anteoni. He knew she was coming and might have
decided to act once more as her cicerone. He had not heard her climbing
the stairs, and, having gone to the far side of the tower, was no doubt
watching the sunset, lost in a dream as she had been.

She resolved not to disturb him--if it was he. When he had dreamed
enough he must inevitably come round to where she was standing in order
to gain the staircase. She would let him find her there. Less troubled
now, but in an utterly changed mood, she turned, leaned once more on
the parapet and looked over, this time observantly, prepared to note the
details that, combined and veiled in the evening light of Africa, made
the magic which had so instantly entranced her.

She looked down into the village and could see its extent, precisely how
it was placed in the Sahara, in what relation exactly it stood to the
mountain ranges, to the palm groves and the arid, sunburnt tracts, where
its life centred and where it tailed away into suburban edges not unlike
the ragged edges of worn garments, where it was idle and frivolous,
where busy and sedulous. She realised for the first time that there
were two distinct layers of life in Beni-Mora--the life of the streets,
courts, gardens and market-place, and above it the life of the roofs.
Both were now spread out before her, and the latter, in its domestic
intimacy, interested and charmed her. She saw upon the roofs the
children playing with little dogs, goats, fowls, mothers in rags of
gaudy colours stirring the barley for cous-cous, shredding vegetables,
pounding coffee, stewing meat, plucking chickens, bending over bowls
from which rose the steam of soup; small girls, seated in dusty corners,
solemnly winding wool on sticks, and pausing, now and then, to squeak to
distant members of the home circle, or to smell at flowers laid beside
them as solace to their industry. An old grandmother rocked and kissed
a naked baby with a pot belly. A big grey rat stole from a rubbish heap
close by her, flitted across the sunlit space, and disappeared into a
cranny. Pigeons circled above the home activities, delicate lovers of
the air, wandered among the palm tops, returned and fearlessly alighted
on the brown earth parapets, strutting hither and thither and making
their perpetual, characteristic motion of the head, half nod, half
genuflection. Veiled girls promenaded to take the evening cool, folding
their arms beneath their flowing draperies, and chattering to one
another in voices that Domini could not hear. More close at hand certain
roofs in the dancers' street revealed luxurious sofas on which painted
houris were lolling in sinuous attitudes, or were posed with a stiffness
of idols, little tables set with coffee cups, others round which were
gathered Zouaves intent on card games, but ever ready to pause for a
caress or for some jesting absurdity with the women who squatted beside
them. Some men, dressed like girls, went to and fro, serving the dancers
with sweetmeats and with cigarettes, their beards flowing down with a
grotesque effect over their dresses of embroidered muslin, their hairy
arms emerging from hanging sleeves of silk. A negro boy sat holding a
tomtom between his bare knees and beating it with supple hands, and a
Jewess performed the stomach dance, waving two handkerchiefs stained red
and purple, and singing in a loud and barbarous contralto voice which
Domini could hear but very faintly. The card-players stopped their game
and watched her, and Domini watched too. For the first time, and from
this immense height, she saw this universal dance of the east; the
doll-like figure, fantastically dwarfed, waving its tiny hands,
wriggling its minute body, turning about like a little top, strutting
and bending, while the soldiers--small almost from here as toys taken
out of a box--assumed attitudes of deep attention as they leaned upon
the card-table, stretching out their legs enveloped in balloon-like
trousers.

Domini thought of the recruits, now, no doubt, undergoing elsewhere
their initiation. For a moment she seemed to see their coarse peasant
faces rigid with surprise, their hanging jaws, their childish, and yet
sensual, round eyes. Notre Dame de la Garde must seem very far away from
them now.

With that thought she looked quickly away from the Jewess and the
soldiers. She felt a sudden need of something more nearly in relation
with her inner self. She was almost angry as she realised how deep had
been her momentary interest in a scene suggestive of a license which was
surely unattractive to her. Yet was it unattractive? She scarcely
knew. But she knew that it had kindled in her a sudden and very strong
curiosity, even a vague, momentary desire that she had been born in some
tent of the Ouled Nails--no, that was impossible. She had not felt such
a desire even for an instant. She looked towards the thickets of the
palms, towards the mountains full of changing, exquisite colours,
towards the desert. And at once the dream began to return, and she felt
as if hands slipped under her heart and uplifted it.

What depths and heights were within her, what deep, dark valleys,
and what mountain peaks! And how she travelled within herself, with
swiftness of light, with speed of the wind. What terrors of activity she
knew. Did every human being know similar terrors?

The colours everywhere deepened as day failed. The desert spirits were
at work. She thought of Count Anteoni again, and resolved to go round to
the other side of the tower. As she moved to do this she heard once more
the shifting of a foot on the plaster floor, then a step. Evidently
she had infected him with an intention similar to her own. She went on,
still hearing the step, turned the corner and stood face to face in the
strong evening light with the traveller. Their bodies almost touched in
the narrow space before they both stopped, startled. For a moment they
stood still looking at each other, as people might look who have spoken
together, who know something of each other's lives, who may like or
dislike, wish to avoid or to draw near to each other, but who cannot
pretend that they are complete strangers, wholly indifferent to each
other. They met in the sky, almost as one bird may meet another on the
wing. And, to Domini, at any rate, it seemed as if the depth, height,
space, colour, mystery and calm--yes, even the calm--which were above,
around and beneath them, had been placed there by hidden hands as a
setting for their encounter, even as the abrupt pageant of the previous
day, into which the train had emerged from the blackness of the tunnel,
had surely been created as a frame for the face which had looked upon
her as if out of the heart of the sun. The assumption was absurd,
unreasonable, yet vital. She did not combat it because she felt it too
powerful for common sense to strive against. And it seemed to her that
the stranger felt it too, that she saw her sensation reflected in his
eyes as he stood between the parapet and the staircase wall, barring--in
despite of himself--her path. The moment seemed long while they stood
motionless. Then the man took off his soft hat awkwardly, yet with real
politeness, and stood quickly sideways against the parapet to let her
pass. She could have passed if she had brushed against him, and made a
movement to do so. Then she checked herself and looked at him again as
if she expected him to speak to her. His hat was still in his hand, and
the light desert wind faintly stirred his short brown hair. He did not
speak, but stood there crushing himself against the plaster work with a
sort of fierce timidity, as if he dreaded the touch of her skirt against
him, and longed to make himself small, to shrivel up and let her go by
in freedom.

"Thank you," she said in French.

She passed him, but was unable to do so without touching him. Her left
arm was hanging down, and her bare hand knocked against the back of the
hand in which he held his hat. She felt as if at that moment she
touched a furnace, and she saw him shiver slightly, as over-fatigued
men sometimes shiver in daylight. An extraordinary, almost motherly,
sensation of pity for him came over her. She did not know why. The
intense heat of his hand, the shiver that ran over his body, his
attitude as he shrank with a kind of timid, yet ferocious, politeness
against the white wall, the expression in his eyes when their hands
touched--a look she could not analyse, but which seemed to hold a
mingling of wistfulness and repellance, as of a being stretching out
arms for succour, and crying at the same time, "Don't draw near to me!
Leave me to myself!"--everything about him moved her. She felt that
she was face to face with a solitariness of soul such as she had never
encountered before, a solitariness that was cruel, that was weighed down
with agony. And directly she had passed the man and thanked him formally
she stopped with her usual decision of manner. She had abruptly made up
her mind to talk to him. He was already moving to turn away. She spoke
quickly, and in French.

"Isn't it wonderful here?" she said; and she made her voice rather loud,
and almost sharp, to arrest his attention.

He turned round swiftly, yet somehow reluctantly, looked at her
anxiously, and seemed doubtful whether he would reply.

After a silence that was short, but that seemed, and in such
circumstances was, long, he answered, in French:

"Very wonderful, Madame."

The sound of his own voice seemed to startle him. He stood as if he had
heard an unusual noise which had alarmed him, and looked at Domini as
if he expected that she would share in his sensation. Very quietly and
deliberately she leaned her arms again on the parapet and spoke to him
once more.

"We seem to be the only travellers here."

The man's attitude became slightly calmer. He looked less momentary,
less as if he were in haste to go, but still shy, fierce and
extraordinarily unconventional.

"Yes, Madame; there are not many here."

After a pause, and with an uncertain accent, he added:

"Pardon, Madame--for yesterday."

There was a sudden simplicity, almost like that of a child, in the sound
of his voice as he said that. Domini knew at once that he alluded to the
incident at the station of El-Akbara, that he was trying to make amends.
The way he did it touched her curiously. She felt inclined to stretch
out her hand to him and say, "Of course! Shake hands on it!" almost as
an honest schoolboy might. But she only answered:

"I know it was only an accident. Don't think of it any more."

She did not look at him.

"Where money is concerned the Arabs are very persistent," she continued.

The man laid one of his brown hands on the top of the parapet. She
looked at it, and it seemed to her that she had never before seen the
back of a hand express so much of character, look so intense, so ardent,
and so melancholy as his.

"Yes, Madame."

He still spoke with an odd timidity, with an air of listening to his own
speech as if in some strange way it were phenomenal to him. It occurred
to her that possibly he had lived much in lonely places, in which his
solitude had rarely been broken, and he had been forced to acquire the
habit of silence.

"But they are very picturesque. They look almost like some religious
order when they wear their hoods. Don't you think so?"

She saw the brown hand lifted from the parapet, and heard her
companion's feet shift on the floor of the tower. But this time he said
nothing. As she could not see his hand now she looked out again over
the panorama of the evening, which was deepening in intensity with every
passing moment, and immediately she was conscious of two feelings that
filled her with wonder: a much stronger and sweeter sense of the African
magic than she had felt till now, and the certainty that the greater
force and sweetness of her feeling were caused by the fact that she had
a companion in her contemplation. This was strange. An intense desire
for loneliness had driven her out of Europe to this desert place, and a
companion, who was an utter stranger, emphasised the significance, gave
fibre to the beauty, intensity to the mystery of that which she looked
on. It was as if the meaning of the African evening were suddenly
doubled. She thought of a dice-thrower who throws one die and turns up
six, then throws two and turns up twelve. And she remained silent in her
surprise. The man stood silently beside her. Afterwards she felt as if,
during this silence in the tower, some powerful and unseen being had
arrived mysteriously, introduced them to one another and mysteriously
departed.

The evening drew on in their silence and the dream was deeper now. All
that Domini had felt when first she approached the parapet she felt more
strangely, and she grasped, with physical and mental vision, not only
the whole, but the innumerable parts of that which she looked on. She
saw, fancifully, the circles widen in the pool of peace, but she saw
also the things that had been hidden in the pool. The beauty of dimness,
the beauty of clearness, joined hands. The one and the other were, with
her, like sisters. She heard the voices from below, and surely also
the voices of the stars that were approaching with the night, blending
harmoniously and making a music in the air. The glowing sky and the
glowing mountains were as comrades, each responsive to the emotions of
the other. The lights in the rocky clefts had messages for the shadowy
moon, and the palm trees for the thin, fire-tipped clouds about the
west. Far off the misty purple of the desert drew surely closer, like a
mother coming to fold her children in her arms.

The Jewess still danced upon the roof to the watching Zouaves, but now
there was something mystic in her tiny movements which no longer roused
in Domini any furtive desire not really inherent in her nature. There
was something beautiful in everything seen from this altitude in this
wondrous evening light.

Presently, without turning to her companion, she said:

"Could anything look ugly in Beni-Mora from here at this hour, do you
think?"

Again there was the silence that seemed characteristic of this man
before he spoke, as if speech were very difficult to him.

"I believe not, Madame."

"Even that woman down there on that roof looks graceful--the one dancing
for those soldiers."

He did not answer. She glanced at him and pointed.

"Down there, do you see?"

She noticed that he did not follow her hand and that his face became
stern. He kept his eyes fixed on the trees of the garden of the Gazelles
near Cardinal Lavigerie's statue and replied:

"Yes, Madame."

His manner made her think that perhaps he had seen the dance at close
quarters and that it was outrageous. For a moment she felt slightly
uncomfortable, but determined not to let him remain under a false
impression, she added carelessly:

"I have never seen the dances of Africa. I daresay I should think
them ugly enough if I were near, but from this height everything is
transformed."

"That is true, Madame."

There was an odd, muttering sound in his voice, which was deep, and
probably strong, but which he kept low. Domini thought it was the most
male voice she had ever heard. It seemed to be full of sex, like his
hands. Yet there was nothing coarse in either the one or the other.
Everything about him was vital to a point that was so remarkable as to
be not actually unnatural but very near the unnatural.

She glanced at him again. He was a big man, but very thin. Her
experienced eyes of an athletic woman told her that he was capable
of great and prolonged muscular exertion. He was big-boned and
deep-chested, and had nervous as well as muscular strength. The timidity
in him was strange in such a man. What could it spring from? It was
not like ordinary shyness, the _gaucherie_ of a big, awkward lout
unaccustomed to woman's society but able to be at his ease and
boisterous in the midst of a crowd of men. Domini thought that he would
be timid even of men. Yet it never struck her that he might be a coward,
unmanly. Such a quality would have sickened her at once, and she knew
she would have at once divined it. He did not hold himself very well,
but was inclined to stoop and to keep his head low, as if he were in the
habit of looking much on the ground. The idiosyncrasy was rather ugly,
and suggested melancholy to her, the melancholy of a man given to
over-much meditation and afraid to face the radiant wonder of life.

She caught herself up at this last thought. She--thinking naturally that
life was full of radiant wonder! Was she then so utterly transformed
already by Beni-Mora? Or had the thought come to her because she stood
side by side with someone whose sorrows had been unfathomably deeper
than her own, and so who, all unconsciously, gave her a knowledge of her
own--till then unsuspected--hopefulness?

She looked at her companion again. He seemed to have relinquished his
intention of leaving her, and was standing quietly beside her, staring
towards the desert, with his head slightly drooped forward. In one hand
he held a thick stick. He had put his hat on again. His attitude was
much calmer than it had been. Already he seemed more at ease with her.
She was glad of that. She did not ask herself why. But the intense
beauty of evening in this land and at this height made her wish
enthusiastically that it could produce a happiness such as it created in
her in everyone. Such beauty, with its voices, its colours, its lines
of tree and leaf, of wall and mountain ridge, its mystery of shapes and
movements, stillness and dreaming distance, its atmosphere of the far
off come near, chastened by journeying, fine with the unfamiliar, its
solemn changes towards the impenetrable night, was too large a thing and
fraught with too much tender and lovable invention to be worshipped in
any selfishness. It made her feel as if she could gladly be a martyr for
unseen human beings, as if sacrifice would be an easy thing if made for
those to whom such beauty would appeal. Brotherhood rose up and cried in
her, as it surely sang in the sunset, in the mountains, the palm groves
and the desert. The flame above the hills, their purple outline, the
moving, feathery trees; dark under the rose-coloured glory of the west,
and most of all the immeasurably remote horizons, each moment more
strange and more eternal, made her long to make this harsh stranger
happy.

"One ought to find happiness here," she said to him very simply.

She saw his hand strain itself round the wood of his stick.

"Why?" he said.

He turned right round to her and looked at her with a sort of anger.

"Why should you suppose so?" he added, speaking quite quickly, and
without his former uneasiness and consciousness.

"Because it is so beautiful and so calm."

"Calm!" he said. "Here!"

There was a sound of passionate surprise in his voice. Domini was
startled. She felt as if she were fighting, and must fight hard if she
were not to be beaten to the dust. But when she looked at him she could
find no weapons. She said nothing. In a moment he spoke again.

"You find calm here," he said slowly. "Yes, I see."

His head dropped lower and his face hardened as he looked over the edge
of the parapet to the village, the blue desert. Then he lifted his eyes
to the mountains and the clear sky and the shadowy moon. Each element in
the evening scene was examined with a fierce, painful scrutiny, as if he
was resolved to wring from each its secret.

"Why, yes," he added in a low, muttering voice full of a sort of
terrified surprise, "it is so. You are right. Why, yes, it is calm
here."

He spoke like a man who had been suddenly convinced, beyond power of
further unbelief, of something he had never suspected, never dreamed of.
And the conviction seemed to be bitter to him, even alarming.

"But away out there must be the real home of peace, I think," Domini
said.

"Where?" said the man, quickly.

She pointed towards the south.

"In the depths of the desert," she said. "Far away from civilisation,
far away from modern men and modern women, and all the noisy trifles we
are accustomed to."

He looked towards the south eagerly. In everything he did there was a
flamelike intensity, as if he could not perform an ordinary action, or
turn his eyes upon any object, without calling up in his mind, or heart,
a violence of thought or of feeling.

"You think it--you think there would be peace out there, far away in the
desert?" he said, and his face relaxed slightly, as if in obedience to
some thought not wholly sad.

"It may be fanciful," she replied. "But I think there must. Surely
Nature has not a lying face."

He was still gazing towards the south, from which the night was slowly
emerging, a traveller through a mist of blue. He seemed to be held
fascinated by the desert which was fading away gently, like a mystery
which had drawn near to the light of revelation, but which was now
slipping back into an underworld of magic. He bent forward as one who
watches a departure in which he longs to share, and Domini felt sure
that he had forgotten her. She felt, too, that this man was gripped by
the desert influence more fiercely even than she was, and that he must
have a stronger imagination, a greater force of projection even than she
had. Where she bore a taper he lifted a blazing torch.

A roar of drums rose up immediately beneath them. From the negro village
emerged a ragged procession of thick-lipped men, and singing, capering
women tricked out in scarlet and yellow shawls, headed by a male dancer
clad in the skins of jackals, and decorated with mirrors, camels' skulls
and chains of animals' teeth. He shouted and leaped, rolled his bulging
eyes, and protruded a fluttering tongue. The dust curled up round his
stamping, naked feet.

"Yah-ah-la! Yah-ah-la!"

The howling chorus came up to the tower, with a clash of enormous
castanets, and of poles beaten rhythmically together.

"Yi-yi-yi-yi!" went the shrill voices of the women.

The cloud of dust increased, enveloping the lower part of the
procession, till the black heads and waving arms emerged as if from a
maelstrom. The thunder of the drums was like the thunder of a cataract
in which the singers, disappearing towards the village, seemed to be
swept away.

The man at Domini's side raised himself up with a jerk, and all the
former fierce timidity and consciousness came back to his face. He
turned round, pulled open the door behind him, and took off his hat.

"Excuse me, Madame," he said. "Bon soir!"

"I am coming too," Domini answered.

He looked uncomfortable and anxious, hesitated, then, as if driven to do
it in spite of himself, plunged downward through the narrow doorway of
the tower into the darkness. Domini waited for a moment, listening to
the heavy sound of his tread on the wooden stairs. She frowned till her
thick eyebrows nearly met and the corners of her lips turned down. Then
she followed slowly. When she was on the stairs and the footsteps died
away below her she fully realised that for the first time in her life a
man had insulted her. Her face felt suddenly very hot, and her lips very
dry, and she longed to use her physical strength in a way not wholly
feminine. In the hall, among the shrouded furniture, she met the smiling
doorkeeper. She stopped.

"Did the gentleman who has just gone out give you his card?" she said
abruptly.

The Arab assumed a fawning, servile expression.

"No, Madame, but he is a very good gentleman, and I know well that
Monsieur the Count--"

Domini cut him short.

"Of what nationality is he?"

"Monsieur the Count, Madame?"

"No, no."

"The gentleman? I do not know. But he can speak Arabic. Oh, he is a very
nice--"

"Bon soir," said Domini, giving him a franc.

When she was out on the road in front of the hotel she saw the stranger
striding along in the distance at the tail of the negro procession. The
dust stirred up by the dancers whirled about him. Several small negroes
skipped round him, doubtless making eager demands upon his generosity.
He seemed to take no notice of them, and as she watched him Domini
was reminded of his retreat from the praying Arab in the desert that
morning.

"Is he afraid of women as he is afraid of prayer?" she thought, and
suddenly the sense of humiliation and anger left her, and was succeeded
by a powerful curiosity such as she had never felt before about anyone.
She realised that this curiosity had dawned in her almost at the first
moment when she saw the stranger, and had been growing ever since. One
circumstance after another had increased it till now it was definite,
concrete. She wondered that she did not feel ashamed of such a feeling
so unusual in her, and surely unworthy, like a prying thing. Of all her
old indifference that side which confronted people had always been the
most sturdy, the most solidly built. Without affectation she had been a
profoundly incurious woman as to the lives and the concerns of others,
even of those whom she knew best and was supposed to care for most.
Her nature had been essentially languid in human intercourse. The
excitements, troubles, even the passions of others had generally stirred
her no more than a distant puppet-show stirs an absent-minded passer in
the street.

In Africa it seemed that her whole nature had been either violently
renewed, or even changed. She could not tell which. But this strong
stirring of curiosity would, she believed, have been impossible in the
woman she had been but a week ago, the woman who travelled to Marseilles
dulled, ignorant of herself, longing for change. Perhaps instead of
being angry she ought to welcome it as a symptom of the re-creation she
longed for.

While she changed her gown for dinner that night she debated within
herself how she would treat her fellow-guest when she met him in the
_salle-a-manger_. She ought to cut him after what had occurred, she
supposed. Then it seemed to her that to do so would be undignified, and
would give him the impression that he had the power to offend her. She
resolved to bow to him if they met face to face. Just before she went
downstairs she realised how vehement her internal debate had been, and
was astonished. Suzanne was putting away something in a drawer, bending
down and stretching out her plump arms.

"Suzanne!" Domini said.

"Yes, Mam'zelle!"

"How long have you been with me?"

"Three years, Mam'zelle."

The maid shut the drawer and turned round, fixing her shallow,
blue-grey eyes on her mistress, and standing as if she were ready to be
photographed.

"Would you say that I am the same sort of person to-day as I was three
years ago?"

Suzanne looked like a cat that has been startled by a sudden noise.

"The same, Mam'zelle?"

"Yes. Do you think I have altered in that time?"

Suzanne considered the question with her head slightly on one side.

"Only here, Mam'zelle," she replied at length.

"Here!" said Domini, rather eagerly. "Why, I have only been here
twenty-six hours."

"That is true. But Mam'zelle looks as if she had a little life here, a
little emotion. Mon Dieu! Mam'zelle will pardon me, but what is a woman
who feels no emotion? A packet. Is it not so, Mam'zelle?"

"Well, but what is there to be emotional about here?"

Suzanne looked vaguely crafty.

"Who knows, Mam'zelle? Who can say? Mon Dieu! This village is dull, but
it is odd. No band plays. There are no shops for a girl to look into.
There is nothing chic except the costumes of the Zouaves. But one cannot
deny that it is odd. When Mam'zelle was away this afternoon in the tower
Monsieur Helmuth--"

"Who is that?"

"The Monsieur who accompanies the omnibus to the station. Monsieur
Helmuth was polite enough to escort me through the village. Mon Dieu,
Mam'zelle, I said to myself, 'Anything might occur here.'"

"Anything! What do you mean?"

But Suzanne did not seem to know. She only made her figure look more
tense than ever, tucked in her round little chin, which was dimpled and
unmeaning, and said:

"Who knows, Mam'zelle? This village is dull, that is true, but it is
odd. One does not find oneself in such places every day."

Domini could not help laughing at these Delphic utterances, but she went
downstairs thoughtfully. She knew Suzanne's practical spirit. Till now
the maid had never shown any capacity of imagination. Beni-Mora was
certainly beginning to mould her nature into a slightly different shape.
And Domini seemed to see an Eastern potter at work, squatting in the sun
and with long and delicate fingers changing the outline of the statuette
of a woman, modifying a curve here, an angle there, till the clay began
to show another woman, but with, as it were, the shadow of the former
one lurking behind the new personality.

The stranger was not at dinner. His table was laid and Domini sat
expecting each moment to hear the shuffling tread of his heavy boots on
the wooden floor. When he did not come she thought she was glad. After
dinner she spoke for a moment to the priest and then went upstairs to
the verandah to take coffee. She found Batouch there. He had renounced
his determined air, and his _cafe-au-lait_ countenance and huge body
expressed enduring pathos, as of an injured, patient creature laid out
for the trampling of Domini's cruel feet.

"Well?" she said, sitting down by the basket table.

"Well, Madame?"

He sighed and looked on the ground, lifted one white-socked foot,
removed its yellow slipper, shook out a tiny stone from the slipper and
put it on again, slowly, gracefully and very sadly. Then he pulled the
white sock up with both hands and glanced at Domini out of the corners
of his eyes.

"What's the matter?"

"Madame does not care to see the dances of Beni-Mora, to hear the music,
to listen to the story-teller, to enter the cafe of El Hadj where
Achmed sings to the keef smokers, or to witness the beautiful religious
ecstasies of the dervishes from Oumach. Therefore I come to bid Madame
respectfully goodnight and to take my departure."

He threw his burnous over his left shoulder with a sudden gesture of
despair that was full of exaggeration. Domini smiled.

"You've been very good to-day," she said.

"I am always good, Madame. I am of a serious disposition. Not one keeps
Ramadan as I do."

"I am sure of it. Go downstairs and wait for me under the arcade."

Batouch's large face became suddenly a rendezvous of all the gaieties.

"Madame is coming out to-night?"

"Presently. Be in the arcade."

He swept away with the ample magnificence of joyous bearing and movement
that was like a loud Te Deum.

"Suzanne! Suzanne!"

Domini had finished her coffee.

"Mam'zelle!" answered Suzanne, appearing.

"Would you like to come out with me to-night?"

"Mam'zelle is going out?"

"Yes, to see the village by night."

Suzanne looked irresolute. Craven fear and curiosity fought a battle
within her, as was evident by the expressions that came and went in her
face before she answered.

"Shall we not be murdered, Mam'zelle, and are there interesting things
to see?"

"There are interesting things to see--dancers, singers, keef smokers.
But if you are afraid don't come."

"Dancers, Mam'zelle! But the Arabs carry knives. And is there singing?
I--I should not like Mam'zelle to go without me. But----"

"Come and protect me from the knives then. Bring my jacket--any one. I
don't suppose I shall put it on."

As she spoke the distant tomtoms began. Suzanne started nervously and
looked at Domini with sincere apprehension.

"We had better not go, Mam'zelle. It is not safe out here. Men who make
a noise like that would not respect us."

"I like it."

"That sound? But it is always the same and there is no music in it."

"Perhaps there is more in it than music. The jacket?"

Suzanne went gingerly to fetch it. The faint cry of the African hautboy
rose up above the tomtoms. The evening _fete_ was beginning. To-night
Domini felt that she must go to the distant music and learn to
understand its meaning, not only for herself, but for those who made it
and danced to it night after night. It stirred her imagination, and
made her in love with mystery, and anxious at least to steal to the very
threshold of the barbarous world. Did it stir those who had had it in
their ears ever since they were naked, sunburned babies rolling in the
hot sun of the Sahara? Could it seem as ordinary to them as the cold
uproar of the piano-organ to the urchins of Whitechapel, or the whine
of the fiddle to the peasants of Touraine where Suzanne was born? She
wanted to know. Suzanne returned with the jacket. She still looked
apprehensive, but she had put on her hat and fastened a sprig of red
geranium in the front of her black gown. The curiosity was in the
ascendant.

"We are not going quite alone, Mam'zelle?"

"No, no. Batouch will protect us."

Suzanne breathed a furtive sigh.

The poet was in the white arcade with Hadj, who looked both wicked
and deplorable, and had a shabby air, in marked contrast to Batouch's
ostentatious triumph. Domini felt quite sorry for him.

"You come with us too," she said.

Hadj squared his shoulders and instantly looked vivacious and almost
smart. But an undecided expression came into his face.

"Where is Madame going?"

"To see the village."

Batouch shot a glance at Hadj and smiled unpleasantly.

"I will come with Madame."

Batouch still smiled.

"We are going to the Ouled Nails," he said significantly to Hadj.

"I--I will come."

They set out. Suzanne looked gently at the poet's legs and seemed
comforted.

"Take great care of Mademoiselle Suzanne," Domini said to the poet. "She
is a little nervous in the dark."

"Mademoiselle Suzanne is like the first day after the fast of Ramadan,"
replied the poet, majestically. "No one would harm her were she to
wander alone to Tombouctou."

The prospect drew from Suzanne a startled gulp. Batouch placed himself
tenderly at her side and they set out, Domini walking behind with Hadj.



CHAPTER VIII

The village was full of the wan presage of the coming of the moon. The
night was very still and very warm. As they skirted the long gardens
Domini saw a light in the priest's house. It made her wonder how he
passed his solitary evenings when he went home from the hotel, and she
fancied him sitting in some plainly-furnished little room with Bous-Bous
and a few books, smoking a pipe and thinking sadly of the White Fathers
of Africa and of his frustrated desire for complete renunciation. With
this last thought blended the still remote sound of the hautboy.
It suggested anything rather than renunciation; mysterious
melancholy--successor to passion--the cry of longing, the wail of the
unknown that draws some men and women to splendid follies and to ardent
pilgrimages whose goal is the mirage.

Hadj was talking in a low voice, but Domini did not listen to him. She
was vaguely aware that he was abusing Batouch, saying that he was a
liar, inclined to theft, a keef smoker, and in a general way steeped
to the lips in crime. But the moon was rising, the distant music was
becoming more distinct. She could not listen to Hadj.

As they turned into the street of the sand-diviner the first ray of the
moon fell on the white road. Far away at the end of the street Domini
could see the black foliage of the trees in the Gazelles' garden, and
beyond, to the left, a dimness of shadowy palms at the desert edge. The
desert itself was not visible. Two Arabs passed, shrouded in burnouses,
with the hoods drawn up over their heads. Only their black beards could
be seen. They were talking violently and waving their arms. Suzanne
shuddered and drew close to the poet. Her plump face worked and she
glanced appealingly at her mistress. But Domini was not thinking of her,
or of violence or danger. The sound of the tomtoms and hautboys
seemed suddenly much louder now that the moon began to shine, making a
whiteness among the white houses of the village, the white robes of the
inhabitants, a greater whiteness on the white road that lay before
them. And she was thinking that the moon whiteness of Beni-Mora was more
passionate than pure, more like the blanched face of a lover than the
cool, pale cheek of a virgin. There was excitement in it, suggestion
greater even than the suggestion of the tremendous coloured scenes of
the evening that preceded such a night. And she mused of white heat and
of what it means--the white heat of the brain blazing with thoughts that
govern, the white heat of the heart blazing with emotions that make such
thoughts seem cold. She had never known either. Was she incapable of
knowing them? Could she imagine them till there was physical heat in
her body if she was incapable of knowing them? Suzanne and the two Arabs
were distant shadows to her when that first moon-ray touched their feet.
The passion of the night began to burn her, and she thought she would
like to take her soul and hold it out to the white flame.

As they passed the sand-diviner's house Domini saw his spectral figure
standing under the yellow light of the hanging lantern in the middle
of his carpet shop, which was lined from floor to ceiling with dull
red embroideries and dim with the fumes of an incense brazier. He was
talking to a little boy, but keeping a wary eye on the street, and he
came out quickly, beckoning with his long hands, and calling softly, in
a half-chuckling and yet authoritative voice:

"Venez, Madame, venez! Come! come!"

Suzanne seized Domini's arm.

"Not to-night!" Domini called out.

"Yes, Madame, to-night. The vie of Madame is there in the sand to-night.
Je la vois, je la vois. C'est la dans le sable to-night."

The moonlight showed the wound on his face. Suzanne uttered a cry and
hid her eyes with her hands. They went on towards the trees. Hadj walked
with hesitation.

"How loud the music is getting," Domini said to him.

"It will deafen Madame's ears if she gets nearer," said Hadj, eagerly.
"And the dancers are not for Madame. For the Arabs, yes, but for a great
lady of the most respectable England! Madame will be red with disgust,
with anger. Madame will have _mal-au-coeur_."

Batouch began to look like an idol on whose large face the artificer had
carved an expression of savage ferocity.

"Madame is my client," he said fiercely. "Madame trusts in me."

Hadj laughed with a snarl:

"He who smokes the keef is like a Mehari with a swollen tongue," he
rejoined.

The poet looked as if he were going to spring upon his cousin, but he
restrained himself and a slow, malignant smile curled about his thick
lips like a snake.

"I shall show to Madame a dancer who is modest, who is beautiful,
Hadj-ben-Ibrahim," he said softly.

"Fatma is sick," said Hadj, quickly.

"It will not be Fatma."

Hadj began suddenly to gesticulate with his thin, delicate hands and to
look fiercely excited.

"Halima is at the Fontaine Chaude," he cried.

"Keltoum will be there."

"She will not. Her foot is sick. She cannot dance. For a week she will
not dance. I know it."

"And--Irena? Is she sick? Is she at the Hammam Salahine?"

Hadj's countenance fell. He looked at his cousin sideways, always
showing his teeth.

"Do you not know, Hadj-ben-Ibrahim?"

"_Ana ma 'audi ma nek oul lek!_"[*] growled Hadj in his throat.

     [*] "I have nothing to say to you."

They had reached the end of the little street. The whiteness of the
great road which stretched straight through the oasis into the desert
lay before them, with the statue of Cardinal Lavigerie staring down it
in the night. At right angles was the street of the dancers, narrow,
bounded with the low white houses of the ouleds, twinkling with starry
lights, humming with voices, throbbing with the clashing music that
poured from the rival _cafes maures_, thronged with the white figures
of the desert men, strolling slowly, softly as panthers up and down. The
moonlight was growing brighter, as if invisible hands began to fan the
white flame of passion which lit up Beni-Mora. A patrol of Tirailleurs
Indigenes passed by going up the street, in yellow and blue uniforms,
turbans and white gaiters, their rifles over their broad shoulders. The
faint tramp of their marching feet was just audible on the sandy road.

"Hadj can go home if he is afraid of anything in the dancing street,"
said Domini, rather maliciously. "Let us follow the soldiers."

Hadj started as if he had been stung, and looked at Domini as if he
would like to strangle her.

"I am afraid of nothing," he exclaimed proudly. "Madame does not know
Hadj-ben-Ibrahim."

Batouch laughed soundlessly, shaking his great shoulders. It was evident
that he had divined his cousin's wish to supplant him and was busily
taking his revenge. Domini was amused, and as they went slowly up the
street in the wake of the soldiers she said:

"Do you often come here at night, Hadj-ben-Ibrahim?"

"Oh, yes, Madame, when I am alone. But with ladies--"

"You were here last night, weren't you, with the traveller from the
hotel?"

"No, Madame. The Monsieur of the hotel preferred to visit the cafe of
the story-teller, which is far more interesting. If Madame will permit
me to take her--"

But this last assault was too much for the poet's philosophy. He
suddenly threw off all pretence of graceful calm, and poured out upon
Hadj a torrent of vehement Arabic, accompanying it with passionate
gestures which filled Suzanne with horror and Domini with secret
delight. She liked this abrupt unveiling of the raw. There had always
lurked in her an audacity, a quick spirit of adventure more boyish than
feminine. She had reached the age of thirty-two without ever gratifying
it, or even fully realising how much she longed to gratify it. But now
she began to understand it and to feel that it was imperious.

"I have a barbarian in me," she thought.

"Batouch!" she said sharply.

The poet turned a distorted face to her.

"Madame!"

"That will do. Take us to the dancing-house."

Batouch shot a last ferocious glance at Hadj and they went on into the
crowd of strolling men.

The little street, bright with the lamps of the small houses, from which
projected wooden balconies painted in gay colours, and with the glowing
radiance of the moon, was mysterious despite its gaiety, its obvious
dedication to the cult of pleasure. Alive with the shrieking sounds of
music, the movement and the murmur of desert humanity made it almost
solemn. This crowd of boys and men, robed in white from head to heel,
preserved a serious grace in its vivacity, suggested besides a dignified
barbarity a mingling of angel, monk and nocturnal spirit. In the
distance of the moonbeams, gliding slowly over the dusty road with
slippered feet, there was something soft and radiant in their moving
whiteness. Nearer, their pointed hoods made them monastical as a
procession stealing from a range of cells to chant a midnight mass. In
the shadowy dusk of the tiny side alleys they were like wandering ghosts
intent on unholy errands or returning to the graveyard.

On some of the balconies painted girls were leaning and smoking
cigarettes. Before each of the lighted doorways from which the shrill
noise of music came, small, intent crowds were gathered, watching the
performance that was going on inside. The robes of the Arabs brushed
against the skirts of Domini and Suzanne, and eyes stared at them from
every side with a scrutiny that was less impudent than seriously bold.

"Madame!"

Hadj's thin hand was pulling Domini's sleeve.

"Well, what is it?"

"This is the best dancing-house. The children dance here."

Domini's height enabled her to peer over the shoulders of those gathered
before the door, and in the lighted distance of a white-walled room,
painted with figures of soldiers and Arab chiefs, she saw a small
wriggling figure between two rows of squatting men, two baby hands
waving coloured handkerchiefs, two little feet tapping vigorously
upon an earthen floor, for background a divan crowded with women and
musicians, with inflated cheeks and squinting eyes. She stood for a
moment to look, then she turned away. There was an expression of disgust
in her eyes.

"No, I don't want to see children," she said. "That's too--"

She glanced at her escort and did not finish.

"I know," said Batouch. "Madame wishes for the real ouleds."

He led them across the street. Hadj followed reluctantly. Before going
into this second dancing-house Domini stopped again to see from outside
what it was like, but only for an instant. Then a brightness came into
her eyes, an eager look.

"Yes, take me in here," she said.

Batouch laughed softly, and Hadj uttered a word below his breath.

"Madame will see Irena here," said Batouch, pushing the watching Arabs
unceremoniously away.

Domini did not answer. Her eyes were fixed on a man who was sitting in a
corner far up the room, bending forward and staring intently at a woman
who was in the act of stepping down from a raised platform decorated
with lamps and small bunches of flowers in earthen pots.

"I wish to sit quite near the door," she whispered to Batouch as they
went in.

"But it is much better--"

"Do what I tell you," she said. "The left side of the room."

Hadj looked a little happier. Suzanne was clinging to his arm. He smiled
at her with something of mischief, but he took care, when a place was
cleared on a bench for their party, to sit down at the end next the
door, and he cast an anxious glance towards the platform where the
dancing-girls attached to the cafe sat in a row, hunched up against the
bare wall, waiting their turn to perform. Then suddenly he shook his
head, tucked in his chin and laughed. His whole face was transformed
from craven fear to vivacious rascality. While he laughed he looked at
Batouch, who was ordering four cups of coffee from the negro attendant.
The poet took no notice. For the moment he was intent upon his
professional duties. But when the coffee was brought, and set upon a
round wooden stool between two bunches of roses, he had time to note
Hadj's sudden gaiety and to realise its meaning. Instantly he spoke to
the negro in a low voice. Hadj stopped laughing. The negro sped away
and returned with the proprietor of the cafe, a stout Kabyle with a fair
skin and blue eyes.

Batouch lowered his voice to a guttural whisper and spoke in Arabic,
while Hadj, shifting uneasily on the end seat, glanced at him sideways
out of his almond-shaped eyes. Domini heard the name "Irena," and
guessed that Batouch was asking the Kabyle to send for her and make her
dance. She could not help being amused for a moment by the comedy of
intrigue, complacently malignant on both sides, that was being played by
the two cousins, but the moment passed and left her engrossed, absorbed,
and not merely by the novelty of the surroundings, by the strangeness of
the women, of their costumes, and of their movements. She watched them,
but she watched more closely, more eagerly, rather as a spy than as
a spectator, one who was watching them with an intentness, a still
passion, a fierce curiosity and a sort of almost helpless wonder such as
she had never seen before, and could never have found within herself to
put at the service of any human marvel.

Close to the top of the room on the right the stranger was sitting in
the midst of a mob of Arabs, whose flowing draperies almost concealed
his ugly European clothes. On the wall immediately behind him was a
brilliantly-coloured drawing of a fat Ouled Nail leering at a French
soldier, which made an unconventional background to his leaning figure
and sunburnt face, in which there seemed now to be both asceticism and
something so different and so powerful that it was likely, from moment
to moment, to drive out the asceticism and to achieve the loneliness of
all conquering things. This fighting expression made Domini think of a
picture she had once seen representing a pilgrim going through a dark
forest attended by his angel and his devil. The angel of the pilgrim
was a weak and almost childish figure, frail, bloodless, scarcely even
radiant, while the devil was lusty and bold, with a muscular body and a
sensual, aquiline face, which smiled craftily, looking at the pilgrim.
There was surely a devil in the watching traveller which was pushing
the angel out of him. Domini had never before seemed to see clearly
the legendary battle of the human heart. But it had never before been
manifested to her audaciously in the human face.

All around the Arabs sat, motionless and at ease, gazing on the curious
dance of which they never tire--a dance which has some ingenuity,
much sensuality and provocation, but little beauty and little mystery,
unless--as happens now and then--an idol-like woman of the South, with
all the enigma of the distant desert in her kohl-tinted eyes, dances
it with the sultry gloom of a half-awakened sphinx, and makes of it a
barbarous manifestation of the nature that lies hidden in the heart of
the sun, a silent cry uttered by a savage body born in a savage land.

In the cafe of Tahar, the Kabyle, there was at present no such woman.
His beauties, huddled together on their narrow bench before a table
decorated with glasses of water and sprigs of orange blossom in earthen
vases, looked dull and cheerless in their gaudy clothes. Their bodies
were well formed, but somnolent. Their painted hands hung down like the
hands of marionettes. The one who was dancing suggested Duty clad in
Eastern garb and laying herself out carefully to be wicked. Her
jerks and wrigglings, though violent, were inhuman, like those of a
complicated piece of mechanism devised by a morbid engineer. After
a glance or two at her Domini felt that she was bored by her own
agilities. Domini's wonder increased when she looked again at the
traveller.

For it was this dance of the _ennui_ of the East which raised up in him
this obvious battle, which drove his secret into the illumination of
the hanging lamps and gave it to a woman, who felt half confused, half
ashamed at possessing it, and yet could not cast it away.

If they both lived on, without speaking or meeting, for another half
century, Domini could never know the shape of the devil in this man, the
light of the smile upon its face.

The dancing woman had observed him, and presently she began slowly to
wriggle towards him between the rows of Arabs, fixing her eyes upon
him and parting her scarlet lips in a greedy smile. As she came on the
stranger evidently began to realise that he was her bourne. He had been
leaning forward, but when she approached, waving her red hands, shaking
her prominent breasts, and violently jerking her stomach, he sat
straight up, and then, as if instinctively trying to get away from her,
pressed back against the wall, hiding the painting of the Ouled Nail and
the French soldier. A dark flush rose on his face and even flooded
his forehead to his low-growing hair. His eyes were full of a piteous
anxiety and discomfort, and he glanced almost guiltily to right and
left of him as if he expected the hooded Arab spectators to condemn
his presence there now that the dancer drew their attention to it. The
dancer noticed his confusion and seemed pleased by it, and moved to more
energetic demonstrations of her art. She lifted her arms above her
head, half closed her eyes, assumed an expression of languid ecstasy and
slowly shuddered. Then, bending backward, she nearly touched the floor,
swung round, still bending, and showed the long curve of her bare throat
to the stranger, while the girls, huddled on the bench by the musicians,
suddenly roused themselves and joined their voices in a shrill and
prolonged twitter. The Arabs did not smile, but the deepness of their
attention seemed to increase like a cloud growing darker. All the
luminous eyes in the room were steadily fixed upon the man leaning
back against the hideous picture on the wall and the gaudy siren curved
almost into an arch before him. The musicians blew their hautboys and
beat their tomtoms more violently, and all things, Domini thought,
were filled with a sense of climax. She felt as if the room, all the
inanimate objects, and all the animate figures in it, were instruments
of an orchestra, and as if each individual instrument was contributing
to a slow and great, and irresistible crescendo. The stranger took his
part with the rest, but against his will, and as if under some terrible
compulsion.

His face was scarlet now, and his shining eyes looked down on the
dancer's throat and breast with a mingling of eagerness and horror.
Slowly she raised herself, turned, bent forwards quivering, and
presented her face to him, while the women twittered once more in
chorus. He still stared at her without moving. The hautboy players
prolonged a wailing note, and the tomtoms gave forth a fierce and dull
murmur almost like a death, roll.

"She wants him to give her money," Batouch whispered to Domini. "Why
does not he give her money?"

Evidently the stranger did not understand what was expected of him. The
music changed again to a shrieking tune, the dancer drew back, did a few
more steps, jerked her stomach with fury, stamped her feet on the floor.
Then once more she shuddered slowly, half closed her eyes, glided close
to the stranger, and falling down deliberately laid her head on his
knees, while again the women twittered, and the long note of the
hautboys went through the room like a scream of interrogation.

Domini grew hot as she saw the look that came into the stranger's face
when the woman touched his knees.

"Go and tell him it's money she wants!" she whispered to Batouch. "Go
and tell him!"

Batouch got up, but at this moment a roguish Arab boy, who sat by the
stranger, laughingly spoke to him, pointing to the woman. The stranger
thrust his hand into his pocket, found a coin and, directed by the
roguish youth, stuck it upon the dancer's greasy forehead. At once
she sprang to her feet. The women twittered. The music burst into
a triumphant melody, and through the room there went a stir. Almost
everyone in it moved simultaneously. One man raised his hand to his hood
and settled it over his forehead. Another put his cigarette to his lips.
Another picked up his coffeecup. A fourth, who was holding a flower,
lifted it to his nose and smelt it. No one remained quite still. With
the stranger's action a strain had been removed, a mental tension
abruptly loosened, a sense of care let free in the room. Domini felt it
acutely. The last few minutes had been painful to her. She sighed
with relief at the cessation of another's agony. For the stranger had
certainly--from shyness or whatever cause--been in agony while the
dancer kept her head upon his knees.

His angel had been in fear, perhaps, while his devil----

But Domini tried resolutely to turn her thoughts from the smiling face.

After pressing the money on the girl's forehead the man made a movement
as if he meant to leave the room, but once again the curious indecision
which Domini had observed in him before cut his action, as it were, in
two, leaving it half finished. As the dancer, turning, wriggled
slowly to the platform, he buttoned up his jacket with a sort of hasty
resolution, pulled it down with a jerk, glanced swiftly round, and rose
to his feet. Domini kept her eyes on him, and perhaps they drew his,
for, just as he was about to step into the narrow aisle that led to the
door he saw her. Instantly he sat down again, turned so that she could
only see part of his face, unbuttoned his jacket, took out some matches
and busied himself in lighting a cigarette. She knew he had felt her
concentration on him, and was angry with herself. Had she really a spy
in her? Was she capable of being vulgarly curious about a man? A sudden
movement of Hadj drew her attention. His face was distorted by an
expression that seemed half angry, half fearful. Batouch was smiling
seraphically as he gazed towards the platform. Suzanne, with a
pinched-up mouth, was looking virginally at her lap. Her whole attitude
showed her consciousness of the many blazing eyes that were intently
staring at her. The stomach dance which she had just been watching had
amazed her so much that she felt as if she were the only respectable
woman in the world, and as if no one would suppose it unless she hung
out banners white as the walls of Beni-Mora's houses. She strove to do
so, and, meanwhile, from time to time, cast sideway glances towards the
platform to see whether another stomach dance was preparing. She did
not see Hadj's excitement or the poet's malignant satisfaction, but she,
with Domini, saw a small door behind the platform open, and the stout
Kabyle appear followed by a girl who was robed in gold tissue, and
decorated with cascades of golden coins.

Domini guessed at once that this was Irena, the returned exile, who
wished to kill Hadj, and she was glad that a new incident had occurred
to switch off the general attention from the stranger.

Irena was evidently a favourite. There was a grave movement as she came
in, a white undulation as all the shrouded forms bent slightly forward
in her direction. Only Hadj caught his burnous round him with his thin
fingers, dropped his chin, shook his hood down upon his forehead, leaned
back against the wall, and, curling his legs under him, seemed to fall
asleep. But beneath his brown lids and long black lashes his furtive
eyes followed every movement of the girl in the sparkling robe.

She came in slowly and languidly, with a heavy and cross expression upon
her face, which was thin to emaciation and painted white, with scarlet
lips and darkened eyes and eyebrows. Her features were narrow and
pointed. Her bones were tiny, and her body was so slender, her waist
so small, that, with her flat breast and meagre shoulders, she looked
almost like a stick crowned with a human face and hung with brilliant
draperies. Her hair, which was thick and dark brown, was elaborately
braided and covered with a yellow silk handkerchief. Domini thought she
looked consumptive, and was bitterly disappointed in her appearance. For
some unknown reason she had expected the woman who wished to kill
Hadj, and who obviously inspired him with fear, to be a magnificent and
glowing desert beauty. This woman might be violent. She looked weary,
anaemic, and as if she wished to go to bed, and Domini's contempt for
Hadj increased as she looked at her. To be afraid of a thin, tired,
sleepy creature such as that was too pitiful. But Hadj did not seem
to think so. He had pulled his hood still further forward, and was now
merely a bundle concealed in the shade of Suzanne.

Irena stepped on to the platform, pushed the girl who sat at the end of
the bench till she moved up higher, sat down in the vacant place, drank
some water out of the glass nearest to her, and then remained quite
still staring at the floor, utterly indifferent to the Arabs who were
devouring her with their eyes. No doubt the eyes of men had devoured her
ever since she could remember. It was obvious that they meant nothing
to her, that they did not even for an instant disturb the current of her
dreary thoughts.

Another girl was dancing, a stout, Oriental Jewess with a thick hooked
nose, large lips and bulging eyes, that looked as if they had been newly
scoured with emery powder. While she danced she sang, or rather shouted
roughly, an extraordinary melody that suggested battle, murder and
sudden death. Careless of onlookers, she sometimes scratched her head
or rubbed her nose without ceasing her contortions. Domini guessed that
this was the girl whom she had seen from the tower dancing upon the roof
in the sunset. Distance and light had indeed transformed her. Under the
lamps she was the embodiment of all that was coarse and greasy. Even the
pitiful slenderness of Irena seemed attractive when compared with her
billowing charms, which she kept in a continual commotion that was
almost terrifying.

"Hadj is nearly dead with fear," whispered Batouch, complacently.
Domini's lips curled.

"Does not Madame think Irena beautiful as the moon on the waters of the
Oued Beni-Mora?"

"Indeed I don't," she replied bluntly. "And I think a man who can be
afraid of such a little thing must be afraid of the children in the
street."

"Little! But Irena is tall as a female palm in Ourlana."

"Tall!"

Domini looked at her again more carefully, and saw that Batouch spoke
the truth. Irena was unusually tall, but her excessive narrowness, her
tiny bones, and the delicate way in which she held herself deceived the
eye and gave her a little appearance.

"So she is; but who could be afraid of her? Why, I could pick her up and
throw her over that moon of yours."

"Madame is strong. Madame is like the lioness. But Irena is the most
terrible girl in all Beni-Mora if she loves or if she is angry, the most
terrible in all the Sahara."

Domini laughed.

"Madame does not know her," said Batouch, imperturbably. "But Madame
can ask the Arabs. Many of the dancers of Beni-Mora are murdered, each
season two or three. But no man would try to murder Irena. No man would
dare."

The poet's calm and unimpassioned way of alluding to the most horrible
crimes as if they were perfectly natural, and in no way to be condemned
or wondered at, amazed Domini even more than his statement about Irena.

"Why do they murder the dancers?" she asked quickly.

"For their jewels. At night, in those little rooms with the balconies
which Madame has seen, it is easy. You enter in to sleep there. You
close your eyes, you breathe gently and a little loud. The woman hears.
She is not afraid. She sleeps. She dreams. Her throat is like that"--he
threw back his head, exposing his great neck. "Just before dawn you draw
your knife from your burnous. You bend down. You cut the throat without
noise. You take the jewels, the money from the box by the bed. You
go down quietly with bare feet. No one is on the stair. You unbar the
door--and there before you is the great hiding-place."

"The great hiding-place!"

"The desert, Madame." He sipped his coffee. Domini looked at him,
fascinated.

Suzanne shivered. She had been listening. The loud contralto cry of
the Jewess rose up, with its suggestion of violence and of rough
indifference. And Domini repeated softly:

"The great hiding-place."

With every moment in Beni-Mora the desert seemed to become more--more
full of meaning, of variety, of mystery, of terror. Was it everything?
The garden of God, the great hiding-place of murderers! She had called
it, on the tower, the home of peace. In the gorge of El-Akbara, ere he
prayed, Batouch had spoken of it as a vast realm of forgetfulness, where
the load of memory slips from the weary shoulders and vanishes into the
soft gulf of the sands.

But was it everything then? And if it was so much to her already, in a
night and a day, what would it be when she knew it, what would it be to
her after many nights and many days? She began to feel a sort of terror
mingled with the most extraordinary attraction she had ever known.

Hadj crouched right back against the wall. The voice of the Jewess
ceased in a shout. The hautboys stopped playing. Only the tomtoms
roared.

"Hadj can be happy now," observed Batouch in a voice of almost
satisfaction, "for Irena is going to dance. Look! There is the little
Miloud bringing her the daggers."

An Arab boy, with a beautiful face and a very dark skin, slipped on to
the platform with two long, pointed knives in his hand. He laid them on
the table before Irena, between the bouquets of orange blossom, jumped
lightly down and disappeared.

Directly the knives touched the table the hautboy players blew a
terrific blast, and then, swelling the note, till it seemed as if
they must burst both themselves and their instruments, swung into a
tremendous and magnificent tune, a tune tingling with barbarity, yet
such as a European could have sung or written down. In an instant it
gripped Domini and excited her till she could hardly breathe. It poured
fire into her veins and set fire about her heart. It was triumphant as a
great song after war in a wild land, cruel, vengeful, but so strong and
so passionately joyous that it made the eyes shine and the blood leap,
and the spirit rise up and clamour within the body, clamour for utter
liberty, for action, for wide fields in which to roam, for long days and
nights of glory and of love, for intense hours of emotion and of life
lived with exultant desperation. It was a melody that seemed to set the
soul of Creation dancing before an ark. The tomtoms accompanied it
with an irregular but rhythmical roar which Domini thought was like the
deep-voiced shouting of squadrons of fighting men.

Irena looked wearily at the knives. Her expression had not changed, and
Domini was amazed at her indifference. The eyes of everyone in the
room were fixed upon her. Even Suzanne began to be less virginal in
appearance under the influence of this desert song of triumph. Domini
did not let her eyes stray any more towards the stranger. For the moment
indeed she had forgotten him. Her attention was fastened upon the thin,
consumptive-looking creature who was staring at the two knives laid upon
the table. When the great tune had been played right through once, and a
passionate roll of tomtoms announced its repetition, Irena suddenly shot
out her tiny arms, brought her hands down on the knives, seized them and
sprang to her feet. She had passed from lassitude to vivid energy with
an abruptness that was almost demoniacal, and to an energy with which
both mind and body seemed to blaze. Then, as the hautboys screamed out
the tune once more, she held the knives above her head and danced.

Irena was not an Ouled Nail. She was a Kabyle woman born in the
mountains of Djurdjura, not far from the village of Tamouda. As a child
she had lived in one of those chimneyless and windowless mud cottages
with red tiled roofs which are so characteristic a feature of La Grande
Kabylie. She had climbed barefoot the savage hills, or descended into
the gorges yellow with the broom plant and dipped her brown toes in the
waters of the Sebaou. How had she drifted so far from the sharp spurs
of her native hills and from the ruddy-haired, blue-eyed people of her
tribe? Possibly she had sinned, as the Kabyle women often sin, and
fled from the wrath that she would understand, and that all her fierce
bravery could not hope to conquer. Or perhaps with her Kabyle blood,
itself a brew composed of various strains, Greek, Roman, as well as
Berber, were mingling some drops drawn from desert sources, which had
manifested themselves physically in her dark hair, mentally in a nomadic
instinct which had forbidden her to rest among the beauties of Ait
Ouaguennoun, whose legendary charm she did not possess. There was the
look of an exile in her face, a weariness that dreamed, perhaps, of
distant things. But now that she danced that fled, and the gleam of
flame-lit steel was in her eyes.

Tangled and vital impressions came to Domini as she watched. Now she saw
Jael and the tent, and the nails driven into the temples of the sleeping
warrior. Now she saw Medea in the moment before she tore to pieces her
brother and threw the bloody fragments in Aetes's path; Clytemnestra's
face while Agamemnon was passing to the bath, Delilah's when Samson lay
sleeping on her knee. But all these imagined faces of named women fled
like sand grains on a desert wind as the dance went on and the
recurrent melody came back and back and back with a savage and glorious
persistence. They were too small, too individual, and pinned the
imagination down too closely. This dagger dance let in upon her a larger
atmosphere, in which one human being was as nothing, even a goddess or
a siren prodigal of enchantments was a little thing not without a narrow
meanness of physiognomy.

She looked and listened till she saw a grander procession troop by,
garlanded with mystery and triumph: War as a shape with woman's eyes:
Night, without poppies, leading the stars and moon and all the vigorous
dreams that must come true: Love of woman that cannot be set aside, but
will govern the world from Eden to the abyss into which the nations fall
to the outstretched hands of God: Death as Life's leader, with a staff
from which sprang blossoms red as the western sky: Savage Fecundity that
crushes all barren things into the silent dust: and then the Desert.

That came in a pale cloud of sand, with a pale crowd of worshippers,
those who had received gifts from the Desert's hands and sought for
more: white-robed Marabouts who had found Allah in his garden and become
a guide to the faithful through all the circling years: murderers who
had gained sanctuary with barbaric jewels in their blood-stained hands:
once tortured men and women who had cast away terrible recollections in
the wastes among the dunes and in the treeless purple distances, and who
had been granted the sweet oases of forgetfulness to dwell in: ardent
beings who had striven vainly to rest content with the world of hills
and valleys, of sea-swept verges and murmuring rivers, and who had been
driven, by the labouring soul, on and on towards the flat plains where
roll for ever the golden wheels of the chariot of the sun. She saw, too,
the winds that are the Desert's best-loved children: Health with
shining eyes and a skin of bronze: Passion, half faun, half black-browed
Hercules: and Liberty with upraised arms, beating cymbals like monstrous
spheres of fire.

And she saw palm trees waving, immense palm trees in the south. It
seemed to her that she travelled as far away from Beni-Mora as she had
travelled from England in coming to Beni-Mora. She made her way towards
the sun, joining the pale crowd of the Desert's worshippers. And always,
as she travelled, she heard the clashing of the cymbals of Liberty. A
conviction was born in her that Fate meant her to know the Desert well,
strangely well; that the Desert was waiting calmly for her to come to
it and receive that which it had to give to her; that in the Desert
she would learn more of the meaning of life than she could ever learn
elsewhere. It seemed to her suddenly that she understood more clearly
than hitherto in what lay the intense, the over-mastering and hypnotic
attraction exercised already by the Desert over her nature. In the
Desert there must be, there was--she felt it--not only light to warm
the body, but light to illuminate the dark places of the soul. An
almost fatalistic idea possessed her. She saw a figure--one of the
Messengers--standing with her beside the corpse of her father and
whispering in her ear "Beni-Mora"; taking her to the map and pointing to
the word there, filling her brain and heart with suggestions, till--as
she had thought almost without reason, and at haphazard--she chose
Beni-Mora as the place to which she would go in search of recovery, of
self-knowledge. It had been pre-ordained. The Messenger had been sent.
The Messenger had guided her. And he would come again, when the time was
ripe, and lead her on into the Desert. She felt it. She knew it.

She looked round at the Arabs. She was as much a fatalist as any one of
them. She looked at the stranger. What was he?

Abruptly in her imagination a vision rose. She gazed once more into
the crowd that thronged about the Desert having received gifts at the
Desert's hands, and in it she saw the stranger.

He was kneeling, his hands were stretched out, his head was bowed, and
he was praying. And, while he prayed, Liberty stood by him smiling, and
her fiery cymbals were like the aureoles that illumine the beautiful
faces of the saints.

For some reason that she could not understand her heart began to beat
fast, and she felt a burning sensation behind her eyes.

She thought that this extraordinary music, that this amazing dance,
excited her too much.

The white bundle at Suzanne's side stirred. Irena, holding the daggers
above her head, had sprung from the little platform and was dancing on
the earthen floor in the midst of the Arabs.

Her thin body shook convulsively in time to the music. She marked the
accents with her shudders. Excitement had grown in her till she seemed
to be in a feverish passion that was half exultant, half despairing. In
her expression, in her movements, in the way she held herself, leaning
backwards with her face looking up, her breast and neck exposed as
if she offered her life, her love and all the mysteries in her, to an
imagined being who dominated her savage and ecstatic soul, there was a
vivid suggestion of the two elements in Passion--rapture and melancholy.
In her dance she incarnated passion whole by conveying the two halves
that compose it. Her eyes were nearly closed, as a woman closes them
when she has seen the lips of her lover descending upon hers. And her
mouth seemed to be receiving the fiery touch of another mouth. In this
moment she was a beautiful woman because she looked like womanhood.
And Domini understood why the Arabs thought her more beautiful than
the other dancers. She had what they had not--genius. And genius, under
whatever form, shows to the world at moments the face of Aphrodite.

She came slowly nearer, and those by the platform turned round to follow
her with their eyes. Hadj's hood had slipped completely down over his
face, and his chin was sunk on his chest. Batouch noticed it and looked
angry, but Domini had forgotten both the comedy of the two cousins
and the tragedy of Irena's love for Hadj. She was completely under the
fascination of this dance and of the music that accompanied it. Now that
Irena was near she was able to see that, without her genius, there would
have been no beauty in her face. It was painfully thin, painfully long
and haggard. Her life had written a fatal inscription across it as
their life writes upon the faces of poor street-bred children the one
word--Want. As they have too little this dancing woman had had too much.
The sparkle of her robe of gold tissue covered with golden coins was
strong in the lamplight. Domini looked at it and at the two sharp
knives above her head, looked at her violent, shuddering movements, and
shuddered too, thinking of Batouch's story of murdered dancers. It was
dangerous to have too much in Beni-Mora.

Irena was quite close now. She seemed so wrapped in the ecstasy of the
dance that it did not occur to Domini at first that she was imitating
the Ouled Nail who had laid her greasy head upon the stranger's knees.
The abandonment of her performance was so great that it was difficult to
remember its money value to her and to Tahar, the fair Kabyle. Only when
she was actually opposite to them and stayed there, still performing her
shuddering dance, still holding the daggers above her head, did Domini
realise that those half-closed, passionate eyes had marked the stranger
woman, and that she must add one to the stream of golden coins. She
took out her purse but did not give the money at once. With the pitiless
scrutiny of her sex she noticed all the dancer's disabilities. She
was certainly young, but she was very worn. Her mouth drooped. At the
corners of her eyes there were tiny lines tending downward. Her forehead
had what Domini secretly called a martyred look. Nevertheless, she was
savage and triumphant. Her thin body suggested force; the way she held
herself consuming passion. Even so near at hand, even while she was
pausing for money, and while her eyes were, doubtless, furtively reading
Domini, she shed round her a powerful atmosphere, which stirred the
blood, and made the heart leap, and created longing for unknown and
violent things. As Domini watched her she felt that Irena must have
lived at moments magnificently, that despite her almost shattered
condition and permanent weariness--only cast aside for the moment of the
dance--she must have known intense joys, that so long as she lived she
would possess the capacity for knowing them again. There was something
burning within her that would burn on so long as she was alive, a spark
of nature that was eternally red hot. It was that spark which made her
the idol of the Arabs and shed a light of beauty through her haggard
frame.

The spirit blazed.

Domini put her hand at last into her purse and took out a piece of gold.
She was just going to give it to Irena when the white bundle that was
Hadj made a sudden, though slight, movement, as if the thing inside it
had shivered. Irena noticed it with her half-closed eyes. Domini leaned
forward and held out the money, then drew back startled. Irena had
changed her posture abruptly. Instead of keeping her head thrown back
and exposing her long throat, she lifted it, shot it forward. Her meagre
bosom almost disappeared as she bent over. Her arms fell to her sides.
Her eyes opened wide and became full of a sharp, peering intensity.
Her vision and dreams dropped out of her. Now she was only fierce and
questioning, and horribly alert. She was looking at the white bundle. It
shifted again. She sprang upon it, showing her teeth, caught hold of it.
With a swift turn of her thin hands she tore back the hood, and out of
the bundle came Hadj's head and face livid with fear. One of the daggers
flashed and came up at him. He leaped from the seat and screamed.
Suzanne echoed his cry. Then the whole room was a turmoil of white
garments and moving limbs. In an instant everybody seemed to be leaping,
calling out, grasping, struggling. Domini tried to get up, but she was
hemmed in, and could not make a movement upward or free her arms, which
were pressed against her sides by the crowd around her. For a moment
she thought she was going to be severely hurt or suffocated. She did not
feel afraid, but only indignant, like a boy who has been struck in
the face and longs to retaliate. Someone screamed again. It was Hadj.
Suzanne was on her feet, but separated from her mistress. Batouch's
arm was round her. Domini put her hands on the bench and tried to force
herself up, violently setting her broad shoulders against the Arabs
who were towering over her and covering her head and face with their
floating garments as they strove to see the fight between Hadj and the
dancer. The heat almost stifled her, and she was suddenly aware of a
strong musky smell of perspiring humanity. She was beginning to pant
for breath when she felt two burning, hot, hard hands come down on hers,
fingers like iron catch hold of hers, go under them, drag up her hands.
She could not see who had seized her, but the life in the hands that
were on hers mingled with the life in her hands like one fluid with
another, and seemed to pass on till she felt it in her body, and had an
odd sensation as if her face had been caught in a fierce grip, and her
heart too.

Another moment and she was on her feet and out in the moonlit alley
between the little white houses. She saw the stars, and the painted
balconies crowded with painted women looking down towards the cafe
she had left and chattering in shrill voices. She saw the patrol of
Tirailleurs Indigenes marching at the double to the doorway in which the
Arabs were still struggling. Then she saw that the traveller was beside
her. She was not surprised.

"Thank you for getting me out," she said rather bluntly. "Where's my
maid?"

"She got away before us with your guide, Madame."

He held up his hands and looked at them hard, eagerly, questioningly.

"You weren't hurt?"

He dropped his hands quickly. "Oh, no, it wasn't----"

He broke off the sentence and was silent. Domini stood still, drew a
long breath and laughed. She still felt angry and laughed to control
herself. Unless she could be amused at this episode she knew that she
was capable of going back to the door of the cafe and hitting out right
and left at the men who had nearly suffocated her. Any violence done to
her body, even an unintentional push against her in the street--if there
was real force in it--seemed to let loose a devil in her, such a devil
as ought surely only to dwell inside a man.

"What people!" she said. "What wild creatures!"

She laughed again. The patrol pushed its way roughly in at the doorway.

"The Arabs are always like that, Madame."

She looked at him, then she said, abruptly:

"Do you speak English?"

Her companion hesitated. It was perfectly obvious to her that he was
considering whether he should answer "Yes" or "No." Such hesitation
about such a matter was very strange. At last he said, but still in
French:

"Yes."

And directly he had said it she saw by his face that he wished he had
said "No."

From the cafe the Arabs began to pour into the street. The patrol was
clearing the place. The women leaning over the balconies cried out
shrilly to learn the exact history of the tumult, and the men standing
underneath, and lifting up their bronzed faces in the moonlight, replied
in violent voices, gesticulating vehemently while their hanging sleeves
fell back from their hairy arms.

"I am an Englishwoman," Domini said.

But she too felt obliged to speak still in French, as if a sudden
reserve told her to do so. He said nothing. They were standing in quite
a crowd now. It swayed, parted suddenly, and the soldiers appeared
holding Irena. Hadj followed behind, shouting as if in a frenzy of
passion. There was some blood on one of his hands and a streak of blood
on the front of the loose shirt he wore under his burnous. He kept
on shooting out his arms towards Irena as he walked, and frantically
appealing to the Arabs round him. When he saw the women on their
balconies he stopped for a moment and called out to them like a man
beside himself. A Tirailleur pushed him on. The women, who had been
quiet to hear him, burst forth again into a paroxysm of chatter. Irena
looked utterly indifferent and walked feebly. The little procession
disappeared in the moonlight accompanied by the crowd.

"She has stabbed Hadj," Domini said. "Batouch will be glad."

She did not feel as if she were sorry. Indeed, she thought she was glad
too. That the dancer should try to do a thing and fail would have seemed
contradictory. And the streak of blood she had just seen seemed to
relieve her suddenly and to take from her all anger. Her self-control
returned.

"Thank you once more," she said to her companion. "Goodnight."

She remembered the episode of the tower that afternoon, and resolved to
take a definite line this time, and not to run the chance of a second
desertion. She started off down the street, but found him walking beside
her in silence. She stopped.

"I am very much obliged to you for getting me out," she said, looking
straight at him. "And now, good-night."

Almost for the first time he endured her gaze without any uncertainty,
and she saw that though he might be hesitating, uneasy, even
contemptible--as when he hurried down the road in the wake of the negro
procession--he could also be a dogged man.

"I'll go with you, Madame," he said.

"Why?"

"It's night."

"I'm not afraid."

"I'll go with you, Madame."

He said it again harshly and kept his eyes on her, frowning.

"And if I refuse?" she said, wondering whether she was going to refuse
or not.

"I'll follow you, Madame."

She knew by the look on his face that he, too, was thinking of what had
happened in the afternoon. Why should she wish to deprive him of the
reparation he was anxious to make--obviously anxious in an almost
piteously determined way? It was poor pride in her, a mean little
feeling.

"Come with me," she said.

They went on together.

The Arabs, stirred up by the fracas in Tahar's cafe, were seething with
excitement, and several of them, gathered together in a little crowd,
were quarrelling and shouting at the end of the street near the statue
of the Cardinal. Domini's escort saw them and hesitated.

"I think, Madame, it would be better to take a side street," he said.

"Very well. Let us go to the left here. It is bound to bring us to the
hotel as it runs parallel to the house of the sand diviner."

He started.

"The sand-diviner?" he said in his low, strong voice.

"Yes."

She walked on into a tiny alley. He followed her.

"You haven't seen the thin man with the bag of sand?"

"No, Madame."

"He reads your past in sand from the desert and tells what your future
will be."

The man made no reply.

"Will you pay him a visit?" Domini asked curiously.

"No, Madame. I do not care for such things."

Suddenly she stood still.

"Oh, look!" she said. "How strange! And there are others all down the
street."

In the tiny alley the balconies of the houses nearly met. No figures
leaned on their railings. No chattering voices broke the furtive silence
that prevailed in this quarter of Beni-Mora. The moonlight was fainter
here, obscured by the close-set buildings, and at the moment there was
not an Arab in sight. The sense of loneliness and peace was profound,
and as the rare windows of the houses, minute and protected by heavy
gratings, were dark, it had seemed to Domini at first as if all the
inhabitants were in bed and asleep. But, in passing on, she had seen a
faint and blanched illumination; then another; the vague vision of an
aperture; a seated figure making a darkness against whiteness; a second
aperture and seated figure. She stopped and stood still. The man stood
still beside her.

The alley was an alley of women. In every house on either side of the
way a similar picture of attentive patience was revealed: a narrow
Moorish archway with a wooden door set back against the wall to show a
steep and diminutive staircase winding up into mystery; upon the highest
stair a common candlestick with a lit candle guttering in it, and,
immediately below, a girl, thickly painted, covered with barbarous
jewels and magnificently dressed, her hands, tinted with henna, folded
in her lap, her eyes watching under eyebrows heavily darkened, and
prolonged until they met just above the bridge of the nose, to which a
number of black dots descended; her naked, brown ankles decorated with
large circlets of gold or silver. The candle shed upon each watcher a
faint light that half revealed her and left her half concealed upon her
white staircase bounded by white walls. And in her absolute silence,
absolute stillness, each one was wholly mysterious as she gazed
ceaselessly out towards the empty, narrow street.

The woman before whose dwelling Domini had stopped was an Ouled Nail,
with a square headdress of coloured handkerchiefs and feathers, a pink
and silver shawl, a blue skirt of some thin material powdered with
silver flowers, and a broad silver belt set with squares of red coral.
She was sitting upright, and would have looked exactly like an idol set
up for savage worship had not her long eyes gleamed and moved as she
solemnly returned the gaze of Domini and of the man who stood a little
behind looking over her shoulder.

When Domini stopped and exclaimed she did not realise to what this
street was dedicated, why these women sat in watchful silence, each one
alone on her stair waiting in the night. But as she looked and saw the
gaudy finery she began to understand. And had she remained in doubt an
incident now occurred which must have enlightened her.

A great gaunt Arab, one of the true desert men, almost black, with high
cheek bones, hollow cheeks, fierce falcon's eyes shining as if with
fever, long and lean limbs hard as iron, dressed in a rough, sacklike
brown garment, and wearing a turban bound with cords of camel's hair,
strode softly down the alley, slipped in front of Domini, and went up
to the woman, holding out something in his scaly hand. There was a brief
colloquy. The woman stretched her arm up the staircase, took the candle,
held it to the man's open hand, and bent over counting the money that
lay in the palm. She counted it twice deliberately. Then she nodded. She
got up, turned, holding the candle above her square headdress, and went
slowly up the staircase followed by the Arab, who grasped his coarse
draperies and lifted them, showing his bare legs. The two disappeared
without noise into the darkness, leaving the stairway deserted, its
white steps, its white walls faintly lit by the moon.

The woman had not once looked at the man, but only at the money in his
scaly hand.

Domini felt hot and rather sick. She wondered why she had stood there
watching. Yet she had not been able to turn away. Now, as she stepped
back into the middle of the alley and walked on with the man beside her
she wondered what he was thinking of her. She could not talk to him any
more. She was too conscious of the lighted stairways, one after one,
succeeding each other to right and left of them, of the still figures,
of the watching eyes in which the yellow rays of the candles gleamed.
Her companion did not speak; but as they walked he glanced furtively
from one side to the other, then stared down steadily on the white road.
When they turned to the right and came out by the gardens, and Domini
saw the great tufted heads of the palms black against the moon, she felt
relieved and was able to speak again.

"I should like you to know that I am quite a stranger to all African
things and people," she said. "That is why I am liable to fall into
mistakes in such a place as this. Ah, there is the hotel, and my maid on
the verandah. I want to thank you again for looking after me."

They were at a few steps from the hotel door in the road. The man
stopped, and Domini stopped too.

"Madame," he said earnestly, with a sort of hardly controlled
excitement, "I--I am glad. I was ashamed--I was ashamed."

"Why?"

"Of my conduct--of my awkwardness. But you will forgive it. I am not
accustomed to the society of ladies--like you. Anything I have done I
have not done out of rudeness. That is all I can say. I have not done it
out of rudeness."

He seemed to be almost trembling with agitation.

"I know, I know," she said. "Besides, it was nothing."

"Oh, no, it was abominable. I understand that. I am not so coarse-fibred
as not to understand that."

Domini suddenly felt that to take his view of the matter, exaggerated
though it was, would be the kindest course, even the most delicate.

"You were rude to me," she said, "but I shall forget it from this
moment."

She held out her hand. He grasped it, and again she felt as if a furnace
were pouring its fiery heat upon her.

"Good-night."

"Good-night, Madame. Thank you."

She was going away to the hotel door, but she stopped.

"My name is Domini Enfilden," she said in English.

The man stood in the road looking at her. She waited. She expected him
to tell her his name. There was a silence. At last he said hesitatingly,
in English with a very slight foreign accent:

"My name is Boris--Boris Androvsky."

"Batouch told me you were English," she said.

"My mother was English, but my father was a Russian from Tiflis. That is
my name."

There was a sound in his voice as if he were insisting like a man making
an assertion not readily to be believed.

"Good-night," Domini said again.

And she went away slowly, leaving him standing on the moonlit road.

He did not remain there long, nor did he follow her into the hotel.
After she had disappeared he stood for a little while gazing up at the
deserted verandah upon which the moon-rays fell. Then he turned and
looked towards the village, hesitated, and finally walked slowly back
towards the tiny, shrouded alley in which on the narrow staircases the
painted girls sat watching in the night.



CHAPTER IX

On the following morning Batouch arrived with a handsome grey Arab
horse for Domini to try. He had been very penitent the night before, and
Domini had forgiven easily enough his pre-occupation with Suzanne, who
had evidently made a strong impression upon his susceptible nature. Hadj
had been but slightly injured by Irena, but did not appear at the hotel
for a very sufficient reason. Both the dancer and he were locked up for
the moment, till the Guardians of Justice in Beni-Mora had made up their
minds who should be held responsible for the uproar of the previous
night. That the real culprit was the smiling poet was not likely to
occur to them, and did not seem to trouble him. When Domini inquired
after Hadj he showed majestic indifference, and when she hinted at his
crafty share in the causing of the tragedy he calmly replied,

"Hadj-ben-Ibrahim will know from henceforth whether the Mehari with the
swollen tongue can bite."

Then, leaping upon the horse, whose bridle he was holding, he forced it
to rear, caracole and display its spirit and its paces before Domini,
sitting it superbly, and shooting many sly glances at Suzanne, who
leaned over the parapet of the verandah watching, with a rapt expression
on her face.

Domini admired the horse, but wished to mount it herself before coming
to any conclusion about it. She had brought her own saddle with her and
ordered Batouch to put it on the animal. Meanwhile she went upstairs to
change into her habit. When she came out again on to the verandah Boris
Androvsky was there, standing bare-headed in the sun and looking down
at Batouch and the horse. He turned quickly, greeted Domini with a deep
bow, then examined her costume with wondering, startled eyes.

"I'm going to try that horse," she said with deliberate friendliness.
"To see if I'll buy him. Are you a judge of a horse?"

"I fear not, Madame."

She had spoken in English and he replied in the same language. She was
standing at the head of the stairs holding her whip lightly in her right
hand. Her splendid figure was defined by the perfectly-fitting, plain
habit, and she saw him look at it with a strange expression in his eyes,
an admiration that was almost ferocious, and that was yet respectful and
even pure. It was like the glance of a passionate schoolboy verging on
young manhood, whose natural instincts were astir but whose temperament
was unwarped by vice; a glance that was a burning tribute, and that told
a whole story of sex and surely of hot, inquiring ignorance--strange
glances of a man no longer even very young. It made something in her
leap and quiver. She was startled and almost angered by that, but not by
the eyes that caused it.

"_Au revoir_," she said, turning to go down.

"May I--might I see you get up?" said Androvsky.

"Get up!" she said.

"Up on the horse?"

She could not help smiling at his fashion of expressing the act of
mounting. He was not a sportsman evidently, despite his muscular
strength.

"Certainly, if you like. Come along."

Without thinking of it she spoke rather as to a schoolboy, not
with superiority, but with the sort of bluffness age sometimes uses
good-naturedly to youth. He did not seem to resent it and followed her
down to the arcade.

The side saddle was on and the poet held the grey by the bridle. Some
Arab boys had assembled under the arcade to see what was going forward.
The Arab waiter lounged at the door with the tassel of his fez swinging
against his pale cheek. The horse fidgetted and tugged against the rein,
lifting his delicate feet uneasily from the ground, flicking his narrow
quarters with his long tail, and glancing sideways with his dark and
brilliant eyes, which were alive with a nervous intelligence that was
almost hectic. Domini went up to him and caressed him with her hand. He
reared up and snorted. His whole body seemed a-quiver with the desire to
gallop furiously away alone into some far distant place.

Androvsky stood near the waiter, looking at Domini and at the horse with
wonder and alarm in his eyes.

The animal, irritated by inaction, began to plunge violently and to get
out of hand.

"Give me the reins," Domini said to the poet. "That's it. Now put your
hand for me."

Batouch obeyed. Her foot just touched his hand and she was in the
saddle.

Androvsky sprang forward on to the pavement. His eyes were blazing with
anxiety. She saw it and laughed gaily.

"Oh, he's not vicious," she said. "And vice is the only thing that's
dangerous. His mouth is perfect, but he's nervous and wants handling.
I'll just take him up the gardens and back."

She had been reining him in. Now she let him go, and galloped up the
straight track between the palms towards the station. The priest had
come out into his little garden with Bous-Bous, and leaned over his
brushwood fence to look after her. Bous-Bous barked in a light soprano.
The Arab boys jumped on their bare toes, and one of them, who was a
bootblack, waved his board over his shaven head. The Arab waiter smiled
as if with satisfaction at beholding perfect competence. But Androvsky
stood quite still looking down the dusty road at the diminishing forms
of horse and rider, and when they disappeared, leaving behind them a
light cloud of sand films whirling in the sun, he sighed heavily and
dropped his chin on his chest as if fatigued.

"I can get a horse for Monsieur too. Would Monsieur like to have a
horse?"

It was the poet's amply seductive voice. Androvsky started.

"I don't ride," he said curtly.

"I will teach Monsieur. I am the best teacher in Beni-Mora. In three
lessons Monsieur will--"

"I don't ride, I tell you."

Androvsky was looking angry. He stepped out into the road. Bous-Bous,
who was now observing Nature at the priest's garden gate, emerged with
some sprightliness and trotted towards him, evidently with the intention
of making his acquaintance. Coming up to him the little dog raised his
head and uttered a short bark, at the same time wagging his tail in a
kindly, though not effusive manner. Androvsky looked down, bent quickly
and patted him, as only a man really fond of animals and accustomed
to them knows how to pat. Bous-Bous was openly gratified. He began to
wriggle affectionately. The priest in his garden smiled. Androvsky had
not seen him and went on playing with the dog, who now made preparations
to lie down on his curly back in the road in the hope of being tickled,
a process he was an amateur of. Still smiling, and with a friendly
look on his face, the priest came out of his garden and approached the
playmates.

"Good morning, M'sieur," he said politely, raising his hat. "I see you
like dogs."

Androvsky lifted himself up, leaving Bous-Bous in a prayerful attitude,
his paws raised devoutly towards the heavens. When he saw that it was
the priest who had addressed him his face changed, hardened to grimness,
and his lips trembled slightly.

"That's my little dog," the priest continued in a gentle voice. "He has
evidently taken a great fancy to you."

Batouch was watching Androvsky under the arcade, and noted the sudden
change in his expression and his whole bearing.

"I--I did not know he was your dog, Monsieur, or I should not have
interfered with him," said Androvsky.

Bous-Bous jumped up against his leg. He pushed the little dog rather
roughly away and stepped back to the arcade. The priest looked puzzled
and slightly hurt. At this moment the soft thud of horse's hoofs was
audible on the road and Domini came cantering back to the hotel. Her
eyes were sparkling, her face was radiant. She bowed to the priest and
reined up before the hotel door, where Androvsky was standing.

"I'll buy him," she said to Batouch, who swelled with satisfaction at
the thought of his commission. "And I'll go for a long ride now--out
into the desert."

"You will not go alone, Madame?"

It was the priest's voice. She smiled down at him gaily.

"Should I be carried off by nomads, Monsieur?"

"It would not be safe for a lady, believe me."

Batouch swept forward to reassure the priest. "I am Madame's guide.
I have a horse ready saddled to accompany Madame. I have sent for it
already, M'sieur."

One of the little Arab boys was indeed visible running with all his
might towards the Rue Berthe. Domini's face suddenly clouded. The
presence of the guide would take all the edge off her pleasure, and in
the short gallop she had just had she had savoured its keenness. She was
alive with desire to be happy.

"I don't need you, Batouch," she said.

But the poet was inexorable, backed up by the priest.

"It is my duty to accompany Madame. I am responsible for her safety."

"Indeed, you cannot go into the desert alone," said the priest.

Domini glanced at Androvsky, who was standing silently under the arcade,
a little withdrawn, looking uncomfortable and self-conscious. She
remembered her thought on the tower of the dice-thrower, and of how the
presence of the stranger had seemed to double her pleasure then. Up
the road from the Rue Berthe came the noise of a galloping horse. The
shoeblack was returning furiously, his bare legs sticking out on either
side of a fiery light chestnut with a streaming mane and tail.

"Monsieur Androvsky," she said.

He started.

"Madame?"

"Will you come with me for a ride into the desert?"

His face was flooded with scarlet, and he came a step forward, looking
up at her.

"I!" he said with an accent of infinite surprise.

"Yes. Will you?"

The chestnut thundered up and was pulled sharply back on its haunches.
Androvsky shot a sideways glance at it and hesitated. Domini thought
he was going to refuse and wished she had not asked him, wished it
passionately.

"Never mind," she said, almost brutally in her vexation at what she had
done.

"Batouch!"

The poet was about to spring upon the horse when Androvsky caught him by
the arm.

"I will go," he said.

Batouch looked vicious. "But Monsieur told me he did not----"

He stopped. The hand on his arm had given him a wrench that made him
feel as if his flesh were caught between steel pincers. Androvsky came
up to the chestnut.

"Oh, it's an Arab saddle," said Domini.

"It does not matter, Madame."

His face was stern.

"Are you accustomed to them?"

"It makes no difference."

He took hold of the rein and put his foot in the high stirrup, but so
awkwardly that he kicked the horse in the side. It plunged.

"Take care!" said Domini.

Androvsky hung on, and climbed somehow into the saddle, coming down in
it heavily, with a thud. The horse, now thoroughly startled, plunged
furiously and lashed out with its hind legs. Androvsky was thrown
forward against the high red peak of the saddle with his hands on the
animal's neck. There was a struggle. He tugged at the rein violently.
The horse jumped back, reared, plunged sideways as if about to bolt.
Androvsky was shot off and fell on his right shoulder heavily. Batouch
caught the horse while Androvsky got up. He was white with dust. There
was even dust on his face and in his short hair. He looked passionate.

"You see," Batouch began, speaking to Domini, "that Monsieur cannot--"

"Give me the rein!" said Androvsky.

There was a sound in his deep voice that was terrible. He was looking
not at Domini, but at the priest, who stood a little aside with an
expression of concern on his face. Bous-Bous barked with excitement
at the conflict. Androvsky took the rein, and, with a sort of furious
determination, sprang into the saddle and pressed his legs against
the horse's flanks. It reared up. The priest moved back under the
palm trees, the Arab boys scattered. Batouch sought the shelter of the
arcade, and the horse, with a short, whining neigh that was like a
cry of temper, bolted between the trunks of the trees, heading for the
desert, and disappeared in a flash.

"He will be killed," said the priest.

Bous-Bous barked frantically.

"It is his own fault," said the poet. "He told me himself just now that
he did not know how to ride."

"Why didn't you tell me so?" Domini exclaimed.

"Madame----"

But she was gone, following Androvsky at a slow canter lest she should
frighten his horse by coming up behind it. She came out from the shade
of the palms into the sun. The desert lay before her. She searched it
eagerly with her eyes and saw Androvsky's horse far off in the river
bed, still going at a gallop towards the south, towards that region in
which she had told him on the tower she thought that peace must dwell.
It was as if he had believed her words blindly and was frantically in
chase of peace. And she pursued him through the blazing sunlight. She
was out in the desert at length, beyond the last belt of verdure, beyond
the last line of palms. The desert wind was on her cheek and in her
hair. The desert spaces stretched around her. Under her horse's hoofs
lay the sparkling crystals on the wrinkled, sun-dried earth. The red
rocks, seamed with many shades of colour that all suggested primeval
fires and the relentless action of heat, were heaped about her. But her
eyes were fixed on the far-off moving speck that was the horse carrying
Androvsky madly towards the south. The light and fire, the great airs,
the sense of the chase intoxicated her. She struck her horse with the
whip. It leaped, as if clearing an immense obstacle, came down lightly
and strained forward into the shining mysteries at a furious gallop. The
black speck grew larger. She was gaining. The crumbling, cliff-like bank
on her left showed a rent in which a faint track rose sharply to the
flatness beyond. She put her horse at it and came out among the tiny
humps on which grew the halfa grass and the tamarisk bushes. A pale sand
flew up here about the horse's feet. Androvsky was still below her in
the difficult ground where the water came in the floods. She gained and
gained till she was parallel with him and could see his bent figure, his
arms clinging to the peak of his red saddle, his legs set forward
almost on to his horse's withers by the short stirrups with their metal
toecaps. The animal's temper was nearly spent. She could see that. The
terror had gone out of his pace. As she looked she saw Androvsky raise
his arms from the saddle peak, catch at the flying rein, draw it up,
lean against the saddle back and pull with all his force. The horse
stopped dead.

"His strength must be enormous," Domini thought with a startled
admiration.

She pulled up too on the bank above him and gave a halloo. He turned his
head, saw her, and put his horse at the bank, which was steep here and
without any gap. "You can't do it," she called.

In reply he dug the heels of his heavy boots into the horse's flanks and
came on recklessly. She thought the horse would either refuse or try
to get up and roll back on its rider. It sprang at the bank and mounted
like a wild cat. There was a noise of falling stones, a shower of
scattered earth-clods dropping downward, and he was beside her, white
with dust, streaming with sweat, panting as if the labouring breath
would rip his chest open, with the horse's foam on his forehead, and a
savage and yet exultant gleam in his eyes.

They looked at each other in silence, while their horses, standing
quietly, lowered their narrow, graceful heads and touched noses with
delicate inquiry. Then she said:

"I almost thought----"

She stopped.

"Yes?" he said, on a great gasping breath that was like a sob.

"--that you were off to the centre of the earth, or--I don't know what I
thought. You aren't hurt?"

"No."

He could only speak in monosyllables as yet. She looked his horse over.

"He won't give much more trouble just now. Shall we ride back?"

As she spoke she threw a longing glance at the far desert, at the verge
of which was a dull green line betokening the distant palms of an oasis.

Androvsky shook his head.

"But you----" She hesitated. "Perhaps you aren't accustomed to horses,
and with that saddle----"

He shook his head again, drew a tremendous breath and said

"I don't care, I'll go on, I won't go back."

He put up one hand, brushed the foam from his streaming forehead, and
said again fiercely:

"I won't go back."

His face was extraordinary with its dogged, passionate expression
showing through the dust and the sweat; like the face of a man in a
fight to the death, she thought, a fight with fists. She was glad at his
last words and liked the iron sound in his voice.

"Come on then."

And they began to ride towards the dull green line of the oasis, slowly
on the sandy waste among the little round humps where the dusty cluster
of bushes grew.

"You weren't hurt by the fall?" she said. "It looked a bad one."

"I don't know whether I was. I don't care whether I was."

He spoke almost roughly.

"You asked me to ride with you," he added. "I'll ride with you."

She remembered what Batouch had said. There was pluck in this man,
pluck that surged up in the blundering awkwardness, the hesitation, the
incompetence and rudeness of him like a black rock out of the sea. She
did not answer. They rode on, always slowly. His horse, having had its
will, and having known his strength at the end of his incompetence,
went quietly, though always with that feathery, light, tripping action
peculiar to purebred Arabs, an action that suggests the treading of
a spring board rather than of the solid earth. And Androvsky seemed a
little more at home on it, although he sat awkwardly on the chair-like
saddle, and grasped the rein too much as the drowning man seizes the
straw. Domini rode without looking at him, lest he might think she was
criticising his performance. When he had rolled in the dust she had
been conscious of a sharp sensation of contempt. The men she had been
accustomed to meet all her life rode, shot, played games as a matter of
course. She was herself an athlete, and, like nearly all athletic women,
inclined to be pitiless towards any man who was not so strong and so
agile as herself. But this man had killed her contempt at once by his
desperate determination not to be beaten. She knew by the look she had
just seen in his eyes that if to ride with her that day meant death to
him he would have done it nevertheless.

The womanhood in her liked the tribute, almost more than liked it.

"Your horse goes better now," she said at last to break the silence.

"Does it?" he said.

"You don't know!"

"Madame, I know nothing of horses or riding. I have not been on a horse
for twenty-three years."

She was amazed.

"We ought to go back then," she exclaimed.

"Why? Other men ride--I will ride. I do it badly. Forgive me."

"Forgive you!" she said. "I admire your pluck. But why have you never
ridden all these years?"

After a pause he answered:

"I--I did not--I had not the opportunity."

His voice was suddenly constrained. She did not pursue the subject, but
stroked her horse's neck and turned her eyes towards the dark green
line on the horizon. Now that she was really out in the desert she felt
almost bewildered by it, and as if she understood it far less than
when she looked at it from Count Anteoni's garden. The thousands upon
thousands of sand humps, each crowned with its dusty dwarf bush, each
one precisely like the others, agitated her as if she were confronted by
a vast multitude of people. She wanted some point which would keep the
eyes from travelling but could not find it, and was mentally restless as
the swimmer far out at sea who is pursued by wave on wave, and who sees
beyond him the unceasing foam of those that are pressing to the horizon.
Whither was she riding? Could one have a goal in this immense expanse?
She felt an overpowering need to find one, and looked once more at the
green line.

"Do you think we could go as far as that?" she asked Androvsky, pointing
with her whip.

"Yes, Madame."

"It must be an oasis. Don't you think so?"

"Yes. I can go faster."

"Keep your rein loose. Don't pull his mouth. You don't mind my telling
you. I've been with horses all my life."

"Thank you," he answered.

"And keep your heels more out. That's much better. I'm sure you could
teach me a thousand things; it will be kind of you to let me teach you
this."

He cast a strange look at her. There was gratitude in it, but much more;
a fiery bitterness and something childlike and helpless.

"I have nothing to teach," he said.

Their horses broke into a canter, and with the swifter movement Domini
felt more calm. There was an odd lightness in her brain, as if her
thoughts were being shaken out of it like feathers out of a bag.
The power of concentration was leaving her, and a sensation of
carelessness--surely gipsy-like--came over her. Her body, dipped in
the dry and thin air as in a clear, cool bath, did not suffer from the
burning rays of the sun, but felt radiant yet half lazy too. They went
on and on in silence as intimate friends might ride together, isolated
from the world and content in each other's company, content enough to
have no need of talking. Not once did it strike Domini as strange
that she should go far out into the desert with a man of whom she knew
nothing, but in whom she had noticed disquieting peculiarities. She was
naturally fearless, but that had little to do with her conduct. Without
saying so to herself she felt she could trust this man.

The dark green line showed clearer through the sunshine across the
gleaming flats. It was possible now to see slight irregularities in
it, as in a blurred dash of paint flung across a canvas by an uncertain
hand, but impossible to distinguish palm trees. The air sparkled as if
full of a tiny dust of intensely brilliant jewels, and near the ground
there seemed to quiver a maze of dancing specks of light. Everywhere
there was solitude, yet everywhere there was surely a ceaseless movement
of minute and vital things, scarce visible sun fairies eternally at
play.

And Domini's careless feeling grew. She had never before experienced so
delicious a recklessness. Head and heart were light, reckless of thought
or love. Sad things had no meaning here and grave things no place. For
the blood was full of sunbeams dancing to a lilt of Apollo. Nothing
mattered here. Even Death wore a robe of gold and went with an airy
step. Ah, yes, from this region of quivering light and heat the Arabs
drew their easy and lustrous resignation. Out here one was in the hands
of a God who surely sang as He created and had not created fear.

Many minutes passed, but Domini was careless of time as of all else.
The green line broke into feathery tufts, broadened into a still far-off
dimness of palms.

"Water!"

Androvsky's voice spoke as if startled. Domini pulled up. Their horses
stood side by side, and at once, with the cessation of motion, the
mysticism of the desert came upon them and the marvel of its silence,
and they seemed to be set there in a wonderful dream, themselves and
their horses dreamlike.

"Water!" he said again.

He pointed, and along the right-hand edge of the oasis Domini saw grey,
calm waters. The palms ran out into them and were bathed by them softly.
And on their bosom here and there rose small, dim islets. Yes, there was
water, and yet--The mystery of it was a mystery she had never known to
brood even over a white northern sea in a twilight hour of winter, was
deeper than the mystery of the Venetian _laguna morta_, when the Angelus
bell chimes at sunset, and each distant boat, each bending rower and
patient fisherman, becomes a marvel, an eerie thing in the gold.

"Is it mirage?" she said to him almost in a whisper.

And suddenly she shivered.

"Yes, it is, it must be."

He did not answer. His left hand, holding the rein, dropped down on the
saddle peak, and he stared across the waste, leaning forward and moving
his lips. She looked at him and forgot even the mirage in a sudden
longing to understand exactly what he was feeling. His mystery--the
mystery of that which is human and is forever stretching out its
arms--was as the fluid mystery of the mirage, and seemed to blend at
that moment with the mystery she knew lay in herself. The mirage was
within them as it was far off before them in the desert, still, grey,
full surely of indistinct movement, and even perhaps of sound they could
not hear.

At last he turned and looked at her.

"Yes, it must be mirage," he said. "The nothing that seems to be so
much. A man comes out into the desert and he finds there mirage. He
travels right out and that's what he reaches--or at least he can't reach
it, but just sees it far away. And that's all. And is that what a man
finds when he comes out into the world?"

It was the first time he had spoken without any trace of reserve to her,
for even on the tower, though there had been tumult in his voice and a
fierceness of some strange passion in his words, there had been struggle
in his manner, as if the pressure of feeling forced him to speak in
despite of something which bade him keep silence. Now he spoke as if to
someone whom he knew and with whom he had talked of many things.

"But you ought to know better than I do," she answered.

"I!"

"Yes. You are a man, and have been in the world, and must know what
it has to give--whether there's only mirage, or something that can be
grasped and felt and lived in, and----"

"Yes, I'm a man and I ought to know," he replied. "Well, I don't know,
but I mean to know."

There was a savage sound in his voice.

"I should like to know, too," Domini said quietly. "And I feel as if it
was the desert that was going to teach me."

"The desert--how?"

"I don't know."

He pointed again to the mirage.

"But that's what there is in the desert."

"That--and what else?"

"Is there anything else?"

"Perhaps everything," she answered. "I am like you. I want to know."

He looked straight into her eyes and there was something dominating in
his expression.

"You think it is the desert that could teach you whether the world holds
anything but a mirage," he said slowly. "Well, I don't think it would be
the desert that could teach me."

She said nothing more, but let her horse go and rode off. He followed,
and as he rode awkwardly, yet bravely, pressing his strong legs against
his animal's flanks and holding his thin body bent forward, he looked
at Domini's upright figure and brilliant, elastic grace--that gave in to
her horse as wave gives to wind--with a passion of envy in his eyes.

They did not speak again till the great palm gardens of the oasis they
had seen far off were close upon them. From the desert they looked both
shabby and superb, as if some millionaire had poured forth money to
create a Paradise out here, and, when it was nearly finished, had
suddenly repented of his whim and refused to spend another farthing. The
thousands upon thousands of mighty trees were bounded by long, irregular
walls of hard earth, at the top of which were stuck distraught thorn
bushes. These walls gave the rough, penurious aspect which was in such
sharp contrast to the exotic mystery they guarded. Yet in the fierce
blaze of the sun their meanness was not disagreeable. Domini even liked
it. It seemed to her as if the desert had thrown up waves to protect
this daring oasis which ventured to fling its green glory like a
defiance in the face of the Sahara. A wide track of earth, sprinkled
with stones and covered with deep ruts, holes and hummocks, wound in
from the desert between the earthen walls and vanished into the heart of
the oasis. They followed it.

Domini was filled with a sort of romantic curiosity. This luxury of
palms far out in the midst of desolation, untended apparently by
human hands--for no figures moved among them, there was no one on
the road--suggested some hidden purpose and activity, some concealed
personage, perhaps an Eastern Anteoni, whose lair lay surely somewhere
beyond them. As she had felt the call of the desert she now felt the
call of the oasis. In this land thrilled eternally a summons to go
onward, to seek, to penetrate, to be a passionate pilgrim. She wondered
whether her companion's heart could hear it.

"I don't know why it is," she said, "but out here I always feel
expectant. I always feel as if some marvellous thing might be going to
happen to me."

She did not add "Do you?" but looked at him as if for a reply.

"Yes, Madame," he said.

"I suppose it is because I am new to Africa. This is my first visit
here. I am not like you. I can't speak Arabic."

She suddenly wondered whether the desert was new to him as to her. She
had assumed that it was. Yet as he spoke Arabic it was almost certain
that he had been much in Africa.

"I do not speak it well," he answered.

And he looked away towards the dense thickets of the palms. The track
narrowed till the trees on either side cast patterns of moving shade
across it and the silent mystery was deepened. As far as the eye could
see the feathery, tufted foliage swayed in the little wind. The desert
had vanished, but sent in after them the message of its soul, the
marvellous breath which Domini had drunk into her lungs so long before
she saw it. That breath was like a presence. It dwells in all oases. The
high earth walls concealed the gardens. Domini longed to look over and
see what they contained, whether there were any dwellings in these dim
and silent recesses, any pools of water, flowers or grassy lawns.

Her horse neighed.

"Something is coming," she said.

They turned a corner and were suddenly in a village. A mob of half-naked
children scattered from their horses' feet. Rows of seated men in white
and earth-coloured robes stared upon them from beneath the shadow of
tall, windowless earth houses. White dogs rushed to and fro upon the
flat roofs, thrusting forward venomous heads, showing their teeth and
barking furiously. Hens fluttered in agitation from one side to the
other. A grey mule, tethered to a palm-wood door and loaded with
brushwood, lashed out with its hoofs at a negro, who at once began to
batter it passionately with a pole, and a long line of sneering camels
confronted them, treading stealthily, and turning their serpentine
necks from side to side as they came onwards with a soft and weary
inflexibility. In the distance there was a vision of a glaring
market-place crowded with moving forms and humming with noises.

The change from mysterious peace to this vivid and concentrated life was
startling.

With difficulty they avoided the onset of the camels by pulling their
horses into the midst of the dreamers against the walls, who rolled
and scrambled into places of safety, then stood up and surrounded them,
staring with an almost terrible interest upon them, and surveying their
horses with the eyes of connoisseurs. The children danced up and began
to ask for alms, and an immense man, with a broken nose and brown
teeth like tusks, laid a gigantic hand on Domini's bridle and said, in
atrocious French:

"I am the guide, I am the guide. Look at my certificates. Take no one
else. The people here are robbers. I am the only honest man. I will show
Madame everything. I will take Madame to the inn. Look--my certificates!
Read them! Read what the English lord says of me. I alone am honest
here. I am honest Mustapha! I am honest Mustapha!"

He thrust a packet of discoloured papers and dirty visiting-cards into
her hands. She dropped them, laughing, and they floated down over the
horse's neck. The man leaped frantically to pick them up, assisted by
the robbers round about. A second caravan of camels appeared, preceded
by some filthy men in rags, who cried, "Oosh! oosh!" to clear the way.
The immense man, brandishing his recovered certificates, plunged forward
to encounter them, shouting in Arabic, hustled them back, kicked them,
struck at the camels with a stick till those in front receded upon those
behind and the street was blocked by struggling beasts and resounded
with roaring snarls, the thud of wooden bales clashing together, and the
desperate protests of the camel-drivers, one of whom was sent rolling
into a noisome dust heap with his turban torn from his head.

"The inn! This is the inn! Madame will descend here. Madame will eat in
the garden. Monsieur Alphonse! Monsieur Alphonse! Here are clients
for _dejeuner_. I have brought them. Do not believe Mohammed. It is I
that--I will assist Madame to descend. I will----"

Domini was standing in a tiny cabaret before a row of absinthe bottles,
laughing, almost breathless. She scarcely knew how she had come there.
Looking back she saw Androvsky still sitting on his horse in the midst
of the clamouring mob. She went to the low doorway, but Mustapha barred
her exit.

"This is Sidi-Zerzour. Madame will eat in the garden. She is tired,
fainting. She will eat and then she will see the great Mosque of
Zerzour."

"Sidi-Zerzour!" she exclaimed. "Monsieur Androvsky, do you know where we
are? This is the famous Sidi-Zerzour, where the great warrior is buried,
and where the Arabs make pilgrimages to worship at his tomb."

"Yes, Madame."

He answered in a low voice.

"As we are here we ought to see. Do you know, I think we must yield to
honest Mustapha and have _dejeuner_ in the garden. It is twelve o'clock
and I am hungry. We might visit the mosque afterwards and ride home in
the afternoon."

He sat there hunched up on the horse and looked at her in silent
hesitation, while the Arabs stood round staring.

"You'd rather not?"

She spoke quietly. He shook his feet out of the stirrups. A number of
brown hands and arms shot forth to help him. Domini turned back into
the cabaret. She heard a tornado of voices outside, a horse neighing and
trampling, a scuffling of feet, but she did not glance round. In about
three minutes Androvsky joined her. He was limping slightly and bending
forward more than ever. Behind the counter on which stood the absinthe
bottle was a tarnished mirror, and she saw him glance quickly, almost
guiltily into it, put up his hands and try to brush the dust from his
hair, his shoulders.

"Let me do it," she said abruptly. "Turn round."

He obeyed without a word, turning his back to her. With her two hands,
which were covered with soft, loose suede gloves, she beat and brushed
the dust from his coat. He stood quite still while she did it. When she
had finished she said:

"There, that's better."

Her voice was practical. He did not move, but stood there.

"I've done what I can, Monsieur Androvsky."

Then he turned slowly, and she saw, with amazement, that there were
tears in his eyes. He did not thank her or say a word.

A small and scrubby-looking Frenchman, with red eyelids and moustaches
that drooped over a pendulous underlip, now begged Madame to follow
him through a small doorway beyond which could be seen three just shot
gazelles lying in a patch of sunlight by a wired-in fowl-run. Domini
went after him, and Androvsky and honest Mustapha--still vigorously
proclaiming his own virtues--brought up the rear. They came into the
most curious garden she had ever seen.

It was long and narrow and dishevelled, without grass or flowers. The
uneven ground of it was bare, sun-baked earth, hard as parquet, rising
here into a hump, falling there into a depression. Immediately behind
the cabaret, where the dead gazelles with their large glazed eyes lay
by the fowl-run, was a rough wooden trellis with vines trained over it,
making an arbour. Beyond was a rummage of orange trees, palms, gums and
fig trees growing at their own sweet will, and casting patterns of deep
shade upon the earth in sharp contrast with the intense yellow sunlight
which fringed them where the leafage ceased. An attempt had been made
to create formal garden paths and garden beds by sticking rushes into
little holes drilled in the ground, but the paths were zig-zag as a
drunkard's walk, and the round and oblong beds contained no trace of
plants. On either hand rose steep walls of earth, higher than a man, and
crowned with prickly thorn bushes. Over them looked palm trees. At the
end of the garden ran a slow stream of muddy water in a channel with
crumbling banks trodden by many naked feet. Beyond it was yet another
lower wall of earth, yet another maze of palms. Heat and silence brooded
here like reptiles on the warm mud of a tropic river in a jungle.
Lizards ran in and out of the innumerable holes in the walls, and flies
buzzed beneath the ragged leaves of the fig trees and crawled in the hot
cracks of the earth.

The landlord wished to put a table under the vine close to the cabaret
wall, but Domini begged him to bring it to the end of the garden near
the stream. With the furious assistance of honest Mustapha he carried it
there and quickly laid it in the shadow of a fig tree, while Domini and
Androvsky waited in silence on two straw-bottomed chairs.

The atmosphere of the garden was hostile to conversation. The sluggish
muddy stream, the almost motionless trees, the imprisoned heat between
the surrounding walls, the faint buzz of the flies caused drowsiness to
creep upon the spirit. The long ride, too, and the ardent desert
air, made this repose a luxury. Androvsky's face lost its emotional
expression as he gazed almost vacantly at the brown water shifting
slowly by between the brown banks and the brown walls above which
the palm trees peered. His aching limbs relaxed. His hands hung loose
between his knees. And Domini half closed her eyes. A curious peace
descended upon her. Lapped in the heat and silence for the moment she
wanted nothing. The faint buzz of the flies sounded in her ears and
seemed more silent than even the silence to which it drew attention.
Never before, not in Count Anteoni's garden, had she felt more utterly
withdrawn from the world. The feathery tops of the palms were like
the heads of sentinels guarding her from contact with all that she had
known. And beyond them lay the desert, the empty, sunlit waste. She shut
her eyes, and murmured to herself, "I am in far away. I am in far
away." And the flies said it in her ears monotonously. And the lizards
whispered it as they slipped in and out of the little dark holes in the
walls. She heard Androvsky stir, and she moved her lips slowly. And the
flies and the lizards continued the refrain. But she said now, "We are
in far away."

Honest Mustapha strode forward. He had a Bashi-Bazouk tread to wake up a
world. _Dejeuner_ was ready. Domini sighed. They took their places under
the fig tree on either side of the deal table covered with a rough white
cloth, and Mustapha, with tremendous gestures, and gigantic postures
suggesting the untamed descendant of legions of freeborn, sun-suckled
men, served them with red fish, omelette, gazelle steaks, cheese,
oranges and dates, with white wine and Vals water.

Androvsky scarcely spoke. Now that he was sitting at a meal with Domini
he was obviously embarrassed. All his movements were self-conscious. He
seemed afraid to eat and refused the gazelle. Mustapha broke out into
turbulent surprise and prolonged explanations of the delicious flavour
of this desert food. But Androvsky still refused, looking desperately
disconcerted.

"It really is delicious," said Domini, who was eating it. "But perhaps
you don't care about meat."

She spoke quite carelessly and was surprised to see him look at her as
if with sudden suspicion and immediately help himself to the gazelle.

This man was perpetually giving a touch of the whip to her curiosity to
keep it alert. Yet she felt oddly at ease with him. He seemed somehow
part of her impression of the desert, and now, as they sat under the
fig tree between the high earth walls, and at their _al fresco_ meal in
unbroken silence--for since her last remark Androvsky had kept his eyes
down and had not uttered a word--she tried to imagine the desert without
him.

She thought of the gorge of El-Akbara, the cold, the darkness, and then
the sun and the blue country. They had framed his face. She thought of
the silent night when the voice of the African hautboy had died away.
His step had broken its silence. She thought of the garden of Count
Anteoni, and of herself kneeling on the hot sand with her arms on the
white parapet and gazing out over the regions of the sun, of her dream
upon the tower, of her vision when Irena danced. He was there, part
of the noon, part of the twilight, chief surely of the worshippers who
swept on in the pale procession that received gifts from the desert's
hands. She could no longer imagine the desert without him. The almost
painful feeling that had come to her in the garden--of the human power
to distract her attention from the desert power--was dying, perhaps had
completely died away. Another feeling was surely coming to replace it;
that Androvsky belonged to the desert more even than the Arabs did, that
the desert spirits were close about him, clasping his hands, whispering
in his ears, and laying their unseen hands about his heart. But----

They had finished their meal. Domini set her chair once more in front
of the sluggish stream, while honest Mustapha bounded, with motions
suggestive of an ostentatious panther, to get the coffee. Androvsky
followed her after an instant of hesitation.

"Do smoke," she said.

He lit a small cigar with difficulty. She did not wish to watch him,
but she could not help glancing at him once or twice, and the conviction
came to her that he was unaccustomed to smoking. She lit a cigarette,
and saw him look at her with a sort of horrified surprise which changed
to staring interest. There was more boy, more child in this man than
in any man she had ever known. Yet at moments she felt as if he
had penetrated more profoundly into the dark and winding valleys of
experience than all the men of her acquaintance.

"Monsieur Androvsky," she said, looking at the slow waters of the stream
slipping by towards the hidden gardens, "is the desert new to you?"

She longed to know.

"Yes, Madame."

"I thought perhaps--I wondered a little whether you had travelled in it
already."

"No, Madame. I saw it for the first time the day before yesterday."

"When I did."

"Yes."

So they had entered it for the first time together. She was silent,
watching the pale smoke curl up through the shade and out into the glare
of the sun, the lizards creeping over the hot earth, the flies circling
beneath the lofty walls, the palm trees looking over into this garden
from the gardens all around, gardens belonging to Eastern people, born
here, and who would probably die here, and go to dust among the roots of
the palms.

On the earthen bank on the far side of the stream there appeared, while
she gazed, a brilliant figure. It came soundlessly on bare feet from
a hidden garden; a tall, unveiled girl, dressed in draperies of vivid
magenta, who carried in her exquisitely-shaped brown hands a number of
handkerchiefs--scarlet, orange, yellow green and flesh colour. She did
not glance into the _auberge_ garden, but caught up her draperies into
a bunch with one hand, exposing her slim legs far above the knees, waded
into the stream, and bending, dipped the handkerchiefs in the water.

The current took them. They streamed out on the muddy surface of the
stream, and tugged as if, suddenly endowed with life, they were striving
to escape from the hand that held them.

The girl's face was beautiful, with small regular features and lustrous,
tender eyes. Her figure, not yet fully developed, was perfect in shape,
and seemed to thrill softly with the spirit of youth. Her tint of bronze
suggested statuary, and every fresh pose into which she fell, while the
water eddied about her, strengthened the suggestion. With the golden
sunlight streaming upon her, the brown banks, the brown waters, the
brown walls throwing up the crude magenta of her bunched-up draperies,
the vivid colours of the handkerchiefs that floated from her hand, with
the feathery palms beside her, the cloudless blue sky above her, she
looked so strangely African and so completely lovely that Domini watched
her with an almost breathless attention.

She withdrew the handkerchiefs from the stream, waded out, and spread
them one by one upon the low earth wall to dry, letting her draperies
fall. When she had finished disposing them she turned round, and, no
longer preoccupied with her task, looked under her level brows into the
garden opposite and saw Domini and her companion. She did not start,
but stood quite still for a moment, then slipped away in the direction
whence she had come. Only the brilliant patches of colour on the wall
remained to hint that she had been there and would come again. Domini
sighed.

"What a lovely creature!" she said, more to herself than to Androvsky.

He did not speak, and his silence made her consciously demand his
acquiescence in her admiration.

"Did you ever see anything more beautiful and more characteristic of
Africa?" she asked.

"Madame," he said in a slow, stern voice, "I did not look at her."

Domini felt piqued.

"Why not?" she retorted.

Androvsky's face was cloudy and almost cruel.

"These native women do not interest me," he said. "I see nothing
attractive in them."

Domini knew that he was telling her a lie. Had she not seen him watching
the dancing girls in Tahar's cafe? Anger rose in her. She said to
herself then that it was anger at man's hypocrisy. Afterwards she knew
that it was anger at Androvsky's telling a lie to her.

"I can scarcely believe that," she answered bluntly.

They looked at each other.

"Why not, Madame?" he said. "If I say it is so?"

She hesitated. At that moment she realised, with hot astonishment, that
there was something in this man that could make her almost afraid, that
could prevent her even, perhaps, from doing the thing she had resolved
to do. Immediately she felt hostile to him, and she knew that, at that
moment, he was feeling hostile to her.

"If you say it is so naturally I am bound to take your word for it," she
said coldly.

He flushed and looked down. The rigid defiance that had confronted her
died out of his face.

Honest Mustapha broke joyously upon them with the coffee. Domini helped
Androvsky to it. She had to make a great effort to perform this simple
act with quiet, and apparently indifferent, composure.

"Thank you, Madame."

His voice sounded humble, but she felt hard and as if ice were in all
her veins. She sipped her coffee, looking straight before her at the
stream. The magenta robe appeared once more coming out from the brown
wall. A yellow robe succeeded it, a scarlet, a deep purple. The girl,
with three curious young companions, stood in the sun examining the
foreigners with steady, unflinching eyes. Domini smiled grimly. Fate
gave her an opportunity. She beckoned to the girls. They looked at each
other but did not move. She held up a bit of silver so that the sun was
on it, and beckoned them again. The magenta robe was lifted above the
pretty knees it had covered. The yellow, the scarlet, the deep purple
robes rose too, making their separate revelations. And the four girls,
all staring at the silver coin, waded through the muddy water and stood
before Domini and Androvsky, blotting out the glaring sunshine with
their young figures. Their smiling faces were now eager and confident,
and they stretched out their delicate hands hopefully to the silver.
Domini signified that they must wait a moment.

She felt full of malice.

The girls wore many ornaments. She began slowly and deliberately to
examine them; the huge gold earrings that were as large as the little
ears that sustained them, the bracelets and anklets, the triangular
silver skewers that fastened the draperies across the gentle swelling
breasts, the narrow girdles, worked with gold thread, and hung with
lumps of coral, that circled the small, elastic waists. Her inventory
was an adagio, and while it lasted Androvsky sat on his low straw chair
with this wall of young womanhood before him, of young womanhood no
longer self-conscious and timid, but eager, hardy, natural, warm with
the sun and damp with the trickling drops of the water. The vivid
draperies touched him, and presently a little hand stole out to his
breast, caught at the silver chain that lay across it, and jerked out of
its hiding-place--a wooden cross.

Domini saw the light on it for a second, heard a low, fierce
exclamation, saw Androvsky's arm push the pretty hand roughly away, and
then a thing that was strange.

He got up violently from his chair with the cross hanging loose on his
breast. Then he seized hold of it, snapped the chain in two, threw the
cross passionately into the stream and walked away down the garden. The
four girls, with a twittering cry of excitement, rushed into the
water, heedless of draperies, bent down, knelt down, and began to feel
frantically in the mud for the vanished ornament. Domini stood up and
watched them. Androvsky did not come back. Some minutes passed. Then
there was an exclamation of triumph from the stream. The girl in magenta
held up the dripping cross with the bit of silver chain in her
dripping fingers. Domini cast a swift glance behind her. Androvsky had
disappeared. Quickly she went to the edge of the water. As she was in
riding-dress she wore no ornaments except two earrings made of large
and beautiful turquoises. She took them hastily out of her ears and held
them out to the girl, signifying by gestures that she bartered them for
the little cross and chain. The girl hesitated, but the clear blue tint
of the turquoise pleased her eyes. She yielded, snatched the earrings
with an eager, gave up the cross and chain with a reluctant, hand.
Domini's fingers closed round the wet gold. She threw some coins across
the stream on to the bank, and turned away, thrusting the cross into her
bosom.

And she felt at that moment as if she had saved a sacred thing from
outrage.

At the cabaret door she found Androvsky, once more surrounded by Arabs,
whom honest Mustapha was trying to beat off. He turned when he heard
her. His eyes were still full of a light that revealed an intensity of
mental agitation, and she saw his left hand, which hung down, quivering
against his side. But he succeeded in schooling his voice as he asked:

"Do you wish to visit the village, Madame?"

"Yes. But don't let me bother you if you would rather--"

"I will come. I wish to come."

She did not believe it. She felt that he was in great pain, both of body
and mind. His fall had hurt him. She knew that by the way he moved his
right arm. The unaccustomed exercise had made him stiff. Probably the
physical discomfort he was silently enduring had acted as an irritant to
the mind. She remembered that it was caused by his determination to be
her companion, and the ice in her melted away. She longed to make him
calmer, happier. Secretly she touched the little cross that lay under
her habit. He had thrown it away in a passion. Well, some day perhaps
she would have the pleasure of giving it back to him. Since he had
worn it he must surely care for it, and even perhaps for that which it
recalled.

"We ought to visit the mosque, I think," she said.

"Yes, Madame."

The assent sounded determined yet reluctant. She knew this was all
against his will. Mustapha took charge of them, and they set out down
the narrow street, accompanied by a little crowd. They crossed the
glaring market-place, with its booths of red meat made black by flies,
its heaps of refuse, its rows of small and squalid hutches, in which
sat serious men surrounded by their goods. The noise here was terrific.
Everyone seemed shouting, and the uproar of the various trades, the
clamour of hammers on sheets of iron, the dry tap of the shoemaker's
wooden wand on the soles of countless slippers, the thud of the
coffee-beater's blunt club on the beans, and the groaning grunt with
which he accompanied each downward stroke mingled with the incessant
roar of camels, and seemed to be made more deafening and intolerable by
the fierce heat of the sun, and by the innumerable smells which seethed
forth upon the air. Domini felt her nerves set on edge, and was thankful
when they came once more into the narrow alleys that ran everywhere
between the brown, blind houses. In them there was shade and silence and
mystery. Mustapha strode before to show the way, Domini and Androvsky
followed, and behind glided the little mob of barefoot inquisitors in
long shirts, speechless and intent, and always hopeful of some chance
scattering of money by the wealthy travellers.

The tumult of the market-place at length died away, and Domini was
conscious of a curious, far-off murmur. At first it was so faint that
she was scarcely aware of it, and merely felt the soothing influence of
its level monotony. But as they walked on it grew deeper, stronger. It
was like the sound of countless multitudes of bees buzzing in the noon
among flowers, drowsily, ceaselessly. She stopped under a low mud arch
to listen. And when she listened, standing still, a feeling of awe
came upon her, and she knew that she had never heard such a strangely
impressive, strangely suggestive sound before.

"What is that?" she said.

She looked at Androvsky.

"I don't know, Madame. It must be people."

"But what can they be doing?"

"They are praying in the mosque where Sidi-Zerzour is buried," said
Mustapha.

Domini remembered the perfume-seller. This was the sound she had beard
in his sunken chamber, infinitely multiplied. They went on again slowly.
Mustapha had lost something of his flaring manner, and his gait was
subdued. He walked with a sort of soft caution, like a man approaching
holy ground. And Domini was moved by his sudden reverence. It was
impressive in such a fierce and greedy scoundrel. The level murmur
deepened, strengthened. All the empty and dim alleys surrounding the
unseen mosque were alive with it, as if the earth of the houses, the
palm-wood beams, the iron bars of the tiny, shuttered windows, the very
thorns of the brushwood roofs were praying ceaselessly and intently in
secret under voices. This was a world intense with prayer as a flame is
intense with heat, with prayer penetrating and compelling, urgent in its
persistence, powerful in its deep and sultry concentration, yet almost
oppressive, almost terrible in its monotony.

"Allah-Akbar! Allah-Akbar!" It was the murmur of the desert and the
murmur of the sun. It was the whisper of the mirage, and of the airs
that stole among the palm leaves. It was the perpetual heart-beat of
this world that was engulfing her, taking her to its warm and glowing
bosom with soft and tyrannical intention.

"Allah! Allah! Allah!" Surely God must be very near, bending to such an
everlasting cry. Never before, not even when the bell sounded and the
Host was raised, had Domini felt the nearness of God to His world, the
absolute certainty of a Creator listening to His creatures, watching
them, wanting them, meaning them some day to be one with Him, as she
felt it now while she threaded the dingy alleys towards these countless
men who prayed.

Androvsky was walking slowly as if in pain.

"Your shoulder isn't hurting you?" she whispered.

This long sound of prayer moved her to the soul, made her feel very full
of compassion for everybody and everything, and as if prayer were a cord
binding the world together. He shook his head silently. She looked at
him, and felt that he was moved also, but whether as she was she could
not tell. His face was like that of a man stricken with awe. Mustapha
turned round to them. The everlasting murmur was now so near that
it seemed to be within them, as if they, too, prayed at the tomb of
Zerzour.

"Follow me into the court, Madame," Mustapha said, "and remain at the
door while I fetch the slippers."

They turned a corner, and came to an open space before an archway,
which led into the first of the courts surrounding the mosque. Under
the archway Arabs were sitting silently, as if immersed in profound
reveries. They did not move, but stared upon the strangers, and Domini
fancied that there was enmity in their eyes. Beyond them, upon an
uneven pavement surrounded with lofty walls, more Arabs were gathered,
kneeling, bowing their heads to the ground, and muttering ceaseless
words in deep, almost growling, voices. Their fingers slipped over the
beads of the chaplets they wore round their necks, and Domini thought
of her rosary. Some prayed alone, removed in shady corners, with faces
turned to the wall. Others were gathered into knots. But each one
pursued his own devotions, immersed in a strange, interior solitude to
which surely penetrated an unseen ray of sacred light. There were young
boys praying, and old, wrinkled men, eagles of the desert, with fierce
eyes that did not soften as they cried the greatness of Allah, the
greatness of his Prophet, but gleamed as if their belief were a thing
of flame and bronze. The boys sometimes glanced at each other while they
prayed, and after each glance they swayed with greater violence, and
bowed down with more passionate abasement. The vision of prayer had
stirred them to a young longing for excess. The spirit of emulation
flickered through them and turned their worship into war.

In a second and smaller court before the portal of the mosque men
were learning the Koran. Dressed in white they sat in circles, holding
squares of some material that looked like cardboard covered with minute
Arab characters, pretty, symmetrical curves and lines, dots and dashes.
The teachers squatted in the midst, expounding the sacred text in nasal
voices with a swiftness and vivacity that seemed pugnacious. There
was violence within these courts. Domini could imagine the worshippers
springing up from their knees to tear to pieces an intruding dog of an
unbeliever, then sinking to their knees again while the blood trickled
over the sun-dried pavement and the lifeless body, lay there to rot and
draw the flies.

"Allah! Allah! Allah!"

There was something imperious in such ardent, such concentrated and
untiring worship, a demand which surely could not be overlooked or set
aside. The tameness, the half-heartedness of Western prayer and Western
praise had no place here. This prayer was hot as the sunlight, this
praise was a mounting fire. The breath of this human incense was as the
breath of a furnace pouring forth to the gates of the Paradise of Allah.
It gave to Domini a quite new conception of religion, of the relation
between Creator and created. The personal pride which, like blood in
a body, runs through all the veins of the mind of Mohammedanism, that
measureless hauteur which sets the soul of a Sultan in the twisted
frame of a beggar at a street corner, and makes impressive, even almost
majestical, the filthy marabout, quivering with palsy and devoured by
disease, who squats beneath a holy bush thick with the discoloured rags
of the faithful, was not abased at the shrine of the warrior, Zerzour,
was not cast off in the act of adoration. These Arabs humbled themselves
in the body. Their foreheads touched the stones. By their attitudes they
seemed as if they wished to make themselves even with the ground, to
shrink into the space occupied by a grain of sand. Yet they were proud
in the presence of Allah, as if the firmness of their belief in him and
his right dealing, the fury of their contempt and hatred for those who
looked not towards Mecca nor regarded Ramadan, gave them a patent of
nobility. Despite their genuflections they were all as men who knew,
and never forgot, that on them was conferred the right to keep on their
head-covering in the presence of their King. With their closed eyes
they looked God full in the face. Their dull and growling murmur had the
majesty of thunder rolling through the sky.

Mustapha had disappeared within the mosque, leaving Domini and Androvsky
for the moment alone in the midst of the worshippers. From the shadowy
interior came forth a ceaseless sound of prayer to join the prayer
without. There was a narrow stone seat by the mosque door and she sat
down upon it. She felt suddenly weary, as one being hypnotised feels
weary when the body and spirit begin to yield to the spell of the
operator. Androvsky remained standing. His eyes were fixed on the
ground, and she thought his face looked almost phantom-like, as if the
blood had sunk away from it, leaving it white beneath the brown tint
set there by the sun. He stayed quite still. The dark shadow cast by the
towering mosque fell upon him, and his immobile figure suggested to her
ranges of infinite melancholy. She sighed as one oppressed. There was
an old man praying near them at the threshold of the door, with his face
turned towards the interior. He was very thin, almost a skeleton, was
dressed in rags through which his copper-coloured body, sharp with
scarce-covered bones, could be seen, and had a scanty white beard
sticking up, like a brush, at the tip of his pointed chin. His face,
worn with hardship and turned to the likeness of parchment by time
and the action of the sun, was full of senile venom; and his toothless
mouth, with its lips folded inwards, moved perpetually, as if he
were trying to bite. With rhythmical regularity, like one obeying a
conductor, he shot forth his arms towards the mosque as if he wished to
strike it, withdrew them, paused, then shot them forth again. And as
his arms shot forth he uttered a prolonged and trembling shriek, full of
weak, yet intense, fury.

He was surely crying out upon God, denouncing God for the evils that
had beset his nearly ended life. Poor, horrible old man! Androvsky was
closer to him than she was, but did not seem to notice him. Once she had
seen him she could not take her eyes from him. His perpetual gesture,
his perpetual shriek, became abominable to her in the midst of the
bowing bodies and the humming voices of prayer. Each time he struck
at the mosque and uttered his piercing cry she seemed to hear an oath
spoken in a sanctuary. She longed to stop him. This one blasphemer began
to destroy for her the mystic atmosphere created by the multitudes of
adorers, and at last she could no longer endure his reiterated enmity.

She touched Androvsky's arm. He started and looked at her.

"That old man," she whispered. "Can't you speak to him?"

Androvsky glanced at him for the first time.

"Speak to him, Madame? Why?"

"He--he's horrible!"

She felt a sudden disinclination to tell Androvsky why the old man was
horrible to her.

"What do you wish me to say to him?"

"I thought perhaps you might be able to stop him from doing that."

Androvsky bent down and spoke to the old man in Arabic.

He shot out his arms and reiterated his trembling shriek. It pierced the
sound of prayer as lightning pierces cloud.

Domini got up quickly.

"I can't bear it," she said, still in a whisper. "It's as if he were
cursing God."

Androvsky looked at the old man again, this time with profound
attention.

"Isn't it?" she said. "Isn't it as if he were cursing God while the
whole world worshipped? And that one cry of hatred seems louder than the
praises of the whole world."

"We can't stop it."

Something in his voice made her say abruptly:

"Do you wish to stop it?"

He did not answer. The old man struck at the mosque and shrieked. Domini
shuddered.

"I can't stay here," she said.

At this moment Mustapha appeared, followed by the guardian of the
mosque, who carried two pairs of tattered slippers.

"Monsieur and Madame must take off their boots. Then I will show the
mosque."

Domini put on the slippers hastily, and went into the mosque without
waiting to see whether Androvsky was following. And the old man's
furious cry pursued her through the doorway.

Within there was space and darkness. The darkness seemed to be praying.
Vistas of yellowish-white arches stretched away in front, to right and
left. On the floor, covered with matting, quantities of shrouded figures
knelt and swayed, stood up suddenly, knelt again, bowed down their
foreheads. Preceded by Mustapha and the guide, who walked on their
stockinged feet, Domini slowly threaded her way among them, following
a winding path whose borders were praying men. To prevent her slippers
from falling off she had to shuffle along without lifting her feet from
the ground. With the regularity of a beating pulse the old man's shriek,
fainter now, came to her from without. But presently, as she penetrated
farther into the mosque, it was swallowed up by the sound of prayer. No
one seemed to see her or to know that she was there. She brushed against
the white garments of worshippers, and when she did so she felt as if
she touched the hem of the garments of mystery, and she held her habit
together with her hands lest she should recall even one of these hearts
that were surely very far off.

Mustapha and the guardian stood still and looked round at Domini. Their
faces were solemn. The expression of greedy anxiety had gone out of
Mustapha's eyes. For the moment the thought of money had been driven out
of his mind by some graver pre-occupation. She saw in the semi-darkness
two wooden doors set between pillars. They were painted green and
red, and fastened with clamps and bolts of hammered copper that looked
enormously old. Against them were nailed two pictures of winged horses
with human heads, and two more pictures representing a fantastical town
of Eastern houses and minarets in gold on a red background. Balls of
purple and yellow glass, and crystal chandeliers, hung from the high
ceiling above these doors, with many ancient lamps; and two tattered
and dusty banners of pale pink and white silk, fringed with gold and
powdered with a gold pattern of flowers, were tied to the pillars with
thin cords of camel's hair.

"This is the tomb of Sidi-Zerzour," whispered Mustapha. "It is opened
once a year."

The guardian of the mosque fell on his knees before the tomb.

"That is Mecca."

Mustapha pointed to the pictures of the city. Then he, too, dropped down
and pressed his forehead against the matting. Domini glanced round for
Androvsky. He was not there. She stood alone before the tomb of Zerzour,
the only human being in the great, dim building who was not worshipping.
And she felt a terrible isolation, as if she were excommunicated, as
if she dared not pray, for a moment almost as if the God to whom this
torrent of worship flowed were hostile to her alone.

Had her father ever felt such a sensation of unutterable solitude?

It passed quickly, and, standing under the votive lamps before the
painted doors, she prayed too, silently. She shut her eyes and imagined
a church of her religion--the little church of Beni-Mora. She tried
to imagine the voice of prayer all about her, the voice of the great
Catholic Church. But that was not possible. Even when she saw nothing,
and turned her soul inward upon itself, and strove to set this new
world into which she had come far off, she heard in the long murmur that
filled it a sound that surely rose from the sand, from the heart and the
spirit of the sand, from the heart and the spirit of desert places, and
that went up in the darkness of the mosque and floated under the arches
through the doorway, above the palms and the flat-roofed houses, and
that winged its fierce way, like a desert eagle, towards the sun.

Mustapha's hand was on her arm. The guardian, too, had risen from his
knees and drawn from his robe and lit a candle. She came to a tiny
doorway, passed through it and began to mount a winding stair. The sound
of prayer mounted with her from the mosque, and when she came out upon
the platform enclosed in the summit of the minaret she heard it still
and it was multiplied. For all the voices from the outside courts joined
it, and many voices from the roofs of the houses round about.

Men were praying there too, praying in the glare of the sun upon their
housetops. She saw them from the minaret, and she saw the town that had
sprung up round the tomb of the saint, and all the palms of the oasis,
and beyond them immeasurable spaces of desert.

"Allah-Akbar! Allah-Akbar!"

She was above the eternal cry now. She had mounted like a prayer towards
the sun, like a living, pulsing prayer, like the soul of prayer. She
gazed at the far-off desert and saw prayer travelling, the soul
of prayer travelling--whither? Where was the end? Where was the
halting-place, with at last the pitched tent, the camp fires, and the
long, the long repose?

* * * * *

When she came down and reached the court she found the old man still
striking at the mosque and shrieking out his trembling imprecation. And
she found Androvsky still standing by him with fascinated eyes.

She had mounted with the voice of prayer into the sunshine, surely a
little way towards God.

Androvsky had remained in the dark shadow with a curse.

It was foolish, perhaps--a woman's vagrant fancy--but she wished he had
mounted with her.




BOOK III. THE GARDEN



CHAPTER X

It was noon in the desert.

The voice of the Mueddin died away on the minaret, and the golden
silence that comes out of the heart of the sun sank down once more
softly over everything. Nature seemed unnaturally still in the heat.
The slight winds were not at play, and the palms of Beni-Mora stood
motionless as palm trees in a dream. The day was like a dream, intense
and passionate, yet touched with something unearthly, something almost
spiritual. In the cloudless blue of the sky there seemed a magical
depth, regions of colour infinitely prolonged. In the vision of the
distances, where desert blent with sky, earth surely curving up to meet
the downward curving heaven, the dimness was like a voice whispering
strange petitions. The ranges of mountains slept in the burning sand,
and the light slept in their clefts like the languid in cool places.
For there was a glorious languor even in the light, as if the sun were
faintly oppressed by the marvel of his power. The clearness of the
atmosphere in the remote desert was not obscured, but was impregnated
with the mystery that is the wonder child of shadows. The far-off
gold that kept it seemed to contain a secret darkness. In the oasis of
Beni-Mora men, who had slowly roused themselves to pray, sank down to
sleep again in the warm twilight of shrouded gardens or the warm night
of windowless rooms.

In the garden of Count Anteoni Larbi's flute was silent.

"It is like noon in a mirage," Domini said softly.

Count Anteoni nodded.

"I feel as if I were looking at myself a long way off," she added. "As
if I saw myself as I saw the grey sea and the islands on the way to
Sidi-Zerzour. What magic there is here. And I can't get accustomed
to it. Each day I wonder at it more and find it more inexplicable. It
almost frightens me."

"You could be frightened?"

"Not easily by outside things--it least I hope not."

"But what then?"

"I scarcely know. Sometimes I think all the outside things, which do
what are called the violent deeds in life, are tame, and timid, and
ridiculously impotent in comparison with the things we can't see, which
do the deeds we can't describe."

"In the mirage of this land you begin to see the exterior life as a
mirage? You are learning, you are learning."

There was a creeping sound of something that was almost impish in his
voice.

"Are you a secret agent?" Domini asked him.

"Of whom, Madame?"

She was silent. She seemed to be considering. He watched her with
curiosity in his bright eyes.

"Of the desert," she answered at length, quite seriously.

"A secret agent has always a definite object. What is mine?"

"How can I know? How can I tell what the desert desires?"

"Already you personify it!"

The network of wrinkles showed itself in his brown face as he smiled,
surely with triumph.

"I think I did that from the first," she answered gravely. "I know I
did."

"And what sort of personage does the desert seem to you?"

"You ask me a great many questions to-day."

"Mirage questions, perhaps. Forgive me. Let us listen to the
question--or is it the demand?--of the desert in this noontide hour, the
greatest hour of all the twenty-four in such a land as this."

They were silent again, watching the noon, listening to it, feeling it,
as they had been silent when the Mueddin's nasal voice rose in the call
to prayer.

Count Anteoni stood in the sunshine by the low white parapet of the
garden. Domini sat on a low chair in the shadow cast by a great jamelon
tree. At her feet was a bush of vivid scarlet geraniums, against
which her white linen dress looked curiously blanched. There was a
half-drowsy, yet imaginative light in her gipsy eyes, and her motionless
figure, her quiet hands, covered with white gloves, lying loosely in her
lap, looked attentive and yet languid, as if some spell began to bind
her but had not completed its work of stilling all the pulses of life
that throbbed within her. And in truth there was a spell upon her, the
spell of the golden noon. By turns she gave herself to it consciously,
then consciously strove to deny herself to its subtle summons. And each
time she tried to withdraw it seemed to her that the spell was a little
stronger, her power a little weaker. Then her lips curved in a smile
that was neither joyous nor sad, that was perhaps rather part perplexed
and part expectant.

After a minute of this silence Count Anteoni drew back from the sun and
sat down in a chair beside Domini. He took out his watch.

"Twenty-five minutes," he said, "and my guests will be here."

"Guests!" she said with an accent of surprise.

"I invited the priest to make an even number."

"Oh!"

"You don't dislike him?"

"I like him. I respect him."

"But I'm afraid you aren't pleased?"

Domini looked him straight in the face.

"Why did you invite Father Roubier?" she said.

"Isn't four better than three?"

"You don't want to tell me."

"I am a little malicious. You have divined it, so why should I not
acknowledge it? I asked Father Roubier because I wished to see the man
of prayer with the man who fled from prayer."

"Mussulman prayer," she said quickly.

"Prayer," he said.

His voice was peculiarly harsh at that moment. It grated like an
instrument on a rough surface. Domini knew that secretly he was standing
up for the Arab faith, that her last words had seemed to strike against
the religion of the people whom he loved with an odd, concealed passion
whose fire she began to feel at moments as she grew to know him better.

It was plain from their manner to each other that their former slight
acquaintance had moved towards something like a pleasant friendship.

Domini looked as if she were no longer a wonder-stricken sight-seer in
this marvellous garden of the sun, but as if she had become familiar
with it. Yet her wonder was not gone. It was only different. There was
less sheer amazement, more affection in it. As she had said, she had not
become accustomed to the magic of Africa. Its strangeness, its contrasts
still startled and moved her. But she began to feel as if she belonged
to Beni-Mora, as if Beni-Mora would perhaps miss her a little if she
went away.

Ten days had passed since the ride to Sidi-Zerzour--days rather like a
dream to Domini.

What she had sought in coming to Beni-Mora she was surely finding. Her
act was bringing forth its fruit. She had put a gulf, in which rolled
the sea, between the land of the old life and the land in which at least
the new life was to begin. The completeness of the severance had acted
upon her like a blow that does not stun, but wakens. The days went like
a dream, but in the dream there was the stir of birth. Her lassitude was
permanently gone. There had been no returning after the first hours
of excitement. The frost that had numbed her senses had utterly melted
away. Who could be frost-bound in this land of fire? She had longed
for peace and she was surely finding it, but it was a peace without
stagnation. Hope dwelt in it, and expectancy, vague but persistent.
As to forgetfulness, sometimes she woke from the dream and was almost
dazed, almost ashamed to think how much she was forgetting, and how
quickly. Her European life and friends--some of them intimate and
close--were like a far-off cloud on the horizon, flying still farther
before a steady wind that set from her to it. Soon it would disappear,
would be as if it had never been. Now and then, with a sort of fierce
obstinacy, she tried to stay the flight she had desired, and desired
still. She said to herself, "I will remember. It's contemptible to
forget like this. It's weak to be able to." Then she looked at the
mountains or the desert, at two Arabs playing the ladies' game under the
shadow of a cafe wall, or at a girl in dusty orange filling a goatskin
pitcher at a well beneath a palm tree, and she succumbed to the lulling
influence, smiling as they smile who hear the gentle ripple of the
waters of Lethe.

She heard them perhaps most clearly when she wandered in Count Anteoni's
garden. He had made her free of it in their first interview. She had
ventured to take him at his word, knowing that if he repented she would
divine it. He had made her feel that he had not repented. Sometimes
she did not see him as she threaded the sandy alleys between the little
rills, hearing the distant song of Larbi's amorous flute, or sat in the
dense shade of the trees watching through a window-space of quivering
golden leaves the passing of the caravans along the desert tracks.
Sometimes a little wreath of ascending smoke, curling above the purple
petals of bougainvilleas, or the red cloud of oleanders, told her of his
presence, in some retired thinking-place. Oftener he joined her, with
an easy politeness that did not conceal his oddity, but clothed it in a
pleasant garment, and they talked for a while or stayed for a while in
an agreeable silence that each felt to be sympathetic.

Domini thought of him as a new species of man--a hermit of the world.
He knew the world and did not hate it. His satire was rarely quite
ungentle. He did not strike her as a disappointed man who fled to
solitude in bitterness of spirit, but rather as an imaginative man with
an unusual feeling for romance, and perhaps a desire for freedom that
the normal civilised life restrained too much. He loved thought as many
love conversation, silence as some love music. Now and then he said a
sad or bitter thing. Sometimes she seemed to be near to something stern.
Sometimes she felt as if there were a secret link which connected him
with the perfume-seller in his little darkened chamber, with the legions
who prayed about the tomb of Sidi-Zerzour. But these moments were rare.
As a rule he was whimsical and kind, with the kindness of a good-hearted
man who was human even in his detachment from ordinary humanity. His
humour was a salt with plenty of savour. His imagination was of a sort
which interested and even charmed her.

She felt, too, that she interested him and that he was a man not readily
interested in ordinary human beings. He had seen too many and judged
too shrewdly and too swiftly to be easily held for very long. She had no
ambition to hold him, and had never in her life consciously striven to
attract or retain any man, but she was woman enough to find his
obvious pleasure in her society agreeable. She thought that her genuine
adoration of the garden he had made, of the land in which it was set,
had not a little to do with the happy nature of their intercourse. For
she felt certain that beneath the light satire of his manner, his often
smiling airs of detachment and quiet independence, there was something
that could seek almost with passion, that could cling with resolution,
that could even love with persistence. And she fancied that he sought
in the desert, that he clung to its mystery, that he loved it and the
garden he had created in it. Once she had laughingly called him a desert
spirit. He had smiled as if with contentment.

They knew little of each other, yet they had become friends in the
garden which he never left.

One day she said to him:

"You love the desert. Why do you never go into it?"

"I prefer to watch it," he relied. "When you are in the desert it
bewilders you."

She remembered what she had felt during her first ride with Androvsky.

"I believe you are afraid of it," she said challengingly.

"Fear is sometimes the beginning of wisdom," he answered. "But you are
without it, I know."

"How do you know?"

"Every day I see you galloping away into the sun."

She thought there was a faint sound of warning--or was it of rebuke--in
his voice. It made her feel defiant.

"I think you lose a great deal by not galloping into the sun too," she
said.

"But if I don't ride?"

That made her think of Androvsky and his angry resolution. It had not
been the resolution of a day. Wearied and stiffened as he had been by
the expedition to Sidi-Zerzour, actually injured by his fall--she knew
from Batouch that he had been obliged to call in the Beni-Mora doctor to
bandage his shoulder--she had been roused at dawn on the day following
by his tread on the verandah. She had lain still while it descended
the staircase, but then the sharp neighing of a horse had awakened an
irresistible curiosity in her. She had got up, wrapped herself in a
fur coat and slipped out on to the verandah. The sun was not above the
horizon line of the desert, but the darkness of night was melting into a
luminous grey. The air was almost cold. The palms looked spectral, even
terrible, the empty and silent gardens melancholy and dangerous. It
was not an hour for activity, for determination, but for reverie, for
apprehension.

Below, a sleepy Arab boy, his hood drawn over his head, held the
chestnut horse by the bridle. Androvsky came out from the arcade. He
wore a cap pulled down to his eyebrows which changed his appearance,
giving him, as seen from above, the look of a groom or stable hand. He
stood for a minute and stared at the horse. Then he limped round to the
left side and carefully mounted, following out the directions Domini had
given him the previous day: to avoid touching the animal with his foot,
to have the rein in his fingers before leaving the ground, and to come
down in the saddle as lightly as possible. She noted that all her hints
were taken with infinite precaution. Once on the horse he tried to sit
up straight, but found the effort too great in his weary and bruised
condition. He leaned forward over the saddle peak, and rode away in
the luminous greyness towards the desert. The horse went quietly, as if
affected by the mystery of the still hour. Horse and rider disappeared.
The Arab boy wandered off in the direction of the village. But Domini
remained looking after Androvsky. She saw nothing but the grim palms and
the spectral atmosphere in which the desert lay. Yet she did not move
till a red spear was thrust up out of the east towards the last waning
star.

He had gone to learn his lesson in the desert.

Three days afterwards she rode with him again. She did not let him know
of her presence on the verandah, and he said nothing of his departure in
the dawn. He spoke very little and seemed much occupied with his
horse, and she saw that he was more than determined--that he was apt at
acquiring control of a physical exercise new to him. His great strength
stood him in good stead. Only a man hard in the body could have so
rapidly recovered from the effects of that first day of defeat and
struggle. His absolute reticence about his efforts and the iron will
that prompted them pleased Domini. She found them worthy of a man.

She rode with him on three occasions, twice in the oasis through the
brown villages, once out into the desert on the caravan road that
Batouch had told her led at last to Tombouctou. They did not travel far
along it, but Domini knew at once that this route held more fascination
for her than the route to Sidi-Zerzour. There was far more sand in this
region of the desert. The little humps crowned with the scrub the
camels feed on were fewer, so that the flatness of the ground was more
definite. Here and there large dunes of golden-coloured sand rose,
some straight as city walls, some curved like seats in an amphitheatre,
others indented, crenellated like battlements, undulating in beastlike
shapes. The distant panorama of desert was unbroken by any visible oasis
and powerfully suggested Eternity to Domini.

"When I go out into the desert for my long journey I shall go by this
road," she said to Androvsky.

"You are going on a journey?" he said, looking at her as if startled.

"Some day."

"All alone?"

"I suppose I must take a caravan, two or three Arabs, some horses, a
tent or two. It's easy to manage. Batouch will arrange it for me."

Androvsky still looked startled, and half angry, she thought.

They had pulled up their horses among the sand dunes. It was near
sunset, and the breath of evening was in the sir, making its coolness
even more ethereal, more thinly pure than in the daytime. The atmosphere
was so clear that when they glanced back they could see the flag
fluttering upon the white of the great hotel of Beni-Mora, many
kilometres away among the palms; so still that they could hear the bark
of a Kabyle off near a nomad's tent pitched in the green land by the
water-springs of old Beni-Mora. When they looked in front of them they
seemed to see thousands of leagues of flatness, stretching on and on
till the pale yellowish brown of it grew darker, merged into a strange
blueness, like the blue of a hot mist above a southern lake, then into
violet, then into--the thing they could not see, the summoning thing
whose voice Domini's imagination heard, like a remote and thrilling
echo, whenever she was in the desert.

"I did not know you were going on a journey, Madame," Androvsky said.

"Don't you remember?" she rejoined laughingly, "that I told you on the
tower I thought peace must dwell out there. Well, some day I shall set
out to find it."

"That seems a long time ago, Madame," he muttered.

Sometimes, when speaking to her, he dropped his voice till she could
scarcely hear him, and sounded like a man communing with himself.

A red light from the sinking sun fell upon the dunes. As they rode
back over them their horses seemed to be wading through a silent sea
of blood. The sky in the west looked like an enormous conflagration, in
which tortured things were struggling and lifting twisted arms.

Domini's acquaintance with Androvsky had not progressed as easily and
pleasantly as her intercourse with Count Anteoni. She recognised that
he was what is called a "difficult man." Now and then, as if under the
prompting influence of some secret and violent emotion, he spoke with
apparent naturalness, spoke perhaps out of his heart. Each time he did
so she noticed that there was something of either doubt or amazement in
what he said. She gathered that he was slow to rely, quick to mistrust.
She gathered, too, that very many things surprised him, and felt sure
that he hid nearly all of them from her, and would--had not his own will
sometimes betrayed him--have hidden all. His reserve was as intense as
everything about him. There was a fierceness in it that revealed its
existence. He always conveyed to her a feeling of strength, physical and
mental. Yet he always conveyed, too, a feeling of uneasiness. To a woman
of Domini's temperament uneasiness usually implies a public or secret
weakness. In Androvsky's she seemed to be aware of passion, as if it
were one to dash obstacles aside, to break through doors of iron, to
rush out into the open. And then--what then? To tremble at the world
before him? At what he had done? She did not know. But she did know
that even in his uneasiness there seemed to be fibre, muscle, sinew,
nerve--all which goes to make strength, swiftness.

Speech was singularly difficult to him. Silence seemed to be natural,
not irksome. After a few words he fell into it and remained in it. And
he was less self-conscious in silence than in speech. He seemed, she
fancied, to feel himself safer, more a man when he was not speaking. To
him the use of words was surely like a yielding.

He had a peculiar faculty of making his presence felt when he was
silent, as if directly he ceased from speaking the flame in him was
fanned and leaped up at the outside world beyond its bars.

She did not know whether he was a gentleman or not.

If anyone had asked her, before she came to Beni-Mora, whether it would
be possible for her to take four solitary rides with a man, to meet
him--if only for a few minutes--every day of ten days, to sit opposite
to him, and not far from him, at meals during the same space of time,
and to be unable to say to herself whether he was or was not a gentleman
by birth and education--feeling set aside--she would have answered
without hesitation that it would be utterly impossible. Yet so it was.
She could not decide. She could not place him. She could not imagine
what his parentage, what his youth, his manhood had been. She could
not fancy him in any environment--save that golden light, that blue
radiance, in which she had first consciously and fully met him face to
face. She could not hear him in converse with any set of men or women,
or invent, in her mind, what he might be likely to say to them. She
could not conceive him bound by any ties of home, or family, mother,
sister, wife, child. When she looked at him, thought about him, he
presented himself to her alone, like a thing in the air.

Yet he was more male than other men, breathed humanity--of some kind--as
fire breathes heat.

The child there was in him almost confused her, made her wonder whether
long contact with the world had tarnished her own original simplicity.
But she only saw the child in him now and then, and she fancied that it,
too, he was anxious to conceal.

This man had certainly a power to rouse feeling in others. She knew
it by her own experience. By turns he had made her feel motherly,
protecting, curious, constrained, passionate, energetic, timid--yes,
almost timid and shy. No other human being had ever, even at moments,
thus got the better of her natural audacity, lack of self-consciousness,
and inherent, almost boyish, boldness. Nor was she aware what it was in
him which sometimes made her uncertain of herself.

She wondered. But he often woke up wonder in her.

Despite their rides, their moments of intercourse in the hotel, on
the verandah, she scarcely felt more intimate with him than she had
at first. Sometimes indeed she thought that she felt less so, that the
moment when the train ran out of the tunnel into the blue country was
the moment in which they had been nearest to each other since they trod
the verges of each other's lives.

She had never definitely said to herself: "Do I like him or dislike
him?"

Now, as she sat with Count Anteoni watching the noon, the half-drowsy,
half-imaginative expression had gone out of her face. She looked rather
rigid, rather formidable.

Androvsky and Count Anteoni had never met. The Count had seen Androvsky
in the distance from his garden more than once, but Androvsky had not
seen him. The meeting that was about to take place was due to Domini.
She had spoken to Androvsky on several occasions of the romantic beauty
of this desert garden.

"It is like a garden of the _Arabian Nights_," she had said.

He did not look enlightened, and she was moved to ask him abruptly
whether he had ever read the famous book. He had not. A doubt came to
her whether he had ever even heard of it. She mentioned the fact of
Count Anteoni's having made the garden, and spoke of him, sketching
lightly his whimsicality, his affection for the Arabs, his love of
solitude, and of African life. She also mentioned that he was by birth a
Roman.

"But scarcely of the black world I should imagine," she added.

Androvsky said nothing.

"You should go and see the garden," she continued. "Count Anteoni allows
visitors to explore it."

"I am sure it must be very beautiful, Madame," he replied, rather
coldly, she thought.

He did not say that he would go.

As the garden won upon her, as its enchanted mystery, the airy wonder
of its shadowy places, the glory of its trembling golden vistas, the
restfulness of its green defiles, the strange, almost unearthly peace
that reigned within it embalmed her spirit, as she learned not only to
marvel at it, to be entranced by it, but to feel at home in it and love
it, she was conscious of a persistent desire that Androvsky should know
it too.

Perhaps his dogged determination about the riding had touched her more
than she was aware. She often saw before her the bent figure, that
looked tired, riding alone into the luminous grey; starting thus early
that his act, humble and determined, might not be known by her. He did
not know that she had seen him, not only on that morning, but on many
subsequent mornings, setting forth to study the new art in the solitude
of the still hours. But the fact that she had seen, had watched till
horse and rider vanished beyond the palms, had understood why, perhaps
moved her to this permanent wish that he could share her pleasure in the
garden, know it as she did.

She did not argue with herself about the matter. She only knew that she
wished, that presently she meant Androvsky to pass through the white
gate and be met on the sand by Smain with his rose.

One day Count Anteoni had asked her whether she had made acquaintance
with the man who had fled from prayer.

"Yes," she said. "You know it."

"How?"

"We have ridden to Sidi-Zerzour."

"I am not always by the wall."

"No, but I think you were that day."

"Why do you think so?"

"I am sure you were."

He did not either acknowledge or deny it.

"He has never been to see my garden," he said.

"No."

"He ought to come."

"I have told him so."

"Ah? Is he coming?"

"I don't think so."

"Persuade him to. I have a pride in my garden--oh, you have no idea what
a pride! Any neglect of it, any indifference about it rasps me, plays
upon the raw nerve each one of us possesses."

He spoke smilingly. She did not know what he was feeling, whether the
remote thinker or the imp within him was at work or play.

"I doubt if he is a man to be easily persuaded," she said.

"Perhaps not--persuade him."

After a moment Domini said:

"I wonder whether you recognise that there are obstacles which the human
will can't negotiate?"

"I could scarcely live where I do without recognising that the grains of
sand are often driven by the wind. But when there is no wind!"

"They lie still?"

"And are the desert. I want to have a strange experience."

"What?"

"A _fete_ in my garden."

"A fantasia?"

"Something far more banal. A lunch party, a _dejeuner_. Will you honour
me?"

"By breakfasting with you? Yes, of course. Thank you."

"And will you bring--the second sun worshipper?"

She looked into the Count's small, shining eyes.

"Monsieur Androvsky?"

"If that is his name. I can send him an invitation, of course. But
that's rather formal, and I don't think he is formal."

"On what day do you ask us?"

"Any day--Friday."

"And why do you ask us?"

"I wish to overcome this indifference to my garden. It hurts me, not
only in my pride, but in my affections."

The whole thing had been like a sort of serious game. Domini had not
said that she would convey the odd invitation; but when she was alone,
and thought of the way in which Count Anteoni had said "Persuade him,"
she knew she would, and she meant Androvsky to accept it. This was an
opportunity of seeing him in company with another man, a man of the
world, who had read, travelled, thought, and doubtless lived.

She asked him that evening, and saw the red, that came as it comes in a
boy's face, mount to his forehead.

"Everybody who comes to Beni-Mora comes to see the garden," she said
before he could reply. "Count Anteoni is half angry with you for being
an exception."

"But--but, Madame, how can Monsieur the Count know that I am here? I
have not seen him."

"He knows there is a second traveller, and he's a hospitable man.
Monsieur Androvsky, I want you to come; I want you to see the garden."

"It is very kind of you, Madame."

The reluctance in his voice was extreme. Yet he did not like to say no.
While he hesitated, Domini continued:

"You remember when I asked you to ride?"

"Yes, Madame."

"That was new to you. Well, it has given you pleasure, hasn't it?"

"Yes, Madame."

"So will the garden. I want to put another pleasure into your life."

She had begun to speak with the light persuasiveness of a woman of the
world--wishing to overcome a man's diffidence or obstinacy, but while
she said the words she felt a sudden earnestness rush over her. It went
into the voice, and surely smote upon him like a gust of the hot wind
that sometimes blows out of the desert.

"I shall come, Madame," he said quickly.

"Friday. I may be in the garden in the morning. I'll meet you at the
gate at half-past twelve."

"Friday?" he said.

Already he seemed to be wavering in his acceptance. Domini did not stay
with him any longer.

"I'm glad," she said in a finishing tone.

And she went away.

Now Count Anteoni told her that he had invited the priest. She
felt vexed, and her face showed that she did. A cloud came down and
immediately she looked changed and disquieting. Yet she liked the
priest. As she sat in silence her vexation became more profound. She
felt certain that if Androvsky had known the priest was coming he would
not have accepted the invitation. She wished him to come, yet she
wished he had known. He might think that she had known the fact and had
concealed it. She did not suppose for a moment that he disliked Father
Roubier personally, but he certainly avoided him. He bowed to him in the
coffee-room of the hotel, but never spoke to him. Batouch had told her
about the episode with Bous-Bous. And she had seen Bous-Bous endeavour
to renew the intimacy and repulsed with determination. Androvsky must
dislike the priesthood. He might fancy that she, a believing Catholic,
had--a number of disagreeable suppositions ran through her mind. She had
always been inclined to hate the propagandist since the tragedy in
her family. It was a pity Count Anteoni had not indulged his imp in a
different fashion. The beauty of the noon seemed spoiled.

"Forgive my malice," Count Anteoni said. "It was really a thing of
thistledown. Can it be going to do harm? I can scarcely think so."

"No, no."

She roused herself, with the instinct of a woman who has lived much
in the world, to conceal the vexation that, visible, would cause a
depression to stand in the natural place of cheerfulness.

"The desert is making me abominably natural," she thought.

At this moment the black figure of Father Roubier came out of the
shadows of the trees with Bous-Bous trotting importantly beside it.

"Ah, Father," said Count Anteoni, going to meet him, while Domini got
up from her chair, "it is good of you to come out in the sun to eat fish
with such a bad parishioner as I am. Your little companion is welcome."

He patted Bous-Bous, who took little notice of him.

"You know Miss Enfilden, I think?" continued the Count.

"Father Roubier and I meet every day," said Domini, smiling.

"Mademoiselle has been good enough to take a kind interest in the humble
work of the Church in Beni-Mora," said the priest with the serious
simplicity characteristic of him.

He was a sincere man, utterly without pretension, and, as such men often
are, quietly at home with anybody of whatever class or creed.

"I must go to the garden gate," Domini said. "Will you excuse me for a
moment?"

"To meet Monsieur Androvsky? Let us accompany you if Father Roubier--"

"Please don't trouble. I won't be a minute."

Something in her voice made Count Anteoni at once acquiesce, defying his
courteous instinct.

"We will wait for you here," he said.

There was a whimsical plea for forgiveness in his eyes. Domini's did
not reject it; they did not answer it. She walked away, and the two men
looked after her tall figure with admiration. As she went along the
sand paths between the little streams, and came into the deep shade, her
vexation seemed to grow darker like the garden ways. For a moment she
thought she understood the sensations that must surely sometimes beset
a treacherous woman. Yet she was incapable of treachery. Smain was
standing dreamily on the great sweep of sand before the villa. She and
he were old friends now, and every day he calmly gave her a flower when
she came into the garden.

"What time is it, Smain?"

"Nearly half-past twelve, Madame."

"Will you open the door and see if anyone is coming?"

He went towards the great door, and Domini sat down on a bench under the
evergreen roof to wait. She had seldom felt more discomposed, and began
to reason with herself almost angrily. Even if the presence of the
priest was unpleasant to Androvsky, why should she mind? Antagonism to
the priesthood was certainly not a mental condition to be fostered, but
a prejudice to be broken down. But she had wished--she still wished with
ardour--that Androvsky's first visit to the garden should be a happy
one, should pass off delightfully. She had a dawning instinct to make
things smooth for him. Surely they had been rough in the past, rougher
even than for herself. And she wondered for an instant whether he had
come to Beni-Mora, as she had come, vaguely seeking for a happiness
scarcely embodied in a definite thought.

"There is a gentleman coming, Madame."

It was the soft voice of Smain from the gate. In a moment Androvsky
stood before it. Domini saw him framed in the white wood, with a
brilliant blue behind him and a narrow glimpse of the watercourse. He
was standing still and hesitating.

"Monsieur Androvsky!" she called.

He started, looked across the sand, and stepped into the garden with a
sort of reluctant caution that pained her, she scarcely knew why. She
got up and went towards him, and they met full in the sunshine.

"I came to be your cicerone."

"Thank you, Madame."

There was the click of wood striking against wood as Smain closed the
gate. Androvsky turned quickly and looked behind him. His demeanour was
that of a man whose nerves were tormenting him. Domini began to dread
telling him of the presence of the priest, and, characteristically, did
without hesitation what she feared to do.

"This is the way," she said.

Then, as they turned into the shadow of the trees and began to walk
between the rills of water, she added abruptly:

"Father Roubier is here already, so our party is complete."

Androvsky stood still.

"Father Roubier! You did not tell me he was coming."

"I did not know it till five minutes ago."

She stood still too, and looked at him. There was a flaming of distrust
in his eyes, his lips were compressed, and his whole body betokened
hostility.

"I did not understand. I thought Senor Anteoni would be alone here."

"Father Roubier is a pleasant companion, sincere and simple. Everyone
likes him."

"No doubt, Madame. But--the fact is I"--he hesitated, then added, almost
with violence--"I do not care for priests."

"I am sorry. Still, for once--for an hour--you can surely----"

She did not finish the sentence. While she was speaking she felt the
banality of such phrases spoken to such a man, and suddenly changed tone
and manner.

"Monsieur Androvsky," she said, laying one hand on his arm, "I knew you
would not like Father Roubier's being here. If I had known he was coming
I should have told you in order that you might have kept away if you
wished to. But now that you are here--now that Smain has let you in and
the Count and Father Roubier must know of it, I am sure you will stay
and govern your dislike. You intend to turn back. I see that. Well, I
ask you to stay."

She was not thinking of herself, but of him. Instinct told her to teach
him the way to conceal his aversion. Retreat would proclaim it.

"For yourself I ask you," she added. "If you go, you tell them what you
have told me. You don't wish to do that."

They looked at each other. Then, without a word, he walked on again. As
she kept beside him she felt as if in that moment their acquaintanceship
had sprung forward, like a thing that had been forcibly restrained and
that was now sharply released. They did not speak again till they saw,
at the end of an alley, the Count and the priest standing together
beneath the jamelon tree. Bous-Bous ran forward barking, and Domini was
conscious that Androvsky braced himself up, like a fighter stepping into
the arena. Her keen sensitiveness of mind and body was so infected
by his secret impetuosity of feeling that it seemed to her as if his
encounter with the two men framed in the sunlight were a great event
which might be fraught with strange consequences. She almost held her
breath as she and Androvsky came down the path and the fierce sunrays
reached out to light up their faces.

Count Anteoni stepped forward to greet them.

"Monsieur Androvsky--Count Anteoni," she said.

The hands of the two men met. She saw that Androvsky's was lifted
reluctantly.

"Welcome to my garden," Count Anteoni said with his invariable easy
courtesy. "Every traveller has to pay his tribute to my domain. I dare
to exact that as the oldest European inhabitant of Beni-Mora."

Androvsky said nothing. His eyes were on the priest. The Count noticed
it, and added:

"Do you know Father Roubier?"

"We have often seen each other in the hotel," Father Roubier said with
his usual straightforward simplicity.

He held out his hand, but Androvsky bowed hastily and awkwardly and did
not seem to see it. Domini glanced at Count Anteoni, and surprised a
piercing expression in his bright eyes. It died away at once, and he
said:

"Let us go to the _salle-a-manger_. _Dejeuner_ will be ready, Miss
Enfilden."

She joined him, concealing her reluctance to leave Androvsky with the
priest, and walked beside him down the path, preceded by Bous-Bous.

"Is my _fete_ going to be a failure?" he murmured.

She did not reply. Her heart was full of vexation, almost of bitterness.
She felt angry with Count Anteoni, with Androvsky, with herself. She
almost felt angry with poor Father Roubier.

"Forgive me! do forgive me!" the Count whispered. "I meant no harm."

She forced herself to smile, but the silence behind them, where the two
men were following, oppressed her. If only Androvsky would speak! He had
not said one word since they were all together. Suddenly she turned her
head and said:

"Did you ever see such palms, Monsieur Androvsky? Aren't they
magnificent?"

Her voice was challenging, imperative. It commanded him to rouse
himself, to speak, as a touch of the lash commands a horse to quicken
his pace. Androvsky raised his head, which had been sunk on his breast
as he walked.

"Palms!" he said confusedly.

"Yes, they are wonderful."

"You care for trees?" asked the Count, following Domini's lead and
speaking with a definite intention to force a conversation.

"Yes, Monsieur, certainly."

"I have some wonderful fellows here. After _dejeuner_ you must let me
show them to you. I spent years in collecting my children and teaching
them to live rightly in the desert."

Very naturally, while he spoke, he had joined Androvsky, and now walked
on with him, pointing out the different varieties of trees. Domini was
conscious of a sense of relief and of a strong feeling of gratitude
to their host. Following upon the gratitude came a less pleasant
consciousness of Androvsky's lack of good breeding. He was certainly not
a man of the world, whatever he might be. To-day, perhaps absurdly, she
felt responsible for him, and as if he owed it to her to bear himself
bravely and govern his dislikes if they clashed with the feelings of
his companions. She longed hotly for him to make a good impression, and,
when her eyes met Father Roubier's, was almost moved to ask his pardon
for Androvsky's rudeness. But the Father seemed unconscious of it, and
began to speak about the splendour of the African vegetation.

"Does not its luxuriance surprise you after England?" he said.

"No," she replied bluntly. "Ever since I have been in Africa I have felt
that I was in a land of passionate growth."

"But--the desert?" he replied with a gesture towards the long flats of
the Sahara, which were still visible between the trees.

"I should find it there too," she answered. "There, perhaps, most of
all."

He looked at her with a gentle wonder. She did not explain that she was
no longer thinking of growth in Nature.

The _salle-a-manger_ stood at the end of a broad avenue of palms not far
from the villa. Two Arab servants were waiting on each side of the white
step that led into an ante-room filled with divans and coffee-tables.
Beyond was a lofty apartment with an arched roof, in the centre of
which was an oval table laid for breakfast, and decorated with masses of
trumpet-shaped scarlet flowers in silver vases. Behind each of the four
high-backed chairs stood an Arab motionless as a statue. Evidently the
Count's _fete_ was to be attended by a good deal of ceremony. Domini
felt sorry, though not for herself. She had been accustomed to ceremony
all her life, and noticed it, as a rule, almost as little as the air
she breathed. But she feared that to Androvsky it would be novel and
unpleasant. As they came into the shady room she saw him glance swiftly
at the walls covered with dark Persian hangings, at the servants in
their embroidered jackets, wide trousers, and snow-white turbans, at
the vivid flowers on the table, then at the tall windows, over which
flexible outside blinds, dull green in colour, were drawn; and it seemed
to her that he was feeling like a trapped animal, full of a fury of
uneasiness. Father Roubier's unconscious serenity in the midst of a
luxury to which he was quite unaccustomed emphasised Androvsky's secret
agitation, which was no secret to Domini, and which she knew must be
obvious to Count Anteoni. She began to wish ardently that she had let
Androvsky follow his impulse to go when he heard of Father Roubier's
presence.

They sat down. She was on the Count's right hand, with Androvsky
opposite to her and Father Roubier on her left. As they took their
places she and the Father said a silent grace and made the sign of the
Cross, and when she glanced up after doing so she saw Androvsky's hand
lifted to his forehead. For a moment she fancied that he had joined
in the tiny prayer, and was about to make the sacred sign, but as she
looked at him his hand fell heavily to the table. The glasses by his
plate jingled.

"I only remembered this morning that this is a _jour maigre_," said
Count Anteoni as they unfolded their napkins. "I am afraid, Father
Roubier, you will not be able to do full justice to my chef, Hamdane,
although he has thought of you and done his best for you. But I hope
Miss Enfilden and--"

"I keep Friday," Domini interrupted quietly.

"Yes? Poor Hamdane!"

He looked in grave despair, but she knew that he was really pleased that
she kept the fast day.

"Anyhow," he continued, "I hope that you, Monsieur Androvsky, will be
able to join me in testing Hamdane's powers to the full. Or are you
too----"

He did not continue, for Androvsky at once said, in a loud and firm
voice:

"I keep no fast days."

The words sounded like a defiance flung at the two Catholics, and for a
moment Domini thought that Father Roubier was going to treat them as a
challenge, for he lifted his head and there was a flash of sudden fire
in his eyes. But he only said, turning to the Count:

"I think Mademoiselle and I shall find our little Ramadan a very easy
business. I once breakfasted with you on a Friday--two years ago it was,
I think--and I have not forgotten the banquet you gave me."

Domini felt as if the priest had snubbed Androvsky, as a saint might
snub, without knowing that he did so. She was angry with Androvsky, and
yet she was full of pity for him. Why could he not meet courtesy with
graciousness? There was something almost inhuman in his demeanour.
To-day he had returned to his worst self, to the man who had twice
treated her with brutal rudeness.

"Do the Arabs really keep Ramadan strictly?" she asked, looking away
from Androvsky.

"Very," said Father Roubier. "Although, of course, I am not in sympathy
with their religion, I have often been moved by their adherence to its
rules. There is something very grand in the human heart deliberately
taking upon itself the yoke of discipline."

"Islam--the very word means the surrender of the human will to the will
of God," said Count Anteoni. "That word and its meaning lie like the
shadow of a commanding hand on the soul of every Arab, even of the
absinthe-drinking renegades one sees here and there who have caught the
vices of their conquerors. In the greatest scoundrel that the Prophet's
robe covers there is an abiding and acute sense of necessary surrender.
The Arabs, at any rate, do not buzz against their Creator, like midges
raging at the sun in whose beams they are dancing."

"No," assented the priest. "At least in that respect they are superior
to many who call themselves Christians. Their pride is immense, but it
never makes itself ridiculous."

"You mean by trying to defy the Divine Will?" said Domini.

"Exactly, Mademoiselle."

She thought of her dead father.

The servants stole round the table, handing various dishes noiselessly.
One of them, at this moment, poured red wine into Androvsky's glass. He
uttered a low exclamation that sounded like the beginning of a protest
hastily checked.

"You prefer white wine?" said Count Anteoni.

"No, thank you, Monsieur."

He lifted the glass to his lips and drained it.

"Are you a judge of wine?" added the Count. "That is made from my own
grapes. I have vineyards near Tunis."

"It is excellent," said Androvsky.

Domini noticed that he spoke in a louder voice than usual, as if he were
making a determined effort to throw off the uneasiness that evidently
oppressed him. He ate heartily, choosing almost ostentatiously dishes
in which there was meat. But everything that he did, even this eating
of meat, gave her the impression that he was--subtly, how she did not
know--defying not only the priest, but himself. Now and then she glanced
across at him, and when she did so he was always looking away from
her. After praising the wine he had relapsed into silence, and Count
Anteoni--she thought moved by a very delicate sense of tact--did not
directly address him again just then, but resumed the interrupted
conversation about the Arabs, first explaining that the servants
understood no French. He discussed them with a minute knowledge that
evidently sprang from a very real affection, and presently she could not
help alluding to this.

"I think you love the Arabs far more than any Europeans," she said.

He fixed his bright eyes upon her, and she thought that just then they
looked brighter than ever before.

"Why?" he asked quietly.

"Do you know the sound that comes into the voice of a lover of children
when it speaks of a child?"

"Ah!--the note of a deep indulgence?"

"I hear it in yours whenever you speak of the Arabs."

She spoke half jestingly. For a moment he did not reply. Then he said to
the priest:

"You have lived long in Africa, Father. Have not you something of the
same feeling towards these children of the sun?"

"Yes, and I have noticed it in our dead Cardinal."

"Cardinal Lavigerie."

Androvsky bent over his plate. He seemed suddenly to withdraw his mind
forcibly from this conversation in which he was taking no active part,
as if he refused even to listen to it.

"He is your hero, I know," the Count said sympathetically.

"He did a great deal for me."

"And for Africa. And he was wise."

"You mean in some special way?" Domini said.

"Yes. He looked deep enough into the dark souls of the desert men
to find out that his success with them must come chiefly through his
goodness to their dark bodies. You aren't shocked, Father?"

"No, no. There is truth in that."

But the priest assented rather sadly.

"Mahomet thought too much of the body," he added.

Domini saw the Count compress his lips. Then he turned to Androvsky and
said:

"Do you think so, Monsieur?"

It was a definite, a resolute attempt to draw his guest into the
conversation. Androvsky could not ignore it. He looked up reluctantly
from his plate. His eyes met Domini's, but immediately travelled away
from them.

"I doubt----" he said.

He paused, laid his hands on the table, clasping its edge, and continued
firmly, even with a sort of hard violence:

"I doubt if most good men, or men who want to be good, think enough
about the body, consider it enough. I have thought that. I think it
still."

As he finished he stared at the priest, almost menacingly. Then, as if
moved by an after-thought, he added:

"As to Mahomet, I know very little about him. But perhaps he obtained
his great influence by recognising that the bodies of men are of great
importance, of tremendous--tremendous importance."

Domini saw that the interest of Count Anteoni in his guest was suddenly
and vitally aroused by what he had just said, perhaps even more by his
peculiar way of saying it, as if it were forced from him by some secret,
irresistible compulsion. And the Count's interest seemed to take
hands with her interest, which had had a much longer existence. Father
Roubier, however, broke in with a slightly cold:

"It is a very dangerous thing, I think, to dwell upon the importance of
the perishable. One runs the risk of detracting from the much greater
importance of the imperishable."

"Yet it's the starved wolves that devour the villages," said Androvsky.

For the first time Domini felt his Russian origin. There was a silence.
Father Roubier looked straight before him, but Count Anteoni's eyes were
fixed piercingly upon Androvsky. At last he said:

"May I ask, Monsieur, if you are a Russian?"

"My father was. But I have never set foot in Russia."

"The soul that I find in the art, music, literature of your country is,
to me, the most interesting soul in Europe," the Count said with a ring
of deep earnestness in his grating voice.

Spoken as he spoke it, no compliment could have been more gracious, even
moving. But Androvsky only replied abruptly:

"I'm afraid I know nothing of all that."

Domini felt hot with a sort of shame, as at a close friend's public
display of ignorance. She began to speak to the Count of Russian music,
books, with an enthusiasm that was sincere. For she, too, had found in
the soul from the Steppes a meaning and a magic that had taken her soul
prisoner. And suddenly, while she talked, she thought of the Desert
as the burning brother of the frigid Steppes. Was it the wonder of the
eternal flats that had spoken to her inmost heart sometimes in London
concert-rooms, in her room at night when she read, forgetting time,
which spoke to her now more fiercely under the palms of Africa? At the
thought something mystic seemed to stand in her enthusiasm. The mystery
of space floated about her. But she did not express her thought. Count
Anteoni expressed it for her.

"The Steppes and the Desert are akin, you know," he said. "Despite the
opposition of frost and fire."

"Just what I was thinking!" she exclaimed. "That must be why--"

She stopped short.

"Yes?" said the Count.

Both Father Roubier and Androvsky looked at her with expectancy. But she
did not continue her sentence, and her failure to do so was covered, or
at the least excused, by a diversion that secretly she blessed. At this
moment, from the ante-room, there came a sound of African music, both
soft and barbarous. First there was only one reiterated liquid note,
clear and glassy, a note that suggested night in a remote place. Then,
beneath it, as foundation to it, rose a rustling sound as of a forest
of reeds through which a breeze went rhythmically. Into this stole the
broken song of a thin instrument with a timbre rustic and antique as
the timbre of the oboe, but fainter, frailer. A twang of softly-plucked
strings supported its wild and pathetic utterance, and presently the
almost stifled throb of a little tomtom that must have been placed at a
distance. It was like a beating heart.

The Count and his guests sat listening in silence. Domini began to
feel curiously expectant, yet she did not recognise the odd melody. Her
sensation was that some other music must be coming which she had heard
before, which had moved her deeply at some time in her life. She glanced
at the Count and found him looking at her with a whimsical expression,
as if he were a kind conspirator whose plot would soon be known.

"What is it?" she asked in a low voice.

He bent towards her.

"Wait!" he whispered. "Listen!"

She saw Androvsky frown. His face was distorted by an expression of
pain, and she wondered if he, like some Europeans, found the barbarity
of the desert music ugly and even distressing to the nerves. While
she wondered a voice began to sing, always accompanied by the four
instruments. It was a contralto voice, but sounded like a youth's.

"What is that song?" she asked under her breath. "Surely I must have
heard it!"

"You don't know?"

"Wait!"

She searched her heart. It seemed to her that she knew the song. At some
period of her life she had certainly been deeply moved by it--but when?
where? The voice died away, and was succeeded by a soft chorus singing
monotonously:

"Wurra-Wurra."

Then it rose once more in a dreamy and reticent refrain, like the voice
of a soul communing with itself in the desert, above the instruments and
the murmuring chorus.

"You remember?" whispered the Count.

She moved her head in assent but did not speak. She could not speak. It
was the song the Arab had sung as he turned into the shadow of the palm
trees, the song of the freed negroes of Touggourt:

     "No one but God and I
     Knows what is in my heart."

The priest leaned back in his chair. His dark eyes were cast down, and
his thin, sun-browned hands were folded together in a way that suggested
prayer. Did this desert song of the black men, children of God like
him as their song affirmed, stir his soul to some grave petition that
embraced the wants of all humanity?

Androvsky was sitting quite still. He was also looking down and the lids
covered his eyes. An expression of pain still lingered on his face, but
it was less cruel, no longer tortured, but melancholy. And Domini, as
she listened, recalled the strange cry that had risen within her as the
Arab disappeared in the sunshine, the cry of the soul in life surrounded
by mysteries, by the hands, the footfalls, the voices of hidden
things--"What is going to happen to me here?" But that cry had risen in
her, found words in her, only when confronted by the desert. Before it
had been perhaps hidden in the womb. Only then was it born. And now the
days had passed and the nights, and the song brought with it the cry
once more, the cry and suddenly something else, another voice that, very
far away, seemed to be making answer to it. That answer she could not
hear. The words of it were hidden in the womb as, once, the words of her
intense question. Only she felt that an answer had been made. The future
knew, and had begun to try to tell her. She was on the very edge of
knowledge while she listened, but she could not step into the marvellous
land.

Presently Count Anteoni spoke to the priest.

"You have heard this song, no doubt, Father?"

Father Roubier shook his head.

"I don't think so, but I can never remember the Arab music"

"Perhaps you dislike it?"

"No, no. It is ugly in a way, but there seems a great deal of meaning in
it. In this song especially there is--one might almost call it beauty."

"Wonderful beauty," Domini said in a low voice, still listening to the
song.

"The words are beautiful," said the Count, this time addressing himself
to Androvsky. "I don't know them all, but they begin like this:

     "'The gazelle dies in the water,
     The fish dies in the air,
     And I die in the dunes of the desert sand
     For my love that is deep and sad.'

"And when the chorus sounds, as now"--and he made a gesture toward the
inner room, in which the low murmur of " Wurra-Wurra" rose again, "the
singer reiterates always the same refrain:

     "'No one but God and I
     Knows what is in my heart.'"

Almost as he spoke the contralto voice began to sing the refrain.
Androvsky turned pale. There were drops of sweat on his forehead. He
lifted his glass of wine to his lips and his hand trembled so that some
of the wine was spilt upon the tablecloth. And, as once before, Domini
felt that what moved her deeply moved him even more deeply, whether in
the same way or differently she could not tell. The image of the taper
and the torch recurred to her mind. She saw Androvsky with fire round
about him. The violence of this man surely resembled the violence of
Africa. There was something terrible about it, yet also something noble,
for it suggested a male power, which might make for either good or evil,
but which had nothing to do with littleness. For a moment Count Anteoni
and the priest were dwarfed, as if they had come into the presence of a
giant.

The Arabs handed round fruit. And now the song died softly away. Only
the instruments went on playing. The distant tomtom was surely the
beating of that heart into whose mysteries no other human heart could
look. Its reiterated and dim throbbing affected Domini almost terribly.
She was relieved, yet regretful, when at length it ceased.

"Shall we go into the ante-room?" the Count said. "Coffee will be
brought there."

"Oh, but--don't let us see them!" Domini exclaimed.

"The musicians?"

She nodded.

"You would rather not hear any more music?"

"If you don't mind!"

He gave an order in Arabic. One of the servants slipped away and
returned almost immediately.

"Now we can go," the Count said. "They have vanished."

The priest sighed. It was evident that the music had moved him too. As
they got up he said:

"Yes, there was beauty in that song and something more. Some of these
desert poets can teach us to think."

"A dangerous lesson, perhaps," said the Count. "What do you say,
Monsieur Androvsky?"

Androvsky was on his feet. His eyes were turned toward the door through
which the sound of the music had come.

"I!" he answered. "I--Monsieur, I am afraid that to me this music means
very little. I cannot judge of it."

"But the words?" asked the Count with a certain pressure.

"They do not seem to me to suggest much more than the music."

The Count said no more. As she went into the outer room Domini felt
angry, as she had felt angry in the garden at Sidi-Zerzour when
Androvsky said:

"These native women do not interest me. I see nothing attractive in
them."

For now, as then, she knew that he had lied.



CHAPTER XI

Domini came into the ante-room alone. The three men had paused for a
moment behind her, and the sound of a match struck reached her ears
as she went listlessly forward to the door which was open to the broad
garden path, and stood looking out into the sunshine. Butterflies were
flitting here and there through the riot of gold, and she heard faint
bird-notes from the shadows of the trees, echoed by the more distant
twitter of Larbi's flute. On the left, between the palms, she caught
glimpses of the desert and of the hard and brilliant mountains, and,
as she stood there, she remembered her sensations on first entering the
garden and how soon she had learned to love it. It had always seemed to
her a sunny paradise of peace until this moment. But now she felt as if
she were compassed about by clouds.

The vagrant movement of the butterflies irritated her eyes, the distant
sound of the flute distressed her ears, and all the peace had gone. Once
again this man destroyed the spell Nature had cast upon her. Because
she knew that he had lied, her joy in the garden, her deeper joy in the
desert that embraced it, were stricken. Yet why should he not lie? Which
of us does not lie about his feelings? Has reserve no right to armour?

She heard her companions entering the room and turned round. At that
moment her heart was swept by an emotion almost of hatred to Androvsky.
Because of it she smiled. A forced gaiety dawned in her. She sat down on
one of the low divans, and, as she asked Count Anteoni for a cigarette
and lit it, she thought, "How shall I punish him?" That lie, not even
told to her and about so slight a matter, seemed to her an attack which
she resented and must return. Not for a moment did she ask herself if
she were reasonable. A voice within her said, "I will not be lied to,
I will not even bear a lie told to another in my presence by this man."
And the voice was imperious.

Count Anteoni remained beside her, smoking a cigar. Father Roubier took
a seat by the little table in front of her. But Androvsky went over to
the door she had just left, and stood, as she had, looking out into the
sunshine. Bous-Bous followed him, and snuffed affectionately round his
feet, trying to gain his attention.

"My little dog seems very fond of your friend," the priest said to
Domini.

"My friend!"

"Monsieur Androvsky."

She lowered her voice.

"He is only a travelling acquaintance. I know nothing of him."

The priest looked gently surprised and Count Anteoni blew forth a
fragrant cloud of smoke.

"He seems a remarkable man," the priest said mildly.

"Do you think so?"

She began to speak to Count Anteoni about some absurdity of Batouch,
forcing her mind into a light and frivolous mood, and he echoed her tone
with a clever obedience for which secretly she blessed him. In a moment
they were laughing together with apparent merriment, and Father Roubier
smiled innocently at their light-heartedness, believing in it sincerely.
But Androvsky suddenly turned around with a dark and morose countenance.

"Come in out of the sunshine," said the Count. "It is too strong. Try
this chair. Coffee will be--ah, here it is!"

Two servants appeared, carrying it.

"Thank you, Monsieur," Androvsky said with reluctant courtesy.

He came towards them with determination and sat down, drawing forward
his chair till he was facing Domini. Directly he was quiet Bous-Bous
sprang upon his knee and lay down hastily, blinking his eyes, which were
almost concealed by hair, and heaving a sigh which made the priest look
kindly at him, even while he said deprecatingly:

"Bous-Bous! Bous-Bous! Little rascal, little pig--down, down!"

"Oh, leave him, Monsieur!" muttered Androvsky. "It's all the same to
me."

"He really has no shame where his heart is concerned."

"Arab!" said the Count. "He has learnt it in Beni-Mora."

"Perhaps he has taken lessons from Larbi," said Domini. "Hark! He is
playing to-day. For whom?"

"I never ask now," said the Count. "The name changes so often."

"Constancy is not an Arab fault?" Domini asked.

"You say 'fault,' Madame," interposed the priest.

"Yes, Father," she returned with a light touch of conscious cynicism.
"Surely in this world that which is apt to bring inevitable misery with
it must be accounted a fault."

"But can constancy do that?"

"Don't you think so, into a world of ceaseless change?"

"Then how shall we reckon truth in a world of lies?" asked the Count.
"Is that a fault, too?"

"Ask Monsieur Androvsky," said Domini, quickly.

"I obey," said the Count, looking over at his guest.

"Ah, but I am sure I know," Domini added. "I am sure you think truth a
thing we should all avoid in such a world as this. Don't you, Monsieur?"

"If you are sure, Madame, why ask me?" Androvsky replied.

There was in his voice a sound that was startling. Suddenly the priest
reached out his hand and lifted Bous-Bous on to his knee, and Count
Anteoni very lightly and indifferently interposed.

"Truth-telling among Arabs becomes a dire necessity to Europeans. One
cannot out-lie them, and it doesn't pay to run second to Orientals. So
one learns, with tears, to be sincere. Father Roubier is shocked by my
apologia for my own blatant truthfulness."

The priest laughed.

"I live so little in what is called 'the world' that I'm afraid I'm very
ready to take drollery for a serious expression of opinion."

He stroked Bous-Bous's white back, and added, with a simple geniality
that seemed to spring rather from a desire to be kind than from any
temperamental source:

"But I hope I shall always be able to enjoy innocent fun."

As he spoke his eyes rested on Androvsky's face, and suddenly he looked
grave and put Bous-Bous gently down on the floor.

"I'm afraid I must be going," he said.

"Already?" said his host.

"I dare not allow myself too much idleness. If once I began to be idle
in this climate I should become like an Arab and do nothing all day but
sit in the sun."

"As I do. Father, we meet very seldom, but whenever we do I feel myself
a cumberer of the earth."

Domini had never before heard him speak with such humbleness. The priest
flushed like a boy.

"We each serve in our own way," he said quickly. "The Arab who sits all
day in the sun may be heard as a song of praise where He is."

And then he took his leave. This time he did not extend his hand to
Androvsky, but only bowed to him, lifting his white helmet. As he went
away in the sun with Bous-Bous the three he had left followed him
with their eyes. For Androvsky had turned his chair sideways, as if
involuntarily.

"I shall learn to love Father Roubier," Domini said.

Androvsky moved his seat round again till his back was to the garden,
and placed his broad hands palm downward on his knees.

"Yes?" said the Count.

"He is so transparently good, and he bears his great disappointment so
beautifully."

"What great disappointment?"

"He longed to become a monk."

Androvsky got up from his seat and walked back to the garden doorway.
His restless demeanour and lowering expression destroyed all sense of
calm and leisure. Count Anteoni looked after him, and then at Domini,
with a sort of playful surprise. He was going to speak, but before the
words came Smain appeared, carrying reverently a large envelope covered
with Arab writing.

"Will you excuse me for a moment?" the Count said.

"Of course."

He took the letter, and at once a vivid expression of excitement shone
in his eyes. When he had read it there was a glow upon his face as if
the flames of a fire played over it.

"Miss Enfilden," he said, "will you think me very discourteous if I
leave you for a moment? The messenger who brought this has come from far
and starts to-day on his return journey. He has come out of the south,
three hundred kilometres away, from Beni-Hassan, a sacred village--a
sacred village."

He repeated the last words, lowering his voice.

"Of course go and see him."

"And you?"

He glanced towards Androvsky, who was standing with his back to them.

"Won't you show Monsieur Androvsky the garden?"

Hearing his name Androvsky turned, and the Count at once made his
excuses to him and followed Smain towards the garden gate, carrying the
letter that had come from Beni-Hassan in his hand.

When he had gone Domini remained on the divan, and Androvsky by the
door, with his eyes on the ground. She took another cigarette from the
box on the table beside her, struck a match and lit it carefully. Then
she said:

"Do you care to see the garden?"

She spoke indifferently, coldly. The desire to show her Paradise to him
had died away, but the parting words of the Count prompted the question,
and so she put it as to a stranger.

"Thank you, Madame--yes," he replied, as if with an effort.

She got up, and they went out together on to the broad walk.

"Which way do you want to go?" she asked.

She saw him glance at her quickly, with anxiety in his eyes.

"You know best where we should go, Madame."

"I daresay you won't care about it. Probably you are not interested in
gardens. It does not matter really which path we take. They are all very
much alike."

"I am sure they are all very beautiful."

Suddenly he had become humble, anxious to please her. But now the
violent contrasts in him, unlike the violent contrasts of nature in this
land, exasperated her. She longed to be left alone. She felt ashamed of
Androvsky, and also of herself; she condemned herself bitterly for the
interest she had taken in him, for her desire to put some pleasure into
a life she had deemed sad, for her curiosity about him, for her wish
to share joy with him. She laughed at herself secretly for what she now
called her folly in having connected him imaginatively with the desert,
whereas in reality he made the desert, as everything he approached, lose
in beauty and wonder. His was a destructive personality. She knew it
now. Why had she not realised it before? He was a man to put gall in the
cup of pleasure, to create uneasiness, self-consciousness, constraint
round about him, to call up spectres at the banquet of life. Well, in
the future she could avoid him. After to-day she need never have any
more intercourse with him. With that thought, that interior sense of
her perfect freedom in regard to this man, an abrupt, but always cold,
content came to her, putting him a long way off where surely all that he
thought and did was entirely indifferent to her.

"Come along then," she said. "We'll go this way."

And she turned down an alley which led towards the home of the purple
dog. She did not know at the moment that anything had influenced her to
choose that particular path, but very soon the sound of Larbi's flute
grew louder, and she guessed that in reality the music had attracted
her. Androvsky walked beside her without a word. She felt that he
was not looking about him, not noticing anything, and all at once she
stopped decisively.

"Why should we take all this trouble?" she said bluntly. "I hate
pretence and I thought I had travelled far away from it. But we are both
pretending."

"Pretending, Madame?" he said in a startled voice.

"Yes. I that I want to show you this garden, you that you want to see
it. I no longer wish to show it to you, and you have never wished to see
it. Let us cease to pretend. It is all my fault. I bothered you to come
here when you didn't want to come. You have taught me a lesson. I was
inclined to condemn you for it, to be angry with you. But why should I
be? You were quite right. Freedom is my fetish. I set you free, Monsieur
Androvsky. Good-bye."

As she spoke she felt that the air was clearing, the clouds were flying.
Constraint at least was at an end. And she had really the sensation of
setting a captive at liberty. She turned to leave him, but he said:

"Please, stop, Madame."

"Why?"

"You have made a mistake."

"In what?"

"I do want to see this garden."

"Really? Well, then, you can wander through it."

"I do not wish to see it alone."

"Larbi shall guide you. For half a franc he will gladly give up his
serenading."

"Madame, if you will not show me the garden I will not see it at all. I
will go now and will never come into it again. I do not pretend."

"Ah!" she said, and her voice was quite changed. "But you do worse."

"Worse!"

"Yes. You lie in the face of Africa."

She did not wish or mean to say it, and yet she had to say it. She knew
it was monstrous that she should speak thus to him. What had his lies to
do with her? She had been told a thousand, had heard a thousand told to
others. Her life had been passed in a world of which the words of the
Psalmist, though uttered in haste, are a clear-cut description. And
she had not thought she cared. Yet really she must have cared. For, in
leaving this world, her soul had, as it were, fetched a long breath. And
now, at the hint of a lie, it instinctively recoiled as from a gust of
air laden with some poisonous and suffocating vapour.

"Forgive me," she added. "I am a fool. Out here I do love truth."

Androvsky dropped his eyes. His whole body expressed humiliation, and
something that suggested to her despair.

"Oh, you must think me mad to speak like this!" she exclaimed. "Of
course people must be allowed to arm themselves against the curiosity
of others. I know that. The fact is I am under a spell here. I have been
living for many, many years in the cold. I have been like a woman in a
prison without any light, and--"

"You have been in a prison!" he said, lifting his head and looking at
her eagerly.

"I have been living in what is called the great world."

"And you call that a prison?"

"Now that I am living in the greater world, really living at last. I
have been in the heart of insincerity, and now I have come into the
heart, the fiery heart of sincerity. It's there--there"--she pointed
to the desert. "And it has intoxicated me; I think it has made me
unreasonable. I expect everyone--not an Arab--to be as it is, and every
little thing that isn't quite frank, every pretence, is like a horrible
little hand tugging at me, as if trying to take me back to the prison I
have left. I think, deep down, I have always loathed lies, but never as
I have loathed them since I came here. It seems to me as if only in the
desert there is freedom for the body, and only in truth there is freedom
for the soul."

She stopped, drew a long breath, and added:

"You must forgive me. I have worried you. I have made you do what you
didn't want to do. And then I have attacked you. It is unpardonable."

"Show me the garden, Madame," he said in a very low voice.

Her outburst over, she felt a slight self-consciousness. She wondered
what he thought of her and became aware of her unconventionality. His
curious and persistent reticence made her frankness the more marked.
Yet the painful sensation of oppression and exasperation had passed away
from her and she no longer thought of his personality as destructive.
In obedience to his last words she walked on, and he kept heavily beside
her, till they were in the deep shadows of the closely-growing trees and
the spell of the garden began to return upon her, banishing the thought
of self.

"Listen!" she said presently.

Larbi's flute was very near.

"He is always playing," she whispered.

"Who is he?"

"One of the gardeners. But he scarcely ever works. He is perpetually in
love. That is why he plays."

"Is that a love-tune then?" Androvsky asked.

"Yes. Do you think it sounds like one?"

"How should I know, Madame?"

He stood looking in the direction from which the music came, and now it
seemed to hold him fascinated. After his question, which sounded to her
almost childlike, and which she did not answer, Domini glanced at his
attentive face, to which the green shadows lent a dimness that was
mysterious, at his tall figure, which always suggested to her both
weariness and strength, and remembered the passionate romance to whose
existence she awoke when she first heard Larbi's flute. It was as if
a shutter, which had closed a window in the house of life, had been
suddenly drawn away, giving to her eyes the horizon of a new world.
Was that shutter now drawn back for him? No doubt the supposition was
absurd. Men of his emotional and virile type have travelled far in that
world, to her mysterious, ere they reach his length of years. What was
extraordinary to her, in the thought of it alone, was doubtless quite
ordinary to him, translated into act. Not ignorant, she was nevertheless
a perfectly innocent woman, but her knowledge told her that no man of
Androvsky's strength, power and passion is innocent at Androvsky's age.
Yet his last dropped-out question was very deceptive. It had sounded
absolutely natural and might have come from a boy's pure lips. Again he
made her wonder.

There was a garden bench close to where they were standing. "If you like
to listen for a moment we might sit down," she said.

He started.

"Yes. Thank you."

When they were sitting side by side, closely guarded by the gigantic fig
and chestnut trees which grew in this part of the garden, he added:

"Whom does he love?"

"No doubt one of those native women whom you consider utterly without
attraction," she answered with a faint touch of malice which made him
redden.

"But you come here every day?" he said.

"I!"

"Yes. Has he ever seen you?"

"Larbi? Often. What has that to do with it?"

He did not reply.

Odd and disconnected as Larbi's melodies were, they created an
atmosphere of wild tenderness. Spontaneously they bubbled up out of the
heart of the Eastern world and, when the player was invisible as now,
suggested an ebon faun couched in hot sand at the foot of a palm tree
and making music to listening sunbeams and amorous spirits of the waste.

"Do you like it?" she said presently in an under voice.

"Yes, Madame. And you?"

"I love it, but not as I love the song of the freed negroes. That is a
song of all the secrets of humanity and of the desert too. And it does
not try to tell them. It only says that they exist and that God knows
them. But, I remember, you do not like that song."

"Madame," he answered slowly, and as if he were choosing his words, "I
see that you understood. The song did move me though I said not. But no,
I do not like it."

"Do you care to tell me why?"

"Such a song as that seems to me an--it is like an intrusion. There are
things that should be let alone. There are dark places that should be
left dark."

"You mean that all human beings hold within them secrets, and that no
allusion even should ever be made to those secrets?"

"Yes."

"I understand."

After a pause he said, anxiously, she thought:

"Am I right, Madame, or is my thought ridiculous?"

He asked it so simply that she felt touched.

"I'm sure you could never be ridiculous," she said quickly. "And perhaps
you are right. I don't know. That song makes me think and feel, and so I
love it. Perhaps if you heard it alone--"

"Then I should hate it," he interposed.

His voice was like an uncontrolled inner voice speaking.

"And not thought and feeling--" she began.

But he interrupted her.

"They make all the misery that exists in the world."

"And all the happiness."

"Do they?"

"They must."

"Then you want to think deeply, to feel deeply?"

"Yes. I would rather be the central figure of a world-tragedy than die
without having felt to the uttermost, even if it were sorrow. My whole
nature revolts against the idea of being able to feel little or nothing
really. It seems to me that when we begin to feel acutely we begin to
grow, like the palm tree rising towards the African sun."

"I do not think you have ever been very unhappy," he said. The sound of
his voice as he said it made her suddenly feel as if it were true, as if
she had never been utterly unhappy. Yet she had never been really happy.
Africa had taught her that.

"Perhaps not," she answered. "But--some day--"

She stopped.

"Yes, Madame?"

"Could one stay long in such a world as this and not be either intensely
happy or intensely unhappy? I don't feel as if it would be possible.
Fierceness and fire beat upon one day after day and--one must learn to
feel here."

As she spoke a sensation of doubt, almost of apprehension, came to her.
She was overtaken by a terror of the desert. For a moment it seemed to
her that he was right, that it were better never to be the prey of any
deep emotion.

"If one does not wish to feel one should never come to such a place as
this," she added.

And she longed to ask him why he was here, he, a man whose philosophy
told him to avoid the heights and depths, to shun the ardours of nature
and of life.

"Or, having come, one should leave it."

A sensation of lurking danger increased upon her, bringing with it the
thought of flight.

"One can always do that," she said, looking at him. She saw fear in his
eyes, but it seemed to her that it was not fear of peril, but fear of
flight. So strongly was this idea borne in upon her that she bluntly
exclaimed:

"Unless it is one's nature to face things, never to turn one's back. Is
it yours, Monsieur Androvsky?"

"Fear could never drive me to leave Beni-Moni," he answered.

"Sometimes I think that the only virtue in us is courage," she said,
"that it includes all the others. I believe I could forgive everything
where I found absolute courage."

Androvsky's eyes were lit up as if by a flicker of inward fire.

"You might create the virtue you love," he said hoarsely.

They looked at each other for a moment. Did he mean that she might
create it in him?

Perhaps she would have asked, or perhaps he would have told her, but at
that moment something happened. Larbi stopped playing. In the last few
minutes they had both forgotten that he was playing, but when he ceased
the garden changed. Something was withdrawn in which, without knowing
it, they had been protecting themselves, and when the music faded their
armour dropped away from them. With the complete silence came an altered
atmosphere, the tenderness of mysticism instead of the tenderness of a
wild humanity. The love of man seemed to depart out of the garden and
another love to enter it, as when God walked under the trees in the cool
of the day. And they sat quite still, as if a common impulse muted their
lips. In the long silence that followed Domini thought of her mirage of
the palm tree growing towards the African sun, feeling growing in the
heart of a human being. But was it a worthy image? For the palm tree
rises high. It soars into the air. But presently it ceases to grow.
There is nothing infinite in its growth. And the long, hot years pass
away and there it stands, never nearer to the infinite gold of the sun.
But in the intense feeling of a man or woman is there not infinitude? Is
there not a movement that is ceaseless till death comes to destroy--or
to translate?

That was what she was thinking in the silence of the garden. And
Androvsky? He sat beside her with his head bent, his hands hanging
between his knees, his eyes gazing before him at the ordered tangle
of the great trees. His lips were slightly parted, and on his
strongly-marked face there was an expression as of emotional peace, as
if the soul of the man were feeling deeply in calm. The restlessness,
the violence that had made his demeanour so embarrassing during
and after the _dejeuner_ had vanished. He was a different man. And
presently, noticing it, feeling his sensitive serenity, Domini seemed
to see the great Mother at work about this child of hers, Nature at her
tender task of pacification. The shared silence became to her like
a song of thanksgiving, in which all the green things of the garden
joined. And beyond them the desert lay listening, the Garden of Allah
attentive to the voices of man's garden. She could hardly believe that
but a few minutes before she had been full of irritation and bitterness,
not free even from a touch of pride that was almost petty. But when she
remembered that it was so she realised the abysses and the heights of
which the heart is mingled, and an intense desire came to her to be
always upon the heights of her own heart. For there only was the light
of happiness. Never could she know joy if she forswore nobility. Never
could she be at peace with the love within her--love of something that
was not self, of something that seemed vaguer than God, as if it had
entered into God and made him Love--unless she mounted upwards during
her little span of life. Again, as before in this land, in the first
sunset, on the tower, on the minaret of the mosque of Sidi-Zerzour,
Nature spoke to her intimate words of inspiration, laid upon her
the hands of healing, giving her powers she surely had not known or
conceived of till now. And the passion that is the chiefest grace of
goodness, making it the fire that purifies, as it is the little
sister of the poor that tends the suffering, the hungry, the groping
beggar-world, stirred within her, like the child not yet born, but whose
destiny is with the angels. And she longed to make some great offering
at the altar on whose lowest step she stood, and she was filled, for the
first time consciously, with woman's sacred desire for sacrifice.

A soft step on the sand broke the silence and scattered her aspirations.
Count Anteoni was coming towards them between the trees. The light of
happiness was still upon his face and made him look much younger than
usual. His whole bearing, in its elasticity and buoyant courage, was
full of anticipation. As he came up to them he said to Domini:

"Do you remember chiding me?"

"I!" she said. "For what?"

Androvsky sat up and the expression of serenity passed away from his
face.

"For never galloping away into the sun."

"Oh!--yes, I do remember."

"Well, I am going to obey you. I am going to make a journey."

"Into the desert?"

"Three hundred kilometers on horseback. I start to-morrow."

She looked up at him with a new interest. He saw it and laughed, almost
like a boy.

"Ah, your contempt for me is dying!"

"How can you speak of contempt?"

"But you were full of it." He turned to Androvsky. "Miss Enfilden
thought I could not sit a horse, Monsieur, unlike you. Forgive me for
saying that you are almost more dare-devil than the Arabs themselves. I
saw you the other day set your stallion at the bank of the river bed. I
did not think any horse could have done it, but you knew better."

"I did not know at all," said Androvsky. "I had not ridden for over
twenty years until that day."

He spoke with a blunt determination which made Domini remember their
recent conversation on truth-telling.

"Dio mio!" said the Count, slowly, and looking at him with undisguised
wonder. "You must have a will and a frame of iron."

"I am pretty strong."

He spoke rather roughly. Since the Count had joined them Domini noticed
that Androvsky had become a different man. Once more he was on the
defensive. The Count did not seem to notice it. Perhaps he was too
radiant.

"I hope I shall endure as well as you, Monsieur," he said. "I go to
Beni-Hassan to visit Sidi El Hadj Aissa, one of the mightiest marabouts
in the Sahara. In your Church," he added, turning again to Domini, "he
would be a powerful Cardinal."

She noticed the "your." Evidently the Count was not a professing
Catholic. Doubtless, like many modern Italians, he was a free-thinker in
matters of religion.

"I am afraid I have never heard of him," she said. "In which direction
does Beni-Hassan lie?"

"To go there one takes the caravan route that the natives call the route
to Tombouctou."

An eager look came into her face.

"My road!" she said.

"Yours?"

"The one I shall travel on. You remember, Monsieur Androvsky?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Let me into your secret," said the Count, laughingly, yet with interest
too.

"It is no secret. It is only that I love that route. It fascinates me,
and I mean some day to make a desert journey along it."

"What a pity that we cannot join forces," the Count said. "I should feel
it an honour to show the desert to one who has the reverence for it, the
understanding of its spell, that you have."

He spoke earnestly, paused, and then added:

"But I know well what you are thinking."

"What is that?"

"That you will go to the desert alone. You are right. It is the only
way, at any rate the first time. I went like that many years ago."

She said nothing in assent, and Androvsky got up from the bench.

"I must go, Monsieur."

"Already! But have you seen the garden?"

"It is wonderful. Good-bye, Monsieur. Thank you."

"But--let me see you to the gate. On Fridays----"

He was turning to Domini when she got up too.

"Don't you distribute alms on Fridays?" she said.

"How should you know it?"

"I have heard all about you. But is this the hour?"

"Yes."

"Let me see the distribution."

"And we will speed Monsieur Androvsky on his way at the same time."

She noticed that there was no question in his mind of her going with
Androvsky. Did she mean to go with him? She had not decided yet.

They walked towards the gate and were soon on the great sweep of sand
before the villa. A murmur of many voices was audible outside in the
desert, nasal exclamations, loud guttural cries that sounded angry, the
twittering of flutes and the snarl of camels.

"Do you hear my pensioners?" said the Count. "They are always
impatient."

There was the noise of a tomtom and of a whining shriek.

"That is old Bel Cassem's announcement of his presence. He has been
living on me for years, the old ruffian, ever since his right eye
was gouged out by his rival in the affections of the Marechale of the
dancing-girls. Smain!"

He blew his silver whistle. Instantly Smain came out of the villa
carrying a money-bag. The Count took it and weighed it in his hand,
looking at Domini with the joyous expression still upon his face.

"Have you ever made a thank-offering?" he said.

"No."

"That tells me something. Well, to-day I wish to make a thank-offering
to the desert."

"What has it done for you?"

"Who knows? Who knows?"

He laughed aloud, almost like a boy. Androvsky glanced at him with a
sort of wondering envy.

"And I want you to share in my little distribution," he added. "And
you, Monsieur, if you don't mind. There are moments when--Open the gate,
Smain!"

His ardour was infectious and Domini felt stirred by it to a sudden
sense of the joy of life. She looked at Androvsky, to include him in
the rigour of gaiety which swept from the Count to her, and found him
staring apprehensively at the Count, who was now loosening the string
of the bag. Smain had reached the gate. He lifted the bar of wood and
opened it. Instantly a crowd of dark faces and turbaned heads were
thrust through the tall aperture, a multitude of dusky hands fluttered
frantically, and the cry of eager voices, saluting, begging, calling
down blessings, relating troubles, shrieking wants, proclaiming virtues
and necessities, rose into an almost deafening uproar. But not a
foot was lifted over the lintel to press the sunlit sand. The Count's
pensioners might be clamorous, but they knew what they might not do. As
he saw them the wrinkles in his face deepened and his fingers quickened
to achieve their purpose.

"My pensioners are very hungry to-day, and, as you see, they don't mind
saying so. Hark at Bel Cassem!"

The tomtom and the shriek that went with it made it a fierce crescendo.

"That means he is starving--the old hypocrite! Aren't they like the
wolves in your Russia, Monsieur? But we must feed them. We mustn't let
them devour our Beni-Mora. That's it!"

He threw the string on to the sand, plunged his hand into the bag and
brought it out full of copper coins. The mouths opened wider, the hands
waved more frantically, and all the dark eyes gleamed with the light of
greed.

"Will you help me?" he said to Domini.

"Of course. What fun!"

Her eyes were gleaming too, but with the dancing fires of a gay impulse
of generosity which made her wish that the bag contained her money. He
filled her hands with coins.

"Choose whom you will. And now, Monsieur!"

For the moment he was so boyishly concentrated on the immediate present
that he had ceased to observe whether the whim of others jumped with
his own. Otherwise he must have been struck by Androvsky's marked
discomfort, which indeed almost amounted to agitation. The sight of the
throng of Arabs at the gateway, the clamour of their voices, evidently
roused within him something akin to fear. He looked at them with
distaste, and had drawn back several steps upon the sand, and now, as
the Count held out to him a hand filled with money, he made no motion
to take it, and half turned as if he thought of retreating into the
recesses of the garden.

"Here, Monsieur! here!" exclaimed the Count, with his eyes on the crowd,
towards which Domini was walking with a sort of mischievous slowness, to
whet those appetites already so voracious.

Androvsky set his teeth and took the money, dropping one or two pieces
on the ground. For a moment the Count seemed doubtful of his guest's
participation in his own lively mood.

"Is this boring you?" he asked. "Because if so--"

"No, no, Monsieur, not at all! What am I to do?"

"Those hands will tell you."

The clamour grew more exigent.

"And when you want more come to me!"

Then he called out in Arabic, "Gently! Gently!" as the vehement
scuffling seemed about to degenerate into actual fighting at Domini's
approach, and hurried forward, followed more slowly by Androvsky.

Smain, from whose velvety eyes the dreams were not banished by the
uproar, stood languidly by the porter's tent, gazing at Androvsky.
Something in the demeanour of the new visitor seemed to attract him.
Domini, meanwhile, had reached the gateway. Gently, with a capricious
deftness and all a woman's passion for personal choice, she dropped the
bits of money into the hands belonging to the faces that attracted her,
disregarding the bellowings of those passed over. The light from all
these gleaming eyes made her feel warm, the clamour that poured from
these brown throats excited her. When her fingers were empty she touched
the Count's arm eagerly.

"More, more, please!"

"Ecco, Signora."

He held out to her the bag. She plunged her hands into it and came
nearer to the gate, both hands full of money and held high above her
head. The Arabs leapt up at her like dogs at a bone, and for a moment
she waited, laughing with all her heart. Then she made a movement to
throw the money over the heads of the near ones to the unfortunates who
were dancing and shrieking on the outskirts of the mob. But suddenly her
hands dropped and she uttered a startled exclamation.

The sand-diviner of the red bazaar, slipping like a reptile under the
waving arms and between the furious bodies of the beggars, stood up
before her with a smile on his wounded face, stretched out to her his
emaciated hands with a fawning, yet half satirical, gesture of desire.



CHAPTER XII

The money dropped from Domini's fingers and rolled upon the sand at the
Diviner's feet. But though he had surely come to ask for alms, he took
no heed of it. While the Arabs round him fell upon their knees and
fought like animals for the plunder, he stood gaping at Domini. The
smile still flickered about his lips. His hand was still stretched out.

Instinctively she had moved backwards. Something that was like a thrill
of fear, mental, not physical, went through her, but she kept her eyes
steadily on his, as if, despite the fear, she fought against him.

The contest of the beggars had become so passionate that Count Anteoni's
commands were forgotten. Urged by the pressure from behind those in
the front scrambled or fell over the sacred threshold. The garden was
invaded by a shrieking mob. Smain ran forward, and the autocrat that
dwelt in the Count side by side with the benefactor suddenly emerged. He
blew his whistle four times. At each call a stalwart Arab appeared.

"Shut the gate!" he commanded sternly.

The attendants furiously repulsed the mob, using their fists and feet
without mercy. In the twinkling of an eye the sand was cleared and Smain
had his hand upon the door to shut it. But the Diviner stopped him with
a gesture, and in a fawning yet imperious voice called out something to
the Count.

The Count turned to Domini.

"This is an interesting fellow. Would you like to know him?"

Her mind said no, yet her body assented. For she bowed her head. The
Count beckoned. The Diviner stepped stealthily on to the sand with an
air of subtle triumph, and Smain swung forward the great leaf of palm
wood.

"Wait!" the Count cried, as if suddenly recollecting something. "Where
is Monsieur Androvsky?"

"Isn't he----?" Domini glanced round. "I don't know."

He went quickly to the door and looked out. The Arabs, silent now and
respectful, crowded about him, salaaming. He smiled at them kindly,
and spoke to one or two. They answered gravely. An old man with one
eye lifted his hand, in which was a tomtom of stretched goatskin, and
pointed towards the oasis, rapidly moving his toothless jaws. The Count
stepped back into the garden, dismissed his pensioners with a masterful
wave of the hand, and himself shut the door.

"Monsieur Androvsky has gone--without saying good-bye," he said.

Again Domini felt ashamed for Androvsky.

"I don't think he likes my pensioners," the Count added, in amused
voice, "or me."

"I am sure--" Domini began.

But he stopped her.

"Miss Enfilden, in a world of lies I look to you for truth."

His manner chafed her, but his voice had a ring of earnestness. She
said nothing. All this time the Diviner was standing on the sand, still
smiling, but with downcast eyes. His thin body looked satirical and
Domini felt a strong aversion from him, yet a strong interest in him
too. Something in his appearance and manner suggested power and mystery
as well as cunning. The Count said some words to him in Arabic, and
at once he walked forward and disappeared among the trees, going so
silently and smoothly that she seemed to watch a panther gliding into
the depths of a jungle where its prey lay hid. She looked at the Count
interrogatively.

"He will wait in the _fumoir_."

"Where we first met?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

"For us, if you choose."

"Tell me about him. I have seen him twice. He followed me with a bag of
sand."

"He is a desert man. I don't know his tribe, but before he settled here
he was a nomad, one of the wanderers who dwell in tents, a man of the
sand; as much of the sand as a viper or a scorpion. One would suppose
such beings were bred by the marriage of the sand-grains. The sand tells
him secrets."

"He says. Do you believe it?"

"Would you like to test it?"

"How?"

"By coming with me to the _fumoir_?"

She hesitated obviously.

"Mind," he added, "I do not press it. A word from me and he is gone.
But you are fearless, and you have spoken already, will speak much more
intimately in the future, with the desert spirits."

"How do you know that?"

"The 'much more intimately'?"

"Yes."

"I do not know it, but--which is much more--I feel it."

She was silent, looking towards the trees where the Diviner had
disappeared. Count Anteoni's boyish merriment had faded away. He looked
grave, almost sad.

"I am not afraid," she said at last. "No, but--I will confess it--there
is something horrible about that man to me. I felt it the first time
I saw him. His eyes are too intelligent. They look diseased with
intelligence."

"Let me send him away. Smain!"

But she stopped him. Directly he made the suggestion she felt that she
must know more of this man.

"No. Let us go to the _fumoir_."

"Very well. Go, Smain!"

Smain went into the little tent by the gate, sat down on his haunches
and began to smell at a sprig of orange blossoms. Domini and the Count
walked into the darkness of the trees.

"What is his name?" she asked.

"Aloui."

"Aloui."

She repeated the word slowly. There was a reluctant and yet fascinated
sound in her voice.

"There is melody in the name," he said.

"Yes. Has he--has he ever looked in the sand for you?"

"Once--a long time ago."

"May I--dare I ask if he found truth there?"

"He found nothing for all the years that have passed since then."

"Nothing!"

There was a sound of relief in her voice.

"For those years."

She glanced at him and saw that once again his face had lit up into
ardour.

"He found what is still to come?" she said.

And he repeated:

"He found what is still to come."

Then they walked on in silence till they saw the purple blossoms of
the bougainvillea clinging to the white walls of the _fumoir_. Domini
stopped on the narrow path.

"Is he in there?" she asked almost in a whisper.

"No doubt."

"Larbi was playing the first day I came here."

"Yes."

"I wish he was playing now."

The silence seemed to her unnaturally intense.

"Even his love must have repose."

She went on a step or two till, but still from a distance, she could
look over the low plaster wall beneath the nearest window space into the
little room.

"Yes, there he is," she whispered.

The Diviner was crouching on the floor with his back towards them and
his head bent down. Only his shoulders could be seen, covered with a
white gandoura. They moved perpetually but slightly.

"What is he doing?"

"Speaking with his ancestor."

"His ancestor?"

"The sand. Aloui!"

He called softly. The figure rose, without sound and instantly, and the
face of the Diviner smiled at them through the purple flowers. Again
Domini had the sensation that her body was a glass box in which her
thoughts, feelings and desires were ranged for this man's inspection;
but she walked resolutely through the narrow doorway and sat down on one
of the divans. Count Anteoni followed.

She now saw that in the centre of the room, on the ground, there was
a symmetrical pyramid of sand, and that the Diviner was gently folding
together a bag in his long and flexible fingers.

"You see!" said the Count.

She nodded, without speaking. The little sand heap held her eyes. She
strove to think it absurd and the man who had shaken it out a charlatan
of the desert, but she was really gripped by an odd feeling of awe, as
if she were secretly expectant of some magical demonstration.

The Diviner squatted down once more on his haunches, stretched out his
fingers above the sand heap, looked at her and smiled.

"La vie de Madame--I see it in the sable--la vie de Madame dans le grand
desert du Sahara."

His eyes seemed to rout out the secrets from every corner of her being,
and to scatter them upon the ground as the sand was scattered.

"Dans le grand desert du Sahara," Count Anteoni repeated, as if he loved
the music of the words. "Then there is a desert life for Madame?"

The Diviner dropped his fingers on to the pyramid, lightly pressing the
sand down and outward. He no longer looked at Domini. The searching
and the satire slipped away from his eyes and body. He seemed to have
forgotten the two watchers and to be concentrated upon the grains of
sand. Domini noticed that the tortured expression, which had come into
his face when she met him in the street and he stared into the bag, had
returned to it. After pressing down the sand he spread the bag which
had held it at Domini's feet, and deftly transferred the sand to it,
scattering the grains loosely over the sacking, in a sort of pattern.
Then, bending closely over them, he stared at them in silence for a
long time. His pock-marked face was set like stone. His emaciated hands,
stretched out, rested above the grains like carven things. His body
seemed entirely breathless in its absolute immobility.

The Count stood in the doorway, still as he was, surrounded by the
motionless purple flowers. Beyond, in their serried ranks, stood the
motionless trees. No incense was burning in the little brazier to-day.
This cloistered world seemed spell-bound.

A low murmur at last broke the silence. It came from the Diviner. He
began to talk rapidly, but as if to himself, and as he talked he moved
again, broke up with his fingers the patterns in the sand, formed fresh
ones; spirals, circles, snake-like lines, series of mounting dots
that reminded Domini of spray flung by a fountain, curves, squares and
oblongs. So swiftly was it done and undone that the sand seemed to be
endowed with life, to be explaining itself in these patterns, to be
presenting deliberate glimpses of hitherto hidden truths. And always the
voice went on, and the eyes were downcast, and the body, save for the
moving hands and arms, was absolutely motionless.

Domini looked over the Diviner to Count Anteoni, who came gently forward
and sat down, bending his head to listen to the voice.

"Is it Arabic?" she whispered.

He nodded.

"Can you understand it?"

"Not yet. Presently it will get slower, clearer. He always begins like
this."

"Translate it for me."

"Exactly as it is?"

"Exactly as it is."

"Whatever it may be?"

"Whatever it may be."

He glanced at the tortured face of the Diviner and looked grave.

"Remember you have said I am fearless," she said.

He answered:

"Whatever it is you shall know it."

Then they were silent again. Gradually the Diviner's voice grew clearer,
the pace of its words less rapid, but always it sounded mysterious and
inward, less like the voice of a man than the distant voice of a secret.

"I can hear now," whispered the Count.

"What is he saying?"

"He is speaking about the desert."

"Yes?"

"He sees a great storm. Wait a moment!"

The voice spoke for some seconds and ceased, and once again the Diviner
remained absolutely motionless, with his hands extended above the grains
like carven things.

"He sees a great sand-storm, one of the most terrible that has ever
burst over the Sahara. Everything is blotted out. The desert vanishes.
Beni-Mora is hidden. It is day, yet there is a darkness like night. In
this darkness he sees a train of camels waiting by a church."

"A mosque?"

"No, a church. In the church there is a sound of music. The roar of the
wind, the roar of the camels, mingles with the chanting and drowns it.
He cannot hear it any more. It is as if the desert is angry and wishes
to kill the music. In the church your life is beginning."

"My life?"

"Your real life. He says that now you are fully born, that till now
there has been a veil around your soul like the veil of the womb around
a child."

"He says that!"

There was a sound of deep emotion in her voice.

"That is all. The roar of the wind from the desert has silenced the
music in the church, and all is dark."

The Diviner moved again, and formed fresh patterns in the sand with
feverish rapidity, and again began to speak swiftly.

"He sees the train of camels that waited by the church starting on a
desert journey. The storm has not abated. They pass through the oasis
into the desert. He sees them going towards the south."

Domini leaned forward on the divan, looking at Count Anteoni above the
bent body of the Diviner.

"By what route?" she whispered.

"By the route which the natives call the road to Tombouctou."

"But--it is my journey!"

"Upon one of the camels, in a palanquin such as the great sheikhs use to
carry their women, there are two people, protected against the storm by
curtains. They are silent, listening to the roaring of the wind. One of
them is you."

"Two people!"

"Two people."

"But--who is the other?"

"He cannot see. It is as if the blackness of the storm were deeper round
about the other and hid the other from him. The caravan passes on and is
lost in the desolation and the storm."

She said nothing, but looked down at the thin body of the Diviner
crouched close to her knees. Was this pock-marked face the face of
a prophet? Did this skin and bone envelop the soul of a seer? She no
longer wished that Larbi was playing upon his flute or felt the silence
to be unnatural. For this man had filled it with the roar of the desert
wind. And in the wind there struggled and was finally lost the sound of
voices of her Faith chanting--what? The wind was too strong. The voices
were too faint. She could not hear.

Once more the Diviner stirred. For some minutes his fingers were busy
in the sand. But now they moved more slowly and no words came from his
lips. Domini and the Count bent low to watch what he was doing. The
look of torture upon his face increased. It was terrible, and made upon
Domini an indelible impression, for she could not help connecting it
with his vision of her future, and it suggested to her formless phantoms
of despair. She looked into the sand, as if she, too, would be able to
see what he saw and had not told, looked till she began to feel almost
hypnotised. The Diviner's hands trembled now as they made the patterns,
and his breast heaved under his white robe. Presently he traced in the
sand a triangle and began to speak.

The Count bent down till his ear was almost at the Diviner's lips,
and Domini held her breath. That caravan lost in the desolation of the
desert, in the storm and the darkness--where was it? What had been its
fate? Sweat ran down over the Diviner's face, and dropped upon his
robe, upon his hands, upon the sand, making dark spots. And the voice
whispered on huskily till she was in a fever of impatience. She saw upon
the face of the Count the Diviner's tortured look reflected. Was it not
also on her face? A link surely bound them all together in this tiny
room, close circled by the tall trees and the intense silence. She
looked at the triangle in the sand. It was very distinct, more distinct
than the other patterns had been. What did it represent? She searched
her mind, thinking of the desert, of her life there, of man's life in
the desert. Was it not tent-shaped? She saw it as a tent, as her tent
pitched somewhere in the waste far from the habitations of men. Now the
trembling hands were still, the voice was still, but the sweat did not
cease from dropping down upon the sand.

"Tell me!" she murmured to the Count.

He obeyed, seeming now to speak with an effort.

"It is far away in the desert----"

He paused.

"Yes? Yes?"

"Very far away in a sandy place. There are immense dunes, immense white
dunes of sand on every side, like mountains. Near at hand there is a
gleam of many fires. They are lit in the market-place of a desert city.
Among the dunes, with camels picketed behind it, there is a tent----"

She pointed to the triangle traced upon the sand.

"I knew it," she whispered. "It is my tent."

"He sees you there, as he saw you in the palanquin. But now it is night
and you are quite alone. You are not asleep. Something keeps you awake.
You are excited. You go out of the tent upon the dunes and look towards
the fires of the city. He hears the jackals howling all around you, and
sees the skeletons of dead camels white under the moon."

She shuddered in spite of herself.

"There is something tremendous in your soul. He says it is as if all the
date palms of the desert bore their fruit together, and in all the
dry places, where men and camels have died of thirst in bygone years,
running springs burst forth, and as if the sand were covered with
millions of golden flowers big as the flower of the aloe."

"But then it is joy, it must be joy!"

"He says it is great joy."

"Then why does he look like that, breathe like that?"

She indicated the Diviner, who was trembling where he crouched, and
breathing heavily, and always sweating like one in agony.

"There is more," said the Count, slowly.

"Tell me."

"You stand alone upon the dunes and you look towards the city. He hears
the tomtoms beating, and distant cries as if there were a fantasia. Then
he sees a figure among the dunes coming towards you."

"Who is it?" she asked.

He did not answer. But she did not wish him to answer. She had spoken
without meaning to speak.

"You watch this figure. It comes to you, walking heavily."

"Walking heavily?"

"That's what he says. The dates shrivel on the palms, the streams dry
up, the flowers droop and die in the sand. In the city the tomtoms faint
away and the red fires fade away. All is dark and silent. And then he
sees--"

"Wait!" Domini said almost sharply.

He sat looking at her. She pressed her hands together. In her dark face,
with its heavy eyebrows and strong, generous mouth, a contest showed, a
struggle between some quick desire and some more sluggish but determined
reluctance. In a moment she spoke again.

"I won't hear anything more, please."

"But you said 'whatever it may be.'"

"Yes. But I won't hear anything more."

She spoke very quietly, with determination.

The Diviner was beginning to move his hands again, to make fresh
patterns in the sand, to speak swiftly once more.

"Shall I stop him?"

"Please."

"Then would you mind going out into the garden? I will join you in a
moment. Take care not to disturb him."

She got up with precaution, held her skirts together with her hands, and
slipped softly out on to the garden path. For a moment she was inclined
to wait there, to look back and see what was happening in the _fumoir_.
But she resisted her inclination, and walked on slowly till she reached
the bench where she had sat an hour before with Androvsky. There she sat
down and waited. In a few minutes she saw the Count coming towards her
alone. His face was very grave, but lightened with a slight smile when
he saw her.

"He has gone?" she asked.

"Yes."

He was about to sit beside her, but she said quickly:

"Would you mind going back to the jamelon tree?"

"Where we sat this morning?"

"Was it only--yes."

"Certainly."

"Oh; but you are going away to-morrow! You have a lot to do probably?"

"Nothing. My men will arrange everything."

She got up, and they walked in silence till they saw once more the
immense spaces of the desert bathed in the afternoon sun. As Domini
looked at them again she knew that their wonder, their meaning, had
increased for her. The steady crescendo that was beginning almost to
frighten her was maintained--the crescendo of the voice of the Sahara.
To what tremendous demonstration was this crescendo tending, to
what ultimate glory or terror? She felt that her soul was as yet too
undeveloped to conceive. The Diviner had been right. There was a veil
around it, like the veil of the womb that hides the unborn child.

Under the jamelon tree she sat down once more.

"May--I light a cigar?" the Count asked.

"Do."

He struck a match, lit a cigar, and sat down on her left, by the garden
wall.

"Tell me frankly," he said. "Do you wish to talk or to be silent?"

"I wish to speak to you."

"I am sorry now I asked you to test Aloui's powers."

"Why?"

"Because I fear they made an unpleasant impression upon you."

"That was not why I made you stop him."

"No?"

"You don't understand me. I was not afraid. I can only say that, but I
can't give you my reason for stopping him. I wished to tell you that it
was not fear."

"I believe--I know that you are fearless," he said with an unusual
warmth. "You are sure that I don't understand you?"

"Remember the refrain of the Freed Negroes' song!"

"Ah, yes--those black fellows. But I know something of you, Miss
Enfilden--yes, I do."

"I would rather you did--you and your garden."

"And--some day--I should like you to know a little more of me."

"Thank you. When will you come back?"

"I can't tell. But you are not leaving?"

"Not yet."

The idea of leaving Beni-Mora troubled her heart strangely.

"No, I am too happy here."

"Are you really happy?"

"At any rate I am happier than I have ever been before."

"You are on the verge."

He was looking at her with eyes in which there was tenderness, but
suddenly they flashed fire, and he exclaimed:

"My desert land must not bring you despair."

She was startled by his sudden vehemence.

"What I would not hear!" she said. "You know it!"

"It is not my fault. I am ready to tell it to you."

"No. But do you believe it? Do you believe that man can read the future
in the sand? How can it be?"

"How can a thousand things be? How can these desert men stand in fire,
with their naked feet set on burning brands, with burning brands under
their armpits, and not be burned? How can they pierce themselves with
skewers and cut themselves with knives and no blood flow? But I told you
the first day I met you; the desert always makes me the same gift when I
return to it."

"What gift?"

"The gift of belief."

"Then you do believe in that man--Aloui?"

"Do you?"

"I can only say that it seemed to me as if it might be divination. If I
had not felt that I should not have stopped it. I should have treated it
as a game."

"It impressed you as it impresses me. Well, for both of us the desert
has gifts. Let us accept them fearlessly. It is the will of Allah."

She remembered her vision of the pale procession. Would she walk in it
at last?

"You are as fatalistic as an Arab," she said.

"And you?"

"I!" she answered simply. "I believe that I am in the hands of God, and
I know that perfect love can never harm me."

After a moment he said, gently:

"Miss Enfilden, I want to ask something of you."

"Yes?"

"Will you make a sacrifice? To-morrow I start at dawn. Will you be here
to wish me God speed on my journey?"

"Of course I will."

"It will be good of you. I shall value it from you. And--and when--if
you ever make your long journey on that road--the route to the south--I
will wish you Allah's blessing in the Garden of Allah."

He spoke with solemnity, almost with passion, and she felt the tears
very near her eyes. Then they sat in silence, looking out over the
desert.

And she heard its voices calling.



CHAPTER XIII

On the following morning, before dawn, Domini awoke, stirred from sleep
by her anxiety, persistent even in what seemed unconsciousness, to
speed Count Anteoni upon his desert journey. She did not know why he
was going, but she felt that some great issue in his life hung upon
the accomplishment of the purpose with which he set out, and without
affectation she ardently desired that accomplishment. As soon as she
awoke she lit a candle and glanced at her watch. She knew by the hour
that the dawn was near, and she got up at once and made her toilet. She
had told Batouch to be at the hotel door before sunrise to accompany her
to the garden, and she wondered if he were below. A stillness as of deep
night prevailed in the house, making her movements, while she dressed,
seem unnaturally loud. When she put on her hat, and looked into the
glass to see if it were just at the right angle, she thought her face,
always white, was haggard. This departure made her a little sad. It
suggested to her the instability of circumstance, the perpetual change
that occurs in life. The going of her kind host made her own going more
possible than before, even more likely. Some words from the Bible kept
on running through her brain "Here have we no continuing city." In the
silent darkness their cadence held an ineffable melancholy. Her mind
heard them as the ear, in a pathetic moment, hears sometimes a distant
strain of music wailing like a phantom through the invisible. And the
everlasting journeying of all created things oppressed her heart.

When she had buttoned her jacket and drawn on her gloves she went to the
French window and pushed back the shutters. A wan semi-darkness looked
in upon her. Again she wondered whether Batouch had come. It seemed to
her unlikely. She could not imagine that anyone in all the world was up
and purposeful but herself. This hour seemed created as a curtain for
unconsciousness. Very softly she stepped out upon the verandah and
looked over the parapet. She could see the white road, mysteriously
white, below. It was deserted. She leaned down.

"Batouch!" she called softly. "Batouch!"

He might be hidden under the arcade, sleeping in his burnous.

"Batouch! Batouch!"

No answer came. She stood by the parapet, waiting and looking down the
road.

All the stars had faded, yet there was no suggestion of the sun.
She faced an unrelenting austerity. For a moment she thought of this
atmosphere, this dense stillness, this gravity of vague and shadowy
trees, as the environment of those who had erred, of the lost spirits of
men who had died in mortal sin.

Almost she expected to see the desperate shade of her dead father pass
between the black stems of the palm trees, vanish into the grey mantle
that wrapped the hidden world.

"Batouch! Batouch!"

He was not there. That was certain. She resolved to set out alone and
went back into her bedroom to get her revolver. When she came out again
with it in her hand Androvsky was standing on the verandah just
outside her window. He took off his hat and looked from her face to the
revolver. She was startled by his appearance, for she had not heard his
step, and had been companioned by a sense of irreparable solitude. This
was the first time she had seen him since he vanished from the garden on
the previous day.

"You are going out, Madame?" he said.

"Yes."

"Not alone?"

"I believe so. Unless I find Batouch below."

She slipped the revolver into the pocket of the loose coat she wore.

"But it is dark."

"It will be day very soon. Look!"

She pointed towards the east, where a light, delicate and mysterious as
the distant lights in the opal, was gently pushing in the sky.

"You ought not to go alone."

"Unless Batouch is there I must. I have given a promise and I must keep
it. There is no danger."

He hesitated, looking at her with an anxious, almost a suspicious,
expression.

"Good-bye, Monsieur Androvsky."

She went towards the staircase. He followed her quickly to the head of
it.

"Don't trouble to come down with me."

"If--if Batouch is not there--might not I guard you, Madame?" She
remembered the Count's words and answered:

"Let me tell you where I am going. I am going to say good-bye to Count
Anteoni before he starts for his desert journey."

Androvsky stood there without a word.

"Now, do you care to come if I don't find Batouch? Mind, I'm not the
least afraid."

"Perhaps he is there--if you told him." He muttered the words. His
whole manner had changed. Now he looked more than suspicious--cloudy and
fierce.

"Possibly."

She began to descend the stairs. He did not follow her, but stood
looking after her. When she reached the arcade it was deserted. Batouch
had forgotten or had overslept himself. She could have walked on under
the roof that was the floor of the verandah, but instead she stepped out
into the road. Androvsky was above her by the parapet. She glanced up
and said:

"He is not here, but it is of no consequence. Dawn is breaking. _Au
revoir_!"

Slowly he took off his hat. As she went away down the road he was
holding it in his hand, looking after her.

"He does not like the Count," she thought.

At the corner she turned into the street where the sand-diviner had
his bazaar, and as she neared his door she was aware of a certain
trepidation. She did not want to see those piercing eyes looking at her
in the semi-darkness, and she hurried her steps. But her anxiety was
needless. All the doors were shut, all the inhabitants doubtless wrapped
in sleep. Yet, when she had gained the end of the street, she looked
back, half expecting to see an apparition of a thin figure, a tortured
face, to hear a voice, like a goblin's voice, calling after her. Midway
down the street there was a man coming slowly behind her. For a moment
she thought it was the Diviner in pursuit, but something in the gait
soon showed her her mistake. There was a heaviness in the movement
of this man quite unlike the lithe and serpentine agility of Aloui.
Although she could not see the face, or even distinguish the costume in
the morning twilight, she knew it for Androvsky. From a distance he was
watching over her. She did not hesitate, but walked on quickly again.
She did not wish him to know that she had seen him. When she came to the
long road that skirted the desert she met the breeze of dawn that blows
out of the east across the flats, and drank in its celestial purity.
Between the palms, far away towards Sidi-Zerzour, above the long indigo
line of the Sahara, there rose a curve of deep red gold. The sun was
coming up to take possession of his waiting world. She longed to ride
out to meet him, to give him a passionate welcome in the sand, and
the opening words of the Egyptian "Adoration of the Sun by the Perfect
Souls" came to her lips:

"Hommage a Toi. Dieu Soleil. Seigneur du Ciel, Roi sur la Terre! Lion du
Soir! Grande Ame divine, vivante a toujours."

Why had she not ordered her horse to ride a little way with Count
Anteoni? She might have pretended that she was starting on her great
journey.

The red gold curve became a semi-circle of burnished glory resting upon
the deep blue, then a full circle that detached itself majestically and
mounted calmly up the cloudless sky. A stream of light poured into the
oasis, and Domini, who had paused for a moment in silent worship, went
on swiftly through the negro village which was all astir, and down the
track to the white villa.

She did not glance round again to see whether Androvsky was still
following her, for, since the sun had come, she had the confident
sensation that he was no longer near.

He had surely given her into the guardianship of the sun.

The door of the garden stood wide open, and, as she entered, she saw
three magnificent horses prancing upon the sweep of sand in the midst
of a little group of Arabs. Smain greeted her with graceful warmth and
begged her to follow him to the _fumoir_, where the Count was waiting
for her.

"It is good of you!" the Count said, meeting her in the doorway. "I
relied on you, you see!"

Breakfast for two was scattered upon the little smoking-tables; coffee,
eggs, rolls, fruit, sweetmeats. And everywhere sprigs of orange blossom
filled the cool air with delicate sweetness.

"How delicious!" she exclaimed. "A breakfast here! But--no, not there!"

"Why not?"

"That is exactly where he was."

"Aloui! How superstitious you are!"

He moved her table. She sat down near the doorway and poured out coffee
for them both.

"You look workmanlike."

She glanced at his riding-dress and long whip. Smoked glasses hung
across his chest by a thin cord.

"I shall have some hard riding, but I'm tough, though you may not think
it. I've covered many a league of my friend in bygone years."

He tapped an eggshell smartly, and began to eat with appetite.

"How gravely gay you are!" she said, lifting the steaming coffee to her
lips. He smiled.

"Yes. To-day I am happy, as a pious man is happy when after a long
illness, he goes once more to church."

"The desert seems to be everything to you."

"I feel that I am going out to freedom, to more than freedom." He
stretched out his arms above his head.

"Yet you have stayed always in this garden all these days."

"I was waiting for my summons, as you will wait for yours."

"What summons could I have?"

"It will come!" he said with conviction. "It will come!" She was silent,
thinking of the diviner's vision in the sand, of the caravan of camels
disappearing in the storm towards the south. Presently she asked him:

"Are you ever coming back?"

He looked at her in surprise, then laughed.

"Of course. What are you thinking?"

"That perhaps you will not come back, that perhaps the desert will keep
you."

"And my garden?"

She looked out across the tiny sand-path and the running rill of water
to the great trees stirred by the cool breeze of dawn.

"It would miss you."

After a moment, during which his bright eyes followed hers, he said:

"Do you know, I have a great belief in the intuitions of good women?"

"Yes?"

"An almost fanatical belief. Will you answer me a question at once,
without consideration, without any time for thought?"

"If you ask me to."

"I do ask you."

"Then----?"

"Do you see me in this garden any more?"

A voice answered:

"No."

It was her own, yet it seemed another's voice, with which she had
nothing to do.

A great feeling of sorrow swept over her as she heard it.

"Do come back!" she said.

The Count had got up. The brightness of his eyes was obscured.

"If not here, we shall meet again," he said slowly.

"Where?"

"In the desert."

"Did the Diviner--? No, don't tell me."

She got up too.

"It is time for you to start?"

"Nearly."

A sort of constraint had settled over them. She felt it painfully for a
moment. Did it proceed from something in his mind or in hers? She could
not tell. They walked slowly down one of the little paths and presently
found themselves before the room in which sat the purple dog.

"If I am never to come back I must say good-bye to him," the Count said.

"But you will come back."

"That voice said 'No.'"

"It was a lying voice."

"Perhaps."

They looked in at the window and met the ferocious eyes of the dog.

"And if I never come back will he bay the moon for his old master?" said
the Count with a whimsical, yet sad, smile. "I put him here. And will
these trees, many of which I planted, whisper a regret? Absurd, isn't
it, Miss Enfilden? I never can feel that the growing things in my garden
do not know me as I know them."

"Someone will regret you if--"

"Will you? Will you really?"

"Yes."

"I believe it."

He looked at her. She could see, by the expression of his eyes, that he
was on the point of saying something, but was held back by some fighting
sensation, perhaps by some reserve.

"What is it?"

"May I speak frankly to you without offence?" he asked. "I am really
rather old, you know."

"Do speak."

"That guest of mine yesterday--"

"Monsieur Androvsky?"

"Yes. He interested me enormously, profoundly."

"Really! Yet he was at his worst yesterday."

"Perhaps that was why. At any rate, he interested me more than any man I
have seen for years. But--" He paused, looking in at the little chamber
where the dog kept guard.

"But my interest was complicated by a feeling that I was face to face
with a human being who was at odds with life, with himself, even with
his Creator--a man who had done what the Arabs never do--defied Allah in
Allah's garden."

"Oh!"

She uttered a little exclamation of pain. It seemed to her that he was
gathering up and was expressing scattered, half formless thoughts of
hers.

"You know," he continued, looking more steadily into the room of the
dog, "that in Algeria there is a floating population composed of many
mixed elements. I could tell you strange stories of tragedies that have
occurred in this land, even here in Beni-Mora, tragedies of violence, of
greed, of--tragedies that were not brought about by Arabs."

He turned suddenly and looked right into her eyes.

"But why am I saying all this?" he suddenly exclaimed. "What is written
is written, and such women as you are guarded."

"Guarded? By whom?"

"By their own souls."

"I am not afraid," she said quietly.

"Need you tell me that? Miss Enfilden, I scarcely know why I have said
even as little as I have said. For I am, as you know, a fatalist. But
certain people, very few, so awaken our regard that they make us forget
our own convictions, and might even lead us to try to tamper with the
designs of the Almighty. Whatever is to be for you, you will be able to
endure. That I know. Why should I, or anyone, seek to know more for you?
But still there are moments in which the bravest want a human hand to
help them, a human voice to comfort them. In the desert, wherever I may
be--and I shall tell you--I am at your service."

"Thank you," she said simply.

She gave him her hand. He held it almost as a father or a guardian might
have held it.

"And this garden is yours day and night--Smain knows."

"Thank you," she said again.

The shrill whinnying of a horse came to them from a distance. Their
hands fell apart. Count Anteoni looked round him slowly at the great
cocoanut tree, at the shaggy grass of the lawn, at the tall bamboos
and the drooping mulberry trees. She saw that he was taking a silent
farewell of them.

"This was a waste," he said at last with a half-stifled sigh. "I turned
it into a little Eden and now I am leaving it."

"For a time."

"And if it were for ever? Well, the great thing is to let the waste
within one be turned into an Eden, if that is possible. And yet how many
human beings strive against the great Gardener. At any rate I will not
be one of them."

"And I will not be one."

"Shall we say good-bye here?"

"No. Let us say it from the wall, and let me see you ride away into the
desert."

She had forgotten for the moment that his route was the road through
the oasis. He did not remind her of it. It was easy to ride across the
desert and join the route where it came out from the last palms.

"So be it. Will you go to the wall then?"

He touched her hand again and walked away towards the villa, slowly on
the pale silver of the sand. When his figure was hidden by the trunks of
the trees Domini made her way to the wide parapet. She sat down on one
of the tiny seats cut in it, leaned her cheek in her hand and waited.
The sun was gathering strength, but the air was still deliciously cool,
almost cold, and the desert had not yet put on its aspect of fiery
desolation. It looked dreamlike and romantic, not only in its distances,
but near at hand. There must surely be dew, she fancied, in the Garden
of Allah. She could see no one travelling in it, only some far away
camels grazing. In the dawn the desert was the home of the breeze, of
gentle sunbeams and of liberty. Presently she heard the noise of
horses cantering near at hand, and Count Anteoni, followed by two Arab
attendants, came round the bend of the wall and drew up beneath her. He
rode on a high red Arab saddle, and a richly-ornamented gun was slung in
an embroidered case behind him on the right-hand side. A broad and soft
brown hat kept the sun from his forehead. The two attendants rode on a
few paces and waited in the shadow of the wall.

"Don't you wish you were going out?" he said. "Out into that?" And he
pointed with his whip towards the dreamlike blue of the far horizon. She
leaned over, looking down at him and at his horse, which fidgeted and
arched his white neck and dropped foam from his black flexible lips.

"No," she answered after a moment of thought. "I must speak the truth,
you know."

"To me, always."

"I feel that you were right, that my summons has not yet come to me."

"And when it comes?"

"I shall obey it without fear, even if I go in the storm and the
darkness."

He glanced at the radiant sky, at the golden beams slanting down upon
the palms.

"The Coran says: 'The fate of every man have We bound about his neck.'
May yours be as serene, as beautiful, as a string of pearls."

"But I have never cared to wear pearls," she answered.

"No? What are your stones?"

"Rubies."

"Blood! No others?"

"Sapphires."

"The sky at night."

"And opals."

"Fires gleaming across the white of moonlit dunes. Do you remember?"

"I remember."

"And you do not ask me for the end of the Diviner's vision even now?"

"No."

She hesitated for an instant. Then she added:

"I will tell you why. It seemed to me that there was another's fate in
it as well as my own, and that to hear would be to intrude, perhaps,
upon another's secrets."

"That was your reason?"

"My only reason." And then she added, repeating consciously Androvsky's
words: "I think there are things that should be let alone."

"Perhaps you are right."

A stronger breath of the cool wind came over the flats, and all the palm
trees rustled. Through the garden there was a delicate stir of life.

"My children are murmuring farewell," said the Count. "I hear them. It
is time! Good-bye, Miss Enfilden--my friend, if I may call you so.
May Allah have you in his keeping, and when your summons comes, obey
it--alone."

As he said the last word his grating voice dropped to a deep note of
earnest, almost solemn, gravity. Then he lifted his hat, touched his
horse with his heel, and galloped away into the sun.

Domini watched the three riders till they were only specks on the
surface of the desert. Then they became one with it, and were lost in
the dreamlike radiance of the morning. But she did not move. She sat
with her eyes fixed up on the blue horizon. A great loneliness had
entered into her spirit. Till Count Anteoni had gone she did not realise
how much she had become accustomed to his friendship, how near their
sympathies had been. But directly those tiny, moving specks became one
with the desert she knew that a gap had opened in her life. It might be
small, but it seemed dark and deep. For the first time the desert, which
she had hitherto regarded as a giver, had taken something from her. And
now, as she sat looking at it, while the sun grew stronger and the light
more brilliant, while the mountains gradually assumed a harsher aspect,
and the details of things, in the dawn so delicately clear, became,
as it were, more piercing in their sharpness, she realised a new and
terrible aspect of it. That which has the power to bestow has another
power. She had seen the great procession of those who had received gifts
of the desert's hands. Would she some day, or in the night when the sky
was like a sapphire, see the procession of those from whom the desert
had taken away perhaps their dreams, perhaps their hopes, perhaps even
all that they passionately loved and had desperately clung to?

And in which of the two processions would she walk?

She got up with a sigh. The garden had become tragic to her for the
moment, full of a brooding melancholy. As she turned to leave it she
resolved to go to the priest. She had never yet entered his house. Just
then she wanted to speak to someone with whom she could be as a little
child, to whom she could liberate some part of her spirit simply,
certain of a simple, yet not foolish, reception of it by one to whom she
could look up. She desired to be not with the friend so much as with
the spiritual director. Something was alive within her, something of
distress, almost of apprehension, which needed the soothing hand, not of
human love, but of religion.

When she reached the priest's house Beni-Mora was astir with a pleasant
bustle of life. The military note pealed through its symphony. Spahis
were galloping along the white roads. Tirailleurs went by bearing
despatches. Zouaves stood under the palms, staring calmly at the
morning, their sunburned hands loosely clasped upon muskets whose butts
rested in the sand. But Domini scarcely noticed the brilliant gaiety of
the life about her. She was preoccupied, even sad. Yet, as she entered
the little garden of the priest, and tapped gently at his door, a
sensation of hope sprang up in her heart, born of the sustaining power
of her religion.

An Arab boy answered her knock, said that the Father was in and led her
at once to a small, plainly-furnished room, with whitewashed walls, and
a window opening on to an enclosure at the back, where several large
palm trees reared their tufted heads above the smoothly-raked sand. In
a moment the priest came in, smiling with pleasure and holding out his
hands in welcome.

"Father," she said at once, "I am come to have a little talk with you.
Have you a few moments to give me?"

"Sit down, my child," he said.

He drew forward a straw chair for her and took one opposite.

"You are not in trouble?"

"I don't know why I should be, but----"

She was silent for a moment. Then she said:

"I want to tell you a little about my life."

He looked at her kindly without a word.

His eyes were an invitation for her to speak, and, without further
invitation, in as few and simple words as possible, she told him why
she had come to Beni-Mora, and something of her parents' tragedy and its
effect upon her.

"I wanted to renew my heart, to find myself," she said. "My life has
been cold, careless. I never lost my faith, but I almost forgot that I
had it. I made little use of it. I let it rust."

"Many do that, but a time comes when they feel that the great weapon
with which alone we can fight the sorrows and dangers of the world must
be kept bright, or it may fail us in the hour of need."

"Yes."

"And this is an hour of need for you. But, indeed, is there ever an hour
that is not?"

"I feel to-day, I----"

She stopped, suddenly conscious of the vagueness of her apprehension.
It made her position difficult, speech hard for her. She felt that she
wanted something, yet scarcely knew what, or exactly why she had come.

"I have been saying good-bye to Count Anteoni," she resumed. "He has
gone on a desert journey."

"For long?"

"I don't know, but I feel that it will be."

"He comes and goes very suddenly. Often he is here and I do not even
know it."

"He is a strange man, but I think he is a good man."

As she spoke about him she began to realise that something in him had
roused the desire in her to come to the priest.

"And he sees far," she added.

She looked steadily at the priest, who was waiting quietly to hear more.
She was glad he did not trouble her mind just then by trying to help her
to go on, to be explicit.

"I came here to find peace," she continued. "And I thought I had found
it. I thought so till to-day."

"We only find peace in one place, and only there by our own will
according with God's."

"You mean within ourselves."

"Is it not so?"

"Yes. Then I was foolish to travel in search of it."

"I would not say that. Place assists the heart, I think, and the way of
life. I thought so once."

"When you wished to be a monk?"

A deep sadness came into his eyes.

"Yes," he said. "And even now I find it very difficult to say, 'It was
not thy will, and so it is not mine.' But would you care to tell me if
anything has occurred recently to trouble you?"

"Something has occurred, Father."

More excitement came into her face and manner.

"Do you think," she went on, "that it is right to try to avoid what life
seems to be bringing to one, to seek shelter from--from the storm? Don't
monks do that? Please forgive me if--"

"Sincerity will not hurt me," he interrupted quietly. "If it did I
should indeed be unworthy of my calling. Perhaps it is not right for
all. Perhaps that is why I am here instead of--"

"Ah, but I remember, you wanted to be one of the _freres armes_."

"That was my first hope. But you"--very simply he turned from his
troubles to hers--"you are hesitating, are you not, between two
courses?"

"I scarcely know. But I want you to tell me. Ought we not always to
think of others more than of ourselves?"

"So long as we take care not to put ourselves in too great danger. The
soul should be brave, but not foolhardy."

His voice had changed, had become stronger, even a little stern.

"There are risks that no good Christian ought to run: it is not
cowardice, it is wisdom that avoids the Evil One. I have known people
who seemed almost to think it was their mission to convert the fallen
angels. They confused their powers with the powers that belong to God
only."

"Yes, but--it is so difficult to--if a human being were possessed by the
devil, would not you try--would you not go near to that person?"

"If I had prayed, and been told that any power was given me to do what
Christ did."

"To cast out--yes, I know. But sometimes that power is given--even to
women."

"Perhaps especially to them. I think the devil has more fear of a good
mother than of many saints."

Domini realised almost with agony in that moment how her own soul had
been stripped of a precious armour. A feeling of bitter helplessness
took possession of her, and of contempt for what she now suddenly looked
upon as foolish pride. The priest saw that his words had hurt her, yet
he did not just then try to pour balm upon the wound.

"You came to me to-day as to a spiritual director, did you not?" he
asked.

"Yes, Father."

"Yet you do not wish to be frank with me. Isn't that true?"

There was a piercing look in the eyes he fixed upon her.

"Yes," she answered bravely.

"Why? Cannot you--at least will not you tell me?"

A similar reason to that which had caused her to refuse to hear what the
Diviner had seen in the sand caused her now to answer:

"There is something I cannot say. I am sure I am right not to say it."

"Do you wish me to speak frankly to you, my child?"

"Yes, you may."

"You have told me enough of your past life to make me feel sure that for
some time to come you ought to be very careful in regard to your faith.
By the mercy of God you have been preserved from the greatest of all
dangers--the danger of losing your belief in the teachings of the only
true Church. You have come here to renew your faith which, not killed,
has been stricken, reduced, may I not say? to a sort of invalidism. Are
you sure you are in a condition yet to help"--he hesitated obviously,
then slowly--"others? There are periods in which one cannot do what
one may be able to do in the far future. The convalescent who is just
tottering in the new attempt to walk is not wise enough to lend an arm
to another. To do so may seem nobly unselfish, but is it not folly?
And then, my child, we ought to be scrupulously aware what is our
real motive for wishing to assist another. Is it of God, or is it of
ourselves? Is it a personal desire to increase a perhaps unworthy, a
worldly happiness? Egoism is a parent of many children, and often they
do not recognise their father."

Just for a moment Domini felt a heat of anger rise within her. She did
not express it, and did not know that she had shown a sign of it till
she heard Father Roubier say:

"If you knew how often I have found that what for a moment I believed
to be my noblest aspirations had sprung from a tiny, hidden seed of
egoism!"

At once her anger died away.

"That is terribly true," she said. "Of us all, I mean."

She got up.

"You are going?"

"Yes. I want to think something out. You have made me want to. I must do
it. Perhaps I'll come again."

"Do. I want to help you if I can."

There was such a heartfelt sound in his voice that impulsively she held
out her hand.

"I know you do. Perhaps you will be able to."

But even as she said the last words doubt crept into her mind, even into
her voice.

The priest came to his gate to see Domini off, and directly she had
left him she noticed that Androvsky was under the arcade and had been
a witness of their parting. As she went past him and into the hotel she
saw that he looked greatly disturbed and excited. His face was lit up by
the now fiery glare of the sun, and when, in passing, she nodded to
him, and he took off his hat, he cast at her a glance that was like an
accusation. As soon as she gained the verandah she heard his heavy step
upon the stair. For a moment she hesitated. Should she go into her room
and so avoid him, or remain and let him speak to her? She knew that he
was following her with that purpose. Her mind was almost instantly made
up. She crossed the verandah and sat down in the low chair that was
always placed outside her French window. Androvsky followed her and
stood beside her. He did not say anything for a moment, nor did she.
Then he spoke with a sort of passionate attempt to sound careless and
indifferent.

"Monsieur Anteoni has gone, I suppose, Madame?"

"Yes, he has gone. I reached the garden safely, you see."

"Batouch came later. He was much ashamed when he found you had gone. I
believe he is afraid, and is hiding himself till your anger shall have
passed away."

She laughed.

"Batouch could not easily make me angry. I am not like you, Monsieur
Androvsky."

Her sudden challenge startled him, as she had meant it should. He moved
quickly, as at an unexpected touch.

"I, Madame?"

"Yes; I think you are very often angry. I think you are angry now."

His face was flooded with red.

"Why should I be angry?" he stammered, like a man completely taken
aback.

"How can I tell? But, as I came in just now, you looked at me as if you
wanted to punish me."

"I--I am afraid--it seems that my face says a great deal that--that--"

"Your lips would not choose to say. Well, it does. Why are you angry
with me?" She gazed at him mercilessly, studying the trouble of his
face. The combative part of her nature had been roused by the glance
he had cast at her. What right had he, had any man, to look at her like
that?

Her blunt directness lashed him back into the firmness he had lost.
She felt in a moment that there was a fighting capacity in him equal,
perhaps superior, to her own.

"When I saw you come from the priest's house, Madame, I felt as if you
had been there speaking about me--about my conduct of yesterday."

"Indeed! Why should I do that?"

"I thought as you had kindly wished me to come--"

He stopped.

"Well?" she said, in rather a hard voice.

"Madame, I don't know what I thought, what I think--only I cannot bear
that you should apologise for any conduct of mine. Indeed, I cannot bear
it."

He looked fearfully excited and moved two or three steps away, then
returned.

"Were you doing that?" he asked. "Were you, Madame?"

"I never mentioned your name to Father Roubier, nor did he to me," she
answered.

For a moment he looked relieved, then a sudden suspicion seemed to
strike him.

"But without mentioning my name?" he said.

"You wish to accuse me of quibbling, of insincerity, then!" she
exclaimed with a heat almost equal to his own.

"No, Madame, no! Madame, I--I have suffered much. I am suspicious of
everybody. Forgive me, forgive me!"

He spoke almost with distraction. In his manner there was something
desperate.

"I am sure you have suffered," she said more gently, yet with a certain
inflexibility at which she herself wondered, yet which she could not
control. "You will always suffer if you cannot govern yourself. You will
make people dislike you, be suspicious of you."

"Suspicious! Who is suspicious of me?" he asked sharply. "Who has any
right to be suspicious of me?"

She looked up and fancied that, for an instant, she saw something as
ugly as terror in his eyes.

"Surely you know that people don't ask permission to be suspicious of
their fellow-men?" she said.

"No one here has any right to consider me or my actions," he said,
fierceness blazing out of him. "I am a free man, and can do as I will.
No one has any right--no one!"

Domini felt as if the words were meant for her, as if he had struck
her. She was so angry that she did not trust herself to speak, and
instinctively she put her hand up to her breast, as a woman might who
had received a blow. She touched something small and hard that was
hidden beneath her gown. It was the little wooden crucifix Androvsky had
thrown into the stream at Sidi-Zerzour. As she realised that her anger
died. She was humbled and ashamed. What was her religion if, at a word,
she could be stirred to such a feeling of passion?

"I, at least, am not suspicious of you," she said, choosing the very
words that were most difficult for her to say just then. "And Father
Roubier--if you included him--is too fine-hearted to cherish unworthy
suspicions of anyone."

She got up. Her voice was full of a subdued, but strong, emotion.

"Oh, Monsieur Androvsky!" she said. "Do go over and see him. Make
friends with him. Never mind yesterday. I want you to be friends with
him, with everyone here. Let us make Beni-Mora a place of peace and good
will."

Then she went across the verandah quickly to her room, and passed in,
closing the window behind her.

_Dejeuner_ was brought into her sitting-room. She ate it in solitude,
and late in the afternoon she went out on the verandah. She had made
up her mind to spend an hour in the church. She had told Father Roubier
that she wanted to think something out. Since she had left him the
burden upon her mind had become heavier, and she longed to be alone in
the twilight near the altar. Perhaps she might be able to cast down the
burden there. In the verandah she stood for a moment and thought how
wonderful was the difference between dawn and sunset in this land. The
gardens, that had looked like a place of departed and unhappy spirits
when she rose that day, were now bathed in the luminous rays of the
declining sun, were alive with the softly-calling voices of children,
quivered with romance, with a dreamlike, golden charm. The stillness
of the evening was intense, enclosing the children's voices, which
presently died away; but while she was marvelling at it she was
disturbed by a sharp noise of knocking. She looked in the direction from
which it came and saw Androvsky standing before the priest's door. As
she looked, the door was opened by the Arab boy and Androvsky went in.

Then she did not think of the gardens any more. With a radiant
expression in her eyes she went down and crossed over to the church. It
was empty. She went softly to a _prie-dieu_ near the altar, knelt down
and covered her eyes with her hands.

At first she did not pray, or even think consciously, but just rested in
the attitude which always seems to bring humanity nearest its God.
And, almost immediately, she began to feel a quietude of spirit, as
if something delicate descended upon her, and lay lightly about her,
shrouding her from the troubles of the world. How sweet it was to have
the faith that brings with it such tender protection, to have the trust
that keeps alive through the swift passage of the years the spirit of
the little child. How sweet it was to be able to rest. There was at this
moment a sensation of deep joy within her. It grew in the silence of
the church, and, as it grew, brought with it presently a growing
consciousness of the lives beyond those walls, of other spirits capable
of suffering, of conflict, and of peace, not far away; till she knew
that this present blessing of happiness came to her, not only from
the scarce-realised thought of God, but also from the scarce-realised
thought of man.

Close by, divided from her only by a little masonry, a few feet of sand,
a few palm trees, Androvsky was with the priest.

Still kneeling, with her face between her hands, Domini began to think
and pray. The memory of her petition to Notre Dame de la Garde came back
to her. Before she knew Africa she had prayed for men wandering, and
perhaps unhappy, there, for men whom she would probably never see again,
would never know. And now that she was growing familiar with this land,
divined something of its wonders and its dangers, she prayed for a man
in it whom she did not know, who was very near to her making a sacrifice
of his prejudices, perhaps of his fears, at her desire. She prayed for
Androvsky without words, making of her feelings of gratitude to him a
prayer, and presently, in the darkness framed by her hands, she seemed
to see Liberty once more, as in the shadows of the dancing-house,
standing beside a man who prayed far out in the glory of the desert. The
storm, spoken of by the Diviner, did not always rage. It was stilled to
hear his prayer. And the darkness had fled, and the light drew near to
listen. She pressed her face more strongly against her hands, and began
to think more definitely.

Was this interview with the priest the first step taken by Androvsky
towards the gift the desert held for him?

He must surely be a man who hated religion, or thought he hated it.

Perhaps he looked upon it as a chain, instead of as the hammer that
strikes away the fetters from the slave.

Yet he had worn a crucifix.

She lifted her head, put her hand into her breast, and drew out the
crucifix. What was its history? She wondered as she looked at it. Had
someone who loved him given it to him, someone, perhaps, who grieved
at his hatred of holiness, and who fancied that this very humble symbol
might one day, as the humble symbols sometimes do, prove itself a little
guide towards shining truth? Had a woman given it to him?

She laid the cross down on the edge of the _prie-dieu_.

There was red fire gleaming now on the windows of the church. She
realised the pageant that was marching up the west, the passion of the
world as well as the purity which lay beyond the world. Her mind was
disturbed. She glanced from the red radiance on the glass to the dull
brown wood of the cross. Blood and agony had made it the mystical symbol
that it was--blood and agony.

She had something to think out. That burden was still upon her mind,
and now again she felt its weight, a weight that her interview with the
priest had not lifted. For she had not been able to be quite frank with
the priest. Something had held her back from absolute sincerity, and so
he had not spoken quite plainly all that was in his mind. His words had
been a little vague, yet she had understood the meaning that lay behind
them.

Really, he had warned her against Androvsky. There were two men of very
different types. One was unworldly as a child. The other knew the world.
Neither of them had any acquaintance with Androvsky's history, and both
had warned her. It was instinct then that had spoken in them, telling
them that he was a man to be shunned, perhaps feared. And her own
instinct? What had it said? What did it say?

For a long time she remained in the church. But she could not think
clearly, reason calmly, or even pray passionately. For a vagueness had
come into her mind like the vagueness of twilight that filled the space
beneath the starry roof, softening the crudeness of the ornaments, the
garish colours of the plaster saints. It seemed to her that her thoughts
and feelings lost their outlines, that she watched them fading like the
shrouded forms of Arabs fading in the tunnels of Mimosa. But as they
vanished surely they whispered, "That which is written is written."

The mosques of Islam echoed these words, and surely this little church
that bravely stood among them.

"That which is written is written."

Domini rose from her knees, hid the wooden cross once more in her
breast, and went out into the evening.

As she left the church door something occurred which struck the
vagueness from her. She came upon Androvsky and the priest. They were
standing together at the latter's gate, which he was in the act of
opening to an accompaniment of joyous barking from Bous-Bous. Both men
looked strongly expressive, as if both had been making an effort of some
kind. She stopped in the twilight to speak to them.

"Monsieur Androvsky has kindly been paying me a visit," said Father
Roubier.

"I am glad," Domini said. "We ought all to be friends here."

There was a perceptible pause. Then Androvsky lifted his hat.

"Good-evening, Madame," he said. "Good-evening, Father." And he walked
away quickly.

The priest looked after him and sighed profoundly.

"Oh, Madame!" he exclaimed, as if impelled to liberate his mind to
someone, "what is the matter with that man? What is the matter?"

He stared fixedly into the twilight after Androvsky's retreating form.

"With Monsieur Androvsky?"

She spoke quietly, but her mind was full of apprehension, and she looked
searchingly at the priest.

"Yes. What can it be?"

"But--I don't understand."

"Why did he come to see me?"

"I asked him to come."

She blurted out the words without knowing why, only feeling that she
must speak the truth.

"You asked him!"

"Yes. I wanted you to be friends--and I thought perhaps you might----"

"Yes?"

"I wanted you to be friends." She repeated it almost stubbornly.

"I have never before felt so ill at ease with any human being,"
exclaimed the priest with tense excitement. "And yet I could not let
him go. Whenever he was about to leave me I was impelled to press him to
remain. We spoke of the most ordinary things, and all the time it was
as if we were in a great tragedy. What is he? What can he be?" (He still
looked down the road.)

"I don't know. I know nothing. He is a man travelling, as other men
travel."

"Oh, no!"

"What do you mean, Father?"

"I mean that other travellers are not like this man."

He leaned his thin hands heavily on the gate, and she saw, by the
expression of his eyes, that he was going to say something startling.

"Madame," he said, lowering his voice, "I did not speak quite frankly
to you this afternoon. You may, or you may not, have understood what I
meant. But now I will speak plainly. As a priest I warn you, I warn you
most solemnly, not to make friends with this man."

There was a silence, then Domini said:

"Please give me your reason for this warning."

"That I can't do."

"Because you have no reason, or because it is not one you care to tell
me?"

"I have no reason to give. My reason is my instinct. I know nothing of
this man--I pity him. I shall pray for him. He needs prayers, yes, he
needs them. But you are a woman out here alone. You have spoken to me of
yourself, and I feel it my duty to say that I advise you most earnestly
to break off your acquaintance with Monsieur Androvsky."

"Do you mean that you think him evil?"

"I don't know whether he is evil, I don't know what he is."

"I know he is not evil."

The priest looked at her, wondering.

"You know--how?"

"My instinct," she said, coming a step nearer, and putting her hand,
too, on the gate near his. "Why should we desert him?"

"Desert him, Madame!"

Father Roubier's voice sounded amazed.

"Yes. You say he needs prayers. I know it. Father, are not the first
prayers, the truest, those that go most swiftly to Heaven--acts?"

The priest did not reply for a moment. He looked at her and seemed to be
thinking deeply.

"Why did you send Monsieur Androvsky to me this afternoon?" he said at
last abruptly.

"I knew you were a good man, and I fancied if you became friends you
might help him."

His face softened.

"A good man," he said. "Ah!" He shook his head sadly, with a sound that
was like a little pathetic laugh. "I--a good man! And I allow an almost
invincible personal feeling to conquer my inward sense of right! Madame,
come into the garden for a moment."

He opened the gate, she passed in, and he led her round the house to the
enclosure at the back, where they could talk in greater privacy. Then he
continued:

"You are right, Madame. I am here to try to do God's work, and sometimes
it is better to act for a human being, perhaps, even than to pray for
him. I will tell you that I feel an almost invincible repugnance to
Monsieur Androvsky, a repugnance that is almost stronger than my will
to hold it in check." He shivered slightly. "But, with God's help, I'll
conquer that. If he stays on here I'll try to be his friend. I'll do all
I can. If he is unhappy, far away from good, perhaps--I say it humbly,
Madame, I assure you--I might help him. But"--and here his face and
manner changed, became firmer, more dominating--"you are not a priest,
and--"

"No, only a woman," she said, interrupting him.

Something in her voice arrested him. There was a long silence in which
they paced slowly up and down on the sand between the palm trees. The
twilight was dying into night. Already the tomtoms were throbbing in the
street of the dancers, and the shriek of the distant pipes was faintly
heard. At last the priest spoke again.

"Madame," he said, "when you came to me this afternoon there was
something that you could not tell me."

"Yes."

"Had it anything to do with Monsieur Androvsky?"

"I meant to ask you to advise me about myself."

"My advice to you was and is--be strong but not too foolhardy."

"Believe me I will try not to be foolhardy. But you said something else
too, something about women. Don't you remember?"

She stopped, took his hands impulsively and pressed them.

"Father, I've scarcely ever been of any use all my life. I've scarcely
ever tried to be. Nothing within me said, 'You could be,' and if it had
I was so dulled by routine and sorrow that I don't think I should
have heard it. But here it is different. I am not dulled. I can hear.
And--suppose I can be of use for the first time! You wouldn't say to me,
'Don't try!' You couldn't say that?"

He stood holding her hands and looking into her face for a moment. Then
he said, half-humorously, half-sadly:

"My child, perhaps you know your own strength best. Perhaps your safest
spiritual director is your own heart. Who knows? But whether it be so or
not you will not take advice from me."

She knew that was true now and, for a moment, felt almost ashamed.

"Forgive me," she said. "But--it is strange, and may seem to you
ridiculous or even wrong--ever since I have been here I have felt as if
everything that happened had been arranged beforehand, as if it had to
happen. And I feel that, too, about the future."

"Count Anteoni's fatalism!" the priest said with a touch of impatient
irritation. "I know. It is the guiding spirit of this land. And you too
are going to be led by it. Take care! You have come to a land of fire,
and I think you are made of fire."

For a moment she saw a fanatical expression in his eyes. She thought of
it as the look of the monk crushed down within his soul. He opened his
lips again, as if to pour forth upon her a torrent of burning words. But
the look died away, and they parted quietly like two good friends. Yet,
as she went to the hotel, she knew that Father Roubier could not give
her the kind of help she wanted, and she even fancied that perhaps no
priest could. Her heart was in a turmoil, and she seemed to be in the
midst of a crowd.

Batouch was at the door, looking elaborately contrite and ready with
his lie. He had been seized with fever in the night, in token whereof he
held up hands which began to shake like wind-swept leaves. Only now had
he been able to drag himself from his quilt and, still afflicted as he
was, to creep to his honoured patron and crave her pardon. Domini gave
it with an abstracted carelessness that evidently hurt his pride, and
was passing into the hotel when he said:

"Irena is going to marry Hadj, Madame."

Since the fracas at the dancing-house both the dancer and her victim had
been under lock and key.

"To marry her after she tried to kill him!" said Domini.

"Yes, Madame. He loves her as the palm tree loves the sun. He will take
her to his room, and she will wear a veil, and work for him and never go
out any more."

"What! She will live like the Arab women?"

"Of course, Madame. But there is a very nice terrace on the roof outside
Hadj's room, and Hadj will permit her to take the air there, in the
evening or when it is hot."

"She must love Hadj very much."

"She does, or why should she try to kill him?"

So that was an African love--a knife-thrust and a taking of the veil!
The thought of it added a further complication to the disorder that was
in her mind.

"I will see you after dinner, Batouch," she said.

She felt that she must do something, go somewhere that night. She could
not remain quiet.

Batouch drew himself up and threw out his broad chest. His air gave
place to importance, and, as he leaned against the white pillar of the
arcade, folded his ample burnous round him, and glanced up at the sky he
saw, in fancy, a five-franc piece glittering in the chariot of the moon.

The priest did not come to dinner that night, but Androvsky was already
at his table when Domini came into the _salle-a-manger_. He got up from
his seat and bowed formally, but did not speak. Remembering his outburst
of the morning she realised the suspicion which her second interview
with the priest had probably created in his mind, and now she was not
free from a feeling of discomfort that almost resembled guilt. For now
she had been led to discuss Androvsky with Father Roubier, and had it
not been almost an apology when she said, "I know he is not evil"? Once
or twice during dinner, when her eyes met Androvsky's for a moment, she
imagined that he must know why she had been at the priest's house, that
anger was steadily increasing in him.

He was a man who hated to be observed, to be criticised. His
sensitiveness was altogether abnormal, and made her wonder afresh where
his previous life had been passed. It must surely have been a very
sheltered existence. Contact with the world blunts the fine edge of our
feeling with regard to others' opinion of us. In the world men learn to
be heedless of the everlasting buzz of comment that attends their goings
out and their comings in. But Androvsky was like a youth, alive to the
tiniest whisper, set on fire by a glance. To such a nature life in
the world must be perpetual torture. She thought of him with a sorrow
that--strangely in her--was not tinged with contempt. That which
manifested by another man would certainly have moved her to impatience,
if not to wrath, in this man woke other sensations--curiosity, pity,
terror.

Yes--terror. To-night she knew that. The long day, begun in the
semidarkness before the dawn and ending in the semidarkness of the
twilight, had, with its events that would have seemed to another
ordinary and trivial enough, carried her forward a stage on an emotional
pilgrimage. The half-veiled warnings of Count Anteoni and of the priest,
followed by the latter's almost passionately abrupt plain speaking,
had not been without effect. To-night something of Europe and her
life there, with its civilised experience and drastic training in the
management of woman's relations with humanity in general, crept back
under the palm trees and the brilliant stars of Africa; and despite the
fatalism condemned by Father Roubier, she was more conscious than she
had hitherto been of how others--the outside world--would be likely
to regard her acquaintance with Androvsky. She stood, as it were, and
looked on at the events in which she herself had been and was involved,
and in that moment she was first aware of a thrill of something akin to
terror, as if, perhaps, without knowing it, she had been moving amid
a great darkness, as if perhaps a great darkness were approaching.
Suddenly she saw Androvsky as some strange and ghastly figure of legend;
as the wandering Jew met by a traveller at cross roads and distinguished
for an instant in an oblique lightning flash; as Vanderdecken passing
in the hurricane and throwing a blood-red illumination from the sails
of his haunted ship; as the everlasting climber of the Brocken, as the
shrouded Arab of the Eastern legend, who announced coming disaster to
the wanderers in the desert by beating a death-roll on a drum among the
dunes.

And with Count Anteoni and the priest she set another figure, that of
the sand-diviner, whose tortured face had suggested a man looking on a
fate that was terrible. Had not he, too, warned her? Had not the warning
been threefold, been given to her by the world, the Church, and the
under-world--the world beneath the veil?

She met Androvsky's eyes. He was getting up to leave the room. His
movement caught her away from things visionary, but not from worldly
things. She still looked on herself moving amid these events at which
her world would laugh or wonder, and perhaps for the first time in her
life she was uneasily self-conscious because of the self that watched
herself, as if that self held something coldly satirical that mocked at
her and marvelled.



CHAPTER XIV

"What shall I do to-night?"

Alone in the now empty _salle-a-manger_ Domini asked herself the
question. She was restless, terribly restless in mind, and wanted
distraction. The idea of going to her room, of reading, even of sitting
quietly in the verandah, was intolerable to her. She longed for action,
swiftness, excitement, the help of outside things, of that exterior life
which she had told Count Anteoni she had begun to see as a mirage. Had
she been in a city she would have gone to a theatre to witness some
tremendous drama, or to hear some passionate or terrible opera.
Beni-Mora might have been a place of many and strange tragedies, would
be no doubt again, but it offered at this moment little to satisfy her
mood. The dances of the Cafes Maures, the songs of the smokers of
the keef, the long histories of the story-tellers between the lighted
candles--she wanted none of these, and, for a moment, she wished she
were in London, Paris, any great capital that spent itself to suit
the changing moods of men. With a sigh she got up and went out to the
Arcade. Batouch joined her immediately.

"What can I do to-night, Batouch?" she said.

"There are the femmes mauresques," he began.

"No, no."

"Would Madame like to hear the story-teller?"

"No. I should not understand him."

"I can explain to Madame."

"No."

She stepped out into the road.

"There will be a moon to-night, won't there?" she said, looking up at
the starry sky.

"Yes, Madame, later."

"What time will it rise?"

"Between nine and ten."

She stood in the road, thinking. It had occurred to her that she had
never seen moonrise in the desert.

"And now it is"--she looked at her watch--"only eight."

"Does Madame wish to see the moon come up pouring upon the palms--"

"Don't talk so much, Batouch," she said brusquely.

To-night the easy and luscious imaginings of the poet worried her like
the cry of a mosquito. His presence even disturbed her. Yet what could
she do without him? After a pause she said:

"Can one go into the desert at night?"

"On foot, Madame? It would be dangerous. One cannot tell what may be in
the desert by night."

These words made her long to go. They had a charm, a violence perhaps,
of the unknown.

"One might ride," she said. "Why not? Who could hurt us if we were
mounted and armed?"

"Madame is brave as the panther in the forests of the Djurdjurah."

"And you, Batouch? Aren't you brave?"

"Madame, I am afraid of nothing." He did not say it boastfully, like
Hadj, but calmly, almost loftily.

"Well, we are neither of us afraid. Let us ride out on the Tombouctou
road and see the moon rise. I'll go and put on my habit."

"Madame should take her revolver."

"Of course. Bring the horses round at nine."

When she had put on her habit it was only a few minutes after eight. She
longed to be in the saddle, going at full speed up the long, white road
between the palms. Physical movement was necessary to her, and she began
to pace up and down the verandah quickly. She wished she had ordered the
horses at once, or that she could do something definite to fill up the
time till they came. As she turned at the end of the verandah she saw
a white form approaching her; when it drew near she recognised Hadj,
looking self-conscious and mischievous, but a little triumphant too. At
this moment she was glad to see him. He received her congratulations on
his recovery and approaching marriage with a sort of skittish gaiety,
but she soon discovered that he had come with a money-making reason.
Having seen his cousin safely off the premises, it had evidently
occurred to him to turn an honest penny. And pennies were now specially
needful to him in view of married life.

"Does Madame wish to see something strange and wonderful to-night?" he
asked, after a moment, looking at her sideways out of the corners of his
wicked eyes, which, as Domini could see, were swift to read character
and mood.

"I am going out riding."

He looked astonished.

"In the night?"

"Yes. Batouch has gone to fetch the horses."

Hadj's face became a mask of sulkiness.

"If Madame goes out with Batouch she will be killed. There are robbers
in the desert, and Batouch is afraid of--"

"Could we see the strange and wonderful thing in an hour?" she
interrupted.

The gay and skittish expression returned instantly to his face.

"Yes, Madame."

"What is it?"

He shook his head and made an artful gesture with his hand in the air.

"Madame shall see."

His long eyes were full of mystery, and he moved towards the staircase.

"Come, Madame."

Domini laughed and followed him. She felt as if she were playing a game,
yet her curiosity was roused. They went softly down and slipped out of
the hotel like children fearing to be caught.

"Batouch will be angry. There will be white foam on his lips," whispered
Hadj, dropping his chin and chuckling low in his throat. "This way,
Madame."

He led her quickly across the gardens to the Rue Berthe, and down a
number of small streets, till they reached a white house before which,
on a hump, three palm trees grew from one trunk. Beyond was waste
ground, and further away a stretch of sand and low dunes lost in the
darkness of the, as yet, moonless night. Domini looked at the house and
at Hadj, and wondered if it would be foolish to enter.

"What is it?" she asked again.

But he only replied, "Madame will see!" and struck his flat hand upon
the door. It was opened a little way, and a broad face covered with
little humps and dents showed, the thick lips parted and muttering
quickly. Then the face was withdrawn, the door opened wider, and Hadj
beckoned to Domini to go in. After a moment's hesitation she did so, and
found herself in a small interior court, with a tiled floor,
pillars, and high up a gallery of carved wood, from which, doubtless,
dwelling-rooms opened. In the court, upon cushions, were seated four
vacant-looking men, with bare arms and legs and long matted hair, before
a brazier, from which rose a sharply pungent perfume. Two of these men
were very young, with pale, ascetic faces and weary eyes. They looked
like young priests of the Sahara. At a short distance, upon a red
pillow, sat a tiny boy of about three years old, dressed in yellow and
green. When Domini and Hadj came into the court no one looked at them
except the child, who stared with slowly-rolling, solemn eyes, slightly
shifting on the pillow. Hadj beckoned to Domini to seat herself upon
some rugs between the pillars, sat down beside her and began to make
a cigarette. Complete silence prevailed. The four men stared at the
brazier, holding their nostrils over the incense fumes which rose from
it in airy spirals. The child continued to stare at Domini. Hadj lit his
cigarette. And time rolled on.

Domini had desired violence, and had been conveyed into a dumbness of
mystery, that fell upon her turmoil of spirit like a blow. What struck
her as especially strange and unnatural was the fact that the men with
whom she was sitting in the dim court of this lonely house had not
looked at her, did not appear to know that she was there. Hadj had
caught the aroma of their meditations with the perfume of the incense,
for his eyes had lost their mischief and become gloomily profound, as
if they stared on bygone centuries or watched a far-off future. Even
the child began to look elderly, and worn as with fastings and with
watchings. As the fumes perpetually ascended from the red-hot coals of
the brazier the sharp smell of the perfume grew stronger. There was in
it something provocative and exciting that was like a sound, and
Domini marvelled that the four men who crouched over it and drank it in
perpetually could be unaffected by its influence when she, who was
at some distance from it, felt dawning on her desires of movement,
of action, almost a physical necessity to get up and do something
extraordinary, absurd or passionate, such as she had never done or
dreamed of till this moment.

A low growl like that of a wild beast broke the silence. Domini did not
know at first whence it came. She stared at the four men, but they were
all gazing vacantly into the brazier, their naked arms dropping to the
floor. She glanced at Hadj. He was delicately taking a cigarette paper
from a little case. The child--no, it was absurd even to think of a
child emitting such a sound.

Someone growled again more fiercely, and this time Domini saw that it
was the palest of the ascetic-looking youths. He shook back his long
hair, rose to his feet with a bound, and moving into the centre of the
court gazed ferociously at his companions. As if in obedience to the
glance, two of them stretched their arms backwards, found two tomtoms,
and began to beat them loudly and monotonously. The young ascetic bowed
to the tomtoms, dropping his lower jaw and jumping on his bare feet. He
bowed again as if saluting a fetish, and again and again. Ceaselessly he
bowed to the tomtoms, always jumping softly from the pavement. His long
hair fell over his face and back upon his shoulders with a monotonous
regularity that imitated the tomtoms, as if he strove to mould his life
in accord with the fetish to which he offered adoration. Flecks of foam
appeared upon his lips, and the asceticism in his eyes changed to a
bestial glare. His whole body was involved in a long and snake-like
undulation, above which his hair flew to and fro. Presently the second
youth, moving reverently like a priest about the altar, stole to a
corner and returned with a large and curved sheet of glass. Without
looking at Domini he came to her and placed it in her hands. When the
dancer saw the glass he stood still, growled again long and furiously,
threw himself on his knees before Domini, licked his lips, then,
abruptly thrusting forward his face, set his teeth in the sheet
of glass, bit a large piece off, crunched it up with a loud noise,
swallowed it with a gulp, and growled for more. She fed him again, while
the tomtoms went on roaring, and the child in its red pillow watched
with its weary eyes. And when he was full fed, only a fragment of glass
remained between her fingers, he fell upon the ground and lay like one
in a trance.

Then the second youth bowed to the tomtoms, leaping gently on the
pavement, foamed at the mouth, growled, snuffed up the incense fumes,
shook his long mane, and placed his naked feet in the red-hot coals of
the brazier. He plucked out a coal and rolled his tongue round it. He
placed red coals under his bare armpits and kept them there, pressing
his arms against his sides. He held a coal, like a monocle, in his eye
socket against his eye. And all the time he leaped and bowed and foamed,
undulating his body like a snake. The child looked on with a still
gravity, and the tomtoms never ceased. From the gallery above painted
faces peered down, but Domini did not see them. Her attention was taken
captive by the young priests of the Sahara. For so she called them in
her mind, realising that there were religious fanatics whose half-crazy
devotion seemed to lift them above the ordinary dangers to the body. One
of the musicians now took his turn, throwing his tomtom to the eater
of glass, who had wakened from his trance. He bowed and leaped; thrust
spikes behind his eyes, through his cheeks, his lips, his arms; drove a
long nail into his head with a wooden hammer; stood upon the sharp edge
of an upturned sword blade. With the spikes protruding from his face in
all directions, and his eyes bulging out from them like balls, he spun
in a maze of hair, barking like a dog. The child regarded him with a
still attention, and the incense fumes were cloudy in the court. Then
the last of the four men sprang up in the midst of a more passionate
uproar from the tomtoms. He wore a filthy burnous, and, with a shriek,
he plunged his hand into its hood and threw some squirming things upon
the floor. They began to run, rearing stiff tails into the air. He sank
down, blew upon them, caught them, letting them set their tail weapons
in his fingers, and lifting them thus, imbedded, high above the floor.
Then again he put them down, breathed upon each one, drew a circle
round each with his forefinger. His face had suddenly become intense,
hypnotic. The scorpions, as if mesmerised, remained utterly still, each
in its place within its imaginary circle, that had become a cage; and
their master bowed to the fetish of the tomtoms, leaped, grinned, and
bowed again, undulating his body in a maze of hair.

Domini felt as if she, like the scorpions, had been mesmerised. She,
too, was surely bound in a circle, breathed upon by some arrogant
breath of fanaticism, commanded by some horrid power. She looked at the
scorpions and felt a sort of pity for them. From time to time the bowing
fanatic glanced at them through his hair out of the corners of his eyes,
licked his lips, shook his shoulders, and uttered a long howl, thrilling
with the note of greed. The tomtoms pulsed faster and faster, louder and
louder, and all the men began to sing a fierce chant, the song surely
of desert souls driven crazy by religion. One of the scorpions moved
slightly, reared its tail, began to run. Instantly, as if at a signal,
the dancer fell upon his knees, bent down his head, seized it in his
teeth, munched it and swallowed it. At the same moment with the uproar
of the tomtoms there mingled a loud knocking on the door.

Hadj's lips curled back from his pointed teeth and he looked dangerous.

"It is Batouch!" he snarled.

Domini got up. Without a word, turning her back upon the court, she made
her way out, still hearing the howl of the scorpion-eater, the roar of
the tomtoms, and the knocking on the door. Hadj followed her quickly,
protesting. At the door was the man with the pitted white face and the
thick lips. When he saw her he held out his hand. She gave him some
money, he opened the door, and she came out into the night by the triple
palm tree. Batouch stood there looking furious, with the bridles of
two horses across his arm. He began to speak in Arabic to Hadj, but
she stopped him with an imperious gesture, gave Hadj his fee, and in a
moment was in the saddle and cantering away into the dark. She heard the
gallop of Batouch's horse coming up behind her and turned her head.

"Batouch," she said, "you are the smartest"--she used the word
_chic_--"Arab here. Do you know what is the fashion in London when a
lady rides out with the attendant who guards her--the really smart thing
to do?"

She was playing on his vanity. He responded with a ready smile.

"No, Madame."

"The attendant rides at a short distance behind her, so that no one can
come up near her without his knowledge."

Batouch fell back, and Domini cantered on, congratulating herself on the
success of her expedient.

She passed through the village, full of strolling white figures, lights
and the sound of music, and was soon at the end of the long, straight
road that was significant to her as no other road had ever been. Each
time she saw it, stretching on till it was lost in the serried masses
of the palms, her imagination was stirred by a longing to wander through
barbaric lands, by a nomad feeling that was almost irresistible. This
road was a track of fate to her. When she was on it she had a strange
sensation as if she changed, developed, drew near to some ideal. It
influenced her as one person may influence another. Now for the first
time she was on it in the night, riding on the crowded shadows of
its palms. She drew rein and went more slowly. She had a desire to be
noiseless.

In the obscurity the thickets of the palms looked more exotic than in
the light of day. There was no motion in them. Each tree stood like a
delicately carven thing, silhouetted against the remote purple of the
void. In the profound firmament the stars burned with a tremulous ardour
they never show in northern skies. The mystery of this African night
rose not from vaporous veils and the long movement of winds, but was
breathed out by clearness, brightness, stillness. It was the deepest of
all mystery--the mystery of vastness and of peace.

No one was on the road. The sound of the horse's feet were sharply
distinct in the night. On all sides, but far off, the guard dogs were
barking by the hidden homes of men. The air was warm as in a hothouse,
but light and faintly impregnated with perfume shed surely by the
mystical garments of night as she glided on with Domini towards the
desert. From the blackness of the palms there came sometimes thin notes
of the birds of night, the whizzing noise of insects, the glassy pipe of
a frog in the reeds by a pool behind a hot brown wall.

She rode through one of the villages of old Beni-Mora, silent,
unlighted, with empty streets and closed cafes maures, touched her horse
with the whip, and cantered on at a quicker pace. As she drew near to
the desert her desire to be in it increased. There was some coarse
grass here. The palm trees grew less thickly. She heard more clearly the
barking of the Kabyle dogs, and knew that tents were not far off. Now,
between the trunks of the trees, she saw the twinkling of distant fires,
and the sound of running water fell on her ears, mingling with the
persistent noise of the insects, and the faint cries of the birds and
frogs. In front, where the road came out from the shadows of the last
trees, lay a vast dimness, not wholly unlike another starless sky,
stretched beneath the starry sky in which the moon had not yet risen.
She set her horse at a gallop and came into the desert, rushing through
the dark.

"Madame! Madame!"

Batouch's voice was calling her. She galloped faster, like one in
flight. Her horse's feet padded over sand almost as softly as a camel's.
The vast dimness was surely coming to meet her, to take her to itself
in the night. But suddenly Batouch rode furiously up beside her, his
burnous flying out behind him over his red saddle.

"Madame, we must not go further, we must keep near the oasis."

"Why?"

"It is not safe at night in the desert, and besides--"

His horse plunged and nearly rocketed against hers. She pulled in. His
company took away her desire to keep on.

"Besides?"

Leaning over his saddle peak he said, mysteriously:

"Besides, Madame, someone has been following us all the way from
Beni-Mora."

"Who?"

"A horseman. I have heard the beat of the hoofs on the hard road. Once
I stopped and turned, but I could see nothing, and then I could hear
nothing. He, too, had stopped. But when I rode on again soon I heard him
once more. Someone found out we were going and has come after us."

She looked back into the violet night without speaking. She heard no
sound of a horse, saw nothing but the dim track and the faint, shadowy
blackness where the palms began. Then she put her hand into the pocket
of her saddle and silently held up a tiny revolver.

"I know, but there might be more than one. I am not afraid, but if
anything happens to Madame no one will ever take me as a guide any
more."

She smiled for a moment, but the smile died away, and again she looked
into the night. She was not afraid physically, but she was conscious of
a certain uneasiness. The day had been long and troubled, and had left
its mark upon her. Restlessness had driven her forth into the darkness,
and behind the restlessness there was a hint of the terror of which she
had been aware when she was left alone in the _salle-a-manger_. Was it
not that vague terror which, shaking the restlessness, had sent her
to the white house by the triple palm tree, had brought her now to the
desert? she asked herself, while she listened, and the hidden horseman
of whom Batouch had spoken became in her imagination one with the
legendary victims of fate; with the Jew by the cross roads, the mariner
beating ever about the rock-bound shores of the world, the climber in
the witches' Sabbath, the phantom Arab in the sand. Still holding her
revolver, she turned her horse and rode slowly towards the distant
fires, from which came the barking of the dogs. At some hundreds of
yards from them she paused.

"I shall stay here," she said to Batouch. "Where does the moon rise?"

He stretched his arm towards the desert, which sloped gently, almost
imperceptibly, towards the east.

"Ride back a little way towards the oasis. The horseman was behind us.
If he is still following you will meet him. Don't go far. Do as I tell
you, Batouch."

With obvious reluctance he obeyed her. She saw him pull up his horse at
a distance where he had her just in sight. Then she turned so that
she could not see him and looked towards the desert and the east. The
revolver seemed unnaturally heavy in her hand. She glanced at it for a
moment and listened with intensity for the beat of horse's hoofs, and
her wakeful imagination created a sound that was non-existent in her
ears. With it she heard a gallop that was spectral as the gallop of the
black horses which carried Mephistopheles and Faust to the abyss. It
died away almost at once, and she knew it for an imagination. To-night
she was peopling the desert with phantoms. Even the fires of the nomads
were as the fires that flicker in an abode of witches, the shadows that
passed before them were as goblins that had come up out of the sand to
hold revel in the moonlight. Were they, too, waiting for a signal from
the sky?

At the thought of the moon she drew up the reins that had been lying
loosely on her horse's neck and rode some paces forward and away from
the fires, still holding the revolver in her hand. Of what use would
it be against the spectres of the Sahara? The Jew would face it without
fear. Why not the horseman of Batouch? She dropped it into the pocket of
the saddle.

Far away in the east the darkness of the sky was slowly fading into a
luminous mystery that rose from the underworld, a mystery that at first
was faint and tremulous, pale with a pallor of silver and primrose, but
that deepened slowly into a live and ardent gold against which a group
of three palm trees detached themselves from the desert like messengers
sent forth by it to give a salutation to the moon. They were jet black
against the gold, distinct though very distant. The night, and the vast
plain from which they rose, lent them a significance that was unearthly.
Their long, thin stems and drooping, feathery leaves were living and
pathetic as the night thoughts of a woman who has suffered, but who
turns, with a gesture of longing that will not be denied, to the
luminance that dwells at the heart of the world. And those black palms
against the gold, that stillness of darkness and light in immensity,
banished Domini's faint sense of horror. The spectres faded away. She
fixed her eyes on the palms.

Now all the notes of the living things that do not sleep by night, but
make music by reedy pools, in underwood, among the blades of grass and
along the banks of streams, were audible to her again, filling her mind
with the mystery of existence. The glassy note of the frogs was like
a falling of something small and pointed upon a sheet of crystal. The
whirs of the insects suggested a ceaselessly active mentality. The faint
cries of the birds dropped down like jewels slipping from the trees.
And suddenly she felt that she was as nothing in the vastness and the
complication of the night. Even the passion that she knew lay, like a
dark and silent flood, within her soul, a flood that, once released from
its boundaries, had surely the power to rush irresistibly forward to
submerge old landmarks and change the face of a world--even that seemed
to lose its depth for a moment, to be shallow as the first ripple of
a tide upon the sand. And she forgot that the first ripple has all the
ocean behind it.

Red deepened and glowed in the gold behind the three palms, and the
upper rim of the round moon, red too as blood, crept about the desert.
Domini, leaning forward with one hand upon her horse's warm neck,
watched until the full circle was poised for a moment on the horizon,
holding the palms in its frame of fire. She had never seen a moon look
so immense and so vivid as this moon that came up into the night like a
portent, fierce yet serene, moon of a barbaric world, such as might have
shone upon Herod when he heard the voice of the Baptist in his dungeon,
or upon the wife of Pilate when in a dream she was troubled. It
suggested to her the powerful watcher of tragic events fraught with long
chains of consequence that would last on through centuries, as it turned
its blood-red gaze upon the desert, upon the palms, upon her, and,
leaning upon her horse's neck, she too--like Pilate's wife--fell into
a sort of strange and troubled dream for a moment, full of strong, yet
ghastly, light and of shapes that flitted across a background of fire.

In it she saw the priest with a fanatical look of warning in his eyes,
Count Anteoni beneath the trees of his garden, the perfume-seller in
his dark bazaar, Irena with her long throat exposed and her thin
arms drooping, the sand-diviner spreading forth his hands, Androvsky
galloping upon a horse as if pursued. This last vision returned again
and again. As the moon rose a stream of light that seemed tragic fell
across the desert and was woven mysteriously into the light of her
waking dream. The three palms looked larger. She fancied that she saw
them growing, becoming monstrous as they stood in the very centre of
the path of the nocturnal glory, and suddenly she remembered her thought
when she sat with Androvsky in the garden, that feeling grew in human
hearts like palms rising in the desert. But these palms were tragic and
aspired towards the blood-red moon. Suddenly she was seized with a
fear of feeling, of the growth of an intense sensation within her, and
realised, with an almost feverish vividness, the impotence of a soul
caught in the grip of a great passion, swayed hither and thither, led
into strange paths, along the edges, perhaps into depths of immeasurable
abysses. She had said to Androvsky that she would rather be the centre
of a world tragedy than die without having felt to the uttermost even if
it were sorrow. Was that not the speech of a mad woman, or at least of
a woman who was so ignorant of the life of feeling that her words were
idle and ridiculous? Again she felt desperately that she did not know
herself, and this lack of the most essential of all knowledge reduced
her for a moment to a bitterness of despair that seemed worse than the
bitterness of death. The vastness of the desert appalled her. The red
moon held within its circle all the blood of the martyrs, of life, of
ideals. She shivered in the saddle. Her nature seemed to shrink and
quiver, and a cry for protection rose within her, the cry of the woman
who cannot face life alone, who must find a protector, and who must
cling to a strong arm, who needs man as the world needs God.

Then again it seemed to her that she saw Androvsky galloping upon a
horse as if pursued.

Moved by a desire to do something to combat this strange despair,
born of the moonrise and the night, she sat erect in her saddle, and
resolutely looked at the desert, striving to get away from herself in
a hard contemplation of the details that surrounded her, the outward
things that were coming each moment into clearer view. She gazed
steadily towards the palms that sharply cut the moonlight. As she did so
something black moved away from them, as if it had been part of them
and now detached itself with the intention of approaching her along the
track. At first it was merely a moving blot, formless and small, but
as it drew nearer she saw that it was a horseman riding slowly, perhaps
stealthily, across the sand. She glanced behind her, and saw Batouch not
far off, and the fires of the nomads. Then she turned again to watch the
horseman. He came steadily forward.

"Madame!"

It was the voice of Batouch.

"Stay where you are!" she called out to him.

She heard the soft sound of the horse's feet and could see the attitude
of its rider. He was leaning forward as if searching the night. She rode
to meet him, and they came to each other in the path of the light she
had thought tragic.

"You followed me?"

"I cannot see you go out alone into the desert at night," Androvsky
replied.

"But you have no right to follow me."

"I cannot let harm come to you, Madame."

She was silent. A moment before she had been longing for a protector.
One had come to her, the man whom she had been setting with those
legendary figures who have saddened and appalled the imagination of men.
She looked at the dark figure of Androvsky leaning forward on the
horse whose feet were set on the path of the moon, and she did not know
whether she felt confidence in him or fear of him. All that the priest
had said rose up in her mind, all that Count Anteoni had hinted and that
had been visible in the face of the sand-diviner. This man had followed
her into the night as a guardian. Did she need someone, something, to
guard her from him? A faint horror was still upon her. Perhaps he knew
it and resented it, for he drew himself upright on his horse and spoke
again, with a decision that was rare in him.

"Let me send Batouch back to Beni-Mora, Madame."

"Why?" she asked, in a low voice that was full of hesitation.

"You do not need him now."

He was looking at her with a defiant, a challenging expression that was
his answer to her expression of vague distrust and apprehension.

"How do you know that?"

He did not answer the question, but only said:

"It is better here without him. May I send him away, Madame?"

She bent her head. Androvsky rode off and she saw him speaking to
Batouch, who shook his head as if in contradiction.

"Batouch!" she called out. "You can ride back to Beni-Mora. We shall
follow directly."

The poet cantered forward.

"Madame, it is not safe."

The sound of his voice made Domini suddenly know what she had not been
sure of before--that she wished to be alone with Androvsky.

"Go, Batouch!" she said. "I tell you to go."

Batouch turned his horse without a word, and disappeared into the
darkness of the distant palms.

When they were alone together Domini and Androvsky sat silent on their
horses for some minutes. Their faces were turned towards the desert,
which was now luminous beneath the moon. Its loneliness was overpowering
in the night, and made speech at first an impossibility, and even
thought difficult. At last Androvsky said:

"Madame, why did you look at me like that just now, as if you--as if you
hesitated to remain alone with me?"

Suddenly she resolved to tell him of her oppression of the night. She
felt as if to do so would relieve her of something that was like a pain
at her heart.

"Has it never occurred to you that we are strangers to each other?" she
said. "That we know nothing of each other's lives? What do you know of
me or I of you?"

He shifted in his saddle and moved the reins from one hand to the other,
but said nothing.

"Would it seem strange to you if I did hesitate--if even now--"

"Yes," he interrupted violently, "it would seem strange to me."

"Why?"

"You would rely on an Arab and not rely upon me," he said with intense
bitterness.

"I did not say so."

"Yet at first you wished to keep Batouch."

"Yes."

"Then----"

"Batouch is my attendant."

"And I? Perhaps I am nothing but a man whom you distrust; whom--whom
others tell you to think ill of."

"I judge for myself."

"But if others speak ill of me?"

"It would not influence me----for long."

She added the last words after a pause. She wished to be strictly
truthful, and to-night she was not sure that the words of the priest had
made no impression upon her.

"For long!" he repeated. Then he said abruptly, "The priest hates me."

"No."

"And Count Anteoni?"

"You interested Count Anteoni greatly."

"Interested him!"

His voice sounded intensely suspicious in the night.

"Don't you wish to interest anyone? It seems to me that to be
uninteresting is to live eternally alone in a sunless desert."

"I wish--I should like to think that I--" He stopped, then said, with a
sort of ashamed determination: "Could I ever interest you, Madame?"

"Yes," she answered quietly.

"But you would rather be protected by an Arab than by me. The priest
has--"

"To-night I do not seem to be myself," she said, interrupting him.
"Perhaps there is some physical reason. I got up very early, and--don't
you ever feel oppressed, suspicious, doubtful of life, people, yourself,
everything, without apparent reason? Don't you know what it is to have
nightmare without sleeping?"

"I! But you are different."

"To-night I have felt--I do feel as if there were tragedy near me,
perhaps coming towards me," she said simply, "and I am oppressed, I am
almost afraid."

When she had said it she felt happier, as if a burden she carried were
suddenly lighter. As he did not speak she glanced at him. The moon rays
lit up his face. It looked ghastly, drawn and old, so changed that she
scarcely recognised it and felt, for a moment, as if she were with a
stranger. She looked away quickly, wondering if what she had seen was
merely some strange effect of the moon, or whether Androvsky was really
altered for a moment by the action of some terrible grief, one of those
sudden sorrows that rush upon a man from the hidden depths of his nature
and tear his soul, till his whole being is lacerated and he feels as
if his soul were flesh and were streaming with the blood from mortal
wounds. The silence between them was long. In it she presently heard a
reiterated noise that sounded like struggle and pain made audible. It
was Androvsky's breathing. In the soft and exquisite air of the desert
he was gasping like a man shut up in a cellar. She looked again towards
him, startled. As she did so he turned his horse sideways and rode away
a few paces. Then he pulled up his horse. He was now merely a black
shape upon the moonlight, motionless and inaudible. She could not take
her eyes from this shape. Its blackness suggested to her the blackness
of a gulf. Her memory still heard that sound of deep-drawn breathing
or gasping, heard it and quivered beneath it as a tender-hearted person
quivers seeing a helpless creature being ill-used. She hesitated for
a moment, and then, carried away by an irresistible impulse to try to
soothe this extremity of pain which she was unable to understand, she
rode up to Androvsky. When she reached him she did not know what she had
meant to say or do. She felt suddenly impotent and intrusive, and even
horribly shy. But before she had time for speech or action he turned
to her and said, lifting up his hands with the reins in them and then
dropping them down heavily upon his horse's neck:

"Madame, I wanted to tell you that to-morrow I----" He stopped.

"Yes?" she said.

He turned his head away from her till she could not see his face.

"To-morrow I am leaving Beni-Mora."

"To-morrow!" she said.

She did not feel the horse under her, the reins in her hand. She did not
see the desert or the moon. Though she was looking at Androvsky she no
longer perceived him. At the sound of his words it seemed to her as if
all outside things she had ever known had foundered, like a ship
whose bottom is ripped up by a razor-edged rock, as if with them had
foundered, too, all things within herself: thoughts, feelings, even
the bodily powers that were of the essence of her life; sense of taste,
smell, hearing, sight, the capacity of movement and of deliberate
repose. Nothing seemed to remain except the knowledge that she was still
alive and had spoken.

"Yes, to-morrow I shall go away."

His face was still turned from her, and his voice sounded as if it spoke
to someone at a distance, someone who could hear as man cannot hear.

"To-morrow," she repeated.

She knew she had spoken again, but it did not seem to her as if she had
heard herself speak. She looked at her hands holding the reins, knew
that she looked at them, yet felt as if she were not seeing them while
she did so. The moonlit desert was surely flickering round her, and away
to the horizon in waves that were caused by the disappearance of that
ship which had suddenly foundered with all its countless lives. And she
knew of the movement of these waves as the soul of one of the drowned,
already released from the body, might know of the movement on the
surface of the sea beneath which its body was hidden.

But the soul was evidently nothing without the body, or, at most, merely
a continuance of power to know that all which had been was no more. All
which had been was no more.

At last her mind began to work again, and those words went through
it with persistence. She thought of the fascination of Africa, that
enormous, overpowering fascination which had taken possession of her
body and spirit. What had become of it? What had become of the romance
of the palm gardens, of the brown villages, of the red mountains, of the
white town with its lights, its white figures, its throbbing music? And
the mystical attraction of the desert--where was it now? Its voice, that
had called her persistently, was suddenly silent. Its hand, that had
been laid upon her, was removed. She looked at it in the moonlight and
it was no longer the desert, sand with a soul in it, blue distances full
of a music of summons, spaces, peopled with spirits from the sun. It
was only a barren waste of dried-up matter, arid, featureless, desolate,
ghastly with the bones of things that had died.

She heard the dogs barking by the tents of the nomads and the noises of
the insects, but still she did not feel the horse underneath her. Yet
she was gradually recovering her powers, and their recovery brought with
it sharp, physical pain, such as is felt by a person who has been nearly
drowned and is restored from unconsciousness.

Androvsky turned round. She saw his eyes fastened upon her, and
instantly pride awoke in her, and, with pride, her whole self.

She felt her horse under her, the reins in her hands, the stirrup at her
foot. She moved in her saddle. The blood tingled in her veins fiercely,
bitterly, as if it had become suddenly acrid. She felt as if her face
were scarlet, as if her whole body flushed, and as if the flush could be
seen by her companion. For a moment she was clothed from head to foot
in a fiery garment of shame. But she faced Androvsky with calm eyes, and
her lips smiled.

"You are tired of it?" she said.

"I never meant to stay long," he answered, looking down.

"There is not very much to do here. Shall we ride back to the village
now?"

She turned her horse, and as she did so cast one more glance at the
three palm trees that stood far out on the path of the moon. They looked
like three malignant fates lifting up their hands in malediction. For a
moment she shivered in the saddle. Then she touched her horse with the
whip and turned her eyes away. Androvsky followed her and rode by her
side in silence.

To gain the oasis they passed near to the tents of the nomads, whose
fires were dying out. The guard dogs were barking furiously, and
straining at the cords which fastened them to the tent pegs, by the
short hedges of brushwood that sheltered the doors of filthy rags. The
Arabs were all within, no doubt huddled up on the ground asleep. One
tent was pitched alone, at a considerable distance from the others, and
under the first palms of the oasis. A fire smouldered before it, casting
a flickering gleam of light upon something dark which lay upon the
ground between it and the tent. Tied to the tent was a large white dog,
which was not barking, but which was howling as if in agony of fear.
Before Domini and Androvsky drew near to this tent the howling of the
dog reached them and startled them. There was in it a note that seemed
humanly expressive, as if it were a person trying to scream out words
but unable to from horror. Both of them instinctively pulled up their
horses, listened, then rode forward. When they reached the tent they saw
the dark thing lying by the fire.

"What is it?" Domini whispered.

"An Arab asleep, I suppose," Androvsky answered, staring at the
motionless object.

"But the dog----" She looked at the white shape leaping frantically
against the tent. "Are you sure?"

"It must be. Look, it is wrapped in rags and the head is covered."

"I don't know."

She stared at it. The howling of the dog grew louder, as if it were
straining every nerve to tell them something dreadful.

"Do you mind getting off and seeing what it is? I'll hold the horse."

He swung himself out of the saddle. She caught his rein and watched him
go forward to the thing that lay by the fire, bend down over it, touch
it, recoil from it, then--as if with a determined effort--kneel down
beside it on the ground and take the rags that covered it in his hands.
After a moment of contemplation of what they had hidden he dropped the
rags--or rather threw them from him with a violent gesture--got up and
came back to Domini, and looked at her without speaking. She bent down.

"I'll tell you," she said. "I'll tell you what it is. It's a dead
woman."

It seemed to her as if the dark thing lying by the fire was herself.

"Yes," he said. "It's a woman who has been strangled."

"Poor woman!" she said. "Poor--poor woman!"

And it seemed to her as if she said it of herself.



CHAPTER XV

Lying in bed in the dark that night Domini heard the church clock chime
the hours. She was not restless, though she was wakeful. Indeed, she
felt like a woman to whom an injection of morphia had been administered,
as if she never wished to move again. She lay there counting the minutes
that made the passing hours, counting them calmly, with an inexorable
and almost cold self-possession. The process presently became
mechanical, and she was able, at the same time, to dwell upon the events
that had followed upon the discovery of the murdered woman by the tent:
Androvsky's pulling aside of the door of the tent to find it empty,
their short ride to the encampment close by, their rousing up of the
sleeping Arabs within, filthy nomads clothed in patched garments,
unveiled women with wrinkled, staring faces and huge plaits of false
hair and amulets. From the tents the strange figures had streamed forth
into the light of the moon and the fading fires, gesticulating, talking
loudly, furiously, in an uncouth language that was unintelligible to
her. Led by Androvsky they had come to the corpse, while the air was
rent by the frantic barking of all the guard dogs and the howling of the
dog that had been a witness of the murder. Then in the night had risen
the shrill wailing of the women, a wailing that seemed to pierce the
stars and shudder out to the remotest confines of the desert, and in
the cold white radiance of the moon a savage vision of grief had been
presented to her eyes: naked arms gesticulating as if they strove to
summon vengeance from heaven, claw-like hands casting earth upon the
heads from which dangled Fatma hands, chains of tarnished silver and
lumps of coral that reminded her of congealed blood, bodies that swayed
and writhed as if stricken with convulsions or rent by seven devils.
She remembered how strange had seemed to her the vast calm, the
vast silence, that encompassed this noisy outburst of humanity, how
inflexible had looked the enormous moon, how unsympathetic the brightly
shining stars, how feverish and irritable the flickering illumination of
the flames that spurted up and fainted away like things still living but
in the agonies of death.

Then had followed her silent ride back to Beni-Mora with Androvsky along
the straight road which had always fascinated her spirit of adventure.
They had ridden slowly, without looking at each other, without
exchanging a word. She had felt dry and weary, like an old woman who had
passed through a long life of suffering and emerged into a region where
any acute feeling is unable to exist, as at a certain altitude from the
earth human life can no longer exist. The beat of the horses' hoofs upon
the road had sounded hard, as her heart felt, cold as the temperature
of her mind. Her body, which usually swayed to her horse's slightest
movement, was rigid in the saddle. She recollected that once, when her
horse stumbled, she had thrilled with an abrupt anger that was almost
ferocious, and had lifted her whip to lash it. But the hand had slipped
down nervelessly, and she had fallen again into her frigid reverie.

When they reached the hotel she had dropped to the ground, heavily, and
heavily had ascended the steps of the verandah, followed by Androvsky.
Without turning to him or bidding him good-night she had gone to
her room. She had not acted with intentional rudeness or
indifference--indeed, she had felt incapable of an intention. Simply,
she had forgotten, for the first time perhaps in her life, an ordinary
act of courtesy, as an old person sometimes forgets you are there and
withdraws into himself. Androvsky had said nothing, had not tried to
attract her attention to himself. She had heard his steps die away on
the verandah. Then, mechanically, she had undressed and got into bed,
where she was now mechanically counting the passing moments.

Presently she became aware of her own stillness and connected it with
the stillness of the dead woman, by the tent. She lay, as it were,
watching her own corpse as a Catholic keeps vigil beside a body that has
not yet been put into the grave. But in this chamber of death there were
no flowers, no lighted candles, no lips that moved in prayer. She
had gone to bed without praying. She remembered that now, but with
indifference. Dead people do not pray. The living pray for them. But
even the watcher could not pray. Another hour struck in the belfry of
the church. She listened to the chime and left off counting the moments,
and this act of cessation made more perfect the peace of the dead woman.

When the sun rose her sensation of death passed away, leaving behind it,
however, a lethargy of mind and body such as she had never known before
the previous night. Suzanne, coming in to call her, exclaimed:

"Mam'selle is ill?"

"No. Why should I be ill?"

"Mam'selle looks so strange," the maid said, regarding her with round
and curious eyes. "As if--"

She hesitated.

"Give me my tea," Domini said.

When she was drinking it she asked:

"Do you know at what time the train leaves Beni-Mora--the passenger
train?"

"Yes, Mam'selle. There is only one in the day. It goes soon after
twelve. Monsieur Helmuth told me."

"Oh!"

"What gown will--?"

"Any gown--the white linen one I had on yesterday."

"Yes, Mam'selle."

"No, not that. Any other gown. Is it to be hot?"

"Very hot, Mam'selle. There is not a cloud in the sky."

"How strange!" Domini said, in a low voice that Suzanne did not hear.
When she was up and dressed she said:

"I am going out to Count Anteoni's garden. I think I'll--yes, I'll take
a book with me."

She went into her little salon and looked at the volumes scattered about
there, some books of devotion, travel, books on sport, Rossetti's and
Newman's poems, some French novels, and the novels of Jane Austen, of
which, oddly, considering her nature, she was very fond. For the first
time in her life they struck her as shrivelled, petty chronicles of
shrivelled, bloodless, artificial lives. She turned back into her
bedroom, took up the little white volume of the _Imitation_, which lay
always near her bed, and went out into the verandah. She looked neither
to right nor left, but at once descended the staircase and took her way
along the arcade.

When she reached the gate of the garden she hesitated before knocking
upon it. The sight of the villa, the arches, the white walls and
clustering trees she knew so well hurt her so frightfully, so
unexpectedly, that she felt frightened and sick, and as if she must go
away quickly to some place which she had never seen, and which could
call up no reminiscences in her mind.

Perhaps she would have gone into the oasis, or along the path that
skirted the river bed, had not Smain softly opened the gate and come out
to meet her, holding a great velvety rose in his slim hand.

He gave it to her without a word, smiling languidly with eyes in which
the sun seemed caught and turned to glittering darkness, and as she took
it and moved it in her fingers, looking at the wine-coloured petals on
which lay tiny drops of water gleaming with thin and silvery lights, she
remembered her first visit to the garden, and the mysterious enchantment
that had floated out to her through the gate from the golden vistas and
the dusky shadows of the trees, the feeling of romantic expectation that
had stirred within her as she stepped on to the sand and saw before her
the winding ways disappearing into dimness between the rills edged by
the pink geraniums.

How long ago that seemed, like a remembrance of early childhood in the
heart of one who is old.

Now that the gate was open she resolved to go into the garden. She might
as well be there as elsewhere. She stepped in, holding the rose in her
hand. One of the drops of water slipped from an outer petal and fell
upon the sand. She thought of it as a tear. The rose was weeping, but
her eyes were dry. She touched the rose with her lips.

To-day the garden was like a stranger to her, but a stranger with whom
she had once--long, long ago--been intimate, whom she had trusted, and
by whom she had been betrayed. She looked at it and knew that she had
thought it beautiful and loved it. From its recesses had come to her
troops of dreams. The leaves of its trees had touched her as with tender
hands. The waters of its rills had whispered to her of the hidden things
that lie in the breast of joy. The golden rays that played through its
scented alleys had played, too, through the shadows of her heart, making
a warmth and light there that seemed to come from heaven. She knew this
as one knows of the apparent humanity that greeted one's own humanity in
the friend who is a friend no longer, and she sickened at it as at the
thought of remembered intimacy with one proved treacherous. There seemed
to her nothing ridiculous in this personification of the garden, as
there had formerly seemed to her nothing ridiculous in her thought of
the desert as a being; but the fact that she did thus instinctively
personify the nature that surrounded her gave to the garden in her eyes
an aspect that was hostile and even threatening, as if she faced a love
now changed to hate, a cold and inimical watchfulness that knew too much
about her, to which she had once told all her happy secrets and murmured
all her hopes. She did not hate the garden, but she felt as if she
feared it. The movements of its leaves conveyed to her uneasiness. The
hidden places, which once had been to her retreats peopled with tranquil
blessings, were now become ambushes in which lay lurking enemies.

Yet she did not leave it, for to-day something seemed to tell her that
it was meant that she should suffer, and she bowed in spirit to the
decree.

She went on slowly till she reached the _fumoir_. She entered it and sat
down.

She had not seen any of the gardeners or heard the note of a flute.
The day was very still. She looked at the narrow doorway and remembered
exactly the attitude in which Count Anteoni had stood during their first
interview, holding a trailing branch of the bougainvillea in his hand.
She saw him as a shadow that the desert had taken. Glancing down at the
carpet sand she imagined the figure of the sand-diviner crouching there
and recalled his prophecy, and directly she did this she knew that she
had believed in it. She had believed that one day she would ride, out
into the desert in a storm, and that with her, enclosed in the curtains
of a palanquin, there would be a companion. The Diviner had not told
her who would be this companion. Darkness was about him rendering him
invisible to the eyes of the seer. But her heart had told her. She had
seen the other figure in the palanquin. It was a man. It was Androvsky.

She had believed that she would go out into the desert with Androvsky,
with this traveller of whose history, of whose soul, she knew nothing.
Some inherent fatalism within her had told her so. And now----?

The darkness of the shade beneath the trees in this inmost recess of the
garden fell upon her like the darkness of that storm in which the desert
was blotted out, and it was fearful to her because she felt that she
must travel in the storm alone. Till now she had been very much alone
in life and had realised that such solitude was dreary, that in it
development was difficult, and that it checked the steps of the pilgrim
who should go upward to the heights of life. But never till now had she
felt the fierce tragedy of solitude, the utter terror of it. As she sat
in the _fumoir_, looking down on the smoothly-raked sand, she said to
herself that till this moment she had never had any idea of the meaning
of solitude. It was the desert within a human soul, but the desert
without the sun. And she knew this because at last she loved. The dark
and silent flood of passion that lay within her had been released from
its boundaries, the old landmarks were swept away for ever, the face of
the world was changed.

She loved Androvsky. Everything in her loved him; all that she had been,
all that she was, all that she could ever be loved him; that which was
physical in her, that which was spiritual, the brain, the heart, the
soul, body and flame burning within it--all that made her the wonder
that is woman, loved him. She was love for Androvsky. It seemed to her
that she was nothing else, had never been anything else. The past years
were nothing, the pain by which she was stricken when her mother fled,
by which she was tormented when her father died blaspheming, were
nothing. There was no room in her for anything but love of Androvsky. At
this moment even her love of God seemed to have been expelled from her.
Afterwards she remembered that. She did not think of it now. For her
there was a universe with but one figure in it--Androvsky. She was
unconscious of herself except as love for him. She was unconscious of
any Creative Power to whom she owed the fact that he was there to be
loved by her. She was passion, and he was that to which passion flowed.

The world was the stream and the sea.

As she sat there with her hands folded on her knees, her eyes bent down,
and the purple flowers all about her, she felt simplified and cleansed,
as if a mass of little things had been swept from her, leaving space
for the great thing that henceforth must for ever dwell within her and
dominate her life. The burning shame of which she had been conscious on
the previous night, when Androvsky told her of his approaching departure
and she was stricken as by a lightning flash, had died away from her
utterly. She remembered it with wonder. How should she be ashamed of
love? She thought that it would be impossible to her to be ashamed, even
if Androvsky knew all that she knew. Just then the immense truth of her
feeling conquered everything else, made every other thing seem false,
and she said to herself that of truth she did not know how to be
ashamed. But with the knowledge of the immense truth of her love came
the knowledge of the immense sorrow that might, that must, dwell side by
side with it.

Suddenly she moved. She lifted her eyes from the sand and looked out
into the garden. Besides this truth within her there was one other thing
in the world that was true. Androvsky was going away. While she sat
there the moments were passing. They were making the hours that were
bent upon destruction. She was sitting in the garden now and Androvsky
was close by. A little time would pass noiselessly. She would be sitting
there and Androvsky would be far away, gone from the desert, gone out of
her life no doubt for ever. And the garden would not have changed. Each
tree would stand in its place, each flower would still give forth its
scent. The breeze would go on travelling through the lacework of the
branches, the streams slipping between the sandy walls of the rills.
The inexorable sun would shine, and the desert would whisper in its blue
distances of the unseen things that always dwell beyond. And Androvsky
would be gone. Their short intercourse, so full of pain, uneasiness,
reserve, so fragmentary, so troubled by abrupt violences, by ignorance,
by a sense of horror even on the one side, and by an almost constant
suspicion on the other, would have come to an end.

She was stunned by the thought, and looked round her as if she expected
inanimate Nature to take up arms for her against this fate. Yet she did
not for a moment think of taking up arms herself. She had left the hotel
without trying to see Androvsky. She did not intend to return to it till
he was gone. The idea of seeking him never came into her mind. There is
an intensity of feeling that generates action, but there is a greater
intensity of feeling that renders action impossible, the feeling that
seems to turn a human being into a shell of stone within which burn all
the fires of creation. Domini knew that she would not move out of the
_fumoir_ till the train was creeping along the river-bed on its way from
Beni-Mora.

She had laid down the _Imitation_ upon the seat by her side, and now she
took it up. The sight of its familiar pages made her think for the first
time, "Do I love God any more?" And immediately afterwards came
the thought: "Have I ever loved him?" The knowledge of her love for
Androvsky, for this body that she had seen, for this soul that she had
seen through the body like a flame through glass, made her believe just
then that if she had ever thought--and certainly she had thought--that
she loved a being whom she had never seen, never even imaginatively
projected, she had deceived herself. The act of faith was not
impossible, but the act of love for the object on which that faith was
concentrated now seemed to her impossible. For her body, that remained
passive, was full of a riot, a fury of life. The flesh that had slept
was awakened and knew itself. And she could no longer feel that she
could love that which her flesh could not touch, that which could not
touch her flesh. And she said to herself, without terror, even without
regret, "I do not love, I never have loved, God."

She looked into the book:

"Unspeakable, indeed, is the sweetness of thy contemplation, which thou
bestowest on them that love thee."

The sweetness of thy contemplation! She remembered Androvsky's face
looking at her out of the heart of the sun as they met for the first
time in the blue country. In that moment she put him consciously in
the place of God, and there was nothing within her to say, "You are
committing mortal sin."

She looked into the book once more and her eyes fell upon the words
which she had read on her first morning in Beni-Mora:

"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not
tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it is
not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it mounteth
upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosoever loveth knoweth the
cry of this voice."

She had always loved these words and thought them the most beautiful in
the book, but now they came to her with the newness of the first spring
morning that ever dawned upon the world. The depth of them was laid bare
to her, and, with that depth, the depth of her own heart. The paralysis
of anguish passed from her. She no longer looked to Nature as one
dumbly seeking help. For they led her to herself, and made her look
into herself and her own love and know it. "When frightened it is
not disturbed--it securely passeth through all." That was absolutely
true--true as her love. She looked down into her love, and she saw there
the face of God, but thought she saw the face of human love only. And
it was so beautiful and so strong that even the tears upon it gave her
courage, and she said to herself: "Nothing matters, nothing can matter
so long as I have this love within me. He is going away, but I am not
sad, for I am going with him--my love, all that I am--that is going with
him, will always be with him."

Just then it seemed to her that if she had seen Androvsky lying dead
before her on the sand she could not have felt unhappy. Nothing could do
harm to a great love. It was the one permanent, eternally vital thing,
clad in an armour of fire that no weapon could pierce, free of all
terror from outside things because it held its safety within its own
heart, everlastingly enough, perfectly, flawlessly complete for and in
itself. For that moment fear left her, restlessness left her. Anyone
looking in upon her from the garden would have looked in upon a great,
calm happiness.

Presently there came a step upon the sand of the garden walks. A man,
going slowly, with a sort of passionate reluctance, as if something
immensely strong was trying to hold him back, but was conquered with
difficulty by something still stronger that drove him on, came out of
the fierce sunshine into the shadow of the garden, and began to search
its silent recesses. It was Androvsky. He looked bowed and old and
guilty. The two lines near his mouth were deep. His lips were working.
His thin cheeks had fallen in like the cheeks of a man devoured by a
wasting illness, and the strong tinge of sunburn on them seemed to be
but an imperfect mark to a pallor that, fully visible, would have been
more terrible than that of a corpse. In his eyes there was a fixed
expression of ferocious grief that seemed mingled with ferocious anger,
as if he were suffering from some dreadful misery, and cursed himself
because he suffered, as a man may curse himself for doing a thing that
he chooses to do but need not do. Such an expression may sometimes be
seen in the eyes of those who are resisting a great temptation.

He began to search the garden, furtively but minutely. Sometimes he
hesitated. Sometimes he stood still. Then he turned back and went a
little way towards the wide sweep of sand that was bathed in sunlight
where the villa stood. Then with more determination, and walking
faster, he again made his way through the shadows that slept beneath
the densely-growing trees. As he passed between them he several times
stretched out trembling hands, broke off branches and threw them on the
sand, treading on them heavily and crushing them down below the surface.
Once he spoke to himself in a low voice that shook as if with difficulty
dominating sobs that were rising in his throat.

"_De profundis_--" he said. "_De profundis_--_de profundis_--"

His voice died away. He took hold of one hand with the other and went on
silently.

Presently he made his way at last towards the _fumoir_ in which Domini
was still sitting, with one hand resting on the open page whose words
had lit up the darkness in her spirit. He came to it so softly that she
did not hear his step. He saw her, stood quite still under the trees,
and looked at her for a long time. As he did so his face changed till he
seemed to become another man. The ferocity of grief and anger faded from
his eyes, which were filled with an expression of profound wonder, then
of flickering uncertainty, then of hard, manly resolution--a fighting
expression that was full of sex and passion. The guilty, furtive look
which had been stamped upon all his features, specially upon his
lips, vanished. Suddenly he became younger in appearance. His figure
straightened itself. His hands ceased from trembling. He moved away from
the trees, and went to the doorway of the _fumoir_.

Domini looked up, saw him, and got up quietly, clasping her fingers
round the little book.

Androvsky stood just beyond the doorway, took off his hat, kept it in
his hand, and said:

"I came here to say good-bye."

He made a movement as if to come into the _fumoir_, but she stopped it
by coming at once to the opening. She felt that she could not speak to
him enclosed within walls, under a roof. He drew back, and she came out
and stood beside him on the sand.

"Did you know I should come?" he said.

She noticed that he had ceased to call her "Madame," and also that there
was in his voice a sound she had not heard in it before, a note of new
self-possession that suggested a spirit concentrating itself and aware
of its own strength to act.

"No," she answered.

"Were you coming back to the hotel this morning?" he asked.

"No."

He was silent for a moment. Then he said slowly:

"Then--then you did not wish--you did not mean to see me again before I
went?"

"It was not that. I came to the garden--I had to come--I had to be
alone."

"You want to be alone?" he said. "You want to be alone?"

Already the strength was dying out of his voice and face, and the old
uneasiness was waking up in him. A dreadful expression of pain came into
his eyes.

"Was that why you--you looked so happy?" he said in a harsh, trembling
voice.

"When?"

"I stood for a long while looking at you when you were in there"--he
pointed to the _fumoir_--"and your face was happy--your face was happy."

"Yes, I know."

"You will be happy alone?--alone in the desert?"

When he said that she felt suddenly the agony of the waterless spaces,
the agony of the unpeopled wastes. Her whole spirit shrank and quivered,
all the great joy of her love died within her. A moment before she had
stood upon the heights of her heart. Now she shrank into its deepest,
blackest abysses. She looked at him and said nothing.

"You will not be happy alone."

His voice no longer trembled. He caught hold of her left hand,
awkwardly, nervously, but held it strongly with his close to his side,
and went on speaking.

"Nobody is happy alone. Nothing is--men and women--children--animals." A
bird flew across the shadowy space under the trees, followed by another
bird; he pointed to them; they disappeared. "The birds, too, they must
have companionship. Everything wants a companion."

"Yes."

"But then--you will stay here alone in the desert?"

"What else can I do?" she said.

"And that journey," he went on, still holding her hand fast against his
side, "Your journey into the desert--you will take it alone?"

"What else can I do?" she repeated in a lower voice.

It seemed to her that he was deliberately pressing her down into the
uttermost darkness.

"You will not go."

"Yes, I shall go."

She spoke with conviction. Even in that moment--most of all in that
moment--she knew that she would obey the summons of the desert.

"I--I shall never know the desert," he said. "I thought--it seemed to me
that I, too, should go out into it. I have wanted to go. You have made
me want to go."

"I?"

"Yes. Once you said to me that peace must dwell out there. It was on the
tower the--the first time you ever spoke to me."

"I remember."

"I wondered--I often wonder why you spoke to me."

She knew he was looking at her with intensity, but she kept her eyes on
the sand. There was something in them that she felt he must not see, a
light that had just come into them as she realised that already, on the
tower before she even knew him, she had loved him. It was that love,
already born in her heart but as yet unconscious of its own existence,
which had so strangely increased for her the magic of the African
evening when she watched it with him. But before--suddenly she knew that
she had loved Androvsky from the beginning, from the moment when his
face looked at her as if out of the heart of the sun. That was why her
entry into the desert had been full of such extraordinary significance.
This man and the desert were, had always been, as one in her mind.
Never had she thought of the one without the other. Never had she been
mysteriously called by the desert without hearing as a far-off echo the
voice of Androvsky, or been drawn onward by the mystical summons of the
blue distances without being drawn onward, too, by the mystical summons
of the heart to which her own responded. The link between the man
and the desert was indissoluble. She could not conceive of its being
severed, and as she realised this, she realised also something that
turned her whole nature into flame.

She could not conceive of Androvsky's not loving her, of his not having
loved her from the moment when he saw her in the sun. To him, too, the
desert had made a revelation--the revelation of her face, and of the
soul behind it looking through it. In the flames of the sun, as they
went into the desert, the flames of their two spirits had been blended.
She knew that certainly and for ever. Then how could it be possible that
Androvsky should not go out with her into the desert?

"Why did you speak to me?" he said.

"We came into the desert together," she answered simply. "We had to know
each other."

"And now--now--we have to say----"

His voice ceased. Far away there was the thin sound of a chime. Domini
had never before heard the church bell in the garden, and now she felt
as if she heard it, not with her ears, but with her spirit. As she heard
she felt Androvsky's hand, which had been hot upon hers, turn cold. He
let her hand go, and again she was stricken by the horrible sound she
had heard the previous night in the desert, when he turned his horse
and rode away with her. And now, as then, he turned away from her in
silence, but she knew that this time he was leaving her, that this
movement was his final good-bye. With his head bowed down he took a few
steps. He was near to a turning of the path. She watched him, knowing
that within less than a moment she would be watching only the trees and
the sand. She gazed at the bent figure, calling up all her faculties,
crying out to herself passionately, desperately, "Remember it--remember
it as it is--there--before you--just as it is--for ever." As it reached
the turning, in the distance of the garden rose the twitter of the flute
of Larbi. Androvsky stopped, stood still with his back turned towards
her. And Larbi, hidden and far off, showered out his little notes of
African love, of love in the desert where the sun is everlasting, and
the passion of man is hot as the sun, where Liberty reigns, lifting her
cymbals that are as spheres of fire, and the footsteps of Freedom are
heard upon the sand, treading towards the south.

Larbi played--played on and on, untiring as the love that blossomed with
the world, but that will not die when the world dies.

Then Androvsky came back quickly till he reached the place where Domini
was standing. He put his hands on her shoulders. Then he sank down on
the sand, letting his hands slip down over her breast and along her
whole body till they clasped themselves round her knees. He pressed his
face into her dress against her knees.

"I love you," he said. "I love you but don't listen to me--you mustn't
hear it--you mustn't. But I must say it. I can't--I can't go till I say
it. I love you--I love you."

She heard him sobbing against her knees, and the sound was as the sound
of strength made audible. She put her hands against his temples.

"I am listening," she said. "I must hear it."

He looked up, rose to his feet, put his hands behind her shoulders, held
her, and set his lips on hers, pressing his whole body against hers.

"Hear it!" he said, muttering against her lips. "Hear it. I love you--I
love you."

The two birds they had seen flew back beneath the trees, turned in an
airy circle, rose above the trees into the blue sky, and, side by side,
winged their way out of the garden to the desert.




BOOK IV. THE JOURNEY



CHAPTER XVI

In the evening before the day of Domini's marriage with Androvsky there
was a strange sunset, which attracted even the attention and roused the
comment of the Arabs. The day had been calm and beautiful, one of the
most lovely days of the North African spring, and Batouch, resting from
the triumphant labour of superintending the final preparations for a
long desert journey, augured a morning of Paradise for the departure
along the straight road that led at last to Tombouctou. But as the
radiant afternoon drew to its end there came into the blue sky a
whiteness that suggested a heaven turning pale in the contemplation of
some act that was piteous and terrible. And under this blanching heaven
the desert, and all things and people of the oasis of Beni-Mora, assumed
an aspect of apprehension, as if they felt themselves to be in the
thrall of some power whose omnipotence they could not question and whose
purpose they feared. This whiteness was shot, at the hour of sunset,
with streaks of sulphur yellow and dappled with small, ribbed clouds
tinged with yellow-green, a bitter and cruel shade of green that
distressed the eyes as a merciless light distresses them, but these
colours quickly faded, and again the whiteness prevailed for a brief
space of time before the heavy falling of a darkness unpierced by stars.
With this darkness came a faint moaning of hollow wind from the desert,
a lamentable murmur that shuddered over the great spaces, crept among
the palms and the flat-roofed houses, and died away at the foot of the
brown mountains beyond the Hammam Salahine. The succeeding silence,
short and intense, was like a sound of fear, like the cry of a voice
lifted up in protest against the approach of an unknown, but dreaded,
fate. Then the wind came again with a stronger moaning and a lengthened
life, not yet forceful, not yet with all its powers, but more tenacious,
more acquainted with itself and the deeds that it might do when the
night was black among the vast sands which were its birth-place, among
the crouching plains and the trembling palm groves that would be its
battle-ground.

Batouch looked grave as he listened to the wind and the creaking of the
palm stems one against another. Sand came upon his face. He pulled the
hood of his burnous over his turban and across his cheeks, covered his
mouth with a fold of his haik and stared into the blackness, like an
animal in search of something his instinct has detected approaching from
a distance.

Ali was beside him in the doorway of the Cafe Maure, a slim Arab boy,
bronze-coloured and serious as an idol, who was a troubadour of the
Sahara, singer of "Janat" and many lovesongs, player of the guitar
backed with sand tortoise and faced with stretched goatskin. Behind them
swung an oil lamp fastened to a beam of palm, and the red ashes glowed
in the coffee niche and shed a ray upon the shelf of small white cups
with faint designs of gold. In a corner, his black face and arms faintly
relieved against the wall, an old negro crouched, gazing into vacancy
with bulging eyes, and beating with a curved palm stem upon an oval
drum, whose murmur was deep and hollow as the murmur of the wind, and
seemed indeed its echo prisoned within the room and striving to escape.

"There is sand on my eyelids," said Batouch. "It is bad for to-morrow.
When Allah sends the sands we should cover the face and play the ladies'
game within the cafe, we should not travel on the road towards the
south."

Ali said nothing, but drew up his haik over his mouth and nose, and
looked into the night, folding his thin hands in his burnous.

"Achmed will sleep in the Bordj of Arba," continued Batouch in a low,
murmuring voice, as if speaking to himself. "And the beasts will be
in the court. Nothing can remain outside, for there will be a greater
roaring of the wind at Arba. Can it be the will of Allah that we rest in
the tents to-morrow?"

Ali made no answer. The wind had suddenly died down.

The sand grains came no more against their eyelids and the folds of
their haiks. Behind them the negro's drum gave out monotonously its echo
of the wind, filling the silence of the night.

"Whatever Allah sends," Batouch went on softly after a pause, "Madame
will go. She is brave as the lion. There is no jackal in Madame. Irena
is not more brave than she is. But Madame will never wear the veil for
a man's sake. She will not wear the veil, but she could give a
knife-thrust if he were to look at another woman as he has looked at
her, as he will look at her to-morrow. She is proud as a Touareg and
there is fierceness in her. But he will never look at another woman as
he will look at her to-morrow. The Roumi is not as we are."

The wind came back to join its sound with the drum, imprisoning the two
Arabs in a muttering circle.

"They will not care," said Batouch. "They will go out into the storm
without fear."

The sand pattered more sharply on his eyelids. He drew back into the
cafe. Ali followed him, and they squatted down side by side upon the
ground and looked before them seriously. The noise of the wind increased
till it nearly drowned the noise of the negro's drum. Presently the
one-eyed owner of the cafe brought them two cups of coffee, setting the
cups near their stockinged feet. They rolled two cigarettes and smoked
in silence, sipping the coffee from time to time. Then Ali began to
glance towards the negro. Half shutting his eyes, and assuming a languid
expression that was almost sickly, he stretched his lips in a smile,
gently moving his head from side to side. Batouch watched him. Presently
he opened his lips and began to sing:

     "The love of women is like a date that is golden in the sun,
        That is golden--
      The love of women is like a gazelle that
          comes to drink--
        To drink at the water springs--
     The love of women is like the nargileh, and like the dust of
          the keef
        That is mingled with tobacco and with honey.
     Put the reed between thy lips, O loving man!
     And draw dreams from the haschish that is the love of women!
            Janat! Janat! Janat!"

The wind grew louder and sand was blown along the cafe floor and about
the coffee-cups.

     "The love of women is like the rose of the Caid's garden
        That is full of silver tears--
     The love of women is like the first day of the spring
        When the children play at Cora--
     The love of women is like the Derbouka that has been warmed at
          the fire
        And gives out a sweet sound.
     Take it in thy hands, O loving man!
     And sing to the Derbouka that is the love of women.
            Janat! Janat! Janat!"

In the doorway, where the lamp swung from the beam, a man in European
dress stood still to listen. The wind wailed behind him and stirred his
clothes. His eyes shone in the faint light with a fierceness of emotion
in which there was a joy that was almost terrible, but in which there
seemed also to be something that was troubled. When the song died away,
and only the voices of the wind and the drum spoke to the darkness, he
disappeared into the night. The Arabs did not see him.

"Janat! Janat! Janat!"

The night drew on and the storm increased. All the doors of the houses
were closely shut. Upon the roofs the guard dogs crouched, shivering
and whining, against the earthen parapets. The camels groaned in the
fondouks, and the tufted heads of the palms swayed like the waves of the
sea. And the Sahara seemed to be lifting up its voice in a summons that
was tremendous as a summons to Judgment.

Domini had always known that the desert would summon her. She heard its
summons now in the night without fear. The roaring of the tempest was
sweet in her ears as the sound of the Derbouka to the loving man of the
sands. It accorded with the fire that lit up the cloud of passion in
her heart. Its wildness marched in step with a marching wildness in
her veins and pulses. For her gipsy blood was astir to-night, and the
recklessness of the boy in her seemed to clamour with the storm. The
sound of the wind was as the sound of the clashing cymbals of Liberty,
calling her to the adventure that love would glorify, to the far-away
life that love would make perfect, to the untrodden paths of the sun
of which she had dreamed in the shadows, and on which she would set her
feet at last with the comrade of her soul.

To-morrow her life would begin, her real life, the life of which men
and women dream as the prisoner dreams of freedom. And she was glad,
she thanked God, that her past years had been empty of joy, that in her
youth she had been robbed of youth's pleasures. She thanked God that she
had come to maturity without knowing love. It seemed to her that to love
in early life was almost pitiful, was a catastrophe, an experience for
which the soul was not ready, and so could not appreciate at its full
and wonderful value. She thought of it as of a child being taken away
from the world to Paradise without having known the pain of existence in
the world, and at that moment she worshipped suffering. Every tear that
she had ever shed she loved, every weary hour, every despondent thought,
every cruel disappointment. She called around her the congregation of
her past sorrows, and she blessed them and bade them depart from her for
ever.

As she heard the roaring of the wind she smiled. The Sahara was
fulfilling the words of the Diviner. To-morrow she and Androvsky would
go out into the storm and the darkness together. The train of camels
would be lost in the desolation of the desert. And the people of
Beni-Mora would see it vanish, and, perhaps, would pity those who were
hidden by the curtains of the palanquin. They would pity her as Suzanne
pitied her, openly, with eyes that were tragic. She laughed aloud.

It was late in the night. Midnight had sounded yet she did not go to
bed. She feared to sleep, to lose the consciousness of her joy of the
glory which had come into her life. She was a miser of the golden hours
of this black and howling night. To sleep would be to be robbed. A
splendid avarice in her rebelled against the thought of sleep.

Was Androvsky sleeping? She wondered and longed to know.

To-night she was fully aware for the first time of the inherent
fearlessness of her character, which was made perfect at last by her
perfect love. Alone, she had always had courage. Even in her most
listless hours she had never been a craven. But now she felt the
completeness of a nature clothed in armour that rendered it impregnable.
It was a strange thing that man should have the power to put the
finishing touch to God's work, that religion should stoop to be a
handmaid to faith in a human being, but she did not think it strange.
Everything in life seemed to her to be in perfect accord because her
heart was in perfect accord with another heart.

And she welcomed the storm. She even welcomed something else that came
to her now in the storm: the memory of the sand-diviner's tortured
face as he gazed down, reading her fate in the sand. For what was an
untroubled fate? Surely a life that crept along the hollows and had no
impulse to call it to the heights. Knowing the flawless perfection of
her armour she had a wild longing to prove it. She wished that there
should be assaults upon her love, because she knew she could resist
them one and all, and she wished to have the keen joy of resisting them.
There is a health of body so keen and vital that it desires combat. The
soul sometimes knows a precisely similar health and is filled with a
similar desire.

"Put my love to the proof, O God!" was Domini's last prayer that night
when the storm was at its wildest. "Put my love to the uttermost proof
that he may know it, as he can never know it otherwise."

And she fell asleep at length, peacefully, in the tumult of the night,
feeling that God had heard her prayer.

The dawn came struggling like an exhausted pilgrim through the windy
dark, pale and faint, with no courage, it seemed, to grow bravely
into day. As if with the sedulous effort of something weary but of
unconquered will, it slowly lit up Beni-Mora with a feeble light that
flickered in a cloud of whirling sand, revealing the desolation of an
almost featureless void. The village, the whole oasis, was penetrated by
a passionate fog that instead of brooding heavily, phlegmatically, over
the face of life and nature travelled like a demented thing bent upon
instant destruction, and coming thus cloudily to be more free for crime.
It was an emissary of the desert, propelled with irresistible force from
the farthest recess of the dunes, and the desert itself seemed to be
hurrying behind it as if to spy upon the doing of its deeds.

As the sea in a great storm rages against the land, ferocious that land
should be, so the desert now raged against the oasis that ventured to
exist in its bosom. Every palm tree was the victim of its wrath, every
running rill, every habitation of man. Along the tunnels of mimosa
it went like a foaming tide through a cavern, roaring towards the
mountains. It returned and swept about the narrow streets, eddying at
the corners, beating upon the palmwood doors, behind which the painted
dancing-girls were cowering, cold under their pigments and their heavy
jewels, their red hands trembling and clasping one another, clamouring
about the minarets of the mosques on which the frightened doves were
sheltering, shaking the fences that shut in the gazelles in their
pleasaunce, tearing at the great statue of the Cardinal that faced it
resolutely, holding up the double cross as if to exorcise it, battering
upon the tall, white tower on whose summit Domini had first spoken with
Androvsky, raging through the alleys of Count Anteoni's garden, the
arcades of his villa, the window-spaces of the _fumoir_, from whose
walls it tore down frantically the purple petals of the bougainvillea
and dashed them, like enemies defeated, upon the quivering paths which
were made of its own body.

Everywhere in the oasis it came with a lust to kill, but surely its
deepest enmity was concentrated upon the Catholic Church.

There, despite the tempest, people were huddled, drawn together not so
much by the ceremony that was to take place within as by the desire to
see the departure of an unusual caravan. In every desert centre news is
propagated with a rapidity seldom equalled in the home of civilisation.
It runs from mouth to mouth like fire along straw. And Batouch, in his
glory, had not been slow to speak of the wonders prepared under his
superintendence to make complete the desert journey of his mistress and
Androvsky. The main part of the camp had already gone forward, and must
have reached Arba, the first halting stage outside Beni-Mora; tents, the
horses for the Roumis, the mules to carry necessary baggage, the cooking
utensils and the guard dogs. But the Roumis themselves were to depart
from the church on camel-back directly the marriage was accomplished.
Domini, who had a native hatred of everything that savoured of
ostentation, had wished for a tiny expedition, and would gladly have
gone out into the desert with but one tent, Batouch and a servant to do
the cooking. But the journey was to be long and indefinite, an aimless
wandering through the land of liberty towards the south, without fixed
purpose or time of returning. She knew nothing of what was necessary for
such a journey, and tired of ceaseless argument, and too much occupied
with joy to burden herself with detail, at last let Batouch have his
way.

"I leave it to you, Batouch," she said. "But, remember, as few people
and beasts as possible. And as you say we must have camels for certain
parts of the journey, we will travel the first stage on camel-back."

Consciously she helped to fulfil the prediction of the Diviner, and then
she left Batouch free.

Now outside the church, shrouded closely in hoods and haiks, grey and
brown bundles with staring eyes, the desert men were huddled against the
church wall in the wind. Hadj was there, and Smain, sheltering in his
burnous roses from Count Anteoni's garden. Larbi had come with his flute
and the perfume-seller from his black bazaar. For Domini had bought
perfumes from him on her last day in Beni-Mora. Most of Count Anteoni's
gardeners had assembled. They looked upon the Roumi lady, who rode
magnificently, but who could dream as they dreamed, too, as a friend.
Had she not haunted the alleys where they worked and idled till they had
learned to expect her, and to miss her when she did not come? And with
those whom Domini knew were assembled their friends, and their friends'
friends, men of Beni-Mora, men from the near oasis, and also many
of those desert wanderers who drift in daily out of the sands to the
centres of buying and selling, barter their goods for the goods of the
South, or sell their loads of dates for money, and, having enjoyed the
dissipation of the cafes and of the dancing-houses, drift away again
into the pathless wastes which are their home.

Few of the French population had ventured out, and the church itself was
almost deserted when the hour for the wedding drew nigh.

The priest came from his little house, bending forward against the wind,
his eyes partially protected from the driving sand by blue spectacles.
His face, which was habitually grave, to-day looked sad and stern,
like the face of a man about to perform a task that was against his
inclination, even perhaps against his conscience. He glanced at the
waiting Arabs and hastened into the church, taking off his spectacles
as he did so, and wiping his eyes, which were red from the action of
the sand-grains, with a silk pocket-handkerchief. When he reached the
sacristy he shut himself into it alone for a moment. He sat down on
a chair and, leaning his arms upon the wooden table that stood in the
centre of the room, bent forward and stared before him at the wall
opposite, listening to the howling of the wind.

Father Roubier had an almost passionate affection for his little church
of Beni-Mora. So long and ardently had he prayed and taught in it, so
often had he passed the twilight hours in it alone wrapped in religious
reveries, or searching his conscience for the shadows of sinful
thoughts, that it had become to him as a friend, and more than a friend.
He thought of it sometimes as his confessor and sometimes as his child.
Its stones were to him as flesh and blood, its altars as lips that
whispered consolation in answer to his prayers. The figures of its
saints were heavenly companions. In its ugliness he perceived only
beauty, in its tawdriness only the graces that are sweet offerings to
God. The love that, had he not been a priest, he might have given to
a woman he poured forth upon his church, and with it that other love
which, had it been the design of his Heavenly Father, would have fitted
him for the ascetic, yet impassioned, life of an ardent and devoted
monk. To defend this consecrated building against outrage he would,
without hesitation, have given his last drop of blood. And now he was to
perform in it an act against which his whole nature revolted; he was
to join indissolubly the lives of these two strangers who had come to
Beni-Mora--Domini Enfilden and Boris Androvsky. He was to put on the
surplice and white stole, to say the solemn and irreparable "Ego Jungo,"
to sprinkle the ring with holy water and bless it.

As he sat there alone, listening to the howling of the storm outside, he
went mentally through the coming ceremony. He thought of the wonderful
grace and beauty of the prayers of benediction, and it seemed to him
that to pronounce them with his lips, while his nature revolted against
his own utterance, was to perform a shameful act, was to offer an insult
to this little church he loved.

Yet how could he help performing this act? He knew that he would do it.
Within a few minutes he would be standing before the altar, he would be
looking into the faces of this man and woman whose love he was called
upon to consecrate. He would consecrate it, and they would go out from
him into the desert man and wife. They would be lost to his sight in the
town.

His eye fell upon a silver crucifix that was hanging upon the wall in
front of him. He was not a very imaginative man, not a man given to
fancies, a dreamer of dreams more real to him than life, or a seer of
visions. But to-day he was stirred, and perhaps the unwonted turmoil of
his mind acted subtly upon his nervous system. Afterward he felt certain
that it must have been so, for in no other way could he account for a
fantasy that beset him at this moment.

As he looked at the crucifix there came against the church a more
furious beating of the wind, and it seemed to him that the Christ upon
the crucifix shuddered.

He saw it shudder. He started, leaned across the table and stared at the
crucifix with eyes that were full of an amazement that was mingled with
horror. Then he got up, crossed the room and touched the crucifix with
his finger. As he did so, the acolyte, whose duty it was to help him
to robe, knocked at the sacristy door. The sharp noise recalled him to
himself. He knew that for the first time in his life he had been the
slave of an optical delusion. He knew it, and yet he could not banish
the feeling that God himself was averse from the act that he was on
the point of committing in this church that confronted Islam, that God
himself shuddered as surely even He, the Creator, must shudder at some
of the actions of his creatures. And this feeling added immensely to the
distress of the priest's mind. In performing this ceremony he now
had the dreadful sensation that he was putting himself into direct
antagonism with God. His instinctive horror of Androvsky had never been
so great as it was to-day. In vain he had striven to conquer it, to draw
near to this man who roused all the repulsion of his nature. His efforts
had been useless. He had prayed to be given the sympathy for this man
that the true Christian ought to feel towards every human being, even
the most degraded. But he felt that his prayers had not been answered.
With every day his antipathy for Androvsky increased. Yet he was
entirely unable to ground it upon any definite fact in Androvsky's
character. He did not know that character. The man was as much a mystery
to him as on the day when they first met. And to this living mystery
from which his soul recoiled he was about to consign, with all the
beautiful and solemn blessings of his Church, a woman whose character
he respected, whose innate purity, strength and nobility he had quickly
divined, and no less quickly learned to love.

It was a bitter, even a horrible, moment to him.

The little acolyte, a French boy, son of the postmaster of Beni-Mora,
was startled by the sight of the Father's face when he opened the
sacristy door. He had never before seen such an expression of almost
harsh pain in those usually kind eyes, and he drew back from the
threshold like one afraid. His movement recalled the priest to a sharp
consciousness of the necessities of the moment, and with a strong effort
he conquered his pain sufficiently to conceal all outward expression of
it. He smiled gently at the little boy and said:

"Is it time?"

The child looked reassured.

"Yes, Father."

He came into the sacristy and went towards the cupboard where the
vestments were kept, passing the silver crucifix. As he did so he
glanced at it. He opened the cupboard, then stood for a moment and again
turned his eyes to the Christ. The Father watched him.

"What are you looking at, Paul?" he asked.

"Nothing, Father," the boy replied, with a sudden expression of
reluctance that was almost obstinate.

And he began to take the priest's robes out of the cupboard.

Just then the wind wailed again furiously about the church, and the
crucifix fell down upon the floor of the sacristy.

The priest started forward, picked it up, and stood with it in his
hand. He glanced at the wall, and saw at once that the nail to which the
crucifix had been fastened had come out of its hole. A flake of plaster
had been detached, perhaps some days ago, and the hole had become too
large to retain the nail. The explanation of the matter was perfect,
simple and comprehensible. Yet the priest felt as if a catastrophe had
just taken place. As he stared at the cross he heard a little noise near
him. The acolyte was crying.

"Why, Paul, what's the matter?" he said.

"Why did it do that?" exclaimed the boy, as if alarmed. "Why did it do
that?"

"Perhaps it was the wind. Everything is shaking. Come, come, my child,
there is nothing to be afraid of."

He laid the crucifix on the table. Paul dried his eyes with his fists.

"I don't like to-day," he said. "I don't like to-day."

The priest patted him on the shoulder.

"The weather has upset you," he said, smiling.

But the nervous behaviour of the child deepened strangely his own sense
of apprehension. When he had robed he waited for the arrival of the
bride and bridegroom. There was to be no mass, and no music except the
Wedding March, which the harmonium player, a Marseillais employed in the
date-packing trade, insisted on performing to do honour to Mademoiselle
Enfilden, who had taken such an interest in the music of the church.
Androvsky, as the priest had ascertained, had been brought up in the
Catholic religion, but, when questioned, he had said quietly that he was
no longer a practising Catholic and that he never went to confession.
Under these circumstances it was not possible to have a nuptial mass.
The service would be short and plain, and the priest was glad that this
was so. Presently the harmonium player came in.

"I may play my loudest to-day, Father," he said, "but no one will hear
me."

He laughed, settled the pin--Joan of Arc's face in metal--in his azure
blue necktie, and added:

"Nom d'un chien, the wind's a cruel wedding guest!"

The priest nodded without speaking.

"Would you believe, Father," the man continued, "that Mademoiselle and
her husband are going to start for Arba from the church door in all this
storm! Batouch is getting the palanquin on to the camel. How they will
ever--"

"Hush!" said the priest, holding up a warning finger.

This idle chatter displeased him in the church, but he had another
reason for wishing to stop the conversation. It renewed his dread to
hear of the projected journey, and made him see, as in a shadowy vision,
Domini Enfilden's figure disappearing into the windy desolation of the
desert protected by the living mystery he hated. Yes, at this moment, he
no longer denied it to himself. There was something in Androvsky that
he actually hated with his whole soul, hated even in his church, at the
very threshold of the altar where stood the tabernacle containing the
sacred Host. As he thoroughly realised this for a moment he was shocked
at himself, recoiled mentally from his own feeling. But then something
within him seemed to rise up and say, "Perhaps it is because you are
near to the Host that you hate this man. Perhaps you are right to hate
him when he draws nigh to the body of Christ."

Nevertheless when, some minutes later, he stood within the altar rails
and saw the face of Domini, he was conscious of another thought, that
came through his mind, dark with doubt, like a ray of gold: "Can I be
right in hating what this good woman--this woman whose confession I have
received, whose heart I know--can I be right in hating what she loves,
in fearing what she trusts, in secretly condemning what she openly
enthrones?" And almost in despite of himself he felt reassured for an
instant, even happy in the thought of what he was about to do.

Domini's face at all times suggested strength. The mental and emotional
power of her were forcibly expressed, too, through her tall and
athletic body, which was full of easy grace, but full, too, of well-knit
firmness. To-day she looked not unlike a splendid Amazon who could have
been a splendid nun had she entered into religion. As she stood there by
Androvsky, simply dressed for the wild journey that was before her, the
slight hint in her personality of a Spartan youth, that stamped her with
a very definite originality, was blended with, even transfigured by, a
womanliness so intense as to be almost fierce, a womanliness that had
the fervour, the glowing vigour of a glory that had suddenly become
fully aware of itself, and of all the deeds that it could not only
conceive, but do. She was triumph embodied in the flesh, not the triumph
that is a school-bully, but that spreads wings, conscious at last that
the human being has kinship with the angels, and need not, should
not, wait for death to seek bravely their comradeship. She was love
triumphant, woman utterly fearless because instinctively aware that she
was fulflling her divine mission.

As he gazed at her the priest had a strange thought--of how Christ's
face must have looked when he said, "Lazarus, come forth!"

Androvsky stood by her, but the priest did not look at him.

The wind roared round the church, the narrow windows rattled, and
the clouds of sand driven against them made a pattering as of fingers
tapping frantically upon the glass. The buff-coloured curtains trembled,
and the dusty pink ribands tied round the ropes of the chandeliers
shook incessantly to and fro, as if striving to escape and to join the
multitudes of torn and disfigured things that were swept through space
by the breath of the storm. Beyond the windows, vaguely seen at moments
through the clouds of sand, the outlines of the palm leaves wavered,
descended, rose, darted from side to side, like hands of the demented.

Suzanne, who was one of the witnesses, trembled, and moved her full lips
nervously. She disapproved utterly of her mistress' wedding, and still
more of a honeymoon in the desert. For herself she did not care, very
shortly she was going to marry Monsieur Helmuth, the important person in
livery who accompanied the hotel omnibus to the station, and meanwhile
she was to remain at Beni-Mora under the chaperonage of Madame Armande,
the proprietor of the hotel. But it shocked her that a mistress of hers,
and a member of the English aristocracy, should be married in a costume
suitable for a camel ride, and should start off to go to _le Bon Dieu_
alone knew where, shut up in a palanquin like any black woman covered
with lumps of coral and bracelets like handcuffs.

The other witnesses were the mayor of Beni-Mora, a middle-aged doctor,
who wore the conventional evening-dress of French ceremony, and
looked as if the wind had made him as sleepy as a bear on the point of
hibernating, and the son of Madame Armande, a lively young man, with a
bullet head and eager, black eyes. The latter took a keen interest
in the ceremony, but the mayor blinked pathetically, and occasionally
rubbed his large hooked nose as if imploring it to keep his whole person
from drooping down into a heavy doze.

The priest, speaking in a conventional voice that was strangely
inexpressive of his inward emotion, asked Androvsky and Domini whether
they would take each other for wife and husband, and listened to their
replies. Androvsky's voice sounded to him hard and cold as ice when it
replied, and suddenly he thought of the storm as raging in some northern
land over snowbound wastes whose scanty trees were leafless. But
Domini's voice was clear, and warm as the sun that would shine again
over the desert when the storm was past. The mayor, constraining himself
to keep awake a little longer, gave Domini away, while Suzanne dropped
tears into a pocket-handkerchief edged with rose-coloured frilling, the
gift of Monsieur Helmuth. Then, when the troth had been plighted in the
midst of a more passionate roaring of the wind, the priest, conquering a
terrible inward reluctance that beset him despite his endeavour to feel
detached and formal, merely a priest engaged in a ceremony that it was
his office to carry out, but in which he had no personal interest, spoke
the fateful words:

"_Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus
Sancti. Amen_."

He said this without looking at the man and woman who stood before him,
the man on the right hand and the woman on the left, but when he lifted
his hand to sprinkle them with holy water he could not forbear glancing
at them, and he saw Domini as a shining radiance, but Androvsky as a
thing of stone. With a movement that seemed to the priest sinister in
its oppressed deliberation, Androvsky placed gold and silver upon the
book and the marriage ring.

The priest spoke again, slowly, in the uproar of the wind, after
blessing the ring:

"_Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini_."

After the reply the "_Domine, exaudi orationem meam_," the "_Et
clamor_," the "_Dominus vobiscum_," and the "_Et cum spiritu tuo_," the
"_Oremus_," and the prayer following, he sprinkled the ring with holy
water in the form of a cross and gave it to Androvsky to give with gold
and silver to Domini. Androvsky took the ring, repeated the formula,
"With this ring," etc., then still, as it seemed to the priest, with
the same sinister deliberation, placed it on the thumb of the bride's
uncovered hand, saying, "_In the name of the Father_," then on her
second finger, saying, "_Of the Son_," then on her third finger, saying,
"_Of the Holy Ghost_," then on her fourth finger. But at this moment,
when he should have said "_Amen_," there was a long pause of silence.
During it--why he did not know--the priest found himself thinking of the
saying of St. Isidore of Seville that the ring of marriage is left on
the fourth finger of the bride's hand because that finger contains a
vein directly connected with the heart.

"_Amen_."

Androvsky had spoken. The priest started, and went on with the
"_Confirma, hoc, Deus_." And from this point until the "_Per Christum
Dominum nostrum, Amen_," which, since there was no Mass, closed the
ceremony, he felt more master of himself and his emotions than at
any time previously during this day. A sensation of finality, of the
irrevocable, came to him. He said within himself, "This matter has
passed out of my hands into the hands of God." And in the midst of the
violence of the storm a calm stole upon his spirit. "God knows best!" he
said within himself. "God knows best!"

Those words and the state of feeling that was linked with them were and
had always been to him as mighty protecting arms that uplifted him above
the beating waves of the sea of life. The Wedding March sounded when the
priest bade good-bye to the husband and wife whom he had made one. He
was able to do it tranquilly. He even pressed Androvsky's hand.

"Be good to her," he said. "She is--she is a good woman."

To his surprise Androvsky suddenly wrung his hand almost passionately,
and the priest saw that there were tears in his eyes.

That night the priest prayed long and earnestly for all wanderers in the
desert.

When Domini and Androvsky came out from the church they saw vaguely
a camel lying down before the door, bending its head and snarling
fiercely. Upon its back was a palanquin of dark-red stuff, with a roof
of stuff stretched upon strong, curved sticks, and curtains which could
be drawn or undrawn at pleasure. The desert men crowded about it like
eager phantoms in the wind, half seen in the driving mist of sand.
Clinging to Androvsky's arm, Domini struggled forward to the camel. As
she did so, Smain, unfolding for an instant his burnous, pressed into
her hands his mass of roses. She thanked him with a smile he scarcely
saw and a word that was borne away upon the wind. At Larbi's lips she
saw the little flute and his thick fingers fluttering upon the holes.
She knew that he was playing his love-song for her, but she could not
hear it except in her heart. The perfume-seller sprinkled her gravely
with essence, and for a moment she felt as if she were again in his dark
bazaar, and seemed to catch among the voices of the storm the sound of
men muttering prayers to Allah as in the mosque of Sidi-Zazan.

Then she was in the palanquin with Androvsky close beside her.

At this moment Batouch took hold of the curtains of the palanquin to
draw them close, but she put out her hand and stopped him. She wanted to
see the last of the church, of the tormented gardens she had learnt to
love.

He looked astonished, but yielded to her gesture, and told the
camel-driver to make the animal rise to its feet. The driver took his
stick and plied it, crying out, "A-ah! A-ah!" The camel turned its
head towards him, showing its teeth, and snarling with a sort of dreary
passion.

"A-ah!" shouted the driver. "A-ah! A-ah!"

The camel began to get up.

As it did so, from the shrouded group of desert men one started forward
to the palanquin, throwing off his burnous and gesticulating with
thin naked arms, as if about to commit some violent act. It was the
sand-diviner. Made fantastic and unreal by the whirling sand grains,
Domini saw his lean face pitted with small-pox; his eyes, blazing with
an intelligence that was demoniacal, fixed upon her; the long wound that
stretched from his cheek to his forehead. The pleading that had been
mingled with the almost tyrannical command of his demeanour had vanished
now. He looked ferocious, arbitrary, like a savage of genius full of
some frightful message of warning or rebuke. As the camel rose he
cried aloud some words in Arabic. Domini heard his voice, but could not
understand the words. Laying his hands on the stuff of the palanquin he
shouted again, then took away his hands and shook them above his head
towards the desert, still staring at Domini with his fanatical eyes.

The wind shrieked, the sand grains whirled in spirals about his body,
the camel began to move away from the church slowly towards the village.

"A-ah!" cried the camel-driver. "A-ah!"

In the storm his call sounded like a wail of despair.



CHAPTER XVII

As the voice of the Diviner fainted away on the wind, and the vision of
his wounded face and piercing eyes was lost in the whirling sand grains,
Androvsky stretched out his hand and drew together the heavy curtains
of the palanquin. The world was shut out. They were alone for the first
time as man and wife; moving deliberately on this beast they could not
see, but whose slow and monotonous gait swung them gently to and fro,
out from the last traces of civilisation into the life of the sands.
With each soft step the camel took they went a little farther from
Beni-Mora, came a little nearer to that liberty of which Domini
sometimes dreamed, to the smiling eyes and the lifted spheres of fire.

She shut her eyes now. She did not want to see her husband or to touch
his hand. She did not want to speak. She only wanted to feel in the
uttermost depths of her spirit this movement, steady and persistent,
towards the goal of her earthly desires, to realise absolutely the
marvellous truth that after years of lovelessness, and a dreaminess more
benumbing than acute misery, happiness more intense than any she had
been able to conceive of in her moments of greatest yearning was being
poured into her heart, that she was being taken to the place where she
would be with the one human being whose presence blotted out even the
memory of the false world and gave to her the true. And whereas in
the dead years she had sometimes been afraid of feeling too much the
emptiness and the desolation of her life, she was now afraid of feeling
too little its fulness and its splendour, was afraid of some day looking
back to this superb moment of her earthly fate, and being conscious that
she had not grasped its meaning till it was gone, that she had done that
most terrible of all things--realised that she had been happy to
the limits of her capacity for happiness only when her happiness was
numbered with the past.

But could that ever be? Was Time, such Time as this, not Eternity? Could
such earthly things as this intense joy ever have been and no longer
be? It seemed to her that it could not be so. She felt like one who held
Eternity's hand, and went out with that great guide into the endlessness
of supreme perfection. For her, just then, the Creator's scheme was
rounded to a flawless circle. All things fell into order, stars and men,
the silent growing things, the seas, the mountains and the plains,
fell into order like a vast choir to obey the command of the canticle:

"Benedicite, omnia opera!"

"Bless ye the Lord!" The roaring of the wind about the palanquin became
the dominant voice of this choir in Domini's ears.

"Bless ye the Lord!" It was obedient, not as the slave, but as the free
will is obedient, as her heart, which joined its voice with this wind
of the desert was obedient, because it gloriously chose with all its
powers, passions, aspirations to be so. The real obedience is only love
fulfilling its last desire, and this great song was the fulfilling of
the last desire of all created things. Domini knew that she did not
realise the joy of this moment of her life now when she felt no longer
that she was a woman, but only that she was a living praise winging
upward to God.

A warm, strong hand clasped hers. She opened her eyes. In the dim
twilight of the palanquin she saw the darkness of Androvsky's tall
figure sitting in the crouched attitude rendered necessary by the
peculiar seat, and swaying slightly to the movement of the camel. The
light was so obscure that she could not see his eyes or clearly discern
his features, but she felt that he was gazing at her shadowy figure,
that his mind was passionately at work. Had he, too, been silently
praising God for his happiness, and was he now wishing the body to join
in the soul's delight?

She left her hand in his passively. The sense of her womanhood, lost for
a moment in the ecstasy of worship, had returned to her, but with a
new and tremendous meaning which seemed to change her nature. Androvsky
forcibly pressed her hand with his, let it go, then pressed it again,
repeating the action with a regularity that seemed suggested by some
guidance. She imagined him pressing her hand each time his heart pulsed.
She did not want to return the pressure. As she felt his hand thus
closing and unclosing over hers, she was conscious that she, who in
their intercourse had played a dominant part, who had even deliberately
brought about that intercourse by her action on the tower, now longed to
be passive and, forgetting her own power and the strength and force of
her nature, to lose herself in the greater strength and force of this
man to whom she had given herself. Never before had she wished to be
anything but strong. Nor did she desire weakness now, but only that his
nature should rise above hers with eagle's wings, that when she looked
up she should see him, never when she looked down. She thought that to
see him below her would kill her, and she opened her lips to say so. But
something in the windy darkness kept her silent. The heavy curtains of
the palanquin shook perpetually, and the tall wooden rods on which they
were slung creaked, making a small, incessant noise like a complaining,
which joined itself with the more distant but louder noise made by the
leaves of the thousands of palm trees dashed furiously together. From
behind came the groaning of one of the camels, borne on the gusts of
the wind, and faint sounds of the calling voices of the Arabs who
accompanied them. It was not a time to speak.

She wondered where they were, in what part of the oasis, whether
they had yet gained the beginning of the great route which had always
fascinated her, and which was now the road to the goal of all her
earthly desires. But there was nothing to tell her. She travelled in a
world of dimness and the roar of wind, and in this obscurity and uproar,
combined with perpetual though slight motion, she lost all count of
time. She had no idea how long it was since she had come out of the
church door with Androvsky. At first she thought it was only a few
minutes, and that the camels must be just coming to the statue of the
Cardinal. Then she thought that it might be an hour, even more; that
Count Anteoni's garden was long since left behind, and that they
were passing, perhaps, along the narrow streets of the village of old
Beni-Mora, and nearing the edge of the oasis. But even in this confusion
of mind she felt that something would tell her when the last palms had
vanished in the sand mist and the caravan came out into the desert.
The sound of the wind would surely be different when they met it on the
immense flats, where there was nothing to break its fury. Or even if it
were not different, she felt that she would know, that the desert would
surely speak to her in the moment when, at last, it took her to itself.
It could not be that they would be taken by the desert and she not
know it. But she wanted Androvsky to know it too. For she felt that the
moment when the desert took them, man and wife, would be a great moment
in their lives, greater even than that in which they met as they came
into the blue country. And she set herself to listen, with a passionate
expectation, with an attention so close and determined that it thrilled
her body, and even affected her muscles.

What she was listening for was a rising of the wind, a crescendo of its
voice. She was anticipating a triumphant cry from the Sahara, unlimited
power made audible in a sound like the blowing of the clarion of the
sands.

Androvsky's hand was still on hers, but now it did not move as if
obeying the pulsations of his heart. It held hers closely, warmly, and
sent his strength to her, and presently, for an instant, taking her mind
from the desert, she lost herself in the mystery and the wonder of human
companionship. She realised that the touch of Androvsky's hand on hers
altered for her herself, and the whole universe as it was presented to
her, as she observed and felt it. Nothing remained as it was when he did
not touch her. There was something stupefying in the thought, something
almost terrible. The wonder that is alive in the tiny things of love,
and that makes tremendously important their presence in, or absence
from, a woman's life, took hold on her completely for the first time,
and set her forever in a changed world, a world in which a great
knowledge ruled instead of a great ignorance. With the consciousness
of exactly what Androvsky's touch meant to her came a multiple
consciousness of a thousand other things, all connected with him and her
consecrated relation to him. She quivered with understanding. All
the gates of her soul were being opened, and the white light of
comprehension of those things which make life splendid and fruitful was
pouring in upon her. Within the dim, contained space of the palanquin,
that was slowly carried onward through the passion of the storm, there
was an effulgence of unseen glory that grew in splendour moment by
moment. A woman was being born of a woman, woman who knew herself of
woman who did not know herself, woman who henceforth would divinely love
her womanhood of woman who had often wondered why she had been created
woman.

The words muttered by the man of the sand in Count Anteoni's garden were
coming true. In the church of Beni-Mora the life of Domini had begun
more really than when her mother strove in the pains of childbirth and
her first faint cry answered the voice of the world's light when it
spoke to her.

Slowly the caravan moved on. The camel-drivers sang low under the folds
of their haiks those mysterious songs of the East that seem the songs
of heat and solitude. Batouch, smothered in his burnous, his large head
sunk upon his chest, slumbered like a potentate relieved from cares of
State. Till Arba was reached his duty was accomplished. Ali, perched
behind him on the camel, stared into the dimness with eyes steady and
remote as those of a vulture of the desert. The houses of Beni-Mora
faded in the mist of the sand, the statue of the Cardinal holding the
double cross, the tower of the hotel, the shuddering trees of Count
Anteoni's garden. Along the white blue which was the road the camels
painfully advanced, urged by the cries and the sticks of the running
drivers. Presently the brown buildings of old Beni-Mora came partially
into sight, peeping here and there through the flying sands and the
frantic palm leaves. The desert was at hand.

Ali began to sing, breathing his song into the back of Batouch's hood.

     "The love of women is like the holiday song that the boy sings
          gaily
        In the sunny garden--
     The love of women is like the little moon, the little happy moon
        In the last night of Ramadan.
     The love of women is like the great silence that steals at dusk
        To kiss the scented blossoms of the orange tree.
     Sit thee down beneath the orange tree, O loving man!
     That thou mayst know the kiss that tells the love of women.

"Janat! Janat! Janat!"

Batouch stirred uneasily, pulled his hood from his eyes and looked into
the storm gravely. Then he shifted on the camel's hump and said to Ali:

"How shall we get to Arba? The wind is like all the Touaregs going to
battle. And when we leave the oasis----"

"The wind is going down, Batouch-ben-Brahim," responded Ali, calmly.
"This evening the Roumis can lie in the tents."

Batouch's thick lips curled with sarcasm. He spat into the wind, blew
his nose in his burnous, and answered:

"You are a child, and can sing a pretty song, but--"

Ali pointed with his delicate hand towards the south.

"Do you not see the light in the sky?"

Batouch stared before him, and perceived that there was in truth a
lifting of the darkness beyond, a whiteness growing where the desert
lay.

"As we come into the desert the wind will fall," said Ali; and again he
began to sing to himself:

"Janat! Janat! Janat!"

Domini could not see the light in the south, and no premonition warned
her of any coming abatement of the storm. Once more she had begun to
listen to the roaring of the wind and to wait for the larger voice of
the desert, for the triumphant clarion of the sands that would announce
to her her entry with Androvsky into the life of the wastes. Again she
personified the Sahara, but now more vividly than ever before. In the
obscurity she seemed to see it far away, like a great heroic figure,
waiting for her and her passion, waiting in a region of gold and silken
airs at the back of the tempest to crown her life with a joy wide as its
dreamlike spaces, to teach her mind the inner truths that lie beyond the
crowded ways of men and to open her heart to the most profound messages
of Nature.

She listened, holding Androvsky's hand, and she felt that he was
listening too, with an intensity strong as her own, or stronger.
Presently his hand closed upon hers more tightly, almost hurting her
physically. As it did so she glanced up, but not at him, and noticed
that the curtains of the palanquin were fluttering less fiercely. Once,
for an instant, they were almost still. Then again they moved as if
tugged by invisible hands; then were almost still once more. At the same
time the wind's voice sank in her ears like a music dropping downward
in a hollow place. It rose, but swiftly sank a second time to a softer
hush, and she perceived in the curtained enclosure a faintly growing
light which enabled her to see, for the first time since she had left
the church, her husband's features. He was looking at her with an
expression of anticipation in which there was awe, and she realised that
in her expectation of the welcome of the desert she had been mistaken.
She had listened for the sounding of a clarion, but she was to be
greeted by a still, small voice. She understood the awe in her husband's
eyes and shared it. And she knew at once, with a sudden thrill of
rapture, that in the scheme of things there are blessings and nobilities
undreamed of by man and that must always come upon him with a glorious
shock of surprise, showing him the poor faultiness of what he had
thought perhaps his most magnificent imaginings. Elisha sought for the
Lord in the fire and in the whirlwind; but in the still, small voice
onward came the Lord.

Incomparably more wonderful than what she had waited for seemed to her
now this sudden falling of the storm, this mystical voice that came to
them out of the heart of the sands telling them that they were passing
at last into the arms of the Sahara. The wind sank rapidly. The light
grew in the palanquin. From without the voices of the camel-drivers and
of Batouch and Ali talking together reached their ears distinctly. Yet
they remained silent. It seemed as if they feared by speech to break
the spell of the calm that was flowing around them, as if they feared to
interrupt the murmur of the desert. Domini now returned the gaze of her
husband. She could not take her eyes from his, for she wished him to
read all the joy that was in her heart; she wished him to penetrate her
thoughts, to understand her desires, to be at one with the woman who had
been born on the eve of the passing of the wind. With the coming of this
mystic calm was coming surely something else. The silence was bringing
with it the fusing of two natures. The desert in this moment was drawing
together two souls into a union which Time and Death would have no power
to destroy. Presently the wind completely died away, only a faint breeze
fluttered the curtains of the palanquin, and the light that penetrated
between them here and there was no longer white, but sparkled with a
tiny dust of gold. Then Androvsky moved to open the curtains, and Domini
spoke for the first time since their marriage.

"Wait," she said in a low voice.

He dropped his hand obediently, and looked at her with inquiry in his
eyes.

"Don't let us look till we are far out," she said, "far away from
Beni-Mora."

He made no answer, but she saw that he understood all that was in her
heart. He leaned a little nearer to her and stretched out his arm as if
to put it round her. But he did not put it round her, and she knew why.
He was husbanding his great joy as she had husbanded the dark hours of
the previous night that to her were golden. And that unfinished action,
that impulse unfulfilled, showed her more clearly the depths of his
passion for her even than had the desperate clasp of his hands about
her knees in the garden. That which he did not do now was the greatest
assertion possible of all that he would do in the life that was before
them, and made her feel how entirely she belonged to him. Something
within her trembled like a poor child before whom is suddenly set the
prospect of a day of perfect happiness. She thought of the ending of
this day, of the coming of the evening. Always the darkness had parted
them; at the ending of this day it would unite them. In Androvsky's
eyes she read her thought of the darkness reflected, reflected and yet
changed, transmuted by sex. It was as if at that moment she read the
same story written in two ways--by a woman and by a man, as if she saw
Eden, not only as Eve saw it, but as Adam.

A long time passed, but they did not feel it to be long. When their
camel halted they unclasped their hands slowly like sleepers reluctantly
awaking.

They heard Batouch's voice outside the palanquin.

"Madame!" he called. "Madame!"

"What is it?" asked Domini, stifling a sigh.

"Madame should draw the curtains. We are halfway to Arba. It is time for
_dejeuner_. I will make the camel of Madame lie down."

A loud "A-a-ah!" rose up, followed by a fierce groaning from the camel,
and a lethargic, yet violent, movement that threw them forward and
backward. They sank. A hand from without pulled back the curtains and
light streamed over them. They set their feet in sand, stood up, and
looked about them.

Already they were far out in the desert, though not yet beyond the limit
of the range of red mountains, which stretched forward upon their left
but at no great distance beyond them ended in the sands. The camels were
lying down in a faintly defined track which was bordered upon either
side by the plain covered with little humps of sandy soil on which grew
dusty shrub. Above them was a sky of faint blue, heavy with banks of
clouds towards the east, and over their heads dressed in wispy veils
of vaporous white, through which the blue peered in sections that grew
larger as they looked. Towards the south, where Arba lay on a low hill
of earth, without grass or trees, beyond a mound covered thickly with
tamarisk bushes, which was a feeding-place for immense herds of camels,
the blue was clear and the light of the sun intense. A delicate breeze
travelled about them, stirring the bushes and the robes of the Arabs,
who were throwing back their hoods, and uncovering their mouths, and
smiling at them, but seriously, as Arabs alone can smile. Beside them
stood two white and yellow guard dogs, blinking and looking weary.

For a moment they stood still, blinking too, almost like the dogs.
The change to this immensity and light from the narrow darkness of the
palanquin overwhelmed their senses. They said nothing, but only stared
silently. Then Domini, with a large gesture, stretched her arms above
her head, drawing a deep breath which ended in a little, almost sobbing,
laugh of exultation.

"Out of prison," she said disconnectedly. "Out of prison--into this!"
Suddenly she turned upon Androvsky and caught his arm, and twined both
of her arms round it with a strong confidence that was careless of
everything in the intensity of its happiness.

"All my life I've been in prison," she said. "You've unlocked the
door!" And then, as suddenly as she had caught his arm, she let it go.
Something surged up in her, making her almost afraid; or, if not that,
confused. It was as if her nature were a horse taking the bit between
its teeth preparatory to a tremendous gallop. Whither? She did not know.
She was intoxicated by the growing light, the sharp, delicious air, the
huge spaces around her, the solitude with this man who held her soul
surely in his hands. She had always connected him with the desert. Now
he was hers into the desert, and the desert was hers with him. But was
it possible? Could such a fate have been held in reserve for her? She
scarcely dared even to try to realise the meaning of her situation,
lest at a breath it should be changed. Just then she felt that if she
ventured to weigh and measure her wonderful gift Androvsky would fall
dead at her feet and the desert be folded together like a scroll.

"There is Beni-Mora, Madame," said Batouch.

She was glad he spoke to her, turned and followed with her eyes his
pointing hand. Far off she saw a green darkness of palms, and above it a
white tower, small, from here, as the tower of a castle of dolls.

"The tower!" she said to Androvsky. "We first spoke in it. We must bid
it good-bye."

She made a gesture of farewell towards it. Androvsky watched the
movement of her hand. She noticed now that she made no movement that he
did not observe with a sort of passionate attention. The desert did not
exist for him. She saw that in his eyes. He did not look towards the
tower even when she repeated:

"We must--we owe it that."

Batouch and Ali were busy spreading a cloth upon the sand, making it
firm with little stones, taking out food, plates, knives, glasses,
bottles from a great basket slung on one of the camels. They moved
deftly, seriously intent upon their task. The camel-drivers were
loosening the cords that bound the loads upon their beasts, who roared
venomously, opening their mouths, showing long decayed teeth, and
turning their heads from side to side with a serpentine movement. Domini
and Androvsky were not watched for a moment.

"Why won't you look? Why won't you say good-bye?" she asked, coming
nearer to him on the sand softly, with a woman's longing to hear him
explain what she understood.

"What do I care for it, or the palms, or the sky, or the desert?" he
answered almost savagely. "What can I care? If you were mine behind
iron bars in that prison you spoke of--don't you think it's enough for
me--too much--a cup running over?"

And he added some words under his breath, words she could not hear.

"Not even the desert!" she said with a catch in her voice.

"It's all in you. Everything's in you--everything that brought us
together, that we've watched and wanted together."

"But then," she said, and now her voice was very quiet, "am I peace for
you?"

"Peace!" said Androvsky.

"Yes. Don't you remember once I said that there must be peace in the
desert. Then is it in me--for you?"

"Peace!" he repeated. "To-day I can't think of peace, or want it. Don't
you ask too much of me! Let me live to-day, live as only a man can
who--let me live with all that is in me to-day--Domini. Men ask to die
in peace. Oh, Domini--Domini!"

His expression was like arms that crushed her, lips that pressed her
mouth, a heart that beat on hers.

"Madame est servie!" cried Batouch in a merry voice.

His mistress did not seem to hear him. He cried again:

"Madame est servie!"

Then Domini turned round and came to the first meal in the sand. Two
cushions lay beside the cloth upon an Arab quilt of white, red, and
orange colour. Upon the cloth, in vases of rough pottery, stained with
designs in purple, were arranged the roses brought by Smain from Count
Anteoni's garden.

"Our wedding breakfast!" Domini said under her breath.

She felt just then as if she were living in a wonderful romance.

They sat down side by side and ate with a good appetite, served by
Batouch and Ali. Now and then a pale yellow butterfly, yellow as the
sand, flitted by them. Small yellow birds with crested heads ran swiftly
among the scrub, or flew low over the flats. In the sky the vapours
gathered themselves together and moved slowly away towards the east,
leaving the blue above their heads unflecked with white. With each
moment the heat of the sun grew more intense. The wind had gone. It was
difficult to believe that it had ever roared over the desert. A little
way from them the camel-drivers squatted beside the beasts, eating flat
loaves of yellow bread, and talking together in low, guttural voices.
The guard dogs roamed round them, uneasily hungry. In the distance,
before a tent of patched rags, a woman, scantily clad in bright red
cotton, was suckling a child and staring at the caravan.

Domini and Androvsky scarcely spoke as they ate. Once she said:

"Do you realise that this is a wedding breakfast?"

She was thinking of the many wedding receptions she had attended in
London, of crowds of smartly-dressed women staring enviously at
tiaras, and sets of jewels arranged in cases upon tables, of brides and
bridegrooms, looking flushed and anxious, standing under canopies of
flowers and forcing their tired lips into smiles as they replied to
stereotyped congratulations, while detectives--poorly disguised as
gentlemen--hovered in the back-ground to see that none of the presents
mysteriously disappeared. Her presents were the velvety roses in the
earthen vases, the breezes of the desert, the sand humps, the yellow
butterflies, the silence that lay around like a blessing pronounced
by the God who made the still places where souls can learn to know
themselves and their great destiny.

"A wedding breakfast," Androvsky said.

"Yes. But perhaps you have never been to one."

"Never."

"Then you can't love this one as much as I do."

"Much more," he answered.

She looked at him, remembering how often in the past, when she had been
feeling intensely, she had it borne in upon her that he was feeling even
more intensely than herself. But could that be possible now?

"Do you think," she said, "that it is possible for you, who have never
lived in cities, to love this land as I love it?"

Androvsky moved on his cushion and leaned down till his elbow touched
the sand. Lying thus, with his chin in his hand, and his eyes fixed upon
her, he answered:

"But it is not the land I am loving."

His absolute concentration upon her made her think that, perhaps, he
misunderstood her meaning in speaking of the desert, her joy in it.
She longed to explain how he and the desert were linked together in
her heart, and she dropped her hand upon his left hand, which lay palm
downwards in the warm sand.

"I love this land," she began, "because I found you in it, because I
feel----"

She stopped.

"Yes, Domini?" he said.

"No, not now. I can't tell you. There's too much light."

"Domini," he repeated.

Then they were silent once more, thinking of how the darkness would come
to them at Arba.

In the late afternoon they drew near to the Bordj, moving along a
difficult route full of deep ruts and holes, and bordered on either side
by bushes so tall that they looked almost like trees. Here, tended by
Arabs who stared gravely at the strangers in the palanquin, were grazing
immense herds of camels. Above the bushes to the horizon on either side
of the way appeared the serpentine necks flexibly moving to and fro,
now bending deliberately towards the dusty twigs, now stretched straight
forward as if in patient search for some solace of the camel's fate that
lay in the remoteness of the desert. Baby camels, many of them only
a few days old, yet already vowed to the eternal pilgrimages of the
wastes, with mild faces and long, disobedient-looking legs, ran from
the caravan, nervously seeking their morose mothers, who cast upon them
glances that seemed expressive of a disdainful pity. In front, beyond a
watercourse, now dried up, rose the low hill on which stood the Bordj,
a huge, square building, with two square towers pierced with loopholes.
From a distance it resembled a fort threatening the desert in
magnificent isolation. Its towers were black against the clear lemon of
the failing sunlight. Pigeons, that looked also black, flew perpetually
about them, and the telegraph posts, that bordered the way at regular
intervals on the left, made a diminishing series of black vertical lines
sharply cutting the yellow till they were lost to sight in the south.
To Domini these posts were like pointing fingers beckoning her onward to
the farthest distances of the sun. Drugged by the long journey over the
flats, and the unceasing caress of the air, that was like an importunate
lover ever unsatisfied, she watched from the height on which she was
perched this evening scene of roaming, feeding animals, staring nomads,
monotonous herbage and vague, surely-retreating mountains, with quiet,
dreamy eyes. Everything which she saw seemed to her beautiful, a little
remote and a little fantastic. The slow movement of the camels, the
swifter movements of the circling pigeons about the square towers on
the hill, the motionless, or gently-gliding, Arabs with their clubs held
slantwise, the telegraph poles, one smaller than the other, diminishing
till--as if magically--they disappeared in the lemon that was growing
into gold, were woven together for her by the shuttle of the desert
into a softly brilliant tapestry--one of those tapestries that is like
a legend struck to sleep as the Beauty in her palace. As they began to
mount the hill, and the radiance of the sky increased, this impression
faded, for the life that centred round the Bordj was vivid, though
sparse in comparison with the eddying life of towns, and had that air
of peculiar concentration which may be noted in pictures representing a
halt in the desert.

No longer did the strongly-built Bordj seem to Domini like a fort
threatening the oncomer, but like a stalwart host welcoming him, a host
who kept open house in this treeless desolation that yet had, for her,
no feature that was desolate. It was earth-coloured, built of stone, and
had in the middle of the facade that faced them an immense hospitable
doorway with a white arch above it. This doorway gave a partial view of
a vast courtyard, in which animals and people were moving to and fro.
Round about, under the sheltering shadow of the windowless wall, were
many Arabs, some squatting on their haunches, some standing upright with
their backs against the stone, some moving from one group to another,
gesticulating and talking vivaciously. Boys were playing a game with
stones set in an ordered series of small holes scooped by their fingers
in the dust. A negro crossed the flat space before the Bordj carrying on
his head a huge earthen vase to the well near by, where a crowd of black
donkeys, just relieved of their loads of brushwood, was being watered.
From the south two Spahis were riding in on white horses, their scarlet
cloaks floating out over their saddles; and from the west, moving slowly
to a wailing sound of indistinct music, a faint beating of tomtoms, was
approaching a large caravan in a cloud of dust which floated back from
it and melted away into the radiance of the sunset.

When they gained the great open space before the building they were
bathed in the soft golden light, in which all these figures of Africans,
and all these animals, looked mysterious and beautiful, and full of that
immeasurable significance which the desert sheds upon those who move in
it, specially at dawn or at sundown. From the plateau they dominated the
whole of the plain they had traversed as far as Beni-Mora, which on the
morrow would fade into the blue horizon. Its thousands of palms made
a darkness in the gold, and still the tower of the hotel was faintly
visible, pointing like a needle towards the sky. The range of mountains
showed their rosy flanks in the distance. They, too, on the morrow would
be lost in the desert spaces, the last outposts of the world of hill
and valley, of stream and sea. Only in the deceptive dream of the mirage
would they appear once more, looming in a pearl-coloured shaking veil
like a fluid on the edge of some visionary lagune.

Domini was glad that on this first night of their journey they could
still see Beni-Mora, the place where they had found each other and been
given to each other by the Church. As the camel stopped before the great
doorway of the Bordj she turned in the palanquin and looked down upon
the desert, motioning to the camel-driver to leave the beast for a
moment. She put her arm through Androvsky's and made his eyes follow
hers across the vast spaces made magical by the sinking sun to that
darkness of distant palms which, to her, would be a sacred place for
ever. And as they looked in silence all that Beni-Mora meant to her came
upon her. She saw again the garden hushed in the heat of noon. She saw
Androvsky at her feet on the sand. She heard the chiming church bell and
the twitter of Larbi's flute. The dark blue of trees was as the heart of
the world to her and as the heart of life. It had seen the birth of her
soul and given to her another newborn soul. There was a pathos in
seeing it fade like a thing sinking down till it became one with the
immeasurable sands, and at that moment she said to herself, "When shall
I see Beni-Mora again--and how?" She looked at Androvsky, met his eyes,
and thought: "When I see it again how different I shall be! How I shall
be changed!" And in the sunset she seemed to be saying a mute good-bye
to one who was fading with Beni-Mora.

As soon as they had got off the camel and were standing in the group
of staring Arabs, Batouch begged them to come to their tents, where
tea would be ready. He led them round the angle of the wall towards the
west, and there, pitched in the full radiance of the sunset, with a wide
space of hard earth gleaming with gypse around it, was a white tent.
Before it, in the open air, was stretched a handsome Arab carpet, and on
this carpet were set a folding table and two folding chairs. The table
held a japanned tray with tea-cups, a milk jug and plates of biscuits
and by it, in an attitude that looked deliberately picturesque stood
Ouardi, the youth selected by Batouch to fill the office of butler in
the desert.

Ouardi smiled a broad welcome as they approached, and having made sure
that his pose had been admired, retired to the cook's abode to fetch the
teapot, while Batouch invited Domini and Androvsky to inspect the tent
prepared for them. Domini assented with a dropped-out word. She still
felt in a dream. But Androvsky, after casting towards the tent door
a glance that was full of a sort of fierce shyness, moved away a few
steps, and stood at the edge of the hill looking down upon the incoming
caravan, whose music was now plainly audible in the stillness of the
waste.

Domini went into the tent that was to be their home for many weeks,
alone. And she was glad just then that she was alone. For she too, like
Androvsky, felt a sort of exquisite trouble moving, like a wave, in her
heart. On some pretext, but only after an expression of admiration, she
got rid of Batouch. Then she stood and looked round.

From the big tent opened a smaller one, which was to serve Androvsky as
a dressing-room and both of them as a baggage room. She did not go into
that, but saw, with one glance of soft inquiry, the two small, low beds,
the strips of gay carpet, the dressing-table, the stand and the two cane
chairs which furnished the sleeping-tent. Then she looked back to the
aperture. In the distance, standing alone at the edge of the hill, she
saw Androvsky, bathed in the sunset, looking out over the hidden desert
from which rose the wild sound of African music, steadily growing
louder. It seemed to her as if he must be gazing at the plains of
heaven, so magically brilliant and tender, so pellucidly clear and
delicate was the atmosphere and the colour of the sky. She saw no other
form, only his, in this poem of light, in this wide world of the sinking
sun. And the music seemed to be about his feet, to rise from the sand
and throb in its breast.

At that moment the figure of Liberty, which she had seen in the shadows
of the dancing-house, came in at the tent door and laid, for the first
time, her lips on Domini's. That kiss was surely the consecration of
the life of the sands. But to-day there had been another consecration.
Domini had a sudden impulse to link the two consecrations together.

She drew from her breast the wooden crucifix Androvsky had thrown into
the stream at Sidi-Zerzour, and, softly going to one of the beds, she
pinned the crucifix above it on the canvas of the tent. Then she turned
and went out into the glory of the sunset to meet the fierce music that
was rising from the desert.



CHAPTER XVIII

Night had fallen over the desert, a clear purple night, starry but
without a moon. Around the Bordj, and before a Cafe Maure built of brown
earth and palm-wood, opposite to it, the Arabs who were halting to sleep
at Arba on their journeys to and from Beni-Mora were huddled, sipping
coffee, playing dominoes by the faint light of an oil lamp, smoking
cigarettes and long pipes of keef. Within the court of the Bordj the
mules were feeding tranquilly in rows. The camels roamed the plain
among the tamarisk bushes, watched over by shrouded shadowy guardians
sleepless as they were. The mountains, the palms of Beni-Mora, were lost
in the darkness that lay over the desert.

On the low hill, at some distance beyond the white tent of Domini and
Androvsky, the obscurity was lit up fiercely by the blaze of a huge
fire of brushwood, the flames of which towered up towards the stars,
flickering this way and that as the breeze took them, and casting a wild
illumination upon the wild faces of the rejoicing desert men who were
gathered about it, telling stories of the wastes, singing songs that
were melancholy and remote to Western ears, even though they hymned
past victories over the infidels, or passionate ecstasies of love in the
golden regions of the sun. The steam from bowls of cous-cous and stews
of mutton and vegetables curled up to join the thin smoke that made a
light curtain about this fantasia, and from time to time, with a shrill
cry of exultation, a half-naked form, all gleaming eyes and teeth and
polished bronze-hued limbs, rushed out of the blackness beyond the fire,
leaped through the tongues of flame and vanished like a spectre into the
embrace of the night.

All the members of the caravan, presided over by Batouch in glory, were
celebrating the wedding night of their master and mistress.

Domini and Androvsky had already visited them by their bonfire, had
received their compliments, watched the sword dance and the dance of
the clubs, touched with their lips, or pretended to touch, the stem of a
keef, listened to a marriage song warbled by Ali to the accompaniment
of a flute and little drums, and applauded Ouardi's agility in leaping
through the flames. Then, with many good-nights, pressures of the hand,
and auguries for the morrow, they had gone away into the cool darkness,
silently towards their tent.

They walked slowly, a little apart from each other. Domini looked up at
the stars and saw among them the star of Liberty. Androvsky looked at
her and saw all the stars in her face. When they reached the tent door
they stopped on the warm earth. A lamp was lit within, casting a soft
light on the simple furniture and on the whiteness of the two beds,
above one of which Domini imagined, though from without she could not
see, the wooden crucifix Androvsky had once worn in his breast.

"Shall we stay here a little?" Domini said in a low voice. "Out here?"
There was a long pause. Then Androvsky answered:

"Yes. Let us feel it all--all. Let us feel it to the full."

He caught hold of her hand with a sort of tender roughness and twined
his fingers between hers, pressing his palm against hers.

"Don't let us miss anything to-night," he said. "All my life is
to-night. I've had no life yet. To-morrow--who knows whether we shall
be dead to-morrow? Who knows? But we're alive to-night, flesh and blood,
heart and soul. And there's nothing here, there can be nothing here to
take our life from us, the life of our love to-night. For we're out in
the desert, we're right away from anyone, everything. We're in the great
freedom. Aren't we, Domini? Aren't we?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes."

He took her other hand in the same way. He was facing her, and he held
his hands against his heart with hers in them, then pressed her hands
against her heart, then drew them back again to his.

"Then let us realise it. Let us forget our prison. Let us forget
everything, everything that we ever knew before Beni-Mora, Domini. It's
dead, absolutely dead, unless we make it live by thinking. And that's
mad, crazy. Thought's the great madness. Domini, have you forgotten
everything before we knew each other?"

"Yes," she said. "Now--but only now. You've made me forget it all."

There was a deep breathing under her voice. He held up her hands to his
shoulders and looked closely into her eyes, as if he were trying to send
all himself into her through those doors of the soul opened to seeing
him. And now, in this moment, she felt that her fierce desire was
realised, that he was rising above her on eagle's wings. And as on the
night before the wedding she had blessed all the sorrows of her life,
now she blessed silently all the long silence of Androvsky, all
his strange reticence, his uncouthness, his avoidance of her in the
beginning of their acquaintance. That which had made her pain by being,
now made her joy by having been and being no more. The hidden man was
rushing forth to her at last in his love. She seemed to hear in the
night the crash of a great obstacle, and the voice of the flood of
waters that had broken it down at length and were escaping into liberty.
His silence of the past now made his speech intensely beautiful and
wonderful to her. She wanted to hear the waters more intensely, more
intensely.

"Speak to me," she said. "You've spoken so little. Do you know how
little? Tell me all you are. Till now I've only felt all you are. And
that's so much, but not enough for a woman--not enough. I've taken you,
but now--give me all I've taken. Give--keep on giving and giving. From
to-night to receive will be my life. Long ago I've given all I had to
you. Give to me, give me everything. You know I've given all."

"All?" he said, and there was a throb in his deep voice, as if some
intense feeling rose from the depths of him and shook it.

"Yes, all," she whispered. "Already--and long ago--that day in the
garden. When I--when I put my hands against your forehead--do you
remember? I gave you all, for ever."

And as she spoke she bent down her face with a sort of proud submission
and put her forehead against his heart.

The purity in her voice and in her quiet, simple action dazzled him like
a flame shining suddenly in his eyes out of blackness. And he, too, in
that moment saw far up above him the beating of an eagle's wings. To
each one the other seemed to be on high, and as both looked up that was
their true marriage.

"I felt it," he said, touching her hair with his lips. "I felt it in
your hands. When you touched me that day it was as if you were giving me
the world and the stars. It frightened me to receive so much. I felt as
if I had no place to put my gift in."

"Did your heart seem so small?" she said.

"You make everything I have and am seem small--and yet great. What does
it mean?"

"That you are great, as I am, because we love. No one is small who
loves. No one is poor, no one is bad, who loves. Love burns up evil.
It's the angel that destroys."

Her words seemed to send through his whole body a quivering joy. He took
her face between his hands and lifted it from his heart.

"Is that true? Is that true?" he said. "I've--I've tried to think that.
If you know how I've tried."

"And don't you know it is true?"

"I don't feel as if I knew anything that you do not tell me to-night. I
don't feel as if I have, or am, anything but what you give me, make me
to-night. Can you understand that? Can you understand what you are to
me? That you are everything, that I have nothing else, that I have never
had anything else in all these years that I have lived and that I have
forgotten? Can you understand it? You said just now 'Speak to me, tell
me all you are.' That's what I am, all I am, a man you have made a man.
You, Domini--you have made me a man, you have created me."

She was silent. The intensity with which he spoke, the intensity of his
eyes while he was speaking, made her hear those rushing waters as if she
were being swept away by them.

"And you?" he said. "You?"

"I?"

"This afternoon in the desert, when we were in the sand looking at
Beni-Mora, you began to tell me something and then you stopped. And you
said, 'I can't tell you. There's too much light.' Now the sun has gone."

"Yes. But--but I want to listen to you. I want----"

She stopped. In the distance, by the great fire where the Arabs were
assembled, there rose a sound of music which arrested her attention. Ali
was singing, holding in his hand a brand from the fire like a torch. She
had heard him sing before, and had loved the timbre of his voice, but
only now did she realise when she had first heard him and who he was. It
was he who, hidden from her, had sung the song of the freed negroes of
Touggourt in the gardens of Count Anteoni that day when she had been
angry with Androvsky and had afterwards been reconciled with him. And
she knew now it was he, because, once more hidden from her--for against
the curtain of darkness she only saw the flame from the torch he held
and moved rhythmically to the burden of his song--he was singing it
again. Androvsky, when she ceased to speak, suddenly put his arms round
her, as if he were afraid of her escaping from him in her silence, and
they stood thus at the tent door listening:

     "The gazelle dies in the water,
     The fish dies in the air,
     And I die in the dunes of the desert sand
     For my love that is deep and sad."

The chorus of hidden men by the fire rose in a low murmur that was like
the whisper of the desert in the night. Then the contralto voice of Ali
came to Domini and Androvsky again, but very faintly, from the distance
where the flaming torch was moving:

     "No one but God and I
     Knows what is in my heart."

When the voice died away for a moment Domini whispered the refrain. Then
she said:

"But is it true? Can it be true for us to-night?"

Androvsky did not reply.

"I don't think it is true," she added. "You know--don't you?"

The voice of Ali rose again, and his torch flickered on the soft wind
of the night. Its movement was slow and eerie. It seemed like his voice
made visible, a voice of flame in the blackness of the world. They
watched it. Presently she said once more:

"You know what is in my heart--don't you?"

"Do I?" he said. "All?"

"All. My heart is full of one thing--quite full."

"Then I know."

"And," she hesitated, then added, "and yours?"

"Mine too."

"I know all that is in it then?"

She still spoke questioningly. He did not reply, but held her more
closely, with a grasp that was feverish in its intensity.

"Do you remember," she went on, "in the garden what you said about that
song?"

"No."

"You have forgotten?"

"I told you," he said, "I mean to forget everything."

"Everything before we came to Beni-Mora?"

"And more. Everything before you put your hands against my forehead,
Domini. Your touch blotted out the past."

"Even the past at Beni-Mora?"

"Yes, even that. There are many things I did and left undone, many
things I said and never said that--I have forgotten--I have forgotten
for ever."

There was a sternness in his voice now, a fiery intention.

"I understand," she said. "I have forgotten them too, but not some
things."

"Which?"

"Not that night when you took me out of the dancing-house, not our
ride to Sidi-Zerzour, not--there are things I shall remember. When I am
dying, after I am dead, I shall remember them."

The song faded away. The torch was still, then fell downwards and became
one with the fire. Then Androvsky drew Domini down beside him on to the
warm earth before the tent door, and held her hand in his against the
earth.

"Feel it," he said. "It's our home, it's our liberty. Does it feel alive
to you?"

"Yes."

"As if it had pulses, like the pulses in our hearts, and knew what we
know?"

"Yes. Mother Earth--I never understood what that meant till to-night."

"We are beginning to understand together. Who can understand anything
alone?"

He kept her hand always in his pressed against the desert as against
a heart. They both thought of it as a heart that was full of love and
protection for them, of understanding of them. Going back to their words
before the song of Ali, he said:

"Love burns up evil, then love can never be evil."

"Not the act of loving."

"Or what it leads to," he said.

And again there was a sort of sternness in his voice, as if he were
insisting on something, were bent on conquering some reluctance, or some
voice contradicting.

"I know that you are right," he added.

She did not speak, but--why she did not know--her thought went to the
wooden crucifix fastened in the canvas of the tent close by, and for a
moment she felt a faint creeping sadness in her. But he pressed her hand
more closely, and she was conscious only of these two warmths---of his
hand above her hand and of the desert beneath it. Her whole life seemed
set in a glory of fire, in a heat that was life-giving, that dominated
her and evoked at the same time all of power that was in her, causing
her dormant fires, physical and spiritual, to blaze up as if they were
sheltered and fanned. The thought of the crucifix faded. It was as if
the fire destroyed it and it became ashes--then nothing. She fixed her
eyes on the distant fire of the Arabs, which was beginning to die down
slowly as the night grew deeper.

"I have doubted many things," he said. "I've been afraid."

"You!" she said.

"Yes. You know it."

"How can I? Haven't I forgotten everything--since that day in the
garden?"

He drew up her hand and put it against his heart.

"I'm jealous of the desert even," he whispered. "I won't let you touch
it any more tonight."

He looked into her eyes and saw that she was looking at the distant
fire, steadily, with an intense eagerness.

"Why do you do that?" he said.

"To-night I like to look at fire," she answered.

"Tell me why."

"It is as if I looked at you, at all that there is in you that you have
never said, never been able to say to me, all that you never can say to
me but that I know all the same."

"But," he said, "that fire is----"

He did not finish the sentence, but put up his hand and turned her face
till she was looking, not at the fire, but at him.

"It is not like me," he said. "Men made it, and--it's a fire that can
sink into ashes."

An expression of sudden exaltation shone in her eyes.

"And God made you," she said. "And put into you the spark that is
eternal."

And now again she thought, she dared, she loved to think of the crucifix
and of the moment when he would see it in the tent.

"And God made you love me," she said. "What is it?"

Androvsky had moved suddenly, as if he were going to get up from the
warm ground.

"Did you--?"

"No," he said in a low voice. "Go on, Domini. Speak to me."

He sat still.

A sudden longing came to her to know if to-night he were feeling as
she was the sacredness of their relation to each other. Never had they
spoken intimately of religion or of the mysteries that lie beyond and
around human life. Once or twice, when she had been about to open her
heart to him, to let him understand her deep sense of the things unseen,
something had checked her, something in him. It was as if he had divined
her intention and had subtly turned her from it, without speech, merely
by the force of his inward determination that she should not break
through his reserve. But to-night, with his hand on hers and the starry
darkness above them, with the waste stretching around them, and the
cool air that was like the breath of liberty upon their faces, she was
unconscious of any secret, combative force in him. It was impossible to
her to think there could have been any combat, however inward, however
subtle, between them. Surely if it were ever permitted to two natures to
be in perfect accord theirs were in perfect accord to-night.

"I never felt the presence of God in His world so keenly as I feel it
to-night," she went on, drawing a little closer to him. "Even in the
church to-day He seemed farther away than tonight. But somehow--one
has these thoughts without knowing why--I have always believed that the
farther I went into the desert the nearer I should come to God."

Androvsky moved again. The clasp of his hand on hers loosened, but he
did not take his hand away.

"Why should--what should make you think that?" he asked slowly.

"Don't you know what the Arabs call the desert?"

"No. What do they call it?"

"The Garden of Allah."

"The Garden of Allah!" he repeated.

There was a sound like fear in his voice. Even her great joy did not
prevent her from noticing it, and she remembered, with a thrill of pain,
where and under what circumstances she had first heard the Arab's name
for the desert.

Could it be that this man she loved was secretly afraid of something in
the desert, some influence, some--? Her thought stopped short, like a
thing confused.

"Don't you think it a very beautiful name?" she asked, with an almost
fierce longing to be reassured, to be made to know that he, like her,
loved the thought that God was specially near to those who travelled in
this land of solitude.

"Is it beautiful?"

"To me it is. It makes me feel as if in the desert I were specially
watched over and protected, even as if I were specially loved there."

Suddenly Androvsky put his arm round her and strained her to him.

"By me! By me!" he said. "Think of me to-night, only of me, as I think
only of you."

He spoke as if he were jealous even of her thought of God, as if he did
not understand that it was the very intensity of her love for him that
made her, even in the midst of the passion of the body, connect
their love of each other with God's love of them. In her heart this
overpowering human love which, in the garden, when first she realised
it fully, had seemed to leave no room in her for love of God, now in the
moment when it was close to absolute satisfaction seemed almost to be
one with her love of God. Perhaps no man could understand how, in a
good woman, the two streams of the human love which implies the intense
desire of the flesh, and the mystical love which is absolutely purged
of that desire, can flow the one into the other and mingle their waters.
She tried to think that, and then she ceased to try. Everything was
forgotten as his arms held her fast in the night, everything except this
great force of human love which was like iron, and yet soft about her,
which was giving and wanting, which was concentrated upon her to the
exclusion of all else, plunging the universe in darkness and setting her
in light.

"There is nothing for me to-night but you," he said, crushing her in his
arms. "The desert is your garden. To me it has always been your garden,
only that, put here for you, and for me because you love me--but for me
only because of that."

The Arabs' fire was rapidly dying down.

"When it goes out, when it goes out!" Androvsky whispered it her ear.

His breath stirred the thick tresses of her hair.

"Let us watch it!" he whispered.

She pressed his hand but did not reply. She could not speak any more.
At last the something wild and lawless, the something that was more than
passionate, that was hot and even savage in her nature, had risen up in
its full force to face a similar force in him, which insistently called
it and which it answered without shame.

"It is dying," Androvsky said. "It is dying. Look how small the circle
of the flame is, how the darkness is creeping up about it! Domini--do
you see?"

She pressed his hand again.

"Do you long for the darkness?" he asked. "Do you, Domini? The desert
is sending it. The desert is sending it for you, and for me because you
love me."

A log in the fire, charred by the flames, broke in two. Part of it fell
down into the heart of the fire, which sent up a long tongue of red gold
flame.

"That is like us," he said. "Like us together in the darkness."

She felt his body trembling, as if the vehemence of the spirit confined
within it shook it. In the night the breeze slightly increased, making
the flame of the lamp behind them in the tent flicker. And the breeze
was like a message, brought to them from the desert by some envoy in
the darkness, telling them not to be afraid of their wonderful gift of
freedom with each other, but to take it open-handed, open-hearted, with
the great courage of joy.

"Domini, did you feel that gust of the wind? It carried away a cloud of
sparks from the fire and brought them a little way towards us. Did you
see? Fire wandering on the wind through the night calling to the fire
that is in us. Wasn't it beautiful? Everything is beautiful to-night.
There were never such stars before."

She looked up at them. Often she had watched the stars, and known the
vague longings, the almost terrible aspirations they wake in their
watchers. But to her also they looked different to-night, nearer to the
earth, she thought, brighter, more living than ever before, like strange
tenderness made visible, peopling the night with an unconquerable
sympathy. The vast firmament was surely intent upon their happiness.
Again the breeze came to them across the waste, cool and breathing of
the dryness of the sands. Not far away a jackal laughed. After a pause
it was answered by another jackal at a distance. The voices of these
desert beasts brought home to Domini with an intimacy not felt by her
before the exquisite remoteness of their situation, and the shrill,
discordant noise, rising and falling with a sort of melancholy and
sneering mirth, mingled with bitterness, was like a delicate music in
her ears.

"Hark!" Androvsky whispered.

The first jackal laughed once more, was answered again. A third beast,
evidently much farther off, lifted up a faint voice like a dismal echo.
Then there was silence.

"You loved that, Domini. It was like the calling of freedom to you--and
to me. We've found freedom; we've found it. Let us feel it. Let us take
hold of it. It is the only thing, the only thing. But you can't know
that as I do, Domini."

Again she was conscious that his intensity surpassed hers, and the
consciousness, instead of saddening or vexing, made her thrill with joy.

"I am maddened by this freedom," he said; "maddened by it, Domini. I
can't help--I can't--"

He laid his lips upon hers in a desperate caress that almost suffocated
her. Then he took his lips away from her lips and kissed her throat,
holding her head back against his shoulder. She shut her eyes. He was
indeed teaching her to forget. Even the memory of the day in the garden
when she heard the church bell chime and the sound of Larbi's flute went
from her. She remembered nothing any more. The past was lost or laid in
sleep by the spell of sensation. Her nature galloped like an Arab horse
across the sands towards the sun, towards the fire that sheds warmth
afar but that devours all that draws near to it. At that moment she
connected Androvsky with the tremendous fires eternally blazing in
the sun. She had a desire that he should hurt her in the passionate
intensity of his love for her. Her nature, which till now had been ever
ready to spring into hostility at an accidental touch, which had shrunk
instinctively from physical contact with other human beings, melted, was
utterly transformed. She felt that she was now the opposite of all that
she had been--more woman than any other woman who had ever lived.
What had been an almost cold strength in her went to increase the
completeness of this yielding to one stronger than herself. What had
seemed boyish and almost hard in her died away utterly under the embrace
of this fierce manhood.

"Domini," he spoke, whispering while he kissed her, "Domini, the fire's
gone out. It's dark."

He lifted her a little in his arms, still kissing her.

"Domini, it's dark, it's dark."

He lifted her more. She stood up, with his arms about her, looking
towards where the fire had been. She put her hands against his face and
softly pressed it back from hers, but with a touch that was a caress. He
yielded to her at once.

"Look!" he said. "Do you love the darkness? Tell me--tell me that you
love it."

She let her hand glide over his cheek in answer.

"Look at it. Love it. All the desert is in it, and our love in the
desert. Let us stay in the desert, let us stay in it for ever--for ever.
It is your garden--yours. It has brought us everything, Domini."

He took her hand and pressed it again and again over his cheek
lingeringly. Then, abruptly, he dropped it.

"Come!" he said. "Domini."

And he drew her in through the tent door almost violently.

A stronger gust of the night wind followed them. Androvsky took his arms
slowly from Domini and turned to let down the flap of the tent. While he
was doing this she stood quite still. The flame of the lamp flickered,
throwing its light now here, now there, uneasily. She saw the crucifix
lit up for an instant and the white bed beneath it. The wind stirred
her dark hair and was cold about her neck. But the warmth there met and
defied it. In that brief moment, while Androvsky was fastening the tent,
she seemed to live through centuries of intense and complicated emotion.
When the light flickered over the crucifix she felt as if she could
spend her life in passionate adoration at its foot; but when she did not
see it, and the wind, coming in from the desert through the tent door,
where she heard the movement of Androvsky, stirred in her hair, she felt
reckless, wayward, savage--and something more. A cry rose in her that
was like the cry of a stranger, who yet was of her and in her, and from
whom she would not part.

Again the lamp flame flickered upon the crucifix. Quickly, while she saw
the crucifix plainly, she went forward to the bed and fell on her knees
by it, bending down her face upon its whiteness.

When Androvsky had fastened the tent door he turned round and saw her
kneeling. He stood quite still as if petrified, staring at her. Then,
as the flame, now sheltered from the wind, burned steadily, he saw the
crucifix. He started as if someone had struck him, hesitated, then, with
a look of fierce and concentrated resolution on his face, went swiftly
to the crucifix and pulled it from the canvas roughly. He held it in his
hand for an instant, then moved to the tent door and stooped to unfasten
the cords that held it to the pegs, evidently with the intention of
throwing the crucifix out into the night. But he did not unfasten
the cords. Something--some sudden change of feeling, some secret and
powerful reluctance--checked him. He thrust the crucifix into his
pocket. Then, returning to where Domini was kneeling, he put his arms
round her and drew her to her feet.

She did not resist him. Still holding her in his arms he blew out the
lamp.



CHAPTER XIX

The Arabs have a saying, "In the desert one forgets everything, one
remembers nothing any more."

To Domini it sometimes seemed the truest of all the true and beautiful
sayings of the East. Only three weeks had passed away since the first
halt at Arba, yet already her life at Beni-Mora was faint in her mind
as the dream of a distant past. Taken by the vast solitudes, journeying
without definite aim from one oasis to another through empty regions
bathed in eternal sunshine, camping often in the midst of the sand
by one of the wells sunk for the nomads by the French engineers,
strengthened perpetually, yet perpetually soothed, by airs that were
soft and cool, as if mingled of silk and snow, they lived surely in a
desert dream with only a dream behind them. They had become as one with
the nomads, whose home is the moving tent, whose hearthstone is the
yellow sand of the dunes, whose God is liberty.

Domini loved this life with a love which had already become a passion.
All that she had imagined that the desert might be to her she found that
it was. In its so-called monotony she discovered eternal interest. Of
old she had thought the sea the most wonderful thing in Nature. In the
desert she seemed to possess the sea with something added to it, a
calm, a completeness, a mystical tenderness, a passionate serenity. She
thought of the sea as a soul striving to fulfil its noblest aspirations,
to be the splendid thing it knew how to dream of. But she thought of
the desert as a soul that need strive no more, having attained. And she,
like the Arabs, called it always in her heart the Garden of Allah. For
in this wonderful calm, bright as the child's idea of heaven; clear as
a crystal with a sunbeam caught in it, silent as a prayer that will
be answered silently, God seemed to draw very near to His wandering
children. In the desert was the still, small voice, and the still, small
voice was the Lord.

Often at dawn or sundown, when, perhaps in the distance of the sands,
or near at hand beneath the shade of the palms of some oasis by a
waterspring, she watched the desert men in their patched rags, with
their lean, bronzed faces and eagle eyes turned towards Mecca, bowing
their heads in prayer to the soil that the sun made hot, she remembered
Count Anteoni's words, "I like to see men praying in the desert," and
she understood with all her heart and soul why. For the life of the
desert was the most perfect liberty that could be found on earth, and to
see men thus worshipping in liberty set before her a vision of free will
upon the heights. When she thought of the world she had known and left,
of the men who would always live in it and know no other world, she was
saddened for a moment. Could she ever find elsewhere such joy as she had
found in the simple and unfettered life of the wastes? Could she ever
exchange this life for another life, even with Androvsky?

One day she spoke to him of her intense joy in the wandering fate, and
the pain that came to her whenever she thought of exchanging it for a
life of civilisation in the midst of fixed groups of men.

They had halted for the noonday rest at a place called Sidi-Hamdam, and
in the afternoon were going to ride on to a Bordj called Mogar, where
they meant to stay two or three days, as Batouch had told them it was
a good halting place, and near to haunts of the gazelle. The tents had
already gone forward, and Domini and Androvsky were lying upon a rug
spread on the sand, in the shadow of the grey wall of a traveller's
house beside a well. Behind them their horses were tethered to an
iron ring in the wall. Batouch and Ali were in the court of the house,
talking to the Arab guardian who dwelt there, but their voices were not
audible by the well, and absolute silence reigned, the intense yet
light silence that is in the desert at noontide, when the sun is at
the zenith, when the nomad sleeps under his low-pitched tent, and the
gardeners in the oasis cease even from pretending to work among the
palms. From before the well the ground sank to a plain of pale grey
sand, which stretched away to a village hard in aspect, as if carved out
of bronze and all in one piece. In the centre of it rose a mosque with
a minaret and a number of cupolas, faintly gilded and shining modestly
under the fierce rays of the sun.

At the foot of the village the ground was white with saltpetre, which
resembled a covering of new-fallen snow. To right and left of it were
isolated groups of palms growing in threes and fours, like trees that
had formed themselves into cliques and set careful barriers of sand
between themselves and their despised brethren. Here and there on the
grey sand dark patches showed where nomads had pitched their tents. But
there was no movement of human life. No camels were visible. No guard
dogs barked. The noon held all things in its golden grip.

"Boris!" Domini said, breaking a long silence.

"Yes, Domini?"

He turned towards her on the rug, stretching his long, thin body lazily
as if in supreme physical contentment.

"You know that saying of the Arabs about forgetting everything in the
desert?"

"Yes, Domini, I know it."

"How long shall we stay in this world of forgetfulness?"

He lifted himself up on his elbow quickly, and fixed his eyes on hers.

"How long!"

"Yes."

"But--do you wish to leave it? Are you tired of it?"

There was a note of sharp anxiety in his voice.

"I don't answer such a question," she said, smiling at him.

"Ah, then, why do you try to frighten me?"

She put her hand in his.

"How burnt you are!" she said. "You are like an Arab of the South."

"Let me become more like one. There's health here."

"And peace, perfect peace."

He said nothing. He was looking down now at the sand.

She laid her lips on his warm brown hand.

"There's all I want here," she added.

"Let us stay here."

"But some day we must go back, mustn't we?"

"Why?"

"Can anything be lifelong--even our honeymoon?"

"Suppose we choose that it shall be?"

"Can we choose such a thing? Is anybody allowed to choose to live always
quite happily without duties? Sometimes I wonder. I love this wandering
life so much, I am so happy in it, that I sometimes think it cannot last
much longer."

He began to sift the sand through his fingers swiftly.

"Duties?" he said in a low voice.

"Yes. Oughtn't we to do something presently, something besides being
happy?"

"What do you mean, Domini?"

"I hardly know, I don't know. You tell me."

There was an urging in her voice, as if she wanted, almost demanded,
something of him.

"You mean that a man must do some work in his life if he is to keep
himself a man," he said, not as if he were asking a question.

He spoke reluctantly but firmly.

"You know," he added, "that I have worked hard all my life, hard like a
labourer."

"Yes, I know," she said.

She stroked his hand, that was worn and rough, and spoke eloquently of
manual toil it had accomplished in the past.

"I know. Before we were married, that day when we sat in the garden, you
told me your life and I told you mine. How different they have been!"

"Yes," he said.

He lit a cigar and watched the smoke curling up into the gold of the
sunlit atmosphere.

"Mine in the midst of the world and yours so far away from it. I often
imagine that little place, El Krori, the garden, your brother, your
twin-brother Stephen, that one-eyed Arab servant--what was his name?"

"El Magin."

"Yes, El Magin, who taught you to play Cora and to sing Arab songs, and
to eat cous-cous with your fingers. I can almost see Father Andre,
from whom you learnt to love the Classics, and who talked to you of
philosophy. He's dead too, isn't he, like your mother?"

"I don't know whether Pere Andre is dead. I have lost sight of him,"
Androvsky said.

He still looked steadily at the rings of smoke curling up into the
golden air. There was in his voice a sound of embarrassment. She guessed
that it came from the consciousness of the pain he must have caused
the good priest who had loved him when he ceased from practising the
religion in which he had been brought up. Even to her he never spoke
frankly on religious subjects, but she knew that he had been baptised a
Catholic and been educated for a time by priests. She knew, too, that
he was no longer a practising Catholic, and that, for some reason, he
dreaded any intimacy with priests. He never spoke against them. He had
scarcely ever spoken of them to her. But she remembered his words in the
garden, "I do not care for priests." She remembered, too, his action
in the tunnel on the day of his arrival in Beni-Mora. And the reticence
that they both preserved on the subject of religion, and its reason,
were the only causes of regret in this desert dream of hers. Even this
regret, too, often faded in hope. For in the desert, the Garden of
Allah, she had it borne in upon her that Androvsky would discover what
he must surely secretly be seeking--the truth that each man must find
for himself, truth for him of the eventual existence in which the
mysteries of this present existence will be made plain, and of the Power
that has fashioned all things.

And she was able to hope in silence, as women do for the men they love.

"Don't think I do not realise that you have worked," she went on after
a pause. "You told me how you always cultivated the land yourself, even
when you were still a boy, that you directed the Spanish labourers in
the vineyards, that--you have earned a long holiday. But should it last
for ever?"

"You are right. Well, let us take an oasis; let us become palm gardeners
like that Frenchman at Meskoutine."

"And build ourselves an African house, white, with a terrace roof."

"And sell our dates. We can give employment to the Arabs. We can choose
the poorest. We can improve their lives. After all, if we owe a debt to
anyone it is to them, to the desert. Let us pay our debt to the desert
men and live in the desert."

"It would be an ideal life," she said with her eyes shining on his.

"And a possible life. Let us live it. I could not bear to leave the
desert. Where should we go?"

"Where should we go!" she repeated.

She was still looking at him, but now the expression of her eyes had
quite changed. They had become grave, and examined him seriously with a
sort of deep inquiry. He sat upon the Arab rug, leaning his back against
the wall of the traveller's house.

"Why do you look at me like that, Domini?" he asked with a sudden
stirring of something that was like uneasiness.

"I! I was wondering what you would like, what other life would suit
you."

"Yes?" he said quickly. "Yes?"

"It's very strange, Boris, but I cannot connect you with anything but
the desert, or see you anywhere but in the desert. I cannot even imagine
you among your vines in Tunisia."

"They were not altogether mine," he corrected, still with a certain
excitement which he evidently endeavoured to repress. "I--I had the
right, the duty of cultivating the land."

"Well, however it was, you were always at work; you were responsible,
weren't you?"

"Yes."

"I can't see you even in the vineyards or the wheat-fields. Isn't it
strange?"

She was always looking at him with the same deep and wholly
unselfconscious inquiry.

"And as to London, Paris--"

Suddenly she burst into a little laugh and her gravity vanished.

"I think you would hate them," she said. "And they--they wouldn't like
you because they wouldn't understand you."

"Let us buy our oasis," he said abruptly. "Build our African house, sell
our dates and remain in the desert. I hear Batouch. It must be time to
ride on to Mogar. Batouch! Batouch!"

Batouch came from the courtyard of the house wiping the remains of a
cous-cous from his languid lips.

"Untie the horses," said Androvsky.

"But, Monsieur, it is still too hot to travel. Look! No one is stirring.
All the village is asleep."

He waved his enormous hand, with henna-tinted nails, towards the distant
town, carved surely out of one huge piece of bronze.

"Untie the horses. There are gazelle in the plain near Mogar. Didn't you
tell me?"

"Yes, Monsieur, but--"

"We'll get there early and go out after them at sunset. Now, Domini."

They rode away in the burning heat of the noon towards the southwest
across the vast plains of grey sand, followed at a short distance by
Batouch and Ali.

"Monsieur is mad to start in the noon," grumbled Batouch. "But Monsieur
is not like Madame. He may live in the desert till he is old and his
hair is grey as the sand, but he will never be an Arab in his heart."

"Why, Batouch-ben-Brahim?"

"He cannot rest. To Madame the desert gives its calm, but to Monsieur--"
He did not finish his sentence. In front Domini and Androvsky had put
their horses to a gallop. The sand flew up in a thin cloud around them.

"Nom d'un chien!" said Batouch, who, in unpoetical moments, occasionally
indulged in the expletives of the French infidels who were his country's
rulers. "What is there in the mind of Monsieur which makes him ride as
if he fled from an enemy?"

"I know not, but he goes like a hare before the sloughi, Batouch-ben
Brahim," answered Ali, gravely.

Then they sent their horses on in chase of the cloud of sand towards the
southwest.

About four in the afternoon they reached the camp at Mogar.

As they rode in slowly, for their horses were tired and streaming with
heat after their long canter across the sands, both Domini and Androvsky
were struck by the novelty of this halting-place, which was quite unlike
anything they had yet seen. The ground rose gently but continuously for
a considerable time before they saw in the distance the pitched tents
with the dark forms of the camels and mules. Here they were out of the
sands, and upon hard, sterile soil covered with small stones embedded
in the earth. Beyond the tents they could see nothing but the sky,
which was now covered with small, ribbed grey clouds, sad-coloured and
autumnal, and a lonely tower built of stone, which rose from the waste
at about two hundred yards from the tents to the east. Although they
could see so little, however, they were impressed with a sensation that
they were on the edge of some vast vision, of some grandiose effect of
Nature, that would bring to them a new and astonishing knowledge of the
desert. Perhaps it was the sight of the distant tower pointing to
the grey clouds that stirred in them this almost excited feeling of
expectation.

"It is like a watch-tower," Domini said, pointing with her whip. "But
who could live in such a place, far from any oasis?"

"And what can it overlook?" said Androvsky. "This is the nearest horizon
line we have seen since we came into the desert."

"Yes, but----"

She glanced at him as they put their horses into a gentle canter. Then
she added:

"You, too, feel that we are coming to something tremendous, don't you?"

Her horse whinnied shrilly. Domini stroked his foam-flecked neck with
her hand.

"Abou is as full of anticipation as we are," she said. Androvsky was
looking towards the tower.

"That was built for French soldiers," he said. A moment afterwards he
added:

"I wonder why Batouch chose this place for us to camp in?"

There was a faint sound as of irritation in his voice.

"Perhaps we shall know in a minute," Domini answered. They cantered on.
Their horses' hoofs rang with a hard sound on the stony ground.

"It's inhospitable here," Androvsky said. She looked at him in surprise.

"I never knew you to take a dislike to any halting-place before," she
said. "What's the matter, Boris?"

He smiled at her, but almost immediately his face was clouded by the
shadow of a gloom that seemed to respond to the gloom of the sky. And he
fixed his eyes again upon the tower.

"I like a far horizon," he answered. "And there's no sun to-day."

"I suppose even in the desert we cannot have it always," she said. And
in her voice, too, there was a touch of melancholy, as if she had caught
his mood. A minute later she added:

"I feel exactly as if I were on a hill top and were coming to a view of
the sea."

Almost as she spoke they cantered in among the tents of the attendants,
and reined in their horses at the edge of a slope that was almost a
precipice. Then they sat still in their saddles, gazing.

They had been living for weeks in the midst of vastness, and had become
accustomed to see stretched out around them immense tracts of land
melting away into far blue distances, but this view from Mogar made them
catch their breath and stiffed their pulses.

It was gigantic. There was even something unnatural in its appearance
of immensity, as if it were, perhaps, deceptive, and existed in their
vision of it only. So, surely, might look a plain to one who had taken
haschish, which enlarges, makes monstrous and threateningly terrific.
Domini had a feeling that no human eyes could really see such infinite
tracts of land and water as those she seemed to be seeing at this
moment. For there was water here, in the midst of the desert. Infinite
expanses of sea met infinite plains of snow. Or so it seemed to both
of them. And the sea was grey and calm as a winter sea, breathing its
plaint along a winter land. From it, here and there, rose islets whose
low cliffs were a deep red like the red of sandstone, a sad colour that
suggests tragedy, islets that looked desolate, and as if no life had
ever been upon them, or could be. Back from the snowy plains stretched
sand dunes of the palest primrose colour, sand dunes innumerable,
myriads and myriads of them, rising and falling, rising and falling,
till they were lost in the grey distance of this silent world. In the
foreground, at their horses' feet, wound from the hill summit a broad
track faintly marked in the deep sand, and flanked by huge dunes shaped,
by the action of the winds, into grotesque semblances of monsters,
leviathans, beasts with prodigious humps, sphinxes, whales. This track
was presently lost in the blanched plains. Far away, immeasurably far,
sea and snow blended and faded into the cloudy grey. Above the near
dunes two desert eagles were slowly wheeling in a weary flight,
occasionally sinking towards the sand, then rising again towards the
clouds. And the track was strewn with the bleached bones of camels that
had perished, or that had been slaughtered, on some long desert march.

To the left of them the solitary tower commanded this terrific vision
of desolation, seemed to watch it steadily, yet furtively, with its tiny
loophole eyes.

"We have come into winter," Domini murmured.

She looked at the white of the camels' bones, of the plains, at the grey
white of the sky, at the yellow pallor of the dunes.

"How wonderful! How terrible!" she said.

She drew her horse to one side, a little nearer to Androvsky's.

"Does the Russian in you greet this land?" she asked him.

He did not reply. He seemed to be held in thrall by the sad immensity
before them.

"I realise here what it must be to die in the desert, to be killed by
it--by hunger, by thirst in it," she said presently, speaking, as if to
herself, and looking out over the mirage sea, the mirage snow. "This is
the first time I have really felt the terror of the desert."

Her horse drooped its head till its nose nearly touched the earth, and
shook itself in a long shiver. She shivered too, as if constrained to
echo an animal's distress.

"Things have died here," Androvsky said, speaking at last in a low voice
and pointing with his long-lashed whip towards the camels' skeletons.
"Come, Domini, the horses are tired."

He cast another glance at the tower, and they dismounted by their tent,
which was pitched at the very edge of the steep slope that sank down to
the beast-like shapes of the near dunes.

An hour later Domini said to Androvsky:

"You won't go after gazelle this evening surely?"

They had been having coffee in the tent and had just finished. Androvsky
got up from his chair and went to the tent door. The grey of the sky was
pierced by a gleaming shaft from the sun.

"Do you mind if I go?" he said, turning towards her after a glance to
the desert.

"No, but aren't you tired?"

He shook his head.

"I couldn't ride, and now I can ride. I couldn't shoot, and I'm just
beginning--"

"Go," she said quickly. "Besides, we want gazelle for dinner, Batouch
says, though I don't suppose we should starve without it." She came to
the tent door and stood beside him, and he put his arm around her.

"If I were alone here, Boris," she said, leaning against his shoulder,
"I believe I should feel horribly sad to-day."

"Shall I stay?"

He pressed her against him.

"No. I shall know you are coming back. Oh, how extraordinary it is to
think we lived so many years without knowing of each other's existence,
that we lived alone. Were you ever happy?"

He hesitated before he replied.

"I sometimes thought I was."

"But do you think now you ever really were?"

"I don't know--perhaps in a lonely sort of way."

"You can never be happy in that way now?"

He said nothing, but, after a moment, he kissed her long and hard, and
as if he wanted to draw her being into his through the door of his lips.

"Good-bye," he said, releasing her. "I shall be back directly after
sundown."

"Yes. Don't wait for the dark down there. If you were lost in the
dunes!"

She pointed to the distant sand hills rising and falling monotonously to
the horizon.

"If you are not back in good time," she said, "I shall stand by the
tower and wave a brand from the fire."

"Why by the tower?"

"The ground is highest by the tower."

She watched him ride away on a mule, with two Arabs carrying guns. They
went towards the plains of saltpetre that looked like snow beside the
sea that was only a mirage. Then she turned back into the tent, took
up a volume of Fromentin's, and sat down in a folding-chair at the tent
door. She read a little, but it was difficult to read with the mirage
beneath her. Perpetually her eyes were attracted from the book to its
mystery and plaintive sadness, that was like the sadness of something
unearthly, of a spirit that did not move but that suffered. She did not
put away the book, but presently she laid it down on her knees, open,
and sat gazing. Androvsky had disappeared with the Arabs into some fold
of the sands. The sun-ray had vanished with him. Without Androvsky and
the sun--she still connected them together, and knew she would for ever.

The melancholy of this desert scene was increased for her till it became
oppressive and lay upon her like a heavy weight. She was not a woman
inclined to any morbid imaginings. Indeed, all that was morbid roused
in her an instinctive disgust. But the sudden greyness of the weather,
coming after weeks of ardent sunshine, and combined with the fantastic
desolation of the landscape, which was half real and half unreal, turned
her for the moment towards a dreariness of spirit that was rare in her.

She realised suddenly, as she looked and did not see Androvsky even as a
black and moving speck upon the plain; what the desert would seem to her
without him, even in sunshine, the awfulness of the desolation of it,
the horror of its distances. And realising this she also realised the
uncertainty of the human life in connection with any other human life.
To be dependent on another is to double the sum of the terrors of
uncertainty. She had done that.

If the immeasurable sands took Androvsky and never gave him back to her!
What would she do?

She gazed at the mirage sea with its dim red islands, and at the sad
white plains along its edge.

Winter--she would be plunged in eternal winter. And each human life
hangs on a thread. All deep love, all consuming passion, holds a great
fear within the circle of a great glory. To-day the fear within the
circle of her glory seemed to grow. But she suddenly realised that she
ought to dominate it, to confine it--as it were--to its original and
permanent proportions.

She got up, came out upon the edge of the hill, and walked along it
slowly towards the tower.

Outside, freed from the shadow of the tent, she felt less oppressed,
though still melancholy, and even slightly apprehensive, as if some
trouble were coming to her and were near at hand. Mentally she had made
the tower the limit of her walk, and therefore when she reached it she
stood still.

It was a squat, square tower, strongly constructed, with loopholes in
the four sides, and now that she was by it she saw built out at the back
of it a low house with small shuttered windows and a narrow courtyard
for mules. No doubt Androvsky was right and French soldiers had once
been here to work the optic telegraph. She thought of the recruits and
of Marseilles, of Notre Dame de la Garde, the Mother of God, looking
towards Africa. Such recruits came to live in such strange houses as
this tower lost in the desert and now abandoned. She glanced at the
shuttered windows and turned back towards the tent; but something in the
situation of the tower--perhaps the fact that it was set on the highest
point of the ground--attracted her, and she presently made Batouch bring
her out some rugs and ensconced herself under its shadow, facing the
mirage sea.

How long she sat there she did not know. Mirage hypnotises the
imaginative and suggests to them dreams strange and ethereal, sad
sometimes, as itself. How long she might have sat there dreaming,
but for an interruption, she knew still less. It was towards evening,
however, but before evening had fallen, that a weary and travel-stained
party of three French soldiers, Zouaves, and an officer rode slowly up
the sandy track from the dunes. They were mounted on mules, and carried
their small baggage with them on two led mules. When they reached the
top of the hill they turned to the right and came towards the tower. The
officer was a little in advance of his men. He was a smart-looking, fair
man of perhaps thirty-two, with blonde moustaches, blue eyes with blonde
lashes, and hair very much the colour of the sand dunes. His face was
bright red, burnt, as a fair delicate skin burns, by the sun. His eyes,
although protected by large sun spectacles, were inflamed. The skin was
peeling from his nose. His hair was full of sand, and he rode leaning
forward over his animal's neck, holding the reins loosely in his hands,
that seemed nerveless from fatigue. Yet he looked smart and well-bred
despite his evident exhaustion, as if on parade he would be a dashing
officer. It was evident that both he and his men were riding in from
some tremendous journey. The latter looked dog-tired, scarcely human in
their collapse. They kept on their mules with difficulty, shaking this
way and that like sacks, with their unshaven chins wagging loosely up
and down. But as they saw the tower they began to sing in chorus half
under their breath, and leaning their broad hands on the necks of the
beasts for support they looked with a sort of haggard eagerness in its
direction.

Domini was roused from her contemplation of the mirage and the daydreams
it suggested by the approach of this small cavalcade. The officer was
almost upon her ere she heard the clatter of his mule among the stones.
She looked up, startled, and he looked down, even more surprised,
apparently, to see a lady ensconced at the foot of the tower. His
astonishment and exhaustion did not, however, get the better of his
instinctive good breeding, and sitting straight up in the saddle he took
off his sun helmet and asked Domini's pardon for disturbing her.

"But this is my home for the night, Madame," he added, at the same time
drawing a key from the pocket of his loose trousers. "And I'm thankful
to reach it. _Ma foi_! there have been several moments in the last days
when I never thought to see Mogar."

Slowly he swung himself off his mule and stood up, catching on to the
saddle with one hand.

"F-f-f-f!" he said, pursing his lips. "I can hardly stand. Excuse me,
Madame."

Domini had got up.

"You are tired out," she said, looking at him and his men, who had now
come up, with interest.

"Pretty well indeed. We have been three days lost in the great dunes
in a sand-storm, and hit the track here just as we were preparing for
a--well, a great event."

"A great event?" said Domini.

"The last in a man's life, Madame."

He spoke simply, even with a light touch of humour that was almost
cynical, but she felt beneath his words and manner a solemnity and a
thankfulness that attracted and moved her.

"Those terrible dunes!" she said.

And, turning, she looked out over them.

There was no sunset, but the deepening of the grey into a dimness that
seemed to have blackness behind it, the more ghastly hue of the white
plains of saltpetre, and the fading of the mirage sea, whose islands now
looked no longer red, but dull brown specks in a pale mist, hinted at
the rapid falling of night.

"My husband is out in them," she added.

"Your husband, Madame!"

He looked at her rather narrowly, shifted from one leg to the other as
if trying his strength, then added:

"Not far, though, I suppose. For I see you have a camp here."

"He has only gone after gazelle."

As she said the last word she saw one of the soldiers, a mere boy, lick
his lips and give a sort of tragic wink at his companions. A sudden
thought struck her.

"Don't think me impertinent, Monsieur, but--what about provisions in
your tower?"

"Oh, as to that, Madame, we shall do well enough. Here, open the door,
Marelle!"

And he gave the key to a soldier, who wearily dismounted and thrust it
into the door of the tower.

"But after three days in the dunes! Your provisions must be exhausted
unless you've been able to replenish them."

"You are too good, Madame. We shall manage a cous-cous."

"And wine? Have you any wine?"

She glanced again at the exhausted soldiers covered with sand and saw
that their eyes were fixed upon her and were shining eagerly. All the
"good fellow" in her nature rose up.

"You must let me send you some," she said. "We have plenty."

She thought of some bottles of champagne they had brought with them and
never opened.

"In the desert we are all comrades," she added, as if speaking to the
soldiers.

They looked at her with an open adoration which lit up their tired
faces.

"Madame," said the officer, "you are much too good; but I accept your
offer as frankly as you have made it. A little wine will be a godsend to
us to-night. Thank you, Madame."

The soldiers looked as if they were going to cheer.

"I'll go to the camp--"

"Cannot one of the men go for you, Madame? You were sitting here. Pray,
do not let us disturb you."

"But night is falling and I shall have to go back in a moment."

While they had been speaking the darkness had rapidly increased. She
looked towards the distant dunes and no longer saw them. At once her
mind went to Androvsky. Why had he not returned? She thought of the
signal. From the camp, behind their sleeping-tent, rose the flames of a
newly-made fire.

"If one of your men can go and tell Batouch--Batouch--to come to me here
I shall be grateful," she answered. "And I want him to bring me a big
brand from the fire over there."

She saw wonder dawning in the eyes fixed upon her, and smiled.

"I want to signal to my husband," she said, "and this is the highest
point. He will see it best if I stand here."

"Go, Marelle, ask for Batouch, and be sure you bring the brand from the
fire."

The man saluted and rode off with alacrity. The thought of wine had
infused a gaiety into him and his companions.

"Now, Monsieur, don't stand on ceremony," Domini said to the officer.
"Go in and make your toilet. You are longing to, I know."

"I am longing to look a little more decent--now, Madame," he said
gallantly, and gazing at her with a sparkle of admiration in his
inflamed eyes. "You will let me return in a moment to escort you to the
camp."

"Thank you."

"Will you permit me--my name is De Trevignac."

"And mine is Madame Androvsky."

"Russian!" the officer said. "The alliance in the desert! Vive la
Russie!"

She laughed.

"That is for my husband, for I am English."

"Vive l'Angleterre!" he said.

The two soldier echoed his words impulsively, lifting up in the
gathering darkness hoarse voices.

"Vive l'Angleterre!"

"Thank you, thank you," she said. "Now, Monsieur, please don't let me
keep you."

"I shall be back directly," the officer replied.

And he turned and went into the tower, while the soldiers rode round to
the court, tugging at the cords of the led mules.

Domini waited for the return of Marelle. Her mood had changed. A glow of
cordial humanity chased away her melancholy. The hostess that lurks in
every woman--that housewife-hostess sense which goes hand-in-hand with
the mother sense--was alive in her. She was keenly anxious to play the
good fairy simply, unostentatiously, to these exhausted men who had come
to Mogar out of the jaws of Death, to see their weary faces shine under
the influence of repose and good cheer. But the tower looked desolate.
The camp was gayer, cosier. Suddenly she resolved to invite them all to
dine in the camp that night.

Marelle returned with Batouch. She saw them from a distance coming
through the darkness with blazing torches in their hands. When they came
to her she said:

"Batouch, I want you to order dinner in camp for the soldiers."

A broad and radiant smile irradiated the blunt Breton features of
Marelle.

"And Monsieur the officer will dine with me and Monsieur. Give us all
you can. Perhaps there will be some gazelle."

She saw him opening his lips to say that the dinner would be poor and
stopped him.

"You are to open some of the champagne--the Pommery. We will drink to
all safe returns. Now, give me the brand and go and tell the cook."

As he took his torch and disappeared into the darkness De Trevignac
came out from the tower. He still looked exhausted and walked with some
difficulty, but he had washed the sand from his face with water from the
artesian well behind the tower, changed his uniform, brushed the sand
from his yellow hair, and put on a smart gold-laced cap instead of his
sun-helmet. The spectacles were gone from his eyes, and between his lips
was a large Havana--his last, kept by him among the dunes as a possible
solace in the dreadful hour of death.

"Monsieur de Trevignac, I want you to dine with us in camp
to-night--only to dine. We won't keep you from your bed one moment after
the coffee and the cognac. You must seal the triple alliance--France,
Russia, England--in some champagne."

She had spoken gaily, cordially. She added more gravely:

"One doesn't escape from death among the dunes every day. Will you
come?"

She held out her hand frankly, as a man might to another man. He pressed
it as a man presses a woman's hand when he is feeling very soft and
tender.

"Madame, what can I say, but that you are too good to us poor fellows
and that you will find it very difficult to get rid of us, for we shall
be so happy in your camp that we shall forget all about our tower."

"That's settled then."

With the brand in her hand she walked to the edge of the hill. De
Trevignac followed her. He had taken the other brand from Marelle. They
stood side by side, overlooking the immense desolation that was now
almost hidden in the night.

"You are going to signal to your husband, Madame?"

"Yes."

"Let me do it for you. See, I have the other brand!"

"Thank you--but I will do it."

In the light of the flame that leaped up as if striving to touch her
face he saw a light in her eyes that he understood, and he drooped his
torch towards the earth while she lifted hers on high and waved it in
the blackness.

He watched her. The tall, strong, but exquisitely supple figure, the
uplifted arm with the torch sending forth a long tongue of golden flame,
the ardent and unconscious pose, that set before him a warm passionate
heart calling to another heart without shame, made him think of her
as some Goddess of the Sahara. He had let his torch droop towards the
earth, but, as she waved hers, he had an irresistible impulse to join
her in the action she made heroic and superb. And presently he lifted
his torch, too, and waved it beside hers in the night.

She smiled at him in the flames.

"He must see them surely," she said.

From below, in the distance of the desert, there rose a loud cry in a
strong man's voice.

"Aha!" she exclaimed.

She called out in return in a warm, powerful voice. The man's voice
answered, nearer. She dropped her brand to the earth.

"Monsieur, you will come then--in half an hour?"

"Madame, with the most heartfelt pleasure. But let me accompany--"

"No, I am quite safe. And bring your men with you. We'll make the best
feast we can for them. And there's enough champagne for all."

Then she went away quickly, eagerly, into the darkness.

"To be her husband!" murmured De Trevignac. "Lucky--lucky fellow!" And
he dropped his brand beside hers on the ground, and stood watching the
two flames mingle.

"Lucky--lucky fellow!" he said again aloud. "I wonder what he's like."



CHAPTER XX

When Domini reached the camp she found it in a bustle. Batouch, resigned
to the inevitable, had put the cook upon his mettle. Ouardi was already
to be seen with a bottle of Pommery in each hand, and was only prevented
from instantly uncorking them by the representations of his mistress
and an elaborate exposition of the peculiar and evanescent virtues of
champagne. Ali was humming a mysterious song about a lovesick camel-man,
with which he intended to make glad the hearts of the assembly when the
halting time was over. And the dining-table was already set for three.

When Androvsky rode in with the Arabs Domini met him at the edge of the
hill.

"You saw my signal, Boris?"

"Yes--"

He was going to say more, when she interrupted him eagerly.

"Have you any gazelle? Ah----"

Across the mule of one of the Arabs she saw a body drooping, a delicate
head with thin, pointed horns, tiny legs with exquisite little feet that
moved as the mule moved.

"We shall want it to-night. Take it quickly to the cook's tent, Ahmed."
Androvsky got off his mule.

"There's a light in the tower!" he said, looking at her and then
dropping his eyes.

"Yes."

"And I saw two signals. There were two brands being waved together."

"To-night, we have comrades in the desert."

"Comrades!" he said.

His voice sounded startled.

"Men who have escaped from a horrible death in the dunes."

"Arabs?"

"French."

Quickly she told him her story. He listened in silence. When she had
finished he said nothing. But she saw him look at the dining-table laid
for three and his expression was dark and gloomy.

"Boris, you don't mind!" she said in surprise. "Surely you would not
refuse hospitality to these poor fellows!"

She put her hand through his arm and pressed it.

"Have I done wrong? But I know I haven't!"

"Wrong! How could you do that?"

He seemed to make an effort, to conquer something within him.

"It's I who am wrong, Domini. The truth is, I can't bear our happiness
to be intruded upon even for a night. I want to be alone with you. This
life of ours in the desert has made me desperately selfish. I want to be
alone, quite alone, with you."

"It's that! How glad I am!"

She laid her cheek against his arm.

"Then," he said, "that other signal?"

"Monsieur de Trevignac gave it."

Androvsky took his arm from hers abruptly.

"Monsieur de Trevignac!" he said. "Monsieur de Trevignac?"

He stood as if in deep and anxious thought.

"Yes, the officer. That's his name. What is it, Boris?"

"Nothing."

There was a sound of voices approaching the camp in the darkness. They
were speaking French.

"I must," said Androvsky, "I must----"

He made an uncertain movement, as if to go towards the dunes, checked
it, and went hurriedly into the dressing-tent. As he disappeared De
Trevignac came into the camp with his men. Batouch conducted the latter
with all ceremony towards the fire which burned before the tents of
the attendants, and, for the moment, Domini was left alone with De
Trevignac.

"My husband is coming directly," she said. "He was late in returning,
but he brought gazelle. Now you must sit down at once."

She led the way to the dining-tent. De Trevignac glanced at the table
laid for three with an eager anticipation which he was far too natural
to try to conceal.

"Madame," he said, "if I disgrace myself to-night, if I eat like an ogre
in a fairy tale, will you forgive me?"

"I will not forgive you if you don't."

She spoke gaily, made him sit down in a folding-chair, and insisted
on putting a soft cushion at his back. Her manner was cheerful, almost
eagerly kind and full of a camaraderie rare in a woman, yet he noticed a
change in her since they stood together waving the brands by the tower.
And he said to himself:

"The husband--perhaps he's not so pleased at my appearance. I wonder how
long they've been married?"

And he felt his curiosity to see "Monsieur Androvsky" deepen.

While they waited for him Domini made De Trevignac tell her the story of
his terrible adventure in the dunes. He did so simply, like a soldier,
without exaggeration. When he had finished she said:

"You thought death was certain then?"

"Quite certain, Madame."

She looked at him earnestly.

"To have faced a death like that in utter desolation, utter loneliness,
must make life seem very different afterwards."

"Yes, Madame. But I did not feel utterly alone."

"Your men!"

"No, Madame."

After a pause he added, simply:

"My mother is a devout Catholic, Madame. I am her only child, and--she
taught me long ago that in any peril one is never quite alone."

Domini's heart warmed to him. She loved this trust in God so frankly
shown by a soldier, member of an African regiment, in this wild land.
She loved this brave reliance on the unseen in the midst of the terror
of the seen. Before they spoke again Androvsky crossed the dark space
between the tents and came slowly into the circle of the lamplight.

De Trevignac got up from his chair, and Domini introduced the two men.
As they bowed each shot a swift glance at the other. Then Androvsky
looked down, and two vertical lines appeared on his high forehead above
his eyebrows. They gave to his face a sudden look of acute distress. De
Trevignac thanked him for his proffered hospitality with the ease of a
man of the world, assuming that the kind invitation to him and to his
men came from the husband as well as from the wife. When he had finished
speaking, Androvsky, without looking up, said, in a voice that sounded
to Domini new, as if he had deliberately assumed it:

"I am glad, Monsieur. We found gazelle, and so I hope--I hope you will
have a fairly good dinner."

The words could scarcely have been more ordinary, but the way in which
they were uttered was so strange, sounded indeed so forced, and so
unnatural, that both De Trevignac and Domini looked at the speaker in
surprise. There was a pause. Then Batouch and Ouardi came in with the
soup.

"Come!" Domini said. "Let us begin. Monsieur de Trevignac, will you sit
here on my right?"

They sat down. The two men were opposite to each other at the ends of
the small table, with a lamp between them. Domini faced the tent door,
and could see in the distance the tents of the attendants lit up by the
blaze of the fire, and the forms of the French soldiers sitting at their
table close to it, with the Arabs clustering round them. Sounds of loud
conversation and occasional roars of laughter, that was almost childish
in its frank lack of all restraint, told her that one feast was a
success. She looked at her companions and made a sudden resolve--almost
fierce--that the other, over which she was presiding, should be a
success, too. But why was Androvsky so strange with other men? Why did
he seem to become almost a different human being directly he was brought
into any close contact with his kind? Was it shyness? Had he a profound
hatred of all society? She remembered Count Anteoni's luncheon and
the distress Androvsky had caused her by his cold embarrassment, his
unwillingness to join in conversation on that occasion. But then he
was only her friend. Now he was her husband. She longed for him to show
himself at his best. That he was not a man of the world she knew. Had he
not told her of his simple upbringing in El Kreir, a remote village of
Tunisia, by a mother who had been left in poverty after the death of
his father, a Russian who had come to Africa to make a fortune by
vine-growing, and who had had his hopes blasted by three years of
drought and by the visitation of the dreaded phylloxera? Had he not told
her of his own hard work on the rich uplands among the Spanish workmen,
of how he had toiled early and late in all kinds of weather, not for
himself, but for a company that drew a fortune from the land and gave
him a bare livelihood? Till she met him he had never travelled--he had
never seen almost anything of life. A legacy from a relative had at last
enabled him to have some freedom and to gratify a man's natural taste
for change. And, strangely, perhaps, he had come first to the desert.
She could not--she did not--expect him to show the sort of easy
cultivation that a man acquires only by long contact with all sorts and
conditions of men and women. But she knew that he was not only full of
fire and feeling--a man with a great temperament, but also that he was a
man who had found time to study, whose mind was not empty. He was a man
who had thought profoundly. She knew this, although even with her, even
in the great intimacy that is born of a great mutual passion, she knew
him for a man of naturally deep reserve, who could not perhaps speak all
his thoughts to anyone, even to the woman he loved. And knowing this,
she felt a fighting temper rise up in her. She resolved to use her will
upon this man who loved her, to force him to show his best side to the
guest who had come to them out of the terror of the dunes. She would be
obstinate for him.

Her lips went down a little at the corners. De Trevignac glanced at her
above his soup-plate, and then at Androvsky. He was a man who had
seen much of society, and who divined at once the gulf that must have
separated the kind of life led in the past by his hostess from the
kind of life led by his host. Such gulfs, he knew, are bridged with
difficulty. In this case a great love must have been the bridge. His
interest in these two people, encountered by him in the desolation of
the wastes, and when all his emotions had been roused by the nearness
of peril, would have been deep in any case. But there was something that
made it extraordinary, something connected with Androvsky. It seemed to
him that he had seen, perhaps known Androvsky at some time in his life.
Yet Androvsky's face was not familiar to him. He could not yet tell from
what he drew this impression, but it was strong. He searched his memory.

Just at first fatigue was heavy upon him, but the hot soup, the first
glass of wine revived him. When Domini, full of her secret obstinacy,
began to talk gaily he was soon able easily to take his part, and to
join her in her effort to include Androvsky in the conversation. The
cheerful noise of the camp came to them from without.

"I'm afraid my men are lifting up their voices rather loudly," said De
Trevignac.

"We like it," said Domini. "Don't we, Boris?"

There was a long peal of laughter from the distance. As it died away
Batouch's peculiar guttural chuckle, which had something negroid in
it, was audible, prolonging itself in a loneliness that spoke his
pertinacious sense of humour.

"Certainly," said Androvsky, still in the same strained and unnatural
voice which had surprised Domini when she introduced the two men. "We
are accustomed to gaiety round the camp fire."

"You are making a long stay in the desert, Monsieur?" asked De
Trevignac.

"I hope so, Monsieur. It depends on my--it depends on Madame Androvsky."

"Why didn't he say 'my wife'?" thought De Trevignac. And again he
searched his memory. "Had he ever met this man? If so, where?"

"I should like to stay in the desert for ever," Domini said quickly,
with a long look at her husband.

"I should not, Madame," De Trevignac said.

"I understand. The desert has shown you its terrors."

"Indeed it has."

"But to us it has only shown its enchantment. Hasn't it?" She spoke to
Androvsky. After a pause he replied:

"Yes."

The word, when it came, sounded like a lie.

For the first time since her marriage Domini felt a cold, like a cold of
ice about her heart. Was it possible that Androvsky had not shared her
joy in the desert? Had she been alone in her happiness? For a moment she
sat like one stunned by a blow. Then knowledge, reason, spoke in her.
She knew of Androvsky's happiness with her, knew it absolutely. There
are some things in which a woman cannot be deceived. When Androvsky
was with her he wanted no other human being. Nothing could take that
certainty from her.

"Of course," she said, recovered, "there are places in the desert in
which melancholy seems to brood, in which one has a sense of the terrors
of the wastes. Mogar, I think, is one of them, perhaps the only one we
have been in yet. This evening, when I was sitting under the tower, even
I"--and as she said "even I" she smiled happily at Androvsky--"knew some
forebodings."

"Forebodings?" Androvsky said quickly. "Why should you--?" He broke off.

"Not of coming misfortune, I hope, Madame?" said De Trevignac in a voice
that was now irresistibly cheerful.

He was helping himself to some gazelle, which sent forth an appetising
odour, and Ouardi was proudly pouring out for him the first glass of
blithely winking champagne.

"I hardly know, but everything looked sad and strange; I began to think
about the uncertainties of life."

Domini and De Trevignac were sipping their champagne. Ouardi came behind
Androvsky to fill his glass.

"Non! non!" he said, putting his hand over it and shaking his head.

De Trevignac started.

Ouardi looked at Domini and made a distressed grimace, pointing with a
brown finger at the glass.

"Oh, Boris! you must drink champagne to-night!" she exclaimed.

"I would rather not," he answered. "I am not accustomed to it."

"But to drink our guest's health after his escape from death!"

Androvsky took his hand from the glass and Ouardi filled it with wine.

Then Domini raised her glass and drank to De Trevignac. Androvsky
followed her example, but without geniality, and when he put his lips
to the wine he scarcely tasted it. Then he put the glass down and told
Ouardi to give him red wine. And during the rest of the evening he drank
no more champagne. He also ate very little, much less than usual, for in
the desert they both had the appetites of hunters.

After thanking them cordially for drinking his health, De Trevignac
said:

"I was nearly experiencing the certainty of death. But was it Mogar that
turned you to such thoughts, Madame?"

"I think so. There is something sad, even portentous about it."

She looked towards the tent door, imagining the immense desolation that
was hidden in the darkness outside, the white plains, the mirage sea,
the sand dunes like monsters, the bleached bones of the dead camels with
the eagles hovering above them.

"Don't you think so, Boris? Don't you think it looks like a place in
which--like a tragic place, a place in which tragedies ought to occur?"

"It is not places that make tragedies," he said, "or at least they make
tragedies far more seldom than the people in them."

He stopped, seemed to make an effort to throw off his taciturnity,
and suddenly to be able to throw it off, at least partially. For he
continued speaking with greater naturalness and ease, even with a
certain dominating force.

"If people would use their wills they need not be influenced by place,
they need not be governed by a thousand things, by memories, by fears,
by fancies--yes, even by fancies that are the merest shadows, but out of
which they make phantoms. Half the terrors and miseries of life lie only
in the minds of men. They even cause the very tragedies they would avoid
by expecting them."

He said the last words with a sort of strong contempt--then, more
quietly, he added:

"You, Domini, why should you feel the uncertainty of life, especially
at Mogar? You need not. You can choose not to. Life is the same in its
chances here as everywhere?"

"But you," she answered--"did you not feel a tragic influence when we
arrived here? Do you remember how you looked at the tower?"

"The tower!" he said, with a quick glance at De Trevignac. "I--why
should I look at the tower?"

"I don't know, but you did, almost as if you were afraid of it."

"My tower!" said De Trevignac.

Another roar of laughter reached them from the camp fire. It made Domini
smile in sympathy, but De Trevignac and Androvsky looked at each other
for a moment, the one with a sort of earnest inquiry, the other with
hostility, or what seemed hostility, across the circle of lamplight that
lay between them.

"A tower rising in the desert emphasises the desolation. I suppose that
was it," Androvsky said, as the laugh died down into Batouch's throaty
chuckle. "It suggests lonely people watching."

"For something that never comes, or something terrible that comes," De
Trevignac said.

As he spoke the last words Androvsky moved uneasily in his chair, and
looked out towards the camp, as if he longed to get up and go into the
open air, as if the tent roof above his head oppressed him.

Trevignac turned to Domini.

"In this case, Madame, you were the lonely watcher, and I was the
something terrible that came."

She laughed. While she laughed De Trevignac noticed that Androvsky
looked at her with a sort of sad intentness, not reproachful or
wondering, as an older person might look at a child playing at the edge
of some great gulf into which a false step would precipitate it. He
strove to interpret this strange look, so obviously born in the face of
his host in connection with himself. It seemed to him that he must have
met Androvsky, and that Androvsky knew it, knew--what he did not yet
know--where it was and when. It seemed to him, too, that Androvsky
thought of him as the "something terrible" that had come to this woman
who sat between them out of the desert.

But how could it be?

A profound curiosity was roused in him and he mentally cursed his
treacherous memory--if it were treacherous. For possibly he might be
mistaken. He had perhaps never met his host before, and this strange
manner of his might be due to some inexplicable cause, or perhaps to
some cause explicable and even commonplace. This Monsieur Androvsky
might be a very jealous man, who had taken this woman away into the
desert to monopolise her, and who resented even the chance intrusion of
a stranger. De Trevignac knew life and the strange passions of men, knew
that there are Europeans with the Arab temperament, who secretly long
that their women should wear the veil and live secluded in the harem.
Androvsky might be one of these.

When she had laughed Domini said:

"On the contrary, Monsieur, you have turned my thoughts into a happier
current by your coming."

"How so?"

"You made me think of what are called the little things of life that are
more to us women than to you men, I suppose."

"Ah," he said. "This food, this wine, this chair with a cushion, this
gay light--Madame, they are not little things I have to be grateful for.
When I think of the dunes they seem to me--they seem--"

Suddenly he stopped. His gay voice was choked. She saw that there were
tears in his blue eyes, which were fixed on her with an expression of
ardent gratitude. He cleared his throat.

"Monsieur," he said to Androvsky, "you will not think me presuming on an
acquaintance formed in the desert if I say that till the end of my life
I--and my men--can only think of Madame as of the good Goddess of the
desolate Sahara!"

He did not know how Androvsky would take this remark, he did not
care. For the moment in his impulsive nature there was room only for
admiration of the woman and, gratitude for her frank kindness. Androvsky
said:

"Thank you, Monsieur."

He spoke with an intensity, even a fervour, that were startling. For
the first time since they had been together his voice was absolutely
natural, his manner was absolutely unconstrained, he showed himself as
he was, a man on fire with love for the woman who had given herself to
him, and who received a warm word of praise of her as a gift made to
himself. De Trevignac no longer wondered that Domini was his wife. Those
three words, and the way they were spoken, gave him the man and what he
might be in a woman's life. Domini looked at her husband silently. It
seemed to her as if her heart were flooded with light, as if desolate
Mogar were the Garden of Eden before the angel came. When they spoke
again it was on some indifferent topic. But from that moment the meal
went more merrily. Androvsky seemed to lose his strange uneasiness. De
Trevignac met him more than half-way. Something of the gaiety round the
camp fire had entered into the tent. A chain of sympathy had been forged
between these three people. Possibly, a touch might break it, but for
the moment it seemed strong.

At the end of the dinner Domini got up.

"We have no formalities in the desert," she said. "But I'm going to
leave you together for a moment. Give Monsieur de Trevignac a cigar,
Boris. Coffee is coming directly."

She went out towards the camp fire. She wanted to leave the men together
to seal their good fellowship. Her husband's change from taciturnity to
cordiality had enchanted her. Happiness was dancing within her. She felt
gay as a child. Between the fire and the tent she met Ouardi carrying a
tray. On it were a coffee-pot, cups, little glasses and a tall bottle of
a peculiar shape with a very thin neck and bulging sides.

"What's that, Ouardi?" she asked, touching it with her finger.

"That is an African liqueur, Madame, that you have never tasted. Batouch
told me to bring it in honour of Monsieur the officer. They call it--"

"Another surprise of Batouch's!" she interrupted gaily. "Take it in!
Monsieur the officer will think we have quite a cellar in the desert."

He went on, and she stood for a few minutes looking at the blaze of the
fire, and at the faces lit up by it, French and Arab. The happy soldiers
were singing a French song with a chorus for the delectation of the
Arabs, who swayed to and fro, wagging their heads and smiling in an
effort to show appreciation of the barbarous music of the Roumis.
Dreary, terrible Mogar and its influences were being defied by the
wanderers halting in it. She thought of Androvsky's words about the
human will overcoming the influence of place, and a sudden desire
came to her to go as far as the tower where she had felt sad and
apprehensive, to stand in its shadow for an instant and to revel in her
happiness.

She yielded to the impulse, walked to the tower, and stood there facing
the darkness which hid the dunes, the white plains, the phantom sea,
seeing them in her mind, and radiantly defying them. Then she began to
return to the camp, walking lightly, as happy people walk. When she had
gone a very short way she heard someone coming towards her. It was too
dark to see who it was. She could only hear the steps among the stones.
They were hasty. They passed her and stopped behind her at the tower.
She wondered who it was, and supposed it must be one of the soldiers
come to fetch something, or perhaps tired and hastening to bed.

As she drew near to the camp she saw the lamplight shining in the tent,
where doubtless De Trevignac and Androvsky were smoking and talking
in frank good fellowship. It was like a bright star, she thought, that
gleam of light that shone out of her home, the brightest of all the
stars of Africa. She went towards it. As she drew near she expected to
hear the voices of the two men, but she heard nothing. Nor did she see
the blackness of their forms in the circle of the light. Perhaps they
had gone out to join the soldiers and the Arabs round the fire. She
hastened on, came to the tent, entered it, and was confronted by her
husband, who was standing back in an angle formed by the canvas, in
the shadow, alone. On the floor near him lay a quantity of fragments of
glass.

"Boris!" she said. "Where is Monsieur de Trevignac?"

"Gone," replied Androvsky in a loud, firm voice.

She looked up at him. His face was grim and powerful, hard like the face
of a fighting man.

"Gone already? Why?"

"He's tired out. He told me to make his excuses to you."

"But----"

She saw in the table the coffee cups. Two of them were full of coffee.
The third, hers, was clean.

"But he hasn't drunk his coffee!" she said.

She was astonished and showed it. She could not understand a man who had
displayed such warm, even touching, appreciation of her kindness leaving
her without a word, taking the opportunity of her momentary absence to
disappear, to shirk away--for she put it like that to herself.

"No--he did not want coffee."

"But was anything the matter?"

She looked down at the broken glass, and saw stains upon the ground
among the fragments.

"What's this?" she said. "Oh, the African liqueur!"

Suddenly Androvsky put his arm round her with an iron grip, and led her
away out of the tent. They crossed the space to the sleeping-tent in
silence. She felt governed, and as if she must yield to his will, but
she also felt confused, even almost alarmed mentally. The sleeping-tent
was dark. When they reached it Androvsky took his arm from her, and she
heard him searching for the matches. She was in the tent door and could
see that there was a light in the tower. De Trevignac must be there
already. No doubt it was he who had passed her in the night when she was
returning to the camp. Androvsky struck a match and lit a candle. Then
he came to the tent door and saw her looking at the light in the tower.

"Come in, Domini," he said, taking her by the hand, and speaking gently,
but still with a firmness that hinted at command.

She obeyed, and he quickly let down the flap of canvas, and shut out the
night.

"What is it, Boris?" she asked.

She was standing by one of the beds.

"What has happened?"

"Why--happened?"

"I don't understand. Why did Monsieur de Trevignac go away so suddenly?"

"Domini, do you care whether he is here or gone? Do you care?" He sat on
the edge of the bed and drew her down beside him.

"Do you want anyone to be with us, to break in upon our lives? Aren't we
happier alone?"

"Boris!" she said, "you--did you let him see that you wanted him to go?"

It occurred to her suddenly that Androvsky, in his lack of worldly
knowledge, might perhaps have shown their guest that he secretly
resented the intrusion of a stranger upon them even for one evening, and
that De Trevignac, being a sensitive man, had been hurt and had abruptly
gone away. Her social sense revolted at this idea.

"You didn't let him see that, Boris!" she exclaimed. "After his escape
from death! It would have been inhuman."

"Perhaps my love for you might even make me that, Domini. And if it
did--if you knew why I was inhuman--would you blame me for it? Would you
hate me for it?"

There was a strong excitement dawning in him. It recalled to her the
first night in the desert when they sat together on the ground and
watched the waning of the fire.

"Could you--could you hate me for anything, Domini?" he said. "Tell
me--could you?"

His face was close to hers. She looked at him with her long, steady
eyes, that had truth written in their dark fire.

"No," she answered. "I could never hate you--now."

"Not if--not if I had done you harm? Not if I had done you a wrong?"

"Could you ever do me a wrong?" she asked.

She sat, looking at him as if in deep thought, for a moment.

"I could almost as easily believe that God could," she said at last
simply.

"Then you--you have perfect trust in me?"

"But--have you ever thought I had not?" she asked. There was wonder in
her voice.

"But I have given my life to you," she added still with wonder. "I am
here in the desert with you. What more can I give? What more can I do?"

He put his arms about her and drew her head down on his shoulder.

"Nothing, nothing. You have given, you have done everything--too much,
too much. I feel myself below you, I know myself below you--far, far
down."

"How can you say that? I couldn't have loved you if it were so." She
spoke with complete conviction.

"Perhaps," he said, in a low voice, "perhaps women never realise what
their love can do. It might--it might--"

"What, Boris?"

"It might do what Christ did--go down into hell to preach to the--to the
spirits in prison."

His voice had dropped almost to a murmur. With one hand on her cheek he
kept her face pressed down upon his shoulder so that she could not see
his face.

"It might do that, Domini."

"Boris," she said, almost whispering too, for his words and manner
filled her with a sort of awe, "I want you to tell me something."

"What is it?"

"Are you quite happy with me here in the desert? If you are I want you
to tell me that you are. Remember--I shall believe you."

"No other human being could ever give me the happiness you give me."

"But--"

He interrupted her.

"No other human being ever has. Till I met you I had no conception of
the happiness there is in the world for man and woman who love each
other."

"Then you are happy?"

"Don't I seem so?"

She did not reply. She was searching her heart for the answer--searching
it with an almost terrible sincerity. He waited for her answer, sitting
quite still. His hand was always against her face. After what seemed to
him an eternity she said:

"Boris!"

"Yes."

"Why did you say that about a woman's love being able even to go down
into hell to preach to the spirits in prison?"

He did not answer. His hand seemed to her to lie more heavily on her
cheek.

"I--I am not sure that you are quite happy with me," she said.

She spoke like one who reverenced truth, even though it slew her. There
was a note of agony in her voice.

"Hush!" he said. "Hush, Domini!"

They were both silent. Beyond the canvas of the tent that shut out from
them the camp they heard a sound of music. Drums were being beaten. The
African pipe was wailing. Then the voice of Ali rose in the song of the
"Freed Negroes":

     "No one but God and I
     Knows what is in my heart."

At that moment Domini felt that the words were true--horribly true.

"Boris," she said. "Do you hear?"

"Hush, Domini."

"I think there is something in your heart that sometimes makes you sad
even with me. I think perhaps I partly guess what it is."

He took his hand away from her face, his arm from her shoulder, but she
caught hold of him, and her arm was strong like a man's.

"Boris, you are with me, you are close to me, but do you sometimes feel
far away from God?"

He did not answer.

"I don't know; I oughtn't to ask, perhaps. I don't ask--no, I don't.
But, if it's that, don't be too sad. It may all come right--here in the
desert. For the desert is the Garden of Allah. And, Boris--put out the
light."

He extinguished the candle with his hand.

"You feel, perhaps, that you can't pray honestly now, but some day you
may be able to. You will be able to. I know it. Before I knew I loved
you I saw you--praying in the desert."

"I!" he whispered. "You saw me praying in the desert!"

It seemed to her that he was afraid. She pressed him more closely with
her arms.

"It was that night in the dancing-house. I seemed to see a crowd of
people to whom the desert had given gifts, and to you it had given the
gift of prayer. I saw you far out in the desert praying."

She heard his hard breathing, felt it against her cheek.

"If--if it is that, Boris, don't despair. It may come. Keep the
crucifix. I am sure you have it. And I always pray for you."

They sat for a long while in the dark, but they did not speak again that
night.

Domini did not sleep, and very early in the morning, just as dawn was
beginning, she stole out of the tent, shutting down the canvas flap
behind her.

It was cold outside--cold almost as in a northern winter. The wind of
the morning, that blew to her across the wavelike dunes and the white
plains, seemed impregnated with ice. The sky was a pallid grey. The camp
was sleeping. What had been a fire, all red and gold and leaping beauty,
was now a circle of ashes, grey as the sky. She stood on the edge of the
hill and looked towards the tower.

As she did so, from the house behind it came a string of mules, picking
their way among the stones over the hard earth. De Trevignac and his men
were already departing from Mogar.

They came towards her slowly. They had to pass her to reach the track by
which they were going on to the north and civilisation. She stood to see
them pass.

When they were quite near De Trevignac, who was riding, with his head
bent down on his chest, muffled in a heavy cloak, looked up and saw her.
She nodded to him. He sat up and saluted. For a moment she thought
that he was going on without stopping to speak to her. She saw that he
hesitated what to do. Then he pulled up his mule and prepared to get
off.

"No, don't, Monsieur," she said.

She held out her hand.

"Good-bye," she added.

He took her hand, then signed to his men to ride on. When they had
passed, saluting her, he let her hand go. He had not spoken a word. His
face, burned scarlet by the sun, had a look of exhaustion on it, but
also another look--of horror, she thought, as if in his soul he was
recoiling from her. His inflamed blue eyes watched her, as if in a
search that was intense. She stood beside the mule in amazement. She
could hardly believe that this was the man who had thanked her, with
tears in his eyes, for her hospitality the night before. "Good-bye,"
he said, speaking at last, coldly. She saw him glance at the tent from
which she had come. The horror in his face surely deepened. "Goodbye,
Madame," he repeated. "Thank you for your hospitality." He pulled up the
rein to ride on. The mule moved a step or two. Then suddenly he checked
it and turned in the saddle. "Madame!" he said. "Madame!"

She came up to him. It seemed to her that he was going to say something
of tremendous importance to her. His lips, blistered by the sun, opened
to speak. But he only looked again towards the tent in which Androvsky
was still sleeping, then at her.

A long moment passed.

Then De Trevignac, as if moved by an irresistable impulse, leaned from
the saddle and made over Domini the sign of the cross. His hand dropped
down against the mule's side, and without another word, or look, he rode
away to the north, following his men.



CHAPTER XXI

That same day, to the surprise of Batouch, they left Mogar. To both
Domini and Androvsky it seemed a tragic place, a place where the desert
showed them a countenance that was menacing.

They moved on towards the south, wandering aimlessly through the warm
regions of the sun. Then, as the spring drew into summer, and the heat
became daily more intense, they turned again northwards, and on an
evening in May pitched their camp on the outskirts of the Sahara city of
Amara.

This city, although situated in the northern part of the desert, was
called by the Arabs "The belly of the Sahara," and also "The City of
Scorpions." It lay in the midst of a vast region of soft and shifting
sand that suggested a white sea, in which the oasis of date palms, at
the edge of which the city stood, was a green island. From the south,
whence the wanderers came, the desert sloped gently upwards for a long
distance, perhaps half a day's march, and many kilometres before the
city was reached, the minarets of its mosques were visible, pointing
to the brilliant blue sky that arched the whiteness of the sands. Round
about the city, on every side, great sand-hills rose like ramparts
erected by Nature to guard it from the assaults of enemies. These hills
were black with the tents of desert tribes, which, from far off, looked
like multitudes of flies that had settled on the sands. The palms of the
oasis, which stretched northwards from the city, could not be seen from
the south till the city was reached, and in late spring this region was
a strange and barbarous pageant of blue and white and gold; crude in
its intensity, fierce in its crudity, almost terrible in its blazing
splendour that was like the Splendour about the portals of the sun.

Domini and Androvsky rode towards Amara at a foot's pace, looking
towards its distant towers. A quivering silence lay around them,
yet already they seemed to hear the cries of the voices of a great
multitude, to be aware of the movement of thronging crowds of men. This
was the first Sahara city they had drawn near to, and their minds were
full of memories of the stories of Batouch, told to them by the camp
fire at night in the uninhabited places which, till now, had been their
home: stories of the wealthy date merchants who trafficked here and
dwelt in Oriental palaces, poor in aspect as seen from the dark and
narrow streets, or zgags, in which they were situated, but within full
of the splendours of Eastern luxury; of the Jew moneylenders who lived
apart in their own quarter, rapacious as wolves, hoarding their
gains, and practising the rites of their ancient and--according to the
Arabs--detestable religion; of the marabouts, or sacred men, revered
by the Mohammedans, who rode on white horses through the public ways,
followed by adoring fanatics who sought to touch their garments and
amulets, and demanded importunately miraculous blessings at their
hands--the hedgehog's foot to protect their women in the peril of
childbirth; the scroll, covered with verses of the Koran and enclosed
in a sheaf of leather, that banishes ill dreams at night and stays the
uncertain feet of the sleep-walker; the camel's skull that brings fruit
to the palm trees; the red coral that stops the flow of blood from a
knife-wound--of the dancing-girls glittering in an armour of golden
pieces, their heads tied with purple and red and yellow handkerchiefs
of silk, crowned with great bars of solid gold and tufted with ostrich
feathers; of the dwarfs and jugglers who by night perform in the
marketplace, contending for custom with the sorceresses who tell the
fates from shells gathered by mirage seas; with the snake-charmers--who
are immune from the poison of serpents and the acrobats who come from
far-off Persia and Arabia to spread their carpets in the shadow of the
Agha's dwelling and delight the eyes of negro and Kabyle, of Soudanese
and Touareg with their feats of strength; of the haschish smokers who,
assembled by night in an underground house whose ceiling and walls were
black as ebony, gave themselves up to day-dreams of shifting glory, in
which the things of earth and the joys and passions of men reappeared,
but transformed by the magic influence of the drug, made monstrous or
fairylike, intensified or turned to voluptuous languors, through which
the Ouled Nail floated like a syren, promising ecstasies unknown even in
Baghdad, where the pale Circassian lifts her lustrous eyes, in which the
palms were heavy with dates of solid gold, and the streams were gliding
silver.

Often they had smiled over Batouch's opulent descriptions of the marvels
of Ain-Amara, which they suspected to be very far away from the reality,
and yet, nevertheless, when they saw the minarets soaring above the
sands to the brassy heaven, it seemed to them both as if, perhaps, they
might be true. The place looked intensely barbaric. The approach to it
was grandiose.

Wide as the sands had been, they seemed to widen out into a greater
immensity of arid pallor before the city gates as yet unseen. The
stretch of blue above looked vaster here, the horizons more remote, the
radiance of the sun more vivid, more inexorable. Nature surely expanded
as if in an effort to hold her arm against some tremendous spectacle set
in its bosom by the activity of men, who were strong and ardent as
the giants of old, who had powers and a passion for employing them
persistently not known in any other region of the earth. The immensity
of Mogar brought sadness to the mind. The immensity of Ain-Amara brought
excitement. Even at this distance from it, when its minarets were still
like shadowy fingers of an unlifted hand, Androvsky and Domini were
conscious of influences streaming forth from its battlements over the
sloping sands like a procession that welcomed them to a new phase of
desert life.

"And people talk of the monotony of the Sahara!" Domini said speaking
out of their mutual thought. "Everything is here, Boris; you've never
drawn near to London. Long before you reach the first suburbs you feel
London like a great influence brooding over the fields and the woods.
Here you feel Amara in the same way brooding over the sands. It's as if
the sands were full of voices. Doesn't it excite you?"

"Yes," he said. "But"--and he turned in his saddle and looked back--"I
feel as if the solitudes were safer."

"We can return to them."

"Yes."

"We are splendidly free. There's nothing to prevent us leaving Amara
tomorrow."

"Isn't there?" he answered, fixing his eyes upon the minarets.

"What can there be?"

"Who knows?"

"What do you mean, Boris? Are you superstitious? But you reject the
influence of place. Don't you remember--at Mogar?"

At the mention of the name his face clouded and she was sorry she had
spoken it. Since they had left the hill above the mirage sea they had
scarcely ever alluded to their night there. They had never once talked
of the dinner in camp with De Trevignac and his men, or renewed their
conversation in the tent on the subject of religion. But since that day,
since her words about Androvsky's lack of perfect happiness even with
her far out in the freedom of the desert, Domini had been conscious
that, despite their great love for each other, their mutual passion for
the solitude in which it grew each day more deep and more engrossing,
wrapping their lives in fire and leading them on to the inner abodes of
sacred understanding, there was at moments a barrier between them.

At first she had striven not to recognise its existence. She had
striven to be blind. But she was essentially a brave woman and an almost
fanatical lover of truth for its own sake, thinking that what is called
an ugly truth is less ugly than the loveliest lie. To deny truth is to
play the coward. She could not long do that. And so she quickly learned
to face this truth with steady eyes and an unflinching heart.

At moments Androvsky retreated from her, his mind became remote--more,
his heart was far from her, and, in its distant place, was suffering. Of
that she was assured.

But she was assured, too, that she stood to him for perfection in human
companionship. A woman's love is, perhaps, the only true divining rod.
Domini knew instinctively where lay the troubled waters, what troubled
them in their subterranean dwelling. She was certain that Androvsky was
at peace with her but not with himself. She had said to him in the tent
that she thought he sometimes felt far away from God. The conviction
grew in her that even the satisfaction of his great human love was not
enough for his nature. He demanded, sometimes imperiously, not only the
peace that can be understood gloriously, but also that other peace which
passeth understanding. And because he had it not he suffered.

In the Garden of Allah he felt a loneliness even though she was with
him, and he could not speak with her of this loneliness. That was the
barrier between them, she thought.

She prayed for him: in the tent by night, in the desert under the
burning sky by day. When the muezzin cried from the minaret of some
tiny village lost in the desolation of the wastes, turning to the north,
south, east and west, and the Mussulmans bowed their shaved heads,
facing towards Mecca, she prayed to the Catholics' God, whom she felt to
be the God, too, of all the devout, of all the religions of the world,
and to the Mother of God, looking towards Africa. She prayed that this
man whom she loved, and who she believed was seeking, might find. And
she felt that there was a strength, a passion in her prayers, which
could not be rejected. She felt that some day Allah would show himself
in his garden to the wanderer there. She dared to feel that because she
dared to believe in the endless mercy of God. And when that moment came
she felt, too, that their love--hers and his--for each other would be
crowned. Beautiful and intense as it was it still lacked something. It
needed to be encircled by the protecting love of a God in whom they both
believed in the same way, and to whom they both were equally near.
While she felt close to this love and he far from it they were not quite
together.

There were moments in which she was troubled, even sad, but they passed.
For she had a great courage, a great confidence. The hope that dwells
like a flame in the purity of prayer comforted her.

"I love the solitudes," he said. "I love to have you to myself."

"If we lived always in the greatest city of the world it would make no
difference," she said quietly. "You know that, Boris."

He bent over from his saddle and clasped her hand in his, and they rode
thus up the great slope of the sands, with their horses close together.

The minarets of the city grew more distinct. They dominated the waste as
the thought of Allah dominates the Mohammedan world. Presently, far away
on the left, Domini and Androvsky saw hills of sand, clearly defined
like small mountains delicately shaped. On the summits of these hills
were Arab villages of the hue of bronze gleaming in the sun. No trees
stood near them. But beyond them, much farther off, was the long green
line of the palms of a large oasis. Between them and the riders moved
slowly towards the minarets dark things that looked like serpents
writhing through the sands. These were caravans coming into the city
from long journeys. Here and there, dotted about in the immensity, were
solitary horsemen, camels in twos and threes, small troops of
donkeys. And all the things that moved went towards the minarets as if
irresistibly drawn onwards by some strong influence that sucked them in
from the solitudes of the whirlpool of human life.

Again Domini thought of the approach to London, and of the dominion of
great cities, those octopus monsters created by men, whose tentacles
are strong to seize and stronger still to keep. She was infected by
Androvsky's dread of a changed life, and through her excitement, that
pulsed with interest and curiosity, she felt a faint thrill of something
that was like fear.

"Boris," she said, "I feel as if your thoughts were being conveyed to me
by your touch. Perhaps the solitudes are best."

By a simultaneous impulse they pulled in their horses and listened.
Sounds came to them over the sands, thin and remote. They could not tell
what they were, but they knew that they heard something which suggested
the distant presence of life.

"What is it?" said Domini.

"I don't know, but I hear something. It travels to us from the
minarets."

They both leaned forward on their horses' necks, holding each other's
hand.

"I feel the tumult of men," Androvsky said presently.

"And I. But it seems as if no men could have elected to build a city
here."

"Here in the 'Belly of the desert,'" he said, quoting the Arabs' name
for Amara.

"Boris"--she spoke in a more eager voice, clasping his hand
strongly--"you remember the _fumoir_ in Count Anteoni's garden. The
place where it stood was the very heart of the garden."

"Yes."

"We understood each other there."

He pressed her hand without speaking.

"Amara seems to me the heart of the Garden of Allah. Perhaps--perhaps we
shall----"

She paused. Her eyes were fixed upon his face.

"What, Domini?" he asked.

He looked expectant, but anxious, and watched her, but with eyes that
seemed ready to look away from her at a word.

"Perhaps we shall understand each other even better there."

He looked down at the white sand.

"Better!" he repeated. "Could we do that?"

She did not answer. The far-off villages gleamed mysteriously on their
little mountains, like unreal things that might fade away as castles
fade in the fire. The sky above the minarets was changing in colour
slowly. Its blue was being invaded by a green that was a sister colour.
A curious light, that seemed to rise from below rather than to descend
from above, was transmuting the whiteness of the sands. A lemon
yellow crept through them, but they still looked cold and strange,
and immeasurably vast. Domini fancied that the silence of the desert
deepened so that, in it, they might hear the voices of Amara more
distinctly.

"You know," she said, "when one looks out over the desert from a height,
as we did from the tower of Beni-Mora, it seems to call one. There's
a voice in the blue distance that seems to say, 'Come to me! I am
here--hidden in my retreat, beyond the blue, and beyond the mirage, and
beyond the farthest verge!'"

"Yes, I know."

"I have always felt, when we travelled in the desert, that the calling
thing, the soul of the desert, retreated as I advanced, and still
summoned me onward but always from an infinite distance."

"And I too, Domini."

"Now I don't feel that. I feel as if now we were coming near to the
voice, as if we should reach it at Amara, as if there it would tell us
its secret."

"Imagination!" he said.

But he spoke seriously, almost mystically. His voice was at odds with
the word it said. She noticed that and was sure that he was secretly
sharing her sensation. She even suspected that he had perhaps felt it
first.

"Let us ride on," he said. "Do you see the change in the light? Do
you see the green in the sky? It is cooler, too. This is the wind of
evening."

Their hands fell apart and they rode slowly on, up the long slope of the
sands.

Presently they saw that they had come out of the trackless waste and
that though still a long way from the city they were riding on a desert
road which had been trodden by multitudes of feet. There were many
footprints here. On either side were low banks of sand, beaten into a
rough symmetry by implements of men, and shallow trenches through which
no water ran. In front of them they saw the numerous caravans, now more
distinct, converging from left and right slowly to this great isle of
the desert which stretched in a straight line to the minarets.

"We are on a highway," Domini said.

Androvsky sighed.

"I feel already as if we were in the midst of a crowd," he answered.

"Our love for peace oughtn't to make us hate our fellowmen!" she said.
"Come, Boris, let us chase away our selfish mood!"

She spoke in a more cheerful voice and drew her rein a little tighter.
Her horse quickened its pace.

"And think how our stay at Amara will make us love the solitudes when we
return to them again. Contrast is the salt of life."

"You speak as if you didn't believe what you are saying."

She laughed.

"If I were ever inclined to tell you a lie," she said, "I should not
dare to. Your mind penetrates mine too deeply."

"You could not tell me a lie."

"Do you hear the dogs barking?" she said, after a moment. "They are
among those tents that are like flies on the sands around the city. That
is the tribe of the Ouled Nails I suppose. Batouch says they camp here.
What multitudes of tents! Those are the suburbs of Amara. I would rather
live in them than in the suburbs of London. Oh, how far away we are, as
if we were at the end of the world!"

Either her last words, or her previous change of manner to a lighter
cheerfulness, almost a briskness, seemed to rouse Androvsky to a greater
confidence, even to anticipation of possible pleasure.

"Yes. After all it is only the desert men who are here. Amara is their
Metropolis, and in it we shall only see their life."

His horse plunged. He had touched it sharply with his heel.

"I believe you hate the thought of civilisation," she exclaimed.

"And you?"

"I never think of it. I feel almost as if I had never known it, and
could never know it."

"Why should you? You love the wilds."

"They make my whole nature leap. Even when I was a child it was so.
I remember once reading _Maud_. In it I came upon a passage--I can't
remember it well, but it was about the red man--"

She thought for a moment, looking towards the city.

"I don't know how it is quite," she murmured. "'When the red man
laughs by his cedar tree, and the red man's babe leaps beyond the
sea'--something like that. But I know that it made my heart beat, and
that I felt as if I had wings and were spreading them to fly away to
the most remote places of the earth. And now I have spread my wings,
and--it's glorious. Come, Boris!"

They put their horses to a canter, and soon drew near to the caravans.
They had sent Batouch and Ali, who generally accompanied them, on with
the rest of the camp. Both had many friends in Amara, and were eager to
be there. It was obvious that they and all the attendants, servants and
camel-men, thought of it as the provincial Frenchman thinks of Paris, as
a place of all worldly wonders and delights. Batouch was to meet them
at the entrance to the city, and when they had seen the marvels of its
market-place was to conduct them to the tents which would be pitched on
the sand-hills outside.

Their horses pulled as if they, too, longed for a spell of city life
after the life of the wastes, and Domini's excitement grew. She felt
vivid animal spirits boiling up within her, the sane and healthy sense
that welcomes a big manifestation of the ceaseless enterprise and keen
activity of a brotherhood of men. The loaded camels, the half-naked
running drivers, the dogs sensitively sniffing, as if enticing smells
from the city already reached their nostrils, the chattering desert
merchants discussing coming gains, the wealthy and richly-dressed Arabs,
mounted on fine horses, and staring with eyes that glittered up the
broad track in search of welcoming friends, were sympathetic to her
mood. Amara was sucking them all in together from the solitary places as
quiet waters are sucked into the turmoils of a mill-race. Although
still out in the sands they were already in the midst of a noise of
life flowing to meet the roar of life that rose up at the feet of the
minarets, which now looked tall and majestic in the growing beauty of
the sunset.

They passed the caravans one by one, and came on to the crest of the
long sand slope just as the sky above the city was flushing with a
bright geranium red. The track from here was level to the city wall,
and was no longer soft with sand. A broad, hard road rang beneath their
horses' hoofs, startling them with a music that was like a voice of
civilised life. Before them, under the red sky, they saw a dark blue of
distant houses, towers, and great round cupolas glittering like gold.
Forests of palm trees lay behind, the giant date palms for which Amara
was famous. To the left stretched the sands dotted with gleaming Arab
villages, to the right again the sands covered with hundreds of tents
among which quantities of figures moved lively like ants, black on the
yellow, arched by the sky that was alive with lurid colour, red fading
into gold, gold into primrose, primrose into green, green into the blue
that still told of the fading day. And to this multi-coloured sky, from
the barbaric city and the immense sands in which it was set, rose a
great chorus of life; voices of men and beasts, cries of naked children
playing Cora on the sand-hills, of mothers to straying infants, shrill
laughter of unveiled girls wantonly gay, the calls of men, the barking
of multitudes of dogs,--the guard dogs of the nomads that are never
silent night or day,--the roaring of hundreds of camels now being
unloaded for the night, the gibbering of the mad beggars who roam
perpetually on the outskirts of the encampments like wolves seeking what
they may devour, the braying of donkeys, the whinnying of horses. And
beneath these voices of living things, foundation of their uprising
vitality, pulsed barbarous music, the throbbing tomtoms that are for
ever heard in the lands of the sun, fetish music that suggests fatalism,
and the grand monotony of the enormous spaces, and the crude passion
that repeats itself, and the untiring, sultry loves and the untired,
sultry languors of the children of the sun.

The silence of the sands, which Domini and Androvsky had known and
loved, was merged in the tumult of the sands. The one had been mystical,
laying the soul to rest. The other was provocative, calling the soul to
wake. At this moment the sands themselves seemed to stir with life and
to cry aloud with voices.

"The very sky is barbarous to-night!" Domini exclaimed. "Did you ever
see such colour, Boris?"

"Over the minarets it is like a great wound," he answered.

"No wonder men are careless of human life in such a land as this. All
the wildness of the world seems to be concentrated here. Amara is like
the desert city of some tremendous dream. It looks wicked and unearthly,
but how superb!"

"Look at those cupolas!" he said. "Are there really Oriental palaces
here? Has Batouch told us the truth for once?"

"Or less than the truth? I could believe anything of Amara at this
moment. What hundreds of camels! They remind me of Arba, our first
halting-place." She looked at him and he at her.

"How long ago that seems!" she said.

"A thousand years ago."

They both had a memory of a great silence, in the midst of this growing
tumult in which the sky seemed now to take its part, calling with the
voices of its fierce colours, with the voices of the fires that burdened
it in the west.

"Silence joined us, Domini," Androvsky said.

"Yes. Perhaps silence is the most beautiful voice in the world."

Far off, along the great white road, they saw two horsemen galloping to
meet them from the city, one dressed in brilliant saffron yellow, the
other in the palest blue, both crowned with large and snowy turbans.

"Who can they be?" said Domini, as they drew near. "They look like two
princes of the Sahara."

Then she broke into a merry laugh.

"Batouch! and Ali!" she exclaimed.

The servants galloped up then, without slackening speed deftly wheeled
their horses in a narrow circle, and were beside them, going with them,
one on the right hand, the other on the left.

"Bravo!" Domini cried, delighted at this feat of horsemanship. "But what
have you been doing? You are transformed!"

"Madame, we have been to the Bain Maure," replied Batouch, calmly,
swelling out his broad chest under his yellow jacket laced with gold.
"We have had our heads shaved till they are smooth and beautiful as
polished ivory. We have been to the perfumer"--he leaned confidentially
towards her, exhaling a pungent odour of amber--"to the tailor, to
the baboosh bazaar!"--he kicked out a foot cased in a slipper that was
bright almost as a gold piece--"to him who sells the cherchia." He shook
his head till the spangled muslin that flowed about it trembled. "Is it
not right that your servants should do you honour in the city?"

"Perfectly right," she answered with a careful seriousness. "I am proud
of you both."

"And Monsieur?" asked Ali, speaking in his turn.

Androvsky withdrew his eyes from the city, which was now near at hand.

"Splendid!" he said, but as if attending to the Arabs with difficulty.
"You are splendid."

As they came towards the old wall which partially surrounds Amara, and
which rises from a deep natural moat of sand, they saw that the ground
immediately before the city which, from a distance, had looked almost
fiat, was in reality broken up into a series of wavelike dunes, some
small with depressions like deep crevices between them, others large
with summits like plateaux. These dunes were of a sharp lemon yellow
in the evening light, a yellow that was cold in its clearness, almost
setting the teeth on edge. They went away into great rolling slopes of
sand on which the camps of the nomads and the Ouled Nails were pitched,
some near to, some distant from, the city, but they themselves were
solitary. No tents were pitched close to the city, under the shadow of
its wall. As Androvsky spoke, Domini exclaimed:

"Boris---look! That is the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen!"

She put her hand on his arm. He obeyed her eyes and looked to his right,
to the small lemon-yellow dunes that were close to them. At perhaps a
hundred yards from the road was a dune that ran parallel with it. The
fire of the sinking sun caught its smooth crest, and above this crest,
moving languidly towards the city, were visible the heads and busts of
three women, the lower halves of whose bodies were concealed by the
sand of the farther side of the dune. They were dancing-girls. On their
heads, piled high with gorgeous handkerchiefs, were golden crowns which
glittered in the sun-rays, and tufts of scarlet feathers. Their oval
faces, covered with paint, were partially concealed by long strings of
gold coins, which flowed from their crowns down over their large breasts
and disappeared towards their waists, which were hidden by the sand.
Their dresses were of scarlet, apple-green and purple silks, partially
covered by floating shawls of spangled muslin. Beneath their crowns and
handkerchiefs burgeoned forth plaits of false hair decorated with coral
and silver ornaments. Their hands, which they held high, gesticulating
above the crest of the dune, were painted blood red.

These busts and heads glided slowly along in the setting sun, and
presently sank down and vanished into some depression of the dunes. For
an instant one blood-red hand was visible alone, waving a signal above
the sand to someone unseen. Its fingers fluttered like the wings of a
startled bird. Then it, too, vanished, and the sharply-cold lemon yellow
of the dunes stretched in vivid loneliness beneath the evening sky.

To both of them this brief vision of women in the sand brought home
the solitude of the desert and the barbarity of the life it held, the
ascetism of this supreme manifestation of Nature and the animal passion
which fructifies in its heart.

"Do you know what that made me think of, Boris?" Domini said, as the
red hand with its swiftly-moving fingers disappeared. "You'll smile,
perhaps, and I scarcely know why. It made me think of the Devil in a
monastery."

Androvsky did not smile. Nor did he answer. She felt sure that he, too,
had been strongly affected by that glimpse of Sahara life. His silence
gave Batouch an opportunity of pouring forth upon them a flood of
poetical description of the dancing-girls of Amara, all of whom he
seemed to know as intimate friends. Before he ceased they came into the
city.

The road was still majestically broad. They looked with interest at the
first houses, one on each side of the way. And here again they were met
by the sharp contrast which was evidently to be the keynote of Amara.
The house on the left was European, built of white stone, clean,
attractive, but uninteresting, with stout white pillars of plaster
supporting an arcade that afforded shade from the sun, windows with
green blinds, and an open doorway showing a little hall, on the floor
of which lay a smart rug glowing with gay colours; that on the right,
before which the sand lay deep as if drifted there by some recent
wind of the waste, was African and barbarous, an immense and rambling
building of brown earth, brushwood and palm, windowless, with a
flat-terraced roof, upon which were piled many strange-looking objects
like things collapsed, red and dark green, with fringes and rosettes,
and tall sticks of palm pointing vaguely to the sky.

"Why, these are like our palanquin!" Domini said.

"They are the palanquins of the dancing-girls, Madame," said Batouch.
"That is the cafe of the dancers, and that"--he pointed to the neat
house opposite--"is the house of Monsieur the Aumonier of Amara."

"Aumonier," said Androvsky, sharply. "Here!"

He paused, then added more quietly:

"What should he do here?"

"But, Monsieur, he is for the French officers."

"There are French officers?"

"Yes, Monsieur, four or five, and the commandant. They live in the
palace with the cupolas."

"I forgot," Androvsky said to Domini. "We are not out of the sphere of
French influence. This place looks so remote and so barbarous that I
imagined it given over entirely to the desert men."

"We need not see the French," she said. "We shall be encamped outside in
the sand."

"And we need not stay here long," he said quickly.

"Boris," she asked him, half in jest, half in earnest, "shall we buy a
desert island to live in?"

"Let us buy an oasis," he said. "That would be the perf--the safest life
for us."

"The safest?"

"The safest for our happiness. Domini, I have a horror of the world!" He
said the last words with a strong, almost fierce, emphasis.

"Had you it always, or only since we have been married?"

"I--perhaps it was born in me, perhaps it is part of me. Who knows?"

He had relapsed into a gravity that was heavy with gloom, and looked
about him with eyes that seemed to wish to reject all that offered
itself to their sight.

"I want the desert and you in it," he said. "The lonely desert, with
you."

"And nothing else?"

"I want that. I cannot have that taken from me."

He looked about him quickly from side to side as they rode up the
street, as if he were a scout sent in advance of an army and suspected
ambushes. His manner reminded her of the way he had looked towards the
tower as they rode into Mogar. And he had connected that tower with the
French. She remembered his saying to her that it must have been built
for French soldiers. As they rode into Mogar he had dreaded something in
Mogar. The strange incident with De Trevignac had followed. She had put
it from her mind as a matter of small, or no, importance, had resolutely
forgotten it, had been able to forget it in their dream of desert life
and desert passion. But the entry into a city for the moment destroyed
the dreamlike atmosphere woven by the desert, recalled her town sense,
that quick-wittedness, that sharpness of apprehension and swiftness of
observation which are bred in those who have long been accustomed to
a life in the midst of crowds and movement, and changing scenes and
passing fashions. Suddenly she seemed to herself to be reading Androvsky
with an almost merciless penetration, which yet she could not check. He
had dreaded something in Mogar. He dreaded something here in Amara. An
unusual incident--for the coming of a stranger into their lives out of
their desolation of the sand was unusual--had followed close upon the
first dread. Would another such incident follow upon this second dread?
And of what was this dread born?

Batouch drew her attention to the fact that they were coming to the
marketplace, and to the curious crowds of people who were swarming out
of the tortuous, narrow streets into the main thoroughfare to watch them
pass, or to accompany them, running beside their horses. She divined
at once, by the passionate curiosity their entry aroused, that he had
misspent his leisure in spreading through the city lying reports of
their immense importance and fabulous riches.

"Batouch," she said, "you have been talking about us."

"No, Madame, I merely said that Madame is a great lady in her own land,
and that Monsieur--"

"I forbid you ever to speak about me, Batouch," said Androvsky,
brusquely.

He seemed worried by the clamour of the increasing mob that surrounded
them. Children in long robes like night-gowns skipped before them,
calling out in shrill voices. Old beggars, with diseased eyes and
deformed limbs, laid filthy hands upon their bridles and demanded alms.
Impudent boys, like bronze statuettes suddenly endowed with a fury
of life, progressed backwards to keep them full in view, shouting
information at them and proclaiming their own transcendent virtues
as guides. Lithe desert men, almost naked, but with carefully-covered
heads, strode beside them, keeping pace with the horses, saying nothing,
but watching them with a bright intentness that seemed to hint at
unutterable designs. And towards them, through the air that seemed heavy
and almost suffocating now that they were among buildings, and through
clouds of buzzing flies, came the noise of the larger tumult of the
market-place.

Looking over the heads of the throng Domini saw the wide road opening
out into a great space, with the first palms of the oasis thronging
on the left, and a cluster of buildings, many with small cupolas, like
down-turned white cups, on the right. On the farther side of this space,
which was black with people clad for the most in dingy garments, was an
arcade jutting out from a number of hovel-like houses, and to the right
of them, where the market-place, making a wide sweep, continued up hill
and was hidden from her view, was the end of the great building whose
gilded cupolas they had seen as they rode in from the desert, rising
above the city with the minarets of its mosques.

The flies buzzed furiously about the horses' heads and flanks, and the
people buzzed more furiously, like larger flies, about the riders. It
seemed to Domini as if the whole city was intent upon her and Androvsky,
was observing them, considering them, wondering about them, was full of
a thousand intentions all connected with them.

When they gained the market-place the noise and the watchful curiosity
made a violent crescendo. It happened to be market day and, although the
sun was setting, buying and selling were not yet over. On the hot earth
over which, whenever there is any wind from the desert, the white sand
grains sift and settle, were laid innumerable rugs of gaudy colours on
which were disposed all sorts of goods for sale; heavy ornaments for
women, piles of burnouses, haiks, gandouras, gaiters of bright red
leather, slippers, weapons--many jewelled and gilt, or rich with
patterns in silver--pyramids of the cords of camels' hair that bind the
turbans of the desert men, handkerchiefs and cottons of all the colours
of the rainbow, cheap perfumes in azure flasks powdered with golden and
silver flowers and leaves, incense twigs, panniers of henna to dye the
finger-nails of the faithful, innumerable comestibles, vegetables, corn,
red butcher's meat thickly covered with moving insects, pale yellow
cakes crisp and shining, morsels of liver spitted on skewers--which,
cooked with dust of keef, produce a dreamy drunkenness more overwhelming
even than that produced by haschish--musical instruments, derboukas,
guitars, long pipes, and strange fiddles with two strings, tomtoms,
skins of animals with heads and claws, live birds, tortoise backs, and
plaits of false hair.

The sellers squatted on the ground, their brown and hairy legs crossed,
calmly gazing before them, or, with frenzied voices and gestures,
driving bargains with the buyers, who moved to and fro, treading
carelessly among the merchandise. The tellers of fates glided through
the press, fingering the amulets that hung upon their hearts. Conjurors
proclaimed the merits of their miracles, bawling in the faces of the
curious. Dwarfs went to and fro, dressed in bright colours with green
and yellow turbans on their enormous heads, tapping with long staves,
and relating their deformities. Water-sellers sounded their gongs.
Before pyramids of oranges and dates, neatly arranged in patterns,
sat boys crying in shrill voices the luscious virtues of their fruits.
Idiots, with blear eyes and protending under-lips, gibbered and whined.
Dogs barked. Bakers hurried along with trays of loaves upon their heads.
From the low and smoky arcades to right and left came the reiterated
grunt of negroes pounding coffee. A fanatic was roaring out his prayers.
Arabs in scarlet and blue cloaks passed by to the Bain Maure, under
whose white and blue archway lounged the Kabyle masseurs with folded,
muscular arms. A marabout, black as a coal, rode on a white horse
towards the great mosque, followed by his servant on foot.

Native soldiers went by to the Kasba on the height, or strolled down
towards the Cafes Maures smoking cigarettes. Circles of grave men bent
over card games, dominoes and draughts--called by the Arabs the Ladies'
Game. Khodjas made their way with dignity towards the Bureau Arabe.
Veiled women, fat and lethargic, jingling with ornaments, waddled
through the arches of the arcades, carrying in their painted and
perspiring hands blocks of sweetmeats which drew the flies. Children
played in the dust by little heaps of refuse, which they stirred up into
clouds with their dancing, naked feet. In front, as if from the first
palms of the oasis, rose the roar of beaten drums from the negroes'
quarter, and from the hill-top at the feet of the minarets came the
fierce and piteous noise that is the _leit-motif_ of the desert, the
multitudinous complaining of camels dominating all other sounds.

As Domini and Androvsky rode into this whirlpool of humanity, above
which the sky was red like a great wound, it flowed and eddied round
them, making them its centre. The arrival of a stranger-woman was a
rare, if not an unparalleled, event in Amara, and Batouch had been very
busy in spreading the fame of his mistress.

"Madame should dismount," said Batouch. "Ali will take the horses, and
I will escort Madame and Monsieur up the hill to the place of the
fountain. Shabah will be there to greet Madame."

"What an uproar!" Domini exclaimed, half laughing, half confused. "Who
on earth is Shabah?"

"Shabah is the Caid of Amara," replied Batouch with dignity. "The
greatest man of the city. He awaits Madame by the fountain." Domini cast
a glance at Androvsky.

"Well?" she said.

He shrugged his shoulders like a man who thinks strife useless and the
moment come for giving in to Fate.

"The monster has opened his jaws for us," he said, forcing a laugh.
"We had better walk in, I suppose. But--O Domini!--the silence of the
wastes!"

"We shall know it again. This is only for the moment. We shall have all
its joy again."

"Who knows?" he said, as he had said when they were riding up the sand
slope. "Who knows?"

Then they got off their horses and were taken by the crowd.



CHAPTER XXII

The tumult of Amara waked up in Domini the town-sense that had been
slumbering. All that seemed to confuse, to daze, to repel Androvsky,
even to inspire him with fear, the noise of the teeming crowds, their
perpetual movement, their contact, startled her into a vividness of life
and apprehension of its various meanings, that sent a thrill through
her. And the thrill was musical with happiness. To the sad a great
vision of human life brings sadness because they read into the hearts
of others their own misery. But to the happy such a vision brings
exultation, for everywhere they find dancing reflections of their own
joy. Domini had lived much in crowds, but always she had been actively
unhappy, or at least coldly dreary in them. Now, for the first time, she
was surrounded by masses of fellow-beings in her splendid contentment.
And the effect of this return, as it were, to something like the
former material conditions of her life, with the mental and affectional
conditions of it transformed by joy, was striking even to herself.
Suddenly she realised to the full her own humanity, and the living
warmth of sympathy that is fanned into flame in a human heart by the
presence of human life with its hopes, desires, fears, passions, joys,
that leap to the eye. Instead of hating this fierce change from solitude
with the man she loved to a crowd with the man she loved she rejoiced in
it. Androvsky was the cause of both her joys, joy in the waste and joy
in Amara, but while he shared the one he did not share the other.

This did not surprise her because of the conditions in which he had
lived. He was country-bred and had always dwelt far from towns. She was
returning to an old experience--old, for the London crowd and the
crowd of Amara were both crowds of men, however different--with a mind
transformed by happiness. To him the experience was new. Something
within her told her that it was necessary, that it had been ordained
because he needed it. The recalled town-sense, with its sharpness
of observation, persisted. As she rode in to Amara she had seemed to
herself to be reading Androvsky with an almost merciless penetration
which yet she could not check. Now she did not wish to check it, for the
penetration that is founded on perfect love can only yield good fruit.
It seemed to her that she was allowed to see clearly for Androvsky what
he could not see himself, almost as the mother sees for the child. This
contact with the crowds of Amara was, she thought, one of the gifts the
desert made to him. He did not like it. He wished to reject it. But he
was mistaken. For the moment his vision was clouded, as our vision for
ourselves so often is. She realised this, and, for the first time since
the marriage service at Beni-Mora, perhaps seemed to be selfish. She
opposed his wish. Hitherto there had never been any sort of contest
between them. Their desires, like their hearts, had been in accord. Now
there was not a contest, for Androvsky yielded to Domini's preference,
when she expressed it, with a quickness that set his passion before her
in a new and beautiful light. But she knew that, for the moment, they
were not in accord. He hated and dreaded what she encountered with a
vivid sensation of sympathy and joy.

She felt that there was something morbid in his horror of the crowd, and
the same strength of her nature said to her, "Uproot it!"

Their camp was pitched on the sand-hills, to the north of the city near
the French and Arab cemeteries. They reached it only when darkness was
falling, going out of the city on foot by the great wall of dressed
stone which enclosed the Kasba of the native soldiers, and ascending
and descending various slopes of deep sand, over which the airs of night
blew with a peculiar thin freshness that renewed Domini's sense of being
at the end of the world. Everything here whispered the same message,
said, "We are the denizens of far-away."

In their walk to the camp they were accompanied by a little procession.
Shabah, the Caid of Amara, a shortish man whose immense dignity made
him almost gigantic, insisted upon attending them to the tents, with his
young brother, a pretty, libertine boy of sixteen, the brother's tutor,
an Arab black as a negro but without the negro's look of having been
freshly oiled, and two attendants. To them joined himself the Caid of
the Nomads, a swarthy potentate who not only looked, but actually was,
immense, his four servants, and his uncle, a venerable person like
a shepherd king. These worthies surrounded Domini and Androvsky, and
behind streamed the curious, the envious, the greedy and the desultory
Arabs, who follow in the trail of every stranger, hopeful of the crumbs
that are said to fall from the rich man's table. Shabah spoke French
and led the conversation, which was devoted chiefly to his condition
of health. Some years before an attempt had been made upon his life by
poison, and since that time, as he himself expressed it, his stomach
had been "perturbed as a guard dog in the night when robbers are
approaching." All efforts to console or to inspire him with hope of
future cure were met with a stern hopelessness, a brusque certainty of
perpetual suffering. The idea that his stomach could again know peace
evidently shocked and distressed him, and as they all waded together
through the sand, pioneered by the glorified Batouch, Domini was
obliged to yield to his emphatic despair, and to join with him in his
appreciation of the perpetual indigestion which set him apart from the
rest of the world like some God within a shrine. The skittish boy, his
brother, who wore kid gloves, cast at her sly glances of admiration
which asked for a return. The black tutor grinned. And the Caid of the
Nomads punctuated their progress with loud grunts of heavy satisfaction,
occasionally making use of Batouch as interpreter to express his hopes
that they would visit his palace in the town, and devour a cous-cous on
his carpet.

When they came to the tents it was necessary to entertain these
personages with coffee, and they finally departed promising a speedy
return, and full of invitations, which were cordially accepted by
Batouch on his employer's behalf before either Domini or Androvsky had
time to say a word.

As the _cortege_ disappeared over the sands towards the city Domini
burst into a little laugh, and drew Androvsky out to the tent door to
see them go.

"Society in the sands!" she exclaimed gaily. "Boris, this is a new
experience. Look at our guests making their way to their palaces!"

Slowly the potentates progressed across the white dunes towards the
city. Shabah wore a long red cloak. His brother was in pink and gold,
with white billowing trousers. The Caid of the Nomads was in green.
They all moved with a large and conscious majesty, surrounded by their
obsequious attendants. Above them the purple sky showed a bright evening
star. Near it was visible the delicate silhouette of the young moon.
Scattered over the waste rose many koubbahs, grey in the white, with
cupolas of gypse. Hundreds of dogs were barking in the distance. To the
left, on the vast, rolling slopes of sand, glared the innumerable fires
kindled before the tents of the Ouled Nails. Before the sleeping tent
rose the minarets and the gilded cupolas of the city which it dominated
from its mountain of sand. Behind it was the blanched immensity of the
plain, of the lonely desert from which Domini and Androvsky had come
to face this barbaric stir of life. And the city was full of music, of
tomtoms throbbing, of bugles blowing in the Kasba, of pipes shrieking
from hidden dwellings, and of the faint but multitudinous voices of men,
carried to them on their desolate and treeless height by the frail wind
of night that seemed a white wind, twin-brother of the sands.

"Let us go a step or two towards the city, Boris," Domini said, as their
guests sank magnificently down into a fold of the dunes.

"Towards the city!" he answered. "Why not--?" He glanced behind him to
the vacant, noiseless sands.

She set her impulse against his for the first time.

"No, this is our town life, our Sahara season. Let us give ourselves to
it. The loneliness will be its antidote some day."

"Very well, Domini," he answered.

They went a little way towards the city, and stood still in the sand at
the edge of their height.

"Listen, Boris! Isn't it strange in the night all this barbaric music?
It excites me."

"You are glad to be here."

She heard the note of disappointment in his voice, but did not respond
to it.

"And look at all those fires, hundreds of them in the sand!"

"Yes," he said, "it is wonderful, but the solitudes are best. This is
not the heart of the desert, this is what the Arabs call it, 'The belly
of the Desert.' In the heart of the desert there is silence."

She thought of the falling of the wind when the Sahara took them, and
knew that her love of the silence was intense. Nevertheless, to-night
the other part of her was in the ascendant. She wanted him to share it.
He did not. Could she provoke him to share it?

"Yet, as we rode in, I had a feeling that the heart of the desert was
here," she said. "You know I said so."

"Do you say so still?"

"The heart, Boris, is the centre of life, isn't it?"

He was silent. She felt his inner feeling fighting hers.

"To-night," she said, putting her arm through his, and looking towards
the city. "I feel a tremendous sympathy with human life such as I never
felt before. Boris, it comes to me from you. Yes, it does. It is born
of my love for you, and seems to link me, and you with me, to all these
strangers, to all men and women, to everything that lives. It is as if
I was not quite human before, and my love for you had made me completely
human, had done something to me that even--even my love for God had not
been able to do."

She lowered her voice at the last words. After a moment she added:

"Perhaps in isolation, even with you, I could not come to completeness.
Perhaps you could not in isolation even with me. Boris, I think it's
good for us to be in the midst of life for a time."

"You wish to remain here, Domini?"

"Yes, for a time."

The fatalistic feeling that had sometimes come upon her in this land
entered into her at this moment. She felt, "It is written that we are to
remain here."

"Let us remain here, Domini," he said quietly.

The note of disappointment had gone out of his voice, deliberately
banished from it by his love for her, but she seemed to hear it,
nevertheless, echoing far down in his soul. At that moment she loved him
like a woman he had made a lover, but also like a woman he had made a
mother by becoming a child.

"Thank you, Boris," she answered very quietly. "You are good to me."

"You are good to me," he said, remembering the last words of Father
Roubier. "How can I be anything else?"

Directly he had spoken the words his body trembled violently.

"Boris, what is it?" she exclaimed, startled.

He took his arm away from hers.

"These--these noises of the city in the night coming across the
sand-hills are extraordinary. I have become so used to silence that
perhaps they get upon my nerves. I shall grow accustomed to them
presently."

He turned towards the tents, and she went with him. It seemed to her
that he had evaded her question, that he had not wished to answer it,
and the sense sharply awakened in her by a return to life near a city
made her probe for the reason of this. She did not find it, but in her
mental search she found herself presently at Mogar. It seemed to her
that the same sort of uneasiness which had beset her husband at Mogar
beset him now more fiercely at Amara, that, as he had just said, his
nerves were being tortured by something. But it could not be the noises
from the city.

After dinner Batouch came to the tent to suggest that they should go
down with him into the city. Domini, feeling certain that Androvsky
would not wish to go, at once refused, alleging that she was tired.
Batouch then asked Androvsky to go with him, and, to Domini's
astonishment, he said that if she did not mind his leaving her for a
short time he would like a stroll.

"Perhaps," he said to her, as Batouch and he were starting, "perhaps it
will make me more completely human; perhaps there is something still to
be done that even you, Domini, have not accomplished."

She knew he was alluding to her words before dinner. He stood looking at
her with a slight smile that did not suggest happiness, then added:

"That link you spoke of between us and these strangers"--he made a
gesture towards the city--"I ought perhaps to feel it more strongly than
I do. I--I will try to feel it."

Then he turned away, and went with Batouch across the sand-hills,
walking heavily.

As Domini watched him going she felt chilled, because there was
something in his manner, in his smile, that seemed for the moment to set
them apart from each other, something she did not understand.

Soon Androvsky disappeared in a fold of the sands as he had disappeared
in a fold of the sands at Mogar, not long before De Trevignac came.
She thought of Mogar once more, steadily, reviewing mentally--with the
renewed sharpness of intellect that had returned to her, brought by
contact with the city--all that had passed there, as she never reviewed
it before.

It had been a strange episode.

She began to walk slowly up and down on the sand before the tent. Ouardi
came to walk with her, but she sent him away. Before doing so, however,
something moved her to ask him:

"That African liqueur, Ouardi--you remember that you brought to the tent
at Mogar--have we any more of it?"

"The monk's liqueur, Madame?"

"What do you mean--monk's liqueur?"

"It was invented by a monk, Madame, and is sold by the monks of
El-Largani."

"Oh! Have we any more of it?"

"There is another bottle, Madame, but I should not dare to bring it
if----"

He paused.

"If what, Ouardi?"

"If Monsieur were there."

Domini was on the point of asking him why, but she checked herself and
told him to leave her. Then she walked up and down once more on
the sand. She was thinking now of the broken glass on the ground at
Androvsky's feet when she found him alone in the tent after De Trevignac
had gone. Ouardi's words made her wonder whether this liqueur, brought
to celebrate De Trevignac's presence in the camp, had turned the
conversation upon the subject of the religious orders; whether Androvsky
had perhaps said something against them which had offended De Trevignac,
a staunch Catholic; whether there had been a quarrel between the two
men on the subject of religion. It was possible. She remembered De
Trevignac's strange, almost mystical, gesture in the dawn, following his
look of horror towards the tent where her husband lay sleeping.

To-night her mind--her whole nature--felt terribly alive.

She tried to think no more of Mogar, but her thoughts centred round it,
linked it with this great city, whose lights shone in the distance below
her, whose music came to her from afar over the silence of the sands.

Mogar and Amara; what had they to do with one another? Leagues of desert
divided them. One was a desolation, the other was crowded with men. What
linked them together in her mind?

Androvsky's fear of both--that was the link. She kept on thinking of the
glance he had cast at the watch-tower, to which Trevignac had been even
then approaching, although they knew it not. De Trevignac! She walked
faster on the sand, to and fro before the tent. Why had he looked at the
tent in which Androvsky slept with horror? Was it because Androvsky had
denounced the religion that he reverenced and loved? Could it have been
that? But then--did Androvsky actively hate religion? Perhaps he hated
it, and concealed his hatred from her because he knew it would cause
her pain. Yet she had sometimes felt as if he were seeking, perhaps
with fear, perhaps with ignorance, perhaps with uncertainty, but still
seeking to draw near to God. That was why she had been able to hope
for him, why she had not been more troubled by his loss of the faith in
which he had been brought up, and to which she belonged heart and soul.
Could she have been wrong in her feeling--deceived? There were men in
the world, she knew, who denied the existence of a God, and bitterly
ridiculed all faith. She remembered the blasphemies of her father. Had
she married a man who, like him, was lost, who, as he had, furiously
denied God?

A cold thrill of fear came into her heart. Suddenly she felt as if,
perhaps, even in her love, Androvsky had been a stranger to her.

She stood upon the sand. It chanced that she looked towards the camp of
the Ouled Nails, whose fires blazed upon the dunes. While she looked she
was presently aware of a light that detached itself from the blaze of
the fires, and moved from them, coming towards the place where she was
standing, slowly. The young moon only gave a faint ray to the night.
This light travelled onward through the dimness like an earth-bound
star. She watched it with intentness, as people watch any moving thing
when their minds are eagerly at work, staring, yet scarcely conscious
that they see.

The little light moved steadily on over the sands, now descending the
side of a dune, now mounting to a crest, and always coming towards the
place where Domini was standing, And presently this determined movement
towards her caught hold of her mind, drew it away from other thoughts,
fixed it on the light. She became interested in it, intent upon it.

Who was bearing it? No doubt some desert man, some Arab. She imagined
him tall, brown, lithe, half-naked, holding the lamp in his muscular
fingers, treading on bare feet silently, over the deep sand. Why had he
left the camp? What was his purpose?

The light drew near. It was now moving over the flats and seemed, she
thought, to travel more quickly. And always it came straight towards
where she was standing. A conviction dawned in her that it was
travelling with an intention of reaching her, that it was carried by
someone who was thinking of her. But how could that be? She thought of
the light as a thing with a mind and a purpose, borne by someone who
backed up its purpose, helping it to do what it wanted. And it wanted to
come to her.

In Mogar! Androvsky had dreaded something in Mogar. De Trevignac had
come. He dreaded something in Amara. This light came. For an instant she
fancied that the light was a lamp carried by De Trevignac. Then she saw
that it gleamed upon a long black robe, the soutane of a priest.

As she and Androvsky rode into Amara she had asked herself whether
his second dread would be followed, as his first dread had been, by an
unusual incident. When she saw the soutane of a priest, black in the
lamplight, moving towards her over the whiteness of the sand, she said
to herself that it was to be so followed. This priest stood in the place
of De Trevignac.

Why did he come to her?



CHAPTER XXIII

When the priest drew close to the tent Domini saw that it was not he
who carried the lantern, but a native soldier, one of the Tirailleurs,
formerly called Turcos, who walked beside him. The soldier saluted her,
and the priest took off his broad, fluffy black hat.

"Good-evening, Madame," he said, speaking French with the accent of
Marseilles. "I am the Aumonier of Amara, and have just heard of your
arrival here, and as I was visiting my friends on the sand-hills yonder,
I thought I would venture to call and ask whether I could be of any
service to you. The hour is informal, I know, but to tell the truth,
Madame, after five years in Amara one does not know how to be formal any
longer."

His eyes, which had a slightly impudent look, rare in a priest but not
unpleasing, twinkled cheerfully in the lamplight as he spoke, and his
whole expression betokened a highly social disposition and the most
genuine pleasure at meeting with a stranger. While she looked at him,
and heard him speak, Domini laughed at herself for the imaginations she
had just been cherishing. He had a broad figure, long arms, large feet
encased in stout, comfortable boots. His face was burnt brown by the sun
and partially concealed by a heavy black beard, whiskers and moustache.
His features were blunt and looked boyish, though his age must have been
about forty. The nose was snub, and accorded with the expression in his
eyes, which were black like his hair and full of twinkling lights. As
he smiled genially on Domini he showed two rows of small, square white
teeth. His Marseilles accent exactly suited his appearance, which was
rough but honest. Domini welcomed him gladly. Indeed, her reception
of him was more than cordial, almost eager. For she had been vaguely
expecting some tragic figure, some personality suggestive of mystery or
sorrow, and she thought of the incidents at Mogar, and associated the
moving light with the approach of further strange events. This
homely figure of her religion, beaming satisfaction and comfortable
anticipation of friendly intercourse, laid to rest fears which only now,
when she was conscious of relief, she knew she had been entertaining.
She begged the priest to come into the dining-tent, and, taking up the
little bell which was on the table, went out into the sand and rang it
for Ouardi.

He came at once, like a shadow gliding over the waste.

"Bring us coffee for two, Ouardi, biscuits"--she glanced at her
visitor--"bon-bons, yes, the bon-bons in the white box, and the cigars.
And take the soldier with you and entertain him well. Give him whatever
he likes."

Ouardi went away with the soldier, talking frantically, and Domini
returned to the tent, where she found the priest gleaming with joyous
anticipation. They sat down in the comfortable basket chairs before the
tent door, through which they could see the shining of the city's lights
and hear the distant sound of its throbbing and wailing music.

"My husband has gone to see the city," Domini said after she had told
the priest her name and been informed that his was Max Beret.

"We only arrived this evening."

"I know, Madame."

He beamed on her, and stroked his thick beard with his broad, sunburnt
hand. "Everyone in Amara knows, and everyone in the tents. We know, too,
how many tents you have, how many servants, how many camels, horses,
dogs."

He broke into a hearty laugh.

"We know what you've just had for dinner!"

Domini laughed too.

"Not really!"

"Well, I heard in the camp that it was soup and stewed mutton. But never
mind! You must forgive us. We are barbarians! We are sand-rascals! We
are ruffians of the sun!"

His laugh was infectious. He leaned back in his chair and shook with the
mirth his own remarks had roused.

"We are ruffians of the sun!" he repeated with gusto. "And we must be
forgiven everything."

Although clad in a soutane he looked, at that moment, like a type of the
most joyous tolerance, and Domini could not help mentally comparing him
with the priest of Beni-Mora. What would Father Roubier think of Father
Beret?

"It is easy to forgive in the sun," Domini said.

The priest laid his hands on his knees, setting his feet well apart. She
noticed that his hands were not scrupulously clean.

"Madame," he said, "it is impossible to be anything but lenient in the
sun. That is my experience. Excuse me but are you a Catholic?"

"Yes."

"So much the better. You must let me show you the chapel. It is in the
building with the cupolas. The congregation consists of five on a full
Sunday." His laugh broke out again. "I hope the day after to-morrow
you and your husband will make it seven. But, as I was saying, the sun
teaches one a lesson of charity. When I first came to live in Africa
in the midst of the sand-rascals--eh; Madame!--I suppose as a priest I
ought to have been shocked by their goings-on. And indeed I tried to
be, I conscientiously did my best. But it was no good. I couldn't be
shocked. The sunshine drove it all out of me. I could only say, 'It
is not for me to question _le bon Dieu_, and _le bon Dieu_ has created
these people and set them here in the sand to behave as they do.' What
is my business? I can't convert them. I can't change their morals. I
must just be a friend to them, cheer them up in their sorrows, give them
a bit if they're starving, doctor them a little. I'm a first-rate hand
at making an Arab take a pill or a powder!--when they are ill, and make
them at home with the white marabout. That's what the sun has taught me,
and every sand-rascal and sand-rascal's child in Amara is a friend of
mine."

He stretched out his legs as if he wished to elongate his satisfaction,
and stared Domini full in the face with eyes that confidently, naively,
asked for her approval of his doctrine of the sun. She could not help
liking him, though she felt more as if she were sitting with a jolly,
big, and rather rowdy boy than with a priest.

"You are fond of the Arabs then?" she said.

"Of course I am, Madame. I can speak their language, and I'm as much
at home in their tents, and more, than I should ever be at the
Vatican--with all respect to the Holy Father."

He got up, went out into the sand, expectorated noisily, then
returned to the tent, wiping his bearded mouth with a large red cotton
pocket-handkerchief.

"Are you staying here long, Madame?"

He sat down again in his chair, making it creak with his substantial
weight.

"I don't know. If my husband is happy here. But he prefers the
solitudes, I think."

"Does he? And yet he's gone into the city. Plenty of bustle there at
night, I can tell you. Well, now, I don't agree with your husband. I
know it's been said that solitude is good for the sad, but I think just
the contrary. Ah!"

The last sonorously joyous exclamation jumped out of Father Beret at the
sight of Ouardi, who at this moment entered with a large tray, covered
with a coffee-pot, cups, biscuits, bon-bons, cigars, and a bulging flask
of some liqueur flanked by little glasses.

"You fare generously in the desert I see, Madame," he exclaimed. "And so
much the better. What's your servant's name?"

Domini told him.

"Ouardi! that means born in the time of the roses." He addressed Ouardi
in Arabic and sent him off into the darkness chuckling gaily. "These
Arab names all have their meanings--Onlagareb, mother of scorpions,
Omteoni, mother of eagles, and so on. So much the better! Comforts are
rare here, but you carry them with you. Sugar, if you please."

Domini put two lumps into his cup.

"If you allow me!"

He added two more.

"I never refuse a good cigar. These harmless joys are excellent for
man. They help his Christianity. They keep him from bitterness, harsh
judgments. But harshness is for northern climes--rainy England, eh?
Forgive me, Madame. I speak in joke. You come from England perhaps. It
didn't occur to me that--"

They both laughed. His garrulity was irresistible and made Domini feel
as if she were sitting with a child. Perhaps he caught her feeling, for
he added:

"The desert has made me an _enfant terrible_, I fear. What have you
there?"

His eyes had been attracted by the flask of liqueur, to which Domini was
stretching out her hand with the intention of giving him some.

"I don't know."

She leaned forward to read the name on the flask.

"L o u a r i n e," she said.

"Pst!" exclaimed the priest, with a start.

"Will you have some? I don't know whether it's good. I've never tasted
it, or seen it before. Will you have some?"

She felt so absolutely certain that he would say "Yes" that she lifted
the flask to pour the liqueur into one of the little glasses, but,
looking at him, she saw that he hesitated.

"After all--why not?" he ejaculated. "Why not?"

She was holding the flask over the glass. He saw that his remark
surprised her.

"Yes, Madame, thanks."

She poured out the liqueur and handed it to him. He set it down by his
coffee-cup.

"The fact is, Madame--but you know nothing about this liqueur?"

"No, nothing. What is it?"

Her curiosity was roused by his hesitation, his words, but still more by
a certain gravity which had come into his face.

"Well, this liqueur comes from the Trappist monastery of El-Largani."

"The monks' liqueur!" she exclaimed.

And instantly she thought of Mogar.

"You do know then?"

"Ouardi told me we had with us a liqueur made by some monks."

"This is it, and very excellent it is. I have tasted it in Tunis."

"But then why did you hesitate to take it here?"

He lifted his glass up to the lamp. The light shone on its contents,
showing that the liquid was pale green.

"Madame," he said, "the Trappists of El-Largani have a fine property.
They grow every sort of things, but their vineyards are specially
famous, and their wines bring in a splendid revenue. This is their only
liqueur, this Louarine. It, too, has brought in a lot of money to the
community, but when what they have in stock at the monastery now is
exhausted they will never make another franc by Louarine."

"But why not?"

"The secret of its manufacture belonged to one monk only. At his death
he was to confide it to another whom he had chosen."

"And he died suddenly without--"

"Madame, he didn't die."

The gravity had returned to the priest's face and deepened there,
transforming it. He put the glass down without touching it with his
lips.

"Then--I don't understand."

"He disappeared from the monastery."

"Do you mean he left it--a Trappist?"

"Yes."

"After taking the final vows?"

"Oh, he had been a monk at El-Largani for over twenty years."

"How horrible!" Domini said. She looked at the pale-green liquid. "How
horrible!" she repeated.

"Yes. The monks would have kept the matter a secret, but a servant
of the _hotellerie_--who had taken no vow of eternal silence--spoke,
and--well, I know it here in the 'belly of the desert.'"

"Horrible!"

She said the word again, and as if she felt its meaning more acutely
each time she spoke it.

"After twenty years to go!" she added after a moment. "And was there
no reason, no--no excuse--no, I don't mean excuse! But had nothing
exceptional happened?"

"What exceptional thing can happen in a Trappist monastery?" said the
priest. "One day is exactly like another there, and one year exactly
like another."

"Was it long ago?"

"No, not very long. Only some months. Oh, perhaps it may be a year by
now, but not more. Poor fellow! I suppose he was a man who didn't know
himself, Madame, and the devil tempted him."

"But after twenty years!" said Domini.

The thing seemed to her almost incredible.

"That man must be in hell now," she added. "In the hell a man can make
for himself by his own act. Oh, here is my husband."

Androvsky stood in the tent door, looking in upon them with startled,
scrutinising eyes. He had come over the deep sand without noise. Neither
Domini nor the priest had heard a footstep. The priest got up from his
chair and bowed genially.

"Good-evening, Monsieur," he said, not waiting for any introduction. "I
am the Aumonier of Amara, and----"

He paused in the full flow of his talk. Androvsky's eyes had wandered
from his face to the table, upon which stood the coffee, the liqueur,
and the other things brought by Ouardi. It was evident even to the
self-centred priest that his host was not listening to him. There was a
moment's awkward pause. Then Domini said:

"Boris, Monsieur l'Aumonier!"

She did not speak loudly, but with an intention that recalled the mind
of her husband. He stepped slowly into the tent and held out his hand in
silence to the priest. As he did so the lamplight fell full upon him.

"Boris, are you ill?" Domini exclaimed.

The priest had taken Androvsky's hand, but with a doubtful air. His
cheerful and confident manner had died away, and his eyes, fixed upon
his host, shone with an astonishment which was mingled with a sort
of boyish glumness. It was evident that he felt that his presence was
unwelcome.

"I have a headache," Androvsky said. "I--that is why I returned."

He dropped the priest's hand. He was again looking towards the table.

"The sun was unusually fierce to-day," Domini said. "Do you think--"

"Yes, yes," he interrupted. "That's it. I must have had a touch of the
sun."

He put his hand to his head.

"Excuse me, Monsieur," he said, speaking to the priest but not looking
at him. "I am really feeling unwell. Another day--"

He went out of the tent and disappeared silently into the darkness.
Domini and the priest looked after him. Then the priest, with an air of
embarrassment, took up his hat from the table. His cigar had gone out,
but he pulled at it as if he thought it was still alight, then took it
out of his mouth and, glancing with a naive regret at the good things
upon the table, his half-finished coffee, the biscuits, the white box of
bon-bons--said:

"Madame, I must be off. I've a good way to go, and it's getting late. If
you will allow me--"

He went to the tent door and called, in a powerful voice:

"Belgassem! Belgassem!"

He paused, then called again:

"Belgassem!"

A light travelled over the sand from the farther tents of the servants.
Then the priest turned round to Domini and shook her by the hand.

"Good-night, Madame."

"I'm very sorry," she said, not trying to detain him. "You must come
again. My husband is evidently ill, and--"

"You must go to him. Of course. Of course. This sun is a blessing.
Still, it brings fever sometimes, especially to strangers. We
sand-rascals--eh, Madame!" he laughed, but the laugh had lost its
sonorous ring--"we can stand it. It's our friend. But for travellers
sometimes it's a little bit too much. But now, mind, I'm a bit of a
doctor, and if to-morrow your husband is no better I might--anyhow"--he
looked again longingly at the bon-bons and the cigars--"if you'll allow
me I'll call to know how he is."

"Thank you, Monsieur."

"Not at all, Madame, not at all! I can set him right in a minute, if
it's anything to do with the sun, in a minute. Ah, here's Belgassem!"

The soldier stood like a statue without, bearing the lantern. The priest
hesitated. He was holding the burnt-out cigar in his hand, and now
he glanced at it and then at the cigar-box. A plaintive expression
overspread his bronzed and bearded face. It became almost piteous.
Quickly Domini wait to the table, took two cigars from the box and came
back.

"You must have a cigar to smoke on the way."

"Really, Madame, you are too good, but--well, I rarely refuse a fine
cigar, and these--upon my word--are--"

He struck a match on his broad-toed boot. His demeanour was becoming
cheerful again. Domini gave the other cigar to the soldier.

"Good-night, Madame. A demain then, a demain! I trust your husband may
be able to rest. A demain! A demain!"

The light moved away over the dunes and dropped down towards the city.
Then Domini hurried across the sand to the sleeping-tent. As she went
she was acutely aware of the many distant noises that rose up in the
night to the pale crescent of the young moon, the pulsing of the tomtoms
in the city, the faint screaming of the pipes that sounded almost like
human beings in distress, the passionate barking of the guard dogs
tied up to the tents on the sand-slopes where the multitudes of fires
gleamed. The sensation of being far away, and close to the heart of the
desert, deepened in her, but she felt now that it was a savage heart,
that there was something terrible in the remoteness. In the faint
moonlight the tent cast black shadows upon the wintry whiteness of the
sands, that rose and fell like waves of a smooth but foam-covered sea.
And the shadow of the sleeping-tent looked the blackest of them all.
For she began to feel as if there was another darkness about it than the
darkness that it cast upon the sand. Her husband's face that night as
he came in from the dunes had been dark with a shadow cast surely by his
soul. And she did not know what it was in his soul that sent forth the
shadow.

"Boris!"

She was at the door of the sleeping-tent. He did not answer.

"Boris!"

He came in from the farther tent that he used as a dressing-room,
carrying a lit candle in his hand. She went up to him with a movement of
swift, ardent sincerity.

"You felt ill in the city? Did Batouch let you come back alone?"

"I preferred to be alone."

He set down the candle on the table, and moved so that the light of it
did not fall upon his face. She took his hands in hers gently. There was
no response in his hands. They remained in hers, nervelessly. They
felt almost like dead things in her hands. But they were not cold, but
burning hot.

"You have fever!" she said.

She let one of his hands go and put one of hers to his forehead.

"Your forehead is burning, and your pulses--how they are beating! Like
hammers! I must--"

"Don't give me anything, Domini! It would be useless."

She was silent. There was a sound of hopelessness in his voice that
frightened her. It was like the voice of a man rejecting remedies
because he knew that he was stricken with a mortal disease.

"Why did that priest come here to-night?" he asked.

They were both standing up, but now he sat down in a chair heavily,
taking his hand from hers.

"Merely to pay a visit of courtesy."

"At night?"

He spoke suspiciously. Again she thought of Mogar, and of how, on his
return from the dunes, he had said to her, "There is a light in the
tower." A painful sensation of being surrounded with mystery came upon
her. It was hateful to her strong and frank nature. It was like a miasma
that suffocated her soul.

"Oh, Boris," she exclaimed bluntly, "why should he not come at night?"

"Is such a thing usual?"

"But he was visiting the tents over there--of the nomads, and he had
heard of our arrival. He knew it was informal, but, as he said, in the
desert one forgets formalities."

"And--and did he ask for anything?"

"Ask?"

"I saw--on the table-coffee and--and there was liqueur."

"Naturally I offered him something."

"He didn't ask?"

"But, Boris, how could he?"

After a moment of silence he said:

"No, of course not."

He shifted in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, put his hands
on the arms of it, and continued:

"What did he talk about?"

"A little about Amara."

"That was all?"

"He hadn't been here long when you came--"

"Oh."

"But he told me one thing that was horrible," she added, obedient to her
instinct always to tell the complete truth to him, even about trifles
which had nothing to do with their lives or their relation to each
other.

"Horrible!" Androvsky said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward in
his chair.

She sat down by him. They both had their backs to the light and were in
shadow.

"Yes."

"What was it about--some crime here?"

"Oh, no! It was about that liqueur you saw on the table."

Androvsky was sitting upon a basket chair. As she spoke it creaked under
a violent movement that he made.

"How could--what could there be that was horrible connected with that?"
he asked, speaking slowly.

"It was made by a monk, a Trappist--"

He got up from his chair and went to the opening of the tent.

"What--" she began, thinking he was perhaps feeling the pain in his head
more severely.

"I only want to be in the air. It's rather hot there. Stay where, you
are, Domini, and--well, what else?"

He stepped out into the sand, and stood just outside the tent in its
shadow.

"It was invented by a Trappist monk of the monastery of El-Largani, who
disappeared from the monastery. He had taken the final vows. He had been
there for over twenty years."

"He--he disappeared--did the priest say?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"I don't think--I am sure he doesn't know. But what does it matter?
The awful thing is that he should leave the monastery after taking the
eternal vows--vows made to God."

After a moment, during which neither of them spoke and Androvsky stood
quite still in the sand, she added:

"Poor man!"

Androvsky came a step towards her, then paused.

"Why do you say that, Domini?"

"I was thinking of the agony he must be enduring if he is still alive."

"Agony?"

"Of mind, of heart. You--I know, Boris, you can't feel with me on
certain subjects--yet--"

"Yet!" he said.

"Boris"--she got up and came to the tent door, but not out upon the
sand--"I dare to hope that some day perhaps----"

She was silent, looking towards him with her brave, steady eyes.

"Agony of heart?" Androvsky said, recurring to her words. "You
think--what--you pity that man then?"

"And don't you?"

"I--what has he to do with--us? Why should we--?"

"I know. But one does sometimes pity men one never has seen, never will
see, if one hears something frightful about them. Perhaps--don't smile,
Boris--perhaps it was seeing that liqueur, which he had actually made in
the monastery when he was at peace with God, perhaps it was seeing that,
that has made me realise--such trifles stir the imagination, set it
working--at any rate--"

She broke off. After a minute, during which he said nothing, she
continued:

"I believe the priest felt something of the same sort. He could not
drink the liqueur that man had made, although he intended to."

"But--that might have been for a different reason," Androvsky said in
a harsh voice; "priests have strange ideas. They often judge things
cruelly, very cruelly."

"Perhaps they do. Yes; I can imagine that Father Roubier of Beni-Mora
might, though he is a good man and leads a saintly life."

"Those are sometimes the most cruel. They do not understand."

"Perhaps not. It may be so. But this priest--he's not like that."

She thought of his genial, bearded face, his expression when he said,
"We are ruffians of the sun," including himself with the desert men, his
boisterous laugh.

"His fault might be the other way."

"Which way?"

"Too great a tolerance."

"Can a man be too tolerant towards his fellow-man?" said Androvsky.

There was a strange sound of emotion in his deep voice which moved her.
It seemed to her--why, she did not know--to steal out of the depth of
something their mutual love had created.

"The greatest of all tolerance is God's," she said. "I'm sure--quite
sure--of that."

Androvsky came in out of the shadow of the tent, took her in his arms
with passion, laid his lips on hers with passion, hot, burning force and
fire, and a hard tenderness that was hard because it was intense.

"God will bless you," he said. "God will bless you. Whatever life brings
you at the end you must--you must be blessed by Him."

"But He has blessed me," she whispered, through tears that rushed from
her eyes, stirred from their well-springs by his sudden outburst of
love for her. "He has blessed me. He has given me you, your love, your
truth."

Androvsky released her as abruptly as he had taken her in his arms,
turned, and went out into the desert.



CHAPTER XXIV

True to his promise, on the following day the priest called to inquire
after Androvsky's health. He happened to come just before _dejeuner_ was
ready, and met Androvsky on the sand before the tent door.

"It's not fever then, Monsieur," he said, after they had shaken hands.

"No, no," Androvsky replied. "I am quite well this morning."

The priest looked at him closely with an unembarrassed scrutiny.

"Have you been long in the desert, Monsieur?" he asked.

"Some weeks."

"The heat has tired you. I know the look--"

"I assure you, Monsieur, that I am accustomed to heat. I have lived in
North Africa all my life."

"Indeed. And yet by your appearance I should certainly suppose that you
needed a change from the desert. The air of the Sahara is magnificent,
but there are people--"

"I am not one of them," Androvsky said abruptly. "I have never felt so
strong physically as since I have lived in the sand."

The priest still looked at him closely, but said nothing further on
the subject of health. Indeed, almost immediately his attention was
distracted by the apparition of Ouardi bearing dishes from the cook's
tent.

"I am afraid I have called at a very unorthodox time," he remarked,
looking at his watch; "but the fact is that here in Amara we--"

"I hope you will stay to _dejeuner_," Androvsky said.

"It is very good of you. If you are certain that I shall not put you
out."

"Please stay."

"I will, then, with pleasure."

He moved his lips expectantly, as if only a sense of politeness
prevented him from smacking them. Androvsky went towards the
sleeping-tent, where Domini, who had been into the city, was washing her
hands.

"The priest has called," he said. "I have asked him to _dejeuner_."

She looked at him with frank astonishment in her dark eyes.

"You--Boris!"

"Yes, I. Why not?"

"I don't know. But generally you hate people."

"He seems a good sort of man."

She still looked at him with some surprise, even with curiosity.

"Have you taken a fancy to a priest?" she asked, smiling.

"Why not? This man is very different from Father Roubier, more human."

"Father Beret is very human, I think," she answered.

She was still smiling. It had just occurred to her that the priest had
timed his visit with some forethought.

"I am coming," she added.

A sudden cheerfulness had taken possession of her. All the morning she
had been feeling grave, even almost apprehensive, after a bad night.
When her husband had abruptly left her and gone away into the darkness
she had been overtaken by a sudden wave of acute depression. She had
felt, more painfully than ever before, the mental separation which
existed between them despite their deep love, and a passionate but
almost hopeless longing had filled her heart that in all things they
might be one, not only in love of each other, but in love of God. When
Androvsky had taken his arms from her she had seemed to feel herself
released by a great despair, and this certainty--for as he vanished into
the darkness she was no more in doubt that his love for her left room
within his heart for such an agony--had for a moment brought her soul to
the dust. She had been overwhelmed by a sensation that instead of
being close together they were far apart, almost strangers, and a great
bitterness had entered into her. It was accompanied by a desire for
action. She longed to follow Androvsky, to lay her hand on his arm, to
stop him in the sand and force him to confide in her. For the first
time the idea that he was keeping something from her, a sorrow, almost
maddened her, even made her feel jealous. The fact that she divined what
that sorrow was, or believed she divined it, did not help her just then.
She waited a long while, but Androvsky did not return, and at last she
prayed and went to bed. But her prayers were feeble, disjointed, and
sleep did not come to her, for her mind was travelling with this man
who loved her and who yet was out there alone in the night, who was
deliberately separating himself from her. Towards dawn, when he stole
into the tent, she was still awake, but she did not speak or give any
sign of consciousness, although she was hot with the fierce desire to
spring up, to throw her arms round him, to draw his head down upon her
heart, and say, "I have given myself, body, heart and soul, to you. Give
yourself to me; give me the thing you are keeping back--your sorrow.
Till I have that I have not all of you. And till I have all of you I am
in hell."

It was a mad impulse. She resisted it and lay quite still. And when he
lay down and was quiet she slept at length.

Now, as she heard him speak in the sunshine and knew that he had offered
hospitality to the comfortable priest her heart suddenly felt lighter,
she scarcely knew why. It seemed to her that she had been a little
morbid, and that the cloud which had settled about her was lifted,
revealing the blue.

At _dejeuner_ she was even more reassured. Her husband seemed to get on
with the priest better than she had ever seen him get on with anybody.
He began by making an effort to be agreeable that was obvious to her;
but presently he was agreeable without effort. The simple geniality
and lack of self-consciousness in Father Beret evidently set him at
his ease. Once or twice she saw him look at his guest with an earnest
scrutiny that puzzled her, but he talked far more than usual and with
greater animation, discussing the Arabs and listening to the priest's
account of the curiosities of life in Amara. When at length Father Beret
rose to go Androvsky said he would accompany him a little way, and they
went off together, evidently on the best of terms.

She was delighted and surprised. She had been right, then. It was time
that Androvsky was subjected to another influence than that of the
unpeopled wastes. It was time that he came into contact with men whose
minds were more akin to his than the minds of the Arabs who had been
their only companions. She began to imagine him with her in civilised
places, to be able to imagine him. And she was glad they had come to
Amara and confirmed in her resolve to stay on there. She even began to
wish that the French officers quartered there--few in number, some five
or six--would find them in the sand, and that Androvsky would offer them
hospitality. It occurred to her that it was not quite wholesome for a
man to live in isolation from his fellow-men, even with the woman he
loved, and she determined that she would not be selfish in her love,
that she would think for Androvsky, act for him, even against her own
inclination. Perhaps his idea of life in an oasis apart from Europeans
was one she ought to combat, though it fascinated her. Perhaps it would
be stronger, more sane, to face a more ordinary, less dreamy, life, in
which they would meet with people, in which they would inevitably find
themselves confronted with duties. She felt powerful enough in that
moment to do anything that would make for Androvsky's welfare of soul.
His body was strong and at ease. She thought of him going away with the
priest in friendly conversation. How splendid it would be if she could
feel some day that the health of his soul accorded completely with that
of his body!

"Batouch!" she called almost gaily.

Batouch appeared, languidly smoking a cigarette, and with a large flower
tied to a twig protending from behind his ear.

"Saddle the horses. Monsieur has gone with the Pere Beret. I shall take
a ride, just a short ride round the camp over there--in at the city
gate, through the market-place, and home. You will come with me."

Batouch threw away his cigarette with energy. Poet though he was, all
the Arab blood in him responded to the thought of a gallop over the
sands. Within a few minutes they were off. When she was in the saddle it
was at all times difficult for Domini to be sad or even pensive. She had
a native passion for a good horse, and riding was one of the joys,
and almost the keenest, of her life. She felt powerful when she had
a spirited, fiery animal under her, and the wide spaces of the desert
summoned speed as they summoned dreams. She and Batouch went away at a
rapid pace, circled round the Arab cemetery, made a detour towards the
south, and then cantered into the midst of the camps of the Ouled Nails.
It was the hour of the siesta. Only a few people were stirring, coming
and going over the dunes to and from the city on languid errands for the
women of the tents, who reclined in the shade of their brushwood
arbours upon filthy cushions and heaps of multi-coloured rags, smoking
cigarettes, playing cards with Arab and negro admirers, or staring into
vacancy beneath their heavy eyebrows as they listened to the sound of
music played upon long pipes of reed. No dogs barked in their camp.
The only guardians were old women, whose sandy faces were scored with
innumerable wrinkles, and whose withered hands drooped under their loads
of barbaric rings and bracelets. Batouch would evidently have liked to
dismount here. Like all Arabs he was fascinated by the sight of these
idols of the waste, whose painted faces called to the surface the fluid
poetry within him, but Domini rode on, descending towards the city gate
by which she had first entered Amara. The priest's house was there
and Androvsky was with the priest. She hoped he had perhaps gone in to
return the visit paid to them. As she rode into the city she glanced
at the house. The door was open and she saw the gay rugs in the little
hall. She had a strong inclination to stop and ask if her husband were
there. He might mount Batouch's horse and accompany her home.

"Batouch," she said, "will you ask if Monsieur Androvsky is with Pere
Beret. I think--"

She stopped speaking. She had just seen her husband's face pass across
the window-space of the room on the right-hand side of the hall door.
She could not see it very well. The arcade built out beyond the house
cast a deep shade within, and in this shade the face had flitted like a
shadow. Batouch had sprung from his horse. But the sight of the shadowy
face had changed her mind. She resolved not to interrupt the two men.
Long ago at Beni-Mora she had asked Androvsky to call upon a priest. She
remembered the sequel to that visit. This time Androvsky had gone of his
own will. If he liked this priest, if they became friends, perhaps--she
remembered her vision in the dancing-house, her feeling that when she
drew near Amara she was drawing near to the heart of the desert. If she
should see Androvsky praying here! Yet Father Beret hardly seemed a man
likely to influence her husband, or anyone with a strong and serious
personality. He was surely too fond of the things of this world, too
obviously a lover and cherisher of the body. Nevertheless, there was
something attractive in him, a kindness, a geniality. In trouble he
would be sympathetic. Certainly her husband must have taken a liking to
him, and the chances of life and the influences of destiny were strange
and not to be foreseen.

"No, Batouch," she said. "We won't stop."

"But, Madame," he cried, "Monsieur is in there. I saw his face at the
window."

"Never mind. We won't disturb them. I daresay they have something to
talk about."

They cantered on towards the market-place. It was not market-day, and
the town, like the camp of the Ouled Nails, was almost deserted. As she
rode up the hill towards the place of the fountain, however, she saw
two handsomely-dressed Arabs, followed by a servant, slowly strolling
towards her from the doorway of the Bureau Arabe. One, who was very
tall, was dressed in green, and carried a long staff, from which hung
green ribbons. The other wore a more ordinary costume of white, with a
white burnous and a turban spangled with gold.

"Madame!" said Batouch.

"Yes."

"Do you see the Arab dressed in green?"

He spoke in an almost awestruck voice.

"Yes. Who is he?"

"The great marabout who lives at Beni-Hassan."

The name struck upon Domini's ear with a strange familiarity.

"But that's where Count Anteoni went when he rode away from Beni-Mora
that morning."

"Yes, Madame."

"Is it far from Amara?"

"Two hours' ride across the desert."

"But then Count Anteoni may be near us. After he left he wrote to me and
gave me his address at the marabout's house."

"If he is still with the marabout, Madame."

They were close to the fountain now, and the marabout and his companion
were coming straight towards them.

"If Madame will allow me I will salute the marabout," said Batouch.

"Certainly."

He sprang off his horse immediately, tied it up to the railing of the
fountain, and went respectfully towards the approaching potentate to
kiss his hand. Domini saw the marabout stop and Batouch bend down, then
lift himself up and suddenly move back as if in surprise. The Arab who
was with the marabout seemed also surprised. He held out his hand to
Batouch, who took it, kissed it, then kissed his own hand, and turning,
pointed towards Domini. The Arab spoke a word to the marabout, then left
him, and came rapidly forward to the fountain. As he drew close to her
she saw a face browned by the sun, a very small, pointed beard, a pair
of intensely bright eyes surrounded by wrinkles. These eyes held her.
It seemed to her that she knew them, that she had often looked into them
and seen their changing expressions. Suddenly she exclaimed:

"Count Anteoni!"

"Yes, it is I!"

He held out his hand and clasped hers.

"So you have started upon your desert journey," he added, looking
closely at her, as he had often looked in the garden.

"Yes."

"And as I ventured to advise--that last time, do you remember?"

She recollected his words.

"No," she replied, and there was a warmth of joy, almost of pride, in
her voice. "I am not alone."

Count Anteoni was standing with one hand on her horse's neck. As she
spoke, his hand dropped down.

"I have been away from Beni-Hassan," he said slowly. "The marabout and
I have been travelling in the south and only returned yesterday. I have
heard no news for a long time from Beni-Mora, but I know. You are Madame
Androvsky."

"Yes," she answered; "I am Madame Androvsky."

There was a silence between them. In it she heard the dripping water in
the fountain. At last Count Anteoni spoke again.

"It was written," he said quietly. "It was written in the sand."

She thought of the sand-diviner and was silent. An oppression of spirit
had suddenly come upon her. It seemed to her connected with something
physical, something obscure, unusual, such as she had never felt before.
It was, she thought, as if her body at that moment became more alive
than it had ever been, and as if that increase of life within her gave
to her a peculiar uneasiness. She was startled. She even felt alarmed,
as at the faint approach of something strange, of something that was
going to alter her life. She did not know at all what it was. For the
moment a sense of confusion and of pain beset her, and she was scarcely
aware with whom she was, or where. The sensation passed and she
recovered herself and met Count Anteoni's eyes quietly.

"Yes," she answered; "all that has happened to me here in Africa was
written in the sand and in fire."

"You are thinking of the sun."

"Yes."

"I--where are you living?"

"Close by on the sand-hill beyond the city wall."

"Where you can see the fires lit at night and hear the sound of the
music of Africa?"

"Yes."

"As he said."

"Yes, as he said."

Again the overwhelming sense of some strange and formidable approach
came over her, but this time she fought it resolutely.

"Will you come and see me?" she said.

She had meant to say "us," but did not say it.

"If you will allow me."

"When?"

"I--" she heard the odd, upward grating in his voice which she
remembered so well. "May I come now if you are riding to the tents?"

"Please do."

"I will explain to the marabout and follow you."

"But the way? Shall Batouch--?"

"No, it is not necessary."

She rode away. When she reached the camp she found that Androvsky had
not yet returned, and she was glad. She wanted to talk to Count Anteoni
alone. Within a few minutes she saw him coming towards the tent. His
beard and his Arab dress so altered him that at a short distance she
could not recognise him, could only guess that it was he. But directly
he was near, and she saw his eyes, she forgot that he was altered, and
felt that she was with her kind and whimsical host of the garden.

"My husband is in the city," she said.

"Yes."

"With the priest."

She saw an expression of surprise flit over Count Anteoni's face. It
went away instantly.

"Pere Beret," he said. "He is a cheerful creature and very good to the
Arabs."

They sat down just inside the shadow of the tent before the door, and he
looked out quietly towards the city.

"Yes, this is the place," he said.

She knew that he was alluding to the vision of the sand-diviner, and
said so.

"Did you believe at the time that what he said would come true?" she
asked.

"How could I? Am I a child?"

He spoke with gentle irony, but she felt he was playing with her.

"Cannot a man believe such things?"

He did not answer her, but said:

"My fate has come to pass. Do you not care to know what it is?"

"Yes, do tell me."

She spoke earnestly. She felt a change in him, a great change which
as yet she did not understand fully. It was as if he had been a man in
doubt and was now a man no longer in doubt, as if he had arrived at some
goal and was more at peace with himself than he had been.

"I have become a Mohammedan," he said simply.

"A Mohammedan!"

She repeated the words as a person repeats words in surprise, but her
voice did not sound surprised.

"You wonder?" he asked.

After a moment she answered:

"No. I never thought of such a thing, but I am not surprised. Now
you have told me it seems to explain you, much that I noticed in you,
wondered about in you."

She looked at him steadily, but without curiosity.

"I feel that you are happy now."

"Yes, I am happy. The world I used to know, my world and yours, would
laugh at me, would say that I was crazy, that it was a whim, that I
wished for a new sensation. Simply it had to be. For years I have been
tending towards it--who knows why? Who knows what obscure influences
have been at work in me, whether there is not perhaps far back, some
faint strain of Arab blood mingled with the Sicilian blood in my veins?
I cannot understand why. What I can understand is that at last I have
fulfilled my destiny! After years of unrest I am suddenly and completely
at peace. It is a magical sensation. I have been wandering all my life
and have come upon the open door of my home."

He spoke very quietly, but she heard the joy in his voice.

"I remember you saying, 'I like to see men praying in the desert.'"

"Yes. When I looked at them I was longing to be one of them. For
years from my garden wall I watched them with a passion of envy, with
bitterness, almost with hatred sometimes. They had something I had not,
something that set them above me, something that made their lives plain
through any complication, and that gave to death a meaning like the
meaning at the close of a great story that is going to have a sequel.
They had faith. And it was difficult not to hate them. But now I am one
of them. I can pray in the desert."

"That was why you left Beni-Mora."

"Yes. I had long been wishing to become a Mohammedan. I came here to be
with the marabout, to enter more fully into certain questions, to see if
I had any lingering doubts."

"And you have none?"

"None."

She looked at his bright eyes and sighed, thinking of her husband.

"You will go back to Beni-Mora?" she asked.

"I don't think so. I am inclined to go farther into the desert, farther
among the people of my own faith. I don't want to be surrounded by
French. Some day perhaps I may return. But at present everything draws
me onward. Tell me"--he dropped the earnest tone in which he had been
speaking, and she heard once more the easy, half-ironical man of the
world--"do you think me a half-crazy eccentric?"

"No!"

"You look at me very gravely, even sadly."

"I was thinking of the men who cannot pray," she said, "even in the
desert."

"They should not come into the Garden of Allah. Don't you remember that
day by the garden wall, when--"

He suddenly checked himself.

"Forgive me," he said simply. "And now tell me about yourself. You never
wrote that you were going to be married."

"I knew you would know it in time--when we met again."

"And you knew we should meet again?"

"Did not you?"

He nodded.

"In the heart of the desert. And you--where are you going? You are not
returning to civilisation?"

"I don't know. I have no plans. I want to do what my husband wishes."

"And he?"

"He loves the desert. He has suggested our buying an oasis and setting
up as date merchants. What do you think of the idea?"

She spoke with a smile, but her eyes were serious, even sad.

"I cannot judge for others," he answered.

When he got up to go he held her hand fast for a moment.

"May I speak what is in my heart?" he asked.

"Yes--do."

"I feel as if what I have told you to-day about myself, about my having
come to the open door of a home I had long been wearily seeking, had
made you sad. Is it so?"

"Yes," she answered frankly.

"Can you tell me why?"

"It has made me realise more sharply than perhaps I did before what must
be the misery of those who are still homeless."

There was in her voice a sound as if she suppressed a sob.

"Hope for them, remembering my many years of wandering."

"Yes, yes."

"Good-bye."

"Will you come again?"

"You are here for long?"

"Some days, I think."

"Whenever you ask me I will come."

"I want you and my husband to meet again. I want that very much." She
spoke with a pressure of eagerness.

"Send for me and I will come at any hour."

"I will send--soon."

When he was gone, Domini sat in the shadow of the tent. From where she
was she could see the Arab cemetery at a little distance, a quantity of
stones half drowned in the sand. An old Arab was wandering there alone,
praying for the dead in a loud, persistent voice. Sometimes he paused
by a grave, bowed himself in prayer, then rose and walked on again. His
voice was never silent. The sound of it was plaintive and monotonous.
Domini listened to it, and thought of homeless men, of those who had
lived and died without ever coming to that open door through which Count
Anteoni had entered. His words and the changed look in his face had made
a deep impression upon her. She realised that in the garden, when they
were together, his eyes, even when they twinkled with the slightly
ironical humour peculiar to him, had always held a shadow. Now that
shadow was lifted out of them. How deep was the shadow in her husband's
eyes. How deep had it been in the eyes of her father. He had died with
that terrible darkness in his eyes and in his soul. If her husband were
to die thus! A terror came upon her. She looked out at the stones in
the sand and imagined herself there--as the old Arab was--praying for
Androvsky buried there, hidden from her on earth for ever. And suddenly
she felt, "I cannot wait, I must act."

Her faith was deep and strong. Nothing could shake it. But might it not
shake the doubt from another's soul, as a great, pure wind shakes leaves
that are dead from a tree that will blossom with the spring? Hitherto
a sense of intense delicacy had prevented her from ever trying to draw
near definitely to her husband's sadness. But her interview with Count
Anteoni, and the sound of this voice praying, praying for the dead men
in the sand, stirred her to an almost fierce resolution. She had given
herself to Androvsky. He had given himself to her. They were one. She
had a right to draw near to his pain, if by so doing there was a chance
that she might bring balm to it. She had a right to look closer into his
eyes if hers, full of faith, could lift the shadow from them.

She leaned back in the darkness of the tent. The old Arab had wandered
further on among the graves. His voice was faint in the sand, faint and
surely piteous, as if, even while he prayed, he felt that his prayers
were useless, that the fate of the dead was pronounced beyond recall.
Domini listened to him no more. She was praying for the living as she
had never prayed before, and her prayer was the prelude not to patience
but to action. It was as if her conversation with Count Anteoni had set
a torch to something in her soul, something that gave out a great flame,
a flame that could surely burn up the sorrow, the fear, the secret
torture in her husband's soul. All the strength of her character had
been roused by the sight of the peace she desired for the man she loved;
enthroned in the heart of this other man who was only her friend.

The voice of the old Arab died away in the distance, but before it died
away Domini had ceased from hearing it.

She heard only a voice within her, which said to her, "If you really
love be fearless. Attack this sorrow which stands like a figure of death
between you and your husband. Drive it away. You have a weapon--faith.
Use it."

It seemed to her then that through all their intercourse she had been
a coward in her love, and she resolved that she would be a coward no
longer.



CHAPTER XXV

Domini had said to herself that she would speak to her husband that
night. She was resolved not to hesitate, not to be influenced from her
purpose by anything. Yet she knew that a great difficulty would stand
in her way--the difficulty of Androvsky's intense, almost passionate,
reserve. This reserve was the dominant characteristic in his nature. She
thought of it sometimes as a wall of fire that he had set round about
the secret places of his soul to protect them even from her eyes.
Perhaps it was strange that she, a woman of a singularly frank
temperament, should be attracted by reserve in another, yet she knew
that she was so attracted by the reserve of her husband. Its existence
hinted to her depths in him which, perhaps, some day she might sound,
she alone, strength which was hidden for her some day to prove.

Now, alone with her purpose, she thought of this reserve. Would she be
able to break it down with her love? For an instant she felt as if she
were about to enter upon a contest with her husband, but she did not
coldly tell over her armoury and select weapons. There was a heat of
purpose within her that beckoned her to the unthinking, to the reckless
way, that told her to be self-reliant and to trust to the moment for the
method.

When Androvsky returned to the camp it was towards evening. A lemon
light was falling over the great white spaces of the sand. Upon their
little round hills the Arab villages glowed mysteriously. Many horsemen
were riding forth from the city to take the cool of the approaching
night. From the desert the caravans were coming in. The nomad children
played, half-naked, at Cora before the tents, calling shrilly to each
other through the light silence that floated airily away into the vast
distances that breathed out the spirit of a pale eternity. Despite the
heat there was an almost wintry romance in this strange land of white
sands and yellow radiance, an ethereal melancholy that stole with the
twilight noiselessly towards the tents.

As Androvsky approached Domini saw that he had lost the energy which had
delighted her at _dejeuner_. He walked towards her slowly with his head
bent down. His face was grave, even sad, though when he saw her waiting
for him he smiled.

"You have been all this time with the priest?" she said.

"Nearly all. I walked for a little while in the city. And you?"

"I rode out and met a friend."

"A friend?" he said, as if startled.

"Yes, from Beni-Mora--Count Anteoni. He has been here to pay me a
visit."

She pulled forward a basket-chair for him. He sank into it heavily.

"Count Anteoni here!" he said slowly. "What is he doing here?"

"He is with the marabout at Beni-Hassan. And, Boris, he has become a
Mohammedan."

He lifted his head with a jerk and stared at her in silence.

"You are surprised?"

"A Mohammedan--Count Anteoni?"

"Yes. Do you know, when he told me I felt almost as if I had been
expecting it."

"But--is he changed then? Is he--"

He stopped. His voice had sounded to her bitter, almost fierce.

"Yes, Boris, he is changed. Have you ever seen anyone who was lost,
and the same person walking along the road home? Well, that is Count
Anteoni."

They said no more for some minutes. Androvsky was the first to speak
again.

"You told him?" he asked.

"About ourselves?"

"Yes."

"I told him."

"What did he say?"

"He had expected it. When we ask him he is coming here again to see us
both together."

Androvsky got up from his chair. His face was troubled. Standing before
Domini, he said:

"Count Anteoni is happy then, now that he--now that he has joined this
religion?"

"Very happy."

"And you--a Catholic--what do you think?"

"I think that, since that is his honest belief, it is a blessed thing
for him."

He said no more, but went towards the sleeping-tent.

In the evening, when they were dining, he said to her:

"Domini, to-night I am going to leave you again for a short time."

He saw a look of keen regret come into her face, and added quickly:

"At nine I have promised to go to see the priest. He--he is rather
lonely here. He wants me to come. Do you mind?"

"No, no. I am glad--very glad. Have you finished?"

"Quite."

"Let us take a rug and go out a little way in the sand--that way towards
the cemetery. It is quiet there at night."

"Yes. I will get a rug." He went to fetch it, threw it over his arm, and
they set out together. She had meant the Arab cemetery, but when they
reached it they found two or three nomads wandering there.

"Let us go on," she said.

They went on, and came to the French cemetery, which was surrounded by
a rough hedge of brushwood, in which there were gaps here and there.
Through one of these gaps they entered it, spread out the rug, and lay
down on the sand. The night was still and silence brooded here. Faintly
they saw the graves of the exiles who had died here and been given to
the sand, where in summer vipers glided to and fro, and the pariah dogs
wandered stealthily, seeking food to still the desires in their starving
bodies. They were mostly very simple, but close to Domini and Androvsky
was one of white marble, in the form of a broken column, hung with
wreaths of everlasting flowers, and engraved with these words:

ICI REPOSE

JEAN BAPTISTE FABRIANI

_Priez pour lui_.

When they lay down they both looked at this grave, as if moved by a
simultaneous impulse, and read the words.

"Priez pour lui!" Domini said in a low voice.

She put out her hand and took hold of her husband's, and pressed it down
on the sand.

"Do you remember that first night, Boris," she said, "at Arba, when
you took my hand in yours and laid it against the desert as against a
heart?"

"Yes, Domini, I remember."

"That night we were one, weren't we?"

"Yes, Domini."

"Were we"--she was almost whispering in the night--"were we truly one?"

"Why do you--truly one, you say?"

"Yes--one in soul? That is the great union, greater than the union of
our bodies. Were we one in soul? Are we now?"

"Domini, why do you ask me such questions? Do you doubt my love?"

"No. But I do ask you. Won't you answer me?"

He was silent. His hand lay in hers, but did not press it.

"Boris"--she spoke the cruel words very quietly,--"we are not truly one
in soul. We have never been. I know that."

He said nothing.

"Shall we ever be? Think--if one of us were to die, and the other--the
one who was left--were left with the knowledge that in our love, even
ours, there had always been separation--could you bear that? Could I
bear it?"

"Domini--"

"Yes."

"Why do you speak like this? We are one. You have all my love. You are
everything to me."

"And yet you are sad, and you try to hide your sadness, your misery,
from me. Can you not give it me? I want it--more than I want anything
on earth. I want it, I must have it, and I dare to ask for it because I
know how deeply you love me and that you could never love another."

"I never have loved another," he said.

"I was the very first."

"The very first. When we married, although I was a man I was as you
were."

She bent down her head and laid her lips on his hand that was in hers.

"Then make our union perfect, as no other union on earth has ever been.
Give me your sorrow, Boris. I know what it is."

"How can--you cannot know," he said in a broken voice.

"Yes. Love is a diviner, the only true diviner. I told you once what it
was, but I want you to tell me. Nothing that we take is beautiful to us,
only what we are given."

"I cannot," he said.

He tried to take his hand from hers, but she held it fast. And she felt
as if she were holding the wall of fire with which he surrounded the
secret places of his soul.

"To-day, Boris, when I talked to Count Anteoni, I felt that I had been a
coward with you. I had seen you suffer and I had not dared to draw near
to your suffering. I have been afraid of you. Think of that."

"No."

"Yes, I have been afraid of you, of your reserve. When you withdrew from
me I never followed you. If I had, perhaps I could have done something
for you."

"Domini, do not speak like this. Our love is happy. Leave it as it is."

"I can't. I will not. Boris, Count Anteoni has found a home. But you
are wandering. I can't bear that, I can't bear it. It is as if I were
sitting in the house, warm, safe, and you were out in the storm. It
tortures me. It almost makes me hate my own safety."

Androvsky shivered. He took his hand forcibly from Domini's.

"I have almost hated it, too," he said passionately. "I have hated it.
I'm a--I'm--"

His voice failed. He bent forward and took Domini's face between his
hands.

"And yet there are times when I can bless what I have hated. I do bless
it now. I--I love your safety. You--at least you are safe."

"You must share it. I will make you share it."

"You cannot."

"I can. I shall. I feel that we shall be together in soul, and perhaps
to-night, perhaps even to-night."

Androvsky looked profoundly agitated. His hands dropped down.

"I must go," he said. "I must go to the priest."

He got up from the sand.

"Come to the tent, Domini."

She rose to her feet.

"When you come back," she said, "I shall be waiting for you, Boris."

He looked at her. There was in his eyes a piercing wistfulness. He
opened his lips. At that moment Domini felt that he was on the point of
telling her all that she longed to know. But the look faded. The lips
closed. He took her in his arms and kissed her almost desperately.

"No, no," he said. "I'll keep your love--I'll keep it."

"You could never lose it."

"I might."

"Never."

"If I believed that."

"Boris!"

Suddenly burning tears rushed from her eyes.

"Don't ever say a thing like that to me again!" she said with passion.

She pointed to the grave close to them.

"If you were there," she said, "and I was living, and you had died
before--before you had told me--I believe--God forgive me, but I do
believe that if, when you died, I were taken to heaven I should find my
hell there."

She looked through her tears at the words: "Priez pour lui."

"To pray for the dead," she whispered, as if to herself. "To pray for
my dead--I could not do it--I could not. Boris, if you love me you must
trust me, you must give me your sorrow."

The night drew on. Androvsky had gone to the priest. Domini was alone,
sitting before the tent waiting for his return. She had told Batouch and
Ouardi that she wanted nothing more, that no one was to come to the tent
again that night. The young moon was rising over the city, but its light
as yet was faint. It fell upon the cupolas of the Bureau Arabe, the
towers of the mosque and the white sands, whose whiteness it seemed to
emphasise, making them pale as the face of one terror-stricken. The
city wall cast a deep shadow over the moat of sand in which, wrapped
in filthy rags, lay nomads sleeping. Upon the sand-hills the camps were
alive with movement. Fires blazed and smoke ascended before the tents
that made patches of blackness upon the waste. Round the fires were
seated groups of men devouring cous-cous and the red soup beloved of the
nomad. Behind them circled the dogs with quivering nostrils. Squadrons
of camels lay crouched in the sand, resting after their journeys. And
everywhere, from the city and from the waste, rose distant sounds of
music, thin, aerial flutings like voices of the night winds, acrid cries
from the pipes, and the far-off rolling of the African drums that are
the foundation of every desert symphony.

Although she was now accustomed to the music of Africa, Domini could
never hear it without feeling the barbarity of the land from which it
rose, the wildness of the people who made and who loved it. Always it
suggested to her an infinite remoteness, as if it were music sounding
at the end of the world, full of half-defined meanings, melancholy
yet fierce passion, longings that, momentarily satisfied, continually
renewed themselves, griefs that were hidden behind thin veils like the
women of the East, but that peered out with expressive eyes, hinting
their story and desiring assuagement. And tonight the meaning of the
music seemed deeper than it had been before. She thought of it as an
outside echo of the voices murmuring in her mind and heart, and the
voices murmuring in the mind and heart of Androvsky, broken voices some
of them, but some strong, fierce, tense and alive with meaning. And as
she sat there alone she thought this unity of music drew her closer to
the desert than she had ever been before, and drew Androvsky with her,
despite his great reserve. In the heart of the desert he would surely
let her see at last fully into his heart. When he came back in the night
from the priest he would speak. She was waiting for that.

The moon was mounting. Its light grew stronger. She looked across the
sands and saw fires in the city, and suddenly she said to herself, "This
is the vision of the sand-diviner realised in my life. He saw me as I
am now, in this place." And she remembered the scene in the garden,
the crouching figure, the extended arms, the thin fingers tracing swift
patterns in the sand, the murmuring voice.

To-night she felt deeply expectant, but almost sad, encompassed by the
mystery that hangs in clouds about human life and human relations. What
could be that great joy of which the Diviner had spoken? A woman's great
joy that starred the desert with flowers and made the dry places run
with sweet waters. What could it be?

Suddenly she felt again the oppression of spirit she had been
momentarily conscious of in the afternoon. It was like a load descending
upon her, and, almost instantly, communicated itself to her body. She
was conscious of a sensation of unusual weariness, uneasiness, even
dread, then again of an intensity of life that startled her. This
intensity remained, grew in her. It was as if the principle of life,
like a fluid, were being poured into her out of the vials of God, as
if the little cup that was all she had were too small to contain the
precious liquid. That seemed to her to be the cause of the pain of
which she was conscious. She was being given more than she felt herself
capable of possessing. She got up from her chair, unable to remain
still. The movement, slight though it was, seemed to remove a veil of
darkness that had hung over her and to let in upon her a flood of light.
She caught hold of the canvas of the tent. For a moment she felt weak as
a child, then strong as an Amazon. And the sense of strength remained,
grew. She walked out upon the sand in the direction by which Androvsky
would return. The fires in the city and the camps were to her as
illuminations for a festival. The music was the music of a great
rejoicing. The vast expanse of the desert, wintry white under the moon,
dotted with the fires of the nomads, blossomed as the rose. After a few
moments she stopped. She was on the crest of a sand-bank, and could see
below her the faint track in the sand which wound to the city gate. By
this track Androvsky would surely return. From a long distance she would
be able to see him, a moving darkness upon the white. She was near to
the city now, and could hear voices coming to her from behind its rugged
walls, voices of men singing, and calling one to another, the twang of
plucked instruments, the click of negroes' castanets. The city was full
of joy as the desert was full of joy. The glory of life rushed upon her
like a flood of gold, that gold of the sun in which thousands of tiny
things are dancing. And she was given the power of giving life, of
adding to the sum of glory. She looked out over the sands and saw a
moving blot upon them coming slowly towards her, very slowly. It was
impossible at this distance to see who it was, but she felt that it was
her husband. For a moment she thought of going down to meet him, but
she did not move. The new knowledge that had come to her made her, just
then, feel shy even of him, as if he must come to her, as if she could
make no advance towards him.

As the blackness upon the sand drew nearer she saw that it was a man
walking heavily. The man had her husband's gait. When she saw that she
turned. She had resolved to meet him at the tent door, to tell him what
she had to tell him at the threshold of their wandering home. Her sense
of shyness died when she was at the tent door. She only felt now her
oneness with her husband, and that to-night their unity was to be made
more perfect. If it could be made quite perfect! If he would speak
too! Then nothing more would be wanting. At last every veil would have
dropped from between them, and as they had long been one flesh they
would be one in spirit.

She waited in the tent door.

After what seemed a long time she saw Androvsky coming across the
moonlit sand. He was walking very slowly, as if wearied out, with his
head drooping. He did not appear to see her till he was quite close to
the tent. Then he stopped and gazed at her. The moon--she thought it
must be the moon--made his face look strange, like a dying man's face.
In this white face the eyes glittered feverishly.

"Boris!" she said.

"Domini!"

"Come here, close to me. I have something to tell you--something
wonderful."

He came quite up to her.

"Domini," he said, as if he had not heard her. "Domini, I--I've been to
the priest to-night. I meant to confess to him."

"To confess!" she said.

"This afternoon I asked him to hear my confession, but tonight I could
not make it. I can only make it to you, Domini--only to you. Do you
hear, Domini? Do you hear?"

Something in his face and in his voice terrified her heart. Now she felt
as if she would stop him from speaking if she dared, but that she did
not dare. His spirit was beyond domination. He would do what he meant to
do regardless of her--of anyone.

"What is it, Boris?" she whispered. "Tell me. Perhaps I can understand
best because I love best."

He put his arms round her and kissed her, as a man kisses the woman he
loves when he knows it may be for the last time, long and hard, with
a desperation of love that feels frustrated by the very lips it is
touching. At last he took his lips from hers.

"Domini," he said, and his voice was steady and clear, almost hard,
"you want to know what it is that makes me unhappy even in our
love--desperately unhappy. It is this. I believe in God, I love God,
and I have insulted Him. I have tried to forget God, to deny Him, to
put human love higher than love for Him. But always I am haunted by
the thought of God, and that thought makes me despair. Once, when I was
young, I gave myself to God solemnly. I have broken the vows I made. I
have--I have--"

The hardness went out of his voice. He broke down for a moment and was
silent.

"You gave yourself to God," she said. "How?"

He tried to meet her questioning eyes, but could not.

"I--I gave myself to God as a monk," he answered after a pause.

As he spoke Domini saw before her in the moonlight De Trevignac. He
cast a glance of horror at the tent, bent over her, made the sign of
the Cross, and vanished. In his place stood Father Roubier, his eyes
shining, his hand upraised, warning her against Androvsky. Then he, too,
vanished, and she seemed to see Count Anteoni dressed as an Arab and
muttering words of the Koran.

"Domini!"

"Domini, did you hear me? Domini! Domini!"

She felt his hands on her wrists.

"You are the Trappist!" she said quietly, "of whom the priest told me.
You are the monk from the Monastery of El-Largani who disappeared after
twenty years."

"Yes," he said, "I am he."

"What made you tell me? What made you tell me?"

There was agony now in her voice.

"You asked me to speak, but it was not that. Do you remember last night
when I said that God must bless you? You answered, 'He has blessed me.
He has given me you, your love, your truth.' It is that which makes me
speak. You have had my love, not my truth. Now take my truth. I've kept
it from you. Now I'll give it you. It's black, but I'll give it you.
Domini! Domini! Hate me to-night, but in your hatred believe that I
never loved you as I love you now."

"Give me your truth," she said.




BOOK V. THE REVELATION



CHAPTER XXVI

They remained standing at the tent door, with the growing moonlight
about them. The camp was hushed in sleep, but sounds of music still came
to them from the city below them, and fainter music from the tents of
the Ouled Nails on the sandhill to the south. After Domini had spoken
Androvsky moved a step towards her, looked at her, then moved back and
dropped his eyes. If he had gone on looking at her he knew he could not
have begun to speak.

"Domini," he said, "I'm not going to try and excuse myself for what
I have done. I'm not going to say to you what I daren't say to
God--'Forgive me.' How can such a thing be forgiven? That's part of the
torture I've been enduring, the knowledge of the unforgivable nature of
my act. It can never be wiped out. It's black on my judgment book for
ever. But I wonder if you can understand--oh, I want you to understand,
Domini, what has made the thing I am, a renegade, a breaker of oaths,
a liar to God and you. It was the passion of life that burst up in me
after years of tranquillity. It was the waking of my nature after years
of sleep. And you--you do understand the passion of life that's in some
of us like a monster that must rule, must have its way. Even you in your
purity and goodness--you have it, that desperate wish to live really and
fully, as we have lived, Domini, together. For we have lived out in the
desert. We lived that night at Arba when we sat and watched the fire
and I held your hand against the earth. We lived then. Even now, when I
think of that night, I can hardly be sorry for what I've done, for what
I am."

He looked up at her now and saw that her eyes were fixed on him. She
stood motionless, with her hands joined in front of her. Her attitude
was calm and her face was untortured. He could not read any thought of
hers, any feeling that was in her heart.

"You must understand," he said almost violently. "You must understand
or I--. My father, I told you, was a Russian. He was brought up in the
Greek Church, but became a Freethinker when he was still a young man.
My mother was an Englishwoman and an ardent Catholic. She and my father
were devoted to each other in spite of the difference in their views.
Perhaps the chief effect my father's lack of belief had upon my
mother was to make her own belief more steadfast, more ardent. I think
disbelief acts often as a fan to the faith of women, makes the flame
burn more brightly than it did before. My mother tried to believe
for herself and for my father too, and I could almost think that she
succeeded. He died long before she did, and he died without changing his
views. On his death-bed he told my mother that he was sure there was no
other life, that he was going to the dust. That made the agony of his
farewell. The certainty on his part that he and my mother were parting
for ever. I was a little boy at the time, but I remember that, when he
was dead, my mother said to me, 'Boris, pray for your father every day.
He is still alive.' She said nothing more, but I ran upstairs crying,
fell upon my knees and prayed--trying to think where my father was and
what he could be looking like. And in that prayer for my father, which
was also an act of obedience to my mother, I think I took the first step
towards the monastic life. For I remember that then, for the first time,
I was conscious of a great sense of responsibility. My mother's command
made me say to myself, 'Then perhaps my prayer can do something in
heaven. Perhaps a prayer from me can make God wish to do something He
had not wished to do before.' That was a tremendous thought! It excited
me terribly. I remember my cheeks burned as I prayed, and that I was hot
all over as if I had been running in the sun. From that day my mother
and I seemed to be much nearer together than we had ever been before. I
had a twin brother to whom I was devoted, and who was devoted to me.
But he took after my father. Religious things, ceremonies, church music,
processions--even the outside attractions of the Catholic Church, which
please and stimulate emotional people who have little faith--never meant
much to him. All his attention was firmly fixed upon the life of the
present. He was good to my mother and loved her devotedly, as he loved
me, but he never pretended to be what he was not. And he was never a
Catholic. He was never anything.

"My father had originally come to Africa for his health, which needed a
warm climate. He had some money and bought large tracts of land suitable
for vineyards. Indeed, he sunk nearly his whole fortune in land. I told
you, Domini, that the vines were devoured by the phylloxera. Most of
the money was lost. When my father died we were left very poor. We lived
quietly in a little village--I told you its name, I told you that part
of my life, all I dared tell, Domini--but now--why did I enter the
monastery? I was very young when I became a novice, just seventeen. You
are thinking, Domini, I know, that I was too young to know what I was
doing, that I had no vocation, that I was unfitted for the monastic
life. It seems so. The whole world would think so. And yet--how am I
to tell you? Even now I feel that then I had the vocation, that I was
fitted to enter the monastery, that I ought to have made a faithful
and devoted monk. My mother wished the life for me, but it was not only
that. I wished it for myself then. With my whole heart I wished it. I
knew nothing of the world. My youth had been one of absolute purity. And
I did not feel longings after the unknown. My mother's influence upon me
was strong; but she did not force me into anything. Perhaps my love
for her led me more than I knew, brought me to the monastery door. The
passion of her life, the human passion, had been my father. After he was
dead the passion of her life was prayer for him. My love for her made me
share that passion, and the sharing of that passion eventually led me
to become a monk. I became as a child, a devotee of prayer. Oh!
Domini--think--I loved prayer--I loved it----"

His voice broke. When he stopped speaking Domini was again conscious of
the music in the city. She remembered that earlier in the night she had
thought of it as the music of a great festival.

"I resolved to enter the life of prayer, the most perfect life of
prayer. I resolved to become a 'religious.' It seemed to me that by so
doing I should be proving in the finest way my love for my mother. I
should be, in the strongest way, helping her. Her life was prayer for my
dead father and love for her children. By devoting myself to the life of
prayer I should show to her that I was as she was, as she had made me,
true son of her womb. Can you understand? I had a passion for my mother,
Domini--I had a passion. My brother tried to dissuade me from the
monastic life. He himself was going into business in Tunis. He wanted me
to join him. But I was firm. I felt driven towards the cloister then as
other men often feel driven towards the vicious life. The inclination
was irresistible. I yielded to it. I had to bid good-bye to my mother.
I told you--she was the passion of my life. And yet I hardly felt sad at
parting from her. Perhaps that will show you how I was then. It seemed
to me that we should be even closer together when I wore the monk's
habit. I was in haste to put it on. I went to the monastery of
El-Largani and entered it as a novice of the Trappistine order. I
thought in the great silence of the Trappists there would be more room
for prayer. When I left my home and went to El-Largani I took with me
one treasure only. Domini, it was the little wooden crucifix you pinned
upon the tent at Arba. My mother gave it to me, and I was allowed to
keep it. Everything else in the way of earthly possessions I, of course,
had to give up.

"You have never seen El-Largani, my home for nineteen years, my prison
for one. It is lonely, but not in the least desolate. It stands on a
high upland, and, from a distance, looks upon the sea. Far off there are
mountains. The land was a desert. The monks have turned it, if not into
an Eden, at least into a rich garden. There are vineyards, cornfields,
orchards, almost every fruit-tree flourishes there. The springs of
sweet waters are abundant. At a short way from the monastery is a large
village for the Spanish workmen whom the monks supervise in the labours
of the fields. For the Trappist life is not only a life of prayer, but a
life of diligent labour. When I became a novice I had not realised that.
I had imagined myself continually upon my knees. I found instead that I
was perpetually in the fields, in sun, and wind, and rain--that was in
the winter time--working like the labourers, and that often when we
went into the long, plain chapel to pray I was so tired--being only a
boy--that my eyes closed as I stood in my stall, and I could scarcely
hear the words of Mass or Benediction. But I had expected to be happy at
El-Largani, and I was happy. Labour is good for the body and better for
the soul. And the silence was not hard to bear. The Trappists have a
book of gestures, and are often allowed to converse by signs. We novices
were generally in little bands, and often, as we walked in the garden of
the monastery, we talked together gaily with our hands. Then the silence
is not perpetual. In the fields we often had to give directions to the
labourers. In the school, where we studied Theology, Latin, Greek, there
was heard the voice of the teacher. It is true that I have seen men
in the monastery day by day for twenty years with whom I have never
exchanged a word, but I have had permission to speak with monks. The
head of the monastery, the Reverend Pere, has the power to loose the
bonds of silence when he chooses, and to allow monks to walk and speak
with each other beyond the white walls that hem in the garden of the
monastery. Now and then we spoke, but I think most of us were not
unhappy in our silence. It became a habit. And then we were always
occupied. We had no time allowed us for sitting and being sad. Domini,
I don't want to tell you about the Trappists, their life--only about
myself, why I was as I was, how I came to change. For years I was not
unhappy at El-Largani. When my time of novitiate was over I took the
eternal vows without hesitation. Many novices go out again into the
world. It never occurred to me to do so. I scarcely ever felt a stirring
of worldly desire. I scarcely ever had one of those agonising struggles
which many people probably attribute to monks. I was contented nearly
always. Now and then the flesh spoke, but not strongly. Remember, our
life was a life of hard and exhausting labour in the fields. The labour
kept the flesh in subjection, as the prayer lifted up the spirit. And
then, during all my earlier years at the monastery, we had an Abbe who
was quick to understand the characters and dispositions of men--Dom
Andre Herceline. He knew me far better than I knew myself. He knew,
what I did not suspect, that I was full of sleeping violence, that in my
purity and devotion--or beneath it rather--there was a strong strain of
barbarism. The Russian was sleeping in the monk, but sleeping soundly.
That can be. Half a man's nature, if all that would call to it is
carefully kept from it, may sleep, I believe, through all his life. He
might die and never have known, or been, what all the time he was.
For years it was so with me. I knew only part of myself, a real vivid
part--but only a part. I thought it was the whole. And while I thought
it was the whole I was happy. If Dom Andre Herceline had not died, today
I should be a monk at El-Largani, ignorant of what I know, contented.

"He never allowed me to come into any sort of contact with the many
strangers who visited the monastery. Different monks have different
duties. Certain duties bring monks into connection with the travellers
whom curiosity sends to El-Largani. The monk whose business it is to
look after the cemetery on the hill, where the dead Trappists are laid
to rest, shows visitors round the little chapel, and may talk with them
freely so long as they remain in the cemetery. The monk in charge of the
distillery also receives visitors and converses with them. So does the
monk in charge of the parlour at the great door of the monastery. He
sells the souvenirs of the Trappists, photographs of the church and
buildings, statues of saints, bottles of perfumes made by the monks.
He takes the orders for the wines made at the monastery, and for--for
the--what I made, Domini, when I was there."

She thought of De Trevignac and the fragments of glass lying upon the
ground in the tent at Mogar.

"Had De Trevignac----" she said in a low, inward voice.

"He had seen me, spoken with me at the monastery. When Ouardi brought in
the liqueur he remembered who I was."

She understood De Trevignac's glance towards the tent where Androvsky
lay sleeping, and a slight shiver ran through her. Androvsky saw it and
looked down.

"But the--the--"

He cleared his throat, turned, looked out across the white sand as if
he longed to travel away into it and be lost for ever, then went on,
speaking quickly:

"But the monk who has most to do with travellers is the monk who is
in charge of the _hotellerie_ of the monastery. He is the host to all
visitors, to those who come over for the day and have _dejeuner_, and
to any who remain for the night, or for a longer time. For when I was at
El-Largani it was permitted for people to stay in the _hotellerie_, on
payment of a small weekly sum, for as long as they pleased. The monk of
the _hotellerie_ is perpetually brought into contact with the outside
world. He talks with all sorts and conditions of men--women, of course,
are not admitted. The other monks, many of them, probably envy him. I
never did. I had no wish to see strangers. When, by chance, I met them
in the yard, the outbuildings, or the grounds of the monastery, I seldom
even raised my eyes to look at them. They were not, would never be, in
my life. Why should I look at them? What were they to me? Years went
on--quickly they passed--not slowly. I did not feel their monotony. I
never shrank from anything in the life. My health was splendid. I never
knew what it was to be ill for a day. My muscles were hard as iron.
The pallet on which I lay in my cubicle, the heavy robe I wore day and
night, the scanty vegetables I ate, the bell that called me from my
sleep in the darkness to go to the chapel, the fastings, the watchings,
the perpetual sameness of all I saw, all I did, neither saddened nor
fatigued me. I never sighed for change. Can you believe that, Domini?
It is true. So long as Dom Andre Herceline lived and ruled my life I was
calm, happy, as few people in the world, or none, can ever be. But Dom
Andre died, and then--"

His face was contorted by a spasm.

"My mother was dead. My brother lived on in Tunis, and was successful in
business. He remained unmarried. So far as I was concerned, although the
monastery was but two hours' drive from the town, he might almost have
been dead too. I scarcely ever saw him, and then only by a special
permission from the Reverend Pere, and for a few moments. Once I visited
him at Tunis, when he was ill. When my mother died I seemed to sink down
a little deeper into the monastic life. That was all. It was as if I
drew my robe more closely round me and pulled my hood further forward
over my face. There was more reason for my prayers, and I prayed more
passionately. I lived in prayer like a sea-plant in the depths of the
ocean. Prayer was about me like a fluid. But Dom Andre Herceline
died, and a new Abbe was appointed, he who, I suppose, rules now at
El-Largani. He was a good man, but, I think, apt to misunderstand men.
The Abbe of a Trappist monastery has complete power over his community.
He can order what he will. Soon after he came to El-Largani--for some
reason that I cannot divine--he--removed the Pere Michel, who had been
for years in charge of the cemetery, from his duties there, and informed
me that I was to undertake them. I obeyed, of course, without a word.

"The cemetery of El-Largani is on a low hill, the highest part of the
monastery grounds. It is surrounded by a white wall and by a hedge of
cypress trees. The road to it is an avenue of cypresses, among which are
interspersed niches containing carvings of the Fourteen Stations of
the Cross. At the entrance to this avenue, on the left, there is a high
yellow pedestal, surmounted by a black cross, on which hangs a silver
Christ. Underneath is written:

"FACTUS OBEDIENS

"USQUE

"AD MORTEM

"CRUCIS.

"I remember, on the first day when I became the guardian of the
cemetery, stopping on my way to it before the Christ and praying. My
prayer--my prayer was, Domini, that I might die, as I had lived, in
innocence. I prayed for that, but with a sort of--yes, now I think
so--insolent certainty that my prayer would of course be granted. Then I
went on to the cemetery.

"My work there was easy. I had only to tend the land about the graves,
and sweep out the little chapel where was buried the founder of La
Trappe of El-Largani. This done I could wander about the cemetery, or
sit on a bench in the sun. The Pere Michel, who was my predecessor, had
some doves, and had left them behind in a little house by my bench. I
took care of and fed them. They were tame, and used to flutter to my
shoulders and perch on my hands. To birds and animals I was always a
friend. At El-Largani there are all sorts of beasts, and, at one time
or another, it had been my duty to look after most of them. I loved all
living things. Sitting in the cemetery I could see a great stretch of
country, the blue of the lakes of Tunis with the white villages at their
edge, the boats gliding upon them towards the white city, the
distant mountains. Having little to do, I sat day after day for
hours meditating, and looking out upon this distant world. I remember
specially one evening, at sunset, just before I had to go to the chapel,
that a sort of awe came upon me as I looked across the lakes. The sky
was golden, the waters were dyed with gold, out of which rose the white
sails of boats. The mountains were shadowy purple. The little minarets
of the mosques rose into the gold like sticks of ivory. As I watched my
eyes filled with tears, and I felt a sort of aching in my heart, and as
if--Domini, it was as if at that moment a hand was laid, on mine, but
very gently, and pulled at my hand. It was as if at that moment someone
was beside me in the cemetery wishing to lead me out to those far-off
waters, those mosque towers, those purple mountains. Never before had I
had such a sensation. It frightened me. I felt as if the devil had come
into the cemetery, as if his hand was laid on mine, as if his voice were
whispering in my ear, 'Come out with me into that world, that beautiful
world, which God made for men. Why do you reject it?'

"That evening, Domini, was the beginning of this--this end. Day after
day I sat in the cemetery and looked out over the world, and wondered
what it was like: what were the lives of the men who sailed in the
white-winged boats, who crowded on the steamers whose smoke I could see
sometimes faintly trailing away into the track of the sun; who kept the
sheep upon the mountains; who--who--Domini, can you imagine--no, you
cannot--what, in a man of my age, of my blood, were these first, very
first, stirrings of the longing for life? Sometimes I think they were
like the first birth-pangs of a woman who is going to be a mother."

Domini's hands moved apart, then joined themselves again.

"There was something physical in them. I felt as if my limbs had minds,
and that their minds, which had been asleep, were waking. My arms
twitched with a desire to stretch themselves towards the distant blue
of the lakes on which I should never sail. My--I was physically stirred.
And again and again I felt that hand laid closely upon mine, as if to
draw me away into something I had never known, could never know. Do not
think that I did not strive against these first stirrings of the nature
that had slept so long! For days I refused to let myself look out from
the cemetery. I kept my eyes upon the ground, upon the plain crosses
that marked the graves. I played with the red-eyed doves. I worked.
But my eyes at last rebelled. I said to myself, 'It is not forbidden to
look.' And again the sails, the seas, the towers, the mountains, were as
voices whispering to me, 'Why will you never know us, draw near to us?
Why will you never understand our meaning? Why will you be ignorant for
ever of all that has been created for man to know?' Then the pain within
me became almost unbearable. At night I could not sleep. In the chapel
it was difficult to pray. I looked at the monks around me, to most of
whom I had never addressed a word, and I thought, 'Do they, too, hold
such longings within them? Are they, too, shaken with a desire of
knowledge?' It seemed to me that, instead of a place of peace, the
monastery was, must be, a place of tumult, of the silent tumult that has
its home in the souls of men. But then I remembered for how long I had
been at peace. Perhaps all the silent men by whom I was surrounded were
still at peace, as I had been, as I might be again.

"A young monk died in the monastery and was buried in the cemetery. I
made his grave against the outer wall, beneath a cypress tree. Some days
afterwards, when I was sitting on the bench by the house of the doves,
I heard a sound, which came from beyond the wall. It was like sobbing.
I listened, and heard it more distinctly, and knew that it was someone
crying and sobbing desperately, and near at hand. But now it seemed
to me to come from the wall itself. I got up and listened. Someone was
crying bitterly behind, or above, the wall, just where the young
monk had been buried. Who could it be? I stood listening, wondering,
hesitating what to do. There was something in this sound of lamentation
that moved one to the depths. For years I had not looked on a woman, or
heard a woman's voice--but I knew that this was a woman mourning.
Why was she there? What could she want? I glanced up. All round the
cemetery, as I have said, grew cypress trees. As I glanced up I saw one
shake just above where the new grave was, and a woman's voice said, 'I
cannot see it, I cannot see it!'

"I do not know why, but I felt that someone was there who wished to see
the young monk's grave. For a moment I stood there. Then I went to
the house where I kept my tools for my work in the cemetery, and got
a shears which I used for lopping the cypress trees. I took a ladder
quickly, set it against the wall, mounted it, and from the cypress I
had seen moving I lopped some of the boughs. The sobbing ceased. As
the boughs fell down from the tree I saw a woman's face, tear-stained,
staring at me. It seemed to me a lovely face.

"'Which is his grave?' she said. I pointed to the grave of the young
monk, which could now be seen through the gap I had made, descended the
ladder, and went away to the farthest corner of the cemetery. And I did
not look again in the direction of the woman's face.

"Who she was I do not know. When she went away I did not see. She loved
the monk who had died, and knowing that women cannot enter the precincts
of the monastery, she had come to the outside wall to cast, if she
might, a despairing glance at his grave.

"Domini, I wonder--I wonder if you can understand how that incident
affected me. To an ordinary man it would seem nothing, I suppose. But
to a Trappist monk it seemed tremendous. I had seen a woman. I had done
something for a woman. I thought of her, of what I had done for her,
perpetually. The gap in the cypress tree reminded me of her every time
I looked towards it. When I was in the cemetery I could hardly turn
my eyes from it. But the woman never came again. I said nothing to the
Reverend Pere of what I had done. I ought to have spoken, but I did not.
I kept it back when I confessed. From that moment I had a secret, and it
was a secret connected with a woman.

"Does it seem strange to you that this secret seemed to me to set me
apart from all the other monks--nearer the world? It was so. I felt
sometimes as if I had been out into the world for a moment, had known
the meaning that women have for men. I wondered who the woman was. I
wondered how she had loved the young monk who was dead. He used to sit
beside me in the chapel. He had a pure and beautiful face, such a face,
I supposed, as a woman might well love. Had this woman loved him, and
had he rejected her love for the life of the monastery? I remember one
day thinking of this and wondering how it had been possible for him to
do so, and then suddenly realising the meaning of my thought and turning
hot with shame. I had put the love of woman above the love of God,
woman's service above God's service. That day I was terrified of myself.
I went back to the monastery from the cemetery, quickly, asked to see
the Reverend Pere, and begged him to remove me from the cemetery, to
give me some other work. He did not ask my reason for wishing to change,
but three days afterwards he sent for me, and told me that I was to
be placed in charge of the _hotellerie_ of the monastery, and that my
duties there were to begin upon the morrow.

"Domini, I wonder if I can make you realise what that change meant to
a man who had lived as I had for so many years. The _hotellerie_ of
El-Largani is a long, low, one-storied building standing in a garden
full of palms and geraniums. It contains a kitchen, a number of little
rooms like cells for visitors, and two large parlours in which guests
are entertained at meals. In one they sit to eat the fruit, eggs, and
vegetables provided by the monastery, with wine. If after the meal they
wish to take coffee they pass into the second parlour. Visitors who
stay in the monastery are free to do much as they please, but they must
conform to certain rules. They rise at a certain hour, feed at fixed
times, and are obliged to go to their bedrooms at half-past seven in
the evening in winter, and at eight in summer. The monk in charge of the
_hotellerie_ has to see to their comfort. He looks after the kitchen, is
always in the parlour at some moment or another during meals. He visits
the bedrooms and takes care that the one servant keeps everything
spotlessly clean. He shows people round the garden. His duties, you see,
are light and social. He cannot go into the world, but he can mix with
the world that comes to him. It is his task, if not his pleasure, to be
cheerful, talkative, sympathetic, a good host, with a genial welcome for
all who come to La Trappe. After my years of labour, solitude, silence,
and prayer, I was abruptly put into this new life.

"Domini, to me it was like rushing out into the world. I was almost
dazed by the change. At first I was nervous, timid, awkward, and,
especially, tongue-tied. The habit of silence had taken such a hold upon
me that I could not throw it off. I dreaded the coming of visitors. I
did not know how to receive them, what to say to them. Fortunately, as
I thought, the tourist season was over, the summer was approaching. Very
few people came, and those only to eat a meal. I tried to be polite and
pleasant to them, and gradually I began to fall into the way of talking
without the difficulty I had experienced at first. In the beginning I
could not open my lips without feeling as if I were almost committing a
crime. But presently I was more natural, less taciturn. I even, now and
then, took some pleasure in speaking to a pleasant visitor. I grew
to love the garden with its flowers, its orange trees, its groves of
eucalyptus, its vineyard which sloped towards the cemetery. Often I
wandered in it alone, or sat under the arcade that divided it from the
large entrance court of the monastery, meditating, listening to the bees
humming, and watching the cats basking in the sunshine.

"Sometimes, when I was there, I thought of the woman's face above the
cemetery wall. Sometimes I seemed to feel the hand tugging at mine. But
I was more at peace than I had been in the cemetery. For from the garden
I could not see the distant world, and of the chance visitors none had
as yet set a match to the torch that, unknown to me, was ready--at the
coming of the smallest spark--to burst into a flame.

"One day, it was in the morning towards half-past ten, when I was
sitting reading my Greek Testament on a bench just inside the doorway of
the _hotellerie_, I heard the great door of the monastery being opened,
and then the rolling of carriage wheels in the courtyard. Some visitor
had arrived from Tunis, perhaps some visitors--three or four. It was
a radiant morning of late May. The garden was brilliant with flowers,
golden with sunshine, tender with shade, and quiet--quiet and peaceful,
Domini! There was a wonderful peace in the garden that day, a peace that
seemed full of safety, of enduring cheerfulness. The flowers looked as
if they had hearts to understand it, and love it, the roses along the
yellow wall of the house that clambered to the brown red tiles, the
geraniums that grew in masses under the shining leaves of the orange
trees, the--I felt as if that day I were in the Garden of Eden, and I
remember that when I heard the carriage wheels I had a moment of selfish
sadness. I thought: 'Why does anyone come to disturb my blessed peace,
my blessed solitude?' Then I realised the egoism of my thought and that
I was there with my duty. I got up, went into the kitchen and said to
Francois, the servant, that someone had come and no doubt would stay to
_dejeuner_. And, as I spoke, already I was thinking of the moment when
I should hear the roll of wheels once more, the clang of the shutting
gate, and know that the intruders upon the peace of the Trappists had
gone back to the world, and that I could once more be alone in the
little Eden I loved.

"Strangely, Domini, strangely, that day, of all the days of my life, I
was most in love--it was like that, like being in love--with my
monk's existence. The terrible feeling that had begun to ravage me had
completely died away. I adored the peace in which my days were passed.
I looked at the flowers and compared my happiness with theirs. They
blossomed, bloomed, faded, died in the garden. So would I wish to
blossom, bloom, fade--when my time came--die in the garden--always
in peace, always in safety, always isolated from the terrors of life,
always under the tender watchful eye of--of--Domini, that day I was
happy, as perhaps they are--perhaps--the saints in Paradise. I was happy
because I felt no inclination to evil. I felt as if my joy lay entirely
in being innocent. Oh, what an ecstasy such a feeling is! 'My will
accord with Thy design--I love to live as Thou intendest me to live! Any
other way of life would be to me a terror, would bring to me despair.'

"And I felt that--intensely I felt it at that moment in heart and
soul. It was as if I had God's arms round me, caressing me as a father
caresses his child."

He moved away a step or two in the sand, came back, and went on with an
effort:

"Within a few minutes the porter of the monastery came through the
archway of the arcade followed by a young man. As I looked up at him
I was uncertain of his nationality. But I scarcely thought about
it--except in the first moment. For something else seized my
attention--the intense, active misery in the stranger's face. He looked
ravaged, eaten by grief. I said he was young--perhaps twenty-six or
twenty-seven. His face was rather dark-complexioned, with small, good
features. He had thick brown hair, and his eyes shone with intelligence,
with an intelligence that was almost painful--somehow. His eyes always
looked to me as if they were seeing too much, had always seen too much.
There was a restlessness in the swiftness of their observation. One
could not conceive of them closed in sleep. An activity that must surely
be eternal blazed in them.

"The porter left the stranger in the archway. It was now my duty to
attend to him. I welcomed him in French. He took off his hat. When
he did that I felt sure he was an Englishman--by the look of him
bareheaded--and I told him that I spoke English as well as French. He
answered that he was at home in French, but that he was English. We
talked English. His entrance into the garden had entirely destroyed
my sense of its peace--even my own peace was disturbed at once by his
appearance.

"I felt that I was in the presence of a misery that was like a devouring
element. Before we had time for more than a very few halting words the
bell was rung by Francois.

"'What's that for, Father?' the stranger said, with a start, which
showed that his nerves were shattered.

"'It is time for your meal,' I answered.

"'One must eat!' he said. Then, as if conscious that he was behaving
oddly, he added politely:

"'I know you entertain us too well here, and have sometimes been
rewarded with coarse ingratitude. Where do I go?'

"I showed him into the parlour. There was no one there that day. He sat
at the long table.

"'I am to eat alone?' he asked.

"'Yes; I will serve you.'

"Francois, always waited on the guests, but that day--mindful of the
selfishness of my thoughts in the garden--I resolved to add to my
duties. I therefore brought the soup, the lentils, the omelette, the
oranges, poured out the wine, and urged the young man cordially to
eat. When I did so he looked up at me. His eyes were extraordinarily
expressive. It was as if I heard them say to me, 'Why, I like you!' and
as if, just for a moment, his grief were lessened.

"In the empty parlour, long, clean, bare, with a crucifix on the wall
and the name 'Saint Bernard' above the door, it was very quiet, very
shady. The outer blinds of green wood were drawn over the window-spaces,
shutting out the gold of the garden. But its murmuring tranquillity
seemed to filter in, as if the flowers, the insects, the birds were
aware of our presence and were trying to say to us, 'Are you happy as we
are? Be happy as we are.'

"The stranger looked at the shady room, the open windows. He sighed.

"'How quiet it is here!' he said, almost as if to himself. 'How quiet it
is!'

"'Yes,' I answered. 'Summer is beginning. For months now scarcely anyone
will come to us here.'

"'Us?' he said, glancing at me with a sudden smile.

"'I meant to us who are monks, who live always here.'

"'May I--is it indiscreet to ask if you have been here long?'

"I told him.

"'More than nineteen years!' he said.

"'Yes.'

"'And always in this silence?'

"He sat as if listening, resting his head on his hand.

"'How extraordinary!' he said at last. 'How wonderful! Is it happiness?'

"I did not answer. The question seemed to me to be addressed to himself,
not to me. I could leave him to seek for the answer. After a moment he
went on eating and drinking in silence. When he had finished I asked him
whether he would take coffee. He said he would, and I made him pass
into the St. Joseph _salle_. There I brought him coffee and--and
that liqueur. I told him that it was my invention. He seemed to be
interested. At any rate, he took a glass and praised it strongly. I
was pleased. I think I showed it. From that moment I felt as if we were
almost friends. Never before had I experienced such a feeling for
anyone who had come to the monastery, or for any monk or novice in the
monastery. Although I had been vexed, irritated, at the approach of a
stranger I now felt regret at the idea of his going away. Presently
the time came to show him round the garden. We went out of the shadowy
parlour into the sunshine. No one was in the garden. Only the bees were
humming, the birds were passing, the cats were basking on the broad path
that stretched from the arcade along the front of the _hotellerie_.
As we came out a bell chimed, breaking for an instant the silence, and
making it seem the sweeter when it returned. We strolled for a little
while. We did not talk much. The stranger's eyes, I noticed, were
everywhere, taking in every detail of the scene around us. Presently we
came to the vineyard, to the left of which was the road that led to the
cemetery, passed up the road and arrived at the cemetery gate.

"'Here I must leave you,' I said.

"'Why?' he asked quickly.

"'There is another Father who will show you the chapel. I shall wait for
you here.'

"I sat down and waited. When the stranger returned it seemed to me that
his face was calmer, that there was a quieter expression in his eyes.
When we were once more before the _hotellerie_ I said:

"'You have seen all my small domain now.'

"He glanced at the house.

"'But there seems to be a number of rooms,' he said.

"'Only the bedrooms.'

"'Bedrooms? Do people stay the night here?'

"'Sometimes. If they please they can stay for longer than a night.'

"'How much longer?'

"'For any time they please, if they conform to one or two simple rules
and pay a small fixed sum to the monastery.'

"'Do you mean that you could take anyone in for the summer?' he said
abruptly.

"'Why not? The consent of the Reverend Pere has to be obtained. That is
all.'

"'I should like to see the bedrooms.'

"I took him in and showed him one.

"'All the others are the same,' I said.

"He glanced round at the white walls, the rough bed, the crucifix above
it, the iron basin, the paved floor, then went to the window and looked
out.

"'Well,' he said, drawing back into the room, 'I will go now to see the
Pere Abbe, if it is permitted.'

"On the garden path I bade him good-bye. He shook my hand. There was an
odd smile in his face. Half-an-hour later I saw him coming again through
the arcade.

"'Father,' he said, 'I am not going away. I have asked the Pere Abbe's
permission to stay here. He has given it to me. To-morrow such luggage
as I need will be sent over from Tunis. Are you--are you very vexed to
have a stranger to trouble your peace?'

"His intensely observant eyes were fixed upon me while he spoke. I
answered:

"'I do not think you will trouble my peace.'

"And my thought was:

"'I will help you to find the peace which you have lost.'

"Was it a presumptuous thought, Domini? Was it insolent? At the time
it seemed to me absolutely sincere, one of the best thoughts I had ever
had--a thought put into my heart by God. I didn't know then--I didn't
know."

He stopped speaking, and stood for a time quite still, looking down at
the sand, which was silver white under the moon. At last he lifted his
head and said, speaking slowly:

"It was the coming of this man that put the spark to that torch. It was
he who woke up in me the half of myself which, unsuspected by me, had
been slumbering through all my life, slumbering and gathering strength
in slumber--as the body does--gathering a strength that was tremendous,
that was to overmaster the whole of me, that was to make of me one mad
impulse. He woke up in me the body and the body was to take possession
of the soul. I wonder--can I make you feel why this man was able to
affect me thus? Can I make you know this man?

"He was a man full of secret violence, violence of the mind and violence
of the body, a volcanic man. He was English--he said so--but there must
have been blood that was not English in his veins. When I was with him
I felt as if I was with fire. There was the restlessness of fire in him.
There was the intensity of fire. He could be reserved. He could appear
to be cold. But always I was conscious that if there was stone without
there was scorching heat within. He was watchful of himself and of
everyone with whom he came into the slightest contact. He was very
clever. He had an immense amount of personal charm, I think, at any
rate for me. He was very human, passionately interested in humanity.
He was--and this was specially part of him, a dominant trait--he was
savagely, yes, savagely, eager to be happy, and when he came to live in
the _hotellerie_ he was savagely unhappy. An egoist he was, a thinker,
a man who longed to lay hold of something beyond this world, but who
had not been able to do so. Even his desire to find rest in a religion
seemed to me to have greed in it, to have something in it that was
akin to avarice. He was a human storm, Domini, as well as a human fire.
Think! what a man to be cast by the world--which he knew as they know it
only who are voracious for life and free--into my quiet existence.

"Very soon he began to show himself to me as he was, with a sort of
fearlessness that was almost impudent. The conditions of our two lives
in the monastery threw us perpetually together in a curious isolation.
And the Reverend Pere, Domini, the Reverend Pere, set my feet in the
path of my own destruction. On the day after the stranger had arrived
the Reverend Pere sent for me to his private room, and said to me,
'Our new guest is in a very unhappy state. He has been attracted by our
peace. If we can bring peace to him it will be an action acceptable
to God. You will be much with him. Try to do him good. He is not a
Catholic, but no matter. He wishes to attend the services in the chapel.
He may be influenced. God may have guided his feet to us, we cannot
tell. But we can act--we can pray for him. I do not know how long he
will stay. It may be for only a few days or for the whole summer. It
does not matter. Use each day well for him. Each day may be his last
with us.' I went out from the Reverend Pere full of enthusiasm, feeling
that a great, a splendid interest had come into my life, an interest
such as it had never held before.

"Day by day I was with this man. Of course there were many hours when
we were apart, the hours when I was at prayer in the chapel or occupied
with study. But each day we passed much time together, generally in the
garden. Scarcely any visitors came, and none to stay, except, from time
to time, a passing priest, and once two young men from Tunis, one of
whom had an inclination to become a novice. And this man, as I have
said, began to show himself to me with a tremendous frankness.

"Domini, he was suffering under what I suppose would be called an
obsession, an immense domination such as one human being sometimes
obtains over another. At that time I had never realised that there were
such dominations. Now I know that there are, and, Domini, that they can
be both terrible and splendid. He was dominated by a woman, by a woman
who had come into his life, seized it, made it a thing of glory, broken
it. He described to me the dominion of this woman. He told me how she
had transformed him. Till he met her he had been passionate but free,
his own master through many experiences, many intrigues. He was very
frank, Domini. He did not attempt to hide from me that his life had been
evil. It had been a life devoted to the acquiring of experience, of all
possible experience, mental and bodily. I gathered that he had shrunk
from nothing, avoided nothing. His nature had prompted him to rush upon
everything, to grasp at everything. At first I was horrified at what he
told me. I showed it. I remember the second evening after his arrival
we were sitting together in a little arbour at the foot of the vineyard
that sloped up to the cemetery. It was half an hour before the last
service in the chapel. The air was cool with breath from the distant
sea. An intense calm, a heavenly calm, I think, filled the garden,
floated away to the cypresses beside the graves, along the avenue where
stood the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. And he told me, began to tell
me something of his life.

"'You thought to find happiness in such an existence?' I exclaimed,
almost with incredulity I believe.

"He looked at me with his shining eyes.

"'Why not, Father? Do you think I was a madman to do so?'

"'Surely.'

"'Why? Is there not happiness in knowledge?'

"'Knowledge of evil?'

"'Knowledge of all things that exist in life. I have never sought
for evil specially; I have sought for everything. I wished to bring
everything under my observation, everything connected with human life.'

"'But human life,' I said more quietly, 'passes away from this world. It
is a shadow in a world of shadows.'

"'You say that,' he answered abruptly. 'I wonder if you feel it--feel it
as you feel my hand on yours.'

"He laid his hand on mine. It was hot and dry as if with fever. Its
touch affected me painfully.

"'Is that hand the hand of a shadow?' he said. 'Is this body that
can enjoy and suffer, that can be in heaven or in hell--here--here--a
shadow?'

"'Within a week it might be less than a shadow.'

"'And what of that? This is now, this is now. Do you mean what you say?
Do you truly feel that you are a shadow--that this garden is but a world
of shadows? I feel that I, that you, are terrific realities, that this
garden is of immense significance. Look at that sky.'

"The sky above the cypresses was red with sunset. The trees looked black
beneath it. Fireflies were flitting near the arbour where we sat.

"'That is the sky that roofs what you would have me believe a world of
shadows. It is like the blood, the hot blood that flows and surges in
the veins of men--in our veins. Ah, but you are a monk!'

"The way he said the last words made me feel suddenly a sense of shame,
Domini. It was as if a man said to another man, 'You are not a man.' Can
you--can you understand the feeling I had just then? Something hot and
bitter was in me. A sort of desperate sense of nothingness came over me,
as if I were a skeleton sitting there with flesh and blood and trying to
believe, and to make it believe, that I, too, was and had been flesh and
blood.

"'Yes, thank God, I am a monk,' I answered quietly.

"Something in my tone, I think, made him feel that he had been brutal.

"'I am a brute and a fool,' he said vehemently. 'But it is always so
with me. I always feel as if what I want others must want. I always feel
universal. It's folly. You have your vocation, I mine. Yours is to pray,
mine is to live.'

"Again I was conscious of the bitterness. I tried to put it from me.

"'Prayer is life,' I answered, 'to me, to us who are here.'

"'Prayer! Can it be? Can it be vivid as the life of experience, as
the life that teaches one the truth of men and women, the truth of
creation--joy, sorrow, aspiration, lust, ambition of the intellect and
the limbs? Prayer--'

"'It is time for me to go,' I said. 'Are you coming to the chapel?'

"'Yes,' he answered almost eagerly. 'I shall look down on you from my
lonely gallery. Perhaps I shall be able to feel the life of prayer.'

"'May it be so,' I said.

"But I think I spoke without confidence, and I know that that evening I
prayed without impulse, coldly, mechanically. The long, dim chapel, with
its lines of monks facing each other in their stalls, seemed to me a
sad place, like a valley of dry bones--for the first time, for the first
time.

"I ought to have gone on the morrow to the Reverend Pere. I ought to
have asked him, begged him to remove me from the _hotellerie_. I ought
to have foreseen what was coming--that this man had a strength to live
greater than my strength to pray; that his strength might overcome mine.
I began to sin that night. Curiosity was alive in me, curiosity about
the life that I had never known, was--so I believed, so I thought I
knew--never to know.

"When I came out of the chapel into the _hotellerie_ I met our guest--I
do not say his name. What would be the use?--in the corridor. It was
almost dark. There were ten minutes before the time for locking up
the door and going to bed. Francois, the servant, was asleep under the
arcade.

"'Shall we go on to the path and have a last breath of air?' the
stranger said.

"We stepped out and walked slowly up and down.

"'Do you not feel the beauty of peace?' I asked.

"I wanted him to say yes. I wanted him to tell me that peace,
tranquillity, were beautiful. He did not reply for a moment. I heard him
sigh heavily.

"'If there is peace in the world at all,' he said at length, 'it is only
to be found with the human being one loves. With the human being one
loves one might find peace in hell.'

"We did not speak again before we parted for the night.

"Domini, I did not sleep at all that night. It was the first of many
sleepless nights, nights in which my thoughts travelled like winged
Furies--horrible, horrible nights. In them I strove to imagine all the
stranger knew by experience. It was like a ghastly, physical effort. I
strove to conceive of all that he had done--with the view, I told myself
at first, of bringing myself to a greater contentment, of realising how
worthless was all that I had rejected and that he had grasped at. In
the dark I, as it were, spread out his map of life and mine and
examined them. When, still in the dark, I rose to go to the chapel I was
exhausted. I felt unutterably melancholy. That was at first. Presently
I felt an active, gnawing hunger. But--but--I have not come to that yet.
This strange, new melancholy was the forerunner. It was a melancholy
that seemed to be caused by a sense of frightful loneliness such as I
had never previously experienced. Till now I had almost always felt God
with me, and that He was enough. Now, suddenly, I began to feel that I
was alone. I kept thinking of the stranger's words: 'If there is peace
in the world at all it is only to be found with the human being one
loves.'

"'That is false,' I said to myself again and again. 'Peace is only to be
found by close union with God. In that I have found peace for many, many
years.'

"I knew that I had been at peace. I knew that I had been happy. And yet,
when I looked back upon my life as a novice and a monk, I now felt as if
I had been happy vaguely, foolishly, bloodlessly, happy only because
I had been ignorant of what real happiness was--not really happy. I
thought of a bird born in a cage and singing there. I had been as that
bird. And then, when I was in the garden, I looked at the swallows
winging their way high in the sunshine, between the garden trees and the
radiant blue, winging their way towards sea and mountains and plains,
and that bitterness, like an acid that burns and eats away fine metal,
was once more at my heart.

"But the sensation of loneliness was the most terrible of all. I
compared union with God, such as I thought I had known, with that other
union spoken of by my guest--union with the human being one loves. I set
the two unions as it were in comparison. Night after night I did this.
Night after night I told over the joys of union with God--joys which
I dared to think I had known--and the joys of union with a loved human
being. On the one side I thought of the drawing near to God in prayer,
of the sensation of approach that comes with earnest prayer, of the
feeling that ears are listening to you, that the great heart is loving
you, the great heart that loves all living things, that you are being
absolutely understood, that all you cannot say is comprehended, and
all you say is received as something precious. I recalled the joy, the
exaltation, that I had known when I prayed. That was union with God.
In such union I had sometimes felt that the world, with all that it
contained of wickedness, suffering and death, was utterly devoid of
power to sadden or alarm the humblest human being who was able to draw
near to God.

"I had had a conquering feeling--not proud--as of one upborne, protected
for ever, lifted to a region in which no enemy could ever be, no
sadness, no faint anxiety even.

"Then I strove to imagine--and this, Domini, was surely a deliberate
sin--exactly what it must be to be united with a beloved human being. I
strove and I was able. For not only did instinct help me, instinct
that had been long asleep, but--I have told you that the stranger was
suffering under an obsession, a terrible dominion. This dominion he
described to me with an openness that perhaps--that indeed I believe--he
would not have shown had I not been a monk. He looked upon me as a being
apart, neither man nor woman, a being without sex. I am sure he did.
And yet he was immensely intelligent. But he knew that I had entered the
monastery as a novice, that I had been there through all my adult life.
And then my manner probably assisted him in his illusion. For I gave--I
believe--no sign of the change that was taking place within me under his
influence. I seemed to be calm, detached, even in my sympathy for
his suffering. For he suffered frightfully. This woman he loved was a
Parisian, he told me. He described her beauty to me, as if in order to
excuse himself for having become the slave to her he was. I suppose she
was very beautiful. He said that she had a physical charm so intense
that few men could resist it, that she was famous throughout Europe for
it. He told me that she was not a good woman. I gathered that she lived
for pleasure, admiration, that she had allowed many men to love her
before he knew her. But she had loved him genuinely. She was not a very
young woman, and she was not a married woman. He said that she was a
woman men loved but did not marry, a woman who was loved by the husbands
of married women, a woman to marry whom would exclude a man from the
society of good women. She had never lived, or thought of living, for
one man till he came into her life. Nor had he ever dreamed of living
for one woman. He had lived to gain experience; she too. But when he met
her--knowing thoroughly all she was--all other women ceased to exist for
him. He became her slave. Then jealousy awoke in him, jealousy of all
the men who had been in her life, who might be in her life again. He was
tortured by loving such a woman--a woman who had belonged to many, who
would no doubt in the future belong to others. For despite the fact that
she loved him he told me that at first he had no illusions about her. He
knew the world too well for that, and he cursed the fate that had bound
him body and soul to what he called a courtesan. Even the fact that she
loved him at first did not blind him to the effect upon character that
her life must inevitably have had. She had dwelt in an atmosphere of
lies, he said, and to lie was nothing to her. Any original refinement
of feeling as regards human relations that she might have had had become
dulled, if it had not been destroyed. At first he blindly, miserably,
resigned himself to this. He said to himself, 'Fate has led me to love
this sort of woman. I must accept her as she is, with all her defects,
with her instinct for treachery, with her passion for the admiration
of the world, with her incapability for being true to an ideal, or for
isolating herself in the adoration of one man. I cannot get away from
her. She has me fast. I cannot live without her. Then I must bear the
torture that jealousy of her will certainly bring me in silence. I must
conceal it. I must try to kill it. I must make the best of whatever
she will give me, knowing that she can never, with her nature and her
training, be exclusively mine as a good woman might be.' This he said to
himself. This plan of conduct he traced for himself. But he soon
found that he was not strong enough to keep to it. His jealousy was a
devouring fire, and he could not conceal it. Domini, he described to me
minutely the effect of jealousy in a human heart. I had never imagined
what it was, and, when he described it, I felt as if I looked down into
a bottomless pit lined with the flames of hell. By the depth of that pit
I measured the depth of his passion for this woman, and I gained an idea
of what human love--not the best sort of human love, but still genuine,
intense love of some kind--could be. Of this human love I thought at
night, putting it in comparison with the love God's creature can have
for God. And my sense of loneliness increased, and I felt as if I had
always been lonely. Does this seem strange to you? In the love of God
was calm, peace, rest, a lying down of the soul in the Almighty arms. In
the other love described to me was restlessness, agitation, torture, the
soul spinning like an atom driven by winds, the heart devoured as by a
disease, a cancer. On the one hand was a beautiful trust, on the other
a ceaseless agony of doubt and terror. And yet I came to feel as if the
one were unreal in comparison with the other, as if in the one were a
loneliness, in the other fierce companionship. I thought of the Almighty
arms, Domini, and of the arms of a woman, and--Domini, I longed to have
known, if only once, the pressure of a woman's arms about my neck, about
my breast, the touch of a woman's hand upon my heart.

"And of all this I never spoke at confession. I committed the deadly sin
of keeping back at confession all that." He stopped. Then he said, "Till
the end my confessions were incomplete, were false.

"The stranger told me that as his love for this woman grew he found it
impossible to follow the plan he had traced for himself of shutting his
eyes to the sight of other eyes admiring, desiring her, of shutting his
ears to the voices that whispered, 'This it will always be, for others
as well as for you.' He found it impossible. His jealousy was too
importunate, and he resolved to make any effort to keep her for himself
alone. He knew she had love for him, but he knew that love would not
necessarily, or even probably, keep her entirely faithful to him. She
thought too little of passing intrigues. To her they seemed trifles,
meaningless, unimportant. She told him so, when he spoke his jealousy.
She said, 'I love you. I do not love these other men. They are in my
life for a moment only.'

"'And that moment plunges me into hell!' he said.

"He told her he could not bear it, that it was impossible, that she must
belong to him entirely and solely. He asked her to marry him. She was
surprised, touched. She understood what a sacrifice such a marriage
would be to a man in his position. He was a man of good birth. His
request, his vehement insistence on it, made her understand his love as
she had not understood it before. Yet she hesitated. For so long had
she been accustomed to a life of freedom, of changing _amours_, that she
hesitated to put her neck under the yoke of matrimony. She understood
thoroughly his character and his aim in marrying her. She knew that as
his wife she must bid an eternal farewell to the life she had known. And
it was a life that had become a habit to her, a life that she was fond
of. For she was enormously vain, and she was a--she was a very physical
woman, subject to physical caprices. There are things that I pass over,
Domini, which would explain still more her hesitation. He knew what
caused it, and again he was tortured. But he persisted. And at last he
overcame. She consented to marry him. They were engaged. Domini, I
need not tell you much more, only this fact--which had driven him from
France, destroyed his happiness, brought him to the monastery. Shortly
before the marriage was to take place he discovered that, while they
were engaged, she had yielded to the desires of an old admirer who had
come to bid her farewell and to wish her joy in her new life. He was
tempted, he said, to kill her. But he governed himself and left her.
He travelled. He came to Tunis. He came to La Trappe. He saw the peace
there. He thought, 'Can I seize it? Can it do something for me?' He saw
me. He thought, 'I shall not be quite alone. This monk--he has lived
always in peace, he has never known the torture of women. Might not
intercourse with him help me?'

"Such was his history, such was the history poured, with infinite detail
that I have not told you, day by day, into my ears. It was the history,
you see, of a passion that was mainly physical. I will not say entirely.
I do not know whether any great passion can be entirely physical. But it
was the history of the passion of one body for another body, and he
did not attempt to present it to me as anything else. This man made me
understand the meaning of the body. I had never understood it before.
I had never suspected the immensity of the meaning there is in physical
things. I had never comprehended the flesh. Now I comprehended it.
Loneliness rushed upon me, devoured me--loneliness of the body. 'God is
a spirit and those that worship him must worship him in spirit.' Now I
felt that to worship in spirit was not enough. I even felt that it was
scarcely anything. Again I thought of my life as the life of a skeleton
in a world of skeletons. Again the chapel was as a valley of dry bones.
It was a ghastly sensation. I was plunged in the void. I--I--I can't
tell you my exact sensation, but it was as if I was the loneliest
creature in the whole of the universe, and as if I need not have been
lonely, as if I, in my ignorance and fatuity, had selected loneliness
thinking it was the happiest fate.

"And yet you will say I was face to face with this man's almost frantic
misery. I was, and it made no difference. I envied him, even in his
present state. He wanted to gain consolation from me if that were
possible. Oh, the irony of my consoling him! In secret I laughed at it
bitterly. When I strove to console him I knew that I was an incarnate
lie. He had told me the meaning of the body and, by so doing, had
snatched from me the meaning of the spirit. And then he said to me,
'Make me feel the meaning of the spirit. If I can grasp that I may find
comfort.' He called upon me to give him what I no longer had--the peace
of God that passeth understanding. Domini, can you feel at all what that
was to me? Can you realise? Can you--is it any wonder that I could do
nothing for him, for him who had done such a frightful thing for me? Is
it any wonder? Soon he realised that he would not find peace with me in
the garden. Yet he stayed on. Why? He did not know where to go, what
to do. Life offered him nothing but horror. His love of experiences was
dead. His love of life had completely vanished. He saw the worldly life
as a nightmare, yet he had nothing to put in the place of it. And in the
monastery he was ceaselessly tormented by jealousy. Ceaselessly his mind
was at work about this woman, picturing her in her life of change, of
intrigue, of new lovers, of new hopes and aims in which he had no part,
in which his image was being blotted out, doubtless from her memory
even. He suffered, he suffered as few suffer. But I think I suffered
more. The melancholy was driven on into a gnawing hunger, the gnawing
hunger of the flesh wishing to have lived, wishing to live, wishing
to--to know.

"Domini, to you I can't say more of that--to you whom I--whom I love
with spirit and flesh. I will come to the end, to the incident which
made the body rise up, strike down the soul, trample out over it into
the world like a wolf that was starving.

"One day the Reverend Pere gave me a special permission to walk with our
visitor beyond the monastery walls towards the sea. Such permission was
an event in my life. It excited me more than you can imagine. I found
that the stranger had begged him to let me come.

"'Our guest is very fond of you,' the Reverend Pere said to me. 'I think
if any human being can bring him to a calmer, happier state of mind and
spirit, you can. You have obtained a good influence over him.'

"Domini, when the Reverend Pere spoke to me thus my mouth was suddenly
contracted in a smile. Devil's smile, I think. I put up my hand to
my face. I saw the Reverend Pere looking at me with a dawning of
astonishment in his kind, grave eyes, and I controlled myself at once.
But I said nothing. I could not say anything, and I went out from the
parlour quickly, hot with a sensation of shame.

"'You are coming?' the stranger said.

"'Yes,' I answered.

"It was a fiery day of late June. Africa was bathed in a glare of
light that hurt the eyes. I went into my cell and put on a pair of blue
glasses and my wide straw hat, the hat in which I formerly used to work
in the fields. When I came out my guest was standing on the garden path.
He was swinging a stick in one hand. The other hand, which hung down by
his side, was twitching nervously. In the glitter of the sun his face
looked ghastly. In his eyes there seemed to be terrors watching without
hope.

"'You are ready?' he said. 'Let us go.'

"We set off, walking quickly.

"'Movement--pace--sometimes that does a little good,' he said. 'If one
can exhaust the body the mind sometimes lies almost still for a moment.
If it would only lie still for ever.'

"I said nothing. I could say nothing. For my fever was surely as his
fever.

"'Where are we going?' he asked when we reached the little house of the
keeper of the gate by the cemetery.

"'We cannot walk in the sun,' I answered. 'Let us go into the eucalyptus
woods.'

"The first Trappists had planted forests of eucalyptus to keep off the
fever that sometimes comes in the African summer. We made our way along
a tract of open land and came into a deep wood. Here we began to walk
more slowly. The wood was empty of men. The hot silence was profound.
He took off his white helmet and walked on, carrying it in his hand. Not
till we were far in the forest did he speak. Then he said, 'Father, I
cannot struggle on much longer.'

"He spoke abruptly, in a hard voice.

"'You must try to gain courage,' I said.

"'From where?' he exclaimed. 'No, no, don't say from God. If there is a
God He hates me.'

"When he said that I felt as if my soul shuddered, hearing a frightful
truth spoken about itself. My lips were dry. My heart seemed to shrivel
up, but I made an effort and answered:

"'God hates no being whom He has created.'

"'How can you know? Almost every man, perhaps every living man hates
someone. Why not--?'

"'To compare God with a man is blasphemous,' I answered.

"'Aren't we made in His image? Father, it's as I said--I can't struggle
on much longer. I shall have to end it. I wish now--I often wish that I
had yielded to my first impulse and killed her. What is she doing now?
What is she doing now--at this moment?'

"He stood still and beat with his stick on the ground.

"'You don't know the infinite torture there is in knowing that, far
away, she is still living that cursed life, that she is free to continue
the acts of which her existence has been full. Every moment I am
imagining--I am seeing--'

"He forced his stick deep into the ground.

"'If I had killed her,' he said in a low voice, 'at least I should know
that she was sleeping--alone--there--there--under the earth. I should
know that her body was dissolved into dust, that her lips could kiss no
man, that her arms could never hold another as they have held me!'

"'Hush!' I said sternly. 'You deliberately torture yourself and me.' He
glanced up sharply.

"'You! What do you mean?'

"'I must not listen to such things,' I said. 'They are bad for you and
for me.'

"'How can they be bad for you--a monk?'

"'Such talk is evil--evil for everyone.'

"'I'll be silent then. I'll go into the silence. I'll go soon.'

"I understood that he thought of putting an end to himself.

"'There are few men,' I said, speaking with deliberation, with effort,
'who do not feel at some period of life that all is over for them, that
there is nothing to hope for, that happiness is a dream which will visit
them no more.'

"'Have you ever felt like that? You speak of it calmly, but have you
ever experienced it?'

"I hesitated. Then I said:

"'Yes.'

"'You, who have been a monk for so many years!'

"'Yes.'

"'Since you have been here?'

"'Yes, since then.'

"'And you would tell me that the feeling passed, that hope came again,
and the dream as you call it?'

"'I would say that what has lived in a heart can die, as we who live in
this world shall die.'

"'Ah, that--the sooner the better! But you are wrong. Sometimes a thing
lives in the heart that cannot die so long as the heart beats. Such is
my passion, my torture. Don't you, a monk--don't dare to say to me that
this love of mine could die.'

"'Don't you wish it to die?' I asked. 'You say it tortures you.'

"'Yes. But no--no--I don't wish it to die. I could never wish that.'

"I looked at him, I believe, with a deep astonishment.

"'Ah, you don't understand!' he said. 'You don't understand. At all
costs one must keep it--one's love. With it I am--as you see. But
without it--man, without it, I should be nothing--no more than that.'

"He picked up a rotten leaf, held it to me, threw it down on the ground.
I hardly looked at it. He had said to me: 'Man!' That word, thus said by
him, seemed to me to mark the enormous change in me, to indicate that it
was visible to the eyes of another, the heart of another. I had passed
from the monk--the sexless being--to the man. He set me beside himself,
spoke of me as if I were as himself. An intense excitement surged up
in me. I think--I don't know what I should have said--done--but at that
moment a boy, who acted as a servant at the monastery, came running
towards us with a letter in his hand.

"'It is for Monsieur!' he said. 'It was left at the gate.'

"'A letter for me!' the stranger said.

"He held out his hand and took it indifferently. The boy gave it, and
turning, went away through the wood. Then the stranger glanced at the
envelope. Domini, I wish I could make you see what I saw then, the
change that came. I can't. There are things the eyes must see. The
tongue can't tell them. The ghastly whiteness went out of his face. A
hot flood of scarlet rushed over it up to the roots of his hair. His
hands and his whole body began to tremble violently. His eyes, which
were fixed on the envelope, shone with an expression--it was like all
the excitement in the world condensed into two sparks. He dropped his
stick and sat down on the trunk of a tree, fell down almost.

"'Father!' he muttered, 'it's not been through the post--it's not been
through the post!'

"I did not understand.

"'What do you mean?' I asked.

"'What----'

"The flush left his face. He turned deadly white again. He held out the
letter.

"'Read it for me!' he said. 'I can't see--I can't see anything.'

"I took the letter. He covered his eyes with his hands. I opened it and
read:

"'GRAND HOTEL, TUNIS.

"'I have found out where you are. I have come. Forgive me--if you can.
I will marry you--or I will live with you. As you please; but I cannot
live without you. I know women are not admitted to the monastery. Come
out on the road that leads to Tunis. I am there. At least come for a
moment and speak to me. VERONIQUE.'

"Domini, I read this slowly; and it was as if I read my own fate. When I
had finished he got up. He was still pale as ashes and trembling.

"'Which is the way to the road?' he said. 'Do you know?'

"'Yes.'

"'Take me there. Give me your arm, Father.'

"He took it, leaned on it heavily. We walked through the wood towards
the highroad. I had almost to support him. The way seemed long. I felt
tired, sick, as if I could scarcely move, as if I were bearing--as if I
were bearing a cross that was too heavy for me. We came at last out of
the shadow of the trees into the glare of the sun. A flat field divided
us from the white road.

"'Is there--is there a carriage?' he whispered in my ear.

"I looked across the field and saw on the road a carriage waiting.

"'Yes,' I said.

"I stopped, and tried to take his arm from mine.

"'Go,' I said. 'Go on!'

"'I can't. Come with me, Father.'

"We went on in the blinding sun. I looked down on the dry earth as I
walked. Presently I saw at my feet the white dust of the road. At the
same time I heard a woman's cry. The stranger took his arm violently
from mine.

"'Father,' he said. 'Good-bye--God bless you!'

"He was gone. I stood there. In a moment I heard a roll of wheels. Then
I looked up. I saw a man and a woman together, Domini. Their faces were
like angels' faces--with happiness. The dust flew up in the sunshine.
The wheels died away--I was alone.

"Presently--I think after a very long time--I turned and went back to
the monastery. Domini, that night I left the monastery. I was as one
mad. The wish to live had given place to the determination to live. I
thought of nothing else. In the chapel that evening I heard nothing--I
did not see the monks. I did not attempt to pray, for I knew that I
was going. To go was an easy matter for me. I slept alone in the
_hotellerie_, of which I had the key. When it was night I unlocked
the door. I walked to the cemetery--between the Stations of the Cross.
Domini, I did not see them. In the cemetery was a ladder, as I told you.

"Just before dawn I reached my brother's house outside of Tunis, not far
from the Bardo. I knocked. My brother himself came down to know who was
there. He, as I told you, was without religion, and had always hated my
being a monk. I told him all, without reserve. I said, 'Help me to go
away. Let me go anywhere--alone.' He gave me clothes, money. I shaved
off my beard and moustache. I shaved my head, so that the tonsure was
no longer visible. In the afternoon of that day I left Tunis. I was let
loose into life. Domini--Domini, I won't tell you where I wandered till
I came to the desert, till I met you.

"I was let loose into life, but, with my freedom, the wish to live
seemed to die in me. I was afraid of life. I was haunted by terrors. I
had been a monk so long that I did not know how to live as other men. I
did not live, I never lived--till I met you. And then--then I realised
what life may be. And then, too, I realised fully what I was. I
struggled, I fought myself. You know--now, if you look back, I think you
know that I tried--sometimes, often--I tried to--to--I tried to----"

His voice broke.

"That last day in the garden I thought that I had conquered myself, and
it was in that moment that I fell for ever. When I knew you loved me I
could fight no more. Do you understand? You have seen me, you have lived
with me, you have divined my misery. But don't--don't think, Domini,
that it ever came from you. It was the consciousness of my lie to you,
my lie to God, that--that--I can't go on--I can't tell you--I can't tell
you--you know."

He was silent. Domini said nothing, did not move. He did not look at
her, but her silence seemed to terrify him. He drew back from it sharply
and turned to the desert. He stared across the vast spaces lit up by the
moon. Still she did not move.

"I'll go--I'll go!" he muttered.

And he stepped forward. Then Domini spoke.

"Boris!" she said.

He stopped.

"What is it?" he murmured hoarsely.

"Boris, now at last you--you can pray."

He looked at her as if awe-stricken.

"Pray!" he whispered. "You tell me I can pray--now!"

"Now at last."

She went into the tent and left him alone. He stood where he was for a
moment. He knew that, in the tent, she was praying. He stood, trying
to listen to her prayer. Then, with an uncertain hand, he felt in his
breast. He drew out the wooden crucifix. He bent down his head, touched
it with his lips, and fell upon his knees in the desert.

The music had ceased in the city. There was a great silence.




BOOK VI. THE JOURNEY BACK



CHAPTER XXVII

The good priest of Amara, strolling by chance at the dinner-hour of
the following day towards the camp of the hospitable strangers, was
surprised and saddened to find only the sand-hill strewn with debris.
The tents, the camels, the mules, the horses--all were gone. No servants
greeted him. No cook was busy. No kind hostess bade him come in and stay
to dine. Forlornly he glanced around and made inquiry. An Arab told him
that in the morning the camp had been struck and ere noon was far on
its way towards the north. The priest had been on horseback to an
neighbouring oasis, so had heard nothing of this flitting. He asked its
explanation, and was told a hundred lies. The one most often repeated
was to the effect that Monsieur, the husband of Madame, was overcome by
the heat, and that for this reason the travellers were making their way
towards the cooler climate that lay beyond the desert.

As he heard this a sensation of loneliness came to the priest. His
usually cheerful countenance was overcast with gloom. For a moment
he loathed his fate in the sands and sighed for the fleshpots of
civilisation. With his white umbrella spread above his helmet he stood
still and gazed towards the north across the vast spaces that were
lemon-yellow in the sunset. He fancied that on the horizon he saw
faintly a cloud of sand grains whirling, and imagined it stirred up by
the strangers' caravan. Then he thought of the rich lands of the Tell,
of the olive groves of Tunis, of the blue Mediterranean, of France, his
country which he had not seen for many years. He sighed profoundly.

"Happy people," he thought to himself. "Rich, free, able to do as they
like, to go where they will! Why was I born to live in the sand and to
be alone?"

He was moved by envy. But then he remembered his intercourse with
Androvsky on the previous day.

"After all," he thought more comfortably, "he did not look a happy man!"
And he took himself to task for his sin of envy, and strolled to the inn
by the fountain where he paid his pension.

The same day, in the house of the marabout of Beni-Hassan, Count Anteoni
received a letter brought from Amara by an Arab. It was as follows:


"AMARA.

"MY DEAR FRIEND: Good-bye. We are just leaving. I had expected to be
here longer, but we must go. We are returning to the north and shall
not penetrate farther into the desert. I shall think of you, and of your
journey on among the people of your faith. You said to me, when we sat
in the tent door, that now you could pray in the desert. Pray in the
desert for us. And one thing more. If you never return to Beni-Mora, and
your garden is to pass into other hands, don't let it go into the hands
of a stranger. I could not bear that. Let it come to me. At any price
you name. Forgive me for writing thus. Perhaps you will return, or
perhaps, even if you do not, you will keep your garden.--Your Friend,
DOMINI."


In a postscript was an address which would always find her.

Count Anteoni read this letter two or three times carefully, with a
grave face.

"Why did she not put Domini Androvsky?" he said to himself. He locked
the letter in a drawer. All that night he was haunted by thoughts of
the garden. Again and again it seemed to him that he stood with Domini
beside the white wall and saw, in the burning distance of the desert, at
the call of the Mueddin, the Arabs bowing themselves in prayer, and
the man--the man to whom now she had bound herself by the most holy
tie--fleeing from prayer as if in horror.

"But it was written," he murmured to himself. "It was written in the
sand and in fire: 'The fate of every man have we bound about his neck.'"

In the dawn when, turning towards the rising sun, he prayed, he
remembered Domini and her words: "Pray in the desert for us." And in the
Garden of Allah he prayed to Allah for her, and for Androvsky.

Meanwhile the camp had been struck, and the first stage of the journey
northward, the journey back, had been accomplished. Domini had given the
order of departure, but she had first spoken with Androvsky.

After his narrative, and her words that followed it, he did not come
into the tent. She did not ask him to. She did not see him in the
moonlight beyond the tent, or when the moonlight waned before the coming
of the dawn. She was upon her knees, her face hidden in her hands,
striving as surely few human beings have ever had to strive in the
difficult paths of life. At first she had felt almost calm. When she had
spoken to Androvsky there had even been a strange sensation that was not
unlike triumph in her heart. In this triumph she had felt disembodied,
as if she were a spirit standing there, removed from earthly suffering,
but able to contemplate, to understand, to pity it, removed from earthly
sin, but able to commit an action that might help to purge it.

When she said to Androvsky, "Now you can pray," she had passed into a
region where self had no existence. Her whole soul was intent upon this
man to whom she had given all the treasures of her heart and whom she
knew to be writhing as souls writhe in Purgatory. He had spoken at last,
he had laid bare his misery, his crime, he had laid bare the agony of
one who had insulted God, but who repented his insult, who had wandered
far away from God, but who could never be happy in his wandering, who
could never be at peace even in a mighty human love unless that love was
consecrated by God's contentment with it. As she stood there Domini had
had an instant of absolutely clear sight into the depths of another's
heart, another's nature. She had seen the monk in Androvsky, not
slain by his act of rejection, but alive, sorrow-stricken, quivering,
scourged. And she had been able to tell this monk--as God seemed to be
telling her, making of her his messenger--that now at last he might pray
to a God who again would hear him, as He had heard him in the garden of
El-Largani, in his cell, in the chapel, in the fields. She had been able
to do this. Then she had turned away, gone into the tent and fallen upon
her knees.

But with that personal action her sense of triumph passed away. As her
body sank down her soul seemed to sink down with it into bottomless
depths of blackness where no light had ever been, into an underworld,
airless, peopled with invisible violence. And it seemed to her as if
it was her previous flight upward which had caused this descent into a
place which had surely never before been visited by a human soul. All
the selflessness suddenly vanished from her, and was replaced by a
burning sense of her own personality, of what was due to it, of what had
been done to it, of what it now was. She saw it like a cloth that had
been white and that now was stained with indelible filth. And anger came
upon her, a bitter fury, in which she was inclined to cry out, not only
against man, but against God. The strength of her nature was driven into
a wild bitterness, the sweet waters became acrid with salt. She had been
able a moment before to say to Androvsky, almost with tenderness, "Now
at last you can pray." Now she was on her knees hating him, hating--yes,
surely hating--God. It was a frightful sensation.

Soul and body felt defiled. She saw Androvsky coming into her clean
life, seizing her like a prey, rolling her in filth that could never be
cleansed. And who had allowed him to do her this deadly wrong? God. And
she was on her knees to this God who had permitted this! She was in the
attitude of worship. Her whole being rebelled against prayer. It seemed
to her as if she made a furious physical effort to rise from her knees,
but as if her body was paralysed and could not obey her will. She
remained kneeling, therefore, like a woman tied down, like a blasphemer
bound by cords in the attitude of prayer, whose soul was shrieking
insults against heaven.

Presently she remembered that outside Androvsky was praying, that she
had meant to join with him in prayer. She had contemplated, then, a
further, deeper union with him. Was she a madwoman? Was she a slave?
Was she as one of those women of history who, seized in a rape, resigned
themselves to love and obey their captors? She began to hate herself.
And still she knelt. Anyone coming in at the tent door would have seen a
woman apparently entranced in an ecstasy of worship.

This great love of hers, to what had it brought her? This awakening of
her soul, what was its meaning? God had sent a man to rouse her
from sleep that she might look down into hell. Again and again, with
ceaseless reiteration, she recalled the incidents of her passion in the
desert. She thought of the night at Arba when Androvsky blew out the
lamp. That night had been to her a night of consecration. Nothing in
her soul had risen up to warn her. No instinct, no woman's instinct, had
stayed her from unwitting sin. The sand-diviner had been wiser than she;
Count Anteoni more far-seeing; the priest of Beni-Mora more guided by
holiness, by the inner flame that flickers before the wind that blows
out of the caverns of evil. God had blinded her in order that she might
fall, had brought Androvsky to her in order that her religion, her
Catholic faith, might be made hideous to her for ever. She trembled all
over as she knelt. Her life had been sad, even tormented. And she had
set out upon a pilgrimage to find peace. She had been led to Beni-Mora.
She remembered her arrival in Africa, its spell descending upon her,
her sensation of being far off, of having left her former life with its
sorrows for ever. She remembered the entrancing quiet of Count Anteoni's
garden, how as she entered it she seemed to be entering an earthly
Paradise, a place prepared by God for one who was weary as she was
weary, for one who longed to be renewed as she longed to be renewed.
And in that Paradise, in the inmost recess of it, she had put her hands
against Androvsky's temples and given her life, her fate, her heart into
his keeping. That was why the garden was there, that she might be led to
commit this frightful action in it. Her soul felt physically sick. As
to her body--but just then she scarcely thought of the body. For she was
thinking of her soul as of a body, as if it were the core of the body
blackened, sullied, destroyed for ever. She was hot with shame, she was
hot with a fiery indignation. Always, since she was a child, if she
were suddenly touched by anyone whom she did not love, she had had an
inclination to strike a blow on the one who touched her. Now it was as
if an unclean hand had been laid on her soul. And the soul quivered with
longing to strike back.

Again she thought of Beni-Mora, of all that had taken place there. She
realised that during her stay there a crescendo of calm had taken place
within her, calm of the spirit, a crescendo of strength, spiritual
strength, a crescendo of faith and of hope. The religion which had
almost seemed to be slipping from her she had grasped firmly again. Her
soul had arrived in Beni-Mora an invalid and had become a convalescent.

It had been reclining wearily, fretfully. In Beni-Mora it had stood up,
walked, sung as the morning stars sang together. But then--why? If this
was to be the end--why--why?

And at this question she paused, as before a great portal that was shut.
She went back. She thought again of this beautiful crescendo, of this
gradual approach to the God from whom she had been if not entirely
separated at any rate set a little apart. Could it have been only in
order that her catastrophe might be the more complete, her downfall the
more absolute?

And then, she knew not why, she seemed to see in the hands that were
pressed against her face words written in fire, and to read them slowly
as a child spelling out a great lesson, with an intense attention, with
a labour whose result would be eternal recollection:

"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not
tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it is
not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it mounteth
upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosover loveth knoweth the
cry of this voice."

The cry of this voice! At that moment, in the vast silence of the
desert, she seemed to hear it. And it was the cry of her own voice. It
was the cry of the voice of her own soul. Startled, she lifted her face
from her hands and listened. She did not look out at the tent door, but
she saw the moonlight falling upon the matting that was spread upon
the sand within the tent, and she repeated, "Love watcheth--Love
watcheth--Love watcheth," moving her lips like the child who reads with
difficulty. Then came the thought, "I am watching."

The passion of personal anger had died away as suddenly as it had come.
She felt numb and yet excited. She leaned forward and once more laid her
face in her hands.

"Love watcheth--I am watching." Then a moment--then--"God is watching
me."

She whispered the words over again and again. And the numbness began
to pass away. And the anger was dead. Always she had felt as if she had
been led to Africa for some definite end. Did not the freed negroes, far
out in the Desert, sing their song of the deeper mysteries--"No one but
God and I knows what is in my heart"? And had not she heard it again and
again, and each time with a sense of awe? She had always thought that
the words were wonderful and beautiful. But she had thought that perhaps
they were not true. She had said to Androvsky that he knew what was in
her heart. And now, in this night, in its intense stillness, close to
the man who for so long had not dared to pray but who now was praying,
again she thought that they were not quite true. It seemed to her that
she did not know what was in her heart, and that she was waiting there
for God to come and tell her. Would He come? She waited. Patience
entered into her.

The silence was long. Night was travelling, turning her thoughts to
a distant world. The moon waned, and a faint breath of wind that was
almost cold stole over the sands, among the graves in the cemetery, to
the man and the woman who were keeping vigil upon their knees. The wind
died away almost ere it had risen, and the rigid silence that precedes
the dawn held the desert in its grasp. And God came to Domini in the
silence, Allah through Allah's garden that was shrouded still in the
shadows of night. Once, as she journeyed through the roaring of the
storm, she had listened for the voice of the desert. And as the desert
took her its voice had spoken to her in a sudden and magical silence, in
a falling of the wind. Now, in a more magical silence, the voice of God
spoke to her. And the voice of the desert and of God were as one. As she
knelt she heard God telling her what was in her heart. It was a strange
and passionate revelation. She trembled as she heard. And sometimes
she was inclined to say, "It is not so." And sometimes she was afraid,
afraid of what this--all this that was in her heart--would lead her to
do. For God told her of a strength which she had not known her heart
possessed, which--so it seemed to her--she did not wish it to possess,
of a strength from which something within her shrank, against which
something within her protested. But God would not be denied. He told
her she had this strength. He told her that she must use it. He told
her that she would use it. And she began to understand something of
the mystery of the purposes of God in relation to herself, and to
understand, with it, how closely companioned even those who strive after
effacement of self are by selfishness--how closely companioned she had
been on her African pilgrimage. Everything that had happened in Africa
she had quietly taken to herself, as a gift made to her for herself.

The peace that had descended upon her was balm for her soul, and was
sent merely for that, to stop the pain she suffered from old wounds
that she might be comfortably at rest. The crescendo--the beautiful
crescendo--of calm, of strength, of faith, of hope which she had, as it
were, heard like a noble music within her spirit had been the David sent
to play upon the harp to her Saul, that from her Saul the black demon
of unrest, of despair, might depart. That was what she had believed. She
had believed that she had come to Africa for herself, and now God, in
the silence, was telling her that this was not so, that He had brought
her to Africa to sacrifice herself in the redemption of another. And as
she listened--listened, with bowed head, and eyes in which tears were
gathering, from which tears were falling upon her clasped hands--she
knew that it was true, she knew that God meant her to put away her
selfishness, to rise above it. Those eagle's wings of which she had
thought--she must spread them. She must soar towards the place of the
angels, whither good women soar in the great moments of their
love, borne up by the winds of God. On the minaret of the mosque of
Sidi-Zerzour, while Androvsky remained in the dark shadow with a curse,
she had mounted, with prayer, surely a little way towards God. And now
God said to her, "Mount higher, come nearer to me, bring another with
you. That was my purpose in leading you to Beni-Mora, in leading you far
out into the desert, in leading you into the heart of the desert."

She had been led to Africa for a definite end, and now she knew what
that end was. On the mosque of the minaret of Sidi-Zerzour she had
surely seen prayer travelling, the soul of prayer travelling. And
she had asked herself--"Whither?" She had asked herself where was the
halting-place, with at last the pitched tent, the camp fires, and the
long, the long repose? And when she came down into the court of the
mosque and found Androvsky watching the old Arab who struck against the
mosque and cursed, she had wished that Androvsky had mounted with her a
little way towards God.

He should mount with her. Always she had longed to see him above her.
Could she leave him below? She knew she could not. She understood that
God did not mean her to. She understood perfectly. And tears streamed
from her eyes. For now there came upon her a full comprehension of her
love for Androvsky. His revelation had not killed it, as, for a moment,
in her passionate personal anger, she had been inclined to think. Indeed
it seemed to her now that, till this hour of silence, she had never
really loved him, never known how to love. Even in the tent at Arba she
had not fully loved him, perfectly loved him. For the thought of self,
the desires of self, the passion of self, had entered into and been
mingled with her love. But now she loved him perfectly, because she
loved as God intended her to love. She loved him as God's envoy sent to
him.

She was still weeping, but she began to feel calm, as if the stillness
of this hour before the dawn entered into her soul. She thought of
herself now only as a vessel into which God was pouring His purpose and
His love.

Just as dawn was breaking, as the first streak of light stole into the
east and threw a frail spear of gold upon the sands, she was conscious
again of a thrill of life within her, of the movement of her unborn
child. Then she lifted her head from her hand, looking towards the east,
and whispered:

"Give me strength for one more thing--give me strength to be silent!"

She waited as if for an answer. Then she rose from her knees, bathed her
face and went out to the tent door to Androvsky.

"Boris!" she said.

He rose from his knees and looked at her, holding the little wooden
crucifix in his hand.

"Domini?" he said in an uncertain voice.

"Put it back into your breast. Keep it for ever, Boris."

As if mechanically, and not removing his eyes from her, he put the
crucifix into his breast. After a moment she spoke again, quietly.

"Boris, you never wished to stay here. You meant to stay here for me.
Let us go away from Amara. Let us go to-day, now, in the dawn."

"Us!" he said.

There was a profound amazement in his voice.

"Yes," she answered.

"Away from Amara--you and I--together?"

"Yes, Boris, together."

"Where--where can we go?"

The amazement seemed to deepen in his voice. His eyes were watching her
with an almost fierce intentness. In a flash of insight she realised
that, just then, he was wondering about her as he had never wondered
before, wondering whether she was really the good woman at whose feet
his sin-stricken soul had worshipped. Yes, he was asking himself that
question.

"Boris," she said, "will you leave yourself in my hands? We have talked
of our future life. We have wondered what we should do. Will you let me
do as I will, let the future be as I choose?"

In her heart she said "as God chooses."

"Yes, Domini," he answered. "I am in your hands, utterly in your hands."

"No," she said.

Neither of them spoke after that till the sunlight lay above the towers
and minarets of Amara. Then Domini said:

"We will go to-day--now."

And that morning the camp was struck, and the new journey began--the
journey back.



CHAPTER XXVIII

A silence had fallen between Domini and Androvsky which neither seemed
able to break. They rode on side by side across the sands towards the
north through the long day. The tower of Amara faded in the sunshine
above the white crests of the dunes. The Arab villages upon their little
hills disappeared in the quivering gold. New vistas of desert opened
before them, oases crowded with palms, salt lakes and stony ground. They
passed by native towns. They saw the negro gardeners laughing among
the rills of yellow water, or climbing with bare feet the wrinkled tree
trunks to lop away dead branches. They heard tiny goatherds piping,
solitary, in the wastes. Dreams of the mirage rose and faded far off
on the horizon, rose and faded mystically, leaving no trembling trace
behind. And they were silent as the mirage, she in her purpose, he in
his wonder. And the long day waned, and towards evening the camp was
pitched and the evening meal was prepared. And still they could not
speak.

Sometimes Androvsky watched her, and there was a great calm in her face,
but there was no rebuke, no smallness of anger, no hint of despair.
Always he had felt her strength of mind and body, but never so much as
now. Could he rest on it? Dared he? He did not know. And the day seemed
to him to become a dream, and the silence recalled to him the silence of
the monastery in which he had worshipped God before the stranger
came. He thought that in this silence he ought to feel that she was
deliberately raising barriers between them, but--it was strange--he
could not feel this. In her silence there was no bitterness. When is
there bitterness in strength? He rode on and on beside her, and his
sense of a dream deepened, helped by the influence of the desert. Where
were they going? He did not know. What was her purpose? He could not
tell. But he felt that she had a purpose, that her mind was resolved.
Now and then, tearing himself with an effort from the dream, he asked
himself what it could be. What could be in store for him, for them,
after the thing he had told? What could be their mutual life? Must it
not be for ever at an end? Was it not shattered? Was it not dust, like
the dust of the desert that rose round their horses' feet? The silence
did not tell him, and again he ceased from wondering and the dream
closed round him. Were they not travelling in a mirage, mirage people,
unreal, phantomlike, who would presently fade away into the spaces of
the sun? The sand muffled the tread of the horses' feet. The desert
understood their silence, clothed it in a silence more vast and more
impenetrable. And Androvsky had made his effort. He had spoken the truth
at last. He could do no more. He was incapable of any further action. As
Domini felt herself to be in the hands of God, he felt himself to be
in the hands of this woman who had received his confession with
this wonderful calm, who was leading him he knew not whither in this
wonderful silence.

When the camp was pitched, however, he noticed something that caught
him sharply away from the dreamlike, unreal feeling, and set him face to
face with fact that was cold as steel. Always till now the dressing-tent
had been pitched beside their sleeping-tent, with the flap of the
entrance removed so that the two tents communicated. To-night it stood
apart, near the sleeping-tent, and in it was placed one of the small
camp beds. Androvsky was alone when he saw this. On reaching the
halting-place he had walked a little way into the desert. When he
returned he found this change. It told him something of what was passing
in Domini's mind, and it marked the transformation of their mutual life.
As he gazed at the two tents he felt stricken, yet he felt a curious
sense of something that was like--was it not like--relief? It was as if
his body had received a frightful blow and on his soul a saint's hand
had been gently laid, as if something fell about him in ruins, and at
the same time a building which he loved, and which for a moment he had
thought tottering, stood firm before him founded upon rock. He was a man
capable of a passionate belief, despite his sin, and he had always had a
passionate belief in Domini's religion. That morning, when she came out
to him in the sand, a momentary doubt had assailed him. He had known the
thought, "Does she love me still--does she love me more than she
loves God, more than she loves his dictates manifested in the Catholic
religion?" When she said that word "together" that had been his thought.
Now, as he looked at the two tents, a white light seemed to fall upon
Domini's character, and in this white light stood the ruin and the house
that was founded upon a rock. He was torn by conflicting sensations
of despair and triumph. She was what he had believed. That made the
triumph. But since she was that where was his future with her? The monk
and the man who had fled from the monastery stood up within him to do
battle. The monk knew triumph, but the man was in torment.

Presently, as Androvsky looked at the two tents, the monk in him seemed
to die a new death, the man who had left the monastery to know a new
resurrection. He was seized by a furious desire to go backward in time,
to go backward but a few hours, to the moment when Domini did not know
what now she knew. He cursed himself for what he had done. At last he
had been able to pray. Yes, but what was prayer now, what was prayer to
the man who looked at the two tents and understood what they meant? He
moved away and began to walk up and down near to the two tents. He did
not know where Domini was. At a little distance he saw the servants
busy preparing the evening meal. Smoke rose up before the cook's tent,
curling away stealthily among a group of palm trees, beneath which some
Arab boys were huddled, staring with wide eyes at the unusual sight of
travellers. They came from a tiny village at a short distance off, half
hidden among palm gardens. The camels were feeding. A mule was rolling
voluptuously in the sand. At a well a shepherd was watering his flocks,
which crowded about him baaing expectantly. The air seemed to breathe
out a subtle aroma of peace and of liberty. And this apparent presence
of peace, this vision of the calm of others, human beings and animals,
added to the torture of Androvsky. As he walked to and fro he felt as
if he were being devoured by his passions, as if he were losing the
last vestiges of self-control. Never in the monastery, never even in the
night when he left it, had he been tormented like this. For now he had
a terrible companion whom, at that time, he had not known. Memory walked
with him before the tents, the memory of his body, recalling and calling
for the past.

He had destroyed that past himself. But for him it might have been also
the present, the future. It might have lasted for years, perhaps till
death took him or Domini. Why not? He had only had to keep silence, to
insist on remaining in the desert, far from the busy ways of men.
They could have lived as certain others lived, who loved the free, the
solitary life, in an oasis of their own, tending their gardens of palms.
Life would have gone like a sunlit dream. And death? At that thought he
shuddered. Death--what would that have been to him? What would it be now
when it came? He put the thought from him with force, as a man thrusts
away from him the filthy hand of a clamouring stranger assailing him in
the street.

This evening he had no time to think of death. Life was enough, life
with this terror which he had deliberately placed in it.

He thought of himself as a madman for having spoken to Domini. He cursed
himself as a madman. For he knew, although he strove furiously not to
know, how irrevocable was his act, in consequence of the great strength
of her nature. He knew that though she had been to him a woman of fire
she might be to him a woman of iron--even to him whom she loved.

How she had loved him!

He walked faster before the tents, to and fro.

How she had loved him! How she loved him still, at this moment after she
knew what he was, what he had done to her. He had no doubt of her love
as he walked there. He felt it, like a tender hand upon him. But that
hand was inflexible too. In its softness there was firmness--firmness
that would never yield to any strength in him.

Those two tents told him the story of her strength. As he looked at them
he was looking into her soul. And her soul was in direct conflict with
his. That was what he felt. She had thought, she had made up her mind.
Quietly, silently she had acted. By that action, without a word, she had
spoken to him, told him a tremendous thing. And the man--the passionate
man who had left the monastery--loose in him now was aflame with an
impotent desire that was like a heat of fury against her, while the
monk, hidden far down in him, was secretly worshipping her cleanliness
of spirit.

But the man who had left the monastery was in the ascendant in him, and
at last drove him to a determination that the monk secretly knew to be
utterly vain. He made up his mind to enter into conflict with Domini's
strength. He felt that he must, that he could not quietly, without a
word, accept this sudden new life of separation symbolised for him by
the two tents standing apart.

He stood still. In the distance, under the palms, he saw Batouch
laughing with Ouardi. Near them Ali was reposing on a mat, moving his
head from side to side, smiling with half-shut, vacant eyes, and singing
a languid song.

This music maddened him.

"Batouch!" he called out sharply. "Batouch!"

Batouch stopped laughing, glanced round, then came towards him with a
large pace, swinging from his hips.

"Monsieur?"

"Batouch!" Androvsky said.

But he could not go on. He could not say anything about the two tents to
a servant.

"Where--where is Madame?" he said almost stammering.

"Out there, Monsieur."

With a sweeping arm the poet pointed towards a hump of sand crowned by
a few palms. Domini was sitting there, surrounded by Arab children, to
whom she was giving sweets out of a box. As Androvsky saw her the anger
in him burnt up more fiercely. This action of Domini's, simple, natural
though it was, seemed to him in his present condition cruelly heartless.
He thought of her giving the order about the tents and then going calmly
to play with these children, while he--while he----

"You can go, Batouch," he said. "Go away."

The poet stared at him with a superb surprise, then moved slowly towards
Ouardi, holding his burnous with his large hands.

Androvsky looked again at the two tents as a man looks at two enemies.
Then, walking quickly, he went towards the hump of sand. As he
approached it Domini had her side face turned towards him. She did not
see him. The little Arabs were dancing round her on their naked feet,
laughing, showing their white teeth and opening their mouths wide for
the sugar-plums--gaiety incarnate. Androvsky gazed at the woman who was
causing this childish joy, and he saw a profound sadness. Never had
he seen Domini's face look like this. It was always white, but now its
whiteness was like a whiteness of marble. She moved her head, turning to
feed one of the little gaping mouths, and he saw her eyes, tearless,
but sadder than if they had been full of tears. She was looking at these
children as a mother looks at her children who are fatherless. He did
not--how could he?--understand the look, but it went to his heart.
He stopped, watching. One of the children saw him, shrieked, pointed.
Domini glanced round. As she saw him she smiled, threw the last
sugar-plums and came towards him.

"Do you want me?" she said, coming up to him.

His lips trembled.

"Yes," he said, "I want you."

Something in his voice seemed to startle her, but she said nothing more,
only stood looking at him. The children, who had followed her, crowded
round them, touching their clothes curiously.

"Send them away," he said.

She made the children go, pushing them gently, pointing to the village,
and showing the empty box to them. Reluctantly at last they went towards
the village, turning their heads to stare at her till they were a long
way off, then holding up their skirts and racing for the houses.

"Domini--Domini," he said. "You can--you can play with
children--to-day."

"I wanted to feel I could give a little happiness to-day," she
answered--"even to-day."

"To-day when--when to me--to me--you are giving----"

But before her steady gaze all the words he had meant to say, all the
words of furious protest, died on his lips.

"To me--to me--" he repeated.

Then he was silent.

"Boris," she said, "I want to give you one thing, the thing that you
have lost. I want to give you back peace."

"You never can."

"I must try. Even if I cannot I shall know that I have tried."

"You are giving me--you are giving me not peace, but a sword," he said.

She understood that he had seen the two tents.

"Sometimes a sword can give peace."

"The peace of death."

"Boris--my dear one--there are many kinds of deaths. Try to trust me.
Leave me to act as I must act. Let me try to be guided--only let me
try."

He did not say another word.

That night they slept apart for the first time since their marriage.

"Domini, where are you taking me? Where are we going?"

* * * * *

The camp was struck once more and they were riding through the desert.
Domini hesitated to answer his question. It had been put with a sort of
terror.

"I know nothing," he continued. "I am in your hands like a child. It
cannot be always so. I must know, I must understand. What is our life to
be? What is our future? A man cannot--"

He paused. Then he said:

"I feel that you have come to some resolve. I feel it perpetually. It
is as if you were in light and I in darkness, you in knowledge and I in
ignorance. You--you must tell me. I have told you all now. You must tell
me."

But she hesitated.

"Not now," she answered. "Not yet."

"We are to journey on day by day like this, and I am not to know where
we are going! I cannot, Domini--I will not."

"Boris, I shall tell you."

"When?"

"Will you trust me, Boris, completely? Can you?"

"How?"

"Boris, I have prayed so much for you that at last I feel that I can act
for you. Don't think me presumptuous. If you could see into my heart you
would see that--indeed, I don't think it would be possible to feel more
humble than I do in regard to you."

"Humble--you, Domini! You can feel humble when you think of me, when you
are with me."

"Yes. You have suffered so terribly. God has led you. I feel that He has
been--oh, I don't know how to say it quite naturally, quite as I feel
it--that He has been more intent on you than on anyone I have ever
known. I feel that His meaning in regarding to you is intense, Boris, as
if He would not let you go."

"He let me go when I left the monastery."

"Does one never return?"

Again a sensation almost of terror assailed him. He felt as if he were
fighting in darkness something that he could not see.

"Return!" he said. "What do you mean?"

She saw the expression of almost angry fear in his face. It warned her
not to give the reins to her natural impulse, which was always towards a
great frankness.

"Boris, you fled from God, but do you not think it possible that you
could ever return to Him? Have you not taken the first step? Have you
not prayed?" His face changed, grew slightly calmer.

"You told me I could pray," he answered, almost like a child. "Otherwise
I--I should not have dared to. I should have felt that I was insulting
God."

"If you trusted me in such a thing, can you not trust me now?"

"But"--he said uneasily--"but this is different, a worldly matter, a
matter of daily life. I shall have to know."

"Yes."

"Then why should I not know now? At any moment I could ask Batouch."

"Batouch only knows from day to day. I have a map of the desert. I got
it before we left Beni-Mora."

Something--perhaps a very slight hesitation in her voice just before she
said the last words--startled him. He turned on his horse and looked at
her hard.

"Domini," he said, "are we--we are not going back to Beni-Mora?"

"I will tell you to-night," she replied in a low voice. "Let me tell you
tonight."

He said no more, but he gazed at her for a long time as if striving
passionately to read her thoughts. But he could not. Her white face
was calm, and she rode looking straight before her, as one that looked
towards some distant goal to which all her soul was journeying with
her body. There was something mystical in her face, in that straight,
far-seeing glance, that surely pierced beyond the blue horizon line and
reached a faroff world. What world? He asked himself the question, but
no answer came, and he dropped his eyes. A new and horrible sadness came
to him, a new sensation of separation from Domini. She had set their
bodies apart, and he had yielded. Now, was she not setting something
else apart? For, in spite of all, in spite of his treacherous existence
with her, he had so deeply and entirely loved her that he had sometimes
felt, dared to feel, that in their passion in the desert their souls had
been fused together. His was black--he knew it--and hers was white. But
had not the fire and the depth of their love conquered all differences,
made even their souls one as their bodies had been one? And now was
she not silently, subtly, withdrawing her soul from his? A sensation of
acute despair swept over him, of utter impotence.

"Domini!" he said, "Domini!"

"Yes," she answered.

And this time she withdrew her eyes from the blue distance and looked at
him.

"Domini, you must trust me."

He was thinking of the two tents set the one apart from the other.

"Domini, I've borne something in silence. I haven't spoken. I wanted
to speak. I tried--but I did not. I bore my punishment--you don't know,
you'll never know what I felt last--last night--when--I've borne that.
But there's one thing I can't bear. I've lived a lie with you. My love
for you overcame me. I fell. I have told you that I fell. Don't--don't
because of that--don't take away your heart from me entirely.
Domini--Domini--don't do that."

She heard a sound of despair in his voice.

"Oh, Boris," she said, "if you knew! There was only one moment when I
fancied my heart was leaving you. It passed almost before it came, and
now--"

"But," he interrupted, "do you know--do you know that since--since I
spoke, since I told you, you've--you've never touched me?"

"Yes, I know it," she replied quietly.

Something told him to be silent then. Something told him to wait till
the night came and the camp was pitched once more.

They rested at noon for several hours, as it was impossible to travel
in the heat of the day. The camp started an hour before they did. Only
Batouch remained behind to show them the way to Ain-la-Hammam, where
they would pass the following night. When Batouch brought the horses he
said:

"Does Madame know the meaning of Ain-la-Hammam?"

"No," said Domini. "What is it?"

"Source des tourterelles," replied Batouch. "I was there once with an
English traveller."

"Source des tourterelles," repeated Domini. "Is it beautiful, Batouch?
It sounds as if it ought to be beautiful."

She scarcely knew why, but she had a longing that Ain-la-Hammam might be
tender, calm, a place to soothe the spirit, a place in which Androvsky
might be influenced to listen to what she had to tell him without
revolt, without despair. Once he had spoken about the influence of
place, about rising superior to it. But she believed in it, and she
waited, almost anxiously, for the reply of Batouch. As usual it was
enigmatic.

"Madame will see," he answered. "Madame will see. But the
Englishman----"

"Yes?"

"The Englishman was ravished. 'This,' he said to me, 'this, Batouch, is
a little Paradise!' And there was no moon then. To-night there will be a
moon."

"Paradise!" exclaimed Androvsky.

He sprang upon his horse and pulled up the reins. Domini said no more.
They had started late. It was night when they reached Ain-la-Hammam. As
they drew near Domini looked before her eagerly through the pale gloom
that hung over the sand. She saw no village, only a very small grove of
palms and near it the outline of a bordj. The place was set in a cup of
the Sahara. All around it rose low hummocks of sand. On two or three of
them were isolated clumps of palms. Here the eyes roamed over no vast
distances. There was little suggestion of space. She drew up her horse
on one of the hummocks and gazed down. She heard doves murmuring in
their soft voices among the trees. The tents were pitched near the
bordj.

"What does Madame think?" asked Batouch. "Does Madame agree with the
Englishman?"

"It is a strange little place," she answered.

She listened to the voices of the doves. A dog barked by the bordj.

"It is almost like a hiding-place," she added.

Androvsky said nothing, but he, too, was gazing intently at the trees
below them, he, too, was listening to the voices of the doves. After a
moment he looked at her.

"Domini," he whispered. "Here--won't you--won't you let me touch your
hand again here?"

"Come, Boris," she answered. "It is late."

They rode down into Ain-la-Hammam.

The tents had all been pitched near together on the south of the bordj,
and separated by it from the tiny oasis. Opposite to them was a Cafe
Maure of the humblest kind, a hovel of baked earth and brushwood, with
earthen divans and a coffee niche. Before this was squatting a group
of five dirty desert men, the sole inhabitants of Ain-la-Hammam. Just
before dinner Domini gave an order to Batouch, and, while they were
dining, Androvsky noticed that their people were busy unpegging the two
sleeping-tents.

"What are they doing?" he said to Domini, uneasily. In his present
condition everything roused in him anxiety. In every unusual action he
discerned the beginning of some tragedy which might affect his life.

"I told Batouch to put our tents on the other side of the bordj," she
answered.

"Yes. But why?"

"I thought that to-night it would be better if we were a little more
alone than we are here, just opposite to that Cafe Maure, and with the
servants. And on the other side there are the palms and the water. And
the doves were talking there as we rode in. When we have finished dinner
we can go and sit there and be quiet."

"Together," he said.

An eager light had come into his eyes. He leaned forward towards her
over the little table and stretched out his hand.

"Yes, together," she said.

But she did not take his hand.

"Domini!" he said, still keeping his hand on the table, "Domini!"

An expression, that was like an expression of agony, flitted over her
face and died away, leaving it calm.

"Let us finish," she said quietly. "Look, they have taken the tents! In
a moment we can go."

The doves were silent. The night was very still in this nest of the
Sahara. Ouardi brought them coffee, and Batouch came to say that the
tents were ready.

"We shall want nothing more to-night, Batouch," Domini said. "Don't
disturb us."

Batouch glanced towards the Cafe Maure. A red light gleamed through
its low doorway. One or two Arabs were moving within. Some of the camp
attendants had joined the squatting men without. A noise of busy voices
reached the tents.

"To-night, Madame," Batouch said proudly, "I am going to tell stories
from the _Thousand and One Nights_. I am going to tell the story of the
young Prince of the Indies, and the story of Ganem, the Slave of Love.
It is not often that in Ain-la-Hammam a poet--"

"No, indeed. Go to them, Batouch. They must be impatient for you."

Batouch smiled broadly.

"Madame begins to understand the Arabs," he rejoined. "Madame will soon
be as the Arabs."

"Go, Batouch. Look--they are longing for you."

She pointed to the desert men, who were gesticulating and gazing towards
the tents.

"It is better so, Madame," he answered. "They know that I am here only
for one night, and they are eager as the hungry jackal is eager for food
among the yellow dunes of the sand."

He threw his burnous over his shoulder and moved away smiling, and
murmuring in a luscious voice the first words of Ganem, the Slave of
Love.

"Let us go now, Boris," Domini said.

He got up at once from the table, and they walked together round the
bordj.

On its further side there was no sign of life. No traveller was resting
there that night, and the big door that led into the inner court was
closed and barred. The guardian had gone to join the Arabs at the Cafe
Maure. Between the shadow cast by the bordj and the shadow cast by
the palm trees stood the two tents on a patch of sand. The oasis was
enclosed in a low earth wall, along the top of which was a ragged edging
of brushwood. In this wall were several gaps. Through one, opposite to
the tents, was visible a shallow pool of still water by which tall reeds
were growing. They stood up like spears, absolutely motionless. A frog
was piping from some hidden place, giving forth a clear flute-like note
that suggested glass. It reminded Domini of her ride into the desert
at Beni-Mora to see the moon rise. On that night Androvsky had told
her that he was going away. That had been the night of his tremendous
struggle with himself. When he had spoken she had felt a sensation as if
everything that supported her in the atmosphere of life and of happiness
had foundered. And now--now she was going to speak to him--to tell
him--what was she going to tell him? How much could she, dared she, tell
him? She prayed silently to be given strength.

In the clear sky the young moon hung. Beneath it, to the left, was one
star like an attendant, the star of Venus. The faint light of the
moon fell upon the water of the pool. Unceasingly the frog uttered its
nocturne.

Domini stood for a moment looking at the water listening. Then she
glanced up at the moon and the solitary star. Androvsky stood by her.

"Shall we--let us sit on the wall, where the gap is," she said.
"The water is beautiful, beautiful with that light on it, and the
palms--palms are always beautiful, especially at night. I shall never
love any other trees as I love palm trees."

"Nor I," he answered.

They sat down on the wall. At first they did not speak any more. The
stillness of the water, the stillness of reeds and palms, was against
speech. And the little flute-like note that came to them again and again
at regular intervals was like a magical measuring of the silence of the
night in the desert. At last Domini said, in a low voice:

"I heard that note on the night when I rode out of Beni-Mora to see the
moon rise in the desert. Boris, you remember that night?"

"Yes," he answered.

He was gazing at the pool, with his face partly averted from her, one
hand on the wall, the other resting on his knee.

"You were brave that night, Boris," she said.

"I--I wished to be--I tried to be. And if I had been--"

He stopped, then went on: "If I had been, Domini, really brave, if I
had done what I meant to do that night, what would our lives have been
to-day?"

"I don't know. We mustn't think of that to-night. We must think of the
future. Boris, there's no life, no real life without bravery. No man or
woman is worthy of living who is not brave."

He said nothing.

"Boris, let us--you and I--be worthy of living to-night--and in the
future."

"Give me your hand then," he answered. "Give it me, Domini."

But she did not give it to him. Instead she went on, speaking a little
more rapidly:

"Boris, don't rely too much on my strength. I am only a woman, and I
have to struggle. I have had to struggle more than perhaps you will
ever know. You--must not make--make things impossible for me. I am
trying--very hard--to--I'm--you must not touch me to-night, Boris."

She drew a little farther away from him. A faint breath of air made the
leaves of the palm trees rustle slightly, made the reeds move for an
instant by the pool. He laid his hand again on the wall from which he
had lifted it. There was a pleading sound in her voice which made him
feel as if it were speaking close against his heart.

"I said I would tell you to-night where we are going."

"Tell me now."

"We are going back to Beni-Mora. We are not very far off from Beni-Mora
to-night--not very far."

"We are going to Beni-Mora!" he repeated in a dull voice. "We are----"

He sat up on the wall, looking straight into her face.

"Why?" he said. His voice was sharp now, sharp with fear.

"Boris, do you want to be at peace, not with me, but with God? Do
you want to get rid of your burden of misery, which increases--I know
it--day by day?"

"How can I?" he said hopelessly.

"Isn't expiation the only way? I think it is."

"Expiation! How--how can--I can never expiate my sin."

"There's no sin that cannot be expiated. God isn't merciless. Come back
with me to Beni-Mora. That little church--where you married me--come
back to it with me. You could not confess to the--to Father Beret. I
feel as if I knew why. Where you married me you will--you must--make
your confession."

"To the priest who--to Father Roubier!"

There was fierce protest in his voice.

"It does not matter who is the priest who will receive your confession.
Only make it there--make it in the church at Beni-Mora where you married
me."

"That was your purpose! That is where you are taking me! I can't go, I
won't! Domini, think what you are doing! You are asking too much--"

"I feel that God is asking that of you. Don't refuse Him."

"I cannot go--at Beni-Mora where we--where everything will remind us--"

"Ah, don't you think I shall feel it too? Don't you think I shall
suffer?"

He felt horribly ashamed when she said that, bowed down with an
overwhelming weight of shame.

"But our lives"--he stammered--"but--if I go--afterwards--if I make my
confession--afterwards--afterwards?"

"Isn't it enough to think of that one thing? Isn't it better to put
everything else, every other thought, away? It seems so clear to me that
we should go to Beni-Mora. I feel as if I had been told--as a child is
told to do something by its father."

She looked up into the clear sky.

"I am sure I have been told," she added. "I know I have."

There was a long silence between them. Androvsky felt that he did not
dare to break it. Something in Domini's face and voice cast out from him
the instinct of revolt, of protest. He began to feel exhausted, without
power, like a sick man who is being carried by bearers in a litter, and
who looks at the landscape through which he is passing with listless
eyes, and who scarcely has the force to care whither he is being borne.

"Domini," he said at last, and his voice sounded very tired, "if you
say I must go to Beni-Mora I will go. I have done you a great wrong
and--and--"

"Don't think of me any more," she said. "Think--think as I
do--of--of----

"What am I? I have loved you, I shall always love you, but I am as you
are, here for a little while, elsewhere for all eternity. You told
him--that man in the monastery--that we are shadows set in a world of
shadows."

"That was a lie," he interrupted, and the weariness had gone out of his
voice. "When I said that I had never loved, I had never loved you."

"Or was it a half-truth? Aren't we, perhaps, shadow now in
comparison--comparison to what we shall be? Isn't this world, even
this--this desert, this pool with the light on it, this silence of the
night around us--isn't all this a shadow in comparison to the world
where we are going, you and I? Boris, I think if we are brave now we
shall be together in that world. But if we are cowards now, I think, I
am sure, that in that world--the real world--we shall be separated for
ever. You and I, whatever we may be, whatever we may have done, at least
are one thing--we are believers. We don't think this is all. If we did
it would be different. But we can't change the truth that is in our
souls, and as we can't change it we must live by it, we must act by it.
We can't do anything else. I can't--and you? Don't you feel, don't you
know, that you can't?"

"To-night," he said, "I feel that I know nothing--nothing except that I
am suffering."

His voice broke on the last words. Tears were shining in his eyes. After
a long silence he said:

"Domini, take me where you will. If it is to Beni-Mora I will go.
But--but--afterwards?"

"Afterwards----" she said.

Then she stopped.

The little note of the frog sounded again and again by the still water
among the reeds. The moon was higher in the sky. "Don't let us think
of afterwards, Boris," she said at length. "That song we have heard
together, that song we love--'No one but God and I knows what is in
my heart.' I hear it now so often, always almost. It seems to gather
meaning, it seems to--God knows what is in your heart and mine. He will
take care of the--afterwards. Perhaps in our hearts already He has put a
secret knowledge of the end."

"Has He--has He put it--that knowledge--into yours?"

"Hush!" she said.

They spoke no more that night.



CHAPTER XXIX

The caravan of Domini and Androvsky was leaving Arba.

Already the tents and the attendants, with the camels and the mules,
were winding slowly along the plain through the scrub in the direction
of the mountains, and the dark shadow which indicated the oasis of
Beni-Mora. Batouch was with them. Domini and Androvsky were going to be
alone on this last stage of their desert journey. They had mounted their
horses before the great door of the bordj, said goodbye to the Sheikh of
Arba, scattered some money among the ragged Arabs gathered to watch them
go, and cast one last look behind them.

In that mutual, instinctive look back they were both bidding a silent
farewell to the desert, that had sheltered their passion, surely taken
part in the joy of their love, watched the sorrow and the terror grow
in it to the climax at Amara, and was now whispering to them a faint and
mysterious farewell.

To Domini the desert had always been as a great and significant
personality, a personality that had called her persistently to come to
it. Now, as she turned on her horse, she felt as if it were calling her
no longer, as if its mission to her were accomplished, as if its voice
had sunk into a deep and breathless silence. She wondered if Androvsky
felt this too, but she did not ask him. His face was pale and severe.
His eyes stared into the distance. His hands lay on his horse's neck
like tired things with no more power to grip and hold. His lips were
slightly parted, and she heard the sound of his breath coming and going
like the breath of a man who is struggling. This sound warned her not to
try his strength or hers.

"Come, Boris," she said, and her voice held none of the passionate
regret that was in her heart, "we mustn't linger, or it will be night
before we reach Beni-Mora."

"Let it be night," he said. "Dark night!"

The horses moved slowly on, descending the hill on which stood the
bordj.

"Dark--dark night!" he said again.

She said nothing. They rode into the plain. When they were there he
said:

"Domini, do you understand--do you realise?"

"What, Boris?" she asked quietly.

"All that we are leaving to-day?"

"Yes, I understand."

"Are we--are we leaving it for ever?"

"We must not think of that."

"How can we help it? What else can we think of? Can one govern the
mind?"

"Surely, if we can govern the heart."

"Sometimes," he said, "sometimes I wonder----"

He looked at her. Something in her face made it impossible for him to
go on, to say what he had been going to say. But she understood the
unfinished sentence.

"If you can wonder, Boris," she said, "you don't know me, you don't know
me at all!"

"Domini," he said, "I don't wonder. But sometimes I understand your
strength, and sometimes it seems to me scarcely human, scarcely the
strength of a woman."

She lifted her whip and pointed to the dark shadow far away.

"I can just see the tower," she said. "Can't you?"

"I will not look," he said. "I cannot. If you can, you are stronger than
I. When I remember that it was on that tower you first spoke to me--oh,
Domini, if we could only go back! It is in our power. We have only to
draw a rein and--and--"

"I look at the tower," she said, "as once I looked at the desert. It
calls us, the shadow of the palm trees calls us, as once the desert
did."

"But the voice--what a different voice! Can you listen to it?"

"I have been listening to it ever since we left Amara. Yes, it is a
different voice, but we must obey it as we obeyed the voice of the
desert. Don't you feel that?"

"If I do it is because you tell me to feel it; you tell me that I must
feel it."

His words seemed to hurt her. An expression of pain came into her face.

"Boris," she said, "don't make me regret too terribly that I ever came
into your life. When you speak like that I feel almost as if you were
putting me in the place of--of--I feel as if you were depending upon me
for everything that you are doing, as if you were letting your own will
fall asleep. The desert brings dreams. I know that. But we, you and I,
we must not dream any more."

"A dream, you call it--the life we have lived together, our desert
life?"

"Boris, I only mean that we must live strongly now, act strongly now,
that we must be brave. I have always felt that there was strength in
you."

"Strength!" he said bitterly.

"Yes. Otherwise I could never have loved you. Don't ever prove to me
that I was utterly wrong. I can bear a great deal. But that--I don't
feel as if I could bear that."

After a moment he answered:

"I will try to give you nothing more to bear for me."

And he lifted his eyes and fixed them upon the tower with a sort of
stern intentness, as a man looks at something cruel, terrible.

She saw him do this.

"Let us ride quicker," she said. "To-night we must be in Beni-Mora."

He said nothing, but he touched his horse with his heel. His eyes were
always fixed upon the tower, as if they feared to look at the desert
any more. She understood that when he had said "I will try to give you
nothing more to bear for me," he had not spoken idly. He had waked up
from the egoism of his despair. He had been able to see more clearly
into her heart, to feel more rightly what she was feeling than he had
before. As she watched him watching the tower, she had a sensation that
a bond, a new bond between them, was chaining them together in a new
way. Was it not a bond that would be strong and lasting, that the
future, whatever it held, would not be able to break? Ties, sacred ties,
that had bound them together might, must, be snapped asunder. And the
end was not yet. She saw, as she gazed at the darkness of the palms of
Beni-Mora, a greater darkness approaching, deeper than any darkness of
palms, than any darkness of night. But now she saw also a ray of
light in the gloom, the light of the dawning strength, the dawning
unselfishness in Androvsky. And she resolved to fix her eyes upon it as
he fixed his eyes upon the tower.

Just after sunset they rode into Beni-Mora in advance of the camp, which
they had passed upon their way. To the right were the trees of Count
Anteoni's garden. Domini felt them, but she did not look towards them.
Nor did Androvsky. They kept their eyes fixed upon the distance of
the white road. Only when they reached the great hotel, now closed and
deserted, did she glance away. She could not pass the tower without
seeing it. But she saw it through a mist of tears, and her hands
trembled upon the reins they held. For a moment she felt that she must
break down, that she had no more strength left in her. But they came to
the statue of the Cardinal holding the double cross towards the desert
like a weapon. And she looked at it and saw the Christ.

"Boris," she whispered, "there is the Christ. Let us think only of that
tonight."

She saw him look at it steadily.

"You remember," she said, at the bottom of the avenue of cypresses--"at
El-Largani--_Factus obediens usque ad mortem Crucis_?"

"Yes, Domini."

"We can be obedient too. Let us be obedient too."

When she said that, and looked at him, Androvsky felt as if he were on
his knees before her, as he was upon his knees in the garden when he
could not go away. But he felt, too, that then, though he had loved her,
he had not known how to love her, how to love anyone. She had taught him
now. The lesson sank into his heart like a sword and like balm. It was
as if he were slain and healed by the same stroke.

That night, as Domini lay in the lonely room in the hotel, with the
French windows open to the verandah, she heard the church clock chime
the hour and the distant sound of the African hautboy in the street of
the dancers, she heard again the two voices. The hautboy was barbarous
and provocative, but she thought that it was no more shrill with a
persistent triumph. Presently the church bell chimed again.

Was it the bell of the church of Beni-Mora, or the bell of the chapel
of El-Largani? Or was it not rather the voice of the great religion to
which she belonged, to which Androvsky was returning?

When it ceased she whispered to herself, "_Factus obediens usque ad
mortem Crucis_." And with these words upon her lips towards dawn
she fell asleep. They had dined upstairs in the little room that had
formerly been Domini's salon, and had not seen Father Roubier, who
always came to the hotel to take his evening meal