Part 1 out of 12
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
THE GARDEN OF ALLAH
This text was prepared from an edition published by Grosset &
Dunlap, New York. It was originally published in 1904.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"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
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?"
"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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"That is Hadj," said Batouch in his soft, rich voice.
"Yes. He is my cousin. He lives in Beni-Mora, but he, too, has been in
Paris. He has been in prison too."
Batouch gave this piece of information with quiet indifference, and
"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
"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
Here Batouch looked steadily at Domini with his large, unconcerned
"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
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
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
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
"Suzanne!" she called.
Her maid appeared, yawning, with various parcels in her hands.
"I sha'n't go down to the /salle-a-manger/ to-night. Tell them to give
me some dinner in my /salon/."
"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."
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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: