Part 10 out of 12
of any service to you. The hour is informal, I know, but to tell the
truth, Madame, after five years in Amara one does not know how to be
formal any longer."
His eyes, which had a slightly impudent look, rare in a priest but not
unpleasing, twinkled cheerfully in the lamplight as he spoke, and his
whole expression betokened a highly social disposition and the most
genuine pleasure at meeting with a stranger. While she looked at him,
and heard him speak, Domini laughed at herself for the imaginations
she had just been cherishing. He had a broad figure, long arms, large
feet encased in stout, comfortable boots. His face was burnt brown by
the sun and partially concealed by a heavy black beard, whiskers and
moustache. His features were blunt and looked boyish, though his age
must have been about forty. The nose was snub, and accorded with the
expression in his eyes, which were black like his hair and full of
twinkling lights. As he smiled genially on Domini he showed two rows
of small, square white teeth. His Marseilles accent exactly suited his
appearance, which was rough but honest. Domini welcomed him gladly.
Indeed, her reception of him was more than cordial, almost eager. For
she had been vaguely expecting some tragic figure, some personality
suggestive of mystery or sorrow, and she thought of the incidents at
Mogar, and associated the moving light with the approach of further
strange events. This homely figure of her religion, beaming
satisfaction and comfortable anticipation of friendly intercourse,
laid to rest fears which only now, when she was conscious of relief,
she knew she had been entertaining. She begged the priest to come into
the dining-tent, and, taking up the little bell which was on the
table, went out into the sand and rang it for Ouardi.
He came at once, like a shadow gliding over the waste.
"Bring us coffee for two, Ouardi, biscuits"--she glanced at her
visitor--"bon-bons, yes, the bon-bons in the white box, and the
cigars. And take the soldier with you and entertain him well. Give him
whatever he likes."
Ouardi went away with the soldier, talking frantically, and Domini
returned to the tent, where she found the priest gleaming with joyous
anticipation. They sat down in the comfortable basket chairs before
the tent door, through which they could see the shining of the city's
lights and hear the distant sound of its throbbing and wailing music.
"My husband has gone to see the city," Domini said after she had told
the priest her name and been informed that his was Max Beret.
"We only arrived this evening."
"I know, Madame."
He beamed on her, and stroked his thick beard with his broad, sunburnt
hand. "Everyone in Amara knows, and everyone in the tents. We know,
too, how many tents you have, how many servants, how many camels,
He broke into a hearty laugh.
"We know what you've just had for dinner!"
Domini laughed too.
"Well, I heard in the camp that it was soup and stewed mutton. But
never mind! You must forgive us. We are barbarians! We are sand-
rascals! We are ruffians of the sun!"
His laugh was infectious. He leaned back in his chair and shook with
the mirth his own remarks had roused.
"We are ruffians of the sun!" he repeated with gusto. "And we must be
Although clad in a soutane he looked, at that moment, like a type of
the most joyous tolerance, and Domini could not help mentally
comparing him with the priest of Beni-Mora. What would Father Roubier
think of Father Beret?
"It is easy to forgive in the sun," Domini said.
The priest laid his hands on his knees, setting his feet well apart.
She noticed that his hands were not scrupulously clean.
"Madame," he said, "it is impossible to be anything but lenient in the
sun. That is my experience. Excuse me but are you a Catholic?"
"So much the better. You must let me show you the chapel. It is in the
building with the cupolas. The congregation consists of five on a full
Sunday." His laugh broke out again. "I hope the day after to-morrow
you and your husband will make it seven. But, as I was saying, the sun
teaches one a lesson of charity. When I first came to live in Africa
in the midst of the sand-rascals--eh; Madame!--I suppose as a priest I
ought to have been shocked by their goings-on. And indeed I tried to
be, I conscientiously did my best. But it was no good. I couldn't be
shocked. The sunshine drove it all out of me. I could only say, 'It is
not for me to question /le bon Dieu/, and /le bon Dieu/ has created
these people and set them here in the sand to behave as they do.' What
is my business? I can't convert them. I can't change their morals. I
must just be a friend to them, cheer them up in their sorrows, give
them a bit if they're starving, doctor them a little. I'm a first-rate
hand at making an Arab take a pill or a powder!--when they are ill,
and make them at home with the white marabout. That's what the sun has
taught me, and every sand-rascal and sand-rascal's child in Amara is a
friend of mine."
He stretched out his legs as if he wished to elongate his
satisfaction, and stared Domini full in the face with eyes that
confidently, naively, asked for her approval of his doctrine of the
sun. She could not help liking him, though she felt more as if she
were sitting with a jolly, big, and rather rowdy boy than with a
"You are fond of the Arabs then?" she said.
"Of course I am, Madame. I can speak their language, and I'm as much
at home in their tents, and more, than I should ever be at the Vatican
--with all respect to the Holy Father."
He got up, went out into the sand, expectorated noisily, then returned
to the tent, wiping his bearded mouth with a large red cotton pocket-
"Are you staying here long, Madame?"
He sat down again in his chair, making it creak with his substantial
"I don't know. If my husband is happy here. But he prefers the
solitudes, I think."
"Does he? And yet he's gone into the city. Plenty of bustle there at
night, I can tell you. Well, now, I don't agree with your husband. I
know it's been said that solitude is good for the sad, but I think
just the contrary. Ah!"
The last sonorously joyous exclamation jumped out of Father Beret at
the sight of Ouardi, who at this moment entered with a large tray,
covered with a coffee-pot, cups, biscuits, bon-bons, cigars, and a
bulging flask of some liqueur flanked by little glasses.
"You fare generously in the desert I see, Madame," he exclaimed. "And
so much the better. What's your servant's name?"
Domini told him.
"Ouardi! that means born in the time of the roses." He addressed
Ouardi in Arabic and sent him off into the darkness chuckling gaily.
"These Arab names all have their meanings--Onlagareb, mother of
scorpions, Omteoni, mother of eagles, and so on. So much the better!
Comforts are rare here, but you carry them with you. Sugar, if you
Domini put two lumps into his cup.
"If you allow me!"
He added two more.
"I never refuse a good cigar. These harmless joys are excellent for
man. They help his Christianity. They keep him from bitterness, harsh
judgments. But harshness is for northern climes--rainy England, eh?
Forgive me, Madame. I speak in joke. You come from England perhaps. It
didn't occur to me that--"
They both laughed. His garrulity was irresistible and made Domini feel
as if she were sitting with a child. Perhaps he caught her feeling,
for he added:
"The desert has made me an /enfant terrible/, I fear. What have you
His eyes had been attracted by the flask of liqueur, to which Domini
was stretching out her hand with the intention of giving him some.
"I don't know."
She leaned forward to read the name on the flask.
"L o u a r i n e," she said.
"Pst!" exclaimed the priest, with a start.
"Will you have some? I don't know whether it's good. I've never tasted
it, or seen it before. Will you have some?"
She felt so absolutely certain that he would say "Yes" that she lifted
the flask to pour the liqueur into one of the little glasses, but,
looking at him, she saw that he hesitated.
"After all--why not?" he ejaculated. "Why not?"
She was holding the flask over the glass. He saw that his remark
"Yes, Madame, thanks."
She poured out the liqueur and handed it to him. He set it down by his
"The fact is, Madame--but you know nothing about this liqueur?"
"No, nothing. What is it?"
Her curiosity was roused by his hesitation, his words, but still more
by a certain gravity which had come into his face.
"Well, this liqueur comes from the Trappist monastery of El-Largani."
"The monks' liqueur!" she exclaimed.
And instantly she thought of Mogar.
"You do know then?"
"Ouardi told me we had with us a liqueur made by some monks."
"This is it, and very excellent it is. I have tasted it in Tunis."
"But then why did you hesitate to take it here?"
He lifted his glass up to the lamp. The light shone on its contents,
showing that the liquid was pale green.
"Madame," he said, "the Trappists of El-Largani have a fine property.
They grow every sort of things, but their vineyards are specially
famous, and their wines bring in a splendid revenue. This is their
only liqueur, this Louarine. It, too, has brought in a lot of money to
the community, but when what they have in stock at the monastery now
is exhausted they will never make another franc by Louarine."
"But why not?"
"The secret of its manufacture belonged to one monk only. At his death
he was to confide it to another whom he had chosen."
"And he died suddenly without--"
"Madame, he didn't die."
The gravity had returned to the priest's face and deepened there,
transforming it. He put the glass down without touching it with his
"Then--I don't understand."
"He disappeared from the monastery."
"Do you mean he left it--a Trappist?"
"After taking the final vows?"
"Oh, he had been a monk at El-Largani for over twenty years."
"How horrible!" Domini said. She looked at the pale-green liquid. "How
horrible!" she repeated.
"Yes. The monks would have kept the matter a secret, but a servant of
the /hotellerie/--who had taken no vow of eternal silence--spoke, and
--well, I know it here in the 'belly of the desert.'"
She said the word again, and as if she felt its meaning more acutely
each time she spoke it.
"After twenty years to go!" she added after a moment. "And was there
no reason, no--no excuse--no, I don't mean excuse! But had nothing
"What exceptional thing can happen in a Trappist monastery?" said the
priest. "One day is exactly like another there, and one year exactly
"Was it long ago?"
"No, not very long. Only some months. Oh, perhaps it may be a year by
now, but not more. Poor fellow! I suppose he was a man who didn't know
himself, Madame, and the devil tempted him."
"But after twenty years!" said Domini.
The thing seemed to her almost incredible.
"That man must be in hell now," she added. "In the hell a man can make
for himself by his own act. Oh, here is my husband."
Androvsky stood in the tent door, looking in upon them with startled,
scrutinising eyes. He had come over the deep sand without noise.
Neither Domini nor the priest had heard a footstep. The priest got up
from his chair and bowed genially.
"Good-evening, Monsieur," he said, not waiting for any introduction.
"I am the Aumonier of Amara, and----"
He paused in the full flow of his talk. Androvsky's eyes had wandered
from his face to the table, upon which stood the coffee, the liqueur,
and the other things brought by Ouardi. It was evident even to the
self-centred priest that his host was not listening to him. There was
a moment's awkward pause. Then Domini said:
"Boris, Monsieur l'Aumonier!"
She did not speak loudly, but with an intention that recalled the mind
of her husband. He stepped slowly into the tent and held out his hand
in silence to the priest. As he did so the lamplight fell full upon
"Boris, are you ill?" Domini exclaimed.
The priest had taken Androvsky's hand, but with a doubtful air. His
cheerful and confident manner had died away, and his eyes, fixed upon
his host, shone with an astonishment which was mingled with a sort of
boyish glumness. It was evident that he felt that his presence was
"I have a headache," Androvsky said. "I--that is why I returned."
He dropped the priest's hand. He was again looking towards the table.
"The sun was unusually fierce to-day," Domini said. "Do you think--"
"Yes, yes," he interrupted. "That's it. I must have had a touch of the
He put his hand to his head.
"Excuse me, Monsieur," he said, speaking to the priest but not looking
at him. "I am really feeling unwell. Another day--"
He went out of the tent and disappeared silently into the darkness.
Domini and the priest looked after him. Then the priest, with an air
of embarrassment, took up his hat from the table. His cigar had gone
out, but he pulled at it as if he thought it was still alight, then
took it out of his mouth and, glancing with a naive regret at the good
things upon the table, his half-finished coffee, the biscuits, the
white box of bon-bons--said:
"Madame, I must be off. I've a good way to go, and it's getting late.
If you will allow me--"
He went to the tent door and called, in a powerful voice:
He paused, then called again:
A light travelled over the sand from the farther tents of the
servants. Then the priest turned round to Domini and shook her by the
"I'm very sorry," she said, not trying to detain him. "You must come
again. My husband is evidently ill, and--"
"You must go to him. Of course. Of course. This sun is a blessing.
Still, it brings fever sometimes, especially to strangers. We sand-
rascals--eh, Madame!" he laughed, but the laugh had lost its sonorous
ring--"we can stand it. It's our friend. But for travellers sometimes
it's a little bit too much. But now, mind, I'm a bit of a doctor, and
if to-morrow your husband is no better I might--anyhow"--he looked
again longingly at the bon-bons and the cigars--"if you'll allow me
I'll call to know how he is."
"Thank you, Monsieur."
"Not at all, Madame, not at all! I can set him right in a minute, if
it's anything to do with the sun, in a minute. Ah, here's Belgassem!"
The soldier stood like a statue without, bearing the lantern. The
priest hesitated. He was holding the burnt-out cigar in his hand, and
now he glanced at it and then at the cigar-box. A plaintive expression
overspread his bronzed and bearded face. It became almost piteous.
Quickly Domini wait to the table, took two cigars from the box and
"Yon must have a cigar to smoke on the way."
"Really, Madame, you are too good, but--well, I rarely refuse a fine
cigar, and these--upon my word--are--"
He struck a match on his broad-toed boot. His demeanour was becoming
cheerful again. Domini gave the other cigar to the soldier.
"Good-night, Madame. A demain then, a demain! I trust your husband may
be able to rest. A demain! A demain!"
The light moved away over the dunes and dropped down towards the city.
Then Domini hurried across the sand to the sleeping-tent. As she went
she was acutely aware of the many distant noises that rose up in the
night to the pale crescent of the young moon, the pulsing of the
tomtoms in the city, the faint screaming of the pipes that sounded
almost like human beings in distress, the passionate barking of the
guard dogs tied up to the tents on the sand-slopes where the
multitudes of fires gleamed. The sensation of being far away, and
close to the heart of the desert, deepened in her, but she felt now
that it was a savage heart, that there was something terrible in the
remoteness. In the faint moonlight the tent cast black shadows upon
the wintry whiteness of the sands, that rose and fell like waves of a
smooth but foam-covered sea. And the shadow of the sleeping-tent
looked the blackest of them all. For she began to feel as if there was
another darkness about it than the darkness that it cast upon the
sand. Her husband's face that night as he came in from the dunes had
been dark with a shadow cast surely by his soul. And she did not know
what it was in his soul that sent forth the shadow.
She was at the door of the sleeping-tent. He did not answer.
He came in from the farther tent that he used as a dressing-room,
carrying a lit candle in his hand. She went up to him with a movement
of swift, ardent sincerity.
"You felt ill in the city? Did Batouch let you come back alone?"
"I preferred to be alone."
He set down the candle on the table, and moved so that the light of it
did not fall upon his face. She took his hands in hers gently. There
was no response in his hands. They remained in hers, nervelessly. They
felt almost like dead things in her hands. But they were not cold, but
"You have fever!" she said.
She let one of his hands go and put one of hers to his forehead.
"Your forehead is burning, and your pulses--how they are beating! Like
hammers! I must--"
"Don't give me anything, Domini! It would be useless."
She was silent. There was a sound of hopelessness in his voice that
frightened her. It was like the voice of a man rejecting remedies
because he knew that he was stricken with a mortal disease.
"Why did that priest come here to-night?" he asked.
They were both standing up, but now he sat down in a chair heavily,
taking his hand from hers.
"Merely to pay a visit of courtesy."
He spoke suspiciously. Again she thought of Mogar, and of how, on his
return from the dunes, he had said to her, "There is a light in the
tower." A painful sensation of being surrounded with mystery came upon
her. It was hateful to her strong and frank nature. It was like a
miasma that suffocated her soul.
"Oh, Boris," she exclaimed bluntly, "why should he not come at night?"
"Is such a thing usual?"
"But he was visiting the tents over there--of the nomads, and he had
heard of our arrival. He knew it was informal, but, as he said, in the
desert one forgets formalities."
"And--and did he ask for anything?"
"I saw--on the table-coffee and--and there was liqueur."
"Naturally I offered him something."
"He didn't ask?"
"But, Boris, how could he?"
After a moment of silence he said:
"No, of course not."
He shifted in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, put his hands
on the arms of it, and continued:
"What did he talk about?"
"A little about Amara."
"That was all?"
"He hadn't been here long when you came--"
"But he told me one thing that was horrible," she added, obedient to
her instinct always to tell the complete truth to him, even about
trifles which had nothing to do with their lives or their relation to
"Horrible!" Androvsky said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward in
She sat down by him. They both had their backs to the light and were
"What was it about--some crime here?"
"Oh, no! It was about that liqueur you saw on the table."
Androvsky was sitting upon a basket chair. As she spoke it creaked
under a violent movement that he made.
"How could--what could there be that was horrible connected with
that?" he asked, speaking slowly.
"It was made by a monk, a Trappist--"
He got up from his chair and went to the opening of the tent.
"What--" she began, thinking he was perhaps feeling the pain in his
head more severely.
"I only want to be in the air. It's rather hot there. Stay where, you
are, Domini, and--well, what else?"
He stepped out into the sand, and stood just outside the tent in its
"It was invented by a Trappist monk of the monastery of El-Largani,
who disappeared from the monastery. He had taken the final vows. He
had been there for over twenty years."
"He--he disappeared--did the priest say?"
"I don't think--I am sure he doesn't know. But what does it matter?
The awful thing is that he should leave the monastery after taking the
eternal vows--vows made to God."
After a moment, during which neither of them spoke and Androvsky stood
quite still in the sand, she added:
Androvsky came a step towards her, then paused.
"Why do you say that, Domini?"
"I was thinking of the agony he must be enduring if he is still
"Of mind, of heart. You--I know, Boris, you can't feel with me on
"Yet!" he said.
"Boris"--she got up and came to the tent door, but not out upon the
sand--"I dare to hope that some day perhaps----"
She was silent, looking towards him with her brave, steady eyes.
"Agony of heart?" Androvsky said, recurring to her words. "You think--
what--you pity that man then?"
"And don't you?"
"I--what has he to do with--us? Why should we--?"
"I know. But one does sometimes pity men one never has seen, never
will see, if one hears something frightful about them. Perhaps--don't
smile, Boris--perhaps it was seeing that liqueur, which he had
actually made in the monastery when he was at peace with God, perhaps
it was seeing that, that has made me realise--such trifles stir the
imagination, set it working--at any rate--"
She broke off. After a minute, during which he said nothing, she
"I believe the priest felt something of the same sort. He could not
drink the liqueur that man had made, although he intended to."
"But--that might have been for a different reason," Androvsky said in
a harsh voice; "priests have strange ideas. They often judge things
cruelly, very cruelly."
"Perhaps they do. Yes; I can imagine that Father Roubier of Beni-Mora
might, though he is a good man and leads a saintly life."
"Those are sometimes the most cruel. They do not understand."
"Perhaps not. It may be so. But this priest--he's not like that."
She thought of his genial, bearded face, his expression when he said,
"We are ruffians of the sun," including himself with the desert men,
his boisterous laugh.
"His fault might be the other way."
"Too great a tolerance."
"Can a man be too tolerant towards his fellow-man?" said Androvsky.
There was a strange sound of emotion in his deep voice which moved
her. It seemed to her--why, she did not know--to steal out of the
depth of something their mutual love had created.
"The greatest of all tolerance is God's," she said. "I'm sure--quite
Androvsky came in out of the shadow of the tent, took her in his arms
with passion, laid his lips on hers with passion, hot, burning force
and fire, and a hard tenderness that was hard because it was intense.
"God will bless you," he said. "God will bless you. Whatever life
brings you at the end you must--you must be blessed by Him."
"But He has blessed me," she whispered, through tears that rushed from
her eyes, stirred from their well-springs by his sudden outburst of
love for her. "He has blessed me. He has given me you, your love, your
Androvsky released her as abruptly as he had taken her in his arms,
turned, and went out into the desert.
True to his promise, on the following day the priest called to inquire
after Androvsky's health. He happened to come just before /dejeuner/
was ready, and met Androvsky on the sand before the tent door.
"It's not fever then, Monsieur," he said, after they had shaken hands.
"No, no," Androvsky replied. "I am quite well this morning."
The priest looked at him closely with an unembarrassed scrutiny.
"Have you been long in the desert, Monsieur?" he asked.
"The heat has tired you. I know the look--"
"I assure you, Monsieur, that I am accustomed to heat. I have lived in
North Africa all my life."
"Indeed. And yet by your appearance I should certainly suppose that
you needed a change from the desert. The air of the Sahara is
magnificent, but there are people--"
"I am not one of them," Androvsky said abruptly. "I have never felt so
strong physically as since I have lived in the sand."
The priest still looked at him closely, but said nothing further on
the subject of health. Indeed, almost immediately his attention was
distracted by the apparition of Ouardi bearing dishes from the cook's
"I am afraid I have called at a very unorthodox time," he remarked,
looking at his watch; "but the fact is that here in Amara we--"
"I hope you will stay to /dejeuner/," Androvsky said.
"It is very good of you. If you are certain that I shall not put you
"I will, then, with pleasure."
He moved his lips expectantly, as if only a sense of politeness
prevented him from smacking them. Androvsky went towards the sleeping-
tent, where Domini, who had been into the city, was washing her hands.
"The priest has called," he said. "I have asked him to /dejeuner/."
She looked at him with frank astonishment in her dark eyes.
"Yes, I. Why not?"
"I don't know. But generally you hate people."
"He seems a good sort of man."
She still looked at him with some surprise, even with curiosity.
"Have you taken a fancy to a priest?" she asked, smiling.
"Why not? This man is very different from Father Roubier, more human."
"Father Beret is very human, I think," she answered.
She was still smiling. It had just occurred to her that the priest had
timed his visit with some forethought.
"I am coming," she added.
A sudden cheerfulness had taken possession of her. All the morning she
had been feeling grave, even almost apprehensive, after a bad night.
When her husband had abruptly left her and gone away into the darkness
she had been overtaken by a sudden wave of acute depression. She had
felt, more painfully than ever before, the mental separation which
existed between them despite their deep love, and a passionate but
almost hopeless longing had filled her heart that in all things they
might be one, not only in love of each other, but in love of God. When
Androvsky had taken his arms from her she had seemed to feel herself
released by a great despair, and this certainty--for as he vanished
into the darkness she was no more in doubt that his love for her left
room within his heart for such an agony--had for a moment brought her
soul to the dust. She had been overwhelmed by a sensation that instead
of being close together they were far apart, almost strangers, and a
great bitterness had entered into her. It was accompanied by a desire
for action. She longed to follow Androvsky, to lay her hand on his
arm, to stop him in the sand and force him to confide in her. For the
first time the idea that he was keeping something from her, a sorrow,
almost maddened her, even made her feel jealous. The fact that she
divined what that sorrow was, or believed she divined it, did not help
her just then. She waited a long while, but Androvsky did not return,
and at last she prayed and went to bed. But her prayers were feeble,
disjointed, and sleep did not come to her, for her mind was travelling
with this man who loved her and who yet was out there alone in the
night, who was deliberately separating himself from her. Towards dawn,
when he stole into the tent, she was still awake, but she did not
speak or give any sign of consciousness, although she was hot with the
fierce desire to spring up, to throw her arms round him, to draw his
head down upon her heart, and say, "I have given myself, body, heart
and soul, to you. Give yourself to me; give me the thing you are
keeping back--your sorrow. Till I have that I have not all of you. And
till I have all of you I am in hell."
It was a mad impulse. She resisted it and lay quite still. And when he
lay down and was quiet she slept at length.
Now, as she heard him speak in the sunshine and knew that he had
offered hospitality to the comfortable priest her heart suddenly felt
lighter, she scarcely knew why. It seemed to her that she had been a
little morbid, and that the cloud which had settled about her was
lifted, revealing the blue.
At /dejeuner/ she was even more reassured. Her husband seemed to get
on with the priest better than she had ever seen him get on with
anybody. He began by making an effort to be agreeable that was obvious
to her; but presently he was agreeable without effort. The simple
geniality and lack of self-consciousness in Father Beret evidently set
him at his ease. Once or twice she saw him look at his guest with an
earnest scrutiny that puzzled her, but he talked far more than usual
and with greater animation, discussing the Arabs and listening to the
priest's account of the curiosities of life in Amara. When at length
Father Beret rose to go Androvsky said he would accompany him a little
way, and they went off together, evidently on the best of terms.
She was delighted and surprised. She had been right, then. It was time
that Androvsky was subjected to another influence than that of the
unpeopled wastes. It was time that he came into contact with men whose
minds were more akin to his than the minds of the Arabs who had been
their only companions. She began to imagine him with her in civilised
places, to be able to imagine him. And she was glad they had come to
Amara and confirmed in her resolve to stay on there. She even began to
wish that the French officers quartered there--few in number, some
five or six--would find them in the sand, and that Androvsky would
offer them hospitality. It occurred to her that it was not quite
wholesome for a man to live in isolation from his fellow-men, even
with the woman he loved, and she determined that she would not be
selfish in her love, that she would think for Androvsky, act for him,
even against her own inclination. Perhaps his idea of life in an oasis
apart from Europeans was one she ought to combat, though it fascinated
her. Perhaps it would be stronger, more sane, to face a more ordinary,
less dreamy, life, in which they would meet with people, in which they
would inevitably find themselves confronted with duties. She felt
powerful enough in that moment to do anything that would make for
Androvsky's welfare of soul. His body was strong and at ease. She
thought of him going away with the priest in friendly conversation.
How splendid it would be if she could feel some day that the health of
his soul accorded completely with that of his body!
"Batouch!" she called almost gaily.
Batouch appeared, languidly smoking a cigarette, and with a large
flower tied to a twig protending from behind his ear.
"Saddle the horses. Monsieur has gone with the Pere Beret. I shall
take a ride, just a short ride round the camp over there--in at the
city gate, through the market-place, and home. You will come with me."
Batouch threw away his cigarette with energy. Poet though he was, all
the Arab blood in him responded to the thought of a gallop over the
sands. Within a few minutes they were off. When she was in the saddle
it was at all times difficult for Domini to be sad or even pensive.
She had a native passion for a good horse, and riding was one of the
joys, and almost the keenest, of her life. She felt powerful when she
had a spirited, fiery animal under her, and the wide spaces of the
desert summoned speed as they summoned dreams. She and Batouch went
away at a rapid pace, circled round the Arab cemetery, made a detour
towards the south, and then cantered into the midst of the camps of
the Ouled Nails. It was the hour of the siesta. Only a few people were
stirring, coming and going over the dunes to and from the city on
languid errands for the women of the tents, who reclined in the shade
of their brushwood arbours upon filthy cushions and heaps of multi-
coloured rags, smoking cigarettes, playing cards with Arab and negro
admirers, or staring into vacancy beneath their heavy eyebrows as they
listened to the sound of music played upon long pipes of reed. No dogs
barked in their camp. The only guardians were old women, whose sandy
faces were scored with innumerable wrinkles, and whose withered hands
drooped under their loads of barbaric rings and bracelets. Batouch
would evidently have liked to dismount here. Like all Arabs he was
fascinated by the sight of these idols of the waste, whose painted
faces called to the surface the fluid poetry within him, but Domini
rode on, descending towards the city gate by which she had first
entered Amara. The priest's house was there and Androvsky was with the
priest. She hoped he had perhaps gone in to return the visit paid to
them. As she rode into the city she glanced at the house. The door was
open and she saw the gay rugs in the little hall. She had a strong
inclination to stop and ask if her husband were there. He might mount
Batouch's horse and accompany her home.
"Batouch," she said, "will you ask if Monsieur Androvsky is with Pere
Beret. I think--"
She stopped speaking. She had just seen her husband's face pass across
the window-space of the room on the right-hand side of the hall door.
She could not see it very well. The arcade built out beyond the house
cast a deep shade within, and in this shade the face had flitted like
a shadow. Batouch had sprung from his horse. But the sight of the
shadowy face had changed her mind. She resolved not to interrupt the
two men. Long ago at Beni-Mora she had asked Androvsky to call upon a
priest. She remembered the sequel to that visit. This time Androvsky
had gone of his own will. If he liked this priest, if they became
friends, perhaps--she remembered her vision in the dancing-house, her
feeling that when she drew near Amara she was drawing near to the
heart of the desert. If she should see Androvsky praying here! Yet
Father Beret hardly seemed a man likely to influence her husband, or
anyone with a strong and serious personality. He was surely too fond
of the things of this world, too obviously a lover and cherisher of
the body. Nevertheless, there was something attractive in him, a
kindness, a geniality. In trouble he would be sympathetic. Certainly
her husband must have taken a liking to him, and the chances of life
and the influences of destiny were strange and not to be foreseen.
"No, Batouch," she said. "We won't stop."
"But, Madame," he cried, "Monsieur is in there. I saw his face at the
"Never mind. We won't disturb them. I daresay they have something to
They cantered on towards the market-place. It was not market-day, and
the town, like the camp of the Ouled Nails, was almost deserted. As
she rode up the hill towards the place of the fountain, however, she
saw two handsomely-dressed Arabs, followed by a servant, slowly
strolling towards her from the doorway of the Bureau Arabe. One, who
was very tall, was dressed in green, and carried a long staff, from
which hung green ribbons. The other wore a more ordinary costume of
white, with a white burnous and a turban spangled with gold.
"Madame!" said Batouch.
"Do you see the Arab dressed in green?"
He spoke in an almost awestruck voice.
"Yes. Who is he?"
"The great marabout who lives at Beni-Hassan."
The name struck upon Domini's ear with a strange familiarity.
"But that's where Count Anteoni went when he rode away from Beni-Mora
"Is it far from Amara?"
"Two hours' ride across the desert."
"But then Count Anteoni may be near us. After he left he wrote to me
and gave me his address at the marabout's house."
"If he is still with the marabout, Madame."
They were close to the fountain now, and the marabout and his
companion were coming straight towards them.
"If Madame will allow me I will salute the marabout," said Batouch.
He sprang off his horse immediately, tied it up to the railing of the
fountain, and went respectfully towards the approaching potentate to
kiss his hand. Domini saw the marabout stop and Batouch bend down,
then lift himself up and suddenly move back as if in surprise. The
Arab who was with the marabout seemed also surprised. He held out his
hand to Batouch, who took it, kissed it, then kissed his own hand, and
turning, pointed towards Domini. The Arab spoke a word to the
marabout, then left him, and came rapidly forward to the fountain. As
he drew close to her she saw a face browned by the sun, a very small,
pointed beard, a pair of intensely bright eyes surrounded by wrinkles.
These eyes held her. It seemed to her that she knew them, that she had
often looked into them and seen their changing expressions. Suddenly
"Yes, it is I!"
He held out his hand and clasped hers.
"So you have started upon your desert journey," he added, looking
closely at her, as he had often looked in the garden.
"And as I ventured to advise--that last time, do you remember?"
She recollected his words.
"No," she replied, and there was a warmth of joy, almost of pride, in
her voice. "I am not alone."
Count Anteoni was standing with one hand on her horse's neck. As she
spoke, his hand dropped down.
"I have been away from Beni-Hassan," he said slowly. "The marabout and
I have been travelling in the south and only returned yesterday. I
have heard no news for a long time from Beni-Mora, but I know. You are
"Yes," she answered; "I am Madame Androvsky."
There was a silence between them. In it she heard the dripping water
in the fountain. At last Count Anteoni spoke again.
"It was written," he said quietly. "It was written in the sand."
She thought of the sand-diviner and was silent. An oppression of
spirit had suddenly come upon her. It seemed to her connected with
something physical, something obscure, unusual, such as she had never
felt before. It was, she thought, as if her body at that moment became
more alive than it had ever been, and as if that increase of life
within her gave to her a peculiar uneasiness. She was startled. She
even felt alarmed, as at the faint approach of something strange, of
something that was going to alter her life. She did not know at all
what it was. For the moment a sense of confusion and of pain beset
her, and she was scarcely aware with whom she was, or where. The
sensation passed and she recovered herself and met Count Anteoni's
"Yes," she answered; "all that has happened to me here in Africa was
written in the sand and in fire."
"You are thinking of the sun."
"I--where are you living?"
"Close by on the sand-hill beyond the city wall."
"Where you can see the fires lit at night and hear the sound of the
music of Africa?"
"As he said."
"Yes, as he said."
Again the overwhelming sense of some strange and formidable approach
came over her, but this time she fought it resolutely.
"Will you come and see me?" she said.
She had meant to say "us," but did not say it.
"If you will allow me."
"I--" she heard the odd, upward grating in his voice which she
remembered so well. "May I come now if you are riding to the tents?"
"I will explain to the marabout and follow you."
"But the way? Shall Batouch--?"
"No, it is not necessary."
She rode away. When she reached the camp she found that Androvsky had
not yet returned, and she was glad. She wanted to talk to Count
Anteoni alone. Within a few minutes she saw him coming towards the
tent. His beard and his Arab dress so altered him that at a short
distance she could not recognise him, could only guess that it was he.
But directly he was near, and she saw his eyes, she forgot that he was
altered, and felt that she was with her kind and whimsical host of the
"My husband is in the city," she said.
"With the priest."
She saw an expression of surprise flit over Count Anteoni's face. It
went away instantly.
"Pere Beret," he said. "He is a cheerful creature and very good to the
They sat down just inside the shadow of the tent before the door, and
he looked out quietly towards the city.
"Yes, this is the place," he said.
She knew that he was alluding to the vision of the sand-diviner, and
"Did you believe at the time that what he said would come true?" she
"How could I? Am I a child?"
He spoke with gentle irony, but she felt he was playing with her.
"Cannot a man believe such things?"
He did not answer her, but said:
"My fate has come to pass. Do you not care to know what it is?"
"Yes, do tell me."
She spoke earnestly. She felt a change in him, a great change which as
yet she did not understand fully. It was as if he had been a man in
doubt and was now a man no longer in doubt, as if he had arrived at
some goal and was more at peace with himself than he had been.
"I have become a Mohammedan," he said simply.
She repeated the words as a person repeats words in surprise, but her
voice did not sound surprised.
"You wonder?" he asked.
After a moment she answered:
"No. I never thought of such a thing, but I am not surprised. Now you
have told me it seems to explain you, much that I noticed in you,
wondered about in you."
She looked at him steadily, but without curiosity.
"I feel that you are happy now."
"Yes, I am happy. The world I used to know, my world and yours, would
laugh at me, would say that I was crazy, that it was a whim, that I
wished for a new sensation. Simply it had to be. For years I have been
tending towards it--who knows why? Who knows what obscure influences
have been at work in me, whether there is not perhaps far back, some
faint strain of Arab blood mingled with the Sicilian blood in my
veins? I cannot understand why. What I can understand is that at last
I have fulfilled my destiny! After years of unrest I am suddenly and
completely at peace. It is a magical sensation. I have been wandering
all my life and have come upon the open door of my home."
He spoke very quietly, but she heard the joy in his voice.
"I remember you saying, 'I like to see men praying in the desert.'"
"Yes. When I looked at them I was longing to be one of them. For years
from my garden wall I watched them with a passion of envy, with
bitterness, almost with hatred sometimes. They had something I had
not, something that set them above me, something that made their lives
plain through any complication, and that gave to death a meaning like
the meaning at the close of a great story that is going to have a
sequel. They had faith. And it was difficult not to hate them. But now
I am one of them. I can pray in the desert."
"That was why you left Beni-Mora."
"Yes. I had long been wishing to become a Mohammedan. I came here to
be with the marabout, to enter more fully into certain questions, to
see if I had any lingering doubts."
"And you have none?"
She looked at his bright eyes and sighed, thinking of her husband.
"You will go back to Beni-Mora?" she asked.
"I don't think so. I am inclined to go farther into the desert,
farther among the people of my own faith. I don't want to be
surrounded by French. Some day perhaps I may return. But at present
everything draws me onward. Tell me"--he dropped the earnest tone in
which he had been speaking, and she heard once more the easy, half-
ironical man of the world--"do you think me a half-crazy eccentric?"
"You look at me very gravely, even sadly."
"I was thinking of the men who cannot pray," she said, "even in the
"They should not come into the Garden of Allah. Don't you remember
that day by the garden wall, when--"
He suddenly checked himself.
"Forgive me," he said simply. "And now tell me about yourself. You
never wrote that you were going to be married."
"I knew you would know it in time--when we met again."
"And you knew we should meet again?"
"Did not you?"
"In the heart of the desert. And you--where are you going? You are not
returning to civilisation?"
"I don't know. I have no plans. I want to do what my husband wishes."
"He loves the desert. He has suggested our buying an oasis and setting
up as date merchants. What do you think of the idea?"
She spoke with a smile, but her eyes were serious, even sad.
"I cannot judge for others," he answered.
When he got up to go he held her hand fast for a moment.
"May I speak what is in my heart?" he asked.
"I feel as if what I have told you to-day about myself, about my
having come to the open door of a home I had long been wearily
seeking, had made you sad. Is it so?"
"Yes," she answered frankly.
"Can you tell me why?"
"It has made me realise more sharply than perhaps I did before what
must be the misery of those who are still homeless."
There was in her voice a sound as if she suppressed a sob.
"Hope for them, remembering my many years of wandering."
"Will you come again?"
"You are here for long?"
"Some days, I think."
"Whenever you ask me I will come."
"I want you and my husband to meet again. I want that very much." She
spoke with a pressure of eagerness.
"Send for me and I will come at any hour."
"I will send--soon."
When he was gone, Domini sat in the shadow of the tent. From where she
was she could see the Arab cemetery at a little distance, a quantity
of stones half drowned in the sand. An old Arab was wandering there
alone, praying for the dead in a loud, persistent voice. Sometimes he
paused by a grave, bowed himself in prayer, then rose and walked on
again. His voice was never silent. The sound of it was plaintive and
monotonous. Domini listened to it, and thought of homeless men, of
those who had lived and died without ever coming to that open door
through which Count Anteoni had entered. His words and the changed
look in his face had made a deep impression upon her. She realised
that in the garden, when they were together, his eyes, even when they
twinkled with the slightly ironical humour peculiar to him, had always
held a shadow. Now that shadow was lifted out of them. How deep was
the shadow in her husband's eyes. How deep had it been in the eyes of
her father. He had died with that terrible darkness in his eyes and in
his soul. If her husband were to die thus! A terror came upon her. She
looked out at the stones in the sand and imagined herself there--as
the old Arab was--praying for Androvsky buried there, hidden from her
on earth for ever. And suddenly she felt, "I cannot wait, I must act."
Her faith was deep and strong. Nothing could shake it. But might it
not shake the doubt from another's soul, as a great, pure wind shakes
leaves that are dead from a tree that will blossom with the spring?
Hitherto a sense of intense delicacy had prevented her from ever
trying to draw near definitely to her husband's sadness. But her
interview with Count Anteoni, and the sound of this voice praying,
praying for the dead men in the sand, stirred her to an almost fierce
resolution. She had given herself to Androvsky. He had given himself
to her. They were one. She had a right to draw near to his pain, if by
so doing there was a chance that she might bring balm to it. She had a
right to look closer into his eyes if hers, full of faith, could lift
the shadow from them.
She leaned back in the darkness of the tent. The old Arab had wandered
further on among the graves. His voice was faint in the sand, faint
and surely piteous, as if, even while he prayed, he felt that his
prayers were useless, that the fate of the dead was pronounced beyond
recall. Domini listened to him no more. She was praying for the living
as she had never prayed before, and her prayer was the prelude not to
patience but to action. It was as if her conversation with Count
Anteoni had set a torch to something in her soul, something that gave
out a great flame, a flame that could surely burn up the sorrow, the
fear, the secret torture in her husband's soul. All the strength of
her character had been roused by the sight of the peace she desired
for the man she loved; enthroned in the heart of this other man who
was only her friend.
The voice of the old Arab died away in the distance, but before it
died away Domini had ceased from hearing it.
She heard only a voice within her, which said to her, "If you really
love be fearless. Attack this sorrow which stands like a figure of
death between you and your husband. Drive it away. You have a weapon--
faith. Use it."
It seemed to her then that through all their intercourse she had been
a coward in her love, and she resolved that she would be a coward no
Domini had said to herself that she would speak to her husband that
night. She was resolved not to hesitate, not to be influenced from her
purpose by anything. Yet she knew that a great difficulty would stand
in her way--the difficulty of Androvsky's intense, almost passionate,
reserve. This reserve was the dominant characteristic in his nature.
She thought of it sometimes as a wall of fire that he had set round
about the secret places of his soul to protect them even from her
eyes. Perhaps it was strange that she, a woman of a singularly frank
temperament, should be attracted by reserve in another, yet she knew
that she was so attracted by the reserve of her husband. Its existence
hinted to her depths in him which, perhaps, some day she might sound,
she alone, strength which was hidden for her some day to prove.
Now, alone with her purpose, she thought of this reserve. Would she be
able to break it down with her love? For an instant she felt as if she
were about to enter upon a contest with her husband, but she did not
coldly tell over her armoury and select weapons. There was a heat of
purpose within her that beckoned her to the unthinking, to the
reckless way, that told her to be self-reliant and to trust to the
moment for the method.
When Androvsky returned to the camp it was towards evening. A lemon
light was falling over the great white spaces of the sand. Upon their
little round hills the Arab villages glowed mysteriously. Many
horsemen were riding forth from the city to take the cool of the
approaching night. From the desert the caravans were coming in. The
nomad children played, half-naked, at Cora before the tents, calling
shrilly to each other through the light silence that floated airily
away into the vast distances that breathed out the spirit of a pale
eternity. Despite the heat there was an almost wintry romance in this
strange land of white sands and yellow radiance, an ethereal
melancholy that stole with the twilight noiselessly towards the tents.
As Androvsky approached Domini saw that he had lost the energy which
had delighted her at /dejeuner/. He walked towards her slowly with his
head bent down. His face was grave, even sad, though when he saw her
waiting for him he smiled.
"You have been all this time with the priest?" she said.
"Nearly all. I walked for a little while in the city. And you?"
"I rode out and met a friend."
"A friend?" he said, as if startled.
"Yes, from Beni-Mora--Count Anteoni. He has been here to pay me a
She pulled forward a basket-chair for him. He sank into it heavily.
"Count Anteoni here!" he said slowly. "What is he doing here?"
"He is with the marabout at Beni-Hassan. And, Boris, he has become a
He lifted his head with a jerk and stared at her in silence.
"You are surprised?"
"A Mohammedan--Count Anteoni?"
"Yes. Do you know, when he told me I felt almost as if I had been
"But--is he changed then? Is he--"
He stopped. His voice had sounded to her bitter, almost fierce.
"Yes, Boris, he is changed. Have you ever seen anyone who was lost,
and the same person walking along the road home? Well, that is Count
They said no more for some minutes. Androvsky was the first to speak
"You told him?" he asked.
"I told him."
"What did he say?"
"He had expected it. When we ask him he is coming here again to see us
Androvsky got up from his chair. His face was troubled. Standing
before Domini, he said:
"Count Anteoni is happy then, now that he--now that he has joined this
"And you--a Catholic--what do you think?"
"I think that, since that is his honest belief, it is a blessed thing
He said no more, but went towards the sleeping-tent.
In the evening, when they were dining, he said to her:
"Domini, to-night I am going to leave you again for a short time."
He saw a look of keen regret come into her face, and added quickly:
"At nine I have promised to go to see the priest. He--he is rather
lonely here. He wants me to come. Do you mind?"
"No, no. I am glad--very glad. Have you finished?"
"Let us take a rug and go out a little way in the sand--that way
towards the cemetery. It is quiet there at night."
"Yes. I will get a rug." He went to fetch it, threw it over his arm,
and they set out together. She had meant the Arab cemetery, but when
they reached it they found two or three nomads wandering there.
"Let us go on," she said.
They went on, and came to the French cemetery, which was surrounded by
a rough hedge of brushwood, in which there were gaps here and there.
Through one of these gaps they entered it, spread out the rug, and lay
down on the sand. The night was still and silence brooded here.
Faintly they saw the graves of the exiles who had died here and been
given to the sand, where in summer vipers glided to and fro, and the
pariah dogs wandered stealthily, seeking food to still the desires in
their starving bodies. They were mostly very simple, but close to
Domini and Androvsky was one of white marble, in the form of a broken
column, hung with wreaths of everlasting flowers, and engraved with
JEAN BAPTISTE FABRIANI
/Priez pour lui/.
When they lay down they both looked at this grave, as if moved by a
simultaneous impulse, and read the words.
"Priez pour lui!" Domini said in a low voice.
She put out her hand and took hold of her husband's, and pressed it
down on the sand.
"Do you remember that first night, Boris," she said, "at Arba, when
you took my hand in yours and laid it against the desert as against a
"Yes, Domini, I remember."
"That night we were one, weren't we?"
"Were we"--she was almost whispering in the night--"were we truly
"Why do you--truly one, you say?"
"Yes--one in soul? That is the great union, greater than the union of
our bodies. Were we one in soul? Are we now?"
"Domini, why do you ask me such questions? Do you doubt my love?"
"No. But I do ask you. Won't you answer me?"
He was silent. His hand lay in hers, but did not press it.
"Boris"--she spoke the cruel words very quietly,--"we are not truly
one in soul. We have never been. I know that."
He said nothing.
"Shall we ever be? Think--if one of us were to die, and the other--the
one who was left--were left with the knowledge that in our love, even
ours, there had always been separation--could you bear that? Could I
"Why do you speak like this? We are one. You have all my love. You are
everything to me."
"And yet you are sad, and you try to hide your sadness, your misery,
from me. Can you not give it me? I want it--more than I want anything
on earth. I want it, I must have it, and I dare to ask for it because
I know how deeply you love me and that you could never love another."
"I never have loved another," he said.
"I was the very first."
"The very first. When we married, although I was a man I was as you
She bent down her head and laid her lips on his hand that was in hers.
"Then make our union perfect, as no other union on earth has ever
been. Give me your sorrow, Boris. I know what it is."
"How can--you cannot know," he said in a broken voice.
"Yes. Love is a diviner, the only true diviner. I told you once what
it was, but I want you to tell me. Nothing that we take is beautiful
to us, only what we are given."
"I cannot," he said.
He tried to take his hand from hers, but she held it fast. And she
felt as if she were holding the wall of fire with which he surrounded
the secret places of his soul.
"To-day, Boris, when I talked to Count Anteoni, I felt that I had been
a coward with you. I had seen you suffer and I had not dared to draw
near to your suffering. I have been afraid of you. Think of that."
"Yes, I have been afraid of you, of your reserve. When you withdrew
from me I never followed you. If I had, perhaps I could have done
something for you."
"Domini, do not speak like this. Our love is happy. Leave it as it
"I can't. I will not. Boris, Count Anteoni has found a home. But you
are wandering. I can't bear that, I can't bear it. It is as if I were
sitting in the house, warm, safe, and you were out in the storm. It
tortures me. It almost makes me hate my own safety."
Androvsky shivered. He took his hand forcibly from Domini's.
"I have almost hated it, too," he said passionately. "I have hated it.
His voice failed. He bent forward and took Domini's face between his
"And yet there are times when I can bless what I have hated. I do
bless it now. I--I love your safety. You--at least you are safe."
"You must share it. I will make you share it."
"I can. I shall. I feel that we shall be together in soul, and perhaps
to-night, perhaps even to-night."
Androvsky looked profoundly agitated. His hands dropped down.
"I must go," he said. "I must go to the priest."
He got up from the sand.
"Come to the tent, Domini."
She rose to her feet.
"When you come back," she said, "I shall be waiting for you, Boris."
He looked at her. There was in his eyes a piercing wistfulness. He
opened his lips. At that moment Domini felt that he was on the point
of telling her all that she longed to know. But the look faded. The
lips closed. He took her in his arms and kissed her almost
"No, no," he said. "I'll keep your love--I'll keep it."
"You could never lose it."
"If I believed that."
Suddenly burning tears rushed from her eyes.
"Don't ever say a thing like that to me again!" she said with passion.
She pointed to the grave close to them.
"If you were there," she said, "and I was living, and you had died
before--before you had told me--I believe--God forgive me, but I do
believe that if, when you died, I were taken to heaven I should find
my hell there."
She looked through her tears at the words: "Priez pour lui."
"To pray for the dead," she whispered, as if to herself. "To pray for
my dead--I could not do it--I could not. Boris, if you love me you
must trust me, you must give me your sorrow."
The night drew on. Androvsky had gone to the priest. Domini was alone,
sitting before the tent waiting for his return. She had told Batouch
and Ouardi that she wanted nothing more, that no one was to come to
the tent again that night. The young moon was rising over the city,
but its light as yet was faint. It fell upon the cupolas of the Bureau
Arabe, the towers of the mosque and the white sands, whose whiteness
it seemed to emphasise, making them pale as the face of one terror-
stricken. The city wall cast a deep shadow over the moat of sand in
which, wrapped in filthy rags, lay nomads sleeping. Upon the sand-
hills the camps were alive with movement. Fires blazed and smoke
ascended before the tents that made patches of blackness upon the
waste. Round the fires were seated groups of men devouring cous-cous
and the red soup beloved of the nomad. Behind them circled the dogs
with quivering nostrils. Squadrons of camels lay crouched in the sand,
resting after their journeys. And everywhere, from the city and from
the waste, rose distant sounds of music, thin, aerial flutings like
voices of the night winds, acrid cries from the pipes, and the far-off
rolling of the African drums that are the foundation of every desert
Although she was now accustomed to the music of Africa, Domini could
never hear it without feeling the barbarity of the land from which it
rose, the wildness of the people who made and who loved it. Always it
suggested to her an infinite remoteness, as if it were music sounding
at the end of the world, full of half-defined meanings, melancholy yet
fierce passion, longings that, momentarily satisfied, continually
renewed themselves, griefs that were hidden behind thin veils like the
women of the East, but that peered out with expressive eyes, hinting
their story and desiring assuagement. And tonight the meaning of the
music seemed deeper than it had been before. She thought of it as an
outside echo of the voices murmuring in her mind and heart, and the
voices murmuring in the mind and heart of Androvsky, broken voices
some of them, but some strong, fierce, tense and alive with meaning.
And as she sat there alone she thought this unity of music drew her
closer to the desert than she had ever been before, and drew Androvsky
with her, despite his great reserve. In the heart of the desert he
would surely let her see at last fully into his heart. When he came
back in the night from the priest he would speak. She was waiting for
The moon was mounting. Its light grew stronger. She looked across the
sands and saw fires in the city, and suddenly she said to herself,
"This is the vision of the sand-diviner realised in my life. He saw me
as I am now, in this place." And she remembered the scene in the
garden, the crouching figure, the extended arms, the thin fingers
tracing swift patterns in the sand, the murmuring voice.
To-night she felt deeply expectant, but almost sad, encompassed by the
mystery that hangs in clouds about human life and human relations.
What could be that great joy of which the Diviner had spoken? A
woman's great joy that starred the desert with flowers and made the
dry places run with sweet waters. What could it be?
Suddenly she felt again the oppression of spirit she had been
momentarily conscious of in the afternoon. It was like a load
descending upon her, and, almost instantly, communicated itself to her
body. She was conscious of a sensation of unusual weariness,
uneasiness, even dread, then again of an intensity of life that
startled her. This intensity remained, grew in her. It was as if the
principle of life, like a fluid, were being poured into her out of the
vials of God, as if the little cup that was all she had were too small
to contain the precious liquid. That seemed to her to be the cause of
the pain of which she was conscious. She was being given more than she
felt herself capable of possessing. She got up from her chair, unable
to remain still. The movement, slight though it was, seemed to remove
a veil of darkness that had hung over her and to let in upon her a
flood of light. She caught hold of the canvas of the tent. For a
moment she felt weak as a child, then strong as an Amazon. And the
sense of strength remained, grew. She walked out upon the sand in the
direction by which Androvsky would return. The fires in the city and
the camps were to her as illuminations for a festival. The music was
the music of a great rejoicing. The vast expanse of the desert, wintry
white under the moon, dotted with the fires of the nomads, blossomed
as the rose. After a few moments she stopped. She was on the crest of
a sand-bank, and could see below her the faint track in the sand which
wound to the city gate. By this track Androvsky would surely return.
From a long distance she would be able to see him, a moving darkness
upon the white. She was near to the city now, and could hear voices
coming to her from behind its rugged walls, voices of men singing, and
calling one to another, the twang of plucked instruments, the click of
negroes' castanets. The city was full of joy as the desert was full of
joy. The glory of life rushed upon her like a flood of gold, that gold
of the sun in which thousands of tiny things are dancing. And she was
given the power of giving life, of adding to the sum of glory. She
looked out over the sands and saw a moving blot upon them coming
slowly towards her, very slowly. It was impossible at this distance to
see who it was, but she felt that it was her husband. For a moment she
thought of going down to meet him, but she did not move. The new
knowledge that had come to her made her, just then, feel shy even of
him, as if he must come to her, as if she could make no advance
As the blackness upon the sand drew nearer she saw that it was a man
walking heavily. The man had her husband's gait. When she saw that she
turned. She had resolved to meet him at the tent door, to tell him
what she had to tell him at the threshold of their wandering home. Her
sense of shyness died when she was at the tent door. She only felt now
her oneness with her husband, and that to-night their unity was to be
made more perfect. If it could be made quite perfect! If he would
speak too! Then nothing more would be wanting. At last every veil
would have dropped from between them, and as they had long been one
flesh they would be one in spirit.
She waited in the tent door.
After what seemed a long time she saw Androvsky coming across the
moonlit sand. He was walking very slowly, as if wearied out, with his
head drooping. He did not appear to see her till he was quite close to
the tent. Then he stopped and gazed at her. The moon--she thought it
must be the moon--made his face look strange, like a dying man's face.
In this white face the eyes glittered feverishly.
"Boris!" she said.
"Come here, close to me. I have something to tell you--something
He came quite up to her.
"Domini," he said, as if he had not heard her. "Domini, I--I've been
to the priest to-night. I meant to confess to him."
"To confess!" she said.
"This afternoon I asked him to hear my confession, but tonight I could
not make it. I can only make it to you, Domini--only to you. Do you
hear, Domini? Do you hear?"
Something in his face and in his voice terrified her heart. Now she
felt as if she would stop him from speaking if she dared, but that she
did not dare. His spirit was beyond domination. He would do what he
meant to do regardless of her--of anyone.
"What is it, Boris?" she whispered. "Tell me. Perhaps I can understand
best because I love best."
He put his arms round her and kissed her, as a man kisses the woman he
loves when he knows it may be for the last time, long and hard, with a
desperation of love that feels frustrated by the very lips it is
touching. At last he took his lips from hers.
"Domini," he said, and his voice was steady and clear, almost hard,
"you want to know what it is that makes me unhappy even in our love--
desperately unhappy. It is this. I believe in God, I love God, and I
have insulted Him. I have tried to forget God, to deny Him, to put
human love higher than love for Him. But always I am haunted by the
thought of God, and that thought makes me despair. Once, when I was
young, I gave myself to God solemnly. I have broken the vows I made. I
The hardness went out of his voice. He broke down for a moment and was
"You gave yourself to God," she said. "How?"
He tried to meet her questioning eyes, but could not.
"I--I gave myself to God as a monk," he answered after a pause.
As he spoke Domini saw before her in the moonlight De Trevignac. He
cast a glance of horror at the tent, bent over her, made the sign of
the Cross, and vanished. In his place stood Father Roubier, his eyes
shining, his hand upraised, warning her against Androvsky. Then he,
too, vanished, and she seemed to see Count Anteoni dressed as an Arab
and muttering words of the Koran.
"Domini, did you hear me? Domini! Domini!"
She felt his hands on her wrists.
"You are the Trappist!" she said quietly, "of whom the priest told me.
You are the monk from the Monastery of El-Largani who disappeared
after twenty years."
"Yes," he said, "I am he."
"What made you tell me? What made you tell me?"
There was agony now in her voice.
"You asked me to speak, but it was not that. Do you remember last
night when I said that God must bless you? You answered, 'He has
blessed me. He has given me you, your love, your truth.' It is that
which makes me speak. You have had my love, not my truth. Now take my
truth. I've kept it from you. Now I'll give it you. It's black, but
I'll give it you. Domini! Domini! Hate me to-night, but in your hatred
believe that I never loved you as I love you now."
"Give me your truth," she said.
BOOK V. THE REVELATION
They remained standing at the tent door, with the growing moonlight
about them. The camp was hushed in sleep, but sounds of music still
came to them from the city below them, and fainter music from the
tents of the Ouled Nails on the sandhill to the south. After Domini
had spoken Androvsky moved a step towards her, looked at her, then
moved back and dropped his eyes. If he had gone on looking at her he
knew he could not have begun to speak.
"Domini," he said, "I'm not going to try and excuse myself for what I
have done. I'm not going to say to you what I daren't say to God--
'Forgive me.' How can such a thing be forgiven? That's part of the
torture I've been enduring, the knowledge of the unforgivable nature
of my act. It can never be wiped out. It's black on my judgment book
for ever. But I wonder if you can understand--oh, I want you to
understand, Domini, what has made the thing I am, a renegade, a
breaker of oaths, a liar to God and you. It was the passion of life
that burst up in me after years of tranquillity. It was the waking of
my nature after years of sleep. And you--you do understand the passion
of life that's in some of us like a monster that must rule, must have
its way. Even you in your purity and goodness--you have it, that
desperate wish to live really and fully, as we have lived, Domini,
together. For we have lived out in the desert. We lived that night at
Arba when we sat and watched the fire and I held your hand against the
earth. We lived then. Even now, when I think of that night, I can
hardly be sorry for what I've done, for what I am."
He looked up at her now and saw that her eyes were fixed on him. She
stood motionless, with her hands joined in front of her. Her attitude
was calm and her face was untortured. He could not read any thought of
hers, any feeling that was in her heart.
"You must understand," he said almost violently. "You must understand
or I--. My father, I told you, was a Russian. He was brought up in the
Greek Church, but became a Freethinker when he was still a young man.
My mother was an Englishwoman and an ardent Catholic. She and my
father were devoted to each other in spite of the difference in their
views. Perhaps the chief effect my father's lack of belief had upon my
mother was to make her own belief more steadfast, more ardent. I think
disbelief acts often as a fan to the faith of women, makes the flame
burn more brightly than it did before. My mother tried to believe for
herself and for my father too, and I could almost think that she
succeeded. He died long before she did, and he died without changing
his views. On his death-bed he told my mother that he was sure there
was no other life, that he was going to the dust. That made the agony
of his farewell. The certainty on his part that he and my mother were
parting for ever. I was a little boy at the time, but I remember that,
when he was dead, my mother said to me, 'Boris, pray for your father
every day. He is still alive.' She said nothing more, but I ran
upstairs crying, fell upon my knees and prayed--trying to think where
my father was and what he could be looking like. And in that prayer
for my father, which was also an act of obedience to my mother, I
think I took the first step towards the monastic life. For I remember
that then, for the first time, I was conscious of a great sense of
responsibility. My mother's command made me say to myself, 'Then
perhaps my prayer can do something in heaven. Perhaps a prayer from me
can make God wish to do something He had not wished to do before.'
That was a tremendous thought! It excited me terribly. I remember my
cheeks burned as I prayed, and that I was hot all over as if I had
been running in the sun. From that day my mother and I seemed to be
much nearer together than we had ever been before. I had a twin
brother to whom I was devoted, and who was devoted to me. But he took
after my father. Religious things, ceremonies, church music,
processions--even the outside attractions of the Catholic Church,
which please and stimulate emotional people who have little faith--
never meant much to him. All his attention was firmly fixed upon the
life of the present. He was good to my mother and loved her devotedly,
as he loved me, but he never pretended to be what he was not. And he
was never a Catholic. He was never anything.
"My father had originally come to Africa for his health, which needed
a warm climate. He had some money and bought large tracts of land
suitable for vineyards. Indeed, he sunk nearly his whole fortune in
land. I told you, Domini, that the vines were devoured by the
phylloxera. Most of the money was lost. When my father died we were
left very poor. We lived quietly in a little village--I told you its
name, I told you that part of my life, all I dared tell, Domini--but
now--why did I enter the monastery? I was very young when I became a
novice, just seventeen. You are thinking, Domini, I know, that I was
too young to know what I was doing, that I had no vocation, that I was
unfitted for the monastic life. It seems so. The whole world would
think so. And yet--how am I to tell you? Even now I feel that then I
had the vocation, that I was fitted to enter the monastery, that I
ought to have made a faithful and devoted monk. My mother wished the
life for me, but it was not only that. I wished it for myself then.
With my whole heart I wished it. I knew nothing of the world. My youth
had been one of absolute purity. And I did not feel longings after the
unknown. My mother's influence upon me was strong; but she did not
force me into anything. Perhaps my love for her led me more than I
knew, brought me to the monastery door. The passion of her life, the
human passion, had been my father. After he was dead the passion of
her life was prayer for him. My love for her made me share that
passion, and the sharing of that passion eventually led me to become a
monk. I became as a child, a devotee of prayer. Oh! Domini--think--I
loved prayer--I loved it----"
His voice broke. When he stopped speaking Domini was again conscious
of the music in the city. She remembered that earlier in the night she
had thought of it as the music of a great festival.
"I resolved to enter the life of prayer, the most perfect life of
prayer. I resolved to become a 'religious.' It seemed to me that by so
doing I should be proving in the finest way my love for my mother. I
should be, in the strongest way, helping her. Her life was prayer for
my dead father and love for her children. By devoting myself to the
life of prayer I should show to her that I was as she was, as she had
made me, true son of her womb. Can you understand? I had a passion for
my mother, Domini--I had a passion. My brother tried to dissuade me
from the monastic life. He himself was going into business in Tunis.
He wanted me to join him. But I was firm. I felt driven towards the
cloister then as other men often feel driven towards the vicious life.
The inclination was irresistible. I yielded to it. I had to bid good-
bye to my mother. I told you--she was the passion of my life. And yet
I hardly felt sad at parting from her. Perhaps that will show you how
I was then. It seemed to me that we should be even closer together
when I wore the monk's habit. I was in haste to put it on. I went to
the monastery of El-Largani and entered it as a novice of the
Trappistine order. I thought in the great silence of the Trappists
there would be more room for prayer. When I left my home and went to
El-Largani I took with me one treasure only. Domini, it was the little
wooden crucifix you pinned upon the tent at Arba. My mother gave it to
me, and I was allowed to keep it. Everything else in the way of
earthly possessions I, of course, had to give up.
"You have never seen El-Largani, my home for nineteen years, my prison
for one. It is lonely, but not in the least desolate. It stands on a
high upland, and, from a distance, looks upon the sea. Far off there
are mountains. The land was a desert. The monks have turned it, if not
into an Eden, at least into a rich garden. There are vineyards,
cornfields, orchards, almost every fruit-tree flourishes there. The
springs of sweet waters are abundant. At a short way from the
monastery is a large village for the Spanish workmen whom the monks
supervise in the labours of the fields. For the Trappist life is not
only a life of prayer, but a life of diligent labour. When I became a
novice I had not realised that. I had imagined myself continually upon
my knees. I found instead that I was perpetually in the fields, in
sun, and wind, and rain--that was in the winter time--working like the
labourers, and that often when we went into the long, plain chapel to
pray I was so tired--being only a boy--that my eyes closed as I stood
in my stall, and I could scarcely hear the words of Mass or
Benediction. But I had expected to be happy at El-Largani, and I was
happy. Labour is good for the body and better for the soul. And the
silence was not hard to bear. The Trappists have a book of gestures,
and are often allowed to converse by signs. We novices were generally
in little bands, and often, as we walked in the garden of the
monastery, we talked together gaily with our hands. Then the silence
is not perpetual. In the fields we often had to give directions to the
labourers. In the school, where we studied Theology, Latin, Greek,
there was heard the voice of the teacher. It is true that I have seen
men in the monastery day by day for twenty years with whom I have
never exchanged a word, but I have had permission to speak with monks.
The head of the monastery, the Reverend Pere, has the power to loose
the bonds of silence when he chooses, and to allow monks to walk and
speak with each other beyond the white walls that hem in the garden of
the monastery. Now and then we spoke, but I think most of us were not
unhappy in our silence. It became a habit. And then we were always
occupied. We had no time allowed us for sitting and being sad. Domini,
I don't want to tell you about the Trappists, their life--only about
myself, why I was as I was, how I came to change. For years I was not
unhappy at El-Largani. When my time of novitiate was over I took the
eternal vows without hesitation. Many novices go out again into the
world. It never occurred to me to do so. I scarcely ever felt a
stirring of worldly desire. I scarcely ever had one of those agonising
struggles which many people probably attribute to monks. I was
contented nearly always. Now and then the flesh spoke, but not
strongly. Remember, our life was a life of hard and exhausting labour
in the fields. The labour kept the flesh in subjection, as the prayer
lifted up the spirit. And then, during all my earlier years at the
monastery, we had an Abbe who was quick to understand the characters
and dispositions of men--Dom Andre Herceline. He knew me far better
than I knew myself. He knew, what I did not suspect, that I was full
of sleeping violence, that in my purity and devotion--or beneath it
rather--there was a strong strain of barbarism. The Russian was
sleeping in the monk, but sleeping soundly. That can be. Half a man's
nature, if all that would call to it is carefully kept from it, may
sleep, I believe, through all his life. He might die and never have
known, or been, what all the time he was. For years it was so with me.
I knew only part of myself, a real vivid part--but only a part. I
thought it was the whole. And while I thought it was the whole I was
happy. If Dom Andre Herceline had not died, today I should be a monk
at El-Largani, ignorant of what I know, contented.
"He never allowed me to come into any sort of contact with the many
strangers who visited the monastery. Different monks have different
duties. Certain duties bring monks into connection with the travellers
whom curiosity sends to El-Largani. The monk whose business it is to
look after the cemetery on the hill, where the dead Trappists are laid
to rest, shows visitors round the little chapel, and may talk with
them freely so long as they remain in the cemetery. The monk in charge
of the distillery also receives visitors and converses with them. So
does the monk in charge of the parlour at the great door of the
monastery. He sells the souvenirs of the Trappists, photographs of the
church and buildings, statues of saints, bottles of perfumes made by
the monks. He takes the orders for the wines made at the monastery,
and for--for the--what I made, Domini, when I was there."
She thought of De Trevignac and the fragments of glass lying upon the
ground in the tent at Mogar.
"Had De Trevignac----" she said in a low, inward voice.
"He had seen me, spoken with me at the monastery. When Ouardi brought
in the liqueur he remembered who I was."
She understood De Trevignac's glance towards the tent where Androvsky
lay sleeping, and a slight shiver ran through her. Androvsky saw it
and looked down.
He cleared his throat, turned, looked out across the white sand as if
he longed to travel away into it and be lost for ever, then went on,
"But the monk who has most to do with travellers is the monk who is in
charge of the /hotellerie/ of the monastery. He is the host to all
visitors, to those who come over for the day and have /dejeuner/, and
to any who remain for the night, or for a longer time. For when I was
at El-Largani it was permitted for people to stay in the /hotellerie/,
on payment of a small weekly sum, for as long as they pleased. The
monk of the /hotellerie/ is perpetually brought into contact with the
outside world. He talks with all sorts and conditions of men--women,
of course, are not admitted. The other monks, many of them, probably
envy him. I never did. I had no wish to see strangers. When, by
chance, I met them in the yard, the outbuildings, or the grounds of
the monastery, I seldom even raised my eyes to look at them. They were
not, would never be, in my life. Why should I look at them? What were
they to me? Years went on--quickly they passed--not slowly. I did not
feel their monotony. I never shrank from anything in the life. My
health was splendid. I never knew what it was to be ill for a day. My
muscles were hard as iron. The pallet on which I lay in my cubicle,
the heavy robe I wore day and night, the scanty vegetables I ate, the
bell that called me from my sleep in the darkness to go to the chapel,
the fastings, the watchings, the perpetual sameness of all I saw, all