The Sunrise Silents Library
THE GARDEN OF ALLAH (BOOK V)
By ROBERT HICHENS
CONTENTSBOOK I. PRELUDE
BOOK II. THE VOICE OF PRAYER
BOOK III. THE GARDEN
BOOK IV. THE JOURNEY
BOOK V. THE REVELATION
BOOK VI. THE JOURNEY BACK
CHAPTERS (BOOK V)CHAPTER XXVI
BOOK V. THE REVELATION
They remained standing at the tent door, with the growing moonlight about them. The camp was hushed in sleep, but sounds of music still came to them from the city below them, and fainter music from the tents of the Ouled Nails on the sandhill to the south. After Domini had spoken Androvsky moved a step towards her, looked at her, then moved back and dropped his eyes. If he had gone on looking at her he knew he could not have begun to speak.
"Domini," he said, "I'm not going to try and excuse myself for what I have done. I'm not going to say to you what I daren't say to God— 'Forgive me.' How can such a thing be forgiven? That's part of the torture I've been enduring, the knowledge of the unforgivable nature of my act. It can never be wiped out. It's black on my judgment book for ever. But I wonder if you can understand—oh, I want you to understand, Domini, what has made the thing I am, a renegade, a breaker of oaths, a liar to God and you. It was the passion of life that burst up in me after years of tranquillity. It was the waking of my nature after years of sleep. And you—you do understand the passion of life that's in some of us like a monster that must rule, must have its way. Even you in your purity and goodness—you have it, that desperate wish to live really and fully, as we have lived, Domini, together. For we have lived out in the desert. We lived that night at Arba when we sat and watched the fire and I held your hand against the earth. We lived then. Even now, when I think of that night, I can hardly be sorry for what I've done, for what I am."
He looked up at her now and saw that her eyes were fixed on him. She stood motionless, with her hands joined in front of her. Her attitude was calm and her face was untortured. He could not read any thought of hers, any feeling that was in her heart.
"You must understand," he said almost violently. "You must understand or I—. My father, I told you, was a Russian. He was brought up in the Greek Church, but became a Freethinker when he was still a young man. My mother was an Englishwoman and an ardent Catholic. She and my father were devoted to each other in spite of the difference in their views. Perhaps the chief effect my father's lack of belief had upon my mother was to make her own belief more steadfast, more ardent. I think disbelief acts often as a fan to the faith of women, makes the flame burn more brightly than it did before. My mother tried to believe for herself and for my father too, and I could almost think that she succeeded. He died long before she did, and he died without changing his views. On his death-bed he told my mother that he was sure there was no other life, that he was going to the dust. That made the agony of his farewell. The certainty on his part that he and my mother were parting for ever. I was a little boy at the time, but I remember that, when he was dead, my mother said to me, 'Boris, pray for your father every day. He is still alive.' She said nothing more, but I ran upstairs crying, fell upon my knees and prayed—trying to think where my father was and what he could be looking like. And in that prayer for my father, which was also an act of obedience to my mother, I think I took the first step towards the monastic life. For I remember that then, for the first time, I was conscious of a great sense of responsibility. My mother's command made me say to myself, 'Then perhaps my prayer can do something in heaven. Perhaps a prayer from me can make God wish to do something He had not wished to do before.' That was a tremendous thought! It excited me terribly. I remember my cheeks burned as I prayed, and that I was hot all over as if I had been running in the sun. From that day my mother and I seemed to be much nearer together than we had ever been before. I had a twin brother to whom I was devoted, and who was devoted to me. But he took after my father. Religious things, ceremonies, church music, processions—even the outside attractions of the Catholic Church, which please and stimulate emotional people who have little faith— never meant much to him. All his attention was firmly fixed upon the life of the present. He was good to my mother and loved her devotedly, as he loved me, but he never pretended to be what he was not. And he was never a Catholic. He was never anything.
"My father had originally come to Africa for his health, which needed a warm climate. He had some money and bought large tracts of land suitable for vineyards. Indeed, he sunk nearly his whole fortune in land. I told you, Domini, that the vines were devoured by the phylloxera. Most of the money was lost. When my father died we were left very poor. We lived quietly in a little village—I told you its name, I told you that part of my life, all I dared tell, Domini—but now—why did I enter the monastery? I was very young when I became a novice, just seventeen. You are thinking, Domini, I know, that I was too young to know what I was doing, that I had no vocation, that I was unfitted for the monastic life. It seems so. The whole world would think so. And yet—how am I to tell you? Even now I feel that then I had the vocation, that I was fitted to enter the monastery, that I ought to have made a faithful and devoted monk. My mother wished the life for me, but it was not only that. I wished it for myself then. With my whole heart I wished it. I knew nothing of the world. My youth had been one of absolute purity. And I did not feel longings after the unknown. My mother's influence upon me was strong; but she did not force me into anything. Perhaps my love for her led me more than I knew, brought me to the monastery door. The passion of her life, the human passion, had been my father. After he was dead the passion of her life was prayer for him. My love for her made me share that passion, and the sharing of that passion eventually led me to become a monk. I became as a child, a devotee of prayer. Oh! Domini—think—I loved prayer—I loved it——"
His voice broke. When he stopped speaking Domini was again conscious of the music in the city. She remembered that earlier in the night she had thought of it as the music of a great festival.
"I resolved to enter the life of prayer, the most perfect life of prayer. I resolved to become a 'religious.' It seemed to me that by so doing I should be proving in the finest way my love for my mother. I should be, in the strongest way, helping her. Her life was prayer for my dead father and love for her children. By devoting myself to the life of prayer I should show to her that I was as she was, as she had made me, true son of her womb. Can you understand? I had a passion for my mother, Domini—I had a passion. My brother tried to dissuade me from the monastic life. He himself was going into business in Tunis. He wanted me to join him. But I was firm. I felt driven towards the cloister then as other men often feel driven towards the vicious life. The inclination was irresistible. I yielded to it. I had to bid good- bye to my mother. I told you—she was the passion of my life. And yet I hardly felt sad at parting from her. Perhaps that will show you how I was then. It seemed to me that we should be even closer together when I wore the monk's habit. I was in haste to put it on. I went to the monastery of El-Largani and entered it as a novice of the Trappistine order. I thought in the great silence of the Trappists there would be more room for prayer. When I left my home and went to El-Largani I took with me one treasure only. Domini, it was the little wooden crucifix you pinned upon the tent at Arba. My mother gave it to me, and I was allowed to keep it. Everything else in the way of earthly possessions I, of course, had to give up.
"You have never seen El-Largani, my home for nineteen years, my prison for one. It is lonely, but not in the least desolate. It stands on a high upland, and, from a distance, looks upon the sea. Far off there are mountains. The land was a desert. The monks have turned it, if not into an Eden, at least into a rich garden. There are vineyards, cornfields, orchards, almost every fruit-tree flourishes there. The springs of sweet waters are abundant. At a short way from the monastery is a large village for the Spanish workmen whom the monks supervise in the labours of the fields. For the Trappist life is not only a life of prayer, but a life of diligent labour. When I became a novice I had not realised that. I had imagined myself continually upon my knees. I found instead that I was perpetually in the fields, in sun, and wind, and rain—that was in the winter time—working like the labourers, and that often when we went into the long, plain chapel to pray I was so tired—being only a boy—that my eyes closed as I stood in my stall, and I could scarcely hear the words of Mass or Benediction. But I had expected to be happy at El-Largani, and I was happy. Labour is good for the body and better for the soul. And the silence was not hard to bear. The Trappists have a book of gestures, and are often allowed to converse by signs. We novices were generally in little bands, and often, as we walked in the garden of the monastery, we talked together gaily with our hands. Then the silence is not perpetual. In the fields we often had to give directions to the labourers. In the school, where we studied Theology, Latin, Greek, there was heard the voice of the teacher. It is true that I have seen men in the monastery day by day for twenty years with whom I have never exchanged a word, but I have had permission to speak with monks. The head of the monastery, the Reverend Pere, has the power to loose the bonds of silence when he chooses, and to allow monks to walk and speak with each other beyond the white walls that hem in the garden of the monastery. Now and then we spoke, but I think most of us were not unhappy in our silence. It became a habit. And then we were always occupied. We had no time allowed us for sitting and being sad. Domini, I don't want to tell you about the Trappists, their life—only about myself, why I was as I was, how I came to change. For years I was not unhappy at El-Largani. When my time of novitiate was over I took the eternal vows without hesitation. Many novices go out again into the world. It never occurred to me to do so. I scarcely ever felt a stirring of worldly desire. I scarcely ever had one of those agonising struggles which many people probably attribute to monks. I was contented nearly always. Now and then the flesh spoke, but not strongly. Remember, our life was a life of hard and exhausting labour in the fields. The labour kept the flesh in subjection, as the prayer lifted up the spirit. And then, during all my earlier years at the monastery, we had an Abbe who was quick to understand the characters and dispositions of men—Dom Andre Herceline. He knew me far better than I knew myself. He knew, what I did not suspect, that I was full of sleeping violence, that in my purity and devotion—or beneath it rather—there was a strong strain of barbarism. The Russian was sleeping in the monk, but sleeping soundly. That can be. Half a man's nature, if all that would call to it is carefully kept from it, may sleep, I believe, through all his life. He might die and never have known, or been, what all the time he was. For years it was so with me. I knew only part of myself, a real vivid part—but only a part. I thought it was the whole. And while I thought it was the whole I was happy. If Dom Andre Herceline had not died, today I should be a monk at El-Largani, ignorant of what I know, contented.
"He never allowed me to come into any sort of contact with the many strangers who visited the monastery. Different monks have different duties. Certain duties bring monks into connection with the travellers whom curiosity sends to El-Largani. The monk whose business it is to look after the cemetery on the hill, where the dead Trappists are laid to rest, shows visitors round the little chapel, and may talk with them freely so long as they remain in the cemetery. The monk in charge of the distillery also receives visitors and converses with them. So does the monk in charge of the parlour at the great door of the monastery. He sells the souvenirs of the Trappists, photographs of the church and buildings, statues of saints, bottles of perfumes made by the monks. He takes the orders for the wines made at the monastery, and for—for the—what I made, Domini, when I was there."
She thought of De Trevignac and the fragments of glass lying upon the ground in the tent at Mogar.
"Had De Trevignac——" she said in a low, inward voice.
"He had seen me, spoken with me at the monastery. When Ouardi brought in the liqueur he remembered who I was."
She understood De Trevignac's glance towards the tent where Androvsky lay sleeping, and a slight shiver ran through her. Androvsky saw it and looked down.
He cleared his throat, turned, looked out across the white sand as if he longed to travel away into it and be lost for ever, then went on, speaking quickly:
"But the monk who has most to do with travellers is the monk who is in charge of the hotellerie of the monastery. He is the host to all visitors, to those who come over for the day and have dejeuner, and to any who remain for the night, or for a longer time. For when I was at El-Largani it was permitted for people to stay in the hotellerie, on payment of a small weekly sum, for as long as they pleased. The monk of the hotellerie is perpetually brought into contact with the outside world. He talks with all sorts and conditions of men—women, of course, are not admitted. The other monks, many of them, probably envy him. I never did. I had no wish to see strangers. When, by chance, I met them in the yard, the outbuildings, or the grounds of the monastery, I seldom even raised my eyes to look at them. They were not, would never be, in my life. Why should I look at them? What were they to me? Years went on—quickly they passed—not slowly. I did not feel their monotony. I never shrank from anything in the life. My health was splendid. I never knew what it was to be ill for a day. My muscles were hard as iron. The pallet on which I lay in my cubicle, the heavy robe I wore day and night, the scanty vegetables I ate, the bell that called me from my sleep in the darkness to go to the chapel, the fastings, the watchings, the perpetual sameness of all I saw, all I did, neither saddened nor fatigued me. I never sighed for change. Can you believe that, Domini? It is true. So long as Dom Andre Herceline lived and ruled my life I was calm, happy, as few people in the world, or none, can ever be. But Dom Andre died, and then—"
His face was contorted by a spasm.
"My mother was dead. My brother lived on in Tunis, and was successful in business. He remained unmarried. So far as I was concerned, although the monastery was but two hours' drive from the town, he might almost have been dead too. I scarcely ever saw him, and then only by a special permission from the Reverend Pere, and for a few moments. Once I visited him at Tunis, when he was ill. When my mother died I seemed to sink down a little deeper into the monastic life. That was all. It was as if I drew my robe more closely round me and pulled my hood further forward over my face. There was more reason for my prayers, and I prayed more passionately. I lived in prayer like a sea-plant in the depths of the ocean. Prayer was about me like a fluid. But Dom Andre Herceline died, and a new Abbe was appointed, he who, I suppose, rules now at El-Largani. He was a good man, but, I think, apt to misunderstand men. The Abbe of a Trappist monastery has complete power over his community. He can order what he will. Soon after he came to El-Largani—for some reason that I cannot divine—he —removed the Pere Michel, who had been for years in charge of the cemetery, from his duties there, and informed me that I was to undertake them. I obeyed, of course, without a word.
"The cemetery of El-Largani is on a low hill, the highest part of the monastery grounds. It is surrounded by a white wall and by a hedge of cypress trees. The road to it is an avenue of cypresses, among which are interspersed niches containing carvings of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. At the entrance to this avenue, on the left, there is a high yellow pedestal, surmounted by a black cross, on which hangs a silver Christ. Underneath is written:
"I remember, on the first day when I became the guardian of the cemetery, stopping on my way to it before the Christ and praying. My prayer—my prayer was, Domini, that I might die, as I had lived, in innocence. I prayed for that, but with a sort of—yes, now I think so —insolent certainty that my prayer would of course be granted. Then I went on to the cemetery.
"My work there was easy. I had only to tend the land about the graves, and sweep out the little chapel where was buried the founder of La Trappe of El-Largani. This done I could wander about the cemetery, or sit on a bench in the sun. The Pere Michel, who was my predecessor, had some doves, and had left them behind in a little house by my bench. I took care of and fed them. They were tame, and used to flutter to my shoulders and perch on my hands. To birds and animals I was always a friend. At El-Largani there are all sorts of beasts, and, at one time or another, it had been my duty to look after most of them. I loved all living things. Sitting in the cemetery I could see a great stretch of country, the blue of the lakes of Tunis with the white villages at their edge, the boats gliding upon them towards the white city, the distant mountains. Having little to do, I sat day after day for hours meditating, and looking out upon this distant world. I remember specially one evening, at sunset, just before I had to go to the chapel, that a sort of awe came upon me as I looked across the lakes. The sky was golden, the waters were dyed with gold, out of which rose the white sails of boats. The mountains were shadowy purple. The little minarets of the mosques rose into the gold like sticks of ivory. As I watched my eyes filled with tears, and I felt a sort of aching in my heart, and as if—Domini, it was as if at that moment a hand was laid, on mine, but very gently, and pulled at my hand. It was as if at that moment someone was beside me in the cemetery wishing to lead me out to those far-off waters, those mosque towers, those purple mountains. Never before had I had such a sensation. It frightened me. I felt as if the devil had come into the cemetery, as if his hand was laid on mine, as if his voice were whispering in my ear, 'Come out with me into that world, that beautiful world, which God made for men. Why do you reject it?'
"That evening, Domini, was the beginning of this—this end. Day after day I sat in the cemetery and looked out over the world, and wondered what it was like: what were the lives of the men who sailed in the white-winged boats, who crowded on the steamers whose smoke I could see sometimes faintly trailing away into the track of the sun; who kept the sheep upon the mountains; who—who—Domini, can you imagine— no, you cannot—what, in a man of my age, of my blood, were these first, very first, stirrings of the longing for life? Sometimes I think they were like the first birth-pangs of a woman who is going to be a mother."
Domini's hands moved apart, then joined themselves again.
"There was something physical in them. I felt as if my limbs had minds, and that their minds, which had been asleep, were waking. My arms twitched with a desire to stretch themselves towards the distant blue of the lakes on which I should never sail. My—I was physically stirred. And again and again I felt that hand laid closely upon mine, as if to draw me away into something I had never known, could never know. Do not think that I did not strive against these first stirrings of the nature that had slept so long! For days I refused to let myself look out from the cemetery. I kept my eyes upon the ground, upon the plain crosses that marked the graves. I played with the red-eyed doves. I worked. But my eyes at last rebelled. I said to myself, 'It is not forbidden to look.' And again the sails, the seas, the towers, the mountains, were as voices whispering to me, 'Why will you never know us, draw near to us? Why will you never understand our meaning? Why will you be ignorant for ever of all that has been created for man to know?' Then the pain within me became almost unbearable. At night I could not sleep. In the chapel it was difficult to pray. I looked at the monks around me, to most of whom I had never addressed a word, and I thought, 'Do they, too, hold such longings within them? Are they, too, shaken with a desire of knowledge?' It seemed to me that, instead of a place of peace, the monastery was, must be, a place of tumult, of the silent tumult that has its home in the souls of men. But then I remembered for how long I had been at peace. Perhaps all the silent men by whom I was surrounded were still at peace, as I had been, as I might be again.
"A young monk died in the monastery and was buried in the cemetery. I made his grave against the outer wall, beneath a cypress tree. Some days afterwards, when I was sitting on the bench by the house of the doves, I heard a sound, which came from beyond the wall. It was like sobbing. I listened, and heard it more distinctly, and knew that it was someone crying and sobbing desperately, and near at hand. But now it seemed to me to come from the wall itself. I got up and listened. Someone was crying bitterly behind, or above, the wall, just where the young monk had been buried. Who could it be? I stood listening, wondering, hesitating what to do. There was something in this sound of lamentation that moved one to the depths. For years I had not looked on a woman, or heard a woman's voice—but I knew that this was a woman mourning. Why was she there? What could she want? I glanced up. All round the cemetery, as I have said, grew cypress trees. As I glanced up I saw one shake just above where the new grave was, and a woman's voice said, 'I cannot see it, I cannot see it!'
"I do not know why, but I felt that someone was there who wished to see the young monk's grave. For a moment I stood there. Then I went to the house where I kept my tools for my work in the cemetery, and got a shears which I used for lopping the cypress trees. I took a ladder quickly, set it against the wall, mounted it, and from the cypress I had seen moving I lopped some of the boughs. The sobbing ceased. As the boughs fell down from the tree I saw a woman's face, tear-stained, staring at me. It seemed to me a lovely face.
"'Which is his grave?' she said. I pointed to the grave of the young monk, which could now be seen through the gap I had made, descended the ladder, and went away to the farthest corner of the cemetery. And I did not look again in the direction of the woman's face.
"Who she was I do not know. When she went away I did not see. She loved the monk who had died, and knowing that women cannot enter the precincts of the monastery, she had come to the outside wall to cast, if she might, a despairing glance at his grave.
"Domini, I wonder—I wonder if you can understand how that incident affected me. To an ordinary man it would seem nothing, I suppose. But to a Trappist monk it seemed tremendous. I had seen a woman. I had done something for a woman. I thought of her, of what I had done for her, perpetually. The gap in the cypress tree reminded me of her every time I looked towards it. When I was in the cemetery I could hardly turn my eyes from it. But the woman never came again. I said nothing to the Reverend Pere of what I had done. I ought to have spoken, but I did not. I kept it back when I confessed. From that moment I had a secret, and it was a secret connected with a woman.
"Does it seem strange to you that this secret seemed to me to set me apart from all the other monks—nearer the world? It was so. I felt sometimes as if I had been out into the world for a moment, had known the meaning that women have for men. I wondered who the woman was. I wondered how she had loved the young monk who was dead. He used to sit beside me in the chapel. He had a pure and beautiful face, such a face, I supposed, as a woman might well love. Had this woman loved him, and had he rejected her love for the life of the monastery? I remember one day thinking of this and wondering how it had been possible for him to do so, and then suddenly realising the meaning of my thought and turning hot with shame. I had put the love of woman above the love of God, woman's service above God's service. That day I was terrified of myself. I went back to the monastery from the cemetery, quickly, asked to see the Reverend Pere, and begged him to remove me from the cemetery, to give me some other work. He did not ask my reason for wishing to change, but three days afterwards he sent for me, and told me that I was to be placed in charge of the hotellerie of the monastery, and that my duties there were to begin upon the morrow.
"Domini, I wonder if I can make you realise what that change meant to a man who had lived as I had for so many years. The hotellerie of El-Largani is a long, low, one-storied building standing in a garden full of palms and geraniums. It contains a kitchen, a number of little rooms like cells for visitors, and two large parlours in which guests are entertained at meals. In one they sit to eat the fruit, eggs, and vegetables provided by the monastery, with wine. If after the meal they wish to take coffee they pass into the second parlour. Visitors who stay in the monastery are free to do much as they please, but they must conform to certain rules. They rise at a certain hour, feed at fixed times, and are obliged to go to their bedrooms at half-past seven in the evening in winter, and at eight in summer. The monk in charge of the hotellerie has to see to their comfort. He looks after the kitchen, is always in the parlour at some moment or another during meals. He visits the bedrooms and takes care that the one servant keeps everything spotlessly clean. He shows people round the garden. His duties, you see, are light and social. He cannot go into the world, but he can mix with the world that comes to him. It is his task, if not his pleasure, to be cheerful, talkative, sympathetic, a good host, with a genial welcome for all who come to La Trappe. After my years of labour, solitude, silence, and prayer, I was abruptly put into this new life.
"Domini, to me it was like rushing out into the world. I was almost dazed by the change. At first I was nervous, timid, awkward, and, especially, tongue-tied. The habit of silence had taken such a hold upon me that I could not throw it off. I dreaded the coming of visitors. I did not know how to receive them, what to say to them. Fortunately, as I thought, the tourist season was over, the summer was approaching. Very few people came, and those only to eat a meal. I tried to be polite and pleasant to them, and gradually I began to fall into the way of talking without the difficulty I had experienced at first. In the beginning I could not open my lips without feeling as if I were almost committing a crime. But presently I was more natural, less taciturn. I even, now and then, took some pleasure in speaking to a pleasant visitor. I grew to love the garden with its flowers, its orange trees, its groves of eucalyptus, its vineyard which sloped towards the cemetery. Often I wandered in it alone, or sat under the arcade that divided it from the large entrance court of the monastery, meditating, listening to the bees humming, and watching the cats basking in the sunshine.
"Sometimes, when I was there, I thought of the woman's face above the cemetery wall. Sometimes I seemed to feel the hand tugging at mine. But I was more at peace than I had been in the cemetery. For from the garden I could not see the distant world, and of the chance visitors none had as yet set a match to the torch that, unknown to me, was ready—at the coming of the smallest spark—to burst into a flame.
"One day, it was in the morning towards half-past ten, when I was sitting reading my Greek Testament on a bench just inside the doorway of the hotellerie, I heard the great door of the monastery being opened, and then the rolling of carriage wheels in the courtyard. Some visitor had arrived from Tunis, perhaps some visitors—three or four. It was a radiant morning of late May. The garden was brilliant with flowers, golden with sunshine, tender with shade, and quiet—quiet and peaceful, Domini! There was a wonderful peace in the garden that day, a peace that seemed full of safety, of enduring cheerfulness. The flowers looked as if they had hearts to understand it, and love it, the roses along the yellow wall of the house that clambered to the brown red tiles, the geraniums that grew in masses under the shining leaves of the orange trees, the—I felt as if that day I were in the Garden of Eden, and I remember that when I heard the carriage wheels I had a moment of selfish sadness. I thought: 'Why does anyone come to disturb my blessed peace, my blessed solitude?' Then I realised the egoism of my thought and that I was there with my duty. I got up, went into the kitchen and said to Francois, the servant, that someone had come and no doubt would stay to dejeuner. And, as I spoke, already I was thinking of the moment when I should hear the roll of wheels once more, the clang of the shutting gate, and know that the intruders upon the peace of the Trappists had gone back to the world, and that I could once more be alone in the little Eden I loved.
"Strangely, Domini, strangely, that day, of all the days of my life, I was most in love—it was like that, like being in love—with my monk's existence. The terrible feeling that had begun to ravage me had completely died away. I adored the peace in which my days were passed. I looked at the flowers and compared my happiness with theirs. They blossomed, bloomed, faded, died in the garden. So would I wish to blossom, bloom, fade—when my time came—die in the garden—always in peace, always in safety, always isolated from the terrors of life, always under the tender watchful eye of—of—Domini, that day I was happy, as perhaps they are—perhaps—the saints in Paradise. I was happy because I felt no inclination to evil. I felt as if my joy lay entirely in being innocent. Oh, what an ecstasy such a feeling is! 'My will accord with Thy design—I love to live as Thou intendest me to live! Any other way of life would be to me a terror, would bring to me despair.'
"And I felt that—intensely I felt it at that moment in heart and soul. It was as if I had God's arms round me, caressing me as a father caresses his child."
He moved away a step or two in the sand, came back, and went on with an effort:
"Within a few minutes the porter of the monastery came through the archway of the arcade followed by a young man. As I looked up at him I was uncertain of his nationality. But I scarcely thought about it— except in the first moment. For something else seized my attention— the intense, active misery in the stranger's face. He looked ravaged, eaten by grief. I said he was young—perhaps twenty-six or twenty- seven. His face was rather dark-complexioned, with small, good features. He had thick brown hair, and his eyes shone with intelligence, with an intelligence that was almost painful—somehow. His eyes always looked to me as if they were seeing too much, had always seen too much. There was a restlessness in the swiftness of their observation. One could not conceive of them closed in sleep. An activity that must surely be eternal blazed in them.
"The porter left the stranger in the archway. It was now my duty to attend to him. I welcomed him in French. He took off his hat. When he did that I felt sure he was an Englishman—by the look of him bareheaded—and I told him that I spoke English as well as French. He answered that he was at home in French, but that he was English. We talked English. His entrance into the garden had entirely destroyed my sense of its peace—even my own peace was disturbed at once by his appearance.
"I felt that I was in the presence of a misery that was like a devouring element. Before we had time for more than a very few halting words the bell was rung by Francois.
"'What's that for, Father?' the stranger said, with a start, which showed that his nerves were shattered.
"'It is time for your meal,' I answered.
"'One must eat!' he said. Then, as if conscious that he was behaving oddly, he added politely:
"'I know you entertain us too well here, and have sometimes been rewarded with coarse ingratitude. Where do I go?'
"I showed him into the parlour. There was no one there that day. He sat at the long table.
"'I am to eat alone?' he asked.
"'Yes; I will serve you.'
"Francois, always waited on the guests, but that day—mindful of the selfishness of my thoughts in the garden—I resolved to add to my duties. I therefore brought the soup, the lentils, the omelette, the oranges, poured out the wine, and urged the young man cordially to eat. When I did so he looked up at me. His eyes were extraordinarily expressive. It was as if I heard them say to me, 'Why, I like you!' and as if, just for a moment, his grief were lessened.
"In the empty parlour, long, clean, bare, with a crucifix on the wall and the name 'Saint Bernard' above the door, it was very quiet, very shady. The outer blinds of green wood were drawn over the window- spaces, shutting out the gold of the garden. But its murmuring tranquillity seemed to filter in, as if the flowers, the insects, the birds were aware of our presence and were trying to say to us, 'Are you happy as we are? Be happy as we are.'
"The stranger looked at the shady room, the open windows. He sighed.
"'How quiet it is here!' he said, almost as if to himself. 'How quiet it is!'
"'Yes,' I answered. 'Summer is beginning. For months now scarcely anyone will come to us here.'
"'Us?' he said, glancing at me with a sudden smile.
"'I meant to us who are monks, who live always here.'
"'May I—is it indiscreet to ask if you have been here long?'
"I told him.
"'More than nineteen years!' he said.
"'And always in this silence?'
"He sat as if listening, resting his head on his hand.
"'How extraordinary!' he said at last. 'How wonderful! Is it happiness?'
"I did not answer. The question seemed to me to be addressed to himself, not to me. I could leave him to seek for the answer. After a moment he went on eating and drinking in silence. When he had finished I asked him whether he would take coffee. He said he would, and I made him pass into the St. Joseph salle. There I brought him coffee and— and that liqueur. I told him that it was my invention. He seemed to be interested. At any rate, he took a glass and praised it strongly. I was pleased. I think I showed it. From that moment I felt as if we were almost friends. Never before had I experienced such a feeling for anyone who had come to the monastery, or for any monk or novice in the monastery. Although I had been vexed, irritated, at the approach of a stranger I now felt regret at the idea of his going away. Presently the time came to show him round the garden. We went out of the shadowy parlour into the sunshine. No one was in the garden. Only the bees were humming, the birds were passing, the cats were basking on the broad path that stretched from the arcade along the front of the hotellerie. As we came out a bell chimed, breaking for an instant the silence, and making it seem the sweeter when it returned. We strolled for a little while. We did not talk much. The stranger's eyes, I noticed, were everywhere, taking in every detail of the scene around us. Presently we came to the vineyard, to the left of which was the road that led to the cemetery, passed up the road and arrived at the cemetery gate.
"'Here I must leave you,' I said.
"'Why?' he asked quickly.
"'There is another Father who will show you the chapel. I shall wait for you here.'
"I sat down and waited. When the stranger returned it seemed to me that his face was calmer, that there was a quieter expression in his eyes. When we were once more before the hotellerie I said:
"'You have seen all my small domain now.'
"He glanced at the house.
"'But there seems to be a number of rooms,' he said.
"'Only the bedrooms.'
"'Bedrooms? Do people stay the night here?'
"'Sometimes. If they please they can stay for longer than a night.'
"'How much longer?'
"'For any time they please, if they conform to one or two simple rules and pay a small fixed sum to the monastery.'
"'Do you mean that you could take anyone in for the summer?' he said abruptly.
"'Why not? The consent of the Reverend Pere has to be obtained. That is all.'
"'I should like to see the bedrooms.'
"I took him in and showed him one.
"'All the others are the same,' I said.
"He glanced round at the white walls, the rough bed, the crucifix above it, the iron basin, the paved floor, then went to the window and looked out.
"'Well,' he said, drawing back into the room, 'I will go now to see the Pere Abbe, if it is permitted.'
"On the garden path I bade him good-bye. He shook my hand. There was an odd smile in his face. Half-an-hour later I saw him coming again through the arcade.
"'Father,' he said, 'I am not going away. I have asked the Pere Abbe's permission to stay here. He has given it to me. To-morrow such luggage as I need will be sent over from Tunis. Are you—are you very vexed to have a stranger to trouble your peace?'
"His intensely observant eyes were fixed upon me while he spoke. I answered:
"'I do not think you will trouble my peace.'
"And my thought was:
"'I will help you to find the peace which you have lost.'
"Was it a presumptuous thought, Domini? Was it insolent? At the time it seemed to me absolutely sincere, one of the best thoughts I had ever had—a thought put into my heart by God. I didn't know then—I didn't know."
He stopped speaking, and stood for a time quite still, looking down at the sand, which was silver white under the moon. At last he lifted his head and said, speaking slowly:
"It was the coming of this man that put the spark to that torch. It was he who woke up in me the half of myself which, unsuspected by me, had been slumbering through all my life, slumbering and gathering strength in slumber—as the body does—gathering a strength that was tremendous, that was to overmaster the whole of me, that was to make of me one mad impulse. He woke up in me the body and the body was to take possession of the soul. I wonder—can I make you feel why this man was able to affect me thus? Can I make you know this man?
"He was a man full of secret violence, violence of the mind and violence of the body, a volcanic man. He was English—he said so—but there must have been blood that was not English in his veins. When I was with him I felt as if I was with fire. There was the restlessness of fire in him. There was the intensity of fire. He could be reserved. He could appear to be cold. But always I was conscious that if there was stone without there was scorching heat within. He was watchful of himself and of everyone with whom he came into the slightest contact. He was very clever. He had an immense amount of personal charm, I think, at any rate for me. He was very human, passionately interested in humanity. He was—and this was specially part of him, a dominant trait—he was savagely, yes, savagely, eager to be happy, and when he came to live in the hotellerie he was savagely unhappy. An egoist he was, a thinker, a man who longed to lay hold of something beyond this world, but who had not been able to do so. Even his desire to find rest in a religion seemed to me to have greed in it, to have something in it that was akin to avarice. He was a human storm, Domini, as well as a human fire. Think! what a man to be cast by the world—which he knew as they know it only who are voracious for life and free—into my quiet existence.
"Very soon he began to show himself to me as he was, with a sort of fearlessness that was almost impudent. The conditions of our two lives in the monastery threw us perpetually together in a curious isolation. And the Reverend Pere, Domini, the Reverend Pere, set my feet in the path of my own destruction. On the day after the stranger had arrived the Reverend Pere sent for me to his private room, and said to me, 'Our new guest is in a very unhappy state. He has been attracted by our peace. If we can bring peace to him it will be an action acceptable to God. You will be much with him. Try to do him good. He is not a Catholic, but no matter. He wishes to attend the services in the chapel. He may be influenced. God may have guided his feet to us, we cannot tell. But we can act—we can pray for him. I do not know how long he will stay. It may be for only a few days or for the whole summer. It does not matter. Use each day well for him. Each day may be his last with us.' I went out from the Reverend Pere full of enthusiasm, feeling that a great, a splendid interest had come into my life, an interest such as it had never held before.
"Day by day I was with this man. Of course there were many hours when we were apart, the hours when I was at prayer in the chapel or occupied with study. But each day we passed much time together, generally in the garden. Scarcely any visitors came, and none to stay, except, from time to time, a passing priest, and once two young men from Tunis, one of whom had an inclination to become a novice. And this man, as I have said, began to show himself to me with a tremendous frankness.
"Domini, he was suffering under what I suppose would be called an obsession, an immense domination such as one human being sometimes obtains over another. At that time I had never realised that there were such dominations. Now I know that there are, and, Domini, that they can be both terrible and splendid. He was dominated by a woman, by a woman who had come into his life, seized it, made it a thing of glory, broken it. He described to me the dominion of this woman. He told me how she had transformed him. Till he met her he had been passionate but free, his own master through many experiences, many intrigues. He was very frank, Domini. He did not attempt to hide from me that his life had been evil. It had been a life devoted to the acquiring of experience, of all possible experience, mental and bodily. I gathered that he had shrunk from nothing, avoided nothing. His nature had prompted him to rush upon everything, to grasp at everything. At first I was horrified at what he told me. I showed it. I remember the second evening after his arrival we were sitting together in a little arbour at the foot of the vineyard that sloped up to the cemetery. It was half an hour before the last service in the chapel. The air was cool with breath from the distant sea. An intense calm, a heavenly calm, I think, filled the garden, floated away to the cypresses beside the graves, along the avenue where stood the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. And he told me, began to tell me something of his life.
"'You thought to find happiness in such an existence?' I exclaimed, almost with incredulity I believe.
"He looked at me with his shining eyes.
"'Why not, Father? Do you think I was a madman to do so?'
"'Why? Is there not happiness in knowledge?'
"'Knowledge of evil?'
"'Knowledge of all things that exist in life. I have never sought for evil specially; I have sought for everything. I wished to bring everything under my observation, everything connected with human life.'
"'But human life,' I said more quietly, 'passes away from this world. It is a shadow in a world of shadows.'
"'You say that,' he answered abruptly. 'I wonder if you feel it—feel it as you feel my hand on yours.'
"He laid his hand on mine. It was hot and dry as if with fever. Its touch affected me painfully.
"'Is that hand the hand of a shadow?' he said. 'Is this body that can enjoy and suffer, that can be in heaven or in hell—here—here—a shadow?'
"'Within a week it might be less than a shadow.'
"'And what of that? This is now, this is now. Do you mean what you say? Do you truly feel that you are a shadow—that this garden is but a world of shadows? I feel that I, that you, are terrific realities, that this garden is of immense significance. Look at that sky.'
"The sky above the cypresses was red with sunset. The trees looked black beneath it. Fireflies were flitting near the arbour where we sat.
"'That is the sky that roofs what you would have me believe a world of shadows. It is like the blood, the hot blood that flows and surges in the veins of men—in our veins. Ah, but you are a monk!'
"The way he said the last words made me feel suddenly a sense of shame, Domini. It was as if a man said to another man, 'You are not a man.' Can you—can you understand the feeling I had just then? Something hot and bitter was in me. A sort of desperate sense of nothingness came over me, as if I were a skeleton sitting there with flesh and blood and trying to believe, and to make it believe, that I, too, was and had been flesh and blood.
"'Yes, thank God, I am a monk,' I answered quietly.
"Something in my tone, I think, made him feel that he had been brutal.
"'I am a brute and a fool,' he said vehemently. 'But it is always so with me. I always feel as if what I want others must want. I always feel universal. It's folly. You have your vocation, I mine. Yours is to pray, mine is to live.'
"Again I was conscious of the bitterness. I tried to put it from me.
"'Prayer is life,' I answered, 'to me, to us who are here.'
"'Prayer! Can it be? Can it be vivid as the life of experience, as the life that teaches one the truth of men and women, the truth of creation—joy, sorrow, aspiration, lust, ambition of the intellect and the limbs? Prayer—'
"'It is time for me to go,' I said. 'Are you coming to the chapel?'
"'Yes,' he answered almost eagerly. 'I shall look down on you from my lonely gallery. Perhaps I shall be able to feel the life of prayer.'
"'May it be so,' I said.
"But I think I spoke without confidence, and I know that that evening I prayed without impulse, coldly, mechanically. The long, dim chapel, with its lines of monks facing each other in their stalls, seemed to me a sad place, like a valley of dry bones—for the first time, for the first time.
"I ought to have gone on the morrow to the Reverend Pere. I ought to have asked him, begged him to remove me from the hotellerie. I ought to have foreseen what was coming—that this man had a strength to live greater than my strength to pray; that his strength might overcome mine. I began to sin that night. Curiosity was alive in me, curiosity about the life that I had never known, was—so I believed, so I thought I knew—never to know.
"When I came out of the chapel into the hotellerie I met our guest— I do not say his name. What would be the use?—in the corridor. It was almost dark. There were ten minutes before the time for locking up the door and going to bed. Francois, the servant, was asleep under the arcade.
"'Shall we go on to the path and have a last breath of air?' the stranger said.
"We stepped out and walked slowly up and down.
"'Do you not feel the beauty of peace?' I asked.
"I wanted him to say yes. I wanted him to tell me that peace, tranquillity, were beautiful. He did not reply for a moment. I heard him sigh heavily.
"'If there is peace in the world at all,' he said at length, 'it is only to be found with the human being one loves. With the human being one loves one might find peace in hell.'
"We did not speak again before we parted for the night.
"Domini, I did not sleep at all that night. It was the first of many sleepless nights, nights in which my thoughts travelled like winged Furies—horrible, horrible nights. In them I strove to imagine all the stranger knew by experience. It was like a ghastly, physical effort. I strove to conceive of all that he had done—with the view, I told myself at first, of bringing myself to a greater contentment, of realising how worthless was all that I had rejected and that he had grasped at. In the dark I, as it were, spread out his map of life and mine and examined them. When, still in the dark, I rose to go to the chapel I was exhausted. I felt unutterably melancholy. That was at first. Presently I felt an active, gnawing hunger. But—but—I have not come to that yet. This strange, new melancholy was the forerunner. It was a melancholy that seemed to be caused by a sense of frightful loneliness such as I had never previously experienced. Till now I had almost always felt God with me, and that He was enough. Now, suddenly, I began to feel that I was alone. I kept thinking of the stranger's words: 'If there is peace in the world at all it is only to be found with the human being one loves.'
"'That is false,' I said to myself again and again. 'Peace is only to be found by close union with God. In that I have found peace for many, many years.'
"I knew that I had been at peace. I knew that I had been happy. And yet, when I looked back upon my life as a novice and a monk, I now felt as if I had been happy vaguely, foolishly, bloodlessly, happy only because I had been ignorant of what real happiness was—not really happy. I thought of a bird born in a cage and singing there. I had been as that bird. And then, when I was in the garden, I looked at the swallows winging their way high in the sunshine, between the garden trees and the radiant blue, winging their way towards sea and mountains and plains, and that bitterness, like an acid that burns and eats away fine metal, was once more at my heart.
"But the sensation of loneliness was the most terrible of all. I compared union with God, such as I thought I had known, with that other union spoken of by my guest—union with the human being one loves. I set the two unions as it were in comparison. Night after night I did this. Night after night I told over the joys of union with God—joys which I dared to think I had known—and the joys of union with a loved human being. On the one side I thought of the drawing near to God in prayer, of the sensation of approach that comes with earnest prayer, of the feeling that ears are listening to you, that the great heart is loving you, the great heart that loves all living things, that you are being absolutely understood, that all you cannot say is comprehended, and all you say is received as something precious. I recalled the joy, the exaltation, that I had known when I prayed. That was union with God. In such union I had sometimes felt that the world, with all that it contained of wickedness, suffering and death, was utterly devoid of power to sadden or alarm the humblest human being who was able to draw near to God.
"I had had a conquering feeling—not proud—as of one upborne, protected for ever, lifted to a region in which no enemy could ever be, no sadness, no faint anxiety even.
"Then I strove to imagine—and this, Domini, was surely a deliberate sin—exactly what it must be to be united with a beloved human being. I strove and I was able. For not only did instinct help me, instinct that had been long asleep, but—I have told you that the stranger was suffering under an obsession, a terrible dominion. This dominion he described to me with an openness that perhaps—that indeed I believe— he would not have shown had I not been a monk. He looked upon me as a being apart, neither man nor woman, a being without sex. I am sure he did. And yet he was immensely intelligent. But he knew that I had entered the monastery as a novice, that I had been there through all my adult life. And then my manner probably assisted him in his illusion. For I gave—I believe—no sign of the change that was taking place within me under his influence. I seemed to be calm, detached, even in my sympathy for his suffering. For he suffered frightfully. This woman he loved was a Parisian, he told me. He described her beauty to me, as if in order to excuse himself for having become the slave to her he was. I suppose she was very beautiful. He said that she had a physical charm so intense that few men could resist it, that she was famous throughout Europe for it. He told me that she was not a good woman. I gathered that she lived for pleasure, admiration, that she had allowed many men to love her before he knew her. But she had loved him genuinely. She was not a very young woman, and she was not a married woman. He said that she was a woman men loved but did not marry, a woman who was loved by the husbands of married women, a woman to marry whom would exclude a man from the society of good women. She had never lived, or thought of living, for one man till he came into her life. Nor had he ever dreamed of living for one woman. He had lived to gain experience; she too. But when he met her—knowing thoroughly all she was—all other women ceased to exist for him. He became her slave. Then jealousy awoke in him, jealousy of all the men who had been in her life, who might be in her life again. He was tortured by loving such a woman—a woman who had belonged to many, who would no doubt in the future belong to others. For despite the fact that she loved him he told me that at first he had no illusions about her. He knew the world too well for that, and he cursed the fate that had bound him body and soul to what he called a courtesan. Even the fact that she loved him at first did not blind him to the effect upon character that her life must inevitably have had. She had dwelt in an atmosphere of lies, he said, and to lie was nothing to her. Any original refinement of feeling as regards human relations that she might have had had become dulled, if it had not been destroyed. At first he blindly, miserably, resigned himself to this. He said to himself, 'Fate has led me to love this sort of woman. I must accept her as she is, with all her defects, with her instinct for treachery, with her passion for the admiration of the world, with her incapability for being true to an ideal, or for isolating herself in the adoration of one man. I cannot get away from her. She has me fast. I cannot live without her. Then I must bear the torture that jealousy of her will certainly bring me in silence. I must conceal it. I must try to kill it. I must make the best of whatever she will give me, knowing that she can never, with her nature and her training, be exclusively mine as a good woman might be.' This he said to himself. This plan of conduct he traced for himself. But he soon found that he was not strong enough to keep to it. His jealousy was a devouring fire, and he could not conceal it. Domini, he described to me minutely the effect of jealousy in a human heart. I had never imagined what it was, and, when he described it, I felt as if I looked down into a bottomless pit lined with the flames of hell. By the depth of that pit I measured the depth of his passion for this woman, and I gained an idea of what human love—not the best sort of human love, but still genuine, intense love of some kind—could be. Of this human love I thought at night, putting it in comparison with the love God's creature can have for God. And my sense of loneliness increased, and I felt as if I had always been lonely. Does this seem strange to you? In the love of God was calm, peace, rest, a lying down of the soul in the Almighty arms. In the other love described to me was restlessness, agitation, torture, the soul spinning like an atom driven by winds, the heart devoured as by a disease, a cancer. On the one hand was a beautiful trust, on the other a ceaseless agony of doubt and terror. And yet I came to feel as if the one were unreal in comparison with the other, as if in the one were a loneliness, in the other fierce companionship. I thought of the Almighty arms, Domini, and of the arms of a woman, and—Domini, I longed to have known, if only once, the pressure of a woman's arms about my neck, about my breast, the touch of a woman's hand upon my heart.
"And of all this I never spoke at confession. I committed the deadly sin of keeping back at confession all that." He stopped. Then he said, "Till the end my confessions were incomplete, were false.
"The stranger told me that as his love for this woman grew he found it impossible to follow the plan he had traced for himself of shutting his eyes to the sight of other eyes admiring, desiring her, of shutting his ears to the voices that whispered, 'This it will always be, for others as well as for you.' He found it impossible. His jealousy was too importunate, and he resolved to make any effort to keep her for himself alone. He knew she had love for him, but he knew that love would not necessarily, or even probably, keep her entirely faithful to him. She thought too little of passing intrigues. To her they seemed trifles, meaningless, unimportant. She told him so, when he spoke his jealousy. She said, 'I love you. I do not love these other men. They are in my life for a moment only.'
"'And that moment plunges me into hell!' he said.
"He told her he could not bear it, that it was impossible, that she must belong to him entirely and solely. He asked her to marry him. She was surprised, touched. She understood what a sacrifice such a marriage would be to a man in his position. He was a man of good birth. His request, his vehement insistence on it, made her understand his love as she had not understood it before. Yet she hesitated. For so long had she been accustomed to a life of freedom, of changing amours, that she hesitated to put her neck under the yoke of matrimony. She understood thoroughly his character and his aim in marrying her. She knew that as his wife she must bid an eternal farewell to the life she had known. And it was a life that had become a habit to her, a life that she was fond of. For she was enormously vain, and she was a—she was a very physical woman, subject to physical caprices. There are things that I pass over, Domini, which would explain still more her hesitation. He knew what caused it, and again he was tortured. But he persisted. And at last he overcame. She consented to marry him. They were engaged. Domini, I need not tell you much more, only this fact—which had driven him from France, destroyed his happiness, brought him to the monastery. Shortly before the marriage was to take place he discovered that, while they were engaged, she had yielded to the desires of an old admirer who had come to bid her farewell and to wish her joy in her new life. He was tempted, he said, to kill her. But he governed himself and left her. He travelled. He came to Tunis. He came to La Trappe. He saw the peace there. He thought, 'Can I seize it? Can it do something for me?' He saw me. He thought, 'I shall not be quite alone. This monk—he has lived always in peace, he has never known the torture of women. Might not intercourse with him help me?'
"Such was his history, such was the history poured, with infinite detail that I have not told you, day by day, into my ears. It was the history, you see, of a passion that was mainly physical. I will not say entirely. I do not know whether any great passion can be entirely physical. But it was the history of the passion of one body for another body, and he did not attempt to present it to me as anything else. This man made me understand the meaning of the body. I had never understood it before. I had never suspected the immensity of the meaning there is in physical things. I had never comprehended the flesh. Now I comprehended it. Loneliness rushed upon me, devoured me— loneliness of the body. 'God is a spirit and those that worship him must worship him in spirit.' Now I felt that to worship in spirit was not enough. I even felt that it was scarcely anything. Again I thought of my life as the life of a skeleton in a world of skeletons. Again the chapel was as a valley of dry bones. It was a ghastly sensation. I was plunged in the void. I—I—I can't tell you my exact sensation, but it was as if I was the loneliest creature in the whole of the universe, and as if I need not have been lonely, as if I, in my ignorance and fatuity, had selected loneliness thinking it was the happiest fate.
"And yet you will say I was face to face with this man's almost frantic misery. I was, and it made no difference. I envied him, even in his present state. He wanted to gain consolation from me if that were possible. Oh, the irony of my consoling him! In secret I laughed at it bitterly. When I strove to console him I knew that I was an incarnate lie. He had told me the meaning of the body and, by so doing, had snatched from me the meaning of the spirit. And then he said to me, 'Make me feel the meaning of the spirit. If I can grasp that I may find comfort.' He called upon me to give him what I no longer had—the peace of God that passeth understanding. Domini, can you feel at all what that was to me? Can you realise? Can you—is it any wonder that I could do nothing for him, for him who had done such a frightful thing for me? Is it any wonder? Soon he realised that he would not find peace with me in the garden. Yet he stayed on. Why? He did not know where to go, what to do. Life offered him nothing but horror. His love of experiences was dead. His love of life had completely vanished. He saw the worldly life as a nightmare, yet he had nothing to put in the place of it. And in the monastery he was ceaselessly tormented by jealousy. Ceaselessly his mind was at work about this woman, picturing her in her life of change, of intrigue, of new lovers, of new hopes and aims in which he had no part, in which his image was being blotted out, doubtless from her memory even. He suffered, he suffered as few suffer. But I think I suffered more. The melancholy was driven on into a gnawing hunger, the gnawing hunger of the flesh wishing to have lived, wishing to live, wishing to—to know.
"Domini, to you I can't say more of that—to you whom I—whom I love with spirit and flesh. I will come to the end, to the incident which made the body rise up, strike down the soul, trample out over it into the world like a wolf that was starving.
"One day the Reverend Pere gave me a special permission to walk with our visitor beyond the monastery walls towards the sea. Such permission was an event in my life. It excited me more than you can imagine. I found that the stranger had begged him to let me come.
"'Our guest is very fond of you,' the Reverend Pere said to me. 'I think if any human being can bring him to a calmer, happier state of mind and spirit, you can. You have obtained a good influence over him.'
"Domini, when the Reverend Pere spoke to me thus my mouth was suddenly contracted in a smile. Devil's smile, I think. I put up my hand to my face. I saw the Reverend Pere looking at me with a dawning of astonishment in his kind, grave eyes, and I controlled myself at once. But I said nothing. I could not say anything, and I went out from the parlour quickly, hot with a sensation of shame.
"'You are coming?' the stranger said.
"'Yes,' I answered.
"It was a fiery day of late June. Africa was bathed in a glare of light that hurt the eyes. I went into my cell and put on a pair of blue glasses and my wide straw hat, the hat in which I formerly used to work in the fields. When I came out my guest was standing on the garden path. He was swinging a stick in one hand. The other hand, which hung down by his side, was twitching nervously. In the glitter of the sun his face looked ghastly. In his eyes there seemed to be terrors watching without hope.
"'You are ready?' he said. 'Let us go.'
"We set off, walking quickly.
"'Movement—pace—sometimes that does a little good,' he said. 'If one can exhaust the body the mind sometimes lies almost still for a moment. If it would only lie still for ever.'
"I said nothing. I could say nothing. For my fever was surely as his fever.
"'Where are we going?' he asked when we reached the little house of the keeper of the gate by the cemetery.
"'We cannot walk in the sun,' I answered. 'Let us go into the eucalyptus woods.'
"The first Trappists had planted forests of eucalyptus to keep off the fever that sometimes comes in the African summer. We made our way along a tract of open land and came into a deep wood. Here we began to walk more slowly. The wood was empty of men. The hot silence was profound. He took off his white helmet and walked on, carrying it in his hand. Not till we were far in the forest did he speak. Then he said, 'Father, I cannot struggle on much longer.'
"He spoke abruptly, in a hard voice.
"'You must try to gain courage,' I said.
"'From where?' he exclaimed. 'No, no, don't say from God. If there is a God He hates me.'
"When he said that I felt as if my soul shuddered, hearing a frightful truth spoken about itself. My lips were dry. My heart seemed to shrivel up, but I made an effort and answered:
"'God hates no being whom He has created.'
"'How can you know? Almost every man, perhaps every living man hates someone. Why not—?'
"'To compare God with a man is blasphemous,' I answered.
"'Aren't we made in His image? Father, it's as I said—I can't struggle on much longer. I shall have to end it. I wish now—I often wish that I had yielded to my first impulse and killed her. What is she doing now? What is she doing now—at this moment?'
"He stood still and beat with his stick on the ground.
"'You don't know the infinite torture there is in knowing that, far away, she is still living that cursed life, that she is free to continue the acts of which her existence has been full. Every moment I am imagining—I am seeing—'
"He forced his stick deep into the ground.
"'If I had killed her,' he said in a low voice, 'at least I should know that she was sleeping—alone—there—there—under the earth. I should know that her body was dissolved into dust, that her lips could kiss no man, that her arms could never hold another as they have held me!'
"'Hush!' I said sternly. 'You deliberately torture yourself and me.' He glanced up sharply.
"'You! What do you mean?'
"'I must not listen to such things,' I said. 'They are bad for you and for me.'
"'How can they be bad for you—a monk?'
"'Such talk is evil—evil for everyone.'
"'I'll be silent then. I'll go into the silence. I'll go soon.'
"I understood that he thought of putting an end to himself.
"'There are few men,' I said, speaking with deliberation, with effort, 'who do not feel at some period of life that all is over for them, that there is nothing to hope for, that happiness is a dream which will visit them no more.'
"'Have you ever felt like that? You speak of it calmly, but have you ever experienced it?'
"I hesitated. Then I said:
"'You, who have been a monk for so many years!'
"'Since you have been here?'
"'Yes, since then.'
"'And you would tell me that the feeling passed, that hope came again, and the dream as you call it?'
"'I would say that what has lived in a heart can die, as we who live in this world shall die.'
"'Ah, that—the sooner the better! But you are wrong. Sometimes a thing lives in the heart that cannot die so long as the heart beats. Such is my passion, my torture. Don't you, a monk—don't dare to say to me that this love of mine could die.'
"'Don't you wish it to die?' I asked. 'You say it tortures you.'
"'Yes. But no—no—I don't wish it to die. I could never wish that.'
"I looked at him, I believe, with a deep astonishment.
"'Ah, you don't understand! ' he said. 'You don't understand. At all costs one must keep it—one's love. With it I am—as you see. But without it—man, without it, I should be nothing—no more than that.'
"He picked up a rotten leaf, held it to me, threw it down on the ground. I hardly looked at it. He had said to me: 'Man!' That word, thus said by him, seemed to me to mark the enormous change in me, to indicate that it was visible to the eyes of another, the heart of another. I had passed from the monk—the sexless being—to the man. He set me beside himself, spoke of me as if I were as himself. An intense excitement surged up in me. I think—I don't know what I should have said—done—but at that moment a boy, who acted as a servant at the monastery, came running towards us with a letter in his hand.
"'It is for Monsieur!' he said. 'It was left at the gate.'
"'A letter for me!' the stranger said.
"He held out his hand and took it indifferently. The boy gave it, and turning, went away through the wood. Then the stranger glanced at the envelope. Domini, I wish I could make you see what I saw then, the change that came. I can't. There are things the eyes must see. The tongue can't tell them. The ghastly whiteness went out of his face. A hot flood of scarlet rushed over it up to the roots of his hair. His hands and his whole body began to tremble violently. His eyes, which were fixed on the envelope, shone with an expression—it was like all the excitement in the world condensed into two sparks. He dropped his stick and sat down on the trunk of a tree, fell down almost.
"'Father!' he muttered, 'it's not been through the post—it's not been through the post!'
"I did not understand.
"'What do you mean?' I asked.
"The flush left his face. He turned deadly white again. He held out the letter.
"'Read it for me!' he said. 'I can't see—I can't see anything.'
"I took the letter. He covered his eyes with his hands. I opened it and read:
"'GRAND HOTEL, TUNIS.
"'I have found out where you are. I have come. Forgive me—if you can. I will marry you—or I will live with you. As you please; but I cannot live without you. I know women are not admitted to the monastery. Come out on the road that leads to Tunis. I am there. At least come for a moment and speak to me. VERONIQUE.'
"Domini, I read this slowly; and it was as if I read my own fate. When I had finished he got up. He was still pale as ashes and trembling.
"'Which is the way to the road?' he said. 'Do you know?'
"'Take me there. Give me your arm, Father.'
"He took it, leaned on it heavily. We walked through the wood towards the highroad. I had almost to support him. The way seemed long. I felt tired, sick, as if I could scarcely move, as if I were bearing—as if I were bearing a cross that was too heavy for me. We came at last out of the shadow of the trees into the glare of the sun. A flat field divided us from the white road.
"'Is there—is there a carriage?' he whispered in my ear.
"I looked across the field and saw on the road a carriage waiting.
"'Yes,' I said.
"I stopped, and tried to take his arm from mine.
"'Go,' I said. 'Go on!'
"'I can't. Come with me, Father.'
"We went on in the blinding sun. I looked down on the dry earth as I walked. Presently I saw at my feet the white dust of the road. At the same time I heard a woman's cry. The stranger took his arm violently from mine.
"'Father,' he said. 'Good-bye—God bless you!'
"He was gone. I stood there. In a moment I heard a roll of wheels. Then I looked up. I saw a man and a woman together, Domini. Their faces were like angels' faces—with happiness. The dust flew up in the sunshine. The wheels died away—I was alone.
"Presently—I think after a very long time—I turned and went back to the monastery. Domini, that night I left the monastery. I was as one mad. The wish to live had given place to the determination to live. I thought of nothing else. In the chapel that evening I heard nothing—I did not see the monks. I did not attempt to pray, for I knew that I was going. To go was an easy matter for me. I slept alone in the hotellerie, of which I had the key. When it was night I unlocked the door. I walked to the cemetery—between the Stations of the Cross. Domini, I did not see them. In the cemetery was a ladder, as I told you.
"Just before dawn I reached my brother's house outside of Tunis, not far from the Bardo. I knocked. My brother himself came down to know who was there. He, as I told you, was without religion, and had always hated my being a monk. I told him all, without reserve. I said, 'Help me to go away. Let me go anywhere—alone.' He gave me clothes, money. I shaved off my beard and moustache. I shaved my head, so that the tonsure was no longer visible. In the afternoon of that day I left Tunis. I was let loose into life. Domini—Domini, I won't tell you where I wandered till I came to the desert, till I met you.
"I was let loose into life, but, with my freedom, the wish to live seemed to die in me. I was afraid of life. I was haunted by terrors. I had been a monk so long that I did not know how to live as other men. I did not live, I never lived—till I met you. And then—then I realised what life may be. And then, too, I realised fully what I was. I struggled, I fought myself. You know—now, if you look back, I think you know that I tried—sometimes, often—I tried to—to—I tried to——"
His voice broke.
"That last day in the garden I thought that I had conquered myself, and it was in that moment that I fell for ever. When I knew you loved me I could fight no more. Do you understand? You have seen me, you have lived with me, you have divined my misery. But don't—don't think, Domini, that it ever came from you. It was the consciousness of my lie to you, my lie to God, that—that—I can't go on—I can't tell you—I can't tell you—you know."
He was silent. Domini said nothing, did not move. He did not look at her, but her silence seemed to terrify him. He drew back from it sharply and turned to the desert. He stared across the vast spaces lit up by the moon. Still she did not move.
"I'll go—I'll go!" he muttered.
And he stepped forward. Then Domini spoke.
"Boris!" she said.
"What is it?" he murmured hoarsely.
"Boris, now at last you—you can pray."
He looked at her as if awe-stricken.
"Pray!" he whispered. "You tell me I can pray—now!"
"Now at last."
She went into the tent and left him alone. He stood where he was for a moment. He knew that, in the tent, she was praying. He stood, trying to listen to her prayer. Then, with an uncertain hand, he felt in his breast. He drew out the wooden crucifix. He bent down his head, touched it with his lips, and fell upon his knees in the desert.
The music had ceased in the city. There was a great silence.
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