Part 5 out of 12
went into the voice, and surely smote upon him like a gust of the hot
wind that sometimes blows out of the desert.
"I shall come, Madame," he said quickly.
"Friday. I may be in the garden in the morning. I'll meet you at the
gate at half-past twelve."
"Friday?" he said.
Already he seemed to be wavering in his acceptance. Domini did not
stay with him any longer.
"I'm glad," she said in a finishing tone.
And she went away.
Now Count Anteoni told her that he had invited the priest. She felt
vexed, and her face showed that she did. A cloud came down and
immediately she looked changed and disquieting. Yet she liked the
priest. As she sat in silence her vexation became more profound. She
felt certain that if Androvsky had known the priest was coming he
would not have accepted the invitation. She wished him to come, yet
she wished he had known. He might think that she had known the fact
and had concealed it. She did not suppose for a moment that he
disliked Father Roubier personally, but he certainly avoided him. He
bowed to him in the coffee-room of the hotel, but never spoke to him.
Batouch had told her about the episode with Bous-Bous. And she had
seen Bous-Bous endeavour to renew the intimacy and repulsed with
determination. Androvsky must dislike the priesthood. He might fancy
that she, a believing Catholic, had--a number of disagreeable
suppositions ran through her mind. She had always been inclined to
hate the propagandist since the tragedy in her family. It was a pity
Count Anteoni had not indulged his imp in a different fashion. The
beauty of the noon seemed spoiled.
"Forgive my malice," Count Anteoni said. "It was really a thing of
thistledown. Can it be going to do harm? I can scarcely think so."
She roused herself, with the instinct of a woman who has lived much in
the world, to conceal the vexation that, visible, would cause a
depression to stand in the natural place of cheerfulness.
"The desert is making me abominably natural," she thought.
At this moment the black figure of Father Roubier came out of the
shadows of the trees with Bous-Bous trotting importantly beside it.
"Ah, Father," said Count Anteoni, going to meet him, while Domini got
up from her chair, "it is good of you to come out in the sun to eat
fish with such a bad parishioner as I am. Your little companion is
He patted Bous-Bous, who took little notice of him.
"You know Miss Enfilden, I think?" continued the Count.
"Father Roubier and I meet every day," said Domini, smiling.
"Mademoiselle has been good enough to take a kind interest in the
humble work of the Church in Beni-Mora," said the priest with the
serious simplicity characteristic of him.
He was a sincere man, utterly without pretension, and, as such men
often are, quietly at home with anybody of whatever class or creed.
"I must go to the garden gate," Domini said. "Will you excuse me for a
"To meet Monsieur Androvsky? Let us accompany you if Father Roubier--"
"Please don't trouble. I won't be a minute."
Something in her voice made Count Anteoni at once acquiesce, defying
his courteous instinct.
"We will wait for you here," he said.
There was a whimsical plea for forgiveness in his eyes. Domini's did
not reject it; they did not answer it. She walked away, and the two
men looked after her tall figure with admiration. As she went along
the sand paths between the little streams, and came into the deep
shade, her vexation seemed to grow darker like the garden ways. For a
moment she thought she understood the sensations that must surely
sometimes beset a treacherous woman. Yet she was incapable of
treachery. Smain was standing dreamily on the great sweep of sand
before the villa. She and he were old friends now, and every day he
calmly gave her a flower when she came into the garden.
"What time is it, Smain?"
"Nearly half-past twelve, Madame."
"Will you open the door and see if anyone is coming?"
He went towards the great door, and Domini sat down on a bench under
the evergreen roof to wait. She had seldom felt more discomposed, and
began to reason with herself almost angrily. Even if the presence of
the priest was unpleasant to Androvsky, why should she mind?
Antagonism to the priesthood was certainly not a mental condition to
be fostered, but a prejudice to be broken down. But she had wished--
she still wished with ardour--that Androvsky's first visit to the
garden should be a happy one, should pass off delightfully. She had a
dawning instinct to make things smooth for him. Surely they had been
rough in the past, rougher even than for herself. And she wondered for
an instant whether he had come to Beni-Mora, as she had come, vaguely
seeking for a happiness scarcely embodied in a definite thought.
"There is a gentleman coming, Madame."
It was the soft voice of Smain from the gate. In a moment Androvsky
stood before it. Domini saw him framed in the white wood, with a
brilliant blue behind him and a narrow glimpse of the watercourse. He
was standing still and hesitating.
"Monsieur Androvsky!" she called.
He started, looked across the sand, and stepped into the garden with a
sort of reluctant caution that pained her, she scarcely knew why. She
got up and went towards him, and they met full in the sunshine.
"I came to be your cicerone."
"Thank you, Madame."
There was the click of wood striking against wood as Smain closed the
gate. Androvsky turned quickly and looked behind him. His demeanour
was that of a man whose nerves were tormenting him. Domini began to
dread telling him of the presence of the priest, and,
characteristically, did without hesitation what she feared to do.
"This is the way," she said.
Then, as they turned into the shadow of the trees and began to walk
between the rills of water, she added abruptly:
"Father Roubier is here already, so our party is complete."
Androvsky stood still.
"Father Roubier! You did not tell me he was coming."
"I did not know it till five minutes ago."
She stood still too, and looked at him. There was a flaming of
distrust in his eyes, his lips were compressed, and his whole body
"I did not understand. I thought Senor Anteoni would be alone here."
"Father Roubier is a pleasant companion, sincere and simple. Everyone
"No doubt, Madame. But--the fact is I"--he hesitated, then added,
almost with violence--"I do not care for priests."
"I am sorry. Still, for once--for an hour--you can surely----"
She did not finish the sentence. While she was speaking she felt the
banality of such phrases spoken to such a man, and suddenly changed
tone and manner.
"Monsieur Androvsky," she said, laying one hand on his arm, "I knew
you would not like Father Roubier's being here. If I had known he was
coming I should have told you in order that you might have kept away
if you wished to. But now that you are here--now that Smain has let
you in and the Count and Father Roubier must know of it, I am sure you
will stay and govern your dislike. You intend to turn back. I see
that. Well, I ask you to stay."
She was not thinking of herself, but of him. Instinct told her to
teach him the way to conceal his aversion. Retreat would proclaim it.
"For yourself I ask you," she added. "If you go, you tell them what
you have told me. You don't wish to do that."
They looked at each other. Then, without a word, he walked on again.
As she kept beside him she felt as if in that moment their
acquaintanceship had sprung forward, like a thing that had been
forcibly restrained and that was now sharply released. They did not
speak again till they saw, at the end of an alley, the Count and the
priest standing together beneath the jamelon tree. Bous-Bous ran
forward barking, and Domini was conscious that Androvsky braced
himself up, like a fighter stepping into the arena. Her keen
sensitiveness of mind and body was so infected by his secret
impetuosity of feeling that it seemed to her as if his encounter with
the two men framed in the sunlight were a great event which might be
fraught with strange consequences. She almost held her breath as she
and Androvsky came down the path and the fierce sunrays reached out to
light up their faces.
Count Anteoni stepped forward to greet them.
"Monsieur Androvsky--Count Anteoni," she said.
The hands of the two men met. She saw that Androvsky's was lifted
"Welcome to my garden," Count Anteoni said with his invariable easy
courtesy. "Every traveller has to pay his tribute to my domain. I dare
to exact that as the oldest European inhabitant of Beni-Mora."
Androvsky said nothing. His eyes were on the priest. The Count noticed
it, and added:
"Do you know Father Roubier?"
"We have often seen each other in the hotel," Father Roubier said with
his usual straightforward simplicity.
He held out his hand, but Androvsky bowed hastily and awkwardly and
did not seem to see it. Domini glanced at Count Anteoni, and surprised
a piercing expression in his bright eyes. It died away at once, and he
"Let us go to the /salle-a-manger/. /Dejeuner/ will be ready, Miss
She joined him, concealing her reluctance to leave Androvsky with the
priest, and walked beside him down the path, preceded by Bous-Bous.
"Is my /fete/ going to be a failure?" he murmured.
She did not reply. Her heart was full of vexation, almost of
bitterness. She felt angry with Count Anteoni, with Androvsky, with
herself. She almost felt angry with poor Father Roubier.
"Forgive me! do forgive me!" the Count whispered. "I meant no harm."
She forced herself to smile, but the silence behind them, where the
two men were following, oppressed her. If only Androvsky would speak!
He had not said one word since they were all together. Suddenly she
turned her head and said:
"Did you ever see such palms, Monsieur Androvsky? Aren't they
Her voice was challenging, imperative. It commanded him to rouse
himself, to speak, as a touch of the lash commands a horse to quicken
his pace. Androvsky raised his head, which had been sunk on his breast
as he walked.
"Palms!" he said confusedly.
"Yes, they are wonderful."
"You care for trees?" asked the Count, following Domini's lead and
speaking with a definite intention to force a conversation.
"Yes, Monsieur, certainly."
"I have some wonderful fellows here. After /dejeuner/ you must let me
show them to you. I spent years in collecting my children and teaching
them to live rightly in the desert."
Very naturally, while he spoke, he had joined Androvsky, and now
walked on with him, pointing out the different varieties of trees.
Domini was conscious of a sense of relief and of a strong feeling of
gratitude to their host. Following upon the gratitude came a less
pleasant consciousness of Androvsky's lack of good breeding. He was
certainly not a man of the world, whatever he might be. To-day,
perhaps absurdly, she felt responsible for him, and as if he owed it
to her to bear himself bravely and govern his dislikes if they clashed
with the feelings of his companions. She longed hotly for him to make
a good impression, and, when her eyes met Father Roubier's, was almost
moved to ask his pardon for Androvsky's rudeness. But the Father
seemed unconscious of it, and began to speak about the splendour of
the African vegetation.
"Does not its luxuriance surprise you after England?" he said.
"No," she replied bluntly. "Ever since I have been in Africa I have
felt that I was in a land of passionate growth."
"But--the desert?" he replied with a gesture towards the long flats of
the Sahara, which were still visible between the trees.
"I should find it there too," she answered. "There, perhaps, most of
He looked at her with a gentle wonder. She did not explain that she
was no longer thinking of growth in Nature.
The /salle-a-manger/ stood at the end of a broad avenue of palms not
far from the villa. Two Arab servants were waiting on each side of the
white step that led into an ante-room filled with divans and coffee-
tables. Beyond was a lofty apartment with an arched roof, in the
centre of which was an oval table laid for breakfast, and decorated
with masses of trumpet-shaped scarlet flowers in silver vases. Behind
each of the four high-backed chairs stood an Arab motionless as a
statue. Evidently the Count's /fete/ was to be attended by a good deal
of ceremony. Domini felt sorry, though not for herself. She had been
accustomed to ceremony all her life, and noticed it, as a rule, almost
as little as the air she breathed. But she feared that to Androvsky it
would be novel and unpleasant. As they came into the shady room she
saw him glance swiftly at the walls covered with dark Persian
hangings, at the servants in their embroidered jackets, wide trousers,
and snow-white turbans, at the vivid flowers on the table, then at the
tall windows, over which flexible outside blinds, dull green in
colour, were drawn; and it seemed to her that he was feeling like a
trapped animal, full of a fury of uneasiness. Father Roubier's
unconscious serenity in the midst of a luxury to which he was quite
unaccustomed emphasised Androvsky's secret agitation, which was no
secret to Domini, and which she knew must be obvious to Count Anteoni.
She began to wish ardently that she had let Androvsky follow his
impulse to go when he heard of Father Roubier's presence.
They sat down. She was on the Count's right hand, with Androvsky
opposite to her and Father Roubier on her left. As they took their
places she and the Father said a silent grace and made the sign of the
Cross, and when she glanced up after doing so she saw Androvsky's hand
lifted to his forehead. For a moment she fancied that he had joined in
the tiny prayer, and was about to make the sacred sign, but as she
looked at him his hand fell heavily to the table. The glasses by his
"I only remembered this morning that this is a /jour maigre/," said
Count Anteoni as they unfolded their napkins. "I am afraid, Father
Roubier, you will not be able to do full justice to my chef, Hamdane,
although he has thought of you and done his best for you. But I hope
Miss Enfilden and--"
"I keep Friday," Domini interrupted quietly.
"Yes? Poor Hamdane!"
He looked in grave despair, but she knew that he was really pleased
that she kept the fast day.
"Anyhow," he continued, "I hope that you, Monsieur Androvsky, will be
able to join me in testing Hamdane's powers to the full. Or are you
He did not continue, for Androvsky at once said, in a loud and firm
"I keep no fast days."
The words sounded like a defiance flung at the two Catholics, and for
a moment Domini thought that Father Roubier was going to treat them as
a challenge, for he lifted his head and there was a flash of sudden
fire in his eyes. But he only said, turning to the Count:
"I think Mademoiselle and I shall find our little Ramadan a very easy
business. I once breakfasted with you on a Friday--two years ago it
was, I think--and I have not forgotten the banquet you gave me."
Domini felt as if the priest had snubbed Androvsky, as a saint might
snub, without knowing that he did so. She was angry with Androvsky,
and yet she was full of pity for him. Why could he not meet courtesy
with graciousness? There was something almost inhuman in his
demeanour. To-day he had returned to his worst self, to the man who
had twice treated her with brutal rudeness.
"Do the Arabs really keep Ramadan strictly?" she asked, looking away
"Very," said Father Roubier. "Although, of course, I am not in
sympathy with their religion, I have often been moved by their
adherence to its rules. There is something very grand in the human
heart deliberately taking upon itself the yoke of discipline."
"Islam--the very word means the surrender of the human will to the
will of God," said Count Anteoni. "That word and its meaning lie like
the shadow of a commanding hand on the soul of every Arab, even of the
absinthe-drinking renegades one sees here and there who have caught
the vices of their conquerors. In the greatest scoundrel that the
Prophet's robe covers there is an abiding and acute sense of necessary
surrender. The Arabs, at any rate, do not buzz against their Creator,
like midges raging at the sun in whose beams they are dancing."
"No," assented the priest. "At least in that respect they are superior
to many who call themselves Christians. Their pride is immense, but it
never makes itself ridiculous."
"You mean by trying to defy the Divine Will?" said Domini.
She thought of her dead father.
The servants stole round the table, handing various dishes
noiselessly. One of them, at this moment, poured red wine into
Androvsky's glass. He uttered a low exclamation that sounded like the
beginning of a protest hastily checked.
"You prefer white wine?" said Count Anteoni.
"No, thank you, Monsieur."
He lifted the glass to his lips and drained it.
"Are you a judge of wine?" added the Count. "That is made from my own
grapes. I have vineyards near Tunis."
"It is excellent," said Androvsky.
Domini noticed that he spoke in a louder voice than usual, as if he
were making a determined effort to throw off the uneasiness that
evidently oppressed him. He ate heartily, choosing almost
ostentatiously dishes in which there was meat. But everything that he
did, even this eating of meat, gave her the impression that he was--
subtly, how she did not know--defying not only the priest, but
himself. Now and then she glanced across at him, and when she did so
he was always looking away from her. After praising the wine he had
relapsed into silence, and Count Anteoni--she thought moved by a very
delicate sense of tact--did not directly address him again just then,
but resumed the interrupted conversation about the Arabs, first
explaining that the servants understood no French. He discussed them
with a minute knowledge that evidently sprang from a very real
affection, and presently she could not help alluding to this.
"I think you love the Arabs far more than any Europeans," she said.
He fixed his bright eyes upon her, and she thought that just then they
looked brighter than ever before.
"Why?" he asked quietly.
"Do you know the sound that comes into the voice of a lover of
children when it speaks of a child?"
"Ah!--the note of a deep indulgence?"
"I hear it in yours whenever you speak of the Arabs."
She spoke half jestingly. For a moment he did not reply. Then he said
to the priest:
"You have lived long in Africa, Father. Have not you something of the
same feeling towards these children of the sun?"
"Yes, and I have noticed it in our dead Cardinal."
Androvsky bent over his plate. He seemed suddenly to withdraw his mind
forcibly from this conversation in which he was taking no active part,
as if he refused even to listen to it.
"He is your hero, I know," the Count said sympathetically.
"He did a great deal for me."
"And for Africa. And he was wise."
"You mean in some special way?" Domini said.
"Yes. He looked deep enough into the dark souls of the desert men to
find out that his success with them must come chiefly through his
goodness to their dark bodies. You aren't shocked, Father?"
"No, no. There is truth in that."
But the priest assented rather sadly.
"Mahomet thought too much of the body," he added.
Domini saw the Count compress his lips. Then he turned to Androvsky
"Do you think so, Monsieur?"
It was a definite, a resolute attempt to draw his guest into the
conversation. Androvsky could not ignore it. He looked up reluctantly
from his plate. His eyes met Domini's, but immediately travelled away
"I doubt----" he said.
He paused, laid his hands on the table, clasping its edge, and
continued firmly, even with a sort of hard violence:
"I doubt if most good men, or men who want to be good, think enough
about the body, consider it enough. I have thought that. I think it
As he finished he stared at the priest, almost menacingly. Then, as if
moved by an after-thought, he added:
"As to Mahomet, I know very little about him. But perhaps he obtained
his great influence by recognising that the bodies of men are of great
importance, of tremendous--tremendous importance."
Domini saw that the interest of Count Anteoni in his guest was
suddenly and vitally aroused by what he had just said, perhaps even
more by his peculiar way of saying it, as if it were forced from him
by some secret, irresistible compulsion. And the Count's interest
seemed to take hands with her interest, which had had a much longer
existence. Father Roubier, however, broke in with a slightly cold:
"It is a very dangerous thing, I think, to dwell upon the importance
of the perishable. One runs the risk of detracting from the much
greater importance of the imperishable."
"Yet it's the starved wolves that devour the villages," said
For the first time Domini felt his Russian origin. There was a
silence. Father Roubier looked straight before him, but Count
Anteoni's eyes were fixed piercingly upon Androvsky. At last he said:
"May I ask, Monsieur, if you are a Russian?"
"My father was. But I have never set foot in Russia."
"The soul that I find in the art, music, literature of your country
is, to me, the most interesting soul in Europe," the Count said with a
ring of deep earnestness in his grating voice.
Spoken as he spoke it, no compliment could have been more gracious,
even moving. But Androvsky only replied abruptly:
"I'm afraid I know nothing of all that."
Domini felt hot with a sort of shame, as at a close friend's public
display of ignorance. She began to speak to the Count of Russian
music, books, with an enthusiasm that was sincere. For she, too, had
found in the soul from the Steppes a meaning and a magic that had
taken her soul prisoner. And suddenly, while she talked, she thought
of the Desert as the burning brother of the frigid Steppes. Was it the
wonder of the eternal flats that had spoken to her inmost heart
sometimes in London concert-rooms, in her room at night when she read,
forgetting time, which spoke to her now more fiercely under the palms
of Africa? At the thought something mystic seemed to stand in her
enthusiasm. The mystery of space floated about her. But she did not
express her thought. Count Anteoni expressed it for her.
"The Steppes and the Desert are akin, you know," he said. "Despite the
opposition of frost and fire."
"Just what I was thinking!" she exclaimed. "That must be why--"
She stopped short.
"Yes?" said the Count.
Both Father Roubier and Androvsky looked at her with expectancy. But
she did not continue her sentence, and her failure to do so was
covered, or at the least excused, by a diversion that secretly she
blessed. At this moment, from the ante-room, there came a sound of
African music, both soft and barbarous. First there was only one
reiterated liquid note, clear and glassy, a note that suggested night
in a remote place. Then, beneath it, as foundation to it, rose a
rustling sound as of a forest of reeds through which a breeze went
rhythmically. Into this stole the broken song of a thin instrument
with a timbre rustic and antique as the timbre of the oboe, but
fainter, frailer. A twang of softly-plucked strings supported its wild
and pathetic utterance, and presently the almost stifled throb of a
little tomtom that must have been placed at a distance. It was like a
The Count and his guests sat listening in silence. Domini began to
feel curiously expectant, yet she did not recognise the odd melody.
Her sensation was that some other music must be coming which she had
heard before, which had moved her deeply at some time in her life. She
glanced at the Count and found him looking at her with a whimsical
expression, as if he were a kind conspirator whose plot would soon be
"What is it?" she asked in a low voice.
He bent towards her.
"Wait!" he whispered. "Listen!"
She saw Androvsky frown. His face was distorted by an expression of
pain, and she wondered if he, like some Europeans, found the barbarity
of the desert music ugly and even distressing to the nerves. While she
wondered a voice began to sing, always accompanied by the four
instruments. It was a contralto voice, but sounded like a youth's.
"What is that song?" she asked under her breath. "Surely I must have
"You don't know?"
She searched her heart. It seemed to her that she knew the song. At
some period of her life she had certainly been deeply moved by it--but
when? where? The voice died away, and was succeeded by a soft chorus
Then it rose once more in a dreamy and reticent refrain, like the
voice of a soul communing with itself in the desert, above the
instruments and the murmuring chorus.
"You remember?" whispered the Count.
She moved her head in assent but did not speak. She could not speak.
It was the song the Arab had sung as he turned into the shadow of the
palm trees, the song of the freed negroes of Touggourt:
"No one but God and I
Knows what is in my heart."
The priest leaned back in his chair. His dark eyes were cast down, and
his thin, sun-browned hands were folded together in a way that
suggested prayer. Did this desert song of the black men, children of
God like him as their song affirmed, stir his soul to some grave
petition that embraced the wants of all humanity?
Androvsky was sitting quite still. He was also looking down and the
lids covered his eyes. An expression of pain still lingered on his
face, but it was less cruel, no longer tortured, but melancholy. And
Domini, as she listened, recalled the strange cry that had risen
within her as the Arab disappeared in the sunshine, the cry of the
soul in life surrounded by mysteries, by the hands, the footfalls, the
voices of hidden things--"What is going to happen to me here?" But
that cry had risen in her, found words in her, only when confronted by
the desert. Before it had been perhaps hidden in the womb. Only then
was it born. And now the days had passed and the nights, and the song
brought with it the cry once more, the cry and suddenly something
else, another voice that, very far away, seemed to be making answer to
it. That answer she could not hear. The words of it were hidden in the
womb as, once, the words of her intense question. Only she felt that
an answer had been made. The future knew, and had begun to try to tell
her. She was on the very edge of knowledge while she listened, but she
could not step into the marvellous land.
Presently Count Anteoni spoke to the priest.
"You have heard this song, no doubt, Father?"
Father Roubier shook his head.
"I don't think so, but I can never remember the Arab music"
"Perhaps you dislike it?"
"No, no. It is ugly in a way, but there seems a great deal of meaning
in it. In this song especially there is--one might almost call it
"Wonderful beauty," Domini said in a low voice, still listening to the
"The words are beautiful," said the Count, this time addressing
himself to Androvsky. "I don't know them all, but they begin like
"'The gazelle dies in the water,
The fish dies in the air,
And I die in the dunes of the desert sand
For my love that is deep and sad.'
And when the chorus sounds, as now"--and he made a gesture toward the
inner room, in which the low murmur of " Wurra-Wurra" rose again, "the
singer reiterates always the same refrain:
"'No one but God and I
Knows what is in my heart.'"
Almost as he spoke the contralto voice began to sing the refrain.
Androvsky turned pale. There were drops of sweat on his forehead. He
lifted his glass of wine to his lips and his hand trembled so that
some of the wine was spilt upon the tablecloth. And, as once before,
Domini felt that what moved her deeply moved him even more deeply,
whether in the same way or differently she could not tell. The image
of the taper and the torch recurred to her mind. She saw Androvsky
with fire round about him. The violence of this man surely resembled
the violence of Africa. There was something terrible about it, yet
also something noble, for it suggested a male power, which might make
for either good or evil, but which had nothing to do with littleness.
For a moment Count Anteoni and the priest were dwarfed, as if they had
come into the presence of a giant.
The Arabs handed round fruit. And now the song died softly away. Only
the instruments went on playing. The distant tomtom was surely the
beating of that heart into whose mysteries no other human heart could
look. Its reiterated and dim throbbing affected Domini almost
terribly. She was relieved, yet regretful, when at length it ceased.
"Shall we go into the ante-room?" the Count said. "Coffee will be
"Oh, but--don't let us see them!" Domini exclaimed.
"You would rather not hear any more music?"
"If you don't mind!"
He gave an order in Arabic. One of the servants slipped away and
returned almost immediately.
"Now we can go," the Count said. "They have vanished."
The priest sighed. It was evident that the music had moved him too. As
they got up he said:
"Yes, there was beauty in that song and something more. Some of these
desert poets can teach us to think."
"A dangerous lesson, perhaps," said the Count. "What do you say,
Androvsky was on his feet. His eyes were turned toward the door
through which the sound of the music had come.
"I!" he answered. "I--Monsieur, I am afraid that to me this music
means very little. I cannot judge of it."
"But the words?" asked the Count with a certain pressure.
"They do not seem to me to suggest much more than the music."
The Count said no more. As she went into the outer room Domini felt
angry, as she had felt angry in the garden at Sidi-Zerzour when
"These native women do not interest me. I see nothing attractive in
For now, as then, she knew that he had lied.
Domini came into the ante-room alone. The three men had paused for a
moment behind her, and the sound of a match struck reached her ears as
she went listlessly forward to the door which was open to the broad
garden path, and stood looking out into the sunshine. Butterflies were
flitting here and there through the riot of gold, and she heard faint
bird-notes from the shadows of the trees, echoed by the more distant
twitter of Larbi's flute. On the left, between the palms, she caught
glimpses of the desert and of the hard and brilliant mountains, and,
as she stood there, she remembered her sensations on first entering
the garden and how soon she had learned to love it. It had always
seemed to her a sunny paradise of peace until this moment. But now she
felt as if she were compassed about by clouds.
The vagrant movement of the butterflies irritated her eyes, the
distant sound of the flute distressed her ears, and all the peace had
gone. Once again this man destroyed the spell Nature had cast upon
her. Because she knew that he had lied, her joy in the garden, her
deeper joy in the desert that embraced it, were stricken. Yet why
should he not lie? Which of us does not lie about his feelings? Has
reserve no right to armour?
She heard her companions entering the room and turned round. At that
moment her heart was swept by an emotion almost of hatred to
Androvsky. Because of it she smiled. A forced gaiety dawned in her.
She sat down on one of the low divans, and, as she asked Count Anteoni
for a cigarette and lit it, she thought, "How shall I punish him?"
That lie, not even told to her and about so slight a matter, seemed to
her an attack which she resented and must return. Not for a moment did
she ask herself if she were reasonable. A voice within her said, "I
will not be lied to, I will not even bear a lie told to another in my
presence by this man." And the voice was imperious.
Count Anteoni remained beside her, smoking a cigar. Father Roubier
took a seat by the little table in front of her. But Androvsky went
over to the door she had just left, and stood, as she had, looking out
into the sunshine. Bous-Bous followed him, and snuffed affectionately
round his feet, trying to gain his attention.
"My little dog seems very fond of your friend," the priest said to
She lowered her voice.
"He is only a travelling acquaintance. I know nothing of him."
The priest looked gently surprised and Count Anteoni blew forth a
fragrant cloud of smoke.
"He seems a remarkable man," the priest said mildly.
"Do you think so?"
She began to speak to Count Anteoni about some absurdity of Batouch,
forcing her mind into a light and frivolous mood, and he echoed her
tone with a clever obedience for which secretly she blessed him. In a
moment they were laughing together with apparent merriment, and Father
Roubier smiled innocently at their light-heartedness, believing in it
sincerely. But Androvsky suddenly turned around with a dark and morose
"Come in out of the sunshine," said the Count. "It is too strong. Try
this chair. Coffee will be--ah, here it is!"
Two servants appeared, carrying it.
"Thank you, Monsieur," Androvsky said with reluctant courtesy.
He came towards them with determination and sat down, drawing forward
his chair till he was facing Domini. Directly he was quiet Bous-Bous
sprang upon his knee and lay down hastily, blinking his eyes, which
were almost concealed by hair, and heaving a sigh which made the
priest look kindly at him, even while he said deprecatingly:
"Bous-Bous! Bous-Bous! Little rascal, little pig--down, down!"
"Oh, leave him, Monsieur!" muttered Androvsky. "It's all the same to
"He really has no shame where his heart is concerned."
"Arab!" said the Count. "He has learnt it in Beni-Mora."
"Perhaps he has taken lessons from Larbi," said Domini. "Hark! He is
playing to-day. For whom?"
"I never ask now," said the Count. "The name changes so often."
"Constancy is not an Arab fault?" Domini asked.
"You say 'fault,' Madame," interposed the priest.
"Yes, Father," she returned with a light touch of conscious cynicism.
"Surely in this world that which is apt to bring inevitable misery
with it must be accounted a fault."
"But can constancy do that?"
"Don't you think so, into a world of ceaseless change?"
"Then how shall we reckon truth in a world of lies?" asked the Count.
"Is that a fault, too?"
"Ask Monsieur Androvsky," said Domini, quickly.
"I obey," said the Count, looking over at his guest.
"Ah, but I am sure I know," Domini added. "I am sure you think truth a
thing we should all avoid in such a world as this. Don't you,
"If you are sure, Madame, why ask me?" Androvsky replied.
There was in his voice a sound that was startling. Suddenly the priest
reached out his hand and lifted Bous-Bous on to his knee, and Count
Anteoni very lightly and indifferently interposed.
"Truth-telling among Arabs becomes a dire necessity to Europeans. One
cannot out-lie them, and it doesn't pay to run second to Orientals. So
one learns, with tears, to be sincere. Father Roubier is shocked by my
apologia for my own blatant truthfulness."
The priest laughed.
"I live so little in what is called 'the world' that I'm afraid I'm
very ready to take drollery for a serious expression of opinion."
He stroked Bous-Bous's white back, and added, with a simple geniality
that seemed to spring rather from a desire to be kind than from any
"But I hope I shall always be able to enjoy innocent fun."
As he spoke his eyes rested on Androvsky's face, and suddenly he
looked grave and put Bous-Bous gently down on the floor.
"I'm afraid I must be going," he said.
"Already?" said his host.
"I dare not allow myself too much idleness. If once I began to be idle
in this climate I should become like an Arab and do nothing all day
but sit in the sun."
"As I do. Father, we meet very seldom, but whenever we do I feel
myself a cumberer of the earth."
Domini had never before heard him speak with such humbleness. The
priest flushed like a boy.
"We each serve in our own way," he said quickly. "The Arab who sits
all day in the sun may be heard as a song of praise where He is."
And then he took his leave. This time he did not extend his hand to
Androvsky, but only bowed to him, lifting his white helmet. As he went
away in the sun with Bous-Bous the three he had left followed him with
their eyes. For Androvsky had turned his chair sideways, as if
"I shall learn to love Father Roubier," Domini said.
Androvsky moved his seat round again till his back was to the garden,
and placed his broad hands palm downward on his knees.
"Yes?" said the Count.
"He is so transparently good, and he bears his great disappointment so
"What great disappointment?"
"He longed to become a monk."
Androvsky got up from his seat and walked back to the garden doorway.
His restless demeanour and lowering expression destroyed all sense of
calm and leisure. Count Anteoni looked after him, and then at Domini,
with a sort of playful surprise. He was going to speak, but before the
words came Smain appeared, carrying reverently a large envelope
covered with Arab writing.
"Will you excuse me for a moment?" the Count said.
He took the letter, and at once a vivid expression of excitement shone
in his eyes. When he had read it there was a glow upon his face as if
the flames of a fire played over it.
"Miss Enfilden," he said, "will you think me very discourteous if I
leave you for a moment? The messenger who brought this has come from
far and starts to-day on his return journey. He has come out of the
south, three hundred kilometres away, from Beni-Hassan, a sacred
village--a sacred village."
He repeated the last words, lowering his voice.
"Of course go and see him."
He glanced towards Androvsky, who was standing with his back to them.
"Won't you show Monsieur Androvsky the garden?"
Hearing his name Androvsky turned, and the Count at once made his
excuses to him and followed Smain towards the garden gate, carrying
the letter that had come from Beni-Hassan in his hand.
When he had gone Domini remained on the divan, and Androvsky by the
door, with his eyes on the ground. She took another cigarette from the
box on the table beside her, struck a match and lit it carefully. Then
"Do you care to see the garden?"
She spoke indifferently, coldly. The desire to show her Paradise to
him had died away, but the parting words of the Count prompted the
question, and so she put it as to a stranger.
"Thank you, Madame--yes," he replied, as if with an effort.
She got up, and they went out together on to the broad walk.
"Which way do you want to go?" she asked.
She saw him glance at her quickly, with anxiety in his eyes.
"You know best where we should go, Madame."
"I daresay you won't care about it. Probably you are not interested in
gardens. It does not matter really which path we take. They are all
very much alike."
"I am sure they are all very beautiful."
Suddenly he had become humble, anxious to please her. But now the
violent contrasts in him, unlike the violent contrasts of nature in
this land, exasperated her. She longed to be left alone. She felt
ashamed of Androvsky, and also of herself; she condemned herself
bitterly for the interest she had taken in him, for her desire to put
some pleasure into a life she had deemed sad, for her curiosity about
him, for her wish to share joy with him. She laughed at herself
secretly for what she now called her folly in having connected him
imaginatively with the desert, whereas in reality he made the desert,
as everything he approached, lose in beauty and wonder. His was a
destructive personality. She knew it now. Why had she not realised it
before? He was a man to put gall in the cup of pleasure, to create
uneasiness, self-consciousness, constraint round about him, to call up
spectres at the banquet of life. Well, in the future she could avoid
him. After to-day she need never have any more intercourse with him.
With that thought, that interior sense of her perfect freedom in
regard to this man, an abrupt, but always cold, content came to her,
putting him a long way off where surely all that he thought and did
was entirely indifferent to her.
"Come along then," she said. "We'll go this way."
And she turned down an alley which led towards the home of the purple
dog. She did not know at the moment that anything had influenced her
to choose that particular path, but very soon the sound of Larbi's
flute grew louder, and she guessed that in reality the music had
attracted her. Androvsky walked beside her without a word. She felt
that he was not looking about him, not noticing anything, and all at
once she stopped decisively.
"Why should we take all this trouble?" she said bluntly. "I hate
pretence and I thought I had travelled far away from it. But we are
"Pretending, Madame?" he said in a startled voice.
"Yes. I that I want to show you this garden, you that you want to see
it. I no longer wish to show it to you, and you have never wished to
see it. Let us cease to pretend. It is all my fault. I bothered you to
come here when you didn't want to come. You have taught me a lesson. I
was inclined to condemn you for it, to be angry with you. But why
should I be? You were quite right. Freedom is my fetish. I set you
free, Monsieur Androvsky. Good-bye."
As she spoke she felt that the air was clearing, the clouds were
flying. Constraint at least was at an end. And she had really the
sensation of setting a captive at liberty. She turned to leave him,
but he said:
"Please, stop, Madame."
"You have made a mistake."
"I do want to see this garden."
"Really? Well, then, you can wander through it."
"I do not wish to see it alone."
"Larbi shall guide you. For half a franc he will gladly give up his
"Madame, if you will not show me the garden I will not see it at all.
I will go now and will never come into it again. I do not pretend."
"Ah!" she said, and her voice was quite changed. "But you do worse."
"Yes. You lie in the face of Africa."
She did not wish or mean to say it, and yet she had to say it. She
knew it was monstrous that she should speak thus to him. What had his
lies to do with her? She had been told a thousand, had heard a
thousand told to others. Her life had been passed in a world of which
the words of the Psalmist, though uttered in haste, are a clear-cut
description. And she had not thought she cared. Yet really she must
have cared. For, in leaving this world, her soul had, as it were,
fetched a long breath. And now, at the hint of a lie, it instinctively
recoiled as from a gust of air laden with some poisonous and
"Forgive me," she added. "I am a fool. Out here I do love truth."
Androvsky dropped his eyes. His whole body expressed humiliation, and
something that suggested to her despair.
"Oh, you must think me mad to speak like this!" she exclaimed. "Of
course people must be allowed to arm themselves against the curiosity
of others. I know that. The fact is I am under a spell here. I have
been living for many, many years in the cold. I have been like a woman
in a prison without any light, and--"
"You have been in a prison!" he said, lifting his head and looking at
"I have been living in what is called the great world."
"And you call that a prison?"
"Now that I am living in the greater world, really living at last. I
have been in the heart of insincerity, and now I have come into the
heart, the fiery heart of sincerity. It's there--there"--she pointed
to the desert. "And it has intoxicated me; I think it has made me
unreasonable. I expect everyone--not an Arab--to be as it is, and
every little thing that isn't quite frank, every pretence, is like a
horrible little hand tugging at me, as if trying to take me back to
the prison I have left. I think, deep down, I have always loathed
lies, but never as I have loathed them since I came here. It seems to
me as if only in the desert there is freedom for the body, and only in
truth there is freedom for the soul."
She stopped, drew a long breath, and added:
"You must forgive me. I have worried you. I have made you do what you
didn't want to do. And then I have attacked you. It is unpardonable."
"Show me the garden, Madame," he said in a very low voice.
Her outburst over, she felt a slight self-consciousness. She wondered
what he thought of her and became aware of her unconventionality. His
curious and persistent reticence made her frankness the more marked.
Yet the painful sensation of oppression and exasperation had passed
away from her and she no longer thought of his personality as
destructive. In obedience to his last words she walked on, and he kept
heavily beside her, till they were in the deep shadows of the closely-
growing trees and the spell of the garden began to return upon her,
banishing the thought of self.
"Listen!" she said presently.
Larbi's flute was very near.
"He is always playing," she whispered.
"Who is he?"
"One of the gardeners. But he scarcely ever works. He is perpetually
in love. That is why he plays."
"Is that a love-tune then?" Androvsky asked.
"Yes. Do you think it sounds like one?"
"How should I know, Madame?"
He stood looking in the direction from which the music came, and now
it seemed to hold him fascinated. After his question, which sounded to
her almost childlike, and which she did not answer, Domini glanced at
his attentive face, to which the green shadows lent a dimness that was
mysterious, at his tall figure, which always suggested to her both
weariness and strength, and remembered the passionate romance to whose
existence she awoke when she first heard Larbi's flute. It was as if a
shutter, which had closed a window in the house of life, had been
suddenly drawn away, giving to her eyes the horizon of a new world.
Was that shutter now drawn back for him? No doubt the supposition was
absurd. Men of his emotional and virile type have travelled far in
that world, to her mysterious, ere they reach his length of years.
What was extraordinary to her, in the thought of it alone, was
doubtless quite ordinary to him, translated into act. Not ignorant,
she was nevertheless a perfectly innocent woman, but her knowledge
told her that no man of Androvsky's strength, power and passion is
innocent at Androvsky's age. Yet his last dropped-out question was
very deceptive. It had sounded absolutely natural and might have come
from a boy's pure lips. Again he made her wonder.
There was a garden bench close to where they were standing. "If you
like to listen for a moment we might sit down," she said.
"Yes. Thank you."
When they were sitting side by side, closely guarded by the gigantic
fig and chestnut trees which grew in this part of the garden, he
"Whom does he love?"
"No doubt one of those native women whom you consider utterly without
attraction," she answered with a faint touch of malice which made him
"But you come here every day?" he said.
"Yes. Has he ever seen you?"
"Larbi? Often. What has that to do with it?"
He did not reply.
Odd and disconnected as Larbi's melodies were, they created an
atmosphere of wild tenderness. Spontaneously they bubbled up out of
the heart of the Eastern world and, when the player was invisible as
now, suggested an ebon faun couched in hot sand at the foot of a palm
tree and making music to listening sunbeams and amorous spirits of the
"Do you like it?" she said presently in an under voice.
"Yes, Madame. And you?"
"I love it, but not as I love the song of the freed negroes. That is a
song of all the secrets of humanity and of the desert too. And it does
not try to tell them. It only says that they exist and that God knows
them. But, I remember, you do not like that song."
"Madame," he answered slowly, and as if he were choosing his words, "I
see that you understood. The song did move me though I said not. But
no, I do not like it."
"Do you care to tell me why?"
"Such a song as that seems to me an--it is like an intrusion. There
are things that should be let alone. There are dark places that should
be left dark."
"You mean that all human beings hold within them secrets, and that no
allusion even should ever be made to those secrets?"
After a pause he said, anxiously, she thought:
"Am I right, Madame, or is my thought ridiculous?"
He asked it so simply that she felt touched.
"I'm sure you could never be ridiculous," she said quickly. "And
perhaps you are right. I don't know. That song makes me think and
feel, and so I love it. Perhaps if you heard it alone--"
"Then I should hate it," he interposed.
His voice was like an uncontrolled inner voice speaking.
"And not thought and feeling--" she began.
But he interrupted her.
"They make all the misery that exists in the world."
"And all the happiness."
"Then you want to think deeply, to feel deeply?"
"Yes. I would rather be the central figure of a world-tragedy than die
without having felt to the uttermost, even if it were sorrow. My whole
nature revolts against the idea of being able to feel little or
nothing really. It seems to me that when we begin to feel acutely we
begin to grow, like the palm tree rising towards the African sun."
"I do not think you have ever been very unhappy," he said. The sound
of his voice as he said it made her suddenly feel as if it were true,
as if she had never been utterly unhappy. Yet she had never been
really happy. Africa had taught her that.
"Perhaps not," she answered. "But--some day--"
"Could one stay long in such a world as this and not be either
intensely happy or intensely unhappy? I don't feel as if it would be
possible. Fierceness and fire beat upon one day after day and--one
must learn to feel here."
As she spoke a sensation of doubt, almost of apprehension, came to
her. She was overtaken by a terror of the desert. For a moment it
seemed to her that he was right, that it were better never to be the
prey of any deep emotion.
"If one does not wish to feel one should never come to such a place as
this," she added.
And she longed to ask him why he was here, he, a man whose philosophy
told him to avoid the heights and depths, to shun the ardours of
nature and of life.
"Or, having come, one should leave it."
A sensation of lurking danger increased upon her, bringing with it the
thought of flight.
"One can always do that," she said, looking at him. She saw fear in
his eyes, but it seemed to her that it was not fear of peril, but fear
of flight. So strongly was this idea borne in upon her that she
"Unless it is one's nature to face things, never to turn one's back.
Is it yours, Monsieur Androvsky?"
"Fear could never drive me to leave Beni-Moni," he answered.
"Sometimes I think that the only virtue in us is courage," she said,
"that it includes all the others. I believe I could forgive everything
where I found absolute courage."
Androvsky's eyes were lit up as if by a flicker of inward fire.
"You might create the virtue you love," he said hoarsely.
They looked at each other for a moment. Did he mean that she might
create it in him?
Perhaps she would have asked, or perhaps he would have told her, but
at that moment something happened. Larbi stopped playing. In the last
few minutes they had both forgotten that he was playing, but when he
ceased the garden changed. Something was withdrawn in which, without
knowing it, they had been protecting themselves, and when the music
faded their armour dropped away from them. With the complete silence
came an altered atmosphere, the tenderness of mysticism instead of the
tenderness of a wild humanity. The love of man seemed to depart out of
the garden and another love to enter it, as when God walked under the
trees in the cool of the day. And they sat quite still, as if a common
impulse muted their lips. In the long silence that followed Domini
thought of her mirage of the palm tree growing towards the African
sun, feeling growing in the heart of a human being. But was it a
worthy image? For the palm tree rises high. It soars into the air. But
presently it ceases to grow. There is nothing infinite in its growth.
And the long, hot years pass away and there it stands, never nearer to
the infinite gold of the sun. But in the intense feeling of a man or
woman is there not infinitude? Is there not a movement that is
ceaseless till death comes to destroy--or to translate?
That was what she was thinking in the silence of the garden. And
Androvsky? He sat beside her with his head bent, his hands hanging
between his knees, his eyes gazing before him at the ordered tangle of
the great trees. His lips were slightly parted, and on his strongly-
marked face there was an expression as of emotional peace, as if the
soul of the man were feeling deeply in calm. The restlessness, the
violence that had made his demeanour so embarrassing during and after
the /dejeuner/ had vanished. He was a different man. And presently,
noticing it, feeling his sensitive serenity, Domini seemed to see the
great Mother at work about this child of hers, Nature at her tender
task of pacification. The shared silence became to her like a song of
thanksgiving, in which all the green things of the garden joined. And
beyond them the desert lay listening, the Garden of Allah attentive to
the voices of man's garden. She could hardly believe that but a few
minutes before she had been full of irritation and bitterness, not
free even from a touch of pride that was almost petty. But when she
remembered that it was so she realised the abysses and the heights of
which the heart is mingled, and an intense desire came to her to be
always upon the heights of her own heart. For there only was the light
of happiness. Never could she know joy if she forswore nobility. Never
could she be at peace with the love within her--love of something that
was not self, of something that seemed vaguer than God, as if it had
entered into God and made him Love--unless she mounted upwards during
her little span of life. Again, as before in this land, in the first
sunset, on the tower, on the minaret of the mosque of Sidi-Zerzour,
Nature spoke to her intimate words of inspiration, laid upon her the
hands of healing, giving her powers she surely had not known or
conceived of till now. And the passion that is the chiefest grace of
goodness, making it the fire that purifies, as it is the little sister
of the poor that tends the suffering, the hungry, the groping beggar-
world, stirred within her, like the child not yet born, but whose
destiny is with the angels. And she longed to make some great offering
at the altar on whose lowest step she stood, and she was filled, for
the first time consciously, with woman's sacred desire for sacrifice.
A soft step on the sand broke the silence and scattered her
aspirations. Count Anteoni was coming towards them between the trees.
The light of happiness was still upon his face and made him look much
younger than usual. His whole bearing, in its elasticity and buoyant
courage, was full of anticipation. As he came up to them he said to
"Do you remember chiding me?"
"I!" she said. "For what?"
Androvsky sat up and the expression of serenity passed away from his
"For never galloping away into the sun."
"Oh!--yes, I do remember."
"Well, I am going to obey you. I am going to make a journey."
"Into the desert?"
"Three hundred kilometers on horseback. I start to-morrow."
She looked up at him with a new interest. He saw it and laughed,
almost like a boy.
"Ah, your contempt for me is dying!"
"How can you speak of contempt?"
"But you were full of it." He turned to Androvsky. "Miss Enfilden
thought I could not sit a horse, Monsieur, unlike you. Forgive me for
saying that you are almost more dare-devil than the Arabs themselves.
I saw you the other day set your stallion at the bank of the river
bed. I did not think any horse could have done it, but you knew
"I did not know at all," said Androvsky. "I had not ridden for over
twenty years until that day."
He spoke with a blunt determination which made Domini remember their
recent conversation on truth-telling.
"Dio mio!" said the Count, slowly, and looking at him with undisguised
wonder. "You must have a will and a frame of iron."
"I am pretty strong."
He spoke rather roughly. Since the Count had joined them Domini
noticed that Androvsky had become a different man. Once more he was on
the defensive. The Count did not seem to notice it. Perhaps he was too
"I hope I shall endure as well as you, Monsieur," he said. "I go to
Beni-Hassan to visit Sidi El Hadj Aissa, one of the mightiest
marabouts in the Sahara. In your Church," he added, turning again to
Domini, "he would be a powerful Cardinal."
She noticed the "your." Evidently the Count was not a professing
Catholic. Doubtless, like many modern Italians, he was a free-thinker
in matters of religion.
"I am afraid I have never heard of him," she said. "In which direction
does Beni-Hassan lie?"
"To go there one takes the caravan route that the natives call the
route to Tombouctou."
An eager look came into her face.
"My road!" she said.
"The one I shall travel on. You remember, Monsieur Androvsky?"
"Let me into your secret," said the Count, laughingly, yet with
"It is no secret. It is only that I love that route. It fascinates me,
and I mean some day to make a desert journey along it."
"What a pity that we cannot join forces," the Count said. "I should
feel it an honour to show the desert to one who has the reverence for
it, the understanding of its spell, that you have."
He spoke earnestly, paused, and then added:
"But I know well what you are thinking."
"What is that?"
"That you will go to the desert alone. You are right. It is the only
way, at any rate the first time. I went like that many years ago."
She said nothing in assent, and Androvsky got up from the bench.
"I must go, Monsieur."
"Already! But have you seen the garden?"
"It is wonderful. Good-bye, Monsieur. Thank you."
"But--let me see you to the gate. On Fridays----"
He was turning to Domini when she got up too.
"Don't you distribute alms on Fridays?" she said.
"How should you know it?"
"I have heard all about you. But is this the hour?"
"Let me see the distribution."
"And we will speed Monsieur Androvsky on his way at the same time."
She noticed that there was no question in his mind of her going with
Androvsky. Did she mean to go with him? She had not decided yet.
They walked towards the gate and were soon on the great sweep of sand
before the villa. A murmur of many voices was audible outside in the
desert, nasal exclamations, loud guttural cries that sounded angry,
the twittering of flutes and the snarl of camels.
"Do you hear my pensioners?" said the Count. "They are always
There was the noise of a tomtom and of a whining shriek.
"That is old Bel Cassem's announcement of his presence. He has been
living on me for years, the old ruffian, ever since his right eye was
gouged out by his rival in the affections of the Marechale of the
He blew his silver whistle. Instantly Smain came out of the villa
carrying a money-bag. The Count took it and weighed it in his hand,
looking at Domini with the joyous expression still upon his face.
"Have you ever made a thank-offering?" he said.
"That tells me something. Well, to-day I wish to make a thank-offering
to the desert."
"What has it done for you?"
"Who knows? Who knows?"
He laughed aloud, almost like a boy. Androvsky glanced at him with a
sort of wondering envy.
"And I want you to share in my little distribution," he added. "And
you, Monsieur, if you don't mind. There are moments when-- Open the
His ardour was infectious and Domini felt stirred by it to a sudden
sense of the joy of life. She looked at Androvsky, to include him in
the rigour of gaiety which swept from the Count to her, and found him
staring apprehensively at the Count, who was now loosening the string
of the bag. Smain had reached the gate. He lifted the bar of wood and
opened it. Instantly a crowd of dark faces and turbaned heads were
thrust through the tall aperture, a multitude of dusky hands fluttered
frantically, and the cry of eager voices, saluting, begging, calling
down blessings, relating troubles, shrieking wants, proclaiming
virtues and necessities, rose into an almost deafening uproar. But not
a foot was lifted over the lintel to press the sunlit sand. The
Count's pensioners might be clamorous, but they knew what they might
not do. As he saw them the wrinkles in his face deepened and his
fingers quickened to achieve their purpose.
"My pensioners are very hungry to-day, and, as you see, they don't
mind saying so. Hark at Bel Cassem!"
The tomtom and the shriek that went with it made it a fierce
"That means he is starving--the old hypocrite! Aren't they like the
wolves in your Russia, Monsieur? But we must feed them. We mustn't let
them devour our Beni-Mora. That's it!"
He threw the string on to the sand, plunged his hand into the bag and
brought it out full of copper coins. The mouths opened wider, the
hands waved more frantically, and all the dark eyes gleamed with the
light of greed.
"Will you help me?" he said to Domini.
"Of course. What fun!"
Her eyes were gleaming too, but with the dancing fires of a gay
impulse of generosity which made her wish that the bag contained her
money. He filled her hands with coins.
"Choose whom you will. And now, Monsieur!"
For the moment he was so boyishly concentrated on the immediate
present that he had ceased to observe whether the whim of others
jumped with his own. Otherwise he must have been struck by Androvsky's
marked discomfort, which indeed almost amounted to agitation. The
sight of the throng of Arabs at the gateway, the clamour of their
voices, evidently roused within him something akin to fear. He looked
at them with distaste, and had drawn back several steps upon the sand,
and now, as the Count held out to him a hand filled with money, he
made no motion to take it, and half turned as if he thought of
retreating into the recesses of the garden.
"Here, Monsieur! here!" exclaimed the Count, with his eyes on the
crowd, towards which Domini was walking with a sort of mischievous
slowness, to whet those appetites already so voracious.
Androvsky set his teeth and took the money, dropping one or two pieces
on the ground. For a moment the Count seemed doubtful of his guest's
participation in his own lively mood.
"Is this boring you?" he asked. "Because if so--"
"No, no, Monsieur, not at all! What am I to do?"
"Those hands will tell you."
The clamour grew more exigent.
"And when you want more come to me!"
Then he called out in Arabic, "Gently! Gently!" as the vehement
scuffling seemed about to degenerate into actual fighting at Domini's
approach, and hurried forward, followed more slowly by Androvsky.
Smain, from whose velvety eyes the dreams were not banished by the
uproar, stood languidly by the porter's tent, gazing at Androvsky.
Something in the demeanour of the new visitor seemed to attract him.
Domini, meanwhile, had reached the gateway. Gently, with a capricious
deftness and all a woman's passion for personal choice, she dropped
the bits of money into the hands belonging to the faces that attracted
her, disregarding the bellowings of those passed over. The light from
all these gleaming eyes made her feel warm, the clamour that poured
from these brown throats excited her. When her fingers were empty she
touched the Count's arm eagerly.
"More, more, please!"
He held out to her the bag. She plunged her hands into it and came
nearer to the gate, both hands full of money and held high above her
head. The Arabs leapt up at her like dogs at a bone, and for a moment
she waited, laughing with all her heart. Then she made a movement to
throw the money over the heads of the near ones to the unfortunates
who were dancing and shrieking on the outskirts of the mob. But
suddenly her hands dropped and she uttered a startled exclamation.
The sand-diviner of the red bazaar, slipping like a reptile under the
waving arms and between the furious bodies of the beggars, stood up
before her with a smile on his wounded face, stretched out to her his
emaciated hands with a fawning, yet half satirical, gesture of desire.
The money dropped from Domini's fingers and rolled upon the sand at
the Diviner's feet. But though he had surely come to ask for alms, he
took no heed of it. While the Arabs round him fell upon their knees
and fought like animals for the plunder, he stood gaping at Domini.
The smile still flickered about his lips. His hand was still stretched
Instinctively she had moved backwards. Something that was like a
thrill of fear, mental, not physical, went through her, but she kept
her eyes steadily on his, as if, despite the fear, she fought against
The contest of the beggars had become so passionate that Count
Anteoni's commands were forgotten. Urged by the pressure from behind
those in the front scrambled or fell over the sacred threshold. The
garden was invaded by a shrieking mob. Smain ran forward, and the
autocrat that dwelt in the Count side by side with the benefactor
suddenly emerged. He blew his whistle four times. At each call a
stalwart Arab appeared.
"Shut the gate!" he commanded sternly.
The attendants furiously repulsed the mob, using their fists and feet
without mercy. In the twinkling of an eye the sand was cleared and
Smain had his hand upon the door to shut it. But the Diviner stopped
him with a gesture, and in a fawning yet imperious voice called out
something to the Count.
The Count turned to Domini.
"This is an interesting fellow. Would you like to know him?"
Her mind said no, yet her body assented. For she bowed her head. The
Count beckoned. The Diviner stepped stealthily on to the sand with an
air of subtle triumph, and Smain swung forward the great leaf of palm
"Wait!" the Count cried, as if suddenly recollecting something. "Where
is Monsieur Androvsky?"
"Isn't he----?" Domini glanced round. "I don't know."
He went quickly to the door and looked out. The Arabs, silent now and
respectful, crowded about him, salaaming. He smiled at them kindly,
and spoke to one or two. They answered gravely. An old man with one
eye lifted his hand, in which was a tomtom of stretched goatskin, and
pointed towards the oasis, rapidly moving his toothless jaws. The
Count stepped back into the garden, dismissed his pensioners with a
masterful wave of the hand, and himself shut the door.
"Monsieur Androvsky has gone--without saying good-bye," he said.
Again Domini felt ashamed for Androvsky.
"I don't think he likes my pensioners," the Count added, in amused
voice, "or me."
"I am sure--" Domini began.
But he stopped her.
"Miss Enfilden, in a world of lies I look to you for truth."
His manner chafed her, but his voice had a ring of earnestness. She
said nothing. All this time the Diviner was standing on the sand,
still smiling, but with downcast eyes. His thin body looked satirical
and Domini felt a strong aversion from him, yet a strong interest in
him too. Something in his appearance and manner suggested power and
mystery as well as cunning. The Count said some words to him in
Arabic, and at once he walked forward and disappeared among the trees,
going so silently and smoothly that she seemed to watch a panther
gliding into the depths of a jungle where its prey lay hid. She looked
at the Count interrogatively.
"He will wait in the /fumoir/."
"Where we first met?"
"For us, if you choose."
"Tell me about him. I have seen him twice. He followed me with a bag
"He is a desert man. I don't know his tribe, but before he settled
here he was a nomad, one of the wanderers who dwell in tents, a man of
the sand; as much of the sand as a viper or a scorpion. One would
suppose such beings were bred by the marriage of the sand-grains. The
sand tells him secrets."
"He says. Do you believe it?"
"Would you like to test it?"
"By coming with me to the /fumoir/?"
She hesitated obviously.
"Mind," he added, "I do not press it. A word from me and he is gone.
But you are fearless, and you have spoken already, will speak much
more intimately in the future, with the desert spirits."
"How do you know that?"
"The 'much more intimately'?"
"I do not know it, but--which is much more--I feel it."
She was silent, looking towards the trees where the Diviner had
disappeared. Count Anteoni's boyish merriment had faded away. He
looked grave, almost sad.
"I am not afraid," she said at last. "No, but--I will confess it--
there is something horrible about that man to me. I felt it the first
time I saw him. His eyes are too intelligent. They look diseased with
"Let me send him away. Smain!"
But she stopped him. Directly he made the suggestion she felt that she
must know more of this man.
"No. Let us go to the /fumoir/."
"Very well. Go, Smain!"
Smain went into the little tent by the gate, sat down on his haunches
and began to smell at a sprig of orange blossoms. Domini and the Count
walked into the darkness of the trees.
"What is his name?" she asked.
She repeated the word slowly. There was a reluctant and yet fascinated
sound in her voice.
"There is melody in the name," he said.
"Yes. Has he--has he ever looked in the sand for you?"
"Once--a long time ago."
"May I--dare I ask if he found truth there?"
"He found nothing for all the years that have passed since then."
There was a sound of relief in her voice.
"For those years."
She glanced at him and saw that once again his face had lit up into
"He found what is still to come?" she said.
And he repeated:
"He found what is still to come."
Then they walked on in silence till they saw the purple blossoms of
the bougainvillea clinging to the white walls of the /fumoir/. Domini
stopped on the narrow path.
"Is he in there?" she asked almost in a whisper.
"Larbi was playing the first day I came here."
"I wish he was playing now."
The silence seemed to her unnaturally intense.
"Even his love must have repose."
She went on a step or two till, but still from a distance, she could
look over the low plaster wall beneath the nearest window space into
the little room.
"Yes, there he is," she whispered.
The Diviner was crouching on the floor with his back towards them and
his head bent down. Only his shoulders could be seen, covered with a
white gandoura. They moved perpetually but slightly.
"What is he doing?"
"Speaking with his ancestor."
"The sand. Aloui!"
He called softly. The figure rose, without sound and instantly, and
the face of the Diviner smiled at them through the purple flowers.
Again Domini had the sensation that her body was a glass box in which
her thoughts, feelings and desires were ranged for this man's
inspection; but she walked resolutely through the narrow doorway and
sat down on one of the divans. Count Anteoni followed.
She now saw that in the centre of the room, on the ground, there was a
symmetrical pyramid of sand, and that the Diviner was gently folding
together a bag in his long and flexible fingers.
"You see!" said the Count.
She nodded, without speaking. The little sand heap held her eyes. She
strove to think it absurd and the man who had shaken it out a
charlatan of the desert, but she was really gripped by an odd feeling
of awe, as if she were secretly expectant of some magical
The Diviner squatted down once more on his haunches, stretched out his
fingers above the sand heap, looked at her and smiled.
"La vie de Madame--I see it in the sable--la vie de Madame dans le
grand desert du Sahara."
His eyes seemed to rout out the secrets from every corner of her
being, and to scatter them upon the ground as the sand was scattered.
"Dans le grand desert du Sahara," Count Anteoni repeated, as if he
loved the music of the words. "Then there is a desert life for
The Diviner dropped his fingers on to the pyramid, lightly pressing
the sand down and outward. He no longer looked at Domini. The
searching and the satire slipped away from his eyes and body. He
seemed to have forgotten the two watchers and to be concentrated upon
the grains of sand. Domini noticed that the tortured expression, which
had come into his face when she met him in the street and he stared
into the bag, had returned to it. After pressing down the sand he
spread the bag which had held it at Domini's feet, and deftly
transferred the sand to it, scattering the grains loosely over the
sacking, in a sort of pattern. Then, bending closely over them, he
stared at them in silence for a long time. His pock-marked face was
set like stone. His emaciated hands, stretched out, rested above the
grains like carven things. His body seemed entirely breathless in its
The Count stood in the doorway, still as he was, surrounded by the
motionless purple flowers. Beyond, in their serried ranks, stood the
motionless trees. No incense was burning in the little brazier to-day.
This cloistered world seemed spell-bound.
A low murmur at last broke the silence. It came from the Diviner. He
began to talk rapidly, but as if to himself, and as he talked he moved
again, broke up with his fingers the patterns in the sand, formed
fresh ones; spirals, circles, snake-like lines, series of mounting
dots that reminded Domini of spray flung by a fountain, curves,
squares and oblongs. So swiftly was it done and undone that the sand
seemed to be endowed with life, to be explaining itself in these
patterns, to be presenting deliberate glimpses of hitherto hidden
truths. And always the voice went on, and the eyes were downcast, and
the body, save for the moving hands and arms, was absolutely
Domini looked over the Diviner to Count Anteoni, who came gently
forward and sat down, bending his head to listen to the voice.
"Is it Arabic?" she whispered.
"Can you understand it?"
"Not yet. Presently it will get slower, clearer. He always begins like
"Translate it for me."
"Exactly as it is?"
"Exactly as it is."
"Whatever it may be?"
"Whatever it may be."
He glanced at the tortured face of the Diviner and looked grave.
"Remember you have said I am fearless," she said.
"Whatever it is you shall know it."
Then they were silent again. Gradually the Diviner's voice grew
clearer, the pace of its words less rapid, but always it sounded
mysterious and inward, less like the voice of a man than the distant
voice of a secret.
"I can hear now," whispered the Count.
"What is he saying?"
"He is speaking about the desert."
"He sees a great storm. Wait a moment!"
The voice spoke for some seconds and ceased, and once again the
Diviner remained absolutely motionless, with his hands extended above
the grains like carven things.
"He sees a great sand-storm, one of the most terrible that has ever
burst over the Sahara. Everything is blotted out. The desert vanishes.
Beni-Mora is hidden. It is day, yet there is a darkness like night. In
this darkness he sees a train of camels waiting by a church."
"No, a church. In the church there is a sound of music. The roar of
the wind, the roar of the camels, mingles with the chanting and drowns
it. He cannot hear it any more. It is as if the desert is angry and
wishes to kill the music. In the church your life is beginning."
"Your real life. He says that now you are fully born, that till now
there has been a veil around your soul like the veil of the womb
around a child."
"He says that!"
There was a sound of deep emotion in her voice.
"That is all. The roar of the wind from the desert has silenced the
music in the church, and all is dark."
The Diviner moved again, and formed fresh patterns in the sand with
feverish rapidity, and again began to speak swiftly.
"He sees the train of camels that waited by the church starting on a
desert journey. The storm has not abated. They pass through the oasis
into the desert. He sees them going towards the south."
Domini leaned forward on the divan, looking at Count Anteoni above the
bent body of the Diviner.
"By what route?" she whispered.
"By the route which the natives call the road to Tombouctou."
"But--it is my journey!"
"Upon one of the camels, in a palanquin such as the great sheikhs use
to carry their women, there are two people, protected against the
storm by curtains. They are silent, listening to the roaring of the
wind. One of them is you."
"But--who is the other?"
"He cannot see. It is as if the blackness of the storm were deeper
round about the other and hid the other from him. The caravan passes
on and is lost in the desolation and the storm."
She said nothing, but looked down at the thin body of the Diviner
crouched close to her knees. Was this pock-marked face the face of a
prophet? Did this skin and bone envelop the soul of a seer? She no
longer wished that Larbi was playing upon his flute or felt the
silence to be unnatural. For this man had filled it with the roar of
the desert wind. And in the wind there struggled and was finally lost
the sound of voices of her Faith chanting--what? The wind was too
strong. The voices were too faint. She could not hear.
Once more the Diviner stirred. For some minutes his fingers were busy
in the sand. But now they moved more slowly and no words came from his
lips. Domini and the Count bent low to watch what he was doing. The
look of torture upon his face increased. It was terrible, and made
upon Domini an indelible impression, for she could not help connecting
it with his vision of her future, and it suggested to her formless
phantoms of despair. She looked into the sand, as if she, too, would
be able to see what he saw and had not told, looked till she began to
feel almost hypnotised. The Diviner's hands trembled now as they made