Part 6 out of 12
the patterns, and his breast heaved under his white robe. Presently he
traced in the sand a triangle and began to speak.
The Count bent down till his ear was almost at the Diviner's lips, and
Domini held her breath. That caravan lost in the desolation of the
desert, in the storm and the darkness--where was it? What had been its
fate? Sweat ran down over the Diviner's face, and dropped upon his
robe, upon his hands, upon the sand, making dark spots. And the voice
whispered on huskily till she was in a fever of impatience. She saw
upon the face of the Count the Diviner's tortured look reflected. Was
it not also on her face? A link surely bound them all together in this
tiny room, close circled by the tall trees and the intense silence.
She looked at the triangle in the sand. It was very distinct, more
distinct than the other patterns had been. What did it represent? She
searched her mind, thinking of the desert, of her life there, of man's
life in the desert. Was it not tent-shaped? She saw it as a tent, as
her tent pitched somewhere in the waste far from the habitations of
men. Now the trembling hands were still, the voice was still, but the
sweat did not cease from dropping down upon the sand.
"Tell me!" she murmured to the Count.
He obeyed, seeming now to speak with an effort.
"It is far away in the desert----"
"Very far away in a sandy place. There are immense dunes, immense
white dunes of sand on every side, like mountains. Near at hand there
is a gleam of many fires. They are lit in the market-place of a desert
city. Among the dunes, with camels picketed behind it, there is a
She pointed to the triangle traced upon the sand.
"I knew it," she whispered. "It is my tent."
"He sees you there, as he saw you in the palanquin. But now it is
night and you are quite alone. You are not asleep. Something keeps you
awake. You are excited. You go out of the tent upon the dunes and look
towards the fires of the city. He hears the jackals howling all around
you, and sees the skeletons of dead camels white under the moon."
She shuddered in spite of herself.
"There is something tremendous in your soul. He says it is as if all
the date palms of the desert bore their fruit together, and in all the
dry places, where men and camels have died of thirst in bygone years,
running springs burst forth, and as if the sand were covered with
millions of golden flowers big as the flower of the aloe."
"But then it is joy, it must be joy!"
"He says it is great joy."
"Then why does he look like that, breathe like that?"
She indicated the Diviner, who was trembling where he crouched, and
breathing heavily, and always sweating like one in agony.
"There is more," said the Count, slowly.
"You stand alone upon the dunes and you look towards the city. He
hears the tomtoms beating, and distant cries as if there were a
fantasia. Then he sees a figure among the dunes coming towards you."
"Who is it?" she asked.
He did not answer. But she did not wish him to answer. She had spoken
without meaning to speak.
"You watch this figure. It comes to you, walking heavily."
"That's what he says. The dates shrivel on the palms, the streams dry
up, the flowers droop and die in the sand. In the city the tomtoms
faint away and the red fires fade away. All is dark and silent. And
then he sees--"
"Wait!" Domini said almost sharply.
He sat looking at her. She pressed her hands together. In her dark
face, with its heavy eyebrows and strong, generous mouth, a contest
showed, a struggle between some quick desire and some more sluggish
but determined reluctance. In a moment she spoke again.
"I won't hear anything more, please."
"But you said 'whatever it may be.'"
"Yes. But I won't hear anything more."
She spoke very quietly, with determination.
The Diviner was beginning to move his hands again, to make fresh
patterns in the sand, to speak swiftly once more.
"Shall I stop him?"
"Then would you mind going out into the garden? I will join you in a
moment. Take care not to disturb him."
She got up with precaution, held her skirts together with her hands,
and slipped softly out on to the garden path. For a moment she was
inclined to wait there, to look back and see what was happening in the
/fumoir/. But she resisted her inclination, and walked on slowly till
she reached the bench where she had sat an hour before with Androvsky.
There she sat down and waited. In a few minutes she saw the Count
coming towards her alone. His face was very grave, but lightened with
a slight smile when he saw her.
"He has gone?" she asked.
He was about to sit beside her, but she said quickly:
"Would you mind going back to the jamelon tree?"
"Where we sat this morning?"
"Was it only--yes."
"Oh; but you are going away to-morrow! You have a lot to do probably?"
"Nothing. My men will arrange everything."
She got up, and they walked in silence till they saw once more the
immense spaces of the desert bathed in the afternoon sun. As Domini
looked at them again she knew that their wonder, their meaning, had
increased for her. The steady crescendo that was beginning almost to
frighten her was maintained--the crescendo of the voice of the Sahara.
To what tremendous demonstration was this crescendo tending, to what
ultimate glory or terror? She felt that her soul was as yet too
undeveloped to conceive. The Diviner had been right. There was a veil
around it, like the veil of the womb that hides the unborn child.
Under the jamelon tree she sat down once more.
"May--I light a cigar?" the Count asked.
He struck a match, lit a cigar, and sat down on her left, by the
"Tell me frankly," he said. "Do you wish to talk or to be silent?"
"I wish to speak to you."
"I am sorry now I asked you to test Aloui's powers."
"Because I fear they made an unpleasant impression upon you."
"That was not why I made you stop him."
"You don't understand me. I was not afraid. I can only say that, but I
can't give you my reason for stopping him. I wished to tell you that
it was not fear."
"I believe--I know that you are fearless," he said with an unusual
warmth. "You are sure that I don't understand you?"
"Remember the refrain of the Freed Negroes' song!"
"Ah, yes--those black fellows. But I know something of you, Miss
Enfilden--yes, I do."
"I would rather you did--you and your garden."
"And--some day--I should like you to know a little more of me."
"Thank you. When will you come back?"
"I can't tell. But you are not leaving?"
The idea of leaving Beni-Mora troubled her heart strangely.
"No, I am too happy here."
"Are you really happy?"
"At any rate I am happier than I have ever been before."
"You are on the verge."
He was looking at her with eyes in which there was tenderness, but
suddenly they flashed fire, and he exclaimed:
"My desert land must not bring you despair."
She was startled by his sudden vehemence.
"What I would not hear!" she said. "You know it!"
"It is not my fault. I am ready to tell it to you."
"No. But do you believe it? Do you believe that man can read the
future in the sand? How can it be?"
"How can a thousand things be? How can these desert men stand in fire,
with their naked feet set on burning brands, with burning brands under
their armpits, and not be burned? How can they pierce themselves with
skewers and cut themselves with knives and no blood flow? But I told
you the first day I met you; the desert always makes me the same gift
when I return to it."
"The gift of belief."
"Then you do believe in that man--Aloui?"
"I can only say that it seemed to me as if it might be divination. If
I had not felt that I should not have stopped it. I should have
treated it as a game."
"It impressed you as it impresses me. Well, for both of us the desert
has gifts. Let us accept them fearlessly. It is the will of Allah."
She remembered her vision of the pale procession. Would she walk in it
"You are as fatalistic as an Arab," she said.
"I!" she answered simply. "I believe that I am in the hands of God,
and I know that perfect love can never harm me."
After a moment he said, gently:
"Miss Enfilden, I want to ask something of you."
"Will you make a sacrifice? To-morrow I start at dawn. Will you be
here to wish me God speed on my journey?"
"Of course I will."
"It will be good of you. I shall value it from you. And--and when--if
you ever make your long journey on that road--the route to the south--
I will wish you Allah's blessing in the Garden of Allah."
He spoke with solemnity, almost with passion, and she felt the tears
very near her eyes. Then they sat in silence, looking out over the
And she heard its voices calling.
On the following morning, before dawn, Domini awoke, stirred from
sleep by her anxiety, persistent even in what seemed unconsciousness,
to speed Count Anteoni upon his desert journey. She did not know why
he was going, but she felt that some great issue in his life hung upon
the accomplishment of the purpose with which he set out, and without
affectation she ardently desired that accomplishment. As soon as she
awoke she lit a candle and glanced at her watch. She knew by the hour
that the dawn was near, and she got up at once and made her toilet.
She had told Batouch to be at the hotel door before sunrise to
accompany her to the garden, and she wondered if he were below. A
stillness as of deep night prevailed in the house, making her
movements, while she dressed, seem unnaturally loud. When she put on
her hat, and looked into the glass to see if it were just at the right
angle, she thought her face, always white, was haggard. This departure
made her a little sad. It suggested to her the instability of
circumstance, the perpetual change that occurs in life. The going of
her kind host made her own going more possible than before, even more
likely. Some words from the Bible kept on running through her brain
"Here have we no continuing city." In the silent darkness their
cadence held an ineffable melancholy. Her mind heard them as the ear,
in a pathetic moment, hears sometimes a distant strain of music
wailing like a phantom through the invisible. And the everlasting
journeying of all created things oppressed her heart.
When she had buttoned her jacket and drawn on her gloves she went to
the French window and pushed back the shutters. A wan semi-darkness
looked in upon her. Again she wondered whether Batouch had come. It
seemed to her unlikely. She could not imagine that anyone in all the
world was up and purposeful but herself. This hour seemed created as a
curtain for unconsciousness. Very softly she stepped out upon the
verandah and looked over the parapet. She could see the white road,
mysteriously white, below. It was deserted. She leaned down.
"Batouch!" she called softly. "Batouch!"
He might be hidden under the arcade, sleeping in his burnous.
No answer came. She stood by the parapet, waiting and looking down the
All the stars had faded, yet there was no suggestion of the sun. She
faced an unrelenting austerity. For a moment she thought of this
atmosphere, this dense stillness, this gravity of vague and shadowy
trees, as the environment of those who had erred, of the lost spirits
of men who had died in mortal sin.
Almost she expected to see the desperate shade of her dead father pass
between the black stems of the palm trees, vanish into the grey mantle
that wrapped the hidden world.
He was not there. That was certain. She resolved to set out alone and
went back into her bedroom to get her revolver. When she came out
again with it in her hand Androvsky was standing on the verandah just
outside her window. He took off his hat and looked from her face to
the revolver. She was startled by his appearance, for she had not
heard his step, and had been companioned by a sense of irreparable
solitude. This was the first time she had seen him since he vanished
from the garden on the previous day.
"You are going out, Madame?" he said.
"I believe so. Unless I find Batouch below."
She slipped the revolver into the pocket of the loose coat she wore.
"But it is dark."
"It will be day very soon. Look!"
She pointed towards the east, where a light, delicate and mysterious
as the distant lights in the opal, was gently pushing in the sky.
"You ought not to go alone."
"Unless Batouch is there I must. I have given a promise and I must
keep it. There is no danger."
He hesitated, looking at her with an anxious, almost a suspicious,
"Good-bye, Monsieur Androvsky."
She went towards the staircase. He followed her quickly to the head of
"Don't trouble to come down with me."
"If--if Batouch is not there--might not I guard you, Madame?" She
remembered the Count's words and answered:
"Let me tell you where I am going. I am going to say good-bye to Count
Anteoni before he starts for his desert journey."
Androvsky stood there without a word.
"Now, do you care to come if I don't find Batouch? Mind, I'm not the
"Perhaps he is there--if you told him." He muttered the words. His
whole manner had changed. Now he looked more than suspicious--cloudy
She began to descend the stairs. He did not follow her, but stood
looking after her. When she reached the arcade it was deserted.
Batouch had forgotten or had overslept himself. She could have walked
on under the roof that was the floor of the verandah, but instead she
stepped out into the road. Androvsky was above her by the parapet. She
glanced up and said:
"He is not here, but it is of no consequence. Dawn is breaking. /Au
Slowly he took off his hat. As she went away down the road he was
holding it in his hand, looking after her.
"He does not like the Count," she thought.
At the corner she turned into the street where the sand-diviner had
his bazaar, and as she neared his door she was aware of a certain
trepidation. She did not want to see those piercing eyes looking at
her in the semi-darkness, and she hurried her steps. But her anxiety
was needless. All the doors were shut, all the inhabitants doubtless
wrapped in sleep. Yet, when she had gained the end of the street, she
looked back, half expecting to see an apparition of a thin figure, a
tortured face, to hear a voice, like a goblin's voice, calling after
her. Midway down the street there was a man coming slowly behind her.
For a moment she thought it was the Diviner in pursuit, but something
in the gait soon showed her her mistake. There was a heaviness in the
movement of this man quite unlike the lithe and serpentine agility of
Aloui. Although she could not see the face, or even distinguish the
costume in the morning twilight, she knew it for Androvsky. From a
distance he was watching over her. She did not hesitate, but walked on
quickly again. She did not wish him to know that she had seen him.
When she came to the long road that skirted the desert she met the
breeze of dawn that blows out of the east across the flats, and drank
in its celestial purity. Between the palms, far away towards Sidi-
Zerzour, above the long indigo line of the Sahara, there rose a curve
of deep red gold. The sun was coming up to take possession of his
waiting world. She longed to ride out to meet him, to give him a
passionate welcome in the sand, and the opening words of the Egyptian
"Adoration of the Sun by the Perfect Souls" came to her lips:
"Hommage a Toi. Dieu Soleil. Seigneur du Ciel, Roi sur la Terre! Lion
du Soir! Grande Ame divine, vivante a toujours."
Why had she not ordered her horse to ride a little way with Count
Anteoni? She might have pretended that she was starting on her great
The red gold curve became a semi-circle of burnished glory resting
upon the deep blue, then a full circle that detached itself
majestically and mounted calmly up the cloudless sky. A stream of
light poured into the oasis, and Domini, who had paused for a moment
in silent worship, went on swiftly through the negro village which was
all astir, and down the track to the white villa.
She did not glance round again to see whether Androvsky was still
following her, for, since the sun had come, she had the confident
sensation that he was no longer near.
He had surely given her into the guardianship of the sun.
The door of the garden stood wide open, and, as she entered, she saw
three magnificent horses prancing upon the sweep of sand in the midst
of a little group of Arabs. Smain greeted her with graceful warmth and
begged her to follow him to the /fumoir/, where the Count was waiting
"It is good of you!" the Count said, meeting her in the doorway. "I
relied on you, you see!"
Breakfast for two was scattered upon the little smoking-tables;
coffee, eggs, rolls, fruit, sweetmeats. And everywhere sprigs of
orange blossom filled the cool air with delicate sweetness.
"How delicious!" she exclaimed. "A breakfast here! But--no, not
"That is exactly where he was."
"Aloui! How superstitious you are!"
He moved her table. She sat down near the doorway and poured out
coffee for them both.
"You look workmanlike."
She glanced at his riding-dress and long whip. Smoked glasses hung
across his chest by a thin cord.
"I shall have some hard riding, but I'm tough, though you may not
think it. I've covered many a league of my friend in bygone years."
He tapped an eggshell smartly, and began to eat with appetite.
"How gravely gay you are!" she said, lifting the steaming coffee to
her lips. He smiled.
"Yes. To-day I am happy, as a pious man is happy when after a long
illness, he goes once more to church."
"The desert seems to be everything to you."
"I feel that I am going out to freedom, to more than freedom." He
stretched out his arms above his head.
"Yet you have stayed always in this garden all these days."
"I was waiting for my summons, as you will wait for yours."
"What summons could I have?"
"It will come!" he said with conviction. "It will come!" She was
silent, thinking of the diviner's vision in the sand, of the caravan
of camels disappearing in the storm towards the south. Presently she
"Are you ever coming back?"
He looked at her in surprise, then laughed.
"Of course. What are you thinking?"
"That perhaps you will not come back, that perhaps the desert will
"And my garden?"
She looked out across the tiny sand-path and the running rill of water
to the great trees stirred by the cool breeze of dawn.
"It would miss you."
After a moment, during which his bright eyes followed hers, he said:
"Do you know, I have a great belief in the intuitions of good women?"
"An almost fanatical belief. Will you answer me a question at once,
without consideration, without any time for thought?"
"If you ask me to."
"I do ask you."
"Do you see me in this garden any more?"
A voice answered:
It was her own, yet it seemed another's voice, with which she had
nothing to do.
A great feeling of sorrow swept over her as she heard it.
"Do come back!" she said.
The Count had got up. The brightness of his eyes was obscured.
"If not here, we shall meet again," he said slowly.
"In the desert."
"Did the Diviner--? No, don't tell me."
She got up too.
"It is time for you to start?"
A sort of constraint had settled over them. She felt it painfully for
a moment. Did it proceed from something in his mind or in hers? She
could not tell. They walked slowly down one of the little paths and
presently found themselves before the room in which sat the purple
"If I am never to come back I must say good-bye to him," the Count
"But you will come back."
"That voice said 'No.'"
"It was a lying voice."
They looked in at the window and met the ferocious eyes of the dog.
"And if I never come back will he bay the moon for his old master?"
said the Count with a whimsical, yet sad, smile. "I put him here. And
will these trees, many of which I planted, whisper a regret? Absurd,
isn't it, Miss Enfilden? I never can feel that the growing things in
my garden do not know me as I know them."
"Someone will regret you if--"
"Will you? Will you really?"
"I believe it."
He looked at her. She could see, by the expression of his eyes, that
he was on the point of saying something, but was held back by some
fighting sensation, perhaps by some reserve.
"What is it?"
"May I speak frankly to you without offence?" he asked. "I am really
rather old, you know."
"That guest of mine yesterday--"
"Yes. He interested me enormously, profoundly."
"Really! Yet he was at his worst yesterday."
"Perhaps that was why. At any rate, he interested me more than any man
I have seen for years. But--" He paused, looking in at the little
chamber where the dog kept guard.
"But my interest was complicated by a feeling that I was face to face
with a human being who was at odds with life, with himself, even with
his Creator--a man who had done what the Arabs never do--defied Allah
in Allah's garden."
She uttered a little exclamation of pain. It seemed to her that he was
gathering up and was expressing scattered, half formless thoughts of
"You know," he continued, looking more steadily into the room of the
dog, "that in Algeria there is a floating population composed of many
mixed elements. I could tell you strange stories of tragedies that
have occurred in this land, even here in Beni-Mora, tragedies of
violence, of greed, of--tragedies that were not brought about by
He turned suddenly and looked right into her eyes.
"But why am I saying all this?" he suddenly exclaimed. "What is
written is written, and such women as you are guarded."
"Guarded? By whom?"
"By their own souls."
"I am not afraid," she said quietly.
"Need you tell me that? Miss Enfilden, I scarcely know why I have said
even as little as I have said. For I am, as you know, a fatalist. But
certain people, very few, so awaken our regard that they make us
forget our own convictions, and might even lead us to try to tamper
with the designs of the Almighty. Whatever is to be for you, you will
be able to endure. That I know. Why should I, or anyone, seek to know
more for you? But still there are moments in which the bravest want a
human hand to help them, a human voice to comfort them. In the desert,
wherever I may be--and I shall tell you--I am at your service."
"Thank you," she said simply.
She gave him her hand. He held it almost as a father or a guardian
might have held it.
"And this garden is yours day and night--Smain knows."
"Thank you," she said again.
The shrill whinnying of a horse came to them from a distance. Their
hands fell apart. Count Anteoni looked round him slowly at the great
cocoanut tree, at the shaggy grass of the lawn, at the tall bamboos
and the drooping mulberry trees. She saw that he was taking a silent
farewell of them.
"This was a waste," he said at last with a half-stifled sigh. "I
turned it into a little Eden and now I am leaving it."
"For a time."
"And if it were for ever? Well, the great thing is to let the waste
within one be turned into an Eden, if that is possible. And yet how
many human beings strive against the great Gardener. At any rate I
will not be one of them."
"And I will not be one."
"Shall we say good-bye here?"
"No. Let us say it from the wall, and let me see you ride away into
She had forgotten for the moment that his route was the road through
the oasis. He did not remind her of it. It was easy to ride across the
desert and join the route where it came out from the last palms.
"So be it. Will you go to the wall then?"
He touched her hand again and walked away towards the villa, slowly on
the pale silver of the sand. When his figure was hidden by the trunks
of the trees Domini made her way to the wide parapet. She sat down on
one of the tiny seats cut in it, leaned her cheek in her hand and
waited. The sun was gathering strength, but the air was still
deliciously cool, almost cold, and the desert had not yet put on its
aspect of fiery desolation. It looked dreamlike and romantic, not only
in its distances, but near at hand. There must surely be dew, she
fancied, in the Garden of Allah. She could see no one travelling in
it, only some far away camels grazing. In the dawn the desert was the
home of the breeze, of gentle sunbeams and of liberty. Presently she
heard the noise of horses cantering near at hand, and Count Anteoni,
followed by two Arab attendants, came round the bend of the wall and
drew up beneath her. He rode on a high red Arab saddle, and a richly-
ornamented gun was slung in an embroidered case behind him on the
right-hand side. A broad and soft brown hat kept the sun from his
forehead. The two attendants rode on a few paces and waited in the
shadow of the wall.
"Don't you wish you were going out?" he said. "Out into that?" And he
pointed with his whip towards the dreamlike blue of the far horizon.
She leaned over, looking down at him and at his horse, which fidgeted
and arched his white neck and dropped foam from his black flexible
"No," she answered after a moment of thought. "I must speak the truth,
"To me, always."
"I feel that you were right, that my summons has not yet come to me."
"And when it comes?"
"I shall obey it without fear, even if I go in the storm and the
He glanced at the radiant sky, at the golden beams slanting down upon
"The Coran says: 'The fate of every man have We bound about his neck.'
May yours be as serene, as beautiful, as a string of pearls."
"But I have never cared to wear pearls," she answered.
"No? What are your stones?"
"Blood! No others?"
"The sky at night."
"Fires gleaming across the white of moonlit dunes. Do you remember?"
"And you do not ask me for the end of the Diviner's vision even now?"
She hesitated for an instant. Then she added:
"I will tell you why. It seemed to me that there was another's fate in
it as well as my own, and that to hear would be to intrude, perhaps,
upon another's secrets."
"That was your reason?"
"My only reason." And then she added, repeating consciously
Androvsky's words: "I think there are things that should be let
"Perhaps you are right."
A stronger breath of the cool wind came over the flats, and all the
palm trees rustled. Through the garden there was a delicate stir of
"My children are murmuring farewell," said the Count. "I hear them. It
is time! Good-bye, Miss Enfilden--my friend, if I may call you so. May
Allah have you in his keeping, and when your summons comes, obey it--
As he said the last word his grating voice dropped to a deep note of
earnest, almost solemn, gravity. Then he lifted his hat, touched his
horse with his heel, and galloped away into the sun.
Domini watched the three riders till they were only specks on the
surface of the desert. Then they became one with it, and were lost in
the dreamlike radiance of the morning. But she did not move. She sat
with her eyes fixed up on the blue horizon. A great loneliness had
entered into her spirit. Till Count Anteoni had gone she did not
realise how much she had become accustomed to his friendship, how near
their sympathies had been. But directly those tiny, moving specks
became one with the desert she knew that a gap had opened in her life.
It might be small, but it seemed dark and deep. For the first time the
desert, which she had hitherto regarded as a giver, had taken
something from her. And now, as she sat looking at it, while the sun
grew stronger and the light more brilliant, while the mountains
gradually assumed a harsher aspect, and the details of things, in the
dawn so delicately clear, became, as it were, more piercing in their
sharpness, she realised a new and terrible aspect of it. That which
has the power to bestow has another power. She had seen the great
procession of those who had received gifts of the desert's hands.
Would she some day, or in the night when the sky was like a sapphire,
see the procession of those from whom the desert had taken away
perhaps their dreams, perhaps their hopes, perhaps even all that they
passionately loved and had desperately clung to?
And in which of the two processions would she walk?
She got up with a sigh. The garden had become tragic to her for the
moment, full of a brooding melancholy. As she turned to leave it she
resolved to go to the priest. She had never yet entered his house.
Just then she wanted to speak to someone with whom she could be as a
little child, to whom she could liberate some part of her spirit
simply, certain of a simple, yet not foolish, reception of it by one
to whom she could look up. She desired to be not with the friend so
much as with the spiritual director. Something was alive within her,
something of distress, almost of apprehension, which needed the
soothing hand, not of human love, but of religion.
When she reached the priest's house Beni-Mora was astir with a
pleasant bustle of life. The military note pealed through its
symphony. Spahis were galloping along the white roads. Tirailleurs
went by bearing despatches. Zouaves stood under the palms, staring
calmly at the morning, their sunburned hands loosely clasped upon
muskets whose butts rested in the sand. But Domini scarcely noticed
the brilliant gaiety of the life about her. She was preoccupied, even
sad. Yet, as she entered the little garden of the priest, and tapped
gently at his door, a sensation of hope sprang up in her heart, born
of the sustaining power of her religion.
An Arab boy answered her knock, said that the Father was in and led
her at once to a small, plainly-furnished room, with whitewashed
walls, and a window opening on to an enclosure at the back, where
several large palm trees reared their tufted heads above the smoothly-
raked sand. In a moment the priest came in, smiling with pleasure and
holding out his hands in welcome.
"Father," she said at once, "I am come to have a little talk with you.
Have you a few moments to give me?"
"Sit down, my child," he said.
He drew forward a straw chair for her and took one opposite.
"You are not in trouble?"
"I don't know why I should be, but----"
She was silent for a moment. Then she said:
"I want to tell you a little about my life."
He looked at her kindly without a word.
His eyes were an invitation for her to speak, and, without further
invitation, in as few and simple words as possible, she told him why
she had come to Beni-Mora, and something of her parents' tragedy and
its effect upon her.
"I wanted to renew my heart, to find myself," she said. "My life has
been cold, careless. I never lost my faith, but I almost forgot that I
had it. I made little use of it. I let it rust."
"Many do that, but a time comes when they feel that the great weapon
with which alone we can fight the sorrows and dangers of the world
must be kept bright, or it may fail us in the hour of need."
"And this is an hour of need for you. But, indeed, is there ever an
hour that is not?"
"I feel to-day, I----"
She stopped, suddenly conscious of the vagueness of her apprehension.
It made her position difficult, speech hard for her. She felt that she
wanted something, yet scarcely knew what, or exactly why she had come.
"I have been saying good-bye to Count Anteoni," she resumed. "He has
gone on a desert journey."
"I don't know, but I feel that it will be."
"He comes and goes very suddenly. Often he is here and I do not even
"He is a strange man, but I think he is a good man."
As she spoke about him she began to realise that something in him had
roused the desire in her to come to the priest.
"And he sees far," she added.
She looked steadily at the priest, who was waiting quietly to hear
more. She was glad he did not trouble her mind just then by trying to
help her to go on, to be explicit.
"I came here to find peace," she continued. "And I thought I had found
it. I thought so till to-day."
"We only find peace in one place, and only there by our own will
according with God's."
"You mean within ourselves."
"Is it not so?"
"Yes. Then I was foolish to travel in search of it."
"I would not say that. Place assists the heart, I think, and the way
of life. I thought so once."
"When you wished to be a monk?"
A deep sadness came into his eyes.
"Yes," he said. "And even now I find it very difficult to say, 'It was
not thy will, and so it is not mine.' But would you care to tell me if
anything has occurred recently to trouble you?"
"Something has occurred, Father."
More excitement came into her face and manner.
"Do you think," she went on, "that it is right to try to avoid what
life seems to be bringing to one, to seek shelter from--from the
storm? Don't monks do that? Please forgive me if--"
"Sincerity will not hurt me," he interrupted quietly. "If it did I
should indeed be unworthy of my calling. Perhaps it is not right for
all. Perhaps that is why I am here instead of--"
"Ah, but I remember, you wanted to be one of the /freres armes/."
"That was my first hope. But you"--very simply he turned from his
troubles to hers--"you are hesitating, are you not, between two
"I scarcely know. But I want you to tell me. Ought we not always to
think of others more than of ourselves?"
"So long as we take care not to put ourselves in too great danger. The
soul should be brave, but not foolhardy."
His voice had changed, had become stronger, even a little stern.
"There are risks that no good Christian ought to run: it is not
cowardice, it is wisdom that avoids the Evil One. I have known people
who seemed almost to think it was their mission to convert the fallen
angels. They confused their powers with the powers that belong to God
"Yes, but--it is so difficult to--if a human being were possessed by
the devil, would not you try--would you not go near to that person?"
"If I had prayed, and been told that any power was given me to do what
"To cast out--yes, I know. But sometimes that power is given--even to
"Perhaps especially to them. I think the devil has more fear of a good
mother than of many saints."
Domini realised almost with agony in that moment how her own soul had
been stripped of a precious armour. A feeling of bitter helplessness
took possession of her, and of contempt for what she now suddenly
looked upon as foolish pride. The priest saw that his words had hurt
her, yet he did not just then try to pour balm upon the wound.
"You came to me to-day as to a spiritual director, did you not?" he
"Yet you do not wish to be frank with me. Isn't that true?"
There was a piercing look in the eyes he fixed upon her.
"Yes," she answered bravely.
"Why? Cannot you--at least will not you tell me?"
A similar reason to that which had caused her to refuse to hear what
the Diviner had seen in the sand caused her now to answer:
"There is something I cannot say. I am sure I am right not to say it."
"Do you wish me to speak frankly to you, my child?"
"Yes, you may."
"You have told me enough of your past life to make me feel sure that
for some time to come you ought to be very careful in regard to your
faith. By the mercy of God you have been preserved from the greatest
of all dangers--the danger of losing your belief in the teachings of
the only true Church. You have come here to renew your faith which,
not killed, has been stricken, reduced, may I not say? to a sort of
invalidism. Are you sure you are in a condition yet to help"--he
hesitated obviously, then slowly--"others? There are periods in which
one cannot do what one may be able to do in the far future. The
convalescent who is just tottering in the new attempt to walk is not
wise enough to lend an arm to another. To do so may seem nobly
unselfish, but is it not folly? And then, my child, we ought to be
scrupulously aware what is our real motive for wishing to assist
another. Is it of God, or is it of ourselves? Is it a personal desire
to increase a perhaps unworthy, a worldly happiness? Egoism is a
parent of many children, and often they do not recognise their
Just for a moment Domini felt a heat of anger rise within her. She did
not express it, and did not know that she had shown a sign of it till
she heard Father Roubier say:
"If you knew how often I have found that what for a moment I believed
to be my noblest aspirations had sprung from a tiny, hidden seed of
At once her anger died away.
"That is terribly true," she said. "Of us all, I mean."
She got up.
"You are going?"
"Yes. I want to think something out. You have made me want to. I must
do it. Perhaps I'll come again."
"Do. I want to help you if I can."
There was such a heartfelt sound in his voice that impulsively she
held out her hand.
"I know you do. Perhaps you will be able to."
But even as she said the last words doubt crept into her mind, even
into her voice.
The priest came to his gate to see Domini off, and directly she had
left him she noticed that Androvsky was under the arcade and had been
a witness of their parting. As she went past him and into the hotel
she saw that he looked greatly disturbed and excited. His face was lit
up by the now fiery glare of the sun, and when, in passing, she nodded
to him, and he took off his hat, he cast at her a glance that was like
an accusation. As soon as she gained the verandah she heard his heavy
step upon the stair. For a moment she hesitated. Should she go into
her room and so avoid him, or remain and let him speak to her? She
knew that he was following her with that purpose. Her mind was almost
instantly made up. She crossed the verandah and sat down in the low
chair that was always placed outside her French window. Androvsky
followed her and stood beside her. He did not say anything for a
moment, nor did she. Then he spoke with a sort of passionate attempt
to sound careless and indifferent.
"Monsieur Anteoni has gone, I suppose, Madame?"
"Yes, he has gone. I reached the garden safely, you see."
"Batouch came later. He was much ashamed when he found you had gone. I
believe he is afraid, and is hiding himself till your anger shall have
"Batouch could not easily make me angry. I am not like you, Monsieur
Her sudden challenge startled him, as she had meant it should. He
moved quickly, as at an unexpected touch.
"Yes; I think you are very often angry. I think you are angry now."
His face was flooded with red.
"Why should I be angry?" he stammered, like a man completely taken
"How can I tell? But, as I came in just now, you looked at me as if
you wanted to punish me."
"I--I am afraid--it seems that my face says a great deal that--that--"
"Your lips would not choose to say. Well, it does. Why are you angry
with me?" She gazed at him mercilessly, studying the trouble of his
face. The combative part of her nature had been roused by the glance
he had cast at her. What right had he, had any man, to look at her
Her blunt directness lashed him back into the firmness he had lost.
She felt in a moment that there was a fighting capacity in him equal,
perhaps superior, to her own.
"When I saw you come from the priest's house, Madame, I felt as if you
had been there speaking about me--about my conduct of yesterday."
"Indeed! Why should I do that?"
"I thought as you had kindly wished me to come--"
"Well?" she said, in rather a hard voice.
"Madame, I don't know what I thought, what I think--only I cannot bear
that you should apologise for any conduct of mine. Indeed, I cannot
He looked fearfully excited and moved two or three steps away, then
"Were you doing that?" he asked. "Were you, Madame?"
"I never mentioned your name to Father Roubier, nor did he to me," she
For a moment he looked relieved, then a sudden suspicion seemed to
"But without mentioning my name?" he said.
"You wish to accuse me of quibbling, of insincerity, then!" she
exclaimed with a heat almost equal to his own.
"No, Madame, no! Madame, I--I have suffered much. I am suspicious of
everybody. Forgive me, forgive me!"
He spoke almost with distraction. In his manner there was something
"I am sure you have suffered," she said more gently, yet with a
certain inflexibility at which she herself wondered, yet which she
could not control. "You will always suffer if you cannot govern
yourself. You will make people dislike you, be suspicious of you."
"Suspicious! Who is suspicious of me?" he asked sharply. "Who has any
right to be suspicious of me?"
She looked up and fancied that, for an instant, she saw something as
ugly as terror in his eyes.
"Surely you know that people don't ask permission to be suspicious of
their fellow-men?" she said.
"No one here has any right to consider me or my actions," he said,
fierceness blazing out of him. "I am a free man, and can do as I will.
No one has any right--no one!"
Domini felt as if the words were meant for her, as if he had struck
her. She was so angry that she did not trust herself to speak, and
instinctively she put her hand up to her breast, as a woman might who
had received a blow. She touched something small and hard that was
hidden beneath her gown. It was the little wooden crucifix Androvsky
had thrown into the stream at Sidi-Zerzour. As she realised that her
anger died. She was humbled and ashamed. What was her religion if, at
a word, she could be stirred to such a feeling of passion?
"I, at least, am not suspicious of you," she said, choosing the very
words that were most difficult for her to say just then. "And Father
Roubier--if you included him--is too fine-hearted to cherish unworthy
suspicions of anyone."
She got up. Her voice was full of a subdued, but strong, emotion.
"Oh, Monsieur Androvsky!" she said. "Do go over and see him. Make
friends with him. Never mind yesterday. I want you to be friends with
him, with everyone here. Let us make Beni-Mora a place of peace and
Then she went across the verandah quickly to her room, and passed in,
closing the window behind her.
/Dejeuner/ was brought into her sitting-room. She ate it in solitude,
and late in the afternoon she went out on the verandah. She had made
up her mind to spend an hour in the church. She had told Father
Roubier that she wanted to think something out. Since she had left him
the burden upon her mind had become heavier, and she longed to be
alone in the twilight near the altar. Perhaps she might be able to
cast down the burden there. In the verandah she stood for a moment and
thought how wonderful was the difference between dawn and sunset in
this land. The gardens, that had looked like a place of departed and
unhappy spirits when she rose that day, were now bathed in the
luminous rays of the declining sun, were alive with the softly-calling
voices of children, quivered with romance, with a dreamlike, golden
charm. The stillness of the evening was intense, enclosing the
children's voices, which presently died away; but while she was
marvelling at it she was disturbed by a sharp noise of knocking. She
looked in the direction from which it came and saw Androvsky standing
before the priest's door. As she looked, the door was opened by the
Arab boy and Androvsky went in.
Then she did not think of the gardens any more. With a radiant
expression in her eyes she went down and crossed over to the church.
It was empty. She went softly to a /prie-dieu/ near the altar, knelt
down and covered her eyes with her hands.
At first she did not pray, or even think consciously, but just rested
in the attitude which always seems to bring humanity nearest its God.
And, almost immediately, she began to feel a quietude of spirit, as if
something delicate descended upon her, and lay lightly about her,
shrouding her from the troubles of the world. How sweet it was to have
the faith that brings with it such tender protection, to have the
trust that keeps alive through the swift passage of the years the
spirit of the little child. How sweet it was to be able to rest. There
was at this moment a sensation of deep joy within her. It grew in the
silence of the church, and, as it grew, brought with it presently a
growing consciousness of the lives beyond those walls, of other
spirits capable of suffering, of conflict, and of peace, not far away;
till she knew that this present blessing of happiness came to her, not
only from the scarce-realised thought of God, but also from the
scarce-realised thought of man.
Close by, divided from her only by a little masonry, a few feet of
sand, a few palm trees, Androvsky was with the priest.
Still kneeling, with her face between her hands, Domini began to think
and pray. The memory of her petition to Notre Dame de la Garde came
back to her. Before she knew Africa she had prayed for men wandering,
and perhaps unhappy, there, for men whom she would probably never see
again, would never know. And now that she was growing familiar with
this land, divined something of its wonders and its dangers, she
prayed for a man in it whom she did not know, who was very near to her
making a sacrifice of his prejudices, perhaps of his fears, at her
desire. She prayed for Androvsky without words, making of her feelings
of gratitude to him a prayer, and presently, in the darkness framed by
her hands, she seemed to see Liberty once more, as in the shadows of
the dancing-house, standing beside a man who prayed far out in the
glory of the desert. The storm, spoken of by the Diviner, did not
always rage. It was stilled to hear his prayer. And the darkness had
fled, and the light drew near to listen. She pressed her face more
strongly against her hands, and began to think more definitely.
Was this interview with the priest the first step taken by Androvsky
towards the gift the desert held for him?
He must surely be a man who hated religion, or thought he hated it.
Perhaps he looked upon it as a chain, instead of as the hammer that
strikes away the fetters from the slave.
Yet he had worn a crucifix.
She lifted her head, put her hand into her breast, and drew out the
crucifix. What was its history? She wondered as she looked at it. Had
someone who loved him given it to him, someone, perhaps, who grieved
at his hatred of holiness, and who fancied that this very humble
symbol might one day, as the humble symbols sometimes do, prove itself
a little guide towards shining truth? Had a woman given it to him?
She laid the cross down on the edge of the /prie-dieu/.
There was red fire gleaming now on the windows of the church. She
realised the pageant that was marching up the west, the passion of the
world as well as the purity which lay beyond the world. Her mind was
disturbed. She glanced from the red radiance on the glass to the dull
brown wood of the cross. Blood and agony had made it the mystical
symbol that it was--blood and agony.
She had something to think out. That burden was still upon her mind,
and now again she felt its weight, a weight that her interview with
the priest had not lifted. For she had not been able to be quite frank
with the priest. Something had held her back from absolute sincerity,
and so he had not spoken quite plainly all that was in his mind. His
words had been a little vague, yet she had understood the meaning that
lay behind them.
Really, he had warned her against Androvsky. There were two men of
very different types. One was unworldly as a child. The other knew the
world. Neither of them had any acquaintance with Androvsky's history,
and both had warned her. It was instinct then that had spoken in them,
telling them that he was a man to be shunned, perhaps feared. And her
own instinct? What had it said? What did it say?
For a long time she remained in the church. But she could not think
clearly, reason calmly, or even pray passionately. For a vagueness had
come into her mind like the vagueness of twilight that filled the
space beneath the starry roof, softening the crudeness of the
ornaments, the garish colours of the plaster saints. It seemed to her
that her thoughts and feelings lost their outlines, that she watched
them fading like the shrouded forms of Arabs fading in the tunnels of
Mimosa. But as they vanished surely they whispered, "That which is
written is written."
The mosques of Islam echoed these words, and surely this little church
that bravely stood among them.
"That which is written is written."
Domini rose from her knees, hid the wooden cross once more in her
breast, and went out into the evening.
As she left the church door something occurred which struck the
vagueness from her. She came upon Androvsky and the priest. They were
standing together at the latter's gate, which he was in the act of
opening to an accompaniment of joyous barking from Bous-Bous. Both men
looked strongly expressive, as if both had been making an effort of
some kind. She stopped in the twilight to speak to them.
"Monsieur Androvsky has kindly been paying me a visit," said Father
"I am glad," Domini said. "We ought all to be friends here."
There was a perceptible pause. Then Androvsky lifted his hat.
"Good-evening, Madame," he said. "Good-evening, Father." And he walked
The priest looked after him and sighed profoundly.
"Oh, Madame!" he exclaimed, as if impelled to liberate his mind to
someone, "what is the matter with that man? What is the matter?"
He stared fixedly into the twilight after Androvsky's retreating form.
"With Monsieur Androvsky?"
She spoke quietly, but her mind was full of apprehension, and she
looked searchingly at the priest.
"Yes. What can it be?"
"But--I don't understand."
"Why did he come to see me?"
"I asked him to come."
She blurted out the words without knowing why, only feeling that she
must speak the truth.
"You asked him!"
"Yes. I wanted you to be friends--and I thought perhaps you might----"
"I wanted you to be friends." She repeated it almost stubbornly.
"I have never before felt so ill at ease with any human being,"
exclaimed the priest with tense excitement. "And yet I could not let
him go. Whenever he was about to leave me I was impelled to press him
to remain. We spoke of the most ordinary things, and all the time it
was as if we were in a great tragedy. What is he? What can he be?" (He
still looked down the road.)
"I don't know. I know nothing. He is a man travelling, as other men
"What do you mean, Father?"
"I mean that other travellers are not like this man."
He leaned his thin hands heavily on the gate, and she saw, by the
expression of his eyes, that he was going to say something startling.
"Madame," he said, lowering his voice, "I did not speak quite frankly
to you this afternoon. You may, or you may not, have understood what I
meant. But now I will speak plainly. As a priest I warn you, I warn
you most solemnly, not to make friends with this man."
There was a silence, then Domini said:
"Please give me your reason for this warning."
"That I can't do."
"Because you have no reason, or because it is not one you care to tell
"I have no reason to give. My reason is my instinct. I know nothing of
this man--I pity him. I shall pray for him. He needs prayers, yes, he
needs them. But you are a woman out here alone. You have spoken to me
of yourself, and I feel it my duty to say that I advise you most
earnestly to break off your acquaintance with Monsieur Androvsky."
"Do you mean that you think him evil?"
"I don't know whether he is evil, I don't know what he is."
"I know he is not evil."
The priest looked at her, wondering.
"My instinct," she said, coming a step nearer, and putting her hand,
too, on the gate near his. "Why should we desert him?"
"Desert him, Madame!"
Father Roubier's voice sounded amazed.
"Yes. You say he needs prayers. I know it. Father, are not the first
prayers, the truest, those that go most swiftly to Heaven--acts?"
The priest did not reply for a moment. He looked at her and seemed to
be thinking deeply.
"Why did you send Monsieur Androvsky to me this afternoon?" he said at
"I knew you were a good man, and I fancied if you became friends you
might help him."
His face softened.
"A good man," he said. "Ah!" He shook his head sadly, with a sound
that was like a little pathetic laugh. "I--a good man! And I allow an
almost invincible personal feeling to conquer my inward sense of
right! Madame, come into the garden for a moment."
He opened the gate, she passed in, and he led her round the house to
the enclosure at the back, where they could talk in greater privacy.
Then he continued:
"You are right, Madame. I am here to try to do God's work, and
sometimes it is better to act for a human being, perhaps, even than to
pray for him. I will tell you that I feel an almost invincible
repugnance to Monsieur Androvsky, a repugnance that is almost stronger
than my will to hold it in check." He shivered slightly. "But, with
God's help, I'll conquer that. If he stays on here I'll try to be his
friend. I'll do all I can. If he is unhappy, far away from good,
perhaps--I say it humbly, Madame, I assure you--I might help him. But"
--and here his face and manner changed, became firmer, more dominating
--"you are not a priest, and--"
"No, only a woman," she said, interrupting him.
Something in her voice arrested him. There was a long silence in which
they paced slowly up and down on the sand between the palm trees. The
twilight was dying into night. Already the tomtoms were throbbing in
the street of the dancers, and the shriek of the distant pipes was
faintly heard. At last the priest spoke again.
"Madame," he said, "when you came to me this afternoon there was
something that you could not tell me."
"Had it anything to do with Monsieur Androvsky?"
"I meant to ask you to advise me about myself."
"My advice to you was and is--be strong but not too foolhardy."
"Believe me I will try not to be foolhardy. But you said something
else too, something about women. Don't you remember?"
She stopped, took his hands impulsively and pressed them.
"Father, I've scarcely ever been of any use all my life. I've scarcely
ever tried to be. Nothing within me said, 'You could be,' and if it
had I was so dulled by routine and sorrow that I don't think I should
have heard it. But here it is different. I am not dulled. I can hear.
And--suppose I can be of use for the first time! You wouldn't say to
me, 'Don't try!' You couldn't say that?"
He stood holding her hands and looking into her face for a moment.
Then he said, half-humorously, half-sadly:
"My child, perhaps you know your own strength best. Perhaps your
safest spiritual director is your own heart. Who knows? But whether it
be so or not you will not take advice from me."
She knew that was true now and, for a moment, felt almost ashamed.
"Forgive me," she said. "But--it is strange, and may seem to you
ridiculous or even wrong--ever since I have been here I have felt as
if everything that happened had been arranged beforehand, as if it had
to happen. And I feel that, too, about the future."
"Count Anteoni's fatalism!" the priest said with a touch of impatient
irritation. "I know. It is the guiding spirit of this land. And you
too are going to be led by it. Take care! You have come to a land of
fire, and I think you are made of fire."
For a moment she saw a fanatical expression in his eyes. She thought
of it as the look of the monk crushed down within his soul. He opened
his lips again, as if to pour forth upon her a torrent of burning
words. But the look died away, and they parted quietly like two good
friends. Yet, as she went to the hotel, she knew that Father Roubier
could not give her the kind of help she wanted, and she even fancied
that perhaps no priest could. Her heart was in a turmoil, and she
seemed to be in the midst of a crowd.
Batouch was at the door, looking elaborately contrite and ready with
his lie. He had been seized with fever in the night, in token whereof
he held up hands which began to shake like wind-swept leaves. Only now
had he been able to drag himself from his quilt and, still afflicted
as he was, to creep to his honoured patron and crave her pardon.
Domini gave it with an abstracted carelessness that evidently hurt his
pride, and was passing into the hotel when he said:
"Irena is going to marry Hadj, Madame."
Since the fracas at the dancing-house both the dancer and her victim
had been under lock and key.
"To marry her after she tried to kill him!" said Domini.
"Yes, Madame. He loves her as the palm tree loves the sun. He will
take her to his room, and she will wear a veil, and work for him and
never go out any more."
"What! She will live like the Arab women?"
"Of course, Madame. But there is a very nice terrace on the roof
outside Hadj's room, and Hadj will permit her to take the air there,
in the evening or when it is hot."
"She must love Hadj very much."
"She does, or why should she try to kill him?"
So that was an African love--a knife-thrust and a taking of the veil!
The thought of it added a further complication to the disorder that
was in her mind.
"I will see you after dinner, Batouch," she said.
She felt that she must do something, go somewhere that night. She
could not remain quiet.
Batouch drew himself up and threw out his broad chest. His air gave
place to importance, and, as he leaned against the white pillar of the
arcade, folded his ample burnous round him, and glanced up at the sky
he saw, in fancy, a five-franc piece glittering in the chariot of the
The priest did not come to dinner that night, but Androvsky was
already at his table when Domini came into the /salle-a-manger/. He
got up from his seat and bowed formally, but did not speak.
Remembering his outburst of the morning she realised the suspicion
which her second interview with the priest had probably created in his
mind, and now she was not free from a feeling of discomfort that
almost resembled guilt. For now she had been led to discuss Androvsky
with Father Roubier, and had it not been almost an apology when she
said, "I know he is not evil"? Once or twice during dinner, when her
eyes met Androvsky's for a moment, she imagined that he must know why
she had been at the priest's house, that anger was steadily increasing
He was a man who hated to be observed, to be criticised. His
sensitiveness was altogether abnormal, and made her wonder afresh
where his previous life had been passed. It must surely have been a
very sheltered existence. Contact with the world blunts the fine edge
of our feeling with regard to others' opinion of us. In the world men
learn to be heedless of the everlasting buzz of comment that attends
their goings out and their comings in. But Androvsky was like a youth,
alive to the tiniest whisper, set on fire by a glance. To such a
nature life in the world must be perpetual torture. She thought of him
with a sorrow that--strangely in her--was not tinged with contempt.
That which manifested by another man would certainly have moved her to
impatience, if not to wrath, in this man woke other sensations--
curiosity, pity, terror.
Yes--terror. To-night she knew that. The long day, begun in the
semidarkness before the dawn and ending in the semidarkness of the
twilight, had, with its events that would have seemed to another
ordinary and trivial enough, carried her forward a stage on an
emotional pilgrimage. The half-veiled warnings of Count Anteoni and of
the priest, followed by the latter's almost passionately abrupt plain
speaking, had not been without effect. To-night something of Europe
and her life there, with its civilised experience and drastic training
in the management of woman's relations with humanity in general, crept
back under the palm trees and the brilliant stars of Africa; and
despite the fatalism condemned by Father Roubier, she was more
conscious than she had hitherto been of how others--the outside world
--would be likely to regard her acquaintance with Androvsky. She
stood, as it were, and looked on at the events in which she herself
had been and was involved, and in that moment she was first aware of a
thrill of something akin to terror, as if, perhaps, without knowing
it, she had been moving amid a great darkness, as if perhaps a great
darkness were approaching. Suddenly she saw Androvsky as some strange
and ghastly figure of legend; as the wandering Jew met by a traveller
at cross roads and distinguished for an instant in an oblique
lightning flash; as Vanderdecken passing in the hurricane and throwing
a blood-red illumination from the sails of his haunted ship; as the
everlasting climber of the Brocken, as the shrouded Arab of the
Eastern legend, who announced coming disaster to the wanderers in the
desert by beating a death-roll on a drum among the dunes.
And with Count Anteoni and the priest she set another figure, that of
the sand-diviner, whose tortured face had suggested a man looking on a
fate that was terrible. Had not he, too, warned her? Had not the
warning been threefold, been given to her by the world, the Church,
and the under-world--the world beneath the veil?
She met Androvsky's eyes. He was getting up to leave the room. His
movement caught her away from things visionary, but not from worldly
things. She still looked on herself moving amid these events at which
her world would laugh or wonder, and perhaps for the first time in her
life she was uneasily self-conscious because of the self that watched
herself, as if that self held something coldly satirical that mocked
at her and marvelled.
"What shall I do to-night?"
Alone in the now empty /salle-a-manger/ Domini asked herself the
question. She was restless, terribly restless in mind, and wanted
distraction. The idea of going to her room, of reading, even of
sitting quietly in the verandah, was intolerable to her. She longed
for action, swiftness, excitement, the help of outside things, of that
exterior life which she had told Count Anteoni she had begun to see as
a mirage. Had she been in a city she would have gone to a theatre to
witness some tremendous drama, or to hear some passionate or terrible
opera. Beni-Mora might have been a place of many and strange
tragedies, would be no doubt again, but it offered at this moment
little to satisfy her mood. The dances of the Cafes Maures, the songs
of the smokers of the keef, the long histories of the story-tellers
between the lighted candles--she wanted none of these, and, for a
moment, she wished she were in London, Paris, any great capital that
spent itself to suit the changing moods of men. With a sigh she got up
and went out to the Arcade. Batouch joined her immediately.
"What can I do to-night, Batouch?" she said.
"There are the femmes mauresques," he began.
"Would Madame like to hear the story-teller?"
"No. I should not understand him."
"I can explain to Madame."
She stepped out into the road.
"There will be a moon to-night, won't there?" she said, looking up at
the starry sky.
"Yes, Madame, later."
"What time will it rise?"
"Between nine and ten."
She stood in the road, thinking. It had occurred to her that she had
never seen moonrise in the desert.
"And now it is"--she looked at her watch--"only eight."
"Does Madame wish to see the moon come up pouring upon the palms--"
"Don't talk so much, Batouch," she said brusquely.
To-night the easy and luscious imaginings of the poet worried her like
the cry of a mosquito. His presence even disturbed her. Yet what could
she do without him? After a pause she said:
"Can one go into the desert at night?"
"On foot, Madame? It would be dangerous. One cannot tell what may be
in the desert by night."
These words made her long to go. They had a charm, a violence perhaps,
of the unknown.
"One might ride," she said. "Why not? Who could hurt us if we were
mounted and armed?"
"Madame is brave as the panther in the forests of the Djurdjurah."
"And you, Batouch? Aren't you brave?"
"Madame, I am afraid of nothing." He did not say it boastfully, like
Hadj, but calmly, almost loftily.
"Well, we are neither of us afraid. Let us ride out on the Tombouctou
road and see the moon rise. I'll go and put on my habit."
"Madame should take her revolver."
"Of course. Bring the horses round at nine."
When she had put on her habit it was only a few minutes after eight.
She longed to be in the saddle, going at full speed up the long, white
road between the palms. Physical movement was necessary to her, and
she began to pace up and down the verandah quickly. She wished she had
ordered the horses at once, or that she could do something definite to
fill up the time till they came. As she turned at the end of the
verandah she saw a white form approaching her; when it drew near she
recognised Hadj, looking self-conscious and mischievous, but a little
triumphant too. At this moment she was glad to see him. He received
her congratulations on his recovery and approaching marriage with a
sort of skittish gaiety, but she soon discovered that he had come with
a money-making reason. Having seen his cousin safely off the premises,
it had evidently occurred to him to turn an honest penny. And pennies
were now specially needful to him in view of married life.
"Does Madame wish to see something strange and wonderful to-night?" he
asked, after a moment, looking at her sideways out of the corners of
his wicked eyes, which, as Domini could see, were swift to read
character and mood.
"I am going out riding."
He looked astonished.
"In the night?"
"Yes. Batouch has gone to fetch the horses."
Hadj's face became a mask of sulkiness.
"If Madame goes out with Batouch she will be killed. There are robbers
in the desert, and Batouch is afraid of--"
"Could we see the strange and wonderful thing in an hour?" she
The gay and skittish expression returned instantly to his face.
"What is it?"
He shook his head and made an artful gesture with his hand in the air.
"Madame shall see."
His long eyes were full of mystery, and he moved towards the
Domini laughed and followed him. She felt as if she were playing a
game, yet her curiosity was roused. They went softly down and slipped
out of the hotel like children fearing to be caught.
"Batouch will be angry. There will be white foam on his lips,"
whispered Hadj, dropping his chin and chuckling low in his throat.
"This way, Madame."
He led her quickly across the gardens to the Rue Berthe, and down a
number of small streets, till they reached a white house before which,
on a hump, three palm trees grew from one trunk. Beyond was waste
ground, and further away a stretch of sand and low dunes lost in the
darkness of the, as yet, moonless night. Domini looked at the house
and at Hadj, and wondered if it would be foolish to enter.
"What is it?" she asked again.
But he only replied, "Madame will see!" and struck his flat hand upon
the door. It was opened a little way, and a broad face covered with
little humps and dents showed, the thick lips parted and muttering
quickly. Then the face was withdrawn, the door opened wider, and Hadj
beckoned to Domini to go in. After a moment's hesitation she did so,
and found herself in a small interior court, with a tiled floor,
pillars, and high up a gallery of carved wood, from which, doubtless,
dwelling-rooms opened. In the court, upon cushions, were seated four
vacant-looking men, with bare arms and legs and long matted hair,
before a brazier, from which rose a sharply pungent perfume. Two of
these men were very young, with pale, ascetic faces and weary eyes.
They looked like young priests of the Sahara. At a short distance,
upon a red pillow, sat a tiny boy of about three years old, dressed in
yellow and green. When Domini and Hadj came into the court no one
looked at them except the child, who stared with slowly-rolling,
solemn eyes, slightly shifting on the pillow. Hadj beckoned to Domini
to seat herself upon some rugs between the pillars, sat down beside
her and began to make a cigarette. Complete silence prevailed. The
four men stared at the brazier, holding their nostrils over the
incense fumes which rose from it in airy spirals. The child continued
to stare at Domini. Hadj lit his cigarette. And time rolled on.
Domini had desired violence, and had been conveyed into a dumbness of
mystery, that fell upon her turmoil of spirit like a blow. What struck
her as especially strange and unnatural was the fact that the men with
whom she was sitting in the dim court of this lonely house had not
looked at her, did not appear to know that she was there. Hadj had
caught the aroma of their meditations with the perfume of the incense,
for his eyes had lost their mischief and become gloomily profound, as
if they stared on bygone centuries or watched a far-off future. Even
the child began to look elderly, and worn as with fastings and with
watchings. As the fumes perpetually ascended from the red-hot coals of
the brazier the sharp smell of the perfume grew stronger. There was in
it something provocative and exciting that was like a sound, and
Domini marvelled that the four men who crouched over it and drank it
in perpetually could be unaffected by its influence when she, who was
at some distance from it, felt dawning on her desires of movement, of
action, almost a physical necessity to get up and do something
extraordinary, absurd or passionate, such as she had never done or
dreamed of till this moment.
A low growl like that of a wild beast broke the silence. Domini did
not know at first whence it came. She stared at the four men, but they
were all gazing vacantly into the brazier, their naked arms dropping
to the floor. She glanced at Hadj. He was delicately taking a
cigarette paper from a little case. The child--no, it was absurd even
to think of a child emitting such a sound.
Someone growled again more fiercely, and this time Domini saw that it
was the palest of the ascetic-looking youths. He shook back his long
hair, rose to his feet with a bound, and moving into the centre of the
court gazed ferociously at his companions. As if in obedience to the
glance, two of them stretched their arms backwards, found two tomtoms,
and began to beat them loudly and monotonously. The young ascetic
bowed to the tomtoms, dropping his lower jaw and jumping on his bare
feet. He bowed again as if saluting a fetish, and again and again.
Ceaselessly he bowed to the tomtoms, always jumping softly from the
pavement. His long hair fell over his face and back upon his shoulders
with a monotonous regularity that imitated the tomtoms, as if he
strove to mould his life in accord with the fetish to which he offered
adoration. Flecks of foam appeared upon his lips, and the asceticism
in his eyes changed to a bestial glare. His whole body was involved in
a long and snake-like undulation, above which his hair flew to and
fro. Presently the second youth, moving reverently like a priest about
the altar, stole to a corner and returned with a large and curved
sheet of glass. Without looking at Domini he came to her and placed it
in her hands. When the dancer saw the glass he stood still, growled
again long and furiously, threw himself on his knees before Domini,
licked his lips, then, abruptly thrusting forward his face, set his
teeth in the sheet of glass, bit a large piece off, crunched it up
with a loud noise, swallowed it with a gulp, and growled for more. She
fed him again, while the tomtoms went on roaring, and the child in its
red pillow watched with its weary eyes. And when he was full fed, only
a fragment of glass remained between her fingers, he fell upon the
ground and lay like one in a trance.
Then the second youth bowed to the tomtoms, leaping gently on the
pavement, foamed at the mouth, growled, snuffed up the incense fumes,
shook his long mane, and placed his naked feet in the red-hot coals of
the brazier. He plucked out a coal and rolled his tongue round it. He
placed red coals under his bare armpits and kept them there, pressing
his arms against his sides. He held a coal, like a monocle, in his eye
socket against his eye. And all the time he leaped and bowed and
foamed, undulating his body like a snake. The child looked on with a
still gravity, and the tomtoms never ceased. From the gallery above
painted faces peered down, but Domini did not see them. Her attention
was taken captive by the young priests of the Sahara. For so she
called them in her mind, realising that there were religious fanatics
whose half-crazy devotion seemed to lift them above the ordinary
dangers to the body. One of the musicians now took his turn, throwing
his tomtom to the eater of glass, who had wakened from his trance. He
bowed and leaped; thrust spikes behind his eyes, through his cheeks,
his lips, his arms; drove a long nail into his head with a wooden
hammer; stood upon the sharp edge of an upturned sword blade. With the
spikes protruding from his face in all directions, and his eyes
bulging out from them like balls, he spun in a maze of hair, barking
like a dog. The child regarded him with a still attention, and the
incense fumes were cloudy in the court. Then the last of the four men
sprang up in the midst of a more passionate uproar from the tomtoms.
He wore a filthy burnous, and, with a shriek, he plunged his hand into
its hood and threw some squirming things upon the floor. They began to
run, rearing stiff tails into the air. He sank down, blew upon them,
caught them, letting them set their tail weapons in his fingers, and
lifting them thus, imbedded, high above the floor. Then again he put
them down, breathed upon each one, drew a circle round each with his
forefinger. His face had suddenly become intense, hypnotic. The
scorpions, as if mesmerised, remained utterly still, each in its place
within its imaginary circle, that had become a cage; and their master
bowed to the fetish of the tomtoms, leaped, grinned, and bowed again,
undulating his body in a maze of hair.
Domini felt as if she, like the scorpions, had been mesmerised. She,
too, was surely bound in a circle, breathed upon by some arrogant
breath of fanaticism, commanded by some horrid power. She looked at
the scorpions and felt a sort of pity for them. From time to time the
bowing fanatic glanced at them through his hair out of the corners of
his eyes, licked his lips, shook his shoulders, and uttered a long
howl, thrilling with the note of greed. The tomtoms pulsed faster and
faster, louder and louder, and all the men began to sing a fierce
chant, the song surely of desert souls driven crazy by religion. One
of the scorpions moved slightly, reared its tail, began to run.
Instantly, as if at a signal, the dancer fell upon his knees, bent
down his head, seized it in his teeth, munched it and swallowed it. At
the same moment with the uproar of the tomtoms there mingled a loud
knocking on the door.
Hadj's lips curled back from his pointed teeth and he looked
"It is Batouch!" he snarled.
Domini got up. Without a word, turning her back upon the court, she
made her way out, still hearing the howl of the scorpion-eater, the
roar of the tomtoms, and the knocking on the door. Hadj followed her
quickly, protesting. At the door was the man with the pitted white
face and the thick lips. When he saw her he held out his hand. She
gave him some money, he opened the door, and she came out into the
night by the triple palm tree. Batouch stood there looking furious,
with the bridles of two horses across his arm. He began to speak in
Arabic to Hadj, but she stopped him with an imperious gesture, gave
Hadj his fee, and in a moment was in the saddle and cantering away
into the dark. She heard the gallop of Batouch's horse coming up
behind her and turned her head.
"Batouch," she said, "you are the smartest"--she used the word /chic/
--"Arab here. Do you know what is the fashion in London when a lady
rides out with the attendant who guards her--the really smart thing to
She was playing on his vanity. He responded with a ready smile.
"The attendant rides at a short distance behind her, so that no one
can come up near her without his knowledge."
Batouch fell back, and Domini cantered on, congratulating herself on
the success of her expedient.
She passed through the village, full of strolling white figures,
lights and the sound of music, and was soon at the end of the long,
straight road that was significant to her as no other road had ever
been. Each time she saw it, stretching on till it was lost in the
serried masses of the palms, her imagination was stirred by a longing
to wander through barbaric lands, by a nomad feeling that was almost
irresistible. This road was a track of fate to her. When she was on it
she had a strange sensation as if she changed, developed, drew near to
some ideal. It influenced her as one person may influence another. Now
for the first time she was on it in the night, riding on the crowded
shadows of its palms. She drew rein and went more slowly. She had a
desire to be noiseless.
In the obscurity the thickets of the palms looked more exotic than in
the light of day. There was no motion in them. Each tree stood like a
delicately carven thing, silhouetted against the remote purple of the
void. In the profound firmament the stars burned with a tremulous
ardour they never show in northern skies. The mystery of this African
night rose not from vaporous veils and the long movement of winds, but
was breathed out by clearness, brightness, stillness. It was the
deepest of all mystery--the mystery of vastness and of peace.
No one was on the road. The sound of the horse's feet were sharply
distinct in the night. On all sides, but far off, the guard dogs were
barking by the hidden homes of men. The air was warm as in a hothouse,
but light and faintly impregnated with perfume shed surely by the
mystical garments of night as she glided on with Domini towards the
desert. From the blackness of the palms there came sometimes thin
notes of the birds of night, the whizzing noise of insects, the glassy
pipe of a frog in the reeds by a pool behind a hot brown wall.
She rode through one of the villages of old Beni-Mora, silent,
unlighted, with empty streets and closed cafes maures, touched her
horse with the whip, and cantered on at a quicker pace. As she drew
near to the desert her desire to be in it increased. There was some
coarse grass here. The palm trees grew less thickly. She heard more
clearly the barking of the Kabyle dogs, and knew that tents were not
far off. Now, between the trunks of the trees, she saw the twinkling
of distant fires, and the sound of running water fell on her ears,
mingling with the persistent noise of the insects, and the faint cries
of the birds and frogs. In front, where the road came out from the
shadows of the last trees, lay a vast dimness, not wholly unlike
another starless sky, stretched beneath the starry sky in which the
moon had not yet risen. She set her horse at a gallop and came into
the desert, rushing through the dark.
Batouch's voice was calling her. She galloped faster, like one in
flight. Her horse's feet padded over sand almost as softly as a
camel's. The vast dimness was surely coming to meet her, to take her
to itself in the night. But suddenly Batouch rode furiously up beside
her, his burnous flying out behind him over his red saddle.
"Madame, we must not go further, we must keep near the oasis."
"It is not safe at night in the desert, and besides--"
His horse plunged and nearly rocketed against hers. She pulled in. His
company took away her desire to keep on.
Leaning over his saddle peak he said, mysteriously:
"Besides, Madame, someone has been following us all the way from Beni-
"A horseman. I have heard the beat of the hoofs on the hard road. Once
I stopped and turned, but I could see nothing, and then I could hear
nothing. He, too, had stopped. But when I rode on again soon I heard
him once more. Someone found out we were going and has come after us."
She looked back into the violet night without speaking. She heard no
sound of a horse, saw nothing but the dim track and the faint, shadowy
blackness where the palms began. Then she put her hand into the pocket
of her saddle and silently held up a tiny revolver.