Part 7 out of 12
"I know, but there might be more than one. I am not afraid, but if
anything happens to Madame no one will ever take me as a guide any
She smiled for a moment, but the smile died away, and again she looked
into the night. She was not afraid physically, but she was conscious
of a certain uneasiness. The day had been long and troubled, and had
left its mark upon her. Restlessness had driven her forth into the
darkness, and behind the restlessness there was a hint of the terror
of which she had been aware when she was left alone in the /salle-a-
manger/. Was it not that vague terror which, shaking the restlessness,
had sent her to the white house by the triple palm tree, had brought
her now to the desert? she asked herself, while she listened, and the
hidden horseman of whom Batouch had spoken became in her imagination
one with the legendary victims of fate; with the Jew by the cross
roads, the mariner beating ever about the rock-bound shores of the
world, the climber in the witches' Sabbath, the phantom Arab in the
sand. Still holding her revolver, she turned her horse and rode slowly
towards the distant fires, from which came the barking of the dogs. At
some hundreds of yards from them she paused.
"I shall stay here," she said to Batouch. "Where does the moon rise?"
He stretched his arm towards the desert, which sloped gently, almost
imperceptibly, towards the east.
"Ride back a little way towards the oasis. The horseman was behind us.
If he is still following you will meet him. Don't go far. Do as I tell
With obvious reluctance he obeyed her. She saw him pull up his horse
at a distance where he had her just in sight. Then she turned so that
she could not see him and looked towards the desert and the east. The
revolver seemed unnaturally heavy in her hand. She glanced at it for a
moment and listened with intensity for the beat of horse's hoofs, and
her wakeful imagination created a sound that was non-existent in her
ears. With it she heard a gallop that was spectral as the gallop of
the black horses which carried Mephistopheles and Faust to the abyss.
It died away almost at once, and she knew it for an imagination.
To-night she was peopling the desert with phantoms. Even the fires of
the nomads were as the fires that flicker in an abode of witches, the
shadows that passed before them were as goblins that had come up out
of the sand to hold revel in the moonlight. Were they, too, waiting
for a signal from the sky?
At the thought of the moon she drew up the reins that had been lying
loosely on her horse's neck and rode some paces forward and away from
the fires, still holding the revolver in her hand. Of what use would
it be against the spectres of the Sahara? The Jew would face it
without fear. Why not the horseman of Batouch? She dropped it into the
pocket of the saddle.
Far away in the east the darkness of the sky was slowly fading into a
luminous mystery that rose from the underworld, a mystery that at
first was faint and tremulous, pale with a pallor of silver and
primrose, but that deepened slowly into a live and ardent gold against
which a group of three palm trees detached themselves from the desert
like messengers sent forth by it to give a salutation to the moon.
They were jet black against the gold, distinct though very distant.
The night, and the vast plain from which they rose, lent them a
significance that was unearthly. Their long, thin stems and drooping,
feathery leaves were living and pathetic as the night thoughts of a
woman who has suffered, but who turns, with a gesture of longing that
will not be denied, to the luminance that dwells at the heart of the
world. And those black palms against the gold, that stillness of
darkness and light in immensity, banished Domini's faint sense of
horror. The spectres faded away. She fixed her eyes on the palms.
Now all the notes of the living things that do not sleep by night, but
make music by reedy pools, in underwood, among the blades of grass and
along the banks of streams, were audible to her again, filling her
mind with the mystery of existence. The glassy note of the frogs was
like a falling of something small and pointed upon a sheet of crystal.
The whirs of the insects suggested a ceaselessly active mentality. The
faint cries of the birds dropped down like jewels slipping from the
trees. And suddenly she felt that she was as nothing in the vastness
and the complication of the night. Even the passion that she knew lay,
like a dark and silent flood, within her soul, a flood that, once
released from its boundaries, had surely the power to rush
irresistibly forward to submerge old landmarks and change the face of
a world--even that seemed to lose its depth for a moment, to be
shallow as the first ripple of a tide upon the sand. And she forgot
that the first ripple has all the ocean behind it.
Red deepened and glowed in the gold behind the three palms, and the
upper rim of the round moon, red too as blood, crept about the desert.
Domini, leaning forward with one hand upon her horse's warm neck,
watched until the full circle was poised for a moment on the horizon,
holding the palms in its frame of fire. She had never seen a moon look
so immense and so vivid as this moon that came up into the night like
a portent, fierce yet serene, moon of a barbaric world, such as might
have shone upon Herod when he heard the voice of the Baptist in his
dungeon, or upon the wife of Pilate when in a dream she was troubled.
It suggested to her the powerful watcher of tragic events fraught with
long chains of consequence that would last on through centuries, as it
turned its blood-red gaze upon the desert, upon the palms, upon her,
and, leaning upon her horse's neck, she too--like Pilate's wife--fell
into a sort of strange and troubled dream for a moment, full of
strong, yet ghastly, light and of shapes that flitted across a
background of fire.
In it she saw the priest with a fanatical look of warning in his eyes,
Count Anteoni beneath the trees of his garden, the perfume-seller in
his dark bazaar, Irena with her long throat exposed and her thin arms
drooping, the sand-diviner spreading forth his hands, Androvsky
galloping upon a horse as if pursued. This last vision returned again
and again. As the moon rose a stream of light that seemed tragic fell
across the desert and was woven mysteriously into the light of her
waking dream. The three palms looked larger. She fancied that she saw
them growing, becoming monstrous as they stood in the very centre of
the path of the nocturnal glory, and suddenly she remembered her
thought when she sat with Androvsky in the garden, that feeling grew
in human hearts like palms rising in the desert. But these palms were
tragic and aspired towards the blood-red moon. Suddenly she was seized
with a fear of feeling, of the growth of an intense sensation within
her, and realised, with an almost feverish vividness, the impotence of
a soul caught in the grip of a great passion, swayed hither and
thither, led into strange paths, along the edges, perhaps into depths
of immeasurable abysses. She had said to Androvsky that she would
rather be the centre of a world tragedy than die without having felt
to the uttermost even if it were sorrow. Was that not the speech of a
mad woman, or at least of a woman who was so ignorant of the life of
feeling that her words were idle and ridiculous? Again she felt
desperately that she did not know herself, and this lack of the most
essential of all knowledge reduced her for a moment to a bitterness of
despair that seemed worse than the bitterness of death. The vastness
of the desert appalled her. The red moon held within its circle all
the blood of the martyrs, of life, of ideals. She shivered in the
saddle. Her nature seemed to shrink and quiver, and a cry for
protection rose within her, the cry of the woman who cannot face life
alone, who must find a protector, and who must cling to a strong arm,
who needs man as the world needs God.
Then again it seemed to her that she saw Androvsky galloping upon a
horse as if pursued.
Moved by a desire to do something to combat this strange despair, born
of the moonrise and the night, she sat erect in her saddle, and
resolutely looked at the desert, striving to get away from herself in
a hard contemplation of the details that surrounded her, the outward
things that were coming each moment into clearer view. She gazed
steadily towards the palms that sharply cut the moonlight. As she did
so something black moved away from them, as if it had been part of
them and now detached itself with the intention of approaching her
along the track. At first it was merely a moving blot, formless and
small, but as it drew nearer she saw that it was a horseman riding
slowly, perhaps stealthily, across the sand. She glanced behind her,
and saw Batouch not far off, and the fires of the nomads. Then she
turned again to watch the horseman. He came steadily forward.
It was the voice of Batouch.
"Stay where you are!" she called out to him.
She heard the soft sound of the horse's feet and could see the
attitude of its rider. He was leaning forward as if searching the
night. She rode to meet him, and they came to each other in the path
of the light she had thought tragic.
"You followed me?"
"I cannot see you go out alone into the desert at night," Androvsky
"But you have no right to follow me."
"I cannot let harm come to you, Madame."
She was silent. A moment before she had been longing for a protector.
One had come to her, the man whom she had been setting with those
legendary figures who have saddened and appalled the imagination of
men. She looked at the dark figure of Androvsky leaning forward on the
horse whose feet were set on the path of the moon, and she did not
know whether she felt confidence in him or fear of him. All that the
priest had said rose up in her mind, all that Count Anteoni had hinted
and that had been visible in the face of the sand-diviner. This man
had followed her into the night as a guardian. Did she need someone,
something, to guard her from him? A faint horror was still upon her.
Perhaps he knew it and resented it, for he drew himself upright on his
horse and spoke again, with a decision that was rare in him.
"Let me send Batouch back to Beni-Mora, Madame."
"Why?" she asked, in a low voice that was full of hesitation.
"You do not need him now."
He was looking at her with a defiant, a challenging expression that
was his answer to her expression of vague distrust and apprehension.
"How do you know that?"
He did not answer the question, but only said:
"It is better here without him. May I send him away, Madame?"
She bent her head. Androvsky rode off and she saw him speaking to
Batouch, who shook his head as if in contradiction.
"Batouch!" she called out. "You can ride back to Beni-Mora. We shall
The poet cantered forward.
"Madame, it is not safe."
The sound of his voice made Domini suddenly know what she had not been
sure of before--that she wished to be alone with Androvsky.
"Go, Batouch!" she said. "I tell you to go."
Batouch turned his horse without a word, and disappeared into the
darkness of the distant palms.
When they were alone together Domini and Androvsky sat silent on their
horses for some minutes. Their faces were turned towards the desert,
which was now luminous beneath the moon. Its loneliness was
overpowering in the night, and made speech at first an impossibility,
and even thought difficult. At last Androvsky said:
"Madame, why did you look at me like that just now, as if you--as if
you hesitated to remain alone with me?"
Suddenly she resolved to tell him of her oppression of the night. She
felt as if to do so would relieve her of something that was like a
pain at her heart.
"Has it never occurred to you that we are strangers to each other?"
she said. "That we know nothing of each other's lives? What do you
know of me or I of you?"
He shifted in his saddle and moved the reins from one hand to the
other, but said nothing.
"Would it seem strange to you if I did hesitate--if even now--"
"Yes," he interrupted violently, "it would seem strange to me."
"You would rely on an Arab and not rely upon me," he said with intense
"I did not say so."
"Yet at first you wished to keep Batouch."
"Batouch is my attendant."
"And I? Perhaps I am nothing but a man whom you distrust; whom--whom
others tell you to think ill of."
"I judge for myself."
"But if others speak ill of me?"
"It would not influence me----for long."
She added the last words after a pause. She wished to be strictly
truthful, and to-night she was not sure that the words of the priest
had made no impression upon her.
"For long!" he repeated. Then he said abruptly, "The priest hates me."
"And Count Anteoni?"
"You interested Count Anteoni greatly."
His voice sounded intensely suspicious in the night.
"Don't you wish to interest anyone? It seems to me that to be
uninteresting is to live eternally alone in a sunless desert."
"I wish--I should like to think that I--" He stopped, then said, with
a sort of ashamed determination: "Could I ever interest you, Madame?"
"Yes," she answered quietly.
"But you would rather be protected by an Arab than by me. The priest
"To-night I do not seem to be myself," she said, interrupting him.
"Perhaps there is some physical reason. I got up very early, and--
don't you ever feel oppressed, suspicious, doubtful of life, people,
yourself, everything, without apparent reason? Don't you know what it
is to have nightmare without sleeping?"
"I! But you are different."
"To-night I have felt--I do feel as if there were tragedy near me,
perhaps coming towards me," she said simply, "and I am oppressed, I am
When she had said it she felt happier, as if a burden she carried were
suddenly lighter. As he did not speak she glanced at him. The moon
rays lit up his face. It looked ghastly, drawn and old, so changed
that she scarcely recognised it and felt, for a moment, as if she were
with a stranger. She looked away quickly, wondering if what she had
seen was merely some strange effect of the moon, or whether Androvsky
was really altered for a moment by the action of some terrible grief,
one of those sudden sorrows that rush upon a man from the hidden
depths of his nature and tear his soul, till his whole being is
lacerated and he feels as if his soul were flesh and were streaming
with the blood from mortal wounds. The silence between them was long.
In it she presently heard a reiterated noise that sounded like
struggle and pain made audible. It was Androvsky's breathing. In the
soft and exquisite air of the desert he was gasping like a man shut up
in a cellar. She looked again towards him, startled. As she did so he
turned his horse sideways and rode away a few paces. Then he pulled up
his horse. He was now merely a black shape upon the moonlight,
motionless and inaudible. She could not take her eyes from this shape.
Its blackness suggested to her the blackness of a gulf. Her memory
still heard that sound of deep-drawn breathing or gasping, heard it
and quivered beneath it as a tender-hearted person quivers seeing a
helpless creature being ill-used. She hesitated for a moment, and
then, carried away by an irresistible impulse to try to soothe this
extremity of pain which she was unable to understand, she rode up to
Androvsky. When she reached him she did not know what she had meant to
say or do. She felt suddenly impotent and intrusive, and even horribly
shy. But before she had time for speech or action he turned to her and
said, lifting up his hands with the reins in them and then dropping
them down heavily upon his horse's neck:
"Madame, I wanted to tell you that to-morrow I----" He stopped.
"Yes?" she said.
He turned his head away from her till she could not see his face.
"To-morrow I am leaving Beni-Mora."
"To-morrow!" she said.
She did not feel the horse under her, the reins in her hand. She did
not see the desert or the moon. Though she was looking at Androvsky
she no longer perceived him. At the sound of his words it seemed to
her as if all outside things she had ever known had foundered, like a
ship whose bottom is ripped up by a razor-edged rock, as if with them
had foundered, too, all things within herself: thoughts, feelings,
even the bodily powers that were of the essence of her life; sense of
taste, smell, hearing, sight, the capacity of movement and of
deliberate repose. Nothing seemed to remain except the knowledge that
she was still alive and had spoken.
"Yes, to-morrow I shall go away."
His face was still turned from her, and his voice sounded as if it
spoke to someone at a distance, someone who could hear as man cannot
"To-morrow," she repeated.
She knew she had spoken again, but it did not seem to her as if she
had heard herself speak. She looked at her hands holding the reins,
knew that she looked at them, yet felt as if she were not seeing them
while she did so. The moonlit desert was surely flickering round her,
and away to the horizon in waves that were caused by the disappearance
of that ship which had suddenly foundered with all its countless
lives. And she knew of the movement of these waves as the soul of one
of the drowned, already released from the body, might know of the
movement on the surface of the sea beneath which its body was hidden.
But the soul was evidently nothing without the body, or, at most,
merely a continuance of power to know that all which had been was no
more. All which had been was no more.
At last her mind began to work again, and those words went through it
with persistence. She thought of the fascination of Africa, that
enormous, overpowering fascination which had taken possession of her
body and spirit. What had become of it? What had become of the romance
of the palm gardens, of the brown villages, of the red mountains, of
the white town with its lights, its white figures, its throbbing
music? And the mystical attraction of the desert--where was it now?
Its voice, that had called her persistently, was suddenly silent. Its
hand, that had been laid upon her, was removed. She looked at it in
the moonlight and it was no longer the desert, sand with a soul in it,
blue distances full of a music of summons, spaces, peopled with
spirits from the sun. It was only a barren waste of dried-up matter,
arid, featureless, desolate, ghastly with the bones of things that had
She heard the dogs barking by the tents of the nomads and the noises
of the insects, but still she did not feel the horse underneath her.
Yet she was gradually recovering her powers, and their recovery
brought with it sharp, physical pain, such as is felt by a person who
has been nearly drowned and is restored from unconsciousness.
Androvsky turned round. She saw his eyes fastened upon her, and
instantly pride awoke in her, and, with pride, her whole self.
She felt her horse under her, the reins in her hands, the stirrup at
her foot. She moved in her saddle. The blood tingled in her veins
fiercely, bitterly, as if it had become suddenly acrid. She felt as if
her face were scarlet, as if her whole body flushed, and as if the
flush could be seen by her companion. For a moment she was clothed
from head to foot in a fiery garment of shame. But she faced Androvsky
with calm eyes, and her lips smiled.
"You are tired of it?" she said.
"I never meant to stay long," he answered, looking down.
"There is not very much to do here. Shall we ride back to the village
She turned her horse, and as she did so cast one more glance at the
three palm trees that stood far out on the path of the moon. They
looked like three malignant fates lifting up their hands in
malediction. For a moment she shivered in the saddle. Then she touched
her horse with the whip and turned her eyes away. Androvsky followed
her and rode by her side in silence.
To gain the oasis they passed near to the tents of the nomads, whose
fires were dying out. The guard dogs were barking furiously, and
straining at the cords which fastened them to the tent pegs, by the
short hedges of brushwood that sheltered the doors of filthy rags. The
Arabs were all within, no doubt huddled up on the ground asleep. One
tent was pitched alone, at a considerable distance from the others,
and under the first palms of the oasis. A fire smouldered before it,
casting a flickering gleam of light upon something dark which lay upon
the ground between it and the tent. Tied to the tent was a large white
dog, which was not barking, but which was howling as if in agony of
fear. Before Domini and Androvsky drew near to this tent the howling
of the dog reached them and startled them. There was in it a note that
seemed humanly expressive, as if it were a person trying to scream out
words but unable to from horror. Both of them instinctively pulled up
their horses, listened, then rode forward. When they reached the tent
they saw the dark thing lying by the fire.
"What is it?" Domini whispered.
"An Arab asleep, I suppose," Androvsky answered, staring at the
"But the dog----" She looked at the white shape leaping frantically
against the tent. "Are you sure?"
"It must be. Look, it is wrapped in rags and the head is covered."
"I don't know."
She stared at it. The howling of the dog grew louder, as if it were
straining every nerve to tell them something dreadful.
"Do you mind getting off and seeing what it is? I'll hold the horse."
He swung himself out of the saddle. She caught his rein and watched
him go forward to the thing that lay by the fire, bend down over it,
touch it, recoil from it, then--as if with a determined effort--kneel
down beside it on the ground and take the rags that covered it in his
hands. After a moment of contemplation of what they had hidden he
dropped the rags--or rather threw them from him with a violent gesture
--got up and came back to Domini, and looked at her without speaking.
She bent down.
"I'll tell you," she said. "I'll tell you what it is. It's a dead
It seemed to her as if the dark thing lying by the fire was herself.
"Yes," he said. "It's a woman who has been strangled."
"Poor woman!" she said. "Poor--poor woman!"
And it seemed to her as if she said it of herself.
Lying in bed in the dark that night Domini heard the church clock
chime the hours. She was not restless, though she was wakeful. Indeed,
she felt like a woman to whom an injection of morphia had been
administered, as if she never wished to move again. She lay there
counting the minutes that made the passing hours, counting them
calmly, with an inexorable and almost cold self-possession. The
process presently became mechanical, and she was able, at the same
time, to dwell upon the events that had followed upon the discovery of
the murdered woman by the tent: Androvsky's pulling aside of the door
of the tent to find it empty, their short ride to the encampment close
by, their rousing up of the sleeping Arabs within, filthy nomads
clothed in patched garments, unveiled women with wrinkled, staring
faces and huge plaits of false hair and amulets. From the tents the
strange figures had streamed forth into the light of the moon and the
fading fires, gesticulating, talking loudly, furiously, in an uncouth
language that was unintelligible to her. Led by Androvsky they had
come to the corpse, while the air was rent by the frantic barking of
all the guard dogs and the howling of the dog that had been a witness
of the murder. Then in the night had risen the shrill wailing of the
women, a wailing that seemed to pierce the stars and shudder out to
the remotest confines of the desert, and in the cold white radiance of
the moon a savage vision of grief had been presented to her eyes:
naked arms gesticulating as if they strove to summon vengeance from
heaven, claw-like hands casting earth upon the heads from which
dangled Fatma hands, chains of tarnished silver and lumps of coral
that reminded her of congealed blood, bodies that swayed and writhed
as if stricken with convulsions or rent by seven devils. She
remembered how strange had seemed to her the vast calm, the vast
silence, that encompassed this noisy outburst of humanity, how
inflexible had looked the enormous moon, how unsympathetic the
brightly shining stars, how feverish and irritable the flickering
illumination of the flames that spurted up and fainted away like
things still living but in the agonies of death.
Then had followed her silent ride back to Beni-Mora with Androvsky
along the straight road which had always fascinated her spirit of
adventure. They had ridden slowly, without looking at each other,
without exchanging a word. She had felt dry and weary, like an old
woman who had passed through a long life of suffering and emerged into
a region where any acute feeling is unable to exist, as at a certain
altitude from the earth human life can no longer exist. The beat of
the horses' hoofs upon the road had sounded hard, as her heart felt,
cold as the temperature of her mind. Her body, which usually swayed to
her horse's slightest movement, was rigid in the saddle. She
recollected that once, when her horse stumbled, she had thrilled with
an abrupt anger that was almost ferocious, and had lifted her whip to
lash it. But the hand had slipped down nervelessly, and she had fallen
again into her frigid reverie.
When they reached the hotel she had dropped to the ground, heavily,
and heavily had ascended the steps of the verandah, followed by
Androvsky. Without turning to him or bidding him good-night she had
gone to her room. She had not acted with intentional rudeness or
indifference--indeed, she had felt incapable of an intention. Simply,
she had forgotten, for the first time perhaps in her life, an ordinary
act of courtesy, as an old person sometimes forgets you are there and
withdraws into himself. Androvsky had said nothing, had not tried to
attract her attention to himself. She had heard his steps die away on
the verandah. Then, mechanically, she had undressed and got into bed,
where she was now mechanically counting the passing moments.
Presently she became aware of her own stillness and connected it with
the stillness of the dead woman, by the tent. She lay, as it were,
watching her own corpse as a Catholic keeps vigil beside a body that
has not yet been put into the grave. But in this chamber of death
there were no flowers, no lighted candles, no lips that moved in
prayer. She had gone to bed without praying. She remembered that now,
but with indifference. Dead people do not pray. The living pray for
them. But even the watcher could not pray. Another hour struck in the
belfry of the church. She listened to the chime and left off counting
the moments, and this act of cessation made more perfect the peace of
the dead woman.
When the sun rose her sensation of death passed away, leaving behind
it, however, a lethargy of mind and body such as she had never known
before the previous night. Suzanne, coming in to call her, exclaimed:
"Mam'selle is ill?"
"No. Why should I be ill?"
"Mam'selle looks so strange," the maid said, regarding her with round
and curious eyes. "As if--"
"Give me my tea," Domini said.
When she was drinking it she asked:
"Do you know at what time the train leaves Beni-Mora--the passenger
"Yes, Mam'selle. There is only one in the day. It goes soon after
twelve. Monsieur Helmuth told me."
"What gown will--?"
"Any gown--the white linen one I had on yesterday."
"No, not that. Any other gown. Is it to be hot?"
"Very hot, Mam'selle. There is not a cloud in the sky."
"How strange!" Domini said, in a low voice that Suzanne did not hear.
When she was up and dressed she said:
"I am going out to Count Anteoni's garden. I think I'll--yes, I'll
take a book with me."
She went into her little salon and looked at the volumes scattered
about there, some books of devotion, travel, books on sport,
Rossetti's and Newman's poems, some French novels, and the novels of
Jane Austen, of which, oddly, considering her nature, she was very
fond. For the first time in her life they struck her as shrivelled,
petty chronicles of shrivelled, bloodless, artificial lives. She
turned back into her bedroom, took up the little white volume of the
/Imitation/, which lay always near her bed, and went out into the
verandah. She looked neither to right nor left, but at once descended
the staircase and took her way along the arcade.
When she reached the gate of the garden she hesitated before knocking
upon it. The sight of the villa, the arches, the white walls and
clustering trees she knew so well hurt her so frightfully, so
unexpectedly, that she felt frightened and sick, and as if she must go
away quickly to some place which she had never seen, and which could
call up no reminiscences in her mind.
Perhaps she would have gone into the oasis, or along the path that
skirted the river bed, had not Smain softly opened the gate and come
out to meet her, holding a great velvety rose in his slim hand.
He gave it to her without a word, smiling languidly with eyes in which
the sun seemed caught and turned to glittering darkness, and as she
took it and moved it in her fingers, looking at the wine-coloured
petals on which lay tiny drops of water gleaming with thin and silvery
lights, she remembered her first visit to the garden, and the
mysterious enchantment that had floated out to her through the gate
from the golden vistas and the dusky shadows of the trees, the feeling
of romantic expectation that had stirred within her as she stepped on
to the sand and saw before her the winding ways disappearing into
dimness between the rills edged by the pink geraniums.
How long ago that seemed, like a remembrance of early childhood in the
heart of one who is old.
Now that the gate was open she resolved to go into the garden. She
might as well be there as elsewhere. She stepped in, holding the rose
in her hand. One of the drops of water slipped from an outer petal and
fell upon the sand. She thought of it as a tear. The rose was weeping,
but her eyes were dry. She touched the rose with her lips.
To-day the garden was like a stranger to her, but a stranger with whom
she had once--long, long ago--been intimate, whom she had trusted, and
by whom she had been betrayed. She looked at it and knew that she had
thought it beautiful and loved it. From its recesses had come to her
troops of dreams. The leaves of its trees had touched her as with
tender hands. The waters of its rills had whispered to her of the
hidden things that lie in the breast of joy. The golden rays that
played through its scented alleys had played, too, through the shadows
of her heart, making a warmth and light there that seemed to come from
heaven. She knew this as one knows of the apparent humanity that
greeted one's own humanity in the friend who is a friend no longer,
and she sickened at it as at the thought of remembered intimacy with
one proved treacherous. There seemed to her nothing ridiculous in this
personification of the garden, as there had formerly seemed to her
nothing ridiculous in her thought of the desert as a being; but the
fact that she did thus instinctively personify the nature that
surrounded her gave to the garden in her eyes an aspect that was
hostile and even threatening, as if she faced a love now changed to
hate, a cold and inimical watchfulness that knew too much about her,
to which she had once told all her happy secrets and murmured all her
hopes. She did not hate the garden, but she felt as if she feared it.
The movements of its leaves conveyed to her uneasiness. The hidden
places, which once had been to her retreats peopled with tranquil
blessings, were now become ambushes in which lay lurking enemies.
Yet she did not leave it, for to-day something seemed to tell her that
it was meant that she should suffer, and she bowed in spirit to the
She went on slowly till she reached the /fumoir/. She entered it and
She had not seen any of the gardeners or heard the note of a flute.
The day was very still. She looked at the narrow doorway and
remembered exactly the attitude in which Count Anteoni had stood
during their first interview, holding a trailing branch of the
bougainvillea in his hand. She saw him as a shadow that the desert had
taken. Glancing down at the carpet sand she imagined the figure of the
sand-diviner crouching there and recalled his prophecy, and directly
she did this she knew that she had believed in it. She had believed
that one day she would ride, out into the desert in a storm, and that
with her, enclosed in the curtains of a palanquin, there would be a
companion. The Diviner had not told her who would be this companion.
Darkness was about him rendering him invisible to the eyes of the
seer. But her heart had told her. She had seen the other figure in the
palanquin. It was a man. It was Androvsky.
She had believed that she would go out into the desert with Androvsky,
with this traveller of whose history, of whose soul, she knew nothing.
Some inherent fatalism within her had told her so. And now----?
The darkness of the shade beneath the trees in this inmost recess of
the garden fell upon her like the darkness of that storm in which the
desert was blotted out, and it was fearful to her because she felt
that she must travel in the storm alone. Till now she had been very
much alone in life and had realised that such solitude was dreary,
that in it development was difficult, and that it checked the steps of
the pilgrim who should go upward to the heights of life. But never
till now had she felt the fierce tragedy of solitude, the utter terror
of it. As she sat in the /fumoir/, looking down on the smoothly-raked
sand, she said to herself that till this moment she had never had any
idea of the meaning of solitude. It was the desert within a human
soul, but the desert without the sun. And she knew this because at
last she loved. The dark and silent flood of passion that lay within
her had been released from its boundaries, the old landmarks were
swept away for ever, the face of the world was changed.
She loved Androvsky. Everything in her loved him; all that she had
been, all that she was, all that she could ever be loved him; that
which was physical in her, that which was spiritual, the brain, the
heart, the soul, body and flame burning within it--all that made her
the wonder that is woman, loved him. She was love for Androvsky. It
seemed to her that she was nothing else, had never been anything else.
The past years were nothing, the pain by which she was stricken when
her mother fled, by which she was tormented when her father died
blaspheming, were nothing. There was no room in her for anything but
love of Androvsky. At this moment even her love of God seemed to have
been expelled from her. Afterwards she remembered that. She did not
think of it now. For her there was a universe with but one figure in
it--Androvsky. She was unconscious of herself except as love for him.
She was unconscious of any Creative Power to whom she owed the fact
that he was there to be loved by her. She was passion, and he was that
to which passion flowed.
The world was the stream and the sea.
As she sat there with her hands folded on her knees, her eyes bent
down, and the purple flowers all about her, she felt simplified and
cleansed, as if a mass of little things had been swept from her,
leaving space for the great thing that henceforth must for ever dwell
within her and dominate her life. The burning shame of which she had
been conscious on the previous night, when Androvsky told her of his
approaching departure and she was stricken as by a lightning flash,
had died away from her utterly. She remembered it with wonder. How
should she be ashamed of love? She thought that it would be impossible
to her to be ashamed, even if Androvsky knew all that she knew. Just
then the immense truth of her feeling conquered everything else, made
every other thing seem false, and she said to herself that of truth
she did not know how to be ashamed. But with the knowledge of the
immense truth of her love came the knowledge of the immense sorrow
that might, that must, dwell side by side with it.
Suddenly she moved. She lifted her eyes from the sand and looked out
into the garden. Besides this truth within her there was one other
thing in the world that was true. Androvsky was going away. While she
sat there the moments were passing. They were making the hours that
were bent upon destruction. She was sitting in the garden now and
Androvsky was close by. A little time would pass noiselessly. She
would be sitting there and Androvsky would be far away, gone from the
desert, gone out of her life no doubt for ever. And the garden would
not have changed. Each tree would stand in its place, each flower
would still give forth its scent. The breeze would go on travelling
through the lacework of the branches, the streams slipping between the
sandy walls of the rills. The inexorable sun would shine, and the
desert would whisper in its blue distances of the unseen things that
always dwell beyond. And Androvsky would be gone. Their short
intercourse, so full of pain, uneasiness, reserve, so fragmentary, so
troubled by abrupt violences, by ignorance, by a sense of horror even
on the one side, and by an almost constant suspicion on the other,
would have come to an end.
She was stunned by the thought, and looked round her as if she
expected inanimate Nature to take up arms for her against this fate.
Yet she did not for a moment think of taking up arms herself. She had
left the hotel without trying to see Androvsky. She did not intend to
return to it till he was gone. The idea of seeking him never came into
her mind. There is an intensity of feeling that generates action, but
there is a greater intensity of feeling that renders action
impossible, the feeling that seems to turn a human being into a shell
of stone within which burn all the fires of creation. Domini knew that
she would not move out of the /fumoir/ till the train was creeping
along the river-bed on its way from Beni-Mora.
She had laid down the /Imitation/ upon the seat by her side, and now
she took it up. The sight of its familiar pages made her think for the
first time, "Do I love God any more?" And immediately afterwards came
the thought: "Have I ever loved him?" The knowledge of her love for
Androvsky, for this body that she had seen, for this soul that she had
seen through the body like a flame through glass, made her believe
just then that if she had ever thought--and certainly she had thought
--that she loved a being whom she had never seen, never even
imaginatively projected, she had deceived herself. The act of faith
was not impossible, but the act of love for the object on which that
faith was concentrated now seemed to her impossible. For her body,
that remained passive, was full of a riot, a fury of life. The flesh
that had slept was awakened and knew itself. And she could no longer
feel that she could love that which her flesh could not touch, that
which could not touch her flesh. And she said to herself, without
terror, even without regret, "I do not love, I never have loved, God."
She looked into the book:
"Unspeakable, indeed, is the sweetness of thy contemplation, which
thou bestowest on them that love thee."
The sweetness of thy contemplation! She remembered Androvsky's face
looking at her out of the heart of the sun as they met for the first
time in the blue country. In that moment she put him consciously in
the place of God, and there was nothing within her to say, "You are
committing mortal sin."
She looked into the book once more and her eyes fell upon the words
which she had read on her first morning in Beni-Mora:
"Love watcheth, and sleeping, slumbereth not. When weary it is not
tired; when straitened it is not constrained; when frightened it
is not disturbed; but like a vivid flame and a burning torch it
mounteth upwards and securely passeth through all. Whosoever
loveth knoweth the cry of this voice."
She had always loved these words and thought them the most beautiful
in the book, but now they came to her with the newness of the first
spring morning that ever dawned upon the world. The depth of them was
laid bare to her, and, with that depth, the depth of her own heart.
The paralysis of anguish passed from her. She no longer looked to
Nature as one dumbly seeking help. For they led her to herself, and
made her look into herself and her own love and know it. "When
frightened it is not disturbed--it securely passeth through all." That
was absolutely true--true as her love. She looked down into her love,
and she saw there the face of God, but thought she saw the face of
human love only. And it was so beautiful and so strong that even the
tears upon it gave her courage, and she said to herself: "Nothing
matters, nothing can matter so long as I have this love within me. He
is going away, but I am not sad, for I am going with him--my love, all
that I am--that is going with him, will always be with him."
Just then it seemed to her that if she had seen Androvsky lying dead
before her on the sand she could not have felt unhappy. Nothing could
do harm to a great love. It was the one permanent, eternally vital
thing, clad in an armour of fire that no weapon could pierce, free of
all terror from outside things because it held its safety within its
own heart, everlastingly enough, perfectly, flawlessly complete for
and in itself. For that moment fear left her, restlessness left her.
Anyone looking in upon her from the garden would have looked in upon a
great, calm happiness.
Presently there came a step upon the sand of the garden walks. A man,
going slowly, with a sort of passionate reluctance, as if something
immensely strong was trying to hold him back, but was conquered with
difficulty by something still stronger that drove him on, came out of
the fierce sunshine into the shadow of the garden, and began to search
its silent recesses. It was Androvsky. He looked bowed and old and
guilty. The two lines near his mouth were deep. His lips were working.
His thin cheeks had fallen in like the cheeks of a man devoured by a
wasting illness, and the strong tinge of sunburn on them seemed to be
but an imperfect mark to a pallor that, fully visible, would have been
more terrible than that of a corpse. In his eyes there was a fixed
expression of ferocious grief that seemed mingled with ferocious
anger, as if he were suffering from some dreadful misery, and cursed
himself because he suffered, as a man may curse himself for doing a
thing that he chooses to do but need not do. Such an expression may
sometimes be seen in the eyes of those who are resisting a great
He began to search the garden, furtively but minutely. Sometimes he
hesitated. Sometimes he stood still. Then he turned back and went a
little way towards the wide sweep of sand that was bathed in sunlight
where the villa stood. Then with more determination, and walking
faster, he again made his way through the shadows that slept beneath
the densely-growing trees. As he passed between them he several times
stretched out trembling hands, broke off branches and threw them on
the sand, treading on them heavily and crushing them down below the
surface. Once he spoke to himself in a low voice that shook as if with
difficulty dominating sobs that were rising in his throat.
"/De profundis/--" he said. "/De profundis/--/de profundis/--"
His voice died away. He took hold of one hand with the other and went
Presently he made his way at last towards the /fumoir/ in which Domini
was still sitting, with one hand resting on the open page whose words
had lit up the darkness in her spirit. He came to it so softly that
she did not hear his step. He saw her, stood quite still under the
trees, and looked at her for a long time. As he did so his face
changed till he seemed to become another man. The ferocity of grief
and anger faded from his eyes, which were filled with an expression of
profound wonder, then of flickering uncertainty, then of hard, manly
resolution--a fighting expression that was full of sex and passion.
The guilty, furtive look which had been stamped upon all his features,
specially upon his lips, vanished. Suddenly he became younger in
appearance. His figure straightened itself. His hands ceased from
trembling. He moved away from the trees, and went to the doorway of
Domini looked up, saw him, and got up quietly, clasping her fingers
round the little book.
Androvsky stood just beyond the doorway, took off his hat, kept it in
his hand, and said:
"I came here to say good-bye."
He made a movement as if to come into the /fumoir/, but she stopped it
by coming at once to the opening. She felt that she could not speak to
him enclosed within walls, under a roof. He drew back, and she came
out and stood beside him on the sand.
"Did you know I should come?" he said.
She noticed that he had ceased to call her "Madame," and also that
there was in his voice a sound she had not heard in it before, a note
of new self-possession that suggested a spirit concentrating itself
and aware of its own strength to act.
"No," she answered.
"Were you coming back to the hotel this morning?" he asked.
He was silent for a moment. Then he said slowly:
"Then--then you did not wish--you did not mean to see me again before
"It was not that. I came to the garden--I had to come--I had to be
"You want to be alone?" he said. "You want to be alone?"
Already the strength was dying out of his voice and face, and the old
uneasiness was waking up in him. A dreadful expression of pain came
into his eyes.
"Was that why you--you looked so happy?" he said in a harsh, trembling
"I stood for a long while looking at you when you were in there"--he
pointed to the /fumoir/--"and your face was happy--your face was
"Yes, I know."
"You will be happy alone?--alone in the desert?"
When he said that she felt suddenly the agony of the waterless spaces,
the agony of the unpeopled wastes. Her whole spirit shrank and
quivered, all the great joy of her love died within her. A moment
before she had stood upon the heights of her heart. Now she shrank
into its deepest, blackest abysses. She looked at him and said
"You will not be happy alone."
His voice no longer trembled. He caught hold of her left hand,
awkwardly, nervously, but held it strongly with his close to his side,
and went on speaking.
"Nobody is happy alone. Nothing is--men and women--children--animals."
A bird flew across the shadowy space under the trees, followed by
another bird; he pointed to them; they disappeared. "The birds, too,
they must have companionship. Everything wants a companion."
"But then--you will stay here alone in the desert?"
"What else can I do?" she said.
"And that journey," he went on, still holding her hand fast against
his side, "Your journey into the desert--you will take it alone?"
"What else can I do?" she repeated in a lower voice.
It seemed to her that he was deliberately pressing her down into the
"You will not go."
"Yes, I shall go."
She spoke with conviction. Even in that moment--most of all in that
moment--she knew that she would obey the summons of the desert.
"I--I shall never know the desert," he said. "I thought--it seemed to
me that I, too, should go out into it. I have wanted to go. You have
made me want to go."
"Yes. Once you said to me that peace must dwell out there. It was on
the tower the--the first time you ever spoke to me."
"I wondered--I often wonder why you spoke to me."
She knew he was looking at her with intensity, but she kept her eyes
on the sand. There was something in them that she felt he must not
see, a light that had just come into them as she realised that
already, on the tower before she even knew him, she had loved him. It
was that love, already born in her heart but as yet unconscious of its
own existence, which had so strangely increased for her the magic of
the African evening when she watched it with him. But before--suddenly
she knew that she had loved Androvsky from the beginning, from the
moment when his face looked at her as if out of the heart of the sun.
That was why her entry into the desert had been full of such
extraordinary significance. This man and the desert were, had always
been, as one in her mind. Never had she thought of the one without the
other. Never had she been mysteriously called by the desert without
hearing as a far-off echo the voice of Androvsky, or been drawn onward
by the mystical summons of the blue distances without being drawn
onward, too, by the mystical summons of the heart to which her own
responded. The link between the man and the desert was indissoluble.
She could not conceive of its being severed, and as she realised this,
she realised also something that turned her whole nature into flame.
She could not conceive of Androvsky's not loving her, of his not
having loved her from the moment when he saw her in the sun. To him,
too, the desert had made a revelation--the revelation of her face, and
of the soul behind it looking through it. In the flames of the sun, as
they went into the desert, the flames of their two spirits had been
blended. She knew that certainly and for ever. Then how could it be
possible that Androvsky should not go out with her into the desert?
"Why did you speak to me?" he said.
"We came into the desert together," she answered simply. "We had to
know each other."
"And now--now--we have to say----"
His voice ceased. Far away there was the thin sound of a chime. Domini
had never before heard the church bell in the garden, and now she felt
as if she heard it, not with her ears, but with her spirit. As she
heard she felt Androvsky's hand, which had been hot upon hers, turn
cold. He let her hand go, and again she was stricken by the horrible
sound she had heard the previous night in the desert, when he turned
his horse and rode away with her. And now, as then, he turned away
from her in silence, but she knew that this time he was leaving her,
that this movement was his final good-bye. With his head bowed down he
took a few steps. He was near to a turning of the path. She watched
him, knowing that within less than a moment she would be watching only
the trees and the sand. She gazed at the bent figure, calling up all
her faculties, crying out to herself passionately, desperately,
"Remember it--remember it as it is--there--before you--just as it is--
for ever." As it reached the turning, in the distance of the garden
rose the twitter of the flute of Larbi. Androvsky stopped, stood still
with his back turned towards her. And Larbi, hidden and far off,
showered out his little notes of African love, of love in the desert
where the sun is everlasting, and the passion of man is hot as the
sun, where Liberty reigns, lifting her cymbals that are as spheres of
fire, and the footsteps of Freedom are heard upon the sand, treading
towards the south.
Larbi played--played on and on, untiring as the love that blossomed
with the world, but that will not die when the world dies.
Then Androvsky came back quickly till he reached the place where
Domini was standing. He put his hands on her shoulders. Then he sank
down on the sand, letting his hands slip down over her breast and
along her whole body till they clasped themselves round her knees. He
pressed his face into her dress against her knees.
"I love you," he said. "I love you but don't listen to me--you mustn't
hear it--you mustn't. But I must say it. I can't--I can't go till I
say it. I love you--I love you."
She heard him sobbing against her knees, and the sound was as the
sound of strength made audible. She put her hands against his temples.
"I am listening," she said. "I must hear it."
He looked up, rose to his feet, put his hands behind her shoulders,
held her, and set his lips on hers, pressing his whole body against
"Hear it!" he said, muttering against her lips. "Hear it. I love you--
I love you."
The two birds they had seen flew back beneath the trees, turned in an
airy circle, rose above the trees into the blue sky, and, side by
side, winged their way out of the garden to the desert.
BOOK IV. THE JOURNEY
In the evening before the day of Domini's marriage with Androvsky
there was a strange sunset, which attracted even the attention and
roused the comment of the Arabs. The day had been calm and beautiful,
one of the most lovely days of the North African spring, and Batouch,
resting from the triumphant labour of superintending the final
preparations for a long desert journey, augured a morning of Paradise
for the departure along the straight road that led at last to
Tombouctou. But as the radiant afternoon drew to its end there came
into the blue sky a whiteness that suggested a heaven turning pale in
the contemplation of some act that was piteous and terrible. And under
this blanching heaven the desert, and all things and people of the
oasis of Beni-Mora, assumed an aspect of apprehension, as if they felt
themselves to be in the thrall of some power whose omnipotence they
could not question and whose purpose they feared. This whiteness was
shot, at the hour of sunset, with streaks of sulphur yellow and
dappled with small, ribbed clouds tinged with yellow-green, a bitter
and cruel shade of green that distressed the eyes as a merciless light
distresses them, but these colours quickly faded, and again the
whiteness prevailed for a brief space of time before the heavy falling
of a darkness unpierced by stars. With this darkness came a faint
moaning of hollow wind from the desert, a lamentable murmur that
shuddered over the great spaces, crept among the palms and the flat-
roofed houses, and died away at the foot of the brown mountains beyond
the Hammam Salahine. The succeeding silence, short and intense, was
like a sound of fear, like the cry of a voice lifted up in protest
against the approach of an unknown, but dreaded, fate. Then the wind
came again with a stronger moaning and a lengthened life, not yet
forceful, not yet with all its powers, but more tenacious, more
acquainted with itself and the deeds that it might do when the night
was black among the vast sands which were its birth-place, among the
crouching plains and the trembling palm groves that would be its
Batouch looked grave as he listened to the wind and the creaking of
the palm stems one against another. Sand came upon his face. He pulled
the hood of his burnous over his turban and across his cheeks, covered
his mouth with a fold of his haik and stared into the blackness, like
an animal in search of something his instinct has detected approaching
from a distance.
Ali was beside him in the doorway of the Cafe Maure, a slim Arab boy,
bronze-coloured and serious as an idol, who was a troubadour of the
Sahara, singer of "Janat" and many lovesongs, player of the guitar
backed with sand tortoise and faced with stretched goatskin. Behind
them swung an oil lamp fastened to a beam of palm, and the red ashes
glowed in the coffee niche and shed a ray upon the shelf of small
white cups with faint designs of gold. In a corner, his black face and
arms faintly relieved against the wall, an old negro crouched, gazing
into vacancy with bulging eyes, and beating with a curved palm stem
upon an oval drum, whose murmur was deep and hollow as the murmur of
the wind, and seemed indeed its echo prisoned within the room and
striving to escape.
"There is sand on my eyelids," said Batouch. "It is bad for to-morrow.
When Allah sends the sands we should cover the face and play the
ladies' game within the cafe, we should not travel on the road towards
Ali said nothing, but drew up his haik over his mouth and nose, and
looked into the night, folding his thin hands in his burnous.
"Achmed will sleep in the Bordj of Arba," continued Batouch in a low,
murmuring voice, as if speaking to himself. "And the beasts will be in
the court. Nothing can remain outside, for there will be a greater
roaring of the wind at Arba. Can it be the will of Allah that we rest
in the tents to-morrow?"
Ali made no answer. The wind had suddenly died down.
The sand grains came no more against their eyelids and the folds of
their haiks. Behind them the negro's drum gave out monotonously its
echo of the wind, filling the silence of the night.
"Whatever Allah sends," Batouch went on softly after a pause, "Madame
will go. She is brave as the lion. There is no jackal in Madame. Irena
is not more brave than she is. But Madame will never wear the veil for
a man's sake. She will not wear the veil, but she could give a knife-
thrust if he were to look at another woman as he has looked at her, as
he will look at her to-morrow. She is proud as a Touareg and there is
fierceness in her. But he will never look at another woman as he will
look at her to-morrow. The Roumi is not as we are."
The wind came back to join its sound with the drum, imprisoning the
two Arabs in a muttering circle.
"They will not care," said Batouch. "They will go out into the storm
The sand pattered more sharply on his eyelids. He drew back into the
cafe. Ali followed him, and they squatted down side by side upon the
ground and looked before them seriously. The noise of the wind
increased till it nearly drowned the noise of the negro's drum.
Presently the one-eyed owner of the cafe brought them two cups of
coffee, setting the cups near their stockinged feet. They rolled two
cigarettes and smoked in silence, sipping the coffee from time to
time. Then Ali began to glance towards the negro. Half shutting his
eyes, and assuming a languid expression that was almost sickly, he
stretched his lips in a smile, gently moving his head from side to
side. Batouch watched him. Presently he opened his lips and began to
"The love of women is like a date that is golden in the sun,
That is golden--
The love of women is like a gazelle that comes to drink--
To drink at the water springs--
The love of women is like the nargileh, and like the dust of the keef
That is mingled with tobacco and with honey.
Put the reed between thy lips, O loving man!
And draw dreams from the haschish that is the love of women!
Janat! Janat! Janat!"
The wind grew louder and sand was blown along the cafe floor and about
"The love of women is like the rose of the Caid's garden
That is full of silver tears--
The love of women is like the first day of the spring
When the children play at Cora--
The love of women is like the Derbouka that has been warmed at the fire
And gives out a sweet sound.
Take it in thy hands, O loving man!
And sing to the Derbouka that is the love of women.
Janat! Janat! Janat!"
In the doorway, where the lamp swung from the beam, a man in European
dress stood still to listen. The wind wailed behind him and stirred
his clothes. His eyes shone in the faint light with a fierceness of
emotion in which there was a joy that was almost terrible, but in
which there seemed also to be something that was troubled. When the
song died away, and only the voices of the wind and the drum spoke to
the darkness, he disappeared into the night. The Arabs did not see
"Janat! Janat! Janat!"
The night drew on and the storm increased. All the doors of the houses
were closely shut. Upon the roofs the guard dogs crouched, shivering
and whining, against the earthen parapets. The camels groaned in the
fondouks, and the tufted heads of the palms swayed like the waves of
the sea. And the Sahara seemed to be lifting up its voice in a summons
that was tremendous as a summons to Judgment.
Domini had always known that the desert would summon her. She heard
its summons now in the night without fear. The roaring of the tempest
was sweet in her ears as the sound of the Derbouka to the loving man
of the sands. It accorded with the fire that lit up the cloud of
passion in her heart. Its wildness marched in step with a marching
wildness in her veins and pulses. For her gipsy blood was astir
to-night, and the recklessness of the boy in her seemed to clamour
with the storm. The sound of the wind was as the sound of the clashing
cymbals of Liberty, calling her to the adventure that love would
glorify, to the far-away life that love would make perfect, to the
untrodden paths of the sun of which she had dreamed in the shadows,
and on which she would set her feet at last with the comrade of her
To-morrow her life would begin, her real life, the life of which men
and women dream as the prisoner dreams of freedom. And she was glad,
she thanked God, that her past years had been empty of joy, that in
her youth she had been robbed of youth's pleasures. She thanked God
that she had come to maturity without knowing love. It seemed to her
that to love in early life was almost pitiful, was a catastrophe, an
experience for which the soul was not ready, and so could not
appreciate at its full and wonderful value. She thought of it as of a
child being taken away from the world to Paradise without having known
the pain of existence in the world, and at that moment she worshipped
suffering. Every tear that she had ever shed she loved, every weary
hour, every despondent thought, every cruel disappointment. She called
around her the congregation of her past sorrows, and she blessed them
and bade them depart from her for ever.
As she heard the roaring of the wind she smiled. The Sahara was
fulfilling the words of the Diviner. To-morrow she and Androvsky would
go out into the storm and the darkness together. The train of camels
would be lost in the desolation of the desert. And the people of Beni-
Mora would see it vanish, and, perhaps, would pity those who were
hidden by the curtains of the palanquin. They would pity her as
Suzanne pitied her, openly, with eyes that were tragic. She laughed
It was late in the night. Midnight had sounded yet she did not go to
bed. She feared to sleep, to lose the consciousness of her joy of the
glory which had come into her life. She was a miser of the golden
hours of this black and howling night. To sleep would be to be robbed.
A splendid avarice in her rebelled against the thought of sleep.
Was Androvsky sleeping? She wondered and longed to know.
To-night she was fully aware for the first time of the inherent
fearlessness of her character, which was made perfect at last by her
perfect love. Alone, she had always had courage. Even in her most
listless hours she had never been a craven. But now she felt the
completeness of a nature clothed in armour that rendered it
impregnable. It was a strange thing that man should have the power to
put the finishing touch to God's work, that religion should stoop to
be a handmaid to faith in a human being, but she did not think it
strange. Everything in life seemed to her to be in perfect accord
because her heart was in perfect accord with another heart.
And she welcomed the storm. She even welcomed something else that came
to her now in the storm: the memory of the sand-diviner's tortured
face as he gazed down, reading her fate in the sand. For what was an
untroubled fate? Surely a life that crept along the hollows and had no
impulse to call it to the heights. Knowing the flawless perfection of
her armour she had a wild longing to prove it. She wished that there
should be assaults upon her love, because she knew she could resist
them one and all, and she wished to have the keen joy of resisting
them. There is a health of body so keen and vital that it desires
combat. The soul sometimes knows a precisely similar health and is
filled with a similar desire.
"Put my love to the proof, O God!" was Domini's last prayer that night
when the storm was at its wildest. "Put my love to the uttermost proof
that he may know it, as he can never know it otherwise."
And she fell asleep at length, peacefully, in the tumult of the night,
feeling that God had heard her prayer.
The dawn came struggling like an exhausted pilgrim through the windy
dark, pale and faint, with no courage, it seemed, to grow bravely into
day. As if with the sedulous effort of something weary but of
unconquered will, it slowly lit up Beni-Mora with a feeble light that
flickered in a cloud of whirling sand, revealing the desolation of an
almost featureless void. The village, the whole oasis, was penetrated
by a passionate fog that instead of brooding heavily, phlegmatically,
over the face of life and nature travelled like a demented thing bent
upon instant destruction, and coming thus cloudily to be more free for
crime. It was an emissary of the desert, propelled with irresistible
force from the farthest recess of the dunes, and the desert itself
seemed to be hurrying behind it as if to spy upon the doing of its
As the sea in a great storm rages against the land, ferocious that
land should be, so the desert now raged against the oasis that
ventured to exist in its bosom. Every palm tree was the victim of its
wrath, every running rill, every habitation of man. Along the tunnels
of mimosa it went like a foaming tide through a cavern, roaring
towards the mountains. It returned and swept about the narrow streets,
eddying at the corners, beating upon the palmwood doors, behind which
the painted dancing-girls were cowering, cold under their pigments and
their heavy jewels, their red hands trembling and clasping one
another, clamouring about the minarets of the mosques on which the
frightened doves were sheltering, shaking the fences that shut in the
gazelles in their pleasaunce, tearing at the great statue of the
Cardinal that faced it resolutely, holding up the double cross as if
to exorcise it, battering upon the tall, white tower on whose summit
Domini had first spoken with Androvsky, raging through the alleys of
Count Anteoni's garden, the arcades of his villa, the window-spaces of
the /fumoir/, from whose walls it tore down frantically the purple
petals of the bougainvillea and dashed them, like enemies defeated,
upon the quivering paths which were made of its own body.
Everywhere in the oasis it came with a lust to kill, but surely its
deepest enmity was concentrated upon the Catholic Church.
There, despite the tempest, people were huddled, drawn together not so
much by the ceremony that was to take place within as by the desire to
see the departure of an unusual caravan. In every desert centre news
is propagated with a rapidity seldom equalled in the home of
civilisation. It runs from mouth to mouth like fire along straw. And
Batouch, in his glory, had not been slow to speak of the wonders
prepared under his superintendence to make complete the desert journey
of his mistress and Androvsky. The main part of the camp had already
gone forward, and must have reached Arba, the first halting stage
outside Beni-Mora; tents, the horses for the Roumis, the mules to
carry necessary baggage, the cooking utensils and the guard dogs. But
the Roumis themselves were to depart from the church on camel-back
directly the marriage was accomplished. Domini, who had a native
hatred of everything that savoured of ostentation, had wished for a
tiny expedition, and would gladly have gone out into the desert with
but one tent, Batouch and a servant to do the cooking. But the journey
was to be long and indefinite, an aimless wandering through the land
of liberty towards the south, without fixed purpose or time of
returning. She knew nothing of what was necessary for such a journey,
and tired of ceaseless argument, and too much occupied with joy to
burden herself with detail, at last let Batouch have his way.
"I leave it to you, Batouch," she said. "But, remember, as few people
and beasts as possible. And as you say we must have camels for certain
parts of the journey, we will travel the first stage on camel-back."
Consciously she helped to fulfil the prediction of the Diviner, and
then she left Batouch free.
Now outside the church, shrouded closely in hoods and haiks, grey and
brown bundles with staring eyes, the desert men were huddled against
the church wall in the wind. Hadj was there, and Smain, sheltering in
his burnous roses from Count Anteoni's garden. Larbi had come with his
flute and the perfume-seller from his black bazaar. For Domini had
bought perfumes from him on her last day in Beni-Mora. Most of Count
Anteoni's gardeners had assembled. They looked upon the Roumi lady,
who rode magnificently, but who could dream as they dreamed, too, as a
friend. Had she not haunted the alleys where they worked and idled
till they had learned to expect her, and to miss her when she did not
come? And with those whom Domini knew were assembled their friends,
and their friends' friends, men of Beni-Mora, men from the near oasis,
and also many of those desert wanderers who drift in daily out of the
sands to the centres of buying and selling, barter their goods for the
goods of the South, or sell their loads of dates for money, and,
having enjoyed the dissipation of the cafes and of the dancing-houses,
drift away again into the pathless wastes which are their home.
Few of the French population had ventured out, and the church itself
was almost deserted when the hour for the wedding drew nigh.
The priest came from his little house, bending forward against the
wind, his eyes partially protected from the driving sand by blue
spectacles. His face, which was habitually grave, to-day looked sad
and stern, like the face of a man about to perform a task that was
against his inclination, even perhaps against his conscience. He
glanced at the waiting Arabs and hastened into the church, taking off
his spectacles as he did so, and wiping his eyes, which were red from
the action of the sand-grains, with a silk pocket-handkerchief. When
he reached the sacristy he shut himself into it alone for a moment. He
sat down on a chair and, leaning his arms upon the wooden table that
stood in the centre of the room, bent forward and stared before him at
the wall opposite, listening to the howling of the wind.
Father Roubier had an almost passionate affection for his little
church of Beni-Mora. So long and ardently had he prayed and taught in
it, so often had he passed the twilight hours in it alone wrapped in
religious reveries, or searching his conscience for the shadows of
sinful thoughts, that it had become to him as a friend, and more than
a friend. He thought of it sometimes as his confessor and sometimes as
his child. Its stones were to him as flesh and blood, its altars as
lips that whispered consolation in answer to his prayers. The figures
of its saints were heavenly companions. In its ugliness he perceived
only beauty, in its tawdriness only the graces that are sweet
offerings to God. The love that, had he not been a priest, he might
have given to a woman he poured forth upon his church, and with it
that other love which, had it been the design of his Heavenly Father,
would have fitted him for the ascetic, yet impassioned, life of an
ardent and devoted monk. To defend this consecrated building against
outrage he would, without hesitation, have given his last drop of
blood. And now he was to perform in it an act against which his whole
nature revolted; he was to join indissolubly the lives of these two
strangers who had come to Beni-Mora--Domini Enfilden and Boris
Androvsky. He was to put on the surplice and white stole, to say the
solemn and irreparable "Ego Jungo," to sprinkle the ring with holy
water and bless it.
As he sat there alone, listening to the howling of the storm outside,
he went mentally through the coming ceremony. He thought of the
wonderful grace and beauty of the prayers of benediction, and it
seemed to him that to pronounce them with his lips, while his nature
revolted against his own utterance, was to perform a shameful act, was
to offer an insult to this little church he loved.
Yet how could he help performing this act? He knew that he would do
it. Within a few minutes he would be standing before the altar, he
would be looking into the faces of this man and woman whose love he
was called upon to consecrate. He would consecrate it, and they would
go out from him into the desert man and wife. They would be lost to
his sight in the town.
His eye fell upon a silver crucifix that was hanging upon the wall in
front of him. He was not a very imaginative man, not a man given to
fancies, a dreamer of dreams more real to him than life, or a seer of
visions. But to-day he was stirred, and perhaps the unwonted turmoil
of his mind acted subtly upon his nervous system. Afterward he felt
certain that it must have been so, for in no other way could he
account for a fantasy that beset him at this moment.
As he looked at the crucifix there came against the church a more
furious beating of the wind, and it seemed to him that the Christ upon
the crucifix shuddered.
He saw it shudder. He started, leaned across the table and stared at
the crucifix with eyes that were full of an amazement that was mingled
with horror. Then he got up, crossed the room and touched the crucifix
with his finger. As he did so, the acolyte, whose duty it was to help
him to robe, knocked at the sacristy door. The sharp noise recalled
him to himself. He knew that for the first time in his life he had
been the slave of an optical delusion. He knew it, and yet he could
not banish the feeling that God himself was averse from the act that
he was on the point of committing in this church that confronted
Islam, that God himself shuddered as surely even He, the Creator, must
shudder at some of the actions of his creatures. And this feeling
added immensely to the distress of the priest's mind. In performing
this ceremony he now had the dreadful sensation that he was putting
himself into direct antagonism with God. His instinctive horror of
Androvsky had never been so great as it was to-day. In vain he had
striven to conquer it, to draw near to this man who roused all the
repulsion of his nature. His efforts had been useless. He had prayed
to be given the sympathy for this man that the true Christian ought to
feel towards every human being, even the most degraded. But he felt
that his prayers had not been answered. With every day his antipathy
for Androvsky increased. Yet he was entirely unable to ground it upon
any definite fact in Androvsky's character. He did not know that
character. The man was as much a mystery to him as on the day when
they first met. And to this living mystery from which his soul
recoiled he was about to consign, with all the beautiful and solemn
blessings of his Church, a woman whose character he respected, whose
innate purity, strength and nobility he had quickly divined, and no
less quickly learned to love.
It was a bitter, even a horrible, moment to him.
The little acolyte, a French boy, son of the postmaster of Beni-Mora,
was startled by the sight of the Father's face when he opened the
sacristy door. He had never before seen such an expression of almost
harsh pain in those usually kind eyes, and he drew back from the
threshold like one afraid. His movement recalled the priest to a sharp
consciousness of the necessities of the moment, and with a strong
effort he conquered his pain sufficiently to conceal all outward
expression of it. He smiled gently at the little boy and said:
"Is it time?"
The child looked reassured.
He came into the sacristy and went towards the cupboard where the
vestments were kept, passing the silver crucifix. As he did so he
glanced at it. He opened the cupboard, then stood for a moment and
again turned his eyes to the Christ. The Father watched him.
"What are you looking at, Paul?" he asked.
"Nothing, Father," the boy replied, with a sudden expression of
reluctance that was almost obstinate.
And he began to take the priest's robes out of the cupboard.
Just then the wind wailed again furiously about the church, and the
crucifix fell down upon the floor of the sacristy.
The priest started forward, picked it up, and stood with it in his
hand. He glanced at the wall, and saw at once that the nail to which
the crucifix had been fastened had come out of its hole. A flake of
plaster had been detached, perhaps some days ago, and the hole had
become too large to retain the nail. The explanation of the matter was
perfect, simple and comprehensible. Yet the priest felt as if a
catastrophe had just taken place. As he stared at the cross he heard a
little noise near him. The acolyte was crying.
"Why, Paul, what's the matter?" he said.
"Why did it do that?" exclaimed the boy, as if alarmed. "Why did it do
"Perhaps it was the wind. Everything is shaking. Come, come, my child,
there is nothing to be afraid of."
He laid the crucifix on the table. Paul dried his eyes with his fists.
"I don't like to-day," he said. "I don't like to-day."
The priest patted him on the shoulder.
"The weather has upset you," he said, smiling.
But the nervous behaviour of the child deepened strangely his own
sense of apprehension. When he had robed he waited for the arrival of
the bride and bridegroom. There was to be no mass, and no music except
the Wedding March, which the harmonium player, a Marseillais employed
in the date-packing trade, insisted on performing to do honour to
Mademoiselle Enfilden, who had taken such an interest in the music of
the church. Androvsky, as the priest had ascertained, had been brought
up in the Catholic religion, but, when questioned, he had said quietly
that he was no longer a practising Catholic and that he never went to
confession. Under these circumstances it was not possible to have a
nuptial mass. The service would be short and plain, and the priest was
glad that this was so. Presently the harmonium player came in.
"I may play my loudest to-day, Father," he said, "but no one will hear
He laughed, settled the pin--Joan of Arc's face in metal--in his azure
blue necktie, and added:
"Nom d'un chien, the wind's a cruel wedding guest!"
The priest nodded without speaking.
"Would you believe, Father," the man continued, "that Mademoiselle and
her husband are going to start for Arba from the church door in all
this storm! Batouch is getting the palanquin on to the camel. How they
"Hush!" said the priest, holding up a warning finger.
This idle chatter displeased him in the church, but he had another
reason for wishing to stop the conversation. It renewed his dread to
hear of the projected journey, and made him see, as in a shadowy
vision, Domini Enfilden's figure disappearing into the windy
desolation of the desert protected by the living mystery he hated.
Yes, at this moment, he no longer denied it to himself. There was
something in Androvsky that he actually hated with his whole soul,
hated even in his church, at the very threshold of the altar where
stood the tabernacle containing the sacred Host. As he thoroughly
realised this for a moment he was shocked at himself, recoiled
mentally from his own feeling. But then something within him seemed to
rise up and say, "Perhaps it is because you are near to the Host that
you hate this man. Perhaps you are right to hate him when he draws
nigh to the body of Christ."
Nevertheless when, some minutes later, he stood within the altar rails
and saw the face of Domini, he was conscious of another thought, that
came through his mind, dark with doubt, like a ray of gold: "Can I be
right in hating what this good woman--this woman whose confession I
have received, whose heart I know--can I be right in hating what she
loves, in fearing what she trusts, in secretly condemning what she
openly enthrones?" And almost in despite of himself he felt reassured
for an instant, even happy in the thought of what he was about to do.
Domini's face at all times suggested strength. The mental and
emotional power of her were forcibly expressed, too, through her tall
and athletic body, which was full of easy grace, but full, too, of
well-knit firmness. To-day she looked not unlike a splendid Amazon who
could have been a splendid nun had she entered into religion. As she
stood there by Androvsky, simply dressed for the wild journey that was
before her, the slight hint in her personality of a Spartan youth,
that stamped her with a very definite originality, was blended with,
even transfigured by, a womanliness so intense as to be almost fierce,
a womanliness that had the fervour, the glowing vigour of a glory that
had suddenly become fully aware of itself, and of all the deeds that
it could not only conceive, but do. She was triumph embodied in the
flesh, not the triumph that is a school-bully, but that spreads wings,
conscious at last that the human being has kinship with the angels,
and need not, should not, wait for death to seek bravely their
comradeship. She was love triumphant, woman utterly fearless because
instinctively aware that she was fulflling her divine mission.
As he gazed at her the priest had a strange thought--of how Christ's
face must have looked when he said, "Lazarus, come forth!"
Androvsky stood by her, but the priest did not look at him.
The wind roared round the church, the narrow windows rattled, and the
clouds of sand driven against them made a pattering as of fingers
tapping frantically upon the glass. The buff-coloured curtains
trembled, and the dusty pink ribands tied round the ropes of the
chandeliers shook incessantly to and fro, as if striving to escape and
to join the multitudes of torn and disfigured things that were swept
through space by the breath of the storm. Beyond the windows, vaguely
seen at moments through the clouds of sand, the outlines of the palm
leaves wavered, descended, rose, darted from side to side, like hands
of the demented.
Suzanne, who was one of the witnesses, trembled, and moved her full
lips nervously. She disapproved utterly of her mistress' wedding, and
still more of a honeymoon in the desert. For herself she did not care,
very shortly she was going to marry Monsieur Helmuth, the important
person in livery who accompanied the hotel omnibus to the station, and
meanwhile she was to remain at Beni-Mora under the chaperonage of
Madame Armande, the proprietor of the hotel. But it shocked her that a
mistress of hers, and a member of the English aristocracy, should be
married in a costume suitable for a camel ride, and should start off
to go to /le Bon Dieu/ alone knew where, shut up in a palanquin like
any black woman covered with lumps of coral and bracelets like
The other witnesses were the mayor of Beni-Mora, a middle-aged doctor,
who wore the conventional evening-dress of French ceremony, and looked
as if the wind had made him as sleepy as a bear on the point of
hibernating, and the son of Madame Armande, a lively young man, with a
bullet head and eager, black eyes. The latter took a keen interest in
the ceremony, but the mayor blinked pathetically, and occasionally
rubbed his large hooked nose as if imploring it to keep his whole
person from drooping down into a heavy doze.
The priest, speaking in a conventional voice that was strangely
inexpressive of his inward emotion, asked Androvsky and Domini whether
they would take each other for wife and husband, and listened to their
replies. Androvsky's voice sounded to him hard and cold as ice when it
replied, and suddenly he thought of the storm as raging in some
northern land over snowbound wastes whose scanty trees were leafless.
But Domini's voice was clear, and warm as the sun that would shine
again over the desert when the storm was past. The mayor, constraining
himself to keep awake a little longer, gave Domini away, while Suzanne
dropped tears into a pocket-handkerchief edged with rose-coloured
frilling, the gift of Monsieur Helmuth. Then, when the troth had been
plighted in the midst of a more passionate roaring of the wind, the
priest, conquering a terrible inward reluctance that beset him despite
his endeavour to feel detached and formal, merely a priest engaged in
a ceremony that it was his office to carry out, but in which he had no
personal interest, spoke the fateful words:
"/Ego conjungo vos in matrimonium in nomine Patris et Filii et
Spiritus Sancti. Amen/."
He said this without looking at the man and woman who stood before
him, the man on the right hand and the woman on the left, but when he
lifted his hand to sprinkle them with holy water he could not forbear
glancing at them, and he saw Domini as a shining radiance, but
Androvsky as a thing of stone. With a movement that seemed to the
priest sinister in its oppressed deliberation, Androvsky placed gold
and silver upon the book and the marriage ring.
The priest spoke again, slowly, in the uproar of the wind, after
blessing the ring:
"/Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini/."
After the reply the "/Domine, exaudi orationem meam/," the "/Et
clamor/," the "/Dominus vobiscum/," and the "/Et cum spiritu tuo/,"
the "/Oremus/," and the prayer following, he sprinkled the ring with
holy water in the form of a cross and gave it to Androvsky to give
with gold and silver to Domini. Androvsky took the ring, repeated the
formula, "With this ring," etc., then still, as it seemed to the
priest, with the same sinister deliberation, placed it on the thumb of
the bride's uncovered hand, saying, "/In the name of the Father/,"
then on her second finger, saying, "/Of the Son/," then on her third
finger, saying, "/Of the Holy Ghost/," then on her fourth finger. But
at this moment, when he should have said "/Amen/," there was a long
pause of silence. During it--why he did not know--the priest found
himself thinking of the saying of St. Isidore of Seville that the ring
of marriage is left on the fourth finger of the bride's hand because
that finger contains a vein directly connected with the heart.
Androvsky had spoken. The priest started, and went on with the
"/Confirma, hoc, Deus/." And from this point until the "/Per Christum
Dominum nostrum, Amen/," which, since there was no Mass, closed the
ceremony, he felt more master of himself and his emotions than at any
time previously during this day. A sensation of finality, of the
irrevocable, came to him. He said within himself, "This matter has
passed out of my hands into the hands of God." And in the midst of the
violence of the storm a calm stole upon his spirit. "God knows best!"
he said within himself. "God knows best!"
Those words and the state of feeling that was linked with them were
and had always been to him as mighty protecting arms that uplifted him
above the beating waves of the sea of life. The Wedding March sounded
when the priest bade good-bye to the husband and wife whom he had made
one. He was able to do it tranquilly. He even pressed Androvsky's
"Be good to her," he said. "She is--she is a good woman."
To his surprise Androvsky suddenly wrung his hand almost passionately,
and the priest saw that there were tears in his eyes.
That night the priest prayed long and earnestly for all wanderers in
When Domini and Androvsky came out from the church they saw vaguely a
camel lying down before the door, bending its head and snarling
fiercely. Upon its back was a palanquin of dark-red stuff, with a roof
of stuff stretched upon strong, curved sticks, and curtains which
could be drawn or undrawn at pleasure. The desert men crowded about it
like eager phantoms in the wind, half seen in the driving mist of
sand. Clinging to Androvsky's arm, Domini struggled forward to the
camel. As she did so, Smain, unfolding for an instant his burnous,
pressed into her hands his mass of roses. She thanked him with a smile
he scarcely saw and a word that was borne away upon the wind. At
Larbi's lips she saw the little flute and his thick fingers fluttering
upon the holes. She knew that he was playing his love-song for her,
but she could not hear it except in her heart. The perfume-seller
sprinkled her gravely with essence, and for a moment she felt as if
she were again in his dark bazaar, and seemed to catch among the
voices of the storm the sound of men muttering prayers to Allah as in
the mosque of Sidi-Zazan.
Then she was in the palanquin with Androvsky close beside her.
At this moment Batouch took hold of the curtains of the palanquin to
draw them close, but she put out her hand and stopped him. She wanted
to see the last of the church, of the tormented gardens she had learnt
He looked astonished, but yielded to her gesture, and told the camel-
driver to make the animal rise to its feet. The driver took his stick
and plied it, crying out, "A-ah! A-ah!" The camel turned its head
towards him, showing its teeth, and snarling with a sort of dreary
"A-ah!" shouted the driver. "A-ah! A-ah!"
The camel began to get up.
As it did so, from the shrouded group of desert men one started
forward to the palanquin, throwing off his burnous and gesticulating
with thin naked arms, as if about to commit some violent act. It was
the sand-diviner. Made fantastic and unreal by the whirling sand
grains, Domini saw his lean face pitted with small-pox; his eyes,
blazing with an intelligence that was demoniacal, fixed upon her; the
long wound that stretched from his cheek to his forehead. The pleading
that had been mingled with the almost tyrannical command of his
demeanour had vanished now. He looked ferocious, arbitrary, like a
savage of genius full of some frightful message of warning or rebuke.
As the camel rose he cried aloud some words in Arabic. Domini heard
his voice, but could not understand the words. Laying his hands on the
stuff of the palanquin he shouted again, then took away his hands and
shook them above his head towards the desert, still staring at Domini
with his fanatical eyes.
The wind shrieked, the sand grains whirled in spirals about his body,
the camel began to move away from the church slowly towards the
"A-ah!" cried the camel-driver. "A-ah!"
In the storm his call sounded like a wail of despair.
As the voice of the Diviner fainted away on the wind, and the vision
of his wounded face and piercing eyes was lost in the whirling sand
grains, Androvsky stretched out his hand and drew together the heavy
curtains of the palanquin. The world was shut out. They were alone for
the first time as man and wife; moving deliberately on this beast they
could not see, but whose slow and monotonous gait swung them gently to
and fro, out from the last traces of civilisation into the life of the
sands. With each soft step the camel took they went a little farther
from Beni-Mora, came a little nearer to that liberty of which Domini
sometimes dreamed, to the smiling eyes and the lifted spheres of fire.
She shut her eyes now. She did not want to see her husband or to touch
his hand. She did not want to speak. She only wanted to feel in the
uttermost depths of her spirit this movement, steady and persistent,
towards the goal of her earthly desires, to realise absolutely the
marvellous truth that after years of lovelessness, and a dreaminess
more benumbing than acute misery, happiness more intense than any she
had been able to conceive of in her moments of greatest yearning was
being poured into her heart, that she was being taken to the place
where she would be with the one human being whose presence blotted out
even the memory of the false world and gave to her the true. And
whereas in the dead years she had sometimes been afraid of feeling too
much the emptiness and the desolation of her life, she was now afraid
of feeling too little its fulness and its splendour, was afraid of
some day looking back to this superb moment of her earthly fate, and
being conscious that she had not grasped its meaning till it was gone,
that she had done that most terrible of all things--realised that she
had been happy to the limits of her capacity for happiness only when
her happiness was numbered with the past.
But could that ever be? Was Time, such Time as this, not Eternity?
Could such earthly things as this intense joy ever have been and no
longer be? It seemed to her that it could not be so. She felt like one
who held Eternity's hand, and went out with that great guide into the
endlessness of supreme perfection. For her, just then, the Creator's
scheme was rounded to a flawless circle. All things fell into order,
stars and men, the silent growing things, the seas, the mountains and
the plains, fell into order like a vast choir to obey the command of
the canticle: Benedicite, omnia opera!"
"Bless ye the Lord!" The roaring of the wind about the palanquin
became the dominant voice of this choir in Domini's ears.
"Bless ye the Lord!" It was obedient, not as the slave, but as the
free will is obedient, as her heart, which joined its voice with this
wind of the desert was obedient, because it gloriously chose with all
its powers, passions, aspirations to be so. The real obedience is only
love fulfilling its last desire, and this great song was the
fulfilling of the last desire of all created things. Domini knew that
she did not realise the joy of this moment of her life now when she
felt no longer that she was a woman, but only that she was a living
praise winging upward to God.
A warm, strong hand clasped hers. She opened her eyes. In the dim
twilight of the palanquin she saw the darkness of Androvsky's tall
figure sitting in the crouched attitude rendered necessary by the
peculiar seat, and swaying slightly to the movement of the camel. The
light was so obscure that she could not see his eyes or clearly
discern his features, but she felt that he was gazing at her shadowy
figure, that his mind was passionately at work. Had he, too, been
silently praising God for his happiness, and was he now wishing the
body to join in the soul's delight?
She left her hand in his passively. The sense of her womanhood, lost
for a moment in the ecstasy of worship, had returned to her, but with
a new and tremendous meaning which seemed to change her nature.
Androvsky forcibly pressed her hand with his, let it go, then pressed
it again, repeating the action with a regularity that seemed suggested
by some guidance. She imagined him pressing her hand each time his
heart pulsed. She did not want to return the pressure. As she felt his
hand thus closing and unclosing over hers, she was conscious that she,
who in their intercourse had played a dominant part, who had even
deliberately brought about that intercourse by her action on the
tower, now longed to be passive and, forgetting her own power and the
strength and force of her nature, to lose herself in the greater
strength and force of this man to whom she had given herself. Never
before had she wished to be anything but strong. Nor did she desire
weakness now, but only that his nature should rise above hers with
eagle's wings, that when she looked up she should see him, never when
she looked down. She thought that to see him below her would kill her,
and she opened her lips to say so. But something in the windy darkness
kept her silent. The heavy curtains of the palanquin shook
perpetually, and the tall wooden rods on which they were slung
creaked, making a small, incessant noise like a complaining, which
joined itself with the more distant but louder noise made by the
leaves of the thousands of palm trees dashed furiously together. From
behind came the groaning of one of the camels, borne on the gusts of
the wind, and faint sounds of the calling voices of the Arabs who
accompanied them. It was not a time to speak.
She wondered where they were, in what part of the oasis, whether they
had yet gained the beginning of the great route which had always
fascinated her, and which was now the road to the goal of all her
earthly desires. But there was nothing to tell her. She travelled in a
world of dimness and the roar of wind, and in this obscurity and
uproar, combined with perpetual though slight motion, she lost all
count of time. She had no idea how long it was since she had come out
of the church door with Androvsky. At first she thought it was only a
few minutes, and that the camels must be just coming to the statue of
the Cardinal. Then she thought that it might be an hour, even more;
that Count Anteoni's garden was long since left behind, and that they
were passing, perhaps, along the narrow streets of the village of old
Beni-Mora, and nearing the edge of the oasis. But even in this
confusion of mind she felt that something would tell her when the last
palms had vanished in the sand mist and the caravan came out into the
desert. The sound of the wind would surely be different when they met
it on the immense flats, where there was nothing to break its fury. Or
even if it were not different, she felt that she would know, that the
desert would surely speak to her in the moment when, at last, it took
her to itself. It could not be that they would be taken by the desert
and she not know it. But she wanted Androvsky to know it too. For she
felt that the moment when the desert took them, man and wife, would be
a great moment in their lives, greater even than that in which they
met as they came into the blue country. And she set herself to listen,
with a passionate expectation, with an attention so close and
determined that it thrilled her body, and even affected her muscles.
What she was listening for was a rising of the wind, a crescendo of
its voice. She was anticipating a triumphant cry from the Sahara,
unlimited power made audible in a sound like the blowing of the
clarion of the sands.
Androvsky's hand was still on hers, but now it did not move as if
obeying the pulsations of his heart. It held hers closely, warmly, and
sent his strength to her, and presently, for an instant, taking her
mind from the desert, she lost herself in the mystery and the wonder
of human companionship. She realised that the touch of Androvsky's
hand on hers altered for her herself, and the whole universe as it was
presented to her, as she observed and felt it. Nothing remained as it
was when he did not touch her. There was something stupefying in the
thought, something almost terrible. The wonder that is alive in the
tiny things of love, and that makes tremendously important their
presence in, or absence from, a woman's life, took hold on her
completely for the first time, and set her forever in a changed world,
a world in which a great knowledge ruled instead of a great ignorance.
With the consciousness of exactly what Androvsky's touch meant to her
came a multiple consciousness of a thousand other things, all
connected with him and her consecrated relation to him. She quivered
with understanding. All the gates of her soul were being opened, and
the white light of comprehension of those things which make life
splendid and fruitful was pouring in upon her. Within the dim,
contained space of the palanquin, that was slowly carried onward
through the passion of the storm, there was an effulgence of unseen
glory that grew in splendour moment by moment. A woman was being born
of a woman, woman who knew herself of woman who did not know herself,
woman who henceforth would divinely love her womanhood of woman who
had often wondered why she had been created woman.
The words muttered by the man of the sand in Count Anteoni's garden
were coming true. In the church of Beni-Mora the life of Domini had
begun more really than when her mother strove in the pains of
childbirth and her first faint cry answered the voice of the world's
light when it spoke to her.
Slowly the caravan moved on. The camel-drivers sang low under the
folds of their haiks those mysterious songs of the East that seem the
songs of heat and solitude. Batouch, smothered in his burnous, his
large head sunk upon his chest, slumbered like a potentate relieved
from cares of State. Till Arba was reached his duty was accomplished.
Ali, perched behind him on the camel, stared into the dimness with
eyes steady and remote as those of a vulture of the desert. The houses
of Beni-Mora faded in the mist of the sand, the statue of the Cardinal
holding the double cross, the tower of the hotel, the shuddering trees
of Count Anteoni's garden. Along the white blue which was the road the
camels painfully advanced, urged by the cries and the sticks of the
running drivers. Presently the brown buildings of old Beni-Mora came
partially into sight, peeping here and there through the flying sands
and the frantic palm leaves. The desert was at hand.
Ali began to sing, breathing his song into the back of Batouch's hood.
"The love of women is like the holiday song that the boy sings gaily
In the sunny garden--
The love of women is like the little moon, the little happy moon
In the last night of Ramadan.
The love of women is like the great silence that steals at dusk
To kiss the scented blossoms of the orange tree.
Sit thee down beneath the orange tree, O loving man!
That thou mayst know the kiss that tells the love of women.
Janat! Janat! Janat!"
Batouch stirred uneasily, pulled his hood from his eyes and looked
into the storm gravely. Then he shifted on the camel's hump and said
"How shall we get to Arba? The wind is like all the Touaregs going to
battle. And when we leave the oasis----"
"The wind is going down, Batouch-ben-Brahim," responded Ali, calmly.
"This evening the Roumis can lie in the tents."
Batouch's thick lips curled with sarcasm. He spat into the wind, blew
his nose in his burnous, and answered:
"You are a child, and can sing a pretty song, but--"
Ali pointed with his delicate hand towards the south.
"Do you not see the light in the sky?"
Batouch stared before him, and perceived that there was in truth a
lifting of the darkness beyond, a whiteness growing where the desert
"As we come into the desert the wind will fall," said Ali; and again
he began to sing to himself:
"Janat! Janat! Janat!"
Domini could not see the light in the south, and no premonition warned
her of any coming abatement of the storm. Once more she had begun to
listen to the roaring of the wind and to wait for the larger voice of
the desert, for the triumphant clarion of the sands that would
announce to her her entry with Androvsky into the life of the wastes.