Part 8 out of 12
Again she personified the Sahara, but now more vividly than ever
before. In the obscurity she seemed to see it far away, like a great
heroic figure, waiting for her and her passion, waiting in a region of
gold and silken airs at the back of the tempest to crown her life with
a joy wide as its dreamlike spaces, to teach her mind the inner truths
that lie beyond the crowded ways of men and to open her heart to the
most profound messages of Nature.
She listened, holding Androvsky's hand, and she felt that he was
listening too, with an intensity strong as her own, or stronger.
Presently his hand closed upon hers more tightly, almost hurting her
physically. As it did so she glanced up, but not at him, and noticed
that the curtains of the palanquin were fluttering less fiercely.
Once, for an instant, they were almost still. Then again they moved as
if tugged by invisible hands; then were almost still once more. At the
same time the wind's voice sank in her ears like a music dropping
downward in a hollow place. It rose, but swiftly sank a second time to
a softer hush, and she perceived in the curtained enclosure a faintly
growing light which enabled her to see, for the first time since she
had left the church, her husband's features. He was looking at her
with an expression of anticipation in which there was awe, and she
realised that in her expectation of the welcome of the desert she had
been mistaken. She had listened for the sounding of a clarion, but she
was to be greeted by a still, small voice. She understood the awe in
her husband's eyes and shared it. And she knew at once, with a sudden
thrill of rapture, that in the scheme of things there are blessings
and nobilities undreamed of by man and that must always come upon him
with a glorious shock of surprise, showing him the poor faultiness of
what he had thought perhaps his most magnificent imaginings. Elisha
sought for the Lord in the fire and in the whirlwind; but in the
still, small voice onward came the Lord.
Incomparably more wonderful than what she had waited for seemed to her
now this sudden falling of the storm, this mystical voice that came to
them out of the heart of the sands telling them that they were passing
at last into the arms of the Sahara. The wind sank rapidly. The light
grew in the palanquin. From without the voices of the camel-drivers
and of Batouch and Ali talking together reached their ears distinctly.
Yet they remained silent. It seemed as if they feared by speech to
break the spell of the calm that was flowing around them, as if they
feared to interrupt the murmur of the desert. Domini now returned the
gaze of her husband. She could not take her eyes from his, for she
wished him to read all the joy that was in her heart; she wished him
to penetrate her thoughts, to understand her desires, to be at one
with the woman who had been born on the eve of the passing of the
wind. With the coming of this mystic calm was coming surely something
else. The silence was bringing with it the fusing of two natures. The
desert in this moment was drawing together two souls into a union
which Time and Death would have no power to destroy. Presently the
wind completely died away, only a faint breeze fluttered the curtains
of the palanquin, and the light that penetrated between them here and
there was no longer white, but sparkled with a tiny dust of gold. Then
Androvsky moved to open the curtains, and Domini spoke for the first
time since their marriage.
"Wait," she said in a low voice.
He dropped his hand obediently, and looked at her with inquiry in his
"Don't let us look till we are far out," she said, "far away from
He made no answer, but she saw that he understood all that was in her
heart. He leaned a little nearer to her and stretched out his arm as
if to put it round her. But he did not put it round her, and she knew
why. He was husbanding his great joy as she had husbanded the dark
hours of the previous night that to her were golden. And that
unfinished action, that impulse unfulfilled, showed her more clearly
the depths of his passion for her even than had the desperate clasp of
his hands about her knees in the garden. That which he did not do now
was the greatest assertion possible of all that he would do in the
life that was before them, and made her feel how entirely she belonged
to him. Something within her trembled like a poor child before whom is
suddenly set the prospect of a day of perfect happiness. She thought
of the ending of this day, of the coming of the evening. Always the
darkness had parted them; at the ending of this day it would unite
them. In Androvsky's eyes she read her thought of the darkness
reflected, reflected and yet changed, transmuted by sex. It was as if
at that moment she read the same story written in two ways--by a woman
and by a man, as if she saw Eden, not only as Eve saw it, but as Adam.
A long time passed, but they did not feel it to be long. When their
camel halted they unclasped their hands slowly like sleepers
They heard Batouch's voice outside the palanquin.
"Madame!" he called. "Madame!"
"What is it?" asked Domini, stifling a sigh.
"Madame should draw the curtains. We are halfway to Arba. It is time
for /dejeuner/. I will make the camel of Madame lie down."
A loud "A-a-ah!" rose up, followed by a fierce groaning from the
camel, and a lethargic, yet violent, movement that threw them forward
and backward. They sank. A hand from without pulled back the curtains
and light streamed over them. They set their feet in sand, stood up,
and looked about them.
Already they were far out in the desert, though not yet beyond the
limit of the range of red mountains, which stretched forward upon
their left but at no great distance beyond them ended in the sands.
The camels were lying down in a faintly defined track which was
bordered upon either side by the plain covered with little humps of
sandy soil on which grew dusty shrub. Above them was a sky of faint
blue, heavy with banks of clouds towards the east, and over their
heads dressed in wispy veils of vaporous white, through which the blue
peered in sections that grew larger as they looked. Towards the south,
where Arba lay on a low hill of earth, without grass or trees, beyond
a mound covered thickly with tamarisk bushes, which was a feeding-
place for immense herds of camels, the blue was clear and the light of
the sun intense. A delicate breeze travelled about them, stirring the
bushes and the robes of the Arabs, who were throwing back their hoods,
and uncovering their mouths, and smiling at them, but seriously, as
Arabs alone can smile. Beside them stood two white and yellow guard
dogs, blinking and looking weary.
For a moment they stood still, blinking too, almost like the dogs. The
change to this immensity and light from the narrow darkness of the
palanquin overwhelmed their senses. They said nothing, but only stared
silently. Then Domini, with a large gesture, stretched her arms above
her head, drawing a deep breath which ended in a little, almost
sobbing, laugh of exultation.
"Out of prison," she said disconnectedly. "Out of prison--into this!"
Suddenly she turned upon Androvsky and caught his arm, and twined both
of her arms round it with a strong confidence that was careless of
everything in the intensity of its happiness.
"All my life I've been in prison," she said. "You've unlocked the
door!" And then, as suddenly as she had caught his arm, she let it go.
Something surged up in her, making her almost afraid; or, if not that,
confused. It was as if her nature were a horse taking the bit between
its teeth preparatory to a tremendous gallop. Whither? She did not
know. She was intoxicated by the growing light, the sharp, delicious
air, the huge spaces around her, the solitude with this man who held
her soul surely in his hands. She had always connected him with the
desert. Now he was hers into the desert, and the desert was hers with
him. But was it possible? Could such a fate have been held in reserve
for her? She scarcely dared even to try to realise the meaning of her
situation, lest at a breath it should be changed. Just then she felt
that if she ventured to weigh and measure her wonderful gift Androvsky
would fall dead at her feet and the desert be folded together like a
"There is Beni-Mora, Madame," said Batouch.
She was glad he spoke to her, turned and followed with her eyes his
pointing hand. Far off she saw a green darkness of palms, and above it
a white tower, small, from here, as the tower of a castle of dolls.
"The tower!" she said to Androvsky. "We first spoke in it. We must bid
She made a gesture of farewell towards it. Androvsky watched the
movement of her hand. She noticed now that she made no movement that
he did not observe with a sort of passionate attention. The desert did
not exist for him. She saw that in his eyes. He did not look towards
the tower even when she repeated:
"We must--we owe it that."
Batouch and Ali were busy spreading a cloth upon the sand, making it
firm with little stones, taking out food, plates, knives, glasses,
bottles from a great basket slung on one of the camels. They moved
deftly, seriously intent upon their task. The camel-drivers were
loosening the cords that bound the loads upon their beasts, who roared
venomously, opening their mouths, showing long decayed teeth, and
turning their heads from side to side with a serpentine movement.
Domini and Androvsky were not watched for a moment.
"Why won't you look? Why won't you say good-bye?" she asked, coming
nearer to him on the sand softly, with a woman's longing to hear him
explain what she understood.
"What do I care for it, or the palms, or the sky, or the desert?" he
answered almost savagely. "What can I care? If you were mine behind
iron bars in that prison you spoke of--don't you think it's enough for
me--too much--a cup running over?"
And he added some words under his breath, words she could not hear.
"Not even the desert!" she said with a catch in her voice.
"It's all in you. Everything's in you--everything that brought us
together, that we've watched and wanted together."
"But then," she said, and now her voice was very quiet, "am I peace
"Peace!" said Androvsky.
"Yes. Don't you remember once I said that there must be peace in the
desert. Then is it in me--for you?"
"Peace!" he repeated. "To-day I can't think of peace, or want it.
Don't you ask too much of me! Let me live to-day, live as only a man
can who--let me live with all that is in me to-day--Domini. Men ask to
die in peace. Oh, Domini--Domini!"
His expression was like arms that crushed her, lips that pressed her
mouth, a heart that beat on hers.
"Madame est servie!" cried Batouch in a merry voice.
His mistress did not seem to hear him. He cried again:
"Madame est servie!"
Then Domini turned round and came to the first meal in the sand. Two
cushions lay beside the cloth upon an Arab quilt of white, red, and
orange colour. Upon the cloth, in vases of rough pottery, stained with
designs in purple, were arranged the roses brought by Smain from Count
"Our wedding breakfast!" Domini said under her breath.
She felt just then as if she were living in a wonderful romance.
They sat down side by side and ate with a good appetite, served by
Batouch and Ali. Now and then a pale yellow butterfly, yellow as the
sand, flitted by them. Small yellow birds with crested heads ran
swiftly among the scrub, or flew low over the flats. In the sky the
vapours gathered themselves together and moved slowly away towards the
east, leaving the blue above their heads unflecked with white. With
each moment the heat of the sun grew more intense. The wind had gone.
It was difficult to believe that it had ever roared over the desert. A
little way from them the camel-drivers squatted beside the beasts,
eating flat loaves of yellow bread, and talking together in low,
guttural voices. The guard dogs roamed round them, uneasily hungry. In
the distance, before a tent of patched rags, a woman, scantily clad in
bright red cotton, was suckling a child and staring at the caravan.
Domini and Androvsky scarcely spoke as they ate. Once she said:
"Do you realise that this is a wedding breakfast?"
She was thinking of the many wedding receptions she had attended in
London, of crowds of smartly-dressed women staring enviously at
tiaras, and sets of jewels arranged in cases upon tables, of brides
and bridegrooms, looking flushed and anxious, standing under canopies
of flowers and forcing their tired lips into smiles as they replied to
stereotyped congratulations, while detectives--poorly disguised as
gentlemen--hovered in the back-ground to see that none of the presents
mysteriously disappeared. Her presents were the velvety roses in the
earthen vases, the breezes of the desert, the sand humps, the yellow
butterflies, the silence that lay around like a blessing pronounced by
the God who made the still places where souls can learn to know
themselves and their great destiny.
"A wedding breakfast," Androvsky said.
"Yes. But perhaps you have never been to one."
"Then you can't love this one as much as I do."
"Much more," he answered.
She looked at him, remembering how often in the past, when she had
been feeling intensely, she had it borne in upon her that he was
feeling even more intensely than herself. But could that be possible
"Do you think," she said, "that it is possible for you, who have never
lived in cities, to love this land as I love it?"
Androvsky moved on his cushion and leaned down till his elbow touched
the sand. Lying thus, with his chin in his hand, and his eyes fixed
upon her, he answered:
"But it is not the land I am loving."
His absolute concentration upon her made her think that, perhaps, he
misunderstood her meaning in speaking of the desert, her joy in it.
She longed to explain how he and the desert were linked together in
her heart, and she dropped her hand upon his left hand, which lay palm
downwards in the warm sand.
"I love this land," she began, "because I found you in it, because I
"Yes, Domini?" he said.
"No, not now. I can't tell you. There's too much light."
"Domini," he repeated.
Then they were silent once more, thinking of how the darkness would
come to them at Arba.
In the late afternoon they drew near to the Bordj, moving along a
difficult route full of deep ruts and holes, and bordered on either
side by bushes so tall that they looked almost like trees. Here,
tended by Arabs who stared gravely at the strangers in the palanquin,
were grazing immense herds of camels. Above the bushes to the horizon
on either side of the way appeared the serpentine necks flexibly
moving to and fro, now bending deliberately towards the dusty twigs,
now stretched straight forward as if in patient search for some solace
of the camel's fate that lay in the remoteness of the desert. Baby
camels, many of them only a few days old, yet already vowed to the
eternal pilgrimages of the wastes, with mild faces and long,
disobedient-looking legs, ran from the caravan, nervously seeking
their morose mothers, who cast upon them glances that seemed
expressive of a disdainful pity. In front, beyond a watercourse, now
dried up, rose the low hill on which stood the Bordj, a huge, square
building, with two square towers pierced with loopholes. From a
distance it resembled a fort threatening the desert in magnificent
isolation. Its towers were black against the clear lemon of the
failing sunlight. Pigeons, that looked also black, flew perpetually
about them, and the telegraph posts, that bordered the way at regular
intervals on the left, made a diminishing series of black vertical
lines sharply cutting the yellow till they were lost to sight in the
south. To Domini these posts were like pointing fingers beckoning her
onward to the farthest distances of the sun. Drugged by the long
journey over the flats, and the unceasing caress of the air, that was
like an importunate lover ever unsatisfied, she watched from the
height on which she was perched this evening scene of roaming, feeding
animals, staring nomads, monotonous herbage and vague, surely-
retreating mountains, with quiet, dreamy eyes. Everything which she
saw seemed to her beautiful, a little remote and a little fantastic.
The slow movement of the camels, the swifter movements of the circling
pigeons about the square towers on the hill, the motionless, or
gently-gliding, Arabs with their clubs held slantwise, the telegraph
poles, one smaller than the other, diminishing till--as if magically--
they disappeared in the lemon that was growing into gold, were woven
together for her by the shuttle of the desert into a softly brilliant
tapestry--one of those tapestries that is like a legend struck to
sleep as the Beauty in her palace. As they began to mount the hill,
and the radiance of the sky increased, this impression faded, for the
life that centred round the Bordj was vivid, though sparse in
comparison with the eddying life of towns, and had that air of
peculiar concentration which may be noted in pictures representing a
halt in the desert.
No longer did the strongly-built Bordj seem to Domini like a fort
threatening the oncomer, but like a stalwart host welcoming him, a
host who kept open house in this treeless desolation that yet had, for
her, no feature that was desolate. It was earth-coloured, built of
stone, and had in the middle of the facade that faced them an immense
hospitable doorway with a white arch above it. This doorway gave a
partial view of a vast courtyard, in which animals and people were
moving to and fro. Round about, under the sheltering shadow of the
windowless wall, were many Arabs, some squatting on their haunches,
some standing upright with their backs against the stone, some moving
from one group to another, gesticulating and talking vivaciously. Boys
were playing a game with stones set in an ordered series of small
holes scooped by their fingers in the dust. A negro crossed the flat
space before the Bordj carrying on his head a huge earthen vase to the
well near by, where a crowd of black donkeys, just relieved of their
loads of brushwood, was being watered. From the south two Spahis were
riding in on white horses, their scarlet cloaks floating out over
their saddles; and from the west, moving slowly to a wailing sound of
indistinct music, a faint beating of tomtoms, was approaching a large
caravan in a cloud of dust which floated back from it and melted away
into the radiance of the sunset.
When they gained the great open space before the building they were
bathed in the soft golden light, in which all these figures of
Africans, and all these animals, looked mysterious and beautiful, and
full of that immeasurable significance which the desert sheds upon
those who move in it, specially at dawn or at sundown. From the
plateau they dominated the whole of the plain they had traversed as
far as Beni-Mora, which on the morrow would fade into the blue
horizon. Its thousands of palms made a darkness in the gold, and still
the tower of the hotel was faintly visible, pointing like a needle
towards the sky. The range of mountains showed their rosy flanks in
the distance. They, too, on the morrow would be lost in the desert
spaces, the last outposts of the world of hill and valley, of stream
and sea. Only in the deceptive dream of the mirage would they appear
once more, looming in a pearl-coloured shaking veil like a fluid on
the edge of some visionary lagune.
Domini was glad that on this first night of their journey they could
still see Beni-Mora, the place where they had found each other and
been given to each other by the Church. As the camel stopped before
the great doorway of the Bordj she turned in the palanquin and looked
down upon the desert, motioning to the camel-driver to leave the beast
for a moment. She put her arm through Androvsky's and made his eyes
follow hers across the vast spaces made magical by the sinking sun to
that darkness of distant palms which, to her, would be a sacred place
for ever. And as they looked in silence all that Beni-Mora meant to
her came upon her. She saw again the garden hushed in the heat of
noon. She saw Androvsky at her feet on the sand. She heard the chiming
church bell and the twitter of Larbi's flute. The dark blue of trees
was as the heart of the world to her and as the heart of life. It had
seen the birth of her soul and given to her another newborn soul.
There was a pathos in seeing it fade like a thing sinking down till it
became one with the immeasurable sands, and at that moment she said to
herself, "When shall I see Beni-Mora again--and how?" She looked at
Androvsky, met his eyes, and thought: "When I see it again how
different I shall be! How I shall be changed!" And in the sunset she
seemed to be saying a mute good-bye to one who was fading with Beni-
As soon as they had got off the camel and were standing in the group
of staring Arabs, Batouch begged them to come to their tents, where
tea would be ready. He led them round the angle of the wall towards
the west, and there, pitched in the full radiance of the sunset, with
a wide space of hard earth gleaming with gypse around it, was a white
tent. Before it, in the open air, was stretched a handsome Arab
carpet, and on this carpet were set a folding table and two folding
chairs. The table held a japanned tray with tea-cups, a milk jug and
plates of biscuits and by it, in an attitude that looked deliberately
picturesque stood Ouardi, the youth selected by Batouch to fill the
office of butler in the desert.
Ouardi smiled a broad welcome as they approached, and having made sure
that his pose had been admired, retired to the cook's abode to fetch
the teapot, while Batouch invited Domini and Androvsky to inspect the
tent prepared for them. Domini assented with a dropped-out word. She
still felt in a dream. But Androvsky, after casting towards the tent
door a glance that was full of a sort of fierce shyness, moved away a
few steps, and stood at the edge of the hill looking down upon the
incoming caravan, whose music was now plainly audible in the stillness
of the waste.
Domini went into the tent that was to be their home for many weeks,
alone. And she was glad just then that she was alone. For she too,
like Androvsky, felt a sort of exquisite trouble moving, like a wave,
in her heart. On some pretext, but only after an expression of
admiration, she got rid of Batouch. Then she stood and looked round.
From the big tent opened a smaller one, which was to serve Androvsky
as a dressing-room and both of them as a baggage room. She did not go
into that, but saw, with one glance of soft inquiry, the two small,
low beds, the strips of gay carpet, the dressing-table, the stand and
the two cane chairs which furnished the sleeping-tent. Then she looked
back to the aperture. In the distance, standing alone at the edge of
the hill, she saw Androvsky, bathed in the sunset, looking out over
the hidden desert from which rose the wild sound of African music,
steadily growing louder. It seemed to her as if he must be gazing at
the plains of heaven, so magically brilliant and tender, so pellucidly
clear and delicate was the atmosphere and the colour of the sky. She
saw no other form, only his, in this poem of light, in this wide world
of the sinking sun. And the music seemed to be about his feet, to rise
from the sand and throb in its breast.
At that moment the figure of Liberty, which she had seen in the
shadows of the dancing-house, came in at the tent door and laid, for
the first time, her lips on Domini's. That kiss was surely the
consecration of the life of the sands. But to-day there had been
another consecration. Domini had a sudden impulse to link the two
She drew from her breast the wooden crucifix Androvsky had thrown into
the stream at Sidi-Zerzour, and, softly going to one of the beds, she
pinned the crucifix above it on the canvas of the tent. Then she
turned and went out into the glory of the sunset to meet the fierce
music that was rising from the desert.
Night had fallen over the desert, a clear purple night, starry but
without a moon. Around the Bordj, and before a Cafe Maure built of
brown earth and palm-wood, opposite to it, the Arabs who were halting
to sleep at Arba on their journeys to and from Beni-Mora were huddled,
sipping coffee, playing dominoes by the faint light of an oil lamp,
smoking cigarettes and long pipes of keef. Within the court of the
Bordj the mules were feeding tranquilly in rows. The camels roamed the
plain among the tamarisk bushes, watched over by shrouded shadowy
guardians sleepless as they were. The mountains, the palms of Beni-
Mora, were lost in the darkness that lay over the desert.
On the low hill, at some distance beyond the white tent of Domini and
Androvsky, the obscurity was lit up fiercely by the blaze of a huge
fire of brushwood, the flames of which towered up towards the stars,
flickering this way and that as the breeze took them, and casting a
wild illumination upon the wild faces of the rejoicing desert men who
were gathered about it, telling stories of the wastes, singing songs
that were melancholy and remote to Western ears, even though they
hymned past victories over the infidels, or passionate ecstasies of
love in the golden regions of the sun. The steam from bowls of cous-
cous and stews of mutton and vegetables curled up to join the thin
smoke that made a light curtain about this fantasia, and from time to
time, with a shrill cry of exultation, a half-naked form, all gleaming
eyes and teeth and polished bronze-hued limbs, rushed out of the
blackness beyond the fire, leaped through the tongues of flame and
vanished like a spectre into the embrace of the night.
All the members of the caravan, presided over by Batouch in glory,
were celebrating the wedding night of their master and mistress.
Domini and Androvsky had already visited them by their bonfire, had
received their compliments, watched the sword dance and the dance of
the clubs, touched with their lips, or pretended to touch, the stem of
a keef, listened to a marriage song warbled by Ali to the
accompaniment of a flute and little drums, and applauded Ouardi's
agility in leaping through the flames. Then, with many good-nights,
pressures of the hand, and auguries for the morrow, they had gone away
into the cool darkness, silently towards their tent.
They walked slowly, a little apart from each other. Domini looked up
at the stars and saw among them the star of Liberty. Androvsky looked
at her and saw all the stars in her face. When they reached the tent
door they stopped on the warm earth. A lamp was lit within, casting a
soft light on the simple furniture and on the whiteness of the two
beds, above one of which Domini imagined, though from without she
could not see, the wooden crucifix Androvsky had once worn in his
"Shall we stay here a little?" Domini said in a low voice. "Out here?"
There was a long pause. Then Androvsky answered:
"Yes. Let us feel it all--all. Let us feel it to the full."
He caught hold of her hand with a sort of tender roughness and twined
his fingers between hers, pressing his palm against hers.
"Don't let us miss anything to-night," he said. "All my life is
to-night. I've had no life yet. To-morrow--who knows whether we shall
be dead to-morrow? Who knows? But we're alive to-night, flesh and
blood, heart and soul. And there's nothing here, there can be nothing
here to take our life from us, the life of our love to-night. For
we're out in the desert, we're right away from anyone, everything.
We're in the great freedom. Aren't we, Domini? Aren't we?"
"Yes," she said. "Yes."
He took her other hand in the same way. He was facing her, and he held
his hands against his heart with hers in them, then pressed her hands
against her heart, then drew them back again to his.
"Then let us realise it. Let us forget our prison. Let us forget
everything, everything that we ever knew before Beni-Mora, Domini.
It's dead, absolutely dead, unless we make it live by thinking. And
that's mad, crazy. Thought's the great madness. Domini, have you
forgotten everything before we knew each other?"
"Yes," she said. "Now--but only now. You've made me forget it all."
There was a deep breathing under her voice. He held up her hands to
his shoulders and looked closely into her eyes, as if he were trying
to send all himself into her through those doors of the soul opened to
seeing him. And now, in this moment, she felt that her fierce desire
was realised, that he was rising above her on eagle's wings. And as on
the night before the wedding she had blessed all the sorrows of her
life, now she blessed silently all the long silence of Androvsky, all
his strange reticence, his uncouthness, his avoidance of her in the
beginning of their acquaintance. That which had made her pain by
being, now made her joy by having been and being no more. The hidden
man was rushing forth to her at last in his love. She seemed to hear
in the night the crash of a great obstacle, and the voice of the flood
of waters that had broken it down at length and were escaping into
liberty. His silence of the past now made his speech intensely
beautiful and wonderful to her. She wanted to hear the waters more
intensely, more intensely.
"Speak to me," she said. "You've spoken so little. Do you know how
little? Tell me all you are. Till now I've only felt all you are. And
that's so much, but not enough for a woman--not enough. I've taken
you, but now--give me all I've taken. Give--keep on giving and giving.
From to-night to receive will be my life. Long ago I've given all I
had to you. Give to me, give me everything. You know I've given all."
"All?" he said, and there was a throb in his deep voice, as if some
intense feeling rose from the depths of him and shook it.
"Yes, all," she whispered. "Already--and long ago--that day in the
garden. When I--when I put my hands against your forehead--do you
remember? I gave you all, for ever."
And as she spoke she bent down her face with a sort of proud
submission and put her forehead against his heart.
The purity in her voice and in her quiet, simple action dazzled him
like a flame shining suddenly in his eyes out of blackness. And he,
too, in that moment saw far up above him the beating of an eagle's
wings. To each one the other seemed to be on high, and as both looked
up that was their true marriage.
"I felt it," he said, touching her hair with his lips. "I felt it in
your hands. When you touched me that day it was as if you were giving
me the world and the stars. It frightened me to receive so much. I
felt as if I had no place to put my gift in."
"Did your heart seem so small?" she said.
"You make everything I have and am seem small--and yet great. What
does it mean?"
"That you are great, as I am, because we love. No one is small who
loves. No one is poor, no one is bad, who loves. Love burns up evil.
It's the angel that destroys."
Her words seemed to send through his whole body a quivering joy. He
took her face between his hands and lifted it from his heart.
"Is that true? Is that true?" he said. "I've--I've tried to think
that. If you know how I've tried."
"And don't you know it is true?"
"I don't feel as if I knew anything that you do not tell me to-night.
I don't feel as if I have, or am, anything but what you give me, make
me to-night. Can you understand that? Can you understand what you are
to me? That you are everything, that I have nothing else, that I have
never had anything else in all these years that I have lived and that
I have forgotten? Can you understand it? You said just now 'Speak to
me, tell me all you are.' That's what I am, all I am, a man you have
made a man. You, Domini--you have made me a man, you have created me."
She was silent. The intensity with which he spoke, the intensity of
his eyes while he was speaking, made her hear those rushing waters as
if she were being swept away by them.
"And you?" he said. "You?"
"This afternoon in the desert, when we were in the sand looking at
Beni-Mora, you began to tell me something and then you stopped. And
you said, 'I can't tell you. There's too much light.' Now the sun has
"Yes. But--but I want to listen to you. I want----"
She stopped. In the distance, by the great fire where the Arabs were
assembled, there rose a sound of music which arrested her attention.
Ali was singing, holding in his hand a brand from the fire like a
torch. She had heard him sing before, and had loved the timbre of his
voice, but only now did she realise when she had first heard him and
who he was. It was he who, hidden from her, had sung the song of the
freed negroes of Touggourt in the gardens of Count Anteoni that day
when she had been angry with Androvsky and had afterwards been
reconciled with him. And she knew now it was he, because, once more
hidden from her--for against the curtain of darkness she only saw the
flame from the torch he held and moved rhythmically to the burden of
his song--he was singing it again. Androvsky, when she ceased to
speak, suddenly put his arms round her, as if he were afraid of her
escaping from him in her silence, and they stood thus at the tent door
"The gazelle dies in the water,
The fish dies in the air,
And I die in the dunes of the desert sand
For my love that is deep and sad."
The chorus of hidden men by the fire rose in a low murmur that was
like the whisper of the desert in the night. Then the contralto voice
of Ali came to Domini and Androvsky again, but very faintly, from the
distance where the flaming torch was moving:
"No one but God and I
Knows what is in my heart."
When the voice died away for a moment Domini whispered the refrain.
Then she said:
"But is it true? Can it be true for us to-night?"
Androvsky did not reply.
"I don't think it is true," she added. "You know--don't you?"
The voice of Ali rose again, and his torch flickered on the soft wind
of the night. Its movement was slow and eerie. It seemed like his
voice made visible, a voice of flame in the blackness of the world.
They watched it. Presently she said once more:
"You know what is in my heart--don't you?"
"Do I?" he said. "All?"
"All. My heart is full of one thing--quite full."
"Then I know."
"And," she hesitated, then added, "and yours?"
"I know all that is in it then?"
She still spoke questioningly. He did not reply, but held her more
closely, with a grasp that was feverish in its intensity.
"Do you remember," she went on, "in the garden what you said about
"You have forgotten?"
"I told you," he said, "I mean to forget everything."
"Everything before we came to Beni-Mora?"
"And more. Everything before you put your hands against my forehead,
Domini. Your touch blotted out the past."
"Even the past at Beni-Mora?"
"Yes, even that. There are many things I did and left undone, many
things I said and never said that--I have forgotten--I have forgotten
There was a sternness in his voice now, a fiery intention.
"I understand," she said. "I have forgotten them too, but not some
"Not that night when you took me out of the dancing-house, not our
ride to Sidi-Zerzour, not--there are things I shall remember. When I
am dying, after I am dead, I shall remember them."
The song faded away. The torch was still, then fell downwards and
became one with the fire. Then Androvsky drew Domini down beside him
on to the warm earth before the tent door, and held her hand in his
against the earth.
"Feel it," he said. "It's our home, it's our liberty. Does it feel
alive to you?"
"As if it had pulses, like the pulses in our hearts, and knew what we
"Yes. Mother Earth--I never understood what that meant till to-night."
"We are beginning to understand together. Who can understand anything
He kept her hand always in his pressed against the desert as against a
heart. They both thought of it as a heart that was full of love and
protection for them, of understanding of them. Going back to their
words before the song of Ali, he said:
"Love burns up evil, then love can never be evil."
"Not the act of loving."
"Or what it leads to," he said.
And again there was a sort of sternness in his voice, as if he were
insisting on something, were bent on conquering some reluctance, or
some voice contradicting.
"I know that you are right," he added.
She did not speak, but--why she did not know--her thought went to the
wooden crucifix fastened in the canvas of the tent close by, and for a
moment she felt a faint creeping sadness in her. But he pressed her
hand more closely, and she was conscious only of these two warmths---
of his hand above her hand and of the desert beneath it. Her whole
life seemed set in a glory of fire, in a heat that was life-giving,
that dominated her and evoked at the same time all of power that was
in her, causing her dormant fires, physical and spiritual, to blaze up
as if they were sheltered and fanned. The thought of the crucifix
faded. It was as if the fire destroyed it and it became ashes--then
nothing. She fixed her eyes on the distant fire of the Arabs, which
was beginning to die down slowly as the night grew deeper.
"I have doubted many things," he said. "I've been afraid."
"You!" she said.
"Yes. You know it."
"How can I? Haven't I forgotten everything--since that day in the
He drew up her hand and put it against his heart.
"I'm jealous of the desert even," he whispered. "I won't let you touch
it any more tonight."
He looked into her eyes and saw that she was looking at the distant
fire, steadily, with an intense eagerness.
"Why do you do that?" he said.
"To-night I like to look at fire," she answered.
"Tell me why."
"It is as if I looked at you, at all that there is in you that you
have never said, never been able to say to me, all that you never can
say to me but that I know all the same."
"But," he said, "that fire is----"
He did not finish the sentence, but put up his hand and turned her
face till she was looking, not at the fire, but at him.
"It is not like me," he said. "Men made it, and--it's a fire that can
sink into ashes."
An expression of sudden exaltation shone in her eyes.
"And God made you," she said. "And put into you the spark that is
And now again she thought, she dared, she loved to think of the
crucifix and of the moment when he would see it in the tent.
"And God made you love me," she said. "What is it?"
Androvsky had moved suddenly, as if he were going to get up from the
"No," he said in a low voice. "Go on, Domini. Speak to me."
He sat still.
A sudden longing came to her to know if to-night he were feeling as
she was the sacredness of their relation to each other. Never had they
spoken intimately of religion or of the mysteries that lie beyond and
around human life. Once or twice, when she had been about to open her
heart to him, to let him understand her deep sense of the things
unseen, something had checked her, something in him. It was as if he
had divined her intention and had subtly turned her from it, without
speech, merely by the force of his inward determination that she
should not break through his reserve. But to-night, with his hand on
hers and the starry darkness above them, with the waste stretching
around them, and the cool air that was like the breath of liberty upon
their faces, she was unconscious of any secret, combative force in
him. It was impossible to her to think there could have been any
combat, however inward, however subtle, between them. Surely if it
were ever permitted to two natures to be in perfect accord theirs were
in perfect accord to-night.
"I never felt the presence of God in His world so keenly as I feel it
to-night," she went on, drawing a little closer to him. "Even in the
church to-day He seemed farther away than tonight. But somehow--one
has these thoughts without knowing why--I have always believed that
the farther I went into the desert the nearer I should come to God."
Androvsky moved again. The clasp of his hand on hers loosened, but he
did not take his hand away.
"Why should--what should make you think that?" he asked slowly.
"Don't you know what the Arabs call the desert?"
"No. What do they call it?"
"The Garden of Allah."
"The Garden of Allah!" he repeated.
There was a sound like fear in his voice. Even her great joy did not
prevent her from noticing it, and she remembered, with a thrill of
pain, where and under what circumstances she had first heard the
Arab's name for the desert.
Could it be that this man she loved was secretly afraid of something
in the desert, some influence, some--? Her thought stopped short, like
a thing confused.
"Don't you think it a very beautiful name?" she asked, with an almost
fierce longing to be reassured, to be made to know that he, like her,
loved the thought that God was specially near to those who travelled
in this land of solitude.
"Is it beautiful?"
"To me it is. It makes me feel as if in the desert I were specially
watched over and protected, even as if I were specially loved there."
Suddenly Androvsky put his arm round her and strained her to him.
"By me! By me!" he said. "Think of me to-night, only of me, as I think
only of you."
He spoke as if he were jealous even of her thought of God, as if he
did not understand that it was the very intensity of her love for him
that made her, even in the midst of the passion of the body, connect
their love of each other with God's love of them. In her heart this
overpowering human love which, in the garden, when first she realised
it fully, had seemed to leave no room in her for love of God, now in
the moment when it was close to absolute satisfaction seemed almost to
be one with her love of God. Perhaps no man could understand how, in a
good woman, the two streams of the human love which implies the
intense desire of the flesh, and the mystical love which is absolutely
purged of that desire, can flow the one into the other and mingle
their waters. She tried to think that, and then she ceased to try.
Everything was forgotten as his arms held her fast in the night,
everything except this great force of human love which was like iron,
and yet soft about her, which was giving and wanting, which was
concentrated upon her to the exclusion of all else, plunging the
universe in darkness and setting her in light.
"There is nothing for me to-night but you," he said, crushing her in
his arms. "The desert is your garden. To me it has always been your
garden, only that, put here for you, and for me because you love me--
but for me only because of that."
The Arabs' fire was rapidly dying down.
"When it goes out, when it goes out!" Androvsky whispered it her ear.
His breath stirred the thick tresses of her hair.
"Let us watch it!" he whispered.
She pressed his hand but did not reply. She could not speak any more.
At last the something wild and lawless, the something that was more
than passionate, that was hot and even savage in her nature, had risen
up in its full force to face a similar force in him, which insistently
called it and which it answered without shame.
"It is dying," Androvsky said. "It is dying. Look how small the circle
of the flame is, how the darkness is creeping up about it! Domini--do
She pressed his hand again.
"Do you long for the darkness?" he asked. "Do you, Domini? The desert
is sending it. The desert is sending it for you, and for me because
you love me."
A log in the fire, charred by the flames, broke in two. Part of it
fell down into the heart of the fire, which sent up a long tongue of
red gold flame.
"That is like us," he said. "Like us together in the darkness."
She felt his body trembling, as if the vehemence of the spirit
confined within it shook it. In the night the breeze slightly
increased, making the flame of the lamp behind them in the tent
flicker. And the breeze was like a message, brought to them from the
desert by some envoy in the darkness, telling them not to be afraid of
their wonderful gift of freedom with each other, but to take it open-
handed, open-hearted, with the great courage of joy.
"Domini, did you feel that gust of the wind? It carried away a cloud
of sparks from the fire and brought them a little way towards us. Did
you see? Fire wandering on the wind through the night calling to the
fire that is in us. Wasn't it beautiful? Everything is beautiful
to-night. There were never such stars before."
She looked up at them. Often she had watched the stars, and known the
vague longings, the almost terrible aspirations they wake in their
watchers. But to her also they looked different to-night, nearer to
the earth, she thought, brighter, more living than ever before, like
strange tenderness made visible, peopling the night with an
unconquerable sympathy. The vast firmament was surely intent upon
their happiness. Again the breeze came to them across the waste, cool
and breathing of the dryness of the sands. Not far away a jackal
laughed. After a pause it was answered by another jackal at a
distance. The voices of these desert beasts brought home to Domini
with an intimacy not felt by her before the exquisite remoteness of
their situation, and the shrill, discordant noise, rising and falling
with a sort of melancholy and sneering mirth, mingled with bitterness,
was like a delicate music in her ears.
"Hark!" Androvsky whispered.
The first jackal laughed once more, was answered again. A third beast,
evidently much farther off, lifted up a faint voice like a dismal
echo. Then there was silence.
"You loved that, Domini. It was like the calling of freedom to you--
and to me. We've found freedom; we've found it. Let us feel it. Let us
take hold of it. It is the only thing, the only thing. But you can't
know that as I do, Domini."
Again she was conscious that his intensity surpassed hers, and the
consciousness, instead of saddening or vexing, made her thrill with
"I am maddened by this freedom," he said; "maddened by it, Domini. I
can't help--I can't--"
He laid his lips upon hers in a desperate caress that almost
suffocated her. Then he took his lips away from her lips and kissed
her throat, holding her head back against his shoulder. She shut her
eyes. He was indeed teaching her to forget. Even the memory of the day
in the garden when she heard the church bell chime and the sound of
Larbi's flute went from her. She remembered nothing any more. The past
was lost or laid in sleep by the spell of sensation. Her nature
galloped like an Arab horse across the sands towards the sun, towards
the fire that sheds warmth afar but that devours all that draws near
to it. At that moment she connected Androvsky with the tremendous
fires eternally blazing in the sun. She had a desire that he should
hurt her in the passionate intensity of his love for her. Her nature,
which till now had been ever ready to spring into hostility at an
accidental touch, which had shrunk instinctively from physical contact
with other human beings, melted, was utterly transformed. She felt
that she was now the opposite of all that she had been--more woman
than any other woman who had ever lived. What had been an almost cold
strength in her went to increase the completeness of this yielding to
one stronger than herself. What had seemed boyish and almost hard in
her died away utterly under the embrace of this fierce manhood.
"Domini," he spoke, whispering while he kissed her, "Domini, the
fire's gone out. It's dark."
He lifted her a little in his arms, still kissing her.
"Domini, it's dark, it's dark."
He lifted her more. She stood up, with his arms about her, looking
towards where the fire had been. She put her hands against his face
and softly pressed it back from hers, but with a touch that was a
caress. He yielded to her at once.
"Look!" he said. "Do you love the darkness? Tell me--tell me that you
She let her hand glide over his cheek in answer.
"Look at it. Love it. All the desert is in it, and our love in the
desert. Let us stay in the desert, let us stay in it for ever--for
ever. It is your garden--yours. It has brought us everything, Domini."
He took her hand and pressed it again and again over his cheek
lingeringly. Then, abruptly, he dropped it.
"Come!" he said. "Domini."
And he drew her in through the tent door almost violently.
A stronger gust of the night wind followed them. Androvsky took his
arms slowly from Domini and turned to let down the flap of the tent.
While he was doing this she stood quite still. The flame of the lamp
flickered, throwing its light now here, now there, uneasily. She saw
the crucifix lit up for an instant and the white bed beneath it. The
wind stirred her dark hair and was cold about her neck. But the warmth
there met and defied it. In that brief moment, while Androvsky was
fastening the tent, she seemed to live through centuries of intense
and complicated emotion. When the light flickered over the crucifix
she felt as if she could spend her life in passionate adoration at its
foot; but when she did not see it, and the wind, coming in from the
desert through the tent door, where she heard the movement of
Androvsky, stirred in her hair, she felt reckless, wayward, savage--
and something more. A cry rose in her that was like the cry of a
stranger, who yet was of her and in her, and from whom she would not
Again the lamp flame flickered upon the crucifix. Quickly, while she
saw the crucifix plainly, she went forward to the bed and fell on her
knees by it, bending down her face upon its whiteness.
When Androvsky had fastened the tent door he turned round and saw her
kneeling. He stood quite still as if petrified, staring at her. Then,
as the flame, now sheltered from the wind, burned steadily, he saw the
crucifix. He started as if someone had struck him, hesitated, then,
with a look of fierce and concentrated resolution on his face, went
swiftly to the crucifix and pulled it from the canvas roughly. He held
it in his hand for an instant, then moved to the tent door and stooped
to unfasten the cords that held it to the pegs, evidently with the
intention of throwing the crucifix out into the night. But he did not
unfasten the cords. Something--some sudden change of feeling, some
secret and powerful reluctance--checked him. He thrust the crucifix
into his pocket. Then, returning to where Domini was kneeling, he put
his arms round her and drew her to her feet.
She did not resist him. Still holding her in his arms he blew out the
The Arabs have a saying, "In the desert one forgets everything, one
remembers nothing any more."
To Domini it sometimes seemed the truest of all the true and beautiful
sayings of the East. Only three weeks had passed away since the first
halt at Arba, yet already her life at Beni-Mora was faint in her mind
as the dream of a distant past. Taken by the vast solitudes,
journeying without definite aim from one oasis to another through
empty regions bathed in eternal sunshine, camping often in the midst
of the sand by one of the wells sunk for the nomads by the French
engineers, strengthened perpetually, yet perpetually soothed, by airs
that were soft and cool, as if mingled of silk and snow, they lived
surely in a desert dream with only a dream behind them. They had
become as one with the nomads, whose home is the moving tent, whose
hearthstone is the yellow sand of the dunes, whose God is liberty.
Domini loved this life with a love which had already become a passion.
All that she had imagined that the desert might be to her she found
that it was. In its so-called monotony she discovered eternal
interest. Of old she had thought the sea the most wonderful thing in
Nature. In the desert she seemed to possess the sea with something
added to it, a calm, a completeness, a mystical tenderness, a
passionate serenity. She thought of the sea as a soul striving to
fulfil its noblest aspirations, to be the splendid thing it knew how
to dream of. But she thought of the desert as a soul that need strive
no more, having attained. And she, like the Arabs, called it always in
her heart the Garden of Allah. For in this wonderful calm, bright as
the child's idea of heaven; clear as a crystal with a sunbeam caught
in it, silent as a prayer that will be answered silently, God seemed
to draw very near to His wandering children. In the desert was the
still, small voice, and the still, small voice was the Lord.
Often at dawn or sundown, when, perhaps in the distance of the sands,
or near at hand beneath the shade of the palms of some oasis by a
waterspring, she watched the desert men in their patched rags, with
their lean, bronzed faces and eagle eyes turned towards Mecca, bowing
their heads in prayer to the soil that the sun made hot, she
remembered Count Anteoni's words, "I like to see men praying in the
desert," and she understood with all her heart and soul why. For the
life of the desert was the most perfect liberty that could be found on
earth, and to see men thus worshipping in liberty set before her a
vision of free will upon the heights. When she thought of the world
she had known and left, of the men who would always live in it and
know no other world, she was saddened for a moment. Could she ever
find elsewhere such joy as she had found in the simple and unfettered
life of the wastes? Could she ever exchange this life for another
life, even with Androvsky?
One day she spoke to him of her intense joy in the wandering fate, and
the pain that came to her whenever she thought of exchanging it for a
life of civilisation in the midst of fixed groups of men.
They had halted for the noonday rest at a place called Sidi-Hamdam,
and in the afternoon were going to ride on to a Bordj called Mogar,
where they meant to stay two or three days, as Batouch had told them
it was a good halting place, and near to haunts of the gazelle. The
tents had already gone forward, and Domini and Androvsky were lying
upon a rug spread on the sand, in the shadow of the grey wall of a
traveller's house beside a well. Behind them their horses were
tethered to an iron ring in the wall. Batouch and Ali were in the
court of the house, talking to the Arab guardian who dwelt there, but
their voices were not audible by the well, and absolute silence
reigned, the intense yet light silence that is in the desert at
noontide, when the sun is at the zenith, when the nomad sleeps under
his low-pitched tent, and the gardeners in the oasis cease even from
pretending to work among the palms. From before the well the ground
sank to a plain of pale grey sand, which stretched away to a village
hard in aspect, as if carved out of bronze and all in one piece. In
the centre of it rose a mosque with a minaret and a number of cupolas,
faintly gilded and shining modestly under the fierce rays of the sun.
At the foot of the village the ground was white with saltpetre, which
resembled a covering of new-fallen snow. To right and left of it were
isolated groups of palms growing in threes and fours, like trees that
had formed themselves into cliques and set careful barriers of sand
between themselves and their despised brethren. Here and there on the
grey sand dark patches showed where nomads had pitched their tents.
But there was no movement of human life. No camels were visible. No
guard dogs barked. The noon held all things in its golden grip.
"Boris!" Domini said, breaking a long silence.
He turned towards her on the rug, stretching his long, thin body
lazily as if in supreme physical contentment.
"You know that saying of the Arabs about forgetting everything in the
"Yes, Domini, I know it."
"How long shall we stay in this world of forgetfulness?"
He lifted himself up on his elbow quickly, and fixed his eyes on hers.
"But--do you wish to leave it? Are you tired of it?"
There was a note of sharp anxiety in his voice.
"I don't answer such a question," she said, smiling at him.
"Ah, then, why do you try to frighten me?"
She put her hand in his.
"How burnt you are!" she said. "You are like an Arab of the South."
"Let me become more like one. There's health here."
"And peace, perfect peace."
He said nothing. He was looking down now at the sand.
She laid her lips on his warm brown hand.
"There's all I want here," she added.
"Let us stay here."
"But some day we must go back, mustn't we?"
"Can anything be lifelong--even our honeymoon?"
"Suppose we choose that it shall be?"
"Can we choose such a thing? Is anybody allowed to choose to live
always quite happily without duties? Sometimes I wonder. I love this
wandering life so much, I am so happy in it, that I sometimes think it
cannot last much longer."
He began to sift the sand through his fingers swiftly.
"Duties?" he said in a low voice.
"Yes. Oughtn't we to do something presently, something besides being
"What do you mean, Domini?"
"I hardly know, I don't know. You tell me."
There was an urging in her voice, as if she wanted, almost demanded,
something of him.
"You mean that a man must do some work in his life if he is to keep
himself a man," he said, not as if he were asking a question.
He spoke reluctantly but firmly.
"You know," he added, "that I have worked hard all my life, hard like
"Yes, I know," she said.
She stroked his hand, that was worn and rough, and spoke eloquently of
manual toil it had accomplished in the past.
"I know. Before we were married, that day when we sat in the garden,
you told me your life and I told you mine. How different they have
"Yes," he said.
He lit a cigar and watched the smoke curling up into the gold of the
"Mine in the midst of the world and yours so far away from it. I often
imagine that little place, El Krori, the garden, your brother, your
twin-brother Stephen, that one-eyed Arab servant--what was his name?"
"Yes, El Magin, who taught you to play Cora and to sing Arab songs,
and to eat cous-cous with your fingers. I can almost see Father Andre,
from whom you learnt to love the Classics, and who talked to you of
philosophy. He's dead too, isn't he, like your mother?"
"I don't know whether Pere Andre is dead. I have lost sight of him,"
He still looked steadily at the rings of smoke curling up into the
golden air. There was in his voice a sound of embarrassment. She
guessed that it came from the consciousness of the pain he must have
caused the good priest who had loved him when he ceased from
practising the religion in which he had been brought up. Even to her
he never spoke frankly on religious subjects, but she knew that he had
been baptised a Catholic and been educated for a time by priests. She
knew, too, that he was no longer a practising Catholic, and that, for
some reason, he dreaded any intimacy with priests. He never spoke
against them. He had scarcely ever spoken of them to her. But she
remembered his words in the garden, "I do not care for priests." She
remembered, too, his action in the tunnel on the day of his arrival in
Beni-Mora. And the reticence that they both preserved on the subject
of religion, and its reason, were the only causes of regret in this
desert dream of hers. Even this regret, too, often faded in hope. For
in the desert, the Garden of Allah, she had it borne in upon her that
Androvsky would discover what he must surely secretly be seeking--the
truth that each man must find for himself, truth for him of the
eventual existence in which the mysteries of this present existence
will be made plain, and of the Power that has fashioned all things.
And she was able to hope in silence, as women do for the men they
"Don't think I do not realise that you have worked," she went on after
a pause. "You told me how you always cultivated the land yourself,
even when you were still a boy, that you directed the Spanish
labourers in the vineyards, that--you have earned a long holiday. But
should it last for ever?"
"You are right. Well, let us take an oasis; let us become palm
gardeners like that Frenchman at Meskoutine."
"And build ourselves an African house, white, with a terrace roof."
"And sell our dates. We can give employment to the Arabs. We can
choose the poorest. We can improve their lives. After all, if we owe a
debt to anyone it is to them, to the desert. Let us pay our debt to
the desert men and live in the desert."
"It would be an ideal life," she said with her eyes shining on his.
"And a possible life. Let us live it. I could not bear to leave the
desert. Where should we go?"
"Where should we go!" she repeated.
She was still looking at him, but now the expression of her eyes had
quite changed. They had become grave, and examined him seriously with
a sort of deep inquiry. He sat upon the Arab rug, leaning his back
against the wall of the traveller's house.
"Why do you look at me like that, Domini?" he asked with a sudden
stirring of something that was like uneasiness.
"I! I was wondering what you would like, what other life would suit
"Yes?" he said quickly. "Yes?"
"It's very strange, Boris, but I cannot connect you with anything but
the desert, or see you anywhere but in the desert. I cannot even
imagine you among your vines in Tunisia."
"They were not altogether mine," he corrected, still with a certain
excitement which he evidently endeavoured to repress. "I--I had the
right, the duty of cultivating the land."
"Well, however it was, you were always at work; you were responsible,
"I can't see you even in the vineyards or the wheat-fields. Isn't it
She was always looking at him with the same deep and wholly
"And as to London, Paris--"
Suddenly she burst into a little laugh and her gravity vanished.
"I think you would hate them," she said. "And they--they wouldn't like
you because they wouldn't understand you."
"Let us buy our oasis," he said abruptly. "Build our African house,
sell our dates and remain in the desert. I hear Batouch. It must be
time to ride on to Mogar. Batouch! Batouch!"
Batouch came from the courtyard of the house wiping the remains of a
cous-cous from his languid lips.
"Untie the horses," said Androvsky.
"But, Monsieur, it is still too hot to travel. Look! No one is
stirring. All the village is asleep."
He waved his enormous hand, with henna-tinted nails, towards the
distant town, carved surely out of one huge piece of bronze.
"Untie the horses. There are gazelle in the plain near Mogar. Didn't
you tell me?"
"Yes, Monsieur, but--"
"We'll get there early and go out after them at sunset. Now, Domini."
They rode away in the burning heat of the noon towards the southwest
across the vast plains of grey sand, followed at a short distance by
Batouch and Ali.
"Monsieur is mad to start in the noon," grumbled Batouch. "But
Monsieur is not like Madame. He may live in the desert till he is old
and his hair is grey as the sand, but he will never be an Arab in his
"He cannot rest. To Madame the desert gives its calm, but to
Monsieur--" He did not finish his sentence. In front Domini and
Androvsky had put their horses to a gallop. The sand flew up in a thin
cloud around them.
"Nom d'un chien!" said Batouch, who, in unpoetical moments,
occasionally indulged in the expletives of the French infidels who
were his country's rulers. "What is there in the mind of Monsieur
which makes him ride as if he fled from an enemy?"
"I know not, but he goes like a hare before the sloughi, Batouch-ben
Brahim," answered Ali, gravely.
Then they sent their horses on in chase of the cloud of sand towards
About four in the afternoon they reached the camp at Mogar.
As they rode in slowly, for their horses were tired and streaming with
heat after their long canter across the sands, both Domini and
Androvsky were struck by the novelty of this halting-place, which was
quite unlike anything they had yet seen. The ground rose gently but
continuously for a considerable time before they saw in the distance
the pitched tents with the dark forms of the camels and mules. Here
they were out of the sands, and upon hard, sterile soil covered with
small stones embedded in the earth. Beyond the tents they could see
nothing but the sky, which was now covered with small, ribbed grey
clouds, sad-coloured and autumnal, and a lonely tower built of stone,
which rose from the waste at about two hundred yards from the tents to
the east. Although they could see so little, however, they were
impressed with a sensation that they were on the edge of some vast
vision, of some grandiose effect of Nature, that would bring to them a
new and astonishing knowledge of the desert. Perhaps it was the sight
of the distant tower pointing to the grey clouds that stirred in them
this almost excited feeling of expectation.
"It is like a watch-tower," Domini said, pointing with her whip. "But
who could live in such a place, far from any oasis?"
"And what can it overlook?" said Androvsky. "This is the nearest
horizon line we have seen since we came into the desert."
She glanced at him as they put their horses into a gentle canter. Then
"You, too, feel that we are coming to something tremendous, don't you?
Her horse whinnied shrilly. Domini stroked his foam-flecked neck with
"Abou is as full of anticipation as we are," she said. Androvsky was
looking towards the tower.
"That was built for French soldiers," he said. A moment afterwards he
"I wonder why Batouch chose this place for us to camp in?"
There was a faint sound as of irritation in his voice.
"Perhaps we shall know in a minute," Domini answered. They cantered
on. Their horses' hoofs rang with a hard sound on the stony ground.
"It's inhospitable here," Androvsky said. She looked at him in
"I never knew you to take a dislike to any halting-place before," she
said. "What's the matter, Boris?"
He smiled at her, but almost immediately his face was clouded by the
shadow of a gloom that seemed to respond to the gloom of the sky. And
he fixed his eyes again upon the tower.
"I like a far horizon," he answered. "And there's no sun to-day."
"I suppose even in the desert we cannot have it always," she said. And
in her voice, too, there was a touch of melancholy, as if she had
caught his mood. A minute later she added:
"I feel exactly as if I were on a hill top and were coming to a view
of the sea."
Almost as she spoke they cantered in among the tents of the
attendants, and reined in their horses at the edge of a slope that was
almost a precipice. Then they sat still in their saddles, gazing.
They had been living for weeks in the midst of vastness, and had
become accustomed to see stretched out around them immense tracts of
land melting away into far blue distances, but this view from Mogar
made them catch their breath and stiffed their pulses.
It was gigantic. There was even something unnatural in its appearance
of immensity, as if it were, perhaps, deceptive, and existed in their
vision of it only. So, surely, might look a plain to one who had taken
haschish, which enlarges, makes monstrous and threateningly terrific.
Domini had a feeling that no human eyes could really see such infinite
tracts of land and water as those she seemed to be seeing at this
moment. For there was water here, in the midst of the desert. Infinite
expanses of sea met infinite plains of snow. Or so it seemed to both
of them. And the sea was grey and calm as a winter sea, breathing its
plaint along a winter land. From it, here and there, rose islets whose
low cliffs were a deep red like the red of sandstone, a sad colour
that suggests tragedy, islets that looked desolate, and as if no life
had ever been upon them, or could be. Back from the snowy plains
stretched sand dunes of the palest primrose colour, sand dunes
innumerable, myriads and myriads of them, rising and falling, rising
and falling, till they were lost in the grey distance of this silent
world. In the foreground, at their horses' feet, wound from the hill
summit a broad track faintly marked in the deep sand, and flanked by
huge dunes shaped, by the action of the winds, into grotesque
semblances of monsters, leviathans, beasts with prodigious humps,
sphinxes, whales. This track was presently lost in the blanched
plains. Far away, immeasurably far, sea and snow blended and faded
into the cloudy grey. Above the near dunes two desert eagles were
slowly wheeling in a weary flight, occasionally sinking towards the
sand, then rising again towards the clouds. And the track was strewn
with the bleached bones of camels that had perished, or that had been
slaughtered, on some long desert march.
To the left of them the solitary tower commanded this terrific vision
of desolation, seemed to watch it steadily, yet furtively, with its
tiny loophole eyes.
"We have come into winter," Domini murmured.
She looked at the white of the camels' bones, of the plains, at the
grey white of the sky, at the yellow pallor of the dunes.
"How wonderful! How terrible!" she said.
She drew her horse to one side, a little nearer to Androvsky's.
"Does the Russian in you greet this land?" she asked him.
He did not reply. He seemed to be held in thrall by the sad immensity
"I realise here what it must be to die in the desert, to be killed by
it--by hunger, by thirst in it," she said presently, speaking, as if
to herself, and looking out over the mirage sea, the mirage snow.
"This is the first time I have really felt the terror of the desert."
Her horse drooped its head till its nose nearly touched the earth, and
shook itself in a long shiver. She shivered too, as if constrained to
echo an animal's distress.
"Things have died here," Androvsky said, speaking at last in a low
voice and pointing with his long-lashed whip towards the camels'
skeletons. "Come, Domini, the horses are tired."
He cast another glance at the tower, and they dismounted by their
tent, which was pitched at the very edge of the steep slope that sank
down to the beast-like shapes of the near dunes.
An hour later Domini said to Androvsky:
"You won't go after gazelle this evening surely?"
They had been having coffee in the tent and had just finished.
Androvsky got up from his chair and went to the tent door. The grey of
the sky was pierced by a gleaming shaft from the sun.
"Do you mind if I go?" he said, turning towards her after a glance to
"No, but aren't you tired?"
He shook his head.
"I couldn't ride, and now I can ride. I couldn't shoot, and I'm just
"Go," she said quickly. "Besides, we want gazelle for dinner, Batouch
says, though I don't suppose we should starve without it." She came to
the tent door and stood beside him, and he put his arm around her.
"If I were alone here, Boris," she said, leaning against his shoulder,
"I believe I should feel horribly sad to-day."
"Shall I stay?"
He pressed her against him.
"No. I shall know you are coming back. Oh, how extraordinary it is to
think we lived so many years without knowing of each other's
existence, that we lived alone. Were you ever happy?"
He hesitated before he replied.
"I sometimes thought I was."
"But do you think now you ever really were?"
"I don't know--perhaps in a lonely sort of way."
"You can never be happy in that way now?"
He said nothing, but, after a moment, he kissed her long and hard, and
as if he wanted to draw her being into his through the door of his
"Good-bye," he said, releasing her. "I shall be back directly after
"Yes. Don't wait for the dark down there. If you were lost in the
She pointed to the distant sand hills rising and falling monotonously
to the horizon.
"If you are not back in good time," she said, "I shall stand by the
tower and wave a brand from the fire."
"Why by the tower?"
"The ground is highest by the tower."
She watched him ride away on a mule, with two Arabs carrying guns.
They went towards the plains of saltpetre that looked like snow beside
the sea that was only a mirage. Then she turned back into the tent,
took up a volume of Fromentin's, and sat down in a folding-chair at
the tent door. She read a little, but it was difficult to read with
the mirage beneath her. Perpetually her eyes were attracted from the
book to its mystery and plaintive sadness, that was like the sadness
of something unearthly, of a spirit that did not move but that
suffered. She did not put away the book, but presently she laid it
down on her knees, open, and sat gazing. Androvsky had disappeared
with the Arabs into some fold of the sands. The sun-ray had vanished
with him. Without Androvsky and the sun--she still connected them
together, and knew she would for ever.
The melancholy of this desert scene was increased for her till it
became oppressive and lay upon her like a heavy weight. She was not a
woman inclined to any morbid imaginings. Indeed, all that was morbid
roused in her an instinctive disgust. But the sudden greyness of the
weather, coming after weeks of ardent sunshine, and combined with the
fantastic desolation of the landscape, which was half real and half
unreal, turned her for the moment towards a dreariness of spirit that
was rare in her.
She realised suddenly, as she looked and did not see Androvsky even as
a black and moving speck upon the plain; what the desert would seem to
her without him, even in sunshine, the awfulness of the desolation of
it, the horror of its distances. And realising this she also realised
the uncertainty of the human life in connection with any other human
life. To be dependent on another is to double the sum of the terrors
of uncertainty. She had done that.
If the immeasurable sands took Androvsky and never gave him back to
her! What would she do?
She gazed at the mirage sea with its dim red islands, and at the sad
white plains along its edge.
Winter--she would be plunged in eternal winter. And each human life
hangs on a thread. All deep love, all consuming passion, holds a great
fear within the circle of a great glory. To-day the fear within the
circle of her glory seemed to grow. But she suddenly realised that she
ought to dominate it, to confine it--as it were--to its original and
She got up, came out upon the edge of the hill, and walked along it
slowly towards the tower.
Outside, freed from the shadow of the tent, she felt less oppressed,
though still melancholy, and even slightly apprehensive, as if some
trouble were coming to her and were near at hand. Mentally she had
made the tower the limit of her walk, and therefore when she reached
it she stood still.
It was a squat, square tower, strongly constructed, with loopholes in
the four sides, and now that she was by it she saw built out at the
back of it a low house with small shuttered windows and a narrow
courtyard for mules. No doubt Androvsky was right and French soldiers
had once been here to work the optic telegraph. She thought of the
recruits and of Marseilles, of Notre Dame de la Garde, the Mother of
God, looking towards Africa. Such recruits came to live in such
strange houses as this tower lost in the desert and now abandoned. She
glanced at the shuttered windows and turned back towards the tent; but
something in the situation of the tower--perhaps the fact that it was
set on the highest point of the ground--attracted her, and she
presently made Batouch bring her out some rugs and ensconced herself
under its shadow, facing the mirage sea.
How long she sat there she did not know. Mirage hypnotises the
imaginative and suggests to them dreams strange and ethereal, sad
sometimes, as itself. How long she might have sat there dreaming, but
for an interruption, she knew still less. It was towards evening,
however, but before evening had fallen, that a weary and travel-
stained party of three French soldiers, Zouaves, and an officer rode
slowly up the sandy track from the dunes. They were mounted on mules,
and carried their small baggage with them on two led mules. When they
reached the top of the hill they turned to the right and came towards
the tower. The officer was a little in advance of his men. He was a
smart-looking, fair man of perhaps thirty-two, with blonde moustaches,
blue eyes with blonde lashes, and hair very much the colour of the
sand dunes. His face was bright red, burnt, as a fair delicate skin
burns, by the sun. His eyes, although protected by large sun
spectacles, were inflamed. The skin was peeling from his nose. His
hair was full of sand, and he rode leaning forward over his animal's
neck, holding the reins loosely in his hands, that seemed nerveless
from fatigue. Yet he looked smart and well-bred despite his evident
exhaustion, as if on parade he would be a dashing officer. It was
evident that both he and his men were riding in from some tremendous
journey. The latter looked dog-tired, scarcely human in their
collapse. They kept on their mules with difficulty, shaking this way
and that like sacks, with their unshaven chins wagging loosely up and
down. But as they saw the tower they began to sing in chorus half
under their breath, and leaning their broad hands on the necks of the
beasts for support they looked with a sort of haggard eagerness in its
Domini was roused from her contemplation of the mirage and the
daydreams it suggested by the approach of this small cavalcade. The
officer was almost upon her ere she heard the clatter of his mule
among the stones. She looked up, startled, and he looked down, even
more surprised, apparently, to see a lady ensconced at the foot of the
tower. His astonishment and exhaustion did not, however, get the
better of his instinctive good breeding, and sitting straight up in
the saddle he took off his sun helmet and asked Domini's pardon for
"But this is my home for the night, Madame," he added, at the same
time drawing a key from the pocket of his loose trousers. "And I'm
thankful to reach it. /Ma foi/! there have been several moments in the
last days when I never thought to see Mogar."
Slowly he swung himself off his mule and stood up, catching on to the
saddle with one hand.
"F-f-f-f!" he said, pursing his lips. "I can hardly stand. Excuse me,
Domini had got up.
"You are tired out," she said, looking at him and his men, who had now
come up, with interest.
"Pretty well indeed. We have been three days lost in the great dunes
in a sand-storm, and hit the track here just as we were preparing for
a--well, a great event."
"A great event?" said Domini.
"The last in a man's life, Madame."
He spoke simply, even with a light touch of humour that was almost
cynical, but she felt beneath his words and manner a solemnity and a
thankfulness that attracted and moved her.
"Those terrible dunes!" she said.
And, turning, she looked out over them.
There was no sunset, but the deepening of the grey into a dimness that
seemed to have blackness behind it, the more ghastly hue of the white
plains of saltpetre, and the fading of the mirage sea, whose islands
now looked no longer red, but dull brown specks in a pale mist, hinted
at the rapid falling of night.
"My husband is out in them," she added.
"Your husband, Madame!"
He looked at her rather narrowly, shifted from one leg to the other as
if trying his strength, then added:
"Not far, though, I suppose. For I see you have a camp here."
"He has only gone after gazelle."
As she said the last word she saw one of the soldiers, a mere boy,
lick his lips and give a sort of tragic wink at his companions. A
sudden thought struck her.
"Don't think me impertinent, Monsieur, but--what about provisions in
"Oh, as to that, Madame, we shall do well enough. Here, open the door,
And he gave the key to a soldier, who wearily dismounted and thrust it
into the door of the tower.
"But after three days in the dunes! Your provisions must be exhausted
unless you've been able to replenish them."
"You are too good, Madame. We shall manage a cous-cous."
"And wine? Have you any wine?"
She glanced again at the exhausted soldiers covered with sand and saw
that their eyes were fixed upon her and were shining eagerly. All the
"good fellow" in her nature rose up.
"You must let me send you some," she said. "We have plenty."
She thought of some bottles of champagne they had brought with them
and never opened.
"In the desert we are all comrades," she added, as if speaking to the
They looked at her with an open adoration which lit up their tired
"Madame," said the officer, "you are much too good; but I accept your
offer as frankly as you have made it. A little wine will be a godsend
to us to-night. Thank you, Madame."
The soldiers looked as if they were going to cheer.
"I'll go to the camp--"
"Cannot one of the men go for you, Madame? You were sitting here.
Pray, do not let us disturb you."
"But night is falling and I shall have to go back in a moment."
While they had been speaking the darkness had rapidly increased. She
looked towards the distant dunes and no longer saw them. At once her
mind went to Androvsky. Why had he not returned? She thought of the
signal. From the camp, behind their sleeping-tent, rose the flames of
a newly-made fire.
"If one of your men can go and tell Batouch--Batouch--to come to me
here I shall be grateful," she answered. "And I want him to bring me a
big brand from the fire over there."
She saw wonder dawning in the eyes fixed upon her, and smiled.
"I want to signal to my husband," she said, "and this is the highest
point. He will see it best if I stand here."
"Go, Marelle, ask for Batouch, and be sure you bring the brand from
The man saluted and rode off with alacrity. The thought of wine had
infused a gaiety into him and his companions.
"Now, Monsieur, don't stand on ceremony," Domini said to the officer.
"Go in and make your toilet. You are longing to, I know."
"I am longing to look a little more decent--now, Madame," he said
gallantly, and gazing at her with a sparkle of admiration in his
inflamed eyes. "You will let me return in a moment to escort you to
"Will you permit me--my name is De Trevignac."
"And mine is Madame Androvsky."
"Russian!" the officer said. "The alliance in the desert! Vive la
"That is for my husband, for I am English."
"Vive l'Angleterre!" he said.
The two soldier echoed his words impulsively, lifting up in the
gathering darkness hoarse voices.
"Thank you, thank you," she said. "Now, Monsieur, please don't let me
"I shall be back directly," the officer replied.
And he turned and went into the tower, while the soldiers rode round
to the court, tugging at the cords of the led mules.
Domini waited for the return of Marelle. Her mood had changed. A glow
of cordial humanity chased away her melancholy. The hostess that lurks
in every woman--that housewife-hostess sense which goes hand-in-hand
with the mother sense--was alive in her. She was keenly anxious to
play the good fairy simply, unostentatiously, to these exhausted men
who had come to Mogar out of the jaws of Death, to see their weary
faces shine under the influence of repose and good cheer. But the
tower looked desolate. The camp was gayer, cosier. Suddenly she
resolved to invite them all to dine in the camp that night.
Marelle returned with Batouch. She saw them from a distance coming
through the darkness with blazing torches in their hands. When they
came to her she said:
"Batouch, I want you to order dinner in camp for the soldiers."
A broad and radiant smile irradiated the blunt Breton features of
"And Monsieur the officer will dine with me and Monsieur. Give us all
you can. Perhaps there will be some gazelle."
She saw him opening his lips to say that the dinner would be poor and
"You are to open some of the champagne--the Pommery. We will drink to
all safe returns. Now, give me the brand and go and tell the cook."
As he took his torch and disappeared into the darkness De Trevignac
came out from the tower. He still looked exhausted and walked with
some difficulty, but he had washed the sand from his face with water
from the artesian well behind the tower, changed his uniform, brushed
the sand from his yellow hair, and put on a smart gold-laced cap
instead of his sun-helmet. The spectacles were gone from his eyes, and
between his lips was a large Havana--his last, kept by him among the
dunes as a possible solace in the dreadful hour of death.
"Monsieur de Trevignac, I want you to dine with us in camp to-night--
only to dine. We won't keep you from your bed one moment after the
coffee and the cognac. You must seal the triple alliance--France,
Russia, England--in some champagne."
She had spoken gaily, cordially. She added more gravely:
"One doesn't escape from death among the dunes every day. Will you
She held out her hand frankly, as a man might to another man. He
pressed it as a man presses a woman's hand when he is feeling very
soft and tender.
"Madame, what can I say, but that you are too good to us poor fellows
and that you will find it very difficult to get rid of us, for we
shall be so happy in your camp that we shall forget all about our
"That's settled then."
With the brand in her hand she walked to the edge of the hill. De
Trevignac followed her. He had taken the other brand from Marelle.
They stood side by side, overlooking the immense desolation that was
now almost hidden in the night.
"You are going to signal to your husband, Madame?"
"Let me do it for you. See, I have the other brand!"
"Thank you--but I will do it."
In the light of the flame that leaped up as if striving to touch her
face he saw a light in her eyes that he understood, and he drooped his
torch towards the earth while she lifted hers on high and waved it in
He watched her. The tall, strong, but exquisitely supple figure, the
uplifted arm with the torch sending forth a long tongue of golden
flame, the ardent and unconscious pose, that set before him a warm
passionate heart calling to another heart without shame, made him
think of her as some Goddess of the Sahara. He had let his torch droop
towards the earth, but, as she waved hers, he had an irresistible
impulse to join her in the action she made heroic and superb. And
presently he lifted his torch, too, and waved it beside hers in the
She smiled at him in the flames.
"He must see them surely," she said.
From below, in the distance of the desert, there rose a loud cry in a
strong man's voice.
"Aha!" she exclaimed.
She called out in return in a warm, powerful voice. The man's voice
answered, nearer. She dropped her brand to the earth.
"Monsieur, you will come then--in half an hour?"
"Madame, with the most heartfelt pleasure. But let me accompany--"
"No, I am quite safe. And bring your men with you. We'll make the best
feast we can for them. And there's enough champagne for all."
Then she went away quickly, eagerly, into the darkness.
"To be her husband!" murmured De Trevignac. "Lucky--lucky fellow!" And
he dropped his brand beside hers on the ground, and stood watching the
two flames mingle.
"Lucky--lucky fellow!" he said again aloud. "I wonder what he's like."
When Domini reached the camp she found it in a bustle. Batouch,
resigned to the inevitable, had put the cook upon his mettle. Ouardi
was already to be seen with a bottle of Pommery in each hand, and was
only prevented from instantly uncorking them by the representations of
his mistress and an elaborate exposition of the peculiar and
evanescent virtues of champagne. Ali was humming a mysterious song
about a lovesick camel-man, with which he intended to make glad the
hearts of the assembly when the halting time was over. And the dining-
table was already set for three.
When Androvsky rode in with the Arabs Domini met him at the edge of
"You saw my signal, Boris?"
He was going to say more, when she interrupted him eagerly.
"Have you any gazelle? Ah----""
Across the mule of one of the Arabs she saw a body drooping, a
delicate head with thin, pointed horns, tiny legs with exquisite
little feet that moved as the mule moved.
"We shall want it to-night. Take it quickly to the cook's tent,
Ahmed." Androvsky got off his mule.
"There's a light in the tower!" he said, looking at her and then
dropping his eyes.