Part 3 out of 12
The music of things from below stole up through the ethereal spaces to
Domini without piercing her dream. But suddenly she started with a
sense of pain so acute that it shook her body and set the pulses in
her temples beating. She lifted her arms swiftly from the parapet and
turned her head. She had heard a little grating noise which seemed to
be near to her, enclosed with her on this height in the narrow space
of the tower. Slight as it was, and short--already she no longer heard
it--it had in an instant driven her out of Heaven, as if it had been
an angel with a flaming sword. She felt sure that there must be
something alive with her at the tower summit, something which by a
sudden movement had caused the little noise she had heard. What was
it? When she turned her head she could only see the outer wall of the
staircase, a section of the narrow white space which surrounded it, an
angle of the parapet and blue air.
She listened, holding her breath and closing her two hands on the
parapet, which was warm from the sun. Now, caught back to reality, she
could hear faintly the sounds from below in Beni-Mora. But they did
not concern her, and she wished to shut them out from her ears. What
did concern her was to know what was with her up in the sky. Had a
bird alighted on the parapet and startled her by scratching at the
plaster with its beak? Could a mouse have shuffled in the wall? Or was
there a human being up there hidden from her by the masonry?
This last supposition disturbed her almost absurdly for a moment. She
was inclined to walk quickly round to the opposite side of the tower,
but something stronger than her inclination, an imperious shyness,
held her motionless. She had been carried so far away from the world
that she felt unable to face the scrutiny of any world-bound creature.
Having been in the transparent region of magic it seemed to her as if
her secret, the great secret of the absolutely true, the naked
personality hidden in every human being, were set blazing in her eyes
like some torch borne in a procession, just for that moment. The
moment past, she could look anyone fearlessly in the face; but not
now, not yet.
While she stood there, half turning round, she heard the sound again
and knew what caused it. A foot had shifted on the plaster floor.
There was someone else then looking out over the desert. A sudden idea
struck her. Probably it was Count Anteoni. He knew she was coming and
might have decided to act once more as her cicerone. He had not heard
her climbing the stairs, and, having gone to the far side of the
tower, was no doubt watching the sunset, lost in a dream as she had
She resolved not to disturb him--if it was he. When he had dreamed
enough he must inevitably come round to where she was standing in
order to gain the staircase. She would let him find her there. Less
troubled now, but in an utterly changed mood, she turned, leaned once
more on the parapet and looked over, this time observantly, prepared
to note the details that, combined and veiled in the evening light of
Africa, made the magic which had so instantly entranced her.
She looked down into the village and could see its extent, precisely
how it was placed in the Sahara, in what relation exactly it stood to
the mountain ranges, to the palm groves and the arid, sunburnt tracts,
where its life centred and where it tailed away into suburban edges
not unlike the ragged edges of worn garments, where it was idle and
frivolous, where busy and sedulous. She realised for the first time
that there were two distinct layers of life in Beni-Mora--the life of
the streets, courts, gardens and market-place, and above it the life
of the roofs. Both were now spread out before her, and the latter, in
its domestic intimacy, interested and charmed her. She saw upon the
roofs the children playing with little dogs, goats, fowls, mothers in
rags of gaudy colours stirring the barley for cous-cous, shredding
vegetables, pounding coffee, stewing meat, plucking chickens, bending
over bowls from which rose the steam of soup; small girls, seated in
dusty corners, solemnly winding wool on sticks, and pausing, now and
then, to squeak to distant members of the home circle, or to smell at
flowers laid beside them as solace to their industry. An old
grandmother rocked and kissed a naked baby with a pot belly. A big
grey rat stole from a rubbish heap close by her, flitted across the
sunlit space, and disappeared into a cranny. Pigeons circled above the
home activities, delicate lovers of the air, wandered among the palm
tops, returned and fearlessly alighted on the brown earth parapets,
strutting hither and thither and making their perpetual,
characteristic motion of the head, half nod, half genuflection. Veiled
girls promenaded to take the evening cool, folding their arms beneath
their flowing draperies, and chattering to one another in voices that
Domini could not hear. More close at hand certain roofs in the
dancers' street revealed luxurious sofas on which painted houris were
lolling in sinuous attitudes, or were posed with a stiffness of idols,
little tables set with coffee cups, others round which were gathered
Zouaves intent on card games, but ever ready to pause for a caress or
for some jesting absurdity with the women who squatted beside them.
Some men, dressed like girls, went to and fro, serving the dancers
with sweetmeats and with cigarettes, their beards flowing down with a
grotesque effect over their dresses of embroidered muslin, their hairy
arms emerging from hanging sleeves of silk. A negro boy sat holding a
tomtom between his bare knees and beating it with supple hands, and a
Jewess performed the stomach dance, waving two handkerchiefs stained
red and purple, and singing in a loud and barbarous contralto voice
which Domini could hear but very faintly. The card-players stopped
their game and watched her, and Domini watched too. For the first
time, and from this immense height, she saw this universal dance of
the east; the doll-like figure, fantastically dwarfed, waving its tiny
hands, wriggling its minute body, turning about like a little top,
strutting and bending, while the soldiers--small almost from here as
toys taken out of a box--assumed attitudes of deep attention as they
leaned upon the card-table, stretching out their legs enveloped in
Domini thought of the recruits, now, no doubt, undergoing elsewhere
their initiation. For a moment she seemed to see their coarse peasant
faces rigid with surprise, their hanging jaws, their childish, and yet
sensual, round eyes. Notre Dame de la Garde must seem very far away
from them now.
With that thought she looked quickly away from the Jewess and the
soldiers. She felt a sudden need of something more nearly in relation
with her inner self. She was almost angry as she realised how deep had
been her momentary interest in a scene suggestive of a license which
was surely unattractive to her. Yet was it unattractive? She scarcely
knew. But she knew that it had kindled in her a sudden and very strong
curiosity, even a vague, momentary desire that she had been born in
some tent of the Ouled Nails--no, that was impossible. She had not
felt such a desire even for an instant. She looked towards the
thickets of the palms, towards the mountains full of changing,
exquisite colours, towards the desert. And at once the dream began to
return, and she felt as if hands slipped under her heart and uplifted
What depths and heights were within her, what deep, dark valleys, and
what mountain peaks! And how she travelled within herself, with
swiftness of light, with speed of the wind. What terrors of activity
she knew. Did every human being know similar terrors?
The colours everywhere deepened as day failed. The desert spirits were
at work. She thought of Count Anteoni again, and resolved to go round
to the other side of the tower. As she moved to do this she heard once
more the shifting of a foot on the plaster floor, then a step.
Evidently she had infected him with an intention similar to her own.
She went on, still hearing the step, turned the corner and stood face
to face in the strong evening light with the traveller. Their bodies
almost touched in the narrow space before they both stopped, startled.
For a moment they stood still looking at each other, as people might
look who have spoken together, who know something of each other's
lives, who may like or dislike, wish to avoid or to draw near to each
other, but who cannot pretend that they are complete strangers, wholly
indifferent to each other. They met in the sky, almost as one bird may
meet another on the wing. And, to Domini, at any rate, it seemed as if
the depth, height, space, colour, mystery and calm--yes, even the calm
--which were above, around and beneath them, had been placed there by
hidden hands as a setting for their encounter, even as the abrupt
pageant of the previous day, into which the train had emerged from the
blackness of the tunnel, had surely been created as a frame for the
face which had looked upon her as if out of the heart of the sun. The
assumption was absurd, unreasonable, yet vital. She did not combat it
because she felt it too powerful for common sense to strive against.
And it seemed to her that the stranger felt it too, that she saw her
sensation reflected in his eyes as he stood between the parapet and
the staircase wall, barring--in despite of himself--her path. The
moment seemed long while they stood motionless. Then the man took off
his soft hat awkwardly, yet with real politeness, and stood quickly
sideways against the parapet to let her pass. She could have passed if
she had brushed against him, and made a movement to do so. Then she
checked herself and looked at him again as if she expected him to
speak to her. His hat was still in his hand, and the light desert wind
faintly stirred his short brown hair. He did not speak, but stood
there crushing himself against the plaster work with a sort of fierce
timidity, as if he dreaded the touch of her skirt against him, and
longed to make himself small, to shrivel up and let her go by in
"Thank you," she said in French.
She passed him, but was unable to do so without touching him. Her left
arm was hanging down, and her bare hand knocked against the back of
the hand in which he held his hat. She felt as if at that moment she
touched a furnace, and she saw him shiver slightly, as over-fatigued
men sometimes shiver in daylight. An extraordinary, almost motherly,
sensation of pity for him came over her. She did not know why. The
intense heat of his hand, the shiver that ran over his body, his
attitude as he shrank with a kind of timid, yet ferocious, politeness
against the white wall, the expression in his eyes when their hands
touched--a look she could not analyse, but which seemed to hold a
mingling of wistfulness and repellance, as of a being stretching out
arms for succour, and crying at the same time, "Don't draw near to me!
Leave me to myself!"--everything about him moved her. She felt that
she was face to face with a solitariness of soul such as she had never
encountered before, a solitariness that was cruel, that was weighed
down with agony. And directly she had passed the man and thanked him
formally she stopped with her usual decision of manner. She had
abruptly made up her mind to talk to him. He was already moving to
turn away. She spoke quickly, and in French.
"Isn't it wonderful here?" she said; and she made her voice rather
loud, and almost sharp, to arrest his attention.
He turned round swiftly, yet somehow reluctantly, looked at her
anxiously, and seemed doubtful whether he would reply.
After a silence that was short, but that seemed, and in such
circumstances was, long, he answered, in French:
"Very wonderful, Madame."
The sound of his own voice seemed to startle him. He stood as if he
had heard an unusual noise which had alarmed him, and looked at Domini
as if he expected that she would share in his sensation. Very quietly
and deliberately she leaned her arms again on the parapet and spoke to
him once more.
"We seem to be the only travellers here."
The man's attitude became slightly calmer. He looked less momentary,
less as if he were in haste to go, but still shy, fierce and
"Yes, Madame; there are not many here."
After a pause, and with an uncertain accent, he added:
"Pardon, Madame--for yesterday."
There was a sudden simplicity, almost like that of a child, in the
sound of his voice as he said that. Domini knew at once that he
alluded to the incident at the station of El-Akbara, that he was
trying to make amends. The way he did it touched her curiously. She
felt inclined to stretch out her hand to him and say, "Of course!
Shake hands on it!" almost as an honest schoolboy might. But she only
"I know it was only an accident. Don't think of it any more."
She did not look at him.
"Where money is concerned the Arabs are very persistent," she
The man laid one of his brown hands on the top of the parapet. She
looked at it, and it seemed to her that she had never before seen the
back of a hand express so much of character, look so intense, so
ardent, and so melancholy as his.
He still spoke with an odd timidity, with an air of listening to his
own speech as if in some strange way it were phenomenal to him. It
occurred to her that possibly he had lived much in lonely places, in
which his solitude had rarely been broken, and he had been forced to
acquire the habit of silence.
"But they are very picturesque. They look almost like some religious
order when they wear their hoods. Don't you think so?"
She saw the brown hand lifted from the parapet, and heard her
companion's feet shift on the floor of the tower. But this time he
said nothing. As she could not see his hand now she looked out again
over the panorama of the evening, which was deepening in intensity
with every passing moment, and immediately she was conscious of two
feelings that filled her with wonder: a much stronger and sweeter
sense of the African magic than she had felt till now, and the
certainty that the greater force and sweetness of her feeling were
caused by the fact that she had a companion in her contemplation. This
was strange. An intense desire for loneliness had driven her out of
Europe to this desert place, and a companion, who was an utter
stranger, emphasised the significance, gave fibre to the beauty,
intensity to the mystery of that which she looked on. It was as if the
meaning of the African evening were suddenly doubled. She thought of a
dice-thrower who throws one die and turns up six, then throws two and
turns up twelve. And she remained silent in her surprise. The man
stood silently beside her. Afterwards she felt as if, during this
silence in the tower, some powerful and unseen being had arrived
mysteriously, introduced them to one another and mysteriously
The evening drew on in their silence and the dream was deeper now. All
that Domini had felt when first she approached the parapet she felt
more strangely, and she grasped, with physical and mental vision, not
only the whole, but the innumerable parts of that which she looked on.
She saw, fancifully, the circles widen in the pool of peace, but she
saw also the things that had been hidden in the pool. The beauty of
dimness, the beauty of clearness, joined hands. The one and the other
were, with her, like sisters. She heard the voices from below, and
surely also the voices of the stars that were approaching with the
night, blending harmoniously and making a music in the air. The
glowing sky and the glowing mountains were as comrades, each
responsive to the emotions of the other. The lights in the rocky
clefts had messages for the shadowy moon, and the palm trees for the
thin, fire-tipped clouds about the west. Far off the misty purple of
the desert drew surely closer, like a mother coming to fold her
children in her arms.
The Jewess still danced upon the roof to the watching Zouaves, but now
there was something mystic in her tiny movements which no longer
roused in Domini any furtive desire not really inherent in her nature.
There was something beautiful in everything seen from this altitude in
this wondrous evening light.
Presently, without turning to her companion, she said:
"Could anything look ugly in Beni-Mora from here at this hour, do you
Again there was the silence that seemed characteristic of this man
before he spoke, as if speech were very difficult to him.
"I believe not, Madame."
"Even that woman down there on that roof looks graceful--the one
dancing for those soldiers."
He did not answer. She glanced at him and pointed.
"Down there, do you see?"
She noticed that he did not follow her hand and that his face became
stern. He kept his eyes fixed on the trees of the garden of the
Gazelles near Cardinal Lavigerie's statue and replied:
His manner made her think that perhaps he had seen the dance at close
quarters and that it was outrageous. For a moment she felt slightly
uncomfortable, but determined not to let him remain under a false
impression, she added carelessly:
"I have never seen the dances of Africa. I daresay I should think them
ugly enough if I were near, but from this height everything is
"That is true, Madame."
There was an odd, muttering sound in his voice, which was deep, and
probably strong, but which he kept low. Domini thought it was the most
male voice she had ever heard. It seemed to be full of sex, like his
hands. Yet there was nothing coarse in either the one or the other.
Everything about him was vital to a point that was so remarkable as to
be not actually unnatural but very near the unnatural.
She glanced at him again. He was a big man, but very thin. Her
experienced eyes of an athletic woman told her that he was capable of
great and prolonged muscular exertion. He was big-boned and deep-
chested, and had nervous as well as muscular strength. The timidity in
him was strange in such a man. What could it spring from? It was not
like ordinary shyness, the /gaucherie/ of a big, awkward lout
unaccustomed to woman's society but able to be at his ease and
boisterous in the midst of a crowd of men. Domini thought that he
would be timid even of men. Yet it never struck her that he might be a
coward, unmanly. Such a quality would have sickened her at once, and
she knew she would have at once divined it. He did not hold himself
very well, but was inclined to stoop and to keep his head low, as if
he were in the habit of looking much on the ground. The idiosyncrasy
was rather ugly, and suggested melancholy to her, the melancholy of a
man given to over-much meditation and afraid to face the radiant
wonder of life.
She caught herself up at this last thought. She--thinking naturally
that life was full of radiant wonder! Was she then so utterly
transformed already by Beni-Mora? Or had the thought come to her
because she stood side by side with someone whose sorrows had been
unfathomably deeper than her own, and so who, all unconsciously, gave
her a knowledge of her own--till then unsuspected--hopefulness?
She looked at her companion again. He seemed to have relinquished his
intention of leaving her, and was standing quietly beside her, staring
towards the desert, with his head slightly drooped forward. In one
hand he held a thick stick. He had put his hat on again. His attitude
was much calmer than it had been. Already he seemed more at ease with
her. She was glad of that. She did not ask herself why. But the
intense beauty of evening in this land and at this height made her
wish enthusiastically that it could produce a happiness such as it
created in her in everyone. Such beauty, with its voices, its colours,
its lines of tree and leaf, of wall and mountain ridge, its mystery of
shapes and movements, stillness and dreaming distance, its atmosphere
of the far off come near, chastened by journeying, fine with the
unfamiliar, its solemn changes towards the impenetrable night, was too
large a thing and fraught with too much tender and lovable invention
to be worshipped in any selfishness. It made her feel as if she could
gladly be a martyr for unseen human beings, as if sacrifice would be
an easy thing if made for those to whom such beauty would appeal.
Brotherhood rose up and cried in her, as it surely sang in the sunset,
in the mountains, the palm groves and the desert. The flame above the
hills, their purple outline, the moving, feathery trees; dark under
the rose-coloured glory of the west, and most of all the immeasurably
remote horizons, each moment more strange and more eternal, made her
long to make this harsh stranger happy.
"One ought to find happiness here," she said to him very simply.
She saw his hand strain itself round the wood of his stick.
"Why?" he said.
He turned right round to her and looked at her with a sort of anger.
"Why should you suppose so?" he added, speaking quite quickly, and
without his former uneasiness and consciousness.
"Because it is so beautiful and so calm."
"Calm!" he said. "Here!"
There was a sound of passionate surprise in his voice. Domini was
startled. She felt as if she were fighting, and must fight hard if she
were not to be beaten to the dust. But when she looked at him she
could find no weapons. She said nothing. In a moment he spoke again.
"You find calm here," he said slowly. "Yes, I see."
His head dropped lower and his face hardened as he looked over the
edge of the parapet to the village, the blue desert. Then he lifted
his eyes to the mountains and the clear sky and the shadowy moon. Each
element in the evening scene was examined with a fierce, painful
scrutiny, as if he was resolved to wring from each its secret.
"Why, yes," he added in a low, muttering voice full of a sort of
terrified surprise, "it is so. You are right. Why, yes, it is calm
He spoke like a man who had been suddenly convinced, beyond power of
further unbelief, of something he had never suspected, never dreamed
of. And the conviction seemed to be bitter to him, even alarming.
"But away out there must be the real home of peace, I think," Domini
"Where?" said the man, quickly.
She pointed towards the south.
"In the depths of the desert," she said. "Far away from civilisation,
far away from modern men and modern women, and all the noisy trifles
we are accustomed to."
He looked towards the south eagerly. In everything he did there was a
flamelike intensity, as if he could not perform an ordinary action, or
turn his eyes upon any object, without calling up in his mind, or
heart, a violence of thought or of feeling.
"You think it--you think there would be peace out there, far away in
the desert?" he said, and his face relaxed slightly, as if in
obedience to some thought not wholly sad.
"It may be fanciful," she replied. "But I think there must. Surely
Nature has not a lying face."
He was still gazing towards the south, from which the night was slowly
emerging, a traveller through a mist of blue. He seemed to be held
fascinated by the desert which was fading away gently, like a mystery
which had drawn near to the light of revelation, but which was now
slipping back into an underworld of magic. He bent forward as one who
watches a departure in which he longs to share, and Domini felt sure
that he had forgotten her. She felt, too, that this man was gripped by
the desert influence more fiercely even than she was, and that he must
have a stronger imagination, a greater force of projection even than
she had. Where she bore a taper he lifted a blazing torch.
A roar of drums rose up immediately beneath them. From the negro
village emerged a ragged procession of thick-lipped men, and singing,
capering women tricked out in scarlet and yellow shawls, headed by a
male dancer clad in the skins of jackals, and decorated with mirrors,
camels' skulls and chains of animals' teeth. He shouted and leaped,
rolled his bulging eyes, and protruded a fluttering tongue. The dust
curled up round his stamping, naked feet.
The howling chorus came up to the tower, with a clash of enormous
castanets, and of poles beaten rhythmically together.
"Yi-yi-yi-yi!" went the shrill voices of the women.
The cloud of dust increased, enveloping the lower part of the
procession, till the black heads and waving arms emerged as if from a
maelstrom. The thunder of the drums was like the thunder of a cataract
in which the singers, disappearing towards the village, seemed to be
The man at Domini's side raised himself up with a jerk, and all the
former fierce timidity and consciousness came back to his face. He
turned round, pulled open the door behind him, and took off his hat.
"Excuse me, Madame," he said. "Bon soir!"
"I am coming too," Domini answered.
He looked uncomfortable and anxious, hesitated, then, as if driven to
do it in spite of himself, plunged downward through the narrow doorway
of the tower into the darkness. Domini waited for a moment, listening
to the heavy sound of his tread on the wooden stairs. She frowned till
her thick eyebrows nearly met and the corners of her lips turned down.
Then she followed slowly. When she was on the stairs and the footsteps
died away below her she fully realised that for the first time in her
life a man had insulted her. Her face felt suddenly very hot, and her
lips very dry, and she longed to use her physical strength in a way
not wholly feminine. In the hall, among the shrouded furniture, she
met the smiling doorkeeper. She stopped.
"Did the gentleman who has just gone out give you his card?" she said
The Arab assumed a fawning, servile expression.
"No, Madame, but he is a very good gentleman, and I know well that
Monsieur the Count--"
Domini cut him short.
"Of what nationality is he?"
"Monsieur the Count, Madame?"
"The gentleman? I do not know. But he can speak Arabic. Oh, he is a
"Bon soir," said Domini, giving him a franc.
When she was out on the road in front of the hotel she saw the
stranger striding along in the distance at the tail of the negro
procession. The dust stirred up by the dancers whirled about him.
Several small negroes skipped round him, doubtless making eager
demands upon his generosity. He seemed to take no notice of them, and
as she watched him Domini was reminded of his retreat from the praying
Arab in the desert that morning.
"Is he afraid of women as he is afraid of prayer?" she thought, and
suddenly the sense of humiliation and anger left her, and was
succeeded by a powerful curiosity such as she had never felt before
about anyone. She realised that this curiosity had dawned in her
almost at the first moment when she saw the stranger, and had been
growing ever since. One circumstance after another had increased it
till now it was definite, concrete. She wondered that she did not feel
ashamed of such a feeling so unusual in her, and surely unworthy, like
a prying thing. Of all her old indifference that side which confronted
people had always been the most sturdy, the most solidly built.
Without affectation she had been a profoundly incurious woman as to
the lives and the concerns of others, even of those whom she knew best
and was supposed to care for most. Her nature had been essentially
languid in human intercourse. The excitements, troubles, even the
passions of others had generally stirred her no more than a distant
puppet-show stirs an absent-minded passer in the street.
In Africa it seemed that her whole nature had been either violently
renewed, or even changed. She could not tell which. But this strong
stirring of curiosity would, she believed, have been impossible in the
woman she had been but a week ago, the woman who travelled to
Marseilles dulled, ignorant of herself, longing for change. Perhaps
instead of being angry she ought to welcome it as a symptom of the
re-creation she longed for.
While she changed her gown for dinner that night she debated within
herself how she would treat her fellow-guest when she met him in the
/salle-a-manger/. She ought to cut him after what had occurred, she
supposed. Then it seemed to her that to do so would be undignified,
and would give him the impression that he had the power to offend her.
She resolved to bow to him if they met face to face. Just before she
went downstairs she realised how vehement her internal debate had
been, and was astonished. Suzanne was putting away something in a
drawer, bending down and stretching out her plump arms.
"Suzanne!" Domini said.
"How long have you been with me?"
"Three years, Mam'zelle."
The maid shut the drawer and turned round, fixing her shallow, blue-
grey eyes on her mistress, and standing as if she were ready to be
"Would you say that I am the same sort of person to-day as I was three
Suzanne looked like a cat that has been startled by a sudden noise.
"The same, Mam'zelle?"
"Yes. Do you think I have altered in that time?"
Suzanne considered the question with her head slightly on one side.
"Only here, Mam'zelle," she replied at length.
"Here!" said Domini, rather eagerly. "Why, I have only been here
"That is true. But Mam'zelle looks as if she had a little life here, a
little emotion. Mon Dieu! Mam'zelle will pardon me, but what is a
woman who feels no emotion? A packet. Is it not so, Mam'zelle?"
"Well, but what is there to be emotional about here?"
Suzanne looked vaguely crafty.
"Who knows, Mam'zelle? Who can say? Mon Dieu! This village is dull,
but it is odd. No band plays. There are no shops for a girl to look
into. There is nothing chic except the costumes of the Zouaves. But
one cannot deny that it is odd. When Mam'zelle was away this afternoon
in the tower Monsieur Helmuth--"
"Who is that?"
"The Monsieur who accompanies the omnibus to the station. Monsieur
Helmuth was polite enough to escort me through the village. Mon Dieu,
Mam'zelle, I said to myself, 'Anything might occur here.'"
"Anything! What do you mean?"
But Suzanne did not seem to know. She only made her figure look more
tense than ever, tucked in her round little chin, which was dimpled
and unmeaning, and said:
"Who knows, Mam'zelle? This village is dull, that is true, but it is
odd. One does not find oneself in such places every day."
Domini could not help laughing at these Delphic utterances, but she
went downstairs thoughtfully. She knew Suzanne's practical spirit.
Till now the maid had never shown any capacity of imagination. Beni-
Mora was certainly beginning to mould her nature into a slightly
different shape. And Domini seemed to see an Eastern potter at work,
squatting in the sun and with long and delicate fingers changing the
outline of the statuette of a woman, modifying a curve here, an angle
there, till the clay began to show another woman, but with, as it
were, the shadow of the former one lurking behind the new personality.
The stranger was not at dinner. His table was laid and Domini sat
expecting each moment to hear the shuffling tread of his heavy boots
on the wooden floor. When he did not come she thought she was glad.
After dinner she spoke for a moment to the priest and then went
upstairs to the verandah to take coffee. She found Batouch there. He
had renounced his determined air, and his /cafe-au-lait/ countenance
and huge body expressed enduring pathos, as of an injured, patient
creature laid out for the trampling of Domini's cruel feet.
"Well?" she said, sitting down by the basket table.
He sighed and looked on the ground, lifted one white-socked foot,
removed its yellow slipper, shook out a tiny stone from the slipper
and put it on again, slowly, gracefully and very sadly. Then he pulled
the white sock up with both hands and glanced at Domini out of the
corners of his eyes.
"What's the matter?"
"Madame does not care to see the dances of Beni-Mora, to hear the
music, to listen to the story-teller, to enter the cafe of El Hadj
where Achmed sings to the keef smokers, or to witness the beautiful
religious ecstasies of the dervishes from Oumach. Therefore I come to
bid Madame respectfully goodnight and to take my departure."
He threw his burnous over his left shoulder with a sudden gesture of
despair that was full of exaggeration. Domini smiled.
"You've been very good to-day," she said.
"I am always good, Madame. I am of a serious disposition. Not one
keeps Ramadan as I do."
"I am sure of it. Go downstairs and wait for me under the arcade."
Batouch's large face became suddenly a rendezvous of all the gaieties.
"Madame is coming out to-night?"
"Presently. Be in the arcade."
He swept away with the ample magnificence of joyous bearing and
movement that was like a loud Te Deum.
Domini had finished her coffee.
"Mam'zelle!" answered Suzanne, appearing.
"Would you like to come out with me to-night?"
"Mam'zelle is going out?"
"Yes, to see the village by night."
Suzanne looked irresolute. Craven fear and curiosity fought a battle
within her, as was evident by the expressions that came and went in
her face before she answered.
"Shall we not be murdered, Mam'zelle, and are there interesting things
"There are interesting things to see--dancers, singers, keef smokers.
But if you are afraid don't come."
"Dancers, Mam'zelle! But the Arabs carry knives. And is there singing?
I--I should not like Mam'zelle to go without me. But----"
"Come and protect me from the knives then. Bring my jacket--any one. I
don't suppose I shall put it on."
As she spoke the distant tomtoms began. Suzanne started nervously and
looked at Domini with sincere apprehension.
"We had better not go, Mam'zelle. It is not safe out here. Men who
make a noise like that would not respect us."
"I like it."
"That sound? But it is always the same and there is no music in it."
"Perhaps there is more in it than music. The jacket?"
Suzanne went gingerly to fetch it. The faint cry of the African
hautboy rose up above the tomtoms. The evening /fete/ was beginning.
To-night Domini felt that she must go to the distant music and learn
to understand its meaning, not only for herself, but for those who
made it and danced to it night after night. It stirred her
imagination, and made her in love with mystery, and anxious at least
to steal to the very threshold of the barbarous world. Did it stir
those who had had it in their ears ever since they were naked,
sunburned babies rolling in the hot sun of the Sahara? Could it seem
as ordinary to them as the cold uproar of the piano-organ to the
urchins of Whitechapel, or the whine of the fiddle to the peasants of
Touraine where Suzanne was born? She wanted to know. Suzanne returned
with the jacket. She still looked apprehensive, but she had put on her
hat and fastened a sprig of red geranium in the front of her black
gown. The curiosity was in the ascendant.
"We are not going quite alone, Mam'zelle?"
"No, no. Batouch will protect us."
Suzanne breathed a furtive sigh.
The poet was in the white arcade with Hadj, who looked both wicked and
deplorable, and had a shabby air, in marked contrast to Batouch's
ostentatious triumph. Domini felt quite sorry for him.
"You come with us too," she said.
Hadj squared his shoulders and instantly looked vivacious and almost
smart. But an undecided expression came into his face.
"Where is Madame going?"
"To see the village."
Batouch shot a glance at Hadj and smiled unpleasantly.
"I will come with Madame."
Batouch still smiled.
"We are going to the Ouled Nails," he said significantly to Hadj.
"I--I will come."
They set out. Suzanne looked gently at the poet's legs and seemed
"Take great care of Mademoiselle Suzanne," Domini said to the poet.
"She is a little nervous in the dark."
"Mademoiselle Suzanne is like the first day after the fast of
Ramadan," replied the poet, majestically. "No one would harm her were
she to wander alone to Tombouctou."
The prospect drew from Suzanne a startled gulp. Batouch placed himself
tenderly at her side and they set out, Domini walking behind with
The village was full of the wan presage of the coming of the moon. The
night was very still and very warm. As they skirted the long gardens
Domini saw a light in the priest's house. It made her wonder how he
passed his solitary evenings when he went home from the hotel, and she
fancied him sitting in some plainly-furnished little room with Bous-
Bous and a few books, smoking a pipe and thinking sadly of the White
Fathers of Africa and of his frustrated desire for complete
renunciation. With this last thought blended the still remote sound of
the hautboy. It suggested anything rather than renunciation;
mysterious melancholy--successor to passion--the cry of longing, the
wail of the unknown that draws some men and women to splendid follies
and to ardent pilgrimages whose goal is the mirage.
Hadj was talking in a low voice, but Domini did not listen to him. She
was vaguely aware that he was abusing Batouch, saying that he was a
liar, inclined to theft, a keef smoker, and in a general way steeped
to the lips in crime. But the moon was rising, the distant music was
becoming more distinct. She could not listen to Hadj.
As they turned into the street of the sand-diviner the first ray of
the moon fell on the white road. Far away at the end of the street
Domini could see the black foliage of the trees in the Gazelles'
garden, and beyond, to the left, a dimness of shadowy palms at the
desert edge. The desert itself was not visible. Two Arabs passed,
shrouded in burnouses, with the hoods drawn up over their heads. Only
their black beards could be seen. They were talking violently and
waving their arms. Suzanne shuddered and drew close to the poet. Her
plump face worked and she glanced appealingly at her mistress. But
Domini was not thinking of her, or of violence or danger. The sound of
the tomtoms and hautboys seemed suddenly much louder now that the moon
began to shine, making a whiteness among the white houses of the
village, the white robes of the inhabitants, a greater whiteness on
the white road that lay before them. And she was thinking that the
moon whiteness of Beni-Mora was more passionate than pure, more like
the blanched face of a lover than the cool, pale cheek of a virgin.
There was excitement in it, suggestion greater even than the
suggestion of the tremendous coloured scenes of the evening that
preceded such a night. And she mused of white heat and of what it
means--the white heat of the brain blazing with thoughts that govern,
the white heat of the heart blazing with emotions that make such
thoughts seem cold. She had never known either. Was she incapable of
knowing them? Could she imagine them till there was physical heat in
her body if she was incapable of knowing them? Suzanne and the two
Arabs were distant shadows to her when that first moon-ray touched
their feet. The passion of the night began to burn her, and she
thought she would like to take her soul and hold it out to the white
As they passed the sand-diviner's house Domini saw his spectral figure
standing under the yellow light of the hanging lantern in the middle
of his carpet shop, which was lined from floor to ceiling with dull
red embroideries and dim with the fumes of an incense brazier. He was
talking to a little boy, but keeping a wary eye on the street, and he
came out quickly, beckoning with his long hands, and calling softly,
in a half-chuckling and yet authoritative voice:
"Venez, Madame, venez! Come! come!"
Suzanne seized Domini's arm.
"Not to-night!" Domini called out.
"Yes, Madame, to-night. The vie of Madame is there in the sand to-
night. Je la vois, je la vois. C'est la dans le sable to-night."
The moonlight showed the wound on his face. Suzanne uttered a cry and
hid her eyes with her hands. They went on towards the trees. Hadj
walked with hesitation.
"How loud the music is getting," Domini said to him.
"It will deafen Madame's ears if she gets nearer," said Hadj, eagerly.
"And the dancers are not for Madame. For the Arabs, yes, but for a
great lady of the most respectable England! Madame will be red with
disgust, with anger. Madame will have /mal-au-coeur/."
Batouch began to look like an idol on whose large face the artificer
had carved an expression of savage ferocity.
"Madame is my client," he said fiercely. "Madame trusts in me."
Hadj laughed with a snarl:
"He who smokes the keef is like a Mehari with a swollen tongue," he
The poet looked as if he were going to spring upon his cousin, but he
restrained himself and a slow, malignant smile curled about his thick
lips like a snake.
"I shall show to Madame a dancer who is modest, who is beautiful,
Hadj-ben-Ibrahim," he said softly.
"Fatma is sick," said Hadj, quickly.
"It will not be Fatma."
Hadj began suddenly to gesticulate with his thin, delicate hands and
to look fiercely excited.
"Halima is at the Fontaine Chaude," he cried.
"Keltoum will be there."
"She will not. Her foot is sick. She cannot dance. For a week she will
not dance. I know it."
"And--Irena? Is she sick? Is she at the Hammam Salahine?"
Hadj's countenance fell. He looked at his cousin sideways, always
showing his teeth.
"Do you not know, Hadj-ben-Ibrahim?"
"/Ana ma 'audi ma nek oul lek!/"[*] growled Hadj in his throat.
[*] "I have nothing to say to you."
They had reached the end of the little street. The whiteness of the
great road which stretched straight through the oasis into the desert
lay before them, with the statue of Cardinal Lavigerie staring down it
in the night. At right angles was the street of the dancers, narrow,
bounded with the low white houses of the ouleds, twinkling with starry
lights, humming with voices, throbbing with the clashing music that
poured from the rival /cafes maures/, thronged with the white figures
of the desert men, strolling slowly, softly as panthers up and down.
The moonlight was growing brighter, as if invisible hands began to fan
the white flame of passion which lit up Beni-Mora. A patrol of
Tirailleurs Indigenes passed by going up the street, in yellow and
blue uniforms, turbans and white gaiters, their rifles over their
broad shoulders. The faint tramp of their marching feet was just
audible on the sandy road.
"Hadj can go home if he is afraid of anything in the dancing street,"
said Domini, rather maliciously. "Let us follow the soldiers."
Hadj started as if he had been stung, and looked at Domini as if he
would like to strangle her.
"I am afraid of nothing," he exclaimed proudly. "Madame does not know
Batouch laughed soundlessly, shaking his great shoulders. It was
evident that he had divined his cousin's wish to supplant him and was
busily taking his revenge. Domini was amused, and as they went slowly
up the street in the wake of the soldiers she said:
"Do you often come here at night, Hadj-ben-Ibrahim?"
"Oh, yes, Madame, when I am alone. But with ladies--"
"You were here last night, weren't you, with the traveller from the
"No, Madame. The Monsieur of the hotel preferred to visit the cafe of
the story-teller, which is far more interesting. If Madame will permit
me to take her--"
But this last assault was too much for the poet's philosophy. He
suddenly threw off all pretence of graceful calm, and poured out upon
Hadj a torrent of vehement Arabic, accompanying it with passionate
gestures which filled Suzanne with horror and Domini with secret
delight. She liked this abrupt unveiling of the raw. There had always
lurked in her an audacity, a quick spirit of adventure more boyish
than feminine. She had reached the age of thirty-two without ever
gratifying it, or even fully realising how much she longed to gratify
it. But now she began to understand it and to feel that it was
"I have a barbarian in me," she thought.
"Batouch!" she said sharply.
The poet turned a distorted face to her.
"That will do. Take us to the dancing-house."
Batouch shot a last ferocious glance at Hadj and they went on into the
crowd of strolling men.
The little street, bright with the lamps of the small houses, from
which projected wooden balconies painted in gay colours, and with the
glowing radiance of the moon, was mysterious despite its gaiety, its
obvious dedication to the cult of pleasure. Alive with the shrieking
sounds of music, the movement and the murmur of desert humanity made
it almost solemn. This crowd of boys and men, robed in white from head
to heel, preserved a serious grace in its vivacity, suggested besides
a dignified barbarity a mingling of angel, monk and nocturnal spirit.
In the distance of the moonbeams, gliding slowly over the dusty road
with slippered feet, there was something soft and radiant in their
moving whiteness. Nearer, their pointed hoods made them monastical as
a procession stealing from a range of cells to chant a midnight mass.
In the shadowy dusk of the tiny side alleys they were like wandering
ghosts intent on unholy errands or returning to the graveyard.
On some of the balconies painted girls were leaning and smoking
cigarettes. Before each of the lighted doorways from which the shrill
noise of music came, small, intent crowds were gathered, watching the
performance that was going on inside. The robes of the Arabs brushed
against the skirts of Domini and Suzanne, and eyes stared at them from
every side with a scrutiny that was less impudent than seriously bold.
Hadj's thin hand was pulling Domini's sleeve.
"Well, what is it?"
"This is the best dancing-house. The children dance here."
Domini's height enabled her to peer over the shoulders of those
gathered before the door, and in the lighted distance of a white-
walled room, painted with figures of soldiers and Arab chiefs, she saw
a small wriggling figure between two rows of squatting men, two baby
hands waving coloured handkerchiefs, two little feet tapping
vigorously upon an earthen floor, for background a divan crowded with
women and musicians, with inflated cheeks and squinting eyes. She
stood for a moment to look, then she turned away. There was an
expression of disgust in her eyes.
"No, I don't want to see children," she said. "That's too--"
She glanced at her escort and did not finish.
"I know," said Batouch. "Madame wishes for the real ouleds."
He led them across the street. Hadj followed reluctantly. Before going
into this second dancing-house Domini stopped again to see from
outside what it was like, but only for an instant. Then a brightness
came into her eyes, an eager look.
"Yes, take me in here," she said.
Batouch laughed softly, and Hadj uttered a word below his breath.
"Madame will see Irena here," said Batouch, pushing the watching Arabs
Domini did not answer. Her eyes were fixed on a man who was sitting in
a corner far up the room, bending forward and staring intently at a
woman who was in the act of stepping down from a raised platform
decorated with lamps and small bunches of flowers in earthen pots.
"I wish to sit quite near the door," she whispered to Batouch as they
"But it is much better--"
"Do what I tell you," she said. "The left side of the room."
Hadj looked a little happier. Suzanne was clinging to his arm. He
smiled at her with something of mischief, but he took care, when a
place was cleared on a bench for their party, to sit down at the end
next the door, and he cast an anxious glance towards the platform
where the dancing-girls attached to the cafe sat in a row, hunched up
against the bare wall, waiting their turn to perform. Then suddenly he
shook his head, tucked in his chin and laughed. His whole face was
transformed from craven fear to vivacious rascality. While he laughed
he looked at Batouch, who was ordering four cups of coffee from the
negro attendant. The poet took no notice. For the moment he was intent
upon his professional duties. But when the coffee was brought, and set
upon a round wooden stool between two bunches of roses, he had time to
note Hadj's sudden gaiety and to realise its meaning. Instantly he
spoke to the negro in a low voice. Hadj stopped laughing. The negro
sped away and returned with the proprietor of the cafe, a stout Kabyle
with a fair skin and blue eyes.
Batouch lowered his voice to a guttural whisper and spoke in Arabic,
while Hadj, shifting uneasily on the end seat, glanced at him sideways
out of his almond-shaped eyes. Domini heard the name "Irena," and
guessed that Batouch was asking the Kabyle to send for her and make
her dance. She could not help being amused for a moment by the comedy
of intrigue, complacently malignant on both sides, that was being
played by the two cousins, but the moment passed and left her
engrossed, absorbed, and not merely by the novelty of the
surroundings, by the strangeness of the women, of their costumes, and
of their movements. She watched them, but she watched more closely,
more eagerly, rather as a spy than as a spectator, one who was
watching them with an intentness, a still passion, a fierce curiosity
and a sort of almost helpless wonder such as she had never seen
before, and could never have found within herself to put at the
service of any human marvel.
Close to the top of the room on the right the stranger was sitting in
the midst of a mob of Arabs, whose flowing draperies almost concealed
his ugly European clothes. On the wall immediately behind him was a
brilliantly-coloured drawing of a fat Ouled Nail leering at a French
soldier, which made an unconventional background to his leaning figure
and sunburnt face, in which there seemed now to be both asceticism and
something so different and so powerful that it was likely, from moment
to moment, to drive out the asceticism and to achieve the loneliness
of all conquering things. This fighting expression made Domini think
of a picture she had once seen representing a pilgrim going through a
dark forest attended by his angel and his devil. The angel of the
pilgrim was a weak and almost childish figure, frail, bloodless,
scarcely even radiant, while the devil was lusty and bold, with a
muscular body and a sensual, aquiline face, which smiled craftily,
looking at the pilgrim. There was surely a devil in the watching
traveller which was pushing the angel out of him. Domini had never
before seemed to see clearly the legendary battle of the human heart.
But it had never before been manifested to her audaciously in the
All around the Arabs sat, motionless and at ease, gazing on the
curious dance of which they never tire--a dance which has some
ingenuity, much sensuality and provocation, but little beauty and
little mystery, unless--as happens now and then--an idol-like woman of
the South, with all the enigma of the distant desert in her kohl-
tinted eyes, dances it with the sultry gloom of a half-awakened
sphinx, and makes of it a barbarous manifestation of the nature that
lies hidden in the heart of the sun, a silent cry uttered by a savage
body born in a savage land.
In the cafe of Tahar, the Kabyle, there was at present no such woman.
His beauties, huddled together on their narrow bench before a table
decorated with glasses of water and sprigs of orange blossom in
earthen vases, looked dull and cheerless in their gaudy clothes. Their
bodies were well formed, but somnolent. Their painted hands hung down
like the hands of marionettes. The one who was dancing suggested Duty
clad in Eastern garb and laying herself out carefully to be wicked.
Her jerks and wrigglings, though violent, were inhuman, like those of
a complicated piece of mechanism devised by a morbid engineer. After a
glance or two at her Domini felt that she was bored by her own
agilities. Domini's wonder increased when she looked again at the
For it was this dance of the /ennui/ of the East which raised up in
him this obvious battle, which drove his secret into the illumination
of the hanging lamps and gave it to a woman, who felt half confused,
half ashamed at possessing it, and yet could not cast it away.
If they both lived on, without speaking or meeting, for another half
century, Domini could never know the shape of the devil in this man,
the light of the smile upon its face.
The dancing woman had observed him, and presently she began slowly to
wriggle towards him between the rows of Arabs, fixing her eyes upon
him and parting her scarlet lips in a greedy smile. As she came on the
stranger evidently began to realise that he was her bourne. He had
been leaning forward, but when she approached, waving her red hands,
shaking her prominent breasts, and violently jerking her stomach, he
sat straight up, and then, as if instinctively trying to get away from
her, pressed back against the wall, hiding the painting of the Ouled
Nail and the French soldier. A dark flush rose on his face and even
flooded his forehead to his low-growing hair. His eyes were full of a
piteous anxiety and discomfort, and he glanced almost guiltily to
right and left of him as if he expected the hooded Arab spectators to
condemn his presence there now that the dancer drew their attention to
it. The dancer noticed his confusion and seemed pleased by it, and
moved to more energetic demonstrations of her art. She lifted her arms
above her head, half closed her eyes, assumed an expression of languid
ecstasy and slowly shuddered. Then, bending backward, she nearly
touched the floor, swung round, still bending, and showed the long
curve of her bare throat to the stranger, while the girls, huddled on
the bench by the musicians, suddenly roused themselves and joined
their voices in a shrill and prolonged twitter. The Arabs did not
smile, but the deepness of their attention seemed to increase like a
cloud growing darker. All the luminous eyes in the room were steadily
fixed upon the man leaning back against the hideous picture on the
wall and the gaudy siren curved almost into an arch before him. The
musicians blew their hautboys and beat their tomtoms more violently,
and all things, Domini thought, were filled with a sense of climax.
She felt as if the room, all the inanimate objects, and all the
animate figures in it, were instruments of an orchestra, and as if
each individual instrument was contributing to a slow and great, and
irresistible crescendo. The stranger took his part with the rest, but
against his will, and as if under some terrible compulsion.
His face was scarlet now, and his shining eyes looked down on the
dancer's throat and breast with a mingling of eagerness and horror.
Slowly she raised herself, turned, bent forwards quivering, and
presented her face to him, while the women twittered once more in
chorus. He still stared at her without moving. The hautboy players
prolonged a wailing note, and the tomtoms gave forth a fierce and dull
murmur almost like a death, roll.
"She wants him to give her money," Batouch whispered to Domini. "Why
does not he give her money?"
Evidently the stranger did not understand what was expected of him.
The music changed again to a shrieking tune, the dancer drew back, did
a few more steps, jerked her stomach with fury, stamped her feet on
the floor. Then once more she shuddered slowly, half closed her eyes,
glided close to the stranger, and falling down deliberately laid her
head on his knees, while again the women twittered, and the long note
of the hautboys went through the room like a scream of interrogation.
Domini grew hot as she saw the look that came into the stranger's face
when the woman touched his knees.
"Go and tell him it's money she wants!" she whispered to Batouch. "Go
and tell him!"
Batouch got up, but at this moment a roguish Arab boy, who sat by the
stranger, laughingly spoke to him, pointing to the woman. The stranger
thrust his hand into his pocket, found a coin and, directed by the
roguish youth, stuck it upon the dancer's greasy forehead. At once she
sprang to her feet. The women twittered. The music burst into a
triumphant melody, and through the room there went a stir. Almost
everyone in it moved simultaneously. One man raised his hand to his
hood and settled it over his forehead. Another put his cigarette to
his lips. Another picked up his coffeecup. A fourth, who was holding a
flower, lifted it to his nose and smelt it. No one remained quite
still. With the stranger's action a strain had been removed, a mental
tension abruptly loosened, a sense of care let free in the room.
Domini felt it acutely. The last few minutes had been painful to her.
She sighed with relief at the cessation of another's agony. For the
stranger had certainly--from shyness or whatever cause--been in agony
while the dancer kept her head upon his knees.
His angel had been in fear, perhaps, while his devil----
But Domini tried resolutely to turn her thoughts from the smiling
After pressing the money on the girl's forehead the man made a
movement as if he meant to leave the room, but once again the curious
indecision which Domini had observed in him before cut his action, as
it were, in two, leaving it half finished. As the dancer, turning,
wriggled slowly to the platform, he buttoned up his jacket with a sort
of hasty resolution, pulled it down with a jerk, glanced swiftly
round, and rose to his feet. Domini kept her eyes on him, and perhaps
they drew his, for, just as he was about to step into the narrow aisle
that led to the door he saw her. Instantly he sat down again, turned
so that she could only see part of his face, unbuttoned his jacket,
took out some matches and busied himself in lighting a cigarette. She
knew he had felt her concentration on him, and was angry with herself.
Had she really a spy in her? Was she capable of being vulgarly curious
about a man? A sudden movement of Hadj drew her attention. His face
was distorted by an expression that seemed half angry, half fearful.
Batouch was smiling seraphically as he gazed towards the platform.
Suzanne, with a pinched-up mouth, was looking virginally at her lap.
Her whole attitude showed her consciousness of the many blazing eyes
that were intently staring at her. The stomach dance which she had
just been watching had amazed her so much that she felt as if she were
the only respectable woman in the world, and as if no one would
suppose it unless she hung out banners white as the walls of Beni-
Mora's houses. She strove to do so, and, meanwhile, from time to time,
cast sideway glances towards the platform to see whether another
stomach dance was preparing. She did not see Hadj's excitement or the
poet's malignant satisfaction, but she, with Domini, saw a small door
behind the platform open, and the stout Kabyle appear followed by a
girl who was robed in gold tissue, and decorated with cascades of
Domini guessed at once that this was Irena, the returned exile, who
wished to kill Hadj, and she was glad that a new incident had occurred
to switch off the general attention from the stranger.
Irena was evidently a favourite. There was a grave movement as she
came in, a white undulation as all the shrouded forms bent slightly
forward in her direction. Only Hadj caught his burnous round him with
his thin fingers, dropped his chin, shook his hood down upon his
forehead, leaned back against the wall, and, curling his legs under
him, seemed to fall asleep. But beneath his brown lids and long black
lashes his furtive eyes followed every movement of the girl in the
She came in slowly and languidly, with a heavy and cross expression
upon her face, which was thin to emaciation and painted white, with
scarlet lips and darkened eyes and eyebrows. Her features were narrow
and pointed. Her bones were tiny, and her body was so slender, her
waist so small, that, with her flat breast and meagre shoulders, she
looked almost like a stick crowned with a human face and hung with
brilliant draperies. Her hair, which was thick and dark brown, was
elaborately braided and covered with a yellow silk handkerchief.
Domini thought she looked consumptive, and was bitterly disappointed
in her appearance. For some unknown reason she had expected the woman
who wished to kill Hadj, and who obviously inspired him with fear, to
be a magnificent and glowing desert beauty. This woman might be
violent. She looked weary, anaemic, and as if she wished to go to bed,
and Domini's contempt for Hadj increased as she looked at her. To be
afraid of a thin, tired, sleepy creature such as that was too pitiful.
But Hadj did not seem to think so. He had pulled his hood still
further forward, and was now merely a bundle concealed in the shade of
Irena stepped on to the platform, pushed the girl who sat at the end
of the bench till she moved up higher, sat down in the vacant place,
drank some water out of the glass nearest to her, and then remained
quite still staring at the floor, utterly indifferent to the Arabs who
were devouring her with their eyes. No doubt the eyes of men had
devoured her ever since she could remember. It was obvious that they
meant nothing to her, that they did not even for an instant disturb
the current of her dreary thoughts.
Another girl was dancing, a stout, Oriental Jewess with a thick hooked
nose, large lips and bulging eyes, that looked as if they had been
newly scoured with emery powder. While she danced she sang, or rather
shouted roughly, an extraordinary melody that suggested battle, murder
and sudden death. Careless of onlookers, she sometimes scratched her
head or rubbed her nose without ceasing her contortions. Domini
guessed that this was the girl whom she had seen from the tower
dancing upon the roof in the sunset. Distance and light had indeed
transformed her. Under the lamps she was the embodiment of all that
was coarse and greasy. Even the pitiful slenderness of Irena seemed
attractive when compared with her billowing charms, which she kept in
a continual commotion that was almost terrifying.
"Hadj is nearly dead with fear," whispered Batouch, complacently.
Domini's lips curled.
"Does not Madame think Irena beautiful as the moon on the waters of
the Oued Beni-Mora?"
"Indeed I don't," she replied bluntly. "And I think a man who can be
afraid of such a little thing must be afraid of the children in the
"Little! But Irena is tall as a female palm in Ourlana."
Domini looked at her again more carefully, and saw that Batouch spoke
the truth. Irena was unusually tall, but her excessive narrowness, her
tiny bones, and the delicate way in which she held herself deceived
the eye and gave her a little appearance.
"So she is; but who could be afraid of her? Why, I could pick her up
and throw her over that moon of yours."
"Madame is strong. Madame is like the lioness. But Irena is the most
terrible girl in all Beni-Mora if she loves or if she is angry, the
most terrible in all the Sahara."
"Madame does not know her," said Batouch, imperturbably. "But Madame
can ask the Arabs. Many of the dancers of Beni-Mora are murdered, each
season two or three. But no man would try to murder Irena. No man
The poet's calm and unimpassioned way of alluding to the most horrible
crimes as if they were perfectly natural, and in no way to be
condemned or wondered at, amazed Domini even more than his statement
"Why do they murder the dancers?" she asked quickly.
"For their jewels. At night, in those little rooms with the balconies
which Madame has seen, it is easy. You enter in to sleep there. You
close your eyes, you breathe gently and a little loud. The woman
hears. She is not afraid. She sleeps. She dreams. Her throat is like
that"--he threw back his head, exposing his great neck. "Just before
dawn you draw your knife from your burnous. You bend down. You cut the
throat without noise. You take the jewels, the money from the box by
the bed. You go down quietly with bare feet. No one is on the stair.
You unbar the door--and there before you is the great hiding-place."
"The great hiding-place!"
"The desert, Madame." He sipped his coffee. Domini looked at him,
Suzanne shivered. She had been listening. The loud contralto cry of
the Jewess rose up, with its suggestion of violence and of rough
indifference. And Domini repeated softly:
"The great hiding-place."
With every moment in Beni-Mora the desert seemed to become more--more
full of meaning, of variety, of mystery, of terror. Was it everything?
The garden of God, the great hiding-place of murderers! She had called
it, on the tower, the home of peace. In the gorge of El-Akbara, ere he
prayed, Batouch had spoken of it as a vast realm of forgetfulness,
where the load of memory slips from the weary shoulders and vanishes
into the soft gulf of the sands.
But was it everything then? And if it was so much to her already, in a
night and a day, what would it be when she knew it, what would it be
to her after many nights and many days? She began to feel a sort of
terror mingled with the most extraordinary attraction she had ever
Hadj crouched right back against the wall. The voice of the Jewess
ceased in a shout. The hautboys stopped playing. Only the tomtoms
"Hadj can be happy now," observed Batouch in a voice of almost
satisfaction, "for Irena is going to dance. Look! There is the little
Miloud bringing her the daggers."
An Arab boy, with a beautiful face and a very dark skin, slipped on to
the platform with two long, pointed knives in his hand. He laid them
on the table before Irena, between the bouquets of orange blossom,
jumped lightly down and disappeared.
Directly the knives touched the table the hautboy players blew a
terrific blast, and then, swelling the note, till it seemed as if they
must burst both themselves and their instruments, swung into a
tremendous and magnificent tune, a tune tingling with barbarity, yet
such as a European could have sung or written down. In an instant it
gripped Domini and excited her till she could hardly breathe. It
poured fire into her veins and set fire about her heart. It was
triumphant as a great song after war in a wild land, cruel, vengeful,
but so strong and so passionately joyous that it made the eyes shine
and the blood leap, and the spirit rise up and clamour within the
body, clamour for utter liberty, for action, for wide fields in which
to roam, for long days and nights of glory and of love, for intense
hours of emotion and of life lived with exultant desperation. It was a
melody that seemed to set the soul of Creation dancing before an ark.
The tomtoms accompanied it with an irregular but rhythmical roar which
Domini thought was like the deep-voiced shouting of squadrons of
Irena looked wearily at the knives. Her expression had not changed,
and Domini was amazed at her indifference. The eyes of everyone in the
room were fixed upon her. Even Suzanne began to be less virginal in
appearance under the influence of this desert song of triumph. Domini
did not let her eyes stray any more towards the stranger. For the
moment indeed she had forgotten him. Her attention was fastened upon
the thin, consumptive-looking creature who was staring at the two
knives laid upon the table. When the great tune had been played right
through once, and a passionate roll of tomtoms announced its
repetition, Irena suddenly shot out her tiny arms, brought her hands
down on the knives, seized them and sprang to her feet. She had passed
from lassitude to vivid energy with an abruptness that was almost
demoniacal, and to an energy with which both mind and body seemed to
blaze. Then, as the hautboys screamed out the tune once more, she held
the knives above her head and danced.
Irena was not an Ouled Nail. She was a Kabyle woman born in the
mountains of Djurdjura, not far from the village of Tamouda. As a
child she had lived in one of those chimneyless and windowless mud
cottages with red tiled roofs which are so characteristic a feature of
La Grande Kabylie. She had climbed barefoot the savage hills, or
descended into the gorges yellow with the broom plant and dipped her
brown toes in the waters of the Sebaou. How had she drifted so far
from the sharp spurs of her native hills and from the ruddy-haired,
blue-eyed people of her tribe? Possibly she had sinned, as the Kabyle
women often sin, and fled from the wrath that she would understand,
and that all her fierce bravery could not hope to conquer. Or perhaps
with her Kabyle blood, itself a brew composed of various strains,
Greek, Roman, as well as Berber, were mingling some drops drawn from
desert sources, which had manifested themselves physically in her dark
hair, mentally in a nomadic instinct which had forbidden her to rest
among the beauties of Ait Ouaguennoun, whose legendary charm she did
not possess. There was the look of an exile in her face, a weariness
that dreamed, perhaps, of distant things. But now that she danced that
fled, and the gleam of flame-lit steel was in her eyes.
Tangled and vital impressions came to Domini as she watched. Now she
saw Jael and the tent, and the nails driven into the temples of the
sleeping warrior. Now she saw Medea in the moment before she tore to
pieces her brother and threw the bloody fragments in Aetes's path;
Clytemnestra's face while Agamemnon was passing to the bath, Delilah's
when Samson lay sleeping on her knee. But all these imagined faces of
named women fled like sand grains on a desert wind as the dance went
on and the recurrent melody came back and back and back with a savage
and glorious persistence. They were too small, too individual, and
pinned the imagination down too closely. This dagger dance let in upon
her a larger atmosphere, in which one human being was as nothing, even
a goddess or a siren prodigal of enchantments was a little thing not
without a narrow meanness of physiognomy.
She looked and listened till she saw a grander procession troop by,
garlanded with mystery and triumph: War as a shape with woman's eyes:
Night, without poppies, leading the stars and moon and all the
vigorous dreams that must come true: Love of woman that cannot be set
aside, but will govern the world from Eden to the abyss into which the
nations fall to the outstretched hands of God: Death as Life's leader,
with a staff from which sprang blossoms red as the western sky: Savage
Fecundity that crushes all barren things into the silent dust: and
then the Desert.
That came in a pale cloud of sand, with a pale crowd of worshippers,
those who had received gifts from the Desert's hands and sought for
more: white-robed Marabouts who had found Allah in his garden and
become a guide to the faithful through all the circling years:
murderers who had gained sanctuary with barbaric jewels in their
blood-stained hands: once tortured men and women who had cast away
terrible recollections in the wastes among the dunes and in the
treeless purple distances, and who had been granted the sweet oases of
forgetfulness to dwell in: ardent beings who had striven vainly to
rest content with the world of hills and valleys, of sea-swept verges
and murmuring rivers, and who had been driven, by the labouring soul,
on and on towards the flat plains where roll for ever the golden
wheels of the chariot of the sun. She saw, too, the winds that are the
Desert's best-loved children: Health with shining eyes and a skin of
bronze: Passion, half faun, half black-browed Hercules: and Liberty
with upraised arms, beating cymbals like monstrous spheres of fire.
And she saw palm trees waving, immense palm trees in the south. It
seemed to her that she travelled as far away from Beni-Mora as she had
travelled from England in coming to Beni-Mora. She made her way
towards the sun, joining the pale crowd of the Desert's worshippers.
And always, as she travelled, she heard the clashing of the cymbals of
Liberty. A conviction was born in her that Fate meant her to know the
Desert well, strangely well; that the Desert was waiting calmly for
her to come to it and receive that which it had to give to her; that
in the Desert she would learn more of the meaning of life than she
could ever learn elsewhere. It seemed to her suddenly that she
understood more clearly than hitherto in what lay the intense, the
over-mastering and hypnotic attraction exercised already by the Desert
over her nature. In the Desert there must be, there was--she felt it--
not only light to warm the body, but light to illuminate the dark
places of the soul. An almost fatalistic idea possessed her. She saw a
figure--one of the Messengers--standing with her beside the corpse of
her father and whispering in her ear "Beni-Mora"; taking her to the
map and pointing to the word there, filling her brain and heart with
suggestions, till--as she had thought almost without reason, and at
haphazard--she chose Beni-Mora as the place to which she would go in
search of recovery, of self-knowledge. It had been pre-ordained. The
Messenger had been sent. The Messenger had guided her. And he would
come again, when the time was ripe, and lead her on into the Desert.
She felt it. She knew it.
She looked round at the Arabs. She was as much a fatalist as any one
of them. She looked at the stranger. What was he?
Abruptly in her imagination a vision rose. She gazed once more into
the crowd that thronged about the Desert having received gifts at the
Desert's hands, and in it she saw the stranger.
He was kneeling, his hands were stretched out, his head was bowed, and
he was praying. And, while he prayed, Liberty stood by him smiling,
and her fiery cymbals were like the aureoles that illumine the
beautiful faces of the saints.
For some reason that she could not understand her heart began to beat
fast, and she felt a burning sensation behind her eyes.
She thought that this extraordinary music, that this amazing dance,
excited her too much.
The white bundle at Suzanne's side stirred. Irena, holding the daggers
above her head, had sprung from the little platform and was dancing on
the earthen floor in the midst of the Arabs.
Her thin body shook convulsively in time to the music. She marked the
accents with her shudders. Excitement had grown in her till she seemed
to be in a feverish passion that was half exultant, half despairing.
In her expression, in her movements, in the way she held herself,
leaning backwards with her face looking up, her breast and neck
exposed as if she offered her life, her love and all the mysteries in
her, to an imagined being who dominated her savage and ecstatic soul,
there was a vivid suggestion of the two elements in Passion--rapture
and melancholy. In her dance she incarnated passion whole by conveying
the two halves that compose it. Her eyes were nearly closed, as a
woman closes them when she has seen the lips of her lover descending
upon hers. And her mouth seemed to be receiving the fiery touch of
another mouth. In this moment she was a beautiful woman because she
looked like womanhood. And Domini understood why the Arabs thought her
more beautiful than the other dancers. She had what they had not--
genius. And genius, under whatever form, shows to the world at moments
the face of Aphrodite.
She came slowly nearer, and those by the platform turned round to
follow her with their eyes. Hadj's hood had slipped completely down
over his face, and his chin was sunk on his chest. Batouch noticed it
and looked angry, but Domini had forgotten both the comedy of the two
cousins and the tragedy of Irena's love for Hadj. She was completely
under the fascination of this dance and of the music that accompanied
it. Now that Irena was near she was able to see that, without her
genius, there would have been no beauty in her face. It was painfully
thin, painfully long and haggard. Her life had written a fatal
inscription across it as their life writes upon the faces of poor
street-bred children the one word--Want. As they have too little this
dancing woman had had too much. The sparkle of her robe of gold tissue
covered with golden coins was strong in the lamplight. Domini looked
at it and at the two sharp knives above her head, looked at her
violent, shuddering movements, and shuddered too, thinking of
Batouch's story of murdered dancers. It was dangerous to have too much
Irena was quite close now. She seemed so wrapped in the ecstasy of the
dance that it did not occur to Domini at first that she was imitating
the Ouled Nail who had laid her greasy head upon the stranger's knees.
The abandonment of her performance was so great that it was difficult
to remember its money value to her and to Tahar, the fair Kabyle. Only
when she was actually opposite to them and stayed there, still
performing her shuddering dance, still holding the daggers above her
head, did Domini realise that those half-closed, passionate eyes had
marked the stranger woman, and that she must add one to the stream of
golden coins. She took out her purse but did not give the money at
once. With the pitiless scrutiny of her sex she noticed all the
dancer's disabilities. She was certainly young, but she was very worn.
Her mouth drooped. At the corners of her eyes there were tiny lines
tending downward. Her forehead had what Domini secretly called a
martyred look. Nevertheless, she was savage and triumphant. Her thin
body suggested force; the way she held herself consuming passion. Even
so near at hand, even while she was pausing for money, and while her
eyes were, doubtless, furtively reading Domini, she shed round her a
powerful atmosphere, which stirred the blood, and made the heart leap,
and created longing for unknown and violent things. As Domini watched
her she felt that Irena must have lived at moments magnificently, that
despite her almost shattered condition and permanent weariness--only
cast aside for the moment of the dance--she must have known intense
joys, that so long as she lived she would possess the capacity for
knowing them again. There was something burning within her that would
burn on so long as she was alive, a spark of nature that was eternally
red hot. It was that spark which made her the idol of the Arabs and
shed a light of beauty through her haggard frame.
The spirit blazed.
Domini put her hand at last into her purse and took out a piece of
gold. She was just going to give it to Irena when the white bundle
that was Hadj made a sudden, though slight, movement, as if the thing
inside it had shivered. Irena noticed it with her half-closed eyes.
Domini leaned forward and held out the money, then drew back startled.
Irena had changed her posture abruptly. Instead of keeping her head
thrown back and exposing her long throat, she lifted it, shot it
forward. Her meagre bosom almost disappeared as she bent over. Her
arms fell to her sides. Her eyes opened wide and became full of a
sharp, peering intensity. Her vision and dreams dropped out of her.
Now she was only fierce and questioning, and horribly alert. She was
looking at the white bundle. It shifted again. She sprang upon it,
showing her teeth, caught hold of it. With a swift turn of her thin
hands she tore back the hood, and out of the bundle came Hadj's head
and face livid with fear. One of the daggers flashed and came up at
him. He leaped from the seat and screamed. Suzanne echoed his cry.
Then the whole room was a turmoil of white garments and moving limbs.
In an instant everybody seemed to be leaping, calling out, grasping,
struggling. Domini tried to get up, but she was hemmed in, and could
not make a movement upward or free her arms, which were pressed
against her sides by the crowd around her. For a moment she thought
she was going to be severely hurt or suffocated. She did not feel
afraid, but only indignant, like a boy who has been struck in the face
and longs to retaliate. Someone screamed again. It was Hadj. Suzanne
was on her feet, but separated from her mistress. Batouch's arm was
round her. Domini put her hands on the bench and tried to force
herself up, violently setting her broad shoulders against the Arabs
who were towering over her and covering her head and face with their
floating garments as they strove to see the fight between Hadj and the
dancer. The heat almost stifled her, and she was suddenly aware of a
strong musky smell of perspiring humanity. She was beginning to pant
for breath when she felt two burning, hot, hard hands come down on
hers, fingers like iron catch hold of hers, go under them, drag up her
hands. She could not see who had seized her, but the life in the hands
that were on hers mingled with the life in her hands like one fluid
with another, and seemed to pass on till she felt it in her body, and
had an odd sensation as if her face had been caught in a fierce grip,
and her heart too.
Another moment and she was on her feet and out in the moonlit alley
between the little white houses. She saw the stars, and the painted
balconies crowded with painted women looking down towards the cafe she
had left and chattering in shrill voices. She saw the patrol of
Tirailleurs Indigenes marching at the double to the doorway in which
the Arabs were still struggling. Then she saw that the traveller was
beside her. She was not surprised.
"Thank you for getting me out," she said rather bluntly. "Where's my
"She got away before us with your guide, Madame."
He held up his hands and looked at them hard, eagerly, questioningly.
"You weren't hurt?"
He dropped his hands quickly. "Oh, no, it wasn't----"
He broke off the sentence and was silent. Domini stood still, drew a
long breath and laughed. She still felt angry and laughed to control
herself. Unless she could be amused at this episode she knew that she
was capable of going back to the door of the cafe and hitting out
right and left at the men who had nearly suffocated her. Any violence
done to her body, even an unintentional push against her in the street
--if there was real force in it--seemed to let loose a devil in her,
such a devil as ought surely only to dwell inside a man.
"What people!" she said. "What wild creatures!"
She laughed again. The patrol pushed its way roughly in at the
"The Arabs are always like that, Madame."
She looked at him, then she said, abruptly:
"Do you speak English?"
Her companion hesitated. It was perfectly obvious to her that he was
considering whether he should answer "Yes" or "No." Such hesitation
about such a matter was very strange. At last he said, but still in
And directly he had said it she saw by his face that he wished he had
From the cafe the Arabs began to pour into the street. The patrol was
clearing the place. The women leaning over the balconies cried out
shrilly to learn the exact history of the tumult, and the men standing
underneath, and lifting up their bronzed faces in the moonlight,
replied in violent voices, gesticulating vehemently while their
hanging sleeves fell back from their hairy arms.
"I am an Englishwoman," Domini said.
But she too felt obliged to speak still in French, as if a sudden
reserve told her to do so. He said nothing. They were standing in
quite a crowd now. It swayed, parted suddenly, and the soldiers
appeared holding Irena. Hadj followed behind, shouting as if in a
frenzy of passion. There was some blood on one of his hands and a
streak of blood on the front of the loose shirt he wore under his
burnous. He kept on shooting out his arms towards Irena as he walked,
and frantically appealing to the Arabs round him. When he saw the
women on their balconies he stopped for a moment and called out to
them like a man beside himself. A Tirailleur pushed him on. The women,
who had been quiet to hear him, burst forth again into a paroxysm of
chatter. Irena looked utterly indifferent and walked feebly. The
little procession disappeared in the moonlight accompanied by the
"She has stabbed Hadj," Domini said. "Batouch will be glad."
She did not feel as if she were sorry. Indeed, she thought she was
glad too. That the dancer should try to do a thing and fail would have
seemed contradictory. And the streak of blood she had just seen seemed
to relieve her suddenly and to take from her all anger. Her self-
"Thank you once more," she said to her companion. "Goodnight."
She remembered the episode of the tower that afternoon, and resolved
to take a definite line this time, and not to run the chance of a
second desertion. She started off down the street, but found him
walking beside her in silence. She stopped.
"I am very much obliged to you for getting me out," she said, looking
straight at him. "And now, good-night."
Almost for the first time he endured her gaze without any uncertainty,
and she saw that though he might be hesitating, uneasy, even
contemptible--as when he hurried down the road in the wake of the
negro procession--he could also be a dogged man.
"I'll go with you, Madame," he said.
"I'm not afraid."
"I'll go with you, Madame."
He said it again harshly and kept his eyes on her, frowning.
"And if I refuse?" she said, wondering whether she was going to refuse
"I'll follow you, Madame."
She knew by the look on his face that he, too, was thinking of what
had happened in the afternoon. Why should she wish to deprive him of
the reparation he was anxious to make--obviously anxious in an almost
piteously determined way? It was poor pride in her, a mean little
"Come with me," she said.
They went on together.
The Arabs, stirred up by the fracas in Tahar's cafe, were seething
with excitement, and several of them, gathered together in a little
crowd, were quarrelling and shouting at the end of the street near the
statue of the Cardinal. Domini's escort saw them and hesitated.
"I think, Madame, it would be better to take a side street," he said.
"Very well. Let us go to the left here. It is bound to bring us to the
hotel as it runs parallel to the house of the sand diviner."
"The sand-diviner?" he said in his low, strong voice.
She walked on into a tiny alley. He followed her.
"You haven't seen the thin man with the bag of sand?"
"He reads your past in sand from the desert and tells what your future
The man made no reply.
"Will you pay him a visit?" Domini asked curiously.
"No, Madame. I do not care for such things."
Suddenly she stood still.
"Oh, look!" she said. "How strange! And there are others all down the
In the tiny alley the balconies of the houses nearly met. No figures
leaned on their railings. No chattering voices broke the furtive
silence that prevailed in this quarter of Beni-Mora. The moonlight was
fainter here, obscured by the close-set buildings, and at the moment
there was not an Arab in sight. The sense of loneliness and peace was
profound, and as the rare windows of the houses, minute and protected
by heavy gratings, were dark, it had seemed to Domini at first as if
all the inhabitants were in bed and asleep. But, in passing on, she
had seen a faint and blanched illumination; then another; the vague
vision of an aperture; a seated figure making a darkness against
whiteness; a second aperture and seated figure. She stopped and stood
still. The man stood still beside her.
The alley was an alley of women. In every house on either side of the
way a similar picture of attentive patience was revealed: a narrow
Moorish archway with a wooden door set back against the wall to show a
steep and diminutive staircase winding up into mystery; upon the
highest stair a common candlestick with a lit candle guttering in it,
and, immediately below, a girl, thickly painted, covered with
barbarous jewels and magnificently dressed, her hands, tinted with
henna, folded in her lap, her eyes watching under eyebrows heavily
darkened, and prolonged until they met just above the bridge of the
nose, to which a number of black dots descended; her naked, brown
ankles decorated with large circlets of gold or silver. The candle
shed upon each watcher a faint light that half revealed her and left
her half concealed upon her white staircase bounded by white walls.
And in her absolute silence, absolute stillness, each one was wholly
mysterious as she gazed ceaselessly out towards the empty, narrow
The woman before whose dwelling Domini had stopped was an Ouled Nail,
with a square headdress of coloured handkerchiefs and feathers, a pink
and silver shawl, a blue skirt of some thin material powdered with
silver flowers, and a broad silver belt set with squares of red coral.
She was sitting upright, and would have looked exactly like an idol
set up for savage worship had not her long eyes gleamed and moved as
she solemnly returned the gaze of Domini and of the man who stood a
little behind looking over her shoulder.
When Domini stopped and exclaimed she did not realise to what this
street was dedicated, why these women sat in watchful silence, each
one alone on her stair waiting in the night. But as she looked and saw
the gaudy finery she began to understand. And had she remained in
doubt an incident now occurred which must have enlightened her.
A great gaunt Arab, one of the true desert men, almost black, with
high cheek bones, hollow cheeks, fierce falcon's eyes shining as if
with fever, long and lean limbs hard as iron, dressed in a rough,
sacklike brown garment, and wearing a turban bound with cords of
camel's hair, strode softly down the alley, slipped in front of
Domini, and went up to the woman, holding out something in his scaly
hand. There was a brief colloquy. The woman stretched her arm up the
staircase, took the candle, held it to the man's open hand, and bent
over counting the money that lay in the palm. She counted it twice
deliberately. Then she nodded. She got up, turned, holding the candle
above her square headdress, and went slowly up the staircase followed
by the Arab, who grasped his coarse draperies and lifted them, showing
his bare legs. The two disappeared without noise into the darkness,
leaving the stairway deserted, its white steps, its white walls
faintly lit by the moon.
The woman had not once looked at the man, but only at the money in his
Domini felt hot and rather sick. She wondered why she had stood there
watching. Yet she had not been able to turn away. Now, as she stepped
back into the middle of the alley and walked on with the man beside
her she wondered what he was thinking of her. She could not talk to
him any more. She was too conscious of the lighted stairways, one
after one, succeeding each other to right and left of them, of the
still figures, of the watching eyes in which the yellow rays of the
candles gleamed. Her companion did not speak; but as they walked he
glanced furtively from one side to the other, then stared down
steadily on the white road. When they turned to the right and came out
by the gardens, and Domini saw the great tufted heads of the palms
black against the moon, she felt relieved and was able to speak again.
"I should like you to know that I am quite a stranger to all African
things and people," she said. "That is why I am liable to fall into
mistakes in such a place as this. Ah, there is the hotel, and my maid
on the verandah. I want to thank you again for looking after me."
They were at a few steps from the hotel door in the road. The man
stopped, and Domini stopped too.
"Madame," he said earnestly, with a sort of hardly controlled
excitement, "I--I am glad. I was ashamed--I was ashamed."
"Of my conduct--of my awkwardness. But you will forgive it. I am not
accustomed to the society of ladies--like you. Anything I have done I
have not done out of rudeness. That is all I can say. I have not done
it out of rudeness."
He seemed to be almost trembling with agitation.
"I know, I know," she said. "Besides, it was nothing."
"Oh, no, it was abominable. I understand that. I am not so coarse-
fibred as not to understand that."
Domini suddenly felt that to take his view of the matter, exaggerated
though it was, would be the kindest course, even the most delicate.
"You were rude to me," she said, "but I shall forget it from this
She held out her hand. He grasped it, and again she felt as if a
furnace were pouring its fiery heat upon her.
"Good-night, Madame. Thank you."
She was going away to the hotel door, but she stopped.
"My name is Domini Enfilden," she said in English.
The man stood in the road looking at her. She waited. She expected him
to tell her his name. There was a silence. At last he said
hesitatingly, in English with a very slight foreign accent:
"My name is Boris--Boris Androvsky."
"Batouch told me you were English," she said.
"My mother was English, but my father was a Russian from Tiflis. That
is my name."
There was a sound in his voice as if he were insisting like a man
making an assertion not readily to be believed.
"Good-night," Domini said again.
And she went away slowly, leaving him standing on the moonlit road.
He did not remain there long, nor did he follow her into the hotel.
After she had disappeared he stood for a little while gazing up at the
deserted verandah upon which the moon-rays fell. Then he turned and
looked towards the village, hesitated, and finally walked slowly back
towards the tiny, shrouded alley in which on the narrow staircases the
painted girls sat watching in the night.
On the following morning Batouch arrived with a handsome grey Arab
horse for Domini to try. He had been very penitent the night before,
and Domini had forgiven easily enough his pre-occupation with Suzanne,
who had evidently made a strong impression upon his susceptible
nature. Hadj had been but slightly injured by Irena, but did not
appear at the hotel for a very sufficient reason. Both the dancer and
he were locked up for the moment, till the Guardians of Justice in
Beni-Mora had made up their minds who should be held responsible for
the uproar of the previous night. That the real culprit was the
smiling poet was not likely to occur to them, and did not seem to
trouble him. When Domini inquired after Hadj he showed majestic
indifference, and when she hinted at his crafty share in the causing
of the tragedy he calmly replied
"Hadj-ben-Ibrahim will know from henceforth whether the Mehari with
the swollen tongue can bite."
Then, leaping upon the horse, whose bridle he was holding, he forced
it to rear, caracole and display its spirit and its paces before
Domini, sitting it superbly, and shooting many sly glances at Suzanne,
who leaned over the parapet of the verandah watching, with a rapt
expression on her face.
Domini admired the horse, but wished to mount it herself before coming
to any conclusion about it. She had brought her own saddle with her
and ordered Batouch to put it on the animal. Meanwhile she went
upstairs to change into her habit. When she came out again on to the
verandah Boris Androvsky was there, standing bare-headed in the sun
and looking down at Batouch and the horse. He turned quickly, greeted
Domini with a deep bow, then examined her costume with wondering,
"I'm going to try that horse," she said with deliberate friendliness.
"To see if I'll buy him. Are you a judge of a horse?"
"I fear not, Madame."
She had spoken in English and he replied in the same language. She was
standing at the head of the stairs holding her whip lightly in her
right hand. Her splendid figure was defined by the perfectly-fitting,
plain habit, and she saw him look at it with a strange expression in
his eyes, an admiration that was almost ferocious, and that was yet
respectful and even pure. It was like the glance of a passionate
schoolboy verging on young manhood, whose natural instincts were astir
but whose temperament was unwarped by vice; a glance that was a
burning tribute, and that told a whole story of sex and surely of hot,
inquiring ignorance--strange glances of a man no longer even very
young. It made something in her leap and quiver. She was startled and
almost angered by that, but not by the eyes that caused it.
"/Au revoir/," she said, turning to go down.
"May I--might I see you get up?" said Androvsky.
"Get up!" she said.
"Up on the horse?"
She could not help smiling at his fashion of expressing the act of
mounting. He was not a sportsman evidently, despite his muscular
"Certainly, if you like. Come along."
Without thinking of it she spoke rather as to a schoolboy, not with
superiority, but with the sort of bluffness age sometimes uses good-
naturedly to youth. He did not seem to resent it and followed her down
to the arcade.
The side saddle was on and the poet held the grey by the bridle. Some
Arab boys had assembled under the arcade to see what was going
forward. The Arab waiter lounged at the door with the tassel of his
fez swinging against his pale cheek. The horse fidgetted and tugged
against the rein, lifting his delicate feet uneasily from the ground,
flicking his narrow quarters with his long tail, and glancing sideways
with his dark and brilliant eyes, which were alive with a nervous
intelligence that was almost hectic. Domini went up to him and
caressed him with her hand. He reared up and snorted. His whole body
seemed a-quiver with the desire to gallop furiously away alone into
some far distant place.
Androvsky stood near the waiter, looking at Domini and at the horse
with wonder and alarm in his eyes.