Part 2 out of 12
"I saw you from my window, Madame, and thought I would offer to show
you our little church here. We are very proud of it."
Domini liked his voice and his naive remark. His face, too, though
undistinguished, looked honest, kind, and pathetic, but with a pathos
that was unaffected and quite unconscious. The lower part of it was
hidden by a moustache and beard.
"Thank you," she answered. "I have been looking round already."
"You are a Catholic, Madame?"
The priest looked pleased. There was something childlike in the
mobility of his face.
"I am glad," he said simply. "We are not a rich community in Beni-
Mora, but we have been fortunate in bygone years. Our great Cardinal,
the Father of Africa, loved this place and cherished his children
"Yes, Madame. His house is now a native hospital. His statue faces the
beginning of the great desert road, But we remember him and his spirit
is still among us."
The priest's eyes lit up as he spoke. The almost tragic expression of
his face changed to one of enthusiasm.
"He loved Africa, I believe," Domini said.
"His heart was here. And what he did! I was to have been one of his
/freres armes/, but my health prevented, and afterwards the
association was dissolved."
The sad expression returned to his face.
"There are many temptations in such a land and climate as this," he
said. "And men are weak. But there are still the White Fathers whom he
founded. Glorious men. They carry the Cross into the wildest places of
the world. The most fanatical Arabs respect the White Marabouts."
"You wish you were with them?"
"Yes, Madame. But my health only permits me to be a humble parish
priest here. Not all who desire to enter the most severe life can do
so. If it were otherwise I should long since have been a monk. The
Cardinal himself showed me that my duty lay in other paths."
He pointed out to Domini one or two things in the church which he
admired and thought worthy; the carving of the altar rail into grapes,
ears of corn, crosses, anchors; the white embroidered muslin that
draped the tabernacle; the statue of a bishop in a red and gold mitre
holding a staff and Bible, and another statue representing a saint
with a languid and consumptive expression stretching out a Bible, on
the leaves of which a tiny, smiling child was walking.
As they were about to leave the church he made Domini pause in front
of a painting of Saint Bruno dressed in a white monkish robe, beneath
which was written in gilt letters:
"Saint Bruno ordonne a ses disciples
De renoncer aux biens terrestres
Pour acquerir les biens celestes."
The disciples stood around the saint in grotesque attitudes of pious
"That, I think, is very beautiful," he said. "Who could look at it
without feeling that the greatest act of man is renunciation?"
His dark eyes flamed. Just then a faint soprano bark came to them from
outside the church door, a very discreet and even humble, but at the
same time anxious, bark. The priest's face changed. The almost
passionate asceticism of it was replaced by a soft and gentle look.
"Bous-Bous wants me," he said, and he opened the door for Domini to
A small white and yellow dog, very clean and well brushed, was sitting
on the step in an attentive attitude. Directly the priest appeared it
began to wag its short tail violently and to run round his feet,
curving its body into semi-circles. He bent down and patted it.
"My little companion, Madame," he said. "He was not with me yesterday,
as he was being washed."
Then he took off his hat and walked towards his house, accompanied by
Bous-Bous, who had suddenly assumed an air of conscious majesty, as of
one born to preside over the fate of an important personage.
Domini stood for a moment under the palm trees looking after them.
There was a steady shining in her eyes.
"Madame is a Catholic too?" asked Batouch, staring steadily at her.
Domini nodded. She did not want to discuss religion with an Arab minor
poet just then.
"Take me to the market," she said, mindful of her secret resolve to
get rid of her companion as soon as possible.
They set out across the gardens.
It was a celestial day. All the clear, untempered light of the world
seemed to have made its home in Beni-Mora. Yet the heat was not
excessive, for the glorious strength of the sun was robbed of its
terror, its possible brutality, by the bright and feathery dryness and
coolness of the airs. She stepped out briskly. Her body seemed
suddenly to become years younger, full of elasticity and radiant
"Madame is very strong. Madame walks like a Bedouin."
Batouch's voice sounded seriously astonished, and Domini burst out
"In England there are many strong women. But I shall grow stronger
here. I shall become a real Arab. This air gives me life."
They were just reaching the road when there was a clatter of hoofs,
and a Spahi, mounted on a slim white horse, galloped past at a
tremendous pace, holding his reins high above the red peak of his
saddle and staring up at the sun. Domini looked after him with
"You've got some good horses here," she said when the Spahi had
"Madame knows how to ride?"
She laughed again.
"I've ridden ever since I was a child."
"You can buy a fine horse here for sixteen pounds," remarked Batouch,
using the pronoun "tu," as is the custom of the Arabs.
"Find me a good horse, a horse with spirit, and I'll buy him," Domini
said. "I want to go far out in the desert, far away from everything."
"You must not go alone."
"There are bandits in the desert."
"I'll take my revolver," Domini said carelessly. "But I will go
They were in sight of the market now, and the hum of voices came to
them, with nasal cries, the whine of praying beggars, and the fierce
braying of donkeys. At the end of the small street in which they were
Domini saw a wide open space, in the centre of which stood a quantity
of pillars supporting a peaked roof. Round the sides of the square
were arcades swarming with Arabs, and under the central roof a mob of
figures came and went, as flies go and come on a piece of meat flung
out into a sunny place.
"What a quantity of people! Do they all live in Beni-Mora?" she asked.
"No, they come from all parts of the desert to sell and to buy. But
most of those who sell are Mozabites."
Little children in bright-coloured rags came dancing round Domini,
holding out their copper-coloured hands, and crying shrilly, "'Msee,
M'dame! 'Msee, M'dame!" A deformed man, who looked like a distorted
beetle, crept round her feet, gazing up at her with eyes that squinted
horribly, and roaring in an imperative voice some Arab formula in
which the words "Allah-el-Akbar" continually recurred. A tall negro,
with a long tuft of hair hanging from his shaven head, followed hard
upon her heels, rolling his bulging eyes, in which two yellow flames
were caught, and trying to engage her attention, though with what
object she could not imagine. From all directions tall men with naked
arms and legs, and fluttering white garments, came slowly towards her,
staring intently at her with lustrous eyes, whose expression seemed to
denote rather a calm and dignified appraisement than any vulgar
curiosity. Boys, with the whitest teeth she had ever beheld, and
flowers above their well-shaped, delicate ears, smiled up at her with
engaging impudence. Her nostrils were filled with a strange crowd of
odours, which came from humanity dressed in woollen garments, from
fruits exposed for sale in rush panniers, from round close bouquets of
roses ringed with tight borders of green leaves, from burning incense
twigs, from raw meat, from amber ornaments and strong perfumes in
glass phials figured with gold attar of rose, orange blossom, geranium
and white lilac. In the shining heat of the sun sounds, scents and
movements mingled, and were almost painfully vivid and full of meaning
and animation. Never had a London mob on some great /fete/ day seemed
so significant and personal to Domini as this little mob of desert
people, come together for the bartering of beasts, the buying of
burnouses, weapons, skins and jewels, grain for their camels, charms
for their women, ripe glistening dates for the little children at home
in the brown earth houses.
As she made her way slowly through the press, pioneered by Batouch,
who forced a path with great play of his huge shoulders and mighty
arms, she was surprised to find how much at home she felt in the midst
of these fierce and uncivilised-looking people. She had no sense of
shrinking from their contact, no feeling of personal disgust at their
touch. When her eyes chanced to meet any of the bold, inquiring eyes
around her she was inclined to smile as if in recognition of these
children of the sun, who did not seem to her like strangers, despite
the unknown language that struggled fiercely in their throats.
Nevertheless, she did not wish to stay very long among them now. She
was resolved to get a full and delicately complete first impression of
Beni-Mora, and to do that she knew that she must detach herself from
close human contact. She desired the mind's bird's-eye view--a height,
a watchtower and a little solitude. So, when the eager Mozabite
merchants called to her she did not heed them, and even the busy
patter of the informing Batouch fell upon rather listless ears.
"I sha'n't stay here," she said to him. "But I'll buy some perfumes.
Where can I get them?"
A thin youth, brooding above a wooden tray close by, held up in his
delicate fingers a long bottle, sealed and furnished with a tiny
label, but Batouch shook his head.
"For perfumes you must go to Ahmeda, under the arcade."
They crossed a sunlit space and stood before a dark room, sunk lightly
below the level of the pathway in a deserted corner. Shadows
congregated here, and in the gloom Domini saw a bent white figure
hunched against the blackened wall, and heard an old voice murmuring
like a drowsy bee. The perfume-seller was immersed in the Koran, his
back to the buying world. Batouch was about to call upon him, when
Domini checked the exclamation with a quick gesture. For the first
time the mystery that coils like a great black serpent in the shining
heart of the East startled and fascinated her, a mystery in which
indifference and devotion mingle. The white figure swayed slowly to
and fro, carrying the dull, humming voice with it, and now she seemed
to hear a far-away fanaticism, the bourdon of a fatalism which she
longed to understand.
Batouch shouted. His voice came like a stone from a catapult. The
merchant turned calmly and without haste, showing an aquiline face
covered with wrinkles, tufted with white hairs, lit by eyes that shone
with the cruel expressiveness of a falcon's. After a short colloquy in
Arabic he raised himself from his haunches, and came to the front of
the room, where there was a small wooden counter. He was smiling now
with a grace that was almost feminine.
"What perfume does Madame desire?" he said in French.
Domini gazed at him as at a deep mystery, but with the searching
directness characteristic of her, a fearlessness so absolute that it
embarrassed many people.
"Please give me something that is of the East--not violets, not
"Amber," said Batouch.
The merchant, still smiling, reached up to a shelf, showing an arm
like a brown twig, and took down a glass bottle covered with red and
green lines. He removed the stopper, made Domini take off her glove,
touched her bare hand with the stopper, then with his forefinger
gently rubbed the drop of perfume which had settled on her skin till
it was slightly red.
"Now, smell it," he commanded.
Domini obeyed. The perfume was faintly medicinal, but it filled her
brain with exotic visions. She shut her eyes. Yes, that was a voice of
Africa too. Oh! how far away she was from her old life and hollow
days. The magic carpet had been spread indeed, and she had been wafted
into a strange land where she had all to learn.
"Please give me some of that," she said.
The merchant poured the amber into a phial, where it lay like a thread
in the glass, weighed it in a scales and demanded a price. Batouch
began at once to argue with vehemence, but Domini stopped him.
"Pay him," she said, giving Batouch her purse.
The perfume-seller took the money with dignity, turned away, squatted
upon his haunches against the blackened wall, and picked up the broad-
leaved volume which lay upon the floor. He swayed gently and
rhythmically to and fro. Then once more the voice of the drowsy bee
hummed in the shadows. The worshipper and the Prophet stood before the
feet of Allah.
And the woman--she was set afar off, as woman is by white-robed men in
"Now, Batouch, you can carry the perfume to the hotel and I will go to
"Alone? Madame will never find it."
"I can ask the way."
"Impossible! I will escort Madame to the gate. There I will wait for
her. Monsieur the Count does not permit the Arabs to enter with
"Very well," Domini said.
The seller of perfumes had led her towards a dream. She was not
combative, and she would be alone in the garden. As they walked
towards it in the sun, through narrow ways where idle Arabs lounged
with happy aimlessness, Batouch talked of Count Anteoni, the owner of
Evidently the Count was the great personage of Beni-Mora. Batouch
spoke of him with a convinced respect, describing him as fabulously
rich, fabulously generous to the Arabs.
"He never gives to the French, Madame, but when he is here each
Friday, upon our Sabbath, he comes to the gate with a bag of money in
his hand, and he gives five franc pieces to every Arab who is there."
"And what is he? French?"
"He is Italian; but he is always travelling, and he has made gardens
everywhere. He has three in Africa alone, and in one he keeps many
lions. When he travels he takes six Arabs with him. He loves only the
Domini began to feel interested in this wandering maker of gardens,
who was a pilgrim over the world like Monte Cristo.
"Is he young?" she asked.
"Oh, no! He is always alone. Sometimes he comes here and stays for
three months, and is never once seen outside the garden. And sometimes
for a year he never comes to Beni-Mora. But he is here now. Twenty
Arabs are always working in the garden, and at night ten Arabs with
guns are always awake, some in a tent inside the door and some among
"Then there is danger at night?"
"The garden touches the desert, and those who are in the desert
without arms are as birds in the air without wings."
They had come out from among the houses now into a broad, straight
road, bordered on the left by land that was under cultivation, by
fruit trees, and farther away by giant palms, between whose trunks
could be seen the stony reaches of the desert and spurs of grey-blue
and faint rose-coloured mountains. On the right was a shady garden
with fountains and stone benches, and beyond stood a huge white palace
built in the Moorish style, and terraced roofs and a high tower
ornamented with green and peacock-blue tiles. In the distance, among
more palms, appeared a number of low, flat huts of brown earth. The
road, as far as the eyes could see, stretched straight forward through
enormous groves of palms, whose feathery tops swayed gently in the
light wind that blew from the desert. Upon all things rained a flood
of blue and gold. A blinding radiance made all things glad.
"How glorious light is!" Domini exclaimed, as she looked down the road
to the point where its whiteness was lost in the moving ocean of the
Batouch assented without enthusiasm, having always lived in the light.
"As we return from the garden we will visit the tower," he said,
pointing to the Moorish palace. "It is a hotel, and is not yet open,
but I know the guardian. From the tower Madame will see the whole of
Beni-Mora. Here is the negro village."
They traversed its dusty alleys slowly. On the side where the low
brown dwellings threw shadows some of the inhabitants were dreaming or
chattering, wrapped in garments of gaudy cotton. Little girls in the
fiercest orange colour, with tattooed foreheads and leathern amulets,
darted to and fro, chasing each other and shrieking with laughter.
Naked babies, whose shaven heads made a warm resting-place for flies,
stared at Domini with a lustrous vacancy of expression. At the corners
of the alleys unveiled women squatted, grinding corn in primitive
hand-mills, or winding wool on wooden sticks. Their heads were covered
with plaits of imitation hair made of wool, in which barbaric silver
ornaments were fastened, and their black necks and arms jingled with
chains and bangles set with squares of red coral and large dull blue
and green stones. Some of them called boldly to Batouch, and he
answered them with careless impudence. The palm-wood door of one of
the houses stood wide open, and Domini looked in. She saw a dark space
with floor and walls of earth, a ceiling of palm and brushwood, a low
divan of earth without mat or covering of any kind.
"They have no furniture?" she asked Batouch.
"No. What do they want with it? They live out here in the sun and go
in to sleep."
Life simplified to this extent made her smile. Yet she looked at the
squatting figures in the gaudy cotton rags with a stirring of envy.
The memory of her long and complicated London years, filled with a
multitude of so-called pleasures which had never stifled the dull pain
set up in her heart by the rude shock of her mother's sin and its
result, made this naked, sunny, barbarous existence seem desirable.
She stood for a moment to watch two women sorting grain for cous-cous.
Their guttural laughter, their noisy talk, the quick and energetic
movements of their busy black hands, reminded her of children's
gaiety. And Nature rose before her in the sunshine, confronting
artifice and the heavy languors of modern life in cities. How had she
been able to endure the yoke so long?
"Will Madame take me to London with her when she returns?" said
"I am not going back to London for a very long time," she replied with
"You will stay here many weeks?"
"Months, perhaps. And perhaps I shall travel on into the desert. Yes,
I must do that."
"If we followed the white road into the desert, and went on and on for
many days, we should come at last to Tombouctou," said Batouch. "But
very likely we should be killed by the Touaregs. They are fierce and
they hate strangers."
"Would you be afraid to go?" Domini asked him, curiously.
"Of being killed?"
He looked calmly surprised. "Why should I be afraid to die? All must
pass through that door. It does not matter whether it is to-day or
"You have no fear of death, then?"
"Of course not. Have you, Madame?" He gazed at Domini with genuine
"I don't know," she answered.
And she wondered and could not tell.
"There is the Villa Anteoni."
Batouch lifted his hand and pointed. They had turned aside from the
way to Tombouctou, left the village behind them, and come into a
narrow track which ran parallel to the desert. The palm trees rustled
on their right, the green corn waved, the narrow cuttings in the earth
gleamed with shallow water. But on their other side was limitless
sterility; the wide, stony expanse of the great river bed, the Oued-
Beni-Mora, then a low earth cliff, and then the immense airy flats
stretching away into the shining regions of the sun. At some distance,
raised on a dazzling white wall above the desert in an unshaded place,
Domini saw a narrow, two-sided white house, with a flat roof and a few
tiny loopholes instead of windows. One side looked full upon the
waterless river bed, the other, at right angles to it, ran back
towards a thicket of palms and ended in an arcade of six open Moorish
arches, through which the fierce blue of the cloudless sky stared,
making an almost theatrical effect. Beyond, masses of trees were
visible, looking almost black against the intense, blinding pallor of
wall, villa and arcade, the intense blue above.
"What a strange house!" Domini said. "There are no windows."
"They are all on the other side, looking into the garden."
The villa fascinated Domini at once. The white Moorish arcade framing
bare, quivering blue, blue from the inmost heart of heaven, intense as
a great vehement cry, was beautiful as the arcade of a Geni's home in
Fairyland. Mystery hung about this dwelling, a mystery of light, not
darkness, secrets of flame and hidden things of golden meaning. She
felt almost like a child who is about to penetrate into the red land
of the winter fire, and she hastened her steps till she reached a tall
white gate set in an arch of wood, and surmounted with a white coat of
arms and two lions. Batouch struck on it with a white knocker and then
began to roll a cigarette.
"I will wait here for Madame."
Domini nodded. A leaf of wood was pulled back softly in the gate, and
she stepped into the garden and confronted a graceful young Arab
dressed in pale green, who saluted her respectfully and gently closed
"May I walk about the garden a little?" she asked.
She did not look round her yet, for the Arab's face interested and
even charmed her. It was aristocratic, enchantingly indolent, like the
face of a happy lotus-eater. The great, lustrous eyes were tender as a
gazelle's and thoughtless as the eyes of a sleepy child. His
perfectly-shaped feet were bare on the shining sand. In one hand he
held a large red rose and in the other a half-smoked cigarette.
Domini could not kelp smiling at him as she put her question, and he
smiled contentedly back at her as he answered, in a low, level voice:
"You can go where you will. Shall I show you the paths?"
He lifted his hand and calmly smelt his red rose, keeping his great
eyes fixed upon her. Domini's wish to be alone had left her. This was
surely the geni of the garden, and his company would add to its
mystery and fragrance.
"You need not stay by the door?" she asked.
"No one will come. There is no one in Beni-Mora. And Hassan will
He pointed with his rose to a little tent that was pitched close to
the gate beneath a pepper tree. In it Domini saw a brown boy curled up
like a dog and fast asleep. She began to feel as if she had eaten
hashish. The world seemed made for dreaming.
"Thank you, then."
And now for the first time she looked round to see whether Batouch had
implied the truth. Must the European gardens give way to this Eastern
garden, take a lower place with all their roses?
She stood on a great expanse of newly-raked smooth sand, rising in a
very gentle slope to a gigantic hedge of carefully trimmed evergreens,
which projected at the top, forming a roof and casting a pleasant
shade upon the sand. At intervals white benches were placed under this
hedge. To the right was the villa. She saw now that it was quite
small. There were two lines of windows--on the ground floor and the
upper story. The lower windows opened on to the sand, those above on
to a verandah with a white railing, which was gained by a white
staircase outside the house built beneath the arches of the arcade.
The villa was most delicately simple, but in this riot of blue and
gold its ivory cleanliness, set there upon the shining sand which was
warm to the foot, made it look magical to Domini. She thought she had
never known before what spotless purity was like.
"Those are the bedrooms," murmured the Arab at her side.
"There are only bedrooms?" she asked in surprise.
"The other rooms, the drawing-room of Monsieur the Count, the dining-
room, the smoking-room, the Moorish bath, the room of the little dog,
the kitchen and the rooms for the servants are in different parts of
the garden. There is the dining-room."
He pointed with his rose to a large white building, whose dazzling
walls showed here and there through the masses of trees to the left,
where a little raised sand-path with flattened, sloping sides wound
away into a maze of shadows diapered with gold.
"Let us go down that path," Domini said almost in a whisper.
The spell of the place was descending upon her. This was surely a home
of dreams, a haven where the sun came to lie down beneath the trees
"What is your name?" she added.
"Smain," replied the Arab. "I was born in this garden. My father,
Mohammed, was with Monsieur the Count."
He led the way over the sand, moving silently on his long, brown feet,
straight as a reed in a windless place. Domini followed, holding her
breath. Only sometimes she let her strong imagination play utterly at
its will. She let it go now as she and Smain turned into the golden
diapered shadows of the little path and came into the swaying mystery
of the trees. The longing for secrecy, for remoteness, for the beauty
of far away had sometimes haunted her, especially in the troubled
moments of her life. Her heart, oppressed, had overleaped the horizon
line in answer to a calling from hidden things beyond. Her emotions
had wandered, seeking the great distances in which the dim purple
twilight holds surely comfort for those who suffer. But she had never
thought to find any garden of peace that realised her dreams.
Nevertheless, she was already conscious that Smain with his rose was
showing her the way to her ideal, that her feet were set upon its
pathway, that its legendary trees were closing round her.
Behind the evergreen hedge she heard the liquid bubbling of a hidden
waterfall, and when they had left the untempered sunlight behind them
this murmur grew louder. It seemed as if the green gloom in which they
walked acted as a sounding-board to the delicious voice. The little
path wound on and on between two running rills of water, which slipped
incessantly away under the broad and yellow-tipped leaves of dwarf
palms, making a music so faint that it was more like a remembered
sound in the mind than one which slid upon the ear. On either hand
towered a jungle of trees brought to this home in the desert from all
parts of the world.
There were many unknown to Domini, but she recognised several
varieties of palms, acacias, gums, fig trees, chestnuts, poplars,
false pepper trees, the huge olive trees called Jamelons, white
laurels, indiarubber and cocoanut trees, bananas, bamboos, yuccas,
many mimosas and quantities of tall eucalyptus trees. Thickets of
scarlet geranium flamed in the twilight. The hibiscus lifted languidly
its frail and rosy cup, and the red gold oranges gleamed amid leaves
that looked as if they had been polished by an attentive fairy.
As she went with Smain farther into the recesses of the garden the
voice of the waterfall died away. No birds were singing. Domini
thought that perhaps they dared not sing lest they might wake the sun
from its golden reveries, but afterwards, when she knew the garden
better, she often heard them twittering with a subdued, yet happy,
languor, as if joining in a nocturn upon the edge of sleep. Under the
trees the sand was yellow, of a shade so voluptuously beautiful that
she longed to touch it with her bare feet like Smain. Here and there
it rose in symmetrical little pyramids, which hinted at absent
gardeners, perhaps enjoying a siesta.
Never before had she fully understood the enchantment of green, quite
realised how happy a choice was made on that day of Creation when it
was showered prodigally over the world. But now, as she walked
secretly over the yellow sand between the rills, following the
floating green robe of Smain, she rested her eyes, and her soul, on
countless mingling shades of the delicious colour; rough, furry green
of geranium leaves, silver green of olives, black green of distant
palms from which the sun held aloof, faded green of the eucalyptus,
rich, emerald green of fan-shaped, sunlit palms, hot, sultry green of
bamboos, dull, drowsy green of mulberry trees and brooding chestnuts.
It was a choir of colours in one colour, like a choir of boys all with
treble voices singing to the sun.
Gold flickered everywhere, weaving patterns of enchantment, quivering,
vital patterns of burning beauty. Down the narrow, branching paths
that led to inner mysteries the light ran in and out, peeping between
the divided leaves of plants, gliding over the slippery edges of the
palm branches, trembling airily where the papyrus bent its antique
head, dancing among the big blades of sturdy grass that sprouted in
tufts here and there, resting languidly upon the glistening magnolias
that were besieged by somnolent bees. All the greens and all the golds
of Creation were surely met together in this profound retreat to prove
the perfect harmony of earth with sun.
And now, growing accustomed to the pervading silence, Domini began to
hear the tiny sounds that broke it. They came from the trees and
plants. The airs were always astir, helping the soft designs of
Nature, loosening a leaf from its stem and bearing it to the sand,
striking a berry from its place and causing it to drop at Domini's
feet, giving a faded geranium petal the courage to leave its more
vivid companions and resign itself to the loss of the place it could
no longer fill with beauty. Very delicate was the touch of the dying
upon the yellow sand. It increased the sense of pervading mystery and
made Domini more deeply conscious of the pulsing life of the garden.
"There is the room of the little dog," said Smain.
They had come out into a small open space, over which an immense
cocoanut tree presided. Low box hedges ran round two squares of grass
which were shadowed by date palms heavy with yellow fruit, and beneath
some leaning mulberry trees Domini saw a tiny white room with two
glass windows down to the ground. She went up to it and peeped in,
There, in a formal salon, with gilt chairs, oval, polished tables,
faded rugs and shining mirrors, sat a purple china dog with his tail
curled over his back sternly staring into vacancy. His expression and
his attitude were autocratic and determined, betokening a tyrannical
nature, and Domini peeped at him with precaution, holding herself very
still lest he should become aware of her presence and resent it.
"Monsieur the Count paid much money for the dog," murmured Smain. "He
is very valuable."
"How long has he been there?"
"For many years. He was there when I was born, and I have been married
twice and divorced twice."
Domini turned from the window and looked at Smain with astonishment.
He was smelling his rose like a dreamy child.
"You have been divorced twice?"
"Yes. Now I will show Madame the smoking-room."
They followed another of the innumerable alleys of the garden. This
one was very narrow and less densely roofed with trees than those they
had already traversed. Tall shrubs bent forward on either side of it,
and their small leaves almost meeting, were transformed by the radiant
sunbeams into tongues of pale fire, quivering, well nigh transparent.
As she approached them Domini could not resist the fancy that they
would burn her. A brown butterfly flitted forward between them and
vanished into the golden dream beyond.
"Oh, Smain, how you must love this garden!" she said.
A sort of ecstasy was waking within her. The pure air, the caressing
warmth, the enchanted stillness and privacy of this domain touched her
soul and body like the hands of a saint with power to bless her.
"I could live here for ever," she added, "without once wishing to go
out into the world."
Smain looked drowsily pleased.
"We are coming to the centre of the garden," he said, as they passed
over a palm-wood bridge beneath which a stream glided under the red
petals of geraniums.
The tongues of flame were left behind. Green darkness closed in upon
them and the sand beneath their feet looked blanched. The sense of
mystery increased, for the trees were enormous and grew densely here.
Pine needles lay upon the ground, and there was a stirring of sudden
wind far up above their heads in the tree-tops.
"This is the part of the garden that Monsieur the Count loves," said
Smain. "He comes here every day."
"What is that?" said Domini, suddenly stopping on the pale sand.
A thin and remote sound stole to them down the alley, clear and frail
as the note of a night bird.
"It is Larbi playing upon the flute. He is in love. That is why he
plays when he ought to be watering the flowers and raking out the
The distant love-song of the flute seemed to Domini the last touch of
enchantment making this indeed a wonderland. She could not move, and
held up her hands to stay the feet of Smain, who was quite content to
wait. Never before had she heard any music that seemed to mean and
suggest so much to her as this African tune played by an enamoured
gardener. Queer and uncouth as it was, distorted with ornaments and
tricked out with abrupt runs, exquisitely unnecessary grace notes, and
sudden twitterings prolonged till a strange and frivolous Eternity
tripped in to banish Time, it grasped Domini's fancy and laid a spell
upon her imagination. For it sounded as naively sincere as the song of
a bird, and as if the heart from which it flowed were like the heart
of a child, a place of revelation, not of concealment. The sun made
men careless here. They opened their windows to it, and one could see
into the warm and glowing rooms. Domini looked at the gentle Arab
youth beside her, already twice married and twice divorced. She
listened to Larbi's unending song of love. And she said to herself,
"These people, uncivilised or not, at least live, and I have been dead
all my life, dead in life." That was horribly possible. She knew it as
she felt the enormously powerful spell of Africa descending upon her,
enveloping her quietly but irresistibly. The dream of this garden was
quick with a vague and yet fierce stirring of realities. There was a
murmuring of many small and distant voices, like the voices of
innumerable tiny things following restless activities in a deep
forest. As she stood there the last grain of European dust was lifted
from Domini's soul. How deeply it had been buried, and for how many
"The greatest act of man is the act of renunciation." She had just
heard those words. The eyes of the priest had flamed as he spoke them,
and she had caught the spark of his enthusiasm. But now another fire
seemed lit within her, and she found herself marvelling at such
austerity. Was it not a fanatical defiance flung into the face of the
sun? She shrank from her own thought, like one startled, and walked on
softly in the green darkness.
Larbi's flute became more distant. Again and again it repeated the
same queer little melody, changing the ornamentation at the fantasy of
the player. She looked for him among the trees but saw no one. He must
be in some very secret place. Smain touched her.
"Look!" he said, and his voice was very low.
He parted the branches of some palms with his delicate hands, and
Domini, peering between them, saw in a place of deep shadows an
isolated square room, whose white walls were almost entirely concealed
by masses of purple bougainvillea. It had a flat roof. In three of its
sides were large arched window-spaces without windows. In the fourth
was a narrow doorway without a door. Immense fig trees and palms and
thickets of bamboo towered around it and leaned above it. And it was
circled by a narrow riband of finely-raked sand.
"That is the smoking-room of Monsieur the Count," said Smain. "He
spends many hours there. Come and I will show the inside to Madame."
They turned to the left and went towards the room. The flute was close
to them now. "Larbi must be in there," Domini whispered to Smain, as a
person whispers in a church.
"No, he is among the trees beyond."
"But someone is there."
She pointed to the arched window-space nearest to them. A thin spiral
of blue-grey smoke curled through it and evaporated into the shadows
of the trees. After a moment it was followed gently and deliberately
"It is not Larbi. He would not go in there. It must be----"
He paused. A tall, middle-aged man had come to the doorway of the
little room and looked out into the garden with bright eyes.
Domini drew back and glanced at Smain. She was not accustomed to
feeling intrusive, and the sudden sensation rendered her uneasy.
"It is Monsieur the Count," Smain said calmly and quite aloud.
The man in the doorway took off his soft hat, as if the words effected
an introduction between Domini and him.
"You were coming to see my little room, Madame?" he said in French.
"If I may show it to you I shall feel honoured."
The timbre of his voice was harsh and grating, yet it was a very
interesting, even a seductive, voice, and, Domini thought, peculiarly
full of vivid life, though not of energy. His manner at once banished
her momentary discomfort. There is a freemasonry between people born
in the same social world. By the way in which Count Anteoni took off
his hat and spoke she knew at once that all was right.
"Thank you, Monsieur," she answered. "I was told at the gate you gave
permission to travellers to visit your garden."
He spoke a few words in fluent Arabic to Smain, who turned away and
disappeared among the trees.
"I hope you will allow me to accompany you through the rest of the
garden," he said, turning again to Domini. "It will give me great
"It is very kind of you."
The way in which the change of companion had been effected made it
seem a pleasant, inevitable courtesy, which neither implied nor
"This is my little retreat," Count Anteoni continued, standing aside
from the doorway that Domini might enter.
She drew a long breath when she was within.
The floor was of fine sand, beaten flat and hard, and strewn with
Eastern rugs of faint and delicate hues, dim greens and faded rose
colours, grey-blues and misty topaz yellows. Round the white walls ran
broad divans, also white, covered with prayer rugs from Bagdad, and
large cushions, elaborately worked in dull gold and silver thread,
with patterns of ibises and flamingoes in flight. In the four angles
of the room stood four tiny smoking-tables of rough palm wood, holding
hammered ash-trays of bronze, green bronze torches for the lighting of
cigarettes, and vases of Chinese dragon china filled with velvety red
roses, gardenias and sprigs of orange blossom. Leather footstools,
covered with Tunisian thread-work, lay beside them. From the arches of
the window-spaces hung old Moorish lamps of copper, fitted with small
panes of dull jewelled glass, such as may be seen in venerable church
windows. In a round copper brazier, set on one of the window-seats,
incense twigs were drowsily burning and giving out thin, dwarf columns
of scented smoke. Through the archways and the narrow doorway the
dense walls of leafage were visible standing on guard about this airy
hermitage, and the hot purple blossoms of the bougainvillea shed a
cloud of colour through the bosky dimness.
And still the flute of Larbi showered soft, clear, whimsical music
from some hidden place close by.
Domini looked at her host, who was standing by the doorway, leaning
one arm against the ivory-white wall.
"This is my first day in Africa," she said simply. "You may imagine
what I think of your garden, what I feel in it. I needn't tell you.
Indeed, I am sure the travellers you so kindly let in must often have
worried you with their raptures."
"No," he answered, with a still gravity which yet suggested kindness,
"for I leave nearly always before the travellers come. That sounds a
little rude? But you would not be in Beni-Mora at this season, Madame,
if it could include you."
"I have come here for peace," Domini replied simply.
She said it because she felt as if it was already understood by her
Count Anteoni took down his arm from the white wall and pulled a
branch of the purple flowers slowly towards him through the doorway.
"There is peace--what is generally called so, at least--in Beni-Mora,"
he answered rather slowly and meditatively. "That is to say, there is
similarity of day with day, night with night. The sun shines
untiringly over the desert, and the desert always hints at peace."
He let the flowers go, and they sprang softly back, and hung quivering
in the space beyond his thin figure. Then he added:
"Perhaps one should not say more than that."
Domini sat down for a moment. She looked up at him with her direct
eyes and at the shaking flowers. The sound of Larbi's flute was always
in her ears.
"But may not one think, feel a little more?" she asked.
"Oh, why not? If one can, if one must? But how? Africa is as fierce
and full of meaning as a furnace, you know."
"Yes, I know--already," she replied.
His words expressed what she had already felt here in Beni-Mora,
surreptitiously and yet powerfully. He said it, and last night the
African hautboy had said it. Peace and a flame. Could they exist
together, blended, married?
"Africa seems to me to agree through contradiction," she added,
smiling a little, and touching the snowy wall with her right hand.
"But then, this is my first day."
"Mine was when I was a boy of sixteen."
"This garden wasn't here then?"
"No. I had it made. I came here with my mother. She spoilt me. She let
me have my whim."
"This garden is your boy's whim?"
"It was. Now it is a man's----"
He seemed to hesitate.
"Paradise," suggested Domini.
"I think I was going to say hiding-place."
There was no bitterness in his odd, ugly voice, yet surely the words
implied bitterness. The wounded, the fearful, the disappointed, the
condemned hide. Perhaps he remembered this, for he added rather
"I come here to be foolish, Madame, for I come here to think. This is
my special thinking place."
"How strange!" Domini exclaimed impulsively, and leaning forward on
"I only mean that already Beni-Mora has seemed to me the ideal place
"For finding out interior truth."
Count Anteoni looked at her rather swiftly and searchingly. His eyes
were not large, but they were bright, and held none of the languor so
often seen in the eyes of his countrymen. His face was expressive
through its mobility rather than through its contours. The features
were small and refined, not noble, but unmistakably aristocratic. The
nose was sensitive, with wide nostrils. A long and straight moustache,
turning slightly grey, did not hide the mouth, which had unusually
pale lips. The ears were set very flat against the head, and were
finely shaped. The chin was pointed. The general look of the whole
face was tense, critical, conscious, but in the defiant rather than in
the timid sense. Such an expression belongs to men who would always be
aware of the thoughts and feelings of others concerning them, but who
would throw those thoughts and feelings off as decisively and
energetically as a dog shakes the waterdrops from its coat on emerging
from a swim.
"And sending it forth, like Ishmael, to shift for itself in the
desert," he said.
The odd remark sounded like neither statement nor question, merely
like the sudden exclamation of a mind at work.
"Will you allow me to take you through the rest of the garden,
Madame?" he added in a more formal voice.
"Thank you," said Domini, who had already got up, moved by the
examining look cast at her.
There was nothing in it to resent, and she had not resented it, but it
had recalled her to the consciousness that they were utter strangers
to each other.
As they came out on the pale riband of sand which circled the little
room Domini said:
"How wild and extraordinary that tune is!"
"Larbi's. I suppose it is, but no African music seems strange to me. I
was born on my father's estate, near Tunis. He was a Sicilian; but
came to North Africa each winter. I have always heard the tomtoms and
the pipes, and I know nearly all the desert songs of the nomads."
"This is a love-song, isn't it?"
"Yes. Larbi is always in love, they tell me. Each new dancer catches
him in her net. Happy Larbi!"
"Because he can love so easily?"
"Or unlove so easily. Look at him, Madame."
At a little distance, under a big banana tree, and half hidden by
clumps of scarlet geraniums, Domini saw a huge and very ugly Arab,
with an almost black skin, squatting on his heels, with a long yellow
and red flute between his thick lips. His eyes were bent down, and he
did not see them, but went on busily playing, drawing from his flute
coquettish phrases with his big and bony fingers.
"And I pay him so much a week all the year round for doing that," the
His grating voice sounded kind and amused. They walked on, and Larbi's
tune died gradually away.
"Somehow I can't be angry with the follies and vices of the Arabs,"
the Count continued. "I love them as they are; idle, absurdly amorous,
quick to shed blood, gay as children, whimsical as--well, Madame, were
I talking to a man I might dare to say pretty women."
"I will, then. I glory in their ingrained contempt of civilisation.
But I like them to say their prayers five times in the day as it is
commanded, and no Arab who touches alcohol in defiance of the
Prophet's law sets foot in my garden."
There was a touch of harshness in his voice as he said the last words,
the sound of the autocrat. Somehow Domini liked it. This man had
convictions, and strong ones. That was certain. There was something
oddly unconventional in him which something in her responded to. He
was perfectly polite, and yet, she was quite sure, absolutely careless
of opinion. Certainly he was very much a man.
"It is pleasant, too," he resumed, after a slight pause, "to be
surrounded by absolutely thoughtless people with thoughtful faces and
mysterious eyes--wells without truth at the bottom of them."
"No one must think here but you!"
"I prefer to keep all the folly to myself. Is not that a grand
He pointed to a tree so tall that it seemed soaring to heaven.
"Yes, indeed. Like the one that presides over the purple dog."
"You have seen my fetish?"
"Smain showed him to me, with reverence."
"Oh, he is king here. The Arabs declare that on moonlight nights they
have heard him joining in the chorus of the Kabyle dogs."
"You speak almost as if you believed it."
"Well, I believe more here than I believe anywhere else. That is
partly why I come here."
"I can understand that--I mean believing much here."
"What! Already you feel the spell of Beni-Mora, the desert spell! Yes,
there is enchantment here--and so I never stay too long."
"For fear of what?"
Count Anteoni was walking easily beside her. He walked from the hips,
like many Sicilians, swaying very slightly, as if he liked to be aware
how supple his body still was. As Domini spoke he stopped. They were
now at a place where four paths joined, and could see four vistas of
green and gold, of magical sunlight and shadow.
"I scarcely know; of being carried who knows where--in mind or heart.
Oh, there is danger in Beni-Mora, Madame, there is danger. This
startling air is full of influences, of desert spirits."
He looked at her in a way she could not understand--but it made her
think of the perfume-seller in his little dark room, and of the sudden
sensation she had had that mystery coils, like a black serpent, in the
shining heart of the East.
"And now, Madame, which path shall we take? This one leads to my
drawing-room, that on the right to the Moorish bath."
"That one goes straight down to the wall that overlooks the Sahara."
"Please let us take it."
"The desert spirits are calling to you? But you are wise. What makes
this garden remarkable is not its arrangement, the number and variety
of its trees, but the fact that it lies flush with the Sahara--like a
man's thoughts of truth with Truth, perhaps."
He turned up the tail of the sentence and his harsh voice gave a
little grating crack.
"I don't believe they are so different from one another as the garden
and the desert."
She looked at him directly.
"It would be too ironical."
"But nothing is," the Count said.
"You have discovered that in this garden?"
"Ah, it is new to you, Madame!"
For the first time there was a sound of faint bitterness in his voice.
"One often discovers the saddest thing in the loveliest place," he
added. "There you begin to see the desert."
Far away, at the small orifice of the tunnel of trees down which they
were walking, appeared a glaring patch of fierce and quivering
"I can only see the sun," Domini said.
"I know so well what it hides that I imagine I actually see the
desert. One loves one's kind, assiduous liar. Isn't it so?"
"The imagination? But perhaps I am not disposed to allow that it is a
"Who knows? You may be right."
He looked at her kindly with his bright eyes. It had not seem to
strike him that their conversation was curiously intimate, considering
that they were strangers to one another, that he did not even know her
name. Domini wondered suddenly how old he was. That look made him seem
much older than he had seemed before. There was such an expression in
his eyes as may sometimes be seen in eyes that look at a child who is
kissing a rag doll with deep and determined affection. "Kiss your
doll!" they seemed to say. "Put off the years when you must know that
dolls can never return a kiss."
"I begin to see the desert now," Domini said after a moment of
silent walking. "How wonderful it is!"
"Yes, it is. The most wonderful thing in Nature. You will think it
much more wonderful when you fancy you know it well."
"I don't think anyone can ever really know the desert. It is the thing
that keeps calling, and does not permit one to draw near."
"But then, one might learn to hate it."
"I don't think so. Truth does just the same, you know. And yet men
keep on trying to draw near."
"But sometimes they succeed."
"Do they? Not when they live in gardens."
He laughed for the first time since they had been together, and all
his face was covered with a network of little moving lines.
"One should never live in a garden, Madame."
"I will try to take your word for it, but the task will be difficult."
"Yes? More difficult, perhaps, when you see what lies beside my
thoughts of truth."
As he spoke they came out from the tunnel and were seized by the
fierce hands of the sun. It was within half an hour of noon, and the
radiance was blinding. Domini put up her parasol sharply, like one
startled. She stopped.
"But how tremendous!" she exclaimed.
Count Anteoni laughed again, and drew down the brim of his grey hat
over his eyes. The hand with which he did it was almost as burnt as an
"You are afraid of it?"
"No, no. But it startled me. We don't know the sun really in Europe."
"No. Not even in Southern Italy, not even in Sicily. It is fierce
there in summer, but it seems further away. Here it insists on the
most intense intimacy. If you can bear it we might sit down for a
All along the edge of the garden, from the villa to the boundary of
Count Anteoni's domain, ran a straight high wall made of earth bricks
hardened by the sun and topped by a coping of palm wood painted white.
This wall was some eight feet high on the side next to the desert, but
the garden was raised in such a way that the inner side was merely a
low parapet running along the sand path. In this parapet were cut
small seats, like window-seats, in which one could rest and look full
upon the desert as from a little cliff. Domini sat down on one of
them, and the Count stood by her, resting one foot on the top of the
wall and leaning his right arm on his knee.
"There is the world on which I look for my hiding-place," he said. "A
vast world, isn't it?"
Domini nodded without speaking.
Immediately beneath them, in the narrow shadow of the wall, was a path
of earth and stones which turned off at the right at the end of the
garden into the oasis. Beyond lay the vast river bed, a chaos of hot
boulders bounded by ragged low earth cliffs, interspersed here and
there with small pools of gleaming water. These cliffs were yellow.
From their edge stretched the desert, as Eternity stretches from the
edge of Time. Only to the left was the immeasurable expanse intruded
upon by a long spur of mountains, which ran out boldly for some
distance and then stopped abruptly, conquered and abashed by the
imperious flats. Beneath the mountains were low, tent-like, cinnamon-
coloured undulations, which reminded Domini of those made by a shaken-
out sheet, one smaller than the other till they melted into the level.
The summits of the most distant mountains, which leaned away as if in
fear of the desert, were dark and mistily purple. Their flanks were
iron grey at this hour, flecked in the hollows with the faint mauve
and pink which became carnation colour when the sun set.
Domini scarcely looked at them. Till now she had always thought that
she loved mountains. The desert suddenly made them insignificant,
almost mean to her. She turned her eyes towards the flat spaces. It
was in them that majesty lay, mystery, power, and all deep and
significant things. In the midst of the river bed, and quite near,
rose a round and squat white tower with a small cupola. Beyond it, on
the little cliff, was a tangle of palms where a tiny oasis sheltered a
few native huts. At an immense distance, here and there, other oases
showed as dark stains show on the sea where there are hidden rocks.
And still farther away, on all hands, the desert seemed to curve up
slightly like a shallow wine-hued cup to the misty blue horizon line,
which resembled a faintly seen and mysterious tropical sea, so distant
that its sultry murmur was lost in the embrace of the intervening
An Arab passed on the path below the wall. He did not see them. A
white dog with curling lips ran beside him. He was singing to himself
in a low, inward voice. He went on and turned towards the oasis, still
singing as he walked slowly.
"Do you know what he is singing?" the Count asked.
Domini shook her head. She was straining her ears to hear the melody
as long as possible.
"It is a desert song of the freed negroes of Touggourt--'No one but
God and I knows what is in my heart.'"
Domini lowered her parasol to conceal her face. In the distance she
could still hear the song, but it was dying away.
"Oh! what is going to happen to me here?" she thought.
Count Anteoni was looking away from her now across the desert. A
strange impulse rose up in her. She could not resist it. She put down
her parasol, exposing herself to the blinding sunlight, knelt down on
the hot sand, leaned her arms on the white parapet, put her chin in
the upturned palms of her hands and stared into the desert almost
"No one but God and I knows what is in my heart," she thought. "But
that's not true, that's not true. For I don't know."
The last echo of the Arab's song fainted on the blazing air. Surely it
had changed now. Surely, as he turned into the shadows of the palms,
he was singing, "No one but God knows what is in my heart." Yes, he
was singing that. "No one but God--no one but God."
Count Anteoni looked down at her. She did not notice it, and he kept
his eyes on her for a moment. Then he turned to the desert again.
By degrees, as she watched, Domini became aware of many things
indicative of life, and of many lives in the tremendous expanse that
at first had seemed empty of all save sun and mystery. She saw low,
scattered tents, far-off columns of smoke rising. She saw a bird pass
across the blue and vanish towards the mountains. Black shapes
appeared among the tiny mounds of earth, crowned with dusty grass and
dwarf tamarisk bushes. She saw them move, like objects in a dream,
slowly through the shimmering gold. They were feeding camels, guarded
by nomads whom she could not see.
At first she persistently explored the distances, carried forcibly by
an /elan/ of her whole nature to the remotest points her eyes could
reach. Then she withdrew her gaze gradually, reluctantly, from the
hidden summoning lands, whose verges she had with difficulty gained,
and looked, at first with apprehension, upon the nearer regions. But
her apprehension died when she found that the desert transmutes what
is close as well as what is remote, suffuses even that which the hand
could almost touch with wonder, beauty, and the deepest, most strange
Quite near in the river bed she saw an Arab riding towards the desert
upon a prancing black horse. He mounted a steep bit of path and came
out on the flat ground at the cliff top. Then he set his horse at a
gallop, raising his bridle hand and striking his heels into the flanks
of the beast. And each of his movements, each of the movements of his
horse, was profoundly interesting, and held the attention of the
onlooker in a vice, as if the fates of worlds depended upon where he
was carried and how soon he reached his goal. A string of camels laden
with wooden bales met him on the way, and this chance encounter seemed
to Domini fraught with almost terrible possibilities. Why? She did not
ask herself. Again she sent her gaze further, to the black shapes
moving stealthily among the little mounds, to the spirals of smoke
rising into the glimmering air. Who guarded those camels? Who fed
those distant fires? Who watched beside them? It seemed of vital
consequence to her that she should know.
Count Anteoni took out his watch and glanced at it.
"I am looking to see if it is nearly the hour of prayer," he said.
"When I am in Beni-Mora I usually come here then."
"You turn to the desert as the faithful turn towards Mecca?"
"Yes. I like to see men praying in the desert."
He spoke indifferently, but Domini felt suddenly sure that within him
there were depths of imagination, of tenderness, even perhaps of
"An atheist in the desert is unimaginable," he added. "In cathedrals
they may exist very likely, and even feel at home. I have seen
cathedrals in which I could believe I was one, but--how many human
beings can you see in the desert at this moment, Madame?"
Domini, still with her round chin in her hands, searched the blazing
region with her eyes. She saw three running figures with the train of
camels which was now descending into the river bed. In the shadow of
the low white tower two more were huddled, motionless. She looked away
to right and left, but saw only the shallow pools, the hot and
gleaming boulders, and beyond the yellow cliffs the brown huts peeping
through the palms. The horseman had disappeared.
"I can see five," she answered.
"Ah! you are not accustomed to the desert."
"There are more?"
"I could count up to a dozen. Which are yours?"
"The men with the camels and the men under that tower."
"There are four playing the /jeu des dames/ in the shadow of the cliff
opposite to us. There is one asleep under a red rock where the path
ascends into the desert. And there are two more just at the edge of
the little oasis--Filiash, as it is called. One is standing under a
palm, and one is pacing up and down."
"You must have splendid eyes."
"They are trained to the desert. But there are probably a score of
Arabs within sight whom I don't see."
"Oh! now I see the men at the edge of the oasis. How oddly that one is
moving. He goes up and down like a sailor on the quarter-deck."
"Yes, it is curious. And he is in the full blaze of the sun. That
can't be an Arab."
He drew a silver whistle from his waistcoat pocket, put it to his lips
and sounded a call. In a moment Smain same running lightly over the
sand. Count Anteoni said something to him in Arabic. He disappeared,
and speedily returned with a pair of field-glasses. While he was gone
Domini watched the two doll-like figures on the cliff in silence. One
was standing under a large isolated palm tree absolutely still, as
Arabs often stand. The other, at a short distance from him and full in
the sun, went to and fro, to and fro, always measuring the same space
of desert, and turning and returning at two given points which never
varied. He walked like a man hemmed in by walls, yet around him were
the infinite spaces. The effect was singularly unpleasant upon Domini.
All things in the desert, as she had already noticed, became almost
terribly significant, and this peculiar activity seemed full of some
extraordinary and even horrible meaning. She watched it with straining
Count Anteoni took the glasses from Smain and looked through them,
adjusting them carefully to suit his sight.
"/Ecco!/" he said. "I was right. That man is not an Arab."
He moved the glasses and glanced at Domini.
"You are not the only traveller here, Madame."
He looked through the glasses again.
"I knew that," she said.
"There is one at my hotel."
"Possibly this is he. He makes me think of a caged tiger, who has been
so long in captivity that when you let him out he still imagines the
bars to be all round him. What was he like?"
All the time he was speaking he was staring intently through the
glasses. As Domini did not reply he removed them from his eyes and
glanced at her inquiringly.
"I am trying to think what he looked like," she said slowly. "But I
feel that I don't know. He was quite unlike any ordinary man."
"Would you care to see if you can recognise him? These are really
Domini took them from him with some eagerness.
"Twist them about till they suit your eyes."
At first she could see nothing but a fierce yellow glare. She turned
the screw and gradually the desert came to her, startlingly distinct.
The boulders of the river bed were enormous. She could see the veins
of colour in them, a lizard running over one of them and disappearing
into a dark crevice, then the white tower and the Arabs beneath it.
One was an old man yawning; the other a boy. He rubbed the tip of his
brown nose, and she saw the henna stains upon his nails. She lifted
the glasses slowly and with precaution. The tower ran away. She came
to the low cliff, to the brown huts and the palms, passed them one by
one, and reached the last, which was separated from its companions.
Under it stood a tall Arab in a garment like a white night-shirt.
"He looks as if he had only one eye!" she exclaimed.
"The palm-tree man--yes."
She travelled cautiously away from him, keeping the glasses level.
"Ah!" she said on an indrawn breath.
As she spoke the thin, nasal cry of a distant voice broke upon her
ears, prolonging a strange call.
"The Mueddin," said Count Anteoni.
And he repeated in a low tone the words of the angel to the prophet:
"Oh thou that art covered arise . . . and magnify thy Lord; and purify
thy clothes, and depart from uncleanness."
The call died away and was renewed three times. The old man and the
boy beneath the tower turned their faces towards Mecca, fell upon
their knees and bowed their heads to the hot stones. The tall Arab
under the palm sank down swiftly. Domini kept the glasses at her eyes.
Through them, as in a sort of exaggerated vision, very far off, yet
intensely distinct, she saw the man with whom she had travelled in the
train. He went to and fro, to and fro on the burning ground till the
fourth call of the Mueddin died away. Then, as he approached the
isolated palm tree and saw the Arab beneath it fall to the earth and
bow his long body in prayer, he paused and stood still as if in
contemplation. The glasses were so powerful that it was possible to
see the expressions on faces even at that distance. The expression on
the traveller's face was, or seemed to be, at first one of profound
attention. But this changed swiftly as he watched the bowing figure,
and was succeeded by a look of uneasiness, then of fierce disgust,
then--surely--of fear or horror. He turned sharply away like a driven
man, and hurried off along the cliff edge in a striding walk,
quickening his steps each moment till his departure became a flight.
He disappeared behind a projection of earth where the path sank to the
Domini laid the glasses down on the wall and looked at Count Anteoni.
"You say an atheist in the desert is unimaginable?
"Isn't it true?"
"Has an atheist a hatred, a horror of prayer?"
"Chi lo sa? The devil shrank away from the lifted Cross."
"Because he knew how much that was true it symbolised."
"No doubt had it been otherwise he would have jeered, not cowered. But
why do you ask me this question, Madame?"
"I have just seen a man flee from the sight of prayer."
"Yes. It was horrible."
She gave him back the glasses.
"They reveal that which should be hidden," she said.
Count Anteoni took the glasses slowly from her hands. As he bent to do
it he looked steadily at her, and she could not read the expression in
"The desert is full of truth. Is that what you mean?" he asked.
She made no reply. Count Anteoni stretched out his hand to the shining
expanse before them.
"The man who is afraid of prayer is unwise to set foot beyond the palm
trees," he said.
He answered her very gravely.
"The Arabs have a saying: 'The desert is the garden of Allah.'"
* * * * * *
Domini did not ascend the tower of the hotel that morning. She had
seen enough for the moment, and did not wish to disturb her
impressions by adding to them. So she walked back to the Hotel du
Desert with Batouch.
Count Anteoni had said good-bye to her at the door of the garden, and
had begged her to come again whenever she liked, and to spend as many
hours there as she pleased.
"I shall take you at your word," she said frankly. "I feel that I
As they shook hands she gave him her card. He took out his. "By the
way," he said, "the big hotel you passed in coming here is mine. I
built it to prevent a more hideous one being built, and let it to the
proprietor. You might like to ascend the tower. The view at sundown is
incomparable. At present the hotel is shut, but the guardian will show
you everything if you give him my card."
He pencilled some words in Arabic on the back from right to left.
"You write Arabic, too?" Domini said, watching the forming of the
pretty curves with interest.
"Oh, yes; I am more than half African, though my father was a Sicilian
and my mother a Roman."
He gave her the card, took off his hat and bowed. When the tall white
door was softly shut by Smain, Domini felt rather like a new Eve
expelled from Paradise, without an Adam as a companion in exile.
"Well, Madame?" said Batouch. "Have I spoken the truth?"
"Yes. No European garden can be so beautiful as that. Now I am going
She smiled to herself as she said the last word.
Outside the hotel they found Hadj looking ferocious. He exchanged some
words with Batouch, accompanying them with violent gestures. When he
had finished speaking he spat upon the ground.
"What is the matter with him?" Domini asked.
"The Monsieur who is staying here would not take him to-day, but went
into the desert alone. Hadj wishes that the nomads may cut his throat,
and that his flesh may be eaten by jackals. Hadj is sure that he is a
bad man and will come to a bad end."
"Because he does not want a guide every day! But neither shall I."
"Madame is quite different. I would give my life for Madame."
"Don't do that, but go this afternoon and find me a horse. I don't
want a quiet one, but something with devil, something that a Spahi
would like to ride."
The desert spirits were speaking to her body as well as to her mind. A
physical audacity was stirring in her, and she longed to give it vent.
"Madame is like the lion. She is afraid of nothing."
"You speak without knowing, Batouch. Don't come for me this afternoon,
but bring round a horse, if you can find one, to-morrow morning."
"This very evening I will--"
"No, Batouch. I said to-morrow morning."
She spoke with a quiet but inflexible decision which silenced him.
Then she gave him ten francs and went into the dark house, from which
the burning noonday sun was carefully excluded. She intended to rest
after /dejeuner/, and towards sunset to go to the big hotel and mount
alone to the summit of the tower.
It was half-past twelve, and a faint rattle of knives and forks from
the /salle-a-manger/ told her that /dejeuner/ was ready. She went
upstairs, washed her face and hands in cold water, stood still while
Suzanne shook the dust from her gown, and then descended to the public
room. The keen air had given her an appetite.
The /salle-a-manger/ was large and shady, and was filled with small
tables, at only three of which were people sitting. Four French
officers sat together at one. A small, fat, perspiring man of middle
age, probably a commercial traveller, who had eyes like a melancholy
toad, was at another, eating olives with anxious rapidity, and wiping
his forehead perpetually with a dirty white handkerchief. At the third
was the priest with whom Domini had spoken in the church. His napkin
was tucked under his beard, and he was drinking soup as he bent well
over his plate.
A young Arab waiter, with a thin, dissipated face, stood near the door
in bright yellow slippers. When Domini came in he stole forward to
show her to her table, making a soft, shuffling sound on the polished
wooden floor. The priest glanced up over his napkin, rose and bowed.
The French officers stared with an interest they were too chivalrous
to attempt to conceal. Only the fat little man was entirely
unconcerned. He wiped his forehead, stuck his fork deftly into an
olive, and continued to look like a melancholy toad entangled by fate
in commercial pursuits.
Domini's table was by a window, across which green Venetian shutters
were drawn. It was at a considerable distance from the other guests,
who did not live in the house, but came there each day for their
meals. Near it she noticed a table laid for one person, and so
arranged that if he came to /dejeuner/ he would sit exactly opposite
to her. She wondered if it was for the man at whom she had just been
looking through Count Anteoni's field-glasses, the man who had fled
from prayer in the "Garden of Allah." As she glanced at the empty
chair standing before the knives and forks, and the white cloth, she
was uncertain whether she wished it to be filled by the traveller or
not. She felt his presence in Beni-Mora as a warring element. That she
knew. She knew also that she had come there to find peace, a great
calm and remoteness in which she could at last grow, develop, loose
her true self from cramping bondage, come to an understanding with
herself, face her heart and soul, and--as it were--look them in the
eyes and know them for what they were, good or evil. In the presence
of this total stranger there was something unpleasantly distracting
which she could not and did not ignore, something which roused her
antagonism and which at the same time compelled her attention. She had
been conscious of it in the train, conscious of it in the tunnel at
twilight, at night in the hotel, and once again in Count Anteoni's
garden. This man intruded himself, no doubt unconsciously, or even
against his will, into her sight, her thoughts, each time that she was
on the point of giving herself to what Count Anteoni called "the
desert spirits." So it had been when the train ran out of the tunnel
into the blue country. So it had been again when she leaned on the
white wall and gazed out over the shining fastnesses of the sun. He
was there like an enemy, like something determined, egoistical, that
said to her, "You would look at the greatness of the desert, at
immensity, infinity, God!--Look at me." And she could not turn her
eyes away. Each time the man had, as if without effort, conquered the
great competing power, fastened her thoughts upon himself, set her
imagination working about his life, even made her heart beat faster
with some thrill of--what? Was it pity? Was it a faint horror? She
knew that to call the feeling merely repugnance would not be sincere.
The intensity, the vitality of the force shut up in a human being
almost angered her at this moment as she looked at the empty chair and
realised all that it had suddenly set at work. There was something
insolent in humanity as well as something divine, and just then she
felt the insolence more than the divinity. Terrifically greater, more
overpowering than man, the desert was yet also somehow less than man,
feebler, vaguer. Or else how could she have been grasped, moved,
turned to curiosity, surmise, almost to a sort of dread--all at the
desert's expense--by the distant moving figure seen through the
Yes, as she looked at the little white table and thought of all this,
Domini began to feel angry. But she was capable of effort, whether
mental or physical, and now she resolutely switched her mind off from
the antagonistic stranger and devoted her thoughts to the priest,
whose narrow back she saw down the room in the distance. As she ate
her fish--a mystery of the seas of Robertville--she imagined his quiet
existence in this remote place, sunny day succeeding sunny day, each
one surely so like its brother that life must become a sort of dream,
through which the voice of the church bell called melodiously and the
incense rising before the altar shed a drowsy perfume. How strange it
must be really to live in Beni-Mora, to have your house, your work
here, your friendships here, your duties here, perhaps here too the
tiny section of earth which would hold at the last your body. It must
be strange and monotonous, and yet surely rather sweet, rather safe.
The officers lifted their heads from their plates, the fat man stared,
the priest looked quietly up over his napkin, and the Arab waiter
slipped forward with attentive haste. For the swing door of the
/salle-a-manger/ at this moment was pushed open, and the traveller--so
Domini called him in her thoughts--entered and stood looking with
hesitation from one table to another.
Domini did not glance up. She knew who it was and kept her eyes
resolutely on her plate. She heard the Arab speak, a loud noise of
stout boots tramping over the wooden floor, and the creak of a chair
receiving a surely tired body. The traveller sat down heavily. She
went on slowly eating the large Robertville fish, which was like
something between a trout and a herring. When she had finished it she
gazed straight before her at the cloth, and strove to resume her
thoughts of the priest's life in Beni-Mora. But she could not. It
seemed to her as if she were back again in Count Anteoni's garden. She
looked once more through the glasses, and heard the four cries of the
Mueddin, and saw the pacing figure in the burning heat, the Arab bent
in prayer, the one who watched him, the flight. And she was indignant
with herself for her strange inability to govern her mind. It seemed
to her a pitiful thing of which she should be ashamed.
She heard the waiter set down a plate upon the traveller's table, and
then the noise of a liquid being poured into a glass. She could not
keep her eyes down any more. Besides, why should she? Beni-Mora was
breeding in her a self-consciousness--or a too acute consciousness of
others--that was unnatural in her. She had never been sensitive like
this in her former life, but the fierce African sun seemed now to have
thawed the ice of her indifference. She felt everything with almost
unpleasant acuteness. All her senses seemed to her sharpened. She saw,
she heard, as she had never seen and heard till now. Suddenly she
remembered her almost violent prayer--"Let me be alive! Let me feel!"
and she was aware that such a prayer might have an answer that would
Looking up thus with a kind of severe determination, she saw the man
again. He was eating and was not looking towards her, and she fancied
that his eyes were downcast with as much conscious resolution as hers
had been a moment before. He wore the same suit as he had worn in the
train, but now it was flecked with desert dust. She could not "place"
him at all. He was not of the small, fat man's order. They would have
nothing in common. With the French officers? She could not imagine how
he would be with them. The only other man in the room--the servant had
gone out for the moment--was the priest. He and the priest--they would
surely be antagonists. Had he not turned aside to avoid the priest in
the tunnel? Probably he was one of those many men who actively hate
the priesthood, to whom the soutane is anathema. Could he find
pleasant companionship with such a man as Count Anteoni, an original
man, no doubt, but also a cultivated and easy man of the world? She
smiled internally at the mere thought. Whatever this stranger might be
she felt that he was as far from being a man of the world as she was
from being a Cockney sempstress or a veiled favourite in a harem. She
could not, she found, imagine him easily at home with any type of
human being with which she was acquainted. Yet no doubt, like all men,
he had somewhere friends, relations, possibly even a wife, children.
No doubt--then why could she not believe it?
The man had finished his fish. He rested his broad, burnt hands on the
table on each side of his plate and looked at them steadily. Then he
turned his head and glanced sideways at the priest, who was behind him
to the right. Then he looked again at his hands. And Domini knew that
all the time he was thinking about her, as she was thinking about him.
She felt the violence of his thought like the violence of a hand
The Arab waiter brought her some ragout of mutton and peas, and she
looked down again at her plate.
As she left the room after /dejeuner/ the priest again got up and
bowed. She stopped for a moment to speak to him. All the French
officers surveyed her tall, upright figure and broad, athletic
shoulders with intent admiration. Domini knew it and was indifferent.
If a hundred French soldiers had been staring at her critically she
would not have cared at all. She was not a shy woman and was in nowise
uncomfortable when many eyes were fixed upon her. So she stood and
talked a little to the priest about Count Anteoni and her pleasure in
his garden. And as she did so, feeling her present calm self-
possession, she wondered secretly at the wholly unnatural turmoil--she
called it that, exaggerating her feeling because it was unusual--in
which she had been a few minutes before as she sat at her table.
The priest spoke well of Count Anteoni.
"He is very generous," he said.
Then he paused, twisting his napkin, and added:
"But I never have any real intercourse with him, Madame. I believe he
comes here in search of solitude. He spends days and even weeks alone
shut up in his garden."
"Thinking," she said.
The priest looked slightly surprised.
"It would be difficult not to think, Madame, would it not?"
"Oh, yes. But Count Anteoni thinks rather as a Bashi-Bazouk fights, I
She heard a chair creak in the distance and glanced over her shoulder.
The traveller had turned sideways. At once she bade the priest good-
bye and walked away and out through the swing door.
All the afternoon she rested. The silence was profound. Beni-Mora was
enjoying a siesta in the heat. Domini revelled in the stillness. The
fatigue of travel had quite gone from her now and she began to feel
strangely at home. Suzanne had arranged photographs, books, flowers in
the little salon, had put cushions here and there, and thrown pretty
coverings over the sofa and the two low chairs. The room had an air of
cosiness, of occupation. It was a room one could sit in without
restlessness, and Domini liked its simplicity, its bare wooden floor
and white walls. The sun made everything right here. Without the sun--
but she could not think of Beni-Mora without the sun.
She read on the verandah and dreamed, and the hours slipped quickly
away. No one came to disturb her. She heard no footsteps, no movements
of humanity in the house. Now and then the sound of voices floated up
to her from the gardens, mingling with the peculiar dry noise of palm
leaves stirring in a breeze. Or she heard the distant gallop of
horses' feet. The church bell chimed the hours and made her recall the
previous evening. Already it seemed far off in the past. She could
scarcely believe that she had not yet spent twenty-four hours in Beni-
Mora. A conviction came to her that she would be there for a long
while, that she would strike roots into this sunny place of peace.
When she heard the church bell now she thought of the interior of the
church and of the priest with an odd sort of familiar pleasure, as
people in England often think of the village church in which they have
always been accustomed to worship, and of the clergyman who ministers
in it Sunday after Sunday. Yet at moments she remembered her inward
cry in Count Anteoni's garden, "Oh, what is going to happen to me
here?" And then she was dimly conscious that Beni-Mora was the home of
many things besides peace. It held warring influences. At one moment
it lulled her and she was like an infant rocked in a cradle. At
another moment it stirred her, and she was a woman on the edge of
mysterious possibilities. There must be many individualities among the
desert spirits of whom Count Anteoni had spoken. Now one was with her
and whispered to her, now another. She fancied the light touch of
their hands on hers, pulling gently at her, as a child pulls you to
take you to see a treasure. And their treasure was surely far away,
hidden in the distance of the desert sands.
As soon as the sun began to decline towards the west she put on her
hat, thrust the card Count Anteoni had given her into her glove and
set out towards the big hotel alone. She met Hadj as she walked down
the arcade. He wished to accompany her, and was evidently filled with
treacherous ideas of supplanting his friend Batouch, but she gave him
a franc and sent him away. The franc soothed him slightly, yet she
could see that his childish vanity was injured. There was a malicious
gleam in his long, narrow eyes as he looked after her. Yet there was
genuine admiration too. The Arab bows down instinctively before any
dominating spirit, and such a spirit in a foreign woman flashes in his
eyes like a bright flame. Physical strength, too, appeals to him with
peculiar force. Hadj tossed his head upwards, tucked in his chin, and
muttered some words in his brown throat as he noted the elastic grace
with which the rejecting foreign woman moved till she was out of his
sight. And she never looked back at him. That was a keen arrow in her
quiver. He fell into a deep reverie under the arcade and his face
became suddenly like the face of a sphinx.
Meanwhile Domini had forgotten him. She had turned to the left down a
small street in which some Indians and superior Arabs had bazaars. One
of the latter came out from the shadow of his hanging rugs and
embroideries as she passed, and, addressing her in a strange mixture
of incorrect French and English, begged her to come in and examine his
She shook her head, but could not help looking at him with interest.
He was the thinnest man she had ever seen, and moved and stood almost
as if he were boneless. The line of his delicate and yet arbitrary
features was fierce. His face was pitted with small-pox and marked by
an old wound, evidently made by a knife, which stretched from his left
cheek to his forehead, ending just over the left eyebrow. The
expression of his eyes was almost disgustingly intelligent. While they
were fixed upon her Domini felt as if her body were a glass box in
which all her thoughts, feelings, and desires were ranged for his
inspection. In his demeanour there was much that pleaded, but also
something that commanded. His fingers were unnaturally long and held a
small bag, and he planted himself right before her in the road.
"Madame, come in, venez avec moi. Venez--venez! I have much--I will
show--j'ai des choses extraordinaires! Tenez! Look!"
He untied the mouth of the bag. Domini looked into it, expecting to
see something precious--jewels perhaps. She saw only a quantity of
sand, laughed, and moved to go on. She thought the Arab was an
impudent fellow trying to make fun of her.
"No, no, Madame! Do not laugh! Ce sable est du desert. Il y a des
histoires la-dedans. Il y a l'histoire de Madame. Come bazaar! I will
read for Madame--what will be--what will become--I will read--I will
tell. Tenez!" He stared down into the bag and his face became suddenly
stern and fixed. "Deja je vois des choses dans la vie de Madame. Ah!
Mon Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu!"
"No, no," Domini said.
She had hesitated, but was now determined.
"I have no time to-day."
The man cast a quick and sly glance at her, then stared once more into
the bag. "Ah! Mon Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu!" he repeated. "The life to come
--the life of Madame--I see it in the bag!"
His face looked tortured. Domini walked on hurriedly. When she had got
to a little distance she glanced back. The man was standing in the
middle of the road and glaring into the bag. His voice came down the
street to her.
"Ah! Mon Dieu! Ah! Mon Dieu! I see it--I see--je vois la vie de Madame
--Ah! Mon Dieu!"
There was an accent of dreadful suffering in his voice. It made Domini
She passed the mouth of the dancers' street. At the corner there was a
large Cafe Maure, and here, on rugs laid by the side of the road,
numbers of Arabs were stretched, some sipping tea from glasses, some
playing dominoes, some conversing, some staring calmly into vacancy,
like animals drowned in a lethargic dream. A black boy ran by holding
a hammered brass tray on which were some small china cups filled with
thick coffee. Halfway up the street he met three unveiled women clad
in voluminous white dresses, with scarlet, yellow, and purple
handkerchiefs bound over their black hair. He stopped and the women
took the cups with their henna-tinted fingers. Two young Arabs joined
them. There was a scuffle. White lumps of sugar flew up into the air.
Then there was a babel of voices, a torrent of cries full of barbaric
Before it had died out of Domini's ears she stood by the statue of
Cardinal Lavigerie. Rather militant than priestly, raised high on a
marble pedestal, it faced the long road which, melting at last into a
faint desert track, stretched away to Tombouctou. The mitre upon the
head was worn surely as if it were a helmet, the pastoral staff with
its double cross was grasped as if it were a sword. Upon the lower
cross was stretched a figure of the Christ in agony. And the Cardinal,
gazing with the eyes of an eagle out into the pathless wastes of sand
that lay beyond the palm trees, seemed, by his mere attitude, to cry
to all the myriad hordes of men the deep-bosomed Sahara mothered in
her mystery and silence, "Come unto the Church! Come unto me!"
He called men in from the desert. Domini fancied his voice echoing
along the sands till the worshippers of Allah and of his Prophet heard
it like a clarion in Tombouctou.
When she reached the great hotel the sun was just beginning to set.
She drew Count Anteoni's card from her glove and rang the bell. After
a long interval a magnificent man, with the features of an Arab but a
skin almost as black as a negro, opened the door.
"Can I go up the tower to see the sunset?" she asked, giving him the
The man bowed low, escorted her through a long hall full of furniture
shrouded in coverings, up a staircase, along a corridor with numbered
rooms, up a second staircase and out upon a flat-terraced roof, from
which the tower soared high above the houses and palms of Beni-Mora, a
landmark visible half-a-day's journey out in the desert. A narrow
spiral stair inside the tower gained the summit.
"I'll go up alone," Domini said. "I shall stay some time and I would
rather not keep you."
She put some money into the Arab's hand. He looked pleased, yet
doubtful too for a moment. Then he seemed to banish his hesitation
and, with a deprecating smile, said something which she could not
understand. She nodded intelligently to get rid of him. Already, from
the roof, she caught sight of a great visionary panorama glowing with
colour and magic. She was impatient to climb still higher into the
sky, to look down on the world as an eagle does. So she turned away
decisively and mounted the dark, winding stair till she reached a
door. She pushed it open with some difficulty, and came out into the
air at a dizzy height, shutting the door forcibly behind her with an
energetic movement of her strong arms.
The top of the tower was small and square, and guarded by a white
parapet breast high. In the centre of it rose the outer walls and the
ceiling of the top of the staircase, which prevented a person standing
on one side of the tower from seeing anybody who was standing at the
opposite side. There was just sufficient space between parapet and
staircase wall for two people to pass with difficulty and manoeuvring.
But Domini was not concerned with such trivial details, as she would
have thought them had she thought of them. Directly she had shut the
little door and felt herself alone--alone as an eagle in the sky--she
took the step forward that brought her to the parapet, leaned her arms
on it, looked out and was lost in a passion of contemplation.
At first she did not discern any of the multitudinous minutiae in the
great evening vision beneath and around her. She only felt conscious
of depth, height, space, colour, mystery, calm. She did not measure.
She did not differentiate. She simply stood there, leaning lightly on
the snowy plaster work, and experienced something that she had never
experienced before, that she had never imagined. It was scarcely
vivid; for in everything that is vivid there seems to be something
small, the point to which wonders converge, the intense spark to which
many fires have given themselves as food, the drop which contains the
murmuring force of innumerable rivers. It was more than vivid. It was
reliantly dim, as is that pulse of life which is heard through and
above the crash of generations and centuries falling downwards into
the abyss; that persistent, enduring heart-beat, indifferent in its
mystical regularity, that ignores and triumphs, and never grows louder
nor diminishes, inexorably calm, inexorably steady, undefeated--more--
utterly unaffected by unnumbered millions of tragedies and deaths.
Many sounds rose from far down beneath the tower, but at first Domini
did not hear them. She was only aware of an immense, living silence, a
silence flowing beneath, around and above her in dumb, invisible
waves. Circles of rest and peace, cool and serene, widened as circles
in a pool towards the unseen limits of the satisfied world, limits
lost in the hidden regions beyond the misty, purple magic where sky
and desert met. And she felt as if her brain, ceaselessly at work from
its birth, her heart, unresting hitherto in a commotion of desires,
her soul, an eternal flutter of anxious, passionate wings, folded
themselves together gently like the petals of roses when a summer
night comes into a garden.
She was not conscious that she breathed while she stood there. She
thought her bosom ceased to rise and fall. The very blood dreamed in
her veins as the light of evening dreamed in the blue.
She knew the Great Pause that seems to divide some human lives in two,
as the Great Gulf divided him who lay in Abraham's bosom from him who
was shrouded in the veil of fire.
BOOK II. THE VOICE OF PRAYER